IN THE second of our series looking at local war heroes, Richard Morris speaks to Jack Slaughter, who completed dozens of bombing raids of Europe during the Second World War.
“THERE is no doubt about it,” enthuses Jack Slaughter – a pensioner whose youthful demeanour belies his 93 years – “the Lancaster was the best plane around.
“People might argue differently, but in my mind, it was the Lancaster which won the war.
“ The Spitfire and the Hurricane may have played a key part in the Battle of Britain – but that didn’t win the war for us. Not like the bombers.”
Mr Slaughter may be slightly biased – having played a key role in 83 Squadron Pathfinder in the last years of the conflict – but equally, if anyone is entitled to an opinion, it is probably him.
The pensioner flew 46 operations between 1943 and 1945 – including a dozen bombing raids on the German capital Berlin – and was among those who volunteered to tackle more flights once his original lot of 30 was up.
He now lives in Langney, surrounded by paintings of Lancasters and photographs of his beloved family – a family which boasts 10 grandchildren and more than a dozen great-grandchildren.
But, while more than 60 years have passed since he last stepped inside a Lancaster, the memory of his time as a navigator on one of the most iconic aircraft of the war has not dimmed.
Born in India in 1922 while his dad guarded the Khyber Pass from marauding Afghan raiders, Mr Slaughter who grew up in Stone Cross, decided to enlist after spotting an advert in the Daily Mail asking for trainee pilots. Just after his 19th birthday he gave work a miss, caught the train to Brighton, and signed up there and then.
Within two years he would take his first tentative steps into the claustrophobic conditions inside a World War Two bomber.
“I remember the first time we went up,” he said.
“New crew used to go up with more experienced teams to start with and I was part of a mission going to Italy.
“The pilot was a Canadian who was as mad as a hatter and was flying really low over France before zipping through the peaks of the Alps.
“It was quite an experience.”
Having quickly got into the swing of things, Mr Slaughter was assigned to his own Lancaster, complete with the rest of the seven-man crew.
And, despite the odds being hugely stacked against them, the entire team survived the war, although Mr Slaughter is the only one alive today.
“We had a brilliant pilot called Maurice Chick. He was a smashing bloke.
“The chances of surviving 46 flights is about two per cent so we must have had a fair amount of luck, but I can honestly say I was never really worried.
“Lots of people say that anyone who claims they were not scared isn’t telling the truth, but I honestly didn’t think about.
“We used to fly over Eastbourne and Beachy Head sometimes but it was only years later that I thought about my mum and younger sister who must have seen all the planes flying overhead from where they lived in Stone Cross and each time worried whether I was on one of them and whether I would make it back.”
Survive he did – but not without more than one close call.
During one flight to Berlin Mr Slaughter was counting down until the drop zone, using instruments to identify targets amid thick cloud.
When he got to five one of his crewmates looked up and saw another Lancaster directly above with its bomb doors open ready to unload.
“I finished the countdown, we dropped our bombs and heard a bang,” recalled the pensioner.
“There was a hole in the side and lots of cold air coming in – it would have been about -40 at the height we were at.
“We got back and the next morning the skipper and I went to see the plane and one of the people working on it said, ‘You guys were lucky last night’.
“We thought he meant because of the small gap. Instead he showed us on top where there was a big hole and said, ‘You have an incendiary in your fuel tank.’ It had been there all the way back from Berlin.”
Mr Slaughter was sent a personal telegram from the legendary Bomber Harris and received a stack of official recognition, including the Distinguished Flying Medal, which he was given by George IV at Buckingham Palace in 1944.
But surely the devastation his bombs wreaked on Germany weighed heavy?
Not so. “I had been bombed walking along Seaside and had watched saw some of the Battle of Britain taking place. I didn’t think about it too much.
“The thing is, we were doing a job.”