Interview with Henry Harris

Title

Interview with Henry Harris

Creator

Date

2018-05-20

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

01:48:22 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

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

Contributor

Identifier

AHarrisH180520

Transcription

JH: I’m going to sit you down.
HH: Yeah. There’s —
JH: Do you want me to —
MC: This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Mike Connock and the interviewee is Henry Harris. The interview is taking place at the home of Mr Harris In North Hykeham, Lincoln on 19th of May 2018. Also in attendance is Mrs Jean Harris.
HH: I’d better watch —
MC: Ok.
HH: I’ve put it the right way.
MC: Let’s start from the beginning.
JH: Yes, start —
MC: Start from the beginning, Henry. When? Tell me when and where you were born.
HH: I was born in in Poznan, Poland on 26 November 1926.
MC: Yeah.
JH: And your parents?
MC: And your parents? What, what did they do?
HH: Well, my, my father he was a very, very smart gentleman because the times at that time were not very prosperous all over the world as you, you will know. But he managed. He had his own business. It was a small factory that was actually let to him from, from his family and he was making furniture. Furniture. You know, every day sort of furniture but a part of it, I would say about half, half of the factory it wasn’t very big I think there was about eleven or twelve gentlemen running that part of it, and it was specialised for antique furniture. We could if, if, if it was allowed we could reproduce it or we could repair it. But if it was reproduced and it was made by some big concern obviously we had to, that’s what my dad would be doing.
MC: Yes.
HH: He would have to do the agreement whether they would allow us to do it or not.
MC: Yeah.
HH: I think that that little factory had a good name because they were always working.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Always working. My dad spoke nine languages. Oh, yes. He could travel all over the world and he did. And he, he got actually in, he got the business by getting to know the type of people who would have that furniture which wouldn’t be easy to do. Especially in South America where most, most of the work was coming actually. From South America. So, well that’s all I can tell you about the factory.
MC: What about your early school years? Can you remember? What age did you go to start school?
HH: Well, I went to school when I was four year old. I insisted that I went for the first time to the school on my own. I didn’t want either my father, my father was out of the country in any case but my mother she wanted and she more or less insisted, but I stood my ground and I got it and I went on my own.
JH: What did your mother do for a living?
HH: She was a stenographer.
MC: Oh, was she? Yeah.
HH: Yes.
MC: A stenographer.
HH: Well, she was very, very busy because she was Gregg’s. I don’t know whether you know Gregg stenography. It’s not like Pitman’s. Gregg stenography differs that you only record the sound. You don’t have to speak the language. As long as you can record the sound. The sound is recorded and that’s it and you can write it. You can write the sound which is extremely quick and it’s any language. So, she was in and out the country.
MC: Oh, as well. Yeah. Oh right.
HH: Right.
JH: They had maids there to help them.
MC: Oh yeah.
HH: Well, yeah well I’ve got to get to that bit now. My mother’s family, they had like in those days it was actually I would call it a coach house because it was on the, almost on the border between Germany and Poland and it was on the main thoroughfare. You wouldn’t actually call it a road but it was the only road through with coaches and, and horses and so on. And what they had was, it was like a hotel where the people could stay the night if they wanted. Change the horses and feed the horses and so on. That sort of a business which now doesn’t exist obviously. But they were very good. Now, my, my mother’s mother she adopted twenty. Adopted twenty girls who had no, no —
JH: Parents.
HH: Parents or anything like that, and they were like in a orphanage and she adopted them in to our name or in to their name into the family. And they were actually helping to run the whole business. They were very smart girls. Some of them were very good cooks. They could, you know my grandmother was extremely happy with them. Now, my grandfather on my mother’s side he was, he was a giant. He was over six foot tall. Huge. He would, he would hardly get through that door there. And do you know what his hobby was? He used to buy old railway sleepers that were made out of hard wood and so on just to chop and chop them with a big huge axe and so on. That was his hobby.
MC: What? Just for firewood.
HH: He didn’t need the firewood. Obviously, they did burn it. Yeah. Obviously, they did. But he didn’t have to. I mean he could buy it. They were very wealthy people.
MC: Yeah.
HH: So, anyhow so that now when my mother married my — is it all right?
MC: Yeah.
HH: When my mother married her mum gave her two of those girls to go with her. So they were then our maids in, in our household. Now, this was very advantageous because my father was hardly ever at home. My mother was in and out, you know. Out of one country to another and so on. Those girls could run the house the way my mum wanted and she was very strict. Very strict. When she, when she turned, returned back from her many escapades, my father was calling. She would go around the picture frames and [pause] see if there is any dust on it.
MC: Dust on them. Yeah.
HH: So there was nothing get away and the girls knew it and the household ran fantastic.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Right. Now —
MC: So they looked after you during those periods when your parents were away, did they?
HH: Oh yeah.
MC: Yeah.
JH: Yeah. Harry, I think it might be a good idea at the moment if you talk about that very first girlfriend. When you went to the house.
HH: Oh yeah.
JH: And it was that officer.
MC: I was just going to say —
JH: Oh.
MC: Yeah. It’s ok.
JH: Yeah.
MC: So this is a girlfriend.
JH: Yeah.
MC: And how old were you?
HH: Well, wait a minute. I was four year old then.
JH: Oh sorry.
HH: Ok.
JH: I shouldn’t have done that.
MC: So, did you, did you enjoy the school? Your time at school?
HH: Yes, I did. Yeah.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: I was four year old but they found out when I started at school that to put me in to the, because that school had six years, so there were six, six classes, and they found out when I first started that I would be wasting my time in the first school because I could already read. I could write because my brother who was eighteen months older than me when he was doing his homework I was with him and he was teaching me what he knew. So no good me going in to when he was in, in he would be then there for, he would be already in six. In the last year of that school. And he knew all that I was going to learn and I knew it as well. So there was no good me being in number one class, you know. Not going on.
MC: No.
HH: So they put me into four. In to class four. And then I was only for a couple of months and they put me right up to fifth. Fifth class. And from the fifth class you could go in a exam which I did. Into sixth. So you wouldn’t waste because the number six class was more or less repeating the most important things of what you’ve learned in that school. And then you, you could, you could go to university if you passed which I did. So that was it. So I would be what? Four. Five.
JH: Ten.
HH: Yeah. I’d be between five and six when I was at university.
JH: Oh.
MC: Five. No.
JH: No. No. You’d be about ten because you —
HH: Oh, no. Right.
JH: Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
JH: Was that when you was in Berlin? When you were at university.
HH: Yeah.
MC: So you left school at ten
JH: Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
JH: Yeah. Because you went to —
MC: And you went to university.
HH: Yeah.
MC: At ten year old?
HH: Yeah.
MC: Good gracious me.
HH: The university was my dad picked up because it was the only university in Europe that was international. Not owned by any of the German governments or anything like that. The only thing that you had to be able to is speak German which I could from birth because we, we were born we could speak two languages straightaway more or less. So nobody teaches us. We do.
MC: Oh fine. That’s amazing. So, so where in Germany was the, the university was in Germany, was it?
HH: Yes. Berlin.
MC: And whereabouts was this?
HH: In Berlin.
MC: Berlin.
HH: Yeah. Which was very handy because just across the border, you see. I could nip home if I wanted at the weekend no problem.
JH: Oh, did you miss out the bit about the girlfriend who frightened you off because her father was —
HH: Yeah.
MC: So how old were you then?
JH: Oh.
HH: Well, I would be —
JH: I think you’d still be about ten would you be before?
HH: I’d be about ten or eleven. Between ten and —
JH: You used to carry her books from school.
HH: Oh yeah. Well, you see my memory doesn’t go that far.
JH: Oh. Sometimes.
HH: So accurate. So, you know —
JH: Yeah. ok.
HH: How old I was. I didn’t care how old.
JH: That’s alright. That’s ok. Yeah.
MC: Fine.
JH: Yeah. Yeah.
MC: So how long were you at university then?
HH: I was there until the war broke out.
MC: Yeah.
JH: But before the university you then had that girlfriend and then you had to, and you had to leave her because when you got to her house —
HH: Yeah.
JH: There was a photograph of her father.
HH: Yeah.
JH: And he was an sos officer.
HH: SS. Very high ranking SS.
MC: Oh, so that frightened you off.
JH: Yes, frightened him off.
HH: I’d never met, I had never met him.
[unclear]
HH: Oh yeah. Yeah.
JH: I thought that bit was quite interesting to say.
HH: I had, I had to obey all the rules of the Nazi government because I was there at the university. They could throw me out if they wanted to.
HH: Yeah.
HH: So you know I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t, I was very happy to be at the university because I learned a lot there. Number one was I did find out that we had a flying club there.
MC: Oh, at the university.
HH: Yes.
MC: Yeah.
HH: So I rang my, I rang my dad because we, we were, we were brought up in this way that we would not ask our parents for something that was, you know. No. If it, if it was within, you know within, within our age and so on we knew that our parents would never say no. But we preferred to ask them first if we could do it, because obviously they had to pay for it.
MC: Yeah.
HH: So I rang home and I rang the office in the little factory because I knew there was no good ringing our house because the girls wouldn’t know anything about it in any case, and the telephonist said, ‘Well, I can’t put you to your dad because he’s not in the country.’ So I said, ‘Well, where is he?’ ‘He’s in Peru.’ So I said, ‘Well, try. Try if you can get him, if you would.’ And about an hour or so, I don’t know how long it was the phone rang and she got me through and I told him about that. You know, the university has a brilliant, I like it and so on, I said, ‘Do you know what? They’ve got an aero club. An aero club there. I would like, like to join.’ And he sort of sort of thought about it and he said, ‘Oh, so you would. You would.’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘There’s only one thing. That if you join that club you are going to learn English. You must,’ he said, ‘Because the pilot’s language is English.’ So I said, ‘Great. Yes. I’ll, I’ll see about it and —’ The professor, it was old professors that were teaching, the professor who taught me English was actually English. Not any other. No. He, he was the only professor actually English.
MC: That was good.
HH: Yeah. And I was the only pupil. So, he gave me all the time that he could. We quite often would meet after school you know because I needed somebody to talk English. I couldn’t find anybody at that time, you know. I had too many other things to learn. So anyhow it worked out. It worked out very well. And I haven’t forgotten English yet.
JH: And what was it your mother’s brother that was also a pilot.
HH: Now then —
JH: Also a pilot.
HH: You see when I joined, when I joined the club they were a little bit looking sort of devious about me because I could already fly. I had a glider pilot’s licence when I was four year old because my uncle —
JH: Oh yes.
HH: He was in the Polish forces actually and he was in the Air Force and he just used to do what the aerobatics doing.
JH: Yeah.
HH: He taught me aerobatics.
JH: Yeah.
HH: At that age.
JH: Yeah.
HH: Well, let’s put me, I would go with him in the aeroplane like.
JH: Yeah. He did.
HH: Because they were two seaters.
MC: Yeah.
JH: Yeah. You did.
HH: So I could see what he was doing and how he was doing it. Why he was doing. And what’s going to happen if you don’t do this sort of thing and so on. He put me all through that at a very very, early age. So to me it just comes naturally.
MC: Yeah.
JH: Yeah.
HH: So when, I go forward now when the war broke out actually the day when the war broke out obviously I left Berlin. I went home.
MC: Did you finish your degree? Your education at the university.
HH: No.
MC: You didn’t.
HH: No. I haven’t. I haven’t finished. No. I haven’t got the diploma or anything.
MC: No. No.
HH: But it doesn’t matter. I haven’t forgotten what I learned.
MC: No.
HH: And the way I lived I tried to, to do it as much as I could. Now, the problem was when I got home my mother said, ‘You know war is going to break out any, any day. There is one train. It’s the last train that is leaving actually Poland across the, the border. You want to go to your uncle in Paris.’ So anyhow I, I obeyed my mother. I didn’t like it but you know I thought, well my mother knows best. So far she’s brought me up. So off I went.
JH: With your brother.
MC: So, there was —
HH: No. No. No.
JH: Oh.
HH: No. My brother —
JH: Oh.
HH: No. My brother is, he was actually in university. In Polish university but in Poland. In Kraków.
MC: Right.
HH: Kraków is the only university in Poland that is anything any good.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Very difficult to get in.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Very difficult. And he was the only one and when he, when he was ready to go to university they had only one place vacant to go and he had the best qualifications through the exams that they put through it, and he got it. So he was actually, when the war broke out he wasn’t in Poznan. He was in Kraków. Right. But he, don’t forget he was eighteen months older than me. He was taken in to, in to the Polish Army. So he was, as soon as the war broke out he was in the Army. Right. He never got back to, to Poznan anymore. No. He finished up actually in Africa. He was with General Anders. You must have heard of General Anders.
MC: Yes. I think I have. Yeah. Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Well, he joined his Army and he was actually at Monte Casino.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: Now, that’s going to be another story. I’m going to tell you about that. Anyhow, so I got to my uncle and my uncle. That’s another. I don’t whether —
JH: Yeah. You can tell about that one. Yeah.
HH: Now, my uncle he was older than my, my father. I’m not sure how much older he was but anyhow he was older and he was a ballet dancer. He was in Moscow actually at the, at the school and that is when, where he met his wife actually. He didn’t know at the time that she was actually a Russian princess and they go together. They go like partners together.
MC: Dance partners.
HH: Yeah. But, but when the revolution came in Russia because she was a princess she had to flee so obviously he took her to Paris. And that’s where they stayed.
MC: So that’s where you joined them.
HH: That’s where I joined them.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Now, he was, he was actually a printer. He was. And a very keen photographer. He was printing newspapers actually in Paris.
JH: In the war? Was that in the war he was?
HH: Yeah. French papers.
JH: In the war? Oh, ok.
HH: Yeah. French —
Yes. This would have been about the —
JH: Yeah.
MC: You went to Paris before, before France was invaded.
HH: Oh, yeah. Before France, Yeah. Yes. France was still France.
MC: Yes. Yeah.
JH: Yeah.
HH: So anyhow, we were sort of talking and he said, ‘You know, I can see what, what the war is going to be like and you won’t be very safe here either. It would be best if you could get yourself to England.’ And he said, ‘There is, there is an English unit just outside Paris there. Go and see them and say hello to them like,’ you know. So, anyhow and I did and of course the, the commandant there obviously first of all he asked me who I was and how old I was and I said how old I was [laughs] How old was I? I was nowhere military age or anything like that so I lied. But apparently I must have looked older.
MC: Yeah.
HH: More presentable or something you know. I must have behaved not like a kid anymore.
MC: So how old were you?
JH: Let’s see. He was about —
HH: Nine.
MC: No, you can’t have been nine.
JH: No. no. I don’t think you were nine.
MC: Nine when you went to Paris. No. You must have been older.
JH: I think you was, I think you were, well let’s work it out. Let’s think about it.
HH: [unclear]
JH: You’re ninety one now and what year would it be?
MC: It would be —
JH: Oh, it would be ’39.
MC: ’39/40.
HH: 1939 it broke out. Yeah.
JH: So he was born in ’26.
MC: Thirteen.
HH: Yeah. Ah. You put me on the, yeah. Thirteen. No, no I told them I was fifteen.
JH: And you were thirteen.
HH: Was it fifteen or sixteen? What was the, what was the age?
MC: Well, it’s usually seventeen or eighteen to join the Air Force.
JH: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: I must have said sixteen. I must admit. Anyhow —
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: He accepted that, you know and I thought well, oh great. One step, you know. And he said, ‘So you, what are you? Can you fly?’ I said, ‘Well, yes, sir. Yeah.’ So he said, ‘Stand around. Look through the window. Do you see that aeroplane there? Get in it and show me how you can fly.’
MC: Can you remember what the aeroplane was?
HH: The old French military plane. I’ve never seen anything in my bloody life, you know. So, anyhow I thought well this is it. This is either you go or you don’t go.
MC: Yeah.
HH: So you got in, you know Anyhow, I got in it. I managed to get in this bloody thing, and I managed even to start it and so on, you know. And I thought I hope you have got enough guts to do what I’m going to do to prove him.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: That I can fly this bloody thing, you know. Anyhow, I took it up as high as it would go, and it started coughing a bit so I thought I’d better give it a bit of a rest. So, anyway I turned upside down and come down about maybe two, two hundred or so many feet above the ground. Smack in front of his bloody window upside down and made sure that he saw me [laughs] Anyhow, I landed in this thing. It wasn’t actually too bad, the aircraft for its age, you know. I thought it was going to bits. The way it looked anyhow.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Anyhow, and so I got in. I got in, back in the office and saluted and so on, and he sort of looked at me and he, I mean he said to me in other words, ‘Who the bloody hell taught you to fly like this,’ you know.
JH: Yeah.
HH: And —
MC: So, this was an English squadron.
HH: Yes. Yeah.
MC: In Paris. Yeah. Would be then.
HH: And I found out that bloody aircraft belonged to him. It was his private property. So if I smashed that bloody thing I would be out.
JH: Yeah. He would have been.
HH: Anyhow —
JH: Yeah.
HH: So I got accepted actually and that, that was it and I thought oh right. And I joined the 301 Squadron.
MC: And this was in Paris. In France.
HH: That was I think that must have been the unit that actually was there.
MC: Yeah.
HH: In Paris.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Just outside there.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
HH: That must have been. I mean I didn’t know at the time. I actually didn’t know what squadron I was in until I got to England.
MC: So what aircraft did you fly with the squadron?
HH: With, what with [pause] Defiant?
MC: Oh, no. It would have been, was it, was it the Battle?
HH: Yeah.
MC: With a three man crew.
HH: Yeah. That’s right.
MC: Yeah. The Battle.
HH: Yeah.
MC: The Fairey Battle.
HH: Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
HH: All we actually did at the time we were just patrolling.
MC: Yeah.
HH: The coast, you know.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Which was and I actually I was a pilot and I thought I dropped a clanger but somehow nobody found out about it because I went a little bit too far down and the, the Germans had a boat there and I didn’t know what sort of a boat it was. Obviously, it had a flag on so I thought now it’s a military. It’s got to be military. Yeah. And I gave it a few shots like you know and then turned around and scarpered [laughs] Scarpered. And they didn’t shoot back so obviously it was probably only a fishing boat. I don’t know what it was. But that was my first. Anyhow, but I didn’t, nobody asked me what what we were doing. Just normal patrols, you know. I never told anybody but I thought I was the first one to give you a stick.
MC: So you came to England when France fell then. Or before France fell to the Germans.
HH: Oh, no. No. No. France.
MC: France fell in 1940, didn’t it?
HH: Wait a minute. The Germans occupied —
MC: Poland.
HH: Part of it. Part of France. But not the whole of it. Because I remember that the south of France.
MC: Yeah. Was Vichy.
HH: Vichy, France. Yeah. And I mean, yeah but it must have been already they must have occupied. You see I wasn’t in politics.
MC: No. No. No.
HH: I don’t want to know anything in politics.
MC: No.
HH: But I know that I was actually asked to go to south of France for to, to do a bit of a confab there with the, with the French Underground. Because what was happening you see when, when the British plane went over and there were any shot down and so on the Underground had an arrangement with the British government that they would help them in any way they can.
MC: Escape.
HH: Possibly get them back to England, you know.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Which, which they did. But there was no such agreement with the Polish Air Force so they didn’t know who they were because most of our problem none of the pilots actually spoke English.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Or French. So you know if, if they got shot down they would be in a cart, you know. So I was actually asked. I don’t know whether it was actually the British government and I think it was the Polish government. I didn’t ask questions because you see I was a volunteer so therefore they could not give me an order to do anything. They would ask me. But I would never say no and they knew it. You know, anything. Anything going. So anyhow, just so I went and I knew a little bit more about it than most people. I knew that they, they were a very tight group. They don’t even knew who each other is. Whether they are in a part, in a part or not. Nobody knew. So I went to my uncle. To Paris, and I told him what I was asked to do and he sort of looked at me you know and he said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘You’ll not be able to do it,’ you know. And he said, ‘Leave it with me.’ And I said, ‘Leave it with me? So you know anything about the underground?’
MC: Yes.
HH: So I said, well this was what was. So he said, ‘Leave it with me and you go back and get, get back safe. Safely to England.’ Which I said to him, ‘Don’t worry. I know my ways about.’ And anyhow, so and it did happen. The French Underground, obviously they twigged it that some of the pilots may not be able to speak and obviously they would say, ‘Polynese,’ and you know, so ‘Polynese’ and Polish.
MC: Yeah.
HH: It’s so they would twig. The pilots would twig that they were French and they would come to help them. Not shoot them or anything like that. So that was that. That was one of the things.
MC: So you actually worked with the French Resistance.
HH: Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
HH: I didn’t. I didn’t go. My uncle did.
MC: Oh right. Yeah. Yeah.
HH: I didn’t know that he was actually one of the organisers. I didn’t know that.
MC: So when did you come to England then?
HH: Pardon?
MC: When did you come to England?
HH: Straightaway.
MC: Straightaway then.
HH: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I wasn’t going to stay. Oh no. No. No. No. No.
MC: So, that would have been about 1940 then.
HH: Yeah. It would be 1940. Yeah.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
MC: So you stayed with the squadron when it came to England.
HH: Yes. Yeah. I stayed at —
JH: Swinderby.
HH: Swinderby.
MC: Oh yeah. Yeah. 301. 301 Squadron were at Swinderby, weren’t they?
HH: Yes.
JH: Yes.
HH: Swinderby.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
HH: What I didn’t like about the posting, it was alright and I was very, very happy to be in England and be safe and be something. Do something towards the situation like, you know.
JH: And he spoke. He spoke good English.
HH: Even so I wasn’t, I wasn’t really old enough to meddle with things like that and I’m shooting at people and so on, you know. It wasn’t, it wasn’t me. Not really. I wasn’t brought up that way but this was it. I was in the forces. I was in the Army and I was a volunteer so therefore what they were asking I would do it.
MC: What aircraft did you fly at Swinderby?
HH: At that time?
MC: Yeah.
HH: Well, only, only we called them the bogeys.
MC: What, the Fairey Battles?
HH: Yeah.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
HH: The Fairy Battles.
MC: Yeah.
HH: At that time. It wasn’t until we got, until we got to Hemswell actually that I got on to, on to Wellington. And that was very interesting. I’ve never flown a twin engine.
HH: So what —
HH: But I had a chance to learn. I had a chance to learn and well I thought it was great. And the crew that I got actually if I wasn’t available to fly that aeroplane which quite often did happen they didn’t like any other pilot. And on, on one occasion when we had a bit of free time and so on and a cup of tea and a cigarette. I did smoke then [laughs] Well, just to —
JH: Everybody did.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Well, just to make it, me older you know. Fortunately I looked, I looked older when I looked in my mirror, you know, and I thought, ‘Is that you?’ Actually. Yeah. Quite often. Because situations change you, you know.
MC: Yeah. They do. Yes.
HH: I can tell you that I got shock one day because we were actually coming back [pause] I can’t remember what we are, it was Cologne actually. Anyway, Cologne or Dusseldorf. One of them things. There was a factory that needed demolishing and it was very important that. I don’t know what they were doing there. What they were making. Anyhow, I made sure that the factory didn’t exist anymore. Don’t you worry [laughs]
MC: So where did you train to fly the Wellington?
HH: Pardon?
MC: Where did you train to fly the Wellington?
JH: To fly the Wellington.
MC: It was a twin engine. You’ve gone from single engine Battles to the Wellington. Where did you do your training to fly the Wellington?
HH: At Hemswell.
MC: Oh, you did that at the squadron did you?
HH: Yeah.
MC: Oh right. Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
MC: And how did you get your crew together?
HH: I was just given the crew.
MC: Yeah. You were just given the crew.
HH: Yeah.
MC: Yeah. so —
HH: The other thing that I must impress is this. That the names. Now, the names like was to me it wasn’t a problem but to a lot of people it would have been. You see my original name, my Polish name, I insisted that I would volunteer provided that my, not under my name. For the simple reason because I knew that the Soviet GPU, that was the police, that they were looking after anybody with our names because of my father. What he was doing after the First World War.
MC: Yeah.
HH: He was one that was shaking the Russians and Germans out of Poland. He was the one. So he was on, our name was on a blacklist.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: So therefore I couldn’t. This was what my mother said. She said, ‘Don’t forget your name.’
MC: Yeah.
HH: She said, ‘Don’t forget your name. Use somebody else’s, but don’t forget our name.’ Which, which I did and I insisted that my name was, my proper name would never be used and this is it. And I made a mistake because that lady that asked me my proper name. I slipped up when I told her my name.
MC: Yeah.
JH: I’ve sorted that now.
HH: But I would prefer if it wasn’t mentioned.
MC: I understand.
JH: Yeah.
MC: It’s up to you whether you mention.
HH: How we got away because you see all, all the trips that we did there they were all volunteers. All volunteers. So therefore the volunteers they had to be names. Who is actually flying the thing? You know, what the —
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: What the things are and that. I always said, ‘I don’t care what name you put in as a pilot,’ and that was it.
MC: So who chose, who chose your name then?
HH: Anybody. Whoever. Whoever was filling the document up.
MC: So, how, how did you get to be, obviously you’re not —
HH: I wasn’t the only one.
MC: No. No.
HH: Most of the, most of the Poles were the same.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
JH: Yes.
HH: But you got, you changed your name to Harris.
JH: Yes.
HH: Ah, no. Well that I changed that because when I was demobbed that was another thing. I thought well I can’t get away with it like that anymore. So I actually changed it by deed poll.
MC: I understand now.
HH: It cost me a damned fortune to tell you the truth and that, I didn’t work. I didn’t have any work. No. No. I was just, just out of hospital.
MC: Yeah. So, so when you were flying on operations they just used any name.
HH: Anything.
MC: Any name. Yeah. Any name. Yeah.
HH: They knew. Whoever did the form. Whoever wrote the forms out. They knew.
MC: Yeah.
HH: They knew me by looking at. Giving any names.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. So what, can you remember your first operation in the Wellington?
HH: Was it Hamburg?
MC: Ah, Hamburg. Yeah. Yeah. Because you’ve got a five man crew haven’t you in a Wellington?
HH: Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. I think it, yeah it must have been Hamburg. Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
MC: What were you thoughts, experiences of that? You know.
HH: Yeah, and I thought there again because now we are actually in action so it’s up to me what the aeroplane is doing. Not —
MC: Yeah.
HH: Not the instructions. And, and I got to know the thing you know.
MC: Did you like it? The Wellington.
HH: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it, to me it was a little bit underpowered.
MC: Really. Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Yeah.
MC: You would have preferred a fighter.
HH: Well, I did. I did. Wait until I got into a Hurricane.
MC: Oh yeah. So, how many operations did you fly in that Wellington? In those Wellingtons. In that squadron.
JH: Oh, you wouldn’t know.
MC: Do you have your logbook?
HH: I don’t. I don’t know. I haven’t, I haven’t got anything.
MC: Oh right. Ok.
JH: He hasn’t got anything.
HH: I’ve nothing. No. No.
JH: He just wanted, when it was over he just wanted to forget about it.
MC: Yeah. So —
HH: I didn’t actually want to know any anybody that how actually I got into England.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. No. No. No.
HH: I didn’t want anyone to know.
MC: I understand. Yeah. Yeah. So —
HH: Because the first thing was that if any really, if any advocates finds out that I lied about my age in the first place I said I could be going to bloody jail.
MC: Yeah [laughs]
HH: What for, you know?
JH: Could it have been? Could it have been?
HH: No. No. No.
JH: No. Ok.
HH: I I don’t think that I —
MC: I think.
HH: Once I find out, found out that I wasn’t the only one who was doing it.
MC: No.
HH: You know.
MC: Yeah.
HH: And I thought well they can’t lock them all up, you know.
JH: Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
HH: But and that was it. In any case I mean there were so many other things to think about. You know. Oh, well we’re going so and so and the last minute no. We’re not going for a pint and I didn’t even drink then. I didn’t drink any beer.
MC: Yeah. So, I mean you were with 301 Squadron at Hemswell.
HH: Yeah.
MC: On Wellingtons.
HH: Yeah.
MC: So, obviously when you finished there what happened then? When you finished your operational flying with 301.
HH: Wellington. The Wellington was actually withdrawn from operations when the Lancaster became operational because it was getting a nuisance with it being too slow. So you, you couldn’t keep up with, with a Lancaster and you know on the different heights and so on. They were a lot higher than us. We had to be lower. So we were a bloody nuisance for them.
JH: Yeah.
HH: To carry their operations. They probably couldn’t drop the bombs because we were underneath.
JH: Yeah.
HH: You know.
JH: You told me once about your tactics. How you killed a lot, bombed a lot of German planes. You had, you had, you had a special tactic didn’t you?
HH: Ah well, one I [pause] I actually, I was out. I was more or less, I was still in the squadron but I was actually believe it or not do you know what rank I had? I had the squadron leader rank, but I didn’t have a squadron ever. The reason that I got the rank was because I could speak English and on many occasions there was a phone call, ‘Come down to London. We need you to interpret this and interpret this.’ You know. So therefore, there was no good giving me a bloody squadron. If I had to be away what would we do [unclear] So, I kept the rank obviously. I think they gave me the rank because probably the interpreter had to be an officer. I don’t know. I don’t know what.
MC: It could have been because you deserved it.
HH: Well, yeah. And anyhow so I didn’t ever question that.
MC: No.
HH: No. I often thought, you know why, why they salute me?
JH: When you were younger than them.
HH: Well, yeah.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: If they knew [laughs]
MC: Yeah.
HH: If they only knew.
MC: Yeah [laughs] Much younger.
HH: Yeah.
MC: So, I mean come back to the tactics of your —
JH: Oh yes.
MC: Bombing.
HH: Yeah.
MC: And you know you were saying.
JH: Yeah. You did have a certain you told me once probably you’ve forgotten now.
MC: Well, when you used to attack the airfields or what?
HH: Well, the thing is you see I had my own ways.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Now, there was one, one occasion I had the Hurricane was actually my aeroplane then.
MC: You had a Hurricane.
HH: Yeah.
MC: What? On, while you was on the squadron.
HH: Yeah.
MC: Of Wellingtons.
HH: Yeah. I was still in the same squadron but I had a Hurricane for my personal things.
MC: So what did you do with the Hurricane? Did you use it?
HH: Well, this is, this is what I was actually detailed to assist the local defence.
MC: Oh, what? Fighter affiliation. Did you do fighter affiliation? No? To practising for the bombers.
HH: No.
MC: Practice for fighter avoiding.
HH: Well, no. I could fly whenever I wanted to.
MC: Yeah.
HH: But I didn’t. I didn’t misuse the petrol. Yeah.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: But I’ll give you one occasion that they had a bit of a problem down south, over London there. Jerry had a little bit too much of his own way and there was a phone call and they asked if I could come down to help. I said, obviously, ‘I’m in it. I’m in it, I’m coming down,’ and I thought I’m not going to go down to London because by the time I get there right they’ll be going back. And they’ll be going back quickly because the petrol will be running out. So they’ll be easier to catch when they are actually going back home. So I went right down the coast. Right down the coast. And I was waiting and I just copped there was two. Two 109s, and I got them and they went down in the water. And then I thought well I can’t see any more and then there was one, another big one coming. That was a Heinkel 111.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Heinkel 111. I said I would like that one. Yeah. And I did get it and all. He went down in the water and all. Yeah. So the fish were happy. [laughs]
JH: I didn’t know about that.
HH: Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Anyhow, so you see I was more or less told to the whoever was doing the operation whoever wanted any help they could always ring me and if I wasn’t busy with somebody else like you know I would hop down in the Hurricane and come down.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Not, not ever happened. Not any more happened after that.
MC: Yeah.
HH: So you know but they were down here. I didn’t actually shoot that one but one of my lads and that was a 88.
MC: Oh yeah. JU88.
HH: JU88.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Now, we found out actually from the crew, from the German crew, there again me talking German you see —
MC: Yeah.
HH: I found out where they actually were going and guess where? They were going to [pause] what do they call the —
MC: I’m trying to help you but —
HH: Rolls Royce.
MC: Oh right.
HH: They were going to demolish that.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
HH: That’s what the pilot told me.
MC: Oh right. Goodness me.
HH: Yeah. So, I said, ‘Well, you will have better life than demolishing that.’
MC: Yeah.
HH: So, ‘You are an officer especially and you are in the Luftwaffe as well.’
MC: Yeah.
HH: So we are enemies but we are friends.
MC: Yeah. I know what you mean. Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
MC: A lot of there was a sort of respect between the two forces. Air Forces.
HH: Well, there were.
MC: You know, even though they were on opposite sides.
HH: They were only doing the same thing that we were doing you know.
MC: Yeah.
HH: If I knew that he was a bloody Hitler’s brother I would have bloody killed him.
MC: Yeah. So I mean, I mean all your operations did, did, were you was the aircraft fairly reliable? Did you have any mishaps?
HH: No. No mishaps but there were times that we were coming back, it would be what? About 4 o’clock in the morning or something like this or were just leaving the coast over the Channel and what can you see? Fog. Where do we go now? Yeah. Anyhow, I always remember the Cathedral and that flaming thing that they stuck there where your place is now.
MC: Oh yes. Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Sometimes not always could you see it.
MC: The Cathedral.
HH: The Cathedral.
JH: No. He’s talking about the —
MC: Oh, yeah.
JH: Yeah.
MC: Oh I know what you mean.
HH: Yeah.
MC: Oh dear. There’s an obelisk there.
JH: Sweetheart, would you drink some of that at the same time darling.
HH: Oh yes. Thank you.
JH: I’m very proud of you.
HH: You are catching me at the point you know I mean so many things that happened.
JH: Yeah. We know it’s hard.
HH: Getting things in detail.
JH: Yeah. It is.
HH: It is not easy.
JH: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: It’s not easy.
MC: No. No.
JH: Well, well —
HH: Because at the time you were doing it not to remember it. You did it to do it and get on with it.
JH: Yeah. Just have a drink.
[pause]
JH: It’s just an energy drink that he has.
[recording paused]
HH: On one occasion I don’t know where we were actually going and the flak was very very, very happy being against us [laughs] and anyhow one bullet went through the bloody windscreen. Anyhow, and that one eye, one of my eyes went down on the thermometer. Thirty degrees. Thirty degrees below zero. Wow. Down. We had to go down because it was bloody freezing.
MC: Yeah.
HH: I mean there was no heating in any of English aircraft. Only Yanks. They were heated aircraft. I never found any English aeroplane with the heating in. Exception of the passengers. Passenger air.
JH: That was just because we couldn’t remember Swinderby but it did come to us after.
HH: Swinderby. No. No.
JH: It did come.
[recording paused]
MC: You never forget Swinderby.
HH: No. Because we had to dig our own toilets. There was nothing there.
JH: Oh dear.
HH: No. And guess, guess what was going to happen? King George the 5th was coming to inspect.
JH: Oh, my God.
HH: Now fortunately we were at Hemswell.
MC: Yeah. When he came.
JH: Oh, you were at Hemswell.
HH: Yeah. Fortunate.
[recording pause]
HH: The country was in the war. They couldn’t, they couldn’t organise with everything all that quick you know so —
MC: You had to do it yourself.
HH: It was necessary.
MC: Yeah.
HH: And that was it. But a lot of people thought oh yeah, yeah when Polish Air Force come they were nicely lodged in in [pause] in places with billiard tables, and so on and I thought to myself, a billiard table. You must be joking. If you had a toilet you would be lucky.
MC: So, I’m trying to get the timescale. When you flew the Wellingtons at Hemswell with 301 squadron. When did you finish with the squadron? How long were you with that squadron?
HH: I don’t actually know what happened to the squadron because —
MC: Did you, did you go on to Lancasters?
HH: I went to, to the school. Yes. And I was about I would say about halfway through when the war finished.
JH: What school?
MC: It’s the Lancaster, it would be the Lancaster Finishing School.
JH: Oh.
HH: Not far from here.
MC: Wigsley. Wigsley. Was it Wigsley?
HH: Could be Wigsley. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
MC: So you, so were you with the squadron right the way through the war then? Right until the end of the war.
HH: As far as I know. Yes.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. So you didn’t go onto any instructor duties or anything like that.
HH: No.
MC: No.
HH: Thank you, sweetheart.
JH: There you are, darling.
HH: No. Because I mean what was the point? War was finished.
MC: So, yeah. So you were with the squadron right ‘til the end of the war.
HH: Yeah, I mean what did Churchill say? You can go home now. We don’t need you anymore. And that was it.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
HH: It wasn’t very nice but still —
MC: Did, was there, did you do any operations to bring prisoners of war back?
HH: No. No prisoner of war. No. I brought my brother back.
MC: Oh, that’s what. Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Well, that, that was again I don’t know who the, who asked me to do that. Whether it was the Polish government. Whether the Polish Air Force [pause] probably didn’t because they wouldn’t know anything about my brother. But the Polish government must have done because they wanted my brother. They wanted him at Bletchley. What happened? He was at Monte Casino and he lost his foot, right foot and so he was no bloody good there in any case. So, you know I got a call and I was asked to go and pick a soldier from Monte Casino and bring him back to England.
JH: He didn’t know his name.
HH: No.
MC: Just the one soldier.
HH: Yeah. Just one. Just one soldier who was actually wounded.
MC: Yeah.
HH: One casualty to be brought in. And it wasn’t until I got there actually and saw who the soldier was. I didn’t know it was my brother.
MC: That’s amazing.
HH: Yeah.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. And that was a Wellington you took out there to pick him up.
HH: No. No. No. No. No.
MC: What did you take him?
HH: It was a [pause] oh God knows what the name was.
MC: Yeah.
HH: It was like a personnel. Did they call them hanson?
MC: Oh, the Anson. Yeah.
HH: Anson.
MC: The Avro Anson. Oh right.
HH: Yeah. It was an Anson.
MC: Yes.
HH: I’d never flown that thing but still, I mean, most aircraft you know is like, like a car. When you get a car do a couple of miles you know what the car can do or what it can’t do. When you are a driver let’s put it that way.
MC: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And you were a driver.
HH: Not a lady driver.
MC: You were certainly an aeroplane driver.
HH: Oh, yeah. I could.
MC: Yeah.
HH: I don’t now.
MC: No. No.
HH: So anyhow, so that, that was, and I went to from Gibraltar, I think.
MC: Yes.
HH: Gibraltar was the best place. And anyhow, I brought him back.
MC: So as that was the end of the war so you both stayed in, in the UK at the end of the war.
HH: Yes. Yeah.
JH: He was in a settlement camp weren’t you?
HH: A resettlement camp. Yeah. Well, that was for, for those who, who didn’t know whether they were going to Canada or America or Australia. That was our choice. We could, we could ask to be taken.
MC: Yeah.
HH: You know, if the governments were ok like, you know.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: And that was there, one of the resettlement camps was here actually. Yeah.
JH: Was it somewhere near Grimsby?
HH: Grimsby. That rings a bell. Yes.
JH: Yes.
HH: Grimsby. Yes. Yeah. Now, what did they call that camp?
MC: Oh dear. There’s quite a few up that way.
HH: There is a road by it. The road was called the same as [pause] Wilsby? Is there a Wilsby?
MC: Manby.
JH: Manby.
MC: Manby.
HH: I know Manby. Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
HH: I’ve been to Manby.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Yeah.
JH: Anyway, how many different religions and men was in this settlement camp?
HH: Oh, my God [laughs]
JH: You once told me.
HH: Yeah.
JH: And that the head chap knew exactly how many potatoes to order. How many vegetables.
HH: Oh yeah.
JH: You had Italians, you had —
HH: Yeah. That was [pause] I can’t remember where that was. Anyhow, we got our own kitchen.
MC: What? Your own kitchen as Polish. Or just every —
HH: No. No. There were there were other nationalities as well.
MC: Yeah.
JH: I think you once said eleven different nationalities.
HH: Yeah.
MC: A lot of different nationalities. Yeah.
JH: Yeah, and you all got on.
HH: It was also the point of religion came up as well.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. So it wasn’t easy. We were all in a big muddle and to get through it you were —
MC: Yeah.
JH: Oh, I tell you what you haven’t mentioned. When you run out of petrol in your aeroplane.
HH: No. I’ll tell you when, when my last assignment, the last assignment, right. Now, they the Normandy was on the go. Right.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: And the German Army was moving their best armies from Russia and Italy. They were moving them up to Normandy. Right. With these trains. Yeah.
JH: The trains.
HH: Right. But that was my last assignment and I went down and the aircraft was American. American aircraft and it didn’t have any bombs. It had only rockets under the wings.
MC: Oh, so this was a single seater fighter aircraft.
HH: Single. Single seater. Yeah. Yeah. And anyhow so there was a train coming up. Obviously, the French Underground was telephoning everything towards where they are and so on and it was coming up and I can show you on a map.
JH: I saw. This is what we got out.
MC: Yeah.
[paper rustling]
HH: There. That road.
MC: Oh right. From Falaise. Oh yes.
JH: Yeah.
MC: The Falaise Gap.
HH: Yeah.
MC: That was a big battle there.
HH: Yeah.
JH: Yeah. It was.
HH: And they were, actually the train, the train runs actually along that road.
MC: Yes. Along the road to Caen.
HH: Yeah. Yeah.
JH: What did you do there?
HH: So, so what we had to do the area was actually occupied here by Canadians.
MC: Yeah.
HH: This side and that side but they were away. They moved away from this road because we were coming to destroy that train.
MC: Yeah.
HH: For their safety. So they were about here. It was all Canadian. Canadian there and the train was coming there. They obviously didn’t know. The Germans didn’t know that that was already Canadian. Yeah. They obviously didn’t. Now, the thing was because it was so situation that area was no good attacking with, with bombs because the bombers would be too high and you never knew where they drop either. So they actually the Americans decided but they couldn’t get any pilots doing it.
MC: Yeah.
HH: No.
MC: No.
HH: So that was why they were looking for, for pilots. And anyhow, so I and my, my best mate he was one aircraft and I was behind him. Right. Now, his job was to actually stop the train moving. So as long as he managed those two engines pulling the huge train, the tanks on it and Lord knows what. Anyhow, he did his job and he stopped the train and obviously I was behind him. Not, not too, not too close. Perhaps about five or ten minutes behind him and I would attack the rest of it like, you know. And anyhow so by the time I came to that stage the soldiers obviously they left the train and they were all outside and each soldier obviously has got a rifle hasn’t he? Yeah. When I came around there were probably a thousand rifles firing on me. Right. And the rockets were under the wings like that and I don’t know what happened but I, I thought it out and the only solution that I’ve got that one of the bullets of the rifles must have hit one of the rockets and that exploded and that was it.
MC: And you had to bale out.
HH: Bale out. I was thrown out.
MC: Oh right [laughs]
HH: I was thrown out and I was up in a tree. Now, fortunately the Canadians were watching it actually because they knew what was going to happen, you know and they were watching it and they saw it and one of the coloured Canadians, I was very surprised to see a coloured Canadian. Very strong man. He, he got me off out of the tree and on to the ship and back to England. And I landed up in Edinburgh in hospital. Yeah. With two broken legs. That’s number one. My left hand was in shreds. You can still it’s all deformed. The fingers were hanging loose right over [unclear] but the worst was because the aircraft exploded the splinters, the metal splinters in my back. When the, when the surgeons saw it they decided they’d got to come out as soon as possible because of gangrene. There was too many of them and I had something like, sometimes three operations in one day.
JH: Yeah. You had metal in that leg.
MC: One. Yeah, one bit stuck.
JH: It’s never been the same.
MC: And that was taken out with the, with the electro magnet. Yeah. It was like. And it was smack in the middle. They said it was smack in the middle.
JH: It’s never been the same, has it?
HH: It was fortunate that it was a piece of metal. Not a piece of wood or anything like that. A piece of metal and it was pointing actually that way. Not that way. Pointing that way. So, slowly, slowly moved it and it came out. Clink. Clink. Came out. But they did, there were three surgeons operating then and they said that unfortunately the damage pulling out has done to the eye.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Will never be repaired.
MC: Yeah. Yes.
HH: So just that they can’t do anything about it because it’s all, it’s torn to bits. They were hoping which it, I mean it has [pause] it has healed but it’s never been, never been a hundred percent.
JH: Can you remember when we had that German friend that used to come here and she come from Hamburg and she said to you one day, ‘You didn’t bomb us did you, Harry?’
MC: Yeah.
JH: In Hamburg.
HH: And I said, ‘Yes. I’m afraid I did. Yeah.’
JH: Didn’t you say —
HH: Well, I turned away and, ‘Well, who bombed Warsaw?’
MC: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Yeah.
JH: And didn’t you tell her, didn’t you tell me once that when you bombed Hamburg you had, you Polish pilots had, had a different way of dealing with it than the English pilots did. You probably can’t remember, can you?
HH: Listen, I was a pilot in an aircraft to take there and come back. I don’t care what the rest of the crew did. I didn’t give a shit.
JH: No. No I’m, yeah.
MC: The rest of the aircraft.
JH: I’m talking about you, just you Polish pilots had your own tactics.
HH: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
JH: With the Germans.
HH: Yeah. Well, don’t forget I mean they were, not all the Polish pilots were like me. I was one who shouldn’t be in the forces in the first place because I was too young, and I wasn’t even in any Army.
JH: No. But you, you were clever. You was clever.
HH: Well, I did what I, when I was, when I was asked to do anything it was up to me.
JH: Yes.
MC: How you did it.
HH: To say yes or no. Nobody said, you’ve got to do this and that and that and that. Nobody said. I got to know. They told me what it was. Don’t go too low or else you’ll be caught and things like that. Like for example, like Peenemunde. That was another thing. You’ve heard of Peenemunde.
MC: I have indeed, yeah.
HH: The rocket place. Well, when, when we first got photographs of Peenemunde I’m afraid the Royal Air Force, they were laughing. They were. Yeah. They were laughing. Who do they think they are? They’re like wooden ramps of some sort. I said, ‘Well wait a minute. Wait a minute. When we were kids, when we were kids right we used to go in the summer to the seaside.’ To the North Sea. To the Baltic Sea. Where we used to go. Right. ‘We used to see the rockets being fired out on the sea.’
MC: Testing them.
HH: Testing them. Yeah. So I knew that there was something else more than just bloody pieces of wood there. And the installation. They didn’t do anything until they found out that they fired the V-2 rocket out from there.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: Then they found, ah Peenemunde, ah we should have done something. Yeah. You should. You should. Because little kids told you about the rocket base there but they didn’t do anything. Yeah. Well —
MC: Did you actually bomb it?
HH: No. No.
MC: No. But you remember it.
HH: Oh, I remember what it was. Yeah.
MC: So, did you get any decorations?
HH: No.
MC: No, you didn’t. As a squadron leader.
JH: Well, he was offered. He was offered one.
HH: I’ll tell you something else now. I never got a shilling pay all the time.
MC: You didn’t.
JH: No. Because he was voluntary, you see.
MC: Yeah. But even so he should have been paid.
HH: No.
JH: No.
HH: No. I wasn’t paid. No. I didn’t ask anyone.
MC: Really. Goodness me. That’s amazing.
HH: No. I mean I got a uniform and I was fed in the officer’s mess. So, no. I didn’t. I didn’t want it. I didn’t need any money. But I knew that you know they were paid and I thought to myself well if it’s the Polish government well keep it because they haven’t got any bloody money now in any case. They were running themselves into debt so keep the money. I wasn’t bothered about money.
MC: So did you have any money at the time?
HH: Very little. Very little. When I was released I worked on a farm with Irish laborers.
MC: Oh right.
JH: It nearly killed him.
MC: Yeah.
JH: Because you was educated to use your head not your hands.
MC: Yeah.
HH: No. Well, they liked, they liked me to go to the farmer and negotiate. They, yeah liked that. Yeah. Because obviously the farmer knew they were Irish, you know. They would try to fiddle him or anything like this you know but somehow —
MC: So, this was after the war. When you were demobbed.
HH: Oh yeah.
MC: After the resettlement.
HH: Yeah.
MC: You chose to stay in the UK.
HH: Yeah.
MC: Yeah. And then —
HH: Yeah.
MC: So you worked on the land.
HH: Yeah. Now, that is the point. That is the point when my original name got changed by deed poll.
MC: Oh right. Yeah. Yeah.
HH: And therefore I should not have told that lady my original name.
JH: He’s talking about the lady who —
MC: Yeah. Who wanted to write a book.
JH: Write a book and that —
MC: [unclear]
JH: Yeah.
HH: If she could scribble it. I don’t know.
MC: Ok.
HH: I should not have mentioned my name because it’s not name. I mean, I bought the Harris name. I bought it. It cost me a lot of money.
MC: You said. Yeah.
HH: Do you know what? Obviously, must know Harris Tweed.
MC: Yes.
HH: Yeah. Well, apparently I had to have three solicitors to do that. Each of them —
MC: Yeah. Wanted money.
HH: A lot of money.
JH: And at that time you’d got your garage.
HH: At the time I didn’t have any. I was working on the land.
JH: Oh. I didn’t realise that. I thought you changed your name when you were at Gainsborough.
HH: Oh no. No. That’s, that’s yeah —
MC: So what did you do after you’d finished on the land then? So you worked on the land for a while.
HH: Well, I worked on the land with my eyes open. Right. And what I noticed there was a lot of especially those big farmers, big farmers you know and I noticed in the garages they had the Rolls Royces there and so on, you know. And so I thought ha ha they’ve got to store them in there because they’ve no petrol and they can’t use them. So when the war is finished those cars will need attention. Ha ha right. And I got the one farmer on that game and he said, ‘Well, yes I want my car on the road and really it wants taking to Rolls Royce.’ And he hadn’t got a chauffeur. So I said, ‘Well, if you want a chauffeur you’re looking at one.’ So that I can drive a Rolls Royce no problem. So I took his car to Rolls Royce to be redone. Whatever they had to do there. And that was it. One farmer was talking to another farmer and so on, you know and that’s how I got in to that elite of farmers. They had other vehicles like Austin 7s and all this, you know. So I thought well restoring these bloody vehicles could be a good paying job and that’s what I did. That’s what I did.
MC: So you did vehicle restoration.
HH: Yeah.
MC: Oh right.
HH: Yeah.
MC: And that was in Gainsborough you say.
HH: Yeah. I was in Gainsborough then. Yeah. And the thing is I rented the property. I didn’t own it. I rented the property and the property belonged to a builders and they were, they were using, being used to build airfields and things like that all during the war and so on so they were used to RAF and all this. So I I got in touch with the RAF as well you know and, but I didn’t tell them who I was. No. I never. I used to go to the air shows and so on and have a look.
JH: What about when your mother died in Poland?
HH: That is, that no don’t take that in.
MC: No.
HH: No. That —
JH: I think that’s ok as long as you don’t mention the, how you got there.
HH: Well, yeah this is a problem. How you got there. That is a problem.
MC: Well, I mean, if this is, this is part of history, Harry.
JH: Yeah. It’s history now. Yeah.
MC: And so it’s —
JH: Yeah.
JH: I think you can say now.
HH: The club doesn’t exist now in any case.
JH: Yeah. Ok.
HH: Because we were the Lincoln Aero Club. What happened I used to send, now my mother had a certain illness. I don’t know what it was. Her doctor wrote it all in Latin so I didn’t, I didn’t know what it was but he, she was sending me his prescriptions and I could send the prescription to London to a chemist who was actually allowed to send medicine on prescriptions away to other countries. It had to go through Switzerland.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Through the International Red Cross and so on. So I used to send her medicine. And when she passed away I got the telephone actually on Saturday morning. I was in my office doing some paperwork and the phone rang and it was my brother and he, he lived in London. He, and he said, ‘Mum, mum passed away. And apparently the funeral is on Monday.’ So I thought it’s on Monday. I thought how Monday. So I said to him, ‘Well, you get yourself ready and I’ll, I’ll meet you or you come to me. It’ll be better if you come to me by car and we will go.’ I mean never, never questioned any you know. He was obviously he was taken up a little. What I did I belonged to Lincoln Aero Club. I hired one of their aircraft for a week. I didn’t tell anyone I was going or anything like that. We just went off and that was it.
MC: So you flew from Lincoln to Poland.
HH: Correct. Yeah. Nobody stopped me, nobody said anything, you know. My brother kept looking at me. He said, ‘How do you know where you’re going?’ I said, ‘I have been this way many times, don’t worry.’ [laughs] Yeah.
JH: And you actually went to the funeral, didn’t you?
HH: Oh yes. I went to the funeral yes but I kept my eyes open because fortunately there was a reasonably good field very near the cemetery.
JH: There’s a lot of land in Poland.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: And anyhow so, and it was a light aircraft so you know I had to when I landed it I had to be very careful not to get dug in or I’d be upside down. Anyhow, it worked out alright and but I, I, I didn’t forget actually about the funeral. Obviously I was upset but I wasn’t upset to that stage where I knew actually what was happening and I thought somebody must have seen that little aircraft.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: And the sooner we are out and away, the better it will be for us and I said to my brother, I said, ‘You can stay if you like but I can’t promise that I can bring you back. But I’ve got to get away. I’ve got to get that aircraft away otherwise we’ll be in the cart and I will be in jail.’ So anyhow, anyhow, he agreed with me and he said, ‘Yeah. We’d better go.’ And that was it.
MC: What you haven’t told me about is about your father. What about your father?
HH: Well, my father was actually shot. Now, I’ve got to go way back. You see, after the First World War he was in, in the area where we lived, Poznan. He was the, more or less the organiser to get the oppressors out. And they obviously the Germans wanted him and also the Russians wanted him. So when the war broke out my father would be in, he was an officer in the Reserve so he would be in the Army when the war broke out. Right. Now, when the, when the Germans moved in to Poland he would be caught as a prisoner of war. Which they did. All the officers and all the officers and any people who had anything to do with the government they were taken in to a camp. My dad including. Right. So the Germans had them as well as prisoners, not necessarily prisoners of, not army prisoners. They were also civilians.
MC: Political prisoners.
HH: They were prisoners. Political prisoners. Let’s put it that way. So they were in this camp in Katyn. Now, when, that is when the Germans and the Russians were actually together. Right. Now, now we are at the point where the Germans actually attacked Russia. Right. Ok. So when the Russians got very nearly up to Moscow they stopped.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Not by willingness.
MC: No. No. No.
HH: Do you know what? I really laughed because all the high ranking German officers who were, you know prancing about and I thought to myself have you forgotten what happened to Napoleon? What happened to him when he went to Russia? So they didn’t. No. All the vehicles everything, horses frozen to, to the ground overnight. And that was it. They couldn’t move.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. So now then how come this, so the Russians come in, right. You know. So the [pause] this camp belonged actually to Germans. Right. Where they were. But the Russians came and they found this camp. And the Germans actually gave them, gave them the camp up so the Russians took over the camp now. And it still, now coming back to Stalin we’ve got to know him. I don’t know whether you know about the history of Stalin but it’s not very nice. The biggest murderer in the world Stalin was.
JH: What? Bigger than Hitler?
HH: Pardon?
JH: Bigger than Hitler?
HH: Yeah. Because Hitler wasn’t actually directly issuing the orders. Hitler made somebody else to direct the order. He was a little bit smarter than [pause] But Stalin he, he smiled to himself when he was doing even through the radio and so on. I am, you know I am ruling the world and all this. He was cracked. And anyhow, so he decided that he doesn’t want them in Russia all that long or he would have to, he would have to do something with them so the best thing that he always used to do was kill. So he ordered them to make the graves. Dig the graves. And when the graves were done they were shot. They were shot.
MC: All of them?
HH: All of them. Yeah.
MC: Now, when, when the war had finished actually this has come out now and it’s still going on and I know the truth and I believe that truth. I don’t believe anything else that happened. The thing was that the international investigation who actually killed him. Was it the Germans or was it the Russians?
JH: Well, you know —
HH: Now, how did the find out that? Oh they had chemicals there. They made this. They made this. Spent a lot of money and they came to neither. Now, the news that I know I from people who were actually there when this happened unknown that they were being observed by others. Now, those people you can’t say, ‘You are lying.’ He’s seen it.
MC: Eyewitness.
HH: Eyewitness. But they wouldn’t believe them. No. No. No. No, because the international things. This is why in politics I don’t want to know. I don’t know want to know.
JH: So you believe it was the Russians.
HH: Definitely the Russians.
MC: Yes. Yes.
JH: Yeah.
HH: Definitely the Russians. Yeah. Definitely.
MC: So, after the war, you know obviously you mentioned Churchill earlier and Churchill’s treatment of Bomber Command and the job you did.
HH: Yes. I think Churchill as far as the Polish Air Force is concerned I think did Churchill even know that there was a Polish Air Force? I don’t think so. I don’t think so.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Not that I’m bothered. No. No. I’ve read some of his books like, you know that he wrote, and he was more interested in exchanging spies from Russia to England or get our spies out of Russia and Russian spies out of England. He was more interested in that and he was also interested in getting Hitler out of the way. And that was what I admired him for. That’s the only thing.
MC: Yeah. So of course the other man I mentioned is the man you were named after. Harris.
HH: Harris.
MC: Bomber Harris.
JH: Oh yeah.
MC: Arthur Harris.
HH: Yeah. Well —
MC: Not to say you were named after him.
HH: The thing is that what could he do? He only had a certain amount of tackle. Let’s put it that way, to do. Some of it be coming too late. Should have been years, done years before but they didn’t, they didn’t believe it or the new invention and all this, you know instead of getting on with it. I mean they could have. England could have won that war. It’s an island.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: That’s the biggest advantage isn’t it? You’ve got to get in first.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Mind you I’m beginning to wonder how come all these, how come they come here? All these immigrants and the British government doesn’t know how they get in. And when they get in and how many of them are here.
MC: Because it’s an island. Yeah. That’s right.
HH: It’s ridiculous.
JH: You’d think with it it’s an island we could protect then a lot easier.
MC: There’s so many places to come in.
HH: Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
JH: And we ought to protect us these places.
HH: What stopping, what’s stopping, apparently they can get a lot of money from somebody who’s financing them. Right. What’s stopping them from buying a U-boat?
JH: Anyway, back to —
MC: Nothing.
HH: Yeah.
MC: Nothing.
HH: They can come anywhere.
MC: So you, just going back to your flying.
JH: Yeah.
MC: You continued flying after the war then. You joined Lincoln Aero Club.
JH: Yeah.
MC: You continued to fly.
HH: oh, yeah. Lincoln Aero Club. Yeah. But then you see I got busy. I got busy on the cars and so on and Lincoln Aero Club is, you know, is money.
MC: Did you have your own aeroplane?
HH: I had half and half.
MC: Yeah. You shared one.
HH: And the thing is my partner he used it more than I did, you know. I had to pay half of the fees you know and I thought well if I can’t use it the way I want what’s the point me having it? And I have to have a car in any case.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: So you know, I had enough. I had enough. The other, the other thing what I would just shortly mention —is that thing working?
MC: Yeah.
HH: I made a mistake by getting tied up with my first wife. But don’t put that on because I’ll —
[recording paused]
MC: What medals did you get after the war? Did you get any medals?
HH: No.
MC: Did you not get any Polish medals?
HH: No.
MC: You didn’t get any decorations.
JH: I thought you was offered some once but you turned it down.
HH: Yeah. I did. Yeah.
MC: Right. Ok. So you didn’t, because you told me the story about attacking the trains during the Normandy campaign.
HH: Yeah.
MC: I wondered whether you would have qualified for the Bomber Command clasp which would have been part of the ‘39— but if you didn’t have the medals.
HH: I don’t want anything.
MC: No. That’s ok. It’s just —
JH: He didn’t want them. He didn’t want anything. That was the reason.
HH: I don’t want any praise. I don’t want anything.
MC: No. No. I appreciate that.
JH: No. You don’t.
HH: To me —
MC: No. No, that’s ok. That’s great.
HH: Things are done.
JH: That’s great.
MC: Well, Henry if you’ve got any, if there’s anything else I’ve missed I’m sure you’ve got loads of stories.
JH: You just haven’t told the one where you ran out of petrol in the aircraft.
MC: Oh, you were saying earlier.
JH: In that —
HH: Oh that.
JH: I like that story.
MC: When was that? That was —
JH: You was in Russia. You were in the Cossacks.
HH: Yeah.
MC: You were in a Wellington?
HH: Yeah.
MC: Yeah.
HH: Yeah. Oh yeah, because I, there again you see the reason why I don’t like it to be known because I I would have been probably punished for doing what happened.
MC: You won’t now. You won’t now. Not now
HH: Not now. No. No. But what I have done on that occasion I went to a place where I wasn’t supposed to be going and therefore I used a little bit more petrol. And when it, when it was time to go back I knew that I wouldn’t make it so I had to get some petrol from [laughs] from somewhere. Anyhow, so I got the only, the only people available were the Russians. So, I went across and I was talking to them, ‘You’ve got to talk to a commander. So up on your horse and we’ll go and see the commanding — ’ Their commanding officer, you know. And there we go on a horse and I’ve never been on a horse in my life. Anyhow, during, during the journey all of a sudden they stopped and brought some refreshment like you know and there was a bloody hot meat and I thought where is the kitchen? No kitchen. Do you know how they cooked? How they cooked their meat? Under the saddle.
JH: Of the horse. And —
HH: Well, obviously its wrapped.
MC: Yeah.
HH: In a cloth and so on. It’s not touching the horse.
MC: Yeah. Yeah.
HH: In any way.
JH: And you said they were Cossacks.
HH: And it was a ride on the saddle.
JH: Little horses weren’t they?
HH: Yeah.
MC: Yeah. Amazing.
JH: Yeah.
MC: Amazing. Yeah. So you landed your aircraft in Russia.
HH: Not quite. Not quite.
JH: Where?
HH: When you are in a situation like that you just land and that’s it. You don’t ask, ‘Is this Russia?’ As you’ve landed. That’s it.
MC: Yeah.
HH: I don’t know where it was.
MC: But you found the Russians and you got some petrol.
HH: Well, they were friendly and they were there and I got some petrol. I got petrol. More than I wanted. So anyhow —
MC: You managed to get off and get back.
HH: Yeah.
MC: Fascinating.
HH: And you know the crew never asked what I was doing.
MC: They trusted you.
HH: And I didn’t tell them. I didn’t tell them.
JH: They always wanted to go with you because you always came back, didn’t they?
HH: This was it. One day we sitting, all sitting and drinking tea. I think that’s what it was and one of them came out because I heard it like all around me and about why. Why that I’m sometimes not going on these things, you know. And anyhow, so one of them piped up and said, ‘Well, the reason that we were asking and we were more or less complaining is because when you are not in the pilot’s seat we are not quite as sure that we are going to back. But when we can see you in the seat we know we are going to come back.’
MC: That’s brilliant, that’s good.
JH: Yeah. It is. Yeah.
HH: And so you know and I thought, ‘Well, are you taking the mickey out of me or what are you?’ You know.
MC: I’m sure not. Yeah.
HH: No. It came back, no. No. Because you see there are things that I have learned from my uncle about flying and flying and not flying. That is it. That is a question, you know.
MC: Yeah.
JH: Yeah. You used to tell me, oh a long, long time ago you used to tell me that you had certain ways that the Germans couldn’t know about when you was in the air. Something to do with underneath. You always used to fly low.
HH: Oh yeah.
MC: Did you? You used to fly low. Under the radar.
HH: Yeah.
HH: All the time.
JH: Yeah.
HH: All the time. Whenever.
JH: That was your —
HH: Whenever there was something sticky I used to say right, radar and I knew how they operate. I took an interest in it, you know. How that radar of theirs operates and so there were loopholes. A bit dangerous, but there were loopholes to get through it. And I always thought well if I’m going to be near the loophole I’m going through it and that was it. There’s no two way back. I think that the crew, whoever was in the crew I didn’t always know who was, who was doing what. I wasn’t interested. I knew that they would do their best.
MC: Yeah.
HH: I knew that.
MC: Yeah.
HH: The best of they could. So would I. And that’s how we could work and that was it. It wasn’t just me. No.
MC: No. Every man in the crew has his job.
JH: Yes.
HH: I mean, I feel that some other pilots some of them when they were getting in sticky positions and so on they were, they were losing their rag you know. They were.
MC: So you had the same crew all the time did you?
HH: Not always.
MC: No. No.
HH: Not always.
MC: No.
HH: But all the crew always knew that they wanted, they were happy.
MC: To fly with you.
HH: Yeah. They were happy.
MC: Yeah. Well Henry thank you very much for talking to us.
JH: Yeah.
MC: It’s been brilliant.
JH: Yeah. It has.
MC: Absolutely fascinating story you’ve got.
JH: Yeah. Absolutely.
HH: Yeah. And I hope it’s been worth your time.
MC: No, it has.
JH: Yeah.
MC: Has absolutely been worth my time.
JH: Yeah.
MC: Thank you very much.

Collection

Citation

Mike Connock, “Interview with Henry Harris,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 21, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11099.

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