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RAF No. 3219596 LAC (Leading Aircraft Man) William Raymond
GREGORY
LAC Gregory
March 1944 Volunteered to join the RAF as a PNB (Pilot / Navigator / Bomb Aimer) –
aircrew.
Passed Medical Grade 1 but unfit for aircrew duties due to eyesight.
I was told that I could either wait until my call up or leave my volunteering stand and pick
any trade that I would like to be trained up for. I was shown a list of trades which were
shown in various groups from 1 to 5. I asked what this meant and was told that 1) was the
highest paid at 4/- 6d a day instead of the basic 3/- a day. Hence my option for Radio
Training.
Joined up 23rd March 1944
Left Service 9th February 1948
Discharged 2nd May 1948 (on paid leave until then)
On joining up went to RAF Cardington for a few days, then posted to Skegness for training
for drill and arms etc. Skegness had been virtually taken over for the Navy and RAF for
Initial Training. Trained on rifle shooting, Sten gun, Browning Machine Gun and Twin
Browning Anti Aircraft guns. Came out on the top of my group for accuracy – 98%.
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After one month I was posted to St Helen’s for initial radio training by Civilian College
Instructors and were billeted out in private houses.
We had an exam every two weeks. If you failed you were put in the class following to re-do
the course. The course in front of us were all WAAF’s, and by the end of the course we were
about 50% WAAFs. One day we had to go onto the firing range and some of the WAAFs
wanted to come along. We were using Sten Guns. We were told to put the guns on single
shot and fire from the shoulder. The WAAF next to me had left hers on automatic and when
she fired she spun around. Luckily none of us were hit!
After six months I was posted to RAF Cosford for Radar Training which lasted three months.
We were also given training in how to use a parachute. You climbed to the top of the aircraft
hangar and were strapped to a parachute harness. This attached to a line to the hangar floor
and you then jumped off. It was a quick descent and you were taught how to land correctly.
On ‘passing out’ I was posted to Morecombe on draft for overseas posting. Five of us were
pulled off of this draft and posted to Cranwell on a special course on H2S Equipment. This
was just coming into service and gave a picture of the ground over which the aircraft was
flying and had a maximum range of 100 miles down to a bombing range of three miles.
On completion of this course I was sent to St John’s Wood in London to a PDC (Personnel
Dispersal Centre) for posting.
I was sent for various inoculations to the Wellcome Research Institute, Euston. The person
giving me my Yellow fever Inoculation said ‘you’re in safe hands, I gave this to Winny last
week’, meaning Winston Churchill.
I was put on a train to Swindon and put in charge of a party and given a ticket to fly on a VIP
flight to Colombo (Ceylon). This was in spite of the fact that the war was still on.
On reaching Swindon we were taken by coach to Bowood House (Lord Landsdown’s home)
which had been taken over by the RAF. We were allocated a room with an en-suite and were
told to go down to the dining room when we were ready for a meal. We were shown where
to go and the dining room was full of Officers and some civilians. I was sat next to an Army
Colonal who was most surprised to see a group of airmen sat next to him.
Next morning we were off to RAF Lyneham and flew out to Malta in a York. When we
reached Luqa they didn’t quite know what to do with us, but as we were on a VIP flight they
decided to put us in the Officers Quarters.
Next day we took off for Cairo, but over Africa we had to turn back as Cairo airport was
closed due to sandstorms. So back to Malta where we were then taken on a visit to Valetta.
The next morning we were off to Cairo again, then from there on to Shaibah in Iraq (then
Persia) and the following day on to Karachi. A bit of a come down as we landed up in the
Sergeants Quarters!
They had orders to take us off our flight and await instructions. After a few days we were put
on a flight across India from Karachi to Calcutta on a BOAC C Class flying Boat which
landed twice on lakes to re-fuel.
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Calcutta
From Calcutta we went by train to join our unit at RAF Digri 1341 Flight. This was a special
flight of Halifax Bombers which had been fitted out for surveillance duties. The bomb bays
had all been filled with extra fuel tanks to enable the aircraft to remain airborne for long
periods over the coast of Burma to pick up the Japanese Radar Stations etc and also to track
their ship movements. On long flights the aircraft carried two crews to provide periods of
rest.
Halifax - Digri
The local inhabitants were quite friendly and numbers were employed around the camp. We
all employed young lads to act as our ‘bearers’. One of these would usually look after about
six of us a cost of 1 rupee (1/- 6d) a week, cleaning the billets, polishing shoes etc. Hanging
from the roof of the huts were large rush mats joined together with rope which then went
outside the huts over a pulley. These ropes were pulled the ‘punka wallah’ to provide
ventilation.
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Char Wallahs
Hyenas were often sighted around the camp.
Working on the inside of the aircraft was a problem with the heat. The Halifaxes had
standard camouflage mat paint which made the metal very hot to touch. Ten to fifteen
minutes inside was about the limit when you then had to get out of the aircraft and could
wring the perspiration out of your shorts. Most of us at some stage had prickly heat or
monsoon blisters. Prickly heat was a rash which the MO treated with a yellow solution put
on with cotton wool, while monsoon blisters were treated with a blue solution. Quite
colourful on times!
Later Lancaster’s of the Tiger Force sent out to the Far East were painted white on the upper
surfaces which didn’t get quite so hot.
Paddy Field through camp
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Fishing
Harvesting the rice
Toilet facilities on the airstrip were very Spartan. A little square hut with a bucket under a
thatch roof. On occasions when ‘sitting comfortably’ one would see a snake hanging down
from the roof which would result in the occupier beating a hasty retreat regardless of
adjusting their clothing!
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Slaboni, Bengal
VE Day May 1945 I was in hospital with dysentery and unable to celebrate as on limited food
and stacks of tablets.
VJ day followed in August 1945 – to celebrate dinner was served by the Officers and
everyone was invited to the Officers Mess to celebrate. On getting up next morning, out of
the 16 in our billet only four us were there. The rest were found in various places scattered
around the camp.
Shillong Hill Leave After Japan’s surrender I went on two weeks hill leave to Shillong. This
involved train to Calcutta and train from Calcutta to Guwhati. Then a ferry crossing across
the River Brahmaputra and a truck ride up some winding mountain roads to Shillong. Quite
scary as there was hundreds of feet drop on the one side with only white marker stones at the
edge of the road. Upon going around a bend we saw and Indian truck stranded on one of
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these stones with the front hanging over the drop and the occupants too scared to move. We
all got out and held onto the back end of their truck until the all managed to get out, then on
we went.
Shillong was about the same temperature as England and really great after the heat of Digri.
Whilst there I visited Cherrapunji which has the heaviest annual rainfall in the world at
26470mm (1040 ins). The holiday was over too soon and it was back to the heat of Digri.
Two of our aircraft were detached to Dum Dum (Calcutta) to fly across the Himalayas into
Kungming in China to ferry ex-prisoners of the Japanese back to India.
Some of the Liberators were sent on detachment to Pegu near Rangoon (Burma). There they
were used to drop food supplies for the Burmese people. A lot of this was sacks of rice. On
their return when we went to run up the American equivalent of H2S the fuses in the circuits
blew immediately. Tracing the fault to the transmitter units we took these out of the aircraft
and back to the workshops. On opening them up we found all the insulation on the wires
(rubber in those days) had been eaten away by mice. Probably drawn into the aircraft by
grains of rice left from the ‘dropping duties’. An aperture some two inches square had been
left in the casing to allow a fan to draw air in to keep the magnetron transmitting valve at a
constant temperature. The problem was subsequently overcome by fitting a metal grill over
the hole.
In October 1945 1341 Flight was transferred to Raipur in the Central Provinces. Following a
short stay we were then transferred back to Salboni with 159 Squadron, Liberators and 9
Squadron Lancasters. This squadron along with 617 Squadron (Dambusters) had been
involved in sinking the Bismark in Norway in February 1946.
9 Sqd Salboni Feb 1946 –
Lancaster
As a point of interest 9 Squadron based at Salboni and 617 Squadron (Dambusters) was based
at Digri just a few miles down the road. From Salboni both 9 and 617 Squadrons
subsequently were based in Binbrook, Lincolnshire.
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from Raipur
to billet in Salboni
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When the war was finished there was talk of India Independence. This caused a certain
amount of unrest and it was decided we would be issued with Sten Guns. One of the
Maintenance Fitters caught the bolt of his Sten Gun on the hatch whilst getting into the
aircraft and fired some bullets into the top of the plane. It was decided we were not safe to
walk around with guns, so we were disarmed.
The only guns we carried after that was on security duties of the aircraft whilst on night
guard, two of us would look after a couple of aircraft. Our orders were to issue a single
challenge if we heard anything suspicious and open fire if no response. On duty one evening
we heard gunfire from the next dispersal and went along to investigate and found they had
shot a buffalo. (probably unable to understand English.)
Another night we were on duty and saw a vehicle approaching down one of the tracks. We
got one each side of the track with guns raised ready to open fire. It turned out to be our
Station CO who asked if we had seen any sign of a tiger as one of the camp bearers claimed
to have been attacked on his way home to the village.
In June 1946 159 Squadron Liberators were destroyed. Engines were drained of oil and run
until they seized up. Fire axes were used to chop around the rear end of the aircraft – tails
backed up onto ramps – undercarriages pulled up – and the back of the aircraft were broken.
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In July I had to be part of an armed escort taking a train load of equipment up to Delhi. On
my return I was told I had been selected to go home to the UK for mid tour leave. Only 10
RAF personnel were selected for this each month. We sailed from Bombay for Southampton
on the P&O SS Canton on 28th July, arriving in Southampton on 14 August 1946. Sailing up
the Red Sea we had a burial at sea of a girl of an Ensa party who had died on board.
After my month’s leave was up I had to report to Liverpool to sail back to Bombay on the
Cunard White Star Georgic. Whilst docking a propeller was damaged and it was back home
for another two weeks. Then back to Liverpool for the next sailing. This ship had an
outbreak of fever on board, so back home for another week. Finally sailing for Bombay on
the repaired Georgic on 13th Oct arriving in Bombay on 29th Oct 1946. Some of us who had
done service in India were made MP’s (Military Police). Our duties involved sitting on the
upper deck each day to safeguard the privacy of the Officers families who were travelling on
board.
Aboard the MV Georgic
When I reached Bombay I was told that my previous unit had been disbanded and I had to
await a posting elsewhere. Whilst there I was selected to join a firing party for a military
funeral.
My next posting was to Coconada in Southern India which was a ground radar station on the
Loran Radar Navigational System. I didn’t have a clue how this worked as I had not been
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trained on it. There were only 15 of us on this unit. We were billeted in what had been a
hospital. We had our own swimming pool, a cinema and a fan over every bed with toilets
just down the corridor! We paid our one and only cook a rupee (1/- 6d) a week each and he
bought extra supplies – the food was very good. There were two Canadian Missionaries in the
village and we used to get asked there for lunch.
Billet in Coconada
There were only three of us Radar Mechanics on the unit and we were on air 24 hours a day.
Night watch was from 6pm until 8am. We were able to go off to sleep some of this time as
the Radar Operators would wake us if anything was wrong.
Loran Timer, Coconada
This lasted for around four months and I was them posted to North West India in Karachi. It
was very hot and dry and we were based in Nissan huts. All the flights from the UK called
here. There was plenty to do, there were three cinemas on the camp. Whilst there I worked
on Aries 1 which was a modified Lancaster and Aries 2 which was a Lincoln. They were
short of Wireless Fitters as people were getting demobbed, so I was asked to transfer to the
VHF Radio Servicing. I had a week with someone going home to learn the equipment and
then I was on my own. On checking the equipment we had to contact the control tower to
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check it was working okay. It was quite interesting as aircrew flying in would often pick up
saying they were picking you up so many miles out.
Whilst waiting for a ship home in Bombay we were free during the day and would often visit
Breach Candy a large swimming pool. Both an outdoor and indoor pool was available and
food could also be purchased in the snack bar.
Breach Candy Pool
Snake Charmer, Bombay
On our last day before sailing home most of the lads celebrated in the local bars. Six of us
decided we would go a local restaurant and use the last of our rupees for a good meal. The
next morning we were fine and had a laugh at the state of some of the others.
Next posting was back home. First Bombay to Southampton on another P&O Ship the
Mooltan. A real comedown as we were in hammocks. The other ships had bunks. We left
Bombay 23 June and arrived in Southampton 11th July 1947.
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SS Mooltan
After returning from leave I was posted to RAF Fairford. Again billeted in Nissan huts.
Back to work on the Halibags (Halifaxes). Here we were towing gliders (Hamilcar and
Horsa) which were flown by army pilots.
I managed to get home every weekend (Aberdare, South Wales). Catching a coach to
Swindon and the train home on a Friday evening, back to camp on a Sunday evening leaving
home at 9pm and arriving in camp at about 3am.
RAF Fairford
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It was a very cold winter and quite a lots of snow. It was the only time in the RAF when we
had a ‘rum ration’. The Nissan huts just had a pot bellied stove in the centre for heating. I
visited the MO complained of lack of sleep due to the cold following the heat of India. I was
given a chit to get extra blankets supplied from the stores.
Food was still rationed and were able to purchase Genoa Fruit Cakes from the Naafi van on a
Friday. Most of us did this to take home on our weekend leave.
I was on Group 60 for demob. Some in the same group had been released almost a year
earlier. Because our training was 9 months people called up for National Service only did 2
years as it was no worth the cost of training them. They were given a months training on
using the equipment to check if working correctly and would call us if it was not.
Before my release I was offered my promotion to Sergeant. On declining I was offered to go
on an Officers Training Course. Having been away for almost four years I declined.
Demobbed from RAF Burton Wood (Lancs) on 9th Feb 1948.
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