The Airmen's Stories - P/O D J Anderson
Donald John Anderson was born in London on 19th April 1919 and went to West Leigh School and Westcliff High School for Boys. He was working as a bank official in Southend when he joined the RAFVR on 5th April 1939 as an Airman u/t Pilot and began his flying training at 34 E&RFTS Rochford.
Called up on 1st September 1939, he went to 4 ITW Bexhill at the end of October and then to 11 FTS Shawbury on 19th November 1939.
Anderson was posted to No. 2 School of Army Co-operation at Andover
on 15th June 1940 but a week later went to 5 OTU Aston Down for conversion to Blenheims. He then joined 29 Squadron at Digby on 6th July.
He remained with the squadron until 20th July 1941 and after an attachment to Kirton-on-Lindsey he was posted to 89 Squadron, then forming at Colerne with Beaufighters. The squadron flew out to the Middle East in late November 1941 and began operating from Abu Sueir in the night defence of the Delta.
In early March 1942 Anderson was medically regraded A2B and posted to No. 1 Section Aircraft Delivery Unit, Wadi Natrun. Six months later he lost his flying category and was posted to a ground radar unit.
Over the next eighteen months he served at a number of units in the Middle East. From 2nd April 1944 Anderson was Camp Commandant at Makadini, a Catalina base on the coast of East Africa. In early September he returned to radar units and for a spell in October 1944 he was Fighter Direction Officer on HMS Ulster Queen, scanning the Greek Islands.
After five months as a station adjutant, Anderson embarked for home on 12th December 1945. He was stationed at RAF Wartling until his release on 28th June 1946 as a Flight Lieutenant.
He died in January 2000 in Epping.
David W Earl has kindly submitted this extract from his book 'Hell on High Ground'.
Towards the end of 1940 many new devices were being tested as regards navigational equipment; HF and VHF sets were fitted into several aircraft, and as a result Homing Stations were set up in various areas. The aircraft used in such tests were Blenheim Is, sometimes IVs, operating in the 12 Group arena.
One of these aircraft was Blenheim K7172, an F1 fighter type aircraft sporting AI aerials (Airborne Interception radar), on this occasion being used purely for communication exercises. It was, after a perfect landing, to find itself inverted in a ditch, south-west of Hollingworth at a place called Woolley Flatts.
It was mid-afternoon on 3rd December 1940 when P/O Donald Anderson took off from RAF Cranage to perform a number of homing test exercises. He had arrived at Cranage on 1st December and had for the past two days been flying local while adjustments were being made to the equipment. During the afternoon of the third the tests had been very successful, unlike the previous two days. With flying conditions now rational and a 10/10th cloud base at 1,500 feet, it was decided by P/O Anderson that when flying visually a certain amount of cheating was all that was needed to achieve a practical result, so he flew into the cloud to see if the Homing Station could still make contact. It was during this manoeuvre that he found himself in trouble. He recalled in his own words what happened next:
After entering cloud the Homing Station became completely useless and I therefore had to look after myself. With darkness fast approaching and being completely lost I descended below cloud level to look for landmarks. Very fortunately I had lowered into a valley and flew above some reservoirs which have since been identified as those between Manchester and Glossop; these in turn led me to the Woolley Bridge area (unknown at that time) and a field which appeared to provide a reasonable haven to the extent that a wheels-down landing was contemplated. Where else in the gathering dusk ? I thought. A low circuit, a small bounce with brakes on hard and suddenly a change in ground level which was not seen from above followed. After a fall of a few feet the rear decided to take over and reared above the nose and a perfected inverted landing resulted. Being still strapped in and upside down this is where my memory deserts me.
My next recollection is walking on the underside of the wing and almost tripping over the projecting inspection panel before jumping to the ground. I do not recall switching off the ignition or the petrol or even how I got out of the aircraft in its inverted position, but I do recall thinking that I might have [before the incident] retracked to the reservoirs which appeared to have a road alongside which could have been acceptable for a landing. However, the die was cast; I may not have found the reservoirs again and the road may not have been suitable anyway.
The field was small and another factor was seen as soon as a landing was made, this being some metal fencing across the field, again not seen from above. This prompted me to apply heavy braking which obviously aggravated the drop in the level of the field and encouraged the somer-sault. I do recall it all happened so quickly: all was reasonably normal for the first few seconds of landing and then the tail just casually reared and there I was upside down. That part remains very vivid.
The local police sergeant was quickly on the scene - I seem to recall that his name may have been Young. I was later to spend the night at his house sleeping in an easy chair and was, the following day, collected and taken back to Cranage.
Arriving also the following day was a RAF recovery team who proceeded to dismantle the aircraft which, although badly damaged, was not written off. While in the process of doing this the RAF recovery vehicle completely demolished the gate post to the field for which local farmer Mr Eric Gregory still awaits compensation to this day.
It was not long after this accident that the Blenheims of 29 Squadron were replaced with Beaufighters, and conversion to these aircraft was initiated by a brief experience flight; P/O Anderson's flight was to take only ten minutes, and in fact was taken with the Squadron's Flight Commander who was at that time none other than F/Lt. Guy Gibson, later to become a Wing Commander, famed for his part in the Dambuster raid.
Donald Anderson left 29 Squadron in October 1941 and was sent to join a new squadron formed to serve in the Middle East - this was 89 Squadron. It was during December of 1941 that he flew to Egypt, but unfortunately, due to the very hot climate, he became very tired and listless and a medical re-graded him A2B, which meant non-operational flying. After this P/O Anderson was posted to the Aircraft Delivery Unit, Egypt, which flew all kinds of aircraft: new and reconditioned aircraft to various squadrons, and the old clapped out ones to Maintenance Units. While serving with this unit, Donald recalled that types such as single-engined fighters from Hurri-canes, Tomahawks and Kittyhawks to medium bombers such as Bostons and Wellingtons were all part of his flying career. In fact, some fifteen different types were flown by him alone up until August of 1942, after which he served in a number of roles but mainly operating as a fighter controller, even managing to operate as fighter controller on board HMS Ulster Queen in the Aegean Sea, eventually returning to England in time for Christmas of 1945. He finished his career with the RAF at Watling, and left the Service in 1946 with the rank of Flight Lieutenant, no worse for the small prang at Hollingworth which could just as well have ended his career had he descended sooner than he did on that cold December day in 1940.
Above: Eric Gregory second from left, Donald Anderson far right.