The Army’s unique 135 Geographic Squadron Royal Engineers has digitised a veteran WW2 Lancaster navigator’s charts and logbook for posterity, 75 years after his first mission on 27 November 1944.
97-year-old Warrant Officer Alfred Vice was a navigator with 166 Sqn and flew 35 bombing missions out of RAF Kirmington, Humberside between January and March in 1945. Retired Wg Cdr, André Adamson, is a friend of Alfred’s son in law Jonathan Stevens. On hearing that Alfred had served on Lancaster’s during the war, he organised tickets for the dedication of the Bomber Command Memorial in central London. Following the dedication, they dined at the RAF Club.
“During the lunch, Alfred produced a Sainsbury’s carrier bag with all these maps and his logbook!” said André. “As an air force guy, I immediately realised the significance of them. Up until then, Alfred had played down his wartime activities but on probing he had done significant service with Bomber Command and had survived 35 sorties”.
Realising the historical value of the charts André contacted a Royal Engineer friend who introduced André to Major Will Robertson at the 135 Geo Sqn to see if they could assist digitising the charts and logbook with the aim of giving them to the International Bomber Command Centre (IBCC), Lincoln for their records. The IBCC is a world-class facility to serve as a point for recognition, remembrance and reconciliation for Bomber Command, providing the most comprehensive record of the Command in the world. The IBCC ensures that generations to come can learn of their vital role in protecting the freedom we enjoy today.
Accompanied by his wife Joan and daughter Amanda, Alfred visited 135 Geo Sqn to watch the process his charts are going through to digitise them. “It was fascinating to see how they can superimpose my old stuff onto current information and that can be available to anyone after I am gone,” said Alfred. “During our sorties it was vital we stayed on track and time as other bombers were dropping their bombs at different heights and we did not want to be below others when we were doing so. Looking back I didn’t appreciate how hard it was for the two air gunners who had to sit there hour after hour looking out for night fighters and our own bombers above us during our run-in. Many a time they advised the skipper over the target ‘there’s one above us Bill - jink left’ upsetting the bomb aimer”, he laughed.
Major Robinson said “135 Geo Sqn were delighted to be able to assist in the preservation of this historically important geospatial material. Whilst using it as a training task for our Reserve soldiers in their Bulk Replication role, it added an important and relevant dimension that it was of such an important nature. The opportunity to expose Alfred to modern-day geospatial support methods available through the National Centre for Geospatial Intelligence (NCGI), our parent organisation was also wonderful. 3D visualisation and Mission Planning, as well as the ability of modern-day RAF aircrews to access digital air charts through the Aeronautical Information Documents Unit (AIDU) website, provided Alfred with a taste of how Geo Support has developed. Having such a distinguished veteran in the unit was a treat for our soldiers who enjoyed both the technical task and interacting with him.”
Further probing revealed that Alfred and his crew flew all 35 missions together in the same aircraft. “I and my crew were lucky in all respects. We stayed together and our old bus saw us all the way through. On returning from one sortie we noticed something sticking out of the wing. It turned out to be an incendiary bomb from a bomber above us in the raid. It was stuck between the fuel tanks and elevators and did not ignite. We were lucky crew.”
Alfred’s daughter Amanda Stevens added another story. “To show my father’s sense of humour he told us that one time on returning in bad weather they just missed the steeple on a nearby church. He laughingly remarked that if we had crashed we would have been efficient by burying ourselves in the graveyard!”
When asked what advice he had for the youngsters of today’s RAF he said “I think if they are lucky enough to be in the RAF they have great prospects ahead with a wonderful and interesting life that they will enjoy and be able to contribute to society. I also think that we can’t have too many ex-servicemen and women about. I see them as a sort of stability and safety in a world of turbulence and selfishness”.