- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Victor Crumbie
- Location of story:
- Westen World
- Background to story:
- Royal Air Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 11 November 2003
In 1939 when the PrimeMinister made his world famous speech saying we are now at war with nazi Germany, it did'nt really affect me as i was only between the age of 15/16 years e and knew nothing about the war.
Even when the Germans occupied Poland it still did'nt really register to me, However, as time went by and the Germans occupied Holland, Belgium and France I suddenly realised what a terrible situation our troups in france were in, as they were pushed back to the channel coast and had hardley any boats to take them off.
My interest quickened and I was amazed when hundreds of small boats from the thames, various ports and even Norfolk bravely faced the bombs and machine guns to cross the channel and pick up our troops and in the finish brought most of our men back.
No doubt we lost most of our tanks,lorries and guns ect. but most of our men were safe.
I worked then in an office on Ashford rail station and many,many trains loaded with grim looking troops pulled in there.I spent many days just making pots of tea in our office and taking them down to them, they were most grateful and even though they were so low in spirits, we did share some laughs together over cups of tea and no doubt helped to cheer them up a bit.
Gradually things eased off and soon no more trains were coming through, all we had then was the odd air raid alarm as the German fighters attacked the barrage balloons at Folkestone and Dover and made the odd trip over to Ashford.
We then heard that Hitler was making a vast collection of barges and boats in France and Belgium ports and even on the beaches ready to send his troops over to invade England and 'win the war'This mad the RAF send over bombers and fighters to attack these craft and if possible blow them up or sink them, and at times they were fairly sucessful, Even Hiltler realized that to have a sucsseful invasion he must destroy and smash the RAF dromes and planes, so the safety rested on the RAF air crewes, as it was so dangerous to send our naval ships into the channel where they would face hundreds of German planes and E boats and this would only be done when the invasion started.
So now the Battle of Britian really started.I can well remember 100/200 German bombers in a vast diamond formation passing over Ashford, stacked up on either side of them were large formations of fighters mostly ME 109's to protect them. Then from out of knowhere it seemed 20 to 30 British fighters would dive onto the German bombers, which, because they were in formation and flying straight and level would lose quite a few in this first attack.Then the sky was full of dog fights and aircraft would be falling out of the sky all arround Ashford, sometimes on it. The advantage on our side being that petrolwise the germans could only weave and dive in fights for 20 minutes then fly back to France or risk engine failiure for lack of petrol.
I was so impressed at the bravery of our pilots facing such odds that the thought grew in my mind that I must be a fighter pilot,although as just a common North central School boy I didnt think I had much chance as my education was limited. There was no doubt at that time a class distincion in the RAF, most of our pilots came through universities and a North central schoolboy wouldnt be considered,but, as the loses mounted up they realised that they would have to consider anyone who had the abilty to be a pilot would be allowed in.
I managed to obtain some books on many subjects, some I had never even heard of Astro navigation, meteorology coulds morse code, engines, theory of flight and many many more,I would sit up until midnight studying in the hope that i could pass toe be a pilot.
Then I read in the local paper that 305 sqaudron Air cadets was starting in Ashford, a meetng would be held at the north central school hall where you could join. So I went there on the stated evening and found myself there with perhaps 100 others.We were all leaning on radiators ect and talking when the door flew open and in came this big Army W/O. He walked into the middle of the hall, stood to attention and bawled out "Stand on yer own two feet,if you think you've come here to lay about idle you can walk out that door!" (2 or 4 did )
He then walked round the room looking at everyone, he stopped in front of me and said "You out in the middle"
I said "What for?"
He said "In the middle!"
So out I went, He then picked 3 more, Chick Eames,Alex Streeter and Ron Smith, who joined me, He then came up to us and said "From tonight you will all be cps in charge of a squad.
So I was the very first from Ashford to join 305 sqd air cadets and I gradually went up to W/O Officer with Chick Eames, we then met all the officer Instuctors, MR Jenner, Mr Peters and Mr Price, and more. They were very good and helped us all with many subjects and again I would sit up burning the midnight oil, swotting trying to take it all in, All the necessary subjects,learning names of stars and constellations.
The government now started calling up the 18year olds and I was frightened that when I reached the age I could be put in the Army, which I didnt want. so I had a word with 305 sqd C.O. and he said "go up to Air crew reception centre in London and volunteer for pilot training"
I said " Should I apply for any position of air crew?" and he replied,"no, apply for pilot, I'm sure you will make it.But if you do fail, you can then go as wireless operator, navigator or bomb aimer ect" It was here that it hit me that I might not even be a fighter pilot.
I went up to London and took the exams (4 I think) and then had the pilot ablility test, which was very hard. You had to sit in like a link trainer,you had a rudder control and a control column. In front was like a television screen with a 2" square in the middle and a small blue light that moved when you moved the controls, on each side of the cockpit was a light that came on at intervals, when the left hand light came on you had to push a button on the right side to put it out, when the right hand light came on you had to push a button on the left hand side to put it out. The whole lot was lurching about all over the place, you had to keep the nose straight and the wings level and the blue light in the centre square and at the same time switch off left or right light which ever one came on. Very difficult and you needed quick reactions.
When all the tests were finished they said they would let me know if i had the ablilty to be accepted for training as a pilot. To my great joy they sent me a letter saying I had been accepted and they would send for me. Mr Jenner at 305sqd air Cadets was very pleased over this.
A few weeks later I recieved a letter telling me to report to ACRC in St Johns Wood London.When I got there there was about 40 of us and we were sworn into the RAF. and for several weeks marched and drilled in London, vacinations and injections given also.We were then posted to Ludlow in Shropshire and given a bell tent between 8 of us which we had to put up and sleep in.We also had to dig an 8 ft trench across two fields, the bottom had a foot of water in it and as it rained quiet a lot we never got dry.we had a month of this and then posted to Blackpool in civilian billets (very nice)but, eight to a bedroom !!
From there we were taken to Liverpool and boarded a large ship called Rangatiki and we all thought we were off to canada. when under way judging by the stars and the sun, this was our heading, However,we woke up one morning and found we had changed course,we finished up in Freetown Harbour in Africa.we spent three days there and then went down the west coast and arrived in Durban, They dissembarked us there where we were put on a train and after 4 days arrived at Bulawayo in Rhodesia. There we went to ITW and after all the training again went to EFTS Elementary flying training on Tiger Moths. I managed to go solo after 6 hours training and then did all forms of flying, cross countries, aerobatics ect.I was then posted to Heany and to my dismay flew in twin engined Oxfords ( so no fighter pilot for me)
From there to Quastina in Palastine on Wellington bombers, where I passed out and got my pilots 'wings'.
We then had leave in Cairo after which we came through the desert, the temperatures there in the dromes amazed me as it would be up to 120 deg in the day and a white frost at night!
As the German Army was captured or withdrew we went to Malta, then on to Palermo and finally Foggia Main in Italy. There were many dromes arround Foggia as it was a flat plain. 40. 104 and 178 sqd were some that I went to for various reasons. It was from 40 sqd at Foggia Main drome that the most varied of my operations took place, We dropped supplies to Titos' army which were fighting the germans in Yugoslavia. We went on a very long mission to Walsaw in Poland and dropped supplies to the Polish army,these must sound very easy operations,but because we had to fly in so low, we were subjected to masses of light flak from the german Army, even machine gun fire.
We attacked all sorts of factories, road/rail bridges and air dromes, When the Germans pulled out of Greece up through Albania,and Yugoslavia,we attacked in daylight,lorries full of troops on sheer mountain roads,to help the 8th army troops and Americans. We attacked the German front line in Italy and their store deports, quite a mixture of different raids. When at last the Germans gave in and peace was declared, we thought how lucky we all were to be still alive and that our operations were finished, so, it came as a complete shock to be told that we were now going to fly to the far east and help attacking the Japenese, there were very many long faces in the mess after the news!
While we were preparing to go however, the wonderful news broke that the Japs had surrendered owing to the fact that the americans had dropped the atomic bomb on them.
It was then a case of "Now where do we go?"
We soon found out ! It was to be Abu Suiar in Egypt, when we arrived they took all the racks out of our Liberator bomb bays and fitted seats.Several of us more experienced pilots were told that we would fly 30 troops at a time back to England for their leave under the Med Lck scheme. We would spend the night in England and return next morning.So with 30 troops on board I flew from Egypt to Bari in Italy and from there to St mowgan in Cornwall or Glatton where ever the weather was good to land. One night in England is not very long but at the time we thought it was wonderful. I did quiet a few of these trips with 30 men on board. As time went on my demob number got closer and what they did in Egypt as each aircraft reached a certain star inspection, it was sent home to England to be smashed up. Although I had spent more time overseas than anyone on our squadron the higher ranked officers took the first few aircraft home. For the benefit of my crew I went to see the C/O to ask when I would be given an aircraft to take home,after a discussion he eventually said I would take the next one.While waiting tor this aircraft to reach the required number of hours I had sand fly fever and jaundice, because I wanted myself and my crew to get home to England I never reported sick and I reached home in a terrible state of health.and I went bright yellow,when the aircraft was ready my old wartime squadron leader came out with us, he said he would let me go but that i must report sick on my arrival in england, this I had meant to do in any case.
I landed at St Mawgan in Cornwall with a few bumps and had to go to the nearest toilet, I passed a thick yellow fluid having a 'pee', an officer who came in ,looked at it and said "How long have you been in England?"
I replied "About 10 minutes!"
He then said that he was the medical officer and that he wanted my paybook and that he would send a car to the mess to pick me up "Your for the hospital at Newquay" he said.
I was in there for a month in which time my crew had been posted to all different parts of England, so I had lost them.
When I was discharged fom the hospital I was posted to Linton on Ouse in yorkshire to go onto Halifax aircraft and was gven a totally new crew. The instuctor I had was a young srogg pilot officer with only 200 hours flying time and no operations. Having flown Liberators for months, when landing you must hold the nose wheel off the ground until your speed drops, so it takes a while not to pull the stick back when you touch down,of course with the halifax this is opposite or your tail wheel hits the ground first. This sprogg P.O. tried to make me look a fool and in front of a new crew this is not good, as they are wondering what sort of pilot they have. He kept on "where did you learn to fly? Who on earth taught you, and look you should do a circuit of 1000feet and your at 950feet and I'm supposed to train you for transport command?"
which I had applied for, He had looked at my log book and said "I'm glad I wasnt one of the troops you flew home and God knows how you got through your ops!"
"Yes! I said "And Ive seen your log blook too and I wonder with the number of hours youve got, they let you fly at all !"
I think he was trying to boost his moral, but when you have a new crew they have to trust you, so we had a row !
Next morning we were both in with the C.O. who told him to apologise to me as I was the type of pilot they needed, he refused and when the C.O. did nothing about it I took my demob number and came out of the RAF
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