My wartime experiences seem like a dream now. Some of the near escapes I had certainly seemed that way.
After my first tour ended, and because I was initially trained on Short Sterling Bombers, I was posted as an instructor engineer, with an instructor pilot, to train new crews on the Stirlings, which were older than the Lancaster and far less technologically advanced.
During the training we had to fly with a novice pilot and crew on circuits and landings. The novice pilot was not very good with his landings so, after several attempts, the instructor pilot decided may be it was because he was nervous with the instructor sat beside him. He then got out of the plane and volunteered me to stay in. He impressed upon the pilot that if an engine cut out he could still land safely. It was impossible, however, to overshoot the runway on Stirlings once the full flaps and undercarriage were down.
The inevitable happened, as soon as we were doing the first circuit an outer engine cut out. I reminded the pilot not to overshoot with full flaps and undercarriage down. He proceeded to land with these down.
It was about 4.30 pm and getting dusk, but the engineer had not reported back that the undercarriage and wheels were locked down, so the pilot asked me to check on the engineer.
When I went back I found him on his back rolling around saying “I don’t want to die”. I had to rip his mask away so the crew wouldn’t hear him and I tried to calm him down.
I checked all the wheels were down and locked by the green lights showing. I was just heading back to the pilot when I heard a very loud noise that was the three engines in full power. I realised that the pilot had panicked and I did not hear him say “brace, brace!” because he was doing the impossible by trying to overshoot the runway and climb up.
As he did this we slewed round into some nearby trees at Wigsley Wood, Saxilby, Lincolnshire. We crashed at 140 knots and I was flung against the aircraft’s spar and momentarily knocked out. The last thing I remember is running for the door away from the flames so I could get out.
Luckily the Army was on manoeuvres nearby and they all came driving up in their jeeps and took us to St George’s Hospital in Lincoln.
The doctors initially thought I had broken my back because I couldn’t move, but fortunately after x-rays it was just badly bruised. I was made to lay flat on boards for ten days. The rest of the crew were only slightly bruised and scratched because they had responded to the call “brace! brace!” and were all in the crash position.
Later I heard that the engineer was taken off flying and posted to the RAF regiment, but had no more news about the rest of the crew.
Afterwards I was put on seven days survivors leave and then went straight back on to operational duties – no counselling in those days!
Note: Also published on the BBC WWII People's War website as
'Impossible Overshoot – Stirling Bomber' 29 January 2006.
Note: Also published on the BBC WWII People's War website as 'Impossible Overshoot – Stirling Bomber' 29 January 2006.