Interview with Darwin Evans


Interview with Darwin Evans


Darwin Evans volunteered for aircrew in 1940 and began training as a navigator. After an accident while training at RAF Bobbington (later RAF Halfpenny Green) ended his operational flying duties, he retrained as a compass adjuster at RAF Cranage and served as an assistant to the Group 1 navigation officer until January 1946. Evans describes flying with crews monthly to calibrate the aircraft compasses and his role in operation briefings. He recollects a good working relationship with the Australian aircrew of 460 Squadron and the Polish aircrew of 300 Squadron, and narrowly avoiding a fatal crash at RAF Binbrook. Finally, he explains how his trouble-shooting role in Bomber Command (inventing heaters for rear gunner oxygen supplies) prepared him for his post-war career as an electrical engineer in nuclear energy research.







01:07:19 audio recording


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AEvansD171101, PEvansD1701


BW: This is Brian Wright, interviewing Dawin Evans on Wednesday 1st November, 2017 at two o’clock in his care home at [beep] in Lancaster.
DE: Yes.
BW: Also, is Ray Hesketh who is Dawin’s nephew. So how should I address you, as sergeant or Darwin, do you mind?
DE: Darwin.
BW: [Chuckles] Darwin, ok. Speaking just before you said that your birthday was- Your date of birth was 8th of June 1921, and you’re now ninety-six. When you were living with your family and your parents were- Did you have any other brothers and sisters?
DE: I have one brother, yes, he’s two and a half years younger than me.
BW: What’s his name?
DE: Raymond, Raymond Owen.
BW: And where abouts were you born Darwin, where did you grow up?
DE: I was actually born in Kirkham by chance because my grandparents happened to have retired there.
BW: That’s near Preston isn’t it? In Lancashire.
DE: Near Preston yes.
BW: Where did you go to school, was it the local school in Kirkham or did you- Were you sent away?
DE: I went to junior- You see, we were affected by the big depression and we had a farm outside, outside Kirkham, course my grandfather was a colleague of Charles Darwin and that’s how I- When he, when he got married and had children, they all got Darwinian names.
BW: Right
DE: And one of them was Darwin, he were twins, and he got killed in the First World War at Passchendaele, and to keep the name going I was the first, I was the first grandson to come along so I got, I got Darwin. Now Ernest is a family name as well so they tagged that on.
BW: So is your full name Darwin Ernest Evans?
DE: Ernest Darwin.
BW: Ernest Darwin-
DE: Which can make things difficult.
BW: What was the association with Charles Dawin then, how-
DE: What was what?
BW: What was the association for your grandfather with Charles Darwin, what?
DE: What, what was?
BW: What was the association with Charles Darwin?
DE: Well, he was a colleague, I don’t really know it’s a long time ago. He must’ve been quite young you see, and he was involved in some of the research and we kept- We’ve kept that research going until recently. You don’t realise it but the family spent a long, long time persuading hens to lay an egg a day, instead of a clutch at Easter.
BW: Right.
DE: And the reason you’ve got all these eggs now is because of my family and colleagues.
BW: Interesting, and when you were at school what were your subjects, what was your ambition, what were you studying?
DE: I wanted to be an engineer. See I went to the first grammar school in the country, to have engineering as a subject, that’s not metal work, that’s a complete- I was very fortunate, but unfortunately the, the great depression meant that we couldn’t continue and we had to go to Blackpool. My father lost- They had to sell up at Kirkham, the town house and the farm. My father had to get a job in Blackpool and I went to Blackpool and I went to that first grammar school at Blackpool who taught me engineering, so I could use a lathe at twelve.
BW: Wow, and were you, were you wanting to be a specific type of engineer?
DE: Not particularly
BW: Ok, and when did you leave school, what sort of age were you when you left?
DE: Left school?
BW: Yeah
DE: I was seventeen, you see, I realised I was a - No it’ll get far too complicated but I- When we went from- We actually went to live in Walsall[?] for a time and when I came back, I couldn’t go to Baines Grammar which taught engineering. I had to go to Blackpool Grammar which was just no good for me so I packed in at sixteen from Blackpool Grammar, and I got a job at a Blackpool corporation as a junior engineer, training to be a junior engineer and continued studying at Blackpool technical college.
BW: I see, and in discussion with you before you said you were an electrical engineer, you-
DE: Well, I was training-
BW: Ok, and so at sort of seventeen this will be 1938 or there abouts-
DE: About that yes.
BW: Yeah, did you have ambition to join the RAF at that stage or no?
DE: No, I was interested in aeroplanes you see, I was always interested in model aircraft and I was one of the pioneers of model aircraft, in this country.
BW: Right
DE: And so I had that interest, but see I was frightened of being conscripted into the army. If I was going anywhere, I wanted to be RAF and, so when the war came, I volunteered for- I could only volunteer for one job, that was aircrew, and I didn’t want to be a pilot so I volunteered to become an observer or a navigator.
BW: And, what put you off being a pilot?
DE: Sorry?
BW: What put you off being a pilot, anything in particular?
DE: I just wasn’t interested.
BW: And when did you enlist then?
DE: At the end of 1940.
BW: And it was the fear of- Or the dislike of being conscripted into the army that prompted it, it wasn’t necessarily a-
DE: It was yes.
BW: -compulsion to join the RAF for any other reason?
DE: Well, I was interested in the technology anyhow of it.
BW: Yeah, and what happened through your training, were you streamed to be navigator and that’s what you became? Talk me through that.
DE: I was in the first group that went to aircrew receiving centre in London, and I went and joined up in London and then we- At, where is it? At- In, I forget the name of the place. In London anyhow, we joined up with a whole lot of- That was the first intake, first big intake for pilots and navigators in London and we- I went there and we were brung up in groups of thirty and eventually we went to the- The thirty of us went to Shawbury to be trained as observers, and I did that. That was what they called initial training wing, and then we went back to London and we tatted around for a time, and then we went to, to Bobbington which was a training place, thirty of us, and I was involved in an accident there, not a very bad one, but it knocked me about a bit and it brought on this eye trouble which is a family trouble, which is retinitis pigmentosa. So, I was unable to continue my flying duties at all, but I could still fly but not operate or anything like that.
BW: Do you recall what happened at Bobbington to cause the accident? Was it air or-
DE: Well, there was snow on the ground and the Anson tried to take off and one of the wheels locked and it spun round and went off the, off the runway and hit a concrete building and stopped very suddenly and it knocked- It broke my face quite a bit, I’ve had to have ham and chisel jobs on my face because of it.
BW: Oh dear.
DE: And it still effects my breathing.
BW: And in terms of the retinitis that you mentioned, how do you feel that was triggered by the accident, was it through-
DE: It was triggered by it, but it was a good thing, I’m the only survivor of those thirty young men, who went to Bobbington, twenty-nine of them vanished, died.
BW: Through later war service, not through that particular accident?
DE: Yes war service.
BW: Right. So you were able, it seems to complete your training as a navigator, were you close to finishing at that point or were you reassigned?
DE: Yes, I got extra training so I could become, I was- I went to a place called Cranage, when you’re in the RAF as you’ll probably find out, you have to have a trade, and I became a compass adjuster and I became assistant to the officer, the navigation officer.
BW: And what was your unit at Cranage, do you remember?
DE: Well, I was training.
BW: Ok so you weren’t assigned to a squadron at that point?
DE: I weren’t what, sorry?
BW: You weren’t assigned to a squadron at that point?
DE: Oh no, no we went to 460 when I finished that training.
BW: And so, you didn’t go through a heavy conversion unit or operational training unit?
DE: No, I could still fly. I still kept my log book and I was made a sergeant the same as if I'd been aircrew.
BW: And this is an interesting distinction because in the majority of cases, chaps who went through aircrew training were promoted sergeant and then continued in their trade flying operationally.
DE: That’s right yeah.
BW: You’re unique in the sense that you were promoted sergeant but you, I take it, weren’t flying operationally but you were flying?
DE: No I could still fly you see, and I still kept my log book and everything but I couldn’t operate because I had- I hadn’t finished my training. But I did some extra training to be assistant to the navigation officer.
BW: And from there you went on to 460 Squadron?
DE: 460, Australian squadron.
BW: When abouts would that be, do you recall? Would it be ‘41, ‘42?
DE: That was at a place called Breighton. We were flying Wellingtons, Mk 4 Wellingtons.
BW: And would this have been about 1941, ’42?
DE: ‘41 yeah.
BW: What were the Wellingtons like the fly in?
DE: Well, we had daft ones, the ones we had had prattled[?] with the engines which they were very underpowered, and they used to get shot up badly with, with flak, but we didn’t get many casualties on Wimpy’s. It was only when they changed us to Halifaxes, that’s when we ran into trouble.
BW: And were you with 460 Squadron at the time, when they changed to Halifaxes?
DE: Yes, we were sadly, oh I had a dicey do there.
BW: What happened?
DE: Well I was flying, I had to fly as part of the job to adjust the compasses and the radio equipment in the air, and we landed at Breighton, we were going to Binbrook and we put down and I opened the door of the side of the aircraft, and just as I did that they said, ‘Would Sergeant Evans report to the navigation officer immediately’. So, I got out and got on my bike, I left my parachute and everything and went to the navigation place. Now the crew took off to go to Binbrook and they said if I wasn’t there they’d take off and leave me you see, which they did. I’m sorry I'm having great difficulty, and- It took some time to do what I had to do at the navigation officer, and when I- I can’t remember the details but when I went to my room, I shared it with another bomb- One of the armourers and he took one look at me and his face went pale, because he thought I was a ghost. This Halifax had lost an engine taking off at Binbrook and they were all killed. Except me. Of course I wasn’t there but I didn’t know this was happening and it never occurred to me to take my name off the, off the crew list. That caused endless trouble, if you want to go into that sometime, I’m not really well enough to, to go into details. So, this is one of the cases where something has happened and it’s saved my life, all the rest of the crew, the seven were all killed, except me, and I had great trouble with the padre and I was bothered about sending a telegram to my mother that I’d been killed and everything. So, that’s what happened there.
BW: And do you recall the date at all when that happened, or there roughly whereabouts?
DE: Well, it would be in ‘42.
BW: And did you know the crew, were you flying with them regularly?
DE: Oh very well, very well yes. The crew were all buried in the cemetery at Binbrook.
BW: Do you remember any of their names at all?
DE: Not really, I can’t now, no. That’s seventy odd years ago.
BW: And as a compass adjuster did you fly with all the crews in the squadron?
DE: Yes, you see, yes you see. In those days before we got Gee, we had to do a whole lot in the air, that’s why I kept my log book and everything and I was still flying duties at the time.
BW: And you flew as the eighth member of the crew in effect?
DE: I did, yes
BW: So these must’ve all been daylight sorties that you flew, when the crew were not rostered for night ops, is that right?
DE: Yes.
BW: And what were the sort of schedules for you, adjusting the compasses, would it be every week, or every month or?
DE: Every month.
BW: Ok.
DE: I did a lot of flying [chuckles]
BW: So in some ways, you’d be in the unique position of getting to know the crews who were in the squadron, but also seeing those who would ultimately not come back?
DE: Oh that’s why I was able to take all the photographs and things, I served at some time or other with all six squadrons.
BW: In 1 Group?
DE: In 1 Group, yes. I even learnt to speak some Polish.
BW: Because 300 Squadron were the Polish squadron within one group weren’t they?
DE: That’s right I was with 300, I was with [unclear], I was with them at Faldingworth?
BW: How did you- Just out of interest, how did you rate the poles compared to the Australians or the British crews?
DE: I think they were incredible, there were twelve-hundred poles, sorry fifteen-hundred poles ran 300 Squadron, the twelve Englishman, we were all specialist- They had to draft me in because of problems they had.
BW: Such as?
DE: Well, swinging the compasses and all that, and doing adjustments in the air you see, ‘cause we- It was quite complex which I can’t go into now but I used to see- You had to use a beacon, and I was just able to get four, four trips in, four adjustments in because their beacon only lasted half an hour and I did it at Spurn Head off Hull, flying backwards and forwards off Spurn Point.
BW: So all the crew would be in the aircraft and would be briefed for the sortie to calibrate or adjust the navigation equipment, but you in effect would be in charge because you’d have to direct the aircraft in order to get the readings from the beacon?
DE: Well I had to do- The wireless operator did a lot of the stuff, but it would take quite a time to go into the technology of it. But I had to swing the compasses, adjust the compasses before we flew, and then I was able to use those results to adjust the radio beacon on the 1154 receiver.
BW: How long would it take to complete the swinging of the compass?
DE: Oh about an hour, it had to be done every month.
BW: And roughly how many flights would you get in a day, would you do one a day, or would you-
DE: Something like that, yes. It varies of course depending on the weather and stuff.
BW: How many of them, how many of the adjusters were there, was there just you within the group or were there a group of you?
DE: Well there were two of us.
BW: Do you recall the name of the other colleague of yours?
DE: It was George McDowell.
BW: And could you perhaps describe what you might do briefly, in terms of any checks or drills you had to do? So you’ve had the briefing in the crew room to undertake this sortie, what sort of things would you be doing when you get out to the aircraft?
DE: Well, we never actually operated in Halifaxes because they were so dangerous that they Aussies lost their whole crews before they did any operations, and they went on strike the Aussies did and wouldn't fly the Halifaxes, so they moved us down to Binbrook and gave us Lancasters.
BW: Now that is very interesting because you would think that the replace with the Lancaster would happen just because it was being brought in as a better aircraft, but it was as a result of the Australian crews refusing to fly the Halifax?
DE: It was yes, it was yes, it was terribly dangerous. They were very underpowered the original ones.
BW: Were these the Mk 1 Halifaxes?
DE: Yes, Mk 1’s yeah, and we had Mk1 Lancasters and that ARG Lancaster that’s in the museum in Australia, that was one of our original aircraft and did ninety-two ops.
BW: That’s quite a famous aircraft for 460 Squadron.
DE: It’s a famous- It’s the most famous Lancaster. It’s in the war museum at Canberra in Australia.
BW: And, you mentioned also I think, that there was a crew that crashed one of their Halifaxes, were you on board when that happened or was it just [unclear]-
DE: No, no I was left behind. See I had to go to the navigation officer, but I can’t remember why now because we weren’t operating, we never actually operated on Halifaxes as the Aussies wouldn’t operate them. We had enough trouble changing over from Wimpy’s to Halifaxes without operating them.
BW: So from there you pretty well went straight onto Lancasters?
DE: Yes
BW: And were you- Was 460 Squadron the first unit in 1 Group to get Lancasters, or did you fly them first?
DE: Well we weren’t the first but we were one of the first.
BW: And what was your experience like flying the Lancaster, did you rate it better than the others?
DE: Oh far better, far better than a Halifax, yes. Actually, there were plusses and minus of both of them.
BW: The saying was that they designed the Lancaster to get into and not get out of?
DE: Well, the- I always felt it’d been made out of bits and pieces that nobody else wanted the Halifax, they were made in Preston of course, by Dick Kerr there.
BW: That’s right, and you took plenty of photographs as you said and you, you know, you’ve kindly arranged to donate copies of those to the museum on a CD.
DE: Well what happened was, most English people didn’t get on very well with the Aussies, but I did. I did very well, and they taught me photography and supplied me with the cameras and things. So I was able to take hundreds of photographs, quite illegally, of the Lancaster era, that’s how I come to have all those photographs.
BW: So how did you manage to develop them and keep them out of official hands?
DE: I did, and I made a homemade amplifier, enlarger and everything. Oh, it was all done, all done in the bedroom. Hundreds of photographs, actually some of them got lost sadly, but there’s still a lot.
BW: And when you were on base, you mention this was- This developing of photographs was done in your bedroom but did you not stay in the sergeant's mess on the base, were you located off base?
DE: Yeah, this was in the sergeant's mess.
BW: Right. And did you share accommodation with other crewmen?
DE: Mainly Aussies, I- The Aussies taught me a lot.
BW: How come you think you got on better with them than most other Brits?
DE: It was just my character I suppose, the Aussies were much better than our people [chuckles] much more resourceful. They would do all kinds of things that the English people wouldn’t do, and I liked it that way.
BW: And in your photographs you’ve got some of Lancasters that have been, well, not necessarily shot down but they’ve crash landed back on the airfield.
DE: That’s right yes, quite a lot. You see when we were doing the wimpy’s, one of my jobs was trying to find out where the wimpy’s had dropped their bombs, which wasn’t usually where they were supposed to of dropped their bombs, but you see I knew what the winds were, which the crew didn’t and I’d all kinds of information and when they came back, I had to set [unclear] to try and find out where they dropped the bombs so they could send the reconnaissance Spitfire’s out.
BW: And how soon after the ops would you have to that? Immediately?
DE: Right away, as the information came in, and the crew remembered.
BW: So I presume you’d be in the debriefing room that night when the crews came back?
DE: I was there going and coming back. I gave out all the charts and maps and times and everything, I was assistant to the navigation officer you see, so I virtually ran the navigation office. Old Mac was no good at that sort of thing, but I had the technical knowledge to do it.
BW: So, when people see in the newsreel footage the curtain going back and the crews being briefed about the routes and things, that map that they see that was what you put together was it?
DE: It was yes.
BW: And all the information on the briefing notes for the navigators and bombers?
DE: That’s right yes, yep. That was in the middle of the night. Of course, the wimpy’s didn’t last very long, they had these American engines and they had a very short range so they were back pretty early, they were often back by eleven o’clock at night. They’d been and gone, they’d been and come back, eleven and twelve o’clock.
BW: Do you recall any of the particular instances seen in your photographs where Lancasters-
DE: I’m sorry, any what?
BW: Do you recall any of the particular instances of Lancaster crashes that you photographed, were there any memorable ones?
DE: Well not really, you’ll see there’s quite a number in those books. You’ve got a lot of my photographs there, if you look at the ones on Lancaster at war, you’ll find a lot more, unfortunately a lot got damaged. But there’s still a lot.
BW: And what other nationalities did you fly with in 1 Group?
DE: One what?
BW: What other nationalities did you fly with?
DE: Oh everything, everything from- Australians mainly, New Zealanders, South Africa, English of course and others, and of course I- The Poles got into difficulty so I got sent to 300 Squadron for a time, and then they realised I’d done a good job there and they were having trouble with 12 Squadron and others which I was able to go and sort out. They actually put me temporarily in a place Ludford Magna. I wasn’t doing official work for 101, it had its own people they were alright, but I had to go and go to Wickenby and other places to sort them out. I became a kind of, what you call it? An expert or a sorter out.
BW: Trouble-shooter?
DE: Having great difficulty.
Other: Do you want something-
BW: Are you alright Darwin, do you want to take a break?
DE: I could do with going to the toilet.
BW: Ok I’ll pause it there. Ok, so we were talking about your time on 460 Squadron just before, and you were obviously with 1 Group for many months, if not years and there are different photographs here showing snow conditions-
DE: Well I didn’t sell them. You see, you had great difficulty getting photographic equipment, and many of the photographs were taken on redundant x-ray film, thirty-five millimetre. So it’s achromatic[?] it isn’t, it isn’t the- I took many hundreds but some got lost. In fact a lot have got lost since.
BW: But I was saying, you, you must’ve seen the bombers operate in all weather conditions, there’s pictures of aircraft in the ground in snow and all sorts-
DE: Oh yes, I was, very true. You had just no idea at the end of the war when the Lanc’s and others went up to twenty-four- thousand feet, up above Lincoln and twenty miles away it vibrated, the whole area vibrated. It must’ve been awful in Germany when they heard all these aircraft coming, you’ve just no idea how noisy they were, three-thousand engines running.
BW: How did it feel being on the inside of the aircraft when you were flying with the crew?
DE: How many what?
BW: How did it feel being on the inside of the aircraft when it was in flight?
DE: Well it was much the same, you, you couldn’t tell really.
BW: Was it difficult to communicate with the others, apart from the headsets that you used?
DE: That’s right, yes.
BW: You mentioned before, one of the items of equipment you used was Gee?
DE: Gee, yes
BW: And there was also Oboe and H2S, what- Can you describe what it was like to use those?
DE: Well, Oboe was a system that automatically dropped the bombs over the target, Oboe did. So that was fitted to Mosquitos, and they automatically dropped a marker bomb, no matter what the weather was, and the Lancasters then dropped green markers round it, to show an area where they had to drop the bombs, and this kept being moved you see. They were, they were seven-hundred aircraft dropped bombs in about twenty minutes so it was pretty well continuous dropping bombs.
BW: And of course, they’re going to depend on your navigation calculations in the-
DE: Well, it wasn’t mine but other people, no that’s what Oboe did. Well, yes, they were able to work it out by trial and error over the target.
BW: You mentioned previously that in the early days you, and indeed all navigators, had to use their own maths, their own dead reckoning if you like, to navigate to and from the target.
DE: Yes it very was dead reckoning too, it wasn’t very precise.
BW: And you were one of those who presumably got first go at the new navigation instrumentation when it came in?
DE: That’s right, well that was Gee you see, which was an electronic system, a markers. That was the first big step on navigation replacing the 1155 direction finding receiver. And H2S of course was when you could see the ground through, electronically when you were flying.
BW: Did you get to use that at all to-?
DE: Well I didn’t, I didn’t no, I didn’t need to do see I wasn’t navigating. The crews did.
BW: So you weren’t taught how to use that?
DE: I had to issue the instructions for Gee and all the rest of it.
BW: And were there various developments in that equipment that took place that you had a hand in, or did you just have to learn to train, learn to use them?
DE: Well, it was always being developed, when Gee first came out it was very secret and all the people who maintained it were, what do they call it? Over in America and Canada to keep it secret, and that’s what happened. The people who maintained it originally were all Canadians.
BW: And did you get any sense at all as to how effective the German systems were either in countermanding the British or the effort?
DE: Well what happened you see, I was with 101 Squadron for a time and they carried an extra member of the crew who spoke German, to give the night fighters the wrong instructions, but they sorted that one out, they just had girls giving flying instructions to the night fighters, so it was continuous battle that way.
BW: There were many raids of course flown across enemy territory, do you recall any particular raids that you were involved in the navigation preparation for? Maybe for example in the Ruhr valley or against Peenemunde, or anything like that, do you recall particular memorable targets?
DE: Well, course depending on the weather how long the night was. I mean at the famous thing [chuckles] was the Ruhr valley, happy valley as they called it, and that could be bombed in winter when the nights were shorter, but later on when the Mosquitos came along, they used to bomb Berlin every night because their crews were about twice the speed of a Lancaster.
BW: You never got to fly one though did you?
DE: No, there were only two seaters. The most I did was sit in one.
BW: Do you recall any particular individuals on the squadrons that you served in, commanding officers or pilots or crews?
DE: Well I’ve forgotten names quite frankly, the- One of the friends was George Saint Smith who flew, that’s the RG Lancaster for a time, I think he did about twenty ops on that, and then he went to pathfinders, and then he went to Mosquitos and got killed flying Mosquitos, they were particular friends of mine, and his navigator.
BW: Do you recall the circumstances in which they were lost, which raid it was and when?
DE: No I don’t, no
BW: When it came up towards D-Day in 1944, were you involved? 460 Squadron did fly over that period of time particularly?
DE: Oh yes we-
BW: Were you involved in the preps for D-Day?
DE: We were very involved with D-Day, you see, what happened was that, when squadron was formed, they wanted a special flying squadron and originally they were going to Binbrook, and Benbrook got an additional twelve, twelve positions for Lancasters. So there were battle between 3 Group and 1 Group and eventually it was- To stop that problem they formed 5 Group, which was 617 and 9 Squadron, and of course they had a redundant system at Binbrook so 460 Squadron before a four flight squadron, it was the only one and we had to operate fifty Lancasters and frankly it was too much. It took at least a minute to get each Lancaster off, and even at that it was a lot of Lancaters, you know, it wasn’t easy.
BW: And that would’ve been a lot of work for you as a compass adjuster to get through all of them?
DE: Oh very much so yeah, well I used to do other things as well. I used to go and help them- I used to go and help the friends of mine who were sending the Lanc’s off and bringing them back, and I was interested so I used to go and help. I’d be with them at the caravan, you probably hear we have a green? Has that come up?
BW: Yes, yes when they gave them the green light.
DE: Well, there was a man with a green you see, my eyesight wasn’t that good then, now what used to happen, I used to go and help them, it wasn’t my job and when I saw the Lanc go down the runway, as I saw it take-off, I gave him a bang on his back and then he’d give the green to the next Lanc went off, and that went off. It took three-quarters of an hour to get those aircraft up.
BW: Simply because of the volume, but also because of the take-off run for each aircraft. When they’re heavily laden they have-
DE: Very much so.
BW: And that makes sense in terms of your photographs, as you said because a lot of them are taken from the holding point and either in or near the caravan, because you see Lancasters taking off and approaching to land as well.
DE: And coming back crashing
BW: There’s quite a few of those
DE: Very many, too many. There were often, weren’t badly damaged.
BW: But there are photos that you’ve got of some of the battle-damaged ones where they’ve obviously had gun fire through the control services and the air frame?
DE: Yeah, what are you gonna do with them- Are you going to borrow those photographs?
BW: The originals will stay with you and your family, the copies will go to the archive, the digital copies will go to the archive
DE: Well you’ve got them, oh bloody hell, you’ve got them with the Lancaster at war, all those photographs?
BW: Yes
DE: They’ve got this outfit called lancfile[?], all my negatives being kept under special conditions so they last. But there were hundreds of them at one time.
BW: Did you fly any other aircraft apart from the Lancasters towards?
DE: I did two or three trips when I was training on Bristol Blenheims and Halifaxes and Ansons.
BW: Did you fly any other aircraft towards the end of the war, were you-
DE: Not really, no, I finished up with the Lancasters. They sent the Aussies back to Australia and they shut down 300 Squadron with the Poles, so that left 4 Squadrons and they had four twelve flight squadrons went to Binbrook, that’s what happened. When the war finished, we had those four squadrons there and I was doing- I was looking after those with the others when, when I left the RAF.
BW: Talk me through the latter stages of the war, the sort of early 1945 and VE Day and the end of the war.
DE: That’s right yeah.
BW: What happened there? Talk me through those months.
DE: Well on D-Day I worked one-hundred-and-thirty-two hours one week. Getting the aircraft off, early in the morning ‘cause we were operating fifty Lancasters. We could drop as many bombs round D-day just the one squadron as the Luftwaffe dropped on London.
BW: And what happened afterwards, talk me through the latter months of the war and the end of the war.
DE: Well nothing, we just played about and people just kept retiring as I did. I got out on what they call Class B, which as I came in and they got me back in my job at Blackpool as soon as they could because of getting things sorted out.
BW: In terms of demobbing the servicemen?
DE: Sorry what's that?
BW: In terms of demobbing the servicemen, when you talk about sorting, sorting things out they got you demobbed quickly is that right?
DE: Sorry I couldn’t follow that.
BW: When you left the air force, you say you went out as Class B?
DE: Yea that’s right well-
BW: Was that a quick departure?
DE: I went out back onto studying, and getting on in the maze office to at Blackpool corporation, and studying but things went badly wrong for a time, caused me a lot of trouble.
BW: Is that something that you can, you can talk further about or summarise, what happened?
DE: Well, well it’s difficult to tell you really. We had a daft lecturer who tried to wangle me extra time off and it didn’t work, and it cost me a whole extra year.
BW: So when abouts did you leave the RAF? Was it shortly after the end of the European war in ‘45?
DE: It was January ’46
BW: And from Binbrook then you came back to Lancashire-
DE: And back to Blackpool, yes
BW: Back to Blackpool, continued your education?
DE: That’s right.
BW: And in short you presumably ended up as an engineer with Blackpool council?
DE: Yep, that’s it.
BW: And talk me through the years after the war, what happened, where- What was your progressing?
DE: Well, I had to continue studying, I got promotion and went to, went to Preston, to the headquarters at Preston, and eventually we saw an advert in the paper for a job with atomic energy, a research job and I thought I could do that. So I became a junior, what do they call it? I was a senior officer there later on, so I got the job as a- On research in atomic energy at Preston there, and I continued from there until I had to retire because of my eye trouble, I had twenty years on nuclear research.
BW: Presumably that was Salwick was it?
DE: At Salwick yes. That was my headquarters, but I operated all the, all the officers at Harwell and even Aldermaston I worked on the bomb project, and worked wind scale and I went over to America as well and Canada, I went all over the place with the nuclear research.
BW: What aspect of nuclear energy were you looking at was it with a view to- You mentioned bomb project so were you involved with the development of British atomic bomb-
DE: The bomb sorry what?
BW: You said you were involved with the bomb project, were you involved with the British development of the atomic bomb?
DE: Well I was very surprised, you see that they realised I had unusual skills. Believe it or not you think of atomic energy as being to do with heating, well I was the top heating man in atomic energy, if there was any heating troubles, you’d finish up with me, believe it or not, and that’s what happened. I had twenty years on that, on AGR there.
Other: How did you get into the bomb, Darwin?
DE: What sorry?
Other: How did you get involved with the bomb at Aldermaston?
DE: Well not directly. It takes a lot of people to do that kind of work, I was the heating man and I had to do quite a lot of work on the, on the fuel, supply that. It’s difficult for me to remember details now, but I was very surprised that they were very open with me at Aldermaston and I said, ‘Well, I can’t understand this because you don’t know’, ‘Well you’ve got the same clearance as we have so why not?’. That was their argument, you couldn’t get a nicer lot of people then the ones at Aldermaston, and eventually they shut it down. When atomic energy authority left Aldermaston, the government took over and I never went again. But I still did consultancy work.
BW: And did you travel out to America or to the Pacific to see any of the bomb tests, or were you just involved in research for that project?
DE: No, I went mainly for the library at Argonne in Chicago, and we- The- It’s difficult to see, you know that some atomic energy is medical, very short range you see, and there was a- Most of that work was done in Canada, and at Springfields we probably had the best engineering job in the country, in Europe, we actually did the work there on that reactor at Snowy River in Canada.
BW: And so, when you talk about being involved with the heating part of nuclear energy, were you looking at containing the heat or dissipating the heat?
DE: It was making the fuel usually, and doing research. There’s an awful lot of research goes on which you- See to do all this I could spend days doing it if I had, what you’re doing, what we’re doing and- We actually did engineering work on Snowy River for making, making this specialised medical nuclear equipment.
BW: The sort of thing they might use in-
DE: In hospitals.
BW: Yes, to detect tumours and-
DE: It was all done in one reactor in Canada at the main place called Snowy River in Canada. You see there weren’t any of us were experts, remember there was nobody in atomic energy could said they were atomic energy, and we were all engineers, physicists, chemists and think of it, we were that. So, I went over there as an electrical engineer and other stuff and so did others, you just had to learn as you went along.
BW: And you were in that field of work for about twenty years you said?
DE: Twenty years, yeah.
BW: And what did you move onto after that, did you retire or did you continue working-
DE: I had to retire as my eyesight got worse, I had to retire and eventually we came here, we came to live in Warton.
BW: And you mentioned that you married, and obviously have a wife, did you have a family as well?
DE: No we didn’t she kept having- She kept losing the children at three months, kept having miscarriages which was very sad.
BW: A shame, and so you heard in recent years about the moves to finally recognise the contribution by bomber command in the war effort. What are your thoughts on this and the development at the centre? Is it reassuring that it’s taking place for you now?
DE: It kept coming up about it, as time went on people took more interest. Just after the war nobody was interested, they were all glad to see the last of it, but as time has gone on they realised that we were all getting very old and ancient and if they want to get first-hand accounts, they better get cracking. I think that’s what’s happening.
BW: But hopefully its reassuring for you that people who served in bomber command and those who survived and those who didn’t are being commemorated?
DE: Well we’re all getting- I didn’t take part operationally but I was there planning and doing all kinds of things as well.
BW: Well I think Darwin, those are all the question that I have for you, is there anything else that you would like to add that perhaps we haven’t covered at all?
DE: I don’t think so, I could do a lot more but there’s probably enough for your needs.
BW: Very well, thank you very much for your time Darwin and thank you very much for your contribution to the bomber command centre.
DE: Well I feel I ought to do with all those colleagues of mine who’ve all died. I lost a lot of good friends, especially among the Aussies who taught me- The Aussies taught me a lot. It was partly due to the Aussies that I became interested in getting things hot.
Other: How’s that? How’s that Darwin?
DE: Well now, where can we go? When they started flying at twenty-four-thousand feet the oxygen supply used to freeze up in the turrets and so, an Australian electrical man and me we actually made heater devices that went on the oxygen supply for the rear gunners. I actually went home- I had a lathe at home and actually made the components for these heater systems and Len, this Aussie, was a very clever bloke and he showed me how to get things hot, you know, in an easy way. We, we used to go into Grimsby and buy replacement electric fires and strip it all down and I would do work at home and go away and come back and we built these heaters. I don’t know how other squadrons did but we equipped the gunners with heaters on the oxygen supply and that gave me the background which made it poss- And I knew about thermocouples and things which I wouldn’t normally of done, and that’s how that came about, they gave me the interest of getting things hot and of course, when I say hot I say really hot, we did all kinds of things which involved getting things to two-thousand degrees Celsius. When you think Iron melts at fifteen-hundred and we were seven-hundred degrees up above that, and I had all that sort of things to do. It were only because of these Aussies giving me the background that I was daft enough to do it.
Other: Interesting.
BW: So what would be kept at two-thousand degrees? What would you need to-
DE: That was- Well that was a fuel, the four AGRs which is a ceramic fuel, that melts at these temperatures but that was another project that never came up that involved coating, how can I put it? Involved, involved coating uranium dioxide with a film, very thin film, at these enormous temperatures, so it would stand the temperature in the reactor. It’s not very clear it isn’t. Really to do all this I should be given time to work it all out.
BW: But what’s interesting is that, the development that took place from learning to keep gunners warm in the back of a Lancaster lead to you developing things like thermocouples or the technology to coat uranium.
DE: That’s right, it did, it did, and this other stuff as well. You’re right there. That involved going buying stuff in Grimsby, buying spare electrical heaters in Grimsby [chuckles].
BW: I bet there’s many an Australian gunner who would, you know, thank you for your efforts in keeping them warm in the back of a Lancaster
DE: Well, well what happened was that it was, I had to- We actually flew at twenty-nine-thousand feet when we were doing that work, course it was twenty-four-thousand at night so we had to go higher up in the daytime, and that’s what was happening, that I had to do that. As I say I've been to twenty-nine-thousand feet in a Lancaster and being the RAF, we had thermometers and some were Fahrenheit and some were centigrade and I couldn’t understand why they both read forty, and it was only then that I realised there’s a crossover point between Celsius and Fahrenheit, minus-forty the temperatures cross over.
BW: Fascinating.
Other: Did you invent anything else for the Lancasters?
DE: Did what?
Other: Did you invent anything else with the Aussies, to help with the crews, or anything like that? No?
DE: I can’t think of it at the moment, no.
BW: Did you get to socialise with them much off base, or in base, you know, in the messes?
DE: No. I actually made- I used to go home making special tools.
BW: And where did you meet you wife, did you meet her in Lancashire after you demobbed? Or in Lincolnshire when you-
DE: Yeah, Lancaster, fell walking. We were both interested in other things, you see, I was never very well and the doctor said, ‘Darwin,’ he said, ‘You want to go walking, to try and get yourself breathing a bit better’. So, he suggested I join the CHA and eventually Alice joined the CHA, we got together and then got married.
BW: And that presumably was after the war it wasn’t-
DE: That was after the war.
BW: Yeah, when did you get married by the way?
DE: Well you see I was quite late getting married, in ‘53. We were married- We’ve been married over sixty years. I’ve also become a radio amateur among other things, to learn about electronics.
Other: You did a lot of work with steamtown and the model railway as well.
DE: That’s right and that, yes. You’ll find if you go to Cinderbarrow, you’ll find name is on the building, they called the building after me I’d done so much for them.
BW: That’s good of them.
DE: The model railway at Cinderbarrow.
BW: Right, well once again thank you very much Darwin it’s been pleasure and very interesting to talk to you and meet you and thank you very much for your contribution and for allowing me to interview you.
BW: So you’re going to borrow the- He got up in bed, I got rounds rattling on the roof of the Nissen Hut, it actually shot us up.
BW: So this was at-
DE: So I've been shot up by a German aircraft in bed.
BW: So this was at Ludford Magna while you were asleep?
DE: That’s with 101 Squadron, yeah.
BW: Did the sirens go off?
DE: Did what?
BW: Did the sirens go off to warn you?
DE: No they didn’t, no, what happened was the girls were in the next line, next to us and they had a toilet block, they were told on no account the door had never to be opened when the light was on and this and that, and some daft girl left the light on and the door open and the JU-88 came cruising over and shot up this toilet block. We got quite a lot of the rounds ricocheted onto us. It blew up the ladies' toilet block.
BW: [Chuckles] A vitally strategic target.
DE: Yes. Marvellous bit of flying.


Brian Wright, “Interview with Darwin Evans,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 15, 2024,

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