Interview with Thomas Fisher

Title

Interview with Thomas Fisher

Description

Thomas Fisher trained initially as a fitter in the RAF. When the Air Ministry announced that flight engineers were needed from the ranks of the ground mechanics he volunteered for training. The CO was surprised that he volunteered and asked him if it was only because he wanted to fly. If so he should apply to train as a pilot. Thomas didn’t have a school certificate but the CO encouraged his application anyway and Thomas began training. He enjoyed the flying but not having to do emergency manoeuvres. Initially, Thomas was working as a fitter for 92 Squadron at RAF Digby on Spitfires. He then was posted to 417 Squadron at RAF Charmy Down. He then was posted to 14 Group Headquarters at Inverness. He joined Bomber Command as a bomb aimer and was prepared to join Tiger Force.

Creator

Date

2017-07-26

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

02:04:40 audio recording

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Contributor

Identifier

AFisherT170726, PFisherT1701

Transcription

GT: Ok. This is a official interview of Mr Thomas Fisher and we are just outside of Dumfries in Scotland and it is the 26th of July 2017. Your interviewer is Glen Turner from the 75 Squadron Association and accredited IBCC interviewer, and also present is Thomas Fisher’s daughter Julia McLennan and a traveling friend here of Glen’s, Diana Harrington from Middlesborough. So, Thomas, can you give us, your opening piece of information would be where you were born, your date of birth and where you grew up, please.
TF: Yes. I was, I was born on December the 7th 1922 in Sunderland and I grew up in that, in that town.
GT: And where did you go to school?
TF: In Sunderland.
GT: And did you complete High School or —
TF: I, well, I [laughs] I passed the 11 Plus to go to Grammar School which I did do but unfortunately, I, my parents said I had to leave school when I was fourteen which was rather a bit of a blow because, and a surprise because my father had already signed a form to say I would stay until I was at least sixteen. But they sort of said they needed the money and so I left school and got a, got a job. I worked in an office for a while and then I became an apprentice painter and decorator. I worked at that until I was, until I was eighteen and that was when I decided that I would join the Air Force.
GT: Had the war been going long at that time or did you join before the war?
TF: No. The war had been on since the end of ’39. End of ’40. It would have been going on for a bit over a year during which time we’d have been, it had just been a series of disasters. You know, the Dunkirk evacuation and lots of bombing. I must admit I was getting a bit fed up with hearing the siren going at 3 o’clock or so in the morning and expected to get up and go to an air raid shelter. But, but fortunately that was the only time that I was subjected to bombing was before I joined the Air Force. I was much safer when I was in the Air Force [laughs] I was never at an airfield that was attacked at all and, and well to be quite frank I had one horrible time when I picked up the local newspaper and the corner was folded over of the heading and I could just see the letters “tain” said, “We must surrender.” And I took that as Britain says we must surrender. I was absolutely horrified at the thought. I just stood and stared at that for a bit and then I bent down and picked it up and the corner flipped over back. And it wasn’t Britain. It was Pétain, the French Prime Minister. And that was, I think that was one of the times that I sort of definitely thought the Air Force seems to be the only thing that’s doing anything at the moment so, and also I’m getting a bit fed up with them coming over and dropping bombs on us so we might as well go and do the same to them.
GT: So, you were seventeen years old at that time.
TF: At that time. Ah huh.
GT: And you mentioned that yourself and was it your family that were involved with German raids over Sunderland?
TF: Yes.
GT: And were you attacked, did the Germans manage to bomb your area? Your street, or house?
TF: They actually did later, at a later date when I was in the Air Force they did actually bomb the house.
GT: Did you lose any family from that?
TF: I, I got, I was stationed in the Air Force at Inverness and I got a message to go and see the adjutant and when I did he said, ‘I’ve got some bad news. Your house has been bombed. But there’s no, no one’s been hurt.’ So that was alright and they were very good. They immediately gave me a railway warrant and sent me on leave to see if I could do anything to help.
GT: Ok. So, let’s then just go back slightly to your reasons for joining the Royal Air Force and and how you managed to achieve that for me please.
TF: Well, the reason. Yes.
[telephone ringing]
TF: I would say the reason was —
GT: Ok. Hang on. I’ll tell you what. We’ll just pause that.
[recording paused]
[clock chiming]
GT: Ok, Thomas. Can, can you please tell me why you joined the Royal Air Force and when and how?
TF: Yes. Well, I joined in nineteen, at the beginning of 1941. And the reason why was I got a bit fed up with getting bombed by German planes coming over in horrible times. Middle of the night getting it Not that I expected I was going to make any difference but I just felt I would like to do something to make up for all the bombing that was going on and so I visited a recruiting office and said, ‘I’ve joined the Air Force.’
GT: So you were saying that you lived or grew up in Sunderland but there was no recruiting office there. You had to go somewhere else.
TF: No. No recruiting office.
GT: Where was the recruiting office that you went to then?
TF: It was at Newcastle on Tyne which was about twelve mile away. But, and so I went through there and joined the Air Force and, and I think I was put on what they called deferred service for about two months and then eventually went down to Blackpool where we got kitted out. Well, it was rather pleasant in a way because it wasn’t an Air Force station as such. We just lived in hotels. There’s hundreds of small hotels in Blackpool and there would probably be about six of us because they were nearly all geared up with double beds you see and of course we all had one each. So if they had six rooms it normally meant there would be twelve people staying but there was only six of us sort of like. We got good meals and then went out and got our uniforms and got kitted up with a whole pile of stuff. We were all given a kit bag and moved along a line and someone would say, What size shoes do you take?’ ‘What size shirt do you, what’s your collar size?’ And such like and you’d just keep dropping things in and we took, with laden kit bags went back to our hotel and were told to pay after, after lunch with our uniform on. And, and someone came and checked over to see if everybody fitted reasonably well and then we started doing basic training with a lot of PT and marching along the promenade, running around the sands like a lot of lunatics with rifles and bayonets. And, and then in the fullness of time we, I was there about a month and then went down to Number 4 School of Technical Training.
GT: Now, Thomas, now Thomas earlier you were telling me when you initially went to the Recruiting Office what they recruiter did to give you your future job. Can you, can you tell me that again please? What happened when you went to the Recruiting Office.
TF: Well, when I offered to be a flight mechanic he said, ‘Not so fast. We’ll have to see if you’re suitable for training.’ And, and then started to give me what I’d say with good grace here was a bit of mental arithmetic. Just wanted to know whether I could add up and I wasn’t completely illiterate and, and then and said I was quite suitable for training. So that’s why I ended up at Number 4 School of Technical Training at St Athan in South Wales.
GT: And how long were you there for and what did, what did they train you on?
TF: They trained [laughs] they trained us on all sorts of old pieces of aircraft. I don’t think there was a complete plane. Actually, when I was [unclear] was when I went to start the training someone came in to [laughs] in to my classroom one day and said, ‘Would there be any chance that there’s a sign writer here?’ So I said, ‘Yes.’ So he said, ‘Well, could you come through so that I’ll show you what we’d like you to do?’ And they wanted me to do some small lettering on a sort of board you see and said, ‘Well, the problem is I don’t know when you’re going to be able to do it. You can’t miss any of your course and you certainly can’t be expected to give your spare time because you’ll not have enough. You’ll be spending more of your spare time studying anyhow so would you mind missing PT? So I said, ‘Well, if it’s for the good of the Air Force I’ll miss PT.’ And so, when everyone else went to do PT in the middle of the morning I used to just go and spend a bit of time in there and in reality waited ‘til the tea van came around and had a cup of tea and a bun or something while everybody else was doing PT. But most of the things were very old pieces of aircraft. Just an engine here and there and we, I don’t ever recollect seeing an aircraft with an engine in to do anything. But however, we had our tests and we passed out as a flight mechanic engine. You had the choice of being either engine or air frame. If you were air frame you were usually referred to as a rigger and if you were an engine you were usually referred to as a fitter.
GT: So that was your choice. You were given a choice to be a rigger or an engines.
TF: Yes. A rigger or a fitter. One looked after the airframe and one looked after the engine.
GT: So how many was on your course when you went through there?
TF: I would think possibly about twenty or twenty four. Maybe two dozen.
GT: Did, did you lose anybody? Did they drop out or move on?
TF: I honestly couldn’t remember but I don’t think so.
GT: And the tests you did at the end there was it written or did you have to prove yourself on the machinery?
TF: Well, I think it was mainly written but it was also taken into consideration your work that you’d done during that time. One of the things I remember which seemed a complete waste of time was trying to find a piece of metal as a cube to fit into a square hole. And I could never for the life of me, never could think what that was going to have to do with an aircraft was spending hours and hours filing away to get a perfect fit.
GT: So during that time at St Athan then your barracks you were in were you twenty men to a room? Did you have bed packs? Did you have spit and polish shoes? Did you have marching?
TF: No. We didn’t have marching but we were expected to spend one evening cleaning the room and leaving everything neat and tidy for the COs inspection the following day. That was once a week.
GT: No stand by your beds inspection?
TF: I don’t recollect that. No.
GT: Interesting.
TF: On the whole, yeah it was reasonably comfortable and beds, we did have, we did all have a sort of a little fitted wardrobe each to put clothing and things in and, and then at the end of that time we were given two weeks leave.
GT: So how long was a course for, Tom?
TF: Well, I think it would be about sixteen weeks. I went in, I think it would probably be the 1st of May when I went in and it would be October when I passed out and that would have been a week at, a month at Blackpool and the rest of the time at St Athan. And I was given two weeks leave and, with instructions to report to Number 92 Squadron at Gravesend. So, I thought from Gravesend being at the, on the Thames Estuary I thought it was going to be a very busy station with getting fighters and bombers going. But however [laughs] when I got down to Gravesend, they said, ‘Oh, 92 Squadron. They’re not here.’ So, I went, ‘I’ve trailed all the way. Come all the way from one end of the country to the other.’ ‘No.’ He said, ‘They’re not here. I don’t know where they are.’ And I thought surely you must know. But then when I thought about it later I thought, well no. You didn’t give information like that away. They were just, suddenly the squadron would just go and they wouldn’t say where they were going. So, I was told to, I was shown where I could have a bed for the night, where to go and get a meal, ‘And after breakfast in the morning if you come back here I’ll have found out where 92 Squadron are and give you a railway warrant again and you can go join them.’ So when I went back he said, ‘Well, they’re in Lincoln at an airfield called Digby. So, I then took all my kit, got a bus in to London and then the train up to Lincoln and then on to, to Digby.
GT: So you were still eighteen years old at this time.
TF: At that time. Yes.
GT: And you got to Digby ok and what aircraft did they have when you first arrived?
TF: Spitfires. And, and it was actually in a way a little bit of an exciting time because obviously there was no television but we did see news regularly. News came on the radio. Everybody was glued to the radio for the 9 o’clock news and you kept hearing about, particularly during the Battle of Britain how they’d shot such a lot of German planes down and such like which later we discovered was great exaggeration. There were never anywhere near that number shot down. However, you saw the, the squadrons taking off and looked across and you saw, I saw great big bell outside the crew room and the notice up, chalked on a blackboard. “When you hear this bell you will run like hell.” And so when you, when somebody pokes their head out of the door and shouts, ‘92 Squadron, five minutes readiness.’ And the pilots then all knew that whatever they were doing would have to be dropped in five and be off in the plane and away. And then we would come out, possibly come out when it was time to go and ring this great big bell and we would dash down and unplug the, well wait ‘til the pilots got the planes started, unplug the starter batteries out and wave them out because a Spitfire a pilot can’t see where he’s going if he’s looking ahead because of the little wheel at the back on the ground. And if that lifts up the propeller’s going to hit the ground and twists so you sort of slowly guide them out and then they’re away and you see the whole squadrons flying off to somewhere and you know, you feel, well I’ve had some little part in this. And then when they come back they were immediately refuelled and every morning they were checked over completely to be ready for the next time.
GT: So, what Mark of Spitfire was flying on that squadron at that time?
TF: I don’t honestly remember. I just do know that they weren’t fitting with cannon. They were definitely just the eight gun and, but they were three bladed propellers. I gather some of the early ones were only two but later they were four. But I’m not sure what the number was.
GT: That’s fine. So, so when you got to Digby did they have everybody put into barracks again? Or did you have single billets or —
TF: No. It was a pre-war station and they were, it were quite good because there were a block. A big block of building and A Flight would have one side and B Flight another and the downstairs would be, we were all split into two watches because you had to cover every, complete daylight so sometimes it could be from what? 5 o’clock in the morning until 11 o’clock at night. And so obviously we were split in to two. Two watches. And one watch would have one room and there would probably be about twelve or twenty people in the room. But they were brick built and pre-war, centrally heated and incorporated on the landings. There were bathrooms and things. They were reasonably comfortable.
GT: So, you chose rigger as your trade.
TF: No. Fitter.
GT: You went fitter. So, from the engines that you had to work on at St Athan you arrived on the squadron and you were given Merlins to look after.
TF: Merlins, ah huh.
GT: So, did you learn your skill on how to maintain a Merlin directly there on the squadron? Was that a quick learning session for you?
TF: Well, what we trained on at St Athan were Kestrels which were really very similar to a Merlin but only very, nowhere near the power. But I suppose we must have just picked a lot up as we went along really. And I was there for a relatively short time and then for some reason or other I got posted to 417 Squadron.
GT: And what time, what date was that then, Tom? How long did you spend at Digby?
TF: That would be [pause] October. Just before Christmas. It was probably end of November.
GT: So barely two months. Barely two months or so on 92.
TF: Ah huh.
GT: Right. So you went up to 417.
TF: 417.
GT: And where were they based?
TF: Charmy Down in Somerset. Near, very near Bath.
GT: And aircraft type?
TF: Spitfires.
GT: And how long were you there for?
TF: I was there quite a while and I was very surprised to find I was now in the Canadian Air Force. It was all four. All the Canadian squadrons were fours.
GT: And how did they, work out? The very —
TF: Well, it was, it was just being formed. It was a new squadron just being formed so the pilots were, had a lot of, a long way to go to get operational and they were all Canadian. And the ground staff, the fitters and riggers were mostly Canadian but I think they must have been a bit short and there was about a half dozen or so of British boys made their numbers up.
GT: Was the Battle of Britain still going at that time or had it finished?
TF: No. The Battle of Britain was over then.
GT: Ok. Just going back then. So, you were on 92 Squadron during the Battle of Britain.
TF: No. I was still after the Battle of Britain.
GT: That was still just after. Ok.
TF: The Battle of Britain was 1940.
GT: Alright.
TF: And that was 1941 when I went in.
GT: Was there still much German aircraft activity that the Spitfires were going up to meet at that time?
TF: Not a great lot. I think what had happened was the squadron had originally been at Gravesend and they were very busy. They were. And when they went up to Lincoln there was a little bit of a rest. They weren’t going to be quite so, so busy and while I was there we had a visit from the King who came up to inspect the squadron.
GT: What’s your recollections of meeting the King? Did you shake hands? Did he talk to you?
TF: No. My recollection is of being rather appalled at the idea of, we had to parade in front of the hangar in our best uniforms and shoes polished and such like and the announcement came over, ‘All personnel not on essential duties will line the roadway and cheer his majesty when he goes past.’ And I thought I’ve seen this on the newsreels and you used to think it was spontaneous but you were actually ordered to go out and cheer the King. [laughs] And the other recollection I have for him was that his face was absolutely plastered with makeup. He looked, almost looked as if he was trying to smile or do anything. Well, he had a little permanent half smile. If he tried not to it looked as if it would all crack or something. It was really thick. It may have looked fine on camera but it looked ridiculous when you were close to him. And so things weren’t all that busy at Digby when I was there but now as I say there were, there were just this Canadian squadron was just being formed. It was bitterly cold weather then but obviously got in thick and one of the things that surprised me was we used to have to put heaters in the planes to stop them freezing. I don’t know why because they always had ethylene glycol in the tank. Anti-freeze. But however, they had these heaters to go under the engine and another one under the cockpit and the fitters always looked after the heater. And one day I noticed on the notice board, it said, “In future the flight mechanics will not do any servicing to the catalytic heaters.” They will — “This will be carried out by a specialist.” And then a bit further down, “The specialist will be AC Fisher.” And I I don’t know one end of them from the other [laughs] I have no reason why I would know anything more about them but the following day someone came and collared me after I’d finished my breakfast and said, ‘I’m taking you to —’ I think it was to Colerne. Another Air Force station, ‘Where you are going to get a day’s instruction on catalytic heaters.’ So, I went there for a day and on the strength of that I, I was then inspecting them. But it was quite a good job because it was bitterly cold weather and when all the mechanics were bringing the heaters off the planes they were still quite warm so I had my little part quite, quite heated. So —
GT: Fascinating. Well, those Canadians should have been used to the cold weather, wouldn’t they?
TF: Well, yes. So, and then I was supposed to have them all ready for early evening to go back in having been checked over and refuelled and such like.
GT: So you became a bit of a specialist on the base then. Very good. So how long did you stay with 417 and where did you go from there?
TF: I stayed with 417, not very long. I stayed with them for I suppose getting [pause] we moved about, about the Easter of the following year up to a place in Scotland called Tain. But I always remember that because I’d been out and when I came in he sort of said, ‘Oh. We’re moving and you’re on the advanced party. You’ve got to leave tomorrow.’ And I said, ‘Well, where are we going?’ ‘I’ve never heard of it.’ But it was quite a journey up from, from Somerset up to the north of Scotland.
GT: So that was about Easter 1942.
TF: Ah huh.
GT: Be about there. And how long did it take to move the squadron up there?
TF: Well, quite a while in a way. We went up and funnily enough the weather was beautiful. We were sitting out most of the time waiting for the planes arriving and of course they were being flown up. And it was probably two or three days and then things just, were just continued there and then things started to change. We got issued with tropical uniforms and it was, the Canadian boys went on embarkation leave and one half at a time and then there’s the other half and it never occurred to me to query why we didn’t get any embarkation leave. But however, I just thought we were going. I had all the gear. The kit. And somebody came in one day and rattled a few names out and said, ‘You’ll not be going with the squadron. You’ll remain here and look after the planes and they are always to be available at about half an hour’s readiness.’ And so the squadron moved off to the Middle East and about half a dozen of us stayed behind and gave the planes a check over every day and ran the engines up to full boost and and there was nothing else to do. It was absolutely very boring. But luckily for me I came in to our hut one day and there were one of the boys looking really miserable and I thought he’d had bad news from home, and I said, ‘What’s wrong.’ He said, ‘I’ve been posted.’ I thought, oh, lucky you. ‘Where are, where are you going?’ He said, ‘I’m going to Inverness but I’m all by myself. I’ve got to go all by myself to Inverness.’ I thought, ‘What a dreadful thing to happen. Would you like me to go instead?’ He said, ‘Ahum.’ I said, ‘Well, look, let’s go to the orderly room and see if we can get it changed.’ So I went down. I said, ‘Was the posting by name or just for a flight mechanic?’ And he said, ‘Just for a flight mechanic.’ I said, ‘Can you change that name to T Fisher?’ And he said, ‘Yes, but mind you you’ve got to go in the morning.’ Everything in the Air Force was wanted to be done yesterday but then you do nothing for about six weeks and then again its a rush. And so I went down to Inverness and that was the best thing I ever did in the Air Force actually. I’d only been there a week or two when the, it was a tiny little station and it was 14 Group Headquarters Communication Flight and they called the station Longman. And I [pause] and then while I was there there was a notice came out and the CO called a little parade of flight mechanics. There would have been about possibly twelve of us altogether of riggers and fitters and he said, ‘I’ve got a communication from the Air Ministry and they would like flight mechanics to volunteer to become flight mechanic air gunners. So, ‘And if you would volunteer will you take a pace forward.’ So I duly took a pace forward and if I hadn’t the others took a pace back which would have left me standing at the front. And he said, ‘You’d better come and see me this afternoon.’ So I went to see him and he said, ‘What on earth made you want to be a flight mechanic air gunner? Is it because you wanted to fly?’ And to be quite frank I felt like saying if the Air Force hadn’t have such silly names for people calling people a pilot officer and he might never have, never a pilot at all and a flight mechanic that doesn’t fly.’ So, but however you don’t talk to COs like that so I said, ‘Yes. Because —’ He said, ‘Well, why on earth didn’t you join as a pilot?’ I said, ‘Well, the main reason is that the recruiting officer said flight mechanics were wanted more.’ I said, ‘But I also knew that pilots have to have a flying, had to have a school leaving certificate and I don’t have one.’ He said, ‘Well, that is true. You have to have a school leaving certificate but no one will ever ask to see it.’ So I thought oh, this is [pause] ‘So, in that case I’m recommending you for training as a pilot.’ So, in the fullness of time I, we got sent for to go down for a selection board which was held in Edinburgh. So I went down to Edinburgh. I was told to book myself in somewhere for a few days and I went down to Edinburgh and had this. And the first thing I noticed was we went in to a big room and there was a blackboard and somebody came in and whipped a cover off the blackboard and says, ‘You’ve got one hour to write an essay on the —’ And there was a choice of two or three subjects. So, I got that over and then there was a few tests like Morse aptitude test, another eyesight test, then a night vision test and then the next day had another paper handed out and it was a maths. An hour of maths. And at the end of all that there was an interview. Oh, no, after that there was a medical. And I thought that was when I was going to fail. We had to blow up a tube of mercury and I thought my lungs were going to burst and I just shut my eyes and blew and blew and blew and blew. And then I heard a voice say, ‘Alright, you’ve done it.’ And, ‘You’ve passed the aircrew medical and now you go for the Board.’ And we knew some of the questions you would automatically be asked about, ‘Why do you want to fly?’ And I was always amused because in the sort of Aircrew Association magazine that I used to get later people used to say what they’d always said to things but you knew full well they would never have said it. ‘Well, because if I’m got to go to war I’d like to do it sitting down.’ And so, another one, ‘Because you get more money.’ And so on. Anyhow, I knew neither of those would really have been what they said. So, I I said, ‘Why didn’t you join then?’ Well, I couldn’t very well say, ‘Because I don’t have a school leaving certificate.’ So I said, ‘Because I was told the flight mechanics were urgently needed.’ And so a few things and then the other thing that always puzzled me they set such a store on, ‘What sport did you play?’ So and for some reason we all knew that what they wanted to hear was that you played rugby. They didn’t want to hear you played Association Football. But as it happened I was never any good at any sports so I couldn’t. Netball, I would go the opposite way to what I wanted to go and I had never managed to bowl anybody out at cricket so I was absolutely no good. But however, I thought well, there’s no good saying that so I sort of said that, [pause] ‘Did you not play for your school?’ And I said [laughs] ‘No. The school I went to was in the middle of a large town. It had no playing fields.’ However, we did used to go to the swimming baths regularly and I said that I was also a very keen member of the Scouts Association Swimming Club which meant you could get in the baths for tuppence instead of three pence or something on certain nights. So that seemed to satisfy them. And, and then a few more questions and then I was told they would, I would be recommended but they explained that you no longer could you be a pilot. You had to agree to be a PNB which meant you would be a pilot, navigator or a bomb aimer but you all got the same pay and you all had exactly the same and you were all equally important. That was always stressed. And so I went back and just waited to be sent for again. And this was about three months must have elapsed before they sent for me so there was no urgency. And I went to Aircrew Reception Centre at London which I didn’t like at all. I never did care for, I never cared for London and that was the only thing I really remember about it was going for a long run through some of the London parks and to then, I thought that was the PT part. But no, you then started to stop in certain places and do exercises. And that night I was on fire watching which meant I was sleeping on the top bunk of a two decked bunk and only had to get up if there was, if the sirens had gone. Had to watch for where bombs had fallen. And when I leapt out of bed for my turn my legs just buckled up. I think with the unaccustomed exercise I couldn’t even stand [laughs] never mind run. It took me ages before I was able to walk again. And anyhow, I finished there and most people went up to Scarborough to do their ITW training but instead of going there I was sent to Cambridge and went to Pembroke College which was rather nice. I was quite pleased about that. And when we finished there we did an awful lot of law. Military. It’s Air Force law and administration. Civil law. And we did meteorology which is understandable and, but and then there was the exams at the end and, and then if you, you never knew who had passed and who hadn’t because if people hadn’t passed something they just were whisked away. You never saw them. You couldn’t see anything. Speak to them even. Anyhow, I then moved down to a little airfield called Sywell, near Nottingham and learned to fly on Tiger Moths which was quite, I thought that was great. To sit in a little plane and push the throttle forward to get more power and pull the stick back a bit and I’m actually flying now, you know. And that was fine for two or three days but then they started to have to do spins and loops and oh dear and I was just felt absolutely ill with that. Oh, I felt horrible. And anyhow, I stuck it out for the training and then the chief instructor gave us all test flight and he told me that he didn’t think I was going to be suitable for pilot training which I think I already knew [laughs] And so I I was then put down to be a bomb aimer. And from [pause] from there I went to Manchester but we didn’t do anything. It was just a question of waiting until we went out to Canada. And in the fullness of time I got on the Andes and it was quite a nice pleasant run and landed at, I think it was St Johns in Canada and went up to Nova Scotia. Not Nova Scotia. New Brunswick. And then eventually down to Ontario for a bombing and gunnery course. And I always remember the first time we flew. The pilot said, ‘It’s just a wind finding exercise, isn’t it?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Well, how about if we do it over Niagara Falls?’ Oh, I thought. That’s great. And, you know, that sort of thing. Gosh. I never ever thought I would be sitting here flying over Niagara Falls. And so, I finished there and then went on to Number 1 Air Observer’s School which was mainly for navigation and flew quite, trips out across the Great Lakes and navigated about Canada and quite, quite pleasant really. And it was much easier than doing it over here because there was no blackouts so if you saw a train going along with lights on you think well there should be a railway line near here. Well, yes that must be it. Where here there are so many trains you don’t know where you were going. And towns were all lit up so again that was good, everything was easy, quite pleasant and a plentiful supply of everything. And, and we used to spend most weekends going down to America. And so I was quite, quite happy time to be there. And eventually we finished training and the great day arrived when we could get our flying badge and it was quite a do. They assembled the whole, the whole of the station and the courses passing out which in this case was us would be in the middle and you would hear your name read out and we were all forever being told you put, you have your white flash very loose in your hat so it can be easily plucked out and you hear your name which in my case was Sergeant Fisher, Sunderland, England. And the next might be Sergeant Jones of Winnipeg, Canada. So we went and stepped forward and some air marshall picks out, plucks out the white flash and someone hands him a flying badge and pinned it in and then you give him a salute and walk away. And there was the band playing, and a marquees with a buffet meal laid out and they made quite a do of it.
GT: Was the course you were on, Tom was it a mixture of of English, Canadian, New Zealand, Australian? The people —
TF: Mostly when I was there they were about fifty fifty English and Canadian. I don’t think there was, I don’t know if there was any Australian although we did see, there were quite a few Australians waiting to go on courses when we were waiting at Manchester to go over to Canada. So, there were obviously some Australians would go.
GT: That was the Commonwealth Training Scheme.
TF: Yes.
GT: Because the majority of New Zealand and Australian aircrew went through that scheme before they headed off through to England. So it’s interesting to hear you actually went the other way to so this training scheme to go back to England. So, when you finished that training and you were given the half brevet of observer or bomb aimer.
TF: Ah huh.
GT: Which one?
TF: Well, it was really what we used to be called observer and that went out of fashion and bomb aimer, but bomb aimer had also become much more of a navigating. And when I went on to bombers they used to work in conjunction with the, we had a navigator and one of us would operate one radar set. I think I used to do the Gee and he used to do H2S and —
GT: So, for your time then in Canada how long did you spend overall and then what was the dates and year that you got back to England?
TF: I would say slightly less than a year overall there. A lot of that time was hanging about mind. When I was at Moncton we weren’t doing, we weren’t, it wasn’t, they were just waiting to go somewhere else. Then there was two weeks leave when I went to New York and then back to Moncton to wait for a ship to bring us back home again. So, the actual time was getting on for a year altogether.
GT: When you were in the USA what was the feeling like about the war and obviously they recognised you guys because you were all in our English RAF uniforms or did you change in to civilians and try to keep yourself —
TF: No. No. We always wore our uniforms and we didn’t have passports. It was quite sufficient to have your identity card in your pocket when they came around at the front of you. They would just look at that and went across. There was no bother. It was really quite pleasant actually because the Americans were really really good. It was not unusual to go in to a restaurant for a meal when you asked for the bill or as they would always call it the check, you would always get oh its been paid for. Or someone to come in the bar and produce a tray of drinks on your table and say, with the gentleman, ‘With the compliments of that gentleman in the corner.’ And yes. They thought we were marvellous you see. But —
GT: What were the American ladies like? Did you get to go out to the nightclubs or the —
TF: Yes.
GT: Dances. Dine and dances.
TF: Yes. No problem at all like. I always remember going to one and as soon as I got in this girl came up and said, ‘Are you with or without?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m without.’ She said, ‘With now.’[laughs]. But, oh yes, there was never any problem on that score.
GT: Because you know the Americans were over in England [laughs]
TF: Yes, I know, and I think we to a large extent were treated the same as the way they were. Only of course they had lots of goodies to give away and such like but there was no need for that anyhow in America. There was plenty of things. But yes they were. They were very very interested to know what we were doing. Oh, it was a sort of a wonderful time. I used to, it was only a Friday evening we used to get a train from Toronto down over the border to Detroit. And, and what really happened was a terrific contrast because in Canada you cannot get drinks other than coke. There was no, no bars you can’t get a drink in restaurants and its quite, quite strict on that score but you could just cross over the border. And even in Niagara in the American part there’s nightclubs and business going on all night. In the Canadian half it shuts down quite, no where to go drinking and things like that.
GT: So you were about twenty years old by this time.
TF: Ah huh.
GT: You had yet to have your twenty first to come. Right. And so, when you finished in Canada you were all put on another ship back to Britain.
TF: Yes.
GT: Was it part of a convoy or was the ship fast enough to avoid the U-boats?
TF: The ship, it wasn’t a convoy. None of them were in convoy. It was reckoned it would be fast enough but if by any chance it got torpedoed it would have been terrible because it was so crowded. It was a very big ship. The Mauretania and it was, oh, I was absolutely appalled when we went on and they gave us a hammock. I says, ‘Go to sleep in a hammock?’ And it’s and I realised afterwards we were lucky to have hammocks to sleep in. At least we were in the top half as well where there was a bit more air and such like. It was so crowded they could only give, there was plenty of food but they could only give us two meals a day because they just, you know there wasn’t the space. They couldn’t fit any more in to the dining rooms.
GT: So how long was that journey? Two weeks?
TF: No. About a week each way.
GT: Brilliant. So, when you got back to England what happened to you then?
TF: Well, they sent us up to Harrogate for, for a very short while and then we came home on leave for two weeks. I went back to Harrogate and we stayed there for a few, a few weeks again and then for some strange reason I went up to Whitley Bay to do what they called a survival course and it always puzzled me why I was picked. Nobody else on the course went with me. I just went up to Whitley Bay and I was a bit appalled actually because when I got there I was issued with khaki battledress and great thick heavy army boots and we spent a lot of time running about on, on the beach and the purpose really was to try and show us how we could survive on stuff you could find on beaches. Sort of, you know I think I’d rather just die than eat some of this stuff to be quite frank. But, and I always thought it was funny to think that we were marching around like a lot of little soldiers during the, during the day and in the evening we went back to our billets. We were in sort of houses in, not, they weren’t people living in them but the houses had been sort of commandeered and they were empty and they just put beds and a few tables and things in for us and we changed to our Air Force uniform and go down to a dance. And I often thought I wonder if people realised we were, and also of course we were very proud of our new flying badges but then again in the morning we were back again in to this khaki uniform. But I flatly refused to wear Army boots. But on the other hand it was a bit awkward because we still wore those funny little gators and there was a gap between the top of my shoes and the [laughs] and the gator. So if you ran through a stream your feet were absolutely soaking wet. But anyhow, it was only a short course and when that was finished of all places I came up here to Heathhall.
GT: And that was a posting that that you asked for or was it just something you were told to go to?
TF: It was just something we went to. It was called Number 10 Advanced Flying Unit. And it was flying Avro Ansons and it wasn’t bad. It was quite pleasant really. We used to fly over the Irish Sea and over to Ireland and the Isle of Man and such like and a lot of, a lot of little cross countries and such like and [laughs] I never thought at the time that I would be living so near to, to Heathhall.
GT: So, what year was this? What month and year? Can you remember?
TF: Oh, we’re getting on for ’44 now I would think.
GT: And what was your role to be doing at this with the Ansons? You were still training? Or did you teach others?
TF: Navigating. Navigating and [pause] mostly navigating but we did, did drop practice bombs and actually it was part of the targets, one of the targets we used was, is still visible through the, through the, you can see the base of it and usually I had a cross country flight and then come back and we’d go, go and drop bombs. Six bombs from different directions over. It was either there or Luce Bay and and I think that was mainly what we did here at Heathhall. And then from there I got posted up to Lossiemouth and that’s where we were told we would have to find, sort yourself out in to crews.
GT: Oh, what, what base was that at? Sorry you went to the Lossiemouth base.
TF: Lossiemouth.
GT: Ok.
TF: Ah huh. It was an Operational Training Unit.
GT: Ok.
TF: I think we were number 20 OTU and, and we were in a way sort of lucky there because we were told we would have to form crews and from what I’d understood with most people the whole collection of aircrew was put in to a hangar and told to, ‘Sort yourselves in to crews and if you haven’t formed yourselves in to crews in an hour we’ll just come and put you in.’ But we were told to sort yourselves out in to crews and you’ve got a week to get that done. So just get to know each other in the bar, in the mess and get, get to know each other and and see what happens. And the second day over there I was [unclear] I was going to have a drink before the lunch break and there was a flying officer and a flight sergeant came in and they came straight across to me and one said, ‘Oh, I’m John and this is Eric. Eric’s my navigator and we would like you to join us as bomb aimer.’ And I thought well he’s a flying officer. That’s not bad. He must have some experience. So I readily agreed and I discovered afterwards that why he had had experience they’d kept him on as an instructor. So I felt quite confident we’d got a good pilot.
GT: Yeah.
TF: And then during that time we collected a rear gunner and a wireless operator and that meant five of us in the crew and we were now on Wellingtons and but [pause] And then after a little while the, for some strange reason again we were posted down to Moreton in Marsh and we were now told we were going to join Tiger Force.
GT: Now, you earlier mentioned it was 1944. So, by this time when did you get posted to 20 OTU in Lossiemouth?
TF: I was posted to 20 OTU in Lossiemouth and then from Lossiemouth posted to 21 OTU at Moreton in Marsh.
GT: But what year was that please, Tom?
TF: Oh, we were getting on for ’45 then, I guess.
GT: So you spent quite a bit of time training within the UK once you got back from Canada.
TF: Ah huh.
GT: On the Ansons, wasn’t it? I was just thinking back to the time you spent down here training on the Ansons. So how long did you spend on bomb aimer training with the Anson aircraft?
TF: The Bomb aimer training at?
GT: With the Ansons you were, you were bombing off of here somewhere. So —
TF: At here they were Ansons, ah huh.
GT: There’s quite a few months for you doing that.
TF: Probably, I don’t think it was a long time, probably about four months.
GT: And that took you in to early 1945. Wow.
TF: It would be getting on for that. Around that time. Ah huh.
GT: So, you, you were aware at the time with your crew that the war was closing. It was coming to an end.
TF: I don’t think we were actually. I don’t think we were. I don’t think. I don’t think we knew very much beyond our own immediate little —
GT: Right.
TF: No. I don’t think. We’d heard obviously you heard on the radios, news reels and you saw newsreels in cinema but I don’t think we were actually aware that it was getting so near finishing.
GT: Because it’s a long time to be spending doing your training when —
TF: It is an awful long time. Yes. But of course. there was such an awful long time of waiting in between. Sort of from Pembroke College, Cambridge to Flying School was straight off but then Flying School to going out to Canada to do really the next part of your training there was about three four maybe six weeks in Manchester. A week on the ship and two or three weeks at Moncton in Canada. All we always kept doing something but there was nothing to do with our, with training. It wasn’t until we got down to the Bombing and Gunnery School that you started to realise it and you also realised these were the only places they were giving us any tests at the end to make sure you’d, you got through. The others were just filling time in.
GT: So, when you crewed up at 20 OTU Lossiemouth did you do any flying there or did you go straight down south?
TF: I don’t recollect doing much in the way of flying Lossiemouth. I think we went down to, to Moreton in Marsh.
GT: That was 21 OTU.
TF: 21 OTU. Yes.
GT: Ok. So, and you did flying time there then.
TF: Yes. We did quite, oh we did a lot of flying time there and it made you wonder what we’d all been trained for first because now all the methods that we’d been doing were hardly used because there there was radar and you had a new type of bombsight. The Mark 14. The old one you used to have to watch for your target coming up between two wires and it looked like a really primitive thing. It was, it looked a bit like a compass and then an arm sticking out and you had to just search for the, find the target. Yes. I think. Give the pilot instructions. ‘Left. Left.’ Which incidentally if you wanted him to go to the left it was always, ‘Left. Left.’ And if it was right it was always just, ‘Right.’ So if he heard two he would know it was left. And gave him instructions and always one that, don’t do any last minute corrections because a bomb will always go in the direction the plane’s going. So if he’s moving to the left the bomb will just go over to the left and not to where you wanted it to go. And so yes it was [pause] but now we had a thing, which just shone across on the ground. And you just had to direct the pilot to get so that that cross went, the long arm went up over the target and when he reached the cross piece that was when you pressed the button and it released a bomb.
GT: So was it, ‘Bombs gone.’ ‘Bombs away.’
TF: Oh, ‘Bombs gone, yes.’
GT: ‘Bombs gone, skipper’
TF: But yes, it was usually something like we do sort of working out in your settings and wind speeds and all that and then said, ‘Bomb doors open.’ Because the pilot would open the bomb doors and then you would then say, ‘Number one and two selected and fused, nose and tail. Because if you dropped a bomb before it’s fused it doesn’t explode. Or so they say [laughs] I wouldn’t know.
GT: So, with the arming of your weapons you had a selection panel to choose and you already knew what bomb load you had. Is that correct?
TF: Well, you would. Yes. Because it’s got to be, it’s better if it goes out evenly and not all at one side first when it’s fused and you always had to select and fuse and then you —
GT: So those fuse setting that you, you then set the bombs before you released them was that given to you as part of your briefing before. Before you were to leave for an operation or was that something you chose when you were there for the, during the flight. The fuse settings for the bombs where did they come from?
TF: They were put on by the armourer.
GT: Yeah.
TF: And —
GT: So you knew the fuse settings before you took off.
TF: Well, it was just a switch.
GT: Good. Ok.
TF: And, and apparently we would [give them away] was because they would be left hanging on the thing. If there were little things left hanging on the bomb rack they would drop them without the fuses being set.
GT: Right. So that, that’s your arming wire which is selected to the, to the micro switch on the aircraft. So, you set the micro switches to hold the arming wire. As the bomb fell away wire came out of, out of the nose fuse and allowed the spinning propeller to arm the fuse of the bomb. Yeah. Good stuff. Ok. So, so Tom then once you moved down to 21 OTU that must have been pretty much near the end of the war.
TF: It would be because it was when you say 21 OTU. When we finished, we finished our training on 21 OTU and then we moved up to I think it was 16 I can recall 1630 or 1830 Heavy Conversion Unit.
GT: And what aircraft did you convert from the Wellington to that?
TF: From the Wellington to the Lancaster.
GT: Lancaster Mark 4 or Mark 3s generally. The Merlin engine.
TF: Merlin engines. Yes. Four Merlin engines which lots of people blame for having hearing aids in later life but —
GT: That’s a point to ask you, Tom. For your hearing protection. You didn’t have any hearing protection.
TF: Didn’t have any at all. And it wasn’t just in the, in the, in with four Merlins in the Lancaster but running the Spitfires up on the ground to maximum boost. There were no other. It can’t have done the ears any good at all. But to go back to Lancasters we’d now collected two more in the crew making it up to seven. A flight engineer and a mid-upper gunner.
GT: And, and that was and at what base were you at, Tom?
TF: North Luffenham.
GT: North Luffenham. So, now, now the war had finished you mentioned Tiger Force early on.
TF: Yeah.
GT: So, can, I know what Tiger Force was. Can you describe to me what you knew of Tiger Force at that time?
TF: Well, I just knew that we were going to go to Japan and I also know, quite vividly remember being to keep, we were going to have a little capsule of some sort of poison sewn in our, in the collar of our battle dress. We were told that if you get shot down the choice is yours. You can either be taken prisoner or you can bite the end of your battle dress off and take that.
GT: Cyanide probably.
TF: It was poison. Yes.
GT: Ok. So you were training on, on the Lancasters at this time. Had the atomic bombs been dropped?
TF: No.
GT: No. Ok, so you were, with this training in Tiger Force did they mention the Lincoln bombers to come?
TF: I’d heard of them. I didn’t know what they were but, particularly what they were though but I did read afterwards that the British government and the American government had come to an agreement that we would send out Tiger Force which would consist of twenty squadrons of Lancasters plus 1830 Heavy Conversion Unit. Why that I don’t know but that was what we were on so we knew full well we were going to, to go out.
GT: There was quite a numerous amount of squadrons of Mosquitoes to go as well I understand from the Tiger Force —
TF: I would think. I would think so because the Mosquito was a fantastic aeroplane.
GT: Certainly. So, they actually stated to you you were going to be going to Japan or bombing Japan.
TF: Well, I suppose we’d be bombing Japan first, isn’t it? No. There were, one or two places were mentioned but I don’t think it was officially. Officially mentioned.
GT: So how many flights did you do then in preparation for that? Because VE Day had happened.
TF: VE day had happened. Yes. And it sort of quite regular really. I might also mention earlier on when we were on OTU on Wellingtons that one night there was somebody extra seemed to get in. Come on wearing a flying suit so you couldn’t see what he was or what his rank was but he was an extra person came along that night. And the following morning we found we were no longer had a radio operator in the crew. [pause] He’d, he’d been taken out and that was the Air Force way of doing things. You know, no chance to say cheerio or anything. It was just [pause] I’m assuming that he wasn’t up to scratch and he just disappeared and later in the day we just got a new one.
GT: Did you have any, any idea that some of your crew members were unhappy or couldn’t take the strain? Or —
TF: No. No idea at all.
GT: And at this time you had done no overseas operational bombing —
TF: No.
GT: Sorties at that time.
TF: No.
GT: Because —
TF: No, it was very shortly, we’d only been crewed up and flying for two or three times. That apparently is the RAF way of doing it. I think they thought it might be bad for morale. They just —
GT: Were you made aware at the time of LMF? Lack of moral fibre.
TF: Of any —
GT: Lack of moral fibre. Were you aware of that term?
TF: Not an awful lot. I think I heard more of it afterwards. I think it was a disgusting thing. We knew of its existence but I suppose you always adopted the attitude of well it wouldn’t happen to me, would it?
GT: But you were a volunteer. All of you blokes were volunteers. Right?
TF: Yes.
GT: And they still treated you quite badly at that.
TF: It was, it was dreadful.
GT: Someone couldn’t keep it going. Ok. I’m assuming then that your navigator was, was removed from flying status because of his supposed lack of moral fibre and the way you described it. Would that be fair?
TF: Well, I think it possibly, could be that he was. Just wasn’t efficient enough with his, it was the radio operator. I think it could be just that he wasn’t in it. But I don’t know whether [unclear] would have anything to do with it but I did know that he was only member I knew in the aircrew that was married.
GT: Ok. Maybe he was removed so the war was finishing and they only wanted single, single men.
TF: It could be.
GT: Yeah.
TF: But there was no reason given. It’s just he flew with us one night and then we never saw him again.
GT: Right. So, when you did your training through on OTU and then on the HCU did you do any practice bomb dropping from the Wellingtons and then the Lancasters?
TF: Just practice.
GT: Just practice. Yeah. And how many hours have you accrued then for daylight and night time. Can you remember the flying hours you had done?
TF: It wasn’t a great lot.
GT: Now, Wellington. The Heavy Conversion Unit at that time is that pretty much where you much finished because you didn’t go to Lancaster Finishing School at all?
TF: No. That was one of the things that always puzzled me. Why didn’t we go to a Lancaster Finishing School like other people? But I realised afterwards it was because we did all of it on Lancasters. The others that went to Lancaster Finishing School went on to Stirlings and Halifaxes and then just did a short time on Lancasters but we did the whole of Heavy Conversion on Lancasters.
GT: Intriguing because most of the LFS Schools, Number 3 at Feltwell, for instance most of the 75 Squadron aircrew that I’ve talked with and seen their logbooks they only did four flights. Four to five flights in one week from a Stirling and then straight on to Lancaster. So, so you did, you did the full, that’s huge. Ok. So then, then came VJ day for you guys.
TF: Ah huh.
GT: And did flying pretty much cease because you were preparing for Tiger Force to get going to the Japan region.
TF: Well, that was to say rather strange. What happened in my case was just before VJ Day I was told I had to go and see the CO. And I went to see him and he said, ‘Your demob’s going to be coming up shortly.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m not surprised,’ I said. I said, ‘But,’ he said, ‘My job actually is to persuade you to sign on.’ He says, ‘Now, you could. If you were, the best thing you could do you know would be to sign on for twenty one years. You’ve done five years. Twenty one years you’ll be thirty nine. Eighteen when you joined. Twenty one years. Thirty nine. You’ll retire on a pension at thirty nine.’ Which sounds very nice but it was going to be only a very small pension anyhow. But anyway, I thought well I don’t think the peacetime Air Force is for me. I think, I always think of the words of a PT or drill instructor and he had a gathering of us to take for a PT session early one morning. Our names appeared on the notice board to attend for PT and we all knew it was because we’d done some minor infringement of rules and regulations and we, I went down and I had my PT kit on and I had a sweater or something on top. It was a bit chilly. And a lot of the Canadians, well they were mostly Canadians actually and most of them were commissioned and they came down in overcoats for the PT, so he said, well of course as you realise he had to be reasonably polite. He couldn’t speak as if they were just, ‘Hey you,’ do this or do that. He said, ‘Could you take your overcoats off?’ ‘Oh, no.’ ‘No? Why not?’ ‘It’ll be cold.’ He said, ‘Well, you can’t do PT in overcoats.’ ‘Well, we could try.’ [laughs] And he got really exasperated and said, ‘It’ll be a good job when this war’s over and we can have a proper Air Force without all this flying.’ And I thought my goodness an Air Force without flying. Does he think the Air Force’s main purpose is to do PT and march about and things like that? No. The peacetime Air Force wouldn’t be for me.
GT: So, he swayed your decision to sign on further. Yeah. So, so you that chap was asking you to carry on as a bomb aimer.
TF: Yes.
GT: After the war.
TF: And, after the war and he says or you could just sign on for six months. And I thought well what’s the point.? I’ve, you know I’ve got to adjust now to going back to Civvy Street. I’m not staying in the Air Force. I’m quite sure of that. I could not possibly put up with the peacetime. I could imagine it. Marching here and marching there. Life was so free and easy and things and also it was, they would probably be a little bit more strict on the visions of class. You know. I mean, in the aircrew when we’d done a, whether your crew were officers or sergeants you all went in for a meal the same, in the mess at the same time having, and we all used to use the same mess. It was all, you know nobody did any different but I should think that changed in peacetime. And so I said, ‘No. I don’t think I will.’ And then he said, ‘Well, if you won’t sign on you won’t do any more flying.’ And I thought is this man crazy? They’ve spent thousands of pounds training me in two years or so. Training me for this and now because I won’t sign on [pause] and I just cannot stand sort of being threatened like that. It just, that was just enough. So, I said, ‘Well, in that case I don’t do any more flying. So, later that day we were down for night flying and I went along to the, the briefing room and there was the board for tonight’s crews. And there was a sort of list down the side of the pilot’s names and the list along of the crew and I looked down. Flying Officer Jorgenson. Navigator Flight Sergeant Stobes, bomb aimer — it should have said Flight Sergeant Fisher. It had been rubbed out. And I was absolutely appalled. I didn’t think he really would have done it that quickly. I was really really annoyed and so, oh well that’s it. I don’t. So I did nothing for two or three days and then I thought well, I think I might as well go home for all the good I’m doing here. So I did. And then I started to worry about it a bit. You know, you’re being rather stupid if you get, if they discover you. You’d probably lose your stripes and crown and your demob pay would go way down. Way down. So you’d better go back. So I went back and at the same time I was relieved but at the same time it was not good for your ego to know that nobody had ever missed you. And anyhow, I went and saw the adjutant and said, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ He said, ‘What do you mean what do you do?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m not flying now.’ He said, ‘Well, whose crew were you in?’ And I told him. He looked up some records, he says, ‘That was a few weeks ago.’ ‘Oh yes. Yes.’ He said, ‘What have you done since then?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m waiting for a job.’ He says, ‘You mean you’ve sat on your behind and done nothing.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t put it like that.’ He said, ‘I don’t see how else you can put it.’ Anyhow, he said, ‘Come in the office next to me and you can sort of help me. You can be a sort of assistant adjutant.’ So that’s what I did. But I didn’t like it at all.
GT: So, there was no other aircrew. Had the same thing happened to them? Did he just single you out or was it common across —
TF: Well, no. There was no more but as it happened after I had [unclear] him up for about forty years later and I got a telephone call and he mind, sort of said, ‘Am I speaking to Mr Fisher?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Thomas Fisher?’ ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Were you in the RAF?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘You used to like to spend your weekends at Cheltenham.’ And I said, ‘As it happens I did but how do you know all this?’
GT: Yeah. And what happened?
TF: And he said, ‘Well,’ he says, ‘One final. One final question. Were you in Yorgeys crew?’ We always called him, he was always, his name was Jorgenson. He was always known as Yorgey. And I said, ‘Well, yes. Yes, but who are you?’ He said, ‘Well, I’m Frank, the wireless operator,’ he says, ‘And I’ve set myself a task of when I retired I was going to trace all the crew so that we could have, and see if we could have a reunion.’ And he said, I said, ‘How have you traced me? I live in Scotland now. I’ve moved from the North of England.’ He said, ‘Well, I’m with Scotland Yard and you must remember I’m used to tracing people and most of them don’t want to be traced.’ So, he, he said, ‘Can you think of any of the other names?’ I said, ‘Well, how far have you got?’ He says, ‘Well, I’ve discovered that Johnny is, only lived about forty miles from me. So we’ve been together and you’re the next one.’ And eventually went through with the aid of a newspaper ad, an advertisement and eventually traced all the crew and we met up. All met up again at Woodhall Spa. It was amazing to see each other after an absence of [pause] this would be about 1990. An absence of about forty five years.
GT: So when you finished with, with the aircrew because as then flight sergeant you became deputy adjutant you didn’t keep in contact with your crew even though you were still the same?
TF: No. With actually, this was the first, I gather that VJ Day the crew, I mean I just couldn’t understand it. We’d worked together all this time and then we only did two more practice flights and then that was, that was it. They’d actually gone on a train to go down to an RAF station. I think it was in Cornwall and the RAF police boarded the train and singled them out and said, ‘Will you get off at the next station and return back to your base. You’re not wanted anymore.’ So that was only a matter of days before VJ Day was announced.
GT: Fascinating. That must have been really disappointing to spend all that time —
TF: It just struck me as so ridiculous to think all this training that I’d had and why split a crew up?
GT: And you were the only crew that you know of that this happened to.
TF: Ah huh.
GT: That recruiter, eh. He’s got a lot to answer for.
TF: And then in many ways I was certainly glad I didn’t sign on because it wasn’t very long before bomb aimers were redundant [pause] The aircrews, most aircrews were now restricted to two. Pilot and a navigator. Bomb aimers were not wanted. Air gunners were no longer wanted. Radio operators were no longer, were no longer needed after a while because the pilot doesn’t need, you don’t need to use Morse Code anymore. You can speak plain language over hundreds of miles.
GT: Mind you, you’d been given a lot of navigator training so most navigators later received bomb aiming training.
TF: Could possibly. Possibly I had about that. But there was hundreds of us. Thousands in fact, I suppose.
GT: The UK was awash with airmen wanting to do something.
TF: And then just finally I got a bit fed up working in, just in the office and I asked the adjutant if I could, I thought well, perhaps I could go and learn to drive. That would be more sense. And —
GT: So up to this point you’d never driven a vehicle.
TF: Never driven at all. No.
GT: Aged twenty one. Going on twenty two.
TF: Ah huh.
GT: Yeah.
TF: No. I mean there must have been hundreds of us learned to fly a plane before we learned to drive a car. And he says, ‘Well, I could send you to Catterick and they’ll give you some tests and see what your suitable for.’ So I went to Catterick [laughs] and I had, I don’t know what these tests were. How they were worked out but and then in the central, he said, ‘I’ve got the result of your test and it appears you would be ideal for training as a butcher and cook.’ I said, ‘You are joking surely.’ And I can’t really, don’t believe what I was hearing. I had been, I was told I was suitable to train as a flight mechanic which is a higher grading. And then I was training as a bomb aimer navigator and now I’m just suitable to be a butcher. And that’s the one thing I could not stand was the sight of raw meat. And I said, ‘Well, that is out of the question. I just will not do that.’ He says, ‘Well, what would you do?’ I said, ‘Well, learn driving. He said, ‘Well, there’s no vacancies.’ He did try I must admit. ‘No vacancies in any driving school but I could send you to a transport company and you could do local training.’ So I did get transferred to this but I never did any training out there at all. What I was used for was to fill in gaps where people were away. If they were short of. Although I wasn’t an officer I would often do a parade and I would take part as orderly officer or something. Whenever they were a bit short I filled in for that. And then eventually I just got demobbed. But I was just so, to think I’d had blooming tests and now it turned out I would have been better off as a butcher.
GT: That’s crazy. So did you follow up and look at the medals that you were entitled for your war service?
TF: Just, I was just entitled to the, what everybody was. The Defence Medal and the, the war —
GT: The ‘39/45 Star.
TF: Star. Ah huh.
GT: And, and did you send in to have them? Received them?
TF: I did take them.
GT: And you’ve got them now.
TF: Ah huh.
GT: You’ve still got them.
TF: Ah huh. Incidentally I’ve got a photo here of the crew.
GT: Oh ok.
[pause]
GT: Perhaps you can, I’ll tell you what we’ll finish the interview first there.
TF: Ok.
GT: And let’s have a look at those soon. But so from, from your time of being demobbed, Tom you obviously didn’t go the butcher route. So, what did you end up doing in your new civilian life?
TF: Well, I had two things in mind. I was, one of the things that I thought I might have, might have had some help on instead of doing this silly business saying I could be a butcher or something I thought if they might have told us what grants were available for what training purposes. So, I had, when I was, before I joined I worked for my father as a, as a painter and decorator. So, I just went back to, to doing that and the Air Force and the government paid part of my wage because I’d left as an apprentice and there I was twenty two twenty three and I would not, I would expect better pay than [laughs] so they made up the difference. I can’t remember how long it was but they did it for so long and I sort of settled again and that. And then eventually I, I expect my father was getting a bit past it so I took over and I had quite a reasonable business. I got some quite some, quite good customers such as Lloyds Bank and I did quite a lot of decorating on hospitals and schools and things and, and then I also had a wallpaper and paint shop. And that, that was the rest of my, my life.
GT: That was here in Dumfries?
TF: No. It was in Sunderland.
GT: Oh, ok.
TF: But I [laughs] must say that the shop itself became a bit of a nuisance because the supermarkets, the Do it Yourself supermarkets were coming out. The price maintenance came off paint and wallpapers and so there was sort of cut price wars. And then to make things worse the shop got broken into twice. I got a bit fed up with hearing the telephone go in the middle of the night. ‘Something about your place. Can you get around?’ So this was including one practical joker who rang me up about 3 o’clock in the morning and said, ‘This is Sunderland Fire Brigade. ‘There’s a fire at your wallpaper shop. Can you get around?’ And I thought, oh no. ‘Yes.’ So I went back up to the bedroom and started to get dressed and my wife said, ‘What was that about?’ I said, ‘It’s just some fire. She said, ‘Well, ring the Fire Brigade.’ I said, ‘Well, that was the Fire Brigade that rang me.’ She said, ‘Well, how do you know?’ So, ‘I Don’t.’ So, I rang the Fire Brigade and they hadn’t phoned at all. It was just a hoax call trying to get me around in the middle of the night.
GT: They were going to wait for you huh? So you met a lady and you married and had children I guess.
TF: Yes.
GT: Can you give us a little bit of your, your fond memories of that time? Who is your wife and your children?
TF: Yes. Well, I I was sort of quite fond of going dancing and that seemed to be the way of meeting most people but and I met my wife at a, at a dance and I sort of had a few dances with her. One or two. And then they played, which was the custom in those days of the last dance was always a waltz and they usually sort of announces that, ‘Will you take your partners for the last waltz?’ Which, when that finished I said, ‘Well, I’ll sort of see you home.’ And she said, ‘Well, I live up at Grindon.’ And I thought that’s a bit far isn’t it? But she said, ‘I get a bus.’ I said, ‘Where do you get the bus from?’ Park Lane was the bus station. ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘I’ll go around that way.’ So, I went around that way and saw her on to the bus and arranged to see her again and then saw her two or three times and then it became quite a regular, a regular thing and and then that’s, we got married in 1950. And the problem was at that time was it was so difficult to get houses because with being so much bombing done at the places were instead of being streets of houses there were just streets of bomb sites and they were building new houses but the council where I lived in Sunderland would not allow any new houses to be built privately. Only council houses. And that was, created a problem. Well, firstly I didn’t want a council house and secondly you couldn’t get a council house until you’d had two children. So, so that’s how you fit that in was never explained. But eventually we, we looked at a few places and found somewhere we could live quite happily. I went, went in for it and I remember putting an offer in and the agents saying, ‘Well, mind I’m not having an auction, a Dutch Auction going on in my office, you know. If that’s your offer it has to be stick to that. If somebody comes along with better I’m not coming to see if you want to go any more.’ And then he added, ‘But I will place that offer before my client and I’ll advise her to accept it. And in a very short time I heard word that she had accepted and so we got well, the house if nothing else. And I got married in 1950. And, and I was sort of, you know having my own little business by then and, and then Julia and my other daughter came along and I think that was about it really, wasn’t it? I’d always wanted a wallpaper and paint shop and I just ran the business from my house you see and then someone sort of said he had one and he was retiring. He wanted to give it up, you know. He said would I like to take it and I said, ‘Yes. I think I’ll take it over. And and then we moved from where we were living until I was, just carried in until it was time to retire and my wife wanted to move somewhere else. She didn’t want to stay in Sunderland and I was quite happy there excepting I did get a bit fed up with having the shop broken into a couple of times but then I sold the shop anyhow. Then my house was broken into a couple of times and, and then I think I had my car broken into two or three times. So I thought well yes, I think I’ll agree. We’ll move. And my wife wanted to go down to Devon and, and I thought it’s nice. I like Devon. But I didn’t think I wanted to go that far the other end of the country you see. Anyhow, someone she knew suggested there was someone was building these houses just up this road and so we came through and had a look and decided to have one and I asked how much it would be. He said, ‘I’ll work you a price out.’ And this was in the middle of the summer and I always remember we got the price just as we were coming up to see you at Christmas. And so, after the Christmas we went, but unfortunately we couldn’t sell our other house it was just, so we had to let it go. So I had to ring the solicitor up and say we can’t go ahead with this and then the estate agents kept sending me a brochure and I looked at it one night when one came and I said, we’d sold our house in the meanwhile and I said [unclear] does this sound familiar to you, “In the village of Lonchinver, a three bedroom bungalow newly built. Just requires the purchaser to choose the bathroom and kitchen fittings.” That sounds like our house or what would have been our house and so I rang up and sure enough it was. So we came through to see it and it wasn’t quite like that. There was no walls up. It had a roof on but however we decided then we’d sort of decided we would move so we moved up over here. And that would be in nineteen, in 1991. So I’ve been here twenty six year now.
GT: Grandchildren?
TF: Two. One in Edinburgh and one in Aberdeen.
GT: Wow. Very good. And and in your retirement did you settle and golf, tennis, bowls?
TF: No. I I was never, never very keen on golf. No. I got, I bought a touring, a small touring caravan and we, we always went, we went once a year or two to a reunion and then went went away in the caravan about a month each year and a few weekends. And then I joined the Aircrew Association and they used to have some quite nice little breaks. About four day breaks. They were often connected with flying but not necessarily. Went down to Duxford for a few days. Up to the Scottish Memorial at East Fortune and Mildenhall.
GT: Was the Air Force Association something that was important to you after serving in the RAF?
TF: Not the Air Force Association itself but the Aircrew Association was. I suppose there were so many people in the Air Force Association and I did join actually. I more or less had to because they [laughs] they asked me to decorate their premises out and when they discovered that I’d been in the Air Force I really didn’t have any alternative but to join. But it wasn’t what I expected. It was merely a place to go and drink and a lot of the people they weren’t, hadn’t been in the Air Force anyhow. It was just, just a club to go drinking. But that wasn’t what I was looking for. But when I heard of the Aircrew Association I, it was a lady that my wife knew mentioned it and she said, ‘We have some really nice outings and get togethers. Why don’t you ask your husband if he wants to join?’’ So she mentioned it to me and then a few weeks later she said, ‘I’ll be seeing —' so and so, ‘This afternoon. What do I tell her? She’s sure to ask us if you would like to join.’ I said, ‘Tell her yes I would like to join. So, the following day a telephone call from the secretary and he said, ‘I understand you’re interested.’ I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ He said, ‘Yes, well. You were in the RAF.’ I said, ‘Oh yes, I definitely was.’ He said, ‘Do you know your number?’ I said, ‘Yes, I still know my number.’ And he said, ‘Were you aircrew? By that I mean not just did you fly but were you qualified?’ And I said, ‘Oh, yes.’ He said, ‘Well, I’ll make enquiries and we’ll be in touch.’ And obviously went to find out whether or not I’d actually, the bloke finally came back and he said, [unclear] so, ‘Would you like to come to our Christmas lunch?’ Which I did do. And well, regular quite regular lunches. Often here or down at the Valley and in the, in Dumfries. And then there was a monthly meeting so that was a regular thing then. But no, I never went in for golf or tennis or anything like that.
GT: What about air shows? Do you still, do you still look at the different aircraft that the aircraft are flying today? Of any interest?
TF: Not really. Not the ones today. I’ve always been more interested in in the old ones. In fact, there’s the Heathhall Airfield still have an aircraft museum and we are going there on Sunday, aren’t we? But yeah.
GT: And have you been to East Kirkby or Hendon or Coningsby where the Lancaster is?
TF: Yes. I went over to Coningsby and I saw the Lancaster in the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
GT: Fabulous. And —
TF: And that’s it. We were standing underneath it.
GT: Very good. So, your crew you mentioned that one of your crew members managed to get hold of you. So are your crew still about?
TF: No. I’m the only one left.
GT: You’re the last one surviving, eh?
TF: I’m the last one surviving. Ironically I was the oldest.
GT: Gosh. Yeah.
TF: I think at twenty two I was the old man of the crew.
GT: Do you think bomb aimer was was the job for you in the end? Did it work for you?
TF: It worked quite well yes. I mean. I quite, I would have been quite happy as a pilot but I realised that I was not in the position to be able if, if a plane got in to difficulties to get it out. Flying straight and level I could cope with quite well but if something happened you know I wouldn’t have been any use at all. And navigator? Well, bomb aimer and navigator were the same thing really. I think the only difference was the navigator did, went deeper into it and they did a thing called a square search which we never never did. But I mean we were expected to be able to navigate a plane. I mean, as an example we were flying in a Lancaster once and the radio operator says there, ‘Skip, the wireless if off. The radio. I can’t get anything on it at all.’ So, Johnny called and said, ‘Well, really you know we’re not supposed to fly over the sea without radio. What do you think, Eric?’ That was to the navigator. ‘Oh, press on.’ ‘What do you think Thomas?’ ‘Oh, press on regardless. Not a little thing like a radio going to stop us.’ So, we did and that was alright. And then suddenly there was a shout from Len, ‘Hey skip, port engine’s gone. Oil pressure’s right gone. There’s no pressure there at all.’ Oh, feather the port inner.’ And then it wasn’t very long before, The starboard engine’s now gone.’ So [laughs] so things looked to be getting bad. So we had two, just two engines and at the same time I heard the navigator, I think the navigator swearing away to himself you see and he said, ‘Oh skipper, the H2S is not working.’ And Dennis says, ‘Oh, well Tom will take over the navigating now.’ I said, ‘I’m sorry but Gee’s not working either.’ So, he says, well we had to get back to the old method of, of getting a bearing where you could and a course and came back to North Luffenham and called up on the radio. That was the one where you sent Morse messages out but plain talk on the other one was ok. And Johnny calls up and requests permission to land and they said, ‘We’re sorry. You can’t land here. There’s too thick fog so you can go to —’ It was somewhere near Oxford, and they gave us a course to fly if we went down there and we got there and then it was quite exciting in a way because you heard the flying control say to, ‘Clear all aircraft off. Emergency landing.’ And Johnny had called up and said, ‘Well, we’ve only got two engines. So yes. Emergency.’ And you saw the crash tent and ambulance coming up to meet us at the end of the runway and then race to be alongside us and you thought ee gosh, you know, in a couple of minutes time I could be in the back of that ambulance. Or I might just be walking away. So I think I’d better get down in to a crash position and go down with my back to the main spar and then thankfully you felt a bump bump bump. We’re down now. We’re alright.
GT: Because your bomb aimer’s position is lying prone in the nose, isn’t it?
TF: With your back on to the main spar.
GT: Yeah.
TF: In the event of an emergency the bomb aimer gets the, lifts the first aid kit off the hook and takes a chopping axe off it’s thing. Stuffs them down in the front of his battledress and gets your back of the main spar and then that’s it.
GT: I can’t think of anything worse that’s going to kill you it’s an axe stuffed in your pocket. Yeah. Well, well Tom is it, you’ve given us such an amazing amount of your recollections and your time obviously the war finished before you got a chance —
TF: Finished. Yes.
GT: To do any operations per se but do you remember any of your friends that that got on operations? Did anybody talk to you about what they saw? What happened.
TF: Well, one thing I do remember is that after that I volunteered to be a flight mechanic air gunner and then the CO’d recommended for pilot training. I’d been down, had a selection board, came back there was a thing came out, “Would flight mechanic volunteer to change to flight engineer?’ And my friend did that. Changed to flight engineer and he was away, oh I had only just started my training when he was away and trained and we kept in touch. We always wrote and, and then he got, he brought the plane back from Germany and got a Distinguished Flying Medal when the pilot was killed. And I looked a bit surprised to see when he put it on his letterhead. He was still [unclear] DFM and then, I was just starting really. Just starting probably two or three years past Cambridge when I’d kept in touch as I say and I wrote to him and I got the letter back and it was just marked, “Return to Sender.” And it had been opened, got my address out and sent back and he, obviously the reason for that was that he hadn’t come back. And when we were at Lincoln I looked at the [pause] at the Memorial numbers and sure enough his name was on. So he, he’d actually gone on ops, it would only be a few weeks training at St Athans and he’d gone on ops and I hadn’t even finished, hadn’t even got down to flying training.
GT: So as a flight engineer he got on to ops pretty much straight away.
TF: Straightaway.
GT: He was.
TF: He didn’t do, didn’t do any flying training. Didn’t do any OTU or anything like that. Just go straight to a squadron.
GT: Do you think that saved your life then?
TF: Or possibly might have been to Heavy Conversion Unit.
GT: Do you, you consider then that because that would have been say perhaps a year and a half’s worth of the war if you didn’t choose flight engineer. Could that have saved your life too, do you think?
TF: It could have done. Yes. If I hadn’t, if I hadn’t picked the flight mechanic engineer and got recommended for pilot training if I hadn’t done that I would have automatically probably have gone with him and just been a flight engineer. Actually, I did wonder about changing when he went. And then I thought well look you’ve had this altered in your paybook from now I would say trade or category FME UT PNB and you’d also a bomb aimer and a pilot navigator were a higher category than a flight engineer and you got a better pay so I thought well, I’d better just let things go. But yes, it was a very lucky, lucky thing to happen.
GT: Yeah. Tom, you still have your logbook.
TF: Ah huh.
GT: It’s ok. So have you given a copy of this to the IBCC?
TF: No.
GT: Because I can arrange if that’s the case. If you have not then we can arrange for that.
TF: I, the, the museum up at Heathhall took a photostat copy of it.
GT: They might have that in their local files but the IBCC are very keen to, to be able to copy yours in a high resolution file and as a point of note for the recording Tom is showing me photographs of his crew both at the time of training and also later on in nineteen ninety, nineteen ninety something there.
TF: 1991.
GT: Yeah. In front of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight aircraft which looks like Coningsby.
TF: It is, yeah.
GT: Yeah. Coningsby. So, so Tom would you, would you like to also approve that copies of these photographs can also go to the IBCC?
TF: Yes. Yeah.
GT: Fabulous. Right.
TF: Went to, went to the first reunion we had was at Woodhall Spa which is just a few miles from Coningsby and had arranged that we would see the Battle of Britain of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster and they’d also arranged that we would go in it. And we all went in and took up our respective positions. One in the rear turret, mid-upper turret. Me down in the bomb, in the bomb section and there was it seemed to me, I don’t know where they came from but there was an awful lot of people snapping photos of us in there and they said, ‘That’s the first time ever that we’ve ever had a complete crew come.’ They said, ‘Plenty of people come but never as a complete crew.’ So that was at, at Coningsby at our first reunion.
GT: So, when you left your crew how long did they stay together after that?
TF: Oh, it was a matter of days.
GT: Oh, it was. Ok. So, it wasn’t —
TF: Well, one, one went as a airfield control. Another one went in charge of a group of German prisoners to close an airfield down and transfer all, all the goods up to, to somewhere else. And apparently I gather, that he had only problem tracing two. And one was the mid-upper gunner. A Welsh boy. And he knew he was Welsh so he put something in the Cardiff, in the Cardiff newspaper and, but the boy himself didn’t see it but his ex-wife saw it and thought that sounds as if it could be Terry and told him. And he was very cagey about it. He was wondering [laughs] what the reason why he was ringing him up about.
GT: Fascinating. Well, Tom, I I think you have duly covered your career, your life your service very well and it’s been an honour and a pleasure to come and interview you today and I’m going to make sure that this copy gets to the IBCC by next week and I’m sure that you’ll receive some form of communication from them. So —
TF: Ah huh.
GT: But it’s, it’s been a great afternoon so thank you very much. We’re also going to get some photographs and —
TF: I might also add that we did get a little bit of a bit of a reward in as much that in nineteen, in 2005 was it the Lottery granted money for people to visit when they’d served anywhere abroad and at, I went to Canada. And then again in 2010.
GT: And you visited your, the previous Training Schools where you were.
TF: Yes, because it turned out that the Navigation School was now Toronto Airport.
GT: So that was pretty easy to go back and see the Commonwealth Training Scheme areas.
TF: And then we did another one in 2010. About seven years ago now, wasn’t it? Oh, we did another one and in this case they said you can take the, they would pay the cost for a carer to go as well. [unclear] asked if she would be a carer for us.
GT: So, have you been to the Bomber Command Memorial in London yet?
TF: Not in London.
GT: Ok.
TF: Just the one in Lincoln.
GT: So, you’ve been to Lincoln and you’ve seen the Spire. What do you think of the Spire?
TF: Well, it makes you realise the Lancaster’s wingspan is very, it’s quite wide. Yes its, its quite good. Actually, I thought the whole set up that they had at this opening ceremony had been very well thought out and was quite well, really well organised.
GT: And you are prepared and getting ready to go to the opening of the archives building, Chadwick Hall. And that will be early in 2018. Just coming up.
TF: I don’t, I wouldn’t know. I doubt if I’ll be at that time but I —
GT: Oh well, I can promise you Tom that your record that you’ve just been telling me today will be in the IBCC Archives and they’ll be, they’ll be honoured and thanking you very much for that. So, I think we can, we can safely say that I can now complete the interview with you, Tom.
TF: Ah huh.
GT: And thank you very much.
TF: Not at all.
GT: For your time. So, this was Thomas Fisher and I have been in the company of Diana Harrington and Julian McLennan and this is Glen Turner who has come to interview Tom today. My service was Royal New Zealand Air Force for thirty years as an armaments technician, so now secretary of 75 Squadron Association I am honoured and pleased to help out the IBCC with interviews of the Bomber Command crews from World War Two. Signing off. Thank you very much.

Collection

Citation

Glen Turner, “Interview with Thomas Fisher,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 21, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/10805.

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