Interview with Richard William Lambert


Interview with Richard William Lambert


In 1943, when Richard was 17 and a half, he cycled into Guildford to sign up to volunteer for the Royal Air Force. He reported to Lords cricket ground to collect his uniform and gear and then went for training at RAF Hednesford for a six-month course. After that he went to the initial training wing in Scotland on Tiger Moths. He became redundant, but then went to technical training schools in RAF Locking and RAF St Athans and became a flight engineer. After becoming redundant for a second time he became a ground engineer, doing a course at RAF Cosford, before going to RAF Hereford and then RAF Lossiemouth where he signed on for a three-year engagement. Richard was posted to RAF Lindholme and became a flight engineer with 617 Squadron. After various aptitude tests and a pilot course he finally became a pilot and went to RAF Hemswell with 97 Squadron. He then stayed in RAF Ternhill, Shropshire for two or three years before going to RAF Thorney Island for a jet conversion course. After leaving the RAF he joined British United Airways, staying for about eight years. When his first wife became ill, he joined Air New Zealand as a ground instructor before retiring. Richard was involved in the making of the Dambuster film.






00:21:41 audio recording


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ALambertRW180820, PLambertRW1801


RL: Ok. This interview is being carried out for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewee is Mr Richard Lambert. The interviewer is Jennifer Barraclough. The date is the 20th of August 2018 and it’s taking place at Mr Lambert’s home near Auckland in New Zealand. Ok, Mr Lambert.
JB: Right.
RL: Thank you very much for —
JB: Ok.
RL: Taking part. Could you tell us a little about your early life and how you came to join up?
JB: I couldn’t wait to join up and at that time the recruiting age was seventeen and a quarter whereas in the Fleet Air Arm it was seventeen and a half so had to go to the seventeen and a quarter. On that day I cycled in to Guildford in Surrey to, to volunteer and the office was closed. Here we are with a war on, and a volunteer and they’re closed. Anyway, I went, went back on the Monday and volunteered. That was at seventeen and a quarter and a couple of days. So I always wanted to join the Air Force anyway, and so there was a scheme. PNB. Pilot, navigator or bomb aimer. And the initial part of that training was that you would be, you were all about the same intelligence but you’d be graded at a Tiger Moth flying school which was one of the three things you could be, a pilot, navigator, bomb aimer. So if you went solo the chances of getting a pilot’s job were enhanced. If you didn’t obviously they sent you off to Canada to be a navigator or whatever. So that was ok. But then the work for D-Day was well on the way even in 1943. And so, yes having volunteered the first thing we’d do of course is sit around and do nothing because the training was already catching up with surplus to requirements virtually. So we reported to Lord’s Cricket Ground to be uniformed and pick up all your gear and so on. Then off to the first course, the ITW which was in a place called Cannock Chase in, in the Midlands. And that was a six months course but basically having read about it since then it was just a time filling exercise because we went, after six months we went up to Scotland for an ITW, Initial Training Wing which was part of the normal training. So we lost six months already. So down to the Grading School on Tiger Moths. Then around about that time well we went down to London. No. That’s not true. We went to London for regrading and they, they had V-1s and V-2 bombs dropping on us. Dropping on us from Regent’s Park. Anyway, after all of that I was once again declared redundant and we were in London. We did aptitude tests and I became a trainee flight engineer. And then that went to the Technical Training Schools in Locking and St Athan’s. Big places. All part of the 1933 expansion and yeah so I became a flight engineer in those, in those days you didn’t do any flying at all. You just did technical work. So then of course once more I was redundant and I became a ground engineer. Flight mechanic’s course at Cosford. Cosford was the holding place for the returned prisoners of war so they became, they had priority to go in to Cosford. Cosford’s accommodation. And we were shipped to Hereford. And then we were redundant once more. We went up to Lossiemouth of all places. And then from Lossiemouth they started a new scheme for people that could sign on for a three year engagement for just three years and a bounty. Anyway, I was lucky at Lossiemouth. I found favour with the group captain even though I was just a scruffy redundant flight engineer and he got me on the next course to, back to St Athans. So that was about 1947 or something like that. And finally I went to Lindholme which was a Bomber Command base and finished my training as a flight engineer. And then I went to, all the bomber bases in those days were commanded by ex-prisoners of war. The squadron I went on was 617, not that you would recognise it as 617 with a Squadron Leader Brodie who had been a prisoner of war. And of course some of the pilots were flight, were chaps who’d decided to stay on and they became, Peter [Dunstall] was an escapee from Colditz. Although I don’t think he’d escaped from there but anyway Peter was in charge of 101 Squadron which during the war was a radio counter measures squadron, and I believe the shot down rate for that was higher than the rest of the, of Bomber Command. Anyway, I soldiered on in Bomber Command for a little bit longer and then they started, by then it was, the war was off and but they, the Cold War was winding up. We were still flying Lancasters and Lincolns, Lincoln and, but they started pilot recruiting. So this is what I really wanted to do in 1943. So after various aptitude tests in North Weald I went on a pilot’s course and finally became a pilot and rejoined. I could have gone anywhere after that course. I could have, I didn’t have to get back to Bomber Command but I thought well I’ve done all this time with Bomber Command I’d go back because I was familiar with it. So I went to a place called Hemswell and stayed there for quite a long time, 97 Squadron which was a Rhodesian squadron. And then I did some, did some flying for the Dambuster film which, which was fun. And then, then I was grounded. I had a bit of trouble with my ears so became a station adjutant at a place called Tern Hill in Shropshire, and I stayed there two or three years. And then what did I do? What happened then? I can’t think. Oh, I went down to Thorney Island as a, I did a jet conversion course on Vampires and Meteors training navigators and that was a pleasant stay because I had a house further along the coast in a place called Rustington and so I was, I was living at home, commuting to work, it was all very pleasant. So I was there for a couple of years and then I became a bit disillusioned with, I had passed all my promotion exams but the chances of getting a squadron was a bit remote and so I, I resigned and I was going, I had some property to build in a boatyard but the government changed and the money was not available and so on and so on. So I then went down, I had a contact with a chap who had an executive aeroplane and I went to, went to see him and he said, ‘Oh, that’s alright. Come and see me.’ So I flew. I was initially going to say, ‘I’ll fly for you for nothing,’ because I just needed the experience. Not the experience. The time. So, I then worked in [pause] doing executive work and then living at my, I just carried on living at home which was all very pleasant. So I was just like an airborne chauffeur which after a while I didn’t really want to do so I joined British United Airways. And then I stayed with them for eight years, something like that flying various aeroplanes until we, it became jet conversion on BAC 111s. Then my first wife got ill, but she had relatives out here so I thought it would be a good place for her to be. So we came out here and I joined, luckily Air New Zealand. So I was a ground instructor with Air New Zealand. Stayed with them for quite a few years and then retired. And that was me more or less.
RL: Fine. Thanks. That’s really interesting. Thank you.
JB: It’s a tale of perseverance to become a pilot and enjoying the piloting. It was fun working for this, as an executive pilot had its fun sides but my wife was ill, and it was all sort of a bit all downhill for us then. But anyway, there we go.
RL: Thank you.
JB: Oh I could tell you something about —
RL: Yes.
JB: Around Scampton was obviously, it was Bomber Command, but Scampton and Lincolnshire was Bomber Command. Apart from Yorkshire. But there was, there was a pub just down the hill called the Dambusters. And that’s where we did the flying for the Dambusters. They resuscitated four Lancasters. Three of them they put dummy bombs on so they could take them on, take them off which showed some close up pictures of the bomb which was in plywood. And yeah, I can’t remember then when that was but rationing was still on in England and they had, for the film unit they had a mobile caravan canteen. And so rationing as I say was still on and so we ate with the, with the film people. I can remember big T-bone steaks and stuff like that which was fun. And we did all the all the crowd scenes. They used RAF people to do the crowd scenes and the Lancasters were flown by me and four other blokes, and Richard Todd would come on. He would, he would go on the leader, the flight commander’s aeroplane and I went with, it was supposed to be Micky Martin, the Australian flight commander. So that was, we took off on the grass airfield which was at Kirton Lindsey which, Scampton at the time of the war didn’t have any runways. So they took off in a three and they ran at that two or three times to make it look more than it actually was. And then we did the routine flying which was identical to the 617 Squadron briefings, and the same accommodation. Same airfield except they had runways which we were at Kirton Lindsey for no runways. And yeah, we flew late afternoon or early evening over all the reservoirs that they could find and Derwentwater was the main one of course. And yes, so finally of course the film is repeated over and over again. It’s been on, it’s been on the Chaser. You know, which aeroplane of Bomber Command which of course it was a fantastic exercise to do and successful but of course they lost a lot of chaps. Yeah. And they lost the reminder on a raid on the Kiel Canal I think soon after that. And they lost the chaps on the way back across the North Sea. So having survived the Dambuster raid they were shot down. Terrible time and I have found since then of course that all the things I volunteered for as a young person were absolutely suicide jobs. In desperation when I was on the ground I volunteered as a parachute instructor. So I went to Ringway and jumped out of a, out of a barrage balloon and that sort of thing. But one of the chaps on the course got spinal meningitis so we were all quarantined and then I was sent back to Lossiemouth. Yeah. It’s crazy what you do. What else can we say?
[recording paused]
RL: Ok.
JB: One of the Bomber Command exercises that we did which again was good fun was again to go out to Egypt. Their detachments were called Sunray and the idea was to fly out through Castel Benito and into the Canal Zone and we’d stay there for a month. So we’d do bombing and gunnery exercises. It was just like a camp that they used to have before the war. So we’d stay there for a month and fly home again. On the way back once, Peter Tunstall who’d just been released from prisoner of war camp and so on got in to trouble with the storm clouds in the south of France. And of course he went so high he didn’t check that the, an airmen that, we were carrying passengers home subsequently died because he was ill. They landed at Tangmere but it was a bit late then. That was one of the exercises. And then of course the film thing. That was, that was pretty good. Yeah. I can’t get over the fact that we were still flying wartime aeroplanes that were long gone. Although the V-force aeroplanes were just coming in. Valiants and so on. Fran, has just, this is going to be edited I guess. Fran just mentioned that.
Other: [unclear]
RL: The, there was, well one of the biggest things that influenced my life in the Air Force was I was so lucky. I was overpaid on a pay parade. This was when I was on Lossiemouth. Over paid ten pounds or something like that and at the time I didn’t realise it but after lunch I went back to my room and realised I’d got ten pounds more than I should have. Lossiemouth was a long way from home and I thought now, I could go home, see my mother with this extra money. Buy a ticket and so on. But common sense said go and report it. So I went around to the accounts office and said, ‘I think I was overpaid,’ and the, the accountant was so pleased to see me because he was responsible for the ten pounds. He would have had to find ten pounds. Anyway, he came and said, ‘Thank you very much.’ And they said, ‘Just a minute,’ and I was taken in to the group captain. And this is, I was working outside at the time on aeroplanes so I was pretty scruffy I guess. Anyway, we talked together and he then said, ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve just signed on for three years but I’m not doing a refresher course.’ And so he obviously, he didn’t promise anything but a few days later I was on the refresher course at St Athans that I mentioned earlier. So that was, if I hadn’t been there I would have done the three years on the ground and never flown. But then I did, and of course I got a civilian licence when I left the Air Force so that was lucky. Yeah. So there was something else I was going to mention.
[recording paused]
RL: Go again.
JB: Yeah. I said, I mentioned about volunteering for things. These chaps in in Bomber Command there was a Flare Force. That’s right. I remember. Bomber Command had closed down after the end of the war and the Pathfinders and all those top class people were just let go. And they suddenly realised that Russia was getting nasty and that they needed what they subsequently called the Flare Force and a lot of people might not have heard of that. So we went from the Pathfinders to Flare Force and the squadrons were 97, 101, two Mosquito squadrons 103 and 197. I think that was it. So, and then we just did exercises. People get killed on exercises. Mosquitoes crashed once or twice. Yeah. And of course, most of the people, most of the people became instructors and or either left, and left the Air Force. But it was hard times in those days. If you came out of the Air Force the chance of getting a job was a bit remote. And if you weren’t selected for a commission or, I was, again I was lucky. I was junior chap on the squadron and I always liked to fly the communication aeroplanes which might have been an Anson or an Oxford or something. So I would go and volunteer to get checked out on that aeroplane. So on, on 15 Squadron which was flying B29s we had some, they called them Washingtons. They thought I was going, it would be a good sort of Joe job, ‘Give it to Dick. He’ll do it.’ Anyway, the phone went and it was this group captain who was Gus Walker who’d had his arm blown off during the war. Gus Walker wanted to fly so I, I could fly the Oxfords and he wanted to fly so, and he was a major winner of some golf. One armed golfing champion. Gus Walker. Anyway, I said I’m going to go to with the group captain with his one arm and I’d operate the throttles and generally keep a look out. So that was quite pleasant. So, it was good to have lots of Brownie points when you’re doing that. When you’re a junior and so on. So that was, that again was lucky. And then as I say with my ten pound win that was a good introduction to the group captain and so on. Yeah. I can’t think of any other Brownie points that I achieved at the time. You need Brownie points. Yeah. What do I say then? Bill French was my wireless operator who was, I think he’s anglo-Indian. I’m not sure. But anyway he was Indian of some kind. A jolly good wireless operator. So we’d operate doing that. I kept in touch with the crew initially but they all seemed to die very young. My navigator Roddy Williams, he died ages ago. And a chap called Coffe. C O F F E. Coffe or something like that and he was a a navigator. And my crew, I went to be a station adjutant but my crew went to, out to Christmas Island to do the initial bombing with the atomic bomb for the RAF. Yeah. That was, but I missed that. Yeah. I did do a very hush hush photographic exercise in, over turkey which is I don’t know what that was about. Anyway, there you go.
RL: Ok. Thank you very much.
JB: Ok.
RL: That was great.


Jennifer Barraclough, “Interview with Richard William Lambert,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 16, 2024,

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