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Library Reference Number: 179

Flying with No.166 Squadron, RAF.

David Bremner, Scottish Saltire Branch, ACA.

166 Squadron BadgeNo.166 Squadron had a long history stretching back to the First World War. The squadron was formed on 13th June 1918 at RAF Bircham Newton as the first squadron to be equipped with the Handley Page V/1500 heavy bomber. Having been disbanded at the end of WW1, it was reformed in 1936 flying Handley Page Heyfords, but disbanded again in 1939.

No.166 was reformed for the second time on 27th January 1943 from detachments of No.142 and No.150 squadrons, this time as an operational night bomber squadron. The squadron flew the Vickers Wellington until the spring of 1943 and then converted to the Avro Lancaster, which it flew until the end of the war. David Bremner became a member of 166 Squadron in September 1944.

David Bremner, originally from Edinburgh, had joined the RAF in July 1942 at the age of 19, and had been selected for pilot training and sent to Canada to carry this out. However, extremely severe winter conditions in Canada were holding up pilot training and David volunteered to train as a Navigator instead. Having completed his training in this category of aircrew, David was assigned to No.166 Squadron flying Lancasters and based at RAF Kirmington in Lincolnshire.

RAF Bomber Command, having accepted their front-line role due to ground troops being evacuated from Europe, had suffered huge manpower losses in the process. Even at this time in 1944, there was a great deal of operational flying to be done if Europe was ever to regain its freedom. David’s crew undertook twenty-five nightime operations and five daylight operations over Germany taking part in the bombing of cities such as Bremen, Dresden, Berchtesgaden and Chemnitz.

David writes: “On our second operation over Lutzendorf we began taking flak from anti-aircraft guns. Our engineer got hit and was blown on top of me. I gave him a morphine shot but the poor guy died from his injuries. I was hit on the side of my head, which resulted in deafness in my left ear for life. One of the lads had to hold a towel to my head so I could navigate our way home.”

“Another time over Bremen our port engine was hit at 16,000ft and the skipper had to put us into a steep dive down to 8,000 feet in an effort to put the flames out. I thought my eyes would leave their sockets! We still continued our bombing run though!”

After completing his first tour of thirty flights, David next signed up for a second tour of 25 flights and which included “Operation Manna”

In brief, throughout the war years, the Dutch people would instinctively run for cover whenever they heard planes in the skies overhead, however, on one day in April 1945, all this changed. The bomb doors of several RAF Lancaster bombers opened but what poured out was not directed towards Nazi Germany but sustenance and salvation for the starving Dutch population.

During the operation, British Bomber Command delivered 6,680 tons of food. These bombers were used to dropping bombs from 15,000ft but this time they had to do their dropping from a height of just 100 feet from the ground.

David comments, “At this stage most of the Dutch people were starving and as we dropped our cargo you could see them celebrating and waving flags. It made a nice difference in contrast to what we were usually dropping.”

It was only last month, May 2009 that David was contacted by the Bomber Command Association who told him that he was in line for a Liberator’s medal from Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. Last week, the medal dropped through his letterbox, along with a certificate thanking him for his contribution in the liberation of the Netherlands.

This wasn’t the first time he had received thanks from the Dutch people.

He described the event thus, “I was in Biggar one day waiting for my wife Rosalind to finish work when a Dutch lady approached me asking for directions. We got chatting and she asked if I’d ever been to the Netherlands and I said no but I had flown over it at 100 feet as part of Operation Manna. She then began kissing and hugging me. It turned out that her husband had starved to death in the weeks before the airdrop and that she and the rest of her family had only survived by eating bulbs. It was a little humbling to hear that.”

After Operation Manna, however, it was once more back to a deadlier cargo for David and his squadron with a bombing run on Hitler’s Bavarian mountain retreat Berchtesgaden.

He said: “We were part of the third wave and when we came over it at 12,000 feet all we could see was dust! There had been that much dropped on it and I’ve got to say it was a great feeling to bomb Hitler’s back garden.”

This bombing run wasn’t the only encounter David was to have with Hitler during the war and his next one was a lot closer than 12,000 feet!

“In May 1945 we were ordered to fly senior British officers to Berlin for the peace talks. The place was a shell, with not one building standing over 10 feet, which was surprising as Berlin was last bombed in 1943. We had some time off so we went to Hitler’s bunker in the Reichstag and which was being guarded by Russian soldiers. Hitler’s body was still in the bunker wrapped in swaddling. I paid a guard two cigarettes to touch his leg and another two for an Iron Cross belonging to a senior German officer. I just wanted to touch him to let him know, in some way, my part in his downfall.”

Following this, David began transporting POWs back to England from Belgium and Italy. “Tears would fill every one of their eyes when they saw the White Cliffs of Dover.” David commented.

After the war David Bremner rose swiftly through the ranks, and after completing an Admin Course at Bicester, was appointed Adjutant at RAF Errol in January 1946. He was eventually promoted to Squadron Leader and became C.O. at RAF Montrose in January 1947.

In January 1943, 166 Squadron had arrived and remained at Kirmington for the remainder of the war, flying Wellington then Lancaster bombers. After the war the station closed after being used for dispersal sales. In 1970, the County Council bought the airfield and today the site is home to Humberside International Airport.

At the start of 1945 with a slowdown in operation, the squadron flew both day and night sorties but with the end of the war the squadron was disbanded, still at Kirmington, on 18th November 1945.

Leaving RAF Service in July 1947, David Bremner later married his wife Rosalind in 1955, and they have a daughter Anne who became a schoolteacher. Amazingly, David has never flown a plane or even entered a cockpit since his war service.

Back in civilian life, David preferred to work with ground-based vehicles, eventually becoming a member on the Board of Directors of a car company. He said: “I had enough luck flying all those missions; luck that was unbelievable and I could never see any point in pushing my luck any further."

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