Interview with Harry Hooper


Interview with Harry Hooper


Harry Hooper enjoyed watching the planes at Heston Airfield as a child. He volunteered for the RAF in 1939 and began training to be a pilot. After his tour was completed he volunteered to serve in the Middle East. One evening he and a friend were hitch hiking back to camp when they decided to ‘borrow’ an army vehicle. They were caught by the military police and this effectively put an end to his hopes of staying in the RAF.




Temporal Coverage




00:21:31 audio recording


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HH: My name is Harry Hooper and I’m saying these few words as I have been asked to about my life in the, probably in the Royal Air Force. But the reason I joined the Royal Air Force was that I’ve always been interested, since a very young person, in aviation. I was born on the north side of Heston Airfield. We had an old farm on the north side of the airfield and so I grew up watching planes, private planes, come in and land. Heston was the airfield that in 1938 Mr Attlee, I think it was Attlee, then prime minister, came back from meeting Hitler in Germany with a piece of paper which he proudly showed. And which proved to be useless because in the next year the Germans went to war. I was seventeen and one month when I actually joined the air force which was November 1941. I wasn’t actually called up. I was attested, by the way at Oxford University. I wasn’t called up ‘til the beginning of the following year. I flew Tiger Moths in what they called grading school which graded applicants for pilot positions in to, well, pilots. And the others went on to become, as it was then, observers or bomb aimers later. Wireless operators or air gunners. I was fortunate. I went to Canada. I flew the Fleet Finch. No one’s ever heard of it but I flew the Fleet Finch biplane. And then went on to the Harvard. And I gradulated, graduated. I came back to England. I was sent to Harrogate which was a holding depot for aircrew returning from abroad awaiting posting. But I was there for quite a while because at the time Fighter Command were losing so few pilots, relatively that is, whereas Bomber Command were losing very many. So it was decided that myself and others like me would convert onto multi-engine aircraft. And I went to Babdown Farm in the West Country and converted on to the Airspeed Oxford. After that I went on to OTU just outside Banbury and I flew the Wellington from there, which was where I picked up most of my crew. And then I went to a Heavy Conversion Unit where I converted from Wellingtons to Lancaster. Which is where I picked up the last member of my crew — the engineer. By this time, because of the long wait I’d had early on it was getting near the end of the war and I joined 115 Squadron, or we joined 115 Squadron when they were operating daylight raids over Northern France and Germany. Mainly the Ruhr area and they were using a very new system then which was called GH bombing. It was a GH system which was a form of navigation. It was further developed in to a system of bombing where the navigator guided the pilot along a certain line. And provided you kept at the exact height, at the time sixteen thousand six hundred feet and the correct airspeed of a hundred and sixty five miles per hour when he got a further indication or blip on his radar set he would just tell me to press the button. Which I did, having previously opened the bomb doors and the bomb load would fall away. Hopefully on to its target. We flew then, as they were daylights, in formation and it was mainly flying from south to north in the Ruhr Valley. And because of the accuracy of this system of bombing we were charged with taking out the very small refineries that the Germans had built as their main refineries had been bombed to pieces by both the RAF but mainly the US Air Force. And, but there were these very small units dotted along the Ruhr Valley utilising coal and turn it into Benzene and fuel which could be used. Either high octane fuel for aircraft or the lower octane for trans, motor transport. It was a great job. They usually tasked us at this job when there was cloud cover so that as we dropped our Window which was strips of foil we were above cloud and heading north. The westerly breeze would float the Window away from under us but we could see as we went along that the Germans gunners, radar directed gunners were picking up the chaff as we called it or the Window and directing their fire. So as we went north, sitting up there quietly at sixteen thousand five hundred feet about two or three miles of the east of us there were a line of ack-ack bursts as the German ack-ack, radar directed ack-ack followed our course but at about two miles away. However, if the cloud dispersed the Germans then went over to optical sighting and they were through the gap and on top of us within seconds. And very accurate they were. Fortunately, we didn’t get hit or sent down. And that was basically it. That was my war coming to an end. I enjoyed every minute of it. I shouldn’t say that I know. Not politically correct. But it was a gorgeous times. I made so many friends. My crew and I were then scheduled to go out to the Middle East. Take Lancasters out and convert the Middle East squadrons in 205 Group onto Lancasters from Liberators which were being returned to the US as they were under lease lend. We did that and I enjoyed another year in the Canal Zone. Basically then we were converted into trooping and we had small metal seats fixed either side of the fuselage above, on the top of the bomb bay. And we could carry up to sixteen passengers and freight in panniers. And we flew all across North Africa. Dropping off at all the old names — Tobruk, Benghazi, El Adem for Tobruk, Benghazi, Castel Benito and on to Algiers. We also flew up to Greece to, into Italy. All carrying passenger, mail, freight and various things until I was then posted to Palestine during the troubles in 1947 there. The troubles were that the then Israelis didn’t want the British there so they were actively engaged in guerilla warfare against the British. Which was quite interesting. That basically is it. That was my life. I had intended to sign on and carry on in the Royal Air Force but owing to the odd misdemeanors like stealing a, well not stealing but borrowing an army radar truck to get home one night from the Malcolm Club which was an officer’s club on the Bitter Lake. Along the Suez Canal. The Military Police thought otherwise and managed to stop us and I spent the night in a military jail. The next morning the wing commander came and got me out but that finished any thoughts I had of applying for a permanent commission. So that was about it and I left the Royal Air Force. And that’s me. Will that do you?
[recording paused]
MJ: Yeah.
HH: After further chat with Mr Jeffery I thought there were a few items I ought to add on to the previous dialogue which mainly concerned things that I got up to. Or my crew and I got up to. Whilst I was on the squadron at 115 Squadron flying out of Witchford near Ely I bought a car. A Singer le Mans sports car which was up for sale because its previous owner had, well, got the chop as it were and his parents decided they didn’t want it. And I bought it for seventy pounds. I had sixty five in the bank and I borrowed five pounds from a chum and I bought this ivory and green Singer le Mans. Basically, a two seat in the front and a small seat at the back. And with that car I would go into Ely from Witchford with six of us in this two seater, four seater car which was a bit of fun. And the amazing thing was that there were so many in the back that the front wheels hardly touched the ground. So that when we came to a bend I used to have to ask them all to lean forward to get the front tyres to grip so that we could turn which was great fun. Then I volunteered to go to the Middle East because the war was coming to an end. Tiger Force, to which I’d been posted was disbanded because the Americans had dropped the atomic bomb and we didn’t have to go out to the Far East. That being so I eventually ended up at Dunkeswell flying Lancasters out to the Middle East. I flew one out to Egypt. This was to enable the Liberators operated by 205 Group at the time to be returned to the US because they were lease lend aircraft and replaced by Lancasters. Far Eastern as they were then known. FEs. Having done the one trip and came back I thought, well this, that looked a good place to go. So I volunteered to go out with some of my crew. Some were old enough, one was old enough to leave the Air Force fairly early. He had, my bomber aimer had a wife and two children and was thirty four. But the rest of us were young so off we went to the Middle East where we enjoyed a most fantastic time. We were originally based near the Great Bitter Lakes. And that was great fun because one of the fields I was based at, Kabrit, was right on the south, or south western tip of the Great Bitter Lake. My billet opened, well I opened the door of the billet and could step straight into the lake, have a swim, come back and go to breakfast. But I chummed up with a chap there who was a bit of a lad as it were and we got up to the odd tactics. One of which was we would go down to Suez and have some fun there and then try and get back by hitching rides. And we hitched so far and then we were walking. And as we still had a few miles to go we saw an army camp, or an army spot with, which I believe probably was Army Signals or something. But they had fifteen tonners in there and so we got in and funnily enough it didn’t have keys. You just pressed the starter and it went. So my colleague and I jumped into the back of this fifteen tonner and roared off down the Treaty Road to get home. But within a minute or two we were stopped by the military police who put us in what we called the clanger overnight until my wing commander came and released me. Prior to that episode I had hopes of staying in the RAF. I had applied for a permanent commission. But of course this put the kibosh as it were on my hopes of a permanent commission as the group captain tactfully said, ‘I don’t think it wise for you to carry on, Hooper.’ And I said, ‘No sir. I think you’re right.’ So, that was it and I eventually ended up in Palestine during the troubles in ’47. I joined 38 Squadron who were Coastal Reconnaissance. And our work was mainly involved in patrolling off the coast of Palestine. They divided the section between Southern Turkey and Egypt into three. And so three aircraft would go out and we would fly north south, gradually turning, creeping away from the Palestinian coast until we found some of the illegal immigrant ships or a illegal immigrant ship. In which case we would then wireless Jerusalem and they would send out a destroyer to apprehend it and take these poor chaps and put them in a camp in Cyprus. And then they were fed back under the quota into Palestine. And I ended my days in Palestine enjoying the climate. We didn’t have much freedom owing to the troubles. You know, sleeping with a revolver under our pillow and that sort of thing. Eventually I was posted home and I managed to convince all and sundry that I should go back by boat and I had a beautiful trip back home. We went to Liverpool. From there I collected my gear, or tried to but it hadn’t arrived because it went on a different track or something. So I went home for two days to see my mother and father who I hadn’t seen for a very long time. And my sister by, who was younger than me, at the time was eighteen went out with her boyfriend to the pictures. And around about 10 o’clock in the evening my neighbour, our neighbour came in and said, ‘I think you’d better go to the top of the road.’ We lived off, in a little cul de sac off the Harlington High Street. And whereupon I did and found that my sister, who had just got off the bus with her boyfriend had been knocked down by a motorbike and sidecar and killed. Which was a great homecoming. But one got over it eventually and that was the end of my sort of story at the time. I then worked for the Quaker Oats Company. An American company. They had a large plant. Factory. Mill. In Southall. And I spent about twenty odd years with them. I started there in the materials handling department unloading trucks and I finished up as the UK managing director for them. So, I had a fairly pleasant life there. I retired early because my son, who had just come down from Cambridge was very very ill in Paris and I had to go over and see him. And my wife developed cancer at the time. So I had a pretty rough time, or my son and my wife did. I had to try and look after them so I retired at fifty seven and did manage to look after them and we’re all around now. Of my crew only Charlie Flint, my wireless operator is still alive. The rest gradually died away. And we still remain, the two of us, the last of the [pause] what were we? KO was our squadron number. We were KO Roger. I had a model Lancaster made for me. I was at the Harvard Business School for some time and whilst over there they, some of the chaps found out I’d been on Bomber Command and got some information from somewhere. Somewhere. And they bought a kit which they made into a model Lancaster and labelled it KO Roger. And actually they sent it home by surface mail whilst I came back on one of the, either, I think it was the Queen Mary with some thirty thousand I think it was [laughs] American soldiers going to the UK for the war in Europe. And that’s about it. I enjoyed every second of my time as I still do. So there ends my tale. That’ll do won’t it?
[recording paused]
HH: I’m just showing Michael Jeffery the sort of captain’s map as we called them from a particular daylight raid I did with 115 Squadron. What we’re looking at here is the small captain’s map. It’s on a Mercator, Mercator projection and on it I have drawn the outward and the inward routes we took to the, to and fro from the target. The target in this case happened to be Dortmund. We flew out on what is apparently the red route and we flew back on what is shown here as the green or greeny blue route. We also put, on that same map one would have the height at which we would be flying, the speeds we would be flying at. And this was a sort of aide memoire to the pilot of the trip whilst the navigator did the whole of the actual navigating using the Gee system. The pilot had this so that he could keep that on his lap or in his pocket and occasionally look at it so he would know that, well we’ve got about five or ten minutes and then we turn to port and on to that. So it was just an aide memoire, a visual aide memoire to the pilot on, for the whole of the trip and it had data such as height to fly, speed at which we flew and so forth on it.
MJ: Thank you for that.
HH: That should do it I should think.
MJ: Ok. Right. On behalf of the International Bomber Command I’d like to thank Harry Hooper, Flight lieutenant for his recording on the 17th of November 2015 at his home near Hook. Thank you very much.



Mick Jeffery, “Interview with Harry Hooper,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 4, 2024,

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