Arthur John Toft (known as Larry) was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil on 14th October 1921.His parents returned to England in 1926.
Larry joined the Royal Air Force at the outbreak of war at 18 years old and initially served with 429 Squadron flying bombing missions over Europe on Vickers Wellingtons.
Larry's Recollections of 624 Squadron
5 men aged 18 or more, having obtained their wings, are sent to the OTU (Operational Training Unit). They are just names on paper, put together without any consideration of character, nationality or preference. For 5 weeks using a Vickers Wellington (if you were lucky) or a Whitley Bomber (nicknamed coffin without bearers or mule to fly), they train and fly together to practice situations in which all battle stations were tested. We should think, act and combine everything together, as a crew. We would operate as a separate and independent unit as actually happened after, to operate without outside help.
In a HCU (Heavy Conversion Unit) we trained to fly a four - engined bomber. At this stage, we were joined by a flight-engineer and a mid upper gunner - the final touch.
From then on, we were completely responsible and able to carry out any flight alone, for example - in 624 Squadron and then on 148 Squadron, we were billeted as a crew, we had no Sergeants Mess to socialize; we met other crews in the briefing room but almost always, were assigned to different targets; consequently we landed at different times too.
Information of losses in the squadron were not passed out, or any data on which crew or crews had not returned from operations, or who had crashed on take-off or landing, causing closure of the runways. We never knew what the odds were. Of course, each one had his own amulet*. My navigator for example, had a rabbits foot. I had a coin (a farthing - a quarter of a penny) which I always carried in my pocket.
Crews, when fully trained, transferred to the Coastal or Bomber Command Training as soon as possible. As Bomber Command was losing about 50% of their crews, they earned the highest percentage of supplements. That was how I joined 429 Squadron, to fly bombing missions at 20 thousand feet. When my crew and another remained incomplete for the loss of some airmen, we were sent back to a HCU to form a new crew of Halifax Mk 11. As we finished conversion, we were sent officially 'overseas' which meant we could fly out of England. We received a brand new Halifax Mark V, which was tested and which we flew on to Algeria, to join 624 Squadron in special operations, or whatever that was called. This proved to be flying at only 800 feet, dropping supplies to the partisans and eventually dropping brave agents (SOE & OSS) in Southern France.
I was greeted with some help on the new job, but I was never asked if I had volunteered. When 148 Squadron, based in Italy, suffered heavy losses in July 1944, we were sent to reinforce this unit, operating over Northern Italy, the Balcans and Poland. In August and September 1944 148Squadron was almost wiped out, so new crews came directly rom England to re-complete the unit. I helped them convert onto the Halifax (in most cases they were the pilots & crew members of Short Stirlings). So you realise that Unit changes were not caused by the direct request of the crew, rather by orders
Larry Toft arrived at 624 Squadron at Blida on 20th April 1944 flying a brand new Halifax Mk V directly from England and remained until 27th July 1944 when transferred to No.1 Base Personnel Depot (BDP) near Algiers before being transferred to 148 Squadron. In October 1944 Larry was awarded the DFM for "exceptional valour, courage or devotion to duty whilst flying in active operations against the enemy". (London Gazette 24th October 1944) Always very modest, Larry insisted this medal was for the whole crew saying " If it was the Olympics the whole team would have got the gold, but the RAF were a bit stingy so we only got one"
Sadly Larry passed away on 1st September 2015