Interview with Ron Dawson

Title

Interview with Ron Dawson

Description

Ron Dawson flew over 40 operations with 429 Squadron as air gunner. He joined the Air Training Corps at the age of sixteen. He trained on Ansons and Boulton Paul Defiants and remembers flying in the Whitley. He crewed up at Leicester airport. Tells of being attacked by enemy fighters twice. Gives a vivid and detailed account of when he was shot down on the way back from Nuremberg. They all bailed out but while the rest of the crew was arrested, he found his way to the Luxembourg border and was taken up by the Resistance. He was then taken to the house of a man called Ferdie Schulz and he stayed there from May 1944 to the 7th of June 1944. From Luxembourg he went to Belgium, where he hid in the Ardennes forest with other people from different countries, until the invasion started and they were then liberated by the Americans, who after questioning them regarding their identity, let him go to fend off on his own. After the war, Ron became a police officer.

Creator

Date

2017-11-07

Language

Type

Format

00:43:44 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

ADawsonR171107

Transcription

JM: This interview is being conducted for the international Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Julian Maslin. The interviewee is Ron Dawson, flight sergeant, later warrant officer. The interview is taking place at Ron’s house in Stafford on the 7th of November 2017. Ron, would you start us off by telling us a little bit about your family background please?
RD: Yes. Well, I was the, there was four of us in the family and I was the, my brother was four years older than me and then I had two sisters, four years and five years older than, younger than me. And we lived in a terraced, small terraced house and from there I, when I was sixteen and a half, when I was sixteen I joined the Air Training Corps and then the Air Training Corps I trained to be air gunner and strange as it may seem, my schoolfriend, who we went training on bomber pilot, he changed, he became and we were training as air gunners together. And we trained, and you did your air gunnery course which was an exciting course because you did flying on different aircraft, we did Anson aircraft which had a turret behind the pilot and of course being a gunner, that was ideal and they used to, an aircraft coming along, towing a windsock and we used to fire the guns at the windsock and then my pal joined up and we got in this air gunnery course together and then we went to, when it was all finished, we went to an airfield in Leicester, there was hundreds of different people, pilots, bomb aimers, navigators, and the pilot was trying to get a crew together and he was walking along and talking and with me, he said, he came over, he said, tell me, who are you? I said I told him my age, who I was and he said, what do you want to be? I said, a rear gunner. Oh, he said, I am looking for a rear gunner for my crew and I said, wonder of wonders, my pal, who gave up Bomber Command, gave up pilot and navigator course and we are on the course together and we did a gunnery course, flying an Anson aircraft with a turret, and then in a Boulton Paul Defiant, which was a fighter aircraft, and it was, it had a turret, and it was exciting. And then we all met in this very large room at the airport of Leicester and this man came to me and he said, can you tell me who are you? Well, I said, Ron Dawson, and he said, what did you train? I said, I’ve been trained as an air gunner, oh, he said, I’m a pilot, and he was Australian. And he said, I’m a pilot, I’m looking for a gunner, I said, well a rear gunner, he said, that’s fine and I said, my pal who managed to get the same course, we did the gunnery course together, and I said, I joined up with the pilot, the navigator and other people and we flew. In the early days, we flew in the, the old aircraft called the Whitley, it’s nickname was the flying coffin, because it was square shaped like a coffin and it flew nose down and I did a couple of operations over Europe in that dropping, one was dropping leaflets and the other one was dropping bombs. And then I got together and we were, we were recruited to, as a crew, doing raids on different parts of Germany, Leipzig, Magdeburg, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Berlin and I said it’s, it was exciting going to these different places and I said it was exciting to see the aircraft fighting in the sky, the Germans firing at us and I said twice, on, once on a trip we were attacked by the German aircraft and he fired his guns at us but he never hit us and another time we were there they came and he, the aircraft attacked us and he shot us up, shot the backend of the plane and we had trouble with the mechanics to control the aircraft and we had to land at a [unclear] in Norfolk which was controlled by the Americans and we landed there because there was some difficulty with the mechanics of the aircraft and in controlling it and they had a runway over a mile long which enabled us to control our aircraft and stop and then another time we were shot up and we had to land and we landed at an American Air Force base and I remember the American coming to me and saying, are you RAF? I said, yes, I am, I’m an air gunner, rear gunner, oh, he said, and where [unclear], I said, this is my aircraft, my God, he said, it’s all bullet holes, I said, yes, fortunately none of them have hit us and I said, and another time, we got shot up and then I said, I was flying coming back from Germany on a raid, and we got attacked and we got, we had to bail out, I said, we were over twenty thousand feet and I said it was almost laughable when I was, I said, I went forward the aircraft, you, normally I would drop out the, out the rear turret, backwards, with me parachute on, but if we could we all went out the front so the pilot could count the crew had got out and I said, I bailed out of there the front and I said, we were twenty thousand feet and I said, it was, it was unique, I said and, I said I was, we carried a whistle so that if you ever come down in the sea, you don’t have to shout, you blow the whistle and attract attention and I said, I was blowing my whistle and I was shouting hello! This is Ronnie, this is Ronnie, is calling everybody, hello! And I said I was [unclear] down some twenty thousand feet and I said, I landed and I, immediately I could see my aircraft which had crashed and was burning and I turned my back on it and started to run away and I got, I was hiding up and I was hiding in these bushes, I had no idea where I was, except I thought I was in Germany and I said I, it was coming daylight and I got into these bushes and I looked out cause I heard a dog barking and I thought, they’ve got the dogs on me tail and then I looked up, it was getting late, and I could see these crossroads and the crossroads had signposts there, the Germans never took the sign posts down, so there was a little farmhouse nearby and I saw this farm and this dog was really [unclear] barking and when he disappeared I went out to look at the crossroads to see where I was. And the first words that stuck out in me mind was Luxembourg and I thought, oh, I’ll just go back and hide, now I know where I am and, but the dog started barking again, I thought if I go back and hide in the bushes, the farmer will, I don’t know whether he’s good, bad or indifferent, but I said, I walked into the village, and I said, it’s a mystery of mysteries, about eight to ten children came from nowhere, told them to call [unclear] through the village and no sooner we’d done about twenty yards, then the sirens went and the children disappeared and I turned the first corner and it ended into a little wood and I said, I got my maps out cause I’ve read the signpost and I found where I was and I thought, good, and I was told in, when I was in training, if you get shot down and you come near Switzerland, that’s a neutral country, it’s a good country to get to if you can but the Germans smothered the border to stop anybody trying to escape so I said, I made me mind up, I was in Luxembourg and I’d walk across France and across Spain because Spain wasn’t exactly [unclear] friendly with Germany and into Portugal and I said, I don’t know how many hundred miles it was and I said, I set off walking, but again I got disturbed and this little man stopped me when I was sitting in this little wood and he said in French, vous RAF, tombez avec parachute, you RAF, fall with the parachute and I said, I’ve never been more pleased about learning French at school than I did then, cause the words came easy. And I said yes and I was picked up by them and they hid me away and it was a case of hiding from the Germans and I knew where I was, Luxembourg and then I got out of there and I set off for Spain and I, over France and Spain and Portugal but I got picked up and I was, joined the RAF from there, almost flying in different aircraft, finishing me air training course, and when I did in 1944, I was on me fortieth op and I got shot down and I couldn’t fly again and I was, I got picked up by the underground and taken care of.
JM: Now, I believe Ron that you were, you were, I believe you were sheltered by the Resistance for quite, I believe you were sheltered by the Resistance for quite a long time.
RD: Yeah, yeah.
JM: Can you tell us a little bit about that?
RD: About?
JM: About the time you spent in hiding in Luxembourg.
RD: Oh yes. When I, when I was hiding from the Germans, I didn’t know where I was, and then I was hiding in the bushes, and then I heard a dog barking, and I thought, oh, the Germans have got a police dog on me tail, and I looked out and it was a farmhouse with crossroads, and there was a farmer and his big dog were standing by a little farmhouse, he went in and there were signposts at the crossroads, the Germans never took signposts down, so I said, ah, that’s where I’ll know where I am, and when I went down, I saw the words, [unclear], Luxembourg, and I was just a few kilometres from Luxembourg and I thought, great, and then the underground picked me up, and I was hiding and training with them and it was really exciting coming down after being shot down at twenty thousand feet in the air and blowing the whistle and shouting, this is Ronnie, this is Ronnie, and I landed and then I saw the Luxembourg, I saw the crossroad signs, saw that I was in Luxembourg, and I was going back into hiding, and then the farmer saw me, so I went into the village, and I walked in the village and about eight to ten children joined me and then the sirens went and the children disappeared and I went into the wood, and I looked at me, I got me maps out cause you would given when you would training, you were given an escape package, with foreign money in, French, Belgian, German, and the little maps to tell you where you were and I said, I decided that I would, that’s what I would do, but I got picked up by this little man and he came, he said, vous RAF, tombez avec parachute and he took me on board and I was glad to know it was Luxembourg.
JM: I believe for some time you were living in a house that was only two doors from the Gestapo.
RD: What?
JM: I believe for, you were living in a house that was only two doors down from the Gestapo headquarters.
RD: Two what?
JM: Two doors, two houses, close by the Gestapo headquarters.
RD: Oh yes, yes, and it was exciting and it was frightening in some words, not exactly frightening, but I went training and I was flying and as I say, I got shot down, then I got picked up by the underground cause I was in these different houses and they, I found out, [unclear] I read me maps and everything where I was and I thought, I’ll set off walking from, to Portugal because you couldn’t, the Swiss border was so heavily protected and so I got picked up by the underground who took me on board and took me in a house and hid me and I was hiding away when I was, this man came and took me and he took me to his house and it was in Luxembourg and it was a nice house that I learned much later it was only four, five doors from the senior German police officer and I was hiding in this house and it, they looked up to me, and then they picked up and put me in the underground and it was, it was living, when I was flying, I did about, I did over forty operations and I got shot down, and I wasn’t hurt but when we had to land at this airport, which is a big airport, the Americans were there and when the Americans came and saw the aircraft, and said, are you part of the crew? I said, yes, he said, what are you? I said, the rear gunner, my God, he said, look at that! He said, I said, all the Perspex of the rear turret was shot away, there’s bullet holes all over, how I’ve never been hit I don’t know, but I said it was, I was picked up by those people and I was learned to, trying to fly.
JM: Ron, can I just take you, can I just take you back to your time in Luxembourg?
RD: Time?
JM: When you were living in Luxembourg.
RD: Yeah.
JM: Does the main
RD: I was living in Luxembourg, I was picked up and this, this family picked me up and I was, I’d seen the sign posts and I looked, I got in the wood and looked at me maps and I saw where I was, I was delighted and then this little man came and asked me if I was RAF and I joined up with him.
JM: Does the name Ferdie Schulz mean anything to you? The name Ferdie Schulz?
RD: Yes, and the man, the man that looked after me, was a man, he, I was picked up and taken into the village. And there’s a lady there and she was talking to me in French and it was, she was talking very fast and difficult to understand and I said, the door opened and I said, this man came in, tall, heavily built, short cropped iron grey hair, I said, this man’s Gestapo, he’s German, but he said to me in German, sprechen sie Deutsch? I said, nein. I said, I speak English. Parlez vouz francais? I said, en peu, just a little I speak, but I am English, and from that moment on he hid me away and he took me to his house in the middle of Luxembourg. His wife was a Spanish lady who was neutral of course and she was scared stiff because she was not anti-German but not pro German. And she was scared stiff because only a few doors away was a very senior German police officer and if she’d been caught, she could have been hurt, she could’ve been. Anyhow, I got out of there
JM: How long, how long were you living with them?
RD: Ey?
JM: How long were you living with them?
RD: I lived with Ferdie Schulz from the March to the 8th of June.
JM: Right.
RD: Because the invasion came on the 6th of June.
JM: Yes.
RD: All the names and dates blend in.
JM: Yes.
RD: And then I, I was in training and
JM: When you left their house, when you left their house
RD: Yes
JM: I believe
RD: When I lived Ferdie Schulz’s house.
JM: You went to the Ardennes
RD: I went to live in Belgium and then in Belgium I went into the Ardennes forest
JM: Yes
RD: And I lived in the Ardennes forest and I joined up with a [unclear] groups of people and they were all European, French, German, Italian and we were all in this camp and I was sitting when the invasion had started and we could hear the invasion, the, the Allies had landed in Europe and were coming forward, and we were in this camp as I say, nearly all European nationalities, and we were debating what to do, should we come out in the open and meet the Allies or wait and I said, I went outside in to have a pee and I said over the top of the bushes, I saw these round helmets, my God, Germans have found us and I said, run, the Germans are here! And it turned out to be the Americans.
JM: So, you were liberated by the Americans.
RD: Yeah, and then the Americans picked us up, looked after us, took us into the, into the Ardennes forest and I was living in the Ardennes forest with a group of other people and then I was moved into Belgium and it
JM: Now, I believe that the Americans actually arrested you in the forest.
RD: Well, what happened was, when I went outside for a pee, I saw the round helmets, I thought, run, it’s the Germans, and then [unclear] with the Americans and the Americans came and they talked to us and they, he said, we have to arrest you because we have to interview to find you who you really are and we are going to put you in this school house with some other people and outside in the yard was full of German soldiers and I was looked after and interviewed and hidden away, well, I say hidden away, got to know everybody, and it was, it was, living in the with Ferdie Schulz, just a few doors from the senior police officer, then things got a bit scary, they had a maid and she found out I was there, and they moved me on, into a village called Troisvierges, three virgins, in Northern Belgium, and I lived with a doctor, Doctor Isha, and his wife and he had a wife there and he was old and he had a daughter called Guedette and he had a maid, she was seventy odd, and we lived there for a while. And then they moved me on from there into a hiding place in the forest in north, in south Belgium and then I got out when the Germans came, well, when the Americans came, I got out and they interviewed me and I eventually got back to England and was transferred, it was funny, when I was picked up I was more or less left to go on my own devices and I said, I was guided up to the north of, to the north of Europe and then taken over into Europe and in Europe I met Ferdie Schulz who looked after me, he looked after me for several weeks, and then, after a few weeks, the Germans, the Allies came forward and he took me along and we met the Allies.
JM: I understand that after the war, you met up with the Schulz family again through their daughter.
RD: That’s right.
JM: Will you tell us about that, please?
RD: That’s right. I went back, I went back to see them, Ferdie Schulz, in Europe and it was, it was exciting and frightening to think that I’d lived so close with them to the senior German police officer and that they risked their lives.
JM: And he was involved with Radio Luxembourg.
RD: That was Luxembourg.
JM: And he was involved
RD: And from Luxembourg I went to the Ardennes forest in Belgium
JM: You did, but Ferdie Schulz was involved with Radio Luxembourg I believe.
RD: Radio?
JM: Radio Luxembourg.
RD: Radio Luxembourg.
JM: He was involved with that?
RD: Oh yes, well, Radio Luxembourg came and interviewed me.
JM: Right.
RD: And it was, they were so interested into the story
JM: Right.
RD: And from there on I went, the Americans came forward and the Americans looked after us and then I went
JM: You went to Paris I believe.
RD: Went to Paris, yes, was nice Paris, nice in Paris, and it was a strange world in Paris but it was such a big city, it was a lonely place but I was taken up to the, to live with Ferdinand Schulz in his house and as I say, he had a Spanish lady who was in neutral
JM: Yeah.
RD: And she was frightened because in case the Germans
JM: How did you get back from Paris to England?
RD: Well, I was living in a camp among a lot of other people, Europeans, German, Italians, French, Belgian and I went outside for a pee, saw these round helmets and I thought, oh, the Germans have come, and I shout, the Germans have come, and this voice said, [unclear] and it was the Americans and I said, the Americans then got us all together and they said, well, you have to be interviewed to see if you are really who you are, to see if you are an ally and so you’ll be arrested by us and I was arrested and I was put on the back of an American lorry and taken up to South Belgium and I was taken out there and put into a school and I was told I would have to be there till I was interviewed and I said anyhow, I went in the school and the Germans interviewed me and then I, I was, they believed who I was
JM: I think you mean the Americans interviewed you.
RD: Well, the Americans I meant, the Americans and they left me on me own to get back to England and I got back to England and got picked up and got helped and it was all exciting, it was coming back to a new world, after being shot down, you know, it was, and how frightening it was, to live so near a senior German police officer and it was, I wasn’t caught.
JM: You successful evaded for so many weeks
RD: And the Americans came and took me, put me in a school, then took me to the North of Belgium and left me and I mean, I made me own way back to England and I, I must tell you, I had no money and I was walking in Paris cause I’d the freedom of the Americans and I saw this notice, it was a notice on the wall that said, something about a British regiment, I said, I went inside, and I said, there was a captain there and he said, yes, who are you? I said, well, I’m English, he said, how do I know you’re English? I said, well, I tell you the story I’ve been shot down and I said, really what I’ve come for is to see if I can get some money. You’ve got nothing here, it’s not a charity, and the door opened and this fellow is a captain and a major walked in and he said, what’s going on? And when he heard the story, he said to the captain, give him the money, I’ll take the responsibility, we’ve got his name, his rank and his number and we’ll get it back from him later. And I said, so they gave me the money, and I said it’s, then the Americans took me into Northern Belgium that’s more or less left me.
JM: But when you got the money in Paris, you were able to get home.
RD: Right, yeah, yeah, they took me to the North of Belgium and left me and then I got on a plane, made me home with it and I was picked up at the, Germans, the Americans picked me up and they took care of me and I was hiding away and I got free.
JM: When you got home, your family must have been thrilled to have you back.
RD: When I got home?
JM: Your family must have been thrilled to have you back.
RD: Well, I remember that I’d no money and I just wanted money to let my family know I was alright and the British officer gave me the money and I got a message sent to England to tell them folks that I was alright. And the Americans dumped me in the North of Belgium and let me to find me own way back and then I went back and I found my way to the railway station and I got a ticket and I phoned up and told them where I was and the family met me, my dad and two sisters met me at the Stafford railway station and they looked after me.
US: [file missing] You want to tell that story?
RD: Yeah.
US: And then you can tell that story and then Julian asked and then, when you got back to the UK, how did you get a message to your dad and where did they meet you, not at Stafford, it was at Durham or Newcastle.
RD: Yeah, yeah, well,
US: Tell.
RD: What happened was that when I got the money, we had a good drink, and then the Americans took us forward to the North of Belgium and left us on our own but I had money to get across
US: You had no money, they left you in Belgium, you made your own way to Paris, and it was the English major in Paris
RD: OH yes
US: Who gave you some money.
RD: Yes, the English and army unit, English army unit gave me the money and I managed, they left me in the North of Belgium and I managed to get over there.
US: No doubt.
JM: Yeah, ok.
RD: [file missing] and I spoke to them, they said, we’ll come and meet you, anyhow they came and they met me and I was with them and it was, it was nice meeting up with the family again and it was exciting story to tell and
JM: And I believe after the war, you were a policer officer.
RD: Ey?
JM: I believe after the war, you were a police officer.
RD: OH yes, yes, I joined the police force and it was the thirty years of the policemen, well, twenty odd years, and then I was in a special unit, and it was, they took me in this special unit and the British army looked after me and then I, from there on I, it was the case of meeting different people and getting home and
JM: Ron, could I, answer up and just take you back a little bit?
RD: Is what?
JM: Could I take you back a little bit because there are one or two questions that I want to ask, just to clarify it for the recording. What squadron were you in?
RD: What?
JM: What squadron were you with, when you were shot down? Was it 4?
RD: 429 Squadron.
JM: 429, and where was this based please?
RD: 6 Group Bomber Command Canadian.
JM: Right.
RD: So, I was with a Canadian group and it was they, they looked after me.
JM: Yes. So, you were in a Canadian squadron, but you had an Australian pilot and you were English.
RD: An Australian pilot, an Irish engineer, a Scottish navigator and the foreigner was me.
JM: [laughs] and the operation on which you were shot down was one of the most important and famous operations of the war.
RD: Yeah, well, it was, I was shot down on the major, the biggest loss of Allied bombers which was in ’44 and there was 97 British bombers shot down.
JM: And where were you attacking?
RD: And that was the heaviest loss of bombers at any time.
JM: Yeah. Where were you attacking Ron? What was the target? What was the target?
RD: Pilot?
JM: The target.
RD: Target, Nuremberg.
JM: So, it was the Nuremberg raid.
RD: Yeah, it was on the way back from Nuremberg, this twin engine aircraft shot us up
JM: And you, you
RD: I bailed out by parachute
JM: Yeah.
RD: And there were twenty thousand feet and I was shouting and whistling
JM: And the other crew members, they bailed out too, did they?
RD: Ey?
JM: The other crew members all bailed out?
RD: Yeah, they, I found out later they were, they bailed out and were arrested
JM: They were all captured
RD: Yeah
JM: So, you were the only evader
RD: And I was the only escapee.
JM: Right.
RD: And but I didn’t know that, but it was all now exciting and to think that they, American, the British gave me some money and I was able to go into Paris and
JM: Ron, Ron, can
RD: I remember I got, [unclear] two or three other people and we got drunk with champagne and the champagne was, it was cheap [coughs] and the more we drunk, the more they charged us until we got angry and said, no, you’re robbing us and then everything came fine and they looked after us and I got back to England and mom and, dad and two sisters met me at the railway station and mom was, couldn’t stop crying cause they got a telegram and I’ve got a copy of the telegram that said, regret to report that your son was, is missing, reported as missing in action and I said they made enquiries for several weeks and months and they couldn’t find and mom came to conclusion I was dead. And then out of the blue this wonderful news for mom came and they were delighted, delighted and the family looked after me, the Americans looked after me and it was living at home, making the best you could, and I had a bit of money as I said, from the British army and I was, everybody drank champagne [laughs].
JM: And your squadron, 429,
RD: Ey?
JM: 429 Squadron
RD: 429 Squadron, 6 Group
JM: Yes
RD: Bomber Command
JM: Yes, and was that the Lancaster Squadron?
RD: Canadian Squadron
JM: Yeah
RD: And they were Halifax bombers
JM: They were Halifax bombers
RD: Yes.
JM: How did you feel about flying the Halifax? Did you like it?
RD: Everybody used to say the Lancaster was the pride of the joy of the Bomber Command, no way, I would put all my faith in this Halifax, it could, it got, I mean, I was actually part and parcel of the truth of the matter, got badly shot up and the aircraft stood all the battering we’d got, from being shot up and I got shot down and purely because one of the [unclear] had been damaged and I couldn’t manoeuvre the aircraft, we had to bail out. And it was bailed out and it was, I thought I was dead. I bailed out and with the flames were shooting across the aircraft, and I thought, if I, when I bail out, if I pull the ripcord, the burning petrol may go into the parachute, and it’ll burn and I’ll die, so I said, I’ll count to ten when I bail out, and I started to count and I got to six and I, I didn’t panic, I just said, bugger it, I’m pulling the ripcord, and I said, I got out and pulled the ripcord, and I said, it was a delight really but I said, it was frightening because I was sure I was dead, because when I opened my eyes, I could see me feet, where me head should be, and I thought, it can’t be, your feet should be at the ground, I’m going to Heaven, and then I realised that the harness of the parachute, me leg was trapped in the harness and I was upside down, I was upside down in me parachute, and I was delighted, blowing me whistle, shouting me name, and then I got out, the Americans picked us up, put me in this school house and the American, I got, money from the British and the Americans took me to Northern Belgium and left me.
JM: Ron, you’ve given us a lovely interview, you’ve given us a lovely interview, you’ve told us so much about [unclear]
RD: Is that alright?
JM: I’m gonna leave it there for tonight because I can see it’s tiring you so I’ll leave it there thanks on behalf of IBCC.
RD: Any time you want to come back.
JM: Thank you
RD: Because there must be a thousand stories about flying and that sort of thing and me family now know the story living in [unclear] Nuremberg and

Collection

Citation

Julian Maslin, “Interview with Ron Dawson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 6, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/10776.

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