Sims recalls his start with Hawkers and his unusual wartime service in
In July 1939 I joined Hawker Aircraft Ltd with hopes of an
apprenticeship but I had left school at the age of fifteen years and
this was not available to me until I reached sixteen.
The only job I was offered was that of hall boy in the main hall at the
Kingston Canbury Park Road factory, which I accepted. After a number of
office jobs I took the advice of my boss, Frank Sherras, head of the
contracts estimating department, and went into the works at Langley
Airfield near Slough as a shop boy in the electrical department. This,
I hoped, would be a start to my apprenticeship.
hands-on the Hurricane and watching them fly suddenly made me realise
that what I really wanted to do was fly them myself; and the only way
to do this was to join the Royal Air Force.
So, one lunch time when I was at Kingston, I walked into the
recruiting office, presented myself to the recruiting sergeant and
asked to sign on for aircrew. He entered my name in his book and gave
me a yellow slip which had the time and place of my first medical
written on it.
When I arrived home what I
had done suddenly dawned on
me. How was I to break the news to my parents? When we were all sitting
down to our evening meal I handed the yellow slip over to my Dad. On
reading it he burst into uncontrolled laughter and passed it to my Mum
who also roared with mirth. Bemused, I enquired what was so funny about
their son going to war in the Air Force? Dad passed the slip back to me
on which I read in hard type, "Females are requested not to report for
medicals whilst their periods are in progress." I then showed them the
other side; I will not go into what followed.
Since I was not 17
1/2 my application needed my parents' signatures and two others of
substantial character. Working at Langley I had access to the Pilots'
room in the tower, so I walked in and asked Flt Lt Roly Beamont, who
was test flying for Hawkers while on rest from his squadron, and Major
George Bulman, our Chief Test Pilot at the time, if they would help.
They were both good enough to append their signatures. Flt Lt Beamont
was great, giving me a real insight into what I was letting myself in
for and asking me to let him know when I qualified. Alas, it was not be.
I was eventually called to attend the selection board at
House, London, for three days of medicals, aptitude tests, written
papers etc. Unfortunately I ended up in Room 100 with a blue form. On
entering I faced four officers who quietly informed me that the tests
had shown that I was too short in the leg to fly as a pilot, my maths
required some improvement for appointment to navigator, and I was too
young to be gunner. They suggested that I join as an electrician, since
my civilian skills were of great use, and apply again for aircrew when
I was established in the Service. I did point out that the modern
aircraft had adjustable rudder bars...which was met with a stony
So, enter AC2
Electrician Sims at the Advanced Flying
Training School, Cheshire, trying the patience of the Chief Flying
Instructor with constant requests to fly in the Oxfords he had been
working on. Then I volunteered to board the boat to the Near East and
ended up in the desert on the Suez Canal at 100 Operational Training
Unit near Ein Shemer, working on Wellingtons, and was eventually given
the task of looking after the Link Trainers until a posting came for me
to report to 26 Anti-Aircraft Cooperation Unit, Ramat David, Palestine.
Although an Electrical Tradesman I managed to get myself
to the office of Drogue Operator and Wireless Operator (D.OP/W.OP) on
board our American twin engined Martin Baltimore light day bombers,
provided I carried on in my trade and did the duties thereof. This,
after all my ramblings, is the reason for the title of this article,
"The Forgotten Aircrew." I was now a full member of aircrew, kitted out
with all the flying gear, a set of log books and, best of all, a
shilling a day flying pay (5p in today's money). My continuing to do
the daily inspections and so on went down very well with the pilots as
they felt that as I was flying with them I would make sure that the
electrics, at least, would be airworthy.
At the time I was the
only D.OP/W.OP and since I was being called upon to fly three or four
trips a day the CO requested support. Three Airmen arrived, two having
been Drogue Ops since 1942 in Miles Martinet aircraft, originally
intended to replace the Boulton Paul Defiant, which had been fitted
with drogue winches. These airmen were General Duties Branch with no
qualifications other than on-the-job experience and, like me, were a
shilling a day better off. We had no recognised badge or rank and as
far as I know the situation still exists. I cannot understand how this
could be as, after all, the same tasks were carried out by them as the
pilot. I was lucky, I had a trade.
Anyway, after nearly two
years of streaming ten and twenty foot drogues for the Army to shoot at
along the coast from Jaffa to Haifa, calibration runs for the Navy in
the Mediterranean whilst at the same time keeping an eye out for
illegal shipping, and patrolling the oil pipelines from Persia to Haifa
and reporting any terrorist activity by the Stern Gang, my log books
(which I still have) showed some 320 hours airborne. Once when towing a
ten foot sleeve for the Army at four thousand feet, the skipper and I
could not make out why there appeared to be no activity behind us. I
took a look out of the mid-upper gun turret to discover black puffs
ahead of us! I reported to the skipper who said, "Derek, tell the fools
on the ground that we are pulling the b..... drogue, not pushing the
b..... thing!" They were laying the wrong distance. So, a Drogue Op's
lot was not always a happy one, but a full apology was given by the CO
of the gunners who threw a terrific party for us. I doubt that any of
the aircrew or gun crews, either in training or on exercises, really
gave a thought to who actually operated the sleeve they were shooting
at, so I hope I have drawn attention to the work that these
unappreciated airmen carried out.
Many happy and not so happy
hours were spent on these tasks which terminated when I was called to
the orderly room one morning at breakfast to be informed that I was to
be repatriated to the UK for entry into Aircrew training. I was to
report to Initial Training Wing, Bridgenorth, on the East Coast and,
would you believe it, this was the winter of 1946, the coldest on
record. But who cared; my dream was about to come true and that, as
they say, is another story.