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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. R R Stretch

 

Reginald Robert Stretch was born in Southampton on 1st June 1920 and was educated locally at St. Denys School. His artistic ability was noted there and he was offered a scholarship but his family could not afford to take it up.

After leaving school he commenced an apprenticeship as a painter/decorator.

He joined the RAFVR on 13th May 1939. He was called up on 1st September 1939 as an Airman u/t WOp/AG. He carried out wireless instruction at Air Service Training at Hamble and No. 1 Wireless School Cranwell until the end of June 1940.

Stretch was then posted to the Gunnery School at Jurby, Isle of Man from 27th July to 24th August 1940.

 

Above: Stretch standing fifth from left at Jurby.

Below: after qualifying.

 

 

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He was posted to 235 Squadron, operating Blenheims at Bircham Newton, arriving on 26th August 1940.

 

 

Above: Stretch (centre) with Sgt. W Mason (left) and Sgt. WC Richards, both were later killed serving with the squadron.

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On 29th October 1940 Stretch was crewed with Sgt. RF Tatnell for a sweep off the Danish coast. They engaged two He115 floatplanes, before the enemy aircraft escaped into cloud Stretch observed his rounds '..richochet off the armour plating..'.

 

Above: Stretch (right) with Sgt. RF Tatnell who was killed later in the war.

 

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On 4th March 1941, crewed with F/O Lewis, they engaged a Ju88. The forward-firing guns jammed soon after opening fire but Stretch was able to make a number of hits on the port engine. The Ju88 was later confirmed as destroyed.

When 235 converted to Beaufighters in June 1941 Stretch joined 86 Squadron, operating Beauforts from North Coates on anti-shipping strikes. He arrived on 23rd June and remained with them, flying on detachment to St. Eval and Skitten as well as North Coates, until 2nd July 1942.

 

Above: a Beaufort in the RAF Museum.

 

On 17th May he had taken part in a strike on the German cruiser Prinz Eugen which was limping south along the Norwegian coast after being damaged by a British submarine. There was a furious response by German AA fire and fighters during which Stretch shot down a Me109. The cruiser escaped to Kiel for repair.

86 Squadron lost four Beauforts in this operation.

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Above: he continued to draw during his service.

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In July 1942 he went to 8 OTU at Fraserburgh as a gunnery instructor. In December he joined 2 Anti Aircraft Co-Operation Unit at Gosport, target-towing in Defiants and flying in Oxfords on night co-operation with anti-aircraft units and searchlights.

He later served with 7 AACU at Ipswich and Montford Bridge before serving with 577 Squadron, also in the AACU role, from 6th December 1943 till 24th April 1944. They operated from Sealand and Wrexham.

Stretch remustered as a Wireless Operator Mechanic/Air Gunner in April 1944 and was posted to Cranwell. On completion of the course in December he joined 502 Squadron at Stornoway, operating in Halifaxes on night shipping attacks. He arrived there on 4th January 1945.

 

    

 

Above: later portraits, compare that on the left with his photo on qualifying as an AG above.

 

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In June 1945 Stretch was posted to 279 (ASR) Squadron, operating with Sea Otters and Warwicks from Thornaby. He also served on detachment to 280 and 281 Squadrons at Tain and Beccles.

 

Above: Stretch (at left) with his Sea Otter crew.

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He was released from the RAF on 18th December 1945 as a Warrant Officer.

During his 69 operational sorties Stretch shot down, apart from the Ju88 and Me109, three other enemy aircraft, all unconfirmed and not claimed.

Postwar he resumed his trade as a painter/decorator and also gave many years service as an instructor at 424 (Southampton) Squadron Air Training Corps, under his guidance the squadron was repeatedly rated the best in the Hampshire ATC Wing.

 

Above: third from left in ATC uniform.

 

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Stretch died in June 2004.


 

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