Interview with Colin Hynd


Interview with Colin Hynd


Summary: Colin Hynd joined the RAF in November 1943. Upon completing initial training, he was posted to RAF St Athan, where he trained as a flight engineer. He struggled to bond with his first crew, so instead worked as an instructor before joining a Canadian crew based at 158 Squadron. Hynd recounts the briefing process and dangers during bombing operations. He also describes why their rear gunner was accused of Lack of Moral Fibre, accidentally falling asleep during an operation, dumping surplus munitions in the North Sea, and the conditions of their accommodation. Finally, Hynd describes serving as drill instructor after the war.




Temporal Coverage




00:44:33 audio recording


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JS: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Jim Sheach the interviewee is Colin Hynd. The interview is taking place at Mr Hynd’s home in Dunfermline on the 15th November 2017. Colin, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. Could you tell me a little about your life before you joined the RAF?
CH: Well, I went to the local schools, obviously commercial school and Queen Anne’s school, and when I left school at the age of fourteen just at the beginning of the war in September 1939, I got a job in the local cinema because jobs in those days were extremely hard to find. My wage was six shillings and eight pence per week, anyway, I only lasted there a month and I went on and got two subsequent jobs in the local gents outfitters, but that wasn’t satisfying me so I went to Todds Engineers in Dunfermline and became an apprentice turner, where I did turning until 1943 when I joined the royal air force, but as I was underage at the time I had to wait until I was eighteen and a quarter which was in the November of 1943, when I was called up, and went to Lords Cricket Ground for various tests and what have you, and we- We did three weeks in London being kitted out, medical-ed, the usual, uniforms and what have you, and then from there went on up to Bridlington to the initial training wing up there, and did six weeks up there, doing various signalling, gunnery, of course drill and all that, and then from there, after the six weeks went to St Athan, where we did the, the flight engineers training. Unfortunately, during my early days there I developed scarlet fever, so of course I was in hospital for a month, and when I came out my actual course had moved on that far, anyway [emphasis] I carried on, various entries and anybody that was available to do the thing where you studied engines, air frames, electrics, meteorology, gunnery again of course they just - Dismantling the guns and that, education of course was a big thing in those days as well but, eventually after, something like nine months, I was awarded my stripes and my brevet, my flight engineer brevet. After being awarded my stripes and my brevet I was posted to a heavy conversion unit at Marston Moor which is in Yorkshire, where you then actually were working on the real aircraft which were Halifaxes. You then saw what you’d only previously seen on a blackboard, and you did that for approximately two weeks, and as well as that of course you could go get a bit of experience on a crew who were doing a night exercise or, air tests, anything like that that was available, but I didn’t get crewed up, for about three weeks at that time. Anyway, the crew that I joined, unfortunately, they all drank and I didn’t, and I wasn’t very popular because of course I didn’t go out drinking, so the pilot at that time, told the engineer leader that I was no use as a flight engineer. Anyway I was duly called into the office, where I was interviewed for approximately four hours over engineer- Flight engineer matters, the subsequent outcome was that I was given the job of teaching the new recruits from St Athans, the pre-flight checks, how to start the engines, how to operate the, the petrol leavers and all, all that, from when they came from training school, so of course, the outcome of that was that after some weeks, I was told that- What had happened, and why I’d been removed from the crew and that, I would be offered a commission when I got to the squadron, unfortunately the war finished before we got to that stage in my career [slightly laughs], however, they – The, the aircrew without the engineer, because, people trained at different places, but all came together at the HCU, without the flight engineer because up till then they had been flying in two-engined aircraft to teach them the art of gunnery or navigation or whatever, but then when they went onto the four-engined aircraft, like the Halifax, the Lancaster, Sunderlands, they needed a flight engineer. Anyway there was a bit of a shortage at the time so I was posted to Riccall which was near Selby, where I carried on doing the same thing, teaching the newer lads the pre-flight checks and all that sort of thing and then eventually they had an intake of crews, and in those days, the crews plus the flight engineers were put into this room and the wing commander flying, then gave a lecture but this was just a ploy so that the crews could see who the flight engineers were. Anyway I was approached by one of the crew members, Johny Prosser, who was the wireless op in this crew which were Canadian, anyway I decided to join them, as their flight engineer, so from there on in, I did the flying experience which I’d learnt prior to this on my own, I didn’t need anybody with me obviously, so that er- We did air tests, short daylight runs, a lot of night flying, because the pilot of course being new to the four engine bomber always had a pilot with him who had had experience, so of course no aircraft could take off without a flight engineer anyway [emphasis] because it was too complicated where - What you had to do as a flight engineer, so that - We then eventually moved onto the squadron, 158 which was an operational squadron, they had had a terrific loss, of personnel, they had- We had New Zealanders, South Africans, Canadians, RAF and it was a mixed squadron really, but the flight engineers of course no matter which crew you joined were always RAF, because that was the only place that trained engineers was St Athans, from then on it was just basically doing exercises and that until somebody decided you should go on a bombing trip. When that happened, you were all gathered together, into this building which was secured with armed police surrounding it so that you couldn’t get out [laughs] or the phones were cut off, you couldn’t make a phone call and you sat in this building waiting for someone to come in and remove the curtain from what the target was going to be, you were then shown the target and you were explained the, the route you would take to the target, the route out, the weather that you would meet, where the opposition was heaviest with gunfire, or fighters, things like that was all in- And then it could well happen that halfway through all this, they would decide to change the target so you then had to wait until your new target was announced which could take ages, then they would start again having looked at this new target route and the way in. Again you couldn’t go anywhere, you were, you were all right for a cup of tea [chuckles] but that was about it, and on one occasion they changed the target on three occasions, so - But again it was the old thing, just sit and wait, and wait for the people to tell you what the weather was going to be, or what the target was, the route out, the route in, because you never came back the same way, and of course it was extremely dangerous if you were on night flying because you could have anything from a thousand to fifteen-hundred aircraft in the air at any given time, and of course nobody, or very few ever stuck to the speed they were supposed to be flying at, or the height they were supposed to be flying at, because you were given a height, your squadron would fly at, say twenty-thousand feet but then behind you five-minutes later should be another squadron at nineteen-thousand-five-hundred, and they were supposed to step down like that with the gap in between, so you stopped this overflying which of course it never did because, you could be on your run up to your target, and of course you’d suddenly look up and five-hundred feet above you you’d see a bomber with its bomb doors open, so of course they couldn’t see you, so you had to abort and, well either just carry on or go round which was an extremely dangerous thing to do when you’re turning a full circle in that number of aircraft, but our pilot being a Canadian did exactly that one night, (not very popular pilot [chuckles]). Anyway we had to do the run up again, and of course all the time, people are shooting at you, and once that stops you know - You then knew the fighters were up, so you had to watch for them, also of course you had the problem with searchlights, now, when you got a group of searchlights, one of them was blue, and that was the master searchlight and once that got you all the other searchlights hooked on, and of course then the gunners, or the fighters whichever was at the time, then attacked that one aircraft and, that was an extremely dangerous situation. But during the war also of course we had the problem that we had the Americans flying with us, not on the same squadron, but on their squadrons, and they used to join in, they would never fly at night the Americans, at all, but during the day the flying fortresses were out in force, which made life even more difficult, because they were rather prone to shoot at you if you- If they, didn’t realise and especially we had one sort of, a new Halifax which was unmarked, we didn’t have the RAF roundel’s on it and we were a bit frightened that the Americans would shoot us because it was a known fact that if any of our aircraft was shot down in Germany or France, then they were redone and they- The Germans flew them.
JS: Mm-hm.
CS: The other thing of course was that - I forgot to mention, that was before we got to the squadron, when we were at the heavy conversion unit, they- If there was an op on, we at the HCU would be sent in the opposite direction to the bomber force with the object being to draw the fighters, of cou- [laughs] of course the unfortunate about that was that we never had any ammunition to shoot at the fighters because it was in short supply, but you, you did it and- Best as you could, but, I mean it was just a small force but the i- As I say, the idea was to draw the fighters away from the main force so that they could get a free run at whatever the target was. But anyway once you got to- As I say to the point of where you [emphasis] were actually operating on a, a raid, then of course it was every man for himself, and we unfortunately lost the rear gunner, not through injury or anything like that but, there was two types of fire, there was a projected gunfire and a box gunfire, the projected gunfire was that you could see the rounds coming up behind you and obviously if you stayed at the same height the gunners got your height and then it was just a question of getting closer to you, and of course the rear gunner could see this and I could see it because I was watching through the panel above my station in the Halifax, so of course we had to forget what we were doing and try and stop the, the rear gunner from bailing out which - There was two doors, one in the aircraft and one on the turret, so we had to keep pulling the dead man's handle, to stop the air gunner cause he could operate his turret manually or electrically, and simply roll it round and then fall out backwards, but you have to appreciate that the tail end of a bomber is extremely narrow, and in there you have a huge oleo leg which was the, the rear wheel cause that didn’t retract like the front carriage, so we spent ages, and of course he was trying to bale out panicked, and we were trying to stop him which we eventually did, and that was how we lost him because he was then classed as LMF which is lack of moral fibre, so we then of course got another rear gunner who had lost his crew, but this really was a no no, that it was taught that it was very bad luck to take on another crew member who wasn’t there at the beginning, and in fact, on one of our last raids we had a whole- A bomb that went through the tail plane of our aircraft from one above, which fortunately it was only a small two-hundred-and-fifty pound bomb, and it just made a hole in the tail plane near the rudder but didn’t effect because we didn’t know that we’d been hit, until we got back to dispersal and saw the hole in the -In the tail plane. But after that, the- Very few raids, because we were getting close to the end of the war in ‘45, and we just carried on the same routine of if there was- You were going on a raid, you had a meal, then you were locked up in this building till the- You knew where you were going et cetera, and then of course, the war finished and all these foreigners, the New Zealanders, the South Africans, the Canadians, disappeared overnight back to their own countries so, the only personnel that were left were RAF. So what we did was a pilot and flight engineer got loaded up with bombs and pyrotechnics and, things like that, or unused ammunition and, and we used to fly out to the North Sea, drop this- And I acted as the bomb aimer, because there was only the pilot and me on board, but after that then, the war finished, we got rid of most of the, the bomb ordinance, and the flame float- Smoke floats, all that type of thing, and we were sent on indefinite leave.
JS: That’s - That was great, can I just take you back a wee bit, on your - That was really fascinating. You spoke about your crew, and interestingly how you, the RAF made crews was to sort of put you all in one room and say ‘sort yourselves out’, and you said you were picked by one of the other guys on the other crew, how did you get on with the rest of your crew?
CH: I got on well with them, I never had a problem, apart from one night, we were on a raid and as always if I moved from my engineer position to where the- You had to operate the petrol cox, which were in the rest position, so I had to move, I would tell the pilot I was going back to change tanks. Now the Halifax had twelve petrol tanks, and you had a sequence, and we were on tanks five and six which were joined, which were big tanks and, I told him I was going back so what I was waiting for, I was waiting for four red lights to come up to tell me that the tank was empty, or the tanks on both sides were empty, and I would then close those levers and bring on the next levers with full tanks. Unfortunately, I fell asleep because it was so cold back there that I stuck the heating pipe up my flying harness which was nice and warm then, and also, we had been on a daylight raid earlier, and by the time we were debriefed and had a meal, and got taken back to our accommodation which was always outside the camp, we’d only had about four hours sleep when the police came and wakened up us again because we were on the night detail. Anyway, I’m enjoying my sleep and I hear this shouting down the earphones, ‘I’ve no petrol, I’ve no petrol’, but I don’t see what the pilot's problem was, we were at twenty-thousand feet anyway, so we had plenty time to remedy the situation. So, I closed tanks five and six both sides and opened tank number four either side, and within seconds he had his petrol, but he never forgave me for that, though he didn’t hold it against me, he gave me a bollocking but apart from that, it went off- That was about the only time we had a disagreement actually. In fact it went remarkably well because he landed once - We were on an air test, this aircraft had been serviced and we- It was our aircraft, so we took it for a short flight, and on the way back, in Yorkshire, the pilot decides to land [emphasis], and I said to him at the time, I said, ‘This is not our airfield’, ‘Yes it is, I know where we are.’ I said, ‘No it isn’t’ because each aircraft has its own- Each airfield had its own identification, and the one that was flashing wasn’t flashing Lisset. Anyway, we landed, and suddenly a jeep pulls up in front of us, a flight lieutenant gets out, comes to the aircraft, I go to the door, open it, he says, ‘What you doing here?’ I said, ‘We landed at the wrong air field.’ He said, ‘You’re dead right,’ He said, ‘Where are you from?’, So we said ‘Lisset,’ he said ‘Well you’re just over the road there’ [chuckles]. So, I mean that was how close we were, so he’d turned left instead of turning right, so anyway I told the pilot, so that sort of evened out my, misfortune for the, the petrol incident, but it was one of those things, I was tired [emphasis] and it was cold, and of course with sticking the hot air pipe up my flying harness got me nice and comfy.
JS: You- You mentioned as part of that, that your accommodation was off-base?
CH: Yes
JS: So- So what was your accommodation like?
CH: Well, to say the least, the accommodation was very rough. It was all dry toilets, because you were in a field, and what they’d done, they’d simply put the wooden huts in a clearance place, and then built like, toilets outside. There was no water on site, nothing like that, so you then had to go to the sergeants mess to have your wash and shave, and in fact at Riccal (which was a heavy conversion unit), we had to walk across two fields to get to the sergeants mess, and if you were lucky you managed to get a locker to keep your stuff in there, there were- You know, you could locks, otherwise you had to carry it backwards and forwards to have a wash, and of course you used the toilets and that, but they had obviously water, but other than that, it was dry, lavatories and I won’t describe what they were [laughs], primitive to say the least. You were lucky, again, if you had a stove in these because your predecessors had probably knocked out the front of the, the stove, and had nicked some bread from the cookhouse to do toast back in the billet if you could find enough fuel to get the fire going because, in those days people didn’t come round and drop off coke for you, or anything, you had to do the scrounging bit as well. So you had to look after yourself, but there was an awful lot of self-discipline, a lot of self-discipline involved amongst the air crew but, they knew the rules and that was it, you stuck by them, not like the present-day air force you know, so that was the situation.
JS: Thank you. The- I read that were- You spoke about things being seen as not being lucky, about, you said if, if you took somebody on from another crew that the rest of their crew were lost that was seen as not being lucky, I read that there were two, there were two aircraft in the squadron, that by the end, by VE day had done well over a hundred operations, was the number of operations that your aircraft had done, was that seen as being lucky, or?
CH: No, the, the aircraft- One of the aircrafts that you’ve mentioned, did thirty-two ops, which was a lot, and I have a book on that particular aircraft, of course, the crews that manned it over the period of time, and in fact they- Elvington, which I’ve previously mentioned, outside York, they built a Halifax bomber, starting with the fuselage which came from Lerica [?] I think it was, or a bit of fuselage, which a farmer had bought because a Halifax had crashed in that area and his sheep, or whatever he had in the field at that time, took shelter in it. Anyway it was brought down to Elvington and by a lot of good will et cetera, was built to look like a Halifax bomber, and I had the privilege of being the first person that was allowed in to the actual aircraft, to see what work had been done, because it was like all the others, aircraft on view they were all roped off and you weren’t allowed to enter they were all locked, but because I’d been a flight engineer, and in fact I've got photographs of the actual aircraft, that was why I was allowed because as I say, I was a flight engineer on that squadron, with that particular aircraft, though I never flew in it. You were allocated an aircraft, different aircraft, it could be every time, you know, but, no, some people carried things with them which was for some reason special to them. Some of them carried crosses, you know, not on- Not based on a religious thing, other people had other things which they considered to be important and they carried them for good luck charms and put them on- I never carried anything like that, but that, that again, but that was one of the things that was fiercely resisted, that if you took on someone else then you were dicing with death.
JS: Interesting. You spoke earlier and took us up, up to the end of the war, and you said then, everybody- All the folk who’d come from elsewhere in the world, the Canadians and New Zealanders and whatever, they, they shipped home, and you mentioned dumping surplus munitions in the, in the North Sea, so, what did you do after that?
CH: Well after that, as I said to you we, we were sent on indefinite leave, and then we were called back, given a short list of jobs that we could do. I picked one which you- You had to pick something, so I picked an airframe mechanics job, went back to St Athans, did the course, wasn’t very happy with it, it wasn’t my type of work, anyway, I was posted to Desborough after that, and in those days I was a flight sergeant by then, during the day you covered up your badge of rank, so you worked as an airman, but you still used the sergeants mess, which you took you armbands- Your covers off to show your rank, but then in the morning you put them back on again. But there was a shortage of, senior NCOs at Desborough, so I was drafted in to the tech disip[?] office, without the badge covered up, so I carried on in there, and then, because this was the time when there was many demobs going on at the end of the war, so I suddenly found myself taking over as well, as NCOIC police. So I was doing that job and suddenly I got told I was NCOIC fire section, so I’d now three jobs, and I thought well that’s it, that can’t get anymore, unfortunately I was wrong. We decided, or somebody decided that we’d have some German prisoners of war, though the war was over but, anyway, I had to go and collect these prisoners of war, we didn’t put them any locked compound or anything, I only had an LAC to help me, so I became ICGM and prisoners, and then I thought that must be it, but wrong again. At this time they decided to start the ATC having the summer camps at RAF Stations, and Desborough was picked so I suddenly became IC air training corps cadets, in the- On the camp as well. So it was quite a busy time, the way, you had various things like courts marshal as well, and of course I got that job, again because of your rank. The down side of all this was that they suddenly brought out two dates, all those who were warrant officers or flight sergeants had to reduce themselves to the rank of sergeant by this certain date, so fair enough, it was nothing uncommon to see a bloke walking round with a warrant officers’ uniform on showing where his gallopers had been on his arm wearing an LAC’s prop. Then the second date, that was when you reduced yourself to your rank in your ground trade, now had I not been lucky enough, I would’ve finished up as an AC1, but I remustered whilst all this business had been- (IC Police and all the rest of it.) To what were called in those days an aircraft and general duties, that was trade groups one to five in those days, but the trade I was in was trade group one, the air frames, but, five was the aircraft hand, and by doing that of course I managed to, on paper, work my way up to corporal, and then I saw an advert in the air ministry orders for drill instructors, now prior to all this upheaval I had gone to Cardington, and I did a six weeks warrant officers and flight sergeants course, which I passed, so of course that helped me no end. So I applied to become a drill instructor, and because of that of course I got my acting segreant, but the funny part about that was the, course was at- By this time had moved to RAF Credenhill (which, subsequently became RAF Hereford,) and I was standing outside with the rest of the course, waiting to be interviewed by the squadron commander, a warrant officer walked passed, came up to me and said, ‘I know you,’ and I said ‘Yes, you know me’, he said ‘Where was it,’ I said ‘Cardington’, I gave him my name and that, away he went, anyway later on, I was told to leave the queue, so I was made a staff instructor there and then without doing that particular course. So I did that, and I did three years as staff instructor on the school airdrome, we taught weapons and bayonet fighting, admin, drill obviously, and this was training recruits into instructors, so that they could got out cause in those days there was quite a lot of them. Anyway in 1949, I got posted to Padgate (which was a school of training), and there I suddenly found myself nominated to set up a course for officer cadets, because the officer cadet school was full, so of course being- My background, I got the job of setting up this course for officer cadets, it was only a one-off thing, but then I did eighteen months there, and then during that time RAF Halton had gone through all the drill instructors in the RAF, we were told, and five of us had been selected from, (because there was an awful lot of drill instructors in those days), five of us were selected for Halton, and the funny part about that, I always remember to this day [emphasis] was when I reported to the guard room, the corporal policeman said ‘Don’t unpack, you may not be stopping’ [laughs]. The obvious bit being that if you failed the five days, which was the period that they assessed you, from the air commodore, two group captains and various wing commanders, during the week, you had to do certain exercises, anyway, I was selected and I did three years there and that was where I became a substantive sergeant then, while I was there was seven years but, pay for seniority, so my sergeant went away back to when I became a sergeant flight engineer which made a big difference. So, anyway these blokes I’m still in touch with to this day, these apprentices, they’re in their mid-eighties, and I periodically get letters or phone calls from them, even now as we speak. But that was a hectic three years because I had two-hundred-and-twenty of them, and they were aged seventeen to twenty because they did three years, so if, they were unfortunate to fail their entry and got back flighted, they went back a year. So they then became that much older and more difficult to handle because, even though they were twenty or twenty-one the rules said they weren’t allowed to smoke, they weren’t allowed to go with girls, they had to be in bed by twenty-two-hundred-hours, things like that, but you still had to maintain discipline at that age. In fact, not so long ago I had a phone call from a group captain, who had been one of my, what we called snags, the leading apprentices but they were nicknamed snags, and of course he said, you know, the reason he rang, was that he, when he was a wing commander had been posted to Swinderby as OC training, and somewhere along the line he had either seen my name or heard my name mentioned, and was commenting on the work that DI’s did at square bashing camps, you see, so that, that was how I met him, but he’s still alive to this day, like me but [chuckles] that, that was that. Then, I got posted to Yatesbury by mistake, I was posted to the boy entrants wing, who unfortunately had moved before I got there and had moved up to Cosford, so I then got posted up to Kirkham near Preston, where they had trainees there but unfortunately, the station warrant officer there at that time had been the station warrant officer at Credenhill of course I was immediately in his office rather than sent out, anyway, that wasn't- Didn’t work very well really.



James Sheach, “Interview with Colin Hynd,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 21, 2023,

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