We had landed our Baltimore fighter bomber very late at Gambut, a temporary air base south east of Tobruk in Libya. After a hot toddy we went straight to bed knowing that we were to take of at 6am the following morning on a special mission.
I was woken at 5am by the orderly corporal and staggered over to the map tent, where our pilot and the briefing officer were deep in discussion. Our wireless operator, navigator, bomb aimer, front and rear gunners had been given tea and biscuits covered in quince jam. I hated quince jam as did all of the others, other than the wireless operator who scoffed the lot.
We trailed over to our plane in the dark and clambered aboard. The engines broke into an ear splitting roar as we moved out to the end of the runway and our pre-flight check .A feint green light from an Aldis lamp gave us the go and, as we took off, dawn was showing a feint sliver of light ahead.
A familiar clunk as the wheels came up and we were on route to Giarabub in Libya, not far from the Egyptian town of Siwa where a build-up of enemy aircraft had been noticed. We were to bomb the airstrip and shoot at as many planes as we could.
As we closed on the airstrip there was no firing at us from the enemy lines, nor were there any airplanes. Our eyes were fixed on the ground as our shadow rippled over the undulating sand, all looking out for shadows of fighter planes diving at us from above. But there were none; we were the only plane in the sky.
We came around for another low pass over the airfield and somewhere an anti-aircraft gun opened fire, but we had gone before he could calculate our range. Our ventral gunner did let him have a few bursts in reply. Another pass and I heard the bomb doors open and a jump as the plane relieved itself of the weight and I saw them explode along the centre of the runway.
The pilot turned ready for a strafing attack and the wing and nose gunners opened fire, destroying a plane under camouflage netting and a truck on the move. Satisfied that we had spoiled their day, we returned to Giarabub airfield, landed and taxied to our dispersal point.
The pilot switched off the engine and as we prepared to get out, I noticed the wireless operator not moving. I reached out and pulled at him but he was dead. A small hole in the front of his suit led to a larger one in his back caused by an exploding bullet. Our triumph had evaporated to sorrow over the death of our friend. His name was not mentioned in the mess that evening, which was an unspoken rule. As he was being buried in a blanket, the bell sounded for us all to get airborne quickly for another emergency.