24 – Just Another Trip!

On the 13th August 1944, a Wellington bomber took off at 15:45Hrs from RAF Market Harborough for what was thought to be just another trip, a routine cross country training flight followed by a bombing detail at Grimsthorpe Bombing Range.

The aircraft in question was a Wellington Mk X, serial number LN281 operated by No 14 Operational Training Unit (OTU).

The primary role of the OTU was to train aircrew to fly ‘medium’ twin engined bombers to an acceptable standard before joining an operational squadron.

No 14 OTU was originally formed at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland on 8th April 1940 when No 185 Sqn merged with the Station Headquarters flight. Its role was to train night bomber crews equipped with Hampdens and Herefords.

No 14 OTU Crest

In recognition of the units’ achievements in training aircrew, an official badge for No 14 OTU was approved by King George VI.  The badge depicted a hounds head with a hunting horn and riding whip.  The badge design was based on the units location and role. 

Originally being formed at Cottesmore in Rutland followed by a move to Market Harborough in Leicestershire, both counties are known to be some of the best hunting grounds in the country. 

The role of the unit was the training of airmen whose duties are to hunt and destroy the enemy.  The Motto ‘Keep With The Pack’ was selected because ‘concentration had long been a principle in Bomber Command and the airmen hunt in packs not only for securing greater defence but to obtain increased effect in bombing.

In the autumn of 1942, No. 14 OTU converted from the Hampden bomber onto Wellingtons and remained at Cottesmore until August 1943 when it was moved to Market Harborough.

Wellington Bomber

The OTU courses lasted five months and involved 80 Flying Hours. Bomber Harris, C in C Bomber Command explains in his book ‘Bomber Offensive’ that training at OTUs only comes right at the end of a long period of flying training for each individual.  The education of a member of a Bomber Crew was the most expensive in the world, costing some £10,000 for each airman, enough to send 10 men to Oxford or Cambridge University for 3 years.

Official records show that the total number of trained personnel output from No. 14 OTU whilst at Market Harborough was 516 Pilots, 484 Navigators, 480 Bomb Aimers, 497 Wireless Operator/Air Gunners and 931 Air Gunners.  In order to achieve this output, flying took place on 510 days and 372 nights, during which a total of 45,835 Flying Hours were achieved.  In the course of these training exercises, a total of 61 aircrew were to make the ultimate sacrifice due to being killed in training accidents, with dozens more wounded.

As mentioned above, the Wellington on this ‘ordinary trip’ was built to contract B124362/40 by Vickers Armstrong’s Ltd at Chester and delivered to MU store in October 1942 with the Serial Number LN281. Following delivery, it was issued to No 429 Squadron at RAF East Moor just north of York in early June 1943 and given the code AL-V for Victor.

Not long after being delivered to 429 Sqn, LN281 ‘V for Victor’ was taking part in her first operational sortie and was tasked with bombing Wuppertal, Germany.  

This attack was aimed at the Elberfield half of Wuppertal as the other half had been attached at the end of May. This particular raid involved 630 aircraft from Bomber Command consisting of 251 Lancasters, 171 Halifaxes, 101 Wellingtons, 98 Stirlings and 9 Mosquitoes. A total of 34 aircraft were lost on the raid, 10 Halifaxes, 10 Stirlings, 8 Lancasters and 6 Wellingtons.

Post war analysis show that 94% of the Elberfield part of Wuppertal was destroyed that night with 171 industrial premises and 3,000 houses being destroyed, and a further 53 industrial premises and 2,500 houses being severely damaged. The loss of life is thought to be approximately 1,800 killed and 2,400 injured.

Canadian, P/O Keith McLean Johnston was the pilot in charge of ‘V for Victor’ and her multi-national crew when they took off from East Moor at 23.08hrs on 24th June 1943.  

The crew consisted of:
Pilot – P/O Keith McLean Johnston RCAF (J/16067), of North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Navigator – Sgt Howard William Clarke RCAF, of Talbot, Alberta, Canada.
Bomb Aimer – Sgt F W R Frost RAF (1320228).
Wireless Operator/Air Gunner – Sgt Joseph Arthur Marcel Lortie RCAF, of St Agathe des Monte, Quebec, Canada.
Rear Gunner – Lt J C Elliott USAAF.

At 03.54hrs the LN281 was landing on return from the mission when a tyre burst, followed by the undercarriage collapsing resulting in both propellers, the starboard wing, starboard engine and the bomb doors becoming damaged.

It is unclear as to whether or not this was due to damage received by enemy night fighters or flak defences. As a result of damage sustained, the aircraft was taken out of active service to undergo repairs.

The aircraft was repaired in works and on completion of the repair it was issued to No 14 OTU at RAF Market Harborough in late-1943.

On the 13th August 1944, LN281 was tasked with a routine cross country training flight followed by a bombing detail at Grimsthorpe Bombing Range – Just Another Trip!

The normal crew of a Wellington would consist of the Pilot, Navigator, Wireless Operator, Air Gunners (x2) and Bomb Aimer.  At times Staff Pilots and Navigators would be additional crew members as their role was to train the inexperienced crew and ‘check them out’ ensuring that the trainees were achieving the correct standard.  Staff Pilots and Navigators were deemed to have enough experience due to recently completing a tour of ops at a front line Squadron, normally consisting of 30 sorties over enemy territory.

On this trip, the crew for LN281s training mission was no exception as the crew consisted of the usual six trainees plus a staff Pilot and Navigator.The crew of LN281 on the 13th August was:
Staff Pilot: Fg Off N Owen DFC 162950
Staff Nav: Plt Off S J Guiver 174686
Pilot: Sgt E M Roberts 1624053
Nav: Sgt W M Thomas 1652484
W/Op: Sgt R McCudden 1822819
Bomb Aimer: Sgt L Wilson 1684528
Air Gunner: Sgt P R Stafford 1881894
Air Gunner: Sgt G H Raby 3006707

At some point during the sortie, the aircraft started to experience trouble with the starboard engine and overflew RAF Melton Mowbray airfield at a height of 1000ft. 

At this height, the aircraft was too low for the crew to safely bale out so the only option was to try and make a safe landing.

Whilst trying to execute a large circuit on one engine and make an emergency landing at Melton airfield, the aircraft lost flying speed, stalled and crashed four miles from the airfield between Saxby Road and Thorpe Road in the Copley South field and burst into flames.

The entry in the No 14 OTU ORB for 13th August states:- “Wellington LN281 crashed 4 miles north Melton Mowbray airfield. Staff Pilot – F/O Owen. Pupil Pilot – Sgt. Roberts. Attempted forced landing in field and blew up on impact, finally being destroyed by fire. 7 killed and 1 dangerously injured.”

The accident record card for LN281 goes on to state “The aircraft crashed and caught fire. Court of Inquiry: the aircraft started to execute a large circuit on one engine, lost flying speed, stalled and crashed and burnt out” ” Pilot lost safe S.E. flying speed and turned with the good engine and stalled”.

The official records state that LN281 crashed in a field known as Copley South which is approximately 4 miles north of RAF Melton Mowbray airfield and quoted the following Cassini map grid reference WF 225405 Sheet 630 and this equates to an Ordnance Survey map reference of SK783 197. 

Crash site grid references

However, according to eye witness accounts, and the actual location of Copley South field, the crash site is at grid reference SK768 195, several hundred yards further West than the Cassini reference.

Wellington crash site in Copley South Field

As one can imagine with this type of incident taking place in a well-populated town, there would have been numerous witnesses that saw the incident or are relatives of those who were involved in it some way or another.

The following paragraphs detail a few of those accounts of local people that witnessed the event or became involved in the rescue.

The Melton Times from Thursday October 4th 2012 reported the following:  It was around 19:30Hrs when Melton man Walter Griffin spotted the aircraft pass overhead with 1 propeller feathered just clearing the houses in Saxby Road whilst he was playing cricket at the All England Ground on Saxby Road.  At the time Walter was an air cadet and went to the rescue with two other fellow cadets.

Walter said: “I thought it might crash because it only had one engine going. When I got to the crash site the Wellington was broken in half and it had caught fire straight away.”

“There were three airmen on the ground. One was very badly burnt, another was alive and the other one I didn’t know.”

Walter pulled two of the men clear of the wreckage while the rear gunner was shouting from the twisted-up tail of the aircraft.

He said: “I couldn’t get to him because of the rear turret. I got a hold of his arm but I couldn’t free him. The fire came along the aircraft and he burned to death while I was trying to get him out.”

It wasn’t long before more people soon arrived at the scene to help in trying to rescue the crew.

Walter, whose arms were badly burned as a result of his brave rescue bid, was commended for his efforts after trying to save the lives of young airmen after the Wellington bomber crashed. 

Walter Griffin commendation letter

“Sir, I am commanded by the Air Council to inform you that their attention has been drawn to the assistance you gave when a Royal Air Force aircraft crashed and caught fire at Melton Mowbray on 13th August 1944.
The Air Council wish me to convey to you their warm appreciation of your services and to thank you for your help.
I, am Sir,
Your Obedient Servant
Permanent Under Secretary of State”

The following statement is an extract from The Melton Times dated Friday October 6th 1944.

            Gallant Action of Melton Air Cadets.

The Officer Commanding Melton Air Training Corps has received the following letter from Air Marshall Sir Leslie Gossage, Chief of the Air Training Corps.

Flt/Sgt R.S. Baber, Cpl Moore and Cdt W.  Griffin.

“The Commandant for the Midland Command Air Training Corps has drawn my attention to the gallant action performed by three members of No 1279 (Melton Mowbray) Sqn cited above, who, on the 13th August 1944 with complete disregard of the danger involved, joined in an attempt to rescue the rear gunner of a Wellington aircraft which had crashed and caught fire.  The ammunition was exploding during the time that the rescue attempt was being made and eventually the intense heat and flames drove them back but not before they had made every effort to release the Sgt Air Gunner who was trapped in the burning wreckage.  I consider that the action of these cadets which is in accordance with the high tradition of the Royal Air Force and the Air Training Corps, reflects the credit both on themselves and No 1279 Sqn to which they belong.  As Chief Commandant I shall be glad if you will convey to them my sincere appreciation of their gallant conduct.”

Another ATC Cadet, Keith Doubleday, who was an apprentice working at Boulton & Pauls on Horsa gliders, also remembers the incident very well. 

Keith says “I was an ATC cadet. A cricket match was being played at the time. The aircraft came almost directly over the All England Ground. As I recollect one of its engines had stopped. It banked and side slipped into the ground, bursting into flames. I have a feeling this was in the early evening but, due to Double British Summer Time, it was quite light. The sports facility was always well patronised with ATC cadets. Many of us raced to the scene of the crash and attempted rescue of the crew but it was a hopeless task. Being a Wellington and fabric covered the heat was intense.  What we didn’t realised at time was the ‘hissing’ noise passing us was live ammunition exploding. Amazingly, none of the cadets were injured due to this. As the “Swans Nest” swimming club was very close by, many service personnel also came to the rescue. The Rear Gunner was the most prominent of the crew and many brave attempts to rescue him were made. As the Wellington is of geodetic construction and being metal it was red hot. It was impossible to reach the gunner from inside the fuselage. It is a memory those of the remaining cadets will always have imprinted on our minds. I was 17 at the time as was most of the other cadets.”

Jack Williamson was an airman stationed at RAF Melton Mowbray and was known as ‘Snowy’ while at Melton as his hair was jet black.  Jack remembers being asked to work late one night by his Chief as a Sqn of Fleet Air Arm Swordfishes came into Melton for an overnight stay. Jack was a witness to the Wellington that crashed between Thorpe Arnold and Saxby Road on August 13th 1944.  Jack remembers thinking ‘What’s he doing flying away from the airfield with one prop feathered?’ when it hit a haystack and burst into flames.  Jack was one of the first people to arrive at the incident and managed to drag one of the crew members out of the flames.  As the RAF Ambulance and medics arrived at the scene, Jack said to one of them ‘look after this chap a minute’ and crept away from the scene as he didn’t want any publicity for his actions.  After the accident, everybody was asking who was this brave airman was but nobody knew.  A couple of days later back at camp, all the airmen were getting inspected as it was the CO’s parade and Jack was picked up as his uniform was all burnt from rescuing the crewman.  From this they deduced that Jack must have been that airman whom they were searching for and he was subsequently awarded a citation for his heroism.

Another eyewitness to the crash was a gentleman called Ken Digby.  Ken was just 12 at the time and was one of the first on the scene.  In an article published in The Melton Times on 25th October 2012, he said “I can remember it vividly to this day and will never forget what he saw.”

Ken recalls: “I lived at Thorpe End and was walking near the Swan’s Nest with a friend and saw the plane flying low. We ran across the road and could see smoke pouring out as it crashed near to Copley’s South field.  As we entered the field a gentleman called Jack Gibbs came up to us and told us to keep away. There was ammunition on board and bullets were going off in all directions.  We saw one of the airmen trying to get out of the cockpit but all of a sudden it just went up in flames.”

Ken went on to say that Trevor Woods, the fireman in charge, gave him some money to go and get some beer for his crew and he went to the White Hart in Melton to fetch it.

He said: “My dad got some Toddy’s Ale and I carried it back down to the gate to give it to the firemen.

Another witness to the crash was a Mrs Orridge of Melton who recalls the crash in a Melton Times article on the 4th Jan 2013:

My friends and I stood on a bridge spanning the railway line and we watched a Wellington bomber circling above.

It came so low we could clearly see the men in the plane and we started waving to them.

Suddenly, to our horror, the plane was alongside the bridge, almost touching, the noise was horrendous. It vanished from sight. Then a loud explosion and smoke told us the plane had crashed.

That day remains with me still and the sadness we felt.”

Ron Barrow was swimming with his friend Derek Woodman in the River Eye at the Swans Nest or Chippy Dixons Lido as it was also known.  Ron remembers the Wellington circling round, maybe upto 3 times before it crashed in the ‘100 acre’ field.

Ron and Derek rushed over to the site but as they were only in their swimming trunks there was not a lot they could do as the aircraft was already engulfed in flames.  They returned to the Swanns nest with sore feet from all the thistles in Copley South field.

 Rons main recollection of the crash was the smell of burnt flesh that stayed with him for several days after the crash.  When asked about the position of the aircraft, he recalls that the fuselage was broken in two with the tail part angled up in the air.

Back in the early 70’s, a young Melton man named Joe Perduno had been discussing the crash with another witness called George Charity.  As a result of being told the rough area where the crash occurred, Joe went metal detecting and found an aircraft fuel gauge which he remembers the words  “Rear Tank 160 Gallons”.

Back in the early 70’s, a young Melton man named Joe Perduno had been discussing the crash with another witness called George Charity. 

As a result of being told the rough area where the crash occurred, Joe went metal detecting and found an aircraft fuel gauge which he remembers the words  “Rear Tank 160 Gallons”.

In an interview on 30th October 2013, Roy Beeken was 20 at the time of the crash recalls the incident vividly.

Roy explained to me his version of events.  Roy worked part time for the Melton Fire Service and was at home on the Kings Road ‘extension’ when the Wellington flew overhead in a North West – South Easterly direction flying low over the houses on Thorpe Road with one engine smoking and getting lower and lower all the time.  He didn’t see it crash, but saw the smoke rising up from the scene.

Roy kept his fireman’s uniform at home and instead of reporting to the fire station, he put on his fireman’s tunic and got on his bicycle and went to the site of the crash.  As he was cycling down Saxby Road (B676) he was passed the Melton fire tenders.

Roy recalls running away from the burning aircraft as the oxygen cylinders were exploding and also remembers the same as Ron Barrow in that the tail part of the aircraft was angled slightly up from the ground.

Staff Pilot: Flying Officer Norman Owen DFC 162950

Norman Owen DFC

Norman Owen was born in 1918 and was the son of Richard and Diana Owen, of Colwyn Bay, Wales.  He grew up on Pendared Farm, Llysfaen, with his sister and five brothers and was educated at the local primary school, probably in Llysfaen and then from 1929 – 1932 at Colwyn Bay Central School.

Prior to joining the RAF, Norman served as a constable with London Metropolitan Police from 1937 – 1941, serving at Hammersmith throughout the Blitz.

Following the outbreak of war he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on the 14th May 1941 as an Aircraftman 2nd Class Aircrafthand/Pilot and allocated service number 1390425. He trained as a pilot at Turner Field, Georgia, USA and completed his training in Britain. He was promoted to temporary Sergeant on 13th December 1942 after which he was commissioned on 23rd November 1943. During his flying training he sometimes took a detour to fly over Pendared Farm, where his mother would wave a sheet which led to some local complaints about low flying!

Following completion of training Norman was posted to No 207 Squadron at RAF Spilsby, Lincolnshire where he completed a full operational tour of 30 operational sorties as a Lancaster pilot.  It was normal procedures that after completing an operational tour, the crew would then be posted to training units for a rest tour and sometimes this required the crew to be split up. Norman was transferred to No 14 OTU at RAF Market Harborough, Leicestershire to become an instructor.  Approximately a month after leaving 207 Sqn at Spilsby

Norman completed 36 operational tours over enemy territory with No 207 Sqn, Norman was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and this was announced in the Supplement to the London Gazette dated 13th October 1944 page 4693.  However, as DFCs cannot be awarded posthumously, the Gazette stated that the award will take place with effect 12th August 1944.

Norman Owen DFC

Norman’s first operational trip over enemy territory was a “2nd Dickie” trip with an experienced crew before taking his own crew on 35 ops. Some were to French targets, which until late May 1944 were deemed to count as only a third of an op. Norman is amongst several pilots recorded in 207’s ORB as complaining about this. After the losses on the Mailly raid in May 1944 the powers-that-be relented and French trips were then re-counted as a whole op. However, by the time Norman was nearing the end of his tour the number of required ops had been raised to 35 and this continued until near the end of the war when the number of 1st tour ops were changed down and up several times, presumably as a surplus of aircrew arose due to the training programme output, and the reducing losses then being seen.

At the time of the crash, Norman had amassed a total of 506 Flying Hours, of which 68 were in Wellingtons.  He was aged 26 when he died and left behind his wife Mary Owen, of Dolwen.

Norman and Mary wedding photo

Many thanks to Normans nephew, Raymond Glynne-Owen who has provided valuable information and photographs regarding Norman.

Flying Officer Norman Owen DFC is buried in Grave 34 of the C of E Section at Old Colwyn Church Cemetery.

Norman Owen grave

Staff Navigator: Plt Off Sydney Jack Guiver 174686

Sydney Guiver

Sydney Guiver was born in 1921 in the Rochford region of Essex and was the 3rd child of Frederick George and Maud Emily Guiver, of Southend-on-Sea.  Prior to joining the RAF Volunteer Reserve in September 1941 as trainee aircrew, Sydney was a bank clerk. 

Following his aircrew training, he was posted as a Sgt Navigator onto Lancaster bombers. 

Sydney and crew mates in front of Lancaster bomber

According to the Supplement to the London Gazette dated 30 May 1944, Sydney’s promotion from NCO aircrew to Commissioned Officer was announced.  The entry stated that he was appointed to Commission within the General Duties branch and was awarded the rank of Pilot Officer on probation (emergency) wef 31st Mar 44.

Sydney Guiver back row 3rd from Right

Sydney married Dora Isabel Gunning in 1944 in Holywell Flintshire in Wales.  Dora served in The Land Army and they lived with Frederick and Maud at 641 Southchurch Road, Southend-On-Sea.  Although they lived in Southend, Sydneys death certificate recorded his address as Bryn Awel, Leeswood, Mold, Flintshire.

Two telegrams sent to Mrs GF Guiver informing her of the death of her son and when the coffin will be dispatched from RAF Market Harborough.

Death notice telegram

The first telegram reads:

“Mrs F G Guiver, 641 South Church Road Southend on Sea, Essex.  Deeply regret to inform you that your son 174686 P/O Sydney Jack Guiver lost his life as a result of a flying accident on 13/Aug/44. Please accept my profound sympathy further telegrams follows OC RAF Market Harborough.”

The 2nd telegram advises the family about the coffin and reads: “16 Aug Coffin late P/O S J Guiver will leave Mkt-Harboro Station 7.49PM today and will arrive Southend Station 6/44AM repeat 6/44AM Thursday 17th August – RAF Market Harborough.”

This letter was sent to Sydneys father on the 20th Aug and reads:

“Dear Mr Guiver, I write with the deepest regret to convey to you the feelings of this unit in the very sad loss of your son, Pilot Officer Sydney Jack Guiver, as the result of a flying accident.

Your son was the Navigator of an aircraft which crashed near Melton Mowbray at approximately 7.30pmon the 13th August 1944. Death was instantaneous.

During the short time your son was at this Unit he made himself very popular with everyone.  The loss to the service is great as the Royal Air Force can ill afford to lose such a keen and cheerful member of aircrew.

I have today written to your sons wife, giving full particulars of her husband’s death.

Letters from RAF Market Harborough

Again on the 17th & 20th Aug, RAF Market Harborough wrote to the father.  The letter on the 17th reads:

“Dear Sir,
Pilot Officer S J Guiver (deceased)
It would be appreciated if the flag forwarded with the coffin could be returned to this Unit please. An official paid label and wrapper are enclosed for your convenience.
It would be appreciated if the flag forwarded with the coffin could be returned to this Unit please. An official paid label and wrapper are enclosed for your convenience.
Date of burial Place of burial
Name of cemetery
Grave number

Yours faithfully
Group Captain Commanding
RAF Market Harborough”

The 2nd letter from the 20th reads:

“Dear Mr Guiver, I am enclosing herewith three photographs of your son which we happen to have on the Station as I am sure you would like to retain them.

I would be pleased if you would be good enough to give one of the photographs to Mrs D I Guiver.

Yours Sincerely

Group Captain Commanding

RAF Market Harborough”

Grave of Sydney Jack Guiver

Pilot Officer Sydney Jack Guiver is buried in Plot C Grave 722 in the Sutton Road Cemetery Southend-On-Sea.

Pilot: Sgt Edward Mansel Roberts 1624053

Edward Mansel Roberts

Edward Mansel Roberts joined RAF (Volunteer Reserve).  He was the son of Wilfrid and Martha Roberts of Buckley, Wales

Edward Mansel Roberts completed 140 Flying Hours of which 23 were on Wellingtons.  He was aged 20 when he died.

Mansel Roberts KIA
Family grave with Edward Mansel Roberts

Sgt Edward Mansel Roberts is buried in the Non-Conformist Cemetery at Buckley.

Navigator: Sgt William Marshall Thomas 1652484

Sgt William Thomas

Sgt Thomas was the son of Haydn & Jane Thomas of 28 Byron Street Cwmam Aberdare Glamorganshire and was born in 1923 in Aberdare (Merthyr Tydfil).

William Marshal Thomas front row 2nd from left

He was educated at the Aberdare Boys’ Grammer School where he is commemorated by name on the schools’ Memorial Plaque, dedicated to those who fell in the Second World War.

Aberdare Boys Grammar School Memorial

The wording on the memorial plaque states:

“This memorial was erected to honour and perpetuate the memory of those past students of the Aberdare Boys Intermediate School who fell in the World War 1939-1945.”

“Thomas, Wm Marshall Sgt Navigator RAF”

Sgt William Marshall Thomas is buried in an unconsecrated Grave X/4120 at Aberdare Cemetery Glamorganshire.

Air Gunner: Sgt Peter Robert Stafford 1881894 

Sgt. Peter Stafford

Sgt Peter Stafford was born on 29th Aug 1923 in Croydn, Surrey to John Francis and Dorothy Mary Stafford, of Addiscombe. He was educated at Asburton School and was a keen cyclist and a member of the Addiscombe Cycling Club.  Prior to joining the RAF he was an electrician serving with the Borough Valuer’s Dept in Croydon. 

Sgt Peter Stafford AG Wing badge

A letter from his RAF Station said that after being posted there on the 28th June 1944, he had made himself most popular with everyone there and carried out his duties with keenness and efficiency, an example to all of them who knew him. The family were obviously devastated at the time, and his mother always maintained that this event largely contributed to her husband’s death from cancer in 1948.

Sgt Peter Stafford grave Oxford (Botley)

Sgt Peter Robert Stafford is buried in Plot H/3. Grave 124 of the Oxford (Botley) Cemetery.  Botley is a RAF regional cemetery used during the Second World War by RAF stations in Berkshire and neighbouring counties.

Bomb Aimer: Sgt Leonard Wilson 1684528

Son of Elsie Wilson, and stepson of Hedley Whittlestone, of Lupset, Wakefield.

Sgt Leonard Wilson gravestone

Sgt Leonard Wilson is buried in Grave 374 Section. T of the Alverthorpe  (St Paul) Churchyard.

W/Op: Sgt Robert McCudden 1822819

Sgt Robert McCudden

Robert McCudden was born in 1925 and was the son of Alexander and Christina McCudden, of Kilncroft, Selkirk.

He joined No 427 Squadron Air Training Corps in December 1941 and according to a newspaper report he was very quiet and self effacing. He applied himself most diligently to his instruction and overcame his handicap of leaving school early.

Prior to joining the RAF, he was employed at Ettrick Mills where he was very popular among his fellow workers.

Robert joined the RAF in May 1943, training first of all as a Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and later as a Sergeant (Signals).

Death notification telegram
Undertakers bill
Robert McCudden gravestone

Sgt Robert McCudden was buried in Section. H. Grave 2108 at the Selkirk Cemetery on the 18th August 1944 and his old ATC Squadron, No 427 Sqn, provided the Escort Party under the Command of P/O Beattie with Cadets aalso acting as pall-bearers.

Air Gunner: Sgt George Henry Raby 3006707

Sgt. George Henry Raby was the sole survivor from the crash.  It is thought that George was the Fwd gunner but at the time of the incident was sitting in or near to the Wireless Operator position.  During the flight he said he either did not plug in his intercom as he never heard the pilot say anything about a problem, he did not have his harness on and just went to sleep and woke up in hospital.

George was badly burnt as a result of the crash and subsequent fire.  Initially, George was taken to the Leicester Royal Infirmary but eventually ended up at the notorious Queen Victoria Hospital at East Grinstead under the care of Sir Archibald McIndoe. 

George Raby (centre)

George, who naturally underwent numerous operations for many years afterwards.  On a recent trip to hospital for a cataract op, George bumbed into a nurse who remembered him from 30 odd years ago when he had some more surgery at the old Norwich Community Hospital. Although he has never spoken about the incident, he reeled off some details to the nurse about the crash.  Apparently, after he was in East Grinstead Hospital, an RAF investigation team came every day to speak to him but was sent packing by Sir Archibald McIndoe and they never came back.

George passed away in Norwich on 29th August 2015 aged 90.

Melton Mowbray Wellington Bomber Memorial Unveiling & Dedication Service 

During 2013 and 2014, I had the pleasure of leading the Wellington Bomber Memorial fundraising project with the aim of raising a target amount of £2,500 to erect a memorial to recognise both the sacrifice of the bomber crew, but also those local individuals who bravely attempted the rescue effort.

By the start of August 2014, a sum of £3, 399 had been raised.

Mowbray Fireplaces provided the granite for the plaque which the company have very generously donated free of charge.  Richard Barnes Funeral Directors and Co-Operative Memorials offered to engrave the plaque but again to do it free of charge, and finally the memorial was built by Rutland Building Supplies. On the rear of the memorial is a display board printed by B&H Midland Ltd and housed in a wooden frame built by Bob Cox, sadly no longer with us.

The unveiling and dedication service took place on Sunday 17th August 2014 at 14:00 Hours. 

Cadets from No 1279 (Melton Mowbray) Sqn and No 2248 (Oakham) Sqn along with the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire, Mayor of Melton Mowbray, Defence Animal Centre RAF Police and Leicestershire Constabulary. 

Standard Bearers from the Melton Mowbray, Leicester & Oakham Royal Air Forces Association Branches and the Melton Mowbray Royal British Legion and Royal British Legion Womens Section were also in attendance. 

Following the welcome speech and history of the tragedy, Air Marshall Sir ‘Dusty’ Miller gave a small speech on the history of No 14 OTU and Bomber Command.  A Cadet SNCO from No 1279 Sqn gave a small talk on the involvement of the Melton Mowbray 1279 Sqn Air Cadets and the crash and subsequent rescue attempts. 

After the speeches, the Dedication Service delivered by the Padre / Vicar was followed by a Wreath Laying ceremony, the Last Post, and the National Anthem. 

After the event, refreshments were served at the RAF Association Club on Asfordby Road.

20 – RAF Melton Mowbray Nuclear Missile Base

In blog No 15, I looked at the history of RAF Melton Mowbray during World War Two and its important role transporting aircraft around the world to support both the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm in whatever theatre of war they were engaged in.

In this blog, I continue the story of the former RAF station and skip ahead about 13 years after the end of World War 2 to the late 1950s when the country and the RAF was at the forefront of another global war – The Cold War and RAF Melton Mowbray became part of the countries vital nuclear defence network protecting our country.

Just over a year after the end of the Second World War, in November 1946, the Air Ministry issued an Operational Requirement, known as OR230, for an advanced jet bomber capable of carrying a 10,000-pound bomb to a target 2,000 nautical miles from a base anywhere in the world. The bomber needed to fly at an altitude of between 35,000 and 50,000 feet with a cruising speed of 500 knots.

A request for designs went to most of the United Kingdom’s major aircraft manufacturing companies including Handley Page, Armstrong Whitworth, Avro, Bristol, Short Brothers and English Electric. At the same time, another aircraft company, Vickers-Armstrong had produced a swept wing design, but this had been rejected as it did not meet the required specifications.

By the time the RAF’s strength reached its post war peak in 1956, the decision had been made by the Air Ministry and three companies that had made famous bombers during World War Two had been selected to produce the new jet bombers. They were Avro, producer of the infamous Lancaster bomber, Handley Page, producer of the Halifax bomber and Vickers, producer of the Wellington bomber. The three new aircraft that finally entered service were known as the Vulcan, the Victor and the Valiant respectively, becoming commonly known as the V Force.  These aircraft were to be used as the country’s Nuclear Deterrent.

RAF V Force with Vulcan (front), Valiant (center) and Victor (rear)

October 1956 saw the outbreak of the Suez War, and the RAFs aircraft were heavily involved in the crisis.  The diplomatic debacle of the Suez saw a dramatic rethink in defence policy.  The first manifestation of the new defence thinking was the infamous 1957 White Paper, in which Duncan Sandys, the Minister of Defence, forecast the end of manned aircraft and their replacement by guided missiles. 

It was during he Suez crisis that the British Government began discussions with the American Government the potential for basing a nuclear missile force in the United Kingdom.

The US gained much of its rocket expertise from German scientists that had previously been involved in the V1 and V2 vengeance weapons projects run by Germany during World War Two.  Apparently, there were over 500 rocket scientists that had voluntarily gone to the USA after the war to be employed in the aviation industry.

As a result of their experience, the USA already had two intermediate range missiles under development, one project run by the US Army named Jupiter (the bringer of Jollity) and the other by the US Air Force (USAF) named Thor (the God of Thunder).

The major problem the Americans were experiencing with both of these projects was the range of the missiles, which was limited to somewhere in the region of 1500 miles.  This was nowhere near enough to strike at targets deep within the Soviet Union with missiles launched from within the US homeland.  The only way the US could make practical use of the missiles was to deploy them in friendly countries nearer to the Soviet Union.

In 1957 an initial proposal from the USA was put to Britain to deploy Thor Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM) in the UK.  The plan was to deploy four Squadrons of nuclear tipped missiles with each squadron comprising fifteen missiles at a single base.  Two squadrons were to be manned by USAF personnel and the other two by RAF personnel.

The Thor missile was an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile with a range of 1,750 miles, armed with a two megaton nuclear warhead, it stood 65ft tall with a base diameter of 8 ft and could travel at a speed 12 times faster than sound. 

The proposal was regarded favourably by Britain’s new Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. Negotiations took place following concerns raised by the British Government and the original concept of having two USAF squadrons and two RAF Squadrons had now changed to all four squadron being run by the RAF with USAF support. 

The negotiations also reconsidered the bases where the missiles would be located.  The original plan included basing a squadron of missiles at RAF Brize Norton near Oxford, but this was rejected as the authorities could not contemplate the prospect of a Thor breaking up after launch and its war head  and 100,000lbs of fuel falling on the population and historic spires of Oxford.

The advantage of basing Thor in the UK was that there was hundreds of airfields across Eastern England that had been built on land commandeered during WW2.  The authorities clearly didn’t have the same concerns for the rural towns and cities across Eastern England and eventually for sites were selected to hose the Wing HQs and each base had four satellite stations around them. 

The sites chosen for the HQ’s were RAF Feltwell, RAF Hemswell, RAF Driffield and RAF North Luffenham.  Each HQ site had to be adjacent to an active airfield that could be used as the designated airhead so that the missiles and ground support equipment could be flown in as close as possible.  The airhead sites chosen were RAF Lakenheath for Feltwell, RAF Scampton for Hemswell, RAF Leconfield for Hemswell and RAF Cottesmore for North Luffenham.

Thor IRBM UK base locations

Final agreement on the deployment of Thor in Britain was reached at the Bermuda Conference in March 1957, when Macmillan and Eisenhower met to discuss key issues.

On 1 April, Macmillan reported to Parliament that: “The rockets will be the property of Her Majesty’s Government, manned by British troops who will receive their prior training from American experts. The rockets cannot be fired by any except the British personnel, but the warhead will be in the control of the United States – which is the law of the United States- and to that extent the Americans have negative control; but it is absolutely untrue to say that the President and not the British Government will decide when these missiles will be launched and at whom. So long as we rely upon the American warheads, and only so long, that will remain a matter for the two Governments”.

The emphasis was still on the Nuclear Deterrent, and with the White Papers forecast of missiles replacing the aircraft, 1958 saw the delivery of the American Thor IRBM to the RAF.  The missiles were flown into RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk in USAF Globemaster transport aircraft and then transported by road to the launch sites.

Unloading a Thor missile from a USAF C-124 Globemaster

Project Emily was then born and twenty sites were chosen to house the new missiles.  In 1958 No.144(SM) Sqn North Luffenham reformed with No 254(SM) Sqn being reformed at Melton on 1st December 1959.  The other satellite sites being No 130(SM) Sqn Polebrook Northamptonshire, No 223(SM) Sqn Folkingham Lincolnshire and No 218(SM) Sqn Harrington Northamptonshire.  (SM stands for Strategic Missile). Each of the five stations were equipped with a Thor missile complex housing 3 missiles and came under the control of Bomber Command.

The HQ was at a permanent station, in this case North Luffenham, as well as being the HQ it was also responsible for the care and maintenance of the satellite sites and their missiles.  The dispersed sites were erected in the middle of disused wartime airfields and the contract for the construction work was given to Monks Construction Company.

No 254 Squadron was reformed as a unit of No 3 Group Bomber Command on 1st December 1959 at RAF North Lufenham and its task was to operate the Thor missile from the disused former RAF airfield at Melton Mowbray.  Following reformation, the Squadron became known as No 254 (SM) Squadron .

The crest for No 254(SM) Sqn shows a Raven, with its wings endorsed and inverted.  The motto “Fljuga vakta ok ljosto” when translated means “To fly, to watch and to strike” refers back to when the squadron was initially formed in August 1918 at a Coastal Reconnaissance station and was employed on anti-submarine patrols.

No 151(S.A.M.) Wing, Fighter Command was formed equipped with Bloodhound missiles to provide anti-aircraft defence for the Thor sites.  No 62 Sqn was reformed on 1st Feb 1960 at RAF Woolfox Lodge in Rutland, No 257 Sqn was reformed on 1st July 1960 at RAF Warboys, Hunts and the Wing HQ was based at RAF North Luffenham.  These missiles which were the first to become operational in the Western world using continuous wave radar guidance systems, were intended to operate in conjunction with the Hunter and Javelin aircraft already operated by Fighter Command in the Air Defence role.

Bloodhound Missiles at RAF Woolfox Lodge in Rutland

The squadron consisted of three Thor missiles, each on a launch emplacement and the Squadron establishment as follows: Sqn Ldr D F Liddle, Squadron Commander, and 5 Flt Lts, G A Boston, G F Craig, K G Shaw, J Waiting and W P Wallington. 

Diagram of a Thor launch emplacement

Each of the Flt Lts commanded a launch crew consisting of one Flight Sergeant or Warrant Officer Master Aircrew as the Launch Monitor Console Operator, three technicians as Missile Maintenance Technicians, one Power Production Operator, four Firemen, four Cooks, eighteen Policemen and one Clerk, all of which were RAF personnel. 

The RAF launch crews had to undertake training courses to maintain this new weapon system.  Personnel who joined the Thor force had to undertake approximately 20 separate courses which were held in different parts of America and lasted anywhere between two and twelve weeks.  The main locations were Tucsan in Arizona and Vandenberg in California. 

Following the Sqn reformation, the first task for the RAF personnel was to undertake refresher training from 18th January 1960 to 8th March 1960 at RAF North Luffenham and RAF Feltwell.  During this period, the contractors continued to install the equipment for the launch pads and where possible, Sqn personnel assisted when they weren’t on training.

Diagram of a Thor launch emplacement

The Thor sites were subject to a number of “Ban the Bomb” demonstrations by groups from the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War.  Melton was subjected to several such protests with one taking place on the 18th/19th June 1959 and another on the 27th February 1960, when a protest march was undertaken from Leicester to RAF Melton Mowbray.  It is reported that the protest was ignored by the squadron personnel on advice from the civilian police and following a few speeches made by the protesters, it terminated peacefully.

The Newcastle Evening Chronicle published the following article on the Friday 19th June 1959 edition:

Rocket site protest party stays

Miss Pat Arrowsmith and her companions of the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War were today still picketing the main gate of the rocket near Melton Mowbray (Leicestershire) where last night they demonstrated.

After the demonstrators had been warned they would be trespassing If they attempted to break In, Miss Arrowsmith the field organiser led her followers off along the road. Half a mile away they found a second unmarked gate. 

Some of the demonstrators climbed over and with banners held aloft began marching towards the site.  Five others stayed at the gate handing out leaflets. Police picked up the unresisting demonstrators who had sat down and carried them to the perimeter.

The demonstrators then pitched tents on the roadside verge. Today four members of the committee were still there.  Miss Arrowsmith proposes to stay on until the workers knocked off at the end of the day.

The Torbay Express and South Devon Echo also published an article on the same day:

Pat stays `on duty’

Miss Pat Arrowsmith, daughter of Rev. and Mrs. G. K Arrowsmith, of Torquay, and her companions of the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War, who last night demonstrated at a rocket Site near Melton Mowbray (Leics.) were to-day still picketing the main gate.

The demonstration started last might with pickets and police talking over cups of tea.

When the demonstrators started marching towards the site, Air Ministry and civil police moved round to block off their route and warned them to leave. Miss Arrowsmith and her followers promptly sat down.

Police picked up the unresisting demonstrators, and, with Miss Arrowsmith laughingly apologising for her weight, carried them to the perimeter. They then went back for the tents which the invaders had been carrying handed them over.

Local farmer Bill Johnston recalls one incident at Melton when he was in his tractor delivering a trailer full of manure to the airfield and when he arrived at the Crown Hill gate at the Great Dalby end of the airfield and protester Pat Arrowsmith was lying down in the road to prevent access to the site.  The Police had to be called to remove her and allow him access to the site. 

Bill used to help cut the grass on the airfield and remembers one day when he was a passenger on a tractor when they stopped off for a T break at the NAAFI Wagon.  As they were sat enjoying their brew, Bill recalls how he was given a bar of chocolate from a black American serviceman.

During March 1960, the squadron took partial control of the equipment from the contractors and 24 hour watch keeping began on the 8th March 1960.  The installation programme was completed by the 8th April and the RAF squadron personnel took full control.  The squadron was represented by Flt Lt Wellington, Sgt Gibson, Cpl Techs Barron and Chatfield at the official handing over ceremonial parade at RAF North Luffenham on the 5th May 1960.

In June 1960, Flt Lt Waiting organised two large fire practices on the site involving both RAF personnel based at the site along with the civilian fire brigades from Melton Mowbray and Oakham so they could be familiarised with the site fire hazards.

RAF Thor with Victor V bomber at Vandenberg Air Force Base USA

The operational capability of the system was proven by carrying out a number of “Combat Training Launches”. The procedure for this was to remove an ageing missile from its launch pad, remove the nuclear warhead and fly the missile to America.  A new missile would be positioned on the launch pad so that a full complement was always kept.  The ageing missile would be set up on a launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and fired down the Pacific Missile Range.  Three of these launches were carried out by crews from the Luffenham complex.  The first ‘North Luffenham’ Combat Training Launch was carried out in October 1960 by Flt Lt E G Shaw and his crew from 254(SM) Sqn RAF Melton Mowbray.

RAF Thor lifting off as part of a Combat Training Launch

Any launch order, simulated or otherwise, had to be authenticated by the RAF and USAF officers at Bomber Command HQ, High Wycombe, where Seventh Air Division’s HQ was also located, using a special and highly secret code. Operation of the Thor required a lengthy countdown procedure, so in time of war the system required considerable warning of impending enemy activity; on average, the sequence required something like 15 minutes from receipt of the positive launch order. At that point the RAF launch Control Officer turned a phase sequence key to initiate a fully automatic sequence of events:-

Phase 1: All equipment and targeting data checked. Countdown sequence initiated

Phase 2: Shelter retracted and missile erected. Targeting data entered.

Phase 3: Missile loaded with fuel. Target data and missile valves rechecked

Phase 4: Missile functions transferred to internal power source and missile topped up with liquid oxygen (LOX) if required.

Phase 5: Authentication launch codes received. Keys turned and engines started.

Another ‘North Luffenham’ Combat Training Launch was carried out in August 1961 and was rather unique.  Back home in the UK, a campaign was underway by ‘Rutlanders’ to try and prevent their tiny county being overtaken by its larger neighbour Leicestershire.  The launch crews were aware of this and slapped a “Hands off Rutland” sticker on the nose of the missile and as they watched the launch on TV, they saw the Rutland campaign go into orbit.  The third launch was on 19 June 1962.  All three launches were a success and proved the operational aspects of both the missile and the RAF crews.

On the 23rd November 1960, there was a security alert at the Melton Thor site when a light aircraft landed on the disused runway.  The aircraft as rapidly surrounded by the duty police patrol and security alert measures were set in motion by the duty officer Flt Lt Wallington.  The alert ceased when it transpired that the occupants of the light aircraft were two Frenchmen who were unsure of their position had landed at what they believed to be RAF Cottesmore.

At 05:30Hrs on the 4th December 1961, No 245(SM) Sqn received an issue of ‘Alert Condition 3’ from Bomber Command Operations Centre as part of the Bomber Command Exercise “Redouble”.  When the alert was received, the Squadron was engaged in carrying out periodic maintenance inspections on the launch pads.  One pad had power supply issues and a second was at Standby and brought to Exercise Ready state in seven minutes with a second following at 11:07Hrs and the third at 22:05Hrs.  During the exercise, the Squadron carried out 5 countdowns and the exercise was terminated at 12:06Hrs on the 5th December.

RAF Thor missiles raised to the vertical position

Exercise “Redouble” was Bomber Command twice yearly exercise testing the Thor force integration within the Bomber Command alert and readiness procedures. The exercise required all launch emplacements to be placed in Exercise Ready condition, meaning off duty crews had to be called back from leave, stand-down etc as the Launch Crews were doubled up and working 12 hour shifts.

Another method of testing the Thor force and its crews was the annual Exercise Mayshot which was the IRBM component of the Exercise Mayflight series. These exercises were designed to test the Bomber Command alert and readiness procedures, similar to that undertaken in Exercise Redouble. As the Thor force was already at constant alert at T-15. the only additional thing that could be tested was the time taken to augment the launch crews. However, Mayshot was a planned exercise with the Sqns having prior knowledge of when it would be executed and as such the crews did not see this exercise as a realistic test of their procedures.

Thor missile with clouds of liquid oxygen venting off

Meltonian, Dave Page joined the RAF in June 1959 as a National Service Policeman.  After doing his basic training at RAF Bridgenorth in Shropshire and trade training at RAF Netheravon, Wiltshire he passed out as a Cpl Policeman and was posted to RAF North Luffenham.  Dave was pleased with his posting as he was born and bred in Melton.  While stationed at North Luffenham,

Dave was responsible for the security of the Thor sites, including the satellite stations.  When on duty at Melton, he lived at home with his parents. Dave recalls that the Thor sites were surrounded by two chain link fences with barbed wire tops.   These fences ran parallel around the site with a 10m ‘sterile area’ between the two high coils of barbed wire were set up against the outer fence to prevent anyone climbing the fence. 

While on duty he was armed with a .38 calibre Smith and Wesson revolver with six rounds.  As well as guard room duties, he was duties involved mobile patrols of the perimeter fence, both on foot and in a Land Rover. 

While on duty he was armed with a .38 calibre Smith and Wesson revolver with six rounds.  As well as guard room duties, he was duties involved mobile patrols of the perimeter fence, both on foot and in a Land Rover. 

One of the tasks for the RAF Police protecting the Thor sites was carrying out security checks on other sites where the police would pretend to be intruders and try and gain access to the sites. In August 1962, No 254 (SM) Sqn was subjected to one such attack and three potential ‘intruders’ were captured within the sterile area.  Some of the intruder attacks were more successful than other.  A few weeks earlier, B Crew were on duty on the 31st July when the site was attacked by the so called intruders.  They admitted that they had managed to gain entry to the site and escape detection for almost half an hour but confirmed that they were unable to penetrate onto any of the launch pads or vital points due to the general busy activity by the site personnel.

RAF police dog handler protecting a Thor launch emplacement

The Cuba crisis in 1962 saw both the V-Force and the Thor Force at operational readiness. Across East Anglia, American pilots were strapped in their nuclear-armed aircraft at ‘cockpit readiness. RAF V-bombers were loaded with thermonuclear weapons and held on heightened Quick Reaction Alert at RAF Bases across East Anglia and Lincolnshire.

In addition to the V-force being put on readiness, the 60 Thor launch pads across Eastern England, had their launch crews doubled in strength and the missiles themselves were prepared for firing. On the 27th October 1962, No 254(SM) Sqn was called to Alert Condition ‘ Phase’ 3 with all of Meltons three missiles fully loaded with fuel, their target data and missile valves were rechecked and kept on hold at the end of Phase 3 with the hangars rolled back. It would have taken only a further two or three minutes to complete Phases 4 and 5. With the easing of political tensions, Bomber Command released the missile readiness state to Alert Condition 4 on the 5th November.

A Group Captain in charge of one of the Thor HQ sites recalled some 30 years later “Perhaps the worst thing was to realise that the station and dispersed sites would be hit and destroyed shortly after we had fired our own missiles, or before, if the Russians chose to make a pre-emptive strike. Although I chose not to think too much about it, while the crises was on, it was a great relief when the Air Officer Commanding Group rang to say the heat was off.”

Meltonian Ivan Farmer recalls his days on Thor missiles, although he was based at RAF Feltwell and not Melton: “The Cuban missile crises did change the atmosphere at RAF Feltwell and the other Thor bases. It was the same for everyone at the V-bomber bases too. You took it in your stride but there was a feeling that we may not be long long for this world. WE tried to keep up with it through the radio and the newspapers. We were put on 12 hour shifts and they doubled the number of safety officers to certify the launch codes. There was one lengthy ‘operational hold’ during the confrontation. It was a very tense period. In the local village, the local landlord complained that his pub was empty as no one came in during the crisis.”

Only the most rudimentary plans existed to protect the population and these relied on days of prior notice if they were going to be implemented effectively. Many years after the crises ended, it became clear that the Home Office had done nothing to activate the Civil Defence plans. I wonder how many of the local residents of Melton Mowbray, and other villages surrounding the missile base realised just how much danger they were in?

Civil Defence Handbook

On the 25th July 1963 a party of 48 Air Training Corps cadets who were on camp at RAF Cottesmore visited the site.  During their 2 hour visit, they conducted tours of the various areas of the Weapons System with he cadets watching a countdown demonstration on emplacement 57.

The Thor’s reign as the countries nuclear deterrent was a short one, and the missiles ceased to be operational in August 1963 which led to the closure of Melton.  The Luffenham complex was the last to close when on the 15th August the site ceased to be operational and No 254 (SM) Sqn disbanded on the 23rd.

An order of the day to Thor squadrons and stations from Air Marshall Sir Kenneth Cross, AOC-in-C, Bomber Command said: “You have maintained a higher rate of readiness in peacetime than has ever been achieved before in the history of the armed forces of the Crown.”  Mr. Hugh Fraser, Secretary of State for Air, also sent a message of appreciation to Bomber Command.

When the airfield was finally vacated by the RAF in 1964, most of the facilities including the hangars were dismantled, but the Control Tower survived although derelict until about 1970 when it was demolished.

Following the retirement from service of the missiles, the majority were returned to the US to be used in the space exploration program, either as single stage boosters or in combination with various upper stages, mainly in association with the Telstar, Pioneer and Discoverer programmes.  However, you can still see two examples of the Thor here in the UK with one being on display in the Cold War display at the RAF Museum Cosford and the other can be found in the Space Centre at Leicester

The Thor missile site at the former RAF North Luffenham has been given a Grade II* listing as a reminder of the “knife-edge moment in history”.  The site is one of two of the most intact examples of Thor missile bases in England, the other is at the former RAF Harrington in Northamptonshire – now mainly farmland -– which is Grade II listed.  The concrete launch pads and blast walls still remain at the former Rutland RAF base, along with mounting bolts for the platforms that would raise the missiles into a vertical firing position.

For more information visit the Historic England site to see their listing entries for the former missile sites at North Luffenham and Harrington

Tony Calladine, English Heritage’s designation team leader for the east of England, said: “Melton Mowbray wasn’t put on the list because it didn’t survive well enough. Only those which have survived most intact were selected.

Oh Happy Days” – Melton resident Mike Mayfield has clear recollections of the missiles:

“I can clearly recall visiting my Grandma’s farm at the top of Cuckoo Hill, between Stapleford Lane and the road to Whissendine, and on many a summer’s evening whilst hay making or harvesting, looking across towards Melton Airfield from the high vantage point, and seeing all 3 missiles in an elevated position and floodlit. Quite a sight as darkness fell!

A more direct and intimate reminder happened in the summer of either 1964 or 65. I was a student at Leicester College studying Quantity Surveying, and being unable to get temporary work in the Building Industry in Melton during the summer holidays, I found employment with Mr. George Houghton of Leesthorpe, a well-known gentleman farmer and Leicestershire County Councillor.

George had the grass mowing rights at RAF North Luffenham, and for 6-8 weeks we would leave Leesthorpe every morning with about 6 or 8 Fordson Major tractors pulling either 1 or 2 four wheeled trailers- quite a sight driving over the level crossing and through the centre of Oakham with a ‘long train of trailers behind’.

Each morning we checked in at the Guardroom at the main gates, and whoever was first there would purchase the tickets for lunch in the Airmen’s Mess, at a cost of 3 shillings and 6 pence in old money!!

After a morning of mowing, turning and baling hay, followed by a huge lunch in the said Mess, half of the afternoon was spent lounging around on a stack of bales reading the Daily Mirror or similar newspaper.

To get to the point, we in fact worked round all the missile bases, dodging in and around the blast walls etc and avoiding the open duct ways. Needless to say the missiles had long gone, but there was still evidence of their former presence.

We also worked in the Airfield’s ammunition compound, where we had to open up, enter and lock ourselves in for the day.

At the end of each working day we would load up the trailers and wend our way back to Leesthorpe, needless to say 1 loaded trailer was enough to tow on the return journey. I can recall one of the drivers losing his load somewhere between leaving Langham and descending Three Step Hill.

Coming from a farming background it was a very happy and interesting experience that summer, accompanied by exceptionally hot weather as I recall.  Oh Happy Days!!”

Thor Squadron

15 – RAF Melton Mowbray

As we celebrate the 75th Anniversary of WW2 ending in 1945 and the celebrations begin with #VEDay75, the 75th Anniversary of Victory in Europe (more commonly known as VE Day) on the 8th May, I take a look at the story of RAF Melton Mowbray and its role during WW2.

As you go from Melton Mowbray to Great Dalby along the B6047 road, the airfield is on your right and the road was once part of the perimeter track. The airfield was built in the early 1940s as part of the Royal Air Force expansion during the Second world War.

The original plan for RAF Melton Mowbray was for it to become a Maintenance Command Station, but by the time it opened on 1st August 1943 control had been given to No 44 Group, Transport Command. 

RAF Melton Mowbray with road at top LH leading from airfield towards Melton and Kirby Bellars would be to the left.

It was designed, with the intention of it eventually becoming an operational bomber station, as it was built with two bulk fuel installations.  This was the usual provision for fuel installations on operational bomber stations.  The two tank units, each holding the maximum 72,000 gallons was policy for operational units which had to store enough fuel for six weeks of intensive operations. 

One of the first serviceman to arrive at the new unit was Flt Lt J Milton (Equip) who performed the duties of the Senior Equipment Officer, and it was his job to arrange for the supply of stores.  Sqn Ldr R J Sanceau (G.D.) was posted in and became the first Commanding Officer of the new unit. Once the NAAFI was built and the camp had been certified fit for use by a Senior Medical Officer the Permanent Staff would be posted in.

During August 1943, the units strength of personnel increased to 12 Officers and 123 Airmen and Airwomen who were employed on routine work, preparing the station for the arrival of the aircraft.

The newly opened station was inspected on 6th August by Air Chief Marshall Sir Frederick Bowhill GBE, KCB, CMG, DSO. Back in 1941 when he was AOC in C Coastal Command, he used his knowledge of the sea and plotted the  Bismarck’s  likely course. This resulted in a Catalina being sent to search the area, successfully finding it resulting in the Bismarck sinking on the 27th May 1941.

The newly opened airfield was again inspected on 1st September, this time by The Air Officer Commanding No 44 Group, Air Commodore Kingston-McCloughly CBE, DSO & DFC.

The first unit to arrive was No 4 Overseas Aircraft Preparation Unit (OAPU) which handled various types of aircraft including Spitfires, Mosquitoes, Corsairs, Vengeances, Hellcats & Halifaxes.

No 4 OAPU personnel RAF Melton Mowbray with Spitfire and Grumman hellcat aircraft

Wing Commander B A Oakley arrived at Melton on September 4th and took over command of No 4 OAPU and the station from Sqn Ldr R J Sanceau.

John McCafferty was an airframe fitter who was posted to No 4 OAPU B Flight as an LAC after returning to the UK from a tour in West Africa.  He arrived at Melton during November 1943 and he remembers that all new arrivals spent their first 7 days on duty crash crew at the watch tower, or to use its modern name the control tower, before proceeding to their respective flights.

 As the title of the unit suggests, No 4  OAPU was responsible for prepping aircraft and dispatching them to overseas units.  A large number of modifications were required to convert a Spitfire for tropical operations.  These included the deletion of two lower engine cowling panels, the standard oil tank had to be replaced with one of a larger capacity, the air intake fairings were replaced, a tropical air filter was fitted and fixed fittings were installed to accomodate the additional fuel tanks known as either ‘overload’ tanks or ‘slipper’ tanks.

Spitfire with slipper tank installed under its belly

Slipper tanks came in various sizes, ranging from 30 gallons up to 170 gallons, and it was the 170 gallon tank that was fitted to Spitfires for ferry flights.  The advantage of the 170 gallon tank was obvious, but it did have its disadvantages.  The shear size of the tank, which was fitted to the underside of the fuselage behind the air intake caused an increase in drag, which subsequently made the aircraft very difficult to fly unless flying straight and level.  Another problem was that the guns and ammunition had to be removed due to the extra weight that the aircraft was carrying,  This subsequently meant that the ferry aircraft were prone to attack from enemy aircraft after the fighter escorts had left them at the Bay of Biscay.  The guns and ammunition would be refitted when the aircraft reached its destination.

After carrying out the modifications to the aircraft as part of the preparation for overseas tours, John remembers the codeword ‘SNAKE’ being painted on the fuselage of the aircraft. Quite often, as the aircraft stopped off on route to refuel, resident squadrons that were short of aircraft acquired the newly arrived and modified aircraft for use by themselves and the aircraft never reached its final destination. The painting of the word ‘SNAKE’ was supposedly a deterrent to ensure that the aircraft arrived at its destination in the Far East, although some aircraft were still diverted from their original destination.

Beaufighter TF.X RD758 clearly displaying the codeword SNAKE

John remembers working on numerous different types of aircraft such as: Spitfires, Grummen Martlets, Grummen Hellcats, B25 Mitchells, A20 Bostons, P51 Mustangs, Wellingtons, Lancasters, Stirlings and Liberators.  Many of the aircraft were flown into Melton by female ATA pilots who were not familier with the type of aircraft they were flying.  To get round this problem of unfamiliarity, the pilots had a pad of pilots notes strapped to their right leg, just above the knee, from which they worked out the starting procedures.  John recalls watching many aircraft perform ‘hairy’ take-offs which was another problem caused by unfamiliarity.

One incident that John remembers was when a female ATA ferry pilot had just delivered a brand new Wellington bomber from the Vickers factory.  After landing the pilot had reported to the groundcrew that the elevator controls were the heaviest she had known.  After lots of investigation by the groundcrew and various test flights, the controls were still heavy.  Eventually someone had the idea of removing the fabric from the elevator control surfaces which revealed the problem – a complete tool kit in a canvas tool bag had been left inside the elevator when it had been manufactured.

Another aircraft that John remembers stationed at Melton was a Percival Proctor MkIII serial number Z7252 and this was the Station Commanders aircraft.

Sunday 26th September was the annual Battle of Britain parade and a detachment of RAF and WAAF personnel took part in Meltons parade.

During October, various new units were formed at Melton.  Sqn Ldr I R Blair (T.Eng) arrived on 1st October on attachment from No 1 OADU to form a maintenance wing on the station.  On the 7th October, Flt Lt N H Kellitt (G.D.) reported from Long Kesh by air in connection with the movement of No 306FTU from Long Kesh to Melton.  On the 9th October Flt Lt W M Smedley (T.Eng) accompanied by Flg Off F R Mason (G.D.) and Flg Off P H C Pinnock arrived from Finmere in connection with the movement of No 307FTU to Melton.  The advance party from No 306FTU consisting of 3 Officers and 68 other ranks arrived at Melton on the 14th October, and the advance party of 12 Officers and 217 other ranks from 307 FTU arrived on the 15th.

The role of the FTU was providing the newly formed bomber crews with all the training they required prior to them being posted to operational squadrons.  The training usually lasted about 8 days in total.  The short but intensive course consisted of 4 days ground instructional and 4 days flying, after which the aircrew would proceed overseas. 

Prior to travelling overseas the aircrew should be fully innoculated, vaccinated and fit for overseas service before arriving at Melton.  Quite often the aircrew would arrive at Melton requiring Yellow Fever, Typhus and TABC innoculations and vaccinations.  This subsequently meant a frantic rush for the medical staff to get the aircrew fully fit without hindering the short flying programme and  most of all not to hold up the delivery of aircraft overseas. 

Even worse than arriving at Melton without innoculations was when aircrew reported sick immediately upon arrival at Melton with complaints, some of which they had been nursing for months.  Sometimes the complaint was serious enough to be admitted into hospital for investigation, this meant removing the crew from their training course and subsequently the flow of aircraft overseas was interrupted.  For the ‘genuine’ cases that did require investigation, the RAF Hospital at Rauceby realised the rush nature of Meltons problem and co-operated as much as they could.

Ron Acton was an Engine fitter posted to Melton during 1943 purely by chance.  Ron was posted from his current unit to the top of Scotland and on his way to get his posting details from the clerk he noticed that postings to RAF Melton Mowbray were being  advertised on the blackboard.  Ron spoke to his clerk about swapping his posting who replied that it would cost him ten bob.  Ron paid him the money which was equivalent to about a weeks wages and was posted to Melton which pleased Ron as he came from Asfordby Hill, on the outskirts of Melton.

Initially the new camp was not a good unit to be based.  Ron began to wonder what he had let himself in for, getting posted to Melton.  The first thing that he remembers about arriving at RAF Melton Mowbray was being issued with a pair of Wellington boots.  Everywhere was ankle deep in mud and sludge as the footpaths had not yet been built.  The accomodation was not that brilliant, John recalls being billeted in Nissen huts with coke stoves to provide the heating, although there was not enough coke available to heat them.  Proposals were made to the Medical Officer to have all the ventilators in the sleeping accomodation blocked up due to the excessive amount of draughts and dampness that they caused.  This was vetoed by the Medical Officer for the reason that the huts are heated by slow combustion stoves burning coke which are known to give off poisonous gases, adequate ventilation must be maintained.

The airmen had outside ablutions and the accomodation was situated miles from the dining hall, sick quarters and work.  Due to the large area that the sites were dispersed over, the bicycle was a common and popular mode of transport.  It also proved to be a popular cause of accidents, people quite often requiring minor surgery, sometimes major after having accidents with bicycles.

The water supply to the station was severely rationed following a breakdown at the pumping station on the 29th October.  The supply of water was fully restored by the 31st.

Although the country was at war, and there was lots of work to be done prepping the numerous different types of aircraft for overseas duties, Ron recalls there still being time to relax and play a game of football against the hanger doors.

A discussion group was formed on the station, and for its first meeting which was held during October, the chosen subject was ‘Post War Housing’.  An entry in the Daily Operations Record Book for Melton states that ‘most of the W.A.A.F.s appeared to be keenly interested in this subject.

This month also saw strenuous efforts being made in connection with entertainment after ‘cease work’.  An ENSA concert party and the Hurricane concert party made appearances and a recently organised Station Concert Party gave a show at the Corn Exchange in Melton.

Ron remembers working on numerous different types of aircraft such as Spitfires, Lancasters, Liberators, Flying Fortresses and lots of different American aircraft.  The aircraft would get fitted out with extra fuel tanks and painted in the appropriate colour scheme for whichever theatre of war they would be operated in.  Once ready, the aircraft took off from Melton for Redruth in Cornwall where they stopped and refuelled.  After taking off from Redruth they were joined by the fighter escorts who would escort them as far as the Bay of Biscay.  Apparently there were a lot of losses after the escorts departed.

At the end of November airmen started to arrive at the station on posting to the Maintenance Wing.

On New Years Eve a station Dance was held in the Sgts Mess and was open to all ranks.

On 13th January 1944 No 304 FTU arrived from Port Ellen operating Beaufighters, Beauforts, Bostons and Wellingtons.  By the end of January the 3 FTU’s had amalgamated and were to be known as No 304 FTU under establishment WAR/AT/134.

Jimmy Learmonth was stationed at Melton during 1944/45.  He arrived at Melton during the first week of 1944 as part of the advance party for No 304 FTU which was transferring from the Isle of Islay.  The party was flown down in Bombay aircraft which were stationed at Doncaster Racecourse. 

After an overnight stay at Doncaster they took off again in the Bombay’s and headed for Melton.  Jimmy remembers arriving at Melton and not being able to see ‘a single blade of grass’ due to the large amount of aircraft such as Halifaxes, Lancasters, Mosquitoes, Beaufighters and numerous other types that were scattered across the airfield.

On 17th January 1944 No 1 Ferry Crew Pool was transferred to Melton from Lyneham in Wiltshire, but only stayed two months and then moved on again to Pershore.

During January 1944 personnel had to frequently work overtime due to the shortage of staff through sickness.  Several much appreciated concerts took place throughout January and were held on the Communal Site.

In February 1944 the compliment of station personnel had grown to 1830 Officers, SNCOs and Airmen with 295 WAAF Officers and Airwomen and again concerts were held in the Gymnasium on the Communal Site at least once per week.

The airfield was closed on 27th February 1944 due to heavy snow falls.  The depth of the snow on the main runway varied between 6 and 12 inches and it took until 15.00hrs on the 27th to clear the main runway.  It was not until 16.00hrs the following day that the other runways were cleared of snow and the airfield became fully operational again.         

The AOC No 44 Group Air Commodore G R Beamish, CBE visited the station on the 17th/18th March and according to the resume written by G/Capt C F H Grace, the Station Commander, the AOC congratulated No 4 OAPU on their work, although he was not satisfied with much else that he saw.

Whilst at Melton, Ron remembers one of the Physical Training Officers that was posted in, it was the boxing champion Len Harvey, who arrived at Melton on March 1st.  Whilst stationed at Melton, Len consented to coach the boys from No 1279 (Melton Mowbray) Sqn Air Training Corps (A.T.C.) at boxing and these coaching sessions turned out to be popular with the boys. 

British Boxing champion Len Harvey

The following report appeared in The Melton Times on 30th June 1944. 

            ‘ATC Boxing Champions in the Making?

            The first of the boxing lessons given by F/O Len Harvey took place on Wednesday when over 40 cadets attended.  It is of course too soon to predict   whether there are any potential champions in Melton!’  

On 31st March 1944, three American aircraft diverted into Melton as the runways at their own units were still closed due to snow and Melton was the first unit to clear its runways.  Melton was quite often used as a diversion airfield for the aircraft that normally operated from places like Leicester East and Wymeswold.  If the aircraft couldn’t make it back to their own base they would divert into Melton as it was in a direct line with their unit. 

The month of March was a notable one as far as aircraft dispatches were concerned, with a record number of 105 various aircraft being dispatched from No 4 OAPU and No 304 FTU.

German and Italian Prisoners of War used to work the land on local farms around Melton.  Ron remembers one particular day when a German PoW escaped from the farm and he was found on the airfield, in the cockpit of an aircraft trying to start the engines and escape.

Personnel based at RAF Melton were invited by Lt/Col Sparling, Officer Commanding Army Remount Depot stationed in Melton to take part in horsemanship classes.  No charge was made for these classes and those personnel with experience at horse riding were allowed to ride without supervision and the classes proved very popular with all ranks.

There was a reduced number of aircraft dispatched during April.  This reduction was partly due to the record output during March and the fact that the commitments have temporarily eased off.  In spite of this No 4 OAPU managed to dispatch 53 various aircraft, their highest figure since the formation of the unit.

Even though the airfield had been open for approximately ten months, there was still a lot of building work going on around the station.  Work by McAlpine Ltd. started at the beginning of April with the filling of spaces between the spectacle hard-standings and the construction of new aprons outside No 1 & 3 hangars.

The beginning of April saw the formation of the stations National Savings Group which proved very successful with a total amount of £919/2/6d being saved, an average of 10/8d per person.

The Stations new theatre was completed  during May and fully equipped with up to date equipment.  The first show given by the Station Dramatic Society lasted for 3 successive nights and was an outstanding success.

Flt Lt Carter, who was the Catering Officer, was also kept busy during May reorganising the stations messing facilities and fitting a lot of new equipment which had been painstakingly sought out.

The month of May saw the arrival of Meltons first fully equipped crash ambulance.  It was an Albion ambulance with a crane and hook apparatus on the roof for attachment to parachute harnesses. 

It also contained a fireman’s axe and two pairs of asbestos gauntlets for fire rescue.  Inside the ambulance was an oxygen apparatus contained in a specially constructed wooden container secured to the wall, comprising an oxygen bottle, mask and flowmeter etc.

A large number of the stations airmen underwent training in stretcher bearing and loading ambulances during May.  The station was ‘gearing up’ for the reception, housing and disposal of casualties arriving at Melton by air.  The ‘Operational Record Book’ quoted that casualties could be disposed of at the rate of 28 per load per one and half hours.  Three ambulances and four lorries equipped with Flint stretcher gear were made available.  Sign posts were being erected at all prominent positions around the camp.

May ‘44 was again a quiet month as far as aircraft dispatches were concerned, approximately 60 aircraft were dispatched.  Full advantage was taken with the lull in aircraft work when a lot of ‘self help’ work was done with the cleaning up and improving the general appearance of the station.

June was another month where aircraft dispatches were at a low.  A total of 26 aircraft, of which 10 were Stirlings were prepared and dispatched.

It was becoming quite a frequent occurrence for personnel, in particular WAAFs, to report sick with complaints of nerves, rundown, insomnia and anorexia usually accompanied with emotional outbursts.  The main reason for these complaints was the lack of leave.  The best possible cure for all these complaints would be leave, but if the SMO started recommending leave then there was a great possibility of an epidemic breaking out with the illnesses, however leave was granted on compassionate grounds.  The main cause of the ‘leave sickness’ as it was called, was put down to the inequality that existed on all stations.  Personnel who lived within a reasonable distance of the station usually managed to get home during their 24 hours off duty, whereas those personnel who lived several hundreds of miles away were not able to get home at all.

 On the 26th June, WAAFs stationed at Melton started attending Melton Mowbray Senior Girls School for cookery lessons.

Another airman that was stationed at Melton was Jack Williamson.  Jack was awarded the nickname ‘Snowy’ while at Melton as his hair was jet black.  Jack remembers being asked to work late one night by his Chief as a Sqn of Fleet Air Arm Swordfishes came into Melton for an overnight stay.

Jack was a witness to the Wellington that crashed between Thorpe Arnold and Saxby Road on 13th August 1944.  Jack remembers thinking ‘Whats he doing flying away from the airfield with one prop feathered?’ when it hit a haystack and burst into flames.  Jack was one of the first people to arrive at the incident and managed to drag one of the crew members out of the flames, although to no avail as he was already dead from the fatal burns he had received. 

As the RAF Ambulance and medics arrived at the scene, Jack said to one of them ‘look after this chap a minute’ and crept away from the scene as he didn’t want any publicity for his actions.  After the accident, everybody was asking who was this brave airman was but nobody knew.  A couple of days later back at camp, all the airmen were getting inspected as it was the CO’s parade and Jack was picked up as his uniform was all burnt from rescuing the crewman.  From this they deduced that Jack must have been that airman whom they were searching for and he was subsequently awarded a citation for his heroism. 

The dispatch of aircraft during August 1944 was reported as disappointing due to a problem with the Beaufighters.  Apparently the rate of petrol consumption was too high to enable them to reach their destination in South Africa safely. A record number of aircraft were dispatched overseas during May 1944 when a total of 53 aircraft were transferred from Melton. 

On 30th Oct 1944 a single Lancaster was secretly dispatched to Australia from Melton. G for George, an Avro Lancaster Mk.I serial number W4783 AR-G, operated by No. 460 Squadron Royal Australian Air Force. The aircraft flew 96 combat missions over occupied Europe with 460 Squadron, and is the second most prolific surviving Lancaster, behind R5868 S for Sugar which flew 137 sorties with No. 83 Squadron RAF, No. 463 Squadron RAAF and No. 467 Squadron RAAF.

Lancaster G for George

On the 16th October 44, RAF Melton received another special tasking via Air Movement Order (AMO) regarding two special commitments, No’s 1075 & 1076 which had been issued by HQ No 44 Group. This AMO required both No 4 OAPU and No 304 FTU to prepare and deliver two specially modified Avro Anson aircraft. One for the King of Egypt and the other for the Regent of Iraq. Sqn Ldr Gallaway piloted Anson NK150 to Cairo for the King of Egypt and Flt Lt Smith piloted Anson NK151 to Iraq for the Regent. The aircraft were eventually dispatched in December 44 and January 45.

Bill Johnston of Ewetree Farm remembers being invited to a birthday party of an Airman’s son who lived in Gt Dalby.  After the party, the airman took his son and Bill up to the airfield and let them sit in an American Grumman Hellcat fighter. 

Grumman Hellcat

Bill recalls seeing lots of different types of aircraft such as Halifaxes, Bostons and Mosquitoes.  The thing that he remembers most about the Mosquito is that they were white or silver in colour instead of camouflage.  Another of Bills recollections is of the Airmen down in Gt Dalby village scrumping apples.

Jimmy Learmonth was a professional footballer before he joined the RAF and while stationed at Melton, naturally he was part of the RAF Melton Mowbray football team.  The station team had just won the Loughborough Charity Cup in a local tournament.  The CO at the time, Group Captain Pete Gomez, who was himself a football fan and proud of his team, invited them back to the Officers Mess for celebration drinks.  The CO was doing his party piece and drinking a pint of beer down in one go when Jimmy said to his team-mates “Where’s he putting that, has he got hollow legs?”  To Jimmy’s horror the CO heard his comment and spat out his drink in a burst of laughter and replied “Its better than that Jimmy” at the same time as tapping his leg.  To the amazement of everyone, it was a false leg as he lost his real one in a flying accident earlier in his career.  Jimmy immediately thought ‘I’ve gone and done it now’ but Gomez just laughed about it.

Back Row left to right: Andy Bramley, Bill Maclean, -?-, Fl/Lt Ames, Cenre Row: -?-. Alan Brown, Ted Sale, -?-, McKie, Oswald Destine, Roy Bentley. Front Row: Clem Stevenson, Jimmy Learmonth, Fred Moon, Group CAptain Gomez, Bert Brocklehurst, Fred Butcher, Jack Smith.

In addition to Jimmy Learmonth, the RAF Melton Mowbray FC team contained several other professional players such as Cpl Andy Bramley who was the team manager and came from Anstey, Bill Maclean was the Leics City trainer, Clem Stevenson played for Huddersfield.

Also serving at Melton was the England player Ivor Broadis, who won his first cap for his Country in 1952. He was a Flight Lieutenant navigator on Wellingtons and Lancaster bombers and had massed over 500 hours without going on a bombing mission. It is not sure if he’s on the team photograph.

Jimmy was an Armourer by trade and most of the time he worked in No 4 Hangar.  He remembers one specific day when all the Beaufighters were being put into the hangar for storage.  It was quite a common occurrence for the engineers to show people around the aircraft including the cockpit and controls.  On this particular day, the engineer was showing the visitors the controls and how the machine guns operated. 

Example of a Bristol Beaufighter

The Beaufighters gun controls was a button which was located on the control column and protected by a flap/cover.  All of a sudden, the hangar was filled with the deafening sound of machine gun fire.  It turned out to be ‘friendly fire’ and came from the Beaufighter in which Jimmy’s colleague was showing the visitors around.  Nobody was actually injured in this incident, except their pride.  Normally the aircrafts ammunition was downloaded prior to the aircraft going into the hangar, but for some reason this aircraft was missed.

Another incident that Jimmy remembers began when he was walking his girlfriend (who incidentally is now his wife) home after an evening of dancing.  At the bottom of Ankle Hill he was stopped by a couple of Service Policemen (SP’s) who questioned him about being out late at night.  It turned out that he didn’t have a late night pass, so the SP’s took his details (Name, Rank and Number) and ordered him to report to the Guardroom immediately.   Upon arriving at the Guardroom, Jimmy reported to the Orderly Corporal who told him to report back to the Guardroom at 06.30am the following morning for the Orderly Officers parade.  The following morning, Jimmy arrived at the Guardroom only to find that it had been burnt down during the night. 

 A drunken Scots airman, who was known for being drunk and rowdy had been arrested by the RAF Police (RAFP), who were trying unsuccessfully to lock him up in one of the guardrooms detention cells.  The tiny Scotsman who was only 5ft 3” tall managed to escape from the custody of the RAFP and his escorts and evict them out of the guardroom.  He then locked him self inside and built a bonfire from all the paperwork, tables and chairs.  When the fire was well ablaze, he went outside, started ringing the fire bell and shouted for assistance. 

The RAF Fire Service could not attend as they were on airfield duties so the Melton Fire Brigade were called. Subsequently, the guardroom burnt down due to the building being constructed from wood.  Upon arrival at the scene, the Scotsman was cooled down with a dowsing from a fireman’s hose and he escaped again, this time down Dalby Road towards town.  He was arrested again at the picket post and taken to a more secure cell, this time in the local police station down town.  Apparently the local police were not too keen on this as the same Scotsman had been detained in their cells on a previous occasion and had trashed them.

By 6th June 1944 No 304 FTU & No 4 Overseas APU (renamed as No 4 APU on 31st July 1944), both of No 44 Group were operating from Melton.  Both of these units amalgamated on the 9th October 1944 and became No 12 Ferry Unit whose role was ferrying aircraft from Melton to overseas units and operated various types of aircraft which included Ansons, Beaufighters, Bostons, Oxfords, Proctors, Stirlings and Wellingtons.

RAF Melton Mowbray Christmas Menu 1944
RAF Melton Mowbray Christmas Menu 1944
RAF Melton Mowbray Christmas Menu 1944

Due to the closure of the APU, the station was able to accept part of No 107 Operational Training Unit whose parent station was Leicester East.  The role of this unit was the training of Transport Command crews who were employed in glider towing and troop carrying.  No 107 OTU operated Halifaxes and Dakotas along with a fleet of Horsa and Hadrian gliders.     

No 1588 Heavy Freight Flight (HFF) was formed at Melton during September 1945 as ‘K’ Flight for service in India.  The first of 1588’s Stirling V’s arrived in Bombay/Santa Cruz India on 10 October 1945.  K flight was officially disbanded on 20 May 1946, although it actually ceased to exist in July 1946.  1588 was the last unit to operate Stirling’s and No 229 Group sent a signal on 17 July 1946 informing it that all its Stirling’s could be struck off charge and disposed of on site at Santa Cruz Bombay.

Stirling MkV PJ956 shown on the ground in India

September 28th 1945 saw the formation of No 1589 ‘J’ HFF, again operating Stirling V’s.  By 10th October 1945 all of the Stirling V’s belonging to J flight had moved to Cairo West, Egypt and the flight was disbanded on 30th April 1946.

November 1945 saw the departure of No 1333(T) SCU (formally No 107 OTU which was renamed in March earlier that year) and on the 7th No 12 Ferry Unit disbanded.

It was widely reported that there was a mass exodus from the RAF station following the Victory in Europe announcement and all duties at the camp had been suspended, dozens of bicycles were piled up at Melton railway station.

If anyone has any further recollections or photographs etc relating to RAF Melton Mowbray, please do let me know.