Well, here we are: the end of Dad’s time in Beirut and Egypt. In one of those spooky coincidences in life, he left Egypt on April 8, 1944 – the day of his 24th Birthday. The 127 Squadron was posted to the UK and we’ll find out what happened in future posts.
For now, we remain with Dad during February and March 1944 on convoy patrol; practicing straffe (which I believe is attacking ground targets from a low-flying aircraft); flying to Damascus and back to base; and ack-ack co-op (and I’ve come to learn that this means gunners on the ground tracking aircraft flying and pretending they were shooting at an enemy plane).
On February 27, 1944, Dad was on convoy patrol and his comments say he “covered flotsam ’till dark. Landed at base“. Presumably, this meant he protected or covered wreckage floating around the ocean following the sinking of a vessel. On March 5, Dad seemed to be having “bags of fun” dog-fighting during formation and ack-ack co-op exercises.
March 7 is our first hint that the real action is about to happen. Dad returns to base to find “spits arriving in big numbers – wizard“. I guess when the squadron left for the UK, the newly-arrived Spitfires were flown enmasse to North Weald, where the 127 re-assembled.
On March 10, Dad flew an aircraft I haven’t seen mentioned before – Fairchild with serial number FS549 – and his second pilot or passenger was W/CDR Shepard. W/CDR stands for Wing Commander but I can’t find any reference to W/CDR Shepard in the 127 Squadron. Dad flew the route Quociea – Yate – Beirut. I’m not sure about this as I can’t find any reference to Quociea so could it be Qociea? And Yate? No idea. I wish Dad had commented why they were flying this route in a different aircraft.
Looks like Dad wasn’t all that impressed with the exercise he had to undertake on March 19 (ack-ack co-op) because this was the morning after another big dance. Given that Dad loved to dance and drink beer, I can imagine the night of the dance was, shall we say, rowdy!
March 20 sees Dad commenting in his logbook: “To Base; finish of Beirut detachment“. And then, at the bottom of the left hand page in his logbook in capital letters, the news: “Squadron posted to UK!! Left Egypt 8th April 1944 – my 24th Birthday”.
The logbook has a gap – from March 21 to May 8, 1944. Towards the end of March, Dad had finished his Beirut detachment and, on his birthday, received the news that the 127 Squadron was on its way to the UK. I presume that all of April and early May was taken up with moving an entire squadron to the UK.
Actually, I know how the squadron moved to the UK because about two years ago, Albie Gotze SAAF (Brig Gen. Retd), contacted me via email and solved the Valerie mystery. He told me some stuff about Dad that I never knew (such as Dad was a good singer).
Somewhere on this blog I’ve already posted the following but it’s worth repeating. Here’s what Albie told me about the 127 Squadron’s move to the UK:
Jimmy and I joined the sqdn while based at St Jean in then Palestine. I a week before him. I had just completed a conversion course onto Hurricane Mk 2. 127 had just been re-equipped with Spitfires Mk 5. So he and I had to convert onto Spit 5.
We no sooner got there when the Sqdn was moved lock stock and barrel to England. Everything was packed into trucks and had to drive through the Negev dessert, where, to make things for us most uncomfortable, we were caught in a “Ghamsin” a severe desert storm. We crossed the Suez Canal at Ismailia, onto a train to Port Alexandria. We embarked onto the SS Franconia and went in convoy escorted by the navy through the Mediterranean, where several ships were sunk, right round the top of Ireland, because of the U boats to dock at Glasgow and disembarked at 0200h in blistering rain onto a train and ended up at North Weald the following morning.
I can imagine this was quite a precarious journey. I suppose any squadron moving was vulnerable and open to attack. Clearly, the Navy (British?) had to protect the 127 as it navigated around Ireland towards Glasgow.
The logbook picks up again on May 8, 1944. Another one of those spooky coincidences in life – May 8 being my birthday. And so the next post will take up the 127 Squadron’s action from R.A.F. Station, North Weald.
Click on photos below to enlarge.