The Story of Dave Romans

This is the first of a series of articles from the archives of Waddington’s Heritage Centre. We start with events at Waddington 78 years ago, just before the Battle of Britain.

By the beginning of July 1940, France had fallen to the Blitzkrieg tactics of the German Army. The British Expeditionary Force had been evacuated from Dunkirk and Britain waited anxiously as the Germans gathered yet more strength in France and invasion threatened. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, ever the optimist, had vowed to fight on regardless of the cost – however, with the Royal Navy tied up in defence of British waters, the only means of taking action to the enemy was through the RAF and Bomber Command.

1940 was to become one of the hottest summers on record, and with no ops planned for one night in early July, No 44 Squadron at RAF Waddington decided to use their off duty period for a trip to Lincoln’s open air swimming pool.

One of the Sqn pilots had drawn the short straw however. Canadian Plt Off Dave Romans was left behind because his Hampden aircraft needed an air test, but not wishing to be left out of the fun he used the opportunity to buzz the pool and his friends. So low was his impromptu “beat up” that one of the pilots who was on the diving board threw himself into the water in fright. Romans was doubly unfortunate that day, because the diver was non-other than the OC of 44 Sqn, Wg Cdr Reid who clambered out of the pool and was soon on the phone to Waddington to demand the arrest of the pilot. Romans was subsequently restricted to navigation duties until further notice: it was common during the early days of the war for junior pilots to carry out observer duties with more experienced pilots until they gained their own crew.

These were the circumstances which, on the night of 18 – 19th July, led to Dave Romans being in the nose of Hampden P1324 which was being flown by Plt Off Walker. Their target was the German airfield at Eschwege which they reached in bright moonlight and attacked at 3,000 feet. Almost immediately, searchlights probed the sky as flak defences opened up at the vulnerable aircraft. As they completed their bombing run, Romans noticed the shell bursts get closer, and the aircraft rocked as Walker took violent evasive action and entered a steep climb. With no change in power setting, the Hampden stalled and pitched into a spiral dive.
Unable to contact his pilot, Romans left the nose through the small narrow passage that passed under and behind the pilot’s seat. Reaching the cockpit, Romans found his pilot unconscious in his seat with the aircraft losing height rapidly. Unable to rouse him, Romans desperately tried to unfasten his straps and lower the back of the seat – the Hampden, nicknamed the “flying suitcase” by its crews, was very narrow with the cockpit less than 3 feet wide. Finally, Romans was able to lower the back of the pilot’s seat, but with time against him he could not pull Walker clear, so in desperation Romans sat astride the still body of his pilot and took the controls himself.

With considerable effort he managed to grasp the control column and throttles and pull the Hampden out of its dive. Kicking Walkers feet off the rudder pedals, Romans was then able to attract the attention of the wireless operator/upper gunner, Sgt Logan, who pulled Walker from beneath Romans and administered first aid. Dave Romans flew the Hampden directly back to Waddington, landing successfully just before 0400 from where the still unconscious Walker was taken to Lincoln County Hospital.

Unfortunately, Walker died soon after – his skull had been penetrated by a small piece of shrapnel, leaving a barely perceptible but fatal wound. For his gallantry that night, Plt Off Romans was awarded an immediate DFC. He had an eventful tour: regaining his pilot status he successfully ditched his Hampden twice in the space of 4 days, his crews all emerging unscathed on both occasions.

Romans remained on flying duties at Waddington for a subsequent tour, piloting Avro Manchesters with No 207 Sqn, but soon moved on again in June 1941 to No 90 Sqn at RAF Polebrook which was in the process of converting from Blenheims to lend lease Boeing B-17 Fortresses.

Romans’ luck finally came to an end on 8th September 1941 when his B-17 was shot down by fighters on a raid to Norway. None of the crew survived and they are buried at Bygland near Oslo.

RAF Waddington Heritage Centre is run by volunteers. If you wish to visit then please contact us to book a date and time on WAD-Heritagecentre@mod.gov.uk. Please give us at least 2 weeks’ notice if possible so that we can arrange for a volunteer tour guide to open it up for you.

We are located in the old NAAFI building, next door to the Raven’s Club.

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