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A Veteran Looks Back - Chapter 8

by CSV Action Desk/BBC Radio Lincolnshire

Contributed by 
CSV Action Desk/BBC Radio Lincolnshire
People in story: 
Bill Doran
Location of story: 
East Retford, Nottinghamshire
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
26 January 2006

OPERATIONAL TRAINING UNIT — R.A.F. Worksop was located near the town of East Retford in the County of Nottinghamshire.
After a day of familiarisation with the station, that is, getting to know your way around, all aircrew, including pilots, bomb aimers, navigators, wireless operators and gunners were instructed to meet at one of the large hangars, and told to form crews. I had always thought that you were simply assigned to a crew, but this was not so. It was strictly informal and apparently unorganised, but at the end of the day, our crew had been formed. No one really knew what brought us together or who chose who, but there we were, - a crew. Lorne (Doc) Gow, a warrant officer, our pilot from Toronto, was about 6ft 3in and weighed about 240 pounds; in some respects just an overgrown boy. Reuben Robin Rosenberg (Rosie) from Windsor, a handsome Jewish chap, pleasant and projecting efficiency, became our navigator. Bill Campbell was a Sergeant gunner, a Canadian from Ottawa. I, as the only westerner, was the bomb aimer and before long the crew were calling me “Wild Bill”. Sergeant Woodward, the only R.A.F. member of the crew, quiet and almost shy, became our wireless operator. He had a record of always having obtained top marks in various courses he had taken. Since Rosie and I were the only two commissioned members of the crew, we got to know each other very well, living in the same hut and socialising in the Officers Mess. We frequently did get together with Doc and Bill at a nearby pub, but Woody didn’t drink or socialise very much.
At ground school, special characteristics and idiosyncrasies of the Wellington bomber in which we would be flying were discussed. Prior to starting the flying section of the course, Rosie and I and two other bomb aimers went on leave to Edinburgh. Here we were pleasantly surprised one day, to have the King and Queen visit the Dominion Officers Club. I was particularly impressed with the Queen and her natural charm. She asked me where I was from. When I replied “From Ponoka, Alberta” she said “Oh, I know that place — it’s about halfway between Edmonton and Calgary, isn’t it”? She obviously had a good grasp of Canadian geography.
Edinburgh was definitely good for the morale of the R.C.A.F. boys. Prior to going overseas, it was fairly common in Edmonton or Toronto to see a girl on each arm of an American serviceman, and yet see many Canadian boys without female companionship. But in Edinburgh things were different; you would see many Americans on their own, but the Canadian boys now had a girl on each arm. It seemed like sweet retribution.
One afternoon in the Officers Club, Rosie and I met several Royal Navy officers who were really friendly to us, and invited us to the christening of a corvette in Edinburgh harbour that evening. To me from the prairie, the corvette seemed fairly large, but I knew that in comparison to the destroyer or battleship, that it was almost tiny. Their primary role was as convoy escorts, and they really came into their own at the time of the D-Day invasion. They seemed to literally bristle with guns and torpedo tubes, and according to enemy sources were “very mean” little boats. They were credited with the destruction of a dozen or more enemy submarines during the course of the war. The christening was a gala affair with lots of pretty girls invited, lots of drink and the Royal Navy treated us like celebrities. I am not really sure why we were invited, other than being in the right place at the right time, but we really appreciated it, and enjoyed ourselves to the utmost.
It was on this leave that we, as had many Canadians before us, came to know George Street, a rather short street of about two blocks and not far from Princess Street. It was unique, in that about every second door was a pub, and there were several dozen on that short street. It became a challenge for Canadian service men to have a drink in each pub, starting at one end and hoping to reach the other; as far as I know, no one ever made it in one trip. Thus it was that the Canadian boys came to know George Street in Edinburgh as Hope Street.
Following leave, we had the double novelty of flying the Wellington, but also of flying as a crew. We were mostly quite compatible, but as can be expected, some sources of irritation did arise and had to be ironed out. The Wellington, a twin-engined job had two turrets, front and rear, and when it had been used for actual operations, could carry a bomb load of around 4500 pounds and a maximum range of 1200 miles. It fit in naturally as a training plane, since it was almost midway in size and power between the Anson and the Halifax or Lancaster.
For days we practised doing dual and solo circuits and bumps, overshoots on both engines and on one engine, landings with and without flap, and all the emergency possibilities that could occur. We also went on dual and solo cross country exercises, with high and low level bombing and gunnery exercises thrown in. Then we repeated the series of daylight operations, but now we did them at night. The last five night exercises were solo cross country (without a second pilot) and designed to approximate the conditions of a real raid as closely as possible. It involved accurate navigation, finding and identifying the target, bombing with practice bombs and returning with accurate pictures.
In all, we flew 88 hours and 20 minutes on 46 different flights at O.T.U.. I can remember one peculiarity of the Wellington. On a long trip when most of the fuel was used, it was the bomb aimer’s duty, before entering the landing circuit, to go back, cross the main spar, pull one of the two toggles which cut the reserve tanks. If however in the dark you should pull the other toggle, it would cut off the gas to the engines and both motors would quit. When night crashes occurred in the circuit, it was often felt by training instructors that the bomb aimer had pulled the wrong toggle in the darkness.
It was the normal procedure for me, as the bomb aimer at the end of a flying exercise, to make two trips down the ladder which was put up to the nose, in order to carry down issued maps, the camera, the Browning guns and parachute. One night, being quite tired on our return, I decided to carry all the paraphernalia down in one trip. I started down, missed a step on the ladder, did a backward roll and somehow landed on my feet on the concrete about ten feet below. The parachute burst open; everything was a complete mess. I felt like every bone in my body was broken, but after the initial shock had worn off, and other than feeling very sore, I seemed OK. I did not report to Sick Bay as I probably should have done. Since the warI have had both legs operated on for varicose veins. It seems logical that this type of fall could have been the original cause of this condition. To make matters worse at the time, I even had to pay a quid (an English pound) to have my chute repacked. It was a slow process, but slowly, very slowly, one smartened up.
About this time, having a 72hour pass, I decided to visit my brother Francis (Bam), who was stationed with the Canadian Army in the Aldershot area. I hadn’t contacted him in advance, as I thought that it would be fairly easy to locate him; it was anything but. The area seemed to be literally a series of encampments, and I was passed on from one to the other. Finally at one guardhouse, I asked if Private Francis Doran was located there. The sergeant in charge assured me he was, and accompanied me to find him.
We checked in at his barracks where a soldier told us that we would find Bam in the Mess Hall (where service men ate). It was about ten thirty in the morning, a rather unusual time for meals. We entered the dining area; no one there, so we continued on into the kitchen area at the back. Across the room seated in a chair with his back towards us and bent over a tub of spuds was a soldier, and a very surprised one too when he turned round and spotted me. It seemed that Bam had broken some of the army rules and was working off the penalty. However, the army did prove to have a heart; they allowed him to have a 48 hour pass starting the next day, but assured him the spuds would still be waiting for him when he got back.
Meanwhile, for the rest of that day I was treated as a celebrity: I guess not too many Air Force officers showed up there. I travelled in a jeep with three young lieutenants to a number of nearby encampments, and visited the officers mess at each location, so by the end of the day had pretty well had the course! Fortunately for me, I was invited to spend the night in the officers quarters, and early next day Bam and I took off for an enjoyable couple of days. A few months later he was able to return the visit. I was unable to get any days off, but after work hours was able to show him the sights of Doncaster and other nearby towns.
From Worksop we made a relatively short move to # 1662 H.C.U. (Heavy Conversion Unit) at Blyton, near Gainsborough.

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