1942 BRIEFLY. George Barker-Read. Memories Class 2004.
I had joined the RAF in Jan. 1941, did square bashing at Blackpool then seven months at No 12 S of T.T. Melksham Wiltshire, aircraft instrument training. I passed out A/C 1, Trade group 1, and was posted to my first operational unit No.22 Squadron, at RAF station Thorney Island, Coastal Command, near Portsmouth.
By January 1942 the squadron, flying Bristol ‘Beaufort’ torpedo bombers was moved to RAF St. Eval, North Cornwall. The aircraft were attacking Brest harbour where three capital ships of the German Navy, the ‘Scharnhorst’ the ‘Gneisenau’ and the ‘Prinz Eugen’, were sheltering. All three battleships broke out from Brest and made a dash home through the Channel to German ports on Feb, 11-12, a remarkable achievement for the German Navy.
Then I moved to RAF Molesworth, Huntingdonshire where the new 159Squadron Bomber Command, with Consolidated B24 ‘Liberator’ aircraft was formed. As these were new aircraft to the RAF I was one of the few ground crew from each trade detailed as air party to fly out later and rejoin the squadron in India. We received ‘gen’ on Boeing B.17 Flying Fortress’s based at the USAF airbase at Polebrook, and eventually flew to the Middle East refuelling at Gibraltar, then on to RAF Fayid in Egypt. Bombed out from here, we moved up in to Palestine, operated against Rommel’s Africa Corps, until October 1942, when the desert war had eased somewhat.
I then took off for India to join up with 159 Squadron proper now in Bengal, and flew first to Habaniya, Iraq, then on to Karachi.
Due to an undercarriage failure thirteen of us had to bail out from the aircraft over Karachi. I was OK but the aircraft was a write-off. As a result of bailing out I became a member of the ‘Caterpillar Club’ formed by the Irvine Air Chute Co, and eventually received the gold caterpillar tie pin given to all members who had saved their lives using an Irvine parachute. I still have this pin
Crossed India by train, via Lahore and Calcutta, and finally 100 miles west of Calcutta to Salbani, ‘in the blue’ in Bengal, where 159 Squadron proper was operating against the Japanese.
I stayed with 159 until war ended abruptly with the atom bombing of Japan, then flew down into Pegu, just north of Rangoon in Burma, living in tents on a Japanese airstrip, with four converted 159 Liberators spraying anti- malaria DDT over the jungle.
Jan 1st 1946, I left Rangoon River on the troopship HMT ‘Shropshire’, called at Colombo, steamed through the Suez Canal, Bay of Biscay and on to Liverpool—31 days on the troopship, which was marvellous! I was all in one piece and was going home after three and a half years service abroad.
Two weeks leave, then posted to RAF Bentwaters in Suffolk, to No. 56 Squadron, Fighter Command, who were at that time flying Gloucester ‘Meteor’ jets.
Finally I was demobbed at Uxbridge in July 1946, after five and half years in three operational squadrons. I had joined the RAF with nothing, but now had savings and gratuity worth £450, and had five years technical experience when I left the Royal Air Force for good.
Extremely lucky George! I met my wife to be in January 1947; I then really began to live.
. I had just had my 24th birthday!