Friday, 11 October 1940

RAF Stradishall

Farley and Oettle return to RAF Abingdon in Whitley P5025. It may have required maintenance; North Weald is a Fighter station, without the facilities and technical staff to service a heavy bomber; Abingdon will perform the Flight’s Whitley maintenance for several months to come. At 17.20 Farley takes off in P5025 for Stapleford, North Weald’s satellite airfield. (Its runways are long enough provided the Whitley is empty.) He takes P/O Greenhill with him. Farley has other duties, for he hands the Whitley over to Greenhill and takes Lysander P9027, one of the Flight’s new long-range Lysanders, over to Rochford (Southend) for the evening.

Greenhill ferries Whitley P5025 over to Stradishall. (According to Ken Merrick, Greenhill is a Lysander pilot, and not cleared to fly the Whitley.) Sergeants Bernard and Davies are aboard; Bernard is to arrange the Flight’s Other Ranks accommodation; he travels in the rear turret. Davies in the wireless-operator’s position in the cockpit. As the Whitley approaches Stradishall to land, Bernard realises that they are coming in at too steep an angle, too high and too fast. The Whitley’s going to stall: Bernard knows a crash is inevitable, and braces himself by grasping the cross-beam that runs through the fuselage between the twin fins, just forward of the rear turret.

In the crash, Bernard sees the rear turret is torn away from its mounting ‘like a rotten apple’. Up in the front, Davies grasps for a pencil that has fallen on the cockpit floor. It saves his life, for in the impact the wireless-operator’s position is crushed by the impact; the W/T sets end up where he had been sitting. There is no fire: the Graviner system isolates the fuel and triggers the fire extinguishers, but the almost-new Whitley is a write-off. Sergeants Bernard and Davies are taken to sick bay, but they are both fit enough for operations the following night.

24 Squadron

F/Lt Keast is posted to 419 Flight. A pilot with a domestic airline before the war, he had flown several times to northern France during the Phoney War and during the German invasion. He appears to be the replacement for F/Lt O’Neill, who has been posted away within Fighter Command.