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15 October 2014
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Bomber Command Armourer

by cambsaction

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Bert Shrimpton
Location of story: 
Oakington, Cambs
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
17 May 2005

This story was added to the People's War Website by Steven Turner, a BBC Storygatherer with the Radio Cambridgeshire Action Desk. The story was told by Bert Shrimpton at the Duxford VE Day airshow in May 2005 and has been submitted with Mr Shrimpton's approval.

"I joined up in 1941 at the age of 19, my family were Needlemakers, from Buckinghamshire. When I went to the recruiting office I had been an errand boy for a grocers in Thame. I was sent to Oxford for a medical, then all the way to Penarth to be told I would be listed as an electrician but would actually be an armourer. I went home for a bit and was then recalled to Cardington, Bedfordshire. I then went for basic training before being put on an electrician’s course at Henlow. I was finally sent to Oakington, on a Stirling Squadron, in 1942.

I only got a flight up in a Stirling once and on that occasion the pilot was an American who had fought in the Spanish Civil War, his name was “Buck” Sanger. We’d had an aircraft land at Waterbeach so we had to go and fetch it back. I remember looking out a window as we flew back and seeing the tops of trees as he buzzed some Land Army girls in a field. In a Stirling!"

(Editors note; I will try to do the following justice but the intricacies of bombing up a Lancaster made me feel like a dunce!).

"We were later equipped with Lancaster bombers. There were 15 bomb stations on a Lancaster and the aircraft was loaded in order to keep the aircraft stable when the bombs were dropped. The switchgear inside the bomb bay was numbered 1-16. As well as bombs, being a Pathfinder unit, we had to load flares of different colours, which indicated Clear visibility, part visibility or full cloud. Part of the job I had was to get the order correct. We had wheels to turn like on an Enigma machine. The wheel was numbered and you turned the wheel to reflect the order in which the load would be dropped from the cockpit. The bombs could be nose fused or tail fused, depending on how you wanted them to explode.

When the aircraft came back it was my job to check the switches and check that all the bombs had gone away correctly with the fuses activated. When we got a bomb that had failed to release we reversed the process in which we loaded it and the bomb would be sent back to the bomb dump.

I never thought of the job as dangerous. I was confident. Provided you did it okay you were fine. I only ever had the one occasion with a dangerous fault. There was one thing that always stood out to me, sometimes I’d be the last one out before the aircraft took off. Arming the bombs. I remember a bomb aimer saying to me that he wouldn’t mess with the fuses because he didn’t know what he was doing. That impressed me. He was out there every night risking his life but he had that respect for what we were doing. I never forgot that.

The busiest year was 1943-1944. I would be 9am before you came off shift sometimes and you’d be back on at 1pm preparing for the next operation. The aircraft would take-off at 8pm-9pm depending on the time of year and then come back early morning.

I remember we lost two Master Bombers over the Marshalling Yards at Le Mans in France. I went to an aircraft and a pilot said they’d died. He said; “Fraser’s gone”. Fraser was an 80 trip New Zealander. His deputy followed him.

I spent VE Day guarding aircraft at an Operational Training Unit. We were confined to camp because Group were concerned that people may set fire to our aircraft as part of the celebrations. So there were no drinks for us, we spent the night patrolling!

My wife was on anti-aircraft guns during the war, in the Sunderland area then on the South Coast for D-Day.

I demobbed in 1946 and went to work in Morris Motors Cowley factory. I then went to Parker Knoll in High Wycombe and ended up at Dunstable with Bedford Trucks."

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