Interview with Eric Haynes

Title

Interview with Eric Haynes

Description

Eric Haynes and his friends volunteered for the RAF together days after the declaration of war. He wanted to enlist as a photographer but was encouraged instead towards the role of RAF police. Later he saw a notice inviting recruits to remuster to the motor boat crews. He applied and was posted to the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment at Rhu in Scotland. Along with taking part in experimental work he was deeply affected by witnessing a Lancaster which had crashed and he was involved in the rescue operation.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2017-10-16

Contributor

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

00:40:29 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AHaynesER171016, PHaynesER1701

Coverage

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

RP: This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Rod Pickles the interviewee is Eric Haynes. The interview is taking place in Mr Hayne's home in Teignmouth, Devon on the 16th of October 2017. David Harrison is also present. Good morning, Eric. Could you start by telling us when and where you born what led you to joining the RAF please?
EH: Good morning. I belonged to the Rover Scouts in Bromley and we listened to Mr Chamberlain's speech on the Sunday, September the 3rd ’39. And together with two of my friends we decided we weren't going to go in the infantry we were going to go in the Air Force. So, the following morning, September the 4th we went to Kingsway in London to join the Air Force but there were several thousand in front of us and we were sent to newly arranged Volunteer Centres. Ours was at Eltham. And I signed on as a photographer but my two friends, one's not accepted by the Air Force and he went and joined the, the Army Ordnance Corps. The other was a watch repairer. He went in as a [unclear] repairer. I signed on as a photographer and we went to Uxbridge on our shilling. And they then decided that because I was apprentice at the firm and [unclear - interference] Photographic School I was sent home. Much to my mother’s relief. And there I waited until Christmas ’39 and I got the call to go to Uxbridge on the 1st of January 1940. Immediately on arrival I was approached by one of the officers there at the time and he said, ‘I see you're signed in as a photographer.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘But we have a long waiting list for the Photographic School and we would be pleased if you would go in the police for the time being.’ Green as the grass I said yes. He said, ‘Oh, you can transfer afterwards.’ But I rapidly found out of course that wasn't so. That once they trained you in one trade they didn't want you to train, have to retrain you on to another trade unless there was a need for it. Which is what I cottoned on to afterwards. Having finished my training at the Police School I transferred to RAF Peterborough. 7 FTS. And I found out, on going there they were going there they were going to Canada but police was then deemed to be headquarter staff and they would not go. So, we remained at Peterborough. Then in came 13 EFTS, Elementary Flying Training School which, I remained there for some eighteen months. Almost sort of every few months the unit there changed. We ended up with it being a Polish unit so we had a crash course in learning Polish numbers and names. It came up on DROs — “Wanted. People with small boat experience, sailing on boats, re-muster to motor boat crew.” I thought that's for me. Much to my surprise I applied and they actually agreed to it where before he had stopped me from re-mustering. And within two days I was on my way to Corsewall in Loch Ryan.
RP: So what year was this? When was this?
EH: 1941. Then I did the Elementary Training Course for motorboat crew and was posted to RAF Stranraer which was, it was number 10 Squadron. They were transferring from Londons which was a [unclear] flying boat to Sunderlands. And they were all coming in new. The first nine months I was there I think was my hardest bit of work in the air force. The weather was very very bad. We were constantly wet. Boats were sinking and Flying Boats were being damaged. It was sort of day and night problems and we were very short of crew. They were being posted over to Africa and India as fast as they could train them. And then it came up that there was vacancies for training as coxswains. But I didn't know actually the, the sergeant who was the pier master had already recommended me for coxswain's course. So off I went back to the Marine Training School at Corsewall. And at the end of that training course I was posted to Rhu. And nobody knew where Rhu was but then they got it in brackets afterwards — RAF Helensburgh.
RP: Oh.
EH: Rue, actually is a small village at the entrance to the Gairloch. And there I found that it was no longer an operational unit. It was MAEE. Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment.
RP: Right.
EH: And that's where I was. That was my unit then for the rest of the war.
RP: So were you a sergeant by this time? Had you been promoted to sergeant when you were —
EH: No. Corporal.
RP: Corporal. Right. But you passed the coxswain's course.
EH: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I was qualified as a coxswain. Unfortunately, soon after I qualified the Marine Training School closed down. They’d trained enough people for what they thought was required. But anyway I had sort of I suppose made my mark at the experimental establishment of doing whatever I was asked to do without any problems which included not only supporting the Flying Boats but doing a lot of transport work. There was a need to go to areas off the west coast of Scotland to carry out experiments whether it was testing of depth charges or anti-submarine bombs or radio signals and so on. It was all anything to do with marine aircraft and the water. Whether it was rescue or equipment or communications or just, well you name it. Which then resulted in my being selected to take this boat up the Clyde and transfer to Loch Lomond for [pause] well, they termed it secret experiments. We did four main experiments. The first one being the testing of skip bombing where an aircraft dived and flattened out near the surface of the water and released the bomb. The object being to hit the ship just above the water line where the steel plating was thinner and into the engine room and do it, do its job. I kept that on for some weeks. They tested all, found out what they wanted to find out about it. And we had photographers on board which we put ashore in various places to photograph the flight of the bomb. It was then that they changed the the fins on the bombs several times to achieve the right performance. The next job actually was the testing of fuses on bombs. Anti-submarine bombs which were set at different depths and they had a device built in the bomber. It was not a live bomb. It was a normal case but the interior had been filled with very fine sand and when the fuse went off it released a compressed air cylinder inside that blew the sand out and the bomb surfaced. And our job was to recover them and you had to be fairly quick because there was an open hole and it would, the air would bubble in and it would lose its buoyancy. But we managed it [unclear] The next job after that actually was a radio signal job which, the main problem had been that when an aircraft ditched off Norway or that sort of area and they managed to get into one of the fjords, that sort of thing and they were with a dinghy and they found that they had had to [unclear] to get supply to them. And one chap would hold it in his knees to reduce the current while the wireless operator would —
RP: Oh right.
EH: Send the signal. But they found that because of the, the fjords and the, the height of the thing the signals were very poor or not getting through at all to be honest. So, my job actually was to take the boat up the higher end of Loch Lomond past, well Ben, past Ben Lomond and there where the loch begins to narrow down but the mountains are higher.
RP: So what sort of boat were you sailing here then?
EH: It was a forty foot seaplane tender.
RP: Oh right.
EH: Right. So the purpose of the testing of the radio signals close to the shores of Ben Lomond was such that they had to devise some better method, or different method of transferring the signal. So they had some special wire woven which was copper. And they arrived with various sorts of kites. And we flew the kites or tried to to send the signal and to receive the signal and we had aircraft flying over the top sending out signals from time to time. The first, the first flight of the kites proved too small. They were box kites. They haven't got the lift. But then they got bigger ones come up from Farnborough and another chap doing it and that, they floor alright but they were very temperamental with the air currents. They’d be flying lovely and all of a sudden they would dive. And one of the group made a [unclear] boys out for their flight crew but the boffins were not very pleased. And then the, that was abandoned actually because first of all, unbeknown to us it was the preparation for D-Day and there was an enormous convoy of American troop carriers, guns, ambulances, supply lorries and that sort of thing running down the west side of Loch Lomond for two days. They never stopped. Day and night. So something on the go here. I don't know where they went to or anything. But anyway just about the time it finished I got a call from Rhu to go back. I left the boat there and the crew took charge and I was given another boat that went out of Rhu, up the Clyde through the boom which was the anti-submarine boom. Its been done Dunoon and Hunter's Quay. There was two ships moored there in the centre and they had the gate which they could they pull up. Anti-submarine. But you had a code. You [unclear] approach. It changed day by day to get through and they gave you the okay over to go. So that was what I did. I went there and I went down on the other side there where a naval boat was stationed which was a control boat. My job actually was a taxi.
RP: Right.
EH: There were several naval boats there and all the ships that were in actually packed in the Holy Loch. Loch Striven and Loch Lomond. I don’t know there was several hundred boats in there. Ships of all different sizes and shapes. And they all had, hanging on the bow a number and our job was, you were given a number, a couple of numbers sort of thing to go there and pick up officers and take them to another numbered boat. And that's what they were. They were they were obviously, obviously given their last minute instructions. And we did that for twenty four hours and back we went. And that was when I got back to Rhu, when I went back to to Balloch and we did, well we started to do our last tests with the kites but the aircraft didn't come over. It was a beautiful sunny day. We laid in Ben Lomond there waiting for this aircraft and it still didn't come over. So eventually I persuaded the boffins that there must be some reason why it hasn't come over. So I took the boat into Luss which is a village on the west side of Loch Lomond. About ten miles up from the Balloch. And I knew there was a village policeman there so I went ashore, walked up through the village, found his house, got on the phone to Rhu. I found that the aircraft as at Prestwick u/s. So that was the end of that. So took the boffins and their kites back to Balloch and they disappeared. And that's when after that job, after that was when the, in July ‘44 our boat was slipped on the railway slip. We’d do some maintenance and put a new propeller on and joists, lift the bumps and damage to the sides of the boat from time to time. So that was the end of that thing. Meanwhile I had formed a relationship with one of the WAAFs and I married her in September ‘44. And we were granted a week's leave.
RP: A week.
EH: Which was unknown at that time, that amount of well since, since Dunkirk all leave was cancelled. You only got compassionate leave or sickness or something. No leave. A twenty four hour pass.
RP: Did you go anywhere special?
EH: Well, we went two days to my, my newly acquired father-in-law in Newcastle. And then down to my parents in Bromley in Kent. Spent a couple of days there and then we had a, we went down to Tonbridge for a night. Had a walk around there. Came back.
RP: By which time you must have been due back, I would think. All that, all that travelling.
EH: That was, that was our seven days.
RP: Yeah.
EH: We, I remember we arrived at Helensburgh on the last train down from Glasgow. The last bus to Rhu had gone. We were faced with walking. It was only about two miles but on the way there is a headland at the entrance to Rhu Bay. It was a moonlight night. Took our boots off, shoes off and we danced. The two of us.
RP: How lovely. And the weather must have been okay then.
EH: Absolutely beautiful it was. And then I was kicking my heels around for a few days and I got the order to bring a boat back to Rhu. And while I had been away the model of the SRA1 which was a proposed fighter Flying Boat and we were going to, we were doing some testing on that of how it would perform on the water and that. And the, we had a radio controlled, it was about a ten-foot model they unable to get the rockets to work properly. But while we had been on leave they had done an R-test at Rhu with this model and a rocket exploded. Blew the model up to pieces. Luckily nobody was near enough to get hurt. So when I came back they was busy making a new model. My first job actually was to take this and get it up the Gairloch. And on the shore was a number of wooden posts. I think, I think there were about five or six but anyway the first of the lochs was exactly a mile.
RP: Oh right.
EH: Well, the seaplane tenders hadn't got a speedometer so I was given a stopwatch and I had to time at various engine speeds the speed that — and I made my graph up of what the speeds were of various engine’s revolutions. And we then fixed a long pole out from the bow of the boat. Put a pulley on the end and put the model in the water and towed the model at the side of the boat away from the boat's wash so it was under the bow. The idea was to get it to tow it one and a half miles per hour. Just creeping, you see. And the only way you could do it was that they found there was a lull in the weather on the Gairloch just after sunrise. And it, everything was just calm nine days out ten that time of the year and so we had about a week. We were going down there every morning, about four o'clock in the morning, getting on board with the photographers and the boffins and getting ready to tow this model. And we've got one day there was no wind hardly. We just towed it and the light was good enough by that time to film it to see how it performed on the water.
RP: Did they ever develop this aircraft then?
EH: Yes. They did actually build three. One crashed and the pilot, I think the pilot was killed. I never actually saw them. They were built after the war. And there is one in Southampton Museum. I don't know where the other one is. It might be at the aircraft museum. I don't know but there were. So then, you know with the climb down of operations after the war huge numbers of contracts were cancelled and that was one of them. So about that time, July ’45, Marine Aircraft Experiment Establishment transferred back to its peacetime home at Felixstowe. So everything was moved from Rhu down to Felixstowe. I went on the advanced party. We took over what was, what was left of the RAF station before the war because the Navy had had it all through the war for the MTB headquarters for eastern, east coast. And I was then given command of a pinnace. Why a second class coxswain was given the command of a pinnace which is normally a sergeant baffled me. I don’t know. They, they made the excuse well I’d got the experience. The old boat hand. So that's how I finished up in Felixstowe.
RP: [unclear] Yeah.
EH: And in the last few months that I was there the CO, a Group Captain Abrahams had done all in his power to keep me. I was offered a recommendation for a commission. My first class coxswain's course. The salvage course with the, with the Navy and a diving course in the Navy and married quarters.
RP: And what did you say?
EH: Well, my wife wanted to get out [laughs] so I did what I was told.
RP: You did what you were told [laughs] So where did you retire to from the RAF then?
EH: I went back to Bromley
RP: Oh right.
EH: That's when, that's when it, true life took over because we had no idea how civilian life had changed with all the bombing and that. There was absolutely nothing to be had. Not a chicken kennel or a shed or a house or a flat or anything for miles around. I can remember going to the council to be put on the list for a house and the housing officer took me to the window. He says, ‘Do you see down there?’ he said, ‘That queue down there,’ he says, ‘They are homeless people.’ They queue up every morning [unclear] where to sleep the following night.
RP: What was the attitude to the, your time in Scotland? What was your most memorable experience of that sort of posting then do you think? Looking back.
EH: Well, I suppose my most memorable experience was going up to the crash of the Lancaster. Sad as it may be. That was because I had been in charge to start with until the duty officer arrived and organizing it from [unclear] and getting the, the help. I suppose also the months I spent on Loch Lomond [unclear] charged as it happened.
RP: I thought, I thought you were going to tell me meeting your wife [laughs]
EH: Well, everybody has said that to me over the years several times.
RP: So this was a Lillian, was it?
EH: Yeah.
RP: Yeah. Okay.
EH: I met her on one of my occasions I was called back to the headquarters from Balloch to Rhu. And the officer's headquarters admin was the Royal Northern Yacht Club which the RAF had commandeered at the beginning of the war. Lock, stock and barrel. Every bit of silver. And my wife had been trained in the hotel business before she was conscripted in the [pause] for the WAAF. So she became automatically an officer's mess steward. And obviously it’s because she knew the game inside out. She was much in demand at Marine Experimental Headquarters because quite often we would have air vice marshals and marshals, and MPs and cabinet ministers there talking about various projects and things. So a little banquet would be put on for the visiting dignitary. And on one occasion actually I can remember actually Sir Stafford Cripps came up when he was Minister of Aircraft Production. And it was a very, we got the instructions to lay on the reception in the dining hall. Cripps being there and his crew [unclear] until the last minute. And at the last minute I had to gather a pack together of the marine personnel in our dirty old clothes, march up the town, or the village to the headquarters and we was presented to Sir Stafford Cripps. And he walked round the ranks and that sort of thing. And he then, in company with Group Captain Abrahams he was entered, he was introduced each one of the test pilots. We had seven test pilots. And then he was, Sir Stafford Cripps shook hands with everyone. And he then, much for our surprise and embarrassment was introduced to each one of the coxswains. And we were there in our dirty old rag clothes shaking hands with the minister. And he spoke to each one of us.
RP: Well that's very good of him. He could have just walked away couldn’t he? I suppose he could have just walked away and ignored you, so.
EH: Oh yeah. He could have done. But anyway soon after that within about an hour I got spare time and I went to the officer’s mess to see my wife. She's, ‘Come here.’ And I looked in there and she showed me banqueting room of the Royal Northern Yacht Club. And she had the staff to lay out all the places there and it was just like something I imagined is in Buckingham Palace. Got all the Royal Northern Yacht Club silver and trophies and everything were all laid out. The gardener got some flowers there you couldn't imagine this you know just after the war such —
RP: How the other half live I guess.
EH: Yeah.
RP: Okay. Well, that's been, it's been fascinating Eric and I appreciate you telling us that. Some lovely stories there. And I love the story about meeting your wife there and I hope you had a long and happy life with her. So thank you very much for talking to me today. Thank you.
[recording paused]
RP: Okay, Eric, we're going to do a second part to the interview now and you're going to tell us about the incident when the Lancaster crashed.
EH: The period actually leading up to the Lancaster crash our seaplane tender was up the slip, unable to get it in the water and work on it had stopped because of the weather. The heavy rain. You couldn't carry out any painting while that was on. I was in my billet on my own when a policeman came into the billet. He said, ‘You're wanted on the phone. Quickly. Quickly.’ I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ he said, ‘There's been an aircraft crash.’ So, I quickly put my sou’wester and boots on and went down to the police station and I found there was RAF Pitreavie on the phone and they said, 'We've got a crash on Ben Lomond and we hear that you've got a boat on Loch Lomond. It might be a case of some of the crew may have parachuted out and were in the water. Could I carry out a search?’ I explained why I couldn't but I could get help from my unit at Rhu. So the instructions from Pitreavie were, ‘Well, do that. Quickly.’ So I put the phone down and then phoned my base at Rhu. Got hold of the duty officer, explained the situation and he said straight away, ‘I'll get an ambulance and a car and come over if you can lead the way.’ Well, I had my bike before and I had often cycled around the area and I knew the approach to Ben Lomond. So within about three quarters of an hour the ambulance and staff car arrived and we all set off in convoy. But by that time it was dark and it was raining heavy and we made our way through Balmaha, Drymen to Rowardennan where the road on the east side of Ben, of Loch Lomond peters us out to a track and there's only a track from there onwards to Ben Lomond. But when we arrived there we could see the, the glow in the sky which told us really that we knew the worst. That the aircraft was on fire. We abandoned the car and set off to make our way up towards the aircraft where the fire was and we hadn't gone more than about sort of probably two hundred yards and we met two shepherds and the Balmaha policeman. And they said they'd been up to the crash and its upside down, on fire from end to end with no sign of life. The duty officer who had come with me was Flight Lieutenant Russell and one of our test pilots. So he took charge and he decided that in view of the darkness, the lack of equipment and the rain and the slipperiness underfoot that we would abandon the, the movement and go back to a phone and organize a party for daylight. Which was what was done. And I went back there the following morning only to find that they were there, just standing around really because the thing was still burning. And they said that we've got the, they've got the, [unclear] that’s the rear gunner which we'd found there. He said he must have been catapulted out of the aircraft when it crashed. So I never saw the man. I just did the a cover over there. That was the end of my thing. I made my report as did the flight lieutenant who made his report and that's the last time I heard of it. But many years afterwards I was contacted by an historian who had been up to the crash site, found some of the remains still there and he had all the details of the aircraft. But at the time I was not particularly interested and I didn't take them down. So although that man knows the details of what the plane was, where it came from and how many crew were there remains a mystery to me.
RP: No. That's fine. Thank you for that. And it's good of you to tell us. Thank you.

Collection

Citation

Rod Pickles, “Interview with Eric Haynes,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 24, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11104.

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