Kenley During The Battle of Britain - Squadron Leader Edward George Alford GM
In 1943, Squadron Leader Edward George Alford GM, was asked to recall his work at Kenley during the Battle of Britain. This extraordinary correspondence has been shared with the permission of Edward’s daughter, Frances Hills Alford and her son, Brett. It has been transcribed as written by S/Ldr. Alford.
On 28th October, 1943, Pilot Officer Kenneth Ullyett, whose duty was Public Relations for Headquarters No.11 Group at Uxbridge, sent this letter to Alford:
Dear F/Lt. Alford,
Your name has been given to us by F/Lt. Cobb of Kenley who mentioned that you have a good story to tell of your experiences there during the Battle of Britain.
We are urgently needing brief accounts of experiences of this kind for illustrations in training manuals at the request of the Air Member for Training, so we should be very grateful if you could outline your experiences in a few words.
The matter is urgent and if we can give you any extra guidance perhaps you would be kind enough to ring 11 Group, extension 60.
Kenneth Ullyett P/O Public Relations.
Squadron Leader Alford’s reply:
ESSENTIAL TRAINING. Cause and Effect.
As an introduction the writer would like to express his appreciation of the sound basic training received on entry into the Royal Air Force as an Aircraft Apprentice at the R.A.F. Station Cranwell, from 1920-1923. The subjects covered by the instructors both at school and in the technical workshops, basic and specialist trades, laid the foundation on which service experience built a sound knowledge of service armaments and explosives.
The physical and disciplinary training received during that period, although not appreciated at the time, has since been extremely useful and beneficial.
In 1938 I returned from abroad to spend three months leave in an England enjoying a prosperous Peace, despite the warning murmur that rumbled over Europe.
On return from leave I joined the R.A.F. Station at Hawkinge, Kent, and immediately found myself engaged in installing the timing Browning guns in Gloster Gladiators of a leading fighter squadron, and at the Munich crisisI became conversant with anti-gas respirators, both service and civilian.
As the shadows of the inevitable war darkened in early 1939 we pushed ahead with training of both air and ground personnel, and struggled to overcome the ravages of time on old G.3 Camera Guns to further ground training whilst the cine cameras fitted to aircraft often disappointed both pilots and ground staff. Perseverance, however, gave us good results and it was whilst the fighter squadron was at Armament Practice Camp that war was declared and they moved direct to the defence of London instead of returning to the station. Defence crews were posted with Light A/A guns on the drome and made ready to put into practice all they had learned during training. The A.C. Squadron at the Station hastily prepared to move to France with the A.A.S.F. and took off one afternoon in early October to earn a splendid reputation in the first phases of the war.
A few days after their departure I was posted to Kenley to take over as Station Armament Officer. On arrival there I found that things were very much the same, except that I had several dispersal aerodromes to cater for besides the home station.
Commanded by the late Group Capt. Moore I would pay tribute to the excellent training and leadership he showed, which brought the station to a fine pitch of efficiency, which was maintained by his successor, Group Capt. Prickman O.B.E. in readiness for the gruelling time which followed during the Battle of Britain.
Training was continued at even greater pressure than before, constant practice being carried out by pilots and ground crews with cine cameras in Air to Air and Ground to Air Firing. Results were projected and analysed as soon as possible afterwards to point out mistakes which had been made, in deflection allowed and range at which fire was opened, the latter being the most prevalent error. To overcome this, due stress was made of Wellington’s words to the British troops at the battle if Waterloo, being “Din’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes,” and this brought better results.
The point was explained to ground gunners that to open fire too early, when the enemy aircraft was out of range, revealed the position of the posts and decreased the element of surprise besides lessening the chances of hitting.
At first it was strange to service aircraft at dispersal points and to maintain dispersed stocks of S.A.A. but the difficulties were overcome and the discomfort and long hours which the aircraft ground crews endured remains to their everlasting credit. The early months of 1940 brought climatic, besides technical, troubles, and “All hands,” were required to keep the runways clear of snow, whilst a constant watch had to be maintained to ensure that liberal minded armourers did not extend their generosity to an extreme when lubricating Aircraft Browning Guns. Despite the issue of technical instructions regarding over-oiling of these guns and the danger of them freezing up, at altitudes, cases were found where a well meaning, but mis-guided armourer had applied a thin coating of anti-freezing grease to the Breech Blocks of Aircraft guns.
The squadrons patrolled the spring months away but few of Goering’s much voiced Luftwaffe were seen, though we had many “Preliminary Air Raid Warnings” over the “Tannoy”, and one day were treated to “lurid discussion” over the air, by two airmen who had inadvertently left the “Mike” live after an announcement, from the control shelter at Croydon.
At this period some Squadrons were equipped with Gloster Gladiator Aircraft, which had two Synchronised Browning Guns firing through the arc of the Air Screw and this necessitated special care being taken with the ammunition which was then classified as “Red Label” for use with Synchronised Guns, to ensure that at no time did belts of ammunition become mixed and non-Synchronised ammunition be used for firing through the Air Screw.
Storage regulations were such that when a sealed box of ammunition containing special “red label” ammunition had been opened it was necessary to relegate this ammunition for use in non-Synchronised Guns after the period of 14 days.
This meant that huge stocks of ammunition were relegated every 14 days besides the extra work of involved of opening up fresh boxes of “Red Label” ammunition and making it up into belts to replace that which had to be changed from the Synchronised Gun Tanks when the safe period of its life as special ammunition had expired.
This problem, however, disappeared when the Gladiator Aircraft were taken out from home operational service and substituted by the 8 gun Hurricane and Spitfire Fighters whose guns being outside the arc of the Air Screw did not need “Red Label” ammunition.
When the Germans broke through in Belgium more squadrons were moved to France and the selection of Aircraft which took the ground crews were a credit to the Imperial Airways Museum, but they got there and back.
The general situation looked bad and instructions were received to prepare certain points and equipment for demolition in the event of Invasion. This was undertaken with available explosives held at the fighter station and finally placed me on a precarious perch on the top of a well known holiday resort landmark, on a cold windy day in June, where with two 15 ounce slabs of Wet Guncotton, two 1 ounce Dry Primers, two Electric detonators and some adhesive tape, I did my best to ensure that should “Jerry” set foot on our soil, he would not see any of the equipment in use at that moment. Other installations were prepared for demolition, but due regard had to be taken as to the available demolition equipment, the safety factors which could be allowed, to ensure that, though demolition arrangements had been completed, the equipment of installations could be used without endangering personnel and that tests to ensure the “serviceability” of the demolition wiring could be made at frequent intervals.
For example, to destroy a large underground petrol tank, a considerable charge would be required to be effective, and it was decided that a better method would be to “Foul” the contents of the tank by allowing “Crude Oil” to run into it, which meant that the installation could be used for Aircraft with safety and it would have only needed the Cocks of the Crude Oil Barrels to be opened should it have become necessary to evacuate the drome, whilst explosives were used for small secret equipment installations whose circuits could be tested daily with safety by using a Fuze Tester.
The demands for armament equipment were very great and full use had to be made of every available weapon that could be put to good use. Cupboards and “Spares Boxes” were turned out and many useful items of equipment were found, which had, in peacetime, been “stowed away” in the Armoury with the old slogan, “That it might be useful later on”, instrad of returning it to the Equipment Store as surplus. I refer in particular to numerous Lewis Gun spares, which, no doubt, every unit Armoury in the country found when the search was made, due to the urgency of the demand.
To add a little more to the fire power of the installations on the roof of my station Armoury, I converted a D.P. Vickers G.O. gun into a serviceable weapon, by fitting a new firing pin to it in place of the truncated one which gave no protrusion, and having tested it on the 25 yards range, placed it in as advantageous position as possible on the roof of the Armourers shop, where it became the “Belle of the Ball” amongst the Armourers each time we mustered for action on receipt of an Air Raid Warning.
So enthusiastic did the Armourers become, that these guns received daily, the care and attention a keen gardener would give to his prize fliwer bed and possession of the post with the G.O. Gun was covetously regarded by all, and it was because of this efficient maintenance, that when the time did arrive for them to be used in earnest that they all functioned perfectly which caused the destruction of one DO.17 before the crew had time to drop their bombs.
Towards the end of June we received to our great joy, eight 20mm Hispano Guns for Ground Defence, four of which were installed on the drome at Kenley and the others were sent to Croydon. Having sited them we badgered “Works and Buildings” to complete the bases for the mountings and erect low protecting walls round them to give the gun crews a little protection from the elements as well as from other missiles which might be directed against them. These walls were built to a height of about 3’6″ which allowed the guns to be brought to a horizontal position should they have had to be used against Airborne troops or Gliders landing on the drome. Sandbag stops were built to arrest the rotary traverse of the guns in the horizontal position to ensure that in the excitement of an action, gunners would not be able to fire on each other, but at the same time would have a maximum traverse of 360 degrees when sighting at Aircraft. Gunners were trained at an Armament Training Camp in the use of these weapons, but to ensure that their training could be continued we persuaded the driver of an excavator working near a dispersal point, to dig out part of a natural bank in the hillside, and this we converted to a little test range as it was conveniently near one of our cannon gun posts.
From this one gun post the gunners both at Kenley and Croydon were all able to fire a few rounds necessary to keep them conversant with the handling of it and just how it would behave when installed on that particular type of mounting. As it was not possible to indulge in as much actual firing as we would have liked nor to test each gun on its own mounting due to lack of range facilities and ammunition of this type, the syllabus of training was supplemented by constant practice with camera guns, to teach deflection and range judging, which were coupled with lectures on aircraft recognition, by the Intelligence Officer.
Whilst the station concentrated on defence, provision of equipment and ammunition for itself and the resident squadrons, the squadrons patrolled and practiced and the armament ground crews practiced re-arming and re-fuelling at which they became very proficient and a flight of Aircraft could be re-armed in approximately 9 minutes.
To attain this time, an established procedure had to be followed and this having been well learned, the armourers made themselves small tools to assist them in awkward points, to save precious seconds. Speed was an essential point but it was not allowed to sacrifice correct stripping and assembly of gun panels, and ammunition tanks just to try and beat the record.
Some difficulties were experienced with Aircraft recognition signals since they were changed from time to time during the day. Where, in the days of peace, Verey pistols had been used, it could not be expected of a fighter pilot to “Poke his arm through the hood and fire” so an automatic system was installed.
As very often happens when a modification is made to Aircraft and new equipment fitted, it is found that a special modified airman is really needed to reach it, and this was almost the case with the Plessey Signal Device.
It was placed in the rear of the pilot’s seat in the bottom of the fuselage and to effect a change over of the cartridges when an aircraft was at “Readiness” used to make all concerned “Hot under the collar”. Another snag with this device was that should it be fired from a low height, the star from the recognition cartridge did not have time to function before striking the ground, much to the discomfort of the pilot, much to the discomfort of the pilot, who knew of the “Itching fingers on triggers and Firing Controls” of ground crews whenever an Aircraft was seen. To overcome this the Station Engineer Officer undertook to reverse the device to fire upwards through the top of the fuselage. Due thought had to be given to fire risks, but a blast tube fitted to guard against this functioned very well, and in this new position the signal device was more accessible.
Our redoubtable “Works and Buildings” Department kept a constant watch on the condition of our camouflage and to see someone on the drome or surrounding buildings spraying “Weed Killer” as we called it, was no uncommon sight. In the early hours of one morning, before the day was really “aired” a Blenheim forced-landed on our drome, believing it to be a partially ploughed field (report unconfirmed) and the pilot was unfortunate enough to run a wheel over a concealed gun post, which tipped the Aircraft over on its nose. This was the cynosure of all eyes when the morning mists cleared away and the “maintenance boys” soon got busy. It was discovered that the “Pills” he carried on patrol, were still in positions so the Armament party had to be brought in. All the “Safety Pins and Collars” could not be found and a temporary arrangement was made to remove the bombs to a safe place. This presented a problem, for to house 250lb. bombs on a fighter drome one could not please everybody, but a convenient spot, as far as possible from Aircraft dispersals, petrol installations and main road was selectedand sandbag traverses were built round the bombs, which were placed as far apart individually as space would permit. Having no Fuze keys or tools available a signal was sent to the station to which the machine belonged requesting them to “Call and Collect” as soon as possible, which was the following day, much to everybodys relief.
The advent of glorious June was not so “Glorious” as we would have liked, with Italy declaring war against Great Britain, which was quickly followed by the grave news from Dunkirk. There were cryptic remarks about “Eyties” and “Flying Barrel Organs”, but the seriousness of the position was well illustrated when we met old friends who returned from France with only the varied uniform they stood up in, and aircraft returned with bullet holes and shell holes in main planes and fuselages. Sorties were flown from dawn to dusk and due to enemy action at some of our advanced aerodromes near the coast, Aircraft had to operate from the parent Station. About this time the special Mk VII B ammunition was issued and when signals were received that we could call at Woolwich Arsenal to collect our share, every effort was made to be “First in the queue” at Woolwich the following morning. This ammunition with [Mk.V?] Incendiary was very popular with our pilots, who would, had they been allowed, have filled their ammunition tanks with each type. A very definite method of arming the guns was detailed by Headquarters Fighter Command, however, and many impassioned requests had to be refused. Despite the strenuous and many commitments the squadrons had to meet daily, it was still very necessary to keep an efficient maintenance system working, and gun history sheets with records of rounds fired and number of stoppages or breakages of each gun were compiled whilst the midnight oil burned low.
Although this did seem irksome at times, extremely useful information was obtained which was used to form a basis for replacement of gun parts before they reached breaking point, thus avoiding, as far as possible, stoppages due to mechanical failures.
The supply of spares for Browning Guns was not sufficient to enable anyone to keep any “stored away” and when W/C Healey, the Command Armament Officer visited the station, he was beleaguered with requests for spares. The greatest of these requests were for Transporters and Springs, which he produced at times from the ticket pocket in his uniform like “Maskelin Devant” would produce “White Rabbits” from a top hat, and so doing relieved many a “situation”.
The general bombing of some of our advanced aerodromes gave some information as to the type of bombs used and the method used for fuzing them and this information was passed to stations to enable them to prepare to deal with unexploded bombs should the occasion arise. To deal with these I gathered together the necessary equipment, namely, Reels of D.3. wire, Red flags, a dynamo exploder and the explosives required to complete a demolition as detailed in A.P1244. As it might be inadvisable to demolish a bomb “in situ”, a reel of wire rope was added to the list of equipment and defuzing devices, which were received as a general issue to all stations especially for use with German fuzes. Detailed instructions were received from Fighter Command as to the method to be employed in handling unexploded enemy bombs, and careful note was made of these and the armament staff were instructed accordingly. When it became known that anti-handling devices were included in German Bombs, some type of equipment was needed to enable them to be dealt with, whilst the armament staff had a reasonable chance of safety. To effect this, two types of “Grab Tongs” were designed and station workshops made them up, and with their use it would have been possible, to drag an unexploded bomb along the ground from a safe distance, should it have fallen in a place which seriously jeopardised the operational efficiency of the station. Fortunately we did not have occasion to use these, but it was a comforting thought to know that the equipment was ready.
To keep a second string to their bow pilots introduced their own patent sights which they used should a failure occur to the bulb of their reflector sight during flight and it was decided by one squadron to mark the front panel of the bullet proof screen with a small centre spot similar to that of the reflector sight, and this was found to be most useful when the normal sight failed or was hit by enemy fire.
The weather of July was beautiful, clear, clean skies and warm sunshine, but although it was appreciated, the job in hand was the first and foremost concern of all.
Air Raid warnings became far more prevalent and all personnel moved quickly and quietly to their appointed places of duty, taking with them steel helmets, anti-gas clothing, respirators and eyeshields, all of which were necessary as no one knew when the “Chemical Warfare” might start. Today, tomorrow, any day.
One got used to the clear steady voice of the sector controller giving clear unhurried orders over the “Tannoy” that the routine work of closing windows and doors of buildings, lowering blinds and fixing of anti-gas curtains into position was carried out automatically on receipt of each warning. As the days passed we saw a little more of the arrogant Luftwaffe and witnessed several dogfights high above the station as the fighters split up bomber formations and tore them out of the sky, though many times we heard the rattle of Browning Guns above the clouds but could see nothing.
It was the evening of August the 15th at about 6.00pm when all our aircraft were “Scrambled” to “Angels X” and we were standing by ready for action that we really thought our turn had come. Approaching from the South East we saw a large formation of aircraft, which were too high when they were first seen to discern whether they were hostile or friendly. However, it soon became possible to establish their identity, as it was a formation of German Bombers with a fighter escort. Our own fighters had been directed to oppose another force of enemy North of London and these enemy Aircraft flew over our drome at a height of about 10,000ft. We were not the intended target for that evening however, and the attack was made on Croydon drome, where some damage was done, whilst we had to watch the bombers dive down to their target and realise we could do nothing to stop it. Although the raid disorganised things slightly, an ammunition trailer loaded with six re-arms for a full squadron, was moved from Kenley to Croydon by 9.00pm that night and located ready for use, by the squadrons the next morning, as one S.A.A. store had been wrecked by a bomb. The stories of those who were present at Croydon drome during the raid and the evidence of what a bomb could do was a lesson to a few lethargic airmen who did not bother a great deal when the warning was given, and it could not have been at a more opportune time for on Sunday August the 18th Lord Haw-Haw “wiped out” Kenley and several other fighter stations in South England, only to find that they had been resurrected to come up smiling on Monday morning, but the lethargic few had learned their lesson on Thursday and had taken the necessary precautions.
Sunday started the same as any other day, the squadrons were called to duty and routine work went on at dispersal points and maintenance sections in the normal way.
I had just sat down to lunch in the mess and the W.A.A.F. waitress placed my meal before me, when we received the “Preliminary Air Raid Warning” over the Tannoy.
Making a request to the waitress to “Keep my meal warm until I returned” I left the building and went down to the Station Armoury. The armourers were already on the roof, had removed the canvas gun covers and were standing ready as they had done so often before. I went through the building to ensure that all was in order and then stood by an ammunition trailer which was concealed under a tree just outside the armourers shop.
During this time the remaining aircraft had been sent into the air, and at about 10 minutes past one the “Attack Alarm” sounded, warning us that it was evident that we were about to be attacked. A final warning was given by the sector controller at about 1.15 as to the direction of approach of the hostile Aircraft and all eyes were fixed in that direction. The first gun to open fire was a Lewis which was sited on top of one hangar and a few seconds later four formations of 3 D.O.17.s swept over the trees at a height of about 50 feet. As my Armoury was close to the trees I do not think it could have been seen by the formation which passed over it and the gunners on the roof of the shop poured a hail of bullets into them. So low were these aircraft that I could see the crew and taking an estimated deflection shot, I let fly with my .45 Webley Revolver, but only had time to fire two shots.
Clutches of bombs dropped from the machines as they swept over the drome and they seemed to “Porpoise” bounce across the runways, those which exploded sending a “Geyser effect” of earth into the air.
One bomb seemed to penetrate into the ground near the centre of the drome and a pillar of what appeared to be smoke arose from it. This smoke formed into a huge ball approximately 30 feet in diameter at a height if about 100 feet when it burst into flame and the blast of hot air could be felt from where I was kneeling, at least 400 yards away.
Investigation on the following day with Air Commodore Huskinson, led us to believe that it was one of the new German petrol bombs, aimed probably for a dispersal point, but had fallen short, due to lack of height of the machine which released it.
After the low level attack had passed over, I went up on to the roof of the Armoury and found that no one was hurt but one of the armourers had burnt his hand through catching hold of the barrel of the G.O. Gun to recock it to remedy a stoppage due to a misfire. I told him to report to the Sick Bay, but a glance in that direction told me that no such place existed, and therefore he had to resort to placing his hand in a bath of oil in the Armourers shop and use a 4″ x 2″ as a temporary bandage.
My Sergeant, Sgt. Bull, and I then decided to move from the tarmac apron in front of a hangar, a Hurricane aircraft on to which pieces of charred and burning wood were falling from the roof of the hangar which was well and truly alight. Whilst doing this we were joined by two airmen who loomed up out of the smoke, completely equipped with fire buckets and extinguishers. They were fully prepared to try and do something about the fire but it had by then too great a hold for any hand equipment to be of use. The maximum efforts of all four of us couod only just move the aircraft and in desperation I looked for help. From out if the smoke I could just discern a figure of a man who I shouted at to come and help. He was most willing and responsive to my order and to my surprise it was the Station Commander, Group Capt. Prickman whom I had shouted at. We moved the aircraft to a place of safety and then returned to salve two petrol tankers, one of which we could drive away, whilst the other we had to push.
Unknown to us, a high level attack had developed meanwhile and what we took to be oxygen cylinders exploding in the hangars were in some cases bombs. These, however, fell near the other side of the aerodrome without doing much damage, since they penetrated the soil to a depth of about 15-20 feet and those that exploded blew a large crater to which the hole made by the bomb on its entry into the ground formed a kind of long neck.
Reports came in from the various sections of damage done etc. and I was informed that several unexploded bombs had been located in various parts of the station. These were carefully marked on a small chart of the station prepared beforehand and the C.O. detailed the order in which he wanted them dealt with. The first was a 50 Kilo which fouled the main runway and with Sgt. Bull and my armourers we set out to remove it. The equipment was placed in a 30 cwt. lorry and we drove out, to within about 5 yards of the bomb. A sandbag traverse was built round it and then a discharger fitted to the No.25 Rheinmetal Fuze which was located in the side of it.
This had to be left for a few minutes, after which we paid out the wire rope and passed a couple of half-hitches round the bomb at one end, whilst the other was attached to the towing hook of the lorry. It was then possible to give the bomb a good “disturbance test” without endangering any personnel. The next operation was to remove the lock ring from the fuze and this done, a piece of string was attached to the eyebolt which formed part of the discharger. This string was paid out to its full length (as long as a piece of string) and with everybody lying flat on the ground we hauled at the other end until a black blob came over the sandbags which we knew to be the fuze.
The bomb was then rolled over to remove the Picric Pellets and the gaine was unscrewed from the fuze and everything was “safe” once again.
The disposal of this bomb had just been completed when the warning sounded again and we hustled aboard the lorry and returned to our duty stations at the Armoury. However nothing happened and we were able to deal with other unexploded bombs when the “All clear” sounded. One bomb reported to be close to the airmen’s dining hall had been marked by Red Flags and inquisitive personnel were kept away by an armed guard. My Sgt. and I persuaded the sentry that we were “entitled” to view this bomb and found when we reached it that the “Bomb” was a small type Oxygen Bottle as used in aircraft and some consternation was caused when Sgt. Bull rolled it over with his foot and then picked it up and carried it away under his arm. We dealt with all the unexploded bombs we could before darkness fell and the last two or three had to be finished by the light of an electric torch, and the remaining left until the following morning. The Sergeant’s Mess had suffered some damage but the “Bar” was still “Serviceable” and after an unexploded bomb had been removed from the “Dead Marines” (Empties) which were stacked in the yard outside, the mess caterer was kept well occupied.
It was nearing midnight when the Station Defence Officer F/Lt. Kilby told me he had received a request from the local police to go and see what could be done about unexploded bombs which had fallen outside the area of the station. On arrival at the Police Station we were confronted with detailed reports as to the position of these bombs, but it was then explained to the Police Sgt. that they would have to be attended to by the local Bomb Disposal Squads as we had first to clear up the station. It was about 1.30am when we returned to the station and I climbed the stairs of the Mess to my room, where I had to use a little brute force to open the door, as it was jammed slightly by blast and when I did get it open I found that the ceiling plaster was all over the floor and my bed. However, that did not deter me from sleep and after shaking the blankets clear of debris, I turned in and was soon in the “Arms of Morpheus.”
Next morning the Mess seemed very quiet and I found that myself and two others had slept in a building which was cracked from top to bottom and one corner of it was open to the sky. However, we soon found that arrangements had been made for us to have our meals in a large house just outside the camp, and this served as a temporary mess while the other was repaired.
Breakfast finished, we continued the job of locating and dealing with unexploded bombs, one of which we found lodged in the roof of an annexe to a hangar, where the suspension lug had dug into the roof. This we treated in the same manner as the others, though its “Dusturbance Test” consisted of hauling it down on to the ground from a safe distance, and it took four attempts before we dislodged it. Having de-fused some of these bombs, the question arose as to what to do with them, and we decided to lay them round the perimeter of the camp, spaced as far apart as possible, and under tress where they were available, until arrangements could be made for them to be collected.
A number of these bombs were cleared from the dispersal pens and having completed these an inspection of the bomb holes in the drome was made. Some of these bombs had penetrated to a depth and then exploded, due apparently to a delay action fuze being fitted and their being released from high altitudes. When these had exploded it was possible to re-check this as large cracks and fissures were prominent running from the hole in the ground where the bomb entered for several yards, in various directions, whilst the hole itself was charred and blackened by the hot gases.
These areas were marked by yellow flags as a warning to Aircraft and heavy M.T. vehicles, as the ground was liable to subside after wet weather. We found one or two cases where the bombs had penetrated and failed to explode and some method had to be evolved to deal with them. As they were anything from 15 to 20 feet beneath the surface, it was out of the question to dig them out. We therefore tried to demolish them by tying two slabs of Wet Gun Cotton together, fitting a Dry Primer and Electric Detonator and lowering this charge down to rest on top of the bomb, but it was not successful.
We therefore had to resort to other methods. Taking a bomb from which the fuze had been removed, we slid this down the hole to rest on top of the unexploded one. Then lowering a similar charge on top of it we were able to demolish both bombs together. In carrying out this demolition the usual safety precautions had to be observed, though it was necessary at times to relax slightly from the rules laid down due to conditions under which we were working.
We found one bomb in a garden just outside the camp perimeter which bore marks of being hit by 20mm cannon shells, a tribute to the accuracy of one of the ground defence posts. It was not considered safe to move this and it was demolished where it lay, after a sandbag traverse had been built round it to avoid flying splinters doing any damage. I failed to warn the sector controller that we were about to demolish this bomb, with the result that he was rudely shocked by the explosion, and as there were no enemy aircraft in the vicinity as far as he was concerned, the Ambulance and Fire Tender were hurriedly despatched in our direction, since the worst was feared for our safety.
Having cleared up all the bombs we could find, either by de-fuzing or demolition, we set our own house in order once again and demanded replacements for the explosives that we had expended, to be ready in case the raid should be repeated. Having told the world that we no longer existed the German High Command could scarcely make an excuse to bomb nothing and we were only subjected to occasional “Visitors” who popped out if the clouds at infrequent intervals.
The squadrons were changed round at intervals at the stations, old friends would leave – fresh ones be made, but the same routine was carried out with servicing and maintaining their requirements, as they collectively inflicted tremendous losses on the enemy, until he withdrew from day attacks and resorted to night bombing. From these night attacks I was sometimes called upon by local Police Stations to collect incendiary bombs which had failed to ignite or other items of German equipment which they regarded with some suspicion. In one case, following an urgent summons to a police station in the Kingston district, where it was reported over the ‘phone that a constable had touched something and it had “buzzed”, I found on arrival there, that the dangerous object was only the outside case mechanism of a “Molotov Breadbasket” which was used to house clutches of Incendiary Bombs.
This together with other “objects” salved at different times was disposed of as scrap metal, through the usual channels. As our station was not “Night Operational” for some time, we had little to do after dark except to keep our buildings and aircraft safe from Incendiary bombs and one night when, more by luck than judgement “Jerry” did “Send down his blessings from on high” in the shape of Incendiary bombs, the camp was well covered with them. This was considered “Effrontery” which could not be tolerated; “the Canteen emptied”, the Sgts. Mess left their Beer and Dartboard, and those airmen who had retired early for the night, leapt from their beds, to race for the honour of “Dowsing the sputtering lights.”
So quickly were these bombs extinguished that I should imagine the “Raiders” had great doubts as to whether they had ever ignited.
During the prolonged “Nightly Blitz” on the Greater London area a few bombs found their mark in the drome but little damage was done, though a “Stick of Whistlers” one night, caused the occupants of the sergeants’ mess bar, to dive for cover beneath the billiard table, but “Not a drop of Blood or Beer was spilt.”
Night flying training and practices were carried out whenever possible and gradually “Night Raiding” became as “unwholesome” for “Jerry” as his day attempts had been.
One morning in October, an army detachment who took over an empty house near the edge of the aerodrome, reported that a 50 kilo bomb was in one room, on the second floor. I was asked to remove it and having obtained a lorry and defusing equipment, we set off. On arrival at the entrance to the drive of the house, we were confronted by an irate old gardener, who swore that we were “Varmints” who cut his prize Savoy cabbages before the first frost had descended to add to their flavour. Before he would allow us to proceed to the house, we had to exhibit identity cards, which the old gentleman matched first with his pension book and later with his own card. He did not believe us when we spoke of the bomb, which we found lodged against the wall of the room. As a large window and part of the wall was missing right where it lay, it had obviously entered that way, when the low level attack had been made on the Station in August.
We removed the fuze and then called the gardener in to see the bomb, which he declared had been there weeks, but he was extremely grateful when I explained that it “might” have gone off and he beat a hasty retreat, only to meet us as we left to present us with as many apples as we could carry.
That was the last “Unexploded” that I dealt with as I was posted from the Station in November for “Special Duties” at an Air Ministry Factory in the North Midlands.
During my time at the Station I made many friends and met many old ones; the comparatively new arm of our service, the W.A.A.F. helped us in many ways, carrying out their duties calmly and efficiently at all times, very often under trying conditions. Those who “cooked and cleaned” did not have exciting jobs, but I am sure that pilots and ground crews remember with gratitude their work in the very early hours of the morning, which provided “Hot tea and a snack” before the first patrol of the day started.
We had our losses and disappointments, excitement and fun, but it was the collective efforts of everybody that enabled the pilots to smash back “The Hun.”
Signed: E. G. Alford S/Ldr.