Interview with Edward Cayhill


Interview with Edward Cayhill


Edward Cayhill was the eldest of eight children and with his father’s encouragement was hoping to go to university. His father died in 1938 which meant that the university dream was cancelled and Edward went to work as a Civil Servant in the Meteorological Office. He began his work as a Met observer with the RAF at RAF Abbotsinch before being posted to 617 Squadron at RAF Scampton. Edward desperately wanted to join the RAF as aircrew which he finally did. He joined the RAF and was attached to the Meteorological Reconnaissance Flights at RAF Farnborough where he flew on Halifaxes and Mosquitoes. When he was demobbed he continued to fly with the Met Research Flight as a civilian. He eventually joined 269 Squadron and took part in the Met research flights in relation to the nuclear testing in the Pacific.







01:03:35 audio recording


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JM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Julian Maslin. The interviewee is Mr Edward Cayhill. The interview is taking place at Mr Cayhill’s home in North Wales on the 8th of February 2018.
EC: Correct.
JM: Mr Cayhill, Edward, please would you tell us a little bit about your family background first of all?
EC: I was born in Scotland in, near Motherwell. Motherwell, on the 11th of August 1921. A big family. A family of eight of us and I was the eldest son. Therefore, in Scotland the idea was that the eldest son would be encouraged financially and otherwise to further his education and so I was, my father said, ‘We’re going to try and get you in to university.’ So I worked hard at my studies and [pause] in 1938 my father died in Scotland. A big family. 1938. So my, and I applied for a place at Glasgow University and I was accepted for a place. However, it all came to fruition that there was no way in my family set up that I could continue with university. The war was imminent. We had advisors, advisories, advisors coming around the schools suggesting jobs for future careers and so on and I went up to the Civil Service place in Edinburgh and had a, take up there and I was accepted as a technical assistant grade three in the Meteorological Office. Now, as the days went by things were heating up. The war was about to start. I [pause] stop here. Can it be stopped?
JM: Yeah.
[recording paused]
EC: I was sent to the Royal Air Force Abbotsinch as an observer.
JM: Yeah.
EC: A weather observer, and worked there for a couple of years. And this is, I’ve got, I was very keen on getting airborne so I was flying with any chance I could get. And that went on for a couple of years. For instance I went up to Scone Airport, Perth as an observer teaching newly entrants and aircrew lectures. And then I spent about probably three years doing various jobs around Scotland and then from that stage on I [pause] my next move was to Aldergrove in Northern Ireland, and in Northern Ireland I trained [pause] Oh, I’m sorry about this.
[recording paused]
EC: 1674 Heavy Conversion Unit, Aldergrove in July [unclear]. Now, that was when I’d left the Meteorological Office in Scampton where I was. Posted there. I was still a civilian and my job was to brief the crews who at that stage, 1674, at that stage Guy Gibson who was the CO of the Dambusting squadron they had been recently, on my arrival they had just recently done the bouncing bomb. So I was a civilian still then and, but the Squadron, 617 Squadron continued similar training. That is about the bouncing bomb, and that meant low level. When I say low level I mean low level. So, I would come in each day and brief the crews. And now, the bouncing bomb having done, Guy Gibson was still there and the squadron which included Flight Lieutenant Allsebrook continued doing similar training when the training area was [pause] we would take off from Scampton and we would fly low level. When I say low level, low level up across Yorkshire into Scotland and then on the road to the Isles. That’s by Tummel and Loch Rannoch, out there and I had cadged a trip and my position was the one that the pilot was Allsebrook, Flight Lieutenant Allsebrook, but he said, ‘Well, my mid-upper gunner won’t be coming so you can have the mid-upper seat.’ So I, low level all the way up there and it was really low level and we came through the valleys with the idea of a drop then. However, down at very low level over Scotland there was a God almighty bang and wind came through the aircraft all over the place and silence for a while and full bore climbing and we were on our way back home. And then eventually, this is your, ‘This is your captain speaking. I want you to [pause] what happened back there, we hit a rabbit. We hit a rabbit. And what did we hit? I want all the crew to answer this,’ [laughs] So everyone sitting up there, ‘You hit a rabbit.’ ‘That’s right.’ So, on the way back, now the idea of this rabbit business was, what he had said, we were not on intercom with them, he had said to the bomb aimer who was down there and was covered in blood and feathers and a bird strike, it was a bird strike and so the skipper said to the bomb aimer, ‘Take up all those big feathers and get rid of them. And all that gory mushy messy stuff put in our sandwich bag.’ In those days it was brown paper bags. ‘Put them in there and who knows. That could well be a rabbit.’ And so anyway [laughs] now every squadron I believe, bomber squadron had a line. They called them line books, and the line book was tall stories usually, and this story went into the, I’m sure this is still in the book [laughs] And so I cadged as many trips as I could while I was there. And then I was transferred on to other things and I went on to the flying side of it.
JM: That’s lovely. Could I just ask you a little bit to go back a little bit in that sense? You were saying that you were doing the meteorological briefing for the crews.
EC: Correct.
JM: Where did you get the information, the technical information from? Was it from the station or did it go through a network?
EC: A network. It all came in on the printer. Various sources.
JM: Right.
EC: We had, well information was short but we got a lot of stuff on the teleprinter.
JM: And did you have to make your own synoptic charts up, or did you simply have the job of relaying what somebody else had done somewhere else?
EC: No. We would automatically draw the charts up.
JM: You would.
EC: Yes. That was something I was also trained in.
JM: Yes. Yes. Yes. So you were strong in maths and science at university level to do that work.
EC: Not, not really. No. Most of the basic stuff came through on the printer.
JM: Right.
EC: You plotted the charts.
JM: Right. Right.
EC: You analysed the charts, you know and —
JM: Yes. I mean the information that you were being given. The pressure, winds, whatever. Where was that coming from because you need information from all over the place but you didn’t have it from Europe? You only had it from the Atlantic.
EC: Well, from Bracknell.
JM: From Bracknell.
EC: From Bracknell. It was Meteorological Office Headquarters.
JM: At Bracknell. Still is. Or was.
EC: What information they had.
JM: Yeah.
EC: And who, the out stations had received it.
JM: Yeah.
EC: Used it to their best advantage.
JM: Yes. Yes. That’s very interesting. So you do, you do your, you make up the weather forecast based on the information that you were given.
EC: Correct.
JM: And then you go in to the briefing room to brief the crews before the sortie.
EC: That’s right.
JM: Did you, were you there for the whole of the briefing or simply for your bit of it?
EC: Oh no, we stayed on there and the others did their bit. Bomb aimer and —
JM: Yes. Yeah.
EC: The CO and all the rest of it.
JM: What was the atmosphere like if they were going out on a bombing sortie? Do you remember the atmosphere in the, in the briefing room?
EC: They were very [pause] they didn’t make any, there was no fuss. It was a job to be done. That was my understanding of it. We all did our bit. The wireless operator. The bomb aimer would say his bit. Each expert as it were to be known would say his bit and then the CO would then say, ‘Well, ok boys. That’s it now. Off we go.’ Da, da, da, da, you know.
JM: Yeah. Yeah. Yes. And when they came back after the sortie it was quite likely that the weather forecast over the target wasn’t very accurate.
EC: Well, quite right.
JM: How did you react to that?
EC: Well, it was you debriefed and you’d, there was a lot of jocularity, you know, ‘I’m back Jocky,’ [laughs] you know, but we took that as part, part of the job.
JM: Right. Right. So we have you there at Scampton in the summer of 1943 after the dams raid. Gibson —
EC: Immediately after. Yes.
JM: Yeah. Gibson was still around. Did you speak to him? Did you meet him at all?
EC: Yes, well I briefed him.
JM: You did.
EC: He’d be at the briefing. He was always at the briefing.
JM: Right. Yes.
EC: He’d kind of retire, you know but he was there.
JM: Yes. Did you form any impressions of, of Wing Commander Gibson? He has had so much publicity, I wondered if having met him if you had a view of him.
EC: He was a cool, cool, cool, cool customer.
JM: Was he?
EC: He didn’t seem to get excited about anything. ‘Oh yes. Is that so?’ You know.
JM: Just like that, yes.
EC: Yeah.
JM: Yes. Yes. When he, when he left the squadron he was replaced by Squadron Leader George Holden who had come down from 4 Group. I wonder if you remember Holden at all?
EC: No. That doesn’t ring a bell.
JM: No. No. Are there any of the other 617 crews that you do remember as characters, or did you have much to do with them?
EC: Not really. Well, I was a civilian, you know. I lived out and travelled in.
JM: Right.
EC: To do my briefings.
JM: Yes.
EC: Plot my charts and do my job and envying them. I wanted to be a flyer. Be a flyer, as well.
JM: You did.
EC: Yes.
JM: Yes. Yes.
EC: So —
JM: But so there’s none of them that stand out.
EC: There’s no. I —
JM: As people you particularly knew, knew well.
EC: No. My memory doesn’t recall.
JM: No. Do you remember if they actually talked about the dams raid in the summer after the raid had taken place? Did they talk about it at all? What they had done. The crews.
EC: Well, each one had a debrief. You were debriefed. They were debriefed.
JM: Yes. I meant more informally. Did they chat about it? Was it something that they knew what they’d done informally? You can’t remember.
EC: I can’t remember. No. Sorry.
JM: No. That’s ok. No. Ok. Were you there in September of 1943? Had you, were you still on the station then?
EC: I’ve got my flight with Allsebrook was in May ’43. I’ve got that. And then I’ve got the 18th [pause] Well, I don’t know where, the 18th ’43 [unclear] Flight Lieutenant Sanders and then September ’43 the Ventura, [unclear]
EC: So, all I’ve got here is that on the 5th 1943.
JM: 5th of —
EC: 5th of, that was when the [pause] sorry, sorry May ’43. Fifth. It was the fifth month.
JM: Yes.
EC: I don’t know about the date. That was the Lancaster with Allsebrook.
JM: Yes.
EC: Ok.
JM: Yes.
EC: And that was described here as low level training. Scampton, Fort William, Stranraer, back. That’s the one I‘ve just talked to you about.
JM: Yes. Yes. Yes.
EC: Now, in August I would be, would not have been in that area.
JM: Right.
EC: Would not have. In August. September [pause] I was posted up to Northern Ireland.
JM: Right.
EC: And then in, here’s something specific. Posted to Number 2 Observer’s AFU Millom. Ah. This was for the training to become an air met observer.
JM: Yeah. Millom is —
EC: That’s a jump.
JM: Millom is in Cumbria, isn’t it?
EC: Yes. In Cumbria.
JM: Yes.
EC: And it was on that one that we did the nav course. Air gunning — there was a gunnery range over on the Isle of Man. And we did a navigation course which we did in the, flying on Ansons.
JM: Yes. Can I just —
EC: And just come back.
JM: Can I just take you back a little while there. I’m interested to find out what it was that persuaded you to join the RAF. You were already making a major contribution to the war effort as a, as a meteorological officer. Why did you join up?
EC: Because I wanted to go on flying. I particularly, I was surrounded by these in uniform and flying. I wanted to fly. And the only way I was going to get into flying, they’d started the Meteorological Reconnaissance Flights and the training was, the initial one was Millom. We went up to Millom and, well I would go, that’s when I went back, went into uniform at that change. But the base was Millom and we were trained in navigation, air gunnery, quite a few of the essential things.
JM: Yes.
EC: Training then from Millom.
JM: Yes.
EC: I don’t know if that’s any help to you.
JM: It is. Do you remember very much about the training that you were given in terms of navigation and observations? Do you remember that at all?
EC: Yes. We had lectures on the navigation.
JM: Yes.
EC: And we had when we were airborne in the Anson we were given tasks like fly from here to [pause] it was almost invariably you would fly over ‘til you saw the, the tower at Liverpool and you would then go up to Scotland. Down to Stranraer.
JM: Yeah.
EC: In to the Stranraer area.
JM: Yes. Yes.
EC: And there would be a qualified navigator with you, you know to [unclear]
JM: Yes.
EC: And so on. But it’s becoming vague now. It’s very complicated. Not vague but complicated.
JM: So how long was the training that you went through at that stage?
EC: [pause] the whole thing probably lasted about six weeks.
JM: Really? Yes.
EC: That was to four to six weeks.
JM: Yes.
EC: I would think.
JM: Yes.
EC: It was a kind of crash course.
JM: Right.
EC: A crash course.
JM: And where were you sent after that, please?
EC: There is something here [pause] I’ve got my glasses [pause] Posted to Number 2 Observers AFU, Millom in June 1944. That’s, that’s a fact. Training flights were in Ansons for air experience and map reading. Second navigator to first navigator and the area’s bounded by Bardsey Island, Inishtrahull, Isla, Millom and down to Birmingham. And then I was posted to 1674 Heavy Conversion Unit, Aldergrove. Ok.
JM: Northern Ireland.
EC: In July 1944.
JM: Right.
EC: So, I was then in to flying.
JM: So you —
EC: I told you I was probably not much help.
JM: It’s wonderful. It’s very valuable. So you were at the Heavy Conversion Unit.
EC: Yes.
JM: And were you training to fly Halifaxes or Lancasters?
EC: We were then in Halifaxes.
JM: Halifaxes. Right.
EC: Not Lancasters.
JM: No. No. So where did you, where were you posted after you’d finished at the Heavy Conversion Unit?
EC: I think I was posted to 1674 Heavy Conversion Unit, Aldergrove in 1944. Training. These were the training flights. Halifax air observer flights in the base area. Stornoway. Rockall. Climbs to eighteen thousand feet. And then I was, in September ‘44 I was posted to 519 Squadron at Skitten. So I’d done all my training.
JM: Yes.
EC: And then they had opened up these weather flights.
JM: Right.
EC: Weather reconnaissance.
JM: Right.
EC: And I got on to the weather reconnaissance. And that was, that’s my life since that date. September ’44. I’ve been mostly on weather reconnaissance. I’ve got, this is all small stuff which is you don’t mind me just opening that.
JM: No. Please.
EC: There’s my log book which I kept up to date just to [pause] back to [pause] The research flight, Farnborough, that’s it. [unclear] What we did at the Met Research Flight, Farnborough, I flew, we flew Halifaxes and Mosquitoes.
JM: Right.
EC: On a bit of research.
JM: Yes.
EC: Flying as high as we could go.
JM: So the high altitude meteorological research.
EC: Yes.
JM: Yes.
EC: Met research. It was called Met Research Flight, Farnborough.
JM: Right.
EC: So I was on that. What we had was, we had Halifaxes and Mosquitoes. Two pilots, one engineer. The pilots took alternate Mosquito. I was, every Mosquito flight I would be on that and we would fly as high as we could until we stalled. You know, you’d think [unclear] so and like and there were two pilots [Thomason] Thorne. Thorne. [Thomason]. These are all the 1st 2nd 5th 9th 12th 15th 20th at Farnborough. So on and so on and then it was all authenticated by the, signed by the officer commanding M RAF. So this was all authenticated and then still at Farnborough in January 1950.
JM: So you were staying, stayed on in the RAF after the war was over.
EC: No. I was flying as a civilian then.
JM: You were back as a civilian.
EC: Back as a civilian.
JM: Yes. Yes.
EC: And I used to, like with [Thomason] and Thorne I used to fly with them on the Met research flights in uniform. But then I was demobbed.
JM: Yes. I see. Tell me about flying in the Mosquito.
EC: Beautiful. Beautiful. My position, it was naturally a two seater. Pilot on the left, met observer on the right with my judgement on all the weather and then when we came down from, we’d go as high as possible. You can see by the heights. I always put the heights in. The Halifaxes went up to ten thousand feet. The Mosquito to forty thousand feet. A fifteen thousand foot descent. There’s mostly, like in February 1950 I had, on the 2nd I was airborne on a Mosquito. On the 7th I was airborne in a Mosquito. On the 8th, on the 13th on the 14th 15th 16th 21st 21st 22nd. Climbed to, well climbed to forty thousand feet or as high as you could go. Thirty eight thousand five hundred. And then when we came down to fifteen thousand feet my job was then finished and the pilot, I knew him, we were great pals, pilots. He said, ‘Do you know, I’ve always thought this, the Mosquito could do a loop.’ So at fifteen thousand I had finished with the meteorological stuff so I just strapped myself down and said, ‘Ok.’ So he said, he put the nose down, [unclear] feet and he flew it back and came from out there and stalled out.
JM: Oh, it stalled at the top did it? Yes.
EC: But oh, but that I told you I was not —
JM: No. It’s wonderful. It’s absolutely wonderful. I’m interested, when you were making the observations on these weather research flights were you making them with symbols in a notebook of [pause] What was it that you were actually recording?
EC: We had the, a special form actually.
JM: Right.
EC: A meteorological form.
JM: Right.
EC: For each position.
JM: Yes.
EC: I don’t think I’ve got one. But anyway yeah there were special forms.
JM: And were you, were you looking at instruments that were giving you recordings of outside air temperature or whatever it happened to be?
EC: Both. Instruments and weather and visual.
JM: Right. Instruments and visual observations.
EC: And visual.
JM: Were being made by you.
EC: Stratocumulus, cirrus.
JM: Yes. Yes.
EC: Above us or below us.
JM: Yes. Yes. Operating at that height, forty thousand feet. That was quite exceptional in those days.
EC: Oh, yes. Well, the highest —
JM: Did you have any special kit or special training for operating at that altitude?
EC: No.
JM: No.
EC: No. No special training.
JM: No special —
EC: No special pressure suits.
JM: Nothing like that at all.
EC: No. No.
JM: So just normal RAF flying equipment.
EC: That’s right. Come out in the morning, go to the parachute section, draw your parachute out, and the truck would be there to take you out. Then you would go to the met office and have a briefing and then off you go.
JM: Off you go. Was it cold at that height?
EC: Well, you had heating in there.
JM: You had eating in the aircraft.
EC: Oh yeah. Yeah.
JM: Good.
EC: Oh, very cold. Very cold.
JM: Yes.
EC: Just trying to get something that might help you [pause] No. I’d just be repeating myself. So, what I did, I was in the met office. A civilian until the Scampton episode. And from then on I was going in to uniform.
JM: Yes.
EC: And they had started these meteorological reconnaissance flights.
JM: Yes.
EC: And I got in to them.
JM: Right. So you operated in Halifaxes and Mosquitoes in a meteorological —
EC: In a meteorological. What happened there was, when did the Mosquitoes come in? [pause] Well, of course the war ended. Where does that put us?
JM: ‘45.
EC: ’45, the war ended. So, what did I do then? Oh, the war ended and I thought, ah this is going to confuse still further but this is my memory. Ok. The war ended and I thought, oh no. I want to emigrate to America. Get away from all this. Get over to America. So I thought where’s the money? You’ve got no money. So I attended a Civil Service Commission and anyway, I got in to the Met Office as a technical assistant grade 2, I think it was. Whatever it was. And they said, ‘Now, what we want you to do now is they’re [pause] they’re going to, we have discovered we have a jet stream in the northern latitudes but there has been some suspicion on some very high flying aircraft that there’s one in the Middle East somewhere.’ That was it. ‘So what we’re doing we’re sending you out there,’ And there was, the war ended boom boom and there were pilots by the hundred. No jobs. Aircraft by the hundred. No purpose. So they said. ‘What we’ll do is we’ll send you out to Habbaniya in Iraq and we’ll send [pause] — the RAF have promised a squadron of —’ [pause] that was it, ‘Of Mosquitoes for this investigation.’
JM: Right.
EC: For the Middle East.
JM: Right.
EC: Jet. And you’ll be the kind of organiser and so on.
JM: Yes.
EC: So I said, ‘Ok, that’s fine.’ Maybe I’ll save some money while I’m out there. So, I went out there and, you know I was told to report to a Squadron Leader Shellard who was the officer in charge of RAF Habbaniya which is on the Euphrates about fifty miles from Bagdad. And so I got off the aircraft, went into the flight lieutenant. He said, ‘Oh, you’re, you’re Cayhill, are you?’ He said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what,’ he said, ‘I’ve got good news for you and bad news for you.’ He said, ‘First of all your flight won’t, you’re flying won’t come to anything because the Mosquitoes that came out, there was no hangar space for them so they were moored on the airfield on the bund. Open air.’ June July temperatures. The aircraft wood warped.
JM: Warped. Yes.
EC: And they were declared unfit for flying.
JM: Oh.
EC: So, I was [pause] but so Shellard said, ‘Well, look we’ve got problems here. We’ve got a war going on in the Far East and the French are getting kicked right, left and centre and they are flying the evacuees, injured back home and they’re coming up through one of my wee stations down in Shaibah.’ The north end of the Persian Gulf, and so, ‘There’s no forecaster down there. There’s just the assistant and passing stuff. It would be better if we had a forecaster down there so you’re going down to — ’ That’s when I, that’s before I went out on this job I had sent all my gear including my logbook out to, and it was as the ship came around to come up to Basra it ran aground in the Persian Gulf.
JM: And that’s when —
EC: Five hundred, so the papers said, five hundred armed natives rushed on board and pilfered all they could except things like bulldozers and things like that.
JM: Right. Yes.
EC: And so I went down to Shaibah and then I had to spend my time there. And anyway, sorry we’re diversing and we don’t —
JM: We are but that’s fine. Again, if I may I’d like to take you a little bit back because you were telling us about operating the Halifax on the weather reconnaissance flight.
EC: Oh course.
JM: Could you tell us a little bit more about how that would, how often you’d go up? Where you’d go to? How did that actually work please?
EC: We had fixed routes which you would select on, the meteorologist would select on the day and then the routine would be, you’d got the full crew, the met observer, depending what kind of aircraft. I started off on Hudsons. Twin engine. Now, the twin engine we don’t, that was from Wick. When I was at Wick. But before that it was the Halifaxes. Now, in the Halifaxes there were fixed routes which were there in black and white.
JM: Yes.
EC: So you would fly out and do low level for part of the way. Every fifty nautical miles you would make a weather report. You would climb, clamber through bomb bays and whatever up to the wireless operator and he would send that message back to base.
JM: Right.
EC: And then after so many miles out you would do a climb to five hundred millibars. That’s about eighteen thousand feet. Now, we were very primitive in those days. The idea was you would climb to maybe, it was in millibars but call it two thousand feet and you would then circle there to allow the temperatures to regularise. Steady up. And then you would take the temperatures, the dry bulb, and wet bulb, and put that in. Always in code for that part of the war you know and so on. So you had to then encrypt it and then you climb another roughly eighteen hundred feet, level off, allow the temperatures to level off, take the readings, code them up, go up to the wireless operator to send them out, and then up to five hundred odd. Now you do two climbs to five hundred millibars, eighteen thousand feet and then you’re coming back home doing a kind of triangular somewhat penetration. A long way out. A long way back.
JM: That’s very interesting and there’s a couple of things that you’ve said that I want to clarify for the, for the recording. You were climbing to heights in millibars where there would be a certain known pressure.
EC: That’s right.
JM: So you weren’t climbing in feet. You were climbing to a pressure level.
EC: You had the altimeter beside you as well.
JM: Yes. Yes. That’s good. The second thing is that the information was sent back as you were recording it via the wireless operator in code so that if the Germans were listening they wouldn’t be given —
EC: That’s right.
JM: A free weather forecast.
EC: That’s right there was a decode book. You know it was book. Decode book.
JM: Yes.
EC: Number so and so, page so and so line so and so.
JM: Yes. Yes. Yes. Were your, were your crews, the pilots and the other members of the crew were they perhaps men who had done a tour of duty on bombing operations or had then been specially selected for that sort of work?
EC: They weren’t specially selected. No.
JM: No.
EC: No. They all had so many flying hours in, on different jobs.
JM: Yes. Yes. So they might have been men resting between tours of duty.
EC: Could be. Yes.
JM: For them that would have been a fairly easy task I imagine.
EC: No problems for them. Yeah.
JM: No. Was there any risk of you being intercepted by long range enemy fighters?
EC: There was always that risk on, on all these flights were given names. Code names. The one I started talking about, the one over the Atlantic that was Business.
JM: Right.
EC: The one over the North Sea starting was Rhombus. The one that went straight north out into the Arctic —
JM: Yeah.
EC: Was Recipe. The one down from Cornwall was Epicure. Epicure. They all had. The one, the one from Gibraltar. I didn’t do the Gibraltar one. The one at Gibraltar was, what was the one down there? Just missing for the moment.
JM: Yeah. That’s fascinating. So we had these separate routes identified by code names.
EC: That’s right.
JM: Taking weather aircraft north, south, east and west and you could, you could be ordered to fly on any of those depending on your duties.
EC: That was done at briefing.
JM: That was done at briefing.
EC: Yeah. The weather forecast. They’d see the weather forecast. They’d see that was a pretty blank area now. We need some information. Do that route.
JM: Yes. Yes.
EC: On the, on the Recipe which was taking off from Wick originally and then we moved to a wee place further north, would you believe it? To Skitten. Took us far north because at that time you had the Germans at the Dutch coast err the —
JM: Norwegian.
EC: The Norwegian coast, and they would come out and of course you had the convoys coming from Liverpool. The sea convoys from Liverpool going all the way around there to Murmansk to feed the Russians.
JM: Yes.
EC: And they were open targets. The Jerries used to come out there and —
JM: Yes. Yes, yes. You mentioned the Jetstream earlier on. I think I’m right in saying that’s a narrow band of high velocity air.
EC: That’s correct.
JM: When did you first get to hear about the presence of the Jetstream?
EC: Well, it was, you mean the second one? The one down in —
JM: No. The concept of the Jetstream. The fact that it existed over, over north west Europe.
EC: I wouldn’t like to say then, I did give you a date I think. I would suggest that like airlines flying to America and so on the, it was very rarely. They wouldn’t, at one time they wouldn’t allow a two engine aircraft to fly direct to America like I did, a long time at London airport briefing crews there, and they, and they’d come in and what are the winds? Ah. Then we’ll do the polar route depending on the winds and whatever winds we had then they’d probably, I don’t know. I don’t know exactly when they said jet, that’s a Jetstream.
JM: Yeah. The reason I ask, Edward is that I had it in my mind that it was the United States Army Air Force with their very high flying B17s and B24s leaving the contrails. I had it in my mind that it was they who first of all identified the Jetstream, and I wondered if that was you believed to be the case.
EC: I would believe that is the case.
JM: Yes.
EC: I’m not sure but I would believe. They always had the higher flying aircraft over their own country.
JM: Yes.
EC: And certainly the Jetstreams over there.
JM: Yes. It must have been fascinating to be a part of the science of meteorology at a time when with computers, balloons, rockets so much more information was coming through and you saw this. Perhaps after the war was over.
EC: Oh yes. Did. Did. We, clearly the details which are probably not too relevant, but my position I would say with flying with what we were flying but we had to be started using B17s eventually.
JM: You did. B17s as well.
EC: Oh aye. Towards the end of the war.
JM: Yes.
EC: We had Hudsons which [laughs]
JM: Yes.
EC: Twin engine things got no distance at all and then we got B, the B17.
JM: Yeah.
EC: That was fabulous. Up to thirty thousand feet. But what would I say was special about it? Well, they changed our job totally from being just getting north of the Orkney Islands or the Shetlands with a Hudson to a much longer range. We used to go way, way up there. But I remember my, as a Met observer my position would be in the nose of the Fortress. I would do my weather and then I had to take, and then I put it in to code and then crawl, push on a trap door to get up there, through there, through the wireless cabin and give him my message and he would then transmit. It was all in code, you know. And then, however in the meantime there was aircraft [laughs] Jerries were coming out across our path looking for ships to torpedo.
JM: Right. Yes.
EC: And the [pause] it’s like suddenly there would be an aircraft showing up and he’d say, ‘Ok. What’s the colour of the day?’ Now, the colour of the day might be two, two red cartridges and a green or something, or whatever and that was, so that was then my job. So everything black as pitch, you know most of the time in the winter time, ‘What’s the colour of the day?’ Get your torch out. We could have been shot down before you could work out the colour of the day. I’m rambling on. The old memory’s beginning to —
JM: Well, we’re having a lovely conversation. I hope I’m not tiring you too much.
EC: No. But —
JM: It’s fascinating.
EC: But I’m sorry not to be so specific.
JM: No. No. So, after you’d served as a civilian in the, in the Middle East.
EC: Yes.
JM: What did you do with the rest of your working life? Did you stay in meteorology?
EC: Yes, I, when I came back from those two years in the, and I told you I was going to go.
JM: Yes.
EC: I had been writing to the American Consulate and you needed in those days a sponsor to get, to emigrate to America. And so I, one of my friend’s uncle was a solicitor over in Detroit. Lafayette Buildings. Memories, it’s weird isn’t it? Lafayette Buildings, Detroit. And I thought, ok so I saved up a fair bit of money. I had been corresponding with the Americans and the last one read my letter. I got a letter from them, from their Consulate in Baghdad. So when I got home to Scotland there was no letter. I thought, you know what? So I thought, well I said, I know I’ll emigrate to Canada and then go across from Canada. So I booked a flight over on TC or something, and landed at Montreal and then came down to Winnipeg was it? No. It wasn’t. Anyway, at the junction where you go across they said, ‘Sorry, you can’t come through. You’ve got to have a working permit that you’re working in Canada.’ ‘I’ve got to have a job in Canada?’ ‘Yes.’ So I took a job emptying a grain ship, you know. And then out of a job. The second job was more popular on an assembly line in the car industry making body parts and so on. So once I had that I went across and I thought ok here I am in Detroit. I’m in Detroit but I’ve got to go back there and I went to the Lafayette Buildings where he was and I said, ‘I’d like to speak to [pause] anyway there it goes again. ‘Oh, he died three weeks ago.’
JM: Oh dear. Oh dear.
EC: He died three weeks ago.’ So I thought that’s it. So I thought, ok. I’ll go back in to the Met Office in the UK and just to make the best of it. See what they can offer me. So I booked from New York. Sailed from New York. It was mostly boats in those days. So I got on a bus around there and somewhere enroute the bus driver, we stopped for refreshments, he said, ‘Mr Cayhill?’ I said, ‘That’s me.’ He said, ‘Oh, there’s a message here from the place you booked your ticket.’ So it was to say that there’s a strike in New York and the ship has been diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Oh no. So I pretended I couldn’t hear and hung up. So I went on to New York and stormed on to it [laughs] I stormed into their offices. ‘Don’t panic. Don’t panic. We’re laying on a special train from New York for us and you’ll go all the way around up to Nova Scotia here.’ So [unclear]
JM: Marvellous. Marvellous. I’d like —
EC: You’ve got nothing out of me.
JM: I’ve got a lot of out of you, but I would like to take you back if I, if I may to the, that time, the summer of 1943 when you were a civilian working at RAF Scampton with the 617 Squadron. In the period of time after the dams raid.
EC: Yes.
JM: What, what do you remember about Scampton in those days? Do you remember the base? Do you remember where you had your office?
EC: Yes. I do. Yes. A very small office there. Briefings, we always went to the briefing centre for all the briefing.
JM: Yes.
EC: Operations. I presume it was operations for, the next briefing is from so and so and so and so to so and so. So you prepared all the documentation you could.
JM: Yes.
EC: And you went over and you gave your spiel.
JM: And some of the briefings that you gave to 617 Squadron were part of the operations that they took part in in the summer of 1943.
EC: Yes.
JM: Do you remember any of those operations at all?
EC: No. The only ones were associated once the low level training part subsided and that was with Allsebrook.
JM: Yes.
EC: That was the last time that I flew with them.
JM: Yes.
EC: Or probably the last time I briefed any of them.
JM: Was it? Yes.
EC: Yeah.
JM: Right. Because I was keen to find out something about the atmosphere on RAF Scampton in those weeks after the dams raid. They had trained so hard. They had achieved so much. To find out what it was like to be there in the aftermath of that. That’s —
EC: That’s right. In actual fact Gibson himself, I think it was a fact was shot down by one of the RAF, a Lancaster.
JM: That’s, that’s one of the stories. It is. Yes.
EC: Oh, it’s a story.
JM: Yes. Yes. I tend to not to agree with that but it is one of the stories that we have heard. But that was two years later wasn’t it?
EC: Yeah.
JM: That was, one year later 1944.
EC: You don’t believe that.
JM: I tend to go with the view that it was an accident as a result of his relative unfamiliarity with the Mosquito.
EC: That’s right.
JM: And the fact that they didn’t transfer the fuel as they should have done.
EC: And they ran out fuel.
JM: And they ran out of fuel. I have been to —
EC: I accept that.
JM: I’ve been to the crash site in, in Holland and his grave, and Squadron Leader Warwick was the navigator who was killed with him. I’ve been to that. I have looked into it but it’s quite right that recently a rear gunner came out and he said that he had shot it down. A two engine aircraft.
EC: Yeah.
JM: Not knowing what it was.
EC: Yeah.
JM: So, we’ll never know. We’ll never know. But that was 1944. In the summer of 1943, you know you were there and 617 Squadron was operating against targets in Italy and elsewhere. I wondered if you’d remember that but perhaps you’d moved on at that stage.
EC: No. I can’t. No.
JM: No.
EC: Sorry.
JM: No, that’s ok. That’s fine. I have to ask. Shall we have a rest there for the moment?
EC: Ok.
JM: Yeah.
[recording paused]
EC: Have you had, the squadron was based in Darwin with daily flights. They made long period daily flights until the bomb itself went off.
JM: What year was that roughly?
EC: The year was exactly [pause] Darwin. Darwin. This was the period [pause]
JM: So, for the, for the record Edward is telling us about the time when he was operating in Australia, in the Pacific Ocean in support of nuclear weapons testing on the Caicos Islands and you were doing weather reconnaissance to ensure that the winds did not bring radiation on to the mainland of Australia.
EC: I think [pause] Yeah. That was 18th of February 1956. Shackleton, 818. Wing commander flying. That was our crewmen. I was air met observer. Ballykelly via Bordeaux. The Carcassonne Gap to Idris. This was on, out —
JM: Right.
EC: And then again Idris to Habbaniya and then [pause] No. I’ll start again and then Habbaniya. Shaibah. Sharjah. Do you know all these?
JM: Yes. I do. Yes.
EC: Sharjah, and then Mauripur. And then on to Mauripur. Mauripur to Negombo. Negombo via Subang to Changi, Singapore island. And then Changi to Darwin. Darwin, Pearce Field, Perth down to Perth, this is setting it all up.
JM: Yeah.
EC: Pearce back to Darwin and then I set up tracks which we were flying so we were flying but the —
JM: So this was 19 —
EC: Conditions were, those ones there were twelve and a half hours.
JM: This was 1956. You just gave us that date. 1956.
EC: 1956, yeah.
JM: And this was in support of the nuclear testing.
EC: That’s right.
JM: That was taking place at that time.
EC: That’s right. That was the atomic bomb.
JM: Yeah.
EC: Test that.
JM: Yeah.
EC: Still at Darwin and that was [pause] so the summary of flying hours as an air met observer on 269 Squadron for the period 5th of Jan ‘56 to the 16th of May, da di di da, on Shackletons. The two hundred and eighty five hours and then there was still a Shack and then because I was the top man, you know [unclear] with the wing commander we went down to different, to Alice Springs and Alice Springs back to Darwin, you know. And then we did our trips in the [pause] we were flying regularly 5th 8th the 11th, 14th of June, 17th of June, Shackleton to [pages turning] still in Australia. Darwin. Then transit Darwin to Essendon. Laverton, Richmond, Sydney, Richmond, Darwin, Darwin, then go Darwin to Changi. Changi to Negombo which was Ceylon. Negombo, Sharjah. Sharjah. Habbaniya. Habbaniya. Idris. And Idris back to Ballykelly. That was all in, the last of those flights was the 10th of July 1956. And then we have a transit to the Christmas Island for the whole set up. That was in, the 19th of January 1957. Flight Lieutenant Kerr. Air obs, acting air observer, St Eval to Lurgans. That’s going out the long way around. Lurgans to Kenley Field. Kenley Field to Charleston. That’s South Carolina. Charleston to Moisant. Moisant to Biggs Airfield in El Paso. Biggs to Travis Air Force base up in California and then a big long one across the Pacific to Travis which is California to Hickam Air Force base Honolulu. And then Hickam down to Christmas Island and so on and so on.
JM: And of course Christmas island was the H-bomb tests, wasn’t it?
EC: That’s right.
JM: I have a —
EC: Well, I’ve done, I’ve seen and experienced three personally and I’m very closely associated for the rest of them. I set up the Met set up for that. On the day of the decision — have you been to Christmas island?
JM: No. I haven’t.
EC: It’s a very large coral island, about the middle of the Pacific full of little waterways and so on and there was an airfield. They made, the army made an airfield. Rolled coral in the north end of it there and then the ships would, could come into the fjord, the waterways. And on the day of the, if I say the first bomb they would say, they would wake us all up about three o’clock in the morning, those who weren’t flying. I would have all the time twelve hour meteorological flights going on. I had a team of six. One flight sergeant and five sergeants and myself who used to fly twelve hour flights. Reconnaissance all around. Anyway, my job was, I would go aboard as the weatherman to the target and then the [pause] I would report when I’m on the target back to headquarters, it’s satisfactory or its not satisfactory for a drop and then in my aircraft which would stay on site the weatherman, we had all the cameramen. Ok. With their cameras. And then the target was four hundred miles south of Christmas Island. A little island called [pause] anyway a tiny little island which was mostly unoccupied and we’d use that to bomb. A Valiant would come on top at forty five plus thousand feet. He would come across and if it was decided it was on, drop from that height. And then the Navy had a ship over to the east of the target and they were monitoring everything, the bomb all the way down and they would call, ‘Forty five seconds. Forty seconds. Close eyes everybody.’ [laughs] And then, my position in the nose there would be a bright flash. You’ve got no goggles on, gloves on, curtains pulled past the, around all that, would, would be again a funny light through all the sounds, and then, ‘Ok. Eyes open everybody. Forty five seconds,’ and then would be the countdown. And then the first thing would be apart from the light, was an attack. The aircraft really shook [pause] and then it stopped, and then there was another smaller one. And in the meantime then the cameras were turning and photographing it all.
JM: And that shock was the shockwave hitting the aircraft.
EC: That was the first one which was direct to the aircraft was the shockwave from up there, and the second one was a reflection off the sea.
JM: Right.
EC: And that was a minor one. Now, the British are fantastic, I think. Now, the, from then on I’d say it was all being controlled by the Navy over there who were at sea. The aircraft, Canberra aircraft were sent off and they timed it beautifully, and they were timed to go through at different levels into the stack, you know and they were called Sniffer, their call sign. Sniffer One. Sniffer Two. Sniffer Three. Go through the cloud at different levels taking samples. Back to Christmas island. There was an RAF York on the ground there and all those samples were on there. The route, the usual route was up to Honolulu, or to San Francisco and they were in Aldermaston the following morning at 9 o’clock. Incredible.
JM: Were you ever concerned after that about the health issues of operating there? A number of servicemen —
EC: Oh, I was told about it. They said, you know. I had no [pause] we became so good at dropping this bomb.
JM: Yeah.
EC: All our accommodation on Christmas Island was tented.
JM: Yeah.
EC: There was only one kind of wooden hut and that was the CO, but because we knew exactly what was happening we used our own island, the southern tip of our island as a delayed drop from our own island and we were all at the top end of our island, you know. And really fantastic.
JM: And how long were you there for in total?
EC: Oh, exactly I’ll tell you [laughs] [pages turning] [pause] Christmas Island. Transit Christmas Island, down this area.
EC: I was there all of the 19th [pause] These are the days I flew — 19, 20, 21st reconnaissance flights [pause – pages turning] I did, I finished with it [pause] for the period of 10th of January ‘57 to the 28th February ‘57 I did a hundred and twelve hours ten, ten minutes of flying time. And then it went on and on and on [pause — pages turning] The last entry in my book [pause — pages turning] I went back to training. Air met observer from then. So you can then, my grand total of flying was two thousand six hundred and four hours. Mostly meteorologically associated.
JM: Yeah. That’s a wonderful record.
EC: But again, I haven’t —
JM: Yeah. Just to complete the story when you came back I gather you spent your career as a meteorologist with, with airports. Is that correct? Were you doing weather forecasting? Did you say earlier you were doing weather forecasting?
EC: Yeah.
JM: For airlines. It doesn’t matter, Edward. It doesn’t matter.
EC: No.
JM: We can leave it there. Edward, thank you so much for allowing me to go back with you into your story and you are a unique individual and your stories are very valuable. Thank you very much.
EC: I know I haven’t answered you, what you, specific points you wanted me to raise with you.
JM: Well, you have answered as best as you can and that’s all I can ask for.
EC: Ok.
JM: On behalf of the IBCC thank you very much indeed.



Julian Maslin, “Interview with Edward Cayhill,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 5, 2024,

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