Roof over Britain - the official story of the A.A Defences, 1939 - 1942

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THE ELEPHANT’S CHILDRBN 31 to the searchlight crews on the two famous barges, the Humph and the Clem, stationed there early in 1941, or the Mersey to the crews who reached a certain site on the banks of that river justin time for the blitz o f May 1940. Their story is typical of the hot corners in which so many searchlights found themselves, and maybe told here.On May 1st, three nights after their arrival from Orkney, the sirens went just as the clock on Liver Buildings said “ten .”The raid lasted for some six hours, but the real ordeal began on the next night. Incendiaries which rained down set fire to piles o f timber lying about. The only sand-bags available were on the projector pit. The projector pit came down a lot faster than it had been built. The following night more than a hundred incendiaries fell on the site, setting fire to the living hut and cook-house. The cook, who was preparing a drop of soup, only knew that two of them came through the roof, and one dropped slap into the dixie of soup. Unfortunately, six of the incendiaries fell inside the projector p i tone struck the No. 4, putting him into hospital for a month. Those fires had to be putout, and all the men were brought almost to a state of collapse by the heat: the site was a shambles. They endured this for three more nights until two H.Es. fell on the site, one almost on the generator, the other making a mess of the badly battered sleeping hut. They had to wait nearly six months for their revenge. On the night of November 1st a Junkers 88 overflew them at 200 feet. H e stopped the best part of 86 rounds from their Lewis gun, for which they were given a Category III (damaged) “bird .”In earlier days there was little of such excitement. In the first winter of the war, the Searchlight men were stationed in small detachments on single-light sites. Public appreciation of their work was confined to criticising them when they exposed their lights, on the grounds that they were liable to attract enemy attention. The single-light system did notw’ork very welland was replaced by clusters of three. Having by the end of the first winter made single­ light sites fairly habitable, the crews therefore had to re-group themselves on sites built for 10 men, and make them hold about 60. The result was that a large proportion were still under canvas for the second winter of the war. A large number were still under canvas for the third winter when the system had to be changed again back to single-light sites. Here is a little human story told by a gunner in a searchlight detachment which had just been moved to the middle of a moor. “At last my longed-for night-olf arrived. 1 shaved for the second time, put on my best battledress, the trousers o f which had been
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