My late father, Alec Grant (1923-2012) joined the RAF, aged 18, directly from school and served from 1941-46. He was an engine fitter/flight mechanic and served with 158 Squadron (Halifaxes) before joining 624 in 1943 at Blida. He subsequently served with 624 until late 1944 ,and reckoned that 624 squadron may have saved his life. He had embarked on aircrew training as a flight engineer while with 158 squadron only to be recalled 2 weeks into his course to be posted abroad via a convoy to North Africa on board the SS Almanzora. He later learned that he was a replacement for a fitter who had been given emergency compassionate leave. He was selected because he had done courses on the Stromberg Carburettor and had the appropriate skill set and experience. Getting 624 operational was more important than training another flight engineer! Dad was apparently furious at the time, but the level of losses on Bomber Command meant that he would have had only a 50% chance of survival (158 squadron lost 851 of its members, including one of Dad's closest friends ). As an older man he would remark that he owed a lot to the Stromberg and 624. In his retirement Dad tracked down one of the teams who were dropped by 624, and thereby resolved a mystery that he had first mentioned to me in the late 50s, when I was a child. He often spoke of the time when the 3 "bods" who boarded the aircraft were unlike any other group he had previously seen. Instead of the anonymous civilian dress they usually wore, before kitting up, these 3 were in full uniform and one was wearing a kilt! They went off and didn't return with the aircraft. He always wondered who they were and what became of them. I'll post more later, as well as poems Dad wrote at the time, published, in the 1980s, as part of an anthology. 624 was always an inspiration to him and he was lost in admiration for the aircrews and those brave people they carried into action
My father, Alec Grant, was deeply affected by the sight of safely returning aircraft then the realisation that all had not gone as planned: that the risks taken by all on board had been in vain. As a 20 year old he penned the following observation made at Blida:
Return of the Bod
With metallic shivers, four propellors stop.
A pool of light on the dark tarmac
As the belly-hatch clicks open.
First out is the Bod,
Unwillingly safe on Algerian soil,
Not in some dark European field,
Black parachute buried,
Stealing towards a sinister dawn.
But here he stands, unshaven, hollow eyed,
Two cigarettes clamped in still tense jaws,
Two matches flare together.
In sharp sucked breath jetting smoke,
The agony of the failed drop –
And the moonlit repeats to come,
Until, they too, light up their signal fires.
When 624 transferred to Italy, for a period, in 1943, Alec Grant and other personnel accompanied some of the squadron’s equipment by sea. The crossing from Africa was eventful, as he notes below, when the solitary ship came under threat.
Fallen Out of Convoy
Here in the deep cavern of a drifting ship,
The reckless heart of our universe –
A green crap table, and demanding dice.
Beyond that solitary downward light,
The watching, silent darkness.
Our engines cut; only the lapping waves
against the hull –
A brooding breathless shape across the stars.
And someone there, the listening U-boat
Also holds its breath.
Keep throwing that dice – who cares!
When dawn will take your money
And your life –
Unless that corvette comes.
Published in From Oasis into Italy, Shepheard-Walwyn, 1983.
Alec Grant wrote this as a 20 year old. He noted the context when the poem was published in the book "From Oasis into Italy" Shepheard-Walwyn, 1983
An LST (Landing Ship – Tank) in transit from Bizerta to Taranto with 624 (SD) Squadron (Halifaxes) heavy equipment, had to drop out of a convoy to return a severe case of peritonitis to Bizerta, then proceed on course alone. A U-Boat alert entailed most of those aboard (mainly US Air Force and a handful of R.A.F.) standing silently all night, in stockinged feet, wearing life jackets, around a green baize table while bundles of dollars exchanged hands at the behest of the rolling dice. For the penurious R.A.F. men, the bizarre game ended when the corvette found us and began dropping depth charges. For the Americans, the game went on…