A letter from Ray Lawrence to a friend back home in Australia
I am on an operational squadron and have been for five months. The first few months were spent in converting from Manchesters to Lancasters, but now I have 198 operational trips to my credit. This means that I only have … more to do to finish my tour, as they term it over here. I wasn't in time for the 1,000 bomber raid tp Cologne but I've been to such places as Bremen twice, which is a pretty hot spot, Dusseldorf three times, Wilhelmshaven, Frankfurt twice, Essen which is the hottest place of all, Karlruhe, Saarbrucken, Nurnberg, Munich, Osnabruck, Flensburg, Weismar and some minor trips.
I was always looking forward to operations and they are everything I thought and hoped they would be. We have our own crew 4 Aussies and three Englishmen. For this month or last month I should say, September, our crew was placed top in all bomber command. You can't realise what an honor this is to us, they gave the pilot a D.F.C. and the bomb aimer and navigator both a D.F.M. I missed out but I'm told I'm sure to be awarded with one before or on completion of my ops. There was a bit of bad feeling running through the station because we all didn't get decorated, but it doesn't worry me. I'm getting all the excitement I want and that is enough for me. How they select the top crew is by the number of photos brought back of the target we are briefed to bomb. I can assure you I've had some pretty shaky times to do this. Bremen, the worst looking spot of the lot, it was flaring up with light, medium and heavy flak and hundreds of searchlights. It is not so bad when you get into it but just before you go into it, it looks grim. The trouble was with us the first time we went to Bremen, we came out north and then back over Wilhelmshaven instead of coming out the way we went in. As a result we were about the only kite over Wilhelmshaven and did they give us hell, they shot at us till we finally crossed the coast. The mid-upper gunner had a big flak hole through the Perspex of his turret, just above his head.
I think the only time I've got a scare is when we went to bomb Weismar which is just between Lubeck and Rostock. It was mainly cloud and bad icing conditions all the way over but we finally arrived over Rostock. Every machine seemed to be bombing Rostock but we weren't satisfied so we cruised down the coast with flak ships taking pot shots at us for 35 minutes then we finally pin pointed ourselves on the coast and began to run into the bay of Weismar. It was pretty cloudy and we were down to 6,000 ft, whereas the safety level is 12,000ft. There was nothing going on at Weismar at all and when we thought we were just over the outskirts of the town they opened up on us. Well I think they threw everything up at us but the guns, we were the only machine there and they had plotted us all the way in and did they belt us. I'm not kidding when I say I was resigned to die, the flak was rattling and flashing all round us and you could actually smell the cordite fumes the machine. Well, the machine then went into a dive which the pilot pulled it out at 4,000 ft. Meanwhile we had opened the bomb doors and got rid of our incendiaries which we were carrying that night as they are very unhealthy to carry as a piece of flak will set the whole lot off. We finally got out of it and looked back to see what effect our incendiaries had and sure enough they had landed we think in the town and a very rosy fire was glowing and was visible even through the clouds for nearly a hundred miles.
We also had 7 very scared men in the kite too. To top it off we were diverted to another 'drome as the weather round ours was too bad for landing. The next morning we found were the somewhat doubtful proud owners of seven holes through the machine. I have a piece of flak at the moment which entered the aircraft just behind me in the W/Ops seat. The rear turret had a hole in the Perspex this time. I honestly think I'll live to be a 100 after escaping that night.
After we finish our ops we are supposed to go on a six months rest, but I have put in for a pilot's course and hope to do that in my rest. You never know I might be sent to Canada to train and nothing would please me more except to train back home. But I think that is only wishful thinking.
I've had a good bit of leave since I've been over here; most of it is usually spent in London which is still a pretty bright spot. The blackout doesn't annoy us much over here, as we have got used to it now. As for food there still seems to be plenty of it if you know the places and like to pay for it.