Bert Roberts - Spitfire Pilot

It all started in April 1942 when I reported to Aircrew Receiving Centre, Regents Park, having previously passed a flying medical in Oxford.
My first experience of R.A.F. discipline was being ordered to have a haircut, already having had one the same morning!
From there I was posted to 13 Initial Training Wing in Torquay, where we were taught to drill, polished up our morse - (and buttons)! And the requirements of navigation, and practiced dinghy drill by jumping off the harbour wall. We were stationed in the Grand Hotel.
This course lasted about three months and I was then posted to Elementary Flying Training school at Booker, High Wycombe.
This gave me my first taste of flying and I was taught by an Australian Sergeant Pilot. I went solo after 10 hours which was not particularly good but it ensured further pilot training as if one didn't solo, one had previously agreed to be trained as a Navigator, Bomb Aimer or Air Gunner.
Next followed the most monotonous period of my Service Career which consisted of drill, drill, and more drill, picking up paper at Heaton Park Manchester and being fed mostly on potatoes by a Blackpool Landlady.
However, we eventually got on the boat which was the “Dominion Monarch” and finished up in South Africa, having sailed deep into the Atlantic in order to avoid U Boats (we were later told).
Then followed a posting to No.4 Elementary Flying Training School Benoni where we learnt to fly Tiger Moths and consisted of about 40 hours dual and 40 hours solo flying including night flying and cross-countries.
After finishing this course, we were posted to a Service Flying Training School at Standerton Northern Transvaal. Here we learnt to fly aircraft which were more sophisticated, the instructors being a mixture of South African and British and the aircraft Master IIs and Harvard IIs in which we were taught low level bombing and dive bombing amongst other things and were awarded our Wings. After a brief spell in Durban the next posting was to 73 Operational Training Unit Abu Sueir Egypt. After six more hours on Harvards it was time to fly the Spitfire which had been the object of all the training.
The first solo in a Spitfire is something I will never forget. Something like getting into a racing car after having driven a mini. However, all went well, although there were a few casualties as the transformation dictated this.
The next posting was to 242 Squadron in Corsica from where we covered the South of France invasion. We proceeded to Besançon via Lyon and the squadron, now No 93, was posted back to Italy - Florence. It is worth mentioning that just before we arrived in Lyon a number of French workmen had been shot by the Germans and had been buried in bomb craters. There were about forty men in each hole.
Italy was posing a hard nut to crack, hence the posting from France. The squadron operated from Rimini and Ravenna, our task being to soften up enemy strong points and dive bombing enemy occupied houses in close support of the Eighth Army, operating sometimes within a mile or less of our forces. This was achieved by placing an experienced fighter bomber pilot in an Army Armoured car with an Army officer who gave the Pilots the grid reference of the target which was then identified and dealt with.
Peace in Europe was declared and after a somewhat exciting war I returned home.