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- Royal Air Force
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- 20 June 2004
At breakfast on the first morning, Jock and Junior had a brainstorming duet. There had to be some logic in the previous twenty four hour's goings on? Why was no mention made by our fearless leaders of the actual assignment?
How come S.W.O. Mitchell appeared suddenly on the spot and, in a fatherly manner (never one of his better known attributes) see them ensconced in Room One? What part did the court jester, wee Slater, have in all this, if any?
Conclusion: Sqd. Ldr. Kydd had done a lot of ground preparation, on a 'Need to Know' basis only. All would be revealed this morning, by their civilian mandarins from the BMARCO.
Our oppos walked the half mile plus, to the hangar and found, to their amazement, a hive of activity? The hangar belonged to the Station Communications Flight and they were there only under sufferance - especially their 'bloody great Hudson' This Flight comprised, one Westland Lysander, one Miles Magister, one Tiger Moth and, sometimes, one Hawker Hurricane, therefore, space was limited and the mysterious 'Hudson' was not particularly welcome.
The camouflaged Humber Imperial staff car arrived at 08.00 hours on the button. Out poured the VIPs, civilian and RAF. A pre-arranged inspection was conducted by Sqd. Ldr. Kydd, who eventually condescended to introduce Mr. Kendall and Mr. Kennedy to 'his technical experts!' With the exception of Mr. Kennedy, the complete circus then boarded the staff car and disappeared!
As anticipated, 'Geordie' Kennedy called an impromptu meeting with Jock, Junior, 'Taff' and 'Fred' (the latter pair being his civilian 'technical experts') And, again as anticipated, all was made clearer. They were to start immediately modifying the Hudson in preparation for the installation of two-20mm Hispano-Suiza cannons!
Whether Sqd. Ldr. Kydd had every studied Haddon's 'Theory of Structures' or even consulted any Stress Engineers, will never be known. Suffice to say, Jock and Junior were extremely apprehensive as to whether the nose section of a Hudson fuselage would withstand the strain of two 20mm cannons suddenly exploding into action.
All the mystery and secrecy shrouding the operation began to slowly clear away as it became increasingly clear to our oppos. This was a private venture, emanating from our C.O's fertile brain and not necessarily with full Coastal Command H.Q. backing!
However, in typical RAF fashion, 'Their's was not to reason why, their's was but to do and die.' The operation was attacked with gusto! The civvies, Geordie, Taff and Fred worked well with Jock and Junior, but their knowledge of airframe construction was minuscule, so the 'metal-bashing' and reinforcing of the gun wells was left to our two erks. The civilian half of the team came into their own when mounting and harmonising the guns. Our RAF boys were well looked after in the evenings at the BMARCO staff canteen where even the offer to 'pay their whack' would cause offence.
Some eight days after starting, the Hudson was ready for 'Air Test', but not without one or two minor incidents/accidents? As our two oppos were mostly on their own, pushing the Hudson out to the firing range was out of the question, therefore, Jock and Junior 'conspired' their own solution!
Open the hangar doors - start up engines and, with Jock watching out for snoopers, Junior would taxy the aircraft out and into position (breaking every rule in every RAF Manual ever
produced!) Alas! Familiarity breeds contempt. On one particular occasion, Jock had failed to notice that the hangar doors at the other end were open! The Hudson (and Junior) was just leaving the hangar when, to Jock's consternation, he espied the Communications Lysander moving out the opposite end, ably assisted by the Hudson's slipstream!
Absolute panic set in! How to attract Junior's attention? Stop the Hudson? Catch the rapidly disappearing Lysander?
The situation was eventually brought under control by means which are protected by the Fifty Years Secrecy Clause? Suffice to say, a local farmer and his tractor helped two very grateful airmen!
A further incident helped to underline 'Jock's Luck' While innocently attempting to fill his 'Zippo' lighter from the Flight Magister's wing tank - the Communication Flight's Sergeant happened on the scene!
"You are on a CHARGE! NO! You are on TWO CHARGES!"
This particular NCO had snooped around for days hoping to find out what this strange civvy/RAF gang were up to. He failed miserably in concealing his glee at catching Jock red-handed!
"Charge No.1 - Stealing His Majesty's Aircraft Fuel!"
"Charge No.2 - Unlawful Interference With His Majesty's Aircraft! - WHILST ON ACTIVE SERVICE!"
Twenty four hours later, Jock was marched in front of the Flight Commander - and got the shock of his life!
This young Officer was badly burned about the hands and face! It took all Jock's courage to look the Officer straight in the face - as regulations require - without betraying any emotion. All Jock heard was "------ remanded for twenty four hours------. March him out Sergeant!"
Now, here's where 'Jock's Luck' came into play. Two days later, Jock bumped into 'Suicide Mitchell' (Station Warrant Officer) and related the story. S.W.O. Mitchell told Jock to forget it, he would see the Flight Commander and advise him the accused should have been "remanded" EVERY twenty four hours - accordingly, the Charge should now be dropped!
The young Officer had been shot down in flames during the Battle of Britain and was now recuperating.
Sqdr. Ldr. Kydd - now Wing Commander, sorry, duly arrived at Grantham with one extra aircrew for Flight Testing his newly re-armed Hudson. Unfortunately, he required his two Airframe Fitters to accompany them on the 'Test Shoot'!
Soon they were approaching the target, a large wooden triangle, painted yellow and lying in the North Sea, somewhere off Bircham Newton. Jock was ordered to go down into the nose of the aircraft, stand between the two cannons, holding on to the two handgrips at port and starboard! Observe anything unusual when the guns were fired!
"Attacking Now!" Jock watched the target rushing up towards the nose of the aircraft when, suddenly, his little world went completely berserk! With a hellish burst of staccato cannon fire, the whole nose compartment filled with black oily smoke and Jock as bombarded with empty 20mm shell cases. He looked up at the pilot with a quizzical expression on his blackened and bleeding face - like Al Jolson after the Gestapo had 'questionned' him!
The Test was voted a huge success by - all the aircrew. An opinion not shared by Jock and Junior. Work had to be done to modify the 'take away chutes' to ensure the empties left the aircraft properly.
This was duly carried out, but whether the Cannoned-Armed Hudson was ever a success or not, remains another closely guarded secret.
Before returning to Aldergrove, our reluctant heroes were awakened one morning by a whispering Wee Slater, "The F------ Hood's been sunk!"
The 'Hood'? - impossible! The most powerful battleship in the world?
Everyone knew the 'Hood' was unsinkable - except the Germans. This was one terrible blow to the whole nation. A mere handful of survivors out of a complement of nearly1500. Why Jock took this so personally he will never know - but he did. H.M.S. Hood WAS unsinkable (So was the Titanic!)
Next day, Jock and Junior boarded their newly-armed Hudson and returned to base. For some reason or other, RAF Aldergrove had suddenly been converted into some kind of 'Tower of Babel'! Ground Crews were scurrying around their aircraft with an inordinate degree of elated chatter. Air Crews were striding out to their aircraft more purposefully than on any occasion since war had been declared!
What was going on? The question was answered by Sgt. Hutton, "The P.M., Winston, has issued a Personal Directive to the Chiefs of The Imperial General Staff - and to each and every member of His Majesty's Forces - SINK THE BISMARCK!"
Churchill's order was carried out to the letter. 'Bismarck' was hit by every means which could be spared and, after circling with jammed rudders for several hours, she finally received her 'coup de grace' and sank to her watery grave.
Honour was satisfied - and a few hundred more souls went to their last roll-call!
Back at Aldergrove, 233 Squadron returned to 'Normal Routine'. Atlantic patrols continued, 'Days Off' were discontinued. Whether their 'Cannon-Armed Hudson' was ever a success or otherwise, Jock and Junior never learned. Had it been even modestly successful, this would have filtered down to the 'Other Ranks'. Our oppos drew their own conclusions - from the utter silence!
Within a couple of months, the 'Jungle Drums' started to beat again. Something was astir? Through the BBC radio and the national dailies, everyone in the U.K. was aware of the possibility, indeed, imminence of invasion. There was a drift in troop movements towards the south coast and various RAF units were being similarly deployed - 233 were not to be an exception! Once again, sleepy-eyed airmen, in 'Full Marching Order, paraded on the quay at Larne for the world's worst sea-crossing to Stranraer. Only as the fully laden train pulled out of the station were the erks given some vague indication as to their destination - South!
As Jock and his oppos analysed the situation, to the point of exhaustion, the following theories bore fruit:
a) They were a Coastal Command Unit, good at their job, and fully equipped for long-range ocean patrols - Check!
b) Invasion was a virtual certainty, as evidenced by increasing clashes between Royal Navel MTBs and German E-Boats in the Channel - Check!
c) Well-founded rumours had it that there were 'Liquid Fire Units' located at strategic points along the South Coast. These would be activated as an immediate deterrent to any Invasion Fleet - Check!
CONCLUSION: Destination was Devon or Cornwall and 233 would continue their Atlantic Patrols but, at the same time, be instantly available to help bomb the shit out of any misguided enemy foolish enough to attempt an invasion of the United Kingdom.
Twenty four hours after leaving Aldergrove the squadron train rolled into Truro, Cornwall! Not a bad prediction!
Only when half the squadron, including Jock, boarded the trucks did they learn their destination - RAF Station St. Eval. This was regarded as another 'plum posting'. Beautiful countryside, magnificent coastline, with cliffs and sandy beaches- promising plenty swimming. Nice towns, such as Newquay, Truro, Padstow, all with first-class pubs - an airman's dream!
However, like all airmen's dreams, the fading mirage revealed stark reality! Northern Ireland had acted like some potent opiate. The food was plentiful and good. The beer was plentiful and good. The billets were comfortable and the NAAFI was at its best.
A different picture awaited our heroes at St. Eval! What had obviously been a first-line station had suffered badly at the hands of the enemy. So much so that all operation aircrews and ground-crews were 'billetted out' and only such staff as were necessary for the operational function of the station itself remained in the few serviceable barracks.
Jock was fortunate enough to be quartered in a large requisitioned mansion, by the name of 'Porth Veor', in the tiny hamlet of Porth. (This old mansion is now a pleasant private hotel).
The rooms were, of course, stripped bare and only standard RAF furniture installed. Nevertheless, things could have been a lot worse. Several Dundee friends, Regulars and Conscripts, shared this abode.
One of Jock's recent and most compatible friends - Bert Stewart from Dundee - had opted to 'live out' in private accommodation and had sent for his darling wife, Bessie. They were a couple Jock would never forget.
The Squadron had taken on additional, hazardous duties, such as patrols over Brest and the Northwest coast of France. This to keep an eye on any major German Naval Units which were holed up in their various bolt-holes. It was not uncommon for the erks to greet their respective kites in the early morning and start right away repairing the close attentions of the enemy anti-aircraft batteries. During this period, Jock was promoted to Corporal, by no less a person than Wing Commander Kydd - of 20mm cannon fame!
For some obscure reason this promotion was a source of great amusement to Jock's Dundee comrades? (A prophet has no honour in his own country - especially Scotland!) Eventually, it dawned on these unworthy comrades that Corporal Jock was determined to earn his additional shilling a day, and from that date K.R. & R. would apply!
Even then an excellent 'esprit de corps' was maintained (and appreciated).
"They are still there!" This comment was in reply to Jock's inquiry to the navigator as to how their trip went? The Hudson, showing a few battle scars, prompted the query "Who were still there?" None of the ground crews, including Chiefy Hudson, seemed to know. Some six hours later - at lunch - the BBC revealed who "They" were. "They" were, in fact, the German Pocket Battleships, 'Scharnhorst' and 'Gneisenau'. "They" were steaming up the English Channel. In other words, "They" were NOT still there!"
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