The Magazine of XXIV Squadron Association
Discussions took place over the weekend about the relative merits of the Evening Dinner, which is considered a fitting finale to any Reunion. It was voiced that the cost of a full 4 course waitress service dinner appeared expensive compared to local hotels. Experience also says that it is very rare to sit down in such comparable surroundings as a service mess, with all the history and tradition that lies behind those oak panelled walls, a true like for like comparison is not easy. This "unrest" has not gone unnoticed by the Committee and that is why a third way has been arranged for the 85th and Year 2000 celebrations. All the details are in this years Reunion information pack, so no excuses for anything but a really bumper turnout.
The ‘99 Reunion
After the record attendance of last year, it was a quieter night at the Hilton for the first day of the 1999 Reunion. This did not detract from the friendly atmosphere on Friday night that was noticeable for the number of Flight Engineers clustered round the bar.
The evening is always a good chance to catch up with news from those still licensed and airborne. Needless to say life on the flight deck is not without incident, even when flying one of today’s modern fleet of Jumbo jets. Having to declare an abort of a fully loaded 747 full of freight, fuel and passengers a whisker before V1 underlines the benefit of airmanship, experience and training gained from a long and varied service and company track record. A well organised welcoming party provided by the Squadron Liaison team swung into action Saturday morning to greet Association members and guests on arrival for a full programme organised for the day and evening. Shortly after the formality of the AGM, which reported a cash injection of £1,000 raised from just a third of the membership, a slick presentation was soon up and running from Wing Commander Paul Oborn. This regular feature of the Association weekend is always well received and the perfect way to bring everybody bang up to date.
Operations in Bosnia and Kosova still feature prominently on the monthly work programme, with over 400 missions flown and more than 300 vehicles transported out to the region, including suiting up in body armour for deliveries to the airhead. Stores carried were not all warlike with relief for refugees and children’s toys and gifts taking up some of the cargo hold.
The latest theatre of operation is East Timor with a crew positioned in Darwin led by Sqn Ldr Mike Buckland as detachment commander. The Squadron were also called out for the Turkish Earthquake disaster, taking in sniffer dogs to the very epicentre of the quake as Ismit and landing on a cracked runway. Although this is virtually a Tactical Operation, the Squadron no longer hold that formal qualification, a move initiated as part of the Station rationalisation process to reduce overall costs.
It was 24 Squadron’s turn to lead the 4 ship formation team, the Green Barrows through its summer programme, along with a detachment to the Falklands and South Sandwich islands, which resulted in some pretty spectacular photos of these remote Southern Atlantic outposts. Delays in delivering the C130J (expected 23rd November 99) model has caused a shortage of Navigators and Flight Engineers, who had been allowed to leave for other pastures based on earlier in-service dates for the new model. This shortfall has been partly resolved by recruiting from the Royal Australian Air Force possums.
The Squadron SLUG is the new must be seen with mascot that is starting to appear in front of many famous landmarks photographed by crews around the world, so keep your eyes peeled. It was on such a trip a genuine rickshaw was purchased to transport the OC to his many engagements on the Station. One occasion it was not used was when The Princess Royal visited Lyneham to be hosted by none other than OC 24 Squadron.
A commemorative magazine produce on the Squadron by Inga Davis called "Into the Millennium" manages to show all that Twenty Four is doing operationally and socially, even the Association have a mention; truly a first class effort. This is just one example of the busy social side to the Squadron which is fitted in between the heavy flying workload and raising over a £1,000 for Burton Hill House School.
Part of the afternoons programme, included a flight approved at senior air rank level for Members and Guests to see the local area, always a great success after being off limits for the last few years. Another new feature of the afternoon was an impromptu raffle organised by Mike Phillips, the prize being one of those superb Corgi Avro York models. Well done Mike for raising £30 for the Association funds. Another charitable gesture was the donation of three quality woven blazer badges by Dennis Hobbs. What was unique about them was the "Commonwealth" Squadron wording, a bit of a collectors item by now, many thanks Dennis.
The Ladies Guest Night saw a change of venue after 5 years to the Sergeants Mess, with the aim to be able to bring ALL ranks together for the evening. All agreed that the Mess looked after every detail to bring about a most relaxed and intimate atmosphere for the dinner as the hours flew by. This was in part due to interesting and amusing round of speeches, most notable being the résumé by Air Chief Marshall John Cheshire of a rare insight into the strategy of NATO.
Our special thanks go out to the Squadron for still giving us the full treatment and assistance, despite a workload that left very few personnel able to take advantage of the Reunion. dinner. Year 2000 is the Squadrons 85th Anniversary, a date that will not be lost on both past and present members of 24 Squadron.
Flying Machines of 24 - Avro York
To continue with our reverse order canter back in time of the 24 Squadron fighting machines, it is the turn of the Avro York.
Many books and articles are available which illustrate its development from drawing board to Museum. In fact this last resting place is, as mentioned in a previous Newsletter, is where an ex 24 airframe is in the course of restoration in full view of visitors to Duxford. A real live project in the making.
The facts used in this article are from Aviation News mini-monograph series by Chris Ashworth and donated by Association member, Air Commodore Mitchell.
Transport aircraft development took a very low priority during the first two years of WW2. A mixture of converted obsolescent bombers, flying boats and ‘impressed’ civilian aircraft were used supplemented with American aircraft on order as the sensible solution. During early 1942 an instruction to proceed with 6 prototype from the Avro project was given by the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Interestingly, two of these prototypes were to be powered by Hercules radial engines because of the worries of availability of Merlins. This in itself caused two secondary design problems, the empty weight would go up by 3,00lb due to the radials and using radials in what was a Lancaster derivative would delay approval to first flight.
Four distinct versions were required, troop carrier, passenger transport, a paratrooper and a freight carrier, along with some sub options within those. First flight was eventually set for 5th July 1942, with Captain H A (Sam) Brown in the left hand seat and development flight to start 5 days later. Brown pronounced himself well satisfied with the aircraft apart from a slight yawing problem in the side slip case. This had been anticipated to a certain degree by RAE Farnborough who had suggested that more fin area would be required and recommended the addition of a third, centrally mounted fin.
Specification C1/42 was issued on 18th August for 200 Yorks to be capable of mounting Hercules or Merlin engines, a range of 3,000 miles at 20,000 ft at economical cruising speed with a load of 8,000 lb. On 17 September Avro were informed that the third prototype was to be completed as a special for use by the Prime Minister and to be fitted with Merlin XXIIs and a VVIP interior, which included sleeping berths, a state room and a conference room. This special was finally taken on charge in March 1943 at Ringway as fin number LV633 along with unique rectangular windows. It then went on to A&AEE for acceptance trials where it was damaged when a Liberator hit B Squadron hangar while attempting to take-off. LV633 was quickly repaired and delivered to RAF Hendon on 21st May. Four days later it departed for Gibraltar on a positioning flight and the start of its career as Ascalon.
It was not until early June that major assemblies for the first VIP aircraft, MW100, were complete and work could start on the furnishings. After further delay due to late deliveries of furnishings, MW 100 was delivered to Northolt on 16 October, followed by MW101 in November. This aircraft was to spend time with Transport Command stripped of any camouflage with No 1359 Flight or 24 Squadron. MW104, delivered in February 1944 became the first standard production York C.Mk1 to enter service with the RAF.
York in Service
The first York in service, LV633, arrived at Hendon in May 1943 after being rushed through trials at Boscombe Down and was taken on charge by No. 24 Squadron, a unit flying a large variety of rather smaller communications aircraft and a few Dakotas at the time. The York was furnished as a VVIP transport to the special requirements of the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who at last had his own British built aircraft in place of the uncomfortable Liberator previously at his disposal.
The approaches at Hendon were obstructed and the airfield was small so LV633 was quickly transferred to Northolt, but remained the personal charge of Wing Commander H.B. Collins, the Commanding Officer of No. 24 Squadron. It was he who suggested naming the aircraft Ascalon after St George’s legendary sword. Ascalon was immediately readied for its first ‘special’ flight and after last minute improvements to the on-board catering facilities the aircraft captained by Collins set off for Gibraltar. The York arrived on 26 May to rendezvous with the Boeing 314 flying boat which brought the Prime Minister across the Atlantic fresh from the Trident conference with President Roosevelt in Washington. With Mr Churchill aboard, Ascalon flew to North Africa for a tour of the battlefield, going as far south as the Mareth Line. After talks in Algiers he left for home, flying a circuitous route over the Atlantic to land at Northolt early 3 June.
Further trips took place during that June around North Africa finally landing back at Northolt on the 25th. It was decided that Ascalon could not safely cross the Atlantic westbound so it was not used for the Quebec conference in August, Mr Churchill having to go by sea, much to his disgust. Ascalon remained unused at Northolt until early November, by which time it had been joined by the first eight seat VIP York, MW100, nominally on the charge of No. 511 Squadron. During the momentous early months of 1944 Ascalon and the two VIP Yorks now in service were little used but after Overlord there was a flurry of activity. Wing Commander Collins relinquished command of No. 24 Squadron in August 1944 and the captaincy of Ascalon passed to Wing Commander E.G. Fraser, AFC, previously the co-pilot.
On 23 September all three Yorks at Northolt were transferred to the Metropolitan Communications Squadron for administrative purposes, though operationally under the direct control of HQ Transport Command. Responsibility for the conduct of flights remained with Fraser and on 5th October he was summoned to the Cabinet Office to be told that the Prime Minister was to fly to Moscow via Cairo, the complete VIP Flight and other aircraft from 511 Squadron, Lyneham, being put on standby - including MW104, a 24 seat first class passenger variant of the York. Ascalon overflew France at night en route to Naples where a conference was held with General Alexander before the Prime Minister flew on to Cairo.
Meanwhile the VIP Flight had been disbanded at Northolt in September 1945 and replaced by No 1359 Flight which formed at Lyneham on 1 December equipped with Yorks and Lancastrians. Initially administered by 511 Squadron, the Flight became self-supporting on 1st January 1946 and moved to Bassingbourn on 20th February. It was absorbed by No 24 Squadron on 1st July, the whole unit then concentrating on VIP and ‘Special’ flights.
More of the York and 24 Squadron in Issue 8 of the Newsletter.
Galley Slave's View
In the summer of 1945 I was a u/t navigator in Canada, when the atom bombs on Japan brought the war to an abrupt end. Training continued for a while, until the British government realised with horror that we were costing them valuable dollars. A particularly enjoyable night exercise, the Anson cruising in silky smooth air over moon-glinting Lake Manitoba and the brilliant lights of Winnipeg, won a complimentary endorsement on my log by the skipper, and life seemed good. But we were brought down to earth with a crash when next morning's inquest into our charts and logs was terminated unexpectedly with the words: "Sorry, chaps! We've had orders for all training to cease immediately. Hand in your sextants and then report to stores with your flying kit." We were only three weeks away from the final Wings exam and stripes, or maybe a commission. But within forty-eight hours we were on our way back to Moncton and the UK, stripped even of the LAC props which the RCAF had bestowed on our sleeves.
Demob was a protracted process — it was over two years before our numbers came up — and meanwhile we were remustered to ground trades. After a storebashing course, I was posted to a unit in 46 Group. Unknown to me at the time, that happened to be the parent group of 24 Squadron, and so it was that one day when I happened to read SROs I spotted an ‘advert' asking for volunteers as air quartermasters for VIP aircraft. I had no idea what an AQM was, but it sounded like a chance to return to flying and I was one of 36 to apply at RAF Pershore alone.
The one question I remember from the first interview with the Station Adjutant was "Could you cook bacon and eggs in a swaying aircraft?" Crossing my fingers I assured him that I could (though I never saw an aircraft suitably equipped for that menu). The bods he picked were sent to Group HQ for further interview by a group captain who tried to shake our enthusiasm by telling us "It's a very hard job. Passengers are sometimes airsick — would you mind clearing up afterwards?" "Of course not, Sir. It would be an honour." (I don't think I put it quite like that, but he evidently thought that my flannel would be useful for the purpose.)
Two of us from Pershore were selected, and with a dozen from elsewhere we reported to Bassingbourn to begin our training on 1st April 1947. The existing AQMs seemed to be all ex-operational aircrew: gunners, wireless ops etc made redundant, and nearing demob, so we were needed to replace them. (After our disappointment in Canada, I could appreciate their feelings a few weeks later when those still with us were stripped of their stripes and evicted from the Sergeants Mess.) They acted as our instructors, and were keen to pass on as many of the tricks of the trade as they could, with much stress on loyalty. In view of their background, Rule 1 was Always look after your crew. (We were a mixed bunch, from many different trades, and few had any prior notion of the sort of self-sufficient teamwork that would be involved in operating an aircraft, especially on long trips away from base.) Then came loyalty to the unit, recently favoured with the title No 24 (Commonwealth) Squadron, whose honour we must maintain by ensuring that, as we would have such influential passengers, a good impression would always be given to them. And as we would be landing at many foreign cities, for the honour of the Royal Air Force we, and our aircraft, must be the smartest on any airfield we visited.
Finally, we must look after our passengers in terms of safety, nourishment and comfort. Civil airlines, which had ceased operation during the war, had not yet been fully established, and they operated only a handful of routes; meanwhile, conferences of various kinds were being held all over the world, so our squadron was entrusted with the conveyance of statesmen and senior personnel to places not yet on the airline map, sometimes at very short notice. I suspect that this was the real origin of the motto ‘Insomnia Parati'.
We were introduced to the facilities in the three types of aircraft operated by the squadron. The York had quite a roomy galley, screened from the passenger cabin by curtains, so that access with loaded trays was no problem. There was a refrigerator on one side, and on the other was what was referred to as a 'haybox' but was actually an electrically heated cupboard — it could keep food warm but was not really intended for proper cooking. Each of these items had a good-sized flat top on which to lay out numbers of dining plates for serving up, and on the ‘wall' above the haybox was a crockery cupboard fitted to retain our best china during bumpy weather. (I almost typed ‘landings' there, but of course in Twenty-Four we never experienced bumpy ones; well, hardly ever.)
Above the fridge was a capacious electric urn with many uses: it could not only provide hot water for tea and coffee, but could heat up tins of soup, beans, spam and vegetables and could produce poached eggs (lowered into it in empty tins with handles improvised from wire or string). While boiled eggs would also have been possible, we were advised against them, as the urn's tap was a couple of inches above its base (so the element would not boil dry) and the egg water could not be completely drained before the next brew of tea. And of course after a three-course meal for maybe twenty people there was a lot of washing up requiring quantities of hot water. The York's sink was of ample size, but we were given dire warnings about never using soda, which would have disastrous effects on the aircraft's structure. Just aft of the galley was the rear loading hatch, and stowage for parachutes, baggage and boxes of catering supplies.
As the Dakotas were normally only used on fairly short trips, catering arrangements were more basic, and varied in layout from one aircraft to another. Prepared food was generally taken aboard in large wide-necked thermos flasks, and used crockery was stowed for attention after landing.
Unlike those two types in which the AQM could stand upright, the Lancastrian had a galley so cramped as to be almost unbelievable. It was between the passenger cabin and the main spar, and it was above the former bomb bay (which now housed a large fuel tank) so that headroom was extremely limited. The fuselage was less than half the width of the York's, so the passengers sat facing sideways. Their gangway was on the starboard side and that arrangement was continued in the galley, reached through a narrow door up a step the depth of the bomb bay; this made delivery of meal trays a dodgy affair.
A refrigerator occupied the whole width to port of the gangway, and the space between that and the rear bulkhead of the galley was just wide enough to take a seat — not that there was often much opportunity to use it as such, but it had been specially constructed as a stack of wooden boxes with a padded top, to house cutlery, crockery and so on. Above the fridge was a small space for supplies, and a water tank above that, with an electric urn mounted almost over the seat. The only flat surfaces on which to set out plates or cups and saucers were the top of the fridge, and a small ledge along the starboard ‘wall', narrower than a dinner plate and impossible to use in bumpy conditions.
The sink was a tiny metal one which folded up against the starboard side, and was reached by climbing over the spar, so washing up was, well, difficult. Thermos flasks and boxes of provisions littered what little floor space there was. Catering for up to fifteen people in such conditions required much ingenuity. Used crockery could not just be stacked up for washing after landing, because we regularly flew legs of twelve hours and more, which meant two or three full meals to be provided, plus intermediate tea or coffee with biscuits and cakes, and there would simply not have been room to stow more than one set. So it was rather like painting the Forth Bridge: as soon as one lot of washing up was dried it was needed for the next round, and the only relaxation was when a few minutes were snatched in which to prepare the ‘shopping list' of fodder required at the next stop.
The ‘old lags' urged us never to forget that, as members of a VIP crew, when away from base we should lay claim to VIP treatment by way of accommodation and catering. They gave us instruction in the art of providing provisions and vital victuals. The technique was, immediately on landing, to seek out the most senior available catering officer and make an introduction on the lines of "I am the personal air quartermaster of Air Chief Marshal A / the Right Honourable Lord B, and here is a list of the supplies for n people to be delivered to Lancastrian VM--- at 0430 local tomorrow morning for a flight of twelve hours plus." We had to envisage the requirements for up to three meals and intermediate refreshments, for half-a-dozen crew and (in the Lanc) up to nine passengers.
The list would include copious quantities of tinned fruit, fresh fruit, fancy cakes, soft drinks and (for the sake of appearance) more mundane items such as tinned meat, beans, spaghetti, bread rolls, cheese, eggs, salad items, sandwiches and reserve tins of soup to back up the initial supplies of hot soup and coffee to be taken on board in large thermos flasks. And plenty of chocolate biscuits if John Richardson was co-pilot, though few of those would survive until the arrival of the passengers. It needs to be remembered that in the UK at that time biscuits and tinned foods were still rationed on ‘points', and buying cakes required the surrender of BUs (‘bread units'), so overseas trips were an opportunity to indulge somewhat, and the key to a happy crew was in our hands.
At the larger airfields, there was usually no problem about obtaining the supplies that I ordered. The catering officer would presumably be aware of the identity of our passengers, as he would have needed to provide for them in the mess, and would have wished to avoid any adverse comments if subsequent meals in flight were not up to standard. At smaller establishments which were rarely graced by VIPs, with only a corporal cook in charge, there was sometimes a more sceptical reaction. There was just one occasion when my tactics failed utterly. It had been a long day: take-off from Mauripur had been scheduled for 0530 local time (which had meant an early call at 0300) and it was nearly ten hours to Palestine for refuelling, then another six-and-a-half hours to Luqa.
We had been flying before daybreak, and landed after dark, so I flopped into bed as soon as possible, with an early call booked for 0630. After only half an hour of kip I was woken and told that I was wanted urgently on the phone in the Sergeants Mess — I dressed and went over, to be told by Load Control that the catering officer had rejected my shopping list and we could only have basic ration boxes; I was not amused by the disturbance, but was too tired to plead my case. Surely the decision was not influenced by a passenger list mainly of Army personnel?
Sometimes passengers had their own staff arrange their food supplies, but our instructors advised never to rely on their doing so: "They are sure to forget something vital so always plan to cater for the whole lot just in case."
There were varied reactions to this. Bringing Lord Louis Mountbatten urgently to Northolt from Delhi for discussions on the partition of India/Pakistan, our second refuelling stop was at Fayid after fifteen hours flying. Another crew was waiting to take over from there but there was no spare AQM so, as I was to continue, I went off to stock up (and take the opportunity to get myself a good feed at the airfield buffet). His Excellency, who had been whisked off by car to the mess, returned and seemed annoyed to find that I had not made up beds for himself and Lady M; I had assumed I could do that in the air. He asked what I had been doing while he was away, and I told him I had been obtaining refreshments for the final two legs; "But according to the plan supplies were to be sent from Viceroy's House" he grumbled. I apologised, and got on with the bed-making, thinking it best not to go into explanations that, though the passengers had been provided for, they would be sleeping while the crew still had twelve hours flying ahead and I intended to produce another couple of meals.
By contrast, when I had Field Marshal Montgomery for a passenger I was told beforehand that I would not need to arrange food, as it would be supplied by the War House. Nevertheless I did as advised during training, and put supplies aboard. I asked Monty's aide if I should serve a meal, and he enquired what I could provide. He conferred with his boss, whose words I could not hear, but the tone was of surprised pleasure. The aide came back to the galley to say that my menu sounded preferable to War Office sandwiches, and they would like to start with the soup. Could I claim to have originated the expression ‘Full Monty'?
But that was all in the future. Our training continued through April. We were introduced to the mysteries of Weight & Balance calculations, load sheets, passenger manifests, general aircraft knowledge, and ditching drill for our three types of aircraft. That for the Lancastrian did not inspire much confidence for the survival of the passengers; as they normally faced sideways in a continuous row of nine seats, we would have to persuade the foremost passenger to turn and sit with his back to the galley bulkhead, the second back to him, and so on like a row of dominoes, so that when it came to the crunch No1 would be crushed by the other eight. For a change, the AQM probably had the best position, sitting on the galley floor with back to the main spar and hands clasped behind head. We went up for one or two familiarisation flights on air tests; and we received a variety of jabs culminating in the one for yellow fever which necessitated a visit to the Air Ministry in London, so that we should be serviceable to travel to anywhere in the world. After exams (which only one failed) we were then deemed ready for action.
It was early in May when I first heard what was to become a familiar greeting: "You're on a trip!" "Just a short one, to Paris", I was told during a preliminary chat with the skipper, "so no meals required, but get some biscuits laid on, and plenty of glasses of various types." "???????", I thought. It soon transpired that the very first passenger to have the honour of flying with me was none other than Winston Churchill. As I had not yet flown in a York, I was glad of an opportunity to go on an air test of the one we were to use, so that I could become familiar with the galley and its equipment. A dummy run to Le Bourget was proposed for the next day, with the suggestion that I could serve a cold lunch to the crew to gain experience; but as was to happen so often there was a change of plan, so my first attempt at airborne catering was to be the Real Thing.
After the unrehearsed struggle to stuff seventeen parachutes, harnesses and mae wests into the space over the fuselage petrol tank, it was a relief to be on the way at last, and my worries seemed to fade away as I pulled in the steps and recorded on the load sheet ‘Doors closed 1400'. The usual short positioning flight to Northolt settled my nerves. We taxied to the VIP Reception Room, where the Transport Command Catering Officer came aboard and told me he had organised my supplies: a box of sausage rolls, one of biscuits, one of sandwiches, a basket of cress for garnishing, six flasks of coffee, sugar, tins of milk and many bottles (whisky, gin, soda water, ginger ale and fruit squashes). "And remember that he will reject his ham sandwiches unless you plaster them with mustard", I was advised.
He had also provided a box of rations for the return journey, which I was enjoined to guard with my life! Glancing through the curtains I spotted a delivery of scrambled egg coming my way — carried on the head of the AOC-in-C Transport Command who, accompanied by the group captain who greeted all VIPs passing through Northolt, was checking that everything was in order. He expressed satisfaction, and gave me my pre-flight briefing: "Don't let him have too much to drink." As smoking was not normally permitted in our aircraft but WC was rarely seen without his cigar, the skipper asked "What if he wants to smoke?". The C-in-C turned to me with a sly grin and said "We shall have to leave that to your discretion!"
A convoy of big black shiny cars arrived. Mr & Mrs Churchill, son, daughters, secretary, valet, detective, etc, etc. were welcomed by the C-in-C and escorted past the guard of honour of blancoed SPs, along the white-edged path to the VIP Reception Room to await loading of their luggage. The flight was uneventful and the catering went entirely according to plan, to my immense relief. I took the surplus eatables up to the crew, who set about the chocolate biscuits like a flock of gleeful vultures. Luckily it was after I had tidied up the galley when I had a dilemma to contend with. Mr Churchill said "Please ask my servant to come to me." I could hardly go to each of the entourage in turn, asking "Are you Mr Churchill's servant?" A group of four passengers had distanced themselves slightly from those I judged to be family, so I approached them and without looking at any in particular I said that Mr Churchill wished to speak to his servant. A small man leapt into action. The two of them went into the galley, and as the curtains did not fit very well it was evident that Winston had wanted assistance with adjusting his truss!
As we taxied to the passenger terminal at Le Bourget I saw for the first of many times the reason for the instruction about creating a good impression at foreign airfields: we would be closely observed and reported upon. Every balcony and vantage point was crowded with cheering spectators, and our highly polished MW101 gleamed in the evening sunlight as the cameras clicked. [Next morning's London newspaper report began: ‘Winston Churchill came to Paris tonight, and as his silver plane touched down at the airport .'] Though it was two years since Winston had been ousted from office in the UK, he was still a hero to the French to whom he had made his famous broadcast after France fell to the Boche just seven years ago: "Français! C'est moi, Churchill, qui vous parle. Rearm your spirits before it is too late. We seek to beat the life and soul out of Hitler and Hitlerism . . . "
The purpose of this visit was to receive France's highest military decoration from the Premier, on the second anniversary of VE-Day. After the investiture next day, I was to witness a spectacular parade through the boulevards, lined with contingents from all the French forces. Led by the mounted band of the Garde Républicaine, and with an escort of eighty splendid Algerian Spahis in their white and scarlet robes and mounted on chestnut horses, Winston was standing in an open car waving his cap and V-signing repeatedly to acknowledge the cheers of the dense crowds. "Vive Churcheel!" they yelled. I had to pinch myself to be sure I was not just dreaming that all this was in honour of MY passenger.
‘After the Lord Mayor's Show', as the saying goes . . . When we had parked the aircraft on Friday a muscular French cleaner came aboard, and I was happy to allow her to save me one chore. We returned on Sunday to find that the toilet door was leaning against the ‘wall'. Mme Mopp had not realised that it was intended to slide sideways, and she had managed to wrench it out of its lightweight tracks. So during the homeward flight, whenever a passenger ‘paid a visit' I had to stand outside and lean against the door to keep it in position. Such was the versatility required of a galley slave. That group captain had been quite right— it was hard work, but the opportunities to see the world and to come into close contact with world-famous personalities seemed to be adequate recompense.
JETS ACROSS THE ATLANTIC
On July 14th 1948, 6 R.A.F. Vampires made the first jet crossing of the Atlantic. This historic record breaking flight by 54 Squadron, along with the preparations is recalled by Wg Cdr Bill Wood in an article featured in "Fly Past". The article contains all the facts and figures from the 54 Squadron aspects but also mentions that three Yorks provided additional support, including MW266. It is here that some of the details start to become blurred. According to the Mini Monogram series, York MW266 sustained Cat A damage 30/4/48, was repaired by a Contractors Working Party on 17/6/48 and then to AST Hamble 27/10/48 for mods and inspection. No mention of being with 24 Squadron.
The article and accompanying letter has been sent in by Mr J White of the Rugby Aviation Group after a talk by Roy Skinner who was one of the original Vampire pilots. A 50th Anniversary Tribute was re-flow in the summer of 1998 and Mr White wondered if any of the crews were still around? In the month prior to the original flight, the Vampire crews were taken over the route in a York to see what faced them.
The route flow was :- Odiham, Stornoway, Keflavik - Iceland, Bluie West 1 - Greenland and finally to Goose Bay - Labrador, a distance of 2,202 miles. If this trip triggers off any memories, or you know just who and which Squadron was involved in the support flights, do let us know.
Squadron Leader (retd) David Berry is an ex pilot living in the Chippenham area and promoting his latest book "Specialist Aircrew". This is a light hearted trip down memory lane of his time as an RAF pilot between 1951 to 1991. This is the 5th book from the author who is also a freelance writer and book publisher. The book is a 320 page A5 softback which has over 100 photographs and available direct from the publisher @ £10.99. Send cheques to: Keyham Books, Startley, CHIPPENHAM, Wilts SN15 5HG.
Mike Phillips in his continuing fund raising efforts completed a tandem parachute jump at RAF Weston on the Green from 14,500ft on the 24th July 1999. A sum of £180 was raised for the RAFA Wings appeal and OC 24 Squadron kindly covered the £50 jump fee. The experience went down so well that Mike was scheduled to do a solo jump after further training on 11/12th September. It should be also noted that the tandem jump was filmed on video by the RAFSPA and set to the music of the group Queen.
Holiday Accommodation. Very well equipped, and furnished, self catering studio apartment to rent in rural Mallorca. Suit couple, but further double room, en-suite, with separate entrance also available in our own adjacent rustic house. Air conditioning/central heating, dishwasher, freezer, TV, hi-fi, barbecue, large gardens, swimming pool, shady terraces etc.. Laundry, telephone & fax by arrangement. Close to all amenities but in a quiet area. Flights and car hire (essential) arranged if required. Weekly rentals for 24 Sqn Ass. members from £250 including cleaning, electricity, starter pack, etc.
For further details contact Mike Lythgoe Tel & Fax 00 34 971 602410, or E mail lythgoe at jet dot es
G0NKQ - do you think you recognise this callsign, it might be stiff test of the grey matter. To put you out of your misery, it belongs to Vera Welsh, now Nunns of Truro Cornwall. Vera sent us her QSL card to confirm a contact with the old Squadron. She spotted our advert out there in the aeronautic press and remembered she taught Morse to the crews of 24 during forties. We are waiting for some of Vera’s wartime tales of the da da dit.
Chris Regan has been doing some research and wondered if you could him. His Father, F/O K Regan, who died recently, served with 1359 VIP Flight which amalgamated into 24 Squadron. What Chris is trying to find out about is his fathers time with 1359 Flight and 24 Squadron, particularly a flight in March 1946 where he was part of the crew of Lancastrian VM726, on Special Flight WAT 102 from Northolt to New Zealand and back again. Two Lancastrians took part in the training flight, VM726 and VM727, and between them set world records for flights to New Zealand. Do you know if there would be any photographs from the time of VM726 and would it be possible to contact any other surviving crew members as he would particularly like to view any of the crew's log books, if any had survived. Chris is not an Association member but has been invited as a guest to come along to this years Reunion. Any feedback on this via the Editor please.
Typing this article in has made me think that Jock Hanna may shed some light on this, or know somebody who could. The article in Issue 6 of the Newsletter is set around that time.
The contact we have is an e-mail address for Chris, cregan3598 at aol dot com or 73 Appleford Drive, Minster on Sea, Sheerness, Kent.
The Jet Heritage Society Aviation Museum has been open to the public for just over a year. The museum is open every day and would be willing to organise a special package for a Group Visit. The museum may be found at Hangar 600, Bournemouth International Airport, CHRISTCHURCH, Dorset. Tel 01202 580858 for more details.
More Record Breakers News - Since Brian Jones broke the world record for flying around the world non-stop in a balloon, he has been awarded the OBE by the Queen, had dinner with Buzz Aldrin and a request for autograph from Bill Clinton. Brian and his balloonist co-pilot Bertrand Piccard are using their new found fame to launch a charity called "Winds of Hope".
The idea for the foundation came to him while their Brietling Orbiter balloon was over the African desert. Brian said: "We were flying over Africa and we were seeing some really amazing and really moving scenery. You expect the desert to be flat and lifeless, but the different colours and the shapes in the sand were amazing and you really couldn’t help but respect and admire the desert."
"As we were looking at this amazing view, Bertrand turned to me and said ‘Why are we so lucky to be up here and looking down on such an amazing and beautiful thing.?’ It was then the two men made a vow that if successful, they would not donate money they raised to charity but set up a foundation. The idea behind Winds of Hope is to highlight the suffering of people and children that goes unreported.
When you have a disaster like the Turkey earthquake then it is in the media and it is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. But there are so many people all over the world whose plight has been forgotten, we feel it is important to highlight the plight of these people."
24 Squadron Association is promoting Winds of Hope by giving the foundation a mention on our Web site and a link to Brietling Orbiter. Brian and Bertrand’s book ‘ The Greatest Adventure’ is published by Headline and priced at £18.99.
By Appointment to the Queen is the title of an article in the Jan-Mar 2000 edition of Air Mail, the Journal of the Royal Air Forces Association. The reason for the reference here is that 24 Squadron is of course mentioned in the feature. The story starts around 1917 with reference to the then Prince of Wales but 24 do not come on the scene until 1942 when responsibility passed to them at Northolt then in the VIP transport role. Use was made of the PM’s famous Avro York Ascalon to fly King George VI from Northolt to Tripoli and back in June 1943 - the longest Royal flight ever made at that point. During a visit to Italy the King had been very impressed with his flight in a Dakota and so it was decided to allocate one for his personal use. KN386 duly joined 24 Squadron and saw extensive use during the summer of 1945, but after that the King’s air travel requirements diminished for a time and the Dak was reassigned for general VIP duties.
Once again no specific aircraft was earmarked for Royal flying but late 1945 it was suggested to the King that the most efficient way of meeting inevitable overseas commitment was by air. Thus it was that on 1 May 1946 The Kings Flight was officially reformed at Benson. Why not try and get hold of the complete article for an interesting read.
For A Good Read this issue features -
"Handley Page. Images of Aviation series" published by Tempus Publishing, The Mill, Brimscombe Port, Stroud, Glos. ISBN 0-7524-1701-0 @ £9.99
This illustrated 129 page book contains over 200 captioned photographs give a pictorial history of one of Britain’s most famous aircraft manufacturers.
Coming into Land: a short history of Hounslow, Hanworth and Heston aerodromes 1911 - 1946.
published by Heritage Publications, Hounslow Cutural & Community Services, Hounslow Library, 24 Treaty Centre, High Street, Hounslow, Middx @ £11.95 + £2.80 pp.
ISBN 1-8991-4430-7 Pages 178.
Illustrated throughout by a number of contemporary photographs, this is a detailed history of the development of aviation in west London and south west Middlesex prior to the evolution of Heathrow airport.
Keeping in Touch
C F "Jimmy" James (May 00) served on 24 Squadron during 1944 -46 as a Navigator based at Hendon. He left the services like many other Navs for BOAC in a senior position until leaving in the mid 60’s. A complete change of career involved attending teacher training college and then on to teach at a local Wiltshire primary school until 1983, settling in the area to retire in Westbury.
Edward Howard (early 99) served as an Engine Fitter and Air Gunner on 24 during 1941-42 at Hendon, flying in Hudsons. He also flew on Sunderlands and B17 Flying Fortress with 206 Squadron.
David Perrin (Nov 98) was a more recent flyer with 24 Squadron serving at Lyneham as a pilot on Hercules from 1975 till 1978.
Polish Comrades - An e-mail via the web Site from a Robert Gretzyngier requests any information about Polish pilots who served on 24 Squadron during WWII. He has seen the Operations Record Book of our unit at the Public Records Office and its entry is full of Polish names. Is there anybody who remembers Polish chaps from that wartime era?
Contact Robert at PO BOX 51, 04-520 Warszawa, POLAND or e-mail direct on owmh at altair dot com dot pl
Memory Banks 2
The photo that accompanies this article was sent in by Colin Ambrose of West Vancouver, Canada and shows an Association member, Steve Morris. It was taken by Colin at the Tashyne Officer’s Club Aden in June 1964 when they were both serving on 24 Squadron. The sign was really very serious, as one visitor from the UK found out. She was paddling up to her thighs outside the shark net, and was taken by a tiger shark. She was rescued but died of her injuries. Colin was a regular visitor to the Club when he served on 8 Squadron at Khormaksar in the early sixties. The favourite beer? tiger of course.
We have been asked to enquire how Steve "lost" his leg.
Harry Nickson asks does any member recall a tall thin irascible technical Warrant Officer who had the habit of being demoted due to his continual thirst. He was overtly a good engineer and his returns to his rank were speedy. During Harry’s time as a flight mechanic at Hendon in the late 39 this WO had been reduced to Flighty but regained his crown on being posted to Little Rissington. He also had the distinction of having a low service number of 53?
No mention is ever made about Hendon’s D/H Flamingo. This large cabin plane was very new and in proud use when Harry joined the Squadron in late 1939. It was a very low winged twin powered monoplane with a low ground clearance. A on-off, the Flam was very beautiful but obviously without any future and was not repeated in production. The Flam frequently carried Churchill and other VIP’s with De Havilland seemingly having a foot in the door at Hendon. D/H 85’s and 87’s, together with Moths of different types, some with open cockpits, clustered on the grass around the small hardstanding outside the Flamingo’s hanger.
If any of this does prompt a thought or picture in the archives, let us know.
More on the Lancastrian VM735 bound for the PIACO conference at Indianapolis from Ted Stocker who was one of the two flight engineers in the crew. Ted felt that they nearly ended up as another aircraft lost in the Bermuda Triangle.
At the first stop they needed to refuel to maximum fuel load. While waiting for the tankers they fitted the extension to the belly tank filler. When two refuelling tankers arrived, Ted went to the port wing and the other flight engineer the starboard to fill the wing tanks. While they were doing this, a third smaller tanker arrived and that driver started filling the belly tank. Having finished filling the wing tanks, he went to see why the driver appeared to be having trouble getting fuel into the tank, he was continually stopping and starting.
Not speaking his language, Ted motioned to allow him to take over. On removing the nozzle to check the fitting of the tank filler imagine his horror to discover that they were being refuelled with ENGINE OIL. With the AOC in C on board they decided drastic action was called for and managed to get the rear of the aircraft off the hard standing and over the grass. They disconnected the outlet from the belly tank transfer pump then added some petrol to the oil in the tank, switched on the pump and dumped the petrol/oil mixture on the grass. This was repeated until the flow was reasonably clear, refilled as normal and moved the aircraft away from the contaminated ground.
No delay was experienced by the VIP’s, but the flight engineers missed out on a ground meal before taking off for the next leg of 9 hours 45 minutes. Ted also wondered if VM735’s experience had any relevance to the disappearance of ‘Star Tiger’ the Captain being Wing Commander B W McMillan, who he knew when serving on 582 Squadron together? - Can you solve the mystery!!
Just to keep the record straight and probably the aircraft for that matter, John Mitchell points out that the third fin was added to the prototype York after initial Boscombe Down trials proved it required improved longitudinal stability. That meant when 24 Squadron took over the PM’s aircraft (LV633), the third prototype, it already had the third fin, as did all the production aircraft. John doubted whether it affected the C of G very much, certainly not as much as the PM’s variable unweighed luggage in the rear stowage. The first prototype also had a standard Lancaster empennage.
Another nit-pick, The Skymaster mentioned in the last issue of the Newsletter, far from being unsatisfactory had the best range/payload factor of any contemporary passenger freight aircraft. The four in possession of the RAF were ordered back to the US under Return Lease-Lend, an arrangement that came to an abrupt end when Truman came into power. In addition, all the Liberator C 87s which were called Lib VIIs, plus the few Liberator Express (single fin tails), plus the PM’s beautifully furnished Skymaster (EW999) went back. US commercial operators convinced Congress that the Brits would use them to start up their operations in unfair competition. The various US airlines already had their feet under the table as contractors to the USAF.
Alas the Merlin engined Yorks and Lancastrians, although cruising marginally faster than the C 54s, could not compete in range and payload with Pratt and Witney air-cooled ( not to mention the coolant problems in hot climates), neither could the useless Tudors. However, BOAC were allowed to keep the few Liberators and even Scottish Aviation had one of these. The UK actually paid for the Dakotas, which were scattered to the Allies world wide, albeit at a knock down figure in some book-adjustment to the Lease Lend account.
Incidentally and a propos note on the reference to the "4 Squadron operated Ensigns in the Channel Islands, the BOAC archive is held by the RAF Museum Library at Hendon. This information would surely be in there! The PM’s pilot and then CO of 24 Squadron, John Collins was ex-Imperial Airways.
Flight to Victory is the title of a paperback by Ronald Walker published by Penguin around 1940. Chapter XIII has been sent in to the Newsletter as it concerns in the main another fine example of 24 Squadron’s readiness for all things.
There is one squadron of the Royal Air Force whose work, of vital importance, is unknown to the public. Its pilots do not fight. They do not bomb. They might be described as the taxi-drivers and postmen of the Service. The squadron is No. 24. It started life as a Fighter Squadron in September, 1915, when it was formed at Hounslow and commanded by Major Lanoe G Hawker, V.C. Disbanded in 1918, the squadron was re-formed at Kenley in 1920 and several years later became the Communications Squadron of the R.A.F.
In peace time they lived at Hendon and spent a fairly busy life flying Prime Ministers; members of the Cabinet and all sorts of people of importance about the country. The outbreak of war introduced the busiest and most exciting chapter in the squadron’s history to date. The Operational Record Book of 24 Squadron has this entry: Hendon. 3rd Sep 1939. Great Britain at war with Germany.
At once the aircraft o f the unit were supplemented by civil aeroplanes, mostly passenger airliners, transferred from the air transport companies. A number of airline pilots were drafted into the squadron. On September 4th the squadron began operating between London and R.A.F. headquarters and the B.E.F. headquarters which were maintained until the last British forces left France. Personnel, mail official documents passing between the Headquarters and the Air Ministry and the War Office were carried on the service.
From the outbreak of the war the Operations Record Book is a monotonous record of flights by the squadron pilots mainly between France and Britain. Mr. Chamberlain was an early visitor to France. His flight is recorded thus:
Hendon. 12-9-1939 Mr N. Chamberlain, Lord Chatfield, General Ismay, Lord Abbott conveyed
Hendon - Abbeville and return in Lockheed Electra.
The records are brief, annoyingly brief, as shall be explained later on. The following entry shows that a certain Private Rawlins went flying from France with a load of distinguished and important people:
Hendon. 21-9-1939 Wing Commander Anderson, Squadron Leader Lee, Corporal Laver conveyed Mr. Hore Belisha, Lord Hankey, Major-General Dewing and Private Rawlins from Le Mans to Hendon in DH 86B, Aircraft N6246.
On same day Sir C Newall flew from Hendon to Le Bourget.
At that time Sir Cyril Newall was Chief of the Air Staff, the Commander-in-Chief of the R.A.F. Up to May 10th 1940, the squadron flew ferry services between Britain and France, all over Britain and made occasional trips as far as the Mediterranean. Then the fun started. Until the invasion of the Low Countries these flights across Channel and over France went on with the regularity of peacetime airlines and with the same lack of interference. The machines were airliners which had lost their civil identity under a covering of camouflage. The pilots were R.A.F. pilots: but they had no guns. If attacked by enemy aircraft the pilots had only their wits and their flying skill to save them from final disaster.
In the first days of the German deluge the squadron received more civil aircraft - two Ensign four-engined passenger machines belonging to Imperial Airways and some American Douglas and Italian Savoia airliners belonging to the Belgian air line. The work of the squadron became more intense as the situation in France altered from day to day. Pilots and machines of British Airways and Imperial Airways and pilots of the Air Transport Auxiliary, the body of civil pilots for Government work came to help.
During those hectic days ammunition, personnel and food had to be rushed to various points. Civil airliners, whose crews had not so much as a revolver between them, came back with holes punched by enemy machine gun bullets all over them. Their pilots explained that they evaded attack! As the Germans swept forward into France the pilots of No. 24 Squadron and their assistants crossed the Channel to meet almost inevitable attack in machines which were ill-suited for playing catch-as-catch-can with German fighters and even bombers.
Time after time the machines of the squadron, intercepted by German aeroplanes, were forced to land somewhat hurriedly. It is astonishing that there is no record of one of these machines being shot down. The Germans did seek them out and bomb them on the ground. The squadron records that on May 16th the Germans bombed and destroyed at Coulommiers - R.A.F. headquarters a Vega Gull and four De Havilland airliners. Through the war-filled sky flew Mr. Winston Churchill. This appears in the Operations Record Book:
31 May 1940 Wing Commander Goode, Flight Lieutenant Oldroyd, Corporal Ashley conveyed Mr. Winston Churchill and four passengers from Hendon to Villacoublay and from Villacoublay to Hendon in Flamingo aircraft E2765.
While the Prime Minister was flying, another machine of the squadron was being pressed, to say the least. The "incident" is dismissed officially like this:
31 May 1940 Flying Officer Ogilvie and three passengers and one wireless operator forced down after several successful manoeuvres near Aneuil. Enemy set fire to aircraft with machine-gun fire, causing total loss to DH 89A No. W6457. No casualties
That must have been rather an exiting moment. It is to be imagined that the passengers, whoever they were, were not so non-committal as the report.
Many such stories filtered through during those days of departure of British Forces from France during the days just before the French collapse. Every day the pilots of No. 24 Squadron flew their services to France. Often, owing to the rapid movement of the British air force and army units, they had to land in odd fields and ask the way. During the last two days at Nantes they turned up at aerodromes in the area, tired but still smiling and ready to fly their machines where needed, despite the danger of enemy interception. They were brave men. [Editors note - thanks for this submission but have lost note of who sent it in.]
??? MYSTERY FLIGHT ???
On reading "The Life of Graham Greene", a passage in the book makes reference to an incident that occurred just before he went to Malaya, around 1948/9. It surrounds the High Commissioner, Sir Edward Gent who was generally considered incompetent and was recalled by Whitehall to be sacked. When Gents plane reached London, the YORK freighter he was travelling in collided with another and he was killed.
Does this ring a bell with any of the readers as it sounds like a good story to follow up for the next issue of Twenty Four. We may have a connection or link here with this incident?
If any readers remembers the wonderful 24 Squadron glossy magazine last year, well a repeat is planned with emphasis on the C130 J model. As a comparison, they are looking for contributions from ‘old boys’ who perhaps saw in a previous new to service aircraft onto 24 Squadron. The contact is Flt Lt James Coleman, # 01249 890381 ext 7367 at Lyneham or e-mail "24sqn at raflyneham dot fsnet dot co dot uk" or Royal Mail:- 24 Squadron, Royal Air Force, Lyneham, CHIPPENHAM, Wilts, SN15 4PZ.
Diary of a Navigator Part 3
John Mitchell’s account of his VIP flying with the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill in 1943 continues in this third instalment.
4th June 1943 After two more pleasant nights in Algiers, we left Maison Blanche for Gibraltar to return to the UK. The US fighter escort was left behind at Oran where we picked up a Spitfire Wing, much to the PM’s pleasure. The VIP passengers in addition to the PM were Eden, Alexander and the CIGS. The PM enjoyed the flight deck and wished to stay up front for the landing in order to get a good view of the Rock. As the Flight Engineer was able to take the necessary landing actions from his position between the two pilot’s seats, the Captain felt it was OK to leave the Owner in the 2nd Pilot’s seat. All went well until the Captain was ‘holding off’ for a three point landing when he realised he could not pull back the control column sufficiently to get the tail down. Gibraltar runway at that time was none to long - it was in the process of being lengthened with the debris from tunnelling within the Rock itself. We all thought the aircraft took a long time to settle, but it was not until the PM dismounted from the cockpit the Captain told us that the ‘banjo’ was hitting the PM in the stomach and that no effort on his part could get it back far enough! The Captain resolved that if the PM wanted to stay up front in future for the landing, he had better sit at the navigator’s table with more comfort and safety for all.
The PM was keen to continue home in the York, although we learned that Higher Authorities has in fact retained the flying boat ‘Bristol’ on stand-by for the purpose; we guessed this was in case he did not take to the York. It was perhaps just as well that he did not then know that while we were still in North Africa, the regular UK - Lisbon - UK service, operated by an unarmed DC3 of KLM (PH-ALI) and flown by Captain Tepas and an all Dutch crew, had been shot down by a German night-fighter when homeward bound over the Bay of Biscay.
This service had been operated regularly by KLM on behalf of the British Government for the previous two and a half years, to the advantage of the Neutral and Axis Powers as well as the Allies. There had been four KLM DC3’s employed, all survivors of the bombing of Schipol Airport, Amsterdam, in 1940, which had been flow out by their crews to the UK. Leslie Howard was one of the passengers in the Dakota. There was a theory at the time that another passenger, Alfred Chenhalls, who was Leslie Howard’s accountant, resembled Mr. Churchill. Sceptics of course scorned the idea that the PM would fly home via Lisbon in a relatively uncomfortable, slow aircraft. Nevertheless, there had been intensive German night-fighter activity over the Bay all that week and numerous R.A.F. Coastal Command antisubmarine aircraft came under unusually intensive attention. Presumably the Luftwaffe policy had been to shoot at all and everything crossing the Bay while the PM was known to be abroad.
We left Gibraltar at 2200 hrs for Northolt, taking our route as far out into the Atlantic as the longitude of 12 W. Such a route kept us well clear of the Spanish coast, and beyond the range of night fighter patrols from the Brest Peninsula. Shorter range aircraft between the UK and Gibraltar, and vica versa, which had to stage via Portreath in Cornwall to top up their fuel tanks were obliged to fly close to the Spanish and Portuguese coasts to keep their track mileage to a minimum. One felt that when homebound it would not be too difficult to have departures from Gibraltar communicated to Berlin via the huge German Embassy in Madrid (where their Military Attaché had a staff of nearly a hundred) and with a check sighting from Cape Finisterre, they might establish a reasonable ground speed and thus an interception point for an adventurous night fighter. However, we were well out into the Atlantic, beyond the range of trouble.
To us all was going smoothly, the engines making that peculiarly comforting Merlin roar (with those short stubby exhaust pipes which the Americans like to call ‘cackle-pots’), at least a noise comforting to the crew. For the passengers with its box-like-body, a wonderful sound resonator, the York was a noisy means of travelling. Corporal Shepherd, the steward, and no chef, was dozing on his stool in the galley amidships when suddenly a growling voice woke him up. Startling out of his coma, the steward saw the PM’s face, without dentures, peering round the curtain saying "I want some soup: hot, clear soup and I want it now!" We had not yet learned of the Owner’s nocturnal habits. Poor old Corporal Shepherd. When he recovered from the shock, he had only the electric urn rather like a samovar, thoughtfully provided by Messrs A V Roe, with which to heat water - and how slowly! Fortunately, Shepherd remembered that we had a primus on board for ground emergency use and he quickly made some soup. Alas, we had no clear soup in stock, but Shepherd had some thick pea soup and mulligatawny from the NAAFI. The PM seemed satisfied and later came forward to sit in the co-pilot’s seat. When this incident was later reported to the Captain, he pointed out not very gently that the galley was situated under the main fuel tank! Still, looking back, is a lighted primus and more dangerous than a lighted cigar should the tank leak!
Approaching the UK from the south west, up the Bristol Channel and keeping at all times out of the range of the Luftwaffe JU88’s from the Brest Peninsula, we expected to rendezvous with a Spitfire escort in the vicinity of Reading, when nearly home. We landed on a sunny summer morning at 0600 hours, with many lessons to be absorbed about the needs and habits of the Owner. Clearly, some domestic modifications to the aircraft’s interior were needed, but these would have to await our return from the next trip.
Before leaving Northolt that morning, the PM had hinted to the Captain that the aircraft would be needed shortly for a ‘very high level job’, but not for himself. Speculation as to who this could be did not get us anywhere.
And we also must wait until the next issue of Twenty Four to find out who the mystery VIP was to be.
WW1 POW Part 3 Last
We left Second Lieutenant Charles Crosbee just starting his internment in a temporary POW camp, the date 26 February 1918.
After first aid treatment, Crosbee was held at a holding house in Laon where he remained until the 3rd March 1918. This house had bars fitted to its windows and held about six men. Here he met another RFC prisoner, Lt D C Doyle who was to be his continuous companion in captivity. From there he was passed to a main clearing camp for officers at Karlruhe and then on to Landshut in Bavaria for his prolonged stay, from 19 March to 1 May 1918. It was from this camp that he was first able to write to his parents and inform them of his condition and plight. This camp was in a castle with the prisoners confined in the groom’s quarters of the stables. In his letter he described his cell as a ‘stable prison’ but the sensitive Germans crossed out the word ‘stable’. His parents retained the letter for many years but now, unfortunately, it has been lost.
Crosbee had a meticulous nature and mind conditioned to recording things. Looking to the future (but little guessing that over sixty years would elapse) he conceived the idea of keeping an autograph book: IN MEMORY OF KRIEGSGEFANGENEN DAYS. Amongst other names recorded there are: 2/Lt D C Doyle, 2/Lt G S Logan and 2/Lt R Cauldecott of the RFC, Lt S G Williams, Devon Regiment and Lt A E Braithwaite of the KRRC. Crosbee’s final move as a prisoner was to Holzminden, most famous of all German WWI prison camps and scene of the tunnelling escape. However, as he was confined in a different block to that from which the escape was made, he knew nothing about it until after the event.
Food at Holzminden was sparse and uninspiring but was supplemented by occasional parcels from home and the fact that prisoners were able to buy food to help the diet. Money for payment was obtained by cashing a cheque with the prison authorities. In Crosbee’s case, this was drawn on Cox’s Bank in London. This done, his prison bank book would be filled in. The money paid out would be in German treasury notes and ‘small change’ notes which were a special prison issue. The bank book would then be debited and the remaining balance shown.
To occupy the time, games were played and visits between rooms and blocks organised. Inevitably, the camp photographer was kept busy and fortunately, there seems to be no shortage of photographs to illustrate the time he spent there. During his time in Holzminden, Crosbee was an occupant of room 31A. Eleven other occupants are recorded for this room, plus an orderly and one honorary member, Alfred S Pim. Pim was a frequent companion and his cryptic entry into the autograph book states: ‘Shot down, too proud to fight. 21 March 1918.
2/Lt W G Ivamy, one of the room occupants, had been brought down by Manfred von Richthofen whilst he was flying Sopwith Camel B5243 on 18 March 1918 and became von Richthofen’s 66th victory and one of the 25 aircrew that were captured as a direct result of his victories. Lt R E Duke a pilot with 84 Squadron had been shot down on 6 March 1918 flying SE5A A8946, which was another ex-56 Sqn machine. Duke was a prolific writer of poetry and claimed that his mind was occupied when he was attacked. His hat was the first of the new R.A.F. pattern to be seen at Holzminden.
On the occasion of the birthday of 2/Lt Doyle and Lt A Couston, AFC, J M Allen was commissioned to draw up a suitable menu in postcard form. The drawing depicted the cookhouse which had facilities for four fires and hot-plates. Crosbee who had been elected chief cook and bottle-washer for room 31A, spent a considerable amount of time in putting together the meals with limited supplies that were available. As can be seen from the menu, it was a feast for a king!
Other prisoners whose autographs appear in Crosbee’s book are: Engineer Sub-Lt W Johnson, a survivor of HM Q Ships. Capt. W Leefe Robinson VC, Worcs Regiment and RFC, famous for shooting down the Shutte Lanz airship SL11 at Cuffley and later bought down himself on 5 April 1917 whilst flying a Bristol Fighter with 48 Sqn. Robinson died in 1919 during the great influenza epidemic, his health having been undermined by his deprivations as an inmate of Holzminden. [Editors note:- A pub was named after Leefe Robinson in the Harrow area of London, is it still there?] 2/Lt A P C Wigan, RFC a fellow member of 24 Sqn who joined that squadron on 31 October 1917 and was taken prisoner on 8 March 1918.
With the end of hostilities came repatriation. Without guards, the prisoners of Holzminden formed up and marched in an orderly fashion to the railway station where they continued their ‘continental tours’. The first stage of Crosbee’s journey was by train to Rotterdam in Holland where he spent the night. From there he was embarked on a ship bound for England which followed the channel swept clear of mines down coast and across the North Sea to England. He returned to England on a Saturday at the port of Hull. From there he was immediately taken to Scarborough where he again stayed overnight. The following day, he was moved to a POW receiving station at Ripon and debriefed regarding his capture and absolved of any blame for it. From Ripon he was returned to Scarborough and thence by train to Birmingham (changing trains at York). At Tamworth and nearly in sight of his home, his pass was collected along with the tickets of some civilians in his compartment and he drifted off to sleep. He awoke to find himself alone in the compartment as the train pulled out of Birmingham New Street Station!
The failure of the civilians to awaken him infuriated Crosbee, as he was forced to travel to Bromsgrove before he could swap lines for the return to Birmingham. He had a long wait in the station master’s office and finally reached Birmingham again in the early hours of the following morning. Here he met a fellow repatriated POW who was also biding his time to return home and together they went to the Grand Hotel in Colmore Row. At 04:00 hours they talked the night porter into letting then occupy the ballroom where they settled down on padded seats. Morning brought a breakfast the like of which neither had seen for many days. Finally, on 14 December 1918 at approximately 0930 hours, Crosbee arrive home, much to the delight of his parents. For his efforts in serving King and country in their hour of need, the grateful Government presented him with two medals: one silver - the British War Medal; one in bronze - the Allied Victory Medal. Both were inscribed with his rank and name.
On leaving the R.A.F, Crosbee returned to the Hylton Street works of H & P Haseler where he completed his studies of the intricacies of the jewellery trade before eventually joining his own family business. In 1927, he married and bought the house in Selly Oak where he remained. During WWII, Crosbee served with an ARP Rescue Squad, spending one night per week in the depot at Selly Oak. Duties there involved the unloading of hospital trains and transfer of casualties to the Queen Elizabeth and Hollymoor hospitals. Each Saturday afternoon he drove an ambulance (as part of a regular convoy of vehicles) to Burntwood, which is near Cannock Chase. He served as a member of the Rescue Squad through the nights of the blitz on Coventry and remembers vividly seeing the molten lead running down the roof and walls of the burning cathedral.
In 1965 he remarried and then retired from business to settle down to a less hectic life. [Editors note - Is anyone aware if Mr Crosbee is still alive?]
Association Summer Social
Yes it was blue skies once again for the lucky ones who were able to make this years Summer Social held at Bibury Court Hotel on the SE edge of the Cotswolds. After a very mixed response to the survey on who wanted to do what, an executive decision was made by the Committee to go for this informal option.
The village of Bibury for those who have not been, is despite its small size and out of the way location, a very popular tourist attraction, as witnessed by those driving through on the day. Fortunately, the Hotel is set in its own 6 acre site with the river Coln running through it, and a magnificent vista across the lawns, fields and varied wooded boundaries.
Morning coffee provided the necessary beverage to break the ice and make introductions, with some fresh faces able to pop in for this sort of mid week event, which is after all the aim of the occasion. With the weather behaving itself, a stroll around grounds or village was possible before around 20 of us settled down to a top class lunch in gracious surroundings at sensible prices.
With everybody now so chatty and much to talk about, the lunch time passed in no time at all. And so it was with some regret that stumps had to be drawn and farewells said as some long distances as far as Devon, Sussex and Kent beckoned until the next Association meeting set for October 7th .
Remember to keep a day free for a similar event next year, you may be surprised to find it's "A Grand Day Out".
A weekend break rate is available at the Hilton Hotel (Tel 01793 881777) but not a preferential one for the Squadron this year. For reference it was £35.00 per person per night for B & B last time, they might match it again. Over the road is the Lydiard Travel Inn offering Room only rates at £38.00 per day, any day of the week and is the cheaper option for couples or families. They may be contacted on 01793 881490 for more details and bookings. Chippenham Tourist Information Office (01249 706333) will give you details of other accommodation in the area and arrange booking for you.
Don't forget a TGIF warm up session is planned once again in the Hilton bar on the 6th for all members, guests, family, friends and locals, the more the merrier.
Please do get in touch if you served on the Squadron, or are related to someone who did, we would especially like to hear from you.
If you have a story to tell about No.24 Squadron RAF please contact us by mailing the Editor
This page Updated 14 April, 2009
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