Memories of Wing Commander Gordon Hampton and Mrs Hampton

By actiondesksheffield

Unit name: 114 Squadron and 173, 223 and 256 Squadrons
Background to story: Royal Air Force

Memories of Wing Commander Gordon Hampton and Mrs Hampton
Royal Air Force
December 2005
I joined the Royal Air Force straight from school as an engineering apprentice in 1935 when I was 16 years of age. I left in 1966 in the retirement rank of Wing Commander. I had a full and varied range of experiences during my long service and here are some of my special memories alongside those of my wife Eva.
In 1938 I was with 144 Squadron at Wyton, then in Huntingdonshire, to work on Blenheim aircraft. I went with the Advanced Air striking Force to France in October 1939, only to be blown out by the Germans in 1940. We lost all our aircraft; the Sergeant pilots were all shot down. We were shipped back to the UK, to the Norwich Airport area. We made our way back in lorries to Dunkirk. I remember the boat alongside the dock was from the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company and we sailed from here to Margate and on to the north of London.
During the London Blitz, I became engaged to Eve, who is still my wife of 60 years. She was in London, training to be a nurse. Before we could go into the jeweller's to buy our engagement ring, we had to sweep debris from the steps!
I briefly returned to the reformed 114 Squadron and we lived at Blickling Hall. I was soon moved to the 256 Squadron on night time flights. In 256 Squadron I had spells at Squires Gate near Blackpool, when there was an enemy attack on Liverpool, and near Bath when Bristol and Cardiff were attacked. We were flying in the Defiant aircraft in response to the German raids. I began as a Sergeant Fitter but aspired to be a pilot and I soon qualified for a pilot’s course.
In April 1941 I became a Sergeant fitter in charge of a flight with 123 Squadron based at Turnhouse; now Edinburgh Airport. This Squadron flew Spitfires in the daytime. Spitfires were a very reliable plane and were air cooled, unlike Merlins which were liquid cooled. While here, I was called in for flying training as a pilot. My pilot training was to be in South Africa. My dream of becoming a pilot was fulfilled.
I have flown Spitfires since the war as part of training pilots. Trainees need to be involved in flying a range of planes such as Lancasters, so you can easily convert pilots' skills, for example to the jet aircraft. The first jet I flew was the Vampire and I was astonished by it. Meteors and Canberras soon followed.
All of us on the course were posted to the Middle East. Here I got to fly the beautiful Blenheim aircraft and the wonderful Baltimores and took part in over 70 operations. After 3 months, we moved up to join the Desert Air Force and sent as an Operational Training Unit to Kenya. We wore the typical Khaki battle dress. In the desert, we had rubber runways; these were sprayed with oil for use and could be rolled up and moved on to a new location. Here we used formation takeoffs (abreast); it was essential to do this in order to keep down the sand.
I still have a photograph of my crew of the time taken in October 1945. My Gunner, Dennis Baker is still living. The 2 others were Bill Serle, the Navigator and a Canadian, Jack Riddle, his wireless operator. The gunner was Dennis baker, a banker, studying for his exams even in the RAF. We were all given 50 cigarettes per week, they tasted terrible, and a bit like CTC (Cape to Cairo), the sweepings from the camel shed!
In 1942 whilst in Cairo, I belonged to 173 Middle East Squadron. Eliopoulos was captured; I flew an Italian aircraft with no pilot's notes. The plane had 3 engines, but these were calibrated in metres and millimetres of mercury. I flew the plane and distributed the Eighth Army news to camps in the desert. Some of the camps had names such as ‘Marble Arch’. Whilst at this location, one of the crew, Denis Baker, succumbed to black water fever and was hospitalized.
From Tunisia, the 223 Squadron went north directly to Malta. I stayed here for 3 months. We went to Malta to soften up Sicily ready for invasion. I took part in 13 raids in Sicily. We all had to be prepared to pack up and move on very quickly, in a matter of hours. Most of the time was spent under canvas, but I recall in Italy, our mess was in a hotel! We went back to Malta in September 2005, to a reunion of all the people involved in the services and support there during the war.
Malta was bombed mercilessly by the Italians in 1940, right through to 1943. Then the Germans were closed up though Sicily and Italy.
There was a German invasion of Sicily from Messina. On raids, we were subject to a great deal of flack and our aircraft returned from missions looking like pepper pots. We used fabric to repair them, covering over the holes; we had to ‘make do’ with things to act as spares. You knew it had been a close run thing when you smelt the cordite even at 20,000 feet.
After the struggle for Sicily ended the Squadron was based on the island from August 1943 and we began to attack targets in Italy from here. Throughout this time, I kept in contact with Eve by letter. Often I had moved on to another location by the time she received them. Eve wrote me letters, on flimsy paper with gummed edges; these would take about 10 days to reach England. My replies would be censored. I also took lots of pictures with my own camera. I still have my pilot's log from the time.
223 Squadron moved on to Italy in October 1943, after the capitulation of the Italians. Whilst in Italy, I was involved in some low level bombing in Rome. There was an agreement that the old part of Rome should not be bombed, but to the North East of the city lay an important collection of railway buildings and sidings used by the enemy for essential transportation and communication purposes. In March, as a Flight Lieutenant, I was given details to carry out a raid on this site. The mission involved dangerous low flying due to cloud, during daylight hours leading 24 aircraft. 12 of the aircraft were from the 223 Squadron and the remaining 12 were from the South African Air Force. We were met by strong enemy defences. [Gordon still has the newspaper cutting, saved by his then prospective father- in-law, in his flight log next to his own entry for that day.] The report records the great success of the mission being “entirely due to the ability, initiative and determination of the leader.” It goes on to highlight, “He has completed numerous other missions and invariably proved himself a very able pilot.” The aim of this attack was to stop the Germans from reinforcing. Gordon was awarded the D.F.C [Distinguished Flying Cross] for his valiant efforts on this crucial mission.
During 1944, I was given the job of Forward Bomber Controller. This new position involved tying in the bomber raids with the fighter escorts and briefing bombers on their targets. By October, I became operational again and rejoined 114 Squadron as flight Commander. It was a great honour to become Squadron leader of the Squadron where I had first seen active service in France as a Corporal fitter.
On my 9th sortie with the Mobile Operations Room Unit, I was shot down on a night interdiction in my Boston. At about 300 feet, I saw the tracer fire go past, it hit the plane and there was a terrible tearing noise. I had to crash land the plane in a field as it had set on fire. Miraculously, we all got out, and then the plane blew up. Immediately, we split into 2 pairs and started to make our way to the Alps.
We were captured when searching for food. I was held prisoner in the dungeons of the Doges Palace in Venice for 2 nights. We were taken from Italy to Germany. Going by train through the Brenner Pass, we were underwent the strange experience of being attacked by our own aircraft. Damage was caused to the line and the journey was completed only at night with some sections on foot, other parts by lorry and back on the train where the track remained intact! When we were marched overland we had to find our own food along the way.
At Innsbruck station in Austria, I witnessed a train load of internees going through in cattle trucks, and they were living skeletons. The S.S. men ordered to look after them were obviously ordered to move them away from the Russians who were advancing at the time. We were taken to a Luftwaffe interrogation centre in Frankfurt-am-Main. I was a prisoner of war for 2 months.
At home a message was received that I was missing believed killed. As the plane had been seen to crash and burst into flames, this was the assumption. Gordon’s personal effects, including his Log book had been sent to his mother. Eve’s Mother hid her wedding dress away.
Eve Hampton [Gordon’s wife] recalls she was training to be a nurse in London. Qualifying in Midwifery, she then joined Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force and worked as a nurse in the Burns Unit. She stayed in London during the war and only left when the ‘flying bombs’ started. During raids, there was no chance of staff or patients moving to the shelters from the top floor. Patients were issued with cigarettes on the wards during wartime! She described how the windows were taped across and the patients’ beds were pushed away from the walls to reduce the risk of injury. She worked at Sector Hospitals which got patients out of a military section. These were for emergencies e.g. Chase Farm was for head injuries and burns and Leatherland dealt with surgical cases.
Eve described how she nursed young German prisoners, which was very hard. She recalled one who desperately required a blood transfusion but would not accept British blood. Eve commented that most of these patients were very young and frightened. In later stages of the war must have felt ghastly as it became clearer their country was doomed.
After 2 months held as a prisoner of war, General Pattern walked into the camp and declared, “You’re free boys.” I came back to Dunsfold, Surrey in a Dakota and then by train to London. I recall being so impressed with the green grass of the English countryside. I telephoned Eva from Cosford near Wolverhampton, one of the Rehabilitation Centres. She was in the bath and I did not get to speak to her and so I left her a message. Understandably, she did not believe the message.
I went on to take a Tropical course and specialized in treating those prisoners of war from Japan after August 1945.
Eva, reminisced too at this point and added, “I was really shocked at this message and left London as soon as I could to travel to Cosford by train. This journey was amazing for the carriages were full of returning service personnel. All were suntanned, painfully thin and wore a weird mix of clothing but were absolutely euphoric on their safe return home. We met at the gates and could only salute each other as I was wearing my hospital blues!
“We told our parents we were going to get married and hastily made all the arrangements. My Mother got out my hidden dress and we were married on 2nd June 1945 in Newport Pagnall.” Gordon flew out to rejoin 114 Squadron in Italy on 31st August 1945.
After our marriage I went abroad again. I was on a ship from the Alexandria. This ship was known to me as it had been Gradisca[?] in the Venice Lagoon involved in gun running. I wasn’t sure we should have been sailing on her. When the crew had an almighty row, the ship was wrecked when it ran aground on an island south of Crete and broke up. I remember being picked up by the naval rescue ship called the ‘Trumpeter that carried us as far as Toulon. We then travelled by rail across France and arrived home on the 8th February 1946, by which time my overseas tour had expired.
I went on to join the Vee Bombers Force [Valiant, Victor and Vulcan aircraft] as well as the B52, an 8 engine plane. I became Wing Commander in 1958. I then spent time in America from 1962 to 1965, still serving in the RAF, on coastal command flying Nimrods. I eventually became Head of a branch at the Air Ministry. For this work at the Ministry, Gordon was awarded the O.B.E. in 1959.
Gordon and Eve moved to Sheffield in 1966 and have remained here since. In their married life with the RAF, they have lived in 33 locations. This year Gordon and Eve celebrated their Diamond Wedding with family and friends at Bradfield Church and at home.
More details of all these memories can be found in a book On Active Service 1939-1945, by Phyllis Crossland, Sheffield Academic Press, and ISBN 0-9517498-0-3. This was first published in 1991 and chronicles the true experiences of 18 South Yorkshire people who, during The Second World War, lived in the Penistone area. Chapter 13 charts the full story of Squadron Leader G. Hampton D.F.C. Royal Air Force – Desert and Italy.