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27 July 2005

William Wands.
Born - Glasgow - October 1923

Ex. Warrant Officer Air Bomber
103 Squadron1 Group
Bomber Command
Elsham Wolds. N. Lincolnshire

I joined the R.A.F. in 1941, but due to being in a reserved occupation was deferred for six months. Following call — up 1942 it was spent on mainly basic ground training of what was commonly known as “square bashing” (i.e. drilling and polishing).

Early 1943, we drew “tropical kit” from stores which meant we should be going for flying training to South Africa, but for reasons best known to others we were instructed to replace it with “cold weather” kit, which meant it must be Canada and not South Africa. After a short train journey we were surprised to find ourselves boarding the “Queen Mary” sailing from Greenock.

The four day trip to New York is better forgotten as we experienced one of the worst storms the Atlantic had had for years, and as we had over — indulged in chocolate and other “goodies” which were in short supply in the U.K. we suffered for most of the 4 days.

On arrival in New York we berthed next to the French Normandie, which was lying on her side due to rolling over following a fire aboard her.
We then travelled by train up to Canada where I spent a glorious 11 months, mainly in the prairies of W. Canada (Alberta), where we enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of the Canadian people, a number of them being from “the old country” and pleased to meet, in some cases, people from their old town. It was here we flew for the first time, firstly from Lethbridge on twin engined Ansons where we trained for gunnery and bombing and the up to Edmonton, where we did navigation and bombing.
What struck most of us was the food we received in Canada, after rationing back home, we were able to eat such luxuries as meat (all types) eggs, butter, etc, as well as 4 or 5 different fruit juices at every meal.
However all good things come to an end, so it was back to the old country on the “Lizzie” (Queen Elizabeth) (we certainly travelled in style), we had a little space on deck to sleep on as the ship was carrying thousands of troops, Americans, Canadians and we Brits, who were now brand new sergeants, on 12/6 (twelve shillings and sixpence) a day.

After a short time spent at various stations in England we were “crewed — up” at Hixon, Staffordshire, where I was approached by a New Zealand pilot, and eventually ended up with a full crew consisting of
Nelson (pilot) Maurice Cox — navigator (Walsall) Bob Petman wireless operator (Goole) Joe Bungard — mid — upper gunner (Maidstone) Alistair Smith(smudge) rear gunner (Glasgow) Harry Marsden — engineer (Middlesborough) and myself a bomb aimer and front gunner.
This “crewing up” was followed by short training spells, first on Wellingtons and then on to four engined Halifax’s before finally finding ourselves at Linaholme on Lancasters.

This conversion to Lancasters was mainly to train the pilot, while the rest of the crew spent a lot of time in the classroom in between flights. Finally the great day arrived and we were posted to our squadron, 103 at Elsham Wolds, N. Lincolnshire, the nearest town being Brigg. April 1944.

103 Squadron didn’t have the reputation of other well known squadrons, but we were equally proud of 103 as a damm good “bread and butter” squadron and had been in existence from the First World War.
A “tour” of operations consisted of 30 “trips” and we were lucky enough to be involved when we more of less had the better of the enemy, which meant some of the trips were easier than the others, this didn’t mean that there was no danger on an “easier” trip, this was borne out on a trip to La Havre in daylight, when we witnessed a Lancaster in front and slightly below us, blew up, as we approached the target which was a large number of “E” boats in La Havre harbour. A sobering thought when thought of 7 men who would disappear off the face of the earth, in a flash, and on an easy trip.

Some trips were memorable, some I’d like to forget, like the time we were over the Ruhr valley (happy valley we called it) and the Germans were throwing everything but the kitchen sink up at us. We were on our bombing run and I had the bomb release button under my thumb when I realised we hadn’t opened the bomb doors, so I shouted to the pilot — “bomb doors open”- I pressed the bomb release, it must have been sheer fright which made me do this, and forgetting the bombs wouldn’t release until the bomb doors opened a certain amount (I think it was 9”), this resulted in the bombs dropping on the doors and opening them in no uncertain terms, very quickly.

When I looked through the hatch I found the doors slightly buckled and flapping in the wind, so the hydraulics must have suffered, and I can assure you this was not a sight to cheer me up, especially when we were still in the thick of it from “jerry” and planes were going down or on fire as we turned for home. Not much was said on our way home, but we were diverted to an American Fortress drome at Smetterton Heath Norfolk as our drome was fogged in. The Americans treated us like royalty as soon as we landed (we were last to land because of hydraulic problems), they fed us with all their exotic foods, gave us a box of Mars bars and 200 cigarettes, this against the one cigarette we got from the R.A.F. (and it was something called a “martins”, which was diabolical).
They also fixed the bomb doors and as a small token of thanks and as we were last off, we did a shoot-up, this was a low level dive on their drome.
Strangely enough on return to Elsham, nothing materialised regarding the damaged doors, it must have been a faulty bomb release!!!

Another trip which comes to mind was a raid by 120? Lancasters on an oil refinery on the Gironde river — August 1944.
This was a daylight trip and it meant flying down the Bay of Biscay at 50feet off the sea to dodge the radar at Brest, so it must have been a rare sight for the people of Cornwall to see all these Lancasters swoop down to near sea level and head out to sea.
This was not a pleasant trip, as we bombed from 12000 feet instead of our usual 18-20000 feet and as the refinery was on the edge of a small town I witnessed considerable damage to houses as well as the oil tanks and we wonder why the French don’t like us!!!

The return to base on this trip was a sight to behold 100 plus Lancasters all in a “stream” and roughly at the same height all sparkling in the sunlight and being shepherded by Mosquitoes.

I come to trip that will always be remembered with awe and pride and that was the early morning of 6th June 1944, the Invasion of Europe. We had no idea what was going on except that we were to bomb coastal guns on the French coast and as we approached the coast of France in the dark we were mystified by all the flares of different colours that were everywhere and the dim “lines” we could see down below us. These “lines” turned out to be the wakes of countless ships which are faintly phosphorescent in the dark.

The remaining trip we completed as our “tour”, were duly carried out. Some good, some bad, some long, some short, but all were with the same crew. We flew together we drank together and were more than pleased we managed to finish a tour (50000 didn’t).

By August 1946, after spending some time as a bombing instructor, it wasn’t the same as being a member of a crew or squadron, so I was demobbed (after 4 ½ years) as a Warrant Officer Air Bomber at £1 a day, into civvy street and returned to my peace time job as an apprentice mechanic at £3.17 a week with the grand gratuity from the R.A.F. of £92. I cursed the R.A.F. for various reasons, but when I remember the lads and the laughter, I wouldn’t change it for all the tea in China.

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