edited: Monday, May 04, 2009
By George E. Albitz
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Monday, May 04, 2009
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Kings Own Nights of Piccadilly Royal Fusilier Bomb Catchers.
My Grandfather was a rather unique fellow. He joined the Army during the Spanish-American War, was given a rifle, and sailed off to Cuba. One week after he enlisted he was promoted to Sergeant. Three weeks later, the war was over and he was honorably discharged.
He never mentioned what he did during World War I, but his exploits in World War II were nothing less than astonishing.
He said even though he’d only been in a month he never forgot the great Army food which they called CHOW. Images of it drove him to enlist again, however by the time WWII rolled around he had aged beyond acceptable levels.
Someone told him the British were recruiting for a special regiment and refusing no one. He figured steak and kidney pie would be an upgrade from beans and wieners so off he sailed to jolly old England. As luck would have it, due to nautical speed and zigzagging tactics buy the time he reached Liverpool much of the fighting was over and he resolved himself to becoming another thirty-day war hero.
Stepping off the boat presented a rare dilemma. He was shocked to find he could not understand the local language. Fortunately he overheard someone remarking that those he previously overheard were merely foreign tourists on holiday. A collective sigh was expelled.
He inquired about the new British Regiment and was whisked down a dark alley where a man in a trenchcoat wearing a pulled down hat with a wide brim offered him a cup of tea. Naturally my Grandfather turned it down and requested a beer but found it to be rather warm.
Within moments he was standing before a recruiter who signed him up and presented him with a slightly worn bushel basket. Obviously his face flashed a display of bewilderment and the recruiter told him he had just joined the Kings Own Nights of Piccadilly Royal Fusilier Bomb Catchers.
It seems in those days the Blitz was going strong and Hitler’s Luffwaffa was reigning bombs down on London and surrounding areas with reckless abandon. The new regiment was formed to combat that activity.
The purpose of the Fusilier Bomb Catchers was to run beneath the invading aircraft with the issued bushel basket and catch bombs as they fell.
According to my Grandfather bombs made a whistling noise and a Catcher could follow the sound and usually arrive in time to catch the bomb.
The trick was not to catch it flat-footed because the force of it would cause it to tear through the basket. A catcher had to hold it high with two hands and move with the bomb as it entered the basket spinning in a circular motion until the momentum was completely subdued.
Any Fusilier who caught three bombs became an ACE.
Ordinary bushel baskets were far to brittle for this type of work so those used by the Bomb Catchers were reinforced with metal banding which made them rather ponderous. My Grandfather said a chap in the regiment, R. S. Reynolds, was working on a metal made from dirt which was lighter, stronger, and more flexible than that which was then used, but due to fears of espionage or even German theft of the formula for use in their aircraft, plans were squelched by British Intelligence. Grandfather said the fellow mentioned was no relation to the Reynolds who discovered aluminum but I have my doubts?
Due to the complexities involved the Kings Own Nights of Piccadilly Royal Fusilier Bomb Catchers had to be a secretive society. If the Germans were to learn their bombs were being caught severe repercussions could be expected.
Nights of Piccadilly is not a typo. They were called “Nights” because, due to Luffwaffa scheduling, they operated at night.
Many famous and historic structures were undamaged and preserved throughout London because of their noble work which was not without a high degree of danger.
Running around in the dark at full speed, with bushel basket in hand, chasing a whistling bomb was often a prelude for tragedy. Some ran through alleys, some on rooftops, and some through the streets. Many of those on rooftops ran off the sides of buildings. Those on the ground ran into parked cars or light poles. Fears within the regiment of running into civilians persuaded the British Government to set curfews during bombing raids. No one was allowed on the streets.
Grandfather said that gave the Fusiliers a free hand and they were able to do their work without complications.
In a short while he caught two bombs and eventually another which should have made him an ACE...however Lord Cromwelle, who didn’t like Yankees for reasons going back to The Revolution, stated flatly that since Grandfather’s third catch proved to be a “dud” he would not be afforded the distinction of being dubbed an ACE.
Grandfather argued that he caught the bomb “in good faith” and had no way of knowing it was a dud. Expert witnesses on both sides testified they all sound the same. Litigation in those days was quite lengthy and Grandfather continued his nightly routine as it slowly progressed.
One night he actually stood beside a building that was completely blown up by a bomb. There was nothing left of it. Grandfather said he would have tried to catch the bomb, but instead of whistling it made a buzzing sound so he actually dove out of the way due to his intense fear of bees. That bomb turned out to be the first of Hitler’s many Buzz Bombs which were too large to catch and spelled the end for the Kings Own Nights of Piccadilly Royal Fusilier Bomb Catchers.
Ironically, as luck would have it, the building that was blown up by that first buzz bomb housed all records of their existence. None of them was ever able to prove who they were. To this day if you go to England and ask questions most folks will tell you they, “never heard of any bloody bomb catchers?”
As for my Grandfather’s case, the litigation continued to drag on and he and Lord Cromwelle became heated enemies. They had several nasty confrontations and Cromwelle said he wished the bloody dud was real and would have blown him up. Grandfather called him some sort of a name and Cromwelle slapped him across the face with his gloves. Grandfather considered that “A sissy move” and knocked the Lord out with a “Sucker punch!”
He later found out they were scheduled for a duel at sunrise, which suited my Grandfather quite well because he was already scheduled on a flight back to The States at midnight.
He left Lord Cromwelle a message to start the duel without him, and if that didn’t suit him he could take a pistol and shoot himself in the head, “As that is what I would have done.”