DATA BASE REF: M/R 1003
JACK SMITH – CASTOR
BORN NOVEMBER 3rd 1920
1143969 FLIGHT SERGEANT JACK SMITH R.A.F.
REAR GUNNER (HALIFAX BOMBERS) No 77 SQUADRON
I was still living at home with my parents Percy and Fanny Smith , at 11 Peterborough Road, Castor until I joined up in spring 1941, aged 20. after six weeks square bashing (basic training) in Blackpool I was eventually assigned to general duties attached to the R.A.F. military police.
My first posting was to Iceland in June 1942 for ground defence duties. I wanted to get back to the U.K. so I volunteered for air crew.
I first went to Morpeth in Northumberland then down to Stanton Harcourt in Oxfordshire. In late 1943 after completing a basic gunnery course we crewed up and went to Marston Moor, from there we were posted to No 77 Squadron at Full Sutton in Yorkshire, flying Halifax Bombers.
We took part in the raids on Duisberg and Brunswick and most of the other major German cities, except Berlin.our area was mostly in the Ruhr Valley, we did go on a mine laying mission to the Oslo Fjords in Norway that was a round trip of about 71/2 hours and we had no opposition from the German’s at all.
Most of our air raids over Germany were at night but we did go on one in daylight, I forget where exactly but the American Bombers had been twice and now it was our turn, in the briefing the officer said there would be no opposition as the Germans had moved most of their guns to the Russian Front, when we got back I can remember this very small chap from one of the air crews go up to the officer and say “you know those guns which have gone to the Russian Front?” “yes” replied the officer “well I’ve got news for you , they’ve bought them back” I had never herd air crew talk to an officer like that and get away with it.
The worst thing about daylight raids was that with our aircraft flying in formation at different altitudes so as not to fly into one another, you could see bombs falling from above some quite close, at night it didn’t bother you as you couldn’t see them.
The lowest altitude we flew at was 300 feet when bombing the Doodlebug sites in France, at the height we could feel the blast as the bombs exploded. We could also see the German soldiers shooting at us with their rifles so we would give them a burst from our machine guns to stir them up a bit.
One of my worst experiences came while we were laying mines at sea of the French Coast near La Rochelle, we flew close to the coast and the German search lights caught us and all hell broke loose, they hit one of our engines the force must have flipped us over because the pilot, who incidentally was an Australian, came on the intercom and said he had a search light coming in through his turret, I replied
“so have I” On our way back while flying over Cherbourg we encountered some friendly fire from the Americans who had recently landed after D Day, this took out another engine so we were down to two engines out of four, this was a bit worrying as there’s no room to wear a parachute in the rear gunners turret so its stored in the fuselage. We eventually landed at East Benson in Oxfordshire with one 2,000 lb mine still attached. Afterwards we counted 57 holes in the aircraft caused by flak.
I can remember an incident at another airfield when a Wellington Bomber crash landed on fire, the rear gunner was so badly injured and it was impossible to get him out, an officer had to shoot him with his pistol to put him out of his misery. We also took part in the bombing of Caen in France which was still in German hands some time after the D Day landings. As the allies moved out of the low countries and into Germany we had a month of taking plane loads of Jerry cans full of petrol to Belgium.
I flew 37 combat missions over France and Germany this did not include the petrol runs etc, sometimes I’d have to fly with other crews if they were short of a gunner.
I was demobbed about May – June 1946 I was in Oxford at the time and I had to go to Wembley in London to get my demob clothing. Most of our crew had been promoted to air crew by the end of the war, only me and another chap had not, I’d been given special permission to help out with the sugar beet campaign just after the end of the war, I still say that cost me a Warrant Officers job.
Our crew went their separate ways after the war, although I did see one of them some years later, a chap we called “Ginger Dick” as we had two men with the name Ginger, he was in the Wheatsheaf at Alwalton, he’d come up from London on a fishing trip, it was pure chance we were both in the pub that day.
I returned to the Peterborough area after the war with my wife Kath, we’d married in 1944, and went to work on Martins farm in Haddon where we also lived. We had three children Susan, Kevin and Beverly. Sadly Kath passed away in 1966.
I did come back to Castor for a short time about 1947 or 1948 I’d had a fall out with my boss so I went to work for Wally Longfoot an I lived in Splash Lane. It didn’t last long and I was soon back to my old job and house in Haddon.
I remarried in 1975 to Alice and we recently celebrated our 25th Wedding Anniversary and we still live in the same house in Haddon.
Jack Smith’s memories of the war were told to his Nephew, Mark Smith on the 10th May 2002.