Interview with Neil Harris

Title

Interview with Neil Harris

Description

Neil Harris wanted to join the RAF because he was looking for an exciting life experience and an opportunity for further education. He started as a flight mechanic before training as a pilot. Remembers being trained in different locations across the country, from Brighton to Kinloss, in Scotland. Mentions a particular night, when they took off late and had to catch up with the bomber stream. Flew with 48 and 578 Squadron. Shares his memories of D-Day, when he was targeting a gun battery in Northern France. Remembers his life after the war, when he was sent to Indonesia in the 60s during the Borneo confrontation.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2016-01-28

Contributor

Peter Schulze

Rights

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.

Format

01:53:47 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AHarrisNG160128

Transcription

BW: Alright. This is Brian Wright, I am interviewing Flight Lieutenant Brian Wright DFC of Bomber Command on Thursday, the 28th of January 2016 at his home in Lidham and the time is twenty past three in the afternoon. Just to start us with a formal question, if you wouldn’t mind so, could you just confirm your full name, rank on leaving and your service number please?
NH: Neil Gibson Harris, 56027, Flight Lieutenant.
BW: Ok. And I believe you are born in November 1920 in Bournemouth.
NH: 27/11/1920, yes.
BW: What was your family like, you lived with your parents, of course, did you have any brothers or sisters?
NH: Yes, I had two brothers and one sister we, fairly wide range, my eldest brother was nine years older than me and my sister was six years younger than me. So, was a spread of fifteen years between us, we are a working-class family, thank you, but very close.
BW: And what was the area like where you were growing up, was it [unclear]?
NH: Very pleasant indeed, oh, suburban, but very pleasant. Although basically a lower middle-class type area.
BW: And you were at school in Bournemouth during that time?
NH: Yes.
BW: I understand that you left school at fourteen.
NH: Fourteen, school called East Howe.
BW: East Howe.
NH: Yes.
BW: And did you have any qualifications?
NH: No, there weren’t, there were no qualifications available in those days. Not at fourteen, no, just, you just left school at fourteen and started working. And I went to work in the East Dorset brickworks as an office boy but by the end of nine months, I was rang into [unclear] office and my salary went, my wages went from seven and six to fifteen schillings, the works manager didn’t, gave me all his work to do [laughs]
BW: Just [unclear] you with it.
NH: So, I went from there to Bowmakers, which is a banking facilities company in Bournemouth, where I upgraded my position quite a bit, I was a proper clerk, a junior clerk.
BW: And from there I understand you went into the civil service.
NH: No, not the civil service, no, I went straight into the Air Force from there.
BW: Oh, I see, so you were [unclear]
NH: As an apprentice, as an apprentice. No, I’ve never been in the civil service, No, I went, that was, I was fifteen when I went to Bowmakers and I was nearly seventeen when I joined the RAF as an apprentice at Halton.
BW: Ok, and this would be 1937, so that would be
NH: That would be 1930, no, earlier, yes, ’37, that’s right, yes, ’37, September ’37.
BW: And what attracted you to join the RAF, what was your interest in that?
NH: Well, there were half a dozen or so, junior clerks, they all had had benefit of grammar school type of education, which is different to the one that I had and I, three or four of them were interested in the RAF, two of them, like myself, became apprentices, and one of them became an acting private officer
BW: I see.
NH: And a man named Haynes, he was a Battle of Britain pilot eventually, he was killed eventually too, got a DFC, shot down five, after that I don’t know anything about him but he didn’t survive the war, that’s all I know.
BW: A shame. And so, what prompted you to join the RAF, did you sense that the war was coming or did you [unclear]?
NH: Well, I think It’s the effect of three or four of us talking about the RAF and doing quite a nice job, had a pleasant working situation at Bowmakers but we wanted more excitement, I think. And of course I wanted more education, I, leaving school at fourteen I still felt I’d liked to have gone to a public school, there’s no chance of me doing that but RAF Halton provided a fairly good substitute, we had school and workshops and plenty of sport, which is what I wanted.
BW: And was there a good social life as well?
NH: Oh, no, social life, no, you weren’t allowed out [laughs], no, there’s three years hard regime but you had plenty of sports, but never saw a girl [laughs], no, we were all frustrated [unclear] [laughs]
BW: And so you
NH: It was a good training, excellent, marvellous training of course.
BW: And so, your trade in the engineering branch was what?
NH: I was a fitter 2A, a fitter to airframe.
BW: Ok.
NH: I managed to get in because the expansion scheme had started and the entries became much larger so I [unclear] an examination of three set papers, quite large, got a couple of them here somewhere, and I’m quite impressed by the standards that they required. So I did a lot of private study, my second brother was a very clever man, young man, he helped me a lot, he was an, he was a really highly, he became a highly qualified engineer and he helped me a lot, I managed to scrape in and but by that time, entries were getting to something like nine hundred or a thousand, so two entries a year, and of course the expansion scheme has started because of the threat of Hitler and there were, so, we were, before that time it was, you were called fitter twos and you did both engines and airframes, they split us up, the aircrafts were becoming more complicated and so you either became airframe, a fitter airframe or a fitter engine and then you did your three year, it’s a three year training, you did your three year training either as a fitter to airframe or a fitter to engine, and then the scheme was that after you’d been out on a normal squadron, and had practical experienced, you went back and did another year and that would be a conversion, if you did airframes before then you did a year on engines or vice versa so then you became a fitter one, so that’s basically how the training worked.
BW: And so, you get a good grounding not just in the structure of the aircraft but also the powerplants as well.
NH: You would, by that time but of course the war intervened from my entry and we stayed as fitter 2A’s of course but I got off and I took the easier route and managed to get onto aircrew. And but they wouldn’t let me, as soon as I finished my training, I volunteered for aircrew, but they wouldn’t release me until enough people, the war started by then but they wouldn’t release me to go onto aircrew duties until they had enough people in from, to be converted to trades, you know, as engineering trades and I could leave, so it took me nearly eighteen months from the time of being selected to being called up.
BW: So they needed enough people to be in the pool to replace you
NH: That’s right, that’s
BW: Because they could allow the engineers to move on.
NH: Yes
BW: [unclear]
NH: That’s right, yes.
BW: And what attracted you think to aircrew, was is, there simply more money, cause there was flying pay [unclear] or was it [unclear]?
NH: I wanted the glamour.
BW: Alright.
NH: A little bit it was there but I [laughs], I wanted to be a fighter pilot.
BW: I see.
NH: Yeah.
BW: And did that involve more tests and [unclear]?
NH: Not until you got onto, when I was eventually called up of course then by that time of course there the whole process was so huge that there are bottlenecks and so every stage it took time because you had to wait until you could move on to the next stage, the, either, whether held up training or something of that sort so, we start off at the ITW, which in my case was, well, first of all it started off in London, at the air crew receiving centre and we were all there, we live, we ate at the zoo, I remember,
BW: At London Zoo.
NH: At London Zoo, and lived in flats, in luxury flats in North West London and marched to the zoo for our meals.
BW: Right.
NH: But that, again, took a long time before we moved on and the next stage was to go on to the Initial Training Wing, where you did an eight week course and learned navigation and various other skills but there was a bottleneck there, I remember I went down to Brighton for a, just to occupy time, and eventually, although I’d been called up in November, November ’41, that’s right, and I was at Wick at the time when, as a fitter, on the, we were protecting the convoys coming into Liverpool but we’d been stationed at Stornoway on the Outer Hebrides,
BW: That’s where Wick is, is that right?
NH: Pardon?
BW: That’s where Wick is.
NH: No, Wick, no, Wick is on the north east coast.
BW: Ok.
NH: And now we moved over there with Hudsons, we had started with Ansons and changed over to Hudsons, when we moved up to Stornoway and then from Stornoway, we moved over to Wick. But whilst we were at Wick, I was called up for aircrew duties and that was in November ’41, I happened to be on leave at the time in Bournemouth so I got recalled from Bournemouth to Wick, which was to go back to London [laughs] to start my aircrew duties and as I say, then, we had, we hung around in Regent’s Park waiting for the next stage, well the first stage of training and that didn’t happen, this was in November ’41 and we didn’t get to Stratford until about the end of January, February ’42 and then we had this eight week course at Stratford learning navigation, doing drill, all RT and all the rest of it.
BW: So you travelled in a very short time to the length and breadth of the country cause you’ve gone from a short period of time in Brighton right up to the north of Scotland to work on aircraft protecting the convoys and then, across the other side of Scotland, then back down again, and called for [unclear] training
NH: Well, just go back a little bit, when I left, when I graduated from Halton, well, I graduated as a, what’s the right word, as an aircraftsman first class, normally I’d have an entry at, say, of a hundred, well take a hundred, apprentices leaving but ten would pass out as leading aircraftsmen, ten or fifteen would pass out as leading aircraftsmen, aircraftsmen first class, about sixty or so would pass out as aircraftsmen first class and the remainder would pass out as AC2 but the rate of pay was quite significant, a leading aircraftsman would get forty two schillings a week, which was a big rise from five and six pence,
BW: Yeah, absolutely.
NH: Yeah. So, I passed out an AC1 which is 31, 31 of 31 and six pence a week, which is quite good, I, [laughs].
BW: And was that more than you were earning in the bank previously?
NH: Oh, yes, oh yes, in the bank I was getting seventeen and six, I think it was, might have gonna up, to nearly a pound, but no, seventeen to six a week, yes,
BW: So you almost doubled
NH: No, I, and of course, as an apprentice, I’m only getting three schillings a week, for the first two weeks and then five and six pence for the last week, that’s the third week. And then when I passed out as an AC1, I would have jumped up to thirty-one and six pence a week, which is magnificent,
BW: I believe at some point during your early training, you caught pneumonia and had to be sort of
NH: Oh that was before, that was at the end of my training,
BW: Oh, I see.
NH: Yes, this was, the war had started October, November, I caught pneumonia almost [unclear] they had to, they called my mother to come up because they thought I wouldn’t live but M & B was the new drug which they’d produced and that saved my life I think because but always touch and go anyway, when I recovered and I came out, my entry had, the whole thing was telescoped, you see, did a three year course, when the war started, all sports afternoons were stopped, we worked longer hours, and the whole thing was telescoped from the three years to a much shorter one but so we were on that at the time that I went into hospital with pneumonia and when I came out, my entry had finished and they’d gone, so I was left on my own, they gave me some Christmas leave and when I came back, I just studied on my own for a few weeks and passed out on my own as an AC1. I probably had passed out as an AC2 [laughs]. So, I’ve been lucky that way.
BW: So, there was no parade for you then, unfortunately, they just allowed you
NH: No, I just, no.
BW: So you graduated [unclear]
NH: I went down to Thorney Island under 48 Squadron, which is at Coastal Command, we had Ansons then, as I said, and then we, as an AC1. Is it all getting a bit garbled for you?
BW: No, no, that’s perfectly fine. So, during your time at Thorney Island then, which is near Chichester,
NH: Yeah.
BW: You were still as a tradesman, you were an aircraftman
NH: That’s right
BW: First class
NH: Yeah.
BW: What was it like there, what sort of air, you said Ansons then, have other aircraft there too? [unclear] and Blenheims, would you work on them at all or?
NH: No, only Ansons.
BW: Ah, ok.
NH: Yeah. And of course we were there to protect the shipping coming up to Southampton and to the docks along the south coast but then, when the invasion of the low countries came, it was too dangerous and the shipping was moved up to Liverpool, Liverpool and Glasgow and so we followed the shipping up to Liverpool and we were stationed at Hooton Park.
BW: I see. So around the time of the Battle of Britain and when the invasion was looking imminent during the summer of 1940,
NH: Yeah.
BW: You and your squadron, 48 Squadron, actually moved up to Liverpool.
NH: To Liverpool and we were there for about a year I think before we moved up to, because then there were all bombed badly and the submarine menace became bigger and we moved, and so the shipping was moved further up into Glasgow and so we moved up to Stornoway,
BW: I see.
NH: And then to Wick. Don’t quite know why we did that, we were on Hudsons by that time.
BW: How did you find them to work on?
NH: Well of course [unclear] much, they’d hydraulics of course which you know, on the Anson it was a wind up undercarriage, took a hundred and twenty turns to get the wheels up, well of course there was much more hydraulics on the Hudsons, very modern by comparison with the Anson.
BW: And so, you mentioned earlier about having completed your trade training, you were called up for aircrew which is in November ‘41 thereabouts, did you apply to be a pilot or did you?
NH: Yes, I wanted to be a pilot, yeah, I wanted to be a glamourous pilot and go out with girls [laughs]
BW: [laughs] And what happened to enable the change [unclear]?
NH: Well you see that, everything, as I said, was taking so long with bottlenecks everywhere, they decided to change from being a two pilot crew to one pilot and introduced bomb aimers and bomb aimers very often failed pilots, [unclear] capable of getting an aircraft back perhaps in an emergency as the pilot was no longer capable, that was the, so, the some man crew then became a pilot, navigator, bomb aimer, wireless operator, engineer and two gunners, that’s a Halifax or Lancaster.
BW: Ok.
NH: And so then of course they had a business of what they called grading and so all of us who wanted to be pilots, we had to go to a grading school and fly Tiger Moths and be graded and although we went solo, I did a very poor final test so they graded me down, I’m afraid I messed it up, I made a mess of the spin, that sort of thing but so that was very disappointing but so they transferred me to being a navigator.
BW: I see.
NH: And others who were the same, were either navigators or bomb aimers did navigator or bomb aimer training.
BW: Ok. And so, until this stage you’ve been training on Tiger Moths
NH: Tiger Moths
BW: As a pilot
NH: Yeah
BW: But I believe you were sent abroad to Canada so you
NH: Well then, then of course I went to, yes, that’s right, I went to Rivers, near Winnipeg, went over on the Queen Elisabeth, just newly constructed, that was in, that was in September ’42, yes, September ’42, oh, because of the bottleneck we gone down to Eastbourne for further navigation, for navigation training, so we did a further navigation course down there, that was after we’d failed, we failed to become pilots and went down and became navigators, this is the start of our navigation course at Eastbourne, so did a few weeks there and then we moved across, up to, somewhere near Manchester, where we stayed there before we were shipped up to Glasgow to get onto the Queen Elisabeth.
BW: And what was it like going across to Canada?
NH: Oh, quite good, I mean, we were only a few thousand aircrew going across to, a mixture of pilots and navigators, most of the pilots went down south to Texas or somewhere like that and we went to a place called Mana, called Rivers in Manitoba, in the middle of Canada, about a hundred and twenty miles from Winnipeg and so we were only going out, we were only about two or three thousand I think aircrew under training or going for training. Coming back, I, and I came back on the same boat, we landed in New York, then went to up to Moncton in Canada on the East Coast and then across to, had two or three weeks there, it’s all bottlenecks all the time before we were posted to Rivers at Manitoba, that took a three day rail journey from
BW: Wow.
NH: And we got there about the middle of September.
BW: So just in time before the winter set in.
NH: Just setting in, yes, a week or two later they froze, they sprayed a compound of water and that was the ice rink for the rest of the winter, yeah.
BW: So, did you get much flying in during that time?
NH: Oh yes, yes, yes, in Ansons again, bitterly cold because we had to do astro training was the big feature and we had to open the hatch and these pilots of course shuddered at the cold air coming in but we had to take our, take these, you know, all these [unclear] and stuff, fortunately in Canada, you know, you get these wonderful clear nights, and the stars and everything so visible, it was a, for doing astro navigation, it was ideal.
BW: So you had to
NH: But it was still to bloody cold.
BW: So you actually had to open the hatch mid flying in order to take reading the stars.
NH: Yeah, and take the reading, well, the stars you wanted, yeah. But navigation was simple in Canada because the nights were clear and the days were, cold and brisk, you know, you could see for miles, you could, you get airborne at Rivers, hundred and twenty miles from Winnipeg, and of course you could see Winnipeg because it is, all the lights were still on in Canada
BW: No blackout.
NH: No. And there’s only a few towns there anyway and you knew exactly which town, by the size, so navigation was simple.
BW: What was life like there in general, did you manage to travel out or did you meet any Canadians, at least some aircrew were stationed off base or b&bs and things but presumably you [unclear]
NH: Oh no, we lived, oh no, we were right in the prairies, we just the camp,
BW: So just yourselves and
NH: Place called Brandon, was about twenty five miles away, [unclear] I never went there, once or twice, we did get down to Londa, to Minneapolis [unclear] at Christmas there over the Christmas period but we managed to work our way down there for a, for the Christmas break
BW: And did you stay
NH: Rather special
BW: And did you stay over in hotels and things and [unclear]
NH: No, we stayed with, while went to the US the United States organisation, you know, like the Red cross naffy or whatever but being American at that time was very well appointed, we had written to them before saying we are coming, and they phoned us out, we stayed with a professor, while he was away, on national service, he was a Lieutenant colonel American Air Force but he was a professor at Minneapolis University and we stayed with him, with his wife, five of us.
BW: And was that your crew that you went with then?
NH: No, not, we weren’t crewed up then, we were just five navigators under training.
BW: Ok. And from there you, I believe, you passed out as sergeant observer navigator
NH: Sergeant observer navigator, yes,
BW: You graduated while you were in Canada.
NH: That’s right, yes, came back to Moncton to wait for our journey home, which again was on the Queen Elisabeth from New York. And then back in Glasgow, by avoiding the U-boats, but because we were so fast, they couldn’t, they couldn’t get any nearer but both the Queen Mary and the Queen Elisabeth both scootered across the Atlantic, coming back it was very different than coming out, we brought all the American troops, about fifteen thousand American troops on board.
BW: So this is pretty much at the height of the Atlantic war, then, isn’t it? When the [unclear]
NH: Yes, this is, this would be March ’43 now and we are just beginning to get over the U-boat, we are just beginning to get control of the U-boat menace, it was in ’42 the U-boat menace was at its highest, and it was a serious problem, well still was but we, yeah, we are getting on top of it by the time I came back in ’43.
BW: And so from there you went to
NH: We went to Harrogate, we were all, Harrogate was the assembly point and we were all assembled, officers went into the Majestic and sergeants went into the Grand Hotel in Harrogate, do you know them?
BW: Yes, I’ve been
NH: And the Majestic
BW: I’ve been to one, yes.
NH: Yeah. So
BW: Very nice [unclear] hotels
NH: We didn’t mind that at all, this was March, we had a couple of weeks leave in Bournemouth and back and then we were kept hanging around again, waiting to go on to our onto the OTU, which is the next step in our training, operational training unit, and that took some time, I remember, in order to occupy us they sent us up to Perth, to a flying training school that flew Tiger Moths around the, the name of the river near Perth, do you know it? Tay, is it, Tay?
BW: Tay.
NH: Lovely, anyway, lovely week, I think it was only a week or ten days, just a way of keeping us amused, before we, eventually we did get to the operational training which was at Kinloss, in northern Scotland.
BW: And was that number 19 OTU, [unclear]
NH: I don’t remember the number, [unclear] on my log book. But it’s, yes, operational at Kinloss and we were on Whitleys, so we are on a different aeroplane now. And this will be, by the time we did that, it’s August, August ’43, so it’s already taken me from November ’41 and now we are in, at August ’43,I got my navigator’s brevy but I still haven’t got, I’m still not operationally trained, that we did on a Whitley.
BW: Right. So it’s taken you, as you say, approximately two years, they needed two years
NH: yeah.
BW: To get to that operational training unit.
NH: Yeah. That’s right, yeah. And that finished for about the end of October, beginning of November ’43,
BW: Ok.
NH: So I think it be the end of October, we were posted, we were crewed up there, that was the big feature and I, you all join up together, you look around and you see who you’d like to fly with. I joined up with a chap named, sergeant, he was a sergeant, Sergeant Wilkinson, we liked the look of one another I suppose, so he and I joined and that was the usual pattern, you and the pilot joined up and you skited around and gathered in the rest of the crew which at this stage we would be five, wireless operator, gunner and a gunner.
BW: And this I believe commonly took place in just a big hangar, they amalgamated all together
NH: No, that’s right, yes
BW: And they just left them
NH: Left us to sort ourselves out, yes, a funny system.
BW: And so, you crew up with Sergeant Wilkinson,
NH: Sergeant Wilkinson, yeah.
BW: And do you recall the names of the other crew members?
NH: No, I can’t. No, I’m afraid I can’t. Oh, George Dugray, yeah, a French Canadian, oh, that was later, no, he’s the bomb aimer, oh yes, he was there too. Did George Dugray? Anyway, he joined us on the next one, the heavy conversion unit, when we got on to the Halifaxes.
BW: So
NH: He was a French-Canadian bomb aimer
BW: So if you were five crewmen initially, what were going to be flying at that point when you initially met Wilkinson and Dugray?
NH: Well, we only knew that we would probably Halifaxes or Lancasters were most likely.
BW: I see.
NH: Well the possibility of a Mosquitoes if we were lucky.
BW: So, where were you when you were looking for your crew and when you were getting yourselves together, was this at Burne or was this elsewhere?
NH: Oh no, this was at the operational training unit at Kinloss
BW: Kinloss.
NH: At Kinloss,
BW: I see.
NH: Yes, that’s when you came together
BW: I see.
NH: And up to that time we’d all been navigators but as you know you are split up and you find your crew, so with them we flew as a crew then, pilot, navigator, did we have a bomb aimer? I suppose we did have Dugray as bomb aimer, wireless operator, not an engineer, gunner. That’s right, yes, that’ll be it. That’s the five, isn’t it? One gunner, engineer, no, one gunner, bomb aimer, navigator, pilot. And wireless operator. So then, then you had to do, you went through the whole, all the daylight flying, night flying and of course very different flying conditions in Kinloss in Scotland, the blackout and very few aids and it was a very difficult and hazardous training period and a lot collided into the mountains through inexperience cause that’s what we were, totally inexperienced and there was a lot of fatalities there. So, it wasn’t an easy time.
BW: What sort of aids were you working with as a navigator then at this point?
NH: I’d be twenty-one, twenty one.
BW: What sort of navigational aids or equipment were you using at this time?
NH: Oh, hardly any
BW: So was
NH: Radio, we could get the old radio bearing, navigation and that’s it
BW: Was it all dead reckoning
NH: Otherwise dead reckoning, yeah, and that was one of the troubles as where people, they got lost and they sended through cloud and hit the high ground.
BW: And roughly how long were you on the OTU?
NH: That’s about six to eight weeks, we went the end of August, it’ll be eight weeks and we finished round about the end of October, beginning of November.
BW: So, this is October, November ’43.
NH: That’s right, yeah, yeah. And then of course we still hadn’t finished, then we got to go to the heavy conversion unit, flying the sort of aeroplanes we were going to fly on operations, which in our case was the Halifax and that was when we were posted to Rufforth to a heavy conversion unit at Rufforth which is about four miles out of York.
BW: And you were onto Halifaxes at that point.
NH: Yeah.
BW: Did you acquire any more crew members at all [unclear]?
NH: Oh yes, that’s where the engineer came, and the second gunner, that’s it. Yes, that’s right, Dugray, he did join us up at [unclear] and so were five when we went down to Rufforth and then we were joined by the other, by the mid upper gunner and by the flight engineer.
BW: Do you happen to recall their names at all or?
NH: No. I can’t.
BW: That’s alright.
NH: I can’t. Hardly anyone finished, I was the only one that finished the op, a full round of ops, they all disappeared one way or another. Well, you see, Wilkinson who I became, who became a good friend, splendid, a good looking chap too, and he became, he was going to go to university, he, when we finished our training at Rufforth, preparing to go to a squadron, we had finally finished our training and now we are fully qualified but it was quite usual for pilots to go on an experience exercise and he was sent on to do a run on on an operation on Berlin and that was the end of him and so we didn’t have a pilot and that kept us waiting again.
BW: And do you recall who eventually came
NH: Yes, I’ve got his name, what’s his name? Oh Gosh, my memory’s gone, I’m afraid,
BW: That’s alright.
NH: It’s in the logbook, he was a flying officer, so now as a sergeant I was being teamed up with a flying officer, who’d been posted from Hemswell. Well, Hemswell was a station, was a Bomber Command station in 4 Group and it achieved a terrible reputation for not pressing on to the target and Harris, the Bomber Command chief came up, called them all sorts of names, and closed the station down, Hemswell, everybody was posted, and I got one of those.
BW: I see.
NH: And so we did our, we did [unclear] game, so we had to train together again on the Halifax from Rufforth and that took us until well after Christmas, during which time I met my wife, who, the girl that became my wife.
BW: And how did you meet her?
NH: Oh, I met her at a dance, and she’d gone with, oh, she had arranged to meet a girlfriend at the Grey Rooms in York, I don’t know if you know it.
BW: No, I don’t.
NH: Oh, it was a lovely place, oh, we all got there, all the, York was full of aircrew, Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians particularly and Brits and a few Americans and of course there wasn’t much in York then, everything was closed down but there was a lovely dance place, the Dugrey Rooms, and that’s where we all went, to meet girls and that’s where I met my wife.
US: Sorry, after Williams your pilot, you then had Houston.
NH: Williams, Williams, that’s right. Flying officer Williams, he was the one who was, came to Rufforth from Hemswell we, I having lost Wilkinson and what you say the name was?
US: Williams.
NH: Williams. Oh, he had, I eventually found out he was called Turnback Williams, we are not going to the target? I’ll on that, busy
BW: Part of the reason Harris talk to these guys.
NH: Yeah. Yeah, that’s right so I did all my, I completed all my training with, as a, with him, with Williams, and from there at the end from February 44, now is it? End of 44, yes, Paul Williams of course, when he was sent out on his second Dickey for experience, that was at the height of the Berlin raids, and the losses were huge, we’d been, we’d been on those of course, if he’d come back from his, from his trip of experience
BW: Second Dickey means like a second pilot
NH: Second pilot experience, yes, yeah, so he didn’t come back and I wrote to his father and I got a nice, I might have it somewhere a nice letter from his father who is a stockbroker in London and anyway so I saw that with Williams then we completed another bit of training before we went off to the squadron which I say was about the end of February ’44.
BW: And this was the newly formed 578 Squadron.
NH: And that was the newly formed, yes, they were only formed about three months before
BW: And they were specifically
NH: From Snaith.
BW: And they were specifically flying Halifaxes Mark III as they were one of the first
NH: I was jolly lucky to get on one of those cause it was just as good as the Lancaster, radial engines Bristol and they could get up to the required height and carry a similar amount of bombs, splendid.
BW: So, your first sortie with 578 would be in February as you say,
NH: In March
BW: In March
NH: Then in February, then again the training was so much, I mean they wouldn’t escort, again got ourselves familiarised with the Mark Iii and done a couple of training runs before we were then considered to be operational and that took place in March and it was during that time the Nuremberg raid and of the pilots at Burton on the squadron, he got a posthumous VC.
BW: Did you know him?
NH: No, I didn’t know him, no, no, I’d only been on the squadron a week or so but I didn’t know him, I know, no, I didn’t know him, I didn’t really know him, I didn’t know anybody really, we kept to ourselves a
BW: You tend to associate with your crew if anything
NH: Just with the crew, didn’t mix much with anybody else, you stuck pretty close into the crew and as I had a girlfriend now in York I scuttled off there [laughs].
BW: So, it was looking pretty serious with your girlfriend
NH: Already started to look serious, yes, yeah, we got engaged in April, after I’d done about five operations. I took her down to Bournemouth to meet my family.
BW: Right. And so, what were the accommodation facilities like at Burne, this is where your 578 Squadron
NH: They weren’t bad, it was a brand-new place, you know, all Hudson.
BW: Were you billeted with the crew?
NH: Oh yes, yes, I, we were in huts of course but as sergeants we had little privileges, the sergeant’s mess and that sort of thing, reasonably comfortable of course, we were well-fed as aircrew, the local people, we always had eggs before we went and that sort of thing, things which people couldn’t get on the ration we had plenty of, plenty of chips too cause at the age of twenty one, twenty two I [unclear] of chips [laughs]
BW: [unclear]
NH: [unclear]
BW: And were you the only crew in the billet sometimes or there were two crews in there or?
NH: I think we were the only one, as far as I can remember we were the only one.
BW: And at this time there was a CO in charge
NH: Yes.
BW: Wing Commander Wilkey Wilkinson, do you recall him?
NH: Oh, I do very well, yes, he’s one chap I do remember, and I’ve never been a hero worshiper but I would think I would put him into that category. Marvellous chap, good looking, tall, great sense of humour, great, young, handsome, had every quality, but you knew that if Wilkinson was flying it was gonna be a bad one, he’d only, he wouldn’t take the easy ones, he’d always took the bad ones, great leader, he was on his second tour, too, very nice chap too because then of course I, to going on a bit further, I was with Williams, I did two operations with Williams, I didn’t remember what it was I didn’t like but I didn’t like it, I went to see Williams in great trepidation but I didn’t know what Williams I never spoke to Wing Commanders, they were far too elevated, but I went to see him and so I did my night flying with Williams so I said, we must have talked a bit, I can’t remember, so he said right leave with me, I’ll fix you up with somebody else and I went then to, I was teamed up then with Houston, Jock Houston, and we stayed together all the time, finished together, got commissioned together, got a DFC together.
BW: And so, you when you went from your crew flying with Williams at this point
NH: Yes
BH: To make the change to another crew
NH: Yes, the others all, I [unclear], yes, yeah.
BW: [unclear]
NH: [unclear]
BW: [unclear]
NH: Well, Williams did finish his tour, yes, but I don’t know who he flew, he finished the tour.
BW: The other members of your crew didn’t pick up your sense of
NH: No,
BW: [unclear]
NH: Not as far as I know. No, no.
BW: And you mentioned about Wilkinson, there’s a description here which seems to chime with what you commented about it and it’s only a short description if I can read it to you, it says, he was described by those who knew him as a tall, loose end fellow, the first impression that a stranger might have of him was that he was rather irresponsible, care-free, vague individual, but on closer acquaintance he would seem that he had one of the kindest, gentlest and most sympathetic
NH: Oh, I think that was pretty accurate
BW: Could possess
NH: Yes
BW: He had the knack of inspiring confidence in his crew, when flying I can’t remember anything disturbing him, he was huge with his men
NH: No, no. There’s my little story in that book he’s flying a strange aircraft, an unusual aircraft and he’s got an army man, and army major alongside him but oh, they couldn’t get the flaps down and the army major says to Wilkinson, can you fly this without flaps? He said, well, you are just about to find out [laughs].
BW: And it says of him because he was awarded a DSO he said, he inspired powers of leadership, great skill and determination, qualities which have earned him much success, his devoted squadron commander, his great drive and tactical abilities used in large measure to the high standard of operation to assume the squadron
NH: Yeah, he did, yeah, briefing were always made a pleasure by him being here, he made them quite different, we quite looked forward to his briefing
BW: And when you, you mentioned about him when he going out on a bad raid, were you aware that if he briefed it, it was gonna be a bad one or was it the case [unclear] the raids?
NH: No, not particularly, no, but you knew that if he was on it, it wouldn’t be an easy one.
BW: But he, he always gave the briefing whatever the raid was.
NH: Oh yes, oh yes.
BW: There was only a few at the time
NH: That’s right, yeah, yeah. Yes, I remember his briefing, that is one thing I do remember quite well. Always something to look forward to. I remember a young WAAF officer looking at him I think, Gosh, I’d like a young woman to look at me like that [laughs].
BW: So, by now you are on the early part of your tour and initially it looks like you got operations mainly over Germany, are there any other particular raids through March that you recall?
NH: No, they were all a great big jumble mainly, I, oh, there is one when we lost a lot of aeroplanes.
BW: That night be Nuremberg presumably.
NH: No, not Nuremberg, I didn’t do Nuremberg, there is some, somewhere like, oh, retro memory for names, the size of the Ruhr, a fairly long trip and I remember coming out, they’d briefed us to come down from the target area right down to five thousand feet, it seemed odd tactic, I remember going up with another navigator to Nuremberg, I don’t like this and he said, I wish we weren’t doing this one and he didn’t come back. We lost six that night. So, I don’t know what that tactic was all about.
BW: So, at this time, when you
NH: Oh, I’m trying to remember the name, that, Karlsruhe,
BW: Karlsruhe. And so at this when you were doing operations, you’ve gone from the billet to the ops room to be briefed, you’ve had your briefing, just talk me through then what you would do from there in terms of boarding the aircraft, the checks you would do, what sort of things would be going on then.
NH: Well, we had our own, quite a lot of instruments, we had Gee for example, the bomb aimer would have his stuff but I would have all my charts, gee charts, ordinary plotting charts, what were they called? [unclear] and then the Gee charts, all rather luminous, astro navigation, [unclear] anyway, waste of time most of the time but always had to do it, sextant, all the stuff had to be checked and so, you know, that took up quite a long time, you did that some with the pilot, checking the routes and marking off certain points on it.
BW: And H2S was coming in at this time.
NH: Oh, we didn’t have H2S.
BW: That wasn’t on your aircraft.
NH: We didn’t have it, no,
BW: And was the Gee equipment located right where you position were?
NH: Right in front like that
BW: Ok.
NH: Had a table, table, yeah.
BW: In some aircraft [unclear] different.
NH: And that, that was an incredibly, wonderful instrument I had, of course the Germans were jamming it as much as they could and you’d lose it, you’d, what it did help you to do was to get an accurate wind, cause that’s so incredibly important, if you got an accurate wind then doing jet reconning isn’t going to be too bad and you could get Gee fixes right up to inside the Dutch coast so it gave you a whole string of fixes and a whole comprehension of the wind you know was established by the time you got there. And then, the same thing coming back, you, I’d have, I’d be searching madly to get the signals eventually appearing and it’s marvellous when the, when they just started to appear on your radar screen, and you’d, and you’d get a proper fix, because when you tried astro navigation or even wireless, there were so many errors involved.
BW: Was your pilot good in terms of sticking to the course? Was he [unclear] following your instructions?
NH: Oh yes, of course, oh yes, oh yes, very good, you know, if I take an astro shot, they had to keep very steady because you have a steady platform to get, I don’t know if you know about sextant?
BW: Yes.
NH: You know, yes, getting the star dive into the bubble and holding it there, if the plane lurches up you’ve lost the, it, you’ve gotta get it back again,
BW: And so, you found that you worked quite well presumably [unclear]
NH: Oh, very well, with Houston, terrible memory for names, I even forget my own sometimes
BW: What was it like actually in the environment of a Halifax then, was it pretty roomy, has a reputation of being a fairly roomy aircraft.
NH: Not bad, not bad really
BW: [unclear]
NH: No, no, not when you compare it [unclear] like the Whitley
BW: And I believe the heating, say for example in a Lancaster kept the wireless operator and the navigator pretty warm
NH: yes
BW: Is it similar in a Halifax or not?
NH: Ah, yeah, pretty I was never cold, I never remember being cold,
BW: How did it feel in your flying kit? Was it [unclear]
NH: I didn’t wear much, had a Mae West on, and a parachute harness of course and that was, oh, and an aircrew sweater, and that was about it, don’t [unclear], I think flying boots, yes, yeah, flying boots, cause you could if you were, if you bailed out and you landed, you could cut the top off and they looked like ordinary shoes, ordinary boots
BW: And so you were pretty comfortable in the interior of the Halifax.
NH: Oh, pretty, reasonably comfortable.
BW:
NH: Yes, yes, I had a good desk and all the instruments that I needed. Wind thing, what you call, wind setting, forgot what they called, wind, don’t they use that much, you had to be [unclear] sort of view the sea at eighteen thousand feet, you can’t do that
BW: Did you find that you had to use oxygen much if you were above [unclear] feet or?
NH: Oh yes, about ten thousand feet, most certainly.
BW: Were most of your ops above that [unclear]?
NH: Oh yes, as soon as you get to, well pretty well from five thousand feet or even before, I can’t remember exactly but you certainly wouldn’t want to be [unclear] oxygen above ten thousand feet
BW: You noted as well one particular date you were in the air on the night of D-Day.
NH: Yes, yes.
BW: Do you recall the briefing for D-Day primarily?
NH: No
BW: Were you aware that is was gonna be the start of the invasion?
NH: Well, we were all suspicious but nobody knew anything definite but of course so much everybody knew that D-Day was gonna come soon but that anything definite not until we, well, we were, the target was an easy one on the Northern Coast of France, just inside, gun batteries of some sort, and we bombed that but as we are coming back, and as we are coming back near [unclear], both the gunners shouted out, all the shipping that they could see and so all this shipping was just on the invasion, that was June the 6th.
BW: What sort of time would that be, was it early morning?
NH: About three or four o’clock in the morning. It be in the logbook there. Be about that time.
BW: The gun battery that you mentioned, was it Mont Fleury,
NH: Right.
BW: And that was covering Gold Beach, which was one of the British invasion beaches.
NH: Yeah, yeah. Cause we did two or three, Montgomery, that was later on, after the armies had got established but got held up by the Germans and Montgomery requested Bomber Command to drop their bombs on the German, where the Germans were and we did that, we got a letter of thanks from him because that’s form where the armies could move on.
BW: Were you made aware of the results of the bombing on that particular D-Day mission?
NH: Not really, no, not until we got this letter from Montgomery thanking us for, yeah, I can’t think that we got any particular, no. Of course, we were taking photographs all the time, and we were given some sort of marking for the accuracy and the standard and that was posted up on the boards.
BW: Did it feel like a competition, where you
NH: A little bit like that, oh yes, a little bit like that. Bomb aimers, you know, we, in that book [unclear] claims that we were used for these targets because we had a bomb aiming accuracy record.
BW: Quite [unclear]
NH: No, but, I think that, what is, my God, the insignia of the squadron has got
US: An arrow
NH: A arrow, isn’t it? A bomb aiming accuracy or something is called.
US: Just called accuracy.
NH: Accuracy, yes, yes. So we had this supposedly reputation. I don’t know [laughs].
BW: Well, the gun position that was there at Gold Beach was actually a target given to the Green Howards, the army regiment that was to assault that.
NH: Oh, was that? Oh, was it?
BW: And that particular action was where sergeant major Stanley Hollis got the VC, [unclear] boxes near that battery. So coincidentally the raid that you were on happened to be the target which sergeant major Hollis was the only VC on D-Day.
NH: That’s interesting too. Yeah, yeah.
BW: There was only one [unclear] I can see on that raid and that was a Halifax flown by squadron leader Watson
NH: OH yes.
BW: Who was shot down
NH: yes.
BW: [unclear]
NH: I think I’ve seen the name but I don’t know him. No, no.
BW: So, at this time during April, May, June, most of your targets are in France
NH: Yes
BW: With the idea of supporting D-Day [unclear]
NH: Yeah, D-Day the invasion, yes, yes,
BW: And that continues
NH: [unclear] targets of course, by comparison with the Ruhr and Berlin
BW: And by easy that I assume that they were lighter, more lightly defended, is that right?
NH: Not so much that they’re but quicklier have a long, the big thing somewhere like Nuremberg or Berlin, even if you got to, you had a long trail back to UK and the German fighters knew that and would wait for the trail of bombers coming out of the target and shooting them out then but so and they had a long time to do it whereas going to somewhere Paris or somewhere like that, they didn’t have that length of time to do it.
BW: did you encounter many fighters that you [unclear]?
NH: No, I can’t remember, well, I think the most famous of course was the concentration, I did a daylight on the Ruhr in September and then you saw the concentration, what a concentration of bombers looked like cause we flew at night and we didn’t see how it really looked. But on this occasion we flew daylight to the Ruhr in September and I flew with a strange crew, which is slightly unsettling, their navigator had gone sick or something, and but then you saw aircraft colliding and of course you saw all the bombs dropping from other aircraft dropping so, you know, getting so close to releasing their bombs on you and the gunners would be shouting out, you know, he’s right over, he’s right over us now, and quite often it did happen that bombs from one aircraft hit another one, underneath.
BW: Did it happen on that occasion when you were?
NH: No, no, I never saw it actually happen,
BW: Just [unclear].
NH: No, I did, I did see aircraft, the other thing was collisions, when you got several hundred aircraft, well, at nighttime you don’t know what has happened, whether there’s a collision or whether they’re being shot by ack-ack, but at daylight you could see and I did see a collision, two aircraft hitting one another,
BW: And what, how could you describe what [unclear]?
NH: No, I can’t, we turned away and it was gone but didn’t see anybody come out.
BW: And so during [unclear]
NH: No explosion, that’s all.
BW: And so, during the raid on Stuttgart, during the daylight, could you see, did you get a chance to see clearly the formation? The bomber formation?
NH: Oh, not really, no, you know, of course you know that they are at night because you get into their slipstream, so you know and that’s what you want, of course you want to be close, you don’t want to be isolated that’s when they can pick you off, the whole object of flying in a gaggle or stream was to protect one another with your, what’s the stuff? Window and, you know, confuse the enemy defenses radar so you were conscious at nighttime, but you didn’t see the full horror of it.
BW: And what was your impression during the daylight raid?
NH: Well, I thought, how the hell can you get through that lot? Approaching the Ruhr, this is a lovely September afternoon and you could see the smoke hovering over the Ruhr from such a long way away, I got a feeling we could see it almost from the Dutch coast, and then you think, then of course within the smoke, which is just the puffs of smoke from the ack-ack, you could see the brusts of the showers, well, there’s no penetration, you cannot penetrate that lost, but looks, it probably looks worst than it really is.
BW: In each case your pilot kept on, there was no consideration of turning back [unclear] target?
NH: Oh no, no, but no, no, we were, I think we were pretty that way, we did what we had to do, and although it is nerve-racking when the bomb aimer is insistent on, you know, my God, why doesn’t he press the bloody button? It was he said, bomb’s gone, yeah, that we could turn away.
BW: Were there any occasions where you had to make a second run over the target or not?
NH: Not exactly the, I ‘m not quite sure but I do know that we’ve been approaching the target and we’ve been told to hold off, the Pathfinder, the master bomber is directing us from underneath, usually in something like a Mosquito and he is calling us by our codename whatever, main force, main force, whatever the code, and he said and he’d be telling us, the bomb, overshoot the red TI’s or bomb the green markers or in one case he couldn’t tell because of the smoke and he couldn’t get accurate and he told the whole force to orbit, that was a nasty experience too,
BW: And the whole force at this stage [unclear]
NH: Would have to turn and wait and come in again until he could give the instructions on which markers to attack, they were of course people like, who has got the VC?
BW: Cheshire?
NH: Cheshire, yeah. Incredible people they were. They would stay, I mean, they would stay on the target for the whole time, going round and round, giving the directions to the main force, and asking for new TI’s or something like that if he wanted it.
BW: So, moving on from the D-Day operations, the squadron was then tasked with hitting the V-Weapon sites
NH: Yes, we, those were fairly easy targets, just inside the Dutch and French coast, yeah. We [unclear] several of those, three or four of those.
BW: Do you recall much about what was explained to you about the targets, we know now that they were being [unclear], did you know that?
NH: I don’t think so, I can’t remember, no, I just know that they were, well eventually of course when the flying bombs came up cause they came up, they came off fairly earlier, in was about August wasn’t it? July, August? Well, after, well then we knew them, that sort, they were that sort of targets, not until they, they’d actually arrived.
BW: So, from there through July and August, I think in total you flew thirty-nine operations, right?
NH: Thirty-nine altogether, yes. And of course the normal operation, prior to that., had ben thirty but because we were getting these easy French targets, they made us do thirty nine. And I, when they did say you’re finished, I was quite surprised, I’d thought they’d keep me I wasn’t all that bothered, I was getting used to it and it think sorry there won’t be an end you just carry on to the end and I accepted that I think.
BW: So you would have gone on for the duration of the war.
NH: Yes, I was slightly surprised when they said, you can stop and get.
BW: And what happened at that point, how was it explained to you your tour would end? What happened [unclear]?
NH: No explanation, I was just told that I would be posted on a certain day to in this case to Marston Moor as an instructor. But of course before that I’d been commissioned, Jock Houston and myself both got commissioned and we both got and then shortly after that we both got DFCs. Oh, we got that after I left the squadron, we got them afterwards, we were commissioned before we left the squadron, about a month or so before and then we got the DFC about a month or so after we left the squadron.
BW: And did you go to the palace to receive the DCF [unclear]?
NH: No, it came in the post, it came in the post with a letter from King George, signed by King George and that was stolen, we had a burglary and some bastard stole it, including the letter which was in some respect more important than the DFC. I got the DFC changed
BW: And that was soon after, that was soon after you’d been awarded it, it happened or was it
NH: No, no, it happened, oh, about twenty years ago.
BW: So still, right, still, as recently as that.
NH: Yeah, but we were in Muscat in Oman and this burglary happened whilst we were away.
BW: But you managed to get a replacement for
NH: I got a replacement, yes, they charged me a hundred pounds for it but it’s not quite the same cause I haven’t got the letter from King George.
BW: A shame. And so how was your relationship at this point with your girlfriend, cause you’ve been on pos, a pretty intense period through [unclear].
NH: Oh, well, every, you see, I suppose, in some respects I missed out a bit, I was very friendly with Jock but the other I, I went and had a beer occasionally with them but I was so eager, I was so wrapped up with Dorothy that every opportunity, I just speared off into York and I didn’t spend much time on the squadron but I, I used to take my inflight rations, because we got chocolate and chewing gum and other things and I couldn’t eat them, I was too frightened to eat them, and so I’d take them into York ands give them to her, I ran up to her office, which is on the fourth story of the LNER headquarters building in York and bang on her door and give her my inflight rations, sweets and chocolate mostly cause these things were rationed at that time.
BW: And that must have made your visits special for her.
NH: Yeah [laughs].
BW: [unclear]
NH: Yeah. Well if I wasn’t flying that night, I’d rush into York and rush up and tell her I’d be there and wait for, meet her after she left work.
BW: At what stage during the day would you find out whether or not you were on ops or not?
NH: Well, usually in the morning, you round about, just round about midday as I remember you’d know whether you’d go and operate that night or not. I do remember one occasion when we, we thought we were going to operate and that was when the flight engineer we’d, it was in June cause its, the nights were brighter, I think we were due for a take-off about ten o’clock and it was getting dusk and as usual everything goes very quiet, you wait for the start-up pistol and all engines would then start revving up, start the engines up and revving up, make a crescendo of noise of course when you’ve got sixteen or eighteen four-engines, all going and on this occasion there is always a little pause, you see you check your aircraft, you check everything and then you sort of hang around for a few minutes, I was there waiting for the [unclear] pistol, signal to get in and start up and on this occasion the flight engineer, we’d done about fourteen trips, he said, I’m not going tonight, and he wouldn’t, he said he wasn’t going, so of course the tower had to be informed that we weren’t, we had a crew deficiency and everybody came out then, the CO and the flight engineer leader and the medical officer and they took him to the rear engine to talk to him and took him off and we thought, well, by this time all the other aircraft had started up and are travelling round the peri-track looking at us curiously wondering what, why we hadn’t started up and we are waving them to say, well, clear off, we’re not going but then the engineer nearly came rushing out saying I’m [unclear] [laughs] so we had a start-up and all we did like that.
BW: So you then got, were you having to get back in the aircraft at this point?
NH: Oh, of course, yes. And off we had to go but then we were Tail End Charlies and that’s another thing you don’t like you don’t wanna be amongst the gaggle.
BW: And so you, how did you feel being at the back of the bomber stream then?
NH: Well, I suppose we must have made it up, you know, put a bit [laughs] more throttle on and we, I think we reached them in the end because what you do, you assemble at same point or something like that, that’s the usual thing, the squadrons all take off from the various aerodromes, say in Yorkshire and Spurn Point was a favorite assembly point and you’d set off from there, which there is no formation, you just keep in the stream, and so of course by the time the assembly had taken place and they had set off, we were catching up.
BW: How did you feel during the flight having had [unclear]?
NH: I didn’t like it, I didn’t like it [laughs] I [unclear] much more nervous, well, I’ve always felt nervous but felt a lot more nervous that night and that’s a clear memory of one flight I do have, yeah.
BW: You mention that just feeling nervous and feeling that you could have your inflight rations when you were airborne, you managed to overcome that, did you [unclear].
NH: [unclear] do it, no, chewing gum, I had the chewing gum but didn’t need anything else, coffee, I’d have, I’d drink the coffee and eat and the chewing gum but I was too frightened to eat anything else [laughs]. I waited for my eggs and bacon, egg and chips like got back.
BW: Did you recall the rest of the crew felt in a similar way?
NH: I think they felt similar, fairly similar, yeah, I think so, I think we all felt pretty much the same.
BW: Did you ever talk about it?
NH: No, no, that’s a strange thing, it’s only in the last few years that I’ve ever talked about it, Dorothy never wanted me to hear me talk about it and I never did, I never thought about it and it’s only sort of more or less than she died that I’ve given it any thought.
BW: And at the time did you talk to your crew mates or did they tell you how it felt on the operations night?
NH: No, never talked about it, never, never, no, it’s a, I look back a lot of it and I think, this is a bit strange really cause I think about it a lot now and talk about it quite a bit but for thirty or forty years never thought about it, hardly, hardly, [unclear].
BW: And how does it feel now, reflecting back on that time?
NH: Well, it’s a different time, you know, it’s something which I didn’t, something which is very different to anything, but you know it’s an experience which you’d never imagined that you’d go through really.
BW: And you mentioned now at this stage of your career that you’d come off operations, you were then posted to Marston Moor as instructor.
NH: That’s right, yes, for six months, six months tour and then we got married in June and when I came back from my honeymoon, I was told I was posted back onto operations to go with Tiger Force against Japan.
BW: And is this June ’45?
NH: This is June ’45, the war, the European war had ended and that ended in May, was it May? Yeah, is it.
BW: That’s right.
NH: Yeah and I’ve finished my six months rest and so I was posted back onto a second tour which happened to be with, what I called the force?
BW: Tiger Force.
NH: Sorry?
US: Tiger.
NH: Tiger Force, with Tiger Force. Yes, [unclear] to, and we were going to do something similar to what we did against Germany. That was, but that was on Lincolns, was it Lancasters or Lincolns? Wasn’t Halifaxes? Either Lancasters or Lincolns, I got the feeling it was Lincolns. Cause then after the war I flew in, I was on 50 Squadron which was at Waddington.
BW: At Waddington.
NH: Yeah, that was after the war, that was in 1950, talking about 1947, ’48, no, ’48.
BW: So you were earmarked to go with Tiger Force out to the Far East
NH: Yeah. We did
BW: Did that happen?
NH: yeah. No, no, we did our training and we didn’t have to do much, it was, you know, becoming acquainted, with a slightly new aircraft and we were all experienced people, all done our tour of ops, all being instructors so we are a very experienced crew we did, we just did a little bit of familiarization and we are ready to go and then they dropped the atom bomb so we didn’t go and we all got split up then.
BW: So you were all prepared to go and then you continued your post first to a training as a crew
NH: Yes
BW: Together and I guess you were all I guess earmarked at the same to go to the Far East but
NH: Yeah
BW: But you said it didn’t happen
NH: No, and we would have gone of course if they hadn’t dropped the atom bombs.
BW: And so, just talk us through your subsequent career which I believe involved transport command, fighter command
NH: Well of course [unclear] lot of funny little jobs like on a recruiting center and I was eventually had a sort of a career posting as an instructor at the RAF [unclear] at Cosford which was, if I’d played my cards right, would have done me some good, but I didn’t, I volunteered for flying, I have tried to go back on flying and they posted me back on transport command, but then Dorothy was expecting her babies and after a while I asked much to their irritation I think and it never did me any good, they posted me back to Bomber Command.
BW: And where did you get posted to?
NH: To, well, first of all I did a conversion, I became a navigator, bomb aimer, I did a bomb aiming course at Lindholme, near Doncaster and then from there I was posted to 50 Squadron at Waddington and that was when Dorothy had her babies, twins, and we all moved into quarters at Waddington and I became adjutant to 50 Squadron and my Co’s a man named Peach and that was a most enjoyable experience, I really enjoyed that time, we flew Lincolns.
BW: I was going to ask actually because at this time Jet aircraft are becoming more widely [unclear].
NH: [unclear] was just coming into service, yes, in Bomber Command.
BW: Did you get a chance to fly in it?
NH: No, I didn’t. No, no.
BW: And so what happened after that, were you involved at all in the Berlin airlift for example or not?
NH: No, because, as I say, I would have been if I stayed on transport command, that’s where I didn’t do myself any good by asking for this, but I didn’t know that Berlin airlift, I would have I wish I could have done that now but I got this request answered and was posted to 50 to Bomber Command but I made a mistake though.
BW: And at what stage did you become flight controller?
NH: Well, this is a, from Waddington I was posted to Scampton as an instructor, again I wish I’d protested and I and stayed on longer but I, we were posted to Scampton, as an instructor and then I hadn’t been offered a permanent commission but they did offer me a restricted permanent commission but it had to be either in the air traffic control branch or the fighter control branch, so I chose the fighter control branch, I wish I, somehow I wish I could afford that more and stay, and let me stay on aircrew and I think I’d have prospered more so then I, I did the course on fighter control and yeah that’s and from there I was posted to Patrington, how do we call those units? Fighter control unit.
BW: And this was at Patrington?
NH: Patrington, yeah.
BW: Patrington.
NH: In East Yorkshire.
BW: Ok.
NH: And then I went from, from there I became training officer and that was a nice post I became training officer to the Hull fighter control unit, [unclear] unit, based at Sutton, that was most enjoyable.
BW: What did you like about it?
NH: Well, I was my own boss, I was both adjutant for a long while, was adjutant and training officer, I had the use of the staff car, say I was my own boss, we had a nice house in Withernsea, no, not in Withernsea, in
US: Wasn’t Cottingham?
NH: Cottingham. In Cottingham, yeah. Nice house in Cottingham, we had some pleasant friends in the village and that was a most enjoyable time, I was very, I became very popular with the people, with the auxiliary people who were of course all civilians but I enjoyed their company I got on well with them so that was quite a nice [unclear], from there so I did a full tour there and then we were posted to Germany doing, well doing an operational job, you know, fighter control unit first of all at [unclear] and then at [unclear].
BW: And that I suppose saw you through to, through the Sixties and
NH: Yeah, and right up until
BW: The Seventies
NH: Yes, I did a year in Borneo on my own and joined the confrontation, nobody knows about that, do they? When we fought the Indonesians I’d, of course that was a year what they called an unaccompanied tour, we were based on a little island called Labuan on the north coast of Borneo, which is enjoyable up to a point but I didn’t like being separated all that time from the family.
BW: What sort of things were you doing out there?
NH: Oh well, the Indonesians were trying to control the whole of Borneo and they were claiming it but we said no, the northern part, including, what’s the oil rich place? Begins with a b. Brunei. Kuching and, that’s Kalimantan and then, we said, no, that all belongs to Malaysia, Malaysian federation which at that time includes Singapore but the Indonesians wanted the whole of Borneo as part of the Indonesia so we said, no, you can’t have it, this is all, so we had a four year war, we didn’t call it a war, we called it a confrontation.
BW: Is this the Malaysian insurgency?
NH: Yeah. Yeah, well, it is an insurgency, but of course Singapore was part of it and Malaysia so we eventually Indonesia gave up and accepted the status quo as we said it should be and we had Javelins at that time so we were controlling Javelins along the border, which was way undefined, you couldn’t and of course we had Gurkas out there and Indonesians were scared stiff of them and it was good jungle warfare, very good for anybody who wanted an army career it was ideal training, not too many casualties, a couple of hundred or so were killed, but we had, but we have radar jamming, Lincolns, not Lincolns, Hastings, we had Hastings out there doing our radar jamming and we controlled the Javelins, we had our Javelins which would come onto the island and jet airborne wherever we saw anything that might be a useful target. So I commanded that little unit, I had about sixty or seventy men and all radar equipment, that sort of little encampment of my own, was quite nice and six officers, and seventy men and we had a marvelous time, laughed like anything, all the time, oh yeah, drank a lot, we drank the hell of a lot. Dorothy never stopped saying how shocked she was [laughs] [unclear].
BW: And so after late Fifties through the Sixties
NH: Yes, that’s the Mid Sixties, the confrontation finished in ’66, well, that’s when I came back, I came back in June ’66, and the confrontation stopped just after that and then I came back to, oh, Scotland again, to, up to Buchan, is it Buchan?
US: Peterhead, yeah.
NH: Peterhead, yeah. Peter, yeah, Peterhead, Buchan. Onto a, well, there we are looking at, we are looking after, looking at Russian aircraft, that was the interesting part there was watching for the Bisons and what not coming out of the Russian bases up at, you know, beyond.
BW: Beyond Murmansk and.
NH: Beyond Murmansk, yeah. They’d come out into the Atlantic, they’d be picked up by the Norwegian radar and we would [unclear] them then to come down between the Iceland gap and the
BW: Faroe islands.
NH: Faroe islands, Shetlands, my memory is terrible, anyway we were waiting for them to come through, past the Iceland gap and they’d go out into the Atlantic while we had a flight of, what were they in those days, not the Javelins, what was after the Javelins? Hunters, Hunters? What were the ones before the Lightning? No, it was the Lightnings, the Lightnings, of course it was. Yeah, the Lightnings, we had Lightnings up at Kinloss, or Lossiemouth? Lossiemouth, they were up there on the and the Americans had Phantoms in Iceland so we would scramble when we, as soon as we saw these coming, being handed over, they were handed over to us by the Norwegians, we probably couldn’t see them then but then when we knew they were there and eventually they would appear on our radar and certain time after that we would scramble the fighters from Lossiemouth and the Phantoms from Reykjavik and at first the Lightnings didn’t have the range to get to them and very frustratingly they would turn back because of lack of fuel, the Phantoms would come on and make the interception and then come onto Scotland and land, but then when the Lightning Mark VI came in, we could make the interception properly and return. But that was quite interesting for a while because we also had radar up on top of the Faroes, right on top, no, not the Faroes, the Shetlands, right up on the top island, Saxa Vord, that’s, there’s a radar station up there, so there, that was a bit of an interest and then I was finally posted back to Germany and that, did my final tour in Germany on a NATO, on a NATO post. We had a German commandant then, Brigadier, German, he was, by that time the Germans had bene reconstituted but we had control of the fighter element, the Germans weren’t allowed to control, we were [unclear] of course for, to intercept the Russians in case there was any sort of attack but we had, but they had to have RAF controllers out there, the Germans, under all their constitutional rules weren’t allowed to do this so although they provided all the manning for it, we did the actual operating of the stand-by fighters, what did we have then? Lightnings, did we? Lightnings, yes, Lightnings, and they were at places like Laarbruch, Bruggen and somewhere else, there were three, Gutersloh, yes, we had the triangle of those three and then of course Monchengladbach.
BW: And so
NH: So I finished my tour there and made a lot of good friends, [unclear] we were Germans, Dutch, British and that very pleasant finished my career really, made some good friends who stayed friends right up till now, those who survived, even the Germans, the German commandant of the German regiment, he became, I still talk to him every week on the telephone [laughs]
BW: And so
NH: Oberst Wolfgang Ostermar
BW: Wolfgang Ostermar
NH: Wolfgang, yeah, we went on holidays together, became very close, you know.
BW: And is he a similar age to you?
NH: A year younger.
BW: So he’d been around the year, presumably in opposing forces when you [unclear]
NH: He was, he was, and he was taken prisoner by the Americans.
BW: Really? Did
NH: But he’s an Anglophile, speaks excellent English, same as his wife does. Did his training, of course he became a fighter controller but trained by us in Britain.
BW: Do you recall briefly what his wartime service was? Was he a pilot or a gunner or [unclear]?
NH: No, he was ground staff.
BW: Right. So there was no chance of him being
NH: When we’d been on holiday together, people made romantic conclusions, you know, a German and a British exile, sorry, good friends,
BW: But it wasn’t
NH: Not like that, no.
BW: And so you left the RAF and NATO
NH: Yeah.
BW: What was your civilian career, what did you, did you [unclear]?
NH: I enjoyed the last couple of years, I did a correspondence course which is organized by the service, my [unclear], what did I do?
US: Agency and business studies.
NH: Agency and business studies, that’s right, yes, and it was such an easy posting in Germany I was able to do this with a lot of enjoyment and I thought, well, I can go in human relations or something like that, I’m made for that and it meant a two week course in a [unclear] to start with, then about eighteen months correspondence, finishing up the six weeks again at Chelsea and we happened to be in the Chelsea barracks near the Chelsea officer’s mess but we were told, the Chelsea officer’s, the guards officers not the, not any ordinary mess it’s the guards officer’s mess and we were told very strictly we were not, we may be officers but we were not entitled to go into the guards officer’s mess [laughs].
BW: You mentioned before we started the interview you were security on the ton air project
NH: Well I, having got the H&C, I wrote lots and lots of letters people offering my services and I got reasonable replies from quite a number and I was offered several jobs, I eventually left the air force in November 1970 and I came up here, [unclear] they seemed puzzled as I, I wanted to come up here, why do you want to come up here then? [laughs] because I suppose hopefully you are going to offer me a job. So, they did in fact, I became assistant to the chief designer, they offered me two jobs actually, they offered me a job on Tornado cockpit which was still on the drawing board, I could have either be that job or be assistant to the chief designer, so I said, I’m not qualified to cock pit design work, so I think I better take the other one so I did that, which was quite a nice job, I learned a tremendous amount cause I worked in the main drawing office with him and got to know all the chaps and what they were doing and of course I say the Tornado was still on the drawing board it goes now in production but that was still very much a live product. And so I got to learn in eighteen months so I did that [unclear], I learned a lot and then the chap who is the chief security officer was an ex wing commander and I had, and he still, I want, I want to retire very soon, do you want to take my job over? So, that’s promotion anyway, so I did, I took, George Kennedy, wing commander George, he’d been an ex apprentice like me, but much earlier, and when he, well, I went and joined him as his assistant, first of all about eighteen months, two years, and then took over completely when he retired and that really was a splendid job because the Tornado was still not flying but it was full of classified information and working with the Germans and the Italians, our own Ministry of Defenses and who of course were very hard on us if we gave any information away it was all very and of course the Cold War was on, you know, and Munich we had plenty of Cold War suspects and [unclear] around Munich, eager to get hold of the information about the Tornado.
BW: And so, you were very limited about what you could and couldn’t say at the time.
NH: Oh yes, very much, yes, but it’s very, eventually I did get hold of because these technical people and engineers [unclear], the last thing they wanted to know was about is security, they want to show off their knowledge and they want to write papers and get their names noticed and things like that their ego, you know publicity, whereas we of course, the security side, wanted to restrict it, well, not because we ourselves wanted it, the Ministry of Defense, they provided the contracts and if we broke the rules, they would start threatening that there would be a loss of contract work. So that’s I, I managed to, because I had experience in aircraft all, you know, I think I was able to work all the people like flight test engineers, the flight crews, the [unclear] like Paul Millet, who is the chief test pilot at the time but he took over from, oh, famous wartime pilot, forgot the, I’ll get it in a minute, anyway I had a good time because I got on well with these people.
BW: And so, looking back at your career and the association you have with Bomber Command, how does it feel now looking back?
NH: Well, occupies my thoughts continuously cause I’m on my own now, I’ve been on my own for nearly elven years, it occupies a tremendous amount of time, I can’t read but I do have listening books which I enjoy and music but otherwise I, I have to use my own thoughts to pass the time and I do it a lot.
BW: And have you been able to keep in touch with progress in terms of the memorials to Bomber Command, how do you feel about the tributes and memorials that have been paid these days?
NH: Well, I love it and Dorothy and I went once to St Paul’s, that would be about, oh, about the year 2000, and I can’t even remember what it was for, is for, I know the chap who was the, oh gracious me, trying to remember, he was head of the air force, and he was also president of Bomber Command.
BW: The name that speaks to my mind are Paul Enteder.
NH: No, long after him, no, long after them.
BW: I see.
NH: He’s about my age.
BW: I see.
NH: Oh Gosh, anyway, we did go to this ceremony at St Paul’s cathedral, it be about three or four years before she died so, be about 2000 or something like that, we had a Lancaster flying over York, we all came out of the service and assembled on the steps, but what was the question?
BW: Have you been to Hyde Park memorial [unclear]?
NH: No, I’d like to, near the Green Park one, you mean?
BW:
NH: No, I haven’t, but I know of it and I and Tony Iveson , who was, this is how I did have a connection with, because he was in 4 Group the time as I was, and he led all the staff to make the memorial, he was on, I heard him on Desert island Discs, he’s dead now, but I couldn’t see it if I went I couldn’t see it.
BW: yeah.
NH: I used to, well, I am a member of the IMF club still but I haven’t’ ben there for three or four years.
BW: How do you, what are your thoughts about the memorial center that’s been set up in Lincoln, the International Bomber Command Center?
NH: I don’t know anything about it.
BW: They have now unveiled the memorial spire and the walls which have the names of all the fifty five thousand and something aircrew who were lost during the war and they are now building, or going to start building the Chadwick Center which will house documents, artifacts, there will be audio recordings as well such as this one, the digital
NH:
BW: That will be in the memorial center in Lincoln
NH: Is that a new purpose build
BW: It’s just outside, it’s on one of the hills outside of Lincoln.
NH: Oh! When is it going to be opened?
BW: The center should be opened later this year
NH: There will be a lot of publicity attached to that one. Pretty sure I can’t see much.
BW: I just wondered whether you’d be informed of it and today
NH: I haven’t been informed of it, I’d like to know about it but I can’t do, I can’t see it, so , you know, provided, I hope I shall hear about it.
BW: Well, I can post the details out to you and the information
NH: Right, yes,
BW: You know
NH: I’d like that. Because if I can’t read, Anthony can read it out to me.
BW: Yeah. So
NH: But I’m restricted in movement and everything else now, I don’t really want to go anywhere.
BW: I see. The, there aren’t any other questions that I have for you, are there any other particular recollections that may have come to mind you wish to talk about or else, anything else I may have missed?
NH: I’m sure there will be when you’re gone [laughs], I can’t, I think, oh, I’ve surprised myself [unclear]
BW: Well, it’s been very interesting to talk to you, you’ve given an awful lot of information
NH: Is it?
BW: [unclear] very happy with that.
NH: [unclear], I seen, I’m very happy with that. That’ll give me a better pleasure anyway.
BW: Thank you very much for your time.
NH: Ok.
BW: [unclear] Thank you.

Collection

Citation

Brian Wright, “Interview with Neil Harris,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed August 3, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11102.

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