I volunteered for Aircrew before my 18th birthday and finally joined the RAF in September ’42 having had a 2 year spell in the ATC and becoming Squadron Sergeant.
After initial training, Square bashing at Blackpool etc. F/M(E) at St.Athhans, I then went on leave and awaited being recalled for the next intake, and received my wings as a F/E on Stirlings mid September ’43, having been rejected for Sunderland Flying Boats. I reported to 1665 HCU at Woolfox Lodge and joined the crew of F/Sgt Oliver, which consisted of 2 Aussies, 2 Canadians, 2 Brits, and a Scot. We were posted to 196 Squadron at Witchford 2 November whilst they were still in Bomber Command. We were briefed for 3 Gardening trips (Mine laying in Norwegian Fjords) but on each occasion the weather prevented us taking off, and mid November the squadron moved to Leicester East to commence the build up of 38 Group. It was here that we lost our mid upper turret. The training for towing and para dropping commenced in earnest and then it was up sticks with a move to Tarrant Rushton in Jan. ’44. and again in mid March we moved to Keevil.
It was from here after all the training we did our first op. to France on an SOE. And due to an electrical storm the Nav instruments went haywire and we became lost on our way home. Skipper was not pleased so our Nav was posted for further training. It was then more training until early May when we went on our 2nd SOE op. This time the Rear Gunner went AWOL shortly after crossing the French coast With the replacement A/G we now consisted of 2 Aussies, G. Oliver (P), L. Steele (W/AG), 2 Canadians, Chuc. Henderson (B/A), Geo.(Junior) Gelinas (A/G), and 2 Brits. J. Oates (Nav) and me D. Royston (F/E). We carried out 1 more SOE and then D Day was upon us. Unfortunately, Les. Steele died 30 years ago, and we have been unable to track down Chuc. Henderson, but the 4 of us are still in contact.
On 5/6/44 we transported 17 Paras with all their gear, and on the 6/6 we towed a loaded Horsa., and on the 19th we did a 24 container SAS. We then continued with SAS and SOE sorties interspersed with other training exercises until Arnhem. On 17th and 18th Sept. we towed a troop carrying Horsa glider, and cast off successfully. On 20th we were taking supplies – 2x50Gal tanks of fuel on panniers in the fuselage to be despatched by 2 army despatchers and 21 containers in the bomb bays. Unfortunately we were hit (source unsure) by either a JU88 or light ack ack. The port wing between engines was on fire, skipper was having difficulty controlling the aircraft, and 20feet off the ground we hit a tree with the port wing ripping it off at the fire point, causing us to spin round, and E for Elephant became an even more difficult beast to handle However with great skill and some luck, our guardian angels were with us that day, skipper put it down very gently, the nose filling with turnips as the bomb aimers panels burst inwards, and we all disembarked without a scratch.
It was broad daylight, so we started to make for cover in some woods about ½ mile away, we heard shouting so we dropped into a ditch and waited. To our immense relief the shouting was from friends, the Welsh Guards who took us back to their field HQ and feted us with field kitchen tea and fags, and told us that the B…had only been chased into the woods ½ hour previously and they were expected to counter attack.
They supplied us with a truck and driver and with much jumping in and out of ditches eventually arrived across the border at the village of VEERLE, where we were fed and watered and put up for the night by the publican of a small pub and his wife and 3 daughters, and a school master. Next morning we had great difficulty in getting away with our dignity intact as the girls would have taken all we possessed as souvenirs. We were driven to DIEST where we boarded an old SPARROW at 16.20 hrs. and flown to BRUSSELS. Here we were told to lose ourselves by the Town Major as he had more than enough wounded to cope with – we did precisely that for 24 hours. At 12.15 hrs we boarded an Anson with some walking wounded and eventually arrived back at base KEEVIL, where all the hierarchy turned out to welcome us home.
During September 1995, 51 years after our crash landing on a Dutch farm we were finally able to make contact with the sons and daughters of the farmer. George and his wife had come over to the UK for a holiday to accompany my wife and I to the Arnhem Commemorations. During the previous year I had made contact with a young Dutch researcher, Peter van Gelderen, and with the assistance of Ad van Zantvoort, and Ad Hermans, a friend of the family led us to the farm. We were made extremely welcome by all we came into contact.
A friend of Ad Hermans produced a metal detector and between us started to dig up parts of our beloved plane.
On a subsequent visit in 1998, Jan Wintermans, the eldest son, presented me with the axe from our plane, minus its handle destroyed by fire, and sharpened, as it had been used for 50+ years to chop wood. Also much metal had been removed by the local farmers to repair plough shares, until it was eventually removed in 14 cartloads as scrap. As they say – its an ill wind that does no-one any good.
Finally, all Stirling ex Aircrew, Ground Staff, and those who made them at Shorts etc. are disappointed that there is not one single Stirling in existence. Not even a complete set of drawings. The STIRLING PROJECT are doing their best to remedy this problem by trying to rebuild at least part of one, and the STIRLING AIRCRAFT SOCIETY welcomes all with an interest in the Stirling – the first 4 engined bomber designed as such in the RAF.
Dennis ‘Vandere’ ROYSTON
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