PO Blanks

I think my crew was lucky to be assigned P.O. Blanks as our Captain and Screen  Pilot  during  the  last  stage  of  our  training  at  20  OTU Lossiemouth.  Blanks was a big bluff man who stood out in a  crowd.  He oozed  confidence  and was a born leader.  His means of transport was a noisy motorcycle.  Had I been asked I would have described him as every inch an officer but definitely not a gentleman. He was too  earthy  and forthright to be considered for the latter category.

The first daylight exercise my crew carried out with P.O. Blanks was on 24.4.42.   The  initial leg took us over the sea where we tracked close to some naval vessels. The navy had a habit of using RAF  machines  for live  target  practice  so  we  were always cautious not to cross their path. The ships were well to starboard but Blanks insisted I fire off a colour of the day.  Shortly after we saw more naval ships and  although not  in  close proximity Blanks ordered another colour of the day to be fired.  This was my second and last  cartridge  and  I  was  hoping  we wouldn't  meet  any  more naval craft.  Suddenly a sprog pilot from the local Spifire OTU started to buzz us. Again I was ordered  to  use  the Verey  pistol.   Blanks  face  was a picture when I told him I had only brought two cartridges along for the exercise.  He immediately  ordered the  employment  of  the  Aldis  lamp  to  signal to the Spitfire which continued to swan around us.  Morse wasn't my bag.  I had last used  it at  Bombing  and  Gunnery  School  when  qualifying  as an observer.  A friendly instructor had told me in my final exam that he was passing me out in Morse although I had only reached a  speed  of  five  words  per minute  instead  of  the  required  eight.  My Aldis lamp work was even worse.  I was always on extra instruction.  I hadn't the heart to  tell Blanks  this.  While  searching  for  the  Aldis  lamp  stowage  I  was desperately trying to work out the morse alphabet for a  more  forceful version  of "Push Off".  Then I had a flash of inspiration. The chances were that neither Blanks nor the sprog  pilot  would  understand  morse anyway. With renewed confidence I plugged the lamp in and triggered off a  series  of  rapid  meaningless  long  and  short flashes through the astrodome to the Spitfire which was now hovering high on our  starboard quarter.  Obviously  not  wishing to become involved it sheared off and Blanks seemed satisfied with my prowess with the Aldis lamp.  I  always carried  a  minimum of six Verey Cartridges whenever I flew with Blanks after that.

Lossiemouth  was an uneven  grass  airfield  in  those  days. We landed and taxied towards the dispersal. Blanks kicked open the entrance hatch and hovered over it relieving himself through the  opening.  The  Wimpy was  swaying from side to side and large splashes were deposited at the edges of the hatch. This was unbeknown to me. When I  came  to  descend the  ladder  with  my bag of navigation instruments I put a hand out to steady myself and encountered a patch of Blank's kidney juice.  I  soon learned  to climb down the ladder with both hands tight to my side when flying with P.O. Blanks. He was first into the transport and  sat  next to  the  WAAF  driver.  As we careered along there were several violent swerves accompanied by exclamations from the WAAF driver of,  "Ooh  Mr. Blanks".

Although my first encounter with  Blanks  might  have  led  me  to  the conclusion  that  he was a trifle nervous in the air subsequent flights proved to me that he had nerves of steel. On night  exercises  once  we had  started on the first leg he would fold the second pilot's seat out of the way, settle down on the step underneath, unplug his intercom and go to sleep, having first given instructions that he  was  only  to  be awakened  in an emergency. Bearing in mind that he was flying in a very mountainous area with a sprog crew, the pilot and navigator having only a total of about two hundred hours  flying  experience  apiece  he  was either very brave or had placed his trust in God.

A contemporary of mine, Sgt Geoff Collins was  WOP  with  another  crew which   had   Blanks   as  their screen. In a POW Camp in Germany Geoff told me that they were on a night exercise and Blanks was  fast  asleep when  dense  clouds of smoke started to pour out of the radio receiver. Geoff immediately called up the captain  on  the  intercom.  The  pilot managed to wake Blanks who plugged in his intercom demanding to be told why  he had been disturbed. To Geoff's frantic statement that his radio set was on fire Blanks command was terse and to  the  point. "Piss on  it",  he said, as he settled down to resume his interrupted sleep.  The smoke subsided without Geoff having to comply with his instruction. The night exercise was completed with a completely dead radio.

One night we were coming up to the coastline and via a pinpoint I  had just  realised we were twelve miles south of track. At this inopportune moment Blanks woke up and was peering  over my  shoulder  at  the  map demanding  to  know  where  we were. He brushed my embarrassment to one side by saying that I knew where I was which  was  the  most  important point  and that I should give the pilot an immediate course correction. I  appreciated  his  consideration  and encouraging attitude. There was more to the man than just bluster.

On  Tuesday 8th September 1942 at 0345 hours Wellington Mk 1 c T2913 ZTB captained by No. 106144 F/Lt T.V.G. Blanks crashed at Longmorn, south east of Elgin aerodrome. It must have been a rude  awakening  for  poor old  Blanks.   One crew member was killed and five injured. F/Lt Blanks suffered serious injuries. I don't know his subsequent fate.   I  only hope that he survived the war. He deserved to.

Written by Don Bruce - Observer 115 Squadron -POW Stalag VIIIB

Jean Darley 2008. Please respect the copyright.

This is an article that my father has written and is included in his compilation of 115 Squadron's Roll of Honour. 

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