… It was summer 1940 and the Battle of Britain was in full swing. Meanwhile Tony, my lifetime friend, and I got on our bikes and cycled to Fighter Command headquarters - no local recruit place for us! “We want to join the RAF and fly fighters,” said the pair. “We’ll put your names down, lads, but you’re a bit young. Come back next year,” said the officer. Early 1941 found us two lads back at Stanmore - we were a very determined pair. In due course, in August 1941 the buff envelopes arrived, telling us to report to Aircrew Receiving Centre ..
GUILTY AS CHARGED
… The Wingco heard this and his face went purple. “Seize him!” he said to the Squadron Leader, then to me, “Wittridge, you are under open arrest.” The adjutant told me that I had nine charges against me, including mock combat without prior arrangement (Meteors) and below a safe height, aerobatics ditto, low flying, flying over built-up areas, etc, etc.. After a few days I was up in front of the AOC. I went in, saluted very smartly and stood at attention trying not to shake. He frowned, threw his spectacles on the desk, pushed his chair back and said, laughing his head off, “Wittridge, I find the charges are not substantiated by the evidence. Go away!”
… The foolish decision was made to fly (Harvards) across the airfield in line abreast with our wingtips touching! Back in the flight office we sat down and revelled in our ‘achievement’, but the peace was shattered by a shut from the Chief Instructor. “Wittridge, come here! The ground crew chief says there is a dent in your wingtip.” I quickly explained that we had been formation flying, as briefed, and hit a bit of air turbulence. “Funny,, it’s a nice calm day,” said he, “and for your information, son, I saw your ridiculous performance.” So I was put on a charge, found guilty and put on open arrest which meant reporting to the guardroom four times a day ..
ON GINGER LACY
… “Who the bloody hell are you?” Shouted Ross. “Well, actually my name’s Lacey and I have been sent here to take over from Sqdn Ldr Krohn while he is ‘sick’”. Who hadn’t heard of Ginger Lacey? We all shot to our feet, such was our respect for a great man. We couldn’t wait to get our hands on his log-book.
… Ginger Lacey then joined 17 Squadron and shot down an Oscar. The 17 Squadron armourer went up to him and said, “They say you shot one down,” so Ginger said, “Yes, why?” “Well, you’ve only used nine rounds of cannon - you couldn’t have done.” “Oh, really, Flight Sergeant - that’s far more than I thought I’d used!”
IF IT LOOKED RIGHT, IT FLEW RIGHT
A very noticeable, newly acquired personal characteristic, which was shared among us, was not to worry or over-concentrate on any particular aircraft. We could all, when walking out to an aircraft, get a mental ‘feel’ for each one and would find it ‘flew like it looked ’..
Who could deny the beauty and lovely flight characteristics of the Mosquito?
NEARLY THE END
1944, Chittagong area. After a particularly jolly party and a skinful of local pugli pani (grog) we felt hot and sick in the high humidity and Harpo said, “who’s for a swim?” Off we stripped and ran down the lovely flat sand to the very calm sea with a deep red sun dropping on the horizon. The water was beautiful and we were both good swimmers and went out a fair way. I then heard the most glorious music I had ever heard and felt wonderful - it was in harmony with colours I had never seen before, too beautiful to describe. I was, of course, out cold, or even clinically dead, as I had stopped breathing. The next I knew was that Harpo had me on the sand pumping water out of me. He had apparently been at it for some time and kept persevering after he felt I had had it! Did some sort of divine happening occur? This unforgettable experience, among others, has had the effect of convincing me that there is a beautiful, if undeserved, afterlife for the worst of us, of which I am one. Believe it or not, I have also been given help or a guiding hand when I have prayed aloud in some very difficult or dangerous situations ..
18th December 1945 at Ramat David. While coming in to land at base the port flap failed and I hit the deck at 150mph. The aircraft crumbled into little bits. I sustained two spinal fractures, fractured and dislocated ankle (wished for full RAF straps instead of Mustang lap strap) ..
… I was due for a job at St Albans as Officer in Charge of Bicycles or something else horrible. I had applied the previous year for the Empire Test Pilot’s School at Farnborough when there were several hundred applicants for 20 places, together with another 15 for overseas applicants. I went again, having been invited to Farnborough, and felt a bit nervous … The Groupie said that they would like to hear what I thought of the Meteor and how I should improve it. After a pause I said, ‘I think that the thing is brute force and aerodynamic ignorance, and to modify the aircraft in any way would be a complete and utter waste of time and public money!’ Dead silence! No further questions were forthcoming, just ‘Thank you, Wittridge, for coming’. I was accepted and invited to join on 1 February 1952 ..
… I had an interesting test to do when it was required to assess a new ‘g’ suit to get the maximum bearable gravity with or without the suit during continuous steep turns or pull-outs; for fit pilots this was between 3 and 4 ‘g’ for 10 seconds but with the suit the numbers were doubled up to 8 ‘g’. The unit was the bottom part of a pressure suit which stopped too much blood being drained from the head. The question was how to do it, as the standard RAF fighters at the time were the Meteor and the Vampire, both of which were limited to 4-5 ‘g’. Someone said, ‘what about a Spit?’ It transpired that it was cleared to 13 ‘g’!
… Compare the opposition of the day; the Japs had aircraft that resembled copies of American fighters, perhaps made by the same people who made those nasty tin toys I used to cut my fingers on as a kid. They were relatively easy to clobber, being no match for a Spit. Without wishing to belittle our allies, the best American fighter WAS the Mustang, a British design specification with a laminar flow (thin) wing and fitted with the feeble Allison engine, superseded by the Packard-built R-R Merlin ..