ROY POWELL - HIS RECORDED BLOG RETOLD



Douglas Roy Powell ex-WOP/AG and ex-Chairman North Devon Branch

Roy, as he is better known volunteered for aircrew at seventeen just before the Battle of Britain 1940 but it was October before he donned uniform. He was previously in the L.D.V. known locally as Look, Duck & Vanish! Roy at that time had started an apprenticeship with an engineering company. He was posted to Drem in Scotland after initial training and was employed on ground defence and ditch digging to improve the airfield drainage. The airfield was home to a few fighter squadrons resting after the B. of B.

In 1941 a posting of a group of would-be aircrew to Kenton Bar, Newcastle upon Tyne, again to provide ground defence of the underground control Bunker 13.

In Spring 1941 a posting to Blackpool to start the wireless operator's course followed by posting to Yatesbury (Wilts) for the second part of the wireless course. Then posted to RAF Cranage (No2 School of Air Navigation) where life became more interesting. Daily inspections on Ansons led to the chance to fly as a Wireless Operator with a variety of pilots to carry navigators on cross country exercises providing several hundred flying hours.

In 1942 a posting to Madley, Herefordshire, for airborne wireless training before posting for airgunnery course to RAF Pembrey. On completing the A.G. course, Roy opted to join a Boston Squadron (not an obvious choice for a Lancastrian) and moved on to 13 O.T.U. at Bicester on Blenheims where he crewed up with a Sgt. Jock Martin from Ayr, a pilot he had flown with at Cranage. They recruited an Observer, Geoff Briggs from Bradford, so two of the three could understand each other! After a successful O.T.U. the crew joined 107 Squadron flying Bostons on daylight raids from Massingham in Norfolk in Spring, 1943. Targets were ports, airfields and industrial targets until they learned of the threat of flying bombs or doodlebugs when a very hush-hush move sent 107 to Hartford Bridge (later renamed Blackbushe) to gain better access to the doodlebug launch sites in northern France. That was in 1943 and 107 left Fighter Command to become part of 2nd T.A.F.attacking the launch sites, the Todt HQ by Calais and Cherbourg E.boat pens. The latter seemed intended to force the Fw190's into battle with our fighter escort. As 1944 dawned a new operation started for 2 Group planes, flying parallel to the French coast at wavetop height in front of the coastal batteries laying a smokescreen to try and deceive the enemy that the plan was to invade in the Pas de Calais area.

In October 1943 a disastrous raid on an aircraft factory at Courcelles, Belgium, cost many lives in 107, 88 and 342 Squadrons and many aircraft including the CO's aircraft and crew. This caused 107 to convert to Mosquitoes at Lasham and the air gunners and wireless operators dispersed elsewhere.

Roy found himself at Upper Heyford on Wellington O.T.U. joining a new pilot and crew before posting to Northolt to join 69 Squadron. The plan was to fly low level at night over the battlefield shining a Leigh Light on the enemy armour for Mustangs to rocket the tanks. The powers that be did not want to risk Wop/AG's or rear gunners on these operations and the rear gunner and Roy did not protest at their immediate departure! So, it was back to Upper Heyford and then Stradishall, a heavy Con. Unit in Suffolk, for Stirlings.

The day D.Day dawned Roy applied - and was granted permission - to see the C.O. to tell him that he, Roy, was not being used as an instructor and wished to be posted to an active squadron. His request was granted and he arrived at North Creake to join 199 Squadron flying Stirlings on radar counter measures. Roy joined a crew piloted by an Australian, Joe Merryful, who shortly after was killed whilst developing a window dropping roller conveyor.

Roy completed a further 35 operations by which time it was April 1945 when he decided he'd had enough and the Adj. agreed. So ended his wartime operations.

Following leave and VE Day, 8th May, postings to Catterick, then to a Transport Command O.T.U. in Cumberland and then to Morecombe to await a posting abroad. This arrived in late November in great haste, no time for leave, kitting out or vaccinations, a group was rushed off to Oakington to fly in a Liberator to Karachi. The Air Force had posted the Liberator Squadron before they arrived and so the group was despatched by rail to Stoney Cross in the New Forest to join a Dakota bound for Karachi. It left on the 29th November 1945.

An overnight stop in Sardinia and on the next day to Tobruk (El Adem) to refuel. There was a violent electrical storm which caused an aircraft to crash after refuelling. The delay in checking the fuel bowsers to ensure they were free from water
meant that arrival in Cairo was in the dark. Approaching the airfield at Almaza the Dakota pilot flew in too low and struck a 9ft. high rock escarpment. It never reached the perimeter fence and was well ablaze. There were sixteen aircrew aboard with full kit and the seats faced inwards from the sides of the fuselage. Roy was seated on the starboard side, his right shoulder against the bulkhead separating the crew quarters and his two pals sitting to his left ( next to him was Don Kemp also a W/O Wop/AG from Leeds and next to Don was Lew Lane a F/O from St. Helens).

The deceleration on impact caused a severe blow to the side of Roy's head from the head of Don Kemp.

When Roy regained consciousness he headed for the exit and into the cool night air. Once outside he realised what had happened and headed back towards the crashed plane to find his two pals. On his way back he came across one of the passengers on the ground burning from head to foot. Roy tried to put out the flames by chucking handfuls of desert sand on the prostrate form until a crash crew member arrived and took over.

Roy left the crash crew member to continue his search for Don and Lew. He re-entered the Dakota but was urged to leave it by another crash crew member and he did as he was asked.

Arriving in the Station Sick Quarters it resembled a morgue with lots of tables with aircrew screaming and vomiting laid on them. Roy continued to search among the tables for Don and Lew but only found Lew. Roy was given a large wad of wadding and told to hold it to his left ear to stop it falling off. Little did he realise his injuries in that he had been unconscious for a brief time.

The hospital was RAF No.5 Hospital Abbassia near Heliopolis and the staff were first class in emptying a ward full of surgical cases to make room for the survivors. Of the sixteen aboard the Dakota only eight survived and these did not include Don Kemp who lived some 36 hours and lost a lot of blood so he was the one Roy tried to help. Lew suffered a broken back but lived to return to St. Helens. Fortunately, neither Lew nor Roy suffered burns. Apart from having a few back teeth smashed and nearly losing his left ear Roy suffered concussion from the blow to his head which caused partial memory loss that lasted for more than 50 years.

After several weeks in hospital a psychiatrist arrived and tried to pursuade Roy to resume his journey to Karachi by air but did not convince Roy that it was a good idea. Roy also declined to fly back to the UK if he was given the chance.

By February Roy was in touch with H.Q. Middle East and he was put on a troopship UK bound with a medical category A.T.B.T. (unfit for any form of duty). Apart from losing his memory, Roy lost all his kit and personal possessions, records, log book and photographs, addresses of contacts gained over the years of service.

On arrival in the U.K. Roy was given a spot of leave and told to report to RAF Innsworth where he was kitted out and posted to RAF Honiley near Warwick. Here he met and courted a WAAF former R/T operator in March 1946, this led to marriage in February 1947 to Lynne fron a Pennine village in Yorkshire, and demob came in July 1947 by which time guess what - Roy no longer had a medical category A.T.B.T. and was married in uniform "Lew's Best Blue".

Settling into Civvy Street was no easy matter and both Roy and Lynne had a series of jobs. They set up home near Manchester and Roy returned to his apprenticeship, but not for long. He was offered a job in the engineering department of a local steelworks, but got the chance of a job in an oil refinery project in South Wales before sailing to Australia to work in a refinery construction project near Freemantle. Within five weeks of arriving there with Lynne their daughter Linda was born.

Returning to the U.K. in 1954 Roy gained a job in London on contract management of an integrated steel plant in India followed by a similar project in Yugoslavia at Skopje by another consortium, moving to Sheffield to join one of the consortium members. Here he played a significant part in landing a share of the Thames Flood Barrier Project which was huge and lasted for a number of years. He followed this by taking charge of nine contracts in the Soviet Union until completion. Then came retirement in Devon which seems so quiet.
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