The Malone col­umn

Pilot - - CONTENTS -

It was a priv­i­lege to hear Lan­caster pi­lot Rusty Waugh­man’s story

To the An­nual Gen­eral Meet­ing of the He­li­copter Club, a drysound­ing duty which is ac­tu­ally a bar­rel of mon­keys be­cause it marks the end of win­ter and the start of a bright new fly­ing sea­son. Old friends ven­ture blink­ing into the sun­light, fire up ma­chines and fly to a fine ho­tel to share a con­ge­nial lunch.

I’m a club­bable sort and I’ve joined a lot of things, but it’s no dis­re­spect to the rest to say the He­li­copter Club stands above all oth­ers. They wel­come renters like me who have to steal money, sell kid­neys and so on to fly, as well as house­hold names you’d recog­nise from the Sun­day Times Rich List, and we all bond over our love of he­li­copters. We have well-con­nected mem­bers and get to the parts other clubs can­not reach – I’ve been on a sub­ma­rine and an air­craft car­rier, I’ve driven tanks and stood un­der he­li­copters fir­ing rock­ets on Sal­is­bury Plain, I’ve dined in the House of Lords and landed an R44 on an off­shore plat­form, and all this for £57 a year! But guess what... our most over-sub­scribed club event last year was a visit to Fuller’s Brew­ery, with sam­ples.

What­ever else we do this year, the 2016 AGM will stick in my mind for­ever be­cause our guest speaker, Rus­sell Waugh­man, held us spell­bound with sto­ries of his ca­reer as a Lan­caster bomber pi­lot in the sec­ond world war. ‘Rusty’ Waugh­man DFC AFC, 93 years old and look­ing seventy, was a work­ing class kid from the north east who vol­un­teered for the RAF and learned to fly on Stear­mans and Tiger Moths in Canada be­fore con­vert­ing to Lan­cast­ers and be­ing posted to 101 Squadron at Lud­ford Magna. Apart from the Ger­man U-boat ser­vice, Bomber Com­mand had the high­est death rate in the war, and 101 Squadron had the high­est death rate in Bomber Com­mand.

Along with a bomb load, each 101 Lan­caster car­ried a Ger­man-speak­ing crew­man and ra­dio equip­ment known as ‘ABC’ with which to jam Luft­waffe ATC. Be­cause it was the only squadron so equipped, 101 al­most cer­tainly par­tic­i­pated in more raids on Ger­many than any other squadron. In Rusty’s first five operations the ca­su­alty rate was forty per cent. “You quickly got fa­tal­is­tic”, he told us. “You’d lose friends, you’d go to the Mess and raise a glass, you’d say ‘Here’s to old so-and-so, and three cheers for the next man to die’.”

Rusty was twenty when he took part in his first raid on Berlin. “We were just kids re­ally”, he said. “We knew noth­ing. When I looked at my own kids at twenty, they were id­iots.” Ev­ery mis­sion was a night­mare of fight­ers and flak. “Ger­man radar was ex­cel­lent. They knew when we took off, they knew what our course was and they soon knew where we were go­ing.” Life be­came a mêlée of night fight­ers, box bar­rages and radar­guided mas­ter search­lights. “I was caught by search­lights for forty min­utes over Hanover and had to take eva­sive ac­tion the whole time… at the end I was com­pletely knack­ered.” In the spring of 1944, Rusty’s Lan­caster

Wing and a Prayer was hit from be­low by an­other Lan­caster which chopped off part of the port wing, took out one of the main wheels, killed the electrics and dam­aged the tailplane. “The en­gines were okay and she would still fly but I thought she wouldn’t hang to­gether for long, so I told the rear gun­ner Harry Nunn to grab his para­chute and get up front in case we had to bail out. Harry re­fused – he said he’d stick to his guns to pro­tect our rear. That was the kind of peo­ple we had... the pi­lot was only one man in a Lan­caster, and the oth­ers never get enough credit.”

Rusty later took part in the in­fa­mous Nurem­berg raid, when 101 Squadron pro­vided 26 out of some 700 par­tic­i­pat­ing air­craft. It was the worst disas­ter in the his­tory of the RAF – bright moon­light made the bombers sit­ting ducks. “We lost 97 bombers shot down over the tar­get, twenty lost else­where, and seven men in each one,” Rusty said. “Of the 26 Lan­cast­ers sent by 101 Squadron, seven didn’t come back. That was 56 let­ters the boss had to write the next day.” Rusty’s crew also took part in a mas­sive raid on the big­gest Ger­man mil­i­tary de­pot in Europe, at Mailly-le-camp in France. “We had to be ac­cu­rate in or­der to min­imise French ca­su­al­ties,” he said. “The Pathfind­ers went in to mark the tar­get, but [Leonard] Cheshire wasn’t sat­is­fied with their ac­cu­racy and went in to do it again. So we had 345 bombers milling around, at night, and the Luft­waffe got among them and it was ab­so­lute car­nage. Ra­dio dis­ci­pline broke down and some­body shouted ‘for Christ’s sake hurry up, we’re get­ting torn to pieces up here’. Then a la­conic Aus­tralian voice came on the ra­dio and said ‘shut up and die like a man’. When we went in, an­other bomber blew up un­der­neath us and turned us up­side down, so I can say I’ve bar­rel rolled a Lan­caster. We lost 42 Lan­cast­ers that night, that’s about 300 men.” Re­mark­ably, not a sin­gle French civil­ian was killed.

Dur­ing a raid on Stet­tin Rusty suf­fered double engine fail­ure. “We restarted one but came back very slowly and they were on the point of switch­ing off the lights at Lud­ford Magna when we landed. We went down to the Mess but there were no WAAFS there to serve us, just a note say­ing ‘please help your­self’. They were all out the back cry­ing their eyes out, be­cause ev­ery one of them had lost her boyfriend that night.”

It’s hard to know how we can ex­press our re­spect for peo­ple like Rusty. Bri­tish hon­ours have lost their shine; with all due re­spect to Sir Van Mor­ri­son and Sir Kevin Spacey, Win­kle Brown went to his grave with­out a knight­hood and that says it all to me. The French re­cently made Rusty a Che­va­lier (Knight) of the Lé­gion D’hon­neur, which sur­prised him, he said, “be­cause I’ve never been on a horse in my life”. But we hon­our Rusty, and all those who are left, in our hearts, and at the go­ing down of the sun and in the morn­ing we should re­mem­ber those who didn’t get so lucky.

No ar­ti­cle can ever do jus­tice to Rusty’s story – if you ever get the chance to hear him speak, move heaven and earth. You won’t re­gret it.

I’ve joined a lot of things but the He­li­copter Club stands above all “We lost 97 bombers over the tar­get and twenty else­where”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.