Sunday, 14 March 2010

Wartime Memories

While researching this week I uncovered the following which I thought I would share:

Fradley Aerodrome or RAF Lichfield, as it should correctly be called, opened in 1940 and was initially was a training base. During the earliest months of the base newly fledged pilots were not permitted to go on bombing raids but were sent with a propaganda payload. Leaflets containing messages designed to raise French spirits were dropped across northern France.
Later they were permitted to take the large Wellingtons across the North Sea and the bombing raids on Germany. Locals could not fail to be aware of these massive craft taking off and returning to the base. At over 64 feet in length, with a wingspan of 86 feet and a top speed of 235mph, fully laden they could weigh as much as thirteen tons at take off.
One night a resident was awoken by a Wellington returning from a bombing raid. Nothing unusual in this, the aircraft were so low over the roofs of these homes that the man of the house had remarked on more than one occasion of how they would ".. take the bloody roof off one night, gal.... ". Weeks passed and the man woke to a frightful noise, the spluttering, straining engines of the bomber were clearly struggling to keep the massive craft airborne. Dragging his wife from their bed and virtually throwing the two of them down the stairs, they took refuge under the kitchen table - not quite as futile as it sounds, furniture was solidly built in those days. To their disbelief the noise levels peaked and then ebbed away as the aircraft landed.
Next morning the man awakened before his wife. Off he toddled bleary-eyed and barely awake to answer a call of nature. Shortly afterwards he returned to their bedroom and woke his wife, taking her to the window he threw open the curtains. Instead of seeing the wooden privy at the bottom of the garden there was a gap in the fence and, beyond the fragments of broken wood in the field beyond. The pilot may have missed the house, but the undercarriage had ripped the tiny wooden shed from their garden and deposited the barely recognisable fragments in the neighbouring field.
Another accident had with tragic consequences. Taking off from the airfield one evening it was soon realised an engine was on fire. Abandoning the mission the four airmen, thought to be Australains, turned for home. The tight turn and lack of manouevrability made handling the craft very difficult and, as they turned it stalled. On impact the flames engulfed the fully-fuelled plane killing the crew. As the ground crew neared crash site the five hundred pound bomb they were carrying exploded, injuring four of them.
Since that time there have been a number of reports of men dressed as pilots being seen wandering around beside the busy A38 trunk road here.

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