Compelling wartime memoirs

The front cover of the book.
The front cover of the book.
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You probably won’t have heard of Bill Foote, DFC, which is all the more reason to admire his recently-published memoirs as a young Bomber Command pilot during the Second World War.

He was 18-and-a-half when he volunteered for service with the Royal Air Force in October 1941.

Bill Foote at Silverstone in 1945 shortly after being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Bill Foote at Silverstone in 1945 shortly after being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Bill was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for operational service, having completed 37 operations over Europe plus six emergency missions in September 1944 carrying petrol in two-gallon jerry cans into Brussels Melsbroek for the use of the British 2nd tanks, which had run short of fuel while trying to relieve Arnhem.

Although he was born at Dunfermline, Bill has lived in north Northumberland for more than 60 years, first at Embleton where, eventually, he was works manager at the Pipeworks, then at Alnwick before finally moving to Alnmouth just before retirement.

He is Life President of the Alnmouth and District Branch of the Royal British Legion.

With a foreword written by another local resident, Air Vice-Marshal David A. Hurrell, CB, AFC, FRAeS, DL, publication of Me, the RAF and 77 Squadron is timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the author’s first operational flight over German-occupied mainland Europe.

Bill Foote flying an Airspeed Oxford when undergoing training at Moose Jaw, Canada.

Bill Foote flying an Airspeed Oxford when undergoing training at Moose Jaw, Canada.

David’s foreword captures the essence of the book:

‘With wry humour, but total honesty, Bill takes the reader through his early days in training, his aspirations, and the challenges.

‘Nor does he neglect the human side: the tales of off-duty escapades and high jinks make for easy reading – and are exactly what many readers will relate to as we are vividly reminded of our own youthful indiscretions.

‘And then by way of contrast we share with him the strain of taking part in raids deep into enemy airspace, when the odds against survival were truly phenomenal.

Bill Foote, centre, with Jack and Reg sitting on a bomb payload.

Bill Foote, centre, with Jack and Reg sitting on a bomb payload.

‘Some 56,000 aircrew were killed, representing a death rate of 44 per cent – worse than the odds for a World War One infantry officer. Only one in six survived their first tour of operations, one in 40 their second.

‘In presenting his ‘warts and all’ recollections, Bill Foote has done a service to future generations. We are taken through his short but memorable career, in which he flew on 37 ‘operations’.

‘He highlights the traditional military virtues of courage, humour, and great fortitude. But equally, he does not seek to glorify the accomplishments of those who so fearlessly took the war to the enemy.

‘War is much too serious for such self-indulgence, and this marvellous account gets the balance spot on.’

The crew in 1944.

The crew in 1944.

And why did Bill decide to publish his memoirs now?

“With the rapid approach of the centenary years of the First World War, about two years ago I got actively involved in setting up Alnwick District WW1 Centenary Commemoration Group,” he said.

“We are working with the likes of Bailiffgate Museum, Alnwick; Northumberland Estates, including Alnwick Castle; local history groups; and others to deliver an ambitious programme to mark the centenary years of the First World War and to build a fitting and lasting legacy to honour the local response to the nation’s call to arms.

“I should like to contribute more to the success of the commemoration project and one way I feel able to do so will be to donate net proceeds through sales of this book, to add to the Group’s general operating funds.”

Copies of the book, priced at £7.50, are now available from www.wildsofwanney.co.uk or direct from David Thompson, East Orchard Cottage, Shortridge Hall, Warkworth, Morpeth, Northumberland, NE65 0WJ, with cheques made payable to Alnwick District WW1 Centenary Commemoration Group. BACS details available on request.

For more information, contact ww1alnwickproject@yahoo.co.uk