Interview with Thomas Aiden Davidson

Title

Interview with Thomas Aiden Davidson

Description

Born in Gateshead, Thomas was an apprentice railroad engineer. With the war beginning three days after his 16th birthday, Thomas feels very passionately about the British experience of the Second World War, as his only brother was killed. He claims to have been very aware of the atrocities of the Nazi regime and was inspired to volunteer, despite being in a reserved occupation. He joined Bomber Command following the introduction of four-engine bombers, creating the flight engineer job role, of which he trained for. Training at RAF St Athans for six weeks, he completed his Heavy Conversion Unit course at RAF Riccall, eventually joining a crew of Australians. Placed on 446 Squadron at RAF Driffield, he recalls pre-operations activities crew used to partake in, including last meals, chatting, and briefings. He states that he and his crew were entirely terrified until they got onto the aircraft, in which their mutual trust took over their fear. He recounts seeing several aircraft being hit on his first operation, with many having people he knew in them. He recalls having nightmares after his operations, alongside several near-death experiences, both on operations and around the airfield. He continues to explain the culture surrounding leaving the RAF, including the fear surrounding Lack of Morale Fibre and why he choose to carry on. Thomas recalls rarely talking of his experience and that it was only recently in which he opened up about the war. He believes that he was lucky to have survived but states that he continues to remember those who have passed away during remembrance days. He believes that he and his crew had a fantastic bond and that was the most important experience of the war.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2017-07-17

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

00:46:40 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ADavidsonTA170717

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

RS: Right. So, I just want to make sure that it is working. So, the timer is moving on so we’ll, we’ll make a start then. This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. My name is Robb Scott and I’m interviewing Tom Davidson. We’re at Tom’s house at Washington, Tyne and Wear. It’s Monday, the 17th of July 2017 and it is ten past ten in the morning. Tom, first of all thank you very much for agreeing to do this with us this morning. We really do appreciate the time and effort you’re going to take with us today. I’m going to ask you one or two questions and then we want to hear your stories of the war and everything else around that. So, if we could make a start. Fairly straightforward Tom. If you could tell me where and when you were born and a bit about your background before the RAF please.
TD: I was born in Felling, Gateshead 1923. I was an apprentice engineer at Reyrolles, a big heavy engineering firm in Hebburn and war was declared three days after my sixteenth birthday. So I was an apprentice engineer. I’m pleased I’ve been asked to do this recording because it’s something I feel very strongly about. What men and boys and women went through in this country for peace and freedom must never be forgotten. I feel strongly about it because my only brother was killed also. But war is horrible. War is brutal. War is evil. But sadly sometimes war is justified and in my opinion World War Two was. I was just sixteen years and three days when war was declared and although we didn’t have TV or smart phones in those days I was well aware of the atrocities being carried out by Nazi Germany and Hitler’s ultimate aim to conquer Europe and to eliminate anyone who stood in their way or who didn’t match up to the idea of a true German. And in doing so they killed eleven million people. Eleven million men, women and children. At the time I was an apprentice engineer at Reyrolles, who were involved in war work and as such I was classed as being in a Reserved Occupation which meant I could never be conscripted in to any of the Armed Forces or Merchant Navy. Nor could I volunteer for them. I felt strongly that I wanted to do something to defend my country and my loved ones. I did get the chance at the time of Dunkirk when we were being evacuating from Europe. Winston Churchill, Prime Minister at the time appealed for all able bodied men, males rather between sixteen and sixty five to volunteer for the Local Defence Volunteer Force which later became the Home Guard. Better known as Dad’s Army I suppose. So I joined that and was in it until I joined the RAF. As the years went by and there seemed no end to the war due to the heavy losses suffered in Bomber Command the government decreed that men and boys, because you were just boys up to twenty one, in Reserved Occupations could volunteer to train as what we called PNB. Pilot, navigator, bomb aimer course. I immediately volunteered for it. I went down to what was known as Burton’s Buildings in Doncaster. Had five days of fitness tests, medical tests and intelligence tests and at the end went in front of an interview panel and I was accepted into the RAF to train as PNB. Pilot, navigator, bomb aimer. I was given my service number and put on deferred service until there was a training place available. However, at that time the four engine bomber had been introduced and there was an extra crew member was needed. So they created a new category. That of flight engineer, who’d be the pilot’s right hand man. Assist in pre and post flight checks, take-off and landing at the controls, be responsible for all the equipment on board, the pneumatics, electrics, fuel etcetera. And also I had to log the fuel consumption every twenty minutes. I received a request from the Air Ministry to consider training as a flight engineer and I accepted immediately. I reported to the Aircrew Receiving Centre at Lord’s Cricket Ground. We did three weeks there being kitted out. Medical examinations again. Inoculations, etcetera. And then we went on a six week square bashing course, doing aircraft recognition and a little bit of maths and all that sort of thing. And then after seven days leave I was posted to St Athans which was the training school for flight engineers. I’d also like to point out at this time that all aircrew, Bomber Command aircrew were volunteers. Every one of us. I went down to St Athans. Trained as a flight engineer for about seven or eight month and then got my brevet. Flight engineer’s brevet and sergeant’s stripes. Got seven days leave and was posted to what was known as a Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Riccall near Selby where we trained with experienced aircrew who’d done, served their tours. And we trained there to become competent flight engineers with experienced crew. And then came the time to be given a crew. So I was, about thirty or forty flight engineers arrived at RAF Acaster Malbis near York. We were there for about two or three days. Lessons I suppose. And we were told this afternoon that we would meet our pilot and meet our crew. An aircrew selection was the most haphazard chaotic system out. They flung all the aircrew into big arenas. Let them mingle together and they sorted a crew of six out first. And it was very successful method despite that. I would say ninety nine point nine percent of the time. And then we were told we would meet our pilot and subsequent crew. And this is true this is. I know it sounds [pause] There were double doors at the end of the room we were in and they were opened and these pilots were crowded in there. And I got my eyes on this pilot and I don’t know why but I thought I hope he comes for me. And sure enough he walked straight across the floor. This is absolutely true. It was like two lovers meeting on a dance floor but there was none of that involved in it. And he came, we had a little bit of a natter and he said, ‘Have you got a pilot?’ I said, ‘No.’ ‘Would you like to be my engineer?’ And I said, ‘Yes. I would.’ And we hit it off from day one. He was a fantastic pilot. Same age as me. We were just, in fact he was three weeks older than me. We were both twenty years of age by then. He was a great skipper. Very skilful. Great captain. Firm but friendly. Determined to get back home to South Australia and kept the crew on their toes. But he was a wonderful, wonderful pilot. Then I met the rest of the crew. Six Aussies. It was a wonderful experience. It turned out we hit it off from day one. We had a wonderful bond formed on that day which lasted well even up ‘til February of this year. I still contacted the crew. Kept in touch with them all. Met them from time to time. Sadly the last one, the rear gunner died in February this year. However, we went back to what was known as a Heavy Conversion Unit where we trained as a crew. And then when we were considered competent we were posted thankfully to an Australian squadron. 466 Squadron based at Driffield. We did further training there. Fighter affil. How to dodge enemy fighters. Fortunately these were Spitfires and Hurricanes we were playing with. Then we were posted as I said on this squadron and we were ready for our first op. A day on a squadron consisted, we reported for duty at 9 o’clock in our particular sections. I went to the engineer’s section to discuss various matters. Maybe evaders. Talking to you. Then at 10 o’clock the dreaded phone would ring and you hoped to hear the engineer leader repeat, ‘Nothing on today. Tonight.’ You knew you had another twenty four hours to live. But invariably it would come through, ‘Operations on today.’ It going to be a daylight. It’s going to be a night operation. And how many aircraft. One of us would go along to the duty room and get the crew roster for the operation, and then you hope your name wasn’t on it but when it was you just had to get on with it. You saw the list and your procedure for that was roughly, as far as I can remember you wrote your last letter. You had your last meal which was always bacon, egg and fried potatoes on the Aussie squadron. And then you went to the briefing room. Find out where your target was and then you sort of put things in order. Emptied your pockets. And then you went out and wait for the crew bus to take you to the parachute room to collect your parachutes and your escape kit. I’d just like to point out the first day I arrived on the squadron I met this lad that had slept in the next bed but one for six month. He was ahead of us on the course and he was going out on his, what was to be his sixth op. We had a meal together. Chatted until he was ready to leave and that was the last I saw of him. They were all killed that night. That was the starter. So to get back to going on our first op. We were in this billet with a crew who were in, going in C-Charlie and I think it was their third or fourth last operation. Some of them knew each other from even from school days. But we were very friendly with them and they said, ‘Stay with us. Stay alongside us.’ It was a daylight raid. ‘You’ll be alright.’ They were in C-Charlie.’ So we boarded. I’d better tell you know because I was asked once, ‘Was I scared?’ And I said, ‘No.’ And I was asked again, ‘You weren’t scared?’ And I said, ‘No,’ I said, ‘I was bloody terrified,’ I said, ‘We all were.’ However, amazing thing was when I put the key in the plane to open up fear left you and your training took over because you had to concentrate every second. You had to have utter trust in your comrades and the crew and we were a good crew although I say it myself. We had, Pat insisted on us doubling up on different tasks. You know, I used to do, have a go in the rear turret and on the wireless just in case any of us weren’t available either through death or injury. So he, but he was a good skipper as I keep repeating. We set off. Took off for a raid on Sterkrade which was a raid I think it was synthetic oil plant, or a synthetic chemical plant. There were six hundred bombers that day. About thirty or forty mile from the target I saw this big black thing in the sky. I thought we’ve never been told about that and I hadn’t been on those tours over that part of the world to know what it was. But as you approached it was what was called a box barrage. Certain times Jerry threw up in a certain area and certain height everything they could. And I thought, well that’s stupid. We’ll just fly around it. But you didn’t. You were in the RAF. You had to stick to your flight path and the bombing run. And then we saw the planes getting hit. It was, it was a hell of a day that day. Anyway, C-Charlie was just ahead of us on our starboard side. I saw it get hit and smoke and flames coming out of it and I saw two crew jump out and a parachute open. But the third one must have jumped into a burst of flak because I just saw half. You know, a torso going past me. And then the plane setting on fire and burst into flames and exploded. And they were only, there were two didn’t get out. Six jumped out but two didn’t get out. Anyway, the next thing I knew was I saw the wireless operator crawling from his position which he didn’t have to leave over the target area. I switched my intercom on and said, ‘Pat, what’s the matter with Nev.’ and Pat, we went by Christian names although there was no idle chat on the intercom. He said, ‘Tom, are you alright? I’ve been trying to get you for five minutes.’ He said, ‘Is the port inner alright?’ And I looked and I said, ‘Yes.’ I looked again and said, ‘No.’ The red light was flashing. We’d actually been hit. So I told him to feather the engine to prevent fire or the propeller shearing off. I was actually sitting on top of the oxygen bottles and I had been physically sick. Whether it was with fear or shock or both I don’t know. But I saw, I think I was the only member of the crew that saw everything. Anyway, we carried on. Dropped our bomb load. Set off and of course well it left us stragglers behind all the other bombers. I thought every fighter in the Luftwaffe would be after us. But as we approached the North Sea and that there was about six Hurricanes. There was a few of us straggling. Picked us up until we got back to the UK. We landed that day. I remember when I jumped on the ground I thought God, I’ll never do it. Survive another twenty nine of these. However, we went for debriefing and that night I remember, I wouldn’t call it a dream, I think it was more a nightmare. I was driving to an RAF station, Usworth in a little RAF van. I was lying on the floor. The roof of the van was coming down on me and I woke up shouting, ‘I want to be out. I want to be out.’ I don’t think I was talking about I wanted to be out of the car. I think I wanted to be out of Bomber Command. But that was it. I had a few but never mind. We survived. Just to go back to C-Charlie. The flight engineer. They called him Peter Jack from Dumfries. We had our last meal together and he told me he was engaged to a girl just a few mile from where we lived. I think it was Willington Quay on Tyneside. He was expecting a silk scarf from her. Anyway, when we, the next morning when we went in the mess I saw where our letters and correspondence were kept and I saw this little brown parcel. Sergeant Jack. It was his silk scarf. There is a happy ending to that one which I’ll talk about later on. I’ll stick to the action. We went on many raids after that. We had some very scary moments. Some of them in this country. Not all. So, I’ll tell you some stories. Not in any particular order. But contrary to what I think is common belief we didn’t just drop randomly or anywhere. Every target, and we did thirty six, every target we did was either military or industrial. You took photographs of where your bombs would land and if you had too many misses, we, we didn’t, we were lucky in that respect. Our bomb aimer had been a flying, a bombing instructor. He was a flying officer. But if you did miss your target you had to what was known as an orbit. We had to do it two or three times being chased by fighters or searchlights and you had, which meant you had to climb with the full bomb load, do a full, outside of the bomber stream outside and that, if there was six or seven hundred, well it was a thousand at one time it was like driving up the, the M1 on the wrong side of the motorway with no lights on at night. A hell of an experience. We did it, as I say three times. We took, it was mainly when we’d been taking evasive action from either fighters or searchlights and you had to get onto your bombing run. Searchlights, although they couldn’t do you any damage were the most terrifying I found out. I thought it was just me but I’ve read about them and spoken to aircrews who felt the same. It was terrifying if they, what they called the master cone got on you. It was the blue one. Within seconds you’d get twenty or thirty searchlights on you. It lit you up and you just, that was it. We were caught twice, and again through Pat’s skill we got out of it but a most frightening experience. And you may have heard of the expression he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day. Well, we bomber boys did that for two reasons. The first, well one reason was we had peashooters. 303s. Which were about I don’t know how many millimetres that is but roughly over a quarter of an inch. About seven millimetre peashooters. They had twenty millimetre cannon shells which shattering, were shattering the aircraft metal plates. And the second one was our range was, gunner’s range was four hundred yards. Theirs was up to about twelve hundred yards. So they had you in target long before we could do any damage. So the pilot had to do an evasive action which was called a corkscrew. And this is where the trust and confidence in crew members came in. At the crucial moment you would shout to the pilot, ‘Corkscrew. Corkscrew port,’ or, ‘Corkscrew starboard. Go.’ At the critical moment Pat would go into a dive and corkscrew. It was critical because if you went too soon they could veer off and chase you and if you called it too late well it was too late and you’d had your chips then, you know. So it was very critical that. It wasn’t a very welcome experience. G factor came into it a lot. But the Pathfinders were the ones who were down below. They would mark the target with target indicators. And if the winds or anything varied it they would just call out instructions to bomb somewhere to the left or the right of it. But it was very, very critical. They did a great job the Pathfinders. Two other hazards which you visit, visited and saw night after night was collisions between our own aircraft and bombs dropped. That was something really we had a great fear of was collisions because when you’re in cloud, particular at night and you know there’s four, five, six, seven hundred bombers there. You can’t see them but you knew they were there. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. But we got through it. We set off one evening which would have been a nine to ten hour trip deep into Germany. Chemnitz. And we were fitted with an extra petrol, fuel tanks. We dropped our load and making for home but we lost this extra tank. I used to do the fuel consumption every twenty minutes and I calculated on this occasion we were coming home from this flight we were going to run out of fuel before we got to the English Coast. So I told Pat these details. I said, ‘We’ll have to find, see if there’s a suitable aerodrome in the north of France we can land at.’ And I don’t want to do the Aussies any disrespect because I love them. Love them very, very much. But someone suggested we make for near Brighton. There were plenty of airfields there. Brighton was a Reception Centre for the Aussies when they came over and probably had happy memories there. But I said to Pat, ‘Pat, if we, if you try to make it for the UK I’ll be jumping out before we leave the French coast.’ However, again he trusted my calculations and we had a heck of a job finding a suitable aerodrome. We did find one at Juvencourt. It was an American one actually. It wasn’t in good working order but we managed to land at night and we landed and two engines cut out and the rest cut out. This is in the Australian War Museum Archives. It’s a true story. And it’s not often I could get Aussies to eat humble pie but they did on that occasion. Another nasty experience was we’d been warned for several ops that we may get intruders. You know, German fighters coming back with the bomber stream. On this occasion I was back changing the tanks over and I was off the intercom. And we had a set procedure when we landed, the pilot and I. And the crew just make for the exits and running out, jumping out making for a slit trench. Fortunately, I was the last one to get in. We’d been told there had been intruders at certain heights and they were just strafing the aerodrome. There was a slit trench near the parking bay where we were and we dived into that. Some of them squealed. I thought they’d been hit but as they told us later the ground crew used that as a toilet. Three of them. Well, you could say they landed in a mess but I was alright. But they strafed the ‘drome for about an hour and a half and we lost two that night over the aerodrome. Four of them were killed in one aircraft. They were in our billet. And they were losing height and the navigator came to the exit and the engineer was stood there. He was afraid to jump. The navigator was trying to push him out, you know. Getting. But he wouldn’t go so the navigator eventually jumped out. Sadly the engineer changed his mind and jumped out but it was too late so there were only two survivors from that one, you know. Another dodgy landing happened to us one night when they were trying a new, it was a brilliant light system which we used when it was very dark and that. Foggy. And when we came in to land we were the third aircraft down. The two previous ones had just hit the end of the runway. Unfortunately, before the flight commander could get the lights turned off and the original ones put on we touched down well short of the runway and there was a blinding flash and I thought we’d crashed into a forest nearby. But Pat managed to gain height and what had actually happened we’d gone through telegraph wires that had ripped the side of the fuselage, caught the bomb aimer from just outside his eye and ripped his side of his face open. And we were very very lucky to get through but again Pat’s strength got us through that one. Another very scary incident which happened in the UK was when we’d taken, when we were going on a morning op to Duisburg. We’d been having trouble with the starboard inner engine. Been out with the ground crew and that. But you didn’t like to call your operations off plus the fact you wanted to get through your tour. So we took her on a test flight. It was ok. Anyway, the time comes to take off. To set off. We were setting off to Duisburg and I was standing watching the panel to make sure that the dodgy engine wouldn’t let us down. So we got on to the runway. Got the ok to take off. Got the green light to take off and Pat set off along the runway to take off. And then I just saw the revs drop on the port inner. I yelled to Pat to abort take-off. Abort the take-off, which he did and it cut out. The port inner engine cut out. We swung off the runway. Bomb. Full bomb load but thankfully I’m telling this tale because the bombs didn’t go off. But that was very, very scary indeed but it just another case of trusting each other’s competence.
[pause]
Although we were all volunteers in Bomber Command aircrew and could at any time say we didn’t want to fly any more we’d be taken off flying duties immediately. We’d go in front of a tribunal. And in my case if I had decided I’d have been reduced to an AC2, discharged from the RAF with my documents stamped with big LMF. Lack of Moral Fibre. And then I would have been discharged from the RAF and sent back home. Gone back to my, finish my apprentice in the engineering company. It did happen on very, very rare occasions. I think there was about, out of two hundred and odd crews you’re talking seven times that. About four in our squadron. I remember one was an engineer and one was an Aussie pilot. I remember those two in particular. But even if I thought about it I would never have done it. I couldn’t do it. I still felt strongly even though I was married to the love of my life and my brother Frankie had, who was also a flight engineer had been killed on his first operation. I still felt the job had to be done. And I’m pleased I had the courage to stay in and not come out. A couple of stories which might be of interest. When we did these long flights into Germany it was suggested or advised even that if we got into trouble it might be better to make for North Africa rather than trying to reach the English Coast. So on these occasions and it happened to us on about four or five occasions we were given what was known by the rank and file as goolie chits. Because at the time there was a barbaric custom in Africa, North Africa whereby when, and this was from the 1920s and as far as I know the nineteen, early ‘50s it was still prevalent. If an aviator landed his private parts were cut off and sewn in his mouth. And although the reward was in Arabic, if this person, aviator, I can’t remember what it said now was handed in intact they would be rewarded with twenty five pound which had probably made them millionaire’s overnight. But it was always my greatest fear that I’d be found by an Arab who couldn’t read who had a dirty pair of garden secateurs in his hand. And the fear of that I think put us all off. We never tried to land in Africa [laughs] and to my mind, but it could have happened I don’t think many would have welcomed that opportunity to be castrated. But there you are. That was one story. Another just on a light hearted note was, concerns my wonderful wife Mary. I had this photograph in my locker and when I was going on ops I used to pick it up, give it a kiss, turn it and face the door and when I got to the door I used to turn around to say words to the effect, ‘I hope I come back to see you again, Mary.’ Which I did on thirty six occasions. We went on to have a wonderful life together. We’d been on our squadron I think when they brought the troops over they put extra cakes and rations in because we did very well and they had, they loved their fruitcake. Especially when they’d been out on the town or the village and they liked their hot cocoa and fruit cake. So I, in my daily letter to Mary I asked her this time if there was any chance of her making a fruit cake to bring back to the camp. She was at the time, she was an apprentice also at a ladies tailoress and dressmaker. Never done any cooking in life. Anyway, I brought it back and it was in a tin which she used to keep her best handkerchiefs in because there were no tissues in those days. And she kept her best silk handkerchiefs in this small round biscuit tin. Anyway, we came back this night and one of the crew said, because they’d all met Mary, the crew and I was the only married one in the crew, ‘What about Mary’s cake.’ So I got the cake out of the nice tin. Cut a piece off and I remember, I remember handing it to Bluey, our mid-upper gunner. I cut the other, another piece off to give to one of the crew. As I’m just about to hand that out Bluey shouts, ‘Tom,’ he says, ‘What the hell is in this? He says, ‘Taste it.’ I took a bite of it and it was [pause] well Mary I’m sorry I won’t say too much about it but it wasn’t pleasant. So one of them said, ‘Put it back in the tin,’ bearing in mind they’re Aussies, ‘Put it back in the tin and we’ll drop it over Germany. If it doesn’t kill them when it hits them on the head it will when they eat it.’ So it went back in the tin. We fastened it up as best we could and when I was operating our on the next trip, operating the Window chute, dropping the window down the window chute I got Mary’s tin with the cake and dropped it out. What happened to it we don’t know but Mary used to say it was her humanitarian effort to help the poor starving Germans. So I’ll take it on Mary’s word but it did actually happen. Coming back to Peter Jack, the engineer on C-Charlie who was shot down on our first op. After the war in one of the main streets in Newcastle I was standing outside this silk material shop. Mary, as I said Mary was a dressmaker. She was inside getting material and I was standing out in the main street and I saw this warrant officer walking up on the other side of the road but I didn’t pay much attention. And then he walked over towards me and it was Peter Jack. He’d been the only survivor of the crew. There was two who didn’t make it. They had a spare dickie. A spare dickie was a rookie pilot who, to get experience did his, did a flight just by himself with another crew to get the feeling of a raid. Two of them blew up with the plane. Six of them got out. One I saw with just a torso. And the only one that was taken prisoner was Peter. We don’t know exactly what happened to the other crew but I’ve a fair idea. And Peter did marry his fiancé from Tyneside. There was another peculiar, strange, unbelievable incident happened to one of our crew. One of our crew members. Pilot Joe Herman. We were on the same raid with them and they got hit very badly. Fires on, and baling out. Well, in our aircraft I used to stand with, the pilot couldn’t put the ‘chute on but the rest of the crew could. So I used to stand over the target area with the pilot’s parachute ready to hand to him. But on Joe Herman’s I don’t know what happened that night. The engineer was probably they reckon putting, trying to put a fire out. But his mid-upper gunner was standing with his parachute up. They all baled out except Joe and the pilot and then the plane blew up. And they were at seventeen thousand feet evidently. Joe has no parachute. He’s coming down. He sees something glistening, grabs it, this thing lets out a terrific scream. Yelling. It was his mid-upper gunner and he’d grabbed his legs and unfortunately one of them was broken. But thank God they both landed together. They were both badly injured but they survived and lived to their nineties. One of them, I think the gunner was killed in a motorbike accident but Joe survived right to the nineties. He was in a hell of a mess but, you know he survived. All that time there was that fear but as I mentioned earlier on your training. And it, it was, it happened to all of us, our training took over and you knew you had to concentrate for your survival and your crew. You wanted to come home every night. The fear left you. It probably came back over the target area but it was just something we had to face night after night. But as I keep repeatedly saying it had to be done. It just had to be done despite all the fifty percent loss of aircrew. And to come back to my brother he was shot down on 18th 19th of November 1943 and they didn’t find the remains until November 1947. They were reburied in Rheinberg Cemetery. But every time his wife went out for those four years, four lonely years she used to leave a place setting for him and a little note where she was going and the time she’d come back. And she did that even after she got notification that they had found his grave. It affected her mentally. It was a shame. She was a schoolteacher. And that was a tragedy of war. So I finished my tour and I’ll just quote if I may what my pilot wrote the day after. These are my pilot’s words, Pat Gillis. “The worst part of my story has now arrived as we would most likely be sent in different directions.” This was at the end of his tour. “As a crew we all realised just how lucky we were to have completed a tour of operations and still be in one piece. It was a miracle. As the captain of this crew I can say that the dedication each one of my crew showed in each of their duties they had to perform in their positions was A1. We were able to discuss so many problems put to us and then come up with the answers. It made my position as captain easier to consider and make all the final decisions. It is hard to imagine that a crew made of men, or at that time boys from three states of Australia and one from England could mould together and work so well as one team. It was a sad experience when we all split up and sent on leave. The six Australians were sent on extended leave which meant that every day we had to contact Driffield to find out whether we had been posted or leave extended. Tom Davidson our English flight engineer was taken back in to the RAF after being on loan to our Australian squadron of the RAF.” I’d like to go back to my first operation. When we touched down, as I said, I didn’t think I could make another twenty nine but I made another thirty six. But when you looked at the damage on the aircraft the size of the hole was about the size of house door in the port wing. How it missed all the controls, the electrics, the fuel, the hydraulics was nothing short of a miracle. And the next day the ground staff counted thirty three flak holes in the aircraft. This happened, of course you know on a regular basis. We got hit nearly every night. Some nights we were unscathed but most nights we had flak damage, some more severe than others and yet we were so so fortunate on the thirty six trips never touched any of the crew, never touched any of the controls. Which brings us around to talking about our pilot, Pat. We always considered him to be the best pilot on the squadron. As probably every other crew did with their pilot. But we felt we were the only ones who were right. At an ANZAC reunion two year ago at the old squadron at Driffield I was told by a historian, squadron historian that Pat was classed as being in the top five pilots on the squadron. Well, we had over two hundred pilots which put him in the top two and a half percent. But in our opinion, certainly in my opinion he was in the top one percent. He was a fantastic pilot. I kept in touch with him until he died and his wife, Peg. Now, I’m in touch with two of the family and we’ve met from time to time. And also I’m in touch with the rear gunner’s family. The rear gunner, sadly Bill died in February this year but I’m still in touch with his family. We had a great bond. It’s an experience I’ll ever forget. I don’t dwell on it. It’s only the last few years my oldest grandson got me to talk about it. But if I can just say at Remembrance time each year and I give a reading and place a wreath at our village Memorial Service about three or four days before Remembrance Day I cry a lot. A lot of memories come flooding back which I never think about really from one year’s end to another. But it’s not something. I’ve had a very very happy life. Wonderful seventy years with my marriage with my beloved Mary. And when I was finished with Driffield I was posted to an RAF station, but a Free French Air Force Training Unit up at Lossiemouth. It was a bit scary with them not always speaking English. Sometimes they broke into their French and we had a few accidents up there. Not communicating properly with the flight control. After that I was posted out to Egypt. But I was flown home on a compassionate. I asked for compassionate leave because our oldest son Peter who was only six months at the time wasn’t expected to survive bronchial pneumonia. But they flew me home on a compassionate posting. And although he was given up twice he survived it thanks to penicillin and he is now seventy, seventy two years of age this year. And then I was given a compassionate posting near home. And then before I was demobbed I was, went down to RAF Catterick to be advised on what we should do after, after demob and after four days testing, exams and all that I was advised to either go in for teaching or Civil Service. But in those days having grown up in a depressed area in Tyneside. Grew up during the Depression. Having an apprenticeship was a wonderful achievement and the thought of losing that if I didn’t complete it and not having a job, I didn’t have the courage to take up either of these suggestions. However, I finished my apprenticeship. Had a wonderful life. And I did eventually get qualifications teaching and finished up as an engineering lecturer. So I’ve had no regrets in life. I’ve had a wonderful life. My wonderful Mary and our three children, grandchildren. A very very rich life. Lucky to have survived. So I think that’s the end of my wartime experiences in the RAF. One of the lucky fifty percent who survived.
RS: Well, Tom. Thank you. That was very, very moving and a privilege for me to sit and hear. So thank you very much indeed for that. Before I end the recording is there anything else you want to talk about? Is there anything else that maybe has jogged your memory while you’ve been talking?
[pause]
TD: Just I think the bond that was forged between the crew members and particularly our crew was just something that I’ll never experience again. Our life depended so much on each other. Our trust in our efficiency and competence. But they were just a great bunch of lads. We got on so well from day one. I used to say I was, the number one crew in Bomber Command were lucky to have the number one flight engineer with them, you know. Such a great crowd. I’m only joking when I say that but it’s true [laughs] No. No. I think that’s about all, Rob. I could go on for quite some time but they are the relevant points to my experience. The things that matter. Things that affected me. But I’ve never suffered from what I saw. I think I’ve written about the things I won’t tell anyone. Not even my family. But I joined up to do it and we did it and that was it. I think that’s about all. And thank you so much for putting up with me telling that.
RS: Well, thank you very much, Tom. It’s now quarter past eleven and we’ll terminate the interview there. Thank you very much, Tom.
TD: Thank you, Rob. Thank you.

Citation

Rob Scott, “Interview with Thomas Aiden Davidson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 13, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/10769.

Item Relations

This item has no relations.