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At First Sight

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At First Sight
Steer 278 Degrees - F. A. “Sandy” Saunders. 

I received  my pilots brevet in 193? and was soon posted to the Middle East and to No. 47 Squadron at Khartoum where I spent the next three years on Vincents and later Wellesleys, the latter against the Italians once the war had commenced. Eventually I was shot down, taken prisoner by the Italians, escaped, was recaptured and eventually released when the Italians gave in East Africa. This is a condensed version of 50 pages of manuscript - very interesting, highly entertaining andgripping reading, but unfortunately not concemed with 627 Squadron. (Comp.)

I returned to England via the Cape, landing at Liverpool. Leave, reunion with my wife Edna, whom I had not seen for three years, adjustment to black-out, gas mask carrying, petrol and clothing coupons and the like. The next two years were spent as a flying instructor and my wife accompanied me at stations in Flying Training Command.

Early on in my time with Flying Training Command I started to belly ache about promotion or rather lack of it. Among my pupils were officers who up till then had all had a good war - being either initially trained in Canada or America or Rhodesia on the Empire Training Scheme.

To be fair the authorities did eventually agree with me and made me up to Warrant Officer well back-dated. But I’m quite sure that if I hadn’t shouted loud and clear, nothing would have been done. Anyway I got a lovely lot of back-pay - 75. Oh yes, we were in this racket for the money right enough!

The Bends.

Towards the end of my flying instructing tour I was to make preparations for a second tour of operational flying. I am in possession of a chitty signed by a high ranking Nursing Orderly Corporal - funny even Churchill’s signature would have been no good here, to testify that I had undergone successfully the standard test for high altitude flying in the decompression chamber.

The story behind this perfectly nondescript scrap of hand-written paper is:

I was anxious to get posted to a Mosquito Squadron and if it could be with the Pathfinder Force, so much the better. I had let it be known with every ploy and argument that I could muster that I was a candidate for this employment. And this high altitude test was an early obstacle in that path.

Picture if you can the interior of a decompression chamber. It is a tube like structure which can accommodate about eight people on opposite facing benches. A medical orderly can view the interior and the occupants through portholes. There is a telephonic communication between the occupants and the person in charge of the tests.

The first run is a demonstration to show the effects of oxygen-lack. You are given pencil and writing pads and under instruction from the orderly you write simple things like your name and address and do simple problems that require a little exercise of that muscle between your ears.

Oxygen is gradually withdrawn from the air and you find that you require more and more explanation of the current problem, it takes longer to say anything because the right words don’t spring to mind or when they do it takes longer to say them. Your writing becomes increasingly sprawled and scribbly and the sight of it appears to you as increasingly funny. There is no pain or distress whatsoever. Our little jokes become increasingly hilarious and at the end of the test a happier band of warriors you never did see.

You are slowly brought ‘back to earth’ and when you review your test writings, it brings home with a severe jolt what oxygen-lack is about. I was later to benefit from this experience which I will tell you about in due course. So much for that demonstration - but now the real test begins.

Remember these were the days of unpressurised cockpits. There are sound reasons for that which I won’t bore you with. The test is for the decompression chamber to ‘climb’ to a height equivalent to 37,000 feet and the occupants would be breathing through oxygen masks. A full two hour dwell at that height repeated for two separate occasions is the standard. Should any occupant get the ‘bends’ as this affliction is know during this time, the height is brought down again in a controlled sequence which itself takes time, during which the victim is in varying stages of pain, nausea and discomfort and of course the test is void not only for the victim but is also void for the others taking the test, so the victim, in addition, has the embarrassment of facing his colleagues who will all have to retake the tests.

I failed my first decompression flight. A minor irritation started in one knee and however much I tried to rub it away, it steadily got worse until I was left with an excruciating pain and I eventually collapsed in my seat. I understand a bubble forms in the blood and the blood begins in effect to boil - could be a dangerous situation - the safest place to be is inside a pressure chamber. Anyway, we were all brought back to earth and I had to apologise to all my fellows, who, of course, all took it in good spirit.

My visions of Mosquitoes were fading but you were allowed one failure in the chamber. Later I took the tests and as you can see I sailed through those with no trouble at all.

Soon I left Training Command as an instructor and was posted to an OTU. It is the stepping stone between initial flying instruction and joining a front line fighting squadron, which everyone had to take. It brings you up to date with current procedures and tactics etc.

This OTU was equipped with the ubiquitous (of the time) Wellington Bomber - the ‘Wimpy’. A twin engined aircraft built on the same geodetic principle as its forerunner the Wellesley, with which I was more than familiar. Big an cumbersome to fly, not very responsive to the controls, like driving an old fashioned five ton Leyland lorry with solid tyres - What’s that, you don’t know what driving an old lorry with solid tyres is like! Neither do I, but in the diction of our pop songsters “closs yer rise n’use yer magination”

I eventually completed the course and all my shouting and hinting and belly aching bore fruit. Glory be, I was to be posted to a Mosquito flight to prepare me for PFF on Oboe.

At last I was in the cockpit of a Mosquito. It was a delight to fly and I was highly elated and proud to get one strapped to my backside. It had one sin, however, on landing you had to get all three wheels safely and firmly running on the ground and the speed was around the 50-60 knot mark, at which all other aircraft I had flown, you could relax a little. With the Mossie, however, with the unwary, it could suddenly go into the most uncontrolled ground loop. The outside undercarriage leg would collapse and would damage the wing tip and propellers. It did not happen to me, but I do know of many an experienced pilot who was victim to this particular vice.

Oboe marking was a radio beam system on which you flew along a beam listening to a continuous tone unless you left the beam, in which case you heard either a Morse A or a Morse N. I had no trouble finding the beam in the first place but found it difficult to follow and after an aural test it was found that I was tone deaf, a relief to my ego.

I was asked if I would like to try the other system of marking and I readily agreed. This system was low level visual marking, and by low level I really mean low level. We didn’t exactly knock on the front door and ask ‘please is this the Reich Petroleum Company’ and we tended to ignore the traffic lights even though they may have been at red at times, but the target had to be specifically identified by sight. In the meantime I had still to complete the low level PFF course.

It was whilst completing this series of exercises that one near miss occurred to us. We were on a night flying cross country exercise where we had to fly to certain bomb ranges, drop the practice bombs and return to base. We were on one leg of this triangular course when one engine suddenly started to vibrate alarmingly, the oil and coolant temperature gauges shot off the dial and the fire warning light came on. I pressed the Graviner fire switch which is supposed to shoot foam into strategic places, and I shut down the offending engine.

In the meantime I was losing my flying instruments, so I called to the navigator to give me  an instant bearing to the nearest airfield. To my utter disbelief he admitted he did not know where we were. The aircraft was under control but the loss of flying instruments was of some concem, so I put out a general Mayday call on R/T. To my dismay no one answered me even after a number of calls. However, there was no sign of fire in the dead engine.

As luck would have it whilst flying in this manner on our original course we came across an airfield which appeared to be in use. I said ‘appeared’ as there were spoof airfields, stretches of open ground with nothing but spoof airfield lighting to attract intruders should they be around.

We could raise no voice on the universal frequency on our radio so we set off a number of red Very flares, hoping that my shaky navigator would fire them outside rather than inside the aircraft. It was with great relief that we saw an answering green Aldis lamp flash in our direction, and we made a safe landing on the one engine at Fiskerton.

The following morning we discovered the engine had been on fire. A big-end and connecting rod had come adrift from the crankshaft, gone through the crank case and hit the coolant system. The Graviner foam system had worked quickly and put out the fire.

As a consequence of this I felt that I could not face a tour of operations with a navigator who could not be on the ball in a training situation, and I had to ignore my softer feelings and asked for, and received, another navigator.

No. 627 Squadron.

Having completed my OTU training I was soon posted to a front line squadron once more. I had achieved what I set out to achieve (a) a Mossie Squadron and (b) with the Path Finder Group.

After live successful operations with 627 I was awarded the honour of wearing the PFF badge. If you will excuse me for bragging a little at this point - an elite set apart to head and lead and show the target to the remainder of the Bomber Force.

I have recently learned many many years later that this was against the policy and thinking of our chief, Bomber Harris. It appears that he thought it wrong to create an elitism among air crew to perform the tactics we were called upon to do. But when I review the type of targets in my log-book such as Oil Plants, Steel Works, Ball Bearing Factories etc., and knowing that after a visit by a visual marker squadron immediately followed by the bomber force, the target was indeed taken out of production.

To look at one group alone - the ball bearing factories. There is hardly a piece of mechanism that does not rely on at least one ball bearing for its correct functioning. just think if all the attacks of all the air forces at that time had concentrated on just that one commodity. I think the elitist policy is wrong in peace-time, but in actual war operational flying - that was a vastly different story.

I went on to do further sorties with 627 Squadron and here are some accounts of happenings during this period.

Weather Forecasting.

The weather, of course, was an important aspect of our operational flying, and it was vastly important to have knowledge of what to expect as we flew the various courses. On the whole my recollection of the ‘met boys, performance in their forecasts was, in general, very good. I have an impression that it was better then, in war time, than it is now in peace time - perhaps it is a question of money and how much we are prepared to spend on it.

However, there is one piece of brilliant weather forecasting that stands clear in my memory. The target was somewhere in Czechoslovakia. We were told by the ‘met boys’ that soon after crossing the English coast we would, at the altitude we would be flying, encounter thick cloud to within 20 minutes of reaching the target when, it was said, the cloud would start to thin until over the target area there would be a large hole in the cloud some 5 miles in circumference where we, the markers could descend visually to ground level to identify our target.

You can imagine the cheers of derision from the air crew when the poor met man announced that piece of long distance drivelling nonsense. You can also imagine the morale of the crews as we were taken out to our prepared aircraft. We thought if ever there was going to be an abortive sortie, this was it to be sure.

Our sympathies were with the bomber force mainly. To have something like 600-800 lumbering Lancasters and Halifaxes all in a close gaggle in cloud - it was too bad. There were only six of us and we would be going out via a different route and at a faster speed. However, like the man said, soon after becoming airborne we did enter cloud and stayed in it for hours until just short of the target, the cloud did thin, and lo and behold there was a large circular hole in the clouds for we markers to let visually down to ground level. True the hole was not exactly where it was predicted to be, just a few miles out, but we were able to get down safely and pick up our running in route easily enough for us to mark the target ready for the onslaught of the incoming heavies. And as far as I know it was a successful raid - 9/10 to the Met Boys!

St. Elmo’s Fire.

There was this occasion, it could have been at the time of the operation I have just recalled, but anyway it does not matter precisely when I encountered the phenomenon. We were in cloud and I was doing my blind flying act when there was an excited shout from my navigator.

I looked up from the flying instruments and was amazed to stare at the two forward facing windscreens. They were completely obliterated on the outside by a sheet of arcing electricity, The two propellers were two large whirling discs of electricity. The leading edges of both wings were similarly affected, stretching out into the blackness of the night ablaze with arcing electricity.

A truly eerie, awesome and wondrous sight, it continued that way for about an hour and a half. As far as I can recall it seemed to have no bad effect on my navigator’s radio navigational aids. The only thing to do was to sweat it out, there seemed to be no signs of immediate danger. Our apprehension was that we were showing ourselves up as a good target for an enemy fighter, but were somewhat mollified to realise that we would be able to see him as soon as he saw us.

If the static decided to mix it with the fuel load, we wouldn’t know much about it. Did I mention that we carried no guns whatsoever and, for that matter, neither did we carry bombs -just target indicators (TIs)? Eventually we ran out of the stuff, and I never encountered it again - St. Elmo’s Fire - nice to know its name.

Instrument Flying.

Instrument flying was, and still is, so important that I used to practise at least 15 minutes on every trip if I had not had to use it for real. My method was to warn the navigator for extra lookout, and I would lower my seat to the lowest position and I would get to work - Eyes down - look in! I must pause a moment to explain the navigation light system - left or port wingtip would have a red light facing forward and sideways, right or starboard wingtip would have a green light similarly placed, and the rear light was a steady white facing rearwards, so if you ever saw a white light you knew were about to ram the rear of another aircraft. Normally in wartime, of course, no lights would be shown.

On this occasion we were returning from a sortie and I was set in my self-imposed task of practising my I.F., which in due time came to an end, and I started to lift my seat and head and eyes, when I suddenly caught sight of a bright white light dead ahead. I immediately rammed on full throttle and threw the aircraft into a ‘G’ defying steep turn to the left, very uncomfortable for the navigator, and quite frightening for him. It was very lucky that my instant reflexes acted, because on gingerly straightening up we found that we had narrowly missed by some hundreds of thousands of miles, the North Star. It took me a time to live that one down.

Flying instruments are thoroughly reliable, but I always hung a bunch of keys on a chain from a convenient hook on the ceiling of the cockpit, and I knew that as long as I could see the chain was taut and central, then the aircraft was on an even keel. It gave me further confidence to see something simple like gravity acting on the key chain.

Drunk in charge of H.M. Aircraft.

The Mossies with which 627 were equipped were manufactured, like most others. by various makers, but they were all made to the same drawings. so it did not really matter to us from whence they came.

On this occasion I had been allocated a Canadian built Mosquito. It was standard practice at all times to wear flying gloves, that is to say silk gloves over which are worn leather gauntlets. It was also standard practice to work from a darkened cockpit so we would not be seen by enemy fighters.

My navigator and I went through our respective cockpit drills and we were away on another operation. Aircraft set into a climb and then levelled off and onto, eventually, our first course. Now normally I could fly an accurate course for hours on end to within the thickness either side of the particular gyro compass line, one degree out was, for me, bad. Such accuracy helped the navigator in his task.

We had been en route for about an hour when I saw that I was 5’ off the mark, but the significance didn’t register. I took my time on bringing it back. A little later I saw I was off again 50 or was it 3’. Not to worry, young Swales will be able to cope. I noticed that he kept looking at me, but I didn’t worry too much - perhaps he fancied me!

Then all of a sudden, it hit us both together, we both flashed to the oxygen control - there it was - in the light of a torch, well and truly in the ‘off’ position. I was getting no oxygen but Swales, separately controlled, was. By this time we were weaving about the sky in no uncertain manner, but I wasn’t concerned or worried in the least.

Remembering our experience in the decompression chamber we both knew I was drunk with oxygen lack. I put the aircraft into a dive and turned the oxygen full on and did my best to reassure Swales. But I couldn’t quite get the anxious light in his eyes to subside. After all I was trying to stop giggling. But it was fortunate that I just had sufficient control of my faculties to realise what was happening. I soon recovered much to Swales’ delight, and we resumed the sortie.

It appeared later, when we had returned, that although the control was in the right position, it was fitted 180 degrees out of the correct alignment. For On it was Off and v.v. – 0/10 for Canada - 10/10 for the decompression corporal. I wonder how many unexplained missing aircraft were lost for that reason?

Finger Trouble.

The squadron was running through a bad patch with damage caused by ground looping.
The CO had us all assembled in the crew room one day and then proceeded to read us the
riot act as to what dire consequences would happen to the next pilot who suffered
such a calamity.

It was pure finger trouble and being asleep on the job — natter! natter! yak! yak! etc. The
next pilot would be up in front of the Group Commander so fast that his feet wouldn’t
touch the ground.

Guess who was the very next one, the next day? No, not me — him!!

Passing Wind

If you examined a pilots navigation chart used on one of the sorties you would see a
reference and time when to pass wind! As this is a good family book, perhaps an explanation might not come amiss.

It refers to the sixth Mossie ofthe six aircraft that formed a visual marking team on each
sortie. His task was to fly to within the target area, at the bombing height ofthe main force
and proceed to go through a procedure that would measure the speed of the wind and its
direction. The resulting measurements were passed by R/T to the Master Bomber in
another Mosquito, whose task it was to act as a kind of master of ceremonies for the com-
plete raid. He would pass the information regarding the wind to the main force for every
bomb aimer to set on his bombsight.

Finger Trouble (2).

On this occasion I was one of five marking aircraft and we were flying at about 200 or
300 feet in the target area, looking for our target for that night’s raid. At this juncture you
have got your bomb doors open and everything else all set.

Remember, whilst all this is going on, the enemy is sending up with his compliments, his
particular form of hate in order to put us off sending down to him with our compliments,
our form of hate.

If you want to get some idea of what it is like to see flak coming up at you, the next time
you drive over a line of cats eyes any dark night at about 40 mph — that’s what it looks like;
the flashes appear to come up quite lazily. join two or three streams together and you’ve
got a reasonable replica. But remember, for every illuminated shell you see there are four
shells between not illuminated.

I must explain that the control column culminates in a cross piece rather like an
overgrown pair of spectacle frames. On the right hand ‘O’ piece is the ‘Press to Speak’ button through which you transmit over the R/T and on the left hand ‘O’ piece is the bomb
release button — or is it the other way about?

The procedure is, whoever sights the target proper first, presses the Press to Speak but-
ton and transmits “Tally Ho No.3” or whatever his number, “diving now”, to avoid two or
more aircraft doing the same dive on the same target at the same time and ending up locked
in each others wings.

The diving aircraft then proceeds into his dive and when lined up with the target, presses
the bomb release button, only in our case it would not be a bomb but a target indicator.
Anyway, remember the excitement of the moment, and I had suddenly caught sight of the target, squeezed the Press to Speak button to shout Tally Ho, only I pressed the wrong button and my TI was way off the target burning merrily away. This was not the first time this had happened and the correct procedure was to call up the Master Bomber and tell him immediately.

Your own squadron colleagues could hear what had taken place and could proceed to mark correctly anyway. The Master Bomber would then tell main force to ignore the stray TI.


Let me try to describe what this is all about on the ground and then I will try to describe what it is like landing with its aid, from the air. There were six Master airfields situated at strategic sites in the British Isles with longer and extra wide runways, extra fire tenders and ambulances, to handle casualties and large bulldozers to quickly remove crashed aircraft, thus allowing further aircraft in distress to land. They were also fitted with petrol burning pipes alongside the runway which generated such heat that it burned off fog in the immediate area and thus allow aircraft to land.

And so it was, we were returning from another sortie, and we were ahead of the returning bomber force, and were listening to our reports of airfield states coming in on R/T. We would have left enemy territory and somewhere over the North Sea heading for home. One by one we could hear the airfields reporting fog and by God it sounded as if the whole of the returning bombers were going to be caught out with low fuel and nowhere to land.

In due course we reported in on our radio, to be answered by a WAAFs voice say “Roger George Baker Steer 278 degrees, stand by” It was always satisfying to be given a bearing to steer that you were already steering. It perks up the navigator. “Stand by” means listen out and expect further instructions. It was always comforting to hear a woman’s voice at this juncture for two reasons. A woman’s voice, a symbol of love and affection, soothed the nerves after all the turmoil and tension and excitement recently experienced by you and your crew; of all the violence and hate that a well organised enemy has thrust in your path, whilst you have been unloading on to them your own particular brand of venom. Once more you and your crew have put collective heads on the chopping block and once more the axe has missed, although we might have felt the wind of it.

The second reason is much more utilitarian. Because the female voice is higher pitched, the words are more easily heard over the radio with its imperfect reception and the noise of two Rolls Royce Merlin engines belting away six feet from each ear.

Here’s our call! We are called up with our instructions. Our airfield is ‘out’ and we are to make for Woodbridge. We are still over the North Sea and we give Woodbridge a call. Woodbridge answers and we get a new course to steer. So onto the new course we go, and soon we can see the fog formed over the land. We are flying well above the fog layer in the clear. Not a sign of anything except this thick blanket below through which we have to fly before we can tuck up in our beds. There is a faint glow on the horizon dead ahead.

Soon it is time to start our descent from our operation height. The noise of the Merlins is muted now as we ease back the throttles to lose height. Watch out for any icing layer. Met didn’t mention any, but it is well to keep looking for it. Keep the engine temperatures warm now we’ve throttled back. How’s the fuel? Switch the tanks to give us the most available. Reduce air speed.

We are given our final instructions and we prepare the Mossie and ourselves for the final procedures. We drop towards the fog bank and soon at about 2000 feet we enter the thick swirling mass and we see nothing outside except streams of fog flashing past the blue flames of our open exhaust pipes. The glow on the horizon gone. Nothing but a flickering orange opaqueness all around us.

Or rather the Navigator sees nothing - me - I’m flying on instruments as concentrated as I know how, but this time I am following instructions coming through my ear-phones. A quick check for landing B-U-M-P-F-H.

At last we are on the last and final run in. By now the aircraft is being buffeted by rising warm air. Can still see nothing. 800' - 700’. The flickering opaqueness more intense and animated. Increase the throttle to give me a little extra speed to counter the heated air when we get there. Nav is staring straight ahead. Hope we don’t run into a large hole sticking up out of the ground between here and the runway!

The fog takes on an orangey hue 600' on the altimeter. Quick check for Green light on undercarriage. 500'. Getting close to the ground. Buffeting increasing. Aircraft in landing attitude, tail down, 400’. Suddenly we find ourselves flying in a clear atmosphere tunnel, with a line of fire stretching in on both sides of us and disappearing way ahead. Can’t see the runway except a black void where it ought to be.

What’s the huge sinister black figure with a long barbed tail cradled in his arms and carrying a trident doing on the runway - Gosh I’m tired. Brush the image away - Dante’s infemo! Quick, speed a bit high - Quick, full flap on now and ease back throttles. Wait for the bump of the two huge tyres hitting the ground to accelerate them from 0 to 90 knots in seconds, There they go and followed by the lesser bump in the tail wheel.

Landing speed still a bit high, watch for the swing - there it goes - full rudder - no bite on this hot air - quick Mr. Rolls Royce, I want one thousand two hundred horse power on my inner engine this very now!! Full throttle, God, its not holding - yes it is - Quick throttle back before we go the other way. And we are speeding down the fiery lane nicely straight and fast but speed dropping fast. Watch out for the second critical swing speed 50 to 40 knots. Kiss the brakes, don’t want my tail to come up! 50-20-10. Phew! Kiss, Kiss, the brakes.

“Woodbridge Tower, George Baker clear of runway, over”.
“Roger George Baker, follow the van, over”

In the blackness ahead the words in Red Letters FOLLOW ME appear. I flash my downward light to let the word know I’m ready. After a spell the red words Follow Me go out, and a pair of swirling torches begin a merry gyration. Only those in the know can understand their dance. Soon I get the signal to switch off engines and lock on parking brake and we really, at last, can say the risk of any more swings is over for tonight. Just sit quietly in the cockpit a few seconds to gather yourself and mumble a few words to your Maker.

We remove ourselves and gather up our equipment and hand over the Mossie to the safe keeping of the ground crew and walk to the de-briefing room. I glance back and see the beautiful lines of our Mossie silhouetted black against the flames of this unique runway. Strange how humans can get sentimentally attached to an inanimate object. Sad it’s a machine for war.

The roar of the burning flares eliminates all conversation until we get into the crew room and can shut it out. After the interrogation the Doc wants to know if I would let him take a blood pressure reading for some study he is on. Yes, happily - haven’t I got two feet on the ground?

Swales and I are issued with a rum ration - the first and only time that happened to me - at that time at that place it was nectar.

I cannot say how the remainder of the bomber force fared that night because I simply did not get to know - such information was secret. Inevitably we lost some, we always did, and some must have been due to the fog. I only know for sure that Woodbridge and the other Masters were in for a very busy night - what was left of it.

Let me complete this series of anecdotes by attempting to explain how a sortie was organised from the view-point of 627 aircrews.

The working day would start earlyish - 8 o’clock - when all the aircrews would be assembled in the crew room to learn:-

(a) If the Squadron was ‘On Ops 'Tonight’
(b) If yes, which crews were detailed for the six aircraft.
(c) If the Squadron was not on ops, what was the flying programme (if any) going to be.

Dealing only with (b) the six pairs of crew would start to prepare themselves in the way of parachutes, inflatable dinghies, Mae Wests etc. The remaining crews would be dismissed to whatever training or other tasks for which they had been detailed.

Around about 10 o’clock the duty aircrews would be invited to listen in to the Commanding Officer’s inter-squadron briefing given by the Group Commander from his base which would be at Headquarters elsewhere. This was done by telephone lines hooked up to loud-speakers and special microphones. Thus the Group Commander would be addressing his Commanding Officers of say up to six different Squadrons sited at six different locations. The plan of operations would be opened up and explained in detail, and of course, questions could be asked both ways by this means of communication.

When this briefing was over, the duty aircrews would know their specific role, who was to wind-find, who was to mark, etc., and what the target was to be. Later in the morning the duty aircrews would assemble in the operations room, and there learn of the specific routes we were to take, code call signs, radio frequencies and timing of the various events that comprised the operation.

The route out for us would be different from the main force and the pattem would also be different in shape. For instance, neither we nor the main force would fly the direct route to the target. A number of ‘dog legs’, would be flown to keep the enemy guessing as to which centre we would finally end on. Of particular interest would be our final run-in route at low level on which would be marked various prominent land marks like a particular chimney stack, stretch of water, railway line, church tower etc. More often than not there would be blown up photographs of these taken from reconnaissance aircraft at the heights we would be flying at.

We would not be able to make notes of these but they had to be committed to memory, and you could visit the ops. room any number of times from now until the fmal briefing time to refresh your memory. This would take up to about midday and then it was just a question of lunch and await the time of the main and final briefing sometime late afternoon or evening.

At the final briefing all the latest information would be given, like where to expect opposition and in what form etc., times of take-off, what petrol load, what colours of TIs and dozens of other important details. When that was over, the next main event would be the “Ops Supper”. For some aircrews it would be their last supper. The ops. supper never varied, it was always egg and chips. The medics said it was a substantial enough meal for a tensed up stomach to absorb and yet not too substantial for a fluttering stomach to reject. Nevertheless I have seen unlucky aircrew ‘puke up’ on the tarmac just before getting into their aircraft. There was no disgrace in this, it was accepted as just one of those things. He just went hungry but he was also issued with a sweet ration to help out.

I have, on more than one occasion, been ready to puke from a fluttering stomach but have managed in the end to keep a hold - no shame in being frightened! Bomber Command fought its way on Egg & Chips and I truly think somewhere in our Battle Honours should be a reference to the chicken and the egg. By the way, you lucky people reading this, egg and chips was regarded by all the civilian population and us, as a luxury, as also was our ‘aircrew sweet ration’.

And so at the allotted times aircraft would be taking off on their single purpose. Very often we would witness by sight and sound the forming up and departure of anything up to 600-800 heavy bombers in the Lincolnshire skies. The menacing voices of 3000 Merlin engines would be an uplift to the civilian population. Then we would take off and fly our devious routes, overtake the main force and reach the target twelve minutes before the first bomber was due to arrive.

Simultaneously with our low level arrival in our Mossies would be a number of high flying Lancasters from 83 and 97 Squadrons. Their purpose was to release “Candles” as they were called. These were high powered flares descending on parachutes and bumed for about five or six minutes. The purpose was to illuminate the countryside and to keep it illuminated until we the low flyers could sight and properly mark the target with our TIs.

This part of the operation would be controlled by the Master Bomber, also in a Mossie watching progress. When he was satisfied with the marking he would call both us and the illuminators off away home. In the meantime the Wind Finders would be doing their stuff.

Thus the stage was set for Bomber Command to bring on its onslaught with the Master Bomber directing operations all the time at low level. The whole operation was slickly executed and it was planned in such a way as to take place in 20-25 minutes in order to swamp the defences. Even so, we had our losses of course, as the total loss of 56,000 killed in action aircrew will indicate.


Whenever I am asked - and so far no one has ever asked - how I can possibly justify causing all those bombs to be dropped on to so many innocent women and children? my answer would be, speaking as one who also lost his Mother in the time, of course I cannot justify it - any more than Neville Chamberlain could when he committed us all to the task. We are not master of our own destiny. Our Creator has installed in us all, both power for good and evil, and we have not learned sufficiently to live with it yet. At the same time I would object to any creation of any system that would separate the innocent of the kind I am talking about, from the actions of the whole.

When it is realised that no one section is safe from death or violence as a result of a collective action, then I believe the possibilities of a war are that much lessened. Amen.

In conclusion.

“Yes” says Edna, my wife “I’ll have two raffle tickets – we’re never lucky - we never win anything! “ I wince - a meaningless and empty phrase that most of us use from time to time. I am trying to train my Wife not to use the remark.

56,000 to 1: 1/56,000 = .0000178, whichever way you put it, must indicate that we have had our share of luck. We are still together - we have both retained our good health. After some ups and downs after I left the RAF I found employment in which I found great interest. I didn’t make a fortune - just contentment. YOU CANNOT EXPECT MORE!

Copyright 1943-2012 627 Squadron in Retirement or as credited