Interview with James Lamb


Interview with James Lamb


James Lamb volunteered for the RAF on the first day of the Second World War. He trained as an aircraft technician and was posted to 75 New Zealand Squadron where he worked on Wellington bombers. He was then posted to 11 Squadron in Burma where he worked on Hurricanes and Spitfires.




Temporal Coverage




02:19:09 audio recording


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ALambJ170725, PLambJ1702


GT: Ok. We’re at Jim Lamb’s place in Edinburgh and I’m going to interview Jim so we’re just going to go through a few things and this is a precursor to the actual interview. So, Jim we’ve got microphones here and you can speak into that one and I this one and I’m going to set myself ongoing as well. But it just records it as we’re going. So this is not the actual interview Jim but I’m going to go through with you a couple of things. We chatted quite a bit yesterday about your, your time in the RAF. And a bit about your life and what you achieved. Now, can you please remember your service number?
JL: 978 was the last two.
GT: Yeah.
JL: That’s all.
GT: 978 was your last three.
JL: 978 1373978. That could have been it.
GT: 137.
JL: 1373978.
GT: 978.
JL: Funny I should remember a number like that without it meaning something.
GT: Ok. And you. Now just going to clarify a few things before I come into the interview and ask you a bit. You joined up as a aircraft technician.
JL: That’s all. Yes
GT: Yeah. Ok. And then later on you converted to be a pilot.
JL: No. I never said I was a pilot.
GT: You trained as a pilot or did you —
JL: No.
GT: No. No. Ok. So you went out to Burma as an aircraft technician.
JL: That’s it. Correct.
GT: Ok. So you worked on the Hurricanes etcetera.
JL: That’s it.
GT: That’s the story. Ok. That’s brilliant.
JL: On Wellingtons first. The Wimpy.
GT: Yeah.
JL: And on Hurricanes and Spitfires. That’s the three machines I worked on.
GT: Fabulous. Ok. And just to clarify was it 11 Squadron in Burma you —
JL: 11 Squadron.
GT: You were working on?
JL: 11 Squadron.
GT: Yeah. Good. Ok. What, what was your birth date? What was your birth date?
JL: 13th of November 1921.
GT: 13th of November. Right. And can you remember what medals you eventually got?
JL: Oh no. I got the usual. Victory, Defence, Burma.
GT: ‘39/45 Star.
JL: Star. And all that stuff.
GT: Ok.
JL: And —
GT: Did you ever apply for the Bomber Command clasp?
JL: I’ve got that as well. Yeah.
GT: You’ve got that on there as well.
JL: That’s about all I got.
GT: Ok.
JL: And the Defence and the Victory.
GT: But did you say those medals, you had them stolen or you’ve still, you’ve still got them.
JL: I don’t know where they are. I’ve no interest in them.
GT: Ok. But you did apply for them and you did get them initially.
JL: I’m not interested.
GT: No.
JL: I’ve forgot about it all.
GT: Ok.
JL: I’m not the least bit interested.
GT: Yeah.
JL: If you want to know the truth.
GT: Ok. Fair enough.
JL: I’ve got no —
GT: Fair enough OK. Well, Jim I’m going to talk about your, and ask you a bit about where you were born, where you grew up and then why and how you joined the RAF. Where you went in the RAF. Bearing in mind this is for the International Bomber Command Centre but they also would like to know what you did during your service and then what you did afterwards. So you and I chatted yesterday about what you did and you went to South Africa. So I’ll just ask you those questions. Yeah.
JL: Yeah.
GT: And then I’ll let you talk and tell us all about it. Is that ok with you?
JL: Well, quite frankly I don’t want to upset you but I’m really not interested. I want, I don’t want to recall back these things. My mind’s not, I just [pause] who would all this information go to?
GT: They, they have got documents here and we can go through those if you like and that’s, and that shows you that this will go to, goes to an archive that, that describes what each of one of you chaps did and went through and, and then there’s a photograph of you and there’s because ground crew, there’s not that many ground crew left and what they were trying to achieve is to —
JL: I see. I don’t want to upset you, or [pause] I just I’ve put it on the table I’m not interested.
GT: Yeah.
JL: I’ve done it. I’ve forgot about it. And that’s it.
GT: Ok. You told me a lot about it yesterday.
JL: That’s all. This is a conversation.
GT: Yeah.
JL: But to go and get it all written down. No. No.
GT: Ok. Fair enough. That’s quite your right. There’s no need to, to be, to be sorry about that and that’s fine. It’s —
JL: I’ve done it. I’ve done it. I was very happy with what I was doing and in the company I was in and I was very fortunate to be in it, I came through it and get home safe. And that’s, that’s story finished.
GT: Yeah. Fair enough.
JL: That’s, that’s it.
GT: It’s just, yeah chatting.
JL: I’ve forgotten about it and [pause] that’s it. I don’t want any writing about it or nothing about it. I didn’t want it. I joined up for the war. I served the war as best as I could. I was lucky to get through it. And then I forgot it. That’s how I live.
GT: Yeah.
JL: I don’t go back on things.
GT: It’s nice to see you’ve got my 75 Squadron tie on.
JL: I always put that on.
GT: Yeah.
JL: I’ll never forget it.
GT: Yeah.
JL: I’ll never forget it but it’s, I often wear this when I go out. I had a wonderful, it’s terrible to say. There was a war and people got killed and maimed. But I enjoyed that period. Don’t ask me why. My sister can tell you I enjoyed it. I think when I joined up first —
GT: Hang on Jim. Hang on. Are you able to chat softer?
Other: Oh sorry.
GT: Yeah.
Other: We have to —
GT: Sorry. Carry on, Jim.
JL: When I joined up it was for three months. We’d all done that. And the war come along we had to accept the fact, and I lived the fact and I lived. I thought well I’m in it ‘til it’s finished or unless something and just about do what I have to and I wasn’t interested in much after that. I’d done the job I had to do and I was glad it was over and I got home safe. I never think back on it or talk about it. It’s part of your legacy. Sorry that thing that had to happen. And lasses and laddies never got back home. Some got back home blind, armless, legless. Nah.
GT: Because you and I, with the 75 Squadron Association have been pretty close over the last couple of years. But, but did you, did you know that there was an 11 Squadron Association as well?
JL: No.
GT: Yeah. I just found them on the internet this morning and of course they have their bit of history showing the Hurricane bomber 2Cs.
JL: Yeah.
GT: And then the Spitfires being out there. And did you know they ended up in Japan in 1946?
JL: Yeah. Yeah.
GT: But you’d come home by then, hadn’t you?
JL: Yeah.
GT: Yeah. Because my dad was on J Force.
JL: Ah.
GT: And he was in Japan with 14 Squadron, New Zealand Air Force as a Squadron carpenter.
JL: I think if I can remember right I came home on the 10th of March 1946. I think it was.
GT: So you were on a boat for quite a bit to get home, were you?
JL: Yeah. The Windsor I think I was on. HMS Windsor. I think it took about twelve days then.
GT: Yeah.
JL: To come home.
GT: Gee whizz. But you must have stayed in Burma sometime after the war finished though. You stayed on there for a while did you?
JL: I got, I was only, I joined up. I wasn’t called up.
GT: So you were a volunteer. A volunteer reserve.
JL: I had the, so you got, when the war finished being out in Burma we all, the other guys not just me we got forms to fill out. Did we want to stay on and finish off our, or do we want to go home. I said, ‘I want to go back. I don’t want to be a regular in the Air Force.’ So I got, like me, we got home. No, weekends or service afterwards. I left there and when I left Burma I left the Royal Air Force. I was out and I came home a civilian. I was demobbed in Burma.
GT: That’s odd. I would have thought they would have brought you home all the way and then demobbed you here.
JL: That’s right. No. I said, ‘I’m finished.’ ‘When would you finish?’ I said, ‘I’d finish now if I could.’ So he said, ‘Right. Well, your term is finished,’ he said, ‘When you get back home you’ve got no other association with the Royal Air Force.’ I said, ‘That’s quite correct.’
GT: Gosh. That’s huge.
JL: Then I went as well as I could.
GT: Yeah. Because you said you joined up straight from —
JL: The day the war started.
GT: When the war started.
JL: The war started at 10 o’clock one Sunday morning. The 3rd of September. I had joined up before the afternoon was out. My aunt said, ‘Where have you been?’ I said, ‘Joining up.’ She said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘It’s only going to last three months so everybody says. I want three months at the government’s expense.’ And I come home on the 10th of March 1946. A long three months eh? No. I suppose being young in the war. War is an adventure. It was an adventure for me. It’s not a stupid thing to say but it’s an unbelievable thing to say. I went through the war and never, never had any thought of not getting back home. When I left my mother said to me, our mother said to me, she says ‘Oh, you shouldn’t have to do that but don’t worry,’ she said, ‘You’ll come back home alright. And I worked through that years with that there. I was in things that I never thought I would be able to take but I would. Somebody was looking after me.
GT: Well, especially because you told me that when you joined up you went to 75 Squadron at Feltwell on Wellingtons. And then Mildenhall. And then Newmarket on Stirlings.
JL: Yeah.
GT: And then off to Burma. So, so you spent how much time would you have spent on 75? Three years. No? Two years perhaps. Because 75 Squadron was at Feltwell from April ’40 to August ’40. Then Mildenhall to January ’41. Back at Feltwell, Oakington and then Newmarket.
JL: That’s correct.
GT: June ’43.
JL: Imphal.
GT: So you worked on 75 Squadron.
JL: Yeah.
GT: Right through from 1940 to around about the end of ’42 or after. And that because they then went to Newmarket and is that about when you were chosen to go to Burma and left? Left there for there do you think? Would that be about it? I’m trying to get your history for the 75 Squadron history for you, you see.
JL: Wellington. There’s the Stirling there. Then the Lancaster.
GT: Yeah. See there.
JL: The old Wimpy was the best. Everybody will tell you that. You could knock the hell out of the thing but still the engines were running you go home [laughs] That’s strange eh? It was. But then again you’re one of a few hundred thousand young laddies who join up. You join up because you all think you’re in the movies sort of thing. I would never join up again. No. But we’d done it. We didn’t have to do it. At that time I volunteered to do it. Everybody said it was three months. It would be over. And this young gentleman then believed them [laughs] And I realised after a few years they told everybody the same thing to get you bloody in. But Helen can tell you everybody tried to make like some of the laddies that I used to meet and that, ‘I wish I hadn’t done this. I wish I was home.’ I said, ‘You’re making yourself ill for no reason whatsoever. You’ve done it and you’ll not get out until they let us out. To make yourself sick. You can tell everybody I shouldn’t have done it. It’s a ridiculous statement.’ When you say to the government people to join up that’s it. There’s no saying, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it.’ But as I said to you and it’s a terrible thing to say. It sounds like a lie even but it’s not a lie. I enjoyed it. I don’t know how. It’s maybe other men it’s probably the same as I. I suppose it’s how your nature is in your head. You say, oh let’s, it’s like if I smash that chair. I can’t say I’m sorry and make the chair back again. It’s maybe a different way to look at life. And when I was in Burma, you know, ‘I wish I could go home.’ I said, ‘There’s no point in wishing and get yourself sick. You’ll not get home ‘til all being well they’ll send us home. To go around every day like that and moping. You’re only damaging this and making yourself ill. You make the best of it don’t you? When I was in Burma things were ups and down. But I just got as if I was working in here. You’ve got to train yourself. To make yourself ill for a reason that you can’t alter is being silly. You’ve done it. You can’t say, ‘Right. I’ll go home now. I’ve had enough.’ No. No. You get home when they send you home. There many a young man I used to say that to. I used to say enough you know you’ll no you’ve done this, you wish you had done that. I said, ‘I’ve done it because,’ I said, ‘I was one of many thousands that believed the war would last three months and I believed these people [laughs] That’s a bit, the big boss decided I had to. I got through it all right and got home so you’ve just got to forget all the ups and downs. There was many wonderful times. I met wonderful young lads. Friends. True friends. 75 Squadron was, it was a different. It was a different Squadron. It was [pause] the CO from the officers down, and the Group Captain Lucas. A gentleman. There was never any silly, there wasn’t a rank, there was Popeye Lucas used to come on a Sunday and have his lunch with the whole Squadron in to the dining room. And he went to the officer’s dining room. He went and had lunch on Sunday was with his men. It was a different Squadron. It was a different, it’s a pity some of the British Squadrons hadn’t learned from him because I went to another one and oh boy. No. It’s not that there’s got to be somebody commanding. But you’ve got to command to get respect. Not get hate, eh? And he’s got to know when he feels that he’s got your respect which you should give the whole thing runs smoothly. But if you going [unclear] No. I was. I enjoyed the war. That’s as I said that seems a stupid bloody statement but I couldn’t, well nobody got out anyway. Excuse me. And I used to tell the lads that used to say to me. Many. ‘I wish this was over. I wish I’d never come in. I wish I’d never done that.’ I said, ‘Stop the wishing. Start thinking and enjoy it. You come in to do it. You can’t get out. Make the best of it.’ Do the job you joined up to do and that’s it. But that’s how I felt in my younger days. And I always enjoyed it. Aye. I never got, I don’t know why I never got into trouble. Them things. Coming in at two in the morning instead of one minute to twelve and got away with it [laughs] Oh dear. I used to say that at one Squadron I left, Captain Lucas said, ‘Sorry Jim,’ he said, ‘You’re finished with it now.’ I said, ‘Oh yes.’ He said, ‘Well, you’ll be glad.’ I said, ‘Yes. We should all be glad that the war is over.’ And I said, ‘But I enjoyed it in a way.’ ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Well, the things I’ve done.’ He said, ‘So you didn’t mind being in.’ I said, ‘No. No. I’ve done what I wanted to do.’ If I wanted to come back at two in the morning I came back at two in the morning.’ And he said, ‘And you were never caught?’ I said, ‘No. I made certain arrangements that I wouldn’t get caught.’ [laughs] Before you do something wrong think about how to defend yourself if you think you’re going to get caught for doing it wrong. So it never, there was only once. The way I used to enter back in and I was in the front of the CO. He says, ‘Where have you managed to be out ‘til two. Getting back here at two. Are you drunk?’ I said, ‘I don’t drink.’ Which I didn’t. I said, ‘No. I said I met nice company,’ I said, ‘And this company took me home. I stayed in there and her dad had been wounded badly in the war in the Middle East and he had [pause] Yes. When I look back. And he had the —
GT: She’s going to take a photo of us.
JL: I’ve had a new camera. I’m not paying for a new one. No way. Oh dear.
GT: Try again. Try again. That’s it.
JL: Yes. Thumbs up. Happy to meet you all.
Other: Good. Good.
GT: Thanks.
JL: Yes. It was [pause] I would say that I talk on behalf of everybody [laughs] A Squadron that, there was never another Squadron in my heart. It could never have come to the level of 75 New Zealand Squadron. From the boss to the toilets attendant we were one. We went on leave. This is, you were sent for your leaves. Oh, in a second. Yes. Right. And you come back. Oh yeah wait a minute. Yes. Yes. You come back on the 12th. And you went away. Didn’t need that. 75 New Zealand. You went away when your tape were there and some days I’ve come back early. Like others. It was a wonderful Squadron. I’ve come back two days early. ‘Back already?’ They said?’ Oh, a bit of dancing and met [unclear] As I say, I go way back. I enjoyed my time at 75 New Zealand Squadron. It was, there was something different about it. Because Group Captain Lucas was only private Lucas. He was one, and we respected him. He’d come and sit down beside the guys if there was a football match on. If one of the Squadrons were playing a football he’d sit beside you and share cigarettes and have a smoke and talk. And we all respected him. I don’t think any, anybody took advantage of him. He was, he made everybody feel we were one. He had a gift. Group Captain Lucas. A man. Yes. You meet the ones you remember. But it was a lovely happy Squadron. It was. It’s a fact that you always remember. The lads in it. Yes. From the group captain down. The guys who were watching the football match and he would wander amongst them and stand and watch it himself, take his cigarette out and the guys near him, hand them a cigarette. Different. You would never have got the British guy doing that. They were officers. Sir, you know. Yes. I remember that. I once told an officer, I said, ‘Don’t you shout at me.’ I says, and another thing, ‘Don’t shout Lamb either when you want to speak.’ I said, ‘Have you ever read the book? The Service Manual. That’s the do’s and the don’ts,’ I said, ‘Have you ever read it?’ ‘I haven’t actually.’ I said, ‘I’ll read some of it to you. The most important part,’ I says, ‘Everybody’s got a rank. From private up to you, to the admiral to the super general is a rank. And if you want to call on me and speak to me never shout Lamb. Shout my rank,’ and he said.’ An officer is in the Air Force says, ‘Corporal Lamb,’ Corporal Lamb will come and see you. Don’t just shout Lamb because I’ll ignore you.’ I said, Because that’s, if you want to take it further put me on a charge and that’s what I’ll say in front of whoever makes the charge.’ I said, ‘We’re not dogs, you know,’ I said, ‘We’re human beings.’ It’s just that. Then I got on well with him. He said, ‘You speak your mind.’ I said, ‘I speak my mind if I think it’s the right thing to do.’ I said, ‘Otherwise,’ I says, ‘I keep quiet.’ I says, ‘But this Lamb business. I don’t him,’ I says, ‘I know Mr Lamb, Jim Lamb, Jimmy Lamb, James Lamb but I don’t know Lamb.’ [laughs] No. You’ve got, you know, you’re a young man you join up in a war. Be a man. If you see things that’s not appertaining how it should be. An officer should treat you, the Squadron or anybody you speak up. You don’t stand like a wee boy. No. I was once put on a charge once for speaking back and I said, ‘Who will take me in front of the charge?’ I said, ‘I’d like the group captain to do it.’ And they said, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m asking for it. I’m the one who’s going to get punished and I want the group captain to do it.’ And I did get, you see, ‘What was your problem?’ ‘Well,’ I says, ‘To start with what I was put on a charge for,’ I says, ‘I don’t think it was necessary,’ I says, ‘And at no point in talking of putting me on a charge I said the only person that can sit and understand it I said was the man that’s running this Squadron and that’s you. Get on with it.’ When I finished he sent for the guy who was going to put me on a charge and made him say he was sorry. I didn’t, I was afraid of nobody. If you know the truth in there and you can speak it you speak it. I was well known. No. You’re not, you didn’t join up as a private or able seaman or whatever you want to call it. You joined up as a man. Not to be treated like a dog. So if you’re getting wrong treated I put in for it. I spoke up to a few I tell you. I had to. And I explained it to them and they got into bloody trouble not me. The super general or admiral or whatever he might be and you’ve got men under you eh? They respect you. You’re the man in command and figure out things but you don’t treat us like bloody dogs. We’re men that’s got to serve you. Men. You treat us as men. But some didn’t. They thought they were something great. I was walking across the square one day. That’s the big parade ground. Not that you’ll know that without me telling you that and I heard a voice shouting, ‘Lamb. Lamb. Lamb.’ And I kept walking. So he ran around. He didn’t come on the square. This bloody stupid officer. He ran around and he’s waiting until I got to the other side. So he stood in front of me. I went to attention and I saluted him. He says, ‘Tell me.’ I said, ‘What do you want me for?’ He said, ‘I feel like putting you on a charge.’ I said, ‘What for?’ He says, ‘I shouted for you and I shouted for you in [unclear].’ I said, ‘You never shouted for me.’ He says, ‘I did.’ I said, ‘No. You didn’t, sir.’ I said, ‘My rank and my name or if we were friendly Jim Lamb but I’m not Lamb. I have got a name. I’m not a dog.’ [laughs] ‘Dismissed.’ See, I used to say that to many lads if they get upset about something or something is getting done to you, you speak up. You don’t go away or keep it to yourself or to the others, and that, and that, and that. No. You’re a man. Look at them. He’s the same as you. He only gets a better bloody salary. That’s what I told this one. No. I don’t know how some lads took it. There were some officers that were sent down from above and they were the mighty ones eh? They were stupid. I treated superior officers with respect but in here they were a man in uniform just like me. I didn’t have the mentality to raise to be the commanding officer. Well that’s I didn’t have the education. I was an ordinary school boy and in my young days the thought about a war and you get to think if there’s a war I want to do this and you learn more. A world at peace you grow up and you learn what you want to learn so you get into life and make money. You forget about having to go and do this to the guy next to you who has probably been a toilet attendant [laughs] No. There was no better to do. I never looked at an officer as something great. He was a man that had a bit more in here or he had a love for being higher in the Navy, higher ranked or Air Force or the Army. He wanted to get on in that in do something. I joined up to go in to the Royal Air Force. And that’s what I joined up to do and I was in it and I got paid for what I was doing. I had no ambition to be group captain or one of the lads. And I enjoyed my service. I enjoyed, it’s a terrible thing to say I even enjoyed out in Burma because you were, how we were brought up. Yes. As a family. You had to make yourself prepared. And I used to hear our late father talk about the 1914 war so how what they had to do in it which was a terrible war compared to the 1940 war. But we had to, you’ve got to learn that you’d joined something that you’d got to obey but I also learned if they want you to obey that they have to treat you properly. It’s not the first officer that I’ve kept walking past because he shouted just my last name. He said, ‘On a charge.’ I said, ‘That’s fair enough. In front of the CO.’ I think I had three that I can remember. He said, ‘You know what you’ve done?’ I said, ‘What did I do?’ He said, ‘You ignored this officer. He spoke to you and you didn’t.’ I said, ‘Yes. I’d do again in front of you if he’d done what he done to me.’ I said, ‘I’ve got a rank.’ He says, ‘I know. I can see.’ I says, ‘I didn’t mean it that way. I’m just telling you what I think.’ I said, ‘And I’m going to address him by it.’ I says, ‘And when out in civilian life.’ I said, ‘I’m either called Jim, James, Jimmy or Mr Lamb.’ So I said, ‘in the Air Force my name is Lamb. And when somebody shouts at me from a square that they want to speak to me, a higher rank right, I’ve also got and I want shouting on my rank before my name. He can call me Mr Lamb if he wants.’ ‘Dismissed.’ I wished I could have taped.
GT: So, now, just, just to get your name correct. Is it Jim Lamb and nothing in between? Jim. James.
JL: No. Just plain. Some options —
GT: James. Jim.
JL: Some people call me Jimmy.
GT: Yeah.
JL: And some people how could I say? Some of the dolly birds they call me James [laughs]
GT: So I can put you down as James. Then Jim Lamb.
JL: Yes.
GT: Is that good enough for the record?
JL: We just [pause] And even in Scotland here anybody christened John they’re never just shouted John. They’re Johnny. Johnny. It’s not just John. You’re Johnny. Just the way we are here. We’ve all got our different, you know. I was called many things [laughs] but you can’t write them. I can spell them [laughs]
GT: Yeah. And we’ve got your number service now was 137.
JL: 3 978.
GT: Brilliant. Ok. That’s confirmed there and you joined up as an aircraft technician.
JL: Yes.
GT: Was it AC1 or AC2.
JL: AC1.
GT: AC1.
JL: I can’t remember.
GT: Yeah.
JL: If it was AC1. I can’t, to be honest with you so —
GT: And when you left the RAF what rank were you or classification then? AC2
JL: The same as I went in.
GT: Ok. You didn’t get promoted then to corporal?
JL: No way. I should have been demobbed as an ex-convict. No. I didn’t want any. Not for me. I said no. I just wanted to be one of the lads.
GT: Yeah. You were on 75 Squadron when James Ward was there.
JL: That’s correct. I knew the man.
GT: You knew the man.
JL: I knew him. I had the honour of knowing him.
GT: Can you tell me a bit about him please?
JL: Well, he was one of the best pilots on the unit then. And as a, we were one. 75 Squadron was one. From Group Captain Lucas down to the toilet attendant we were one. We were one. He wasn’t that and you weren’t this and I wasn’t this or whatever. No. We were one. We got the honours. We were the top Bomber Command in Bomber Command. 75 Squadron. Did you know that? We were the top of Bomber Command because we were one and even if we had a big meet the thing on one of the top of the Royal Air Force goody guys came along and he was surprised at the difference. No difference in officers, men. How we were one. And somebody should have told them. You see the point is that the officers that were the best officers come from a wealthy family. They went to school. Their family background life was Navy, military, Air Force. They grew up as that. And when their sons grew up, right, they grew up much like we all grow up and when they went into the army or whatever it was as an officer they were just like part of us, and they treated you. It was the guys that were nothing and managed to become a first lieutenant or something. He thought he was great and he treated them like animals. I spoke up against them. He was something. You had to jump this and jump. Nah. I said, ‘We are all one,’ I said, ‘Never forget,’ I says, ‘When we go in to battle,’ I said, ‘A bullet has got no names on it, eh?’
GT: So, James Ward was, was a really good pilot.
JL: Oh yes.
GT: Do you remember the night that he managed to crawl out on the wing?
JL: Oh, I know all about that. Yes.
GT: Yeah. Can you tell what —
JL: Put the fire out. Yes. Coming back from a raid. Some of the ack ack hit one of the engines and they went on fire and he took his ‘chute, he went out and he put the flame out. A man like that deserves to get through it, eh. I remember that.
GT: Do you remember the crew? The people.
JL: Oh, I can’t remember all the names now. But I can’t even remember, I’d have to sit down hard and try and picture. It was a wonderful, l it was a wonderful Squadron eh, I think it was. Well, we were. They were the top bomber Squadron in Bomber Command. 75 New Zealand Squadron. We got the top honours. The wonderful, it’s a, it’s a terrible thing to say, it was enjoyable years. That’s why. It was just different.
GT: What was it like working on the Wellingtons? As you were an aircraft technician.
JL: Yes.
GT: What was it like working on the Wellington bombers and the engines and the air frames?
JL: It was —
GT: Did you —
JL: It was like working on a car. It was a wonderful aircraft. I’ll tell you something you can fly it to hell and back with that thing and if you hit [unclear] the body to hell. As long as one of the engines was going. One come back one time and the condition of it. It had no [unclear] on it and they had all been lucky. Some of them had got a bit wounded in that. They must have been shattered with it. Yeah. But they landed it. It was a wonderful aircraft the Wimpy. The Wellington. Done its job. I say then of course they started going on to the Lancaster and blah blah blah but —
GT: So, when you were working on the Wellington what did you do? Engines and the airframe and the wheels and the gun turrets and all that? What was your speciality?
JL: Airframe. Yeah. Kept on one and then at the school we’d go to, whatever and what the hell then. That come back. I got myself a book and I started writing it down. So I read a book about how this happened. The ailerons and the rudders and blah blah blah and how you fix them and that. So when I went in the classes and I listened. So I did my job I had to do and I’d done it as well as I could. And then I went from that out to Burma. And then Burma we were on the old Hurricanes just as they were getting finished. And the Hurricanes were put to one side and the Spit came out. Worked on them. 75 New Zealand Squadron was, 11 Squadron was in Burma. They still, ‘I wish I was home. I wish this.’ But I enjoyed it. You’ve got to try and fool yourself in that you’re enjoying it. Making yourself ill saying, ‘Oh, I wish I was there. I wish. No point in wishing in the world. I used to tell many young lads. They used to say to me, ‘You’re drunk.’ ‘You’re mad.’ No. It’s a adventure in life that was. Burma didn’t worry me. That was of course as I said to you before the main reason was our mother. She said, ‘Don’t you worry,’ she said, ‘You’ll come back alright.’ And I lived through that. Years of war. But that and here and here. I don’t think [pause] I can never remember being afraid or frightened. I ran out to get cover and all that naturally. But in one place in Burma I think I did the hundred yards in a second never mind anything else when we got heavily bombed one night. And of course don’t forget in Burma the planes, all the ammunition and the bombs and everything was all in one, and the lads. Your tent or wherever you had one. Eventually in Burma you ended up with the heavy monsoons. They were, I remember one hell of a night. Most of our aircraft was destroyed. I was lying on the ground through the night isn’t it? Boy I ran that night. I could have been the world’s outmost champion. No one could ever beat me. The flames were going up and bullets flying. You couldn’t see. You could hear. I’ll never forget that night. But you do it. I suppose the training. I don’t know what you’d call it. It wasn’t you were frightened. You ran to get to safety. And then I, I got thanked for that. I was running and there was a guy who had got some of the splinters lying and I looked at him and I was running on and I thought oh I can’t. I ran back and I got him. And I carried him out of the area that he could have got hurt with some of the shrapnel and that, you know. But I was going to leave him. I was quite happy to run by myself to get away. But I thought, no. I can’t. I can’t. So I went back. I managed to carry him as far as I could. And then when we got in to the shelter. It’s a long time ago. And he used to write to me. When the war finished he went to the states. He used to write. Norman. He stopped writing. You know, you keep writing the same things. But I’d done it. I wasn’t going to [laughs] That’s the truth. I thought too bad. I thought, no. I think every man would have done the same. You, you’re I’d not say, frightened is not the right word. You’re trying to get, make sure you’re getting away from it. I’m the one who broke all the records I’ll tell you, boy could I run, and I did run for sport. But that night I could have broke the world record. And I see that man there groaning and I thought no. I just couldn’t. It’s not bravery or nothing. It’s just how your heart is. I heard him. He was still. As I passed I heard him groaning so obviously he hadn’t been knocked out altogether. I got back and I picked him up and I carried him ‘til I had to lie down and have a rest. We laid down in safety. The bombing raid was over and we all got gathered together. It was a long time.
GT: So, that was with Spitfires in Burma.
JL: Burma.
GT: So, what, the Japanese were artillery or were they dropping bombs from aircraft?
JL: They were dropping bombs from aircraft. On the Squadron you know where they had the fighters as well. And but that night we all heard that I don’t know for sure, we all heard, there were some didn’t get so lucky. One of them was one that would have been getting it anyway if you see what I mean because he had given information to the Japanese. So the story came out. I don’t know. And he lit lights for them. They knew exactly where we were. All the aircraft. Oh what a night that was. I could have been a runner at the Olympics. I was a good runner when I was young anyway but that gave me some extra speed. But I went back and got this bloke. I just thought too bad. You’re hurt. We’re all different, eh?
GT: So, the after working in Bomber Command and then effectively the Far East Fighter Command.
JL: Yeah.
GT: Did you notice a difference between Bomber Command and a fighter command Squadrons? Was there a difference that you noticed?
JL: No. It was instead of say five or seven in Bomber Command in an aircraft come back you were there and back and you were all one. It was up there when they all got down safe they would become all one just the same and they didn’t just come back on their own. They waited ‘til he landed and he landed and he and there. And then we all went and thanks very much. But 75 New Zealand Squadron I could have signed on for twenty five years with it. It was if Popeye Lucas. That was the finest group captain I ever met. Group Captain Lucas.
GT: Do you know which particular aircraft he flew? Did he fly just one Wellington bomber?
JL: No. As far as I know in the war he had his own little aircraft.
GT: Did he have nose art? Because there was one particular Wellington bomber with a soda siphon that was shooting bombs. Do you remember that one? Because I think —
JL: I can’t remember.
GT: I think that one was Popeye’s.
JL: It was just, but on a Sunday mornings. Sunday morning, Sunday lunch he took the grace. He was one of us. I will say, well I wasn’t around any others but I must say he must have been the most respected CO in the whole world. Everybody liked Popeye, and they called him Popeye.
GT: Did the officers or the air crew mix much with the ground crew?
JL: Oh yes.
GT: At the time.
JL: You were at [pause] there was no sort of you were an officer or a flight sergeant or whatever it was but you could come along and say that I was your mechanic. One of the mechanics. Aircraftman, eh? You could be called up, ‘Do you want a drink?’ Into to the sergeant’s mess or the officer’s mess. Never, no one would have said anything. That was 75 New Zealand Squadron. We were one. Off parade we were men. Somebody should write a book about 75 New Zealand Squadron. I think that’s why it was happy. It was a happy Squadron. That I can tell you. And you’d often say, ‘I hope my leave’s up. My leave’s up isn’t it?’ I enjoyed it.
GT: Do you remember in the sergeant’s mess? The footprints on the roof? Because I think that was Popeye Lucas that did that.
JL: Aye.
GT: Do you do you remember seeing that at all?
JL: Yes. You know it’s just a pity I hadn’t taken more interest but I’ll tell you something. That was a Squadron that everybody loved. We were, we were one. We were you must well of course you’ll know. We were number one in Bomber Command. We were top because we were one Squadron, eh? The toilet attendant to the CO.
GT: How many aircraft did you manage to get up each night? Because you only had two flights of Wellingtons and that’s what? Twenty four aircraft?
JL: Yeah.
GT: So, how many would you be able to get up each night for a raid? The whole twenty four generally or just some?
JL: Oh, it’s many times. I went a few times over with them
GT: Did you?
JL: Most of us did. We thought well if you don’t come back we’re not going to get punished anyway.
GT: So you would sneak on to the aircraft for a raid or two.
JL: To go over. You don’t think nothing of it. We lost very few aircraft, 75 New Zealand Squadron. ‘I’m coming with you.’ Well, I mean. So you went with them you weren’t going to be punished anyway. You were punished for going.
GT: Do you remember which ones you went on?
JL: Oh, I don’t know. I’m trying to remember the guy’s name. I must sit down hard and try one night. He was like a film actor. One of these tough goings you know. Yes. I’m on, and his crew were, it was twin brothers, twins, front and rear gunner when I went with them.
GT: Monk? Was their surname Monk?
JL: I can’t remember.
GT: Or Dodd.
JL: I couldn’t tell you but I know one was a front gunner and the other was in the tail. But there was not a squadron, no wonder we were number one in Bomber Command there was no Squadron I think not being in the only one that had the happiness of that one.
GT: Did you in the aircraft trade mix with the armourers much? Was there much rivalry?
JL: No.
GT: Or did you work together?
JL: Never the Army came in.
GT: The armourers that bombed the aircraft up. Not the Army. The armourers. When the armourers came in you worked together.
JL: Oh yes.
GT: Yeah.
JL: I told you. I’ve told many people. I think there must be something wrong with me. I enjoyed it. It’s a, it’s a stupid thing to say in a way but I did and you came home on leave I used to say, ‘I’ll go back tomorrow.’ I was glad to get back. I would say if they can showed things you find that 75 New Zealand Squadron was top. It was a, we were a unit. We weren’t in a war. There was a happiness. Somebody will find the right words, but you never thought about the war in 75 New Zealand Squadron.
GT: Did the Germans attack Feltwell where you were at any time? Do your remember being under attack by the Luftwaffe?
JL: Oh, Britain generally was. We, I don’t think [pause] I can’t remember. I’ve a feeling that there was one night there was a bit of a shenanigan went on. And I think one aircraft got hit on the ground actually. If I sit down and think enough things come back. Yeah. That’s it finished. It’s never finished. But I’ll tell you something I could have signed on for twenty five years with 75 New Zealand Squadron.
GT: Wow.
JL: It wasn’t a Squadron. It was a, I don’t know. From the group captain, officers down to the ones that work in the toilets. We were one.
GT: So after the war did you keep in contact with any New Zealanders from the squad? From 75?
JL: It all disappears. Yes.
GT: Not Popeye Lucas even.
JL: I met one at a big function I was in, in London. One of the crews that I knew. Of all the things that happened it’s just when you start thinking and then you, that’s what I remember and then later on something else comes into here. But I would say that 75 New Zealand Squadron if I was writing a book I would say it was the most proficient and happiest Squadron in the whole of the Air Force. People come back from leave early. [laughs]
GT: Indeed. High praise.
JL: Me too. We got home and I said to my mother, ‘I think I’ll make my way back.’ Mad.
GT: Yeah.
JL: But that’s the happiness. If you ever write a book you write that down. 75 New Zealand Squadron was the most proficient and happy Squadron I think there must have been. We were. From the top to the bottom.
GT: So how come you ended up in Burma? You had to leave 75 Squadron for Burma. What happened there?
JL: No. No. Similarly out there, there was quite a lot of losses and they had to start getting so the new lads coming in getting trained they were taking ones that were trained and went over there. So I was told, ‘Your next move is Burma.’ I thought well fair enough. And I come home. Had my seven days and then I’m lying out there. Jumping the gun, not a lie. I didn’t know I was going to Burma. But I know I was going in a boat. That bit I did know. And I’ll give a good laugh. I was on the ocean and I’m like this at the rail and a wee laddie next to me crying eh. A laddie like myself. ‘What’s up with you?’ He said to me, ‘Where are we going? Where are we going? I said, ‘Oh we’re going to be alright,’ I said, ‘We’re going to the States to get [unclear].’ ‘Are we?’ he said, Yeah.’ I says aye a lot here, Air Force and Army and Navy were sent out to America to train them. Did you know that? I said, ‘We’re going to America.’ He said, ‘Is that right? We landed in Burma. He said, ‘I hope I’m not going to fly with you.’ [laughs] Were going to America.
GT: You got on. Gosh. So you went from bomber aircraft.
JL: Yeah.
GT: And radial engines to fighter aircraft with Merlins. And you have, did you have any training on the Merlin engines once you left Bomber Command or did you just get sent to Burma and there’s an engine.
JL: Done it there. Yeah.
GT: Was it? They gave you no training.
JL: Aye. But you’re, let’s put it this, I think, the way I put it. You’re young. It’s excitement and this is different you know and you think ok you’re all Errol Flynn’s eh[laughs] The lasses loved you eh?
GT: So did you actually serve in Burma or was it Ceylon where the squadron, 11 Squadron was based? Because they started out in Ceylon.
JL: 75 New Zealand Squadron.
GT: No. Sorry. Carry on.
JL: 75 Squadron was here.
GT: Yeah.
JL: And then I was posted from 75 New Zealand Squadron to 11 Squadron and I went there and I thought oh. Well, the weather was good. But you’ve got to, as I’ve said to many a young lad, ‘We can’t get out of it. You can’t alter it. Why alter this and this. Enjoy it, eh. There’s no way you can change it.’ But Helen said, I said to Helen, I’m ashamed to say this to people but I enjoyed it. It’s a, I don’t know well the thing is the war was on. You weren’t put into it. You volunteered to go in to it. So just get on with it. There’s no point in saying I’ve changed my mind. There’s no changing your mind. No. But there was a crowd of you. We were all the same and that’s where you get to make real friends, eh? Because maybe one day you’ll depend. I’m glad you’re there or I’m there. It’s a different comradeship. That’s how you, you depended on each other. And at any one time fortunately they used to, the snipers if they got around especially in Burma it’s either the head officer they tried to find because there were no rank anyway. But they had way of finding out who gave the command. That’s the one to try and kill. And the doctor. So there were a couple of times they managed to get the doctor managed, they managed to get the doctor but the orderlies, medical orderlies, they took over. They were just as anybody had enough knowledge to get you better. Burma was an adventure. Ah yes. And then shall we say typical but I’m quite glad it happened. I wouldn’t have been anywhere [laughs] I’d have been stuck in Scotland.
GT: Yeah.
JL: What an excuse. And unpaid travel. Holiday travel. But generally all these years in one sense it was [pause] your mum and dad at home or your sisters and brothers they all worried about you and that. You missed them. They all looked out for you but as far as I’m concerned I enjoyed myself. I made it enjoyment. I’m not talking about I wasn’t afraid about bullets or nothing like that hey. I’m not talking about bravery. I made up my mind to enjoy it the best I could. I wish I was here. I wish I was home. I wish I was getting home, you make yourself ill for nothing because there’s no way you could alter it. I’ve told many that. I thought [unclear] around making a big joke of it all and enjoying yourself. Yes. I should write a book, eh?
GT: Now, you said you were born 13 November 1921.
JL: Yeah.
GT: Yeah. And that was here in Edinburgh.
JL: Yes.
GT: And you had how many brothers?
JL: What was that?
GT: How many brothers did you have?
JL: Brothers?
GT: Ahum.
JL: One.
GT: One. And how many sisters?
JL: He was in the army. Sisters? Three.
GT: Three. And, and your father’s business was, was carpentry.
JL: Building trade.
GT: Building trade.
JL: A building business. Yes.
GT: Ok. And you joined when you were seventeen or eighteen? I think you said you joined about September 1939.
JL: 1939.
GT: Is that about right?
JL: That’s right.
GT: Ok. So you’d have been about seventeen. So you had your eighteenth birthday.
JL: Yes. Because everyone thought it was going to last three months.
GT: Months.
JL: So I hurried away and joined the same day.
GT: Where did you do your training? Your initial RAF training.
JL: Was it London? Where was it now?
GT: Halton.
JL: Imphal? No. That’s where I went to in Burma. Where the hell did I do my training?
GT: You must have learned how to march and iron your uniform somewhere.
JL: Not far from London anyway.
GT: Yeah. Not far from there.
JL: What was the name in London. A training area.
GT: Hendon. Northolt?
JL: There’s be some brothel over there [laughs] [unclear] anyway.
GT: So then they sent you up to Feltwell to be with 75 Squadron. And then if we look at the map here we’re just looking at 75 Squadron moved from Feltwell to Mildenhall.
JL: That’s right.
GT: To Feltwell, Oakington, and then by then Newmarket in November ’42.
JL: Newmarket. Yes.
GT: Yeah. And the Stirlings arrived about that same time. So you worked on Stirlings for a little while.
JL: Yeah.
GT: And then you probably, what? Were moved to Burma sometime end of 1942.
JL: That’s correct.
GT: That would be about right. Yeah. That’s just trying to get your records, record correct. And on 11 Squadron you worked on Hurricane 2Cs. Mark 2Cs I see on the record. Hurricanes.
JL: Well I said, the Wimpy. That’s all I can remember now.
GT: Ok.
JL: We called it the Wimpy as you know.
GT: Yeah. Sure. Yeah. And so —
JL: And then in Burma it was the Hurricanes first and then the Spitfire.
GT: Spitfire. Do you remember what mark of Spitfire you worked on there?
JL: Oh no. You’ve got me there.
GT: Ok. They were big and powerful though?
JL: I wasn’t that interested in them actually. To be honest with you.
GT: And, and after the, after you came back from the war you came back to Edinburgh about 1946.
JL: Must have. When did I come back? The war finished.
GT: September.
JL: ‘44
GT: ’45. August September ‘45
JL: The war finished.
GT: Yeah.
JL: I got home on, I think March ‘46.
GT: You swanned around somewhere, didn’t you?
JL: I was quite happy about that. Swanning around. Just come back.
GT: And you took over your dad’s business when you got back.
JL: Well, my dad was here. Yes.
GT: Yeah.
JL: Worked for my dad and dad left us and I carried on the business. And my brother was, he was interested in, my brother was a very good carpenter. He made eighteenth century chairs and all that. That was his job. My brother. He was very clever.
GT: And you didn’t have that skill either.
JL: Anyway, we grew up. A wonderful family. We were very lucky. We used to always say and I mean this we should always thank above. As I used to say our mother and father was made in heaven and then sent down to have us.
GT: Wow. And you —
JL: We wanted for nothing.
GT: No. You met and married a lovely lady.
JL: Yes. Yes. I was at a dance in Edinburgh and I was always, I’m talking about myself now but I can’t help it, a good ballroom dancer. My family, my dad’s sisters and that were all dancers so I was taught properly and I was a good dancer. And that’s how I met my wife. Somebody said to the lady I’d been dancing with, ‘You see him dancing there. He’s a good dancer. Go and ask him for a dance.’ That’s how I met my wife.
GT: And that was, what was your wife-to-be’s name?
JL: Elizabeth.
GT: Elizabeth.
JL: Or called whatever they call them now. Betty
GT: Betty
JL: Aye.
GT: Then how many children did you have from there?
JL: Only the two.
GT: You got married nineteen forty —
JL: ‘46
GT: 1946. That was quick. After coming back.
JL: I think it was 1946. I had known her before I come home for good. I forget now.
GT: It’s alright. And you had one son and one daughter.
JL: Yes. I called them samples. There were no other samples to get. So that was enough.
GT: I’ll make a note here. Samples. And what’s your son’s name?
JL: James.
GT: James again. Yeah. And your daughter’s name?
JL: Margaret.
GT: And Margaret. And where are they now?
JL: Here.
GT: Yeah. Here in Edinburgh. They live in Edinburgh.
JL: Yeah. Aye. There’s both of them here.
GT: So, what, now, you were telling me yesterday that you, you didn’t spend all your time in Edinburgh. Where else did you go to make a living?
JL: Where did I emigrate to now?
GT: How about South Africa?
JL: South Africa was it? That’s right. South Africa. I spent forty one years in South Africa. I had a big business there.
GT: And what was the business doing? What did you in South Africa?
JL: Firewalls, ceilings, partitioning, painting, decorating.
GT: And whereabouts in South Africa?
JL: Johannesburg. But I moved around and I worked in Durban and Cape Town and all over. I was, I went out there for a job. I was going down to watch the crowd. Scotland going down to Wembley to play England. Football. So we left the club at midnight here that I belong to in Edinburgh. We got the 12 o’clock train to London. I didn’t drink you see, so they, I can enjoy myself without that. And by the time I got the other guys from the help to get them on, in the train into seats and fall asleep. I’m sitting there looking at them all and I looked down at a paper somebody left. And I picked it up and I see jobs vacant. Contracts manager wanted in this big firm in London. And my dad had gone. I carried on the business here. But they were all working. My sisters were all working, had good jobs. I looked down and [unclear] so when I come home I said to my late wife, ‘There’s a big job going in London.’ She said, ‘You’re the one that’s got to to keep us. You’ve got to decide the best way you can do it. It’s up to you.’ So I applied for the job. I went down and had an interview. Come back. And I spent a couple of days in London before I came back. Seen a number of shows because I used to belong to the theatre so I knew people in the shows. So I got back up in Edinburgh and Betty said, she said, ‘You’d better get on that phone.’ I said, ‘What for?’ She said, ‘They’ve been phoning you. The job’s yours.’ I said, ‘It’s mine.’ And my son and daughter, ‘Oh, we’re going away. We’re going.’ I said, ‘Oh, wait a minute,’ I said, ‘I’ve got to go down. I’ve got to go down to London and have another interview, medical and what have you.’ So from that day within three weeks we were in, in South Africa. I had a home there and a pool and my Rolls Royce. I worked hard and built a big business in South Africa. I had forty men work for me. [pause] [unclear] So I had a good business here. And mum, my mum was alright in a nice home and my sisters looked after her and that so I get to South Africa. Had a lovely home there and a good life there. Very fortunate. It was good. I worked hard and I played hard. I mean, I think most nights we were always out for dinner. We, I worked hard to get it because I liked a better life and I wasn’t very, you know but you go after something you want and you work for it you get it. People think oh you’re lucky you got — I said, ‘I’m lucky I was given the health to do it. Nobody came along and said, ‘There you are. There’s a big business. There’s the money in the bank to run it and there’s this. You’ve got to use this.’ So I was very fortunate and had a lovely big home there. And then the time came it was decided to come back. My son wanted to come back here. My daughter is married and still over there and a lovely home, and we sold our home and come back here. Helen lost her husband. That’s her here. Yeah. But I had a home. Helen got us a home. My wife wasn’t actually with me. And then my son he got his own home. He’s [pause] excuse me. He’s got his own home. My daughter’s got, still back in South Africa with her family. They’re all grown up now though. They’re all grown up.
GT: So how many grandchildren and great grandchildren have you?
JL: How many have I got? [pause] let’s think. Two granddaughters I think and one grandchild. And a son naturally. That’s about the only ones I’ve heard of [laughs]
GT: The only ones you know of.
JL: Oh yes. [unclear] [laughs] They all run.
GT: The first time I met you James we ended up with dinner with you at your favourite restaurant here at Edinburgh and you really liked the fact that every night you could go for a meal. That was, that was pretty special as far as I’m concerned. That was that was really nice to have your company and you welcomed me. And as secretary of the 75 Squadron in New Zealand I go and visit as many of the veterans from World War Two as I can find and meet up with. So it’s always been a pleasure to sit in your company. And this is my third time in Edinburgh to see you in the last two years, so, three years. So it’s always been an honour to sit in your company and listen to your experiences, your life and what you went through for us many to help those boys who flew away and some that never came back. So I can understand your willingness to discuss and then sometimes it’s, it’s not easy is it? To talk of those times.
JL: Well. Very fortunate. That’s it.
GT: James, you don’t need to touch your forehead to say touch wood. The table.
JL: This is better wood. This is natural wood [laughs] that’s me.
GT: Yeah [laughs] That’s fine.
JL: A man’s brain made this.
GT: Of course.
JL: It wasn’t mine.
GT: Of course. Well, it’s also a pleasure to know that you were on the Squad, on 75 Squadron when James Ward was there too. So —
JL: Yeah.
GT: That was something. There’s no one else around now that was around in his time.
JL: We used to write and then the writing fell off.
GT: Yeah.
JL: Aye.
GT: Oh, you mean. Oh, is that Popeye?
JL: Yeah.
GT: Yeah. Because James Ward was killed late. Well, several months after he was awarded the Victoria Cross. So did you see any of that at the time when he was awarded the Victoria Cross? Did the squadron really feel that was a good time?
JL: I would be in Burma.
GT: I think that happened before you left but —
JL: I don’t remember that to be honest with you.
GT: Yeah. And because, because that happened whilst you were at Feltwell you see so you moved on to, to Newmarket before you went to went, went to Burma so —
JL: Yeah.
GT: That’s ok. So, so I’m getting the vibe that you really liked the Wellington bombers. You really liked 75 NZ Squadron RAF.
JL: That was the one. Number one. Never be anything else to me. It was a happy —
GT: Yeah.
JL: You wouldn’t think there was a war on.
GT: And I I’m looking down here at the list of things that we’ve, we’ve talked about and you’ve pretty much just told me your life history.
JL: What was that?
GT: You’ve told me your life history again and I’m in the company of greatness.
JL: Ah yes. You see, I’ve always been me. The situations you try and make the best of it and of course when I joined up everybody said the war was three months. So away on Sunday morning the 3rd of September 1939 I ran away to join up. And my late dad said to me, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘I’m joining up.’ ‘Three months holiday at the government’s expense. Away you go.’ And when I eventually come back from Burma I think it was the 10th of March 1946. I come home. I got home and my dad said, ‘Have you enjoyed your three months holiday all right?’ I said, ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘it was great.’
GT: That was five years you were away from home. Five years. Not three months.
JL: Somebody told us. Everybody here thought it would be three months the silly bugger. [laughs] and the silly ones really don’t.
GT: So I gather you never went back to Asia.
JL: No. But I’ve no regrets. I enjoyed it. To say that if there was a war on I’m sorry for all the things that happened to everybody and different things but I enjoyed it. It just, when the war finished I was demobbed. I didn’t actually wait I was demobbed I thought, I had the option to stay on. I said no. Go home. I started working for my dad. My dad kept the business going. And then we lost my dad and I kept the business going then. And at one time I had forty nine working for me and I was doing very well. I was not doing, I did do very well, and I was getting tired and everything. I never stopped. Seven days a week. But I had to protect what I’d created. I was going down to London one day to a job. There was an old newspaper, well a day before newspaper, not old but I picked it out and was reading it. “Contracts manager wanted in Johannesburg. Anglo American.” So I come home. I said to my late wife I said, ‘Do you want to go to South Africa?’ She said, ‘We’ll go anywhere you want to go.’ She said, ‘You’re the one that feeds us. Keeps us well and happy and be able to do what we do. You’re the one. Not me.’ So I said, ‘I’ll look at the job anyway.’ So I phoned them up I said blah blah blah. Fine. So I was away this particular morning. I had quite a few contracts for here for the place called the [Scottish Special Housing?] I had forty men working for me. And I was away and when I come back from this job I was doing she says to me, she says, ‘If you answer the phone,’ she says, ‘You’ve got the job.’ And I says, ‘What?’ She says, ‘Yes. You’ve got the job. Are you going to take it?’ I said, ‘It’s up to you.’ So, my son and daughter, they’re jumping up, ‘We’re going to South Africa.’ I said, ‘Oh, wait a minute,’ I says, ‘Your mother.’ So, she says, ‘Don’t ask me.’ She says, ‘You’re the wage earner. You’re the one that’s got to keep us. You’ve got to decide whether we’d be worse off there or better off.’ I said ‘Well, I can’t tell you I will be worse, better off there. I can’t. I’ve got to go and I’ll try and be better off. You’ll have to accept that or we don’t go.’ So I went out to the job and working away there and I was looking around and I’m watching what’s lying there. On a plate eh? I was just quite happy to do later on, you know. They think it’s very good all those years ago going to South Africa. I said to Betty, ‘I’m going to start on my own.’ She said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘I’m going to start on my own.’ She said, ‘What for?’ I said, ‘I’ve been putting a wee bit away,’ I says ‘I’ve got enough, and I’ve been offered the work.’ ‘Up to you.’ So I resigned my job, got a little office and started. It was in a year and a half I had forty men working for me. I had my Rolls Royce and everything. I can show you photographs.
GT: You were a great businessman.
JL: Yes. I had my Rolls Royce.
GT: What’s, what’s Helen’s surname?
JL: Eh?
GT: What’s Helen’s surname?
JL: Paul.
GT: Paul. Helen Paul.
JL: Mrs Paul to her. Yeah.
GT: Helen Paul. Ok. So, we’re in the company of me Glen Turner from the 75 Squadron Association and I’m doing an interviews and meeting Bomber Command folk and you are Mr Jim, James Lamb.
JL: Yes.
GT: And also in the company of Jim’s daughter Helen Paul and Diana Harrington.
JL: You met my son didn’t you? You met my son one day in the street.
GT: So, sorry what was that, James?
JL: I said you met my son, James.
GT: Yes we did. I met him.
JL: In the street.
GT: Yeah. Two years ago. Yeah. I did. That’s right. Well I think we’ve talked enough. I think you have given —
JL: It’s just —
GT: Loads of information to help with my history and and honestly the Bomber Command Centre as well. Are you, you’re ok with that?
JL: Oh, yes. It was 75 Squadron, eh?
GT: I’ve got a form from 75 Squadron. Can I let, can I let you fill that out and I’ll get a blue pen. So you —
JL: I’ll get my glasses.
GT: Ok.
JL: I think my glasses are over there somewhere.
Other: His glasses.
GT: Glasses. Yeah. These ones.
JL: I don’t know where I saw them. Oh that’s come off often. Don’t worry.
GT: Same as mine.
[long pause]
GT: Have you got a blue pen, Jim?
JL: Eh?
GT: Have you got a blue pen?
JL: A pen.
GT: Yeah. Like that one.
JL: An ink pen.
GT: If not Helen will have one.
GT: Try it on there. No. It’s empty.
JL: Helen will get you one.
GT: Ok.
[long pause]
JL: Helen will get you one just now.
JL: That’s alright.
GT: Just locating a pen for James to write his detail down.
JL: That’s what I was going for. How did you guess?
JL: My right, left knee gives me trouble.
GT: Is it? And —
JL: Well that’s nothing is it? The first — James.
GT: That’s, that’s your surname.
JL: Oh.
GT: Yeah. So that’s ok. Just write Lamb here that’s good. You don’t have to cross it out. I can —
JL: Right.
GT: Yeah. James.
JL: The J in.
GT: Yeah. Put James there.
JL: First name.
GT: First name up there. I’ll get you to sign. Just sign your name there.
JL: My name.
GT: Just a signature. Just a signature.
JL: James.
GT: Yeah. Ok. Two.
JL: I had a few names but I can’t write them out there.
JL: No [laughs] Ok. Sign that one there. Just your signature so that I get everyone just to sign something.
JL: Elizabeth. We called her Betty.
GT: Ok.
JL: Address. I’ll just put here.
GT: Yes. [redacted]
[long pause]
JL: The email address is the same as above.
GT: Yeah. Well, you’ve only got a phone number haven’t you?
JL: Eh?
GT: You’ve only got a phone number, James. So just put your mobile phone number. The one we’ve been ringing.
JL: I’ll give you the house phone.
GT: Ok. Yeah.
JL: Or I’ll give you my phone. Both.
GT: Well, we’ve been talking on your mobile haven’t we?
JL: [unclear]
GT: Yeah. Ok. Actually —
JL: I’ll get the house number from Helen.
GT: Ok.
JL: I can’t remember it properly.
GT: Alright. Fine. You don’t have an email so that’s fine. Date of birth. Ok. So your, your phone number [redacted].
GT: Right. Your service number.
JL: That’s what I’m trying to remember. The first one. 1373978. I’m sure that was it.
GT: Yeah.
GT: Right. Now also your trade was the job that you did in the Air Force, so your — that’s ok you can just put. Because that was what you did before. Can you put slash aircraft tech because you were an aircraft mechanic weren’t you?
JL: Rigger.
GT: Yeah. That’s good. You were a rigger. And where were you? So you were at Feltwell. This is your time on 75 Squadron. So you were at Feltwell. Just put Feltwell on that one.
JL: That’s the area.
GT: Served where? Feltwell.
JT: [unclear]
GT: No. Just put Feltwell.
JL: Just put Feltwell.
GT: Yeah. [pause] And Mildenhall. You were at Mildenhall, weren’t you? Mildenhall.
JL: Feltwell.
GT: Yeah. Feltwell and Mildenhall.
JL: In the UK.
GT: Yeah. Ok. And 1940. I think it was 1940 to 1942.
JL: When the war finished.
GT: No. This is just 75 Squadron.
JL: Yes.
GT: Yeah. Yeah. So just put 1940 there.
JL: 1940.
GT: Yeah. And then put 1942. It’s just rough. It’s just a rough idea. I don’t have to be exact.
JL: And then I went to Burma.
GT: Yes. That’s right but this was 75 Squadron not 11. And you were AC2.
JL: Yeah.
GT: Yeah. Aircraftsman.
JL: Aircraftsman. That’s all.
GT: Yeah. So put AC2.
JL: That’s what you were you called. What were you called? I’ll put aircraftsman.
GT: Put AC2. We know what that is.
GT: Yeah. And AC2 there when you retired. When you left the RAF you were —
GT: AC2. Ok. So none of those. None of those. And aircraft type. So put Wellington and Stirling.
JL: Stirling.
GT: Yeah. In this one here.
JL: I should put there they thank God they got rid of me.
GT: Special award James. Yeah. So that one there put Wellington and Stirling.
JL: Will this get me a pension?
GT: I can only but try for you. There you can put 11 Squadron Burma. Hurricane. That’s, that’s your other, other RAF history. So put 11 Squadron.
JL: Put UK in and Burma.
GT: No. You just put here 11 Squadron.
JL: 11 Squadron.
GT: Yeah. And then you can put Burma.
JL: Burma.
GT: Yeah. And put next to it Hurricane. Yeah. Hurricane. Hurri and Spit. Put Hurri and Spit.
JL: In there.
GT: Yeah. Hurri and Spit. That’s the two aircraft you worked on. Yeah.
JL: How?
GT: Hurricane.
JL: Oh. Yeah. Oh.
GT: My accent.
JL: But also in here was the Wellington as well.
GT: Right. You put Wellington up here. Yeah. See. Wellington next to it.
JL: I’ve put that there.
GT: And one last thing is to sign for me just up here Jim. Just do a signature for me. Ok. Now this, this is to the Bomber Command Centre has asked me to make sure that I come and visit you Bomber Command guys.
JL: Yeah.
GT: And talk to you and see if you would mind your details going into their archives. So that’s your history.
JL: Yeah.
GT: Yeah. And I’ve got a photograph of us now so they would like a photograph of us from me talking with you.
JL: Yeah.
GT: But they need to know that you are ok with you and I doing this. So that just tells your name. I can fill all this in for you. But that’s, that’s a declaration of the interview. This says that. And this is you. This is —
JL: Yeah.
GT: It says you’ve consented to take part in the recording and assign the university the copyright. So in other words they they hold that agreement. “I agree that my name will be publicly associated with this interview but understand that all other personal details will be stored under strict confidential conditions.” Alright? They have very strict rules. “I grant permission for my photograph to be taken.” So that’s the photograph I’ve just taken. We’ve just taken of us. Is that ok? Yeah. “And I agree to my interview being available.” And people can hear your story. Is that alright with you?
JL: This is only for, this is not to be on the TV or —
GT: No. No TV.
JL: Radio or anything.
GT: No.
JL: It’s just personal to the Bomber Command.
GT: Yes. They just ask you. You sign that one there and I can write your name on that.
GT: Ok. And now, now I think, I think this is a form about donating but I think this is about this archive. Now, I’m sure that you’re not, agreement to donate items. But you haven’t got any items that you want to donate.
JL: No. I haven’t got anything to associate with it.
GT: But now. If, if I can get you to sign that I will destroy this once I get down there because I’m not sure to know if the donation is about this piece here. Are you ok if you sign saying that you agree to this information being donated to the archives? Because you’re donating your history to the archives. Are you ok with that? And if this is not needed I will destroy this form because —
JL: No. I’m not going to sign that.
GT: Ok. Alright. That’s ok. Well, that’s brilliant Jim because that will go in my archives and they have got a little bit of a story about you. So I’ve got some notes. I’ve kept some notes. This is not for the newspaper or anything. This is just for the 75 Squadron because I’ve only got two Lambs on my history of 75 Squadron and you’re not one of those two so I’m now. Now I’ve got three.
JL: [unclear]
GT: No. But you’re part of the 75 Squadron history you see and Bomber Command history for that matter see.
JL: Oh right. Oh yeah.
GT: That’s why I’ve asked you to fill that out for me and now we’ve got your photographs. You’ve been wearing my tie for three or four years now.
JL: Oh yes.
GT: With the Wellington and the Stirling bomber on it.
JL: I just wore that just to show you that I have just got such respect for 75 New Zealand Squadron.
GT: Well I’ve come a long way to say hello so it is —
JL: I shall never forget it. I’m going to tell you something I’ve told people, Helen can tell you and.
GT: Hang on, I’ll get that for you.
JL: Leave that off for now. Sorry. Helen will tell you I tell a few people and they must go away saying there’s something wrong with him. I enjoyed the war with 75 New Zealand Squadron. Now it’s a terrible thing to say isn’t it?
GT: Emotions played a massive part in how you managed to survive your part of the war, James and if you managed to get through it in that manner it’s not terrible. It’s the way you’ve survived and you are ninety six next birthday aren’t you?
JL: It’s just that you say you enjoyed the war. It wasn’t the war. I forgot about the war as I went out. I had a great time. There must be something wrong with him here. But I used to say to some of the lads who’d say, ‘You never wished you were finished and you were home?’ I said, ‘I long for the day to get home but wishing. We won’t get back home ‘til it’s all over and by the grace of God we’ll get through it all and then get back home.’ But they were saying, ‘I wish this anyway.’ That’s not going to finish it. I said, ‘It takes the big wheels of history to say we’ll finish it there. Let’s finish it today.’ I said, ‘So to go around I wish we were this. I wish this. You’re only making yourself ill. You signed to come in to it. It’s a war and that’s different than peace time.’ Oh you join up and you say twenty five years and all of a sudden you say you’ve had enough of this you can get out because you can get out but it’ll cost you this. You can buy yourself out eh? We all do things. I was, I was an, for example in one way. I was in the war. Well, I would have been called up anyway. And I was always thankful I went to 75 New Zealand Squadron because I don’t think there was a happier Squadron in Bomber Command and that is the honest truth. Everybody was happy. I mean I had done it as well. Got home, got fed up being at home and come back two days off my leave. I wasn’t the only one eh? I had enough there. Better back here. Yeah. But we had wonderful officers. It was a, it was a happy Squadron. It was a [pause] Group Captain Lucas. He wasn’t the group captain. He was one of the boys. And then on Sunday he took the toast in the main dining room. Everybody was in the main dining room. He was at the table naturally himself and that and he took the toast on a Sunday and the grace. And British Air Force. You come and watch a football match the lads were playing sit beside just any crowd pick this up they said out came his cigarettes case. The cigarettes and smoking. He was a wonderful man eh? No matter what he asked us to do we would have done it. We would do it for him. Yeah. I’ll never forget Popeye Lucas. As COs went he was a man above men. He had his own, he had his way with him. And once we were out late I stayed out late. It was 2 o’clock when I got home. Of course I’m on a charge naturally. I mean I knew I would get booked. I was in front of him in the morning. He said, ‘You’re charged with being out.’ I said, Yes, sir. It’s perfectly right.’ He said, ‘You’re supposed to be in,’ he said, ‘By 11.59.’ You know. Not even twelve. It’s 11.59 you had to get in by. I said, ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘But I met people,’ I says, ‘And the lassie,’ I said, ‘I met took me home to see her parents and I sat and had supper and that,’ I says, ‘And the supper would be worth having that so I says I’ll probably get in confined to camp for seven or fourteen days and then I’ll get out, eh?’ I said, ‘Anyway, I’ve done wrong and I deserve to get the punishment. I’m not upset. I knew I was doing wrong.’ So he sat looking up at me. He says, ‘That’s the first time I’ve heard somebody say things like that to me when they’re going to get charged then.’ I said, ‘We all know if you do something wrong you get punished for it. Even at home when you’re a baby. You’re a boy at school. Teachers are going to slap,’ I said, ‘At home they’re going to spank you if you’ve done something.’ I said, ‘So it’s alright. I’ve done wrong and that.’ He said, ‘Dismissed. Get back to your — ’ He never charged for me. Never [laughs]
GT: That saved you a bob or two.
JL: Oh but, 75 New Zealand Squadron was above any other Squadron in the Royal Air Force. It was ran with love. You can write that in a book if you want. There was nobody when we were going on leave. And I included. It’s not the first going on leave and coming back two days earlier. I’m not the first one. It was a, well I wasn’t on, well I was on a training before I went to the Squadron but as far as happiness. Group Captain Lucas. He’d got, he was just one of the lads when he was watching a football match. If we were on parades or anything official things he had to do he was the boss. But normally than that he was one of the lads. Oh yes. I told the world about that when I came home. You know it’s just a pity officers there probably have been some like that I hope. When an officer said to me, ‘If you’re like that you lose their respect.’ I said, ‘You don’t lose their respect. It’s how you handle it.’ I said, ‘I was in a Squadron,’ I says, ‘That every man would have went to hell and back with this man.’ I said, ‘He was, we couldn’t do enough for him.’ He said, ‘You were never punished?’ I said, ‘Yes. I come back a few days over my extra leave. I said, ‘Instead of going away for ten days. I stayed away fourteen days.’ ‘Did he punish you?’ I said, ‘Yes, he punished me. That’s his job. He’s got to do his job.’ ‘You weren’t angry?’ I said, ‘What for? I knew I was doing wrong. It wasn’t a mistake.’ ‘Oh no,’ he says, ‘You don’t look at it that way. A good officer wouldn’t have.’ I says, ‘A bad officer would have let me off.’ I said, ‘An officer commanding has got to have respect from his men to do for him what he wants us to do. So if I came back he said ‘Alright, dismissed.’ I thought oh in that case I’ll go away again I’ll stay away two weeks the next time. Not correct [unclear] You’ve got to be in command. In command and keep in command and be obeyed but you’ve also got to be a friend. They look upon you as a friend first. I said that to many young lad that was, I says, ‘He’s got to be a friend. Then he’s got to give you orders and he’s got to look after you. That’s all. His decision is our lives.’
GT: That’s very astute of you being eighteen years old going on twenty three when you finally finished with the war. A very astute young man you must have been.
JL: Aye. I had no regrets joining up. I don’t know if I’d have been in any other Air Force or not but in 75 New Zealand Squadron it was like one massive holiday. Yeah. Yes.
GT: Well, I I think I’ve taken more than enough of your time up today there Jim. And —
JL: You thought of way back you keep on going don’t you?
GT: You’re a star all the stuff you’ve been telling me today.
JL: All the lasses. Put the uniform on. ‘You come from New Zealand?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘What do you do?’ ‘I don’t work.’ Eh? Oh I’ll tell you. ‘You don’t work?’ I said, ‘I don’t have to work. My father owns a big sheep estate and everything,’ oh [laughs] Millionaire Lamb is dancing tonight. I’ve danced with a millionaire.
GT: Yeah.
JL: Great times, eh?
GT: I’m pleased you had some great times.
JL: Yes. I was a good, I happened to be a good ballroom dancer. There was no problem with the lasses who wanted to dance you gave them a dance. What do you do? ‘What do you work at?’ ‘I don’t work. My father’s got a big business.’ Oh aye. I had the dreams. I had the dreams.
GT: Just going to get —
JL: I had the dreams.
GT: Take a couple of photographs there.
JL: I’ll stand up.
GT: No. You just sit there Jim. I’ll sit next to you around the side and Diana’s just going to take a couple of photographs.
JL: There we are.
GT: There we go.
JL: One country to another. A handshake.
GT: Alright. And I’ll let her take one more because I could have blinked.
JL: The camera’s not broken yet. That’s odd.
Other: Pretty good [unclear] pretty good. That’s a nice close up one.
JL: Is it?
Other: Yeah.
GT: Well, I’m yeah, you’ve got dinner coming soon have you? You’ve got your dinner coming.
JL: No. We wait a bit longer and then they send it over.
GT: Oh, that’s good.
JL: They ring us and ask if we want it now.
GT: We know that Helen is obviously a bit tired and she’s waiting for dinner is she?
JL: Where is she?
Other: She’s here.
JL: She’s there. You’ve got, no you go now. It’s alright. Yeah. So now I’m going to head south tomorrow.
GT: Yeah.
JL: So I’m going to try and get back to see you again next year.
GT: I hope so. Yes.
JL: What time is it anyway?
GT: Five to six in the evening. Five to six.
JL: Where does the time go?
GT: Well, we arrived at 3 o’clock. Was it 3 o’clock?
JL: It just runs.
GT: Yeah. Because that would be two hours. That’s two hours you and I have been talking.
JL: Yes. It’s —
GT: How are your fingers. Are they, because you were a builder in hammers and all that kind of stuff, yeah you haven’t got arthritis or anything? Gosh you’re lucky aren’t you? A man of your age.
JL: It’s all the dancing. The high jump. Dancing.
GT: When did you last finish dancing?
JL: Oh if I go to functions I go up. Mostly people I know I used to be you know it’s nice talking about yourself but I used to dance for Scotland in ballroom dancing. I was. But my family, my late father bless him his sisters were all dancers. So maybe what was in their genes came on to me. I liked ballroom dancing and at first you’re dancing where everybody goes and you dance with one lassie and another lassie and another lassie and the lassie that cane really dance . ‘Thank you. Thanks for a lovely dance.’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘You too.’ And it gets around the dance halls and I said oh many times [unclear] come and say, ‘Can I dance with you tonight?’ But I liked ballroom dancing. I liked the theatre. I often wish I had been in the theatre. I was on the stage a few times. We often used to say I wished I had made that profession. I loved the theatre. I mixed with the theatre people and I knew them all. Yes. I’ve had, I could write a book.
GT: You didn’t.
JL: We’re all different if we could write. No. But [pause] I was. One of my dad’s sisters, my auntie Alice was a dancer. A highland dancer. She went to exhibitions and that and she taught me ballroom dancing so when I went dancing and you got a lassie that could dance you come back and then eventually Jimmy Lamb was known. So I went to a dance and everybody up there and up and dancing and I enjoyed ballroom dancing and I used to go every night. That’s one thing I enjoyed. But —
GT: So where did you do your ballroom dancing. Here in Edinburgh?
JL: Edinburgh.
GT: And that was how old were you doing that?
JL: I’d be in my, I ‘d say, maybe eighteen, nineteen. I also ballroom danced in South Africa and I went to the big, I was the district governor of Lionism in Johannesburg. You know, have you heard of Lionism? It’s like the Round Table. I happened to be elected district governor. When I went out I really liked showbusiness. Big dinners and that. So as I say I should have. I loved the theatre. I should have maybe, I don’t know. Anyway, I didn’t and I just put enjoyment into everything and they were the good days. But the dancing now is [pause] the dancing and the ballroom dancing fizzled out. That’s old fashioned now. But I loved ballroom dancing. And I happened to be not bad at it. I have no complaints. No complaints. Ballroom dancing. The Palace of Dance here nearly every night. Oh yes. But these days are gone for the young ones. They’re not interested in that now. No. They’re not. That’s no good. That’s too tame. When I see how some of the young ones are at night coming home from wherever they’ve been, I really feel sorry for them. They call in they get themselves, they go for a drink and then it’s, ‘It’s great if you’re drunk. It’s a great feeling being drunk,’ I’ve heard them saying. Stupid eh? I’ll take a glass of whisky. Yeah. Anybody. But that’s, that’s enough. To sit all night drinking beers and go to the toilet and come back and fill their bladder again that’s some system that isn’t it? Stupid system. None of our families did drink. Late Dad never touched a drink in his life and he said to me, ‘Although I don’t drink, Jim,’ he says, ‘You can go and have a drink. I’m not stopping you having a drink when you’re out with your friends.’ he says, ‘But I’ll tell you one thing. You don’t forget it. The first night you come here aggressively drunk,’ he says, ‘I’ll wait ‘til you sober up and everything, in the morning I’ll tell you to get out your clothes and leave.’ That was a fair enough warning wasn’t it? But I don’t see any pleasure going out to get drunk. Do you? If they’re all looking for you at a party or something, they’re all buying you drinks you don’t tell me you can’t stop because you know yourself when you’re getting a wee bit. I’ve never been drunk. I don’t intend to get drunk. I have a drink. Talking about that would you like a drink before you go?
GT: That would be very nice of you thank you. Let’s have one last whisky together.
JL: Right.
GT: Please.
JL: Never thought of asking you about that before.
GT: You’ve been busy.



Glen Turner, “Interview with James Lamb,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 22, 2024,

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