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Grandad's Story - Part 4

by gmractiondesk

You are browsing in:

Archive List > Royal Air Force

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Alec Watson
Location of story: 
Sheffield, Yorkshire
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
31 January 2006

This story was submitted to the People's War site by a volunteer from the GRM Action Desk on behalf Catriona Watson, Alec's granddaughter, and has been added to the site with her permission. Catriona fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

From Leconfield I was posted back to Lossiemouth with my crew to become instructors, giving pupils the benefit of our experience. I quickly found some lodgings in Elgin, brought my wife up and obtained permission to live out when not on duty.

Not long after going back to Lossie the instructors were issued with a white diamond flash to be sewn on the sleeve of our battle dress. This worked very well until the next intake of pupils who had not been informed about the white diamond flash. Rumours soon became rife as to what it meant, the most prevalent being that it was for serving on the Russian front. We did nothing to dispel the rumour.

I had a fairly enjoyable time at Lossiemouth apart from a couple of incidents which were not particularly amusing. One was another undercarriage failure whilst instructing a pupil. I took over and carried out the procedure as before — the result was exactly the same as before - this time with a suitably impresses.

On the second episode, I was asked to air test an aircraft after servicing. My ex navigator and bomb aimer agreed to come with me. Just before we took off the CO appeared with about a dozen ATC lads from Lossiemouth. He said they would like a first trip in a plane, would I mind taking them with me. I agreed and they climbed aboard. Shortly after take off at about 1000 feet, the starboard engine packed up. I feathered the propeller and prepared to return to the aerodrome and land. Unfortunately, one of those sea mists had rolled in and obscured the runway. Nevertheless, I did a circuit and, on the cross wind leg, through a hole in the mist I saw what I thought was the runway and turned in to land. Halfway down the descent, I spotted some trees in front of me and, knowing there should not be any trees on this approach I knew I wasn’t heading for the runway. I immediately opened the throttles to full boost, my aim being to clear the trees. In doing so, I realised that I was holding height, I then decided to try to overshoot. According to the manuals, this was impossible (actually I had no other option but to crash land) so I selected undercarriage up and gradually raised the flaps, not without difficulty, needing both my feet on one side of the rudder and the bomb aimer pulling on the other side to keep the aircraft straight. I just managed to clear the aerodrome buildings, gradually gaining height but I had passed Peterhead and was over the North Sea before I had sufficient height to be able to turn back and return to Lossiemouth. Fortunately, the mist had cleared by the time I got there and I was able to land without difficulty.

When I got back to dispersal the CO was waiting. He greeted me with open arms, congratulating me and informing me that this was the first time a Mark OF Wellington had ever done an overshoot on one engine and he would see that I got the Air Force Cross for my exploit. I never received it. Next day the CO told me that a farmer had reported me for low flying near Peterhead and frightening his cows.

The CO was a very keen fisherman and twice we had to arrange a cross country for one of the pupil crews to Moreton in the Marsh. We took a salmon, which I handed over to the CO there and he loaded me up with apples, pears, plums, etc. to take back to Lossiemouth.

My crew wanted me to take them back on another tour of ops but the CO would not consider this. He let Taffy go with another crew and not long after I heard he had been shot down, only eighteen years old. Deryk, Don and Jackie made up another crew and I have never seen or heard of them since.

I was sent to another Flying Instructors’ course at Lulsgate Bottom, near Bristol and became an instructor on multi AIME engined aircraft. I was also sent to learn all about engines at Filton, near Bristol where the Hercules engines were being manufactured.

Whilst I was at Lossiemouth I was promoted to Warrant Officer, the highest non-commissioned rank in the RAF and was then treated with great respect.

Living in Elgin was very pleasant, rationing was practically non existent in this rural area. Farmers kept their own hens, made their own butter and slaughtered their own animals. Lossiemouth close by was a fishing port so fish, too, were plentiful. The rivers teemed with brown trout and salmon. With the Gulf Stream, it was also a good place for apples, plums and pears. On one occasion, Nell and I went over to Lossiemouth to the cinema. Strolling round beforehand we walked along the harbour, several boats had escaped from Eirope and sailed out of Lossie. We watched a fisherman on one of these boats gutting small fish, he looked up and asked “You like fish?”. We said yes and he disappeared below. Up he came with a cod about two feet long with a string through its mouth to carry it with. Thanking him we walked off carrying this fish — we were going to the pictures. Never defeated we bought some newspapers nearby and left our fish with the harbour master. Later we picked it up and travelled home on the bus with our fish. It was greatly appreciated by three families.

Towards the end of 1944, I was posted to 10 OUT at Abingdon near Oxford and there I found out why the CO at Lossiemouth had been reluctant to let me go back on ops. I was informed that I was to organise a Wellington Conversion Flight. Navigators had previously been trained on Avro Ansons which could carry 4 trainee navigators per flight and it had been decided to dispense with Ansons and use Wellingtons which could carry twelve trainee navigators per flight and so train navigators more quickly. So all Anson pilots had to be trained to fly Wellingtons. I was given six flying instructors to be converted to Wellingtons then we were shipped off to Jurby on the Isle of Man where the planes and ground staff were waiting for us. A Flt/Lt was officially in charge but as no one else could fly Wellingtons, I was put in charge.

First of all, I had to organise and give a series of lectures on such things as fuel system, electrical system, etc. These notes were printed and distributed to the trainees. I then tested their knowledge of the lectures before allowing them to climb into an aircraft. When I had passed the six flying instructors, we opened our doors to the navigation schools. I remained chief lecturer, mainly because none of the others felt confident to give them.

I also became the chief flying instructor which meant that, apart from having my own trainees, if any of the other instructors were reluctant to let their trainees go solo. I got the job of getting them solo and at the end of the course, I had to test all of the trainees and pass them out as competent pilots of a Wellington.

Not all flying instructing was plain sailing, in fact sometimes it could be quite dangerous. I remember once teaching a pupil to do steep dives. This might be necessary to shoot out search lights etc. He seemed to be mesmerised by the ground coming to meet him until I decided he had gone far enough and took over, not easy when someone is gripping the stick, and pulled out of the dive. We bottomed out about five feet from the ground which is pretty low for a Wellington, with the wheels down we would have touched the ground.

On another occasion, I was teaching the procedure for flying on one engine. To make this more realistic we would pull the petrol cut out cock which was on the left hand side of the pilot below the level of the seat and when the engine stopped instructed the pilot on feathering the propeller to reduce drag, and then teach them the procedure for flying on one engine. We did not allow the engine to be stopped for too long or it would become too cold and be difficult to re-start. So I instructed him to switch the petrol on again, carry out the un-feathering procedure and re-start the engine. (I should point out here that the instructor had a seat to the right of the trainee with a rudder and stick, and he could reach the throttles in case of emergency). But instead of the engine re-starting, the other one stopped so there we were at 6000 ft over the Irish Channel with no engines. I realised instantly what had happened, instead of switching the petrol on again he had switched the other one off. The trainee was looking very bemused so without more ado, I climbed over him and switched them both back on again got back in my seat recovered control and re-started the engines.

Whilst at Jurby they sent someone out to re-test my instructing abilities and I was re-categorised as A2(ME) which meant I could instruct on any multi-engine aircraft (even four engines provided I had read the Pilot’s Notes on that aircraft.

In December, 1944 my wife gave birth to our son, Peter. When he was six months old we decided they would come to the Isle of Man so I found digs in Ramsey, got a week’s leave and went to Scotland to fetch them. Nell was very brave when we boarded the boat in atrocious weather but five minutes after leaving the harbour at Fleetwood, she dumped Peter on my lap and disappeared to the toilets. I did not see her again until we arrived in Douglas after what was described as the worst crossing in living memory. There were only six of us on the deck when we arrived. She dreaded the day when we would have to go back. If I had looked for a job there for after the war I think she would gladly have stayed there for the rest of our lives.

Whilst I was at Jurby, I was offered a commission and became a Pilot Officer and shortly afterwards was promoted to Flying Officer. By July 1945, it was realised that Hitler was losing the war and it was safe for us to fly over England again so the Wellington Conversion flight was moved to Chipping Warden near Banbury where I met an old school friend who was a PE instructor there.

Whilst at Chipping Warden, VE Day was declared and we all decided to go home for a few days. When we arrived at Birmingham station the train was just leaving. We ran along the platform beside the moving train. Flt/Lt Belsen was in front of me and I could see that he was not going to catch the train, he was only a short chap, so I grabbed him by the seat of the pants and threw him on to the train before I boarded myself. I carried on to Jurby where my wife agreed to come back to the mainland with me. The journey back was much calmer although Nell was still very seasick. I took them back to stay with my Mother, went back to Chipping Warden, bought myself a motor cycle and went home every weekend.

In November, the conversion unit was on the move again, this time to Swanton Morley just outside East Dereham. This proved to be my last posting and it was here that I received my ‘war wound’. Because of low cloud, flying had been cancelled so we organised a football match. During the match, I received a tackle which struck me at the back of my right knee and I had to be carried off. In the morning I could not get my trousers on because my knee was so swollen and I was carted off to the hospital where I spent seven weeks on my back. They tried all kinds of test and treatment, none of which seemed to work until finally after a series of X-rays the doctor informed me that he would like to do an investigative operation.

I asked him what the chances were, he replied that it was a 50/50 chance that they would find the trouble and be able to cure it or I would have a permanent stiff leg, adding the rider “Do you want to play football again?” If not he would advise me to leave it alone. So I said “Leave it alone” where upon he supplied me with a stick and a very strong elastic knee bandage. Back at Swanton Morley, I found that the Conversion Flight had moved again, this time without me, partly because I was now very near to my discharge from the RAF.

I was offered a permanent commission but, as I wanted to spend more time with my family, I declined and took my discharge, although actually I was never discharged. I became an officer on the unemployed list. Some years ago whilst on holiday in Norfolk I re-visited Swanton Morley and discovered in the church there a stained glass window dedicated to all the airmen who flew from there.

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