There are several excellent personal recollections of what individuals went through in RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War. I have read many, and would like to get hold of a few which have passed through my hands over the years. I would also be interested to hear from anyone who may have recommendations.
Three books which remain on my shelves and which get hauled out every so often are:
- Charlwood, Donald. No Moon Tonight. London: Angus & Robertson, 1956.
- Tripp, Miles. The Eighth Passenger. London: Heinemann, 1969.
- Yates, Harry. Luck and a Lancaster. Shrewsbury: Airlife, 1999.
Don Charlwood’s and Miles Tripp’s books caused sensations when they were first published, giving a personal and very direct view of what life was like in Bomber Command at different times in the war. Yates’ book came out somewhat later, but was, and is, remarkable for a first book written at the age of 77. All of them give a personal sample of opinions and attitudes among the aircrews; the lives they lived on the squadrons, the stress of operational flying, the constant threat of death, and the simple urge to survive.
With the increasing use of the Internet as a research tool many websites and blogs have arisen. One in particular that grabbed my attention was the simple but well researched and eloquent “Aircraft Q failed to return.” (http://rafww2butler.wordpress.com/) This site is dedicated to the memory of Sgt. Cecil Arthur “Butch” Butler (1913-1945), Flight Engineer on Lancaster ME334 “TL-Q” of 35 Squadron. Butler and the rest of the Johnson crew were killed on their 31st operation on 4th February, 1945 when their Lancaster was shot down on the outskirts of Bonn. The normal Bomber Command tour of duty was 30 operations (see below for a different perspective), but since 35 Squadron was part of 8 Group PFF (Pathfinder force) they would have been required to complete a tour of 45 operations.
35 Squadron Lancaster, similar to ME334 ‘Aircraft Q’ in which “Butch” Butler and his crew were killed in February 1945. (mod.gov.uk)
The Eighth Passenger Revisited.
I was re-reading The Eighth Passenger recently and wondered if any more information could be found on the Web about the crew. I’d known about Miles Tripp’s career as a thriller writer from the time I started working in a Library, but I’d never seen or read his first novel (Faith is a Windsock, 1952) or had any idea of his wartime service in 218 Squadron. The Eighth Passenger had the same effect on me as it must have on so many people when it was first published in 1969, it was a fascinating, amusing, and occasionally shocking revelation. Tripp and his crew (led by Flight Lieutenant George Frederick “Dig” Klenner, DFC, RAAF) were probably the only members of 3 Group Bomber Command to complete a tour of 40 operations when the operational tour limit was briefly increased in 1944/5.
Most readers of The Eighth Passenger will be familiar with this picture of the Klenner crew on completion of their last operational flight on March 11th, 1945.
Klenner crew, 218 Squadron, on completing their operational tour, 11 March 1945.
From L-R Miles “Mike” Tripp (Bomb Aimer), Ray Parke (Flight Engineer), George Bell, (Navigator),
George “Dig” Klenner (Pilot, RAAF), Paul Songest (M/U Gunner),
Les Walker (Wireless Op), Harry McCalla (Rear Gunner)
I assumed that other pictures of the crew might have been taken at the time but I hadn’t seen any of them until a couple of days ago when I saw this on a 218 Squadron website:
I had wondered why “Mike” Tripp’s fellow crew members commented in The Eighth Passenger about his non-military hairstyle and how far ahead of its time it was. From this angle one can almost see how his hairstyle would be adopted with some enthusiasm by the mods, nearly 20 years later!