Crew of 407 Squadron RAF Station Chivenor, 1944. Ross Hamilton is 4th from left.Ross Hamilton
Crew of 407 Squadron at Chivenor, North Devon, 1944. Ross Hamilton is third on left, in front row.Ross Hamilton
Crew of RAF at Ford Station, Sussex, October 1944. Ross Hamilton is the first on left in front row.Ross Hamilton
Mosquito at RAF Station Ford, Sussex.Ross Hamilton
Ross Hamilton, 407 Squadron, England, 1944.Ross Hamilton
"If these gentlemen are convicted here in the court, then they’ll have to go before a District Court Martial and we’ll probably be sent back to Canada disgraced."
Ross Hamilton, I was born in Sundridge, Ontario, near North Bay in 1923, October. And I enlisted in the Air Force as soon as I was 18. Eventually, we were posted to the 407 Squadron in North Devon, [England] which was one of the first Canadian squadrons to be formed overseas during the war and their initial task was to, it was for the shipping strikes off the Dutch coast in the North Sea and what have you. So we took up the job there on flying the Leigh Light Wellingtons, which we could, had a million candle power in their light, which would illuminate a U-boat at night if we picked it up on the radar, you can home in on it. And we had to come in at low altitude, about 50 or 60 feet to drop depth charges.
The gunners on the U-boats would open fire as soon as they seen the light approaching, of course, and the skipper of the aircraft had to maintain a steady height and air speed in order to drop the depth charges accurately and not overshoot or undershoot with them. So there was danger there. There was many an aircraft that was lost, an engine, had an engine shot out or both engines and they just never came home again. So that happened more than once.
There were three of us in the crew and we took an hour each on the radio and the radar set and the rear gun turret, four machines guns in the rear turret. And we alternated each hour on that. And we’d, somebody would for ten hours at a time.
This came as a surprise to all in to the Commanding Officers’ Office. It was Wing Commander Ken Wilson, he was an RMC [Royal Military College] graduate, pre-war pilot and he was Commanding Officer of our squadron, not of the station itself, that was a Group Captain's rank, but he was a Wing Commander. Anyway, he called us in and said he had a request from Air Ministry in London to dispatch a crew to a fighter station in Sussex, RAF Station Ford, to carry out some secret duties. And he picked us because we had a good reputation on the squadron and a top notch pilot and what have you. So he told us what it was about and he didn’t ask us if we wanted to go, we were just told we were going there (laughs). So we took off for Ford a couple of days later, having no idea what we were going to and when we landed there, we were met by the Station Adjutant, who took us to his office and gave each of us a bible and swore on it that we would tell nothing of what we were doing there.
The German aircraft that were carrying buzz bombs [V-1 Rockets] and what have you over to the coast and launching them on England. After, the bases where they were launched from had been virtually wiped out by Bomber Command, so they had to find some way of getting the bombs to England. They weren’t about to give up and they invented this idea of putting a big V-1 rocket onto a Heinkel [He] 111, flying it across the [English] Channel at zero height almost, so it wouldn’t be detected by radar from the shore, and then they would climb up to 1,500 feet as they neared the English coast and launch it at London. And then they would drop down to zero feet again and head for home, if they weren’t caught. Our duty was with the radar, long range radar we had, it was good for about 20 miles, was to pick these Heinkel 111s up, as they come up to altitude, and we would have a night fighting [de Havilland] Mosquito or a [Bristol] Beaufighter tailing along behind us and we’d give him a course to steer and his radar was only good for four or five miles for night fighting. And he would call back eventually and say, “Tally-ho, I have him.” And he would then attack the Heinkel 111 and shoot it down before it launched its bombs.
So we practiced this in the English Channel for some time with other aircraft and that seemed to be working quite well. Then we went on to operations with it and we done a lot of night patrols. It was always at night because the enemy would only send the Heinkel 111s out at worst possible weather they could find. I think of it a lot, and I can recall most vividly, there were cases where there were accidents, for example on a station and aircraft crashing and people killed. Those were some of the most vivid memories I have, the terror of that was worse than what we were doing.
It was a brotherhood and a fraternity like no other. And you just, I’m doing it, so the other guys are doing it too, so what, you know. I better not show any, any fear about it. And if you did have any fear, why, it was detected very quickly by the Station Medical Officer and you were grounded. And then you got a very, very black mark against you called Lack of Moral Fibre. And that was more disgraceful than anything. So you were very careful about that. If you were scared, you didn’t show it.
Some place where we almost got court martialed, the second pilot and myself, for having a party one night in the mess at Coltishall [England], where a Canadian Mosquito pilot, who had just arrived back and had tallied two enemy aircraft to his credit, a Canadian. And, of course, we were the only Canadians at Coltishall at the time. It was the fighter base again where we were moved to. And we had, I guess and Robbie and I got on our bikes and we rode out into the countryside to a tree that he had spotted, was full of chickens. And to make a long story short, in the court they said we murdered half a dozen of these chickens, one for each member of the crew and brought them back to the barracks and we got caught. Robbie said, done a real thorough detective job when they found bits and pieces of blue battle dress uniform on some of the brambles where we’d disemboweled these chickens. And they knew it was Canadian material and they knew right where to come to the station and he asked the adjutant, “Are there any Canadians on the station?" And, of course he had us and we still had the chickens. It was a long story, but we ended up in court and it was like a murder trial. Because food was so scarce and so rationed and here we were hijacking chickens off a farm.
The lady judge gave us a real dressing down, told us we were a disgrace to our uniforms and all that stuff and she fined each of us ten pounds. And I think Robbie had the cheque written out before she got the last words out of her mouth. Then she asked the Group Captain if he had anything to say and he said, gave quite a narrative of the fact that we were there helping England in the war and that we had done something wrong and we should be forgiven for it. And he went on and on and on praising us. And we were almost in tears, what wonderful guys we were. And then he ended up by saying, if these gentlemen are convicted here in the court, then they’ll have to go before a District Court Martial and we’ll probably be sent back to Canada disgraced. And he said, then, he said, you and I and all of England will lose their valuable services for the rest of the war. Well, that got the jury and the judge really good I guess, so ended up with just a fine.
The ending of it all was that evening. We went to the mess for dinner and we took a carton of cigarettes each because relatives at home in Canada could send you a carton of cigarettes every month for a dollar. So all your relatives sent you cartons of cigarettes and we had gift bags full of them. So Robbie and I each took a carton over to the Group Captain. They loved their Canadian cigarettes because theirs were rationed totally, they were Wooly Woodbines and they were terrible. So he was playing snooker in the mess, and we went over to him and told him that we wanted to give him a carton of cigarettes and thank him for his efforts on our behalf. So he accepted them, he said, “I guess I can accept these, it doesn’t look as though it’s a bribe anymore because this case is done with.” So he thanked us and as we were leaving he said, “Oh, gentlemen, he said, don’t be late for dinner tonight, they’re having chicken.” (laughs) You’re bringing back a lot of memories to me.