Update (as at 12 December 2014):

Me, the RAF and 77 Squadron
By    Bill Foote, DFC

 Produced & edited by David Thompson, MLitt 
with a Foreword by Air Vice-Marshal David A. Hurrell, CB, AFC, FRAeS, DL (Ret'd)

Shortly after publication of his Second World War memoirs as a young Halifax Bomber pilot, in September 2014 Bill Foote, DFC suffered a stroke from which he’s making a remarkable recovery for a man now well into his nineties.

Bill has relished the success of his book – the first edition sold out in less than a month – and it is evidence of his great determination that he has recently commissioned a second print run to satisfy continuing demand for it.

Pilot Officers were generally young men in their early 20’s, their crews were often younger, some as young as 19 years of age.  It is remarkable to think what they achieved at such ages, especially considering the high death rate among air crew with 56,000 men of Bomber Command killed in the war, a death rate of 44% - worse than the odds for a First World War infantry officer!  Only 1 in 6 survived their first tour of operations, 1 in 40 their second.

Bill Foote’s story covers his training from the time he volunteered as an 18½ year-old in October 1941 to his first operational flight in 1944 and beyond.  Much of his early flying training was in Canada which was very different from the U.K. and Europe what with vast distances over largely featureless terrain with few discernible landmarks making navigation difficult and extreme weather conditions during the winter months making things even more dangerous for inexperienced flyers.

But there were compensations in Canada not least the tremendous food available with what appeared to be a limitless supply of eggs – rarely seen in the UK at the time – and enormous steaks!  The Canadian people were extremely kind with many offering men under training a welcome break and wonderful hospitality.

Bill’s first operational flight over Europe was on 24 August 1944, an attack on German capital ships then at Brest.  This was the first of 37 operational flights plus 6 emergency relief flights when bombers were used to carry jerry cans of petrol to Brussels Melsbroek in September 1944 for the use of the British 2nd Army’s tanks and transport, which had run short of fuel while trying to relieve Arnhem.

His career with the RAF did not finish on completion of the first tour of duty, there was much more flying to be done including a spell when bombers were used to tow gliders.  His last day of service was 4 October 1946, five years after joining the RAF.  He was asked if he would stay on with a four-year extended service commission but he declined to do so – maybe had he flown on trunk routes he might have made a career of it as he enjoyed it and liked life in the RAF but Bill had other fresh challenges to look forward to.

As Air Vice-Marshal David A. Hurrell, CB, AFC, FRAeS, DL (Ret’d) highlights in his Foreword, ‘Me, the RAF and 77 Squadron’ “is no ego trip, no re-telling of a well-known raid, or of a famous career.  Instead it is a story not just of Bill Foote’s day-to-day experiences, but by extension an account that reflects the selfless contribution of many ordinary men who came, usually by accident, into that most dangerous of wartime professions: flying bombing raids over Nazi Germany night after night, after night.

David continues: “One senses that the passage of time has helped, as the irrelevant issues have been mentally edited out, leaving us with the core of unforgettable memories and experiences. And it is clear that his major source was his ‘Flying Log Book’, in which he had made contemporaneous notes, and which gives his writing an immediacy and accuracy that takes us back in a flash to those dark days.

 

Copies of the book, priced at £7.50, are available from its publisher, Wanney Books – www.wildsofwanney.co.uk or 01665 604717.

 

Original posting (August 2014):

Me, the RAF and 77 Squadron
By    Bill Foote, DFC

Produced & edited by David Thompson, MLitt
with a Foreword by Air Vice-Marshal David A. Hurrell, CB, AFC, FRAeS, DL

You probably won’t have heard of Bill Foote, DFC, which is all the more reason to admire his recently published memoirs as a young Bomber Command pilot during the Second World War.  He was 18½ when he volunteered for service with the Royal Air Force in October 1941.

Bill was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for operational service having completed 37 operations over Europe plus 6 emergency missions in September 1944 carrying petrol in 2-gallon jerry cans into Brussels Melsbroek for the use of the British 2nd Army’s transport & tanks, which had run short of fuel while trying to relieve Arnhem.

Although he was born at Dunfermline, Bill has lived in north Northumberland for over 60 years, first at Embleton where, eventually, he was Works Manager at the Pipe Works, then at Alnwick before finally moving to Alnmouth just before retirement.  He is Life President of the Alnmouth and District Branch of the Royal British Legion.

With a Foreword written by another local resident, Air Vice-Marshal David A. Hurrell, CB, AFC, FRAeS, DL,  publication of ‘Me, the RAF and 77 Squadron’ is timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the author’s first operational flight over German-occupied mainland Europe.

Halifax Bomber 'S'-SUGAR loaded with petrol for Brussels Melsbroek, September 1944

David’s Foreword captures the essence of the book:

With wry humour, but total honesty, Bill takes the reader through his early days in training, his aspirations, and the challenges.  Nor does he neglect the human side: the tales of off-duty escapades and high jinks make for easy reading – and are exactly what many readers will relate to as we are vividly reminded of our own youthful indiscretions.

And then by way of contrast we share with him the strain of taking part in raids deep into enemy airspace, when the odds against survival were truly phenomenal.  Some 56,000 aircrew were killed, representing a death rate of 44% - worse than the odds for a World War One infantry officer.  Only one in six survived their first tour of operations, one in 40 their second.’

In presenting his ‘warts and all’ recollections, Bill Foote has done a service to future generations.  We are taken through his short but memorable career, in which he flew on 37 ‘Operations’.  He highlights the traditional military virtues of courage, humour, and great fortitude.  But equally, he does not seek to glorify the accomplishments of those who so fearlessly took the war to the enemy.  War is much too serious for such self-indulgence, and this marvellous account gets the balance spot on.

Air Vice-Marshal David A. Hurrell, CB, AFC, FRAeS, DL

The author (centre) with a couple of his crew sitting atop a bomb paylaod

And to quote Bill, himself, on his motivation for publishing his memoirs now:

With the rapid approach of the centenary years of the First World War, about two years ago I got actively involved in setting up Alnwick District WW1 Centenary Commemoration Group… we are working with the likes of Bailiffgate Museum, Alnwick; Northumberland Estates including Alnwick Castle; local history groups; & others, to deliver an ambitious programme to mark the centenary years of World War One & to build a fitting & lasting legacy to honour the local response to the nation’s call to arms.

I should like to contribute more to the success of the commemoration project and one way I feel able to do so will be to donate net proceeds through sales of this book, to add to… [the] Group’s general operating funds.’

Bill Foote, DFC

 

Copies of the book, priced at £7.50, are now available from:

Wanney Books at www.wildsofwanney.co.uk;

or direct from David Thompson, East Orchard Cottage, Shortridge Hall, Warkworth, Morpeth, Northumberland, NE65 0WJ.  Please make cheques payable to Alnwick District WW1 Centenary Commemoration Group.  BACS details available on request.

For more information, contact ww1alnwickproject@yahoo.co.uk.