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SUNSHINE TO SADNESS
I felt a twinge of guilt as I smeared the lard on my rusting bike chain. Lard was on ration, but oil and grease being hard to come by left me with little option. I pumped away at my treadless well-patched tyres (acquired from our local rubbish tip) trying hard not to notice the numerous cracks and bulges which grew alarmingly with each stroke of the pump. I tightened the strand of wire (substitute for a missing brake rod) and as my back brake blocks had disintegrated some time ago, hoped that the single remaining front blocks would at least help slow me down in an emergency! I then tightened the string holding on my front mudguard and with a sigh of satisfaction, declared to my friend... "I’m ready." It was Sunday, April the 8th, 1945. A beautiful sunny spring morning. Birds were singing, buds were bursting & temperatures were rising.
We had decided to take a ‘bike-ride’. So, with tyres resembling Python snakes that had swallowed a colony of rabbits, we set off along ‘Cut-throat Lane’, (Coleman Road) towards Evington Village. We rattled and clanked our way past ‘Blacky Fields’, scene of many ‘raids’, onto farmers potato clamps to supply requirements for our campfire feasts, and then eventually Shady Lane P.O.W. camp. It was here, only a year before, at the age of twelve, I had the unforgettable experience of tasting my first Wrigley’s Spearmint Chewing Gum. Tents had appeared over night, like Magic Mushroom's... and within these miniature Aladdin’s Caves, Trestle tables groaned under the weight of ‘Camel’ Cigarettes, Chewing Gum, tins of exotic meats and foods we had never seen or tasted before. These ‘Treasures’ were dispensed by ‘Gods’ (who spoke like the ‘Dead End Kids’ and ‘Roy Rogers’ combined) to the hoards of grubby, green-candled nosed, ragged trouser-bottomed ‘Dennis the Menace’ and ‘Just William’ look-a-likes who descended on the camp like locusts... Yes... The Yanks had arrived!
On to Stoughton Airfield. Scene of many a fascinating hour, watching the Dakotas and gliders taking off and landing in almost round the clock training for D.Day and the Rhine crossing. With the absence of traffic and petrol fumes we were able, above the rattle of our bikes, to take in the fleeting sounds of Family Favourites, hand pushed mowers, cows mooing and lambs bleating. Which mingled and blended with the tantalising smell of roasting beef (evidence that the locals and farmers were not restricted to the meat ration.) Newly cut grass, blossoms and farmyard manure all produced a cocktail of sensations, which could only portray a typical peaceful English summer Sunday. The war was coming to an end, rations were easing and it felt good to be alive.
We arrived at the junction of Station Road and Uppingham Road. Our bicycle inner tubes were porous, as well as being the wrong size, so we decided that we needed to stop for a rest and feed our tyres with a few more ‘rabbits’. Looking over the countryside toward Scraptoft, there was a simmering haze covering the rolling green fields and in the distance we heard, then saw, a Lancaster bomber with an accompanying Spitfire tagging behind, droning majestically towards us. We had seen many bombers over the years, but as always, the sight never failed to arouse our interest. We turned our attention back to our bikes.
A minute or so later the drone of the engines changed abruptly to a high pitched scream. We looked up in alarm and to our horror as we saw the Lancaster in a vertical dive, descending at terrifying speed toward the ground, only a few yards from where we stood. We tried to run, but our legs could not move. We were rooted to the spot. Just when we thought that our end had come, a miracle happened, with engines howling, the plane suddenly began to pull out of its dive, as if trapped inside a giant invisible U-bend of a waste-pipe. The wings bent to breaking point as it swooped over Station Road at tree top height and began a vertical climb over Coles Nurseries. Our fear changed to relief and then to anger and indignation where we found ourselves shouting abuse at the pilot for ‘acting the fool’.
Our anger, however, was short lived, and quickly turned to horror when we witnessed the plane, high over Thurnby Railway Station, turn on it’s back and plunge earthwards once more in another vertical dive. We saw its black silhouette disappear below the horizon of the railway embankment and a split second later a tremendous Orange/Red/Black mushroom of fire clawed its way into the Blue sky, followed by a delayed hollow booming thud. Our legs came back to life, and with childish visions of heroic rescue of airmen from burning wreckage we sped down Station Road, over the embankment, and ran along the back of gardens where people were standing like statues. I passed a woman with a baby in her arms. Tears were falling from her cheeks.
The site of the crash was covered in a layer of smoke, but as we got nearer we were confronted with an incredible sight. There, in the meadow, stamped as if by a giant’s hand, was a scarred outline of the Lancaster. A large crater was created by the fuselage, with four others made by the engines. Unbelievably, the leading edge of the wings, tip to tip, could be clearly seen, marked purely by scorched but otherwise undamaged grass. The field was strewn with small pieces of debris no larger than the page of a newspaper.
Our hopes of rescue vanished as we jumped over the small brook and ran to the edge of the main smoking crater. As we looked into this pit, ammunition was exploding, sending puffs of ash into the air like a volcano ready to erupt. We were not sure if any bombs were in there, so we retired to a safer distance. It was then that I saw that the local ‘Bobby’ had arrived. He was looking at what I thought was a meaty bone a dog had brought into the field. He had a strange shocked look in his eyes and when he said, "Don’t touch it" the tone of his voice prompted me to look again... With a numbing sense of shock I realised I was looking at what appeared to be a human shoulder blade! I then saw a sock... inside was half a foot... Up to this point it had been as if it was all a dream, but now reality and shock began to filter through my brain and I felt sickened, sad and helpless.
The accompanying Spitfire returned to check the scene… I could clearly see the pilot as he banked his plane to view the smoking craters below. The sound of bells announced the arrival of the fire engine and at this point the ‘Bobby’ asked us to leave.
The day had changed... Sounds of music, animals and mowers were abruptly replaced by the thud and crackle of exploding ammunition, fire bell's and tears. The smells of the countryside had dissolved into an unforgettable stench of burnt fuel and flesh... The summer haze now acrid smoke... We made our way slowly to Station Road. The woman with the baby was still rooted in the same spot... I found myself thinking of the unfortunate families of the airmen, who were soon to receive those awful, heartless, Buff Telegrams... ...We regret to inform you... I don’t remember the journey home.
Terence C. Cartwright
Update: With reference to the item 'Sunshine to Sadness', I also witnessed this crash from Stoughton Aerodrome which the R.A.F. called Leicester East.
I was a seventeen year old air cadet in 1434 squadron which was later transferred to No. 1 Founder Squadron. We were waiting with a glider pilot by his Horsa glider for a tow from a Dakota. I always remember the aircraft concerned as being a Hurricane and a Halifax and, although I had had training in aircraft recognition, I could be wrong. We had our flight but after this incident our parents had to sign a form permitting us to go on any flight.
My first flight was from Desford airfield in a Tiger Moth. During school holidays we went for annual training fir a week on an R.A.F. airfield living with the R.A.F. I had a week at Church Lawford where we flew in Airspeed Oxfords on beam approach training and low level navigation. We had another week at Syerston near Newarke which was an operational training unit for Lancaster crews and I spent an afternoon flying in a Lancaster doing corkscrews for fighter evasion and some bombing runs over Newarke. On a number of occasions at the week-ends we flew in the Dakotas and the Horsas from Stoughton. I have watched a glider being towed when standing in the astrodome of a Dakota and a Dakota towing when standing behind the pilot of a Horsa.
There was a number of ATC squadrons in those days with their bands, some of which were trumpet and drums but also full brass bands. This was quite impressive when we were all on parade together as we were on one occasion when we all went to the Regal Cinema where we were given a talk and film show by Sir Frank Whittle. We were first shown a film about security and then we heard all about jet planes which, up until then, were not generally known about. Of course they would not really tell us anything really secret to hundreds of young lads and the story was released in all the newspapers the following week. 1434 squadron was the Leicester Grammar School's squadron and we had enough members where I was at Wyggeston Boys to form two flights of our own so we did our training back at school. One evening we were surprised to have a visit by the headmaster who introduced Sir Frank Whittle who gave us an exclusive talk.
My father was in the Home Guard and they also met at our school and I have a group photo of his company on the Hall steps which includes David Attenborough who was also a member. We had a standard army 303 rifle at home (no ammunition of course!) which I learned to operate before firing one at one of our annual training weeks.
I still have a year's supply of the ATC Gazette which I took regularly. I did not get into the RAF until December 1945 when the War was over so I could not go for aircrew as they were being made redundant. So, instead of bombers I got involved with bombs! This was on a wartime airfield at Scorton near Richmond in Yorkshire where all sorts of redundant weaponry was stored such as incendiary clusters, aircraft canon shells, rocket mortars, pyrotechnics and, on a separate site nearby, some mustard gas. Our job was to do the necessary paper work and arrange for it all to be got rid of in various ways! Some were sent to Stranraer where it was taken out to sea in army landing craft and dumped in a deep trough. We even sent some bombs to Malta! All this meant booking special trains as one could not attach our trucks to a normal train. All this was one of the many aftermaths of the War.
I must have been one of the first people to be evacuated from a hospital at the beginning of the war. I was born in 1936 with a congenital spine and spent 3 yrs at Biddulph Orthopaedic Hospital in the Midlands. I was in Plaster cast which covered me from the neck to the bottom of my spine in a V shape I was told I used to spin round on it on the floor.
On September the 3rd in the afternoon my mother answered a knock at the door when she opened it a nurse swept in carrying me wrapped in a blanket, she then stripped me of the blanket, left me in the nude and said the beds were needed for the forces; when my mother asked why they had not been informed the Nurse said don't you know there is a war on. They did not send any of my soft toys or other possessions with me we never knew what happened to them.
My arrival at home was quite traumatic to the whole family as my elder brother and sister did not know of my existence and I had been thoroughly spoilt at the Hospital needless to say my mother must have found it quite difficult to find clothes for me as my sister was 2 yrs older and I was very small for my age, it appears that I used to scream when ever my siblings came near me.
Although we were in land in Lancashire we still got the airraid sirens going off and my mother was an Air raid warden, when we had a raid on I was wrapped in a crocheted blanket and put in the tin bath under the stairs at the top of the coal cellar I still have that blanket and used it for many years when I went camping; we had 2 bombs dropped on the town one in the Park and the other on the outskirts of town.
In 1944 my mother had to take me to London to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for children to be seen by the specialists there, that night we stayed at my great Aunt`s house at Luton, my sister, mother and I were in a bed in the attic, and it was was with great fascination that I watched the searchlights scan the sky and catch the enemy planes in their light. The next day we went to the market where my uncle bought us 3 little chickens to take home, but alas they all died before we even left Luton.
I also remember collecting ship Halfpennies for the war effort and on reaching a certain number, your name was placed in the local paper.
I had never seen my father he was a miner but he was also in the territorial Army and was called up before war was officially declared he served in Ireland and went to Burma. When the war was finally over because of his occupation he was discharged early from the Army. At school my sister and I were called to the headmistresses study and sent home, when word came that my father had arrived home we dashed home to my Grandmas but was told Dad was at our house; all the way home when we met a soldier in uniform I would say to my sister is that my Dad? We were one of the lucky ones in all our extended family we only lost one loved one my mother`s cousin`s husband.
Before joining the Royal Navy I was engaged on building airfields at Polebrook and Grafton Underwood. When America came into the war they were handed over to them to use. I believe they were occupied by the 97th Bomb Group of the US 8th Army Airforce. It was from these airports the first Flying Fortress raids took off. Also it was from Polebrook that Hollywood idol Clarke Gable made a film concerning the Flying Fortress Raids. When I joined the Royal Navy I was trained as a telegraphist (radio operator). After serving on a shore station on the east coast of Iceland I went to the United States to pick up a newly constructed Frigate HMS Seychelles. I served in her 1944/45. I learned to appreciate the United States during my time there and at the age of 50 I was able to settle there. In 1945 I was posted to the Dutch Navy and served on HMS Soemba. All allied navies who did not speak English carried British telegraphists to reduce the risk of misunderstanding signals. We were paid three pence a day compensation for having to eat diets we were not used to. Many of the crew came from the Dutch East Indies and it was on the Samba I learned to love Rice Tale which is difficult to find in the US or Europe but well worth a search. Who says no good comes out of war.
In the RAF if you were asked if you played the piano and you said yes you finished up as the regular NAAFI removal man.
I was a V.R, in the early 40's and a fitter 1E the next time I volunteered was for Air- Crew duties I cannot remember my feet touching the floor before I was back in S.Wales, No 1 Course Flt Engineers squad 15 which also included 10 days to pass through No 7 AGS and out as a Air Gunner.
No.1 course, Flight Engineers, Squad 15. Frank Reeve (back row second from left)
(If you know any of the faces on this photograph please get in touch.)
A few weeks later with stripes and brevy I arrived at 1654 C.U; Wigsley 9/12/42 where I met my other six crew. After 14 days of circuits and bumps Boxing Day and posted with several other crews to Guy Gibson's 106 Lancaster Squadron at Syerston who had just been stood down for 14 days.
I seem to recall being told that we would be found some nice "quiet" mining trips..These started on Saturday 16th January 43..190 Lancasters ours was Flagday "A" Apple our target Berlin. We returned from the Danish coast on three engines.
The second came on Sunday 17th January 43..170 Lancasters, ours was "B"BAR our target again Berlin..as we crossed over the Wash on our return we received a divert order "land at air-fields nearest London dense fog in Midlands" as soon as we altered course we were challenged by our own coastal guns and searchlights criss-crossing and waving us away from London..We eventually landed on a new USA base at Harwich near Norwich where we learned that the Germans were raiding London,a reprisal for our first raid...That is where my have a go ended..at my Pilots request (I suspect)
I was given lengthy session of combat flying after which I was returned to non-operational duty on medical grounds "air- sickness"...back to the drawing board and overalls i/c a unit travelling the county repairing and changing damaged Merlin engines. Still more training this time at A.I.D;school at Bristol where I passed qualified to insect and ground test all types of air-craft and was issued with Inspectors stamps A.I.D;M.5.M.
Would it not be right to say to my Pilot "You bought me time".
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