alan skeoch
Oct. 2019

This is Part 2 of the Victor Poppa  story

You will either like Part Two or wonder why you are reading it.  After the raids  on Hamberg  
and  the solo flight to the  submarine  pens at St. Lazar, Victor’s crew had a  layover
as they lost two pilots one due  to illness  and one shot down  on a  training mission
over German territory.   Wellington bombers were being  replaced by  larger four engined
Halifax and Lancaster aircraft which meant the crew had to be retrained.  This took many  months
 which gave  Victor and  his new  mid upper gunner, George Freeman planty of time
for romancing as many girls as  possible.  Some descriptions of their sexual activity
are quite humorous.   

But Victor knew the full horrors of air warfare.  Air crews were expected to make
20 missions.   Survival was unlikely since the  acceptable  loss on each
air raid was 5%.   Twenty missions at a  5% loss rate meant that there was 
a 100% expectation that air crews would be shot down or get into mid air collisions
or fail to land at Base  because  crippled  or be  forced to ditch in the North Sea
where it only took 3 minutes for hypothermia to kill.  Victor knew all this  and
occasionally in the following journal he makes a comment such as “a good
friend was lost”.   Most of the time Victor was cheerful.   George (Hank) Freeman
and Victor Poppa drank an immense  amount of beer as they searched  pubs
and dancehalls for women and girls willing  to roll around in haystack nests.
Te air force  provided condoms free for the taking.  Two  reasons for this.
One, the fear of general Disease spreading.  Two, the fear that airmen
with V.D. would  be to sick to fly and thereby weaken  the impact of Bomber
Command  on German civilian life.

A news clipping  Victor attached to his journal/.diary 
refers to the Hamburg raids which killed between 35,000
and 45,000 people.  Plans  to do follow up raids  on a
small bayonet factory which was surrounded by hospitals
filled with Hamburg survivors bothered Victor. The hospital
raid was cancelled.

The nature  of the bombing changed as the mid point of World War II
arrived.  Initially the targets were military and industrial  installations.
Then the bombing targets became civilian.  The  leaders of Bomber
Common, principally Bomber  Harris, nicknamed by his own air crews,
‘Butcher Harris’.    Bomb loads always carried incendiaries to set
German cities on fire.  One  highly placed British officer wondered if
whole cities could be  set afire  since many German cities had historic
ancient wooden beam construction.  (see 17the century image of
Leipzig…lots of wooden buildings preserved and admired)
“Could we set these cities on 
fire?  Could we create a firestorm that would wipe out working class
neighbourhoods and thereby reduce German ability to produce the
weapons of war?  The  answer was decidedly ‘Yes” as was  proven
in July 1943 when  the City of  Hamberg was set alight in three devastating
air raids.  Victor was the tail gunner on a Wellington bomber for these
raids.   He  could see Hamberg burning on the horizon days after
the first raid.   He must have known the  death rate  was Horrific.  Actually 
43,200 civilian were incinerated.  Many died  in air raid shelters…sufficed
as the oxygen was sucked  out to feed the firestorm.  A firestorm so
powerful that it set the asphalt streets on fire.  The superheated winds
blew people to their deaths as if they  were fallen leaves in winter wind.

If you can look beyond Victor’s womanizing you will no doubt feel the
sense  of foreboding.   There is a feeling of inevitability about Victor’s
journal/diary.  No escape.  Not quite no escape but a very tiny chance
that Victor will be able to survive  his 20 missions.  Who could
predict that his survival happened  because his aircraft, HX 313,
was  shot down, a fiery coffin plummeting to earth with Victor, the tail
gunner trapped inside.  But that story will come in Part 3 of the Victor 
Poppa story and this is only Part 2.


Victor liked women.  Actually he  loved them and loved  them by
the  dozen.   Sometimes  in amusing situations…three in  bed on one
occasion, love making  in the grass of a  London road  median in another.
In a hay stack well used by other airmen including my cousin in another.
Here is a list I made just from Part 2 of the Victor Poppa story.
Let me make the list more personal by using  Victor’s words.

“Alan, I kept notes and  can list the names of  all the girls  we
met and  romanced….nearly all I mean.”
“What do you mean  by  ‘we’?”
“Your cousin Hank…George  Freeman to you…was with me
on many of these sexual exploits.”
“How many?”
“Well between August 1943 and February 1944 we  had a good
time withKay, Pat, Edna, Mary, Anne, Vera, Mary, Ruby, Murial,
Betty,Marg, Lily , Nancy, Rhoda, Wendy (size44), Nancy, Marg,
Queenie, Laura, Doreen, Joan, and Norma.”
“How do you remember all these girls?”
“I kept notes.”
“Did you feel no guilt?”
“No, I loved every one of them…respected them too.”
“Sounds like exploitation.”
“Our couplings were alway mutual…willing In oher wods.”
“Hard for me to believe.”
“You just had to be there to understand…since you  were not
there you will probably have trouble believing my journal. There
was nothing done in a nasty way.  I loved those girls…still do
in my mind…making love on a highway median makes me  smile
just thinking about it.””
“Alan, there  are some whose  names I did not record as you
will see if you read my journal…I wrote  all this for you…really
for Hank who was  my best friend”


Victor Poppa was born in Hamilton, Ontario on August 30, 1921.  He fell in love with airplanes when he was four years old.
By 1943, Victor was 22  years old and  a tail gunner with the RCAF Bomber Command based in Yorkshire, England.
His crew had spent many months flying Wellington twin engined bombers but that was about to change.

“Our Halifax 4 engined bombers  were not new.  Rather they were second hand planes originally used by
the Royal Air Force (RAF).  They had Rolls Royce Merlin engines and triangular fins.   Merlins  worked great for the 
Lancaster bombers  but were not as good  for the Halifax’s.  Later we were to get Halifax bombers with Bristol Hercules
motors…1650 Horsepower.These engines made the Halifax into a very superior bomber..”



“On August 4, 1943, I reported to my flight section and was given 6 days combat leave.First thing I  went with Ken to Leeds where we went dancing.
then we parted  company and  I caught the 3.30 tran to Brightonn to visit my brother Max who was in the Canadian Army
with an anti=aircraft battery…2nd Heavy Ack, Ack, 2nd Division.  (75 mm. anti aircraft)”

“Between Leeds and London I met a real doll by the name of Kay.  It was standing room only of the train, so to kill time we kept 
ourselves occupied feeling, necking…this was after we managed to  get a spot on the floor out of everyone’s way.  Her body felt
great no matter where I touched.  I had my great coat over us during all of this activity.  We were totally oblivious to all those other souls
near us.  Now just a fond memory.”

Note:  Victor kept a journal during World War II…then in 1987, encouraged by my fascination with his wartime
experience he hand wrote an expanded version nearly 100 pages long.  All  dong in long hand.  Today, in 2019,
I  am converting his hand writing into print.

“We parted at Kings Cross Station , Took the underground to Victoria Station, then the Electric train to Brighton.  This  train did
not have any aisles.  The seats were full width facing each other with a door at each end.  Upon arrival in Brighton I was
disappointed to find that his battery  were out on maneouvers.  I stayed in Brighton overnight and caught the morning train
to London. I got put up at the Queens’ Garden  YMCA…walked around a bit, had a few beers, got lost in the blackout.
Difficult to find my way back to the YMCA but eventually did so and  went to bed. Spent the rest of my leave in London…Zoo, London
Bridge,  etc.”

“August 19, 1943, I departed  London for York, but ended  up in Darlington with a real nice girl  named Pat.  We both got into our cups
and  we ended  up with a  happy evening.   

“August 20through September 14, 1945 … uneventful days but managed to get another 6 days of combat leave.

“August 21, 1943:  Bill, our pilot had been having serious bladder problems.  As result it appeared he was going to be removed
from flying duties.  Also we were not going through our conversion to 4 motored  Halifax’s because  of  Bill’s bladder problems.
After being in combat inaction causes boredom so I put my name down as a volunteer (called flying as a spare body.)

“September 15,1943, Today  I was assigned to go on operations with Sgt. Rawlinson, this was to be  his first  operational
mission as pilot in  command  (PIC).   I had trained in Canada with his rear gunner…red  headed  and a  real  fine person.  For this
mission I was to fly  as a mid-upper gunner.  I found this  set- up very undesirable, notably Was to operate a single Vickers .303  machine gun
which  is  not much  good.  The C.O. in charge of 429 squadron, Leeming (Yorkshire),  had the mid-upper turrets removed
and  the mid-under gun installed instead. This new  set-up was to cause serious attrition  problems  for 429 squadron and any
other squadron foolish enough to adopt this method. What was really needed was a third gunner as a mid-underpin a properly 
designed mid-under  position with single  .50 calibre gun shooting down and  aft leaving the mid-upper gun turret intact as
originally designed.   Later this was incorporated  in  some variants  of Halifax’s which made survivability of aircraft and
crew much enhanced. “

“I reported for target briefing.   This time we were to raid “Mont Lucon”, a target in France  at Laititude 46 degrees 22 minutes North 
and o2degrees, 35 minutes East.   We were sending 377 aircraft.  We were to bomb the Dunlop Tire Company factory as a big
order had  just been completed and was about to be shipped out.   We  crossed the French coast without too much problem from
Flak.  Our rear gunner spotted  and took some shots at a  night fighter that was not too keen to engage us.  Our attack on the  Dunlop
Tire seemed accurate from where I was sitting.  Some huge fires were started.Our  bomb load consisted of one 2000 lb bomb and
a mix of  30  phosphorus bombs to a canister 4 magnesiums bombs with 144 to a canister.   Our total  bomb load this night was  5,300 lbs
packed aboard 377 Haifax  bombers.  We returned to base in good shape.  I was really elated.”

“Wrote to my sisters and friends saying , “If  these missions keep  being as tough  as  mission Number 5 (missions so far were 1,3,4,and5)
I did not think my survival rate was worth a damn.   Mont Lucon was a gllmpse at the end of  the tunnel.  Praise  the Lord and  pass me
my commission which in fact will, Ken, George  and myself received  May  26, 1944.  The engineer, Maurice received  his from RAF on alternate.”

NOTE:  May 26, 1944 was a very significant and tragic day for HX 313 and its crew.  The next night they were shot down
over  Bourg Leopold and the young  upper gunner, my cousin, was  killed  in his turret we think.  On May 26, the boys got
their commission  and the next day  they were either killed  or taken Prisoner.  Their Halifax bomber 313 was a pile of smoking
debris on a  Belgian farm field.  But that story is yet to come.  Victor may  sound cheerful in his  journal  but readers should
note he  had become  well aware that his chances of survival were slim.

NOTE:  This journal  could  not have been written in 1943 and1944.  And  it wasn’t.  It was written in 1987 … transcribed  from
Victor Poppa’s war diary.  That diary would have been found  among his personal affects  at the Squadron 424 base at Skipton
on Swale…packaged up and sent to his  home in  Hamilton.   Retrieved when  he walked  out of  his  POW camp  in Germany
and  made his way to the American  sector in 1945.  That is conjecture.

“This flight to Mont Lucon took 7 hours and 40 minutes.  We  had  no sleep and after de briefing and breakfast, I found  I was to
fly again with Sgt. Rawlinson.  Mission #7 for me.  We were to go and bomb the entrance to a  train  tunnel that connected
France and Italy.  We were to plug the French end. At briefing  we were told that Leeming would be  socked in after we  left
and  our alternative airfield  would  be an  American airfield at Thurleigh.   There were 420 aircraft on this  raid.  We  would
be  carrying a 5,000 lb load of  high explosive bombs.  Our ‘Gee’ set quit and our navigator decided it was a  ‘no go’ situation
so we flew out over the North Sea and jettisoned our bombs. Then we got lost and after much figuring and 4 hours and 25
minutes we found Thurleigh.”

“The Americans, as  always, were the perfect hosts treating us very well and giving us the run of the base.  NCO’s were invited
to eat in the Officers’ mess.    I got into crap  game  and won a point.  Crap  games were not forbidden in the Officers’ mess.
And I was given  a  tour inside  of a  B17 ‘fortress’ and even given a  look at their famous ’Norden’ bombsight.  Later these were 
scattered all over Germany.  During the morning of the 17th the rest of  Squadron 429 landed.   The C.O. of 429 gave  us a 
briefing saying the weather at Base had  a  ceiling of only 500 feet with tops of clouds at 8,000 feet,  For those that did not feel
comfortable with this type of weather then they could wait it out but our C.O. was going to fly to Leeming using instruments.
Our hero pilot elected to fly under these conditions as did most of the other crews.  It took us 2 hours form take off  to landing.  
The Tower let us descend from on top of  the clouds via a method that was caliled ‘QGH’.  Thismeant that each aircraft in turn was  
given a 500 foot descent spread and the lowest aircraft allowed drop  500 feet followed by the next lowest and so on with
only one command from the Tower.   There were no accidents and I was very happy when we broke through into the clear
and landed.

“Attrition was very high in 429 Squadron because  of the missing mid  upper turret.   Sgt. Rawlinson was  given
a commission as  a Pilot Officer and was acting as a  Flight Lieutenant (captain).  He and  his crew were shot down  later
 on their 30th and last mission.  Later  I met Rawlinson’s navigator at a POW transit camp just north of  Frankfurt on  Main.
I cannot recall their Target that night.   The navigator was the only survivor.  the fortunes  of  war.”

“I am now going to Skipton off  and  on.  Flying as a spare  body.  On  Sept. 23, 1943, I was  briefed  for a bombing raid
to Mannheim but the mission was cancelled.  Pilot was  again Sgt. Rawlinson

“Sept, 25, 1943,  I am briefed  for a raid to Kiel.  This  mission was also cancelled.  Pilot is warrant officer Smith, DFM.”

“September 27m 1943:  This one is for Hanover and  W.O. Smith DFM is again our pilot.  On this  mission  there were 708 
aircraft .  For me it was  Mission #8.   We were just nicely underway  when our port outer motor’s propeller ran amok. On this 
flight we were taking a new Sgt. pilot with us.  He was a  twin, his brother also was on 429’s roster.   This fellow must
have been barley  past his 20th birthday.   W. O. Smith instructed him to feather our port outer engine  propeller.   Instead
the 2nd pilot feathered  the port inner propeller.  W.O. Smith was  very skilled and managed  to save the situation.   For some reason
we could not return to Leeming and  were forced  to land  at Topcliffe.  Upon touching down W. O.  Smith found our
brakes would not function.  So we had to go back  to Leemng by truck.  There was only about 15 mlles between these
two airports.  This aborted  mission took 3 hours  and15 minutes flying time.”

“Oct. 1,1943:  I’m still volunteering for missions.  This  time we are briefed for Stuttgart and again the mission was cancelled.

“Oct 5, 1943: I am  temporarily posted to Leconfield and went on a  fight with w.o. Butler using a Whitley aircraft built by
 Armstrong Siddley.  The Whitley appeared ancient. The Navigator/Bombardier’s position looked lkie  a Victorian drawing room with
floor and  sides  covered with green mohair rug like material.  The Whitley has Rolls Royce Merlins.  The wing has an
extremely thick air foil.  It was  a very slow flying machine.   When the Whitley flew straight and  level it looked like
it was  in a shallow dive which  confused  observers.  This was an advantage since enemy fighters often
misjudged thinking the Whitley was  in a dive.   On this first flight, I was using a camera  gun.”

“October 6, 1943: I went on another spare body flight, this time with flight sergeant O’Neil who failed to find  our
drogue training airplane so we returned  to Leconfield.   Again on Oct 6, we searched and found  our  Drogue
airplane and completed the exercise.”

“October7, 1943: with flight sergeant O’Neil we completed another exercise this  time I was using a camera gun.

“October 8, 1943: Flew  with W.  O. Butler on an air to air exercise.  I had a runaway gun.  The only  way to stop this  gun 
from firing ws to flip up the breech cover.  In my eagerness  to do  this  the cocking stud hit my thumbnail…hurt.
but only slight damage.  I used up  1,000 rounds against the drogue.   My flying time for Leconfield is  6 hours and 35 minutes
and managed to score quite well.

“October 1, 1943:   I returned, sleeping with
 the guys on my regular crew.  Ken had been on
a raid to Nuremburg where our airforce lost 95 aircraft.  Ken  thought his time was up.  He, like myself, had volunteered
to fly as a spare body Bombardier.  Our losses that night must have been close to 15 
%…extremely high.   Losses like this could  put us out of business.”

Nurenberg, Oct.  1

“We  were informed that since we lost Bill, our pilot, we were going to be  parcelled out to other crews.   We had been a  5 man
crew with Bill.  Now it was Bob, Ken,  Wilf and myself.  We  talked to the adjutant and requested the we for be kept together.  We 
were then told we  would be posted to Croft, #1664 Conversion  Unit where a pilot and flight engineer were waiting to crew us with 
us.  We were still short a mid-upper gunner.   However we were told that Air gunners were in transit to #1664 C.U. Croft and 
should complete our crew.  The four of us departed for Croft Oct. 14, 1943.”

“I left all my females behind but I also  knew I was heading into new pastures.  married men in the air crew were supposed
to be celibate.   Rather than rock their boat, we single persons did  not pry into their private affairs.”

“Oct. 15, 1943:  and Oct. 16, 1943:  We took it easy then on Oct. 16 we woke at 7.30 to meet out new  pilot flight officer 
Desmond  Short, an ex flight instructor.  Expect he will speed things up.  Croft was a wartime flying field with plenty of  mud.”

“That night I  met and took out Edna. The evening was  just great except she was  having a problem women have
from time to time.”

“October 17, 1943: Des brought our Flight Engineer with him, an English man  named  Maurice Muir.  He seemed to be
having a problem with acne.  We were still short a  mid-upper  gunner. Ken,  Wilf and  I went to Bob’s  room where we ate
the best part of his food supply and returned  to our quarters where I  read  a few pages from a book then went to bed.”


George (Hank) Freeman looked so young  when he volunteered.   By 1944 he
had certainly matured.  I think the picture  below is Kay who he planned to marry.
She  was an English NCO assigned  to Skipton on Swale airbase as a driver
at 60 cents  a  day.  Not much money.

“October 18,1943:  I reported  to my section and  talked  to one of the new air gunners.   This  fellow introduced  himself
as “Hank” Freeman. We chatted for a while.  He sure sounded like an  easy going guy.  He said his full name was George
Francis Freeman but preferred to be called Hank.  He had  not yet joined a crew.   “Our crew needs  a mid upper gunner,
are you interested?”  He said  “sure” and we went looking for the rest of   the crew.  Hank’s easy going way made him
fit in easy with the guys.   We were all Canadians with the exception the flight engineer.”

october 19 to November 7, 1943: All that time was spent taking lectures,  test flights … learning all we could
about our aircraft, the Handley Page Halifax.  the models we would  fly had the Rolls Royce  Merlin motors  which were 
not that great.   The Halifax  did not have the big bomb bay of  the Lancaster, however, this was  partly  compensated
by 3 bomb bays in the wing either side of the fuselage between the two inboard  motors.  Nor did the Halifax carry as
heavy  a load  as the Lancaster.  None the less it did have some good qualities which were corrected when the Bristol
Hercules motors were installed.  “

Note:  One of the good qualities was the odds of survival if the crew had to use escape hatches.  Halifax crews
had higher survival rates  than Lancaster crews  This fact would  be helpful on May 27/28  when 5 of the 8 man
crew actually survived.

“Along with our studies  we had our evenings free for fun and  games. Hank really shone here and managed very well
with the girls. No grass was going to grow oder his feet.  A man after my own heart.”

“Oct. 28, 1943: I went into Darlington  and ran into two fellows I  trained with in Canada.   We had a great  time at the YMCA 
where  there was no shortage of  girls.”

“October  31,  1943:  I  was selected  to  do guard  duty for an NCO what had beaten the daylight out of an officer in 
a bar.  He  was awaiting a court martial and  confined to barracks except for meals.  I was given a holster and
a .38 Smith and Weson pistol to carry out this  duty.  I’m glad he did not try anything  while I was guarding him.  
If he had tried  to run away I could not picture myself shooting him.  Anyway he  was peaceful and nothing
happened while he was in my charge.”

“Nov. 1, 1943:  I met a  girl named Mary who lived in Middlesborough and wanted to go home that night. Mothers’ orders.
I was feeling  good so took the train  home with her.  Later I made my way back  to the railway station and on the 
way a fog set in. I nearly killed  myself by walking right off the loading dock onto the tracks.  Thick fog. To make matters
worse there were no trans back to Croft until morning.  Spent the night in the station. Sitting up…awake.  Then at 7 a.m.
caught train back to Croft where I was surprised to discover that the train did not make a full stop so I had to jump.
Love sure causes troubles.  Boy, was I fired..”

NOTE:  These are NOT the crew of HX 313.  I chose these pictures 

from the Memory Project collection (Rudyard  Griffiths) …chosen

because the picture sows  how YOUNG the airmen were.  Average
age 21 years…many  of them just 19, fresh out of high school.

“November 3, 1943: My brother Max came to Croft as he had a 7 day leave so we went out and had  a  great time drinking.
Max is a quiet soul.  You could leave your daughter  with Max overnight and she would still be a  virgin in  the morning..”

“November 4, 1943:  Max’s visit coincided with visit from the daughter of my mother’s friend who moved
back to England from Canada just prior to World  War II .   Her husband died  in England.  Young Anne, when I knew
her  in Canada was  not a great beauty.  Her pictures as a  young lady were different…very pretty. She  had  joined
the British Women’s Army and was presently stationed  in Scotland.  Max and I went to the staton to fetch  Ann.
She looked even prettier than  her photos and I was delighted.  The  three  of us went dancing at the YMCA and
along with a few  drinks really enjoyed ourselves.  This was one time I wished Max had  not been visiting me.
I fixed it with our WAAR sergeant to billet Anne that night.”

“November 5, 1943: Anne  left to visit with her mom in Atherton, Manchester, escorted by Max as far as Edinburgh
then  on to her  base outside of Glasgow.  Later  Ann and I were to get together in a more personal manner.”

“November 6, 1943: Won five pounds in a crap game, had a few  beers and then off to bed.”

“November 7, 1943: Today was our first time  flying with Des as a crew. We had not flown for 24 days so we
sent the day doing takeoffs, circuits and landings…”Circuits and Bumps” then we  went to the movies.”

“Nove.8, 1943: The  weather turned sour.  No flying.  Max showed up again after a few  days in Edinburgh.
He had mismanaged his funds.  He was broke so  I gave him two pounds ($8.90) and he left for Catenham where he
was stationed just south of  London.”

“Nov.  9, 1943:  Today we did more practise flights and landings.  Some of Des’s landings are nothing to brag about.
We went into town in the evening where Wilf, Bob and  Ken went to the movies while I decided to go to a favourite bar.
There was a girl there who did not look so hot but after a few drinks her proportions were looking more desirable
so I threw  caution to the wind and took her on.  The evening turned out just fine.  Before I left she siad her
name  was Vera.  I said they call me Victor.”

“We had  another crash on base today.”

“November 1, 1943:  I reported to my flight section but there will be no flying today.  I don’t know why but Ken and  I
were given shovels and ordered  to do some digging.  I think the reason was  to give us something to do.  Boy,
were we tired.”

“November 11, 1943: More circuits and  landings  today…we then practised  2 and 3 motor flying.  In the air for
1 hour and 25 minutes.   Our instructor for Des this time was Squadron Leader Boogey.  Took off  in early afternoon
and this  time Des was the pilot in command as we did some flying the Beam… instrument flying.

“November 12, 1943:  Our flying  activity is increasing as this morning we went on an air to sea firing practice for Hank
and  I.  3 hours and  25 minutes.  And we are now getting night flight practise. Des is given dual cirucuits  and landings
at night.  Our instructor is again S/L Boozey (or  is it Boogey?).  It seems Des has been  cleared as pilot in command.”

“I had  a date with Mary for the evening but flying came first.  Hope she  understands.”

“November 13, 1943:  We flew today climbing to 20,000 feet and practised fake bombing Strensal.  But we could  not
find  the target because Des  did not fly the course Bob gave him, hence no target.  Des is a bit of a problem yet he
is our pilot so we can do little about it.

“November 15, 1943:  Things picked  up  today.  Since the  weather is too bad for flying someone started a crap game
and  I ended  up with 16 pounds more than I started  with.  Hank won 8 pounds so we went out and had fun.
In the evening we Des practised  night flying and landings with instructor S/L Boozey who cleared Des as ready
to be Pilot in Charge (PIC) then we  did two hours of  circuits and landings with no  mishap.”

“November 16, 1943:  Today we did a cross country flight as a daylight exercise.  The  weather was murky and this
time Des paid attention to Bob’s navigation. Ken got int his bomb practise at Stensall this time.

NOTE:  IN 1943 the  officers in charge  of Bomber Command were aware of the sad fact that new bomber
crews  were very likely to be shot down  while veteran crews were not.  Why?  Perhaps active  bomber 
crews  were put into action  too early.  They needed to be skilled … ready  for  evasive action, ready to  fly
a crippled plane with only two or three engines  functioning, ready to make a  night landing with a damaged
aircraft.   That is why Victor’s crew  are spending so much time training.  The change from  a two engined
Wellington to a four engined Halifax…different airplanes, handling  differently.  Training could not last much

“November 17, 1943: Flying  today twice with Spitfires simulating German  fighter attacks.  Hank and  I had a very
important role.  If we saw a  hostile fighter,  our first act was  to warn Des using the command  “Go!” which  meant take
immediate evasive action.  This early warning role was critical.  We were spotters first, gunners second.
2 hours and 30 minutes flying time today.

“Mary was mad  at me when we went out for tea but later all was forgiven.”

“November 18,1943: We  were called in for a briefing concerning a missing aircraft down somewhere in the North Sea.
We were shown where to search, doing a ‘square search’.  But it turned out to be fruitless.  Wilf received a radio message  
that a dingy from the downed  plane had  been sighted.  It was empty.  A mute testimony.  Flying time was 4 ours.

“November 19, 1943:  Tonight we are to fly what is called a ‘Command  Bullseye’ to practice simulated  bombing
around England. At the same time test Britain’s  air defences. We  were coned by searchlights on the English  South
Coast for 15 minutes and again at Northampton for 10 minutes.  This is my 4th Bullseye fight.   Des does not follow
instructions  too well.  We would’ve been shot down if this  Bullseye had been the real thing.  The same thing would  have
happened when  we were on  our higher affiliation exercise on November 17th.  Shot down…shot full of  holes and killed.
Des  may  have been  a  great instructor but as  an active bomber pilot he was not much good.  The next day Bob, Ken,
Hank and I … with Wilf looking on…had a pow-wow about Des as our bomber pilot.  He  was given a thumbs down.
We  felt we would  not last long on bomber missions. Our decision was to give Des the benefit of the doubt for a couple
of missions hoping he  would clean  up his act. If he  did not then he would  get no cooperation.  He would  have no crew.
Bombing missions were tough on good crews.  If  we were to risk  our lives then that was to be expected.  But to throw
our lives  away…we would  not do  that.  flying time to date 105 hours and  55 minutes day flying and  111minutes and 
25 minutes night flying.  Total flying time 227 hours  and 30 minutes.

NOTE:  This sounds like mutiny.  What consequences would  the crew face if they refused to fly with Des?
Court Martial perhaps.

“November 20, 1943:  An air firing exercise was scrubbed today.”

“November 21, 1043:  No flying today.  I waited until 6p.m. then went to Mary’s  quarters.   We went for a  walk to
our favourite hay stack.   Love making with Mary was always tender.  She is  a  very sweet person.”

“November 22, 1943: We were told that tomorrow is moving day.  We were reposted to Tholthorpe, 431 Squadron, a few
miles down the road from Croft.  I went with Mary for our usual walk.  Mary is very  easy to talk with.  She speaks
of  many interesting things.  I’ve  spoken with her about my girl  friend Louise who lives back in Canada.   Mary
accepts  this information.   Hank, Bob, Ken and Wilf all go into town and got stoned.”

“November 24, 1943: We  reported to our new adjutant who gave  us a nice  welcome and extended the rest of the
day  off.  After lunch, we  caught the bus into York and went to a movie to kill time and then headed for Betty’s Bar.
We drank enough  to be in a partying mood so went dancing.  Then caught the last bus  back to the base.”

“November 25, 1943:  After Breakfast we reported to the Flights  and  were introduced to our new Wing Commander.
Then we managed to get 9 days of combat leave starting tomorrow.”
 Des. our pilot, was obligated to go on a mission to Stuttgart as a 2nd pilot.  This was mandatory
since he had no combat experience as a PIC (Pilot in Command).  After Des’s briefing and the Squadron departure 
to Stuttgart a big party was planned on  the base. Hank and I were having a good time and started looking around
for the rest of the crew but lost track  of them.  I  headed for sargent of the Women’s A.A.F.  She looked thin but
as I got closer I could see she was more skeleton than thin.  They say  nearer the bone, the sweeter the meat 
so I thought What the heck, give  it a try.  After a brief conversation I assumed we were both on the same wave
length and we headed for an air raid shelter.  It was a cold and damp place and the seat was made of cement.
After much maneuvering and  giving it our best, we  gave up.  There was  no other spot nearby so we called it
a night.”

“November 26, 1943:  We had been paid the day before and I had 18 pounds and was anxious to start our leave but
we waited around to see Des return from the Stuttgart Mission but gave  up and caught a ride into York. 
 We  would call the adjutant from York and ask
about Des.  Bob called and was informed  that Des was ‘missing in action’ along with the whole crew that
flew to Stuttgart.  We all had  more than a  few drinks.   Shocked.  Hank was going  north with me and  the rest were
going south.  Hank and  I got into a train compartment and I fell asleep.  After a bit, Hank woke me up.   Opening my
eyes I saw  this British  army female across from me and  as  I  lowered  my eyes to her lap, I noticed  she  had
two high top, size 10 boots on her lap and my feet were in those boots.  It seems I was trying to make myself as
comfortable as possible.  She  was given an apology and  Hank  explained  about Des being missing in action.  Our
pilot gone.  We finally arrived in Edinburgh where we stayed the night.  I planned to carry on to Glasgow 
and  then on to Alexandria where Ann was stationed.  Found a hotel there and next day looked up  Ann at her
base.  That evening we went to her friends house. Her name was Ruby.  We  decided  to pay  visit to Ann’s mother
at Atherton Manchester.  Ann managed  to get a 72 hour pass so the three of us were  on our way.The  train  was
packed.  Even though we had a first class coach at first we transferred out and found we had to stand up for
the rest of  the way.   Her mother had the graveyard shift at work unfortunately so the three of u s went to
a pub then back to the house  where  I slept in my assigned  room and the two girls to theirs.  After a while  I
thought this is not right so I got up and went into the girls room and got between these two lovelies and
got busy  warming up under the covers.  Big decision, which one first?  I chose Ruby, saving Ann for dessert.
Later Ann confided to me that she  was hurt because I chose  Ann first.  I explained  she  washy dessert and that pacified
her though she seemed skeptical.  In the morning Ann’s mother arrived.   We left.  i had to get back to
Tholthorpe and the girls back to Scotland.”

“December 2, 1943:  The  tran trip was  uneventful.  I picked  up my mail and my parcels…2,600 cigarettes from various sources.
Hank and  I pooled our cigarettes stuffing the lot in a large suitcase.  Hank and I never sold cigarettes.  We
gave them away to our WAAF friends in the mess and when  the girls went on  leave we would lend them
money and  not expect any repayment.   These girls were real nice types and their meagre pay was  about 60 cents
(Canadian) a day.   We never ran short of cigarettes thanks to kind  Canadians back  home.”

“December 3 and  4, 1943:  I spent the day answering letters…14 of them.

“December 5, 1943:  By  noon hour our crew was back  together. Bob and  Wilf  had been on  one long booze up.  
Hank managed  to get himself rolled  for 7 pounds and was  he ever mad.  Wilf went right to bed sick from too much.
Bob must be more experienced.  (sex? I assume?)  Maurice got himself  married to a  WAAF he  knew  from  the past.
He showed  us the wedding pictures of his new bride.  (Victor’s comment was not flattering).  We heard from Bill, our
previous pilot who was doing very well over at Dalton.  He was assigned to help the adjutant..

Decemer 6, 1943:  Bob woke us up this morning.  Wilf, Ken and Hank decided to go to York. Bob, Maurice and  I
decided to stay on  base and read.  The day is very cold  and foggy and  damp.

“December 7, 1943: I went over to Clothing Stores and managed to get some warmer clothes. I met Murial and
tried my best to get some  action but got nowhere.  Later Hank and I went to our local pub in Tholthorpe and
left feeling  quite good..”

“December 8, 1943:  Today is pay day for 431 squadron.  Not much  doing today.  We are wishing for a posting
to a conversion unit.”

“December 9, 1943:  The gods heard  us.   We are being posted to 1659 Conversion Unit at Topclifffe,  today.

December 10, 1943:  I met a WAAF sergeant from Eastmoor at the sergeants dance but did not get anywhere with
her.Hank loaded  up quite well this evening.

December 11, 1943:  Went to the movies to see “Victory Through Air Power”, a Walt Disney film.  Then Hank and
I went to the Saint Georges Hotel, had a few drinks then went dancing.

“December 12, 1943:  Hank and I hung  around the YMCA for a  while.  We met two nice girls, Betty and Marg,,,
real sweet things.  Stayed in Harrogate until 2 a.m.

“December 13, 1943:  Hank and I  decided to go to the air crews mess for a few beers when this Flight Lieutenant Pilot
came over and introduced  himself as  Eric  Mallet.  He asked  if  he could sit with us for a  few minutes. We  told
him about Des getting shot down on his first mission as a 2nd  Pilot on a raid  to Stuttgart.  “So we’ve been shipped
out to topciffe  to get a new pilot.”.  Eric in the meantime was filling  us in on his background.  He had been a flight
instructor in Canada and  had asked  for an  overseas posting.  Eric  was rushed through an Operational Training unit
(OTU) and from there to 1659 Conversion Unit at Topcliffe.  Our destinies  were meshing.     Eric said, “Do you 
think I’ll do?”  The rest of our crew  were on the base except for Moe so I asked Hank to go and get the guys as
this guy Eric looked  promising.   Over they came and a  bargain was struck.  Since it was  OK with us, Eric would
put in for us thereby making a full Bomber crew.’

“I noticed Wilf and Bob were talking quietly. The gist of their conversation was that  they would  strangle Hank and
me if Eric turned out to be another lemon .  Eric turned out to be an excellent pilot who understood our survival depended
upon that important word ‘co operation’.  We hit it off right away. It pays off when a crew  is  put together by a 
democratic  process.

“December 15, 1943: Today was Dingy Day… a practice that would come in handy if we went down in the North Sea.
Interesting to know that if we went down in the North Sea in the winter months…like now…we would have three minutes
to make peace with our maker.  That’s how quick death would  happen.  My response  was that it would  be better
to bail out over Europe.  At least then we would  last longer than three minutes..  The good news was  that we
managed all to get a four day leave.  We went from Topcliffe  to Ripon to York…which was close to Betty’s Bar thankfully
After that we  went dancing and stayed overnight at the YMCA.

“December 16, 1943: We caught the morning train to London…Ken, Wilf  and I…parted ways there as i had to visit RCAF
headquarters for some back pay as I am now Flight Sergeant.  Had a few beers and went dancing where I spotted  a nice
looking female and after a few  choice  words we went for a few  drinks at a  nearby pub.  Since I wasn’t sure of the
lay of the land it looked like the grassy median was best.  The blackout prevented us from being seen.  The  cars  drove
by with their subdued  lights.   I was a bit tired and said to her, “Would  you like maximum penetration?”  
She nodded the affirmative. I said
I’ll lie down on my back, you climb on facing me.”  Well, she got in motion with enthusiasm. She really knew  what it was all
 about and I was really  pleased.  So much so that I asked her if she wanted to do it again? She nodded her head  and  away
we went again.   When she got home she  must have had a job removing the grass stains from her knees.  Memory of
this episode always makes me smile and feel good about it.   The girls  knew what things were about and  were not
hypocrites.   I don’t make fun of these girls as it was a two way street…mutual pleasure.

“December 17, 1943:  I got up early and sent Mary a  telegram then went to a show after which we had a  few in the 
local pub  then looked up a person I trained with but noone was  home.  Later I met a girl by the name of  Lilly and
we went dancing and then to her house.

“December 18,1943:   Packed  my things and caught the 12.45 from kings Cross Station for York.  Stayed at the YMCA and
later met a girls from Ireland named Nancy.  She was some teaser.  You can’t win them all.

“December 19, 1943:  Reported  to Flights and we did some more dingy practise.  Received mail from Ann and two
letters from Ruby.

“December 20, 1943:  I received Christmas parcel from my mother.   Collected 16 pounds and 5 shillings.  What a dull day.

“December 21, 1943:   Another dull day

“December 22, 1943:  We  flew with Eric for the first time today.  A dual pilot flight,  Eric and a squadron leader named Neil

December 24, 1943:  We flew with Eric  doing practice circles  and  landings.   Eric catches on fast.  I phoned Mary at
Dishforth and picked her up for a nice dinner in Harrogate then to a theatre.   Got her back to Dishforth on time.  Too late
to do much else.

December 25, 1943:  Christmas Dy.  Received a nice cake from Louise and cigarettes.  These always came quite often from 
various sources.  We had a nice Christmas  dinner on the base.  Then  I went over to Dishforth to see Mary and  give her
two boxes of chocolates.   I spent the night at Dishforth where we got into some heavy knocking on the sofa.  I had to 
spend the night in the Sergeant’s Lounge.

“December 26, 1043:  I managed to catch a cab back to Tiopcliffe where not much was doing so I went over to the aircrew mess
I had eight gins and later got into a crap game and lost 6 sounds.    Later I had fun with Rhoda in the games  room then
took her to her billet.

December 27, 1943:  We went flying today more dual pilot skill testing for Eric this time with flight lieutenant Rodwell as instructor
doing more circuits and  landing with overshoots.

“December 28, 1943:  received  much mail today.  Flying again today practicing landing with overshoots.  This time
no instructor with us.  Eric  has done  really well after only 6 hours and 25 minures in a Halifax.

“I took in a movie and met Wendy in the process.  Boy this  one has big breasts, twin 44’s and firm.”

“December 29,1943: We did more dual flying today only this time the instructor was flight Lieutenant Rodwell.
Three motor flying, Circuits and landings.  Eric only had 20 minus dual flying as he did not need more time.  We dropped
off  the instructor then we headed for Scarborough and out over the North Sea where  we picked up our target
towing airplane.  Hank and I took turns shooting up the drogue which was flying parallel to us.   We  had Eric adjust
his distance to a point just ahead of  the drogue where the tow line was attached.  At this point I managed  to get
my sites right on and when Hank got his on the same  spot we let fly.   Four machine guns each firing around
1200 rounds per gun per minute.  After a few  seconds  the drogue disappeared as we shot off the attach point.
We gave ourselves a cheer.  On the way back to base we had fun low flying.   Hank  and  I used up  3,000 rounds
on this exercise.

:December 30, 1943:   Reported to Flights…nolthing  on, so I took a turn on the link trainer for practice.  I saw Wendy 
in the afternoon and got in some  necking.  She has a Canadian ground crew type for a boyfriend so going
‘all the way’ was out of the  questions so I had to be satisfied with half loaf…but what a half  loaf!

“December  31, 1944: Reported flights…nothing  on today so had happy time in the aircrew mess  then went
dancing with Wendy.  i  received a letter from Mary, Louise and Christmas card  from my brother Max.

“January 1, 1943:  Went to Flights…nothing on in morning but in afternoon we did a high altitude  test to 20,500 feet
then we did some bombing at Stresall. We are to go  again this time for some night  flying.  So far Eric has no night flying 
experience on 4 motored aircraft.  Again we had F:/Lt Rodwell for an instructor.  Eric  did well.   A sweet WAAF picked
us  up at dispersal.  I made a mental note to get close to this  one.

“January 2, 1944:  We flew again with FLT/Lt Redwell.  This time  doing  2 and 3 motored flying.   At night the air
was turbulent especially near the ground. I was banged around a lot because  of it.   Tail position.

“January 3, 1944: Today we are to do fighter affiliation with a Spitfire.   Hank and I had fun with this once again.
This was a dual flight with 3 pilots…Eric Mallet #1, Sgt Tanister #2,  andSft Gustafson #3.  Then we did a solo 
flight as well.  

While  I was waiting for Eric to  warm up the airplane motors I was getting some necking in with Nancy…the cute
transport driver I met Jan. 2.  This cute young thing even repairs her own  truck.  Later I went to get my
log book signed off by the flight Lieutenant in charge of this duty. He sined  my assessment ‘A-A’ which
he told me means Above  Average.

“January 4, 1944: Wilf has come down  with hives and Eric  is in bed with tonsillitis…looks like  too much of
many things.  The  rest of us are  trying for a 5 day leave.  Hank and I took  out a couple of girls. Mine was Marg…abut of a
bag.   Hank’s was Queenie.  I took  mine to a show and Hank took his elsewhere.  Marg was having her monthly
problem so nothing happened.  Hank turned up later and  we swapped tales..   Hank struck out as well.

“January 5, 1944:  We got the 5 day leaves we were after.  Hank and I decided not to go anywhere distant.
We got to feel quite good after drinking away most of the  evening in the air crew mess.  We then went to
Harrogate for fun and what have you.  We  went to the Railway Hotel for a  beer but it was closing time…no 
beer for us.  On our way out we saw 4 people…2 airmen and  2 women.  I said  to Hank “You take the girl
on the right and  I’ll take the girl on the left/“  And  we just hooked our arms under theirs and walked  away
with them.  The two airmen must have been too surprised to act and  the girls  didn’t complain so  away we
went.  I imagine the two airmen having a post mortem and deciding  to not let that happen again. Next
time it would be ‘Watch out for the Hun in the sun’,an old WW1 saying among fliers.

The girls were not too shabby.   The one  Hank took was wearing a red  mitten. .  We  took the
girls to a restaurant and after that we split up agreeing to meet at theYMCA later;  One girl was Laura
and the  other Doreen.  My girls took me home where everything was done in comfort.  Since  I had
promised  to meet Hank at theYMCA I left Laura’s nice  warm bed around 5 a.m. to meet Hank who
had arrived ahead of  me.  We compared notes.   Hank figured  Doreen was the last virgin in Harrogate.
When  I asked him about the red mitten he said he thought the hand was artificial.  The rest of the early 
morning was  brutal as we tried to sleep in chairs with our torso’s draped over tables.

“JANUARY 6, 1944: We  rested then paid Eric a visit.   I ran across Mary and  we had a little chat.
Hank and  I spent the rest of the day trying to get over the previous evening.  We also felt we should
clean up our act a little.   The weather has been rotten,  fog right down  to the deck.

Note: The crew of HX 313 did not fly again until January 21,1944

“January 7, 1944:  Today we are going to take an  H2S course which  mean two more weeks of instruction
primarily for Ken and perhaps Wilf.   H2S is  a  radar thing of sorts.  The set sends out a signal and  bounces
back  images. These images show  city built up areas and a chart on board our aircraft is used to compare
outlines giving the navigator a  good  idea of which city is in view.  H2s also gave us an altitude and 
was  used by out Pathfinder squadrons  for some very accurate bombing.

Hank and I went to a  movie on the station and we ran into Joan and  Norma.  these two  are a real couple
of cards  and  knew some  dilly jokes.  Hank and  I managed to snuggle them to visit our billet on a
food  pretence.  we were rooked by the girls.  After eating our food,  they split.  That’s life!

“January 8, 1944: Hank and I got up at 11.30…feel better after all that sleep.  I was going to phone Mary
at Dishforth but got into a crap game instead and made  5 pounds 10.  That leaves me just 3 pounds in the 
hole.   I made up my mind to go and visit Mary but Eric turned  up and said ‘how about going to a show 
in Harrowgate. So we all went together.  Show was quite good.

NOTE:  Readers may be wondering if a war was actually being  fought since the Crew  of what would
become HX 313 are not battle bound.  It seems the training  of bomber crew was not taken lightly. 
So many crews were shot dow over Germany that those  not attached to Bomber Command wondered
about the training.   Seems that the training was intense.  Flying a four engined  Halifax bomber
on two engines required great  skill as did finding he home airport and landing safely 
in the darkness of  night.

“January 9,1944: Hank and I cleaned up our room.  Now ir looks respectable.  After dinner with
Hank and Eric in the aircrew mess I wrote some letters then Wilf arrived with a  little black dog which
we promptly named  “Nooky”.  She became our new  crew member given the rank of  Squadron Leader
especially after she peed in Bob’s  hat.

“January 10, 1944:   Everyone tired today with the exception of Bob who was still in bed with his girl
in Harrogate.   Hank and  I saw the movie ‘Casablanca’  in the evening.

Note:  Just a personal comment.   I think Victor would have been a good stand in for Humphrey Bogart.

“January 11,1944”   Did nothing then went for dinner and bed

“January 12,1944:   Weather  still bad…fog down on deck.  Eric came over to ‘shoo away” the
bad weather . did not  work.  I played poker most of the night with Hank, Eric, Wilf, Bob
and Maurice….lost 2 pounds10.

“January 13,1944:  same  bad weather.

“January 14, 1944:  Bob and Maurice  were at odds and the Group Captain was to  the matter. Fight.

“January  15, 1944:  We were supposed to fly today  but weather  closed in again. Bob
and Maurice had their say with the Group Captain.  Bob won.  Good for him.   Later Hank and  i went
out with our two charmers, Joan and Norma.  These two  are good at going just so far, and that’s it.”

“January 16, 1944:   Weather closed in again.  This weather sticks  like glue…real heavy moisture.
We all went down to the hall to do  some exercise.  That was a mistake. Now I know where my muscles are.
Hank and I went over to the mess for a few beers.  Maurice  is a real Shit.  He was never asked  to join
the crew.  He  is the residue from when  Desmond was our pilot. Maurice may  spoil tings for the 
whole crew.

“January 17, 1944:  No flying today.  Weather bad. At least this gives the ground crew a chance to catch
up on maintenance  as the aircraft at Topcliffe  are the worst the I have encountered since  being in
England.  One night we used  up 4 aircraft.  just go 1 hour of flying time.   Flight time at Topcliffe
starts when  the  wheels leave the ground  on takeoff and stops when  the  wheels touch down on
landing.   Mary is off for 48 hours. I’m peeved with Wilf and Maurice.  Solved problems though.

“January 18, 1944:  The  weather turned  bright for a short time today. One aircraft took 
off and crashed.  This was a real bad crash.  Normally this news does not get around.  Crashes
can  have negative effects on crews.  It chips away at the nervous system.   It makes  for a feeling
of depression and can be classed as battle fatigue.  Acting in a bizarre manner for instance.  Like
crying for help.  During WWI flyers behaved in the same way and some preferred to be alone.
some were real quiet.  Some were the reverse.  Some realized they were mentally fatigued and
asked to be relieved from flying.   In the trenches they called it ‘ being shell shocked’
During  WWII, if you couldn’t convince your superiors that your nerves couldn’t  take it any more
Then you were told you were displaying L.M.F. (Lack  of Moral Fibre).   

To give our crews incentive we  were told that after 20 missios we would  be puled off
operations for 6 months rest…usually sent off to be instructors for that period.  Our operations losses averaged around  
5%  which means at 20 missions we reach the 100% mark.  Our statistical chance of survival is close to  zero.

“January 19,1944:  Raining. Eric and Bob popped in for a chat.  Baker and his crew crashed today…Baker  broke
his leg .   Pierre  and his crew crashed in the side  of  a mountain.   There were no survivors.  We  wonder when 
we will get ours.   I still think  Maurice  is a Shit.

“January 20,1944:  Wearher still sour.   I made up with Maurice after all he is part of our crew.
Bob,  Wilf, Ken, Hank  and  I went into Harrogate.  This was  the first time I was to meet Kay…a little
later Bob was to marry her.   We were also introduced to Kay’s friend Mary.  Mary sure is
a living doll.

“January 21, 1944:  At last!  We flew twice today.   Flight #1 was a cross country flight and the weather 
was clear and he sky deep blue.  Base to Luton, Taunton, Liverpool and back to Base.  Flight #2 was  Base to Kings Lyn,
Lester and  back to Base.   Weather remains Beautiful.

“January 22, 1944: No mail today…I  owe Mary, Anne and Louise letters.  We flew again today.  
Cross country trip to Dundee,  Edinburgh, Douglas, Barrow, Darlington  and 
back to base.The weather was super and the food in the  mess was very good.  All of us in the crew
went to the  show in evening.

“January 23, 1944: Another cross country from  Base  to Luton, Norwich, Peterbrough and back to Base.
Eric was to do some night flying.  Needed practice.   When he came in for a landing  he forgot to
lower the landing gear and as a result damaged the Halifax.  When the Halifax landing gear  is
retracted,the  wheels are sticking out from the nacelle and  the tail wheel  on this particular Halifax
is fixed in the down  position.  As a result the  only thing damaged was the four propellers.  Eric felt bad
that landing of course and Eric got nick-named “Wheels up Mallett” by Ken.  The nick name stuck.

NOTE:  There were 6,178 Halifax Bombers  manufactured between 1939 and 1945 of which 2,627 were lost
on the war.  Bomber Command only cointed losses on operations.   Crashes in England were not counted
but many were lost in England  so real losses were 15% higher.

“January 24, 1944  Got a haircut

January 25, 1944;  Planned another cross county but airspeed indicator got stuck.  Cancelled

“January 26, 1944  Bob and I went down to the shooting range and got some firearm practice. then
to the aircrew mess and drank some beer.

“January 27, 1944:  Flew  another  cross country Base, Colne point, Neston. LundyIsland, Nottingham, and Base.
Missed dinner when we got back.  Eric  and  Moe went on an evening fight and were almost killed due to an  
engineering error.  I went to air crew mess with Hank and Ken for a few beers.

“January 28,1944  Took in a movie with Hank.  We ran  into Pat anther girlfriend, nothing fruitful with 
these two.  Eric finished  his night circuits  and  landings.  Hank and I got politely drunk.  We should
be winding things up here soon…all of this bad weather put us behind in flying.

“January 29,1944:  Night flying from Base to Bedford, Taunton,Oxford, Birmingham, Lancaser,  Stranreer,
Jurby, Douglas, and Base.  

“January 30, 1933:  Well, at last we are leaving Topcliffe.   We were supposed to go to 428 squadron for a posting.  
Eric tried  for our posting to 433 squadron at Skipton.  Instead we are posted to  424 squadron at Skipton.
Usually two squadrons were in each airfield.  All of us took in a movie.  Total  flying time at Topcliffe was
43 hours, 15 minutes (34 hours day and 9 hours 15 minutes night)

Victor kept a notebook like that below.  Especially to record  his

    time in the air   His flight book also was a  perfect place for daily notes’

“January 31, 1944: Now  Monday and we  were taken to Skipton by RAF  transport.  Skipton is a wartime
airfield, but not as muddy as  some.  All Canadian squadrons are grouped around Yorkshire in 6 Group Bomber

Later  Hank and I went on the prowl.  I met Bette and had fun with her in the local  pub.  Hank picked up
a nice girl…she was a cute one.

Feb. 1, 1944:  We are  now satellite to Leeming.  I caught the bus to Leeming and got myself signed in
and collected 7 pounds 6 shillings owed to me  by the  paymaster.  

I made the rounds to see old friends.  Attrition has taken its toll on aircrews.  Jack F., a real nice  fellow
I trained with was killed as his aircraft crossed the Dutch Coast and the flight engineer had an eye shot out.
Jack F had  been in a nice safe job and had elected to go for aircrew  at 35 years of age.  he had  a wife and  
children.  Very sad.   After returning Hank and  I visited a few pubs.

“February 2, 1944:  Reported to Flights and had 45 minutes practice on the gun turret then went and got
a parachute harness and  a Mae West  (life preserver).  Back  in our quarters I played  with Nooky, Wilf’s dog.
Then  Hank and I went pub crawling.

“February 3, 1944:  Hank and  I did  not get to bed until around 4 a.m. after all our fun with a couple of
nice girls.  We reported to Flights and attended a lecture in the morning and another in the afternoon.
Had a shower then Hank and I went back to our new haunts.

“Feb. 4, 1944: Hank and I were assigned airplane to inspect ..  Hank put in 
15 minutes of turret manipulation.  Then the two of  us went to Topclifffe  to a pub called Sam Hutton
for fun and games.  

Two  girls tried  to pick us up.  We  declined.  Back to Skipton.

“February 5, 1944:  Reported to Flights.   Hank and I inspected another  aircraft cleaned up 8 Brownings
and checked the acton.   We  are preparing to go  on operations.

Hank and I lined up a couple of girls from our Mess, Joan and Nora.  However we did not press them
for a dae.   We  then went to the St. Georges Hotel and drank a quantity of  beer.  We  were feeling
pretty good so then went dancing.  We met two  not so hot girls at the dance.   Things did not work
out too well with the girls.  So we headed  for the YMCA and spent a most uncomfortable night trying
to sleep  on chairs with our heads on the table.

“February 6, 1944: Hank and I reported  to Flights and were instructed to do  an  inspection  on “S” Sugar.
Then changed  our clothes, read our mail and reported back to Flights for a  lecture.  

Picked  up Joan and went pub crawling.  Nothing happened.  Whoever came up with that saying that,
“Candy is dandy but Liquor is Quicker!” should have added, “No all the Time!”

February 7, 1944: We  did some local  flying and then some 2 motor and  3 motor flying.

Note:   Victor and the whole crew were well  aware that practice flying with two engines
shut down was an indication what they might expect once their bombing missions were started.
Bad  times were coming.

“February 8, 1944: We  cleaned  our billet and  reported  to Flights where we were sent on  another
cross country practice run.  We  were caught up  in a jet stream that pushed  us to 370 m.p.h.  Our
return trip was  tough fighting the same jet stream.  Back at base I talked with Nora for a while then
off to bed.”

“February 9, 1944: We went to Flights and both Hank and I did another inspection of “S” Sugar, a new
model Halifax bomber.  Then went  to a very boring lecture. Later we flew  in our new Mark III Halifax, a
real nice airplane sporting all the latest modifications.  Four 1,615 H.P. Bristol hercules mottos, H2S, new  ‘D’ 
type Fins, rounded wing tips, capable of  an all up weight of 65,000 lbs which  included a 13,000 lb
bomb load, mid-upper turret sported four .303 machine guns and the  original four guns  in the rear,
the nose gun was simple  V.G.O. gas operated drum fed in neat plexiglas nose…and our latest bombsight
 was the Mark  14.”

Halifax  Mark III bomber with modifications described by Victor Poppa

“February 10, 1944: Hank and I reported to Flights the did an inspection on “U” Uncle.  No mission was on so
we went over to Topcliffe to see if we had any mail.  My brother Max  sent me a letter from his Canadian Army
base south of London.  Later we were given a talk by Group Captain Samson.  Then  I slipped into the
officers bath house and enjoyed good soaking in a real hot tub…a real  luxury.  Amen.

“February 11, 1944:  Reported  to Flights.  We went  on  another cross country that took 4 hours and 40 minutes
using”P” Peter , one  of the new Halifax Bombers.

“Hank and I dated  two girls from the mess.  I had Joan and Hank had  Kay.  Kay was later named ‘Razor Blades’ because  
she had a rather sharp nose.  Kay and Hank used to make  trips to a nearby haystack for fun  and games.  They were
not the only persons using this haystack.  The  stack  started  out at 15 feet high but within a  short time the hay was 
spread  around into a  lot of nests by  a lot of active people.  I wondered how the cows  managed with all those used
condoms thrown  about indiscriminately in the hay.  Hank and I took Joan and Kay to the roundabout where we
spent some time drinking beer and then they were invited back to the haystack.  One night in the haystack the condom
was lost internally while  Hank and  Kay were  making  out.  After some  fussing the condom re-appeared.  Hank
sweated  that one for a couple of  weeks.  He was a  little up tight about it so he  wasn’t teased.”

NOTE:  Let’s talk about condoms.  “There  was a box at the  door to the mess filled with
condoms, “Take a handful if you’re going on leave.”   Why would the RCAF get involved
in such seemingly personal matters.   Simple answer.   Use of a prostitute  cost around
$2.  Protection using a condom sold at pharmacies cost 3 for $1.  Expensive in other words
so air men might be tempted to forgo the condom and thereby come down  with a venereal 
disease that would put them  out of commission.  “We were encouraged to grab a  handful
as we went out the door,” said one veteran I know.  Were they wrapped in fancy packages
like today?  “Not at all, Made  for  ease  of use.”  Getting V.D. was also one way of
avoiding battle so someone who got V.D. regularly was always suspect as a malingerer.
Young men, like  Victor and Hank might not have even considered random and  regular
sexual activity if they were still living at home.  But wartime changes everything.
As Victor noted when he ran into a boy he knew from high school.  “He seemed a lot
older than I expected.  I wonder  if  I seem that way to others.”

Condoms were sometimes rolled over the end of gun barrels to keep moisture out.
Unwrapped  condoms were  best because a person in the heat of sexual activity
might tear the package with his teeth and thereby put a hole in the condom.
Amusing i hope.

    Venereal Disease (V.D.) was a major concern of military leaders because treatments

for both Gonorrhea and  Syphilis put airmen (and soldiers) in hospitals. Syphilis treatment
could involve as  much as  6 months.  Why did Victor ignore this danger?  Because he
was not cavorting with prostitutes.  His  romancing was  far less dangerous.  That’s why
I decided his activities  are more amusing than dangerous.   The same applies to Hank, my
cousin.  Actually I am sure that Kay was the girl he  planned to marry when war ended.
 What must be  remembered is that many of these airmen were barely 19 years old.
The average age was  21.  They may have joined  the air force because flying sounded
exciting but they soon learned that their deaths were likely.  So they tried  to live life
to the fullest.  The Fires of Spring comes to mine when I think of these fellows.  Also
I think of the American General  George Patton when inspecting American pilots lined
up in front of their planes.

“How old are you son?”
“18, sir.”
“And  you fly that goddamn thing?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Well, I’ll be a son of a bitch.”
(words from my memory)

“February 12, 1944:  Today we are to practice fighter affiliation with a  Spitfire.  This time Eric had  another pilot with
him,  First Lieutenant Compton. He is an American who joined the RCAF.  

Note from Victor n 1985: ” Compton later joined the United States Army  Air Force (USAAF). 
During our 424 squadron 1985 reunion at Trenton, Ontario, I met Mel Compton in person. I was really pleased
that he survived  the war, not many  of us did.  We were photographed and a crew picture taken.”

‘Hank and  I took Kay  and Joan dancing where Joan drank too much and made a scene that was hard  to handle.
Eventually we got her home to her billet.  Tomorrow is post mortem day for Joan.”

“I almost forgot.   We  almost had a mid-air collision with another  Halifax. It was really close so we were lucky.”

“February 13, 2019: Reported to Flights then went to Intelligence and read over the latest ‘Aeroplane’ and  ‘Flight’
magazines .  Weekly magazines that are always interesting. 

“Hank andI went to dinner.  Hank picked up ‘Razor Blades’, Kay, and I asked Joan out. The squadron is on operations
tonight but only Eric from our  crew is going.  He will go as a second pilot. Eric  has  no battle experience  so  must
go with another  crew on one  mission.  Next time he will take the whole crew with him in his own plane.  Later,
operations were cancelled so Hank and  I had a few beers with the girls.  Nice evening.

“February 14, 1944:  Reported to Flights.  Hank and  I were told to check  out “P”Peter again.  

“Joan, Kay and  six  other girls invited  Had and I to play Basket Ball with them.  Hank and  I make
all kinds of mistakes touching and rubbing our hands on the girls  ‘don’t touch spots’.  Sometimes
the  word ‘don’t’  does not apply.  The  girls were very sporting about this  and seemed to enjoy

“Operatons are on again tonight and Eric is to be 2nd pilot again.  But Operations  were cancelled again.
Poor Eric.   I can imagine how he  felt to get all keyed up to go on a  mission and  then not go.  This kind of thing
really tears at your guts.  I’ve been briefed at least 25 times to go on missions that were cancelled.  Oh! My poor

This is a shot of an air crew and ground crew in front of  a Halifax Bomber

    …not Victor’s crew.

The air crew of a Halifax bomber with the ground  crew preparing the bomber 

for flight.  Usually 7 men.  Loaded down with Mae  West life  jackets, parachutes,

big fleece  lined boots and jacket .  These  flights were freezing cold.

“February 15, 1944:  reported to Flights.  For once Hank and I are on time for roll call.  Operations  are on again
tonight only this time the  planes  will take off  from Leeming air base. Eric goes there for his 2nd pilot duty.
Eric was elated.   427 squadron flew to Berlin which has become  a very hot target.  When I was  with 429 squadron 
I must have been briefed at least 8 times but never went.  Berlin is a  nice one to have in my log book.

“February 16, 1944:  I received mail today from Louise.

NOTE:  Victor and Louise  were married  once he returned to Canada after walking  out of his POW 
concentration camp.  Marjorie and I met the Poppa family several times in the  1980’s and it seemed
that Louise was well aware of Victor’s wartime 
adventures.   Both Victor and Louise had  a wonderfull sense of  humour.  He met her while training
near Quebec City.  Victor did not speak French.  Louise did not speak English fluently.  Yet they got 
along very well.  Wonder why?

“February 17, 1944: Hank and I did an inspection of “R” Robert.  Later we got our pay, then went to clothing
stores for some new flying equipment.  Then we went to Sam Hutton (pub) where we had a few.


“February  18,1944: Hank and I were assigned to inspect “D”Dog, “T” Tommy, and”Q” Queen.  A mission
was planned for tonight then scrubbed  at the last minute, another gut wrencher.

“February  19, 1944: Reported to Flights.   We are to go on operations tonight using  one of the new  Halifax Bombers,
“C” Charlie. Hercules Motors.  Tension is building as we go through the day.  Wonder where we are to go?
We  have our last meal so to speak.  There is not much being said.  Our  thoughts? Will tis be  our  last

    flight?  Shot down?  Later we find

the bombing target is Leipzig.  We go to our briefing and find that Bob had reported sick so we  are assigned
a navigator with no  experience by the name of Ozzie, must be a nickname.  He is commissioned.  Bob’s
new  wife  must have banged on his ear since his reason  for not going is just a cold.  Our briefing covers the weatrher, what 
to expect in wind, types of cloud and other niceties.  We are shown by a red ribbon the route  and are  told
what height to fly at both going and coming  home.  All  of this is interesting to Ozzie who makes notes.  Our turning point 
to start the flight to Germany is Reading just north of London.  From this point we set our ETA (Estimated  Time of
Arrival) to the target.


Image 8

Bombs ranged in size from small 40 lb  incendiaries to immense ‘Grand Slam
bombs weighing 22,000 lbs.  The Handley Page Halifax bombers could
not carry the huge bombs which were reserved for the Lancaster.
(Public Achives photo #213 867)

“Our bomb load is 4000 pounds of  incendiaries.   Ken makes  notes.  Tonight there will be 852 aircraft,  Lancasters
and  Halifax’s. By the time the raid  is over we will have lost 75 aircraft and 553 aircrew.  We  are told  where the heavy flak is
located and what the chances are of running into night fighters and we are also told to watch out for our own Mosqutioes, two
engined fighter bombers sent in the lead  of the bomber stream to mark the targets with coloured flare bombs.  “Look before
you shoot.”   There are  also searchlights to be considered.  These  coning lights cannot shoot us down  but being caught in
the cone of  a master searchlight and then pinpointed  by other smaller starlights can  get us all sorts of  unwanted  attention
from both flak  and  night fighters.

“Our takeoff time is to be 2345 hours. (11.45 pm)  The squadrons  crews  are loaded into busses and trucks.   Then dropped  off
at our assigned aircraft dispersal point.   We are greeted  by our ground crew who have  laboured all day to get “C” Charlie 
set for operations.  Hard work for  sure.  In no time we are rolling around  the perimeter track following other aircraft.  Then
we reach the end of  our assigned  runway.  We slowly taxi into position and hold until the preceding aircraft has
become  airborne.   Eric is given a green light.  Flaps have been set, Throttles advanced to their stops.
There is a powerful surge, a feeling of  real power being exerted.  A feeing  of confidence settles us down.  We  are building up speed
fast.  In no time at all the tail has lifted.   Eric uses a little rudder to count torque  from the our motors.  We are now off the
runway and flying.  Eric raises  the landing gear and raises the flaps.  We  are on our way.

“Hank and I cock our guns , and turn on our reflector sights.  “C” Charlie is climbing steadily to our assigned 
altitude.  Soon we  reach  our turning point at Reading and Ozzie gives Eric  a new course to fly and an airspeed  to maintain
so that we will arrive at Leipzig as scheduled.  We  are now crossing the enemy coast and I can see  searchlight here 
and there and flak burst that are distant and nothing to worry about.

“I start to relax.  My nerves are  less jumpy   Hank and I keep  our talking to a minimum even though the intercom is
mostly ours to use.  Wilf is working his radio set while Ozzie calculates our course using the and directions given to
him at briefing.  Then major trouble is discovered. The  wind directions Ozzie was given are all wrong  and our entire
bomber force becomes scattered over 50 miles wide  and 200 miles deep instead of 5 miles wide and150 mlles  long.

“TheLuftwaffe are  up in force using their Heinkels as their flare  droppers lighting up the night sky.  I spot 2 aircraft 1000 feet 
 to our aircrafts’ right.   These  two are silhouetted against their own searchlights which  gives me  a rare  opportunity.
The enemy fighter furthest right is an  FW190 (Foch Wolf 190) sporting  50 calibre machine guns.  The other
fighter is  a twin motored  ME110 (messerschmit 110)   The ME110 fires two rockets that miss our aircraft on the left.
The ME110 wanted us to turn right so as to give the FW190 a perfect deflection shot.  Or so I figured.  I told  Eric to “Dive
left when I say  GO!” then pull right in a climb.  I told Hank to keep an  eye on the FW190 as we are now diving with
the rockets coming for us.  Now the only way for the FW190 to get shot at us is to turn sharply to his left and get a 
deflection shot from this new  direction.  When I see the  rockets are now  very close I yell “Go!”.  Eric slams his wheel 
over and pulled  up.  Just then I  see the whole underside of  the FW190.  He  is so  close that I can see even in the dark
the that whole of the FW190 has a full-length streak  of blackout along the underside of his fuselage.  We are only about
50 feet apart at this point.

If I had not said GO when I did , the German night fighter would have flown right into my turret then forward to Eric’s
turret chewing  though our oxygen  tanks to Maurice, our flight engineer, then  Eric,Wilf and Ozzie and Ken would
be enveloped in one gigantic explosion.  When the  FW190  went by my face he was really moving.  His motor has
a lot of mass and energy.  I am sure the FW190  pilot must have  lost us briefly with his night vision.  No one in his
right mind would want to press in that close  for a kill at the expense  of his own  life.

“Hank, you were to keep ypur eye on the FW190, what happened?”  “Sorry I watched the rockets.”  Nothing was said.

    Hank had made a serious error and knew it.  The FW 190 also made an error and lost his chance to fire.

If a new person can get through his first mission he becomes that much wiser.  I was  having trouble with 
my oxygen mask which  kept freezing up.  Then I had a short circuit in my right foot electric  slipper and  the sole
of my foot was gettng burned.  I kept switching the  suit heater off  and on.  Ambient temperature was minus 50 degrees
Fahrenheit.   The target began to appear off in the distance which meant we would have to fly through more flak and
searchlights.  Off and on since  we crossed the  enemy coast  we  were getting  our share of the flak which shakes us up
when exploding close by.  The black puffs look dirty as they whiz by and the smell of  cordite permeated  our
oxygen  masks.  We had five  more encounters with night fighters but none were near as stimulating  as  our first attack from
the ME11  and  FW190.”

This mission was so rough that I thought we would never make  it back to  England.  Ken  started making preparations  to 
drop your incendiaries…all 4,000 pounds of them. On our run in on target we were coned by searchlights.  Ken  trips
the bomb release and  then we fly straight and level while the camera takes pictures of  where our load lands.  After this
we head for England.  Our mission is now half over.

The  trip back was  not too bad and I  was happy when we crossed the English coast.  The sineibe asked Ozzie, “Do you
know  where we are?” “No!” he responded. So  we had to start calling ‘Darky’ which is a short range transmitter
with a range of ten miles.  All the  air bases in England had a Dark set up. Short range to rescue lost pilots yet 

   avoid giving German bombers a signal  They could use to destroy English bases.

“Hello Darky, Hello Darky, This is Nemo”
“Hello  Darky, Hello Darky, This is Nemo.”

This was kept up  until someone answered.

“Hello Nemo.”
‘Switch  your outer circle lights on and off, please.”

In this case we wherever touched down atrgw
Downham Market, an air force  base used for towing gliders.  Eric overshot the field, skimmed over the Tower
and made  it around the second time which was a good thing as we had very little fuel left.  After we had parked
I went around to cover my gun muzzles to keep out the moisture.  Just as I finished this chore, I heard  a “bang”
and a bullet whizzed over my head and went “Whing” as it ricocheted off into space. Hank came out and said,

“I was trying  to get the bullet out to deactivate the guns when  the breech block slipped.”

Hence  the bullet over my head.  We were either a bad luck crew or a good luck crew.  Take your choice.
We  were de-briefed at Downham Market and given a place to rest.

“February  20, 1944: In the morning we were fuelled and took off for Skipton.  Upon arrIval  I  
wrote my report of what happened  at my end of he airplane on our raid to Leipzig .  I also filled in my log book
then went to breakfast .  I managed 4 hours  sleep.”

German Foch Wolf 190


   German citizens searching for survivors in the rubble of Leipzig


The Leipzig air raid was not exactly a success.  823 aircraft were sent 78 of which were shot down (8.6%).  420 air crew  were killed.  131 successfully
bailed our and became Prisoners of War. This was the most disastrous Bomber  Command mission to this point in the war.   The older  Halifax Bombers
were pulled from missions after the raid.  Victor Poppa and crew  used a new  model  Halifax lucky for them since 34 others were shot down.
But, on the other hand, a great swath of Leipzig was flattened and incendiary bombs kindle fires in the medieval city making it a ruin.

 Leipzig as imagined in an 17th century engraving.  It was a wooden city … wooden

cities burn as was  proven over and over again by Bomber Command  incendiary shells.


alan skeoch
November 2019

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *