Ron C. Houghton

The Crew: Aqir, Palestine: 1945
Ron’s Crew (l to r) Skipper, Paddy, Bubbles, Eric, Ron, and Skelly. Photograph taken at Aqir, Palestine in 1945

Vickers Wellington: Aqir, Palestine: 1945
A Vickers Wellington, affectionately known as a Welly or Wimpy. This particular Mark was nicknamed the Stickleback owing to its proliferation of aerials for the Radar. Photograph taken at Aqir, Palestine in 1945

In 1942 at the age of 17¼, Ron volunteered for Aircrew duties in the RAF and was accepted for training as a Wireless Operator/ Air Gunner. He was called up a year later and commenced training at Yatesbury, a Signals Training School in Wiltshire, England.

The following year Ron was sent as a Sergeant Wireless Operator to Egypt where he completed training as an Air Gunner. After further courses in Jerusalem, he went to an Operational Training Unit at Ein Shemer in Palestine as a member of a crew of six. The intensive training there also included learning how to operate a radar system called ASV, (Air-To-Surface Vessel) for the crew’s future role with Coastal Command on reconnaissance and later Air Sea Rescue. He and his crew were then posted to join 221 Squadron in Greece.

Demobilised in 1947 after 4½ years of service in the RAF, Ron then spent his working life at London Heathrow Airport as a licensed Aircraft Radio/Radar Engineer and retiring in 1986.

Ron always considered that he possessed a good sense of humour, so in 1998 when his local Woking Branch of the Air Crew Association decided to write a book of members’ war time flying experiences, he knew he couldn’t match their horrific accounts. Wanting to be included he was prompted to write an account of an incident that occurred during training, a poem he called “The Learning Curve.”

LEARNING CURVE

We formed the crew in Jerusalem in deepest Palestine
Six of us including Tom who thought he had served his time.
For Tom had done two tours of Ops and fancied taking leave
Starting a third with a crew of sprogs he felt somewhat aggrieved.

His rank was Flying Officer so he wore a thin blue band
We used to call him Skipper in the way of Coastal Command.
The rest of the crew were NCO’s, Co-pilot Nav and three W/ops.
The Skipper’s task was to team us up then fly us all on Ops.

In the second’s seat sat Paddy who sported an Irish brogue,
Bubbles the Nav a Mersey lad and quite a likeable rogue.
Then three of us as Wop/A/g’s: Eric, me and Skelly
Destined to fly that fine machine we all knew as the Welly.

Our posting to an OTU was delayed by adverse weather.
Surrounded now by orange groves, at last we reached Ein Shemer.
The Coastal role required the Wops with ASV to wrestle
An early radar system used to detect a surface vessel.

The Welly that we flew in was called the Stickleback
Spiked with aerials nose to fin, the enemy subs to track.
With these arrays for Search and Home we soon learnt the drill
When the closing blip was central you were lined up for the kill.

Our training now intensified as we quartered the Eastern Med
We practiced flying searches square and creep-in-line ahead
And homed on tiny fishing boats that gave a good return
Occasionally doing a shoot up run to give us all a burn.

We’d never flown at night before and wondered how we’d fare,
Our Skipper said, “Don’t worry lads: I know a special prayer.”
The Wops took turns at the radar a change from dah dah ditting.
First watch for me was the radar searching the Med for shipping.

I saw some blips on the radar scope still some distance away;
Selecting the aerials to Homing I switched on the Yagi array.
The blips now straddled the centre at thirty-five miles dead ahead
I passed on this gen to the Skipper, “Roger keep looking” he said.

In the rear turret was Skelly who asked permission to change
We passed in the dark on the catwalk the ships now into range
“The ships are below us” said Skelly updating the radar report.
Seated now behind the guns there’s not much to look at I thought.

But flashing past came tracers arcing through the night
Not mentioned at our briefing this gave me quite a fright.
Switching the mike on quickly, “I think we’re being shot at” I said.
The Skipper responded with “Roger I think I’m allergic to lead.

“Swing your turret around,” said the Skipper, “have a shufti about”.
“You’re seeing sparks from an engine; if not then give me a shout”.
I did as the Skipper requested and had to agree he was right.
It’s quite unknown for an engine to shoot down an aircraft at night.

Landing, I braced for the ribbing the jokes I thought I deserved.
Just put it down to experience a part of the steep learning curve.
I was saved by the bell in the morning our OTU training complete
The very next day we were posted to join 221 Squadron in Greece.