|LAC. Wallace Jackson in North Africa and Italy with 70 Squadron, RAF, 1941-1944|
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F.O. William Slack
Contributed by his daughter, Linda Burton
We are indebted to Linda Burton for the following extract from the memoirs of her father, William Slack:
We were lined up for the jabs for going into the Middle East.
The Doc said, “I'm giving you the Yellow Fever jab in the stomach. It is normal to have it in the bottom but that would be uncomfortable while you flew out to the Middle East.”
Now, I did not like the look of that blooming great syringe full of a horrible yellowy stuff. I stepped back and when the others had got the jab he turned to me and said, “You now.”
My reply was, “I've had that.”
At the time if you said, “I've had that” it signified that you did not like it.
The M O said, “Sorry, I must have miscounted.”
What a ribbing I got when we left the sick bay and off to Stradishall where we were provided with an aircraft briefed as to how to get to Malta in safety which, to put it in a nutshell, was to fly the length of France, go south from their south coast to North Africa, do a sharp left hand turn and get into Malta just on false dawn. On landing we were to follow a van at once to an aircraft shelter, get our kit out of the aircraft and get to hell off the landing ground just in case the enemy decided to welcome us.
We obeyed. The flight through France was full of interest especially when looking at the Alps standing out very clearly in the moonlight and a view of the French Mediterranean coast, across the Med and a location on the North African shore then onward to Malta.
Our stay in Malta was a little longer than anticipated for we were to take off same evening after landing. This was postponed for we were told a signal had been intercepted saying we were to take off soon. Three days later we took off for the Middle East. Flying through the night we headed east. It was a wonderful night for flying, great banks of cloud rising from sea level for thousands of feet, a bright moon and the visibility was tremendous. Just on daybreak the shout was, “ Look at those beautiful beaches!” That was our first view of the Western desert. It looked much better than it actually was when we finally got up onto the blue. At last the Nile delta came and went and we made for Abu Sueir.
Our first thought was, “Where do we go from here?”
“You will have to wait,” was the reply. “Eventually you will be posted to a squadron. When you get there you will get an aircraft.”
“ What about the one we brought with us?”
“That will be sent to a squadron as and when they require one.”
We wangled a leave pass for as we thought if they don't want us in a squadron straight away then we may as well see something of the place. We chose to go to of all places Port Said, the start of the Suez Canal, for that would be the start of our visiting in Egypt. We could not have picked a more dull and uninteresting place. We spent our time mooching about looking for something interesting to look at and eventually went fishing after watching an old man and a boy pulling out fish with great regularity. Needless to say we caught nothing and were only too pleased to get back to Abu Sueir and hope we would not be there long. We need not have worried for before the week was out we were posted to 70 Sqdn in Kabrit, a station at the south end of the Little Bitter Lake.
This formed part of the Suez Canal, a pleasant spot where we were well looked after, at least looking back that is my own view of things. Two of us to a bungalow, a bearer to clean up after us see to our laundry or anything else we might want, like our shorts shortened, water melon to order, clothing repairs attended to etc..
In a short while we were given an aircraft and told to do an air test and a consumption test. On a vote it was suggested that it would he a shame not to have seen the Pyramids so off we went to visit with a warning that King Farouk did not like his birds disturbing, so keep away from the quarries. These appeared to us to be the main rubbish dumps for the area and of no interest to us. The Pyramids however were a magnet and risking it we flew around them at a very low level before heading back to our new home, Kabrit.
Our first op. was to Fort Capuzzo, our instructions to bomb the fort, but if we sawmovement on the ground or evidence of any enemy we could bomb there instead. On arrival over the fort we saw transport parked and bombed them. At interrogation they seemed to take our report with a pinch of salt but when the photos were seen from the reccy plane, it was seen that the new crew on the squadron had told the truth. We were informed that our raid had been successful, thank goodness, and as time went on we found that our word was taken as right, which it was.
Op number two, a first look at Benghazi. To get there we first of all had to fly to an advanced base up in the western desert: Fuka, Fuka Satelite and others which were designated only by L.G.060, 090, IGZ. These were to be part and parcel of our lives for some time to come. The good thing about it was that we got back to base and some comfort after each op. All we had to do was to come back safe if not always sound.
The raid, like every one we did on Benghazi was against shipping in the harbour - except one, and a good tale will be told later on about this particular raid. Scarpanto came next, a trip of only 4 hours 40 mins carried out successfully. Then there was a little hiccup in the normal way of things. Iraq started to cause trouble and 70 sqdn. was called on to go to Habbaniya. Ground crews together with their equipment had to be carried in the aircraft so someone had to be left behind. Guess what? It had to be me. I argued that it should be the rear gunner who was left behind and lost out, as I thought. A few days later my crew were back in a different aircraft.
“What happened? Where is the rear gunner?”
“Shut up and we will tell you. Our aircraft is no more - a tyre burst as we landed at Habbaniya and they had to try to tow it to safety. The rebels opened fire, put a shell over, one under and the third one was a direct hit. They were pushing aircraft behind hangars where the rebels could not see them when a shell burst caught our mate, bust his thigh and he has been evacuated to India.” We never heard of or saw him again.
(See entry for May 2nd in: http://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/milestones-of-flight/british_military/1941_2.cfm )
Benghazi was our first op with our new plane, Wellington IC T2842, This look us everywhere until we were taken off ops as “time expired” and posted home. Another trip to Benghazi, then a very interesting trip was our next one. The instructions were very simple:
You will take off at a time to be decided. You will be one aircraft on the raid. You will make as much noise as you can. Do as little damage as possible. Single bombs would be appreciated but hit nothing that may endanger life. Keep clear of the following buildings . . . Your target - Beirut. Fly round until you see your relief then come home.
Trip number 13, unlucky for some, but Benghazi again. The harbour, as usual, the target. From base back to base I note a flying time of 9hours 20 mins. Doesn't time fly when you are flying? Two days later we were off to Eleusis, a round trip of 11hours 05mins and a notable trip for me for it brought my operational flying past the magic 100 hours. A further two trips to Benghazi before getting a short run to Bardia. Another two trips to Benghazi took our total ops, for the month of July 1941 to eight for a total of 72 hours 30 mins, not bad going. Benghasi for another two trips then a great change: the Corinth Canal, decoys for Shalufa. Distraction is the name of the game. The other boys will be down below you dropping mines in the canal. You will keep the Germans busy while 37 Sqdn. do their stuff. Talk about fun and games. You have no idea until you fly with the R.A.F. and get paid for it, Back to, yes - you know again, Benghazi and 206hours 10mins. serious flying.
© Linda Burton