The last post saw Dad leaving Egypt on April 8, 1944 – the day of his 24th birthday. The 127 Squadron shifted to R.A.F. Station, North Weald (UK) and an email to me from Albie Gotze SAAF (Brig Gen. Retd) told us how the Squadron moved.
In one of those eerie coincidences in life, Dad takes up his logbook again on May 8, 1944. He didn’t know it then but I would be born on that day many years later. His first entry, now that he’s stationed in the United Kingdom, is full of excitement because he is now flying his own aircraft: a Spitfire IX.
I learnt from Albie Gotze that he and my father had to convert from a Hurricane Mk 2 to the Spitfire. I know that the development of the Spitfire has a rather interesting history – but maybe a dedicated reader could point out the specific features of the Spitfire IX. I vaguely recall Dad telling me (do I have this right?) that the Spitfire he flew was developed in response to a particular German aircraft and that this aircraft could climb higher than the Spitfire IX (or the Spitfire before the IX, not sure). Over to experts!
Anyway. We see Dad commenting on May 8: My own A/C. Lovely too. Seems he was involved in the usual flying activities but now including sector recco (guess this was a reconnaissance mission in a particular sector); wing formation; escort to Mosquitoes (the British-built de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito plane); and looks like some bombing missions too.
A couple of things I don’t understand – Line Aster Chase (at least I think the logbook says Aster) and Sweep – Creil Area (both on May 22). In his logbook, Dad comments: First time over France – at 24,000ft. I know that Creil is in Northern France so I presume Sweep – Creil Area means he was flying over that area in search of enemy activity.
You can really sense the action is heating up now. During the sweep of the Creil area, Dad noted: Pranged train in marshalling yard. I presume this means he hit a train with the guns of his Spitfire (which were located in the wing) as opposed to just seeing a damaged train.
Actually, a comment above the one he makes in his logbook about the train says: Hit second train which fired back, so I guess Dad was involved in some sort of raid on the marshalling yards that were intended to take out or severely damage the trains. German trains? There is another part to the comment that I simply can’t read – although the last word is hit (see photos below). On that day, he also noted that there was bags of light and accurate flak. Neil Thomas missing.
The list of the 127 Squadron pilots shows a F/O Neil Osborne Thomas and I corroborated the date he went missing with the Operational Losses section of the 127 Squadron website. F/O Neil Osborne Thomas (400740) was Australian who was shot down and spent the rest of WWII as a prisoner of war.
A bit more Dr Googling and I found that he was discharged on November 17, 1945 from the 127 Squadron and he previously served with the 457 Squadron. I’d be very interested to know where he spent time as a POW and if he is still alive.
Dad returned to base (North Weald – Lympe) on May 24 with engine trouble. He’d been involved in a strategic bombing mission over Douai (Northern France) and had to jettison the 500 lb bomb in the Channel as he flew back to base. Frankly, I would have been a bundle of nerves – just shows you the nerves of steel fighter pilots needed!
The Summary for May 1944 is signed off by Flt Lt Peter Hillwood O.C. “B” FLT. Not quite sure what the O.C. “B” FLT business means – Officer Commanding presumably. And on the opposite page of the logbook, Squadron Leader, Charles Frank Bradley’s signature appears.
Click on photos below to enlarge.