Interview with Frank Dell

Title

Interview with Frank Dell

Description

Frank Dell’s father was a member of the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War and so it was perhaps inevitable that Frank would share the fascination with aviation and a desire to fly. As a teenager Frank witnessed the aerial battles of the Battle of Britain overhead and so he volunteered as soon as he was old enough. After training in the US Frank was retained as an instructor. On his return to the UK he was posted to 692 Squadron at RAF Graveley flying Mosquitoes. His navigator was killed when the plane was attacked. Frank managed to evade for several days despite many close calls and on one occasion while hiding he witnessed a launch of a V-2 from a forest clearing. He sought shelter in a Dutch farmhouse from where he joined with the Resistance and other allied aircrew until liberation.

Creator

Date

2016-05-20

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

01:57:30 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

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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

ADellFH160520

Transcription

JH: Good morning, Frank. I’m talking with Frank Dell. We’re in St Ives in Sydney. It’s Friday the 20th May 2016. My name is John Horsburgh and I’ve got the honour of interviewing Frank this morning. So, before we start I just thought I’d say that Frank was a pilot with the RAF 692 Squadron. He was a Mosquito pilot and assigned to the Light Night Striking Force. And it’s an interesting story because Frank was actually shot down over Germany near the border with Holland and spent some time being sheltered by the Dutch and participating in the Dutch Resistance. So, so good morning Frank. Maybe we can start by talking about your, your childhood and some of your background and how you, how you got to join the RAF.
FD: Well, it’s a little bit of a story there because I I grew up on the south coast of England at a little township called Southwick. Just between Worthing and Brighton. Actually, right on the coast. And there’s a little harbour there called Shoreham Harbour. And all through my teenage stage I had the ambition of joining the Royal Air Force. This is before the war of course and this was spurred on by the fact that my father had been in the Royal Flying Corps and then the RAF in the ‘14/18 war. And like young men today he had first of all wanted to get into cars and then at a slightly later stage flying had caught on and he wanted to fly. But that was a pretty difficult thing to achieve. But, however the First World War then started and that was in 1914 of course. And by 1915 he applied to join the Royal Flying Corps to become a pilot only to be told that at the age of, I think it was thirty two he was too old. They only took younger people. So he couldn’t achieve his ambition at that stage. But the person who interviewed him said, ‘Oh. We see you have a qualification in mechanical engineering. Would you be game to join the Royal Flying Corps as a mechanic? And maybe they would raise the age at which they would take you on as a, as a trainee pilot at a later stage.’ So, anyway against that background he joined and was sent to France and worked as a mechanic at an airfield in northern France and must have made quite a mark while he was there because after about twelve months he was posted back to England and commissioned as an engineering officer. And he was then posted to the Central Flying School at an airfield called Upavon in western England where he was put in a team that was then sent to Canada to establish flying training systems in Canada. And this was of some importance because this was the forerunner of what became known as the Empire Flying Training Scheme in the Second World War. And having started, or having got established in Canada at the end of 1917 the United States came into the war so their training establishment in Canada was then transferred to Fort Worth in Texas. And we started Flying Training Schools, British Flying Training Schools in Texas in the ‘14/18 war. And people have no knowledge of this in this day and age. But this was —
JH: So that is interesting. So that is the forerunner of the Empire Training Scheme.
FD: Absolutely.
JH: Which was mainly Canada but also the US in the Second World War.
FD: Exactly. Yes. It was an extraordinary thing. But anyway the war ended and, oh yes he had applied for a permanent commission in what had become the Royal Air Force. But by the time his demobilisation date came up no permanent commission had been offered so he went back and joined his father’s business. His father having a fairly small furniture business selling antique furniture and good quality second hand furniture and he had a small department specialising in selling and fitting carpets. And he had a removal van for moving his goods to and fro and for moving people’s furniture when they moved house and that sort of thing. And he had a warehouse for the storage of people’s furniture. And that was the main character of the, of the business. And my father didn’t enjoy it all that much but persevered and when his father finally died the business was his and that’s, that was the ongoing business that I knew as I grew up. And I used to so enjoy going to the shop to see it all happening. But then the Second World War was declared and I was, I was sixteen, yes when the war broke out. And living in the south of Sussex, South of England in the county of Sussex a large part of the Battle of Britain took place over head in 1940, by which time I was seventeen.
JH: So you can remember seeing some of that going on above your head.
FD: Day after day one saw these huge formations of German bombers coming over. Once, twice a day and so on. And these great air battles taking place in the sky. And the BBC day by day would recount how many German bombers the RAF had shot down the preceding day in the way that we report cricket matches and things here.
JH: Yes.
FD: And I think the highest number I ever heard broadcast was a hundred and eighty eight in one day. But —
JH: Of German aircraft.
FD: Of German aircraft.
JH: Yes.
FD: Had been shot down for the loss of twenty five or something like that.
JH: Yes.
FD: In fact after the war we realised or it was reported that the figures were grossly exaggerated on both sides.
JH: Yes.
FD: But that was the way it was. But, however one sensed that, that the success or the success or failure from the British point of view success or failure of the battle hinged not really from the number of German bombers that were shot down but whether we would have enough Spitfires and particularly pilots to fly them. And we could see that the limiting factor was likely to be that we would run out of pilots. And in, at the commencement of the battle we started with six hundred pilots flying the Spitfires and Hurricanes in south east England against the German Air Force of two thousand four hundred aircraft attacking England. But, but we could replace the Spitfires quite quickly but we could not replace the pilots that were lost. And in a ten week period having started with six hundred pilots we actually lost six hundred pilots. Arguably they weren’t all the original ones because as men were lost day by day and week by week pilots were brought in from where ever they could be obtained. From other squadrons elsewhere in the UK. We got a whole lot of Navy pilots in and we got pilots from the recently occupied Holland. Belgium.
[recording glitch]
Advertisements saying something on the lines of school leavers who may interested in a post-war career in the Royal Air Force are invited to apply for university courses lasting one year with everything paid for by the Royal Air Force. And with the opportunity of completing their courses after the war. But they would have to serve one year at university. So, I put in my applications and I was accepted. And the logic behind it all was that the Officer Cadet College at Cranwell had been closed down because of the circumstances of the war but nonetheless the air force was still continuing the [pause] the practice and the syllabuses of of applicants as though they were going to peacetime Cranwell. And by some misjudgement I got selected and so I was sent to university by the RAF. All paid for.
JH: Yeah.
FD: For a year.
JH: So this was 1940.
FD: 1940.
JH: Yes.
FD: When we couldn’t be sure that we were going to succeed.
JH: Yes.
FD: You see. Really quite extraordinary.
JH: Yes.
FD: And of course beneath it all of course was propaganda. You know. We were sort of doing this to the Germans.
JH: Yes.
FD: You know. You know we’re going to win because we’re recruiting boys, you know, for after. After we’ve won. It’s extraordinary.
JH: It would have been hard to concentrate on your studies knowing that you could get a telegram any day to report to some place.
FD: Well, anyway that’s how it was and actually I expected to hear. Oh yes, they said, ‘Have you a particular preference of which university you’d like to go to?’ And I’d had various friends and acquaintances who had gone to Oxford and Oxford wasn’t all that far from where I lived. In the event I was sent to Aberdeen University in northern Scotland which was about as far away as I could have been sent which sort of brought home to me the fact that I may have been somewhere near the bottom of the list [laughs] Anyway, there it was. And then one did one’s year there and then those like myself were sent to a little Flying Training School near High Wycombe out through the west of London. This place being called Booker. And —
JH: Which became the headquarters of Bomber Command.
FD: That’s right.
JH: Yes.
FD: It is. But there is also a small airfield which is a communications airfield for Bomber Command in this day and age. But there we were given up to ten hours flying on little Tiger Moths.
JH: Yes.
FD: To determine whether we really had the aptitude to become pilots because they didn’t want to waste money putting us on ships to go to Canada or the United States or wherever to learn to fly if we hadn’t got the aptitude in the first place.
JH: So, that’s interesting. What sort of qualities? Presumably everybody wanted to be a pilot.
FD: Yes.
JH: But what sort of qualities were they looking for specifically in the training?
FD: Well, I can’t say. I think some people have a natural ability and others, you know it can be quite frightening for some people getting in a little aeroplane and going up there. Sort of psychologically they have perhaps not quite the right stuff for this sort of thing.
JH: Yes.
FD: And they looked for athletic people as well. And I suppose they’re thinking of the stress and strain and so on of flying. But anyway there we are.
JH: Yes.
FD: That’s the sort of general picture. And then —
JH: So your first solo flight was a Tiger Moth.
FD: Well, no. They, they took you up to the point at which they were confident that you could go solo.
JH: Yes.
FD: But you did not in fact go solo at this little place.
JH: Oh.
FD: No.
JH: Yes.
FD: But you just reached that point.
JH: Yes. Yes.
FD: There were all sorts of twists and turns and what happened then. But I was then put with a group of people who were sent to Canada to — we went across on a Canadian Pacific liner called the Montcalm. The weather was terrible [laughs] We were all sea sick. And we ended up in Halifax.
JH: Yes.
FD: But anyway then we went to a depot at a place called Moncton where they then decided where, what airfield, what training airfields you were going to go to. And I was most fortunate, at least I regarded myself as most fortunate being sent down to the United States to learn to fly in the United States. America having just, Pearl Harbour had just happened.
JH: Yes.
FD: So America no longer had to play games to try and get around being a neutral country.
JH: Yes.
FD: They were at last in the war.
JH: And a connection with your father’s experience.
FD: Absolutely.
JH: Yes.
FD: Yes.
JH: Yes.
FD: So, and then I, and those immediately with me were sent to a small flying training school at Tuscaloosa in Alabama. Tuscaloosa being the university. The university town for Alabama. Which meant there were quite a lot of lady students around at that time. But there we, we flew admirable aeroplanes called Stearmans which were a class ahead of Tiger Moths such as we had before. We had open cockpits and so on. But they had more powerful engines. They had brakes. You could steer on the ground because you had a tail wheel.
JH: Yes.
FD: When the Tiger Moth just had a little skid at the back. On the assumption you were going to be flying off a grass airfield where we flew off a proper runway and so on. And, well we had, what? The best part of three months I suppose there. And it was the best flying I ever encountered. It was just wonderful flying these little aeroplanes. And then one moved to another airfield. Montgomery in, Montgomery [pause] yes that was Alabama as well. It was called Gunter Field where we flew aircraft called Vultee Valiants which were somewhat like a Harvard. A single engine training plane but with an enclosed cockpit. But these Vultees in fact had fixed undercarriages.
JH: Yes.
FD: But after flying in an open cockpit like a Tiger Moth or a Stearman it was like stepping into a Rolls Royce to actually be in an aircraft with a canopy and a cover. Anyway, one did that and we had two months doing this on the more advanced aircraft. And then we were posted to Turner Field in, in Georgia where we flew twin-engined aircraft. And all those who, or the majority of people who went through the twin-engined training courses was asked if, by this time we were mixed courses of RAF and American airmen as well. And certainly for the Americans all who went through the twin-engined training then went onto Flying Fortresses and Liberators and things. Four engine aircraft. And for the RAF people most of them went on to Halifaxes and Lancasters as one would be back in the UK. But at the completion of that training some who had done a little better than others on the training courses were selected and put through the American Central Flying School to become instructors themselves. So that the whole training process was self-generating.
JH: Yes.
FD: We generated our own instructors as did the rest.
JH: Yes.
FD: And the air force, the American air force and of course the RAF as well was expanding at a tremendous rate. And, and anyway I completed the instructor’s course and was then, well perhaps I’ll dwell a little on the instructor’s course because there were some pretty exceptional people there. There was one man in particular. In fact he was the chief flying instructor. His name was Si Wilson and he was becoming a specialist in learning how to fly in very turbulent flying conditions. In particular flying through thunder storms. And from him one learned a great deal of how to fly safely through thunderstorms because —
JH: Through rather than around or above.
FD: That’s right.
JH: He flew through these storm cells.
FD: That’s right.
JH: Yes.
FD: And I can remember he was giving us a lecture on something. I don’t know what, when the sergeant came in to the lecture room and whispered in his ear and he thanked the sergeant and then turned to us and said, ‘You’ll have to excuse me gentleman but I’m informed that there’s a big thunderstorm approaching and I think it more important that I should get up into it.’ [laughs] And he left the lecture room, went out and got in his aircraft and up he went. But that was the nature of the character of this man who would actually do it. Anyway, I digress but that was just —
JH: So the next stage was presumably to come back.
FD: Yeah.
JH: And be assigned to a squadron.
FD: Yes. There was a little twist to it there because we were sent to a depot in the UK [pause] where we were interviewed and assessed and told where we were to be sent. And during this interview of course they, one of the first questions was, ‘How many flying hours have you got? What have you done?’ And you see the normal through put of pilots from the training schools would have arrived at this selection centre with something like two hundred and thirty flying hours. That was, that was the minimum. But because I’d done a whole year as a flying instructor I had one thousand two hundred flying hours. And this gave one a little bit of preference when it came to what sort of flying you wanted to do. And I was interested in night fighting. I thought well I, if everybody wanted to fly Mosquitoes or Beaufighters if they could but quite apart from flying the aeroplanes I was interested in the technology that went into flying at night. And anyway having expressed this which I was posted to a training school to become a night fighter pilot and I was sent to this training establishment at a place called Grantham. And if you watch Downton Abbey you will know that Lord Grantham was the leading [laughs]
JH: Grantham. Yes.
FD: Chap in the series. Anyway, there we flew semi-obsolete aircraft called Bristol Blenheims. And —
JH: Twin-engined.
FD: Twin-engined.
JH: Yes.
FD: Yes. About the size of a Mosquito. In fact, if anything a bit bigger than a Mosquito or a Beaufighter. But this was to be a stepping stone towards those sort of aircraft. Anyway, I and my mates completed the course but there were still no vacancies on the squadrons. On the night fighter squadrons. So they said, ‘Oh all right. You can do the course again.’ So we did the same course again. So we maintained our flying practice. And then the word came around that Bomber Command was starting to use Mosquitoes as, as bombers.
JH: In the Pathfinder force.
FD: In the Pathfinder force.
JH: Yes.
FD: In the night, Light Night Striking Force. And one or two of us said, ‘Well, why don’t we go down there and talk to the [pause] talk to 8 Group,’ which were the Pathfinders doing this sort of thing, ‘And see if we can achieve success.’ So down we went and we met a great character in Bomber Command called Mahaddie who did the selection.
JH: Hamish Mahaddie.
FD: Mahaddie.
JH: Yes.
FD: You know the name do you?
JH: Yes. Well my father knew him.
FD: Did he?
JH: He was a friend. Yes.
FD: Yes. Yes. You have to excuse me a moment.
JH: Yes, we’ll have a pause here.
[recording paused]
JH: Frank, we were talking about Hamish Mahaddie.
FD: Yes.
JH: An interesting character. And I believe he was Don Bennett’s head-hunter or horse thief.
FD: That’s right.
JH: Is that correct?
FD: Yes. And, well so one was selected and I found myself in 8 Group which was the Pathfinder Group and I was posted to 692 Squadron at, at Graveley. And as you’ve just mentioned Dixie Dean was the station commander and the, and commanding officer of 692 Squadron was [pause] I’ll have to think rather hard for a moment. Joe. It escapes me for the moment. It’ll come.
JH: Never mind. It’ll come back. Yeah. What was the culture like at Graveley at that time?
FD: Oh [pause]
JH: In terms of morale and —
FD: Yes. Well, people, people were cheerful. Yes. People. One wouldn’t, wouldn’t have said that there was any lack of morale. No. Life was perhaps a little, or humour may have been rather exaggerated to counter battles. What else was going on. But no. It was — life was pretty, pretty normal.
JH: And in your book, I might give a plug for your book, “Mosquito Down” A very interesting read. You have an anecdote about Don Bennett.
FD: Yes.
JH: Who turned up one day.
FD: Yes.
JH: In his Mosquito.
FD: That’s right. Well, we’d been briefed. Standard procedure was that at about mid-day on any day we were told which, which crews were on that night as the saying was. And, and that meant that it was desirable to get some sleep in the afternoon and, you know prepare for what might happen that evening. And then we’d be given a time later in the day when we’d have to report to the briefing room to be briefed on what we’d been alerted to do. And this invariably started with the crews sitting in rows of seats in this little theatre in essence. With a screen at the, at the front with a map of Europe on it with coloured ribbons pinned to it to show what the routing was going to be and so as you walked in to the room just by looking at the ribbons you could tell what the, what the target was going to, going to be. And if it was going to be somewhere like Berlin or Essen which were both very heavily defended places a great groan would go up among the boys as they took their seats.
JH: So the ribbons told the story as soon as you walked in.
FD: Absolutely. Yes. Yeah. And well there, oh yes there was again this time when we turned up to be briefed. I can’t remember what the target was that night but it was of significance that it was our thirteenth trip and it was Friday the 13th [laughs] and Ron, my navigator and I exchanged looks [laughs]
JH: Not that you were superstitious of course.
FD: Not that we were superstitious [laughs] But in the event it was cancelled. So we didn’t go. But the next night was still our thirteenth [laughs] but not on the Friday. And so what sticks in my mind about the briefing that night was here were the tapes on the chart and they led to Berlin. And as we took our seats and having spotted where the tapes were leading the customary groan went up among us all. And then the intelligence officer, as was the pattern stood up to tell us or to give us information that might be useful to us as we went along. Such things as if our reconnaissance aircraft had noticed that they were moving night fighters to airfields closer to the coast or that they were moving guns to particular towns or cities or they were establishing decoys around particular towns to confuse us and things like this. But on this particular occasion as we marched in and spotted Berlin and groaned the intelligence officer who was a new chap got up and said, ‘Well, I don’t think there’s anything that I can tell you tonight that you probably haven’t experienced before.’ And sat down. So that was our total briefing for what was lying in wait for us along the way. That stuck in my mind ever since. ‘Nothing unusual tonight that you haven’t experienced before.’ [laughs] And in fact the heavy bombers that night were going to the northern end of the industrial Ruhr to bomb a town called Duisburg which had big, a big steelworks to do with the Krupps steel making industry and we were to go off. Our take off time had been calculated so that we would pass over Duisburg just as the heavy bombers were turning for home after they dropped their bombs on the town. And that we were then to continue further eastwards to Berlin as we normally did deduce with the objective of drawing the night fighters away from the heavy bombers who were then heading, heading back for home. And as part of the exercises as we approached Duisburg we would throw out what they called Window. Which were these strips of silver paper which when thrown out into the slipstream would create a minute, an image of a very much larger force than in fact we were. And anyway we did our duty doing that.
JH: Any heavy bombers go with you part of the way towards Berlin?
FD: No. No. No.
JH: Just the Mosquitoes.
FD: As soon as they got over Duisburg they turned for home and we continued on. And the Germans would then have to start guessing as to where we were going to go and the size of our bomber force which was quite difficult for them. Or we hoped it was difficult for them. Anyway, the first big town we passed over after leaving Duisburg or as we, was Munster. And as we approached Munster the anti-aircraft gunfire came up and there were many searchlights so even if you were flying at twenty eight thousand feet as we were you could almost read a newspaper up at that height. And we were suddenly hit by something. I thought we were hit by anti-aircraft fire because there were shells coming up. We, we used to use a gadget called Boozer. I don’t know if that’s mentioned in the book but Boozer was a very simple device that we had. It consisted, consisted of two little radio receivers. One tuned to the ground radar frequency used by anti-aircraft guns and searchlights on the ground. And the other part of the receiver was tuned to the night fighter frequencies. So that if there was a night fighter somewhere close to you you’d be warned. You had a yellow warning light to tell you that if it just came on dimly it meant that you were being looked at in general terms but not specifically. But if, if a gun was being, a radar gun was being pointed at you then the light came on very brightly in which case you had to alter course. So that when the shell finally reached your height —
JH: How much leeway would you have in terms of time when that light went on?
FD: We — you counted one second per thousand feet. Feet of altitude. So we would fly at, well commonly at twenty seven, twenty eight thousand feet so we’d count up to twenty eight. Well, we’d alter course immediately the bright light came on. And then you’d count up to twenty eight. Then you’d go back on course again and you’d look over your shoulder and you’d see pop pop pop pop shells bursting where you would have been had you not altered course. And so that was how we played it at the ground radar. And then we had a red warning light which would come on dimly if there was a German night fighter somewhere behind you. And that came on brightly when he was two or three or four hundred yards right behind you. In which case you then did the steepest turn that you’d ever done in your life. And you also used to, you were required to shout out, ‘Snapper,’ on the radio so to warn other aircraft in our immediate vicinity that there was one of these devils very close and very active. Anyway.
JH: And you had no machine guns.
FD: No.
JH: On the Mosquito.
FD: No. No. All we could do was do a very steep turn.
JH: Yeah. Sure.
FD: But you didn’t have to turn very far before you got outside the fighter’s screen. So [pause] anyway it was all a bit complex but you could get outside the area that he was watching.
JH: His envelope. Yeah.
FD: But once, once he got close, close enough he then, the fighter pilot would detach his attention away from radar and instruments and so on because for his final attack if he could get you silhouetted against searchlights then he’d got you.
JH: Yeah.
FD: And so that was the situation that I was in. But I didn’t know that there was a night fighter behind me but in retrospect I can now see that he probably saw me silhouetted against the searchlights. And anyway we got hit and the aircraft gradually went, oh first of all the flying control column was thrashing. Thrashing to and fro. And the aircraft slowly went into a steeper and steeper climb.
JH: You were hit in the tail area.
FD: Well, exactly. One couldn’t handle just at that moment what was happening but subsequently I realised that probably the elevators were either damaged or shot off I think. There was no, there was no elevator control left at all. And the thing then went into, fell away into a spin and I don’t know how many times we went around and around but I suppose it would be five or six times. And my analysis now is that our bomb broke loose. Because we used to just carry one four thousand pound bomb. That was all we had. One four thousand pound. It was a bit longer than this table and was, it was like a big oil drum. An elongated oil drum. But it was four thousand pounds weight and I think as the aircraft spun down I think it broke loose and broke the aircraft. Because one minute one was sitting in the aircraft with shoulder straps on and leg straps all connected to a big buckle here and one minute one was sitting in the aircraft trying to cope with this situation and the next minute one was out in the fresh air. There was no, no sort of undoing of seat belts or opening hatches or anything. There was no transition at all. One minute one was in the plane. The next minute one was out in the darkness tumbling end over end. And I can remember feeling around presuming that I’d still got the, that I was still attached to the seat and — but the seat had gone. My shoulder straps had gone. But one sat on one’s parachute. That was, that was the cushion that you sat on was one’s parachute and that was all still there and I remember pulling the rip cord and being very relieved when the parachute went pop. And eventually after a moment of utter utter confusion it suddenly became quite peaceful.
JH: And could you see the Mosquito going down below you?
FD: No. But, but I did see a big explosion after I don’t know how much time. A minute or so I suppose. But I did see a big explosion which I presumed was the, was my bomb going off. Yeah.
JH: And I bet you were hoping your navigator —
FD: Well —
JH: Had got out.
FD: Well, you see this was the agony of mind. It was really terrible. Yeah. Because as we had gone over Munster and so this time he’d had sufficient time at our cruising altitude in order to calculate a wind and to compare it with the estimated wind that we’d use for our flight planning at the outset. So, by that time he had his, he’d got — he’d calculated a wind. And he’d got out of his seat and ducked down into the little space underneath the instrument panel and gone up into the bombing nose so that he could set up the wind on the bomb sight so that he could be all set for when we got over Berlin which was going to be another forty five minutes later or so. So, he was down there when the aeroplane broke up. And he didn’t wear, he didn’t wear a parachute.
JH: His, his ‘chute was on a hook somewhere.
FD: It was on a little shelf just near his seat. And he, he wore the harness which had two big hooks on it and he was expected, if we got into trouble he was expected to take the parachute off the shelf, clip it on and then open the hatch and jump out. But he wouldn’t have had a chance of doing any of that.
JH: This is Ron Naiff isn’t it? Your navigator.
FD: Ron. Yeah.
JH: Yes.
FD: Yes. Yeah.
JH: So, so there was some wind so were you drifting as you were coming down?
FD: Yes. Absolutely. Yes. I can’t remember what the, what the wind strength was but it was probably something like twenty knots or so because we used to calculate everything in knots. And one comes down in a parachute at something like a thousand feet a minute and I think probably the plane was probably at about twenty thousand feet when it broke up. So it would have taken me about twenty minutes to come down and [pause] A third of an hour. Yeah. And we would have drifted. Yeah. Yes. Drifted five, six miles or so and I think this was the saving grace for me because if people went out and located the wreckage of my plane and they found that one crew member was missing — by that time I was six miles away. And I think that really was my saving grace. That —
JH: And landed, you landed in a farming area or forest.
FD: Yes. I landed. I sort of got down fairly low. I can remember looking down thinking I could see a darker dark patch on the ground and I thought I was coming down in a wood. And almost as soon as I thought the thought I’d hit the ground and in fact I was in, I’d come down in quite a small ploughed field and it was because it had been ploughed that it did show up as being a bit darker than surrounding fields. So I landed on my bum on the soft newly ploughed field.
JH: Had you actually parachuted before in training? Or this was your first jump?
FD: Yes. It was. Yes. They gave us lectures giving simple guidance on what to do but no more than that yeah. Once was enough. Yeah.
JH: So, what, so presumably you had to bury the parachute somehow.
FD: Well, that’s right.
JH: And then figure out what to do. Which —
FD: Needless to say had to hide parachutes somehow.
JH: Yes.
FD: So that again the searching party wouldn’t have a datum point from which to continue.
JH: Yes. And footprints.
FD: Continue the search and so on. So I went to the edge of the field. Buried the parachute in a shallow ditch underneath some undergrowth that was there. And then, oh yes in the lectures that we had you know in which we were taught what to do under these circumstances one of the things they said was take out your escape pack and we all had these little boxes in our, in the breast pockets of our, of our battle dresses. And they said, ‘Take those. Take your escape pack, open it up and,’ they said, ‘On the very top you’ll find a cellophane packet with,’ I think they’re called Bendazine. Bendezine. ‘Benzedrine tablets in them.’ Which in this day and age are regarded as soft drugs that you buy on Saturday nights, I think [laughs] But they said, ‘Take one of these because it will sharpen your wits. Help you to overcome the shock that you’ve been through and,’ they said, ‘It will also put you on your guard if you get caught very soon after coming down because,’ they said, ‘It’s while you are in a state of some shock people are most vulnerable in interrogation.’ So, they said, ‘Take, take one or two of these tablets and that’ll help you pull yourself together. And then,’ they said, ‘Get the hell out of it. Get as far away as you possibly can.’ Which I did. And, well the story goes on and on in the book. But I did find my way to a, into a wood. I don’t know if you want me to go into all of it.
JH: That is interesting. In the book you, I remember you were in this wood.
FD: Yes.
JH: And you kept hearing all this shouting going on.
FD: Yes.
JH: And you thought they were closing in on you.
FD: Yes. Well, to start with, just as I was, quite soon after I left this ploughed field and found my way to a little road which was heading in a general sort of north westerly direction I started out walking out along this and I heard this big heavy vehicle coming along behind. And I couldn’t see it at first and, but there were men walking along the road ahead of it with flashlights which they were shining in the hedgerows and trees and things as this vehicle went along. And my first thought was that they were shining the flashlights to see if they could see someone like me. But in fact I then doubled around and walked along behind this vehicle and every once in a while one got a silhouette of the vehicle against the light of these torches and so on. And one could see that it was a very very big vehicle with a tarpaulin over, over the top. And so as it went along with these guys I was walking along behind it and then eventually we came to this wood and this vehicle turned up a little pathway into the, into the wood. And I thought well if they are still looking for me I’ll come into the wood and find somewhere to hide. Which I did. I found a bit of a ditch that had been overgrown with brambles and ferns and undergrowth of various kinds and I buried myself in this and the vehicle continued on for another, I don’t know three or four hundred yards perhaps. And then there was a lot of shouting and then I heard the engine stop on this vehicle and then it all went quiet. And then in my little hiding place I got a little sleep then. And then after perhaps an hour or so more shouting and the sound of this vehicle’s engine running and so on one then had this extraordinary experience of a noise louder than I’d heard in my life before. And one saw this great column of smoke going up into the air. And it was one of these V-2s being launched. But what was so extraordinary was that it wasn’t being launched from any sort of prepared launching site. There was no, no sort of concrete constructions of any sort there. It seemed to be just a cleared space in the middle of the forest. And I thought, you know this was, this became very important to me to get back home to tell people that the Germans were launching rockets from where ever they chose to launch them. They didn’t have to have a specially prepared launching site as was the case with V-1s. The V-1s did have to have specially constructed concrete launching ramps which the V-2s quite clearly did not.
JH: Well, that is interesting and if you had have been caught by these Germans watching a launch.
FD: Yes.
JH: You would have been in a very difficult situation I would have thought.
FD: Yes. That’s true. Yeah. So, anyway it must have been at about the time of this launching that I sort of checked on my own situation and opened up my escape pack and discovered that the night before I hadn’t been taking Benzedrine tablets. I’d been taking water purifying tablets [laughs] Yeah. But yes.
JH: Chlorine.
FD: Yeah. That’s right. Yes.
JH: So, you, I guess you had a compass in part of the kit.
FD: Yes I did.
JH: And how far were you from the Dutch border?
FD: I reckoned it was about eighty kilometres. And I managed to cover that distance in four nights of walking. It was actually on the fifth day that I finally confirmed that I was in Holland.
JH: And reading, reading the chapter in the book this was farmland. Farm areas.
FD: Yes.
JH: Villages.
FD: Yes.
JH: It’s not wilderness. And I seem to remember that almost night and day there was quite a bit of rain.
FD: Yes.
JH: And was that a, was that an advantage for you in that you know with not so many people out walking along the lanes?
FD: Well, that, that may well have been the case. But I think I had probably two dry nights to start with but after that yes it was raining and drizzling and I got sopping wet. Yeah. That added to my misery I can tell you. Yeah.
JH: And you did have some close calls with some German soldiers.
FD: Yes. Yes. That’s right. One night when I was walking along I could, I could hear laughter and shouting and so on. And I think this was probably four or five that I, rather than bumping in to them and being accosted when I could speak no German of course I thought it best to turn in the opposite direction and get as far away as quickly as I could. So that was the first encounter. And another time on an another night walking along in the darkness I almost bumped into a German truck that was stuck at the side of the road with the bonnet open and two German soldiers were poking about in the engine trying to get it started. But I just walked to the other side of the road and hid behind a tree and watched. Of course it was only later that I discovered that the Germans were desperately short of petrol and diesel oil and so on and they were putting all sorts of rubbish I think into the tanks.
JH: Thanks to Bomber Command.
FD: That’s right.
JH: Yes.
FD: That’s right. Yes.
JH: So had you found like an overcoat or something to put over your —
FD: No.
JH: Your flying dress?
FD: No. No. But very much later when I was joined by other allied aircrew when I was living on a particular farm one of the chaps who came to join me was my Australian friend Jim Strickland who faced with this very question, well like me he had started by, he’d come down near Dusseldorf. And he was, like me walking into Holland or hoping to walk into Holland. But he found that, found it so difficult walking in the darkness that he took to walking in the daytime. And he took off — we used to, used to wear heavy knitted navy blue sweaters like the one that you’re wearing. But they were very long and come down almost to your knees and when one was wearing one’s uniform on top of that, one’s battle dress one used to throw the bottom piece up over your chest so you had two layers of of the sweater. And what, what Jim hit upon was taking his sweater off altogether and putting the sweater on top of his uniform. And he said he gathered an armful of brushwood as though he was taking it home to kindle the kitchen stove or something. And he said wearing his sweater and carrying his bundle [laughs] bundle of firewood under his arm he said he found people walked past him. German soldiers and civilians and nobody gave him a second look.
JH: So, so Frank let’s maybe jump ahead a few days. Your first encounter with friendly Dutch people.
FD: Yes.
JH: Across the border.
FD: Yes.
JH: How did that come about?
FD: Well, I was pretty all in after four nights of, of walking and as I’ve described I was cold, wet and so on. And walking along this particular road I saw there was a farmhouse quite close to the road. And so I walked around the back of this house and there was a farmyard immediately behind. And on the far side of the farmyard was a large barn and it had a big doorway at one end, big enough for a horse and cart to be driven through. But that was all tightly secured and I couldn’t get in there. But walking around the side I did find a side door that was open which admitted me into a storeroom of some sort with farm tools and all sorts of things in it. And it had a ladder which clearly went up in to the hayloft. So I clambered up the ladder. Got into the hayloft and the hayloft was about a quarter full of hay. And I took my outer garments off. My battle dress top and my trousers and shoes and so on and hung them up on a beam hoping they’d dry a little bit. Then I dug myself down right into the hay pile and fell, fell sound asleep. And I was awakened probably about 9 or 10 o’clock in the morning by the sound of a fighter plane diving down and firing its machine guns and cannon at something very close to the farmhouse. And then it pulled up and went around and I think it came in a second time and fired further bursts. Anyway, I remained where I was in my hay pile. And then I heard cautious footsteps coming up the ladder into the hayloft and I, the circumstances were such that I was quite sure that whoever these, this person or these people were they were afraid of something that was going on outside. They’d come up to hide where I was and that gave me a little bit of encouragement. And then I heard excited whispering going on just three or four paces away from where I was lying and I realised that whoever these people were they’d found my battledress and top hanging on the beam. So, I came out of my hiding place in the hay and frightened the daylights of two sixteen year old boys. There was I just in my underpants and a vest [laughs] But they were very quick on the uptake and they said, ‘Be stil. Be stil.’ Stil being the word for quiet in Dutch. And, and they said, ‘You. You Tommy pilot?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ And they said, ‘We have German, German soldiers in the farmhouse.’ And what had happened was that this patrolling fighter had been flying around looking for vehicles moving on the road that it could attack. And it had seen a German army truck coming and indeed it had come and attacked it and wrecked it and the Germans in it had run for their lives. And the nearest shelter they could see was this farmhouse. They burst in through the front door of the farmhouse and as they came in through the front door these two young lads left by the back door and ran across to the barn where I was. Then some discussion ensued between us and one of these boys spoke a little English and he said, ‘My father is school master in the town. Perhaps he knows someone who could help. I will go to my father tonight and see if we can. See if something can be arranged.’ And I suppose it was about that time that the two boys had gone back down into the farmhouse to confirm that the German soldiers had departed. I think the house, the farmer’s wife had given them a cup of coffee a piece or something and they’d pushed off on foot to go back to report to their headquarters that they’d lost a truck. Anyway, that’s, that’s how it started to develop. And it was as a consequence of this lad going into the town and finding his father that someone was alerted to come and see me.
JH: So, so that someone was part of the Resistance.
FD: Yes.
JH: Movement.
FD: Yes. He was.
JH: And was the plan to try and get you back behind the lines?
FD: Yes. It was.
JH: But in fact you, you didn’t did you? You got involved actively with the Resistance.
FD: Well —
JH: How did that come about?
FD: Well, it must have been at about that time that a communication link had been established across the River Rhine because up to the Rhine the southern part of Holland had been liberated. And the Rhine was actually the front line.
JH: That was the front.
FD: That was the front. And this was a big obstacle for the likes of me because the Germans were pouring reinforcements in to the opposite bank to oppose any crossing of the Rhine. So that it became quite difficult just to get to the water’s edge. Well, it would be difficult for me to get to the water’s edge to swim across the other side. And the Rhine was very wide there. It’s about a quarter of a mile wide getting on for, I was going to say [unclear]
JH: Was there another complication in that the remnants of Market Garden —
FD: Yes.
JH: Operation.
FD: Yeah.
JH: The British paratroopers.
FD: Yes.
JH: Hundreds of them.
FD: That’s right.
JH: Were also trying to get —
FD: That’s right.
JH: Across the Rhine.
FD: That’s right. I was about twenty kilometres or so from Arnhem where all that was happening and I never determined any exact figure but probably something like four or five hundred British and Canadian airborne troops were in hiding in in the neighbourhood of Arnhem. Preferring not to be taken prisoner and with no possibility of getting back over the river. And these were quite an embarrassment to the Dutch because they had to find food for them, they had to find civilian clothes for them and just places to hide. And so one of our — do you know about MI9?
JH: Yes.
FD: This particular man in MI9 established a contact point in the power station at Nijmegen which had a private telephone line to the power station at Ede just outside Arnhem on our side of the Rhine. And messages could be passed to and fro. I knew nothing of all this going on of course but the word came from the other side that we were to stay where we were and keep, keep — keep hidden because the British would be coming over in the fullness of time.
JH: So, were you recruited by the British Special Operations or by the Dutch Resistance?
FD: Just by the Dutch. Just by the Dutch people.
JH: And you had to establish a bone fides.
FD: Yes. Exactly. Yes. One went through this.
JH: So what sort of operations were you involved in with the Dutch?
FD: In the main just the supply drops for when they were supplied by, with guns, ammunition and food. You know.
JH: Was that 100 Group that carried out those operations?
FD: In the main yes but when I enquired as to who, in fact this was after the war and I asked or made enquiries. They said, ‘Oh, you were almost, almost certainly supplied by 38 Group. Not 100 Group.’ I think 100 Group were dropping secret agents. I think in the main dropping secret agents all over Europe but 38 Group was partially concerned with dropping supplies.
JH: What would be a typical operation that you were involved in? Give me an example of — was it a weapons drop? Did you have to have torches out there?
FD: Oh yes.
JH: And radio contact.
FD: We had no, no radio contact. In fact, when I was interrogated they said to me, ‘Do you know the Morse code?’ And I said, ‘Oh yes.’ And they said, Can you send and receive messages with a lamp?’ And I said, ‘Yes. Not very well but yes I can.’ And, well there was, they then thought that I would be quite useful if I did take part in one of these or in a series of drops. At first one would lay out a flare path party. A flare path which would consist of perhaps sixty err six men lined along the edge of a strip of of a field. Each equipped with a flashlight and being spaced I suppose about fifty metres apart. So you’d have perhaps six men with flashlights forming a line. And then I would be out to the left of the up wind end of the line with another torch and as, as the bomber approached us I would, I would be flashing the letter Z for Zone. It being the dropping zone.
JH: Did you have a special code for that night that was?
FD: Yes. Yes. Yes, we did.
JH: Communicated by the BBC.
FD: Yes.
JH: Yeah.
FD: I see you’ve read the book.
JH: I sure have.
FD: Yes. The BBC would read out these phrases after the 1 o’clock news at midday and these phrases would mean nothing to people who were not in the know. But we used to listen for a phrase which in Dutch was, ‘What has Peter’s brother brought?’ That was what we had to listen for. ‘What has Peter’s brother brought?’ That meant then we were going to have a drop that night. And then at, after the 6 o’clock BBC news they would repeat that. ‘What has Peter’s brother brought?’ And then they would quote another phrase which I cannot remember at the moment which told us at what period of the night they would come. Either between nine, 9 o’clock and midnight. Or midnight and three in the morning. Or three in the morning until six in the morning. Something like that. So that confirmed that they really were coming and you knew the period of the night. And then off we would go. Out into the, out into the fields. It was probably the best part of an hour’s walk to get out to our dropping zone. And there it was. And we would line up the chaps and I’d be there with my torch and we would establish lookouts in the general area so that if inquisitive people got near we could either stop them or at least warn the people at the dropping zone that there were people around.
JH: What about German patrols? Did they —
FD: Well, this is the sort of situation we were, we were concerned about. I don’t or we never or at least I never heard that there were patrols as such. But there was a radar station quite close to where we did all this. And the Germans manning the radar station might well have been very curious [laughs] But we managed successfully. Yeah.
JH: And I gather as, as time went on there were some nasty incidents.
FD: Yes.
JH: As the front was, was moving.
FD: Yes.
JH: Could you tell us about some of those?
FD: Well, in, in February 1945 it was becoming evident to us and of course to the Germans that preparations were being made on the other side of the River Rhine for a crossing. And we could guess within ten miles or so as to where this was going to take place because just by looking at a map you could see where there were roads pointing to particular localities. With bridges perhaps that might be useful to capture or even if they didn’t have existing bridges where a bridge, a floating bridge could be put across and so on. So you would guess fairly generally where a particular locality was likely. And this is exactly what happened. But because of that the Germans of course were bringing more and more reinforcements in to the neighbourhood against the day when all this was going to happen. And on this particular day a German truck arrived at the farm. And I suppose there was something like twenty or so German soldiers there and they announced to the farmer and his wife that they were going to be billeted there. And the officer and the sergeant took over the front parlour of this little house and the, some of the troops were billeted actually in the barn and more of them were billeted in another barn also adjoining the general area. And, and life, life proceeded. And each evening the Germans would come into the kitchen of the house for warmth apart from anything else because the kitchen stove was kept going with wood. With a wood fire all the time. And the German soldiers fraternised with the family and perhaps one should make the point that the farmer and his wife had ten children which was quite a significant number. And by this time there were in fact seven of us allied aircrew in hiding in a hiding place in the hayloft of the barn which in fact was actually joined to the farm house and our hiding place was over the kitchen. And when the German soldiers were chatting up the family and having conversations we could hear what was being said and what was going on. We were as close as that. And of course at night when people were in their various sleeping places again they were not, not very far away. Oh one might mention that they’d driven their truck into the barn itself and two or three of the soldiers actually slept in the truck with a bit of straw I suppose to provide a bit of a mattress. But anyway it was a pretty cosy situation with seven of us there, twelve of the family including the ten children and ten or so soldiers sleeping in different parts of our barn. And that must have gone on, I suppose for about ten days or so. And all the time we were —
JH: Very tense situation because you were in a way putting the Dutch family in —
FD: Yes.
JH: Real jeopardy.
FD: Yes.
JH: If you were caught.
FD: Yes.
JH: How did you come to terms with that?
FD: Well, we did come to terms with it and more particularly they came to terms with it but it was, one could tell the stress was starting to tell. It’s interesting that it was the farmer’s wife and the eldest daughter who in fact were less nervous than the old farmer himself. Yeah.
JH: Very brave people.
FD: Very very brave.
JH: Yes. And I believe you became lifelong friends.
FD: Absolutely.
JH: With these Dutch families.
FD: Yes.
JH: And the Resistance people.
FD: Yes. In fact this very evening I may be talking to a granddaughter who is over here from Holland and there was a message on my telephone last night saying, ‘Frank, we cannot contact you. We will call you again tomorrow.’ So —
JH: Marvellous. Yes.
FD: It’s kept alive up to this day.
JH: Yes. What about liberation? What, what happened when you were liberated?
FD: Well, that was extraordinary.
JH: British army.
FD: Yes. Well. You see it must have been about on about the 26th or 27th of March the British and Canadian armies did cross the River Rhine and established, they established a bridgehead over on our side. And there was a fair bit of fighting going on. And I think it was on the night of the 28th [pause] Yes. There was quite a lot of gunfire. Artillery fire coming down in our neighbourhood and in our hiding place we would, oh we propped up some of the pantile tiles which were on the roof of our hiding place so that we could peer out. And we could see one farmhouse out to the east of us that was burning and another one on the western side that had part of its roof blown off by, by shellfire. And we could see shells landing on the main road which was about a half a mile away. That was quite interesting because as the shells hit the road you get a great jet of fire along the asphalt surface as they, as they detonated. It was a curious spectacle. Anyway, and there was rifle or machine gun fire and so on. And then I suppose probably about 8 o’clock in the morning or something there was a tap on the trap door in to our hiding place. And we opened it up and there was the farmer down below and he said, ‘Boys, the Germans have gone. The Germans have gone. They’ve pulled out.’ And he said, ‘We think there is a Tommy tank. A Tommy tank on the road.’ So, we all clambered out of our hiding place and I and Jim Strickland, the Australian, and Joe Davis, one of the Americans set off across the fields to the main road. And there we saw a British armoured car sitting on the road. And this armoured car had a little six pounder gun in a gun turret and it was sort of waving. Waving around looking at things. And we walked towards this vehicle and I’m not sure whether we had our hands up or anything. Anyway, we walked towards it feeling very nervous and got right alongside it and no sort of recognition was given from within. And I remember banging on the side of this thing with its engine running. I’m told these Humber armoured cars could go as fast backwards as they could go forwards and clearly it was on reconnaissance looking to see where the German front line was when, as we approached. Anyway, subsequent to my banging on the side the steel lid on the gun turret opened and out came what I recall as a huge moustache. And I said to this guy, ‘My name’s Dell,’ or something, ‘RAF. And I’ve been in hiding here for a little while. And this is my American friend Joe Davis and Jim from Australia and we’ve all been hiding together here.’ And this chap said, ‘Jolly good show. Jolly good show.’ And it was the Household Cavalry. Which is a very aristocratic bit of the British army. In fact curiously I was watching on television last night this celebration for the Queen’s birthday. I don’t know if you saw it.
JH: I’ve recorded it. Yeah.
FD: Did you?
JH: For my grandson. We’re going to have a look. Yeah.
FD: You’ll see the household cavalry there. Anyway —
JH: Oh, that’s marvellous.
FD: They then radioed back to their headquarters and a vehicle called a Duck W came to our rescue. I don’t know if you know a duck. Duck.
JH: Amphibious.
FD: Yes.
JH: Vehicle.
FD: That’s right.
JH: Yes.
FD: Yes. It came and picked up me and the American and Jim and then we, in it we went back to the farmhouse to meet the other guys. And that was really a very poignant moment in time and in our lives because —
JH: And I would think the next poignant moment would be reuniting with your family.
FD: Well, yes, you see that was something because in this, once we were all together well having literally endured all these dangers at the Prinzen’s farmhouse suddenly in the space of five minutes or so we simply had to say goodbye to them, you know. We’d got to get out of here because for all one knew the Germans might have staged another counter attack or something and the British would have been forced back. Anyway we got out and we were taken.
JH: Ushered to the rear.
FD: Ushered to the rear. And we were taken to this little town. Now, what’s it called? I can’t remember. Anyway, there we were given accommodation and we were interrogated. Oh yes, and quite early on they said, ‘Perhaps you’d like to send a telegram to your family to say that you’re safe and well,’ Because we realised that they would never have been told anything of us being around and being alive. All they would have had was a telegram the day after we were shot down that we were missing. That’s all, all that they would have known. So we were each given a telegram form to fill in which we did and, and that was that. And then a day or two later we were flown back to this airfield. Northolt. Just outside, well not far from Heathrow in London. And again we were exhaustively interrogated and given another telegram form to send to the family which we all did. And in my case I simply said, you know knowing we’d already sent them one from Holland I sent this one saying, “Hope to be home tomorrow. If not tomorrow probably the next day.” Or something like this. In the event they never got the one from Holland so the first news my family had that one was alive at all was this very nonchalant one saying hopefully home today. But if not tomorrow. Today. If I’m not home today I’ll come tomorrow. That was the first they knew that I was alive.
JH: After what? Six months?
FD: Six months. Six months.
JH: My goodness.
FD: Yeah. That was, that was really quite something. Yeah. My, my mother was of a religious turn of mind and she thought it was all a miracle. Perhaps it was. Anyway —
JH: What did they, what were they thinking in that time? That you had survived or —
FD: Well —
JH: That maybe not.
FD: My, my mother was hopeful. Yes. My father having been in the ‘14/18 war and seen the sort of things that went on he was, he was more pessimistic. Yeah. But however, there we are. But it was quite a thing linking up with them. As you can well imagine.
JH: Well, Frank that’s an amazing story.
FD: Well —
JH: And, but maybe we should start to wind up this interview. It’s been fantastic.
FD: Well, obviously I —
JH: But you carried on flying.
FD: Well, yeah.
JH: Tell us about that.
FD: Well, I could tell you a little bit about that but let me tell you, I don’t know if you’re familiar with this book. It’s called, “Operation Hurricane.”
JH: No. I’m not. Who’s the author of that?
FD: A chap called Marc Hall.
JH: Yes.
FD: I suppose about five years ago I was in the UK and I got a phone call from this chap and he said, ‘My name’s Marc Hall,’ and he said, ‘I’m doing some research with a view to writing a book about Operation Hurricane.’ And I said, ‘Oh yes.’ And he said, ‘The world at large doesn’t know that the night you were shot down was the greatest air operation carried out by Bomber Command in the whole of the war.’ It was the greatest operation carried out by Bomber Command in the whole of the war.
JH: In terms of the number of heavy bombers in the air or the success of the targeting?
FD: Yes. The total success of the total operation. He said, ‘You know that the principal target being bombed that night was Duisburg but every sort of device had been used to confuse the enemy. Like you flying over Duisburg and then continuing on to Berlin because the Germans weren’t expecting you to go on to Berlin. And therefore they were confused and starting chasing your lot instead of chasing the heavy, British heavy bombers that were then turning for home and so on.’ And they put up an artificial radar, the British put up an artificial radar screen broadcast by 100 Group aircraft along the Dutch and German coast. Just to confuse things in that way. And I think there were two if not three minor bombing attacks quite apart from Duisburg. I think we bombed Hamburg and Brunswick and Berlin of course. All at the same, virtually at the same time as Duisburg. Just to confuse the Germans. And then they said and the Germans were pretty totally confused. I think we put up something like two thousand three hundred, well I say two thousand three hundred aircraft, two thousand three hundred sorties were flown. Some of them flown twice in the night. In the same night that Duisburg was bombed.
JH: Is that —
FD: But out of two thousand five hundred or something I think we lost something like twenty seven aircraft which was an extraordinarily low percentage of loss. Anyway —
JH: So, that must give you some real satisfaction you played a key role in that operation.
FD: Indeed.
JH: And, you know you were shot down.
FD: Yes.
JH: And you lost Ron.
FD: Yes.
JH: But that, that is quite interesting.
FD: Yes.
JH: That that is one of the most important raids.
FD: Indeed. And I said to him, ‘Well, how did you pick on me?’ And he said, ‘Well, the Bomber Command Diary and your squadron backed up by your squadron, your Squadron Diary as well show that yours was the only Mosquito shot down that night.’ And he said, ‘I’ve been at pains to contact some member of the family of every aircraft that was lost that night.’ And in a way he did quite a Christian act I think.
JH: Yes.
FD: In tracing where each of them, each aircraft —
JH: Yes.
FD: Had come down that night. And he’d contacted the families of each, each aircraft that had been lost just as he’d contacted me.
JH: Some sort of closure as they say.
FD: Anyway, we met up after his initial phone call. We had a natter. We linked up and had a few cups of coffee and talked about it and I said, ‘Well, now look. You’re, you’re about to put together a book. I’ve had some interest in putting a book out myself and I wouldn’t want to run into any legal battle with you if you’re going to press ahead of me.’ And he said, ‘Oh don’t you worry about that because,’ he said, ‘Anything you put out will supplement anything in my book and if anything it will boost more sales of my book.’ So he said, ‘Don’t worry. You go ahead. You publish.’ And it took me another three, three or four years to get to the point at which —
JH: Same publisher, your book, as “Operation Hurricane.” Is it the same publisher?
FD: Just underneath —
JH: I think it is. Yes.
FD: Take a quick look. [pause] Yes. It’s the same publisher.
JH: Yes.
FD: The publisher is Fighting High Limited. Yeah.
JH: Yes.
FD: Yes.
JH: Frank, why don’t, this is absolutely fantastic and we could go on for hours and I think I’ve broken the rules for the length of time for the interview.
FD: Oh no. No. I’m sorry if I’ve —
JH: No. This is amazing. So, so after the war. Post war.
FD: Yeah.
JH: Marriage.
FD: Yes.
JH: BEA airline pilot.
FD: Well, there’s a little story there in that in the latter stages of the war people were invited to apply for permanent commissions in the RAF. And this, this was my lifelong ambition to be in the permanent RAF if I could achieve this. And so I applied and then when my demobilisation date came up — no news about a permanent commission. So, I liked, I liked the actual flying of aeroplanes. I was also fascinated by the technology that went into it. So, as you’ve already identified I applied to get in to British European Airways which, which I did. And let me see. That would have been, would have been the winter of 1945, nineteen forty —
JH: ’46.
FD: ’46. Yes.
JH: Yes.
FD: ’46/47 which was a miserable time in the UK and so on. So, having joined BEA it so happened that a notice appeared on the notice board one day saying applications are invited to fill the vacancies in a new airline to be set up in Cyprus. And Isabel and I had not long been married and the thought of sunshine and the Mediterranean and all that appealed greatly to her so I applied and was accepted.
JH: I bet you weren’t the only applicant for that job.
FD: Yes. I got it.
JH: Well done.
FD: Yes. Now, the reason I’m explaining this is that we got out to Cyprus and we got very well established out there and the did sun shine and there were nice beaches for swimming and there was no rationing. And life was pretty good although we, I must say we worked very very hard but that’s by the by. But while I was there my permanent commission in the RAF came through. Two years after the end of the war. And one then had a very difficult decision to make. Did one take up one’s permanent commission in the RAF? Or did one stay in the airline? I can assure that was very very difficult. However, my wife decided that we would stay in the airline [laughs] so we did five years in Cyprus.
JH: Sounds like it was a good decision.
FD: Yes. It worked out exceedingly well.
JH: Yes. Yes.
FD: Because [pause] the world doesn’t know about these things but British European Airways or the nucleus of British European Airways was a bit of Transport Command in the RAF at the end of the war. And in the company’s charter it said, you know, you are commanded to develop airline routes in Europe and in the British Isles etcetera etcetera and it would be born in mind that in a national emergency or war BEA would again revert to being in Transport Command in the RAF.
JH: Ah. That’s interesting.
FD: Yeah. The world doesn’t know or has forgotten that this is so. So, anyway after flying on the line as they described for ten years or so I applied for a management appointment and got it and became what they called a flight manager. Each type of aircraft. We had a huge, well, I say huge, we had a big flight of Vickers Viscount aircraft and not long after the war TAA had Viscounts here in Australia. We had a good link with them. And I became a flight manager on one of the Viscount flights. And then we got a bigger version called the Vanguard and I became a manager of one of those things. And then we got jets. We got these things called Tridents which the Americans copied it by building Boeing 73 — 727s with three engines in the tail [unclear] Three engines in the tail. And it, I was in the, in the, we had three flights of Tridents. I had one of them and I was on, in the one that was closely connected with technical development which I did for a time and well all that becomes a bit complex and I could hold forth for another hour on that.
JH: But I see from the photo that you were a royal pilot.
FD: Yeah.
JH: At one stage. How did that come about?
FD: Well, I was fortunate because I was, I was fairly close to the top of the management pyramid that I I —well there were only two, two chaps above me. But the two fellows, these two fellows that were there, the flight operations director and the chief pilot had both just completed conversion courses to fly on new aircraft called the Lockheed Tristar. And Buckingham Palace wanted to charter an aeroplane but she could have gone on the, she was going on a state visit to Finland and she could have gone on the Concorde for example. But the world doesn’t know this but Buckingham Palace are very careful with their money and they don’t spend a penny more than they absolutely have to and they decided the Concorde would be too expensive. They decided a 747 would be too expensive but a Trident would be ideal. So I got the job of flying the Queen on the state visit to Finland. And I had five of the most memorable days of my life I suppose. Flying her around Finland and bringing her back home again. Yeah.
JH: Marvellous.
FD: Yeah.
JH: Well, Frank I think it’s time for a cup of tea.
FD: Yeah.
JH: And lets close this off. Thank you very much. I’ve really enjoyed this. And maybe we’ll carry on after hours here. Thank you very much indeed.
FD: Well, you’ve been very very kind and very supportive. Thank you so much for what you’ve done. You’ve gone to a lot of trouble.
JH: Not at all. A real pleasure.

Collection

Citation

John Horsburgh, “Interview with Frank Dell,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 27, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/10780.

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