Interview with an Anonymous Interviewee

Title

Interview with an Anonymous Interviewee

Description

This interviewee was working at Chatham dockyard before he was accepted by the RAF as a mechanic. He then remustered as a flight engineer which fulfilled his hopes to be accepted as aircrew. While waiting for a place on the training course at St Athan he did maintenance work on Spitfires for 222 Squadron at RAF Hornchurch. At his Operational Training Unit the crew had the unfortunate of experience of crashing the command officer’s aircraft. The crew were posted to 419 Squadron at RAF Middleton St George. On one operation there was a fire in the engine which they managed to extinguish but while undertaking a manoeuvre on the flight home the engine again caught fire. Luckily they were again able to extinguish the fire. On another operation they were attacked by a night fighter and were raked from one end of the aircraft to the other but luckily were able to fly home despite the damage. However, the navigator was injured and was repatriated home. On a training flight over England a Halifax overtook them and apparently wanted to engage in a friendly way but tragically it stalled and the aircraft plunged to the earth with the loss of the lives of all on board.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-07-22

Contributor

Julie Williams

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

01:32:47 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AAn00086-150722

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

AS: My name is Adam Sutch and I’m conducting an oral interview for the International Bomber Command Centre Archive. It’s the 22nd of July 2015. The interviewee wishes to preserve his anonymity but I can record that he was a flight engineer on a Lancaster squadron from May 1944 carrying out a full tour of operations. Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I’d like to set the scene by asking you to describe your life before joining the Air Force.
Anonymous: My life before joining the Air Force. Right. Well, I was one of three sons of a widowed mother and in 1939 I was fourteen years old, I think. Yes. Fourteen. Both my brothers, well one brother was already in the Royal Navy having joined when he was twenty one in 1936. So he was at sea when the war started and my second brother joined the Air Force a few months later. So I was left at home to comfort mother and because most of our school in Kent were disrupted by evacuation of children I left school and worked in Chatham Dockyard for a time in various jobs and took the apprentice’s exam there. And was about to sign indentures to become a bench carpenter or something similar but backed off that and my mother couldn’t persuade me from setting my sights on joining the Air Force when I was eighteen. But before that I attempted the aircrew selection board at seventeen and a quarter. I expect you know about that. When one went to London for a selection day and went home miserable because one had failed. But, and they told me to come back when I was eighteen. Ok. And so I went back to Chatham Dockyard and then I, as soon as I was approaching eighteen I volunteered for the Royal Air Force. For ground duties in fact because I’d failed the Aircrew Selection Board first time around. Then what happened? Yes. I was called up. Did the usual rooting through square bashing at Skegness for six weeks and did ability, multiple, multi-choice questionings to see what I was fit for. And they said, ‘Well, you would make a half decent flight mechanic.’ So I was then posted to Cosford for a six month flight mechanic’s course I sort of quite enjoyed. During the course the aircrew occupational flight engineer was introduced. And I think that was in ‘42/’43. Hang on a minute. Ok. Yes. So that was halfway through that flight mechanic’s course. They sent around recruiting sergeants to gather volunteers for aircrew you see. And, and I saw it as an opportunity to do what I’d wanted to do from the start. Aircrew selection board at Birmingham. And I passed that one. Some of the questions were the same ones as I’d answered earlier. But anyway, anyway I passed that one and then I had to complete the flight mechanic’s course before I could go down to St Athan. Anyway, I did that. I did quite well in the exam when I passed out. Then I had to wait for the, for the entries to be teamed up properly you know. In the right capacities and so on. So I did a period of maintenance work on Spitfires on 222 Squadron at Hornchurch. Then in [pause] when did I go? September ’43. Oh, that’s when, yes then I went to St Athan in ’43 as part of the entry of — oh we were all ex-flight mechanics in that particular entry because they based your training to be a flight engineer on your previous experience. So they had a good history of that you see. So that was that and that lasted until January ’44. Way into the spring of ’44. And the day of my final exam I was in hospital with the flu. But anyway, so I was delayed from my colleagues and that’s just a by the way. I lost track of them. But in due course, it was only about two or three months, two or three weeks later I went to Dishforth in Yorkshire to do something called a Heavy Conversion Unit. You’re familiar with those?
AS: Yes.
Anonymous: Yeah. Dishforth. And from there I joined, well I joined up with a crew of Canadians and an American pilot on 419 Squadron. They’d already done, they’d been up to, what do we call it? Operational Training Unit. You know, they were, they’d been through the first bit of being a crew. A six man crew. But they had no flight engineers. They didn’t train them in Canada apparently. So we were bolted on at the Heavy Conversion Unit stage using ancient Halifaxes to, to get familiar with four engines, you know. And for the pilots too because our pilots, you know they were astounded by the size of the four engine ones. And so it was, we were only there for about a fortnight. And then we went on to Middleton St George in, when was that? May, I think. May. Yeah. Just after. Yeah. Yeah. Just after that. May ’44. Went to Middleton St George. And I don’t know if you want any silly humorous things. Semi humorous things. The first thing we did when we got there all the flight engineers on our course concentrated on Halifaxes. This is a typical bit of service. So, I learned all about a Halifax. This will tell you all sorts of things about a Halifax in there. And when we got to Middleton they’d just converted to Lancs you know. Great. Great. Only two weeks previously. So we all had, I had to do a lot of re-learning and, and we did our customary getting used to flying the Lancaster thing. And we wrote off the first one we rode. There was a tyre creep that we weren’t familiar with and the bell blew off halfway down the runway on a very fine Sunday afternoon. So we spent two or three hours messing about over Stockton on Tees etcetera getting rid of petrol. And then we had to attempt a two wheel landing on one of the — I should have said that the, the portside tyre blew off or burst when we were half the way down the runway. We were empty fortunately. No bomb load. And so we stooged around and got rid of the petrol and then we were carrying on to the rear wheel and the good wheel and we were doing very well and holding it levelly until the speed diminished and the wing dropped. And the, where the tyre had burst it dug into the, into the edge of the runway and slewed the aircraft right around and broke its back. And by some quirk of fate it was the particular aircraft that the CO had selected to be his own [laughs] Such as [laughs] Yeah.
AS: Promising start.
Anonymous: So the next time he saw it it was at the end being towed away rather sadly to the end of the runway. The end of the airfield. And I don’t know what happened to it after that. Poor chap. But it was interesting being with Canadians and an American. You know, there was the cultural difference. I mean they eat like eating your first meat meal with jam on it which my pilot liked doing. American Joe this was. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Joe Hartshorn. He was, he was quite a distinguished American pilot and, well he did very well with us actually. But yeah he was a geologist by profession and a very interesting man. And I’ve got something here that he wrote. I don’t know if it, I wonder if it would be any help to you. He wrote his account of life in Bomber Command as an American and he called it, “Under Three Flags,” because he was an American. He went into the Canadian Air Force because he, before the war, before America was in the war and then he was flying under the Union Jack as well. So under three flags. Yeah. They were an immigrant family. His father was a miner in the North Country and they’d gone over there. Anyway, so where were we? On —
AS: You’d just written off the COs Lancaster.
Anonymous: Was it? We then embarked on our, on our operational tour. And I’ve got my logbook. It’s, it’s a very poor standard of paper in some of the logbooks. I suppose it didn’t get a lot of priority really at that time. Is this stuff I’m giving you any use to you?
AS: It is. If there is something beyond gold dust Ken this is it.
Anonymous: Oh right [laughs] Right. So where do we go first? We did our first one. Let’s have a look. That was number seven. [unclear] in, a French troop camp and rest centre. In Belgium it was. Four hours thirty minutes.
AS: Ken, this was just before D-Day you went on ops was it?
Anonymous: Yeah. Well, sadly, it was. Yeah. Because it wasn’t enough before D-Day for us to get the Aircrew Europe medal. Medal. We did, well I’ll tell you, you needn’t write this down early but we did, we completed a tour of thirty two sorties and collected three DFCs and a DFM but we didn’t get the Europe. Anyway —
AS: Because it stopped after the 6th of June didn’t it? it was the —
Anonymous: Yeah.
AS: Yeah.
Anonymous: Something like that. Yeah. I’ve long since ceased crying myself to sleep to do that. You know. So that was that. Now that was about the time that the only Canadian VC was earned. You know, the Polish chap.
AS: Mynarski.
Anonymous: That’s him. Yeah. He was on 419. I think, yeah there were two air, there was two squadrons on 419 but I’m sure he was 419. We didn’t know him because we’d only been there about a couple of weeks, you know. But reading accounts of how he earned his VC that’s where it places him. Yeah. So that was interesting. That was a revelation to us all. And of course Joe, the pilot, had done two earlier ones as spare pilot for experience with, with an experienced crew. Just, just went as second pilot on those but that didn’t affect the rest of us. So then we started here. When the first, I mean after the initial shock of seeing, they saw this illumination and explosion ahead of you that you’d got to go flying through we — I don’t know if you want to read that little bit. It came out of the local paper. The paper the Canadians produced. Lorne Vince. That’s it.
AS: It’s staggering that. You know.
Other: It’s great isn’t it?
AS: Yeah.
Other: It’s amazing what’s on there.
Anonymous: I think I’m the only survivor of these you know.
Other: Amazing.
Anonymous: Yeah. Yeah.
Other: But did you kept in good touch after the war?
Anonymous: Yes. I’ve got some photographs of meeting the two gunners and their wives in Toronto when it was our golden wedding anniversary.
Other: Oh brilliant.
Anonymous: We did Canada that year. Yeah.
Other: That would have been rather touching wasn’t it? Catching up after all that time.
Anonymous: Yes. I’ve kept in touch with Joe the pilot by correspondence as well.
Other: Yeah.
Anonymous: Yeah.
AS: That is amazing. Was this your first trip? When you went on to —
Anonymous: No. That was number — let’s see. It was up the Ruhr somewhere wasn’t it? Yeah. Let’s have a look.
AS: That sounds quite hairy. Perhaps you could tell us a little bit about that.
Anonymous: It was. It was rotten. Yeah. June the — what was it? Number six I thought it was. Bad luck when you can’t read your own logbook isn’t it? Fighter cover. Oh, Sterkrade. That’s the one.
AS: Ok.
Anonymous: That’s the one. Number six.
AS: Ok. So, so that was a daylight op.
Anonymous: No, it was night.
AS: Ok
Anonymous: Does it, does it give a departure time or —
AS: It does. Yeah. 20:14 you’re right
Anonymous: On there. It doesn’t say that?
AS: 20:14. Yeah. You’re right.
Anonymous: Yeah.
AS: So obviously your gunners are heavily involved. What, what happened on that particular occasion? Can you tell us a little about that?
Anonymous: Well we were, there was a lot of, let me just refresh my memory on it. Then it was, “Shot up by a fighter.” Yeah. “Hammy injured.” Yeah. Ok. Yeah. What happened was the rear gunner shouted out. We were, we were within sight of the target in the Ruhr and Lorne Vince, the rear gunner, shouted, ‘Corkscrew.’ You know, ‘There’s a fighter coming in.’ Or whatever he said at the time. And he let off a burst and the chap came around again. He must have ducked under us and come up again and he raked us from the rear turret right up through the aircraft. The mid-upper turret had a hole, both sides of it, both sides of the globe, you know and poor old Jason was sat there with his head still on, you know. But he was alright. A bit shaken up. And then it came up through the, through the crew area. You know. Up at the front. And some of the flying shrapnel or whatever it was wounded the navigator in the arm and in the leg and he lost a good number of his instruments. And there was a certain amount of flapping going on up there as well. And anyway, Joe kept the aircraft under control and, and Lorne Vince, the gunner must have let off another burst because he got it credited to him as a probable you know. A bit stronger than a probable maybe. Anyway, they decorated him from it and, but we were like a colander by this time, you know, we’re — yeah. And it was very hairy alright but the bomb aimer was ok and we sort of pressed on and got rid of our bombs and got back home in a mess. As Joe, the pilot said, with less aircraft than we started with [laughs] Yes. And so that was our, that was our initiation into the real thing, you know. Yeah. So that was, but Hammy by the way, the navigator, he navigated us home by dead reckoning. You know. He’d lost so many of his instruments and, and so on. Anyway, so he was decorated as well for that account and repatriated so we didn’t see him again. He was the, he was older than the rest of us.
Other: Was he?
Anonymous: Yes. There he is. Hammy. The tall, the tall one second from the right. Left is it?
AS: Yeah.
Anonymous: Yeah. That’s it. That’s Hammy. Yeah. Yeah. And, yeah, he died. He died quite a young man, I think. After the war. But, but he was two or three years older than us and it sort of showed when some of you were nineteen, you know and you’ve got a twenty six, a twenty six year old chap with you, you know.
AS: It’s taking your grandad along.
Anonymous: Yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah. He was great. He was a great chap actually. Anyway, so yeah, so that’s our, then it, I mean I can’t tell you about the variations of the various trips. These were all — if these are in green they’re daylight and if they’re in red they’re night ones. So we, you know, by number eleven we were up the Ruhr again and I mean the typical report would be, “Heavy flak. No fighters.” You know. That was a rail one actually. “Heavy barrage over target,” at Kiel and so on. Stuttgart — flak over target. And so we went on until August time and we were now getting to be a, a sort of an experienced crew you know. And regarded as having a certain amount of luck. Then we had to go, on our twenty third trip we had to go to Stettin which is a long way north isn’t it? And very heavy flak there. I mean the trip took eight hours. It was the longest one we’d done actually. Eight hours and fifty minutes. That’s virtually nine hours isn’t it? And, but we got back unscathed from that. Then we all went on leave and when we got back the first one we were booked for was Stettin [laughs] again. Now this time, I’m speaking from memory now, we were carted around to the dispersals to get in the aircraft, which we did. And we started up and we started taxi-ing around to the, to the hut you know and the breaking and the steering on the ground is all controlled by the rudders. The rudders isn’t it? It was. And there was some fault in that and so we had to stop on the, on the, not on the runway but on the track around. Perimeter track. And they fixed that. Cost us about a half an hour. Three quarters of an hour I suppose. But it’s like going to the pick your own at the supermarket. You know. You get the benefit and then you’ve got to pay for it. By the time we got over the, over to Stettin the main stream had gone through. We’d lost the benefit of Window. You know. The strips. So we were virtually doing a solo act. Not quite of course. There must have been others around. But anyway we were coned by searchlights on the bomb run and, and there wasn’t serious damage but we did [pause] it did start a fire in the starboard inner engine. And we lost, we lost height and we [pause] sufficiently to say in the logbook that we bombed at eleven thousand feet which was quite low, you know. So, and the, I mean it’s quite frightening really when you see these flames going back over the fuselage on the main plane. And the poor old rear gunner in all the noise and shouting and searchlights and so on he [laughs] he came on, ‘What the hell’s happening up there?’ He said, ‘I can’t see a thing.’ You know. So we had to put him in the picture and fortunately we had this cockpit controlled, control for fire extinguishing on each engine. You’d got four, four buttons and you pressed one for each relative engine. And the fire went out. Yeah. It was between fuel tanks. You know, the engine. The starboard inner. And then there was the fuel tank and then another engine but the fuel tank in the middle. It hadn’t got across there and there were no leaks sufficiently to get a big fire going. And what happens with the, when you press that button the engine feathers as well, you know. The blades come around. Do you fly by the way?
AS: A little bit.
Anonymous: Yeah.
AS: A little bit. Yeah.
Anonymous: So you know what I’m talking about when I say feathering.
AS: Yeah.
Anonymous: Yeah. And, and the fire went out. So we all breathed a sigh of relief and set off home, you know. And the practice on our squadron was, half way home normally, if you were over the water you would open the bomb bay doors, give it a shake around a bit to make sure there were no hang-ups and then close the doors again and proceed. When we did that the aerodynamic effect was that it changed the setting of the damaged engine’s propeller and it started unfeathering. All the temperatures went up in there and the fire started again. We were, you know we were well over the North Sea now. Between Stettin and Darlington if you like. Yeah. And we pressed the button again and by some act of God the fire went out again. So we, well to cut the rest of it short we got back [laughs] but it was remarkable really. It was a dickens of a way to contemplate going. Yeah. I mean the Lanc was quite capable of flying on three engines with quite a load on but, yeah but that distance over water, very cold water. Yeah. Anyway, yes, whatever, which one I started. These are not here. But do you know it’s a funny frame of mind you’re in when you’re on these tours. There’s some sort of, oh I don’t know the word [pause] togetherness you know. And a lot of, a lot of genuine feeling is disguised by either bad language or drinking or, or too much bonhomie. You know. That sort of thing. But by and large there was very very few that you come across that were blighted with this wretched, what was it, LMF thing, wasn’t it? Yeah. Yes. That was dreadful. Yes. It’s the only service that punish people to that extent to make it so [pause] Yeah. Yes ok. So there we go. Then we got up to twenty and we began to get hopeful now. By this time, by the way we were going on a number of daylights. D-Day would pass and we were doing army support ones. And the only thing I mention that for is that here you might have seen this in oh that’s one little thing. That was, that was an unofficial photograph taken at the sergeant’s mess on the occasion of that.
AS: The Moose Men. 419 Squadron.
Anonymous: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s yours truly holding that end up.
[pause]
AS: No tie, Ken.
Anonymous: Hmmn?
AS: No tie.
Anonymous: [laughs] No. We were just come back. I don’t know. We used to say that the last thing the cook and butchers did in the kitchen when we were taking off, as soon as the sound died down they put our fried eggs on. They were like yellow rubber heels by the time we got back. So, no. No. This was, the reason I mentioned daylight ones was you might have seen this in, in journals of some sort.
AS: So this, taken from an another aircraft above.
Anonymous: Yeah.
AS: The Lancaster almost directly underneath. That must have been quite a scary position to be in.
Anonymous: Oh yes. For them it was. The thing is, it was at, we took the photograph.
AS: Oh right.
Anonymous: Yeah. And I’ve got the original. The photographic department broke all the rules and gave us the photograph. Yeah. So, it was us that took the photograph. And what it, it wasn’t somebody aiming a camera at it. It was the, you know at the end of the bomb run, the last exposure on the camera which was photographing the target would be the result if they could. And so that was what, that’s what got caught in the, in the last flash. And you’ll find that in many, many journals on it. Yeah.
AS: That’s extraordinary.
Anonymous: Yeah.
Other: Good framing isn’t it? Great.
Anonymous: Yeah. So, the only other thing we did we — D-Day the Canadian army I think it was, was held up in the Falaise Gap. You know. And we were doing a daylight on the 14th of August in ’44. And it was the one occasion when we earned one of those. Have you seen one of those before?
AS: I have not seen an original. I’ve actually seen a copy of this one.
Anonymous: Have you?
AS: On the internet. On the Moose Men website.
Anonymous: Oh yes.
AS: I have never seen the target token original. That’s just fantastic.
Anonymous: Yeah. That’s one you can take away, I think. If you wish.
AS: Absolutely. Thank you. That will, that will go in the archive.
Anonymous: Yeah.
AS: Absolutely go in the archive.
Anonymous: Yeah. Ok. And so that was, claimed to be a direct hit you see, on the target which did us all a lot of good, you know. And this — we’d, we got out of our aircraft coming back from a daylight. An early morning one, you know so about a 6 o’clock take-off when we were attacking the flying bomb sites. Ok. And I don’t know, one of the WAAFs I expect had a camera that she shouldn’t have had. And she was down at the dispersal and she took one of each of us as we got out. Apart from Joe. He stayed in.
AS: How did you feel about being photographed? A lot of crew have told me that, or some crew have told me that they felt it was, it was not good luck.
Anonymous: Oh really.
AS: I didn’t, obviously didn’t bother you.
Anonymous: No. No. I don’t think that. I don’t think we discussed that one. No. We were all too vain I expect. Yeah.
Other: How old was the oldest?
Anonymous: Hmmn?
Other: How old was the oldest crew member?
Anonymous: Hamilton. But he only did six with us so he was [pause] I suppose the next one might have been Joe but he was only two or three years older than us, you know.
Other: Yeah.
Anonymous: Yeah.
AS: Shall we, shall we have a pause there Ken?
Anonymous: Yeah. Why not.
[recording paused]
AS: Here we are back from, from our break. Ken, I’d like to go into your memories of the crew as individuals and then perhaps some of the reunions and the way you kept in touch after that war. If that would suit.
Anonymous: Yes. Right. Well from the top then. We had this maverick chap with us. An American lieutenant of the American Army Air Force who had originally gone up across the relevant parallel to join the RCAF, the Canadian Air Force, before America came into the war. And he did this at the risk of losing his American citizenship in those early days. This was later changed when — after Pearl Harbour. So Joe was a man of great flying ability and saw us through many tight, out of many tight corners. And we were pleased to say that at the end of his time with the Canadian Air Force he went back to the Americans and had quite a distinguished career. A career with them. And became one of the few people in the Air Forces who had a DFC from both of them. Who earned a DFC from both of them. I don’t know why he got it in the American one but I know he stayed in the reserve after the war but we’re thinking about wartime relative. W/O Keelan, Keelan, Bill Keelan was, now where did he live? Somewhere near the Rockies. And he, we acquired Bill when we lost our original navigator over the Ruhr on our sixth trip. Bill was a very quiet chap and kept into, kept at his desk. Rarely came out to view the bomb run or anything of that sort. But he was surprised on one occasion and a bit startled I think when he did pop his head out and saw three or four flamers going down not too far away from us during the bomb run. So he was, it didn’t affect him fortunately. So, and then there’s Tony Delaney was the bomb aimer who often, people who wanted to be pilots but lacked some characteristic that was required and often became bomb aimers. Did you come across that before?
AS: Yes. I think so. Yeah.
Anonymous: You know a lot of people going over from this country had the same sort of selection process I think. And then W/O Lyall. He was quite experienced. The wireless operator. Always anxious to be in the middle of things and, and when he, when he was involved in the shoot up over the Ruhr he was, he was very active in trying to get around and see what else he could do apart from wireless operating at the time. Fred. Fred Grumbly and Lorne Vince both had the same characters really in the sense that they were quite at home being alone for some of these long trips with nobody around them or close to them. You know. And I don’t know what else I can say about them really. So, about the, what we were saying about, yes, seeing them again. Yeah. That’s right. Seeing them again. Yes. For our, for our personal golden wedding my wife and I went to Canada and by arrangement we met both Fred Grumbly and Lorne Vince together with their wives at Toronto and had a marvellous day around the, what is it? The CN Tower or something?
AS: The CNN I think it is. They’re broadcasting towers, I think. Broadcasting.
Anonymous: That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s — oh then in addition to that Joe Hartshorn and I kept in touch for most of the period. And he was coming over to Europe on one occasion and came and stayed in Modbury which is quite, that’s this little town here. And he’d expressed a wish to go to an old English pub and stay with his partner and we duly fitted him up with that. And he came over and we had some time together. Took him over on Dartmoor and showed him all the sites over there. And then when he saw me the day after they’d spent their first night in the pub I’d put them in. He said, ‘Marvellous, ‘he said, ‘Lovely flagstones floors.’ You know. He said, ‘It’s the first building I’ve seen in the whole world and I’ve been around a bit,’ he said, ‘That didn’t have a straight wall in it, [laughs] or a right angle in it.’ A right angle. The first building he’d found without a right angle. Yeah.
AS: As a crew. Not when you were operating. When you were down did you all live together?
Anonymous: Well, I mean we were, we were non-commissioned people. Joe, Joe and the navigator Bill, oh wait a minute. Joe was in the officer’s mess, Keelan wasn’t. Delaney was in the officer’s mess. So there were just two in the officer’s mess and the rest of us were in the sergeant’s mess, you know. NCO’s mess. Yeah. So, but socially some of us used to go to the dance hall in Stockton on Tees. The Maison de Dance I think it was called [laughs] with the pub right opposite the door. Yes. So that was our, that was our sort of, I don’t know, our respite I suppose. Swap one noise for another. Yes. But I shall forever remember the Glenn Miller record of “American Patrol,” because we used to think at times it was the only one the band knew. But it stayed with me you know. The American.
Other: The theme tune.
Anonymous: Yeah.
AS: Your tour seemed to pass relatively quickly. You got thirty two ops in in what, four months which is, is quite — did you feel that you were, it was all happening under pressure? Bang bang bang or did you get lots of time off?
Anonymous: I don’t, I can’t recall. I don’t think we were ever concerned about the frequency. Only if we’d had four in one week we might have done but it was sufficiently phased, I think, to avoid that. I mean during the, this isn’t for, for the narrative by the way, my narrative. My personal view is that the area or the timing of the, all the bravery and so on of Bomber Command doesn’t give enough attention to the early ones who would take off, six or eight of them. Blenheims would take off from Detling and if a couple came back, you know, they’d had a good day. Their navigation wasn’t as good and the equipment wasn’t, was it? You know. But some of those chaps were doing very very long deep European ones and coastal ones. Heavily defended. You know, around the dockyards and so on. I sometimes think that they almost deserve a separate recognition but I know that’s, that’s a vain hope. I do feel, you know, it’s quite right. I mean, if you lose fifty four thousand people and you’re the only command that ever, that was still going at the end of the war that started off then there’s going to be a lots of bravery. I mean there must have been thousands of acts of bravery that nobody will ever know about. Mustn’t there? Yeah.
AS: Someone has to come back to tell. Yeah.
Anonymous: That’s right. Yes. I mean if our, if our engines hadn’t reignited or if the one hadn’t come to life again we could have been in the bottom of the North Sea couldn’t we? In August 1944. No trace. That’s what Runnymede is largely about you know. People who, well they don’t know whether there’s any grave for them. Yeah. Ok. So what was the question?
AS: We were, we had been through your recollections of your crew and keeping in touch after the war. Perhaps we could, we could move on a bit to a different aspect of being a crew. I mean it’s often said that the, the successful and surviving crews were in large part very very disciplined and very skilled. Was your captain? Were you, as a crew practicing your drills, emergency drills religiously? How did you become such an efficient and surviving crew?
Anonymous: Yeah. [pause] I can’t say there was ever any dedicated. You’d have to be selective about what you put here because I don’t want, the last thing I want to do is ruffle, ruffle any feathers. We rarely had team cooperation lectures or practices. We used to do it in practical ways by doing cross country’s at night, you know. And bombing Hull at night. That sort of thing. Yeah. It was practical. Hands on building really. But the most thing, the best thing to build the morale and so on was to get involved in to our Ruhr experience and see what comes out. You know. See where the deficiencies are. Because I mean, talking in modern, modern terms we have this thing called the annual review in big business now don’t we?
AS: Yeah.
Anonymous: And there was a lot of suspicion about it when it first came in wasn’t there? Because they thought it was a way of getting rid of me but in fact it was the positive was you got many good qualities which we want to further and exploit and tidy them up or you’ve got several bad habits that are not acceptable. You know. There was a [pause] but I mean none of that, the services have got the basis, or the big advantage of having discipline haven’t they? You know. Ranking. If you come, I was asked to come and work in Plymouth for a time. You can’t say to a man in Civvy Street, ‘You’ll do this because,’ you know, ‘I’ve got three pips and you’ve got three stripes,’ you know. Yeah. You can’t do that. But the military and all the, all those people that have the big weapon of discipline haven’t we? Disciplinary procedures and so on. Anyway, I don’t know why I’m telling you all that but that’s what came more when I was I was doing, well involved in personnel work before I retired you see. So.
AS: I think there’s an element of doing a post mortem really after action. And you linked it to the Ruhr. Your Ruhr operations. So was that, was that a feature of your crew interaction that you discussed previous operations? Hairy experiences or —
Anonymous: I didn’t, I wasn’t party to any discussion on that.
AS: Yeah.
Anonymous: No. No. I mean there’s a certain amount of, of relief really that the survivors if you like come back. I don’t, I can’t recall any where they said well we knew there was a bit of a weak link there, you know. Or he ought to be off to Eastchurch. To the LMF camp. You know. Yeah. Yeah. So —
AS: Could we go down a slightly different track and this would be very familiar to you but perhaps not to many people who’ll listen to this interview. Could you, could you take me through a raid from, from basically getting up, going through the briefing. I know a lot of them are different but if you —
Anonymous: You’re asking a lot.
AS: Ok.
Anonymous: I mean I’m ninety one next month, you know. You’re doing very well. You’re dredging all that [laughs]
AS: Would you like me to stop?
Anonymous: Yeah. Go on. Stop it for a minute. Yeah.
[recording paused]
Anonymous: That was not dealt with. No. No. That’s, that’s not right. There wasn’t any so it didn’t need to be dealt with. Joe was a very good, very good captain and, yeah, he really was. He was, he was quite an impressive bloke. He was, he didn’t go, he didn’t socialise a lot. He would, he would never go to hear the, “American Patrol” in the dance hall, you know. You wouldn’t find him there. But, yeah, he was, he was a good man and he held the team together very well. Yeah. So no. I can’t, I can’t deal with that question very, very much I’m afraid from personal experience.
AS: That’s absolutely, absolutely fine.
Anonymous: Ok. But I mean as far as the sequence goes each, each aircrew category had their own building somewhere on the, you know, their hut. The flight engineer’s hut was down near the dispersals. So you’d go down there in the morning and on the wall there was a list like a league table and and it would say, “Flying tonight,” Or whatever, you know, “Engaged tonight.” And there would be the captain’s name all the way down. And then the last figure on it would, I think from memory, fuel load. You know. Which caused speculation then because they said fuel load, or bomb load, whichever. If the, if it was a lot of petrol and not so much bomb load you knew you were going a long way. That’s right. So, so there’d just be the captain’s name and then briefing would be about, well it would depend on the take-off time really. And you’d all go down to the, to the central building and be briefed. All the crew. 419, everybody went. You know. The whole crew. And you were briefed by the various people. The Met people and the navigational people and one or two others and yes I remember the day of Arnhem. Arnhem was it? Yeah. Arnhem. Joe was, Joe was labelled with the name of ‘fearless Hartshorn’[laughs] Yeah. He carried that label for some time. But they had this tape going across Europe you know. The end of the tape would be the target. And, and then there was one that finished on the, right on the coastline. And I remember the, the briefer saying, ‘Don’t get fooled by that one that finishes at the coastline. It’s not Fearless off on his own again,’ you know, or something like that. And [laughs] but in fact it was, it was the Arnhem flight that was being carried out by the airborne people. And they were just telling us this would be about. You know, there would be a lot of activity down there. And we were doing, we did a diversionary raid further south. I can’t remember when it was but if you know the date of Arnhem I could probably tell you when it was from here. But anyway, yeah so that would and then we’d all troop off and go and have our yellow rubber heel at the, you know [laughs] Or was that when we came back wasn’t it? When we came back. Yeah. That maligns the cooks and butchers of course but it was one of those things that happened in the service isn’t it? Yeah. So we’d then go back to our huts or whatever and get ready in our own ways, you know. Personal ways. Prepare. One thing I don’t know. We were in Nissen huts until we could get a room in the sergeant’s mess which was usually overbooked and you’d get about eight or ten of us in a Nissen hut. And you know what they are don’t you? Nissen huts.
AS: Yes.
Anonymous: I’m sure you do. Yeah. And there was only one. Replacement crews would come in. You know, the NCOs of replacement crews would come in to make up the numbers in the crew. And one of the bravest acts I saw within the service culture was a Roman Catholic Canadian. It might have been a French Canadian who came in with some replacements and came about, I don’t know, late evening. We’d all started settling down. And he kept his light on and he actually knelt by his bed and did his prayers. You know. And it took courage of a great sort I think, you know. He was laying himself open to a lot of leg pulling and so on. Yes. But they didn’t make it back from their first trip. Yes. Sad little story but —
Other: In a group of young men it was a pretty brave act wasn’t it?
Anonymous: Well in that, at that company yeah I think it was so unusual. Nobody, nobody made anything of it you know. Mind you we were a good lot. A decent lot in our hut you know. Yeah. The best hut to be in. Yeah. Ok. Alright. So, there we go. So where are we now Alan?
AS: We were preparing ourselves for, or you were preparing yourselves for, for the op.
Anonymous: Oh yes. Well then you’d gather your stuff. Any lucky omens you’d got you stuck in your top pocket, you know and all that sort of thing. And you’d go down and go to the equipment room and pick up your parachute and, and any other gear you’d got in your locker that you needed to take. And then get carted out in the in the wagons, you know to the dispersals. And there you would wait until you got the word to get in. To load up, so of speak. And that one, that one, this one here — that would have been that stage there. Some of them have got their Mae Wests on haven’t they? Yeah that’s right. So we were ready to that stage, you see. Got their Mae Wests and their parachute harness on. Joe, the pilot was quite different because he had to have a parachute he sat on didn’t he? But the others had them clipped on there. But yeah, so you’d then get the word to get on, load up and then you’d get your signal to join the queue going around the perimeter track and you’d be four or five back from the, what was it? Black or white hut was it? Where the starter was. Anyway —
AS: Runway control van.
Anonymous: Yeah. Run control. That’s right. So then you’d, in due course roll around to the start you know, when you got the signals and do your run up. And get the engines going nicely and when you got the green off you went. And at Middleton St George the main runway ended with quite a valley across it. If that was the runway, that was the runway, there was a valley and on the other side of the valley there was a very nice farmhouse. And during the summer, it was double British summertime don’t forget, you could be quite late and the farmer and his wife and family would all come out and we used to think well that was decent of them to come and see us off, you know. What they were scared of was that we weren’t going to make it off the end [laughs] you know and they were the first in line. Yeah. That was the cynical view of it, you know, but, yes, so that was the sort of thing you know. Then the flight engineer and the pilot or the bomb aimer, sometimes the bomb aimer assisted. Sometimes the flight engineer assisted on following up with the — because you’ve got the throttle and you have the revs you know, haven’t you? You know, so the person assisting the pilot would be the follow up hand on the quadrant that increased the power. You know all about that. And hopefully two thirds of the way down you’d feel the big lift, you know. Yeah. Then you’d stooge around for an hour over the coast. And then when the stream was formed off you’d go, you know. Yeah. And —
AS: Could I just pause you there about, I’m interested in the, in the forming up process.
Anonymous: Yeah.
AS: Some stations had an assembly point. It sounds like you did too. Over the coast where you climbed to height.
Anonymous: Yeah. I think it was often when there was more than one station. One more airfield you know, involved. Maybe four or five squadrons, you know. And I suppose it was a precautionary thing as much as anything. As strategic. Because what’s the position? You want, say five hundred aircraft bombing a target you know. That’s a lot of aircraft milling around isn’t it? So you’ve got to have some discipline about altitude and longitude and all positions, I think. Yeah. So that was I think functionally necessitated. A functional necessity. Yeah. Yes. And the Window cover as well. You know. The bomb aimer used to hate that job. They were like, you know these Christmas wrappers. Christmas crackers. No. Chains. Paper chains you used to make. Strips of paper about like that but about that size those Windows were and they were silver paper. A little more. And he had a little chute by the side of his position and he had bundles of these all the way up. But he thought it was a very menial job for him to be doing. He wanted me to do it. No [laughs] He never told me I should be doing it but I didn’t volunteer. So yeah. It’s all these little things that make life what it is you know.
AS: So on the way you’d be at least, you know a pair of eyes in the cockpit.
Anonymous: Oh yes.
AS: And also was it also fuel management? Was that your main responsibilities?
Anonymous: That was. Yes. Yes. Yes. I’ll show you a book. A dear friend of mine who died three or four weeks ago gave me and it’s the, it’s a book on the Lancaster and it’s got marvellous pictures of the panels of the — it’s got, it’s got the original requirement of contractors to build this. To build the Lancaster. Yeah. I don’t know where he got it from but he was, he was an enthusiast. A Lancaster enthusiast. And he used to ask me questions. He was a trained, a trained mechanical engineer and he used to ask me questions about the Lancaster that I couldn’t answer [laughs] Typical, you know. Yeah. Because he really examined them right down. Yeah. But I’ll show you that book.
AS: That would be great. And you must have been a Jack of all trades because it’s hydraulics, its pneumatics, it’s electrics. It’s —
Anonymous: Oh yes. What staggered me, I don’t want you to mark it for neatness or anything but that was the sort of thing. This was the, this was the pre — this was the learning about the internal combustion engine to start with. Which was a lesson to me. And then you moved on to a specific aircraft. Your last six or eight weeks of training and you learned everything about that aircraft. And this one was the Halifax Mark 3 with a radial engine with a sleeve valved engine. You know. A very, a very unusual engine and so this is, there’s the engineer’s panel look. Open.
AS: Was that standardised with the Lanc or is that too much to expect?
Anonymous: Oh no, they were. I should think they were in competition really but, for the work but I imagine the language was the same but the, the construction would have been you know the positioning and so on.
AS: So this is what you were saying earlier that suddenly when you go to 419 and you’re on Lancs you have to relearn.
Anonymous: Yes. Who’s that?
Other 2: It’s only me.
Anonymous: Oh is there —
[recording paused]
Anonymous: When the bandit was behind us, ‘Corkscrew. Corkscrew. Corkscrew left. Corkscrew left,’ you know. Get out of the way. You know. And this was to reduce the area that the fighter had to fire at but you all had an observation point for fighters anyway and mine was the [pause] where’s that, is there a — where’s that picture gone? Yeah. The, no, the flight engineer’s position was on the, that’s it on the starboard side. Level with the pilot. But well just a little bit behind that. Just there. And there was a sliding window there and that was with a, with a blip, an observation blip. You know. Bubble in the —
AS: A blister. Yeah.
Anonymous: In the window. Yeah. And that was my, so that I could see. So the flight engineer could see below.
Other 2: A small one for you.
AS: Ok.
Other 2: A slightly larger for you.
AS: Is mum home?
[recording paused]
Anonymous: Yeah. Well, my responsibility was to observe through this what would you call it? Bubble window I suppose, which just stuck out a bit from the fuselage and to see if any aircraft, any bandits as we called them were coming up that way. But why I was really telling you that was, when the, when the chap hit us with that spray from the rear turret up through and through the front the window, I was looking at, out of, disappeared. It disappeared [laughs] It just went. Now, I don’t know if there was a break in his bullet supply or whether it was afterwards. We thought it was the pressure really building up inside the fuselage that blew it out. But, you know, I might have come home without my head. But —
Other: So were you guys strapped in? I mean if the window disappears surely there was quite a high chance that you might too.
Anonymous: Yeah. Well it wasn’t that big a window. It was, well I suppose about that.
Other: Ok.
Anonymous: Like that. And it had this like a pregnant window. And it was to enable you to see under the aircraft. ‘Cause one of their wicked weapons afterwards was the upward firing cannon wasn’t it? Yeah. So there we are. So we lost that and Joe lost part of his window and so did the bomb aimer right down there. So that was a good rake from back to front. He must have thought he’d nailed us, you know. But I mustn’t concentrate just on that one but that was it but it’s the best one. I can’t remember many details. I’ve got so many of them. But, sorry Alan. You said you’d got me to where?
AS: You, you were airborne. That’s one of your hairiest moments. Was there any discussion about going on or going back or just the pilot decides off you go?
Anonymous: I think the [pause] I’ll tell you, I mean I can tell you something from memory which I wouldn’t want put in any, anything subsequently.
[recording paused]
Anonymous: Yeah. I suppose my most vivid recollection of flak and its potential was the raid — I might find it here. It’s towards the end of our lot. Calais. Duisburg. We, it was on the 29th 27th of September. Duisburg. It was a lovely day you know. Lovely autumn day I suppose. And we had, what was the target? Bombing results not observed. Let’s have a — right. There was this thing called the random, not the random flak but the flak they just put on with the searchlight on us, on it, you know. Using the same setting as the searchlights. But then they had, they’d put up, they would put up a thing that was radar controlled. They would produce this cone of [pause] not cone. I don’t mean a cone. A cube. A cube of flak. Bursting flak, you know. If you can imagine that and that was, once they’d sorted out your route and what the target might be then they put this rectangle but in fact it had another dimension and it was a cube of flak. And you knew you’d got to go through that. And the most striking time that personally I experienced was on this Duisburg raid. Predicted flak. That’s what it was called in those days. In target area. Obviously once they’d identified that they’re own explosions of their shells from the ack-ack batteries would be concentrated in the area above the target. Where the bombs were likely to be dropped. Yeah. But [pause] so what did we say? Ten ten I don’t know what that is. Not — results not observed. Ten stroke ten.
AS: Perhaps that’s ten tenths cloud was it?
Anonymous: Oh, you’ve got it actually. Yeah. There must have been a layer of cloud as we were coming out. I don’t remember the clouds. But that, I’m sure that’s what it is. Yeah. Yeah. Anyway, that was the cloud so it was sort of, it wasn’t an option. There were no options other than go through it, you know. Yeah. And so you’d go through and get rocked about a bit and I mean goodness knows where all their shrapnel went but, you know but it got some of them. I think it was operation number [pause] one of the early ones we were. We were in a stream. I forget where we were going now but anyway suffice it to say we hadn’t a a clue what was around us in the way of friendly aircraft, you know until we saw some flames on our starboard side. Starboard side. Port side. Anyway. Starboard side. And suddenly the flames became all-consuming and we saw it was a Halifax and he just fell away behind us and down. You know. We never knew what had happened to that. What happened to that. But then you get all this illumination. You lose your night vision yourself. So you can’t see anything. So you just hoped that the gunner’s guns aren’t going trail you now. But yeah I sometimes find it difficult to recapture one’s feelings. I mean what was 1944? Fifty six. Sixty one years ago isn’t it? Sixty one years ago. A long time isn’t it? To remember things.
AS: It’s entirely, entirely understandable.
Anonymous: Yeah.
AS: It is.
Anonymous: But I’m sure it’s all therapeutic. Yes.
Other: But I suspect if you knew you had another mission to do that you didn’t really indulge in too much thought about feelings did you? Because you knew you had to go back.
Anonymous: Well yes.
Other: So —
Anonymous: I think we used to put it on the back burner until we saw our name on the morning mist you know. Yeah. Yeah. Yes. But I [pause] it’s surprising really. You know, you hear stories about people not making it. Well, we’re all different, aren’t we? And there must have been thousands of reasons why people couldn’t cope with it. Yeah. Anyway, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t ever remember being actually frightened. Now, that’s, that’s in no way bragging at all. It doesn’t say anything about me that’s worthy you know. But it’s, I don’t know, I seemed to have some assurance that, well I didn’t think about it really. I mean that doesn’t just say I didn’t feel apprehension because I did. It would be difficult not to wouldn’t it? Yeah. And the actual operation six incident, you know it was all over so quickly. You suddenly come out of it you know. But then you’ve got to get back. I was reading the, some accounts of the dam busting the other day. I think it was Guy Gibson’s. Was it Gibson done that one?
AS: Yes.
Anonymous: It was wasn’t it? And some of the reports of his, of the aircraft that took on that you know. And you can see, well it sort of, it reawakens your sensations or speculations as you’re approaching it. But you try to keep occupied I suppose. Yeah. Yeah. I can’t say more than that Adam. I can’t say.
[recording paused]
Anonymous: Period.
AS: Ok.
Anonymous: And the first thing, I mean we had some army instructions there about map reading. You know, he had a dozen of us and we sat down on the grass. And he gave us a reference and he said, ‘Where’s this reference?’ You know. And of course obviously to the army mind it was where we had our backsides then. You know. ‘We’re sitting on it sergeant,’ you know. That sort of thing. We had to do the usual coupling up with another person and being carted away from the camp about, I don’t know, twenty miles. Something like that. Making your own way back to the camp. So we had that one. We had the good fortune to find a lorry with a friendly driver I think [laughs] Anyway, that was that. And then we had to do the underground bit where you had this, oh about that size had been dug to a depth. I don’t know how deep. I can’t remember now. And then a long, a long tunnel and then coming up the other end. We had to do that. There were no lights there. You just followed the smell in front of you, you know and looked for daylight. So that was about the sum of it. At the time things like going away in the lorry become a challenge of another sort don’t they? You had to outdo your own people [laughs] and do all the things they told you you weren’t allowed. So that was the, it didn’t take I mean the whole Heavy Conversion Unit didn’t take long. I don’t know how long. Maybe a fortnight at the most and we went from there to Middleton then. Yeah. So air to air firing, practice bombing. Yeah. Yeah.
AS: And did you see any escape training films or training films generally prepared for you?
Anonymous: We used to have talks on survival. Yeah. About cooking in the field and so on, you know. But if you, if you get an [unclear] if you catch a hedgehog and cover it with mud and get a good fire going. Bake it. You break the cake off it at the end and all the, all the needles will come out of the hedgehog and you can eat it then. You know. That’s desperation for you.
Other: Lighting a fire might be a bit dodgy.
Anonymous: I don’t think it would catch on here. No. So, yeah that sort of thing we had. Yeah. Quite a number of talks on that. Yeah. Because these are only I mean the logbook is is sort of a structure. That’s all isn’t it? You can’t [pause] flying, bombing an installation. Yeah. There were quite some interesting ones when you read through. It does me good to have to read through this again sometimes. Things we got up to. I’ll tell you one thing we saw when we were on a daylight doing air to air firing or something like that. We were up in the, up in Yorkshire somewhere. Flying over Yorkshire. It was lovely. Another lovely day. Hello dear.
[recording paused]
Anonymous: I can’t remember the purpose for our flight but this brand new looking Halifax suddenly appeared in our, our rear and he overtook us. You know. Overflew us. And I was saying the weather was beautiful. Lovely. And he got ahead of us and we could only assume that he was going to show this damned Lancaster pilot and his crew that the Halifax was just as good. And he flew on. And he started messing about and he stalled. And from about, it couldn’t have been more than two or three thousand pounds he, not pounds, feet, he just fell straight to the moors. No survivors at all. He just stalled, you know. He just tipped it up on its wing tip. Brand new. It looked brand new. So we had no more engagement other than to just mayday the event and fly on. Couldn’t do anything about it. But that, that was a bit of a dampener in our day. Yeah. See these little incidents that just, they’re still there but they’ve just got to be dug out. Yeah. So, so what was the next development now?
AS: Could we talk a little about the emergency landing grounds? What you knew of them. Whether you used them at all.
Anonymous: We knew of them. Yeah. I mean we were diverted twice I think but not for those reasons but because the weather had deteriorated or they’d got it wrong and the raid was off so we were diverted to places like Little Snoring in Lincolnshire. And another one somewhere over on the east coast. But I knew about — what’s the one on the east coast? That’s the big one. That’s the three miler.
AS: There’s Manston. And then Woodbridge in East Anglia.
Anonymous: Oh Woodbridge was the one we were most interested in to know where it was and what it was capable of because [pause] yeah. But we had it clear documented but not used. Yeah. And at Manston was, I’d forgotten about that one. The Battle of Britain must have been useful. I mean it must have been useful at that time, yeah because that’s pretty well on the coast isn’t it? Manston. It is. Yeah.
AS: Yeah. Yeah. I think —
Anonymous: Is Woodbridge still open?
AS: No. I grew up near Woodbridge actually. But it became an American fighter base after the war.
Anonymous: Oh, did it? Yeah.
AS: And it’s now open for the army engineers.
Anonymous: Oh, is it?
AS: It’s called Rock Barracks. The runway’s still there.
Anonymous: Oh is it?
AS: Yeah.
Anonymous: Yeah. Yeah. So I can’t, I can’t offer much comment on that other than we knew of them and were glad of them, you know. Glad of the resource being there but fortunately never having to use it. I suppose the only time was the second trip to Stettin that might have involved us going there. I can’t say now can I? Anyway, it was better to get back home. Yeah. I mean we did one, I can’t remember when where we were diverted. And then we did our next op to where we were diverted to. Yeah. You know. Little Snoring. You did that upside down [laughs]
[recording paused]
Anonymous: Look at that. “Cross country. Weather duff.” I don’t, I don’t know if we had to, we took three thousand and fifty minutes. I’m sure we did. “Very moonlight. Good bombing.” Oh dear. Sad isn’t it?
AS: But that was the task.
Anonymous: Middleton St George. “Very moonlit. Good bombing.” Oh dear. Six hours and fifteen minutes. What’s interesting, ops on daylight attack. Siracourt Oh that was a, what was the flying bomb site. Flying bomb sight. There was just a field. You just had a field to bomb and you know if you knocked that one out they moved to the next field. Yeah. Daylight attack on Cannes. Oh yeah. Just forward of Canadian. Oh, that’s the, that’s that one.
AS: Oh the one you got the aiming point photograph.
Anonymous: Yeah. Daylight attack. Was it this one? On Cannes. Just forward of Canadian beach head. “Light flak over target. Good result. Four thirty.” Well we would have. Yeah. They were quite rare you know those. So we were quite happy to get that. What else have we got here? Another one in. I didn’t realise we’d been to Ruhr as many times as this. “Great number of searchlights. Heavy flak. No fighters.” That was a big relief. Flying bomb. We did a number of these bomb installations here. Kiel. See this is supporting the army. And the heavy barrage. Flak over target. Kiel. You know these naval places. Hartshorn, engineer. Stuttgart. What was Stuttgart here? Crikey. Nine hours and ten. That was a long one. I’m grateful to you for making me read it. Read it again. You had your disappointments. Four hours and twenty minutes and we didn’t bomb because it was too cloudy. Yeah.
AS: That would still count as an op would it?
Anonymous: Well it was if you — yes it would. Yeah. The Canadians used the hundred and twenty point system. And they graded the targets as either three points or four points.
AS: I’ve not heard about that.
Anonymous: Yeah. Well that’s how we assumed it was. So if you did the daylight ones over the flying bomb sites would be three points, you know. And the Stettin would be four. I don’t think it ever went above four. And you had to accumulate a hundred and twenty. Or the pilot did if you were a crew. You know. Yeah. So, yeah, that’s what it was. If there was any doubt you used to write the number of points. Stettin. Very heavy flak. Yes. So there it is. I don’t like, I don’t ever, I don’t want to let this go out of my possession you know because I think the children wouldn’t forgive me for that.
AS: Indeed.
Anonymous: From what Gill was saying. Yeah. So, so what more can I answer? You’ve got a picture of him I expect?
AS: Yes. I’ve sat in his office.
Anonymous: Did you?
AS: Yeah.
Anonymous: So did the chap — that’s the chap who writes, who wrote books on the Lancaster and well Bomber Command generally I think. He isn’t.
AS: [unclear]
Anonymous: Yes. That one. And he wrote to me and wanted some information so I sent him copies of pretty well, I sent him everything that I’d got and he photocopied it all and he’s written books. I think he must have died because he suddenly stopped writing to me. The other interesting contact I made as a result of John — Joe. Joe Hartshorn was my pilot, you know. He was a great friend. Apparently he’d met him somewhere. One of the air artists. And he got to be very friendly with him and the artist got in touch with me to see if I’d got any photographs. And yes, he gave me a copy. An original copy of one of his big bombing ones. You know. Yeah.
AS: Yeah.
Anonymous: I think he’s now married a Polish girl and gone to Poland. So that was interesting.
[recording paused]
Anonymous: The attention that was paid to it until the monuments hit the headlines. You know. In Green Park. Yeah. And there’s been a sudden, the Bomber Command Association I think stirred it all up again. There must have been somebody who found the formula for getting it going. And I think that’s marvellous and I think it’s grown since then and they themselves have been largely responsible for the monument haven’t they? Which has been vandalised a few times I think but, yeah. So it was alright to complain, well not complain. I’m not complaining about what the government could do, or the Air Ministry could do in the early days of the war. They could only use what resources they had. What I’m saying is that the accounts we read of Bomber Command a lot in the war doesn’t always pay a lot of attention to them. It might say, you know eight Blenheims attacked Wilhelmshaven and, but but it doesn’t say a lot about them. But I mean you can’t. I was thinking of something else just now. I mean like the, I mean what about the clasp for Bomber Command on the — I’ve heard it called all sorts, you know. Like a Brownie knitting badge or something you know and that sort of thing. But does it really matter. What’s it for? I mean medals are. It’s alright isn’t it? I mean I think they’ve lost their impact actually because with all due respect to the people that have fought in Afghanistan and so on and Ireland and so on you see young soldiers of about twenty five to thirty and they’ve got about eight campaign medals, you know. But it depends what your take is on these things, you know. Yes. Yeah.
AS: So the, have you got your Bomber Command clasp?
Anonymous: Yes. I got it at Coningsby. The group captain there was a very delightful man and Gill, the one that, our daughter that you went to first she did all the paperwork for us there. Yeah. So I’ve been there and sorry what was the question?
AS: Had you got your clasp? Which you obviously have. Yeah.
Anonymous: Yeah. Well, he wrote and invited us up to come up for the lunch and hear the ladies choir sing and all that sort of thing, you know and I thought it was marvellous. So we, we went up, all five of us. Our two daughters and our son and Vera and me went up. And we had a couple of nights in Grantham. Yeah. And yeah. That was, that was very good. Yeah. And what else was I going to say about Coningsby? Yeah. He was, they were very good to us and I met two or three chaps from Middleton St George. Because it was a Canadian thing you know and there weren’t many of us there who had actually served in a Canadian squadron. So I didn’t notice [unclear] too much you because there were so many people there. I mean there were about eighty or ninety people who, who took the group captain’s offer of re-presenting them with their clasp if he wished them to. So I had already got mine and had it put on my — so I gave it to his person. His right hand. And then when the time came you know we were sitting in numbered rows and when my name was called I went and he pinned, he came around and pinned it on me, you know. That was a bit of service flannel really, you know. But it was rather nice. He was such a nice man the group captain. He made himself known all around the place to the seniors. Apparently the veterans have got quite a good reputation in service you know. Yeah. I mean we got our retired group captain in the village here. And another one who was a, he was a navigator I think so I think he must have come off navigating quite early to get into some other stream. Anyway, the other one was a, used to fly Canberras I think. He was a wingco. And yeah, you know, they always regard with respect anybody who was on Bomber Command. Because they’ve seen the other side haven’t they?
AS: Yeah.
Anonymous: They’ve seen. They’ve probably seen some pretty horrible sites. Crashing on to the home runway.
AS: I think that respect is universal and that underpins really some of what we’re doing at Lincoln really.
Anonymous: Yeah.
AS: Hopefully. Hopefully so.
Anonymous: Yes. How did you become?
AS: Ken, how did you actually become the flight engineer on Hartshorn’s crew?
Anonymous: Now, well it happened because I was the last member of a seven man crew. The six man crew having been formed earlier into one stage of operational proficiency but without a flight engineer. And so when it got to the Heavy Conversion Unit stage the six man crew would select a flight engineer. And whilst I was waiting at a bus stop in Ripon one evening an American brown uniformed flyer came up to me and invited me to be their flight engineer. Apparently he was an American who’d joined the RCAF originally but was now having to do a tour with the RCAF as a recompense presumably. Yeah. Something like that. Is that enough?
AS: That’s great. And did you instantly accept or did you think?
Anonymous: Oh, I said yes. Of course. I think it was getting a bit short because I think some of them already knew each other you know. But I couldn’t have made a better choice.
AS: Excellent.
Anonymous: Pure luck. Yeah.

Collection

Citation

Adam Sutch, “Interview with an Anonymous Interviewee,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 17, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/10073.

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