Sq Leader Charles Derek Whittingham survivor against fierce odds of Battle of Britain and Malta GC
- Contributed by
- Sylvan Whittingham Mason
- People in story:
- Squardron leader Charles Derek Whittingham
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 05 November 2004
Uncle Derek was one of the Few and also one of the earliest casualties in the Battle of Britain, his Hurricane aircraft being shot down, and Derek wounded by bullets. He recovered and fought again with squadron 151 for the remainder of the Battle. The following January he spent 5 months defending Malta as Squadron Leader with 261 during the worst fighting there during which he wrote a diary and talked about his pony and trap "Lady", and dog "Lucky" and how he used to take his girlfriend "Patsy" on picnics on his days off from the horrific fighting.
They were totally outnumbered by the Hun.
Most of his companions were killed.
GEORGE CROSS ISLAND
I have put my name down for Malta, as I hear there is more air fighting there.
Jan 22nd (9)
Hauled out of bed at 7.30 and told to report as soon as possible to HQ Cairo. Managed to get a lift in a car going there. Felt bloody ill with one of the worst hangovers I have ever had. Hands sweating and altogether in an awful state. Saw about three ?? Dare not accept a cigarette. My hand would have shaken so muchwhen I lit it. Was told that I would be immediately flown back to Ismailia, where six Hurricanes would be ready. There I was to lead to a place called Fort Cappuzzo, a place in the Libyan desert. Three more pilots in our hut would be later brought on by a Wellington. I was to be in charge of the whole party. The distance of our flight being about 550 miles. Was flown back to Ismailia in an open two-seater. Arrived there very cold. But no-one knew anything about the Hurricanes ... we heard Hurricanes were at Abu .... so went there. The C.O. of the station had had no instructions for us to take the machines, so we could not get off that day, but managed, after a lot of flagging, and I having to organise all details in the horrible state I was, to get off at seven next morning, escorted by to Wellingtons. That night I saw my sweet little Irene, but had not the chance of doing any more than say goodbye to her, as I was determined not to stay up too late or drink too much in view of my responsibilities on the following day.
Jan 23rd (10)
Flew over the green, fertile Egypt, and over the desert coast line Mediterranean to arrive after three and a half hours flying at Fort Capuzo. Detained from going through to Malta that day by bad weather. X Squadron were stationed there, living a hard life in the desert, and sleeping in tents. Drinks were at a premium. So was water, which had been salted by the Itys. The tea tasted foul. But everyone seemed quite happy ... That afternoon we all went to see the Bardia battlefields.
Jan 29th (12)
We flew as formerly arranged for Fort Gazala ... We landed at Hal Far, Malta, after four hours flying. We met air Air Cdr, dirty and bearded, a sight he said that he would not have missed for the world. We enjoyed two lovely eggs and ham. Had the nicest cup of tea, and it did not taste of salt.
Feb 13th (14)
The blokes in 261, are a very decent, unassuming type. Most of them are ferry pilots, shanghai-ed here by A.O.C.
The first day or two, I had a couple of flaps. In the second one I spotted a CR 42 on its way back to Sicily. I don't think he saw me, as I got him well into my sights and shot him down, about 15 miles out to sea. I have not been too lucky as far as seeing action, although the Squadron shot about five down in the last few days. Jock Barlsur saw a 79 escorted by six 42's flying behind but at the same level. He ignored these and fired at the 79. He thought he killed the rear-gunner. In the meantime Sgt. Robertson engaged the 42's and shot one down. The bloke tried to jump out but tied up to his machine and landed on the Island in a very mutilated state. They found one of his hands, and say that it was beautifully manicured ...
One evening Peter and I went to a party at the Pollychinos. About ten minutes before dusk, the Island was attacked by about four sections of 88's. The A.A. barrage around Valetta. and the East of the Island was very intense. But the J.U. 88's made for their target and we saw the bombs dropping at Hal Far, ten miles away. They wrecked three planes, the officers mess, and a hangar. The Hurricanes got three of them down. Four of our Hurricane pilots had not flown in monoplanes at night. They had to land in the dark, and one overshot a bit, and tipped his machine on to his nose ...
Yesterday poor old Sgt. Watson caught it. Actually he had only had about six hours on Hurricanes, and it is a bloody shame. The clouds were very happy, at about 18,000 ft. Some J.U. 88's came over escorted by 109's. The 109's got into a very good position and attacked two of our section, out of the sky, as we were positioning to attack the 88's. Watson was probably killed instantly. For he went on to his back, and dived straight into the sea. Bradley was hit very badly. His machine was ripped to hell by cannon. It is amazing however, he got it down but he did, and force landed at ..., his engine U.S. David T. jumped and landed 7 miles out to sea. J.B. although being chased by 109 saw the falling parachute. He kept around until he could plot his position in the sea. This he did, and informed base by R.T. He was in the see almost an hour. He was picked up by a speed boat ...
The first day we went for a piss up in Valetta. There is a fairly reasonable dance place. Two of the girls are quite reasonable, but had the reputation of keeping their legs crossed. In any case unless one can stay the night, you have to leave Valetta, by 8.30 owing to the curfew. The second day, the Adj. asked us to go for a dance with some Maltese. The party was the family Pollychino (Sir Philip) and friends. We met at their house for tea. There are eleven in the family, six male and five girls. The girls are Mary (married) and 26, Patsy 21, Eva 17, Ann 16 and ? 13. Patsy was the one I fell for at first sight. The Pollychinos are very high class, dignified sot of family. Lady P being a quiet natural hostess. I danced the first with anyone, partly because I wanted to get warmed up before asking Patsy, and because striking beauties like P are usually asked first, and probably notice a man who breaks this habit. Be that as it may, I danced most of the last with her, and loved it too. She seemed to take to me just as I had to her. I met P the next night, and kissed her. My God it was lovely ... I did not see her for about three days. I was not very good company for Pete as I could not think of anything except seeing her. Then I asked her to meet me at Point of View ....
I have been give a dog a mongrel puppy called "Lady" and have bought a wizard little pony and trap for £20; a "trim" grey called "Lucky". It is an excellent thing to have a hobby here. It is a dangerous sort of life, and one can't help thinking about it a bit so it's a good think to get one's mind off, in one's spare time. I think that that also applies to getting tight at nights, you forget the bloody war and sleep while bombs are dropping round the place.
Changed Lucky's stable to a farm near the mess. A flap this afternoon. We all took off and flew for 55 minutes, but did not see anything. Yesterday by the way, I took most of the P family for a ride with Lucky. They all loved it.
Feb 15th (19)
Pete and I drove Lucky to Valetta in the morning. An air raid took place when we got there. The people rushing to the shelters upset Lucky a bit. We stopped with him. The A.A. guns did not worry him much, nor did a bit of shrapnel that whistled down very neer to us. What with continual air raids (sometimes six a day) and the presence of 109's about the place, it is a logical conclusion that our chances of survival are not very high, but one simply must not think about this. At any rate I am enjoying myself while it lasts. We took Lilian to lunch at L... Club, then set off with her in an air raid to Rabat ... The Maltese are very shelter conscious; in fact every one is very much more jittery than in England.
On the way back from a dance we had a very narrow escape with Lucky. I could not find my way across the aerodrome, and forgetting about the barbed wire, suddenly found the poor little fellow entangled in a dirty great heap of it. 99 out of 100 horses would have struggled. This would have been fatal, but he stood and let us get him out. peter was too pissed to be of an use. I swore at him, which annoyed him, and called for an apology from me. In the end, he fell into the wire and tore his new uniform.
Feb 17th (21)
"A" flight ran into about 30 109's. Four attacked them from 30,000 feet and engaged at 19,000 feet. They had vast advantage of speed from their height, and hit three of our machines. E.T. managed, to get a deflection shot at one of them. MacLaughton (FL/LT D.F.C. and Bar) leading the flight was badly hit. He had to jump. In so doing, landed on a roof and broke his arm. Ted Peacock Edwards was hit, so was Macadam. Pete and I took Lucky up to Rabat. We drove to the hospital, and half an hour with some of the blokes there. Then we called in at the Point of View, and saw Walter. The P's came along and met us at 2.30. We walked out into the country. I took Patsy in the trap. We went back to their home for supper. But spent most of the time in a dark air-raid shelter. It was a very enjoyable evening.
Had a conference a tight on tactics. We have to do something about these 109'.s I must ask Patsy to write Mother in case I run into a spot of bother.
Now that risk of death is much nearer, my philosophy is: somebody has to do the job, and if I get bumped, I have experienced much ore than the average bloke.
Poor old Mac has had to have his arm off. He refused for a long time, but it was badly hacked about, having received two cannon shells. He suffered much pain, and in the end had to give way. On night flying from 3.30 onwards, but was able to sleep in the ambulance as no air raid materialised.
Took pony up to Rabat in hopes of seeing Patsy. All Hurricanes took off, when I was half way up the hill. Felt a bit anxious for them. Pete was flying. Watched from side of hill. Could see Hurricanes stooging about at 16,000 ft. and heard 109's higher and to the south, and in the sun. Lost sight of Hurricanes, but could hear them being chased by 109's by noise of engines, and reports from machine guns. They all got away with it, but had been chased down to 4,000 feet. The 109's are becoming much cheekier and the superiority of their numbers etc, the squadron is becoming practically jittery. Four or five pilots look like packing up. It takes me all my time to stick to my philosophy, and enjoy myself when not on duty. I have had to cut down my drinking a bit, as it takes 100% to stand the strain. Took lunch at the Point of View, then went for a very pleasant drive with Patsy to the coast. Pete turned up after tea. Felt very thwarted about her. We could have had such a lovely time together.
Feb 22nd (23)
MT and B have all been posted to stooge job Middle East. They have all cracked up. M is 30 and been on operations for over a year. And old B has been hijacked down twice, and in any case was not a fighter pilot from the start. One can understand these two, but S/Ldr T has hardly flown since he came here, even when the Squadron were having fun and games with the Itys.
On early morning watch. Very cold. Kept window open, as I had to act as wise-end Charlie. Could hardly stand the cold. Saw one bandit 15,000 ft below. Leader chased it down, but lost it. Met Patsy in afternoon in trap. Took her to the coast, then walked to the edged of the sea, where the cliffs are a sheer hundred feet from the water. it is so peaceful here. It seems farcical that men should be killing one another all over the world. Went to dance. Danced most of the night with Patsy.
John Waters has cracked up. I am to be made FL/LT and given command of B flight. This will please Mother. One bloke screamed Tally Ho over the R.T. Everyone leaped into a defensive circle.
Red letter day. Squadron sighted four bandits, enemy bombers, stooging around over Tilfa everyone went arse for leather at them. I saw one straggling about half a mile behind the rest, so left the Squadron and attacked it from the stern. I could not get an underneath deflection shot, as he was too low, only at 500 ft. I had given him three seconds burst, when he opened up at me. He was a very good shot. His tracers were going well around me. It was lucky I was not shot. I broke away sharply to right about 1½ seconds of his fire and did not see him burst into flames, and go into the sea. But the A.A. people did, so that's my second since coming here. HH got another so did John B. All the flight fired their guns. We celebrated this with a bottle of beer, but had hardly finished it, when we went on another flap. Jock led and took us up to 26,000 feet. On the way down I noticed a plane on fire. I notified control. Jock heard me and circled round. He saw the bloke land in the sea. Fortunately, very near a ship. This picked Jock Watch up. So we flew home and pancaked. Watch had broken his leg in seven places, his arm in three. At the time of writing he is very dangerously ill. Seems to have lost the will to live, and will probably die. To Rabat that night where the congratulations from Patsy and people were very heartening.
Feb 26th (26)
Two flaps early morning, Did 2¼ hours operational. Went to Valetta. There a blitz started shortly before 1am. About 30 fighters and 90 bombers came over. The bombers made a concentrated attack on Leahaven. They were after the Wellingtons. The dive-bombers attacked very low. A.A. got about three in the dive. The others dropped their bombs higher. The barrage was colossal, as was the amount of air-craft in the sky. I became very anxious about the poor Hurricanes. There were only two circling over Leahaven, when it was all over. These were attacked by a DO215, who after his attack dived and flew away, very low over the island. Most people thought he was coming down, but he was using very good evasive tactics. Two of our fellows could not take it, and landed. The strain with those uneven odds is colossal. You cannot really blame them.
Three were killed. Eric Taylor DFC, Pip Hearsey and Titch Langdon. One feels now to be living from day to day. The strain on the squadron is very bad. Three fellows have already approached the MO saying that they can't go on. But we shall all have to. I feel personally that the sooner its all over, however bad, the better.
Saw Peter in hospital, and all the other types smashed about. A flap in the afternoon. Saw Patsy in the evening.
Went for a drive with Jock, Alice and patsy, into the country. The peace by the sea, sunshine and Patsy were a wonderful contrast to our present job.
Arranged to meet Patsy later to take her for a drive. My nerves were pretty shattered by this time, and to be by the sea with her would have been a tonic. She did not turn up. Took Claire and Ive instead. Claire nearly drove me crazy with her chatter. I was very rude to her and had to tell her to stop talking about flying. Four flaps that morning in all. Lucky has got above himself with being fed too well. He bucked in his trap, and broke part of it on the way home.
On duty from 9.30 to 1.30 and 4.30 to 7.30. No flaps at all. This small rest has put new cheer into me, and feel quite my own self again.
To Valetta with Lucky. He still behaves badly. Bucked twice in shafts, and very mulish. Saw a very nice sapphire and diamond bracelet which I think I shall buy for Patsy, but it costs £13. On duty from 4.30 to dusk. A cold miserable evening, with clouds at 20,000 feet. A flap at about 5. I took squadron up to cloud base. My R.T, was working very badly, but I sensed that there was something important afoot, so stooged about over the Island. I saw Halfar being bombed so positioned myself to come down on it in a hard drive (in case being chased by 109s). In doing so I blacked out for a bit, but came out at about 12,000ft. The intense A/A gave me a funny felling. It seemed all like a dream, in coming out of the blackout. I soon recovered, and attacked one of the many enemy A/C in front and below ,e. My first shot was a good deflection on a JU 87. The next from underneath at a JU 88. They both fired back at me pretty hard.
I then spiralled to ground level for safety, and to get away from any 109s that may by this time, have been positioning themselves on me. The Bofors (A/A) on three occasions fired at me, so I made for Tilfaa and saw about five 88s going out to sea. I had not much ammunition left, but decided to climb in their direction. This I did, and when about 500 feet underneath one, turned and pointed my nose at him, and gave him a chance deflection burst. I think that was silly, I may have hurt him a bit, but he fairly let me have it from his underneath guns. I decided to land, and was again fired at by ground defences going over the land. When stooging around Talali, I suddenly saw a machine burst into gigantic flames about 100 yards from me. The A/A had got a ME110. It as lucky, as I heard afterwards that he was firing at me, just previous to being hit. I had not seen him. In all that day, the squad had got 7 confirmed including 2 ME 109s. But poor old Monk was killed. A 109 got him, just after he had hit his 87. Poor Irene was heartbroken, and Patsy went to bed and sobbed.
March 6th (30)
Saw Patsy in the evening. Poor girl wishes I had never come to Malta ... Five more pilots with Hurricanes arrived.
March 7th, 8th, 9th (30)
Hops most of the time. On 9th four 110s dived on the aerodrome and machine gunned it at dusk. They set one Hurricane afire and damaged another. Went for a picnic with Patsy and family and later to dinner. Peter back, but off flying for along time. Lucky sod ...
There have been a lot of night raids. On 12th I led a flight of 4, 25 miles east of the island, and tried to intercept some troop carrying planes. The morale of the squadron is a little better, but still somewhat on the defensive.
New types came, mostly from 274 squadron. My promotion came through. Gave drinks all round at lunch.
March 21st (32)
News that the convoy is coming through on Sunday. That means a busy time for us, with plenty of blitz.
Shifts of two flights of 8 working together are organised. My squad took off in the afternoon. I leading the first flight, and Terry the second. I climbed to almost 10,000 feet and saw three bombers and about 6 fighters above me.
I realised it was useless to attack them so climbed to 12,000 feet, stooging about for any other formations that might come in. But not Terry. He climbed up with his flight, and chase the bombers with the sun behind him towards Sicily. Whether he knew that there were fighters about or not, I do not know. But it was a suicidal thing to do, for the 108s took their time, and shot down five of the flight, including Terry, who should not have been leading in any case. He had far too little experience in Hurricanes and fighter tactics. Young Southwell who had just joined the squadron, two days previously, was another. Poor old Spyder who had just been recalled from leave for the occasion lost his life, as did Knight who had just joined the squadron, and was his first taste of action. Another of the new ones, Garland, went as well.
On landing, Ginger played merry hell with me in front of everyone. I took deep exception to this, as I was not responsible for Terry not following me. If he had he would have been safe. I have since put in a complaint to the proper quarters about this, and it looks as if Ginger will be replaced.
In breaking away, I blacked out very badly again and did not come out until 2,000 ft. This from 9,000 ft. In the afternoon there w as big dive bombing attack on Grand Harbour. 16 Hurricanes in battle; nine confirmed, one possible, six damaged. Robertson got shot at, his starboard tank catching fire, baled out, landing in a nearby village, where the locals carried him on their shoulders and cheered him.
Took the day off. The black out the previous day had shaken me a bit. So I took Lucky to the coast and enjoyed complete solitude in the peace of nature. Went back with Patsy to her house and there dined.
Nothing unusual. The convoy is still in, and it means the whole squadron at full strength the whole time, with double the usual shifts. I can only arrange a day off, once in six days. In the circumstances the strain on pilots is equivalent to that of last September blitz. We are having a steady flow of casualties, and are equipped with inferior A/C than those which come over in great numbers. God knows why they don't try to fight us more. I don't see how we could cope for long, if they did. So far they have only taken obvious opportunities, such as diving on a straggler but they are there always, all the same, and so devilish hard to see, little silver camouflaged things.
The Squadron-Leader, Lambert ought to go down in history for the calm courage, and the complete lack of bullshit he shows. A complete inspiration to every member of the squadron, and this who we all know that he was shanghai-ed here over six months ago - then a ferry pilot - that at heart he has not the liking or the inclination to be a fighter pilot, and in reality hates the life and the Island that with others such as Turnballett etc he could have gone, but has stayed on through sheer willpower, to be the very fine example that he is.
Woken up in by Lambertin, who said that Ity fleet expected to bomb our shipping at dawn. That we have to have 16 Hurricanes ready for any eventually and that I had to lead three Lizzies.
Up at 5.30, all A/C ready before light, but nothing turned up.
Sunday picnic, this time to Chadwick ... during picnic 3/88s dived from 18,000 to 4,000 and bombed our 'drome.
Four of us went to Inesta Hotel, where we teased Mary and C ... in the usual way of lifting up their skirts and smacking their bottoms.
Saw a ship being bombed about four miles east if island and heard by R/T that bombers were low, so went like a diving baty towards ship. Knew that I could not get there in time to do any good, but reckoned on fighting any others away, which afterwards proved correct. 12 new Hurricanes arrived, flown by five officers and seven sergeants.
Padre gave shot service for readiness pilots and crew outside dispersal hut. He told us hymn number so and so. The first page I turned to was this hymn, and the first lines I saw were, "Fight the good fight". I recollected a curious similarity, when many years ago, I was confirmed, the Bishop of Kingston gave as his text. "Fight the good fight of Faith." Afterwards that evening, I opened a book sent to me by Auntie Gracie. The first words I read were the same. And now the curious thins in this same text had re-occurred. I mentioned this to the padre afterwards. He soliloquised on the fact that we were all the time crusaders. Be that as is may the coincidence comforted.
Four sergeants went from Island. One thanked me very warmly for the part I had taken, in getting them away. Old P had resigned himself to the fact that this island would be his grave. He looked extremely happy at the prospect of going.
Rain in Malta seems wetter, dirtier and colder than in any other place.
To Valetta. Goodbye party by Roby, Hyde and Lambert, celebrating their going away. We all got very happy. Had a very good dinner first. Hamish showed me some super handkerchiefs made from the parachute of the 110 that I lashed at after the A/A had got him.
On early shift. As air raid in progress as we got to our plane. Asked control if we were to take off. They said yes. Bombs started to drop very near, so rang up chief controller and asked if I was to wait till they had stopped dropping their bombs. He laughed but ordered me to take whole flight off. This I did and escorted four destroyers into harbour. They were a wizard sight in the early morning going perfect line astern.
Jock and I bathed. Patsy a bit tired after being up all night in a air raid shelter. I was on night flying. They would not let me take off as there were as few Wimplies in the sky. There was a big raid over our aerodrome. It sounded like hell let loose. There were about forty bombs dropped around the aerodrome (none hit it) one was thirty yards from my window.
Early in the morning, an air raid was in progress. Bombs were being dropped in vicinity, but we had to get dispersal. Peter and David and Hamish were in the cellar with many others including the C.O. Ginger. I asked them if they were ready to come out, but Peter said he was damned if he would, while the shit was being dropped. Ginger apparently agreed with him. I went back again in another minute or so, this time showing annoyance, and appealing to Ginger as to whether they had or had not to go to the dispersal. he said "Well, I must admit, if one has a job to do, one must do it." Then they came, led by Hamish good fellow, as usual. Ginger followed me out, and made some rotten sheepish remarks about certain people being shaken by bombs.
Decided not to see Patsy for a bit, so turned up at Point of View when I knew she would have left. Poor bird rang up and seemed heartbroken to stand up to this dangerous work, if a girl like Patsy makes life mean so much more to one. And if I am going to be here for three months, the position is so very awkward.
One bloke, a sergeant has chucked his had in today.
Anger ran into a bunch of 109s. Saw his parachute coming down, south of the Island. But he was never picked up. The pilots in the squadron were all very indignant because they felt that control should have sent some searchers up. Things being as they are ... peoples nerves somewhat frayed, what with the stream of so many casualties, bombing at night and bad news in Greece and Libya. There was a general moan, and Ginger got some pretty outspoken abuse from various members of the Squadron.
A meeting of DFL/LTs and Ginger and Lambertin and Group Captain to discuss moaning of last night. A fairly satisfactory plan for rescue work was planned. Night flying on moonless nights was to cease.
A.O.C. came round. He asked me if I would like to take over the squadron. Mess pretty full with about 15 new types - poor buggers don't know what they are in for, being here for six months.
Pollychinos evacuated from Bastin until an unexploded bomb goes off.
I am getting a bit tired of leading lads up against uneven odds.
Blitz same night, was up for one hour 25 minutes. A few illuminations, but over too quickly for me to get at them. many flares dropped over Halfar and Valetta harbour. Could see bombs dropping at these places. Told to land in the middle of it. And did so without lights with flare path dimmed to minimum.
Went with Peter to Valetta. Quarter of Kingsway blown to bits. The place a depressing shambles. Shop people all evacuating their stocks. Glad to get away .. annoyed these days, we cannot get beer, have to drink whisky, which harms pilots' nerves. Beer does not.
Grey's machine badly hit about. He baled and landed on a house. Hall baled. Innes also a delayed drop. Just made it.
Opened at about 200 ft picked up at sea with shrapnel wounds. Bridge force landed with machine on fire, rather seriously burnt. In evening repetition or more or less the same thing. Westmacott put up a magnificent show by attacking an ME 111 with many 109s behind him. When attacked on three occasions, took evasive turning action and kept height to proceed after his target, which he is believed to have wounded. The A.O.C. sent a personal letter of congratulation. Derek got another plane.
A scramble. Poor old Jennings weaved Wather the leader and crashed, killing himself. Wather baled and was picked up at sea with minor injuries.
Clouds right down to desk. A most unusual thing, but most fortunate as a large convoy is coming.
Volunteers wanted to fly long range Hurricanes to MersoMatruh (800 miles). Found no difficulties in getting them. They are to leave Thursday. Apparently they are very short of Hurricanes in Egypt now.
Westmacott jumped and landed near the mess. The Maltese clapped and cheered him. He had a bullet through his arm.
Hamish Hamilton, cousin of David Douglas Hamilton, and the friendliest character I have yet met. It was he who always took extra watches when things were hottest. He who, although so keen, always supported your ideas against suicidal tactics, and for the well being of members of the squadron such as the six months limit plan. Curious too, how as the day he is killed, his six months should be up to the day. Although he, Hamish had chosen to stay on for six months as support to new 150 squadron. Dear old Hamish. You could smell the heather of Scotland when you spoke to him. Always so immaculately dressed and elusive; a living Scarlett Pimpernel. He was killed weaving over X-ray. In the same raid the 109s loosed their bombs over the aerodrome. We just managed to make the shelter but poor little Patsy and Ina and Janis, on their way to tea with us were caught with no shelter and bombs dropping within 100 yards. Janie was very shaken, but Patsy and Ina not so much. When raid
over drove Lucky with Patsy to greet pilots as they landed. This has a good effect on morale - a wizard girl on a wizard trap is a pleasing welcome.
Another pilot hacked down. The position is getting very serious. The morale of the squadron is naturally very bad. People are being hacked down with no results by 109s - much superior A/C in very large numbers and able to position themselves behind the sun. The Maltese themselves are complaining that it is a murder to send them up. but HQ will not give way
Went with Johnny H. and peter to Hamish and Wynn's funeral. I felt very sad. John intimated that 261 squadron would very shortly leave for a rest. This is most cheery news as far as we are concerned, but I don't want to love my sweet little Patsy.
249 squadron are to arrive tomorrow and 261 are to move to Middle East, pilots first, ground staff later. The reaction of the pilots to this news was tremendous. You could read a chapter of happiness in their faces as they heard the news. There were some very bitter disappointments as six who had only been here a month were ordered to be transferred to no. 249. I have done what I can to get them back to 261 when and if they can be released. All our men except Ted, self, Jerry Wather, Lockwood and Jessop flew long range Hurricanes to Metro Matruh. Peter's flight of 6 could not keep up their escort. Peter and Pain turned back 100 miles out to sea. It is understood that 261 shall have a rest 8-10 weeks. Life has been a very long strain. We have had so many casualties. Each flap whether on or off duty, we have had to watch and have never been able to get away from it. Added to this the night bombing has kept people up when they should be resting. As I say, I am thoroughly sick of it, but am not quite certain yet what I shall do. One day 4 109s dived on the Hurricanes which for once had not been scrambled. Two burnt out, and three others hit. The pilots were in the cockpits (a most harrowing experience) and Pat Wells got a bullet through his arm causing a very serious fracture. I helped him into the ambulance. He was very cool and brave about the whole thing. Ted and I have been waiting for the Sunderland to taxi us across. I am going back to Patsy. I think she is in love with me and am afraid won't ever love anyone else, so the only white thing for me, is to come back for her after the war. That would be a wonderful moment.
Gone are the days of companionship with others who knew so well the truth of you value and the strength of your mettle, who share the dangers of our life and keep as uncritically silent of those who are too fresh and too foolhardy as those who are too tired and war weary; and the evenings in pubs when we privileged few freely and without fear of shocking others, talk in expressions of pulling it out, of having one's finger right up, of being clapped out or browned off, of putting up the most stupendous flack. It is sad to think back on the atmosphere of the company, and still sadder of the many boys, cheerful, youthful, optimistic, whom I knew so intimately, who are now gone for ever. God bless you Hamish, Mac, Percy Buxton and all you others I used to drink with, and wherever you may be, I hope you are having the most wizard time. Even sadder still for some few, who entered the game, full of courage ad spirit, and who either by the shock of friends killed, the strain of waiting at readiness for hours on end, listened for the field bell and remarks from airmen of the watch. "Scramble all sections 15,000ft"; or fear unwittingly entered into by one or more narrow escapes. These and many such instances have taken that dash and keenness from once while good types. They have become known as tired. You are poor boys tired. But you are not what you are, assuring ourselves - of being cowards. If you are leader and like me, you are tired of seeing young boys with fine character being slaughtered and for what? It has become to you, beyond a sport. It is sadistic in its wantonness.
Poor sod - did you think of his mother and the chances of her seeing his healthy bright eyes, and her listening to his experiences with the pride that only a mother can feel. No wonder my dear S/Ldr and Fl;/Ldrs if you have Christian feeling, you are tired. And you young, sensitive, courageous boys, whose nerves are strained to callowness, awaiting each day, the war scramble form which order the certainty of your coming back alive is by no means sure. Yes, all of you, have done your fair share, according to your mental and physical make-up. Don't be ashamed of being tired. Admit it if you like. There is nothing to be ashamed of.
Signal from A.O.C.
"Personnel from A.O.C. It is probably that from tomorrow May 2st, personnel of 261 squadron will commence to move to Egypt in accordance with recent policy, whereby this squadron will transfer to Middle east for a rest period. First movements will cover pilots only, but the majority of ground personnel will ultimately follow by sea."
With the departure of the squadron, after many months service in Malta, I should like to place on record, my appreciation as A.O.C. of the good work and very substantial achievements of 261 squadron on whom the air defence of Malta has depended for so long. Your location may change but your record remains. You have well earned your rest and all in Malta will look forward to hearing of the squadron's future achievements, when operations are resumed.
I returned to Cairo with a heavy heart and awaited my ship for Aden.
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