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my benzedrine tablets to stave off tiredness at the end of a trip and before the need to be fully alert for the landing. Cash and valuables were left in a small satchet and handed over for safe keeping until our return. Any unnecessary identification items were also unloaded – things like driving licences, personal correspondence or anything which might give the enemy more than the name, rank and number of crew members who were shot down and captured. The time would come, in an atmosphere of forced cheerfulness and tomfoolery caused by the tension which all crews would admit was the prelude to a raid, to climb into the trucks which drew up on the tarmac outside the crew rooms – the ‘tumbrils’ – and be driven round the concrete perimeter track to the dispersal points on which the Halifaxes were parked, all well separated to minimise the chance of damage in case of enemy attack. There, it was the pilot’s job to check what he could of the outside of his aircraft. Then it was everyone inside and another check of what could be seen to need checking before the engines were started up at the scheduled time for ‘Start up’. It was then a question of checking the engine instruments and the messages they were giving on pressures and temperatures and, when they were sufficiently warmed up, their ability all to reach the appropriate revs per minute on full throttle, which was a test of the ignition systems. Finally came the next reference to our synchronised watches, the time to taxi out to the downwind end of the runway where we queued just as civil airliners do today, to await clearance from the despatching officer in his hut nearby. Clearance was given by a green light and it was then on to the runway, the four throttles opened gradually but fully, with the starboard engine throttles leading a little to prevent a natural swing of the Halifax, and then, keeping straight with coarse use of the rudder bar, airborne and the nose held down for twenty or thirty seconds to gain flying speed with full control. The next stop would be back on the same runway – hopefully. But from this moment on, the tension disappeared. There was too much to see to, no time to worry about anything but the task in hand.


On this particular night of December 5th my crew and I got duly to our Halifax, our usual aircraft with its identification letter ‘P’ emblazoned on its sides. All went normally until I started up the engines, warmed them up and opened the throttles to test the dual magnetos on one engine after the other. We had trouble. There was a rev. drop on one of the starboard engines which exceeded the drop limits which were permissible – it was quite a serious drop. There was nothing for it but to stop engines and see what the airmen of the ground crew, who stood by each individual aircraft, could do in quick time. The boys were up their ladder and working feverishly on the duff engine as we kept an eye on our watches. The minutes ticked by. And they kept on ticking by. The time was reached when the last Halifax of 77 Squadron was due to take off, and that time went by too. But finally the ground crew signalled that they had done what they could and we started up for the second time, thinking it


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