Sgt. Edward Harry « Ted » Matthews was a Flight Engineer with 77squadron. 1944 – 1945
By Ted Matthews
Most of the readers of this magazine will have or had friends or relations serving at Full Sutton or earlier stations and perhaps wondered what went on when they were not flying and what they got up to. This tale is taken from my memory so might be a bit blurred in places, but I will try to at least give you an impression of our goings on.
On our arrival on the squadron the first thing was to get signed in. This entailed going to all the sections to let them know we were here. Such as being assigned a nisson hut and booking into the mess. One important item to get was a bicycle from the stores, it was the only way to get about the airfield, ( and to the local Pub) they were usually ones that the crews leaving the station had left behind and were sold to incoming crews, the price we paid for them depended on their condition.
The last but no least was the Doctor, the first he explained the organization of the medical section, then told us we had a short life of a few days. Next was the worst bit, the risks of sexual diseases, followed by a very detailed film! It made the thought of ops was less daunting than the film. After we went to dinner in the mess, sausages. UGH? Ruined a good appetie. Least said the better after that film.
I think most of you have seen a nisson hut, two crews per hut, these were for the NCO’s, the officers of course had better quarters, and a batman. The nearest ablutions was on the average 100 yards away, if you had a few beers the night before it mas major expedition, in winter an Artic expedition; need I say more about what we did. In March 1945 everything was frozen, even the passing polar bears wore flying jackets. Then the only place for a wash or shower was the mess, a really major effort was required to have shower or shave. There was a layer of ice on the inside of the nisson hut roof in spite of the heating stove which we tried to keep going with any fuel, wood or coke, we could get our hands on. Also in March 1945 heavy snow, covered the run ways and roads. We still had take off on ops, which meant the runaway had to be cleared. This was done by us with shovels, no mechanical assistance, even if you were flying on ops that night you did a turn of at least an hour, I did my share before flying that night, ( only officers an admin were exempt.) During spring and summer it was pleasant except when it rained.
The Sergeants Mess was reasonable as good as any I visited. The best food was when we went on ops. Before a raid it was often : Steak, eggs and chips and on return, Bacon and eggs, both meals well appreciated. The other meals were just normal rations.
The bar was well appointed, supplying most drinks, alcoholic or others. There was a big comfortable lounge. We did have a radio and gramophone, but only record, Glen Miller’s Moonlight Serenade, it had a small crack but was still playable. Played often, at least once or twice a day. Once a month when operations allowed the mess held an open evening when local folk, girl friends were invited. It was a dance and buffet, which made it popular with local people in the time of food rationing. For the aircrew, NCO and officers, CO included, was the singsong held in a separate room, doors shut. After a chorus of “Good Night Ladies” the songs were rude rugby songs, drinking songs, with aircrew songs about flying on operations, whilst consuming pints of beer as quickly as possible. Also once a month the aircrew treated the ground crew who serviced their planes to an evening in the local pub. To show their appreciation for the work they did on maintaining the planes we flew.
Entertainment was a cinema or an occasional visit from an ENSA Party.
There was the local pub at Stamford Bridge where we often went by bicycle, also across the road from the pub was a Church Canteen where the local ladies made superb cheese and onion sandwiches good for mopping up the beer. On return we had to dodge the local police for riding without lights. We had to use a bit of cunning not to get caught. There were two buses a day into York and one late at night to return. York, well known for Bettys Bar in those days was more of a high class pub (also called ‘The Briefing Room’ by aircrew) an important place to visit. Many local village halls held dances, where we met the local girls. A chance to get away for a short time the rigour of service life and the thoughts of life and death, ops and flying. Bright lights and feminine company, it was another life.
First thing in the morning groups of aircrew gathered around the official notice boards on which were pinned the orders for the day, informing us of who were flying on operations that night. We then went to our sections. I went to the Flight Engineers section to find which plane I would be flying in. Then out to dispersal to see the ground crew and look the plane over; kick the wheels to make sure nothing fell off; also have a cup of NAAFI tea with the crew. Back to the mess for lunch, to the billet to rest until it is time to go for briefing. Afterwards, flying meal, get dressed, collecting gear such as parachutes, and out to dispersal by bus.
Check the plane over with the Flt Sgt. (Chiefy) sign acceptance form, run up the engines, to test Magnetos, then shut off and relax until take off time.
Before take off one important ceremony, we all gather around the tail wheel to pee on it for luck.
The RED VERY pistol shot, time to start engines and prepare to taxi out the end of runway. At the end of the runway, warm up engines, wait for the green aldis light, permission to take off. Adrenalin pulses, you say a little prayer, you open up the throttles, take off. Next Germany’s night sky. Return, land, taxi to dispersal. First person in is the Chiefy complaining that you have damaged his plane with several Flak holes. Collect your gear get out into the fresh air after the air stale, smelling of oil, petrol. Fresh Air, next thing we did was light up a fag? Transport to debriefing, a brightly lit, smoke filled room. Several tables seated at them intelligence officers, on another table was the padre dishing out tea, coffee and glasses of navy rum ( most welcome). After debriefing, return your gear. To the mess the welcome Bacon and Eggs. Wash up and to bed. Another day another op.
On the day peace was declared special buses were provided for us to go into York to celebrate, a good time was had by all.
Life and flying was another story afterwards.
Courtesy of Ted Matthews and his son David Matthews