War Memories of Lt. W L Heape East Lancashire Regiment 1914-1919

My service under General Scott-Kerr was both enjoyable and profitable and I was very sorry indeed to leave the brigade on a posting to the Regimental Records Office at Preston in Lancashire. The work was dull but there were compensations. I could live at home with my parents at Southport and commute daily. The East Lancashire Regiment shared the depot with the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and we had a very pleasant joint mess where I first met Major Cyril Fletcher, who had been very badly wounded with our 1 st Battalion. We became life-long friends. Towards the end of 1917 I was seconded to the RAF as an equipment officer. I did an intensive course at Henley, where we were billeted in luxury in the Leander Club. My father, who was a member, used to question me closely. He was very concerned that the government had taken over the club but I reassured him that we treated the premises with respect. My roommate was from the Royal Marines and he made a congenial companion. We were both fond of rowing. Despite my stiff leg, I could pull a strong oar. My father had taught me to row at an early age, and one evening we took a pair of oars each (fixed seats, of course) and rowed up to Sonning where we dined at the French Horn. The Thames was running very strongly, and it was a tremendous pull upstream, but after dinner we came back downstream at a rate of knots. We had a jolly time at Henley and as I was really interested in my work I found it easy to assimilate. For the first time, examinations had no terror for me. I was appointed to the 73 rd Squadron of single-seater fighter (Sopwith) Camels at Hornchurch in Essex, but there was not much work for me and I was soon transferred to 39 Squadron of Bristol (F.2) Fighters at North Weald on the edge of Epping Forest. Many people probably do not realise that, in the First World War, London was defended from night air raids by the use of barrage balloons and night flying aircraft. 39 Squadron was equipped for night flying, and was one of the first squadrons to be provided with radiotelephones so that we could talk to our pilots in the air. The aerodrome was surrounded by paraffin flares, and two broad beam searchlights were run out to help the planes landing at night. Each plane was equipped with wing tip flares and over the door of each flight hanger there was another flare, which could be lit from the adjutant’s office. The German Gotha (G.V) plane took a comparatively long time to reach our coast, and Whitehall could give us plenty of warning of an approaching raid. It was exciting to watch the flares go off as each fighter took off to meet the raiders. One famous night we watched one of our own pilots shoot down a German Gotha over Epping Forest. We could see the passage of the tracer bullets. The pilot and his observer put up a splendid performance. The pilot was awarded the Military Cross. We held a big celebration in the mess that night. I used to fly sometimes in the back seat, as a passenger, when we went off to dine with another squadron. The pilots were a lively lot, and returning home with them late at night after a guest night could be an anxious passage. It was before the days of breathalysers! Finally I joined Cotterall again, on appointment to A G 4 (c) at the War Office, where I remained until after the end of the war. Two experiences stand out in my mind. I watched from my office window the interior quadrangle of the War Office full of troops, being harangued by Brigadier Wyndham Childs, who was standing on a chair surrounded by infuriated men. There had been trouble at the base camps in France
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