Oral Histories

Merv Lawton


Merv Lawton

Then there was an accident. We’d stopped by the side of the road and a convoy coming out of Berlin going West ran into the back of our staff car and wrote it off so we had to find a way to get back to Italy. Eventually we managed to get a staff car from Montgomery’s headquarters. They gave us one. They were very, very cooperative. I must say that when we got back to base camp in Italy there were lots of questions asked. “Where did that staff car come from?” And for years afterward there were queries. “How did we get hold of that staff car.” It was a bit of a joke, actually. But, nevertheless. nothing transpired that was adverse to any one of us.

Q: It sounds like you had a good time after the war but what about when you were fighting? How did it seem?

A: Well, you had a job to do and we did it. Initially we were doing fighter work but the numbers of German aircraft in the area gradually diminished so we started carrying bombs on our Spitfires and dive bombing with them.

Q: So you didn’t seem to get shot at much?

A: Oh, we got shot at much. One day I was hit by anti-aircraft fire when I was climbing up from doing my bombing run. I had to climb up because of our radio, We had to be fairly high in order to get the radio message right back to base because of the mountains.

Q: What did the anti-aircraft do to your plane?

A: Well, the main part was that some of the shrapnel hit the radiators. I started losing all my coolant. And I knew the engine wouldn’t last long enough for me to get back to our own lines, flying south over the mainland.

Q: So where did you land?

A: The shortest distance to get to “friendly territory” was to head east to the Adriatic and come down in the sea and trust that our air-sea rescue would pick me up.

Q: So you did go down at sea?

A: Yup. I got a couple of miles out to sea and that’s when the motor failed and seized up, so I had to get out into the parachute and I came down in the sea. It was quite an experience. I got into the sea, got out of my parachute, and blew up my little dinghy that we carried with us, got in my dinghy and just sat down in the dinghy while the rest of my squadron was circling overhead. Then a little bit later on I heard the air-sea rescue amphibian. It was an old type of aircraft. It was called a “Walrus” and it landed on the sea. It was a nice calm day, no trouble there, and it came to where I was in the dinghy and I got out into the amphibian. Then we tried to take off and, for some reason, the engine wasn’t giving its true power so it couldn’t get off the water. So we decided that there was only one thing to do, to taxi back on the water, heading down parallel to the coast, and sometime during the night we would get to a position where we could go to the land and be behind our own lines. So that was our plan.

Well, round about one o’clock in the morning, we were rather alarmed when a lot of gunfire started coming towards us and hit the aircraft, hit the fuel tank, the walrus caught fire. So the three of us (the two people- the pilot and the co-pilot of the rescue aircraft -and myself) we had to jump into the water and swim away from this burning aircraft. Now it wasn’t too long before we could hear these motor boats and they were coming up towards us and we decided, well, there wasn’t much we could do about it. So we just called out to them and they picked us up and it just happened that they weren’t German boats. They were British boats. In the dark they’d wanted to switch their searchlight on to light us up but the searchlight, for some reason or other, wouldn’t come on so they opened fire because they presumed that we were Germans laying mines in the area to try and damage our warships that had been coming up the coast to shell the mainland. So they picked us up.

We asked them if they were going to take us back to port and they said, “No, no, no, we can’t go back yet. We’ve got to make amends for what we’ve done. You’ll have to stay for the length of this operation tonight.” Oh, very well. There were two of these motor torpedo boats. We were in the lead boat and then, at about two o’clock in the morning, there was a great big explosion and the boat behind us (the rear boat) had its stern blown off by a mine. Apparently what had happened was there were some floating mines around and the bow wave from our boat pushed the mine out and then it swung back in again and hit the back boat.

Q: Did it get the people in it?

A: Well, they lost a few, they lost a few that were probably blasted into the water and we couldn’t find them so then they decided that this was it. We’re going home now. They took the damaged boat in tow and started back for safe harbor. Well, we got back safely and so that was three events all in the period of one afternoon..…shot down, bailed out into the sea, the air-sea rescue craft getting blown up, picked up by British motor torpedo boats, the motor torpedo boat got blown up and then we went home! It was in British papers. They called him “Three-time loser.”

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