Norman Edwards
A Pictorial History

Portrait of F/Lt Norman Edwards

Notes on the these web pages

My father, Norman Edwards, started writing these memoirs during his retirement. He typed up the text and included it with photographs in an album. He made photocopies, page by page, which he passed on to me and my sister, Elizabeth Ann. I do not know what his intentions were, whether he hoped to publish them (he was a professional writer, as you will see).  The story goes as far as the end of World War II in Burma. I do not know whether he planned to take the story further. However, after a heart attack in 2006 he no longer had the energy to write and he died on 8th January 2008.

The title page of the album originally read 'A brief pictorial history', but the 'brief' has been crossed out - evidently it became longer than anticipated.

In transferring it to web pages, I have tried to remain as close to the original format as possible. I have maintained the pagination and the relative positions of the pictures (though they may not be correct if you are viewing on a small screen). I have added some internal links to references within the text. I have also added some external links (obviously not in the original) to sources of additional information. I have tried to be sparing with these, not marking every possible reference to anything that's on the web; you can use Google as well as I can. All these external links are marked with an icon . I have re-touched some of the photos to a small extent, to remove blemishes.

In January 2012 I found another album, which evidently was an intended continuation. There are further pages of commentary (from 151 Indian OTU Peshawar to the end). There were also several pages of more pictures, some without commentary, evidently incomplete. These merge into more recent photographs, including some of Aircrew Association members and then merging into family pictures. I have included only the ones relating to the airforce service here.

One thing my father taught me was to take care with spelling and grammar. Thus, there were few errors in the original and I have only corrected the most obvious slips. The pictures and text have all been scanned from the originals, but I hope I have corrected all errors in scanning.


If you would like to make contact with me, having read these page, you can email me.


This version of the history is all in one file, but you can jump to the different sections as below. This may take a long time to load, so you can also read in in smaller sections one at a time.

Birth of Sarah Gale; First World War; birth of Tom, Norman and Walter.
School; scouts; Home Guard
RAF training; Canada; back to Blighty
More training, in Scotland; Spitfires; bale out; India
India; Burma
151 Indian Operational Training Unit, Peshawar.
Transparent bag
In the back cover of the original album is a plastic wallet. Some of its contents are presented: an air chart, a letter from Mrs Edith Entwistle, Canada's Air Heritage, Account of 615 Squadron monsoon disaster, written by 615 pilot S/L McGarigle.


Three Brothers At War
An extract from the book Winged Chariots, edited by Norman Edwards. This chapter is reproduced on a BBC website and concerns the three brothers, Tom, Norman and Walter.

Alistair Edwards
2 February 2012, updated 18 May 2020

A Pictorial History 1888-1933


Two photographs of mother, born Sarah Spencer Gale on 4 June 1888.

The top photograph must have been taken about 1892-3, in a Manchester studio when she was three or four years of age - and probably cost quite a lot of money. Studio photography was in its infancy, the flash for illumination being provided by lighting some kind of powder in a T-shaped piece of equipment at the same time as the cover of the lens was removed.

It shows a very pretty little girl who is somewhat bewildered by what is going on in the studio.

The lower photograph may have been taken about the time of her marriage to Dad, Joseph Thomas Edwards, on 30 September 1918, a few weeks before the end of the First World War, when she was 29 or 30 years of age. She died at Withington hospital in 1960.

The locket might have been in memory of her half-brother, John William Price - known as John Willy - who was killed while serving in the Army.

Dad, son of Thomas Edwards, a brass finisher, was born on 2 May 1891. He was friendly with John Willy during the war. He called on his friend's sister, Sarah, possibly to offer his condolences, and that's how they met.

Photo of Sarah Edwards Photo of Sarah Edwards around her marriage

The last photograph of Dad, taken at a dance at Red Island Holiday resort, near Dublin, in September 1968.

It was his second visit to Red Island. He had made friends there on his first visit and was looking forward to his return trip.

I picked him up and took him to his Aer Lingus flight from Manchester to Dublin but few days later was telephoned and told he had collapsed and been taken to a Dublin hospital at St Stephen's Green. I flew over but was too late. At the hospital they said he had suffered a ruptured aneurism.

The doctor and all the other staff I saw were very concerned and were obviously quite willing to talk with me for as long as I wished. Although they did not know him, I came to the conclusion that he had died, at the age of 77, amongst friends.

The Aer Lingus people - and particularly Tom Cranitch - were very kind to me at that sad time.

I flew back to Manchester with Dad.

His life had not been easy. During the first World War he served in the Manchester Regiment as a signaller and took part in the Gallipoli landing, where he was wounded. After - apparently - recovering he continued in the Army until the end of the war. When we were very young he was employed at Langfields, sheet metal workers, near Trafford Bar - and always returned home with sweets for us on Fridays, which was pay day.

However, he did suffer from stomach pains, putting this down to being shot in the turn at Gallipoli. He was right, of course, but what he didn't know - until he collapsed at work in early 1930s - that a Turkish bullet had remained inside him for around 14 years. It was very visible on a Royal Infirmary X-ray.

The bullet was removed, he had a brief convalescence at Grange-over-Sands, took us all on holiday to New Brighton and, having been declared fit for light work, returned to Langfields. 'Welcome back, Joe' they said. 'Nice to be back,' he said, 'but I'm only fit for light work.' 'Light work?' they said. 'We haven't got any. You're sacked'

Life was vastly different in those days.

Work was hard to find. He took on temporary postman at Christmas, pedalling away on a cycle, but didn't really get a job until the Second World War, when he helped to build Lancaster bombers at Metropolitan Vickers in Trafford Park.

The earliest photograph I know of Dad, when he was a lance-corporal signaller - denoted by the crossed flags on his sleeve - in the 8th Ardwick Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, one of those known as the 'Pals.'

'Pals' regiments were formed because it was thought that it would be helpful to have people from the same locality in the same Regiment. That idea was scrapped when it, painfully, became clear that this meant that when casualties were suffered this meant that families who probably knew each other very well would all be involved in sorrow at around the same time. In fact, families living the same street would sometimes all receive dreaded telegrams practically simultaneously.

Dad was sporting a moustache.

This picture was probably taken in Egypt, by which time Dad was sporting a moustache. He spent some time there, prior to the Gallipoli landings. I can remember his describing learning how to ride a camel, being thrown first one way as the camel started to get to its feet, and then the other as it completed the manoeuvre, only to go through the same procedure in reverse as the camel got back down on its belly.

He also gained expertise in sending Morse heliograph signals, using a mirror to catch the rays of the sun.

Dad second from the left.

Probably taken in 1923, the photograph shows curly red-headed Thomas William Edwards (named after Dad's father), born 15 May 1921, aged here something just over two, and me, born 16 October 1922, maybe four or five months old, well and truly fastened into a cane chair but clearly struggling to get out. Walter had yet to arrive on the scene, not being born until 26 October 1924.

Thomas William and me

Guessing again about the date - perhaps 1926 - the photograph of the three brothers was taken in a studio. I suppose Walter could be two-ish, me four-ish and Tom about five or six.

Mum and Dad had clearly dressed us in our best for the occasion, Tom and I also sporting watch chains - don't know whether we actually had watches! The suits were probably new. Our faces, hands and knees had been scrubbed, our hair combed and brushed - although Tom's red curly hair still refused to lie down.

I have vague memories of being intrigued by the big polished wood camera, mounted on a tripod, and the way the photographer kept disappearing behind it under a black hood. He produced a T-square gadget, put some powder on the top, there was a blinding flash from it and the photo session was over.

About half a century later we re-created this scene in another studio, the one I was running together with a public relations business in Old Trafford.

Home | 1988-1933 | 1933-1940 | 1940-1942 | 1943 | 1943-1944 | 1945 | Transparent bag

A Pictorial History 1933-1940


Think the top photograph must have been taken in the early 1930s, probably 1933. Tom had joined the 1st Barlow Moor Scout Troop, acquiring a natty uniform and a Baden-Powell Scout hat, and Walt had become a Cub.

Dad is so thin that he was clearly still suffering from the aftermath of the operation to remove the Turkish Gallipoli bullet.

Since I'm not about, I was probably by that time starting my various hospital stints. When I was about 11 - I'd sat the 11+ and thought I might be going to Chorlton High School - I developed a left leg limp. It became so severe that I was taken to Pendlebury Children's Hospital where they fastened me on to a frame and hung a weight on my left leg. Not sure what that was all about. Anyway, I then went to another children's hospital at Rose Hill, Marple, where after a spell in bed I was allowed up, wearing a calliper - a kind of metal splint - on my left leg, designed to reduce weight on the foot and then, still wearing it, went home.

However, it seemed this was not the answer so off I went again, this time to a children's hospital in the hills above Abergele. They kept me in bed for a long time, then let me up with crutches and a built-up right shoe, telling me not to put any weight on my left leg. Finally, I got rid of the crutches and built-up shoe. Apparently cured, I was allowed to go home again and back to school, this time to Chorlton Park. That must have been around late 1935 or early 1936 when I'd be 13 years of age.

In later years I learned I had had Perthes disease. This affects the joints of children but can often be cleared up - only to return, as I was to discover.

The two other photographs would be after I had returned from Abergele. I promptly joined the 1st Barlow Moor Scouts, which were sponsored by Barlow Moor Methodist Church, and must have been trying out the family tent in the back garden. The bottom photograph indicates that I had either discovered the delights of Brylcreem - or, more probably, a mixture of bay rum and tragacanth gum powder, which was cheaper.

I followed brother Tom to Chorlton Park Senior School. He, having reached the ripe old age of 14, had left to go put into the big wide world to earn his living. In fact, his first job was as an office boy with the Rubber Regenerating Company in Trafford Park. He had been a top pupil in Form 3A, already displaying artistic talent by becoming the school's best book-binder.

The first question I was asked, in fact - much to my puzzlement - was whether I was any good at book-binding.

Having missed a lot of schooling I was put into Form 3B. That's me, third from the right, middle row. I must have been at least nearing 14 because I'm in long trousers, the age you had to reach to achieve this honour.

The balding man on the right: headmaster 'Pop' Mason; the distinguished chap on the left: form master Mr Barber.

Looking back, both were good to and for me. They put me on the cricket team (I wasn't very brilliant) and on the football team (a bit better), as well as helping me to make up for the educational years I had lost.

Big lad second from left, back row, was the class bully. He became a fairground wrestler!

Just before I left school, Gilbert Holliday called in, told 'Pop' Mason he was moving up from office boy to junior reporter at the Manchester Press Exchange (run mainly by his dad, Old Bill), to junior reporter so there was a vacancy. For some reason Mason sent for me, asked if I wanted to be a journalist - and that's how it all started.

Mother was not pleased. I had passed a Co-operative Wholesale Society examination to become, I suppose, an errand boy at 10/- a week. Instead, here I was taking on a job with a mixed bag of freelance journalists at 7/6 a week - and use your own bicycle to pedal round umpteen newspaper offices in Manchester twice a day with what was known as 'copy'.

Lower pix, later teenage years: me in a new suit, taken at the Jack Whitelegg homestead; a sombre Tom (on right), no doubt back home after a session regenerating smelly rubber, and mop-haired Walter. Bottom; me posing enviously beside Walter's motor bike and Walt tuning it up.

On returning to home and school I promptly joined the 1st Barlow Moor Scout Troop - and made very good friends, one of whom was to save my life. Wilfred Airey was really Tom's friend. They hiked together in the Lake District, staying at YMCA hostels.

The top two photographs show me with Jack Whitelegg, boating at Sandiway Scout Camp. At an earlier camp, with Tom and Wilf Airey, we found a leaky punt on the lake, climbed on to it and went to the other side. It took in more water on the way over. 'Back again before it goes down,' we said, got into the middle and down it went. I couldn't swim so I just bobbed up and down, looking at muddy bubbles going up, getting a glimpse of Tom - who could swim a little - holding on to the punt, looking for me each time I surfaced, but being unable to grab me.

Wilf had swum to the side of the lake Looking back, he realised I was in trouble. He had just passed his life- saving badge so, courageously, came back and told me to lie on my back with hands on his shoulders. I did and he got me to the side by doing the breast stroke. Tom managed to swim to the side.

Wilf should have got a medal - but we didn't tell anyone. I then joined the school's swimming class at Chorlton Baths

Believe Wilf, many years later, was thrown off a horse and killed.

Pie second down of right is Andy dark at a Peover camp. He became my best friend - and best man

When camping at Sandiway around 1938/39 we took 'civvies' and cycled to Chester. That's where Jack Whitelegg and Andy are pictured I'm on the clock bridge over the main street.

Top two pix - more camping with Jack and Andy, this time at Brynbach Scout Camp near Denbigh It was rather hilly. Jack's father drove us there in his new (to him) Ford 8 (eight horsepower), which rattled and banged and nearly broke down on the way. Still, he owned a car - which was quite something in those days.

A bit nearer home, the bottom photographs illustrate pioneering skills - putting a rope suspension bridge across the Mersey in Chorlton Think Tom and I are helping to put a bit of tension on a support. Bottom right: Eddie Povah (known as Bos'n') our pioneering expert. Just visible in bottom pic, a brave soul (looks like Bob Graham, Assistant Scout Leader) being hauled, across the river.

Somewhere around this period. Jack and I set off from Chorlton one day on our bikes and, a bit to our astonishment, reached Rhyl It dawned on us we would have to cycle back, so we treated ourselves to an ice cream and pedalled, more and more wearily, home again

The war was just over the horizon at the time Jack became a sergeant pilot, survived the war, became a salesman but died sometime in the 1980s. Bos'n, fairly naturally, went into the Royal Navy. Andy, who always had to wear 'milk bottle bottoms' specs, joined the RAF but because of his poor sight and ear problems was soon discharged back to civvy life. Incidentally, he was a marvellous and very strong swimmer, and was the main reason why 1st Barlow Moor always did well in Scout galas.

From the age of 14 to 16 I pedalled my cycle around all the Manchester newspaper offices twice a day, from Monday to Friday, delivering 'copy'. I also went into the office on Saturday mornings. In winter I attended Manchester United and Manchester City football matches, rushing out of the grounds from time to time to telephone Bill Holliday's match reports. Sometimes also cycled round the newspaper offices on Sunday with Bill's soccer and Reg Pullin's Rugby 'reviews'.

There were plenty of newspaper offices: The Mirror, Dispatch, Sketch, Evening Chronicle, Telegraph and Times - and one or two more - at Withy Grove; the News Chronicle up Cheetham Hill, the Express in Great Ancoats Street, Manchester Guardian and Evening News in Cross Street, the Mirror and the Mail in Hardman Street and the Daily Herald on Oxford Road.

During the day I taught myself four-fingered typing (two fingers on each hand!) so that I could take down stories telephoned by Press Exchange members - sometimes having to do four or five carbon copies - before cycling round with them. I learned shorthand at night school, also taking English and French lessons. My weekly pay was increased to ten shillings!

Then I graduated to reporting, augmenting my income by doing a part-time stint with the Middleton Guardian, mainly reporting the doings of churches in Moston, Harpurhey and surrounding areas, not to mention obituaries - again, pedalling around the whole area.

Obituaries? Mr Bagot, Middleton Guardian editor, combed through death announcements in the Evening News and shipped me off to interview widows, widowers and other relatives to write a piece about the departed.

When the war started in 1939 some Press Exchange members were promptly called up - so I graduated at the early age of 17 to doing reports from what were then known as Police Courts. Speed and accuracy were essential. I learned a lot very quickly.

As the Battle of Britain raged in 1940, I was accepted as a member of the National Union of Journalists and had to have a portrait taken for my NUJ card. That's it, at the top. I was also accepted into the LDV (Local Defence Volunteers, or Look, Duck and Vanish), later called the Home Guard - or later still Dad's Army.) Our Headquarters: Chorlton Golf Club.

Posing for a newspaper - think it was the Daily Dispatch - we 'captured' two 'spies'. That's me, bringing up the rear.

Tom was also a Chorlton Home Guard, as was Walt when he reached 17 years of age. Tom is with three comrades, probably in what we knew as Bluebell Wood on Chorlton Golf Course, keeping a look-out for enemy paratroops. Up-ended rail sleepers had been planted on the golf course to stop German glider troops.

Tom was soon to change his khaki for RAF blue. He had volunteered for aircrew. On 17 September 1941 he got his papers to report to RAF Padgate on 29 September.

Another Barlow Moor Scout was John Ankers, who later also became a Sunday newspaper journalist, in Manchester, on The People. I hadn't realised it at the time but his Dad was in Dad's Army and we marched together on a parade. John sent me the bottom picture, duly marking his Dad and me. I was glad to note that I was in step this time!

John included the quote (below) with the photograph.

John's wife, Joyce, became secretary to Gerry Dawson, Editor of The Melody Maker - and for many (post war) years Chairman of the Manchester Press Charities Committee, on which I also served.

Top three and middle pix - taken during a farming holiday in Anglesey in August 1941. Top left: the farmer, Jack Whitelegg, Andy dark, Tom Edwards. Suppose I took the photograph. Don't know the lad in shorts.

While there we met Kathleen and Joyce, from Manchester. That's me in the middle. Tom met a Welsh girl called Cainwen who liked his red hair and chased him round the island.

Bottom left. Carmen Sylvia Meese, a fellow classmate learning shorthand at Oswald Road night school, Chorlton. We became friendly. However, on the right is a lovely girl I didn't know at the time this portrait was taken but whom I was destined to marry.

Home | 1888-1933 | 1933-1940 | 1940-1942 | 1943 | 1943-1944 | 1945 | Transparent bag

A Pictorial History 1940-1942


Harking back a bit, 1940 was, of course, quite a traumatic year, taking in the retreat from Dunkirk, the narrowly-won Battle of Britain and the start of the bombing of Britain.

Vivid in my memory are the speeches of new Prime Minister Winston Churchill. What he said and how said it put new heart into the country and certainly into me.

A corrugated Anderson air raid shelter was installed in our back garden. Dad turning the remainder over to potatoes, cabbages and other vegetables. He started at Metropolitan Vickers in Trafford Park, helping to build Lancaster bombers.

The Anderson shelter was cold, dank and miserable. When the air raid siren sounded Tom, Walt and I were not keen on getting out warm beds and into it.

On December 22 and 23 1940, the Luftwaffe launched its biggest raids against Manchester. In Chorlton, houses were wrecked and people killed and injured. The Rivoli Cinema, our newest, was wrecked beyond repair. A gas main was damaged and set on fire, a mass of flame leaping up, in Barlow Moor Road. A somewhat inebriated air gunner offered to sit on it to put it out. He was restrained. Incendiaries peppered the streets, including Thorneycroft Avenue. We chucked sand over them.

All this was little, of course, compared with the damage in the city. I cycled into Manchester, having to carry the bike much of the way because of bricks and rubble in the road - especially in the Shambles area which really was a shambles, only the olde-worlde Wellington Inn still standing. I joined a Press Exchange group outside the battered Corn Exchange building. 'I've made it,' I said to Press Exchange Secretary Bill Holliday. 'Well, you might as well push off again,' he said. 'Your job's gone!'

Reg Pullin, Bert Stone and I went into the building, climbing over rubble, reached the office, and rescued typewriters and other essentials. We moved to the Manchester Press Club and set up in business again, staying there until the Corn Exchange was cleaned up and pronounced safe. Half a century later the IRA damaged the building even more!

By December 1940 I had started, at the age of 18, to take on journalistic work which I would not have reached for another year at least. However, older Press Exchange members were disappearing into the Services.

My diary for January 1941 contains details about police court and other reports which I was doing - and payments such as 10 shillings from the Press Exchange for a week's office boy work, £1 from the Middleton Guardian, etc. Total income for the month of January 1941 was no less than 13 pounds five shillings (£13.5.0, as we wrote it then). February was not quite so good, being six pounds 15 shillings (£6.15.0).

Weekly newspapers paid three halfpence (1½d) a line!

One of my Middleton Guardian reports included the fact that a local cinema had been damaged. We were not allowed to print that it was the Victory cinema in Moston. That would have given the Germans information about the location of their bombing - and 'Lord Haw Haw,' broadcasting for the Germans could have made fun of the fact that it was called 'Victory'. He was a chap whose real name was William Joyce. He was shot for treason after the war.

I was also writing stories for exciting publications such as the Timber Trades Journal, Confectionery Week and the Fish Trades Gazette, and doing reports on Park Tennis and Water Polo matches. It was all worthwhile experience.

Intending to volunteer for the RAF I also started studying Morse Code, Signalling, Geometry, Trigonometry and wireless - not to mention buying and swotting up a book called 'Teach yourself to Fly!'

On May 29 1941, while pedalling round delivering 'copy' to newspapers, I diverted to the RAF Recruiting Centre in Dover Street, near the University, and volunteered for aircrew, filling in masses of forms. Three days later there was another German raid. Among the damage, the Assize Courts were wrecked.

On July 10 1941 I went to an Aircrew Selection Board at Cardington RAF Station, having to pass a medical and an interview to become a u/t (under-training) pilot. Pleased to say I did. Then had to await call-up, which arrived in September. I went to the Aircrew Receiving Centre at Lord's Cricket ground on 12 October, was inoculated, vaccinated, put through umpteen psychological, physical, educational and other tests, was assessed as possible bomber pilot (!), and arrived at Finningley RAF Station, Yorkshire, on 27 October 1941 for Initial Training.

I remained at Finningley until early February 1942, being put through an intensive course of ground studies which included maths, signalling, hygiene, aircraft recognition, throwing live grenades, gas exercises (including taking the gas mask off in a room full of some kind of gas) and bags of discipline, marching about, guard duties and what were described as 'barrack room sports' - cleaning the barracks from top to bottom and then taking a freezing cold shower.

There was bags of snow that winter, so much so that we raw recruits were handed shovels and told to clean the snow off the runways. That kept us warm.

There was also supposed to be a 'flu epidemic so we had to sleep with the windows open, waking up to find the bed snow-covered.

It was at Finningley that I met Corporal Basil Hill, who did most of the work on the educational team. He organised a debate on the subject 'The pen is mightier than the sword' and got me to propose it. We won the debate by 239 votes to 16.

Think he must have been responsible for recommending me as a possible officer. I had to go before the Group Captain. He seemed pleased that I had been in journalism and presumably agreed to endorse the recommendation.

(Met Basil again, with Beth, in 1950 when on honeymoon at Babbacombe. He had spent some time as an Education Officer in Aden and, after demob, became a lecturer at Exeter University).

Finningley was an Operational Training Unit, with trainee crews flying Wellingtons and Manchesters. Manchesters were the twin-engined, underpowered, predecessor of the successful four-engined Lancasters. I got my first flip on 24 December, joining a crew as a passenger on a practice bombing raid from 8,000 feet. Thoroughly enjoyed it - but still hoped to get on fighters.

Was at Finningley until 5 February, then - promoted to Leading Aircraftsman - sent to Brighton, being billeted at the Metropole Hotel, enjoying cross-country runs and drills in freezing weather until 4 March, when I arrived at Theale, near Reading, to try my pilot skills on a Tiger Moth.

The photographs must have been taken about this period. Walt had become a butcher boy at the local Co-op and joined the Home Guard. I was trying out my flying kit while on leave. Tom was home at the same time, so we posed with mother at the back door of 15 Thorneycroft Avenue.

At Theale - 26 Elementary Flying School - we stayed in a mansion house which had grassy grounds large enough for a Tiger Moth. The idea there was to assess whether you might have enough ability to become a pilot. No use sending you overseas for flying training if you were hopeless from the start!

We were all bursting to get into a cockpit to show that we could demonstrate flying ability, enough to go on a first solo. However, snow held up matters for a couple of days, so it was 6 March before I climbed into the front seat of a Tiger, with instructor Flight Lieutenant Holder as back-seat driver, for familiarity with cockpit layout and air experience. On subsequent days, with different instructors, I sampled straight and level flying, climbing, gliding and stalling, medium turns, taking off into wind, gliding approach and landing, spinning, and powered approach and landing. Finally, on 23 March 1942, after 12 hours' instruction, I was allowed to fly solo for the first time. I took off, I sang, I patted the Tiger, I did a circuit and landed ten minutes later. I was happy.

On 1 April I went to Manchester's Heaton Park to await an overseas posting, being allowed to stay at home instead of being billeted in draughty and freezing Nissen hut. Also there was Ian Duncan, with whom I was to become particularly friendly.

On 7 April we left Heaton Park in the middle of the night, boarded a train and arrived at Gourock. As dawn was breaking we boarded a Polish ship, the Batory, for the Atlantic crossing to Canada. Also on board, film actress Anna Neagle.

There was an alarm in mid-Atlantic, escorting destroyers dropped depth charges and we were told a U-boat had been sunk.

We reached Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 17 April and were taken by train to Moncton, New Brunswick, to await posting to Elementary Flying Training Schools.

We all posed for photographs with our white aircrew cap flashes and Leading Aircraftsman rank badges. The top photograph shows me with three friends I met at Finningley.

The Canadian welcome at Moncton was marvellous. Many invitations to home hospitality were received. A Doctor and Mrs Fitzpatrick gave me a meal at their home and took me out in their car. The second row, left hand pic is their home, the middle one is me relaxing in it, the other various parts of Moncton and a tableau at nearby St Anselm. The bottom photograph is of Magnetic Hill, where water in the ditch appears to be flowing upwards.

During nearly a month in Moncton we got to know each other better and the local people. Left top pic shows Charles helping a timber expert to load his lorry and strolling, camera in hand. The next three are of me posing on a rail by the River Petitcodiac and beside a WW1 artillery piece, watched by some little lad, and Charles sitting on some ancient cannon.

We played table tennis at the YMCA, danced at the Masonic Hall, and sampled the local cinemas.

Impressions of Canada? Well, we were all first struck by the fact that was no black-out, that chocolates, sweets and similar things were not rationed. We tried and enjoyed CocaCola, listened to adverts on the radio - unheard of then in Britain. The cinemas, mainly of timber construction, had hard wooden seats. For this reason, smoking was not allowed - not because of today's anti-smoking campaigns.

Dancing? Not waltzes and fox trots, but dervish whirling. We have caught up with that here, of course.

Factories were surrounded by serried ranks of cars. In the UK there were cycle parks, not car parks. A long time later we caught up with this, too, of course.

I bought a dinky little camera which I had for umpteen years, eventually presenting it to daughter Ann.

But life was not all ease. We were put on guard duties and fatigues - the latter meaning working in the huge kitchens, washing up hundreds of plates, knives, forks and spoons in big, steaming dishwashers. Some of us were good at vanishing when these chores were being allocated. In fact I wrote a story about the 'Moncton ghosts' - erks who could never be found when 'volunteers' were being sought for such jobs.

In the main, the weather was pleasant but an icy wind could turn up unexpectedly to freeze you, particularly at night. I see a note in my diary that while getting very cold on a night guard duty, Ian Duncan - with whom I was to become very friendly - sent me a bag of sandwiches! A very kindly thought.

Practically everyone we met in Moncton was friendly and hospitable and very anxious to know what life was like in the UK, especially existing through air raids. In their homes they nearly all had framed pictures of the Royal family.

Then, on May 20 1942, it was 'all aboard' for a long train journey to Neepawa, Manitoba, for elementary flying training on Tiger Moths. The train seemed huge by UK standards.

Ahead was a three-day, 1,600-mile journey on three different trains from New Brunswick to Manitoba, at first running for hours alongside the St Lawrence River. My new camera was in action, taking a shot as the train curved by the riverside into a tunnel; at a pause for some reason when we got out to stretch our legs; to picture Quebec on the other side of the water; to show the excellent meals which were served, and the sleeping arrangements, the seats being extended to make bunks.

We were fascinated by the scenery, totally unlike the UK - lots of huge lakes, mile upon mile of forest, occasional logging camps. Now and again there were what looked like little dolls house timber buildings by the side of the water and often seaplanes moored nearby.

We ate, we slept, we changed trains at Montreal to Canadian Pacific and, on the morning of May 23, woke up to arrive an hour or two later at Winnipeg, to a great reception by local ladies who were waiting on the platform to distribute sweets, cigarettes and magazines - and ask questions about the war and Britain under the blitz.

Another train change, then on to Neepawa. through flat prairie plains. We had arrived at Number 35 Elementary Flying Training School, set up under what was then described as the Empire (later the Commonwealth) Air Training Scheme.

We were allocated to wooden billets with two-tier bunk beds - and then rushed out to explore the aerodrome with its de Havilland Tiger Moths, similar to those we had flown in Britain. One obvious difference, the Canadian Moths had enclosed cockpits. Clearly, they would provide more cockpit comfort and less internal wind noise.

We were impatient to start flying, but first we all had to have three inoculations. I had developed a headache and sore throat from somewhere and wasn't feeling at my best, so I took to my bed for a day.

I took to the air again with instructor Sergeant Shoebridge on 26 May for a 30-minute air experience flight, familiarity with cockpit lay-out, the effect of controls and straight and level flight. I loved it. I was also pleased to discover that, in fact, a Warrant Officer Winder was to be - in the main - my instructor. My best instructor at Theale had been a Pilot Officer Winder, so I thought this was a good omen.

One of the first things to be done: pose for a course photograph. That's me, fourth from left on front row. Ian Duncan is extreme right, front row.

When at Heaton Park I had been down on a draft due to go to the USA for training leading to a course on Catalina flying boats at Pensacola. Almost at the last moment someone, probably a WAAF admin type, discovered there were too many names on the USA draft so they adopted the simple solution: delete the first six - alphabetically listed - names and put them on the lists for the Empire Air Training Scheme in Canada. I remember four of the names - Beresford, Butterfield (that's him, sixth from left), Duncan and Edwards. Such are the things which govern your future in the Services!

My friends Charles and Jeff Newman (not related) went to the USA. I met them from time to time later in Detroit. However, both failed the American training, which was vastly different from that in Canada. In fact, the RAF powers-that-be got worried by the number of trainees failing in America.

It didn't say much for RAF selection and preliminary training. As a result, a panel was established in Canada to assess whether these cadets should be given a further chance in Canada. Many were, and went on to become excellent pilots.

We had been told that the weather in the prairies could change violently and suddenly. It certainly could. On the day after my first flight I woke up to discover that an overnight storm had turned the aerodrome into a quagmire. In fact the parade ground looked more like a lake, the flagpole sticking out of the water like the mast of a sunken ship.

We had also been told about the high winds which could develop very speedily, blowing with such strength that a Tiger Moth, flying into the wind, would hover over the ground like a helicopter and in some cases fly backwards! I was to sample these aerial conditions in due course.

There was no flying that day but, early morning strong winds the following day dried the ground out remarkably quickly and flying was resumed.

The days began to form a pattern - ground lectures on navigation theory of flight, etc, and hanging about the crew room waiting to get airborne with an instructor. My log book shows entries such as climbing, gliding, stalling, medium turns, taking off into wind, powered approach and landing, action in the event of fire, abandoning an aircraft and then, on 1 June - a great day - FIRST SOLO, 15 minutes. In fact it was my second solo, of course, but the first in Canada.

In June and into July the weather became extremely hot with, on the whole, cloudless blue skies, ideal for us sprog pilots. Visibility was superb.

The training became more intense, including such things as blind flying - just on the rather limited range of instruments - gliding approaches and landings, steep and climbing turns, side-slipping, low flying, spinning, re-starting the engine in flight, forced landings map reading, night flying and aerobatics. Much of this was with Warrant Officer Winder but also with another instructor, Sergeant Blachford, and, of course, a fair amount of solo flying. Then we progressed to solo cross-country flights, map reading to another aerodrome, landing and then returning to Neepawa.

It was during July that, on returning to Neepawa I found one of the famous a 'prairie winds' had suddenly made itself felt. Tiger Moths were hurtling across the sky when flying with the wind and barely moving when fighting their way into it. Flying into wind to reach the aerodrome for landing meant practically full throttle for an 80-90 mph airspeed, giving a ground speed of only about 10-15 miles an hour. Landing meant getting vertically over the airfield and throttling back to come almost straight down, where if you were lucky a bunch of airmen could grab the Tiger and add their weight to keep it on the ground.

On July 13, after reaching 27 hours solo, 26 dual, Flight Lieutenant Murgatroyd, O/C A Flight, took me up for a 50-minute final test. Four days later he gave me his assessment - a ‘Good average’ pupil pilot, ready to go on to a Service Flying Training School. A line was drawn through the Assessment Section, reading 'Any points in flying or airmanship which should be watched.' None, apparently. I was pleased.

The top pic shows two of the principal reasons for our presence at Neepawa - Tigers on the tarmac. But there was time for relaxing, I snapped Ian reading a letter from home and basking in the sun. He pictured me reading a book. We swam in a nearby lake . It was cold, despite the sun! on a 48-hour pass Ian and I hitch-hiked to Wasagaming National Park (bottom building shows entrance) and met local lasses. There was also time for horse-riding - I wasn't much good at it - and sampling home hospitality in Winnipeg.

Bottom pic: passenger-eye view of Anson on approach to runway. We went up in these twin-engined aircraft on navigation exercises. I sampled the controls. It helped me to decide I wasn't keen on twin-engined aircraft. The Anson seemed slow to respond and rather 'lumbering.'

In mid-July we awaited news of our next posting. Where to? If to a Service Flying Training School with Ansons I could have been on course for Bomber or Transport Command. If to one with single-engined Harvards then Fighter Command was in prospect.

I spoke to Sergeant Blachford 'Which do you want?' he asked. 'Harvards' I said promptly. 'Right,' he said - and I was posted to 14 SFTS at Aylmer in Ontario, by the shores of Lake Erie. So was Ian who had relatives in Toronto, Mr and Mrs Sam Booth and their daughters, Margaret and Doreen. He arranged to visit them and asked me to join him. They made me very much at home. We went dancing at somewhere called Sea Breezes, attended a wrestling match, and went swimming.

For some reason, I noted my weight - 127 lbs, or 9 stone seven lbs! Not a lot, especially when compared with my 2000 weight of 12 stone! On Sunday 2 August we reported at Aylmer was assigned to a barracks and on the following day to E Flight. We were introduced to a propped up Harvard so that we could try raising and lowering the undercarriage and get to know its cockpit design and instruments. The Harvard seemed enormous after the Tiger Moth and the mass of instruments horrifying.

The instructor true to told us that we would find it harder to play a one-string fiddle than to understand the numerous dials and switches.

On August 6, first flight, with a Flying Officer Brown, a one-hour familiarisation trip. Then more f1ights with different instructors and, on 17 August, first - for 45 minutes - solo on this what seemed very powerful aircraft.

Throughout August there was plenty of dual and solo flying, sometimes four or five flights a day, with different instructors.

There were the usual course photographs. E flight is the top pic, I’m number 17, with Ian number 16.

At the bottom, three photographs of Harvards, one with a Tiger parked in foreground. The barrack blocks were just the same as those at Neepawa.

In addition to staying with Ian's Toronto relatives before going to Aylmer I also stayed with them during brief leaves with Ian and also visited Detroit, crossing into the USA at Windsor, which was not far from Aylmer. In Detroit I met Charles Newman and Jeff Newman again, as they were also training not too far way.

Top four pix: Me with Mrs Booth and her mother: Ian picturing cousin Margaret with baby Beverly (with Uncle Sam just in the photograph), Ian and me with Margaret and her sister Doreen and another picture with Doreen (who was about to be married).

August 1942 was hot - so we are wearing Canadian summer weather light drill uniforms.

Two lower pix: Charles admires Detroit from a skyscraper and Detroit, showing the bridge between the USA and Canada. On the right: a young lassie I didn't know at the time but got to know very well five years later.

Charles was soon to be injured when side-slipping into the ground - which ended his flying training - and about the same time Jeff also failed as as a pilot. I lost track of them.

During one visit to Detroit I was with Jeff in a bar when an American sailor built like an all-in wrestler, came over and inquired, 'Are you Limeys?' 'I suppose so, I said. He became belligerent. 'My brudder was in England,' he said. 'He was beaten up by Limeys. Come outside.'

While I was thinking over his invitation, he turned to Jeff.

'You a Limey, too?' he asked. Jeff, who was about the same size as me, hurriedly said, 'No, no - I'm Welsh!' I expect something like this is how the term 'Welshing' came about.

The sailor turned his attention back to me. However, Jeff, who was good at pouring oil on troubled waters started commiserating with him about his 'brudder' and I joined in.

Soon we were three good friends and allies - thank goodness! At Aylmer, taking advantage of the good weather, the flying programme was intense and so was the ground instruction, taking in advanced navigation, meteorology, aerodynamics, armaments etc.

The came 17 August - a great day. I went solo in a Harvard, being up for 45 minutes, flying around locally and doing a couple of landings. I noted in my diary: 'Great to be in sole charge of this thundering, mighty Harvard.' Soon we were doing-cross country flights lasting a couple of hours or more, acrobatics, formation flying and night flying.

Other exercises, high flying, reaching 15,000 feet. It was bitterly cold up there. There was; also the Link trainer, practising turns, climbs, dives and steering compass courses in a hooded cockpit on the ground. Occasionally we flew in Yales (similar to the Harvard hut with a fixed undercarriage so a bit slower and more ponderous.

There were also some accidents, the pupil usually - but not always - being scrubbed, as we termed it.

This went on through August, September and into October. During October we sat the ground examinations.

We also had to tackle a dead reckoning navigation exercise, taking off with an instructor and then having to close a hood over the cockpit and continue only on the flying instruments. You were allowed out once to pinpoint your position and, having done so, it was back under the hood again to work out where you were in relation to where you thought you should be, calculate a wind speed from this and apply the wind and work out the courses and time to the first turning point, then the second and the third to bring you back over the aerodrome, telling the instructor when you thought you were there.

'Think I'm there,' said, thinking no such thing. 'Come out then,' he said. I pulled the hood back and looked for the 'drome. It was nowhere in sight. 'Try looking straight down,' he said. There it was, right underneath! I could hardly believe it.

Then most of us moved to a satellite airfield known as Rl, where we were told we were out of the training stage, supposed to be competent pilots. Around this time I received a letter from Tom telling me he was now a sergeant - which also told me he must be on operations.

I still have the camera I had bought in Moncton so I took it with me on a few flights. The pic is Niagara, next to it Port Bruce on Lake Erie, a view of the flat landscape, a town called Fergus, Ontario, and another Tilbury, with Lake Huron in the background, a pic of me, and at the end, approaching, Aylmer aerodrome, with its triangular runways.

On October 10, six days before my 20th birthday, I went up for what was known as a Wings check, going through umpteen manoeuvres, including aerobatics. I knew that if you pulled a Harvard round too quickly at the top of a loop it was liable to flick over. I had never flicked before, Probably a bit nervous about this important test I hauled it round too tightly - and flicked out. 'Oh dear,' I thought. 'Is that me scrubbed?'

Well no, thank goodness. I carried on, progressing to low flying formation, continuous aerobatics - and swotting away for the ground exams.

My last Harvard flight at Aylmer was on November 18. I had reached 110.30 hours solo, 100.30 dual.

On November 19 heard from Walt, trying for aircrew and passing his medical.

November 19 was the Wings Party - a graduation dinner, followed by what was called a 'Smoker'. On the following day the Wings Parade, when we received the pilot flying brevets. I was assessed as 'Single-engined pilot - average' and 'Pilot/navigator - average ' No points to be watched in flying or airmanship.

As no-one had said anything else, I sewed on Sergeant's tapes as well as the pilot brevet and so did Ian (top pic). We all posed for photographs. The lovely Fall weather, complete with Lake District Autumn-style leaf colours, had changed to cold and snow.

We all then set off by rail through Toronto and Montreal back to Moncton, arriving on November 25, to await the boat home.

Two days later, while on parade in the Drill Hall, my name was called out. I wondered what I had done wrong. I was told to get rid of the Sergeant stripes - I had been commissioned as a Pilot Officer.

I moved to the Officer's Quarters, rushed out in a snow-storm to get a uniform from Eaton's department store, had to accept the nearest to what might be called a fit. It had Royal Canadian Air Force buttons, which was to get me into trouble later - and, on December 11, left Moncton by rail for Halifax to board the 'Queen Elizabeth' at 10 pm. We sailed for Gourock on December 13.

The Clyde-built 'Queen Mary' and 'Queen Elizabeth' sailed backwards and forwards across the Atlantic without escort throughout the war, relying on speed for safety. Each could do 30 knots.

Before continuing with the return voyage, thought it might be nice to include in this history a copy of the 14 Service Flying Training School invitation and menu for the Course 61 Wings Party graduation dinner, held on 19 November 1942 at Aylmer. All course members were listed on the back page, although they did get one of Ian's initials wrong. He was J D M, not N.

The menu was splendid - and we were served by the officers. I collected a few autographs.

We were also presented with a book picturing famous Canadian World War 1 aces, such as Bishop and Mannock. It was inscribed by the Group Captain: 'Congratulations, Edwards. May you be even greater than these!' Will include the book - if I can find it!

Returning to the 'Queen Elizabeth', we soon discovered it was a super-duper troopship. There were so many on board that although they were serving meals all day long, each of us only got two meals a day. the times depending on the rota. I was lucky - breakfast was mid-morning and the other meal late afternoon. The family will no doubt recall that Beth, aged about 8, saw the start of the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary, which was launched at Clydebank in September 1934 and made its maiden voyage some months later, sometime in early 1935. She also carried thousands of on each voyage throughout the war.

The 'Queen Elizabeth', also Clyde-built, was not launched until five years later, in 1940. Instead of being fitted out as a luxury liner she was equipped as a troopship, carrying as many as possible. The bunks were four-tier! You had to stretch out horizontally to get on your bunk.

Nor was she fitted with stabilisers, with the result that as she whizzed across the Atlantic, avoiding submarines by sheer speed, she rolled heavily most of the time and very heavily indeed in rough seas. In your bunk you slid from head to toe and back again. In the lounge you were thrown backwards and forwards in your chair, which was fastened down.

We didn't mind - far better than being caught by U-boats.

After five days at sea we were within range of German spotter aircraft so were told to sleep in our clothes and were not allowed on deck. After six days, land came into sight and that same night we anchored in Gourock. The voyage had taken six days. On the 'Batory' it had taken eight.

The 'Queen Elizabeth' was to feature later in my life, when I was PR consultant to Manchester Liners.

1888-1933 | 1933-1940 | 1940-1942 | 1943 | 1943-1944 | 1945 | Transparent bag

A Pictorial History 1943


Disembarking on 18 December 1942 we travelled by train from Gourock to Harrogate Personnel Dispersal Centre and were billeted in the Queen's Hotel. We soon found out that some high-spirited new aircrew had earned themselves an unenviable reputation in Harrogate and that a Squadron Leader Fairey had been drafted in to restore discipline. If you did anything wrong, you were liable to be sent to a former Butlin's holiday camp at Filey on a 'battle course', part of which involved crawling in the mud through obstacles while live rounds were fired over your head.

On my first early morning parade I found S/L Fairey glowering at me and wondered why. 'Are you in the Royal Canadian Air Force?' he inquired. 'Well, no,' I said. 'In that case,' he said menacingly, 'why are you wearing RCAF buttons?' He wasn't interested in my explanation and informed me that if I did not have RAF buttons by the following day I'd be off to Filey.

I was all round Harrogate that day trying to buy some RAF brass buttons, eventually finding a shop which stocked them. I cut off the Canadian buttons and sewed on the correct ones in time for the following morning's parade. Fairey seemed quite disappointed when he discovered I had managed to change them.

Clearly, they didn't quite know what to do with us at Harrogate apart from marching us round the place every so often, so we were given a long Christmas leave. On January 6 I received a telegram posting me to Number 7 Elementary Flying School at Desford, near Leicester - in fact to a satellite aerodrome at nearby Braunstone. I and three or four others, all qualified pilots complete with wings and commissions, found ourselves back on Tiger Moths!

The reason, we discovered, was that pilots trained overseas - where the weather was mainly clear and sunny and there were few roads and railway lines - had been returning to Britain, taking off in Hurricanes, Spitfires etc, promptly getting lost and, out of fuel, force-landing, crashing or baling out. Flying conditions in Britain, especially in winter, were far more difficult than in Canada or America.

Why roads and railway lines? Overseas, they were few and far between. If you were lost but found a main road or railway line you could soon pin-point your position. In Britain there were so many that you didn't know which one you had found.

The powers-that-be decided that overseas-trained pilots needed a dose of flying in Britain's tricky weather conditions and that if you were going to wreck an aeroplane through becoming lost Tiger Moths were cheaper!

There were other problems, such as camouflaged airfields. In fact, Braunstone was only a grass field, made even more difficult to find because it had dummy black hedges painted across it. From the air it seemed to be just a few little fields, far too small to land even a Tiger Moth.

I discovered this problem on my first 'circuit and bump' with an instructor. 'Right,' he said. 'Just take off, do a circuit and land.'

I took off, climbed away, did a 180 degrees climbing turn to 1,000 feet and flew back parallel to the take-off direction and looked out for where to turn in to descend and land. There was a difficulty - I couldn't find the aerodrome. Beaming away in the back seat, the instructor inquired why I was not getting on with the landing. 'Because I've lost the aerodrome,' I said. He swung the Moth round 180 degrees, put the nose down and said, 'There - it's straight in front of you.' So it was.

It was a salutary lesson in map reading and dead-reckoning navigation. Not long after this we were intrigued to see a Spitfire coming in to land. It was far too high and fast and when it touched down it ran across what remained of the field and ended nose down in a hedge. Out of it climbed an unhappy-looking female ferry pilot who had held off over a dummy hedge and so hurtled into the real one.

We learned more about navigation in Britain by going on cross-country flights and also did a spot of night flying, landing by the flickering light from goose-neck flares marking out the runway.

After notching up 30½ hours Tiger Moth flying it was back to the Queen's Hotel at Harrogate for more time-wasting and idleness before, on 12 March 1943, being posted to a Dispersal Depot at Bournemouth for a further month of route marches, cross-country runs and heel-cooling, interspersed by a few games of golf, visits to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and to afternoon tea at Beale's department store, where three elderly ladies entertained with violin music.

At last, on April 20, another posting - to 5 Advanced Flying Unit at Tern Hill, Shropshire, to fly Miles Master aircraft - just one step down from Hurricanes and Spitfires. It was here that I received another valuable flying lesson by watching Spitfire test pilot Alex Henshaw. He put on a low-level incredible acrobatic performance in a Mark V Spitfire, ending it by flying along the runway 15 feet up - and upside down! We all realised we still had a lot to learn.

I was to stay at Ternhill, flying Master 1s and 11s, for a month. Towards the end of April I found that Ian Duncan was not far away, at 61 Operational Training Unit, Rednall, flying Spitfires. We met at a pub near Shrewsbury railway station, where he introduced me to a very potent Scottish mixture, 'chasers' - a whisky chased down by a pint of ale. It was the last time I was to see Ian, although, in strange circumstances, I was to meet his family on 12 July.

Ian joined 64 Squadron, flying Spitfires, was promoted to Flight Sergeant, flew on a total of 84 operations including nine at the time of the invasion, but was killed on 16 June 1944 when, having been hit by flak, he crashed into a farmhouse near St Lo. Ian is buried in Bayeux War Cemetery, near Calvados.

Ian often flew 'The Darlington Spitfire' - paid for by the Durham town of Darlington - and is featured in a book of that name by Peter Caygill. He is described as being 'resolute, dependable and cheerful.' His sister, Margaret, asked him what it was like to fly Spitfires. His reply, 'Just like riding a bike - except that you don't have to pedal!'

Brother Tom, having gained his air gunner brevet and promotion to sergeant in September 1942, was 'crewed up' on a Halifax at Marston Moor, Yorkshire, and posted to 158 Halifax Squadron at Eastmoor, Yorkshire. His pilot: 22-year-old Canadian Nick Smith.

It was the height of the bombing campaign. Casualties were high. In fact, the Squadron lost a total of 581 aircrew - the Squadron number reversed. Coming back from one raid, badly damaged and lost, the order to bale out was given. Tom swung his turret, put out his feet and was ready to go when the bale out was cancelled. Nick had spotted the airfield and managed to land. Tom discovered that his flying boots had 'flown' away in the slipstream. This was 'carelessness' so they wouldn't give him another pair. He refused to buy them so flew from then on in his old airman's boots!

Tom completed his tour of 30 operations by 29 April, was recommended for the Distinguished Flying Medal and a commission, decided it was time to be married to fiancée Eleanor Walton, and they agreed his 22nd birthday, 15 May 1943, as the date, at Christ Church, Princess Road.

The photographs: Ian, copied from 'The Darlington Spitfire'; Tom as a sergeant air gunner; a Halifax; me (in my Canadian uniform, complete with RAF buttons) and Mum at Thorneycroft Avenue, C-c-H. Last pic: me leaning into a Lysander cockpit while taking a cockpit photograph.

Sergeant Ian 'Jock' Duncan
Tom as a sergent air gunnerA Halifax
Me (in my Canadian uniform, complete with RAF buttons)Me and mum at Thorneycroft Avenue.Me leaning into a Lysander cockpit.

After the wedding ceremony, at which I was best man, a reception was held at the Co-op in Chorltonville and photographs taken. Chief bridesmaid was Eleanor's cousin Joan and cousin Margaret Collier was a bridesmaid. Young brother Walter was in South Africa, training as a pilot.

Although they hadn't arranged anywhere to stay Tom and Eleanor decided to honeymoon in Morecambe, so after they had changed into 'civvies', we all dashed, rather late, for a train. Seeing the confetti on Joan and me a kindly porter cleared a way through the crowd to the platform and the train and pushed the two of us on board! There were hasty explanations and the bride and groom managed to change places with us.

At Morecambe, Tom and Eleanor found accommodation in a boarding house and had a happy honeymoon, part of it (see pix) rowing about in a boat. Well, Tom rowed and Eleanor basked in the back of the boat.

Back at the Squadron Tom was told another crew had lost a couple of members so he and another air gunner crew mate, Ted Smith, also tour completed, were asked to go on more raids in a Halifax piloted by 'Bluey' Mottershead. Like chumps, they agreed, Tom not telling anyone at home and certainly not Eleanor. Tom and Ted did five more ops and then were given leave, each soon being commissioned and both receiving their DFMs from King George V at Buckingham Palace, Tom's being presented on 1 May 1944 with Mum being present. Dad and Eleanor's mother, waited outside.

By this time he had been based for some months at Lossiemouth as a gunnery instructor.

I was at Tern Hill until 24 May when I was posted to 58 Operational Training Unit at Grangemouth, a Spitfire OTU. After various briefings, on 31 May I was told to get into a Mark 11 Spitfire and take it off. There was no room for an instructor - you were on your own.

Despite having been told about its handling qualities and speed I was still amazed at the way the Spitfire accelerated, at its instant response to the controls and its rate of climb. Flying it was sheer pleasure. However, then came the problem of landing. I made a curving approach - you had to curve it in to be able to see the runway which would otherwise have been blocked off by the long nose - and held off to touch down. I then learned that Spitfires lose speed very slowly. I was too fast and was eating up the runway. It meant opening the throttle and going round again for another attempt, and this time made a decent landing.

At foot of page, the Grangemouth course photograph. I'm third from right, middle row.

Joan, Tom, Eleanor and Norman.Mum, Tom, Eleanor and Dad.
TomThe shape of things......things to come
Dad, Tom & Mum
58 OTU Grangemouth, May 1943

58 OTU Grangemouth, May 1943

L to R - Back row: Sergents Morgan, Hollis, Reid, Livesly, Connell, Blair, Williams.
Middle: Sergents Farquer, Feasby, P/O Bliss, F/O Matthews, F/O Collins, P/O N Edwards P/O Brown, Sgt Graybeith.
Front: F/O Cain, P/O Laws, F/Lt Wilson, F/Lt Young, P/O Tough, P/O Gillon, P/O Tickner.

Have listed the Grangemouth group names on back of the photograph. Some of these are mentioned later in this account.

At Grangemouth we were billeted out with local families. I was lucky enough to be with a Mr and Mrs Wilkie, who made me very welcome and introduced me to Scottish customs, such as family gatherings on Sundays, rounded off by singing hymns and ditties such as 'Trees' round the piano.

During the next two weeks I enjoyed finding out more about the wonders of the Spitfire, its speed and responsiveness - and the beauty of the Scottish scenery as I flew over Loch Lomond and surrounding hills and countryside. I was also learning lessons which were to stand me in good stead later.

On one flight, during which I was due to practice radio direction finding, I certainly discovered how important it was. Flying over the top of a layer of lovely white cloud towards Stirling I saw a hole in the clouds and decided to dive through it to a lower level. I thought I was over flat countryside. I wasn't. As I pulled out of the dive I found myself heading at high speed straight towards a mountainside. Heart in mouth, I skimmed its surface. I could see the heather blowing in my slipstream. Fortunately, I missed hitting the hillside by a whisker and shot back up into the clouds.

I tried to climb out of the clouds but didn't seem able to reach their tops, so flew straight and level for a bit to re-set my gyro instruments, which had toppled, and thought I had better get a course to steer back to Grangemouth.

Still in cloud, I transmitted on the radio so that three ground stations could get a 'fix'. I was given a course to steer to Grangemouth. I set the course on the compass. After five minutes they asked me to transmit again and then said: 'Are you steering an accurate course?' Well, I had been a degree or two one one side or the other so I said: 'Certainly.' I then discovered I had set the compass red on blue - in other words, the wrong way round. I was steering away from Grangemouth, not towards it. I hastily put matters right and got back to the aerodrome. I never made this mistake again.

Some people, no doubt also in a bit of a state at the time, made this boob in Burma - and eventually came down, out of fuel, in China.

Then came 17 June when I had reached about ten hours on Spitfires, an instructor by the name of Pilot Officer R. de Burgh briefed me and Sergeant Hollis to go up with him on formation flying. We didn't know that he intended to turn this into formation aerobatics. The result was catastrophic.

For about 80 minutes, we-carried out simple exercises, mainly flying in V formation with De Burgh leading. Sergeant Hollis as Number 2 on his right and me as Number 3 on his left.

In a report I made at the time I said that at about 12.40pm De Burgh signalled that we should go into line astern. I took up my position in the rear and Sergeant Hollis dropped back but he did not come entirely into line, being still out to the right.

I gathered, from the fact that De Burgh increased speed in a dive, he was going to perform some aerobatic. I dropped back a little. Sergeant Hollis positioned himself in the middle but still out to the right.

De Burgh pulled up to start a loop and Sergeant Hollis and I followed. Sergeant Hollis went out even farther to the right and I lost sight of him. As I came over the top of the loop there was no sign of Hollis but I could see De Burgh straightening out ahead.

I had just finished pulling out of my dive when my plane shook violently and went into a spin. I tried to kick on opposite rudder to stop the spin but could not move the pedal. I then noticed that my port wing had been broken off and the cockpit hood had vanished. I baled out and pulled the ripcord almost immediately. The parachute opened right away. I did not know I had collided with Sergeant Hollis until later.

That was the brief report.

The wings of a Spitfire are very thin, compared with Harvards, Masters and even Hurricanes and my first thought when I saw the wing torn in half was that it had failed because of the high G - gravity force - when pulling hard out of a high-speed dive. I did not know at the time that my tail had also been broken off, which was why the rudder wouldn't work.

I don't know how long it took me to realise that I might as well try the parachute - probably only seconds but things were certainly happening fast.

I floated down into a farmer's field, near Alloa. The remains of my Spitfire crashed into the same field, not far away, and caught fire. The farmer appeared, running across the field towards the Spitfire with me shouting, 'I'm all right - over here!'

He took me into his farmhouse where his wife kindly made me a cup of the sweetest tea I've ever tasted. Must have put a week's ration in the cup.

Then he said, 'What happened to the other Spitfire?' 'What other Spitfire?' I asked. 'You were in a collision,' he said. I realised it must have been Sergeant Hollis's aircraft.

It didn't seem long before a team turned up from Grangemouth to pick me up. They took me to the place, not far away, where Sergeant Hollis had crashed, still in his aircraft. He was dead - and I felt terrible.

For the next four days I was very stiff and it was hard to sleep. The Wilkies were splendid. Then, on 22 June, I went up again for 70 minutes of local flying and the same again on the following day plus solo aerobatics. I made myself do a couple of loops, then, on subsequent days, tackled height climbs and, on 27 June, again did formation flying and moved on to tail-chases etc.

Pilot Officer De Burgh had to face a court martial, which found that there had been laxity in instructional standards.

By July 11, the course at Grangemouth completed, we moved to an airfield at Balado Bridge, near Kinross, for Squadron and Battle formation flying, air firing with camera guns - and with live ammunition on a ground target - cloud and night flying.

That was the day when, in an amazing way, I met Ian Duncan's family.

We were transported from Grangemouth to Balado in the back of a three-ton truck which broke down in a lonely country lane, apparently miles from anywhere. We sat in the truck while the driver tried to repair it. Then one of the sergeant pilots got out to stretch his legs, walked round the corner, found a small cottage, knocked on the door and asked if he could have a cup of tea. The lady who answered the door invited him in and, while making the tea, asked him if he knew of a Pilot Officer Norman Edwards. 'There a chap of that name sitting in the truck,' he said. She came out and spoke to me. This was Ian's mother!

While at Balado, until the end of July, I was a welcome visitor at the cottage, named Parkneuk, meeting Ian's father - a former policeman in Glasgow who became a gamekeeper - and their three daughters, Margaret, Joan and Anne. Margaret, then aged 15, was the oldest of the girls.

There was also always a warm welcome at Parkneuk when, after the war, I got a job with the Sunday Dispatch in Glasgow - and joined a gliding club which operated from the former RAF Balado airfield and nearby Bishop's Hill.

Caterpillar Club card

By then Mrs Duncan had died, Mr Duncan had re-married. The girls were still there. I attended Margaret's wedding to an ex-RAF airman Hector Smith. They had two boys, Ian - named after his uncle - and Alistair. Ian followed in his uncle's 'footsteps', joined the RAF, flew Jaguar jets, then became a commercial pilot, first with Air 2000 flying from Manchester and then Virgin, piloting Boeing 747 jumbo jets. He lives at Whaley Bridge.

Alistair went into education and married in 1999.

However, Margaret and Hector were divorced. In due course Margaret married Jim Grigor and moved to Perth. At the time of writing we are still in touch.

Returning to RAF career, at the beginning of September I was posted to West Kirby, on the Wirral, to collect overseas kit ready for departure to tropical climes. It was dreadful stuff, probably souvenirs of the Boer war. Then on 11 September it was off to Glasgow to board the 'Mooltan' for the voyage through the Mediterranean to India.

We were the second convoy to go through the Med. The Med weather was diabolical, with heavy grey seas heaving up and down. Nothing like the 'blue Mediterranean' that we had been told about. The 'Mooltan' pitched and rolled and put its bows down so far that we thought it would head straight under. Very few appeared in the dining room!

On board the 'Mooltan' were four Grangemouth course pilots:
Canadians Doug Gillon and George Brown; Andy Tough, from Aberdeen, and 'Jock' Dalrymple, who were also to join 155 Squadron. Another pilot on board, Albert 'Witt' Wittridge, also destined for 155, as was a Flight Lieutenant Meredith. He was an obnoxious character, disliked by a lot of people on board - including me - so it was with dismay when I joined the Squadron I found he was my Flight Commander.

However, in due course Meredith was to put up what we knew in the RAF as 'a fearsome black' while driving a jeep, as a result of which several pilot passengers - again including me - were injured. The end result: he was posted from the Squadron in disgrace.

As well as thousands of servicemen and women, the 'Mooltan' was carrying King Peter of Yugoslavia, complete with his very decorative entourage of ladies. They got off at Port Said. Think he was hoping to get back into Yugoslavia but Tito didn't want him.

Then it was through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea and on to Bombay, where we disembarked on 12 October, and went to nearby Worli Reception Depot.

By this time I had been promoted to Flying Officer, which meant that I was qualified to act as escort officer - guard in other words - to an Indian Flying Officer named Dabu who was under close arrest for fiddling. On 15 October I was detailed to watch him in a small building near Bombay to make sure he didn't run away. I said, 'Make sure I'm relieved tomorrow morning - it's my 21st birthday and a party has been arranged.' 'Right,' they said.

October 16 dawned. I awaited the relieving officer. He didn't turn up. I wasn't pleased.

Dabu had spent most of the previous day telling me that he was married and lived just a short walk away. Would I let him see his wife? Not likely!

However, when I was not relieved on my 21st birthday I felt a bit more sympathetic and agreed to let him pay his wife a visit. I went into a village, pottered about, looked in at a native cinema, and got increasingly worried that he might have scarpered. I rushed back to his house, he appeared immediately, looking quite happy!

At first, the days at Worli passed pleasantly enough, getting used to the heat, buying better-fitting tropical khaki, swimming at the Willingdon Club pool, ambling round Bombay and being amazed by its contrasts, ranging from wealth and luxury to absolutely abject poverty. The cinemas were marvellous, not necessarily because of the quality of the films but because of the splendid, air conditioning, cool oases from the heat. However, as time continued to go by it began to become quite boring, especially when another pilot, Flying Officer Tibbets - with whom I had become friendly - did move on to the next stage, flying at Poona, in November. My next encounter with Tibbets was very sad.

Finally, at the beginning of December 1943 I also moved on to Poona to spend a month's 'refresher' course on Harvards.

Interestingly, at that time Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi were in jail at Poona, having been accused of fomenting trouble. They were being kept out of the way for a while. Nehru was, of course, to become India's first Prime Minister after Independence and Partition (into India and Pakistan) in 1947.

Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by a Hindu nationalist in the violence that followed Partition.

1888-1933 | 1933-1940 | 1940-1942 | 1943 | 1943-1944 | 1945 | Transparent bag | Additional Pictures

A Pictorial History 1943-1944


On the left hand side, a couple of photographs from early Worii days in India. At the top: Canadians Doug Gillon and George Brown; underneath: me and Doug, both friends from Grangemouth days. Together with Andy Tough and Jock Dalrymple, we were all to join 155 Squadron.

Doug, cheerful and popular, was to put up what we called 'a black', damaging his Spitfire on landing. It was judged to be blameworthy so he was posted from the Squadron - to become, would you believe, a test pilot at a maintenance unit, flying Spitfires, Hurricanes and other types! He was keen to rejoin the Squadron and eventually did so.

Happy-go-lucky and cheerful George was to die during March when, taking part in a Wing scramble, his aircraft went into a vertical dive from 23,000 feet and he did not pull out. The main theory was that he might have been suffering from a failure of the oxygen system and had probably become unconscious.

However, returning chronologically to Poona days, I was there during most of December 1943 practising instrument flying, aerobatics, map-reading, formation flying and cine-gun shooting, on Harvards, and also got a few hours in on Hurricanes. They seemed big and clumsy compared with Spitfires!

The photographs on the right-hand side are the only ones I know of taken at Poona. The top two were taken by my pilot passenger from the rear seat. The third was taken by me of the passenger, although how I managed to point the camera backwards I don't know.

I note from my diary that on 11 December, a blazing hot day, played football for the transiting officers against an Indian team. They didn't bother to wear boots! I also note that I scored.

After celebrating Christmas and New Year, a group of us set off on 1 January to join 155 Squadron at Calcutta. It was a long journey, changing trains twice, stopping at railway stations for meals. At one point I was invited to ride on the engine. The heat of the sun combined with the heat from the coal fire was practically unbearable. I was glad to get back into a carriage when we reached the next station. How the driver and fireman coped I don't know.

We reached Calcutta around mid-day on 5 January and were taken by truck to an aerodrome at Alipore on the outskirts of the city. There we saw a lovely line-up of Mark VIII Spitfires. That's me in one (bottom pic). 155 had been flying American-built Mohawks from the Imphal Valley on the Burma border but had come to Calcutta to change them for the Spitfires.

We discovered that we were joining one of the tallest Squadrons in India. A Flight Lieutenant Ford topped the height list at six foot seven inches. The CO, Squadron Leader Winton, was a mere six-footer.

On the following day I learned - and was not very pleased about it - that the Flight Lieutenant Meredith who had been so annoying on the boat, was to be my Flight Commander. S/L Winton distributed jobs to the new boys. I got landed with being MT (Motor Transport) officer. Although I could fly a Spitfire I had never driven a car. Didn't bother mentioning that, just determined to do something about it.

Doug Gillon & George BrownMe, taken by the pilot passenger in the rear seat
Me and DougMe again, from the back seat.
The passenger taken by me.
Me in a Mark VIII Spitfire

As most of the 155 pilots had never flown Spitfires they had first choice of their new aircraft - and, in any case, soon took off for an experience on type and at Armada Road fighter school - leaving us 'sprogs' at Alipore. It was 14 January before I climbed into a Mark VIII Spitfire for a 30-minute 'experience on type' flight. I noted in the log 'Quite an experience. Marvellous machine.'

Then I had to wait until 23 January before my next flight, a 30-minute 'air test' which gave me the opportunity to really try it out. I thoroughly enjoyed the speed, rate of climb and handling characteristics of this aircraft.

At the beginning of February there were three flights in the Squadron Harvard to become familiar with the local area and weather flying conditions and on 12 February formation and aerobatics, followed on subsequent days by search formation, flight formation, dog fights and aerobatics at heights up to 30,000 feet.

On 18 February I note that Flying Officer 'Bish' Bishop and I were 'stooge' aircraft so that B Flight could practise interceptions and attacks. I got to know 'Bish' well, liked him - and at the time of writing (June 2000) - am still in touch with him at Old Portsmouth.

The top pic shows 'Bish' sitting in a Mohawk in the Imphal Valley. Underneath: Clive 'Smoky' Entwistle, from Southport, and Dave Gardner have a pretend fight on a jeep. 'Smoky' was to be killed during a raid on Yeu in Burma.

3rd and fourth pix below: New Zealander 'Babe' Hunter and 'Smoky'; 'Babe' and me. He was known as 'Babe' because he joined up when he was only about 17 and could only have been 19 or 20 when he was a 155 veteran.

Top right: George Brown, Albert Wittridge and me. George has one of the parakeets, which were plentiful at Alipore, perched on his hand. A month later (see previous page) George was dead. 'Witt' and I still ring each other now and again. He lives in Weymouth, Dorset

Second right: 'Jock' Dalrymple, from Aberdeen, holding the piper symbol which - I imagine - the airman in the cockpit has just painted.

Third: a doleful look from the Wing Engineering Officer, who was trying to sort out why - after we had moved to another aerodrome, Baigachi, north of Calcutta - the Merlin engines, alarmingly, were cutting out now and again. It turned out to be fuel locks caused by poor quality octane petrol.

I wrote a poem about it:-

Oswald Newport, Wing Eng/O
Said: 'To Baigachi I must go'
But Oswald never washed his socks
In sympathy, huge vapour locks
Developed in the system fuel
Cor blimey, ain't that just too cruel!

Towards the end of 1943 the Japs had bombed Calcutta, causing a comparatively small amount of damage but a tremendous amount of panic. As a result, 155 Squadron was to be based mainly at Baigachi but occasionally at other airfields near the city, until the beginning of August. The theory was that we were 'defending the city and keeping up civilian morale.' But there were no more raids.

'Bish' sitting in a MohawkClive 'Smokey' Entwistle and Dave Gardner have a pretend fight on a jeep.George Brown, Albert Wittridge and me.
'Jock' Dalrymple, from Aberdeen, holding the piper symbol the airman in the cockpit has just painted.
'Babe' Hunter and 'Smoky'The Wing Engineering Officer
'Babe' and me

Flocks of birds are one of the problems about flying. Manchester Airport has a special squad of bird scarers. We didn't have such luxuries and had far bigger birds to contend with. The pic top left shows us with a kite hawk, just shot down by Jock Dalryrople, holding shotgun on right. I'm third from left. I did inadvertently hit one of these once, over Burma, and it bent my prop tips more than somewhat but I was fortunately able to carry on flying and get back to the airstrip.

Pic below of group in jeep shows the Squadron 'doc', me (with pipe!), Jimmy Gunstone (who accidently killed himself with his own Sten gun when he tripped over a guy rope just after the war finished) and a Flying Officer Dave Gardner with his dog. Top two pix on right: views of Burma jungles, mountains and a river. T'other jeep pic: on left Brookie, who became my regular number 2, me (with pipe again!), Andy Tough, from Aberdeen, two I can't identify - and Jimmy Nutti, the Ghurka boy rescued from scavenging in Calcutta dustbins by 17 Squadron airmen and more or less adopted by them. Jimmy is also featured on bottom pic, taken by a visiting official photographer who was known, for some reason, as 'Harry the Horse.' He asked me to start up my Spit, DG-K, for this posed picture.

When in the Lake District earlier this year (2000) I found the RAF were using this photograph to identify 155 Squadron in an official book about all RAF fighter squadrons.

Getting back to chronological order, during January 1944 was able to familiarise myself with the Mark VIII Spitfire - and liked everything about it. I found rolls a joy and loops marvellous, although pulling hard on the stick for a loop meant it was easy to black-out. I climbed to 14,000 to test the supercharger, which cut in of its own accord at that height, giving lots more power. I opened the throttle and shot up to 27,000 feet. Coming down, the airspeed indicator touched 450 mph.

The Squadron returned from the gunnery school at Amarda Road and we continued with the 'defence of Calcutta.' That was easy, apart from a few false alarms. The Japs didn't seem to want to return. We learned that down on the docks someone had invented his own air raid warning alarm. Reason: dockers got double pay for working after an alarm had been given!

March 9 became a red-letter day. Didn't realise it at the time but all problems with Flight Lieutenant Meredith were about to be solved.

The CO, Squadron Leader Winton, decided that A and B flight pilots should visit a Ground Control station, one of the few in that part of he world. On the way back, Meredith was driving a jeep with six pilots aboard it, including me. He was travelling too fast on a turn, ran off the track and hit a tree. My head went through the windscreen. (A gash on my forehead was stitched by the doc, who either didn't bother about or didn't have any anaesthetic). Wittridge took off over the nose of the jeep and - as he put it himself - crashed on landing in front of it. Bish dislocated his hip. There were sundry other injuries, including Meredith who cut his knee. He made such a fuss about it that he was taken to hospital. As Motor Transport Officer I then got the job of visiting him there to take a statement about how all this had happened.

Meredith said it was the CO's fault for ordering the run to the radar station! That'll do nicely, I thought. Say no more! I went back and told the CO this. As I thought he would, he blew up and promptly began arrangements to get Meredith off the Squadron. We never saw Meredith again.

Kite hawk shot by Jock DalrympleViews of Burma jungles
'Doc', me, Jimmy Gunstone, Dave Gardner with his dogBurma jungle
Brookie, Andy Tough, two I can't identify and Jimmy Nutti
Official pic.

Thought I'd include here one of the 'chits' we were told to carry at all times in case we came down in he hills or jungles and met natives, who might, with luck, be friendly - or might be anything but. Although it promised, in various local languages, a reward for what might be described as 'safe conduct' I'm glad I never had to use it. Highly likely, the natives would not be able to read!

Incidentally, I don't think the Afghan language was included. It should have been because when I was later stationed at Peshawar, near the Khyber Pass on the North West frontier, I was told in some detail what might happen to you if you were unfortunate enough to land in Afghanistan.

Most of March was spent in getting to know our Spitfires better, taking part in Squadron and Wing formations, carrying out dog fighting using camera guns, aerobatics, low flying and experiencing the qualities of the aircraft at great heights, up to around 40,000 feet, as well as practice scrambles and interceptions. Many of these exercises were over Calcutta, to demonstrate to the population that we were there to protect them. We also tried out the two 20mm cannons and four machine guns, firing out to sea.

I learned how hard the Spitfire controls became during high speed dives especially the ailerons. At one time I reached an indicated air speed of 500 mph, which meant that the aircraft was not too far from the speed of sound.

It was during this period, on 16 March, that Canadian George Brown, taking part in a Wing scramble, dived vertically into the ground 20 miles south east of Calcutta and - as mentioned earlier - was killed.

On 19 March we moved to from Baigachi to a grass airfield known as Acorn, closer to Calcutta. On 8 April Flying Officer Cheverton - who joined the Squadron on the same day as I did - ran out of petrol when returning from formation and section attack but managed to force-land on the airstrip, bending the aircraft somewhat. Three days later, while testing another Spitfire it blew up - for no known reason - and he was killed.

When he arrived on the Squadron Chev had been landed with the job of Education Officer. The C.O. informed me that I was the new Education Officer! At least I did get rid of being Motor Transport Officer.

One of Chev's legacies was the fact that, as a music lover, he had acquired for the Squadron a wind-up gramophone and a set of superb classical recordings. Although - to this day - I know little about music I found I was also supposed to keep up his standards in the music field.

At this point - from January to March and April 1944 - while still honing our Spitfire skills against Japanese raids which failed to come, there was plenty going on elsewhere. Might be helpful to put matters into perspective.

In October 1943 Lord Louis Mountbatten arrived in India. So did I! He had just been appointed Supreme Commander, South East Asia.

The Japs had been sweeping all before them in Burma. They were finalising plans to reach the Indian border. During March they launched all-out attacks on Kohima, near the Burma/India border, and on Imphal in the State of Manipur, which they considered was the Gateway to India.

Mountbatten had orders to turn the tide. He arrived with three Ms in mind - one, to overcome poor morale; two, to fight on during the monsoon period; and three, to combat malaria.

A chit.

He started by telling the 14th Army: 'You are not the Forgotten Army. Nobody has ever heard of you!' adding, 'But they soon will.'

The policy of fighting on during the monsoon and no retreating meant that the troops would have to be supplied from the air, mainly by a fleet of Dakotas. Fighter aircraft would have to protect these transport aircraft by operating in appalling weather conditions. Malaria was kept under control by issuing Mepacrine tablets. They worked, but turned the skin rather yellow.

His policies worked. The Battle of Kohima was one of the fiercest of the war in South East Asia, but it was won. Flying during the Monsoon weather was very dangerous but the Army was supplied and the Japs were kept out of the Imphal Valley. The cost was high. 17,587 British and Indian troops were killed, wounded or missing. Five VCs were awarded.

Many of the dead lie at Kohima, where there is a monument with an epitaph reading: 'When you go home, tell them of us and say: For your tomorrow we gave our today.'

Fighting during the monsoon meant mud and misery for the Army; flying in and around towering thunder and lightning clouds, full of strong and turbulent air currents, for the RAF and USAF.

Later, I was to experience near disaster in monsoon clouds as well as having the not very pleasant experience of escorting Mountbatten's Dakota through fearsome thunderstorm clouds from Burma on part of his route back to India.

A major factor in the turn of the tide was the arrival of Spitfires. Hurricanes - and Mohawks - had been no match for the Japanese fighters, which were similar to their Naval Zeros. We called them Oscars.

On the last day of 1943 the Spitfires destroyed 13 Japanese bombers and fighters. They outperformed the Jap aircraft.

Returning to chronological order, it was in April 1944 that the Squadron quack gave me a fright which I thought meant the possible end of my flying career. In a burst of enthusiasm he hauled the pilots into his tent at the Acorn airstrip, where he had put up an eye chart. After getting me to read it first with the right and men the left eye he told me that the performance of my left eye meant that I could not judge distances. 'Oh, yes I can,' I said. 'Oh, no you can't,' he said.

After a bit of this cross-talk I offered to take him up in the Squadron two-seater Harvard which was parked outside. 'If I don't paint it back on to the ground I'll believe you,' I said. 'So come on, I'll take you up.' 'No you won't,' he said, and made an appointment for me with an eye specialist in Calcutta.

I kept the appointment, gloomily thinking I might be grounded. However, the specialist was quite happy about my distance judgment and eyesight. 'You'll need spectacles when you are about 40,' he said. He was right about that.

On the opposite page: two more examples of the helpful phrase books with which we were issued. Sample phrases: 'Which way to Mandalay?' 'Where are the Japanese soldiers?' 'Is there a doctor here? But mastering the pronunciation might have been a bit difficult.

Burmese, Chinese and Japanese Phrases
Burmese phrases

At the end of April the Squadron returned to Baigachi and the daily routine of continuous readiness. Squadron formation flights, aerobatics, mock dog-fights, high-speed attacks etc. At one point I flew an extended wing version of the Spitfire - the idea being to make it more manoeuvrable at height - but I didn't like it. Later I also flew a clipped wing Spitfire, which was supposed to increase manoeuvrability when low down, but I didn't care for this one either. I preferred the elliptical Spitfire wings and so did the other pilots.

We had a visit from some Americans, demonstrating their Kittyhawks, to us. Then six of us visited them at their base, Kharagpur, putting on very tight formation for their benefit.

We were still on daily readiness in case the Japs did decide to have another go at Calcutta. On May 1st came my first 'op'. Two of us were scrambled for a 'bogey' - an unidentified aircraft. It turned out to be an American Liberator with its IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe) switched off.

On the same day Canadian Doug Gillon, who arrived in India with me and also joined 155 on the same day, touched his wing on landing and wrecked his Spitfire. As a result he was posted to a maintenance unit at Allahabad, where he tested repaired aircraft! In due course he did return to the Squadron.

We also parted company with the CO, Squadron Leader Denis Winton DFC, who had completed his tour. He invited us to visit him at any time at his home, the address being, he said, Winton Hall, Edinburgh.

The month passed fairly quietly, except that I landed another Job Squadron historian, keeping a day-to-day log of events and writing articles for the RAF Training Manual known as Tee Em. As Education Officer I set up a 'quiet room' and equipped it with maps, magazines, notices etc. In theory, the erks could browse there in idle moments. They didn't bother much.

I heard from Tom, who had completed his tour and collected a DFM (Distinguished Flying Medal) from the King at Buckingham Palace.

On 21 May our new CO arrived, a Squadron Leader Ian R Krohn DFC, known to us a 'Bats'. He was a bit. And, in Calcutta, I met a Flying Officer Jackson, who was also on the same boat to India as I was. He had been involved in the Kohima battle, his Hurricane was shot down, he parachuted out, managed to dodge Jap troops who were chasing him, and walked through the jungle for the next 21 days, surviving without jungle training and little food or water until he was found by our troops. On the strength of this he was sent to a new jungle training camp at Poona - as instructor!

We liaised with a Liberator Squadron, practising attacks while they sharpened up on their evasion procedures and even had a go at night flying, which was a bit tricky in a Spitfire. The flames from the exhaust, invisible in daylight, were dazzling at night.

Then I had an unusual story to put in the Squadron history. We were sitting at readiness when one of the pilots saw his Spitfire taxying past, with a strange face in the cockpit. We galloped towards it, wondering what was going on. The Spitfire was lined up on the runway, the throttle opened and it started to take off. It then went into a ground loop - a very fast turn - and ended balanced on one wing and its tail. Out of it climbed an Anglo-Indian engine fitter.

It transpired that he had applied to re-muster to pilot and had attended a Selection Board where he was told that, owing to a change in rules, he could only be re-mustered to all aircrew categories, as a potential pilot, navigator, bomb-aimer or gunner, to be sorted out later.

He came away with the impression that he had been turned down as a pilot - which he hadn't. As an engine fitter he knew all about how to start Spitfires and had even taxied them. After brooding about matters - and deciding he had been failed because he was Anglo-Indian - he thought he would show everyone that he could be a pilot. However, he did not know that when the Spitfire engine was opened up and the plane increased speed the torque reaction from the propeller made it swing violently to one side, immediate correction being required through use of the rudder.

Had he realised that, he might have got it into the air, but would certainly never have got it down again in one piece. There was a court-martial and he was sent to what was popularly known as 'the glasshouse.'

Violent swings, unless the pilot was careful, were also a feature of Beaufighter twin-engined light bomber aircraft. Some were stationed at Baigachi. During early May one swung so badly that it hit a parked Beaufighter and blew up. The observer managed to jump out but the pilot and an airman, on board for a ride, were killed.

Have a note in my diary that on 26 May I went up for a practice dog-fight with Witt. Think I've mentioned him before, because we are still in touch, living in Weymouth. Dorset. He was a very good pilot, my note says I could only get him off my tail by using my Spitfire full out, putting the throttle booster through the gate and nearly blacking myself out several times.

So we moved into June and usual readiness at dawn. News came through that the 2nd Front had been opened in Normandy. Also noted: I sacked my bearer, Nahren. I didn't find this easy, even though he was a lazy blighter, more often missing than not, and he had presented me with a 'more money or I strike' notice, in weird and archaic English, written by the local letter writer, it read:

'Sir I beg to bring to your honour kind notice these few lines for your favourable disposal, that if I get fromes (sic) one (F.O.) Rupees 20 I can maintain myself, if I get less than 20 Rupees fromes one (F.O.) I cannot do the job. I have to remain. Sir, Your most obedient servant, Nahren.' He didn't have to remain. Will include this now battered and faded letter on the next pic page.

Fortunately, another 155 pilot, with the strangely mixed name of McEdwards - half Scottish, half Welsh? - was moving elsewhere and I was able to bag his bearer, a nice lad called Billy.

June 9 was another notable day. We did a Squadron formation flight over Calcutta, a total of 12 aircraft in the air, the CO leading with two wing men, each with three in line astern. The CO had decided we would do a formation landing to see how quickly we could all get down. This meant landing more or less in pairs, one slightly in front on the right of the runway, the other a few yards behind on the left of the runway.

It wasn't easy because when a Spitfire was near to landing its long nose became raised, completely cutting out forward visibility. My number 1 landed on the right so I came in on the left. The nose reached the raised position blanking the forward view. I touched down, and raced along the runway.

Then, looking out to the side and as much forward as possible, I saw a Spitfire sitting at an angle on the grass with its tail slightly overhanging the runway. My port wing caught his tail. The pilot, a warrant officer, jumped out of his aircraft, slightly damaging his knee.

The Flying Control Officer fired red Very flares and everyone still airborne stayed up until the runway had been cleared.

It transpired that the warrant officer had swung after a tyre burst on landing There was an inquiry into this, of course, but it was decided that the 'prang' was unavoidable.

Trying to carry out educational duties, I booked the padre to talk to the erks. He never turned up. We had a discussion on Communism, the subject chosen by those who attended. Not sure if this was the right sort of topic!

During a height climb with a warrant officer Hick I was puzzled when he suddenly started diving, so I did a wing over and followed him, managing to get alongside. I realised he was only partly conscious, probably suffering from lack of oxygen. I kept shouting to him to wake up - the ground was getting far too close - and fortunately he did recover in time to pull out. I led him back to the aerodrome. The weather at that time of the year was very hot indeed and he had been suffering greatly from prickly heat, which perhaps weakened him a bit. Later, it was decided that he needed to get back to a cold climate and was posted back to the UK.

Around this time I found the Wing Commander treating me as something of an office boy. He had discovered I could write shorthand and type.

I then ran into another educational problem. A group of airmen arrived at my basha and told me they wanted to spend time a bit more usefully by learning something. 'Learning what?' I asked, cautiously. 'French,' they said.

'Oh dear,' I thought, and then asked nervously, 'How much French do you know?' They said that none of them had ever taken any French. I cheered up considerably and agreed to organise classes. Fortunately, I had with me the Heath's New Practical French Grammar I had acquired at night school in Chorlton. I hope they learned something to their advantage.

It was about this time, towards the end of June 1944, that I learned of the death of my friend Ian Duncan, whose 64 Squadron Spitfire was shot down by flak. He crashed into a French farmhouse and was killed (see earlier reference in 1943).

During July we were intrigued to see a twin-engined twin-fuselage American Lightning fighter come in and land. The pilot came over to where we were sitting on readiness. 'Say, you guys,' he said, 'I've always wanted to fly a Spitfire. You lend me a Spitfire and you can borrow my Lightning.'

It took a while to convince him that in the RAF it was not quite as easy as that to do a quick swop. He flew away again, but the Higher Ups, when they heard about this, thought it was a good idea to have a bit of Anglo-American friendship and co-operation. It was arranged that two of us would fly to their base at Asansol for them to fly Spitfires and that later they would reciprocate by bringing over two Lightnings for us to play with. The two 155 pilots chosen were Flight Lieutenant Tim Meyer - who hailed from Trinidad - and Flight Lieutenant Bert Murray, a South African former Hurricane pilot who was a recent recruit to 155.


For good measure. New Zealander 'Babe' Hunter, another pilot and I flew to Asansol just afterwards and did a bit of tight formation over their 'drome but didn't land - so we didn't know at the time that they both did low aerobatics on arrival and that Bert Murray performing a low roll, had hit a wing on the ground, crashed and been killed in the middle of the airstrip. Doing exactly the same sort of thing was the manoeuvre that cost Douglas Bader his legs.

Bert's death was, of course, the end of the Anglo-American co-operation plan, so we never sampled flying their Lightnings.

Other matters, around this time....

During dummy attacks on Liberators my airspeed indicator became useless. To land safely, I asked Canadian Warrant Officer Pinch to lead me in. He was a fine pilot but never bothered much about his style of dress nor air force regulations such as saluting officers. Nonetheless, the CO thought his skill and experience deserved a commission and arranged for him to be interviewed by a Commissioning Board in Calcutta. When he arrived some officer in charge of guard duty thought he was so slovenly that poor Pinch was drilled up and down he parade square! He never got a commission but I don't think he was terribly bothered.

There was an airstrip called Red Road - it was just a cordoned off stretch of road in the middle of Calcutta - where I landed one day. To get in, you had to do a steep turn round Firpo's, one of the best hotel/restaurants in Calcutta, situated on Chowringhee, the main street. It was fun.

We did find time for swimming at the Saturday Club pool, dancing at the 300 Club, and for going to cinemas. The cinemas were absolute bliss, no matter what the film, because they were air conditioned. It was pleasantly cool inside, no matter how hot and humid it was outside.

Flying at the time included practise firing of machine guns and cannon out to sea. I note that I also took up my airman fitter. Leading Aircraftsman Churcher in the Squadron Tiger Moth. During aerobatics the engine started running roughly. No wonder. A spark plug had fallen out!

The monsoon period got under way, with torrential rain coming down, often very suddenly. I took off in sunshine one day and got back to find the runway flooded. It meant landing with the flaps up - therefore much faster than usual to prevent the flaps being damaged by the water. It was a long landing run.

Another interesting experience came when flying with Jock Dalrymple round clouds towards a belt of rain when we found ourselves in the centre of a completely circular rainbow.

Towards the end of July - 1944 - we were briefed that we would soon be moving to the Imphal Valley to relieve 615 Squadron and were told that operations against the Japanese could involve long distance flying. We practised using long-range tanks, huge things which spoiled the airflow and reduced airspeed

Pictured right (top) pilots of 155. That's me, with pipe, helping CU squadron Leader 'Bats' Krohn to prop up the 'basha'. I'm wearing the latest issue jungle wear, the Beedon suit. Will say a few words about this monstrosity later.

Pilots of 155

On 10 August 1944 the whole Squadron was on early full readiness to move to Palel airstrip in the Imphal Valley, on the border of Burma. Heavy rain was pouring down, visibility was terrible, monsoon clouds were very low and we wondered whether the exchange with 615 Squadron would be postponed.

Much to our surprise, a lone Spitfire emerged from the murk and landed. Out of it climbed an ashen-faced 615 officer. 'Are you an advance pilot?' we asked. 'No,' he replied, rather shakily. 'The whole Squadron set off, we got broken up into some terrible monsoon stuff and I don't know what has happened to all the others.'

In due course we learned that 16 Spitfires, led by 615's CO, Squadron Leader Dave McCormack, DFC and Bar, had taken off from Palel for Baigachi in what seemed reasonable weather and flown in formation until just after passing the point of no return - the point at which there would be insufficient fuel to return to Palel - they met huge black and turbulent storm clouds which extended from around ground level thousands of feet upwards. An attempt to climb above and find a way through failed.

In the blackness of the cloud the Spitfires were tossed about like toys. Pilots lost control. Eight of the 16 aircraft were lost. Four pilots were killed, including the CO. Three survived but with leg injuries after baling out. One escaped after crash landing in a paddy field.

The remaining eight pilots managed to regain control of their Spitfires and reach Baigachi.

It was the biggest single loss of Squadron aircraft and pilots in the shortest space of time in Burma. (See account of the monsoon disaster written by a 615 pilot who was involved in it).

155 CO, Squadron Leader Krohn, decided to send A Flight to Palel, keeping B Flight behind until 615 were re-organised. I was in B Flight. We took off for Palel four days later, on 14 August.

Palel was a small airstrip in the South East comer of the Imphal Valley. It was half-surrounded by what were described as 'hills.' Hills! They went up to 8,000 feet. We discovered we had to cross them to fly into Burma.

On the following day I see that I did a 90-minute sector reconnaissance flight, taking a look at the Imphal Valley and surrounding areas, followed on the next day by a look at Burma itself. Later in the day it was a 105-minute operation, escorting an Anson which was dropping propaganda leaflets after Hurricanes had dive-bombed a Jap HQ at Tonzang.

Then came a 'rhubarb' - looking for targets - along the Chindwin. We reached a Japanese encampment at Homalin and tried out our cannon and machine guns on military-style buildings. Other possible targets included barge traffic on the river. Found a barge on 28 August, while escorting Hurricane bombers, and sank it.

On 3 September six of us, led by Flying Officer 'Jock' Dalrymple ('Jock frae Aberdeen' as he usually signed things), had a lesson in monsoon flying.

We set off in poor weather to escort Dakotas to Minthami, where they dropped supplies into a jungle clearing for ground troops. They set course for home and, on nearing the Imphal Valley, turned towards their own base. We headed for Palel, but suddenly found ourselves in a black cloud full of strong turbulence which threw us about. I just saw Jock's aircraft, in front of me, apparently going into a stall and got a glimpse of Flight Sergeant 'Mac' McCormick, on my left, going down in a spiral dive when I had to haul back on the stick to miss another Spitfire. After that, I was too busy trying to sort myself out than to worry about what was happening to others.

My blind flying instruments - artificial horizon, giro compass and turn and bank indicator - were going haywire, and my airspeed was falling. I thought I must be climbing and put the stick forward to get my nose down and opened the throttle. I began to lose speed even more rapidly. Think I must have been climbing upside down. Then I began to lose altitude and that worried me enormously. I was at about 9,000 feet and knew I must be somewhere near those 8,000-foot high 'hills'.

Fortunately, 1 came to a slight break in the clouds, got brief look at the ground - which wasn't very far away - and managed to orientate myself enough to straighten out, start climbing and fly level long enough for the instruments to settle down again. I set course for where I thought the Valley was and broke out of the cloud again to discover I was heading for Palel.

Four of us landed. Jock and Mac were missing.

Both turned up again, although looking a bit worse for wear. They had baled out, landed in the mountainous jungle and managed to walk back, Mac in three days and Jock in four.

The next 10 days were taken up with escorts to more supply-dropping Dakotas, to VIPs flying in little L5 aircraft to and from jungle airstrips and on 'rhubarbs'. Then I was given the job of carrying out a Court of Inquiry into the accident in July at the American Asansol base which caused the death of Flight Lieutenant Bert Murray.

On 16 September I took the Squadron Harvard and, with Pilot Officer Paul Ostrander as passenger, flew via Argatala (for re-fuelling) and on to Alipore, Calcutta. Leaving Ostrander in Calcutta I flew the next day to Asansol where I interviewed Americans who had witnessed Bert Murray's crash. When en route back to Calcutta I realised there was an electrical storm behind me but thought there was time to land at Bishenpur to refuel. I popped into the mess there and came out to take off again to discover, the ground erks had tied down the Harvard because the storm - big black and blue clouds containing lightning flashes - was just about sitting on the end of the runway. I didn't fancy spending the night at Bishenpur so I got them to untie it and took off, heading away from the storm.

My return flight to Alipore was quite speedy because I had the strong winds of the storm behind me. I landed at Alipore, told them this storm would soon hit them, and went into Calcutta to find Ostrander, who had been buying supplies of hooch etc for us to take back to the Squadron.

Two days later, this time with Ostrander piloting, we flew to a Repair and Salvage Unit at Salbani where I interviewed crash repair experts and then flew back to Alipore.

On the following day, 20 September, we flew to Baigachi where I wanted to talk to Flight Lieutenant Tim Meyer, who led the two-plane trip for the proposed RAF/USAAC 'exchange' flying programme. By this time, Meyer (who hailed from Trinidad and Tobago) had been posted from 155 Squadron and promoted to Acting Squadron Leader to take over the devastated 615 Squadron - now re-equipped with American Thunderbolt fighters. He said that he and Murray had agreed to do low aerobatics before landing at Asansol, and was obviously worried that my report might result in his losing his new command of 615 Squadron.

I mulled all the statements over as we flew back to Palel, with Ostrander piloting and me relaxing in the back seat.

I didn't relax for long. As we neared the Imphal Valley 'Ossie' climbed to around 10,000 feet to make sure we were over the top of the 8,000-foot Imphal 'hills' - and the engine started cutting out. We started heading downwards. What was wrong? It dawned on me that it could be that the carburettor was icing up at this altitude, starving the engine of fuel. The carburettor de-icing control was in the front cockpit. All I could do was keeping shouting to 'Ossie': 'PUT THE CARBURETTOR HEAT CONTROL ON.....NOW....FAST!!!' (or words to that effect). The message got through, he did - and the engine started running smoothly again.

I then started, my report. As the Number 1, the leader of the two aircraft, Meyer was responsible for his Number 2 and ought not to have led him into low aerobatics. The duty of the Number 2 was to follow his leader. However, to put the blame entirely on Meyer would probably result in his demotion, leaving 615 Squadron again without a Commanding Officer. I decided to state that although then Flight Lieutenant Meyer was wrong in leading into low aerobatics, his number 2 was of equal rank, also being a Flight Lieutenant, and therefore could have refused - and in fact should have refused - as his flying time was mainly on Hurricanes. He had little flying time and experience on Spitfires.

Good and experienced pilots were needed. Meyer was a good pilot and very experienced. The higher-ups accepted my report, Meyer was reprimanded and it was left at that.

Back to operational flying. On 24 September I was detailed to go on what was described as an 'offensive recce' over Japanese-held territory at Kam and Mawlaik but this was called off after ten minutes' flying because of bad weather.

Thought it might be an idea at this point to give some idea of the luxurious accommodation we enjoyed in the Imphal Valley. Just behind the chaps in the Jeep is a typical 'basha', which was the height of comfort usually occupied by officers. Behind are the tents which provided shelter for ground crews. As usual, you'll spot me easily, puffing at a pipe. The others in the Jeep (L to R clockwise) are Jimmy Gunstone, who flew in Malta before his posting to Burma; 'Smoky' Entwistle, from Southport (who was also a pipe smoker, hence the 'Smoky'); and Dave Gardner. Standing on the left is the Squadron Medical Officer.

The handsome fellow below is the Maharajah of Manipur. He was thought to be the most poverty-stricken Maharajah in India. He looks quite well-fed, though.

Behind the jeep, a typical basha.
The Maharajah of Manipur.

Mentioned Beedon suits on page 79. This was someone's bright invention, supposed to make life easier for us. It had more pockets than a conjuror to stash away maps etc, but it had a big snag. A pocket in the leg had been designed to hold a folding kukri, for hacking your way back through the jungle but as you ran out to your aircraft it thumped your knee and just about broke your kneecap.

We all carried kukris, the normal design, strapped to our belts. Far better.

Sept 25 1944 was a lively day. A Jap reconnaissance aircraft known to us as a Dinah came near the Imphal Valley and was shot down by a 152 Squadron Spitfire. The Japs obviously wanted some information desperately and we thought they would come again. They did. Four 155 Spitfires were scrambled. Listening on a ground radio we heard Pilot Officer Wittridge shout, 'It's another Dinah. He's heading for cloud.' Fairly soon afterwards a lone Spitfire shot across the airfield. It was Witt's Number 2, Flight Sergeant Lunnon-Wood - known as Timber - all his guns having been fired. He landed and climbed out, shouting: 'We got it. It blew up....poof...just like that.' Witt also landed, beaming.

We hoped for more scrambles. There was one, almost immediately. I and others hurtled into the air but there was nothing doing. The plot turned friendly, presumably one of ours who had possibly not switched on his IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe).

On 27 September I air-tested a new Spitfire which had just been delivered. It was great - very responsive. I noted that I could do a half roll and dive at 4000 feet and easily pull it out in 2000 feet.

I received a letter from Tom, from which is seemed that he might be about to undertake another bombing tour, the chump. I later learned that he and another air gunner had, in fact, after completing their first 30 op tour, had volunteered to do more ops to help an inexperienced new pilot and crew - which was short of two gunners. The pilot, known as 'Bluey' Mottershead, later told me that their guidance had been invaluable in helping him and his crew to survive. Both Tom and the other gunner, Ted Smith, certainly deserved their awards of the Distinguished Flying Medal.

Tom was promoted to Pilot Officer and posted to Lossiemouth as Gunnery Officer, training new recruits. He developed new training methods and, while at Lossiemouth, reached the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

Meanwhile, back in Burma, it was becoming clear that the Japs were in difficulties but were determined to make last-ditch efforts to regain the initiative. During September and October we flew many escort duties from Palel in the Imphal Valley when DC3 (Dakotas) were on supply-drops to advancing ground troops. These took us to places - no doubt never heard of then and for that matter now - in Britain. I note that there was Gazanyo, Kalewa, Yasacyo, Tiddim, Natchaung, Myittha, Fort White and Kindat.

To assist the 14th Army, we also carried out 'rhubarbs' - searches for enemy targets - to straffe. When with Jimmy Gunstone as my number two we spotted what looked like a Japanese tea party going on at Yeu, a railhead, and soon spoiled it. On another trip we discovered Jap headquarters at Kalewa. They shot at us with small arms; we replied with our 20mm cannons. We pranged river rafts and tried to bring down telegraph poles.

On October 16 - my 22nd birthday - the Squadron went on a long distance trip to straffe Jap fighter aerodromes at Shwebo and Onbauk. Witt and I provided high cover while the other eight went in low to shoot at anything in sight. They damaged an aircraft or two and buildings but most of the Jap planes must have been withdrawn to other dromes farther away.

Around this time my aircraft, K, started misbehaving with boost surges. Despite all ground staff efforts, a couple of air tests continued to show that something was badly wrong and that K went off to a maintenance unit. Another K was produced and it was fine.

Although quite a lot was happening in me air, me airmen found time hanging on their hands a bit, so I note that on 24 October I ran another class in French. I blessed Mr Heath and his New Practical French Grammar, but I don't think he would have thought much of my pronunciation.

Our Burma intelligence system seemed to be working much better. On 26 October (brother Walt's 20th birthday - he was on flying training in South Africa) the CO, Squadron Leader 'Bats' Krohn, told us the Jap air force high-ups were planning a surprise raid on Imphal Valley airstrips. He devised a plan. In addition to having us on top readiness to tackle the Japs immediately, six aircraft, fitted with 90-gallon drop tanks, were to climb high and wait, then drop the tanks (they impaired flying ability) and have a go anywhere over the Valley as well as catching any homeward bound Jap Oscar fighters. He said that American-built Thunderbolt fighters, with longer range than Spitfires, would also chase the Oscars.

We were on super readiness for the next five days. Then, at the end of October I was told that I had been detailed to go on an air fighting instructors' course at Amarda Road Air Fighting Training Unit. run by Wing Commander Carey. He had fought from the early days of the Burma war, on Hurricanes, as a sergeant pilot and risen to Wingco. So, on 3 November I drove to Imphal where I boarded an American DC3 to fly to Dum Dum, just outside Calcutta. I managed to get into Aircrew House in Calcutta and amused myself until catching a train to Amarda Road on 7 November.

In the meantime, 155 Squadron Canadian pilot Paul Ostrander turned up in Calcutta. He told me that on 5 November, two days after I had left, the Japs arrived over Palel as dawn was breaking and started straffing away. The sneaky Japs had flown low through the night to catch us on the hop. They nearly did. Most of the Squadron managed to get airborne and there was a ding-dong battle right overhead. Witt had got an Oscar, so did a chap called Parke. A newish pilot named Gentry was missing. He was never found.

Why, I thought, did the Japs have to wait until I had left? On second thoughts, maybe it was just as well!

Another thing had happened on my departure - a new CO, Squadron Leader 'Ginger' Lacey had turned up to take charge temporarily while our CO, 'Bats' Krohn, was away. Lacey was an ace - in fact the ace - Battle of Britain pilot. He arrived on the day of the Jap raid. In the book 'Ginger Lacey - Fighter pilot' he says 'How the Hell did the Japs know I had been posted here?'

Lacey, started the war as a sergeant pilot, flying Hurricanes in France. Later, still on Hurries, he became top scorer in the Battle of Britain. He destroyed 18 enemy aircraft, including the Heinkel which bombed Buckingham Palace. By the end of the war his total was 24 (one a Jap Oscar) plus four probables and six damaged. He held a DFM and Bar and a Croix de Guerre.

The top photograph, sent to me by Witt, shows Lacey congratulating Witt on shooting down the Oscar.

By the time I returned to the Squadron in December, Lacey had departed to command neighbouring 17 (Spitfire) Squadron.

I was not to meet him until the late 1960s when Beth and I were in Blackpool. By that time I was doing some PR work for Shell Mex and BP, as it was then known. The Company had illuminated a tram with its logos and I went, with photographer John Cooper, to publicise this. Beth joined in.

The Illuminations that year were switched on jointly by Douglas Bader and 'Ginger' Lacey. During a reception party, I had a word with Lacey, we reminisced a bit about Burma and John took photographs (see lower pic). 'Ginger', who had at last put on a bit of weight, is clearly shooting some kind of a line to Beth. That's me on the right.

After the war 'Ginger' taught at a Yorkshire flying training school and ran an air freight business. He died on 30 May 1989 at the age of 72.

We didn't see Bader. Perhaps he had turned in because his tin legs were liable to hurt after he had been standing or walking about. But I did meet him in later years when he attended a meeting of the Churchill Club at the Midland Hotel as guest speaker. (I was the Club's honorary publicity chap.) Bader drove himself from somewhere in the South, arrived at the hotel, left his car at the main door and stumped up the steps. 'You can't leave your car there,' said the doorman. 'Yes, I can,' said Bader, and went in, going straight up to his room to take off his legs to have a rest before the evening.

We had a chat before the dinner. Standing next to him I found we were about the same height. He lost some height when his legs were first made. 'Well,' he said, 'You are just the right height and build for a Spitfire pilot.'

His speech was not very long and mainly consisted of war-time RAF-type stories. Think his legs were still bothering him. Some of the those attending were miffed, believing he should have talked for much longer. Personally, I and most of those present thought he had done us proud by attending. It was an honour to meet this courageous man who had done so much to inspire other pilots during the war and who, by example and encouragement, had helped many people to face up to similar disabilities.

Lacey congratulating Witt on shooting down the Oscar.
'Ginger' is clearly shooting some kind of a line to Beth. That's me on the right.

At the top, another photograph taken at the Blackpool reception. Ginger and I did a fair amount of reminiscing.

Going back to chronology, after a few days in Calcutta I caught a train to Amarda Road Air Fighting Training Unit, arriving there on 7 November 1944 and joining Course Number 20.

First item on the programme: a Course photograph. That's me, second from left, front row.

We were a mixed bag, ranks ranging from Warrant Officer to a couple of Squadron Leaders, plus two Fleet Air Arm pilots from the aircraft carrier HMS Formidable, and an Army chap. Sub-Lieutenant McKinnon, is extreme left, front row; the other Navy flier. Lieutenant Commander Bigg-Wither, is fifth from left. On the left, back row, is an Indian pilot. Flying Officer Rollo, a handsome chap - so much so that his face was featured on adverts throughout India promoting Tenor cigarettes. The Army pilot. Lieutenant Carter, is third from right, back row. Don't really know why he was on the course.

The training was to last for four weeks - and it was certainly intensive. In addition to piling up 43 flying hours on dog fighting and cine-gun firing exercises against other fighters and Liberator bombers; air-to-air live shooting at very small drogues and air-to-sea shooting, we spent many more hours in classrooms swotting up subjects such as trajectories, muzzle velocity, angles of attack, deflection, bullet groups and patterns, rates and density of fire and ballistics. I still have an exercise book I used at the time, full of diagrams and mathematical formulae, etc, etc.

Our ability to deliver lectures was checked out in various ways. For instance, you would be, without warning, hauled out in front, given a subject and told to talk on it for 10 minutes. I haven't forgotten my subject: it was 'Door knobs'. I certainly have forgotten whatever I found to say about them.

I realised how little I had been taught, up to that time, on the ins and outs of air fighting.

My first flight there was on 9 November, carrying out range estimation, flying - for the first time - a Mark V Spitfire. It made me appreciate the immensely superior performance of the Squadron's Mark VIII Spitfires. (The Grangemouth Spitfires were Marks I and III).

The air-to-sea firing was a real test of flying skill as well as marksmanship. You had to fly at low level towards a cliff edge overlooking the sea. Instructors were based at the top of the cliff. You were supposed to fly so low that they would not see you coming until the last moment. Out to sea - but not very far out - were some black pillars of wood, just jutting out over the water. You had to haul the aircraft up before reaching the cliff edge, half roll over and straighten out into a steep dive to get your sights on to these targets to put in as long a burst of fire as you could, then pulling out before you went into the sea. It wasn't easy!

Another exercise was flying a two-seater dual control Harvard from the back seat, with an instructor monitoring matters from the front seat. You carried out cine-gun firing at other aircraft while peering through a long tubular sight. To put it mildly, the view was a bit restricted.

Ginger Lacey and Norman Edwards
Course 20
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A Pictorial History


I little knew then that I was going to spend a lot of time in the back seat of a Harvard while Indian pupils in front seat performed all sorts of manoeuvres in their attempts to carry out rolling, quarter and other attacks, not to mention dive-bombing. By March 1945 I was going to be posted from the Squadron to take charge of the Air Firing Flight at 151 Indian Operational Training Unit at Peshawar.

Number 1 Indian Squadron, flying American-built Vultee Vengeance dive bombers, were also at Amarda Road. One day I was watching a Vengeance coming into land. It was holding off far too high. When it lost flying speed, instead of being just inches above the runway for a gentle touch-down, it thumped down very heavily and bounced back into the air. The pilot gave it a burst of throttle and then thumped down heavily again - and then again - before remaining on the runway. Fortunately, it was a long runway. I hesitated to think what all this had done to the undercarriage.

The Vengeance taxied past and I saw the beaming face of the pilot, who didn't seem a bit disconcerted.

'What a landing!' I said to a Squadron Leader who was standing next to me. 'It certainly was,' he said. 'That was Flying Officer Sen. It's the best landing I've ever seen him make!'

The Indian Air Force, at that time, was to some degree a political force rather than a top fighting force. The fact that Indians were volunteering to fly and fight with us meant a lot. As a result, pilots who were not up to scratch were not 'washed out' (demoted or grounded) but were sent on another training course round.

One of the first pupils I met at Peshawar was none other than Flying Officer Sen!

I completed the Amarda Road course by 6 December 1944 having passed in Combat Flying Ability, Combat Marksmanship Ground Marksmanship, Probable Ability as an Instructor, Theory and Practical, qualifying as an instructor and marksman. By 13 December I was back with the Squadron, finding that they had moved - not far - from Palel to an airstrip called Sapam, still in the Imphal Valley, and on the following day was escorting a VIP in an L5 light aircraft from a jungle airstrip back to the Imphal Valley.

A pleasing aspect: Doug Gillon, a Canadian who was with me at Grangemouth and who had temporarily been posted from the Squadron, was back again. He was a good chap and a good pilot - and became my Number 2. He is in the Grangemouth group photograph (second left, front row, circa May 1943 and on two photographs taken when I arrived at Worii, India, in October 1943)

While mentioning the Grangemouth group pic, also on it are 155 pilots Canadian George Brown, standing on my left (killed in March 1944), and Andy Tough, from Aberdeen, third from right, front row, (who emigrated to Canada after the war and became a solicitor in Winnipeg.)

Towards the end of 1944 and into early 1945 the Japs were on the defensive, retreating farther into Burmese jungle, chased by the 14th Army. Our role was to support them by intensively searching for and destroying Jap communications and transport.

This was, of course, in addition to our normal fighter patrols and supply-dropping Dakota escorts. We also found ourselves frequently escorting VIPs on their journeys in and out of Burma, where they were concerned with keeping in touch with forward Army posts and the progress of Chindit operations deep in the jungle, sometimes behind Jap lines.

As the 14th Army moved more into Burma, so we had also to move further forward. I was with a detachment from the Squadron which, on 16 December, flew over the mountainous Chin Hills into the notorious Burmese Kabaw Valley, landing at a newly constructed airstrip called Tamu. The Kabaw Valley was known as Death Valley, because of its fame for ferocious mosquitoes. Much to our surprise, it didn't seem too bad. From there we were able to provide escorts over much longer distances than from the Imphal Valley.

We didn't know it at the time, but Lt General Sir William Slim (Bill to all) was planning to deceive the Japs into thinking that his main assault was to be across bridgeheads which he intended to throw across the Irrawaddy river near Mandalay. In fact, it was to be much farther south, into the central Burma plain.

A key point in the 14th Army's advance was at Kalewa, on the Chindwin river, where a 1,154-foot (a record length) Bailey Bridge had been specially built (in Stockport!) for the crossing. So worried were our top brass about the Japs destroying the bridge that it was protected by barrage balloons - the only ones I ever saw in Burma - and we had to maintain constant fighter patrols around it. At one time we were even asked to patrol the bridge by night and this was distinctly difficult, especially during monsoon conditions. There was also the fact that Spitfires were not designed for this kind of work. At night, flames from the exhausts mounted on both sides of the engine, just in front of the pilot, were dazzling. The flames were not visible during the day.

All our aircraft, except for the fighter patrols had been ordered to keep away from the bridge. This gave me a very tricky decision to make when, while patrolling, I looked down to see an RAF Dakota flying low up the river towards the bridge. It should not have been there so I tried to contact him on the radio to tell him to move away but failed to get any answer. Then I had a horrible thought - what if the Japs had captured a Dakota, put bombs on board and were going to lob them out at the bridge? Then I had another possibly even more terrible thought. I knew the Japs had a bomber aircraft - we called it a Sally - which was very similar to the Dakota. What if they had painted it to look like an RAF Dakota?

I had a word with my Number 2. We agreed we couldn't take any chance of the Japs destroying the bridge. I picked a spot on the river bank and said: 'If he passes that point, we go down and clobber him.'

Gunsights on 'fire' we headed downwards. Whether he suddenly remembered the area was prohibited or whether his memory was jolted by seeing two Spitfires diving towards him I don't know - but, thank goodness, he turned off and headed away.

Sadly, when I returned to the Squadron from the Amarda Road course I learned that Flying Officer Clive 'Smoky' Entwistle, had been killed by anti-aircraft fire at Yeu, a Burma railhead and Jap stronghold. Think the portrait photograph (right) must have been taken shortly after his arrival in India. He is also in a couple of 'snapshot' photographs on earlier pages, just after I joined 155 Squadron. He is standing in a jeep, waving his kukri about, and smoking his pipe - hence 'Smoky' - while sitting next to 'Babe' Hunter.

Knowing I was friendly with 'Smoky' and that we both came from Lancashire - his home was in Southport - the CO asked me to write to his parents. That wasn't easy, but I did. Some time afterwards I received a letter from his mother, which is in the transparent envelope at the back of this album.

After demob and while visiting Southport with Beth I took a look at Southport's war memorial and was surprised that his name was not on it. I spoke to the Chairman of the Aircrew Association, Air Commodore Jack Broughton, and he took action to have Clive Entwistle's name included.

The rest of December was taken up with Dakota and VIP escort duties as well as escorting a Squadron of Hurricanes, adapted to carry bombs, to targets at Tabayin, Pyingaing (Pinkgin!) and Yeu, as well as regularly patrolling the Kalewa Bridge across the Chindwin.

On 27 December I went on a special long range reconnaissance flight - two hours and 40 minutes, a long time in a Spitfire - to the Pakkoku area. A Wing Commander Barry Sutton had turned up from somewhere to lead this patrol. I didn't know what it was about at the time except that I was told to keep an eye open for any Japanese troop movements. We didn't see any. Some time later I realised this was check on whether the Japs had cottoned on to the fact that General Slim was moving his troops far down south to attack there, instead of near Mandalay, which was mainly, although not entirely, a feint.

Later that day we left Tamu to re-join the rest of the Squadron at Sapam in the Imphal Valley. However, monsoon rains continued to pour down with the result that Sapam fairly rapidly turned into more of a swamp than an airstrip. For a while we didn't dare try to take off. The wheels would have dug in and turned the Spitfires on their noses. After a slightly drier spell of weather it was thought that it might be possible to take off - by using rather unusual techniques.

To get airborne after the shortest possible run a couple of airmen leaned over the tail to hold it down while, with brakes fully on, we opened the throttles practically to the limit. For good measure, we had the flaps half down. Then the airmen jumped out of the way and we started a take-off run.

Having the flaps half down meant that, hopefully, you could get airborne at a much slower airspeed than usual.

However, with Spitfires you could only have the flaps - long hinged 'spars' underneath the rear of the wings - either fully up or fully down. To solve this problem the CO had little triangular-shaped pieces of wood cut. You lowered the flaps and a couple of airmen put in the pieces of wood.

"Ent" - killed over Yeu Dec 1944

You then switched the flaps to the UP position - but because of these wedges the flaps only got halfway up.

This was fine in assisting the short-run take-off. You didn't want the flaps in this position, though, when you were airborne: it slowed you down. You had to gain height and then put the flaps down, the bits of wood - you hoped - fell out and you were back to normal flight.

Amazingly enough, it all worked and we flew off to Tullihall airstrip; not very far away.

Meantime, the Army was continuing its advance towards Mandalay - pushing the Japs back and getting farther and farther out of our flying range. A nearer airstrip was needed. The Japs had abandoned one at a place called Tabingaung but they inconsiderately blew up the runway before they left. The higher ups decided that, despite the fact that a row of tall trees was in the way, it might be possible for skilful pilots to land on and take off from the taxy track. We were told to move there, so the CO took one flight with him and they managed to get in, although, in the terminology of the time, it was a 'bit hairy.' Later, I wrote an article about this for the TEE EM, the RAF training manual. (See transparent envelope).

I got landed with the job of organising a group of 155 Squadron airmen to fly in Dakotas to the nearest fairly usable airstrip. As it so happened, one had been constructed at Yeu (the railhead we had raided many times and where 'Smoky' had been killed).

Having got most of the airmen under way I joined the last Dakota flight of the day, with the result that darkness was descending as we landed at Yeu, where West African transport troops were based. They had been driving earlier arrivals by truck along what was a sort of jungle road to Tabingaung. However, all activity seemed to have stopped by the time we arrived. I found one of their officers who said: 'We've packed in for the night.'

I convinced him that the men and equipment from my Dakota might be urgently required by the Squadron at Tabingaung, told him that I had a map, and that it was imperative we should get to Tabingaung immediately. He agreed to wake up a driver and get him to take us.

I imagine the driver was very tired and had been looking forward to a good night's sleep, but he was remarkably cheerful about it. We loaded up, climbed in and set off, with me trying make out the route on my map, which was designed more for flying over the area than following piffley roads. We bumped and jolted along and eventually arrived. I had wondered whether the Japs might have been giving hell to those already there and whether it would be a scene of great activity with damaged Spitfires being repaired etc. In fact, all was quiet and peaceful.

None the less, quite pleased that we had arrived I found Squadron Leader Krohn's tent. He was sound asleep. I shook his shoulder. 'We've managed to get here, sir', I said. 'Well, clear off again,' he said. Actually, he didn't quite say that but it was roughly similar.

On the following day. 17 January 1945, I sampled flying from Tabingaung. It wasn't easy taking off nor landing because we were using the narrow taxying track. The Japs had blown up the main strip, thinking that would put the whole thing out of action. The result was that the take-off run wasn't terribly long and was obstructed by tall trees at one end. Taking off meant using bags of power to clear the trees. Landing in the opposite direction meant coming over the trees at practically stalling point to touch down just beyond the trees in order to have enough runway to stop.

I was up, patrolling over the strip for two hours and 15 minutes before having a go at the tricky landing.

The next day was a strafe at the Jap fighter bases in and around Meiktila. The strips had been well bombed by Liberators. One of our flight commanders, Roy Brown, was hit by flak and killed. Later in the day I took part in another trip over their fighter bases at Schwebo and Budalin but the Jap fighters failed to appear.

I was then detailed to lead a flight escorting Supreme Commander Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was flying in beautiful silver DC3 - no camouflage - from Burma back to India. This wasn't easy because, not being able to fly as slowly as the DC3 we had to weave. Big clouds towered high and his aircraft would disappear into cloud going one way while we disappeared into another cloud, going in a different direction Then we came out of cloud and had to find him again.

We arrived over 221 Group headquarters at Kalemyo on the Chindwin River. I saw another flight of Spitfires who were taking over for the remainder of the escort, checked that they had him in sight and, having been airborne for two hours; landed at Kalemyo to refuel. I had scarcely stopped the engine when an airman panted up on the wing. 'Are you in charge of this flight?' he asked. 'Yes,' I said.

'Well, the Groupie wants to see you and he's hopping mad!' said the airman.

The Group Captain was Don Finlay, an Olympic hurdler. 'What's he mad about?' I wondered as I made my way to his tent. Then I had a horrible thought. Had Mountbatten been shot down and I had somehow missed it?

Finlay was indeed enraged. After demanding to know if I was from 155 Squadron he proceeded to give me a right dressing down. In between expletives he said things about 'carelessness, utter stupidity and dereliction of duty.' Finally, he said: 'Go back to your Squadron and tell that (expletive deleted) CO of yours that he hasn't submitted his mess returns for months.'

I knew That Finlay and our CO - Squadron Leader 'Bats' Krohn had been at loggerheads for years but this seemed an over-reaction by miles! I flew back to Tabingaung. finding landing even more difficult in the dusk light.

The CO didn’t seem too perturbed about Finlay's comments.

On the 21st there were rumours of Jap soldiers in our vicinity and Jock Dalrymple, supposed to be our Defence Officer, was asked for his defence policy. That stumped him! Among my mail: a letter from the Press Club enclosing £1. Nice of them.

On 22 January I went up with Brookie, now my number 2, to carry out GCI (Ground Control) calibration flights, which meant flying at specific heights and speeds so that the chaps on the ground could sort out their instruments, radar screens, and readings. This took us up to 20,000 feet.

Radar wasn't always a tremendous help in Burma because reflections from the hills. Hills? As I've mentioned before they went up to 8-9,000 feet! However, it worked better around where we now were, over the Burmese plains.

When the GCI experts told they had completed their work I thought a few aerobatics were worth trying so, after briefing Brookie about this, I did a loop, followed by an upward roll. He stayed with me very well. This was great to see because he had started out as a bomber pilot, being transferred to fighters because his legs were too short to be able to make full use of the bomber rudder pedals. Spitfires were so designed that they could cope with small and tall pilots, there being plenty of adjustment on the seat and the rudder pedals.

During a later patrol far past the Irrawaddy I saw huge fires in Japanese territory, presumably from bombing raids.

On the next day we heard that our CO, 'Bats' Krohn, had been awarded the DFC, so there was a bit of a party that night, with Indian gin, lime and water proving potent mix.

More patrols and strafes followed, ranging far out over Japanese-held territory, including Shwebo, a Jap fighter base, but with no aerial activity. There was also an escort to a VIP flying out of a small clearing in an L5, a little American aircraft capable of short take off and landings but difficult to stay with because of its low speed, and a silver DC3 going to 221 Group HQ at Kalewa on the Chindwin (Mountbatten again?) There were occasional 'bogey' (enemy aircraft) reports from ground control - probably fast, high-flying Jap Dinah reconnaissance aircraft - but no interceptions.

The difficulty of trying to make gentle landing at Tabingaung, dropping over high trees at the end of what was laughingly called the runway, proved too much for a pilot named Unsworth. He banged his Spitfire down so hard that he sheered tail rivets. His protests that someone had probably previously damaged the tail were to no avail. He was posted elsewhere.

There was some activity on February 1 when, under a full moon making the night almost like day, the Japs raided our area. We were awakened by the ack ack opening up. Anti-personnel bombs were dropped, one landing on a 17 Squadron Spitfire and wrecking it. Just before dawn we raced to the strip but by then all was quiet again. It was back to patrols over base and a strafe at the Jap Shwebo fighter base. I had to abandon one trip because of leaking glycol (used for cooling the engine). I took off again in another Spitfire and rejoined the patrol.

On returning to Tabingaung I was told that John 'Nobby' Clarke had pranged on take-off, crashing just beyond the strip, hitting his face on the reflector sight, being rescued unconscious and in a very bad way. He was flown to a hospital at Imphal.

Many years later, probably around the early 1980s, his wife Megan got in touch with me. Think she had read one of the articles about 155 Squadron which I had written for FlyPast. She told me he was repatriated for treatment at the 'guinea pig' hospital at East Grinstead and had recovered so well that after the war he joined the Civil Service, learned Burmese and returned to Burma to help with reconstruction work. However, after a distinguished career, he had since died. We continued to exchange letters but responses ceased in 2002. I know she had not been well.

I had now completed just over a year with the Squadron and was, as they say, tour expired. The CO asked me and five others also tour expired whether we would like to go to the Middle East as instructors. Tired of the heat, causing skin prickly heat and sleepless nights, we said 'YES', hoping for a better climate. Another thing: I had had no leave since joining the Squadron. However, as far as I was concerned, it was not to be the Middle East. A request - more an order - also came in specifically saying that I should be posted to 151 Indian Operational Unit at Peshawar to take over the Air Firing Flight. This must have been caused by my fairly recent results from the Amarda Road Air Fighting Training Unit. 'Do you want to go there,' inquired the CO. 'No.' I said. Then a bit of a battle between the CO and the powers-that-be started about that.

During the early weeks of February we continued patrols over Japanese territory except for one trip in a Harvard to try to locate a missing RAF DC3. I found it in part of the jungle, crashed and burned out. On another day I led a flight on a 'rhubarb' (offensive) trip to try to find and polish off a reported Jap motor transport convoy but we never saw it. We settled for pooping away at Japanese HQ buildings.

On another rhubarb we spotted a train which had been camouflaged by the Japs. However, we had orders to leave trains alone. The Army seemed to think they would soon reach that area and acquire the train, presumably assuming the Japs would leave it undamaged.

Meanwhile the Army were battling ever nearer to Mandalay - preparatory to establishing a bridgehead across the Irrawaddy at a place called Myinmu. Another airstrip was prepared at Sadaung, nearer to Mandalay, and we moved to it on 11 February. We continued patrols over the area, over Jap airfields and over Myinmu where ground-to-air communications were established. We could be called from the ground and told, for instance, about a Jap sniper in a particular tree and asked 'Please get rid of him.' It was easy to oblige.

While patrolling over the bridgehead on February 20 I hit a vulture with my prop. It bent my prop tips but the aircraft could still fly, if a bit roughly, so I returned to Sadaung after 30 minutes. The vulture gave up flying, methinks.

When flying near the bridgehead I saw troops of the 14th Army marching near the West Bank of the Irrawaddy. I didn't envy them. If I thought our conditions were bad, theirs were far worse.

It was around this time that an official photographer. Harry Ashley - Harry the Horse - joined us. Think I mentioned earlier that one of his photographs was of me in a Spitfire preparing for take off, watched by an airman and by Chico, the Ghurka boy adopted by 17 Squadron airmen.

A few days later, Harry went up in the back seat of a Harvard to take pictures of Hurricanes laying a smoke screen over the Irrawaddy. A 17 Squadron Spitfire pilot seeing the Harvard low down near the Hurricanes assumed that because the Harvard, like the Jap fighters known as Oscars, had a radial engine, it was an Oscar about to attack the Hurricanes. He swooped down and fired, creasing the pilot who was rendered unconscious. The Harvard headed down. Harry had unfastened his straps to lean out to get better photographs, and was hanging out, helpless. Fortunately, the pilot came to in time to crash-land on a sandbank. They both survived.

Using only the light of Hurricane lamps, Harry also took shot of us in a tent. After VE Day it appeared in a UK publication with the caption 'The men who fight on'. It came to the attention of my father, who soon recognised the chap at the back on the right, smoking a pipe and holding a mug of 'char' as me. (Picture, right, plus Jap souvenir rupees and an Indian 1½ annas stamp).

Hurricanes were being used for a variety of ground attack forays as well as smoke laying. They were known as 'Hurri-bombers'. One, either hit by anti-aircraft fire or possibly by a Jap fighter crashed just outside our airstrip at Sadaung. When we got to the aircraft we found the pilot was dead. Then I discovered that I had known him. He was Flying Officer John Edwin Tibbetts, a fellow passenger to India on the 'Mooltan'. I had to take charge of the squad of men to bury him, temporarily, until other arrangements could be made.

Attempts were still afoot to get me to Peshawar. To try to fend them off, CO 'Bats' Krohn said he couldn't spare me because I was the Squadron historian. He offered them the name of another pilot. That cut no ice. They were determined to have me.

After a couple more patrols over Myinmu bridgehead I was told: 'That's that. You have to go to Peshawar.' Perhaps as well. The Japanese had built up their anti-aircraft guns at Myinmu. One of our pilots, 'Sticky' Glue was hit, caught fire and baled out, but was badly burned. Another, Ken Pask, was also hit. He baled out at 800 feet.

Ken emigrated to Canada after the war, became a naturalised Canadian, attended University, did very well in business and is now retired. We are still in touch. At the time of writing (January 2003) he had been appointed Air Crew Association Regional Secretary for Western Canada and is busily organising one of Canada's biggest aircrew re-unions. He and I and Albert Wittridge nearly met in Oxford some years ago but this fell through.

The last three Squadron entries in my log book are 'Patrol Myinmu bridgehead,' with the comment against against my last flight, on February 24 1945, 'Oscars airborne but, as usual, nowhere near us.'

I had completed 130 hours and 50 minutes on a total of 87 operations, and a total of 294 hours and 30 minutes with the Squadron, including non-operational flying. My total flying hours were 638 and 35 minutes. CO 'Bats' Krohn assessed my fighter pilot ability as Above Average.

I had hoped that fresh supplies of hooch would arrive so that I could host a party, but it didn't. Instead some of us joined in a 33 Corps Army HQ Cross Keys concert party, starring Frances Day. Returning to the Squadron I learned that the aircraft of another 155 pilot, named Willdey, had been hit by 25 bullets in a scrap. Luckily, none hit anything vital, including him.

The men who still fight.
The Japanese Government Half Rupee
The Japanese Government 1/4 Rupee
Indian 1 1/2 annas stamp

151 Indian OTU Peshawar

On February 27 1945 I finally left 155 Squadron, managing to hitch a lift on an American Curtiss Commando to Chittagong, where I overnighted before getting another lift in a Commando to Barrackpore, near Calcutta. I couldn't get into Aircrew House in Calcutta but managed to book in at the Grand Hotel, which wasn't very grand. I did meet New Zealander Sid Munro and my former number two, Brookie, at Firpo's restaurant and bar on Chowringhee. They had flown in from the Squadron to pick up supplies, mainly liquid. I caught up with the fact that the aircraft of a 155 pilot named Healey had been hit by flak and crashed south of the Myinmu bridgehead. Then I met another 155 pilot who said that Jap soldiers had raided Sadaung airstrip and stolen all the rations. On the next day, he said, they brought them back!

I waited around Calcutta until 6 March when at last I got a train ticket from the RAF travel expert and departed from Howrah Railway station, practically from one side of India to the other. After travelling in humid conditions through night and day, I arrived at Ambala late on 8 March to change for Peshawar. Had to try to sleep on a wooden seat at Ambala until the next day when I got another train at 1 pm. I reached Peshawar on 9 March. The journey had taken 5½ days!

Peshawar, on the borders of Afghanistan near the Khyber Pass, is now part of Pakistan.

151 Operational Training Unit was a pre-war RAF station. Brick-built, with excellent accommodation, an officers' mess and tennis courts, this was the height of luxury - although still without plumbing. We had to use what were popularly known as 'thunder boxes'. More about them later! I was alloted a bearer, Gulbar Khan, whose references dated back to 1930.

I was to become Officer-in-Charge of the Air Firing Flight, teaching Indian pilots about air fighting and dive-bombing.

The RAF were pleased, of course, to have Indian pilots fighting in the war against Japan, but politics entered into the question. There were no sergeants. All pupils were officers. There was no question of grounding poor pilots. After qualifying from the OTU they went to Indian Squadrons and, if not good enough but survivors, they went on more training courses.

On page 89, describing my training at Amarda Road Air Fighting Unit, there is a story about Flying Officer Sen. I saw him there making the worst landing, in an American-built Vultee Vengeance dive bomber, that I have ever seen. I was soon to see him again as one of my pupils at Peshawar - and fly with him! A number of my other pupils had similar awful flying standards. Not until after VJ day when it became apparent that India would soon become independent of Britain - and Pakistan was formed - were we told that we should get rid of the 'dead wood', the poor pilots. Plans were forming for independent Indian and Pakistan air forces.

My first flights at Peshawar were 'back seat' trips in Harvards, with instructors, to get used to flying the aircraft from there and lining up on other aircraft and the dive-bombing target while peering through a long telescope-like sight.

The pupils flew in the front seat, using a normal and easier reflector sight.

On 13 March I had the pleasure of taking up Army type, Lieutenant Hollas on a Tactical Reconaissance flight - including a few aerobatics, just for fun - before sampling a couple of flights with my first pupils, Pilot Officer Chitnis and Pilot Officer Singh, on range and deflection shooting camera gun exercises.

From then until the end of the month it was almost back seat every time, carrying out quarter attacks on other Harvards, rolling attacks and firing at drogue targets, apart from an air test on a Hurricane and just over an hour sampling solo Harvard night flight, with a brilliant moon making everything almost as light as day. The coolness of the night meant that there were no bumps up and down from rising hot air so this and the clear view made it a really enjoyable night flight.

During the following March days I flew with 20 pupils, noting in my diary that they varied from 'hopeful' to 'hopeless'. They had wonderful names such as Gulerya, Goday, Kathju, Euleaya and even Edwards!

During the month I joined the Peshawar Club which had a lovely swimming pool complete with high diving boards and a splendid snooker table.

Relaxing at the Club was very pleasant. However, I was brought down a peg or two on Saturday 24 March, by being ordered by the Groupie to take morning parade. I made a real hash of it, with one squad marching diagonally and causing chaos - without my having any idea how to sort matters out.

PHOTOGRAPHS The top pic shows a three-plane Harvard Vic formation. The small photograph below, taken in the Flight office, shows one of my instructing team (fairly sure he was Flying Officer McDonald) completing the daily log. He was certainly a Scot and, if my memory serves me correctly, from Alloa, where I baled out in 1943.

The rather torn picture is of me enjoying a rare flight from Peshawar over the Punjab in Mark Eight Spitfire.

The bottom photograph, taken by another Peshawar pilot from a photo-reconaissance Spitfire, shows me piloting a Mark Fourteen Spitfire, again over Punjab scenery. Visible differences from the Mark VIII: the canopy hood (giving better visibility behind), and the longer nose, needed to house the immensely powerful Griffon engine, which had replaced the Merlin. The Mark XIV also had a larger tail fin and rudder.

On the ground, another visible difference was the huge five-bladed propeller, needed to absorb and use the power of the Griffon engine.

Three-plane Harvard Vic formation
Flying Officer McDonald(?) in the Flight Office   Me enjoying a rare flight from Peshawar over the Punjab in a Mark Eight Spitfire
Me piloting a Mark Fourteen Spitfire again over Punjab scenery

The technique needed for take off in the Mark 14 was vastly different to the Mark 8. The propeller rotated in the opposite direction which meant that as take off speed built up the aircraft started to swing to the right instead of the left so you had to be ready to put on left rudder to keep straight. Also, the power was such that the left wing dipped, so you had to use the control column to keep the wing up and level. For good measure, you had to be careful not to put the nose too far forward in case the huge five-bladed propeller started chewing up the runway. Get all these things right and you became airborne, at which point the aircraft began to behave and to build up speed very quickly. In the air it was joy to fly.

Thought it might be worth putting in something about the different Marks of Spitfire which I flew. They all kept basically to R J Mitchell's design principles, although becoming more powerful, faster and usually better armed with each development so most people (including the Germans and perhaps the Japs during the war years) have a job knowing which is which.

The Mark I and Mark II versions which I flew at Grangemouth Operational Training Unit had a maximum speed of 361 mph and could reach a height of 34,500 feet.

The Mark VIII Spitfire with which 155 Squadron was equipped had a maximum speed of 408 mph and could reach 43,000 (plus!) feet. I had one up to 44,000 feet.

The Mark V Spitfire was the type I flew when attending, with the Squadron, an instructors' course in India about air fighting. This was, of course, the reason why some months later I was posted to take over the Air Firing Flight at 151 (Indian) Operational Training Unit at Peshawar.

The Mark V had a similar maximum speed to the Mark I and Mark II but could reach an operational ceiling of 38,000 feet.

The Mark XIV had a maximum speed of 439 mph, had a tremendous rate of climb and was quite happy at 43,000 feet, a height at which the thin air there meant the other Marks were apt to wallow a bit.

I think the Spitfire Marks reach 24 and, in addition, there were other changes made such as longer wing tips to give better control at great heights and cropped wing tips to increase the rate of roll at low level - not to forget the development of what were called Seafires to fly from aircraft carriers, a job for which the long-nosed Spitfire or Seafire, giving a poor forward view when coming in to land, were not suitable, plus the fact that the undercarriage was not really strong enough to be thumped down on a hard deck.

Pic captions. Top left: I'm in the left in the group of three (and it is not me smoking the pipe); top right: tennis courts at the station; Second row: Anyone for tennis? That's me ready for a game. Third row: Me and another instructor having cycled into Peshawar - and I am pipe smoking; and a Peshawar street scene with some chap on the left trying to sell his wares.

I'm in the left in the group of three   Tennis courts at the station
Anyone for tennis? Me and another instructor having cycled into Peshawar
Some chap on the left trying to sell his wares

At this point the commentary ceased, but there are still some photos. Evidently Dad had plans to keep adding to the album, but his sudden ill-health got in the way. I have included the remaining air force pictures. Some of them were annotated on the back and I have included these annotations.


A happy smile
from Spike
Goldie me

'Goldie' is Raphael Goldstein. He was a French flyer and friend of Norman's. He was always known as Goldie, and to him Daddy was Eddie. I knew that Goldie had escaped across the Channel from occupied France (in a fishing boat, I believe), and he had joined the RAF. The above commentary does not mention him, so I was unsure when the two met. However, I recently found another reference to him on the web. This shows that he attended 151 OTU, and so that is presumably where the two met.

The two kept in touch after the war. Our family visited his family, while on a holiday in Brittany in the 1970s. At that time we met Goldie's son Phillipe, who was responsible for his web entry. Later I also met his other son, Bernard. This was in England, and Bernard was in a hospital bed. He had been racing a motorcycle at Oulton Park, Cheshire – and had come off

Goldie and his wife also visited Dad and Mum, as shown in photos below.

They kept in touch at least by swapping Christmas cards each year. One year Goldie's card did not arrive, and so I had the job of using my schoolboy French to phone his wife, who confirmed our fear that he had died.

A happy smile from Spike   Goldie   me


FrankieFrank Lloyd Peshawar
Den Allen and bride 


NE Sports jacket. Morcambe 24 August 1942 New tropical kit (??) Nigel outside bungalow
  ? Bert Peacock, Johnny Parsons on same course. Dog Butch. All just been swimming.
Day before w.up? parade Oct 45 Rangoon
Jan 46 65 Squadron Rangoon Oct 45 Val at Rangoon. Crashed Spit behind
  New tropical kit (??) Nigel outside bungalow
Day before w.up? parade   ? Bert Peacock, Johnny Parsons on same course.

                Dog Butch. All just been swimming.
Day before w.up? parade   Oct 45 Rangoon
Jan 46 65 Squadron Rangoon   Oct 45 Val at Rangoon. Crashed Spit behind
Air Firing Flight at Ambala  

Air Firing Flight at Ambala

The back of this picture is clearly marked 'Crown Copyright' - sorry your madge. It also circles one of the faces, 'Walter'.

There is no caption on this picture, but I (Alistair) recognize it as my mother, Beth, in the uniform she wore as a Red Cross volunteer. The picture was taken the back garden of her home in Munro Place, Anniesland, Glasgow. Gateway to India Bombay
Goldie at Ambala 

On this page we see 'Goldie' Goldstein, who was also mentioned above. I believe the bottom-right, colour picture was of Goldie and his wife – and our mother, Beth, outside our family home in Stanneylands Drive, Wilmslow.

Beth Ewing in Red Cross uniform   Gateway to India Bombay
Goldie at Ambala

155 Reunion

The final pictures are evidently more recent. Apparently they were taken at a squadron reunion in Cambridge, on 30 July 2002. The squadron veterans are:
Standing, left to right: Denis Lloyd, Sqn Ldr Lionel 'Rubber' Thorogood, 'Tex' Baxter, Sqn Ldr Ian 'Bats' Krohn (half hidden), Sqn Ldr Gordon Conway, Sid Munro, Norman Curtis, Don Hoffman, Norman Edwards. Seated: Albert 'Witt' Wittridge.

I assume the lower picture is of the members' wives. Mum is in the centre, in the yellow dress and the only other one I have had identified is Diana Munro, who is fifth from the left (next-but-one to Mum).

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