93-year-old Tom Sayer from Chal­font St Giles had an ex­tra­or­di­nary ser­vice in the Sec­ond World War which in­volved search­ing for U-boats, bombing Europe and even meet­ing King George VI. LOR­CAN LOVETT finds out his story

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DEL Boy and Rod­ney of­ten groaned at the sound of Un­cle Al­bert’s ‘dur­ing the war’ anec­dotes but you could not help feel­ing their in­ter­ests were piqued.

There were many more Un­cle Al­berts around in the hey­day of Only Fools and Horses who could tell tales of ex­tra­or­di­nary events shap­ing the lives of or­di­nary peo­ple though war sto­ries di­rect from the source are be­com­ing more scarce th­ese days.

Time is tak­ing its toll, even for a county rich with brave war vet­er­ans like Buck­ing­hamshire. So that’s why I lis­tened hard when en­ter­ing the house of 93-year-old Tom Sayer.

Mr Sayer of Bot­trells Lane, Chal­font St Giles, sits among a room of mem­o­ries.

Paint­ings and photographs of air­craft adorn the wall – Hal­i­faxes, Stir­lings, Stear­mans and Ox­ford planes, the old pi­lot re­mem­bers each ma­chine’s pe­cu­liar­i­ties. The pho­to­graph of a proud, hand­some young man in uni­form sits along­side another of his sweet­heart Jen­nie play­ing the pi­ano.

Born the son of a farmer in North York­shire, Mr Sayer went on to ful­fil his most am­bi­tious of boy­hood dreams yet he may never have imag­ined the dan­gers

and moral quan­daries he would have to face.

“I’m just grate­ful to be alive,” he says, be­fore evok­ing a dis­tinct child­hood mem­ory.

His fa­ther was tak­ing a break from sharp­en­ing tools for hay mak­ing when a young Mr Sayer asked why birds could fly but peo­ple could not.

“He said we can­not fly be­cause we have not got any wings and be­cause the birds have wings they have nae hands,” he rem­i­nisces.

A cou­ple of years later he heard the rum­bling of an en­gine in the sky and dashed out­side his ru­ral home to see a plane.

De­ter­mined to be a pi­lot, Mr Sayer stud­ied hard to pass his exams while girl­friend Jen­nie prac­tised her mu­sic. The pair would sneak off to nearby mar­ket towns for film screen­ings on the week­ends.

A 16-year-old Mr Sayer landed an ap­pren­tice­ship with the ad­min­is­tra­tion side of the RAF in Ruis­lip, and left Jen­nie for the first time since school. He then moved to Scot­land and rapidly proved him­self thanks to his sharp­ness picked up from years of tena­cious study­ing.

He was pro­moted to cor­po­ral ‘in no time at all’, he says, and was al­lowed to sign up for fly­ing on his 18th birth­day.

The pro­saic data en­tries in his log­book hint at a whirl­wind year of trav­el­ling across the At­lantic to re­search dif­fer­ent planes be­fore be­ing or­dered to spot Ger­man U-boats in the At­lantic.

“First up was fly­ing 10 hours at a time at zero feet over the Bay of Bis­cay, which was not funny. If we had any trou­ble we’d al­ready be at sea level which meant the unit I was in had the high­est per­cent­age of losses in the whole of coastal com­mand.”

Mr Sayer did not see find any sub­marines him­self although he feels the pres­ence of his unit served as a de­ter­rent to the en­emy who ‘had to stay be­low’.

And at the thought of fly­ing for the first time, he out­stretches his hands into the air like his arms are wings and holds them there, re­joic­ing in the feel­ing.

It was so mar­vel­lous when I first flew a plane – but I also re­alised I had a very re­spon­si­ble job

to do’

“It was so mar­vel­lous when I first flew a plane,” he says, then low­ers his hands and looks into my eyes. “But I also re­alised from that mo­ment on­wards I had a very re­spon­si­ble job to do.”

The sec­ond unit he joined was 102 Squadron which suf­fered the sec­ond worse per­cent­age of losses on bomber com­mand.

By now the war was in full swing and Jen­nie had given up her civil ser­vice exams to help out in London.

She had the un­en­vi­able task of tele­phone op­er­a­tor who had to con­tinue work­ing even when the bombs be­gan to drop and all else were hud­dled in the bunkers.

Mr Sayer says: “We did not marry un­til after the war which was wrong of me. I thought if she mar­ried she would have to give up the job she even­tu­ally got in the civil ser­vice.”

The pi­lot be­gan a co bombing mis­sions over Europe with a hand-picked crew – about five tonnes of bombs each time, many high ex­plo­sives but some in­cen­di­aries. He be­gins list­ing names of the places he bombed, Nurem­burg ‘had it pretty bad’, he says. Dus­sel­dorf, Krefeld, Ham­burg, Aachen, Mont­be­liard. We stop. That’s in France, he adds.

“Yes we had to bomb the Peu­geot fac­tory,” he says. “We were told the fac­tory work­ers were out­side hav­ing a meet­ing. Whether it was fact or fic­tion I will never know.

“I was sorry for those peo­ple we bombed but we had to do that, oth­er­wise what would have been the al­ter­na­tive? If it was in chaos they could not work. By cre­at­ing havoc on a big pro­duc­tion area we could stop them pro­duc­ing and it meant thou­sands of men which could have been on the front line were in Ger­many try­ing to stop us bombing.” The door­bell goes. It’s a woman of­fer­ing Mr Sayer a box of bis­cuits which he won in the vil­lage’s twinning as­so­ci­a­tion raf­fle last week­end. He al­ways seems to win, he tells me, with a glint in his eye. can see why Jen­nie liked it so much here,” he says. “It’s a great place to live. She loved Buck­ing­hamshire.”

The con­ver­sa­tion moves back to bombing. The Bri­tish tech­nique, he says, was ‘much bet­ter than the Americans’.

A pathfinder plane would mark the tar­get with a red bomb which would il­lu­mi­nate it­self for other planes to hit. Then if there was a bet­ter area, the pathfinder would mark it with a dif­fer­ent colour and tell the bombers to re­di­rect them­selves to­ward there.

“The Americans would car­pet bomb. Although that was ef­fec­tive we could get a con­cen­tra­tion,” he says, and then pauses. “We could rely on th­ese pathfind­ers to give us the right place to bomb which was won­der­ful.”

On one of the mis­sions Mr Sayer was shot at by a Ger­man fighter. He put the plane in a po­si­tion where the gun­ner could take out the en­emy be­fore re­join­ing the ‘stream’ of al­lied planes, sav­ing the lives of his crew.

He was awarded the Dis­tin­guished Fly­ing Medal, one of the five which are placed on the ta­ble in front of us. King George VI per­son­ally pinned the medal on him in a cer­e­mony at Buck­ing­hamshire Palace which Mr ayer’s par­ents trav­elled down for. “He of course stut­tered a lit­tle it and we were all in­formed of hat. He said good morn­ing, and what air­craft were you fly­ing. I said Hal­i­fax and he said ‘I have heard f those, best of luck’,” says Mr ayer. “And his wife [the Queen Mother] was sit­ting be­hind him, smil­ing nicely. I was a bit gob­s­macked by it all but I was also sorry for the king. You could see even then that he was not well.”

The pi­lot’s next mis­sion saw him drop off glid­ers from west to south east Eng­land on D-Day which were then filled with troops and sup­plies and de­liv­ered to the front in Nor­mandy.

He mar­ried Jen­nie in 1946, had two chil­dren be­fore mov­ing to Chal­font St Giles 40 years ago and work­ing as a fac­tory pro­duc­tion man­ager for EMI records after the war.

Jen­nie died of can­cer 10 years ago and, like the war mem­o­ries, you feel it hap­pened yes­ter­day when talk­ing with him.

He is happy to share his mem­o­ries, much like Un­cle Al­bert and many oth­ers out there, so do not be afraid to ask and cer­tainly do not groan. You could learn some­thing fas­ci­nat­ing.

HE­ROES: WW2 RAF veteran Tom Sayer (back row 2nd from left) and his crew in 1943

TAKE FLIGHT: (left) Tom’s let­ter from when he was com­mi­sioned as a Fly­ing Of­fi­cer in 1944 and (main pic­ture) the young pi­lot look­ing stylish in a pic­ture taken in 1941

Chris Berry NL201411374_02

WARTIME MEM­O­RIES: World War II veteran Tom Sayer with ar­chives from his days as a pi­lot

FO­RUM: Tom at de­brief meet­ing in 1943 and, in­set, his medals

FROM TOM’S FILES: View of dev­as­ta­tion of Frankfurt and the young

pi­lot’s record book

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