Wartime Heritage ASSOCIATION
The Reluctant Engineers' Coveted Wings Flight Lt. Bernard Hyde Bernard Hyde was almost fourteen years old when World War II began. Born in Sittingbourne, Kent, he thoroughly enjoyed his childhood, especially the chance to enjoy the open spaces in the woods and fields around his village. His childhood came to an abrupt halt, in a sense, with the resounding call to arms throughout Britain. Recently Mr. Hyde recalled his days as a youth, anxiously awaiting the opportunity to serve his country. My father decided that I should not waste my technical schooling and discussed my future with the owner of a light engineering company who agreed to employ me as an apprentice. By now the Battle of Britain was in full swing and like many other residents, time was spent looking towards the skies. It was here that I struck up a friendship that was to last for many years. Peter and I were both reluctant trainee engineers and both had one ambition only, to fly. Peter was dead keen on joining the Fleet Air Arm as a pilot but fate sent him into the RAF where he won those coveted Wings. Peter and I kept our noses to the wheel and settled down biding our time until we were old enough to volunteer for aircrew duties with the RAF. There was a slight problem because the age for joining the Air Training Corps was sixteen and my sixteenth birthday was not until September. When I was asked how old I was I replied, without batting an eyelid, ‘sixteen, sir.’ Of course the new C.O. knew that I had lied but allowed me to sign up just the same. We were in and well on our way to joining the RAF. Most people were certain that the war would be over by Christmas. How wrong could we be? Of course being in the ATC was great fun, making lots of new friends and feeling very important in our dog collar tunics with items of insignia attached. RAF drill and discipline were most important and I enjoyed learning how to wear a uniform and march like a real airman. I became so keen that one of my duties was to instruct new recruits the elements of marching and how and whom to salute. In 1942 Peter and I volunteered for aircrew duties, were sworn in, took the King’s shilling, and clutching our silver badge returned home determined to remember our service numbers without which airmen could not get paid or, for that matter receive uniform or food. Even today if somebody claims to have been in any of the armed forces the question is always asked, ‘and your last three?’ Any hesitation brings a query, were they really an airman or whatever. Every day we would gather and wait for instructions, we were all desperate to receive news of our posting overseas to continue our training. I suppose we were concerned the war would end before we had become operational. How silly, we might have been killed but the thought never occurred to us. Time passed until one day with my other mates our names were called and we left our cosy billets and returned to the camp. Then it all happened, fourteen days embarkation leave, farewell to tearful mother but with a light heart back to Heaton Park. Under tight security (we were) marched into a cinema and given a lecture on how to behave in Canada. In the morning, dressed in full marching order clutching a pack of dubious sandwiches, we boarded buses and were driven to a railway station. The draft of RAF aircrew were soon on board the 'Aquatania' and, after finding our troop deck and dining area, were soon lining up at the shop. For seven days we sailed through the Atlantic, going south and then west and then a bit north, all the time the ship was making zig-zag course. I vividly remember sitting on the deck, back to the cabins looking at the sea, one minute all I could see was the ocean, looking down into the rollers, next I was looking at the sky. What excitement, we had seen this on the cinema screen but here it was for real. Once cleared for mixing with civilization the time came to be posted to our respective training stations. Where the other 220 cadets went I do not know, my group of 30 trainee Air Bombers boarded a proper train and were escorted to RCAF Fingal, No. 4 Bombing and Gunnery School wherever that might have been. But we were not bothered, suffice it say that we were to start our training and become Aircrew! The training was intense and the weather became hotter. In classrooms we stuck to the chairs as we struggled with mastering a vast amount of knowledge, never did we dream that so much was involved in navigating to the target, identifying the target and dropping a bomb. We were taught the art of plotting courses, signaling by Morse code and using a signal lamp, aircraft recognition, meteorology, gunnery on the ground and in the air, which included the art of taking a Browning '303' machine gun to pieces and reassembling it. About a week before graduation day six cadets from the course were summoned to the Chief Ground Instructors for an interview. Ken Hogg, a much older man than myself, went into the office ahead of me and came out with a dejected expression on his face. I was very apprehensive, certain that I had failed the course. Ken did nothing to relieve my fears, he said that all six of us had failed and would be returning home. I was called into the office, saluted and stood to attention in front of several officers. I was amazed and delighted to learn that, not only had I passed the course but that I had been commissioned and on graduation day, following wings presentation was to remove rank badges and eagle shoulder badges and wear a white brassard indicating that I was now an Acting Pilot Officer. By now we were anxious to return home and join an operational squadron and help fight the war. And so my short sojourn in Canada came to an end. It was time to pack, board a train and escorted by a gaggle of Service Police. On arrival we joined the Mauritania and where I found myself one of the privileged class, sharing a cabin with five other new Pilot Officers including Ken Hogg. I became very friendly with Ken and remained so until he died six years ago. He turned out to be a really good friend, so much so that he became my daughter’s Godfather. Bernard Hyde flew as Second Pilot on 271 and 8 Squadrons Transport Command, both in Europe and the Far East. In 1945 he met his future wife Marian, and he currently resides in Kent, UK.
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Bernard Hyde (RAF Veteran)
Bernard Hyde
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The Reluctant Engineers' Coveted Wings Flight Lt. Bernard Hyde