207 SQUADRON ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORY
Squadron Leader Don Richardson DFC RAF(Retd)
who was David's Navigator on 227 and 49 Squadrons
I met David Balme in March 1945. He came to the 5 Group Lancaster Finishing School at Syerston to form his crew for a second tour of operations as Commanding Officer of No.227 Squadron.
I was fortunate to be his Navigator; with me were Don Brett as Flight Engineer, Ken Dagnall as Bomb Aimer, Johnny Evans as Wireless Operator, Les Mitchell as as Rear Gunner and Arthur Haywood as Mid-Upper Gunner. Les Mitchell had already flown his first tour with David on No.207 Squadron; the remainder of us, except for Arthur, were also candidates for a second tour.
227 Sqn badge image sought
After the LFS Course we moved to Balderton where David took over command of 227 Squadron from Wing Commander ER Millington whom he had taught to fly back in 1941.
Shortly after our arrival at Balderton the Squadron moved to Strubby. During the next three weeks in April David flew 12 times, six of them being raids to Nordhausen, Mölbis, Lützkendorf, Leipzig, Cham and Berchtesgarden, the first and last of these being daylight operations. On the Berchtesgarden raid David was the gaggle leader for the medium level main force attack, flying Lancaster PA280, squadron identification 9-J. We were accompanied at low level by 617 and 9 Squadrons.
In May, with the war in Europe over, David continued to fly, collecting British POWs from Lille. In June he took his crew on an aerial inspection of bomb damage to German cities, including Dortmund, Bochum, Gelsenkirchen, Essen, Duisberg, Düsseldorf and München.
However, the task of defeating Japan remained. As 227 Squadron were not selected to be part of the force to operate against Japan, David fixed it for him to command 49 Squadron at Syerston, who were to be part of Tiger Force. Needless to say his crew asked for no more than to move with him. With the dropping of the atomic bombs in August, Tiger Force never became operational.
After some thought, David decided to resume his academic career at Cambridge and his return was planned for October 1945. On 5th September he carried out the first half of his final sortie to Berlin, returning on 6th September as his final flight with the Royal Air Force. This visit to Berlin was for a ground inspection of bomb damage to the 'Big City'. It included a ride through the Brandenburg Gate into the Russian Sector and a tour of the ruins of the Reichstag.
Here perhaps we can recall a slightly less serious note about that trip to Berlin. The PMC at Gatow had sent an urgent request for cats to combat the plague of rats resulting from the Germans having eaten the cats. David was PMC at Syerston at the time and he decided the Mess could spare two cats, so our aircraft had two extra passengers - the mother (who was known as 'Preggers') and one of her kittens. However the mother did not travel well, so on landing an ambulance was sent from Sick Quarters, complete with the Station Medical Officer and a supply of cushions to accept David's gift to the Mess at Gatow. We heard later that all were doing well.
I met David once more at home in Cambridge before I left for a posting to the Canal Zone. It was not until much later, in fact 28 years later, that I learned of the distinguished career David had followed with the founding of the University College of The Gold Coast, his award of the CMG, and his appointment as Professor of Classics at Queen Mary College, London University, in 1964.
To go back to the departure of David from the RAF and the demobilization of his crew. It nearly brought about a permanent disintegration of the crew because we did not keep in touch. In 1973 David decided that he wished to see the crew again having, he said ".. a great nostlagia for those days".
Alec Cordon, his Mid-Upper Gunner on 207 Squadron, led him to Les Mitchell, who led him to Johnny Evans. In 1974 he located me from an advertisement in the Daily Telegraph, and I managed to contact Don Brett. An advertisement in a Northern Newspaper brought Ken Dagnall back into the fold. Strangely enough each of these contacts was made by others who passed on the information. To read about this makes it all sound easy, but in fact it required a great deal of patience and determination by David. We never did contact Arthur Haywood.
We had a crew reunion at Johnny Evans's home. Johnny had developed a bad heart and was hardly able to walk a few yards. We had a great day, and although Johnny's illness cast a shadow on our proceedings it seemed hardly possible that we hadn't all met for close on 30 years - it seemed we were back on the squadron again. We resolved to keep in touch this time - and we did - but poor Johnny passed away on 20th February 1976.
In the years since that reunion we have met at several places. Led by David we met at the RAF Museum at Hendon and nostalgically crawled over the Lancaster, sitting in the seats we had known in 1945. With David we attended Bomber Command Reunions at Grosvenor House and listened to MRAF Sir 'Butch' Harris recalling the days when he directed the Bomber Command offensive against Germany. On occasions we dined together at the RAF Club.
In 1971 I had retired from the Royal Air Force but continued working as a Civil Servant at the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down. In 1975 David visited me in Salisbury and I was able to take him on a tour of the Establishment. In 1982 he came again, this time to attend a dining-in night at the RAF Officers Mess. It was a great pleasure for me to see how much David enjoyed being once more in RAF surroundings after an absence of 37 years.
Les Mitchell and I last saw David on 23rd January 1989. Although he was very ill he enjoyed the opportunity to talk of the days we had known together. It was a wonderful - but very sad - day and Margaret told us afterwards that she thought our visit had brought him pleasure.
We shall miss him, we four members of his last RAF aircrew. David made many friends in the RAF but only a few had the privilege of flying with him as a member of his crew. I had that privilege - thank you David.