Interview with Tom Rogers

Title

Interview with Tom Rogers

Description

Born in Fulham, Tom Rogers joined the RAF in 1943 as an air gunner. After training he was posted to 207 Squadron in Spilsby, carrying out 26 operations, shooting down two enemy aircraft and being awarded the Legion d’Honneur. He tells of the penguin which was the crew mascot, the friends he made and what happened to them. After leaving the RAF he worked in a number of different places, including London Airport at the time of the huge fire, ending up at London Transport.

Creator

Date

2018-11-01

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

00:39:49 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

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

Contributor

Identifier

ARogersTC181101, PRogersTC1801

Transcription

PS: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Patricia Selby and the interviewee is Tom, Tom Rogers. The interview is taking place at Tom Roger’s house [signal] and the date is the 1st of November and it is two thirty pm. When were you born Tom?
TR: When? 16th of March, 1926. I was born at an early age.
PS: Where were you born?
TR: In Fulham, a street called Allbane Road, in Fulham, London.
PS: Can you tell me a bit about your childhood?
TR: In retrospect I think it was quite good really; I can never ever remember wanting for anything. My father, who was a Canadian, came over with the Canadian Army in the First World War in 1914, met mum, married her and remained here in England. He eventually joined the English Customs and Excise and spent his whole life working for them so he had a damn good job and we never wanted for anything. So yes, I had a good childhood really.
PS: What sorts of schools did you go to?
TR: I went to junior, infant school, junior school, secondary school, polytechnic.
PS: What did you do at the polytechnic?
TR: Well it was to do coachwork, body building. But then the war was [indecipherable] looming and I was evacuated out of there to Sussex, down here actually.
PS: Ah, right! So what did you end up doing for work before you got, went into, the RAF?
TR: Before the RAF I flitted around engineering companies, [laugh] me being young, and working with a friend of mine, we quite often got told we would like you to leave cause we were always playing about, but working mostly on engineering. All of it was, funnily enough for the war effort as well. And then I joined the Air Force in January 1943, I think I was seventeen at the time, I think, and that was the start of my RAF career.
PS: What sort of engineering were you doing?
TR: We were making stuff for, first job I was at we were making stuff for tanks then I worked for a firm that was making the, parts for Rolls Royce engines and then I ended up with another company called Adlards where we were refurbishing military vehicles.
PS: Oh right, so you were [emphasis] really getting things ready, weren’t you.
TR: Yeah.
PS: How did you come to join the RAF? Was it a choice of yours?
TR: Oh yes, yes. I didn’t like the idea of walking. I, if I went in the Navy I really would have wanted to join Fleet Air Arm, couldn’t get there anyway, and I certainly wasn’t going into the Army because I’m not a lover of walking. So I went down to a place called Horn Lane in Acton in London and signed on there, phwoar, signed on but they didn’t believe my age, cause I told them I was eighteen. And he said you take this home to your father to sign. Previously to that I’d had a hell of a row with dad, and I went home, I just slapped it on the table in front then said, “Sign it!” and he did. And my god, did he get a wigging from my mum. And that was it. And then I got called into the RAF and started training toward being an air gunner.
PS: Did you go straight to learning to be an air gunner?
TR: Oh no, it’s, before you actually got on an operational squadron had been a year of training.
PS: So where did you do that?
TR: The first place was in Bridlington, that’s up in Yorkshire, ITW, an idea of what my nature was idea I think I spent most of my time on jankers in the evening, [laugh] I was always doing something wrong. I can’t remember where I actually went to from Bridlington, but it had to be another, I suppose lecture based, on gunnery. The first actual airfield I got on to was when I done all my gunnery work, ground work and theory and all that and that was at number 7 OTU, Silverstone, so I went on that track long before Lewis Hamilton did.
PS: Right, yes.
TR: And then from OTU you went to Heavy Bomber Conversion Unit and that was at Wrigby, Wragsby, something like that name there. It’s there we had our first fright. The airfield main runway ran slap bang parallel with the main road and we’re coming in, and it was rather misty and we’re coming down and down and down, and all of a sudden the bomb aimer’s yelled out, ‘for Christ’s sake pull up, there’s a car beneath us!’ We were coming in on the main runway, on the main road instead of the runway! And from there I went to, must have been Lanc finishing school, number 5 Lanc Finishing School and that was at Syerston, just outside Nottingham, and from there that you get posted to a bomber squadron, which was for me was 207 at Spilsby and that was in, oh November, September, something like that, of 1944.
PS: Right, did you stay there all the time?
TR: Oh yeah, yeah, well until the war ended and then closed down and I went to, I can’t remember name of that now, and that was another airfield that was closing down and then from there I went, was sent to, RAF Headquarters in, oh God, where’s that, it’s in London anyway, and there they posted me to Hendon. Well, how handy that was too, tube station’s only just up the road, straight to Hammersmith, I’m home. Yes, that was quite good.
PS: Yeah. Um, what was it like when you got to Spilsby? Was it what you expected it to be like?
TR: Well you had no idea what it was, as far as I was concerned it was another aerodrome. We fiddled and mucked about, still doing training: cross country runs, fighter affiliation, high level bombing night and day on the dummy targets, and at Silverstone, this is where you meet other members of a crew and you’re gonna be, to made up into a crew, the only person who was missing would be a flight engineer because they didn’t come in to it, because we were still on twin engined aircraft.
PS: What aircraft were they?
TR: They were Wellingtons. Which I must just say I did enjoy flying in those, they were, I found they were a very nice aeroplane. But then when we got to Spilsby I mean, I suppose we were there for about, what, a couple of months I suppose, when our name appeared on the ops list. That night we only go as standby crew. You were there in case someone dropped out injured or ill or something gone wrong and you replace him. And I did, I went to Brest. Actually I just had a little story of mine read out, here in the blind sections here, about the dangers of presumption. When we got to – oh where were they off they name that - Bergen, it was absolute, we were going in at sixteen thousand feet. It was so cloudy the controller brought us down to twelve thousand feet and it was still thick, and my skipper I was going with, we were flying with then, was a chap called Bill Burrells, he decided to take us down to three thousand feet and, we know we did, he said you’re not going to go for the actual pens themselves, he wanted to bomb the slipways which you’ll do more damage than in – I actually saw bombs bounding off, bouncing off because there were a lot bombing through cloud. Out of the two hundred and, nearly one, nearly two hundred and fifty bombers, only forty seven bombed. We lost two aircraft on that. But when I come back I thought that that was a doddle. That the flak was light flak but not very accurate, and oh god, this is going to be a doddle. Did I get an eye waken on my next raid! And that was a daylight. On that raid we were approaching the target and the met was supposed to be the target’s going to be clear of cloud and the flight engineer said, no the bomb aimer said, so much for the weather men, look at that black clouds over the target so much for the weather men. About fifteen minutes later the flight engineer said I’ve got news for you, he said that’s not cloud that’s flak! So that was it and we went in amongst that lot and just as we were turning to come home, the wireless operator turned the radio on to all of us and they were playing ‘There’s no place like home.’ And we came through there and believe it or not, the aircraft didn’t have a scratch on it. So that you know, but it was a hell of a difference to Bergen and that’s how it went on and off the rest of the tour.
PS: So, you went on how many raids?
TR: Twenty six.
PS: Could you, sort of, tell me what happened during a raid? You go out there, and you’ve spoken about some of it and told me -
TR: I don’t know, all those books up there are from aircrew and some of them, one of them in particular, I thought you know, you must have had a pen and pencil or a pen and pad in your turret and writing down everything that happened as you were flying there in and out, on every trip you ever made. I can’t remember a fraction [emphasis] of what happened. The only thing I can think about that is that my brain just blocked it out.
PS: Could well be.
TR: Because some of it was really bloomin’ hairy, it’s like we was, I don’t know which target it was, but I do remember sitting in my turret, which, I was always quite cosy in there really, but suddenly thinking we’re on the bomb run, the bomb bays are open I thought Jesus Christ we only need a bit of flak there, that cookie: we’re a gonner!
PS: Yes.
TR: But that gone almost immediately, in actual fact believe it or not, you are frightened, you can’t say you weren’t, you are frightened, but you’re also busy. As a gunner you do not stop looking like this, you’ve got to keep moving all the time: you are the eyes of the aircraft really, and so you’re too busy doing that really to worry too much. I can’t ever say I was really bored with the flying but, so I mean you’re glad when you got home anyway.
PS: [Laugh] Cause you, it’s a very small space, wasn’t it. So you were on Lancasters, weren’t you.
TR: Well I actually did a couple of trips as an upper gunner; did not like that one bit. So I switched, I said I’ll take the rear turret, and they were quite happy about that, the gunner was. And, no, I loved my rear turret, I was quite happy and cosy in there, cold yes, but then it was cold at twenty thousand feet! So, no, it’s, I had an extremely [emphasis] good rapport with my ground armourer, chap called Lou. We called him Lambeth Lou cause that’s where he came from. He called me a bloody scrounger, as he used to call me, because every time when we landed back I used to say give us a fag Lou and he’d say bloody scrounger, and I used to go what are these here, all right sergeant scrounger. But we did have a marvellous rapport with our ground crew.
PS: That’s important isn’t it.
TR: Oh god yes, yeah, you rely on them to keep that aircraft in good trim, yeah, cause it’s a long way to fall. [Laugh]
PS: I’ve been over a Shackleton, that’s, was based on the Lancaster, and that rear gunner position, you know, it’s very difficult if anything had happened, for you to get out.
TR: What they say if you could, would be to turn your turret, open the doors and fall out. The trouble was, you were in such cramped conditions if you fell out the chances are your feet would go underneath the triggers. And you’ll lump it.
PS: Yes.
TR: So fortunately we never ever really got into that stage. The nearest we got to being bits and pieces I suppose, was again, I shot down two German aircraft and one of them, the both of them were really because the pilots made an error, nothing that I was good about, it was something the pilots, they made an error. The one that really got us, he came out at the wrong angle and the first thing I knew I could see flames off the port fin and that was him disintegrating and that bits of the turret disappeared as well, and he made his mistake by not getting up at the right angle and then he had to, because he’d committed that way, he couldn’t do a turn like that to get away otherwise he’d have crashed into us, so he’d have to do an upturn like that and so he was, and I’m already firing at him, but now he’s become an absolutely open sights target, and as he was coming up just simply raking him up and down and across. And he’s nearly, when there was flames came out. I’ve got it in my log book. This is where I thought Jesus Christ! Those poor bastards, what a way to die, in flames, nothing could be worse than that. I just hope that my bullets had already caught them. Because say what you will, there still was a certain camaraderie in the air between both sides. We were told if you get shot down, try to make for a proper airfield because you’ll be treated properly there, and that was, you know, generally well known throughout the mob.
PS: You mentioned before we started recording that you’d been to Dresden.
TR: Eh?
PS: Dresden. Did you do the Dresden run?
TR: Yes, we did the Dresden run. This was another one of these so called clever people who knew it all but never been there. This was an undefended target. Ha bloomin’ ha. There was a hundred and sixty four factories: small, medium and large, [indecipherable] were there with three huge factories, and a marshalling yard for troops going up and down to the Eastern Front, and there was also the headquarters of Eastern Command. Now if that’s not a military target, there’s no such thing as a military target. And um, undefended? Well, the RAF lost nine Lancasters, the Americans lost eight Fortresses, we lost two engines, apart from other damage that we had to the aircraft, and we had to land in Melsbroek in Brussels and we were there for eight days until our aircraft was fit to fly again. So much for an undefended city!
PS: You told me that you got a French…
TR: Oh, the Legion d’Honneur.
PS: Yes.
TR: Yes. It’s called the Chevalier of the Inter, of the National Legion, National Order of the Legion of Honour - it’s the equivalent to the K, KBE here. You could only get that if you was operating within a class of delivery after D-Day. It was only awarded to those still alive; it’s never awarded posthumously. There are quite a few with it. I noticed one once when, we, a booklet came every now and again from the veterans, someone had signed himself off as Chevalier so and so, well why not put sir, that’s all Chevalier means Knight. English was Knight.
PS: What did you get that for? Was it just you were still alive.
TR: It was because I was operating against the Germans and the main one we did, it was on the Falaise Gap, that was a hell of a big do for the Army that was, particularly the Americans. We operated on that and we did the Mich, was it, Michelin, oh yes, the Michelin Factory and we took that absolutely to pieces; nothing was standing. Actually there’s a photograph up there, of some of the members of the squadron crew, at this, we were guests of Michelin,[cough] one chap was there he said well how did you feel about this? Well we were delighted, we said. They’ll never produce another tyre for the Germans, yeah. They were delight, and not one French person got hurt because what happened was that we flew over the target three times, low, to get out, and they all got out. I wasn’t on that raid incidentally, but Alec up there was.
PS: So how did you relax when you got back off a raid?
TR: Well usually the first thing was to eat, next thing was to sleep and provided you weren’t on ops again the next night was go out and get drunk! [Chuckle]
PS: How did you feel about other crews that never came back?
TR: How did I feel what?
PS: You came back every time, but other aircraft didn’t. How did you feel about that?
TR: You don’t get any feelings. Funnily enough on the Dresden raid, yeah, on the Dresden raid an Australian pilot called Dave Church, who’s photograph’s up there actually, that was his first raid, they got shot down, on his first raid. That was tough [emphasis]. Um, you didn’t dwell on it too much and you never, you never made close friends. The nearest I got to a close friend again, again his signature’s on that photo up there, which is a painting of my aircraft.
PS: Oh, right!
TR: Johnny Hoskins, he, I don’t know, he’s devil may care completely he was, absolutely devil may care. He survived as well, but he was the nearest I got to a friend, absolutely nearest thing I got for a friend.
PS: Looking back on it, do you feel that was how you survived as well? With that sort of attitude of not making close friends?
TR: Oh no, that would never affect your survival. Oh no. You, you’re very fatalistic, very fatalistic. You think it can’t happen to you, and you’ve got to believe that as well. Superstition was rife, absolutely rife. Early, early in the operational career we went into Skegness and then the fair part there and throwing darts, I won a little penguin about that big, and that became the squadron’s mascot, not squadron, the crew’s mascot and they’d always say, you got – it became Peggy Wing - have you got Peggy Wing Roddy, which was my nickname, yeah, yeah, and this particular time we were way [emphasis] over the North Sea and fortunately we had our bomb load was all HE, you can land with that, if you want to, if you got a mad pilot like I had, called Lovelace, and someone said to me I don’t know which, I don’t know who it was, someone says, ‘Rodney, you got Peggy Wing? I went Christ Almighty, no! And all of a sudden the aeroplane [Engine noise] straight back at the end of the runway to get Peggy Wing. We shouldn’t, normally you unload bombs in the [indecipherable] no I’m not happy, going to get back in the fray again, hey. He was as mad as they come. I don’t know about the truth about this was, but apparently he was flying fighter aircraft in Australia, against the Japs, and he was sent to England on Bomber Command for his own safety. He, he really was a brilliant pilot. But he was devil may care. But I felt very safe with him, very safe with him, yeah.
PS: Oh that was good. Yeah.
TR: Unfortunately he died in a boating accident in Sydney Harbour. He got drowned which was, going through that and then going getting drowned, a thing like that. It was a shame that, yeah. Another, there’s a little fellow I knew, another I suppose I never seemed to offend, was Georgie WiIkinson. They came back from a raid and collided with someone in them what we called funnels, fourteen got killed there, and they’d just come back from a raid. I went up as squadron representative up to Newcastle for his burial. That was another, there were, they were nasty incidents. You get shot over the target, you know, you don’t accept it, but you, you know, that’s part and parcel of what you’re doing. But to get that, the way he went, that was sickening.
PS: Did that sort of thing often happen?
TR: Well I wouldn’t know because, well it’s not that, you see what you have, there were something like about six or seven Groups. I know there was an 8 Group, but I don’t think, so, 5 Group, my Group we used to operate mostly on our own. But on the big raids well we couldn’t muster all the aircraft that were needed, on the normal routine work, you call it routine work, I suppose you could call it routine work, we operated mainly on our own. We were Bomber Harris’ bully boys if you like. [chortle]
PS: So, you stayed in, did you stay in the RAF till 47 or was it?
TR: I got demobbed in 40 - they asked me would I go to Germany for eighteen months, that was when I was stationed at Hendon, and I said would it be on flying duties, he said no, so I said not going to do it then, so I came out. Life wasn’t easy. I also got married in 47, and early 47 actually, too. Life was pretty difficult after the war really. And for months the wife and I lived in one room, only half the size of this room. You just couldn’t get a flat anywhere at all, or any accommodation. My parents had a very large house, but she also had, Lawrence was on the top flat, Jim was in the ground flat, George and Dennis were at home, but there was no room for Vera and I to go in there so we eventually ended up in Bath, on a farm, working on a farm. I did that for about ten years actually, working on a farm, but my wife, she really was a Londoner and that’s all there was to it. I was never all that much interested in London, still aren’t really, was to it, but she, so we came back to London. Fortunately I got a job with a company of estate agents who had the agencies for a large number of houses in Fulham and I got a job with them where a flat went with it, so that was all right. When things started to go ape at this job, the manager himself, the boss man, apparently been fiddling like mad and he got the sack and [indecipherable] so I got another job out the way, a firm called Goodlands. I was their despatch rider and everything like that, general dogsbody I suppose and there was a flat with it as well, and that’s when my wife died, she was thirty six, my wife died and everything went, you know, ape for a bit after that. I eventually joined British European Airways, was there for seven years, and that’s where I met my second wife.
PS: What were you doing with them, were you flying?
TR: I was passenger Assistant. Yes, was at the West London Air Terminal at the, it’s, gosh, can’t think words for it actually, but its notoriety was the fact it was the largest fire after the war. Brand new buildings, it was only open three weeks and went up in flames and it turned, all the water mains around all burst because of what was happening, so much water was used. There was a tremendous amount of damage to the building as well. We always, everybody reckons it was deliberate. Costains were then, I have to be careful here Tom, you could be sued! Costains were the builders and they were in debt and it was in their office where the fire started. The Fire Brigade know damn well that a drawer was left open full of papers and it spread like wild fire. Funny I was on night shift at the time and the Securicor came in and said, I was down in the basement where the canteen was, having my breakfast, not a breakfast, a midnight lunch, and everybody out, everybody out, we’re on fire! Yeah, yeah, yeah, so we ignored it didn’t we, hey. Ten minutes later he came back and , everybody out, we are [emphasis] on fire yeah, yeah. He came back again: this is the last time I’m coming back he says, I can assure you the building is on fire [emphasis] and I thought I’ve just got my bloody steak!. So we went out and god almighty couldn’t believe it. Couldn’t believe it, there! The building was absolutely, the brand new computer system: totally destroyed. But as I say we survived it and I was there for seven years with them. And I came out, cause I thought I was bettering myself ha ha, I went with a company called Starline Cruises, it’s part of P and O actually it was, and they wanted a sales manager, outside sales manager, for southern England, they’d already got one for Northern England, I [indecipherable] got the job and I was there for about two years when it was taken over by a German company. And didn’t fancy it, so I left that and I went to work for a, three chaps had started a company called MFI, not the furniture people: Must Fly International. And what they did, they chartered aircraft and ships and I became the operations manager there and I learnt a hell of lot. You all right love?
PS: Yes fine.
ITR: learnt a hell of a lot there, I must admit. Jim Cronin his name was. It’s all the notoriety coming out now. Jim Cronin was his name, very pleasant bloke, he preferred the bar and the pubs than being in the office. In the end he pushed us completely into debt he did a runner. And I was, at that time I was working on a, an approach by a chap called Nelson so I thought all right I’ll carry on doing this, and this was the Portuguese people going back and forwards to Lisbon and that, and they do a the distance, very nice for me so I opened up my own company called Globespan, and it did very well, I used that for about five years - this is where the notoriety comes in - one of the young chaps, oh Abrio Travel is the Portuguese main Travel Service, well Nelson had taken over the running, of the place at the back end of Baker Street it was, oh where was Madame Tussauds. It’s away back this way anyway.
PS: This way, yeah.
TR: This is where the office was, and it came into the Victor Machimento. Well at the present moment he’s got an International Warrant for his arrest, for fraud. I always thought there was something dodgy about him, but couldn’t prove it. Now I know I was right. Yes, but by then I actually sold him my business and now, what did I, oh, I applied, I applied to the government for re-training and they sent me on a six month course to retrain as an instrument maker fitter and this stood me in good stead cause I came from there to London Transport and that’s where I stayed till I retired. Ended up there as the administration manager of the signals overhaul shop which was all the safety equipment for the railway. I had a damn good job there with them. But I suppose when you look at it, that whole period, the majority of my time from leaving the Air Force, was something to do with travel industry and that was it and here I am: footloose and fancy free! My wife, that was a big, another tragedy, she worked for Honda, she was the assistant credit control manager for Honda UK and Europe. Very, very good job, saying that cause I get a lovely pension from them still, and when she retired she was dead two years later.
PS: Oh no!
TR: She’d never been ill in her life, cancer, hmm. Yes, so I felt very, very bitter that she had no life after, you know, after work. I was bitter about that. Actually, she’s still with me, I’ve got her ashes still in there in the other room, she’s going to go with me when I kick the bucket, that’s already in my will anyway, she goes with me, we’re going to stay together come what may.
PS: Yes, that’ll be nice,
TR: Well, that’s about it really.
PS: Well it’s lovely. We’ve had a lot of really nice information, thank you very much indeed. I’m very grateful. Thank you.
TR: We were the last ones to land. But the moment the old tail went up my stomach churned over something rotten, and I thought Christ here we go again. But then the gunners and the pilot go on oxygen immediately and you have to stay on oxygen until you land again, because you are the people, who are, the safety, in actual fact he’s darned near the bus driver really, he takes orders from the rest of us. You’ve got to be kept alert at all times, bomb aimer, the navigator, the wireless operator and the flight engineer, they could sleep if they liked, could do if they wanted to without really. They come off oxygen usually round about ten thousand feet; where you can breathe at ten thousand feet quite happily really. But no, it’s, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy flying, cause I did. I loved flying. I’ve always been interested and with my father and I, he, I suppose I could blame my old man for getting interested in really, he used to make flying models, cause I got going on it as well, and Dad and I used to go up to Wimbledon Common and fly our aeroplanes and I always had this bug. Funnily at that, when in the first Word War apparently, my father did his first flight in an aeroplane. He never flew again. He, terrified the life out of him, he preferred the front line against the Germans. He was terrified of it. I think it was the fact that, you know, it was so open really. I mean those cockpits they were open there. Must have been that really.
PS: Well. Lovely, I’ve got that as well, thank you very much.

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Citation

Patricia Selby, “Interview with Tom Rogers,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 28, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/10331.

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