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World War II When I got to the hangar, navigators were working around a large table with their topographical maps and plotting charts. Navigators made their own calculations, and then compared results with others. When we had finished we went to the locker room. Dressing up was a long process for the gunners. It was a cold ride in the turrets and gunners wore as much clothing as they could from woollen underwear to electrically heated suits.

On top of this went a Mae West buoyancy jacket and parachute harness.

Outside the hangars we stood around and chatted, waiting for transport. The last rays of the sun spread over the flat landscape and there was a chill in the air. The padre handed out flying rations, and the doctor offered caffeine pills to anyone inclined to be sleepy. We scrambled into vans, packed in tight, the navigators hugging their bags of equipment. At each dispersal a crew dropped off and farewells were shouted.

There was work to be done around the machines in the hour before take off. Gas cocks to check, photoflashes to fuse and mount, detonators to load in the secret equipment for emergency destruction and, more often than not, propaganda leaflets to stow near the flare chute. When we were through we could lie down under the kite and smoke and chat with the ground crew.

You went through all the motions, the briefing room, news of the target, the tension of waiting, even the final "good luck" could be said, and the operation scrubbed. Everyone would he ready, physically and emotionally and the bubble was pricked. Rarely would such a cancellation release any jubilation. Most of us went about our duties with no mention of fears or anxieties, just tried to make as many trips as possible, learning to build a shell against emotion. But inwardly we were bound to think.

Long before you reached the target area you would see ahead of you a confusing maze of searchlights quartering the sky, some in small groups, others stacked in cones of twenty or more. These often had a victim transfixed, as if pinned to the sky, their apex filled with red bursts of heavy flak. The ground would soon be lit with lines of reconnaissance flares like suspended street lights, here and there illuminating water, perhaps a section of river, that you would frantically try to identify. As the raid developed, sticks of incendiaries criss-crossed the ground sparkling incandescent white, until a red glow would show the start of a fire.

The Germans liberally sprayed the ground with dummy incendiaries and imitation fire blocks in the neighbourhood of important targets, hoping to attract a share of the bombs. Gun flashes, photo flashes, bomb bursts, streams of tracer of all colours, and everywhere searchlights. Iit was all very confusing, especially when the air gunners were directing the pilot to avoid flak and searchlights in all directions at the same time.

Note: by Jerrold Morris, 419 Squadron, RCAF


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