Interview with Basil Charles Day


Interview with Basil Charles Day


Charles Day lived in Thorpe le Soken until he took up a training position at Blenheim Palace which was Churchill’s childhood home. He recalls seeing Churchill who would welcome visitors to Blenheim for meetings. After volunteering for the RAF Charles began training on wireless and radar at Wooton Bassett. He was then posted overseas to Kenya where he undertook further training and began flying in Baltimore aircraft. When he was posted to Bari he was surprised to see that the Luftwaffe crew had left so quickly their uniforms were still laid out on their beds. Charles undertook seventy five ops supporting the 8th Army. He was posted to the headquarters of Telecommunications Middle East. He was also posted to RAF Medmenham in Buckinghamshire and finished his service at RAF Pembroke Dock.








01:37:16 audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 13th of June 2017 and we’re in Harpenden speaking with Charles Day about his experiences in the RAF and afterwards. Charles what are your first recollections of life?
CD: I was born in a little place in Essex known as Thorpe le Soken. In Abbey Street. I went to the only available school in the area which was Rolph School. It was a church school in Thorpe le Soken. I stayed there. I became the school captain and I was, I left the school when I, between fourteen and fifteen. I was a very keen sportsman. I was very good at cricket. If I hadn’t have joined the RAF I would have probably continued with a professional career with Essex. I’m, at the present time I’m a life member of my own club, Essex. I’m also a life member at Lord’s. When I left school I went to work for a lady called Lady Byng of Vimy in Thorpe and I got on very well with her and she wanted me to go in to the police force because she knew the Commissioner of Police in London where she had a home in the winter months. Before that happened the head gardener recommended that I went to Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire because that was an increase in my career where I was taking horticultural examinations with the Royal Horticultural Society. I landed, I went to Blenheim Palace and had a fantastic year or so there. It was at the early part of the war and of course the bombers were coming over and bombing places like Coventry where we knew exactly what was going on. Whilst I was at Blenheim Palace I had a fantastic time with the, with the staff and with the daughters of the Duke of Marlborough. After about a year or a year and a half I decided, I was between seventeen and eighteen that when I became eighteen I was likely to go in to the one of the regiments, local regiments, probably the Essex Regiment and become a foot soldier. I decided I didn’t want to do that so I investigated and went to a college as I said in, in Oxford and sat the examination. Didn’t hear anything for several months and then I was called for an attestation board in another college. I went before three senior officers just before lunch on this particular day and was turned down and was asked to give my papers to the sergeant and he would introduce me to a balloon barrage. The sergeant was disgusted because he thought that I was far better than that and he said, ‘Laddie, you keep the papers and come back and see me in a fortnight’s time on a Tuesday and I will introduce you to the senior officers again just after 2 o’clock.’ Which he did and fortunately within a short space of time they thought that I was very suitable for aircrew. After that I waited again for a few months before being instructed to report to Blackpool. I arrived in Blackpool and carried out six weeks of foot training. After that I was put in a group to do a course in Morse Code. I got to the rate of twenty two minutes in Morse Code and that was considered very good and I was then posted to Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire to, to do further training in all kinds of work concerning [pause] just a moment [pause] work concerning radar and telecommunications of various kinds. I did three courses there at various, for various things. Having done that I was then again sent to an, a station near Blackpool to wait until posting for further training. I was then instructed to get on a train at Blackpool Station and they gave me a parcel. I didn’t know where I was going. I arrived at Greenock in Scotland during the night and I looked out of the window of the carriage I was in and saw a sign, a great big sign, “Queen Mary.” I then boarded the Queen Mary and I was told we were going straight across zig zagging because the Queen Mary was fast and they could become faster than the submarines at that time. We eventually arrived after about twenty so days in Port Tewfik in Egypt. On arrival at Port Tewfik I was sent to a station near Cairo and I was put in a tent and I awaited further instruction. I waited for four or five weeks and then was instructed that I was going on a trip to Khartoum which was going to take a few weeks. So I got on this dhow in Cairo and we went down the Nile and I eventually arrived in Khartoum. By that time I’d been made a sergeant and was, I was put in the sergeant’s mess with accommodation. And I stayed in Khartoum doing very little for a few weeks and then I was put on an aircraft to Nakuru in Kenya. Having arrived in Kenya I was then instructed to do another course in telecommunications, radar, etcetera. Having done the course I was then sent to another station in Kenya where I met up with various people who were going to be put together to form a crew. I met three other chaps and we got on very well so the four of us were then sent to another station in Kenya for further training on Blenheims. Before we actually started the training they lost most of the Blenheims through crashes and so forth so we were instructed to wait until we could get some American aircraft which eventually were the wonderful old [pause] I’ve lost it again. Hang on a mo.
CB: We’ll stop a mo.
CB: Ok.
[recording paused]
CB: So, the plane —
CD: We were then as a crew —
CB: What were the planes?
CD: Baltimore.
CB: Right.
CD: We were then introduced to our new aircraft for training and we stayed in Kenya. In Kenya for another month training on our Baltimore X-ray. We were then instructed to go to, we were then instructed to go to [pause] to a lake in Kenya where the RAF were flying Sunderland Flying Boats. And the Sunderland Flying Boat flew us up to the Nile and we got off the Sunderland Flying Boat and then there we were at Shallufa with the Baltimore there ready for our occupation. So we did a further months training at Shallufa in Egypt. From there after the month’s training we flew to Mersa Matruh in the desert where we were put in a tent with an Italian batman and did very little. Our aircraft stood out in the sand and we did very little for a month. They, they just wouldn’t use us. By that time the war had continued into North Africa so they flew us, they then put us in the aircraft and we went to North Africa and that’s where we started our war. From North Africa we flew after the 8th Army into, into Sicily. From Sicily we flew to Bari in Italy. When we arrived at Bari the German Air Force had just flown out and had, they hadn’t got time to pick up their uniforms. Their uniforms were still on their bed already laid out for their dinner in the evening. Some of our chaps decided that they could be better accommodated in the Italian married quarters so they got their billets in the married quarters. Some of us stayed in the hut where the Germans had laid out their, and we stayed there and then we started operations again. From there we went all up with the 8th Army and the 5th Armies. The 5th Army was on the left-hand side and the 8th Army was on the right hand side in the middle. During that time we as a crew did about seventy five operations. Some of them were very dangerous and some of them were very short. I mean, we used to go up and over Monte Cassino where we lost several aircraft in thirty minutes from taking off to back again. We would do perhaps two or three operations in a day. Then eventually after about seventy five operations we were getting very tired as a crew so we decided we would go and see [unclear] and tell him we’d had enough because we’d got to the point where it was our turn to buy it kind of thing. We went and saw [unclear] and he said, ‘Lads, you’ve done a fantastic job.’ He said, ‘You’re off now. You’re going back to Cairo.’ He said, ‘I’ll get somebody to take you back to Cairo to have a rest and have a good time.’ And that’s what happened. We got in this aircraft and went to Cairo. Stayed there for two or three weeks enjoying ourselves. Very relaxed. And then I was called to the Headquarters Middle East. And they said, ‘We think we can, we’ve got a post for you whereby we can use your experience in telecommunications etcetera.’ They said, ‘We are sending you to Telecommunications Middle East.’ Which was an underground set up in an underground headquarters which was run by a squadron leader, an officer in charge of each watch. There were four watches. And about a hundred and eight girls of which my wife was one of them. I was then made, after a few weeks the officer in charge of B Watch. My wife was on B Watch and that's how I met her. It was a very pleasant time there. Very hard working and so forth. We communicated with all theatres of war throughout the world. And after about eighteen months the Squadron Leader who was then in charge of TME said, ‘I've been very impressed with your ability and I would like you to further in this connection in connection with the Air Ministry and the operations in a centre similar to this in England.’ So I said, ‘Well, that's very interesting.’ He said, ‘Well, I'm going to fly you home to report to the Air Ministry.’ Which, which I duly did and before I could get to Chicksands which was a centre in England somebody in the Air Ministry department said, ‘We want you at 19 Group.’ Which was at Medmenham in Oxfordshire and I didn't want to go to Medmenham I wanted to go to Chicksands. Anyway, I was sent to 19 Group where I became a staff officer. That’s where I got my aircraft and went around all the country. But I missed out and I haven't told you how I became an officer. While I was in Egypt, having done my seventy five operations as a Warrant Officer I was at this particular station which was then the base upon Australian squadron that was causing a great deal of alarm and concern throughout the RAF because they were completely erratic on the air. When they wanted them to be silent they were chatting, when they were doing anything wrong and they didn't understand their equipment and it was chaos. Whoever chose me to lecture to these people I don't quite know but I had to report to an officer and he said, ‘You've been elected to report, to educate these chaps in the equipment and so forth.’ So the lecture was it 11:00 o'clock in the morning. I duly arrived and I thought as soon as I went into the room I knew I was going to have trouble because they were all joking and laughing about and what the hell was all this? So I thought I would start off on cricket. So I said, ‘Now, I know you're going to treat me as a bloody pom but don't forget Harwood and so forth really got at you and made a mess of you.’ So they said, ‘Bloody pom.’ So we talked about cricket for five minutes and they settled down. But what I didn't know was that because of the importance of this lecture the AOC Middle East had come and sat at the back of the room to listen what was going on to give with the Group Captain of the station. After the lecture these chaps were shaking my hand. ‘Well done, Pom.’ And off we went. I went back and went into the canteen there to have a cup of coffee. While I was in the canteen a young man came up to me, a young airman and he said, ‘Sir, you are to report to the station commander. Now.’ So I left my coffee and went to the station commander. He said, ‘Day,’ he said, ‘You’ll never believe it,’ he said, ‘But you’re an officer now.’ He said, ‘I’m bewildered.’ He said, ‘When the AOC left the room he said, ‘That chap is going to be an officer.’ He said, ‘So what I’ve got to do now is get him to sign a few forms and I will get the adjutant to organise for you to go to the MU this afternoon to pick up a uniform.’ He said, ‘Then at 6 o’clock in the evening you’re going to be my guest.’ He said, ‘And we’re going to the officer’s mess for dinner.’ And that’s what duly happened. I met the, the adjutant and the group captain and they took me in to dinner and then I became an officer. But the extraordinary thing before we went in to dinner an airman came up and he said, ‘Sir, are you Mr Day?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Oh, I’ve got a telegram for you.’ I opened the telegram and my mother, who was then only about forty or something had died in the, because of the strain of the bombing and so forth in London. So I couldn’t do anything about it. It was just a telegram from my father. So I told the group captain this. He said, ‘Oh, lad I’m very sorry.’ Blah. Blah. Blah. And he said, ‘Let’s have another drink.’ So we did and that was it. From there on that’s how I went to TME and met Margaret because I was then, as an officer, as a pilot officer I was sent then to become the officer in charge of B Watch. After about, I’d been there about a year Margaret was in a truck and they were taking her back to England. Or they were [pause] How did you go back to England?
MD: Well, by normal ship.
CD: Went back by ordinary ship. Yeah. So I said, ‘Well, when you get back if you ever want to keep contact with me ring my father and this is his number.’ She did because my father kept saying when I got back. ‘A young lady rang me a couple of times. Very nice. Lovely girl.’ He said. ‘But she was just enquiring about you.’ So what happened after Margaret left TME I was there for a few more months and then I was called again to Headquarters Middle East and they said, ‘We’re going to fly you home now in a Halifax to Blackbushe.’ Which was then an aerodrome for people coming back from overseas and so on so they did that. And then as I said to you I was, I was reported for Air Ministry and I was, instead of going to, to where I wanted to go I suddenly arrived in 19 Group at Medmenham near Marlow and I was there for about eighteen months. A year to eighteen months I think. Yeah, and then I was called in to the group captain’s office and he said, ‘They want you back on Flying Boats. What do you think about that?’ I said, ‘Well, whatever.’ He said, ‘Well, we can’t do much about it. We’d like to keep you but you’ve got to go.’ So I duly arrived at Pembroke Dock in Wales and then I was there, they made me the adjutant of 201 Squadron and I flew a lot of, a lot of security things which went out in to the Atlantic checking on submarines and things and then by that time I’d married my wife who had come down to Pembroke Dock and I said, ‘Now, I’ve been in the air a long time but I’m going to get some more promotion but I wouldn’t get over group captain.’ And in those days that would only earn you forty thousand a year or something or whatever it was and I said, ‘I think I can do better than that.’ So she said, ‘Well, what are you going to do?’ So, I said, ‘Well I’m going to resign and go up to London and see what I can do.’ So I went up to London not knowing what I was going to do put myself in the RAF Club and while I was looking around I went in to the offices of this company and one of the directors came in afterwards. He said, ‘Come in lad. Have a chat.’ He said, ‘Would you like to join our firm?’ He said, ‘But it’ll cost you three hundred pounds which we will retain.’ So I listened. I said, ‘Yes. Ok. That’s good. Good.’ So he said, ‘I’m sending you to St Albans,’ he said, ‘To take over our office there.’ With no experience of anything except the RAF. So I went there and it was an office where they sold businesses. They did various professional work in businesses and so forth and before that I was sent, they sent me on a training course. The training course was only about two months but I went on one of their training courses. Anyway, the chap in charge of this office in St Albans got into trouble in various ways and they sacked him and they rang me up and said, ‘You’re going to be in charge now.’ So I thought oh dear. So with virtually no experience about anything so I then decided that I’d better start getting some information concerning what they were doing about surveying, about communication, generally reconnect to business. Which I did. I got all the books and studied and so forth and I became quite an expert because it was in those early days and the College of Estate Management was at Kensington. And one day while I was doing my training and so forth I met the principal of this college and he said to me, ‘Would you like to come and lecture at the college?’ He said, ‘About certain aspects of this.’ And I said, ‘Oh no.’ He said, Well, will you set the syllabus up for us?’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Well you know more about it than us and we’re training. We’re instructing people.’ Anyway, what happened in the end is that I didn't go to his college but I joined an association of businesses which was called the National Association of Businesses. And very soon I became a member if their controlling board because all this in those days was the early days and things were, were all starting up. Anyway, while I continued to work at Saint Albans I was doing quite well. Our offices was quite successful. We were making money for the company and doing well. Anyway, one day we were having breakfast in our little house in St Albans and I said, ‘This company is in trouble. My office is not in trouble. The company is in trouble.’ So I said, ‘I'm going up to London to see the MD.’ The managing director. So that morning I got on the train and went up to London, went into his office or went into the outer office. They had a gate into his and they stopped me and said, ‘Just a moment. There's a board meeting going on. You can't go in there.’ So I guessed what was happening so I pushed the gate open and went in. I said to him, ‘Sir,’ I said, ‘What the hell is happening to our company?’ He said, ‘Young man we have just gone into liquidation. A hundred and fifty offices have gone into liquidation.’ I said, ‘Well, Fleet Street is only just around the corner.’ I said, ‘I'll go there and tell them what I know.’ He said, ‘Sit down.’ So, he said, ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘I'm going to buy the St Albans office from you for fifty pounds.’ He said, ‘You've got it.’ So I bought the St Albans office for fifty pounds and then I became president of the National Association of Business Agents. Margaret and I were having great time because we were being invited to places like the Dorchester and so forth. We were in one dinner in the evening at the Dorchester and we sat at the end of the table and there were various senior members of the government sitting in the central table. We were sitting right at the end. This young man at the end of the dinner was piling us up with petit fours. So I said to Margaret, ‘What's going on?’ So, I said to him, ‘Young man, you’re [unclear] what are you doing?’ He said, ‘Sir, you can't remember me.’ And I said, ‘No. I can’t.’ He said, ‘In the desert he said, when you used to be, do bounce in the evening, just a thirty minute drive to test your aircraft,’ he said, ‘You used to take us squaddies up with you to give us a ride.’ He said, ‘And I was always very grateful to you because you brought me into one of the aircraft.’ He said, ‘And I had a lovely time.’ So, he said, ‘I'll never forget you, sir,’ he said, ‘And I'm very grateful.’ And that was it. From then on I became a president of another association and we went to dinners all over the place and I gave speeches and lectures and so forth. By this time I’d got quite in financially in my own business and we were doing very well. And then I formed my own little property company and that's what we've got today. That’s what we live on. I still run my own property company with my son as the managing director and here we are after fifteen years in the RAF and about sixty years in the same business which I have thoroughly enjoyed. And that’s basically my life story.
CB: We’ll pause there.
[recording paused]
CB: That’s really been fascinating but can we just go back on a few points. The first of those is we talked about your early days but what did your father do?
CD: My father was the local carrier. My, in this little village of Thorpe my family were quite influential because my father ran the carrier business, my uncle ran the newsagents and the taxi service and so forth so, and I was the captain of the local football team.
CB: Right.
CD: Yeah. And it was [pause] because I was very good at sport and so forth. When I was still there when I was about fifteen I had a game whereby I took eight wickets for two runs and this went up to the MCC and so forth and I was then presented, came down through the various people with a bat that was signed by then England captain Sir Len Hutton. And I've had that bat and I've never used it. I'm so proud of it but about two years ago I gave it to my grandson.
CB: Amazing.
CD: Yeah.
CB: When you were —
CD: And I mean I've always been a good cricketer and liked my cricket so that's why I’m closely connected with Lords.
CB: Yes.
CD: I was up at Lord's last week.
CB: Were you? Yes.
CD: Yeah.
CB: Now when you did your initial training, initial tests.
CD: Yes.
CB: They were in Oxford. So that was in 1940.
CD: 1940 when I did my initial. You had to do a written examination to get into aircrew.
CB: Right.
CD: So I went thinking that I would be put in the Army. I went and arranged to do this test which was, then I didn't hear anything for weeks, months. Then I was called up again to Oxford.
CB: You said you didn’t want to be a foot soldier.
CD: Exactly.
CB: But what made you decide that you wanted to A, join the RAF, and B, fly?
CD: I wanted to go into aircrew.
CB: Right.
CD: That’s my, in those days you had an ambition to do something.
CB: Yeah.
CD: And that’s it.
CB: So what was the motivating point about being aircrew?
CD: Just because I thought that was the senior service. Yeah. It appealed to me. The [nostalgia] of it.
CB: Yeah. So after your tests then a long time passed.
CD: Yeah.
CB: Before you were —
CD: Yeah.
CB: So you were working at Blenheim.
CD: Yeah.
CB: And you were able to see various activities from there.
CD: Oh yes. Yeah. And I used to have some idea what was going on from the point of view of the various people that used to come to Blenheim connected with MI5 and so forth. Used to hear bits of things that would not usually be heard by the general public.
CB: What sort of things are we talking about there?
CD: What was, what was going on in the war that they were not publishing. Yeah.
CB: Now, Blenheim is the Blenheim Palace and the grounds are quite big.
CD: Oh yes.
CB: So, apart from dealing with horticulture what else went on there? There was a school there was there? Evacuated.
CD: No. It was mainly MI5 and the school.
CB: Was Marlborough College.
CD: Marlborough college. And a place where they could have meetings and things connected with the war. Churchill was there very often.
CB: Why was the school there?
CD: I never knew that. They just arrived. They just [pause] they were just put there. I think it was, it was to throw off anybody that anything was going on there. You see Churchill was quite often down there.
CB: Because it was the family home.
CD: Because it was the family home. He used to hold various meetings with people.
CB: Right. So, then you went to Blackpool.
CD: Yeah.
CB: When you went to Cairo.
CD: Yeah.
CB: We’re now talking about when? What time?
CD: Well —
CB: In 1941.
CD: When I went to Blackpool I went in my civilian clothes.
CB: Yes.
CD: And then I started to do my footwork. But to come, everybody did that as you know and then when I’d done that then I never knew what I was going to go. Whether I was going to be a pilot or whether I was going to be a navigator or what. They suddenly put me on this course of Morse Code and that took about six weeks. Well, more. And you had two or three sessions a day. But in the, I found that a bit hard work at the beginning but once you get in to it and you, you’re fascinated and you go through. Yeah. I mean during the war when I was flying at night on the Baltimore, because the equipment was so good in the Baltimore and aircraft were getting in trouble coming back from bombing Germany I was able to communicate with them and communicate with their station back in England with Morse Code and help them.
CB: While you were flying in the desert.
CD: While, while I was flying mainly, this was when I was flying in Italy.
CB: In Italy.
CD: We’d got to Italy at that stage.
CB: Ok.
CD: And we were doing night operations. We, we were bombing. We were doing, we were trying to keep the German people awake. So we would go to various places where we knew the Germans were and so on. Drop a bomb or something. Scare them in to, I don’t know, what they called those? Incendiary bombs. Incendiaries. We used to drop them when we knew they were there. Set the place —
CB: Burn them out.
CD: Burn them out. Yeah. Yeah. But we were very lucky there because when you got low they were alright if they were asleep and so forth but if if it was a time when they were awake or something and, you know they could get you out of the sky. I mean I [pause] I’d gone to bed coming back from about four or five in the morning coming back. Got back and in to bed and about 10 o’clock there’s been a knock on the shoulder and the adjutant of the squadron would be, ‘Lads,’ he said, ‘We’ve got to borrow, we’ve got some bearers this morning and your allocated as pall bearers.’ And it was pretty grisly because they were in coffins but they’d obviously been burned and so and as you walked along they were sloshing up and down inside the coffins. And that’s what, we used to bury our own dead so to speak.
CB: Where would they be buried?
CD: A local cemetery in Italy. Yeah. And obviously they dug them up later on and put them into a proper cemetery. They were, yeah put in to an ordinary cemetery somewhere. You see some of them, they you got to the extent where they’ve got holes and so forth and turned for home. Got nearly home before they couldn’t fly anywhere and ran in to the ground.
CB: As an aircraft the Baltimore is what you were flying. How reliable was that?
CD: Fantastic. One of the most reliable aircraft that, probably the most reliable that lease lend was given to us.
CB: And what was the crew? Numbers?
CD: Four. Four.
CB: And they were —
CD: Pilot, navigator, a w/op ag and an air gunner.
CB: Right. And the navigator was also the bomb aimer.
CD: Yeah. That’s right.
CB: So how was the disposition in the aircraft? He could crawl from where he was to the bomb aimer’s position in the nose.
CD: In the wing of the aircraft, and it had a belly underneath where, with his bombsight and so forth. I had the whole of the middle of the aircraft with various equipment.
CB: What sort of equipment would you have as a w/op, as a wireless operator signaller?
CD: Some of it that was not there to be, it was just that the aircraft was presented with all this equipment when it came over from America. Some of it was taken out at various times during my seventy five operations because it was not used by us.
CB: Yeah.
CD: But I was fascinated with all that equipment. I used to love it but mainly I used to use all the equipment that would communicate. Whatever type of communication. I could use it, some of it like a radio. I could. I could do the Morse Code on it. Various things you could do with it. And direction find and —
CB: So to some extent you were helping the navigator.
CD: Yeah.
CB: You were doing some direction finding.
CD: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: DF on the way.
CD: Yeah. And a lot, yeah, I mean when we got lost one day the navigator said, ‘Well that’s it. I don’t know where the hell we are.’ So, Ken, the pilot said to me, ‘Can you do anything?’ So I said, ‘I think so.’ So I played around and then I got a station.
CB: A radio station.
CD: A radio station. And got a fix. And then I gave the fix, the direction to the pilot and instead of being in the mountains then we found ourselves that we could get out of it because we [unclear] with everyone had flown because we were in the Alps.
CB: This is a civilian radio station and you’d use more than one.
CD: No.
CB: Was it?
CD: I used RAF stations.
CB: RAF stations.
CD: Yeah.
CB: Because they all had their beacons.
CD: Yeah. That’s right. That’s right.
CB: Right. So effectively you’d do a triangulation job.
CD: Yeah.
CB: Right.
CD: That’s right. Yeah.
CB: Ok. So using three.
CD: Yeah.
CB: Good. And the Baltimore was effectively a tactical bomber compared with what the Bomber Command people did.
CD: Oh yes. Well —
CB: So how did your —
CD: In a slight dive you were as quick as a Spitfire. It was the fastest aircraft of that type in, in the western desert or in that theatre of war.
CB: And you’d, would you fly in formation or in a stream?
CD: No. We, when we went to Monte Casino and places like that we flew in a pack of six. Two, two lots of six making a squadron. But when we were night flying we did an awful lot of single flights. I mean some of them were three or four hours and they were for all [pause] we used to do a lot of dropping of [pause] well I suppose you would call them our spies. We used to drop them in to —
CB: Agents.
CD: Agents. We used to drop them. We’d pick them up and drop them in various other countries. Croatia and all along that coast.
CB: In to Yugoslavia as well.
CD: Yes. Exactly. Yeah.
CB: So this is the link with SOE.
CD: That’s right.
CB: Right.
CD: That’s right.
CB: Ok. Now, this aircraft was agile and fast.
CD: Yes.
CB: How many guns did it have and where were they?
CD: It had eight in the wings. Had a turret of four for the gunner. Had side guns. Single side guns and it had two at the back. But you used to, I mean you could, they were not all open. You could put them out. The ones in the wings of course were fixed and the turrets was fixed. The others you could. They were all open. They were inside the aircraft and you pushed them open.
CB: So to what extent were the guns used when you were flying?
CD: Oh, we used to, I mean, to give you an idea one morning about 5 o’clock we were flying back and it was just getting daylight and we arrived at this station and the company of Germans were on the station waiting for the train. We just went down and went along them. You know, they were falling like nine pins.
CB: In your position as the signaller —
CD: Yeah.
CB: What could you see from there? What sort of windows did you have?
CD: I could see —
CB: Straight forward.
CD: Down below because I had a hatch which I could open or close and then there’s a side window.
CB: And any did you have any air to air engagements?
CD: No. Not [pause] not as such. Not as fighters. No. No. We never had any of those. We [pause] we might have done come to think of it. We might have had one or two of those at various times but I never used the, I was involved with other things. I didn’t use the guns. I think I heard our gunner popping away there and the guns at the front going but I was involved in the middle and then —
CB: Of course.
CD: Couldn’t open it.
CB: Yeah.
CD: Yeah.
CB: So in the earlier part of your flying you were in the desert.
CD: In?
CB: In the desert.
CD: Yes.
CB: In the earlier part.
CD: Yes.
CB: So, Mersa Matruh.
CD: Yes.
CB: That sort of thing. When you went on.
CD: That was a station post really. We were there ready to operate.
CB: But you did, did you operate on operations from there?
CD: No.
CB: Ok.
CD: We —
CB: Only when you got to Italy.
CD: Because there was a lull we were there ready to operate but there was a lull in the operations between Rommel and the British and because the war started to move on the Army got, our Army got control and pushed Rommel right the way back to the ocean.
CB: Yeah.
CD: And by the time we were required he was out of his way out of North Africa on his way to Sicily and then we got involved there. That was pretty awful.
CB: Ok, so —
CD: I mean, they gave us a rough time in that part —
CB: So the invasion of Sicily was 1943.
CD: Yeah.
CB: And where were you operating from at that time?
CD: Catania, in Sicily.
CB: So how did that work?
CD: Well, we didn’t do very much again because we pushed them out of Sicily very quickly and we caught up with them again in Italy when we flew from Sicily from Catania into Bari and that’s where, that’s, that’s where we, they were pushed out of there as we got there to land. As I said their uniforms were still on the bed. And then we chased them and then we got stuck because of the weather. The Po River. We were there a long time with the, with the Americans.
CB: This is the winter.
CD: The winter. Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. I mean the Americans in those days they were well equipped and they used to say, ‘Boy, do you want a jeep? Have you got a bottle of whisky?’ You could have a jeep for a bottle of whisky.
CB: You reckoned that was good value did you?
CD: That was good value [laughs] Yeah.
CB: So, you mentioned Sicily was a difficult place.
CD: Yes.
CB: So what happened there?
CD: Well, the Army had a rough time. They won the battle but they really took a pasting. And because it was so close it was difficult to bomb or do anything. I mean there had been times when it, mainly in Italy where we’d been so close to the Army that for us to bomb chaps were allocated in the head of the squadron to go up and lay out white squares so that the rest of us didn’t bomb before the other side of the square.
CB: So did you have forward air controllers?
CD: Yes.
CB: Who? How did they work?
CD: Well, that was more connected with the navigator really. I didn’t have much to do, much to do with them. I had quite a lot to do with the other signals people on the ground and various departments on the ground. The navigator was responsible for anything factual. Mine was more obscure if you like in a way. I was always helping other people to some extent but I was helping bombers of all kinds that were doing thousand bomb raids over Germany of all types of aircraft and I was doing that as a side issue because I was helping these people.
CB: To pass on the signal.
CD: Yeah. Yeah. And if ever we got in to any trouble, the navigator got into any trouble or anything like that I could always help with the radio. But I never did that until he, he was exhausted with what he was doing.
CB: Just going back to the Army support.
CD: Yes.
CB: I was wondering how the forward air controller communicated with yourselves because you were the signaller but did he —
CD: He never told me [unclear]
CB: Talk directly —
CD: No.
CB: With the navigator.
CD: He was communicating with our —
CB: The pilot.
CD: No. He was communicating with our ground control on the station.
CB: Right.
CD: Which is a tent in the, or a tent in Italy on the ground.
CB: Right.
CD: And they would communicate with us.
CB: Ok. Right. So when you went on a raid what was the process?
CD: We were briefed beforehand. Instructed what they wanted us to do. How they wanted us to help the Army. What we were to look out for. What they wanted to destroy if possible. Any tank formations, any bomb dumps or all kinds of things like that and we were instructed to do that. If we could get at them we did. I mean, I remember when we, I’ve dropped incendiaries. With a bit of luck I’ve hit what I wanted to hit and they’ve all gone up in flames. That one. That one incendiary has caused chaos down below. A petrol dump or something like that, you see.
CB: So the actual bombing activity as bomb aimer—
CD: Yeah.
CB: Was it —
CD: I had no connection with that.
CB: You didn’t deal with that.
CD: No.
CB: No.
CD: Everything was done by the navigator.
CB: And the aircraft itself didn’t have any radar.
CD: Didn’t. Not, no it was in the Sunderland Flying Boat where they kept up with the radio.
CB: Yeah.
CD: But we had other excellent equipment. Equipment that other aircraft, British aircraft didn’t have.
CB: So picking up on what you said earlier the main activities were bombing.
CD: Tactical bombing.
CD: Tactical bombing.
CB: And with it close support for the Army. As a balance of activity how much was close support for the Army compared with further away tactical bombing?
CD: I would say only fifteen percent perhaps. Not great because the Army there was they were bogged down quite a lot, the Army. The Army. There was a period of oh, from September to April where they couldn’t move and the Germans had just got them in that position.
CB: Because of the terrain.
CD: Yeah, because of the terrain and because of the weather. Because of the Po River.
CB: Now, after D-Day then there was an invasion of the south of France.
CD: Yeah.
CB: By the Americans.
CD: Yeah.
CB: To what extent did your squadron link in to that?
CD: When I was in my later days on the squadron I mean, for instance on D A, V Day we were instructed to stop as many of the Germans coming up from southern France as we could into the battle. So we were sent to fly to Nice and drop bombs on the railway from Nice. On the junction in Nice. And I can remember I could see all this. We were flying up there to drop our bombs as it were and I could see the people going in to the cinemas and so forth. Going in to restaurants. It was all lit up as if nothing was happening and we went and dropped our bombs so that the railway, the trains couldn’t go through which would have been full of Germans.
CB: Because they didn’t need to use a blackout they thought.
CD: No. didn’t use anything. No.
CB: Because they didn’t know anything was going to happen in that area.
CD: No. Exactly. Exactly. It’s about that time, well it is at that time when we left the squadron.
CB: This is night bombing.
CD: Yeah. Night fighting.
CB: What height would you be doing a sortie?
CD: Oh, two or three thousand feet.
CB: Oh, as low as that. But in daylight what would you do? Height?
CD: About eight thousand. Ten thousand perhaps. May be a bit lower in certain cases depending but when we were going over in daylight over the trenches and so forth we were much lower then. I mean I was using my guns to fire at the soldiers.
CB: Right. So you had the waist gun.
CD: Yeah. That’s right. That’s right.
CB: And what was that?
CD: No. Down below. Two below.
CB: Below.
CD: Yeah.
CB: Two below.
CD: Yeah.
CB: Is it a chin is it?
CD: Yeah. Push out and lock them down.
CB: Two.
CD: Two.
CB: Yeah. Browning 303s.
CD: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Ok.
CD: Yeah. We used to do that and once we got over the German lines we used to fire down at them. And you, you couldn’t be too high or else that would be a waste of time.
CB: Yeah. Because of the range of guns.
CD: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Pretty limited.
CD: Yeah. That’s right.
CB: We’ll stop there for a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: We’ve covered a lot of things but we haven’t spoken really about what it was like being there. Accommodation. So, you started off—
CD: Mainly in tents. You put up your own tent. In Italy and Sicily and places of that kind you carried your own tent. You put up your own tent. I, being a country boy, as soon as we got the tent up I would dig a hole and so forth. They used to laugh at me because I was there with a spade digging the hole so that when we were bombed, and that happened you see I mean people were killed on our own airfields. They would get one of their fighters over or one of the aircraft over and sometimes one of the aircraft unfortunately would be shot down as it was coming in. They would, they would wait and get behind it.
CB: So, you were living in a tent. How many to a tent?
CD: Four. Just the four. Just the crew.
CB: The whole crew. And all your crew were NCOs. You were all sergeants or flight sergeants were you?
CD: Yes. We were all, we all started off as sergeants. Then we became staff sergeants.
CB: Flight sergeants.
CD: Flight sergeants. And then we became warrant officers. And then I left the squadron as a warrant officer and then as I say I explained to you how I became an officer. And then I left the RAF as a flight lieutenant. But I’d done various examinations and so forth to stay in the RAF if I’d wanted to but in those days career prospects were limited. It was a peacetime Air Force and you could go a long time as a flight sergeant, or as a sergeant or a warrant officer. And even when you became a pilot officer you could stay quite a long time but I fortunately didn’t because I went in to this security side of the business where they made me a flying officer fairly soon and then after that they made me a flight lieutenant. So I was moving.
CB: Ok. Picking up on a couple of things. An extension of your earlier comment in Britain the bombing war was conducted from constructed airfields with proper accommodation.
CD: In this country.
CB: But you, yes, but you were under canvas. So, what was it like being under canvas?
CD: It depends how good we were at putting up our tents and where you put them up. I mean, you [pause] much of our, in fact, yeah practically all of our flights were done from grass airfields. So you put up your tent in an area that was allocated to you for accommodation.
CB: So you’d put down the ground sheet.
CD: Yeah. Put. That’s right.
CB: And then you’d erect the tent.
CD: That’s right. And then I dug out the inside sometimes and then put the ground sheet back again.
CB: Yeah. And then what about ablutions and food?
CD: Well, the food was always adequate but it was bully beef quite often and so forth but we had a, I was down at, or Margaret and I were down at Marham I think it was or maybe Cromer and I saw this old boy sitting at a table. A table of about eight. And I said to somebody, I said, ‘Who’s he?’ And they said, ‘Don’t you, can’t you remember him?’ And I said, ‘No. I don’t.’ He said, ‘He was our cook in the desert and right the way through in Italy.’ And somebody had smuggled him in and given him a dress suit [laughs] and here he is in the officer’s mess. Now I can remember that old boy with great affection because one time just before Christmas we were on bully beef and so forth and one morning I saw him coming through between the tents pulling this cow. He’d got a rope around its neck and was pulling away and he said, ‘I want to cut this up,’ he said, ‘Before anybody knows.’ And the old farmer came running down there and by that time he’d got rid of the thing so he couldn’t find his cow. So he went back moaning and shouting and so forth and we had this beef and so forth for Christmas lunch. Lovely it was. But so he, he was quite a character on the station of course, on the squadron and here he is all those years later at a dinner, a Saturday night dinner and there he was in the officer’s mess.
CB: This is the 55 Squadron reunion.
CD: Yes.
CB: Yes. So, essentially was it the diet was the same as the Army, that the RAF had?
CD: Well, when we were flying no. when we were in the squadron was you had what you could get and what somebody could pinch and we did pinch a lot off the Italians to make, to give us a decent meal. But when I was with Margaret what did you think? The food at TME was good wasn’t it?
MD: Oh, yes.
CD: Yeah.
MD: Very good.
CD: Yeah. I thought it was quite good in the [pause] we had, yeah.
CB: Ok.
CD: And we used to go out quite a lot of course to eat. I used to take Margaret out for meals at various —
CB: This was in Egypt.
CD: This was in Egypt. Local hotels and restaurants.
CB: Yes. Your wife. Your future wife.
CD: Yeah. That’s right. That’s right. We used to go out and have a meal in the evening. Yeah. I remember when I went up to see this squadron, no, wing commander at Headquarters Middle East to sign to go back in this bomber. Halifax bomber to England. And he said to me, ‘I know you,’ he said, ‘I should be putting you on a charge.’ And I said, ‘Why?’ he said, ‘You have been escorting a charming young lady.’ He said, ‘Out. And she’s of non-commissioned rank.’ And I said, ‘So what? You were at the same restaurant, weren’t you? And you were with one of my girls.’ ‘Get out of here.’ [laughs] Pardon?
CB: Nothing like double standards is there?
MD: No.
CB: Ok. I’ll stop it. We’ll stop there for a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: When we, when you talk about TME you're talking about Telecoms Middle East.
CD: That's right.
CB: Headquarters at Heliopolis.
CD: That’s right [Kafr Farouq]
CB: Or Kafr —
CD No. [Kafr Farouq]
CB: [Kafr Farouq]
MD: [Kafr Farouq]
CB: Yeah. Near Heliopolis.
MD: Yes.
CB: So what other experiences have you got there when you went out?
CD: Well, first and foremost I was in charge of B Watch and I had a great sergeant. He, we had our own office and he sat one side of the bench and I sat on the other and he was, he knew all what was going on much more than that I did with all the non-commissioned staff and so forth. And how I met Margaret is he was fascinated with her legs.
MD: Oh God.
CD: The sergeant. He kept saying to me, ‘I’m going to have a look at her legs when I pass.’ When he walked around again. He used to come back. I never knew who he was talking about and that’s, that’s it. Now, the staff were very very good because one day, one evening earlier than a night watch and we used to go on at 8 o’clock until 8 o’clock in the morning. This group captain arrived and there I was in my office and he came in and he said. ‘What the hell is going on here? All those. All those signals and things are piling up there,’ he said, ‘And you’re in your office.’ I said, ‘Don’t worry sir.’ I said, ‘Everything will be alright.’ And he said, ‘Well, I hope so. I’m going to walk around and have a look around.’ So it’s quite a big area to go and walk around so he slowly walked around. Had a look around. When he came back all this big pile of signals had disappeared. I said, ‘Have a look sir.’ And he said, ‘What’s going on? Very good. Very good. Very good.’ But that was my staff. They were all first class. They didn’t have to be told. They knew what to do and they did it.
CB: How many people did you have in your section?
CD: I had about fifteen men and a hundred and eight girls and then we had the, the two cypher offices on every night and when we used to go on night duty I used to go pick, pick the cypher girls up. Used to pull them out of their beds and so on and then they used to pick up, go to the mess and pick up all the girls and the boys and take them through the desert on to TME and we used to take over from the other watch. And they did the same with us when they were there.
CB: We talked a bit earlier about when you were flying in Italy.
CD: Yes.
CB: But now we’re just talking about the activities in a different context on the ground.
CD: Yes.
CB: In Cairo.
CD: Yes.
CB: What was the accommodation there?
CD: We were, we were in what were called billets which were really sheds. They were put up by the Army or the Air Force or the, yeah put up by the Army I think in that case. And they were quite adequate. We had, I had a good bed with a net over. Mosquito net over. We had a nice officer’s mess with a nice bar with service. So the facilities there were quite good and we had a good, I was a sport’s officer which I always was wherever we went, we had a good sports field there where we used to play our football and our cricket and so forth and yeah, it was, it was very good there. Very good.
CB: It’s a hot place. How did the grass grow?
CD: We didn’t get any grass, did we? There was no grass there at all.
MD: No.
CB: And what, what about accommodation for WAAFs. How did you deal with that?
CD: Well, your accommodation was the same.
CB: I’ll come back to that in a minute.
[recording paused]
CB: So, it was, the ground was essentially desert.
CD: Absolutely desert. Where I, where we were. Where the officer’s mess was was all desert. When I went out in the evening to go in to, everything was desert. Nothing but desert. Aye.
CB: And they would import some Nile mud, I gather.
CD: Where?
CB: Sometimes.
CD: No. No, we, at TME Middle East.
CB: Yes.
CD: It was perfectly all desert. Not anything but.
CB: Ok.
CD: The only time we saw was on the banks of the Nile. Sometimes we, when we were based when I was on the flying side we were based on the banks of the Nile or near enough. Then it had a bit of mud there but apart from that —
CB: Ok.
[recording paused]
CB: So in the UK there would be designated areas on airfields for WAAF quarters.
CD: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: How did that work?
CD: Well, they had a compound on the, on the airfield which was separate from the male compound and then the officer’s section was away from that.
CB: And what sort of accommodation did they get? The WAAFs.
CD: It was very good I think. It was huts. Exactly the same as the officers. But the officer’s mess was very good there. Nice tables. We had Egyptian people serving you. Yeah. And the bar I remember a lot of us used to drink coke in those days and we used to go in to the bar in the early evenings and have a glass of coke. And then in the evening we’d have something a little bit stronger. Unless we were going out. And we used to go into Heliopolis to have a meal and usually something quite basic but we used to enjoy it. It used to be I egg and chips and that kind of thing.
CB: There was no rationing as such.
CD: Well rationing on the station. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
CD: Yeah. Yeah. But that was entirely different from the life out in the, when I was flying with the RAF. I mean we, when we were in Italy or Sicily and places like that we had mainly bully beef. Sometimes a bit of cheese. But we didn't get potatoes or vegetables or things.
CB: Ok. Now, changing back to Italy. In the latter stages —
CD: Yeah.
CB: You were in communication you said with bomber streams.
CD: Yes.
CB: That were in Northern Europe. In other words they were Bomber Command operations.
CD: Yes.
CB: So to what extent were you able to help them and how did that link in with the system?
CD: Well, I’ll give you an example. We were flying, this was the night work, we were flying at night. I could hear this bomber trying to contact his base in the UK and they were telling them what their problems were and they were trying to do it with voice.
CB: Yeah.
CD: Now, I couldn’t. I I didn't know whether I could contact their base with voice but I if I could get their call signs and so forth as they came in I could contact their base and then I could do the get a fix for them. Yeah. And that was something I did on the side. Nobody asked me to do that kind of thing.
CB: So, you're, you're doing this all in Morse.
CD: Yes. All in, I did it all in Morse.
CB: Which would get through.
CD: Yeah, that's right because I could get through where they couldn't get through via their voice.
CB: So, we're talking about one of the large bombers being in difficulty.
CD: Oh yes. Mainly Halifaxes and so forth. I knew what they were. Mainly Halifaxes.
CB: And then did you get in contact with their, their home bases?
CD: No.
CB: No.
CD: No.
CB: Just giving them a fix.
CD: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: And a heading.
CD: Yeah. Well, I might have got them in touch with their own base in the UK but I never knew who I was contacting.
CB: No.
CD: I knew that I was contacting what they wanted.
CB: Yeah. Yeah. Ok. Stop there. Thank you.
[recording paused]
CB: When you returned to the UK you got yourself posted to a different squadron which was flying Sunderlands.
CD: Yes.
CB: So, what was the squadron and how did that work?
CD: After I'd done my security work and so forth which I enjoyed and my work with an Anson aircraft going around the country and my Watch work at Medmenham. In Medmenham near Marlow which was the headquarters of 19 Group I used to go on duty at night on my own and then I used to communicate with various RAF stations. Pass various messages from Air Ministry and so forth on. And then when I left there and went on to the Sunderland Flying Boats what was the trend you wanted?
CB: That was at Pembroke dock.
CD: Oh, at Pembroke. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. So what were you doing on the, what was the squadron and what were you doing?
CD: It was 201 Squadron.
CB: And what were you doing?
CD: And we were merely looking after RAF ships, not RAF ships, British convoys and so forth and we were also looking after or trying to look after people who had been sunk, other ships had been sunk. And we were also trying to eliminate the dangers of submarines but by that time in the Sunderland we had radar that could reach two hundred miles and that was very useful. I had a, I had a, I used to love my radar in the Sunderland. I used to play around with it and I could tell where, how far we were from Ayers Rock or somewhere like that or, yeah. And then we used to have these sonar buoys that we, in an appropriate situation we used to drop them to find out where the submarines were and then we could advise convoys and so forth. Although I mean there had been times when we switched over where the Russians in later years were trying to get up the Thames and we used to drop sonar buoys there to see where the Russians were. Yeah. And because of my security aspects also involved at that stage the press would you give you almost anything to get a story and you had to be so careful. People rang me up and said, ‘Just don't tell them anything. Don’t get on.’
CB: Right. Thank you.
[recording paused]
CB: We talked earlier about your time at Blenheim Palace and one of the points about that place is it was the family home of Churchill’s.
CD: Yes.
CB: So, when Churchill did arrive what did he do and what were your impressions?
CD: Well, he [pause] he had meetings there which one never knew was going on but obviously it was connected with the war. But he used to come and relax and don’t forget in those early days of the war they chucked him out of, out of the government. Out of parliament. So he had plenty of time so he went back to his home in Chartwell and built a wall. He was building his wall and he used to come to Blenheim Palace and sit there and paint. And then of course when they got into trouble, when the RAF, well not the RAF when the government got into trouble and so forth they thought Churchill will have to take over. And he was that kind of man. I mean he had great presence. Great stature and he was the ideal person for a wartime situation.
CB: And what happened if you happened to be near him?
CD: He just used to growl at you, ‘Get out of it.’ I mean the one thing about the family was they treated everybody else more or less as serfs. I mean the son who was about eleven or twelve, the son of the Duke of Marlborough used to say, ‘Man. Man.’ That kind of thing. That's the way they used to talk to you. But the daughters were absolutely the opposite. I mean where I was there were very few young men of my age so they used to kind of filter around me and the duke would be coming through the gardens and in to the, in to the area where the greenhouses were and I would be in the potting shed shall we say and one of the daughters would be with me and, ‘Oh, daddy’s coming. Open the door.’ And I used to open the door underneath my bench and she used to get in there and stay there until he disappeared. Another one of her great friends was the Duke of, no the Duchess of, Lady Paget was her name. Whoever she, she was part of that kind of family situation and she was another lovely girl. She used to come spend half an hour, an hour with me. We used to natter away and so forth. She used to bring me a bit of chocolate and what have you. So the men of the family were absolute pigs and the girls were the absolute opposite but they just wanted some decent men's company. And they were the people who in the evening when the bombs were falling they brought the champagne and so forth out on the roof and we used to go up there and have a party. It’s, they were amazing days because I would say the female section of the family were excellent. It's like when I was in the RAF the female section were always the people who were very kind. I remember when I used to, the girls in Margaret’s section, some of them used to say to me, ‘How do you get two eggs in the morning?’ When we had breakfast. It was only because I was decent to the cook girls. I used to speak to them nicely and whenever I went up instead of having the ration of one egg they used to give me two eggs. But generally speaking, the girls who were in the catering which the girls in Margaret’s section always decried them. They were way below them and Margaret’s section was above them. But I used to find I used to speak to them nicely in the cookhouse and they used to look after me wonderfully well. Very kind. You did have these kind of areas of standing if you like. Yeah. Anybody in the cookhouse was below people in Margaret’s kind of section which was more upmarket.
CB: And of course, aircrew were treated in a elevated way as well.
CD: Yes. They were. Yeah.
CB: And you were aircrew.
CD: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. And officers were treated much more too.
CB: Officer aircrew.
CD: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I remember one chap at Pembroke Dock. We married down at Pembroke Dock as you know. And he arrived one day Margaret told me with this lovely piece of steak at the door and he said, ‘I brought this for you.’ She said, ‘Where did you get that from?’ He said, ‘Oh I got it from the butchers. I stole it.’ Now, that chap was an Irish lad. He was, he was always in trouble in some way or other so I said to my sergeant one day, I said, ‘We are going to do something.’ He said, ‘I know sir.’ So I asked him get him out, give him a rifle and give him a pack on his back and we’ll, we’ll keep him going around the football pitch.’ So we did that and he every time I went up to have a look for myself he would say, ‘I’m alright, sir. Don’t worry.’ And he used to go around there and he took it. Took the punishment kind of thing. But I used to have to have my parades of course and my staff used to be the staff sergeant so and so, two sergeants and the recruits. Not the girls. Never used to have the girls on. Who used to have them on the parade? It’s only men I had on parade.
MD: Where?
CD: At Pembroke Dock. You can’t, you don’t remember.
MD: No.
CD: No. No. And I used to fly with a group captain who was the commander of the stations 201 and 203 Squadron. I used to fly with him. Not with the squadron. And we used to go on special flights out into the Atlantic and so forth on various days and he’d call me up. He used to call me Dash. Nobody ever used my name as Charles, everybody called me Geoff. Everybody in the family still calls me Geoff. And he used to ring me up and say, ‘Geoff, half an hour we’re off.’ And I used to go off and meet him with another two or three and we used to get in the aircraft and off we used to, the Sunderland Flying Boat and off we would go and he’d have his instructions. I never knew what we were going for until he told me. It was, we quite enjoyed ourselves when we lived at Pembroke Dock, didn’t we? We lived in a miner’s cottage and our daughter was born down there in this miner’s cottage. Well, no. The miners cottage, she was not born in there, she was born on the station. I was, I went into the mess for my usual evening drink before going into the mess for dinner and the officer, medical officer said to me, ‘Geoff, I don’t know what I’m going to do tonight. Your wife is nearly there.’ I said, ‘I believe so.’ He said, ‘Yeah. I’ve, I’ve never, never delivered a baby before.’ He was only thirty two. He said, ‘I’ve never delivered a baby.’ He said.’ He said, ‘But I think we will overcome. We’ve got a woman.’ And as far as I know from Margaret this old senior lady did it, didn’t she?’
CB: Right stopping there.
[recording paused]
CB: One bit we didn’t cover in your flying time, in your ops time is the extent to which your aircraft was damaged. So how often did your plane get damaged one way or the other?
CD: I don’t know. Over the seventy or so operations I suppose no more than ten times perhaps. You know. Yeah. But it was amazing when you were low flying. We were never touched because of the speed of ourselves when we were up there and I never knew quite what was going on at various times because I was enclosed inside and it was the pilot and navigator who were doing all the work which was necessary. I mean we had to swing the aircraft around a lot sometimes. That was the bit dicey was to hold on tight.
CB: This was to avoid the flak.
CD: The high flak and other aircraft.
CB: And ground fire, oh other aircraft.
CD: Yeah.
CB: Right. Because you were flying —
CD: Yeah. I mean we never got really got as far as I can remember in close contact but there were German aircraft up there and we were up there and we, in most case we got out of each other’s when we decided to do something we decided it was better to get out of it because that was not really our job. They should have had fighters around but of course they can’t. They hadn’t got our distances.
CB: The fighters couldn’t —
CD: No.
CB: Hadn’t got your range.
CD: No. Hadn’t have our range.
CB: Did you get attacked by German fighters at all?
CD: No. The only German attacks with fighters were night on to the airfields.
CB: Right. And in the damage to your aircraft what was the reaction of the ground crew to their prized aeroplane being bent?
CD: Well obviously, they were concerned about it but some of the holes were such that they couldn’t paint, they hadn’t got the facilities to because it was a steel framed aircraft. It wasn’t something with canvas like the Hurricane or something so they hadn’t got the facilities. So once an aircraft was damaged in some the engines were fine so they would usually go back to an MU and they used the engines on another aircraft.
CB: And did you have to exchange your aircraft at any time because of the extent of the damage?
CD: Yes. Yes. We did, I’ll tell you but I think over the seventy or so operations I think we changed the aircraft four times for various reasons.
CB: What would constitute a reason for changing the plane?
CD: Holes in obviously. The other thing is we were sometimes on an airfield we’d get bogged down in to, in to mud and so forth and the undercarriage would be damaged and various things. The aircraft, the engines were excellent but they did change them after you’d done perhaps twenty five operations. Something like that. They used to. I never knew exactly why but they would say, ‘Your aircraft’s engines are going to be changed.’ And that was it.
[recording paused]
CB: I have now. So when you were —
CD: I don’t want to talk about that.
CB: Did you, did you lose any equipment from the aircraft when you were flying? Did it fall out?
CD: No.
CB: Or did it happen on the ground?
CD: No. I only lost some guns.
CB: What happened to the guns then?
CD: Put that off I don’t want to –
CB: Ok [laughs]



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Basil Charles Day,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 25, 2024,

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