Interview with George Charles Culling


Interview with George Charles Culling


Originally working as a builder merchant, George Charles Culling’s town struggled constantly during the war due to the amount of bombing, which eventually forced his school to close. Finding an interest in navigation equipment, George joined the Air Training Corps and learned more about his interests, volunteering for the Royal Air Force at 18, believing it would be the most interesting thing to do at the time. Joining at a period during which the RAF recruited pilot and navigators together, George was sent to a training camp for several months, alongside other pilots, navigators and bomb aimers. However, he recalls a large loss of air gunners during his training and as such, many of his friends and fellow trainees were changed to air gunner training courses. George recounts his experience with navigation equipment and how much he enjoyed it. He names H2S and Gee, claiming that he had no idea what it stood for, nor how it worked exactly, simply stating that it was incredibly accurate. Initially training on the Isle of Man, George outlined his experience with the Anson and gives several pieces of information on the aircraft. He then recalled moving to RAF Swinderby for his Heavy Conversion Unit, explaining his experience with Wellingtons and Lancasters, praising the construction of the Wellington, making observations about its strengths and vulnerabilities. He also recalls the Lancasters being a great deal more comfortable than the Wellingtons. George continued into the Tiger Force unit following victory in Europe, giving information about his understanding of the plans for the Pacific. However, he felt relief when he heard the war was over, alongside confusion at what he would do next and joy at indefinite leave. He was called back in 1947, eventually joining a psychological test service, ending up in Japan. Looking back onto his career, he found a lot of enjoyment as a navigator. He joined the Bomber Command Association in the ’70s, finding a number of friends and joy throughout it.




Temporal Coverage




00:36:26 audio recording


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ACullingGC170906, PCullingGC1701


DK: Make sure it’s working. Right. Just introduce myself. It’s David Kavanagh for the International Bomber Command Centre interviewing George Culling at his home on the 6th of September 2017. So if I just put that down there. What I’ll do is I’ll keep looking over. I’m only just making sure it working.
GC: Yeah.
DK: Just in case the batteries fail or something.
GC: Yeah.
DK: It has happened once.
GC: Yeah.
DK: The batteries stopped. That looks ok. So, what I want to ask you first of all was what were you doing before you joined the RAF?
GC: Before I joined the RAF I was working in a builder’s merchants actually. I left school. Went straight into a builder’s merchants. At the time there was a lot of bombing. I was in Bromley, Kent. I think Biggin Hill Aerodrome was being bombed and my school hardly functioned in that I only went to school Saturday morning. Picked up work. Did it at home and took it back the next Saturday. After that the school was bombed. So really the school was quite interested in really letting the rest of the pupils go as fast as possible so that school could close. So I went in to a builder’s merchants and was in there. And I joined the ATC. Learned about navigation and meteorology and aircraft recognition and so on and waited until my time came which was at the age of about eighteen and a quarter I suppose.
DK: Do, do you think the fact you were under the German bombing influenced you wanting to join the RAF?
GC: Well, I don’t know. One had to do something and I thought this was the most interesting thing for me to do actually. I was always interested once I’d started. I was always interested in navigation. In the, in the ATC it was navigation that I wanted to find out about and although I had a go at a Tiger Moth I had my, I had a few hours of, as I’ve mentioned in my book had a few hours of practice in a Tiger Moth I really wanted to be a navigator so I was quite pleased when I was selected for that. Yeah.
DK: So as you go in then were you, does it work that you’re immediately do pilot training and then you’re sort of weeded out?
GC: Well, what happened was that at that time they weren’t actually recruiting pilots and navigators separately. They had a category called PNB. Pilot, navigator, bomb aimer.
DK: Right.
GC: And they would be together for about three months. Probably four months. All learning meteorology, navigation, a certain amount about machine guns. Basic stuff but certainly an emphasis on navigation. And after that those who wanted to could have up to ten hours in a Tiger Moth.
DK: Right.
GC: You weren’t forced to do that. Actually, after that was over there was a rather difficult time because we were losing so many air gunners at that time that the authorities thought some of these PNBs should be changed to air gunners.
DK: Right.
GC: That wasn’t a very popular idea. Not because they were afraid of being air gunners but because the pilots, those who wanted to be pilots were very keen to fly. Those who wanted to be navigators wanted to be navigators. But so we all had to be sort of re-tested in a way. I remember I had to do some, some aptitude tests for navigators comparing Ordnance Survey maps with photographs at speed. At speed. You know, had to [laughs] and then we all queued before, I mention this in my book we all queued before a senior officer who would tell us our fate. So a certain amount of tension at that time until people knew what they were going to do. But as you know rear gunners had very, very heavy losses and that was always a problem really to the RAF. Making up those losses.
DK: Was navigation something that came easy to you?
GC: Well, yes I did. I liked it from the start.
DK: Yeah.
GC: I liked it in any form really. I particularly enjoyed it with the stars actually and that’s unusual.
DK: Astro, astro navigation.
GC: Most, most navigators having had radar which made life very much easier you could fix your position quickly with radar. The radar we had was H2S and Gee. Heaven knows what those letters stand for but they did enable you to fix your positions very quickly whereas with the stars it was a longer, quite long business. You needed three separate stars. You had to stand up in a shuddering aircraft and squeeze the trigger. Once you’d got the —
DK: That’s on the sextant is it?
GC: Once you’d got the star —
DK: Yeah.
GC: Captured in the bubble.
DK: Of the sextant.
GC: Yeah. That —
DK: Yeah.
GC: Of the, of the sextant. And that was only the beginning. I mean when you had those three bits of information you’d taken the time to the nearest second of the shot and you had the name of the star. And, and you had the altitude. So with those three pieces of information you could look up the air navigation tables. Usually called Air Almanacs.
DK: Yeah.
GC: These days. And you’d eventually have a line on your Mercator chart somewhere along which you were flying when you took that shot. We had to do that three times so you had three lines which never did intersect.
DK: Yeah.
GC: That would be too much to expect.
DK: You had a little, you had a little triangle where they almost intersected. You took the centre of that triangle as your fix and I mean it was quite a long business but I enjoyed that because it’s just so interesting. The stars are so interesting and I knew, I knew the heaven’s pretty well. I knew my way around.
DK: Is it something you could still do?
GC: Well, I’ve, I’ve probably forgotten quite a lot but there are things that you don’t forget aren’t there?
DK: Yeah.
GC: I know, I know quite a lot.
DK: Presumably astro navigation was quite difficult if the weather’s bad and it’s cloudy and —
GC: Ah yes but you see if you’re flying above twenty thousand feet you haven’t got any clouds composed of of moisture. You’ve only got, well, of moisture yes but they’re ice crystals. Everything is ice crystals.
DK: Right.
GC: So the cloud that looks like silky wisps that’s always ice crystals. That’s cirrus.
DK: Right.
GC: So the cloud you got there is negligible unless you got thunder clouds. Cumulonimbus. If you got thunder clouds it’s a different matter altogether but normally the sky is clear. Pretty clear above twenty thousand and the stars look wonderful and sparkle beautifully. You never see them like that from, with all the pollution on the ground.
DK: Yeah.
GC: But the, so it was an interesting and enjoyable job actually doing. It’s accurate enough. Nowhere near as accurate as radar.
DK: No.
GC: But it’s accurate enough to get you —
DK: Yeah.
GC: On a long journey. On a long journey it’s good enough. Yes.
DK: So, what about the electronic devices then? H2S and Gee. Did you use those as well?
GC: Oh yes. I mean, I used those in Europe all the time.
DK: Yeah.
GC: H2S. People are more familiar with that then they realise. They see it on films. You see, you see something going around on a sort of old television screen.
DK: Yeah.
GC: And you realise you’re looking at illuminated rivers, illuminated coast, illuminated cities. A city would show up as a blob of light and the conurbation would be the right shape so you could identify that city. Very useful when you cross the coast. You see this long line of light. So H2S was very useful. It was map reading above cloud. That’s the whole point.
DK: And the radar scanner’s under the aircraft isn’t it?
GC: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
GC: That’s right. Yes.
DK: So you’re looking at like a kind of a TV screen in effect. Is that right?
GC: Yes. Yes. So you had these two, as I say rather old fashioned television sets —
DK: Yeah.
GC: On one side of the desks. That was H2S. Gee. I have no idea really what Gee stands for and I’ve no idea how, exactly how it worked. But I can’t remember actually how, how we did it but I know we did get very accurate fixes with Gee. Same principles as H2S really. It’s all a matter of radio pulses receiving —
DK: Gee’s from the ground isn’t it? That’s —
GC: Yeah.
DK: A pulse being sent from the aircraft.
GC: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
GC: That’s right. Yeah.
DK: So just going back a little bit you mentioned in your book that you did some training on the Isle of Man.
GC: Yes.
DK: So —
GC: That was my own training. Navigation.
DK: That would have been for the bomb aimers and the navigators would it?
GC: No. I don’t, I was only with navigators then.
DK: Oh ok.
GC: It was the just time I had been with only navigators. Because I’d been in the PNB category.
DK: Yeah.
GC: There were I suppose twenty or thirty of us at the top of the Isle of Man. The Point of Ayre where there’s an aerodrome. And we were there for six months flying all over the Irish Sea. And at the end of that period we became navigators or we didn’t but I think most people did. How’s that?
DK: You mentioned in your book getting lost and ending up over [unclear]
GC: Yes. Well, that’s, you were talking about cloud. If you have, if you have ten tenth stratus cloud, this horrible grey blanket that covers the sky you simply can’t map read. And they told us that we were supposed to navigate using compass bearings. Mainly compass bearings. We could use radio. And if you, you know if you can’t see the ground you can’t. You can’t do it. There was nothing else to rely upon except radio and when that gave way there was nothing. I had to depend on the flight plan.
DK: Yeah.
GC: Until we had a break in the cloud.
DK: And you found yourself over Dublin.
GC: We did. Yes. We did. We did. We did.
DK: So what was the Irish response to that then?
GC: Well, we were flying above this stratus cloud for some time and then suddenly we noticed a clearance ahead and then we noticed a few puffs. A few puffs of smoke. So we all, I think the pilot and the two of us because we were two navigators working together we all realised at the same time, you know we’d gone wrong. And the pilot immediately did a hundred and eighty degree turn and I thought, ‘Oh, we’re over Dublin. Good. We know where we are. So this is where we are. That’s where we’d be if there was no wind. I can calculate the wind velocity, work out a new course.’
DK: Yeah. So were the Irish trying to shoot you down or just —
GC: No, I don’t think —
DK: Or give you a warning shot?
GC: Nothing like that.
DK: Just go, go away.
GC: Yes. I don’t think we took it all that seriously except that we thought we’d better move. Yes.
DK: So this was in the Avro Ansons was it you were flying?
GC: That was an Anson. Yes.
DK: What did you think of those aircraft?
GC: Well, they were quite useful for navigation because of all the windows. What were they called? Flying glasshouses or something.
DK: Yeah.
GC: They were quite good for that purpose and it was the first aircraft of the RAF which had a retractable undercarriage.
DK: Right.
GC: We had to turn the handle, I think it was a hundred and thirty seven times to get the undercarriage up. But that was the first one. There was nothing else. All other planes had a fixed undercarriage which of course reduced the speed quite a lot and if, if pilots with Ansons were not bothered to do the winding up —
DK: Yeah.
GC: Which is understandable.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
GC: They would reduce the speed by about thirty knots. That was the calculation.
DK: So, and coming in to land did you have to wind it all back down again or did you —
GC: Well, that’s right. That’s right.
DK: Yeah. Another a hundred and thirty seven to get the undercarriage down.
GC: Well, when we had two navigators working together you see the other one did all the odd jobs.
DK: Right.
GC: Only one did the real navigation. The other one had to do the winding up [laughs] among other things. Yes.
DK: So at the end of your training in, on the Isle of Man then. You’re a fully fledge navigator then at that point are you?
GC: Yes.
DK: So where did you go then? ‘Cause —
GC: Well, we went across to the mainland and I’ve forgotten which city we were in but I, I do remember how we became a crew because I had no idea how it was going to be done. And we went in to this large hall and it was full of airmen. Young airmen who had just passed out. Pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators, air gunners and so on all wandering around sipping tea and eating biscuits. And the idea was we just had to form crews. And that’s what happened. People just got in to conversation with somebody. Other people came along and joined them. They formed crews, and so when that was, when that came to an end we had a crew. But as I explained in the book we started to form a Kentish crew until somebody thought it would be good to have a really good air gunner so we went for one who had the highest marks in his gunnery school.
DK: Yeah. That’s make sense.
GC: We stopped the idea of having a —
DK: And he wasn’t, he wasn’t from Kent then.
GC: He wasn’t from Kent.
DK: No.
GC: He was a Scot actually [laughs] yes.
DK: Can you still remember the names of the crew?
GC: No. I can’t remember them all actually, but I can remember some of them. I wish I’d had notice of this [laughs] I’ve got their names. Some of their names.
DK: That’s alright. Don’t worry.
GC: On the back of an envelope, but, or —
DK: The pilot’s name. Can you remember the pilot’s name?
GC: I mean, there was Jack. The bomb aimer.
DK: Right.
GC: John, the pilot. Skipper. And Alan was one of the, was the rear gunner. I can’t remember them all. Very bad. Very bad. It would have helped you know if, if we’d met up since then but we didn’t because when the atom bomb dropped and all our planes were suddenly grounded.
DK: Yeah.
GC: This happened very quickly, you know. When the atom bomb dropped everybody was suddenly shaken, you know.
DK: Yeah.
GC: All the plans of the Air Ministries were suddenly thrown. Thrown overboard. And we were sent on indefinite leave and we never saw each other again.
DK: You never saw the crew again.
GC: We didn’t see each other again and I didn’t like that very much.
DK: No.
GC: As you can imagine. We’d been together in the air for hours, you know.
DK: Yeah.
GC: And we also had a social life together.
DK: Yeah.
GC: But we were just sent away. And we were called back one by one and told we had to do something else. And we did because those who were the last in were going to be the last out. And the last out meant 1947. Two years later.
DK: That’s when you left. 1947.
GC: That’s when I left.
DK: Yeah.
GC: I left Japan actually. Yeah.
DK: Just going, just going back a little bit. When you’ve met up with your crew you were training on Wellingtons. Is that —
GC: I didn’t meet up with the crew.
DK: No. No. Just going back a bit.
GC: Yeah.
DK: When you first met your crew you were then doing training on Wellingtons.
GC: That’s right.
DK: Yeah.
GC: That was the first plane we went on. Yes. There were five of us then.
DK: Right.
GC: On Wellingtons. That’s right. At the [pause] yes, we did that together. I don’t know how long that lasted. And then we went on to, to Lancasters and that’s where we needed two more members of crew. A flight engineer and a mid-upper gunner.
DK: Right.
GC: To make our —
DK: What did you think of the Wellingtons as an aircraft?
GC: Well, I mean I know the Wellington was a much well-regarded aircraft in lots of ways. Everybody knows that it could come back from an operation full of holes and still be airborne because of the wonderful geodetic construction. I also know, and I know more now then that I did then that it was very vulnerable to attacks from the side.
DK: Right.
GC: Until guns were fitted at the side. There was a lot of dependence on rear gunning, rear gunners and front gunners really and forgetting about the side.
DK: Right. Yeah.
GC: And it was very vulnerable. And there were some very, very heavy losses —
DK: Yeah.
GC: To Wellingtons early in the war. As, and they were very heavy losses of all our bombers because they were all in different ways rather deficient. All our bombers were. They were all twin engined as you probably know. Planes like the Blenheim and the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley. They were all deficient in some way and they had fairly heavy losses.
DK: Yeah.
GC: We needed, we needed the Lancasters.
DK: Yeah.
GC: And the other superior planes.
DK: You mentioned putting your foot through the canvas.
GC: Sorry?
DK: You mentioned putting your foot through the canvas on the —
GC: Well, that’s right. Yes. That’s right. The Wellington construction is of course of Irish linen —
DK: Yeah.
GC: Stretched over a framework which is duralumin and you’re not intended to walk on it. So there’s this, I thought it was I call it a plank of wood. It was only about that wide, and I never did, I never did use it while I was flying thank goodness. And I was walking along it in the middle of the night, in the blackness of the night alone to check the compass which was kept as far away as possible from magnetic influences.
DK: Yeah.
GC: And I slipped and my foot went through. Which was what was quite inevitable.
DK: Yeah.
GC: The reinforced board wasn’t there for nothing.
DK: So were you in the air at the time then were you or was this on the ground?
GC: Oh. All on the ground.
DK: I was going to say.
GC: Had we been in the air I would have been rather concerned [laughs] No, this was a check really.
DK: Yeah.
GC: It was a check of the master compass. Make sure it was functioning properly.
DK: Oh right. Ok. Ok. So you didn’t get in trouble for that then did you?
GC: Well, I can’t remember getting in to any trouble for that actually. I can’t remember anything at all. I’m sure I didn’t. It’s just, you know, in no time at all we were up again in another aircraft.
DK: So, from the, your next bit of training then presumably this was to the Heavy Conversion Unit.
GC: That’s right. Yes. Yeah.
DK: Can you remember which Heavy Conversion Unit it was? Or —
GC: Yes. I always forget it. Can I pause here?
DK: Yes. No. That’s ok.
GC: Maureen.
DK: Yes.
GC: What was my Heavy Conversion Unit? Where I flew in Lancasters. I always forget it.
Other: I don’t, I don’t know what you mean, dear. I’m sorry.
DK: It wasn’t, it wasn’t 1661, was it?
Other: A Heavy Conversion Unit.
GC: Yeah. Which?
Other: Which airfield?
GC: Yeah.
Other: I could have told you last week.
GC: I could have told you probably a minute ago.
Other: It’s something that —
DK: Well, we can come back to that.
GC: In Lincolnshire.
DK: Lincolnshire. Yeah.
GC: In Lincolnshire.
Other: It was in Lincolnshire. You were probably —
GC: Between, yeah I think we were between. Yeah. I think we were between Newark and Lincoln. I think. Yeah. Swinderby.
DK: Swinderby. Oh right. Ok. Swinderby. Yeah. So it was Swinderby Heavy Conversion Unit.
GC: Heavy Conversion Unit.
DK: Yeah. Ok. Ok. So and this would have been on the Lancasters then.
GC: Yeah.
DK: So you’ve got two extra crew. The flight engineer’s turned up.
GC: Yeah.
DK: And the mid-upper gunner.
GC: Yeah.
DK: So, what were your impressions of the Lancaster then?
GC: Well, I loved the Lancaster. I could, it was, it was so much roomier for me. I mean in the, in the Wellington I felt rather short of space because you know spreading out a chart and all the equipment one has. Also it seemed the Wellington was a bit dark. There was much more light in a Lancaster. So there was light and space. It was more, more comfortable.
DK: Yeah.
GC: When I look at pictures of one now they don’t look very comfortable but compared with the Wellington at the time it seemed to me very, very nice. No, I enjoyed flying in a, in a Lancaster. In spite of its noise. Those four Rolls Royce engines made quite a noise. Vibration and noise.
DK: Yeah. You mentioned in your book as well about various issues with oxygen.
GC: Yes.
DK: Lack of oxygen.
GC: Yes.
DK: I mean, did you have problems with that at all?
GC: Well yes. With oxygen we had a system cut out and we were about twenty two thousand feet and I don’t think we realised for a time. When we did I think the flight engineer tried to put it right. But the best thing really when that happens is to fly down to nine thousand feet or something like that as quickly as possible because the effect of oxygen deficiency is rather like having a drink too many. You feel rather pleased, rather comfortable, rather sleepy. But of course what’s happening is that your nails are going blue, your heart is beating rapidly and your coordination and clear thinking are suffering. All these things are happening to you. So it’s a very dangerous situation really. And it’s only a matter of minutes before you become unconscious and then death follows doesn’t it? But our, our skipper was very alert and took the aircraft down in good time and I think we were all, all looking rather, rather bad and feeling rather bad at the time. And I think our rear gunner was sick. But we soon recovered.
DK: And you mentioned as well a strange story about you floating out of your seat.
GC: Yeah. Yes.
DK: What happened there?
GC: What interested me about that was this. Everybody knows that being in an aircraft it suddenly drops, then you rise unless you’re strapped in. And when I say dropped I mean a real, we’re dropping a long way. And the opposite of course when you feel that you’re being pressed into your seat when the aircraft suddenly rises. But this was rather interesting because I seemed to leave the seat and float upwards quite gently ‘til I was on the, against the roof and everything on my desk went up with me. And it was all, it was all very gentle. That was my very definite impression and we came down the same way to as the plane entered another whatever it is. It suddenly moved vertically and I came down and back to my seat. It was. Yes, that was what struck me. How comfortable it was. How easy it was.
DK: So, so there was no other crew this happened to then. It was just you.
GC: No. You see, I mean the navigator is in a position with lots of things on his desk that are loose anyway.
DK: Yeah.
GC: And he’s loose in a sense. He’s sort of on a seat and he’s getting up and getting down. Other people are I mean it wouldn’t happen to the rear gunner.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
GC: He’s too tightly [laughs]and I think, I think the pilot and the and the flight engineer probably may have automatically sort of held on or something.
DK: Yeah. So you weren’t prepared for this manoeuvre.
GC: I know I was the only one who floated.
DK: So at this point then presumably you’re, you’re being told the war in Europe is coming to an end.
GC: Yeah.
DK: And you’re told that you’re going to go out to the Far East. Is that how it came about?
GC: Yes. It was, it was always clear that we would be part of Tiger Force. I didn’t know much about Tiger Force except that we, we would be stationed on the Island of Okinawa which had been captured. And I had a fairly clear idea where that was. How far from Japan. And at some stage we were going to fly out there which looking back now seems to me would have been a very hazardous business because of the poor maps, inadequate meteorology, weather forecast and lack of emergency airfields and all those sort of things.
DK: Yeah.
GC: But we’d have got there I expect. Most of us. To Okinawa. That was the plan which was hatched I believe by Churchill and Roosevelt in Ottawa. The Ottawa, Ottawa Conference.
DK: Yeah.
GC: They kept changing their plans but the idea really was that Lancasters and Lincolns would be mainly. They were a bit worried about the fuel side of things. Just for the distances. And at one stage they were going to have the Lancasters in pairs with one of them with the petrol. Another time they were going to get rid of the mid-upper gunner’s turret and have an extra petrol tank there.
DK: Yeah.
GC: Called a saddle tank. So we were unaware of all these ideas. Changing ideas. We just carried on flying long distances and —
DK: So, these long distances then. Where were you actually going?
GC: Well, we were going all over the place actually. At that time of course as it was now the end of the European War, we could go anywhere in Europe.
DK: Right.
GC: And we did, you know. We might, I don’t know, go towards Czechoslovakia, somewhere like that. A long distance. So the total time was probably ten or eleven hours.
DK: So you were trying to replicate a flight to Okinawa.
GC: Well —
DK: To the Japanese mainland with these things.
GC: Yes. Personally, my job was to navigate as accurately as possible using the stars over a long distance.
DK: Yeah.
GC: And it didn’t really matter where you went.
DK: Yeah. Yeah. Did you have any other training for Tiger Force? I have spoken to somebody else. They mentioned that they had some jungle survival training. Did you have any of that?
GC: No. No. I don’t think any of us had that. I don’t know what sort of training the other members of crew had. We didn’t actually have time to talk much about —
DK: No.
GC: Those sorts of thing in between. But everyone had some kind of special training but nothing like that.
DK: Right.
GC: Nothing like jungle warfare.
DK: So, you’re, you’re all prepared then to go out to the Far East.
GC: Yeah.
DK: Then you hear the atomic bombs have dropped.
GC: Yes.
DK: And the war’s come to a very sudden end.
GC: Yes.
DK: How did you feel about that?
GC: Well, I think the same as everyone else. A feeling of tremendous feeling of relief that the war was over. At the same time a certain amount of bewilderment wondering what’s going to happen to us. And a great deal of joy when we heard we were going on indefinite leave. We didn’t know what indefinite leave actually meant but it sounded good. But we didn’t know it meant, it meant that our crew would disperse forever. We hadn’t really thought about that very much. And I did feel very unhappy about that at the time.
DK: Yeah.
GC: Actually. When I realised that we weren’t going to see each other again.
DK: Yeah. So you did another two years in the RAF then. What were you doing up until ’47?
GC: What happened was I was called back and interviewed by an officer. And he gave me a list of tasks. Jobs. And I said, ‘I don’t like any of those.’ So, he said, he said, ‘Well, there is something else,’ he said, ‘There’s Vocational Advice Service.’ I said, ‘Tell me about that.’ He said, ‘Well, everybody in the RAF now especially those who’ve been in the RAF for six years is probably a bit lost about what to do in civilian life.’
DK: Yeah.
GC: ‘So, we’ve got your Vocational Advice Service. And what we’re going to do is we’re going to train some airmen to administer a whole series of psychological tests to get a profile of everybody’s abilities, aptitudes and interests.’ That’s what I did. I did. There were two of us covering the whole Far East from Burma onwards to Japan.
DK: Yeah.
GC: And —
DK: So did you eventually get out to the Far East then?
GC: Oh yes.
DK: Yeah.
GC: Oh yes. I finished up in Japan.
DK: Right.
GC: I was in Japan for six months. I was with the Commonwealth Occupation Force.
DK: Oh right.
GC: In Iwakuni. Not far from Hiroshima as a matter of fact.
DK: Did you visit Hiroshima?
GC: Sorry?
DK: Did you visit Hiroshima?
GC: I didn’t actually. No. No. I didn’t. I wasn’t. I wasn’t pushing for that and I didn’t really [pause] we didn’t think much about that really. I was just getting on with my job there.
DK: How did the Japanese treat you as an occupation force?
GC: Well, it varied really. Didn’t have a lot to do with Japanese but if you were dealing with them on a sort of business basis they were quite polite of course, and, yeah. I didn’t, I didn’t socialise with them.
DK: No. No. But they did what they were told then.
GC: I think, I think the Japanese people must have been under shock. Complete shock.
DK: Yeah.
GC: In view of all the propaganda that they’d had over the years under, under their very militaristic regime and so on. And when, when the atom bombs dropped and then capitulation soon afterwards I’m sure they were in a state of utter shock that must have lasted a few years.
DK: And did you see much of the other damage out there at all? [unclear]
GC: No. Not really.
DK: No.
GC: The place where I did see a lot of damage of course was in Rangoon. I was in Rangoon for six months.
DK: Right.
GC: In Burma.
DK: Oh right.
GC: And that was in a terrible state. There were piles, huge piles of rubble in the streets. There were rats everywhere. I was in the old Law Courts which was taken over as Air Headquarters South East Asia. It had many many rats in it. So many rats we had a rat squad. Did nothing but try to exterminate the rats. And the rats almost felt in charge. They would walk along the corridors. Not scuttle. They weren’t hurrying. And they were rats of all shapes and sizes. And they would just walked past you like you were queuing up for the cinema or something like that. But it was in a terrible state and now and again the rats spread bubonic plague.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
GC: Not while I was there but they did sometimes.
DK: So looking back at your time in the RAF you obviously spent many months training to be a navigator. Do you sort of regret that you never flew any operations or [unclear] or relieved?
GC: If the operations at the time, if the normal tour had come I would have just accepted it. I wasn’t relieved that I wasn’t going to do that. No. I think when you’re nineteen you have a different attitude to when you’re, many years later. I was quite happy. I mean we were all volunteers.
DK: Yeah.
GC: We volunteered to do this and had it happened I would have just accepted it. As it didn’t happen I wasn’t particularly relieved and I wasn’t particularly disappointed.
DK: No.
GC: Really.
DK: Yeah.
GC: I was always thinking what’s happening next.
DK: Yeah. So how do you look back in the RAF now? Looking back over these years. Is it something you’re proud of and did it teach you things or help you out in life basically?
GC: Yeah. I, I look back with, with some pleasure and satisfaction really. It, I found, I think I was very lucky to be a navigator you see because I liked it. I was very busy I may say. I was, I never had any time to do anything except work in an aircraft but I liked it and so that was very interesting to me. If you’ve had that experience at nineteen of navigating a massive bombing, a bomber. And it was good to meet the people I met and be with the crew. Yes I think it was quite important really. In a way it launched me into my, my career which was at that time in teaching.
DK: Right.
GC: I was accepted for teaching when I was in Burma.
DK: Right.
GC: And the fact that I’d been a navigator I think was a point in my favour because I hadn’t got much in the way of qualifications in view of my school experience. The bombing and so on. I had, I had a very slim certificate issued by the forces in economics, mathematics and one or two other subjects which was called, which was supposed to enable us to have matriculation exemption.
DK: Right. Yeah.
GC: So if you wanted to go to university you could, you could use this.
DK: Yeah.
GC: As a shortcut. But that’s all I had. So I had to do all my studying afterwards but the, in a way my navigation career gave me, gave me a good start for that I think. In a way. And you know in the ATC. Going back to those days when I was a cadet we did a lot of maths and English apart from you know meteorology and all the RAF subjects.
DK: Yeah.
GC: The, in the ATC in those days a massive amount of money was put in by the Air Ministry and we were busy every day doing something. So I had part of my education in the ATC.
DK: Yeah.
GC: In a sense.
DK: So post-war then you went into teaching then.
GC: I did.
DK: Yeah.
GC: Yeah.
DK: Yeah. You mentioned your book as well you had a lot to do with the Aircrew Association.
GC: Well, I didn’t have a lot to do with it. It didn’t form until the 70s as you know.
DK: No.
GC: It formed rather late and I joined it and had some good friends in it. It was a very important organisation because it suddenly brought together people who had very similar experiences and of course it was a very big organisation. It suddenly spread all around the world and there were branches in, in Australia, Canada and so on. Sometimes there were two branches in one city.
DK: Yeah.
GC: As you probably know. But of course people were getting older. I mean people who joined the air training, sorry the Aircrew Association were probably already grandfathers so [laughs] so after a few years membership declined and then got to the point when they had to dissolve the whole organisation.
DK: That’s a shame.
GC: Yeah.
DK: Yeah. Ok. Well, I think we’ve covered everything. I’ll stop it there. But thanks very much for your time. That’s been very —
GC: That’s alright. I hope it’s of some use.
DK: Oh, it’s marvellous. It’s been a lot of use. Ok. Thanks. I’ll turn that off.


David Kavanagh, “Interview with George Charles Culling,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 24, 2024,

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