- Contributed by
- People in story:
- George Frederick Sterland
- Location of story:
- UK and Africa
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 17 August 2005
George Frederick Sterland. (Centre, with his cap on the horses head)
This story was submitted by Alison Tebbutt, Derby CSV Action Desk, on behalf of George Frederick Sterland. The author has given his permission and fully understands the site's terms and conditions.
I joined the RAF in April, 1939 to train as a fitter/armourer. When the war broke out I was still being trained on The Isle of Sheppey in the Thames Estuary. Ten minutes after the Prime Minister had made the radio announcement that we were at war, we were running for cover as the first air raid on the U.K. took place. A single German aircraft dropped a stick of bombs on the camp. The only casualty was a rabbit! By 2.00pm that afternoon we were all on a train — the whole camp was moved to Pembrey, in South Wales, out of harms way.
When I finished my training, I was posted to 98 Squadron, flying Fairey Battle light bombers, from Hucknall, Nottinghamshire. Three months later the whole Squadron was posted to France. Three names were not on the postings list, mine being one of them. I was told that I was too young to be sent to France, as I was only 17.
Next came a posting to 201 Squadron at Invergordon in Scotland. The aircraft were Short Sunderland, four engined flying boats. I flew as an armourer/air gunner on patrols over Norway and the North Sea. Each aircraft had a galley and six bunk beds. The Sunderland carried 8 bombs on racks, 4 on each side, at the wing roots. The racks were wound in and out of the fuselage. The bomb racks were kept inside the aircraft till the bombs were needed. Two of the bunks were underneath the bomb racks and we had to draw lots to see who would sleep there, the short straw loosing!
When the aircraft climbed above 12,000ft, my nose would start to bleed. I had to see the Medical Officer who said I had high blood pressure, so I was taken off flying duties. I then carried on with ground servicing duties.
One day, in 1941, our aircraft was taxi-ing out for take off, on the water taxiway when another Sunderland landed on the taxiway by mistake. The two aircraft collided, with ours loosing a wing and two engines. The other was written off! I was then sent home on leave.
From my leave, came a posting to Ismalia in Egypt. We sailed on a troop ship, round the Cape. Part of my duties involved clearing mines from the Suez Canal. German aircraft would fly over most nights and drop mines into it. We would take off each morning in a Vickers Wellington twin engined bomber, specially equipped with a huge magnetized metal ring, fitted horizontally under the fuselage and each wingtip. We would fly very low over the Canal and the metal ring would pull the mines to the surface, or explode them if the were magnetic ones. The Navy would then deal with the floating ones. By lunchtime each day the Canal was clear of mines. I remember doing that job for months.
We also had to service Bristol Blenheim twin engined light bombers. We carried out a major inspection on one Blenheim, lasting four months. Afterwards the aircraft had to be air-tested. I flew in it to test the bomb sight and the gun turret. When the test was finished the pilot returned to the airfield. He lowered the undercarriage for landing, but the wheels wouldn’t lock down. He then tried to retract them, but they wouldn’t come up either. There was no alternative but to crash land in the sand. We got into the bomb well, which was the strongest part of the aircraft and waited for the inevitable. The pilot carried out a good crash landing and he was the only one injured, with a bruised back! What had taken us four months to put right was written off in four minutes.
The second part of this story can be read at bbc.co.uk/dna/ww2/a5131883
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