War Service (1941-1946) of W/O J L Paulden D.F.C.

I volunteered a month or so before I would have been called up, as this gave me a choice of Service.I did not want to go in the Navy and was not attracted by the Army, so I opted for the R.A.F.

In June 1941 I had to report to an aerodrome at Cardington for interviews. The Recruiting Officer asked if I had any connection with the R.A.F. and I had to say “no”. He had several models of planes on his desk and he asked me what they were. I had to say I did not recognise any of them. He looked in his file and said he saw I had passed matriculation at the age of 14 and he said, “Right – you can be a pilot”. They were losing so many pilots at this time, either as fighter pilots defending the shores of England, or as bomber pilots of bombers shot down over Germany. This is probably the reason they were prepared to take on and train a junior bank clerk.

After two nights at Cardington, we were sent home. A few weeks later, in August 1941, we were called up and required to assemble at Lords Cricket Ground in London. There we were allocated billets and given a few lessons before being sent to Paignton (a popular holiday resort in south-west England) for more serious swotting. After passing the exams, I was given the rank of L.A.C. and sent to an aerodrome at Carlisle for flying training.

When we could fly solo, we were grouped together and put on an old Cargo boat and sent to Canada. From the port, we travelled by train to Moncton, where we were fitted out with tropical uniforms. We travelled to Americus in Georgia by train. At Americus and other aerodromes in Alabama and Florida we continued our flying instruction. At the end of the various courses, I was presented with a citation and a broach of silver pilot’s wings.

I returned to Canada in October 1942, and I left Canada on the Queen Elizabeth (in which we were packed like sardines). There were six bunks in a cabin – even the swimming pool had been drained and was full of bunks. I did hear that there were 20000 Forces personnel on board.

I continued training on twin-engined planes at Cirencester and then moved to Lossiemouth in north Scotland for training on four-engined Halifax’s. I then went to York to get a crew together and whilst there I was struck down with a bout of pneumonia. When I recovered in November, I went to York again to get a crew together, a crew consisting of an engineer, radio-operator, bomb-aimer, rear & mid-upper gunners and a navigator. There were no mid-upper guns on these planes, which were used for Special Duties, and the mid-upper gunner was used as a despatcher (he sent goods and parachutists on their way over the target). We did three runs over each target (500′ for parachutists and 300′ with goods). Most of our losses were pilots flying into mountains at the end of a run.

I was allocated this crew and given a plane to fly to French Morocco. From there we went to Blida in Algeria and then on to Sidi Amor in Tunisia. When the Army had cleared southern Italy, we moved to Brindisi. From there we did several trips over Greece, Albania, North Italy and Central Europe.

Later we moved back to Blida, and from there we did numerous “missions” over Southern France. I learnt by experience to cross the border over a particular headland and only to gain height as we neared the mountainous districts of western France. Fortunately, I had good night vision and by flying low we were in no danger from anti-aircraft shells which exploded harmlessly over our heads (their timings were set too high).

In all, I completed 55 trips and most were successful. I was always careful – so I lived. And as a corollary of this, of course, all of my six crewmembers survived the war.

I received the Distinguished Flying Cross from the British and the Croix de Guerre from the French. Both arrived in the mail with a covering letter (ie: there was no formal presentation). Our navigator Joe Gundry received the Distinguished Flying Medal.

It gives me great personal satisfaction to remember that although in the Forces one goes where one is sent and does as ordered, I never fired a gun at anyone and never dropped a bomb on anyone

Source: 624 Squadron

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