Between the intense but comparatively short sorties and missions, there were many long hours and days of waiting for the Squadron members. Any distraction or form of entertainment must have been a blessing – unless it took the form of uncomfortably damp training exercises in the sea. Here Roy “Gubby” Allan recalled, with the help of his logbook and diary from the time, what the Squadron was up to when they weren’t busy risking their necks.
14.06.43 – 29.06.43
We were at Martlesham Heath for air-to-air firing practice at drogues towed off the coast of Hollesley Bay, north of Felixstowe.
5.08.43 – 15.08.43
We were at Manston covering for 609 Sqdn.
15.03.44 – 01.04.44
We were at Manston covering for 198 Sqdn.
Manston: On these two Manston visits, the officers were billeted in Doon House and the NCOs in an abandoned Catholic convent. Social evenings were spent at the Walmer Castle Hotel, all in Westgate-on-Sea. During 1943, a number of colleagues had the opportunity to stay at Lord Haigh’s house, Dutton Homestall in East Grinstead, for three or four-night relaxation breaks. It was near the Victoria Hospital where Sir Archibald McJudoe had his burns-recovery unit, which we were able to visit.
Pagham Lagoon: On a few occasions, groups visited the bay at full tide and jumped from a landing stage into the sea to practice opening their dingies and climbing into them.
St. Catherine’s Point: A day visit to the Isle of Wight to meet and greet our controllers at the Radar Station.
West Acton Napier Engine Factory, Western Road: Because there had been a large number of casualties resulting from engine failure, many Typhoon pilots were given a three-day course on how to operate the engine more sympathetically and efficiently – at that time, they were only achieving 20-25 flying hours per engine. Incidentally, from our original aircraft “C”, a DN fuselage series, we had achieved 120 hours, and the engine was displayed inside a glass case in the entrance hall of the factory offices. These were times when one could view more aircraft without engines than those with, parked about the dispersal.
Tangmere: Tangmere was a comfortable camp to be stationed in. It was a pre-war establishment that had a theatre, which showed films during the week. Sometimes they arranged Saturday night dances and on many occasions, the full cast of a London show would come and present their current production for our pleasure. We also got to meet the actors and actresses later in the mess as they enjoyed our offer of drinks and snacks. We also used to get invited to attend the dances at Arundel Castle until one of the pilots from 486 Sqdn decided that a breastplate from a suit of armour would make him an ideal flak jacket.
Sundays could involve entertaining ATC (Air Training Corps) members at our dispersal where we gave them free trips in our Tiger Moth. Alternatively, some Sundays we were loaded into an enclosed three-ton Bedford and driven to a mystery location. We then had to practise escapology by trying to find our way back to the camp without being caught by the Home Guard who had to search for us.
Both 486 and 197 Sqdns were in a constant state of readiness since they were part of ADGB (Air Defence of Great Britain) and much time was spent flying patrols between St. Cath’s Point and Beachy Head. When these patrols were cancelled, two planes manned by their pilots were stood by the runway instead alongside the ATC caravan and relieved on the hour, every hour. During mid-summer, the days seemed even longer and the last two pilots on readiness slept in the dispersal hut and did the first stint the following morning. This gave them the privilege of a late flying supper in the night mess, which was usually steak, egg and chips.
I was a Flying Officer when I left 197 Sqdn on the 1st March 1945, having been Assistant Flight Commander of A flight for 10 weeks. During that period we had two Squadron Leaders and no Flight Lieutenants.
Flt Sgt Roy Allan