Interview with William Hubert Allen


Interview with William Hubert Allen


William Allen’s father had served with the Fleet Air Arm during the First World War. William also wanted to fly and so volunteered for the RAF at the earliest opportunity. He trained as a wireless operator. The crew arrived on the squadron and the pilot went as second dickie on a flight but was killed on the operation. William and his crewmates were now without a pilot and were transferred to 102 Squadron to continue operations. William and his crew were very conscious of the statistical chances that they would not come back but over cigarettes they would say that they would be coming back. However, they also left their cigarettes with the ground crew with the instruction that if they did not return to smoke them and remember them.




Temporal Coverage




01:08:00 audio recording


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MH: Ok. Good afternoon everybody. My name is Mark. I am a volunteer with the International Bomber Command Centre which is going to be located on Canwick Hill in Lincoln. I’m one of their volunteers that has the pleasure of coming to carry out interviews with veterans of Bomber Command. Today I have the great pleasure on the 31st of March 2017 of interviewing flight sergeant, as he was during his campaign time, Mr William Allen who resides in the fair country of Wales. And I have the pleasure in interviewing him this afternoon regarding his recollections both prior to the war and during it and then afterwards as well. But first of all we’ve managed to find out and to elicit from Bill some additional information from him regarding the service that his father undertook during the Great War ’14 to ’18. And I’ll get him to give us a brief resume of what he understands that his father’s service was in the Royal Naval Air Service. And then of a very romantic thing that his father got one of the personnel from the seaplane carrier the Ark Royal to do for him as a momento of his romancing what would have been Bill’s mother. So, good afternoon Bill. Thank you very much first of all for making yourself available for interview today. It’s greatly appreciated. So, I understand from your daughter, Wendy who’s given me a bit of insight into her grandfather and your father about where he served during the Great War. If you’d like to tell us about that first off.
WA: Right. As far as I know it his wartime service on the Ark Royal — 1914 he sailed from Lincolnshire to the Dardanelles. The Mediterranean. And the Ark Royal stayed there until she came back into home waters in 1918. During that time dad was courting a young lady from Surrey where he lived, or had lived at the time. And an engineer on the Ark Royal said to father to be, ‘What are you going to do with those letters?’ And father to be said, ‘Well, I suppose I’ll have to get rid of them.’ So this engineer said, ‘Let me have them and I’ll do something with them.’ And he made a walking stick which I’ve now still got. Which will be a hundred years old next year.
MH: Just for the people listening Bill has very kindly allowed me to see this lovely momento and to describe it for you. The best way to describe it Bill — would you just say it looks or it reminds me of a tree and the rings of a tree. It’s like somebody has done a cross carving across the plain of a tree trunk and you’ve got all the individual pages of the letters that you can see, and it’s a fabulous item. And it’s got a beautiful handle on top of it. And it’s such a fine momento of the Great War and of your parents courting, of course.
WA: Yeah.
MH: Of which you were then produced. So, tell us a bit more about yourself Bill. When were you born? Where were you born? A bit about your childhood. A bit about your interests before you saw service in the Royal Air Force.
WA: Well, I was born in Surrey, a place called Lingfield, on the 22nd of September 1923. Of course, I didn’t know much until about well four or five when you sort of realise things were going on. Dad was a head gardener on the estate in Dormans Park just outside Lingfield racecourse, but what shall we say? Nothing happened really. School was just normal. But in about 1937 things started going wrong. We thought well although I wasn’t, I was only what seventeen or sixteen. You think, well there’s a war coming. You could feel it. And I thought, well what am I going to do? And I thought well I know radio and I know Morse code so I think I’ll go in to Abingdon and volunteer for aircrew. So, I went to Abingdon, to the RAF Recruitment Centre and I said, ‘I wish to join up as aircrew.’ They said, ‘What as?’ So I said, ‘Well, radio. He said, ‘Well, go back. We’ve got your address. We’ll contact you when we can take you into the air force.’ So I went back, worked with dad on the estate until I got this call to go to aircrew selection. So I went to aircrew selection at Weston super Mare. I was passed as a wireless operator/air gunner, given a service number and they said, ‘The Army or the Navy won’t call you up. But,’ they said, ‘You’re a bit late getting here. What happened?’ I said, ‘Well, I left Abingdon this morning. Got a train to Oxford where there was an Aircrew Selection Board. I got a train to Didcot where there was another aircrew selection board. Another train to Bristol where there’s an aircrew selection board. And then on to Weston super Mare where I am now. And at the interview, and they said, ‘Right, you’re, you’re ok for wireless op/air gunner.’ And of course I found out afterwards the senior was a wing commander and he said, ‘Why did you go, why were you late getting here?’ So I told him why. All these stations. And he said, ‘Well, you’re not travelling back tonight. You’ll stay in a hotel tonight.’ So the next day I travelled back to Abingdon. The reverse direction. [laughs’] Stops all the way.
MH: So, you returned home having been selected. How long a period then between your selection at the aircrew selection and your eventual call up? How long a period do you think that was?
WA: So, as I, when I went for aircrew station I was sixteen and a half. I was finally called up just before my eighteenth birthday and I went to Padgate for initial kitting. From Padgate I went to RAF Yatesbury where it was the Number 1 Radio School. Of which there were funny tales about Yatesbury but never mind. We passed out at Yatesbury. I then went to North Wales for my gunnery. Passed out as an air gunner. Then I was posted back to Abingdon to crew up as, for a crew. Where I was crewed with a pilot, a bomb aimer, two gunners, and a navigator. But at the time because Whitleys only had two engines there was no [pause] excuse me my voice is going. There was no —
MH: Flight engineer.
WA: Flight engineer.
MH: Yeah. Yeah.
WA: We passed out at Abingdon. Then we went to Heavy Conversion Unit, Riccall in Yorkshire where we converted on to four engine Halies, or Halifaxes I should say. We passed out there. We were posted to 77 Squadron, Riccall in Yorkshire. We were there, well by the week because our skipper had to go as a second pilot on a raid in Germany. He never came back. So, we were a crew at 77 Squadron without a skipper. But at 102 Squadron, Pocklington was a squadron leader who wanted a crew. So we were posted to Pocklington. Crewed up with a squadron leader who was an excellent pilot because he he got shot in the tummy but he was an ex-Spitfire pilot. So he knew how to fly a Hali. And so we teamed up there. Got on well. And often we used to say on raids if it wasn’t for our skipper who knew how to treat the Germans we wouldn’t have got back. But of course sometimes we were damaged but the thing was coming back if the skipper, if the tail end, Tail End Charlie said, ‘Skipper, there’s a Mossie coming,’ We knew we were safe because the Mosquitoes had cannons and the Germans didn’t like that. But after we’d done about twenty one ops at 102 we, our skipper was made up to a wing commander so, we were then posted to Holme on Spalding Moor. 76 Squadron. And there we remained until the end of the war. And after of course 102 was then converted to Transport Command, onto the old Dakotas.
MH: Ok. Right. I’ve got a few questions for you Bill regarding your service. Ok. Going to take you all the way back then to your wireless operator training when you said there were a few tales that occurred at Wireless Training School. Are they repeatable, these tales? Or are they too naughty for the listener?
WA: Well, they’re a bit naughty.
MH: What happened? What did you get up to?
WA: Well, because on the, between Calne and Yatesbury on the big hillside there was carved a big horse. A white horse. And one day the boys, the RAF got blamed because the White Horse was a big stallion.
MH: Ah. Right.
WA: So, they were sent to grass it over a bit [laughs]
MH: Ok. Ok. And were you involved in that additional?
WA: No.
MH: No. Right. Ok. We’ll save the confession. So, basically they’d put an additional leg to the horse.
WA: Correct.
MH: Ok. So, you started your training on Whitleys. It’s not an aircraft people are very familiar with because not a lot of people know about the Whitley in all honesty. Can you give our listeners your impressions of the aircraft? How you found it. How you found it for the specific tasks that you had to carry out.
WA: Ok. She was a twin-engine. She was a main bomber before the Halies and the Lancs came in. Or the Lancaster was a Manchester before it was a Lancaster. But the dear old Whitley was, was always for us, a flying coffin. A job to get out of if there was any trouble.
MH: Right.
WA: She was slow. We did our first op from Abingdon to — on a leaflet raid into Germany but [pause] well we got back. The thing was that because my father, mum we lived at a place call Sutton Courtenay which was just outside Abingdon and of course I was back at Abingdon and I said, ‘Well, I won’t be able to see you tomorrow. I might be away.’ And all the aircraft, fourteen Whitleys went over our bungalow and dad said mum wouldn’t sleep until she counted fourteen back.
MH: Right. Ok.
WA: But [pause] well she was a, well I suppose what you’d call a medium bomber. Not much. But when we left Abingdon and got on to the Heavy Conversion on to Halies — a different aircraft. Four engines. But the Mark 1s and Mark 2s were a bit slow. But because the Hali was designed for Bristol radial engines she had to go, the Mark 1 and 2s had Rolls Royce and she wasn’t designed for those. But because the Hali couldn’t have the radial engines, the Bristols until the Battle of Britain was over because they were all wanted for the Hurricanes. But once the Hali got the radial engines Butch Harris, the boss of Bomber Command said, ‘Ah the Hali is now a better bomber than the Lancaster,’ and she was. She was a damned good aircraft. So, the only thing was with the Hali she was fast. She was faster than the Lanc. When the Tail End Charlie used to say, ‘Ah, there’s a Mossie coming up.’ A Mossie, for the listeners is a Mosquito. And that Mosquito aircraft was wooden but she had cannons and if we were coming, if we were damaged and the Mossie came beside us no German fighter would come within fifty miles of us because he could, that Mossie could blow him out the sky. And coming back the skipper always used to say to the mid-upper, ‘Make a note of the two, the marks, the letters on the aircraft so I can phone up the squadron when we get back.’
MH: So, thinking about when you did your first operation on the Whitley. It was a sort of postal run for leaflets. How did you feel about that? Instead of taking cargo that would have been of more use should we say.
WA: Well, we didn’t know. It’s a line of duty and that’s it. It was. As I say you put all these leaflets down the flare ‘chutes and that’s it.
MH: So, none of the crew had thoughts of — I’m putting my life on the line basically to be postie.
WA: No. No.
MH: Right.
WA: I can tell you about that later but it’s on. No. You didn’t.
MH: Didn’t think about that.
WA: No.
MH: Just saw it as part of service.
WA: I mean, we’re going on our first op so big deal. Big day. But when we got to our first, what we called our first operation with 102 with the new squadron leader, it was different, you see. Well, we did our first op over Germany. Come back ok. So, the next op one or two of us used to have a cigarette. So, we sat down and had a cigarette and we’d say, ‘Well, there’s ops tonight. Some are not coming back. But we are coming back.’ That’s the way you looked at it. You were coming back. You gave your packet of cigarettes to the ground crew. The old sergeant there and say who looked after our aircraft, ‘Here’s the cigarettes. If we don’t come back smoke them. Think of us.’
MH: So [pause] Now, I did some background reading in to Halifax Mark 3s. It’s not an aircraft that I’m very familiar or I wasn’t very familiar with but I am now. It quite surprised me I must admit that the wireless operator found themselves tucked beneath the pilot’s feet. How, how was that for you? Because they were above you. The flight engineer was above you. You had two other crew members technically behind you with the mid-upper and the tail gunner but there was yourself, the navigator and the bomb aimer all stuck in the front altogether. How did you find that because of being bulky, bulky aircrew kit and all the rest of it? How did you find that?
WA: We didn’t notice it because we thought this is, this is my cabin, here’s my wireless, that was it. You didn’t think about, well the skipper’s above us. The bomb aimer, as you say was sat at the second dickie until we were over the target and went up front to take the bomb aimer’s position. But the navigator was almost alongside of me. So, we didn’t bother.
MH: I was quite surprised also to find out, Bill that at the point where you sat in the wireless operation desk etcetera and where the pilot was, the aircraft was in fact nine foot tall at that point. So that’s quite an expanse when you think about it. A nine foot tall, you know at the side of the fuselage as such. I was quite surprised by that. But it was all comfortable for you at that time.
WA: Oh yes. Because from where the pilot was you went down steps. A couple of steps, and as you were going down the steps you hung your parachute because you each had a place to put your parachute. So you didn’t think about much about the cramp. You put your parachute on the clamp and got into your position.
MH: And in your position as well the way the radio set was set up was slightly different to other heavy bombers, I believe. In that the receiver set stood on its end. And then you had the main transmitter in front of you and then your Morse key was clamped normally on the right hand side.
WA: Correct. Yes.
MH: And then you had a small desk for keeping your radio log and everything.
WA: And of course you had a trailing aerial by the side of you.
MH: Right.
WA: If I was to unwind it.
MH: Right. How did you find, did you find that — was that a good set up for yourself being the, the receiver set being there to having a — are you a right handed gentleman? Were you having to reach across or, to change the various wavelengths as such?
WA: No, it was a — because I’ll show you the photographs later. Up there.
MH: Right.
WA: Of the wireless operator’s position.
MH: Right. Ok.
WA: The only lights you had for eight hours if you were on a night raid was the lights from the radio.
MH: Right.
WA: There weren’t no other light because the Germans could pick it up.
MH: And the operational ceiling I believe of a Mark 3 Halifax was about twenty thousand feet. How did you deal with the cold?
WA: Oh. We had three pairs of gloves on. And, but they were so soft. Silk gloves, a very nice woollen and then a leather. Soft leather that you could always, you could bend your fingers and you didn’t realise they were on. But most of the trips were ok over Germany. But if we were sent on mine laying up in the Baltic then it was mighty cold.
MH: Because the difference or I understand with the Lancaster the same sort of position for the radio op in the Lancaster. They were fortunate in having the heater by them. Did the Halifax not have any heating as such? And if so where would it have been? Was it by yourself or was it elsewhere in the aircraft?
WA: Well there was a little bit of heating coming through. So as long as you didn’t get iced up.
MH: Ok. When you went to Holme on Spalding Moor it’s not a station that I am familiar with. What can you tell us about it? How was it when you got there?
WA: Well, we got there because our skipper had been made up to wing commander. He was the CO then of the, of 76 Squadron flying. So everybody at [unclear] and at briefing, our first briefing it was funny because we were at our briefing table without a skipper. And some of the crews looked as us as to say, ‘Where’s your skipper?’ And of course the skipper did a briefing and said, ‘This is our target for tonight.’ And of course when he finished the briefing he came down and sat with us. And of course some of the crew looked at us, ‘Oh, you’ve got the wing commander have you?’
MH: Did that give you any privileges at all? Were you treated differently? Or —
WA: No. The one bad privilege. We could only do one op a month.
MH: So —
WA: So, we were slowed down.
MH: Right. Due to, due to your pilot’s rank. They didn’t want to lose him as such.
WA: Yeah. But the thing was that the AOC, God he was a rugby player for England before the war. He used to have to do a monthly flight to get his flying pay. And he always used to come to the wing commander and say, ‘I want your wireless operator.’ He didn’t want a navigator, nobody. He only wanted the wireless op.
MH: So, you found yourself with the AOC for 4 Group. Doing his monthly pay flight.
WA: Yeah [laughs]
MH: And that was just you.
WA: Yeah.
MH: When you went up. So, it was just you.
WA: And the, and the pilot, you know. He was —
MH: What aircraft did you do that on? When the AOC had to go up.
WA: That was the Mark 6s. They were good aircraft.
MH: Right. So he was, he was, the AOC was still —
WA: Yeah.
MH: Keeping up to the date on the, on the aircraft type as such.
WA: Yeah. That was the CO. Not me. Gus Walker.
MH: Gus Walker. Right.
WA: Everybody knows Gus. One night he’d had, because he went out to two aircraft. What they tried on one squadron where he was they decided to, to use two runways. So that one aircraft went that way. The other one went that way. And of course this time the two hit in the centre.
MH: Yeah.
WA: And he went from flying control to see what was happening and when he got there one of the bombs went off and blew his arm off.
MH: Oh crikey.
WA: His right arm.
MH: Oh dear.
WA: So, every time you saw him you always shook left handed.
MH: Right. Crikey. Oh poor chap.
WA: But his — but the first time, well no. The second time he said, ‘Do you mind flying with me?’ When he did his flying test. I said, ‘Sir, you are safer than some of the pilots I’ve flown with.
MH: With the one arm.
WA: Yeah.
MH: We’ll leave those. We’ll leave those dodgy pilots out of this interview then, just in case they happen. We’ll leave the names of the dodgy pilots out of the interview just in case.
WA: That was, well we had posts.
MH: So, you’ve now gone and you’ve reached into your cupboard. What have you brought out for us? What have you brought out from your cupboard? What have you got there? Ah. Right. Bill’s just bought out his form 1767 which for those of us in the know is his flying logbook. So we’re going to use this as a bit of a reference with you listeners as Bill’s going to take us into his logbook now. And we appreciate you can’t see it but in Bill’s neatest handwriting I’m looking at a page which is headed up Yatesbury. The 21st of May ’43 and he was flying on X7517.
WA: Dominie.
MH: And that was a Dominie. And that was up for air experience by the looks of things. I suppose, what was that? To check and make sure that you weren’t going to be sick.
WA: Yes.
MH: And that sort of thing. Ok.
WA: Then we went on to radio then. Direction finding loop, homing training, calibre training.
MH: But I look then, Bill. I look at the time that you were up and the actual flying times that Bill’s referring to during his training. They’re not very long are they? They’re only about an hour or so.
WA: Yes.
MH: And during that that allowed you time to go through thoroughly the training that you had to go through.
WA: That’s right.
MH: Or do you feel that it was rushed?
WA: No. No.
MH: To get, to get you through.
WA: No. It was ok. There was, you still carried on. This is when then they go to Mona, North Wales for my air gunnery.
MH: Right. Yeah.
WA: That’s my hits [laughs]
MH: And Bill’s now got in September sort of time 1943 he was at the Air Gunnery Course Centre and firing off approximately two hundred rounds at a time on his training. And that was, ah the aircraft type listed that Bill was flying in then was an Avro Anson during his training for air gunnery. With all different pilots by the looks of things. Yeah. But so how much training? What sort of weapon were you taught to fire? What was it?
WA: The 303s and the drogue which was being dragged behind the aircraft.
MH: So that was, would that have been a single 303 or would that have been a pair or —?
WA: No. A pair.
MH: A pair.
WA: That was on the old —
MH: Ah. Now, this is going to bring recollections to me. Halfpenny Green.
WA: Yes. That’s right.
MH: Yeah. Now, for listeners if you ever get the chance there’s a John Mills film that basically shows him in Bomber Command and then eventually this particular place called Halfpenny Field gets handed over to the American 8th Air Force. And it’s called, the film is called, “The Way to the Stars.” So, if you get the chance have a look at it because the gentleman I am sitting with actually served at a place called Halfpenny Green. So, this, this is where you did more wireless operation training. Yeah?
WA: That’s right. The training.
MH: And we’ve got cross country exercises and navigations and you were the second wireless operator. And again on Avro Ansons. How did you find that aircraft Bill to be in? Was it good?
WA: It was a good aircraft. The old Aggie as they called her. Aggie Anson.
MH: Was it a good training aircraft then?
WA: Yes.
MH: Yeah. Ok.
WA: This was Abingdon or satellite Stanton Harcourt.
MH: Right. Ok.
WA: Yeah. She was number 10 OTU.
MH: So, on Bill’s page now we’re up to the period now in his logbook and right at the top of the page is the 25th of January 1944. Bill was on wireless op duty and flying with Flying Officer Ford in a Whitley T4131. And on that particular occasion out of 10 OTU he was doing circuits and landings for an hour and a half. And then this was at Stanton Harcourt where Bill looks like he’s done a mixture of, he’s done the odd bit on an Avro Anson but the majority of it has been on the two engine Whitley. However, he has been the wireless operator duty for the whole of those. That’s lovely Bill. That’s a lovely book. And then we continue. And then I’ve got — you’ve got fighter affiliation there. Which is quite interesting because I found out later when you were with, when you were at Holme on Spalding Moor you had 1689 Bomber Defence Training which were Hawker Hurricanes doing fighter affiliation on the same, the same airfield. So you’ve continued that there. And that’s March ’44. And — right, here’s something I’m going to question. What’s Bullseye, Bill? What does that mean when you see that?
WA: A Bullseye was a six hour from Abingdon. We went through London. And then to another Birmingham. So it was across country. But the thing was at London they hadn’t informed, they hadn’t been informed that we were coming. So they thought we were Germans and we were fired at [laughs] So I had to flashback the Morse at them.
MH: Right. Ok. So, was that a specific? Is that why you’ve noted it as Bullseye? Or was Bullseye for a specific target?
WA: No. It was called a Bullseye.
MH: It was called a Bullseye. So —
WA: So, if you completed a Bullseye you were ok.
MH: You were ok. Ok. But on that particular occasion the anti-aircraft decided to fire on you. Ok.
WA: Because they didn’t know. But they, I think afterwards it was a bit better then.
MH: Ok.
WA: As a nickel operation.
MH: Right. So Bill’s showing me here, on the 14th of February which for us gentleman we all know is a rather painful day in pockets-wise, being Valentine’s Day. Back in 1944 Bill was doing a nickel operation to Laval which was a four and a quarter hour night operation. And then the following month looks like that’s when Squadron Leader Legatt, you did some fighter affiliation with him and the flight commander’s check. So that was good. Ok. Then you go to 1658 Heavy Conversion Unit.
WA: Riccall, in Yorkshire.
MH: Riccall, in Yorkshire. And that’s on a Halifax Mark 2. And Bill’s started in his logbook, he’s got that noted on the 10th of May 1944. And his first flight was at 0900 in the morning. The pilot was Flight Lieutenant Warren. And that was familiarisation for the Halifax Mark 2 of two hours and five minutes. And that was a daytime familiarisation flight.
WA: We were on three engines.
MH: Was that because the aircraft had a fault, Bill?
WA: No. Had to do it.
MH: Oh, you had to do it. Right. Ok. So that was a test of skill as such for the pilot. As Bill’s pointed out there whilst at 1658 HCU in his logbook he’s noted on the 18th and 19th of May ’44 that they did a three engine test on both of those days. And as you heard him say that was a requirement at those times. I see there you did another Bullseye operation as well. Down the bottom of your page. But one engine wasn’t working.
WA: No.
MH: So that made it even harder than. So, yeah. Crikey. Circuits and — yeah.
WA: That’s when it was.
MH: And then on the 1st line of Bill’s book for the 15th of June ’44 Halifax Mark 3. Circuits and landings with 77 Squadron at Full Sutton. And then —
WA: We lost our pilot.
MH: Was that Mr Ford?
WA: Yes.
MH: Mr Ford went so —
WA: Flying Officer Ford.
MH: At this time listeners we would like to note the tragic events that at this point we lost Flying Officer Ford. And he was your first pilot that went as a second dickie on an operation.
WA: So when he didn’t come back we were a crew without a pilot.
MH: A crew without a pilot. Yeah. Then you got your new pilot.
WA: So we went to 102 Squadron, Pocklington with a Squadron Leader White.
MH: Squadron Leader White. And your first operation with him was eighteen thousand feet. Foret de Nieppe. NE — sorry. N I E P P E and your bombing height was eighteen thousand feet. It was a day operation of three hours and forty minutes. And then your very next operation being routed but written over your shoulder you were hit by flak and that was — oh you were, oh V-1 launch site. But you were quite down low then.
WA: Yeah.
MH: At ten thousand feet. So, Bill’s next op was on the 8th of August. A Halifax Mark 3. Again, the pilot was Squadron Leader White. His new pilot. Bill was the wireless operator and that was [unclear] where the aircraft was hit by flak. And they were bombing a V-1 launch site. You seem to have quite a few trying to tackle the buzz bomb problem.
WA: Yes.
MH: Yeah.
WA: Still carried on.
MH: Still carried on. So, for those in the know or those that are new to this regarding knowledge to Bomber Command Bill with Squadron Leader White then carried out an operation on the 7th of September. Again in a Halifax Mark 3. On this occasion it was gardening to the Frisian Islands from fifteen thousand feet. Now, for those in the know the gardening sorties were to be mine laying. So, in and around the Frisian Islands Bill and Squadron Leader White and the rest of the crew would have been laying, doing mine laying around the Frisian islands. And you did some more then. You went off to Mecklenburg Bay in the Baltic. That would have been very cold.
WA: Yeah.
MH: That would have been a bit raw. Especially in September. Even in September wouldn’t it? So Bill then did one on the 15th of September as well. Gardening to the Mecklenburg Bay. And then you did some ferry flights.
WA: No. September ’44 the army was held up on going into Germany. So 76 Squadron was loaded up with 22 Jerry cans which, one Jerry can is mighty heavy but when you get twenty two. But the thing was that get to my position we had to crawl across all these petrol tank things to get. But we, what I can’t make out, we were given a parachute but we could never have get out if anything had happened. And if Germany knew that we were full of petrol they would have been after us. But the thing was we used more petrol in our engines than we were carrying.
MH: Carrying. Yeah.
WA: But they wanted, the army wanted this petrol so we had to do it.
MH: Now —
WA: It was quite a few.
MH: So, you were ferrying fuel at the time of Arnhem. But burning up more fuel in doing it.
WA: Yeah. That’s the, that’s the way it went.
MH: And then you went to Kleve in the October. Bochum on the Ruhr in November of ’44. And then again back to the Ruhr. Sterkrade.
WA: They had a —
MH: Oil plant.
WA: Box barrage, and you flew, they set their guns from ten thousand feet to twenty thousand feet and you flew through it.
MH: How did you feel about that because —
WA: Well, we didn’t know until later. But there you are. We knew it was somewhere close because you could smell cordite in the, in the aircraft and golly, that was through the oxygen masks.
MH: So, you were picking up the vapours.
WA: Yeah.
MH: From the exploding rounds. Then you went to Zoest. The marshalling yards. In the December. That would have been cold as well, Bill.
WA: Yeah.
MH: And then, just for fun in the January of ’45 they sent you back to the Baltic. They obviously didn’t think you’d been cold enough before. But —
WA: That’s where we went to.
MH: Holme on Spalding Moor. So, Bill —
WA: The wing commander there.
MH: Bill’s just showing me in his logbook now that Squadron Leader White had been made up to wing commander and they went to Holme on Spalding Moor. And the first noted operation come practice on that was the 3rd of February ’45 on a Halifax Mark 3 where you had a practice bombing session before going off and you were going to — is that Goch.
WA: Yeah.
MH: Yeah.
WA: In the Ruhr.
MH: Goch in the Ruhr on the 7th of February ’45. However, it does look like was that operation scrubbed by the master bomber at that time. And you were at twelve thousand feet and that was due to come in to contact —
WA: Heavy cloud. You couldn’t see the target.
MH: With the chemical plant. Oh, and then in March ’45 Bill, with Wing Commander White went to one of the big ones — Cologne where you were bombing from twenty thousand feet. So you were up. With the Halifax that’s towards its upper operational ceiling isn’t it? The twenty thousand. So, that’s quite high. And then Wuppertal in the March. And then practice bombing in the March as well. And then I’m going to pronounce, I’m going to pronounce this wrong, Bill. I’ll tell you now.
WA: Wangerooge.
MH: Wangerooge Island, from eight thousand feet on the 25th of April ’45. Again with Wing Commander White. And that was to assist in taking out a gun emplacement.
WA: And that was the last raid of the war.
MH: The very last one.
WA: Yes.
MH: Right. Ok. And that was for a gun emplacement causing problems. And that was a daylight operation on those occasions. On that occasion.
WA: Eight thousand feet.
MH: Eight thousand feet. That’s nothing. Eight thousand feet.
WA: And on that one was twenty four aircraft from our squadron. As we were going in two of our Halies collided. One [pause] one went straight down and with all the seven killed. The other one went down in the sea but only the skipper got out. The rest of the crew were killed. But he came, he was only a prisoner of war for a few days because the war was virtually ended. But when he got back to our squadron before we transferred to Transport Command he said when he came out the, out of the sea a German officer was waiting for him. And, but while he was marching him up to, to their office I suppose, to interrogate him a farmer came rushing up with a pitchfork and he was going to stab the RAF pilot. And the German pulled out his revolver and pointed it at this farmer. Told him to shoo off.
MH: Because you do hear don’t you of a lot of, a lot of parachuted aircrew that were turned on by the civilians. You do hear quite a bit of that having occurred which is very sad. But again fortunately then, we can actually say fortunately there was a German officer there to save him.
WA: That’s right.
WA: That was the last one. The ops we did. Different pilots. Bombs had gone. Dropping bombs in the North Sea to get rid of them.
MH: What’s interesting, I’ve got to point this out to you, Bill. What’s interesting, Bill’s just pointing out to me a couple of entries in relation to May 1945 in his logbook. Now, you were in then the up to date Halifax Mark 6. Flying Officer Thrussel. It’s got here duty rear gunner. Did you go on that one there with the ferry flight because there was no other option? That was the only seat available or what took you to the rear turret on that occasion?
WA: It was just, you know because we lost all the air gunners because we didn’t need them. War was finished. So, when the Halifax went off and they said, ‘Well look, If you want to fly as a rear gunner, see what is happening,’ because when you’re a wireless op you couldn’t see much. So, you jumped in.
MH: Having changed your seat then for that particular time were you able to gain any sort of thoughts about what it would have been like to have been a Tail End Charlie as such?
WA: No. No.
MH: During your ops.
WA: No. You got Wingco, look [pause]
MH: Ah. So here, June, 5th of June 1945 in a Halifax Mark 6. The wing commander. Cook’s Tour. Ah, I’ve heard about these. Is that where ground personnel —
WA: Correct. We took them on.
MH: And they got to see the great, you know the work that you’d done. And the work that you’d carried out because they were unaware of it other than —
WA: That’s right.
MH: Movietone News etcetera. So, in August 1945 we appear to have an aircraft change.
WA: Transport Command.
MH: Transport Command. What, what made them— any ideas what made them change at that point? Was there more of a necessity for transport aircraft? I mean —
WA: Well, we didn’t need bombers. War was finished.
MH: The European one. But the war against Japan was, you know —
WA: Actually, what we were [unclear] we were flying to go to India to meet aircraft coming from Japan with Prisoners of War. And at Poona, India. And from that, the ones from Japan landed at Poona. The aircraft then flew from Poona to Cairo where they were put on York aircraft with a medical officer and a nurse. And from there they were transported back to England. And the pilots used to say, ‘Boys, we’re back in England.’ And I think they stopped it because some of the POW got so excited they expired. And we did hear afterwards that their, well their legs were like your arms. You know. Nothing.
MH: Yeah. I think, I think, I’d like to think that we’ve all, we’ve all seen the horrific photographs.
WA: Yeah. They used to come in to Hullavington which is now upgraded isn’t it? It’s Royal Hullavington. Is it?
MH: So, did you actually take part in any of those repatriation flights, Bill? Back to the UK?
WA: No. Because this is where I got this typhoid in Cairo. And also I found out that I’d been flying with a perforated ear drum.
MH: Oh dear. Oh —
WA: That’s why I’m completely deaf in my left ear.
MH: So, how long, how long did they think you’d had the perforated ear drum?
WA: Don’t know.
MH: Don’t know. Oh right. Ok.
WA: But that’s when they found out as I said. No more flying.
MH: So, that might have happened way way way way way back. Possibly on your first or second operation.
WA: Yeah.
MH: You’d gone all the way flying to the Ruhr and back with one ear drum.
WA: Well —
MH: Wow. That’s, that’s quite extraordinary. That, you know. That’s, you know. Because you managed to, you managed to hold down, you know the career that you had then. So what, when, what happened to you when you did your service Bill? What did you do post-service? What did you do after? What did you do after your service?
WA: I still carried on because I kept doing that, because when I came back to England up to Air Ministry, flying officer, he said, ‘Ah, Yatesbury. What do you know about medical?’ So, I said, ‘Not a lot. Nothing.’ They said, Right. You’ll go to RAF Yatesbury as a [pause] looking after transfers.’ Right. So, I goes down to Yatesbury for the third time. First of all as an airman. And later on. But I had quite a nice time at Yatesbury. Got into the football team. Got an injury. And one of the nurses looked after me who later became my wife. After a while they said, ‘Well, because you can’t fly and you’re only for a home,’ or they used to call it, France and Germany, ‘But you can’t go Far East because of your eardrum. We’ll have to transfer you to the MOD Air Force Department. But you won’t be in uniform. But they said we’ll help you out. We’ll count your service.’ So, that’s why when I retired at sixty I had a service commission, err pension.
MH: So, if I’m recollecting this correctly for our listeners you joined, you first of all went for air crew selection at the age of sixteen and a half. Got selected. And you retired from the Air Force technically at the age of sixty. Forty four long years of service to this country, Bill. That’s a long time.
WA: Yeah. But I enjoyed my time with the Royal Air Force. No regrets. My only regret is I had a perforated eardrum and I couldn’t carry on flying.
MH: What’s your, I’ve got to ask you an opinion, Bill. What’s your opinion on the way that Bomber Command have been treated?
WA: Grim.
MH: Grim. What makes you say grim?
WA: Because there was no medal for Bomber Command. The other services had something. I don’t think even Fighter Command had any much, you know. They saved us. The same as Bomber Command. They always said that Bomber Command was the only one of the three services that was operational. The poor old Navy couldn’t do much. Only look after home waters.
MH: Yeah. Yeah. How do you feel about the way that the young people of today view Bomber Command? With what we’re trying to achieve to bring it to their attention.
WA: I don’t think a lot of modern realise.
MH: Right.
WA: Because this what they’re building at Lincoln. The height of a, wingspan of a Hali or a Lanc. They had to ask for extra money but I don’t think they got much response from that. To me, a lot of people, well from once the war was ended things went quiet. It was forgotten.
MH: Ok. Right. I’ve got to ask you, going back to my list of questions. Your dad was in what would have been known during World War Two as the Fleet Air Arm. Why didn’t you choose the Fleet Air Arm, Bill over — what was it that turned you off the Navy and on to the Air Force as such?
WA: I don’t know. Aircrew to me was RAF.
MH: Right.
WA: That’s why.
MH: And you’d always wanted to fly. Where did that passion come from?
WA: Because I knew Morse. And I thought well there’s always a radio on bombers or aircraft.
MH: So was it your interest in radio at that time?
WA: Well, because Morse code was radio wasn’t? That was it.
MH: Leading on from that then I was reading about a particular aircraft the other day where they had a problem with the intercom on the aircraft. Got shot through during the war on a mission and they were using some sort of signal like Morse code tapping through the airframe so the rest of the crew knew what was going on. Because the pilot had designed a system where they knew that three taps mean bale out and all the rest of it. Did you have anything like that?
WA: No. No.
MH: So, when you went off you were basically reliant on the intercom system working all the time. Right. Right.
WA: And we, we knew what, alright we took off. Twenty four aircraft, we knew some of them wouldn’t be coming back but we were coming back. So that’s the way you looked at it. I’d think I know where my parachute is. I can soon grab it. And that’s it.
MH: Do you count yourselves as brave?
WA: No. Lucky.
MH: Lucky. Right. Ok. Alright. Because there would be a lot of us that would say what you did and your colleagues etcetera what you did and the young age that you were when you did it —
WA: That’s right.
MH: Was very brave.
WA: Twenty, twenty one, twenty two. That was it. And most of the names on that what they’re building at Lincoln opposite Lincoln Cathedral. They were all twenty, twenty one, twenty twos.
MH: People in the prime of their youth. Yeah. But it never worried you.
WA: No.
MH: Never scared.
WA: No. [unclear] that’s it.
MH: Positivity.
WA: Well.
MH: And you had a good pilot.
WA: Well, you’ve got, well yes. We had a damned good pilot. And it was the job. We had to do it. Someone had to do it.
MH: No, you’re right. Someone had to do it. Ok. Did you ever run across or come across Group Captain Pelly-Fry?
WA: No. I’ve heard about him.
MH: What can you tell us about him?
WA: Hi de hi Pelly-Fry.
MH: What can you tell us?
WA: Is that right?
MH: Yeah. What can you tell us about him?
WA: He was 76 Squadron before we got there. So, I don’t know. All I know that is he was known as Pelly-Fry. Wing commander.
MH: So, he then eventually went up Group Command didn’t he? Up to 4 Group.
WA: Yes.
MH: So, out of all the aircraft then that you served on and in, in what order would you put them as favourite to least favourite?
WA: My favourite. Well, it’s got to be the Hali. Damned good aircraft. She could take punishment and if she crashed she broke in to six pieces so you had more chance of getting out. Whereas the Lanc didn’t because the Lanc was an old aircraft. A twin-engined Manchester. Put two engines on it and called it a Lancaster. But it still had a thin fuselage and useless to get out of.
MH: Right.
WA: I suppose the worst aircraft was the old Proctor. With the single engine.
MH: Why? I’ve got to ask why.
WA: I don’t know [laughs] to me, so I say it didn’t have the guts like a Lanc, or a Hali I should say.
MH: Right. Yeah. So in all your time with Bomber Command you’d have seen sights that a lot of us wouldn’t want to see and would have lost friends, colleagues that sort of thing. But you were stoical throughout in your approach and you feel that you were lucky.
WA: Yes. Because often we used to say if it wasn’t for our skipper being an ex-fighter pilot he got us out of a lot of problems.
MH: After the war did you stay in touch with your crew or with your pilot or did you all go your separate ways?
WA: No. We all drifted away and that was it.
MH: Right.
WA: I met, the person who I kept meeting was Gus Walker, Air Commodore, who, he said, ‘I saw your old skipper in London last week,’ when he used to come on the station to the annual AOC. He’d say, ‘I met your old skipper in London. He’s still ok. Yeah.’
MH: Ok. That’s fabulous. Is there anything else, Bill that you’d like to add about your recollections?
WA: No. Just [pause] No. It was one thing I went through. No regrets.
MH: No regrets. Good. Lucky charms? Did you have any lucky charms that you carried about your person? Because I know a lot of aircrew used to have a teddy.
WA: A rabbit’s foot.
MH: And a rabbit’s foot.
WA: That’s right.
MH: And all that. Yeah. That sort of thing. Or a lucky coin, didn’t they? And that sort of thing. Clover leaf and what not. But no. What I’d like to do Bill is thank you very much for your time today.
WA: That’s nice. Thank you, Mark.
MH: I’m sure that people will thoroughly enjoy listening to this.
WA: I’ve got a bit of a throat, perhaps my voice doesn’t sound good today. It’s a bit throaty.
MH: It’ll be fine. It will be fine. But thank you very much for this afternoon. And I will be turning the tape recorder off.


Mark Hunt, “Interview with William Hubert Allen,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 21, 2024,

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