Airman tells how he survived 35 missions

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A FORMER rear gunner in the Second World War has shared his memories of his time at RAF Bomber Command.

Bill Hickling, who took his post at the rear of the Lancaster Bomber took part in a total of 35 operations between August 8 until November 27, 1944.

Bill Hickling

Bill Hickling

Evading German fighter planes between July and the end of November, Bill lost 17 of his colleagues.

He said: “The reason for the heavy losses at this point in the war was because our squadron was equipped with a radar navigation aid code named H25, which, unknown to British intelligence, German radar stations could track and pass information to their night fighter aircraft.

“They were also equipped with upward firing 20mm cannons and this allowed them to approach an Allied bomber from slightly underneath and then cut back on their speed so they were virtually firing at a stationary object.

“Then we would see a Lancaster or a Halifax on fire, slowly losing height and crashing below.

“During training we were told to expect that on night operations enemy fighters would attack from below and I had decided that I would stand up in the rear turret, so that I could look vertically down.

“This was something I never told the rest of the crew because from that position it was very difficult to aim and fire the guns.

“I instructed the skipper to take evasive action against enemy fighters on many occasions and I never fired my guns throughout our tour.

“A lot of rear gunners I suspect followed the same plan because we were told during training that to engage in combat was to be considered as a last resort.”

To mark Remembrance Sunday, on November 10, Bill will lay a wreath, shaped like a Lancaster Bomber Dambuster. He added: “I have managed to keep a low profile so far, but I feel quite honoured.”

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