The lancasters of 460 squadron and their home in Binbrook
Binbrook was the home of 460 Squadron from 1943 until the end of the war. It was here that my crew and I were to complete the 30 missions of our first tour.
I suppose the total population of Binbrook, taking in the Squadron, Station and Base personnel would have numbered about two thousand. The squadron would have contributed some three hundred aircrew plus as many again ground staff as each aircraft had a sergeant and five airmen responsible for its day to day maintenance. The sergeants were all Australians, part of the RAAF, but the airmen were all Britishers in the RAF.
Our ground crew were headed by Jack Jones(1) until he was repatriated to Australia and then ‘Spud’ Murphy(2) took over. His wife was named Beryl and he painted her name on the fuselage of ‘O’ Oboe just below the pilot’s window.
Each crew cherished their own plane and regarded it as much their own as the crew that flew it. They expected the air-crew to take good care of it – not to abuse the engines by running them outside their recommended specifications and not to bring it back with too many flak holes in it.
For our part we appreciated them and recognised that our lives were very much dependent on their dedication and diligence. It was the captain’s job to be as much an encouragement to them as it was to lead his own aircrew.
At the end of our tour all of us (air-crew and ground crew) met for an evening’s celebration in the Marquis of Grandby in Binbrook village.
|S/L Leatherdale 460 Squadron|
As well as the squadron personnel there were all the Station and Base people – armourers, transport drivers, cooks, batmen and batwomen, signal and radar personnel, admin types, service police, intelligence officers, meteorologists, airfield control staff and what have you.
Some of these we got to know quite well. There was Leatherdale(3) the Station Intelligence Officer who always controlled the de- briefing and had to report to Group on the results of each raid. He was a Squadron Leader and, no doubt, a permanent RAF officer. We were in the Service only for the duration.
At the end of our tour he gave me all of the target photos taken from the ‘O’ Oboe camera and we shared these out amongst us.
|Lancaster Bomber – #3 military.discovery.com|
There was also Foggo(4) the Air-field Controller who reigned as king in his control tower marshalling the planes off and back on again after the raid. He was ably supported by Womens’ Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) operators whose welcome voice was heard as the various planes checked in when approaching the drome on their return.
The usual patter was:
“Leary from Oboe! Over!”— “Oboe 1500!”— “Oboe 1500! Out!”
Oboe would then circle the drome at 1500 feet or whatever other height was given until further instructed. “Leary” was the call-sign given to the Binbrook drome.
|SL Foggo 460 Squadron|
Depending on just how many planes were stacked up at 500 feet intervals eventually the call would come; “Oboe 1000”. This would be acknowledged and “Oboe” would let down and join the circuit following the drem lights, which encircled the drome.
When on the downwind leg Oboe would report “Oboe downwind.” At this point the undercarriage would be lowered and flaps set at 15 or 20 degrees to give the pilot greater control at lower speeds.
The flaps would go down to 40 degrees when turning crosswind and letting down to 600 feet and then, when the final turn was made on to the runway Oboe would report “Oboe funnels!” – the drem lights at this point would form a funnel leading down to the start of the runway. Leary would then come back with “Oboe pancake!” meaning land or “Oboe overshoot!” if there was any problem ahead: such as an obstruction on the runway – maybe the previous plane had burst a tyre or was slow in clearing the runway.
|Lancaster bomber cockpit – #4 w4960.nl|
Once the go-ahead was given the pilot would order “Full flaps!”, “Fine pitch!”. The engineer would respond, slackening the throttle control screw at the same time to give the pilot easy control of the four throttles.
He would then have to descend so as to come over the fence at about 100 feet and 110 mph and, once over, it would be “Power off!”. The engineer would then drag the throttles right back and virtually hang on them to make sure they were off and the pilot would then have to juggle the plane down on to the ground.
The last message to the control tower would be “Oboe clear!” as the plane turned off the runway. There would be no response from Leary except that, on our last trip, Leary did respond with a “Congratulations Oboe!”.
The WAFFs were something like mother hens gathering all their chicks home and fretting over those who did not turn up. Some of these girls are still alive and come out to our Squadron reunions.
|WAAF – #6 ww2australia.gov.au|
Speaking of these girls brings me to the presence of girls generally on the station. Of these there were many serving in various roles within the WAAF and they provided one of the unique features of Bomber Command’s war. The Navy at sea was, in those days an all male affair, so was that of the Army in the field. But, for Bomber Command there was the strange mixture of lonely hours of peril and death in the skies over Germany interspersed with days of gracious, comfortable living made more homely by the presence of female company.
Of course there was a lot of fraternising, although it was kept within bounds by the recognised rules of propriety and by the discipline exercised over the WAAF force by its officers. Many genuine romances were initiated and developed between air-crew and some of these girls, although some suggest today that many of the girls were careful not to get too involved with air-crew because of the tenuous nature of their existence.
|Group Captain (Hughie) H.I.Edwards 460 Squadron (right)|
My own relationships were mainly with WAAF officers and this was because, soon after our arrival on the squadron, it was indicated to myself and Bluey Williams(5) that we were ‘expected’ to attend the Sunday afternoon ‘tea’ hosted by the WAAF Officers in their own mess.
We did as we were told and, on our first visit, Hughie Edwards(6) also attended and sang an air-force ditty. I was certainly surprised to see the Station Commander so relaxed and prepared to shake down with all of us lesser mortals. It augured well for the spirit of the Squadron to which we were now attached. But, it was an Australian squadron and Hughie who had a VC, DSO and DFC was an Australian serving in the RAF.
It was at one of these ‘pleasant Sunday afternoons’ some month’s later that I met Anne my wife, but more of that later.
We had come across from Hemswell in an Air-force tender — seven men with all of their worldly belongings. There was an initial period of familiarisation, of learning the ‘drill’ and meeting up with persons of significance: the Squadron Adjutant; the commander of the flight to which we were assigned and, in my case, with the C.O. of the Squadron, Wing Commander Douglas(7), who recognised me and greeted me in the Officers’ Mess at meal-time on that very first day.
|Crew Jack Goulding (foreground), Harry Ellis (top right),
Me (center with Ruby and Jean) – B Flight party 460 Squadron
We were all accommodated in the quarters to which we were assigned — the NCOs of the crew in the NCOs’ quarters, and Harry Ellis and myself, as commissioned officers, but very new ones, in a separate two-story brick building along the road that led to the ‘Waafery’. The poor girls, even their officers, had only Nissan huts’; but, there was a war on, and, in those days, it was the men who fought and ‘had contact with the enemy ‘( not an altogether appropriate term, as not a few Waafs were killed by bombs and Buzz-bombs dropped by the enemy) who were to be given the home comforts that they deserved.
I shared a room on the upper floor of the building with ‘Ocker’ Hanrahan(8), the first pilot of ‘O’ – Oboe, whose plane I was to inherit. Until that time came, ‘Ocker’ made it quite clear that it was his plane and that he did not want a new pilot bringing it back in any way damaged. I recall at least one occasion when he waited by the dispersal to make sure it had returned.
There were two Waafs detailed as bat-women to the building in which I was housed. I guess they made the beds and kept the quarters clean. We were not particularly interested in their duties but we enjoyed their friendship and encouragement. ‘Ruby’ had a friend — a Canadian officer — who often called to visit her, whilst ‘Jean’, who was not so fortunate, made a special appeal to Santa on Christmas Day by hanging up her stocking with a note enclosed: “Please send me a man!”
They were, both of them, lovely girls.
|WAAFs at B Flight party 460 Squadron – Crew Jack McQueen (bottom right)|
But, we were not there to enjoy home comforts and very soon preparation, in the form of training exercises, began for the real thing.
(1) Sergeant J.A.Jones Aus.22254 – 15/4/40 to 31/8/45
(2) Sergeant Murphy
(3) Squadron Leader Leatherdale – RAF
(4) Squadron Leader Foggo – RAF
(5) Flying Officer John L. Williams DFC Aus 418475
(6) Air Commodore (then Group Captain) H. I. Edwards V.C, D.S.O., D.F.C. – RAF
(7) Wing Commander John K. Douglas D.F.C. , A.F.C. Aus 403564 – K.I.A. 8/2/45
(8) Flying Officer A.A. Hanrahan Aus 410976