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Library Reference Number: 257

Recalling Operations from Tarrant Rushton

Robert Arthur Seymour

My dad joined the Royal Air Force in September 1940; he was sent to Florida in 1941 to train as a navigator and returned to England for further training before joining the army co-operation squadron at Netheravon in Wiltshire. 295 Squadron flew Whitley then later Halifax bombers towing gliders that could carry troops and equipment. He spent the years 1942-45 with the same pilot, flying on many operations to North Africa, Sicily and both the invasions of France and Holland on D-Day and the Arnhem operation. There were many aircraft in his squadrons, especially on the Sicily operations, that did not return.

The twelve months from late 1943 were spent in 298 Squadron, motto "Silent we strike", based at Tarrant Rushton in Dorset. As well as preparing for the glider borne operations at D-Day and Arnhem they carried out many night flights into occupied France dropping canisters and packages of arms and equipment and occasionally agents from the Special Operations Executive. These were particularly dangerous flights involving low level location of the French Maquis agents on the ground, requiring supreme navigation often just by moonlight or with an early radar location device called Rebecca/Eureka. For his part in these operations my dad was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with palm leaf, pinned to his chest at Netheravon by the head of the French Force Interieure General Marie-Pierre Koenig on September 24th 1944.

My dad wrote a memoir from these days about thirty years ago, here is an extract about one of those flights into France from August 1944 which we can now trace with both his operational logbook and squadron records held at the National Archive. They were supplying equipment to an SOE organised group known by the code Wheelwright and the trip was down to a town called Pau in south west extremity of France. - Tom Seymour.

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A Maquis unit near Pau, in the far South of France close to the Pyrenees, had to be re-supplied by two aircraft of which our's was to be one. The second aircraft was to be flown by a crew which included the squadron's navigation leader, a dour Scot called Jimmy.

We climbed to ten thousand feet passing over the Isle of Wight and Normandy then what had now became the familiar territory around Le Mans, Poitiers and Limoges. After crossing the broad valleys of the Dordogne and Garonne, we descended to a few hundred feet and I left my navigation table, taking up position in the aircraft nose to map-read us in to the dropping zone. The night was clear as we tracked along the moonlit water of the Gave du Pau. We reached the right place ten miles to the West of Pau on time, but there was no signal from the ground. The briefings for supply drops were specific about timing. Don't arrive too early and, if there is no response, don't hang about too long as a circling aircraft might well attract suspicions and unwanted attention if any German forces were in the area. There were a number of possible reasons why the Maquis men might be unable to be present at the rendezvous. If there was no signal from the ground, then there was the long, somewhat disconsolate flog back to base with undelivered supply containers.We turned back along the line of the river and tried again. Buster wanted to be assured that we were in the right place. I pointed out some details of the road pattern which would be coming up in front of us and when I told him we would soon see another small river on the port side and a railway junction, he was satisfied. Another run over the dropping zone produced no response and, having been flying around for some fifteen minutes or so, I thought it was time to go.

"We'll try once more" said Buster. At 500ft with the several thousand feet high peaks of the Pyrenees and the miracle town of Lourdes not far away, we turned to track along the river again. "One mile to go" I said, feeling only that it was time to get out of here.

A torch light flashed from a field in front of us. Then the identifying signal, dot, dash, dash, dot, the morse code for the letter 'P' which showed that it was from the people for whom we had been searching. They were there and waiting. At a signal from our aircraft showing that we were friendly, four more torch lights were switched on, showing us the direction in which they wanted the supplies to be dropped. The bomb doors were opened, the containers fell away on the end of parachutes, the lights on the ground- were switched off apart from one flash, presumably saying 'Merci Beaucoup', and we climbed away to head for home. Buster didn't say much but I knew he was feeling rather smug. It was the most distant and one of the more difficult supply drops, and we had succeeded.