OTU - Enstone
We got to OTU - Operational Training Unit -
around March 1944, and it was there we got "crewed-up". The way they did this was they assembled at the hangar equal numbers
of Pilots, Bomb-Aimers, Navigators and
Wireless Operators, plus double the number of Air Gunners, and we
were told to sort ourselves out with one of each plus two gunners.
I finished up with
"Bunny" Hare as Pilot; Harold (Smudge) Smith as Navigator;
a Welshman known as Taffy Davis as
Bomb-Aimer (I never did know his first name); me as Wireless
Operator; and two gunners who'd already paired up, Ken Wheeler and
Ivor Saunders. In fact, they'd already decided which one was going
where, with Ken at the back and Ivor in the
The OTU was at a place called Enstone, about
seven or eight miles outside of Oxford, which is where we used to go
when we had time off. We would go down to the main road about half a
mile away and hitch-hike lifts; on one occasion an ambulance stopped
"Alright, where you going, Oxford?"
asked the driver. "Oh yeah, get in the back, but sit on the
left hand side".
When we got in we saw why - the stretcher bit
on the right hand side was covered up with a
sheet, with a body underneath. Very nice!
Training in the Wellington Bomber
The training as a crew was carried out flying
on Wellingtons doing circuits-and-bumps, daylight and night-time
cross countries, and bombing practice. Sometimes you had a practice
bomb which just went down but didn't go off, but usually it was what
they call "photos", in other
words when the Bomb Aimer pressed his button it took a photo of what
was underneath, from which they were
able to work out where the bomb would have landed. Funnily
enough all the rest of the crew had to have one go each, and we got
some hilarious results. I can't remember where mine was, but I don't
think the target was actually in the photograph at all, because it's
very difficult to judge!
Bomb-aimer holding an F24 aerial camera in the nose of a Blenheim
(possibly of No 139 Squadron RAF) during an unescorted aerial
photography mission over France.
One night we were on a cross-country heading
from Enstone north-west across Wales to the
Irish Sea, across the sea to a point near Northern Ireland,
north-east across to the north of Scotland, then south down the
middle of England. We were flying on what's known
as Dead Reckoning, in other words the Navigator had to rely more or
less on navigating without any outside aids except timing.
As we were flying across Wales the Navigator
came on the intercom and asked the Pilot if he could borrow his watch
- both the Navigator and the Pilot were issued with then state-of-
the-art watches such as Rotary or Omega, so they would keep good
time. But the pilot came back that his had also stopped - so we had
two watches that weren't going, which was a little bit worrying as we
weren't allowed to go through to direction finding stations and get
any fixes or anything. We could have gone miles off-course and
finished up either getting shot at by the Southern Irish, or even
going straight across without knowing it and finishing
up somewhere in the Atlantic.
As luck would have it, about a week before I'd
joined up I'd treated myself to a watch from Woolworth’s
which cost half-a-crown. As mine was still going I passed it to
Smudge, so they navigated on my cheap
watch and we eventually got back to Enstone. Of course any incident
such as that had to be reported, and we were told:
"Oh yeah, that quite often happens when
you're flying over Wales, because of the magnetic influence of the mountains there!".
I thought that’s nice, they should've told us
before we went not after!
The Eve of D-Day
On the night of the 5th of June 1944, us and
about five other crews were appointed to do what
was called a 'Window" exercise. That consisted of having the
aircraft fuselage loaded up with bundles
of "Window" (strips of aluminium paper in bundles), flying
out to a point over the North Sea then "stooging" up one
way for a certain length of time at a certain speed whilst the
Wireless Operator (me) - who had the flare chute next to him -kept
stuffing bundles of "Window" down the chute. Then the plane
would turn round and go back the other
way, turn again and go back up again, backwards and forwards until
all the "Window" was used up. They issued me with two pairs
of thick gloves because if you tried
doing this with bare hands you would be cut to ribbons.
We had used up all of our "Window"
and were stooging back when we got a wireless message saying we had
been diverted to nearby Moreton-in-the- Marsh. We subsequently learned
this was because it was a bit misty that night, and one of the
aircraft - arriving home before us - had had it's undercarriage
collapse on landing and was stuck on the runway,
so we couldn't land there. The mist at Moreton-in-the-Marsh wasn't
too bad, and some crew vans were sent
over to take us back to Enstone.
of a plane’s flight path on Operation ‘Glimmer’, a similar
diversionary exercise involving dropping 'window' (chaff) on the eve of D-Day
Each van could carry two crews, and we started
off on the way back - not very fast, because by then it really was
getting foggy. Of course we had no lights, because of the Blackout.
Suddenly we heard this loud bang - we had been hit by a Sherman tank
driven by some Americans who were on
their way down to the south coast. The accident had completely taken
the side off the van, but only one person (a member of the other
crew) had been injured (he had a broken
elbow). There were no problems for the rest of us, except
we had to hang on tight on the way back because there was only one
side left on the van!
The next morning we were told we could put it
in our log books in red ink, which meant that it counted as an
operation. What all us Wellingtons had been doing - stooging up and
down dropping "Window" - was
to create a diversion, to make sure the Germans kept their
north-Germany and Holland based fighters up in that area (because
they had no idea if there was a raid coming or not), thus keeping
them away from where all the action was taking place in Normandy (the
We were given the rest of the day off, so that
evening Ken, Ivor, Smudge and myself decided
we'd go into Oxford. We hitched a lift up there, and were just
deciding which pub we'd go in when we
were approached by two Wrens.
"Would you like to go to a dance? Oh come
on, it's free!".
On the way, they told us they'd had this dance
organised for months, and that soldiers from
a nearby camp were supposed to be the dancing partners. But the
soldiers had all been sent away, so the
Wrens had been sent out in pairs with instructions to bring back
anything that had trousers on! When we
got there, we found they'd picked up a mixture of Sailors,
Soldiers who weren't away, Air Force, and some civilians. Just before
9 o'clock the Commanding Officer of the
Wrens came out onto the stage where the little band was playing,
and stopped them and announced:
"Right, now we are going to listen to the
They brought out a little table and a radio,
plugged it in and switched it on, but nothing happened.
They took the plug out, looked at it, put it back in again and kicked
it, switched on again, but still nothing
happened. So the CO came up to the front of the stage:
"Is there anybody out there who knows
anything about wireless?" he asked.
I was standing there with an "S"
brevet on and "sparks" on my sleeve, so I couldn't do
anything else but sort of put my hand up.
"Oh, would you mind coming and having a
look at this?" he asked.
I went up on stage with my fingers crossed,
because I didn't know anything at all about "domestic"
radio - didn't know that much about the insides of the Air Force ones
come to that! Anyway, I borrowed a nail
file off one of the Wrens and managed to get the back off the
Much to my delight, I noticed a wire dangling, and I thought
"Ah! That's got to go somewhere!".
Then I also noticed a piece of solder ("Ah! Perhaps it'll go on
there!"), so I got hold of the wire
and touched it up against the solder, instructing them to switch the radio
They switched it on and the sound came back.
"Oh good! Now we can hear it!"
"Well, I've got to hold this here, I can't leave it or it'll stop again ..."
"Oh carry on then! Fetch him something to
sit on, somebody!"
They brought out an empty fire bucket and
turned it upside down; I sat there holding the wire
against the solder whilst they played God Save the King, after which
he came on and did his song-and-dance act, then they played God Save
the King again, and finally I could let
go. The Commanding Officer came back on the stage.
"Oh well done! A round of applause!".
Then he turned to me and said "Come round the back,
I've got something for you!"
"Oh no, I can't - I've got three mates with me!"
"Bring them as well!"
So all four of us went round the back and were
plied with doses of Navy Rum, after which we
didn’t remember a great deal. We did have a vague memory of being
in a car which they'd laid on to take us
back to the camp, it even drove in right to the door of the hut. I
thought afterwards I must have been one
of the very few people who've sat through not only one but two
renditions of the National Anthem in the presence of a naval
Lieutenant Commander and not been, what
shall we say, severely chided for it, and in fact applauded.
While we were there, Smudge kept getting paid
extra money every pay parade. When he queried
this, he was told "Back Pay". He never discovered why or
was asked for it back. The extra went
into the Post Office and helped to pay for his wedding later.
Shortly after that, we finished our course
there and got posted up to a place called Topcliffe, which was HCU
(Heavy Conversion Unit).