Douglas Cameron completed four tours of operations, 122 flight bomber missions over enemy territory as a rear gunner during the Second World War. He flew with three VC recipients and bailed out of two aircraft.
Two of those pilots were both awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions when they were shot down: Flight Sergeant R H Middleton VC and Squadron Leader I Bazalgette VC.
Cameron, born in Kemore in 1909, was a Perthshire gamekeeper with Major J Falconer-Stewart, Feddal, Braco. Before the war, he lived with his wife and father at The Kennels, Feddal Estate.
His occupational skills helped him avoid capture the second time he baled out, in daylight, landing on the edge of a German forest, with soldiers spraying machine-gun bullets and dogs baying at his heels.
Cameron enlisted in September 1939 volunteering for flying duties. Two tours followed in Armstrong Whitely bombers, the first tour with RAF 58 Squadron, RAF 5 group at RAF Linton-on-Ouse; the second with RAF Coastal Command at RAF St. Eval, Cornwall.
During this period as an air gunner, Cameron shot down a Focke Wulf FW190 fighter. A third tour followed immediately, this time flying with RAF 149 Squadron out of RAF Lakenheath, Suffolk. This time the aircraft were Short Stirling’s and he was on Flight Sergeant Middleton’s crew. They transferred for a short while to RAF 7 PFF (Pathfinder Force) Squadron, but some of the crew did not meet the required standards. They returned to RAF 149 Squadron to complete their tour.
On the night of 27/28 November 1942, Cameron and Middleton took off to attack the Fiat Works, Turin; they took off at 18.14 hours. Their Short Stirling I BF372 (OJ-H) was badly damaged by flak and Middleton was severely wounded. He had lost an eye and the bone above his eye was exposed. The co-pilot, Flight Sergeant Leslie Hyder was wounded in the head and the legs and could not immediately take over. The aircraft dived to just 800 feet before Hyder managed to regain control. Flying Officer Skinner, the wireless operator, was also injured. They were further hit by light flak which hit the aircraft many times.
Middleton was given a shot of morphine and somehow managed to fly the aircraft back to base. With the windscreen shattered and the biting wind rushing in, for four hours he kept the Stirling on course. There was also barely enough fuel left for the return trip, everything that could be, was jettisoned, even the guns, anything that would save fuel and allow the aircraft to climb back over the 12,000 feet Alps. The possibilities of abandoning the damaged aircraft or landing in Northern France were discussed as options. Middleton expressed the intention of trying to make the English coast so that his crew could leave the aircraft by parachute and be safe. Owing to his wounds and diminishing strength, he had little hope of accomplishing this himself.
After four hours, they eventually crossed the French coast, flying at 6,000 feet and again they were hit by intense light anti-aircraft fire. Middleton mustered enough strength to take evasive action. Fuel ran out as they crossed the English Channel and Middleton gave the order to bale-out. Four of the crew successfully baled out, but Middleton and two crew members who remained to help him were killed when the aircraft crashed into the sea near Dymchurch, Kent.
The bodies of the front gunner and the flight engineer were recovered the following day. Middleton’s body was not found.
Middleton was awarded, on 13 February 1943, a posthumous VC for his efforts, given the rank of a pilot officer and buried with full military honours, in the Military Cemetery of St John’s Church, Beck Row, near RAF Mildenhall. His citation in part read:
‘His devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds is unsurpassed in the annals of the Royal Air Force’.
Cameron and two other crew were given the DFM.
From the Operations Record Book of RAF 149 Squadron, November 1942:
28.11.42, Stirling I, BF372, “H”.
F/Sgt. Middleton, R. A. Captain, F/Sgt. Hyder, L.A. 2nd Pilot, P/O Royde, G. R., Navigator, P/O Skinner, K. E., W/Operator, F/Sgt. Cameron, D., M/Upper, Sgt. Mackie, S. J., F/Gunner, Sgt. Gough, H. W., R/Gunner, Sgt. Jeffrey, J. E., F/Engineer.
Time up, 1814. Time Down, 0255.
Target TURIN. Aircraft crashed into sea of Dymchurch. Crew baled out. Captain, (
Wireless Operator) and F/Engineer killed. (Strikethrough replaced with Front Gunner in records)
Cameron was taken off operations for a rest, commissioned as an officer and transferred to RAF 20 OTU at RAF Lossiemouth as a gunnery leader. His next posting was to RAF Milltown, near Elgin. Here he was recruited by Squadron Leader Bazalgette for his fourth tour of bomber operations and with the help of another heroic flyer from Leith, Group Captain Thomas Gilbert ‘Hamish’ Mahaddie, they were assigned to the Pathfinder Force at RAF 635 Squadron.
On 4 August 1944, during a target marking mission at Trossy Saint-Maximin, just north of Paris, Lancaster III ND811 (F2-T) was hit by severe anti-aircraft fire. Both starboard engines were put out of action causing a serious fire. Despite the damage to the aircraft, they pressed on with the attack, the master bomber had been put out of action and they took over, marking the target accurately. After their bombs had been dropped, the Lancaster dived almost out of control. Then the port inner engine also failed and the starboard main-plane caught fire.
Bazalgette ordered the crew who were able to, to bale-out. He then attempted to land the crippled aircraft near Senantes, about 70 km to the northeast. Unfortunately, it exploded killing Bazalgette and two remaining crew members.
Five of the crew including Cameron successfully baled-out and evaded capture. Cameron managed to hide in a forest and eventually contacted the French Resistance. Cameron joined them and became a saboteur, helping to attack the Germans. Dressed in civilian clothes and armed with a revolver and a grenade, he would have been executed if captured. For that ultimate emergency, he had been given a pill. Several times he had close calls; once a whole German Panzer Division arrived at the place where he and his resistance group were hiding.
3rd August 1944 – Forêt-de-Nieppe Lancaster lll NE123 MG-J (2.35) Craig as Master Bomber 7/10th Cloud Area G – Good Results
1,114 Aircraft – 601 Lancasters, 492 Halifax’s, 21 Mosquitos – carried out major Raids on the Bois de Cassan, Forêt de Nieppe & Trossy St Maximin V1 Flying-Bomb Stores. The weather was clear and all Raids were successful. 6 Lancasters lost, 5 from the Trossy St Maximin Raid & 1 from the Bois de Cassan raid. 1 Lightning & 1 Radar Counter Measures Aircraft accompanied the Raids. The Unit’s role was Radar Countermeasures (RCM) and this entailed the identification of Enemy Radar patterns & wavelengths.
Bazalgette and his crew flew 25 operations between 6 May 1944 and 3 August 1944 against railway marshalling yards, synthetic oil factories, V-1 Rocket storage depots, coastal batteries (on D-Day) and tanks and troops after the invasion. On a night raid to Hamburg on 28 July 1944, described as ‘a hot one’, German fighters attacked and had a field day. Bazalgette flew the violent corkscrew evasive manoeuvre all the way back to avoid the fighters. This made for a wild ride for the rear gunner, Doug Cameron who remarked:
‘I’ve never had a trip like that. I don’t know how I stood it’.
Barely one month previous on 6 June 1944, the allies had landed on the beaches at Normandy. Cameron took part in resistance actions near the Falaise Pocket, 12-21 August 1944 and in the ‘Bocage’ (thick hedgerows). When the British Army eventually broke through the German lines, Cameron, the navigator and the wireless operator from Lancaster ND811 were reacquainted near Bayeux and flown home.
After the war, Cameron joined the Royal Observer Corps then went back home to resume his life as a gamekeeper. He christened his daughter, Margaret Middleton Bazalgette Cameron. Cameron lived quietly in his later years with his wife and widowed sister in the house where he was born, Kenmore, Feddal Road, Braco. He passed away on 16 February 1994.
The French Resistance had informed the Allies that Cameron was with them, but his wife was not informed for security reasons. She was in her native Stornoway when a policeman arrived to tell her the good news.
Bazalgette’s grave is at Senantes Churchyard, France. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Royal Air Force Museum in Hendon. Nanton Lancaster Society Air Museum, now the Bomber Command Museum of Canada (located in Nanton, Alberta, south of his hometown Calgary), is home to an Avro Lancaster, FM159, which, after a lengthy period of reconstruction and repair, was painted in the colours and markings of Bazalgette’s aircraft.
‘Hamish’ Mahaddie had a very successful career as a consultant to the movie and television industry after the war. He worked on films such as 633 Squadron, You Only Live Twice (which includes an autogyro sequence with Ken Wallis), and Battle of Britain.
Only 35 Avro Lancasters out of an estimated 6,500 in service, were successful in flying 100 or more operational missions during the Second World War (0.54%). The most successful was Lancaster ED888, which flew 140 operations.
The Lancaster when empty could climb below 9,000 feet on one engine and maintain level flight above that altitude. It could carry a full bomb load and maintain speed on three engines. A Squadron Leader from RAF 635 Pathfinder Squadron lost an engine on take-off, rather than return, he carried on to the target, marking it successfully and on his return he buzzed the airfield control tower before landing safely.
The Pathfinder Force flew a total of 50,490 individual sorties against 3,400 targets. The cost was the loss of 3,727 Pathfinder aircrew.
A British Movietone film of the funeral of Flight Sergeant Middleton is available to watch here: https://bit.ly/3jS2EpU
Flight Lieutenant Douglas Charles Cameron DFM – MEMBER OF V.C’S CREW (CH 8265) Original wartime caption: When Flight Sergeant R.H. Middleton was awarded the V.C. posthumously for devotion to duty in the face of overwhelming odds, the crew of his Stirling bomber were also highly commended. They kept their positions in the bomber and carried out their duties quietly and coolly while the aircraft dived to 2000 ft. to identify the target. The Stirling was badly damaged by ack-ac… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205448183
BADGES OF R.A.F. SQUADRONS (CH 15890) Original wartime caption: Badge of No.149 Squadron ‘FORTIS MOCTE’ (Strong by Night). Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205454986
ROYAL AIR FORCE 1939-1945: BOMBER COMMAND (CH 12677) A Stirling of No 149 Squadron at Lakenheath being loaded with 1,500lb sea mines, March 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205218790
THE ROYAL AIR FORCE IN BRITAIN, JANUARY 1942 (TR 135) A seven man crew from No 149 Squadron, Royal Air Force under the nose of Short Stirling W7455/`OJ-B’ at Mildenhall, Suffolk, while the aircraft is being bombed-up. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205188248
ROYAL AIR FORCE 1939-1945: BOMBER COMMAND (CH 8167) Flight Sergeant Leslie Hyder of No 149 Squadron chats with a nurse while recovering from wounds received over Turin on the night of 28-29 November 1942. Hyder was second pilot in a Stirling which was hit by flak over the target. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205218664
R.A.F. SQUADRON BADGES (CH 16672) Original wartime caption: The badge of No.635 Squadron R.A.F. ‘NOS DUCIMUS CETERI SECUNTER’ (We Lead – the Rest Follow) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205455705
THE BRITISH ARMY IN NORTH-WEST EUROPE 1944-45 (BU 5892) Liberated POWs walk out to Lancaster bombers of No. 635 Squadron at Lubeck aerodrome, waiting to fly them home to Britain, 11 May 1945. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205203374
A Mighty Machine of British Workmanship – The Short Stirling (Art.IWM PST 7954) whole: the image occupies the majority, set against a white background. The title is separate and positioned across the bottom edge, in white. The subtitle and text are integrated and occupy the majority, in black. All held within a red border.
image: a drawing of a Short Stirling aircraft, with cut-away sections to show the internal components.
text: THE SHORT STIRLING (Four 1,595 h.p. Bristol He… Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/5033
The grave of Douglas Cameron DFM in Ardoch Parish Churchyard, Braco.