Royal Blue by Dan Engle Based upon a letter from Gwyn Martin to Stan Brooks
When I write anything about the War years at Feltwell it is almost inevitable that the account seems to be sanitised and clinical. Details about operations against the enemy, individual sorties, combat interceptions, bravery and losses have been gleaned from the very few RAF records, which survive those times. I am very aware that they do not give a real indication of what it was like to be a young man, in his late teens or early 20's, serving on a Bomber Squadron.
This story is an extract from a letter written to Stan Brooks, an airman with No. 75 Squadron, (RAF Feltwell), by Gwyn Martin, one of his contemporaries. Both men served at Feltwell during the early War years and both of them became German Prisoners of War. The account, given in the letter, is a refreshing snapshot of what life was like on the Station when the crews were being rested. It may occur to some readers that perhaps young men have not changed all that much over the years. Dan Engle
|Sgt Gwyn Martin||Sgt Jimmy Ward VC||Sgt Joe Lawton||Sgt Pete Gannaway|
I have put together this account of my memories of 75 (NZ) Squadron from the spring to the winter of 1941. I used my logbook as a framework for the narrative. It is an emotional account and will reveal the odd conflict with a more factual and historical record taken in a strict chronological order, if and when this happens, please forgive me. Some names in the narrative are of men who served with No. 57 Squadron with whom I became friendly before their transference to RAF Methwold, e.g. Cox, Stanford and Hutchinson.
Reference is made briefly to Eric Boon. Eric was never a 75 Squadron man but he enjoyed the company of many in our Sergeants Mess. He visited us from Chatteris frequently and I think he had a bit of a racket going on between he and the cookhouse Sergeant - strictly legal of course.
If there are any instances of seeming bad taste on my part in personal references - please delete or change the name. I have no wish at this stage of my life to appear to sit in judgement on anyone, Powell excluded.
Since writing the account I have had second thoughts on not having recorded one or two incidents. In no chronological order but merely to add further flavour to the memory.
I remember the security of Feltwell being permanently breached by everyone who was able to climb over the wall of the West End Pub - behind the guardroom.
I remember meeting the Village Policeman on his bicycle on the Feltwell -Hockwold road, on many occasions he could inform us as to whether there were Ops. On that night or not, whether it was necessary for us to even go into the Aerodrome. He would tell us the bomb and petrol load for the night, from which he could and did deduce successfully the type of Target and the length of the flight.
I remember the occasion of the Duke of Kent's visit for the celebrations of Jimmy Ward's VC, or was it some other event. It was certainly the night of a fart lighting competition in the Sergeants Mess snooker room. The consumption of beer had been greater than normal. The darkened room was periodically lit by sheets of blue flame as each fart was fired by a Ronson lighter. The contest for the most successful flame was in full swing when the SWO appeared in the door of the darkened room and shouted, "Room attention for his Royal Highness the Duke of Kent". Someone answers from the safety of the darkness, "Tell him to fuck off, till I've lit this big bluey". Without further comment there was a noise like thunder and the lit bluey was the best of the night, a right Royal fart. It was the SWO in the doorway and it could have been HRH in the corridor behind him, on one point there could be no argument - the SWO was as pissed as we were.
I remember the arrival of a Sgt S_____ at Feltwell at a time when morale was at it lowest point occasioned by quite heavy losses of some of the popular guys and Powell's presence as C.O. Sgt S_____ was had recently married a girl from a village near my home town, he was still suffering the pangs of withdrawal from the honeymoon bed. Sgt S----- was detailed to fly as second Pilot on an Operation on the day of his arrival. He flew this one trip, uneventful, trouble free, but Sgt S_____ did not like it at all. He reported sick in the morning with eye trouble. He continued to report sick and it was not long before the word was out that S_____ was LMF. In retrospect he should never have been allowed to progress as far as an Operational Squadron. But having done so and chickened out in the way that he did, S_____ should have been disciplined and posted away from 75 Squadron immediately. This did not happen, S_____ remained amongst us for about 10 days, without a friend in the place.
The authorities made a bad situation worse by making S_____ a more or less permanent Aerodrome Control Pilot. This meant S_____ having to share post operational feeding and then transport back to Hockwold Priory. He had no sense of shame and was completely insensitive to the tension he was creating by his presence, a seemingly fit Pommie in a safe position as ACP while the Kiwis and Aussies came half way round the world to fight his bloody war, there was no justice.
This was the situation when S_____ boarded the bus from Hockwold, the last but one to come aboard and to occupy the last seat near the door and the driver. The last man aboard found himself standing and prepared to strap hang for the short journey to the priory. This was too much for Joe Lawton who shouted at S_____ to give up his seat for a real man and a few other well-chosen observations were thrown in for good measure. S_____ chose either to ignore the request or simply didn't hear it. It made no difference either way. Joe got him out of his seat and on to the floor of the bus and would have throttled the terrified ACP had it not been for the intervention of the bus driver and two or three guys in nearby seats who succeeded in dragging Joe away. S_____ left the bus and was posted away within 24 hours.
Joe Lawton had a more eventful operational career than most people. He had joined 75 from 115 at Marham where he had been wounded and hospitalised. He was in the aircraft in which Pete Gannaway was killed by a solitary cannon shell. He was the Navigator who helped Jimmy Ward win his VC. He became head of Air New Zealand navigation but unlike me he never saw Sgt S_____ again.
I remember "Darky" Parker being shot in the thigh when out shooting rabbits from a car. George Curry shot him with a .38 revolver as he was trying to hide the revolver under the seat of the car when challenged by the S.P.'s "Darkie" was away from 75 for some months - he finished his Tour and was with me at 12 OTU in 1942.
I wonder whatever happened to the LAC fitter in "B" Flight who flew on an unofficial Operation. He was never down as one of the crew but just flew for the fun of things. He wore the old Air Gunners badge - the brass winged bullet. He was reputed to have flown more Ops than anyone on the Squadron.
I am glad that I spent this period of my life at 75 Squadron, I went from adolescence to manhood, bypassing youth, in one year in the company of a great bunch of guys. I am grateful for the direct and indirect influences on my life exerted by such people as G/Capt. Buckley, Cyrus Kay, Popeye, Dave Pritchard, Hank Corrin, Alec Rowe, Alan Box, Dave Abbott and so many others.
I hope the account will be read in that light and will be some help in providing atmosphere to what could be just the bare bones of the history of a great Squadron.
Much of what I have written was talked over with Hank Corrin and Joe Lawton and company when I visited NZ in 1983.
The term LMF - Lack of Moral Fibre, was used during the War to denote an Airman who refused to fight.
Eric "Pete" Gannaway was killed by a single 20mm bullet, fired by a German Ju88, which intercepted their aircraft over Cromer- Dan Engle.