Library Reference Number: 045
Memories of a Careful Pilot
As a young lad in Carlisle several years before WW2, Jack Emmerson although interested in flying, could never have imagined he would become a pilot in the RAF, carry out 99 operations, survive two air crashes, be awarded the AFM, DFC & Bar and MID. During his 2398 flying hours, Jack flew anything from a Tiger Moth to Lancasters, then Spitfires, Meteors and Vampires. Along the way he became an Instructor with Bomber Command Mosquitoes, and an RAF Station Commander. The following is a very brief outline of a career spanning almost twenty years which Jack Emmerson has contributed to our Branch Library.
Why did I decide to fly? As a youngster in Carlisle I used to meet a man who worked with my father. He had been a Sgt in a Highland Regiment during the 1st World War. He told me of the horrific trenches, the mud and the rats. Decision made -I was never going in the Army. So, I joined the Border Flying Club (in 1936 or 1937 1 think) and then the Civil Air Guard. The first entry in my log book was made on 19 Jan 1939 in a Hornet with the Chief Instructor, Flt Lt Potter who was a 1st World War veteran. We were paid 10/- for flying during the week and 15/- at the weekend. I gained an A licence with the Civil Air Guard that enabled me to carry a passenger and land at other aerodromes.Then I spotted an advert to join the RAF VR. Off I went at top speed and joined the VR in May (in spite of the fact that Pollie and I had just married on 15th April!). I remained in Carlisle having a wonderful time, flying and receiving intensive training that would be the envy of pilots today. I used to leave work at 1lam, go flying for an hour and then go back to work. Ideal. At the time, I was employed at Carlisle Brewery by the State Management Scheme, but that's another story!When war was declared I was mobilised immediately and left the job at the Brewery overnight. I like to think that I was missed. However, I didn't go far. Those mobilised met at the HQ at 1st floor, 14 English Street, Carlisle, in the morning where we completed basic nav training and engine handling and then repaired to the Angel Pub, conveniently situated on ground floor, at mid day to continue training in how to drink pints.
This happy situation continued until December 1939 when I went to 3 ITW at Hastings. We were initiated into the mysteries of square bashing and issued with a uniform (complete with Sgt stripes) and had plenty of time off. FTS was at Redhill but after a week there it was decided the school was overloaded so the whole unit was detached to ......... Carlisle! So, I lived at home. My mother lived nearby and the good life continued with lots of flying, lots of pints at the Crown and Mitre and lots of mother's cooking. How she managed to feed the ever-increasing bunch of friends, I'll never know. Eventually we made it to FTS at Cranfield, gained my wings and became Sgt Pilot Emmerson. I joined 75(NZ)Sqn based at Feltwell flying Wellingtons. I was crewed up with Flt Lt "Spanky" McFarlane and flew my first War Operation on 8 Jan 1941. The entry in my Log Book records "Wilhemshaven - Bombed Docks" Spanky permitted me to fly home from targets. On the way there I stood at the Astra hatch as look out. The flak used to burst around in the form of a Prince of Wales feather with red-hot pieces of metal all around. If the flak burst underneath the aircraft it was "most unpleasant" but if it burst above you it just seemed to disappear upwards. I did only 6 trips with Spanky. On the final one I failed to notice an engine failure, Spanky got a bit miffed and took over.
The Wellington didn't go well on one engine and we lost height. Over Norfolk, Spanky found a field and landed. He'd had enough of me and I was posted to 57 Sqn, still at Feltwell, who were short of pilots.
I joined 57 Sqn wef 3rd February 1941 and soon became a captain (1 said they were short of pilots!) My Log Book begins to record chilling entries, stark in their matter of factness. Examples:
- 10 Feb - Blitz, Hanover, Target bombed, Boulogne
- 27 Mar - Cologne, Crashed East Wretham
- 09 Apr - Machine Gunned Aerodrome on Dutch Coast
- 08 May - Bombed target (Hamburg). Hit by heavy flak, 60 holes
- 11 May - Hamburg. Attacked by fighters. ME110's. 15 holes in star wing. 100 rounds fired by Rear Gunner
- 27 Jun - Bremen. Heavy flak. Caught in searchlights.
There is also an entry dated 2 Aug 1941 "Aircraft damaged when taking off. No3 Group finding. Error of Judgement due to carelessness" Just let them try it!I got on well with the Flt Cdr and one day I took him to Wiltshire where he lived. (Amazing how we use the aircraft as a taxi service!) It was our only dual aeroplane. On the way back I had an engine failure over Thetford wood. It was springtime and the trees looked lovely. I was flying just above the top of the trees and I knew that if I landed on top of them I would need to do it VERY slowly. Luck was with me and I came to a clearing. I put the undercarriage down, landed, whipped the undercarriage up and turned the remaining engine off. Came to a halt. 57 Sqn were not best pleased!
The first tour came to an end. Lots of friends died and when they did we used to pencil a bowler hat on them on the Squadron photo. The careful pilot was still alive I then went to 23OTU at Pershore, the raids continued. My second Log Book starts on 16 Nov 1942 by which time I was a Fg Off and had total hours of I226. Wellington Mklll was the aeroplane and during most of 1943 I was stationed at Stratford upon Avon. Pollie was able to join me and we lived in a house together with our son Derek who was born in April 1940. During this time I was summoned to Buckingham Palace to receive an AFM and I was told not to press the hand of the King too hard. I was struck by the fact that his hand appeared to be deformed through all the hand shaking he had to do. No wonder it was painful. We still have the wonderful photo taken outside the palace - Pollie, my mother and me (my cap at a jaunty angle and a ciggie in my hand).
The end of May 1943 heralded Wings For Victory Week. There were thirteen Wellingtons from the OTU involved - we practised flying in formation and I was Wellington number 13. During practise I followed the prescribed procedure and did a dive into Pershore then pulled out steeply. I heard an almighty crack. On landing I suggested to the NCO that a check of the wing might be in order. I then went off to the Flight Office and saw that a volunteer was required to take an aeroplane to Lossiemouth and bring back a new one. I wasn't over keen on being a display pilot so I volunteered and off I went on my trip. A Canadian called Hyam (think this is the correct spelling) took my place in the display. On my return to base I was told "Pity about Hyam". Turned out the wing had fallen off during the pull out from the dive. To this day I feel guilty, though what good would it have done if I had died instead of him? (Val, who's masterminding this story wouldn't have been born for a start!) Pollie and I visited the grave in Pershore cemetery about 15 years ago and it brought it all back. It was decided that there was a structural weakness in the Wellington wing so they were modified and we were restricted to a Rate One turn only. It had not come to light before because the aeroplane had only been involved in operations over Germany and had not been required to take part in air displays. Who knows how many wings had fallen off during operations? The careful pilot survived.
In December 1943 1 went to Marham to complete conversion to the Mosquito and in February 1944 I joined 109Sqn. My Navigator was Hank Henry - a Canadian. He maintained he chose me from the "line-up" because he saw I had an AFM! We spent many happy hours together! In fact we completed 55 Operations together and kept in contact until his death.
"Oboe" featured strongly in my life from this point on. The wingspan of the aeroplane was 64ft and we flew on a beam that was 10ft wide. When we were inside this range dots were heard and when outside, dashes. When right on course there was a continuous sound. Fifteen minutes from target we would get a signal, also at 12mins, 6mins and 3mins. We flew at a pre-determined speed and height and pressed the button exactly when told. Photos were taken which were ready and waiting for us back at base showing success or errors. We were debriefed immediately. Cologne, Bremmen, Hamburg and Essen were the targets. I completed 60 Operations with 109 Sqn and in total completed 99 War Operations, gaining a DFC and Bar along the way. I went to 1655MTU in September 1944 and then in Feb 1945 to 160OTU at Upper Hayford. The war ended and the last entry in my Log Book was on 23rd Oct 1945 when I flew as 2nd Pilot in a Lancaster from Berlin to Cottesmore. I had flown a total of 2214hrs so far.
The careful pilot was still alive.
After the war the possibility of flying with Don Bennett's ill-fated project, British South American Airways, was considered but rejected. Pollie and I preferred family life and as well as Derek, we had 2 daughters. Just as well this decision was made as the airline proved a very unsafe way to travel. I went back to work at Carlisle Brewery. I joined the Border Flying Club in Carlisle and each Saturday took on the job of flying between Carlisle, Blackpool and Workington delivering the Football Edition of the Lancashire Evening Post. This was completed in a 90hp Hornet with maximum speeds of 70/80mph. I used to follow the road to Maryport from Carlisle and (where I was once overtaken by a double decker bus) then across Morcambe Bay to Blackpool. Didn't enjoy this experience! Things were much improved when a 3-seater Auster was bought. Workington still presented a challenge as the airfield was on a slope and there wasn't even a windsock!
I also joined the R Aux AF and went to 607(County of Durham) Sqn where I mostly flew Vampires and Meteors. I was called up in 1956 during the Suez Crisis, did 6 weeks of training at Ousten but was never active. I was never meant to be a Fighter Pilot. I quite liked the Meteor but felt it was a bit dangerous. Jet engines and consumption of a lot of fuel was strange to me. The aeroplane was known as a flying brick as, unless you were very careful, it ran out of fuel and had no glide ability. I remember the Training Officer on 607 Sqn used to go to Wales to visit family. His wireless failed over Cardigan Bay, and he ended up going up and down the coast instead of going east inland, eventually running out of fuel and that was that.
The careful pilot was still alive and called it a day on 22nd May 1951.
The last entry in my Log Book reads "Meteor with Cdt Wilkinson as 1st Pilot. PI's 50mins" I then joined 3508 (County of Northumberland) at Longbenton and became a Fighter Controller. I left the R Aux AF in 1960 when we moved to Glasgow.