Harold Nicolson: To Sweden in the bomb bay of a Mosquito (1943)

Harold Nicolson (1886-1968)

Harold Nicolson  was a member of parliament from 1935 to 1945. In 1943 he was flown to Sweden to give a series of lectures on Britain and the war. The following excerpt is from a letter to his two sons who were at the time serving in the army. The passage is taken from Diaries and Letters 1939-45.

7 November, 1943

It is almost a month since I last wrote to you. During the interval I have been to Sweden. I left on 9th October and returned on 4th November.

I flew from Leuchars near Dundee in a Mosquito. I donned a huge quilted suit like that of a Mandarin. On top of that I put a sort of a gaberdine which fastened all round me with a zip. Then came the Mae West, in the pocket of which there was a small whistle and a little flash-lamp. 'If we are ditched, Mr Nicolson, do not waste energy shouting. Merely blow the whistle and flash the lamp'. I was not encouraged by the picture of myself blowing a lonely whistle in the middle of the North Sea. Then came the parachute harness and I was trussed and hooked up and tied down. I was then led (since I could scarcely walk, having become a tight parcel and no longer a mobile man) towards the aeroplane. I had to go on all fours beneath it and then rise up into a little hole. I was connected with the intercom and oxygen tubes and shown how to adjust the oxygen supply when told to by the pilot. Slowly the bomb doors closed below me. I was completely alone in a little box feeling like a hazelnut in its shell. The engine started. There was a bump or two and we were off.

By some mischance my intercom became unscrewed from the start. I did not dare to touch any of the tubes or gadgets around me, fearing that I might release myself through the bomb doors. I had a little reading lamp and read Elizabeth and Essex which I had bought in Dundee. I just guessed at the amount of oxygen I should need. When, as I calculated, we were over the middle of the North Sea and five miles up above the world, I turned out the little reading-lamp and communed with myself. 'This', I thought, 'is the moment for deep philosophic reflections.' But none came. So I turned on the light again and went on reading. After about two hours from the start, I was aware of a slight movement which indicated that we were over land. Having adjusted my parachute in case I released myself, I began very gingerly to finger the tubes and gadgets which surrounded me. Yes, the switch of the intercom had got detached. I adjusted it and said, 'Hullo!' 'Thank God, Mr Nicolson', vame the pilot's voice. 'I thought you had passed out.' A few minutes later I heard his voice again. 'I can now see the lights of Stockholm.' Within a trice there came a few muffled bumps, the engine stopped, the bomb door opened slowly revealing below me a square if cement identical with the square I had said goodbye to at Lauchars 2-1/2 hours before. I undid my various umbilical cords and let myself down upon the soil of Sweden. Down on all fours I went to creep under the machine and then straightened myself to observe a blazer of countless arc-lights. I took off my flying helmet and was greeted by an English voice. 'my names is Leadbetter. I come from the Legation. I hope you had a pleasant journey.' ...

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