The Airmen's Stories - F/O C D Whittingham
Charles Derek Whittingham was born on March 9th 1912 to a farming family in Bradford, Yorkshire.
In June 1931 he was commissioned into the reserve of Royal Air Force Officers, transferring in June 1938 to the RAFVR.
He was called up for full-time service on the outbreak of war in September 1939 and commenced training at Cranwell FTS.
He arrived at 6 OTU Sutton Bridge on 22nd June and after converting to Hurricanes was posted on 20th July 1940 to 151 Squadron at North Weald.
Whittingham had his first flight with 151 on 22nd July. He flew Hurricane P3301 on a 50 minute local flight. This was probably to assist him with local orientation, particularly the landing hazards presented by the pylons that surrounded the aerodrome at North Weald. He flew P3301 again later that day, again on a local familiarisation flight.
On 23rd July Whittingham flew Hurricane P3941 to Sutton Bridge, presumably to collect some personal belongings that he had left there from his days with 6 OTU.
On 24th July he undertook his first operational patrol flying Hurricane P3941.
He took the same aircraft to Martlesham Heath the following day. At 08:30 he flew a convoy patrol with S/Ldr. EM Donaldson and Sgt. G Atkinson.
At 13:15 hrs he was one of 6 pilots that returned to North Weald.
On July 26th he flew to Rochford in P3941 as part of a squadron (9 aircraft) detachment there. W/Cdr. FV Beamish and S/Ldr. Donaldson met them there an hour or so later.
At 18:00 hrs the squadron performed another patrol before the 11 aircraft returned to North Weald.
There was no flying on 27th July.
On 28th July Whittingham returned with one flight of aircraft to Rochford though they failed to see any further action that day.
Monday 29th July was a warm summer’s day, at noon Whittingham in P3941 and Sgt. G Atkinson in P3310 took off from North Weald on a fighting patrol. They returned safely at 13:20.
At 15:00 hrs Sgt. G Atkinson in P3941 and Whittingham in P3119 took off from North Weald on another operational patrol.
151 Squadrons Operational Record Book made the following brief entry:
“While on Convoy Patrol and during an engagement with enemy aircraft encountered, F/O Whittingham's and F/O Milne’s aircraft were hit by enemy bullets and both pilots made forced landings at Martlesham Heath and Rochford respectively”
F/O RM Milne had flown back from Rochford in P3307.
The records from this date are in conflict as Whittingham must have been seriously injured on the 29th as he did not fly again till November. However the squadron ORB shows him flying to Rochford in Hurricane P3312 on 30th July and taking part in a patrol later that afternoon in the same aircraft. He returned to North Weald from Rochford at 20:00. It can only be assumed that this must have been a different pilot.
Whittingham next appears in 151 Squadron ORB on 3rd November 1940, flying Hurricane V6543 on a local training flight.
He doesn’t fly operationally again until 24th November 1940 when he partners F/O Hallam on a night patrol, taking off at 05:50 hrs and returning at 06:10.
On 13th December 1940 the squadron's ORB records that F/O Whittingham, F/O Courtney and Sgt. Davies have all been posted for service in the East.
Above: an entry in Sergeant Len Davie’s log book announcing his posting overseas (Malta).
Whittingham attended 70 OTU at Ismailia in Egypt before being posted to 261 Squadron in Malta.
The following account can be found in the book ‘Malta - the Hurricane Years’.
HQ Middle East signalled Malta:
'Am despatching you six Hurricanes and seven Fulmars ASAP and about ten Brewsters (probably in cases) by next convoy'.
('Brewsters' meant the Brewster Buffalo.)
Owing to lack of spares and maintenance problems the offer of the Fulmars and Brewsters was declined, these aircraft being diverted to Alexandria, but the offer of six Hurricanes was accepted with alacrity.
261 Squadron did not have to wait too long for on 29th January 1941 six Hurricanes and two navigating Wellingtons from 38 Squadron arrived, the latter carrying three additional fighter pilots, the kit of all nine pilots and the balance of the fighter’s guns, which had been removed for lightness.
Leading the six Hurricanes was F/O Whittingham. With him that day were P/O JF Pain, Sgt. AH Deacon, P/O PJ Kearsey, P/O DJ Thacker, P/O DJ Hammond, P/O CE Langdon, Sgt. CW McDougal and Sgt. CE Hodson. Like Whittingham these had all participated in the Battle of Britain.
Charles Derek Whittingham’s diary. (Comment in bold)
Hauled out of bed at 7.30 and told to report as soon as possible to HQ Cairo. Managed to get a lift in a car going there. Felt bloody ill with one of the worst hangovers I have ever had. Hands sweating and altogether in an awful state. Saw about three ?? Dare not accept a cigarette. My hand would have shaken so much when I lit it. Was told that I would be immediately flown back to Ismailia, where six Hurricanes would be ready. There I was to lead to a place called Fort Capuzzo, a place in the Libyan Desert. Three more pilots in our hut would be later brought on by a Wellington. I was to be in charge of the whole party. The distance of our flight being about 550 miles. Was flown back to Ismailia in an open two-seater. Arrived there very cold. But no-one knew anything about the Hurricanes ... we heard Hurricanes were at Abu .... so went there. The C.O. of the station had had no instructions for us to take the machines, so we could not get off that day, but managed, after a lot of flagging, and I having to organise all details in the horrible state I was, to get off at seven next morning, escorted by two Wellingtons. That night I saw my sweet little Irene, but had not the chance of doing any more than say goodbye to her, as I was determined not to stay up too late or drink too much in view of my responsibilities on the following day.
Flew over the green, fertile Egypt, and over the desert coast line Mediterranean to arrive after three and a half hours flying at Fort Capuzzo. Detained from going through to Malta that day by bad weather. X Squadron were stationed there, living a hard life in the desert, and sleeping in tents. Drinks were at a premium. So was water, which had been salted by the ‘Ities’. The tea tasted foul. But everyone seemed quite happy ... That afternoon we all went to see the Bardia battlefields.
We flew as formerly arranged for Fort Gazala ... We landed at Hal Far, Malta, after four hours flying. We met air Air Commodore Maynard, dirty and bearded, a sight he said that he would not have missed for the world. We enjoyed two lovely eggs and ham. Had the nicest cup of tea, and it did not taste of salt.
Whittingham's first operational flight with 261 Squadron was on 1st February. He flew with Sergeants Fred Robertson and Len Davies. Whittingham probably shot down a CR42 flown by Sergeant Maggiore Andrea Baudone of the Regia Aeronautica. He describes this briefly in his diary entry for February 13th.
Above: Sgt. Len Davies log entry for February 1st 1941.
The blokes in 261, are a very decent, unassuming type. Most of them are ferry pilots, shanghaied here by A.O.C.
The first day or two, I had a couple of flaps. In the second one I spotted a CR 42 on its way back to Sicily. I don't think he saw me, as I got him well into my sights and shot him down, about 15 miles out to sea. I have not been too lucky as far as seeing action, although the Squadron shot about five down in the last few days. Jock Barber saw a 79 escorted by six 42's flying behind but at the same level. He ignored these and fired at the 79. He thought he killed the rear-gunner. In the meantime Sgt.Robertson engaged the 42's and shot one down. The bloke tried to jump out but tied up to his machine and landed on the Island in a very mutilated state. They found one of his hands, and say that it was beautifully manicured ...
One evening Peter (Wyatt-Smith) and I went to a party at the Pullicino’s. About ten minutes before dusk, the Island was attacked by about four sections of 88's. The A.A. barrage around Valetta and the east of the Island was very intense. But the J.U. 88's made for their target and we saw the bombs dropping at Hal Far, ten miles away. They wrecked three planes, the officer’s mess, and a hangar. The Hurricanes got three of them down. Four of our Hurricane pilots had not flown in monoplanes at night. They had to land in the dark, and one overshot a bit, and tipped his machine on to his nose ...
Yesterday poor old Sergeant Watson caught it. Actually he had only had about six hours on Hurricanes, and it is a bloody shame.
The clouds were very heavy, at about 18,000 ft. Some J.U. 88's came over escorted by 109's. The 109's got into a very good position and attacked two of our section, out of the sky, as we were positioning to attack the 88's. Watson was probably killed instantly. For he went on to his back, and dived straight into the sea. Bradbury was hit very badly. His machine was ripped to hell by cannon. It is amazing however, he got it down but he did, and force landed at ..., his engine U.S. David Thacker jumped and landed 7 miles out to sea. Jock Barber, although being chased by 109 saw the falling parachute. He kept around until he could plot his position in the sea. This he did, and informed base by R.T. He was in the sea almost an hour. He was picked up by a speed boat .........
P/O DJ Thacker was flying hurricane P3733 and F/Lt. HF Bradbury was in Hurricane V7768. Thacker was rescued by High Speed Launch 107 based at St Pauls Bay. He had been wounded by shrapnel in the buttocks and one arm.
Thacker’s account stated that ‘they were caught unawares' by the 109’s that attacked them. ‘The instruments were shattered but the controls and engine still functioned except that the latter was spewing coolant vapour. I headed back for Malta well throttled back and losing height. At about 5000 feet, when over St Pauls Bay, the engine cut, the vapour and smoke had now increased, so I baled out.’
Whittingham's diary continues:
Bradbury managed to force land his heavily bullet and cannon damaged Hurricane at Ta Qali.
The first day we went for a piss up in Valletta. There is a fairly reasonable dance place. Two of the girls are quite reasonable, but had the reputation of keeping their legs crossed. In any case unless one can stay the night, you have to leave Valletta by 8.30 owing to the curfew. The second day, the Adj. asked us to go for a dance with some Maltese. The party was the family Pullicino (Sir Philip) and friends. We met at their house for tea. There are eleven in the family, six male and five girls. The girls are Mary (married) and 26, Patsy 21, Ena 17, Ann 16 and Jo 13. Patsy was the one I fell for at first sight. The Pullicino’s are very high class, dignified sort of family. Lady P being a quiet natural hostess. I danced the first with anyone, partly because I wanted to get warmed up before asking Patsy, and because striking beauties like P are usually asked first, and probably notice a man who breaks this habit. Be that as it may, I danced most of the last with her, and loved it too. She seemed to take to me just as I had to her. I met P the next night, and kissed her. My God it was lovely ... I did not see her for about three days. I was not very good company for Pete as I could not think of anything except seeing her. Then I asked her to meet me at Point de Vue ....
Above: Patsy Pullicino
I have been given a dog, a mongrel puppy called 'Lady' and have bought a wizard little pony and trap for £20; a 'trim' grey called '"Lucky'.
It is an excellent thing to have a hobby here. It is a dangerous sort of life, and one can't help thinking about it a bit so it's a good think to get one's mind off it in one's spare time. I think that that also applies to getting tight at nights, you forget the bloody war and sleep while bombs are dropping round the place.
Above: Derek Whittingham with ‘Lucky’. Peter Wyatt-Smith is the passenger.
The photograph was taken in the courtyard of ‘Torri Cumbo’, a large house that served as the officers mess for Ta Qali in early 1941. Whittingham had a stable there for' Lucky'.
When Derek left Malta in May 1941 he left Lucky and the trap with the Pullicino family who continued to use it into 1942.
Torri Cumbo in 2006.
Whittingham's diary continues:
Changed Lucky's stable to a farm near the mess. A flap this afternoon. We all took off and flew for 55 minutes, but did not see anything. Yesterday by the way, I took most of the P family for a ride with Lucky. They all loved it.
Pete and I drove Lucky to Valletta in the morning. An air raid took place when we got there. The people rushing to the shelters upset Lucky a bit. We stopped with him. The A.A. guns did not worry him much, nor did a bit of shrapnel that whistled down very near to us. What with continual air raids (sometimes six a day) and the presence of 109's about the place, it is a logical conclusion that our chances of survival are not very high, but one simply must not think about this. At any rate I am enjoying myself while it lasts. We took Lilian to lunch at L... Club, then set off with her in an air raid to Rabat ... The Maltese are very shelter conscious; in fact everyone is very much more jittery than in England.
On the way back from a dance we had a very narrow escape with Lucky. I could not find my way across the aerodrome, and forgetting about the barbed wire, suddenly found the poor little fellow entangled in a dirty great heap of it. 99 out of 100 horses would have struggled. This would have been fatal, but he stood and let us get him out. Peter was too pissed to be of any use. I swore at him, which annoyed him, and called for an apology from me. In the end he fell into the wire and tore his new uniform.
'A' flight ran into about 30 109's. Four attacked them from 30,000 feet and engaged at 19,000 feet. They had vast advantage of speed from their height, and hit three of our machines. Eric Taylor managed to get a deflection shot at one of them. MacLachlan (F/Lt. DFC and Bar) leading the flight was badly hit. He had to jump. In so doing, landed on a roof and broke his arm. Ted Peacock-Edwards was hit, so was McAdam.
Pete and I took Lucky up to Rabat. We drove to the hospital, and half an hour with some of the blokes there. Then we called in at the Point de Vue, and saw Walter. The P's came along and met us at 2.30. We walked out into the country. I took Patsy in the trap. We went back to their home for supper. But spent most of the time in a dark air-raid shelter. It was a very enjoyable evening.
The incident described above actually occurred on 16th February 1941.
The Point de Vue is a hotel in Rabat that overlooks Ta Qali aerodrome. It was used by 261 Squadron's officers as a billet.
Had a conference at night on tactics. We have to do something about these 109's. I must ask Patsy to write Mother in case I run into a spot of bother.
Now that risk of death is much nearer, my philosophy is: 'Somebody has to do the job and if I get bumped I have experienced much more than the average bloke'.
Poor old Mac has had to have his arm off. He refused for a long time, but it was badly hacked about, having received two cannon shells. He suffered much pain, and in the end had to give way. On night flying from 3.30 onwards, but was able to sleep in the ambulance as no air raid materialised.
Above: F/Lt. MacLachlan
MacLachlan was able to return to operational flying in November 1941 after a prosphetic limb was designed for him at Roehampton. This enabled him to fly a Hurricane (he was shot down over France on 18th July 1943 and died in hospital on the 31st).
Took pony up to Rabat in hopes of seeing Patsy. All Hurricanes took off, when I was half way up the hill. Felt a bit anxious for them. Pete was flying. Watched from side of hill. Could see Hurricanes stooging about at 16,000 ft. and heard 109's higher and to the south, and in the sun. Lost sight of Hurricanes, but could hear them being chased by 109's by noise of engines, and reports from machine guns. They all got away with it, but had been chased down to 4,000 feet. The 109's are becoming much cheekier and with the superiority of their numbers etc., the squadron is becoming practically jittery. Four or five pilots look like packing up. It takes me all my time to stick to my philosophy, and enjoy myself when not on duty. I have had to cut down my drinking a bit, as it takes 100% to stand the strain. Took lunch at the Point de Vue, then went for a very pleasant drive with Patsy to the coast. Pete turned up after tea. Felt very thwarted about her. We could have had such a lovely time together.
MT (S/Ldr. Tony Trumble) and Bradbury have all been posted to stooge jobs at Middle East. They have all cracked up. M is 30 and been on operations for over a year. And old Bradbury has been hijacked down twice, and in any case was not a fighter pilot from the start. One can understand these two, but S/Ldr. Trumble has hardly flown since he came here, even when the Squadron were having fun and games with the ‘Ities’.
On early morning watch. Very cold. Kept window open, as I had to act as arse-end Charlie. Could hardly stand the cold. Saw one bandit 15,000 ft below. Leader chased it down, but lost it. Met Patsy in afternoon in trap. Took her to the coast, then walked to the edge of the sea, where the cliffs are a sheer hundred feet from the water. It is so peaceful here. It seems farcical that men should be killing one another all over the world. Went to dance. Danced most of the night with Patsy.
John Waters has cracked up. I am to be made F/Lt. and given command of 'B' flight. This will please Mother. One bloke screamed Tally Ho over the R.T. and everyone leaped into a defensive circle.
Red letter day. Squadron sighted four bandits, enemy bombers, stooging around over Filfla everyone went arse for leather at them. I saw one straggling about half a mile behind the rest, so left the Squadron and attacked it from the stern. I could not get an underneath deflection shot, as he was too low, only at 500 ft. I had given him three seconds burst, when he opened up at me. He was a very good shot. His tracers were going well around me. It was lucky I was not shot. I broke away sharply to right about 1½ seconds of his fire and did not see him burst into flames, and go into the sea. But the A.A. people did, so that's my second since coming here. Hamish Hamilton got another so did Jock Hilton-Barber. All the flight fired their guns. We celebrated this with a bottle of beer, but had hardly finished it when we went on another flap. Jock led and took us up to 26,000 feet. On the way down I noticed a plane on fire. I notified control. Jock heard me and circled round. He saw the bloke land in the sea. Fortunately, very near a ship. This picked John Walsh up. So we flew home and pancaked. Walsh had broken his leg in several places, his arm in three. At the time of writing he is very dangerously ill. Seems to have lost the will to live, and will probably die. To Rabat that night where the congratulations from Patsy and people were very heartening.
Walsh was rescued by HSL107 and bought to Mtarfa hospital with multiple fractures. It is believed that these were caused after he hit his Hurricane's tailplane after baling out. He died of pneumonia and is buried at Cappucini military cemetery.
Two flaps early morning, Did 2¼ hours operational. Went to Valletta. There a blitz started shortly before 1pm. About 30 fighters and 90 bombers came over. The bombers made a concentrated attack on Leahaven. They were after the Wellingtons. The dive-bombers attacked very low. A.A. got about three in the dive. The others dropped their bombs higher. The barrage was colossal, as was the amount of aircraft in the sky. I became very anxious about the poor Hurricanes. There were only two circling over Leahaven, when it was all over. These were attacked by a DO215, who after his attack dived and flew away, very low over the island. Most people thought he was coming down, but he was using very good evasive tactics. Two of our fellows could not take it, and landed. The strain with those uneven odds is colossal. You cannot really blame them.
Three were killed. Eric Taylor DFC (V7671), Pip Kearsey (V7121) and Titch Langdon (V7474). One feels now to be living from day to day. The strain on the squadron is very bad. Three fellows have already approached the MO saying that they can't go on. But we shall all have to. I feel personally that the sooner it’s all over, however bad, the better.
John Pain left Ta Qali in a Magister to search for Kearsey, Taylor and Langdon. However they were never found and are commemorated on the Floriana Memorial in Valletta.
Saw Peter in hospital, and all the other types smashed about. A flap in the afternoon. Saw Patsy in the evening.
Went for a drive with Jock, Alice and Patsy, into the country. The peace by the sea, sunshine and Patsy were a wonderful contrast to our present job.
Arranged to meet Patsy later to take her for a drive. My nerves were pretty shattered by this time, and to be by the sea with her would have been a tonic. She did not turn up. Took Claire instead. Claire nearly drove me crazy with her chatter. I was very rude to her and had to tell her to stop talking about flying. Four flaps that morning in all. Lucky has got above himself with being fed too well. He bucked in his trap, and broke part of it on the way home.
On duty from 9.30 to 1.30 and 4.30 to 7.30. No flaps at all. This small rest has put new cheer into me, and feel quite my own self again.
To Valletta with Lucky. He still behaves badly. Bucked twice in shafts, and very mulish. Saw a very nice sapphire and diamond bracelet which I think I shall buy for Patsy, but it costs £13.
On duty from 4.30 to dusk. A cold miserable evening, with clouds at 20,000 feet. A flap at about 5. I took squadron up to cloud base. My RT was working very badly, but I sensed that there was something important afoot, so stooged about over the Island. I saw Hal Far being bombed so positioned myself to come down on it in a hard dive (in case being chased by 109s). In doing so I blacked out for a bit, but came out at about 12,000ft. The intense A/A gave me a funny feeling. It seemed all like a dream, in coming out of the blackout. I soon recovered, and attacked one of the many enemy A/C in front and below me. My first shot was a good deflection on a JU 87. The next from underneath at a JU 88. They both fired back at me pretty hard.
I then spiralled to ground level for safety, and to get away from any 109s that may by this time, have been positioning themselves on me. The Bofors (A/A) on three occasions fired at me, so I made for Filfla and saw about five 88s going out to sea. I had not much ammunition left, but decided to climb in their direction. This I did, and when about 500 feet underneath one, turned and pointed my nose at him, and gave him a chance deflection burst. I think that was silly, I may have hurt him a bit, but he fairly let me have it from his underneath guns. I decided to land, and was again fired at by ground defences going over the land. When stooging around Ta Qali, I suddenly saw a machine burst into gigantic flames about 100 yards from me. The A/A had got a ME110. It was lucky, as I heard afterwards that he was firing at me, just previous to being hit. I had not seen him. In all that day, the squadron had got 7 confirmed including 2 ME 109s. But poor old McDougal was killed (Hurricane V7102). A 109 got him, just after he had hit his 87. Poor Irene was heartbroken, and Patsy went to bed and sobbed.
Saw Patsy in the evening. Poor girl wishes I had never come to Malta ... Five more pilots with Hurricanes arrived.
These were P/O CK Gray, P/O PA Mortimer, P/O DM Whitney, Sgt. A Livingstone and Sgt. FJ Jessop. Two further pilots arrived transported to Malta in a Wellington, they were Sgt. HJ Kelly and Sgt. JT Hitching of 148 squadron.
March 7th, 8th, 9th
Hops most of the time. On 9th four 110s dived on the aerodrome and machine gunned it at dusk. They set one Hurricane on fire and damaged another. Went for a picnic with Patsy and family and later to dinner. Peter back, but off flying for a long time.
Lucky sod ...
There have been a lot of night raids. On 12th I led a flight of 4, 25 miles east of the island, and tried to intercept some troop-carrying planes. The morale of the squadron is a little better, but still somewhat on the defensive. Fred Robertson was awarded the DFM on March 10th.
New types came, mostly from 274 squadron. My promotion came through. Gave drinks all round at lunch.
The new pilots were P/O TB Garland, F/O EM Mason, P/O CJ Laubscher, F/O JS Southwell, P/O DF Knight, Sgt. TA Quinn, Sgt. MP Davies and Sgt. RJ Goode.
News that the convoy is coming through on Sunday. That means a busy time for us, with plenty of blitz.
Shifts of two flights of 8 working together are organised. My squadron took off in the afternoon. I leading the first flight, and Terry Foxton the second. I climbed to almost 10,000 feet and saw three bombers and about 6 fighters above me.
I realised it was useless to attack them so climbed to 12,000 feet, stooging about for any other formations that might come in. But not Terry. He climbed up with his flight, and chased the bombers with the sun behind him towards Sicily. Whether he knew that there were fighters about or not, I do not know. But it was a suicidal thing to do, for the 109’s took their time, and shot down five of the flight, including Terry, who should not have been leading in any case. He had far too little experience in Hurricanes and fighter tactics. Young Southwell who had just joined the squadron, two days previously, was another. Poor old Spyer who had just been recalled from leave for the occasion lost his life, as did Knight who had just joined the squadron, and was his first taste of action. Another of the new ones, Garland, went as well.
On landing, Ginger (W/Cdr. O’Sullivan O.C. Ta Qali) played merry hell with me in front of everyone. I took deep exception to this as I was not responsible for Terry not following me. If he had he would have been safe. I have since put in a complaint to the proper quarters about this, and it looks as if Ginger will be replaced.
In breaking away, I blacked out very badly again and did not come out until 2,000 ft. This from 9,000 ft. In the afternoon there was a big dive bombing attack on Grand Harbour. 16 Hurricanes in battle; nine confirmed, one possible, six damaged. Robertson got shot at, his starboard tank catching fire, baled out, landing in a nearby village, where the locals carried him on their shoulders and cheered him.
Took the day off. The black out the previous day had shaken me a bit. So I took Lucky to the coast and enjoyed complete solitude in the peace of nature. Went back with Patsy to her house and there dined.
Nothing unusual. The convoy is still in, and it means the whole squadron at full strength the whole time, with double the usual shifts. I can only arrange a day off once in six days. In the circumstances the strain on pilots is equivalent to that of last September blitz. We are having a steady flow of casualties, and are equipped with inferior A/C than those which come over in great numbers. God knows why they don't try to fight us more. I don't see how we could cope for long, if they did. So far they have only taken obvious opportunities, such as diving on a straggler but they are there always, all the same, and so devilish hard to see, little silver camouflaged things.
The Squadron-Leader, Lambert, ought to go down in history for the calm courage and the complete lack of bullshit he shows. A complete inspiration to every member of the squadron, and this who we all know that he was shanghaied here over six months ago - then a ferry pilot - that at heart he has not the liking or the inclination to be a fighter pilot, and in reality hates the life and the Island that with others such as Trumble etc. He could have gone, but has stayed on through sheer willpower, to be the very fine example that he is.
Woken up by Lambert, who said that ‘Itie’ fleet expected to bomb our shipping at dawn. That we have to have 16 Hurricanes ready for any eventually and that I had to lead three Lizzies.
Up at 5.30, all A/C ready before light, but nothing turned up.
Sunday picnic, this time to Chadwick ... during picnic 3/88s dived from 18,000 to 4,000 and bombed our 'drome.
Chadwick is a beauty spot near Ta Qali consisting of a canal / river and pathways.
Four of us went to Inesta Hotel, where we teased Mary and C ... in the usual way of lifting up their skirts and smacking their bottoms.
Saw a ship being bombed about four miles east if island and heard by R/T that bombers were low, so went like a diving bat towards ship. Knew that I could not get there in time to do any good, but reckoned on fighting any others away, which afterwards proved correct. 12 new Hurricanes arrived, flown by five officers and seven sergeants.
These were F/Lt. PWO Mould, F/O IB Westmacott, P/O HF Auger, JV Marshall, P Kennett, Sgts. PH Waghorn, JK Pollard, ER Jessop, G Lockwood, BJ Vardy, HH Jennings and GA Walker.
Padre gave short service for readiness pilots and crew outside dispersal hut. He told us hymn number so and so. The first page I turned to was this hymn, and the first lines I saw were 'Fight the good fight'. I recollected a curious similarity when many years ago I was confirmed and the Bishop of Kingston gave as his text 'Fight the good fight of Faith'. Afterwards that evening I opened a book sent to me by Auntie Gracie. The first words I read were the same. And now the curious thing in this same text had re-occurred. I mentioned this to the padre afterwards. He soliloquised on the fact that we were all the time crusaders. Be that as it may, the coincidence comforted.
Four sergeants, Jock Norwell, Jim Pickering, Harry Ayre and Drac Bowerman went from Island. One thanked me very warmly for the part I had taken in getting them away. Old Pickering had resigned himself to the fact that this island would be his grave. He looked extremely happy at the prospect of going.
Rain in Malta seems wetter, dirtier and colder than in any other place.
To Valetta. Goodbye party by Roby, Hyde and Lambert, celebrating their going away. We all got very happy. Had a very good dinner first. Hamish showed me some super handkerchiefs made from the parachute of the 110 that I lashed at after the A/A had got him.
On early shift. As air raid in progress as we got to our plane. Asked control if we were to take off. They said yes. Bombs started to drop very near, so rang up chief controller and asked if I was to wait till they had stopped dropping their bombs. He laughed but ordered me to take whole flight off. This I did and escorted four destroyers into harbour. They were a wizard sight in the early morning going perfect line astern.
Jock and I bathed. Patsy a bit tired after being up all night in an air raid shelter. I was on night flying. They would not let me take off as there were a few Wimpie’s in the sky. There was a big raid over our aerodrome. It sounded like hell let loose. There were about forty bombs dropped around the aerodrome (none hit it) one was thirty yards from my window.
Early in the morning an air raid was in progress. Bombs were being dropped in vicinity, but we had to get to dispersal. Peter and David and Hamish were in the cellar with many others including the C.O., Ginger. I asked them if they were ready to come out, but Peter said he was damned if he would, while the shit was being dropped. Ginger apparently agreed with him. I went back again in another minute or so, this time showing annoyance, and appealing to Ginger as to whether they had or had not to go to the dispersal. He said 'Well, I must admit, if one has a job to do, one must do it'.
Then they came led by Hamish, good fellow, as usual. Ginger followed me out, and made some rotten sheepish remarks about certain people being shaken by bombs.
Decided not to see Patsy for a bit, so turned up at Point de Vue when I knew she would have left. Poor bird rang up and seemed heartbroken to stand up to this dangerous work, if a girl like Patsy makes life mean so much more to one. And if I am going to be here for three months, the position is so very awkward.
One bloke, a sergeant, has chucked his hand in today.
Auger ran into a bunch of 109s. Saw his parachute coming down, south of the Island. But he was never picked up. The pilots in the squadron were all very indignant because they felt that control should have sent some searchers up. Things being as they are ... people’s nerves somewhat frayed, what with the stream of so many casualties, bombing at night and bad news in Greece and Libya. There was a general moan, and Ginger got some pretty outspoken abuse from various members of the Squadron.
F/O Henry Auger was lost on 23rd April in Hurricane Z3032. His aircraft crashed into the sea near Delimara Point. Auger baled out safely in the sea between Filfla and the mainland. He was seen waving that he was OK. However, as enemy aircraft were still in the vicinity the rescue launch was not despatched immediately. When it was eventually released no sign could be found of Auger and he is commemorated as one of the missing on the Floriana memorial.
A meeting of F/Lt.s and Ginger and Lambert and Group Captain to discuss moaning of last night. A fairly satisfactory plan for rescue work was planned. Night flying on moonless nights was to cease.
A.O.C. came round. He asked me if I would like to take over the squadron. Mess pretty full with about 15 new types - poor buggers don't know what they are in for, being here for six months.
Pullicino’s evacuated from ‘Bastions’ until an unexploded bomb goes off.
I am getting a bit tired of leading lads up against uneven odds.
Blitz same night, was up for one hour 25 minutes. A few illuminations, but over too quickly for me to get at them. Many flares dropped over Hal Far and Valetta harbour. Could see bombs dropping at these places. Told to land in the middle of it. And did so without lights with flare path dimmed to minimum.
Went with Peter to Valetta. Quarter of Kingsway blown to bits. The place a depressing shambles. Shop people all evacuating their stocks. Glad to get away .. annoyed these days, we cannot get beer, have to drink whisky, which harms pilots' nerves. Beer does not.
Gray's machine badly hit about. He baled and landed on a house. Hall baled out. Innes also a delayed drop. Just made it. Opened at about 200 ft picked up at sea with shrapnel wounds. P/O Dredge force landed with machine on fire, rather seriously burnt. In evening repetition or more or less the same thing. Westmacott put up a magnificent show by attacking an ME 110 with many 109s behind him. When attacked on three occasions, took evasive turning action and kept height to proceed after his target, which he is believed to have wounded. The A.O.C. sent a personal letter of congratulation.
Derek got another plane.( ‘Derek’ was actually Whittingham himself who claimed a Ju88 destroyed and a probable He111.)
P/O Gray was actually rescued from the sea by HSL 107, his Hurricane (Z3060) crashing into the sea near Valletta, he was wounded in the thigh.
A scramble. Poor old Jennings hit Walker the leader and crashed, killing himself. Walker baled and was picked up at sea with minor injuries.
Jennings is buried at Cappucini Military cemetery.
Clouds right down to deck. A most unusual thing, but most fortunate as a large convoy is coming.
Volunteers wanted to fly long range Hurricanes to Mersa Matruh (800 miles). Found no difficulties in getting them. They are to leave Thursday. Apparently they are very short of Hurricanes in Egypt now.
Westmacott jumped and landed near the mess. The Maltese clapped and cheered him. He had a bullet through his arm.
Hamish Hamilton, cousin of David Douglas Hamilton, and the friendliest character I have yet met. It was he who always took extra watches when things were hottest. He who, although so keen, always supported your ideas against suicidal tactics, and for the wellbeing of members of the squadron such as the six months limit plan. Curious too, how as the day he is killed, his six months should be up to the day. Although he, Hamish, had chosen to stay on for six months as support to new 185 squadron. Dear old Hamish. You could smell the heather of Scotland when you spoke to him. Always so immaculately dressed and elusive; a living Scarlet Pimpernel. He was killed weaving over X-raid. In the same raid the 109s loosed their bombs over the aerodrome. We just managed to make the shelter but poor little Patsy and Ina and Janis, on their way to tea with us were caught with no shelter and bombs dropping within 100 yards. Janie was very shaken, but Patsy and Ina not so much. When raid over drove Lucky with Patsy to greet pilots as they landed. This has a good effect on morale - a wizard girl on a wizard trap is a pleasing welcome.
Another pilot hacked down. (P/O BM Cavan) The position is getting very serious. The morale of the squadron is naturally very bad. People are being hacked down with no results by 109s - much superior A/C in very large numbers and able to position themselves behind the sun. The Maltese themselves are complaining that it is a murder to send them up but HQ will not give way.
Went with Johnny H. and Peter to Hamish and EV Wynne's funerals. I felt very sad. John intimated that 261 squadron would very shortly leave for a rest. This is most cheery news as far as we are concerned, but I don't want to leave my sweet little Patsy.
249 squadron are to arrive tomorrow and 261 are to move to Middle East, pilots first, ground staff later. The reaction of the pilots to this news was tremendous. You could read a chapter of happiness in their faces as they heard the news. There were some very bitter disappointments as six who had only been here a month were ordered to be transferred to 249. I have done what I can to get them back to 261 when and if they can be released. All our men except Ted, self, Jerry Wather, Lockwood and Jessop flew long range Hurricanes to Mersa Matruh. Peter's flight of 6 could not keep up their escort. Peter and Pain turned back 100 miles out to sea. It is understood that 261 shall have a rest 8-10 weeks. Life has been a very long strain. We have had so many casualties. Each flap whether on or off duty, we have had to watch and have never been able to get away from it. Added to this the night bombing has kept people up when they should be resting. As I say, I am thoroughly sick of it, but am not quite certain yet what I shall do. One day 4 109s dived on the Hurricanes which for once had not been scrambled. Two burnt out, and three others hit. The pilots were in the cockpits (a most harrowing experience) and Pat Wells got a bullet through his arm (it was his ankle) causing a very serious fracture. I helped him into the ambulance. He was very cool and brave about the whole thing. Ted and I have been waiting for the Sunderland to taxi us across. I am going back to Patsy. I think she is in love with me and am afraid won't ever love anyone else, so the only right thing for me, is to come back for her after the war. That would be a wonderful moment.
Gone are the days of companionship with others who knew so well the truth of you value and the strength of your mettle, who share the dangers of our life and keep as uncritically silent of those who are too fresh and too foolhardy as those who are too tired and war weary; and the evenings in pubs when we privileged few freely and without fear of shocking others, talk in expressions of pulling it out, of having one's finger right up, of being clapped out or browned off, of putting up the most stupendous flack. It is sad to think back on the atmosphere of the company, and still sadder of the many boys, cheerful, youthful, optimistic, whom I knew so intimately, who are now gone forever. God bless you Hamish, Mac, Percy Buxton and all you others I used to drink with, and wherever you may be, I hope you are having the most wizard time. Even sadder still for some few, who entered the game, full of courage and spirit, and who either by the shock of friends killed, the strain of waiting at readiness for hours on end, listened for the field bell and remarks from airmen of the watch. "Scramble all sections 15,000ft"; or fear unwittingly entered into by one or more narrow escapes. These and many such instances have taken that dash and keenness from once while good types. They have become known as tired. You are poor boys tired. But you are not what you are, assuring ourselves - of being cowards. If you are leader and like me, you are tired of seeing young boys with fine character being slaughtered and for what? It has become to you, beyond a sport. It is sadistic in its wantonness.
Poor sod - did you think of his mother and the chances of her seeing his healthy bright eyes, and her listening to his experiences with the pride that only a mother can feel. No wonder my dear Sqn Ldrs and Flt Lts if you have Christian feeling, you are tired. And you young, sensitive, courageous boys, whose nerves are strained to callowness, waiting each day, the war, scrambles from which order the certainty of your coming back alive is by no means sure. Yes, all of you, have done your fair share, according to your mental and physical make-up. Don't be ashamed of being tired. Admit it if you like. There is nothing to be ashamed of.
Signal from A.O.C.
'Personal from A.O.C. It is probably that from tomorrow, May 21st, personnel of 261 Squadron will commence to move to Egypt in accordance with recent policy, whereby this squadron will transfer to Middle East for a rest period. First movements will cover pilots only, but the majority of ground personnel will ultimately follow by sea.
With the departure of the squadron, after many months service in Malta, I should like to place on record my appreciation as A.O.C. of the good work and very substantial achievements of 261 Squadron on whom the air defence of Malta has depended for so long. Your location may change but your record remains. You have well-earned your rest and all in Malta will look forward to hearing of the squadron's future achievements, when operations are resumed'.
I returned to Cairo with a heavy heart and awaited my ship for Aden.
Postwar he returned to farming and became an accomplished rider (below).
Charles Derek Whittingham died on 8th April 1958.
All research and images courtesy of Gerry Burke