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A Tribute to Eric Phillips

by wrenmarion

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Archive List > Royal Air Force

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Flt.Lt. Eric Phillips D.F.C.
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Royal Air Force
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06 January 2005

A Tribute



Over the years members of the family have asked Eric about his experiences in the Royal Air Force. While willingly answering their questions he seldom enlarged on the subject. However, during the winter of 2000/2001, with the help of his log book and other aide-memoirs, we wrote an account of those years.

Here is the story of those years as a tribute, not only to Eric but also all the other members of Bomber Command whose courage and fortitude helped to save this Country and indeed, the whole world from the tyranny of Nazism.

On Boxing Day 1940, Eric was called for his medical examination in order to join the Armed Forces. He was adjudged to be A.1 but was advised to have his varicose veins treated before entering the Service. Since he had been keen on flying ever since his first flight with Sir Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus in 1928, there was no doubt that his first choice was to be a pilot with the R.A.F. His wish was granted and he was called up on 19th January 1941. However when he reported to the Hounslow Centre he was given 7 days leave. We always believed that this was because he had just married but whether this was so in fact, we never knew.

However, on 27th January 1941, he, together with another member of the Public Assistance Department of Surrey County Council, Willy Barker, reported to R.A.F. Cardington.

This was a most inhospitable place. Accommodation was in drafty huts heated by a single coke fire, the wash places were unheated and the washing water was cold. This in the coldest month of an exceptionally cold winter.

Their first duty was to get kitted out and parcel up their civilian clothes to be sent home. This was a traumatic moment for both the senders and receivers as it made the parting seem so very final. Then there were the injections. The strength and number of them, together with the cold and physical work caused many men to “pass out”.

Although this posting seemed to last a very long time it was only 5 days before the group was transferred to Morecambe where they lived in pre-war boarding houses, where the landladies did as much as they were able to make their visitors comfortable. Nevertheless it was not all rosy, part of their training consisted of P.T. on the beach - in nothing but shorts and gym shoes. Again some men flaked out.

They were at Morecambe from 1st February until 8th March and then, for the next 4 months, they went from Station to Station. They had 2 spells at Scampton and were at Calshot and Bassingbourne. During this time they were taught how to handle and maintain guns and rifles. On the more practical side they guarded aircraft and the perimeter fence. While it was very eerie at night, once the sun came up and the dawn chorus began, life felt worth living.

Finally the course went to Babbicombe on 9th June where they were assessed for flying duties and on 21st June they were posted to Torquay and the Initial Flying Wing. As they became cadets they wore a white flash in their forage caps

On this course they were taught the theory of flying and navigating. The latter included trigonometry of which Eric knew absolutely nothing and, I suspect, learnt very little more. Nevertheless he managed to pass.

The next Station was Sealand in Flintshire where Eric, having been promoted to L.A.C,. began to actually fly.

However one great. disappointment was that Willy Barker left the course and joined the R.A.F. Regiment. Willy survived the war but died in the late 1960s.

The aircraft used were Tiger Moths and his first flight in the cockpit was on 22nd August 1941 and his first solo flight was 20th September. The song, “Amlopo” which was the hit of the month always reminded of this flight as he found himself singing it as he flew.

Before leaving Sealand Eric flew 28½ hours dual and 32 hours solo.

Eric’s next posting was to Grantham where he graduated to the twin-engined Oxfords, known throughout the Service as “Oxboxes” While here he put up the greatest “black” of his career in the R.A.F. On 11th September he lowered the undercarriage of the Flight Leader’s new plane while it was on the ground. He was not popular.

It was at this time that the reason for the M.O.’s suggestion that he had his varicose veins treated became clear. The strain on the affected leg when flying a twin-engined plane on one engine was too great. This was a necessary part of the training since, in an emergency, it could be vital to be able to carry out this manoeuvre.

Eric reported sick and was labelled “lacking in moral fibre” which is a euphemism for cowardice. It was with great annoyance and much persistence that he finally managed to be referred to Raucby Hospital for the necessary operation. This took pace on 30th January and he returned to duties on 21st February by which time he had lost his place on the course and had to await another.

This waiting time was an oasis for both of us as he was seconded to the library and enjoyed organising it and reading the books it contained. Moreover he was able to get home several more weekends than he would have been able to do otherwise.

Travel was a nightmare. The underground stations were full of Londoners sheltering from the nightly bombing raids. Trains were crowded and ill lit. Not only was every seat occupied but Service personnel were also sitting on their kit in the corridors. Station names were removed less the information help the Germans should they invade and the lighting on them was so poor that it had been known for passengers to alight from the wrong side of the train - sometimes with fatal results. Obviously one never knew when the train might be hit by a bomb or suffer a near miss with glass and other debris scattered over everything and everyone.

One night, when sitting on his kit in the corridor on the way back from leave Eric recognised the soldier sitting beside him. It was an old friend from his schooldays, Eric Read. The two Eric’s had spent many days out on their bicycles, even as far afield as Brighton, but with whom he had lost touch. Read was on his way to his camp in Scotland and after some time spent in recalling old times it was a case of “ships that pass in the night”.

At all major railway stations the Salvation Army had vans where they dispensed tea, coffee and light snacks to the Armed Service personnel. Eric’s favourite meal was scrambled eggs on fried bread. The eggs, of course, were powered but it was still very tasty. The “Sally Anne” also took hot drinks to the ground crew on airfields when they were unable to get back to their mess during their break period.

Finally Eric was able to resume his training and, in order to do so was posted to the R.A.F. College, Cranwell. This was a wonderful experience for him. The cadets were housed in the College buildings, 2 to a room and sharing the services of a batman. During dinner in the hall the R.A.F. band played a selection of melodies. The trainees on that course was unusually varied bunch there was 1 Czech, 1 Trinidadian, 9 Turks, 9 Belgians, 9 British and 2 Free French one of whom was F/O D Farman a member of the Farman Aircraft Company

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