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At First Sight
I/C B Flight - Douglas 'Gerry' Garton

From Scunthorpe (my home town) Technical School, via an apprenticeship in Carpentry (aeroplanes were made of wood in 1934-5), to RAF Halton, where I spent three years, passing out as AC1 with 76.8%.

In August 1938 I was posted to 83 Squadron at Scampton on Hawker Hinds. A young Pilot Officer named Guy Gibson was in the Flight and I flew with him on numerous occasions, both on Hinds and later on Hampdens. He was responsible for my first big repair job on the squadron — he had wiped the lower mainplane out of “my” Hind. There followed Manchesters and Lancasters on 83, and we moved to Wyton in August 1942, where Wing Commander Roy Elliott was the Flight Commander on “A” Flight.

In August 1943 Roy Elliott arranged for me go to PFF Navigation Training Unit which he had formed at Gransden Lodge, Warboys and then Upwood. Whilst on this unit an ex-overseas Corporal, not knowing how to change a magneto the “operational squadron way” ended up with all the cowlings off an inner engine and then getting me out of the flight office to fix it. I fell from the engine stand which had been incorrectly erected and woke up in Ely Hospital later that evening with a fractured skull.

At the hospital I was visited by Roy Elliott and Norman Mackenzie who told me that I was now a Flight Sergeant and going with them to form a new Squadron (627) at Oakington,

I reported in to 627 Orderly Room early in November 1943 to Chiefy Dobson and Flight Lieutenant Levander, the Squadron Adjutant, and then into a room full of clerks etc., to ask for the “Gharry” driver to take me to “B” Flight dispersal. A bundle of WAAF clothing and greatcoat unwrapped itself from around the coke stove and spoke up identifying it as the driver. Then I noticed the CANADA shoulder flashes and the first words I spoke were to ask if she had brought enough dowry with her to marry me (Jo Kearny no less - now Mrs Garton). At dispersals I met Jock Taylor, Flight Sergeant of “A” Flight — we were of the same entry at Halton and became very good friends and working partners, let alone good drinking pals.

Established in my new job I painted caricatures on the noses of several Mosquitoes, some of which can be seen in the squadron photographs. The village of Oakington was separated by a large pond running through the middle and one very dark night, while a number of us were proceeding on bikes to the local, one of our number, Sergeant Kingdon rode straight into the pond. There he was sitting in eighteen inches of water, with his bike beneath the surface, its lamp still shining through the mark. “Strike for the shore Kingdon, strike for the shore” but he turned the wrong way following the lights of retreating bikes. He arrived some minutes later in the bar with dripping greatcoat and uniform, The Landlord eyed the growing pool of water around poor Kingdon’s feet and his remarks are not suitable for this volume.

On another occasion, while on a similar jaunt one fine evening, someone kicked the crossbar of Wally Walton’s bike, a favourite pastime of crews ground and air, out seeking relaxation, the result being that the said Wally plus bike penetrated the previously immaculate privet hedge of a garden which the owner was cutting, The owner was greeted politely and one airman retreated at speed,

 In April 1943 when we moved to Woodhall Spa it was the first time many of us had been on a wartime dispersed camp of Nissen huts, and with cold water in the ablutions, everything miles apart, we found it a little hard. We shared a Nissen hut with NCOs from Maintenance Flight and there was some friction between us when Maintenance resprayed the Mosquitoes, removing all bomb scores, crests and nose art. This caused several days of work on the Flights and was not much good for morale.

The Flight accommodation was unsatisfactory at the outset, with the two Flights complete with Armourers, Electricians, Instrument wallahs etc., all in one large hut. This was soon rectified when we sawed 16 feet off the end of the hut and removed it to “B” Flight dispersal, where we made ourselves slightly more comfortable. My carpentry apprenticeship in Scunthorpe had come in useful!

We were fortunate in having Mosquitoes, user friendly aircraft as far as flight servicing was concerned, as at the time there was a shortage of high quality fitters and riggers. We could usually muster 18 fitters and riggers provided there had been no operations during the previous night, and we all had our work cut out. In 1941, on Hampdens we had 98 fitters and riggers on a flight. In spite of this shortage we maintained a particularly high standard of serviceability due mainly to the enthusiasm of all concerned, everyone realising they were on a first class squadron with outstanding aircrews, doing an extremely worthwhile job. At the time the dive marking practice at Wainfleet range was returning an average bombing error of only 17 feet and the aircrews throughout the squadron averaged 58% operations each. Some tally by any count!

In view of the shortage of ground crews I had the idea of having three Mosquitoes on each hardstanding, with tails over the edge on gravel or tarmac “obtained” from somewhere. This made things much easier and saved ground crews a considerable amount of running around. The station engineering department wanted the aircraft widely dispersed, but we were supported by our CO in arguing serviceability as against the history of successful enemy attacks on Bomber Command airfields in recent years. No. 627 won the battle.

On some of the squadron photographs you will notice a small dog. This was the pup of my family dog called Judy, so the flight mascot had to be Punch. He would ride on my bike with his front paws on the handlebars and rear on the crossbar - no problem. When we got to the perimeter track I would steer towards the grass and apply the brakes, whereupon he would leap over the handlebars at full gallop and neither of us would lose headway. Punch was capable of climbing the ladder into the cockpit of a Mosquito, no mean feat you will agree if you are conversant with bomber Mosquitoes. Sadly he disappeared when the Airborne troops pulled out of the district.

One relief from everyday chores was an occasional trip to Wainfleet Sands under the guise of Dinghy Drill. A good time had by all. 

I was on duty the night Wing Commander Guy Gibson appeared at the Flight to sign the FTUU. and to take Mosquito BXX KB267 “AZ-E” on Master Bomber duties to Munchen Gladbach, from which, as you will read elsewhere in this book, he did not return. This meant that I had seen him off on his first wartime operation on 83 Squadron, in L4070 “OL-C” and on his last operation.

There were always incidents on a wartime blacked out airfield, and I recall one night I was going back to debriefing with the aircrews after operations with Jo driving and I was in the cab with her. All the Mosquitoes were back bar one, which had diverted to another airfield. Unbeknown to us the pilot had changed his mind and was coming home- In the dimness of the blacked out headlights we were suddenly confronted by a Mossie taxiing at about 35 mph on the perimeter track, straight for the crew coach. Jo reacted with great alacrity and swerved off into the grass and mud. There were loud shouts from the rear as crews sorted themselves out from parachutes, nav. bags etc,. and they gave us a hard time. being unaware as to the cause of the violent change of course. We learned later that the crew of the taxiing aircraft had not seen us, and were unaware of the incident.

 In September 1944 I was standing at the bus queue across the road from the guardroom at Tattershall Thorpe when I noticed, alongside me, one of our Navigators, Sergeant Peter Walker, who had been shot down and had got home via neutral territory. He was wearing civvies and when I admired his very good looking brogue shoes he told me he had obtained them in Switzerland.

Calling to mind those far-off days, at first Oakington and then Woodhall Spa, has had a somewhat strange effect; as each memory has come into being so it has called up further memories until I am surprised with what I can call to mind.

I remember a unit which was efficient, cohesive and very friendly, a unit which did a job, the importance of which has never been adequately declared, a unit which carried out a task, the effectiveness of which was way in excess of its small size.

 

One of the three aircrew drivers, Jo Kearny RCAF. She always had a cheerful word for ground and aircrew alike, whatever the hour of the day or night when ops were on the go. Now married to ‘Gerry’ Garton Flight Sergeant of ‘B’ Flight

 

Photograph Douglas Garton Collection


Copyright 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as credited