FIREBALL

Mac Hamilton DFC* - Pilot
619, 617, 267 Sqns
Mac died in 2008

At a reunion meeting of 619 Squadron Association at Woodhall Spa, after the church parade, a gentleman came up to me and said “Squadron Leader Hamilton, Sir?”. I answered him and he said “You don’t remember me, do you sir?” I answered, “Well your face is vaguely familiar but I don’t remember your name.” He said “I’m FIREBALL, Sir.” Then it all came flooding back to me.

Back in 1943, on my first tour, we returned from a raid on Berlin. The weather in November that night was filthy, freezing rain on take off but clear over the target, which was well bombed by the 5 Group Lancasters. Then on the way back into the filthy weather again!

As we were leaving the coast, somewhere near the Island of Texel, on the Dutch coast we ran into a barrage of flack. We were above cloud and did not see the flak until we were hit in the starboard inner engine. The header tank was hit and exploded, a fire started but was fortunately put out by the fire extinguisher. We feathered the engine and flew on, on three.

There was a rattling noise and the whole cowling broke loose and wrapped itself round the starboard tail plane, causing a lot of noise and a bit of drag, which didn’t help the stability. However, it soon broke off and disappeared into the North Sea. We landed back to base without more trouble and taxied in – fuel and hydraulic fluid still dripping from the damaged engine, which was dangerous.

Next morning I and my Flight Engineer went down to the hangar to check my aircraft. An engineer was working on the starboard inner engine. He was soaking wet with fuel and oil. Suddenly, just as we were leaving there was a yell and a flash and we turned round to see this chap jump down on fire from head to toe! A flight sergeant rushed up with a large fire extinguisher, very quickly put the fire out – starting with the engineer.

He said with a wide grin “that’s how I got the name ‘FIREBALL’”.

It appears that he had put the required notice on the aircraft door – DO NOT SWITCH ON ELECTRIC CIRCUITS. But someone doing their usual inspections had knocked it down and the following teams had switched on the current.

I remarked that he showed no signs of burns now. He replied “No, thanks to the prompt action of the Flight Sergeant who acted so quickly” and the excellent medical attention he got.

I only wish I could remember his real name!

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page last updated 28 June 2010: ACA Surrey Branch 2010