Interview with Harry Braithwaite


Interview with Harry Braithwaite


Harry Braithwaite was born in Portinscale and went to Keswick School. Harry’s close friend was killed in action and this spurred him on to volunteer. His father owned a garage and Harry would help him. This gave him some mechanical knowledge and after joining the RAF and after basic training he did his flight engineer training at RAF St Athan. He was posted to 78 Squadron at RAF Breighton flying in Halifaxes, and his Canadian crew treated him as one of their own. He completed a full tour of thirty operations.




Temporal Coverage




01:34:29 audio recording


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IP: And then we’ll go. This is Ian Price and I’m interviewing Harry Braithwaite today, the 21st of April 2018 for the International Bomber Centre’s Digital Archive. We’re at [buzz] Keswick. Thank you very much, Harry for agreeing to talk to me today. It’s a great pleasure to meet you. Also present is Mike Fairclough who is Harry’s grandson and it is five past one on the 21st of April. So, if you’re happy Harry we’ll start off. Just, just tell me about, if you can where you were born, when you were born and a little bit about your childhood if you wouldn’t mind.
HB: Well, I was born in Portinscale. My father had the garage which is now the Chalet, the big cafe place and then I went to Crosthwaite School. I got a scholarship from there and went to Keswick School and from there —
IP: Don’t worry about that right now. Let’s just go back to, so your father ran a garage.
HB: Yeah.
IP: So, repairing cars and that sort of stuff.
HB: Yes.
IP: Ok. So did you help at the garage? Did you work for him a bit?
HB: Well, I learned to drive by, there was [pause] it could only get six cars into this garage. They would only fit one way and I had to be able to do that and, I was never on the road mind you. But, and then when I went eventually, when I went on a driving course a good bit later I tried to make mistakes and of course the instructor said, ‘Well, ok. You get out and let somebody else in the driver’s seat.’ And so he took us back to where he’d picked us up at eventually and he said, ‘You stop where you are.’ So, he took me home with him. He said, ‘Right. There’s a taxi outside there. You can drive that.’ So I finished up taxi driving in Blackpool.
IP: Ok. So you learned to get out of first gear I suppose. I suppose that would be all you would be doing for your father, wasn’t it? Just a quick manoeuvre of the car sort of thing.
HB: Yeah. Automatic step later.
IP: Yeah. Yeah. And did you, did you get to, were you tinkering with, with engines and stuff like that when you were young? Did, were you particularly mechanically minded or anything like that?
HB: Oh yes. I did. I was kind of used to it and when I, when I finished flying as I say when they said what did I want to do and I said, ‘Well, I’ll go driving.’ And of course when I got into the driving seat this, there was three of us in the vehicle together and I was the last one in a seat and I tried to make mistakes and of course he said [pause] ‘Pull up.’ So I stopped with a jerk, as I thought I would like, you know and he said, ‘Right,’ he said, ‘How did you get here?’ I said, ‘Well, how do you mean how did I get here?’ he said, ‘Well, I think there’s a car out there that belongs to you.’ He said, ‘How long have you been driving?’ And I said, ‘Well, I wouldn’t like to say. I couldn’t tell you.’ He said, ‘Well, have you had a licence?’ I said, ‘No.’
IP: When was this? Was this after the war?
HB: No.
IP: Oh. It was before the war.
HB: Just.
IP: Oh right.
HB: And he said, ‘Well, how come?’ So, I had to tell him like, you know that I’d been, I’d been able to move these cars in and out of the garage no bother. And of course they would only go in one way so that I could drive them out easy and what have you, to get six in. And, and he said, ‘Ah, alright,’ he said, ‘Well, what did you like driving best?’ I said, ‘Well, I used to like driving the hearse best.’ He said, ‘What?’ he said, ‘You drove a hearse?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘It was great. You could see out grand.’ [laughs] But I said, ‘It was a bit, it learned me how to reverse.’ He said, ‘How come?’ I said, ‘Well, the only way we could get it in and out easy was to reverse it in.’ He said, ‘Oh. I think I’ll pass you without any bother.’
IP: Good stuff. Right. Ok. That’s very, that’s good. So you went to Crosthwaite School you said.
HB: Yeah.
IP: And then, then you went to another school after that?
HB: Keswick School.
IP: You got a scholarship for Keswick. Keswick was quite a good school.
HB: Yeah.
IP: In its day, I think wasn’t it?
HB: Yeah.
IP: Yeah. Yeah. So you obviously did quite well in your exams and stuff.
HB: Yes.
IP: Ok. And what, what can you remember anything particular about school? Did you enjoy it? Or —
HB: [laughs] Well, in a way I enjoyed school, yes. But the thing I enjoyed most was not very pleasant actually at first, but it was quite a thing to be playing rugby, and we played down in the school field. And then cross the bridge and then down and into the school grounds, and across one patch of grass and get to the showers that way. And of course what was quite a common occurrence like was you’d usually got quite a bit of mud on your shoes and you would take it off and throw it and of course I happened to get it, get some right in my eyes. Caught me right on, on the bridge of my nose and in both eyes, and somebody had to limp me into what was the boarding house at Keswick School, and the matron there had to bathe my eyes and what have you and oh, it was great. The attention I got like, you know. But the big thing was that the sports master got to know and then the headmaster got to know, and of course it was then, it was one of the rules that from then on that no mud was to be thrown like [laughs] So I was a bit of hero in one way but not in others.
IP: Yeah. So, so you must have started at Keswick School, it would be about 1934 I guess. Something like that. Would that sound around about right?
HB: Yeah.
IP: When you were elevenish, I suppose.
HB: Yeah.
IP: And how many years did you spend there? Did you, did you go through to because I think in those days you could leave school at fifteen couldn’t you? Did you?
HB: I was, I was seventeen when I left there.
IP: Right. Ok. So that would have taken us to around about 1940.
HB: Yeah.
IP: The war had already started.
HB: Yeah.
IP: What, what’s your memories of the war starting and stuff like that? What did you think about that?
HB: Well, the first thing was the, I suppose the evacuees, and then my father had the, what is it? It’s the chalet now, which was the garage and then the army took a petrol pump off him, and one thing and another so that eventually like when I was, when I joined up the, I’d been on speaking terms with the officers and all sorts like. But then I changed my tune a little bit then.
IP: I suppose so. Yes. Yeah. You were collared by the first, well not the first names in those days.
HB: But I did realise like, you know.
IP: Yeah.
HB: That, who they were should I say?
IP: Yeah.
HB: Not what they were but who they were.
IP: So and what were you good at school then? What was your, did you have any particular subjects you excelled at?
HB: Oh well. I was quite good at maths actually.
IP: You enjoyed it.
HB: Yeah. Maths and history.
IP: And did you have any brothers and sisters or —
HB: No.
IP: Were you [pause] It was just you. And what, what was your mother doing? Did she, was she a —
HB: She was a cook.
IP: Oh, a cook. Was she? What, in somebody’s house? Or —
HB: Yes.
IP: Oh, right.
HB: Had been. Yeah.
IP: Oh right.
HB: My father was a driver. My mother was a cook. My aunt next door she was a cook, and my uncle was a painter, next door. And we, we shared a wash house out in the, in the yard at the back and a toilet in the back at first. And then we went all modern of course and put the bathroom. Did away with one bedroom and put the bathroom in there, and toilet and everything like, you know. They did the same next door, and so we were sort of one up on the neighbours as it were then.
IP: All mod cons. Right. So, so we got to 1940. You left Keswick Grammar School. And then what happened to you?
HB: Well, I went in to the Air Force anyway.
IP: Did you, so you went straight from school did you into the Air Force or did you, did you work before?
HB: Well, I’d just been at home, yes. But actually my best friend he was [pause] he was an apprentice with my father at the garage, and between them I got used to a bit of everything. And then of course when I went to Keswick School well that was, it was a big help actually because I was sort of in front of some of them. Not on the education side but on the living side.
IP: Ok. So, yeah —
HB: If you know what I mean.
IP: Yeah. So a bit more confident and that sort of thing.
HB: Yeah.
IP: And used to —
HB: It didn’t worry me.
IP: Sure.
HB: That I’d other people around me. I was sort of quite happy.
IP: Yeah. No, I understand that. And did you volunteer for the Air Force? Did you volunteer to join up or what? Did you get your papers? Were you conscripted?
HB: I volunteered.
IP: You volunteered. So that’s —
HB: I was [pause] my mother was in a, quite a state but she realised actually that I had lost one of my best mates and she understood. I know that, you see there wasn’t many, there wasn’t many children, many boys anyway in the village at the time and he was a bit older than me, but again we got along great. And luckily he had a, his father had a [pause] he worked as a gardener at one of the big houses and they had, he had they had a boat on the lake, and we used to get into that and you know go out on the lake and what have you. So that when I went in to the Forces I was, I was used to meeting other people which was a big help.
IP: Yeah. Yeah.
HB: Sometimes, you know some of the lads that went in they were, they were lost altogether.
IP: Yeah. No, I can understand that. Yeah. I can understand your mother being upset as well because I suppose she would have been, she’d remember the First World War very well.
HB: Yeah.
IP: Did your father serve in the First World War?
HB: Yes.
IP: And were your mother and father together then or did they meet after the war? Do you know?
HB: Oh, they’d met before.
IP: Yeah. So she, so she’d be worrying about your dad
HB: Yeah.
IP: And all that sort of stuff that was going on.
HB: Yeah.
IP: So, yeah. Yeah and I know it’s a big problem for, well for any mother to have her son go off to war sort of thing.
HB: Yeah.
IP: So you volunteered because you volunteered you could choose which Service you went in to.
HB: Yeah.
IP: So why did you choose the RAF?
HB: Well, mainly, it was mainly because the [pause] as I say I’d lost this friend of mine, and I definitely felt that I was going to be doing something myself because of, rather than wait and be called up and put into something. Maybe [pause] my father he’d been in the Great War, and he’d been driving in that as well. My grandfather, Boer War, and I somehow thought that I was wanting to do something —
IP: So it, so there was a tradition in the family.
HB: Something different.
IP: And you felt you should —
HB: Yeah.
IP: Do your bit kind of thing, I suppose.
HB: That’s right. Yeah.
IP: Is the thing isn’t it, really. But what I, what I’m trying to get at is so why. I’m always intrigued as to, I know why I joined the Air Force but why did you go for the Air Force and not the Army? I know it sounds like you were quite in to technical things and you said you liked maths and that sort of stuff.
HB: Yeah.
IP: And you’re obviously quite well educated as well. That’s the other thing.
HB: Yeah.
IP: But there’s still, there’s still engineering trades in the Army and stuff like that but I was just interested to know why you, why you chose the Air Force. Was it the colour of the uniform?
HB: No. No, it was, I think it was partly that I was doing something as against being one of a crowd.
IP: Yeah.
HB: I know —
IP: I think I understand. If you join the Army you see yourself as part of a platoon.
HB: A group.
IP: And you’ve just been told to run forward towards the enemy.
HB: Yeah. Whereas if you were flying. I didn’t realise exactly how things were developing in any case but then as I say I wanted to fly and that was it.
IP: Yeah.
HB: And but then of course it came on and eventually four engine bombers and —
IP: Did you want to be a pilot when you first, was that, was it that sort of an aim when you joined the Air Force? Or what did you have in mind when you joined up? Can you remember?
HB: Well, no. I think, I think it was just I wanted to fly. But then during training, at least initial training should I say I realised that there was something different to, to just flying and so I changed my tune. And as I say, and then first when I first went in to that area in the Air Force you were sort of asked what you’d been doing, or what you hoped to do or whatever, and then when they realised that I knew a bit about engines anyway that, ‘Alright. A flight engineer’s your, your job.’
IP: Yeah. I suspected that that was the case. I was just, I was just trying to kind of work around to it and see, and see, see how they did it?
HB: Yeah.
IP: Because I think you used to do some tests as well didn’t you? That sort of thing.
HB: Oh yes.
IP: To see what you were and weren’t good at.
HB: Yeah.
IP: But yeah, I think with maths and engines in your background you could see where it was going.
HB: Yeah.
IP: So let’s step back a bit when you first joined the Air Force. So where did you go and do your initial training? Square bashing and all that sort of stuff? Can you remember?
HB: [laughs] [coughs] Dear me. Do you know I can’t remember.
IP: No. Ok. That’s alright. It doesn’t matter particularly I was just, I was just interested. Can you remember much about it? Can you? I don’t how long it took and I don’t suppose you can remember but —
HB: It was —
IP: What are your memories?
HB: It seemed to be a long time somehow or other before we got anywhere. What with the square bashing and what have you, you see because the the big thing was that at that time the Army had taken the Derwentwater Hotel over and where the houses are now there were huts on there and they —
IP: Excuse me.
HB: They, they took a petrol pump off my father’s garage and of course I, I could drive anyway, you know. At least I wasn’t allowed to drive outside but I could always reverse cars into the garage and what have you, so that it was quite something.
IP: We were talking about, about your basic training.
HB: Yeah.
IP: And it went far, it seemed to go on too long. Longer than it should have done.
HB: It was quite, it was quite easy to go to do the basic driving and it was quite comical really because this, they took, I think they used to take three of us out in a car, in a vehicle for a start. And I wanted to drive and the other two just sit and then drive for so long, and then change over you see and —
IP: Did you, so did you learn to drive when you joined the Air Force or you did your proper —
HB: Well —
IP: Your proper driving test when you joined the Air Force.
HB: When it came to my turn to drive I was the last one of the three you see, and I tried to make mistakes and I did manage to make it jump first go off like you know and this instructor said, ‘Right,’ he said. He said, ‘Just get stopped,’ he said. He said, ‘Now, start again.’ I said, ‘I’ll try.’ He said, ‘I don’t think you need try,’ he said. I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Well, just get and drive.’ So I drove around a bit and I did what I was told, you see and what he said. And he said, ‘Right. Ok. Change over.’ And eventually we got back to base and he said, ‘Just hang on a minute.’ So the other two went, went in and he said, ‘How long have you been driving?’ I said, ‘I can’t tell you now.’ He said, I said, ‘Why? He said, well, he said, ‘I’ll come around and pick you up at 6 o’clock.’ ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Well, you can come to, come to our house.’ I said, ‘Very good of you.’ He said, ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I’ve got a taxi sitting at home’ he said, ‘It’s doing nothing,’ he said, ‘You might as well be driving that.’ So I finished up driving his taxi around Blackpool.
IP: Very good. Very good. But this while you were in the Air Force was it?
HB: Yeah.
IP: Oh right.
HB: Just when I joined up.
IP: Yeah. Yeah. So you did, so you did your training at Blackpool then presumably.
HB: Yeah.
IP: Or near Blackpool.
HB: Aye.
IP: And was that your initial training before you went on.
HB: Yeah.
IP: So you did your initial training. Square bashing and —
HB: That’s right. Yeah.
IP: Cleaning your barrack blocks and all that nonsense.
HB: Yeah.
IP: And then where did you go after that because you must have gone to do flight engineer training I suppose it would be, wouldn’t it?
HB: Yeah. Aye.
IP: Can you remember where that was?
HB: St Athan.
IP: Right. Ok. What do you remember about that?
HB: Not a lot but again the, they started by, when it came to the engineering side of it they started to tell you what each part was, sort of thing of an engine and, and this instructor said, ‘What’s this part?’ So I said, me like an idiot like, you know, I just spoke right out and I said. Told him exactly what it was you see. ‘Aye. Thank you very much.’ So, he said [laughs] he never asked me any more questions, and the class was over sort of thing and he said, ‘Just a minute,’ he said, ‘What do you know about these engines and things? I said, ‘Well, I don’t know much about aircraft engines,’ I said, ‘But an engine is an engine isn’t it?’ And he said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Well, my father had a garage.’ He said, ‘Right. You’ll, you can do a lot of good for me.’ So he said, ‘What are you doing tonight?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ He said, Well, I’ll come for you.’ So he came around at 6 o’clock, took me home. He said, ‘Right. There’s a taxi out there. It’s yours.’ [laughs] So I learned my way around Blackpool. Very much so.
IP: Yeah. Yeah, yeah I suppose so.
HB: I only did booked jobs like, you know.
IP: Moonlighting they called it.
HB: Worked from his home like, you know.
IP: Yeah. Yeah. So when you were at St Athan doing your, did you go straight to that flight engineer training at St Athan? Yes?
HB: Yeah. Did a little bit of basic.
IP: Square bashing.
HB: Basic square bashing like that and all that.
IP: Oh right. Ok. And —
HB: But that was, that was mostly for sort of use of arms as well. Not being frightened of guns and what have you.
IP: Range firing and stuff like that.
HB: Yeah. Engines sort of, well of course it all came naturally to me but with a lot of people it didn’t of course.
IP: Did they have air cadets at Keswick Grammar School?
HB: Yeah. You were able to [pause] what shall I say occasionally they would have an engine doctored and you had to sort of find the —
IP: Ah yes. Yeah. Identify what the problem was.
HB: Yeah.
IP: Yes.
HB: It was mostly carburation and air intakes and different things like that was —
IP: I’ll tell you something and this, it shouldn’t be on the recording because it’s incidental at Cranwell where they teach engineering officers for the Air Force now they still do similar things but obviously it’s with jet engines and things like that.
HB: Yeah.
IP: But they still do the same thing where they roll out an engine with a problem and they have to diagnose what the problem is and that sort of stuff.
HB: Aye.
IP: But anyway that’s beside the point. I thought you’d be interested to hear that. Things don’t move on that much. So, so flight engineer training. What happened after that then? Because at some stage you must have been selected for Halifaxes I guess.
HB: Well, you either, well the engine’s different you see. So you went into one group or the other. That was the main. The next sort of stage.
IP: Did it bother you to go in to Halifaxes? Did you mind one way or the other or, because the Lancaster was the shiny new aircraft wasn’t it really?
HB: Yeah. No, the Halifax was the as far as I was concerned it was [pause] it was, well in a sense I think there was more to do. It was the, I think it was the oldest one of the two, and they hadn’t got the, of course the fuel was the biggest trouble and with the Halifax the tanks were not as many, but a larger capacity. With the Lancs there was more of them but less capacity. But to keep an even flight on the Halifax you had to keep changing the fuel quite a lot, and actually when we were on operations I spent most of my time back in the rest bay where the engines cocks were than I did in the actual seat where I was supposed to be. Instead of getting up and going back you know, because it was all timed to minutes really and of course he, it was the engineer that set the actual speed of the fuel like, where the fuel was used to the four engines and so on. And all the engine cocks were back in the rest bay so that’s where the engineer spent most of the time. It wasn’t very often they were were in the, in the proper seat.
IP: Can you remember, so as you were doing your flight engineer training you got, you got speared off to Lancasters or Halifaxes or Stirlings as well, I suppose. The different types really.
HB: Yeah.
IP: Whatever they were. And obviously at some stage you would have gone on your first flight in a, in any sort of aircraft. Can you remember that particularly?
HB: The first time would be a Dakota, I think. And that was just the first flight and you were sitting, sitting there with your parachute harness on, but sitting in the seat and it was just sort of a take-off and landing. And then afterwards the first flight in the proper plane that you’d been training with you sort of knew how things worked.
IP: But you flew with an instructor, I guess.
HB: Yeah.
IP: The first few times.
HB: Yeah.
IP: Another engineer. To make sure you did everything right.
HB: Yeah.
IP: So that would be, would that be on an OTU then. You went on to a Halifax OTU. Is that right?
HB: Yeah.
IP: Yeah. Can you remember where that was?
HB: I can’t now.
IP: It’ll be in, it’ll be your logbook. We’ll have a look later. It’s fine. That’s fine. Don’t worry about it right now, Harry. We’ll have a look a little bit later on. I’m just being nosy. That’s all. Right. So, so OTU and then from there I mean can you, can you remember much about the OTU and the training that you did then?
HB: No.
IP: Ok. So then what happened after the OTU?
HB: I went to a squadron.
IP: And that was straight to 78 Squadron.
HB: Yeah.
IP: Down in RAF. Is it pronounced Brighton or —
HB: Breighton. Breighton.
IP: Breighton. What did you think to that?
HB: Well, as far as I was concerned I was very happy there. And of course that was, I was very happy there [pause] but I was never very happy about the fact that I was flying with a Canadian crew, and every one of them got commissions but I didn’t.
IP: Why was that then? It wasn’t that all the Canadians were commissioned was it? Was there some —
HB: It was just the way that the Air Force worked. And the flight engineer was the odd one out all the time. There was all sorts of countries had flight engineers but it wasn’t very often that there was a Canadian one. Of course, I was always all right with my crew because whenever we landed at any other aerodrome which we did fairly often I always wore somebody else’s jacket. I was never left on my own.
IP: So they took you in to the officer’s mess then.
HB: Yeah.
IP: Oh good. That’s good. I’m glad to hear that. I was going to say it sounds like you had a good relationship with the crew.
HB: Well, you had to have. Put it that way. They were, my crew, they were all very annoyed when they got, all got commissions and I didn’t.
IP: Ah, so they got commissioned after you’d all met up. Because I’ve heard the story about how crews were formed.
HB: Yeah.
IP: Can you, can you remember how that happened? Can you tell me about that? What happened to you? How did you join up with your, with the rest of your crew?
HB: Oh, well the engineers. We were all trained at St Athan and we [pause] there was those that passed the exams and what have you they all got their badges and what have you, and they and then they it was usually the pilot and the navigator that came from the different squadrons and they sort of picked out the one that they —
IP: The story I heard was —
HB: They wanted.
IP: All the different aircrew branches they were all put in to a big hall and you wandered around and you found yourself a crew. Does that, does that sound right? So you’d find —
HB: Well, something like that. It varied.
IP: You’d find a group of guys who were looking for a flight engineer. It may not have happened everywhere. It may have been slightly different, but I’ve heard of somebody sort of saying, ‘We need a navigator, you’re a navigator, come and join us,’ kind of thing.
HB: Yeah.
IP: And then slowly, and it was a way of kind of forming the team initially. But I just wondered if you’d got any memories of that. That was all.
HB: Yeah. Well, they usually had the, the flight engineer was usually the last one because some of the crew had been flying together and then they picked the gunners up and then the flight engineer was usually the last one. Like the navigator, the pilot, that had all flown a certain amount together or done training together of one kind and another.
IP: So you formed as a crew on the OTU I guess then.
HB: Yes. Yeah.
IP: Is that right? And then as a crew you got posted to 78 Squadron.
HB: Yeah.
IP: Ah yes. Ok. Right. I understand.
HB: But it was quite a, quite a thing like really, you know. As I say I thought I was, I was quite lucky in the fact that all my, the crew were Canadians but so many of them had been, you know had all sorts in the crews. We were all doing the same job granted, but and then of course as far as I was concerned it always, it didn’t annoy me the fact that all the crew were given commissions and I wasn’t because they, if they went anywhere I always went with them and I wore somebody else’s jacket. But the big thing was I didn’t have to pay.
IP: Yeah. Right. Ok. So, we’re on 78 Squadron which is in 4 Group. I know that much. And I’ve got your list of your missions as well. Can, can you remember any? Do you remember your first mission? Do you know, do you remember how that was for you? I can tell you where. It doesn’t matter where. It doesn’t matter where it was. I’m just wondering if you can remember your first mission and how you felt about it.
HB: Well, the first mission was just as a passenger actually. You went, it didn’t matter what you were in the crew. The first one you went as an extra. And of course with the flight engineer his job, his main job was the fuel, and of course with this one there doing it actually in flight was a different thing to doing it in the, in a hangar. And that was that like, you know. They showed you how to do it and then let you do it and gave you as much information as he could. And of course the big information that they always gave you was, ‘And take your ruddy parachute with you.’ [laughs] Because, then you realise that you were sitting in one position which happened to be in, the flight engineer’s position in the Halifax was in the rest bay more or less because that was where all the engine cocks were. The fuel cocks like. And that’s where you spent most of your time, but whenever you got up you had to take your parachute with you.
IP: Because your, your seat must have been just behind the, was it behind the pilot? Or alongside the pilot? As the flight engineer.
HB: Behind the pilot.
IP: Right.
HB: In the rest bay actually.
IP: That’s where your seat was.
HB: Yeah.
IP: Oh, ok. I thought you had a seat somewhere else.
HB: Oh, I had a seat. Yeah.
IP: Then the fuel cocks were in the rest bay.
HB: Yeah. Aye. I had a seat in behind the pilot.
IP: So you had to drag your parachute backwards and forwards.
HB: Yeah.
IP: That can’t have been easy because they’re not, they’re not big planes. You know, when you go inside these things they’re tiny really.
HB: Aye.
IP: People don’t realise. So you always took, did you always take your parachute with you?
HB: Yeah.
IP: Good for you.
HB: Aye. Despite of you leaving that.
IP: So this, this first mission, do you remember much else about it? Was, I mean there must have been flak and stuff like that. What were your thoughts when —? I personally, I would imagine it would be a real shock. You’ve done all this training and you’ve done some flying but over the UK and that sort of stuff.
HB: Yeah.
IP: And then to actually fly over Germany or wherever you went for the first time can you remember how you felt about that?
HB: Well, nervous as against frightened.
IP: Ok.
HB: Nervous. Not of the actual flight, but slightly nervous as to what you were going to do, or what you had to do. In the [pause] and it being your first flight, whether you would remember what you’ve been taught, and do what you’d been taught or what. And even though we had been up in a plane but never on an actual mission it was a bit nerve wracking and you hoped that you didn’t do something silly and wrong, you know. After what you’d been taught. Not knowing exactly what was going to happen. I mean of course you’d been taught all sorts of different things like of safety and what to do with this and what to do with that but it had never actually happened.
IP: It’s a lot to think about isn’t it? A lot to try and —
HB: Once you, once you got the first one over then that was, that was it like, you know. You carried on.
IP: So do you remember any specific missions for any particular reasons or do they all sort of merge one into another? Have you got any particular memories of things that happened on any specific missions or anything like that?
HB: Well, in a way no. There was nothing much. I say that because I was the lucky one in the crew, being a flight engineer and my job was mainly looking after the fuel. And in a Halifax the fuel cocks were all in the rest bay and you had to keep a log of how much it was. Where. You know, the timing. And so I was kept busy in a way. Not doing something, but rather than what the gunners were and that. The gunners were the worst because they were just sitting somewhere and all that they were doing were looking out. They had the guns in front of them and that was it.
IP: Just trying to stay warm.
HB: Yeah. They just used to go where they were taken whereas well everybody else was sort of static except the flight engineer. He was lucky. He was, because when the pilots and that used to get out of the plane oh dear. It was terrible.
IP: And I suppose for the flight engineer it was, it was all internal wasn’t it? You were looking inside the aircraft kind of thing.
HB: Yeah.
IP: Whereas the other guys, a lot of them, the navigator certainly, the bombardier, the gunners well everyone else really were looking outside and seeing what was going on around you.
HB: Yeah.
IP: So, to a degree were you, were you sort of blissfully unaware of, I mean obviously if anything happened to your own aircraft? But you wouldn’t see other aircraft going down. That sort of stuff.
HB: No.
IP: You’d hear the chat on the intercom I suppose, but, but do you think to some degree therefore you were less concerned with what was going on around.
HB: Yeah.
IP: Up in the sky sort of thing.
HB: I had a [pause] it was you. You and the crew in an aircraft. You had a job to do and that was it. And in a way some of the others were looking after you, because the pilot was knowing where he was going really, the navigator was telling him where to go, the wireless operator was listening for his instructions and so on. The flight engineer, he was the only one that had anything to do in a way.
IP: Yeah. And, and but a vitally important. You know, that’s the thing isn’t it? It was so important as you say to get the fuel balance right and that sort of stuff.
HB: Oh yeah. Yeah. But I was able to move about.
IP: Yeah.
HB: Which was, which was quite a help really. Oh, some of the gunners and that when that they got out, when they got back to base oh they used to moan and groan something awful ‘til they got, could get their legs and arms really moving. It was. Of course I know they were, they’d tons of clothing on but that that didn’t help in a sense like, you know. They couldn’t have done without it, but it as I say I was fortunate being an engineer and being able to move about to a certain degree.
IP: Was it frightening? Did you, did you feel, I know you said on your first mission you were nervous, the when you went as a passenger you were nervous more than scared sort of thing.
HB: Yeah.
IP: But did you, did you find it scary at all doing the, doing the missions generally?
HB: No. Not really. No. No. You [pause] I suppose when it was, it was more scary at the time when you got back, and you were describing seeing something else being hit and going down thinking well it might have been you, you know. It was very close to me and so on, and of course it was always a case of well who was it? You know, when you got back. Who hasn’t turned up yet and so on.
IP: Did you have friends amongst the other crews? I guess you knew the other flight engineers fairly well and that sort of stuff but what did your friends, did you really it just tended to be the crew that you knocked around with?
HB: Well, you tended to go as a crew. I did anyway because all the rest were Canadians anyway except me so, and then eventually they all got commissions except me which I didn’t care much about. We didn’t get away with it because we still went out as a crew and I always had somebody’s else’s jacket with something on.
IP: This was even down the local pub and stuff like that. You’d go with an officer’s jacket on.
HB: Yeah.
IP: Good stuff.
HB: I don’t know. We [pause] you were all together and that was it. I know [pause] well, the crew had all been together for a little while before the flight engineer joined them and they said right away, ‘We know you’re an Englishman,’ they said, ‘But you’re a Canadian where ever we go.’ They said, ‘We’re going out. We’ll go out together, and we’ll all be Canadians.’ He said, ‘I don’t know what rank you might have but that doesn’t matter.’ So that was it like, you know.
IP: Good.
HB: And of course they knew. The higher ups knew that that happened.
IP: Oh yes. Yes. Yeah.
HB: They wouldn’t have had it any other way anyway.
IP: I was just about to say exactly the same thing. I mean you had to.
HB: Yeah.
IP: You had to work together as a team so closely that.
HB: It was one thing that they always, oh it was a big thing in the Air Force actually was the fact that air gunners and flight engineers, they were all trained separately but they joined a crew. And a lot of the air gunners they got commissions. Not them all. But the flight engineers never did. They did maybe later after they’d flown a little while. I’m not saying they didn’t get them but it was very discriminating actually. Of course it didn’t bother me because it didn’t matter what I did. I always went with them. What they did either. And if they decided they would go to a film show or they would go to a dance or just go sightseeing whatever I always wore somebody’s jacket.
IP: And when you weren’t on, when you weren’t flying ops the social life was pretty good then was it? At Breighton.
HB: Yeah.
IP: It’s quite out of the way isn’t it, I mean.
HB: Very. Breighton in Yorkshire. Yeah.
IP: Where would you go? Do you remember?
HB: Oh, York. We used to go to York quite a lot, or Leeds but as I say I never went as a sergeant. They wouldn’t let me. Yeah.
IP: Ok, so you flew. It was a full tour wasn’t it? You did thirty. Thirty ops.
HB: Yeah.
IP: With 78 Squadron. 78 Squadron had lost a hundred and twenty five aircraft during its time at Breighton which I think is quite, even by Bomber Command standards is pretty high. So Halifaxes —
HB: Yeah.
IP: I know the losses were higher than on Lancasters. Did that, did that affect people on the squadron generally do you remember? How was morale?
HB: Well, all the, there was always a little bit of argument as to which was the best aircraft of course. Each one stuck up for his own. And I liked the Halifax better for the simple reason that there was, there was more room to move about in it. With a Lancaster you didn’t. It was cramped a bit. But as a flight engineer the engine cocks on the Halifax were all in the rest bay and of course you were regularly changing them so that it took you a little while to get used to the idea that you had to keep moving about. And I used to spend quite a bit of time in the rest bay where the engine cocks were anyway, and then have a walk up and go and stand behind the pilot and navigator. Take the mid-upper gunner’s seat and let him have a wander around. You know, just to, well to move your legs a bit.
IP: What did you think about what you were doing? I know, you know I’m sure you were aware there was a lot of controversy after the war about the bomber offensive. I don’t I hasten to add. I don’t have a problem with it at all but did you think about what you were doing when you were doing it? Dropping bombs on towns and cities and stuff. Did that cause you any problems?
HB: Well, no not really because the main problems were always, now how accurate are we going to be because you see most of the, most of the targets were quite big and establishments and what have you but there was also a certain amount of local inhabitants somewhere close by. Now, is the information going to be correct? Is the wind and everything, you know going to be in apple pie order as it were because you were reading off a chart which was supposedly accurate, but you just wondered how accurate it really was. And with knowing what damage some of the Germans were causing in this country at times it was a bit, you wondered a little bit if you were correct or not if you know what I mean. But then you had to put that at the back of your mind eventually and say, ‘Well, I hope I’m right,’ and that’s —
IP: It’s a job to be done and you do it to the best of your ability kind of thing.
HB: Yeah.
IP: Yeah. Yeah. Ok.
HB: Or somebody else is right and you know everything is as ordered but anyway —
IP: And what was, what were your thoughts then? I mean after the war it came out I know the figures like Dresden is always, is always the raid that people always roll out as an example and the numbers have been massively exaggerated over the years anyway that were killed there. But what were your thoughts about that then when you know these fire storms that were brewed up and that sort of thing did you have particular views or do you, or is it not something you don’t tend to think about really?
HB: Well, no. Not exactly. No. I was very pleased to get back to normal.
IP: Just pleased to get the war over with.
HB: Should I say?
IP: Yeah.
HB: And I kept thinking well I, I’m pleased I’m now back home and out of the hurly burly of modern living as it were, and that’s the way it’s been ever since.
IP: So when you were demobbed you came back to Portinscale from, from the Air Force then. You just came home.
HB: Yeah.
IP: I guess your mum and dad were pleased to see you.
HB: Yeah.
IP: Yeah. Did you get much leave while you were on, while you were in the Air Force? Did you get much leave at all or well obviously you got leave but did you actually come home or —
HB: Yeah, I did manage to get home but I also [pause] actually I wrote home once and, and I said that I was having this leave and I was going to Edinburgh [pause] and I said,” I hope that you don’t misjudge things but —" I said, “I hope that you realise that it’s my chance to see something different and that I’ll actually miss not coming home. But that isn’t the point. At this moment in time I think everybody’s in a bit of quandary as to how things are going to work out.” And anyway I got word back and they said. “You please yourself love. We’re very pleased for you that you, that you feel that way. That you want to see as much as you can while you’ve the opportunity whereas you might not have that opportunity.” So as I have had. But that’s not the point is it? I might not have had. It’s —
IP: It must have been a real, I was just thinking when you left the Air Force to come back to, I mean Cumbria’s lovely.
HB: Yeah.
IP: It would have been Cumberland then wouldn’t it but it must have been a shock coming from flying over Germany, being shot at and losing friends and this that and the other to coming back to Portinscale, on the edge of Keswick.
HB: Yeah.
IP: To a really quiet part of the country.
HB: Yeah, well —
IP: How did, how did you adjust after the war? Was that easy or —
HB: Well —
IP: Not so easy.
HB: Well, for about a couple of days it was very difficult, and then I began to realise that some people were missing. Other people had, the elderly people had passed on, and so on. And in a way I was quite fortunate in the fact that my father had been in the First World War and he had a similar experience when he came back as well, and he realised what was happening. And between us we got sort of pulled back in to shape as it were.
IP: Sorted you out a bit. Yeah. Yeah.
HB: And of course then you got around and you started doing things that you expected to be doing, and things you had done before and then occasionally [pause] you had to be very careful when somebody was missing, you know. And then you had to discreetly try and find out what had happened to somebody. And then you realised eventually that there was a name put up somewhere and that’s the way things went.
IP: And what did you, presumably you got a job. What did you end up doing after the war?
HB: Well, that was no problem for me of course with my father having the garage where the Chalet is now. It was no problem.
IP: So you worked, you worked for your dad in the garage.
HB: Yeah.
IP: Yeah. Yeah. Ok. And did you do that all your working life then? Did you take the business over from him? Or —
HB: Yeah.
IP: Oh, ok.
HB: Again, I was very fortunate. I can always remember the first day it happened but the telephone went one, one morning and I answered it and the, this voice said, ‘This is Lord Rochdale speaking,’ I thought, oh my God. I said, ‘Oh yes.’ I said, ‘What can I do for you?’ He said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘It’s what you can do for me.’ I said, ‘What? What do you want?’ He said, ‘Well, I’ve got, I’ve got to go down to London.’ I said, ‘Oh yes.’ I said, ‘What do you want me for then?’ He said, ‘Well, I want you to go with me. Take me there.’ I said, ‘To London?’ he said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘That’s a long way.’ He said, ‘Yeah. I know it is. But —' he said, ‘We can manage alright.’ So, I said, ‘Right.’ He said, ‘Right, well. Right ok.’ He said, ‘Right, tomorrow morning I’ll pick you up.’ It was about 7 o’clock in the morning or something. He said, ‘Alright?’ So I said, ‘How long will I be away for?’ He said, ‘I don’t know yet. About three or four days probably. Maybe longer.’ I said, ‘Oh, right.’ So, anyway I got myself ready the next morning and a case packed, and he comes along, picks me up, and we set off. And he said, he said, ‘Do you know your way?’ I said, ‘Well, more or less like,’ you know. He said, ‘Oh, it’s alright to go quite simple.’ So we’d gone a little way along and he said, ‘Right. If you take over now,’ So, I took over and we were going down the A1 like, you know, no bother and he said, ‘Are you ok to manage?’ I thought, right like, you know, I said, ‘Well, I’ve learned to drive. They taught me in the Air Force.’ He said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Oh yeah.’ he said, ‘But I know different to that,’ he said, ‘You taught them to drive not them teach you.’ He said, ‘You’ve driven before.’ So ever after that I was all over England with him. A heck of a time I had.
IP: Driving Lord Rochdale.
HB: Yeah.
IP: Very good.
HB: He was a great.
IP: Yeah.
HB: Great fella.
IP: And you got married I presume because you obviously, obviously had children, had a child, at least one child.
HB: Yeah.
IP: So when did you get married?
HB: Oh no. He was, he was a great fella to work for like and to do for, and the last words he ever said when he got out of the car to whoever, where ever we went, ‘Look after the driver.’ It was the last words he ever said to me like when he got out. He didn’t speak to me. He spoke to whoever it was. And of course he was going to give some talk somewhere or some, open something and do. All sorts of things he did. And it was a case of me getting out of the way.
IP: Oh right. So but you kept, you kept running the garage in between times, sort of thing. Between these.
HB: With my father.
IP: With your dad. Did you keep in touch with any of the folks that you were in the Air Force with? Or did you ever see them again. Obviously they went back to Canada so —
HB: Yeah. They all went back to Canada.
IP: Yeah.
HB: Yeah. I was the only one. The last one’s passed on now like, but the wireless operator was the last one.
IP: So you obviously kept in touch with them somehow.
HB: Yeah.
IP: By letters or whatever.
HB: Yeah.
IP: And that sort of thing. And you didn’t go back. Did you go to reunions or anything like that after the war?
HB: Yeah. I did do. I’ve been. I think I went twice.
IP: Yeah. Yeah. Ok.
HB: But it was really nobody, there was really nobody there that I knew.
IP: Yeah. Well, if all your crew were Canadian they’re not likely to come across from Canada for a reunion.
HB: Aye. Well, they wouldn’t but again there wasn’t a lot of the flight engineers like, you know were. They’d either passed on or living away or whatever. Living too far away should I say.
IP: Yeah.
HB: Are you ok for a quick break or — ?
IP: Yeah. Well, actually yeah. I think what we’ll do is we’ll stop there.



Ian Price, “Interview with Harry Braithwaite,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 2, 2023,

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