By JOHN SMITH, 190 Squadron
I was posted to Leicester East from Lakenheath in January 1944, joining 190 Squadron. (The Ground Crew later known as S.E. 6190). Conditions for forming the Squadrons could not have been worse, the weather was foul. The ground between the living huts was so waterlogged that duck- boards were laid to enable us to walk to and fro.
It was the practice of Airmen to keep their best tunic trousers folded in between the bedding blankets to keep the creases in. This proved to be a mistake under the terrible weather conditions at Leicester East, we found that the exposed edges of the trousers to be gnawed and odd holes appearing in the material. It was found out later that mice h ad been forced indoors by the wet conditions and had decided to eat our trousers! Though why they did not have a go at the blankets and attacked the trouser only was never explained. We had an awful job to convince the NCO in charge of the Clothing Store the reason our clothing had been damaged.
Fleet Air Arm personnel were seconded to the R.A.F. and a group of electricians joined us. They were allocated to a glider for the journey to Fairford. In charge of the group was a certain Petty Officer. The tale goes that on the way down the glider was subjected to quite a lot of turbulence, the Petty.Officer had decided to peel an orange much to the distress of his co-passengers, but he thought it quite funny.
Arriving at Fairford Railway Station, those who had bicycles were ordered to find them in the wagons attached to the train and ride them to the new camp. On the way, riding with my pal, (Pete Stopher) we came to the first pub in the town, The Railway Inn , deciding as we passed to return and pay it a visit. This we did, entering the only bar open and found it packed. We had only 2/8d between us, still awaiting pay day! Armed with all our fortune in the world I fought my way to the bar, ordered two pints of beer from the landlady who informed me that the beer was I/- a pint plus a deposit of I/- on each glass. I returned to my pal Pete who was by the door and told him the terrible news. We were deciding what to do, when we were addressed by a tall well built man of mature age "not enough money?" he asked, "No" I said, "How much have you got?" he asked, "2/8d" I replied. "Give me two bob I`ll get your beer, but you better let me have the glasses back and I'll be watching you ". He did not look the sort of person you would want to cross. Needless to say we accepted his offer, enjoyed our beer and returned the glasses. That man later became my father-in-law. I asked him why he had made that offer to us that night, he said that he did not know, not having done it before or since!
A buzz went around the camp one mid-day that an aircraft was in trouble and trying a belly landing. The perimeter track alongside the runway was packed with spectators. Apparently the aircraft on its first approach had slewed from the runway onto the grass. The port undercarriage hit an object causing such damage that it became unusable and hung from the wing waving about. The pilot showed great skill in taking off and climbing away after his earlier mistake. It was clear that the control tower were talking him down to try a belly landing. The idea was to land with the undercarriage leg folded back towards the tail to minimize the risk of the aircraft slewing too much to port. Time after time he came into land, just as it looked as though it was alright the undercarriage leg would move and the aircraft pulled away and climbed. The tension was mounting amongst the watchers by this time and it looked as though it would end in failure. At last it made a perfect, safe landing. The cheering from the onlookers must have been heard for miles!
We had seen tugs flying off pulling gliders on many,.many, occasions this time it was different. An area had been marked out with white tape on the airfield and instead of landing on the runway after release, the gliders were landing in the marked off area. The skill of the glider pilots now became apparent, as the space on the landing zone filled, spaces were becoming more difficult to find. A glider would come down in a steep dive and pull out to almost a hover and land in a small space he had spotted. More was to come, the zone soon filled until no space was left between the gliders, but more were still in the air and had to land. Now for the real skill! Gliders would come into land with the same approach but would bounce one glider into another until they came to rest not on an even keel, but with enough space to unload their cargo. This practice was almost the sole topic of conversation around the camp for quite a while.
Personnel not on essential duties were detailed to attend a lecture (this was for all ranks). It was given by a Squadron Leader from Intelligence. He said he had been in the area for two weeks, going into shops and pubs. Then he proceeded to call out peoples names telling them who their families were, where they came from etc,etc. This information was gathered, he said, merely by listening to conversations. Unfortunately, details of an operational nature were also gleaned, if he had been an enemy agent things could have gone badly wrong. He concluded by saying " Careless talk costs lives!" A security clamp was then put on the camp with armed guards and barriers across all approach roads, checking anyone entering or leaving the camp without an official pass.
A member of the Fleet Air Arm Electricians had gone to the NAAFI to buy razor blades only to find there were none in stock, (the security clamp was making deliveries to the NAAFI erratic) He decided that he had every reason not to shave, after several warnings he was charged for not shaving. On answering the charge he gave his reason for not shaving, when questioned by the officer why he had not borrowed a blade, he said it was against King's Regulations to borrow. The charge was dropped. A week later he was again charged for the same offence, he was found guilty and sentenced to 14 days jankers! (He'd forgotten to check the NAAFI, who'd had a delivery the day before he was charged ).
D-Day and Arnhem had passed and we had moved to Dunmow, our living quarters were quite cramped, compared to Fairford. We had to share two tiered bunks. Such a couple sharing a bunk were Freddie Smith and Wally Hardman, both electrician 2's servicing aircraft on flights.
Each evening after tea. beds would be made up for the night. As these two went about this chore they would strike up harmonious songs, they were so good no one ever complained, and we would not be deprived of this excellent entertainment. Freddie had been a projectionist in civvy- street, he was asked to perform this duty in the camp cinema for which he was paid a small fee. Bad luck struck Freddie, his issue cycle was stolen from outside the airman's mess though padlocked and chained. He reported this loss to the Authorities, but was still charged £14 for loss of equipment but not charged with neglect. He was a married man with a young family and made a voluntary payment home each week. The £14 had to be paid back at £1 a week from a sum of £2 10s a week! He spent countless hours searching the cycles outside the mess at each meal- time looking for his lost bike. His efforts were duly rewarded a few months later when he found it outside the mess. Jubilantly he told us, we guarded the bike waiting for it to be claimed, which it duly was and the thief was marched off to the Guard Room by a whole gang of electricians. The man was duly charged and sentenced. The return of Freddie's £14 took a long time to get back.
The Electrical Section at Dunmow was quite something. Gone were the Nissen huts we had always worked from and in their place was a very old building, the day room for the lady of the estate.* The entrance was from a courtyard through a tunnel into a room 40ft x 25ft and the ceiling was some 25ft high. At one end was an internal balcony with a large window looking over the lawns. The Electrical Officer chose this for his office, having the inside rail boarded up to the ceiling to give privacy. The top half of the inside wall had a mural painted on it depicting a sunken Italian garden, actually the real one in the gardens. What a place to call a workshop and with marvelous views from a French Window out over the lawns! It did wonders for moral.
After V E Day activity was slow, aircraft were being sent all over the place doing transport work . We Ground Crew were having a boring life, no work on aircraft, so we Electricians were given the job of maintaining the electrical services on camp. My friend and I were charged with maintaining the supplies to the WAAF site, checking sockets and lighting supplies, very mundane and tedious work. October 1945 saw my parting from 190 Squadron, I was posted to Yorkshire (Melbourne) to a BABS Flight using Oxfords. Soon after my arrival the ‘drome closed and I moved on to Full Sutton, briefly back to Fairford and from there to RAF Manston. Eventually I was posted to Luneberg in Germany and finally back to Kirkby near Preston for Demob. There ended my RAF career.
John Smith, 190 Squadron
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