Interview with Sidney Knott

Title

Interview with Sidney Knott

Description

Sidney Knott was from Leigh on Sea and recalls the day, with invasion apparently imminent, that signs were put up on the local shops advising people that they had to be ready to move within an hour and taking only one suitcase with them. Sidney’s father had been injured several times during the First World War and advised his son to join the RAF rather than the army. Sidney had had an interrupted education so was advised he would be accepted for general duties. He was posted to Blickling Hall where he was on crash duty but later remustered as an air gunner. Initially he was posted with 467 Squadron based at RAF Bottesford. His was the first crew to complete a full tour on the squadron. After his tour he was posted to RAF Silverstone. He was then approached to join a new squadron and do a further tour of operations. His crew joined 582 Squadron, Pathfinders based at RAF Little Staughton. He completed sixty four operations in both tours. He talks about the fear factor of operations, the instinct over the target looking out for threats and coping with the tiredness.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-10-01

Contributor

Julie Williams

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

01:51:57 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AKnottS151001

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

AS: My name is Adam Sutch. I’m conducting an interview for the International Bomber Command Centre. I’m interviewing Mr Sidney Knott. A Bomber Command aircrew member of 467 Squadron during the Second World War. Also present is his daughter Mrs Jean Mangan. Sidney, I’m really grateful to you for agreeing to this interview. Could we start by discussing your time before the war? Before you joined the Air Force. When you were growing up. Schooling and that sort of thing
SK: Yeah. Yeah. Well I was a, I was a youth of the 20s and 30s and I lived in Southend on Sea. I lived in Leigh on Sea which is in the borough of Southend on Sea, Essex. And [pause] things were quite, you know, you imagine what things were like between the wars. It wasn’t very [pause] My father was a joiner. He had his own business. He worked for his father and he, when grandfather died my father took his business over. Just a one man business. And my mother ran a fruit and greengrocery shop. And then when I came up, I left school at fourteen but I lost about fifteen months schooling when I was ten and eleven through an operation. And I worked in in the greengrocer’s shop. And then, of course in 1940, when invasion was imminent, where we lived notice was, I remember, I can see it now. It was on a Sunday and they put up notices on the shop’s windows and saying that we were to be prepared to leave within one hour and only allowed to take one suitcase with us. And as soon as people read this notice, well in twenty four hours from being a busy area full of people suddenly there was hardly, there was only the shopkeepers left. And the Battle of Britain was going on and my father came to me and said one day, well you know we had nothing to, had hardly any work to do because there was no people, many left there. And I used to do my paper round and that was how I got my pocket money. So my father came to me and he said one day, of course he was in the First World War and he was wounded twice and he was in the Essex Regiment. And when he got wounded the second time he was sent back to France in the Suffolks, and he come to me and he had a rough time in the army being wounded several times. And he, he come to me and he says, ‘You don’t want to go in the army.’ Because he was worrying about being called up. This was before I was eligible to be called up and he said, ‘You won’t get in the navy. You’d better see if you can get in the Air Force.’ So I said, ‘Alright.’ He said, because he said, my father was quite a proud man, he never went outdoors without a tie on and he used to say, ‘In the Air Force they wear a collar and tie all the time.’ So, [laughs] so he said, ‘See if you could get in the Air Force.’ So I found out they were, in Southend there was no recruiting for the for the Air Force in Southend so I had to get on a bus and go to Romford. And there was a, there was a recruiting office there, it recruited all sections and I, that’s how I joined the Air Force. And my education was very poor because I lost a lot of schooling and left at fourteen. I did do a little bit of after school work. You know, night classes when I was about sixteen to eighteen. And because I was, what was I when the war started? I was [pause] how old was I when the war started? Eighteen?
JM: Eighteen.
SK: Eighteen. That’s right. And so, you know, that was the background before then. That’s how I joined the Air Force. But they were recruiting for wireless ops at the time. This is ground wireless ops you see. And then I wasn’t good enough for that so he said, ‘We can have you for general duties.’ So I jumped at it and I joined the Air Force as a general duties wallah.
AS: In 1940.
SK: I got my number in 1940. I was sent home on deferred service and was actually called up on the, I think it was the 6th of January ’41. Went to Blackpool, you know, for to do my square bashing. And that was my early life. And then I was, after square bashing we were, a group of us were posted to Horsham St Faiths in Norfolk. And we were only there twenty four hours and they pushed us out to the satellite and we was on a, well we were sent to Blickling Hall. We was living in the cow sheds and things like that. In the outbuildings of Blickling Hall. But the airfield, the airfield was at Oulton. And it was just a grass airfield and we had two squadrons of Blenheims there that were really only just forming from being kicked out of France. And of course some of the crew, the ground crews were still wandering back after being got home from France and had a bit of leave and had been assessed as fit to go back to the squadron. And as I say the Blenheims were doing, that was 2 Group then and they were doing such things as Channel sweeps and things like that. And bombing the coastal ports like Brest and other French coastal docks and so on.
AS: Against the barges and things like that.
SK: Pardon?
AS: Against the barges and things like that.
SK: Oh yes. Yes. You see. That sort of thing. Yes. And then, while I was there doing all sorts of things I was put on, I was on the fire section while I was there and while I was on the fire section I had two duties. One was the fire section to look after Blickling Hall. And we had to eat at Blickling Hall. There was no, on this airfield, all there was on the airfield was two, about two Nissen huts where the fitters were and we had one little brick building where we had, there was no flying control. They had a duty pilot and he just used to have to log the aircraft as they took off and landed and that was his job. It was one of the aircrew that was grounded at the time and that was his duties. And I was put on a crash tender, and we used to stand alongside the duty pilot. There’d be the crash tender, the blood wagon side by side and we had to attend all, any crashes. We were, well I had to attend three crashes while I was there but that’s, that’s going to longer stories. But then, from there during the time, it came up on daily orders that we were to, they were recruiting for air gunners because in the pipeline four-engine bombers were — that was going to be the future. And so they thought, well I mean they had the Wellington bomber and they needed a gunner. And of course the Blenheim had three crew and they had a gunner on them. It was wireless op/gunner. And then the Wellingtons had, excuse me, Wellingtons had five crew with one gunner. But the wireless op was also a spare gunner. And they asked for volunteers so I volunteered and two of us went from this camp, were sent to Horsham St Faiths to see the station commander there.
AS: Who was that?
SK: I don’t know who it was at the time. I can’t tell you anyhow [laughs] I’ve got no record of that.
AS: No worries. Sorry. Go on.
SK: But we didn’t have to go, no test or anything like that and he said, ‘Oh you want to,’ he said, ‘Alright,’ he said, ‘Ok,’ and it was assigned to us and we awaited our call. And then we, that’s how we joined up. I didn’t have to pass any tests or anything there. And then from there we waited our call and it was the end of 1941. Somewhere about October I would have thought, may have been September, I was called to go to Regent’s Park in London because that was the recruiting centre. The initial centre for aircrew. And then from there we were sent to a, after a short course there we were issued with our white flashes. That means aircrew under training which we wore in our forage caps. And then we went down to St Leonards. Part of Hastings and we was in the big marina. Marine Hotel it was. It belonged to Southern Railway at the time but it was commandeered and we, we were posted there at the Initial Training Wing to do the ground work for an air gunner. And the initial gunners, we had quite an extensive course. We had to learn basic navigation. As regards to signals you had to learn the Morse code and read the lamp at, I think six words a minute and there was, you know, you had lots of extra duties. All to do with being a good crew member. And then when that came to the end of that course well of course I didn’t pass the maths you see. They said, ‘You failed on the maths.’ My maths. And of course I wasn’t very good at that sort of thing. So anyway our next posting to go on, they weren’t available to take us, that was to an air gunnery course, because the weather was bad and a sudden influx of people, there was nowhere to put them. So they said we are going to put you on an extended course to do — for several weeks we did just maths, drill and PT [laughs] And from there there was, I wasn’t the only one I must say, I was pleased about that, that didn’t pass on the first issue but they passed us on the second time. And they said, well, and then we were posted to a Gunnery School and I went to, to Manby up here in Lincolnshire to the 1 Air Armament School as it was called and I did my gunnery course there. And I passed my course at gunnery. This course. And I remember it because when we had to do, because Manby was very strict. A lot of bull at Manby. And on passing out parade we had to form on the parade ground where every Friday, every Friday we reported on the parade ground but this one was the passing out parade when you were awarded your brevet. And, and I remember I had to be marker because I was two thirds down the course. And so that’s my position. I passed two thirds down the course. But they were a grand lot of chaps. And then we passed out from there and then I was sent to, from there I was sent to an OTU and that was to Finningley in Yorkshire. I forget the number of the OTU but that’s where we went to. Finningley. And we had to do quite an extensive course there and that’s where I got crewed up. And our crewing up was quite funny really because there was quite a few of us sent to, there was about twelve gunners sent down there because most of these crews that were there we found out were Blenheim crews, which had three crews. They had a pilot, they had a navigator, called an observer and the wireless op/air gunner. And then they were posted to the OTU to take the conversion course on to Wellingtons. And then [pause] so they had to take on two more crew and that would be the rear gunner and a bomb aimer. Right. And the crewing-up procedure was, after about a fortnight because after the fortnight we were just doing section work where the gunners were in one place, pilots, engineers all in their own sections. Then we had to meet all together and the CO of the station said, ‘Well, now you’ve got to get crewed-up. So sort yourselves out.’ So we all just stood there and, you know one or two had got in mind who they wanted, you know to crew-up with and so on. But I remember one of the chaps, one of these gunner friends that I’d got to know said to me, ‘Well you’d better,’ you’d better, you know, ‘Get going.’ He said, ‘Otherwise you’ll be left with that young kid over there.’ You know, he was a pilot. ‘That young kid over there.’ Because he could see some of them getting crewed-up, ‘I’m crewed-up.’ But I’m not, I wasn’t one to push forward so I just waited. And then quite, at the end a chap come over to me and I see he was, he was a wireless op/air gunner and he said to me, he introduced himself like, and he said, ‘I’m Johnny Lloyd,’ and he said, ‘Would you like to join our crew as a gunner? And would you like to come and meet my pilot?’ So I said, ‘Oh yeah. Ok.’ You know. So that’s how I met my first pilot. That’s him there. And he was eighteen months younger than me. And that was the young kid [laughs] they said I’d be left with. And I’ve often thought afterwards of those twelve chaps that were there I wonder how many of us got through, you know. And, you know he was the young kid you’ve got to put up with so I was quite pleased about that. So that was our, so we did all our training there on the Wellington and then we had to go over to, now what was that place called? Near Bawtry it was. A satellite to Finningley, to do, to do cross country’s. Right. Where you, you’re left on your own to do the cross country’s, you know. That was big deals. And so we, that was about a three or four week course over there. Then you go back to Finningley afterwards and await a posting. Well, we waited at Finningley for quite, we were sent on leave then for a while and then when we got back to Finningley we were still hanging about. Finished our course, waiting for a posting and we was quite, there quite a long time and then suddenly it came through that we were posted to, to Scampton. Right. And so I thought oh yes, yes. This was, what’s the time now? It’s about, it’s about, I don’t know, May, June, July. Somewhere about July or August. Something like that. August perhaps, ’42. Yes. And he said, he said [pause] so we gets to, so we gets to Scampton and we find out that Scampton where we are forming a new crew, a new squadron, sorry. A new squadron. And there was already two squadrons already there fully operating. And we was the juniors coming in and as I say, and we found out our first part of forming up we had no aircraft. We had no ground crew. But our leaders were there. We had some leaders. We had to get to know our leaders and our section commanders and so on and we got to know people for the first couple of weeks and then, then we were sent — we’d got to join this Flight. 1661 I think it was. Conversion flight. That was at Scampton. And it was only a grass airfield at Scampton and there were two fully operational aircraft there err squadrons there. 49 Squadron and 83 Squadron were there. And then we found out we’ve got to do this course because we were posted to 467 Squadron. An Australian squadron. And so anyway we, we trained on Manchesters and then after, of course Manchesters were the forerunners of the Lancaster but it only had the two engines. Well when they put the four engines on it they called it the Lancaster and took off the third fin to make it look nice. And so that, that was, you know that was how we got crewed-up there and of course when we were there from a Wellington crew we had to take on two extra people again to make a seven crew. So we had to take on an extra gunner and, and a flight engineer. And then we flew in the Manchesters and there was quite a few on the course there. And then we had to do some bullseyes. Bullseyes are mock operations where we, like mock, they were raid diversions in a way because we used to fly within reach of the Dutch coast and then turn back and come home. But you did everything as if you was going on an op and you would divert. We were diverters to draw the fighters up to us so the main force could creep in and perhaps go in through southern France. So we had a good training there and we used to come over to, of course Scampton as I said was still grass. But unknown to us we were going to be posted to Bottesford, right. Which is just in Lincolnshire but it’s in three counties. The actual airfield I think was in three counties because Bottesford was a very dispersed sort of airfield. So it was Leicester, Nottingham and Lincolnshire. The postal address I think was Nottingham. But we were quite, we were quite close to [pause] what’s the town called? Grantham.
JM: Grantham.
SK: Grantham. And so, anyway we used to go over to Woodhall Spa to do our landing on, on the runways because the satellite stations, as Bottesford was called was built during the war and they built them as dispersed stations. They realised the stations that were built during the war period in the 30s were all quite cramped and in one section they found that was a dangerous thing so they built these dispersal stations. Well, when they built them of course, I mean aircraft were going to be bigger so they wanted more space so they had bigger airfields. And so that’s why we went over to Woodhall Spa which was, had runways to learn the different way of landing on runways as to, to grass. And then, anyway when we got to the, we were [pause] got to Bottesford, we left Scampton a few days before Christmas. That’s ’42. And we first flew at Bottesford about two or three days before Christmas. We had a lot of training to do when we got to Bottesford because unknown to us, the ground crew, they’d sent new aircraft into Bottesford, new Lancasters, into Bottesford and they sent ground crew there to, to learn their trade on Lancasters. And they had a month to do it. Like we was learning at 1661 conversion flight. We were learning from the aircrew side. They were learning it from the ground crew side. And because we thought that how can we be a squadron with hardly any, with no aircraft. No ground crew. Anyway, so we got there and we, I talked to one chap and he said, ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I’d only, I’d only been a mechanic on Magisters,’ which was a single engine aircraft. A little tiny thing, you see. And of course when he come to see the Lancaster, a great big thing, it frightened the life out of him [laughs] you see, and we had a lot to learn. Anyway, the squadron became operational and we operated from there. I finished my first tour and the squadron, the crew I was with we were the first crew to finish a full tour on 467. We, we, there was two other crews that we were quite friendly with. They finished one trip behind us so we beat them by three days. But we claimed that right to be the first then to finish a full tour. And that, that went on to the concluding the, my first tour there. And this was taking place between, shall we say the 1st of January and my last one, my last trip was on the 30th of May. And we were posted away on the 6th of June. And we were posted away. Do you want me to carry on? As screen gunners. As screen gunners. And we said, ‘Well what’s a screen gunner?’ We’d never heard of it before. They said, ‘Oh, you’ll find out.’ So we didn’t know. So five of the crew were posted to the same place. I think it was 17 OTU, I think that was the number, to, to Silverstone. And the navigator was posted to Wing. And he said that was the saddest moment of his life when he had to leave the crew. And we got posted by air and I remember when we got there we had dropped him off at Wing first and then our aircraft flew on and landed us at Silverstone. Well, Silverstone was only just, the OTU at Silverstone had only just moved there and it wasn’t really organised properly. And it took them a month to get organised and when they did get organised they found out they had a satellite as well which was called Turweston. So as all gunners were sent over to Turweston because the gunnery courses and I think the bombing courses were going to be sent from there. And we found out what a screen duty, what a screen gunner’s duty was. We were to be instructors without being taught by — not, not classroom instructors. Field instructors. To pass on our knowledge and, and to take new recruits, new crews coming through from their OTU because that’s what Turweston was. An OTU. And to take them on air firing and, and cine camera work. Well, we had a little training aircraft attacking us as a fighter and so on and so forth and we used to take them up in the air to do that sort of thing, you know. But that’s what a screen gunner was. And of course you were supposed, that was supposed to be a six month rest. Well, we had casualties while we was on there. But after that, so we were posted away in early June and I stayed there ‘til the middle of January and you were supposed to have a six months rest. And then a chap come to me who was one of the staff pilots there. Like us he was a screened pilot. He was an officer, and he said to me, ‘I’m forming a new squadron,’ He’d obviously been told he’s got to go back on ops and he said, ‘Would you be interested in joining my crew?’ So I said, oh you know it came quite out of the blue. And I thought, well I’d done about seven and a half months I think it was and I felt well I’ve gone over my six months. I could be called back at any time and, mind you we had a good bunch of lads, of air gunners there. We all lived in one hut as screen gunners. And it was, I thought well, you know what do I do? But I thought I’ve got to move on I think because if not [pause] So I liked this chap anyway. Although he was a flight lieutenant I liked him. Right.
AS: What was his name?
SK: Walker. Flight Lieutenant Walker. Clive Walker. He came from Bolton. He was the son of a known name in Bolton that had a big tannery works up there. And anyway, he, he approached me and I said [pause] and he said, he saw I was hesitating a bit. He said, ‘Well look, can you think it over? Can I give you twenty four hours to think it over?’ So I said, ‘Oh thank you. Good.’ And at that he approached me because he, I’d just been on, taking some air gunners on air firing and we used to take about four or five air gunners in one aeroplane and then change the gunners in the air and, you know they would be firing at a drogue, you know. Towed by a little light aircraft. And then we could, we were controlling the, the you know it was whilst we were in the air we was in control of these gunners. Well, so anyway when I got back to my billet I kept thinking about it. And I went to a friend I was quite pally with, one of the gunners and I said to him, ‘Clive, Clive Walker’s just approached me about going back on ops with him and I keep thinking, shall I go?’ And the chap said to me and that was Bill Harley, his name was and he said to me, ‘He’s asked me as well.’ So anyway we sat down on our beds and we had a chat and I said, ‘Well, if you go I’ll go.’ So he said, ‘Alright, we’ll both go.’ So the next day we told him yes, we’ll go with him. Alright. I think Bill err Clive Walker, he had a dog on the station. It was a corgi, you know. I didn’t like it. A yappy little thing. I didn’t think much of him as a dog but a nice looking dog but Bill loved this dog. He used to look after the dog a lot. He liked the dog anyway. And he, I think, I don’t know whether the dog swayed the argument [laughs] but we went, we went, and said the next day, ‘Yes. We’ll go.’ So he said he was very pleased about that and he said that and after a little while we were called. And then of course we were taken back to [pause] where did we go? Let’s see. We had to, mind you we had to leave Lincolnshire then. Do you want to go on because it’s not Lincolnshire?
AS: It’s great. Carry on.
SK: Anyway, we had to go to [pause] I think it come under Northampton. Let me see. What’s the name of the place? Turweston. Now was it Turweston? Wait a minute. No. No. No. No. No. Wait a minute. No. That’s where we were. Turweston. Then we had to, when we got the posting we had to go to Little Staughton in Bedfordshire. Little Staughton was 8 Group, Pathfinder Group. So there again when I joined 467 it was a new squadron and we found out that Pathfinders were forming a new squadron and of course as most of us had been off for over a year now from a squadron we had to do refresher courses. So we were sent to different places all around to do refresher courses. We went to Binbrook, up there and did a gunnery and the bomb aimers had to do a bombing course up there. And so we did various other stations around. And then we finished up at Little Staughton and that’s where we operated from.
AS: Which squadron were you?
SK: 582 Squadron. A new squadron. It was formed on April Fool’s Day 1944. And we operated from there, right. I did twenty nine trips on 467. But I did, and I did thirty five trips on 582. So that’s sixty four in total. And —
AS: Wow.
SK: And then of course that’s, we got through ok. You know. So that’s basically my, my flying life and then we didn’t know we was on our last trip and on our last trip was to Bremer in Northern Germany there. Bremer, Bremer. How you say it? And after I landed back somebody said, ‘This is your last trip.’ I don’t know whether perhaps our skipper knew. He hadn’t told me. So we just, you know thought — really? You know. It just came quite suddenly, you know. And that’s the last time I flew in the RAF. And then after sending on leave for a while, we were on leave for a little while, they sent us right up to Northern Scotland for, to be, for an attestation sort of course to reclassify you now to a different job. The only two jobs they we were offering at the moment was to be in the transport section or airfield controller. So I jumped for airfield controller and I did my, my course down at Watchfield in Oxford as an airfield controller. And then when I passed that course I was posted to West Raynham in Norfolk and [pause] as the airfield controller there. They were very pleased to see me because there were only two, two airfield controllers there and they were having to, it’s a twenty four hour station so — and you had to be relieved for your meals so they were never off duty. So when I got there I was welcomed. And so I was there then. That was the longest station I was on because otherwise we was, you know, we seemed to be always on the move. And that’s where I met my wife. At that station.
AS: Was she a WAAF?
SK: She was a WAAF. And then I got demobbed from that station when the war had all finished and so on. And then I went back to work, sort of thing and forgot all about the Air Force then. And I took, as I thought, having a green grocers shop I’ve always got a chance to know how to sell a cabbage. So my uncle was in wholesale greengrocery business and I fancied, I fancied to, to be more in the wholesale business than a retail business. I didn’t want to go and serve women coming in to the shop and arguing about the size of a cabbage so I went in the wholesale department, right. And we, because I was keen on getting back and playing a bit of football and we could have Saturday afternoons off then. And it was interesting, you know. When I was up West Raynham after the war finished suddenly it all came out, the orders came from the hierarchy everyone’s got to play sport. You’ve got to get playing sport again. Well I loved my football until I was called up and then, and then I found I hadn’t kicked a ball for six years. And of course I suppose I would have been in my prime then so I thought, I wonder if I can kick a football? So, anyway the sergeant’s mess got up a team and said we’ll have a try you know and we formed a sergeant’s mess team and we played different sections and goodness knows what else. And I got back playing football and then when I was started playing football that’s why I wanted my Saturday afternoons off. And then after a while it went on that I went to work in London in Spitalfields Market. And I worked as a salesman in Spitalsfield Market. That’s a wholesale fruit and vegetable market there. And I finished my working life there. It’s [pause] so you know that’s basically my life story. You know. In a nutshell [laughs] It’s quite interesting though that different things, you know little things creep up in your life doesn’t it? So if that’s any help to you there you are.
AS: That’s fabulous. Shall we pause there for a second?
SK: Yeah. Yeah.
[recording paused]
AS: Sidney, I’d like to pick up on a few questions that come to mind from, from your interview so far. Could you tell me a bit more about the air gunnery training? Did people ever hit anything firing at drogues? What was the standard like?
SK: I got a standard in my [pause] how did they put it in that? Stop the tape a minute.
[recording paused]
AS: Ok. So tell me a little bit more about the gunnery training and the assessment.
SK: Well the gunnery training was when you’re air firing at a drogue they, you had a little light aircraft come alongside you, flying with you on your beam. So you could turn your turret around onto the beam. As much as ninety degrees. And you’d fire at a drogue which was let out behind. Behind the little tug. And as we took up about four gunners, I think it was at a time we’d take one [pause] we’d take one and we’d, the first gunner would have his bullets. The rounds were dipped in a coloured paint. So the tips were red, yellow, green I think. Or whatever they were. There was about four different colours. And you had two hundred rounds each to fire. So you had little short bursts of two second bursts and then you’d undo your breach and you’d see what colour you are. Because once you lost your colour you had to stop. Right. And that’s how it was done. Right. So that when a drogue came down and it was assessed the bullet would leave a little hole in the drogue with the colour around like a little round circle. And that’s how you was assessed. Two hundred rounds — how many hits you got. And of course it was all done on a beam because that’s where deflection come in and deflection was allowing for the time for your bullet to get from the gun to the aircraft. If you fire direct at him you’ve missed him because it’s gone behind him. Although the speed of the bullet is fast it’s enough to miss the aircraft, you see. So anyway that’s how, that’s how gunnery was assessed. Right. And then also when you were doing cine camera work you had magazines. Two magazines. Each gunner was allowed two magazines. And he had these little aircraft and they did flat attacks you know. They’d be on the beam and they would come in just like this and then pass underneath you. And you had to see how good your manipulation was because gunnery training is a bit like [pause] it’s a bit like, think of yourself as a snooker player. A snooker player, if he wants to be really good like these professional snooker players they have to train for hours a day and keep training. And that’s what you had to do. For gunnery you’ve got to keep training to get your control of your turret because at the turret you’ve got to turn your turret and you’ve got to angle your guns at the same time. Right. And it’s manipulation and it’s, it’s a question of having really good manipulation. And it’s just a matter of continue working at it, you know. And, and it was a Fraser Nash 20 turret I was in with four machine guns. And I had them while I was on OTU flying the Welllingtons. And it was the same as that, exactly the same turrets when I got on the Lancasters. Later on because I’d finished flying by August. Finished operational flying by August. I don’t know what the, I haven’t got the date in my mind but I know it was August ’44 I’d finished flying. And oh where were we? I’m losing my track now.
AS: Did you have ground training turrets? Ground training aids as well or was it all airborne?
SK: Well, I’m talking, I’ve been talking about airborne. Ground training — no. We did, we did a bit of training. I mean you start off by, when you’re at even your initial training when you first join up we used to get, we was at Blackpool but we went up to Fleetwood and they had some rifle butts up there somewhere on the downs, on the seashore. Somewhere near there. And we used to, we were give five rounds to fire a rifle. Right. But then prior to that, I didn’t mention in the chat but prior to that when, when the forerunner of the Home Guard came out it was called the Local Defence Volunteers. And Anthony Eden came on the radio and said, ‘We’re calling for volunteers,’ because the invasion was imminent, ‘We’re calling for volunteers. Will you report to the police station.’ So me and my old mate said, ‘Yes. Let’s go.’ You know. So we went down and we signed on and we were, we was a Local Defence Volunteers. And of course we had nothing much to start with and gradually you got little bits and pieces and then just, it was just, renamed it after a little while because they had such wonderful support that they turned it in and renamed it the Home Guard. And then of course, as soon as it was made the Home Guard that was about the time I was called up. Right. But then we had other training firing machine guns. Not much done on the ground but when we was at, when we was at air gunnery school we used to fly at Mablethorpe, along the beach at Mablethorpe because from Manby to Mablethorpe wasn’t far. We used to fly along the beach and we’d turn the guns on to the beam and there was targets put in the water. You know, this deep of water like, you know because it’s tidal there and targets were put there for you to fire at, right. And that was just for one gunner because that’s when we had [pause] No. We weren’t crewed-up there so no we must have had several gunners then. That’s right. And we, so it was done at Mablethorpe beach. Right. And then to get your, to get your results of the targets from Mablethorpe beach there the people in charge of the sight down there used to go back out on horseback to pick up the targets, you know. I remember that. Don’t kill the horses, you know.
AS: It can’t have given you much time.
SK: Pardon?
AS: It can’t have given you much time because the target comes from the front of the aeroplane.
SK: Yeah. Yes.
AS: And you’ve got very very little time to —
SK: That’s right. Well, yeah. Yeah That’s what, that was some of the training we did. We did two or three. That was part of our air gunnery training when we was at Manby. And then, as I say OTU you did the training with the trailing of the drogue and so on. Basically that was the training, you know.
AS: How about the aeroplanes that you were flying in training?
SK: Well —
AS: Were they mechanically reliable or old and worn out? Or —
SK: Yes. Old and worn out mostly, you know. The longer the war it didn’t, if the thing was operational it wasn’t put on training exercises, you know. On the training stations. It wasn’t so bad. I didn’t notice any problems when we was at Manby when we had, we had Wellingtons there. So luckily I had a good training because I was on Wellingtons all the time and with the same turret and something but when we got to, to being screen gunners we had very poor aircraft there. They had a job to keep them, you know. They’d say, ‘Yes. Your aircraft’s ready.’ We’d go out there as a crew and you find out, oh no. You’d be sitting out there waiting for an hour and a half before it was finished. And I had a, had one crash flying at while I was a screen gunner because I was flying, flying with a sprog pilot. That is a pilot going through the course. And we burst a tyre just as we lifted off on exercise. And so I, I said, well I didn’t say nothing. I thought we’d burst a tyre there and the aircraft just screwed a little bit to the left and I thought well we might as well do the exercise whatever happens because we’d burn up a bit of fuel. So, so finished the exercise and I said to the pilot afterwards, I said, ‘I want you to throttle back a bit and when you throttle back to lower the wheels and we want to inspect the tyres,’ I said. ‘I think we burst the tyre as we lifted off.’ So he said, ‘I thought the thing screwed a bit to the left,’ you know, ‘To port.’ So we, we checked the, so he did, he lowered the aircraft — the wheels down. The undercarriage down. And the port, the port tyre was blown to smithereens. And so he put it up and I said ok. Well, he said, so he said, ‘I’ll let base know.’ So we flew back over base and then we called up and said we appeared to have burst a tyre on take-off, you know. So usual old thing come from that. Put flying control in a panic. So they said the usual thing of, ‘Stand by. Stand by.’ So we, we carried on circuit and we were watching down below and we saw, we know our flight commander in charge of the course. He was, he was a good man really but we used to think he was a hard nut. But he had a little van you know and we could see his van suddenly appeared and it was at the end of the runway, you know. And we were told to fly over. He wanted to inspect it. Yeah. So he, he flew it over and he said, ‘Yes. You have blown your tyre.’ That’s the message we got back. We knew that. We’d had a look at it. So anyway, he said, I thought perhaps he might let us land with wheels up on the grass but he didn’t. He was struggling to, he didn’t want to lose an aircraft so he said, ‘No. Land on the runway and try to keep the leg off as long as you can until last moment.’ So anyway, I went forward. I had a word with the pilot and I said, ‘I’ll assist you as I can,’ and I had to look after my gunners which I got them all sorted out in the, in the fuselage. And of course it wasn’t enough points for them to all know what was going on. So the one with the most sense, as I thought, I gave him the, so he could listen to the intercom and he was to tell the others what’s going on and we [pause] So I said, ‘I’ll come forward,’ and I remember when we were doing all our circuits and bumps when we were under instruction ourselves as a crew they always had, the instructor always called out the airspeed for him. For when he was perhaps doing his stuff and by calling out the airspeed it’s one less job he’s got to watch. So I said, ‘I’ll come forward and I’ll call out the airspeed for you and anything else I can do.’ Oh he thought that was a good idea so that’s what I went forward and sat alongside him. He brought it in but at the last minute he a bit over corrected trying to keep the leg up and instead of what you might expect you’d swing around on the broken leg he went the other way and the wing hit the ground and damaged the wing a bit but we kept upright. We didn’t tip over on our nose. We kept upright and because we were slow, we were lost enough speed to keep us flat and level and I said to the crews, ‘Don’t panic.’ I said, ‘We’ll get out nice and slowly,’ you know. I said, ‘We don’t want any broken limbs.’ There was no fire. I mean I was sitting up in the cockpit with him and I said to the skipper, checking everything’s switched off. I said, ‘All switches off.’ And he checked everything. All switches off so there’s no fuel running about and I could see there was no, it all looked, there was no imminent fire. So we got out quite slowly and by that time our officer commanding was standing outside with his, with his van you know. So I got out and got all my gunners together and with the pilot because he had, he was flying with his own crew, you see. That was their training as well. To learn how to be a captain controlling the crew because he was on the course. And he was, he was a flight lieutenant believe it or not so he must have been somewhere on a training station for years you know and then suddenly said, ‘It’s time you went on ops.’ And he, anyway I walked over to, to our commanding officer there and I said to him, no. ‘No injuries sir. We’re all ok.’ He said to me, he said, he said, ‘You took a long time to get out of that aircraft.’ I said, ‘Well, we’ve got no broken limbs. No casualties.’ So I I sort of went away with a flea in my ear sort of thing, you know. I thought I’d done quite well. So that was one I had like that. And then my other gunner that I got to know which I joined up on the second crew with, he had another trouble when we had an aircraft that caught fire after he’d been airborne a little while. And he of course, we used to control it all from the astrodome halfway down the turret. Halfway down the airframe. The fuselage. And we only just used to sit and we used to control it all by the thing and I used to control the, the screen gunner used to control the tug, the flying you know, the towing the target or if it’s a little fighter going to attack us. We did that by Aldis lamp you see. Using a green for go and red for stop. No. Red was, red was exercise complete. You know. Thank you very much. But we had the green for stand by and then flashing green for attack, you know. That sort of thing. And so there was always little accidents going on, on the OTU because the aircraft weren’t at their best. They weren’t at their best. And in fact a gunner I got very friendly with also, he was one of the three crews that were going through. He was, he was sent as a screen gunner afterwards. He come only two or three days after us. That’s why we had a good lot of gunners there. And he, his wireless op was sent on from, from Turweston. Turweston yeah. When we was doing this. They crashed on take-off and were killed instantly. And that was one. So we had casualties while we was, you know, screened so we thought well might as well go back on ops. So that’s how we volunteered for our second tour.
AS: When you passed out as an air gunner.
SK: Yeah.
AS: Did you know you were going to Bomber Command and how did you feel about it?
SK: No. No. When you passed out from where? From OTU?
AS: Yeah. Yeah.
SK: Oh from OTU we were told we were going to, as I said, up the road here.
JM: Scampton.
SK: Scampton. Yeah. Scampton. Good job I’ve got a prompter. To Scampton. And we was, we were told we were going on a conversion course. That’s what we were told. When we was on a conversion we were told we were actually posted to 467.
AS: In Bomber Command.
SK: Yeah. In Bomber Command, you see. Yeah.
AS: What was it like?
SK: Mind you the OTUs were like Bomber Command. They were OT, Bomber Command’s OTUs I believe. Yeah.
AS: So you knew fairly early on that you’d end up bombing Germany.
SK: Well yeah.
AS: Yeah.
SK: When we, when I joined the first crew, when I said they were a Blenheim crew they thought they were going to the Middle East as a Blenheim crew. Because at that time they were just phasing out the Blenheims and sending them to the Middle East. And they were so surprised when they come and they were going to be made into a Wellington crew you see. So it’s, that’s how the war, you know, evolved really, you know. You never knew.
AS: What was it like being an all English crew in an Australian squadron?
SK: Well the reason we were all English crew. One Irish.
AS: Sorry. I do apologise.
SK: British.
AS: British.
SK: We were British, weren’t we? But our crew we had one Irish. He come from Belfast. We had one from Bolton. One from [pause] where did Ted come from? Bradford.
JM: Bradford.
SK: Bradford. The pilot come from the Cotswolds. I come from Essex. Johnny Lloyd. I don’t know where Johnny Lloyd, I’m not quite sure. He was our wireless op. I’m never quite sure where he come from. So we British. A British crew there. Oh and then we had, we didn’t have the, the flight engineer we got on our, when we first crewed up on our first 467. Our flight engineer really didn’t fit in the crew. And I don’t know what happened to him afterwards. He never operated with us. We did all our training with him at Scampton but when we come to be posted to 467 he suddenly disappeared. So we had to make do with what they called odd bods. If there was an engineer that hadn’t got a crew on the squadron or whatever it was or if not they had to pinch one off another crew that wasn’t flying that night.
AS: All the way through your tour?
SK: Well we had, we didn’t have a lot. We had, I think four different engineers that I can remember. So they were split over twenty nine. Twenty nine ops. One was an Australian. He was pinched off another crew. And our crew, we never had any sickness in our crew at all apart from the engineer which I mentioned. But only once the Irish chap, coming back from Belfast. Coming back from Belfast the boat, the sea was so rough they couldn’t sail the boat and he got back twenty four hours late. Well, we was on that first night so we had to pinch, we had to be given another bomb aimer and they took one from another crew. And he was an observer with the O badge, you know. And he was a good chap. We liked him but he came, he didn’t get through his tour. He failed, failed to return on one occasion. Yeah. Does that answer that question? I don’t know.
AS: Absolutely.
SK: Yeah. Yeah.
AS: What was it like being surrounded Australians? Was it very different from — ?
SK: We weren’t surrounded by Australians. I didn’t really, I didn’t really say everything.
AS: No.
SK: A lot of our leaders when we were first formed up at Scampton we found most of our leaders were New Zealanders. Believe it or not. We had the two Flights. A and B Flight. And we was put into A Flight when we got to Bottesford. And that was Squadron Leader Pape and he was a New Zealander. And then when we formed a third Flight in March we, we had our flight commander was another new Zealander. Flight Lieutenant Field. Squadron Leader Field, sorry. And our, and our officer commander, he was actually RAF. He was, he formed, he made the squadron. There was no doubt about that. He was a wonderful leader and he joined the RAF in about 1936 if my memory’s right. But he was actually born in Brazil and, you know. I think he had, I’m not sure if he had British parents or what but he was actually in the RAF. So there was, we had quite a few new Zealanders there. Not many Canadians although there was a few odd Canadians there. And then to get the squadron going, being a new squadron how they, they sent in from different, other squadrons perhaps some experienced pilots because you can’t, you want, you want some experienced crews around you and with say six, six or eight trips to do, right. And so they were sent in to finish their tours with us. So we didn’t have a lot of Australians there. And when the Australians were coming you’d find a pilot would come with his navigator and then the rest we would make up with British. With Royal Air Force. Right. And then we had one or two gunners coming through on their own and they would join a crew. But also, we got through, we was pushed through our tour very quickly. The RAF crews were. We had no rest at all. You know. It was the hardest work I ever did. But they held back a little bit on the Australian chaps coming. Trying to build up the crew, the Australian crew. The Australian squadron. Right. But I don’t think I ever come across a whole, not in my time, a whole crew of all Australians. But they were, if an Australian pilot come through, looking through the book I can see they had a different colour uniform to us so you could always tell them that they had the darker blue one, you see, the Australians. And the New Zealanders as well. So you can see them when you look at old pictures. You could say oh look he’s got three. There’s three Aussies there. The rest were made up of RAF. That’s how it worked you see. So, but that’s why we were not, got through my first tour rather quickly, you know.
AS: Going through at such a rate.
SK: Yeah.
AS: Did, did you start to feel really worn down by it all or were you glad to be going through it so fast?
SK: You didn’t think about it. You were just, it was just what the order was. Whatever the order was you did, you know. It seemed that we was always on you know. Because I mean the weather’s, a lot of people forget what the weather was like. The weather we had in the war or the war winters were very hard. Very hard winters.
AS: That, that actually touches on something I’d like to talk about.
SK: Yeah. Yeah.
AS: Did you have any experience of FIDO or the emergency landing grounds?
SK: I didn’t have it myself. There was three places in the country wasn’t there had them? One was at Manston and another one was in Suffolk.
AS: Woodbridge.
SK: Woodbridge. Yes. The other one was further up country wasn’t it? Was it in Yorkshire? But there was three in the country there. No. I never had. Never had any experience of that. I’ve spoken to. I did speak to some chaps that landed in it, you know. It’s not — you know, a dicey thing to land in. Flames burning both sides of you, you know. Makes the runway look quite small, you know when you’re coming in, you know.
AS: On your, on your first tour as you say the weather could close in.
SK: Yeah. Yeah.
AS: Close down.
AS: What was it like coming back when the weather had closed in?
SK: Well Bottesford was in what did they called it? The Vale of Belvoir was it?
JM: Belvoir.
SK: Belvoir. In the Vale of Belvoir right. Right. And it was a frost hollow. So it wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t too bad in the middle of the winter because our take off times you had more darkness. Put it that way. We were controlled by the moon. We wanted darkness. Right. And, but sometimes the moon would be coming up before you got back or something like that you know. So we were controlled. What was the actual question you asked me?
AS: What was it like when you came back to find the fog had come in or — ?
SK: Oh yes. Well, yes. Well, it was a frost hollow there so, but most mists like we’ve had recently actually they’d come in in the late hours of the night, you know they form. And then you’ve got them at dawn break, you know. And it wasn’t until you got shorter night hours when you’re coming back at daybreak perhaps or, you know, just prior to then and then it was a bit difficult. But only once did we get diverted. And we got diverted, it’s a long story there [laughs] but we’d done a long trip. That was, I’m pretty sure that was the time we went to the Skoda works down in Czechoslovakia and we, we found that quite a hard trip. Very hard for the gunners. Because, you see, I used to, if you were in the flak belts and you got ack-ack flying around you. I used to think you were better off if you were in the pitch dark because it got so intense looking out for fighters. It was, you know. And you gained experience to know how to [pause] you could smell danger by what was going on around you, you know. And we always had a good understanding. We used to, especially in the first crew because we were all sergeants in the first group. Just sergeants. In the second crew we had four officers and three sergeants. It wasn’t quite so cosy if you know what I mean there. We couldn’t do our crew meetings sitting on our beds. We used to have crew meetings after. The next day and, and if anything we could have improved on, you know. We all had our say and all that. And you could, there was lots of little things you could do to save your skin, I suppose, you know. That sort of thing. Because, you know, you’re flying in a block. You’re not flying in formation. It’s a block. It’s, you can get statistics where you can get the actual measurements. It’s a wide block and it’s that deep and you’re flying as a gaggle anyhow, right. And the reason it was like that, deep like that was because you got at the time on that first tour the Wellingtons were still flying. They could only convert them to Lancasters as the Lancasters became available. And you had, shall we say over a target you’d have the Wellingtons at fourteen thousand feet. You’d have the Stirlings at sixteen. Halifax at eighteen. And we’d try to get to twenty if we could but we couldn’t always get there but you know it just depends on the weather. So that, that’s why you got the depths of it like that. So then they used to stagger it a bit so you weren’t dropping bombs on the ones underneath you and things like that. But when you’re flying at night and your night vision was most important to you for gunners. And there’s always a dark side to the sky. There’s always a dark side. However pitch dark it is one side is darker than the other. And it’s nearly always darker underneath for a start and then the south was nearly always the darker than the north. Right. Because if you got the stars you don’t realise how brilliant the stars can be. Right. So we always used to think if we’d got a long leg to fly on, flying in this gaggle, this stream which I’d say to the skipper, you know, we had a message to say creep over to the, if that was the stream going through there and the dark side was this side shall we say we’d creep over a little bit this way. Right. We’re still in the gaggle but we’d creep over a little bit this way. So the track would be down the middle. Right. But we’d go over to this side. Not that side. So you’ve less chance of being seen. Right. So there was all them little things you learned. You weren’t taught. You couldn’t be taught operational flying. You just had to grin and bear it and learn it yourself. And the only way you learned it was by discussions afterwards, you know and by little tiny things to say how you’d go about it.
AS: What was your attitude, or your skipper’s attitude to weaving? Did —
SK: Oh yeah. In, in those days you did weave. You weaved a lot and of course it was it was so, so a gunner couldn’t get his bearing on you. Because, you know it only takes two seconds to shoot you down. Two seconds. And you’ve got to be, if you’re on a eight or nine hour flight. Long flights in the winter. It’s a lot, a lot of time that’s going on there you know. So —
AS: Did, did you, did you ever have any exposure to wakey wakey pills?
SK: Yeah.
AS: To keep you awake.
SK: Oh yeah. I used to take them. If it was only, if it was up to the Ruhr or places like that according to your, you worked out you was given your briefing to, to know what routes because you didn’t go just straight there and back. You had different ways to, tactics to do. You had to fly on. And oh I’ve lost track now.
AS: Wakey wakey pills.
SK: Oh wakey wakey pills. Yes. So going to the Ruhr it could be four hours. It could be six hours. Right. So, and so possibly not then but if you were going further afield where you’ve got an eight hours, anything over a seven hour trip you needed something to keep awake. But you’ve got to realise you’ve been at work since 8 o’clock in the morning. Right. You’ve been up since 8 o’clock in the morning. You’ve been to a meal and from half past nine that morning you started work. You had your, you’d know by 11 o’clock whether you was on that night. Right. And then you had things to do like we always went out to the aircraft. You’d find what aircraft you’d got. We didn’t have regular aircraft. You had to fly on what was available. I think I worked it out, I think it was fourteen different aircraft we flew in in twenty nine trips. I think it was fourteen. So you didn’t have a regular aircraft so you always went out there to have a look but you got to know aircraft. You know. Perhaps you might do a training trip in one because training never stopped. So if you was on that night you’d have to go out there and you’d look at it and make sure the turret, had it been serviced? You know. Check on it. Make sure the armourers hadn’t missed anything because they were hard pressed and then also give, give, of course we had no Perspex in the front. We had a canopy over the top. Give it a clean. A bit of a sides we had so clean that up. And then you had to do a night flying test. So that had to take place between a bit before you went for briefing or then you would have your briefing. Mostly you would have a meal beforehand. You know, ,a flying meal beforehand. Then you got your briefing. Sometimes it was the other way around accordingly, you know, how it worked out. So there was no, there was never any spare time. And if you weren’t on that night you’re bound to have a flying exercise to do. We never, exercises never stopped. There was always new equipment coming out that some training had to be done on. You were, you’d be put on air firing. We used to, we used to go to, that’s Lincolnshire. Wainfleet. The Wainfleet.
AS: Wainfleet ranges. Yeah.
SK: That range there. And we used to drop our eleven pound smoke bombs from twenty thousand feet onto a target down below. You had to pre-book it, you know and arrange your time and then you were, you were given a slot to bomb at, you know. And then we had gunnery places I told you. Where did we used to go? We went, we had gunnery exercises. Perhaps we went to Mablethorpe then. I don’t think so. I don’t know where we went. I can’t think but there was always exercises right to even if you’ve only got one trip to have done you were still given exercises to do and you were kept busy because it took your mind off any casualties you’d had. That’s what it was done for.
AS: Yeah.
SK: You were never, you’d never get any time to rest at all but then occasionally a squadron would be given perhaps a forty eight hour stand down. And that’s when it was, well that’s right, you know. You got the message. It was good then. The squadron would be stood down. It gives the squadron time to recover, you know. So that’s that. So anything you want to ask me now?
AS: Yeah. On the wakey wakey pills still.
SK: Oh the wakey wakey. I didn’t say that. So I used to take them if it was a long trip but I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t take them until after we’d done the bombing. Then you’ve got to be, the way home is always worse than the way out, you know. That’s the more dangerous place, coming home. More dangerous is coming back because they could be waiting for you. Especially if it was a long trip because they’d had time to go down, refuel and come up again. So I used to take the wakey wakey pills and I found out they used to make you quite tired for a quarter of an hour after you took them. Whether it was the thought of it or not I don’t know but I thought they always made me tired first. But then they did help you to keep yourself awake because it’s no good falling asleep for a time because it was very unsociable hours we were working and we worked long hours you know. And you could only do it if you were young, you know. And of course we were all young lads, you see. So.
AS: What, what was, I knew they were all different but can you give me an idea of what the debriefing was like afterwards?
SK: Debriefing. Yeah. It varied, I think on squadrons because some said when they come back they used to have a tot of rum and things like that but I don’t think we ever had that. But a cup of tea was more, was better than anything else. Of course when you, when you’ve only done one or two trips you want to keep talking about it, you know. You think, you know, fancy I’ve done that, you know and so on, you’d talk about that. But we, certainly that was one of the first things we got out in our crew is we’ve got to get to bed and forget what’s happened because we might be on the next night. Because your entire, you’d be two nights on and one night off. That’s how it was going. You weren’t always given that. You couldn’t be. But you had to be prepared for that. So from touch down we aimed to get to bed within, into our bunks in two hours. And if we could do it in two hours we were lucky. You know, we’d done well. And the initial crews, the early crews, the ones in the earliest stages would be three or four hours getting to bed, you know. And then that affected them the next day. So you’ve got to, you’d get out your aircraft, you wait for transport. Transport was good. They were nearly always waiting for you. You’d get back to the locker room. You’ve got to stow your gear and it’s no good being excited about it. I know it did happen to some of them that they were so thankful they got back they took the gear off and just threw it in the locker. But the most important thing is, especially the gunners is you have to hang up your suit, your electric suit and see that it’s in your locker. You had long lockers. And it aired in your locker. See. Because any dampness you’d get a short in it you see.
AS: Yeah.
SK: So we always made sure that we got [pause] got into our, into the locker room and stowed all our kit away properly, you know. And then you go to debriefing and when you get to debriefing it depends who’s in front of you. You know. If you had a lot, a lot of bombers on that night there’s only perhaps two or three intelligence officers there to debrief you. Right. So you walk in and the first thing you look for — whose got the tea? You know. And then there would be some WAAFs there that would bring you a cup of tea. So you had a cup of tea and you might, I don’t know whether, there was nothing to eat. You just had this tea. Two mugs of tea would go down that quick. And then if you’re lucky you’d go straight in but if not you’ve got to wait till your, a table’s available for you to sit down. And then debriefing of course. They debrief the pilot and the navigator. The navigator’s the one they’re debriefing really, with the pilot as well because the navigator has got a complete log of everything that has gone on. What you’ve got to remember is the moment you took off every one of those aircraft flying was a separate unit. No one knew what, what he was doing or what’s happening in that aircraft until he came back over base. They didn’t know where he was or anything. So the navigator had a complete log of everything that went on in the aircraft. Right. Just like a ships log. And we were closer to the navy than we were to the army although we came out of the army originally. Right. So we used to get the debriefing done and then you go for your meal. Right. Yeah. Your meal. And you always had an egg when you came back. You always found an egg. It was wonderful just to have an egg you know and that. And then, and when we was at Bottesford after we’d come out the mess there we had at least a half mile to walk back to the billet because we were dispersed. We was right out in the sticks. It might, it seemed longer than that to me but there was only just a small road to go down. Just enough to carry a van down you know. There were no big lorries in them days much. And then that’s what we tried to do. To try to get back to our billet within two hours. So is that the answer? Is that alright?
AS: Brilliant.
SK: Ok.
AS: Wonderful.
SK: Any more questions?
AS: I have hundreds of questions, Sidney.
SK: Oh [laughs]
AS: A couple more perhaps. Did, did you, because you are a man who survived two tours of operations.
SK: Yeah.
AS: At different times of the war.
SK: Yeah.
AS: Did you notice a real difference in how you operated between the first tour and the second tour?
SK: Yeah. Oh yes. Of course. Yes, it did. That’s why we had, that’s why we had to go on to a refresher course. As I said when, we crewed up but as a crew we had to go on to a refreshing course. And we did all sorts of courses. We was, I don’t know how long they were for. I’d have to check my logbook really but I think, I think it might have been even two months before we operated you know because first, navigational aids were coming through. Different navigational aids and so on. And your, your tactics were different, you know. Your tactics were different. You had to keep altering them all the time, you know. So yes, there was a big difference. Yeah. Yeah. And of course then they made more, more officers were coming through in crews and that’s what split crews. When you was all sergeants you were one unit together but when you had officers, not that we didn’t mix together but you had to, you couldn’t, you had to live apart. You didn’t live together. You lived apart. You ate apart and so on. Whereas when we were sergeants everything was done together. You was just a little unit on your own, you know.
AS: Well it seems from, from what you’ve said about your first crew at least that you were a very tight knit, staying alive club. That’s what you wanted to do.
SK: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
AS: Put a lot of —
SK: We got good results and all. We had some very good results. I remember when we didn’t know we’d finished because you were supposed to do thirty trips. Right. But our pilot had done one second dickie trip. Right. He did it with our squadron leader and he did it to Essen. Because you know what they say? When we, when we was at OTU and people used to come, come to you and say to you at OTU and say, ‘What’s it like flying on ops?’ You haven’t got an answer. You’ve got to find out for yourself. We used to say, ‘When you’ve got Essen in your logbook you’ll know what it’s like.’ That was the answer, you know. So Essen was the most heavily defended target in the Ruhr. Where the Krupps works were. And getting in and out was, you know, it seemed almost impossible. It was amazing how you got through. So that’s what we, that was our answer when we were screen gunners to tell them. Not very helpful but you couldn’t, you can’t teach them. You can’t teach them operational flying. You can teach them everything else but, you know because it was a different feeling. It’s a fear factor comes into it you see. How do you react? You know. There’s somebody there is trying to blow you out of the sky. Another fighter coming up trying to set you alight and blow you to pieces you see. So it’s, it was a fear factor there you know and people act differently, you know. And one never knows, you know. I can tell you a little story when I was [pause] is it alright if I carry on? When I was at ITW down at St Leonards we’d finished our course. Wait a minute. Where was I going to get to, to tell you? We finished our course. Oh wait a minute. I’ve forgotten what I was going to say now. What was we talking about?
AS: We, we were talking about the fear factor. And you were going to tell me a story.
SK: Oh. A story. Yeah. Oh yes. Yes. The fear factor. Yeah. Right. Got it. Well we had to wait a long time down at ITW down at, down in Eastbourne. And they said it’s all, it’s been posted. ITV has been posted. And we was put on a train at 7 o’clock in the morning. We never knew where we were going. And we finished up in Bridlington, you see, that’s Yorkshire. And then we passed our course there and [pause] what was the question again?
AS: We were talking about the fear factor.
SK: Fear factor. Fear factor.
AS: And how people react. Yeah.
SK: Yeah. How people react. The fear factor. Yeah. And oh yes while we was there so they couldn’t, they couldn’t find anywhere to train. The air gunners couldn’t find anywhere else to go forward. We had to wait for our tour because the weather was so bad they couldn’t get through to flying. So we had several weeks there doing different things, sort of thing, you know. And so the fear factor. I keep wandering off don’t I? The fear factor is —
AS: We can come back to that if you like.
SK: No. Wait a minute. The fear factor was that I thought to myself when you, when you sign on as aircrew you haven’t got any knowledge or any idea of what it’s like to fly. None of us had ever been, had had our feet off the ground. We didn’t know what it was like to fly. So I thought to myself a lot of people coming in how are people going to cope with it? Would they be airsick? You see. Well airsickness is not like seasickness. But airsickness is only, you only get airsickness if you’re, you know, doing rough flying. But when it comes to flying over enemy territory you get this fear factor, you see. So they thought well these chaps have never been off the ground. We’d better give them a test to see how they cope with flying. So we was at Bridlington, on the seafront and they decided, ‘We’ll put them through an air sickness test.’ And they got some swings what they had in the fairgrounds right. Big swings. And they put some boards along the top of them and you had to like, you laid down on the board, on the board. And then some of the course there had to keep these thing going, you know. And you had to get the thing so it went perpendicular. Like that. And you had to, to go for twenty minutes. And I mean, a lot of boffins come down and the boffins were standing at the side of us and asking us questions. They were standing here. So as we went up and down they spoke to you as you went up past, you see, ‘How do you feel?’ ‘Do you feel ill?’ ‘Would you like fish and chips?’ ‘What did you have for lunch,’ you know. Trying to make you feel sick. Right. And so this was all done on Bridlington sea front and I often thought to myself if any of the locals had seen us, ‘With a war going on what are these chaps doing having fun down there?’ See. So that’s, they did bring out the airsickness ‘cause they couldn’t tell. Some chaps did get sick in the air and its just the fear factor, you know. The fear factor of what might be ahead of them. They didn’t know you see. So they wanted to find out if there was any way they could train them but I’m sure that the tests they put us through was far greater than they would have been in reality like, you see.
AS: It’s a marvellous, marvellous story.
SK: Yeah.
AS: The fear.
SK: I passed my test by the way on that screening.
AS: Of course. Of course. But the fears that one had on, on operations. What, what was the greatest enemy do you think? Was it the flak or the fighters or the weather?
SK: Well both. Well all. There was three things you mentioned there, they’re all. It just depends at the time doesn’t it? You know. It’s, they’re all, all. Which is the worst? Well, I always thought, as I mentioned before fighters I always thought were the worst for me as a gunner because with the shells bombing around you, you know there’s no fighters there. That’s the [laughs] that’s the way I looked at it right. And my job in the back there was to make sure a fighter didn’t creep up on us you know because the German tactics changed as well as ours. And their approach to, their approach to attacking us changed. Where in the, on the first tour they all attacked us from behind, underneath and just came up to us and fired from the back. Right. Aiming at the rear gunner and the aircraft. Right. Between my tours they did the Peenemunde raid. Right. And that’s the first time the Germans used a new system. They called it the sugar music. Sugar music. I think that’s what they called it. They, they used to have a gunner in the night fighter and he was like we were. Firing from a swivel. From a swivel or a turret, you know. At us. Then they thought, well why don’t we have a, rather like the Spitfires had, fixed guns. So they fixed a gun at a thirty degree angle. Firing at that angle upwards. Right. And the pilot could fire it. Right. That’s what they did. So they used a different tactic. They’d fly underneath you where it was always darkest and then when they got underneath they used to lift up. Lift themselves up. They were mostly JU88s they weren’t fast like Spitfires or anything like that but they were just a bit faster than the Lancaster so they could keep up with you, overtake you, but they used to the throttle back and then when they got their gun right they’re aiming for your petrol tanks between the two engines. Right. And that’s how we lost so many through firing. And that started between our tours so tactics had to alter. But Air Ministry never told us about that. We never knew that. Except that we were getting, we were seeing more flamers going down. Set alight by flame. Been set alight. When there’s no ack-ack around about it must be a fighter you see. So you sort of realise something was going on but they never told us and I never knew about these guns until after the war finished. Amazing really. What I, they had the idea what you don’t know about you don’t worry about I suppose. You see.
AS: [unclear ] what, as for both of your crews really was your tactic to just not open fire if you saw somebody?
SK: I I I believed in that. I felt, you see, according to how light it was how far could you see? Right. Guns were harmonised. The four guns. Usually about two hundred and fifty yards right. So they were all supposed to hit on another at two hundred and fifty yards. Right. But sometimes you wouldn’t see an aircraft at that, not [pause] because he’s what, three times smaller than you are. He’s flying in the dark. You’re flying, so he can see you and he can see you and he can see your exhaust pipes just glowing red, you know. If he got in a certain position he could see them. So, you know, it’s — yeah where was I again?
AS: Whether or not you opened fire if you saw one.
SK: Oh yes. Whether I opened fire. Yeah. So I would think, it might have been, you don’t want to make a fight with him. You want to keep away from him. And my idea was if you, you could sense something and if you had any, you’d say to the pilot something like, are we, ‘Get to the darkest side you can,’ you know in as few words as we can. It don’t, ‘It don’t look right.’ ‘Things don’t look right,’ you know. So that, and then if they were like that, they were looking for simple targets. If they could find a crew that didn’t respond to anything you know that’s the one they’d go for, you see. So it was just, just a knowledge at the time really. I suppose. You know.
AS: When you’re flying backwards over a target that’s, that’s been bombed could you, did you look away? Could you preserve your night vision?
SK: I tried, the most important, the thing you were trying to do is don’t look at the target. Because that’s the only time it’s lighter underneath. Right. But avoid looking at the target. Don’t spoil your night vision. We had night vision training and it takes full twenty minutes to get your full night vision, you know. Twenty minutes. I know you can improve it in ten or something like that but, but it’s a full, full twenty minutes to get your full night vision and one flash of light can spoil it you see. And that’s another thing you didn’t want to do. So it’s very tempting to look to see where your bombs are falling, you know but I used to look away. And that’s the only time you looked upwards instead of downwards you know. Or sideways, you know. But that’s something you had to learn to do.
AS: Did you test fire your guns?
SK: In, in the very early stages we were allowed to do it when you were over, over the sea. Right. And then it got stopped doing it because they said there was a danger that you might give your position away and there was a danger that other aircraft might be not too far away from you. And so on. And they said, ‘No. You’re not to do it anymore.’ But we used to do. Test them. Just a short burst and so on but that got stopped. That was an order that came through to stop. So —
AS: Could you, I mean it’s a bit of a silly question because it depends to a great extent on how dark the sky was. But could you often see many other aircraft?
SK: Yes. Oh yes.
AS: Over the target? Or —
SK: Oh over the target you wonder where they all come from. You thought you was all alone. But when you were over the target aircraft were everywhere, you know. Above you. Below you. A pilot was always looking. You don’t want to see somebody with the bomb doors open just above you, you know. But yes its — yes it’s [pause] Ok?
AS: Yeah. As a crew did you ever talk about what you were doing? About the fact that you were bombing the enemy or did you just treat it as a job and just get on with it.
SK: Well it was a job of work. A job you were trained to do. It’s [pause] it’s something that we were right to do. And we had, we had targets to, we had targets to officially aim for, you know. But when you’re fighting an enemy things can go wrong, you know. I mean they had the problem of creep back. Creep back was where you, if you had a target area there and it was marked by the Pathfinders and then the bombers coming in and then they’re getting knocked about a bit. They let the bombs go a bit quicker you know. That sort of thing you know. So they used to put tactics. You’d put your, go forward, mark the forward there to allow for the creep back. You see. There was all things like that. But we were given a job to do and we thought it was the right job to do, you see. Yeah.
AS: And you said towards the end of the first part of the interview that you were demobbed and didn’t really think about it.
SK: We switched off.
AS: Yeah.
SK: It’s what happened. It’s what happened with the government and everything. They wanted everybody to forget everything. It’s like they destroyed all the aircraft. You know. All these aircraft we had. They were just got rid of them and so on and made you forget. That’s why they said on the stations what I said, got to bring sport back. They had sport everything. You’ve got to do. Play cricket. You’ve got to play football. There’s badminton, you know. And there was running races. Everybody had to be in to sport you see because that’s what the, that’s what the Services were before the war you see. So that’s you had a, you forgot all about. In fact my daughters, I’ve got three daughters, I don’t think they know much about what I did until they read the book. So there we are.
AS: Well, hopefully we’ve got a tape as well. One, one final question if I may and it’s not about your aircrew duties. It’s when you did aerodrome control. And I have a reason for this because my mum used to do it as well.
SK: Oh yes.
AS: What was your —
SK: She’d be in flying control.
AS: She was in flying control.
SK: Yes. Yes. I was in the caravan at the end of the runway.
AS: Oh Ok.
SK: Yeah.
AS: So, what did your duties entail?
SK: Right. As flying control. First of all you logged every aircraft as they took off and when they landed and you brought them on to the runway with an Aldis lamp and gave them permission to take off and then when they were landing, with your binoculars you’ve checked that their wheels are down properly. That their tyres looked in good nick and so on and also to recognise the aircraft as its coming to land and so on, you know. So that’s what your duties were. Yeah.
AS: Brilliant. Thank you.
SK: I’ve got a little bit about [pause] I’ll show you this then because I suppose you’ll want to finish then I’ll have said enough. I’ll show you one other thing. I think you’ll be able to keep it if I can show you something. Are you alright for time?
AS: I I have years for this, Sidney.
SK: Oh alright. Now where is it?
[Pause. Shuffling papers]
SK: Now where is it? No. That’s not it [pause] This was a battle order when we went to the Skoda works. Right.
AS: At Pilsen, yeah.
SK: At Pilsen. And that’s when we got diverted to Boscombe Down. I told you the one occasion.
AS: Yeah.
SK: We got diverted to Boscombe Down and our squadron, which is 5 Group, right. And a squadron should only be two Flights. And a squadron should be six aircraft to a Flight. So you should have twelve aircraft. But you had extra aircraft so you got six serviceable. Right. Well, when the war was going on and Bomber Command was building they formed, our squadron formed a third flight. Right. C Flight.
AS: Yeah.
SK: And we was in A flight when we were at the start. And then when it got to [pause] when it got to, they wanted to start a third Flight it was C Flight and the idea of that was how you build a new squadron is you build it up to three Flights and then when you’re going and alright and you’ve got, that’s eighteen aircraft and you’ve got two or three spares. Then you can take that flight away and it starts a new squadron.
AS: Yeah.
SK: But then you go back to your two flights. Well this time we was up to three Flights because we found out the first, it was the 1st of March, I think, we started our C Flight on our squadron there. And this was the 16th 17th of April right. And this is when we, it’s —these are all the pilots. There’s us up there. The other two pilots with us — one was on leave and Bally was the other that came, just followed us off here. That’s our wing commander. He was on that night. Going down, Mackenzie [pause] No. Stuart was RAAF. You asked about that.
AS: Yeah.
SK: Tillerson. Desmond. All RAF. Wilson. All RAAF I should say.
AS: Yeah.
SK: Sinclair. Wilson again. There was two Wilsons on our squadron. And Parsons. And Manifold. So by that time the captains were getting more, more Australians but we were — but they had RAF in their crews. Right. And this is the number of ops that crew had done. There. That’s the time they took off. The time they bombed. The height they bombed at.
AS: Six thousand feet.
SK: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That was, that was our height to bomb at because there was nobody there. We came down to that height to bomb because there were no defences there and yet we had the hardest trip coming back then ever. That’s the time we landed. We diverted, we got the diversion call come when we was crossing the sea. I know we were just crossing the French coast on our way back. I could go on forever. Because when we was at Bottesford you have to put me back on track in a minute, when we was at Bottesford we were, the station was confined to barracks because we had a Diphtheria scare on, on the squadron and they confined everyone to barracks. No one to leave. But we were able to fly on ops. And when we when we, when we landed at Boscombe Down they knew all about it so the MO had phoned through and said, ‘They’re aliens,' you know. That sort of thing. ‘You’ve got to be careful with them.’ So we were sent up to they wouldn’t allow us in the mess. They found us empty huts and we had to lay down and they found us some, what we called biscuits you know to lay on. Mattresses. And we laid down on them and they rustled up some — because Boscombe down was an experimental station for the RAF. Right. And it was only a grass airfield but that was in Hampshire. And they had to get — we lost two aircraft that night. Stuart. And where’s the other one? Failed to return. One there. Oh up here. “And diverted to Boscombe Down in Wiltshire on return as Bottesford was fog bound.” What I mentioned before. We lost thirty five aircraft. Bomber Command lost thirty eight aircraft from this raid and yet there was no defences at the target. A hundred and ninety nine were killed in action. Fifty two prisoners of war and thirteen, there were thirteen evaders. Right. How they — they must have come down in France somewhere and managed to get back through Spain I should think.
AS: So you could have dropped some aircrew with Diphtheria into the prisoner of war camp.
SK: Yes. We were, we were all the what, you know — what do you call it? They hadn’t got enough of the, would it be serum or something?
JM: Oh No. No. Inoculations.
SK: Inoculations. They hadn’t got enough of them, you see. But when you get a big outbreak like that and so they, they was able to test you to see whether you were positive or negative or something. Do they scratch you or something? I don’t know how they do it, put it like that. But our crew was alright but then we were poorly we were still allowed to fly. And the MO at briefing said to us that night, he said, ‘If any of you unfortunately crash and come down in German you must tell them that you are Diphtheria carriers.’ We said, ‘Blimey we wouldn’t tell them that,’ [laughs] You’re asking for a bullet in your head straight away, aren’t you? You know [laughs] So we didn’t agree with the MO one bit. I remember that. So you can keep this bit if you like.
AS: Thank you.
JM: Well, that’s not in the book is it? It’s not subject to copyright?
SK: I don’t know. Maybe. Yeah but —
JM: Oh.
SK: Yeah.
JM: In which case you can’t digitise that I’m afraid.
AS: Ok. We can —
SK: Well you can have a look at it anyway.
AS: We can sort that out.
SK: You must sort it out. I don’t know.
AS: What interests me on there as well.
SK: Yeah.
AS: Is two things. One — did you climb back to height after you’d bombed?
SK: What? In this? On this one. Yeah.
AS: On that one. Yeah.
SK: You would have done. Yes.
AS: And the “Froth Blower” on there. The code name. Is that the squadron or the target code name?
SK: That. No. That would be the target code name you see. “Froth Blower.” Yeah. Yes.
AS: Ok.
SK: I think that would be in the book there. But you see how many aircraft we put up there? And look. They can’t beat that now. We took off at minute intervals.
AS: Yeah.
SK: Minute intervals. And we got fourteen up there till this last one. And I remember Manifold. He was an Aussie but he went on and he did fifty trips. He finished his tour on fifty and he went on to Pathfinders afterwards and he [pause] he, when he went to start his aircraft one engine wouldn’t start. And they had to rush around and take the spare one standing by. So he lost fifteen minutes or whatever it was. But that’s, that was, that’s good flying control. That was a good bloke at the end of the runway did that one.
AS: Fast on the finger.
SK: Yeah. Yeah. Getting them all on there. To get heavy aircraft down at the end of the runway like that, you know.
AS: So at least on that squadron if you had one you’d have a standby aircraft fully fuelled and fully bombed.
SK: You would try to. It didn’t always happen. But there was at that time. At that time there was. Yeah. Yeah. I did a little thing here I wrote down. I think I’ve got it here somewhere. I’m sure I’ve got it here. Printed out. Perhaps I haven’t got it.
[Pause. Shuffling papers]
AS: Do you know how long we’ve been talking for?
SK: No.
JM: Two hours.
AS: Nearly two hours.
SK: Oh I’m sorry.
AS: No. Not at all. Don’t apologise. It’s wonderful.
SK: [unclear ]
AS: I was just saying shall we, shall we draw stumps there. At least for the tape.
SK: Yeah. Yeah.
AS: And maybe we can do another.

Collection

Citation

Adam Sutch, “Interview with Sidney Knott,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 22, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11156.

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