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R.A.F 51 SQUADRON, SNAITH
'C for CHARLIE'


JOYCE CRABTREE

The leader of 51 Squadron based at Snaith was Squadron Leader Peter Ling. At six feet two inches, he was a very tall and a well-built man, good looking with rosy cheeks (a typical farmer Joskin type) and whenever you saw him he carried this very large round basket, similar to a ladies sewing basket.

He flew in ‘C’ for Charlie (the planes were all marked with letters of the alphabet) and one night my friend and I got off the train at Heck railway station after visiting the cinema in Doncaster and the squadron leader was the only other person to get off at that stop. He was returning from leave and had arranged for a staff car to meet him.

The airman put his luggage in the boot and he was holding his basket. We knew him very well as we both worked in the Officer’s Mess and he told us to get in the back as far as the main gates, and he put the basket down at my feet. There wasn’t a great deal of room at the front once he got in.

The officer rarely came into the bar where I worked. It was called the ‘Hole in the Wall’ and it was very small. We always had a tin of Ronsanol at each end of the bar for anyone to fill their lighters, and usually that was the only time he came in.

One dinnertime, shortly after he had given us the lift back from the station, he came in to fill his lighter. There was no-one drinking in the bar as there had been an operation late that night, and I was on duty on my own – the other airman staff was having his dinner. He had the basket with him as usual and he stood it on the bar. No one in the mess had ever asked him what it contained but everyone was curious so I thought it was an opportunity to find out. I asked him, "Excuse me Sir, but is it a secret what you carry in that basket?"

"No, it’s only Charlie, my lucky mascot", he said, and as he opened the basket a snake wound itself up. He put his hand on its head, pushed it back down and closed the lid again.

The aircrew flew a tour of operations, 30 in all, although not very many got to reach that goal. They were then stood down for a time (I can’t remember how long) before beginning again.

Squadron Leader Ling successfully completed his tour, but was moved on, so Charlie must have been lucky for him, although if I had known what was in that basket when he offered us that lift from the station I think we would have walked the two miles to the W.A.A.F. site despite the blackout!

Joyce Crabtree

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