Category Archives: Aviation

Hedgecoe and Bamford : Death in the Night

I am currently carrying out research about the 100-odd Old Boys of the High School who gave their lives during World War II. Certain websites are very good for this, certain books are excellent but for really interesting details, it is always the “Forums” which take the prize.

I wonder if people realise that so many individuals, so many hundreds, if not thousands of people, spend their valuable spare time working away on their computers, trying to trace the fate, not just of their relatives, but of the young men or women who have captured their imagination.
I did some blogposts recently about the De Havilland Mosquito, and they reminded me of a trail which I followed a few months before that. The trail was started off, of course, by a story I came across on a forum.
Here are Flying Officer Edward Richard Hedgecoe (pilot), and Flight Lieutenant Norman Llewellyn Bamford (radar operator) in a photograph which I have borrowed from a search engine. On the original website it appeared by courtesy of Colin Bamford, so I hope it doesn’t cause a problem. I will obviously take it down if he wishes.

The two men were apparently involved in a strange incident during the night of March 24th-25th 1944. They were flying a Mosquito night fighter when, off the coast of Kent, they found an apparent Junkers Ju 188 weaving violently from side to side. In order to be certain of the rather exotic aircraft’s identity, they approached to within 100 yards’ range before they fired a long burst of cannon fire at it. This was the correct thing to do, of course, but not if the quarry aircraft suddenly explodes in a huge fireball. This is a Junkers Ju 188:

With its burning fuel and pieces of its own fiery débris, the German aircraft actually managed to set fire to the Mosquito, which was, of course, covered in extremely flammable fabric, stretched over a wooden frame. Very soon, in Bamford’s words, “our aircraft was ablaze from end to end”. Not a good situation to be in, and the pilot decided that they needed to abandon the blazing aeroplane as a matter of some urgency. He was flying straight and level to give Bamford an opportunity to bale out when he noticed that the fire was actually getting no worse. Indeed, before Bamford was ready to jump, the flames actually went out.

Although they were lacking a number of the usually vital parts of the aircraft, the pilot was still able to fly straight and level, despite not having any rudder control as the fabric had been totally destroyed by the fire. The only action necessary was to get a piece of old cloth, lean out of a side window and wipe as much soot as possible off the Mosquito’s perspex windscreen. To be honest, that only produced a kind of tunnel vision effect, but it was enough to fly carefully back to base at RAF Manston. Here is the Mosquito in question, after the landing:

That story is an amazing tale to uncover and it appeared, presumably for the first time, in the Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser for January 12th 1945. But that wasn’t all that had been found about these two men on the forum. Hedgecoe claimed 8 German planes destroyed and as a radar operator, Bamford claimed 10. Hedgecoe’s minimum list of kills included 2 x Junkers Ju 88, 2 x Messerschmitt Bf110s, a a Messerschmitt Me410, Junkers Ju 188, a Focke Wulf Fw 190 and one unidentified. This is a Messerschmitt Bf110:

Amazingly, Hedgecoe himself had already baled out once previously under rather peculiar circumstances. He hunted down a German aircraft in the darkness during the night of September 15th-16th 1943 and opened fire on it. For some reason which never became apparent, this action shattered the nose of his own aircraft which he was then forced to abandon.

The other details discovered about these two men across the Internet were quite astonishing. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission Website is always the first port of call, providing, for all casualties, service numbers, units, dates of death and the names of parents and spouse, with locations where possible. And, of course, the basics are there as well. Norman Bamford was a Welshman and came from Llanfair near Harlech in Merionethshire:

Edward Hedgecoe lived with his wife Sheila Sandford Hedgecoe, of Brookmans Park in south Hertfordshire. Here’s the bridge at nearby North Mymms:

Researchers though, can nowadays also trace the individual’s path through various units. In the case of Hedgecoe he was in 85 Squadron, the Fighter Interception Unit, the Night Fighter Development Unit and finally 151 Squadron.

The details of somebody’s education can be found…in the case of Bamford, he attended The Bec School in Tooting and then University College in London in order to qualify as an architect. Family details can be traced…younger brothers, where the family live and where they used to live, the name of the widow, and in due course on occasion, the details of her remarriage and where she went to live.

And all of it down to the Internet of course. Had these two young men ever been shot down by a Luftwaffe aircraft, we could even be reasonably certain who pressed the firing button.
These two young heroes came to their end on January 1st 1945.  Edward Hedgecoe was 34 years of age and Norman Bamford was just 25 years old. They had recently been transferred and were flying with 151 Squadron on their very first flight with that squadron. It was very bad weather, they crashed and tragically, they were both killed. Edward Hedgecoe was buried in North Mymms Churchyard in Hertfordshire. Norman Bamford was cremated at Croydon Crematorium after a service attended by his family and friends and two representatives from the RAF Base:

And were it not for those people who maintain all the websites and the ones who beaver away on the Forums, nobody would ever have known the faintest thing about them.

One final note. I am having a second hand operation on February 8th, tomorrow, so I won’t be able to reply to any of your comments for, probably, a couple of weeks. As soon as I am able to, though, I will answer what you have been kind enough to contribute.





Filed under Aviation, History, Personal

The Mosquito at Duxford

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”


“Dee, who?”

“Dee Havilland Mosquito.”

I made that one up myself.  If I had a time machine, I could send it back in time to 1944.  Well, they had to do something to amuse themselves while they waited for limited overs cricket to be invented. My final Mosquito is actually the one I saw first of the three. It is the Mosquito at Duxford, which is near Cambridge.

Its registration number is TA719 and it is now a Target Tug, a TT.35 to be precise. It has had better days, especially when it was built in June 1945 and the cunning plan was for it to be a Mark 35 bomber.

Its greatest glory days came though, when, like its friend at Cosford, it took part in 633 Squadron. At that time, the aircraft had been demobbed, had left the RAF and had become a Bird of Peace, a civil aircraft with the lettering G-ASKC.
The next Mosquito film made after 633 Squadron always tends to be forgotten. It was not a sequel but just a film that was produced because all the matériel for a war film with Mosquitoes was at hand. And the daily rent for an airworthy Mosquito was just £2. The film’s plot verged on the ridiculous but the flying was good. It was called Mosquito Squadron and let’s be honest, some critics did say that the acting was as wooden as the aircraft. If the film was poor (and here’s the poster)…

…the book cover was even worse. Can anybody see today’s deliberate mistake?

This is a strange photograph. It’s the best bits of a Mosquito on its way to Boreham Wood Film Studios:

TA719 has finally settled down at Duxford as a TT35 with the “Keep away!!!!” black and yellow stripes. These Mosquitoes were used to tow targets which always seem to me to have been merely a more sophisticated cousin of the airfield’s windsock. The towing cable could be extended as far as 6,000 feet but being a Target Tug was still a dangerous job with all those inexperienced potential fighter aces firing at a moving target.
Two last points about the Mosquito. So few are left because, being made of wood, they tended to fade away very quickly. Of nearly 8,000 only a few remain:

At least, the British Mosquito did not have the same problem as the German imitation , the Focke Wulf Ta 154. an aircraft where the glue wasn’t always right and the wings, quite literally, fell off:

Here’s a video:

The loss rate of Mosquitoes to the enemy was very small, some 0.5 %, but the aircraft were sometimes dangerous to the crew. During a landing without undercarriage, the wood was little protection to the crew’s legs. And sometimes the proximity of the propeller blades to the side of the fuselage produced horrendous accidents with a tired crew getting out of the plane. Which brings me to a nice story about my Dad:

“One day at Lossiemouth in northern Scotland, a fine frosty clear blue winter’s day, a photo reconnaissance Mosquito came in for an emergency landing. The aircraft had been taking photographs over occupied Norway and was very badly damaged. Unarmed and made of wood for lightness and performance, it had no working undercarriage and scraped along the length of the runway, coming to an eventual stop in a cloud of smoke. Two men, Fred and an officer, ran out with fire axes. Despite the still whirling propellers they both jumped up onto the smoking aircraft and smashed the Perspex of the canopy. They dragged out the two members of the crew.
For this gallant deed, the officer received a medal. Fred did not, and the episode confirmed his belief that rank and class counted for a hell of a lot in the RAF at that time.”

This event cannot now be dated and, conceivably, it was connected with 617 Squadron’s attempts to bomb the Tirpitz. Here’s Lossiemouth, then and now:

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Indeed, if Fred’s memory was playing him just slightly false some five decades after the event, it may well have been that this unfortunate aircraft was actually one of 617 Squadron’s own Mosquitoes. These twin engined planes were used, from 1944 onwards, to mark targets accurately before the rest of the squadron bombed them.

The Mosquito  at Duxford is painted in garish fashion. This was the closest I could get to going underneath it:

This view is very similar:

Here’s the view from the front:

This is perhaps very slightly better:

It was a pity my Dad wasn’t there to see this bit,. but it would probably have just set him off again. He just thought that whatever medals they got or did not get, it should have been the same for both of them:

And here is an enlargement  of those ironic words:





Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History

The Mosquito at Cosford

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”


“Yetta, who?”

“Yetta nother Mosquito.”

An even more terrible joke, but according to my Dad, a genuine RAF joke from World War II. Well, I suppose they had to do something while they waited for Premier League football to be invented.

We went to RAF Cosford in April 2011.  Like Hendon, they too have a Mosquito.

This is TA 639, which is a Mark 35 Target Tug. The website explained that “After the war Mosquitoes continued in use as fighters until 1952 and others, including this example, were converted to tow targets for anti-aircraft gunnery practice.”

How sad. A Mosquito pulling targets. It’s like going into the park and finding your greatest sporting hero as a fat, helpless drunk, semi-conscious on a park bench.

Mosquitoes could do anything.

Mosquitoes could free prisoners from Amiens jail.

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Here is a Pathé news broadcast:

And here is a film, almost an hour long:

In Operation Carthage, Mosquitoes could bomb the Shell House, headquarters of the Danish Gestapo, and destroy the buildings and the German records and release Resistance prisoners. Here’s a short video:

And a stretched version of 20 odd minutes

In a tragic twist, Operation Carthage went wrong and 86 schoolchildren and 18 adults were killed when a nearby school was bombed. I recently read a really good book about the Danish Resistance, “Hitler’s Savage Canary” and I must admit that the Danes of the time viewed events in a much more positive way than we would nowadays. Danes in 1945 seemed to consider the deaths an unfortunate price that had to be paid for a whole nation’s resistance network to survive.

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The greatest of all Mosquito squadrons, although fictional, was 633 Squadron. Originally it was a book:

And you could name your own price for a mint condition film poster:

Here is just one of almost 250 videos taken from the film on Youtube….

Here are my photographs from Cosford. Here’s a general view. It seems to be painted as a bomber but I bet given half a chance it would be back with those targets, dragging them around the sky:

From behind it looks as if the mystery line has been omitted from this aircraft:

The great lumbering brute behind is an Avro Lincoln. I already did a post about this development of the Lancaster. Indeed, it was called the Avro Lancaster Mark IV until somebody pointed out that it didn’t look that much like a Lancaster.

Last look at the Mosquito. If only I could see one doing what it does best, rather than just sitting in a museum:







Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, France, History

The Mosquito at Hendon (2)

Last time, I wrote about the De Havilland Mosquito at the RAF Museum at Hendon. This individual is painted as a Mosquito B.35, TJ138, in 98 Squadron markings, reflecting the squadron’s time spent at Celle in Lower Saxony, flying Mosquitoes during the occupation of West Germany from 1945-1951:

The squadron badge is Cerberus, the 3 Headed guardian of Hell because, quoting the RAF website:

“This squadron claims to have barred the way (front and rear) during the German retreat in 1918 and so considered Cerberus, as the watchdog of Hades, a suitable badge.”

I don’t understand that to be honest, but if the RAF are happy with it, then so am I.

And I’ve never known what that ridge along the fuselage was for:

Such slim, sleek lines:

A bit closer. You can see why Mosquito crews had to be careful of these propellers. They are so close to the fuselage:

Here’s the bomb bay:

And even closer up:

The Mosquito was capable of carrying 4,000 lbs of bombs. Best of all, it had an uninterrupted bomb bay, with no struts or barriers to prevent the aircraft from carrying a 4,000lb Cookie. That meant that two Mosquitoes and the four men in them could carry the same as a B-17 with 10 men. A Lancaster carried 14,000lb with 7 men, the only heavy bomber capable of outdoing the Mosquito in this kind of contest.

Here’s one of the two very powerful Merlin engines. Behind it, something so modern and so boring that nobody would want to fly it:

Did you spot the mystery item behind the Mosquito on the left? My guess is that it is part of the lighting system or perhaps a flying Stealth Lawnmower invisible to radar.

Here’s where the bombardier sat. The next time you watch “633 Squadron”, notice how the inaccurate swines have painted over the Perspex in a vain effort to disguise a bomber pure and simple as a fighter bomber with four cannons:

It’s so shocking and so obvious when you look at it:

One thing you can be sure of though. This particular Mosquito was not in “633 Squadron”, surely the only flying Mosquito in the world that was not used. Perhaps it was an economy measure. The owners of all those different Mosquitoes did charge a whopping £2 a day to rent one.

The last photograph shows two people (not with me) and three other aircraft. One is Japanese and if it’s not a Kawasaki Ki 100 then I don’t know what it is. The World War I aircraft top right, I really don’t know what that is, either. I’ve just forgotten. Perhaps an SE5?

The aircraft on the left has the distinctive tail of the Fokker DVII and guess what? It is one!


A note to say that my hand is now capable of a little light typing so I have managed to catch up on my replies to all the kind comments you made on my previous six blog posts. From now on, it should be back to normal, although I am well aware that operations go in pairs, and it will only be a matter of time until the right hand needs a full service.




Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, History

In for a penny, In for a pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command (2)

When I wrote the first part of my review of the book “In for a Penny, In for a Pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command” written by Howard Hewer, I had never written a book review before, so I suppose I can now say “Welcome to my second book review”.

Last time I mentioned how the author talked about his experiences in the RAF in Britain, but how he was then transferred to the Middle East, bombing the Germans and Italians with Vickers Wellingtons:

In actual fact the Wellington was probably the best bomber used in this theatre of war in the early years. At least they weren’t using these Bristol Bombays as bombers:

And they weren’t forced to use these biplanes as bombers, for want of any aircraft at all (which did actually happen!):

Howard Heyer describes how the anticolonial attitudes encountered in England continued in the Middle East when he is posted to RAF Kabrit near the Suez Canal:

At Kabrit, the Station Commander lived in a “sumptuous two storey permanent house”. The officers were all billeted in nice wooden houses next to the Officers’ Mess but the sergeants lived elsewhere, in the desert, sleeping on straw mattresses in tents outside the camp. The single shower was just a pipe with no showerhead and the water was heated by the sunshine. The food wasn’t very good either with the buns at Christmas dinner containing not caraway seeds but weevils, regarded by the rather cynical diners as a valuable source of protein. Here is the author, in the middle of the crew of five:

When the time came for introductions, the commander of the base, Squadron Leader B, singled the two Canadians out from the rest and said:

“I see that two of you are Canadians. I’ll tell you right now that if we have any trouble with you, it’s the high jump for both of you.”

Howard is flying combat missions at such long range that they need to land their aircraft at airstrips in the desert both on the way to the target and on the way back. That doesn’t prevent the station commander, who doesn’t fly in combat, stopping his car as he drives past Howard and telling him off for having a button which is not shined properly. Such attitudes eventually lead to a mutiny.

On January 29th 1942, Squadron Leader B had a notice put up ordering:

“All aircrew are to report, properly dressed, to the Station Warrant Officer’s Office at 1300 hours”.

Every member of aircrew had already “been on Ops” in the previous week and in some cases, the night before:

In such cases, men are supposed to have a whole day’s rest with no reporting anywhere. The fact that the Station Warrant Officer has the nickname, “Louie the Rat”, probably sums up the attitude of the 50 men who assembled. He told them to draw rifles for rifle drill. They told him that sergeants only carry side arms so they don’t do rifle drill. Louie then gave them the message from Squadron Leader B that the men were all slack and they all needed smartening up.

At the first command of “Order Arms”, an Australian gentleman told Louie a convenient place to stick his rifle and threw his gun to the floor. He was immediately placed under close arrest and marched off to the Guard Room followed by 50 or so angry sergeants of all nationalities who demanded to be placed under close arrest as well.

And the account goes on from there for another couple of pages. Again, something I have never heard of before, and, like the Cranwell Riot, unknown to Google as well. The book does have a good summary of the situation though, one which could have been applied to a good many RAF bomber squadrons during this period…

“…a long period of minor abuse and lack of caring, a condition of “negative leadership.”

And what’s “negative leadership”?

Well, it can perhaps be summed up in the words of the officer who welcomed the crews to RAF Marham, right at the beginning of the book…

“Well chaps, the glamour period is over. Casualties in this command have been high, and they are on the rise as we make more and more flights further into Germany. I must tell you then that many of you will not be with us a few weeks or a month from now. Good luck to you all.”

Unbelievably, this officer was outdone by the Squadron Medical Officer:

“I hope it doesn’t happen to any of you, but in the event that you find yourself trapped in a burning aircraft with no chance of escape, best to get things over with in a hurry. Lean directly over the flames, open your mouth and inhale strongly. The fire should scorch the lungs and cause almost instant death, much preferable to burning slowly. Well good luck chaps.”

The Bomber Command men, all volunteers, of course, and a huge proportion of them from Australia, Canada and New Zealand, still got on those planes and did their jobs, often at the expense of their lives. The book concludes on a more positive note:

“I have never considered myself a brave man. But I was put into the company of brave men, and I could not very well have let them down.
I don’t believe I did.”

And my overall verdict? It’s a book very well worth a look especially if you can pick up a copy with a bit of history!

One final point I would like to make is that I had a minor operation on my hand recently and for that reason I will not be able to reply to any of your comments in the immediate future. If you do want to make a comment, by all means please do so, but I will not be able to write any replies until after December 6th as a minimum. After this date, with luck, I should be back in business.




Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, History, Politics

The Mosquito at Hendon (1)

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”


“Amos, who?”

“A Mosquito.”

Terrible, but according to my Dad, a genuine RAF joke from World War II. Well, I suppose they had to do something while they waited for colour television to be invented:

Of all the exciting aircraft of World War Two, the De Havilland Mosquito is perhaps the most exciting. This amazing aeroplane really was the result of thinking outside the box.

Give it powerful engines. Make it more or less entirely out of wood. It will be so fast that no enemy fighter will be able to catch it. It will be one of the few bombers of any era which was regularly unarmed. No surprise that it was nicknamed “The Wooden Wonder”:

And so it came to pass, although the Mosquito could not escape the rule which says that every fast aircraft ever built always has its speed reduced by being forced to carry something extra under its wings.

The very first Mosquitos made their début in May 1942 as daylight bombers. After that, they found work with the Pathfinder Force and performed many other tasks within Bomber Command.

The Mosquito was a great success as a night fighter and an intruder aircraft, as well as an anti-shipping strike aircraft. They were used for photographic reconnaissance at both low and high level by the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Force. Some Mosquitoes managed a huge number of missions, as their casualty rate was less than 0.5%.

We went to RAF Hendon in July 2010 and of course, they have a Mosquito there. According to their maze of a website, I eventually found out that TJ138 is a bomber variant, the Mosquito B 35, capable of a maximum speed of 422 mph and a cruising speed of 276 mph. I think only an Me262 jet would be able to catch that.

The B35 was the final mark of this amazing aircraft and it made its first test flight on March 12th 1945. This particular B35 was built in 1945 at Hatfield as part of a contract for 80 aircraft. It was never used in combat and indeed went into storage at No.27 MU Shawbury, Shropshire as early as August 28th 1945, with another period in storage from May 20th 1948. In October 1950, it was sent to Celle in West Germany with 98 Squadron, which means that TJ138 is the only Mosquito still in existence which actually served with a squadron. In 1953 it was converted into a target tug and eventually finished up flying THUM flights. A lovely acronym which means “Temperature and Humidity Flight”.

And to finish the first instalment, here’s a picture of this very Mosquito, TJ138, waiting patiently to go off on some more THUM flights:

One final point I would like to make is that I had a minor operation on my hand recently and for that reason I will not be able to reply to any of your comments in the immediate future. If you do want to make a comment, by all means please do so, but I will not be able to write any replies until after December 6th as a minimum. After this date, with luck, I should be back in business.



Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, History

In for a penny, In for a pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command (1)

I haven’t written a book review before, but last week I was quite struck by this particular book, entitled “In for a penny, In for a pound : The Adventures and Misadventures of a Wireless Operator in Bomber Command” written by Howard Hewer. It is by no means a new book. My copy was published in 2000 and I bought a used copy from Abebooks. It was from a bookseller in Toledo, Ohio and the book had been a Library Copy from Greater Victoria Public Library at 735 Broughton St, Victoria, British Columbia, V8W 3H2, Canada.

With used library books, especially foreign ones, I always spend time wondering where the book has been, who borrowed it, what their lives were like and so on. I was most intrigued to find a till receipt still inside, detailing the book’s being taken out at precisely 10.41 am on June 16th 2001. Who read it? Did they enjoy it? And most exciting, did they get it back to the library on time by June 30th?

The book tells the story of a young Canadian who joins up and then spends the war in the RAF, mainly in Europe and the Middle East. He is in Bomber Command where casualties, of course, were enormous. There are, really, any number of such books. Some are written to be exciting, some to be poignant and some as detailed historical records. This one is a little bit different and tells the story from the point of view of a Canadian:

I just did not realise that the British would drag innocent young blokes half a world away from their homes to do their fighting and then insult them for their pains…

“We encountered the ‘colonial label’ usually with some snide remark. We grew restive and increasingly rebellious.”

Their reactions were pretty easy-going though, compared to one group. The Aussies:

“erupted in a near riot and refused to appear on parade or in class…Things reached a climax one day in the mess hall. This day the food was particularly inedible and one Aussie grabbed his plate and flung it against the wall just as an RAF air commodore walked through the door…this was not an isolated incident”.

Indeed, he speaks of the Canadian involvement in the “Cranwell Riot”, calmed only by the intervention of Canadian diplomats and Canadian officers. This may be what is being referred to in “The Cream of the Crop: Canadian Aircrew 1939-1945” by Allan D English (page 120) but I haven’t read that book yet. I could find nothing about the episode on the Internet.

We visited Cranwell in May 2010. It was a dull rainy day but here is the main building:

The gates are typical architecture of the time:

They are decorated with the superb badge of the RAF:

I read a lot about the RAF in World War Two but this book presents so much that is new to me. One intriguing footnote tells of the author’s neighbour in 1995 who told him of a fairly amazing incident. The Irish, always pretty anti-English at that time, were supposedly allowing U-boats to refuel in Cork Harbour, so, in late 1942 or early 1943, the RAF sent a force of 8 Blenheims to bomb the harbour “most bombs purposely landing in the bay.”

Well, I’ve never heard this before, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Some 20,000 Irishmen from the Republic were in the British forces, but there were a good few who were very sinister in their activities. In his book, “Clouds of Fear”, Roger Hall alleges that more than one RAF flyer was killed by Irish parachute packers who deliberately sabotaged their parachutes. The men murdered this way included a young man from the High School but that is, as they say, a story for another day.

Bombing Cork, even Blenheims would have been safe from the Irish Air Corps, who used Lysanders:

And the Fairey Battle:

Going back to Howard Hewer’s book, when he was posted to the Middle East, I was really surprised to hear for the first time, of the practice in North Africa of bombing targets which were so far away that the aircraft had to refuel both on the way there and on the way back. The book discusses the conditions at these stopover sites “situated on dried up salt lakes…We carried our bomb load from base, and had to land fully and lethally loaded…we slept on the floor of the aircraft in winter, under the wings during the summer months…we were not issued with sleeping bags…” Presumably, the advent of B-24 Liberators would have helped to phase out these stopovers which were unavoidable with the Wellingtons:

The Liberator had a much better range. Here is one of the first that the RAF received:

Next time, I’ll carry on with Howard Hewer’s adventures in Egypt. There are many more stories about the RAF officers that I had never heard, but they all have that ring of truth.



Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, Canada, History, Literature, Politics