Long Way to the War

When Hugh Bone was still a teenager, the Second World War caught fire across the continent, sweeping up youth, families, armies, nations and the future of Europe. Every boy and young man in Great Britain felt the inevitable and gravitational pull of the conflict to join up... and do their “bit”—compelled by a powerful cocktail of peer pressure, fighting spirit, heroic stories, national fervour and testosterone. Others were, since their childhoods, enthralled with the new world of flight, dreaming of becoming fighter pilots and throwing themselves about the sky in Hurricanes or Spitfires. Hugh Bone was all of these.

Like many teenagers of the time, Bone looked and acted more maturely than his 17 years would seem to indicate. There was more expected of a young man in those days than of teenagers today. By eighteen, they were men in every sense of the word, ready to go out into the world to earn a living, to make their way and even to defend their country—at any cost. From the outset, Hugh Bone was ready for whatever the war brought to him, eager to get trained and get to the battle, but timing, fate and the unpredictable course of the war took him on a strange and delightful journey to the far corners of the world. He would see the best and the worst of people and places and after his amazing adventure, take a powerful de Havilland Mosquito into danger as the Allies pushed the Nazis back across Europe and into oblivion. 

Hugh Bone is a humble man, full of appreciation for the life he has led, the family that surrounds him and for his good fortune in friendship and in war. He is not a man who would put himself at the centre of history nor claim a heroic past. Like nearly all of the men and women who took part in any aspect of the war—whether combat or the home front—he looks upon himself as just one of the many who did their jobs as they were asked. He was and still is all that, but he was also a fortunate man in the long and astonishing road he took to the war. One can only imagine the lifelong effect it had on the boy from Odiham.

We are grateful that his voice is now being heard and I am grateful for his friendship. — Dave O’Malley

And now his story:

Long Way to the War — By Hugh Bone

Throughout the years since the Second World War, I have read many accounts of the sterling service given by so many. Many gave their lives in the service of their country while some survived through the full length of the war. A large proportion of these young men joined the ranks on their eighteenth birthday, while a few inveigled their way in when only seventeen. Many who were called on their eighteenth birthday were dead soon after their nineteenth. Yet there were a few who, through the vagaries of training, took over two years before seeing active service and who saw much of the world and made a number of lifelong friends on the way. I was fortunate enough to be one of that number.

Two photos of the author Hugh Bone before joining the Royal Air Force in September of 1941. At left, Bone in 1940, at age 17 looking like a fine young gentleman. Before he was eligible for military service, young Bone joined the Local Defence Volunteers (soon to be called the Home Guard) at age 17, though there were no guns made available for many months. When he did get one, he made sure it was recorded in a photo in the summer of 1941—still at the age of 17. Photos: Hugh Bone Collection

On my eighteenth birthday I volunteered for air crew training only to be told to return when I was nineteen. So, on 2 September 1941, I found myself in Oxford, England on the first stage of my long journey. A day of classroom examinations, another of rigorous medical examinations and I was in! Royal Air Force (RAF) service number 1324602—Aircraftman Second Class (AC2) Bone. But my pleasure was short lived, as I was put on deferred service for six months.

So it was not until 2 March 1942 that I reported to Lord’s Cricket Ground in St. John’s Wood, London to commence my RAF service. Almost immediately it was panic stations. Apparently there had been an urgent request from the Commonwealth Air Training Plan in Southern Rhodesia. A new course [of airmen] was to be sent out as soon as possible. Our initial training of six weeks was shortened but intensified to three weeks after which we were posted to Blackpool, Lancashire on the Irish Sea coast, to await shipment to South Africa.

Two photographs from the first two months of Hugh Bone’s RAF career. At left, Bone (second row, third from left) in a photo of his 2 March 1942 intake group at the Air Crew Reception Centre near Lord’s Cricket Ground. It was at his call-up at Lord’s that Bone would meet Geoff Baker who would become a great friend and share with Hugh many of the joys and tribulations of training over the next two years. At right, a composite of photographs taken of Bone and Baker at a Blackpool photo studio. They wear the white cap flashes of air crew trainees. Photos: Hugh Bone Collection

For two weeks we were billeted in private houses and the daily routine was route marches and clay pigeon shooting. At least, we were supposed to be on route marches. We were in the charge of an air gunner Flight Sergeant who was resting after a tour. After falling into line, we marched away for some hundred yards, when he gave the order “right turn” and found ourselves marching into a cozy café where they were still serving cream cakes after two and a half years of rationing!

After two weeks of this we boarded a train, heading down to Swansea, on the Welsh coast where we boarded the troopship HMT Highland Princess and found the worst conditions I’ve ever had to endure in the whole of my life. We were crowded on a below-sea level deck where there were long fixed tables and we were twenty-four to a table, sleeping in hammocks above the table. The latrines were only a few paces beyond our table where the swinging doors wafted the ghastly stench of urine and sickness for at least the first three weeks of our voyage.

His Majesty’s Troopship (HMT) Highland Princess was a 14,000-ton passenger/cargo vessel built in 1929 in Belfast for the Nelson Line. By the time of the Second World War, Highland Princess was in the employ of the Royal Mail Line. Despite her less-than-favourable shipboard conditions, she survived the war and was broken up in the 1960s. Photo via Shipspotting.com

Breakfast and lunch were both uneatable. The only meal worth eating was afternoon tea which consisted of newly baked bread, marmalade and a large mug of tea. There was a canteen where one could have free biscuits, but they had only ginger nuts (a small ginger snap like biscuit). Since they were a favourite of mine, I survived the voyage consuming packet after packet of ginger nuts. Into the Tropics the weather improved and conditions below became a little better. The first excitement was when we sailed into Sierra Leone where some ships in the convoy were taking on cargo. We thought it rather romantic to see the bum boats paddle out to our ship and beg for coins for which they would dive into the water to retrieve. The romance was quickly killed when some men wrapped silver foil around farthings [1/4 of a penny] and threw them to the natives. And the “natives”, on finding the deception, came out with a stream of invective in broad Liverpudlian accents. Seems that many of them had lived half their lives in Liverpool.

Rounding the Cape of Good Hope, the convoy was attacked by a U-boat and two ships on the outer side of the convoy were hit. Our destroyer escort dashed to and fro, their sirens whooping, and I ate my bread and marmalade and drank my tea while standing by my assigned lifeboat.

That was the end of it and a couple of days later we docked in Durban on the Indian Ocean. As we pulled into the pier in Durban, we were serenaded by Perla Siedle Gibson, the famous Lady in White—Gibson, a South African soprano, was at the docks for the arrival and departure of every ship during the war… singing to them all.

Perla Siedle Gibson, a South African soprano and artist, greets servicemen and women dockside in Durban, South Africa. Wearing her signature white dress and red hat, she became internationally celebrated during the Second World War as the Lady in White. She sang to more than 5,000 ships entering or leaving the harbour, amounting to about a quarter million men and women. She even sang on the day she learned that her son Roy had been killed in combat in Italy. She sang through a hand-held megaphone given to her by men from one of the ships. In 1995, Queen Elizabeth II unveiled a statue in her honour in Durban harbour. Photo: DurbanInMotionWebsite

A great deal of kindness was shown to us by many South African ladies. Ashore for the night in Durban, they had laid on a magnificent feast in the town hall and we returned to our ship laden with fruit. The next day, we were off on a two-day, 1,400 kilometre-long train journey to Bulawayo, Rhodesia (now the second largest city in Zimbabwe)—a delight after our five-week-long hellish voyage on Highland Princess.

Now, here at Bulawayo, we could start our Initial Training Wing (ITW—basic training for airmen) in earnest. Only to find that we couldn’t. It seemed that a signal had been sent to England for the immediate delivery of already requested air screws (propellers), not air crew.

Where to accommodate us? The ITW at Hillside had been a cattle market before the war so, there being no huts available, we were quartered in what became known as “the lines”—cattle pens in which we slept for the next two and a half months! But what a revelation was Hillside. After two and a half years of wartime rationing, followed by five weeks of uneatable shipboard meals, the food at ITW was fantastic. Breakfast was “mealie meal”, a porridge of polenta followed by eggs and bacon and if you were still hungry you could have second helpings. At the entrance doors there stood barrels full of oranges, apples and avocados to which you could help yourself. Life in “the lines” was not hard, as the climate was balmy, never a drop of rain while we were there.

A photograph of No. 3 Flight, No. 6 Course, Initial Training Wing ITW Hillside at Bulawayo, Rhodesia in front of “the lines”—Bone is second from left in second row. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

To keep us occupied, we were put onto a number of orientation exercises, or “bundu bashes” as we called them. Taken out into the bush in groups of five and given a map and a compass we did triangular courses, increasing in size as we became more accomplished. This was all quite educational as we got to know the bush and often ran into a native kraal and saw Rhodesia as it had been before the colonial townships were built. Plus wildlife which consisted mainly of baboons though we twice saw a green mamba which was somewhat of a scare.

The Initial Training Wing at Hillside was not like other RAF training bases back in England and Scotland. While the accommodations were Spartan and makeshift, the weather was balmy and comfortable. After the hardship of “the lines”, Bone and his course mates moved into barrack huts. Four photographs, taken in August 1942, from the author’s collection tell the accommodations story of ITW Hillside very well. Upper left: Barrack huts. Upper right: Hut 12 which housed Bone and his mates. Lower left: The interior of Hut 12. Lower right: Hugh Bone’s cot and gear in Hut 12, Hillside. Photos: Hugh Bone Collection

Hugh Bone (right) with two course mates on the Rhodesian grassland check their bearings and course during a “bundu bash”, an orienteering exercise that exposed them to the real Rhodesia during their time at Initial Training Wing Hillside. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

Hugh Bone (drinking from canteen) and friends (left to right Derek Ashton, Geoff Baker, Bone, Jim Beadle) take a break for water and sandwiches during another bundu bash. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

Leading Aircraftman Hugh Bone (left) outside his barracks hut at Hillside, wearing spiffy bush jacket and shorts and (at right) drilling with rifle and bayonet in dress tunicPhoto: Hugh Bone Collection

The first Sunday at Hillside I went into Bulawayo to attend the Methodist church, having been raised in a Methodist household and I was immediately taken up by a couple of families and from then on, my every weekend was spent with the Hardys and the Kerrs who have been lifelong friends ever since.

Eventually we moved from the lines into huts and started our ITW training and ten weeks later the course ended and we expected to move on to an Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS). But only four of our course of forty received an immediate posting and I was one of the lucky four. Little did I know then that it would put me behind rather than forward. I had the good luck to be posted to Induna, an EFTS nine miles outside Bulawayo and so continued my friendship with my Rhodesian families. The Hardys lived in town and had three delightful daughters and I spent much of my time in the happy but platonic friendship of the whole family. The Kerrs lived in Hillside and most Saturdays the two families met up at the Kerrs and we with a couple of other RAF fellows spent so many happy days together.

A photograph of Leading Aircraftman Hugh Bone shortly after his first solo. At No. 27 EFTS Induna, Bone took elementary flying training on the de Havilland Tiger Moth. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

There was an old man who we knew as “Binker” Grieg who had the largest chicken farm in Rhodesia. On his land he had built a small, fully-equipped bungalow which was for the use of any RAF fellow that wished to use it. And it was where I spent all my weekends during my thirteen months training in Rhodesia. It was truly a wonderful time. I had achieved my boyhood ambition to learn to fly and despite all the state of the art aircraft that I was later to fly there was nothing so exhilarating as flying in the open cockpit of a Tiger Moth in the balmy Rhodesian conditions. Looping and rolling and stalling high in the Rhodesian sunshine, “low” flying over the tops of the few fleecy white clouds, all this from Monday to Friday and then off to my dear “family” at the weekend. So it went on until the course ended and a posting to Service Flying Training School (SFTS). One guest at the Hardys was a Warrant Officer “Jacko” Jackson who was an instructor at the SFTS at Kumalo and I had got to know him as a friend and he said to leave it with him. Eventually, I found myself posted to Kumalo and who was to be my instructor but Jacko!

So I learned to fly the Airspeed Oxford in the company of a friend and was now stationed only three miles outside Bulawayo and even closer to my families. Dear Mrs. Kerr, she was a wonderful person and I regarded her as a second and very dear mother. One of her daughters, Peggy, married a Dane and moved to Denmark and Gunvor, my wife, and I visited Peggy a couple of times while she spent a couple of holidays with us in England. As did Mrs. Kerr, that wonderful bond that dated from my training years continued until Mrs. Kerr died and Peggy moved to Australia. I had so much to be thankful for, having been posted to Rhodesia. Discipline was loose, we had been issued with tropical kit that would have looked ancient on trader Horn and the first thing we did was to buy ourselves natty bush jackets and short shorts! It was a very friendly Air Force out there in Rhodesia and I can honestly say it was the happiest year of my young life by far.

A lovely and evocative photo of the crew room at No. 21 SFTS Kumalo. In the foreground, Hugh’s maps and gear show he is planning a flight, while out the window on the flightline a pair of Airspeed Oxford training aircraft await their pilots. A sharp eye will note that these “Oxboxes” appear to have dorsal gun turrets, making them Mk IsAfter finishing his flight training syllabus, Bone and his course mates did not immediately receive their wings. Bone explains: “Once we had qualified for our wings they were not awarded immediately as we did further advanced training such as navigating and bomb aiming plus a stint out in the bush under canvas at a relief landing ground, Marony”. Bombing, low and high level, was practiced at the ranges known as Miasi and Mielbo. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

At Kumalo, Bone took flying instruction on the Airspeed Oxford multi-engine trainer. The Bomber Command Museum of Canada states: “Known to hundreds of R.A.F. aircrew as the “Ox-box”, the Oxford first appeared in 1937 as a military development of the 1934 Envoy feeder-liner, and was the first twin-engined monoplane trainer in the Royal Air Force. the first Oxfords joined the Central Flying School in November 1937, and by the time of the outbreak of World War 2 nearly 400 were in service. Production was subsequently stepped up, Airspeed building nearly four and a half thousand Oxfords, and with sub-contracts placed with de Havilland, Percival and Standard Motors the total number of Oxfords completed came to 8,751. Although used most widely in its intended role as aircrew trainer, the Oxford gave valuable service on communications and anti-aircraft co-operation duties, and was also used in some numbers as an ambulance, particularly in the Middle East. As a trainer, it served in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Southern Rhodesia as well as in the United Kingdom. Outwardly there was little difference in appearance between the various mark numbers, the principal variations being in power-plant and internal equipment. the Oxford I was a bombing and gunnery trainer, and featured a dorsal Armstrong-Whitworth turret—the only Oxford to do so”. Photo: Bomber Command Museum of Canada

June 1943—Members of Hugh Bone’s course at Kumalo, Rhodesia turn out for their wings parade having completed the flying syllabus and additional advanced courses in bomb aiming and air navigation. Bone explains the additional work: “After we had done 80 hours on the Oxford and passed our classroom studies we were eligible for our wings but in Rhodesia we had yet another 80 hours of training. Now we were coupled with another pilot and one day he would pilot the aircraft while I did a navigational exercise, or acted as bomb aimer and we took it in turns throughout the rest of the course. Then we had to do two weeks under canvas out in the bush and finally we went on an exercise bombing mission to be intercepted by Harvards from the SFTS near Salisbury. And finally we were awarded our wings on June 2nd 1943”. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection, quote from Mossie.org

Sergeant Hugh Bone (far left) leads a squad of newly-minted Sergeant Pilots at Kumalo, following their wings parade. His good friend Derek Ashton is third from left. Hugh would be made a Flight Sergeant on 22 June 1943. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

In addition to the new pilots, the Wings Parade included a company of Ashanti guardsmen. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

Two photos of the author at Kumalo—in summer kit (right) while visiting the Hardy family’s garden and (left) following their wings parade, Hugh Bone (left) and Fred Harris are proud to be sprog pilotsPhoto: Hugh Bone Collection

Just before then end of my course I was given seven days leave and with a couple of other fellows on the course we took the train to Victoria Falls. What a wonderful experience that was. We stayed in the Falls hotel and even though the falls were a couple of miles distant one could hear the constant thunder of the falling water and could see the mist of spray that indicated their presence.

But every good thing must have an end and having been awarded my wings, everyone of my Rhodesian friends were at the station to wave me a tearful farewell as I started my journey to South Africa. The routine was for one completed course to move to Kenya to do an OTU (Operation Training Unit) before joining a squadron in the Middle East; the next to move straight home to England, while the third would do a three month General Reconnaissance (GR) course at No. 61 Air School in the small city of George, South Africa, in preparation for joining the RAF’s Coastal Command.

Those three months at George I would prefer to forget. Many of the Africaaners were openly hostile towards Brits and George, we learned, was a hotbed for the OBs, the Ossewa Brandwag, who were violently opposed to being in the war with more sympathy for the Nazis than the Allies. It was a rude awakening, the shock of leaving the easy-going RAF of Rhodesia and the lovely friends I had made, to the reality of a hostile environment. Most of our instructors were South Africans and there were a number of Africaaner pilots on the course, most of whom were unfriendly to say the least. Only one was pleasant so his name still stands out in my mind—Princeloo.

There was a very pleasant weekend retreat on the coast called the Wilderness but, though we were taken to see it, none dared risk staying for the weekend. It was a very miserable and dull three months emphasized by comparison to Rhodesia. Even the flying was boring—flying as a navigator over nothing but sea and trying to navigate over a triangular course by instruments. Most quite useless, having to learn the use of a sextant for instance. Masses of aircraft and ship recognition—British, American, Italian and German. The final insult was when we sat our final exams. One was assessed by the percentage of marks compared to that of the overall average of the course. The Africaaners on the course were given the answers to all the questions by the Africaaner instructors. So I achieved an average of 88.5% while the course average was 90. 2% and in large writing my logbook reads “Results below average”. Even though it was the same for everyone one of the RAF pilots on the course, that has still rankled in my mind. No, it was a most unpleasant three months, that GR course.

And there I was, still in South Africa a thousand or more miles from the war, having passed through every course and now with my pilot’s wings, having been in the RAF for almost two years. Surely we’d be back home soon. The course completed in unsatisfactory fashion, we were shunted off to Capetown to await a ship. We were in a camp at the town of Retreat which was a few miles down the coast from Capetown and while it was quite safe to visit the city we were strongly advised to return to camp in groups. The camp was some distance from the rail connection and there was again the danger of OBs. I was in a room with two other air crew plus a Polish pilot. The drill was to visit Capetown but wait at Retreat until there were sufficient men to make a safe group to walk to the camp. One night the Pole didn’t return and we learned the next day that he had tried to walk from the train alone and had been murdered. It was with some relief that we were assigned to a ship after two weeks at Retreat. Gossip was rife and the latest was that RMS Queen Mary was in dock and would be taking us home. There was only myself and my friend Derek Aston from Aircrew Reception Centre days and we were more than disappointed to find ourselves boarding HMT Highland Chieftain, the sister ship of the slave galley on which we had arrived in South Africa.

Hugh boarded Highland Chieftain in Capetown for England, but it would not be a direct journey by any stretch of the imagination. His Majesty’s Troopship Highland Chieftain was identical to Highland Princess. She was built in 1929 by Harland and Wolf of Belfast, and made her maiden voyage on the London to River Plate service, on the 21st of February of that year, later transferring to the Royal Mail Line in 1932. She commenced wartime trooping duties in 1939, but was damaged on the 11th of October 1940, during a bombing raid on Liverpool. She was sold in 1959 to the Calpe Shipping Company of Gibraltar and used in the whaling industry under the name Calpean Star. She suffered rudder damage off Montevideo in 1965, followed by a boiler room explosion. She settled into the muddy bottom of the River Plate estuary. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

At least conditions were better now that we had some rank and we learned that it should be a faster return as we were not sailing in convoy. But about a week into the voyage we were summoned on deck to be told by the Officer in Charge of Troops that we wouldn’t be returning direct. The ship would be calling in at Buenos Aires to pick up a cargo of beef. As Argentina was pro-Nazi, we were to be put ashore in Montevideo, Uruguay. “There you will be housed in a luxury hotel, free, gratis and for nothing. You will be feted with a grand luncheon in the Palatzia De La Cerveza - free, gratis and for nothing.” And so he continued. After the luncheon we could visit any of the numerous hotel bars, a list of addresses to be distributed and there we would find people who would offer us hospitality.

A few days later we sailed into the River Plate and to Montevideo. Half sunk in the harbour lay the scuttled german battleship Graf Spee, still lying there where she was scuttled after the Battle of the River Plate. Ashore we were bussed to the Miramar Hotel and once installed in our rooms, we were then bussed in to the Palatzia. And what a feast! We sat at long tables and before us were planted not one but two large glasses of beer and no sooner had we drunk one glass that it was replaced by another. As someone remarked, “This must be the first time ever that service men have been detailed to attend a booze up.” An orchestra played every British tune that they knew, which were mainly Scottish and when we loudly applauded they would repeat the same tune. Finally, well fed and semi-inebriated, we dispersed into the city to look for one of the addresses that had been given to us. 

The Miramar Hotel in Uruguay was a popular social hotspot in the 1930s and 40s, with big band music nightly and a popular and elegant outdoor terrace behind the main entrance—a spectacular resort to find themselves in after the long and crowded Atlantic crossing. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

Upon arrival in Montevideo, Uruguay, Hugh Bone and other Commonwealth servicemen formed up in front of the Miramar Hotel for inspection and greetings from Mrs. Juan José de Amézaga Landaroso, the First Lady of Uruguay. At far left stands the Officer in Charge of Troops aboard Highland Chieftain—the man known as “Free, Gratis and For Nothing”. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

The exceptional quality and quantity of the food at the Miramar Hotel in Montevideo is something Bone remembers with a smile to this very day. Hugh Bone is sitting last in the line on the right hand side of this breakfast table. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

Hugh Bone strikes a worldly pose at the edge of the Miramar Hotel’s swimming pool. While the newly-minted pilots were chaffing to get into the fighting war in Europe, they made the best of every moment in Montevideo. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

The unexpected arrival of British servicemen heading to the war was cause for celebration by the British community in Montevideo. Here, the guests at a reception put on for officers from Highland Chieftain pose for the camera. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

Wherever the airmen went, they were the centre of attention among Uruguayans. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

My companions dropped off at the first place they found but I decided to go farther afield, which led to one of the most enjoyable fortnights of my whole life. When I finally chose a bar to enter, I was greeted immediately by an American who said his name was Buzz Tait. Buzz ushered me out almost immediately and drove me in a sporty American car to his home in Callé Costa Rica which was a very pleasantly tree-lined avenue in the classier suburbs. Here, I met his wife Pipa plus the nineteen-year-old daughter of the next door neighbour (who I learned was the Dutch ambassador to Uruguay). The ambassador and his Dutch family and staff had fallen on hard times, as Holland was occupied by the Germans. Buzz was the Eastman Kodak representative for Uruguay. We were only to be in “Monte” for three days but, fortunately for us, Highland Chieftain ran onto a sandbank and our stay was extended to fourteen days.

We are madly feted by the Uruguayans. A few of our company were instructors who had done a tour of ops and the newspapers were full of their exploits. And it rolled over onto all of us. It was no use telling them that we were newly-trained and had not yet seen a shot fired in anger. We were all heroes. I saw an album of Bessy Smith records that I tried to buy but the shopkeeper wanted to give it to me. After a long discussion we settled for half price. For my part I had a most wonderful time with the Taits and in the company of the lovely young Barbara van Maanen or Beba as she was affectionately known. She showed me all round Montevideo and we visited the cinema together. Greer Garson and Ronald Coleman in Random Harvest was playing. A very talented young lady, Bebe spoke both Spanish and English with no trace of accent. She did a twenty-minute stint on the radio twice a week, giving ten minutes for news in Dutch and ten minutes in English. Her parents were lovely people, the ambassador being a good deal older than his wife. I spent every minute of every day in the company of the Taits and Beba. On my last night, Mijnheer van Maanen drew me aside for a chat, “My wife and I were a little worried when Beba told us that you had asked her to accompany you and show you round Montevideo. It is the custom here for a young couple to be chaperoned if they go out together and often so in Holland. But we knew this was not the custom in England so we reluctantly gave Beba permission. She tells us and I can quite see for myself that you have been the perfect gentleman towards my daughter for which I want to thank you.” Such lovely people all. Prior to our arrival, we had no wish to delay our return home by visiting Montevideo. Now, after two wonderful weeks, we didn’t want to leave, especially me. I could have stayed on forever! On return home, I learned that Pipa had written to my parents telling them that I had visited them in Montevideo and that I was well and in good spirits.

Back in England by October 1943, I had expected to do an OTU course and join a squadron post-haste, but it was not to be. Posted to RAF Harrogate, I found the town swarming with air crew, pilots, navigators, radio operators, air gunners—there were thousands of us! And there I remained for four months, kicking my heels. I was almost posted after two months when I was told I was to join a Lancaster OTU. My objections (that I was trained for Coastal Command, not heavies in Bomber Command) were overruled. I had heard a rumour that one needed a certain leg length to fly Lancs so I mentioned the subject and it transpired that it was fact, not rumour. My leg length was measured and found to be too short, so I was put back on the waiting list. Finally, I was posted to an Advanced Flying Unit RAF Fraserburgh, the home of No. 14 Advanced Flying Unit in the north of Scotland to do a refresher course on Airspeed Oxfords. My time at Fraserburgh was pretty miserable—from mid-February to the beginning of April 1944—what with freezing conditions and an unheated hut in which to sleep. At least we were taken into Aberdeen each weekend where we could go to the cinema and the Saturday night dance. I overnighted at the George Hotel though I can’t for the life of me remember how I financed it.

Having completed the course, I was home on leave for five days when I met up with Peter Newman, an old school friend who was now operating on Coastal Command Beaufighters. “Whatever you do” he said, “don´t get onto Coastal Beaus. The average survival time is four operations. I’ve done four so you won’t see me again”. Two days later I was posted—to Crosby-on-Eden to do a Beaufighter OTU. And a week after that, my parents wrote to say that Peter had been lost on his fifth operation. But the jinx, if one could call it that, had still not abandoned me. Halfway through the course came D-Day and the increased need for more air crew for the assault on Germany in Europe. So we continued and finished our Beaufighter training before finally starting a Mosquito OTU at Bicester. I had first volunteered for air crew in September 1941. I was sworn in in September of 1942. And now, two years later, I was to finally join a squadron. It was certainly the long way to the war but on the way I had visited so many places of interest, all at the RAFs expense and met so many lovely people who had shown me great kindness and everlasting friendship. 

Hugh Bone’s course photograph from No. 13 OTU at Bicester, England where he and his mates converted to the de Havilland Mosquito after having just completed a Beaufighter course. Hugh Bone’s lifelong friend Bob Kirkpatrick sits in the front row, second from right, while his navigator Wally Undrill stands directly behind him. Of Kirkpatrick, Bone says: “Kirk is a great guy and a natural pilot. He did things with both a Beaufighter as well as a Mosquito that experienced pilots with many hours on the type would never have attempted.” It is clear that each pilot on the OTU is sitting in a chair in front of his navigator, as the man behind Bone is Ken Guy, part of the Bone/Guy Mosquito crew. Sadly, Bone lost contact with Guy sometime after the war. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

I have always been very proud and grateful that I served on 487, a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) squadron. The Kiwis were great lads and I consider myself very fortunate to have had one of the best flight commander’s in Bill Kemp. He had an outstanding record with both a DSO and a DFC to his credit and over the course of my time with 487, he became more of a friend than a superior officer.

Hugh Bone (squatting at lower right) joined 487 Squadron after his Mossie OTU, joining them at RAF Thorney Island. In the memoir he wrote to share with his family, Hugh spoke of his first days with the squadron — “The flight commander of B flight was Squadron leader Bill Kemp, DSO and bar, DFC and bar. He was a good two metres tall, broad shouldered with a rugby nose. Through the months that followed I came to respect him as one of the finest men one could wish to serve under. He appeared to have no nerves at all, one of the few that actually enjoyed operational flying, yet never asked as much from those serving under him as he himself undertook. Whenever there was a particularly hazardous patrol to be made he always did it himself. He never chased after “gongs”, he avoided wearing the medal ribbons that he was entitled to, and was contemptuous of his rank. He accepted “Sir” when on duty but wanted to be known as Bill to those he was friendly with regardless of their rank. I am proud to say that by the end of the war I was considered as one of his friends. This then, was the man that welcomed we new “sprog” operational aircrew to his flight.

He explained that most of our work would be night intruder operations. This meant operating immediately behind the “bomb” line, the line separating the opposing forces, where we would search for any troop or transport movement and attack it with bombs and cannon and machine gun fire. The Mark 6 Mosquito was armed with six machine guns and six 20mm cannons, as well as carrying a bomb load of four 500lb bombs. As we would often be operating over occupied territory we must not be indiscriminate in our attacks. If we could find no troop movement then we should drop our bombs on bridges or rail junctions and if visibility was too bad then we should bring our bombs back unless we were over Germany. Operational height was usually 1,500 to 2,000 ft, which was the best height to make observations. On returning to base, a truck would take us to the interrogation room to be debriefed by an Intelligence Officer. We’d be given a couple of days to settle in and do some local flying to acquaint ourselves with the local landscape, after which we should be ready to start operating.

It was after only a couple of orientation flights that we saw our names on the battle order for that night and I must admit that my heart missed a beat as I realized that the moment of truth had come.”

Pilots and navigators of 487 Squadron, RNZAF pose with a squadron Mossie at Rosières-en-Santerre, France in March of 1945. Hugh Bone is in the front row, 5th from the right. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

On squadron with 487 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force, Hugh and his “looker” (navigator) Ken Guy stand proudly in front of “their” Mosquito, nicknamed “Willie”. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

Hugh and Guy (front) pose with the mechanics who maintained “Willie”. Photo: Hugh Bone Collection

As for seeing the world, 487 was posted to Brussels a couple of weeks before the end of the war and off and on I spent quite a while in the city. The one regret that we all had was that Paris was denied to us as it had been given to the US as their “leave” city. The RAF had a hotel in Paris but only for officers on official duty.

Immediately after the war, the French made a film about the Amiens prison raid. To assist their research as well as to make flying sequences, some 487 officers co-operated with the French in Paris on occasions. 487’s adjutant was an Englishman who had been in from the beginning in 1939, so he was one of the first who were demobilized at the end of the war. At precisely the same time, Bill Kemp was promoted to Wing Commander and CO of 487, now renumbered 268. All Bill wanted to do was fly. He was one of the few who got a thrill from the dangers of operational flying. He had no wish for administrative work nor the knowledge to do it effectively. And with no adjutant he appointed me—who was equally clueless. There were some very hilarious episodes that evolved from our mismatch but being the temporary adjutant had its advantages.

Going through the files and drawers I came across quite a wad of official passes to the Commodore Hotel in Paris. So, with Bill’s consent, we drew up a scheme. Five officers would be given weekend passes to Paris. Those same officers would be issued with extra chocolate and cigarette rations which would fetch high prices from the local inhabitants who were always asking for such goods. With a reasonable amount of pocket money, the five chosen could have a very comfortable weekend in Paris. But would it work? Would the passes be accepted? Five of us set off the next weekend and were accepted without question. We were there to advise the French about details regarding Operation JERICHO (the famous low-level bombing raid on the prison at Amiens which had included 487 Squadron). For a period of five weeks, four Kiwis and yours truly were able to enjoy the pleasures of Paris. Then the Kiwis were repatriated. I was reposted to 107 Squadron, so no more Paris.

In retrospect, it had taken me a very long time from my first attempt to join the RAF to the date that I finally joined a squadron. But what a fortunate war it had been. So many wonderful and interesting places visited, lovely friends spread over the globe and two very close friends from squadron days. My very best friend was Curly Waterer, a navigator on 487 who came from a town close to my own hometown. We had much in common and when he was married in 1954, I was his best man as he was mine when I married my dear wife in 1957. I first met my friend Bob Kirkpatrick when we did the Beaufighter course and we served together for some fourteen months before he was repatriated to his home in the USA. In touch via e-mail we were in close correspondence for some fifteen or more years and we considered ourselves as close friends up to the day that he died. I am so grateful to the RAF for all the wonderful times, the interesting places around the world, and best of all, the lovely people that I met and who became such close friends.

In the months after the war, Hugh Bone was rapidly promoted to Flying Officer. Though he was an Englishman by birth, Bone served the bulk of his combat flying with 487 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force and therefore proudly wore the “silver fern”, worn as an unofficial decoration by many New Zealanders, especially aircrew, on the left breast pocket (seen here at the bottom of the right photo). Photos: Hugh Bone Collection

By Flying Officer (Retired) Hugh Bone, RAFVR

Last Word from Hugh, following completion of this story. “It has taken me back to moments in time and brought those days back to life, especially all the friends that I made. Wonderful and also a little eerie. Good friends from the past remain ever young in one’s memory yet they, as oneself, have aged and the realisation that all are now long gone fills me with a sadness at the same time as the gladness in recalling them so vividly.”

 

Chercher
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