The Memoirs of Flying Officer Peter Russell, Navigator with 51 Squadron

Copyright: P Russell 2006


I trained as a navigator at No.1 CNS Rivers, Manitoba, Canada in 1943 and "graduated" in August 1943 before returning to Harrogate in September. I was then posted first to Dumfries AFU then after that to Kinloss OTU where I crewed up and did very long X-country flights in Whitleys. In May 1944 I was posted with the crew, to a 4-engine conversion unit at Riccall near York. From here we were posted to 51 Squadron, Snaith in June. Our first op was against buzz bomb site and our second was a hair raising attack on a Panzer Division at Villers Bocage shortly after D Day. Our over-zealous skipper flew into the target at a lower level than the majority of the other aircraft. Needless to say, we were in more danger from falling bombs than the Panzer's guns! In fact, an aircraft in front of us was destroyed by falling bombs. I applied for a commission about half way through my tour of ops. I saw Group Captain Fresson (our CO) and he informed me that the Canadian navigation school had said that I was not fit to be commissioned as I made a joke of everything. He said he liked people like that, and remarked that the trouble with the Canadians was that they did not understand English humour! He gave me my commission. He had this power because our squadron was only attached to 4 Group, so I did not have to go to be interviewed by the 'heavy brass' in York. I completed my 35 ops. just before Xmas 1944 and shortly after was posted to an airfield near Taunton, which was a Transport Command outfit. The plan was that we were to go to the Far East to drop supplies to the troops fighting in Burma, however,'The Bomb' changed all that and I finished my days in the Royal Air Force as an Air Traffic Control Officer. I now live in Australia, having married an Australian girl many years ago, and at the time of writing, I am over 82 years old.  


All aircrew were volunteers and there were a lot of policemen in aircrew. The only service that the police could join was RAF aircrew. One could join up for aircrew at the tender age of 17.25 years. However, once you had signed on you had to wait until you were 18.25 years before you actually wore your uniform in the service. In 1941 things looked pretty grim for us, air raids were getting more frequent and the Russians were being rolled back on all fronts. I thought that if I was going to die, I would die fighting in a glamorous outfit like the RAF, so I went to a recruiting office in York and told them that I wished to join the air force. I received a rail ticket to Bedford and was told to report to the air force establishment at Cardington. This was in October 1941 and I was all of 17 years and 8 months. When I reached Cardington I was told I would be there for two nights. I would be medically examined and interviewed to see if I was suitable aircrew material. I passed the medical tests and then I went for the interview. There were about 20 of us, mostly my age. Some of them were in the Air Training Corps. an organisation  for young people. Most of my fellow applicants thought I had no chance of passing the interview as I was not in the ATC. Came the interview and in I went to be confronted by some stern faced men with uniforms covered in stripes and medals. I was asked why I wanted to join the air force. Unknowingly I gave the answer that would ensure my passing the interview. I said I had seen a movie called "Target for Tonight". I was impressed by the esprit de corps of the aircrews. When I said this the examiners broke into smiles and indicated the interview was at an end. I was to learn later that esprit de corps was a sort of catch phrase in the RAF. It was to be drilled into me in my first few weeks in the service. Despite the desperate times, quite a few did not pass the tests at Cardington. I was told to report to Lords cricket ground on May 5th.1942.