Interview with Alan Avery Farr


Interview with Alan Avery Farr


Allan Avery Farr was working at the market in Birmingham before he joined the RAF. He wanted to have the quickest entry to see action and so trained as an air gunner. He trained in Canada where he was offered a post as an instructor but he wanted to serve with an operational squadron. On one flight his eyes froze over and the wireless operator had to help him to recover. The navigator was seriously injured during one operation and when they landed the crew helped get him to the ambulance. Allan met up with him again sixty years later. On one operation they collided with a German night fighter and although the aircraft was very severely damaged they managed to return to the UK.




Temporal Coverage




02:02:38 audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 12th of July 2017 and we’re in Barnwood, Gloucester with Allan Farr, DFM to talk about his life and times. So, Alan what are your earliest recollections of life?
AF: Well, the earliest recollection that I, that I can think of is school. Although you had to be four and a half or five to go to the juniors, but I started off by going to, let me think now for a minute [pause] Benedict’s Road School. Which was in Small Heath. I can remember going each morning through Digby Park to get to the school from the place where we lived in Floyer Road, Small Heath. That was pretty well straightforward then. The only time I had any ruckus at school was when my teeth became bad and I had to go to the dentist and he took eight double teeth out. Now, for a child off five I can remember all of that. And I can remember my mother of course going with me and saying, ‘Now, you behave yourself.’ [laughs] As if somebody wouldn’t behave themselves in the, in the dental bloody trade. And of course they hadn’t got all the equipment then because what was I? Five and a half. Six and a half. All through eating sugary stuff. But my teacher was named Miss Walters and when she said, ‘Why were you away from school for two or three days?’ I forget what it was now. And I said to her, ‘It’s because I had some teeth out ma’am.’ ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘You must let me see this. Open your mouth.’ And she ran her finger around the gums that I’d got now instead of teeth. See. And that at the age appalled me. And I went home. And I never went to that school again.
CB: Oh right.
AF: Simply because of the disbelief. And I, I went then to Somerville Road School which I think was the junior school. That was on the Green Lane. And funnily enough we moved home then to live in Palace Road which was sort of lined up, if you think of it as a gun barrel onto the school that I was going to go to. And that little thing is, that’s that one thing has remained in memory, oh forever you know. The school. I had good friends. One passed away a few years ago. Frank Aden. I could never understand why I couldn’t do my muffler up like him. He had a lovely wool muffler and it seemed to fill this area because he fluffed it up. And I had a thin scarf from my mother which used to tie around my neck and slowly encircle me you know, sort of thing. We used to do a lot of bicycle riding but only locally. But used to stay out well until half past eight, 9 o’clock, you know. Otherwise and that it was purely a child’s life. My father worked at the coal stores in town. He used to take me to work with him on a Saturday because I enjoyed, enjoyed being with the workers in the coal stores. You know. One of those things that other children hadn’t got, I suppose. But, and the Market Hall was very, very close to the [unclear] Mansel’s Coal Stores. And I liked the market, I liked the flavour of the market. Men and women altogether working away. Every sort of stall you could think, think of. Even to its, its own animal, little animal zoo which I thought was lovely to have in a town because Birmingham was a big place. But slowly grew up until my only, what can you say? My only sort of adventure left was to work actually in the Market Hall itself. Which I did do finally at Reg Johnson’s Fish Monger and Poulterer and I was there until unfortunately the Market Hall got bombed and became a wreck. But the council, what they did made sort of daylight stalls where people could rent either a fish and poultry shop or a flower shop or anything that would make a shop and you were given a stall. And that I stopped at until I was eighteen and a quarter when I joined up because my father was now in uniform as a second lieutenant. Regained his commission. And we saw him on regular sort of trips back home. And I thought he was quite magnificent [laughs] as a child you know. For getting on for twelve, thirteen, fourteen then. Left school at fourteen. Went straight to the Market Hall. Straight to Reg Johnson who was a friend of my father’s and I began work at fourteen in the Market Hall. And it seemed to me that my what, my finest dream had been recognised by somebody somewhere because now I worked in the market and that’s what I’d always wanted. Not much really but it was, it was a life on its own. The market was quite full of good people you know. Working class of course but they were at it all the time. And I had one or two little adventures in the market but nothing really much. One of them was I’d not long left them and I was in blue. In the RAF. And I was stationed in civilian lodgings in Blackpool but I was on duty this one day with a rifle and five rounds of ammunition and a whistle. And I was guarding Derby Baths. If you know perhaps of the size of it I had to walk around along the front with a rifle at the slope. And I was doing just that one day and something I remember is I could see from the corner of my eye even though I was walking up and down with a rifle outside the Derby Baths an RAF officer coming from my right to walk past me. So I thought, right I’d better recognise him somehow because of his rank. He’s an officer. I could tell by the quality of his overcoat. And as he came to me I got the rifle at the slope and I saluted him by putting my fingers to my right temple and he walked on a few paces. Then he stopped and came back and he said, ‘Do you know sonny, one of us has done wrong here and I don’t know which one it is.’ And he turned around and walked away again. All is forgiven sort of thing. I should have saluted him on the butt of course [laughs] But that was a small adventure that always stuck with me because he was so nice about it. And I thought I’ve joined the right mob for a start off, you know. They’re alright. They forgive you quickly. But otherwise than that I was stationed at Croydon and stationed at St Mawgan down in Cornwall until it came my turn to go for training for an air gunner which was about twelve months later because they were really filled up with all sorts of people wanting to do their bit. And the next thing we know, I think it was either twenty eight or forty of us all wanting training as air gunners finished up on the docks at Liverpool looking for a boat called the [pause] We were going to Canada anyhow. Can’t think of the name of the boat and it’s rather important because we were going to go through miles and miles and miles of the same sort of boat. A nine knot convoy it was. And I can’t think of the name of the boat now. Should be able to. But we were found jobs on board a lovely little ship. A nine thousand tonner, if you can say, you know a nice little ship but it was all the corridors down below decks were done with cedar and different named woods. It turned out to be an ATA boat which was an Air Transport boat, which was Air Transport Auxiliary and they would fly planes over, be sorted out and go back on a boat to fly some more planes over. So I thought that was very clever. So we had a good boat to go across to Canada. We landed at Halifax. But it was a nine knot convoy so I think it took us about fifteen days to do the trip across the North Sea. I hope I’ve got that right. Geography never was my good class. But anyhow we settled off. While I was being in England I’d become a member of the RAF boxing team with the very clever reason that because they wanted my name on the programme. Farr. Because Tommy Farr was the boxer then and he was getting ready to fight Joe Louis [laughs] That was another thing that my name sorted. Sorted me out. But that’s what it was. And what happened was of course when we got to Halifax in Canada immediately I was, I became another member of the RAF Canada apostrophe [pause] in the boxing team. I caught some very nice blows as well. I didn’t do very well. They all had more experience than me but I stuck to it. And there we did our training and we went back on the Elizabeth. It took us sixteen days crossing. Fifteen, sixteen days crossing in a nine thousand ton boat. And going back home we landed up north in Scotland and we had to be ferried by small boats across from where the Elizabeth lay to where the harbour was because the boat was too big for the harbour. So, that was another little adventure. And on one occasion going across I was in the small boat taking us to the harbour when it crossed in front of the Elizabeth where she lay and it’s amazing the size of that boat. And my job on board with a rifle and no ammunition, I don’t think I looked very trustworthy was to guard the foot of the stairs leading to the bridge in case of any trouble. But I suppose I was supposed to hit them with the rifle and not shoot them because I’d got no ammunition. I always felt wrong about that somehow or other. Still. And also we, we were given the location which we were to call the sergeant’s mess because we were sergeants now. Now we were trained aircrew. And the first meal I had or second or third meal I had on the Elizabeth was breakfast on a boarded up [pause] Oh, it was a boarded up swimming pool and that’s, with trestle tables and chairs, that’s where we had our sergeant’s meal twice a day. And one of the waiters coming out brought me my breakfast and it was a man I’d worked for in the Birmingham Market Hall named Jack Bickerstaff. And he never spoke to me and I’d worked for him as an employee for some time. And he never spoke to me. I never spoke to him except to say, ‘Thank you.’ But what I felt like saying was, ‘You sit down and eat my breakfast.’ It looked like he needed it. But I hadn’t got the pluck and I didn’t see him again. But I found out that he’d been passing communist literature around somewhere where he was stationed in Canada so they booted him back again on the Elizabeth. Back to be demobbed. Not wanted. That’s terrible for a grown man isn’t it? But anyhow it happened. Never saw him again. Joined [pause] went from there to Croydon. That’s from Chipping Warden to Croydon. Then we were warned off about going on a course to become air gunners. We’d already done the basic training in Canada. We were only there sort of three months but they asked me if I wanted to join the Canadian Royal Air Force because I knew more about aircraft recognition than they did. It had been my hobby and they wanted me to become an instructor in Canada. But I thought long and hard about it but what my father would have thought about it I don’t know. So I stayed as I was and went back home to win the war. That’s [laughs] all I can say about that period. He’d, my father unfortunately was becoming an ill man so he had to finish. He was demobbed and Ansell’s, the publican people gave him a pub in Wolverhampton for somewhere to live and to run. Which he did with my mother, Faye. And I was of course in the RAF and now I was doing circuits and bumps in a Wellington at Lichfield because that was the name of the aerodrome where they trained air gunners. And next thing we know we did our final trip which was to Paris where we dropped leaflets. And then we went to my first Squadron which was 100 Squadron. Used to be a fighter Squadron during the war 100 Squadron but it was bomber now and it was Wellingtons. In Canada we trained on Fairey Battles and I sat with a Vickers gas operated machine gun on a Scarfe mounting. But that was soon all over. They didn’t spend a lot of time with us with training. To go from a single Scarfe mounted machine gun to a turret with four automatic machine guns took some beating really. But times being what they were you didn’t moan. You just got on with it. And so I passed my air gunner’s test. The way they crewed us up they’d got seven different categories of crew at Chipping Warden. No. Not Chipping Warden. At Lichfield, which was our Operational Training Unit. We went there to train to be air gunners in turrets. And a daunting thing it was as well because all the turrets were so complicated and yet so basic. You know. You either loved it or left it. But I stuck it out. And then we were called together, the seven different categories of crew and we were all shepherded in to the officer’s mess and we were told to sort ourselves out in crews. They found this was the, the better way. That like would attract like, I presume. I don’t know. But we had, I think there was [pause] it takes a bit of figuring out. Seven in a crew. And then we had to form I think it was twenty crews all with seven in. And had to report to somebody at a desk as you are writing all our names down in lots of sevens because that’s what the crews were going to be. And that’s what they were doing all over England I presume to get crews together. They had to train them all. But of course pilot’s training was running to a year or more than that. And navigators was a long course. But I got my little air gunner’s brevet and I was happy as I was. My father was pleased. My mother was worried. But that’s how it all was at that time. And so we finished up on the Squadron, 100 Squadron as operational. Which I thought was great. I had worries. But as long as my mother and father didn’t worry I wasn’t going to worry. But I think they were good actors basically. Yeah. We were on the Squadron now.
CB: We’re going to pause just for a minute.
AF: As you wish.
CB: Yeah. Only —
[recording paused]
AF: Yeah.
CB: So just going back a bit the interesting thing is that you and your future wife joined the RAF together but how did you come to go to the bureau to sign up and —
AF: In Dale End.
CB: Yes.
AF: It was a Recruiting Office. And the three recruiting offices had taken over offices in Dale End. Navy, Army, Air Force. And the air force as far I was concerned was all that was needed because the flight sergeant who was the recruiting officer or sergeant when I said to him an air gunner he said, ‘That’s the sort of thing we want.’ he said, ‘Anybody else like you at home or anything?’ I said, ‘No, sir. Just me.’ He said, ‘Oh well, you’ll have to do. Good luck.’ I said, ‘Thank you.’ And my wife unfortunately was nine, eighteen months older than me and she went away quicker to be in the forces properly. And my mates. I was working at Mac Fisheries then because we’d been told that the coal stores was becoming a Reserved Occupation and we wouldn’t be able to join up. So we’d better get a move on and make up our minds and that’s why we went on that Saturday. She joined the RAF, the WAAF. I joined the RAF to train as an air gunner. And I was content with life. I can’t think of remembering anything absolutely wrong.
CB: How did they encourage you to join a particular specialty? So —
AF: Oh no. No.
CB: Did they ask you what you wanted to do?
AF: No. I said to the flight sergeant, ‘What’s the quickest way to get in to the RAF? What’s the quickest way to become useful in the RAF?’ He said, ‘Become an air gunner.’ I said, ‘Well, put me down for that please, flight sergeant. That’ll suit me.’ I didn’t know they were killing them off as quick as they were training them [laughs] So he’d earned his Kings Shilling for the day hadn’t he? Eh? Yeah.
CB: Did it well. You went out to Canada.
AF: Yes. For training.
CB: So how did that, so you landed at Halifax. Then what?
AF: Well —
CB: You had this long trip.
AF: Yes. And we were treated quite nicely and treated properly but they had, they couldn’t put us into an Air Gunnery School because all the schools they’d got were full. So we had to wait at Halifax. No. We went from Halifax to Moncton which was like another holding station if you like for trainees. And we were taught rudimentary air gunnery at Moncton. But the real training came back home in England. They hadn’t got the equipment. And in fact they asked me and this is true, they asked me to stay. There was an opportunity for me to stay as a trainee instructor on aircraft recognition at Moncton. And I said, ‘Oh, no. No. I want to carry on and work my way through. I want to become an air gunner properly.’ They said, ‘But you won’t be involved in the war and you’ll certainly get your ranks come automatically. You know, if you spend two or three years at Moncton you’ll, you’ll have the rank of whatever is awarded to you.’ No. No. It wasn’t what I wanted. I said, ‘My father wouldn’t like it anyhow. Let’s get back home and help them there.’ ‘Oh,’ they said, ‘Alright. If that’s your attitude.’ I said, ‘It’s not my attitude. It’s my feelings.’ And that’s exactly what it was.
CB: You’d got an urge to actually do something that you regarded as practical.
AF: And quickly.
CB: And contributory.
AF: Yeah. But it took me, oh another must have been ten months before I got through to my course. Then you had to go on another course to get yourself prepared for what a rear turret was. Or a mid-upper turret. They never told you about these things but you’d obviously have to use them so they put you on a course. Another separate course for the use of a turret with four guns or with two guns. So I was happy enough with a turret with four guns. I thought you’ve got twice as many as the other people on the mid upper turrets, you know. And I played my part and that was it as far as I can make out. Had a marvellous crew. I had a good crew. The first crew I had was one with the wireless operator in named Brockbank. Here’s the crew. As small as it is.
CB: Excellent. Yeah.
AF: That’s the first crew. And not much else we could do. And we did our training and our final bout of training was to, I’ll pass it to the gentleman here.
AF: We had to go, not bomb Paris but to drop leaflets on Paris. You’ve possibly heard this story before.
CB: Keep going.
AF: Yeah. And it was in a Wellington and I was, there was no mid-upper so the wireless operator took over the part of the other gunner if was necessary. And his name was Brocklebank. He’d got an L in it for a start off. And if you think of coming up the fuselage of a Wellington. Not all that big but far bigger than a Spitfire or a Hurricane. And then when you came to where your shoulder would be near the pilot and you’d be down a step you’d be heading for the bomb aimer’s position. And we had a lovely bomb aimer because he had to be woken up to drop the bombs [laughs] I haven’t made that up. God honest. Because the pilot got used to the, to the habit of saying, ‘Give the bomb aimer a kick.’ [laughs] because he’d be asleep going to the target. He thought it was all a load of bunkum. This business of doing that there and the other. But [Noel Macer] his name was and he was a lovely chap basically but he did like his little, his little ways you know. A bit nutty if you like but he was genuine enough. And that’s what they used the Wellingtons for which were pretty useless for anything else actually.
CB: Just on your Paris trip.
AF: Yes.
CB: How many planes went with you and how many came back?
AF: Only, only, we only went on our own. We had to follow the navigational plot that they’d got for us to cross over the Channel. The western France. Follow their route because this was, this was a trip for the whole seven members of the crew. Navigator, bomb aimer, pilot, who was a beautiful pilot. No doubt about it at all. And we all hoped to stick together because that was the plan. Not to stick with other people.
CB: No.
AF: Your own men sort of thing. And we did.
CB: So, going back to your training in Canada you said it was quite short. So what bomb aimer training did you have there on the ground or in the air?
AF: Oh, no. We only had air gunners.
CB: I meant to say air gunner. Sorry.
AF: Yeah.
CB: Yeah. What air gunner training did you have on the ground?
AF: Well —
CB: And in the air in Canada.
AF: We wondered what a dome building was. Made of brick. The second or third day of our training they took us in there and I still don’t remember. I’ve got the photograph of this. It was experimental group that we were with. They were all air gunners. All training as air gunners. But we went in this domed building and what it was it was domed and also it was painted white inside and there was a moving platform as well with equipment like this sort of thing but much bigger which threw an enemy fighter on to the curved area of this dome. And you sat in a turret which moved about on a long sort of pole and you had two guns but it was a cinemata. A camera. And you actually, as you supposedly blazed away at this one aircraft that was being shot on to this dome interior of the domed building it was all being kept on film. And you were told what the lead was and how, how far you would have to fire in front of one of the planes to make a hit while you were doing it sort of thing. It was very, very clever in its way and it gave you the feelings of what you were doing were worthwhile. But you were glad to go home.
CB: This is called deflection shooting.
AF: Deflection shooting. Quite right. That’s right.
CB: Now, what about flying in the air. Because they were Fairey Battles in Canada. Did you get —
AF: Ah, well, I got into trouble. The only time in my service. But we were at an RAF station down south in Cornwall.
CB: St Eval or somewhere like that, was it?
AF: St Eval. Yeah, well St Eval was north of, of St Mawgan.
CB: Yeah.
AF: St Mawgan. We used to fly when, when you did fly you flew off a cliff into the great blue yonder sort of business.
CB: Yeah.
AF: We did our share of flying at Cornwall.
CB: But in Canada did you fly in a Battle in your training there?
AF: Yes. We did. We did flying in a Fairey Battle with a pilot in the cockpit and then you sat in the open cockpit at the back with the Vickers gas operated machine gun. But it was so cold and very often it was twenty and thirty below, and to fire your machine gun you had to jam it against the side of the fuselage with the rifle part sticking out over the side of the aircraft and you had, you fired the gun several times. That was to blew the interior to let it see, let it see that it had been fired. But what we were doing actually was using one, one case of, of machine gun bullets and when we thought we’d downed or blew the inside of the machine gun we held the rest. We knocked the spring off and held the rest over the side the fuselage and it spun all the bullets out into the River St Lawrence below because it was just too cold to aim.
CB: Yeah.
AF: And most of the pilots were either Polish or foreign. Foreign people who hardly understood us but they were flying us so we had to be nice to them. And when we’d finished unloading all the bullets we crawled up the interior of the fuselage and tapped the pilot on the left shoulder. That was the only way you could talk. He had no intercom at all. And they knew right away that that tap meant back home, land, breakfast or dinner, what was on and that was it.
CB: How did they tell you about your scores in your practice?
AF: Oh. It was all a bit ridiculous really. This is my logbook. It’s got everything in there that I did. And in the back couple of pages is the programme and proficiency assessments. Here we are, sir. Oops sorry. That’s it.
CB: Ok. But it didn’t last very long in Canada.
AF: Well, once we’d gone through all the manoeuvres and the air to air firing and air to, there would be a Fairey Battle would tow like a long stocking.
CB: A drogue.
AF: A drogue. And you had to wait until he passed you because obviously one or two got excited and started firing at the plane. Which didn’t help a lot, you know but [laughs] it was all in good, good sport. No doubt about that.
CB: How much damage did the planes get?
AF: No. Well, we had several talkings to. Let’s put it that way. What not to do and it was meant what not to do was to fire at that bleeding plane. ‘The drogue’s what you fire at, you bloody fool. You’ll never become an air gunner,’ you know. But you did. They needed them too badly. But that’s true that is. Yeah. I would have placed him in the same spot as the bloke who said I was wrong at Derby Baths [laughs] But they did their best. Everybody did their best then.
CB: So when you then returned as you said you went to the OTU.
AF: That’s right.
CB: And what did you do at the OTU?
AF: That was —
CB: At Lichfield.
AF: That was, to start off we did nothing else but circuits and bumps. And this was to get the pilot familiarised with his crew and what they’d got to do because you had, we had to sit at our positions. Mind you we only had six in the crew because they had no mid-upper turrets then. Those came later. But we had mock ups and we used to run around outside on the grass with people with rifles. And the runners were taking model aircraft of quite some size and we had to run with those so that the ones with rifles could work out what the lead was ahead of the flying aircraft. But they did their best. They did their best. That’s about all you can say. Because they were, this was done in groups of sort of thirty or forty. You know. And you didn’t get, have your bomb aimers with you or the pilots. They were away doing other courses. But it all came together in the end. We were all re-joined again and made into aircrew.
CB: But at the, at the OTU you formed the crew.
AF: That’s right.
CB: How did you do that?
AF: At the, we were told to go to the big lounge in the officer’s mess and we were given a pen, a pencil and paper and we sat around in chairs. We had a chat with people. They made us cups of tea. Who did you like? Who didn’t you like? Who treated you well? And who, blah blah blah. But the whole idea was for you to form a crew of six on your own which you did.
CB: Yeah.
AF: And you could always be told that for any reason at all you could leave the six at any time as long as you gave a specific reason. You know. But nobody did. Everybody stuck with who they’d got. And then we had the same number of crew forwarded in a few days time. And they were the engineers because we were going on to four engine aircraft and they would be needed, engineers to balance out petrol and all that when you were flying.
CB: This was going to the Heavy Conversion Unit.
AF: Heavy. That’s right. Yeah.
CB: So where was that?
AF: Blyton? I think. I think that name sort of sticks somehow or other.
CB: Ok.
AF: But we only stopped there a week. That was all. Just to get the crew together and to get the engineer to balance his petrol flows and everything else which was rather important.
CB: So you’re on a four engine aeroplane now. What is it?
AF: A Lancaster.
CB: Right. Ok. How did you like that?
AF: Thought it was great. Well, I did. Of course you had to stay in your positions. You had to take everything very seriously but as long as you could aim and use your turret. And you got your fair share of orange juice in the little tins. They used to freeze as well when you went on ops but you weren’t told about that. Bloody orange juice. You had to get it open with the cocking lever to a machine gun inverted and one hand on top of it and the other put the orangeade on the, well the orange juice on your knee and keep hitting it. When you got through you found the bleeding stuff was frozen. We had our disappointments as well but that’s true that is. Yeah. Yes. I had my eyes freeze up once. The wireless operator, Bobby Brockbank on instructions from the pilot had to come down, open my turret, rear turret, lay me down flat and put his heating gloves on my face because they’d had, we’d had instructions that they were going to take Perspex out of the turrets so they wouldn’t get dirtied. The surface of the turret. But they never thought about the wind bringing the bloody rain in on us. We used, we used to get soaked. And my eyes actually froze up where I couldn’t open them and I couldn’t speak properly. As though everything was frozen. Started to change our minds a bit then but once you got back home people talked you out of things. But it was scary that was. When you couldn’t see. What bleeding good’s an air gunner if you can’t see? Phew. It annoyed me I can tell you. But that was true that was. That was true.
CB: So, from Blyton, from the HCU, you went to 100 Squadron. Where was 100 Squadron stationed?
AF: White Waltham. Near Grimsby.
CB: Waltham.
AF: Waltham. Yeah. That’ll do.
CB: Yeah.
AF: When we’d done eighteen trips and believe it or not at eighteen operational flights in 1943, when you’d done eighteen trips you were experienced. There was Berlins. There was Colognes. There was Essens. There was all sorts of famous German towns that we must have caused awful wreckage at, you know. But it had to be done. It wasn’t a game and that was the end of that sort of thing. You went and you hoped to come back. That’s what we called our plane at [pause] what was the name of 100 Squadron? Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
AF: At Waltham.
CB: At Waltham. Yeah.
AF: Yeah. We’d go. We’d come back after the famous radio funny man.
CB: Oh, Lord Haw Haw.
AF: Hmmn?
CB: Lord Haw Haw.
AF: No. No. No. He was English.
CB: Oh, funny man. Right.
AF: Yeah. Funny man. A comedian. We go. We come back. He was talking to the natives of course.
CB: Right. Yeah. Yeah.
AF: But that’s what we called our aircraft. Oh, and I hope you don’t mind but when we did our first operational flight to Paris to drop the paperwork. The —
CB: The leaflets.
AF: It was to talk the Germans in Paris out of fighting the war. But of course that was useless but that was part of our training that was.
CB: Yeah.
AF: And there was a front bulkhead door which meant to say if the wireless operator, Bobby had to get in to the front turret there was a big door. Must have been like that and like that that was held by two locks. And that’s, the air gunner if he was going to do an air gunner job in the front turret he had to be locked in that because the air was so great coming through if it was open that the, the Wellington used to take the attitude of a, of a Whitley. And that was a nose down flight. They reckon there was that many Whitleys got away with it because the Germans aimed ahead of the apparent motion and they were firing here and the Whitley was flying above them if you like to think of it that way. And that broke away from its moorings. That bulkhead door broke away. We couldn’t even fasten it. We’d got nothing to fasten it with. There was two locks this side and hinges that side and it was the hinges that broke through constant use. And we just had to sort of sit and wonder you know what it was all about really. Nothing you could do about it but they soon repaired it. Didn’t destroy it.
CB: With —
AF: That was part of the other story.
CB: Yes. That’s ok. So you said with 100 Squadron after eighteen trips.
AF: After eighteen.
CB: What was the significance of eighteen trips?
AF: Well, we had to, we joined three more crews from four more Squadrons and we formed 625 Squadron with those extra men. Well, they weren’t extra. They were extra to the Squadron that was being formed. We thought it was quite an honour because now we’d got different mates and different people but we had psychologists and psychiatrists come along and taught us. Talk to us about how we felt about doing operations and losses and all that business. And they asked us not to make too strong friends of any of the other crews but to make friends of our own crew. Look upon them as brothers and all that. I thought it a load of cobblers but they tried it out and the idea was that you weren’t [pause] you weren’t affected, or you shouldn’t be affected by the loss of other aircrew. It’s your own aircrew you had to stand by sort of thing. Some enjoyed it and some disliked it but it was up to them. But I suppose to a certain extent it had to work because they didn’t want too many moaners. But we formed 625. And what happened then, we had Stan [pause] We had the navigator. I can give you his first name. I can’t think of his second. He lived, he lived in Lincoln. His father worked in the steel works. Course the one thing that people disliked but they were shot out in their hundreds I believe by the aircrew and that was a telegram. And of course Stan Cunningham. Stan Cunningham, he sent his laundry on a regular basis home to his mother in Lincoln because we weren’t far from Lincoln at Grimsby. And she used to send them back in about four or five days ironed and pressed and aired and great. None, none the rest of us bothered. We tried to wash our stuff or fancied a pretty WAAF and get her to do the washing if you could [laughs] I was lucky at times. Very nice. Dizzy, the WAAF hairdresser was allowed in the men’s area for cutting hair. She was the Squadron hairdresser, you know. A lovely girl as well. But you couldn’t do much about it. One of them things. Just get your hair cut and get out of it. A shame. Are you alright? Good. And we did, we were told by the, the weather people that when we came back that night, we were going to Stettin which was farther east then Berlin. So it was a long trip and a cold trip too because it was I think it was October, November, December, one of them months. And unfortunately Stan got hit in his little navigator’s cubicle and lost part of his, his leg. So of course we pressed on sort of thing and dropped our bombs but we remembered what the Met people had told us. And the, one of the Met men told the skipper, he said, ‘When you leave the French Coast,’ he said, ‘Lose height because you’ll be able to tell when you hit England just what the weather is like. See in the distance.’ And it was all the searchlights that were set up because every Squadron had its own searchlight pattern and you could see it for miles away and you headed for it because you wanted to get down. But [pause] I don’t know what. Oh, it got to the point where poor Stan was losing a lot of blood and we couldn’t do much about it because he’d lost the thick part of the left leg. And the skipper said to call up Mayday. He said, ‘It’s the last request but call up Mayday and let’s get Stan somewhere where he can get some treatment.’ We called up and we happened to be in [pause] there was thick fog. We called up Mayday. Mayday. Mayday. All the time until it got answered and we only, ‘We got you. We’ve got you on our — ‘
CB: On the radar.
AF: Hmmn?
CB: On the radar.
AF: Yes. ‘We’ve got you on the radar.’ On the H2S. Whatever it was, ‘And we’ll get, get you directed to us. And we’re also equipped with FIDO.’ Now, FIDO was the —
CB: Fog clearing system.
AF: Fog clearing system. Yeah. And we saw them. We more or less saw the FIDO switched on. And it sort of cut a long piece of cake out of the fog. And the skipper nipped in very very quickly and got the wireless op to call up that we had wounded aboard. One wounded aboard. Because we were quite lucky, you know. Over the trips. And we landed and the moment we landed they switched the flames off because all the flame burners were down each runway and they could switch them on. But we landed and I helped get Stan to the, helped carry him. We had to lay him out. We had no stretcher. We had to lay him out on a board of some sort we’d got and put him in the ambulance. And I heard from him sixty years later [laughs]
CB: How did that come about?
AF: Well, it was me that was dilatory. You’d think with flying with a brother that you’d want to know how he got on. But the world was moving on. We had to get another navigator. But we didn’t use him because they screened us to become instructors. So we lost that navigator and I had six months at Waterbeach where we had a demob centre of our own. And they were flying Liberators from Waterbeach to India. To aerodromes there where they were picking up I think it was fifteen or sixteen early army troops and they were bringing them to Waterbeach and they were demobbing them there. They’d got their clothes and everything. And we had our dip as well. The pilot used to leave us his carton of rations which had got sweets in and cigarettes and matches and all that. But at Waterbeach there was an officer by the name of Lancaster. You’ve got to remember his name, haven’t you? We were flying them. And also we was there at the time of my marriage to my wife. No. A year after my marriage to my wife. And she was due for demob because she was pregnant which I’m proud to say was all my doing [laughs] But a posting came through while I was getting married on D-Day. June the 6th ’44. With all the family and everything else at a, a white wedding at a church in Yardley, Birmingham. And when the marriage was over, was done and all that business we went all outside talking in groups. My father came to me and he said, ‘They’ve invaded son. You should be alright now.’ I said, ‘Well, it aint won yet, dad. Let’s face it,’ you know. ‘We’ve still got to fight them.’ He said, ‘Oh, well, yeah. I know.’ But he’d been demobbed out of the Army because his health wasn’t right. But Jean and I had a very nice honeymoon at the Lygon Arms, Broadway which was paid for by some Lord or other. Good luck to him. But this Lancaster unknownst to me was put in charge of the gunnery section because lieutenant Mussey was on leave. I was away. And so there was only a couple of instructors and this Lancaster. Unknownst to me he filled a form in for an air gunner to go back and he put my name down while I was enjoying my wedding. Well, of course when it came through the next time it should have been for Lancaster because he’d been away eighteen months. But it wasn’t. It was Farr for some unknown reason. I made no complaint because I was posted within two days and there’s quite enough to do when you’ve got to go somewhere else. I’d got to go to 460 Squadron, Binbrook and take my part there as an air gunner in a Lancaster. But I was only to do twenty trips. That was, that was the score then. Thirty and twenty. But why I put my name down, if a bloke was frightened and Lancaster was frightened to death then he’s a liability to his crew. And the only way they’ll find out is when they get in the aircraft. So I thought, ‘Well, I can do it. I’m strong enough.’ So I did. Mother and dad was upset, ‘Thought you’d done enough, son,’ and all that lark but there we are. My wife done her nut. But I had to do twenty more trips. Yeah. They said Farr was a devil for bloody punishment. They weren’t far wrong either because we were helping Pathfinder force on some occasions at Binbrook. Because Binbrook was Group Squadron. 1 Group Squadron. And we were always in sort of [pause] one of the things they did on us, I think it was the third or fifth trip, I forget now. There were too many trips. But they had fitted a small light to our Lanc and we were to fly it across the target, where ever it was, with this little light on. Well, of course a moving light at about twelve thousand feet is very obvious, isn’t it? And so we got plastered left right and bloody centre by the anti-aircraft fire. They knew very well we were going to bomb that place because we were attracting the attention of the anti- aircraft fire. That’s to deflect attention off the Pathfinder force.
CB: Oh right.
AF: But they soon stopped it because of losses. So, we were alright at Binbrook, 460. But it was still 1 Group and we were still flying Lancs. And I only had to do twenty because I’d done thirty. Well, leading up to thirty. So nobody said a word. But we had a haunting, haunting bloody trip. We went to Stettin. It was our seventeenth or eighteenth trip. We were flying a normal Lancaster. We were happy enough as a crew. But just as the bomb, the bomb aimer was about to open the turret doors the bomb, bombing doors where all the bombs were laid ready to drop the aircraft we were flying reared up like a stallion. Like on its hind legs. Just, just as it was. And then its nose dropped and down we went. Of course you’ve got to the right of the pilot’s seat a wheel and it’s called a trimming wheel. And that is connected to small ailerons on the wings and on the fin and rudder and on the tailplane. That’s the same. No, it isn’t. The tailplane’s the flat one. The fin and rudder’s the upright. It was connected by, it was connected to a smaller aileron on the bigger ailerons. And the whole idea was that if you went into a dive a Lancaster with its bomb load on or without its bomb load on was too heavy for one person to pull out of a dive. But if you got somebody standing by you who could slowly turn this wheel which was connected to the ailerons and the ailerons would move very slowly and they in turn would take the pressure off all the other moving parts and the skipper would be able to pull the aircraft out of the dive. But Stan was in a bad way. And we landed and we watched three of these big hefty sort of house building machines push the Lanc off the runway. Oh no. I’m sorry. I always get stuck on this part [pause] We made it and we shouldn’t have made it. We made it back to our aerodrome. 460 Squadron, Binbrook. I’m sorry.
Other: That’s alright.
AF: I’ve gone all wrong there.
Other: Yeah. From Stettin.
AF: Hmmn?
Other: From Stettin you came back.
AF: We came back all the way from Stettin.
Other: Even though she’d reared up and then gone into a dive.
AF: That’s right. Fortunately he had the bomb aimer there with him to ease the aircraft out of its dive.
Other: The wheel.
AF: That’s right.
Other: Yeah.
AF: With the wheel. And drew. We went over the target and the bomb aimer dropped the bombs. You can put your fingers through holes and pull away the hook. Bomb doors were open so we dropped our bombs because they were a bigger liability than anything else in the world there at the time. Turned around and we were at about six or eight thousand feet and of course [pause] we don’t know what had hit us but something burst into flame on our starboard side. We went into a dive so we were soon away from it. Then the skipper got her out of the dive, pulled her level and said, ‘We’d better have a look around our areas and see what damage had been done.’ If you can see it at all because you’ll find it all underneath. Another plane had hit us head on [laughs] it’s not, it’s not believable.
Other: A glancing blow.
CB: How did you know that? How did you know it had hit you head on?
AF: Because —
CB: The bomb aimer told you, did he?
AF: No. No. No. This thing on fire passed us on the right hand side but he must have hit us about three foot below our eye level because it skidded along the fuselage and then burst into flame and exploded. And that was it. His petrol went up. But it, I cannot tell it quick enough but that’s how it happened. It was all over and the next thing we know we were flying straight and level again at about six thousand feet because the wheel had worked. On the —
CB: What height was the collision?
AF: Oh, I don’t know.
CB: Roughly.
AF: May I read you a little, it’s only a small story because you had to put, we had put we had to put everything down but it might be in that. I don’t think so. “Operation Stettin. Collision with — “ [pause] I’ve got Lanc with a question mark behind it. “Ten miles before target area. Considerable damage to own aircraft. Carried on to bomb at twelve thousand feet.” There you are. There’s your thousand. Twelve thousand feet. We were on our way home and it was slowly getting light. We were in the air nine and three quarter hours. Nine hours and thirty five minutes. Skipper awarded Distinguished Flying Cross and [pause] no. We didn’t land with fog help. That was another trip. This trip, flying back from Stettin as soon as we cleared the English coast we went into Mayday. Mayday. All the time. Mayday. Until we were — no. No. No. Forget that. I’m sorry. But that that doesn’t apply to the raid on Stettin at all.
CB: I’ll tell you what. We’ll stop just for a mo.
AF: Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: Right. We’re just reconvening now about the Stettin situation.
AF: Yeah.
CB: Because it was a serious event obviously and unexpected. So what was happening? You were ready on the run in to Stettin.
AF: Yes. Yes. And the fighter must have been coming away from Stettin and suddenly I think it was as big a surprise to the fighter as it was to us because a normal way for a fighter to attack a plane is to have a curve of pursuit attack. Which is the way they are trained. But he can’t do a curve of pursuit from head on.
CB: So what, what so this aircraft came on head on at you?
AF: Well, no.
CB: Is that what you’re saying?
AF: You see, we didn’t even know that.
CB: No.
AF: All we know is suddenly our aircraft reared up to the point where it almost became impossible to fly because the pilot would have been on his back. And then suddenly this, this explosion to our starboard so that’s that plane done with. And then we went straight into a dive. And it’s impossible that you can stand on your feet when you’re in a Lanc that’s diving but the bomb aimer dropped all his bombs and his, his —
CB: So, he regained control of the aircraft.
AF: That’s right. And we were at twelve thousand feet. We lost about eight.
CB: So when you dropped the bombs you were low.
AF: Oh yes. We were low for a Lancaster.
CB: Right.
AF: And —
CB: And you were flying by then.
AF: And they all went. Yes. We were flying level.
CB: On how many engines?
AF: Two.
CB: Right.
AF: The outer engines. But I wondered sitting in the mid-upper turret. I mean I should have seen something. I mean it must have come as close as I am to you. The pilot of that. Because there’s only one in a single engine plane. And even then that’s guesswork. But forget that. Suddenly your plane is flying again normally and the engineer is going mad trying to balance his petrol up because if it maintained, keep his petrol from the two inner engines he’s got that spare to fly on the outers you see. Now, I’ve got to think. I’ve got to think Stettin. We didn’t come across any other aircraft. We were able to maintain our way back home. The [pause] this is, this is chronicled by the way in the RAF 460 Squadron thing in the —
CB: Is it? Good. Right. So we can pick that up there.
AF: Yes.
Other: So coming back now.
AF: That’s right.
Other: To Britain.
AF: Yeah.
Other: Do you do you call Mayday? Because you’re on two engines —
AF: No. No. No
Other: No. That’s where you mixed it up with the other one.
AF: There was a discussion amongst the crew. We were only doing a very low —
Other: Speed.
AF: low speed. That’s obvious because he was trying to maintain, keep whatever petrol he’d got.
Other: Yeah.
AF: For the later journey.
Other: Yeah.
AF: Because you’ve got to travel the full width of France.
Other: Yeah.
AF: If we’re over Stettin.
Other: Yeah.
AF: We’ve got all that.
CB: The width of Germany. Yes.
AF: All the width to the coast. See. But anyhow we were over France in daylight and we could not understand. Not any of us. Couldn’t understand why nobody came up to poke their nose in. They just left us.
Other: Very nice.
AF: If, if anybody had have come up they must have seen that the damage was horrendous. But we couldn’t see it could we? There was no way we could get out of the aircraft and have a look around. So we just left it like that and kept our fingers crossed. And we made it. And this is hardly believable. We made it back to our squadron. Sigh of relief. Sigh of relief. We wanted to hug everybody, you know. They stopped us from landing because they said, ‘You’ll damage your [unclear] will land and it will put the aerodrome out of commission altogether. It’ll no doubt crash. So will you please use the emergency crash ‘drome at Carnaby,’ which is in Scotland, see. We’d had no petrol for an hour. Well, of course it’s not registering on all the dials because the petrol is being used up. But anyhow, we had to say alright because they refused us entry and we went to Carnaby and its five runways. Bigger than all the other runways we’d ever seen and its different surfaces to land on. We picked the middle one and its right from the sea. They said, when we got on to control at Carnaby, they said, ‘There’s no other aircraft in the vicinity. You can go out to sea as far as you like and come in as slow as you like.’ And we didn’t know what he was trying to tell us at all but they didn’t like the look of it. You know. Anyhow, we had a chat together because we could all link up with the intercom on the plane and the skipper said, ‘I’m going to go out to sea again. I’m going to come in as slow as I possibly can,’ and he said, he looked at the bomb aimer and he said, ‘I want you to have your face pressed against the starboard window in the cockpit. You others can look through the small windows there are,’ down each side of the fuselage in the Lanc, ‘And you can tell the skipper anything you want that is useful. But for God’s sake no idle chatter,’ he said, ‘ Because what I’m going to try and do, I’m going to try and put the weight of the aircraft, and the wheels down if they’re working. If they’re not working then I’ve got to think again but we’ve got to get the wheels down and locked. So you get your faces against the little windows and my gunner, engineer will see about what petrol we’ve got and if we’re alright.’ And we came back in again then on to the middle runway. I don’t know what surface it was but he came in with the tail down. The port wheel, it, it was swinging and it came forward and it locked at an angle. The starboard wheel was just swinging. So that was going to be the trouble. The right hand one. So the skipper said to the bomb aimer, ‘Keep your eye on that starboard wheel, he said, ‘’m going to bring it in in any case. I’m bringing it in as slow as I can and as low as I can and the moment it touches the earth I’m going to pull the joystick back and put the weight on it.’ He said, ‘That’s all I can do,’ You know, ‘God bless you all and thank you very much.’ And we had to take up our crash positions either side of the main spar and look through the little windows and sure enough the right hand wheel was flapping. But suddenly the plane lurched and it come down and the wheel snapped, locked. The right hand wheel. [laughs] I see it now.
Other: Yeah.
AF: I can see it now. Locked. I thought thank God for that. We pulled up [pause] A wagon came out to pick us up as members of a crew. And there is on board the plane, on a chute behind the navigator’s little hut if you like, there’s a seven million candle power photoflash that goes out the chute of its own accord. Activated by the first bomb. So that travels down to the height where the bomb explodes and the photoflash is set off at the same time so that they get exactly where the bombs have landed.
Other: Right.
AF: And the plane pulled to a standstill and the skipper said, ‘I want you all out as quick as you can. The plane may explode.’ We don’t know what might happen after this. And so we all hurtled out. And the photoflash had been shook loose by the collision and had started its travel down the chute to go out with the first bomb. But instead of that the plane had hit it so it must have been under the aircraft. The German fighter had hit it and bent it in to the Lancaster like a screw into wood. Yeah. That was, you know a five hundred pound bomb going off on its own. We had a look around. Oh. Now then. I’ve missed a lump out here. Oh. I’m sorry. But I’d said to the skipper after the collision and we’d dropped the bombs, ‘I’m going to remain in the mid-upper skipper because I can see more from there than anybody else.’ ‘Alright, son. Do what you like as long as you’re helping.’ So I waited in that plane and I said to the crew about half an hour later, I give it time to settle, I said to the crew, ‘It looks like the port fin and rudder,’ and they’re like elongated eggs on a Lancaster, I said, ‘It looks like it’s badly damaged and its starting to move.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry about this but it’s true.’ I said, ‘So, wherever you are get your parachute close to you so at least you can get out of the aircraft,’ I said, and, ‘I’ll stop here. I’ll just keep my eye on that fin and rudder.’ As it grew lighter the fin and rudder wasn’t moving. But the plane had grazed its way down our fuselage and released loads and loads of this white metal and that had wrapped itself around the fin and rudder. And it was that that was shaking. So I called up the crew. I said, ‘The fin and rudder appears to be safe but I don’t know. But it won’t stand a lot of shaking about I can tell you that,’ I said, ‘But I’ve got to tell you because you need your parachutes with you.’ You know. I said, ‘I’m going to get mine now it’s got lighter. We can see we’ve got a plane.’ As I went to jump down from the half turret of the mid-upper gunner I felt somebody hammering on this part of the leg because I’m sitting on sort of, this is part of the dustbin and the guns are here. So I looked down. I could see out there and it’s the wireless operator again. Bobby Brockbank. And he’s going like this to me, up. Eyes. So I leant right over and looked down [laughs] and there was no plane. The H2S equipment which is bigger than that table, far bigger and like a pear shape, that had been thrown against the rear turret of the rear gunner. So, of course we thought about him then. So I said to, I motioned to Bobby. I said, move out of the way and I was able to climb down the fuselage inside because it was all long lengths of metal. So I got down and we moved all that junk from behind the rear gunner so that he could get out and have his, drink his orange juice if he wanted to. But what we did then is we sat ourselves in the, in the spaces where the main spar is joined to the fuselage. We had four of us in there in holds. So that was better. And then yeah what a fool. What a bloody idiot. We had this, this bloke we were nearing the coast and you could see fog and we called up Mayday. Mayday. Mayday continually all the time. And finally they called us back and said, ‘If you go on to — ’ [pause] oh what do they call them? Bloody. ‘If you go, if you go on route — ’ such and such, ‘You’ll hit our aerodrome and you’ll see the fog lights are on. You can land. There’s no other plane about.’ And we did this and landed straightaway. He put the aircraft down plonk and the wheels shot forward [laughs] you know. How do you look at it? It’s nothing else but pure bloody marvellous. You know. We did a little dance. At least we were flying still. We landed, pulled up, and immediately they sent three of these bulldozers out to push the aircraft off the spot where we had landed to all, there was all crashed aircraft there. Piles of them. They sent a van out for us. None of us were hurt which is remarkable in itself. We were ferried back. Carnaby back to Binbrook. Twenty five minutes. That’s how far it was. So we were so lucky. It doesn’t bear thinking of. When I called up that lovely crew and told them about the strips of, not the strips, no that the fin and rudder was shaking. I honestly thought it was shaking. I wasn’t trying to enlarge upon our dilemma. That, that was all that thin strips of metalised stuff. You know. And to see the photoflash turned around and bedded in to the side of the aircraft. It was near miraculous it didn’t go off because it was supposed to go off. You know. And what do you do?
CB: Extraordinary.
AF: Did a little, oh and underneath the mid-upper turret where I was sitting you could see daylight straight through the fuselage [laughs] and I’m not building the story up. You know.
CB: So when you were first hit and the aircraft reared up what went through your mind?
AF: Well, I thought for a moment that, that the pilot had had a heart attack or fainted as some did and he’s, he wasn’t driving straight. You know. What do you do? What do you think of? You see all, all your relatives and hope that they’re all alright but you think to yourself don’t start thinking about them. Nothing to do with it. Mind you we were Stettin away from England which was a good two and a half to three hours flying at the speed we were going. So I thought to myself at the time I wish Lancaster had been here. Naughty. But there we are.
CB: We’ll just take a break there. Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: We talked, you talked a bit earlier about the navigator getting his leg, Stan. Wounded.
AF: That’s right.
CB: So how, first of all how did he become wounded? What happened exactly?
AF: Anti-aircraft fire.
CB: Right.
AF: Coming through the fuselage.
CB: Right. So it was shrapnel.
AF: Shrapnel.
CB: Which took out a good section of his leg.
AF: Actually took it away.
CB: Yes. So then coming to the nearer time. Sixty years later what happened?
AF: The phone went. ‘Is that Allan Farr?’ I said, ‘Yes, it is. Who’s that?’ He said, ‘It’s Stan. Your lovely navigator. What are you doing this time of the morning?’ I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. I’d always expected him to have a very, very, very dicey leg and even to be in a chair and wheeled about you know. And I thought to myself then and he said, ‘Are you still there?’ I said, ‘Yes. I’m in shock you silly cow. I’m in shock [pause] Have you got any hobbies?’ He said, ‘Yes. My wife and I go fell walking.’
[telephone ringing]
AF: [laughs] Fell walking.
Other: [laughs] Without a leg.
CB: Amazing.
Other: Yeah.
CB: So, what did you say to that?
AF: I burst into tears.
CB: Oh, did you?
AF: He said, ‘You aint crying are you?’ I said, ‘Stan, thank goodness. Oh.’ I said, ‘The number of times I’ve been going to write to the RAF section which would look after anybody who, you know.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I’m, I’ve got a job. I’m still working. I’m doing electrical stuff but only, only on paper,’ you know. ‘And I’m married. I’ve got a lovely wife.’ I said, ‘Well, you know this is great.’ And I was still crying. Funny isn’t it?
CB: Did you get to meet him?
AF: Yes. We went up to Lincoln. Stayed two nights. And really it was so very, very nice just to see him come in a room. Funny walk but he wasn’t putting it on.
CB: So what was his side of the story?
AF: Pardon?
CB: What was his side of the story that he told you? So after he’d been wounded what did he tell you had happened?
AF: He was put straight into an ambulance. And that was the aerodrome that had got the —
Other: FIDO.
AF: FIDO. That’s right. FIDO. The fog dispersal thing. And he got his old job back. But we went and saw him. We enjoyed their company. They enjoyed ours. We got talking about different things. We didn’t go again because it upset me too much to see him.
CB: But as a curiosity what about his wound? How did he describe —
AF: Well —
CB: How that had been dealt with?
AF: You have, you carry, I think it’s a half a dozen in the medical pack which is by the, in the, by the bomb aimer’s compartment. And they’re a tube like that with a very, very long spidery point. And what you have to do is, and it wasn’t me that did it. I don’t think I could have done. Now, who could it be? It could have been the bomb aimer [Noel Macer]. It couldn’t have been the skipper because he couldn’t leave his seat. But what it is you break the top off and it leaves a very jagged long sharp thing which now of course is laudanum or something coming out. And you stick that in the wound. I don’t know if I got it right. But I had to look away. I mean I’m a big brave bloody air gunner.
CB: It’s morphine is it?
AF: Hmmn?
CB: It’s morphine.
AF: Morphine. That’s right. Yeah. But dear Stan. He was a lovely fella. He was. I said to him, ‘You’re nearly good enough to be an air gunner.’ [laughs]
CB: We’ll stop there again.
AF: Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: So in an aircraft we’re talking about here the Lancaster there’s a mid-upper gunner and there’s a rear gunner. Now, you did some time as a rear gunner but in this case you were sitting in the mid-upper.
AF: Yeah. I was.
CB: So what was the situation there?
AF: When I went on my second tour it was the mid-upper gunner that needed to be replaced so you take that position. You can’t mess about. Or if in the case of Stan they almost immediately put another gunner [pause] No. Put another navigator into his place so that the plane could still keep flying.
CB: Yes.
AF: Because I did, I think four or five more trips after that. Then I left the crew. Went around and shook all their hands. And one of them spat in my face. He said, ‘You could have stayed.’
CB: Gee.
AF: Because they get used to you. They get to trust you.
CB: It was that emotional was it? He felt, what did he feel to make him do that?
AF: Well, he felt the lack of a good gunner.
CB: So what did he say when he spat in the face, in your face?
AF: Well, ‘You can piss off as far as I’m concerned.’
CB: That dramatic.
AF: Well —
CB: Because you —
AF: They get to rely upon you.
CB: But you are all the family aren’t you?
AF: That’s right.
CB: You are a family.
AF: Yes. You see, even, even the plane is, I think it’s M for Mother isn’t it? Yes. M for Mother. Look. See. We go. We come back. You’re frightened of death but you don’t want it to happen to you. But where’s the logic in that?
CB: So you said that the specific training, for separate training —
AF: No.
CB: For the different positions.
AF: I have seen, a briefing is when all the crews of the Lancasters and we could put forty two up from Binbrook. You, when you attended briefing up on the dais was the commanding officer to tell you why this was taking place, what the target was, how they, possibly to do with a target. You know, what they’ve got to do. Other things that they wanted other planes to do. Really it was to keep you in tune with any equipment that was going to be used as well. I mean [pause] you weren’t allowed to go wild. You were supposed to respect the villagers but what used to upset me more than anything else there was an area where the villagers from Binbrook, because there’s a village of Binbrook come to wish you well by waving flags or anything they’d got that’s colourful. Scarves. And of course as the aircraft came on to the take-off area you were on solid ground. You’d come off the grass. And as the engines revved up you’d see the flags going quicker and quicker you know. And then you’d take off and they vanish out of sight. But again you find you’re crying. You don’t basically want to go. Who wants to take that job over anyhow? I wish I could see that bleeding sergeant major now sometimes [laughs] I’d make him pay for something. I don’t know. But all sorts of fears came at you. I don’t know. Yes.
CB: On how many occasions did fighters attack the planes you were flying in?
AF: I think, I think my limit was four. You see the only way a fighter can properly bring down a bomber is by the curve of pursuit attack. That’s drummed into you time and time again. They don’t make head on attacks. They did out east where the Japanese planes often just flew in the way they’d been trained. In straight lines. Which made it easier actually to sort of kill them off. But it was always a curve of pursuit and he couldn’t have been attacking us because that would have been the silliest way to commit suicide. I mean to ram yourself into a Lancaster. It don’t bear thinking of does it?
CB: No. So on occasions when the planes did attack, other than that one how many times did you shoot at them?
AF: Oh. You see. The psychiatrist told us. They said, ‘The Germans don’t want to die any more than you gentlemen want to die.’ He said. ‘So if they’re making an attack on you, you can be well prepared that they will fly away from you because they’ve had enough if only it’s you see if it’s only seconds.’ So they didn’t do much to help you. These psychiatric people. Whatever the names are. But in fact you had, you had a flying operation which were supposed to take you away from aircraft that were trying to knock you out of the sky. And that, that was if you had to, you had to identify your aircraft because if an aircraft has a thirty foot wingspan which is a fighter normally then you can’t hit him. You won’t hit him unless you open fire at six hundred yards. Then you stand a chance of hitting him. Or setting him on fire. Some of the blokes tried to get, some of our blokes tried to get maps of different German aircraft because what you were looking for was the oxygen bottle. If you could hit that you’d blow his head off because it would just disintegrate the plane you see. You haven’t got time to even look three times at the plane to work out whether it’s an ME109 or a Focke Wulf 190 or —
CB: And it’s in the dark.
AF: Hmmn?
CB: And you’re in the dark.
AF: Well, oh yes. Yes. I was put in front of the CO by the warrant officer in charge of the armoury. And he said he’d put me in front of the commanding officer because I’d, I’d not denied anything, I’d agreed with what he said but he, this is what he said to the commanding officer, ‘This man continually loads ammunition into his four guns in the rear turret. He loads them in an explosive, a cupronickel. Anything that’s not cupronickel, he’ll use again.’ He said, ‘He uses exploding bullets, incendiary bullets, different sorts of bullets, bar cupronickel which is supposed to use, sir. And it’s bending, the heat from some of them is bending the barrel.’ And the CO says, ‘Well, you’re entitled to have your say, Mr Farr. What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m trying to get the one that’s trying to get me.’ I said, ‘It’s only own back sir. That’s all.’ I said, ‘If I can get this bastard with an exploding bullet I’ll use it.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘Stay out of the armoury. That’s an order. And that’s the order that’s going into the, into your record. So let’s have no more of it. You’ll treat this gentleman with respect and accept what he’s done to your guns. That’s what his job is. So don’t make it silly.’ I said, ‘Alright. Thank you very much.’ But that’s, that’s what I was doing. Putting incendiaries in. Anything that exploded. And of course didn’t do very well at it.
CB: How many did you shoot down in the end?
AF: Hmmn?
CB: How many did you shoot down in the end?
AF: No. No. No. You couldn’t. To claim a kill you’d got to have either confirmation from the French Resistance. They have got to see, actually see the battle take place and to see the wreckage. Now, who can do that? It really, it was to stop handing out lots and lots of medals I suppose.
CB: Now, in your case you did two tours.
AF: Yeah.
CB: And you had a distinguished flying medal.
AF: That’s right.
CB: So at what point was that awarded and what was the accolade that they attached to it?
AF: Um.
CB: So what did they do? On a time base or based on some experiences.
AF: No. They just, and they give a reason for it.
CB: That’s what I thought.
AF: It’s amongst some of these somewhere.
CB: Ok. We’ll have a look in a minute. So when did you get it?
AF: Oh. I got it in, I think it was January or February of ’45.
CB: Right.
AF: And I finished my last trip in October ’44.
CB: Yes.
AF: So obviously they were deliberating over it for some time. But also of course these things were really of no monetary value except for the, the twenty pound they slide to you. Which was good money in them days because we only got, I think it was eight and a six or eleven shillings a day flying pay. See. So you didn’t become an air gunner for the money [laughs] Give us a kiss and shut up.
CB: Did all the crew get the same flying pay?
AF: Oh yes. Yes. I think the pilot and the navigator were a higher, a higher grade because they had to shovel. They had to shoulder more responsibility. Their courses were really courses to make you sit up. Especially a navigator. You know. I was down as a wireless operator. A w/op ag. Wireless operator and air gunner. I soon crossed off the wireless operator off. I wasn’t sitting down at some poor lady’s diner at Blackpool where some of the crews who were training as wireless operator/air gunners were asking people to pass the sauce in code. That aint me. Tapping it out on the vinegar de de dit da da. Dit dit. They can stick that.
CB: Did you get any training in signal?
AF: Wireless.
CB: Yeah. In wireless.
AF: Yes. Oh yes. But I am not that technical. I just am not with it.
CB: No.
AF: You know. In fact, Mr Pretherick at St Benedict’s Road School. Friday afternoons we used to leave class at half past four. But he used to say, ‘Put all your books away. Happiness is about to descend upon you.’ Lovely teacher. He really was. He said, ‘I’m going to throw a question to the room and as soon as, if you answer it right you can go. But don’t hang about in the corridors.’ Half an hour later there would be him and me. He said, ‘Farr, we’re in the same bloody position again.’ Excuse the language. He said, ‘But why are you having this difficulty with just putting four or five numbers together and totalling it up?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, sir,’ I said, ‘I do try very hard. I do really. Can I go now?’ He said, ‘No. You aint answered your question.’ [laughs] He was as cute as me, I think. Yeah.
CB: So you finished in October ’44 on ops.
AF: Yes.
CB: What did you do after that?
AF: I was posted. I was sent down to Waterbeach where they were demobbing the first Army soldiers from Mauripur, India. And they were flying them back in Liberators. Fifteen or sixteen at a time. Big aircraft but they could only fit sling seats in them. And that’s all they could sort of fit in. And I was partly to do with that. I had to drive a little jeep around with, “Follow Me,” on the back in lights. That’s so that when they landed and got to the end of the runway control would tell them to hang fire. ‘Just keep your props going. The inners will do. We’ll send a jeep out to you to take out the demob centre which is the other side of the airfield.’ And they were whistled straight over to this demob centre and three or four days they were out because they had to do all this sort of thing. Obviously. What have you been doing sort of thing. And everything else, you know.
CB: But that was at the end of the war wasn’t it?
AF: Oh yes.
CB: So you went to, according to your logbook you went to 12 OTU after you finished at 460 Squadron. Did you? What did you do there?
AF: Can I have a look?
CB: Yeah. It’s on the summary at the back page.
AF: Oh yes. 12 OTU. Here.
CB: That was all ground work was it?
AF: Oh yes. The 2nd of October.
CB: 26th of October.
AF: It’s alright. No.
CB: ’44.
AF: Do you want to leave it there a moment?
CB: Yeah [pause] Yes. 26th of October it says.
AF: Yeah. I’m looking for my —
CB: Your glasses? What?
AF: No. I mean. Ah, that’s what I want.
CB: But you ended up, you stopped your flying by the look of it at —
AF: Oh yes.
CB: After 460 Squadron.
AF: Yeah. Yes. That was the end. Well, after I’d done forty odd trips they put that as a limit. And they wouldn’t let you go.
CB: No.
AF: I mean, we’ve had, we’ve had crews go off and get halfway to the target and they’ve discovered, ordinary, one of the —
CB: An airman in the —
AF: Yeah. Airmen in the Lanc.
CB: In the aircraft. Yeah.
AF: Yeah. He wanted to go for the experience of seeing what a raid was like [laughs] I mean, you’ve got to look after him. What could you do?
CB: Just keep going.
AF: Well, that’s right.
CB: Yeah.
AF: Just keep on going. Yeah. But I’m just wondering what it says here.
CB: It’s back on Wellington on the listing. But in here you haven’t got an entry.
AF: No.
CB: So it sounds as though you didn’t do flying from then on.
AF: 12. No. Obviously. No. I would presume that I gave them a blank.
CB: Yeah.
AF: There’s eight months work there.
CB: Thinking back across, of the war. What would you think was the most disturbing part of your experience?
AF: Seeing what it looked like from the air when hundreds and hundreds of houses were burning. Which is upsetting. You know. You can imagine what’s taking place down there. People screaming. People trying to get out of rubble and rubbish. Stuff that’s burning. A terrible thing really. But that’s what used to worry me was the condition of some of the towns. Well, you must have seen photographs of the towns afterwards.
CB: Absolutely.
AF: With just, well, it’s like a lot of vacant blind people walking about. A great thing. A great pity. You couldn’t get up an anger. I never found that easy. But it happened. When I was —
CB: Couldn’t get up an anger of what do you mean?
AF: An anger that it was all happening at all.
CB: Oh right.
AF: Not at Waterbeach. These books are never right. You skived off as much as you could. Although I enjoyed, I enjoyed instructing on aircraft recognition. But there again I’d been doing it as a hobby at eight. And they force you to look at aeroplane models when you’re twenty one or twenty you don’t mind.
CB: What was the high part of, for you in the war? The best thing that happened to you in the war.
AF: The only, the only thing that I can think of, sir with any honesty is when my leave came around and I could see my parents and my girl, then my wife. Same girl.
CB: Yeah.
AF: But didn’t have a lot of money. Never have had.
CB: It must have been difficult to keep in touch with her because she was posted to different places.
AF: Well, she was in a, she was in a [pause] they’d all got bikes so they could cycle where they’d got to go to. You could tell the pluck they’d got. But she was repairing aircraft. Wellingtons of course were made in a [pause] made in a linen which is then doped when it is on the frame of the aircraft. It’s doped and it tightens up so that it gives you a skin which will, a linen is very strong. And that’s what was used on Wellingtons to keep them flying. Because there’s no doubt it. They were useful aircraft for training. But that’s what she was doing.
CB: I’m just going to stop.
Other: Wonderful.
[recording paused]
AF: Just be glad you weren’t an air gunner.
CB: Yes.
AF: In all respects.
Other: You know.
CB: So, Alan Farr, thank you very much indeed for a most interesting conversation.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Alan Avery Farr,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 12, 2024,

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