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At First Sight
Be Careful, Laddie - Ronnie Churcher. DFC*

Now that I am faced with the need to write a few words about 1944 I realise how ill prepared I am. By combination of indolence and self-indulgence I have never kept a diary. My log-book entries are laconic to the point of being uninformative and, after more than forty six years, to rely on memory is worse than mere folly. However, for me, as I imagine with all members of 627 Squadron, our time together will always represent a very meaningful period of our early lives, for youthful we certainly were. I am sure we still believe our efforts were in a worthwhile cause in spite of the carping criticisms so malevolently propogated by certain post-war armchair “historians”. Their successors now ply sophisticated versions of the same trade with their instant evaluations of the Gulf War, this time aided by modem communications and a populace in permanent TV-shock. We, at least, were spared this spate of moronic commentary until the hostilities were over.

My association with 5 Group started in 1941. I completed a tour of operations with 106 Squadron at Coningsby, flying Hampdens, Manchesters and, eventually, Lancasters. My second tour was with 619 Squadron at Woodhall Spa and this was completed in January 1944. Soon afterwards I was posted to the Operations Staff at 5 Group HQ, Morton Hall near Swinderby.

An office held no attraction and I particularly wanted to fly the Mosquito. In July 1944 I joined 627 Squadron at Woodhall Spa. I do remember briefly seeing Roy Elliott, the first CO, and noticing his disappointment at relinquishing his squadron, presumably as a direct result of its transfer from B Group. The newly-appointed CO was George Curry, whom I had known previously at 1660 Conversion Unit, Swinderby. Tragically he was killed in a flying accident soon after the war.

A couple of hours in the air with F/L Rutherford was sufficient conversion to the Mosquito and I was teamed up with P/O Willis who flew with me on nearly every sortie. All I remember about “Willy” is that he came from Burton-on-Trent and was an enthusiastic champion of the liquid products of his home town. In these endeavours he had few peers in the squadron but a fair number of converts.

I remember Sid Parlato, Bill Deboos, Leo Devigne, Tony Bartley and, of course, Peter Mallender. Once or twice Peter let me drive his splendid M.G. Then there was Bill Topper with his 3 litre Red Label. The story was that Bill had bought the Bentley from a lady in Bournemouth for about 20! As a current member of the RAF Club I often see the Squadron Badge in the long upstairs corridor and wonder what happened to everyone.

As to the various bombing raids in which we played our part some remain in memory but many do not. We were, of course, fortunate in being able to fly quickly into the target, well below the main force, to mark the selected marking point in the light of the flares and then escape rapidly into the dark. Speed was of the essence for this had to be achieved before arrival of the main force. Our main adversary was always the light flak which was often unpleasantly close.

We had a quiet American on the Squadron, by name of F/O Brown. RCAF. He was lost on a raid to Kaiserslautem on 27 September when he crashed on the marking point. About a week before that we had been detailed to mark the marshalling yards at Rheydt/Munchen Gladbach. That was the night that Guy Gibson failed to return. Guy had been my CO on 106 Squadron in 1942 and, as a matter of interest, 106 Squadron still maintains a close liaison with our Dutch friends who have installed a memorial at Steenbergen dedicated to Guy and his navigator, Jim Warwick, as a token of their thanks to the efforts of RAF Bomber Command.

I also remember a raid on Nuremberg the following month when John Woodroffe was the master bomber. When, over Nuremberg, I told him on the VHF that we were going down under the cloud to identify the target he replied “Be careful, laddie”. I have often thought that was quite a good joke. Some bombing attacks were more successful than others and many different factors affected the outcome. I know I was responsible for an error of identification at Munich on 27 November as a result of which a well-concentrated attack hit the wrong part of the city. This has not caused me any sleepless nights.

My last “trip” was to Oslo Fiord on 13 December 1944. This time we were to provide target marking for an attack on the cruisers Koln and Emden. It is hard to believe that at this stage of the war these two ships would be able to pose a significant threat. We were given a complicated and somewhat daft marking plan and to carry it out we had to operate from Peterhead. That night signalled my last operational flight with 627 Squadron and at the time I was not sorry that another tour had been completed.

Copyright 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as credited