Chapter from Upside Down Nothing on the Clock from Woking ACA

THIRD TIME UNLUCKY

contributed by
LES BIGWOOD
who was a mid-upper gunner and flew in Lancasters of 103 Squadron, 1 Group,
from Elsham Wolds in 1944 and 1945.

Sgt Les Bigwood
Les Bigwood
I joined the RAF in 1939 and trained initially as a Flight Mechanic, and later went on to qualify as a Fitter IIE.

After volunteering for aircrew, I did my training first in Canada and then in the Isle of Man at the Gunnery School at Andreas. From there I was to join a crew and ultimately, we were posted to Elsham Wolds to join 103 squadron using Lancasters. By the end of the war, this squadron was to have carried out the most bombing raids of any in the Group and also suffered the most losses.

I have memories of 3 operations we undertook, particularly. The first is when we were returning from a German target and were attacked by a Messerschmitt 109. The aircraft was not badly damaged but in the mid upper turret I became aware that my neck was extremely cold. Turning round, I saw that the Perspex panels behind me had been blown away by a bullet that had missed my head by about three inches. This bullet was discovered on the floor of the turret, after landing, and I have it still as a memento of a very near miss.

The second memory is of returning over the coast at Weymouth just as dawn was breaking. Looking to the rear of the Lancaster from the turret, I was disquieted to see two incendiary bombs embedded in the tailplanes, one either side of the fuselage. I called the skipper with the bad news and asked him if he could possibly land on a sixpence and give us fourpence change! Thank goodness he could and after landing, we all scarpered as smartly as we were able to a safe distance.

Les Bigwood in the late 1990s
Les Bigwood
The third incident occurred when we had almost reached home from a sortie, again to Germany. We found that a 1,000lb bomb was hung up, and we also had fire break out in one of the port engines and were losing height very rapidly. The skipper got us on the intercom and told us to do what we thought best, so three of the crew got out immediately. We were actually at only 90 feet above the deck and the ground came up alarmingly rapidly. I finished up with a severely damaged back, neck, both legs, a badly fractured left wrist and a smashed nose. I spent a very long recovery period in Roehampton hospital.

I have had to give up marathon running and ice hockey, but on the whole it could have been worse.

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