Interview with Arthur Hulyer


Interview with Arthur Hulyer


Arthur Hulyer talks about his experience in the RAF. Remembers working in an engineering firm before joining the Air Force. Tells of how he trained to become a pilot. He was sent to America, for pilot training in Oklahoma, but then ended up as a navigator. Flew ops as a second pilot on Halifaxes with 76 Squadron based at Holme-on-Spalding Moor. Emphasises the sense of comradeship between young men of the same age on the squadron. From 76 Squadron, he was posted to another squadron, assigned with flying Dakotas to India. After the war, he initially worked as an engineer and then became a senior lecturer in engineering.




Temporal Coverage




00:50:13 audio recording


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CJ: This is Chris Johnson and I’m interviewing Arthur Hulyer today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We are at Arthur’s home near Canterbury, in Kent and it is Tuesday, the 10th of October 2017. So, thank you for talking to us today, Arthur, perhaps you could tell us first, please, where and when you were born and what your family background was?
AH: Well, I was born in a little place just outside Gravesend, country place and went to school, and then I ended up in engineering. So, I trained with a firm who were at Gravesend Airport and this was, you know, just the right place for me cause I was mad on aeroplanes. So, I stayed there with them really and then eventually I volunteered for RAF aircrew, so, but then, in that particular time, 1942, everybody wanted to join the Air Force, there were, I think a hundred and twenty thousand really aircrew so I thought, oh God, no good, so, I was with an engineering firm so they trained me virtually and then eventually I left them to join the Air Force, cause everybody was joining the Air Force, you know, and being all around aircraft, was the Battle of Britain, you know, kind of thing gone through and Spitfires were dashing off and this so forth, anyway, I’ve got to think now, so, I decided to join up, so, I went to London, you know, in those days, and you know, everybody was there and had the interview and they said, oh, we, you can go home and we actually call on you in about six months, which they did. Then what happened? Well, I was a UT pilot, under training, pilot under training, I’ve been through the interview and they selected me for pilot, so, I waited and waited, you know what it’s like really, is that alright? And consequently, I eventually went to Oklahoma, in America and did my pilot training. Anyway, cutting a long story short, I thought, well, I’m going back and I’m going on, you know, fighters, you know, kind of thing, being on an airfield and I was a training engineer, so, I became an engineer, and what happened then? Let’s go, yes, I joined up. After six months they sent for me and I went down, I started what we call the aircrew training and I did end up as a pilot and consequently, well, we joined this squadron, 76 Squadron, really and I couldn’t be first pilot, I became second pilot and that was quite interesting, went through the war
CJ: So, why couldn’t you be first pilot?
AH: Well, I just try to remember what happened. Oh God, I’m going back now when I am eighteen, I was in the Air Force at eighteen, now then
CJ: So, you trained as a pilot in America, which, do you remember which aircraft you trained on?
AH: Oklahoma, Miami, Oklahoma
CJ: Yeah, do you remember which aircraft you trained on?
AH: I trained on the Harvard, you know and etcetera etcetera
CJ: The Harvard
AJ: You know?
CJ: Yes
AJ: One day, there was, in that particular time, there was what we called, you went on a grading course to become a pilot and I was chosen the pilot and then I eventually, cut a long story short, I ended up in Oklahoma and that’s where I did my pilot training. Then, is, what year was that? I just try to remember now, I must’ve been about nineteen, nineteen years of age
CJ: 1942?
AH: 1942. Anyway, 76 was quite a correct squadron actually and Cheshire was my CO, Leonard Cheshire
CJ: Leonard Cheshire
AJ: Cheshire, my CO really, so I got through a good start. So, it’s hard to remember all this
CJ: I think you said you trained as a pilot, but you ended up as a navigator
AH: As a navigator, yeah
CJ: And why was that?
AH: Well, because, you see there was, there wasn’t a shortage of pilots but they were training, I don’t know what was going, they sent you on courses and all this and all that you went to and I ended up on Dakotas [laughs], God!
CJ: Can we go back to 76 Squadron, so you, between training as a pilot on Harvards, did you have any, you must have had some training before you went on to 76 Squadron, did you?
AH: Oh yes, we had training, I went to America trained, Miami, Oklahoma. There was such a terrible place there.
CJ: Did you have some training in England before you were allocated to the squadron?
AH: Yeah. I flew a second pilot on Halifaxes
CJ: Ah, ok
AH: [unclear] My squadron, he was just a pilot officer and he wasn’t, I don’t know if he’s still alive, actually, but 76 Squadron, yeah, oh God, yeah [unclear]
CJ: And whereabouts were you based with 76 Squadron?
AH: Well, we were, you know, the losses were terrible, really, and we were lucky to get away with it really
CJ: But which airfield were you flying from?
AH: Holme-on-Spalding Moor
CJ: Holme-on-Spalding Moor, in Yorkshire
AH: Holme-on-Spalding, parent airfield, that’s where we all but before that, you see, you go through a course in the RAF [unclear], where you go on various aircraft really to get to a stage where you, you know, so let’s start from where I joined 76 Squadron was Holme-on-Spalding Moor, losses were terrible then, really, but looking back I met a lot of blokes, and you know they are all the same type aircrew, anyway let’s pick, let’s go from there 76 Squadron. My mind’s gone blank [laughs].
CJ: But do you remember how many operations you flew with 76?
AH: Oh, about half a dozen, yeah
CJ: And what were the, do you remember any of the targets were that you were flying to?
AH: Oh yes, I remember, Hamburg was the first one, Hamburg, [unclear], I did several night trips, then, what happened then? Then, they sent me to this Dakota squadron which was, what was [unclear], no, we converted to Dakotas, that’s right. And I went as Second Dickey, ‘cause there was a shortage of Second Dickey, they couldn’t find people that were out of training
CJ: Sorry, for those who don’t know the terminology, what’s a Second Dickey?
AH: Pilot, Second Dickey
CJ: Co-pilot, is it? Yes
AH: Yes, they were on Dakota Second Dickey. Now I’m supposed to know, go to India to pick people up and bring them home, Burma, from Burma, so I am in India and consequently you know, we are picking up supplies and taking them around airfields and dropping them, and then we start, I think about bringing them home, when they drop the atomic bomb is the end of the war, so I know what happens, you know. India was quite remarkable really because in a way, the, I went from four engine Halifax [unclear] Second Dickey on the
CJ: Dakota
AH: See, on Dakota, yeah, I’m getting long in the tooth now, yeah [laughs], I don’t know a lot of [unclear] anymore, I’ve seen a lot of action which was in a way, they switch you, I made a look at my logbook the other day, I got experience on nine aircraft, which is very interesting
CJ: So you were flying troops back from India, back home at the end of the war and what happened to you after that?
AH: It never got to that, we never flew them back home, yeah
CJ: Right
AH: We stayed on the squadron virtually and they got [file missing]
US: Excuse me interrupting
CJ: Here we go
AH: Yeah, can I talk casual know, can I? Yeah, I enjoyed India, actually, really, because I was grounded because it got to the stage where they were trying to, they paid us too much money [laughs] so consequently they wanted to move us around a bit so, as I was trained as an engineer virtually, I went on an MT section, and that was very interesting, trained as an engineer, so consequently I went to, joined the MT section in the RAF
CJ: MT being motor transport
AH: Motor transport, [unclear] cars as well and that was quite interesting because I had a lot of freedom really, by this stage I was warrant officer and so I enjoyed that and then I nearly got married [unclear] lovely girl actually, but she was in the WAAF you know, Indian ATF but she left me and got posted and ended that romance you know [laughs], my wife [unclear], Tessa her name was and perhaps my wife thinks I should have married her [unclear] my marriage, I’m still here anyway and I’m getting long in the tooth now
CJ: So how long did you stay on the MT section for?
AH: Well, I was in charge of a group really which was interesting, [unclear] you know, engines and whatever, and then the time came for demob you see then, so now I think about civilian life
CJ: So, when did you get demobbed?
AH: When?
CJ: When did you get demobbed?
AH: I was, I think my release group was 47 and I came out in ‘46 you know, but my number was 47 but, I left the RAF in 1946 and I came back into industry.
CJ: I mean, what job were you doing in industry?
AH: Well, I was engineer, I was, oh God, I liked engineering really, because I did a bit of this in the RAF, while I was waiting, you get a lot of waiting in the Air Force going from one course to another [unclear] but, has she come back yet? Yeah, I’m trying to pick up in [file missing] well, I went back to Gravesend where my hometown was and took up my old job virtually and then I got a bit fed up with that and I decided, as a qualified engineer, I decided actually to go into teaching. So my old college, I really started teaching, lecturing really, see lecturing engineering about cars and things like that and I eventually decided to teach, so I did some evening classes as a senior, as a lecturer. Well, I stuck there for a while, then I decided, I did a more, started to, get visible qualifications, let us ask me name, so I started taking management courses in engineering,
CJ: Day release, yes
AH: I got some qualifications in administration or whatever, lead up to City & Guilds, I got two full technological certificates in City & Guilds engineering, one in, ‘cause I better tell you where I went to, I went to work for Ford motor company and they put me on this section side quality control, all the rest of it but I’ve got, I’ve got so many certificates upstairs really but engineering. One is a full technological certificate in vehicle engineering, and another is a City & Guilds full technological certificate in, oh God, oh, mind if I show them to you, can I show them to you? I’ll show them to you later
CJ: So you said you went into lecturing in engineering
AH: And then I started to go in evening classes, I applied for, I’m already teaching in evening classes, and now I am going higher, I’m going for university so I applied for a job virtually in Woolwich Polytechnic. This is a different type of engineering, nothing to do with vehicles just general engineering and I’d take these examinations and they want me to come on the staff, so I become a senior lecturer in a college now which is quite interesting
CJ: And then I think you ended up, you were teaching at Folkestone later, is that correct?
AH: Pardon?
CJ: You said you were teaching at Folkestone later on?
AH: I left Folkestone now and I’ve gone to the Woolwich Polytechnic
CJ: Ah, ok. Right.
AH: A better job now, you got more money being a lecturer.
CJ: And did you stay at Woolwich until you retired?
AH: [sighs], well, I started looking around for better positions, [unclear] the country got busy really, but I am still working for the Ford motor company, anyway what happened then? This is where I go and make another move, I joined the staff, teaching staff or lecturing staff of Woolwich Polytechnic, now I’ve become a senior lecturer in engineering and that is where I actually stayed until I retired.
CJ: Then coming back to the RAF after the war years, did you manage to keep in contact with any former crew members? Were you in a squadron association?
AH: Well, I did start going to reunions and travelling to Yorkshire and meeting all the lads, you know, which is quite the [unclear] and I looked forward to, and I kept that up virtually until last year, I didn’t go last year, usually about this time we were having these reunions and consequently I didn’t go this year either, I think I’m getting too long for travelling long distances [unclear]
CJ: And how did
AH: Interesting time though because amazing how many we lost during the war, fifty thousand, fifty five thousand, and lots of blokes who were dear to me really.
CJ: And how do you think Bomber Command were treated after the war?
AH: Well, it wasn’t very good actually, you know, we did our best and all of us fell by the wayside but they didn’t look after us at all but I think last year was about the twenty, when I first started joining and having these reunions, if you didn’t book in early, it was full, you know, and consequently you missed out on them, but nice, when we used to get together again, it was very good. The camaraderie was there and I quite enjoyed it, I used to take three days off and ‘cause when I was working down here I, when I left the RAF I became an engineer again, really, but
CJ: Can we go back to, we rather passed over quickly the operations that you were on, can you tell me what life was like on the base in Holme-on-Spalding Moor? What the accommodation was like? The meals? What you did if you had any time off?
AH: Well, it was marvellous, really, actually, [unclear] reunions were in, everybody was, you know [laughs], all, you know, buddies again, you know, and
CJ: When you were actually on the base in the RAF during the war
AH: Yeah
CJ: What was life like when you were based at Holme-on-Spalding Moor?
AH: Very good, yeah, the Australians were a good lot, yeah, the Australians, yeah, my skipper I flew with, virtually, Bill Turner, Australian, he was a good pilot, yeah, and but there were a hell of losses though, really, you knew living more or less, never know when you’re gonna get back, actually
CJ: So what was it like for you on a typical operation? How you planned for it and how you were told what your target was and so on?
AH: Well, mostly virtually we, the Halifax is more or less a medium bomber really, not like the Lancaster, but getting up to the squadron though, in the RAF virtually, you know, you are graded as a pilot, did you know about the grading scheme?
CJ: No, please tell us
AH: Well, the grading scheme is where is you know, where you’re a raw recruit virtually and they want to find out if you’re gonna make a pilot so they send you on a grading course and you got to solo so many hours and then [unclear] kind of thing you know and you got to train your pilot. Well, I went to Oklahoma, Miami, Oklahoma, all young lads, you know, and they wash you out there actually. Anyway, I was there, then they, I get back on the squadron. Oh, we converted, that’s right, when the war finished, we converted to Dakotas,
CJ: Yes
AH: You know, that was quite lovely, actually, you know, flying, [unclear] photographs [unclear] place, take supplies to this airfield, that airfield, but we did fly people home, that was what we were out there for, dropping the atomic bomb, war had finished, now you are more or less, what you’re gonna do? And they’re washing pilots out left, right and centre you know, pilots go back to more or less reduce the ranks, I was a warrant officer now, you see, and consequently then you didn’t fly anymore. I should’ve stayed in the Air Force.
CJ: When you were on 76 Squadron on the Halifaxes, how did you find out what your target would be when you were going on an operation and how did you plan for that?
AH: You know, the usual thing, you know, you go to, all meet in the hall and [laughs] yeah
CJ: So
AH: Was a weird time actually because a lot of us really wanted to fly, I was, I went, I can remember, I went to an MT section, and I was supervising people who were stripping engines and things like that which wouldn’t be [unclear]
CJ: You were saying when you were going on an operation, everybody would meet in a hall so you’d have what, a big briefing for all the aircrew?
AH: Where the meeting to find out where the target is
CJ: Yeah
AH: Yeah, the target
CJ: So, the fuel load and the bomb load would be decided for you
AH: Yeah, and you know, fuel
CJ: And for you as a navigator, did you have then any electronic aids to get you to the target?
AH: I did my ops as a second pilot, you see
CJ: Right
AH: Which is one way really getting through the war, isn’t it?
CJ: And
AH: How are we doing so far? Alright?
CJ: Do you remember any particular mission? Did you have any?
AH: Oh yeah
CJ: Did you get caught by searchlights or night fighters?
AH: We got [unclear] virtually, I remember going to the Frisian Islands virtually. I never liked the night flying really on operations really. You see, the difference between daylight and night flying is the fact that, you know, they showed up, on night flights, they put up a barrage and they always put up the barrage and you see all this stuff come up in front of you and you, and it’s all exploding, and you think you got to fly through them, which you got to, really, you can’t keep altering course all the time. Remember now, I not flying in what I was trained for, I’m not flying as a navigator, I’m flying now as a Second Dickey, there’s Bill there and me here, virtually and trying to avoid this stuff, you see, when you’re trying to avoid the flak, really, the navigator, who’s doing the navigating, he’s not happy about altering course all the time, here you are weaving all over the sky, there’s flak coming up and all the rest of it, and hear the splinters [unclear] the fuselage and the fuselage is only kind of fabric and the Halifax even, you see, well, that stuff used to come through, you know, weren’t very happy but you lived on your nerves all the time. Anyway, we had to do it, and get on with it, best we could. I’m going to try and take my mind back now to the war years in the RAF. See, you go down to a briefing and you don’t know what your target is, they put the sheet up on the, in the front there and you listen there and talk, all jolly but was a horrible business, isn’t it?
CJ: So, were some targets less popular than others?
AH: Well, you didn’t get a choice actually, you decided by, [unclear] who’s the [laughs], I’m trying to think of the chap that was in charge of Bomber Command
CJ: Harris?
AH: Harris, yeah Harris. Harris said, you got to go cause it got to be done and but we didn’t mind the daylights, you could see where you’re going, but later you had to, set the altering course to avoid the flak virtually you got to more or less fly through it otherwise the old navigator’s got a terrible problem to do, hasn’t he? Can’t do short triangles [unclear] so consequently not very nice but you have the good trips and the bad trips, really, yeah. Where far am along the road now? Still in the Air Force, aren’t I? Yeah, the trouble with the, you know, when you’re under orders really, you got to do what you’re told and these targets are more or less sorted out by Bill Harris what’s his name, it’s not Bill, what’s his Christian name? Bomber Harris
CJ: Arthur
AH: Bomber Harris, the targets are sorted out and they got to be done cause really, you’re supporting the army [unclear] when the war was coming to a close it was army support we did, yeah. I can look back now and see that flak how it used to come up, got to go through that, you know, but that was a job that we had to do, that’s what we was trained for. But looking back over my life, I’ve been lucky, I mean, by the, I mean, you never thought, you thought you were gonna die in Bomber Command, most of us did, you know, and we had that kind of thing, they won’t get us, you know , they won’t get us. I’d like to tell you a bit more about the RAF really because it’s part of my life, my youth and I was lucky to get away, coming out unharmed. That is why I chose, I mean, there must have been a lot of awful deaths really you know, because if you were on one of those aircraft actually, you actually didn’t get away with it, you got shot down and when you look at the losses, fifty thousand, I think on Bomber Command there was a hundred and twenty thousand at the peak of the war and we lost fifty thousand aircrew, which was a lot of people, isn’t it? I mean you, well you, I don’t know what, I mean, other campaigns didn’t have that kind of losses, did they? Fifty thousand is a hell of a lot and then there was this question that held out you head virtually, LMF, Lack of Moral Fibre, you know that, don’t you? Yeah, and if you start complaining then you find that, you know, that was a shocking thing to do, I mean, perhaps chaps were scared, no doubt about it, I mean, LMF could have been dealt with differently, you see
CJ: So if somebody was defined as Lack of Moral Fibre, what happened? What happened to them? Presumably it was
AH: Well, they were just taken off the squadron. They were afraid that it would spread, you see, quite easily people start. I never saw that much of that, really, LMF, I never saw it really, on our squadron nobody was LMF but you know, they used to strip you, on the parade, they used to strip the buttons off your uniform.
CJ: So this was probably, LMF would probably be diagnosed to somebody having a nervous breakdown now, would it?
AH: Yeah, yeah, it would be tackled differently, it wasn’t tackled properly, you know, really. But anyway because, because I really was one of the chaps who volunteered with all this, really, I actually got, I think I got looked up to by people really, can you stop it for a minute? I believe that, because of the numbers that were lost, one way or the other and the people that were more or less, you know shot up and they weren’t looked after, really, cause they, more or less, in the beginning really it was, I wasn’t there in 1939 [laughs] when but when I joined the Air Force firstly, you were shifted from one place to another, you went on this course that course, that course, until finally they then decided that you joined the squadron, you know, I was lucky really, to join a good squadron, 76 Squadron, a very good record, but the losses were the same as everybody else, but you weren’t an elite squadron, I think really but I loved the flying, I mean, I wasn’t happy if I wasn’t flying.
CJ: You said some of the crew were Australians, so were you the only British member of the crew or were they?
AH: No, my, because they were trying to put me somewhere, the pilots they were losing virtually were terrific, the losses, fifty, fifty [unclear] people. So really, I mean, they got a lot of volunteers to join aircrew but the wastage there, lot of people weren’t fit to be aircrew, they weren’t, either they didn’t have the appetite or, we, somehow we weren’t scared at all, we knew we had to do this so we did it and we worried about it afterwards, then I said, where is the next raid, you know. But I’m still in the RAF so what do I do in [unclear]? [laughs], oh dear! I mean, you know about the grading scheme?
CJ: Yes
AH: Grading scheme? You know about that, don’t you? I told you about that
CJ: Yes, you already mentioned it
AH: I said it before, a couple of Air Vice Marshalls and whatever and they say, you know, ask you questions, why do you want to fly kind of thing, but then what they used to do virtually, while you are waiting to go on a pilot’s course, they send you anywhere, you know, don’t realise what you kind of thing you are doing, you know, mind you, we were digging up roads and [unclear]. I come here to train for a pilot, here I am, pick a shovel, but we did it, but the losses, that’s what, I can never get out of how we got to that stage where they allowed it to happen, they didn’t take, didn’t have an answer for it, well, there wasn’t an answer, was there, really? You go on a target and they shoot up everything they got in the sky and trying to find the targets was another tough [laughs]. We weren’t really, I don’t think we had enough training in navigation, I mean, they took people as pilots, wings, they said, well, you know, try this course or that course really and you were longing to actually kind of, you know, get on ops., not liking it when you got it [laughs], yeah, but what I like about the RAF, all about the same age aircrew, you had to be and you all joined together, you know, you put all these people together virtually and then you make a crew out of them and they do the job, which is wonderful really. What else I can say about the RAF? Well, full of a lot of people of the same age, I mean, anyone more or less over twenties, twenties was a granddad you know [laughs]
CJ: So on your squadron were they mostly Australian or was it half British, half Australian?
AH: We, no, mixed squadron, yeah, you see, this is, you are all mixed together, you know, you flew together, you ate together and you lived together, more or less, you know, you, all about the same age, really, I mean, I didn’t see many people, really, more or less, above a certain age, you gelled, which is good, really, which you had to when you’re flying you see.
CJ: And if you had any spare time, did you manage to get off the base at all?
AH: Oh yeah.
CJ: Where did you?
AH: Cause really if you [laughs], if you got the money when you were aircrew, you know, you, it goes like this [laughs], I say that, my wife’s a lot younger than me and she was, you don’t know much about the war really, but it was a time when you could do something that you enjoyed, you know really, but dropping bombs on people is not a nice thing to do, is it? It’s got to be done and they laid down thirty trips, you know, you see, well, I didn’t get that far because the war packed up, but I enjoyed what I did even though it was dropping bombs or blowing [unclear] [laughs], yeah. I regret that I didn’t join, carry on in the Air Force cause I had a good rank, they say the warrant officer is one of the best ranks in the RAF, you know, you know you, I wasn’t commissioned, I suppose I [unclear] commissioned but I stayed in really but I enjoyed what I did really
CJ: Could you stayed on if you wanted to?
AH: Yes, you see, twice I [unclear] when I , I did a [unclear] and I was going to a place, I turned it down, I regret that all my life really, cause my pilot was in the military, you [unclear] soldier but that was one thing I regret about all that I haven’t got the [unclear] I suppose I would’ve been commissioned eventually if I stayed in and I would’ve been much better off, the pay wasn’t much different really, but I mean, I travelled to America, I mean, I flown the, I travelled the Atlantic by ships twice, I was trained in America, I went down the Atlantic in a, again this time going to India, you see, I loved flying the Dakotas round India, it was, pilots you know [laughs] yeah, but they treated us well in India, yeah. Looking back now really I haven’t done too badly because whenever, I mean, I applied for teaching jobs, I always used to get them, you know, but as I lectured in engineering, I became a senior lecturer, which wasn’t bad, when I became a departmental head of kind, but I like teaching boys, I mean, they kept me young, you know that, I’d treat, yeah, and I was grateful for them, Gravesend Technical College virtually that actually kind of, excepted me on the staff, and because of that, I was getting ambitious in the teaching world, so I ended up virtually going to Woolwich Polytechnic and carried on lecturing and getting a bit more freedom, a bit more money and I got this house, you know, which is, so I haven’t done too badly, have I? [laughs]
CJ: You’ve done very well.
AH: Yeah, good.
CJ: Right. Well, I’m delighted that you made it through the war Arthur and thank you very much for speaking to us today.



Chris Johnson, “Interview with Arthur Hulyer,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 4, 2023,

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