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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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Stories from the RAF Ground Crewicon for Recommended story

by ScottAW

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Alexander Wishart
Location of story: 
South East England, Malta
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
05 June 2004

Alexander Wishart - 803588 (RAF 603 Squadron) Born Leith, 1919, Died Edinburgh, 2002 Photograph taken 29 June 1940.

My Grandfather joined the Royal Auxiliary Airforce, 603 Squadron Edinburgh in 1937. Throughout the war he served as a Sergeant in the ground crews that kept the aircraft flying during the Battle of Britain, and then afterwards was stationed in Malta during the siege. He didn’t talk much about his war experiences until I asked him shortly before his death in 2002. Two stories particularly stick in my mind, the first from the Battle of Britain, and the second from Malta.

Part of the ground crews job was to clear away the debris of aircraft that had crash-landed on the airfield. On one occasion, my Grandfather told me about a Spitfire that had been badly chewed up by the Luftwaffe and had limped back to the base. Unfortunately it hit the ground too fast and exploded on impact. Along with several other men, my Grandfather took off to extinguish the fire and pull the wreckage from the runway. When they got there they noticed the overwhelming smell of burning flesh. The poor pilot had been catapulted through the front of his cockpit and was literally ‘cooking’ on the aircraft’s engine. My Grandfather and his colleagues had to scrape the pilot from the red hot metal and put the parts in a canvas bag for burial. He told me he never wanted to smell anything like that again.

During a particularly heavy bombardment in Malta my Grandfather and a pal had to make their way across the base to report back to their C/O who had set up office in a makeshift building dug into the ground. Just as he reached the steps to the entrance there was an almighty explosion and my Grandfather managed to stumble down into the bunker. The men inside looked very alarmed and shouted “Haggis, are you alright?” Seemingly my Grandfather was covered in blood, but was curiously unharmed. He turned round to check on his friend, but couldn’t see him anywhere. It was then that he realised that this chap had born the brunt of the explosion and had disintegrated all over my Grandfather.

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