Interview with Harold Stanley Gardner


Interview with Harold Stanley Gardner


Harold Gardner was a navigator on 106 Squadron based at RAF Metheringham during the final months of World War 2. Known throughout his RAF career as Stan, he was born in Brighton. In 1937 when 14-years-old, his father arranged employment for him with the Brighton Gas Company. Enthralled watching Spitfires flying over the South Coast, Stan volunteered for pilot, navigator, bomb aimer training in 1941 with the RAF. After initial training he was deployed to Canada for pilot training. Although advancing on the course to take-off and landing solo, Stan was uncomfortable in the pilot role and he requested a move to navigator training. After graduating, he returned to the UK and following progression though Operational Training Unit and Lancaster Finishing School, Stan was posted to 106 Squadron in February 1945, with his first operation on the 5th March. He provides a detailed account of the procedure's navigators followed to ensure the aircraft remained on course, including constantly plotting their position and corrections from varying winds. Following the end of hostilities, Stan found himself posted to RAF Cardington in charge of aircrew recruits before being demobilised in 1946, when he returned to his career in the gas industry.







01:03:36 audio recording


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AGardnerHS171101, PGardnerHS1701


DM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is David Meanwell. The interviewee is Hal Gardner. The interview is taking place at Mr Gardner’s home in Saltdean, Sussex on the 1st of May 2017. Hal, could you say a bit about where you were born and your early life?
[recording paused]
DM: I’ll just make a correction to the date we are recording. It’s the 1st of November 2017. Thank you. Ok Hal, so if you could talk a bit about your, where you were born and growing up.
HG: I was born in Brighton. I’m a Brightonian and my father got a house after we’d had a flat initially because my mother, we, I had a sister of course a bit younger than myself and we started living in Brighton at Bevendean. Initially I went to school at St John’s School in Brighton until I was about eleven and then I sat the Eleven Plus Examination. Didn’t quite make the Grammar School but I had to sit again and I was an in between person and they put me in to the Brighton Intermediate School close to St Peter’s Church. That was my starting back to school. A very good school. I learned quite a lot. Good masters, good school and I progressed up to about fourteen when suddenly when I was on holiday, my father was in the Brighton and Hove General Worthing Gas Company in those days said he wanted to get me in to the Gas Company. And I had a few tears. I said, but I was fourteen then I wanted to be in the bank. He said, ‘Well, I think this is going to be what I think for you.’ And he, what he basically, sent me right from Hampshire on a coach on my own to sit this examination in Brighton and which I passed with a lot of other guys and I think there was about twenty at the time. And I was taken as an apprentice on Brighton and Hove And Worthing Gas Company in 1937. I wasn’t happy in the circumstances because I didn’t want to be in the Gas Company. But however, I got on with it and we were taught the trade, suppliers of gas, of how to make pipes fitted. How to make metres fitted. All the things you would know and I progressed from them up ‘til when I was about seventeen going with a skilled fitter to learn the trade. At seventeen I was called suddenly for no reason. I still do not know the reason. I was called by the, Ray Hanson, technical manager and he said, in his office, he said, ‘Gardner,’ he says, ‘We’re going to put you in the showroom.’ Now if you think that was around about 1940 just about the war time I couldn’t understand why they picked me because there was about fifteen all doing the same trade. Why they wanted me to go in the showroom. Never answered that unless they thought perhaps I was smarter I don’t know. Anyway, I was put in this showroom at Church Street which is still there these days although it’s a café now. And I went there first and when I got there I was quite surprised because apart from me in the showroom there were other more senior men and that was for selling gas cookers, selling gas fires. It was a totally different thing than I ever thought about. Anyway, I progressed quite well in there and I liked it. And suddenly of course about that year 1940 which was, that was in, we had the Battle of Britain then if I remember and what happened then was the government abandoned the Air Defence Cadet Corps and brought in the Air Training Corps that year I think. So I knew I was getting that I was seventeen that I probably would want to be called up because I was in Brighton and could see all the Spitfires. And that was with a lot of other guys. We just wanted, we thought this is something we could do. Fly a Spitfire. And so I had two, a couple of months I think in the Air Cadets and then I volunteered for training in the Royal Air Force. Now, to fly in the Royal Air Force in those days you had to volunteer. You could not be called up. So, I mean we were all or the ones that also went along we were all excited. What we were all thinking, so many of the lads of my age then thought yeah, a Spitfire. I mean it’s still a wonderful aircraft. And so we, we, you know we were accepted on the Air Force as air crew on a PNB scheme which is a pilot, navigator, bomb aimer scheme and I think it was, let me see I was eighteen. I think about 1941 I was called up and went to St John’s Wood in London with a lot of other Air Cadets and there we had basic training. One of the first thing I noticed too was in their uniform, in their glengarry hats we had a white flash which denoted that we were aircrew and had volunteered. So, of course it gave us a bit of an uplift of that and we thought we were the cats whiskers you know. Anyway, so I went then and got basic training in London. Sent to ITW, Initial Training Wing in Newquay and learned all the basics of navigation. A bit about flying. A bit about all aspects of the Air Force and as we were going to be aircrew the ones that were going to be pilots or wanted to be pilots were sent to Sywell in Nottingham after we’d passed the exams in Newquay. And we all did about one trip I think in a Tiger Moth and from that very trip they then sent me back to Manchester. Heaton Park where there was hundreds of air crew. All of us waiting to be posted somewhere for flying. Either in Canada or in South Africa. Those were the two main things. I was given the chance and went to Canada. And we were sent to Glasgow and got on a ship there. That was Queen Elizabeth Two. No. When is, that can’t be the Queen Elizabeth. I think the Queen Mary. It was the biggest ship in those times and there was about six of us in the cabin. We thought we were great then because going across to Canada in that escorted by Spitfires I mean we were quite happy. And then we got to Canada just about Christmas. On December the 19th 1942 that would be. December ’42. We got to Canada but we started actually in Canada in to the New Year of ’43 so really started operating as a Cadet about, I think it was January ’43 in a place called Bowden near Calgary. I spent about three months there flying like with the other chaps. I could take off and land with a, with an instructor with me but I just couldn’t get the feel of the aircraft. I mean if you learned to drive you know and you’re on the ground and you want to stop, you want to do something and change you would stop but of course when you’re flying you’ve got to think of exactly what you were doing. It wasn’t me and I had to check with the chief flying instructor who said, ‘Look —’ He said, ‘Well, you’re not doing too bad.’ So I said, ‘What options have I got?’ He said, ‘Well, you got either navigator or bombardier.’ So I said, ‘I think I’ll take a navigator.’ Now, having said this I was still green. I really didn’t know what the syllabus was until I was posted to an Air Observer’s School in Edmonton, Canada. A very nice place run by the Canadians and met another, a lot of Englishmen and we were on a course for flying. Hadn’t been in there long when I fell, we were playing basketball and I fell and broke a wrist and that put me back and I couldn’t get back to that same course. So they put me on to a course of Australians and New Zealanders. I couldn’t have done better. They were a great bunch. I like the Australians and New Zealanders. Anyway, I I worked on that particular course with them until we’d done enough training and enough ground work and enough flying and then we had the exams and I did quite well. I had about eight, I’ve got my logbook, I did eighty percent on ground work and seventy three percent on flying. Now, why I say that is because when all those courses went, were finalised two got commissions in each course. As a parallel course with ours the Australians and the New Zealanders there was a Canadian course and everything, everybody got seventy percent and they got, they got commissioned. And I was upset in a way because I didn’t get it purely because on my course there were two Australian officers who were ground staff and had transferred to flying and their, their marks were below us. Below mine. However, because of the way the situation was I didn’t get one. We already got two commissioned so I was disappointed. Anyway, forget that. I got on with the job and it was a difficult job. One I’d never, I mean I didn’t have the schooling perhaps than a lot of others. I wasn’t Grammar School and I wasn’t university but I worked hard and it was, it was a wonderful position. It was demanding, interesting. And of course, I come back. I graduated as you can see me there. Directly I got to this country I was posted to Dumfries to fly Anson aircraft as a navigator in this country and get used to some of the weather conditions we would, I would expect in flying in this country. I had a week there and then after that I was posted to I think it was initial, I think it was an OTU, no. Not an OTU. Let me see. I can’t quite remember what that was. Anyway, it was a group where we met all other categories. We met pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, air gunners, wireless operators and we were all put in a big hangar style of place and we had to choose our own crews. Now, we were all amazed and I understand it went through for a long time this way. You know, we’re sitting around. We’re all looking and thinking how do we do this as pilots? And people went from one to the other. ‘Have you got a pilot?’ ‘Have you got a navigator?’ ‘Have you got a bomb aimer?’ Have you got this? Anyway, an Australian, strangely enough came to me. Not the one that I’d been training with and he said, ‘Would you, have you got a pilot?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Would you like to come with me?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ Quite happy because I’ve also got, I’ve also got an Australian wireless operator.’ I said, ‘Well, that’s great.’ Anyway, we picked up, we picked up a Scottish bombardier and we picked up a Welsh rear gunner and another man and we became a crew and that’s how it was done. The whole situation, all these dozens of aircrew got their categories, got their brevies etcetera and we had to make our own and it worked marvellous. Very few of the core, the crews that formulated themselves because I’ve spoken to obviously veterans over the years since and nearly everybody was satisfied. Occasionally an odd one had to be changed though for whatever reason. I don’t know. So there we were. We got through and we were then a crew. We were then posted to an Operational Training Unit and I think that was Bruntingthorpe in Leicester as a crew. And there we picked up, we started flying together on Wellingtons which is, which is a twin engine aircraft which was quite famous in those days. A Wellington was a very good aircraft. They were well constructed. We were quite happy and we were sent off from there. I’ve got them in the book how many, any flights we had flying around England in the dark. And let’s be certain of that. England was in the dark. Oh, you saw a few lights here and there but nothing like when you get up in an airport these days when you can’t see the airport for lights and when you get up there you can see the next place you’re going to almost. So that was up to me being a navigator. And of course, the other crew go through their motions and what they had to do. Those early days of course it was really a navigator and pilot had to work very closely. Anyway, after a certain number of trips our pilot was checked and we went on then to a four engine aircraft which was a Stirling because we had to then pick up an engineer. They gave us an engineer. We didn’t pick him ourselves. And he came to us as our skipper had to learn more about the four-engine aircraft and we all did our, I mean I as navigator and the rest of the crew went with him and we did so many hours then until he was proficient and the, and the engineer was proficient. And we were then sent on to what was called then an LFS. A Lanc Finishing School. And I think, I’m trying to think where that was. Lanc Finishing School. It’s probably in my diary. We can look at that later on. And there it was all to do with the pilot learning the Lancaster which of course we had heard about and of course, and as we know from now and we did after a while it was the best aircraft going at the time. But it was just one of those, it was another aircraft and we, we all did our turn in that and whatever we were doing as navigator. The others of course although they appeared to be solitary there was so much for them to do in their jobs when they, when we were on operations. It was a crew effort. So that, we ended Lanc Finishing School and then the first thing we, then when we were all ready we were posted to 106 Squadron, Metheringham. And that’s when I started my operations.
DM: So, can you remember roughly when that was?
HG: Yes.
DM: What year at least?
HG: Shall I get my logbook out?
[recording paused]
HG: 106.
DM: Right so —
HG: At Metheringham.
DM: So you arrived at Metheringham, February ’45.
HG: ’45, yeah.
DM: On 106 Squadron.
HG: That’s it. Yes.
DM: Ok. And what happened then?
HG: Well, it was a question of they were going through all of the things they needed to do before they sent you on operation. What we basically did was, initially was a radar cross country for me specifically I think, as navigator. And then we had formation flying in March. Then we had practice bombing in March. And then we had our first operation on the 5th of March ’45 to Bohlem. B O H L E M. Bohlem Oil Refinery in Germany. On the 6th of March, the next day, ’45 we went to Sassnitz, in the Baltic to attack shipping. On the 7th of March ’45 we were in Harburg. We went to Harburg which was south of Hamburg and that was for an oil refinery. And all those were night trips. All of them were night trips to start with.
DM: Do you have any memories of the first trip? Any impressions of how it felt and what your feelings were?
HG: Well, I think I was, let me start with the Bohlem. I had a problem when we started flying. I’d better go back to [pause] let’s start before we start flying. What happened in all squadrons there was, you were called to a briefing room probably about mid-day when all the crews were assembled in the briefing room. And then you got on the platform there would be a big board and there would be a map and there would be a curtain across it you see. And then the CO or whoever was going to give the briefing, and also the Met officer and the navigator, senior navigation officer would come on and then they’d pull the sheet apart and there would be the lines going to, the tracks going to the places we were going to bomb and either the experienced men would say, ‘Oh, that’s not bad.’ Or, ‘God,’ you know. This sort of action you know. And being new we just had to sit and watch. Now, in those briefing things on 106 Squadron if you’re going from one place to another and altering courses to get to this place in Germany or wherever we’re going it needed the tracks. The tracks between one place or another before you, there was a track here and a track there. Alteration course. Normally in, we understood that the navigator would have to draw it all out and work it all out. However, that’s, that particular squadron the senior officer, navigation officer did all the plot, all the plotting, the initial ones of where we were supposed to go and we all had the same. From my memory we all had the same navigation log to start with. So in other words we always, if we’d have all done it individually we’d have had similar answers but to me it was so obvious that if we got one person who was doing it and that was the senior man we all started on the basis line. So anyway, so we got our logs all ready and they started talking about the Met that was going this, that and the other and what possibly we might meet with. Certain parts of Germany with ack ack or fighters and all the other information that one would get. And then after that we would go back and have breakfast or whatever you would like to call it. Tea. We had something to eat. And then that would start in the afternoon about two and after we’d had something to eat we’d get out to the, and of course it would be dark. As you know it was dark because it was, it was February and March. We would then be taken out by, we’d get our parachute harness, our parachute. We’d take them with us and of course with the navigator he had a green bag and all our stuff was in the green bag. That’s the stuff we had to work the navigation out on. And we’d be taken out to the aircraft, wherever, in the dark and of course everything was dark and we would wait by the aircraft for a certain time and the pilot would say, ‘Let’s get in there.’ We’d get in and everybody would start. I think it was the port engine, directly we got in the port engine because that’s the other equipment in the aircraft especially for the navigator. You would start checking. Now that, we would then have a special time for getting or going ready for going around the runway. Getting around the rest of the aerodrome to the runway we were going to take off with and we’d all be waiting anything up to about fifteen aircraft all loaded with high explosives and other bombs etcetera with us. And we’d get around and I think we were probably something like about six or seven in front of us and what was happening on the runway that’s in use, the one we’re going on there would be a caravan and an officer. A lit up caravan and an officer there to let each aircraft go. He’d flash his green light. So we should go off one at a time. Now if I say we’d go off I’d better explain that when you got ready to take off what would happen is the engineer would open up the throttles against the brakes of the, the pilot would have his foot on the brakes and on the steering columns and then the, when he was given the ok the engineer would push, push the, all the throttles open and the pilot would take command then with, with his [pause] with his [pause] —
DM: Control.
HG: Controls.
DM: The steering wheel. Control.
HG: Controls. Yes.
DM: Yes.
HG: Anyway, what then? Then the navigator helps. We did our laps. We helped the pilot. What I used to do was to read the, on my where I was sitting I had an air speed indicator and I could read the airspeed off for him so he didn’t. He got all his attention on taking off and I’d read the airspeed going from say about sixty, sixty five, seventy, eighty, eighty five and ninety, ninety five and Roy my pilot said, he didn’t say, by the way I was called Stan in the Air Force. I’ll tell you that in a moment and he’d say, ‘Stan, it’s ok now.’ And we’d take off around about a hundred. A hundred miles per hour on the, on the air speed indicator. Now, you take off in the dark and from that time onwards you virtually don’t see anybody. You’re working on your, on your chart and also your log. Everything you’ve got down. You start off with, everybody starts on the same course but of course slightly different times because of taking off. And you’d climb to a certain premeditated height which probably from memory is around about eighteen thousand feet. We didn’t, we didn’t fly any lower than that from memory. I think we had been up to nearly twenty thousand. About eighteen thousand from my memory seems to be the operations that we did anyway. And then you would go through and of course what happens then each navigator is responsible apart from the initial stuff that we all had to start with. You then, you’re hitting winds and things and of course the aircraft gets off the course a bit. And what you, the navigator is doing all the time is checking. Checking the course by, what we had was a Gee box to get fixes. Now, I’ll explain the Gee box. Basically, it was, as far as I remember it was probably it was a round green, a green [pause]
DM: Screen.
HG: Screen. A green screen with two datum lines in white going across this and on the top, I think it was two on the top, or one at the top was a station, two at the bottom, they were British stations broadcasting. No, no figures on that. Nothing. Just the screen. As you know of course I mean we hadn’t seen screens before and there was no televisions or anything and they’re the sort of screens we get now but there were screens and these two datum lines and points were where the British stations were broadcasting. They would send their signals. Now, to get a fix on that quite from memory first of all you had to use a switch and then those, those things would vanish and then you would get two blips, I think from memory on, on the lines away from each other. You’d use another switch. Got the blips together like that. Push the switch and that gave you a fix. Still no numbers. Nothing on it. Just the figures. The movements of these little things on the screen. Then to get the fix you pushed another switch and you’d go on then to another datum point. We had a line going like that and then one there, one there, one there and another big one there, one there and the same on the bottom. But on part of that there would be another small thing marked and that small thing told the navigator because you knew what all those figures were going through there because otherwise the Germans would know them. If they put them through they’d have broadcast the job. So we had to know what these figures were. Well, once we got to the end of this scene we had about four figures and we had then to go to, not the plotting chart but another chart that was all over England and the continent with lines going all like that way and all around this way and that way. And you had to find the figures you’d worked out on this screen on that particular map which gave you then a latitude and longitude which you then transferred on to your plotting chart which gave you a fix. And that fix was relative to the track you were supposed to be making this certain, this try. And you might be lucky and right on it but generally speaking it was a little off that and you checked again five or ten minutes later. You had to keep on checking, working these things out all the time to see that what you’re, that what you’re getting by radio is matching what you’ve already drawn in. And occasionally of course winds change and you’d find suddenly while these fixes you’re given are more or less parallel with your track suddenly you see one go out and you know full well then you’ve got to change your wind. Anyway, so you saw that and then you went back on and got to go back all through to get another fix to see where that is. And from that fix you then had to work out the new wind. A wind direction. And I’m not quite certain now [laughs] I used, we had a Dalton computer and from memory we drew things on this plastic thing and, and moved the slide around. Things like that. I can’t really remember exactly how I did that but anyway we got, we then got another check on that, on that wind and on the course we were, on the course we were flying. We had to alter then to make good that original line which was the track. We had to alter course to that once we worked something else out and we’d give that to the pilot. I can’t remember saying, ‘Navigator to pilot,’ which was always the thing we should do. I think, I think we called each other Christian names basically. You know, it was Roy. I mean we were perfectly happy with that. And so we flew then and very rarely did we see, occasionally you saw if someone went down in flames. You might have have seen something but and you would note it in your log but we didn’t see much I must admit. I don’t think we had initially any air attacks. However, we did go out and get through a lot of flak. There was a lot of flak and when that happened all I could remember was that it used to come up, it used to come up slow and then when going past the aircraft you just can’t believe it. It’s gone like that. And so all the time you’re getting nearer to the target and you may have had, apart from the first track you were doing and keeping log on, your course on that. Then you would get another movement to alter course to get towards the target. Perhaps a short one or another short one just to get into the target. So there was quite a lot of alterations of courses which the navigator has to deal with with the pilot. And so the navigator is busy all the time which I was grateful. I must admit I’d never done navigation before and it was, it was difficult. It was. But it was interesting, it was because when you work these things out and they, and most of them that you worked out were pretty reasonably accurate you realise you’d done a good job. And all the trips I had with the, with my crew touch wood we didn’t get lost and it was all in the dark and we come back that way. When we reached the target my state of operations of course things had changed in the way the some of the bombings were taken. We had what was called a master bomber. Bomb aimer, and he would be a very good crew and he’d be flying lower than us and he’d have to direct the aircraft coming in on to certain flares that may be dropping from other aircraft. ‘Bomb on the green flares,’ or something like that. Or other factors came into that which he’d give instructions to the pilot as to what they should do and what they shouldn’t do. And then sometimes at the end he may have, may say to you, ‘Main stream finish. Stop bombing and return home.’ Or something like this and then you, you’d find all your tracks going and the tracks coming back weren’t the same. You had to go a different way so you couldn’t, well I wouldn’t say you couldn’t, you couldn’t cheat anyway with navigation. You’ve got to do each one as you come. And then you get back after an operation and there again we were lucky, of course. One or two didn’t come back but when we got back to the aerodrome, also when you think that we’re it’s an aerodrome in a field in Lincolnshire and all these others coming back. We get back and find if we were, if we were perhaps about on time we’d give instructions to the pilot. You get the instructions to land. On the other hand if we were perhaps a bit late and perhaps you were a new crew we’d be given instruction from the, the control tower. I think our aircraft was M for Mabel. Mabel. I think we had some other name for it. Anyway, you would fly Angels 9 and so we had to keep up at nine thousand feet going around in circle to there and we were given a number until our number was called so we would go in and land. That’s how they got rid of so many aircraft coming. They couldn’t all come in at one time. And that was the end of an operation and from then onwards obviously we were picked up in the aerodrome and taken to debriefing with intelligence officers. And I can always remember that because we’d get a drink of coffee or whatever it was and cigarettes. Well, of course all the boys go. I didn’t smoke. Someone else. I took them for somebody else. No. I never smoked. I didn’t like smoking. I never did. That was great. And so that was the end of one operation. So we’ll have a breather?
DM: So up ‘til now I think I’m right in saying your operations had been at night but you then started to do some daylight raids. What was the first one of those?
HG: Well, the first one I’ve got in there is the Essen raid which was an extremely big raid. We did, we didn’t really know that until we got there because I’ve got it here marked one thousand. But as we’ve seen from the, there was, there was actually one thousand and seventy nine aircraft which was the biggest one, a thousand bomber raids in the war. But the point was that there had been thousand bomber raids way back in ’62. This was the biggest one.
DM: ’42. Back in ’42.
HG: ’42. Yes. What did I say?
DM: ’62.
HG: Yeah. ’42. There had been thousand but then they weren’t using necessarily bomber squadrons. They were using OTUs, Operational Training Units to make them up. When Bomber Harris decided he’d have a thousand bomber raid he had to, had to scrape the aircraft from all over the country. But these other, this last one of course there were seven hundred and fifty Lancasters, two ninety three Halifaxes and thirty six Mosquitoes of all bomber groups. This was the largest number of aircraft sent to a target so far in the war. Three Lancasters were lost. We lost three on that raid. I remember in particular I think one of our squadron got, he didn’t get shot down, I think that’s when I saw one from there, the gunner, the rear gunner a big cookie which was a tremendous big explosive bomb dropped from above and knocked off. I think knocked off the tail of one of the other squadrons. That’s how one of them was lost that way. It was not, it wasn’t shot down by the Germans. But it does say there was three gone. I don’t know what the other reasons were. Four thousand six hundred and sixty one tonnes of bombs were dropped. The accurate, was accurate and this [grey blue] virtually paralysed Essen until the American troops entered the city sometime later. Essen’s recording system produced no proper reports but eight hundred and ninety seven people were said to have been killed which is not too happy for them but there we are. That was war. I know. So that was the biggest daylight and we did have a daylight again close to that to Dortmund the next day. That was another daylight but I’ve got nothing, I can’t remember anything about that one except it's in the log. Five hours thirty. And then we did go to the, 27th of March, getting to the end of March went to Farge marshalling yards. I can’t remember much. I can’t remember that one at all. So that then I think [pause – pages turning] and then we did have one very last night flight again. Nearly nine hours. Eight forty five and we went to Pilsen in Czechoslovakia. And I did see a note here we were diverted Harwell. I think that one when we came back we got diverted when we come back to England because I remember we were coming back in daylight in the end and I remember standing up and had a look back and all the, all the Lancs were coming all at different [laughs] behind us. Anyway, as far as I can remember then and then we left. Of course, we left, we left Coningsby, well thinking about it we left via [pause] we left Metheringham shortly afterwards.
DM: Were you told why you were leaving?
HG: No.
DM: You were told to go.
HG: And that’s what staggers me. All I can think of quite simply only since not then. Since other things have cropped up through life that at that particular time we did know about there was going to be a Tiger Squadron because they were going to attack Japan and I understand 106 was the squadron I found out afterwards was one squadron they wanted to go to Japan. Now, having said that because we had two Australians and I can’t remember whether they said anything. They may have said well they didn’t want, they didn’t want to go. At least to volunteer. This was going to be volunteer stuff and I think they wanted to get back to Australia and I can only think that was the one reason for to just send us off at the very end to just do one raid with a squadron we knew nothing about. I digress quickly here because only last week a public relations lady that deals with us veterans said an Australian wanted to phone me because I was on 189 Squadron and he wanted to know something about the squadron. And I said, ‘Well, yes. I was on it for one month and I can’t remember. I can only just remember that raid.’ And I mean we were there almost, and I mean one month was nothing. I couldn’t remember much about that.
DM: So you were sent to Bardney, changed a squadron, did one raid.
HG: Oh, yeah one thing, yes. I did one. When we were coming from Bardney I still remember my Australian pilot, he’d been commissioned. He was, he was a flying officer now and I remember him he going on all the courses and he had all our reports with him and he said I’d been recommended for a commission then. So I knew full well really that I should have had it. Personally it was only one of these things, unfortunate things, not because I didn’t deserve it because that’s how the system worked. There was two officers already in the course and they wouldn’t give any more. That’s how, you know that’s, so that was, I wasn’t very happy. And someone else, I saw another chap who was on the course originally said and I met him another somewhere along the line flying somewhere because of course between these sort of bombing raids of course we used to do trips. I’d take a squadron leader to somewhere. To another, you know nothing with my crew. He wanted a navigator and I’d do that for him and take him somewhere where he wanted. And so it’s all sorts of other things you know. Different things happened.
DM: Earlier on you said that you were called Stan.
HG: Yeah.
DM: When you were in the air. Why was that?
HG: Well, I go back to what we talked when I said I didn’t like my name Harold [laughs] I didn’t like it then and so I told the crew, you know, ‘I’m Stan.’ And so that’s how I, that’s right ‘til the end of the war. And so that was that. I don’t know what my mum thought about. I don’t think she worried very much. My father was in the First World War. He got in in 1914 and he got away with that but he died quite young. He had a, he wasn’t, he got shot in his finger I think but he other troubles. He died when he was about fifty nine I think. I’m sorry about that because I’d have liked him to have seen that I got through because he was still alive when I got back and I always remember he never asked me anything much [laughs] I don’t know why. At least I can’t remember if they asked me anything. I wasn’t such a jawbag then. I didn’t say so very much. Anyway, I just remember I came home to my mother and my sister and that was it, you know.
DM: So the war ended.
HG: Yes.
DM: You didn’t go to Japan because —
HG: No.
DM: I don’t think anybody did in the end.
HG: No. They didn’t. No. That was all gone.
DM: You didn’t go to India or anything like that.
HG: No. I didn’t.
DM: No.
HG: No. I —
DM: Did you make any, what did you do in the immediate aftermath of the war before you were demobbed? Can you remember?
HG: I don’t think there was anything in here. Wait a minute.
DM: Pause that a minute.
[recording paused]
DM: As a navigator on a Lancaster you were in your cubicle so you hadn’t got a view of what was going on outside. That’s, that’s right, isn’t it?
That’s right. You wouldn’t call it a cubicle. I’ll show you in a moment.
DM: Yeah.
On the wall I’ve got in the hall.
DM: Right. But anyway you couldn’t see —
HG: No. I couldn’t.
DM: What was going on.
HG: I was, I was, I was facing that way to the port engine with, well I’ve got my legs to here.
DM: Right. So looking out over the left hand side basically.
HG: Yeah. Well, my face was that way because all the stuff was in front of me. I’ll show you. I’ll show it to you in the hall. Yeah. Carry on.
DM: So did you ever get to sort of pop up in to the astrodome or or have a look out through the cockpit and see what was going on?
HG: I didn’t go up on the astrodome. I did go into the cockpit occasionally just to have a look around and got back quick. I think it was, I think it was over Essen when I looked out there because I looked down and we were bombing Essen through cloud. We had what they called Oboe which was I think the markers, I don’t know what, I think it was called Oboe and we had to bomb through cloud. All I could see down in Essen and I can always remember that. Looked down and it well it would have been eighteen thousand twenty thousand feet. Whatever. And it was just one, one mass of smoke. Couldn’t see Essen. I don’t know whether it was covered in anyway tremendous mile of well obviously it was you know we were, bombed in there. It was, that’s all I remember. Other times when we were flying friendly stuff and we had to go for another aerodrome to drop something or take somebody I can often remember going up the front with the pilot you know. We could set them on course and give them the course and know exactly what that was. Well obviously, I could know what we were going to do given the first course and go back and check on the next course if I wanted to stay up there with him and have a look around. We [laughs] I can always remember too the bomb aimer going up to the front there, having an argument, and he was Scottish with Roy. They saw a plane. They was just flying in England and he saw it and they were arguing whether it was above us or below us. Little things like that, you know. Crew stuff like that. And also we come back from, we were flying over England once going from east to west and I registered three hundred miles an hour which was, a Lanc did about a hundred fifty. We did. And in those days three hundred miles an hour was like a, almost like a Spitfire. But it was quite good. I remember that. And also we came back from coming back in the dark somewhere again on an ordinary trip and we had to do in Lancasters it was all part of the training for the pilot and his crew and everything else. You had to do certain things. Fly here. Fly there. And coming back I remembered we lost an engine over England. We lost an engine. We would come back on three engines but really nothing, no problem there because a Lanc could fly on one or two I think. They were quite good. And you see I have to look, I look back because I’ve met so many veterans and I know the sort of number of ops they’ve done and I know full well John Nichol who was after the war an officer used to fly I forget what they [pause] Tornadoes, something like that. When we bombed Iraq, you know. Saddam Hussein. Saddam Hussein and he called, he called the people who bombed before ’44, that was when D-Day occurred those that bombed after that were, what did he call them now? Tail End Charlies. Now, that was the term, terminology the, I think the fighters used that. The chap that used to have with fighters going into, more or less going into action they’d have a chap flying all into the back of them like this. Connected you know. And he was a Tail End Charlie to just protect their back to see what was coming along. There are so many, so many things you know that that happened and you hear of all sorts of things. And I know full well that that, I mean we came, I mean in that it took me all that time to get on operations and for the rest of the crew and it all really started because of failing as a pilot. I wasted half a dozen months in Canada. Well, not to say wasted like. Canada was a nice place. I wasted six months there trying to be a pilot and never did and so if I’d have got gone straight to a navigator I would much on squadron fire quicker and I might not be here. There’s an, there’s an awful luck I feel about it. Even so, even that’s one at Essen. We still lose. Apparently, I’ve got something even from the times I was flying from from roughly from January whatever it is up to when we ever finished flying we still lost, Bomber Command still lost about seven hundred aircraft. All of the other squadrons and so many other squadrons we were still, still lost a lot of guys. So we, you know, I think all of us at my stage of the game think we are really lucky but the other guys, some of the ones I’ve been we met. I mean they all know full well, I know full well first of all they were good pilots or crews, they were good crews. The training we had was good. There’s no doubt about it. The training we had was good. I mean to teach me navigation which I only went to an ordinary school wasn’t easy but it had to be the fact you wanted to do it. You had to do. And so to that end Bomber Command and ever since then you know I’ve been with veterans who have done a lot more and there’s no question there’s any difference between because I didn’t do as much. It’s not my fault. I had a longer time. No. It would have been more difficult. Put it that way.
DM: So before you came out you did some non-flying things.
HG: Yes.
DM: I think. What did you do?
HG: Well, there were basically, they were filling in time I think. Well, waiting for the Australians to go home and we look at them. Let me see. 18 Squadron, Bardney. That’s the funny thing. Twice I’ve got that for Fulbeck. Each one after the, after the last bombing raid in the war at night time. Six and a half hours. It wasn’t very far to Norway. Fighter affiliation. High level bombing. We used to do high level bombing. There was a place in, somewhere near the east coast where we used to take the aircraft, all of us and used to do practice bombs. And I always remember too one of those practice bombs we, our bomb aimer of course he, and by the way let’s get back. I’ve never mentioned the bomb aimer because he’d got his own particular job. However, in that squadron they did, we did have the bomb aimer sit with the navigator at times because the screen I told you originally because of those things up above the Germans used to put more and more of them. So he’d sit with me and make certain what was happening. If there was any others. And of course, we had also, I haven’t mentioned that, perhaps I should have done its come to me now and I’ll show you on the passage in a minute. Other side there was another screen. We had, underneath the aircraft we’d got a bulge and that was I forget the equipment there but that was giving us a picture in my, where I was operating from showed the contours of the land. In other words when you, if you went over Brighton you’d see the sea line and that sort going around to over to Dover and that sort of thing. It gave a picture and we could, I can’t remember how we did that we could get a fix off that to get a put on our charts. I can’t quite remember exactly that one. That’s another thing you know. And of course, the high level bombing. Well, that’s this. They’re filling up time here. Look at this. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven or eight there and I mean they sent the Australians home. Map reading. I’d done a lot of map reading. I mean we’d been doing high level bombing. Bassingham. That was another one. Only one hour forty. Just trips to waste time I think. Air to sea firing which we, oh yes. I can remember that. And we went over the North Sea and of course all this has to be combined with other, other squadrons who were close by and but of course you were given times of course for this and I always remember air to sea firing. Well, I don’t think my gunners ever had to fire in anger from memory. But when we were in this air to sea firing they were allowed to go. We had to attack something in the North Sea that was floating. I can’t remember. They all had, the rear gunner had a go and the mid-upper had to have a go. It was almost laughable because we killed ourselves laughing because the pilots, from memory I think even he said he offered them, I think even in those days five pound or something and no one missed them laughs] Formation flying. Yeah. Well, one hour five minutes on the 7th of April. January, February, March, April, May. Now, I’ve got something I might just mention about —
DM: So, before you left the Royal Air Force —
HG: Yes.
DM: I think you were sent to Cardington.
HG: That’s right. Yes.
DM: What did you do there?
HG: Well, I was put in charge of, apparently a lot of recruits were put there. Aircrew recruits and all wanted of course to fly and I had roughly about I think twenty or thirty in one, one block of the place there at Cardington and I had to look after them. Its strange there because one of the young men his, he was there and I think my wife knew him strangely enough but he was only just trying to join the Air Force and it was a lost cause really. I don’t think he, because I, well I did know about him. The next time I saw him he was playing for Brighton Football Club. And so I was just, it was what was it really? It was just something for me to do. And that’s like when we, I said my gunner and my bomb aimer went to, I think East Africa to learn to drive. They were giving us all odd jobs. I can’t possibly because they, they couldn’t get all of us demobbed there were so many of us. I mean Army, Navy, Air Force and I think they just pushed us around a bit until they had a chance to, to get us on to some place and get a demob suit and send us off. I wish there was a stalling arrangement by the government because of the number they wanted to get rid of. So, so it was, it was quite simple and I mean I could travel home from there and I quite enjoyed doing a job like that. I think I’d probably got a few raspberries from some of the younger ones. It was just a time waster really. I did, I mean I know it was Air Force and I was, obviously I wanted to get out of it now. I didn’t want to because these young chaps wanted to fly of course. What happened to them I don’t know. It was just a question again of something to pass. Being warrant officer, you know to look after them. See if they behaved themselves, I suppose.
DM: And when did you actually leave the Air Force? What date?
HG: Well —
DM: Effectively. So —
HG: That I don’t know. I would say it was, wait a minute [pause] I would say it was, yeah effectively discharged on the 25th of November 1946.
DM: Right.
HG: That would be it. The other one is, is when I got enlisted in the Royal Air Force Reserve in 1949 or whatever it was.
DM: What did you do after you left the Air Force?
HG: Well, I went straight back to my business. British, no it wasn’t British Gas. It was still Brighton, no. let me see. Let me try and think. I think it was —
DM: I think it was ’48 when it was nationalised.
HG: Yeah. So it would still be at Brighton And Hove General Gas Company and I went back and from memory I went back straight into the showroom. They put me straight back in the showroom. I’m just trying, I’m still trying to remember that. I can’t believe anything else other than show. I certainly, I can’t remember anything else other than the showroom. Yes. Yeah. I’m sure I went straight back into the showroom trying to get used to the equipment and all the things that happened even though I was only a few years away. See how the gas cooking and fires etcetera had progressed and, and shortly after that and I don’t know how many months it was the Gas Company advertised they wanted representatives to go in to meet people. To go around to premises to get gas. And I got out of the showroom then and I applied for that and I got as a representative. At the same time funnily enough there was several others, another two Air Force chaps I think both were ground staff chaps went the same, did the same thing and we became representatives from British Gas and were given an area to introduce gas to people and see builders. See what we could do with them. And I started that and I went on for a long long time as an ordinary representative which I enjoyed. In those early days of course we had to come, I had to come out as far as this place. It wasn’t as built up. Saltdean wasn’t as built up as it is now and in fact myself and one of the senior officers in British Gas, an older man than me we managed, there wasn’t much gas in this area and we managed to get there was supply right over the side and we had to get it right down the middle of Saltdean and once we started that and I was doing a lot with customers, builders to selling gas because what was happening in the world or in Britain was everything was going to be electric. They wanted all everything was going to be electric. They didn’t win. The gas took over and then we had oil coming in which we had to fight them to get and they had these old boilers to start with and we then we managed to get over the oil business because people had this oil in tanks in their gardens and that became problems and they were dirty things and and we were on the up. Gas was on the up. On the up. What was I saying then? It was, it was getting a hold. The representatives and all of us were, we weren’t all aircrew. One or two were and others were one or two Army and that sort of thing and we were doing our best to sell. We did a good job and we got a hold on and the gas built up from them days when we started that and then I used to come out here. And we used to have to go by bus in those days. We had to get by bus all smartly dressed. Smart dress. And if you wanted to get back in the office you had to find a phone box you see and walk to it [laughs] and put your four pence in. But then it was becoming good then. I become a senior in that department and then afterwards I wanted to get on better so I transferred to our commercial department which gave me instead of domestic houses I was dealing with places like hotels and police stations and all the big commercial buildings etcetera and also for restaurants and cafés. All the stuff where we were getting more money in of course. And I had that for some time and of course by that time we were given cars, or at least we bought cars and they’d paid us money for them. And then I wanted to get on further than that. I saw what I was doing as a commercial representative and then I applied with all the other commercial reps, some were Air Force, some were whatever they were. All were similar ages and we all wanted this job. I wanted to be, I wanted to be a management and I applied for management and I become an assistant manager. I always remember the, I had an appointment in London and there was several other guys there. I didn’t know them other than they were Londoners and we had to have an interview and one chap came out. He wanted me to talk about whatever they wanted me to talk about. I can’t remember that. And I said, and he said, ‘I’m giving up.’ I thought, giving up? I’m not giving up. So I went in to this when I had my interview. I can’t remember what it was but I had to talk about something and, and it also reminded me because when I got my commission as a PO, pilot officer and I think that was when after the war I had to address a lot of other officers and I had to stand on the front and talk about something or other. So so I suppose that’s when my talking started. In the business of gas and I did alright. I got the, I was an assistant, assistant industrial commercial sales manager and I enjoyed that. I enjoyed that right to the end and I retired in this place.
DM: Looking back did you enjoy your days in Bomber Command?
HG: Yes. Now, I sometimes mention that often with people I enjoy the navigator. I said, no that’s the wrong thing. Let’s be honest I was bloody frightened at times. I mean, no. Let’s put it this way I liked it because I was involved. I was doing something. I could, I could not have been a gunner but I couldn’t have sat there in my young days just sitting there and it was difficult for them. Especially for nine hours you’re sitting there watching the dark all the time. Very difficult. I had to work. Great. I liked and I still like working. I still, I’m now in my age now that, well I do a lot of work. I do have help but I still, touch wood I can still walk. I press myself. I think I’ve done that right all the time. I’m not wanting to be, I don’t think I’ve ever been lazy. Put it this way. And so to that end I’ve been lucky but yeah navigator, well any aircrew there was a worry you know. The times when everybody was silent because they were worrying about this and that and I mean I was silent because it was my, me doing of course navigating and touch wood I did all right. I was assessed afterwards as average. Now that’s great because one has to think that all there were some great aircrew. I know that some of the flights they were great and some of the navigators were great but of course the pilots were even so and they were extremely good, extremely good individuals of course. I couldn’t match with them. But there were so many of us were average and did average things except and went a lot on bombs and of course lost a lot of lives and all of us it was dangerous. But when you were doing that you hear things but you’ve got you’ve got a mind on what you’re doing here. So it was great to be involved and working. Now, you know it wasn’t enjoyable but it was worthwhile.


David Meanwell, “Interview with Harold Stanley Gardner,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 5, 2023,

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