After meeting Fred I was really interested in finding others who had served on aircraft during WW2, Fred’s stories were incredible and I knew there was not going to me many people left who could give me the insight into the war from the air. At the time I was residing in Kent and visited the Shoreham Aircraft Museum which was only 20 minutes drive away. I was guided by the people running the museum and put in touch with a gentleman who knew a WW2 veteran who was his neighbour, this chap kindly introduced me to Sidney..
I grew up as a barrow boy in London, we were always larking about on the fruit stalls, flirting with the ladies, gambling, drinking and being generally mischievous. Sidney was defiantly the sort of chap that was one of the boys, he had a very mischievous personality and one who enjoyed larking around, we got on instantly.
Sidney was 80 years old when I met him, he lived alone as his wife had passed many years before. His neighbour, who I met through the museum had asked him if I could come around and interview him, Sid was more than happy for me to visit so we arranged a day. I ventured to the suburb of Welling in the London borough of Bexley, I rang the bell and an elderly man answered the door. His eyes were scrunched tight as if to get a better focus of me, “hello Lewis” he said as if we had been friends for years and he invited me in. The first thing noticeable was Sidney’s house was like a museum, there was stuff everywhere. Sid was born at number 3 King James Street in Greenwich, he spent his life there until 1938/39 when his father’s instrument company moved to Sheffield. He found Sheffield quite a difficult change of location, they were not really welcomed there by the locals, looked down upon as outsiders. Sid explained that the redeeming point for him living in Yorkshire was when he went to an air training school locally, Sid loved it there but they were extremely disciplined and he had to be on his best behaviour at all times. From there he joined the air training core as he did not want to end up in the pits, the thoughts of working under ground ws not what he wanted so he ended up being based at Finingly. Sid nearly joined the Navy but the thing that was off putting was landing planes on ships, ‘it really was not for me!’ he said. After joining the RAF on a voluntary basis Sidney spent time flying Tiger Moths and Havards at Rislington and Old Seram, these flying experiences were at times a little hazardous but also a lot of fun too. He was advised by a squadron leader that his prospects would be better with bomber command, ‘ He conned me’ Sid said ‘He never explained to me about the casualty rate of joining the bombing regiment he chuckled. Sid flew 15 missions; he was shot down on his 16th.
“We flew out of Spilsby in Lincolnshire; the noise from the four Merlin engines was amazing. We all formed up over Mablethorpe where 500 aircraft could be together, two waves of aircraft being formed, the master bombers would take the lead dropping 4000lbs of amatol, a high explosive device that spread fire. It was an 8 hours round trip to Berlin, the ground crew got the plane ready for takeoff, they were the unsung heroes of the war, we could not have done it without them. They worked on the hard standing in all weather at all times of day. We were airborne and Holland was our point of entry, as we entered France night fighters became a real menace, they were peppering us with bullets. I was flying the aircraft with my friend and wireless operator Jimmy Taylor, we had to shut down one of the engines as it was over heating. All of a sudden another night fighter appeared, I have no idea where he came from but he hit us. He hit our engines and one side of the plane was on fire, he also hit our gunners who both died, their names were Cooper and Collins. I, Jimmy Taylor, Bob Web, George Seable and Rawlins tried bailing but getting to the parachutes was terrible as the plane was falling out of the sky. I was the last to leave but remembered that we had left little Henry in the cockpit, he was our crew mascot, we never went anywhere without him. He was left in a previous crews room but when they never returned we adopted him. I ran back and got him, he stayed in my top pocket.
Being the last one out I ended split up from the crew. I landed in a field in France and thankfully there was an out building where I hid for a few days. I was terrified during the first few days, I had no idea what to do and the place was crawling with Germans. I was also concerned about the farmer’s family he allowed me to stay in the out building but I was putting all his family at risk. I left and was on the run for ten days, I stayed away from towns and villages and ate out of dustbins, luckily I found an abandoned villa which had food inside. I used the villa to lay low for a few days and then found a map and compass, how I managed to get back to the UK without being caught was a miracle.”
After the War
Sid had flown 15 missions, Hamburg was one of the destinations he flew over; ‘the firestorm that had been created by what we had done was unbelievable’ Sid explained. In 1946 Sid returned to Hamburg, this trip was very emotional for all of them. It was a two day journey by coach from London, he never said who planned this visit. I got the impression it was some sort of peace offering between the two countries, ‘When we arrived we were taken round by the locals and shown the damaged we had caused’, it was clear to see how heartbroken he was while talking about this to me. ‘ I saw a little girl watching us in the crowd, she could only have been about four years old?’ he said. ‘I could not stop looking at her, my fears were she was all by herself, were her parents with her or had they died during the raids we had been on?’ ‘I waved at her and she held up a little rag doll to me, I prayed very hard later that day hoping that her parents would be there for her, I can remember it as if it was yesterday, she was wearing a blue and white dress.’ The tears streamed from his eyes and he was clearly heartbroken by the possibility of this child no longer having her parents with, all because of the bombing raids. ‘ I have never told anyone about this’ Sidney said.
Another astonishing story he told me about was when he made a visit back to France for an event of remembrance. It had been organised many years after the war had finished and Sid returned to the town where he had been shot down on his last mission. During the first day in attendance Sid explained he ended up speaking to a French chap who was the curator of the local museum whilst in the crowd. The chap invited Sid to the museum the following day, when he asked Sid why he attended this specific event the day before Sid explained that he was shot down over the area. They discussed Sid’s aircraft and by sheer luck the Curator took Sid to an exhibition of an Lancaster cockpit from the war, it was the cockpit that Sidney ran back to grab little Henry who was nearly left behind. He gave Sid some parts of the cockpit to take home; they stayed with him until the end of his life.
A year after meeting Sid I moved to Wales, there have been many times I have thought about him, I was very fond of him, he was a very funny and at times cheeky old boy, especially towards my wife who he had the odd flirt with. It does sadden me that I did not speak to him before his death but I am very grateful for the time I did spend with him. He did change the way I viewed life and I am thankful we shared time together.
No matter where Sidney went, Little Henry was with him. Henry went to Palatine with Sidney and flew with 8 squadron in Aden. I was lucky enough to meet Henry myself while spending time with Sidney, you would always find him sitting on his mantle piece over the fire. Only today I have found out that dear Sidney Passed away in 2019 in Brighton, he was cremated in his squadron jacket, his beret and Little Henry was in his chest pocket.