Letter From Bill Knight, navigator 143 Sqdn. RAF Banff - Scottish History Online
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 Letter received from: - W. P. Knight.


Grimsby,


Dear Colin

Thank you for your letter. Pat Fry has circulated a copy of your earlier letter to surviving members of 143 Sqdn, so you may well hear from some of them, though there are very few of us left. There is no separate Squadron Association for 143 but Pat is the convenor for the 3 Squadrons of the North Coates Strike Wing, of which 143 was one.

As you will see from the enclosed extracts from 143ís War Diaries, the Squadron did not come to Banff until October 1944. Previously, we had flown Beaufighters from Portreath in Cornwall, Manston in Kent and North Coates in Lincs. I served at all of these as a navigator and took part in 65 operations, the last of which was on the 5th of December 1944, when my pilot, Bob Gilchrist, from Lanarkshire was killed. This operation is described in the War Diaries extract for the 5th of December. I have enclosed a copy of a photograph, which I took immediately prior to our attack on the ships in Nordgulen Fjord (you can keep this as I have the original).

War Diaries for all the Banff Squadrons are held on microfilm at the Public Record Office at Kew. If you are interested in following up the details there, you will need a readerís ticket (free) and plenty of spare time! P.R.O. References are as follows

143 Squadron AIR 27 978/9
235 " " " 1444
248 " " . 1496/7
144 " . " 983
404 " " . 1786

Operational photographs are held at the P.R.O. and in the Photographic Archives of the Imperial War Museum in London. Staff are helpful but you have to go in person to select any of which you require prints.

There is a lot of information too, in a book called "The Strike Wings" by Roy Conyers Nesbit, published by William Kimber.

My own recollections of a brief spell at Banff (I left in January 1945) are coloured by the extreme cold of a severe winter (all ranks shovelling snow off the runway). A fashion adopted by Officer aircrew of wearing their raincoats over their greatcoats for extra warmth (soon stopped by the Station Commander). Coal was in short supply and people devised other means of keeping warm, overloading electrical circuits and causing the occasional black out. I recall returning from sick leave to find that a water pipe in the ablutions had burst and the cascading water had frozen round my bicycle stored there, so that my pride and joy was encased in several feet of solid ice. However, it suffered no lasting damage and I still have it now.

As Banff was a wartime station, we lived in Nissin huts and the Officers Mess was on the same pattern, albeit on a larger scale. The Bar had a rough-hewn appearance reminiscent of a Wild West Saloon. We didnít let off six guns but we did let off steam in other ways. I recall one evening when a bonfire was lit in a suitable receptacle and aircrew, dressed in white sheets, performed a creditable (allegedly authentic) Arab dance around it, to the accompaniment of drum "music" on upturned bar stools. A visiting ENSA repertory company were invited to the Mess after their performance (a Chekhov play I recall) - the ladies took one look and fled. As you know, the Station lay between

Banff and Portsoy. The latter had a village hall where a dance was held a couple of times a week. Unfortunately the dance could not start until the Whist Drive finished, so one was lucky to get to bed before about 2am - OK if you were not down to fly early the next day.

Since starting this letter, I have dug out three more photographs from the Imperial War Museum archives. These I have copied, and enclose copies that you can keep. However they are "copyright reserved" and you may not use them without the Museums permission. Reference numbers are on the reverse of the copies.

I was interested to learn of your initiative. I wish you well in your endeavours and will be interested to hear if you do publish anything. I would very much appreciate a photograph of the Banff Memorial if one were available. With every good wish,

Sincerely,

Bill Knight (navigator 143 Sqdn).

 

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