It was during 1939 that Ron returned from a cycling holiday to the Isle of Wight that he found that he had been called up into the infantry. He was to join the 9th Royal Fusiliers. They spent most of their time training on the Ashdown Forest and other duties around Romney Marsh and the Ashford area.
After The Battle of Britain, there was a shortage of pilots. He successfully applied for aircrew and was shipped out to Florida to train to be a pilot. Originally classified as ‘Observer’ he failed the night vision tests and was reclassified to ‘Pilot’!! During his time at Clewiston, he flew the Stearman, Vultee and T6 Texan. He returned to England on the SS Queen Elizabeth.
After a short time training on the Hurricane and then Air Sea Rescue at RAF Valley, he transferred to 3 Sqn at West Malling. The Squadron had just converted to the Hawker Typhoon and Ron got his first flight in one on 1st June 43. Finding the speeds a good 100mph faster than the Hurricane, he found it surprisingly easy to fly. Soon afterwards they moved to Manston carrying out seemingly endless anti-shipping patrols and bombing raids to the Friesian Islands and Cap Gris Nez. Inevitably the Squadron suffered losses including the Belgium pilot Jean De Selys. Ron was one of the pallbearers at his funeral. He also witnessed S/L Hawkins crash during an attack on the Sinclair oil refinery. This particular incident troubled Ron even up until recently.
By the end of February ‘44, the squadron started to reequip with the Tempest V. Ron got his first flight in one on March 2nd and on the 6th they moved to Bradwell Bay. From here Ron had another lucky escape taking off in a Typhoon around midnight on a pitch dark night. Climbing away from the airfield and just beyond the perimeter track, there was a loud bang from the engine followed by excessive vibration. By now he was out over the water and turned back for the shore. Losing height he hit the water and with considerable difficulty managed to get out of the cockpit and inflate his dingy. More by luck than judgement he was spotted and picked up by a launch and taken to Brightlingsea. The official report suggested that the sleeve mechanism had failed on a bank of cylinders causing excessive vibration and loss of power. Prop oil seals were also causing problems at the time.
Towards the end of April, they moved to Newchurch. From here they flew sorties in support of the airborne invasion in Holland and attacked V2 launch sites, trains, barges and other targets. Due to the speed of the Tempest, they were also in the front line fighting the ‘Doodlebug’ V1’s. Ron was accredited with shooting down 6 ½. In reality, he would have attacked far more only to find that the ‘kill’ was shared, sometimes with 2 or 3 other pilots – all convinced they were the ones that had shot it down!
Then via Matlaske, they moved out to Grimbergen near Brussels and on to Volkel. They flew sorties in support of the ground forces at Nijmegan and Arnhem and by this time the ME262 was making its presence felt.
Christmas ’44 and Ron had been home on leave arriving back at Volkel on New Year’s Eve. The following day he discovered that his tour of operations was over. However, due to another pilot having a sore head from the festivities, he stood in for him as spare. The squadron took off without incident so Ron taxied back to the dispersal. Talking to some of the ground crew they suddenly heard cannon fire from an FW190 heading for them across the airfield. As we now know this was the beginning of the New Years Day attack on the allied airfields. Volkel got off relatively lightly. Ron flew an uneventful patrol to Emmerich and back. Then after lunch, even though he was ‘tour expired’, he flew an armed recce around the vicinity of Paderborn. Having attacked some trains they climbed to about 8000ft and headed for home. Suddenly there were black puffs all around and then a loud bang! He had been hit by flak and with oil streaming back all over the windshield, Ron realised that he wasn’t going to make it back to base. Faced with the prospect of the plane bursting into flames he made the decision to bail out landing in a wood North East of Haltern.
He was captured, interrogated and ended up in Stalag IIIA at Luckenwalde south of Berlin. Someone on the camp had a radio and they were able to monitor the advance of the Russian forces. On April 21st and with gunfire all around, the Germans moved out of the camp. The following morning a Russian officer arrived in a jeep. Later in the morning more troops arrived and mowed down the wire with their tanks. The main force arrived in the evening. Despite the camp being strafed several times, the battle moved on. It wasn’t until May 20th that they finally boarded trucks and returned to the allied lines, flying back to Oxford in a Lancaster on the 26th.
Back home he was processed and reacquainted with family and friends. After about 12 weeks he was posted to 56 Operational Training Unit at Milfield. From here they did air testing and ferrying Typhoons and Tempests for inspection and maintenance. December 1945 saw Ron ridding his Matchless through the Cheviot Hills to Newcastle, and then by train down to London and Demob.
In his words, he wouldn’t have missed it, but wouldn’t wish to go through it again. He never glorified any of it and certainly never sought praise. The experiences obviously influenced him throughout his life. I do however feel certain that some of the incidents haunted him, even to the end. He had a quietness about him and I never saw him lose his cool. I certainly never saw him afraid of anything…
…my Dad, may he rest in peace.