Interview with Alexander Lamb. Two


Interview with Alexander Lamb. Two


Alexander Lamb left school in Edinburgh and became a messenger for the War Department. He then took a clerical post with the Department before reaching the age to volunteer for the RAF. He trained as an air gunner and was posted to RAF Mildenhall before moving with the squadron to RAF Wyton. Their aircraft was Z-Zebra and one day he heard that they were to fly in W-Willie. He protested and wanted to fly in their usual aircraft. They did fly in Z-Zebra and on that operation W-Willie crashed on take-off.







00:28:58 audio recording


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ALambA170912, PLambAM1509


AL: Start when you want of course.
JS: Yeah.
AL: That’s quite incredible. The modern. I’m not, I was never dragged into the twenty first century unfortunately.
JS: Ok. Right. So, if I can just start. This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Jim Sheach. The interviewee is Alistair Lamb. The interview is taking place at Alistair’s home [buzz] on the 12th of September 2017. Alistair, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. Can you tell me a little about your life before the war?
AL: Well, I was born in the house I live in just now. I went to the local school. I left the school at fourteen as we all did in those days. I became a boy messenger in the War Department. The war of course was on and it was a case of just delivering correspondence around the various army units or army offices in the area. I was always interested in aircraft. My father died in ’41. My mother and I were still here at that time. As I say I was born in this house. Then I got a clerical position in the Civil Service. In the War Department. And then I decided I would have to do something. I didn’t want the army although my father was a regular army man. I went and volunteered for air crew. At least I went for an aircrew interview anyway and I was accepted which with all the usual rigmarole in Edinburgh up at, where was it now? I forget now. In Edinburgh where you had your RAF medical and all the rest of it and, ‘We’ll send for you.’ And shortly after that I was sent for and that’s where I joined the RAF. That would be when, I’m not, I’m not sure of the date, sort of thing. I think it would be sometime 1944 I think it would be I joined up. I can ascertain the details. And from then on it was a case of progression. I just went down there. I volunteered for aircrew. As you know you had to be a volunteer to be aircrew anyway. I didn’t think I was clever enough to be a pilot so I volunteered to be an air gunner. And that’s what I started off and finished up as an air gunner.
JS: Why did you, what, what took you to, to volunteering to be aircrew rather than something else?
AL: Well, I was mad keen on aeroplanes. Always had been. I used to build model aircraft as a young lad. And I didn’t want the army for some strange reason. I wanted to fly. So that’s why I volunteered for aircrew.
JS: So which, which squadron were you in?
AL: 15. It was a peacetime squadron. It had been a pre-war peacetime squadron. When I first started off I went to London to Aircrew Reception Centre at St John’s Cricket Ground. St John’s Wood. We stayed in St John’s Cricket Ground. Never been fussed in my life but some of the lads were so elated to be able to get into Lord’s. We were there about a fortnight to three weeks. We went from there to RAF Bridgnorth to do initial RAF training. Bridgnorth. Did our basic ground training at RAF station at Bridgnorth. If you passed the various tests then what you had you were then selected. You were then said, ‘Right. You’ll be aircrew and as an air gunner.’ Came home on leave and went back to RAF Stormy Down in Wales where I did my initial gunnery training. Stormy Down in Wales. I think I was four weeks, five. Three weeks. I can’t remember. You’ll see in my logbook. We left there and went to, we got our wings there. Our half wing there and our tapes. I came home on leave and I was posted then to 14 OTU Market Harborough for flying Wellingtons and to crew up. I don’t know if, do you know about the crewing position do you? There was no compunction of who you flew with. A very strange thing. The first time, when you went to what was called an Operational Training Unit you were all mixtures maxtures and you were given a fortnight to get together and at the end of the fortnight you did some ground training. Basic ground training. You were air crew by this time. You did some basic ground training and at the end of a fortnight you were sent in to a huge hangar. You were asked to crew up. You’d met most of the people that you crewed up with. Of course, all the usual rigmarole try and get a warrant officer pilot because he’s got a lot of flying hours and this sort of thing, you know. All these stories they were going about. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter. The first chap I met at OTU was a chap from Edinburgh. Jock Bathgate, who was a gunner. So we crewed up straight away Jock and I. He was more, he went about with the wireless op. And that was the three of us went together. I didn’t do much in those days with them. They crewed up then and we went into a huge hangar at the end and the chief flying instructor stood up and said, ‘Are you all crewed up?’ We were all crewed up. ‘Right. That’s how you’ll start your training.’ We, and we were unfortunate in as much as that we had two navigators, one after the other who failed and didn’t pass out. They didn’t, they’d actually became navigators but that was as far as they went. They failed their OTU. They just couldn’t cope. I don’t remember all the story. And we kept piling hours up in Wellingtons and thought we’ll end up in the Far East if this goes on [laughs] And we then eventually had a skipper who was a warrant officer as I said and he was posted away so we were left without a pilot. So we were left without. And at that time this chap arrived. A sergeant from the French Air Force, Jack Darlow who had been, that’s another story but it doesn’t matter. He had been in the French Air Force and the usual way the wheels work what’s this chap with an English name doing in the French Air Force? He was re-mustered and we got him as a pilot and that’s how we more or less settled down after that. We lost two navigators while Jack was there. Just couldn’t cope. And then we crewed up and flew as a crew and flew in Wellingtons at OTU, 14 OTU Market Harborough. We passed out from there and then various leaves and what not we then went to [pause] where was it? 16, I can’t. 15? Heavy Conversion Unit anyway. And we were one of the few crews that were on Stirlings at the Conversion Unit. We went on to Stirlings in the Conversion Unit. We’d had, I think twenty one hours or something. I can’t remember. You need to ascertain from my logbook, on Stirlings which I liked very much actually. We went from there on to Lancs. I can’t remember the, you’ll get it in my logbook there. Then we crewed up and went on Lancs and that’s where we did our training on Lancs. We finished off there. We were at Wigsley. We had one or two scares at Wigsley. We were, intruders were coming across by that time. We were never affected much. They strafed the ‘drome once or twice at night. We then went from there. We were posted to 15 Squadron at Mildenhall in Suffolk. I think we went there, in March ’45 I think we’d be by that time. March ’45. And that’s where I finished up from Mildenhall in Suffolk and I stayed at Mildenhall and stayed with 15 Squadron. After a while we moved to Wyton and I still stayed with them. And I finished up, in ’47 it would be. Still had been at 15 Squadron all the time. The crews all broke up of course as you understand. The war finished and crews were getting broken up and sent over and things changed in the Air Force quite a bit then.
JS: So did you have a choice to stay on longer if crews were getting broken up and demobbed or —
AL: Some people were. I could if I’d wanted. I was an air gunnery instructor by this time. I could have stayed on. But I had a job in the Civil Service to come back to. My mother was herself at home and I thought well in four years time there’ll not be any air gunners and unless I could stay on flying I wasn’t going to stay in the air force. And I decided then when my demob group came to come out. A big drawback. A big drawback, you know. A big difference.
JS: Yeah. How did you get on with your crew?
AL: Very much indeed. They were a great crew. Very. I kept up with most of them for years after the war. The navi, I was the best man at the navigator’s wedding. I used to go to Edinburgh to visit the mid-upper. My skipper’s been across here with his family. We’re Just away this year to see most of his family. I’ve been out to Australia to meet him. The bomb aimer I never kept up with very much. Although we were in the same crew and that. The wireless operator, we kept very much with him. The rest of the crew more or less we went about together. Just, you either, you lose, you do lose contact. You did you know. I didn’t care much for them the wireless operator so I didn’t. He, he was brought into the crew by the other gunner actually, you know, ‘We’ll fly with you,’ sort of style. If there’s a lot of that doesn’t interest you just edit it out or take it out.
JS: No. Fine. Is there, is there a memorable operation you could talk about?
AL: Oh. I’m no hero. I think 15 Squadron did the last, Bomber Command did the last thousand bomber raid. We didn’t know at the time but there was, I’ve got it in my book, nine hundred aircraft I think was involved. That was the last thousand bomber raid, I think of the war. Most memorable would be supply dropping to the Dutch. We did three trips supply dropping to the Dutch. That’s one of the pictures up there. I think that’s about all really. The usual sort of run of the mill operational sorties. Nothing I could remember that was anything different from anything else, you know.
JS: So, so what happened on the, the Dutch supply one?
AL: Well, I don’t know if the history is known very well but evidently the Germans became very nasty and said, right, we’re going to do this and they cut off all the food supplies. The Dutch were actually starving. This would be in April. April. The end of April ’45. And the RAF said, ‘Well, we’ll supply you.’ The Americans did I think. They called it Chowhound or something. We called it Operation Manna. Food from heaven. And we did three trips dropping food supplies to the Dutch and the Germans were told that we were coming anyway and be it on their head if anything happened. We were never fired upon. I don’t know. Some crews said they were fired upon but we were certainly never fired upon. We were down to fifty feet most of the time dropping the supplies. I can tell you from my logbook. I think we did three. We did Valkyrie. I can’t remember the names. There were three pre stations we went to drop food supplies to the Dutch. After that we brought liberated prisoners of war back. Flew them home too. And then the war ended and 15, being a peacetime squadron we weren’t broken up. We stayed as a squadron. The crews all changed of course. If I’m boring you to tears stop me please. Then we said, oh we did the drop trials after the war. We got 617 aircraft with the twenty two thousand pounders. We did drop the trials with them. And then we had 617 aircraft up until I was demobbed. That’s no front turret, no top turret and the bomb bays all cut away. You’ll see pictures in my book over there. Then the crews broke up. Demob came along. You all had a demob group as you know. They asked people to stay on. I think I stayed on a little longer because I was gunnery leader by that time although I wasn’t commissioned. I was a warrant officer on the squadron. And then we flew with anybody more or less after that. A lot of pay, officers wanted to stay back on and they came back in again and the crews all mixed up and it was a different, a different attitude toward life at all altogether you know. You never knew. You didn’t really fly. I flew with Squadron Leader Baker double DSO double DFC. He had been a CO of, I forget the [unclear] of a squadron down south and he stayed on. Tubby Baker. I got on well with Tubby. He was a great guy. With different navigators. With different people in the crew. We’d only one gunner of course. We only had one tail one. We only had the tail turret at that time. And that was more or less just we did a lot of local flying. A lot of flying after the war. Did a lot of local flying. We did drop trials. We did all the drop trials on the U-boat pens. Shipping strikes after the war to find out what damage the bombs and things were doing. So it was all just a matter of just we were flying mostly every day.
JS: So, that was, that was live dropping you were doing on —
AL: Yeah.
JS: On old U-boat pens.
AL: That’s correct. We were dropping dummy four thousand pounders and I can’t remember, I can’t remember, I don’t know I think we dropped — I can’t remember, not twenty two thousand, but they were filled with sand to see what damage they would do. I can try to remember. They did, we did all the drop trials off ships. There was a ship moored in Portsmouth area and we bombed the ship with five hundred pounders and thousand pounders filled with sand. The idea being that they didn’t know at that particular time if an aircraft flying at fifteen thousand feet dropping a hundred pound, or a thousand pound bomb going into a ship what damage it would do. So we dropped these bombs until we actually hit the ship and then we went then, the Navy went aboard and put the equivalent amount of charge where that bomb had landed. Someone should have put where it landed and exploded it from there so they could tell an aircraft flying at fifteen thousand feet dropping a thousand pound bomb on a ship would do X amount of damage. I mean they knew this but this was all actual practice for them, you know, thing for them. So we did quite a bit of that. Dropping, [pause] U-boat pens we were dropping the ten thousand pounders and twelve thousand pounders on the U-boat pens but they weren’t filled. They were filled with sand. They, to see what penetration they would do. And that’s about, really all I can remember of that.
JS: So instead of dropping real bombs you actually dropped something the equivalent weight.
AL: That’s right.
JS: And then you put the charge where they ended up.
AL: Yeah. In the ship.
JS: So it was in effect the same thing.
AL: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
JS: But rather than —
AL: Basically, I can’t remember the full details. As you can imagine it was a long time ago. I think that was basically the idea. We never actually got, we never got the result of what happened. You know what I mean? You’re taxing my memory now.
JS: No. No. You’re doing, no you’re doing really good. You’re doing really good. Don’t worry about that.
AL: I don’t want to line shoot or anything. It’s very difficult because you can’t line shoot people that are in the forces. They know right away what you’re on about. No. No. No. No.
JS: So —
AL: I was fortunate I did a lot of that. As I said to you I was very fortunate to be able to do all that.
JS: Yeah. Yeah. So having flown Wellingtons, Stirlings.
AL: Stirlings.
JS: And Lancasters.
AL: And Lincolns.
JS: And Lincolns.
AL: For our crimes [laughs] they were a heap of junk.
JS: What were the, what were the plusses and minuses between them all?
AL: Oh, I think without a doubt the Lanc was the best aeroplane. There’s no doubt about that. But I liked a Stirling. I used to claim extra flying time because [laughs] [unclear] kids because we were airborne before everybody else. The only thing that brought it home to ourself is, it’s an aside, I don’t know if it’s worthwhile recording this but anyway. You’re up, by the time I started flying on ops there were so many aircraft that you more or less had your own aeroplane. So I mean you flew in the one aeroplane, your own aeroplane most of the time. Other people used it but you always, nearly always flew your own aircraft. And ours was Z-Zebra. You were always told there would be ops on. Not where you were going. You were told you were flying tomorrow. That was it. You was told that. And when we went out to detail I said to skipper, ‘Why are we not in our own aeroplane?’ I said, ‘I’ve been out here with the nav, with the wireless op, with the other gunner cleaning the Perspex.’ We used to, we used to clean our own Perspex. You did it where you went. You know. Anyway, we got to know the ground crew very well. I said, ‘Why are we not in our own aircraft? We should be in Zebra.’ Which was our aircraft. ‘Oh, that’s alright. Don’t worry. I’ll, I’ll tell the ground. I’ll tell them. I will.’ When we went out it was a new crew was flying in Willie. And we said, ‘No. No. We’ll go,’ so when the WAAF dropped us, we were, we were in buses to the aircraft. He said, ‘We’ll just walk across the road,’ he said, ‘And you go to Willie.’ So we went in our own aeroplane. And in those days you flew in tight formations when you got airborne. So the take-offs were fairly tight together so you could keep the flying times the same and you all formated up. You couldn’t taxi Mildenhall on the grass with a bomb load because it was boggy ground. You had to stay on the peri track. So we were in our own aircraft — Z -Zebra, and we took off more or less three together down the runway. And as we took down the runway you used to put the turret on the beam. The story was so it was in case the guns would fire. That was the story. Anyway, put the turret on the beam and as we got airborne it was all very quick and there was not much talking down and we were so busy up front you didn’t talk very much unless [unclear]. I saw Willie feather an engine. And as we climbed away of course we lost track of what was happening we found away, but there was Mosquitoes, I think, I may be wrong. I can’t remember. I think they was, they were dropping four thousand pounder markers. I can’t remember. I maybe thought, maybe I’ve got confused. Anyway, as we pulled away there was this ginormous explosion and as we got airborne, as we were forming up there was an aircraft, and Willie was missing from our three. Thought no more about it. Just that was something had happened. That must be due to the fact, it doesn’t matter anyway. And what we discovered when we came back of course we were logged to fly in Willie. The ground crew were, ‘Christ, Willie’s been shot down. Willie had blown up on take-off. I don’t know the whole story. There was rumours and rumours and rumours. But as far as I can remember they lost an engine on take-off on Willie. Now, with three engines and a full bomb load and fuel you could get airborne. You could get airborne. There’s no doubt about that if you had enough power to get airborne. But I think somebody said they feathered another engine. I don’t know. I can’t honestly remember the details at the time but they went in, in near Barton Wood I think they went in. But there was a village quite near. They blew up. The aircraft blew up and they were all killed. That’s the only sort of thing that brings it home to you. You remember it could have happened to you. It might not have happened to us, I don’t know. But at that, that, that’s what, that’s the only sort of real thing I really you know. Didn’t talk much about it at the time.
JS: Yeah.
AL: I must admit. It’s not really great but you were just asking me so I’m telling you. It’s not worth recording things like that, you know.
JS: I’ve heard stories about difficulties with the Perspex and the turrets and being able to see through it and whatever and stories about the people took the Perspex out of the turrets as well.
AL: We had moved the turret. We had the Perspex taken out of the tail turret. We had the Perspex taken out of the tail turret. At the back. At the front. The whole panel. That all came out. It wasn’t much difference to the coldness anyway. We still had the side Perspex in. Somewhere else you see that a dot on the Perspex could be an aeroplane. You didn’t know so you had to try and keep the thing down you know. That’s why you’d get the, the Perspex cleaning kit. You were usually were out cleaning. It definitely, it varied. That wasn’t part of your duties but if you weren’t flying you went out and did that, you know. If you weren’t flying you see you went back to the crew’s centre and just wait to see what was happening next. It’s difficult to really try and remember clearly. You know.
JS: No, that’s, no. That’s fine.
AL: It’s a long long time ago you’ve got to say.
JS: That’s fine. You mentioned that you, that you got on well with the ground crew.
AL: Aye. Aye.
JS: So was that the same ground, you said if it was your crew and it was your aeroplane.
AL: Aye.
JS: Was that in effect the same ground crew that you saw.
AL: Yeah. Well, of course there might be two people or three people share an aircraft. I don’t remember that. But I know we knew the ground crew quite well. Aye. Aye. Aye. With some, most of, most of the ground crew were flight sergeants and sergeants were peacetime regulars. Not them all but a lot of them were. We, our flight sergeant was a, had been a peacetime regular anyway, you know. And I don’t know what he was but that’s what he was. And we knew the ground crew quite well. Chatted away to them. We knew them. They were very good.
JS: So when it came up to, you said you stayed on after hostilities ended.
AL: Aye.
JS: So do you want to tell me a wee bit about what brought you to leaving the RAF then and just what you, what you did after the war?
AL: Well, I left the RAF because I had a job to come home to in the Civil Service. Although I wasn’t established by that time. And also the fact that my mother was herself at home. There seemed to be, there was talk about decanting at that time. I think they were trying to, people had a big house, asked you to go in to a smaller. I can’t remember. This was a sort of thing in the back of my mind. Is that still being recorded? No. No. This was still in the back of my mind. Anyway, I decided to come out. A big drop in wages. A big drop completely. I was a warrant officer by that time. I was on, what was I on? Twelve and six a day, I think. All the different wages you see. Pilots, navigators and bomb aimers as warrant officers they would be on twenty one bob a day. Gunners were poorly paid. We were on, I would be on twelve. I was on twelve and six a day at that time. Anyway, came out and went back to Civil Service. The War Department. And you were told more or less you’ll have to sit the Civil Service exam if you want to stay in the Civil Service. And I wasn’t very bright at school. I mean I was an average person. I wasn’t an academic and I had to sit the Civil Service exam at Stirling Castle [laughs] A whole crowd of us went there. And a lot of [unclear] out. It was the time of all the trouble out in India too. You know about that was ’46 ’47 when India were all breaking up. One of the questions was, “Write all you know about India.” The Indian conflict. And I said to this guy, coming to the car I said, ‘How did you get on?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘All I know about India was Bengal matches and Bengal tigers.’ Well, you see, I mean [laughs] that was all. Anyway, believe it or not I passed the Civil Service exam. And at that time it was a general exam. You weren’t sitting for any particular thing. And I was posted to Social Security. What was it called in those days? Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance I think it was called and being, and being in that as a, when I came out of the Air Force as a non-established civil servant. I was, it was the War Department. When I went in I joined in the War Department. When I went in, ‘You’d better transfer over because the War Department is shutting down.’ I went into what they called the Department of Pensions and National Insurance. And I was there as a junior, as a clerk by at that time and when I passed the Civil Service exam I went back in to that but they were posting people all over and in those days they weren’t very kind to you. You’re posted to so and so. If you don’t want to go you’ll just have to pack it in. So I was posted to Elgin. My mother was at home herself and I thought well this is not much good at all. How can I manage to keep a house going? One thing. Anyway, to cut a long story short I went to Elgin and that was my first established post in the Civil Service was Elgin. And, and then I was able to get a compassionate posting or a transfer posting nearer to home. And the nearest I could get was Alloa and I went to Alloa. And I was in Alloa for ten years. And then a promotion. I was fortunate enough to get Stirling. I came back to Stirling and sat, went on interview boards of course by that time and I was lucky enough to get to stay in Stirling and promotion came along in Stirling. One chap I knew he went to [pause ] I forget where he went to. Grangemouth. I can’t remember. And I was lucky enough to have his post as an EO in Stirling. And I stayed in Stirling until, until I came out which was quite fortunate.
JS: That’s good. That’s good. You, when you, after the war how, how had you felt as a Bomber Command veteran you were treated? What was the feeling towards Bomber Command when you came out at the end of the war?
AL: I think it was alright. I think they were quite pleased to know you’d been an air gunner and all the rest of it. And of course there was the usual sorry about air gunners lasted two days at the time. That was a great rumour, you know. I think everyone was quite ok, I think. Aye. I don’t, I don’t think there was no, no. Everybody was sort of talking at that time about being in the forces and I’d been in the forces. You met everybody — Army, Navy, Air Force you know and you mingled with your work colleagues, two or three work colleagues what had been in the forces with me as well you see. So no. I think you settled in not too bad. It took a while to settle in, you see. You got a little money. I couldn’t afford a car, or a bike or anything. A push bike was about as much as you could afford. You know. It was good to be home of course. That was the point. My mother, being a widow of course you know. And a very — this shouldn’t be recording us. No. I hope not [laughs]
JS: Yeah. We’re still going.
AL: Oh, well.
JS: Shall I stop?
AL: Stop it. I’ll tell you some other things.
JS: That’s fine. Just, just hang on a second.
AL: To fill you in for your own background information.
JS: Let me just stop this.



James Sheach, “Interview with Alexander Lamb. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 28, 2024,

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