Kevin King, Chairman of the Friends of 75 (NZ) Squadron Association in the UK recently sent me a copy of this poem, written from the perspective of the ground crews at Mepal, working hard day and night to keep 75 (NZ) Squadron’s Lancasters in the air.
It came from the collection of LAC Fred Woolterton, RAFVR 1814705, FME (Flight Mechanic Engines), “C” Flight, although Kevin suspects from the style that it may have been written by Ken Moore, an English Mid-Upper Gunner and prolific poet who served with the squadron in those long-ago Lancaster days.
Fred was a good friend of Dog’s FME, Dennis Jones; they had enlisted together. He was one of the four-man ground crew team that maintained “C” Flight’s most famous Lancaster, NE181, JN-M “The Captain’s Fancy”.
Full of the jargon and slang of a 1945 bomber station, it gives an insight into the daily tedium, chatter and tension of preparations for a “maximum effort” (all available aircraft) operation.
Maximum effort – magic words,
Passing from lip to lip ‘along the vine’
With speculation filling in the blanks,
That help to start each teller ‘shoot the line’.
Checks on the bomb types – Fuelling plan,
Widening the rumours spread – already rife,
And what Old Baldy heard his Gunner say
The Gunnery Office told the Groupie’s wife.
Surely not Hamburg – not again
The Armourers say there’s no incendiary load,
Berlin ? perhaps – that’s what they think
The Lewis gunners over by the road.
Heard it from Chiefie – ‘Its Cologne’
‘That engine-change is wanted on the dot’
How about J ? – ‘You bet your Life’
And ‘M’ for Mother too, – the Dual – the lot!
Soon they’ll be coming straggling out
And binding us for early NFT’s
Here comes the crew-bus now – round the P’rim,
Come on then, ‘Fingers out’ – get off your knees!
How is the Weather? – Not too good.
The mist along the Fenland – ‘Will it clamp?’
‘What time is take-off?’ Will they Scrub?
‘Maybe they’ll land us at some other camp’.
Waiting a lifetime, on the base
it seems, until grotesque, the crew appear
again, bulky and leathered anonymities
As time of take-off gradually creeps near.
Sputtering engines, Fitters oaths,
And muttered jibes like – ‘Cockpit trouble Mate?’
‘prime it once more’ – ‘turn the Port Inboard over’
and ‘Just our luck to send the bastard late’.
Thunderous roaring – Final checks,
Maximum boost – and then the tearing run,
Rising like great Black birds, malevolent,
Turning on course across the setting sun.
Blissful the silence, darkening sky.
All of our Eagles winging on their trip
Clutched to their bellies Yellow bombs
to shower down, ‘Cry Havoc! – and let slip’.
Now it is over – Anti-climax
Waiting begins again, and NAAFI tea,
Pondering that early dawn of resurrection
Brief hours away, shattering our reverie.
When will they be back? – fleeting shadows,
Lumbering and looming in the early morning light,
How many shadows? – Here comes J for Johnnie,
Some of the shadows may not last the night.
Home again gladly, – Misty vapours,
trailing around the trestles, and the acc.
Broad grins of welcome – ‘Did you have a picnic’
‘Piece of cake Cobber’ – ‘How about that Flak’.
Intelligence questions – never ending
‘What did it look like’ – ‘Mass of flaming Red’
Weary rejoinders, – ‘Course we found the target’
‘Hurry up Sir, and let’s all get to bed’.
So for a respite, Welcome, fleeting,
Until the magic words are heard again
Glow in the East, the Sun’s already started,
Mournful the whistle of a morning train.
– Thanks to Kevin King.