Interview with George Rex Armstrong


Interview with George Rex Armstrong


George Rex Armstrong served in the RAF as a flight engineer. He was born in Belfast and grew up in Donaghadee. Decided to join the RAF because he wanted to follow his brother Ted, who flew forty operations with 617 Squadron. Mentions being in the fire service as a young boy during the bombing of Belfast. After completing his training, he was posted to 195 Squadron at RAF Wratting Common. From there he flew a tour of twenty operations on Lancasters. He was involved in Operation Manna and Operation Exodus. Remembers his last operation, which was to Dresden.



IBCC Digital Archive




Peter Schulze


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00:33:13 audio recording






JW: Right, this interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is John Wells, the interviewee is Rex Armstrong. The interview is taking place at Mr Armstrong’s home at [file missing], Donaghadee. Also present are Mrs Elisabeth Armstrong and Mrs Helen Wells. The date is Thursday, the 20th of July 2017 and the time is 2, 14.20. Right, Rex, can I ask you to, well, thank you very much for agreeing to be interviewed first of all, can I ask you tell me a little bit about your early life, where you were born and what you did before you?
RA: I was born in Belfast [unclear].
JW: Well, when were you born and what was your date of birth?
RA: We moved from Belfast to Donaghadee whenever I was four year old. Went to school in Donaghadee, the school was right on the seafront in Donaghadee there and when I got old enough, I wanted to get out to work and I went then to one of the early [unclear] in Belfast and I served my time in it and also whenever I got my time done, I went and worked in a currently down [unclear] for a while and went then to [unclear] worked my way [unclear] computer factory, making computers and I worked my way up into, to manager, a manager in it with three factories and I was put in charge, well, eventually was put in charge of one of them, and I worked there until the [unclear] closed up eventually and I went and I worked in another place and making drums, tent [unclear], things like that
JW: Was that before, at what stage, was that before the war or was that after you left the RAF?
RA: No, I went into the, I think the [unclear] the RAF, my brother I think, you know, I looked up to him, cause he was doing the second tour of operations and I was only starting my first
JW: What was your brother’s name?
RA: Ted, Edward
JW: So, Edward
RA: Edward Armstrong
JW: Edward Armstrong. Right.
RA: He was called after my father cause he was older than me and he did two tours of operations
JW: And your father, what did your father do?
RA: My father worked selling [unclear] cars, Vauxhall cars
EA: He was in the RAF too. He was in the RAF.
JW: And
RA: Then, when they were bombing Belfast, I was in the fire service and soon as the raid had finished, I was up in the fire service, Belfast told them to put the fires out
EA: He was sixteen.
JW: And your father was a fireman?
RA: Father was a fire [unclear], I was a fireman too, I joined fire station, my grandfather was in charge of the station, that was just before the war
EA: Joined up
JW: So, can you tell me a little about how you came to join the RAF?
RA: Yeah. My brother was joined the RAF and he did one tour of operation and I’d thought that I liked what he was doing so the day that I was eighteen, I went up to Belfast to join up and I joined up in the RAF and I was called up just about a month after, less than a month and I was called up and I went to England to London and started training there [unclear] and went from there to Wales [unclear] where I did my training and I did a course and passed out and that and then was, went to another place in Lincolnshire and it was, it was mustering the crews and what you want? You’re [unclear] in the aerodrome and you’re all lined up and marched down and whenever they said halt where you were, the pilot was just right at your right arm and he came down and he was from [unclear], he was from Bradford I think it was he was from and he said, hi, are you, would you like to join the RAF? And [unclear] part of my aircrew? And he said, I said, yes, I’d like to join, and he said, where do you live? And I said, you wouldn’t know, [unclear] village [unclear] Northern Ireland called Donaghadee, and he says, Donaghadee? I said, yes, and he put his hand in his pocket and brought out this photograph and a photograph of Donaghadee and he would be policeman and he was sent over to Northern Ireland on a course and he had this photograph down the harbour in Donaghadee and then so I, I liked him and joined up in his crew and we did the tour of operations at twenty raids and then you get a rest
JW: Can you tell me a little about the process, you know, what was involved in the raid?
RA: [unclear] What was involved?
JW: Can you talk, have you anyone that sticks out in your mind?
RA: I, can honestly and [unclear] did say I enjoyed it
JW: Yeah
RA: I think that being only eighteen years of age, you were still a boy [unclear] but I did enjoy it
JW: What was your, I mean, you were in a different aircraft, you weren’t always with the same aircrafts.
RA: I was always with Lancaster bombers
JW: Lancaster. But not the same aircraft every time
RA: Not the same aircraft, but that was [unclear] on Lancasters, I did all me ops on Lancasters
JW: Where did you operate from? What was your base?
RA: My base was, first base was Lincolnshire, the second base I think it was [unclear] place, [unclear] Midlands
JW: Was Wratting Common, I believe
RA: Wratting Common
JW: In Essex
RA: Yeah, not [unclear] was at Wratting Common
JW: How long were you there for?
RA: Pardon?
JW: How long were you there for?
RA: I was there for, doing a tour of operations, I was there for about nine months and whenever you do, when you do the twenty raids you’re rested and come home on leave for, I think it was, a fortnight and back again
JW: I believe that you, what squadron were you on?
RA: Sorry?
JW: What squadron number were you on?
RA: 195
JW: 195, Yeah. Do you remember the names of your crew?
RA: Yes. [unclear] name was George, I [unclear]
EA: Just the names, he wants the names, Rex, whenever the time comes
RA: George,
EA: Scooley, is that the only one you can remember?
RA: I’ve forgotten
EA: Aye.
JW: He was the skipper.
EA: Mh?
JW: He was the skipper.
RA: George Scooley, his name, he was a policeman. Whenever I joined up as a crew, George Scooley was the captain and the pilot and whenever I joined up, you marched into the, you marched into the hangar and whenever you were called halt, guy who you’d be standing aside, that was gonna be your captain or crew man and he picked me and he asked me where I came from and I told him, I come from Northern Ireland, he said, whereabouts from Northern Ireland you come from? And I said, I come from, I said, you wouldn’t know, a place called Donaghadee, he put his hand on his breast pocket uniform and pulled a photograph out, he says, you know, was a photograph of Donaghadee, he had been over here on some course [unclear] the police
JW: I believe you may, you were involved in the raid on Dresden, is that correct?
RA: [unclear]
EA: He didn’t hear you
JW: Were you involved in the raids on Dresden?
EA: Dresden. He can’t hear you
RA: I was in the raid on Dresden, that was, I think that was the worst raid that I’ve done and I’d done twenty altogether but Dresden was probably the worst.
JW: How, what was your, when were you told that you were going to raid Dresden?
RA: [unclear] sorry
EA: He can’t hear you. Repeat
JW: Yeah. Can you tell me more about the raid on Dresden?
RA: It was the worst raid that, there was an awful lot of bombs dropped and we dropped a lot of bombs too and
EA: [unclear]
JW: What was it like looking down, could you see Dresden as you approached?
RA: Yes, you could. To me, [unclear] two rounds, [unclear] two rounds cause the full bomb load, and went in and dropped half the load and then [unclear] of where you bombed, turned round, come back in and dropped the other half. Dresden was probably one of the worst raids
JW: Yeah. Were you, would, the briefing before Dresden, do you remember that?
RA: Vaguely, [unclear], forgotten all about but that was a big raid
EA: [unclear]
JW: Yeah. Do you remember Operation Manna, in Holland, when you were dropping supplies to the Dutch?
RA: Yeah
JW: Can you tell me anything about that?
RA: Yeah, that was quite enjoyable flying over Holland and dropping food to the Holland people cause they were starving and we dropped food to them and that was it, were flying over, and we were so low that the skipper said to me, what time is it? And I [unclear] gonna look at my watch, and he said, not there, there and we were looking [unclear] clock and you don’t [unclear] look up or look down, just look out and there is the time, that was [unclear] enjoyable but
JW: Do you have any stories from when you were dropping for Operation Manna, dropping cigarettes? I believe you had a story about black marketeers
RA: Somebody had [unclear] ground and [unclear] drop your cigarettes here.
JW: How many days did that last for? Did you do more than one sortie?
RA: [unclear] for a week
EA: [unclear]
JW: And I believe there was also another operation which was Operation Exodus which was
RA: Bringing prisoners, bringing people home from the war, yeah, I can remember that
JW: That would be a happy one
RA: Bringing prisoners of war back
JW: Where did you go to pick yours up?
RA: Mh?
JW: Where did you pick your prisoners of war up from?
RA: I picked them up [unclear] was, that was in France but we picked them up [unclear] remember, [unclear] in Germany, bringing, I know when the war was over we, our own soldiers and [unclear] women we took them on a Cook’s Tour over Germany and to let them see what the [unclear]
JW: That was your own groundcrew
RA: Mh-mh. Yeah, they were the first ones.
JW: And when were you demobbed then after, was this long after that?
RA: Demobbed, I suppose six months,
EA: Yes, I suppose six
JW: A flight engineer’s position on a Lancaster, could you see out or were you in the dark most of the time?
RA: Yeah, I could see, no problem
EA: [unclear]
JW: But you, could you see out, see where you were passing?
RA: Yeah, could see ahead
JW: Yeah
RA: Looking in front of you
JW: And after the war, you, would you like to tell me what you did after the war?
RA: After the war [unclear] I went back, I was serving my time and [unclear] when I joined the RAF and
JW: So, did you go back to them to finish your apprenticeship?
RA: Mh-mh. [clock chimes] Yes, but I got back kept [unclear] apprenticeship
JW: And then, did you work for the Ulster Railway then or did you go, did you move onto another job?
RA: I went, I finished my time there and [unclear]
EA: And then you went to [unclear]
RA: And I went to [unclear] firm [unclear]computers and I worked with them for [unclear] years and I worked my way up in the factory [unclear] was three factories, they had Belfast and one of them, I worked my way up to the manager of the factory so where assembled the machine, computer machines, tested them
JW: Can you tell me a little bit about your brother Edward?
RA: Ted?
JW: Ted, yeah
RA: Yeah
JW: He was, what did he do in the RAF?
RA: He was a flight engineer, same as I was, and he did two tour of operations and forty trips
JW: Did he take part in any particular raids that you can remember?
RA: He bombed Berlin two or three times and
JW: Yeah. What squadron was he?
RA: I forgot.
EA: 61
JW: Can you tell me which squadron he was in?
RA: I forget the number it was.
EA: Six
RA: 61.
EA: 617.
JW: So, can you tell me which squadron your brother was in?
RA: 61. 617.
JW: 617, yes, which was I think, the Dambusters squadron.
RA: Mh-mh.
JW: But he didn’t take part in the raid.
RA: No.
JW: And he, he survived the war?
RA: He survived the war.
JW: Right. Well, Rex, thank you very much for sharing with me your memories and what we’ll do is they will send a copy of transcript of the interview and also a copy of this CD once they’ve downloaded it into the database.
RA: Thank you.


John Wells, “Interview with George Rex Armstrong,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed August 7, 2020,

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