The Flying Memoires
by Peter Proctor

It was 1942 and I was awaiting the arrival of my call up papers. I was hoping to be accepted for the RAF aircrew program but I did not think my chances were very good with just an elementary school education so my friend and I went to the recruiting office at Bolton to volunteer. We were met by a corporal who asked about our standard of education and told us that we would not get through the pilot/navigators course but we would be accepted as rear gunners, to which I replied that I wanted to be at the front of the aircraft not the back so we decided to wait until we were called up.

Eventually my papers arrived and I applied for RAF pilot/navigators course not thinking for one moment that I would get it but not long after I received a letter to say that I had to go to Padgate for three days to be assessed. I had never heard of the place before, so off I went with my bag and railway warrant to join Her Majesty's Services.

My three days were spent on medicals, educational tests and interviews and on the afternoon of the third day a list went up on the notice board with the names of those who had passed and my name was on it. I was sent home on six months deferred service as a volunteer reserve and told to learn the morse code.


Six months later I reported to St.John’s Wood in London to start my real service in the RAF. On arrival we were billeted in huts with a corporal in charge who marched us to the stores to be issued with our kit which of course had to be signed for. It was march here and march there for medicals, inoculations and vaccinations, not very comfortable in new boots with a corporal who had us nearly running everywhere. Our next fortnight was spent marching, lectures more marching and more lectures ad infinitum but I survived and then we were given ten days leave. Two weeks in the RAF and you get leave! It was embarkation leave. I went home resplendent in my new uniform with the white flash in my cap indicating that I was a trainee aircrew and I thought I was something special. When I returned after my leave it would be the last time I would see my home for three years.

I returned to London where I was issued with tropical kit and then by train to Blackpool to await embarkation. We were billeted in boarding houses and had to parade on the promenade every morning to make sure that none of us had gone AWOL (Absent without leave) during the night and then it was more marching down to the pleasure beach which of course was closed. There was a cafe open so we spent the mornings in there to get out of the wind and rain, this was February by the way.

Eventually we went by train to Liverpool and embarked on our troopship the Dominion Monarch and sailed up to Gourock to join a convoy. Our destination was Durban, South Africa but most of the convoy left us at Gibraltar to go into the Mediterranean Sea. Now it was just two troopships and a destroyer escort that sailed down into the South Atlantic. The Bay of Biscay can be very cruel at that time of the year. The Dominion Monarch normally did the journey from Liverpool to Durban in ten days but it took us five weeks. Much of the time we were off the coast of South America dodging submarines I suppose. After we left Freetown where we took on coal and other supplies we were able to sleep on deck instead of the stuffy mess decks. We sailed past Freetown and along the south coast of South Africa to arrive in Durban and into a transit camp were we had a very pleasant two weeks. From here it was by train to Southern Rhodesia, Zimbabwe as it is now called where I started my aircrew training.

I spent three months learning airmanship, navigation, meteorology and radio operation including Morse Code, which by the way I never used. You could not very well use a Morse key in a fighter cockpit but it was to give you the basic knowledge for a pilot or navigator, at this stage we still did not know which it was going to be. Then it was exams and much to my relief I was accepted on the Pilots course.

Now we started to get to the exciting part at a place called Guinea Fowl, EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School) where we got our first encounter with the Tiger Moth. You kept the same instructor for most of the training sessions so you got to know each other quite well. First it was circuits and landings and familiarization of the area so that you wouldn't get lost when you did get up there on your own {wishful thinking}.The takeoffs were not too difficult but some of the course had difficulties judging the right height to level off and cut the power to land. It does not do the aircraft a lot of good when it is dropped in from about twenty feet. All your exercises went into your Flying Log book and you were assessed after so many hours. You could be taken off the course at any time by the instructor if he considered that you were not going to make it. I saw the disappointment on the faces of some of the men that you had got to know. They would be transferred to the navigator's course so they were just as important, perhaps more so because they used to say that the navigator was the brains and the pilot was just the driver.


After ten hours training I went out on this particular morning to do some more landings and after the first one the instructor told me to taxi over to the corner of the field (we did not have runways) where he took the Joy stick out of his cockpit climbed out and said "it's all yours." It was the most wonderful day of my life, my first solo, I had made it.

From then on it was real flying, aerobatics, how to get out of a spin and cross-countries, first duel and then solo including getting lost on one of my solos. I remember one day on a solo cross-country when I got myself lost but I knew that if I flew North I would cross a railway line. I found it and flew along it until I came to a station, read the name and found it on the map and I was no longer lost. I completed my Tiger Moth training and was recommended for fighter aircraft probably because I was small, and then we were moved on to AFTS [advanced flying training school] at Thornhill near Gwelo.

We were now to fly North American HARVARDS, monoplanes as opposed to the biplanes which we had been flying. They also had an enclosed cockpit and radio, previously it was an open cockpit and a voice tube to communicate with the instructor. These aircraft were much heavier and much faster than the TIGER MOTH and you had retractable undercarriage and flaps to think about also. The program was much the same as the previous one but it also included instrument flying where the cockpit was completely covered [there was someone in the other cockpit of course while you were learning] and there was night flying. Towards the end of the course we were all trying to get our number of hours completed which included night flying flood light and head light landings which entailed the use of a flood light at the approach to the runway and landing by using the headlights in the wings of your aircraft without any other lights which could be rather tricky. I had done my two landing and still had some time to stay airborne when the airfield control told me in no uncertain terms to “Get out of the circuit and make room for someone else”. I set a course for Gwelo, climbed to about seven thousand feet switched on the headlights and started to do some aerobatics. No wonder one of my examiners in his report said I was a little over confident.

On the 17th of March 1944 came the big day, wings parade. You will have seen pictures of the Americans receiving their Wings, lots of marching with bands playing and they pin a pair of silver wings on their tunic. RAF version, ten men on parade, two  officers one with a small cardboard carton containing flat fabric wings which the other officer pinned on to your tunic with a safety pin and shook your hand, "Well Done". Four of us decided to celebrate with a weekend at the VICTORIA FALLS HOTEL (Very posh). The first night we went down to dinner in our newly cleaned khaki uniforms sporting our new wings, quite a show, the second night it was airforce blue, we really thought that we were special and we did attract some attention.

For the next part of my training I had to travel to Egypt. Starting from Bulawayo by train we crossed the Zambeze River into what was then Northern Rhodesia (we had a wonderful view of the Victoria Falls as we went over the bridge) and then continuing by rail to the banks of the River Congo crossing by ferry. I can't remember what we did for food on the journey, probably carried our own rations. We travelled by bus to the southern end of lake Tanganyika and then by lake steamer to the northern end and on to another train, this time to Lake Victoria and again by lake steamer to Kisumu at the northern end of the lake where we were put into a transit camp.

We were there for about a week during which time I met my brother in law. He was with a Catalina squadron detachment operating from the lake, small world. The last part of the journey was by air calling at Khartoum and on to Cairo and Heleopolis to be billeted in the Grand Hotel (it wasn't so grand when we were there, just a mattress on the floor). We were there for three weeks and were able to go into Cairo and visit the Pyramids and six of us had a week’s leave in Alexandria a very nice break and then on to lsmailia for operational training on Hurricanes.

Operational flying training was different, until now I had always had an instructor on board to teach me what to do and put things right when I made a mistake but the Hurricane only had room for one. I had a couple of weeks refresher flying on Harvards, (we hadn't flown for several weeks), and more classroom work about the Hurricane.


We had lectures about the Merlin engine, cockpit drill, use of oxygen and R/T procedure (using the radio) culminating with exams. Then with more knowledge from the Pilots handbook with which we had been issued I did my first flight in a Hurricane and got it back in one piece. Now it started to get serious with, Sector reconnaissance, getting to know the area, forced landing procedure, flapless landings (landing at a much faster speed than normal) and lots of formation flying including battle formation flying. There were gunnery exercises with cine cameras and firing live ammo at a drogue towed behind another aircraft, I don't think I hit anything especially the towing aircraft. There was also air to ground firing with live ammo at which I didn't do too badly and it came in useful when I did my operational flying in Burma, and some night flying. All this was done in about six weeks. One thing we had trouble with was the high day temperature in Egypt, if you were kept hanging around at the end of the runway the radiator temperature would soar and you would have to switch off the engine to cool it down. It was worse for the Spitfires so they had priority for takeoffs. An incident that happened one day, I burst a tyre on landing but managed to keep the aircraft under control until it stopped then called the airfield control on the RT who said they would send someone out to pick me up. They did after about an hour, imagine sitting in that cockpit in that heat for an hour, I suppose they thought I deserved it for bursting one of their tyres.

Being in the Suez Canal zone we were able to go swimming in the Red Sea. There was a small island off the shore and we used to swim out there to lie in the sun. One day I was out there on my own and decided to return to the shore but on my way back I noticed what I thought was a dorsal fin and you can imagine what went through my mind. JAWS!! Even in those days I wasn't a very strong swimmer but I'm sure that I reached Olympic speeds that day. Of course, my mates already on the shore thought it was very funny because it was probably a dolphin.

I was now to continue my (Holiday) Tour out to India. We flew from Cairo to Karachi with an overnight stop at Sharjah on the Persian Gulf and into the inevitable transit camp for the night. Our destination was Bombay about three hundred miles south but we were not allowed to use the railway at that time of the year because of the mosquitos and the danger of malaria. Instead we had to travel north to Lahore east to Delhi and south to Bombay. All this was done in a railway carriage fitted with two tier wooden bunks and the journey took a week. Our food was stored in tea chests and for a brew you took a can up to the engine for some hot water while we waited in a siding for the express to go through. We had some time in Lahore and Delhi so we were able to do some exploring and buy some decent meals and visited the famous Red Fort before leaving for Bombay where we had another three weeks in transit. The camp was about seven miles outside Bombay but there was a railway into the city so we spent a lot of time in there. (I told you that it was a holiday tour).

My next flying course was at a place called Ranchi about two hundred miles from Calcutta but before that I was sent to a Jungle Self-Preservation School at Poona. Poona was a famous hill station home for a lot of the British retired majors and colonels and their memsahibs of the British Raj. There we were taught to make cooking pots from bamboo and how to live on a handful of rice a day. A couple of exercises that we did was to be taken out in the back of a lorry completely enclosed so you had no idea where you were and then you were dropped off in pairs to find  your way back. You were not allowed to speak to anyone, you must not ask for directions and try to avoid all villages. They may be occupied by the enemy. All this was in preparation for Burma in case you were shot down and to be able to survive in the jungle.

The second of the two exercises was a full day one and we were given the cooking pots that we had made and a small bag of rice - find some water, light a fire and cook the rice. Needless to say we were all in the NAFFI shop the night before buying tins of baked beans and chocolate. It was eight o'clock and dark when we got track. We did some more refresher flights on Harvards and we were allowed to take up a ground crew member for a trip which they seemed to enjoy.


From there I moved on to Ranchi from one side of India to the other and my course on low level navigation. When you are flying at two or three thousand feet you have time to recognize land marks but flying at fifty feet at three hundred miles an hour it isn’t so easy. Whilst I was there I managed to get a flight in a Beaufighter. It was great, much bigger and with two engines instead of one. Another strange coincidence while there I met a man from the same place where I worked before joining the RAF.

I was now considered suitably trained to go to war and was posted to number XI Squadron at lmphal in Burma. I reported to the CO on arrival and he asked my name, to which I replied, Proctor Sir. No he said, your first name, I know all my pilots by their first name, so I said Peter. His remark was," Oh No, not another Peter, I've already got three Peters." Then it suddenly occurred to him that my surname was Proctor and there was an aircraft firm by that name and one of their aircraft was the Percival Proctor so he said from now on you are Percy and I was for the whole time that I was with the Squadron.

The army couldn't get any heavy guns into that area because of the terrain so we became their artillery. Our Hurricanes had been adapted for ground attack use and were fitted with four twenty millimetre canons instead of the machine guns and we carried a two hundred and fifty pound bomb under each wing so when the army needed artillery they would call on one of our squadrons. We would go out as a pair or sometimes a flight of six aircraft and dive bomb the target that they gave us and follow up with two strafing runs with the cannons which seemed to work for the army to move on.

Within days I was joining in the action as number two to one of the more experienced pilots. Another of our jobs was what was called a "Rhubarb", don't ask me why it was called that because I never found out but it was an armed reconnaissance when the bombs were replaced by long range fuel tanks. This allowed us to stay airborne and travel longer distances looking for Japanese movements to report to the army and attack if it was a suitable target. The most boring job was called the "Cab Rank" when you patrolled an area for about an hour and were then replaced by another pair. The idea was that if the army needed help urgently we were already there to respond. At this time the Japanese were in control of the area around lmphal but as the army gradually pushed them South we moved down the Chindwin Valley to small airstrips that had been cut out in the jungle. These were at Kan, Sinthe, Magwe and as far as Myktilla. From there the squadron was withdrawn back into India to be re-equipped as a photo reconnaissance squadron with mark fourteen Spitfires.

This was the first Spitfire to be fitted with the Griffon engine in place of the Merlin and was half as big again as the Merlin, rated at three thousand horse power. After flying the Hurricanes with all that extra weight of the cannons and the bombs and to be given a Spitfire with a much bigger engine, no armament and just a camera, it was completely different.

We were now at a place called Maduora in Southern India about two hundred miles south of Madras to do some very interesting training, to do deck take offs from an aircraft carrier, to be more precise, a merchantman with a flat top put on it. A section of the runway was marked off equal to the length of the carrier plus so many yards for the forward movement of the carrier. Forty gallon drums were placed on either side of the runway at the start and finish line. We tried making a normal take off on full power without success so we tried again with full power plus extra boost, something that you were only allowed to use for a maximum of five minutes in an emergency but we still couldn't get off in the distance. Next, try something that you were told you must never do, open the throttle with the brake on. Modern aircraft have a tricycle undercarriage with a wheel under the nose but ours were tail down with a wheel under the tail which meant that with your brake on you would tip up on your nose. So, hold the brake on, open the throttle until you felt the tail coming up and then release the brake and go to full power plus boost, but it still wasn't enough. What we needed was some extra lift and this could only be obtained by using a few degrees of flap. The flaps, as I think I explained earlier, allowed you to fly at a slower speed without stalling the aircraft by creating extra lift.


Modern airliners are able to use some degree of flaps on take-off to shorten their take off run but with our aircraft the flaps were only used for landing so you could only have them fully up or down but we needed five degree of flap. I don't remember who it was but some genius came up with the bright idea of cutting some wooden wedges with a five degree angle and while the flaps were in the down position the wedges were inserted and the flaps raised. We had our five degree of flap and we were able to get off in the distance and go ahead with the training. When we were considered proficient enough we moved south to Trincomalee on the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where our aircraft were winched aboard an aircraft carrier, HMS Trumpiter. We were not able to land on the carrier because we did not have the necessary landing gear which was a great relief, taking off was enough. We sailed east from Sri Lanka en route for Malaya and on arriving off the coast we flew the aircraft off and landed at Kuala Lumpur which had now been taken over from the Japanese.


We were based there for some time which included Christmas and one day during the week a young Chinese man came to the camp and asked if a couple of the airmen would like to spend Christmas with him and his wife, to which I said yes please. Some of the others thought I was mad but I like to try something different and I already liked Chinese food. Keong, that was his name, came to collect myself and one of the ground crew, who had opted to go, on the morning of Christmas eve and took us in his car to his place which turned out to be a large villa owned by his parents. Keong and SIM, which was his wife’s name, had their own part of the villa which had been westernised with all mod cons;  they were Christian as was Sims mother who was head nurse at the hospital. I think Keong's parents were Buddists, we never met them. On our arrival we were shown to our bedroom with the two single beds with lovely white sheets and laid on the beds were shirts, slacks and sandals for us to change out of uniform into something more comfortable, he must have guessed at our size when first met us at the camp. We went out in the car in the afternoon returning in time for afternoon tea and then in the evening to a kind of amusement park for a meal which they called "Dips". We sat at a round table with a hole in the middle in which was a copper pan containing boiling water and a charcoal fire beneath to keep it boiling. We went to the counter and collected a bundle of sticks each with a piece of precooked food on them of various kinds of meat, fish, chicken or vegetables and take them back to the table. By the time we got back to the table there were about half a dozen small dishes around the copper, each containing a different kind of sauce. You held the stick in the boiling water for a half a minute or so until the food was hot, dipped it in one of the sauces and ate it. It was certainly different and very tasty.

On Christmas day we went to Sim's mothers for lunch and back to Keong's for afternoon tea again, we never seemed to stop eating. In the evening we sat down to a ten, yes ten course dinner consisting of alternating Chinese and European dishes so by the fifth course which was crab meat put back in the shell and grilled, it was 'Just a small portion please." Keong took us back to camp the next day after a wonderful Christmas.

He was training as a charted accountant and he came over to Germany on one occasion but we were unable to meet him but my wife and I kept in touch for many years exchanging presents, especially for their two children. Sim was very small and petite and I will always remember one day, as a complement I said that good things come in small parcels and her reply was "That poison also comes in small bottles".

Shortly after we moved down to Seletar on Singapore Island where the airfield was quite near to the Straits of Lahore and our accommodation had a large patio which overlooked the straits where a Sunderland squadron was based. On the wall of the patio there was a pair of enormous binoculars that I was told came from a Japanese battleship so we were able to watch the Sunderlands take off and land. It was interesting if the sea was dead calm they had to send a high powered launch along their flight path to break up the surface of the water before they could take off.

An incident that took place at Seletar was when another pilot and I took off to carry out a photo/reconnaissance flight which I entitled "A Nice Day for Flying."


A nice day for flying by Peter Proctor

It was a lovely day, wall to wall sunshine. A fellow pilot and I were looking forward to a photo/reconnaissance exercise over Singapore in our Mk X 1V Spitfires. Resurfacing work was being carried out on the runway at Seletar airfield to replace the grass section with tarmacadam. It seemed that the existing runway had grown up piecemeal with sections consisting of concrete, grass and tarmacadam and due to the work in hand we only had half the width of the runway available so we were unable to take off in formation as we would normally have done. So one behind the other we taxied to the end of the runway and took off. First check undercarriage up, and green light would confirm that it was up and locked. No green light. First thought it is a light malfunction but to be on the safe side got my colleague to fly beneath me and check if there was a problem.

Bad news, a tyre had burst on take-off.  Suddenly this wall to wall sunshine had lost its glamour. I radioed the airfield controller who in turn contacted my squadron CO, not a happy man but gave me three options. First fly out over the sea and bale out which would mean losing a very valuable aircraft and I would get very wet, (he did ask if I could swim) and there was a possibility of sharks (I couldn't  swim that fast.)

Option Two -Try landing on the grass with the wheels up which would result in considerable damage to this very valuable aircraft (and this very valuable me.)

Option Three - Try a normal landing, wheels down on the runway, risky but it might just work. Not a lot of choice so I opted for number three, concrete, grass and metal. Well at least if the wheels fold it should slide on the concrete better than digging into the grass and swinging round and who knows what. I circled the airfield aware of an accumulation of spectators assembling to watch the fun while out trundled the blood wagon and the fire tender. Have I chosen the right option? Bit late now I suppose, these things went through my head as I planned where to touch down on the runway. I knew that the burst tyre would shred and come off when I touched down on the concrete leaving me running on the metal wheel, OK a bit noisy but not too bad but what happens when I hit the grass section? Chances are that the wheel could dig in, spin round and into the excavations. I suddenly became conscious of this enormous Rolls Royce Griffon engine in front of me and two wing tanks nearly full of high octane fuel. Best not to think about it eh? Well, Lady Luck had not deserted me.

I touch down in a wonderful display of sparks according to the men on the ground, kept it straight along the grass, turned after passing the work site and came to a stop having already switched off the engine. A fellow pilot jumped up onto the wing and gave me a cigarette which I accepted with a shaky hand (I didn’t smoke). The only damage to the Very Valuable Aircraft was to the starboard undercarriage leg which was replaced and was back in service the next day .The CO and the rest of the pilots congratulated me and a Green endorsement was entered in my log book so I can prove that it happened. The CO suggested that I don't make a habit of it.

One day I was told to report to the CO and was told that I was being flown back to Kharachi. One pilot from each of six squadrons that were flying MK XIV Spitfires were going to collect aircraft that had been shipped out to Kharachi by sea in crates and assembled there for an Indian Squadron in Malaya. Our job was to get them out there.

We were flown from Singapore to Calcutta in a DC3 Dakota over the sea most of the time and just one stop en route. We collected our six aircraft which had been fitted with extra fuel tanks to give us longer range and started on our way back reaching Jodhpur in time for lunch and then on to Allabad where we spent the night. Next morning it was on to Ranchi but one of the aircraft had trouble with the extra fuel tank so we had to stay overnight waiting for a replacement. From Ranchi it was on to Calcutta where we spent a couple of nights by the kind permission of the officer in charge of the flight and trouble with another aircraft which we had to leave behind.


We continued to Akyab for lunch and refuel but the Gremlins were back at work again and my aircraft wouldn't start. This kind of engine had a cartridge starter with seven cartridges operated by a push button but after using up all seven still no joy and by this time the rest of the flight were on their way to Rangoon. The fitters spent all afternoon working on it but by the time it was fixed it was too late to leave so I contacted Rangoon with a message for the flight officer to say that I would leave early next morning to catch up.

That was a mistake because there was a thick mist over the airfield and it was lunch time before it was clear enough to take off and when I eventually did arrive over Rangoon airfield the rest of the flight were just taxiing out to take off for Bangkok. I refuelled and asked permission to leave but was told that it was not possible.  A single aircraft could not fly over the mountains between Rangoon and Bangkok with no escort in case you were forced down, you would never be found. It was two days before I got an escort in the form of an American DC3 Dakota whose cruising speed was less than half mine, very frustrating.

As soon as we cleared the mountains I left him and guess what, the flight was just leaving again but there was some justice, the officer’s plane developed a puncture and I was able to rejoin the flight. We continued on the next leg of our journey to Murgai and Butterworth on Penang Island with another night stop and on the next day to our final destination, Kuala Lumpar where we handed the aircraft over to the new squadron.

By the time I got back to Seletar the squadron was preparing to move on to Japan but another warrant officer and myself were due to return to UK. I had been away for 3 years. I would have liked to have gone with them but it was not to be so I said my goodbyes to eleven Squadron.

I returned to England on the Sterling Castle via the Suez Canal much quicker than my outward journey and was able to see the place where I went swimming in the Red Sea. After a considerable amount of leave that was owing to me I went down to London to H.Q. and was posted to 41 Squadron near Peterborough to fly Mk21 Spitfires. Now that the war was over we were just doing our minimum number of eight hours per month flying to maintain our licence to fly but fortunately after the first month the squadron was posted to Lubeck in Germany for a month on exercise. Whilst we were there we had an invitation to visit a Tank Squadron in Northern Germany and they allowed us to drive their tanks on the training ground but on their return visit I'm afraid that they weren't allowed to fly our Spitfires of course. At the end of the month we returned to England and at the end of another month I was demobilized and returned to civvie street and so ended my service in the Royal Air Force.

Someone once said "He went away a boy and came back a man."

1685255 W /0 P W Proctor


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