Interview with Reg Dunbar


Interview with Reg Dunbar


Reg Dunbar enlisted for the RAF in Liverpool and it was suggested that he join as a wireless operator. He went to RAF Cardington initially and then to Yatesbury for training. He also trained as an air gunner, and after training was posted to 37 Squadron flying Wellingtons. When he had completed thirty operations and was heading home on leave he received a message at Euston station to return to base. His pilot requested that he join his crew that they were being posted to the Middle East, and flew to RAF Shallufa via Malta to commence bombing operations. He was recalled back to UK and was posted to 15 OTU at RAF Harwell and it was from here that he took part in the first thousand bomber operation on Cologne in 1942. Reg volunteered for operations at RAF Drem flying in Defiants as part of Moonshine operations to jam enemy radar. He was given a permanent commission and joined the RAAF attaining the rank of Wing Commander.



Temporal Coverage




00:48:26 audio recording

Conforms To


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ADunbarR180624, PDunbarR1801


JB: This interview is being carried out for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Jennifer Barraclough. The interviewee is Reginald Dunbar. The date is the 24th of June 2018 and we are at Mr Dunbar’s Apartment in Albany near Auckland. Ok. Thank you very much Mr Dunbar. Could you start by telling us a little about your early life and how you came to join up with the Air Force?
RD: Yes. Of course. It’s a pleasure. My name is Reginald Dunbar. I am a wing commander retired. I think I’d best start with when I was born. I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and moved across to Liverpool when I was six months old. I wouldn’t say that I was thrown out of Ireland but it felt like that [laughs] I attended a normal sort of school. Nothing particularly clever. Just normal schooling until I was seventeen and a half. But during that time I moved around a bit because my father was a baker on the White Star Line that used to go out to America and he stayed out there for a while at one stage to my mother’s rather disappointment. But however, I got a, I left school at fourteen and got a job in a shoe shop which was situated in Liverpool city. I persevered in that job until I was seventeen and a half and at that stage I was at the time a member of a church choir in Liverpool, namely, Emanuel Church. And while there I joined the Church Lad’s Brigade and although you may not heard of it, it was a sort of semi-military affair and they were issued with rifles of all things at the time which we marched off to church with at this, whatever the attention was. What it was called? Anyway, when I reached the age of seventeen and a half I was a bandsman in the Church Lad’s Brigade and used to sort of do a lot of work with my colleagues in the band doing, doing sort of training really for armaments which seemed strange for a church organisation. However, a colleague of mine named Norman King decided he would leave the Church Lad’s Brigade and join the Air Force. Now, he was six months older than me and he decided to leave and I followed him after, about six months after he’d left and left. And when I arrived at the recruiting office in Liverpool I asked if I could be a pilot and they checked on my background and said well, no. They thought something less [pause] less difficult than that and they suggested I join as a wireless operator with a six month training session. So, anyway I did that and left and joined up via a place called [pause] a place called, what was the name of the — ?
Other: [unclear]
RD: Where the R101 were based.
Other: Cardington.
RD: Cardington. That’s right. Cardington. And that’s where they had their recruiting set up and there was nothing in there apart from rows and rows of tables with plates on the table. Six plates on each table. This was for recruits and they had these sort of well, odd looking meals on board. They were sort of cow heels I think they were called. They were white, you know. Obviously the way they’d been cooked. However, sufficient to say at the end of a meal we found that the bins outside the buildings were full of these cow heels [laughs] Nobody had touched them. Anyway, we went from there to our training unit and my unit was, training unit for training was Yatesbury. Yatesbury was down in [pause] where was Yatesbury? Down in the south of England anyway. And I always remember the place because it was hilly around there and they had on the hills these white horses printed you know, and I used to spend a lot of my spare time sitting up on the hill enjoying life. You know, when I didn’t have to be doing any training. I seemed to be sort of by myself a lot. I didn’t make a lot of friends there to be quite truthful. I was by myself most of the time. I met a lot of people that lived local and they seemed to take a lot of care. They’d invite me out for meals and things you know when they saw me in uniform sitting doing nothing there. However, it was quite a comprehensive training they gave you including of course the Morse Code, everything and taught you all about training. And I had a good six months training and when I’d finished I was posted to a place. Where was it? I think it was over in Lincoln as a, on ground, ground equipment. Actually, I was posted to train on teleprinters. They’re the things like a printer, you know and that was shortly before the war broke out. Well, when the war broke out I was, I had volunteered for wartime training for Bomber Command. They were after, they were after volunteers and at that time I was only, what was it? Seventeen and a half approximately. And I went to South Wales to do my gunner training because you couldn’t be a wireless operator by itself. It had to be with the training as a gunner, an air gunner. Well, I went down to South Wales. I’ve forgotten the place it was but I remember doing my training down there which consisted of training on aircraft which was, which trailed a sort of a what would you call it?
Other: Kite? Kite?
RD: It was trailed. A sort of a target. It was a target. It was sort of a round sort of [pause] the idea was you hit it as many times as you could from a distance of over two hundred yards. And I remember the pilot putting up that aircraft putting in a bit of a complaint about me as a gunner as he didn’t know whether I was trying to hit him or the drogue. That’s what it was called. It was called a drogue. I don’t think he was too, he was too happy with me. Anyway, things mellowed and I did, let’s see, I suppose two months training as a gunner and we were trained from an open, open, an open [pause] an open seated. It wasn’t closed in or anything. We were just firing from the, from the side of the aircraft. It was a two seater. A very early one. Anyway, we’ll pass over that one but when I, when I had finished I was posted to Number 37 Bomber Squadron which was a Wellington aircraft. A Wellington aircraft was a two engined aircraft, and it was a geo traffic, a sort of cross of [pause] what was it made of? Aluminium and it was made in crossing and it was covered with fabric and two engined. And it sounds as though it was a very frail aircraft but believe me it was one of the workers of the Air Force. It was a very good aircraft. When you got, if you got a hit, if you got a hit and it made a hole in the side of the aircraft you got back alright because the whole sort of, the whole sort of make of the aircraft held together and sort of stuck together. You know what I mean? And so it sort of saved you from crashing or anything. So that was very helpful. But I, I was consigned to the rear gunner’s position because the crew that I was assigned with, when I was assigned to them had already done fifteen raids on Germany, and a number of raids that they did before they were sent home for a month’s rest was thirty, and they had already done fifteen. So when I’d done fifteen they had already done their thirty. You see what I mean. And the captain was a Flying Officer Warner who’d a big system of clothing shops in England, and I was his rear gunner because the rear gunner that he had at that stage had been dismissed from the Air Force because he had medical problems. Well, of course being at the start there I didn’t know much about it but I soon learned because the raids that we took part in were over Moers, the Ruhr Valley, Dortmund, Leverkusen, Black Forest North, Bremen, Waalhaven, Emden, [Gottensburg?] Hamburg, Munchengladbach twice, Sonnendorf, Soest, [Rossel?] and Rostock. And if you want to know why I remember those it’s only because I took them from my logbook which I haven’t got to show you because my eldest son has it and he’s sent it to me but it hasn’t reached me yet. So I have to apologise for that.
JB: Ok.
RD: But luckily I had made this. And from there I was transferred over to another squadron because I’d only done fifteen raids and I went to a squadron, same squadron of Wellingtons only it was commanded by a Squadron Leader Golding. Squadron Leader Golding was a regular officer and he was a very sort of experienced man and I was very pleased to have been allocated to him. With his aircraft I was posted not as a gunner but as a wireless operator which was my basic trade of course and he must have been quite pleased with me because he gave me an instant first operator’s job and I guided the aircraft by wireless over Hanover, Black Forest twice, Emden. I don’t know whether you want to know all this do you?
JB: Yes.
RD: Flushing, Berlin, Bottrop, Rotterdam, Hamburg, [Benroth] Hamburg, Berlin, Cuxhaven, Hamburg and Kiel. And after this that was my fifteen. So altogether I’d done thirty ops so I had to leave that squadron. They had to do another fifteen before they had it but I was sent on my way to do a month’s rest. So with, I was a sergeant at that time and I packed my kitbag and went to Euston Station on my way to Liverpool, but while I was on the station platform waiting for my train a message came over the tannoy system, ‘Would Sergeant Dunbar please report to the station master’s office on platform 1.’ So I thought to myself well what the heck would I have to report that I’m on my way for a leave.’ However, I made my way across to see what they wanted and the station master said, ‘I’ve had a report from — ’ I’ve forgotten my station. Feltwell. RAF Feltwell, where we were stationed. The squadron were stationed — ‘Asking you to return back to base.’ I wasn’t very pleased with that of course. So I got the train back and when I went back there and I saw the wing commander in his office and he said, ‘I don’t want you to be worried, Reg.’ He called me by my first name so I thought there was something funny. So I sat down on the chair and he said, ‘37 Squadron is going out to Middle East to operate there in North Africa and your erstwhile captain, Squadron Leader Golding asked me to contact you to see if you would be his wireless operator to go out to Middle East with him. And if you don’t want to go you just say so.’ So, I just quickly thought to myself the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know, because if I had gone on my leave when I came back I’d have to be put on another squadron see, and I knew him and he knew me and we got on well together. And so I said, ‘Well, all things being equal, sir.’ [unclear]
RD: It’s ok.
JB: ‘All things being equal, sir I think I’ll go out with the squadron as first wireless operator.’ And I trotted around to the squadron commander’s office and shook hands with Squadron Leader Golding who welcomed me like a long lost son. And we had to do some sort of training where, sort of radio training, you know where we would go away from base and he’d ask me to sort of guide him back to the middle of the airfield. Which I did by using my own sort of loop and everything and he was very pleased with that. So, anyway we were all set to go and we set out in January. January ’41 I think it was. Excuse me if I’m a little out on the dates.
JB: That’s ok.
RD: But out to Middle East. Right. Now, I was first wireless operator. Now, we went from Feltwell and we flew by night and we got to Malta where we were, Malta was our first stop. Malta. RAF Malta. And from there the station commander was a group captain and he was a little concerned at the times the Italians had attacked Malta and seeing the local population being housed in the caves in Malta because there were lots of caves there and they were pushed in there when there was a warning. And he asked Air Ministry I presume if he could hold on to 37 Squadron to get a bit of their own back on Italy. And from there we were, we attacked Taranto twice. That was the Naval base. And Naples which was effective of course, and Castel Benito and they were the total. And then we went and we were released from there. He let us go after that and we went on. We went on to our base at Shallufa which was on the [pause] I was based on the, there as the [pause] excuse me while I just —
JB: That’s ok.
RD: What do they call the canal?
Other: Suez.
RD: The canal. You know the —
JB: The Suez Canal.
RD: The Suez Canal. The Suez Canal that was, yeah. Well, that’s where Shallufa was built. It was an air force base and it was built solely to meet the needs of the Air Force and they were, we were, we were stationed in Shallufa, the squadron and we were used as a sort of heavy bomber squadron to bomb bases on the north, north of the, the [pause] you know the, the north shore of the north. You know where. Oh, well if I give you these actual targets you’ll probably know where it was —
JB: Yes, don’t worry.
RD: Hmm?
JB: Don’t worry.
RD: Yes. Well, we were sent out in a bomber. From there we bombed Bardia, twice. Bardia is a port on the north coast of North Africa. So we did two on Bardia, Derna which is further along the coast. Tobruk, Benghazi, Fouka, Benghazi again. Tobruk again. Rhodes and Fouka again. So we did our fair share of that. After that just the bottom [unclear] I was recalled, personally recalled to the UK when I was sent back by ship. When I got back I was posted to the first, 15. I thought that was first. It was 15. Number 15 Operational Training Unit and that was training people coming on to bombers which was at RAF Harwell. That’s where they later had the chemical —
JB: Yeah.
RD: You remember that.
JB: Yeah.
RD: Right. Well, that was on the 30th posted there to train others. Well, on the 30th of May 1942 we were in our bomber. The bomber that we were allocated to. Oh, I’ll tell you the background of that. The prime minister who you know. The prime minster wanted to get his own back a little bit on Germany and decided he would like to have the Air Force hold thousand bomber operations over Cologne. Just to give them a bit of their own back. To do that he had to shut down the operational flying of the RAF Bomber Command while they got the aircraft serviced because it would have to include training aircraft as well. He wouldn’t have enough otherwise. And so they had to have a sort of a competition and you had to have a sort of a pick, pick, pick [pause] You had to have all these aircraft of one squadron put in a hat, their numbers and you picked one. And some got operational flying Mark 2 Merlin engine modern Wellingtons, and others got aircraft that were old ones and only being used for circuits and bumps. That’s training pilots to, you know land. And unfortunately the one that we picked for the Cologne operation was one of the old ones and the sergeant, the flight sergeant who was the pilot of this first thousand bomber operation to Cologne was a bit, well fed up with it because when we were doing training for this operation he couldn’t get it to fly higher than eight thousand feet which isn’t very much. Anyway, the way he overcome that was on the operation itself. Instead of taking the aircraft to the city he kept it on the outskirts and instructed the bomb aimer to drop his bombs when he did a split, if you excuse my language split arse turn around and, to let his bomb go when his [unclear] And of course the super thing carried the bombs into the centre of the city or as near as he could get them because he wasn’t going to check. He wasn’t going to take any risks with the aircraft because he was too low. So anyway, we got back alright obviously. Well, we went on training. Training the, and in the, what was the prime minister’s name in those days?
Other: Churchill.
RD: The prime minister’s name.
Other: Churchill.
JB: Churchill. Winston Churchill.
RD: Churchill.
JB: Winston Churchill.
RD: Yeah. He was, he was so pleased with the efforts of this that he decided he’d like another one. So they’d done a second thousand bomber operation to go to Essen. Not all that far from Cologne. That’s where they had all the armaments. Well, we were sitting, and we went on this Bomber Command operation, a thousand bomber. It was successful and we did it and we got a few holes in the aircraft to satisfy us. Or satisfy the Germans I should say. We got back alright, and would you believe it that was on the 11th of June 1942, only a month later. Well, would you believe it there was no satisfying the prime minister was there? He decided he’d like to try a third one if you remember. Anyway, we were sitting in the briefing room. I remember sitting next to my friend who was also a wireless operator, a fella named Harry Jordan, and the chap came on and they had a big briefing room for these things you know and they tell you what the weather’s like and what the targets are. It was a typical Bomber Command briefing room and when this chap he got up to start his briefing another chap came on from the Ministry, the Air Ministry and he excused himself and obviously they had arranged it between them because it was his job to put to the audience volunteers for special duties of just wireless, and young pilots. Young pilots. I’ll tell you why in a minute. So I turned to my comrade and I said, ‘How do you feel about volunteering for special duties? I’m fed up with these thousand bomber raids.’ He said, ‘Yeah, alright.’ So we were two of the volunteers, and we went up to a place. I won’t bore you with what happened afterwards but eventually we were sent up to a place called RAF Drem which was a little south of Edinburgh, and we were briefed there. And we eventually, we were posted on to [pause] oh the aircraft there were Defiants. They were fighters. Now, the reason they happened to be fighters, Defiants was because they had been used as night fighters originally but the Germans had soon, they were fighter aircraft with a turret in the top and Germans had learned how to get at them coming underneath. So it didn’t take them long for the RAF to discount them, and so they gave them to us. They had nothing else for them and so they used them to, used them for daylight operations called Moonshine and this, how they did this, the Defiant squadron they had usually around about twelve aircraft, and they had the pilot and the likes of me who was acting as a wireless gunner. If we were attacked we attacked them from the, from the turret. But our wireless job was in the back of the aircraft. We’d have to get down out of the turret and work our way in to utilise our skills on the radio stuff. Now, how it worked was this, you might like to know. I think this is still secret. How it works was this. When we got, when we got up to about a thousand or, how many was it? I think it was about eight thousand feet. Around about that. We were, we were over the south coast and we were met by a squadron of Spitfires or some fighters, and we were waiting there and at that stage we were flying out over the German coast, and we would have had the information to turn on our electrical stuff which comprised of equipment which gave the impression when switched on of there being a sort of a wing of bomber aircraft going out there. It wasn’t of course. It was only us. The Germans, hearing this would take off as a squadron of fighters to attack this incoming lot, which we weren’t and they would be flying this way and when they were over here where we were the Spitfires, who were on a higher level would take up with them, and would sort of have a dogfight with them I suppose. And in the interim period the American squadrons would go out from where they were arranged to go from on the daylights. Now, that’s about all I’m going to say about that but they were, but we went to France, Holland, France, Belgium, France calibration, calibration. That’s where we had to do calibration. Make sure that the equipment was still right. Holland, France, Germany, France, calibration, Holland, France. Oh, and then we crashed at Heathrow [laughs] We got back alright but France and Holland and that was all we did on the daylight. Then we did night operations. Now, a night operation were absolutely different. Dutch, French coast were divided into eight positions of ten miles. It doesn’t matter how long they were, but they were limited and each aircraft of ours —
[knocking on the door - recording pause]
JB: Carry on.
RD: Each aircraft of ours was, was sent to a different position. So we were stationed at, what’s that RAF station near London?
Other: Northolt.
RD: Hmm?
Other: Northolt.
RD: Northolt. We were based at Northolt. But on the days when there was going to be a big bomber attack at night we were sent to the forward landing grounds that we’d been allocated to. Refuelled. Did everything right. And that night when the Bomber Command, the bombers were going out there we were allocated to our different positions and we switched on our equipment from, but we didn’t switch it from, we were sitting in our turret and when we were given the instruction swe lowered the seat which was just a crossbar and got in to the back of the aircraft and switched on our equipment, and this equipment was just jamming equipment. It jammed the German radar and when it, we didn’t do that until we knew the RAF were going over. But when they were going over we switched on and it stopped the Germans being able to sort of get on to our people who were coming out. It’s a very vague way of explaining it, I’m sorry.
JB: That’s alright.
RD: I’ve forgotten most of it.
JB: That’s fine.
RD: And they did that. All I’ve got here is eight positions which were the positions we were in. Position 7 6 7 1 1 1 8 5 7 7. Just all the numbers on the different nights that the Bomber Command aircraft were going out there. And in the end they took me off it and sent me up to Scotland to train others which I didn’t like particularly but then I think it’s in that thing that Richard’s got.
Other: Dumfries. Dumfries.
RD: Dumfries, that’s right. RAF Dumfries. We used to go out taking pilots and crew. Training them, you know. And we, it was while we were up there we heard about the landings in France, you know. We didn’t take part in those. We were probably told that we had done enough. And that’s about it.
JB: That’s about it.
RD: And from there I was taken on as a flight lieutenant in the RAF, given a permanent commission and what did I end up as? Wing commander wasn’t it? Wing commander. And I left the Royal Air Force when I found that I couldn’t get any further, and I went in to the Australian Air Force and did some manpower planning for them which I in the meantime had become expert in. And from there I did a short term engagement with them. I extended a couple of years. They asked me if I’d stay on for a while in Australia which I did. My wife didn’t mind, in fact she was a real wonder isn’t she? She’s a wonder. She stayed. She didn’t mind. And yeah, and from there I came back to England. And from England we went out oh [pause] and we came out to New Zealand and stayed out here. We got permission to stay out here. So that’s about it.
JB: That’s it. Thank you. That was splendid.
RD: [unclear]
JB: It was excellent. I really enjoyed that.
RD: Oh, well I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’ve got —



Jennifer Barraclough, “Interview with Reg Dunbar,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 17, 2024,

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