- Contributed by
- Geoff Wright
- People in story:
- Geoff Wright
- Location of story:
- UK and on a troopship
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 21 July 2004
The author after looping the loop in a Tiger Moth. A present for his 70th birthday
PART 1 RAF PILOT TRAINING IN WW2
THE STORY OF GEOFF WRIGHT,
INITIAL TRAINING IN ENGLAND 1943/1944
I now live in Congleton, Cheshire CW12 4QJ
This story is based on my diaries and flying logbook. Remember that I was 18 years old and was called up 7 days after finishing my Higher School Certificate Exams. You may find some of the text quaint but most of it is as it was written down at the time.
Some of us had a lot to learn about life, such as our first pint of beer.
I had already had some experience of flying as my father bought an AVRO 504k (1919 vintage) in the 30’s which he used for giving joy-rides at various places along the east coast. He also built a Flying Flea and owned Wrights Bus Service which served North east Lincolnshire. The red and cream buses were used by many RAF servicemen from the bomber stations in the area.
This is my story:
2.7.43 Interviewed at No. 1 Aircrew Selection Board, Doncaster. Recommended for commission and training as PNB(3) ‘A’ Service Number 3040524.
Rank AC.2 Medical grade 1
The interviews lasted for two days but I can remember very little about them. I know we were given thorough medical and intelligence tests. We also had colour blindness and eye examinations, and I was amazed to find that my sight was below the standard required. Fortunately it was agreed that I could fly with corrective lenses in my goggles. I was instructed to see my dentist before I was called up and was horrified to discover that I required 12 fillings. These were all replaced later at ITW as the RAF dentist said they were not suitable for high flying and would give me intense pain.
9.8.43. Posted to No. 1 Air Crew Recruiting Centre,
Lords Cricket Ground.
Service life started here. I was surprised that the ACRC was located in London when one bomb could have wiped out hundreds of potential aircrew. We were immediately issued with our kit and uniform, and then had to march to our billets carrying our civilian suitcase, two kitbags, back pack, side pack and gasmask case. We soon realised how unfit we were. The accomodation was in luxury flats in St. Johns Wood. They had been stripped of all their luxuries, but at least we had decent bathrooms and toilets and sheets on our beds. White sheets were one of the perks of aircrew and we had them until we were withdrawn from flying training in September, 1945. On the second day we all had a compulsory haircut. No comb and scissors affair, electric clippers straight over the top whether or not you gave the hairdresser a sixpenny tip. One airman was processed every 90 seconds.
The food was good, but the discipline irksome and at times farcical. I remember one day coming out of the mess and putting my forage cap on as I stepped through the door. The RAF Sergeant waiting outside promptly ordered me to report for an hours punishment drill that evening for appearing in public bare-headed. You soon acquired a healthy respect for the powers of NCO’s.
Church parade was compulsorily every Sunday, but it did at least ensure that the local churches had good congregations. After a few days we were allowed out into the city and I remember enjoying several free concerts by distinguished musicians. There were a few air raid warnings but I don’t remember any activity in our area.
We were subjected to large doses of square bashing and my previous experience in the OTC and ATC came in useful. Everyone had to try and swim a length of the baths and those who couldn’t received a crash course. Numerous tests were used to confirm our fitness to fly, including a night vision assessment. In this you were seated in a dark room on a chair with a restraining collar round your neck. You had to name the objects or shapes which appeared momentarily on a small screen in front of you.
28.8.43. Posted to No. 11 Initial Training Wing,
Prince of Wales Hotel, Scarborough.
The food was excellent as the original chefs still worked in the kitchen, but it was was a pretty tough place. Wakey wakey at ten to six, breakfast at twenty past, and on parade at seven o’oclock. Before you could go on parade you had strip your bed and pile up your kit in a neat pile at the foot. Blankets, sheets, greatcoat, gas mask container etc. had to be absolutely square, achieved by inserting sheets of cardboard in the front. Lectures were given in the Spa buildings at the foot of the cliff, and square bashing at the top so we had to march at the double several times a day up and down the cliffs. We had physical training on the beach, route marches, cross-country runs up and down the Mount. In between we were taught the principles of flight, navigation, aircraft recognition, morse code, the elements of service law etc. We were given no leave while we there but at least we were free to enjoy the delights of Scarborough at weekends and in the evening, if you had any energy left.
1.12.43. Posted to No. 4 Elementary Flying Training School, Brough, Yorkshire.
The old flying club belonging to the Blackburn Aircraft Company was used as our mess and for lectures. On the airfield were several Nissen huts used as flight huts for the flying instructors and trainees. All trainees had about 15 hours instruction on Tiger Moths. I had problems as I was only 5’6" tall and had short legs. I had to use cushions so that I could reach the pedals and see out of the cockpit. We flew off the grass, usually towards the river bank which was about twenty feet high so there was no room for mistakes. I managed to go solo in 7 hrs. 50 mins. but had to make three circuits before I landed safely. On the first two attempted landings I was too close to the river bank and had to go round again. When I eventually landed I discovered that my instructor had hid himself in the flight hut as he didn’t think I was going to get down safely. In the innocence of youth, I was quite unperturbed. I had simply flown as I had been instructed. Perhaps that is why I was one of the two out of five who were selected for pilot training. The others were sent for training as navigators and bomb aimers.
We slept in Nissen huts in the corner of the field by the gasworks and railway bridge. Over the bridge lived my Aunt Alice and Uncle Charlie and five cousins, so you can guess where I went at night.
10.3.44 Posted to Aircrew Despatch Centre, Heaton Park,
Remustered as U/T Pilot (2) as a result of my performance at Brough. Only two out of every five recruits were selected for pilot training, and probably half of these were allocated to fighter training, so I considered myself fortunate to have passed the recruiting board, passed the ITW training and finally been selected for fighter training. There was still a long way to go as only two out of five of those selected for pilot training eventually got their wings. Unfortunately, my posting to flying training was delayed as the special goggles I needed had not arrived. Perhaps this saved my life as I never reached operations.
25.3.44. Posted to No 12 Initial Training Wing, St. Andrews,
We were sent here until the RAF could decided what to do with us. Presumably they were not needing as many aircrew replacements as expected. My memories consist of salty porridge and route marches through the snow up the hills. These were agony to me as I am only 5"6" and my legs are short.
5.4.44. Posted to R.A.F. Bomber Station, Leconfield, Yorks.
Sid Wybrow and I were assigned to the Signals Section. This was the beginning of a long friendship as we were posted together for the next two years. We built valve radios for use in the billets and on one occasion Sid built a radio transmitter which caused havoc in the control tower. One of our jobs was to log in the Lancasters as they returned from bombing raids - could be a sad task.
I got leave occasionally and used the Humber Ferry from Hull to get to Lincolnshire. Unfortunately there were always military police on duty at the ferry so it was impossible to get across on unofficial leave. The alternative was a long journey up the river to Goole and back down the other side.
9.7.44. Posted to Aircrew Despatch Centre, Heaton Park, Manchester. 4 weeks embarkation leave but no embarkation.
10.8.44. Posted to 101 Lancaster Squadron, Ludford Magna, Lincolnshire. This RAF station was only eight miles from Louth, so I acquired an old cycle and frequently went home. We occasionally helped to load incendiary bombs and did menial tasks around the site. I remember one night being stationed at the beginning of the runway with a red Very pistol and a telephone. I can’t remember what my duties were, but suddenly the fog came down and to my amazement lines of fire roared up on either side of the runway. I was seeing one of the first demonstrations of FIDO, a fog dispersal system. 101 Squadron was a special duties squadron and the story was that they carried German speaking radio operators who attempted to fool the German night-fighters with spurious messages.
6.2.45 Tue. Embarkation Centre, Heaton Park, Manchester
Things are moving at last. This afternoon we had a Yellow Fever jab, and it certainly had a kick. For a few minutes I thought I was going to faint, but fresh air revived me and I had no after effects. In the evening the boys and I went out to the Griffon for a lively evening.
Miserable day. Usual Manchester rain. Most of the day was spent exchanging u/s clothing and in the evening we went to the Squirrel for tea. The old waitress was in a bad mood as some of the boys didn’t sit at her table, so the bill was heavier than usual. As we had two teas each that wasn’t surprising. Afterwards the boys went to the Union, but I wasn’t in that mood at all as I hadn’t recovered from the previous night. So I went to the flicks to see "Between Two Worlds" instead. Not a bad show.
The prospects are getting brighter every day. Today we have been issued with flying kit and tropical clothing and all our laundry has been brought up to date. Looks as if we shall be on the move pretty soon. However I’m not particularly excited yet.
This morning we’ve had a lecture on Southern Rhodesia and South Africa. The old Air Commodore was rather boring, but he did give us a little gen. I’m going to Southern Rhodesia and we may fly from the Middle East to Bulawayo. Also there is a good chance that I may return to England when I get my wings. In the evening we went to the Union to celebrate our draught overseas.
Day off today. Supposed to be our last free day. We were marched out of the gates at 10 o’clock and the boys and I caught an electric train to Victoria. I wasn’t hungry. but the others were so we had breakfast and then went to do a little shopping. I managed to buy a "Brownie" camera for 10/-. It isn’t very versatile but it will serve it’s purpose. We had lunch at the YMCA, Spam and veg. with a horribly sad date pudding. But as it only cost a shilling one can’t grumble.
The afternoon was spent at Birch Park roller-skating rink and we had a good time in spite of the crowds of children. I wrecked two pairs of skates and tired myself out thoroughly, but the girls made me lovesick for Winnie. I was too exhausted to skate in the evening, so Geordie, Geoff and I went to the Odeon to see "Double Indemnity".
Bad news today. Draft postponed for a week. We paraded at 10 o’clock and were dismissed for the day. The Halle Orchestra was playing at the King’s Hall so decided to spend the afternoon there. I reached Belle Vue at 2.40 pm and just as I was about to buy a ticket a civilian came up to me and gave me a 3/6d ticket he didn’t want. He wouldn’t allow me to pay for it and I had a pleasant afternoon six rows from the orchestra. Unfortunately it was at the back near the kitchen department, but that didn’t prevent me falling asleep three times.
On the Sten gun range this morning. As usual we spent three hours firing 20 rounds of ammunition. In the afternoon we each threw a grenade. It’s much easier than one would imagine and no mishaps occurred. I wasn’t feeling too well in the evening so stayed in and did a little washing the Rinso way.
We left the Regiment this afternoon and were marched out of the gates at two o’clock for our last evening out of camp in England. It wasn’t particularly exciting, an hour’s roller skating at Birch Park, tea at the Squirrel and a party with Dan and the rest of the boys at the Union.
Confined to camp. Very lazy day spent in exchanging laundry and boots. Early to bed after a good supper in the NAAFI.
The great day has at last arrived. Draft no. 9903 embarked at 11pm on the S.S. Samaria at Liverpool. The size of our sleeping quarters was a shock when we realised we had to eat there as well and we wondered how the hell we should manage. The lucky ones got a hammock, I didn’t and spent three weeks sleeping on a table on a pile of life-jackets. When we left port we immediately ran into a raging storm, The waves were higher than the deck and most of us were promptly seasick. I was never actually sick but felt rotten and then caught what felt like dysentery. Food was awful. Sausages like rubber, spam or stew with potatoes and vegetables. The plates frequently ended up in a pile at the end of the table as the storm was so violent. We went far out into the Atlantic and didn’t see land until we passed through the Straits of Gibraltar. I then remember stopping at Algiers, but not being allowed on shore, and passing Malta we had a submarine alert. The weather was hot in the Mediterranean and we had to shower in salt water. This is not to be recommended - you feel dirtier afterwards than when you started. The troopship was so crowded that exercise was almost impossible and during the latter part of the journey, when the weather improved, we spent most of the time lying on the deck.
We disembarked at Port Said
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