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Combat Film Analysis

by cornwallcsv

You are browsing in:

Archive List > World > France

Contributed by 
cornwallcsv
People in story: 
The Rev'd David Nash, Dr. James Ewart Henderson, The Late Norman P Saunders (Sandy)
Location of story: 
2nd Tactical Air Force, RAF in Belgium
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
A4519956
Contributed on: 
22 July 2005

This story has been written onto the BBC People’s War site by CSV Story gatherer Jessica on behalf of the Rev’d David Nash,who fully understands the terms and conditions of the site.

We lived near Watford where I was in the school Air Training Corps. My father commuted by tube-train to London every day. He was in the Inland Revenue, an Air Raid Warden and a Methodist Local Preacher. My mother was in the W.V.S; I had a younger brother and sister. Over the field behind our home was an anti-aircraft gun. The red glow over London during the Blitz was awesome and we had several bombs fall near us.

In 1942 I joined the Civil Service as a Lab. Assistant in the Operational Research Section of RAF Fighter Command, at Bentley Priory in Stanmore. Each fighter aircraft carried a 16 mm ciné-camera which ran every time the guns were fired, or when a plane dive-bombed or fired rockets. I worked with boys and girls of my own age and with girls of the WRNS and the WAAF, assessing combat films. I made one of the first flying-bomb models to be made in the U.K. which was needed in June 1944 to use it’s ‘shadow range’ on the screen to estimate the accuracy of pilots’ attacks. I just missed being killed by a ‘doodlebug’ when I visited a Tempest Squadron in Kent. I also built a device to help in estimating the accuracy of attacks on the launching sites in France. I was in the H.Q. platoon of the Home Guard and was on duty the night the first flying bombs came over London. Security was so tight that, until then, we had not been told what we were dealing with.

On ‘D Day plus 120’ I was on a landing craft from Dover to Boulogne, enjoying the sunny day and eating a Christmas pudding. With three colleagues I was now in RAF uniform as a special duties N.C.O, a civilian non-combatant, armed with a rifle for defensive purposes!! The Germans had dropped acoustic mines in our path but we landed unscathed. Our RAF photographic unit (6 FPU) assembled its lorries and, once in town, halted for a rest. We saw some French girls with shaved heads - punished for going with Germans; then a woman said, “I will give my body in exchange for a tablet of soap,” at which our flight - sgt shouted, “Everyone back in the lorries!” A few miles inland we were ordered to lie down on the floor. We were within sight and range of the encircled Germans at Dunquerque. “Why don’t they fire at us?” we asked. “It’s because they know it won’t pay them to!” came the reply. We arrived at Ghent and slept at a former girls’ school. We were impressed the next morning to see the city with its many bells and noises carrying on quite normally. At last we reached Keerbergen, about seventeen miles north of Brussels, where we were billetted in an old hotel. Although on active service we thought we were quite safe and a whole lot of women’s forces (ATS and WAAF) came out to our work place. But we were in ‘bomb alley’ with flying bombs (mostly) going over us to Antwerp. There was much snow and poor flying weather. The ’battle of the bulge’ began on 16th December and caught the American army off guard. A Panzer division was aiming in our direction, with a view to recapturing Antwerp. The Belgian owner of our hotel was in a great panic. A former double-agent, he was sure the Germans would come back and kill him. ’Jock’ Henderson, our officer, was only 21 but he told the man to pull himself together. It worked. The enemies’ rate of advance suggested that they would overrun us by about the 6th January 1945. Our C/O said we would stand and fight. We were scared but took comfort in our excellent marksmanship training in the Home Guard. We proved ourselves to be some of the best shots in the unit. The weather cleared, our planes regained their mastery, and the German advance was halted. They had massacred some American prisoners and got within 30 miles of us.

Our Spitfires were still bringing in the work, so much so, that we had to bring in shift-working. I was in one shift with my friend, Sandy. At two a.m one cold morning Sandy called me to reassure him in identifying a German plane of which we had no known photographs. It was an Arado 234 and we had great delight in getting our officers out of bed to help rush the news through to Brussels. As April came, there were several false rumours that the war was over - usually an excuse for a party. On one occasion a V1 fell so close to us whilst knocking back celebratory drinks that we were rooted to the floor; the blast caused the hessian wall of our temporary lavatories to collapse and the view from our NAAFI canteen was astonishing beyond description: our laughter was uncontrollable. We were in Brussels on V.E. Day where we heard King George VI and Winston Churchill. Soon afterwards we moved up into Germany. We crossed the Rhine at Wesel over the ‘Roosevelt’ temporary bridge. The smell of death and desolation is a memory which is with me to this day. After a year in Germany I was promoted to the permanent scientific civil service and was busy in air navigation research.

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