World War Two veteran marks centenary of his former training ground

Posted: 16/05/2018 | Scottish War Blinded

A Scottish War Blinded member who was stationed at Drem Airfield during the Second World War has returned to the site after nearly 80 years.

On Monday, Gordon Mills, aged 96, unveiled a new interpretation board to mark the centenary of its opening in April 1918.

Gordon stands next to Drem Airfield interpretation boardThe board is attached to a former Women’s Auxiliary Air Force residence and records the history of the site, which is now home to Fenton Barns Retail Village.

The airfield was formerly home to RAF Drem, an air defence fighter unit for Edinburgh and the shipping area around the Firth of Forth.

Gordon arrived at RAF Drem in 1941. He was invited to unveil the new board by Gullane & Dirleton History Society.

Here, he recalls his time at the training depot.

Drem Airfield by Gordon Mills

“I hear you were stationed at Drem during the war?” the young historian from Gullane politely asked as I held out my glass for a refill. Hesitantly I muttered, ‘that was a long time ago’.

“What do you remember of your time at Dre?” I was a bit nonplussed as I realised immediately where this conversation was heading. Knowing full well that my 96-year-old memory archive had been penetrated and pilfered over the years, leaving that overburdened archive in a parlous state, I wondered if I could recall anything of that time.

What I do remember of my very short time at Drem is not the layout of the airfield or any of the buildings but the people who were there in late 1941. When I finished my square bashing at Arbroath under the guidance and expertise of the Drill Sergeant Paddy Doonan. Who faithfully promised that if we didn’t buck up he would march us into the sea until our hats floated, I was more than glad to be moved to Drem.

Drem: throw in the letter ‘a’ and we are in a dream world, the world of 43 Squadron, an international fighter squadron consisting of men from many European countries and the Americas. For instance, my Flight Commander was Flight Lieutenant le Roy du Vivier, a Belgian national more widely known as du Viv who eventually became the Commanding Officer of the squadron when they moved into Europe. One of my good friends there was Dixie Dale, son of the British Consul in San Salvador. There were Poles, Canadians, Americans and – stick your finger into a map of Europe – and you would readily find a member of 43 Squadron from that country.

43 Squadron whose motto was Gloria Finis had a fighting cock as an emblem and they were commonly known as the fighting cocks.

Very soon after joining the squadron, I realised that I was now a member of a very special unit of courageous young men who were and are remembered as ‘the few’. Most of us knew at least one personaly. My brother-in-law Harold Schwind was shot down and killed near Sevenoaks. My schoolmate Robert Rennie was another unfortunate – and there I was not too long after the Battle of Britain sunning myself at Drem with the heroes of the Battle of Britain. Squadron Leader Morgan, our CO was popular and respected by officers and men. As I said before, second in command Flight Lieutenant le Roy du Vivier, better known as Du Viv, was a Belgian who eventually took over as CO. He, as I remember, was an ace fighter pilot, humourist and of course, a future CO.

I would like to wander through the area only once again if only to disturb some of yesterday’s ghosts.

When I arrived at Drem in late 1941 as a young potential armourer awaiting a course, it never occurred to me that I would return here 77 years later at the age of 96 having been given the privilege of unveiling a new interpretation board to mark the centenary of Drem Airfield where the training depot station opened in 1918. I am very honoured.