Interview with Ralph Brumwell


Interview with Ralph Brumwell


Ralph Brumwell volunteered for the RAF Voluntary Reserve in 1939. When war was declared he was immediately called up and was posted to 218 Squadron at RAF Marham. Returning from an operation they were shot down by an intruder Junkers 88. On landing the aeroplane immediately caught fire. The front gunner was trapped in his turret and died in hospital. Ralph injured his arm and until it healed he was placed on non-operational duties. When he returned to operational flying he was posted to 75 Squadron at RAF Mepal. After the war he flew with civilian airlines.




Temporal Coverage




00:44:48 audio recording


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GT: This is Saturday the 30th of June 2018 and I am at the home of Mr Ralph Brumwell, DFC born 24 July 1920 in Dorset, England and I'm in his lovely home in Ponteland, in Newcastle upon Tyne. Ralph joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1939 and after training and a brief time on a [next] squadron joined 75 New Zealand Squadron in May 1944. By September Ralph had completed his tour and was awarded the DFC. Ralph, thank you for having me visit you in your lovely home and I’d very much like you to please tell us a little bit about your RAF time, where you were born and then what made you join the RAF?
RB: Well, in the autumn of 1938 Chamberlain, the Prime Minister went to meet Hitler and he came back with his piece of paper, waving to the crowds, “Peace in our time.” But a little while after that everybody got a thing, a piece of paper through the door inviting them to join, asking them to join a voluntary service of some sort because I think they realised that the war was going to come. I mean Churchill did anyway and I think they realised war was going to come anyway and they wanted to build up the reserve services. I lived, I lived in Poole in Dorset or near Poole which is on a lovely harbour and I was very keen on yachting and boating and I wanted to join the Navy. So I applied to join the RNVR, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve but it came back that, unfortunately, you live too far away from a VR Centre, an RNVR Centre. The nearest one is Portsmouth which you can’t [laughs] it’s too far for you to travel for lectures twice a week in the evening. So I thought, well, what do I do now? The next [laughs], the next thing I thought we obviously didn't want to join the Army because we thought in those days the Army was going to be like the First World War with awful trench warfare and that sort of thing. So, I was there. Didn't, didn’t want to join any Army units so I decided to join the RAF. Try the RAF and I got accepted to join the RAFVR at the Southampton centre. It was still thirty miles away from my home but they accepted me. I had to get my father’s permission of course because I was only eighteen years of age so he had to sign that he agreed to this. And so then I joined. I joined that and I used to go, we had to go two, two nights a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays for two hours of lectures at the RAF’s RAFVR Centre at Southampton and then add on when you, when you got, I’d start, I could start flying because they liked to start you to fly when you could go for a fortnight. So we had to get a fortnights holiday from your job. I worked at the Westminster Bank in those days and I got a fortnights holiday and went to the RAFVR station at Hamble and started to fly. During the fortnight they started me flying and I got solo and did a few hours there and then, then of course on September the 1st war broke out so I was called up immediately to, to the RAF.
GT: So you’d already had a few hours under, and your time —
RB: I had about twenty hours I think when war broke out.
GT: That's solo time or —
RB: No. Altogether.
GT: Altogether. Ok.
RB: Altogether. That’s all. From then on [unclear] they didn't know what to do with us first of all so had a fortnight off at home. I’d packed up my civil job and gone home and they didn't know what to do with us because all the units were full up. But eventually I got a phone call to say I was posted to an ITW at St Leonards on sea and so I had to go to Southampton to, to the centre of Southampton to join the other people who were joining and we went down train to, to St. Leonards on Sea to an ITW. Initial Training Wing where we did drill and lectures and things like that on the, on the front and on the pier. And then from there I was posted to Redhill to start flying again. And I got to Redhill which was a Reserved Flying School and I started flying Magisters.
GT: Ok.
RB: And I liked, loved the Magisters which was a lovely little aeroplane to fly. And I was there for, oh ‘til [pause] ‘til 1940, the spring of 1940, summer of 1940 because every, all the units seemed to be full up. All the FTSs, Final Training Schools were full up and then from there I went to Brize Norton as an FTS and I got my wings.
GT: Wow. That's a long time to wait. Sure. So, once you had your wings where did they send you from there?
RB: My wings and I went to an, I got my wings at Brize Norton then I went to Harwell on a, on a, what do you call it? Oh dear.
GT: A Conversion Unit was it?
RB: No. Yeah. What do you call it?
GT: And what aircraft were you flying at Harwell?
RB: A Wellington.
GT: And was that easy to work from?
RB: Operational Training Wing.
GT: Oh yeah.
RB: Flying Wellingtons. And then from there I went, I went to the squadron. On 218 Squadron.
GT: So, the Wellingtons were, were pretty new pretty much for the beginning of the war were they difficult?
RB: Well, they were —
GT: Big and heavy to fly at that time for you guys or —
RB: Easy?
GT: Yeah?
RB: I wouldn't call them exactly easy but they weren’t a tricky aeroplane I didn't think.
GT: And how many hours did you work there?
RB: We had Wellington 1s, Wellington 1Cs and when of course I went to the squadron at 218 on Wellingtons which was on, we were on Wellington 1Cs.
GT: And where was 218 based at that time?
RB: That was based at Marham.
GT: And was that the only squadron there? Were you just the only ones or —
RB: No. There was another squadron. I can't think what number it was. I can’t think what the other one was. Was it 105 or, something like that, I think.
GT: So, earlier you were telling me of a mishap that happened on, when you were on 218. So can you tell me a little bit about that?
RB: Well, I did about four or five ops and then we were coming back from, we’d been to Dusseldorf. I was the second pilot, that’s all because we had two pilots in those days on Bomber Command. Two pilots and I was the second pilot so I was, just used to stand beside the captain on the, there was a seat there but I used to just usually stand beside him. Unfortunately, we got we got shot down by a Junkers 88 over, over our base as we came back circling to land and we landed in this, there was snow on the ground fortunately the captain could see the hedgerows and he managed to put it down very well in a grass field.
GT: Any of the crew hurt?
RB: Yes. The front. Well, the aircraft caught fire immediately as soon as we hit the ground of course and unfortunately the front gunner was jammed, was stuck in his front turret and he couldn't get out. And all the rest of the crew who were fit went out to try and get him out of the turret, turn the turret around but it wouldn't turn you see. It was jammed. Jammed. But we eventually when he was taken to hospital eventually in Kings Lynn and died there unfortunately a few days later.
GT: Ok.
RB: All the rest of the crew were uninjured apart from the rear gunner just sprained his ankle, I think.
GT: And what about yourself?
RB: Yeah. But, I broke my arm on this. I had a compound fracture on this arm which put me in hospital in Ely.
GT: And how long were you at the hospital?
RB: Pardon?
GT: How long were you in the hospital at Ely for?
RB: I think a couple of months. Something like that. A couple of months. Then I got, once I was an outpatient, walking patient they put, there was another walk-in hospital in Littleport which I got sent there because I was a walking patient.
GT: Did your arm mend ok? Did it take long?
RB: Pardon?
GT: Did your elbow, did your arm, did it mend ok for you to keep flying?
RB: Yes. It mended. I had an excellent, they had excellent doctors of course in the RAF and I had an excellent orthopaedic surgeon who, who set it and set it beautifully and it mended beautifully except that I couldn't straighten it for a long time. It was two or three years before I could really straighten it so they put me on light aircraft non-operational only. I had to go to, for an RAF medical and they, they put me light aircraft only. Non-operational. So that's when I went for, eventually they posted me after hospital I went back to Marham and I did flare path duties for a month or so and then they posted me two Newmarket on Gunnery Training Flight and I was flying Lysanders there towing, towing targets to train gunners for Bomber Command.
GT: And that was about what 1941 ’42 was it?
RB: That was the end of ’41. Yeah.
GT: Ok.
RB: Yeah. I was in that unit for about two years before they, I eventually got fit, fully fit. This arm became, got straight again eventually and they put me back operational so and then that's when I went to to train on four engine bombers.
GT: Ah, four engines. Now, so you did —
RB: Stirlings.
GT: Conversion was on to Stirlings. Yeah.
RB: Going on to Stirlings. Yeah.
GT: And what OCU were you on for that?
RB: Then from there I went to the Lanc Finishing School.
GT: Which was at Feltwell.
RB: At Feltwell. Lanc Finishing School. And then from there of course on to the squadron. To 75 at Mepal.
GT: So, your conversion from Stirlings to Lancasters was only a week normally.
RB: Two weeks.
GT: Two weeks.
RB: Two weeks. You had a week’s lectures.
GT: Yeah.
RB: Ground lectures dealing, learning, learning about the aeroplane and lectures, engineering lectures and that sort of thing. And then a week’s flying.
GT: Was the conversion easy? The difference of aircraft.
RB: Well, it came easy after. After a Stirling because the Stirling was a bit of an old brute to fly. It used to swing a lot you know. Had a nasty swing on landing and that sort of thing.
GT: So, you’d only —
RB: And I found, I found that the Lancaster was an absolute treat after. After, a Stirling was like flying a big Tiger Moth.
GT: Yeah. Had you, you had done several operations already in Wellingtons on 218.
RB: Yeah.
GT: Yeah. And did you do any operations on the Stirling?
RB: No. No. No. No.
GT: Ok. So it had been —
RB: It was purely, purely a conversion flight.
GT: Purely conversion. Ok.
RB: Heavy Conversion. Heavy Conversion Unit.
GT: Right. So, in, in around about May 1944 then you joined 75 New Zealand Squadron.
RB: Yeah.
GT: And, and they at that time were at Newmarket.
RB: No, Mepal.
GT: They had gone to Mepal by then.
RB: They had gone to Mepal by then. Yeah.
GT: Alright.
RB: Yeah.
GT: Yeah. And, and you had your own crew then. When did you meet up with your crew then because you were —
RB: Well, normally people who went from OTUs to, to, went to OTUs, picked up their crews at their OTUs didn't they? They all had a, used to gather together in a, in a big hall somewhere or something and picked their own. Picked their own crew up. They sort of, well, I don't know how they did it but it was a rather haphazard thing but my, my I didn't have that chance because I was just a pilot. I think the crew, my crew were some were sort of left over. I don't understand how I got them but [laughs] but anyway I got crewed up with a full crew apart from the flight engineer. No. I did have the flight engineer as well, of course. But —
GT: Was that at Westcott or Harwell? Where did you do that? Your crewing up.
RB: My crewing was at Westcott.
GT: You did it at Westcott.
RB: Westcott OTU. Yeah. Yeah. Westcott.
GT: So, there were a lot of New Zealanders around at the time was there?
RB: Yeah. Yeah. There were there. Yeah. Yeah. Westcott and, Westcott and Oakley I went to. Oakley was, which was a satellite of Westcott and I was back on, I was on Wellingtons again.
GT: Alright. So, so can you tell me your crew members? Can you tell me who your crew were?
RB: My crew were. Yes.
GT: Yeah.
RB: There was, they were all, they were all sergeants or flight sergeants. Flight sergeant [pause] what was his name? Pip. Pip. I can't remember the name.
GT: That's alright. Yeah. Max Ruane.
RB: Buzz was Buzz Busfield.
GT: Yeah.
RB: Louie. Louie, no Armitage. Pip Armitage was my wireless operator. Louis Arthur was the rear gunner. And Max. Max.
GT: Ruane.
RB: Ruane.
GT: Yeah.
RB: Max Ruane was the bomb aimer. That’s right. And of course, we didn’t, we didn't get the mid-upper gunner until we got to the Heavy Conversion Unit. ‘Til we got to Stirlings.
GT: And your flight engineer too.
RB: And the flight engineer. That's right. The flight engineer joined us. He was a, he was a Lancastrian fellow. Lad. Nelson his name was.
GT: And you all got on really well.
RB: We all got on very well. Yes. We did. We all got along very well, I think.
GT: Excellent.
RB: A very happy crew I think.
GT: And you were all senior NCOs.
RB: Yes. No. I was, I’d been commissioned by then. I was commissioned at Newmarket when I was on the gunnery training flight. I got my commission. I was a flying officer by that time. All the rest were NCOs.
GT: So, was it true that the officers went one way and the senior NCOs went the other once you got out of the aircraft?
RB: Oh no.
GT: No? You still went together.
RB: We had to go to our own messes of course to have our meal. We couldn’t, we had to go to our own messes but, and we all went together to the debriefing of course after, after an operation. And then after that we went to the mess to, to have our breakfast which was always bacon and egg. And then back to bed.
GT: Did you all sleep in the same hut?
RB: Oh no.
GT: No. Was it officers in one —
RB: Officers had separate. Separate Nissen huts.
GT: Ok. So, so when you started operations again on 75 New Zealand squadron at Mepal what were the targets you were given?
RB: The targets?
GT: Were they easy? Were they —
RB: Well, some were. Some weren’t. Some was, I was very lucky I think because I got a lot towards that time, you know after D-Day I was [pause] Actually, I was on leave over D-Day which was [laughs] I was on leave with Max. Max. With Max Ruane. I’d taken him home for a couple of days.
GT: Yeah.
RB: And we were walking. I remember walking up at Bournemouth up the cliffside on the east side of Bournemouth and looking up the Solent. It was full of ships. Absolutely thousands of ships. And I said to Max and my father, my father was with us, I said, ‘There's something on here. There's something happening here. Look at this. Look at all these ships.’ And of course, it was the night before D-Day.
GT: D-Day. Wow.
RB: Of course, they couldn't stop my, couldn’t stop our leave because otherwise people, we would have known something was fishy coming up and we had to, it was so secret that we couldn't, they couldn't stop our leave but we had to have a weeks leave every six weeks.
GT: Because 75 squadron —
RB: On operations.
GT: Did at least two sets of ops on D-Day itself. So, one early morning and one later in the day.
RB: I did, I don’t know.
GT: So you weren’t there then.
RB: Whether they operated or not because as I say I was on leave so I don't know whether they operated or not.
GT: The other crew must have.
RB: Yeah.
GT: So, was Mepal a nice base? Did you have good pubs around the place?
RB: Oh yes. Yes. Some nice people. I met some. We met, we met a very nice farmer and his wife and family who lived in Sutton which is a local, another local village near Maple and they used to have us down for supper and that sort of thing and it was very nice. Very nice friendly people.
GT: What about the pubs?
RB: In fact, I kept up. I kept up a friendship with them right until they died. Way after, way after the war. I kept this farmer at [unclear] we used to go and stay with them and everything. Took my family there and everything. They were wonderful to us.
GT: What about the pubs? Which ones do you remember?
RB: Oh, what was the one called? We had a favourite one.
GT: Chequers?
RB: No. No. Not the Chequers.
GT: The Three Pickerels?
RB: No [laughs] you know them do you? No, the other one was down the other way. What the heck was it called? Oh dear. I can’t remember.
GT: That’s alright. It’ll come to you. So with the church on the hill there was that one it, was a bit like Lincoln with their Cathedral? Was that something you homed in on to get home when you were flying in because that had a tall tower didn’t it? Was that —
RB: Flying in from —
GT: When you were landing at Mepal.
RB: Yeah. Well, we used to see Ely Cathedral, of course. We used to fly over Ely Cathedral.
GT: That was your marker.
RB: That was our marker. Yeah. But there was another airfield in the same, very close. Witchford. Witchford. Which their drem, drem system sort of interlocked with ours and several of our squadron people landed at Witchford by mistake.
GT: That was 115 Squadron.
RB: That was 115. That's right. Yeah.
GT: So, now, 115 had a few aircraft shot down with aircraft waiting over them. Pretty much like you did.
RB: Did they?
GT: With 218.
RB: Did they?
GT: I think it was a Hornisse 410 that shot some Lancasters down. Did that ever happen at Mepal at all with you guys?
RB: No. I don’t know. It never happened. We never got any shot down over base. No. Never happened over base.
GT: You were lucky then. What about any accidents at the time?
RB: Pardon?
GT: Any accidents happen while you were flying?
RB: I don't remember any accidents at Mepal. No. One incident I do remember. I remember laying in bed one night and there was a terrific explosion and I sat up straight in bed and I thought what ever was that? I remember sitting up in bed straight. I mean I was in the same Nissen hut as Walsh, Jack Walsh and his crew and they didn't, they didn’t, I don’t think they even woke up. I don't know. Anyway, I went back, laid back, went back to sleep. The next morning we discovered that they’d left some bombs on an aircraft with the, with the delayed fuses still on and the fuses had gone. Set the aircraft, set the bombs off and blown three, three aircraft because there were three aircraft on each dispersal area. Disposal point. And so all three aircraft were written off. Three Lancs.
GT: I believe one of the guards bicycled past those aircraft minutes before it happened so —
RB: Did they?
GT: So he was really lucky. Yes.
RB: Oh, you’ve heard this. You’ve heard about this. Who told you this?
GT: Oh, there’s photographs.
RB: Eh?
GT: There’s photographs. Other 75 Squadron veterans have told me of that.
RB: Have they?
GT: Of that incident. Yeah.
RB: They were there were they?
GT: Yeah. There was one guy set up —
RB: Terrible noise.
GT: Hit his head on his hat. On his tin hat.
RB: That’s right. Yeah.
GT: He was the only injury. So it's interesting to hear that from other chaps who where there.
RB: Oh yeah.
GT: Yeah.
RB: That’s interesting.
GT: And for, for Mepal you were there during the time 75 Squadron lost its most aircraft in one night. It was seven. Seven aircraft?
RB: That's right. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. We’ll have to look up in that that record of mine there and it tells you when that was.
GT: That was about the middle of July so so that was a pretty tough time on the squadron I'm sure. Yeah.
RB: Yeah. That was towards the end of my tour I think that was.
GT: Can you tell me of any of the targets that you flew? Or was there any problems? Ack ack or night fighters.
RB: One of them. One of them, I can’t remember one of them was when we had a lot of trouble with night fighters dropping their, dropping flares on us from above. Dropping flares. Flares on us from above but I'm afraid I used to if they had a flare coming down or thoughts like that I used to corkscrew before before they attacked. Try and catch them before they attacked us.
GT: Were you good at corkscrewing?
RB: I think so [laughs] Ask the crew.
GT: Yeah.
RB: It must have been awkward at the back for those poor blighters because I can remember, oh dear I used to put my full force on it.
GT: One veteran told me he was on the can one time when the skipper corkscrewed [laughs] You didn't do that did you?
RB: Do what?
GT: He was on the can.
RB: On the can. No. No. No. I never. I never got out of my seat during any of my operations. Even, even the long trips to Stettin which were nine hours. I never got out of my seat once. I'd rather prefer to sit there and straighten it out.
GT: Did, did you ever have the need for guns? Did the guys ever shoot their guns at all? Night fighters? Or strafing?
RB: No. No. No. No. Never. Never had. Never had to defend an aeroplane at all. No. We never got attacked by the fighter that way.
GT: Because many of the veterans —
RB: The only time, we, we were doing a daylight on a, on a buzz bomb site and I was in the, behind the leader on the left on the leaders left of course we were in formation which was asking for trouble really because the guns were getting a marvellous sight on you from their, you know their, from the radar weren’t they? And they hit my starboard outer and I had to feather it because it was, I had a flight engineer again. Nobby. Nobby Nelson his name was. Nobby was a, he said, ‘Skipper the number, number four is heating, is overheating.’ He said, ‘The temperature is going up,’ and he said, ‘Oh, it keeps still going up.’ He said, ‘Nobby, feather it. Feather it. Feather it.’ I didn't call him Nobby. I always called him engineer because you were, you were told not to. Not to call people by their Christian name on a, on a trip in case, in case you, the idea was but if one of them, say you had a strange gunner or something on board if, you know you got the wrong name so you had to call them by their, what their job was. So you’d say rear gunner. Not Louis or anything. Had to, had to call them by their, by their names.
GT: By their job. Not their nickname.
RB: Yeah. Not names.
GT: And all the way —
RB: Because otherwise you see if you’ve got some stranger on the crew it would be confusing.
GT: Did you have one particular Lancaster aircraft that was yours? Did you?
RB: Yes. M for Mother was ours for a long time. M for Mother was mine.
GT: And what, did you just ask for it? Was that the way it happened? Or —
RB: No. No. No. I didn't ask for it. It was just the way it was allotted. I didn't ask for any favours.
GT: So how old were you during that time?
RB: I was about twenty two, was it? Well, 1920. 1940. No, I was older than that wasn’t I? ’44 I started. Twenty four. Twenty three. Twenty four. Twenty three when I joined. Twenty three when I joined the squadron. Twenty four when I left.
GT: I’m just looking through your logbook, Ralph at the aircraft you flew and was it ND756 seems to feature mostly as the Lancaster you flew.
RB: Yeah. Probably.
GT: M for Mother was it?
RB: M for Mother. Yeah.
GT: Did you ever receive anti-aircraft fire during your time?
RB: Any —
GT: Ack ack.
RB: No. Oh, yes. That one. That once.
GT: Just that once with the engine.
RB: Just the once. That’s the only time I got hit with it.
GT: And no forced landings? No problem getting the aircraft back?
RB: No.
GT: Excellent.
RB: No. Not on Lancs. No.
GT: And what was your normal bombload? Was it something that you were told what you had on board or was it just loaded and you just had to drop it? There was cookies. Five hundred pounders.
RB: Yeah.
GT: Incendiaries.
RB: Yeah. Five hundred pounders. I think we carried a cookie once, once or twice. A thousand pounders. A lot of it was incendiaries of course. A lot of the load was always made up of incendiaries. We always had Window on board of course.
GT: Yeah. Whose job was it to push the Window out?
RB: The flight engineer.
GT: OK. So, I'm looking at your log book and there was trips you did to Paris. Now, were you aware of the Legion of Honour? The French awarding those that flew in operations for the freedom of France?
RB: Aware of what?
GT: Yeah. The Legion of Honour. The medal.
RB: No. No. No. No. No.
GT: Well, you've got some very interesting operations here and obviously the longest trip you did was —
RB: The Stettin one.
GT: The Stettin. Yeah.
RB: I never did a Berlin. Fortunately.
GT: Stettin you did the 29th of August 1944. [unclear] operations. Excellent. So, coming towards the end of your tour you completed thirty operations. Was that correct Ralph?
RB: Yeah.
GT: Yeah. And did they, did they tell you that was coming up? That it was —
RB: No. No. I didn't know until I came back from my [pause] I was on, it was only a short one to Le Havre. Actually, I was leading the whole raid on that one. I was the leader of the whole raid. I’ve got a photo of us coming back. But it was not until I landed and then the CO came up and said you’ve finished.
GT: Now who was your CEO at the time?
RB: Leslie. Wing Commander Leslie.
GT: It was Leslie. Ok. And what flight were you in charge of? Were you A, B or C Flight?
RB: I was B. B Flight.
GT: And you led that raid. Was [pause] when you were given the task of leading the raid was that something that Leslie just pointed to you and said, ‘You’re it.’ Or was it your turn or because you were really really good?
RB: No. No. It didn’t. No. Didn't know. Didn’t know. No. I didn’t. No. He didn’t say you were the leader I don’t think. I don’t think so. I can't remember really whether they said you're leading the raid but we did two or three trips to Le Havre at that time, I think. You know. They were trying to knockout, buzz the submarine pens and that sort of thing stuff.
GT: What did you prefer? Night time or daylight raids?
RB: Oh, I preferred [laughs] it’s difficult to say. I think, I think, you know, I think night flying you felt safer in a way that daylights. We weren't convinced that you know we had aerial superiority all the time but once we knew that you know we’d got air superiority and we weren’t going to get attacked daylights were alright. They were quite nice. They were usually short rides anyway the daylight ones. The ones I did in daylight were short. I was lucky there.
GT: Did the, did you meet up with any Americans? I mean once you started doing daylight raids were your raids with the Americans? Or —
RB: No. I didn't see any Americans. No. No.
GT: And when, coming towards the end of your tour I note that you were awarded the DFC. So was that a surprise to you?
RB: It was indeed. It was a complete surprise. Yes. It was. It was. I didn't think I’d done anything special to do that. To be awarded that. I think that, I think, all I can think of they thought I had done a good tour. It wasn’t a special one. You know that I’d been particularly brave or anything.
GT: So, who was your leader who put you up for that?
RB: Hadn’t done any marvellous rescue or anything. Or bring an aircraft back on one engine or something like that. It was a surprise. Yes, it was a surprise.
RB: You always seemed to do a fair bit of work. So, who was your, your commander that would have put you up for that? Besides Leslie?
GT: I don't know whether it was Leslie or the station commander I presume.
RB: It's got to go up the chain so it would have had to have come from the squadron.
GT: The station commander I presume would put you up.
RB: I had a letter from him anyway. You’ve got a copy of it somewhere, Mark. Where is it? Have you seen it?
GT: It’s alright. We’ll have a look. So that, so that’s marvellous. So, so, now, did you receive it in the post or did you go down to London for it?
RB: No. I received it in the post because the king was ill by that time. He was, he was suffering from, what was it he had? Chest troubles, didn't he?
RB: And I've got a letter from him which it came from with it to say that he was sorry he couldn't deliver it personally.
GT: Nice.
RB: I wasn't sorry about that.
GT: So, OK come to the end of your tour and that was pretty much September 1944. What happened to you from there? Did you continue with your crew? Did they send you somewhere else?
RB: No. No. I was posted to Wing as on instructor on Wellingtons and all my crew were split up in different, different stations. I don't think any of them came to Wing with me.
GT: I suggest that the New Zealanders were sent home.
RB: Different, different OTUs, I think.
GT: Ok. On the training. Yeah.
RB: We did, we did meet up to celebrate my DFC in Aylesbury. We, I got them all to come and there was a little celebration in Aylesbury to celebrate because I used to feel that I didn't deserve it any more than, they did. You know, they were the ones who really deserved the DFC. They were the ones that got me to the target and home and [pause] I don't know.
GT: There was a feeling —
RB: There was a feeling it should be shared.
GT: Yeah. That’s, that’s a very nice sentiment that’s for sure. Did you shout them a few rounds of best bitter did you?
RB: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah.
GT: Fabulous. Now, I see —
RB: Actually, I don't remember. Max Ruane, I don't think he drank it all. I don’t. Never went, never came to the pub with us. I don’t think he ever drank. Max. No, he didn't. And the mid-upper gunner was a very quiet lad. He was just a country, a country local. Enoch we called him. We called him Enoch. We all, we all the New Zealand fellas called him Enoch. He was a sort of tractor driver really. That was his job in the farmer’s land. Farm land lad.
GT: Well, Ralph I’m moving on through your logbook here and I’m up to May, 1945 and you've been flying Wellington's all that time.
RB: That’s right. Wellingtons again. Yeah.
GT: So that’s a huge amount of —
RB: Yeah. Yeah.
GT: Aircraft time on Wellingtons you had been, you were amassing right through past VE Day even. So, once the war had finished what was, what was flying for you? What was in store for you? Did you do some more flying? Did you stay with the RAF or leave the RAF?
RB: When the war finished I went back to my job in the bank.
GT: Oh, my gosh. Down to, was it Dorset?
RB: No. I was working in Winchester.
GT: And you demobbed.
RB: I was demobbed in December. December 1944.
GT: ’45.
RB: ’45, sorry.
GT: That’s alright. Was that your choice or did the RAF not want you?
RB: My choice. My choice because I had a job to go back to and I had a mother who was in ill health and I was worried about her so I went back home.
GT: Wow. OK, so what was your flying career from there? You were telling me you went to the airlines was it, from there?
RB: Well, I went back in the RAF for a little while on a short service commission.
GT: Wellingtons again.
RB: Eh?
GT: Wellington's again I see. And then, oh and you did some Lancaster time as well at Shawbury.
RB: Oh, that was, that was, that was, that was a passenger —
GT: In Feltwell.
RB: I was training as a navigator. I did a navigation course at Shawbury.
GT: Does that come in handy for your flying training?
RB: That was an advanced nav course.
GT: Yeah. Fabulous. And for airline stuff you moved on to, what aircraft were you flying for the airlines?
RB: I joined, when I left the RAF I joined Hunting, Hunting Aerosurveys who, lovely lovely lovely firm. They were at Borehamwood. Hunting Aerosurveys. And I flew lots of little aircraft there. Percival Prince and Anson. Rapide. Austers. I did a trip with them down to the Antarctic with them on an Catalinas doing a photographic survey in the Antarctic. Just one winter season.
GT: Were you landing on the ice on the water?
RB: No. On the water.
GT: Wow.
RB: On the water. But there were, they were amphibious Catalinas. [unclear] as they called them. And we used to land on the water, put the wheels down in the water and then taxi up a beach where they put some PSP matting down on the beach and we could just taxi up the beach to a little parking area at the top where we used to refuel them. Great fun that was.
GT: And you moved into civilian passenger stuff.
RB: No. No. Then after then I left them and went into civilian passenger stuff, yeah. With BKS.
GT: And what were the kind of aircraft you were flying?
RB: BKS, and then British Airways.
GT: British Airways. What aircraft were you flying for them?
RB: I started off on Dakotas. And then the Ambassador. Airspeed Ambassador. Bristol Britannias and then Tridents. That's what I retired on. Trident's.
GT: So, was the Trident local Europe. Or did that go across to America.
RB: In Europe. No. Europe. All Europe. Short haul we called it. Short haul.
GT: Yeah.
RB: As far as we went, Warsaw was about as far as we went.
GT: And you liked that?
RB: Yeah. I liked that. I loved, I loved the Trident. Lovely aeroplane.
GT: Do —
RB: They were all nice aeroplanes.
GT: Do you know how many hours in total to you in your flying career.
RB: Altogether about eighteen thousand, I think.
GT: That’s astonishing. That’s fabulous. No accidents? No mishaps.
RB: Not civil flying. No. Not civil flying.
GT: That’s wonderful. Yeah. And did you retire officially? What year?
RB: 1980. 1980 I retired. At sixty.
GT: Wow.
RB: I had to retire then because I couldn’t [pause] I could, I could have gone on Dakotas somewhere again but you had to mind I couldn’t fly anything over that I think it was thirty thousand was the maximum you could try over the age of sixty wasn’t it?
GT: Gosh. And since your retirement you've, you’ve just been kicking up the heels.
RB: Yes, I haven’t done any flying since.
GT: Yes. So you have had two lovely daughters and a son in your personal life.
RB: That's right.
GT: And obviously they're looking after you well.
RB: Yes. They are. Yeah. They are, yes. Mark especially. Mark and Lindsay are especially looking after me.
GT: Fabulous. We have Mark here and its been fabulous for him to be able to allow me to come and talk and interview you. And for the 75 Squadron Archives we have not known of you until last year so it's been fabulous to know.
RB: Known what?
GT: We’ve not known of you.
RB: Not known of me.
GT: 75 Squadron Association both of the UK and New Zealand did not know that you were about. One of your crew Charles Busfield was a good friend of mine but sadly he died three years ago and he would always say to me he always wondered where Brum was.
RB: Did he? Yes. Nice of him.
GT: I know your nickname.
RB: Nice chap.
GT: Was Brum now.
RB: Lovely.
GT: Charles was.
RB: Yeah.
GT: Yeah. And it goes to show obviously all you gentlemen are fabulous. Well, Brum if there anything else that you'd like to chinwag about feel free. I don't want to take up anymore of your valuable time but certainly public about history is of value to us to know how you fared, how you survived and I wonder d find what you search. Is there anything perhaps you remember that’s poignant of your time with Bomber Command?
RB: I can’t think of anything really.
GT: You served your King and country.
RB: Yeah. Yeah. I'm glad I looked at it that way. Yes. Thank you very much anyway. Its been a long long old life hasn’t it?
GT: That’s fabulous. And your, and you next birthday how old will you be? You’re currently ninety —
RB: Ninety eight.
GT: Ninety eight. Fabulous. So, I thank you for your service and your time.
RB: Thank you.
GT: And I’ll complete our e-mail now, err interview and I know the international Bomber Command centre will certainly value your input and your story. Your history, your life and I too say thank you.
RB: What will you do with that now?
GT: The international Bomber Command Archives will register it.
RB: Will it?
GT: Yeah. And they’ll send you a letter.
RB: Oh, will they? That’s lovely. Thank you very much. Thank you then.
GT: Thank you very much Ralph.
RB: Ok. Thank you.



Glen Turner, “Interview with Ralph Brumwell,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 21, 2024,

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