Absolutely Barking

ABSOLUTELY BARKING
The Life and Times of Mr Jackson

A True Story by Wing Commander PPC ‘Paddy’ Barthropp DFC, AFC

Chapter One

The grandparents of the hero of our story, Mr Jackson, were Lady Sybil Grey and Caviare, a very well bred couple who enjoyed a charmed life in the countryside of Shropshire surrounded by race horses, rabbits and pheasants. His immediate parents were Lady Sally Slap Cabbage and Sir John Grey Bt. He had a half brother called Blitzkrieg. Mr Jackson and his brother were stationed at RAF Westhampnett (a satellite airfield to Tangmere) in 1940. This time they were surrounded by Spitfires and a varied collection of young fighter pilots and only a few rabbits. Life was a trifle hectic for our two little dogs who occasionally had to dodge bombs and ground attacks by enemy aircraft. The pair of them strongly resented being shot at as, after all, they were of aristocratic German stock. Even a few of the gung-ho German haters amongst the aircrew treated them both with suspicion.

Jackson, as he will be referred to, simply loved being in and around aeroplanes as he had by then realised that the chances of him catching a rabbit were very slim. He had his own basket in the dispersal hut. When the pilots were at readiness he would run out to the aeroplanes when they were scrambled to intercept the enemy and would then listen intently to their tales of sadness or exhilaration on their return to the airfield.

His brother Blitzkrieg was not so keen on aeroplanes, he didn’t like either the look of or the noise the Spitfires made. Instead, in between rabbiting and chasing crows and seagulls, he spent a lot of his daylight hours hanging around the back door of the Sergeants’ Mess next to the kitchen. He had discovered that the food therein was not only more plentiful but much better than that in the the Officers Mess. Finally he was made an honorary member and dined in the mess with them.

One summer’s day in September 1940 a telephone call to ‘A’ Flight 602 Squadron dispersal from Corporal McCarthy informed Flying Officer Barthropp that his father Max had arrived on the station driving a Queen Mary (the equivalent of a modern car transporter). On the back were 2 Spitfire wings and 4 propellers badly needed as spares for the Squadron. After Sally Slap Cabbage, accompanied by Sir John Grey in the front seat, had bitten the Corporal they were escorted to ‘A’ Flight dispersal much to the pleasure and amazement of Mr Jackson who by then was part of the team.

They were briefed on the way the war in the air was progressing before Max and his escort departed. Mr Jackson had a friend on the main airfield at Tangmere, he was a massive Alsatian called Caesar who belonged to the Station Commander Group Captain Jack Boret. His Adjutant, Humphrey Watkins, was a young pilot who had been shot down and slightly wounded and had been given a pen-pushing job while his wound healed. Watkins not only loathed his temporary job, he also mutually disliked both Boret and Caesar. One of the Station Commander’s nastier habits was the incessant chewing of pencils when under stress. This led Watkins to devise a wicked scheme to get his own back. Early one morning he took the 3 pencils which Boret would probably consume and placed them into a particularly sensitive part of Caesar’s anatomy. The result of which is self explanatory. From that day onwards our young officer was, until his sad death in the 1960’s, known as ‘Dirty’ Watkins.

Chapter Two

It was now time for Pilot Officer Jackson to take to the air and arrangements were made to borrow the station Magister, a small 2 seater communications aeroplane. Gerald Fisher, a pilot in ‘A’ Flight, volunteered to do the flying and I was to hold his lordship firmly during the brief fifteen minute sortie. It was essential not to let him go as the aeroplane had no canopy and, at that stage, Mr Jackson had no parachute. All went well, Gerald did a very smooth landing. Our distinguished passenger now felt himself to be well and truly part of the team.

What was later to be called the Battle of Britain came and went. Mr Jackson and his owner had lost a lot of friends but others had arrived to take their place. He was used to it. After a short rest he was posted to Hawkinge, a fighter station near Folkestone, popularly referred to as ‘Hell’s Corner’ as it was the nearest airfield to France. Not a lot of flying for Mr Jackson. He spent most of his time wandering around the station making friends with everyone. One sunny evening some of the pilots of 91 Squadron, having been stood down for the day, were enjoying several beers on the lawn in front of the mess when out of the blue two Me109’s came over at high speed and low level and dropped two bombs frighteningly close to us. Mr Jackson was out on his evening calls but his brother Blitzkrieg, who was with us, was never to be seen again. No-one knows what exactly happened but the most likely thing was that he was hit by a bomb splinter and just ran and ran until he either died from lack of blood or a heart attack. An extensive search of the station revealed nothing. It was a sad day indeed.

Jackson’s flying at Hawkinge was once again limited to the Magister as a single seater Spitfire was not only liable to attack by his German friends but the cramped cockpit did not lend itself to a Dachshund, albeit a brave one. He spent most evenings in and around the many bars in Folkestone and was not impartial to the odd drop of beer. One of his many assets was that he was an excellent ‘bird puller’ for his young uniformed friends who would encourage him to walk over and talk to the young ladies of the day. He was very attached to his owner’s two litre drop-head open Lagonda and many a long hour travelling on the back seat which consisted of an extra 24 gallon tank made by a mechanic on the station. The car had been bought from a local car dealer cum scrap-iron merchant for about 200 gallons of stolen Government petrol, the cost then being about £10. Little did the owner of Mr Jackson know at the time that the very same car restored by its then owner in the 1960’s was for sale at £70,000.

To say that Mr Jackson was house trained was the understatement of the decade. But once his little mind had been taught not to widdle indoors he stuck to his guns relentlessly. There was however one small snag. There were times when pilots were diverted from their home bases due to bad weather or mechanical trouble and frequently spent a night away. This annoyed our little friend. Not only did he get very hungry but he was forced to relieve himself before their return. Several articles including a sandpan and a small dog bowl were tried to tempt him into not widdling on the polished parquet floor. Finally a Peek Frean biscuit tin did the trick. It must be remembered that his private parts were only about four inches from the ground so the choice of ‘widdling dish’ was very limited.

Sadly for the aristocratic little fellow his owner was gunned down by the Luftwaffe on May 17th 1942. Jackson was collected from Biggin Hill by Max and his Queen Mary and spent the next three years in Shropshire with his godparents Max and Marjorie, missing very much his Spitfires and rabbits. Not forgetting his friend Paddy behind barbed wire in a German PoW camp.

Paddy was in Oflag XXIB (Officer Camp 21B) Schubin, Poland, built on the top of a small hill halfway between Posen and Warsaw. Oflag XXIB served as a Punishment Camp (Straflager) for persistent escapers. It fulfilled its purpose well, as the Germans decided to plant a 10 acre potato field in the direct path of the prevailing wind, and as fertilisers were scarce in Poland the crop was liberally covered with the contents of the ‘abort’ (camp lavatories). This ever-present stench added to a chronic lack of food, practically no heating and a camp crawling with lice made life almost unendurable. There was only one thing to do – escape – and escape we did via a 30 yard, 2 foot square tunnel in the western’ abort’. Of the 32 officers who got out, 4 were murdered by the Gestapo and 2 were, we think, drowned trying to sail across the Skaggerack to Sweden. My job was to get to a pre-arranged address in Warsaw and thence by partisan underground to Yugoslavia there to fly a Heinkel 111 (which Mihailovich’s forces had captured) to the Middle East.

One bitterly cold evening, after three days and nights wandering in unfamiliar and dangerous country, I came across an isolated smallholding. Speaking in a variety of broken languages to the Polish couple I managed to explain who I was. After a bowl of hot soup and some bread they led me to their barn explaining the news of the escape had got out and they faced certain death either from the Germans or Polish collaborators if they were caught helping me. The warmth of the soup, the friendship of the old couple and the soft straw was heaven-sent to a lonely young traveller suffering from a heavy cold, hunger and a painful case of athletes foot. I fell into a deep sleep immediately only to be woken at first light by the scrabble of tiny feet on my head and shoulders. Rats. Large Polish rats everywhere, obviously as hungry as I was and hell-bent on either eating me or my meagre rations. I was terrified of rodents of any size or shape but as I was about to beat a hasty retreat from this new and unexpected horror a small black and tan dog appeared from nowhere barking his head off and scattering the unwelcome horde. I have always wondered if Jackson had travelled all that way in spirit to help his friend in need.

I suspect he did !!

After this night of rest I set out on my merry way only to be finally caught hiding in a horse box in the marshalling yard of Inavrotswov Railway Station and imprisoned by the Gestapo in the dungeon of the town citadel. But that is another story.

Paddy Barthropp returned from Germany three years to the day of his capture. It was a great reunion between a little dog and a somewhat underweight Flight Lieutenant. He attended No.4 course of the Empire Test Pilots School where, apart from a trip in a Swordfish, Jackson’s flying was again limited. Posted to the Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down, life took on a new meaning for Jackson surrounded with every type of aeroplane the Royal Air Force had. One day he and Paddy Barthropp decided to fly a small single seater jet called a Vampire from Boscombe Down to Hatfield to have lunch with John Cunningham. It was a very noisy, cramped cockpit but sadly; once airborne, Jackson somehow managed to get caught in between the rudder bar and the fuselage, an extremely dangerous and painful position to find himself in. There was only one thing to do. The height at which a small dog became drowsy from lack of oxygen was about twelve thousand feet. A rapid climb to this height rendered him semi-conscious so it was a fairly simple task to extricate him from the danger of the controls jamming which would have fatal consequences. Apart from a few damaged ribs Jackson survived shaken but unperturbed to live and fly another day. Word had got around the station of the small dog’s extra-canine activities and the kind people in the parachute section decided to manufacture him one. It was a masterpiece. Two straps around his tummy, another acting as a collar, and two more between his legs. A bit like a racehorse’s tack to stop the saddle slipping. There was only one small snag – it was impossible to have a quick release pin because, clever though he was, he had no hands. So in the event of an emergency it would be necessary to manhandle the little fellow into the slipstream and allow the air to inflate the canopy. But more of this later.

Chapter Three

One evening after a very hectic party in the mess, the author and Ben Gunn hit on what was probably the most stupid and potentially lethal idea that two Royal Air Force officers ever conceived. The mechanical transport section had recently acquired an American fork lift truck. Probably they figured it was just powerful enough to lift and transport one of the smaller stones from Stonehenge back to the Officers’ Mess. Full of alcohol and bravado our three subjects, Ben Cunn, the author and Jackson set off at around midnight from the station to the ancient monuments to carry out the deadly deed. God must have been watching because the truck either packed up mechanically or ran out of petrol about two miles from our destination. It would have been the court-martial of the decade had the plan succeeded.

Apart from the Avro Anson, our little friend’s favourite aeroplane was the De Havilland Domini. It was well fitted out and afforded excellent views of the landscape below and the odd bird in flight. Jackson, whose aircraft recognition was excellent, could not quite understand this phenomena as he had only seen birds at ground level before this. At this time the two seater Spitfire was being tested. It seemed an ideal platform for our intrepid (by then commissioned) dog to try out his skills in earnest. Ben Gunn, an experienced and ‘Top Gun’ flyer, was persuaded to fly the aircraft at slow speed at about 2,000 feet and I was to gently release our passenger at the same time manually spilling the canopy into the slipstream. Everything worked according to plan and Pilot Officer Jackson landed safely on the edge of the airfield to be greeted by Waldo Price-Owen and Gordon Scotter.

This unfortunately did not qualify for membership of the exclusive Caterpillar Club as this is only afforded to airmen who had saved their lives by parachute but it was the next best thing for a proud and happy black and tan Pilot Officer. From this time on when airborne he invariably, with tail wagging, would man-oeuvre himself into the jump position.

After Boscombe Down came two years as a Staff Officer at Bentley Priory, Stanmore, where he was extremely bored with life and developed a nasty habit of nibbling gently away at the bottom of his fellow officers’ uniforms. His final posting was to Honiley, near Kenilworth but by then the years were beginning to tell and we can only recall one further episode which, as far as is known, has never been equalled. As luck would have it I made friends with a nice local landowner, Mr. Parker, who owned three race horses and he allowed me to ride to work each morning starting at about 6.30 a.m. One fine day the Air Officer Commanding’s annual inspection was due and it was decided that on his arrival by Meteor he would be met by the CO riding a race horse. The horse chosen was a six year old by name Catchens Corner. Our little dog was confined to his quarters but somehow escaped and proceeded to the large concrete parade ground where he stationed himself behind the horse and barked furiously at the band. Paddy Crisham, the boss man, arrived to be greeted by this strange apparition but, being a keen racing type himself, thought the whole performance a most unusual and excellent exercise. To the best of my knowledge this is the only time in RAF history that this had been done.

Chapter Four

One fine day Princess Margaret was due to present the Queen’s Colour to 615 Squadron at the station. Elaborate preparations were taken for her visit which included the arrival of two civil servants from London the night before her arrival. They brought with them a black and white imitation mother-of-pearl plastic lavatory seat which was installed in the CO’s newly built married quarter to replace the standard wooden one. The sides of the buildings which she would see on her way to the parade ground had also been whitewashed. I carried out an inspection of the house in the early morning to see all was in apple-pie order, accompanied by our little black and tan friend. For some inexplicable reason Jackson was locked into No.1 officers’ married quarter when we departed to meet HRH. After the official ceremony Princess Margaret was to have coffee with a few chosen dignitaries. The dog took extreme umbrage at being left alone for several hours and when the delegation arrived they were greeted by an angry dog who had left a very obvious calling card right in the middle of the highly polished parquet floor in the sitting room.

Time to retire after nearly a third of a lifetime and so to London with my ageing canine friend to start a business hiring out Rolls-Royce cars to the rich and famous. Jackson spent his time in the Mews garage trying to avoid being run over by the cars but the dear little fellow was getting incontinent and his eyesight had deteriorated badly. One of his last friends was Douglas Bader the legendary legless air ace whom he befriended and with who he would go for drives in Douglas’ adapted Mini. He was the only one who would volunteer for such trips as the Group Captain put the fear of God into his passengers. After one such trip our ageing little subject simply had to do a widdle and chose Douglas’ shoe to do it over. One of the chauffeurs pointed out to Douglas Bader that his feet were getting wet. His favourite expression was “Try to get it right first time, old boy, otherwise don’t bother”. On this occasion his answer was “Bullshit old boy, I’ll never get them wet, but I might get them rusty”.

Many years of great companionship were coming to an end as life for the little fellow was no longer a practical or humane possibility. He was painlessly put down and his small body was gently buried at midnight by one of his favourite trees in one of Belgravia’s fashionable squares near Buckingham Palace. What will future archaeologists think when the Square is landscaped to build London rest houses for Euro MP’s, counsellors and illegal immigrants?

© Paddy Barthropp 2001

 

 

OFLAG XXIB (PRISONER OF WAR CAMP FOR OFFICERS), POLAND, WINTER. LEFT TO RIGHT: GEOFF WITTSHEAR, 402913 FLIGHT LIEUTENANT HENRY “HARRY” ROLAND TRAIN, ARTHUR CRIGHTON AND PADDY BARTHROPP.