- Contributed by
- Essex Action Desk
- People in story:
- Leonard Rallph Tyrrell
- Location of story:
- Chelmsford Canada Lincolnshire
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 September 2005
As an apprentice at the Essex Chronicle, working alongside my grandfather in 1938, with Munich crisis. It seemed like preparations were being made for war and I always had an interest in the RAF and had several aircraft recognition books of the RAF, the German Luftwaffe and the Italian airforce. During the Battle of Britain 1940 I was elected roof spotter when the air sirens sounded, armed with my tine hat and whistle. The whistle was for me to blow down the lift shaft on the appearance of enemy planes. I used to watch the aerial battle overhead and often forgot to blow the whistle, so the workers carried on!
When the Mayor of Chelmsford announced he was forming an Air Training Corps squadron in Chelmsford in January 1941, about 200 young boys went along for an interview and I was one of the first to join the squadron which was allocated No.276. After several months of drill, PT, lectures of aviation subjects, I was then old enough to volunteer for RAF Aircrew duties. By the end of 1941 I had passed my medical and educational tests, but owing to the many recruits from the ATC, the RAF placed many air cadets on deferred service. So it was not until the end of June 1942 that I was told to report to the Aircrew reception centre at Lords cricket ground. Within hours I was wearing RAF blue. The training was very intense at Initial Training Wing before going to a grading school at Carlisle, after which pupils were selected under the PNB scheme.
In 1943, I found myself with several hundred trainees bound for Canada under the Empire Training Scheme, sailing across the Atlantic ocean for 10 days before disembarking at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Here the train took us to a personnel depot at Moncton, New Brunswick, where we all awaited postings for further training. I served at No.31 Bombing and Gunnery School, Picton, Ontario, learning air to air gunnery and using a Mark IX bombsight. After successfully passing this course we were granted some leave and travelled to Toronto and on to Niagara Falls, then entering the USA to the nearest city of Buffalo. The next posting was to No.7 Air Observers School at Portage La Prairie, some 50 miles north of Winnipeg. Here we learnt air navigation, photo reconnaissance and bomb aiming at certain places. Graduation came at the end of 1943 and being in the top six of the course, was granted a VR Commission as a very young pilot officer. The next step was to travel back across the vast land of CANADA, then embarking once more at Halifax, travelling back across the Atlantic unescorted to finally dock at Southampton.
Later, after leave, further training at an advanced flying unit, then onto No.17 Operational Training Unit at Silverstone where all the various aircrew categories came together. We were requested to form into crew of six members. I was now flying in a Wellington bomber, learning navigation, bombing and fighter affiliation. The next stage was to go on to four-engine aircraft at No.1660 Conversion Unit at RAF Swinderby, picking up the seventh member of the crew in the guise of a flight engineer. By the end of this course we were classified as “Operational aircrew”, the seven members of the crew becoming as seven brothers each relying on the other to survive. The final stage was a posting to No.207 squadron, 5 Group, Bomber Command at RAF Spilsby, near the resort of Skegness.
We quickly settled down to squadron life; of briefings before an operation, of empty places the next day after an operation. The casualties mounted up but somehow the crew survived the traumas. The experience of seeing a 1000 bombers in the air was an awesome sight. The targets varied and flight times of the operations were from 8-9.50hours. Landing with the engine noises still ringing in the ears, briefing over, then back to the mess for eggs and bacon only to repeat the action another night, or early dawn. Times varied according to the planners of Bomber Command operations.
The final operation for me was in April 1945, then the fighting was over in Europe. There was, however, another war in the Far East, and the most experienced crews were earmarked to train for “Tiger Force”. These crew would then fly to the Far East in a new aircraft called the Avro Lincoln, a bigger model of the famous Lancaster. This did nothing for our morale. We were already aware of the cruelties of the Japanese rmy but took a stoical view of what will be will be. With two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities the war was over and we did not go. We remained in this country, flying on food dropping to the starving Dutch and ferrying troops back from the Middle East, each Lancaster bringing 25 soldiers back to the mother country. Eventually those operations ended and our crew were then made redundant. We had come through the fire and tempest and were very lucky to have survived. It was a very sad day for the crew to say goodbye, promising to keep in touch and thus we all went our various ways.
I finished my RAF career by taking an administration post out in India, serving in Karachi, Delhi, Calcutta and finally to Peshawar on the North West Frontier. My release group was promulgated and I made the long journey back to the UK. I chose to go home by boat which took three weeks before getting demobbed at RAF Hednesford.
I returned to print at the end of 1946 and remained with the Essex Chronicle until retirement. In the meantime, from 1947 until the present time, I have been a member of 276 air cadets and also a member of the RAF Association, a member of Bomber Command Association and the Aircrew Association.
On Remembrance Day I pause and think of all those young men I knew and trained with, but sadly never lived to tell the tale. I WAS LUCKY.
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