Last night, on reflection, could have been worse, thought the Orderly Officer who compiled the 467 Squadron Operational Record Book. But last night’s losses, their first since 25 February, were bad enough. “It had looked like being our first clear month since the Squadron formed”, he wrote ruefully. It had been a busy month, too, with nine operations and 135 operational sorties carried out by the Squadron during March. Their counterparts in 463 Squadron had endured a slightly worse month with two crews failing to return and one lost in a collision near base.
But those who were left could look forward to a little bit of an immediate future. Most crews now went on the leave that they were expecting before the disaster that was Nuremberg. Among them was Dan Conway who, after a short snooze to shake off the worst of the effects of last night’s operation, got the train to 27 Operational Training Unit at Lichfield to visit a friend there. “Despite the Nuremberg losses or perhaps because of them,” he wrote, “it was quite a party that night at Lichfield.” Conway would later catch up with the rest of his crew in London.
The Sydney Morning Herald had sent their London correspondent to Waddington around the time of the Nuremberg raid. Betty Wilson spent three days on the station and the article she wrote about the visit, eventually published on 20 May 1944, captures something of the atmosphere of a bomber station at war. Wilson wrote about the music they played in the Mess:
At the moment, “Salome” is the Australians’ favourite gramophone record, probably because they have their own words which they sing when the W.A.A.F. officers have gone home. Anyhow, they put it on at least 50 times a day.
She wrote about the strange life of bomber aircrew:
These men are living an unnatural life and, at the same time, a completely absorbing one. There are long periods when they have little or nothing to do. There are equally long periods of concentrated activity when all the sickness of waiting and anticipation is crystallised into Lancasters crawling up runways like great earth-bound insects; when the day’s work comes to a climax in the planes’ lovely, inimitable lift as they become airborne and ends, for some men, with a burst of bullets from a fighter’s machine-guns, for others, with breakfast and the “operational egg.”
And she wrote about watching the squadrons taking off for a raid. There is a good chance that it was the Nuremberg operation that she was witnessing:
There is always a knot of people waiting to see them take off, standing there with thumbs jerked up as the Lancasters taxi up to the runway, accelerating with brakes on until the aircraft get off on a sort of a catapult release which will lift them and their bomb-load. The rear-gunner waggles his guns in farewell, and all Lancasters – from A – Apple to Z – Zero – waddle forward to become airborne like great swans and circle the airfield until the sky seems full of planes against the gathering dusk.
And she finishes with an evocative description of the ‘emptiness’ left behind when the bombers were on their way:
The Lancasters get off to their rendezvous. The watchers go back to the crew rooms to tidy up and get ready for the crews’ return. In the mess the gramophone, rewound by W.A.A.F. stewards, still grinds out “Salome” in a horrid – but temporary – emptiness.
And yet the war went on. Still somewhat stunned by the previous night’s disaster, the Main Force was given the night off, but three Mosquitos attacked Essen, 28 aircraft carried out ‘Special Operations’ and fifteen aircraft from Training Command scattered leaflets over France. The only casualty was a Halifax which failed to return from a Resistance supply-dropping mission.
This post is part of a series called 467 Postblog, posted in real time to mark the 70th anniversary of the crew of B for Baker while they were on operational service with 467 Squadron at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire. See this link for an in-depth explanation of the series, and this one for full citations of sources used throughout it. © 2014 Adam Purcell