Interview with Derek Gurney


Interview with Derek Gurney


Derek Gurney was working at the De Havilland Works before he volunteered for aircrew. While on training he saw one Wellington blow up and another with a broken wing. He was posted to 10 Squadron, RAF Melbourne for his tour. On one operation they nearly collided with another aircraft. After his tour Derek trained as a driver and was posted to India.



IBCC Digital Archive




Julie Williams


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01:02:48 audio recording





Temporal Coverage


CB: Right. I’m in Hemel Hempstead. My name is Chris Brockbank and it’s the 28th of January 2016. And I’m with Derek Gurney and his partner Barbara. And he’s just about to start talking about his experiences from the earliest days through the RAF and afterwards. Derek. Tell me where your family came from and your earliest recollections please.
DG: Good afternoon everybody. I don’t know what to say really but anyway I was born in Hemel Hempstead and I was the eldest of six. And we was over [unclear] one day and funny thing. The R101 come over.
CB: The airship.
DG: A massive thing. Anyway, that was with my granny and of course I was living in Hemel Hempstead. In Apsley. It was [pause] what was it? C of England School and one day the mistress asked for any volunteers in the church in Apsley. Apsley Church. So we were in Apsley Church singing in the carol. Carols. You know. That was two nights during the week and three days Sundays. Keep us quiet. Then —
CB: So, where were you at school?
DG: I was at school in Apsley. Apsley Church. Apsley Church School.
CB: Church School.
DG: That’s it.
CB: Yeah. Ok.
DG: Then come the Easter time they moved the school up to Crabtree Lane. A brand new school. And I was only up there for three months and I started work. I got a job in the printing in Apsley. Apsley Dickerson’s School. And after eighteen months I was getting fed up because the war had started so I wanted to get in engineering. Anyway, I was lucky enough to get a job at De Havilland’s building the Mosquitoes. Marvellous machine. Then come eighteen I had to sign on. Sign my medical for joining up. Anyway, I had to go back there a second time because I had my leg in plaster. Jumped off the scaffolding off De Havilland’s and broke my ankle. Anyway, I was called up December the 20th 194 —
CB: ‘4.
DG: ‘3.
CB: ‘3.
DG: 1943, joined up. We had to go to the St John’s Wood. ACRC. Have new clothes. Having new clothes there. Get your medicals, did PT, uniforms given to us. We had to do swimming, partly drill. Then we were there. We had to move on to Initial Training Wing, Bridlington. That was more [pause] more towards the air force. We had to go to Flamborough Head for our rifle shooting on the range and do the Morse code from Flamborough Head to the beach at Bridlington. From there we come home ready for the next posting which was Bridgnorth. Elementary Gunnery School doing more sitings and pyrotechnics. Run through the guns backwards and forwards. Know how to take the gun to pieces. Sent home again. Right. The next journey was up to Inverness. Gunnery School flying the Ansons. Come all the way and generate, bring your training right up to scratch. Do your dinghy drills, your swimming, your siting. In siting you were in two hangars during the week with the curved screen checking your training of the guns on to film. Coming around with a camera. And there we was on the Ansons. You’d go along the Moray Firth shooting. You’d got to be briefed when you landed. If you saw anything practice for when you go on the [pause] operations anyway. You could see Invergordon across the bay. And there was an Anson err a Dakota down with a troop ship down there. We didn’t know what that was then. But when the war finished I found out it was Montgomery checking the invasion procedure. Well, passed the — you get your brevet and you’re sent home again. Go back. Go backing up to Lossiemouth. Long old ride standing up in the corridor. And we were there and you were there for crewing up. We were all put in a, in a room. You join up. Anyway, we, had a pilot and he was an instructor but he was only one obviously wanted to get into more flying. Mitchells or Mosquitoes. But anyway, in the end he got us. Six of us. No. No engineer come along. So, we do our training with the old Wellington bombers. Enough to put you off. One Wellington blew up and there was another one with its wing off. Fell off. And we went down to see that after we’d been flying ourselves. Went down and had a look. Walked along the coast and there was a body there. We had to go and tell the rescue people then run as quick as we could to the pub because they closed at nine in Scotland. Anyway, go back. Then home. Home. Another posting to [pause] Con Unit.
CB: The Operational Conversion Unit or the Heavy Conversion Unit?
DG: Heavy Conversion Unit.
CB: Yeah. Which was where?
DG: 1652. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. That —
DG: Anyway —
CB: That was at Marston Moor.
DG: Marston Moor. That’s it. Marston Moor. So, we go down to the airfield. There’s a flight lieutenant there going to show our pilot how to fly a Halifax. [unclear] They knew each other. Our pilot taught this bloke how to fly Tiger Moths. So, that was a good start. So, coming through Conversion Unit we was on the Merlin engines. We got through that. Anyway, before we could change on to the squadrons they changed our engines so we had to do the whole procedure again on the Hercules. So that put us right back. Plus a bit of snow. Right. That brings us right up to November. So, we said, ‘Well, we’ve been here six months. Let’s, let’s see Christmas then go back on the squadron.’ So, right. So they let us go on the Con Unit until after Christmas. Anyway, we go to join 10 Squadron, Melbourne. Right next to Elvington. Then we said, ‘Right. We want leave.’ And they said, ‘Well do a couple of ops first.’ So, we had to run through with them being checked out with the others. How the pilot was going with his crew and get passed out by then. So, we’d done a couple of ops. They were in the paper they were. Done a couple of ops and then done our leave. And carried on then doing our time which I’ve got all written down in the book there.
CB: Ok.
DG: My different flights. And anyway we were doing day. Day bombing. And one nasty one was Bayreuth. Terrific one that was. Anyway, we were lucky. That was daylight and we didn’t see anything. Anyway, I think, no and the very last one we could feel something was getting better and we had this setting for Heligoland. Heligoland. It didn’t come off that night. They changed it that night. Flew the next. The next night. The next day rather. It was a daylight trip. Then sent — got another leave and we come back. They’d just been to the other one. Wangerooge. Wangerooge — that was the last trip of the war over our way. And, right, so all we were doing then was putting, putting bombs on the machines and dropping in The Wash. Anyway, we went to get on to the aeroplane that day and they said, ‘You’re going home.’ ‘Let us go do it.’ ‘No. You’ve got to go home now.’ So that was it. They got our kit together, signed out and sent home you know. The crew comes to see us off the station and they sent us home. Right then. Waiting. In the War Office meant give us something so we was called up, up to Lissett to pick a ground trade. Right. Pick a ground trade. Get out the gates. So, I put in for driving. Right. Got the next order. Got to report up to Blackpool. I forget the name. So, driving school up near Blackpool. In training for driving. Two weeks schooling in the British School of Motoring. Small. Small fifteen hundred weights, fifteen tonners, heavy goods, arctics. Right. Pass out. You’ve got to pass out. Sent home for another posting. The next posting [unclear] again. Blackpool again. Get up there. You’re going to Egypt. You take your kit off. Load of kit. Small kit bag. Sent there on a, on board the train. Night train. Funny thing it even stopped in Apsley. I could see my house but being on a troop train going to London. We were sent to North Weald. That’s right. Up there we were waiting. Nothing going to fly us from North Weald. We were just waiting there to catch an aeroplane which was going to be from Devon. Merryfield. They said, well when we were at North Weald they said, ‘Right. Catch the 12 o’clock train from Waterloo. We’ll trust you to get down to Merryfield. You’re going to fly off at 2 o’clock in the morning.’ At 2 o’clock in the morning we jumped on the Liberator. We tried to get two or three drinks but only got one. They had one drink and filled the water bottle with cider. Flew off. Flew off towards India. And after, what was it [pause] Castel Benito. We couldn’t get in to that next place because there’s a sandstorm. That’s further on. Got as far as [pause] what was it? Palestine.
CB: Aqir.
DG: What was that place? That big place in Palestine. Big place.
CB: Aqir.
DG: No. No. The big place where the troops were.
CB: Don’t know.
DG: [pause] Of course the interesting bit I met there.
CB: Who did you meet there? Who did you meet there?
DG: The squadron leader from Lossie.
CB: What was he doing?
DG: He was flying a Harrow.
CB: Oh.
DG: Yeah. Good bit to put in.
CB: Yeah. Great aeroplane of the 1930s. 20s.
DG: Well, when I was at school I used to cycle round [unclear] and see them.
CB: Oh, did you? Yeah.
DG: And the Hampdens on the ground.
CB: Yeah.
DG: I was on the bridge.
CB: Right.
DG: What’s that place?
CB: It’ll come back to you in a minute. Ok. So where do you go next?
DG: Right. We got away from Middle East. The Middle East there. We were going to fly towards India so the next stop was Sargodha. Just a two hour fuel up. Carry on to Karachi. Arrived at Karachi. It was dreadfully hot. Very hot. I could hardly move. Three days there on my back waiting for the aeroplane to take us to Poona. Anyway, the aeroplane was a Dakota. Funny thing. It was the old squadron boys were flying so I knew the crew that were going down to Poona. We get down to Poona and I went in to see the CO and asked if I could get a posting here. He said yeah. Yeah. But no. That didn’t work out in the end. And we were sent to Worli the training camp. There we used to have to get up four in the morning to wait for our posting to our destination where we were going to work. Anyway, we were sent to — stop. Stop. Sent to [pause] oh blow me. The one place I forget the name. [pause] I had it yesterday. Five letters.
CB: Well, we’ll come back to it. It wasn’t Delhi.
DG: Tilda. Right. Tilda. Went to Tilda and nobody there. Nobody there. So, we wait for the next train. It took us to Bilaspur. We rung up from the station to the station to get transport. Anyway, come, come and picked us up. They thought it was big load of drivers. They’d come from their work from Delhi. That’s what we were going to join with these sort of people. Anyway, we get to Bilaspur camp. Got into the camp and to our billets. And there we are. Collecting vehicles from different airfields. It was our job to clean them up. Make them fit to be put on the road and take them up to Delhi. Delhi. Which is quite a long way between [Arpora?] Gwalia. Agra. Jhansi. Up. The road up till we get to Delhi. Palham. Is it? Palham. That’s it. Go up there and get rid of the vehicles. Get organised coming down. That’s it. We were at Delhi now.
CB: Right.
DG: Delhi. Get all the vehicles off. Get our train tickets. Go back to [pause] to Bilaspur. That’s going back to Bilaspur. Back to the grind. [pause] At Bilaspur we were there out in the wilds you know. Just mud huts and poor farmers. They didn’t wear feet. Ate with their fingers. There anyway we, he wanted somebody to go. Go to do a trip to Calcutta. And of course us three new, new people, we were given the job. We were sent to Calcutta by train. Pick up these three vehicles and bring them across to Calcutta. Four hundred miles across country. No roads. So we were sent up the Grand Trunk Road and around. Fifteen hundred miles. It’s a long old trip. Took us about a week. And we were driving and one of the, one of the lorries got a bit weak in the motor so we chained them all together. Three together. More, more movement. And then we stopped later on. Smethy said, ‘It’s getting dark here.’ So, ‘No. It’s not too bad.’ Well, it was dark but he’d still got his sunglasses on so that was it. Carried on. Get back ok. Alright. We got back [pause] back. Still collecting vehicles from different places. Wash them down [laughs] I used to have wash them down. They gave me the pump. The Scammel water pump. This Scammel water pump they made for farming. So, being a farmer I had to be awake didn’t I? Sometimes. Anyway, we had a fire. A hut fire. Right. Put that there. Used that. Too much water on so we had big one with a load of water on. Put it in a pit. Filled that up and go back to the fire and put that out. Right. Then we were sent, sent to a posting to 329 MU Calcutta. We get there and we were on a different system. You were picking these vehicles up and taking them to Delhi but some of them were in, still in their cases so we had to put them on the railway. Cases. Anyway, the crane got stuck one day. We tried to pull it out with two Matador diesel lorries but that wouldn’t work so we had to tie it to the train to pull it out. That done the trick. There’s a picture of me in the picture swinging from the crane. Anyway, off, off to Delhi. You form up. A hundred and twenty vehicles. Who’s driving? Who’s leading? Me. We were off. We’re off and funny thing we got an officer that was sent down from Delhi to be in charge of us. And he was in charge. It was Ron from Luton. Anyway, goes on and we stop half way. And there’s a picture of him. Poor Don. I’ll tell you the story later. Carried on up to Delhi. Had a puncture. Had a puncture. Fifty miles out from Delhi. No spares. So, I had to wait. Wait a couple of hours. We tried filling the tyre with, with straw. That got us another ten miles, maybe twenty. Didn’t it? Anyway, he comes along and picked us up. It was ok. We were at Delhi waiting to come home then. Anyway, this Ron, he picks us up for a flight home. So, lovely. 4 o’clock in the morning. Right. We have to go down to Delhi town, be weighed, catch the plane and sent back. Picked up at Dum Dum. Back to work at [310?] MU. Right. [310] MU. We done most of their work. We ended up at Dum Dum airfield. And we, we were just moving around, taking the trucks down to the scrapheap and doing different jobs. I was on the mail. Taking the mail down to, to Calcutta. And taking people on their day off into Delhi. Into Calcutta rather. We had to drive through the village, stopping. No stopping. It’s too dangerous. Right. That’s it. That’s it. That’s all we were doing. Waiting then. Waiting for our posting home. I’d been offered a trip by the Navy but they wouldn’t let me go. All the papers were in Bombay so had to wait for the papers. That’s it. Get back to Worli. Waiting for the, waiting for the drive home. Big boat. Empress of Scotland. Used to be the Empress of Japan. And funny thing they give me the job of looking after the people when they come on the boat and took them all around. Funny old job. Nothing really. Anyway, two weeks. Two weeks on the boat. Get home to Liverpool. In the middle of, middle of the bay there. Waited till the tide was right. Got home. Right. Up, up to Blackpool again for demob. What the place was. What’s the place now? [unclear] town just north of Preston.
CB: Lytham St Annes. Morecambe.
DG: Yeah. Put Lytham.
CB: Ok.
DG: But at Lytham St Annes we were demobbed. I was, I had an overcoat put on. I’d come from the hot place so the other people from England had a raincoat and they told me how [laughs] That’s it. Sent home. Got home. Got home about 8 o’clock at night, I think. Got home. We still going on?
CB: So, when you [pause] We can have a break. We’ll have a break now.
[recording paused]
DG: That’s off.
CB: Hang on. So, Derek just tell us what happened when you finished gunnery school and you got to the OTU. Then people, gunners, elected to be the tail gunner or the mid-upper. How did you become the mid-upper and how did you feel about it?
DG: I felt, ‘Right. If we have a direct hit the turret goes off at the back and you can get away with it.’ You’re dead in the middle.
CB: Right.
DG: But then once you’ve been flying a while. Right. You’re either, the aeroplanes and there all missing or missing there. They’re going to come into the middle one of the ways. But it’s funny that most of the gunners got it because they used to finish up in the back didn’t they? But in the Halifax you got four machine guns but you haven’t got so much ammo.
CB: Oh. Four machine guns in the mid-upper.
DG: Yeah.
CB: Right.
DG: And you haven’t got the deflector like Lanc.
CB: No.
DG: The wheel. We’d got a backlight interference.
CB: Yes.
DG: So, we can come straight through. Anyway, I I fired over the top of the tailplane once one day and said, ‘Are you alright?’ [laughs] Tom. Tom. ‘Are you alright, Tom?’ I thought I’d shot the rear gunner.
CB: So, did some people shoot the aircraft from mid-upper? Did they damage the plane?
DG: No. No. No.
CB: Because the deflector worked.
DG: I think there’s an aerial that, you used to get that down sometimes.
CB: Yeah. Get rid of that. Yeah. So once you got into the job why did you like being a mid-upper gunner?
DG: Well, for my own satisfaction. I knew what everybody, everything — I would have been different in the back. You’re cut off from the rest. You just, just got that. I felt better. I used to ask for bank and search because going underneath. Bank and search. Go one way. Just before the target so there’s nothing sitting underneath us.
CB: Right.
DG: Ok.
CB: So what you’re talking about is you say to the pilot you want him to bank the plane so you can look underneath to see if there’s anything shadowing you. Is that right? So, did you do that each, each raid?
DG: Yeah. But not the daylights [laughs]
CB: No.
DG: You could see them coming in couldn’t you?
CB: Yeah.
DG: Anyway, that Heligoland trip. Heligoland I think. I saw a 163 go over. Way up.
CB: That’s the rocket plane.
DG: Yeah. He went to the back, see. Wasn’t coming down in the middle was he?
CB: No.
DG: He went to the back.
CB: And what did he do?
DG: [laughs] Said good luck to him.
CB: No. No What did he do?
DG: I don’t know. It was too far back isn’t it?
CB: Right.
DG: About four or five miles aren’t they?
CB: Right. Ok.
DG: You was on Lancs, were you?
CB: No. No. I was after the war. So —
DG: Oh, blow me. Yeah.
CB: So, so the question really is with the 162 what did you think it was going to do to you?
DG: 163 isn’t it?
CB: 163 I mean. Yeah.
DG: Oh, find the straggler at the back and have him.
CB: Right.
DG: Once a straggler is on his own because he only wants one lot of bullets after him.
CB: Right.
DG: And he was going to come straight through isn’t he?
CB: Because he’s gliding anyway. Yeah. Ok.
DG: I’m trying to think. Just south of Blackpool.
CB: So, just, just carrying on with being in this turret. The gunners that — what is the role of the gunners and how did you manage your situation? So what did you shoot at?
DG: Nothing.
CB: Right. Why didn’t you shoot at anything?
DG: You could have given the game away.
CB: Right.
DG: Where you are.
CB: Right.
DG: You give the game away and somebody over there says, ‘Oh he’s over here.’
CB: Yeah.
DG: ‘Over there.’
CB: Yeah. Because you’re talking about in the dark aren’t you?
DG: Oh yeah.
CB: Because in the daylight you can’t give the game away.
DG: In daylight you just — that one we saw. I saw one when I was on the ground at Inverness. I was going on guard duty or something.
CB: Yeah.
DG: And I saw it go right over. It was a 410 going back to Norway see. Well, if you think of it Loch Ness. Straight up to Norway. So, he’d done a reconnaissance.
CB: Yeah.
DG: Over the sea.
CB: Yeah.
DG: And gone back to report the boats.
CB: This is a Messerschmitt 410 you’re talking about.
DG: 410. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
DG: He was way high though.
CB: Yeah. So what I’m getting at is what was the policy for gunners when enemy aircraft were around.
DG: If it come too near you shoot at them.
CB: Right.
DG: As I say, ‘Corkscrew go,’ [unclear] And of course he’s got to keep — you know about the gunnery sighting in the back? You’ve got to pick up the different points when you’re doing the corkscrew.
CB: Right. So just describe who calls the corkscrew?
DG: The one that seen him.
CB: Ok. Right. So it’s you or the tail gunner.
DG: Yeah. Me or the tail gunner.
CB: Ok.
DG: Yeah. I say, ‘Give me a dive and search.’ So we’d go.
CB: Yeah. So —
DG: Right. I said, you know we only need to go a little way, ‘Ok. Ok. Pull up.’
CB: Just talk us —
DG: Don’t muck about.
CB: Talk us through the corkscrew. So, you see something. How, how does it work?
DG: He’s something, and he’s watching it and if he gets rid of it and keeps quiet the German that’s attacking you —
CB: Yeah.
DG: He’s got so he’s buzzing off somewhere else.
CB: Yes.
DG: They can see him.
CB: Yeah.
DG: They think they can see him see.
CB: Yeah.
DG: So he’s going to find someone else.
CB: Yes.
DG: Going out over here.
CB: But just let me take you back. So you can see the German aircraft.
DG: No. No. You can — I saw the reflection of some anti-aircraft —
CB: Oh.
DG: Or something. I could see, could see the pipes going up.
CB: Right.
DG: It was only from there up to the top.
CB: Yeah.
DG: Diving starboard go.
CB: Right. So you, you get a visual of some kind.
DG: Yeah.
CB: What do you tell the pilot?
DG: Tell him to dive straight away.
CB: Ok. Left or right?
DG: Starboard.
CB: Always.
DG: Right.
CB: Starboard. Right. Ok. And so he pulls it over to the starboard side.
DG: Yeah and he’s diving down.
CB: What does he do? How long does he stay at that position?
DG: Until he could resume course.
CB: Right. But he pulls it around.
DG: Yeah. You tell him to pull out.
CB: So how far does he go down? He pulls out when you tell him.
DG: Well, as soon as I can. As soon as I —
CB: Yeah. Ok.
DG: I mean to say he’s gone over the top.
CB: Right.
DG: He might fly somewhere else and try to come back to you.
CB: Yeah. Ok. Right. So —
DG: And that dive I put when we nearly had that. Our own kite nearly — I can still see it now. Just the top of the ceiling here.
CB: So you’re —
DG: I can still see it.
CB: You’re flying along and another Halifax — it’s approaching.
DG: Yeah. It comes in.
CB: From the side was it?
DG: He’s coming in.
CB: Or behind.
DG: But then you’re going on. You’ve still got your eyes going and — dive dive. Straight away.
CB: Yeah. But was it coming in from behind or what?
DG: Straight away. Straight across the front.
CB: Oh right.
DG: Just on the front of us. We’d have gone, smashed right into it.
CB: So the pilot reacted really quickly.
DG: ZA. ZA D. D-Dog. And if you ever meet anybody from 10 Squadron ask them about D-Dog.
CB: Was it one of your aircraft?
DG: Yeah. ZA. ZA’s. ZA squadron. I think they went onto Brize Norton with ZAs.
CB: So, you weren’t able to talk to him afterwards.
DG: No. At debriefing —
CB: Yeah.
DG: You see. One of our own. I suppose they’ve all got it down somewhere. It’s all written down in somebody’s history.
CB: Ok. Now change. Going back to the OTU.
DG: Yeah.
CB: You arrived at the OTU. How did you do the crewing up? What was the process?
DG: You were into one room.
CB: Yeah.
DG: You know.
CB: Was it a room a hangar? Was it a room or was it a hangar?
DG: Just a room I think.
CB: Ok.
DG: Just a room.
CB: And how did you? What was the process for crewing up?
DG: Well, just crewing up and asking different people. We had the pilot and, ‘Do you want a couple of gunners?’ And, you know, ‘Ok,’ he said. George. Ernie George. Ernie George. That’s his name. Ernie George. The pilot. The pilot’s crew’s, the crew’s in the book. The crew’s name.
CB: So, who made the decision on the crew?
DG: Well, we just, the navigator gets to him to say hello straight away you know. Of course he’s only one officer. You see we were all non-commissioned and of course once he’d done a couple of ops he’s given the FO straight away.
CB: So the crew joins up.
DG: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Ok. And how well did the crew get on?
DG: Marvellous. Marvellous. Well, were you in a bomber crew at all?
CB: No.
DG: No. It’s different. It’s different. Not the same language.
CB: So, so when you then went to the HCU you got an engineer. So —
DG: Well, you were all in the same billet see.
CB: Yeah. But you got an engineer at the HCU because —
DG: We had an engineer. A Scotsman.
CB: How did you get a hold of him?
DG: Marvellous.
CB: No. No. How did you get crewed?
DG: He was the oldest one of the lot.
CB: How did you get hold of him? How was he, how did he join the crew? Was he selected or was he just told to join you?
DG: I don’t know. I don’t know. He might have been like us. Looking for a pilot. Nothing else to do with the rest of the crew. It’s the pilot.
CB: Right.
DG: You might say we’re the pilot you know.
CB: Yeah. So that’s what I’m getting at really. In the initial crewing up it’s the pilot who makes the decision is it?
DG: Yeah.
CB: Is it?
DG: Yeah. He might have already got, talked to somebody see.
CB: Yeah. Right.
DG: But that’s what you all missed, didn’t you?
CB: Ok.
DG: Were you flying on the big stuff?
CB: No. On fighters.
DG: So, so —
CB: Oh right. You was all up the bill then.
DG: On the practical, well on the practical side the pilot is making the decision of who’s in the crew but is it because you go to the pilot and ask him and say to him we want a pilot?
CB: You ask one pilot. He said —
DG: Or he comes over to you.
CB: ‘I’ve got gunners,’ you know.
DG: Yeah.
CB: So go to another pilot.
DG: Ok. Right.
CB: And then the engineer joins. So the crew at the HCU worked really well.
DG: Yeah. Everything. Yeah. You’ve got to. That’s why they come up and check. Check your crew. The CO or somebody.
CB: Yeah.
DG: Comes and checks you with a normal flight.
CB: Yeah.
DG: And we were told we was a marvellous crew.
CB: Good.
DG: Well, for one trip we missed it because I think I said to Bob we’d got our engine’s running. I said, ‘I can see oil coming off the trailing edge.’ He couldn’t fix it.
CB: Right.
DG: So we missed that trip.
CB: Right.
DG: And you missed that trip you’re lost.
CB: Yeah.
DG: You was on your own.
CB: Of course.
DG: You wished you’d gone but you could be dead.
CB: Yeah.
DG: It’s funny.
CB: Yeah, because you wanted to go.
DG: A funny feeling.
CB: Everybody else went.
DG: Yeah. Your group.
CB: Yeah. And what was the relationship with the ground crew?
DG: Well, we were the new people on the squadron. We used to get different ones, but I mean to say it’s not easy. They still, they tended the steel. With Weppy I don’t know if he’s a navigator or what. He’s, he used to make them laugh. He, he got a story in that squadron book. It’s all at the back.
CB: Right. So what —
DG: I can tell you about it. It’ll give you a good laugh.
CB: We’ll, look in the squadron book because that’s really helpful. Thank you. So, I’m just trying to establish how the air crew got on with the ground crew.
DG: Oh marvellous. I didn’t try to eat all my stuff in case we got shot down coming through. So, I used to give my chocolate to the ground crew.
CB: When you got back.
DG: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
DG: Or whatever we got.
CB: Ok. And what was the ground crew’s attitude towards your aircraft?
DG: Oh marvellous. They knew. They knew we were doing a rough old job. The people that are off probably on a non-compatible squadron because they used to come and see you off as well.
CB: Oh they did. Right.
DG: Yeah. In a bomber, bomber place.
CB: And talking about seeing you off what relationship did the crew have with the WAAFs?
DG: Well the most thing really was the getting in to town and having a good old drink but sometimes perhaps there was the dance.
CB: Just as the crew. Yeah.
DG: A dance on the squadron where you just used to dance and that was it. You danced with her, you danced with that one. Danced around.
CB: Sure.
DG: We were at a dance on the squadron one night [laughs] and the wireless op could be a bit mad. He went and bit the COs tie off. Where’s my, where’s my crown? I haven’t got my crown yet. [laughs] He bit the CO’s tie off.
CB: So, he didn’t get a crown.
DG: No. A dance. And another thing just before Christmas we had, no, no after Christmas. No, no, it was on the squadron. We were supposed to be going somewhere. They were going to move it and they didn’t in the end. And the rear gunner smashed the window in the WAAFs depot. You know, where they had the dance. Their food. The place where they had the food I think. He smashed the window. So the w/op goes and does it. Go to hospital. He’d got this great big bandage on. And he used to, didn’t used to cut his hair. So he always got this long hair. Addy Asquith. He got this long hair. We said, ‘Right. We’re going to get him. Get him when he comes through the gate.’ Up the road in the Nissen hut, ‘Let him get through the gate.’ He went through the gate on the bike.
Other: I haven’t heard half of this.
DG: And another thing you know when I was saying about the jam jar in the working man’s place yeah you got a jam jar. All used to go for a cup of tea, a glass [unclear] someone goes and puts the tin can over the CO’s chimney [laughs] Mad.
CB: Was this the squadron commander who takes it in his stride? Or the station —
DG: Yeah.
CB: Or the station commander.
DG: Well if you know Baildon I think his name was Baildon there. He wasn’t a pilot. He was a navigator when the chap with us was gone. And he was one of my trips. He was in Heligoland. No. When we were shot up and the pilot had to land away. I haven’t done that story with you have I?
CB: Go on.
DG: The Germans come over and started shooting everybody up at certain times.
CB: On the airfields.
DG: Yeah.
CB: Right.
DG: It’s well known wasn’t it? So, a lot of them came over. Anyway, our skipper. Some of them were landing at Melbourne but our skipper landed down at Benson and he come away a couple of days after. And three of us woke up, walked around and around a brick toilet. If you woke the others up they’d moan at you wouldn’t they if nothing happened? But the funny thing about that we’d been held up three weeks for the last night cross country on the Wellingtons with the weather. That’s three weeks. So, we get down to the squadron. Right. We’d done a bit of flying. We flew this night when the dickie, just the pilot flew dickie. Second dickie. And it was an aeroplane shot, a Canadian one shot down and one of the chaps bailed out and got, this guy I know said, ‘Well that was Hazell.’ Another Canadian but he was with him at OTU. But it’s the funny incidents I worked out that he was in the same boat as us. Had to work, had to wait for the nice weather. And he’s on his second dickie. The same as us. It’s funny how you can work that out. And when we was up at Coningsby the other week with the, the other week, or months ago now wasn’t it. I asked the Canadians if they, they’ve nothing to do with —
CB: Canwick Hill.
DG: The wartime people. Well, it’s a big country isn’t it?
CB: Yeah. Huge. Now, if we’re talking about the end of the war with your operations but what experience did you have of LMF? People with LMF. Lacking moral fibre.
DG: In there. In there is a flight lieutenant. Flight Lieutenant Bastard, his name.
Other: Was he?
DG: And he got shot up one night. Shaking. So were the gunners. The Perspex had gone off the mid-upper and the Perspex had gone off the tail gunner as well. There was no bottom on the tail gunner and it missed them. They were going LMF. Anyway, he must have talked them round to them and he was on an op the next night and he got shot up again. Being, it shot the hole in the elsan and up the side of the flap as well. Ray, in the book we used to get, the common, “The Intercom.” You’ve see one of them? “The Intercom.” I found one the other day. Yesterday I think. So in the comment he sees he’s an air commodore now.
CB: Oh right.
DG: It’s the only place I saw his name again.
CB: Right.
DG: He was an air commodore.
CB: But I don’t get the point. He — the plane was shot up.
DG: Yeah.
CB: And there was bad damage.
DG: Oh yeah.
CB: TO the back. The middle and the back with the Perspex.
DG: Yeah.
CB: But where was, what’s the link with lacking moral fibre?
DG: To put it this way they didn’t bring all the Perspex.
CB: Right.
DG: Gone.
CB: Right.
DG: You was. That’s it. You’re going to die.
CB: Ok. But he didn’t refuse to fly.
DG: They would do. He talked them out of it.
CB: That’s. Yeah. Ok.
DG: Yeah. He talked them out of it.
CB: So the pilot talked out talked the gunners out of it.
DG: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Because they were lucky to be alive.
DG: Yeah.
CB: In the circumstances.
DG: Yeah. Everybody really.
CB: Right. Yeah.
DG: Well, he might have told them that.
CB: Yeah.
DG: Nice. Yeah.
CB: Ok.
DG: Of course, if you’re going to crash, you know you were on fire the poor pilot stopped there and puts it on automatic pilot.
CB: So, any, did you know of any other experiences of LMF? Did you hear about —
DG: No. But we had a chap when we was at Con Unit. Used to have a shower, get dressed and write a letter home, then go to bed. Come for his second tour.
CB: So, what do you mean by that?
DG: Gone a bit away [laughs]
CB: Right.
DG: Nobody, nobody said anything to him would they?
CB: No. What happened next?
DG: Well, I mean to say we, we was, that’s it, we was on this driving course at Weeton. Weeton the driver’s course. Weeton. And the aircrew making out they’ve got some cuts and taking the fall that they’ve gone [unclear] because they’d been aircrew. Making out they’d got. Making out, but I mean they say if someone goes LMF you see somebody and you don’t see them again.
CB: Right.
DG: You don’t know if they’ve been shot down or what.
CB: Right.
DG: But over the grapevine you hear so and so’s crashed. There was one crashed in the hills somewhere and just the two gunners got out. Another time the two gunners had gone. See that old boy that died that was in [pause] doing the stuff. The Hungarian or something. During the war he had a crash and he was the only one that got out of it. His tail hit a tree and he was the only one that survived. But he was six months in dock.
CB: Because of physical damage or mental?
DG: Physical, I believe.
CB: Ok.
DG: Yeah. He only lived at Tring.
CB: Right.
DG: Jack. Didn’t you, you didn’t meet up with him, did you?
CB: I didn’t. No.
DG: With Bill.
CB: Changing the subject again. Promotion. How did the promotion system work and why were you promoted after the war to warrant officer?
DG: To what?
CB: Well, you were a warrant officer.
DG: Yeah.
CB: How did the promotion timing and system work?
DG: I don’t know.
CB: So, as soon as you qualified as a gunner.
DG: You get your brevet and that’s it.
CB: Yeah.
DG: Put the tapes on.
CB: Yeah. Ok. As a [pause] what rank?
DG: Sergeant still.
CB: Right. How long?
DG: It comes through automatic.
CB: How long? How long before you became a flight sergeant?
DG: About six months I suppose. I got it. I don’t know where I was when I — about twelve months.
CB: And how long before you became a warrant officer?
DG: About around the twelve months or a bit over the top of that.
CB: Right. So you were promoted to warrant officer when you weren’t flying any longer.
DG: Yeah. I was a warrant officer when I wasn’t flying any longer. In India.
CB: Yeah. Ok. Good. Thank you very much.
DG: But still we used to work and that’s it. Nobody interfered with us.
CB: No.
DG: We knew what we’d got to do. No messing about.
CB: No.
DG: I mean to say if you, in Civvy Street you get somebody that’s not the right touch isn’t there but [pause[ we just used to do our work.
CB: Yeah.
DG: Get your crate of vehicles in. In these trucks. Course you, you were wearing what we called mosquito boots. The leg hooks up to there because of snakes.
CB: Yeah. I can imagine. Going back to your early days you were in the Air Training Corps.
DG: Yeah.
CB: When you were at school.
DG: 1187 Hemel Hempstead.
CB: Right.
DG: I was in it when it first started.
CB: When was that?
DG: Cor 19 — it must have been 1952.
CB: It was in the war you were in.
DG: Yeah. And —
CB: 1942.
DG: Yeah. Yeah. Probably in 1941 but —
CB: Yeah.
DG: We used to have the, the meetings at the school up Crabtree Lane. You know Crabtree Lane.
CB: Yeah.
DG: We used to walk down to Dickersons, in to the firehouse, get six rifles and march back up and done a bit of a parade with the rifles. Walk back down to the firehouse and take the guns back. And we had a band as well because I used to play the drums.
CB: Did you?
DG: I’d got this broken ankle in plaster. I used to [laughs] I used to cycle to Watford there.
CB: Played it quicker.
DG: With my broken ankle in plaster. Working. Alright. Well, we was working on flying controls most of the time.
CB: Were you? So what did you actually do at the Mosquito works? The De Havilland works in Hatfield.
DG: No. Leavesden.
CB: Oh, Leavesden. Ok.
DG: Leavesden.
CB: Right.
DG: It was Halifaxes was the other end wasn’t it?
CB: Yeah. Right. So what did you do on the Mosquitoes? What was your role?
DG: Most of the time was on flying controls. Very good.
CB: Right. So how — which part of the flying controls?
DG: All of them.
CB: Right. So from the control column.
DG: From the control you got the all, all the cables were numbered up. Numbered up. The trimmers. And you put your wheels, wheels on. You know. Down in the centre section.
CB: Yeah. So you assembled the flying controls.
DG: We were assemblers. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
DG: And one time we was asked to stop overnight. Done a day’s work. Do a night’s work and put the tailplane on. Put the tailplane and the fin. Well you’ve got, got trim trade comes across the —
CB: Right.
DG: Spar there. Trim. And we used to have — put the wax string and the trim tab in the dinghy box. I was small. I could get inside the dinghy box and do the figure of eight wax string.
CB: Right. So you were doing that for quite some time.
DG: Yeah. About eighteen months I think. That’s all.
CB: And then what?
DG: They called me up.
CB: Right. So, why did you go to the RAF and not to the other forces?
DG: I couldn’t get, well, I could have gone in the army but to me [pause] to me I thought well I’ve got two years training. I didn’t know they’d do a small course for about five or six months in gunnery school. I was ready by the summer. I couldn’t go in. Well, I went. Went to the medical place at the school in St Albans. I knew all the planes. So, the bloke that showed me, he wasn’t going to let me go ground crew was he if I knew all those aeroplanes?
CB: Right.
DG: Say, ‘Oh no. They’re full up.’
CB: Because in the ATC you were able to learn a lot of these things while you were an ATC cadet. About the aeroplane.
DG: We took an, we took an Airspeed Oxford cylinder off.
CB: Could you? Right.
DG: And that’s a Cheetah engine isn’t it? With like the things over the top. I can still remember those flaps over the double Cheetah engines. Yeah.
CB: So that, you got in to the RAF. What attracted you particularly?
DG: Nothing.
CB: To the RAF.
DG: I didn’t want to go in it. I didn’t want to join.
CB: No. But you, you had —
DG: Had to.
CB: Yeah. So, you’d rather have carried on in the aircraft works.
DG: Oh yeah. I was really enjoying that. Well, you’re a gunner. You’re doing a job. Alright, you’re a gunner. But I was doing something. I wasn’t learning any more was I?
CB: No.
DG: Well, learning. Still, it was the same in the gliding club. Used to put things together. And somebody used to have, we put a door on the back of this trailer, you know, make a door for it. You know. Alright. Another time another chap in flying a K7. You know the K7?
CB: Yeah.
DG: You do so and so then come and help me. You know. Fly with him in the K7. Go and help him.
CB: So, when you were working in the De Havilland works what did you have to do at night? Did you have to do fire watching sometimes?
DG: No. No. No. No. Probably they got mostly the people that used to live local for that wouldn’t they?
CB: Right. Right.
DG: So much time —
CB: How did you get back to home? Was there a bus or how did you get? On the train was it?
DG: Train. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
DG: Well — working there?
CB: Yeah.
DG: Cycle.
CB: Oh, you cycled.
DG: Always cycled. It took us twenty minutes. Ten minutes to get to the Ovaltine the back way and ten minutes to get through to De Havilland’s.
CB: Right.
DG: Because we’d go through the back way. Right the back there’s a little lane going up. It goes down and up. And the policeman on the door. You got, got a pass to get through. So, I was on the other side of the De Havillands.
CB: So, in the Works, the De Havilland’s Works what was the work force? Made up of young people like you? What other people were there?
DG: There was other people.
CB: What type of people?
DG: Some of them come from [unclear] of course a chap, one of the chappies I was working with used to work at Airspeeds’ down at Portsmouth. I mean, I think we’d done some work up there with my brother in law and I met Mick, at least one that I used to work with during the war there. He was on the machine. Well, when, when I come out the air force I went up there and there was only work on the machines and I said, I’ve been three years outside I don’t want to go inside. So, I put in for a job as a carpenter. Done a carpentry course.
CB: Where did you do that?
DG: At Watford.
CB: And then what did you do?
DG: Come out and done carpentry.
CB: Where? For yourself or for a builder?
DG: No. It was a lovely little job. Salford and Radlett. And he was an air force chappy on the ground crew. Me and him used to get on lovely. Used to get on lovely.
CB: So what was his, what did his business do?
DG: It was his business.
CB: Making what?
DG: Houses.
CB: Right.
DG: Yeah.
CB: So, he was a carpenter or —
DG: Yeah. And I come through the course, you know. Do a six months course.
CB: So, what — did he build the whole house or was he still a carpenter?
DG: Well, no. Just the wood work.
CB: He did the wood work.
DG: Went with the brother in law. But he was living in a bungalow and anyway decided he could make it into a house. So took the roof off. Put the roof back on. Then he climbed up a ladder for too long. His wife was moaning. Climbing up a ladder to bed.
CB: How long did you stay with that?
DG: Oh, run out of work. Then I got a job over at Berkhamsted.
CB: What were you doing there?
DG: Carpentry. Carpentry.
CB: For what?
DG: For a —
CB: A builder.
DG: Oh yeah. The carpentry. I forget the company. The company. Anyway, his driver was off one week and the boss was driving the lorry. He said, ‘Can you drive a lorry?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And it was a Austin tipper. I knew where the tipper was as well because my mate got one and I’d been driving his for a while. Yeah. Just, well, he said, ‘Do you want to drive one day?’ Got a load of gravel from Leighton Buzzard and took it to Ricky. He was driving. He could see I could drive better than him. Right. You went on a driving course you know and a couple of pilots failed driving. Funny.
CB: Strange.
DG: Funny.
CB: Yeah.
DG: But some people don’t go through. Well, we was on a driving thing one night. It was pouring with rain. You’d got the WAAF at the side of you. Just as escort. Night driving thing. And she went to sleep. Into the lorry in front.
CB: So you had an interesting time.
DG: As I said when I came out the air force and got a motorbike. And after a couple of years I got a racing bike and had it on the grass. It was from Brooklands. 1925 racing bike on the Brooklands. And there’s Surtees. Young Surtees. We used to see young Surtees and his dad but he’d be running about. Didn’t want to drive in the sidecar with his dad. And he was racing solo. Grey. Grey. HRD. I passed him. It was the end of the start at Stokenchurch. You know Stokenchurch?
CB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
DG: Well I passed him at the bend. Of course he’d got, the bike was too big. I was on the 350, he was on the 500. He went [unclear] on the corner. He’d had it hadn’t he? Mad.
CB: Now, you said you did a lot of gliding. How did you get into that?
DG: Well, the wife at the time. I wanted a dinghy. She said, ‘No. None of us like swimming. Go for this.’ So, I went down and had a talk with them. She said, ‘Have a flight.’ I had a flight. She said, ‘Take it over.’ I wouldn’t because I knew you were flying on the stall but I joined the next. If a woman can do it I can do it.
CB: So you did.
DG: I think in about [unclear] months I was solo. I had yellow jaundice and I was on the sick. Free wasn’t I? Course at the start if that was a good day I used to go over there. But if it was a rough day. She said, ‘Well, you’d better come on the rough day because you’ve got to learn circuits and bumps.’ I didn’t want to stop up, did I?
CB: So, how many years did you fly as a glider pilot?
DG: Was I still flying when you came here?
Other: You told me about thirty years.
DG: I used to fly didn’t I?
Other: Yeah.
DG: Yeah.
Other: Yeah. Yeah. I used to come over with you didn’t I?
CB: Took Barbara up.
Other: No. I wouldn’t go up. I could have gone up many a time but I didn’t.
DG: You must have heard John Jeffries at Dunstable. He’s still flying.
CB: Is he?
DG: Yeah. They wouldn’t let him instruct anymore.
CB: No.
DG: But I suppose he can, easy going to choose can’t he?
CB: Yeah. We’ve covered an awful lot of things, Derek and that’s really interesting. Thank you very much. I think we’ll draw it to a close now because you need a bit of a rest
DG: You could stop here all night couldn’t you?
CB: Yeah. Well, that’s ok.
Other: He’ll be asleep when you’ve gone.
CB: And I might need to catch up with you again. Thank you.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Derek Gurney,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed August 7, 2020,

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