Interview with Ronald Davis


Interview with Ronald Davis


Ronald Davis grew up in the East End and worked in London as a solicitor’s office boy. He joined the RAF and trained as a fitter airframe. He was saddened when the pilot of the aircraft he services did not return from operation because they had got along so well. He and the other ground crew would also have to manually light flares to guide the aircraft on to the runway if the Drem lights were covered with snow. He also describes dealing with air crashes and sights that have stayed with him throughout his life.




Temporal Coverage




01:15:05 audio recording


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ADavisRS160807, PDavisRS1604


TO: Right. Good morning. Good afternoon. Or good evening. Whatever the case may be. This interview is being filmed for the International Bomber Command Centre. My name is Thomas Ozel and this interview is being recorded on the 7th of August 2016.
RD: Thank you. My name is Ronald Davis. I’m ninety four years of age and I was born on the 2nd of March 1922 at a maternity hospital on the corner of City Road and Old Street which is in the City of London and which makes me a true Cockney. Born within the sound of Bow bells. My parents [pause] I can speak about were [pause] sorry, stop it there. Oh it doesn’t matter.
TO: No. You can just look at me. You don’t have to talk to the camera.
RD: I can talk to you.
TO: That’s fine.
RD: Right. And my mother was a little bit above working class but my father was very working class. He was a lady’s tailor which he hated from the day he started to the day he finished just before he died in his forties. And they lived in a humble two rooms in this house in New North Road. And shortly afterwards we moved to Mile End where my father’s mother and family lived. To be closer to the family. I was brought up in very humble surroundings and I said at times we had more dinner times than dinners. And my dad was hardworking but, but the tailoring trade was seasonal so when they worked they earned good money but when they were not working there was nothing coming in at all. I don’t think there was unemployment pay in those days. I was educated at a junior school where for reasons that my parents never understood I never passed the eleven plus which was the exam at that time and I went to a senior boy’s school in Bethnal Green where we moved when I was about seven years old. And this school in Bethnal Green gave me a very good general education and I found I did fairly well in that standard but I was not grammar school standard. I started work, aged fourteen as a solicitor’s office boy earning fifteen shillings and now seventy fifty five pence per week of which I gave me mother ten shillings towards my upkeep and kept the rest, less the deductions for myself which included my daily fare to the office which was a penny each way and, and for my lunches. After a year my boss called me in and said, ‘Davis, you’ve been very good for a year. You’re been a very good servant but we’re going to get another little boy in for fifteen shillings a week and you’d better find yourself another job. Not because we’re not satisfied with you but because you need a replacement and we have no place to promote you.’ I then went off and found, through an employment agency a job in another solicitor’s office in Chancery Lane, London. Central London as a junior clerk at twenty five shillings a week which was a very big increase from fifteen shillings. And I was there until the, towards the end of 1940 when I was eighteen and had decided that I wanted to go in to the Royal Air Force. I felt sure the only way I could get in was to volunteer which I did at the recruitment office in Whitehall. I was shortly afterwards interviewed and sent to RAF Cardington for assessment and within about six weeks I was called up, sent back to RAF Cardington for outfitting and a general description of what the RAF did and the discipline and appearance and the way you spoke to officers and things of that sort. I think I was there for about fourteen days and I was then sent to Bournemouth for my, what we called square bashing which is, which is learning to march and learning to exercise, general discipline and behaviour and things of that sort. In Bournemouth there was no RAF station. They, the, the RAF had taken over all the boarding houses that people had used at that time for their holidays. They were set up as bedrooms with washing facilities, a shared bathroom and, and we were there for three months altogether. I was given a room in this lovely boarding house overlooking Alum Chine with a view of the sea. It really was upmarket. And for the first time in my life, and I was eighteen years old, I had a room to myself. Because otherwise I had to share with my, my other brother and my two sisters who were all younger than me. And there I learned discipline. I learned drill. I learned exercise which I’d already done because I belonged to a Boy’s Club in the East End of London where we’d had lots of sports. Cricket. Football. Table tennis and things of that sort. So I knew about fitness and that. When I’d finished my training, incidentally my drill instructor in Bournemouth was a man called Sergeant Sam Bartram who in fact was a goal keeper for the England soccer team and also was the captain of a London soccer team called Charlton Athletic. Which at that time was in the First Division so he was very well respected and known by all the lads. In fact, as an aside most of the professional footballers or professional sportsman were drill instructors in in the RAF. It was very handy to have them on tap. From Bournemouth I was sent to RAF Halton which was a permanent RAF station and was Number 1 School of Technical Training. And there I learned all about aeroplanes. And a fitter airframe did everything on the aeroplane except the engines, except the armoury and except the electrician and something else. I can’t remember at the moment. But every other part of the aeroplane, the hydraulics, the pneumatics, the upkeep of the aeroplane, the refuelling, everything of that sort was done by the fitter airframe. And sitting on top of a bomber in the middle of Lincolnshire on a cold winter’s day filling up was, was no joke apart from the possible danger. At Halton I finished my course and became a, that was six months and I was immediately posted to RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire. Which at that time housed, every aerodrome had two squadrons. Scampton at that time housed 49 Squadron and 83 Squadron. Both flying with twelve Handley Page Hampdens which were, strangely enough made in Cricklewood Broadway in London. When I arrived there, there were a lot of, I arrived there in April or May 1942 and and when I arrived there there were lots of trainees coming in. And at one stage we probably had as many as twelve airframe fitters working on one aeroplane which was really not enough because one or two could manage. But this is when the RAF were turning out lots and lots of people and they were being trained and sent off all over the world. It so happens that I remained there all my time caring for these Handley Page bombers. My particular bomber was P for Peter and I obviously had various, various pilots. And one in particular who was with me for a long time was a pilot called Aussie Holt. He was an Australian and wore a navy blue uniform as opposed to the air force blue uniform so he was rather distinctive around the squadron I think. He was the only Australian pilot there at that time. And he was with me for quite a long time but unfortunately he was lost on the, on the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst German battleships that went through the Channel unexpectedly. And I remember it was just after Christmas. I don’t think it was even New Year ’43 that we were loaded up with certain bombs that we were going to use when these bombers came out and then they were the wrong ones and before they could take off we had to do a very quick job of changing the bomb load so that they could go off on this raid. Unfortunately that was the worst occasion of any time that I remember on any squadron where we lost seven of our twelve aeroplanes. Including Aussie Holt who I grieved over for quite a while because I’d got to know him very well and he like me and we we, we were always chatting about various things. When you’re on a squadron it’s very difficult to adjust to losing your pilot but you had to get on and the more you got on the less you thought of it. But at times when crews were speaking about various things and we mentioned his name and there would be a pause for us to catch our breaths as it were and think about something else. You, you didn’t become attached to them personally like family but they were your crew and as a result of that it, it there was some effect. At least from me. I’m not sure whether it was the same for everybody else but at least for me it had some effect and often thinking of their family way back in Australia losing this wonderful guy who was their son. And then in, I think I said 1943 that, it must have been 1942 because early in ’43 49 Squadron was moved from Scampton because they were coming in to lay runways and the aerodrome obviously couldn’t be used during that time. So most of us were sent off to, not with 49 Squadron because I think when 49 finished with the Hampdens it didn’t come to life again for some time again later. And I know, and most of the crews were moved from Scampton to Waddington or Coddington Hall just a few miles away outside Lincoln where we became the 1661 Conversion Unit. Which was the place where they trained pilots to go from two engine to four engine bombers. Although, apart from the four engine bomber there were two-engined Manchesters. Not Lancasters. Manchesters. Which formed part of the early, early crews but they were a much bigger aircraft than the Hampden and therefore the size of two engines or four engines wasn’t so important as the size of the aeroplane. Can I stop there for a minute?
TO: Certainly.
RD: I’m running away here.
TO: Certainly. Yeah.
RD: Eh?
TO: Yeah.
RD: Ok. Now, am I doing it as you —
TO: Yeah. That’s great. Perfect.
RD: Yeah. Ok.
TO: Of course if you want to stop or take a break just say so.
RD: Yeah.
TO: Ok. Do you want to take a break now?
RD: Yeah. Please.
TO: Sure.
[recording paused]
RD: One thing that I, I want to tell you about was how, how I got to the air force. In, in 1938 when I was about sixteen I had a week’s, two weeks holiday. No. One weeks holiday from work. And I, I couldn’t afford to go away so my grandmother, I told you my grandmother who lived in Golders Green just down the road here invited me to come and stay with her for a week. So I cycled from the East End of London where we were still living to Golders Green which was a very upmarket suburban area and, on my bike which was my proud possession. And she looked after me for, for that week. And each day I, she would give me a bag of sandwiches and some drinks and biscuits and things and fruit and I would go off for the day. And I only got, on the first day, as far as Hendon Aerodrome which is just up the road from here now. And there I saw this RAF aerodrome with little tiny Tiger Moths and various other small aeroplanes. Biplanes. Single engine. And I sat on a stile all day long watching aeroplanes landing and taking off. And I think it was at that time that I decided that if ever I’m going to go in to the forces and there was talk of war at that time, I would want to go in the air force. And that’s why I joined up voluntarily. Yeah.
Other: Hello.
[recording paused]
TO: So, in the 1930s were you worried about Hitler at all?
RD: Oh yes. In, in the 1930s I was very worried about fascists of all sorts and kinds. I was brought up in the East End of London where there were very, very two powerful factions. The communists and the fascists. The British Union of Fascists had a very big unit in in Bethnal Green. And when I was sixteen, that would be in 1938 there had been all sorts of demonstrations. Particularly in Jewish areas. In the Jewish area where I lived there were confrontations between communists and fascists and communists and Jews. Young Jewish men. It’s a very interesting, you’ve caught me on a very good subject actually. It was a very interesting course. My, I am Jewish and my parents were born in England. My grandparents came to England in the middle 1890s. 1895 and one 1898. And my parents were born in England and educated in England. So I wasn’t first generation. I was second generation. Most of my friends would have been first generation. Parents not born in England. And as a result of that they had a different attitude to me. They always wanted to run away because that had been indoctrinated into them by their parents. My dad said, ‘You don’t run away from anybody. You stand up to anybody and confront them because a bully is always afraid of somebody who might confront him.’ My dad told me that from as long as I can remember. And as a result if I met fascists I didn’t, I didn’t run away. I, and I used to, when I was sixteen I never actually joined the communist party. I was never, never a communist as such but I used to go to communist party meetings because they were the people who confronted the fascists. So, yeah we were aware of Hitler but of course we knew nothing at that time about the concentration camps. Nothing whatsoever. That didn’t come out until well into the war. Probably ’43 ’44. Even ’43 there was very little. ’44 and ’45 there was a little bit of talk about it. It was only when we got to the camps, when the British Army and the American Army and the Russian Army got to the camps that we found out what it was all about. So, yes, definitely. We, we knew all about Hitler. And we also, I mean anybody with a common sense realised that a war was coming because it, it was you kept reading about these things. That Hitler had walked in to the Sudetenland and Hitler had walked in to Czechoslovakia and you automatically thought well where the hell’s he going to go to next? So yes I was personally very conscious. I’m not sure whether the same would apply to everybody else. That was my —
TO: And what did you think of the Munich Agreement?
RD: You have to remember I was very young. So I was seventeen and the communist party at the time and I associated with a number of people in that party. I was never active as such but I mainly saw them as the anti-fascists. Because you have to remember at that time neither the Labour Party nor the Conservative Party in Britain were anti-fascist. Were not anti-fascist. They were trying to come to terms with them. They weren’t anti. It was only the Communist Party that was anti-fascist. And for that reason. I ceased to have anything to do with the Communist Party when they made the alliance with, with Hitler in 1939 I think. 1938 or ’39. Sorry. Forgive me. What was your question again?
TO: No. You’ve already answered it. Which was what were your thoughts on the Munich Agreement?
RD: Yeah. The Munich Agreement. The Communist Party said it was the greatest political carve up in history. Where Chamberlain had been deceived. But the general opinion I think of the national newspapers was that this was going to solve all the problems.
TO: And were you ever in an air raid shelter during the bombing?
RD: Yes. We, in 1940 just before I joined up. February 1940. No. January. December/January ‘39 and ’40 my parents moved from the East End of London to Ilford where they rented a property with my mother’s brother. And there was about eight of us living in this three bedroom house with one bathroom and [laughs] but we were very comfortable there. Now, my dad, who in 1938 developed tuberculosis and couldn’t walk was in a [pause] I can’t remember what they called the hospitals where these people are. However, he was in a hospital, isolation hospital at Colindale here because it, it was terribly contagious at that time living with somebody with tuberculosis because of, you could catch it very easily. So he was in this hospital in 1938 to 1939 and when the war started my dad was sent home which made another one in this house and we all had to be very careful about it. Now, he made the decision that we would stay in our house. On the ground floor. We’d all get up and we’d be on the ground floor protected as far as we could be from a bombing raid and that we would not go in to a shelter. First of all it would have been no good for my dad to be down in those conditions. And secondly I think he was a very brave man to make that decision. To put his family at risk. His view was if we’re all going let’s go together rather than one at a time. So we never went to a public shelter. But I can remember the public shelters. I can remember going down them. I can remember when, before I joined up and after I joined up whenever I had leave and went up into town for a dance or something of that sort thousands and thousands of people sleeping down in in tube stations along the platforms. After about 9 o’clock at night they used to bring their stuff down and when you got off a train you had a narrow area that we walked through with all these people, all these families laying themselves out we mattresses like camping out. Which never really appeal to me [unclear] And my dad always said to me, ‘If you’re going out you’ve got to come home. You don’t stay out because there’s bombing.’ So that’s what we did. When my dad said that you did it. So I can. Very often walking through streets with shrapnel and all sorts of stuff falling down. So yes I did know about air raids and air raid shelters. There was one occasion when I was on leave and this would have been 1944 when I got to the Gants Hill near where my parents lived there. A road just off there. It was all blocked off by police because an aeroplane, a German aeroplane had come down on the corner of my parent’s street and was on fire above. Stuck in an empty shop. And I said to the policeman who was blocking the road, ‘You must let me through because my house is just down that road where, where the aeroplane is. I want to see if my mother and brother and sisters are well.’ My father had died by then. And he said, ‘Yes, go on.’ I was in uniform. He said, ‘Go on. You go through.’ So I went through and this aeroplane had apparently come, been shot down and had come straight down my mother’s road, scraping it’s wheels on the rooves of the houses and then plopped on to this empty shop. A miracle. Plopped onto this empty shop on the corner. There was no bombs exploded but the aeroplane made a bit of a mess of the building as you could imagine. And when I got to my front garden, a very small garden, there was a parcel lying there. And I knew it was the dinghy that had fallen out of the wing of this aeroplane as it was coming down. And I called my brother, I said, ‘Come on Ted. Let’s take this dinghy in. We’ll keep this as a souvenir.’ Which was a stupid thing to do but never mind. And my brother and I were trying to drag it in and my mother and two sisters were on the other side of the door, ‘Don’t bring it in here. it’s a bomb.’ You know [laughs] So, we, we left the dinghy where it was. And the other thing I can remember is the, one of the crew stuck in a tree outside, right outside of our house. One of our neighbours was trying to hit him with a, with a shovel. Calling him all, all the unknown names you’d heard previously. Yeah. So that’s, that’s what I remember about that.
TO: And what were your, when you were in the RAF at an airfield with aircraft on operations what were your everyday duties?
RD: My everyday duties were there were no days off. On a bomber command station in my 5 Group we worked seven days a week from eight till five. Eight to five. And every third day you did a twenty four shift because during the day we worked on the aeroplanes and prepared them for night raids when they were. And then a skeleton crew of about four or five would carry on after 6 o’clock through the night to see the aeroplane off or see them back or both. And then refuel them, prepare, repair any damage. Slight damages. Large damages went to the hangar but small damage was done out in the open on the airfield. And we would finish at four, five, 6 o’clock in the morning depending on what time they got back. And when we were finished we went off to bed and you then had the rest of that day off. So I would normally sleep till mid-day and then go in to Lincoln or one of the local villages just to have a bite to eat and a drink. Most of the boys used to go for a drink but I used to go for some food first. I had great problems with coping with the food. It was very poor. Very poor. I’m not going to say I was ever hungry hungry. But I wasn’t ever satisfied with the food. And at one time I discovered that there were mushrooms growing out on the airfield. And I had a friend of mine who was a country boy who knew the difference between mushrooms and those that you can eat and that you can’t eat. And he taught them to me. And I used to get up early in the morning before duties and collect two pounds of mushrooms out on the airfield. And I then used to take them to the, the NAAFI manageress used to live in a accommodation on the site. The NAAFI. And I had an arrangement with her that if I brought her two pounds of mushrooms she would cook me a pound on four slices of toast and keep the other pound for herself which she was very happy to do. It took people an awful long time to wonder what I was doing at the NAAFI manageress’s abode [laughs] With no other purpose other than to have my mushrooms.
TO: How would you describe morale?
RD: Morale was up and down. Morale was up and down. Most of the time morale was high. But you would get the occasional misery who would try to alter things. Speaking personally I think it’s in my nature to not, not to moan and have discipline. Self-discipline. But as for morale I never saw anything. I never saw anything that would make me worried. At any time. You’d get an occasionally a guy going a bit off the rails and let it all out but, you know, the next day he was fine, but morale generally was good. Yeah. I’m getting a feeling there’s a bit of something that shouldn’t be there in these questions. Is it my imagination?
TO: What? Am I asking questions I shouldn’t ask?
RD: No. No. The things that you’re asking me about we we never really had time to worry about morale.
TO: Ok.
RD: Morale was there. You only had a little bit of moaning and morale was there. And the discipline was there but the discipline off the airfield amongst the administration staff where you always had to have your buttons polished and boots clean and that sort of thing did not apply on the airfield. The, the NCOs were lenient with, I mean you saw the way we were dressed. Well, no officer would have passed that dress but that’s how we were. The discipline was lax as such out on the airfield because we didn’t have time and there was no necessity for it. Who was seeing us except the other crews? Yeah.
TO: And did you ever find out about the damage that the raids were causing?
RD: Yes. They would come back and say, ‘Oh we, we hit that target well and truly.’ Or they would come back and say, ‘I think we were in the wrong place,’ or something of that sort. But rarely did a crew tell us exactly what went on. What they told, were told at the debriefing after each bombing raid in the mess I do not know. But they would say, ‘No. We, we, I think we were in the wrong place today,’ or, ‘No. We hit this one. We really hit this one.’ But that sort of thing. As far as I can remember. If I think about it a bit more [pause] No. I, I can never say they sent us to the wrong target or anything of that sort. There was never anything of that sort.
TO: And what, how did you feel when you heard about the attack on the Ruhr dams?
RD: Well. I was involved in that obviously. I thought it was the greatest thing that ever happened. But it was a very, very, very costly exercise. A very costly exercise in the way of numbers of aircraft and numbers of crew that, that were killed. But it was a great puzzle to us because when the first aeroplanes arrived for the Dambuster raid we didn’t know what it was going to be. Hadn’t the faintest idea. Certainly didn’t know what we were going to carry. But one day — when an aeroplane, when a Lancaster flew over you knew the sound of it and invariably you didn’t look up. But if you heard a strange sound you would look up to see what it is. And these Lancasters came over with a strange sound. A different sound to the one that was usual. And when we looked up we saw they had no bomb doors. And so we automatically said, ‘Oh well, they’ve run out of bloody bomb doors again and they’re sending them out without bomb doors. We’ll have to fit them.’ But it was intended that that the bomb the round bomb was the base of where the bomb doors were. You couldn’t close the doors. It was so low they couldn’t close the bomb doors so they had to go without bomb doors and this thing was streamlined to comply with that. So that was the first thing we found out. That the new bombs were going to be without bomb doors. And we, we were extraordinarily proud of that. Extraordinarily proud of that. But as I say that was a massive, massive loss.
TO: So were you in 617 Squadron at the time —
RD: Yes.
TO: Of the raid.
RD: At the time. Yeah.
TO: After those losses did that affect morale?
RD: Sorry?
TO: Did those losses affect morale?
RD: No. No. No. We [pause] I think we were all very sad but there’s a difference between being sad and your morale. Oh no. At no time was our morale affected by that. So far as I know.
TO: And what do you, how did you feel when you heard about the rain on Hamburg in ’43?
RD: Well, I don’t know. We did dozens of raids on Hamburg. Which one are you speaking about?
TO: The one where there was the fire storm. When we first used Window.
RD: Oh yeah. Well, first of all you have to remember that the Germans made the first big firestorm in 1940 when they set fire to the City of London. So, so it wasn’t new. It had been done before. And so far as anybody in the RAF was concerned well bloody good, bloody shame you know. This war has got to be won. If that’s the way we’ve got to do it that’s the way we do it. I don’t quite think you realise how strong were feelings of Britain that we retaliate for all that we had been through for all that long winter. That long year. The Battle of Britain. You know, you, we had it all bottled up within us. No. No. No qualms whatever. No. Why should we? Why should we? We, we didn’t start it. We were trying to rid the world of a monster. No. I don’t see this view at all. I don’t see this view. I’m sorry but people may well think of it these days but conditions are rather different now to what they were. I mean do you realise how close we were to being overrun? If, if Hitler had had two penneth of guts he’d have walked straight into Britain and taken it over. We had no defence. Our army had lost its, all, all its equipment in, after Dunkirk. And if he’d have come straight across he would have walked straight into Britain and I mean there’s no knowing where or what have been after that. I don’t know who could. So you have to take all this into account when you think of raids like Hamburg. No. We had no qualms about them at all.
TO: Did you hear about how other campaigns of the war were going?
RD: Oh yes. There was no such, there might have been a bit of cover up here and there on certain losses or when they were made not quite so bad as they were. But generally speaking I am convinced that our press was as free as any press in the world. And newspapers didn’t like to publish bad news but, but we always got the bad news. No. I I don’t think. I might have been deceived about, but saying they used to say each time how many aircraft were lost on a raid in the morning new, ‘The RAF last night raided Hamburg with a thousand aeroplanes of Hampdens, Halifax, Manchesters, Lancasters, Halifaxes, Wellingtons. A thousand. Rustled up a thousand and they bombed Hamburg and six didn’t return.’ You know. It was announced like that. It was never that four hundred never returned. You know. There was never anything of that sort. They were, they were small numbers. Perhaps ten out of a thousand or twenty but they were numbers of that sort. But, but when on the Dambuster raid we lost I think it was, I think it was eight. Yeah. That was a heavy loss. And that would have been announced. They might have said that three were shot down. The crew had bailed out and they were prisoners and four are missing. Or something of that sort. Yeah. So I had no doubts whatever that the press did announce. That we were informed. Yeah.
TO: And what are your thoughts on the bombing of Dresden?
RD: Bombing of, well my thoughts on the bombing of Dresden I think I have no qualms whatever. I have heard the stories about what Dresden did and that it was only for peaceful purposes but we knew for a fact that pieces of the machinery for the rockets that were being dropped on Britain were made, manufactured, designed, designed and manufactured in that part of the world. So therefore Dresden meant nothing. I mean, every time anyone asks me I say well tell me about the City of London that was destroyed in one bombing raid with fire that burned the whole lot out. And I saw the city after the bombing so I know the whole bloody chute went in one night.
TO: Did you ever actually see any of the V-2s when they attacked London?
RD: I I I saw the V-1s. The chug chug chug. You couldn’t ever see the V-2s. The first thing you knew about the V-2s was, was it landing. The V-1s were, were these chug chug chug things and you knew that whilst the engine was running you were alright but the moment the engine cut out, when it turned to drop then start worrying because you’re, you’re in line for it. I’d heard lots of V-1s and also I’d heard recordings on the radio of them going over during the news. But V-2s you never saw. You only knew when they landed. I never heard one explode but I’d seen where some of them exploded and they really knocked it to smithereens.
TO: Were the V-2s — sorry.
RD: Sorry?
TO: Were the V-2s quite a shock to everyone?
RD: No. Because I think we were warned that the Germany had these things. We were warned beforehand that that they would be coming at some time and they did. But again I don’t think morale was affected by that. I can’t recall any one family that I met at any time during the war who had lost faith in in what we were doing. Right. I, I really can’t. Because even those that supported the, the British Union of Fascists, the BUF, even those, they were still British to the core. They never converted to, to German. You know, the British Union of Fascists they didn’t want to lose England. If if you can understand what I’m saying. No. No. So there was never anything of that to my, to my knowledge and I’d be very distressed to hear somebody say that there was.
TO: And why do you think Bomber Command were treated the way they were after the war?
RD: I think Churchill made quite an error of judgement. Something must have happened at some time between Harris and Churchill. Or Harris and some minister which, which, which turned Churchill and I think Churchill regretted for the rest of his days although I don’t think he ever said so publicly. He said one or two things but he didn’t say fully and publicly that he regretted saying it. But I was annoyed that Bomber Command was not recognised for what it did and it did a hell of a lot for Britain during a time when army, the years when the army was inactive until D-Day. I mean we were the only enemy that the enemy knew about. And I was very annoyed that Bomber Command was not recognised with a special award and that we who served in Bomber Command never had one single badge to show that we were Bomber Command. On the other hand Fighter Command never had one single badge to show it won the Battle of Britain. But those things should have been recognised. And personally I was distressed from day one that I mean, you know not distressed but I’m sorry that the service that we gave was not recognised in a better way than it was by just giving us a general service medal.
TO: And what’s your best memory from the war?
RD: My best memory is camaraderie. My best memory was that I was very lucky to be where I was doing what I was on a active squadron going to the enemy when I realised that for years and years and years other guys in the services were sitting around scratching themselves, doing very little but training ready for D-Day which didn’t come until 1943 — four. 1944. So that was my greatest memory. I was proud. I was proud to serve. I was proud to be there and I was proud to be on an operational squadron. I went in a little, I really was a little boy at eighteen and I really came out a man knowing what the world was. And which prepared me for my later career where I very fortunately made a, made a success. To give me what I’ve got today from, from that very humble start.
TO: And were there ever any occasions where aircraft crashed near your airfield?
RD: Oh yes. Oh yes. But you have to remember that some of the pilots when they arrive are novice pilots. When they arrive on the squadron for the first time they’ve had their training, they’ve had good training from small aircraft to large aircraft. But when they get on to a squadron with a crew and the bomb load and all the rest of it it’s a little bit of a different story until you’ve been through it several times. So I’ve seen lots of aeroplanes crash on landing for no apparent reason. When I was at Scampton with the Hampdens one aeroplane over shot the airfield. Remember when we were on Hampdens there was only grass. There was no concrete airstrip. So although there was a marked out place for aircraft to land and the Drem lights, Drem lights are lights that you can see from sixty seventy eighty feet which you can’t see from up above. And they used to come in on those. That’s another story. When they came back from a raid and there had been snow the Drem lights were covered up by the snow. So an aeroplane coming in on to a snow covered airfield could not see the Drem lights. So on those occasions ground crew would have to go out. There would be about fifteen every fifty yards. They would have one man every fifty yards with a goose necked, goose necked oil can with paraffin in that we would light when we got the signal. Number 1 got the signal from, from the conning tower to light his lamp and the other fifteen would, would light it and you would stand there in the freezing cold in the middle of an airfield hunched up waiting to get the light to light yours. And then you would light your lamp, oil lamp. Then run across the runway. Light the other one on the other side. So make a path for the aeroplane to land and as soon as he landed you put the lamp out. Run across and put the other one on. Wait for the next one to come. It was so primitive it was the only way you could do it if there was snow. What was the other question that I, that I —
TO: The question was what crashes did you see?
RD: Oh yes. Then, then onwards I interrupted it. One night, and bearing in mind we landed on grass and one aeroplane for reasons unknown, I don’t know why but it overshot the perimeter fence and went in to a field that belonged to a farmer further along. And this aeroplane unfortunately ran into about twenty heifers. Cows. Massive cows. And when we got there you couldn’t tell humans from animals. And that was the most horrible thing I have ever experienced in my life. We, we didn’t have to touch them. The medical crew did that. But to see this mixture of animals and humans was something that I’m very, very reluctant to talk about at any time as it’s very distressing. That, that’s what I can tell you about that.
TO: And were you quite friendly with the air crews?
RD: Generally speaking [coughs] generally speaking yes. It was, my aeroplane normally had the same crew. So that we knew them and we would chat about this, that and the other and things that young men talk about. It also helped them to keep their minds off what they were about to do. And, and then they would go off and we would welcome them back and all the rest of it. Sometimes when your crew wasn’t there it was a strange crew. Your crew was off on leave or something of that sort. Then a strange crew would fly the aeroplane. And I would do nothing. And they would just nod or wink and say, ‘How are you doing?’ And that that’s it, but we never had, if we saw them out in the pub we might say hello and have a little chat with them but we never had a lot to do with them because they were in a different mess to us. You know, half of them were officers so they were entirely different. The others were senior NCOs and again that wasn’t a mess that I used. So, we, we never saw them. And very occasionally did they actually come down to the flight because there was nothing, the flight is where the aeroplanes were dispersed. Way out across the field. They very rarely had to come down. Occasionally they would have to do compass swinging and things of that sort on the ground when they, two of them would come out. The pilot and the engineer and they would move the aircraft around on the airfield for various reasons. But again when they went off they didn’t, sometimes we went with them. I would often tow an aeroplane by the back wheel for compass swinging. We had to test, test the compass. Then the aircrew didn’t do it. I would do it with the compass. We also unofficially used to move the aircraft on the ground from one spot to another. It was not officially allowed but but we did and we also had a wonderful system that when aircraft had been repaired the engineers went up on the test. Which was, we didn’t make mistakes that way. And so I used to quite, fly quite a lot and yeah then then you would be more involved with the crews. But other than that we never saw a lot of them because there was never an occasion.
TO: Ok.
RD: But they were always friendly. Always appreciated. If there was sometimes some aircraft used to have a little peculiarity then you would tell them, ‘Watch that one because, it’s alright but you know it might need looking at. Let us know.’ Yeah.
TO: And what did you think of Arthur Harris?
RD: I thought he was my hero. He was my hero. He was. I mean I only saw him three times I think during, during the whole of my career but we knew him and we used to get orders and things of sort signed by him. But he was my hero. He was the greatest man that there was born. There was a Group Captain Whitworth. Now, how did I remember that name? A Group Captain Whitworth who was the senior officer at Scampton at that time who was the station commander. That’s the two squadrons. He was detached from either squadron. The wing commander was the, was the senior man in my squadron. And, and he was in charge of Scampton and I, he was a great disciplinarian. A bit of a pain in the arse sometimes but he was a very good man. And then I had a senior officer, Squadron Leader Bell whose family owned the Express Dairies. I don’t know whether that means anything to you but Express Dairies delivered milk to every house in Britain, and his family owned that outfit. And when I was demobilised and I was taking some exams for the Law Society I needed something signed to prove that I’d done something. And I looked him up after the war and he was delighted to see me and help me. Helped me very much. And you know I felt I was imposing on him but he assured me that he was glad to do it to an old comrade. And he gave me a reference that I needed for one of my exams to prove what I’d done. So yeah but Harris was my hero. Yeah. Yeah.
TO: How much time have we got? It’s about —
RD: It’s alright. Another ten minutes.
TO: Ok.
RD: Ten minutes. Yeah.
TO: Ok. Yeah. There a Bomber Command Centre form I’ll need you to sign afterwards if that’s ok.
RD: Yeah.
TO: I just don’t want to trespass on your time.
RD: Yeah. Yeah.
TO: I can see you’re going to lunch. When you were, on the occasions when you did go flying in the aircraft what were conditions like on board?
RD: In what way?
TO: Well was it very cramped?
[recording paused]
RD: No. Remember a Lancaster is a very big bomber. And you climbed up steps to get in the door at the back and then walk along the main part of the rear of the aeroplane ‘til you came to the main spar where you cocked your leg over and went in to the wireless operator’s little cubbyhole on the left. And, and then further along was the navigator on the left. And then there were the two seats for the pilot and the co-pilot engineer. And underneath that was the place where the bomb aimer used to lay. It, it was cramped but nothing like a fighter aeroplane. There are two, two things about that that [pause] I’ve forgotten what I was saying now [pause]
TO: Conditions aboard was it?
RD: No.
TO: Or positions of people?
RD: No. It was never, never cramped in a bomber aircraft. If, if you want to know what cramped is — in, in the in the pay in the Hampden there were pilot, second pilot, engineer, navigator, bomb aimer, wireless operator and two other gunners. Now, the rear gunner, the one right at the back out on his own was in a cupola underneath the belly of the aircraft at the back. Above him would be the tail. And he would sit in that turret with his legs up like this, he’d obviously got support at the back, with his gun like that for eight hours. That was uncomfortable and cold. Absolutely freezing cold. He used to have to have a heating, a heated suit. And the sheer boredom of looking at nothing. Looking for aircraft. That was uncomfortable. But I don’t think I can say that anybody else was uncomfortable in a Lancaster. Except if you’re out on a gun, the rear gun at the back of the aircraft that swivels around I suppose you could say it was uncomfortable. I’ve written a lovely story that’s just been published about a Canadian pilot. But I’ll send you an email. It was nothing to do with me. It’s something that happened after the war but just as a matter of interest give me your email address.
TO: Ok.
RD: I’ll send it to you. Yeah.
TO: I’ll send you, if you like I’ll send you a link to an Imperial War Museum with Harris.
RD: From?
TO: That Harris did in 1977. I can send you a link via an email.
RD: Yeah.
TO: To a website where you can listen to an interview with Harris.
RD: Oh well they’ve got it up at Lincoln because I sent it up to, to them but this would, I don’t know if you know about the pilot who gave his life to save the crew.
TO: No. What was that?
RD: Well this is the story of —
TO: Ok. Send me that one.
RD: I’ll send it to you personally.
TO: Ok.
RD: Or to whatever address you want to.
TO: Yeah. Ok.
RD: But Lincoln have already seen it and it’s been published in the magazine.
TO: Ok.
RD: So you might have seen it there which you can then forget it.
TO: And do you remember what you were doing on the day the war ended?
RD: On the day that war ended. That which would be VE Day I was still [pause] up near Lincoln. But we used, for a special night out we used to go to Nottingham and I and a crowd of guys went out to Nottingham to celebrate and we did. It was alleged the prettiest girls in England were in Nottingham and so we used to make for Nottingham at any given opportunity. I think it was right actually. But that was VE. Now VJ Day I really can’t remember offhand. I might think about it later on. But certainly VJ night I celebrated in Nottingham which was the nearest big city.
TO: And — sorry.
RD: Sorry.
TO: Do you remember hearing about the atomic bombs on Japan?
RD: Oh yes. Of course. Well, one of our commanders Leonard Cheshire was, was on the raid. And, and we, we didn’t know until, until afterwards. But but but oh yes we thought, thought this was fantastic. I mean never ever thought it was what it was at that time. You know the atomic bomb. Ok it’s a big bomb that blows up everything but we did not realise the significance of the post bomb period and things of that sort. And at that time I don’t think it was considered. The important thing was to get it over. You know. Regardless. Why should we have any sympathy for these people who have done this? That is always my question. I’m not asking you but my question why should we care? We want to get the war over and however we get it over we get it over. I don’t say we’d do things that are criminal. I mean Idon’t think this is criminal. This is just the way you fight a war. I mean I don’t believe in anything illegal. It’s not illegal to me. Not illegal to me. Whether, whether I’m sympathetic to those people that did die at that time. Whether I’m still sympathetic now is another matter entirely but my thoughts at that time were absolutely thank goodness for that. It’s over.
TO: Right.
RD: And I knew it would be because it would be stupid to. We would have just wiped Japan off the face of the earth. Yeah.
TO: Do you remember hearing about the Holocaust?
RD: Oh yes. That was terribly upsetting. Terribly, terribly upsetting. We knew that that large numbers of people. I mean, you also have to remember that there were some refugees from Germany who got out before the war and they were in every, every community. So, we, we knew about this and were told how they got out with great difficulty without anything. On the other hand some of them did get out with some of their belongings. They had to get a special certificate and pay certain monies to take them out of Germany. Which they did and they arrived in England with them. So, you know, a lot of it, a lot of them came out quite legally but they were very few in relation to the numbers that we’re talking about. Yeah. No, I had no, I had no direct relatives who, who were there. Although subsequently I did find that there were some of my grandfather’s relatives who I’d never heard of who survived and came, came to England. But no, it was, it was earth shattering. How, how could any people do that? And and the other thing that infuriated me and infuriates me to this day is those Germans who said they didn’t know. Because I don’t believe they didn’t know. I think they just shut their eyes to it. You know. That’s the German man in the street couldn’t tell me that he didn’t know. People living next door. What was it? You know. So that’s, that’s the way I feel about that.
TO: I think I’m —
RD: Yeah.
TO: I’ve more or less run out of time.
RD: Right.
TO: But is there anything you want to add at all?
RD: No. No.
TO: No.
RD: Not really. I mean I could probably go on forever. I’m amazed that I, I remember as much as I, as I do. I feel very fortunate and gifted that I can still do it. Seeing, you know, contemporaries of mine. The way they are and ill health and memories are gone and Alzheimers and all and all the rest of them, so I consider myself very, very fortunate to still have my mind working. And the fact that I can travel and do travel and enjoy life to the extent that I don’t know how I found time to work [laughs]
TO: Well, thank you very much.
RD: You’re welcome.
TO: I really enjoyed it.
RD: Pleasure.
TO: Thank you.
RD: A pleasure to meet you Thomas.



Tom Ozel, “Interview with Ronald Davis,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 12, 2024,

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