On my birthday

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.

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Filed under 127 Squadron RAF, Log entries, R.A.F. Station North Weald, Spitfire IX, WWII pilot log

Left Egypt on my 24th birthday!

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.

 

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Filed under 127 Squadron RAF, Aircraft flown, New Zealand WWII history, WWII pilot log

Top speed

Well, dear reader, I have been MIA. For the last few months, I’ve been in Bhutan working and am off soon to Hong Kong. So nothing much has happened on this blog but, thanks to a message from regular reader, John Engelsted, I’m back onto it. Let’s just hope I don’t get more long-term consulting roles that take me out of action for awhile!

So where were we? Last time, we saw Dad promoted to Flight Lieutenant (January 28, 1944) and we were talking about Lydd airbase. We’ve now reached February, 1944 and I can see that the action is heating up (so to speak). February 1 through to February 27 sees Dad zooming through the skies at 250 m.p.h. in a Hurricane IIC.

He’s doing the usual exercises – formation, scrambling, cine gun – but there are a couple of new entries. The first one is Search for Cable (Feb 12) and the second is Co-op with A.S.R. Launch (Feb 21). I have no idea what cable Dad would be searching for but his comments show he didn’t find it. I am guessing A.S.R. stands for Air Sea Rescue but I don’t get what the launch part is all about. So over to anyone who knows.

Dad also seems to now be involved with cannon tests. I’m pretty sure the Hurricane IIC had four 20 mm cannons, so I suppose he was flying around testing the cannons on his plane. The log entry for February 14 mentions a cannon test with war load – anyone know what this means? And on February 15, the entry states calibration – is this radar calibration or equipment?

I can see that Dad was often frustrated when they scrambled to 20,000ft but nothing was happening. But on February 11, he met with bags of lightning. I remember that Dad loved nothing better than a wild, stormy day with wind, lightning and thunder. As a kid, if I was frightened by rolling thunder, he’d simply tell me that the noise was due to God playing ten pin bowling. :-)

I can’t quite decipher his writing for the February 11 comment: I think it says “Dinger” Bell damaged a J.U.88. 50m S of Cyprus. Off to Google I go – Dinger would be a nickname, as in ding ding of the bell. So who was Dinger Bell? Is Dad referring to W/O Colin Douglas Bell who was also in the 127 Squadron? I would guess so. And it seems that Dinger Bell damaged a Junkers JU88 – a twin engine German Luftwaffe aircraft – 50 miles (or 80 kilometres), South of Cyprus. After all the action on February 11, Dad flew back to base for a squadron dance. Dad always loved dancing.

On February 12, he flew from base and clocked 250 m.p.h. (or around 400 kilometres). He noted that he flew straight and level getting to convoy. Not bad.

A couple of entries I don’t understand. Whilst doing calibration on February 14, Dad notes Duff R/T. No idea what this means. And whilst flying cross-country on February 27, he comments Looking for W.U. types – didn’t find them but hit my head on perspex! At least I think it is W.U. – could it be W.V? I imagine it refers to enemy aircraft and, whilst Dad was scanning the skies, he banged his head on the canopy. Ouch.

I took a sneak peak a few pages further in the logbook. We are very close to the 127 Squadron moving to the UK and re-assembling at North Weald. And on May 8, 1944, Dad finally has his own aircraft – a Spitfire IX. Reading this sent a few shivers down my spine because May 8 is the date I was born! And from this point on in Dad’s logbook, I can see that Dad was involved in some dangerous flying missions. We don’t have far to go Dear Reader!!

Click on photos below to enlarge.

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Filed under 127 Squadron RAF, Aircraft flown, Hurricane IIC

Later in life

Whilst ferreting through old photo albums to find the Christmas menu for 1943 (which turned out to be 1944), I found some photos of Dad later in life. You’ve seen a ton of photos of him during his wartime service, so I thought you’d like to see photos of him after the War.

Possibly, I’ve already posted one of them but I can’t seem to find it on this blog – so maybe not. (Click on photos below to enlarge).

The first photo I know I took and, of the three photos, shows Dad at his oldest. He was in his 50s when I snapped it. I was maybe around 10 or 12 years old and obsessed with photography, particularly candid snaps. Film camera; black and white film. I was always running around with a camera. Dad is talking with my maternal grandfather, who he got along with very well. The second photo I may have posted before. I think it’s from the late 1940s or early 1950s. No, I wasn’t around then :-)

My two uncles are at the head of the table (cropped out of photo) and they worked for my maternal grandfather. I know that at some point straight after the War, my father also worked for my grandfather. I think he had an importing/exporting business but I’m not sure what Dad did. I’m guessing but I reckon this is some business dinner they were all attending. Maybe it was hosted by my grandfather who always seemed to be throwing soirées and dinner parties. Dad is the first smiling face at the end of the table.

The third photo I’ve actually not seen before. It was lurking behind another photo in an album. By the looks of the suit fashion, I’d say this was taken in the 1960s and somewhere around the foreshore of Sydney harbour.

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Filed under 127 Squadron RAF, Photo album, Photos

Promoted

January 28th, 1944 must have been a very exciting day for Dad – he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant. Looks like this was a Friday and, on that day, Dad was flying in a Hurricane IIC and his duty was “Ack-Ack Co-Op (Low Level)”.

I’ve come to learn that this means gunners on the ground would track aircraft flying and pretend they were shooting at an enemy plane. No real bullets; just tracking the aircraft. It was an exercise but I don’t really get what the pilots in the planes did. Were they in radio contact with the gunners on the ground, giving them feedback?

On January 30, Dad flew to Lydd (at first I thought it was Lydo but pretty sure it’s Lydd). Lydd is a town in Kent, England and, during World War II, it had a grass airfield. Considering Dad was scrambling at 20,000 feet the very next day (February 1st), I don’t think he flew from Beirut to Lydd UK! Therefore, there must have been a Lydd airfield or base in Lebanon during WWII.

Dr Google! It’s not in the list of former RAF stations – guess not as Dad refers to a base. But he does write it like this:

To Lydd – Base – Beirut

This could suggest he went to Lydd first, then onto the base (what base?) and then to Beirut (where he was on detachment). I’ve looked up Lydd, Lebanon; Lydd airfield Lebanon; Lydo, Lebanon just in case it’s a misspelling. Nothing. Zippo. So over to the dedicated reader who might know something.

One comment Dad makes brought back a flood of memories. When I was about 10 years old, Dad took me to Cooma, New South Wales (Australia) and then onto the Snowy Mountains. My mum didn’t come with us; so it was just me and Dad in the Mini Minor. I think the Mini was white. And I remember being amazed by snow (I was brought up in Sydney where there is no snow). Dad took a ton of photos of me leaping about in the snow, throwing snowballs. I still have these photos. Any time snowy, Wintery scenes came on TV, Dad would comment on how serene he found snow to be. I was always perplexed as we lived in urban Sydney and, to my knowledge, Dad had never been near snow.

January 27th, 1944 saw him flying in formation over snowy mountains:

Over Lebanese mountains. Snow a marvellous sight.

And so now I understand why Dad seemed to love snow.

The Summary for January 1944 is signed by JD Hill (Flt Lt John Distin Hill) who signs as F/L O.C. Det Beirut. Presumably, Officer in Command of the detachment in Beirut. The opposite page of the logbook sees the Squadron Leader, Charles Frank Bradley, counter-signing.

Click on logbook photos below to enlarge.

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Filed under 127 Squadron RAF, Log entries

Beirut detachment

Well, faithful reader: I’ve found the Christmas menu but it’s for 1944 and not 1943. So you’ll have to wait to find out what was on offer for Christmas dinner 1944.

And so we reach January 1st, 1944 in Dad’s logbook. He’s in the Hurricane IIC and has a grand total of 561 hours and 35 minutes flying time. He’s doing the usual: formation cross-country; night cross-country; dog fighting; convoy patrol; and air tests. He also seems to be flying from Beirut to Aqir (in the British Mandate of Palestine), which is now known as Nahal Ekron. Between 1941 and 1948, there was an RAF airfield at Aqir but I don’t know why Dad would have been flying there.

In fact, January 1944 is a bit of mystery to me. Logbook entry for January 25 says:

For A.U.M. Saul’s benefit

This is in reference to “Balbo (11 A/C)”. I now know that Balbo refers to a large group of aircraft in formation. I had to use Dr Google to decipher A.U.M Saul though. First up, I checked out 127 Squadron website to see if Saul was a pilot. Nope.

Does A.U.M. stand for Aircraft Unit Manager? This seems logical but I can’t find any list of aircraft unit managers for RAF squadrons stationed in the Middle East. So I’m really not sure and have no idea why Dad is commenting that the 11 aircraft is for A.U.M Saul’s benefit. Maybe A.U.M. Saul was a casualty of war and Dad was remembering him?

(UPDATE: see comments below. It’s A.V.M. and Dad was referring to Air Vice Marshal Richard Saul. Still no idea why but there you go).

On January 26th, Dad flies to Beirut and comments “on detachment again!”. The exclamation mark could mean he wasn’t too happy about this; conversely, he might have been very happy. Was there another squadron in Beirut and Dad was detached to this squadron? Dad had previously been sent on detachment to Beirut on October 9, 1943. I’m going to presume he was in Beirut for general defence of the area.

Click on photos of logbook entries below to enlarge.

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Filed under 127 Squadron RAF, Hurricane IIC, Log entries, WWII pilot log

Archie Jackson: in memoriam

One of the amazing things about writing this blog is that it’s put me in contact with people who either knew my father or who can fill in missing details. Recently, the daughter of Archibald William Jackson (Flt Lt NZ411903 RNZAF) left several comments and told me that her Dad was 92 years old but not very well.

She showed her Dad the photo below:

IMG_3315I included this photo in the Magnificent Seven blog post and Archie Jackson is identified as the pilot fifth from the left (on the immediate right of Dad, who is in the middle). Dedicated blog reader, Pierre, also confirmed this.

Although not well, on seeing the photo above, Archie recounted stories of their time together in Canada during training, then his time in India and Ceylon. In recent years, Archie Jackson was living in Rotorua, New Zealand but, sadly, he passed away on August 11, 2013. His obituary is here and I learnt that Archie married a woman named Shirley, same as my father did – Shirley Hyams was my mother’s maiden name.

I’m so very pleased that, in his final days, Archie was able to relive some of the memories he shared with my father and his own memories of his WWII experience. Another WWII hero has passed. His daughter is going to see if she can locate his logbook. It would be wonderful if there were entries that mention my father.

One puzzle though: Archie’s daughter has identified her father as being third from the LEFT in the photo above (i.e. in the position of NZ411923 Mildon, Vincent John). Possibly, she means third from the right? If she’s reading this post, perhaps she could confirm.

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Filed under New Zealand WWII history, Photos