On my arrival at 576 Squadron, RAF Fiskerton, near Lincoln, April 1945, with my new aircrew [*], for my second tour of ops, we were told to report directly to the Wing Commander's Office at 0900 hours the next day.
On our way down to his office the next day, we heard a terrific explosion from the main stores. A fierce fire was raging, flames and ammunition exploding in the air like a huge firework display going off.
We ran to see if we could help, but the heat was so intense, the firemen rushing in with their hoses told us to keep well clear, as there was nothing anyone could do to help.
A Lancaster, either coming in or taking off, had an outboard engine cut out, swung round to the failed engine side, the wing tip had hit the ground, it swung further until it crashed into the stores and caught fire. There was no hope for survivors, and none of the crew did survive. All were badly burned and must have died instantly.
We turned away and carried on towards the Wing Commander's Office. There was fear in my new crew's eyes of the horrifying scene that they had just witnessed.. It must have been a terrific shock to them on their first day at an operational squadron.
I tried to calm them down and bit by saying it was a million to one chance of such an experience and unlikely to happen again. But I don't think it helped, as it was enough to cause nightmares for an appalling scene to occur so close by.
We arrived at the Wing Commander's Office about half an hour late, to be greeted by a severe dressing down for being late. We explained we had tried to help, but he would not listen and told us to be prompt if we had to see him again, no matter what was happening on the airfield.
A few days later I was called to a Squadron Leader's office to be told the family of the Sgt Engineer who had died wanted an RAF appearance at his funeral and as I was an experienced W/O Engineer of 36 operations, I had been selected to volunteer to go with him.
I protested that I was not happy, that I did not know the man or his crew. The reply was that he did not know them either and we had to make the best of it. I was told to meet him at 0900 the next morning.
0900 next morning I was outside the guardroom with my best blue pressed, buttons and shoes highly polished. We set off to Newcastle by car.
It was my first funeral and I was scared and frightened. What was I going to say to the parents, and knowing that what I had seen could just as easily happen to me.
Walking away from the service the Squadron Leader said we had been invited to the parents' home for the 'wake', and it would be in bad taste to refuse.
When we arrived it seemed like a party was going on and everyone appeared to be having a good time, eating and drinking. Despite rationing, there was plenty of food and drink on display. To see so much food and drink on display during rationing was quite a shock.
We were offered food and drink. I took a drink, but could not stomach food. Then what I most feared, the parents called me to one side and asked about their son.
It was a very awkward moment. I thought very quickly and told them he was a very brave man to be in aircrew during a war as it was a very dangerous job. They then asked what it was like on ops. I told them a couple of stories about bombing raids. Fortunately the Squadron Leader then came to my rescue, said we might be on ops ourselves the next day and that we would have to leave.
The parents thanked us for coming and wished us luck when we got back.
From that day on I have hated funerals. When in later years I have had to attend funerals of family and friends, it always takes me back to that sad day and the horrifying scene myself and my crew had to witness at the start of our tour of duty at 576 Squadron, RAF Fiskerton, Lincoln.
* Second crew: Pilot Flight Officer Fry (Chips), Flight Engineer Harry Parkins (Ackney Arry), Bomb Aimer Woodliffe (Fingers), Navigator Smith (Smithy), Wireless Operator (Ron) Lait (Sparky), Mid Upper Gunner Younger (Geordie), Rear Gunner Jones (Taffy).