Excerpts from the WWII journal entries of Flight Lieutant Louis McBride (Adjutant/193 Squadron)collected by Tim Darling and Mike McBride (email)
The road shimmered under the heat of an afternoon sun and the ochre dust clouded and settled behind the rattling Commer [the Commer Q2 was a green, canvas covered, military truck used by the British]. On the North eastern horizon, the waters of the Solent [River, near Southampton] looked incredibly blue and cool through the haze and the balloons above it turned and winked indolently, it seemed, in the slight breeze. Suddenly the truck left the curling lane and plunged through a farmyard gate to follow a track which wound again towards the east across wide fields and then through a little copse [a grove of small trees]. Suddenly, again, it debouched onto the side of a runway, a flying field set down among the trees. There was sat while a flight of Typhoons roared down the strip to fling themselves into the sky, leaving only a heaving dust cloud over the steel tracking [Sommerfeld tracking, which was a steel grid laid down on the grass to create a makeshift runway]. The airfield policeman, recognizable from the surrounding figures in blue battle dress only by the dingy white arm band he wore, waved us on and, crossing the track, we plunged again into a narrow lane through the trees.
We stopped and the driver said, "there's the guard room, Sir." A small ridge-tent by the roadside bore a placard with this proud appellation and I was decanted there complete with luggage and feeling already incredibly thirsty. I had arrived on posting to Tactical Air Force.
My journey had started some thirty six hours previous when I left St. Davids, an RAF station in the most south-westerly tip of South Wales to report on posting to my new unit. I traveled on the night train feeling decidedly the worse for wear, due to a couple of inoculations; a feeling which was not really improved by swinging my newly acquired camp kit and Jane's luggage into and out of the van which conveyed us to the railhead. Jane was en route to London too so we traveled together and dozed and perspired through the long hot night as the train roared and jolted through the darkness. Rail travel at night is always an amusing kaleidoscope of fleeting impressions: one never really seems to sleep, yet the time seems to fly by, and one's memory of the journey forms dimly remembered cameos of consciousness in an otherwise uncomfortable void.
London, when I emerged from Paddington, was brilliant and cool and very empty, as only a great city can be at six o'clock on a Sunday morning and in the taxi which took me to Victoria sleepily about food and whether it was this kind of morning which inspired the sonnet 'Upon Westminster Bridge'. My subsequent reactions were not particularly poetic when I found that I had three changes to make to get to Chichester [60 miles SW of London], but eventually I got there and found the courtyard of the station alive with service transport, troops and kit. After a while, I got a lift out to the P.T.C. and immediately began to collect new impressions of the RAD and to readjust those I already had. As every unit was mobile, transport seemed to abound and all sections were housed under canvas; it was rather unreal to find that 'Orderly Room' now meant a very untidy marquee lit by an acetylene flare among the pines and the field cooking that we had seen at Stannington had become reality. It was rather amazing too, to find how comfortable a trailer could be made either as an office or as sleeping quarters.
I only stayed the one day and night at Group as my posting was an Adjutant of a Squadron at an airfield a good distance away, but during this time, I was there I became immersed in the general speculations about when we would be going across the Channel. The cogency was impressive and it became not just a newspaper headline but a reality.
All that day I waited at Group for my posting instructions and finally at about six pm was told to report to 193 Squadron on the following day. I unpacked the virgin camp kit with which I had been supplied and erected for the first time the mechanical marvel known as a camp bed. The following day, folding again all my goods like the nomadic type I was about to become, I set off again from Chichester. A series of changes of train, which were punctuated only by short periods spend actually traveling, finally ended with my arrival at the little town west of the Solent [River] from which the Commer [truck] whirled, myself and three perspiring airmen, out into the heart of the country to the airfield at which the Squadron was located.
No. 193 Squadron existed, I believe, during the last war, simply as a training squadron and no records exist now to show the type of aircraft with which it was equipped, nor any of the operations in which it took part. During the demobilization in 1919, the Squadron lapsed again into just a number, and to all intents and purposes it really formed at Harrowbeer [Airfield, near Yelverton, 10 miles north of Plymouth, on the far southwest coast of England] in September 1942, with Typhoon aircraft. [193 Squadron was formed and mostly remained at Harrowbeer until February 20, 1944.]
It was designated one of the "Brazilian" Squadrons in honor of our ally (if such she is), Brazil. The inauguration ceremonies before the Brazilian staff in October 1942 at Harrowbeer are still remembered in the squadron with a great deal of hilarity. The day in question was stormy with a high wind and pouring with rain. A grand parade was held, however, and a number of aircraft handed over with due formality to the squadron, whilst the Ambassador and various other personages of note made speeches suitable to the occasion. A recording unit operated the while, preserving the words of the night for transmission to posterity, and incidentally to Brazil radio.
A ceremonial fly past had been arranged, but due to the appalling weather, it was thought best not to attempt it and as a last resort, the brilliant idea of a solemn "taxi past" the saluting base was formulated. When put into effect, a formulation of nine aircraft came weaving up the field, strung out in a Vic [an inflexible V-shape that was the RAF's standard tactical fighter formation until it was outmoded in the spring of 1941], past the ranks of rain soaked ground-staff and the very important personages; the whole unimpressive show being totally marred by the fact that one of the wing men, in his frantic effort to keep his position, taxied straight into the recording van and wrote off completely the records of the historic occasion, together with the van, and most of his aircraft. The remaining eight returned without further loss.
This then was the unit I had come to join and I felt immediately the spirit of freedom from care which its blithe inauguration ceremonies seemed to have left to it as a legacy, and which it has preserved despite the vicissitudes of an active campaign with its occasional heartbreaks of pilots being reported missing and old friends being posted away.
Almost the first job I was called upon to do in my capacity as an Adjutant, was the adjustment of the estate of one of my new friends. Ned was a little F/O who looked so much younger than his twenty two years that it seemed to me that a school cap would have been more in keeping with the mischief in his have than the rather disreputable S.D. [Service Dress] cap which he wore on the back of his head. The B flight boys were doing a morning show two days after I arrived and when I got down to my Orderly Room truck at Dispersal that morning, it was to be greeted with the news that had was missing. He had last been seen going down in a diving turn over the lines with a dead engine. His number two reported that he was aiming to force land in a small field, and that his aircraft had touched down in the grass, swept up over a railway embankment, and burst itself through a house. The wings tore off and the fuselage shot into the woods. We all agreed that there was little chance for anyone to survive such a crash, and though we waited as long as we could, some eighteen hours, after that time as no further news was received, the Casualty signal was sent.
Two days later we received a laconic statement that he was on his way back to joining the Squadron "fit and well". The resultant party to welcome him back was a thing to be dreamed of in later years, and his own simple explanation of the accident was a sheer delight of an understatement. He swore, first of all, that never again would he doubt the excellence of British workmanship, for the kite had touched down at about 140 mph, had screamed up the railway embankment, and the next thing he saw through the windscreen was the house traveling towards him, at a rate of knots. The airframe gave a slight shudder as its wings and bombs, which he had been unable to jettison, were torn off, and then he was in the open air again, with just the fuselage traveling like a mammoth projectile for the trees. What was left of the aircraft, little else but the actual cockpit, finally came to rest on its back across a shallow ditch into which, by pressing his quick release, he'd decanted himself. He then walked across a field to find to his infinite relief that he was near a Canadian post, and within the Allied lines.
June, 1944 - (this story is also captured in my grandfather's journal entries here)
Some two weeks later, he, among others, was in the news again. The boys had gone off one lovely fine morning and had disappeared into the haze over the Channel on a fighter sweep deep into France with the WingCo [Wing Commander] leading them. About an hour later, Gilly and I were passing Intelligence when we were gleefully hailed by Tommy, the chief spy, with the gem that some of the boys had got a 109 [Messerschmitt Bf 109, a German fighter], so we wandered off to Dispersal to get the story when they landed. Those aircraft swept in over the runway shortly afterwards, broke, and landed with great misgivings, we clustered around the pilots. It looked as if it was an expensive 109, with six of our pilots missing. Soon others struggled in, however, until finally, only Ned, Boots Brown, and Jack Billy were unaccounted for. It seemed that the Squadron, while patrolling west of P- [Paris, according to his son; perhaps left out of the original text for security reasons], had spotted some 30 or more aircraft below them through a gap in the clouds. WingCo recognized them as e/a [enemy aircraft] and the boys promptly dove in for a party. It was a perfect bounce!
The WingCo got two and damaged a third. Mike saw five of them getting into a defensive formation, so he promptly tagged on behind the last one and shot it out of the sky. Charlie [Hall], with Ned as his number two, had been hammering two of the enemy when he saw tracer flashing past him and found that three were behind; he called to Ned to break and did so himself very smartly losing them in the resulting Chandelle [a Chandelle is a slow climb that starts with a bank to one side].
Sac [Bilz] had called up to say that he had been shot and was landing on the Beach. Ned was found to have got down at Beaulieu [5 miles northeast of the Squadron's current makeshift airbase at Needs Oar Point, near Southampton]. He bounced back to the airfield in the afternoon to say that he had one damaged too, so that the odds were really even. Later, in the evening, about six of us piled into the truck and went over to Beaulieu to view the wreck. How he managed to get it back over the Channel we will really never know. The port elevator had disappeared; about two feet of the rudder was just lattice work; and several small holes in the top of the plane proved on investigation to have been cannon shells which had burst inside of the wing and blown great gaps in the under surface. His tanks had been holed, which caused great amusement to the ground crews at Beaulieu who saw a very battered aircraft come in and make a perfect landing and then stop right in the middle of the runway, as the petrol had just given out. They had to take a tractor out to tow him in.
At the end of the day, we found that all our pilots had returned safely and the total score was six e/a destroyed and three damaged. This of course called for a party and a party it was. The evening's proceedings in Ty Tavern were further enlivened late in the evening by Sac who had last been heard of forced landing on the Beach. He had fallen in with an American outfit who promptly placed him in Sick Bay, where they proceeded to dig bits of shrapnel out of his left ankle. As his oil tank had been hit and had filled the cockpit with flying oil, his trousers and shoes were completely ruined so he had been provided with a pair of American khaki slacks and boots and in his strange multi-colored garb, limped into the party.
Early September, 1944
Ned's 'third life' was lost some two months later. The Squadron had left the Beach for the South of England which it operated at for a short time [the Squadron moved to Manston on Sept 8, 1944 and then moved to Lille, France (B51) on Sept 12]. While at Manston, when taking off on a show one afternoon, Ned's port tire burst, producing an uncontrollable swing. His port tank fell off and caught fire while the aircraft proceeded down the runway and shied to a stop, a tangled mess on the airfield boundary. Luckily the kite did not catch fire and he was able to climb out and walk away without a scratch.
After this, he began to wonder when the next one would come. He had already survived three incidents during his flying career of the kind which turns a man's hair grey and yet he could still carry on and make a joke of the whole thing.
Sept 18, 1944 - (this story is also captured in my grandfather's journal entries here)
His fourth mishap came just before the end of his tour of ops, and was similar in ways to his previous hair-raising experiences. It was a simply foul day in October when the Squadron was scheduled to fly to Fairwood Common [at Swansea on the west coast of England, the site of this photo]. [They left from Vendeville, the aerodrome outside Lille, France, near the Belgium border; one of the closest points to England.] Over the Channel, the cloud base was at a thousand and reached solidly up to eight. Flying in close formation, the aircraft entered cloud but soon the order was given to carry on independently as it was impossible to hold position. Ned found that his gyro was precessing badly [implying he was in a spin] and he suddenly broke cloud in a sort of diving turn at about a thousand feet above water. He decided therefore to return and try again later so set course back to the Beach. Unfortunately he crossed the coast over one of the last pockets of enemy resistance and became aware of this fact when some enterprising gentleman at the back end of a 40 mm gun put a burst through his tail. The aircraft lurched about the sky in a series of nearly uncontrollable dives and as he had his best tunic and greatcoat in the wing bay he felt he really couldn't bail out so he must again force land. He was by this time hill top height and so as soon as the top of the next hill came under his nose, he cut the throttle and put it down in a belly-landing on the Canadian front line. Staying only long enough to remove his kit from the wreck, he hurried off as fast as possible out of the shell and mortar fire with which the neighborhood. seemed to be alive.