RAF Sawbridgeworth-The Human element.
One pilot who flew with II(AC) during WWII from Sawbridgeworth is Doug Reich, Doug, who now lives in North Wales was with 'B' flight and recalls the trials and tribulations of operating from Sawbridgworth.
'I joined 2 Squadron at the end of May 1943 and served with the squadron until crashing in the River Seine near Rouen, France on the 15th June 1944. We were flying from Gatwick when the crash happened and due to hitting the water while strafing a german ferry boat. I lost contact with many of my friends as I spent the rest of the war in Stalag Luft 1 on the Baltic coast. The mustang 1 had two .50 calibre heavy machine guns, The main role of the aircraft being Tac/Eval photo recconaisance. These guns were extremely difficult to cock once in the cockpit. sometimes I had to let go of the stick, and put both feet on the instrument panel to pull the cocking levers back'
The photo below is of me flying over Flt/Lt George Kenning who was on the ground, changing aircraft, after shooting holes in his own propellor. This happened after he has cocked the guns on the ground, While taxying he hit a pothole in the perimeter track and shot holes in his propellor. The guns were not synchronised at such low revs. after he got airborne again, we set course for a shipping recce off of the Friesian Islands.
Doug pictured flying over George Kenning while waiting for him to change aircraft
Pilots of 'B flight' II(AC) Squadron at Sawbridgeworth 1943
Left to right F/Lt George Kenning; F/Lt Wakefield; F/O Andrews; F/O Doug Reich; F/O Redman; F/O Stephen Shayle-George.
Above- Doug flying back from a sortie over enemy occupied France, photo taken by his wingman.
II(AC) had other aircraft for use as communications transports including a Boulton-Paul Defiant and a Fairey Battle.
'On a later occasion when returning from an op, I decided to do a front wheel landing in which you actually fly the A/C onto the runway at 120 mph, then cut the throttle. I had cocked my guns but not fired them, and when the wheels touched the runway, the guns fired through the arc of the prop. As there was no report of anyone being shot, I breathed a sigh of relief, and from then on stuck to three-point landings!'
Shortly after the squadron moved to Gatwick, Doug and his wingman were sent on a armed TAC/Eval to the area inland of the Seine estruary, while strafing a german ferry, Dougs Mustang clipped the water and the aircraft cartwheeled in. Doug being unconcious, floated free when the aircraft broke up. He floated in the water for 6 hours before a French fisherman pulled him out and took him to the Germans for medical assistance. After he spent time in a German controlled hospital, he was incarcerated in Sagen POW camp.
Three members of II(AC) Squadron- Doug Reich (left) Wing Commander Andrew Hine (centre) and Ivor Harris (Right)
Pictured at the Sawbridgeworth airfield Memorial dedication day 2006
W/CAndrew Hine was the current commanding officer of II(AC) Squadron at Marham
Ivor Harris was shot down a few days after Doug, and ended up in the same Prisoner of War camp as Doug.
Ivor Harris sadly passed away in 2011
Flt/Lt Stephen John Shayle-George 1943.
Shortly after the declaration of war against Germany, Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage announced New Zealand’s war aims in a radio broadcast on 5 September 1939. Towards the end of that address, he declared that: "Both with gratitude for the past and with confidence in the future we range ourselves without fear beside Britain. Where she goes, we go, where she stands, we stand."In New Zealand a Ballot system was introduced based on birthdates, where all eligible young men were called up. December 1940 Stephen’s name came up and immediately enlisted himself into the Air Force and started instruction courses around New Zealand. September 1941 Stephen left New Zealand, by sea on the MV Monowai, for Canada and further training. Got his commission on 7 December 1941, on the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour.With German "U-Boats" patrolling the Atlantic seas between USA/Canada and the UK getting from Canada now proved more perilous. Avoiding the big escorted convoys and anxious to join the war effort, Stephen volunteered to go to England on a Norwegian 3,000 ton freighter carrying a cargo of Bacon with about 12 others and arrived in Liverpool on February 1942 and given 2-weeks R&R. He spent this time wisely on a farm around Gloucestershire, (his New Zealand upbringing showing here!). This method of transport was the ‘way’ to avoid the German U-Boats! It was rumoured that on the next sailing this Freighter was sunk with the loss of all on board.After 1-week on the farm he was called into service being sent to RAF Old Sarum, where Stephen was introduced to the Lysander, and not the Spitfire that he had hoped for!. After the initial disappointment at not being assigned to a Spitfire Squadron Stephen became adept at handling the Lysander in all aspects of its idiosyncrasies!Particular memories were of the long periods they spent training on ‘instrument flying’ where the instructor sat in the front and the rear compartment was blacked out to simulate the conditions. The Lysander was coming to the end of its time and Stephen moved onto the Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk. These US manufactured aircraft had been manufactured for the French Air Force and were in metric configuration which posed a few problems of their own. Unfortunately Stephen caught a severe bought of Pneumonia which saw him admitted to the Air Force Special Hospital at Wroughton. After a long time he was advised not to go to the convalescence centre at Torquay but spend time on a farm. He only knew one farm, in Gloucestershire. The approach was made and accepted and so a wonderful relationship developed, staying for a month, to return to the Squadron where they all thought they would never see him again. This being around May/June 1942. (Just a note here; It was the Farmers niece that Stephen was later to marry, and bring back to New Zealand to settle down with.)Soon after the Tomahawk, the P-51 Mustang arrived and it was in the middle of 1943 that Stephen was assigned to No: 2 Squadron, Army Co-operation Command, at Sawbridgeworth flying the P-51.
These beautiful high speed aircraft, well suited for Army support, with their aerodynamic lines, were cut about to mount cameras to cover every angle. Even accommodating the Pilots parachute had to be modified so as to ensure the operation of another camera! Such were the trials of the Army co-operation pilots at that time.Stephen left Sawbridgeworth at the end of 1943 after approx 6-months there, and went to Gravesend where he was involved in instruction work with pilots from Canada prior to them joining the RAF.
Stephen Shayle-George still resides in New Zealand. One of that Countries sons who made the long journey to Great Britain to do his duty.
Sadly, Stephen John Shayle-George passed away in January 2009.