The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. C Beveridge
Charles Beveridge was born on 7th June 1915 and enlisted in the RAF as an Aircrafthand on two shillings a day in August 1935, later re-mustering for training as an Air Gunner at the Air Gunnery School at Manbury on the Isle of Man.
At the end of the course he was re-classified as a Leading Aircraftsman Air Gunner, and his pay increased to seven shillings and sixpence a day. He was posted to 219 Squadron at Catterick on 1st August 1940.
The squadron had been re-formed under 13 Group on the 4th October 1939 at Catterick in the North Riding of Yorkshire under S/Ldr. RLR ‘Batchy’ Atcherley, flying the Bristol Blenheim 1F night fighter, S/Ldr. 'Jimmy' Little DFC, taking over in May 1940.
It was one of six squadrons operating the Blenheim in the night fighter role and was the most northerly based.
According to the Fighter Command Order of Battle on the 1st July 1940, the squadron fielded ten operational aircraft with nineteen pilots ‘on state’ which was typical for each of the six Blenheim squadrons.
Above: 'B' Flight of 219 Squadron.
Standing: Sgt. RV Cook, Sgt. GT Williams, Sgt. C Beveridge, P/O RV Baron, P/O RC Hall, Sgt. S Austin, Sgt. DC Bunch, Sgt. E Combes
Seated: Sgt. HF Grubb, Sgt. EG Grubb, P/O WGM Lambie, F/O JC Carriere, F/O HG Goddard, F/Lt. JH Little, F/O JG Topham, P/O GM Head, P/O J Sinclair, Sgt. OA Dupee, Sgt. HK Crook.
Centre on ground unknown.
Beveridge teamed up with the Canadian P/O John Charles Carriere who was the same age as him, and had been with 219 since it reformed in 1939. Their first flight together in ‘B’ Flight was on the 2nd August in Blenheim L8724, taking off at 1411hrs to investigate unidentified aircraft (these were called 'X' Raids) in the area of Catterick, landing one hour later with no contact being made.
Most of the night patrols covered the areas around Middlesborough, Stockton-on-Tees and Hartlepool.
With this sortie under his belt Beveridge was able to later claim the exclusive Battle of Britain bar for his 1939-45 Star.
Their next flight later in the day, in the same aircraft, also proved to be uneventful, a night ‘op’ investigating an X-Raid from Leeming, taking off at 2110hrs and landing 35 minutes later. Their third X-Raid ‘op’ of the day took place from 2340 hrs until 0140hrs, again with no results.
On Tuesday 6th August they took off from Leeming at 2255hrs in Blenheim L8724 on a searchlight co-operation flight, during which they dived low over a river. During this manoeuvre P/O Carriere flew into high tension cables and crashed into the river, completely wrecking the aircraft. Both Beveridge and Carriere suffered facial injuries, Carriere being admitted to hospital whilst Beveridge returned to the squadron.
Beveridge did not fly again until Wednesday 4th September 1940, when he crewed up with P/O Carriere in L1261 investigating an X-Raid and taking off from Catterick at 1500hrs returning fifty minutes later.
He was up again the next day with P/O Lambie in L7113 investigating an X-Raid, taking off from Acklington at 2245hrs returning at 0125hrs.
On Friday 6th September, Beveridge flew with Sgt. Grubb in Blenheim L1524, for a night patrol from Leeming between 2255hrs and 0100hrs.
On the 11th September Beveridge crewed up with P/O Head in Blenheim L8729 investigating an X-Raid, taking off from Acklington at 2200hrs and returning just after midnight. Just over three hours later on the 12th, he was back in the air, this time with Sgt. Crook investigating an X-Raid from Catterick landing at 0445hrs. Half an hour later, Beveridge was back flying with another pilot, Sgt. Sergent investigating another X-Raid, but they returned within fifteen minutes with no contact being made.
The Beaufighter 1f made its first operational sortie with Fighter Command on the night of 4th/5th September and proved successful with 600 Squadron who would eventually relinquish them to 219 in October. The Beaufighter had greater speed and heavier armament with cannons (although they tended to ‘freeze up’ above 15000ft) with air to air ‘radar’ and only needed a two man crew. As a result the air-gunners of 219 were offered the choice of retraining as radar operators and staying with the squadron, or keeping their Air Gunner status and being transferred to another squadron.
Beveridge decided to stay with the squadron and later exchanged his AG brevet for one with the letters RO (which would be quickly replaced with an Observers wing in order to keep the new radar equipment secret). This was a whole new world for Beveridge; from now on he would be peering into a small screen located in the aircraft, having been vectored into a position by the Ground Control Interception (GCI). He would then control the attack by using his instruments, bringing the pilot into visual contact behind and slightly below the target in order to shoot at the enemy aircraft.
The Squadron Operational Record Books show that Beveridge took part in four more routine night ‘ops’ during September flying Blenheim’s L6732, L8643, L1229, and L1374, but no dates or results are shown.
On the 12th October, 219 Squadron were ordered to Redhill in Surrey in order to take over the Beaufighters from 600 Squadron, who were in turn moved to Catterick for a rest. From now on, the AI Operators would be crewed up with a regular pilot as it was necessary that they should become a team, especially as the operator would be giving the pilot instructions.
Beveridge flew for the last time as an air gunner in a Blenheim (L1374) on the 12th October when he did a patrol over London between 2140 hrs and 2345hrs, with nothing to report.
His first flight in a Beaufighter (R2140) took place between 2135 and 2345hrs the next day, again with no contacts being recorded; a similar ‘op’ took place the next day in R2076. On the 28th November, Beveridge made his last flight from Redhill in Beaufighter R2126 on an early evening patrol over London lasting some three hours.
During the squadron’s stay at Redhill the ‘Blitz’ intensified on London and the Luftwaffe extended their targets to other cities such as Coventry, switching their focus onto trade and industry.
Redhill was not a good choice of airfield, as it was too small with just a grass runway which often hampered the heavy Beaufighter when landing during the wet autumn weather. RAF Kenley would become the base for night operations, which meant a ten minute flight between the two airfields. It became imperative that the squadron should be re-located again to somewhere with hard runways and better accommodation.
RAF Tangmere in Sussex, under 11 Group, fitted the bill and would be the squadron’s next destination, the move there being made on the 10th December 1940.
Beveridge made just two flights in Beaufighters R2097 and R3154 on AI Exercises before the New Year. During December all the AI Operators were promoted to Sergeants which meant a rise in pay as well as dining in the Sergeants Mess.
Even with the new aircraft the night fighter force were not really impacting on the Luftwaffe’s activities. During January and February 1941, night-fighters only claimed to have brought down a total of seven enemy aircraft, thirteen less than the defensive Ack-Ack guns. However, by March Fighter Commands tactics were improving and the early teething problems with aircraft and equipment were being ironed out. The CO changed again in February, W/Cdr. TG Pike DFC* taking over until September 29th 1941.
Durrington GCI station was the nearest to Tangmere and a good partnership was being formed between them and the crews of 219. At the end of April the night fighter force had claimed a total of forty eight enemy aircraft which at last exceeded the guns of the Anti-Aircraft Units.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding in his despatch on the Battle of Britain published in August 1941, specifically referred to the development of Air Interception techniques and 219 Squadron.
Beveridge flew fourteen sorties in the Battle of Britain with 219, followed by another forty flights (including exercises) during 1941, mainly looking for unidentified enemy aircraft, with his last flight in a Beaufighter being on the 26th November.
During 1942, Beveridge spent the whole of his time in the UK retraining as a Flight Engineer at No. 1 School of Technical Training at RAF Halton and then on to St. Athans in Wales for various courses and check flights. Obviously staring into ‘the box’ was not what he wanted to do for the rest of the war.
Flight Engineers were an important part of the crew usually standing close to the pilot, controlling the engines at the right speed for take off and landing. He would set the climbing boost and revs along with checking the engine temperatures, flaps and undercarriage. It was the engineer’s job to also check the fuel for each tank and he would run the engines up for an hour before take-off. All these details would be meticulously recorded in his flight log which would be submitted at the end of each flight. Whenever freight was carried he would have the responsibility of checking the centre of gravity of it and stowing it correctly.
On qualifying (and changing his ‘brevet’ to an E wing) he found himself posted to 511 Squadron (Transport Command) flying in Liberator and York aircraft, under the command of W/Cdr. WJ Pickard.
The squadron had been formed on October 1st 1942, (motto ‘Surely and Quickly’) from No. 1425 Flight for the purpose of maintaining a transport service between England and Gibraltar, later expanding on a service to Landing Ground No. 224 in Egypt. Another route, from Lyneham to Malta was established, and very soon the squadron became known for providing VIP transport after Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff were flown to Casablanca for a conference in January 1943.
Beveridge took his first flight with the squadron in Liberator AM922 on the 23rd February 1943 from Lyneham to Gibraltar and on the following day to LG 224 in Egypt, carrying various amounts of freight to the forces.
On the 1st March he flew into the besieged island of Malta where they picked up thirty passengers including women and children who were flown back to the UK, no doubt including various amounts of scarce fruit not seen in the UK.
On the 24th March he was in Liberator AL616 on a sea-search from Gibraltar for a lost Liberator AL587 carrying its crew along with AVM Witham.
On July 4th , Liberator AL523 of 511 Squadron carrying General Sikorski (GOC Free Polish Forces) and other dignitaries to London crashed inexplicably shortly after take-off from Gibraltar, with only the Czech pilot F/Lt. EM Prchal escaping. F/Sgt. Beveridge landed at Gibraltar this very day in Liberator AL522 on a flight from Lyneham and most probably would have taken part in the recovery of the bodies from the sea.
Between the 23rd April and the 2nd September 1943, Beveridge undertook twenty more flights between the UK and Egypt via Gibraltar, carrying freight and a number of passengers; he was promoted to Pilot Officer on the 22nd August. At the beginning of November 1943, the first York aircraft arrived on the squadron (MV100) to provide special flights out of Cairo for the Heads of State conference at Teheran, with W/Cdr. CE Slee MVO AFC having taking command from W/Cdr. JN Glover in June.
On the 12th November, Beveridge found himself being the Flight Engineer (and newly promoted Warrant Officer) on York MV100 flying out from Northolt to El Aouina, via Gibraltar and Malta, in order to collect ACM Sir Arthur Tedder
(C in C RAF Middle East and Mediterranean). This was for a conference taking place on the 25th in Cairo with Churchill, Roosevelt, and Chiang Kai-shek (Operation Sextant).
On the 27th November, the same aircraft and crew took ACM Sir Charles Portal, General Sir Alan Brooke (Chief Imperial Staff /advisor to Churchill), Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham ( C in C Mediterranean Fleet), General Sir John Dill (Chief of British Joint Staff USA), and Lt. General Hastings Ismay (War Cabinet) from Habbaniya to Teheran. This was for the highly important conference taking place on the 28th (Operation Eureka) headed up by Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt to discuss the invasion of Europe in 1944.
On the 1st December Beveridge was again the Flight Engineer in York MV100 flying these same passengers, plus General HH Arnold (USAAF) from Teheran to Cairo West.
On the 8th December he was flying in York MV100 from Cairo to El Aouina carrying ACM Sir Charles Portal and Sir Andrew Cunningham who flew on his own to Maison Blanche.
On the 10th December Beveridge was aboard York MV100 when they flew Sir Andrew Cunningham and the Rt. Hon. Sir Anthony Eden (Leader of House of Commons and confidante of Churchill) from Maison Blanche to Gibraltar.
The following day they took these same passengers along with Lord Leathers (Minister of War Transport), Sir Alex Cadogan (Foreign Office), Mr Winant and Mr Howard (USA) along with Air Commodore Elliot on the return trip to Lyneham.
As the Flight Engineer was the only member of the crew not permanently strapped in to his seat during the flight, he would have the responsibility of checking that the distinguished passengers were comfortable and providing them with food and drink. It has been reported that Churchill often played the flight crew at cards during his flying trips.
This was the last flight that Beveridge undertook with 511 Squadron (a total of 871 flying hours with 39 flights), and he was awarded the Air Force Medal in the New Years Honours list. The recommendation stating:
This airman has shown exceptional skill as a flight engineer. He was employed in that capacity on one of the first direct flights from the UK to Egypt and Egypt to the UK. His devotion to duty, both during the flights and on the ground at overseas staging posts where he had to depend on himself and his resources, set a fine example.
During 1944 until the end of the war, Beveridge flew with 24 Squadron under 44 Group, still engaged on ‘Special Flights’, transporting VIPs in York aircraft. He was promoted to Flying Officer on 22nd February, and received a written commendation in green ink in his flying log-book from the CO in mid 1944, having by then flown over 1700hrs., the commendation stating:
This officer was posted to the squadron for duty as a Flight Engineer and has flown on all overseas flights undertaken by the Special York Aircraft MV100. He has shown great zeal and devotion to duty throughout, and his efficiency has contributed materially to the success of the flights undertaken.
He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant on the 22nd August 1945 and retired from the RAF on the 1st September 1951. He was re-appointed and given an extended commission until a year later when he was given his demob suit along with clothing and food coupons, ready for civilian life.
He died on December 18th 1984.
His medal group consists of the Air Force Medal, 1939-45 Star,
(clasp Battle of Britain), the Air Crew Europe Star (clasp Atlantic), the Africa Star (clasp North Africa 1942-43), War Medal 1939-45 (Mention in Dispatches oakleaf).
During World War Two a total of 259 AFMs were awarded, with only two participants in the Battle of Britain receiving them. Beveridge was one and the other Wing Commander RCB Summers, who coincidentally served alongside Beveridge as an Observer in 219 Squadron in 1940.
Simon Muggleton 2008
From Dusk till Dawn (The Story of 219 Squadron) by TW Kitching B.A.
Battle over Britain by FK Mason.
Coastal Support and Special Squadrons by John Rawlings.
National Archives at Kew London
Paul Baillie Archive Researcher
With grateful thanks to Gerry Burke for the photos of 219 Squadron