As recounted to Jeff Denness by Colin Ogilvie who was Flight engineer of “ YOYO Y YORK”, the call sign of Halifax JP160. Jeff is the eldest son of the late Pilot Officer Edwin (Ted) Denness who was pilot of the crew in which Colin did his tour of operations. Both were awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French Government as a result of the Barcelonette mission which is referred to in these memoirs. The Wireless operator, Johnny Carroll was likewise honoured for the same mission. Colin modestly fails to mention this and I felt it only right and proper that recognition should be made.
I first met your father in Sept 1943 at 1663 conversion unit. Other members of the crew were, Ron Brown – Navigator, Johnny Carroll - wireless operator, Johnny Weeks - Bomb Aimer, “Gene” Tunney - Mid upper gunner/Dispatcher, Albert Sutton - Rear Gunner.
Before coming to Rufforth your dad would have been through the Initial Training Wing (ITW) quite possibly Padgate before being posted to elementary flying school in the States. From there he would have gone to advanced flying school before returning to UK to a holding unit. From this unit he would have gone to an ‘OUT’, Operational Training Unit where he would have crewed up with five other members i.e. Bomb-aimer, Wireless operator, Navigator and two gunners. This period involved flying Wellingtons and lasted a few months. From there the crew was posted to 1663 Heavy Conversion Unit to move from twins onto multi-engined aircraft and this is where I (Colin Ogilvie) came into the picture. I joined the crew by a similar route and during our time at Rufforth we became familiar with the Halifax V doing circuits and bumps, air to air firing, bombing runs and cross country flying. During this period our social life developed with trips into York, mostly to Betty’s bar or to the cinema. In this unit we resided in a Nissen hut where the only source of heat was a circular stove situated at the centre of the hut fuelled by a weekly, “insufficient”, coal ration. Johnny Carroll in true Aussie fashion purloined two keys, one to the coal store and the other the blanket store enabling us to have a white hot stove and to sleep with six blankets apiece (not forgetting the linen sheets which we bought ourselves). November and December in Yorkshire can be very cold so JC became a bit of a hero.
After breakfast the crews had to form up to march to their various sections. Pilots and engineers were referred to as ‘drivers and stokers’ and collected together. These groups were supposed to march off in true RAF style but in truth were a shambling crocodile more interested in Jane of the Daily Mirror than keeping in step.
After three months at Rufforth we were posted to 76 squadron at Spalding Moor a very, very despondent place owing to the heavy losses encountered. However, before commencing operations there, a call went out for volunteers for a ‘Special Duties ‘ squadron based overseas. After a discussion and agreement from most of the crew, (I think JC wanted to stay in the UK), we volunteered and were subsequently posted to 301 Flying Training Unit based at Lyneham. Here we met up with our new aircraft and completed consumption tests, air to air firing, night take off and landing etc.
On the 14th January 1944 we were sent to Hearn Airfield which is now Bournemouth civil airport. During our time there we were confined to camp as, subject to weather conditions, we could have left for North Africa at any time. However, after a week of sitting around in the mess we decided to break camp and go to a dance in Bournemouth. To make sure that we were in communication in case of an emergency, we arranged a coded message with the cook house staff. If the flight was on they would tell us that ‘late supper was available’. After a few drinks we were having an enjoyable time at the dance when JC came back from phoning the base to tell us that “supper was on”. At first we didn’t believe him because he was a bit of a joker but eventually convinced, we rushed out to get back to our unit only to find a large queue for taxis. Not to be outdone JC went to the head of the queue, pushed an army captain out of the way with the words “ sorry sir but this is an emergency.” which the captain accepted but left his girlfriend very indignant. The four of us, your Dad, JC, Ronny Brown and I returned to meet up with the much relieved remaining 3 members of our crew and just in time for a briefing which included an instruction to look for an aircraft which had ditched in the Bay of Biscay.
We took off on the 16th January 1944 in our Halifax II ‘JP160’ and landed at Rabat Sali in North Africa after an 8 hour and 5 min flight. Sadly, despite searching, we saw no sign of dinghy or wreckage en route.
Rabat Sali was run by the Americans and an amusing incident still stays in my mind.
Most aircrew during this time smoked and cigarettes in the UK were rationed. After a breakfast that consisted of fried eggs with pineapple in the yolks, bacon, some other unidentified fruit and flapjacks with maple syrup (not our usual fare), we asked if we could purchase cigarettes and chocolate. On being directed to a low building we found an American Sergeant behind the counter who asked if he could help us. Tentatively we asked if we could have a packet of cigarettes each.
“Only one?” he asked, “ you can have two! “. Imagine our surprise when we were handed two packs of 200 and not the packets of 20 we had expected.
On the 18th January we took off for Maison Blanche, a trip which lasted 4 hours and 30 minutes. Two days later after a 4 hour 40min trip we moved on to Brindisi, ready to begin ‘ops’ over the Balkans.
Our arrival at Brindisi was quite an eye opener as the place was devastated by bombs and shellfire having been taken from the Germans only months before. Most of the signs were still in German and the billet we were allocated had no lights or beds. This is where my engineering tool kit came in handy as I was able to knock up timber cots and palliasses filled with sawdust. The switchgear I rigged up to control the lights, although primitive and risky from an insulation point of view, functioned adequately enough. And so our stay at Brindisi began!
My first two ops were with an American Flight Sgt. Ferguson from Georgia who couldn’t understand my Scottish accent. However, we survived and it was the end of January before we were reunited as a crew again. We then went on to complete our first two ops over Yugoslavia. 
On the 8th Feb we set off to Blida in Algeria and did our first op over Southern France on 13th February 1944, a trip which lasted 7.1/2 hours. March was a busy month for us as we completed 10 ops, all in JP160.
April was not quite so busy and we only did 7 ops but one incident, which happened in this month, is worth relating. It had rained all day and during briefing for that night’s op the Met officer said there would be “showers all the way.” By this time the rain was bouncing about a foot off the ground and one wag asked, “showers like we are having outside just now?” and the met man, deadly serious replied “exactly “. I think that we were No. 1 up for take off that night. We start up checking for mag drop, air pressure etc. as we taxied round the perimeter to the end of the runway and then we were told to hold off as a Wellington with engine trouble had been given emergency priority to land. This aircraft tried to abort its landing but couldn’t gain height and crashed into a farm killing all 5 crew members and 3 civilians. As our engines were overheating by this time and the rain was still heavy, we requested permission to cut the engines and join the queue further back. This was granted and No.2 who had started his engines later than us, became No.1. He accelerated down the runway and began to lift off but for some reason nose-dived into the ground at the end of the airfield, killing all 7 crew members. Imagine the scene, a fire burning to the left of the runway a fire burning straight ahead and now as No.2 we were told to take off. We were getting revved up prior to becoming airborne when a vehicle raced down the length of the queue flashing a red light to cancel that night’s operation. I was never so glad to feel my feet on firm ground again when we exited the aircraft even though the ground was a sea of mud.
May wasn’t such a busy month as we only completed 7 ops, but June although also a seven op month contained a trip to Barcelonette to relieve the Maquis trapped on a plateau. This op was originally scheduled for four squadrons, two RAF and two American however the weather was so bad over the Med. and Southern France that one by one the sorties were cancelled until only the most experienced crews of 624 were left. I think this number four or five including us. The drop was apparently a success and according to Colonel Buckmaster of SOE, saved the lives of Col. Hislop and Captain Johnson as well as countless members of the Maquis.
Two operations in July 1944 completed our tour numbering 38 sorties all told.
In between operations I can still recall the following incidents that took place during our tour, some amusing some not so.
When we arrived at Blida we were accommodated in tents…two men to each tent. There had been a spate of robberies by Algerian Arabs who used to cut through the lower walls of the canvas and remove any personal items they could get their hands on. Ron Brown the navigator and I shared and early one morning I was wakened by Ron whispering to me to keep my head down as he was sure there was an intruder outside and he intended firing a shot from his pistol over the top of my prone body. Needless to say I was not too confident about Rons’ marksmanship especially in the darkness and I shouted “no way“. The Arab hearing this scuttled away.
After some time under canvas we were moved into chalets previously occupied by the French Military which consisted of four rooms, a shower cubicle and an entrance hall which was used as a bedroom. Occupying the latter in one chalet was a Canadian called ‘Red’ Symms who was a collector of handguns. Poker and bridge were the main card games and Symms’s billet became a popular venue for poker games. One day, during a game in which Red was absent, a player complained about the state of the playing cards and asked if anyone had another deck. Another replied that ‘Red’ would probably have some in his tin box, which was stored under his bunk and contained his personal effects. As one of the players was about to open the box he was stopped by another resident of the chalet who shared with ‘Red’. He proceeded to demonstrate why opening the box was inadvisable. When everyone was cleared out of the way, the lid was lifted and a gun discharged into the floor where a head would have been. This was Symms way of dealing with the Arab pilferers, however it didn’t meet the approval of the card school and they subsequently insisted that he dismantle his booby trap.
For recreation we sometimes travelled into Algiers where, if you could stand the smell of the local cigarettes, you could enjoy a coffee. The Casbah of Algiers made famous by a Charles Boyer film of that name was a magnet for some people but not us as it contained narrow streets festooned with washing and populated by people who showed a dislike for us in their very eyes. JC however was determined to visit the place and talked us all into going. Out of the seven of us only one had his pocket picket…guess whom…JC.
Blida sits at the bottom of the Atlas mountains and someone had the idea of visiting one of the ski resorts situated high up and popular with the French Algerians. Requisitioning a 15-cwt truck, we all piled in for a days skiing but on arrival at the resort we all decided to visit the bar for a pre ski drink. Six hours later when the truck returned for us we were still in the bar, somewhat merry and wondering where the ski hire was.
Another amusing recollection that gives an idea of the conditions in which we lived, took place in Brindisi. The billets leaked rain from the roof which we collected in an assortment of tins, which created quite a musical symphony. As I have already mentioned, most of us smoked during this period and cigs. were rationed. This ration included a brand called ‘Vs’. These cigarettes were atrocious and only smoked by those who were desperate. One-day news flashed around the billet that the mess was selling English cigarettes and a stampede ensued, each person returning with a prized packet of Kensitas a brand not very popular but 100% better than ‘Vs’. The remaining packs of these were consigned to the tins of roof water to show our contempt for them. Later, when the Kensitas were finished and no more were available from the mess, people had to resort to fishing out and drying the sodden ‘Vs’ in order to satisfy their craving.
Half way through our tour we were given 7 days leave at a local rest hotel situated in a small fishing village called Jean Bartre. It was administered by Army Catering and the food was quite acceptable. It was run by an RAOC corporal who treated British beer as though it was liquid gold. After a morning swimming in the cove at the foot of the cliffs, we would troop into the bar for a beer before tiffin. There, we would have to undergo an agonising half-hour or so watching the barman slowly pour the beer into a jug and then into the glasses, whilst we stood there with our tongues hanging out. It was a welcome break especially as the mess possessed a radiogram and about six records which were played continuously, so much so that I still have not recovered from an overdose of Vera Lynn and a record called “Biding my time “.
Once during our stand-down period four of us arranged to go into Blida for dinner and a show. Albert, Ted (Denness), Ronnie Brown and myself booked dinner at a hotel with a few bottles of champagne (more sparkling wine than champagne). It must have been quite potent because later on, during the performance of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, we were asked to leave for being too rowdy. The cinema in Algiers was also a haunt of ours because I can remember queuing up to see Errol Flynn in “ Black Swan “a pirate swashbuckler.
Although we shared a base with the Americans at Blida, we did not mix much but as they were allowed no alcohol in their mess any invitation to ours was gratefully accepted. Johnny Weeks and “Gene” Tunney used to play bridge against American pairs and were a formidable team, winning many more times than they lost.
On a more serious note, one of the incidents related to you by your father was our foray into the bomb dump. This was the result of the brakes overheating during a landing, rendering them inoperable. Instead of pulling up well short of the runway end, we carried on at an angle of 45 degrees and landing up in the bomb storage area. Fortunately for us they were not fused and none detonated.
About the hole in the side of the aircraft, it could have been caused by either a rocket or by flak. The ground crew who was experienced in repairing damage were convinced that it must have been a rocket. Luckily the mid-upper gunner was not in his turret at the time otherwise it would have taken his feet off.
Most nights we encountered light flak somewhere or other but over the French Coast it was always very heavy. One night after running into flak, which we used to call “flaming onions”, your father commented that he could not synchronise the engines. I tried everything, RPM and throttles but still we had an uneven beat on one of the port engines. On landing in darkness I mentioned this to one of the ground crew and logged it in my report at debriefing. After breakfast that day I went down to dispersal and was surprised to see one of the airscrews of JP160 on the ground with a portion of the blade missing. It had been shot off and had been the cause of our irregular beat.
On one sortie, as a result of an erroneous pinpoint of the junction of the Rhone and Nazarre rivers (good old Johnny Weeks), we crossed the coast at Marseilles instead of between Marseilles and Toulon. We became coned by searchlights and the ensuing radar predicted flak was very heavy. Although we took all possible evasive action and dropped to near sea level we knew that we had been hit as we could hear flak hitting the fuselage. On returning to Blida we reported this to the ground crew expected substantial damage. On inspecting the aircraft in daylight we were astonished to find that there was not one hole in wings or fuselage just a mass of screeves caused by shrapnel right at the end of its momentum but without sufficient force to penetrate the stress skin.
Once, on return from a sortie to a target near Toulouse, we crossed the coast near Perpignan and made an uneventful progress out to sea. Well out into the Med. when we though we were well out a danger, a rocket flashed across our beam which we assumed must have been from a JU88. We knew that there were two night fighter squadrons stationed in the South West France, but we had never experienced them this far out in the Med. It must have been the only rocket aboard as no more were fired and we made our way safely back to Blida.
Although most nights over the Med. were clear, sometimes low cloud covered large areas, especially over the Balearics which we used as a pinpoint before making our final run to the North African coast using clear beacon as a guide. One night when the cloud was down to sea level we had to drop down to try and get a sighting of Majorca. Johnny Weeks as the bomb aimer was in the Plexiglas nose of the Halifax trying hard to spot landfall. Suddenly he screamed over the intercom “ PULL UP, PULL UP “. Dead ahead we saw a mountain looming and realised that under normal boost we would not clear it. For such emergencies there is a procedure which gives a max. boost of 12lbs and full RPM. Taking this action we just managed to clear the top although the bomb aimer was really shaken. Later when we landed he said “It’s all right for the rest of you but I was in the front.”
On a few occasions, returning from France at dawn we would encounter Luftwaffe Condors heading back to France from missions although whether it was from bombing missions to North Africa or against allied shipping we never did find out.
It is interesting to note that through all these missions we only ever suffered one casualty amongst the crew and that was the Ted your father (the pilot) who sustained a head wound when he was bounced off his seat when we ran into some cumulo nimbus cloud and the Halifax dropped like a stone. As he was not buckled into his seat his head hit the perspex canopy!
On completion of our tour we volunteered for a second, not because we were feeling heroic but because we viewed it as the best opportunity of getting back to the UK.
Albert Sutton, Gene Tunney, Johnnie Weeks and Johnny Carroll went back to the UK to complete a second tour for which both Albert and Johnny Carroll were awarded the DFC. The remaining members of the crew were posted to 216 Squadron where another Wireless OP. named Neville Springate joined us. A week or so after we completed our tour and while still members of 624, supply drops were laid on to Warsaw and Krakow in Poland, which meant flying over Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, all heavily defended by flak batteries and night fighter squadrons. The losses on these trips were tremendous so we were grateful our tour expired when it did.
Life on an operational squadron was something that had to be experienced to understand. At home in Spalding Moor where losses were heavy, moral suffered but at Blida where we were more fortunate a better atmosphere existed. I cannot remember how many aircraft we lost during our tour, but two crews whom I counted as friends were lost within weeks of each other, one off Sardinia and the other off the Spanish coast.
YOYO Y YORK was our call sign and was used for ground to air communications with the letter Y being painted on the side of the aircraft. Also, for a brief period, we had an emblem painted on the nose but I cannot remember what it was. It was not common practise to have this on the nose of RAF aircraft, a fact that I stressed to the crew, but they insisted and scrounging some paint and brushes from the ground crew I proceeded with the ‘nose-art’. It lasted for 24 hours before a directive came down from on high to remove same under the threat of charges. 
On days of operations all crews reported to their respective section leaders; Navigators with Navigators, Bomb aimers with Bomb aimers etc., where we were all briefed on special procedures such as what loads we were carrying, whether there would be any “Joes “ (agents), fuel loads, wireless frequencies etc. All this was done before the main briefing which dealt with target areas, where likely night fighter activity would be encountered, weather etc. This was followed by the issue of escape kits. These were more like evasion kits and contained water purifying tablets, glucose sweets, hard biscuits and silk maps of the area disguised as handkerchiefs. We were also issued with the currency of the area we would be flying over.
When we were transporting any Joes we had no contact with them until all the crew were aboard. Then they were brought out to the aircraft by independent vehicles and boarded in silence. The mid-upper gunner who doubled as dispatcher was the only member of the crew who had any contact with them. Unless they were from the UK this was done by grunts and sign language. Most of these Joes gave no trouble and when the green light was switched on they jumped without any bother. Sometimes however when a foreign national was to be dropped, usually for sabotage purposes, a reluctance to go meant that they had to be ‘helped’ by the dispatcher. The delay meant that they could end up landing many miles from where they had intended. Luckily this happened very rarely and I can only recall one occurrence.
I can recall an occasion when we went on a sortie without any functional guns. When checking guns before flight, the armourers would plug in a chore horse, which was an electrical trolley intended to save the aircraft’s batteries. A toggle was used to isolate the internal circuit when this external supply was in action. On completion of this ‘checking out’ the armourer was supposed to remove this toggle and restore the internal circuit. On this occasion he had failed to do so and we did not discover it until we tried to test our guns when well out to sea. Theoretically it was forbidden to go over enemy territory without a means of defence but it also meant that we would have to stooge around for hours until we achieved a safe landing weight, there being no way to jettison fuel. After a discussion amongst the crew it was decide to take a chance and carry on with the mission. Luckily the trip was uneventful apart from the usual light flak. No action was taken against the armourer as it would have meant incriminating ourselves for not turning back.
 My late father did his first ops as a second pilot with Les Povey and a Sgt. Wilkinson)
 My late fathers recollection was somewhat more colourful as he told me that a flak burst had flipped the aircraft and put it into a dive which he had great difficulty pulling out of, hence the foray to sea level. However it had served to give the Halifax a change of direction that was sufficiently violent to shake off the master searchlight and associated flak.
 Note: there is much conjecture that Spain violated its neutral status and allowed German nightfighers to be based in the Balearics and other crew were similarly surprised when they though they were safe…one fatally so.
 JD: My father recounted one incident where they flew quite close to a Dornier flying boat. They just eyed each other for a while and the Dornier pilot eventually waved and peeled away, presumably having had a similarly long night and didn’t feeling like mixing it.
 JD. My father told me that this was a rose because the Bing Crosby song “ The one rose “ was popular with the crew