Interview with James Albert Dellow


Interview with James Albert Dellow


James ‘Jim’ Albert Dellow had to register the start of the war he as he was 18 years old. On being asked which service he would prefer, he opted for the Royal Air Force as a pilot. Whilst waiting for his call up, he worked in an insurance office in London, which was evacuated to Kent. Once called up in June 1941, he was sent to Scarborough for basic flying training in a Tiger Moth. In February 1942 he was sent to Canada for further training as a pilot, but he did not qualify and opted to become bomb aimer. He qualified in November 1942 at Trenton, Ontario. On arrival back in Great Britain, he trained on the Whitley before transferring to a heavy conversion unit based at RAF Waddington to fly Lancasters.
Posted to 44 Squadron his first flight was a Second Dicky flight with another crew to Stettin in April 1943. Though their aircraft was not hit, one flying alongside was and caught fire - there were no survivors. The worst operation that Jim recounts is one to Peenemünde. After dropping their bombs, they were attacked and damaged by a night fighter. Their pilot managed to get them back on three engines. As they landed at RAF Dunholme Lodge, only one wheel was working, and they spun off the runway crashing with no casualties. The pilot and navigator were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Jim was mentioned in dispatches. After 30 operations Jim became an instructor based at RAF Silverstone. After the war he worked as a teacher.




Temporal Coverage




01:05:16 audio recording

Conforms To


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DB: This is Denise Boneham and today I am talking to James Albert Dellow in his home at Icklingham in Suffolk. Today’s date is the 17th of the 6th 2017 and it is currently 11.10 hours.
JD: When war was declared in September 1939, I’d reached the age of eighteen years and we had to report to a government office where my name was recorded. Here we were asked to tell which branch of the armed forces we hoped to join. We were told that it didn’t mean we would definitely get our choice, but it would depend upon the requirements of the country. They would do their best to grant our request. I had opted to join the RAF for pilot training. After this we were told that when we were wanted the authorities would send us a letter. I resumed my employment which at that time was in an office in Kent. In 1941 I had to attend an RAF Medical Centre in London in June of that year. I passed A1 fit for flying and after this I was told to go back to my office job and await a call up letter which could be as long as six weeks. Eventually a call up letter came telling me that I had to report to Lord’s Cricket Ground in London which was being used as a Centre to receive recruits. It had been requisitioned by the Royal Air Force. Eventually [pause] I’ve read that, I was given my service number, uniform and other clothing. My accommodation was in a small hotel requisitioned by the RAF, and this was situated opposite the London Zoo where we had our meals prepared by RAF cooks. But we didn’t eat with the animals. About twenty other lads about my age were at the hotel. We were supervised by an RAF corporal and during our short stay in London which was two weeks we were taught to march in the quiet road where the hotel was located. We attended lectures in the hotel. We took turns in preparing equipment in case our hotel was bombed as it was still early in the war and London was still experiencing bombing raids. However, it was only a stay of two weeks in London when we were moved to other parts of the country. This move was the first stage of our training and we arrived at Scarborough, the seaside place in Yorkshire. Number 10 Initial Training Wing. And we stayed in the Crown Hotel located on rising ground facing east and enabling us to see the sea. It was a very bracing place to be. Here we attended lectures, doing a cross country run every day in all weathers. We had to learn, practice Morse. Sending and receiving messages by lamp and then by buzzer. We studied RAF law, gunnery, learning to recognise different aeroplanes using models. Enemy planes and RAF ones. That came under the aircraft recognition. I was sent to a grading course at Brough situated right next to the River Humber near Hull and I was there for about a month as a pupil pilot. This was just to see what, if we were competent in holding the joystick and being up in the air. I was supervised by a qualified pilot sitting behind me in this Tiger Moth. We had equipment, joystick, rudders and steering wheels, speaking to me through a speaking tube. I passed the course. Returned to Scarborough. However, my return there was only for a very short time. Those of us who’d passed the grading course were told we were going to continue our training overseas. Until we were on the ship we did not know where we were going until we were well on our way across the Atlantic Ocean in February of that year. Early February. Because the Atlantic was infested by many German U-boats we were on our own. Just the one ship. Not in convoy. We were escorted from Gourock in Scotland by two Royal Navy destroyers. One was each side of us listening out with their sonar for U-boats under the water. We ran in to very rough weather and many of the lads including myself experienced sea sickness which caused us to stop eating for about three days. But mine was really brought on by something which I had got from the, the kitchen where we had to get our food. It so happened that I, memory, that I’d been appointed as the runner for my people on our mess table to get the meal. And I had two billy cans, one in each hand and I had to walk the full length of the ship to the galley where the cooks were providing the food. I could smell the, [pause] smell the food. The smell of food came along the walk that I was using to get to where the cooks were, and when I got there we had in one billy can I had a big amount of stew which was put in. It looked rather oily and had about two or three peas floating on the top. And then on the, on the counter there was some lovely baked, newly baked bread loaves which had been baked that morning, and they were the main things that interested me because I was loving, wanting to eat some bread and put some, we didn’t have butter we had margarine. Now, until we were on the ship we didn’t know where we were going which I’ve already said. I’m sorry about that. I trained in a, in a Tiger Moth [pause] Something’s gone wrong. Pages turning] Here we are. The time of the year was January, late January 1942. After five days at sea we were nearing Halifax, Nova Scotia. By the time we left the ship we were put in the care of English RAF sergeant and we were put on a railway train to take us a thousand miles to Toronto in Canada. Being in wintertime darkness was upon us. However, unlike Britain at this time there was no blackout in Canada and traffic right near the port were moving along the roads with their headlights and all the lights of the streets were on. We travelled the thousand miles and we left the train and we were taken to the National Exhibition building in Toronto. This would be a similar building like the Olympia in London. This place was used as a Recruiting Centre for the Canadian recruits. And we were here for six weeks waiting to be sent to an aerodrome. The huge building could accommodate several thousand people, and I had to move later on. For pilot training I was sent to a small aerodrome situated on the shore of one of the great lakes. Lake Huron. This is an Indian name because they were the original inhabitants of Canada. I trained in a Tiger Moth training plane, and to qualify as a pilot in the war each pupil pilot had to show that he could be trusted to handle the plane on his own within ten hours of training. Once he’d done that he was expected to go up on his own. Unfortunately, I failed to do this in the, in that time and I was taken off the pilot course because they were desperate to get fully trained pilots back in Britain. I had to report to our commanding officer at this Canadian flying school. He happened to be a British squadron leader who had fought in the First World War. He could see I was upset at being taken off the pilot training course and he said to me, ‘If you want to carry on flying why don’t you become a member of the bomber.’ This I thought of and agreed and thanked him for my advice. On my return I was given two weeks leave and told to report to a Canadian aerodrome where recruits would train to be members of a bomber crew. So the two weeks leave meant that I was able to choose where I would spend it, and I decided I would try and visit my sister Eileen in America. Where she had just arrived in 1937 as a newly married lady with her husband Jim, or James and he too was working in opening a factory in America. They were living with their two little children in Pennsylvania. Altoona. At the end of my leave I returned to Canada from America and reported to Trenton, Ontario where bomber crews started their training. I became a trainee bomb aimer flying in a plane, able to carry out the duties required. In Canada I used practice bombs day and night on ground targets. I had to do aerial gunnery and at one time I flew in a Battle. An old aeroplane they called the Battle. In an open cockpit and I had to do gunnery firing at a drogue pulled by an aeroplane alongside. Our bullets were coloured so that they knew when they took the thing down that where the green bullets had landed that meant they would be mine and the other people had different colours. I qualified in all departments and it was in late November while at Moncton, New Brunswick in Canada we had to move out ready to leave Canada and travel by train all the way down in to the States. Passing down the east coast of America through the New England States, such as Boston, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. New York Harbour we arrived at, and we had to go on board the brand new ship which had only recently been launched named Queen Elizabeth. She was eighty five thousand tons in weight and we didn’t need any escorts to guard us as we crossed the sea to come back to Britain because she was so fast. She was able to zigzag through the ocean and we reached Scotland five, five days afterwards. But because the ship was so huge she couldn’t come close to shore. She had to lay in deep water while we got off the ship. We had to go down ladders at the side of the Queen Elizabeth and go on small, small ships that came up to us and here they were jumping, bumping up and down with the rough sea. In Scotland, sorry [pause] in Scotland a bomber crew was formed by us trainees. We’d been trained in Scotland. We’d been using a Whitley bomber in Scotland. But when the new plane came out called the Lancaster built to bear much heavier loads we were sent to a Conversion Unit near Lincoln city where our pilot had to learn to fly this very big four engine plane. This he did successfully after which we were put in to Number 44 Rhodesian Squadron which was using Waddington as our base where we had our own plane to bomb Germany. Before the whole crew started bombing operations three of us out of the crew namely pilot, navigator and myself, we didn’t fly with the, our own crew at all. We weren’t expected to do any work because we were observing what it was like to be over enemy territory. To see what gunfire was like, ack ack from the ground, enemy fighters, searchlights. We attended the briefing of this trip with another crew. This was Hitler’s birthday, the 20th of April and so we all reckoned it surely must be Berlin, the target. Because one never knew the target until you entered the briefing room which had to be locked and kept secret to the very last minute and you would know where you were going by the big red ribbon that started from your base and ended at the target. And this time when we looked we found that our destination on this occasion was not Berlin, but it was a sea port in the Baltic Sea Called Stettin. I flew in a Lancaster from Number 106 Squadron and while we were flying we, we flew all the way to Denmark on, over the North Sea with our propellers just churning almost the waves to keep low so that Germany couldn’t catch us on their radar which stretched all along the wall that Hitler had built. As we approached Stettin a Lancaster flying on our left side was hit by flak, that’s enemy fire, because the sea there had many flak ships which Hitler had in the sea where they were all heavily armed with guns which could reach planes and this poor chap had caught it. In no time at all a burst of flame came out from the side of the Lancaster and a huge ball of fire came out in such a short time giving no time at all for the crew to leave and so seven men perished in a split second. They were immediately cremated alive. On arrival at Stettin we saw it was already on fire and many searchlights were on the move probing the sky to locate any of our planes. Fortunately we weren’t caught by searchlights but hit, nor hit by shells from planes or ground or searchlights. We didn’t linger over the target. Once we’d dropped our bombs we changed course as our next location was our base near Nottingham with this other crew that I flew with. Again we approached Denmark and soon left this behind. Descended, flying over the sea, very low down and not to be on the German radar. On landing at our base after the trip we had to report to the intelligence officers to give them information concerning the state of the target and any other news of interest. This trip took eight hours. The target we went to as a full crew and now we had our own crew was in the Ruhr in Germany. A very dangerous part to go because it was where the bombs were made and the big firm Krupps made the armour and big guns, and it was heavily guarded. And it was on a coal field which made it easy for the factories to get their boilers heated to run the engines of their factories. It had extra searchlights and anti-aircraft guns. Here for a while we were picked out and got caught in the searchlight. I remember looking down the beam of the searchlight which wasn’t a very sensible thing to do but in our plane it was light as day, and thankfully our pilot managed to wriggle out of the other searchlights that were trying to come on to the one that was already there. Fortunately we managed to drop our bombs without incident after that and made our way back to Britain. We were getting short of petrol as the fuel gauges indicated but with luck and good navigation we looked for the red light flashing the Morse Code letters that told us the location of our base. Our base was at Dunholme Lodge because we’d had to move from, from Waddington earlier on in our tour because originally we started using, landing on grass and the heavy Lancasters eventually began to sink into them in wet weather. And so Waddington was closed for six weeks while the people that built the new runways would come in and lay down concrete. And so we were sent to a new aerodrome. A wartime one this time because Waddington had been there since 1917. It was a peacetime base but Dunholme Lodge on the other side of Lincoln city was on farmland and was a real wartime aerodrome. Everything was just metal and we, we knew that eventually it would be returned as farmland. Before land [pause] before landing our pilot told us to leave our places because this time having been hit by flak we were told to take up crash position. This meant we lay on our backs in the plane with our knees bent ready for any eventuality. As we’d been reported missing and late returning from the air we could see the ambulance and the group captain’s car by the runway. Landing on one wheel because the other one had been damaged on our trip to Peenemunde it touched the ground, we spun around. Eventually stopped still. Not anyone in the crew needed medical attention luckily, and we were all taken to the aircrew building for debriefing telling the intelligence officer all about our trip. Of all the trips we’d made, most in Germany other targets in Italy and Czechoslovakia it was on our visit to Peenemunde rocket base that we were attacked by enemy fighters who fired shells through our fuselage making holes on both sides. One engine was destroyed. A shell, a hole went through the flaps of the wings and one, fortunately we got rid of all our bombs before this happened otherwise I wouldn’t have been here now. We’d have been blown up with it. We were especially grateful to our pilot’s skill in escaping from those night fighters and our navigator Desmond for navigating us home to our base at Dunholme Lodge, which is about five miles north east of Lincoln city. It has now gone back to become a farm. My pilot and navigator each received, or were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Other targets we visited in my tour were Dortmund, Duisburg, Pilsen in Czechoslovakia, Dusseldorf, Wuppertal, Krefeld, Mülheim, Cologne, Gelsenkirchen. We went four times to Hamburg. Then we went three times to Mannheim and then Nuremberg and eventually Berlin which was heavily defended. After our trip on bombing we were moved to become instructors but we all parted, each of us never, not knowing where our friends were going to. And so once this happened I never saw my pilot again until I saw him at a reunion which I went to at Waddington. It was only many years after the war that some of my crew met again. We were all grateful at leaving the Air Force uninjured. After a tour not one of us ever received even a scratch. And then when we were still in the Air Force I hadn’t finished yet because the war with Japan was still going on and the idea was that they would send Lancasters to India and we would continue bombing from India to Japan and, or we might do desk jobs to free long serving personnel who could come back to Britain. But when the Americans used their atom bomb and the Japanese surrendered it meant that Japan surrendered and we were saved from going any more over any country doing this job which we believed helped to preserve our country. And so I was in the Air Force for six years and the war enabled me to move around Britain. I went to Canada, the United States and India. So I found all the places interesting and we were given great hospitality everywhere we went. And although we were in Canada first of all as trainees they treated us like heroes even before we’d seen an aeroplane [pause] Now, after leaving the RAF I had to go to my civilian home. My father at this time who’d been living in a tied house in London looking after a school. My mother had been killed in the Blitz or died in the Blitz, so he was on his own and he had to move to a new house out of London which he did and informed me and I had to make my way to the new location. It was in Surrey. Near Croydon Airport. A place called Carshalton. And we soon got used to living there and of course at this time I had to get a job to earn some money and I found I’d already been promised to be taken on a teacher’s training course, and so I knew I had a job eventually. But in the meantime I was given a part time job in a office in London which I had to travel too. That didn’t last long and eventually I was on the teacher training course which was at a very nice situation in the lovely town. A seaside place called Eastbourne. This building was very comfortable in which to live. It had been a private prep school before we used it as a teacher training college. Training college was very interesting and of course we had lots of lectures. We had to do teacher training in, going out in actual schools and the first school I went to was in Eastbourne itself which had the name I cannot remember at this time. But there was primary school children, and my class that I was going to happened to be mostly Barnardo children. Barnardo boys who were orphans and they were a reasonably nice lot. But of course as a student you have to learn to make sure that you had order in the class and gradually, and as long as they knew the type of things that you wanted such as stopping, stopping talking when teacher spoke. We wanted absolute silence so everyone could listen to the teacher. And of course it meant preparing things every night. Models of things and maps to show the children and of course while you were training at the school and teaching at the school just roughly for three weeks a lecturer would come, an inspector would come in and sit at the back of the class watching you doing your job. Seeing if you could make any headway in the new job that you’d chosen to go in to. And I managed to get through this successfully. And that was the first teacher training school that I went to. And the teacher of the class of course started to be with me to begin with, but after a while he or she would go and leave me entirely on my own. The next school I had to go to was the, some distance from Eastbourne. It was near Hastings called St Leonards. And this was a very, very good church school because it was situated alongside the church itself and assemblies were actually held in the church and so the behaviour was very good because teachers accompanied the children into the church. And occasionally we would be taken in as a class to see a Communion service and attend, and the priest would kneel near us and explain everything that was going on at the altar in the church. And I enjoyed being at that particular church at St Leonard’s on Sea because it was quite a train journey as the train hugged the south coast of England going through Pevensey and Romney Marsh and then eventually St Leonards, and next door was Hastings itself. And so I got through the training course there, and again inspectors came in and summed me up and made notes about my method and how I was teaching. And then I left to return to the college. But everything wasn’t all work because after work many times I would go back into the town. This lovely seaside town. Go up to Beachy Head which can be very dangerous if you go too near the edge because being chalk it could crumble and there was about a six hundred feet drop down to the beach and there were many cases of people who had gone over accidentally. And even poor little dogs who’d been running after a ball where their master or mistress had foolishly thrown a ball towards the edge of the cliff. The poor little dog had gone running after the ball and not realising that the end of the edge of the cliff he went over and was killed. Anyway, I won’t dwell on that too much but I have had a very interesting life and met many good people and managed to keep going and keeping cheerful because that’s the main thing. You have to grit your teeth like in the war when we all gritted our teeth and tried to be cheerful. Used to sing plenty of songs, but occasionally we would go and have a nice drink in a hostelry somewhere which increased in volume especially when we were on the squadron [laughs] Anyway, here I am at ninety five years old and I don’t feel any age much except that I’m conscious of that fact that I’m so frustrated that I can’t do the things I used to and I do ache in joints and places like that. But again I emphasise I’m so happy to be free from pain like some poor people, and I could have been killed on my first trip. I could have been killed in our training because we lost many men in the crew who had been, while they were training they failed perhaps to take a turn on the petrol of their aircraft and the amount already there was just enough to get them up in the air and by not turning on the petrol of course the whole plane would fall to earth. Other people made the foolish mistake of being up above masses of cloud. They felt they were lost a bit and they thought they would go down under the cloud to see where they were not realising especially in Wales and Scotland that mountains exist and again they would meet their end while they were training. And that was what happened to so many. And again I don’t want to end on a sad note but I was very proud of fighting for my country and I felt that we mustn’t let the devil Hitler come in this place. Otherwise, we would not be here now. And the same feeling was, was felt in the, all the Services. And here I end and I wish you all well. Thank you.
[recording paused]
I failed to mention, and I have been more or less ordered [laughs] to give this information which I didn’t really want to do but I did actually get my [pause] You see my pilot Des and, Derek was the pilot, Desmond was my navigator, and I am James or Jim. And it was on the raid to the Peenemunde rocket base that we were really the only time we felt we could never get back to England because we were attacked while we had luckily had finished our bombing. The bombing had stopped because we’d dropped all our bombs. If that hadn’t happened and what I’m going to tell you did happen at that time it would have set the whole plane on fire and we would have blown up like that poor chap on the way to Stettin. But I’m in the front as a bomb aimer, lying full length on the floor looking through this Perspex with plenty of vision to allow me to look either side of the plane and down. And while I was there I must remember, remind you or tell you that because we weren’t in the first wave the first people to get to that target it already was on fire and it was like a hornet’s nest that had been stirred up because it was, we were flying at low level. Six thousand feet and the full moon, and the air was full of German night fighters and they, I’m lying full length looking through my bomb sight and other parts and I could see a stream of incendiary shells coming from underneath the plane, just below our plane and they were whizzing in front of me. And they were all coloured and lit up and they were a tremendous speed they go through. And then in the plane each crew member could talk to anyone else in the plane by our special communication that we had underneath our goggles, underneath our mouthpiece and they severed, these shells coming through our plane severed the cable that enabled us all to speak to each other and immediately we were completely separate in talk amongst everybody. So nobody could talk to a fellow member of the crew like you would do and so I literally got up from the floor, Derek my pilot was throwing the plane all over the place to escape these night fighters and searchlights, and I managed to get upstairs to the navigator who was in his little office with the light to show him how to make his courses on the maps. He had to have a light and he was shielded from letting the light out by a cover which you had to pull apart. I couldn’t speak to him through my mouthpiece so I had to lift up his earpiece and take my own thing off in front of my mouth and shout to try and beat the noise of the engine to ask him what would be the next best thing to do. How to work out how to get back to England. And anyway, this happened and I returned to my place in the front and I certainly didn’t know I’d been awarded a mention in despatches because I don’t see why I should have had one quite honestly. But I think, I was never told why I’d got it but I think it was because I managed to remain calm and didn’t fluster, and I actually made an effort to continue how to do things which I really couldn’t really do. So, anyway, by the grace of God it was Derek, my navigator and the pilot who managed to go almost on the deck, or on the ground in flying to escape the fighters and we flew away from Peenemunde flying over a Luftwaffe aerodrome which had all lit up. Quickly as we could and as best we could, we saw a lovely mass of cloud not too high above us which stretched some distance and my pilot felt that if we could just climb up to that cloud, disappear in the cloud for some time it would be a hiding place and enable us to get across part of the North Sea and get back to England. And that’s what happened. We flew in to this cloud for some time and then it didn’t last long because Derek lifted the plane slightly above the cloud and we continued flying back to England. And the navigator, the bomb aimer, the flight engineer I should have said he was the one that told my pilot that we were short of petrol and we hoped we’d make it enough petrol to get back to our base. By the grace of God that did happen. We managed to reach England and it was here that we had to decide where our base was. And in the war every aerodrome had a big mechanism of lights. All in red. And each of them was flashing letters of the hour which was changed to not let the enemy get to know which was which. We knew which our letters were for that period and we saw it, aimed for it and we were given priority to land. And as we came lower and lower we could see the group captain’s car by the runway. We saw the ambulance waiting because we’d been reported missing presumed crashed or something like that. And so we had to take up crash positions so that we wouldn’t hurt ourselves if we could help. We had to lie on our backs in the middle of the aeroplane with our legs bent to push against the metal bar there so that it would help to stop us being thrown around inside at the sudden stop. But don’t forget we were landing on one wheel. The other one was completely useless. It had been punctured in the air by shells and so we landed on this one wheel and landed at the side of the concrete runway on the grass and it spun round on the one wheel and as luck would have it not one of us was hurt. And then we came out and debriefed and gave all the information to the intelligence officer. And it was, it was later on our aircraft was photographed and I have the photographs of the damaged aeroplane in my logbook at this moment. And they’re over there actually. So that’s, that is the news. Our worst raid was over Peenemunde and I still don’t know why I on my own got a mention in despatches but I suppose it must have been given by my pilot or someone in the crew. And that’s my story. Alright.
[recording paused]
He must have been in his very early thirties and it was because his wife was so upset at him flying in dangerous jobs that it affected him and he went along to ask for, to be taken off operations. And as you know in the war they were very tough on people that left. Don’t forget all our flying was voluntary, and they took this other awful decision that anyone who came off the crew through, they would call it cowardice you would be stripped of your rank. You would be, it didn’t matter who you were, officer or anything you became an AC2 and your only job would be to clean the toilets. The lowest of the low. And this has been remarked on many times because as you know now the medical people have studied more and realise it isn’t just cowardice. It’s something that happens and anyone can get into this position. So you can’t judge people if they are in this state. You see, that poor man. Every time he saw his wife she was in a dither. That affected him didn’t it? You see. But they don’t take that in to consideration and of course we never, we never knew what happened to the poor chap. And then we had the other mid-upper gunners but eventually we got one that lasted a long time and apart from that but of course I could have said all this on my machine about who was who because our rear gunner was a young man. Sam. He was about nineteen when he joined us and he was a coal, he’d been in a coal mine. And then there was, the only officer we had in the crew was Desmond Heslop and he, the rest of us to begin with were flight sergeants. Derek, my pilot got his commission while he was still a bomber pilot. He was married and he came from Norfolk and he got his DFC as I’ve told you. Now, I did go to Bury St Edmunds Library. This was some time ago. To the Reference Library because I wanted to see what the citation was about awarding, you know. You know the citation don’t you? Why they got this award. And I wrote them in my diary as a matter of fact which is over there. I might try and locate. So Derek got his citation and Desmond, the pilot, the flying officer and Desmond the navigator unlike us, because I went on to become an instructor, ending up at RAF Silverstone which is now the racing track. That was, that was an OTU. An Operational Training Unit. And in the meantime, I found this out later, Des the navigator did not want to leave the bombing side of it. He wanted to remain damaging Germany you see. So he didn’t become an instructor as he could have done because in his, in his citation they remark on his expert navigation. So he would have been a good instructor. But unfortunately I think he went on in a Mosquito. Two engine. So in other words pilot and navigator. And he flew. I’ve got it in my [pause] I’ll get that down because he [pause]
[recording paused]
Definitely. She had a stroke through it. Through, where we were living in London was a place called Wandsworth. You may have heard about Wandsworth about two miles from the River Thames. And I can remember on the day a big fleet of German bombers, daylight flew over our house and they flew towards the Thames which was a couple of minutes, well, in flying two minutes to get there. Less than that. And then they followed the Thames all the way around to the docks. This was the beginning of the Blitz and they dropped bombs on the oil, the tanks in the docks and other things. Anything that would light and keep burning. So because they did that in daylight that fire was still raging in the evening and so at that very evening he sent bombers over the docks and they dropped stuff using the docks. They didn’t need to navigate. They could see it from miles away, you see. So, that was the beginning of the Blitz. And then gradually the bombing spread and where I lived was not far away. Quite near was a Common. You know a lovely place where you could play on grass and so on. And also not far up the road was a little, it wasn’t a big one it was a public library where I as a boy used to go there and belong to it. Get books out and help to do, to get knowledge and that kind of thing. And in April ’41 there was a very heavy bombing raid and that affected our area and they destroyed completely that little library and also houses in the street very near and in one of these houses lived a family that we knew very well. And Mr [Bazant] and his wife, his eldest daughter were killed their house destroyed and the only one that got through it in that family was the youngest daughter. So, that was the kind of thing that went on. And also the Germans that night dropped what they called parachute bombs and they were mines dangling on parachutes. Once they dropped these things they were, they didn’t fall straight to earth. They were slowed down by like baby parachutes and these floated in the air and they went where the wind took them. And as they were swaying they’d only got to touch a house and they’d go pssst, you see. That’s another thing they did. And I think it was the day after because I at that time had to evacuate to Kent because the firm I was working for temporarily before I, before I went into teaching was an insurance company that felt that they would be bombed the first day of the war. And I had, I worked a little while in London at the offices but a note came around saying the whole firm except for a skeleton staff would, they would stay in London. Very few. But the bulk of the firm which was a big one would be sent in to Kent where they’d leased a lovely big house in its own grounds. Big enough to accommodate the office and all its equipment and the rooms were turned into the offices. So, we, we were working in bedrooms with the typists and so on. The claims department was in a bedroom. All the filing was in a corridor. You know. And I was very happy down there near Tonbridge. If you know Tonbridge. And I used to travel up on the Green Line Bus every weekend when we, we either worked Saturday one week but the next week we finished on the Friday. Alternate you see. But whenever we finished I always got, at the end of this big house there was the London Road and the bus stop for the Green, what used to be called the Green Line Service. Like a country bus service. And that was a single decker which would take you from, all the way to London. To the coach station at Victoria and then I’d get a train up to where we lived and walk to my where I lived and see if my family were still alive. That was the kind of life I was living you know at the time. And then I returned to work on the Monday because I used to stay. If it was say if I finished on Friday at the office I’d arrive Friday night at home in London. Stay Friday night at home in London. Saturday in London. Even Sunday in London. But I had to get up very early in the morning to go back to Victoria to catch a train. No. Waterloo. I beg your pardon. Waterloo. To get a train to Sevenoaks and the firm down in Kent used to run a coach service from Sevenoaks which is before you get to Tonbridge. And that was the kind of life I was living you see. But when I got back on that Monday I didn’t hear anything from the family. There was only one telephone in this big house by the way. Under the stairs. But then a call came through. I’m in the claims office. Working in the claims office and the door opened and a person came through and said, ‘Can Mr Dellow please come to the phone.’ And this was very unusual. So I, my boss who was a very decent bloke he said, ‘You can go,’ he said. Off I went to the phone under the stairs and it was my father speaking to me saying, ‘I’ve got some bad news,’ he said, ‘Mum. Your mum’s very ill. Become very ill.’ And then he said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry.’ He said, ‘I can’t keep it from you,’ he said. ‘She’s died.’ And I was nineteen at the time and I must confess that I actually cried in the office. My boss was a very decent bloke and said, ‘You can’t stay like that,’ he said, ‘You go straight home now.’ And it was the most awful journey home and I met members of our friends who were going to the house where mum had died. She was still in the house and they were crying. It was an awful time. This was 1941. And my father told us what had happened. He said that although I’d seen her at the weekend and she seemed to be alright she went out shopping on the Tuesday I think it was. It may have been the Monday. She went to Clapham Junction where there was a big shopping centre. Not like they are now but I mean there were lots of shops where, it was a place she like going. It needed a bus. A little bus service. Not far. About a mile. While she was out apparently this is what, what my mother told my father when she had to go back home there and then. She couldn’t carry on shopping. So she got back. She staggered back somehow with this terrible headache she’d got. She got home and got worse in pain. Luckily, this was before the NHS of course we had our doctor, luckily enough that used to come to us when we needed him was not far away across the road where we lived. So he went across, told the doctor that my mother was very ill indoors and he came over pretty well straightaway and apparently he realised that my mother had had a stroke and that it’s what they called to do with the brain. You know the brain bursts or something or other and he said that, ‘If she lives she’d be just like a vegetable, you know. You know, you’ve got to remember that it’s better, the fact that she died.’ It sounds awful but that’s the case he said. And so that period of my life was very sad, and like you do you have to grin, well you don’t exactly grin. That’s the particular way. But I mean you’ve got to go on. You know, you’re still here aren’t you? That’s the attitude. That was the attitude of the war. Grin and bear it. Keep cheerful. Keep singing. Have singsongs and if you really must go to the pub and get sloshed [laughs]
DB: Which you did [laughs]
JD: We had a good old session up in London. This was after the war. But some I think your father was in the, no I don’t know whether he’d gone back in the Air Force or what. Anyway, now we used to get the last if you were up in London you see the last train from Victoria Station to our station near where we lived in Surrey which was Carshalton Beeches it was 11.38. Just gone half past eleven at night and luckily we caught the 11.38. And it was quite not about half hour journey in time you know normally. But having had plenty to drink and the movement of the train we both fell asleep. And when, the next thing was the door opened. The train was sealed and it was at a station you see. But it wasn’t Carshalton Beeches. It had gone on to the end of the line which was at Epsom. You know, Epsom. The races. And we had a long, long, in the black out. This was blackout there were no lights and we had to walk and got back indoors I think the Wallington clock was chiming three. It was 3 o’clock in the morning. So that kind of thing you know, you could get caught like that going to sleep on the train. So these things happened, didn’t they?
[recording paused]
It was on, on the training but they found that they found that the Manchester wasn’t at all reliable. The engines weren’t powerful enough and if, it only had two engines and if one failed you were more or less fall to earth whereas with the Lancaster you used to do training over the North Sea every morning before going to Germany. Test all the equipment. And Derek my pilot used to switch first of all one engine off. That meant we were flying on three. He’d knock another engine off. We were flying on two. He’d knock another engine off. We’d be flying on one. But if you flew on one you would gradually sink, because the one engine wasn’t quite powerful enough to keep you up at height. But most of our bombing was about twenty thousand feet and we didn’t have proper heating and we only got heat in the jacket you wore up here. Your legs would get frozen stiff. And we used to get little cartons of orange juice to take with us, and that used to get frozen solid so we couldn’t drink that. And we always took a pigeon with us in case we were crashed in, in the North Sea and we would tie a message to that pigeon’s leg you know and he’d fly back to your home base and they’d see that you were in the North Sea, and send a plane out to see if they could see you. In fact, when I was at Waddington which I think I’ve told you had to close down because of the, putting the concrete runway we were in bed in the morning, about three in the morning banging on the door. Woke up. ‘Hurry up. Go down to the crew room,’ which we did. ‘We hear a plane has landed or fallen in the North Sea you are now going on a square search,’ you know. And this was in the middle of summer and luckily although the sun was very powerful it made a mirage on the sea. If you’re up high and you’re looking at the sea for somebody, you get this shiny background of water glinting in the sun. And that very often puts you off seeing the chaps in the, in the dinghy you see. So, it wasn’t all. We never did find whoever had crashed. Which was must have been an awful experience. And if you were seen of course you would have been notified. They would send a message back to base and then they’d send people out to rescue you. But that was the only one we ever had to do. Searching for somebody in the sea.
[recording paused]
In Lincolnshire, and they’d blindfold us and go all round the roads in Lincolnshire and then you’d stop the thing somewhere miles from camp and they dropped you out and you were supposed to make your way back to base on your own. You know. That’s in case we landed, we had to land in Germany or France. Anywhere. To make us learn how to try and get back to base. We had compasses. Little compasses in our shoes and I think it was in the heel of your shoe I think it was. Yeah. All these little things. And I think I did get back to base anyway. Oh yeah. Lovely times. I enjoyed my life in the Air Force and in a way I wouldn’t have minded staying in. But there was a, I think the fact the country had spent so much money on the war. Fifteen million. We were told at that the time that the country was paying about fifteen million pounds a day to keep the war going which doesn’t sound so much these days but in those days that was a big, and then of course we borrowed money from America didn’t we? National debt which we’re paying now. I don’t know. That was, and America too I think is in debt, you know. I don’t know how these countries manage, do you? It baffles me. Money. Economics and how we keep going you know. We keep talking about an individual. lf you go over your own in the bank they pounce on you like you’re a criminal don’t they? You know. I’m limited to three hundred pounds if I go over my bank statement. Which isn’t much these days. And ever since I joined because when you become an officer all your money is paid into a bank. It’s with everyone now, isn’t it? But in those days if you weren’t commissioned you had to pay. You had pay out, go to a pay parade and stand in front of the officer who was doling out the money and when your name was called you went in front of the them at the table and saluted and he said, ‘Dellow, 1391826,’ you see. To make sure that you were the same person, and he’d give you the money which was half a crown a day to begin with. Once you went flying you got three half crowns a day which was seven and six. Still under a pound. The pound in those days you could buy so much with it. You know. Well, you had two hundred and forty pennies to the pound. It used to cost one penny on the bus to go from East Hill where I lived to Clapham Junction which was a mile. So that’s a penny a mile. That’s for the national newspaper one penny. Now what is it? Sixty pence a day, isn’t it?


Denise Boneham, “Interview with James Albert Dellow,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 14, 2024,

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