Interview with Alan William Davis


Interview with Alan William Davis


Alan Davis joined the RNZAF towards the end of the war, training in Canada as a wireless operator and air gunner. He returned to the UK and after conversion to Lancasters was posted to 75 New Zealand Squadron. Alan tells of his training, crew changes and loss of colleagues as well as different operation and experiences. After the war he returned home and settled as a farmer, sometimes returning overseas and seeing old friends.




Temporal Coverage




00:31:14 audio recording


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GT: This is Tuesday the 16th of January 2018, and I am at the home of Alan William Davis, born 25 July 1922, in Rangiora, New Zealand, RNZAF wireless operator/air gunner, NZ 425834, Warrant Officer, near Amberley, Christchurch, in New Zealand. Alan joined the RNZAF in 1942. He trained in Canada and joined 75 New Zealand Squadron at Mepal, in March 1945. He completed nine operations, three Manna drops, three Exodus and several Baedeker trips, then moving to Spilsby in July for Tiger Force training. Alan returned after war’s cessation and, to New Zealand, in December of 1945. Alan thank you for welcoming me into your home. Can you give me a little bit of your memories of why you wanted to join the Air Force and where you did your training?
AD: Well mainly I think I had the choice of either the Army or the Air Force, I decided to go in the Air Force, but I also did three months in the Army, beforehand.
GT: Where did you join up and where did you do your training in New Zealand?
AD: Went up to Ohakea for a start, in the Air Force Defence Unit, and then we went to Rotorua, to learn wireless, Morse Code and so forth. Then unfortunately I had to have my tonsils out and I didn’t go with the group that I was supposed to, to Canada, I didn’t go till three months later. So I only ever saw one of the original group I was with, in England.
GT: Whereabouts did you do your training in Canada?
AD: Calgary and then we went to Mossbank, for gunnery.
GT: So you did a mixture of the wireless operator and gunnery training, and effectively you -
AD: Yes. The Bolingbrokes and such like.
GT: Became a wireless operator. What was the Bolingbroke like?
AD: Oh, they weren’t bad, course everything was covered in snow then. It was quite interesting, I was quite good at shooting.
GT: Excellent. Did you get excellent?
AD: Well I come third out of about four hundred with competition with all different weapons, machine guns and revolvers and some others.
GT: And then once you’d completed your training, you sailed across the Atlantic to England. Eventful? Did you, any German submarines around?
AD: No, the boat went on its own, it wasn’t in a convoy and I was on the rocket guns. What I was supposed to do I don’t know, [chuckle] but they got me on those and we arrived. It was Isle de France, the boat we went on. Don’t know what happened to it later on, I think it burnt, caught fire in the harbour somewhere.
GT: And that was a luxurious cruise ship, wasn’t it. When you arrived in England they put you on to training units and you crewed up, that was -
AD: No, they didn’t, we went down to Brighton, and was there for a while and then they shipped us up to the North East coast of England, I can’t just remember the place, because D-Day was, getting ready for that. When we come back, everyone, and we crewed up and went to Westcott and Oakley and Bottesford for conversion.
GT: Yep. Your log book here has you at 11 OTU in the July and August, September of 1944. Can you remember when you crewed up? How did you meet up with your skipper and your other?
AD: Oh, we were just lining up there and the captain was sort of, the skipper was more or less picking the chaps he wanted. We had about one, two, three, four; started from the original one, the other three, the flight engineer, the bomb aimer - we were a bit hard on bomb aimers - ended up four of ‘em, and the mid upper gunner, he was changed.
GT: I see you did all your training on Wellington aircraft here, and your final tally and summary at Oakley, Westcott and 11 OTU all together, a total of eighty seven hours there. So from there you moved on to your Heavy Conversion Unit, so can you tell us a little bit about your movement to Lancasters from there?
AD: Yes. The first time we went up in Lancaster with the instructor, I looked out the left hand side and I saw two engines stopped. I looked out the other side and there was another one stopped: was flying on one engine! Saying don’t be worried, it was, still fly on one engine! Bit nervous for a start. [Chuckle]
GT: The pilot was stopping an engine for?
AD: Yes, just more or less showing our pilot that the plane was quite safe on one engine.
GT: And that was at Bottesford, 1668 HCW, HCU RAF Bottesford. And you were there from the beginning of December ’44 until the end of February ’45.
AD: Yeah. About six weeks longer than we should have been because bomb aimer trouble, one didn’t return.
GT: He went away on leave and didn’t come back.
AD: No. Waited round for weeks, they gave us a chap who’d already done a tour and he absolutely had the DT’s. He was shaking and hard to understand so after a while they took him off, gave us another one, he was quite good and then he got wounded on our fifth bombing trip, had to replace him.
GT: Gosh. From your HCU did you have a choice of where you were going to go? What squadron?
AD: No, they just, I can’t remember, I think we just went to 75.
GT: And your first flight, and first indeed operation, was on the 6th of March,1945.
AD: Wing Commander [indecipherable].
GT: Wing Commander [indecipherable] was your skipper, as wireless op, you finished and did there all the trips as a wireless op I see. So your first war op was the oil refineries at Salzbergen. Any trips of yours eventful were they?
AD: Yes. The fifth one where the bomb aimer was wounded, we lost, we had a bit of problems with the engine, wouldn’t hold, the inside left engine wouldn’t hold its revs. We went to briefing and the flight engineer said we’d take the, the engineer in charge or something said we’d take the spare aircraft. And when they finished briefing they said well they changed all the plugs on the original plane on the offending engine, so we took it. After we got over the English Channel a bit it started to misbehave, I thought was going to jump off the wing it was jumping around that much. Was misfiring so we had to feather it and then we had a discussion amongst the crew whether we’d drop our bombs and go back home or carry on, so we all agreed to carry on, but of course had to find our own way to the target, cause we couldn’t keep up with the others.
GT: It was successful in the end?
AD: [Indecipherable] Of course we got shot up, we saw three of our own planes shot down, we didn’t realise they were our squadron, till after we got home. One of the crews shared our hut. Some of them parachuted, pilot and the flight engineer they were down, watched it go all the way. Wasn’t on fire, it wasn’t smoking, it was just going like that, all the way down.
GT: Weaving from side to side.
AD: Went down. Splash of flame. Counted them as they jumped, there was five of them got out. There was one of them got there ready to jump and realised he had his parachute.
GT: What was the normal procedure if the crew was lost or missing? Did someone come in and collect all their belongings?
AD: Yes, it happened to us twice. The other crew, they crashed in training at Bottesford, and we heard them talking on the intercom, you know, like the what’you call it? The?
GT: Control tower?
AD: Control Tower, yeah. Evidently he wasn’t, the pilot wasn’t too good at night vision; he was trying to land too high. They told him to go round again. We got in and landed and were standing out on the runway waiting for the truck, saw this, saw this great flash of flame about three mile away, then the boom! When we got back to our hut the service police were there getting all their belongings.
GT: Just a training flight, too. So you completed nine war ops in total. Was any one of them outstanding in your mind?
AD: Just that one where we got shot up.
GT: What were you shot up by?
AD: Anti aircraft. Crack! Crack! Boy!
GT: You remember it.
AD: I remember it, getting closer and closer, you could hear them. When we went there we didn’t think we’d get through there were that many puffs of smoke about our height, there’d be be an odd one or two, all wee bit higher and off a bit, but boy, they were, they were thick.
GT: So you also carried out, and were part of, Operation Manna and were you briefed on what that was all about and what was to happen when you got there?
AD: The food dropping? We probably were but I can’t remember anything about it, really. Just except the flying there.
GT: And you were told that the Germans wouldn’t be shooting at you at all?
AD: Well, you don’t want take any risk, we’re supposed to come in at certain heights and get out soon as we dropped it, no buggering around, but we went down to Italy, I’ll tell you about that. Lucky we’re here!
GT: Oh well tell us about this trip, the trip to Italy, which one was that?
AD: [Laugh] No. That was after the war!
GT: Okay, so the Operation Manna stuff, you were told later on that it was to save the starving Dutch people.
AD Yes, we probably knew from the beginning, yes. Of course a lot of the country was flooded: the Germans opened the dykes and that. We’d see these dykes going along and just dirty water covering all over, see people walking along the banks.
GT: You predominantly did day sorties and I see you did one night.
AD: We did a pre run of it.
GT: What was the difference for you? As a wireless operator, no difference between day and night, did it matter?
AD: Well night was a bit creepy, see a few things going past your window. Night time, cause day time have a good look.
GT: Time to get out the way. Did you have any aircraft above you, that could have dropped a bomb through you or anything?
AD: No, the strange thing about those two planes just out from us, cause what happened, the, when we couldn’t keep up with the squadron, we just went, because DH bombing we just went straight to the target and evidently the others, they were a bit ahead of their time, so they did a dog leg and they come in like that, we were here and couldn’t actually see their letters, see what was going on, one just dropped his bombs, beautiful line! How the hell he got them in line, you know, just the little one, big cookie on top, and the next thing they disappeared and the plane just completely blew to pieces, just like confetti. And then just a short while afterwards, another one, the engine dropped out of. The engineer was [indecipherable] I remember calling out the rest of them and saying the propeller was still going round, suppose they hadn’t used up the fuel yet, then the wing come off and down he went, and then shortly afterwards that other one started going like that and they were jumping out of it.
GT: And you said they were all 75 Squadron.
AD: Yeah. Three of them. That book I’ve got there shows that the planes above dropped [indecipherable] there dropped the bombs must of went off when got hit by a shell or what, cause bombs, they’ll explode just dropped out of a bomb bay on the ground! Real disaster one place there, three people, blew the plane to pieces and about nine others were destroyed.
GT: Was this at Mepal?
AD: No, no another aerodrome.
GT: You’d been told about it?
AD: No, read about it recent.
GT: It certainly happened. Now, you also managed to do some prisoner repatriation.
AD: Yes, we did four of those.
GT: Guys were pretty pleased to see you, weren’t they.
AD: Yeah, Juvencourt I thought, I actually bought a map in Paris when we were there this last time, so I could find out where Juvencourt was, I just thought it was not far inland, but it’s quite a far way, but I can’t find the map.
GT: Short way by aircraft, isn’t it. Just a point of note, the supply dropping sorties, your aircraft did, your crew did: one was Rotterdam and two was The Hague. And then from there you did a mixture of Juvencourt to Tangmere, and also the Baedekers, the post mortems, and that bit of Army co-op bit of variation. What was the Baedekers about?
AD: Oh, they used to go up the Ruhr valley, take the Air Ministry staff and that, most of them looked out the window to start then a bit seasick [chuckle] and then flight engineer used to carry a tin, treacle tin and he called it the tin-rin-tin-shitin. Remember, I don’t know whether you remember just about the wartime there was a thing on the radio about Rintin this wonder dog, that’s how he got the name and he was busy passing that between the different people. [laugh]
GT: Crazy, well your last time on 75 New Zealand Squadron was pretty much the end of July. Your total hours by day were over twenty two hours there, so you did a fair bit towards the end there, especially when there were so many crews vying for flying wasn’t there, must have had so many there, and obviously the war in Europe had finished so you were then shifted to Spilsby.
AD: Well we had to volunteer, an all New Zealand Squadron.
GT: British, Australians and Canadians left.
AD: Yep. Mac MacDonald, Flight Lieutenant.
GT: So you volunteered for that; you were asked directly?
AD: Yes, volunteered for it.
GT: Okay, so your first flight, Lancaster-wise, from Spilsby, 3rd of August, mixture of cross country and formation flying and you also managed a couple of flights here, three at least, in the new Lincolns, the white Lincolns, 75 New Zealand Squadron had three delivered to them by the time VJ Day came around so, they were taking them out to the Asian theatre. What was the Lincolns like compared to the Lancasters?
AD: Well, it was quite longer wingspan, wings, when it was flying about like that, when it was [indecipherable] it was the Lancaster that stayed [indecipherable].
GT: Was the wireless equipment upgraded for the Lincoln?
AD: Nah, I think it was much the same.
GT: Didn’t affect you much between the two types of aircraft.
AD: I think we were the last ones to fly, 75 Squadron in England. [Indecipherable] and us, we went down to farewell the Troop ship.
GT: The Andes?
AD: Andes. Actually it’s in one of those things there: we’re the bottom one.
GT: You’re the second plane in that picture?
AD: If I hadn’t have gone with our crew I would have gone with [indecipherable] because he asked me to be his wireless operator, but unfortunately we went to Berlin and the same thing happened: our crews went. So I went with our crew.
GT: So that was your last flight was 23rd September 1945 in the Lincoln, and it was AA-A, based Southampton, that was for the Andes overflight. But I see further up here just before that, on the 19th of September you talked about the base to Bari in Italy trip.
AD: Nearly ended up in disaster!
GT: So what was that about?
AD: Well, we saw this [indecipherable] farmer ploughing with two horses, so dived on them, I can see the old farmer now, shaking his fist, and he was hanging on to the reins, and the horses went faster and faster and finally they bolted. He went along low flying in the countryside, big high tension lines there and he was having a discussion with the flight engineer and he saying well we’ll go over these or will we go under and last moment he pulled up and hit one of the wires. Didn’t believe us for a start, I saw it, cause I saw the inflight and the rear gunner said yes, you’ve cut them. But, so then they started wondering what the hell they were going to tell the engineering staff because the propeller would have a mark on it. Sure enough, when we landed there was quite a gouge out of one propeller blade it the long bit. Lucky it wasn’t the big heavy cables, was the lighter ones we hit.
GT: Brought you down.
AD: It would have brought us down.
GT: Well, so that pretty much is, was the end of your flying of World War Two there.
AD: I think that was the last flight of 75 Squadron in England.
GT: It would have been.
AD: Almost certain it was.
GT: 23rd of September 1945.
AD: We left the next day I think. We broke up the next day or something.
GT: You left everything sitting at Spilsby.
AD: Pardon?
GT: Left all the aircraft sitting around at Spilsby.
AD: Yes, well, shame, specially all those herring gutted Lancasters they used to carry those twenty two thousand pound bombs. One place, I think it was Spilsby, there was quite a few of them there.
GT: Grand Slams.
AD: Yeah. All they were real odd looking cause they had no bomb doors, they just sort of come up and went along and down.
GT: You guys weren’t flying those.
AD: No.
GT: They were just sitting there.
AD: Yep.
GT: 100 Squadron, 207 Squadron were flying from there. The Spilsby Monument, Memorial, has a mention of an armament crew that were blown up at the bomb dump there. Did that happen when you were there? But, so how did you get back to New Zealand then if the Andes had already gone? Did they put you on another ship?
AD: Yeah, Montcalm, there’s a photo down the bedroom of it. It did a sort of odd course, it brought quite a few British soldiers out to Suez and then it went back to Taranto in Italy, I thought it unloaded them there, or did something, pick some others up and then come back to Suez and then went through the canal, you know, picked up quite a few New Zealand soldiers on the other side.
GT: And when you got back to New Zealand did you demob straight away or you on the Reserve?
AD: Yes, we just went off, well I went on leave. Reserve for several years.
GT: You weren’t called up then?
AD: No, didn’t get called up.
GT: And you’ve been a farmer all your life, is that right?
AD: Actually I declined any assistance and filled in the form on the ship there, and then one of my, brother-in-law said you bloody fool fella, so I applied and I went to about four or five farms and finally found this place.
GT: How many acres did you have in the end?
AD: Five, it was five hundred and forty five. Another chap on, he went away on the ship and came back on the same ship as I did, Harry Denton, I didn’t know him then, he got the other half.
GT: So how many sheep and cattle were you grazing on a that kind of size?
AD: Oh, I had over a thousand sheep. I had up to two and a half thousand at one stage and then we had quite a lot of cattle and calves. Interesting reading through my old diaries, see I used to keep diaries.
GT: How old will you be next birthday?
AD: I’ll be ninety six.
GT: Ninety six, ninety seven, ninety six?
AD: Or more, I don’t know, it’s a bugger since my legs have started going on me, I started wearing that, up there, oh there, that riding helmet, save my head a bit [indecipherable] you feel a bit of a flash sometimes, just lasts a moment or two.
GT: So at your grand age now, you’re still mucking about on the farm and here we are in Amberley, New Zealand in mid January and the temperatures are rising to close to thirty degrees Celsius, which is pretty wicked here this time of year in New Zealand.
AD: Yes, I know.
GT: Alan, it’s a pleasure again catching up with you and thanks very much for talking to me and this will, an interview going to the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archives and you’re certainly a part of Bomber Command and you having completed operations, Baedekers, Mannas and Exoduses, you did the whole bunch really, that was pretty awesome.
AD: I had quite a good career, lucky with, we did crash a Wellington, went off the runway into a ditch, petrol running everywhere and got out at t a hell of ate and I got into trouble because I didn’t grab the secret code books, well I couldn’t see, was pitch dark and the poor erk that was riding a bike round the perimeter, he was the only person I’ve ever seen who was incoherent, he was babbling away and couldn’t hear a word, didn’t know what he was saying, we damn near run over him! [Laughter] Poor Bugger! Horse galloping round in the paddock next to him.
GT: No regrets, you served your King and your country and you were happy in the end to, with your achievements.
AD: I had a great experience. I’ve been back and visited two of the crew; last time I went back I couldn’t find any of them, rear gunner, Scott, and the navigator. Harry Denton, up here, when he was up here, with some of his crew; I think one of his crew got the VC! And also the, some of the Germans that shot him down, they come out here too and visit him. I’m not too sure whether I met them or not. I met some of the, his crew. Come out here twice I think.
GT: You’re former enemies and you’ve become friends, and that’s the case through most of time.
AD: I’ve been to Germany and had a look at the, some of the wartime graves there. Actually the chap who was supposed to inherit this farm, Lawrence Croft, he was in the Air Force too. I think he got blown out of the bomb aimer’s, I think it was him. I think also one of the wife’s cousins, Albert Chipping, I think he got blown out too.
GT: That was the thing, many of these folk came back to New Zealand and went straight back into working and many of the folk that were still here didn’t know anything of what you guys went through. Did you find that a big problem?
AD: Not really, no.
GT: The folk that you dealt with, worked with.
AD: I suppose it was still a job we had to do. Used to go down at night, have our pints.
GT: What were the, sorry, I meant to ask, what were the pubs around Mepal that you liked?
AD: Oh yeah. We stopped at one there.
GT: Chequers?
AD: Oh Chequers, we used to go to that one, Sutton, and then there used to be, one old Percy had it, at Haddenham, cause there was Haddenham up here, then Sutton here and Mepal over here and there was there used to be a road connecting them, course they closed it when the aerodrome, when the runway went across it.
GT: And you had Witchford.
AD: Quite a bit different now, bit hard to find the landmarks.
GT: Well Mepal Gardens have a Memorial for 75 New Zealand Squadron there.
AD: Yeah, they shifted it from where they actually put it, when, in 1978 when they dedicated it, shifted to another.
GT: Well cared for little garden, that’s for sure.
AD: Pardon?
GT: It’s a well cared for little garden. And 75 Squadron Association in the UK, friends, they hold a reunion twice a year right there, so all your colleagues are well remembered. Okay Alan, let’s sign off. I thank you very much for your interview, your thoughts, your memories and thank you for your service for your King and your country, and your sacrifice. Thank you very much.
AD: One of the lucky ones and it was an experience.
GT: Definitely lucky. Thank you, Alan.



Glen Turner, “Interview with Alan William Davis,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 7, 2023,

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