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At First Sight

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At First Sight
Posted Almost To The Doorstep - Les Seagrave.

Serving with reasonable contentment as an engine fitter at Wyton with 139 Squadron, on Mosquitoes in the latter part of’1943 I was transferred to “C” Flight when this was formed with a slight surplus of MkBIVs as later marks were appearing and losses were slight on Light Night Striking Force.

Wyton was a large peacetime station with the customary H block quarters giving more comfortable living than lesser wartime airfields. It differed. from other stations in being frequented by the hierarchy of 8 PFF Group, whose H.Q. was only two miles away in Huntingdon and was very much under the influence of the AOC Air Vice Marshal Don Bennett. DSO. He was a perfectionist and had numerous ideas about wartime economy of petrol, in that he was normally observed striding out on foot, stick under arm, for “pointing out” other people’s errors. He was a great believer in Euclid 2, which I seem to recall says that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and he practised what he preached, irrespective of notices such as “Keep off the grass', and expected everyone else to do the same, much to the amazement of the SWO.

The discipline and routine at Wyton were slightly excessive, for instance, a recorded bugle reveille was played at 0700hrs each day over the station Tannoy system, irrespective of whether you had just turned in after seeing the aircraft out and in on a night operation.

Suddenly large numbers of new ground staff appeared on the station and all appeared to gravitate to “C” Flight 139 Squadron. All was revealed when on 12th November it was announced that “C “ Flight was now 627 Squadron and was moving next day to Oakington, some 14 miles distant.

RAF Oakington, another peacetime station with similar facilities turned out to be slightly easier in discipline and seemed to be more intent on winning a war. We took up dispersals on the N.W. corner of the airfield, but as always with Mosquito squadrons, under the shadow of the Lancasters of 7 Squadron, the resident giants.

Life proceeded as much as before until 13th April 1944 when we were uprooted to proceed to Woodhall Spa. “Where?” was the cry all over the Squadron. “Where the Hell’s Woodhall flippin Spa?”. Yours truly, having been born and brought up, and living when on leave, in the City of Lincoln, appeared the only person with knowledge of the precise whereabouts of Woodhall. “It’s about 15 miles south of Lincoln” I was able to announce, not that that conveyed very much to the bulk of the assembled “erk” company, but they appeared contented with the knowledge that someone knew where it was and that it was not in Iceland or Egypt.

Being a cyclist, Woodhall Spa suited me down to the ground and I must have been the most contented “Bod” on the Squadron. The quarters at Woodhall were basic compared with the previous stations, but we settled in and I made the most of the “home posting”.

A few words regarding the locality might add to the reader’s appreciation of the
countryside in which we were stationed. In 1944 the airfield was a constant hive of activity and this was in total contrast to the surrounding area. It was situated on the edge of the Lincolnshire Fens, that huge expanse of agricultural land which was a major factor in helping to feed the nation. The population of the region was very small, as indeed it is today, 45 years later, and the influx of large numbers of RAF personnel brought a certain wealth to the nearby small towns.

The Victorian spa town of Woodhall lies one and a half miles to the north of the airfield and this was very popular, not only for shopping, but for entertainment. The Kinema-in-the-Woods was the main attraction - this cosy little cinema is one of the very few which still operates to this day, in the same structure and almost in the same condition as in 1944-45, tucked away in woodland just off the main road through the town.

Travelling south from the airfield “The Bluebell Inn” was very popular with all ranks. Although money was very short in those days, a little relaxation could be found under the timbered ceiling of the old pub, sipping rather watery beer which was the standard brew of the day. This hostelry still thrives on local and passing custom, and displays a range of squadron and aircraft photographs on its walls for the enlightenment of customers. They would even gather that there was, in fact, a 627 Squadron!

One mile further south stands one of the highest landmarks in the area - Tattershall Castle, of Norman origin but all that remains is the keep, a fine rare medieval brick tower with stone mullion windows and corbelling. This structure must have been a very welcome sight to many a bomber crew returning from daylight sorties, and the tower’s red waming lights coupled with the silver ribbon of the River Witham a useful navigation aid on night sorties. The squadron personnel grumbled and moaned about the locality at the time, but many of them still have very pleasant memories of Lincolnshire.

There were numerous incidents which occurred whilst at Woodhall, among which concemed a smallish white dog, an unofficial squadron mascot who frequented the dispersals, especially at NAAFI van times. The animal’s name escapes me after all these years but on one occasion he or she decided to sit down near one of the aircraft, presumably to wait patiently for a crumb or two from a “wad”. The poor beast sat fair and square in a puddle of 100 octane fuel, which is inclined to burn the nether regions if in sufficient undiluted quantity. Some time later, when the squealing animal had been caught, it’s rear end was unceremoniously deposited in a bucket of cold water as a first aid method.

“A” Flight’s end dispersal pan (Aircraft “A“ “B” and ““C”) stretched out into a field, annually sown with linseed or corn. Alongside the pan was a very convenient hedge and path which ultimately lead to the B1192 to Woodhall Spa town, all this out of sight of the Flight Office and its main incumbent, Chiefie Taylor, or Jock to most people.

The mid-morning routine at this dispersal was for the unofficial duty “Bun Runner” to shed overalls, leap on bike along the above mentioned path and collect cakes, buns or whatever the good lady in the bakers (third shop on left before crossroads) could let us have. Return was by the same “secret route”. These items seemed much more attractive than the NAAFI wads dispensed from the mobile canteen, if indeed there were any left after the van had been round 617 Squadron’s dispersal first, which was the rule rather than the exception.

This daily operation was a very well kept secret - no one else knew! One day in mid- summer 1944 Chiefy Taylor had occasion to spend some considerable time investigating,  with us, a hydraulic fault on “A” Apple. Came 10.00hrs and the dispersal crew was asked quite calmly and seriously by the said Chief ‘Isn’t anyone going to Woodhall for the buns this morning? I’m hungry and I’m having my char with you lads if you have no objection’ (Sorry, the Scots accent does not come out in print). Such are the best kept secrets!

That small corner of Woodhall Spa airfield which was occupied by our Squadron during 1944-45 is still in the hands of the Royal Air Force. Hallowed ground indeed.

Copyright 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as credited