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15 October 2014
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Life as part of the crew of a Stirling Bomber

by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Archive List > Royal Air Force

Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Roy Smith; F/S A G Noble; F/O L E McKenzie; Sgt S L McGarrigle; F/S D A Chisholm; F/S H Smith; Sgt A Saunders; Sgt H Chessell
Location of story: 
Lakenheath
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
A7887423
Contributed on: 
19 December 2005

Roy Smith and Crew

Towards the end of September 1943, I was posted to 199 Heavy Bomber Squadron at Lakenheath, and was lucky enough to join the crew of a Stirling bomber, captained by an Australian, Allen Noble, with whom I completed a further 41 operational flights. It was a friendly crew, all being keen, conscientious and driven by the desire not to let their comrades down.

F/S A G Noble F/O L E McKenzie
Sgt S L McGarrigle F/S D A Chisholm
F/S H Smith Sgt A Saunders
Sgt H Chessell

These are some of the incidents, which I most remember:

® an engine catching on fire over the Midlands when returning from one of our trips. Allen instructed all crew members to assemble at the escape hatch and to be prepared to jump when instructed. In the meantime he had put the plane into a steep dive and managed to blow out the flames. Had he been unable to do this, he would not have escaped from the aircraft alive.

® setting out for a trip to Mannheim, and routed over N.W. London, it seemed that the ground defences had not been informed and we were subjected to some anti-aircraft fire. George, our wireless operator, fired off the colours of the day to no avail. As a precaution, the flight engineer opened the hatch, in case we had to make an emergency escape. Our mid-upper gunner bent down from his turret to see what was going on and seeing the hatch was open, switched on his intercom to contact the pilot. However, when bending down he must have pulled his intercom plug slightly out of the socket, so there was no connection to other crew members. Having seen the open hatch and being unable to communicate with anyone, he assumed that we had all jumped, and quickly followed suit. We were given to understand that he landed in Walthamstow and his parachute had caught on some railings, leaving him suspended a foot or tow above the ground. He was arrested by the Home Guard, but after establishing his identity, was returned to the station.

® being routed over Selsey on a mining trip, when prior to reaching the coast, we lost an engine and one of the remaining three was not functioning too well. Allen decided that the only chance of getting back was to continue on to clear the coast, drop the mines, (‘SAFE’) and to let as much of our fuel go, just saving enough to get back to base. Having accomplished this on our return trip we were still losing height and there was no chance of getting back to East Anglia. It was decided that we would try to get in at Dunsfold, (between Horsham and Hazlemere in Sussex). As we approached the runway, there appeared to be a large black cloud about one mile before the beginning of the runway. Allen was not sure if he could get over the top or whether he should try and get underneath, but height was precious and a decision was made to go over the top. The engine which had failed, controlled the electrics, which in turn operated the undercarriage. This therefore had to be wound down by hand with a cranked handle, 4 of us — 2 at each side — working at maximum speed, changing with our partner every 30 — 60 seconds. We took 3 minutes to lock each undercarriage in the down position, only 2 or 3 seconds before they touched the runway. What a relief! But not such a big relief as we experienced after getting out and looking back to see that — we had not skimmed the top of a black cloud — but a forest of tall trees!! We celebrated our good fortune by going to Brighton, having a night out, sleeping on the floor at chess’s house, and returning to Dunsfold the next morning.

I took Allen back to this hill in 1997 and we both re-lived this incident before going off to the pub, and once again celebrating our very narrow escape!

® dropping supplies to the Free French. Some of these were in the southern part of France and involved a return flight of about 8 hours. We usually crossed the French coast of Brittany at about 8 — 10,000 feet and dropped down to 2,000 feet or less on reaching the Loire. The low height was supposed to be safe insofar that it made it almost impossible for an enemy fighter to attack from below and dangerous to attack from above, having insufficient height to get out of a dive. We were of course lower than this when making a drop and on the return from one trip, one of the ground crew found a small piece of branch in the tail wheel.

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