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 worst operation, which was to Dresden.




Temporal Coverage




00:33:13 audio recording


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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 [redacted], 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] fire station.
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 County Down Railway for a while and went then in to [unclear] worked my way [unclear] computer factory, making computers and I worked my way up into, to manager, a manager in it there 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 place 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 in 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 that was 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 in, in the aerodrome and you’re all lined up and marched in 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, how 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, wee village [unclear] Northern Ireland called Donaghadee, and he says, Donaghadee? And I said, yes, and he put his hand in his pocket and brought out this photograph and a photograph of Donaghadee and he would have been 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 a raid?
RA: [unclear] What was involved?
JW: Can you talk, have you any one 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 wee boy there really 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 what I was 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 place I think it was [unclear] place, [unclear] Midlands.
JW: Was Wratting Common, I believe.
RA: Wratting Common.
JW: In Essex.
RA: Yeah, that’s where I 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, I suppose 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 do you come from? And I said, I come from, I said, you wouldn’t know, a wee place called Donaghadee, he put his hand on his breast pocket uniform and pulled a photograph out, he says, you know, that was a photograph of Donaghadee, he had been over here on some course or other for 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: That was, 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, it was two runs, [unclear] two runs ‘cause the full bomb load, and went in and dropped half the load and then once you flew over the line 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, dropping food to the Holland people ‘cause they were starving and we dropped food to them and that was it, we 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 level at the town 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 written out on the ground and written down [?] drop your cigarettes here.
JW: How many days did that last for? Did you do more than one sortie?
RA: [unclear] I think we did it 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, I forget where it was, it was in France but we picked them up if I remember right [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 place looked like.
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 in County Down Railway 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 had to go back to finish my 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 on the County Down Railway.
EA: And then you went to [unclear]
RA: And I went to [unclear] firm that was computers and I worked with them for I don’t know 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 tours of operations and had forty trips.
JW: Did he take part in any particular raids that you can remember?
RA: He bombed Berlin two or three times and [unclear]
JW: Yeah. What squadron was he?
RA: I forget.
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 December 7, 2023,

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