460 Squadron – Brighton to Church Broughton

Forming the crew on the way to flying lancaster bombers on 460 Squadron
Here is the journey from ariving in Brighton in England as a individual to leaving Lichfield as a bomber crew ready to fly the Lancaster Bombers of 460 Squdron over Europe in 1943-44.

South Cerney in Gloucestershire

Our time in Brighton came to an end with our posting to No. 3 P (for pilot) AFU (Advanced Flying Unit) at South Cerney in Gloucestershire; a drome just two miles to the South East of Cirencester. Gloustershire is a most picturesque county embracing, as it does, the Cotswold Hills and the upper reaches of the Thames.
Jim, Sid, David and myself were posted. Phil and Cyril were sent to Peterborough to train as Staff Pilots and Pat McNulty went off to some other AFU. I was to meet Pat only once again:  in London after his tour on Halifaxes was finished and he had his DFC. Sadly, he was killed soon after in a Liberator crash – he had transferred to Transport Command – and I believe I have the account of the crash, written by a sole survivor, amongst my papers.

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Image source #1 – South Cerney Airfield – www.atlantikwall.co.uk/
At South Cerney we were thrown together for the first time with English aircrew, who had reached this point in their training after coming along a similar path to us but in different parts of the world.
George Knott a Yorkshireman had trained in South Africa and taught us Zulu war songs. Alan ‘Yakka’ Yates was from Stoke on Trent and told us all about the Potteries and Stanley Matthews and English soccer. Tony Carver, a former printer from Birmingham and George Eakin an ex-policeman from Liverpool were good mates and roomed together. Tony took me home on a short leave and I met his sisters – both parents, I understood,  were dead. He too died ere long on ops. (1) The others, as far as I know survived.

I also met up with some more Australians – Desmond ‘Ned’ Kelly and Ewen ‘Hughie’ Jones amongst them; Good mates and quite some characters.’ Ned’ was to be killed over Karlsruhr in February 45, when a plane

above, corkscrewing to get away from a night-fighter, crashed down on top of him. Only his rear gunner survived, because the whole turret broke off from the rest of the aircraft.

Southrop

After just one week at the main station we were all transferred to a satellite and a newly developed field nearthe village of Southrop. The developers had built the Nissan huts, in which we were housed, right in the centre of a wood and had cleared just enough trees to make room for the huts. It was early autumn and what a picture it was to see the ‘yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red’ leaves dropping from the trees and being picked up by the wind and scattered through the wood.

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Image source #2 – Oxford Airspeed – www.wikimedia.org/ 

Here at Southrop we started to fly and our first plane in the Course, which was to convert us from fighters to bombers, was the Airspeed Oxford. It was a safe, reliable, twin-engine monoplane, powered by two 370 hp Armstrong Siddley Cheeta engines, giving it a maximum speed of 188 mph and a ceiling of 19,500 feet. We had no oxygen so we didn’t fly above 10,000 feet by day or 4000 feet by night. The early Oxfords were intended for full crew training and had a mid-upper turret fitted. This idea was later abandoned, the turret was removed and the aircraft was used predominantly for pilot training. We were to spend just on six months at Southrop and I was to amass a total of 115 flying hours. 42 of them being solo and 30 in all being at night.

We went through the autumn and winter of 1943; saw lots of snow, sometimes just drifting down and, at others, coming down with storm force. The most challenging flights were the night cross countries in bad weather and at relatively low altitudes, when we had to fly, either in company with an instructor or afellow trainee and with a staff navigator to give us direction,from beacon to beacon – each beacon flashing out a particular call-sign – and back to base.The most exciting was when we went up by day with a fellow trainee to do some navigational exercise and then indulged in a spot of unauthorised low flying.
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Image source #3 – Strand Palace Hotel www.londonguide.dk

On leave we usually went to London and stayed at the Strand Palace Hotel for six days. But most week ends were free and these we spent in Oxford. We went punting on the Thames. We saw the various university colleges. I heard Myra Hess in a pianoforte recital and I began to purchase and collect gramophone records.

These were the old 78’s and a Beethoven symphony would comprise perhaps four or five records recorded on each side.My tastes ran to Beethoven and Schubert; David was more into Strauss, which I thought showed a less well developed appreciation of good music. Although, he could play the recorder which was more than I could do. There was little to do of a night on the station so often we would ride into Southrop. We all had push-bikes but none of us had fitted lights and. in any case, blackout conditions prevailed. We tended to depend on one man, who might have a shielded torch who led the way, while the rest of us followed behind. This led to some close encounters with the local policeman, whom we usually managed to evade.

In Southrop there was a pub and a dance hall and nothing much else. The dance hall had a coke stove and flue in the centre of the floor and we were taught that it was proper etiquette for the gentleman to go round the stove with his back towards it, rather than wheel the lady around with her back nearest the heat.

In the pub we drank the low-alcohol English beer. I think it was kept at one and a half percent throughout the war and sang songs around the piano. A favourite towards the end of the night, when everyone thought he was Caruso, was Nelly Deen:

“There’s an old mill by the stream, Nelly Deen,

Where we used to sit and dream, Nelly Deen;

And the waters as they flow, seem to whisper soft and low,

You are my heart’s desire, I love you, Nellie Deen.”

When we didn’t go to the pub we spent the night in the mess. Our general entertainment was in playing cards, occasionally bridge or 500, but mostly poker or slippery-sam or pontoon. We had little on which to spend our money and it was no big deal to win or lose a few pounds during a night’s gambling. The R.A.F. fellows tended not to participate they probably valued what money they had more than we did but, Jim and I and the (2) two Heaths, Laurie and ‘Dingy’ and (3) Joe Bridgett, would frequently sit around a table and play until bed-time.

Interestingly, our officer companions, who had a different mess to us, seemed to have more refined tastes than we sergeants. David, whom I have already mentioned, had Keith Watson (4) and Jimmy Preston (5) as mates within his mess and I know, from Keith’s diaries, which he assiduously kept, that he and David, sometimes accompanied by Ned and Hughie, spent a lot of their free time in Oxford, enjoying the companionship of local girls whom they may have met at dances. I think the uniforms might have given them something of an advantage.

Eventually we were deemed to be sufficiently trained for the next stage on our inexorable progress towards bombers and the war. On the 14th March 1944, my twenty first birthday, David and I were posted to No. 27 O.T.U. (Operational Training Unit) at Lichfield. Jim went off to Moreton-on-the-Marsh and would be headed for No. 4 Group and Halifaxes. Lichfield served Nos 1 and 5 Group who flew Lancasters.

Forming the crew

We spent just on three weeks at Lichfield during which time the major activity was to form a crew. Just as we were amongst a batch of pilots who were transferred in so, concurrently with our transfer came like batches of navigators, bomb-aimers and wireless operators; all highly organised and co-ordinated by the great administrative machine.

The procedure at Lichfield, which was an exclusively Australian O.T.U. was to let things take their natural course:let people shake down together and form their own groupings by mutual consent. At other similar O.T.Us, I understand that it was more manipulated and directed by the higher powers. But wisdom would seem to dictate that there should be as little intrusion from the outside as possible, as choices were here

being made which could have a life or death aspect to them.

I didn’t know where to start and whilst others were rushing in and enlisting men to fly with them, I had done nothing for a couple of days. Then I just bumped into a bomb-aimer and we got talking. He didn’t yet have a crew.
He asked me did I have a bomb-aimer and I said, “No!”
“Well what about me”, he said and I said, “Why not?” and so Jack Trist joined my crew.
Then, the next day, I was in the latrine and there was a navigator also there, down at the other end. We looked at each other and smiled and as we came out
I said, “Are you crewed up yet?” “No!” he said.
“Would you like to join me?” I said. And he said, “Why not!” Now I had Fred Smith. I was doing well. I asked them both whether they knew a WOP who might join us but they said, “No.”
One night we were sitting in the NAAFI, which was the off duty relaxation centre where you could buy drinks (tea, coffee and soft drinks), when a rather oldish man approached us and said,
“Is this Baskerville’s crew?”
We said that it was and he said, somewhat unexcitedly, “Well I’m your WOP!”This was Harry Ellis, twenty-eight years of age, with a fiancée back in Australia. He had been crewed up with a Flight LieutenantBroad (6) , later to be a judge in Brisbane, but the Flight Lieutenant had been sent off somewhere else and the crew that he had gathered had to be disbursed amongst those who still had missing members.
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he crew from left to right – Ian Hall (engineer), Henry Baskerville (pilot),
Harry Ellis (wireless operator), Jack Golding (mid upper gunner), Jack McQueen (rear gunner),
Jack Trist (bomb aimer) and Fred Smith (navigator).

And so we came together. Later on, after we had done quite some flying, two gunners came in the early evening into our hut looking for Baskerville. They were Jack McQueen and Jack Goulding, mates who had trained together and wanted to fly together and who had already determined that McQueen would be the rear-gunner and Goulding the mid-upper. They just informed me that they had been assigned to my crew.

So, apart from the Flight Engineer, Ian Hall, our only non-Australian, whom we were to collect by assignment at our next station, we were complete and together for better or for worse.
Once the crew was assembled we were among a group who were transferred to the satellite station of Church Broughton. David and his crew came also. Here we were introduced to the Wellington, formerly a front line bomber but now relegated, for the most part, to a training role at least in England,where the four engine
bombers had taken over front line duty.

Photo Atribution


Flying Personel

(1) F/O A.H.Carver (RAFVR 176877) K.I.A. 30/8/44 Buried Halsingbordg (Palsjo) Municipal Cemetry, Sweden
(2) P/O L.D. Heath (Aus. 423305) K.I.A. 30/8/44 Commemorated on Runnymede Memorial, Surrey, U.K.
P/O G.L. Heath (Aus.423114) K.I.A. 25/7/44 Buried Durnbach War Cemetry, Bayern, Germany.
(3) F/O J.H.Bridgett D.F.C. (Aus. 426299)
(4) F/L K.A. Watson (Aus. 426199)
(5) F/O J.R.R. Preston (Aus. 421756) K.I.A. 11/9/44 Buried Reichswald Forest War Cemetry. Germany
(6) S/L E.G.Broad D.F.C. (Aus. 405294)
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