Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Adjutant’s Boots

A follow-up to a recent post about veteran Bob Buckles, from our dear friend Bill McRae. Reprinted from the May 2003 issue of the Observair. Thank you to Timothy Dube of CAHS.

“When I was posted out of No. 132 RAF Squadron in the spring of 1942, the Adjutant – whose name I regretfully cannot recall – presented me with a new pair of pre-war RAF all-leather flying boots.  At the time we were flying in an economy, canvas-topped, version of the all-leather boot.  The Adjutant’s boots travelled with me to West Africa, where I hung them up to keep the scorpions from using them as a home and protected them as well as I could from the ravishes of the humid climate.  It was never my intention to fly with them, but rather to bring them home eventually to exhibit in my den as a memento of the war years and No. 132 Squadron in particular.  In Africa, I flew with either ankle-length desert boots or my calf-length mosquito boots.

Returning to the UK and joining No. 401 Squadron in the spring of 1943, I was issued with the new flying boots, with insulated suede tops which could be torn off to leave a sturdy, Oxford-type, walking shoe.  This was much more practical should an airman find himself walking around in enemy territory.  In the meantime, my all-leather boots went back into temporary storage.

On 20 December 1943, on leaving the briefing tent following briefing for a wing sweep, I was approached by Bob Buckles, another 401 pilot, who asked if he could borrow my ‘spare’ pair of boots, since his were in the shoemakers.  Without thinking (I should have given him the issue boots and worn my good ones), I answered “Sure,” adding in jest  “but don’t get shot down.”  It was a high level sweep to Eindhoven, twenty miles from the German border, then around Brussels and back out.  Just north of Brussels, 411 Squadron saw a Do.17, which they destroyed.  Then we spotted a Ju.88; the recently-appointed 401 Squadron ‘A’ Flight Commander, Lorne Cameron, and his number two for the day, Buckles, went down to attack.  Cameron gave Buckles a crack at the target, but I guess he did not go about it the right way, because the next thing I saw was the telltale stream of glycol, which indicated Buckles would not be coming home that night.  I must confess that I only vaguely saw Cameron finishing off the Ju.88; I was focussed on the parachute, on the end of which was Buckles, and on the end of Buckles – my boots!

With the Wing reassembled for the return trip, we were almost at the coast when the wing leader – for reasons I have never been able to determine – called for a 360 degree turn.  Turning thirty-six Spitfires – flying in loose formation at staggered heights and with some close to cloud – could be a bit dicey.  When we straightened out again two of our pilots – Maybee and Morrisey – had collided and were now on their way down in their ’chutes.  It was not until thirty years later, when I met Maybee at a reunion, that I learned why the collision had occurred.  He told me that in the turn he had unexpectedly found himself in cloud; there was a loud bang as he collided with Morrisey who was in the same cloud, and they were both fortunate in being able to get out.  The CO was furious when we landed after 2 hours 15 minutes.  It was not good on our record to have lost three pilots and three recently-received Spitfire Mk. IXs, with only one Ju.88 to show for it.

At the same reunion thirty years later, I met Buckles.  Of course, the first thing I said was “Where are my boots?”  Each time we ran into each other again I would kid him about my boots, until his wife, tiring of this little game, presented me with a tiny pair of souvenir mukluks, saying: “Here are your boots, now don’t bug Bob again.

So, with no all-leather RAF flying boots to display in my den, there sits in a prominent spot in front of my aviation books, the little mukluks; reminding me of those far away days – and the Adjutant’s boots.

Bill McRae”

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