601 (County of London) Squadron

Squadron Historical Database

Shrosbree, Denis

We have been very fortunate indeed to have befriended several members of 601 Squadron that were active in the post-war years, and through to the squadron’s untime demise.  Denis has been a fountain of great knowledge, a good friend and a classic example of the great sense of humor and of being that have made up the squadron character over the years.  After serving two years of National Service in the RAF, Denis joined 601.  Though a very modest man, I asked him if he would write up something about himself for the website, and what he sent along was spectacular.  I’m including most of it as written, as I hate when someone paraphrases and the true sentiment is lost.

Note: May, 2020 – With very heavy heart it was just learned that Denis has passed away – a great man and beautiful soul.

Denis Shrosbree

Summer Camp at Wunstorf (Near Hannover), Germany – August 1955 
The RAuxAF first went to Malta for our annual air/air firing camp in 1952.  Our influence was such that we always went for the second half of June before it got too hot.  We only flew from 0600 – 1300….then the rest of the days (and nights!) were our own. 
By 1955 the runway needed resurfacing…not surprising with as many as ten squadrons a year pounding the tarmac between April and September.  So they decided to re-surface it and closed the airfield.  So we flew to Germany and carried out air/ground gunnery instead…great fun! 
Wunstorf was one of the many ex-Luftwaffe airfields in West Germany where the squadrons of 2nd TAF (Tactical Air Force) were based.  The two based at Wunstorf were nos. 5 & ??, both equipped with Venoms. 
This was before they build the Wall when the Russian threat of a third World War was at its height and Russian spy planes (4 engined Tupolev ‘Badgers’ & ‘Bears’) which flew across the Allied sectors every day.  The regulars told us that they couldn’t get high enough and were not fast enough to intercept them and were very frustrated!!! 
The RAF officers were accommodated in what had been the Luftwaffe Sergeant’s Mess….to us an absolute luxury!!!  Their Officer’s Mess would have been in some nearby mansion…remember the film “The Blue Max”??!! 
Our first day was spent flying in pairs on a ‘sector recce’ to get to know the local area so that we didn’t embarrassingly get lost!  Geoff Kemp (fairly short so consequently nicknamed “Tiddles”) was my #2 and when we came back near the field, we passed a couple of Venoms going the other way.  We all must have thought about it for all of 5 seconds before turning towards each other and we had a right old ‘mix-up’ almost over the airfield where everyone was watching.   That broke the ice and that night we got to meet the regulars and the social ‘whirl’ was on!!!  After that we ‘pounced’ on each other whenever we could.  Great fun again together with yet another two weeks of drinking…..and flying of course!!! 
We were introduced to air/ground firing on the range nearby…..not quite as satisfying as air/air gunnery but we were allowed to fly away from the area and visit the Mohne and Eder Dams and even the site of Buchenwald briefly (not very nice!). 
Weekend passes were organized for whoever to where ever!  Some went to the island of Sylt (famous for nude bathing beaches!!!).  Others went into Hamburg including our own John Wheeler.  Unfortunately he was ‘lured’ away by “eine Gnadige Fraulein” (???) to the dock area and left him confronted by a crowd of hostile burly dockers (no doubt remembering the fires storm air raids by the RAF ten years earlier).  We all clustered around him when he told us the tale later, asking him how he got out of that one….(we had always pulled John’s leg about being a rather slow thinker  – did you meet him at the RAF Club?)….to which he replied “Well….I just hit him on the nose….and ran like hell!!!”  He had been a very accomplished boxer and a good sprinter at his school!!! 

One thing you could always bank on was that if the weather was clamped and there was absolutely no chance of flying, there would be a full turnout of pilots in the bar on Sunday!!!…..with the usual consequences naturally!  Everyone was ‘as a newt’!  I well remember once when somebody suggested driving to Epping.  AS we left Tony Oldham and Peter Vannek managed to lock bumpers.  The Thatch, one of our favorite watering holes, was an old coaching inn with ‘stables at the back and an entrance for carriages from the main road’.  Peter Vannek decided to arrive via the car park at the rear, but somehow drove through the archway out onto the High Street where the rest of us were queuing to get in.  However, Tony Oldham had driven onto the pavement, thus getting ahead of the rest, but turned into the arch just as Peter came out!!!!  On our return, Peter drove in the usual one-way to the main entrance but Tony turned into the car park exit and continued around the mess meeting Peter head-on just outside the bar, whereupon they were persuaded to sort things out in the bar over another pint or three……!!!! 

On another Saturday afternoon and once again ‘clamped’, when I arrived I was turned around and eventually found myself on a train to Portsmouth with half a dozen others and a crate of beer!  Peter Vannek, Peter Edelston and others had decided it would be a good idea to ‘descend’ on Desmond Norman in Bembridge so, Isle of Wight ferry, taxi to Bembridge.  However, we couldn’t quite understand why Desmond didn’t seem too pleased to see us.  Admittedly it was evening by this time and someone asked about sleeping arrangements.  Peter Vannek said “No problem”….all arranged at a place he knew!!!  So more taxis back to Newport and arrived at 10 o’clock at THE Royal Yacht Squadron!!!!  “Good evening Mr. Vannek, perhaps you would care to show your guests around the cellars while I prepare dinner for you.” 
They served up some excellent grub for us before we returned to the cellars to sample a vintage port….we got to our rooms around 2 a.m.!!!  Woken with a cup of tea at 8 while they ran your bath for you….no handles to assist your exit….just a very thick white rope with a knot in the end.  Breakfast was a bit of a haze but I do remember sitting down with the Chairman of Decca and an Admiral of some sort.  Back to the Weald, but no flying thank goodness so we called it a day. 

One of our pilots had a girlfriend living in Chigwell (?) North Eastern suburb s of London, so when taking off on R/W 20, a slight left hand down took us right overhead.  Didn’t think too much about it until one day I heard this pilot getting one helluva bollocking from the CO Chris MacCarthy Jones.  It appeared that he had a phone call from a very nice chap who told him where he lived and said that someone obviously had a lady friend living very near him.  He mentioned that he used to fly during the war and recognized our Squadron markings, which was why he was phoning!!!  “May I suggest you have a word in the lad’s ear before anybody else around here reports him with more serious consequences?”  What a scholar and a gentleman! 

We had a firing range a few miles off the East Coast near Clacton and additional fuel tanks were fitted to our wings and the armourers loaded the magazines with 800 20mm shells (200 for each gun) and asked us to fire the lot into the sea before going to Malta for our annual camp next week.  Cloud base was low so we were ‘Porpoising’ up and down firing fairly short bursts.  In desperation I continued diving to a very low altitude and got rid of my last shells and pulled up to reform on Tom Moulson to return to North Weald.  As I did so I felt the stick twitch slight but thought no more of it.  Having bags of fuel we were asked to give the GCA chaps some practice so we carried out 8 approaches under their guidance.  Tom flew and I just sat on his wingtip for the next hour, occasionally checking my fuel gauges but nothing else.  After landing I noticed a group of our airmen examining my port wing.  When I got out they showed me a 20mm cannon shell which had entered and stuck in the leading edge, severing the line to the pitot tube and had been stuck in the aileron control which was nearly severed as well.  With no pressure instruments (ASI & altimeter being the most important!) I was doing the right thing by formating on Tom….lesson learned…. the incident was recorded by Ken Askins, our engineer officer, as a “hard-nosed seagull”!!!!

Another Saturday afternoon, I got airborne with Geoff Kemp (“Tiddles”….he was a little bit shorter than the rest of us and he was christened thus by Tom I think, who kept our ‘line book’) and failed to appreciate that the CRDF was inoperative.  This was a cathode ray tube that was voice actuated and a bearing was given instantly to the controller in the tower, thus he could guide us back to the airfield through cloud and handover to the GCA controllers if needed.  We had finished our detail and returning to the field I was told that we could not be given a ‘let-down’!!!  Being fairly certain that we were overhead, I told the controller what I intended to do and asked him to call the GCA controller to see if he could pick us up when we got within range.  We descended North-east to 14,000 feet, turned left and headed back to the field.  We weren’t that far out as the GCA saw us skirt the top edge of their screen, but being a bit short of fuel now, we were told to fly to Bassingbourne and refuel and come back as it was getting quite dark by now.  It was almost night when we walked back to our crew room….no lights….everyone gone to the bar we thought!  Oh no!!!!  AS we walked in, everyone was sitting there and started singing “Show me the way to go home….I’m tired and I want to go to bed…..”….and old but well-known music hall song!!!!  Tom was there of course having fashioned a hand with one upright finger labelled “The Fickle Finger of Fate”!!!!  They never let me forget that I supposedly asked for a GCA from 20,000 feet!!!!?????!!  I think Tom mad an entry into the line book, but I am not certain. 

Torquil Norman was still at Cambridge and used to drive a beautiful pale blue (1932?) Bugatti two seater with enormous wings sticking out front.  He used to drive down to North Weald when he was able and stayed the weekend.  He told us that one Friday evening he turned off the main Cambridge to Epping Road and started off along the forest road for the last couple of miles to North Weald, when he found a police car steaming up behind him.  He pulled over as requested and found that they had seen him set off from Cambridge…..AND HAD BEEN TRYING TO CATCH HIM UP EVER SINCE!!!!!  They  hadn’t got close enough to ‘clock’ him as he had been going too fast for them!!!  Anyhow, they told him they were out of their area now and had no jurisdiction in Essex but that he should be very alert when he returned and on future occasions….what nice chaps!!  This was the days before Breathalyzers….we could all have been caught so many times, but we were lucky. 
I stopped to relieve myself on Barnes Common at 2 a.m. only to find a police car had seen me turn off and thought they’d have me….two youngsters were most unpleasant, but I was saved by a sergeant who was writing my name in his book by the light of his torch and I could see that he had misspelt it!!!  He looked at me and thought “if he can see that upside down, he can’t be too bad” and let me go!!!  Next night, very late again, I clocked the police car in a side turning and had my hand brake on take me down to 40 mph.  He was very quickly right up beside me and came along saying ‘OK we both know what speed you were doing but you’ve got your wits about you….just take it easy son, OK!!!  What a difference in their attitudes! 

Denis’ General Photographs

Denis’s Germany & Malta Photographs

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