Wartime Stories

Doug Moore – WW2 in Bomber Command

Thank you Doug for sharing your memories and allowing us to tell your story

This is Mr. Doug Moore’s story, a wireless operator who served in Bomber Command during WW2. Doug still has his flight log book which provides us with a wealth of information on his wartime exploits in the air. He served in the 76 Squadron and the 192 Squadron.

Enlisting

He was born Douglas Holmes Moore during 1923 at Horncastle in Lincolnshire. At the outbreak of war in September 1939, 16-year-old Doug had become an agricultural worker, still living at his birthplace. Agricultural jobs at the start of the war were a reserved occupation, which made it difficult for Doug to leave agriculture and join the armed forces. He was already in the local ATC and so decided to apply to the RAF who were recruiting for desperately needed aircrew.

He reported to RAF Cardington in Bedfordshire to take his entry tests, mathematics, general knowledge and aircraft recognition etc. Cardington is probably more famous as the place where the ‘R’ series of airships were built and flown during the 1920’s, especially the R101.

He was successful, and so in 1942 he started on the path to become a wireless operator in RAF Bomber Command.

Training

RAF Padgate

Doug was ordered to report to RAF Padgate near to Warrington in Cheshire on the 21st April 1942. He collected his kit, documents and received his service number, 1620298. His first impressions of Padgate was that it was like a prison camp, but thankfully, he was only there for one week.

Blackpool

Late April 1942, and to Blackpool to start Morse and wireless training at the signals school. The school turned out to be located on the top floor of the Woolworths sea front store. In addition to ‘square-bashing’ in front of the Cenotaph and outside the Metropole Hotel, the trainee aviators had to march to Cleveleys to practice riffle firing.

Yatesbury

RAF Yatesbury in Wiltshire was the radio and radar school where Doug underwent further signals training. He was there between July and November 1942.

Church Lawford

RAF Church Lawford in Warwickshire, No. 8 Pilot Advance Flying Unit. His training here included point-to-point wireless. It was here that he first met Pilot Instructor Crotch. Crotch was in his mid-thirties and an extremely experienced pilot. He would eventually become Doug’s ‘skipper’.

Madley

On 30th April 1943 Doug was posted to RAF Madley, Hereford, No. 4 Radio School where he started his airborne wireless training in Percival Proctors. Thankfully no ‘square-bashing’ while he was here.

Evanton

June 30th 1943 and on to RAF Evanton, Scotland, for air gunnery training using Blackburn Botha aircraft. It was here that Doug received his ‘stripes’.

Staverton

September 21st 1943, posted to RAF Staverton, Nr Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, for daytime airborne wireless training using De-Havilland Dominie aircraft.

Moreton Valence

November 30th 1943, RAF Moreton Valence in Gloucestershire which was originally opened as RAF Haresfield. It was designated a landing ground up until 1941 when it was rebuilt, upgraded  and renamed RAF Moreton Valence. It was here that Doug underwent night flying training in Avro Ansons. He still remembers the manual undercarriage gear in the Anson as it took exactly 180 turns of the crank to raise or lower it!

The trainee aviators would catch their first sight of a jet aircraft. They were told that if they saw or heard anything unusual, they were to ignore it and not to discuss it with anyone. This was of course, a sure way to get their attention. They were soon to get their first sight and sound of an experimental Gloucester Meteor.

Harwell

January 24th 1944 to February 12th 1944 at RAF Harwell. The name Harwell is probably better associated with its more recent use, the Atomic Energy Authority. During WW2, it was home to several squadrons in training such as 105, 107 and 226 squadrons. Doug was here with 15 OTU, training on Wellington Bombers.

It was here that he met the aircrew members (crewed-up) that he would spend the rest of the war with, and he was reacquainted with Crotch, now Flying Officer Crotch.

Pilot: Flying Officer Crotch – a solicitor in civilian life

Navigator: Fl/Lt Dimminger

Bomb Aimer: Vic Worsley – from Bolton

Flight Engineer: Anthony Martin – a Cockney lad

Mid-upper Gunner: Jack Lysaght – a Cornishman

Rear-Gunner: Tony Leonards – another Cockney lad

Wireless Operator: Fl/Sgt Doug Moore

The crew spent their short time here on cross country training, circuits and bumps, bombing and stick bombing. Doug’s logbook gives us a rare insight into the fast pace of training.

Rufforth

March 5th 1944 to April 28th 1944 at RAF Rufforth. Newly constructed and opened on the 10th June 1942, RAF Rufforth was about 4 miles to the west of York. A new unit was formed there in March 1943, No. 1663 Heavy Conversion Unit, to train aircrew on the Handley Page Halifax Bomber. Doug and the crew trained here on Halifax Vs.

They undertook their first operation whilst here. On the night of April 27th, they were sent on a night operation, a diversionary raid to drop ‘window’. The aircraft used on this raid was a Halifax V, DG 297 of ‘C’ flight.  Window or ‘chaff’ as the Americans called it, was a  method of  ‘jamming’ German radar by dropping thin aluminium strips cut to the wavelength of the radar transmissions. This gave false ‘returns’ and confused the German radar operators.

Log book entries show a range of training activities, three engine landings, one engine flying, beam approaches, steep diving turns, 20,000 feet climbing and air to sea firing.

The crew was now fully trained and ready to transfer to their first operational posting.

Operational

Having completed their training, the crew were now operational.

Holme on Spalding Moor

April 28th 1944 to August 1944 with 76 Squadron at RAF Holme on Spalding Moor, No. 4 Group. This airfield opened in 1941 as a Bomber Command Airfield and was to become home to 76 Squadron, 101 Squadron, and later to 458 and 460 RAAF Squadrons.

With one sortie under their belts, the crew began a few days of familiarisation and practice before starting full operations on the 9th May in ‘B’ flight.

Doug’s flight log contains details of all the sorties, but the entries for the 1st to the 6th June 1944, tell a fascinating story of the part they took in support of  the ‘D-Day’ landings.

1st June 44: Take off at 23.05 in Halifax III ‘MP-M’. The target was Cherbourg. Flight duration of 4hrs 5mins.

2nd June 44: Take off at 22.20 in Halifax III ‘MP-K’. The target was the railway marshalling yard at Trappes near Paris. Flight duration of 4hrs 56mins.

5th/6th June: Take off at 02.56 in Halifax III ‘MP-K’. The target was the Mont Fleury Battery. Doug made a note in his flight log, which says ’10 minutes before landings started – 6th June’. Flight duration of 4hrs 25mins.

6th June 44: Take off at 22.15 in Halifax III  ‘MP-K’. The target was St. Lo. Flight duration 5hrs 10mins.

By the time that the crew had completed their tour with 76 Squadron, they had ‘notched up’ 13 sorties. An interesting detail in the log is that F/O Crotch became F/Lt Crotch from 31st May 1944 on wards.

Foulsham

Late August 1944 until the end of the war with 192 Squadron at RAF Foulsham. Foulsham was built during 1941-1942 for No. 2 Group Bomber Command and opened on 26th June 1942. It was one of the few airfields to be fitted with FIDO, the fog dispersal system. It was to become the home for 192 Squadron from August 1943 on wards.

192 Squadron, code letters DT and part of 100 Group, was specially formed to operate as a special duties unit, it’s purpose and existence remaining a secret during those wartime years. It was not until the mid-1970’s that the details about the German wartime radio navigation methods were revealed and the existence of our radio countermeasures unit.

The entire crew transferred to 192 squadron and remained together until the end of the war. It was on the 28 August that they began practising cross country flights and special duties training. The aircraft was Halifax III ‘DT V’, an aircraft that the crew would use more than any other for the rest of the war.

Five days later on the 27th August, they took part in their first sortie in this new squadron, sortie No. 14, special duty ops dropping ‘window’.

One of the missions was to the Arctic Circle searching for enemy radio traffic and took a staggering 14 hours with only quick re-fuelling stops in Scotland. Doug proudly displays the certificate issued by the squadron to commemorate this marathon flight.  Many more sorties followed until the end of the war. The total number of sorties reached was 39, which far exceeded the expectation for a heavy bomber crew over enemy territory. Doug says that the reason for this high amount of sorties without casualties can only be explained by having a pilot with the experience and maturity of Crotch, who became Squadron Leader Crotch on the 28th August 1944.

It is well documented that RAF Foulsham suffered higher losses of radio counter-measures aircrew than any other station.

With the end of the war in Europe, the crew found themselves flying to former enemy bases such as Shleswig, sometimes-carrying high-ranking service personnel.

At the end of July 45, Doug received a commendation from the ACC in recognition of his double tour with 39 sorties.

His final duties in the RAF were on glider towing from Shobden, the last flight log entry being as a passenger on the 10th September 1945.

Doug says that he would like to have remained in the RAF and made a career of it, especially with the up and coming development in radio and radar technology. This option was not conducive to family life in those post war years, and so he came to settle in North Staffordshire and spent the next 35 years working at the Michelin factory until his retirement.

Life outside the RAF

During 1940, the North Staffordshire Regiment, ‘The North Staffords’ were billeted on the outskirts of Doug’s home town of Horncastle, Lincolnshire. It was here that his sister Christine met Sergeant Sam Tierney, a soldier from Trent Vale in Staffordshire. Sam had decided to billet himself at ‘The Black Swan’ public house on South St. in Horncastle and spent most of his free time there. Christine and Sam eventually married in 1941, Christine moved into Sam’s family home in Trent Vale. Shortly after starting their married life, Sam was posted to the Far East and was to spend the rest of the war away from home.

Doug would visit Christine at her new home whenever he was on leave. It was during one of these visits that he first met Joyce. They met at the Corner club on Grays Corner in Stoke and started to see each other whenever they had the opportunity. They waited until the war was over and eventually married in August 1945.

After the war, Sam moved to Horncastle with Christine. Doug decided to settle in Joyce’s home town of Shelton. They have lived in Shelton all the years since WW2, moving to a new home only recently.


Fred Witchell – The War Years

Thank you Fred for sharing your memories and allowing us to tell your story

This is Mr. Fred Witchell’s story as told to us by Fred himself in conversations during August 2006. Fred has lived in Long Lane, Harriseahead, North Staffordshire, for many years. Some memories of his life in the RAF during WW2 are painful ones, with the loss of his friends, workmates and colleagues in the air battle over Europe.

He has however, told us all that he feels able and has kindly supplied us with a wealth of photographs that he either took himself or acquired during his wartime service in RAF Bomber Command.

At the outbreak of WW2, Fred was just about to turn 17 and was still living with his parents at 30, Taunton Rd, Wallasey, a town on the Wirral which overlooks Liverpool across the River Mersey. He found employment at the Automatic Telephone Manufacturing Company in Milton Rd, Edge Hill, Liverpool, and attended technical college in the evenings.

Fred’s father was a director of International Stores, which was in direct competition with the Co-Op. With the bombing of Liverpool and its docks imminent, he decided to move into a new home at Nantwich, Cheshire.  It was a large formidable country house and was to provide his family with safer surroundings away from the bombing as well as giving safe storage of a duplicate set of his company’s paperwork. We must remember that at that time, all company records were paper based and the total destruction of them during the heavy bombing would have spelt disaster for the company.

This move made life difficult for Fred, who spent most of his time on the long, arduous and unpredictable journey from his new home to work and back in those early wartime days. He was to spend most of his night school time in Liverpool, sheltering during air raids. Although in a reserved occupation, Fred eventually took the decision to join the RAF.

Fred's RAF Service and Release Book
This is a copy of Fred’s RAF Service and Release Book

He joined on 22nd September 1941 and spent his first sixteen weeks at RAF Henlow training to be an electrician. This turned out to be a period of intense learning, with almost daily tests or examinations. After all day in the classroom or workshops, the evenings were taken up by study or revising for the following day’s examinations, giving him little time to spend on socialising. He would have only one night a week free to visit the pub if he was lucky. After his sixteen weeks, Fred passed out of Henlow as an AC2 and was to gain his promotion to AC1 at a later stage. Even during those wartime days when skilled and trained personnel were in short supply, training standards were never relaxed to help fill the shortage.

His first posting was to RAF Holme on Spalding Moor in Yorkshire. He was with 101 Squadron, and was to spend the next six months there working as an electrician on such aircraft as Wellington and Stirling bombers.

Ludford Magna

RAF Ludford Magna in Lincolnshire, was the wartime base for 101 Squadron of RAF Bomber Command and was to become Fred’s next posting, He would remain there until the end of the war. Many excellent accounts of the life and times at RAF Ludford Magna have already been written, so we will not try to repeat them here.

It is a fact however, that 101 Squadron, who’s identifying letters were SR, suffered some of the highest casualty rates for aircrew and aircraft than other squadrons within Bomber Command during WW2.

Some memories from his time there include lost friends and comrades and are hard to talk about, however it was not all sadness, there were some happier times in the squadron.

The aircraft types he worked on were Wellington, Stirling and Lancaster Bombers. When asked how the aircraft types compared, he said that without doubt the Lancaster was way out in front. The Short Stirlings differed from the others in that they had all electrically controlled systems and they were prone to failure. Fred remembers that on one occasion they had been trying to sort out a series of electrical faults on one particular aircraft. They took a meal break, but what they found when they returned afterwards was a Stirling, ‘belly’ on the ground with its undercarriage raised. Another electrical fault had decided to raise the undercarriage without human intervention while they were eating their lunch!

Repairing flack damage kept them constantly busy, forgoing meal and rest breaks to make sure that the aircraft were ready and top line for the next operation. Some of the aircraft returned so badly damaged that they were only good for spares use. How some of the aircrew managed to get these badly damaged aircraft back and land them was an incredible story of skill and heroism.

Some returned with the ‘Perspex’ cockpit canopy totally blown out or missing, injured crew members and with so much flack damage that it was a miracle the aircraft flew at all.

There were times when he had to run for cover when the German Luftwaffe dropped anti-personnel bombs on the aerodrome, only requiring small movements to set them off. The bomb disposal unit seemed to be constantly on duty.

He remembers the German fighters that would often follow the bombers back to the aerodrome to find out where the squadron was based. They took this additional opportunity to strafe the airfield and buildings with gunfire.

All the ground crews were hard working and forever on the alert, and they would secretly worry about the fate of the aircraft and the aircrews when they went on a mission, wondering which of their friends and colleagues would be lost or return to fight another day.

Fred worked on some of the more famous aircraft in WW2, one of them being Lancaster DV302, H for Harry, which went on to complete 121 missions. There were too many aircraft to mention individually but look at the photo page to see some of the others.

FIDO

FIDO was a fog dispersal system that was used at airfields during WW2 to clear fog from the runways, allowing the returning bombers to find their base and land safely. Fred remembers FIDO well; it was a series of pipes laid permanently on each side of the entire runway, which sprayed jets of lighted oil in an attempt to ‘burn off’ the fog. It worked extremely well and saved the lives of many returning aircrews. He did remark however that when FIDO was first lit, great plumes of thick black acrid smoke were produced, probably thicker than the fog itself, only clearing when the pipes got hot and vaporised the oil. As Fred put it “in a similar way to the old fashioned paraffin blowlamps”.

An incident that Fred remembers well is when an officer had noticed that the gun in the upper turret of the Lancaster would not fire in all positions and assumed that it was some sort of fault. It had to be explained to the unnamed officer, that if they did fire in all positions they would surely shoot off their own rudders from the tail plane, and not require the assistance of enemy fire to down the aircraft! The upper turret guns had to be disabled when they were turned to face either rudder, and although the officer was not aware of it, the Luftwaffe certainly were, for they used to exploit this blind spot.

Nights out were not that common, but they tried to manage at least one a week with a trip to the pubs in Louth. If any Americans came into the pub they were drinking in, they would quickly leave, for it usually meant arguments followed by a fight breaking out. On a few occasions, they missed the liberty bus back to the base and had to walk the whole 9 miles! Celebrations on VE night meant a few drinks at the pub in Ludford Magna village.

With the bombing campaign in Europe ending, the war in the Far East was still going on with no end in sight. Fred and his ground crew colleagues were ordered to report to Blackpool to be re-assigned to the Army, with the intention of sending them out to the Far East to continue the fight. Fred managed to delay reporting to Blackpool by a few weeks. By the time he eventually got there, the war with Japan was coming to an end and so he was to remain with the RAF until his discharge on 19th November 1946.

Fred tells us that he would have liked to have remained in the RAF and make it his career, but being newly married, he had a wife to consider. After talking it over, it was decided that a life living at various RAF stations throughout the world would not be right for them to start and bring up a family.

-> Click here <- to Fred’s collection of wartime photography


Fred Witchell – Life Before and After The War

The earliest photo of Fred, seen here at the age of one sitting on his mother Rose’s knee. Fred’s father Harry is standing at the rear, with sister Joan Elizabeth. Sister Phyllis Irene is sitting at the front. This photo was taken sometime during late 1923.

Fred was born on 22 October 1922 to parents Harry and Rose Witchell, who were already parents to his older sisters Phyllis Irene and Joan Elizabeth. His father was no stranger to conflict, for he had fought alongside countless others on the battlefields of WW1 as an officer in the 11th Hussars. Fred spent most of his early life living at 30, Taunton Road, Wallasey, The Wirral, Cheshire.

The following are Fred’s own words – “I first started to walk out with Edna when I was only 12 years old. She lived with her auntie and uncle just across the road from us at number 33 Taunton Rd. Edna’s mother had died soon after she had been born. We used to go to the pictures in Wallasey on Saturday afternoons and when my parents and Edna’s guardians allowed, we would walk around together in the evenings. Edna took up piano lessons, which meant that on some evenings I had to wait around for her while she practiced, all in the hope that it would not be too late to go for a walk. I got to know Edna’s family really well and spent a lot of time with them. It was about a year before the outbreak of the war that Edna started to take a keen interest in dancing. It was an interest that I didn’t share with Edna, for my interests were football, cycling and sport in general. During this time, Edna met a lad called Bill, and she began to regularly go dancing with him. Eventually Edna and Bill started to go out together, I was heartbroken of course.

Soon after the war began, Bill was called up and went into the RAF, his posting was to South Africa. I eventually joined the RAF myself and after training, was posted to Holme on Spalding Moor. On the few occasions that I was off duty in the evenings, I would write home to my parents in Nantwich, Cheshire. After a time, I started to wonder about Edna, did she still live in Wallasey and how was she? I wrote her a letter in the hope that she would receive it. Weeks went by with no reply, but I waited patiently, eventually I received a letter from Edna. She wrote that she was well and enjoying her life in spite of the war and that she would be pleased see me on my next leave. My leave duly arrived and I could not wait to get to Wallasey to see her.

When I eventually arrived, Edna’s family greeted me with open arms. I remember thinking how well she looked and that she was as pretty as ever. During the course of the evening, Edna appeared to be quite agitated and disappeared into the kitchen to help with the dinner. Her uncle took this opportunity to tell me the reason for Edna’s distress, for she had only that morning, received a letter from Bill saying that their relationship was over because he had met someone else in South Africa. I was secretly glad for myself, but sad for Edna who was obviously distressed by the news.

From that night onwards, my relationship with Edna began again. I was to spend the rest of the war knowing that Edna was waiting for me at home.

We married just after the war and set up home in a bungalow at Ormskirk, 9 miles north east of Liverpool. I went back to work for the Automatic Telephone Company in Liverpool who were obliged to offer my pre-war job back to me on discharge from the RAF in November 1946, a job that I came to hate. I persuaded my father to let us move into his large house with him in Nantwich, where I started to work for myself as, would you believe it, a pig breeder. This did not please my father, but I continued for 3 to 4 years and I had over 200 pigs.

The time then came for my father to retire which meant that the house was too large for us to maintain. By this time, we also had our young daughter Diana to consider. I gave up pig breeding and went into the world of insurance. We would move over the coming years to Crewe and then to Nantwich to be wherever my work took us.

It was during 1982 that Edna passed away. I decided to move after had Edna passed away and bought the house Long Lane, Harriseahead, North Staffordshire where I still live today.”


Ray Shufflebottom – His Wartime Days In The Royal Navy

Thank you Ray for sharing your memories and allowing us to tell your story

Enlisting and HMS Lightfoot

When WW2 broke out, Ray was still a 14-year-old student living at his family home at Springwood, Chesterton, in North Staffordshire. Ray’s first job after leaving school was as a machinist at the BSA factory in Newcastle, but as the almost certain arrival of his call up papers drew nearer; he decided to enlist in the service of his own choice.

Therefore, at the age of 17, Ray applied to join the Royal Navy. He took and passed his medical examination on the 13th February 1943, but it was not until the 27th September that he received his enlistment notice. He was instructed to present himself on Monday 4th October at HMS Ganges, the onshore naval training base on the Shotley peninsular in Essex.

His training at HMS Ganges lasted for 3 months and included such joys as being taken out to sea to learn how to swim, only being allowed back on shore after completing enough strokes to satisfy his instructor. Ray also remembers having to climb the famous wooden mast. After completing his naval training, he was ordered to report to the drill hall at HMS Pembroke, the naval base at Chatham.  This was to be Ray’s home base for the duration of his naval service.

The posting to his first ship was short lived, for soon after he had received instructions to join his ship, its mission to protect a Baltic convoy was cancelled. Ray cannot recall the ships name but he remembers that sometime later that year, this particular ship was lost with all hands while on convoy duty in the Baltic.

Within days he was re-assigned to another ship, the mine sweeper HMS Lightfoot, and was told to make his way immediately to Leith in Scotland to join the ship. He was on the Lightfoot in Leith for only 10 to 14 days while the ship’s crew was assembled after which she sailed for Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. Local people in Tobermory vividly remember the large amount of ships moored out in the bay, the majority of them were on some sort of training, anti-submarine, mine sweeping and so on. Even the commandoes who were training nearby made mock raids on the port. It was here that Lightfoot and her crew underwent mine sweeping training before going on active duty.

HMS Lightfoot
HMS Lightfoot seen here in 1948 under the Greek flag

HMS Lightfoot was just one of many ex-US and Canadian Algerine class minesweepers used by the Royal Navy during the war. After being transferred to Britain on the 14th December 1942, Lightfoot was joined by four other ships on mine sweeping duties.

They operated five abreast with chains between each ship, attempting to sever the contact mines anchor chains on the seabed. The mines would then be released and float to the surface where they were shot at in an attempt to hole them below water level, allowing sea water to enter and render the explosives safe. Ray recalls the times that he had to arm depth charges prior to firing, another method of disposing with the mines.

These operations took place between the West Coast, Pentland Firth and the upper regions of the North Sea, and were to continue for several months during early 1944. The last duty that the Lightfoot performed before she left this area was to escort a stricken submarine from the North Sea into Dundee.

D-Day was fast approaching, so the Lightfoot was ordered south to join the flotilla of ships gathering in the Solent in preparation for the Normandy landings. The sight of so many ships gathered in one place was an ‘incredible experience’ says Ray.

As the preparations continued for the D-Day landings on the 6th June 1944, Ray had to be taken ashore to undergo an operation in Portsmouth hospital. After only two or three days, he was transferred to Winchester hospital and then on to the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham. Ray’s short stay in these south coast hospitals was because of the freeing up of as many beds as possible in preparation for expected D-Day casualties. After ten days in the QE hospital, he was on his way home to Chesterton for a spell of leave.

Above are some images of Ray during his service at the Boulder 3 station in Iceland. The top-left hand picture shows Ray in front of the communications hut where he spent most of his time. The desolate Icelandic landscape around the Val Fjord can be seen clearly on the top-right hand photo.

Iceland and HMS Tracker

After some home leave to recuperate from his operation, Ray returned to Chatham where he received his next posting. He was to spend the next nine months at a refuelling station in Iceland. The station, which was code-named Boulder 3, was situated about 30 miles from Reykyavik along the Val Fjord. It was one of three ‘Boulder’ stations in Iceland, Boulder 1 being in Reykyavik.

Ray worked in the communications hut when on duty, but with little to do in his leisure time, he spent most of the time at his workplace. Recreation was confined to either bingo or the station’s cinema. Reykyavik was about 30 miles away by road and took around three hours by bus or lorry on the rough lava roads, meaning that there was little opportunity to spend time there. The boat trip was less rough but took over four hours.

The war in Europe was ending, so Ray was recalled to his home base in Chatham. He returned via Liverpool and took some home leave before reaching Chatham to be given his next posting. His posting was not immediate; he spent some weeks at Chatham but was billeted at Southend on Sea. This was a considerable distance away by land, and the rail journey into London and then onto Southend took a considerable time, but the recreational and leisure time pursuits made it worthwhile.

His posting eventually came through. He was to join HMS Tracker in Rosyth and sail to the Far East in support of the war which was still going on out there. With the posting being potentially long and such a great distance from home, Ray was given home leave before sailing. During this leave, Ray met another local lad at the pub, Ken Billington, who told him that he was also on his was to join Tracker, but he was due there a couple of days later than Ray.

Before Tracker could set sail, its mission to the Far East was cancelled following the Japanese surrender. It was now ordered to set sail for Southampton were it took on board American GI’s who were returning home after the end of the war in Europe.

Although Ray cannot remember exact dates as to these events, history reveals that it must have been around August 15th 1945, the date of the Japanese surrender, and records show that HMS Tracker would have been there at that time.

Ray left the Tracker at Southampton and returned to the naval base at Chatham to await his next posting.

Below are two photographs of HMS Tracker which were taken during sea trials shortly after conversion.

HMS Lightfoot

Not much is known about HMS Lightfoot other than she was one of thirty-one Algerine class minesweepers which were supplied to the Royal Navy by the US and Canada between 15th August 1942 and 15th June 1944. After mine sweeping duties with the Royal Navy, she was returned to the US Navy in December 1946 and then sold to Greece on 1st February 1948.

HMS Tracker

More is known about HMS Tracker (D24), a Bogue class escort carrier. She was originally built to be the merchantman Mormacmail at the Tacoma shipyards. Before she had been completed, the US Navy purchased the ship and she was converted to escort carrier BAVG-6 during 1942 at Portland, Oregon. Early in 1943, she was transferred to the Royal Navy and renamed HMS Tracker. Tracker had a distinguished career during her time with the Royal Navy. She served as a convoy escort in the North Atlantic and the Baltic, and she was part of the naval screen for the D-Day landings. In November 1944, Tracker was loaned back to the US Navy to be used to ferry aircraft and personnel in the Pacific.

She returned to the UK early in August 1945 and was allocated to the reserve fleet. She was due to leave for the Far East during August, but with the Japanese surrender, the sailing was cancelled. She was returned to the USN at the Norfolk Navy Yards on 29th November 1945. During 1946 she was sold into merchant service and became the Argentinean vessel Corrientes. She was scrapped at Antwerp in September 1964.

Ray

Below are images of a naval ratings railway ticket and a leave pass issued to Ray in 1945. These should had been handed in immediately after being used. After over 60 years, we do not think it will matter too much!

Rosyth as an Air Lighter

Ray was now posted to Rosyth and was to become an aircraft lighter. After the end of WW2 some of the aircraft aboard aircraft carriers and escort carriers were unserviceable and therefore incapable of flying off to land bases. It was the job of the air lighters to manually remove these aircraft from the carriers using smaller craft and to land them ashore. The majority of the unserviceable and damaged aircraft were Swordfish. The task of removing these aircraft was considerable so Ray was stationed here for many months before being posted.

The above images are copies of more of Ray’s leaving passes from July 1946.

Ray and his Mates
Ray is seen here with some of his air lighter friends at Rosyth

Greenock

It was now September 1946 and Ray was expecting to be de-mobbed, but he was posted instead to the RN air base at Greenock. His duties there were various, from working on the main gate to occasionally helping to police the town and keep an eye on sailors having a bit of ‘leisure time’. On one occasion, Ray was sent all the way to Preston prison to escort a prisoner back to Greenock. Apparently, this sailor had been accused of stealing a typewriter. Ray arrived at Preston prison at night and was too late to catch a train back or even too late to find some accommodation. He had to spend the night in a prison cell, unlocked of course.

Ray was not to return to Chatham again, he was eventually de-mobbed in 1947 at Greenock although he had to return home via York to pick up his de-mob suit. In common with most de-mobbed service personnel, he became a naval reservist. During the Suez crisis, Ray was recalled to serve in the Navy once more, but by this time, he was in a reserved occupation, rebuilding military tanks at the Apedale Tank Factory.


Della Dawson – Life At The Avro Factory

Thank you Della for sharing your memories and allowing us to tell your story

Della is a local North Staffordshire girl having lived most of her early life at Hanford, and has spent her later life at Basford, Newcastle. During the 1940s she moved away to stay with her Aunt Claire who lived at Leadenham, which is about half way between Grantham and Lincoln.

It was while she was living here that she applied for a job at the A.V.Roe factory in Brace Bridge Heath. Avro at Brace Bridge Heath was mainly a reclamation works where damaged aircraft would be stripped for re-usable or re-buildable parts. Della was successful in getting a job there and was soon put to work on a jig assembling ailerons for Avro Ansons.

She travelled to work by bus and had to be ready for an 8am start. On arrival, she and the other girls would put their coats onto a large hanger that was then hoisted up into the hangar ceiling, only to be lowered at the end of the day.

In Della’s own words – “Because of the work I did, I used to wear trousers all the time, mainly for convenience more than fashion. My job was to drill and rivet the struts and other parts together, we did not know much about the aircraft other than it was an important part and required some skill. After a few weeks, I became a semi-skilled fitter that was not unusual at that time because most of the men were in the Armed Forces. My work had to be spot on and had to have a thorough inspection before it went to the next section. I remember that the next section was with a group of women whose job was to hand stitch a sort of canvas material onto the parts I had made. The thread had to be waxed and every third stitch had to have a knot tied into it. It was very difficult to do and was hard on their fingers, but I never heard any of them complain. After the women had finished the work, it would be inspected and then go in to another part of the partitioned hangar for ‘doping’. The smell was awful and thankfully, you only got a whiff of it when the doors were opened and shut quickly. After doping the canvas would be strong and taut like a drum, then another inspection of course”.

Della has fond memories of the people she worked with and says – “I can still remember the Chief Inspector, Bob Muir, who certainly knew his job and kept us on our toes. We all worked hard and would have just a half hour lunch break, long enough to eat our sandwiches and make a cup of tea. I would sit with Bob Muir and another work colleague who’s name was Cyril Greenfield. We would usually talk about our respective families. At five o’clock, the hangers with our coats on would be lowered and it was time for home. I enjoyed my days at A. V. Roe and often think about my old friends as we like a family”.

Della says that she will try to remember other facts about her time there and add to her story. Avro, Brace Bridge Heath was extremely close to RAF Waddington, and there are some stories of seeing Lancaster bombers being towed between them, down the A15, Sleaford Road. One of the hangars at RAF Waddington was given over to A.V.Roe where they built Lancaster Bombers from reclaimed parts brought down from Brace Bridge Heath.

If anyone remembers Bob, Cyril, or anyone else who worked with Della, she would be overjoyed to hear from them.