Reg tells his Second World War story

A Second World War veteran who carried out a series of daring bombing raids over Nazi Germany has had his experiences published in a book.

Reg Payne, from Kettering, had been writing his life story for about 10 or 15 years.

Former Lancaster bomber radio operator Reg Payne, with the book which details his mission exploits during the Second World War

Former Lancaster bomber radio operator Reg Payne, with the book which details his mission exploits during the Second World War

And the 90-year-old’s work was read by writer Ken Ballantyne, who decided to turn it into a book.

“The war changed my life,” Mr Payne said. “It was something you never forget.”

Many of his friends did not survive the war and his brother was held as a prisoner of war by the Nazis for a year-and-a-half.

After two years of training, Mr Payne qualified to be part of a crew on board a Lancaster bomber.

He said: “Every night 20 of us from the squadron took off to bomb these German cities.

“Twenty of us would take off but you knew two or three wouldn’t come back.”

Mr Payne, who has lived in Kettering all of his life, qualified as a member of the Caterpillar Club, which includes members of the air force who successfully bail out of a stricken aircraft.

He remembers plummeting towards the ground tugging on his harness instead of his parachute cord during that incident, and also recalls the wide-eyed fear of another member of the crew who had not been wearing his parachute. The crash took place on a training exercise, and he had not expected to have to use it.

“We were in an aircraft and the wing caught fire,” Mr Payne said. “We had to bail out before the wing came off. Six of us managed to get out in time but four went down with the aircraft. I saw this big flash of light when the plane crashed.

“One night we were flying over Germany on a bombing run and a bomb from another aircraft went straight through our wing and a petrol tank – but luckily the petrol tank was empty.”

His pilot was Sir Michael Beetham, who later became Chief of the Air Staff, and the two have remained friends.

“One of the things that was terrible was coming back after raids over Germany and when you got back there was fog,” Mr Payne added.

“They would divert you, and you had only got about half an hour’s petrol left.

“We managed to get down there alright (to RAF Pocklington in Yorkshire, after having been diverted from Lincolnshire), but they said to the ones after to take your aircraft out to sea and bail out.”

Mr Payne also took part in the infamous Nuremberg raid in March 1944, commonly regarded as Bomber Command’s most disastrous mission of the war.

He said: “There were about 800 bombers which went and they lost 96 planes.

“This is why, now, we think so much of it. We never got over it.”

The book, First Wave, is available at bookshops including Waterstone’s.


During the Second World War, RAF Bomber Command’s role was to attack the enemy by bombing airbases, shipping, troops, communications and all industries used in the German war effort.

After the British Army’s retreat across the Channel from Dunkirk in 1940 until D-day in 1944, Britain and her allies had no way of hitting back at the Germans, who had invaded most of Europe, other than by long-range bombing.

The vital task of bombing Germany fell to RAF aircrews with an average age of just 22.

The reasons for bombing Germany were to disrupt industrial production of weapons, to wear down the German people’s morale and to force the German Army and Air Force (the Luftwaffe) into having to defend against the bombing over a wide area.

Repeated attacks on the German homeland also caused the diversion of industrial war production to defensive rather than offensive weapons and equipment.