Category Archives: Royal Air Force

William Reid VC Postal Cover

Tonight we have a rather attractive postal cover depicting a Wellington bomber, dating from 1984. The cover itself commemorates the 31st anniversary of the last flight of the Wellington back in March 1951 and the cover itself was flown in a Lancaster bomber:skm_c30819010908040 - copyOf more interest to us however is the signature, which is that of William Reid VC:skm_c30819010908040 - copy - copyWilliam Reid was born in Baillieston, near Glasgow, on 21 December 1921 the son of a blacksmith. He was educated at Swinton Primary School and Coatbridge Higher Grade School and studied metallurgy for a time, but then applied to join the RAF. After training in Canada, he received his wings and was a sergeant when he was commissioned as a pilot officer on probation in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on 19 June 1942. He then trained on twin-engined Airspeed Oxfords at Little Rissington before moving to the Operational Training Unit at RAF North Luffenham. There, his skill as a pilot led to his being selected as an instructor, flying the Vickers Wellington, albeit with the promise of a posting to an Avro Lancaster heavy bomber unit. He was promoted to flying officer on 19 December 1942.

The posting did not materialise until July 1943, when he was sent to 1654 Conversion Unit, RAF Wigsley, near Newark-on-Trent, where he flew his first operational mission as second pilot, in a Lancaster of 9 Squadron, in a raid on Mönchengladbach. In September he was posted to 61 Squadron at RAF Syerston, Newark, to commence Lancaster bombing operations, and flew seven sorties to various German cities before the raid on Düsseldorf.william_reid_vcHis official VC citation recorded the action for which he won the medal:

On the night of November 3rd, 1943, Flight Lieutenant Reid was pilot and captain of a Lancaster aircraft detailed to attack Dusseldorf.

Shortly after crossing the Dutch coast, the pilot’s windscreen was shattered by fire from a Messerschmitt 110. Owing to a failure in the heating circuit, the rear gunner’s hands were too cold for him to open fire immediately or to operate his microphone and so give warning of danger; but after a brief delay he managed to return the Messerschmitt’s fire and it was driven off.

During the fight with the Messerschmitt, Flight Lieutenant Reid was wounded in the head, shoulders and hands. The elevator trimming tabs of the aircraft were damaged and it became difficult to control. The rear turret, too, was badly damaged and the communications system and compasses were put out of action. Flight Lieutenant Reid ascertained that his crew were unscathed and, saying nothing about his own injuries, he continued his mission.

Soon afterwards, the Lancaster was attacked by a Focke-Wulf 190. This time, the enemy’s fire raked the bomber from stem to stern. The rear gunner replied with his only serviceable gun but the state of his turret made accurate aiming impossible. The navigator was killed and the wireless operator fatally injured. The mid-upper turret was hit and the oxygen system put out of action. Flight Lieutenant Reid was again wounded and the flight engineer, though hit in the forearm, supplied him with oxygen from a portable supply.

Flight Lieutenant Reid refused to be turned from his objective and Dusseldorf was reached some 50 minutes later. He had memorised his course to the target and had continued in such a normal manner that the bomb-aimer, who was cut off by the failure of the communications system, knew nothing of his captain’s injuries or of the casualties to his comrades. Photographs show that, when the bombs were released, the aircraft was right over the centre of the target.

Steering by the pole star and the moon, Flight Lieutenant Reid then set course for home. He was growing weak from loss of blood. The emergency oxygen supply had given out. With the windscreen shattered, the cold was intense. He lapsed into semiconsciousness. The flight engineer, with some help from the bomb-aimer, kept the Lancaster in the air despite heavy anti-aircraft fire over the Dutch coast.

The North Sea crossing was accomplished. An airfield was sighted. The captain revived, resumed control and made ready to land. Ground mist partially obscured the runway lights. The captain was also much bothered by blood from his head wound getting into his eyes. But he made a safe landing although one leg of the damaged undercarriage collapsed when the load came on. captureWounded in two attacks, without oxygen, suffering severely from cold, his navigator dead, his wireless operator fatally wounded, his aircraft crippled and defenceless, Flight Lieutenant Reid showed superb courage and leadership in penetrating a further 200 miles into enemy territory to attack one of the most strongly defended targets in Germany, every additional mile increasing the hazards of the long and perilous journey home. His tenacity and devotion to duty were beyond praise.

Flight Lieutenant Reid died in 2001.

Air Ministry Marked Feeler Gauge

Feeler gauges are used to check the clearances of fittings within precision machines such as engines. A set of feeler gauges consist of a set of different metal fingers, each of a different width. Each finger is marked with its thickness, and by trying each in turn, or a combination of different ones, the correct clearance can be set. These have been in service for many decades and tonight we have an Air Ministry marked set dating back to 1939. Folded up the feeler gauge is just a small metal bar:imageA cut-out is provided on one side that allows the gauges to be pushed out from their housing:imageFanned out it can be seen that a wide range of thicknesses are housed in the tool:imageEach gauge has its thickness in thousandths of an inch etched into its surface:imageThese gauges go from 3/1000″ up to 15/1000″ and the gauges are flexible enough that multiples can be held together to make up different thicknesses.

The gauge itself has a crown and AM stamp along with a date of 1939 indicating it was produced for the RAF:imageThis tool was manufactured by Moore and Wright of Sheffield. The company is now part of the Bowers group, and their website gives some history:

Founded in 1906 by innovative young engineer Frank Moore, Moore & Wright has been designing, manufacturing and supplying precision measuring equipment to global industry for over 100 years. With roots fixed firmly in Sheffield, England, the company began by manufacturing a range of callipers, screwdrivers, punches and other engineer’s tools.

The uses for feeler gauges included setting the tappet valves in engines, as explained in a 1953 army handbook on basic mechanical principles for tracked and wheeled vehicles:

Clearance between the valve stem and tappet is tested with a feeler gauge. If the appropriate feeler just pushes through the gap with little force the setting is correct. To make certain try the next size up, this should not go.

25 Pattern Cartridge Carriers

Tonight my special thanks go to Andy Dearlove who very kindly let me photograph tonight’s object from his collection. All 25 pattern RAF webbing is scarce, but the rifle cartridge carriers are particularly difficult to find, and like Andy I have been looking for a pair for over ten years and last year he got lucky and found a pair at a militaria show in Belgium. The 1925 pattern cartridge carriers are a development of the 1908 system, with individual pockets each holding three five round chargers of Lee Enfield ammunition. With four pockets a side, the pair of carriers can hold a total of 120 rounds:
imageEach of these pockets is reduction woven, just like the earlier 08 design, but obviously produced in blue-grey cotton:
imageEach pocket is secured with a tab and a Newey stud:
imageInside a small strip of webbing prevents cartridge carriers from accidentally falling out when the pouches are opened:
imageUnlike the earlier designs however, the 25 pattern pouches are worn with a back belt rather than a full belt and have the buckle built into the pouches themselves:
imageThe opposite end of the pouches have a C hook for fastening to the back belt and a loop for securing any excess belt left loose after correct sizing:imageThe design becomes particularly apparent when a pair are shown face down, with the two fastenings for the back belt visible at either side and the buckle in the centre:
imageThe attachment of the top buckle is also unusual as it is attached to a small piece of webbing that has a brass chape attached, this in turn is fastened around a wider brass buckle sewn to the pouches themselves that allows a degree of articulation:imageThis seems a very complicated method of attachment compared to later designs and reflects the time and money that can be expended in peacetime for a limited production of a design that would only see limited service.

These pouches were used by airmen in the Royal Air Force armed with rifles such a sentries and those marching between establishments carrying rifles. They remained in use and production until about 1941 but as they were not compatible with 37 Pattern equipment in the way the pistol equipment was they seem to have been disposed of very quickly and don’t survive in any great numbers. These pouches are not a matched pair and are dated 1935 and 1941- sadly it proved too difficult to get a photo of the markings.

My thanks go to Andy for letting us look at this rare piece of interwar webbing and I look forward to finding my own set of these pouches in the not too distant future!

1941 Airgraph

Over the years we have looked at a number of different Airgraphs, often with delightful drawings on them. Tonight we have another example, however this one is not as visually appealing, being just text. The message however is delightful and well worth covering on the blog:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (3)The Airgraph reads:

Dear Harry,

I guess you will be surprised receiving this airgraph from me, but last week Bob read your airgraph (only part of it) to us and you said you would like to hear from some of us as mail is so scarce. Well, I am glad you have arrived safely in the M.E., how d’you like the sand? Plenty of it by what Bill writes in his letters to me. I don’t know whether you knew my boy-friend had moved from W Africa to the middle east, of course I don’t know where he is and he seems to be on the move all the time, still you may run across one another in one of those sand storms on of these days. I don’t think you’ll receive this in time for Xmas, so I’ll wish you a happy and successful new year, and trust you had a good xmas. It seems hard to believe Harry, but we all miss you at the old squash lots, things aren’t anywhere near as jolly as they used to be. By the way, d’you still set your clothes on fire or do you behave now you’re an l’officer Da Dah!!! Cheerio for now, I’ll write another airgraph soon. Yours “Darkie”

Darkie’ was Miss Joan Hitchcock who wrote this airgraph in November 1941:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (3) - CopyIt was send to a Pilot Officer Harrington, RAF Middle East:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (4) - CopyI love the personal and friendly nature of this note and a message from an old friend would surely have been a welcome arrival for the pilot officer on active service.

111 Maintenance Unit Christmas Menu

Merry Christmas to you all! I hope you are having a restful Christmas. Tonight we are taking a look at another festive object, a small menu from the Christmas Dinner served to members of 111 Maintenance unit, RAF Middle East Command:SKM_C284e18120709070Victor Flack was part of the 111 Maintenance Unit and describes the conditions:

From the station we were taken south 14 miles to 111 maintenance unit at Tura. This unit, previously located elsewhere as part of 101 M.U, had been the one major unit of its kind in Egypt in 1941, and as such, had been a particular target for German bombing. The caves in the Mokattam hills at Tura, had been decided upon as a suitable alternative site, being almost bomb proof. The caves were formed when limestone was quarried for the casing stones for the pyramids, across the Nile.

These caves were now used for storage, engine and airscrew repair shops, and, as I was to discover on a few months’ time, a small hospital. We lived in tents at the foot of the hills, and nearby were the engine test benches, the noise being baffled from the tents by sand dunes.large_000000Although conditions were Spartan, special efforts were made to cheer up the men at Christmas:

And then there was the Christmas show. Among the motley inhabitants of ‘treble one’ there were enough comedians, musicians’ singers, and other entertainers to provide a lengthy show (some of these may have been professional’s pre-war). It was really something to see familiar faces appear on stage and gallantly do their bit. Among them was a ‘store basher’ generally seen heaving propellers about and suitably attired for that task, but he was a singer. When he came stalking on to the stage in a smart homemade outfit, and began to sing, it was another unforgettable memory for me. It was truly professional delivery, – he sort of swelled up like a cockerel does when it starts to crow and an unexpected powerful voice stunned us all into a respectful silence. He sang “The Road to Mandalay” — we heard every word, and on the rare occasions I hear it now, I can’t help thinking it is not being sung as well as I heard it all those years ago, – to be fair, it may be that my ears were in better nick then, but it still brings back the vision of our store basher doing his bit in front of us all.

I hope you have an enjoyable time this Christmas and I leave you with one of my favourite wartime Christmas cartoons form the late great Express Cartoonist Carl Giles, Santa never got an easy ride from Giles’ pen, but this one has a particularly dark humour to it.. I love it!GetMultimedia

Stork Club Certificate

During wartime the birth of a child was a reason for celebration, just like it is today. Work colleagues of the father (mothers would have been expected to leave their job long before any child was born) would have liked to purchase a gift for the new-born but there were limited items available in the shops. A sensible alternative, and something that was seen as patriotic, was to purchase national Savings Certificates for the child. These helped the war effort in the short term, but could be banked in in peace time for a modest return and offered a nest egg for the child. Obviously these savings did not make an attractive gift, so tonight we are looking at a certificate produced to accompany such a gift, produced by the men and women of No1 Radio School:SKM_C284e18112015250This certificate was produced in 1945:SKM_C284e18112015250 - CopyAnd is signed by a Group Captain:SKM_C284e18112015250 - Copy (2)No 1 Radio School was responsible for training RAF wireless operators and had been founded in 1915 as the School for Wireless Operators. The name ‘No1 Radio School’ was first adopted in 1943 when it was one of fifteen such schools in operation. Oliver Johnson was trained at no1 Radio School and remembers:

At this time the RAF wireless trades were only three in number…the Wireless Operator, the Wireless Mechanic and at the top of the tree, the Wireless Operator Mechanic, us!

It was at Cranwell that the first Radio Location school was founded. This later became known as RADAR, an American synonym for RAdio Direction And Ranging. It was inevitable when the word Wireless became old fashioned, No 1 W.E.S. became No 1 Radio School and the RADAR establishment became No 8 Radio School. As a result of these additions to the electronics trades the number eventually shot up from 3 to 22, which included such dubious occupations as Teleprinter Operator.

There were 75 of us arrived at Cranwell in late September 1942. We were the 45th Entry of Apprentices at Halton, but at Cranwell we were collectively known as 4M9’s. The 4 indicated that 1944 was the year we would complete our training course and the M9 indicated it would be the ninth month of that year when we would do so, that is, September 1944. There were restricted numbers of Apprentices during the war and when we arrived, the Apprentice School was occupied by the 2M9’s, who were about to Pass Out, and the 3M9’s and 4M3’s. The Apprentice Scheme, as I knew it, was discontinued sometime in the 1950’s having run continuously from 1922…

Also on the north ‘drome were the aircraft used for our wireless operator training. On our course it was called simply Air Operating. I did this Wireless Operator flying training course in the summer of 1944. The aircraft used were the De Havilland Dominie (the civilian name was Dragon Rapide) and the Percival Proctor (the civilian name was Mew Gull). The Dominie was a flying classroom, in that it had a couple of sets of radio equipment and could carry half a dozen U/T (Under

Training) operators who time-shared the equipment. The Proctor was a two seater. The wireless operator sat side-by-side with the pilot, but facing the rear.

Our working day at Cranwell was organized into shifts, early and late. Early shift meant getting up, at the latest, 6.30am, in order to wash, shave, dress and get to breakfast before 7am. They shut the dining hall doors promptly and if one was locked out, no food. I see in my diary for 12th September, 1943, I got up at 8am and went to breakfast, it must have been a Sunday. It was fried eggs, a rare treat usually reserved for aircrew going on operations, so I went round twice without getting

caught, very satisfying. After breakfast, except for Sundays, it was back to the billet to make up the bed, as previously described. Then on parade and off to the first lesson. The working day ended at 5pm when on early shift. Late shift ran one hour later, so one did not have to get up until 7.15am, but had to work until 6pm.

The barrack blocks at Cranwell were typical pre-war RAF design, red brick, two-storey H-blocks, with large sash windows. Each dormitory had about 40 occupants. In each dormitory were a couple of wooden tables and wooden forms and forty ironed-framed wire-mesh based beds (with tensioning springs at top and bottom), with the aforementioned metal cupboard mounted above each bed. The floors were covered in brown linoleum of a very sturdy quality. At extremely regular intervals, at least once a day, except Sundays, we had what was called Flight Cleaning. The tables and forms would be scrubbed, the wash basins, mirrors and toilets, polished to a shine. The beds would be moved to the centre, one side at a time, and the floor beneath each row of beds polished, followed by the centre…

The course work at now No 1 Radio School, covered quite a number of subjects. Basic Electricity and Radio Theory, General Studies, Technical Studies, (about the different types of radios used on the ground and in the air), also Mathematics, Workshops, and Communications, which included the practising of Morse Code. In the well-equipped workshops, we made such things as the now old fashioned plug-in coil formers for receivers and transmitters, solid brass Morse keys and so on. We finally constructed a radio receiver making as many of the parts as was possible ourselves. The Communications part of the course dealt with Signals Office procedures and how to document for, and run, a Signals Office. In this part of the course we also spent many hours practising the Morse code. There were several classes, from beginners to experts. Because of my ATC training I started at 12 WPM (Words Per Minute). The top class was at 25 WPM, which I soon reached. The instructors were always changing and if the instructor for a particular class was a disciplinarian, I would pass or fail three consecutive tests, as was necessary, to be put up or sent down to the class of a possibly more lenient instructor. I used to write a lot of my letters in Morse classes, after all I was an expert after a couple of months, never mind two years! We had examinations and tests regularly. We usually did just enough work to pass these at the minimum level. I knew that I could have done better!

RCAF Egg Cup

Tonight we have an example of a crested Royal Canadian Air Force egg cup to look at. This egg cup is very large and made out of white glazed pottery in a distinctive double ended design:imageThe RCAF badge is a blue transfer that has been added before glazing:imageThe egg cup has two ends. The conventional way up has a particularly large holder for an egg, the size of which becomes very obvious when a standard chicken’s egg is placed inside:imageThis is clearly far too large and was probably designed for either duck or goose eggs. Turning the egg cup upside down however gives us a much more standard size cup that holds an egg in the usual fashion:imageThis design seems to have been popular in the 1930s and it suggests that the eating of different types of eggs was much more prevalent than it is today where most people typically only eat hen’s eggs. The other theory is that the large space is used to keep a second egg warm whilst eating a first. Once that egg is finished, just swap the two over and you have your second boiled egg still nice and warm.

Breakfast was an essential part of the day to any RAF personnel, but most especially aircrew about to set out on a mission as John Clark recalls:

Have you ever wondered what we pilots ate during the war?

I was 17 and a half, based at 106 Squadron, Metheringham, Lincolnshire. We flew every day, with just the occasional day off.

The day began with egg and bacon — one of each, I think, although there may have been a second rasher if we were lucky. I can’t remember if we had this every day. There were Corn Flakes, and Camp coffee — that’s concentrated liquid coffee, to which hot water was added; it wasn’t fresh. Milk was powdered. We were glad to get it.