When war was declared he and Pete cycled 200 miles back from Sidmouth in Devon to Chingford London in order to enlist but at that stage they were too young.
He was apprenticed to an Insurance company in Staines to which he cycled, of course.
As soon as he was old enough he Volunteered for the RAF before being called up.
Dad was determined he was going to be a pilot.
Before training you had to pass the medical and to fly certain aircraft there was a minimum height. Dad knew he was slightly short so stood on the scales with the height ruler just touching his head. His luck was in as the phone rang. The Medical Officer turned to take the call so Dad took the opportunity to lift his heels off the base just enough to slightly raise the ruler, then got off. When the M.O. came back he just looked at the ruler and accepted that as Dad’s height.
He was in.
Dad had flown 7 different types of aircraft before he even drove a car!
He always reckoned he had the best crew around him and according to Reg Brown Flight Engineer, who is still alive, they all called him Skipper and in their eyes he was No1, always calm in the face of adversity.
The Lancaster Mark 2’s had four Bristol Hurcules engines & for takeoff the 4 throttles had to be pushed forward all together for maximum revs. Dad had quite small hands so his Flight Engineer Reg had to put his hand over Dad’s to push the throttles up in unison.
There was an occasion when 115 Squadron was to move bases in East Anglia overnight whilst Dad & his crew were flying a raid over Germany.
Dad didn’t want his crew to be stranded at some unfamiliar ‘drome, so he had the Ground Crew load their 7 bicycles into the bomb bay strapped to the fuselage so they could cycle to the pub on their return. They were carrying a full payload of bombs and with the added weight of the bikes he had to really coax the mighty Lancaster into the air.
On one mission a German shell exploded in the inner port engine, only 5 feet from Dad’s left ear, causing severe deafness and Tinnitus which gradually reduced but not completely. The most important thing was to keep the crew together so none of them ‘went sick’
Lord George Mackie of Benshie (°10 July 1919 – +17 February 2015) was on 115 Squadron as a Navigator.
On a successful return he would pile his crew and Dad’s into a van and drive to the mess which was often closed. Lord Mackie would put his boot through the door and invite all the crew in for a few well deserved drinks, then throw the keys at Dad and say drive us home Howell!
The following day the Lord would pay for the damage to the door & bar deficiencies!
The severe losses to Bomber command led the instructors to estimate that a Lancaster crew on average would only complete 5 sorties (Bombing Raids) before being shot down or suffering major impact..
A “Tour” was 30 flights over enemy territory. Dad’s crew The Y’s ‘Owells were being briefed for their 30th sortie when Bomber Command reduced the number required to 25 due to the heavy losses.
But as they new where the target was for that night they couldn’t leave the base to celebrate.
55,573 men of Bomber Command lost their lives during WW2. A quotation shared with me recently “True courage knows the danger it faces”
His RAF career was the pinnacle of his life, & his RAF experiences moulded his character for the rest of his life. Duty to his Country and Loyalty to his fellow men meant everything.
After the War the Squadron Reunions always involved several of the 7 Y’s ‘Owells crew turning up in Chingford before going up to London for a Dinner and of course rolling back rather the worse for wear in the wee small hours. Lot’s of drinking parties in our lounge thick with smoke.
The 25th Anniversary of their last trip saw a big Reunion at RAF Watton in1968 when even Mac the Canadian Bomb Aimer came over, so that all seven of the “Y’s ‘Owells” with wives were reunited.