Interview with Edward Davies

Title

Interview with Edward Davies

Description

Edward Davies (Sonny) joined the RAF at seventeen as a rear gunner. Having crewed up he joined 103 Squadron and flew on fifty operations. Sonny describes being in the rear turret and how close the crew were, so much that they sang to him on his birthday whilst being surrounded by flak. After the war Sonny worked as a railway signalman and after he retired he and his wife visited some of his old crew in Australia.

Creator

Date

2018-05-25

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

00:31:20 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

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.

Contributor

Identifier

ADaviesE180525

Transcription

LD: Okay, this is an interview for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewee -
ED: No, not International, Bomber Command, RAF!
LD: RAF! Bomber Command Centre. The interviewee is Sonny Davies and the interviewer -
ED: Edward Davies, the name Sonny is a family name.
LD: Okay, Edward Davies. The interviewer is Laura Dixon and we are in [bleep] Cardiff on the 26th May. Okay, so hi Sonny, or Edward, thank you for having me.
ED: Call me Sonny.
LD: Oh, I can call you Sonny, okay, right, that’s fine. Can you tell be a bit about your early life before the Bomber Command?
ED: Before?
LD: Yes, what you were doing before the war broke out.
ED: Well I was in school until I was fourteen. I left school at fourteen, I went to work then in a solicitor’s office for a short while, then the war came and I joined the RAF, at seventeen. I only joined the RAF because I didn’t want to go in the Army and be ploughing through mud and muck, so I said I can apply.
LD: Okay, so you volunteered. You didn’t, you weren’t called, you volunteered.
ED: Volunteered. All aircrew were volunteers. They were all [emphasis] volunteers.
LD: Okay, so you were a tail gunner?
ED: I was.
LD: So, can you tell us more of what that involves.
ED: Well, there was seven of us in the crew, pilot, navigator, wireless operator, bomb aimer, two gunners, seven of us all together [outside voices]. Happy days, they were rough at times. What’s that? I enjoyed. You all right there?
[Other]: I’m just going to shut the door so, cause there was somebody coming in and I didn’t want them to interrupt your flow.
ED: So that was it. To form the crew, we were all trained individually, gunners, navigators, bomb aimers, pilots and then some time they put us all into one great aircraft hangar and we sorted out our own crew. I can see my old pilot, he was old, he was thirty four! [Chuckling] I thought to myself that guy is a family man, he’s not going to be a hero, he’s not going to go for medals. I said to him, I said do you want a gunner, he said yeah, so I said you’ve got one, so that’s when I joined the crew. He wasn’t going to be a hero in all this war. I wanted to survive. Which I did. You’re very quiet.
[Other]: I love listening to your stories Uncle Sonny, I’d listen to them all day!
LD: Aw! So what kind of training did you have to do and how long did that take?
ED: Training is lasted about nine months really, for a gunner. It wasn’t a long time for a gunner. [Knock]
[Other]: There you go. Just pop over there. Okay. Thank you ever so much.
LD: Thank you.
ED: Yup. So that was it. I did me training, there were four machine guns, Browning 303 machine guns, and I was sat going backwards, I was in the back end of the plane. Those were the days I spent!
LD: So what were the conditions like in those planes?
ED: Sorry?
LD: What were the conditions like? Not very good.
ED: Basic, absolutely. I was sat, in the back, [chairs being moved] where are we?
LD: There we go.
ED: This will be the back of the turret, the fuselage, the plane fuselage is here, so I was sat there facing backwards, no Perspex in front of me: that was open. So when you were up at twenty thousand feet it was pretty cold. But there you are, we did it.
LD: Yeah. So how many missions did you fly, personally?
ED: I did fifty all together. You did what they called a tour. The first tour you did thirty missions. If you survived that you went out for a bit of a rest and you came back again, did do another twenty and you did that twenty and they said right, you’ve had enough; that’s enough. So fifty missions was the most anybody did. Aye.
[Whisper]
LD: Okay, so how did you keep warm?
ED: We had an electrically heated suit, when it worked. So that’s how we kept warm.
LD: So would you say that the rear gunner is the most dangerous?
ED: Sorry?
LD: Would you say that the rear gunner is the most dangerous?
ED: It was indeed, yeah. Any fighters, they came to the rear gunner first. [Horn sounds] They wanted to get me, but they didn’t! [Laughter] [Car horns]
LD: So when you were flying over these cities or towns were you thinking about the impact it would have on the people or were you just focused on what you had to do?
ED: No, because we knew the impact we’d have because we were bombed ourselves so we knew exactly what they were thinking. Didn’t worry me at all. They did it to us, so we did it to them.
LD: So did you feel nervous at all, or like your life was in danger, or were you not really?
ED: Oh yeah, you were anxious, yeah, every time, you know, you go out to the aircraft, parachute and everything with you and you stand by the aircraft and you’d look at it and think bloody hell, I’m going up there again, I must be mad! But I went and I came back. Up there now, it’s not there now, but I had a big picture of a Lancaster bomber. I gave it to my grandson for him to keep so that it wouldn’t get lost.
LD: Okay, so what was your relationship like with your fellow crew members?
ED: Oh, brothers! We were brothers, yeah. When I retired at sixty five, Irene and myself we said right, going out to Australia, cause three of them were Australian: the navigator, bomb aimer and the wireless operator; they were all Australian. So when I retired we went out to see ‘em, and that was the last time I ever saw them. Yes, we were brothers really.
LD: So at the time were you all a similar age?
ED: Oh yes, the oldest was, well the oldest was the pilot, he was an old man, he was thirty four. That’s why I chose him actually, I looked at him and I said that guy’s too old looking for medals. I’m going to go with them, and I did. And we did fifty, fifty bombing trips.
LD: So did you see any planes getting shot down?
ED: Oh yeah, every time, yeah, aye. You see it explode you know, and say oh damn, there goes another like, you know, and you knew then, seven men: died.
LD: So after the war was over, what did you do?
ED: I went on the railways. My father-in-law was a signalman on the railways, so I went as a signalman on the railway and I worked for forty two years on ‘em. Aye. All right?
LD: Oh yeah, just keeping an eye on the recording, it’s fine.
ED: Yeah, I can see the red light.
LD: Yeah. [Laugh] So how do you think the Bomber Command has been received now?
ED: Unfortunately, not very well. Because you look at Bomber Command and one of the last raids of the war was on Dresden, only people were saying they shouldn’t have bombed Dresden and all that, but Dresden was a passing point for German troops going to the Russian Front, so we had to bomb them. I’m afraid we did a lot of damage to Dresden. Yup.
LD: So do you feel proud of what you did?
ED: Absolutely, yes! Yeah, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I know they were trying to get me, [emphasis] but I was trying to get them as well. Aye.
LD: So is there anything else you can think of, anything you’d like to add to that?
ED: Well, we were all young really. As I say, I was flying at seventeen. I was a gunner, I wasn’t a pilot or anything like that, I was just a gunner: I was the defence of the aircraft.
[Other]: Uncle Sonny, do you remember a story you told me about a birthday you had, when you were flying and you were up in the sky, was it your eighteenth?
ED: My twentieth.
[Other]: Your twentieth. That’s quite a good story to tell.
ED: My twentieth birthday: November the 21st 1944. We took off, I believe we were going Cologne, to bomb Cologne. We were flying, shells, everything, me looking out for fighter planes and all of a sudden over the intercom [sings] “Happy Birthday to you!” And everybody was shooting at us, like! [Laughter]
[Other]: Fantastic birthday.
ED: So that was my twentieth birthday.
[Other]: Plenty of fireworks. Fireworks for you.
LD: In some ways.
ED: The real thing!
[Other]: You had a parachute Uncle Sonny, but did you, were you ever trained to use it? Did you ever make a jump?
ED: No. The parachute, I couldn’t wear it in the turret because it was too bulky to put, to keep on. It was actually in the fuselage, on the wall of the fuselage, inside the plane so if I had to get out, I had to open the doors at the back of me, and get out, and then get the parachute, then stick it on if I was lucky.
[Other]: But they never showed you how to use it! [Laughter]
ED: No, no.
LD: So when you weren’t flying, what would you do in your spare time, on the ground?
ED: Oh, cleaning my guns, you know, that kind of thing, had to keep them in order. And then when I finished the first tour, I went out and I was training other gunners.
LD: So were you able, at any point, to write to family back at home?
ED: Sorry?
LD: Were you ever able to write home, to family?
ED: Oh yeah, we didn’t have telephones! [Laughter]
LD: Of course!
[Other]: Didn’t you bring your crew back home as well once or twice, to Nan?
ED: I did, once, yeah, course they couldn’t go on leave, they were Australian so they couldn’t go to Australia. Bill Hyde. Kevin Curten, and Keith Yates: navigator, bomb aimer, wireless operator.
LD: So when the war was over, you must have felt relieved for it to be over.
ED: To have survived, yeah. Oh yes. Cause the average length of a bomber crew was about six weeks.
LD: Good grief.
ED: You know, bombing, before they got shot down. So again I was lucky. What I found, if you kept your eyes open, if you saw a fighter before he saw you, you’d fire at him and he’d say hello, that guy’s awake, I’m going somewhere else and he’d shoot off looking for somebody else. Aye.
LD: Okay, so is there anything you’d like to add, finally, before we finish?
ED: No, you ask.
LD: I’ve asked all the questions I need now I think, I’ve run out of questions!
[Other]: Do you want to tell them what medals you had? Tell them about your medals.
ED: Oh yes, I had the 1939 to 45 Star, the Aircrew Europe Star, er, another Star, and last year actually, I had a medal from the French government, sent to me last year - sixty three years after the war [chuckle] - and that was a beautiful medal. My niece has got them for safekeeping you know, because I’m moving about all over the place, no I didn’t want to lose them. So I’ve got five medals actually.
LD: So you never had the medals presented to you formally. You always got them just sent to you.
ED: No, they came in a little carboard box. Aye.
LD: So would you rather have been more, would you rather the medals had been actually presented to you by somebody, rather than being sent to you?
ED: No, there were so many, I mean really it would have been too much. I’ve got ‘em, that’s the main thing. I’m sorry I can’t show them to you.
LD: No, that’s fine.
[Other]: When you didn’t have any Perspex on your turret, why was that?
ED: Visibility. There was, I’d be sat in the turret, open in front of me, there’d be Perspex around the side and over the top, so that was the only protection I had, really. And it used to get bloody cold!
LD: So you were never personally injured in any way?
ED: No, I was very lucky. Like I said, if I saw the fighter first, I’d fire at him and he’d probably shoot off looking for somebody else.
[Other]: How many rounds did you have in your guns?
ED: We had, each gun had two thousand rounds, but they fired six hundred rounds a minute so there was only three, three minutes, three and a half minutes at the most, of bullets you had. They used to say, oh you’ve got two thousand rounds there, you’ve got plenty of ammunition. Not when they’re firing six hundred a minute!
[Other]: How long on average, when you were off on a mission, how long were you usually up in the air for?
ED: It all depends on where you’re going, could have been Germany, could have been closer to France, but usually about two and a half to three hours, yes.
[Other]: And you always flew at night was it?
ED: Some daytime.
[Other]: Oh some daytime ops as well, okay.
LD: So did the cold conditions ever affect your health in any way?
ED: I’m ninety three – no! [Much laughter]
[Other]: There’s a nice picture there, look. That’s his crew.
[Other]: Oh yeah! So that’s all your crew in the picture behind us is it?
ED: Oh yeah. Except the pilot, he took the photograph.
[Other]: Should have took two.
ED: That’s Cartwright, he was from Brighton.
[Other]: That’s a fab picture. Did you have a name, did you always fly in the same plane, different Lancasters?
ED: No. The squadron plane, yes. But it wasn’t always the same one.
[Other] Did you name the planes?
ED: No.
[Other]: No. And did you have anything that you had to do for luck, before you got in, did you or any of your crew do anything particular?
ED: Mostly peed on the tail wheel.
[Other]: For good luck.
[Other]: Well it seems to have worked!
LD: So apart from the Australian men, what other nationalities did you come across?
ED: Oh, everyone. Polish, French, you name it, they were all there.
LD: But not many Welsh people?
ED: No, no. Don’t forget there’s only three million Welsh, there’s about fifty million English people. So we didn’t have too many Welsh.
[Other]: And am I right in thinking, you know when you said you went down to volunteer, to join up, did Nana Davies know where you were going?
ED: Nooo!
[Other]: You went without telling her!
[Other]: Without telling his mum!
ED: Aye. Well it would have been that, or being called up for the Army and going through all the muck and mud, and everything else.
[Other]: Did you get a telling off?
ED: Oh yeah! But then, when I survived, that was it.
LD: Would you rather have had another job like a wireless operator, or an engineer, other than a rear gunner?
ED: I’d like to have had, another job, but I don’t know, the gunner was the easiest job to learn like, put it that way.
[Other]: One of the most dangerous though!
ED: It was. Yeah, the old fighters used to come down: rear gunner first.
LD: So overall you look back with pride from -
ED: I do indeed, aye. What is this for?
LD: So it’s for Lincoln University, for the digital archive, and for the new exhibition for the Bomber Command, it’ll be used for the display.
ED: Oh yes, we were around Lincoln.
LD: Have you been to the Centre?
ED: Sorry?
LD: Have you actually been to the Bomber Command Centre? Cause it opened oh, about a month ago now, so it’s brand new.
ED: Oh yeah.
LD: They had a big opening ceremony which was terrific.
ED: They opened one in Green Park in London, Bomber Command Memorial.
[Other]: Did you go down there at all to see that. I don’t think that’s been there very long, has it, that Memorial in London.
ED: No, just over the twelve months. I haven’t been, no.
[Other]: Did you go down to any of the Remembrance Day Parades, in London?
ED: Of course!
[Other]: I thought you did, yeah, I remember Nanny saying.
ED: When you look at it now, there’s not many of us left.
[Other]: No, no, that’s it.
[Other]: And you were 103 Squadron, weren’t you?
ED: Sorry? 103? Yeah.
LD: Did you have a number, like a service number?
ED: 1816587, my number; I was a Warrant Officer. 1816587, that was me, [pause] and nobody else will ever have that number.
LD: Very unique number to have, something you’ll remember for a long time.
ED: Yeah, aye.
LD: Okay, so if there’s anything else you can think of, I think I’m pretty much done.
ED: Well, if you want, my time with the squadron was from August to January. August ‘44 to January ‘45, that was my actual time doing the bombing.
LD: So were you flying every single day?
ED: Well you flew nearly every day because you had to keep training, you know, you weren’t in action every day. No.
[Other]: Is this interview going as a recorded interview or does it go in?
ED: Sorry?
[Other]: I was just wondering how this went into the archive. Does it go in as a paper story or a?
LD: They do make a transcript of it, so they will like type it up but it is for the Digital Archive Oral History Collection, so it will be -
[Other]: To be listened to.
LD: To actually be listened to.
ED: You’ve got a copy of the radio.
[Other]: Yeah, I sent it, Sonny. But remember the Bomber Command said that they couldn’t really, they were worried about complying with copyright, with Radio Wales. Which is why we done it this way then. Peter Jones came back to me, they said look, you know we’re not comfortable with the terms and conditions, why you’ve got to have such a thing I don’t know.
ED: They’ve got my permission to do it.
[Other]: Yeah. So we don’t know, but that’s what, we went through it and we got emails, but Peter said he weren’t comfortable, I suppose he couldn’t control everything that was going to happen to it. But it’s there, and the important man is quite happy for it to be used.
ED: Yeah.
LD: Okay, so that’s all the questions that I have so if you are willing to end the interview, that will be okay.
ED: You carry on, do what you’ve got.
LD: Okay, yeah but I’ve got lots of information there, that’s fine, yeah. Thank you very much everyone, thanks for having me.
ED: My pleasure.
LD: Thank you.

Collection

Citation

Laura Dixon, “Interview with Edward Davies,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 8, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/10770.

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