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Vignettes

This page is for short items and pics which do not warrant a full page.

"Beware The W.A.A.F."

I arrived at Barnetby station in the late evening of a cold, dark February night after a long and tortuous train journey from Brindley Heath Station, Hednesford, Staffs, where I had received some preliminary training for service as an R.A.F. padre. The year was 1942. I rang the Adjutant at Elsham and asked for transport. Shortly afterwards a transport duly arrived with WAAF driver and I was taken to Elsham Wolds to begin my work as padre.

Almost twelve months later on a cold and foggy night — Boxing Day 1942 — I was cycling from H.Q. to my billet on No. 5 site, and as I was approaching the exit near Sick Quarters I saw, in the distance — hardly discernible in the fog — a transport moving towards me. As it drew near it lurched to my side of the road heading for a collision course. In a matter of seconds my cycle crumpled beneath me, and I lay on the ground with a burning sensation in my right ear. The WAAF driver came to my assistance and helped me into Sick Quarters. It was the same WAAF who had collected me from Barnetby!

In Sick Quarters I was attended by a burly sergeant who cleaned my ear up and explained that the lobe of my ear was almost severed, having been in contact with the side mirror of the transport. Both M.O.'s were off the station — evidently at Christmas parties, so the sergeant carried out some first aid and put me on a bed until he could contact an M.O. To make doubly sure he put a cold compress over my left eye ... having mistaken a birthmark for another injury! Eventually F/Lt. Henderson arrived, fortunately sufficiently sober (Boxing Night, remember!) to stitch the lobe back on to my ear!

I stayed that night in Sick Quarters. During the night there was some disturbance caused by a small group of people, somewhat the worse for wear —i.e. a result of having baled out from a fast-moving jeep — on the orders of S/Leader Jake Kennard!!! One of them, F/Lt. Reed of Flying Control, had broken a leg. When he saw me in the next bed he refused to believe that I had arrived through a simple accident! ... and not through some kind of Boxing Day excess!!!

David Ratledge.

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Man and Superman and the Elsham Toilets.

Robert Donat and his company came to present Shaw's 'Man and Superman'. He was exceedingly pleasant to me and grateful that I had managed to ring up one of the West End theatres where a production he had directed was opening on its first night. But he was rather taken aback when I had to explain that in order to use the toilets in the gym, it would be necessary to go outside. He pointed out that Edith Evans and Isobel Jeans were in the cast and that this was not a very satisfactory arrangement!

Very soon after this occasion a letter was received from H.Q. 1 Group stating that Mr. Donat had complained to the authorities about this matter and two hundred pounds was now allocated to the Station to provide better toilet facilities!

David Ratledge

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The Veg Incident.

One night we were in our hut; lights had just gone out, Corporal was in her corner. The door opened and in walked — or should I say, staggered in — an airman! We all shot up in bed watching to see what he was going to do. He came to my bed and sat on the end of it— just starting to take his shoes off — when the corporal came and marched him straight through to the other end of the hut, and out of the door! We all had a good laugh afterwards, but, at the time and in the dark, it was a bit scary.

I was on duty in the Officers Mess one evening. With vegetable tureens on my arms — I slipped —and fell under the table — with all those `vegs' all over me!! I can laugh about it now — although I was a bit red skinned with all the heat!!

Serving the evening meal in the Officers Mess —before an Op. — a young Pilot Officer asked me for some more sugar — but I just hadn't any to give him. Then serving them all when they came back I found that he didn't make it. I had a good cry off duty and all these years later when I think about
it — I still cry.

Gladys CRITTENDEN Scully. Waitress 1941/42

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Acc Basher

In 1942 I was working as an 'acc. basher'. This was in the big hanger overlooking the main runway. One day a German aircraft followed our kites in early one morning, and created just a little mayhem before being sent about his business! I don't think anyone was hurt. We had Halifaxes then, but the Lancs came in shortly. I had a big acc. room all to myself, and plenty of time to keep it spick and span after I'd got them all 'cooking'.

Trolley accs. used for starting the engines had to be attached to the boards by a huge thick cable and left outside — they were much too big and heavy to get inside. I spent a whole cold winter there —and it was jolly cold — I can still hear the wind whistling through the slats in the doors!

After the edict that all 'acc. bashers' had to become electricians, and I'd had a six month course at Melksham, I was back at Elsham. One night a bunch of us went down into Barnetby and settled into the village hall where we were always made welcome. There was a full-sized billiard table in there, and I was asked if I knew how to play. I used to play on a quarter size table in the days when I was an air raid warden. So we got up and picked up cues to play when a little, elderly chap came fussing up, and wouldn't let me play. 'Ladies don't play billiards' he said, and so we all left in disgust.

Mary CLAYTON Gledhill—Electrician 1942/45

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Maintenance Unit No 209 – Broughton

Down the road from Elsham, beside the village of Broughton, was the Maintenance Unit — No. 209. They kept Elsham supplied with everything you can think of, from the tiniest screw to aircraft wings. They didn't have a resident M.O. or dentist — trips up to Elsham were necessary for attention like that. Only four officers there, two R.A.F. and two W.A.A F. - but what a resourceful cook they had!

Jessie was her name, and she really enjoyed her job. However the rations were uninspiring (as we all know) — and one day she decided to try out something she remembered from childhood

Having soaked some raisins she then proceeded to string them at about one inch intervals along a strong piece of string, finishing up with several yards of line.

In the woods nearby, and just before dusk, Jessie spread her line along a grassy pathway, having first tied one end of it firmly to a stake. Not until the following afternoon did an opportunity occur for her to visit her baited line, and as she approached she was startled by the sudden alarm call of a pheasant! Having fancied the raisins, it was now well and truly caught!

Taking it back to camp Jessie then didn't have the courage to do the 'necessary' to the bird, and was almost ready to take it out to the woods again, but an S.P. happened on the scene, and quickly dispatched the pheasant for her!! However he wasn't inclined to believe her when she said she had soaked the raisins in whisky!

The officers very much enjoyed their tasty morsel — and were decidedly proud of having such an enterprising cook.

Barbara WATKINSON Bulleyment — 1944

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"Take your Bloody Hat Off !"

Jim Lovelace was a freshly-minted unknown P/O the day he arrived at Elsham, and appeared at the Officers Mess. No other officer was present that afternoon — including the duty officer who had vanished. The bar  telephone rang — it was the main gate advising the bar steward that His Majesty the King, in RAF uniform, Marshal of the Royal Air Force, accompanied by his cousin, the Earl of Harewood in his uniform of Air Chief Marshal, were on their way to the Officers Mess.

P/O Lovelace telephoned the C.O. at his house, and gave him the information — 'Who are you?' said the C.O. — P/O Lovelace, sir'. 'Never heard of you, and I am the Queen of Sheba' shouted the C.O. — and slammed the phone down. Jim Lovelace phoned back and assured the C.O. that indeed the King was approaching the Mess. At this moment a long black limousine with pennants 50 feet (!!) long slid to a halt outside the doors of the Officers Mess.

The two passengers got out and the King instructed the driver to remain at the wheel and wait. Our hero greeted these two Gods, seated them and asked if he could get them a drink.

The King wanted Irish Whiskey, and the Earl, Scotch. Thank God, said Jim as the bar steward found half a bottle of Jamiesons Irish.

Just as they were seated with their drinks the C.O. came in with his hat on, and silently stood stiffly to attention in front of the monarch.

`Take your bloody hat off, man .....You are in your own Mess!' said the King

W.I. Davies. Toronto. 103 Sqn.

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Elsham Runway Cables

Sandy Rowe wrote to me many years ago concerning cables he noticed lying across the runway at the airfield at Elsham Wolds.

" Having been debriefed after spending some hours over Germany most of the crews were off to bed. I, on the other hand, decided to walk across the airfield to inspect our aircraft "H". Dawn was breaking and I was curious to see the machine in the daylight fearing that it had been damaged by exploding anti aircraft shells which had been very close over the nights target.

On crossing the runway I was intrigued to see a heavy duty steel cable lying across it, the ends of the cable disappearing into some sort of concrete structures below the ground each side of the runway. I wondered if this cable could be raised off the ground to interfere with any possible landings by enemy aircraft but could see no evidence that this was possible.

A long time later, having mentioned the subject, I was told that it was an arrester cable and that experiments had been carried out with bombers fitted with arrester hooks similar to that used on aircraft carriers. I cannot remember who told me this and have never heard or seen any confirmation that such tests took place."

Footnote - I believe trials with arrestor gear was conducted at Ringway at Manchester using Avro Manchesters. The idea was not very successful and abandoned. I did not know any airfields had been fitted with the gear but it seems to have been the case at Elsham Wolds.

Subesquently I was informed that experiments did take place and a number of bomber stations were equipped with this cable system including Bottesford.

 At Thorp Camp Museum, Tattershall, the home of 97 Squadron Association, there is a complete arrester unit on display. This is believed to be one of the few examples left. Well worth a visit to see it because the display includes many photographs of the installations and technical details. Some Manchesters and Lancasters in squadron service were fitted with hooks below the rear fuselage section but I understand that the first hook engagement pulled the Manchester's tail off. David Fell

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Sqdn Lder The Rev'd Steele

Elsham Wolds The Revd Steele

Former Elsham Wolds Padre Sqdn Lder The Rev'd Steele ( Pictured above ) was stationed at RAF Elsham Wolds in 1945/46.  It seems he had a number of German POWs in his parish.

The letter below is one of thanks and appreciation to the Padre from the POWs for his ministrations on their behalf written at the time of his posting from Elsham Wolds. It is a nice little letter written in perfect English without a spelling mistake.

German Spokesman.

Prisoner of War Camp 702 (269)

Elsham Wolds, October 22nd 1946

To Squadron Leader Steele C of E Padre,

RAF Station Elsham Wolds.

Dear Padre,

As the day of your departure from this station draws near I feel urged to say a few words of thanks and appreciation to you. Only for a comparatively short time have we had the honour of knowing you: nevertheless the rather small group of men who faithfully attended services conducted so devotedly by you will not forget your efforts for the augmentation of the honour of the Lord, the Lord whose grace does not know distinctions of nationality or race.

As spokesman of this camp I beg to express our hearty thanks for all you have done for us and wish you the best of luck. I am sure you too will favourably remember us German prisoners of war at Elsham Wolds from time to time.

Very sincerely yours

Gunter - Camp Spokesman.

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Elsham Wolds Station Flight.

I have little knowledge of this Flight but at the end of WW2 it seems to have been operating one or two Airspeed Oxfords for general, transport, communication and liaison duties.

On the 17th January 1945 a F/L Cavanagh was undergoing a navigation exercise with a crew of three when the starboard engine failed. The pilot crashed landed at St Mary's on the Isles of Scilly of all places. He landed "before the wheels had time to lock." The aircraft was a write off with no injuries reported.

On the 6th March 1945 the same pilot was on a night cross country exercise with a crew of two in another Oxford. The pilot complained of feeling dizzy and made an emergency landing at Fairoaks. He overshot and hit a blast wall. The aircraft was written off.

No injuries reported in either case but two aircraft were damaged beyond repair.

I was subsequently informed that T1338 lost in an accident whilst landing at St Mary's on the Isles of Scilly was logged as a Training Flight.

The true nature of the flight is rather different. One of the senior WAAFs at Elsham Wolds was daughter of the Governor of the Isles of Scilly. A forthcoming grand event was planned in the Officers Mess at Elsham Wolds and it was thought suitable that the Mess be decorated with early flowering daffodils acquired from the Islands. This was arranged and the Oxford had been dispatched to collect a large consignment of these daffodils for decoration purposes. David Fell

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A Shocking Event.

The shocking event I am about to describe took place sometime between August and October during my 2nd tour on 103 Sqn. I can't remember the exact date but it was probably in September. Of course it is not in my log book.

One evening, When we were stood down from Ops, we went to Brigg in a "Passion Wagon". We had a higher officer in charge of us. We called him the "CO". We got out of the bus in the main street, but instead of going to the local pubs, we were ordered by the "CO" to turn our uniform jackets inside out to hide our rank badges and to call at the houses nearby and requisition the brooms from the local housewives. Brooms were quite numerous and normal in those days.

We soon had enough for many of us to put them over our shoulders and marched up and down the street. Two policemen came and ordered us to stop marching about and return the brooms.

The "CO" then said "These are German parachutists in disguise. Arrest them immediately."

We arrested them, marched them off to the police station, locked them in a cell and threw away the keys. I think it was the cell on the ground floor but I am not sure as I was some way behind at the time.

The next time we were stood down were made to stay on the station and were lectured by an Adjutant, who said he was speaking on behalf of the Air Officer Commanding ( I think it was No 1 Group Commander or Elsham Wolds Station Commander. )

He said that he was appalled by our behaviour. "Unfortunately I was not there!  In future, when stood
down, you will not all go to one small town like Brigg. It would be better if you all went to Scunthorpe." (Known
to us as Scunny.)

A former 103 Sqn Air Gunner.

 

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