The Sandiacre Screw Company (4)

This is the fourth episode of the tragic story of Keith Doncaster, whose grandfather and father owned the huge “Sandiacre Screw Company.”  Keith was an Old Nottinghamian, but after leaving the High School on July 30th 1940, he joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, immediately after his 17th birthday. The RAFVR was the usual way to apply for aircrew entry to the RAF. Keith would have sworn an oath of allegiance to become a member of the RAFVR. The oath was very like the oath sworn today:

“I, Ivan Keith Doncaster, swear by Almighty God  that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King George VI, His Heirs and Successors, and that I will, as in duty bound, honestly and faithfully defend His Majesty, His Heirs and Successors, in Person, Crown and Dignity against all enemies, and will observe and obey all orders of His Majesty, His Heirs and Successors, and of the air officers and officers set over me. So help me God.”

And then he could wear an RAFVR silver badge to indicate his status. There were two distinct types of badge on the internet. This one is a lapel badge:

And this one isn’t. Is it to hold your tie in place? :

There was a wait of varying length before volunteers were able to begin aircrew training. In the meantime, Keith took part in farm work, helping a local farmer.

He probably continued with his ATC attendance, proudly wearing his silver badge on his lapel. Here’s the Long Eaton ATC today:

Once he was eighteen in 1941, Keith finally made it into the RAF. He would not be a pilot, as most boys dreamed of being. Instead, Keith joined 166 Squadron as a mid-upper gunner in an Avro Lancaster:

The squadron used both Mark I and Mark III Lancasters which were apparently indistinguishable externally. The Mark III had Merlin engines built by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit in Michigan in the United States.

At the Lancaster factory the aircraft were constructed in the normal way and either type of engine was fitted according to availability, although they were never mixed on the same aircraft. Eventually, 3,425 Mark Is were constructed and 3,469 Mark IIIs or Mark Xs, the latter aircraft being constructed in Canada. The engines’ performance was hardly different, although the Packard Merlin was more likely to overheat on take-off and landing, which meant that training units used it less frequently. The propeller blades were Hamilton Standard or Nash Kelvinator made “paddle blade” types. Mark Is had de Havilland “needle blade” propellers. Here are some “paddle blade” types :

And here are some “needle blade” propellers:

The Lancaster was still the same. That huge, huge bomb bay, thirty three feet long and completely uninterrupted, capable of accommodating 4,000lb, 8,000 lb or 12,000 lb blockbuster bombs. Or perhaps fourteen x 1,000 lb bombs. General Purpose or High Explosive. Instant explosion or with a wait of six days.

Or perhaps Monsieur would prefer 3,304 incendiaries this evening?

It was a Devil’s Menu where  Satanic Chefs could choose exactly what kind of disaster they would like to produce. And each combination had its own codeword: “Arson”. “Abnormal”. “Cookie”, “Plumduff”, “Gardening”. “No-ball”. “Piece”. “Plumduff Plus”, “Usual”.

What “a lovely way to spend an evening”, as the hit song of the day used to say…..



Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, military, Nottingham, The High School

13 responses to “The Sandiacre Screw Company (4)

  1. Postings such as this bring to mind the incredible magnitude of aircraft built in Canada and the U.S. and shipped or ferried to the U.K. Do you have any recommendations as to where I might learn more about this?

  2. Interesting point about the engines. Were the US engines still a RR design?

    • Yes, they were. As far as I am aware, they were absolutely the same as British built Merlins, and were produced under licence. I have always presumed that the very large parts of the engine were manufactured in North America, but that the very small bits may have been flown over there until they set up their own manufacturing plants.
      As always, Wikipedia has something to say about it all…..

  3. GP

    Where young men came together with the latest huge machines and methods of destruction.

    • Yes. It took the RAF three years or so to progress to the Lancaster, but it was well worth waiting for from Bomber Command’s point of view.
      There is a story of an ex-RAF man who went to the Labour Exchange after the war to see what jobs were on offer. He had been a master bomber, which means that he had directed raids from his own aircraft which flew in circles around the target, so that he could see exactly what needed to be bombed.
      The man behind the counter asked the ex-war hero, “Do you have any particular skills for a job?” and he replied “Well, I once destroyed a medium sized town in twenty minutes.”
      And by the end of 1944 and early 1945, the RAF was well capable of doing that, as was shown by the 19-minute destruction of Würzburg…

      • GP

        That generation still never ceases to amaze me, John. Thank you for taking the time to tell me all this additional info. The link gives quite a remarkably detailed account of the destruction.

  4. Our flying killing machines have immensely evolved since the last World War. Have you watched the latest “Top Gun: Maverick” movie released on May 27 here in the USA? The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet hypersonic fighter planes are not for the light-headed.

    • No, I haven’t seen the film you mention, but you are absolutely right about the changes in aviation. I had a look at the Super Hornet on Google Images, and it looks very different from anything in WW2 !
      Such machines must surely constitute the largest expenditure of money on something that you hope never gets used in anger.

  5. I wonder whether Keith (why did he not use his first name Ivan?) was disappointed to be a gunner and thus not fulfil his dream of being a pilot. Many, I suppose, were just happy to be doing their part in defeating Hitler and his nasty bunch of thugs.

    • I don’t know why he didn’t use the name “Ivan” but in the mentions of him that I have seen he always seems to be called “Keith”. “Ivan” is a strange name to me to give a baby and then never to use it, but perhaps it was in honour of some relative.
      I don’t think that Keith would have been too bothered about not making it as a pilot. He seems to have been a solid sort of chap, rather than a superstar, and I think he would have been happy to play his part in the eventual defeat of Hitler and his gang,.

  6. I do hope he made it through

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