Interview with Donald Fraser. Two


Interview with Donald Fraser. Two


Donald Fraser completed a tour of operations as a flight engineer with 101 Squadron. He discusses the importance of ground personnel, his crew, his operations and the conditions at RAF Ludford Magna. He describes having to stop his mid-upper gunner from jumping from the aircraft without his parachute, and being lost in fog when returning from an operation. He also discusses the role of the eighth man in 101 Squadron crews jamming German radio signals with Airborne Cigar.




Temporal Coverage




01:59:40 Audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 5th of September 2017 and we’re in Whitchurch talking to Donald Fraser whom we’ve, DFM whom we’ve spoken to before. But in this case there there’s a particular interest that we haven’t really had the opportunity of covering which is how the aircrew got on with the ground crew and what was happening on the ground. So, Donald what were your impressions of ground crew?
DF: Well, my impressions of ground crew firstly I’d like to say about the whole ground staff rather than the ground crew. They were very good and the fact that on a station the size of Ludford the total personnel would be around about two thousand five hundred out of which two hundred and fifty or thereabouts would be ground crew. It was about ten percent. And it was that ten percent that got the most publicity and the credit for what was happening.
CB: Aircrew.
DF: Aircrew.
CB: Yeah.
DF: But without the support of the ground staff this would not have been possible because the dedication and the help that they gave to the aircrews to make sure that everything they needed to go and do whatever they were going to do and come back needed their help. And also, to make sure that everything they required was there for them to have the best chance of returning home. In twenty four hours most stations had something happening. They never stopped. There was always some work to do and one of the one’s that I think done a marvellous job was the catering staff whereby they had to produce two hundred, two hundred and fifty meals at close notice to make sure that the aircrew again had this before they went on their operation. And this may be changed later or earlier and they always had to have some ready which they did, ready for us to have. And this went through the whole staff. Parachute staff had to make sure that that was all perfectly and had all been checked and so on and including the staff that worked on the, the [pause] I was going to say the ground crew who operated the bombing up of the aircraft. A very important job but a very dangerous job because these were heavy bombs and they could cause quite severe damage if they fell off or came in contact with staff themselves. Also, the staff that filled the petrol into the aircraft their selves they also had a hard job. This all had to be done on time before the aircraft could move and the bowsers held two, two thousand five hundred gallons of petrol. Each aircraft that was being fully loaded took two thousand one hundred and fifty four gallons. And these, all jobs, remember that all these jobs had to be done outside. The aircraft all the time stayed in the open so in the middle of summer they had the high temperatures to take care of and all that. In the winter it was the reverse. Snow, sleet, temperatures below zero but they never seemed to worry about that. They’d done the job. Made a lovely job of that and made sure that all was ready for again the aircraft ready for taking off as it should be.
CB: We’ll stop there for a mo.
DF: Yes.
[recording paused]
CB: Right. Restart now.
DF: Most, most of the stations, well the aircrew were flying from were built as during the war for [pause] to use against the Germans they and as long as the runways and the, anything to do with flying was correct I think it was fair to say that the staffing and that was forgotten about in such that the accommodation for on most of the stations was Nissen huts. One hut for a flying, one AA aircrew in each Nissen hut. The only heating they had was one stove in the middle of the room and the chimney went up through the top. In the summer they were very hot and we had visitors such as field mice and earwigs and they caused quite a lot of problems to us. In the winter we had the opposite. Cold. Imagine coming in in the early mornings without any heating on and then if there was any condensation it dripped down the curves of the Nissen huts on to your beds. Not very, very conditions, very good conditions to be under. The toilet and washing facilities were possibly anywhere from twenty yards to fifty yards away from the Nissen huts their self and most of the time the water was cold other than warm. And finally, the messes. The sergeant’s mess and that was at least a half a mile away from the Nissen huts. Also being in a big Nissen hut and with no paths to them that hadn’t been made because of the timescale and the necessity to get everything ready for the squadron flying. And at Ludford they got the name of Mudford rather than Ludford because the normal run of things was rubber boots was the only thing you could use to be safe to take from one place to another. Stop there a minute.
CB: Ok.
[recording paused]
CB: I’ll ask you the question. You spoke about drips of condensation. Why was that?
DF: Because there was no insulation around the double layer of metal round the Nissen hut itself. It was very unusual and very cold to be under these conditions.
CB: And that’s why it was so hot in the summer.
DF: It was hot in the summer also.
CB: Right.
DF: The conditions were —
CB: Ok. Yes, thanks.
[recording paused]
DF: And I want to talk about our own ground crew. The squadron policy was that after a crew had done a number of operations, probably four, five, then they were given their own aircraft and their own ground crews to look after them. And as far as we were concerned we, after completed seven operations we went on leave on the 16th of October, returning a week later and then we were told by the CO that a batch of new aircraft was coming in to the squadron and one of them was for our crew. X2. So X2 became our new Lancaster. I was delighted because to have a new aircraft where the engines hadn’t been in any way in trouble with any people not knowing what they were doing or some, from the start it was ours engines. We would look after them and make sure they weren’t over revved or such like and that that so when we came back off leave we were told that and I said to Wally, our —
Other: Pilot.
DF: Pilot. I said, ‘I think we’ll go down and have a talk with the ground staff who are looking, going to look after our aircraft.’ So, we asked where the standing area was and they told it was near the perimeter fence line just on the corner. So down we went and we said who we were. We’d come to have a chat with them about the future and our aircraft of X2. The ground crew were made up of five people. Four flight, four engineers, fitters and one person in charge. Mac. He was a flight sergeant. So, he said, first of all, ‘Where do you come from?’ I said, ‘Scotland.’ He said, ‘I know that but where in Scotland?’ ‘Fife.’ ‘Oh, that’s alright then.’ He said to the lads, ‘We can live with that, can’t we?’ I said to him, ‘Where do you come from?’ He said, ‘Lanark.’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s alright then. We’re both not far apart. We’re both in the central belt so we’ll get on fine together.’ So, he said, ‘I’m sorry for the state we’re in.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘All, our overalls are dirty and wet and that. But —’ he said, ‘We’ve been waiting for the new aircraft.’ I said, ‘What difference does that make? A new aircraft.’ He said, ‘Well, when we get the new aircraft here the aircraft face away from the fence line and what we do is we wash our overalls in a bucket of petrol and then hang them up on the fence and when new ones start up the engines the heat from the engines it dries our clothes. So we were waiting for your aircraft to come here so we can get our clothes dry, and that.’ And he then said, ‘Well, what do you do? Are you a crew that work as a team?’ I said, ‘Yes, very much so.’ I said, ‘What about you? Do you do the same as the ground crew?’ He said, ‘Yes, we’re very determined. Our main reason for being here is to make sure that this aircraft, any aircraft we have is fully looked after and ready to fly when the pilot wants it.’ So, that’s good. And he says, ‘Have a look in our little hut at the back there and you’ll see what I mean.’ So we went around, had a look in his hut and there was a mixture of components for aircraft. Wheels. There were two or three wheels, there was parts of undercarriage, there was hydraulic parts, everything you could think of was stored in there. I said, ‘Why would you get all this here?’ he said, ‘Well, we brought a lot of it with us from our last station but every time aircraft is going for breakup we try to take off whatever’s useable in case we need it to put on aircraft because if we don’t it takes so long to get new parts from headquarters that the aircraft would be out of air —
Other: Condition.
DF: Condition for a few days. So, we make sure that we have all these parts available and we can keep the aircraft in the skies.’ ‘Well, that’s good.’ So he says, ‘Can we work as a team?’ And I said, ‘Well, I think we will do. I think you’ve made a very good start to help us. We’ll do that.’ So he said, ‘Well, we’re expecting the aircraft to be in tomorrow morning.’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s good.’ ‘But,’ he said, ‘We should have to look through it all to make sure it is all in the right order.’ I said, ‘Well, what about if ops is on?’ He said, ‘Well, that, it will go on ops if ops is on, you know. It will be your aircraft for tomorrow night but we’ll try and do what we can beforehand to make sure that everything has been checked.’ He said, ‘It should come alright from headquarters but sometimes there’s odd things that doesn’t work properly.’ So, the next day operations. It was our eighth operation to Leipzig and the aircraft did come in about lunchtime so the ground staff had [two to three] hours to look at it. They’d done their best. They said afterwards, ‘We haven’t hadn’t done it all. But we think we’ve done all the main things so it’s, as far as we were concerned useful to go in the air.’ So that’s what happened. We unfortunately found it started up all right, we got in to the air fine but after a time we had certain troubles. Electric troubles. Also troubles with the communication between staff, crew staff within the aircraft. So we decided that in that condition we couldn’t make it to the main target so decided to bomb a small target in Brussels in Belgium which was a operational workshop for the Germans. So, we bombed that and returned to base. When we got back the crew and ground staff was waiting for us and said, ‘You’re back early.’ We told them what had happened. ‘I told you.’ Mac said, ‘I told you we might not get it done. Now, I know what we’ve got to do. We’ll have it ready for you tomorrow.’ So that was the finish of that one. We continued helping him as far as we could because we had come to an agreement that when we came back from ops if there was any problems that we’d leave a note in the aircraft saying check this and check that. Or that if we had used the oxygen bottles or that also to make sure they would replace them because I think one of the problems was that the checking of these things especially the oxygen bottles was done by shaking it and there could be a spot in it or they could be almost full. So by getting them to replace them as long as they’d been used, to replace it made sure that there was oxygen there because these bottles were supposed to last fifteen minutes but I think in some cases they’d been used the [pause] when we’d had the aircraft the previous night or previous time ops was on and they’d been checked right enough but just by shaking them and there was probably only a few minutes of oxygen left in the bottles. So that alone was a good thing when you had your own aircraft because we would make sure that tiny things appeared to be small things but probably very important things at the end of the day. Everything went well for a long time and then our ground crew was helping us all they could. We came up to one of the worst Berlin raids of the war. It was on 17th of December and it was called Black Thursday. The problem was thick fog on return from Berlin all up the east coast of England and the, I’m not going into full detail on this but we found that there was no place near our own station to land. We were sent up to Hull. Hull. And there we came across the barrage balloons which had never been, well we thought they hadn’t been brought down. Thye were still at five thousand feet. They had been brought down but we didn’t know that and we took, we come off the coast thinking we’d be inside and there would be no balloons there. Anyway, we got a check from manned beacons saying that they knew where we were but they couldn’t see us and one asked subsequently to put up a bit of a searchlight up for us which we said yes. The searchlight instead of coming up in to the air went along the ground and what the pilot and I saw was, in front of us was a two story farmhouse and how, what happened after that, we don’t know why it should have happened but what must have been dist, a further distance than we thought because as soon as we saw it the first thing we saw was the house by fully, engines up to the full and pulling, two of us pulling the stick back then shoot up and we managed to take that. It was just like going over, taking a horse over a fence that he didn’t want to go over. And our rear gunner said what he saw was, first of all he was forced forward on to his guns which was funny because he was looking at the back of the aircraft, not the front, what he saw was chickens and hens running across the farmyard. So, we decided that, well we knew what height we were at. We were at four or five feet. Actually, when we pulled up our rear wheel caught the garden gate and —
Other: The farm gate it was, wasn’t it?
DF: The farm gate and that. So we decided we would make our way back to base which we did and as we were travelling along our bomb aimer said, ‘Oh, I’ve seen something. It’s the café we often have our cup of coffee in the morning at the station.’ So then we knew where we were so we decided this time we were about two hundred feet. We knew what height we were at but decided to ask base if we could come down. They said, ‘If you can you can try but we would suggest that you won’t have much chance.’ Anyway, we decided we would do that but in Lincolnshire at that time there were so many —
Other: Stations.
DF: Fields, stations in there round about that the three mile outside rim [pause] Distance from the aircraft outside ring were so close that they overlapped and as we were coming around thinking we were still going to land at our own station we had missed and crossed over on to the next station’s outer ring which was Wickenby and again we managed to see the airfield. Very risky. But we managed to get down there and we were on the ground and called up our own station saying we’ve landed. They said, ‘You haven’t landed. You haven’t landed here. Where are you?’ We looked at each other and said, ‘Well, we’re on the ground, I think.’ And then we got another voice coming on saying, ‘This is Wickenby Airfield. We think you’ve arrived. Arrived with us. We don’t know but there’s something landed on our runway. Stay where you are. We can’t see you. We’ll come and pick you up when we can.’ Which they did. We had the night there. The aircraft in the morning was still where we had left it. We decided we would start it up and take it home. We started the engines up. They ran for two or three minutes and then begin to cut out, each one in turn. That’s all the fuel we had. So, we had to be refuelled and got back to base. When we got back to base Mac, who was in charge, ‘Where have you been?’ I told him what had happened and said could he have a look at our tail wheel? ‘Have a look at your tail wheel? Why?’ I said, ‘Well, I think we caught it on your farm gate.’ He said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘Yes. We caught it on the garden gate.’ ‘Well, the next time you want to go through a gate make sure you open the thing first.’ That was all that he said to us.
Other: It wasn’t quite as polite as that, was it?
CB: Is that right? [laughs] Yes.
DF: Yes. He said, ‘We think we heard you go across last night. You were late. We think we heard you pass over the airfield.’ He thought it was us anyway because of the noise of the aircraft but, he said, ‘The rest of my crew said it wasn’t and then we heard an aircraft had crashed in the higher slopes past Louth. So we decided it must have been you and we went to bed.’ So that was that. Stop there.
CB: Ok.
[recording paused]
CB: So when you landed after an op then you talked to the ground crew. What forms had to be filled in?
DF: Well, as far as we were concerned there was no proper form. There was a piece of paper which sometimes there was no ground crew there. Other times there was. If there wasn’t we would just leave another paper on the, in the aircraft.
CB: Yeah.
DF: They would pick it up when they came in the morning. If there was we just put in likely, probably, “Have a look at the hydraulics,’ or ‘The wheels are taking a long time to be pulled up or put down,’ or, ‘We had trouble with the communication line between us and the rear gunner.’ Or ‘His heated suit’s not working.’ That’s the sort of thing we put on there. Just common things.
CB: So how would it be that sometimes the ground crew met you when you came back. Other times they didn’t. Why was that?
DF: I think it was just, I don’t think they had need to meet us at all. But our ground crew seemed to want to have somebody there just to make sure the aircraft did come in and what was required of it.
CB: Yes. I was just thinking that you must have had equipment failures or various little challenges on the way. How was that communicated? Was it you and the pilot or the pilot or just you?
DF: That was done usually at briefing.
CB: Which followed the —
DF: Which followed the —
CB: The landing.
DF: The landing. Yeah.
CB: Right.
DF: At the briefing. Then —
CB: With the intelligence officer.
DF: That’s right and all the crew was together so all the crew had their say. And I’d probably say, ‘Well, we had trouble with — ‘This and that and I think the air gunner would say, ‘Yes. My suit wasn’t working.’
CB: Yeah.
DF: Or the navigator had some problems. But each member of the crew told the —
CB: Right.
DF: Intelligence officer.
CB: Ok.
DF: What the problems were and also they told the crews there, intelligence people what they’d seen on the route.
CB: Ah.
DF: If they’d seen —
CB: Yeah.
DF: An aircraft go down, if there was any parachutes from it and if we could have a check where it was then that probably helped the intelligence people to know where the aircraft had to come down and things like that. And that was all said at the debriefing which could take up to a half an hour and an hour sometimes depending on how much damage or such was done to the aircraft.
CB: At the debriefing with the intelligence officer, it was always an intelligence officer doing it, was it?
DF: Yes.
CB: Or sometimes an NCO?
DF: No. It was always, as far as we were concerned always an intelligence officer.
CB: And what was —
DF: Sometimes male. Sometimes female.
CB: Yes. What was the process? You go in and sit down. Then —
DF: You’d go and sit.
CB: The captain starts it does he?
DF: Yes. You go in to the briefing room and you were called up. One left. The next one come. Funnily enough we were landing nearly always first. We had a technique that when we came across the English coast normally we would, from there the pilot would get on and say, ‘Permission to land.’ Even though we were probably thirty miles away. And we got that permission and that gave us the first chance because you were stacked up if you were later.
CB: Oh right. Gamesmanship job.
DF: Yeah. So, I think it did, it meant that they got to know us, I think.
CB: Yeah.
DF: But we, by this time we were getting to be the crew that had got near to the end of their operations so they lifted that from us you know and I think nearly every time we were first down which gave us the first choice of the briefing.
CB: Very good.
DF: So —
CB: Ok. Hang on.
[recording paused]
CB: Right. Starting again.
DF: Yes. Well, what we were talking about was the 17th of December. Christmas day came along. Not much later. We had flown the night before and arrived in to the station about 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning and we were debriefed and then went to, to bed. Getting up about 1 o’clock for Christmas dinner and that. Afterwards, I decided that I hadn’t seen any of the ground crew so I thought I’d take a walk out to the aeroplane. And when I got there there was Mac standing in front of X2 and the first thing he said, ‘Isn’t she beautiful?’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘The aircraft. Isn’t she a lovely machine?’ I said, ‘Yes, she is.’ And I said, he said to me rather, ‘How many ops have you done on, with her now?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ He said, ‘Well, I can tell you. You’ve done twelve.’ I said, ‘Oh, you’re keeping note.’ He said, ‘Yeah, because the last few aircraft I had most of them had only done one or two and that was the end of them but you you’ve done twelve on it so we’re getting along nicely.’ So, I said, ‘Well, I just came to see what was happening. Have you had a look at the hydraulics yet?’ ‘Yeah. I’ve repaired them.’ And then by this time our pilot, Wally he came up. He said, ‘I thought I’d find you here.’ So he said, ‘Is the aircraft being checked over?’ I said, ‘Yes, it is. It’s ready for an air test.’ He said, ‘Well, how about us doing it today? If ops are on tomorrow we’ll be alright because I don’t think there will be on Christmas day.’ So we decided to call up Control, got permission to do an air test and I said to Mac, ‘Are you coming with us?’ He said, ‘No. I haven’t got a parachute.’ I said, ‘Neither have we.’ So, he said, ‘Oh well, I’ll come.’ So we got off and Lincoln Cathedral was only about twenty miles away so we went over the top of it and we looked down at it. A marvellous sight to see the Cathedral there standing on the top of the ridge and Lincoln below it, you know and I said to Mac, ‘How about take my seat and have a look around?’ So, he did. And I think you could see tears coming from his eyes. And I thought then well we probably wondered what the war was about but seeing that I think we knew it was the right thing to do. So, we carried on and done our check. Everything was well, landed and when we got out we hugged each other. And then we decided it was alright. Come away from the aircraft and that, that was Christmas Day, you know.
CB: But how did it effectively, that you just agreed with you and the ground crew that it was ok.
DF: Yes.
CB: You didn’t have to fill in anything to do?
DF: No. No. No. No.
CB: Because it’s a mixture of pedantic form filling.
DF: Yes.
CB: And —
DF: But on this occasion, no.
CB: Yeah.
DF: As long as the, there I gave you. It was right.
CB: Right.
DF: On the thing so then the [pause] I think the next day we were, we were at Berlin and the next thing that happened, well during January and February things went well. There was no problems at all with that and the crews, the ground crew had done all they could to help us all the way through and the great group of lads done their best for us. I think the next time was on the 1st of March. Ludford was under three feet of snow and there was ops on that evening. So, by lunchtime we knew there was operations on. So, there was a plan that we needed to clear four hundred yards of runway so everybody on the station irrespective of the size or type or anything were expected to give a hand to clear it with shovels and spades and that except one and everybody did it except one man. One. A Canadian. A flight lieutenant. He said, ‘No. It’s not my job.’ So anyway, everybody put their hand in to it and they managed to clear that amount. That was the plan was that if they could do that the aircraft could take off and they would be refuelled and bombed up at Wickenby which was alright.
CB: Just down the road.
DF: Just down the road. So that’s what happened. We were the first plane to take off. Managed it. The two after that managed it. The fifth, three after that managed it. The fifth didn’t. It swerved off the runway into the bank of snow and completely stopped any more from taking off. That was four aircraft which was important because we were the only aircraft using ABC and the result was that the four of them, that again the raid was to Berlin. It meant that four 101 aircraft was in the line of the aircraft travelling out and travelling back and gave sufficient coverage to make it safe for the rest of the aircraft. Otherwise, I don’t think the raid would have taken off without some cover at that time. And we landed again at, back at Wickenby and came back to base two days later. But the following morning the CO came on and said to the whole staff about the excellent job they had done the night before. Congratulated them all and said it was a success because the aircraft had taken got off and that, you know. Except the one Canadian and we heard later that the CO had taken him out at midnight and made him work two hours clearing snow while he went back to bed. That was our last operation on the 1st of March. And we stayed on the station for another two or three days after that because the new rear turret by this time had been put on the aircraft and we were the first one to use it on that raid.
CB: This is with the 2.5.
DF: 2.5s.
CB: Yeah.
DF: And the, after that we stayed on to air test it for high elevation flying and that and we stayed on two days on the station to do that. So, and after that I went down to see Mac and his squad before we left the station because we were then finished operations and when he, when he saw us, he said, ‘Well, what are you doing after you have some leave and that?’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t know yet. I’ll probably be instructing.’ So, he said, ‘Why can’t you be an instructor here?’ I said, ‘Well, I can’t. I have to do what I’m told to do, you know.’ He said, ‘Well, you could do it from here because a lot of these young people coming through need some help, you know.’ I said, ‘Well, I can’t do anything about that.’So, he said, ‘Well, if you do another tour we’ll be there to help you again.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s fair enough. Hopefully, it will be six months from now.’ You know. So that’s how we left it. But there’s one thing I hadn’t said yet was that we had an engine failure on one of the operations. I think operation sixteen. It didn’t show up when we were flying but when we come back we had been damaged by flak and that and somewhere when they checked the engines over decided that they were too badly damaged from flak even though it was still running so it had to be replaced. It was replaced and when we started it up it was running, slow running but was far too high. It was very strong and and that. It wasn’t cycling down. Just a low rev.
CB: What’s your low, slow running rev rate? Revs.
DF: I couldn’t tell you that off hand.
CB: Roughly.
DF: Roughly it was very very slow. Just ticking over, and it wouldn’t come down to that so I said to the ground crews, ‘You’ll have to check that over.’ And they said, ‘Well, does it make any difference?’ I said, ‘Yes. It could make a big difference. The difference between the time that it stands on the, getting to the take off point and —'
[telephone ringing]
CB: We’ll stop there. Just a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: And what
CB: I mean what —
DF: With us —
CB: What causes an engine to need to be replaced.
DF: Just if it’s really badly damaged and the insides of the engines were, you know the whole thing.
CB: Damaged by flak.
DF: Damaged by flak or damaged by —
CB: Fighter.
DF: Yes. Or on fire.
CB: Oh.
DF: Again, the same thing. Either flak or that you know. That, and of course if you use a fire extinguisher on there then it goes all through the engines. Then it is a replacement engine.
CB: So, in case of the problem with the Lanc at the BMF what were the sorts of faults? They’re talking about some kind of swarf what sort of faults would you find in a Merlin engine?
DF: Difficult to say but I think the lack, probably the lack of oil in the working in the engines itself that, you know the insides were all cut separately out and I think the wearing away of that by the lack of fuel, lack of —
CB: Oil.
DF: Oil and things like that. That sort of thing. That’s the most common thing.
CB: What would that be? Low pressure oil pump. Or —
DF: Probably that. Not pressure of the —
CB: Or an oil leak.
DF: Probably either. Yeah.
CB: So the case of the two where you had to have them changed what was the cause to the —
DF: Well, one was fire in the engine which everything was more or less ruined from that point of view and the other one as I say was the one that was hit by flak but it didn’t show on the outside of the engine or the working of the engine but it did. It was then decided they would replace it. But as I was saying the slow running, it’s on again now, is it?
CB: Yes [pause] We’re running.
DF Good. The slow running was far too high.
CB: Yeah.
CB: So I said to the ground staff they had to get that down. They said, ‘Well, we’ve done all we can.’ I said, ‘Well, it’s still up. Get it down.’ And then Mac said, ‘Well, there’s another we’ve just replaced down at the, one of the other aircraft has just been replaced by a the new engine and it’s the same. Its engine’s running fast.’ So I said, ‘Can I have a look at them then?’ ‘What, you have a look at them?’ I said, ‘Yeah. Why not?’ You know. ‘Well, if you think you can do anything.’ Remember I had been on a carburettors course earlier on. Just after I had finished at Blackpool. So I decided to have a look and one of things I remember what the old man said who was there, ‘Don’t take everything you see as being correct.’ That was what the old man said on this course. So I got up to the stands and looked at the engine and looked at the bars that came, joined up the rods that joined up all the parts and for that and I picked up the [unclear] Well, they looked the same but if I changed that one to another one as I’d done on the course we’ll see what happens. So I changed them around. They were both almost the same level and left, changed them round and I said to them, ‘Try the engine now.’ Which they did and they got the revs right. This batch that came out from headquarters or where ever they were made with the rods placed in the wrong part of the aircraft.
Other 2: Crossed over.
DF: Crossed over, yeah. So, Mac said, ‘Oh, I can’t go and tell these people that it was you that found it.’ I said, ‘Well, you take the credit for it. You say you found it.’ They were happy about that so he did. He went down and said, ‘Well, we found the problem. Change —’ so and so, ‘And they’re alright.’ So, when we were leaving he said, ‘Well, I must say I learned a lot more about carburettors and that from you than I ever knew before.’ He said, ‘I’m going to take it on.’ He said, ‘We’re saving fuel.’ He said, ‘We are saving fuel.’ He says, ‘Probably by saving that little bit of fuel will probably save some people’s life.’ And I said, ‘Yes. Probably our own for that matter.’ Because we had only had two or three minutes of fuel.’ ‘Well, yeah.’ He said, ‘Probably the means of saving your whole crew, you know. And that’s how we left. We parted at that.
CB: Yeah.
DF: And that was the end of our ground crews at that time.
CB: Altogether.
DF: Yeah.
CB: So, when you got to the end of the tour what did you do with the ground crew? Did you go and have a drink? Or —
DF: Went and had a meal together.
CB: Right.
DF: And the, of course, I wasn’t [pause] I hadn’t touched a beer all the time I’d been flying. Never touched any alcohol.
CB: Yeah.
DF: But that night I think we had one or two.
CB: As little as that.
DF: As little as that. Yeah. So that was the end of that. So —
Other: You had a great Christmas dinner at the, on the station, didn’t you?
DF: Yeah. We had. Well, it was a sad, is that still on at the moment?
CB: Ok. So, we’re going to pause for a bit.
DF: Pause on that and just —
[recording paused]
CB: Right. So, let’s just talk about that. So, first of all, your crew. Were you all NCOs or was there a mixture of commissioned?
DF: To start with we were all NCOs.
CB: Right, and so was the ground crew always the same one?
DF: Yes. All the —
CB: So —
DF: All the time on, on X2.
CB: Right. So —
DF: From our eighth operation onwards.
CB: Right.
DF: It was the same crew.
CB: So, in practical terms there was this, a continuity even though some of your crew got commissioned on the way. So —
DF: The pilot only.
CB: Only the pilot. Ok. And to what extent did you, what shall I say indulge in social activities together? I mean what would you do as a ground crew and air crew together?
DF: We didn’t do very much on that at all. We’d meet in the mess now and again but as I say I wasn’t drinking so we didn’t have any beer at all. But the other thing was that during, we always flew during the dark nights when the moon was up then. Then it was more or less a fortnight of less flying put it that way. Just it was just the odd flight, so —
CB: Less flying because —
DF: Because there was the moon.
CB: In other words you could be seen too easily.
DF: Too easily.
CB: And you needed cloud cover.
DF: Yeah.
CB: On the way.
DF: The darkness cover.
CB: So, you wanted the target clear.
DF: Yeah.
CB: But the transit in cloud.
DF: Yeah.
CB: Right.
DF: Or at least dark anyway, you know. But during these days the pilot and I always had a morning time where we had a half an hour, an hour together in, in the cockpit.
CB: Oh right.
DF: Talk about things and that. And occasionally Mac, he would come in and have a chat with us also because not so much to do during these times and one of them was I remember Wally saying to me, ‘Can you swim?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Neither can I.’ So, I said, ‘Why are you asking that?’ He said, ‘Well, if we have to come down in the sea what would we do if we can’t swim?’ I said, ‘Don’t come down in the sea.’ He said, ‘Well —'
CB: Sounds like a good move.
DF: So, Mac come and said, ‘Well, I can’t swim but I wouldn’t think about coming down in the sea anyway. I would stay in the aircraft.’ I said, ‘Well, you’re right, Mac. I would stay in the aircraft also.’ So, Wally said, ‘Are you saying that even if you wanted to or had to come down in the sea you wouldn’t come out?’ I said, ‘No. I’d stay in the aircraft.’ So, he said, ‘Well, why do we need these Mae Wests?’ I said, ‘As far as I’m concerned, we don’t.’ So, he said, ‘Well, would it not be better for us, yourself and that to have the jackets? You know, the leather jackets.’ I said, ‘Well, if we could get one at a reasonable price it would be.’ So, Mac said, ‘I know where people sell them fairly cheaply, you know.’ I said, ‘Well, can you get them easily?’ He said, ‘Oh yeah. I can get a couple of leather jackets for you.’ I said, ‘Alright.’ So, Wally said, ‘Ok then. We’ll replace the Mae Wests for a jacket then.’ So that’s what we did. When we told the rest of the crew they said, ‘Oh, I think we’ll keep our Mae Wests in case we come down in the sea.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s all right.’ I said, ‘I don’t think we will come down. The idea was that we would try and make the shore and that was it. So he often came in just for a chat you know and something just to help things along.
CB: Did your crew do a pairing job? Were there two aircraft that they had a responsibility for or just yours?
DF: Just ours.
CB: Right.
DF: Just the one. Yeah. Just the one.
CB: And how often did you come back with damage to the aircraft?
DF: Most.
CB: And what was their reaction to their aeroplane being damaged?
DF: ‘You bring it back. We’ll get it ready for the next day.’ That was all that was said. ‘You bring it back. We’ll do it.’ I said, I said, ‘Well, if we can get off with the bomb load on we’ll bring it back.’ And that’s what happened. I was sure of that. If we got off the ground we’d bring it back again.
CB: Yes.
DF: And that, so they were quite happy with that. And they did. They got it back in good condition for us.
CB: Now, now this is a variation of what we’re looking for but it does tie in and that is the role of the flight engineer on take-off is what?
DF: The role on the, on take-off from our point of view and our crew point of view was that the pilot looked after the running of the aeroplane itself. Keeping it on the right line and after revving up and letting off the brakes the throttles was passed over to me and I opened the throttles remembering to open the outer port side slightly more than the others because the Lanc always swerved to the —
CB: To the left.
DF: To the left. And that —
CB: The torque of the engines did it.
DF: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
DF: That’s right. So we, that’s what happened. Soon as we came to the end of the runway or near the end of the runway if we were a bit short I would then put it through the gate to get the extra revs from the engines.
CB: Yeah.
DF: And the, as soon as we were in the air I dropped that back because that was when I was saying that we knew what the engine would do. You know, they were our own engines so we knew what was happening.
CB: Yeah. Getting through. Getting the revs is putting the throttles.
DF: It’s the certain level of the gate.
CB: Yes.
DF: Pushing the throttles through this gate and that gave you the next —
CB: And how many settings beyond the gate?
DF: There’s just the one.
CB: Just the one. And what does it actually mean going through the gate?
DF: Just giving you extra power from the super —
CB: From the super charger.
DF: The super charger. Yes.
CB: Right. So it’s opening up the supercharger a bit more.
DF: That’s right. But you didn’t want to do that for long.
CB: No.
DF: Because it was screaming at you, you know.
CB: Right.
DF: That’s why I say having control of your own aircraft —
CB: Yes.
DF: You could look after the engines better than somebody —
CB: Yeah. So that’s leading me to the question what’s the ground crew’s interest in how much you put it through the gate? Do they want to know that?
DF: No. No. They never asked us. No. No. Of course, I think some pilots had done that all the time.
CB: Oh.
DF: It was just full revs. They wanted to get off the ground. We were just taking care of engines.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
DF: And that.
CB: Ok. Just pause there again.
[recording paused]
CB: When did you come in to the squadron?
DF: July 1943. And to me it was a great time to, to join 101 Squadron. A squadron which received all the latest aids such as Window, ABC, FIDO and rear gun turret. That was all things that were just coming into being and we seemed to get all these things as early as anybody else and it was the time when the Battle of Hamburg had just finished and the Battle of Berlin was just starting. A great time to be there. It was a happy squadron considering the working and living conditions as we talked about earlier on. And even although it was only approximately five percent of my life it was a time which I would never have, [pause] I was pleased that I flew with 101 Squadron and wouldn’t have missed it for anything. And also changed my life for the future completely, the war did and that and the, allowing us to have a much better, happier, enjoyable life after the war which I don’t think would ever have happened if there hadn’t been a war and as I say I took up forestry and I think it, even for Sylvia too it was a good life. It wasn’t a job. It was a way of, way of living and it was better than a good way of doing it. So we enjoyed ourselves and happily we had taken up that position at that time. That’s all I was going to say on that you know.
CB: Ok. Just quickly on a couple of other things you were getting the new technology. That meant the ground crew had a part to play in that to be sure that it was working, so how did they deal with that?
DF: They had to do —
CB: Did they have special training like you?
DF: Yes. They that that special training. There wasn’t one for each aircraft. There was the three or four covered, I can’t tell you just how many but three or four covered the planes and they went from one to the other doing these jobs and if there was two or three different assessing had to be done. It was probably two or three people. One doing this and one doing that on the planes.
CB: Did you also have the tail warning radar Monica?
DF: We did but we didn’t because of ABC coming in. We lost that. We had that and we had fitted other things.
CB: Because of weight.
DF: Because of weight. Yes. Because the, what do you call it, the ABC was about, I don’t know, a couple of hundred weight or something.
CB: Oh, was it? So, do you want to just describe what was ABC?
DF: ABC was a —
CB: I mean, effectively it’s an electronics package, isn’t it?
DF: Yes. And person [pause] it’s difficult to say. The operator who could speak German breaking in to the German lines of communication between ground crews and fighters.
CB: Yeah.
DF: And stopping the, getting information back to them by jamming the, the whatever, what do you call it, line we were on and that by using the noise of the engines and that was what it really was. Just a jamming programme to —
CB: So, there was a microphone in the engine which they broadcast the sound from —
DF: Yes. That’s right.
CB: To jam the German —
DF: The German —
CB: Fighter communications.
DF: The communication between the ground crew and the fighters.
CB: What I was getting at was whether that wouldn’t work all the time so it had to have work done on it. Did they have a, did that introduce a new specialty in ground crew to deal with it?
DF: Yes. Yes. Yes. Of course, every aircraft had it, had it all had to be checked. The radius for it was supposed to be fifty miles. It could cover fifty miles out.
CB: Oh right.
DF: That was why the four aircraft was sufficient to cover.
CB: The whole a bomber stream.
DF: Bomber stream. And that. But it was successful but the effect was that by doing the jamming the aircraft could then be picked up by other fighters who wasn’t in the same range as the ones that were being jammed and they could pick off the Lancaster. That’s why 101 squadron had the heaviest losses in Bomber Command.
CB: So effectively although in practical terms ABC was emitting signals as well as receiving signal.
DF: Signal. Yeah.
CB: And it was the radiation effectively from that that the German fighters locked on to.
DF: Locked on to. That’s right.
CB: Yes
DF: And as I say even though they flew on every, on most raids it was possible but they had the highest losses and flew far more operations than any other squadron.
CB: With the, with the special operator running this and the gear itself that put a lot of weight in. What did that do to your bomb load?
DF: It didn’t affect the bomb load. What they did was to take out the [pause] like the heavy metal support behind the pilot’s seat. The pilot’s head rather. These things were taken out instead of dropping the bomb load.
CB: Yeah. We’ve covered lots of things. Catering. But what about the medical side?
DF: Funnily enough we never come against them. I think only once one of our crew, [unclear] once one of our crews they had an earwig which had [unclear] got in to his ears and they couldn’t get it out so they had to go to the hospital to get it taken out. And the other one of course was the mid-upper gunner when we lost him on the flight to Berlin with what they said was lack of moral fibre.
CB: He did what?
DF: Lack of moral fibre.
CB: Oh yes. Right.
DF: I think we talked about that.
CB: We have. Yes, but it’s a link. Yes.
DF: So —
CB: Yeah. Now, some of the times the aircraft would come back damaged and on fire.
DF: Yes. We’ve had a —
CB: So —
DF: Engines on fire.
CB: Yes.
DF: But that, we had two occasions we had up to a hundred holes along the wings and the fuselage.
CB: So, when the plane came in to land in those circumstances was it followed by ground crew?
DF: No.
CB: To the [pause] Fire crew and ambulance.
DF: No. No. They didn’t. We didn’t. Well, I know about what the damage was anyway. In fact, on one occasion we had done a [pause] we were caught in a thunderstorm and couldn’t get out of it and we were pushed from twenty thousand feet down a bit and up again. The last time we did in a power dive to get away from it and to pull it out we were down to about four thousand feet by the time the two of us had to pull back on the stick and when we landed and looked at the aircraft the rivets along the front, underneath the front of the wings had sprung.
CB: So, they had to re-rivet that.
DF: Re-rivet.
CB: You mentioned earlier about damage with flak.
DF: Yes.
CB: How did they mend that?
DF: Mostly it was just a cover they put over.
CB: Aluminium or fabric?
DF: Well, in some places it was fabric. Other times it had to be aluminium because on the wing or on the main job [pause] but they seemed to get done very quickly. I mean I never watched them doing it but they seemed to —
CB: But how would they do that? How would they make it attached because they didn’t, they wouldn’t have glued it?
DF: No. I think it was rivetted it. Yeah. I’m sure it was rivetted but as I say I can’t be sure on that.
CB: Right.
DF: Because I never had the time to watch them.
CB: The other one we didn’t talk a lot about is air traffic. So, what did you call them then? That’s a post war name, air traffic, isn’t it?
DF: Yeah.
CB: What were they called in the war?
DF: This is the control between the control and the —
CB: Well, aircraft in the air and on the ground. So that was the watch office, wasn’t it?
DF: Yes. And we had to call. Call sign. Well, I can’t remember it now. 101 Squadron was known for its good library. I think our sign was [pause] I don’t think I have it.
CB: We’ll perhaps come back but so for take-off how would they communicate with the aircraft from the watch office?
DF: Usually just X2 proceed to end of runway. Then —
CB: But on the RT or did they use an Aldis lamp?
DF: Always, occasionally it was from the, the inwards. Other times it was just by the Aldis lamp. Mainly by Aldis lamp. Just a green light was given.
CB: So, the Germans couldn’t pick up that there was a take-off about to happen.
DF: Take off. That’s right.
CB: But when you returned to the field then what?
DF: It was by name. Just like a like K.
CB: But on the RT.
DF: On the RT.
CB: Yes.
DF: The pilot would just get on and say, ‘X2, permission to land please.’
CB: Yeah.
DF: And then they would just say yes to whatever it was. And then as you got near to land you would probably get another saying X2, height three thousand feet or five thousand feet depending on the number of aircraft that was in the, circling to land.
CB: So, you come in to the circuit. We’re in the dark. What do you do first thing?
DF: Well, put on lights. You could use the lights in the dark over the airfield. And that’s the first thing that went on but other than that you were just watching.
CB: Who put down the undercarriage?
DF: I did.
CB: Right.
DF: Yeah. It was just the pilot said, ‘Undercarriage down.’ And push. Push down and that’s it. Or, ‘Undercarriage up,’ just and he used the flaps of course obviously but one thing about him, he was, he was good at landing at night but in the day time he was —
CB: A bouncer.
DF: A bouncer [laughs] I think the reason was that in the night when we were getting almost on the ground I would pull the throttles back and we just got in nicely but during the day, he was controlling it during the day so — [laughs]
CB: [laughs] Right. We’ll stop there. Yes.
[recording paused]
CB: So, the fuelling up and the armoury, rearming of the aircraft would be done before you arrived, would it.
DF: Yes. That’s right.
CB: How would they do that?
DF: They had done it. Part of their job during the day they would fill up with the petrol depending on the lengths of the operation. You got two hundred gallons was the average. Whatever was the average rate of juice by a Lancaster. So, if you were doing six hours you got twelve hundred gallons plus an extra hundred gallons.
CB: Spare.
DF: To spare. That’s how it was worked out. That was all done by the ground crew before we’d take off. And the ammunition and that was also determined by the armourers before we —
CB: Right.
DF: Got in the aircraft. But having said that never once did our gunners fire a shot during the whole —
CB: Didn’t they?
DF: No. Except testing their guns. But other than that their policy was don’t get involved with fighters unless they attack you personally.
CB: Yes.
DF: Because as soon as you do you open yourself up to not one fighter but half a dozen fighters.
CB: So, what you’re saying is their job was to defend the aircraft but not to attract opposition.
DF: It wasn’t our job to.
CB: Shoot down other aeroplanes.
DF: Other —
CB: Right.
DF: Fighters or that so we didn’t do it. The only time we’d done it was on the last raid when we were on the, the new turret at the back. We were told by squadron, ‘Tonight if you see fighters fire on them because they’ll be taken so much by surprise.’ There was only six aircraft had it on and went out but the Germans didn’t know that so —
CB: Had what on?
DF: The guns.
CB: Oh, the big guns.
DF: The big —
CB: The new .5s.
DF: .5s.
CB: So, you could reach them. Yes.
DF: So, we could. And it shook up them more than it shook up Lancasters.
CB: Yes.
DF: And that was the only time that our gunners fired.
CB: Right.
DF: A shot.
CB: And they really were firing at fighters.
DF: Yes.
CB: Yeah. Did they, did they get them?
DF: I don’t think so.
CB: No.
DF: But instead of letting them go and saying out in the aircraft, ‘Fighter. Port. 11 o’clock.’
CB: Yeah.
DF: Or whatever it was. That, that was said but there was no action taken.
CB: Right.
DF: That night. As soon as that was said the guns went off. I think it shook them quite well.
CB: Good.


Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Donald Fraser. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 28, 2024,

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