Archive for the ‘WWII Memories’ Category

FLYING DRAMA IN THE PYRENEES – Update on Memorial Progress.

04 Apr, 2019

This post is the content of a translated email from Michel Bompieyre, who is the Operations Manager for the Heritage trust and Museum concerning this incident.

For background information, do search our previous postings on the incident.

Original article:-

Commemoration Ceremony:-

Updated Progress Document:- GO DOWN THE MOUNTAIN

The title of the document that we bring to your attention, GO DOWN THE MOUNTAIN, is in English in view of heroic control and memory of your compatriots at the time of an air tragedy on December 5th, 1944 in Ariège (France).

For three years maintaining our association has organized exhibitions related to the local Heritage. This year we will point out this air tragedy.

On the way for the Indies, Dakota carrying the sérial FL 588, coded NQ-Z, which seemed to belong to your XXIV Squadron, crashed on one of our peaks claiming a large number of lives among the twenty pilots of Glider Pile Regiment which it transported and three team members of the R.A.F and fortunately also some survivors.

Although wounded, two of them, after one testing icy day and a night, decided to go to seek help, without reference mark in an unknown region of them.

This tragedy strongly marked the inhabitants, in particular those of the villages whose men left in search of survivors and repatriated deaths in full blizzard and snowstorms.

The remains of the Dakota plane are always present in a vast fall of the mountain. In 2005, a wing, the two engines immersed in the contiguous pond and the propellers were winched up by the French Army and were laid out at the House of the Heritage of Donezan (Ariège).

This tragedy was celebrated on several occasions: pose in 1997 plate (alas disappeared since) on places of catastrophe, sealing of another plate in 2002 on frontage of town hall of Mijanès (common on which the accident took place), edition of a book in 2009 by the French Lieutenant-colonel Mathevet with the invaluable assistance of a British old driver, Denzil Cooper, friend of the one of the victims of the crash landing.

Lastly, erection in September 2018, of a cenotaph in the mountain, on the course borrowed by the two pilots. These celebrations received on several occasions representatives civil and military English as well as French political staff and, in 2018, the unveiling of the cenotaph was chaired by Mrs Préfète of Ariège and Mister the Military attach of the Embassy of Great Britain.

If we reconsider this year this event is to complete and develop existing it, on the one hand by protecting and announcing the cenotaph very exposed in mountain nature and, on the other hand, to revive the collective memory whose two indirect witnesses are of a very advanced age.

He does not escape to us either, that in these very unstable times, the celebration of the division of heroism and the human solidarity between citizens of our two nations at the time of a tragedy, is not useless.

Mrs Lesley Reid of the Military office of the Embassy of Great Britain suggested us contacting you for any help which you could bring to our project: archives, documents, photographs of these pilots, existence of the descendants of the survivors of the crash landing who could bear some additional witnesses of the accounts to us makes by their father, etc.

We also search a specimen of better quality of photography attached because one of Dakota which appears door there the number the sérial F. 589 whereas the broken plane carries FL. 588. Isn’t the name of air base mentioned on our document, does act of the base of Northolt?


Michel Bompieyre Copresident of association Operations manager for the valorization of the heritage of the commune of Mijanès (Ariège)

“The Sacred Cow” or Churchill’s EW999 Skymaster in California

19 Dec, 2018

We have received an interesting email and photo from J T Michaelson, Portland, Oregon referencing an article about Churchill’s Skymaster. (Pages 3 – 8)

He just happens to have an original 8×10 of that very EW999 plane when it was in Los Angeles, California. His wife’s grandmother was a “Rosy the Riveter” during WWII and her favourite photo is of her in front of her just completed plane.

No one knew why this plane was special he believe’s it was Churchill’s EW999 Skymaster.

Churchill's EW999 Airlane LA California

Churchill’s EW999 Airplane LA California

Well if you link and read the article in the Newsletter, which was originally published in John Bull, 28th April 1951, as the last of four in which “NORMAN PHILLIPS concludes his series on the passengers and pilots of V.I.P. SQUADRON”, it is certainly one and the same.

Many thanks JT for that piece of aviation history.


RAF Crash Commemoration Pyrenees – Ceremony 9th September 2018

31 Aug, 2018

We have been invited to see if any member(s) of the XXIV Sqn Association would like to attend the Ceremony involving the Re-Laying of a New Commemorative Plaque. This plaque is to commemorate the crew and passengers of a No 24 Sqn Dakota (NQ-Z), which hit a summit in the Pyrenees on 5 Dec 44.

Link to Blog:-

It is appreciated that this is a short notice job but anyone from the Association who would like to go would be gratefully received.  Andrew Ellison will be traveling from Toulouse Airport and has offered a lift.

The contact at XXIV in Brize Norton is F/L Scott Galbraith.

The original message came from Lesley Reid, PA to the Attaché. She writes:- “we have receive an invitation for a commemoration on 9 September in Donezan/Mijanes. This is right down in the south of France and is about a two and a half hour drive from Toulouse. It is to commemorate an RAF tragedy in which the C47 Dakota NQ-Z transporting pilots to the Far East crashed into the summit of the Pic de la Camissette in the Pyrenees on 5 December 1944, killing 18 RAF officers, 5 survived.”

Contact details:-

Lesley Reid | PA to the Naval and Air Attachés| Commemorations Officer |British Defence Staff France | British Embassy Paris, 35 rue du Faubourg St Honoré, 75383 Paris Cedex 08, France. | @UKDefenceFrance | +33 (0)1 44 51 32 52

Andrew ELLSON, Cockpit and Operations Officer, OCCAR-EA A400M PD | 5 avenue Albert Durand, CS 60021, 31701 Blagnac Cedex, France

Tel: +33 (0) 5 82 74 09 30 | Mob: +33 (0) 6 76 47 48 77

Scott Galbraith | Flt Lt | XO | XXIV Sqn| RAF Brize Norton | Carterton| OXFORDSHIRE | OX18 3LX| Mil Tel: 95461 Ext 5730 | Civ tel: +44 (0)1993 895730 | Email *:

ex 24 Squadron Tiger Moth G-AOEI (originally -N6946)

19 Jun, 2018
Ian McLeod in N6946

Ian McLeod in N6946

We had correspondence in 2015 about an ex 24 Squadron Tiger Moth G-AOEI (originally-N6946) which led to a couple of posts on the Blog from Andrew Wood who has been continuing his research into EI’s wartime history.

(Note to reader – Ian McLeod is the son of former 24 Sq pilot D I McLeod.)

It turns out that Ian’s father flew EI on a number of occasions during October 1940 as part of an arrangement whereby 24 Squadron hosted the training of 24 Czech reserve pilots.  Two very experienced Czech instructors, both of whom later joined 24, Frantisek Altman and Alois Vrecl, were checked out on a variety of types by D I McLeod and R W Read of 24 Sq in September and then proceeded to train the reservists.  From McLeod’s logbook, it seems that he then used EI to test some of the Czech students.  This episode in 24’s history is well documented in Czech literature.  D I McLeod was made an honorary pilot in the Czech airforce as a result!

D I McLeod left 24 in August 1941, converted to Stirlings and joined 7 Squadron at Oakington which was the first Stirling Squadron.  Sadly, he was shot down by a JU88 night fighter when returning from a mission on 3 October 1941.  With the Stirling in flames, he gave the order to bail out which allowed two members of his crew to survive before the crash at Papworth Everard, just a short distance from Oakington.

Ian McLeod lives in Canada but is coming to the U.K. for a family wedding in July.  Weather permitting, Andrew is planning to fly him in EI, at his request, over the scene of the crash, the site of RAF Oakington and All Saints Church, Longstanton, where his father is buried.  As EI is based at Cambridge, this will be a very local flight.

Attached is a “home-made” translation of the relevant parts of three of the Czech books Andrew found which describe 24 Squadron’s role in training the Czech reserve in 1940.

Czech Airforce Training with 24 at Hendon 1940

Diary of a Navigator – Pt 19 – Western Europe

09 Jan, 2018

Another installment (Pt 19), now only on the Blog, from the late John Mitchell’s diary of his VIP flying days with the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

This penultimate extract covers a period flying around  Western Europe and to Moscow between March and June 1945.


The PM, ever anxious to be at the scene of action, made several visits by air to the European Theatre after the Invasion, the first being between the 10th and 14th November 1944 when he witnessed the triumphant Liberation Parade in Paris with General de Gaulle. He had then flown in a 24 Squadron Dakota from Northolt to Paris and returned from Rheims. He made a second trip, from 3rd to 5th January, this time to Brussels in the same aircraft: each time visiting various units and headquarters.

The Skymaster was used for this purpose only once, in March, with the Dakota again employed to go to a forward airfield where it would have been imprudent to take the large aircraft.

2nd March 1945. The Allied Armies had now got beyond the Siegfried Line and were massing for the Rhine crossing. We took off from Northolt at 1100 hours with an escort of Spitfires in glorious sunshine. Our destination was again Brussels – the airfield at Melsbroek was operated by the RAF. This is now Brussels International; the hangars of the old military base are still used by the Belgian Air Force for communications aircraft, far removed in distance and style from the glass and concrete of the modern air terminal. In those days the airfield had three long, non-intersecting runways, for it had been a German night fighter base. What a change from our midnight departures in the darkness! Now there was no risk of an enemy aircraft in the daylight sky.

We took along the CIGS, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke and General ‘Pug’ Ismay, together with the PM’s usual circle. The flight time was one hour twenty-five minutes – very short for the Skymaster’s crew and scarcely time for more than a mid-morning drink. The PM was to proceed to Eindhoven in the Dakota and then by train and car to visit Aachen, Julich and Goch over the next couple of days. It is reliably reported that he relieved himself publicly on the Siegfried Line. We were to proceed to Juvincourt, an American base designated A58, near Rheims, there to await the VIPs who would arrive in Eisenhower’s train overnight – a mere 45 minutes flying for us.

6th March 1945. The return flight was also in glorious weather. Leaving Juvincourt (A58) the one hour forty minutes duration was only long enough to drink some light refreshments at a gentle altitude of 4,000 feet. This really was relaxed flying. On our arrival at Northolt, just before lunch, we found Uncle Tom Cobbly and All lined up awaiting the Owner. Security had gone by the board: no longer a discreet arrival with few ‘meeters and greeters’- followed by a Press Announcement that the PM had returned from his distant travels. Instead, we saw a line of dignitaries anxious to identify themselves and claim a handshake. Not a bit like the grimmer days when senior officers tended to keep out of the way of any risk of the PM’s strictures. When the PM reached the bottom of the aircraft steps, he turned to the ADC and said “Send for the pilot”. He then waited, ignoring the assembly, while Bill Fraser struggled into his tunic (it was shirt-sleeve flying weather) and ran down the steps. Leading him by the arm away from the assembled VIPs, he said “My boy, they are going to make you a Squadron Leader”. Bill replied most respectfully that he had been a Squadron Leader for some two years now – “Well then, it must be a Wing Commander. I am very pleased for you. Goodbye”. With that the PM turned and made a general wave to the assembled company, climbed into his car and drove away. Several injured VIPs descended on Bill and enquired what pearls of wisdom the PM might have dropped. Bill only smiled in his usual quiet enigmatic way.

The PM flew to the European Theatre on 23rd March, again in the Dakota of 24 Squadron, this time direct to Venlo, from whence he was to witness the crossing of the Rhine. The Skymaster was already at notice to take Mrs Churchill on the start of her tour of Russia on behalf of the British Red Cross. The Soviet government had invited her, the indefatigable Chairman of the British Red Cross ‘Aid to Russia Fund’, to visit Rostov-on-Don and see installed in two hospitals the equipment provided by her efforts and the generosity of the British people. Additionally, she was to be shown selected military hospitals as far apart as Leningrad, Odessa and the Crimea. The PM wished her to fly to and from Moscow in the Skymaster. The party would consist of Mrs Churchill and her secretary, Miss Grace Hamblin, General J E T Younger of the British Red Cross Society with Miss Mabel Johnson, Secretary of the Fund and Professor Sarkisov from the Soviet Embassy in London.

Although the war was going well, it was still not feasible to fly directly over Germany to Russia or even to make a track, further north by way of neutral Sweden. The Russian would not grant clearance to any foreign aircraft approaching from the west; nor had we any reliable information on the disposition of the Russian fighter system on their West Front. We were therefore compelled to stage via the Middle East. The Russians insisted that all foreign aircraft approaching her shores made visual identification on crossing the coast of the Crimea at Saki. We were getting to know this spot fairly well by now. The plan was then to fly the party non-stop to Cairo along the usual trunk route and there wait for favourable weather and clearance from the Russian Air Force. Even at this stage of the war, and for the Prime Minister’s aircraft carrying his wife, clearances were still a laborious process. Mrs Churchill however did not mind the delay for she was able to spend three useful days on behalf of the Red Cross in Cairo.


Clementine Churchill arriving in Leningrad Apr 1945

Clementine Churchill arriving in Leningrad Apr 1945

27th March 1945. We left Northolt at 21:15 hours local time for Cairo non-stop: a twelve hour-plus flight, half of which would be in darkness and half in daylight. Our VIP passenger was seen off by the Prime Minister himself, who announced to all and sundry that ‘she would be safe with his crew’. We were due in Moscow not later than April 1st and our plan was to have the two or three spare days in Cairo.

Mrs Churchill did not like flying. It was a great undertaking to make such a journey without the company of any of the family. She had very bravely flown out to Tunis when the PM was ill in December 1943. This was in a BOAC Liberator in some discomfort and cold, accompanied by one of the PM’s Secretaries, Jock Colville. Now she had the best the RAF could provide in every respect and would occupy the Owner’s Stateroom, enjoying all the attention of a cabin staff trained to respond to her husbands’ whims.

By any standards it was to be a very comfortable flight, never higher than 10,000 feet cruising height, and this for only two hours over the Mediterranean to clear the remnants of frontal thunder clouds. After a flight of 12.75 hours we landed at 11:00 hours local time in the morning. Mrs Churchill was met at Cairo West by the Resident Minister of State, Sir Edward Grigg, with whom she stayed for two days. It was also her 60th birthday.

A meteorological forecast was eventually put together by the RAF forecaster from the very sparse information coming out of Moscow. The best they could do was ‘risk of showers’. As we had adequate fuel, almost enough to return to Cairo without refueling, we were given the OK to leave late on April 1st to reach the Crimean shore at Saki in daylight and identify ourselves by ‘rocking our wings’- this for a large four-engine aircraft!

1st April 1945. We took off from Cairo at midnight local time and climbed to 7,000 feet to fly the Dardanelles route again. Clearing the Egyptian coast at Rosetta, leaving Alexandria to our port, we flew northwest past Karpathos before turning due north to Chios, Lesbos and Imbros. Thence we turned northeast to cross Turkey-in-Europe, leaving Gallipoli on our starboard.

It had been a little bumpy over the Dodecanese; we climbed to 8,000 feet for comfort. So to the Crimean coast just south of Eupatoria over Saki airfield where we duly rocked our wings whilst reporting our position to Moscow Control by radio at the same time. Our track then lay over Melitopol to Kharkov, past Tula on our starboard beam and then to Moscow Central; for the last hour we were flying at 2,000 feet under a solid bank of cloud in steady run. As on our previous flights to Russia we were given no briefings on radio navigational facilities. They simply would not disclose what beacons were available for use for the radio compass, even though we had specifically requested those lying along or near our track, particularly for the Moscow destination airfield. However, over the air came never-ending Radio One Workers’ Playtime, broadcasting endless Balalaika music but including, at regular intervals, station identification of two Morse Code letters. After searching up and down the wave band, it did not take us too long to identify, for example, KH as Kharkov and ST for Stalingrad, etc, by back-plotting the bearings from a known position.

We approached Moscow as before at roof-top height in a downpour, but this time with more confidence, knowing the geography of the city outskirts. On landing, after an eleven hour flight Mrs Churchill was met by M Maisky, the Soviet ex-Ambassador in London (with whom Mrs Churchill had worked long and hard meeting Soviet demands for medical supplies), Sir Archibald Clark-Kerr, our Ambassador, and Mr Averill Harriman, the US Ambassador. We too had a warm welcome from the local Soviet Air Force who were delighted to take a close look at the Skymaster and its equipment, not to mention its luxurious inside. As Mrs Churchill was to remain in Moscow nearly a month, the Skymaster was ordered home directly. We spent just two nights in the Hotel Savoy, a small hotel, listed sixth in the 1914 edition of Baedeker’s Guide to Russia. It is situated fairly centrally in the Rozhdestvenka and not far from the infamous Lubyanka Gaol and KGB Headquarters. We were very well fed and comfortable as before.

Leaving Russia by air (or perhaps by any other method) is easier than entering their airspace. Our outward routing and instructions were thus simply to fly south to the Crimea at an altitude which made visual identification possible over given checkpoints and to leave the country at Saki. There was now no need to transit Cairo for we could make direct contact with Malta by wireless from the aircraft, once we were airborne. In this way their landing weather forecast and our ETA could be updated as we proceeded. We could reasonably assume from the Russian forecaster’s rather vacant chart that the en route weather would improve.

4th April 1945. We left Moscow Central at 0700 hours in the morning with four passengers, one of whom was from the US Embassy. He was Major Dick Rossbach, of the US Army, who had been in a German POW camp overrun by the Russians and had made his way independently to Moscow. This must have been quite an undertaking when the Russians were being extremely dilatory, even obstructive, about the repatriation of Allied POWs. They would not allow for instance, USAF aircraft to fly in to fetch them. I was to meet this Officer again in Washington, DC, after the war, when I had taken up an appointment there as the Assistant Air Attaché in the British Embassy. In addition to Dick Rossbach, we had a young lady secretary with suspected TB from our own Embassy, Tom Brimelow (then a First Secretary, I think) and his fiancée Jean – also from the Embassy who were going home to the UK on leave to get married. Jack Payne, our Flight Engineer, insisted that once outside Russian territorial waters, the Captain could perform the ceremony for them in the aircraft. The offer of the use of the Owner’s Stateroom as the bridal suite did not tempt them. (Tom Brimelow later became Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office after a distinguished ambassadorial career: he is now Lord Brimelow).

So we flew out of cloudy Moscow south into the sunshine and then by way of the Dardanelles route to Cape Kythera, seeing Athens ten miles distant to starboard; around the southern tip of Greece and so in to Malta in eleven hours fifteen minutes flying time, just after dark.

5th April 1945. After one night stopover, we left Luqa at 22:00 hours from Northolt with six passengers in all. Quite a change navigating in these quasi-peace time conditions. We now had a number o

f radio beacons and radio ranges (aerial signposts) along the route and the aircraft was fitted with Loran as well as Gee, the former being a long range American adaptation of the latter – a British hyperbolic radar navigation system. Not that I neglected my astro-navigation in spite of all these luxuries. The prudent navigator uses all the aids available. Home over Marseilles, Lyons and

Orly to Littlehampton, landing at Northolt at 07:15 in the morning after eight hours flying.

I went on leave on 9th April and had hardly been at my parent’s home in Pembrokeshire three days when the local Bobby called at the house early one morning with an air of tremendous secrecy and requested me to get in touch with my base at once, by telephone and to speak to the Station Commander. On carrying out these orders, I was told to nip over to the nearest RAF station (Carew Cheriton) and, with the minimum of disclosure, request a lift to London by air. Having heard that morning (13th) on the BBC that President Roosevelt had died, I guessed what was on the cards: the PM to Washington for the funeral. I raced over in a local taxi to Carew Cheriton where the RAF CO was most understanding (it was a local target-towing unit for AA gunnery training) and I was able to hitch a ride in an Anson to Northolt in the guise of a navigational exercise.

When I reached the Flight at lunch time, I found preparations in full swing: victuals and fuel being loaded into the Skymaster. The aircraft and crew were brought to short notice with a take-off that night on the cards. A Dorval Skymaster was fortuitously also at Northolt at this time. Both perhaps would have to go to Washington. There was considerable indecision at No 10 for whilst the PM was anxious to go to Washington the Cabinet was dead against it. It was on and off for 24 hours. This indecision is well-described by Sir Alexander Cadogan in his ‘Diaries’. Apparently, the PM could not make up his mind whether to go or not and wished to leave the decision until he actually reached Northolt. The Skymaster remained ready to go. In fact, he never set out for the airfield: Eden went instead – in the Dorval Skymaster and we were stood down. The PM later desperately regretted the missed opportunity to have an early influence on the new President Truman.

At the end of the month we were brought to readiness again to fetch Mrs Churchill home. Orders were to be in Moscow in time to leave on 7th May. Given the usual 48 hours delay to be expected in Cairo for clearances, we should have to leave Northolt on the 3rd at the latest. On the two preceding days we had cold front conditions across France and Switzerland into the Mediterranean, giving very heavy icing at all flights levels. By 3rd May it was quite clear that we would have to get going – the long way round for a change; that is, the Atlantic Coast route either to Gibraltar or Rabat, thence direct to Cairo. We chose Rabat and arrived there much to the astonishment of the CO who thought we were off on a jolly, for the aircraft was empty except for half a ton of Forces mail and diplomatic bags.

3rd May 1945. Leaving Northolt at a comfortable hour we climbed straight to 12,500 feet headed for Corunna, thence coast-wide to Cape Roca (off Lisbon) and so to Rabat, maintaining 10,000 feet for most of the way. We landed at 1620 hours after some seven hours flying. Consulting the local meteorologist, we found that there was considerable cloud build-up over the Atlas but that it would be less in the Straits. In view of our now tight timetable to get to Moscow on time, we decided to fly straight on to Cairo (another 12 hours flying) after topping up the fuel and having supper on the ground. We were airborne after one and a half hours, making for Port Lyautey and the Straits, thence Alboran Island to Oran. The weather was not good in the western Mediterranean and radio navigation facilities were degraded by heavy static, for the bad weather over France had moved south and east. Turning inland of the coastal ranges of North Africa we set course for the Biskra Oasis and then on to Tripoli, the weather improved all the time. So to Marble Arch and over El Adem to land soon after dawn at Cairo West – rather tired, a flight time of eleven hours thirty-five minutes from Rabat. We now had an interval for a good night’s rest at a Cairo hotel, and hoped for clearances to leave on 5th May. Bill Fraser made immediate contact with our friend the AOC of 216 Group who had already put the radio link to Moscow to work, giving a proposed flight departure overnight on 5th May to reach the Crimean coast after daylight for identification and so to Moscow by mid-morning on the 6th. This time our routing was to be directly north over Turkey via Nicosia, to Sakio.

5th May 1945. All had gone well with the administrative machinery, perhaps helped by the enormous good will Mrs Churchill had generated from Stalin downwards during her visit. Clearances were given as proposed. The weather forecast was as vague as ever but at least the wintry weather was now disappearing. Airborne at 23:30 hours we set course for Nicosia passing that RAF base in just under two hours, continuing to Amasra on the north Turkish coast and climbing to 12,500 feet well clear of the mountains and letting down in the lovely clear dawn to pay our respects over Saki and waggle our wings. Our routing was then Melitopol, Kharkov and Tula as on the earlier trip. Just as before, the weather steadily deteriorated towards Moscow and we ended up flying at 3,000 feet just below solid cloud over the southern outskirts of the city to land in steady rain: so much for ‘risk of showers’. Just under ten hours flying and so we were in good time for our departure scheduled for 7th May. Back to the Hotel Savoy. In spite of our efforts to be positioned in time for Mrs Churchill’s scheduled departure, she did not in fact leave until the morning of 11th May, and so we were to spend four days not only seeing more of the city but also being there for VE Day – two of them, the 8th and 9th May, for the Russians celebrated theirs a day later. Little did we know that an armistice was about to be signed, though things were moving that way before we left London.

I recall the main feature of our own VE Day was a call to attend the British Embassy where we were all able to hear the PM’s voice making the historic announcement that fighting was at an end in Europe. This was followed by a very moving Service of Thanksgiving held in the Ball Room Residence. It was conducted by an RNVR padre who had been visiting Moscow from the British Naval HQ at Murmansk, where the movement of our much under-publicised Arctic convoys was supervised. The service was interdenominational and international. By chance, the Rev Hewlett Johnson, the Red Dean of London, was visiting Moscow and he was invited to make the address.

Many members of Allied missions were present including M Edouard Herriot, the French statesman and his wife who had recently been released from German captivity. He said that the last time he had heard Mr Churchill’s voice was in 1940 at Tours when he made an impassioned appeal, in vain, for the French government not to surrender to the Nazi forces then overrunning France. He had wept then in defeat, now he was weeping, unashamedly, for joy.

The following day, the 9th, was the Russian VE Day for they did not sign the formal surrender documents until after us. At the insistence of members of the British Information Service at the Embassy who used to publish a very limited circulation news-sheet, ‘The British Ally’ – on which I have already reported, some of us were urged to take a walk-about in the streets of Moscow, in RAF uniform, of course. This proved easier said than done for there were vast crowds everywhere, milling aimlessly about, all cheering and happy with relief. At one moment, in Red Square, which naturally was the centre of gravity, with no warning two of us were hosted shoulder high and then tossed into the air – and caught again (safely) – a local sign of approval and goodwill: this I might say, after we were identified as ‘Equipage Churchill’ and not the dreaded Luftwaffe, in dangerously similar grey-blue uniform. I found this all quite alarming, both the actual flight into the air in the strong arms of these lusty, friendly folk of both sexes, but also because of the sheer size of the crowd that pressed in on us from all sides, keen to see a foreigner, an Allied flyer: there seemed no escape from this mass of friendly humanity.

We eventually made our way to safety by directing our walkabout into one or two scruffy drinking holes or dives. There we had to take our doses of vodka but we survived this treatment, too. In the Hotel Savoy, as in our previous stays, we were incredibly spoilt by the hospitality. We had our caviar and smoked salmon for breakfast – with vodka, of course – in full view of the local shabby citizenry. It was a bit unnecessary to be so generous to us, for we were accustomed to war-time rations after all, and this was sheer luxury.

On 10th May we were spoilt again by basking in the reflected glory of Mrs Churchill when we were given tickets to attend a gala performance of Swan Lake at the Bolshoi, miraculously restored from bomb damage. The leading part of Odette/Odile was danced by Semenova. When this famous ballerina took the final curtain she graciously turned the applause towards the former Royal Box and the whole cast and audience applauded Mrs Churchill. That night we watched a stupendous firework display from the windows of our hotel.

11th May 1945. Take-off for home was at 0800 hours GMT which was 1000 hours local time but before that there was considerable farewell activity. A number of dignitaries came to see off Mrs Churchill, including the Foreign Minister, Molotov – a great honor.

A number of boxes of souvenirs, plus the inevitable official mail and diplomatic bags, for once taxed our stowage capacity. A massive picture of Marshal Stalin, a gift for the Prime Minister, so big it could only just be loaded into the aircraft. It was stowed in the gangway between the inboard fuel tanks. At one point, when we had thought that we could disembark the last well-wishers and start the engines the Skymaster gave a lurch as one more well-wisher had squeezed on board. There were now so many in the cabin and the doorway that only a smart move forward of the centre of gravity by the two stewards prevented us tipping backwards and upsetting the dignity of the assembly for the tail-strut, which is fitted when on the ground to prevent this sort of thing, had already been removed. ‘All ashore’ was eventually called and we could get started. Once again we brought out extra passengers from the British and American Embassies, thanks to Mrs Churchill’s generous offer of seats and space. Safely away from Moscow, we followed our instructions south-bound identifying ourselves at Saki in the Crimea for the last time.

We flew mostly at 7,000 feet in clear weather following the same interesting route through the Dardanelles and the Aegean Sea to Kythera and so west to Malta. We landed after dusk, a flight time of ten hours thirty minutes, with the lights of Valetta just showing through the haze. I believe Mrs Churchill was pressed to stay in Malta with the Governor for a rest but she was anxious to get back home and we had instructions not to dilly-dally. We therefore had a quick ‘flight meal’ on the ground, collected our briefing instructions for the last leg home and had our fuel tanks topped up.

12th May 1945. Airborne just after midnight with everyone in their bunks. Good weather all the way. We slowly reduced height and speed over France flying over familiar landmarks after Istres, Lyons, Nevers to Paris, then Etretat by which time I could see that we might have to take an extra turn around the houses for we were ahead of time. We needed to land dead on the stroke and not before: the PM would surely be there to meet Mrs Churchill and we did not want him arriving after the event, as he had done for HM the King in 1943. We were not surprised therefore when Northolt Control asked us to lay off for a few minutes – the Prime Minister had not yet appeared, apparently leaving Downing Street late. We touched down at 08:00 hours and our important Meeter was on the apron as we taxied in.

In addition to her husband, Mrs Churchill was welcomed by her daughter Mary, on leave from her AA Unit near Hamburg and by M Gusev, the Russian Ambassador in London. Otherwise it was a private return, the Station Commander representing the Chief of the Air Staff. Mrs Churchill sent for Bill Fraser before she left the aircraft and in the Prime Minister’s presence thanked him for such a smooth trip. The PM said “He knew that he could trust her to his crew”, the nicest tribute we could have wanted. I suspect too that he was glad to have his pet aircraft back in the hangar at Northolt, ready for him at any time: there was to be only one more time.

Mrs Churchill wrote a very interesting report on her visit to Russia which was published and sold on behalf of her ‘Aid to Russia Fund’ for which, incidentally, she had raised over £7,000,000 since Christmas 1941. In addition to her extensive travelling by train within the Soviet Union, she had flow some 40 odd hours and covered 8,000 miles by air in four stages – two out and two back.

For the remainder of May and June the Skymaster remained in hangar but for occasional air tests and training flights to keep our hand in. I fulfilled routine duties with the Hendon Squadron aircraft. There was an air of anti-climax about, now that fighting in Europe was over. Transport squadrons were being reorganised, to meet the requirements of the war in the Far East and to provide regular scheduled air transport services to the Continent in support of the Army of Occupation. The latter were the forerunner of BEA route services.



Churchill’s Boozy 69th Birthday

29 Nov, 2017
Churchill’s 69th Birthday

WINSTON CHURCHILL’s 69th Birthday Party

Spotted an article in the i newspaper that refers to Churchill’s Boozy 69th Birthday party in Tehran on the 6th December 1943.

What’s the connection with XXIV? Well it’s who flew him there of course. If you read Issue 11, Page 22/23 of our Newsletter you will read in the Navs diary of John Mitchell the lead up to this event.

Click to access 24iss11.pdf

The ‘Big Three’, Franklin D Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, sit together at a dinner party held in the Victorian Drawing Room of the British Legation, Tehran, in Iran, to mark Winston Churchill’s 69th birthday on 30th November 1943. Copyright: � IWM. Original Source:

After emergency repairs, World War II-era plane leaves Show Low airport

04 Oct, 2017

Flabob Express

See the link below for this interesting article about one of XXIV’s aircraft from WWII  and what is has been up to in recent years. Definitely a case of going well past its sell by date.

Flabob Express


The Flabob Express was manufactured in 1943 in Long Beach, Calif., and delivered to the Army Air Force, which then transferred it to British Royal Air Force No 24 Squadron.


RAF Blakehill Farm

07 Sep, 2016

Anniversary of disastrous Arnhem landings to be marked at former airfield.

THE days when transport aircraft took off from RAF Blakehill on their way to drop parachutists in Arnhem will be remembered when Wiltshire Wildlife Trust hosts a special commemoration later this month.

Remember when Association Member Nick Yerbury gave us an interesting chat about RAF Blakehill Farm? Well if you want to find out more, check out this link to an article spotted in the local Wiltshire Gazzette and Herald. The event is on September 17th.

S/L Trevor Southgate -AFC

26 Jun, 2016

We have had a very interesting piece of XXIV Squadron history passed onto us by Neil Richardson,  grandson of S/L Trevor Southgate who was attached to 24 Sqn in WWII. Trevor was an active Association Member who attended many of the Reunions at Lyneham. Trevor passed away this month, aged 96 in Canada.

Although he was admittedly humble of his war experiences, the following link to an article written about him in 2015 by a volunteer associated with Vintage Wings (an aviation club based near Ottawa, Ontario Canada) tells the full story of his remarkable career.

A downloadable pdf version is also available for reading. Trevor Southgate 2016

Diary of a Navigator – Pt 18 – The Yalta Conference

15 Apr, 2016

Another instalment (Pt 18), now on the Blog, from John Mitchell’s diary of his VIP flying days with the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill during January and February 1945.

Yalta Conference 1945

Yalta Conference 1945 – from the history press

No sooner had I taken to few days leave with the family, now three of us, than we found that the four aircraft now comprising the York Flight would all be involved in the biggest non-combatant airlift to be organized up to that time, ‘Ascalon’ by now was under command of Squadron Leader ‘Ozzy’ Morris and his crew, all ex-511 Squadron, Lyneham. Another Big Three Conference was in the offing: Code-named Operation ARGONAUT. Once again, Stalin was not prepared to leave Russian soil while the war was still being fought. A rendezvous in Russia would have to be as far south as reasonably practical to be sure of good weather in January/February. We did not know the destination until summoned to the Cabinet Office for preliminary planning. Axis press feelers were suggesting that the Big Three would meet in Luxor but we had a hunch it might be in the Crimea, we had, after all, made use of Sarabuz near Simferopol, on the way home from the Moscow Conference. Some twenty-five 4-engined aircraft (RAF and US) were to stage through Malta where the Prime Minister would meet Roosevelt, arriving in the cruiser USS QUINCEY. The Western Big Two would then fly on to the Crimea in their respective Skymasters, the bulk of the supporting staff having gone before. They were to land within a short time of each other so that the official welcome and guard of honour could be carried off in one fell swoop.

We found that our destination was to be Saki, the SNAF base on the west coast of the Crimea 12 miles southeast of Eupatoria, a pre-Revolutionary health resort. We were soon to discover the terrible damage wrought by the Nazis on Russian towns and villages and by the fighting for their subsequent liberation. There was very little accommodation available and certainly nothing in the way of suitable buildings at the airfield. Because of the size of the Allied air-lift, the RAF had provided some weeks beforehand the essential elements of a staging post: air traffic control and a radio navigational beacon, a small meteorological forecasting station under the Chief Met. Officer, Wing Commander Davis from HQTC with the necessary radio teleprinters and, of course, a maintenance pdy, under Squadron Leader Ellis, as the CTO, plus all the messing facilities necessary for the personnel. All this in tented accommodation, with the agreement of the Russians who were glad to be relieved of much of the mechanics of handling so many visiting aircraft. All this was in place by the time we arrived. In addition, the 20,000 ton liner ‘Franconia’, chartered from Cunard, was steamed out to the Black Sea to lie offshore Sevastopol, as a communication centre for the British delegation and to be a stores and supply vessel for those basic living requirements that the devastated Russians could not supply. It also had ample cabin accommodation for the PM’s party and staff should this be necessary.

The two VIP aircraft were to have fighter escort through Greek and Turkish air space and across the Black Sea, provided by the USAF long range P38 twin-engined aircraft based near Athens. The Russians had provided an additional base for them at Sarabuz, near Simferopol, where we had landed in the previous October on our way home from Moscow.

29th January 1945. With a seven and a half hour flight plan we had originally been scheduled to leave Northolt at midnight to arrive in Malta in daylight. However, that evening we received additional briefing that the local weather was deteriorating fast and that snow flurries might reduce visibility below take-off limits. Messages were hurriedly passed to No 10 that we should be obliged to get away at 2100 hours local time. This was duly accomplished – all the domestic loading having been completed during the afternoon. The flight at 8,000 feet was directly across France from St Valery to Marseilles thence to Elmas (Cagliari) and so to Malta. En route, there were now very many radio navigational beacons available, so my work was becoming considerably less strenuous!

The earlier take-off however would make our arrival time about 04:30 hours local time in the morning – still dark on the tarmac at Luqa. The ADC, Commander Tommy Thompson, had gone to considerable trouble to make a signal informing the Cabinet Office representative in Malta, General ‘Pug’ Ismay, who had gone on ahead, that the PM would not disembark on arrival but would remain sleeping in his very comfortable cabin until 0800 hours or so when he would go by car to Valetta harbour to embark on HMS ORION – his accommodation for the next three nights. He was not feeling particularly well, being plagued once again by the injection and pills given him before departure. Unfortunately, this signal never reached ‘Pug’ Ismay nor, in turn, the Governor or any other senior officer. Furthermore, our own ETA of 0330 hours GMT sent on RAF channels was misinterpreted as Local Time (all operating signals are made in GMT). So when we landed we found (or rather the ADC found) a guard of honour and band, plus the Governor, General Sir Edmond Schreiber, the Commander-in-Chief Mediterranean, and Uncle Tom Cobbly and all, who had been waiting over an hour in the cold pre-dawn. It had been described as a tarmac ‘laced with gold braid’. For a short while there was some embarrassment, causing maximum inconvenience to the highest personages on the Island, especially as the PM had announced, or rather given orders, that he wanted no noise – no aircraft engines to be run, etc, after he had landed. We had taxied in particularly gently. The guard of honour dispersed quietly, the VIPs rather grumpily. Some hours later the PM ‘went ashore’ at 1030 to his accommodation: in HMS ORION. He was not at all well. After he had gone and the other passengers had followed, Lord Moran put his head out of the curtains of his upper bunk and asked a rather tired Bill Fraser who was passing “How far are we from Malta?”. Bill, with a straight face, said “Nine foot six, Sir”. His Lordship was not amused! It was indicative of the quietness of the aircraft and its smooth handling on the ground that he had slept though it all!

This was not the first occasion the Lord Moran had fallen sound asleep in an RAF aircraft on the ground. When the PM was flying home in the Liberator ‘Commando’ from his Middle East visit in February 1943, the aircraft had developed a mechanical defect just before take-off from Maison Blanche, Algiers, for Lyneham. It had to taxi back to the tarmac and temporarily disgorge its passengers, for they were to remain overnight while the engine was fixed. On this occasion, after everyone was thought to have disembarked, the doors of the bomb bay were shut and Lord Moran left in the dark interior. Only later was he discovered missing and locked in. He was recovered, however, to where the party was staying at the Villa Klene in Algiers, none the worse for his snooze but perhaps disappointed that he was no nearer home.

Getting some twenty-five VIP aircraft punctually away from Malta at ten-minute intervals, carrying over 500 passengers in all, was quite a job: a large number of them belonged to the USAF. Tragic to report, one of the 51 1 Squadron York’s ex-Lyneham, MW 116 flown by Flight Lieutenant Eaton Clarke crashed in the sea off Lampedusa out of fuel, on route to Malta, with a number of Army and RAF Officers on board, including CIGS’s ADC, Captain Barny Charlesworth, who had been on his staff since Dunkirk. There were also members of the Cabinet Secretariat and Foreign Office lost: only 4 of the crew and three out of the 18 passengers survived. The reason for running out of fuel and not finding Luqa, with its very powerful radio beacon, was never satisfactorily resolved.

The President’s ‘sacred Cow’ had arrived empty at Luqa to meet him, flown in by Colonel Otis Bryan (ex TWA Chief Executive, temporarily serving in the US ATC). His Skymaster had been modified to carry additional fuel in the wing tanks, thus dispensing with the huge internal tanks we carried. It had also been fitted with more powerful engines which gave him an edge on us in cruising speed.

3rd February 1945. The air fleet was dispatched to the Crimea during the preceding day and night. The ‘Sacred Cow’ was last to leave and with its slightly higher cruising speed would catch us up by the time of arrival, thus giving the Russians a chance to do the honours to both VIPs together. It was a cold, starlight night as we prepared for departure at 0330 hours. The Owner had dined with Roosevelt on the USS Quincey and had gone straight to bed before take-off. We headed east toward Kythera and then turned northwards to rendezvous with our fighter escort which would make a dawn take-off from Hassani (Athens). These six P38 ‘Lightnings’ would then formate on us all the way to Saki where they would peel off and land independently at their temporary base at Sarabuz. A similar group of six would ‘intercept’ the ‘Sacred Cow’ as it followed ten minutes behind us.

It was now broad daylight as we flew over Samothrace and so one to Alexandropoulos and Midye, having a fine view of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus which were to our starboard. Breakfast  was served to our passengers: besides the PM, we had Section Officer Sarah Oliver (we had taken  her to Teheran a year earlier), Lord Moran, Sir Edward Bridges (Secretary to the Cabinet), Tommy  Thompson the ADC, Mr Martin and Mr Rowan (Private Secretaries), Hughes the Detective, and, of  course, Sawyers.

We had a smooth flight in sunshine but increasing cloud cover beneath us obscured the Crimean coastline. We had no difficulty in picking up the Saki radio navigational beacon but our fighter escort leader told us he was having difficulty making contact with the fighter controller at his destination airfield, Sarabuz. Without such contact and directions he was ‘lost’: could we guide him below cloud and give him a steer when in sight of the ground? We told him to form close formation behind us and we would take him down through the overcast, like a guide dog, on a predetermined bearing and then send him and his mates on their way from overhead Saki. We presumed, or hoped, he carried maps of the Crimea! This we accomplished without further ado and they made their destination successfully.

The VIPs set out for Yalta by road some eight hours driving away, after the greeting ceremony. The weather was dull and the spring thaw resulted in mud everywhere, except on the hard standings and concrete taxi-ways. The ‘Sacred Cow’ landed shortly behind us and when the President had been lowered to the ground by the lift in his aircraft a small procession was formed up to inspect the guard of honour. Molotov and Vishinski had been sent to greet them. From our vantage point we could see that the President looked terribly ill.

Saki was an airfield of the Soviet Naval Air Force. It had one concrete runway 1300 yards long with flat approaches in all directions, and a second concrete strip or taxiway used for parking aircraft. In the distance was a line of some twenty or so Bell Airocobras (P39) covered and looking unused. There were no night-flying facilities of any sort. We were glad to find the rather rudimentary, tented staging-post set up by the RAF. Not only did this encampment provide servicing facilities for the RAF aircraft coming and going throughout the VIP’s stay at Yalta, with the attendant passenger handling, but also an air-portable Meteorological Station, complete with teleprinters and radio- communications, linked to Malta and Cairo.

On decanting our party, Jack Payne at the bottom of the steps and in charge of the block and tackle of our portable stairway, quickly assessed that the wet and dirt of our surroundings would soon make a mess of our interior, even just unloading the baggage, etc. The damp would soon turn our bed linen, etc, mouldy. It would be most unlikely that several fan heaters could be provided to keep going day and night for the next ten days or so, which we expected the conference would last. We discovered that Otis Bryan, the President’s pilot, had already made urgent arrangements to fly the ‘sacred Cow’ to Payne Field, Cairo (the USAF base) for the duration of the conference and would return 48 hours before the VIPs departed. Bill Fraser quickly sought out our ADC before he left by road for Yalta with the VIPs and a similar dispensation was granted to us.

So, three hours after landing we flew out for Cairo, routing ourselves directly over Turkey to Nicosia, thence to Cairo West airfield, without any niceties of diplomatic clearances. In the dark, the risk of interception over Turkey was nil. The ADC had asked us to take three Foreign Office officials from our Moscow embassy who were making their way to the UK after assisting with the administrative details of the Conference. They were Messrs Balfour and Barclay, (the former became Sir ‘Jack’ Balfour) and Brigadier ‘Pop’ Hill, the Intelligence Liaison Officer from 30 Mission (though there was precious little intelligence exchange ever offered from the Russian side). It was a five and a half hour flight and the only incident I can recall was Jack Payne forbidding the passengers to put their boots on the furnishings. The Owner’s Stateroom was, of course, out of bounds!

It was dark when we landed in Cairo – about 2030 hours local – and the arrival of the PM’s Skymaster caused quite a stir amongst our local RAF friends. They knew ‘Ascalon’ and the crew of old. Furthermore, the location of the projected Big Three meeting had not yet been released to the world press. The emergence of ‘Pop’ Hill with a cigar, short and fairly tubby, in a British warm coat and a Russian black fur hat was as good a take-off for the PM as any ‘double-act’ could be, and this entirely accidental. As is so often the case, accidental deception is more effective than a planned counter-intelligence event. Berlin Radio gave it out the next morning that the PM had arrived in Cairo and that the Big Three were to meet in Luxor. This was just before the official Yalta announcement. We the crew, anyway, were off to the Hotel National and the aircraft was warm and dry, clean and secure. So the crew never got to Yalta, not that we would have done so even if we had stayed at the Saki staging post. Twenty years later I was to return to the Crimea and to Yalta, several times during my tour as the Air Attach6 in Moscow – but never to visit Saki or Sarabuz.

In Cairo, Bill Fraser had been forewarned by the ADC to contact the AOC of 216 Group for the PM might wish to visit Alexandria on his return flight from Yalta. Suitable airfields in the vicinity were to be surveyed with a view to their use by the Skymaster. We therefore called on Air Commodore Witney Straight and instead of using our own expensive aircraft for local flying as it were, he lent us his own small twin-engine communication aircraft, a 6-seater Beechcraft Expeditor (C45 in USAF parlance) and his personal pilot. We flew first to Gianaclis, an RAF training base located south of the city of Alexandria, on the fringes of the salt marsh of Lake Maryut. Plenty large enough for the Skymaster but poor roads and access to Alexandria through the slum outskirts. The PM would probably want to go to the harbour. We flew on to Aboukir for lunch: a lovely spot and an RAF flying boat base with the Officers’ Mess looking straight out over the bay to the scene of Nelson’s victory in 1798. There was one runway only, 1,000 yards long, and that bisected by a level-crossing of a light railway line. Local senior officers were worried that in a cross wind the Skymaster might not cope but little did they know that she handled like a large Avro Anson, and with the steerable nose wheel cross-winds were little problem. The aircraft would be fairly light of fuel anyway so, on Bill’s assurance that he would accept the conditions, the choice was made and we returned to Cairo to await developments.

We already knew that it was likely that we should fly to Athens after leaving the Crimea: now it was a stop off at Alexandria where the PM had in mind to intercept the President to make his farewells. The President would be sailing home to the United States in the cruiser USS Quincey which had been waiting for him in the Bitter Lakes. After ten days in Cairo, the Skymaster was ordered back to Saki to be ready for the end of conference and departure. Unaware of the close relationship the crew enjoyed with the ADC, the RAF had added another 48 hours to the safety margin we had arranged, so we returned far too soon.

8th February 1945. We took off empty at 0800 hours local for the five and a half hour trip to Saki, flying the same route northbound over Nicosia and west of Ankara to land well before dark. On arrival Jack Payne and the two stewards were to remain on board, in conformity with the PM’s instructions never to leave the aircraft unattended in Russia, in far greater comfort than the rest of us who had to enjoy the facilities in Eupatoria with the rest of the RAF crews. We were driven over to our accommodation in a Russian truck, through a sea of mud and slush. Once off the taxi-way on the airstrip there was no such thing as a paved road. We were billeted in bungalow-type accommodation that might well of once been part of a hospital or sanatorium. Made of wood and plaster, it was surprisingly warm, heated by the traditional wood stoves with their flues let into the walls. Everywhere was that characteristic smell of burning wood and Russian cigarettes. This smell is as all-pervading in Russia as that of Gauloise in France. Our collection of huts housed most of the RAF crews and ground staff. The Americans were similarly situated. There were no paved roads as such but only rows of cottages and huts in the mud. It was fair to remember that the wretched place, along with the rest of the Crimea, had been scorched by the retreating Russian troops and then shelled by the advancing Germans. The process of destruction had been repeated by the Russians recapturing their land.

The people were very quiet and silent; some shapeless women came in to tidy up our rooms and stoke our wood stoves. We ate our own tinned rations and drink had also been imported specially for us, whisky and beer. The beds were iron-framed and all the blankets that I saw came from the Canadian Red Cross. It was a curious camp. We even had a communal bath house: a sort of steam affair operated by these ageless Russian women. It was the only building of any size and, like our bedrooms, was wired for sound. Loudspeakers kept up a never-ending blare of Russian music, a deafening cacophony of Balalaika tunes. There was only one way to switch it off and that was by cutting the leads. The day before the main departure (10th February) the Russians gave a ‘Flyers Party’ for us all. What an orgy! It must have started early in the afternoon and went on until the small hours. It really was a disgusting drunken brawl. Bodies lying around everywhere, some sleeping it off in snow-filled ditches. A good deal of exchange of emblems went on and I secured a Russian soldier’s hat badge without too much trouble. One or two came away with medals in exchange for a few RAF uniform buttons. It was reckoned to be a good do, on all sides.

There was some uncertainty about the date of our own departure; most of our VIPs had left in their Yorks on 10th February. Out on the airfield on 1lth February to check over the aircraft, we learned that the President was leaving on the 13th and Colonel Otis Bryan was giving the ‘Sacred Cow’ a quick trip ’round the houses’ to ensure that all was well. They were programmed to fly to RAF Ismailia with their VIP passengers who would then rejoin the cruiser USS Quincey for the voyage home by sea. He came in to land with smoke pouring from one engine. Checking with his crew, we were told that a con rod had snapped on one cylinder and he would have to change the engine. With customary American speed, they radioed the USAF base at Payne Field, Cairo on the ‘Sacred Cow’s’ own radio set and placed their order. Within some seven hours (five and a half of which were flying time) a Curtiss ‘Commando’ C46 freighter arrived with a new engine and portable lifting tackle. The engine change job was done overnight and they were able to get away on 13th February as planned.

We learned later that our family party had already left Yalta on the l2th and were driven to Sevastopol, there to spend two nights on board the SS ‘Franconia’ in some comfort before coming to  Saki to fly out on l4th February. Our Skymaster needed an airing to blow out the damp and the cobwebs so on the 12th we too flew around the houses, only to find that one of our engines was belching oil smoke. On landing with three engines, Jack quickly discovered our problem: a rocker box axle had come adrift and mangled up the exhaust valve on one cylinder – number 1 cylinder and the master cylinder for the magneto timing, the worst of all to replace. No spare Pratt and Witney engine for us in Cairo – no means of flying it in, even if there should be one – and no spare parts on hand. Jack had a brain-wave, to take a good cylinder off Otis Bryan’s dud engine which, fortunately, had been left behind at Saki. He worked all through that night, with the aid of a small Russian floodlight – removing the ruined cylinder and taking the good one off the USAF engine and fitting it to ours. Jack was a master craftsman. The rest of us could offer nothing but unskilled manual help and the delivery of hot drinks and food. It rained on the open air operations and was bitterly cold but Jack had finished by midday the following day and we briefly tested the aircraft that afternoon (13th), all was now satisfactory. It was curious, in retrospect, that both these important aircraft should have similar engine failures, almost at the same time: sheer coincidence or perhaps Murphy again.

14th February 1945. The VIP party drove over from Sevastopol in the morning for Saki, a relatively short distance of three hours compared with the journey from Yalta. There was still a thin film of snow on the ground. Guard of honour and band in attendance. We did not have to hang around for long. The destination was Athens, then Aboukir and Cairo, for the PM wanted to see how the new Greek government was faring now that the Communist uprising had been suppressed. Field Marshal Alexander came with us, otherwise it was our usual family circus of passengers.

Airborne at midday we were soon in glorious sunshine accompanied by our six P38 ‘Lightning’ escort of the USAF. Jock Duncan produced an excellent lunch and everyone was cheerful, glad to be out of the discomforts and worries for the consequences of the Conference.

After lunch, as we were reaching the Bosporus, the PM came forward and sat in the co-pilot’s seat. He was joined by Sarah, his daughter. They had a wonderful view of the ground and he spoke as we flew in sight of the Gallipoli beaches of the ghastly failure of what might have been a brilliant strategic stroke if the commanders only had had the courage of the troops. We flew over Samothrace, Lemnos, caught sight of Mount Athos in the distance to starboard, over Skyros and Marathon and so to Athens. Here there was a very different reception from six weeks before.

We stopped only one night because the PM was anxious to rendezvous at Alexandria with the President. We left Field Marshal Alexander in Athens to proceed independently to Italy in his own aircraft: Randolph Churchill joined us. He had a knack of turning up when VIP comforts were around. He was certainly not popular with senior officers who, I believe, thought that he brought tittle-tattle to his father’s ears and, perhaps, spoke out of turn about information he gleaned. After all, he was only an Army Captain with limited but exotic fighting experience. On the other hand, the PM loved to have his family around, particularly Mrs Churchill. Sawyers, the valet, warned us about allowing Randolph to stock up with cigarettes from the aircraft’s stores. He, Sawyers, told us that he always got the money from his mother!

l4th/15th February 1945. After a tumultuous welcome in Athens and dinner at the Embassy, the PM returned to the Skymaster to sleep on board: we were to take off at 0530 hours local time in the morning, before breakfast. It was only a three and a half hour flight to Aboukir with what wind there was at 5,000 feet right behind us. The Skymaster was landed very skilfully by Bill in half the length of the short runway, much to the astonishment of the VIP’s present. We disembarked the party at about 1000 hours local time and the PM went straight on board HMS Aurora in Alexandria harbour where he intended to spend the night. Meanwhile, the baggage was unloaded and Sawyers, I recall, had difficulty in negotiating the aircraft’s steps. Certainly, everyone had had a good trip, breakfast and other refreshments served.

The crew were taken over to the beautifully situated RAF Mess for a late lunch. We had barely been allocated our rooms and were planning a swim in the Med when word came to return to the aircraft. Evidently, the President had arrived very much sooner than expected from the Suez Canal and there was time only for a quick lunch aboard the Quincey where the PM said his goodbyes, for the last time as it turned out. The President was a very sick man.

Sawyers was not best pleased to have to reload the baggage at short notice, but as it was for a 40 minute flight only to the RAF base at Cairo West, I suspect the Owner’s clothes were hung up somewhat haphazardly. Departing from Aboukir at 1700 hours local time there was scarcely an opportunity for more than a cup of tea as we flew along the western edge of the green Nile delta before landing in the dusk. We were to spent four more sunny days in Cairo before leaving for England. The weather was absolutely grand at this time of the year in Egypt.

19th February 1945. We took off from Cairo in the cool just after midnight by UK time, climbing across the desert to El Adem and Benghazito cruise at 8,000 feet out of the bumps. Overhead Luqa in just under six hours, we continued at this comfortable height by way of Elmas (Cagliari) and Istres (near Marseilles) and on westwards to Toulouse before turning NNW to Cherbourg and so over the Channel and home. As we flew across France, local forecasts for Northolt reported landing there to be impossible – fog. There was nothing for it but to obey our diversion instructions and land at Lyneham where we arrived soon after lunch, taking thirteen hours forty minutes from Cairo. Cars were waiting to take the PM to Swindon where a special train was waiting for Paddington. At Reading Mrs Churchill was waiting to intercept him not knowing the latest information on our diversion. the crew remained at Lyneham with the aircraft and brought it over to Northolt the following morning when the fog had cleared. So home, after just three weeks away and our son nearly two months old.

As for the Moscow Conference in October’44,the RAF had again provided the PM with his Cabinet papers during the stay in Yalta, a daily courier service for the diplomatic bags by 544 Squadron at Benson with its Mosquito aircraft. It was routed via San Severo, in the Heal of Italy, the base of the RAF Middle East PR Wing, No 336, almost exactly halfway between Benson and Saki. This route avoided having to fly over hostile territory. This remarkable courier service was maintained daily, without a hitch, from 31st January to 18th February and covered Athens, Aboukir and Cairo for the PM’s return journey. This squadron had also provided courier aircraft in support of the PM’s emergency dash to Athens, via Naples, a month earlier (26th-28th December).