AS THE 60th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic is marked the RAF have re-launched 502 Auxiliary Squadron (502 Aux Sqn) in Northern Ireland.
A former member of this special unit was Enniskillen man and ex-flying instructor Bill Eames (90).
Bill recalls how he joined up in 1941 and was promptly whisked off to Canada for training by the US Army Air Corps.
Bill can clearly remember those hectic days of 1941 when thousands of young men left their homes from all over UK sometimes to join the war effort.
‘Well I joined from home in Enniskillen but initial training was always done in England at Lords cricket ground; that’s where the first induction place was’, explains Bill.
‘We were there for some weeks and then moved on to our training schools. Mine just happened to be Scarborough and then from Scarborough to Brough where I did my first training in Tiger Moths’
Bill’s next stop was a holding camp at Heaton Park near Manchester and then on to Monkton in Ontario.
‘In those days when you left home it would be years before you’d get home’, said Bill
You just received letters. There were no phones.’
Bill was injured at Arnhem during the D-Day landings and to this day he stills suffers from the effects: ‘Sometimes a piece of metal will come out. A little bit of blood comes up with a little bit of metal with – and I have restricted movement of my hands.
‘I was resupplying the troops. On the first and the second days of the Arnhem drops we took gliders. On the third day we were re-supplying troops on the ground and I was very badly wounded. I was taken to hospital in Oxford for treatment. After I got back to flying I could only fly in the co-pilots right hand seat.’
That did not stop Bill from pursuing what was to become a life-long passion for aviation. After he left the RAF he became an air traffic controller, eventually becoming the senior air-traffic controller at the civilian airport at Aldergrove, working part-time as a flying instructor and also joining 502 Aux Sqn as an air traffic controller where he stayed until 1957.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Bill retired from the CAA and worked as the Chief Flying Instructor at Newtownards airfield up until the age of 70 and then in a part-time capacity until he was 80.
I ask Bill what his fondest memory of his time with the RAF and his time within aviation industry. ‘My fondest memory…well I enjoyed it all’, he said.
The longest battle of WW2 the Battle of Atlantic raged out of sight in the cold treacherous waters of the Atlantic and cost the lives of so many Allied service men as German U-boats patrolled in ‘Wolfpacks’ sinking merchant ships and crippling the UK’s lifeline.
Air assets, including 502 Aux Sqn, played a pivotal role in giving the Allies the edge they needed to finally win by providing both long range reconnaissance and attack capability as U-boats skulked below the waves.
Now 60-years after the squadron’s bi-planes took to the sky the RAF are looking to recruit over 130 reservists to provide support for their regular counterparts on deployments in diverse roles such as medical and technically orientated positions.
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