World War 2 Stories for Sheffield

                       George Millington

Life as a wireless operator in the RAF

By actiondesksheffield

People in story: Mr George Millington
Location of story: Europe and UK
Unit name: 4 Squadron and 201 and 203 Squadrons
Background to story: Royal Air Force


Life as a wireless operator in the RAF

Mr George Millington

Royal Air Force

I was born on the 9th February 1919. At 20 I signed up for the RAF. At the outset, I knew 7 years would be active service and 5 years as a reserve. My training was in wireless operation and when the war broke out, I had just completed my training at Yatesbury near Swindon. I was soon posted to France with the British Expeditionary Force. It was whilst here that I celebrated my 21st birthday. Mum bought me a watch.

I and another chap (Jack) were posted to an Artillery Unit where we represented the RAF. Our job was to relay messages from our spotter plane about the positions shells had landed in. The lads and I felt that our superiors were still using the 1st World War tactics of army signals, and that these would not work in this ‘different’ war. As it was, the Germans did cut round the back of us and cross the Maginot Line.

For the great retreat, we had no transport to get back to Four Squadron. We were flying Lysanders, a fixed wing monoplane. By this time, we were by the Albert Canal. We had no choice but to stick with our adopted Artillery Unit and keep our heads down. We eventually ended up at Dunkirk. When we arrived, it was over and done with but to me, it seemed to be still going on. From the beach, I could see Dunkirk was on fire. It was rough on the beaches with shells from their aircraft. Our own army 'wallers' were muttering and nearly lynched us because we were wearing the field grey uniforms of the Artillery Unit, and not our own. We looked remarkably similar to the Germans!

Our instructions were to go north from the beach to a place called La Panne. I honestly do not know how I got home. I was on a Dutch merchant ‘naafi’(Navy, Army and Air Force Institute) supplies ship. I think we landed at Ramsgate which was under army control. They put us onto a train and I was surprised to find that our final destination was Matlock in Derbyshire, very close to my home in Sheffield. There was a large mill here and we were all taken to their canteen to be fed and watered. We had to undergo the documenting procedure, and then Jack and I decided to leave and hitch back to Sheffield. Various people stopped to give us a lift and I remember stopping for a pint at a pub in Baslow; my, did it taste good? From here we caught a bus to Four Lane ends (Meadowhead). I lived at Annesley Road in Greenhill. I remember walking down from the White Swan; people were coming to their doors to watch us. I heard them saying – “Look it’s George Millington.” When my Mum saw me, she fainted. It was a Sunday and she was cooking Sunday lunch.

Jack and I had a good dinner, the rest went without. We went up to Firth Park that night for a pint too and got some sleep in a proper bed. I also had an Aunt who had boot repairers in Abbey Lane. Eventually the RAF sent transport for us from Hucknall near Nottingham. At last we were back with 4 Squadron.

I ended up under canvas again at an old fashioned airfield at Linton-on-Ouse near to York. From there we moved near to Gatwick racecourse and then on to Crawley. Then I went on an Air Gunners' course at Evanton[?] in Aberdeenshire. From Evanton, I was posted to 201 Squadron. The planes here were the magnificent Sunderlands or ‘flying boats’. At this time they were based in the Shetland Isles. It was at this point I moved to aircrew and became a wireless operator. I was on anti-submarine convoy duty. Our planes flew out into the Atlantic (and North Sea) to protect essential supplies from the German U boats. There was one area of the Atlantic that was a ‘blind spot’ and could not be covered due to the fuel capacity of the planes. From here we also went to Castle Archdale in Northern Ireland by Lock Hearn. More often than not, we were absent from base. It was from here that we flew the USA’s Minister, Calder Hall to a meeting in Iceland. I became a member of ‘the blue nose club’. To become a member, you had to fly within the Arctic Circle. I was presented with a certificate (which I still have) to mark the occasion signed by Frank Whittle who later went on to design the jet engine.

I flew to Reykjavik and then on to Akureyi, Northern Iceland. The convoys here were protected by the Duke of York battleship. The Germans had occupied Norway and were flying Junkers 88’s from Bear Island on the northern tip of Norway to attack the convoys. The 88s just had enough range. Norway was pro-German; they used the hot water from the natural geysers for their engines.

The Germans had Focke-wulf Condors that flew fully loaded down a radio beam and then dropped the load at the shortest distance between 2 points. We had to try and divert them. I remember one really foul day, when normally all planes would have been grounded, but we still had to fly, but our mission did not take place and we returned to rejoin our grouping Reykjavik. The food at this base was OK and we were getting 200 cigarettes at a time. I, like the others, would sell about ½ of these. You could get 1 Kroner per packet.

Whilst at this base, I had a lucky escape. We had an ‘unwritten rule’ amongst the aircrew that you did not change details (duties). I was instructing by this time at the OTU (Operational Training Unit). On this particular day I was down for an afternoon detail. I was a keen footballer and there was a match that afternoon too. I was going to have to change duties to the morning in order to play. I swapped and played the match. Unfortunately, the man who took my place never came back. 20 wireless operators had gone out on that training which involved a mock submarine and dummy bombs; which were in fact live depth charges. At the end of the depth charge was a pistol; this was set to various depths to allow you to get clear e.g. 100 feet. Someone had fitted the wrong pistols. Someone reported a lot of smoke and roughly where the aircraft should have been. The plane had blown up.

Another incident when I was a sprog (novice) was at Killadese; here Squadron Leader Cope was killed on a mission when I was on leave. I was lucky.

As the war progressed, I moved from being a Sergeant to an Air Gunner (this rank meant that if you were taken as a prisoner of war, certain standards had to be maintained). I became a Flight Sergeant and finally was promoted to Warrant Officer by the end of the war.

I was with 203 Squadron in Gibraltar. This was the nearest I got to Catalinas, the amphibious ‘flying boat’ from the USA. They recruited 1 crew from various areas to make up the 203 Squadron; some men came from as far as East India. My Squadron (201) was sent and we joined up to form the 203. The men in bomber command had an upper limit of 25 sorties before they were taken off operations for a 6 month rest. I went instructing in Northern Ireland, near Enniskillen where I had another lucky escape, but that is another story.

George Millington was demobbed at Christmas 1945/6. He has seen very few of his fellow crew since that date, but met up once, purely by chance, with an Australian navigator/2nd pilot whilst on a family holiday in Rhyl.