Interview with Edward Allan McDonald. Two


Interview with Edward Allan McDonald. Two


Allan McDonald was born in Hull and watched Alan Cobham’s Flying Circus as a child. He worked as an apprentice electrician before joining the Air Force. He served as ground personnel in Northern Ireland until he passed the exams to become aircrew and trained as an air gunner. He recalls seeing a ME-109 and during training, his aircraft crash landed and he was soaked in petrol. He flew operations as a rear gunner with 50 Squadron from RAF Skellingthorpe and recalls seeing aircraft exploding in the air, a dinghy deploying by accident and nearly hitting a WAAF, and making an emergency landing at Juvincourt after being attacked by a FW-190 and being hit by anti-aircraft fire.



IBCC Digital Archive




Julie Williams


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02:10:44 Audio Recording





Temporal Coverage


DE: Right. This is an interview with Edward Alan McDonald or Alan McDonald, by Dan Ellin. We’re in Riseholme Hall. It is the 18th of September 2015. So, Mr McDonald could you tell me a little bit about your early life, your childhood and how you came about to be in the RAF?
AM: Yes. I think I can. I was, unfortunately it’s a bit of a miserable story this. My father was killed when I was four and so of course my mother had to bring us up. But anyway after that misfortune my mother looked after us very well as best she could. And I always fancied —my uncle he used to take me to Hedon Aerodrome which was just outside of Hull. And it was a landing field. It wasn’t, no runways on it. And it was where Sir Alan Cobham used to visit and give his displays. And I used to go there on my uncles crossbar and we used to come on the outside of Hedon Aerodrome and watch the various displays that Sir Alan Cobham went through which fascinated me. And from there onwards I wanted to be a pilot. And it’s a long story this because with me wanting to be a pilot I went to the recruiting office at what I thought was the right age. The war was on now. And they sa said ys, ‘What do you want to be?’ I said, ‘I want to be a pilot.’ ‘Have you got a secondary education?’ ‘No.’ ‘No. You haven’t. Well you can’t be a pilot so forget about aircrew. You can’t be aircrew. You’ll have to be ground staff.’ So I said, ‘Is there any way I can get —?. ‘No. There’s no way around it. You either have or haven’t passed in to a secondary education. You’ve not. You can’t be aircrew.’ So, anyroads I went on now to a place in Ireland to a place called Nutts Corner which was a Coastal Command station. And it was Fortresses and Liberators flown by the RAF and I enjoyed being there. I enjoyed being connected with the aircraft and getting trips home in any aircraft which was empty. And I worked on flying control at the station and I was putting the angle of glide out. What they called the glims out. Which were small three legged lights down the runway and down the perimeter tracks. Sorry, I’ll correct myself there. It wasn’t on the runway we put them in. It was on the perimeter track.
DE: Right.
AM: Back to the dispersals with these small lights that were battery driven. And then down the runways we had like the old type watering can.
DE: Yes.
AM: Full of paraffin and a very thick wick down the spout and we put them one every hundred yards at each side of the runway. And then we had, at the beginning of the runway, a chance light which could be used. And we also had an angle of glide which was for the oncoming pilot to see if he was in the right position for descending on the runway. Anyway, that episode passed very nicely but the next thing was they asked me to work with control. In control. So I did. I worked in there and I was in there one day and they said to me, ‘You’re going on leave on Monday aren’t you Mac?’ So I said, ‘Yeah. Why?’ They says, ‘Well there’s an aircraft going somewhere near. Near Hull. Do you know, have you ever heard of Leconfield?’ I said, ‘Oh yes. That is. That’s just outside Hull. It’s near Beverley. Oh if I can get a lift there I’m as good as home.’ So the next day we had to be there for 9 o’clock. And I’d taken three of my mates with me and they also were included in the load for this Wellington which was coming there. But anyroads as the day arrived and the time arrived it was cancelled. And so they monitored all the around aerodromes and at Aldergrove, sorry at Langford Lodge there was an American Lockheed Hudson going to the mainland that day and they would take us if we could get there. So we hitchhikes from Nutts Corner to Langford Lodge which was on the banks of Loch Neagh. And having got to Langford lodge the American guard outside with a rifle and a bayonet on said, ‘What do you guys want?’ So, ‘We’ve come to get a lift on a Lockheed Hudson through to the mainland.’ ‘You aint going from here bud.’ So we said, ‘Why?’ They said, ‘Well there’s been an accident and the two pilots have been killed and they’re in the runway.’ And anyway I don’t want to relate the story which I do know about but anyway they said, ‘We’ll ask around the different ‘dromes if anybody’s got aircraft going to the mainland.’ Yes. The station we’d come from — they had. Another Wellington was coming in. So they put a jeep on. And I’m sure the jeep passed any aircraft. He certainly got this clog down did that American. They’re a grand lot to me. I think that we owe a great deal to the Americans. In my opinion they were the best people in the world. Some of the best people in the world. They really helped us a lot. That’s my opinion. But, anyway, regardless of that we got through to Nutts Corner and there was a Wellington just ticking over at the end of the runway. We get on to the Wellington and off we goes. Now, he, the driver of this jeep that brought us, he stopped I’m sure two inches from the side of the Wellington and I mean two, I’m serious when I say two inches. That’s the distance he stopped. But anyroads, we got in to the Wellington. Off we goes and we flies out over Bangor and we goes across the Irish Sea across to Scotland and across the Scotch coast. We head south and we goes along the Scotch coast. Then we go along the English coast. Then we go along the Welsh coast and then we eventually comes to Lands End. And we’re out at sea all the time. Not over land at any time. And now we’re going out in to the South Atlantic as far as Britain is concerned. And then we turns to the east towards France. And going along the coast or to that particular position we had glorious sunshine all the way, and I was stood in the astrodome. The other three were sat on the floor of the Wellington. I should have mentioned this but I’ll mention it now. And I had a good view from the — where I was stood. Anyway, we’re now going along the south coast past Southampton and those places until I estimated, we were in and out of cloud all the way along the south coast, and as we were going along past Southampton I thought well we must be getting somewhere near to the coast — Dover now. And if we are near Dover I should be able to see France with a bit of luck. I’d never ever seen France before then and I was looking forward to seeing it. Anyroads, we gets, comes out of the cloud and lo and behold at the side us, and within about fifteen yards of us, no more, that was the maximum, was an ME109. So I had no means of communicating with the pilot. So I ran to the front of the aircraft, tapped the pilot on the shoulder and this is what I did.
DE: [laughs] the Nazi salute and a Hitler moustache. Yeah.
AM: Yeah. Yeah. I went through all the motions to let the pilot know that there was a fighter there.
DE: Yeah.
AM: And so he stood up and looked through a panel at the back of the Wellington which I didn’t know he could see through, above the top of the fuselage but he could. There was about ten inches or so where he could look through the canopy for anything behind him. I saw his face change and then he dashed back to the controls, put us straight into a dive and we went into a cloud. And then we headed for Dover. And then when we got to Dover we headed then inland and went to a place called Nuneaton and landed. Now, we get out of the aircraft and we’re walking along to exit the ‘drome. Nuneaton drome. And somebody tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Thanks lad.’ [laughs] with a smile on his face. So —
DE: I’ll bet.
AM: It was, it was nice to hear him say that. But anyroads, it worked. So we got away from Fritz there. Very –
DE: Yeah. That was lucky.
AM: Very fortunate. Why I turned around there on that particular second to look at France I don’t know. I don’t think we were anywhere near France. But anyroad I had done.
DE: Yeah.
AM: It was a mistake which turned out to be our advantage.
DE: Yeah. Very lucky.
AM: So that was that little story. But anyroads, from there on I had my leave. I went back. I went down to Dublin and I got chased in Dublin. We arrived in Dublin, my girlfriend and I, and I says, ‘Oh,’ we’d just got off the station and there was a big meeting not far from the station. Maybe hundreds of yards or so. And I says, ‘I bet that’s the IRA.’ She says, ‘It will be the IRA. Don’t go near it.’ I says, ‘Well I want to know what they’re saying about us.’ I says, ‘All we get is the newspaper reports about the IRA but I want to hear what they say myself.’ So she says, ‘Don’t go to the meeting. You’ll wish you hadn’t.’ So, anyroads, I says, ‘Are you staying there or are you coming with me?’ She says, I’ll come with you.’ Well when I was at school I used to run in the school sports each year. I liked running. I liked it but I never put my back into it and I should have done. But anyway that’s beside the point now. But anyroads, what happened was [pause] I’ve lost my place now.
DE: The IRA meeting.
AM: IRA meeting. That’s right. Yes. What happened with that was that as I was walking towards the meeting there was several hundred there. The man in the middle pointed straight at me and I couldn’t understand why. Why he’d done it. And the crowd turned around and then they surged. Actually surged. ‘Come on. Run.’ So we ran. She was from Ireland and she says, ‘Run.’ She says, ‘It’s the IRA.’ Anyroads, we did run. I held her hand and we both ran down O’Connell Street in Dublin and I won’t say where we got but we got somewhere where they didn’t find us. And anyroads we evaded them and now it was dusk. And we went along the street, O’Connell Street and there was a cinema at the end of this street. I went into the cinema and, ‘How many seats?’ She says, ‘There’s only two left. They’re on the front row.’ I says, ‘They’ll do.’ So we got the two seats on the front row. And the young lady that I was with was called Myrtle and the picture was an American picture. And there was a man sat in the chair as I’m sat here and a door there and a man comes in, ‘Now then Joe,’ he says, ‘How’s that gal of yours?’ He says, ‘Do you mean Myrtle?’ ‘Myrtle,’ he says, ‘I didn’t know they called her Myrtle,’ he says, ‘If I’d a gun I’d have shot her.’ She’d got a name called Myrtle and there was Myrtle at the side of me. But I thought that was funny that. They were going to shoot her if they called her Myrtle. But that was just one little thing, little episode in Ireland.
DE: Yes.
AM: But there was many others of a similar nature. I was on a bicycle going from a place called [Sleaven Lecloy?] Now [Sleaven Lecloy?] was a dummy aerodrome and I was on that dummy aerodrome. And what happened on that dummy aerodrome was that when we used to come away from the place you had two ways to go. We could either go, come up a long lane which led from the dummy ‘drome to the road, which was only a narrow road in any case and when they got to this road they could turn left and go to the station and then to Belfast. Or you could go to the right towards Lisburn and then go down towards the Falls Road. Well in Belfast there’s two roads. There’s the Falls Road this side and the Shanklin Road that side and they’re both parallel with each other. The Falls Road is a Catholic road. This road here, the —
DE: Shanklin.
AM: Shanklin Road. That there is a Protestant road. And of course the dagger’s drawn. They never should be. They should be good friends.
DN: Yeah.
AM: But unfortunately they’re not and if you were seen in the Falls Road by people in the Falls Road you was liable to be stripped naked of your uniform and everything, tied to lamppost and they’d pour tar over you. A bucket of pitch. And then they would give you a good lashing. And then they’d leave you there for the —that was the Catholics. They would leave you there to be dealt with by the police. They would come along. Well I was going the Falls Road which, from where I was at [Sleaven Lecloy, Sleaven Lecloy] is up here in the mountain and you come down all the way to Falls Road. All the way down in to the centre of the town. It’s all downhill. Every inch of it. Now, I’m going down the Falls Road on a pushbike and on the right hand side I noticed a chap stood outside a cinema with a sten gun. I thought well that would be the IRA. As I got near to him he set the Sten gun on to me. Fortunately for me a tram car came between him and me. And of course I kept pace with this tram car. I didn’t lose the tram car for quite a way. I got full steam up and went downhill with the tram car on the bike. So I escaped from that but this is just some of the little hitches in your stay in Northern Ireland. And in Southern Ireland for that matter. And it’s all silly nonsense to my way of thinking.
DE: Yeah.
AM: Nobody’s doing anything for any good. It’s all a lot of nonsense that they’re encouraging. To kill people that they don’t know. Anyway, I won’t go on that tack but anyway, fortunately I got out of it and fortunately I made many friends there. And I had a great time in Ireland. In Northern Ireland and I did in Southern Ireland. But there was this here, what shall I say? Shadow hanging over all the events. And anyway that was just one of the things that happened. And then whilst I was in Ireland I decided I would have another try at being aircrew.
DE: Yes.
AM: I’d had a lot of dealings with aircraft there. With Fortresses and Liberators at dispersals. Anyway, the warrant officer says to me, ‘Mac,’ he says to me, ‘Don’t you understand what I’m saying?’ ‘Yes,’ I says, ‘I do,’ I says, ‘And I still want to be aircrew.’ So he says, ‘Can’t you think of any other words but you want to be aircrew?’ So I says, ‘Well that’s what I want to be I says. I’ll stop pestering you when I become air crew.’ So he says, ‘Is that a threat?’ You know. I can’t remember his exact words but he implied that I was threatening him by saying this which I probably was. But anyroads, he says, ‘I’ll see what I can do for you.’ Because I’d been so many times he says his hair was falling out. But anyway, a tannoy went, ‘Would E A McDonald report to the station education officer.” So I went and, ‘Anybody know where he is?’ So somebody gave me directions and I found him. And he says, ‘You’ve been plaguing the life out of the station warrant officer. You want to be aircrew. Well,’ he says, ‘If you’re sincere and mean what you say and put your back in to what you’re going to get you’ll become air crew. But otherwise you won’t.’ So, he says, ‘To start with — do you want to be aircrew or don’t you? Let’s get that straight because,’ he says, ‘I don’t want to waste my time with you if you’re not going to put your back into it.’ Words to that effect. Maybe they were not the exact words but they implied that to me. So I says, ‘Well, I do want to be aircrew,’ and I says, ‘And I will put my back into it.’ So anyroads he says, ‘Right.’ He gave me a programme which I had to abide by and I spent quite a bit of time being schooled there. So the day of reckoning came. Well I was trembling. I thought, I bet I’ve failed. I feel sure I’ve failed. And I was saying it over and over to myself and getting worked up. Anyroads, when I went to see him he says, ‘Congratulations.’ So I says, ‘What for?’ So he says, ‘You are McDonald aren’t you?’ I says, ‘Yeah. I am.’ ‘ So he says, ‘Well you’ve matriculated.’ Well the word matriculated. To me I’d never heard the word before and I thought what’s he on about. Matriculated. What does that mean? He said, ‘You’ve matriculated.’ So anyroad when you get back to the billet there was a man in our billet called Fred Hillman and this Fred Hillman you could ask him anything and he’d always — he was like King Solomon. He knew every answer to every question. And he says to me, ‘How have you gone on Mac?’ So I says, ‘I don’t know really. I don’t. Honest. I don’t know.’ He says, ‘Are you meaning that you haven’t passed?’ I says, ‘No. I’m not meaning that at all.’ I said, ‘I hope I have,’ I says, ‘Because he shook hands with me and I thought was a good indication but he also said I’ve matriculated, and I’ve never heard that word before.’ So he says, ‘Well I’ll tell you what it means. It means you’ve qualified to enter a university.’ So I says, Are you joking?’ He said, ‘No. I’m not Mac. That’s what it means.’ So I says, ‘Thank you very much,’ I said, ‘Then I’ve passed.’ He says, ‘Yes. You’ve passed.’ So I went back. What happened was I was there for a fortnight and there’s a part of this story I can’t tell you. I can’t tell you why and it’s not something I’ve done wrong. It’s something that happened to me and I don’t know how it came about. But anyroads it happened and I’ll leave the matter at that. But what it was when I arrived there, at the station at RAF headquarters there was a WVS van outside. And this place was I would say as big as Buckingham palace where I went to RAF headquarters. And the young lady in the WVS van said to me, ‘You’re McDonald aren’t you?’ So I says, ‘How do you know my name?’ She says, ‘Oh I know a little bit about you.’ I says, ‘You know a little bit about me?’ I says, ‘I’ve never been here before,’ I said, ‘You can’t know anything about me.’ ‘Oh but I do,’ she says, ‘And they know about you in there.’ So I says, ‘In where?’ She said, ‘You see those two doors? You go in the right hand door. Don’t go in the left hand door. Go in the right hand door and when you go into that room you’ll be there with seventeen WAAFs and three airmen, and you’re one of the three airmen.’ So I says, ‘What about that then?’ She says, ‘Well you’ll find out when you get in.’ She said, ‘I’m not going to tell you.’ So I says, ‘I don’t get this,’ I says, ‘I’ve never been here before.’ So she says, ‘Well maybe you haven’t but,’ she says, ‘I know about you. And you’ll find out why when you get inside.’ So I says, ‘This is funny this is. I can’t make head nor tail of what’s going on.’ So anyroads I went into the room and nothing was said. Not a word except, ‘Hello.’ That’s all. Anyroad, I thought well this is funny, what’s she on about. They haven’t says anything. So this — I had to for an interview with an officer there and he says, ‘Oh,’ he says, ‘You’ve come here for some exams haven’t you?’ So I said, ‘I understand so.’ So he said, ‘Right, well we’ll deal with that while you’re here but we’ll explain to you that while you’re here what we want you to do maybe wont occupy all your time. So your time that you have surplus to our requirements — it’ll be yours and you’ll not be expected to do anything in that time, but otherwise you’ll be taking documents from office A to office B. And you’ll — I want a signature from office B to take back to office A and maybe to office C and so on. And these documents want signing for.’ Anyroad, I was doing this and then I got a funny comment. ‘Oh it’s you is it Mac?’ I thought, ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Oh it’s you is it Mac?’ And this was a WAAF and I thought, I can’t get this. They seem to know a bit about me. So I says, ‘Have you got the right Mac?’ She says, ‘You’re McDonald aren’t you and you’ve come here for some exams?’ I said, ‘Yes that right.’ I says, ‘How do you know about me? ‘Oh,’ she says, ‘Oh never mind. I do.’ So I thought well this is blooming funny and they made a mystery to me of myself and I didn’t know what was happening. Anyroads, in the end this person came up to me and said, ‘You’re bringing my tea and my cakes and we’ll have a squaring up.’ So I says ok. Thinking that I would I would pay for mine and they would pay for theirs. And this person that I’m talking about, I didn’t know who it was. I hadn’t a clue who she was. And she says, ‘I’ll pay for the tea and the cakes.’ I says, ‘You will not.’ I says, ‘I’m an LAC,’ and I pointed to my arm which was like a little propeller on my arm.
DE: Yes.
AM: I said, ‘I’ll be on a lot more money than you.’ So she says, ‘I’ll pay for you.’ I said, ‘You won’t.’ She says, ‘I will.’ So I said, ‘You’re not paying for my tea and cakes. I’ll pay for yours or we’ll pay for our own. Whichever way you want it but you’re not paying for mine.’ So she says, ‘I’ll pay for yours and don’t argue with me.’ I thought you’re a bit bossy. Who are you? Anyroad, I’ll not go into that. I’ll leave that as a blank, blank cheque as to who she was. Now then, I left there and I started as air crew. Training that is.
DE: Yeah.
AM: And I went to, to St John’s Wood. And whilst I was in St John’s Wood the sergeant came to me. He says, ‘Stores. You.’ I said, ‘Stores? What am I going to the stores for?’ He said ‘you’ll take your uniform off you’ve got with you and you’ll put a brand new uniform on. Brand new shoes, brand new cap. All brand new.’ He said, ‘And then tomorrow you’re going to meet someone.’ So I said, ‘Who?’ So he did tell me who it was. It was the queen. The queen mother. The queen at that time. And we were all lined up and it come to my turn to be introduced to Her Majesty The Queen. And I started speaking and nothing came out. And it had never happened to me ever before but it did then. And I was trying to speak and nothing happened whatsoever. So she passed on to the next one. And so that was a little experience there. And from there I went on to [pause]was it Bridlington or Bridgnorth? Bridgnorth? Bridlington. I think Bridlington we went to. From Bridlington to Bridgnorth. Bridgnorth through to Evaton. They called it, in Scotland Evaton. I called it Evanton. E V A N T O N.
DE: Yes.
AM: But they called it Evaton. I asked on the, the man on the station, the worker there. He says to me,’ Are you lost?’ I says, ‘I think so,’ I says, ‘I don’t know which platform to get on the train for Evanton.’ ‘There’s no such place as that around here.’ So he says, ‘Let’s have a look at your pass. Oh you mean Evaton,’ he says. ‘Oh ok then. Evaton.’ So I went to Evaton and we were flying there with the Polish pilots. Every pilot there as far as I’m aware. I never saw and English pilot there but there may have been one that I hadn’t seen. But any roads I was flying with the Polish pilots. We were machine gunning dummy tanks.
DE: Yes.
AM: And I had quite a good experience there of flying. And on a morning each day as we came out the billets the Polish pilots were coming out their billets which was next to ours or near enough to us and of course the first thing they would say was, ‘Dzien dobry.’
DE: Good Morning. Yes.
AM: And I would say, ‘Dzien dobry,’ And in the afternoon I think it was, ‘dobry wieczor.’ And all because I could say, ‘Dzien dobry,’ only by mimicking them. Could I do it? I didn’t actually — I couldn’t have spelt it.
DE: No.
AM: Or maybe I could but maybe I couldn’t. But anyway they were ever so friendly towards me. And when I went into the aircraft, ‘Oh he’s here.’ You know. You got a nice welcome. And we were doing machine gun practice and all sorts of exercises with them and then we progressed from there and we went to Bridgnorth. And then from Bridgnorth we went to Syertson — not Syerston. Winthorpe. Winthorpe to Syerston. Winthorpe was Stirlings and on the Stirlings we went on leaflet raids over Germany with the bomber stream.
DE: Yes.
AM: Now we could only reach four thousand feet and they were up at ten thousand feet and more sometimes. But with a Stirling it was called the flying coffin. And it was a coffin. It was a coffin. It was a nightmare to fly in.
DE: Yes.
AM: And we came back once with a Stirling and put the undercarriage down. And the starboard wheel went down and the port wheel went up and came out at the top of the wing and it shoved out the dinghy. And as the dinghy floated down to the ground it landed. It just missed a WAAF who was walking across the grass. And it just went, I’m sure, no more than, I doubt if it was six inches from behind her where it landed. And of course it would burst I should think and it would frighten the daylights out of her. I would think anyway. Because there was all the dinghy equipment with it as well. The transmitter and other equipment. So now we had to go to a place called Woodbridge and that was that. But I have missed that the first place we went to when we were flying was a place called a Market Harborough which was an OTU. This was after flying up in Scotland. And when we were flying in the OTU we were on night bombing exercises and we got airborne and I said to the skipper over the intercom, ‘Skipper, there’s a strong smell of petrol in the rear turret.’ So, he says, ‘Well keep me informed.’ So I said, ‘Ok skipper.’ So I rang up a bit later, I says, ‘It’s getting stronger, the smell of petrol.’ So he says, ‘Well it’s still reading ok Mac. I can’t understand what’s going on.’ So I called him a third time. I said, ‘It’s getting even stronger.’ So the fourth time I called him up I was soaked to the skin in petrol. I said, ‘My vest’s soaked in petrol. All my clothes. My flying clothes.’ And I said, ‘The bottom of the turret is full of petrol floating about on the floor.’ So he said, ‘Oh we’d better get back to base.’ This is night time. So we gets back to Market Harborough and coming in, in funnels.
DE: Yes.
AM: And almost about to land when the aircraft did an about turn. The engine cut out. One of the engines caught out. We did an about turn and she skimmed over the top of a building. Anyroad, we come down behind this building and we ran across two or three fields and as we were coming to slowing down I got the turret opened. I thought, well I’m not going to be in this. If it catches fire I don’t want to be about. So I sat on the turret the wrong way around. I’d got my legs dangling outside. And I had my parachute just in case it was needed. But this was before I landed I put it on but I’d still got it on. So anyway as we’re going along it was, it hit some bumps did the aircraft and the turret went up and down and threw me out. And as it threw me out the parachute caught on something. It caught in the wind and I got blown across this here field that I was in. On my back in the field. Anyroads, I managed to, you know just jettison the equipment.
DE: Yeah.
AM: And get up. And I was alright. I hadn’t got damaged in any way. And then I picked up my parachute up and I went to where the crew were congregating and the pilot, the farmer came up and he says — he used a bit of strong language. I won’t repeat that. I’ll leave that unsays. So I can leave that to anybody’s imagination. But what happened was, he says, ‘If you people,’ that’s the skipper he’s referring to, ‘If you people would get on with the war instead of playing about. Look what you’ve done to my corn field.’ He says, ‘You’ve nothing better to do than destroying my cornfield.’ He says, ‘We’re crying out for us to make production.’ And so he went into a blur about how he was being badly done to by aircrew not respecting him as though we’d come down there from choice which we’d not.
DE: Yeah.
AM: And anyroad, it had got quite flattened quite a bit. I would agree with him. But, and it was the middle of the night. It was dark. It wasn’t daylight. It was dark. Anyroad, we waited for transport to come and we went back to, to our place.
DE: Yes.
AM: We had to report it and give an explanation. Anyway, if we remember that. In a future episode of something this comes up again.
DE: Right. Ok.
AM: But it was on over in France where it occurred. We’d been on a raid in Germany and our route took us over Belgium at night time. And as we got crossing Belgium the anti-aircraft gun opened up on us and it hit the nose of the aircraft and blew a strip of aluminium off which was about fifteen to twenty foot long and about three to four foot wide. That was from behind the front turret right back to the where the pilot was. Not the pilot. The flight engineer who was sat next to the pilot. A great piece about that width stripped from the front turret right back to where he was. It had wiped out his controls on his dashboard. The skipper. It had ripped, the shrapnel had ripped through them. It had cut the navigator’s top of his flying boot, cut a big gash in it but didn’t damage his leg. Didn’t scratch his leg. And a piece of shrapnel went through the mid-upper gunner’s pannier of ammunition which was under his arms. One at each side. Went through it and stopped just below his arm. This big lump of shrapnel. And the aircraft, a piece had jammed in the controls when we were in a dive. And it had jammed the controls in such a way that the more he was pulling it to get us out it was getting tighter in the dive. So it wasn’t getting out the dive. It was getting us worse in to the dive.
DE: Sure. Yeah.
AM: So anyway, cut a long story short the skipper decides, ‘Well our time’s up now. Bale out.’ Well he gives the word bale out but I was, I didn’t find out then but I found out later, my intercom wire had been cut with the shrapnel so I didn’t hear the word bale out and I’m still looking for fighters in the rear turret. Getting my turret going from side to side to side to side. Up and down. Looking for fighters and that. We were in the searchlights. And we were going down. I thought we seemed to be going a long way down [laughs] anyway. Anyway, what happened was he decided after he’d told us to bale out he’d put it into a steeper dive and see if that would do any good. Which he did and the piece of shrapnel fell out. Because afterwards when we landed I went and found the piece of shrapnel that had caused the trouble. And I threw it into a field. I thought, you’ve done enough damage. We’re not keeping you anymore. So I threw it into the field. And anyway it got us out the dive and he cancelled the ‘Jump. Jump.’. But before he cancelled the, ‘Jump. Jump,’ Dougie who was at the front nearly got cut in two with this big piece of shrapnel that ripped the sheet of aluminium from the side.
DE: Yeah.
AM: And it just went above his head somehow. I don’t know how but this is what we were told. And Dougie baled out and landed in a wood. Now, Dougie the bomb aimer was a New Zealander. Also the skipper was a New Zealander. Hughie Skilling, the skipper —
DE: Yes.
AM: And Dougie Cruikshanks, the bomb aimer, were both from New Zealand and they both knew each other very well. And we had a crowd which was next to none. There was none, none to equal us. The friendship among us was unbelievable. It was absolute paradise to be in with them. They were a great crowd. The others as well as the skipper and the bomb aimer. The bomb aimer had gone now.
DE: Yeah.
AM: He’d landed in a forest at night time. And he says, I got, a lot of things he told me about what he did but they’d take too long to tell. He buried his stuff, his equipment. What he had. And came out of the wood. He didn’t know which way to go. He says, ‘I just picked and came and I came across a road.’ There was no traffic on the road whatsoever. He says, ‘I started walking and I thought am I walking the right way? I think I am.’ Anyroads, he says, ‘I’m walking west. I think. And arguing with himself. ‘Am I going west. Am I going east?’ And he says, ‘I had quite an argument with myself what I was doing.’ He says, ‘Until I come to a bend in the road. When I turned the bend , lo and behold just round the bend was two Germans there with rifles with fixed bayonets.’ He says, ‘Now what do I do? He says, ‘If I turn around and run away they’ll shoot me in the back.’ He said, so he said, ‘I pulled my shoulders back,’ he says, ‘And I marched past them in military fashion and they never says a word to me. They carried on talking.’ He says after marching past the two German sentries he says, ‘I came to — ’ I think he said it was an American sentry but I could be wrong about this. It might be a British sentry but I understood it to be an American sentry. And he took him in at bayonet point. Took him to his commanding officer. And his commanding officer said, ‘Oh, you’ve got another one have you?’ So Dougie pricked his ears up. Another one? Another one what? And he says, ‘We’ve got two of you Germans tied up outside. We’re going to, you’ll be tied up out there with them and the three of you will all be shot together.’ So he says, ‘You’re going to shoot me? What for?’ So they says, ‘Because you’re only pretending to be a New Zealander.’ He told them he was New Zealand. He says, ‘You’ve only told us you’re New Zealand but we don’t believe you. Not the way you’re talking. You speak better language than that in New Zealand.’ So anyroads they got him outside and were about to tie him up and shoot him with the other two that were supposed to be Germans in RAF uniform. So Dougie come out with some language. And the officer said, ‘Let that man go. The Germans couldn’t know such language. And so, Dougie, as I say, everything’s got a purpose. Well bad language had a purpose there.
DE: Yeah.
AM: And it saved Dougie from being shot. Now, they let him go and he went to Brussels from there, and when he got to Brussels he came to a meeting of squaddies and [pause] what do they call the announcer? Richard Dimbleby.
DE: Yes.
AM: Richard Dimbleby was talking and sending messages back. New Year messages back from the front line. And one of the soldiers says to Richard Dimbleby, ‘We’ve got an airman here why don’t you interview him?’ So he says, ‘Where is he? Put your hand up, the airman.’ So Dougie put his hand up. So he invited him to come to him. So he says, ‘How do you come to be where all these soldiers are? Where’s all your crew?’ So he says, ‘I’ve baled out of a Lancaster and I’ve been in a wood and I’ve walked so many miles on the road and I’ve been taken prisoner by,’ whether it was American or whoever it was, and he says, ‘They’ve let me go because I’ve used such bad language with them.’ So he explained this to Richard Dimbleby and Richard Dimbleby says, he says, ‘Where are you from then?’ He says, ‘I’m from New Zealand. From Christchurch.’ Which he was then. But after the war, since the war, I’ve been to New Zealand. The skipper invited me for a fortnight’s holiday at his place at Christchurch. And then when Dougie knew I was there he wasn’t, we were real good mates Dougie and I, and I met Dougie. We had to go to Dougie’s from Hughie Skilling’s place in Christchurch and it was a fair way. I should say it was twenty miles from where the skipper lived. But Dougie wanted to see me.
DE: Yeah.
AM: And when he saw me he put his arm around my shoulder and he says, oh, ‘Thanks for being our rear gunner.’ So that, that was Dougie. Anyway, we had a nice little natter did Dougie and I, and Hughie Skilling. We had a natter about things. And I think I mentioned about what the Germans said to Hughie. They called us Skilling’s Follies.
DE: Yes.
AM: And they’d sent word back that they would soon be having Skilling. So he said, ‘Before you get me you have to get our two gunners first.’ So he said, ‘You’ve got to get through them and then you might get me.’
DE: Was, was your aircraft painted up with the name on the side?
AM: No.
DE: No.
AM: No. We had. We didn’t have our own aircraft. The commanding officer used to let Hughie fly his aircraft which was VNG-George. But we didn’t always get his aircraft because other people were using it as well.
DE: Right.
AM: So we — sometimes we’d get T. T-Tommy. X-Xray. It could have been any aircraft. It’s in the logbook.
DE: Yeah.
AM: What the aircraft we flew in.
DE: How did the Germans know about Skilling’s Follies then do you think?
AM: Well [pause] well on our drome we had a spy. Not if. We did. Definitely. No matter what anybody says, we did. And what happened was one day I was going into the office block where the people — where we used to have briefings. Part of the building. And this officer came to me. He says, ‘Mac.’ So I thought he knows me. I don’t know him. Who he is. I thought who are you? So he says ‘Are you going in to,’ oh I was going to say Scunthorpe, ‘Are you going in to Lincoln? Are you?’ So, I said, ‘Yeah.’ He says, ‘Would you do a little job for me?’ So I said, ‘What’s that?’ He says, ‘Do you know where the taxidermist is in Lincoln?’ So I said, ‘Yeah.’ So I says, ‘Isn’t it somewhere near the station? Near the railway station isn’t it?’ he said, ‘That’s right. Yes. It is.’ So I says, ‘Oh fair enough.’ I said, ‘I just want to check up.’ He says, ‘Well I want you to take this if your will and leave it at taxidermist.’ I said, ‘What is it?’ He says, ‘It’s a bird.’ And it was in a packet. And he said, ‘I want you to take this to have it dealt with by the taxidermist.’ But I did know what a taxidermist was then but it wasn’t long previous to that before when I didn’t know what it meant. But anyroads I’d got to know what it meant and I took this parcel to this taxidermist. And afterwards I thought to myself [pause] I had a lot of thoughts about this encounter but I’ll not say what they were. And since the war it’s come to my notice several other things. And it was, they tried to find out. In fact, we had a do where Wing Commander Flint gave us a warning about something and he looked at me and I thought are you going to tell everybody I’ve taken a parcel there? I don’t want you to say that because it would look as though I’m working in league with the — whoever might be the, might be the ones. Anyroads, it didn’t work out that way. It was maybe my thoughts and maybe thinking too much of myself.
DE: You were worried there was a message inside the bird.
AM: Yeah. I was.
DE: Yeah.
AM: I thought, oh don’t say I’ve collaborated with the, with the enemy. And anyway it seemed that since then I’ve got to know various other bits of information and I wasn’t alone in my thoughts.
DE: Right.
AM: And apparently other people had been asked by this officer to take things in to the taxidermist. Now where would an officer get things from to take to a taxidermist? Only the same as anybody else. I know. And we were in the country yes.
DE: Yes.
AM: But I never saw any livestock there of any kind. At anyroads that’s another story altogether. But I don’t know what happened with that. Whether anything happened or not but I’ve thought to myself I wished I could get on to that roof and just have a look. See what type of aerials, if any, are still up there. And you could find out what frequency they were on then.
DE: Yeah.
AM: And anyways, that was, it’s just thoughts.
DE: So how did you hear about the message from the Germans about Skilling’s Follies?
AM: Well I’ve met people at meetings. At the reunions. And different people have said about remarks about it. And they said, ‘We know you’ve taken a parcel.’ I said, ‘Yes I have. I can’t deny that.’ I said, ‘But it looked very much, very bad for me,’ I said, ‘Taking this parcel. I don’t know what was in it.’ But they said, ‘Well you shouldn’t have taken it.’ I said, ‘Well I can say that myself now, I says, ‘But at the time it was an officer and it was just a parcel as far as I was concerned and I took it.’ But it maybe wasn’t. I don’t know. But anyroad, that’s the way it went and I heard since that they come to the conclusion that it was that place where the information was being taken to.
DE: Right.
AM: Now whether it was or not I don’t know and I can’t say. I can repeat what I’ve been told but that’s gossip.
DE: Yes. Of course. Yes. So what station was this? Where was this?
AM: Skellingthorpe.
DE: It was Skellingthorpe.
AM: Yeah. And we know when we went on raids they were waiting for us. You don’t wait for somebody on a ‘drome or in a specific area unless you have information to, to confirm what you’re thinking. That they will be coming there and they were literally waiting for us. And this happened several times and you was outnumbered with fighters. So I mean it wasn’t, it wasn’t by accident it was by somebody had got it right. That they were getting information from the station.
DE: Were these daylight operations or at night?
AM: All raids. Night and day. So we certainly got a good clobbering wherever we went. So — they always seemed to be on the ball, the Germans. As though, as though you couldn’t pull the wool over their eyes. But I don’t think that was the truth at all. I think the truth was, as was says on the ‘drome, somebody was passing information back.
DE: I see.
AM: They definitely were. And then when they sent a pilot back. Now, I’ll give you a little example. I was a witness to a crash there. Our site for VNG then was at the long runway which was east to west. At the west end of the runway and on the south side of the runway at the end — say if that’s the runway. Taking off in funnels we were all in a line around here. 61 Squadron around that side. 50 Squadron around this side and we’d be one after the other going. One 50, one 61.
DE: Yeah.
AM: One 50, one 61 ‘til we’d all taken off. And what happened was that [pause] I’m losing myself now. What happened? Oh this memory. Its —
DE: So you’re all taking off and it’s a story of when they were waiting for you.
AM: Yeah. We — oh we were parked here at this end of the runway. That’s it. I’ve got it.
DE: At the dispersal.
AM: We were parked at the exit end of the runway. So by the time they got to where we were parked, just in front of us and that the rear turret was facing the end of the runway and we was getting ready to go on the same raid.
DE: Yes.
AM: And I was doing my drill in the rear turret. Anyway, watching the aircraft take off — one of them, I thought there’s something wrong with him. He kept low. He didn’t climb like the others. The others took off and climbed.
DE: [unclear] Yeah.
AM: Up and up until they got to the height and set on the direction they were going but he didn’t. He went over Skellingthorpe village and I should imagine he very nearly hit some of the chimney tops. But he turned around and came back and when he got over the end of the runway and only just on it he dropped like a stone. And of course it was the whole bomb load went up and he went up and that was the end. There was nothing to be seen after that. And I thought oh they’ve all had that. And unbeknown to me the rear gunner, one of the ground staff saw something gleaming in the — he’d been cycling his bike somewhere. I don’t know where. And he’d seen a light shining in the hedge bottom somewhere. A ditch.
DE: Yeah.
AM: And he’d gone to this and he’d found the rear turret. It had been blasted off the ‘drome in this into this ditch. And when he looked inside the rear gunner was there but he says he was black. He was all black. Which I can understand he would be. Anyroads, I learned a few days ago that he was, he was still alive up to two years ago. And he just died two years ago.
DE: Really.
AM: So, so I’m told. If I’m telling you wrong I’ve been told wrong. But that was unfortunate. The whole event was unfortunate because, and I had to go as a witness to relate what I’d seen and it didn’t end up there. With me things don’t just go from A to B. They go from A to B to C to D to E and it’s like a kangaroo jumping along with information. And what happened was, with me, was this. That when when it was reported everybody knew about it. The man that took off number one was Skillings and I should call him Squadron Leader Skilling.
DE: Yes.
AM: Because that’s what he was and he earned that title. He didn’t get it easy. He got it. He qualified and in my opinion he should have got even higher. He was an absolute wizard. He was out of this world as a pilot. He got us out of many difficulties. And what happened was his pal was the first one off. Now, he’d taken, he was up here when he, this one here was taking off.
DE: Yeah. Yes.
AM: So he hadn’t seen this one at all. And on his way to the target he’d got serious engine trouble and landed in a field in Germany. And they’d landed quite safely and they’d all got out safe.
DE: Yes.
AM: And they were trying to set fire to their aircraft which was the procedure and Fritz come up with machine guns and said, ‘If you go any further with that you’ll all be dead.’ So they had to abandon the setting fire to the, to the aircraft. So they were taken in and they said, ‘Well, you’ll be pleased to know that all the crew are not dead on that aircraft that crashed.’ They’d not seen it. They were up there. Well away from the event happening so they didn’t know a thing about what they were on about. And they thought they were making a yarn about this other aircraft. They said, ‘But you’ll be pleased to know the rear gunner is still alive.’ Now, this is before they’d reached the target. They’d got this information. So surely that would verify that someone on the ‘drome was talking to the Germans in some way. Of course radio obviously. But they had this equipment and I mean, the building, if you look at the place where, If I could back to it, to the what do they call them again? Taxidermist is. There’s tall buildings. I think they’re three stories high. Well you’ve got a good height there above all the surrounding buildings. You’ve got a good clear run to get an aerial from up there to Germany. It would be ideal for a, for a sight to broadcast from. And of course you’d get all mixed signals from that area. From the railway. From other equipment. Bus companies. Various other places. There’d be signals of all kinds buzzing about in that area so they had a good cover.
DE: Yes.
AM: And they wouldn’t dither and dather doing. They’d have a code no doubt.
DE: Yes.
AM: And having a code they would condense their messages and make it as brief as possible. So obviously when one of them came back, was released by the Americans and it was this pilot. The Americans captured the ‘drome where he was.
DE: Yes.
AM: Not the ‘drome. The prison. Or the prison camp. Whatever it was where he was detained. And they told him, when he got back to Skellingthorpe would he tell Skilling that they were after him and that they’d soon have him. And they would have Skilling’s Follies as well. That we were the Follies.
DE: Yeah.
AM: The crew and anyway, they didn’t get us. And they nearly did once or twice but we had an event which was rather unusual. I never heard of it happening to anybody. Only us. And that was this. We were on a raid where, when the tannoy went it said, ‘Will the following nine aircrews please report to briefing room.’ Now nine aircraft. Not nine squadrons. Now usually there were twenty of 50 Squadron and twenty of 61 Squadron. ‘Would the following crew — 50 Squadron and 61 Squadron, report to the briefing room’. That was it, but with us, ‘Would the following pilots report to the briefing room.’ Skilling was one.
DE: Right.
AM: And when we got to the briefing room we thought what was this going to be about. And they says, Wing Commander Flint says, ‘We’ve a very difficult job on. We can only send nine aircraft to the target. And the target is a barge and this barge is in the Mittelland Canal. And its night time and it will be well guarded. And you’ve got to get in and sink it. It must be sunk or you must bust the banks of the canal. Whichever you do it’ll leave him stranded. Now, if this here barge gets through to where they’re hoping to get it to.’ Where ever that want it to be. I don’t know. They says that, ‘We’ve nothing to stop this tank. It’s so good. It’s the most powerful tank the Germans have ever made and if it gets through we haven’t a gun that’ll touch it and we’ve nothing otherwise will deal with it. So get it sunk and come back and tell us you’ve done it.’ So, anyroads we gets off and we goes to the target. And we, we had to start with of the nine. One malfunctioned on take off so it left eight. Enroute to the target there was a big red glow in the sky. The sky all lit up. And on our port side was two Lancasters. The far Lancaster was on fire and there was one between him and us and there was also one behind our tail. Just behind us. So that was three. Anyway, we’d not been going much further. Number two Lancaster now is on fire. So that was that. So we’d gone a bit further. Now it was our turn. The mid-upper screamed, ‘Corkscrew port. Go.’ And we go straight down and all of a sudden there was such a row above the turret and a rocket passed the top of the turret a few inches and it filled the turret with fumes as it went by. It had missed us with Johnny Meadows, our mid-upper giving the word corkscrew. He saved the day did Johnny. But it was a bad way of having to do it because it was one of those nights that’s absolutely, call it black black. It was absolutely so dark you couldn’t see a thing. We couldn’t see the ground. We couldn’t see another aircraft. And yet this Focke - Wulf 190 came head on and attacked us. And he come just above. Just scraping the top of the aircraft with his belly. And I got the guns and I thought, ‘Oh I can’t.’ You’re going to say why.
DE: Why?
AM: Because there was a Lancaster just behind us and if I’d fired at him I would have hit the Lancaster. It was just behind us. And I thought oh dear and I wondered if they’d crashed but they hadn’t. They hadn’t crashed but anyroads this Focke - Wulf come over at night time. Of all the times. I’ve never known of it before. Maybe other aircraft have had it but we’d never had an head-on attack. We’d had attacks from the side, from below and various places but never, never from in front. So that was that. And anyroads we, we had a good time of it because we was coming back from it and over Belgium the anti-aircraft unit opened up on us and that’s where they took the sheet off the side of the nose of the aircraft.
DE: Oh I see. Yeah.
AM: The full length of the nose of the aircraft was minus a sheet of aluminium about two to three feet wide.
DE: Yeah.
AM: Maybe more. I don’t know the exact measurement. But it was, I think, about the width of the this table.
DE: Did you manage to — Dougie baled out. Did you —
AM: Dougie baled out. Yes.
DE: Did you manage to make it back to England then?
AM: Yes, he did. And he came back and when he came back the skipper says to us all, ‘We’re going out. I’ve got permission. We’re going out tonight to celebrate Doug’s survival. And we were taking Dougie in to Lincoln.’ So I says, ‘Good.’ Now I’m ready and everybody’s ready and Dougie’s ready and Dougie hung back. And somehow I get the feeling he wanted to talk to me. I don’t know how I knew but I did. And Dougie hung back and I hung back and he got hold of me and he says, ‘Mac.’ I says, ‘You’re not.’ So he says, ‘What do you mean?’ I says, ‘You know what I mean. You’re going to tell me that you’re yellow.’ He says, ‘I was. I was yellow.’ He says, ‘I was the only one that bailed out.’ I says, ‘Dougie you wasn’t yellow. You carried out what you was instructed to do and did it as you was told to do it. You was on the ball. That’s the only crime you committed. You was on the ball. You got out the aircraft when you should.’ Well underneath, Dougie, the bomb aimer, is a hatch about this square.
DE: Yes.
AM: And it’s easy for him to just jettison that. I mean I would have to find out how to do it but he knew how to do it. And he zipped it out and he was straight out. Followed the instructions and he landed with his parachute in the forest. Yeah. And from there onwards he ended up as a prisoner of war to be shot for being a German spy. That was Dougie.
DE: Yeah.
AM: The New Zealander. The skipper was a New Zealander as well. Hughie Skilling.
DE: Yeah.
AM: And he was pretty well known. Whatever station we went on, ‘Hiya Skilling. That’s the bloke that taught me to fly.’ And this was, wherever we went somebody did this. Every ‘drome we went to.
DE: Wonderful.
AM: Never missed. He taught ever so many people to fly. That was him. He had a marvellous reputation and he had with us.
DE: Yes.
AM: As his crew we couldn’t have picked a better man.
DE: So what was your job in the crew?
AM: What was —?
DE: Your job. You were a rear gunner. What did, what did that entail?
AM: Well I was just in charge. I had four guns there and all I had to do was to keep the tail clear or the side or wherever my guns would face I had to patrol that area visually. And I did do. And I never stopped. I never wore glasses. I never sat down ever. Every minute of my flying was stood up. If you look at my logbook you’ll see how many hours I’ve been on trips. I’d been to Munich and back and never sat down. It was too risky I thought and so I never sat down for that reason. I thought at times it’s proved to be successful. I’ve seen aircraft and the skipper says, ‘Well keep him under view Mac until he comes into range and then see what you can do.’ We had one that followed us for quite some way. I said, ‘Skipper we’re being followed with a JU88,’ and he was on our starboard side. So I thought well I’ll let him know. I said, ‘And I don’t think he’s coming in to attack.’ He said, ‘What do you think he’s doing then?’ I said, ‘He’s finding out where we’re going to and he’s keeping us in view and if he follows us we’ll take him to the target.’ And I said, ‘He’s out of range of my guns.’ So he says, ‘Well when he comes into range give him something.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry. We’re only waiting for him to do that but he’s not. He’s a wise bod. He knows full well if he comes any nearer he’ll get a congratulation.’ But anyroads he didn’t. He just cleared off. I think he’d had enough of us. He’d followed us for a quarter of an hour at least. We did have occasions when we brushed with them but usually we were fortunate. We managed to keep out of their way so to speak.
DE: I see.
AM: Yeah. So we didn’t get any damage from fighters. We got [laughs] we got some awakenings at times when he suddenly spotted one. We wondered what he was going to do but usually they went for other aircraft. And we was fortunate.
DE: Did you open fire at any?
AM: No. No. I never, never fired one bullet. Not on active service.
DE: But you kept your eye open.
AM: I was never in a position where I could fire at one. They came near us and as soon as they saw that you were taking precautions they cleared off and went for somebody else that maybe hadn’t seen them.
DE: So did you call corkscrew and that was enough?
AM: Well yeah but, oh we did corkscrew a few times. We had to do but when you did that — well I’ll tell you what did happen with the two squadrons. They sent, the newspaper sent an article, I don’t know which newspaper it was, could they send some reporters to find out what it was like on a raid? And the squadron, this was before I was on the squadron. I’m repeating what I was told. And we were told that yes they could send some reporters and we’d fix them up. There’s two squadrons. Twenty in each squadron. There’s forty aircraft. How many are you going to send? They sent five. Well four of them went with 61 Squadron. Two in one aircraft and two in another. And one came in one of 50s aircraft. And the two that went in the 61 aircraft they didn’t come back. The one that came in 50 Squadron he came back and he’d got so many bones broken. He’d corkscrewed and he got thrown about the aircraft and he ended up in hospital. So that was [laughs] I don’t like laughing at it but it was unfortunate for them that they couldn’t have been instructed before they went in what to do in a corkscrew.
DE: So what would you have to do to —?
Well you get a firm grip on somewhere otherwise you are going to get thrown about. And if you get thrown about he’s trying to be as vicious as he can with the aircraft. You’re going to get some rough treatment and there’s only one thing to do and that’s hang on. I mean I was stood up in the turret. When we went in to corkscrew I held on to the two supports and of course I could still stand up. Even in a corkscrew. Well they wouldn’t know this.
DE: No.
AM: But I did. I wasn’t there when they did it so I mean so I couldn’t say do it because I didn’t know. I never seen them. But it was unfortunate for them what had happened. I never did find out whether the others were prisoners of war or what happened to them but certainly the one that was on our squadron I did hear about him. And as I’ve, as I just said he got so many bones broken. What they were exactly I don’t know.
DE: No.
AM: I didn’t enquire.
DE: No.
AM: So —
DE: Oh dear.
AM: But it was a vicious thing was a corkscrew and it got you out of trouble.
DE: Yeah.
AM: So that was some of the things. There was other things but —
DE: What sort of other things?
AM: Well what can I think? I’ve not given it much thought really [pause] Well yes we went to a target where it was terrible weather conditions. Really bad. And it was in a mountainous area. If I looked in the logbook I maybe could find where it was because we landed at Tangmere when we come back. We’d no petrol. We were registering empty in the tanks. But anyroad I’ll tell the story from the off.
DE: We’ve got the logbooks scanned so we can look that up later. Yeah.
AM: Well the place that I’m referring to it was a bad trip because it was ice all the way there. And lumps of ice had fallen off the aircraft. We was having a job to keep our altitude. Anyway, we gets to the target area and we goes in and we makes an orbit of the circuit. And enroute to the target, just before we reach the target, what seemed to me to be in an aircraft a few yards but it maybe was miles. There was, on the mountainside, on the same level as us, the mountain at each side of us and on the port side of us looked, on a ledge on this mountain was an area all lit up. And I says, ‘Oh that’s a listening post.’ There was a good array of aerials and that on it. I thought that’s a listening post that. I’ll bear that in mind and mention it if the opportunity crops up. Anyroads, we gets to the target, we goes in to bomb, comes out the run. ‘How many bombs did you drop Doug?’ ‘Not one. They’ve froze up.’ So, ‘Right we’ll go around again.’ So we goes around again. ‘How many bombs did you drop this time Dougie?’ ‘None. They’re all froze up.’ ‘Why? Did you have the heaters on?’ ‘The heaters have been on all the time, skipper. They’ve never been off. They’re on, and they’ve been on all the time.’ ‘And we haven’t dropped a single bomb?’ He says. ‘No. We’ve got the cookie and the five hundred pounders.’ So we goes around again. The third time. No. We haven’t dropped one. So we goes around for the fourth time and they dropped the, I don’t know how many of the thousand pounders dropped but some of them dropped. But not the cookie. That’s the four thousand pounder. So the skipper says, ‘Dougie—’ Oh I haven’t mentioned this part here — this was Dougie’s thorn. This is the thorn in Dougie’s side. I didn’t tell you this part. At briefing Wing Commander Flint said, ‘We’re getting very short of four thousand pounders. And if for any reason you don’t drop your thousand pounder — four thousand pounder, I want to know the reason why you’ve dropped it, where you’ve dropped it and how you’ve dropped it.’ He said, ‘And I want a good explanation if you’ve dropped it.’ And he said, ‘You’re in for it.’ So anyroads we comes out and the skipper says, ‘Right, Dougie. We’ll have to get rid of it somewhere.’ So Dougie says, ‘You can’t.’ So skipper says, ‘Why can’t we?’ He said, ‘Well you heard what Wing Commander Flint says. If we can’t drop any four thousand pounder we’ve to bring it home or he wants an explanation why not.’ So he said, ‘Well we can give him one.’ So Dougie said, ‘What’s that?’ So he says, ‘We won’t reach base if we carry it. We’ve been around four times Dougie,’ he said, ‘And we’re getting a bit short of petrol. As it is we’ll be lucky if we reach the French coast.’ So he says, ‘Oh we will will we?’ So he said, ‘Well, I don’t care what you say. I say drop it.’ So the skipper says, ‘Well we’ve got to drop it before we get to the coast because we call it galloping petrol down.’ So he says, ‘We’ll have a vote on it, Dougie. Mac —rear gunner. What do you say?’ ‘Drop it.’ ‘Mid-upper?’ ‘Drop it.’ ‘Wireless op?’ ‘Drop it.’ ‘Navigator? Drop it.’ ‘Flight engineer?’ ‘ Drop it.’ ‘Pilot? Drop it.’ But I think he said, ‘I think we’ve won.’
DE: Yeah.
AM: So he said, ‘Will that do Dougie?’ So he says, ‘Well I’m voting against it.’ So he said, ‘Dougie if we do,’ he says, ‘I’ll guarantee we won’t reach the French coast if we take it back.’ ‘We won’t?’ He said, ‘We’ll be lucky now if we reach the French coast.’ And as it turned out we, he dropped it on this here, this here sight which I said was the listening post and he got a bullseye on it. And they forgot one thing. They forgot to take the difference in altitude of that from dropping a bomb. It was so many thousand feet up, this.
DE: Yeah.
AM: And that should, that should have been added to the distance between us and the height they dropped the bomb from. But they didn’t do that. They forgot about it. Well the aircraft got such a smack. The skipper says, ‘Mac, are you alright in the tail?’ So I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Thank goodness for that.’ He says, ‘Has any damage been done?’ I says, ‘Not that I know of.’ So he said, ‘Are you sure? Wireless op go and have a look down the fuselage. See if there’s any damage. I’m sure we’ve got some damage somewhere.’ But we hadn’t. We’d got no damage. So we heads for the French coast now. And I heard them talking as we were crossing The Channel there, ‘We’ll be lucky if we make the coast. We might have to ditch.’ Anyroad, we landed at Tangmere. And we got, we stayed there the night and got petrolled up and back to base but we wouldn’t have done with a cookie.
DE: No.
AM: It was a good job we got rid of it. So in the report they put down that we’d hit this here listening post. Which they did. They got a bullseye. Because they hadn’t, there wasn’t much difference, there wasn’t much difference in the height between them and us. But these are little side kicks to what made flying interesting. You did get little kicks now and again that boosted you up when you saw it happening to them and not to us.
DE: Yes.
AM: But, but then when you sat down seriously thinking oh aren’t we stupid. We’re bombing their lovely buildings that they’ve taken centuries to build. The pride and joy of Germany. We’re knocking them down.
DE: Yeah.
AM: They’re doing the same here. They’ve come to Coventry. They’ve knocked beautiful buildings down there that’s been up for centuries. And this is the thoughts that go through your mind. We must be mad to instigate such things as killing each other like we do as though it’s the right thing to do. But it’s not. It’s the wrong thing to do. But anyroad that was, that was it. There was other occasions when things happened but you can’t — I couldn’t bring them all to mind at the moment. Maybe when I’m in bed and thinking what I’ve said today. Maybe these things will come to my mind which they do when you’re not in a position to relate them.
DE: That’s always the way. Yeah.
AM: Yeah.
DE: Yeah. The memory does strange things.
AM: Yeah. We had some close dos. But we could rely on the skipper. He was, he was A1. Absolutely A1. And he invited us to their home in New Zealand for a fortnight’s holiday and the wife and I went and we had a marvellous time there. And as I’ve said we went to Dougie’s.
DE: Yes.
AM: Yeah. He says, ‘I’m pleased you was our rear gunner.’ [laughs] I don’t know why but that’s what he says.
DE: That’s good.
AM: So anyroads.
DE: How many operations did you do?
AM: I don’t know. I’ve not counted. It would be about twenty eight I think. Something like that.
DE: So what happened at the end of the war in Europe?
AM: Well what happened to me was we got a direct hit at the tail end of the aircraft and I was stood, in front of me it was open and I was stood there. The next thing I knew I was laid on the floor. And I come to and I could hear on my earphones Hughie shouting through the earphones. Oh I says, ‘Was you shouting me Hughie?’ He said, ‘Yes,’ he says ‘What happened?’ ‘Oh,’ I says, ‘You know that shell that hit us?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘It pulled my intercom out.’ I said, ‘It come unplugged.’ And he didn’t believe me but I thought I’m not going to tell him I’m laid on the floor. So anyroad, I got up off the floor and felt myself and I thought I’m alright. I says, ‘Everything’s alright at the back end here Hughie, I said, ‘It was just a bit near. That’s all.’ So anyroad, when we landed he says, ‘I want to see you.’ He says, ‘I don’t believe you.’ So I says, ‘Why? What do you mean?’ He said, ‘I don’t think you’re telling me the truth.’ I said, ‘What about?’ He said, ‘You know what about. You told me you were alright, didn’t you? On the intercom.’ I said, ‘Well I am.’ So he said, ‘You’re not.’ He says, ‘If you could see your eyes you would know why.’ So I says, ‘Well what’s wrong with my eyes? He said, ‘They’re all bloodshot. Both of them. They’re in a hell of state,’ He said, ‘You’re going to the medical centre.’ ‘ No,’ I said, ‘I aren’t. I’m alright Hughie.’ He says, ‘Mac we rely too much on you to for you to go up like that. You couldn’t see properly.’ I said, ‘I can see alright.’ And I thought I could. Apparently I was in hospital for a fortnight. But anyroad they kept me in. They wouldn’t let me out.
DE: Which hospital was that?
AM: It wasn’t. It was the army hospital — Air Force hospital. So, and I says, ‘Can I go back to flying?’ And they says, ‘Oh not again.’ I says, ‘Well I don’t want to be here.’ I says, ‘I appreciate what you’re doing but I don’t want to be here. I want to be back with my crew.’ I said, ‘I’ve only two more ops to do. Or one to do. I don’t know how many,’ I says, ‘And then we’ve finished the tour.’
DE: Yes.
AM: He says —
DE: Yes. Did they not fly without you then?
AM: No. They got another gunner.
DE: Right.
AM: I don’t know who he was. But anyroad they got another gunner and he took my place for the last two or the last one. I don’t know if there was one or two we had to do. So —
DE: So were you in hospital at the end of the war in Europe then?
AM: Near enough.
DE: Yeah.
AM: Yeah. Anyway, they doctored me up in there and I think I could have managed without. I think I could anyway. I think they were taking precautions but they’d no need to. I was alright.
DE: Sure.
AM: I thought I was anyway.
DE: Yeah.
They said, ‘No, you’re not. Not again.’ I said, ‘Look,’ I said, ‘Just let me go and,’ I says, ‘I’ll get back with my crew and then that’s it. You’re finished. You’ll not put up with me.’ So they wouldn’t. They said, ‘No. You’re stopping here a bit longer.’ I was there for a fortnight. Anyroad, that was that. So that was the only incident I had. And it wasn’t too bad either. I mean I didn’t know much about it [laughs] I was just laid on the floor. And, oh a young lady in there in one of those photographs. Is she, oh she’s in here. This young lady — we meet her at the meetings. In our reunions.
DE: Yeah.
AM: Where is she? That’s — have you seen them?
DE: I’ve seen those ones. Yeah.
AM: You’ve seen them. And that young lady there in the middle. Yeah. That young lady there her husband was on the same raid as us and he got killed. He got shot down and he was killed. She enquired until she got to us and ever since then she’s, she’s clung to us. She’s from Wales somewhere. And when we go to the meetings she makes a beeline for us on account of us being on the same raid as her husband.
DE: I see.
AM: I don’t know what the connection is except her husband unfortunately, he come unstuck there. We were lucky. We got through.
DE: Yeah. Do you go to a lot of reunions then?
AM: I’ve been to quite a few.
DE: Yeah.
AM: Yeah. When I can go I go.
DE: I see. And what did you do after the RAF?
AM: I went back. I was an electrician. And I were working in Hull. I were working on mine sweepers. And I worked on — I think it was called the Virago. I don’t battleships. I don’t know whether it was a destroyer or a cruiser. It was a fairly big ship. Plenty of guns on it and plenty of anti-submarine equipment. And with ASDIC and sonar on it. And I was lucky with that because I struck with a note with a man that was piped on board ship. And the man that was the captain of this ship was called Crumpelow. A navy ship this is I’m referring to.
DE: Yes.
AM: And they piped this officer aboard on ship and he says, ‘I want you all to hide out the way while we’re bringing him on board ship. We don’t want him to see any of you.’ So we says, ‘Ok fair enough.’ So I was a charge hand then and I says, ‘We’ve got to keep out of sight while this officer’s coming aboard ship.’ So they says, ‘Ok. We can manage that alright.’ So we goes down below. Down in the bilges.
DE: Yes.
AM: Gets out the way. And he came and he went. And then we were working on the ASDICs and when a few days later on I had a “Practical Wireless” in my back pocket. And I was working down below in the ASDICs with the rest of the squad and I felt someone lift this book out of my back pocket. I thought who’s taken that? And I turned around. He says, ‘It’s alright. I’m not pinching it. I’m only looking at it.’ And it was this officer that they’d piped on board the ship. So he says, ‘What are you going to make out of this?’ So I says, ‘Well I’m thinking of making that condenser analyser.’ So he says, ‘Well do you know,’ he says, ‘I don’t know if my qualifications are good enough,’ he says, ‘But what I use for doing that, nothing as complicated as what you’re going to make.’ He says, ‘This is what I use. A pair of earphones and a resistor. And I calibrate the variable resistance with the earphones across the condenser,’ he says, ‘And I have a set of condensers that I have that are calibrated and are precision ones,’ and he says, ‘I use them to work out what the ones are that I’m putting in. He says, now then, only me can use this now because my hearing and your hearing and anybody else’s is not the same. The earphones are calibrated to my hearing. Not to yours.’ He says, ‘If you make this you’ve got one of the best condenser analysers there is in the market. He says, ‘And that’s what I use on this here ASDICs and Sonar’
DE: I see. Yeah.
AM: So he says, ‘Send this for this CPO, chief petty officer will you?’ — to this bloke that was with him. So he went and he came back with this chief petty officer. He says, ‘If this man wants any gear out of the radio room —’ the pantry he called it. I think he called it a pantry, he says, ‘Give him it. But he will return it. He’s not getting given it for good he’s being loaned it. And I’m giving him, sanctioning that he can have anything he wants out of that radio stockroom and he can have the use of it providing he brings it back.’ So I thought well how good of him and he didn’t know me from Adam. And from there onwards we were the best of pals. We really got on, you know, really well. He was a smashing fellow. Really nice. I thought he was anyway. I could have made a life-long friend of him.
DE: Marvellous.
AM: So that was, that was a little bit there about that. I think they called it the Virago.
DE: Right.
AM: I might have got the name wrong because it was a long time since now.
DE: Sure.
AM: That’s what I was doing. Working on ships.
DE: Can I just take you back? A couple of things you started to talk about and then, and then we’ll press on with it.
AM: Yeah.
DE: You had a crash landing at Woodbridge.
AM: We had. We had four crash landings at Woodbridge.
DE: Did you?
AM: Yeah. We had a Lancaster got a burst tyre, with shrapnel that was. And the undercarriage was damaged and we landed with one wheel down and we didn’t know whether it would stay up or not because it had come down of its own accord. Not selected down. We landed with a Lancaster. We landed with a Stirling. And we crash landed at Juvincourt in France and we landed in a field there on New Year’s Eve after we’d been to Mittelland Canal. Yeah. I think it was the Mitteland Canal we went to and we got clobbered there but we got the two engines — the port engines on fire and the port wing on fire. We got the controls damaged. They got the intercom to the rear turret damaged. There was quite a lot of damage done and got the bits stripped off the front which was twenty foot long.
DE: Oh this was when Dougie baled out.
AM: Yeah.
DE: Right.
AM: And it was all —
DE: So you crash landed in France after that.
AM: At a place called Juvincourt. Which is just about approximately three miles. I’m estimating this as approximately three miles north of Reims. And we landed there and I had a marvellous time there myself for several reasons. First of all when we landed there an officer came up with a sten gun. It was night time and we was in the middle of a field. We said, ‘What have you brought that for?’ He said, ‘Well yesterday,’ or last night, ‘An aircraft landed and a man come out the darkness and stabbed the pilot to death.’ So he says, ‘I didn’t want him to be setting about you people so I brought the sten gun. And if he comes tonight he’ll get his, what he’s earned because,’ he said, ‘I won’t mix my words. If he comes up I’ll not give him the chance to use the knife. He’ll have had it.’ But nobody came. So that was that. Now then, I mentioned early on when I was talking about Market Harborough and about the parachute packer.
DE: Yeah.
AM: That I would probably come back to that.
DE: Oh yes.
AM: Now, when we handed our parachutes in, ‘Oh its McDonald is it?’ So I said, ‘Yes.’ So I said, ‘I suppose you want something do you?’ He said, ‘Yes I do. I want my seven and six pence.’ So I said, ‘What did I tell you I did?’ He said, ‘You told me that when you flew over Germany you emptied your pockets, left it in the billet and when the airmen there knew you wasn’t coming back they was to spend it.’ I said, ‘That’s right. Well,’ I said, ‘That’s what’s happened tonight. My money’s still back in the billet. I haven’t got a penny piece on me.’ I said, ‘I’m not giving my money to the Germans. Not as a prisoner.’ I said, ‘So I’m sorry you’re out of luck again. ’So I said, ‘I’ll tell you what,’ I says, ‘When I can and if I see you again I’ll have the seven and sixpence and you’ll get it.’ And I have. I’ve three half crowns in a cupboard at home waiting for the day that I ever meet him again. And if I do or if I can contact him he’ll get his seven and sixpence. So that was it. We had a good natter him and I. You know. A sort of friendship builds up don’t it?
DE: Yeah.
AM: You can tell whether anybody’s friendly with you or whether they’re aggravated at what you say. And at first with him an immediate friendship. We struck it off together.
DE: Yeah.
AM: And anyway that was that. Now, after meeting him I went to the cookhouse and he says, ‘I wonder if any of you likes turkey?’ So I said, ‘I do.’ So he said, ‘How much did you want?’ So I said, ‘How much can we have?’ So he says, ‘You can have as much as you want,’ he said, ‘We’re on American rations here,’ he said, ‘And we’ve got that much turkey it’s going to have to be thrown away.’ And he says, ‘I don’t like throwing food away.’ So I said, ‘Well you’ve no need to do that.’ I says, ‘Can I have just turkey on my plate? No potatoes. Nothing at all but just turkey.’ ‘You can, he said, ‘With pleasure. And I’ll pile it up.’ So he did. So when the other, the rest of the crew says, ‘What’s up with you? Haven’t they got any vegetables?’ I said, ‘Yeah. If you want them.’ So they says, ‘What do you mean if you want them? Well you get vegetable normally with your turkey.’ I says, ‘Well, he asked me did I want turkey? I says yes. He says how much do you want? I says can I just have turkey? He says yes you’ll be very welcome to have turkey. And he says and he’s filled my plate up.’ And I says, ‘I think if you people asked for the same as me he’d be very pleased because he doesn’t want to throw it away.’ So they went up and they says, ‘Is he speaking the truth? And he says, ‘Why? What did he say?’ He says we could have turkey and no vegetables.’ He says, ‘Yeah you can if you want.’ ‘Oh. We’ll have just turkey then.’ So the rest of the crew had turkey. But I haven’t mentioned this so far. That when we were in our orbit we were in a dreadful state at that time. The aircraft that is. Not us. We were alright. And the tannoy, the intercom was going and this aircraft had obviously heard us talking to ground control. Heard our pilot talking to ground control. And he says. ‘I hear that there’s another aircraft in the orbit the same as us. His two port engines on fire and the wing on fire. And we’re very short on petrol.’ He says, ‘I’m afraid I daren’t go around and make a proper landing the right way around. I’m going to have to land the wrong way around.’ Well that meant we were landing and we were going up to that end here and he was coming in this way. And we ran off the runway. We’d no brakes. Off the runway, across the perimeter track, across the grass verge into a field and in the middle of the field we came to a stop. Now it was right in line with the runway where we were right underneath the funnels. He came in low down and he made an excellent landing. He actually touched down on the perimeter track with three wheels. Now, I think that’s a marvellous landing. Because usually you’re a little way down the runway and then you touch your wheels down. Not him. He made sure they were down because they were the same as us. They’d got knocked to blazes with this anti-aircraft unit in, in — not France. In Belgium. And we were to find out after it had all happened and we were discussing it. Somebody says, ‘Well we’ve captured Belgium.’ And then it suddenly dawned on us it was our own anti-aircraft fire that had clobbered us. And it wasn’t our British anti-aircraft. It was our allies anti-aircraft that had shot us down. That had shot him down and then following him as he landed another one came in that had got the same again. And apparently this anti-aircraft unit of the Americans they only used anti-aircraft shells with proximity fuses in. So instead of passing your aircraft by missing it if it was at the side of your aircraft the proximity fuse would detonate the shell and you’d get an explosion at the side of you, which for them was a good thing. It was ideal. It brought the aircraft down. Which it did. So it brought three Lancasters down within a few minutes that were passing over the unit. So we were one.
DE: Right.
AM: And this other aircraft was the next one and then of course one followed him. He got clobbered the same.
DE: Oh dear.
AM: So three Lancasters were lost there. But nobody fortunately was injured on any three of them. So that was even better still.
DE: Yeah. That’s good.
AM: So Dougie, he was going to get shot.
DE: Yeah.
AM: He was the only casualty. But anyroad, he didn’t get shot. And anyroads things, things turned out for the better.
DE: Yes.
AM: Nobody was injured and Dougie got away scot free. Thank goodness.
DE: Wonderful.
AM: He got a good frightening I suppose. Tied up and they were going to shoot him.
DE: Yeah. Your tea’s probably cold now.
AM: Oh well. Not to worry.
DE: There’s a couple of points that you made and I sort of, I let them go because you didn’t seem to want to tell me but I’d like to just ask you again.
AM: Yeah. Don’t you.
DE: That the WAAF that you met at headquarters. I’d like to know who she was.
AM: Who she was?
DE: Yeah.
AM: Well to be quite honest with you I know very little about her except that she used to come with a young lady much younger than herself. And I took it for granted it was her daughter. So I was talking to her one day and I says, ‘You know your daughter?’ ‘Well, you don’t, you’ve not seen my daughter.’ I says, ‘Well I’m not blind. You come with her every time.’ ‘That’s not my daughter.’ I said, ‘Whose daughter is it then?’ She said, ‘Well what happened was I got put out my house.’ for some reason. She didn’t say what. ‘And that lady owns property in Grantham, and she accommodated me and I’m living with her. And that’s how I know her and that’s why she comes with me to these meetings. She likes coming to these Association meetings.’ And to be quite honest with you she was very friendly with me and I says, ‘Well, your mam,’ this — ‘My mam? You’ve not met my mam.’ So I says, ‘I have. That’s your mam isn’t it?’ ‘No. She’s not my mam.’ She says, ‘I’ve taken her in because she got put out of her house.’
DE: I see.
AM: So that’s, that’s how I know. Well I don’t know her from that really. I know from the fact that her husband was on the same raid as me and he got killed.
DE: Right. I see.
AM: So that was on a raid to Munich. I went twice to Munich. And apparently on one of the raids he was on it and he got killed. And she goes to see him. It’s somewhere in France where he’s buried. And they invite her over there and she goes each year and she says they make a right fuss of her. They’re ever so good to her. So that’s her. I don’t know her name. I couldn’t tell. I’ve never known her name.
DE: I see. Ok.
AM: I usually just go up to her and talk to her like maybe you from now on. Like maybe if I see you in the town, ‘Oh now then how are you?’
DE: Yeah.
AM: But I won’t say John, Charlie, Harry, Joe or Ken or whatever. I wouldn’t because I mean I don’t know. I would say, ‘Hello.’
DE: Right. I see. Ok.
AM: So that maybe explains that one.
DE: Yeah.
AM: Now what’s the second one?
DE: It was you were sort of alluding to some secrets at RAF headquarters.
AM: Yes I was. And I shall have to be very careful that I don’t mention it.
DE: Ok.
AM: It’s very very high.
DE: I can’t, I can’t persuade you to tell me the story.
AM: No. No. But I’m in a difficult position. I could tell you as easy as wink. I thought I’d given you a clue when I said to you, when I was in London at St John’s Wood I was presented to the Queen Mother.
DE: Yes. I think I’m with you. Say no more.
DE: I think that’s been an absolutely wonderful interview. You’ve nearly been talking for two hours.
AM: Have I?
DE: Yeah. Your son’s about right. Yeah.
AM: And I’ve only told you a fraction of what happened.
DE: Well we can do all this all again if you’d be up for it another time. Just while the tape’s still going, what do you think, what’s your opinion on the way that Bomber Command has been remembered over the last seventy years?
AM: Well they’ve not, they’ve not given us any publicity whatsoever. I mean I heard the news during the war and to me our aircraft went to Hamburg. That’s it. No mention of losses or anything. And the Germans were so efficient that I was jealous of them. I was literally jealous because the Germans were so efficient with their aircraft with how they attacked. They didn’t, they didn’t make one false move and they were always on the ball. You could never take it for granted that they wouldn’t be waiting for you because they would. They were there all the time and they come in. They never hesitated. They’re straight in. We were more than fortunate. We really were fortunate. But a lot of people, I saw a lot of people go down as you can imagine. And I felt sorry for them that went down but you couldn’t do anything about it. You couldn’t reach them. If my guns would have reached that fighter I would have given him a burst. For example one night there was a Lanc behind us. We’d bombed the target and was coming away from it. And coming away from the target this here JU88 was just behind a Lancaster going that way. And this JU88 was here and he stopped, I should say no more than thirty foot from the rear turret. And I thought what’s going on. Why doesn’t he fire? Why doesn’t the Lanc fire? And neither of them fired at each other for minutes. I thought good grief if I could persuade my skipper to drop behind I’d give him a burst and he’d be down easy. And he didn’t fire at the German. And the German didn’t fire at him. And then all of a sudden the rear gunner, I don’t know that he’d got trouble with his guns. Something had been switched off or suddenly wasn’t working. That I don’t know but then he did open up and of course the JU88 went down. But it was ages before he did.
DE: Crikey.
AM: And I couldn’t understand that at all. It seemed to me to be ridiculous.
DE: It is strange.
AM: Anyroad, if I’d, if I’d had the courage to ask my skipper let us drop back I could have easily, we was a little bit above him. Not far. He wouldn’t be a hundred foot below us. Less than that but behind us.
DE: Yeah.
AM: And just a little bit below us. Anyroads, he got him. Oh did I give a cheer when I saw him fire. And I couldn’t understand it. I’ve never seen it before or since. I’ve seen plenty of ours go down. Not many, not many of theirs. There were some went down. Yes. But not many. They weren’t, they weren’t like our Battle of Britain where the Jerries were going down most of the time. So we’re told.
DE: How did that make you feel?
AM: It was war and I accepted it as such. You got to accept all sorts of boss-eyed things in the war haven’t you? Things are not normal by any means.
DE: Yeah.
AM: And I just accepted them for what they were. Sometimes I felt sorry. Sometimes I says whoopee. Depended which side it was.
DE: I know you says you used to leave all your money behind.
AM: Leave?
DE: You used to leave your money behind.
AM: Yes I did.
DE: Were you, were you frightened? Were you reconciled to not coming back some times?
AM: Well the possibility was very strong. That you wouldn’t. And I knew this. And I thought well they’re not going to have my money. I don’t care what happens. They’re certainly not having that. And so I left it behind and left it with the blokes in the billet. They knew where it was. They never touched it. So yeah that was just one of the things. There’s a lot of funny things in a war. Many funny things. You meet people you never dreamed that you would rub shoulders with and you get things happen to you you’d never think would happen but they do. War is a funny thing. It’s a mixture of all mix and manders. Absolutely. It really is. I’ve been on a ship and I was on a ship between Ireland and Stranraer and there was a raging storm in the Irish Sea. And I was violently sick. And I went up on the deck and a wave — I got stuck between one of those —I think they call them air funnels. They’re not letting gasses out. They’re taking the air in down to the boiler room. And I got wedged between that. And it was the only thing that stopped me getting washed overboard. The wave came over the side and over me. And my great coat [laughs] and everything on me was wet through. And I thought well I don’t care if I get washed overboard. I was that fed up of being ill. I don’t care. I don’t care if I get drowned. That was it and that was the way it was. At night time by the way. Not day time. And then to end it a destroyer or a cruiser, or some, some navy ship shone his searchlight on us and then he put it off and they’d see me on the deck. Whether that put them off or not I don’t know but they put the searchlight off and we just progressed getting back to Stranraer. So, but I didn’t mention another little thing. Whilst we were at Juvincourt I went to our Lanc when we got up in the morning. I didn’t get any sleep. But the night time — oh I didn’t tell you that part. We got into bed. That’s the yarn.
DE: Right.
AM: Now I got into the bed and the bed tilted. If that’s the bed it’s there. I got in to the bed at this side.
DE: Yes.
AM: And this is what happened.
DE: It went through ninety degrees. Yeah.
AM: I’d never heard of this before but anyroad I ended up on the floor. So I got my tunic and I wedged one side of it and I thought well I’ll sleep at that side, but then my tunic crumpled up or whatever you call it and of course that side went that way [laughs] where the tunic was. So I thought I’m not messing about any more. I didn’t get any sleep at all that night. They were all having a good laugh at me being on the floor and under the bed twice. Anyway, to cut a long story short the next morning we gets up, we goes to breakfast and I says to Johnny, the mid-upper, I says, ‘Are you coming to have a look at VNG-George?’ He says, ‘Is that where you’re going?’ I says, ‘Yeah are you coming with me?’ So he said, ‘Yeah. I’ll come with you.’ We’ll have a look. See what damage has been done.’ So we went to, got on to VNG-George and we went up and oh what a mess it was inside. You’d have thought they had a gun inside the aircraft. There was holes all over the place. It was like a colander. And we went up front to where the skipper was. The dashboard was all smashed. And the seat where Hughie was there was a piece of shrapnel. Now, let’s get this right now. I’m going to say the wrong thing if I’m not careful. I know. I’ve got it. At the back of him was a sheet of armour plate like that.
DE: Yes.
AM: A half an inch armour plate behind the skipper. A half inch thick and the full width of his seat.
DE: Yeah.
AM: So he was protected from the back and just there on the seat was a piece of shrapnel. It had gone through the armour plating and were just sticking out at this side. But it hadn’t got enough force to go any further. It had finished there. And I tried to get it out and I’d not anything heavy to hit it with. I thought I’ll get that out and give it to the skipper because that’s the nearest he’s ever been to having a bit of shrapnel in him. And it would have got him at this, behind his shoulder because that’s where it was.
DE: Yeah.
AM: Where his shoulder would have been. Anyroad, we come out the aircraft and we saw the damage that was done and we saw the piece missing off the side of the starboard side of the aircraft. From the turret right back to the, where the flight engineer sits. You could see inside the aircraft all the way along. Anyroads we goes from there. I says, ‘Let’s look all the way around John. Let’s look at the ‘drome.’ Well there were debris all over the place. There was ammunition. There was guns. There was spades. There was uniforms. There was helmets. You name it, it was there. Where they’d been fighting on the ‘drome. Apparently according to our information we were told that they had only captured the ‘drome the day before we came. Before we landed there. And that there had been fighting on the ‘drome which they had. And so I said, ‘Come on let’s look around John.’ And we were walking along the perimeter track and it took several bends. And one of the bends we went around, ‘Look at that.’ ‘Well what about it? It’s only a Focke-Wulf 190.’ I says, I says, ‘I’m going on to that. I’m going to start if up if I can.’ He said, ‘Do you think you can?’ I says, ‘I don’t know. I’ll find out.’ So I climbs on to the wing. Climbs up to where the canopy was and it was perfect. There was no damage to the aircraft anywhere that I could see. I thought they’ve abandoned this in their escape from the place. I bet it’ll start up. And there’s me trying to get the canopy undone and I couldn’t find out how to get it undone. I struggled and struggled. Pulling and writhing and I couldn’t get the canopy undone. And all of a sudden, ‘Will you come down from there.’ [laughs] This officer come up, ‘That aircraft is probably booby trapped and if you’d got in it you and the aircraft would have gone up. Not just the aircraft but you and it. Come down and don’t come up again.’ So I said, ‘Ok.’ So I came down again very obediently. I thought this is where you play very gentlemanly. You don’t, you don’t say what you’re thinking because it gets you deeper water. I come away. So I said, ‘Come on John.’ We didn’t go the way he went. He went that way so we went this way. I thought the bigger the distance between us if anything else comes up he’ll be going that way and he won’t, he won’t see me. So anyroads we turns one or two corners. ‘Oh look at that.’ And it was a Heinkel 111, I said, ‘I’m definitely getting in John.’ I said, ‘Keep a look out for me, and if he comes give me a shout and I’ll lay down and keep out of sight.’ So anyroads, he didn’t see anybody coming and here’s me struggling to get this canopy open. But I couldn’t get it open and I was going to try and start that one up. But could he? No damage. No visual external damage. I thought well that might start up. Anyroad I thought good I’ll have a go at this at least if I got it started up before he comes back. I can’t hear him if he shouts up. I was dying to get this aircraft started up. But anyroads he came and oh. ‘Will you get down from there? Now. And I’m going to follow you. You’re not coming around this area any more. Off this site.’ So we had to back track to the main perimeter track area. So we goes back to the perimeter track. ‘If I catch you again you’re for it.’ He says, ‘I’ve told you twice. I’m not telling you anymore.’ So I said, ‘Ok. Come on John.’ So we went walking along the perimeter track. Well we went to look in one of the trenches and there was guns. There was ammunition. There was tins with food in. There was allsorts there. If we’d had a lorry we could have filled it and another one as well with this equipment that was laid about. I said, ‘Oh come on we’ve had enough down here wading around in the mud.’ So we come out of this here trench and we were walking along. ‘Hey. Look there, John. Can you see what it is?’ He says, ‘Yeah. It’s a tank.’ ‘No it isn’t.’ He says, ‘It’s a tank.’ I said, ‘It isn’t. I says where’s it’s guns?’ He says, ‘He hasn’t got any guns has he?’ I says, ‘Well it’s not a tank then is it?’ So he says, ‘Well what is it?’ I said, ‘It’s a radio controlled tank.’ So he says, ‘Is that what it is?’ I says, ‘That’s what it is John.’ I says, ‘I feel sure it is. Come on we’ll go and have a look.’ So we walked across this field and we got as far as that chimney from here.
DE: Yeah.
AM: Yeah. From it. From the tank. And what, I was going to climb on board it and have a look around and see what there was. And all of a sudden there was a load of blokes shouting and calling. They reckoned that we hadn’t got parents [laughs]. You silly —
DE: Yeah.
AM: ‘Do you know where you are?’ I said, ‘Yeah. We’re near this tank. Why?’ So he says, ‘It’s a radio controlled tank.’ I said, ‘We know that.’ So he says, ‘Do you know where you are?’ I says, ‘Why? We’re in a field. Why?’ They said, ‘Do you know what’s in the field?’ I says, ‘No, what?’ He says, ‘You’re in the middle of a minefield. That’s what we’re calling out.’
DE: Oh dear.
AM: So he said, ‘When you come back look to see if the ground’s been dug. With every step you take.’ So we didn’t bother to look down. We just walked off the doing. And we got on to the perimeter track and that was it.
DE: And that was alright.
AM: We didn’t get damaged in any way.
DE: Yeah. Oh dear.
AM: But that we finished there and we were walking back and they said, ‘Oh we wondered where you were. There’s a Lanc come and he’s taking us back and we couldn’t make out where you two were.’ So we had to go straight in to the Lanc and back home. So we landed at that place. What do they call it now? Near to [pause] near to [pause] near to Brigg. It’s not far from Brigg. It was where the spies used to land. I do know the name when I hear it. A double-barrelled name.
DE: Near Brigg. Elsham Wolds.
AM: No. I don’t know about that.
DE: Killingholme.
AM: It was a ‘drome where the spies used to be taken from and they took supplies from there. And nobody. The guards —
DE: Tempsford..
AM: Eh?
DE: Tempsford. .
AM: No.
DE: No. I don’t know then.
AM: Each aircraft there had a guard outside. All the Lancasters there had a guard outside.
DE: Ludford Magna.
AM: That might be it. That could be it. I’m not sure. But I think that might be it. But that’s where we landed. And the guard was outside a Lancaster and the aircraft had twenty one of us in. You know.
DE: Yeah.
AM: From three Lancs. And there were officers and they says to the guard, ‘You’re going to let us in aren’t you?’ He says, ‘No.’ He said, ‘If I let you in,’ he says I’ll get court martialled.’ We says, ‘We’re not going to tell anybody but we’re going in.’ So he says, ‘You can’t.’ ‘Well we’re going in.’ And we all went in. All the lot of us went in. And it was a bit different to ours. A little bit different. It had a bench at each side and chairs down each side. So they had transmitters at both sides and seats so that people could sit in the seats and operate the equipment. That was then. So I mean now it’ll have gone to the scrap yard by now I should think. But it was interesting. Oh there’s all different things will well up in my mind that I maybe should have told you. But there’s so much happens to you. You can’t sort of remember it all at once. And it was good. You was always being entertained so to speak. Something was always happening that was of interest. And well that’s the way it went, and I don’t know whether that’s on the tape or not but —
DE: It is.
AM: Is it?
DE: And its two hours ten minutes now we’ve been chatting. So I think I shall, I shall wind it up. Thank you very much.
AM: Ok.
DE: That’s a wonderful interview. Thank you.
AM: You want me to sign that do you?
DE: I will do. I’ll just press stop on here.


Dan Ellin, “Interview with Edward Allan McDonald. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 24, 2019,

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