601 (County of London) Squadron

Squadron Historical Database

Bowditch, Roy

In 1937 it became obvious to many that the clouds of war were beginning to build over Europe. Conscription would in time become inevitable and he did not wish to become a member of the Army. A colleague at OUP had just resigned, after six years from the Auxiliary Air Force and thought that this might interest him. He visited the Town HQ in Kensington of 601 Squadron A.A.F and after an interview and medical was enrolled as an Aircraftman 2nd class, and choose to become a Armourer. He wanted something mechanical but decided that those who were employed as mechanics would have an advantage when dealing with engines but few knew about guns and bombs!

He was required to take an aptitude test and it was then his father’s training became useful. The test given was to straighten one side of a piece of sheet metal; the tools provided included a square, a metal scriber, hacksaw and files. He first scribed the metal with the square and scriber – a straight line is needed either to file or cut. The examiner stopped him
and said that he definitely made the grade.

After a short period of basic training he started to learn about guns and bombs, spending one evening each week at the London HQ of the Squadron and at least Saturday or Sunday at Hendon Aerodrome for hands-on training usually in a workshop.

By August 1939 he had qualified as an Aircraftman 1st class and on 24 August was called up and his civilian life ended for over six years. The Squadron (601)were moved almost immediately by truck, including
requisitioned coal delivery vehicles, from Hendon to Biggin Hill, and on
3 September 1939 Roy sat in a hut and heard that War had been declared. The winter of 1939-40 was very cold and there was little to do except practice on the aircraft which were Blenheim fighter/bombers.

Early in 1940 the Blenheims were replaced with Hurricanes. New aircraft meant that all had much to learn; the armaments were very different, as were the engines, radios etc. All were kept much busier with lots of training and gun firing practice flights, but until the May life was easy.

However it all changed after Dunkirk and the· Battle of Britain commenced. The squadron was moved again to Tangmere in Sussex and soon felt the pressure of the battle. Aircraft and pilots, many of whom we
had known for years were killed or posted (to another squadron)
and of course many air raids took place.

By July we started to feel the strain of lack of sleep. Every available aircraft flew as many sorties as possible each day and by night the planes had to be serviced ready for the next.day. Fours hours sleep·was the maximum available and this was taken in a hut near the aircraft.

Early in August Tangmere was very heavily bombed during the day, although the squadron lost very few ground crew, the airfield could
not be used. The airborne planes were sent to Exeter and we had to pack the equipment and our belongings and leave immediately. We did not get any rest for over 36 hours and on arriving at Exeter most of us fell asleep in the cloths that we had been wearing for several days.

While at Tangmere Roy had applied to train as a pilot or navigator but his application was rejected on·the grounds that his trade was considered vital to the RAF. However shortly after the reject a notice appeared asking for armourers to volunteer for bomb disposal duties and he applied.The day
after arriving at Exeter Roy was posted on a bomb disposal course at RAF Mumby in Lincolnshire.

While travelling from Exeter to Mumby via London, with a short visit home’ he witnessed for the first time the sight of many Londoners’sleeping on the platforms of the ‘tube’stations. The underground stations had been opened as air-raid shelters for those folk who wanted to sleep underground. This sight, along with London Burning (a few months later) still is a vivid reminder of the War.

The Bomb Disposal course lasted four weeks and on completion he was sent to Liverpool, promoted to Sergeant and as the NCO in charge of
this BD section attached to a radar unit. The Unit, part of 60 Group, and very hush-hush, was responsible for all the RAF Radar Stations from North Wales to Cumberland including the Isle of Man and a station near Belfast. The BD Unit’s job was to learn the geography of each station and to be ready to deal with any unexploded bombs which fell on any of these stations. The radar stations were responsible for identifying and tracking
any German planes approaching the UK. Although Liverpool and other places in NW England received a heavy beating from the German- bombers no bombs ever fell anywhere near the radar stations.The time spent in Liverpool was spent visiting the radar stations and making sure that we kept our knowledge and training up-to- date.

Late in 1942 Roy was posted to RAY Waterbeach, near Cambridge, promoted to Flight Sergeant as the senior NCO of a larger bomb disposal
unit. German bombing by now had diminished considerably, but both the us air force and the RAF were bombing the enemy by day and night. The RAP’ bomb disposal squad role changed from dealing with the enemy’s bombs to coping with the unexploded bombs on crashed allied aircraft.

Waterbeach was very much in the area where many US aircraft flew from and in consequence the Squad had to deal with US aircraft which crashed.on take-off. This job had a very unpleasant side; the BD crews had to remove and make safe the bombs on, or those which had fallen off, the
aircraft (some of which had caught fire) before the medical and other crews could remove dead bodies, etc.

At the end of 1943, Roy was seconded to a unit at the Air Ministry in London to join a small team charged with finding a complete Flying Bomb (the V1) which were expected to fall on south east England at any time. This involved driving anywhere from Norfolk to Hampshire each time the local police reported that an unidentified object had been found. The objects were usually large external aircraft fuel tanks dropped or washed
ashore!!! The unit did eventually find a nearly complete Flying Bomb but Roy was not part of the team that found the first unexploded V1.

His next posting was back to RAF Mumby this time to teach RAF and USAF (US air· force) personnel about booby trap devices and land mines – he did not know it at the time but these were the men that would be landing in Normandy a few months later.

In September 1944 he moved to RAF Hornchurch to join a small unit, to be attached to the US 8th Air Force, whose job would be to recover from the airfields captured by the allies, examples of German armaments required for testing, probably in the USA. The Unit consisting of a Squadron Leader (non­- technical), himself, two sergeants and about 8 others, they moved with their jeeps, trucks and other gear via Folkestone and Dieppe to St Germain, near Paris in November. They stayed in France; raiding enemy airfields and ammunition dumps and sending the spoils by truck and liberty ship to Hornchurch.

After VE day they moved, with the HQ of the US 8th Air Force to Weisbaden in Germany. The same type of task continued until the following February when Roy returned to the UK and was demobbed the following month.

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