Interview with Gilbert Gray


Interview with Gilbert Gray


Gilbert Gray grew up in Dunfermline, joining the Air Training Corps before enlisting in the Royal Air Force as a flight engineer in 1940, aged 18 years. He trained at RAF St Athan in Wales, graduated as a sergeant and was posted onto Lancasters. He completed his training on 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Wigsley and No. 5 Lancaster Finishing School at RAF Syerston before arriving at 106 Squadron, RAF Metheringham, in May 1944. He describes his first operation, to an ammunition factory in France and then the hectic pre and post D-Day activity in June 1944. He talks about surviving attacks by Fw 190s, predicted Flak, the phenomena of St. Elmo’s Fire, and landing with a burst mainwheel tyre. He also speaks about coming back off leave to find empty beds and of a friend’s premonition of survival after being shot down. Gilbert tells of the crew’s nerves as they approached the last operation of their tour and the wrench of splitting up the closely-knit crew afterwards. Posted to 1660 HCU he saw the Lancasters replace Stirlings for training and took part in the first post-war air show at RAF Swinderby. Remustering to an administration role, Gilbert was posted to India and spent a leisurely year playing lots of sport before returning to Britain to work with a ‘grumpy’ flight sergeant until his demobilsation in February 1947. He also recounts how, in 2014, he helped a Dutch school identify a part from a crashed Lancaster and wrote a speech for a Lancaster crew memorial service, held in Holland.







00:57:10 audio recording


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GG: Up in Dunfermline, and that was within a stone’s throw, roughly three miles of ‘Bristle which is now the site of Dalgety Bay in the east.
Unknown: [Muffled speech]
GG: And there was a constant stream of aircraft, and of course one. There was Hurricanes, Wellingtons, Martlets and so on. So I, In 1939 I entered, but War was declared on September the third, a few days. Nothing terribly much had been happening in the War, so the school reopened on October the 16th that day we heard strange noises in the sky and this was, in fact, the first raid on the mainland of Britain by Heinkels. At school I joined the Air Training Corps and had my very first flight at Donibristle, in a Swordfish, the open cockpit of a Swordfish. And after I left school I joined the Royal Observer Corps and served in the centre in Dunfermline. And we plotted all kinds of aircraft, from all sorts of aerodromes that existed in central Scotland. And we used to watch the track of what we called ‘Weather Willy’ over the North Sea. A German aircraft I presume collecting weather information. At eighteen and a half of course I enlisted. I was determined to be a pilot but I was told ‘We have too many pilots, they’re training all over the world, but if you want to go in right away you can go as an air gunner or a flight engineer.’ I chose flight engineer and in the middle of March I was off to Aircrew Recruiting Centre in London, the first time I had ever been away from home by myself. And there we were. We had our first introduction to discipline and that sort of thing, although I had been well served in the Air Training Corps because much of it I already knew. From ACRC we were soon sent up to Bridlington, to Initial Training Wing where we learned more of marching and aircraft recognition and weather, meteorology and that sort of thing. From there we were sent to flight engineers’ training at No 4 School of Technical Training at St Athan in South Wales. A course which last roughly six months or so in the course of which, well first part given over to instruction and various things mechanical, until the time came for us to be allocated to particular aircraft training. And I was fortunate enough to be selected to go on Lancasters and completed the training. And we marched past when we graduated with our sparkling new sergeant’s stripes. We got rid of our white cadets’ outfits and our caps and we had, of course, a flight engineer brevet to sew on so the needles were flying that night before the graduation. From there it was I think November 1943 or thereabouts, we were then sent to aircrew commanders school, so called at Scampton, the aerodrome from which the Dambusters flew on their great attack on the dams. Incidentally, I seem to remember as a boy, it must have been in 1942 when I was interested in aircraft, I heard a strange noise approaching from roughly the south, and lo and behold over the treetops came a vic of three Lancasters. And they rode over our house, virtually treetop height, and I can only believe that that was the Dambusters in one of their training flights before the Dambusters raid. Aircrew Commanders’ School, we had various physical training. We were kitted out there too, but at Christmas 1943 we were sent home for a short leave, after which I was posted to 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit at Wigsley, just outside Lincoln. And after some ground training there I flew for the first time in a Stirling which was a training aircraft there, dual controlled Stirlings. First flight February 23rd 1944. I was now in Bomber County. Well first flights in the Stirling were not all that exciting because I was very airsick. I had been crewed up with a Flying Officer Walters but I required medication so I was removed from that crew and had medical treatment and when I was deemed fit enough I joined Sergeant Brown’s crew. It was unusual for a pilot at that stage, to be simply a sergeant. However, Peter was an excellent pilot. I flew first with him on March the 3rd in 1944. And at this conversion unit we completed our eighteen exercises day and night, cross country’s, bombing practice and so on. Our bombing practice of course took place at Wainfleet on the Wash. No 5 Lanc finishing school came next where we met the Lancaster. And of course we were just amazed at its versatility after the fairly clumsy Stirling. And the thing I remember was that, I rather think our pilot, our instructor pilot was showing off a bit because we flew solo over the Wash, so we were leaving a wash literally behind us. And lifted the wing over Skegness pier, that sort of thing. But it was only a very short course only a few days really. I think about four days and of course we had been trained in three engine flying and that sort of thing because there was always a danger of losing an engine. Our short stay at Syerston led us to 106 Squadron based at Metheringham and one of the crews in No 54 base which as one then learned later was a rather, what one might call a crack [unclear] base which had Pathfinder squadrons. It had 617 Squadron and Mosquito as well. Unknown to us, we had been posted there five days after a rather disastrous attack as far as the squadron was concerned on I think it was, Schweinfurt, when five crews had been lost. And as we now know on one, in one of the aircraft was Warrant Officer Jackson, and we all know of his remarkable exploit resulting in the awarding of the Victoria Cross. Well we were one of the five crews moved to the squadron to replace the five crews that were lost on that night. A few days later having been acclimatised to the Lanc on the squadron and the various squadron procedures we were sent across to Coningsby to the 54 Base headquarters to pick up a brand new Lancaster straight from the factory. LL953 which was labelled with the squadron letters ZNC-Charlie. And that was on May the 4th in 1944. After a few exercises of getting used to, again squadron procedures and so on we were sent on our first operation on the 7th of May, a few days later. We were sent to a huge ammunition factory cum ammunition dump in the middle of France. Twelve of us were part of an attack of, I think fifty seven aircraft all together, but 106 sent twelve. Eight of us came back. We didn’t really realise it but very much in hindsight one realises that this was now really the beginning of the softening up process for the invasion that was due in June. We were beginning to take out targets which would cripple the enemy and protect the Normandy landing areas. As I say we lost four aircraft that night. Well in May 1997, fifty three years later I attended a memorial celebration at a tiny village called [?] the village where one of our crews had crashed that night. And this village wanted to remember these airmen, the seven airmen, by raising or by raising a memorial in their cemetery and by holding really a day long celebration. Fifty three years later in France the people wished to remember those lads. Those seven lads who were killed. Well two nights later and we begin to realise that we’re in a pretty hectic period we were sent to [?] which was on the outskirts of Paris and which was a big mechanical factory of, mainly of I believe of tanks and that sort of thing. This was a time when the authorities began to say ‘Well, these are easy trips to France compared with those who went to Berlin and other hotspots and so they decided that each operation now would be worth one third of an operation. Which meant that crews normally restricted to about thirty four would now be asked to do three times as many operations. However, about this time there was an attack on a military camp in Belgium at Burg airport and there was a very heavy loss of aircraft. I think if I remember correctly over forty aircraft where shot down in that attack. So, the authorities quickly changed their minds and realised this was a different situation because we were now operating within the fighter belts which were just as dangerous as the anti-aircraft resorts. We were sent, as I say we were really now in the, the leading up to the invasion, although we didn’t know it, so we were attacking railways as well. We were sent to Tours unfortunately our receiver went u/s and we had to be, had to turn back. But again on the 31st of May connected with the invasion we were sent to attack coastal batteries at Messe. But again we had trouble with our hydraulics and after attacking we were diverted to another aerodrome, to Chipping Warden, where we could land safely. But along came then D-Day. Just another operation as far as we were concerned. And we attacked the batteries at [?], which were on the American sector, where the Americans rangers had a dreadful time. But we, I remember, took off at two in the morning so we were there something like two hours before the attack on the ground took place. And we were flying on, it was a very cloudy morning, we were really flying between two layers of cloud we were at about ten thousand feet but we got a glimpse of their markers marking the aiming point and we attacked, I think successfully. But we soon went into cloud again. However, there we were out of the cloud at one point and four Fokker Wolf’s appeared. Fokker Wolf’s which was the German hotshot fighter.
BB: The 190’s?
GG: The 190 and two of them attacked and we saw their red tracers.
BB: Tracers.
GG: Coming towards us seemingly very, very slowly and when they reached us, [whooshing sound], past they went, luckily they missed us and our rear gunner was yelling ‘Get into the cloud, get into the cloud.’ And that we did and we got away safely. The next night on that, indeed on that very night, we were sent back to Caen where we were attacking the bridges, really quite low, about three thousand feet or so when we attacked, a lot of fighters about, and indeed we were attacked again by a Junkers 188 and we got some slight damage, the Perspex on the [unclear] above our heads in the cabin splintered and we got little cuts but nothing very much. So, we lost two aircraft that night, including our flight commander, Squadron Leader Sprawson, I remember. Anyway, that was really the invasion hotting up. The next few nights were very busy. 8th, 10th, 12th, 14th, 15th all evening attacks. Railways in Renne, railway junctions, Orleans. Ten of us from our squadron were sent to attack the railways south of Orleans, attack it, we attacked it for about thirty miles from one thousand feet and some of us, some of the crews were a bit more audacious, and went down to seven hundred. So, there was always a danger of being damaged by your own bombs. However, we did it and we tore up this railway line for about, as I say, thirty miles or so. Next night the same at Poitiers, more railways, Aunay-sur-Odon. On the 14th the armies were held up and there was a big concentration of troops gathered at this particular place, Aunay-sur-Odon, and we, it was a very heavy attack and we bombed I think from about seven thousand feet and the place was obliterated. This was part of the job of helping the armies to get through. Chateauroux fuel dumps, lots of fighters were out that night. And so it went on. We had done how many ops? About ten or so and it was time to be checked out by the wing commander. So, he took us up for an air test to see that we were behaving and performing well. And the aircraft we flew was AJG-George, held on our squadron. Which was the aircraft, that was, these were the letters of the aircraft which Wing Commander Gibson used in the bombing of the dams. He, of course, had been in the previous year, commander of 106 Squadron. However, at this time flying bombs came on the scene and London was being attacked and the South East of England was being attacked so some of our attacks now were switched to them.
BB: The V1 sites?
GG: The V1 sites [unclear] on the 18th of June. It was really quite difficult. The weather at this particular time was a hindrance I remember. But for these attacks, some which were to be made in daylight, our aircraft had their markings changed. The aircraft marking on the side of the aircraft, on 106 at any rate, was done in white. White letters, and on the tail fin it was repainted white with a green stripe, I presume so that different squadrons could be recognised. 21st of June, we’re back to the city. To the attacking of German industry, particularly the oil industry in Gelsenkirchen or a place called [unclear]. It was a terrifying night, because as we approached the target, I think I said in a letter back home I describe it as a red carpet set out for us. But it was a funny red carpet because it was a very dangerous one. This was the anti-aircraft fire over the target. But we had to turn towards it and go into it. Luckily, we got through it unharmed although our bomb aimer that spotted something had seemed ominous because he had noticed in front of us three successive anti-aircraft fire shells bursting in front of us in line with us. And he told the pilot ‘Look I think we’re being predicted here.’ The Germans could do that by fixing onto you and predicting your track. He says ‘I think we should turn a little bit to port.’ A few minutes later Wally at the back reported anti-aircraft explosion just where we probably had been. So, in that respect I suppose we were lucky, but on the way home, and as I now know, dead on track having done their attack. As we crossed the [unclear] Sea on the way home two of our aircraft were shot down by a night fighter. Of course, you or I back home you don’t know what’s happened to them. But many, many years, forty or fifty years later, I now know what happened to them because of links with a friend in the Netherlands. All that time later, from 1944 to 19, 2014 there came to be a message from the Netherlands from one, a gentleman called Beyard, who is an aircraft researcher. And he sent me an email containing a photograph of an electric motor. And it had come from a school who were doing a project because obviously the aircraft which had crashed nearby, in fact the two aircraft crashed very close to each other. The aircraft had been excavated, and the school now had possession of an electric motor. Where was it placed on the machine, on the aircraft? Now, I had to think now where would it be? But I was able to say well it had probably served various lighting, for example, in the aircraft and various bits and pieces of apparatus. And this developed into a real project, in fact a real memorial celebration in this village of [?] I think it was called. The school arranged this. I was invited by Herr Beyard to be connected with it because he had, in his research, tried to track down relatives of the crew but he couldn’t find anyone and the only one he could find who took part in that attack on that night was myself. And so, to cut a long story short I sent an article to them to be used in the ceremony and it was translated into Dutch and Mr Beyard recited it at the ceremony which was a very large, turned out to be a very large ceremony I think. And at the end of it the school children released balloons, and each had a tag with the name of a crew member. And as he said in his message to me, ‘We had an easterly wind that day and we do hope that some of these balloons reached Britain.’
BB: Did they?
GG: Oh, I really don’t know. By coincidence, not far away at the military ceremony at [?] the pilot, this particular pilot who was remembered by the school was Bellingham and his crew. Not far away the other crew that were shot down, pilot Jim Brodie who came from Paisley actually, he had a similar ceremony at [?] ceremony on the 1st of May I understand. All that time later and the crews are still remembered because the Dutch have a, seem to have an affinity with Bomber Command because they had such a wretched time. And rather than shout at the aeroplanes they were cheering the aeroplanes as they, as they passed over. Well, soon after we were back to flying bomb sites. And then in the middle of June we started formation flying. On three days we were formation flying, now that was really scary because we weren’t used to flying in formation and so close, flying in a vic you were turning to port for example the aircraft above you would start to slide in towards you. And we just weren’t.
BB: The risk was high then?
GG: We just were not used to this. And it transpires and Bomber Harris relates it in his book, that it was deemed by Dolittle of the Americans and himself that the time had come for a massive air attack by the Americans and ourselves on Berlin. Yes, on Berlin. And everything was set up and ready to go until Harris said ‘Now are all our fighters in place?’ Because we had to depend on fighter cover from the Americans. Our particular armament was pea shooters by comparison with the enemy fighters. And he discovered that there weren’t sufficient fighters to protect us. So, the effort was called off. So, I think that was a lucky escape because we had already been given our position under the main formation we were to lead a vic of three underneath the main formation.
BB: So the bomb risk must have been quite high?
GG: Maybe. So that was a relief to be relieved of that, although our neighbouring squadron 97 Squadron were on the same training, and two of their aircraft actually collided on formation flying and carried with them very senior members of the squadron. 29 of June we went on our very first daylight raid. Now that was very scary. But it was encouraging because I think we were flying quite high but this was a flying bomb area that we going to attack but we could see the Spitfires gliding above. Could see the sunlight sparkling off their canopies and so on which was a little cheering. We had a week’s leave after that. We shared, normally shared a Nissen hut with another crew. When we returned from leave their beds were empty, their cupboards were empty, because they had been shot down. While we had been on leave in two attacks on [?] which was a very large base for V weapons, we had lost from the squadron no fewer than seven aircraft. Two in the first attack, and five in the second, all by fighters. So ,it was quite a gloomy squadron that we returned to. It’s funny, many, many years later through squadron records and correspondence we discovered what happened to the crews. And I was particularly friendly with one in particular because he came, was a Scots lad, he was an engineer and came from Dysart, Kirkcaldy. And by coincidence my Father who was the local newspaper correspondent for the People’s Journal interviewed him because he had escaped. He had been protected by the French, and had finally got home and was back home and my Father interviewed him in Kirkcaldy. And I got in correspondence with his wife. Finally tracked her down. And she mentioned that on that particular night, Chick as she called him, Chick Swindley, had been on leave and was going back to the squadron. And he’d walked down the street from the house, he had turned and come back to her. And he said ‘Look don’t worry, because I’m going to be shot down but I’ll be OK.’ Now how’s that for premonition? And he was shot down, but he escaped. [?] was a very expensive thing. Back to railways, now there that was a long seven and a half hour trip. Now people tend to think we’re under attack all the time but in my letter home after that trip I described it as the most boring trip because nothing happened. We just flew there, dropped our bombs and flew back again. On the 17th we were, the Army had been held up at Caen, had difficulty in breaking through. So we were called upon, the air forces were called upon, to mount a huge attack on the Caen area to see if we could help the Army get through. We were given a particular target on the [?] , on the outskirts of Caen. And in fact I think we were, as I said in my letter home, we were supposed to bomb that particular morning but on that exercise there was something like four thousand five hundred aircraft involved. Huge heavy bombers and other areas roundabout Caen were attacked and well it was a pretty dreadful night, or day, for troops on the ground, imagine the German troops. On the target a few days later, to Kiel, to attack the naval establishments there. That meant a long trip to, well not a terribly long trip, about five hours probably. Low first of all over the North Sea, and then climb to bombing height and then we attacked Kiel. Two nights later, the 24th, we went to Stuttgart. Now it was one of the German industrial cities which had been difficult to attack because it lies in a valley on the River Neckar but we were tasked there and this was the first of a series of three raids I understand on the city. That night the flak, heavy anti-aircraft fire met us but we carried out our attack, seven and a half hours, nearly eight hours in the air. The following day we were operating in daylight, Sancerre, again helping the Army it was an airfield and signals centre. The following night [?], now that was a really long trip. Right across France, [?] being just south of Lyon. And apparently the Marquis were active in that area and we were sent to try and do something for them and we attacked the railway establishments there. We took off in a thunderstorm, we flew in a thunderstorm all the way there, thunderstorms, in heavy rain, the electricity was sparking between the guns on the aircraft.
BB: St Elmo’s fire?
GG: St Elmo’s fire. Because of the rain, and we had windscreen wipers, the electricity was dancing there and the pilot therefore we were, we were all being blinded by the flashes of lightning. And the pilot had to fly with his head below the screen so that he could see his instruments. That was a tough, a tough flight, a tiring flight, a very long flight. The following night we were out again, this time back to Stuttgart, and that night was a bad night, because thirty-nine Lancs were shot down that night and we came within an ace of being one of them because just after we dropped our bombs our rear gunner, who had a little instrument called ‘fish pond’, miniature television, little screen, and he noticed something that shouldn’t have been there, a little spot and he of course told us and not only that but our navigator, having heard us talk about the heavy flak the last time we were there had come out of his seat and was in the astrodome above looking out saying ‘Where, where, where’s all this heavy flak you were talking about?’ We said ‘Oh, that’s because the fighters are about.’ And sure enough, he apparently told me in a message later. He looked out of the port side of the aircraft and there was a fighter flying beside us. And [makes whooshing sound] just with that, a noise like that. Another aircraft that had come down from above us and had given us a burst. The fuselage behind me was like a pepper pot. The, as we discover later, as we were flying home and as daylight began to appear great shards of metal and we were very lucky, not one of us was hurt. But had it been a yard further forward on the aircraft I wouldn’t be here today. So that was Stuttgart. We got, we managed to get home. The pilot let me take over for a little while, as a flight engineer was able to do. And as daylight broke we saw the mess that the wings were in. But as we came home and were coming into land it was my job to check the under carriage, make sure it was down, it was locked, the tyres looked OK, and they certainly looked OK to me. But when we touched down, they must have, the one on the starboard side must have deflated and we swung off the runway. We had FIDO at Metheringham, which was fuel laden pipes along each side. Luckily we didn’t get involved with them, but that was a scary night. Then after I think many of our trips were concerned with flying bomb bases and we were then flying more frequently in daylight. I am listing, August the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th were all daylight, day after day. And then we switched later on in August, 6th of August we went to U boat pens at Lorient, and there again I think one or two aircraft where shot down in daylight, but we were flying with 617, they carried the very heavy bombs and we supported them on the U boat pens, but U boat pens were so well protected by many feet of concrete that it’s doubtful much damage was done.
BB: Were they using tall boys or grand slam?
GG: Now I couldn’t tell you.
BB: Big bombs?
GG: It would be the big ones, yes, yes. Again, oil storage tanks. We were coming to near the end of our tour we were getting a bit shaky, wondering if we were going to make it. We’d done what thirty-three? And we came to number thirty-four which was to be our last one. And it was a glorious autumn day, August the 11th and we were sent to Bordeaux, again to U boat pens. Four of us from our squadron wer sent ahead, about ten minutes ahead to calculate the winds and the altitude because the winds that the navigator, what the bomb aimer would be given at the start of our operation, might have changed and especially at that height so it had to be accurate so that the bomb aimers of the aircraft that were behind us could set their instruments properly. So, we then, we did that job and we came back and joined the main force and attacked the U boat pens. We carried that day the biggest bombs I think. No not the, they were rather different from the usual bombs we carried which were normally about five and a half tonnes. But these were, I think if I remember right, four armoured piercing thousand pound bombs in the most beautiful shapes. For this raid they attached ribbons to the ends so they could be watched as they were going down but I gather it wasn’t much of a success. Anyway we bombed these, did our job and got home safely. We were of course circling over the German airbase down below us wondering if a Messerschmidt was going to come up and visit us or not. But no, we were left alone and we got home safely and was the end of our, of our tour. Strangely enough a few years ago I was looking at the leisure section in the Sunday Times and there was an article on holidays in Bordeaux. And the visitors were advised to visit the Sous-Marine Bas, submarine base, which is now a leisure complex. [laughter] So we obviously didn’t do terribly much damage. So, there were are. That’s us finished on the squadron. A few days later we were dispersed. Now I had been with that crew only since February, February to August the 11th, but we had become so closely knit that these are the most important, some of the most important months of my life, and memory as many will know and conversation [laughs]. However, I was posted then to 1660 Heavy Conversion Unit back to Stirlings at Swinderby. Eventually we did the normal exercises, cross countries and all sorts of things, circuits and bumps. And eventually on the 2nd of March the Stirling was taken out of commission and they were stripped and, flown down, as we discover later to Woburn. We flew in a vic of three. The first one had its own equipment available of course, the other two were stripped down to the bare necessities and we landed in a clearing, as I remember, in a wood at Woburn which was quite near to another establishment where the aircraft were dismantled, destroyed. So, on that particular, on the 2nd of March 1945 the Lancasters appeared again to be used for the training. And we of course were delighted to see the first one arrive. It landed, taxied across, stopped outside the office and out popped a young lady. One of the Air Transport Auxiliaries had flown the Lancaster in and so until the end of the War we flew Lancasters. The War of course ended in August, was it?
BB: Yes.
GG: August ‘45. A month later on September the 15th it was decided to open military establishments to the public. Swinderby was one of them and it was decided to put on a show by the Lancaster which consisted of a sort of circuit of the aerodrome and a mock bombing run, and Squadron Leader Scorer took me as his flight engineer off in a vic of three. Imagine what we felt like all the crowd of people there and us in our flying gear. Anyway, we took off. But before we took off the pilot and I changed seats so that he could control the trio of us. And we took off with me in the pilot’s seat and him in my seat because we had dual controls on these instructional aircraft. So, we took off and we did a nice leisurely round of the airfield and then we did the mock bombing run you see down low over the airfield and then a coloured Very light was fired and we went up like the Red Arrows and as we went up we changed over again so that he could land in his proper seat. Now I think that that was the predecessor of what we now call Battle of Britain Day.
BB: Yes.
AG: The very first Battle of Britain Day. At that time too it was just, there were a number of trips to take ground crew on trips over Germany.
BB: Cooks tours?
GG: To see the kind of things that we had been doing and we called them as you say ‘Cooks Tours’ and it consisted of taking them down over the River Moselle, very low flying of course over the twists of the River Moselle, up to the Rhine, Cologne and so on and that way. And I can remember the first time we were there, I suppose we had about four ground crew in various parts of the aircraft but as we passed over the Hohenzollen Bridge in Cologne there was an explosion in the river which I presume was them trying to clear the mess that had been made during the War. So, we did a couple of these which were very pleasant. And that was really the end of my flying, I only flew I think once in the Lancaster after that and then we were then declared redundant. Air crew became redundant. I was sent to, first of all to Burn, and then up to Catterick where we were re-mustered, offered different jobs. And I chose equipment accounts which sounded quite a useful thing to do. So, I was sent over to Lancashire for a few weeks training and then I was to be posted overseas, and it was to be India. So we were sent down to Orpington to await our flight in one of the coldest November periods I have ever known. In a Nissen hut where the, where the fire wouldn’t work, [chuckles] chimney was blocked or something but it was a terrible time. But eventually we flew from there in a Liberator, stripped down Liberator. I was lucky. By that time I was a warrant officer so I got a privileged seat up at the back where there were two large windows of the Liberator where as the ‘odds and sods’ the other airman were in the old bomb bay in sort of canvas seats. Pretty uncomfortable. First stop was Castle Benito in North Africa. Onto Cairo West where the aircraft broke down so we were beside the pyramids for about a week, which was quite interesting. On to Shiba in Iraq and from there an overnight stop where I met a Glasgow lady in the canteen I remember. [chuckles] She was one of the WS ladies and onto Manipur in India. And there again we were, it was decided where we were to be posted to. And I was to be taken to [Habadi?] which is down near Madras, now Chennai and we converted to a Dakota. And we flapped our wings, crossed to Phuna first stop and then across to [?] which is not far from Madras. I spent a year working with accounts in an office, great opportunities of course we had so much spare time and I played a lot of football. And I played for the area team, played cricket with the station team, that sort of thing. Lot of swimming. It was a huge military establishment with the army, the Royal Works were with us and the navy and ourselves. So, it was a very interesting period in many, many ways. And served me in good stead later on as a teacher of geography.
BB: That’s excellent.
GG: Yes. However, in. Yes, I was there for about a year. I was brought back, we came back in the Britannic, twenty six thousand tons, back through the Red Sea, Suez Canal, Mediterranean in a terrible storm. We picked up a band at the Canal Zone, a military band, and they played on the after deck and we came up the Bay of Biscay watching the gannets and the flying fish and that sort of thing. Great experience but when we got to Liverpool we couldn’t see the side of the river because it was foggy in early November. Funnily enough, well I had a leave of course when I got home, but I was posted back for a few months before my demob back to Swinderby of all places. But we had become very aware of a change. I suppose a reversion to the old ways of the regular air force, petty discipline. I can remember I noticed airman are not allowed to walk past the Officers’ Mess at such and such a time. Things like that. And in the office there was an elderly flight sergeant who was in charge where I was working. And he was a grumpy old guy [chuckles] and by that time, oh I forgot to mention while I was in India, and by that time I was a warrant officer, the Labour government had come into power after the War in 1946, and they introduced a new pay code for the services. And while I was a warrant officer the new pay code designated me as Aircrew 2 and I had to divest myself of the warrant officer’s badge and substitute sergeant’s stripes.
BB: The gratitude of a grateful nation.
GG: Exactly, exactly. Not only that but our pay for various reasons was reduced slightly, so I was a bit annoyed. It was very degrading, literally. Anyway, yes I was in this office with the grumpy old flight sergeant and my time for demob came. February the 7th 1947. And in the office where I worked there was a German prisoner of war, with this big circle, coloured circle on the back. And as I was leaving, the very last person to wish me good luck was Wolfgang. And I thought well doesn’t that tell a story? The futility of war?
BB: Yes, it does yes.
GG: Yes. So, it was a good way to end.
BB: Yes.
GG: And after a little leave I managed to get into university. I wanted to do a normal degree but I was told ‘Your qualifications from school are too good.’ [laughs] so I had to, I was offered an honours degree in English, Mathematics or Geography.
BB: Good choice.
GG: To my delight. So, that’s my story.
BB: Thank you very much. A very interesting and lovely story to hear. More importantly you survived the War to be with us today.
G: That’s right.
BB: Today, that’s wonderful. Thank you very much indeed, thank you.
GG: A privilege to do it and I’ve enjoyed doing it because it has taken me back to various documents, some that I have written myself just to refresh my mind and perhaps get a new flavour of the thing altogether and when I add to that the career that I’ve had and the family that I’ve got, well, I’ve been richly blessed.
BB: You managed to avoid the Grim Reaper and that’s the main thing.
GG: Yes, yes.
BB: And you’ve published some of your accounts in your books. The Saltire Aircrew Association also has your stories up.
GG: Oh yes, yes.
BB: Jack was, I’m very pleased that Jack put me in touch.
GG: Yes.
BB: Thank you very much indeed.
GG: And I’ve met you, it’s been a real pleasure.
BB: Thank you very much, I’m honoured, thank you very much.



Bruce Blanche, “Interview with Gilbert Gray,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 4, 2024,

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