Veteran Stories:
Roderick Arthur “Rod” White

Air Force

  • Roderick White is pictured here on the right wearing captured Wehrmacht helmets in Eckernforde, Germany,1945.

    Roderick White
  • Roderick White is pictured here on the right in Eckernforde, Germany,1945.

    Roderick White
  • Roderick White is pictured here on the right in Eckernforde, Germany,1945.

    Roderick White
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"When I went in, there was splintering of wood and the God awful crash, sparks flying and Willy and Red disappeared with the table."

Transcript

I was posted to England in 1944. My brother claimed me and I had a little blue card given to me that authorized me to live out because the buzz bombs [V-1 flying bombs] were plentiful at that time, the beginning of them I think was May-June 1944. The card allowed me to live out and also got me into trouble. London was out of bounds because of the number of people being killed on leave and missing. And I stayed seven to ten days, my brother claimed me to see if I wanted to re-muster to a clerk. And I said no, I’d stay as an engine mechanic and I was transferred to RAF Broadwell.

There we had the C47 Dakota [military transport] aircraft and an [Airspeed] Horsa [troop and cargo] glider. And it was not very good scenes when the aircraft came back with wounded onboard. And I was there during the Arnhem operation and things got worse. Well, the aircraft would fly supplies, but initially in the Arnhem operation, they were towing the Horsa glider which is almost as big as the Dakota itself. And when they released the gliders, those that weren’t shot up too bad went over to, I believe, Brussels and picked up wounded and brought them to RAF Broadwell. They had a field hospital. If you were in the housing area or a mess that was built, Broadwell was like a wagon wheel with a strip on the side and sites with quonset huts full of earwigs, I might add. Depending on where you were on the base, he would go, if you were on the flight line, go to the aircraft and unload those stretchers from the aircraft to the ambulance. If you were close to the field hospital that was pretty well with the main hospital, you would go unload from the ambulance into the field hospital and the wounded were sorted from there. This could happen in the wee hours of the morning, late at night, depending on what operations were on.

And I neither smoked nor drank, but somehow or other, I learned to smoke at Broadwell because of what we would see, when you were standing at the cargo door of the Dakota, it’s pretty well head high and stretchers were lowered down to you and fluids, blood, urine, feces, everything would pour out. And if you were unlucky enough, some of that got on you. But it was the sights of some of the wounded that couldn’t even be bandaged properly or had taken the bandages off. And I think this is why I learned to smoke and became a heavy smoker at Broadwell.

From there, I was transferred to RAF Manston. It was a huge peace-time base. But I think the only remaining building from peace-time was a part of a motor vehicle garage that was turned into headquarters. Our maintenance hangar was all full of holes because Jerry could hop across the Channel from France, shoot up Manston and be back across the Channel before they could do anything about it.

At Manston, did I say the runway was five miles long? The middle portion was paved and then they called the loop, was the grassed areas that ran out a couple of miles from each end and bombers were coming in all the time, badly shot up and they would ask them, touch down on the pavement but slide off into the grassed areas. And they had an ARP party there, Aircraft Removal Party. We also assisted there, if we were close to a wreck. We paid pretty close attention to bombers that were coming in, was one of the closest fields for them to reach if they were badly shot up or wounded onboard. In a thousand pound raid, they would take off maybe in the evening, fly over to Germany and on the way back, the Tannoy System, which is PA [public announcement] system, would start announcing (it didn’t matter where you were on the base) that aircraft were returning. They didn’t know who the pilot was, undercarriage shot up, hydraulics, flight controls, wounded onboard or no information whatsoever.

And when they said bombs onboard or they didn’t know who was flying, you paid particular close attention because an aircraft that’s folded up sliding across the grass covers a lot of territory and you often wished your boots were running shoes because you would have to run. Scenes there were pretty disturbing and it was at RAF Manston and I can’t remember when I took my first drink but I did.

At RAF Manston, it was a guy I knew, Billy Wilson, and a red headed guy, and we were all in the same barracks. And Willy told me they were having tea, to come over about 10:00 at night. And he had got a little plate that we hooked wires to and just shoved them in the wall. And they were going to have a hot cup of tea. I opened the door, closed it, opened the next door for the blackout and there’s Willy and the redhead standing at the table. It was a little utility building, nothing but clapboard, no insulation, nothing. And if you had a component for the aircraft you had to take off and you needed someplace dry, you could take it in this little building. When I went in, there was splintering of wood and the God awful crash, sparks flying and Willy and Red disappeared with the table.

And what had happened, the [Avro] Lancaster [bomber] come in out of control and ran over about ten feet of that building and took them with it and left me standing there. Once my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I heard Willy and Red coming up from my right, coming back, and Willy saying, what the hell happened there. And we went outside and we could see the Lancaster still about 100 yards away. That building was straightened out with a saw, and the floor was lifted up to close it in. But as many times I walked by that building, I never went in it again.

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