- Contributed by
- BBC Scotland
- People in story:
- Kenneth A C Melvin and as given in enclosed papers
- Location of story:
- Southern Italy and UK
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 08 November 2005
This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Mairi Campbell of the BBC on behalf of Ken A C Melvin and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the sites terms and conditions.
The Recent WW2 Veterans event which was hosted by Eastwood District Council recently brought back many wartime memories for us “oldies”. It was good to meet and discuss these memories with others who had served in the Royal Air Force. We appreciate the BBC is taking and in interest and wishes to build an archive for future generations. A discussion we had with a gentleman at the next table to my wife and myself reminded me of an experience that meant so much to me and my crew at the time. The gentleman mentioned that he had been a member of a crew whose plane was shot down in North Africa in 1942, and that he had been in prisoner of war camps in Germany until the cessation of hostilities in May 1945, when he was flown back home in a DC3 Dakota transport. A memory came flooding back.
I am a few years younger and had volunteered for aircrew duties just about the time my friend was shot down. I had trained as a pilot in what was then Rhodesia, been posted to units in the Middle East, and as the War in Europe finished I found myself with a crew of seven on no 178 Squadron, flying B24 Liberators from Amendola, an airfield near Foggia in Southern Italy. We had flown some 30 operations, mainly bombing of marshalling yards on the German supply routes to the Italian Front, German Naval Bases at Trieste and Pula and army support bombing of enemy positions prior to an advance. We dropped supplies of weapons food and clothing to Marshall Tito. As the war finished we flew supplies of petrol and oil to Army Units in Northern Italy, landing on captured German Airfields.
I would think that every member of an RAF aircrew would remember the end of the War and what he was doing when he heard the war had ended! We certainly remembered.
Our advancing armies had overtaken and opened the prisoner of war camps in Southern Europe, and released men were brought south to our airfields. At a briefing, we were told that we were one of the crews chosen to fly these men home. As the briefing continued we became more and more concerned about the responsibility this gave us. This was something quite different. It was all very well flying ourselves, but when we heard that some of our passengers to be had been “in the can” as they said, since Dunkirk, it certainly concentrated our attention! The flights were going to take seven to eight hours.
We saw how our aircraft were being converted for carrying passengers — well the lads were going home, they would not mind! The Liberator had a very big bomb bay with a 9 inch wide catwalk along the middle and on each side of this our Engineering wizards had fitted three planks of wood. One just above the roller shutter type bomb doors for feet, one as a seat and one as a back rest! This arrangement could seat about 28 men but everyone knew that bomb doors were not meant to be stood on! This was the first time we would fly without parachutes — as our passengers could not have them. We felt that this was going to be by far the most important mission of all in getting these fellows home safely.
As we brought our passengers on board, it was obvious that some had suffered neglect and would require a period of recuperation. Each had been given a pack of sandwiches, probably cheese, it usually was! There were no flasks, we all had water bottles. The toilet arrangement amounted to one “elsan” in the rear if the aircraft. (This was fair enough in this case, but was a problem when sometime later we were to fly the first WAAF’s to be posted to Aden Command, this was from Cairo West, - that being a ten hour flight!) We Flew many batches of ex — POW’s to airfields in the south of England, Westcott near Aylesbury, Hurn and Holmsley South near Bournemouth, Glatton near Peterburgh and on one occasion due to very bad weather when most airfields were closed, to St Mawgans in Cornwall. Each time our feelings were the same. We had very valuable cargo! Our air gunners and bomb aimer acted as hosts in turn, looking after the men and taking them in turn to spend time at the windows on either side of the “beam position” or in the mid-upper and rear gun turret. It really was a most uncomfortable journey for them, but, as I said, they were going home.
I include a copy of the sheet of instructions we handed to our passengers as they boarded, together with prints of pilot’s copies of the orders and passenger lists which I have found in an old bag in the loft, which gives the rank, number and previous units of our passengers.
The crew regarded these as being our most important flights.
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