A Trip Back in Time

Tuesday, the 24th July, and together with W.Bro. Alex Caldwell P.A.G.St.B. and W.Bro. Geoff Wilson, P.P.G.S.W., I am bound for Lincolnshire. More specifically our first stop is R.A.F. Scampton Historical Museum. Whilst neither Alex nor Geoff was stationed at Scampton it never the less has many memories for them being the birth place of 617 Squadron, The Dambusters.

Flt. Lt. Alex Caldwell D.F.M joined 9 Squadron in 1943, aged 17, as a Tail gunner flying 20 missions with them, transferring to 617 in 1944 and completing a further 12 missions including the attack on the Tirpitz. On one occasion they had to turn back with problems which eventually resulted in them having to bail out in the Wash, the very cold North Sea, at night. A frightening experience which Alex recalls in typically nonchalant fashion. He is seen on the attached photos sitting at the desk used Wing Comm. Guy Gibson leader of the Dams raid. Flt. Sgt. Geoff is seen the desk but also with an Auster aircraft in the background, generally used as a spotter plane in the R.A.F. Unsurprisingly to those who know him, Geoff was not ordinary, he was a pilot navigator, a rare combination and he actually flew an Auster in peace time.

After Scampton, a short journey to Skellingthorpe, now a large housing estate with a Leisure and Community Centre. In 1943 this was the home of 50 Squadron and also Flt. Sgt. Geoff Wilson. Nothing remains of the airfield but two rooms in the local Community Centre are devoted to the memory of the airmen who served there. Geoff is seen at the memorial commemorating those who died in service and which is located at the community centre, He was able to peruse photograph albums displaying pictures of those who had been stationed there, many who were known to Geoff, a very emotional experience. Both of them told me that when they joined Bomber command, they were informed in the clearest terms not to become close friends with anyone. The reason being that death was an ever-present, and of 125000 personnel in Bomber Command more than 55000 died, a sobering thought.

Finally to Woodhall Spa, 617 transferred there in 1944 as did Flt. Lt. Caldwell D.F.M, where he and his fellow Officers enjoyed the facilities of the Petwood Hotel, their Officers Mess. Alex and Geoff enjoyed a pleasant lunch before embarking on a tour including what was the Briefing room, now a dining room and the Bar, unaltered. Here we found on display an old piece of wall paper, signatures appended of aircrew of the time with that of Alex in the middle and where he provided an explanation to a young couple who were suitably impressed. The trip concluded with a visit to the memorial of those who died which is situated in the centre of Woodhall Spa, Alex is shown the side of the memorial.

I then drove them back to Wakefield where Geoff, who enjoyed a doze on the way back, retrieved his car and I then took Alex to his home in Huddersfield. I arrived home almost 12 hours to the dot, having had a memorable day, one I will never forget, in the company of two ‘Heroes’. I leave the last word to W.Bro. Geoff, who I spoke with when compiling this piece, and he assured me that he had thoroughly enjoyed himself but said ‘the war is now in the past and I think Duncan that it is where it should remain’. I can add nothing to that.

W.Bro.Duncan Smith P.A.G.D.C.