Interview with Ernest Davenport

Title

Interview with Ernest Davenport

Description

Ernest Davenport was born in Tattenhall, Cheshire in 1923. He joined the Local Defence Volunteers in 1940 and after witnessing the bombing of Merseyside he decided to join the RAF as a pilot. He was accepted into the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and commenced flying training in July 1941 at EFTS at RAF Watchfield. He continued his training in the USA in 1942 and after a slight mishap on landing during a training mission he was sent to Canada for reselection as a navigator. He returned to the UK as a qualified observer which included navigation, bombing and gunnery. He was posted directly to 7 Squadron at RAF Oakington equipped with Stirling bombers, and was told on arrival by his CO, Wing Commander Mahaddie that he would be accepted providing he completed one satisfactory operation. On an operation to Krefeld his aeroplane suffered a fire and the crew were forced to bale out. After burying his parachute in enemy territory he eventually became a prisoner of war.

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2018-05-23

Contributor

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

00:20:34 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ADavenportE180523, PDavenportE1801

Conforms To

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

JB: This interview is being carried out for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Jennifer Barraclough and the interviewee is Mr Ernest Davenport. The interview is at his home in Manly near Auckland and the date is the 23rd of May 2018. So, thank you very much Mr Davenport for taking part. Perhaps you could start by telling me a little bit about your early life and then how you came to join up.
ED: Very well. Yes.
JB: Thank you.
ED: Well, I’ll start by introducing myself. Ernest Davenport is my name. I was born on the 4th of January 1923 in Tattenhall, Newton, Chester, Cheshire England. Soon a place in my life. The family moved to Wallasey, Cheshire in the 1930s. I was sixteen at the outbreak of war. I joined the Home Defence Volunteers in 1940 when invasion was imminent. Later the Local Defence Volunteers name was changed to Home Guard. My experience of the German blitz on Merseyside which was quite severe made me decide to join the RAF as a pilot and I hoped to become a night fighter pilot. How I came to Bomber Command is after being accepted in to the RAF Volunteer Reserve in January 1941 when I was eighteen and I commenced flying training in July 1941 and completed a course at RAF Elementary Flying Training school at Watchfield, Wiltshire. In November 1941 the weather being very bad and not much flying going on a group was formed. A group of pilots, pupil pilots was formed to go to the United States who had volunteered to train RAF personnel in the US Army Air Corps in Florida and Alabama. At that time the Americans were not in the war. Eventually we arrived in the USA in January 1942, and by that time the Americans were in the war and the situation was slightly different. Prior to that we were supposed to be going in civilian clothes but of course we now went in uniform and the Americans issued us with American uniforms which was a bit peculiar but this was the way it was to be. The course wasn’t altogether a success. The, the Americans were still on a peacetime footing and with ample manpower they were quite selective and more than half of our class was eliminated. Many for trivial reasons. The RAF reinstated many of these pupils to pilot training in Canada. By July 1942 I’d completed the US Army Air Corps primary and basic course and had about two hundred flying hours as a pilot. I was then posted to their Advanced Flying Training School in Dothan Alabama. After my second flight in a new type of aircraft with my flying instructor I was taxiing back to park when a strong gust of wind caused the aircraft to swerve and one wing touched the ground scratching the paint. That was the end of my pilot training in the USA. I was told to make my way to the Royal Canadian Air Force station at Trenton, Ontario, Canada and report to the RAF senior officer. The reselection board at Trenton interviewed me when I arrived. I was hoping to be admitted to pilot training in Canada but I was informed that there was a need for navigators and that I could resume my pilot training after completion of a tour of operations with Bomber Command. I was returned to the UK after qualifying in the observer role which included navigation, bombing and gunnery. The usual procedure was to post newly qualified personnel to Operational Training Units where they were formed into crews and did further training before being posted to operational squadrons. I was posted directly to 7 Squadron, Oakington, Cambridge. An operational squadron in the Pathfinder Force equipped with Short Stirling aircraft. The Pathfinder Force was used to mark targets for the main force to bomb. On my arrival at Oakington I reported to the squadron adjutant who took me to see the squadron commander, Wing Commander Mahaddie, who far from welcoming me demanded to know what I thought I was doing there. He went on to tell me that the, that he could have the pick of the finest crews in Bomber Command and that the minimum qualification he required was a commendable tour of operations over Germany. After I let him know the facts of my experience in the RAF he relented and told me that I could stay on his squadron for one operation and that if I was satisfactory I would be accepted. He further said that he would arrange that I could join a crew who needed a replacement for ops that night. As he was conferring a huge favour I was then introduced to my skipper to be, flying officer Ince DFC, and crew members Flying Officer Winfield, Pilot Officer Collins, Flight Sergeant Fray, Flight Sergeant Stokes and Flight Sergeant MacDonald. All of whom had completed a tour of operations before joining 7 Squadron. We went to briefing as a crew and learned that we were to attack Turin that night, the 4th of February 1943. The crew were very good. Very good. Very good natured about having such a raw recruit foisted on them and gave me a lot of help. I’d never flown in a Stirling. Didn’t know where anything was. For example, when we reached twelve thousand feet altitude climbing on course I didn’t know where, where to find an oxygen point. When we crossed the enemy coast and were fired on I had no idea how much danger we were in until I heard one of the gunners call the skipper on the intercom and say rather disinterestedly, ‘A bit of flak about ten miles on the port beam, skipper.’ The Stirling was fitted with four Bristol Hercules engines which had the handicap of not functioning well above about twelve thousand feet, so navigating the Alps was a bit tricky. It was a beautiful night but one engine, but one engine failed over the target with the result we could not maintain altitude on the way home so it was necessary to keep more than usually a keen lookout if we were to avoid the alpine peaks. There was a huge explosion in the middle of the night in Turin during which, during the raid which we heard later was due to a direct hit on the main armoury. But otherwise nothing of note. My second operation was to Cologne on the 14th of February. A much shorter trip but much more hazardous I was told by the old timer crew. How right they were. A few miles before reaching the target we were, we were to drop a navigation marker flare at a turning point for the main force. After dropping the flare we turned right on to the new course. At that moment a German night fighter who must have been following us coincidentally opened fire. Fortunately, most of the cannon shells missed except for some which damaged the petrol tanks in the port wing. Again, most fortunately the petrol did not catch fire. Being so close to the full intensity of the burst of tracer shells was a sight not to be forgotten. The gunners were highly embarrassed at not having seen the enemy fighter but their task was extremely difficult. We assessed the damage. Mostly we thought petrol leakage. It was trickling down from the main spar and puddling on the floor of the fuselage. The skipper decided to continue to the target where we had to drop markers for the main force. After successfully marking the target we turned for home. The flight engineer then announced that with the petrol loss we might not have enough fuel. We altered course for RAF Manston which is in Kent and was nominated as an emergency airfield. Arriving at Manston we found that the electrics for the undercarriage had been damaged and so it had to be manually lowered with a hand crank. Eventually the skipper landed and the slight jolt caused the port wing to sag. We travelled back to Cambridge by truck. The skipper was awarded a bar to his DFC and the flight engineer a DFM. So it went on until the 21st of June when having completed twenty operations we were forced to abandon our aircraft. Sadly, our skipper Flight Lieutenant Ince did not survive.
[recording paused]
JB: Ok. Would you like to start?
ED: Right. On the night of the 21st of June the target was Krefeld in the Ruhr Valley. After we had marked the target and were on, on course for home the mid-upper gunner reported a fire in, in the port wing. The flight engineer had a look from the astrodome and he thought that it was the petrol tanks between the, between the engines. The skipper thought possibly he’d try diving the aircraft to see if the fire would go out. So he had a try at that and the fire was, became more intense because of the velocity of the air going past, and so we levelled out again. One of the gunners came on the intercom and said, ‘Perhaps we should put our parachute on.’ So the skipper thought that might be a good idea and then he said, ‘Well, you’d better bale out boys.’ And so I went down and opened the escape hatch in the nose and somebody came down the steps and went out and I thought perhaps I’d better go too. So I sat on the edge of the, of the escape hatch and dangled my legs out and pushed off and fell out of the aircraft and then pulled the rip cord of course. And my next impression was of complete silence because the aircraft had vanished in the night and I couldn’t see anything but blackness. And so little by little I could hear noises and realised that they were distant guns going. And I found this going down in the night a bit boring so I, my ears were creaking a bit so I tried to get some chewing gum out of my trouser pocket but I couldn’t because the, the parachute harness was too tight across my body so I [pause] suddenly hit the ground and that was the, that was my introduction to Germany. So I was in some sort of a, the middle of some sort of a crop of either wheat or oats or something and I, I had a big knife which I had in my, in my waist belt for protection so I dug a hole and buried my parachute and tried to make myself look like a civilian by pulling my trouser legs over my flying boots and started walking thinking I might reach the Dutch border which wasn’t I thought too far away. But I, then I realised that the, there was a big river to cross in that direction so I just carried on walking and it was about 2 o’clock in the morning I think, and of course being mid-summer’s night it started to get light quite early. So, I came to a main road and decided perhaps I’d better not cross it in case I was seen, so I doubled back in to the field and by this time it was, it was fairly light. Pushed my way back through the hedge and suddenly I realised there was a farmer with a big scythe about to start cutting his crop. So he started shouting, and the next thing I knew some troops were running towards me with rifles, and there was an anti-aircraft gun in the corner of the field so that was it. I capitulated, and was taken into the farmer’s house and he got on the telephone and, and a vehicle arrived and some German troops took me to a German barracks nearby and I was asked for the usual things — name, rank and number and so forth and then locked in a room. And I was pretty tired by this time so I, I went to sleep. Of course I was awakened about 11 o’clock in the morning and given some food which was the last thing I felt like really, but then I was taken to a [pause] I was interrogated by a German officer who then locked me back in the room again and a little later an Air Force officer came and took charge me, and he was quite a pleasant fellow. I think he was probably aircrew and he, he [pause] no I’ve missed a bit out. I was marched by the German Army people down the road and they had six of them, three in front and three behind and I thought it was all rather amusing. I realised afterwards that the troops were really protecting me from the populace not the other way around. But quite a lot of our people had been murdered by civilians and of course the Germans didn’t want to appear in a bad light relative to the Geneva Convection so they were protecting us.

Collection

Citation

Jennifer Barraclough, “Interview with Ernest Davenport,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 29, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/10768.

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