207 SQUADRON ROYAL AIR FORCE HISTORY
WORLD WAR I
For the late Harold Peterson - 'HP' or 'Sauce' to his
friends - the war offered not only excitement but an escape
from the drudgery of his job as a baker's assistant, working
up to 12 hours a day for six days a week after leaving school
at the age of 14. By 1916, still only aged 16, he forged his
birth certificate to make himself appear a year older and
volunteered to join the RNAS as a mechanic.
By 1917 he was a Leading Mechanic and acting Gunlayer
with 7(N) Sqn at Coudekerque: 'My main job was ground
maintenance, of course, but I managed to wangle a few actual
raids as a gunlayer thanks to my Petty Officer, who knew how
keen I was to fly. Our CO was John Babington, an Australian,
who later became an Air Marshal in the RAF. We rankers
thought him fairly strict on discipline generally, but very
efficient and a fair man.
The first raid I took part in was to bomb plenty of
searchlights and anti-aircraft gunfire around the target as
we arrived. I was in the back fuselage open cockpit with
three Lewis guns to attend to - one poked through a hole in
the fuselage floor - so had plenty to do. I also had some 20
lb bombs with me which I'd been told to throw down when the
main bomb load was dropped, which I did - and thankful to get
rid of them, I might add!
I'd been warned before take-off to be very careful how I
used the two top Lewis machine guns - apparently a previous
gunlayer had got too excited on one raid and nearly shot the
aircraft's tail off. Over the target I only used the floor
gun, firing at whatever came into view below as we swept over
the hangars and sheds at something like 200-300ft height.
This was our second run; we'd already dropped our bombs from
much higher on the first run, of course.
'In all, I flew on 12 bombing trips with different crews
and was lucky to get back alive on one or two of these. One
raid against Bruges docks was made despite very bad weather,
with heavy rain and squally winds which soaked me to the skin
in my rear cockpit and bumped the big plane all over the
place at times, making me feel distinctly queasy in my
stomach. Over the docks a searchlight found and held us for
what seemed ages and the machine was hit in several places by
gunfire, ripping fabric off the lower wings, which flapped
alarmingly on our return flight. I was scared the wing was
going to fall off, but we made the airfield without any
trouble and landed safely. Afterwards the lower wings had to
be changed for new ones - they found both main spars broken.
I only once occupied the nose gunlayers's cockpit, on my
last raid. Stuck way out in front, I had a marvellous view
ahead and made good use of the paired Lewis guns when we
strafed the target at Ghistelles after our first bombing run.
Firing ahead at a downward angle meant that I could watch my
tracers as they tracked across the aerodrome, some
ricocheting upwards again in brilliant long streaks, just
like a Guy Fawkes fireworks display. At our strafing height -
probably only 200 ft or so - I could actually see and hear
the German ground gunners firing at us from various spots
around the aerodrome, and when we got back to Coudekerque I
discovered six neat bullet holes in the plywood sides of my
cockpit and a seventh through the right sleeve of my outer
flying suit ... I'd been very lucky that time."
source: Chaz Bowyer: Handley Page Bombers of the First
World War (based on Chaz Bowyer correspondence/interview with
Harold Peterson in 1972. Still only 18 when demobilized, Mr
Peterson died in February 1974.
The late Leslie Blacking was 19 years old when he flew
O/400s with 207 Sqn from Ligescourt in 1918. 'I remember this
big bomber chiefly for the heaviness of its controls and the
height of its cockpit above the ground. It had to be flown
all the time and it was particularly heavy on lateral
control. When you put bank on it didn't respond at once. When
it did you had to reverse the joystick wheel immediately to
take the bank off, and if you went over 45 degrees you were
in trouble. I've actually had to stand up to exert all my
strength to get the 'bus' back on an even keel.
The Handleys were used for night bombing attacks on
strategic targets, such as railway marshalling yards, and
ammunition and fuel dumps, to help stem the German offensive
of 1918. I had done only 10 hours' flying on O/400s before
joining the squadron and had previously flown the
tricycle-undercarriage FE2bs; consequently I found it
difficult to judge height before touch-down. The Observer
helped my landing problem by leaning over the side and
yelling, 'Back, back, more - OK!' As we always switched off
the engines and glided in I could hear him quite clearly, and
knew when to pull back on the wheel to get the tail down.
Our grass airfield wasn't very big, but it had a wide
valley on two sides where the River Authic ran, and this
helped us to get our heavily laden planes into the air. The
instrument panel was quite simple; compass, airspeed
indicator, bubble, altimeter and clock. There was a large
compass on the floor beside the pilot, who sat on the right.
The counters were outside the cockpit, on the engine
We had no armour-plating or parachutes, just fabric and
wood around us and thin duck-boarding under our feet. Our
greatest fear was fire in the air, if we were hit by any of
the green 'flaming onions' or white phosphorus balls which
arched up through the darkness from the ground defences... We
could stay airborne for about four and a half hours normally
- if we would stand the cold, for it was intense, despite our
heavy flying gear in that big open cockpit.'
source: Chaz Bowyer: Handley Page Bombers of the
First World War.
Leslie Blacking was also the source of the factual material
used by author Humphrey Wynn in his factional account of life
on a WWI Bomber Squadron Darkness Shall Cover Me
William E. ('Bill' or 'Tiny') Wardrop, over 6ft tall,
joined the RNAS in August 1915 and was trained as a
gunlayer/mechanic, and eventually was posted to No 7 Sqn RNAS
at Coudekerque in 1917, becoming a gunlayer in Herbert
Brackley's aircrew initially. During the following 16 months
he completed 66 operational sorties and on 1 January, 1919,
the London Gazette announced the award of a DFM to him.
He recalled: 'A normal day on the squadron was similar to
the routine in World War II. Inspections, night flying tests,
etc, were carried out during the early part of the day, but
in 1917 we were usually informed only an hour before take-off
of any raids to be carried out that night. Called to the
mapping office and given our orders, we worked out the routes
then went back to the billets, put on flying gear, and off we
I used to put a silk stocking over my head under my
helmet, and Vaseline over my face. Some of the lads used
whale oil. We wore sheepskin clothing and I always put a pair
of silk gloves under the leather one. One night, however,
whilst on a raid, our bombs jammed. So as to free them more
easily I took off my gloves, suffering severe frostbite as a
result. One arm felt as if it had been in a furnace and was
one big blister from wrist to elbow. The MO (Medical officer)
gave me a real ticking off, and as the arm seemed to be
getting worse he lanced it. This seemed to do the trick and
after several days it started to heal.
It was a practice of mine to use the coast as a datum
line and take a bearing from a known landmark. Whenever
possible we flew along the coastline about 10 miles out to
sea and in this way dodged many of Jerry's trouble-spots, for
the Belgian ports and key towns were heavily defended. If our
route took us near Holland we also took the opportunity of
crossing into neutral territory, for we preferred the Dutch
defences to those of the Germans! Twice we were attacked by
night fighters. Little damage was done apart from a few holes
in the wings; you could say though that they had the best of
the argument. Our biggest danger came from ground fire, which
was heavy at times. When in the bombing run I would operate
five pushes which were connected to five lights in the
pilot's cockpit, two red, one white, two green. By pushing
these I could signal the pilot to turn to port or starboard.
The white light signified 'On target'.
During the winter of 1917-18 we flew many sorties, some
of which were roving commissions on which we could choose our
own targets, shooting up trains, searchlights or whatever.
One favourite trick was to find a German aerodrome showing
lights, enter the landing pattern with our navigation lights
on, then on the final approach sweep down and drop bombs on
any hangars or buildings to be seen, whilst the gunlayer in
the back added his contribution by shooting up all and sundry
with his two Lewis guns.
Coudekerque was heavily bombed on 5/6 June, 1918, causing
a great deal of damage to buildings, so the following night
we repaid the compliment by heading for the German airfield
at St Denis Westrem, near Loos. On arrival there we found the
lights on and an aircraft making a landing approach. Our
first bombs were dropped from 7000ft and immediately all the
lights were turned off. Deciding to stay in the vicinity, we
came down to a lower level and in the end our vigil was
rewarded when Very lights were fired by a circling aircraft,
to be answered from the ground by a signal lamp. For some
unknown reason the aircraft dropped a flare, which
illuminated the airfield, and we were able to drop our Cooper
bombs on the hangar. The job completed, we turned for home
and all went well until over the sands at Graveline. I
remember looking at the altimeter, which registered 200 ft,
then we crashed. Buried head and shoulders in the sand and
choking for breath, I pulled myself clear and went to the aid
of the pilot, who was mixed up in the wreckage. Our gunlayer,
a chap by the name of Thomas, was seriously injured, was
flown back to England, and I understand he died soon
afterwards. The black eye I sustained in the crash was the
only injury I suffered during my entire war service.
On the night of 16 June  we were back over Bruges
again when we were caught in an intense AA barrage. A
propeller and radiator were hit on the starboard engine and
we had to throttle back on the other. Then we headed for home
in what I can only describe as a powered glide. With the
prevailing wind against us we came down lower and lower.
Meanwhile the searchlights held us in their beams whilst
Archie gave us a real roasting. Luckily all of us escaped
injury, although our machine (D5401) eventually crashed in
No-Man's Land near Nieuport.
Struggling from the wrecked machine we quickly took cover
in a large shell hole, but were soon approached by soldiers
we. took to be Germans. In one of those accidents of war,
opening fire with a Webley, I shot one of them. They turned
out to be Belgians, sent out from their front line to bring
us in! Our luck held again for we were taken prisoner instead
of being shot. During the time we had spent in their dugout
our Handley Page had been ranged by the German guns and had
literally been blown to smithereens.
A sequel to this affair came when we arrived back on the
squadron. I was sent for by the Armament Officer. He was
angry and inquired as to the whereabouts of the five Lewis
guns we had on board, reminding me that it was a
court-martial offence to lose one's guns. I replied, 'How was
I expected to bring back five machine guns from No-Man's Land
- stick them up my jumper?' After the war Wardrop pursued a
career in the electrical industry, rising to senior executive
status, and in the 1939-45 war became a Company commander in
the Home Guard with the rank of major, and on retirement in
1961 was awarded an MBE to add to his DFM award.
source: Chaz Bowyer: Handley Page Bombers of the
First World War.
CYRIL BOX (Pilot RFC & RAF, 1/19-8/19)
Cyril was the oldest member of 207 Squadron RAF
Association and was delighted to find us via the RAF Museum
and join us. He provided an excellent reminiscence of his
time on the Squadron for our 75th Anniversary Commemorative
Supplement. David Dick, (our then President) visited Cyril
and was fascinated by his tales of early flying techniques.
Raymond Glynne-Owen represented the Association at Cyril's
One of Cyril's sons, John, wrote: 'Cyril was born in
Leeds and educated at the Grammar School in Ilkley. He was a
keen sportsman and an average academic.
Following a short spell with the Ilkley Volunteers, he
joined the Royal Flying Corps. After military training he was
stationed at No.14 Training Squadron, Tadcaster, where he
learned the skills of flying on a Maurice Farman Shorthorn.
On one flight Cyril landed on the school playing fields
at Ilkley where the aircraft was left in the custody of the
local constabulary whilst Cyril took his instructor home for
lunch, before returning to Tadcaster. The log book entry read
His first solo flight was on February 25th 1918, after
5h4Omin instruction, just a few days after friend of his had
been killed whilst on his first solo flight. He was posted to
Spitalgate for acrobatic training on AW90 and BE2e aircraft.
At Worthy Down he took courses in artillery and map reading,
logging flights in RESs and AW190s.
At this time volunteers were being sought for bomber
training and Cyril moved to Tern Hill for conversion to
Handley Page O/400 bombers and night flying training. He
mastered the arts of night navigation and bomb dropping at
22916 2nd Lt C A Box RAF was ordered to collect a Handley
Page O/400 from Lympne for delivery to 115 Sqn in France. The
Armistice was imminent. He moved on for a brief spell with
100 Sqn before joining 207 Sqn. There followed several months
of patrolling the Rhine and the French/German border area -
his time on 207 has already been described in the
Commemorative Supplement. By the time he left the RAF in
August 1919 he had, remarkably, completed 163 hours of
accident free flying, of which 20 were at night.
Cyril stayed with his family in Bristol until 1922 when
he joined the jam and marmalade makers Chivers & Sons of
Histon, as their sales representative for the Yorkshire area.
Although having no mechanical knowledge whatsoever, he was
able to transfer his sympathetic touch for aircraft to a
Morris Tourer within half an hour!
In 1930 he married and set up home in Leeds where two
sons were born. In 1936 he moved to the southern Lake
District where Cyril worked until his retirement in 1963. A
holiday in Germany in 1939 to see friends with whom he was
billeted in 1919 was finely tuned to end just before war was
declared. He served as a sergeant in the Home Guard, attached
to the Border Regiment.
He was an enthusiastic and able golfer and played at the
Silverdale CC, where he had been both President and Captain,
for over 50 years, finally giving up at the age of 90. He
drove a car with the care and fluidity which he developed
whilst flying and was motoring safely up until the time of
Cyril was the epitome of an English gentleman, with a
great love of his family and a kindly disposition to his
fellow man. He had a great sense of humour, the twinkle in
his eye staying with him for 94 years. He is survived by his
wife Ivy and his sons Michael and John.'
Cyril's own account was given in 207 Sqn RAF
Association's 75th Anniversary Commemorative Supplement: 'In
1919 - the year of the flu epidemic - I joined 207 Squadron
in mid-January following service with 115 Sqn in the
Independent Air Force and a short period with 100 Sqn. We
were part of the Occupation Forces in Germany after the end
of World War I. Our HQ was in the Casino at Merheim on the
outskirts of Cologne. It was only a short walk to the
aerodrome, to which we had to report every morning for
routine duties. The weather was bitterly cold and very little
flying was done by our Handley-Page O/400s.
One day a message came over from Bickendorf that if we
had any pilots who could fly FE2bs, they should report there
to ferry some of these 'pusher' machines to St.Omer. I had
last flown an FE2b at Stonehenge during training, but we
delivered them safely. We returned to Cologne from Calais in
the "Cologne Express", a converted hospital train
which was very popular with anyone who was going on leave.
On May 10th 1919 we received orders to move to Hangelar
Aerodrome a few miles from Bonn, where we found ourselves in
huts and the machines housed in canvas hangars. This was a
big change from Merheim, where I had been lucky with a very
friendly family in a good billet.
The weather was now good for flying and patrols were more
frequent, with the occasional longer flights to St.
Inglevert. One day I was sent up for a height test and
reached a ceiling of 11,40Oft, about the limit for the HP
O/400. My last flight was in July 1919 and shortly afterwards
I received my demobilisation papers, ending my time in the
RFC and the RAF.
I could not have finished on a happier note than my eight
months with 207 in Germany, which I have always remembered as
one of the most interesting periods of my life. I often
recall the five HP O/400s flying in formation from Merheim to
Hangelar. It must have been quite a spectacle in those far
off days, almost 75 years ago'.
source: 207 Squadron RAF Association Newsletters, via