Interview with Philip Freeman


Interview with Philip Freeman


Philip Freeman was a young child in Gainsborough during the Second World War. His brother Desmond left Gainsborough to work for Lord Londonderry in London. From there he volunteered for the RAF and trained as a pilot. He was a fighter pilot but was transferred to Bomber Command. He was based at RAF Skellingthorpe and often brought his crew home with him at the weekends. He often also collected Philip from school in his uniform and Philip was proud to be with him. Philip recalls Desmond flying his Lancaster directly over the house on a couple of occasions while the crew all waved. Desmond was killed on active service.




Temporal Coverage




00:24:15 audio recording

Conforms To


IBCC Digital Archive


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MG: I’ll switch this. That’s on now. Just making a brief introduction Philip.
PF: Ok.
MG: This is Mike Grant and I’m interviewing Philip Freeman today for the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive about his memories of his brother flying, Desmond Freeman. We are currently at Philip’s home at Gainsborough and it is Tuesday, the 9th of January 2018. The time is twenty to eleven. Philip, thanks for agreeing to talk today about your brother. I wonder if you could tell me what sort of memories you have of Desmond?
PF: Yes. Well, can we just, just repeat that I am the youngest of three brothers. Desmond being the, was the eldest. I have another brother David who’s ninety and lives in Colchester and I’m the baby who’s ten years younger than David so my recollections aren’t so, so vivid because of the big age gap. But the things that I can recall really as a lad between kind of four and six years old was being taken to Lea Road Baths and being basically taught to swim there at the age of six by being thrown in the deep end and my brother Desmond and saying, ‘Swim.’ I was told, and I did apparently. Apparently, he was that sort of brother. Elder brother of course. Other things during the war he used to meet me from, from school at 4 o’clock at Parish School, Gainsborough. I can remember him stood there at the end of the playground and the heart fluttered a little bit. I always remember him stood there in his RAF uniform and small things like this. And in the house, you see he left he basically left home at seventeen so he was in and out all that time and me being only six years old it was a little bit, it was not a relationship that he could really remember great deal. What else can I remember? Well, as the, the RAF days I can remember because he was stationed at Skellingthorpe and Coningsby which were rather near to Gainsborough. I can remember that he used to bring his crew home from from time to time and me coming down in the mornings and seeing six, seven guys sleeping all over the house. And I don’t know how but my mother used to feed them all and pack them off the following day back to base. I can remember all those sort of days quite vividly. Also, I think also I get more I’ve got more about him from people in the town rather than than the family. Apparently, he was, he was rather a good looking lad and the girls liked him and he liked the girls and I understood that he had a very good time when he came. When he used to come home. When he used to come home on leave. What other things can I remember? [unclear] wartime things. This was when he was, this was when he was flying he did get reported for this. He did it on two occasions. He used to buzz. We lived in Hawthorn Grove and he used to bring this Lancaster over. I can hear and see it now. He used to circle it around Gainsborough Golf Club because he lived down there he used to line it up with the water tower at the top of the Avenue and he used to bring it in at treetop height and then stand it on it’s tail to clear some oak trees at the end of the road with the bomb doors open and all the crew waving scarves and flags. I can remember that he did that a couple of times until I understand he got, he did get reported not to do it again. So those were the sort of memories as I say that he did leave home and I don’t know why he left home. He went to the Gainsborough Grammar School and he left there I think about seventeen. According to my brother he did want actually to go into the Navy but for some reason nobody can remember why, he didn’t get in the Navy. In fact, he didn’t go in the Forces at all. He got a job as a footman with Lord Londonderry in London. Now, I’ve got no idea how he got this job. I can’t think my father knew Lord Londonderry. But I understand the idea was a footman to go on to the administrative staff of the household. That was the idea of it. And he met some of the, because the Londonderry family who were a bit Nazi orientated. I understand that he met quite a number of the high-flying Nazi people who used to come to the Londonderry house. He also used to go to Ireland to stay at the, these aren’t recollections. I don’t know if I’m rambling on unnecessarily here but he went to the Londonderry’s house in Northern Ireland. At the moment I just can’t remember the name of the place actually but he was there. He went out with the family on the yacht and went all over the place apparently and then the, and then he volunteered for the RAF and went in there in what would it be? About 1940 I suppose, ’41. Something like that I suppose. And he then went across to Canada for aircrew training. And then from there he went down to an air base called [unclear] airfield down in Georgia. He went on the, it was a special scheme. Was it the Anderson Scheme? I should have checked all of this before. I didn’t know how to do all this actually but I can, I can come back to you on this later and then he came back trained as a fighter pilot. But like a lot of other people they were short of bomber crews and he was transferred from fighters to Bomber Command which apparently nearly broke his heart so there you go. So, that was, that was it really. I can remember him walking up Hawthorn Grove when he was commissioned in his officer’s uniform carrying fish and chips like this. I can see him walking up there now doing that and that’s that’s about it. If, if you want further details of that I can, I can have a word with my brother and see if he can fill me in on some those but he’s a bit sketchy about about all that time as well —
MG: Just —
[recording paused]
MG: Running again now.
PF: Right. So, to continue. Yeah. Did I, did I mention about Lord Londonderry.
PF: You did. Yes.
PF: Yeah. Yeah, Desmond went to Gainsborough Grammar School and as I understand he left about sixteen and a half seventeen with the idea I understand from my other brother of going in to some section of the Navy which he, when he didn’t get in for whatever reason and then got a job and we don’t know, nobody knows how we got it. We don’t think we had any connection with the upper crust of the Lincolnshire, with the England’s aristocracy at the time but he got a job as a footman down in London with Lord Londonderry. In fact, he went in to the RAF. Went into the RAF where it says on his forms, his entry forms place of entry and it says Londonderry house, W1. So, we thought that was there’s not many people went in to the RAF with that address. And again, I understand, and I can come back to you now I know actually what is required. I can get some perhaps some more information on this from my other brother but with his position as footman I understand that he met, not, didn’t meet but waited on Albert Speer because the Londonderry people, Lord Londonderry was very sympathetic to the Nazi regime and there was other people as well visited who at this moment in time I can’t remember but I can come back to you on that if required. And then he also went to Northern Ireland. To their house in in Northern Ireland. We had pictures of him there in the front of the house with Lady Vane-Tempest and other members of the Londonderry family. But unfortunately, because of the death of my father and and Desmond later on my mother had a very bad, a very bad time. A nervous breakdown and it affected it to the point that she eliminated that part of her life completely and all photographs of holidays and etcetera were just, were just destroyed. So we have no record of all that these days. So, after that he went over to, he went into the RAF. He went over to Canada for training and then down to America to the Arnold Scheme. Down to, to Georgia. I have to check. I’ve been meaning to check it out. Apparently, all the records for the Arnold Scheme because I have done his life. I’ve got his complete records from when he went in to the RAF to the time that he was killed. I’ve got all that. I haven’t got his logbook but I’ve checked on the internet. I’ve got all his raids. I’ve got all the information. All his, all his records etcetera but what I haven’t got is the Arnold Scheme when he went to Canada and then to America but he came back as a, he got American wings which apparently when he came back he did and then he got his, his RAF wings. He did try to wear both at the same time which didn’t go down very well and apparently he was told to take his American wings off. They didn’t apply in the RAF. So that was. That was that. I came over. Where have I got to now? So he came back as a fighter pilot but as it happened to a lot of people they were short of bomber crews and he was transferred to Bomber Command. So, and he was stationed at Skellingthorpe and for a time he was with the Pathfinders at RAF Coningsby. Other things I can remember as a small boy because he was a known local lad he used to bring his crew home when they were stood down for any reason to have a night out in Gainsborough and I can remember coming down in the morning with a full crew of bodies all over the place and with my mother somehow feeding all these young teenagers and then packing them off back to to Skellingthorpe. Funny stories at the time. I think he was a bit of a lad really. In the light that he used to he only did on two occasions to my knowledge he brought the Lancaster over, got to have a bit of local knowledge for this but where we lived in Gainsborough was up near the Gainsborough Golf Club which is now [unclear] and he used to bring it. We at least knew when he was coming because we would hear him and he would circle all the way around, around the golf course. We could hear him dip it down. He used to line it up to the water tower because he knew that was a direct line over our house and he used to bring it along there at rooftop height and then stand this Lancaster on its tail to get it over some oak trees on the other side of the road with the bomb doors open and all the crew waving flags and all sorts of things and scarves. And I can remember stood in the back garden when he did that. And the local residents did actually report him to the CO at Skellingthorpe about that and he was told he was a very naughty boy and he was not to do that again. I understand this is a common story with Lancaster crews. It’s written in no end of books that coming back from raids or when they’d been on practice bombing certainly in the summer months in those days they used to [unclear] all the corn in the fields and they used to take great delight in dropping these Lancasters as low as possible and then these four engines kind of depleting the corn fields and blowing these [unclear] all over the place. Apparently, no end of crews used to find that most amusing as you would if you were nineteen or twenty, I suppose. I don’t know where, what else have I got to say? Stories. Stories. Yes. My father was a local Wesleyan lay preacher and he, Desmond used to go with him on Sundays all over the surrounding villages preaching. And I think at the end it was said in the family that Desmond was getting a bit it was getting to him the amount of people that —
He was responsible for killing.
MG: Do you want to stop it there for a bit?
PF: Yes. Just for a minute.
MG: Yeah.
[recording paused]
MG: You were just talking there about the conflicts your brother was facing because of his Christian, his strong Christian beliefs and the work he was doing. I wonder if you could pick up on that?
PF: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. No, it was just the fact it was a story from, from my mother because he was beginning to get a conscience. Perhaps. I don’t know whether that’s the right word. Perhaps it is. The amount of people over a six month period which he’d been responsible for killing some vast majority were quite innocent people and others weren’t quite so innocent but that was the story that that came from the family. What else can I say about him? Can I just stop that a minute just while I have a think?
MG: Ok.
PF: I don’t know.
[recording paused]
PF: Because of the Nuremberg raid he won, he got an immediate DFC and his. again you see I should have checked up on all these names. Flight sergeant. Not a flight, Sergeant Chapman, Leslie Chapman who was his engineer between the two of them they got the plane, they got the plane back and Leslie Chapman was given the conspicuous medal. There wasn’t many of those about actually. It was quite a rare decoration. GC I think it is. It’s called.
MG: Conspicuous Gallantry medal.
PF: Medal. That was it. That was it. And the, after that [unclear] the decoration, the DFC wasn’t given immediately. I think some of the DFCs were not given out at Buckingham Palace but my mother and my brother went down to Buckingham Palace to receive the DFC from the late King. And again, my elder brother who went, he can give you stories about Buckingham Palace in those days. In fact, the thing that he recollects the most, my brother they stayed at the Cumberland hotel in London and he said when they came out of the hotel they asked for a taxi to Buckingham Palace which he thought was quite funny. So again, my mother had a not, it wasn’t, it wasn’t a boil. It was something else when you get run down. It’s what’s it called. It’ll come back to me later but [unclear] on her hand. On her right hand and it was very painful and she was worried that when she was going to shake the King’s hand he was going to give her a good squeeze and she was going to yell but apparently his hand shake wasn’t all that strong. She was, she was alright. But because of all this my mother got an invite down to the Coronation. All expenses paid and all the rest of it because of that. Other things. Well, that’s, that’s about my, that’s about my recollections really. I can’t thing very much about that after that really but it was, it was a sad time all around with my father being killed. The funny thing is about all this is the, this is really not for the, this is off the record really but it’s a bit ironical that the person who shot my father, by accident I say, he left a bullet in the spout and there shouldn’t have been was the next door neighbour of my wife’s parents. So that seemed to be a bit ironical that really. But it’s a small world. So that was it. I’ve done all the record. There was no log books. I did check on that. Apparently, you could have got the logbooks at one time but if you didn’t apply by a certain date if the RAF had them they were destroyed. So by the time I applied log books were destroyed but I’ve been on the internet. I’ve got all his raids. All of them and his entry forms. I’ve got the books where he’s been mentioned, “Flying Through The Clear Air,” which is the 61 Squadron book. Nuremberg. [unclear]. He flew a Lancaster on the 31st and 2nd of June which had done over a hundred raids. The stories of him being hit by lightning and the plane going into a partial spiral and him getting out of it. I think he had quite an exciting time really. He lost a super charger. All these stories are in these books. Lost a supercharger on take-off and just managed to get it back to base with a full bomb load. He did that twice. Brought a plane back with a full bomb load. But so, so that’s it. He was certainly, he was somebody that people engaged with, knew and remembered quite fondly as a good lad. Good looking lad and enjoyed his twenty one years.
Thanks for that that’s been really interesting and I know it’s been enjoyable and difficult for you at times.
Yeah. Well, it’s —
That’s quite important. Is there anything else you wanted to add then do you think?
Well, no. What I’ll do if you like —


Michael Grant, “Interview with Philip Freeman,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 27, 2022,

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