BACK TO THE DESERT
~ BACK TO THE DESERT ~
It says a lot for the urgency of the time and the spirit of the men involved, that after the debacle of Greece and the chaotic dispersal of its personnel, the squadron was able to reform so quickly at Ramleh in Palestine. Although not familiar to this second generation of 113 heros, Palestine as you may recall was the hunting grounds of the 113 during the first world war. Here, Aqir aerodrome had been completed and opened early in the year, Gaza was developed and Lydda taken over as an R.A.F. Station. These aerodromes were prepared for and subsequently occupied by the Squadron personnel evacuated from Greece, for the purpose of re-forming and re-arming them. The 113 Squadron of course was one of these and upon completion it was immediately returned to its former front line station near Ma'aten Bagush on 1st. June 1941 and recommenced operations against the enemy on the 10th. While this return to the desert would prove brief, it was one of the most chaotic and dangerous periods of the squadrons history. It was also a period when history was made, Rommel & the great tank battles, The Desert Rats, the 8th Army, Tobruck, El Alamein are names forever etched in history and 113 Squadron once again was in the very thick of it.
Sgt Ewan Brooking RNZAF Obs. picks up our story on arriving back to the desert from Greece: On the 1st June 1941, the Squadron arrived back in the desert. We were to be stationed at L.G.15, otherwise known as Bir Zimla or Sidi Haneish. The airfield was up on the escarpment above the railway line with the Station of Sidi Haneish below us, and was classed as a satellite of Ma'aten Bagush. It was just a large tract of desert cleared and leveled. The Officers mess and the Sargeants mess were pre-fab timber buildings fitted out with tables and chairs, and a bar. The other ranks mess was a large marquee, and the Ops room and stores were smaller marquees.The C.O.'s office was an ungainly box trailer on a high wheel chasis.Tents were used as billets, with two or four man occupants, and were dug in and also surrounded by a sandbag low wall.
Sgt's mess LG15 (Satellite of Ma'aten Bagush 1941
SOURCE: Sgt Ewan Brooking Obs. RNZAF
55 Squadron was still there and I met up with another observer from my course, Sgt. Billie Cole, and another N.Z.er Harry Hewitt. I found a bed for the night with with Harry in his tent. We had a few beers in the mess in the evening. With 55 gone and 113 settled in, came the time for crewing up. My 1 hr 20 minutes in Greece was evidentaly considered enough Operation Training for me to be Crewed up for Operational Flying. I considered myself lucky in that my pilot was to be an experienced Rhodesian in the R.A.F.,F/LT Stidolph. The gunner was a R.A.F. Sgt. Bill Smith, nickname "Jock" and of course from Scotland. Jock and I found an empty dugout with two beds, which suited us.
The Squadron settled in and came the time to start on Ops. My first Op was an attack on the road between Maraua and Slonta in a Fighter Blenheim, on the 10th of June. This involved flying over the desert south of the main Road in Libya, and then turning north to the road, and then turning east to strafe anything on the way back to Egypt. First time lucky in that we came across a truck convoy of the Africa Corp. We attacked every second truck, and the No.2 Blenheim had a go at the ones in between. 5-10 hrs for the first Op, in 5859"
Home on the desert LG15 (Satellite of Ma'aten Bagush) 1941. In the background can be seen several aircraft widely dispersed.SOURCE: Sgt Ewan Brooking RNZAF
AC-1 (Sgt) Sam Bessey recalls an interesting event immediately following the Squadron's return to Maaten Bagush: "I recall we also had the pleasure of hosting the Fleet Air Arm with their Swordfish ( 826 Squadron, May 1941) due to their carrier being damaged". The 826 was so successfull it returned to Ma'aten Bagush in July providing night illumination flares and support for both the airforce and army. An unfortunate accident was to occur in late September during training for these excercises.
Operations typical of this period through June, July and August are illustrated by this excerpt from Sgt Ewan Brookings log book. "The 17 June was also a straffing raid on the same road but between El Gubba and El Faidia, and we only found a solitary local truck. 5-20hrs. for that one, in 5859.There were no more strafing raids, as the next pair saw M.E.110's patroling the road. In the rest of June there were 3 more Ops. All bombing raids. 18th was enemy concentration at Bir Sheferzen. 2hrs 50, in 5893.Take off at 0958. 25th was a bombing raid on Gazala No. 1 L.G. which was uncompleted. Don't remember why not. 3hrs 50, in 2393. Take off at 1220. 26th.was another bombing raid on Gazala No 1.L.G. Completed this time. 4hrs 15, in 2393. Take off at 1130. So ended June, with my first 5 Ops.
Desert quarters 1941 once believed to be Ma'aten Bagush but given the ridge line in the background this seems unlikely. Terrain is very similar to Giarabub.
Left to right, Unknown, Sgt Ken Brett (Snozz) Sgt Lister Walker
SOURCE: W/O Lister Walker - Son Charlie Walker
During this period straffing the coastal road remained a regular activity however the squadron Fighter Blenheims were beginning to be phased out. Probably a recognition by High Command of the predominant bombing role being carried out at this time by 113, but strangely it was to be another three months before the operations record Book confirms that all the so called `Fighter' variants of the Blenheim had been replaced. Probably the differences between the two types were subtle. Regardless, the 113 remained versatile as always and set upon any task handed them. The diversity of these operations is well illustrated by two entries in Sgt George Checketts log book, the first where he shows his crew, Sgt Bob Hay and Sgt pilot Frank Baker doing a shipping patrol off the coast of Cyrencia in late August (28/08/1941) and having found nothing at sea they bombed the harbour in Bardia instead. The next entry in September (09/09/1941) found them bombing aerodromes deep within enemy teritory. In this raid the boys displayed an amusing sense of thriftiness when they dropped their bombs, 1 each, on the aerodromes of Martuba, Derna, Tmimi, and Gazala. Undoubtedly the strategy here was to make a nuisance of themselves to the Italians & Germans.
Another of these operations in August is described in great detail by Sgt Ewan Brooking RNZAF: "This was to be a dusk bombing attack at low level on a tanker that was supposed to be in Bengazhi Harbour. There were two Blenheims led by F/LT Stidolph with, of course, Jock (Sgt Bill Smith) and me. I never noted the names of the other crew, but they returned safely. This was the first attack on Benghazi harbour 29/08/1941. Take off was at 1610 for the 45 min. flight in Z6233 to Sidi Barrani to refuel for the long flight ahead. We took off again at 1745 using a met forecast wind to get to Benghazi. We were nearly to Benghazi when Jock saw what he thought was a formation of fighters. F/Lt Stidolph jinked the plane around for a while, and then when we came through the clouds we were right over the top of Benghazi.Turned south-west for about 30 mls, and descended to low level, turning north to line up for our attack on Benghazi. We passed an Italian destroyer on the way, which only tried to identify us by signal lamp. Of which we took no notice. To the North of the port, we turned East to begin our attack. By this time we were at very low level, and had to hop over the harbour mole which enclosed the port. There was no sign of any tanker, and the anti-aircraft fire started, and which got heavier as we crossed the harbour. Moored to the South side of the mole was a reasonable sized freighter, but as we had been warned about a neutral ship, we couldn't bomb that. By this time we were so low that the prop tips were almost touching the water, with the Flak streaming overhead. To get out of the South entrance, F/Lt. Stidolph had to bank to starboard, and that is when we were hit in the Port wing by a 40mm.shell.
Fortunately the Blenheims had self- sealing petrol wing tanks. It was evident though, that we had lost some petrol, so I jettisoned the bombs safe to lighten the load. By this time it was night and the trip back was an anti-climax.There was night- flying at Derna, (enemy airfield) and we were signalled that we were clear to land, being mistaken for a `friendly'. What a pity I had dropped our bombs too soon. The other Blenheim landed back at base safely, but we didn't have enough fuel, so had to land again at Sidi Barrani, to refuel. As Sidi B. was an emergency L.G., It took some time for them to wake up and lay out the flare path.
Note the clean hole in the wing, it is a miracle it never
exploded. Lucky indeed.SOURCE Sgt Ewan Brooking
F/Lt Stidolph then made a very cautious landing and held the port wing up as long as possible. Which was just as well as the port landing wheel was punctured and we did a ground loop when it hit the deck and ended up facing the way we had come from. There was about 15 mins.flying time in the petrol left in the tanks.The aircraft was declared unserviceable with it's damaged port wheel and assembly. Next day, the 30th., a relief aircraft arrived from Base, with just a pilot and ground crew to fix our plane. We took the relief plane back to Base for de-briefing etc., leaving the relief pilot to bring back our plane, with the ground crew, when they had fixed it up". Note that while it was common to bring back a Blenheim shot full of holes, cannon shells through a gas tank were usually fatal.
Only two days later on a similar attack on Benghazi harbour the squadron lost a veteran pilot, its Commanding officer. The CO at this time was S/Ldr. Spencer who had taken command in February 1941 and so had been in charge of the squadron throughout the campaign in Greece and its rebuilding, but unfortunately his time came to an end on 31st. August 1941 when he and his crew P/O W. Sears and F/Sgt P. Robertson-Pratt failed to return from a raid on Benghazi. W/Cdr Spencer's usual Navigator - Bomb aimer was none other than Sgt Clement (Bush) Barrey (S/Ldr DFC AFC DFM). Bush had been away on a months leave and as if to illustrate how closely ones existence hinged on fate, Bush returned the very day W/Cdr Spencer failed to return. Also lost on this raid was Sgt G Sulman and his crew Sgt D Rhodes and Sgt P. Thacker.
His successor was W/Cdr. Stidolph, with two S/Ldrs. as Flt Commanders, one of these being F/Lt Clifton Harper A Flight, and the other presumed to be S/Ldr Ford. Another recent addition to the squadron was F/Lt Geoff Cannon Obs, who on the 12th of September 1941 in Blenheim V3919 with F/O Lydall, shot down an S.79 over Mersa in a night fighter patrol. This was celebrated as quite an achievement in the circumstances.
Late in September on the 23 and 24th, the squadron detached six aircraft to Malta, the primary purpose of which being the defense of an important convoy arriving on the 28th. These maritime type operations, be they strikes against shipping or defending shipping, were often death sentences in a Blenheim. The bomb load of the Blenheim was not sufficient to do much damage to heavily armoured war ships and it's slow speed / large surface area made it a sitting duck for the vessels anti-aircraft guns, likewise it was poorly suited for a defensive role as it was all but useless against modern fast fighter aircraft and indeed even other bombers as well. It was however versatile for the simple fact that it "could" serve in both roles, fighter and bomber, something few other aircraft could do.
Sgt Ewan Brooking picks up our story on Crete: I had been crewed up again, with a P/O Cashmore an R.A.A.F. pilot, to take the place of Wally Kilgour, R.N.Z.A.F., another Obs. from my course. He had gone down with Yellow Jaundice. The Gunner was Sgt. Ken Woods. R.A.F. We were to go on detachment to Malta to be the outer ring of defence for an important Convoy sailing to Malta. As my new crew were to be the spare crew, we went as passengers in the other Blenheims. Take-off for Malta was 24/09/1941 at 07:40 in T2385, for the 5hr. flight to Luqa airfield. I was with S/LFord, who was the O.C. of the detachment, with Obs. Sgt. Scott-Chard and Gnr. Hodgkinson, as his crew, all R.A.F. The flight over was uneventful and we landed at Luqa okay. We were eventually billeted at Kalafrana Barracks away from the airfield, which was good, as that got bombed regularly, as did most of Malta and the harbour.
My first Op. From Malta was on the 26th, which was a night Fighter Patrol over a ship approaching Grand Harbour [ Valleta.] Take-off was at 15:17 in T2252 for 4hrs however no enemy aircraft were seen. The next Op. was the reason we had come here. On the 28th. we took off at 0645 in T2252 to search for `E' Boats off the port of Trapani in Sicily, a 3hr 30 flight at low level. We were flying No. 2 to S/L Ford when off Trapani we met an Italian Destroyer or Cruiser, and circled around it. Naturally it was firing at us, everything it had to let loose. It also fired off a deck gun, and the shell hit the water and burst under S/L Ford's plane. It took some shrapnel, and the Port engine was set on fire. We set out on the return to Malta just off the coast of Sicily. However the enemy was not finished with us yet, and we were attacked by 2 M.E. 109's. It appeared that our Gunner had hit one as they broke off the attack and headed for their base. One was streaming smoke. Good on you Ken. We landed safely back at Luqa. ........There is more, when S/L. Ford took off his flying boot it was full of blood, as he had taken a hit from the shell burst. The plane had also taken hits, so pilot, crew and plane took no further part in our operations.
Some of the other crews were detailed to patrol off the Italian island of Pantaleria, south of Malta to search for `E' Boats or M.T.B.'s. The search was successful, but when Blenheim T1821 piloted by F/Sgt. Harry Crossley attacked, it was shot down, he and his crew F/Sgt. John Swan and F/Sgt Albert Edward Smith all perished. (The record suggests they found an E-boat base and attacked) We took part in one more Op on the same day. It was a late afternoon anti-sub patrol outside Valetta Harbour. Take-off was at 1714 in Z5907 for 2hr 30. On the 30th, we set out on the 5hr20 return flight to our Base at Bir Zimla in T2252, flying No. 2 to F/L Cliff Harper. Wandered around the Med. a bit, hitting the coast in the wrong place twice before making the right landfall.
While there is some confusion as to exactly what aircraft and which crews were sent to Malta, the following can be said with certainty to have gone:
1/ F/Lt Cliff Harper-pilot, Obs unknown, Wop/Ag unknown 2/ F/Sgt Harry Crossley-pilot, F/Sgt John Swan-Obs, F/Sgt Albert Smith-Wop/Ag 3/ Sgt Frank Baker-pilot, Sgt Bob Hay-Obs, Sgt George Checketts-Wop/Ag 4/ S/Ldr Ford-pilot, Sgt Scott Chard-Obs, Sgt Hodgkinson-Wop/Ag 5/ P/O Cashmore-pilot, Sgt Ewan Brooking-Obs, Sgt Ken Woods-Wop/Ag. 6/Sgt Davies-pilot, unknown Obs, unknown Wop/Ag. 7/ W/Cdr Reg Stidolph-pilot, Sgt John (Bush) Barrey-Obs, unknown Wop/Ag.
Meanwhile back in the desert, the constant work in support of the army continued unabated where several incidents worthy of mention ocurred. One of these, as reported by Sgt Ewan Brooking was a night bombing practice on the 22nd of Sept. that had an unfortunate ending. "An F.A.A. Albacore dropped flares over our L.G. with two Blenheims making practice low-level bombing runs on the L.G. One taxied into a slit trench, and the other went too low and crashed. The pilot F/O Doug F Brooks was killed and the Ob. broke both legs". Another was on 26th. October 1941 when, during a six plane raid on Benghazi, the aircraft of S/Ldr. Lyall was hit by one revolver bullet in the oil tank which drained leading to (engine) seizure and the propeller falling off. Luckily the pilot was able to land safely in `friendly' territory but it was an amazing result for someone having a pot shot with side-arms at an aircraft.
And, in yet another example of how the 113 was sent on rather absurd missions, is again extracted from the log of Sgt Ewan Brooking: "On the 13th another night raid, on a Submarine in Bardia Harbour in Blenheim 6134. Take-off at 0137 for 4hr25, with S/L Lydall. The sub. was supposed to be resting on the sea bed and the bombs fell where they were supposed to, but no results were observed". The 113 can now add "depth charging" submarines to its long list of operational expertise.
Sgt Ewan Brooking: On the on the 20th of October came another loss during a joint operation with 55 Squadron. 6 planes from each Squadron led by S/L Blackmore of 55 Sqd. The target was the enemy airfield of Gambut. The formation was attacked by a strong force of M.E. 109's. One of the 113 aircraft (Sgt Ken Duffin, Sgt.Chris Jenkinson Obo & other unknown) was last seen with half the tail shot off, both engines on fire, low down over the sea, and 2 109's circling round for the kill. (Sgt Jenkinsons 2nd Op.) S/L Blackmores plane was also shot down in flames. His Nav/B was Billie Cole. Both Sgt Cole & Sgt Jenkinson were fellow RNZAF and classmates of Sgt Ewan Brooking who poignantly comments: "Two out of 16 gone in one Op". The 5 planes left from 113 Squadron, suffered damage to varying degrees.
Throughout September to December 1941 the Squadron continued in it's role of supporting the army advance westwards along the desert coast of the Meditteranean towards Benghazi.
Titled Western Desert North Africa 1941
Almost certainly Giarabub as Keith Hanson states the airfield at LG125 was flat. They were providing support for the troops at this time. Sadly this wonderfull photo did not turn out well. The very unusual lorry of the squadrons can be seen here which I would guess to be their mobile HQ. Other trucks can be seen in the background widely dispersed and with a few tents set up. The airstrip is just beyond the first line of ridges and before the escarpment in the distant background.
SOURCE & COPYRIGHT W/O Lister Walker / Charlie Walker
In early November 1941 the Squadron following on the heels of the army, moved up to Giarabub (Jaghbub, Gerabub) where the Australian AIF had recently taken the fort. There were no roads, just tracks to this small village deep in the desert and the place was loathed by everyone who set foot in it. A clear indication of this was a signpost Sgt Lister Walker saw and mentioned in a letter home to his wife: "We were at a place Darling where the signpost read 200 miles to hell (Giarabub). Thats where we did our service where the water was full of dynamite and boxing gloves. Shaving was not allowed, water was too precious. That sweetheart was 600 miles from a city, the nearest city was Benghazi in Italian hands". The dynamite in the well, not an unusual trick, was placed there by the Italians to spoil the water when they retreated. The boxing gloves however are a little out of the ordinary, but it has been noted elsewhere that the allies found numerous pairs of these in several locations as they chased the retreating Italians. ???
A rare exterior shot of the village at Giarabub
Source: Faser Snowdon - grandson of Frederick (Ted) Rawlings
Sgt Wilfred Archer also has this photo
In any case Giarabub being closer to the front not only made it convenient for the squadron, but also the enemy, and within a few days they were attacked by a German ME 110's which caused considerable damage to the squadrons aircraft and killed one of the ground crew. Sgt Keith Hansen states, "we had a little warning of the raid and Jack Curtis our navigator and other members managed to to hide under some cliffs as the aircraft passed over, they were only a few feet above us and we had a good view of the aircraft and rear gunner". The 113 did extract some vengeance as according to Sgt Hansen one of these was shot down by SQD Leader Wade, an American. (Note: S/Ldr Lance Wade nicknamed Wildcat Wade flew Hurricane's with 33 Squadron and it is confirmed 33 was deployed to Giarabub where he made several kills. On November 22, nine Junkers Ju-88A bombers of I Gruppe, Lehrgeschwader (training wing) 1, with supporting Me-109s, attacked Allied airfields in the area. Given warning of that attack, No. 33 Squadron managed to scramble six Hurricanes to intercept the enemy formation. source Historynet.com)
Sgt Baker at Giarabub after attack on 113 Squadron aircraft November 1941
Source: Sgt George Checketts
Corp Norman Say comments on these raids: The Germans were coming into the desert in strength now and seemed to have taken over the air operations from the Italians. They seldom attacked in the daytime, but we noticed the difference at night. A plane would come across fairly high up and drop a number of parachute flares and then when the drome was lit up Messerschmidts would come across very low, strafing everything within sight and dropping anti-personnel butterfly bombs. It was terrifying; they came out of the darkness and before you could get a sight of them they were gone leaving burning planes in their wake.
Burning aircraft after attack on 113 Squadron at Giarabub November 1941
Source: W/O Lister Walker
The aftermath of the attack on 113 Squadron at Giarabub November 1941
Note fellow standing by engine
Source: W/O Lister Walker
Sgt Cyril Law was on top of one of the squadron Blenheims when the ME 109's swooped in out of no where with guns blazing and he gives a vivid glimpse of the terror of being caught out in the open: we moved up to Giarabub right next to the sand seas in Libya. We had been there only 24 hours when Gerry decided to pay us a visit, he dropped A/P bombs and strafed hell out of our Blenheims. I was on top of one tuning a transmitter with a waveometer when all hell broke loose. I jumped down and ran along the base of the escarpment which was next to the runway. I can never explain what happened next, an ME110 spotted me and literally chased me with his gunner firing his twin Machine Guns. I heard hundreds of rounds whistle past my ears but carried on running. A sergeant Rigger came up to me afterwards and asked me how many wounds I had. I hadn't been hit by one round! He was absolutely amazed. We all thought you were riddled "he couldn't miss you" he said. "If I've never seen a miracle before, I've seen one today, we watched the tracer rounds hitting you, you should be dead". I still have nightmares about this strange happening and wake up sweating, it is vivid!
Aside from the severe damage and losses by attacks there was a tragic accident 19/11/1941 while at Giarabub when a recently arrived Blenheim with a Canadian crew on board crashed on takeoff. Sgt Hansen recalls "they had a motor failure and just managed to climb over the escarpment and crashed into a gully. The aircraft was on fire when we reached it but there was no chance of any rescue". (This is believed to be Z5866 piloted by Sgt John Hemus RAF, Sgt John Dewar Obs. RAAF, Sgt William Lee WOp/Ag, RCAF) Note that contrary to Keiths description only one was from the RCAF.
The next move by part of the squadron must have come as a shock at briefing, when they found out they were relocating to a position that was actually "behind" enemy lines called LG 125. This highly dangerous and unusual move was apparently to confuse the enemy, how is anyones guess unless it was to convince the Germans that the RAF had finally gone mad. This took place in late November and the entry of Sgt George Checketts reads on the 20/11/1941 he ferryed supplies (Blenheim V2385) for the squadron move to LG-125.
Sir Basil Embry refers to this move in his book , quote: In order to add confusion behind the German lines Coningham (Air Vice Marshal Desert air Force) detached No 33 and 113 Squadrons, armed respectively with Hurricane and fighter-type Blenheims to landing grounds lying between Benghasi and the distant oases of Algila and Gialo. The mission was to attack transport and troop movements on the roads west of Benghazi, and destroy any aircraft seen in the area.They met with initial success, but after a few days the enemy discovered their presence and carried out an attack on the airfield, causing damage to our grounded aircraft. Apparently this is greatly understated as Sgt Keith Hansen, who was there at the time states that there was only one or two operations from this airfield before the Germans found and attacked them with JU 88's. In the ensuing melee the 113 had most of its aircraft shot up. Sgt Hansen explains: "We had a ring of listening posts some twenty miles from the landing area to warn us of an impending attack. Three days later the warning came and the Hurricanes had just time to get airborne and gain height before the attack. If I can recall, there were six JU 88 in the flight and although one or two were shot down, the Germans were successfull in rendering most of our aircraft unserviceable. However, we did capture two German crew members from one of them, a pilot and navigator.
A hilarious picture! Looking very much like a scruffy lot of bums, some of the Squadron and army personnel proudly pose with their neatly dressed captured Germans. If clothes make the man as they say, I can't imagine how the Allies won. Note the man on the right is wearing shorts while two of the others are wearing great coats, was it hot or cold? The German pilot is obvious, his Navigator is standing beside him on the left, also in polished boots and oddly appears to be wearing an RAF great coat. Even stranger is the man on the left is wearing nothing or shorts under his great coat. It is unknown what the Navigator is holding, note he is wearing what appears to be an empty holster. The German radio operator of this crew had been killed in the crash.
SOURCE & COPYRIGHT Corp (W/O Frederick Ted Rawlings - Fraser Snowdon.
Corp Norman Say - Duncan Say has this photo in their collection.
It is important to note that apparently not all of the squadron moved up to LG-125. In Sgt George Checketts log he records that on the 20/11/1941 he ferryed supplies (Blenheim V2385) for the squadron move to LG-125, then on 23/11/1941 (Blenheim V6490) he ferryed wounded from LG-125 back to Giarabub.
Immediately following this attack what was left of the Squadron headed back to Ma'aten Bagush with many having to go by truck. A two day drive through the desert. Sgt Hansen recalled It was verv cold at that time in the desert, and remembers their water bottles were frozen in the mornings.
Above and below photos: On the road to or from Giarabub. Nothing but desert as far as the eye can see. Not sure what the boys are doing below.
Source: Fraser Snowdon, grandson of Corp Frederick Rawlings. Corp (Sgt) Wilfred Archer also has this photo & appears to be the original.
On the 6th December 1941, Sgt Ewan Brooking coming off rest leave advises when he reported back to the squadron the base was now at L.G 116 which was South of our old base at Bir Zimla, but the operational base was at L.G.76. This was South of Siddi Barrani. Here on the 9th December he reports that word came through that we were being moved off the desert, not where to or why.
Whether it was because Japan entered the war on 7th. December 1941 or because the Squadron had so few aircraft left can't be said, however before the month was out 113 was recalled to Helwan and re-equipped with 16 aircraft. (no doubt less war-weary then the ones given up).
Sgt Ewan Brooking explains: "On the 19th. December was the move back to Helwan (Heluan), with an overnight stop at Burg El Arab. No planes, just the personnel, in truck convoy, arriving at Helwan on the 20th, and being billeted in the Transit Camp". He continues for 22nd. December: " I was crewed up today with Lt. Viney S.A.A.F. and Sgt.Jack Wohlers R.A.A.F. On the 23rd. we collected the first 8 planes.These were fairly new Mk 4 Blenheims that had been assembled at Takorati on the East coast of Africa, and flown across that continent for us to use in our future movements.The one we brought from Fayoum to Helwan (Heluan) was Z9674.
Corp Jim Lightbody, Ground Gunner also refers to the move to Helwan:
"As Christmas 1941 was on it's way we were told we were going back to Alexandria for a rest. We upped sticks and got on our way but as we arrived at Mersa Matruh we got a signal to proceed to Cairo and duly arrived at Helwan. (Cairo airport). The C.O. Wing Commander Reg Stidolph paraded us and told we were going to another theatre of war. Our Christmas rations had gone to Alexandra but would be forwarded to us".
Helwan was also a time of change for the squadron, and not just aircraft. Here there was a notable change in personnel as well, with some fortunate ones being posted out, and some unfortunate ones being posted in. New friends were made and new crews were formed up. One of bunch of the new ground crew arriving, fresh from England got their first and last taste of desert life. Corp Glyn Edwards describes their arrival at the transit camp:
17/12/1941 We travelled 160 miles to Helwan yesterday, along with Titch, Jock, Taffy and a few of the others. Here we now are, living under canvas on the desert sands. Following a chilly night and ready for a cup of tea, I was the first to throw back my blanket this morning to arise from the bed of sand. To my horror, underneath my 'pillow' lay the most hideous creature possible ... the lads were soon out of their beds when I yelled .... staring down, all eyes settled on the big black scorpion curled up under the very spot where my head had rested all night. A quick search under theirs, produced nothing alarming ... much to their great relief. The tail with the sting in moved up and down, before its lobster-like body was crushed lifeless. Peace reigned again on the western front ! Making for the cold water tap attached to a long pipe snaking itself across the sands, we were amazed to see in the far distance, Egypt's famous pyramids. What a surprise and what a thrill, as we had no idea that they would be in sight owing to us having arrived in the hours of darkness. Our posting here was to join 113 Squadron. This camp consists entirely of Bell-tents and after reporting to the Orderly-Room, also a tent, earlier today, we have been instructed to erect a few more tents on the far side of the camp. God knows why they require more ... many of them remain unoccupied.
None however could know the hell that lay ahead for the revitalized squadron and Sgt Ewan Brooking forever closes this chapter of the Squadron's history quite elequently with his comment: It didn't take a brilliant mind to work out where were going. Another s… job.
Burma or Bust