‘I didn’t think that war with Germany would affect me’
Last month we published a Memories special by 83year-old Dick Legg, in which he reminisced about his boyhood in South Willesborough, otherwise known as Frogs Island. This prompted other readers to write in with their own memories of the era. Vic Crumbie,
WHEN I read the wonderful article in the newspaper by Dicky Legg, all the memories came flooding back to me. I am now nearly 84, and in my younger days lived in Hunter Avenue, Willesborough, and knew Dicky very well. Like him I knew the River Cut and Captain’s Wood, and was always over there fishing the various deeper pools, especially the Jack Hole, and we used to catch quite a few fair sized pike in it. I can also remember that aircraft false landing by the River Cut and tipping on its nose. This probably started my interest in flying, and I eventually became as a bomber pilot in World War Two. I can well remember when the Prime Minister said we were at war with Germany, but I didn’t think it would affect me. I was only about 15 or 16, and thought it would be over before I went into the forces.
But then the Germans invaded Belgium, Holland and France which put them just across the Channel from us, so there was no doubt we were next on their list. The Germans started to build up boats in the Channel ports, ready to bring their army over and invade us, and things looked very bad. The one thing we could do then was to send our RAF fighters over the Channel to machine gun and bomb these boats. Hitler realised that unless the RAF was destroyed, it would be difficult to invade, so he started the Battle of Britain, and I remember hundreds of German bombers coming over in vast formations, protected by terrific numbers of fighters. For days at a time, we would have seen these planes on their way to bomb London, and at times they would bomb Ashford.
I remember I was round the Newtown area when Ashford railway works was bombed. What always amazed me was the bravery of our fighters, when 20 or 30 of them would attack hundreds of German planes. We used to cheer if a German bomber or fighter came down, many of them in flames, but if one of ours came down we prayed that the pilot would be saved. Watching all this made me think that I could train as a fighter pilot, but as I went to the North Central School, I didn’t think my education would be good enough. I then found out all the various subjects that I would need to join as a fighter pilot, and sat up night after night studying subjects I’d never even heard of before. I went up to London and applied to go into the RAF as a fighter pilot. I took all the necessary exams, then they put me in a Link Trainer to test my reactions. At the end I was overjoyed as they said they would accept me for pilot training, and would send for me when ready, which they did. I had to go to London where we were taught marching etc. This I already knew as I had joined the ATC when it started in Ashford. We were then posted down to Ludlow in Shropshire, where we lived in tents on a toughening-up course. After four or five weeks of this we were sent home on a week’s leave, after which we had to report back to RAF training command in London. From there we were posted to Liverpool, when we had to get on a fairly big boat called the Rangaticy. There were about 50 of us, and we all thought we were going to Canada for our training as fighter pilots. After a while however, we realised we were heading south, and we finished up in Durban in South Africa. From there we went by train up to what was Rhodesia, where we were taught how to fly in Tiger Moths. Then we were posted up to Palestine, where we trained to fly a twin-engine Oxford plane – it was then we all realised we would be bomber pilots and not fighters. We were then trained to fly the twin-engined Vickers Wellington. After that, we came up through the desert and as the Germans retreated, finished up at Foggia in Italy, when they changed the whole group to Liberators, a four-engined US plane. I flew Wellingtons and Liberators on bombing operations, and saw many of my good friends killed or badly wounded. When the war finished we were posted back to Egypt, where we flew 8th Army soldiers home to England for some leave. We had to return to Egypt the next morning, and we only had one evening in England, but we made the most of it. It seems strange now that all these memories should be brought up by reading your article by Dicky.
Dick Legg, who wrote in with his memories of Willesborough in the 1930s
A youthful Victor Crumbie of Willesborough
Vic Crumbie at the age of 21
Vic Crumbie, with his wife Rita, who died in 2005