Interview with Jack Linaker


Interview with Jack Linaker


Jack Linaker was working in a reserved occupation as a steelworker before volunteering to join the RAF. He was originally told he would be trained as a flight engineer but as delays were frustrating he began training as a rear gunner. He joined 9 Squadron and crewed up with his friend who had been through the training with him. After one operation their aircraft crashed on return to base. The bomb aimer and navigator were killed and the pilot was wounded. Jack went on to fly with a new pilot who had lost his own gunners.




Temporal Coverage




00:36:08 audio recording


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DK: Right. David Kavanagh, International Bomber Command Centre interviewing Jack Linaker. Put that there.
JL: Yeah but you’ll have Jack Linaker. The name is William John.
DK: Oh.
JL: But everybody calls me Jack.
DK: Sorry. William John known as Jack Linaker.
JL: Yeah.
DK: Ok. I wonder if we could just, do you mind if you just pull one of these tables up? One of these. Just put that there and put the microphone on. I’ll put that there. You won’t have to shout then. Ok. So, so you were saying about the militia then?
JL: Pardon?
DK: You were talking about the militia.
JL: Yeah well —
DK: And the Territorial Army.
JL: Before the war started the government had a plan to call up young blokes like me. And I was called up. I had a medical examination and all the rest of it. I went to, had the medical examination and we were interviewed and, by, by these big shots like. And I said I wouldn’t mind being in the Guards. And this chap said —
DK: Right.
JL: ‘Well, you can’t be in the Guards Jack because you’re not tall enough.’ He says, ‘Join the artillery.’ So, he put me down for the Artillery. WelI, I thought that was great you know. So, anyhow, I was called up to go up to Bishop Auckland. To the Artillery.
DK: Yeah.
JL: And I went. I took it down to the steelworks and they sent it back. They said, ‘You’re not going. You’re staying here for the simple reason we’ve got that and we’ve got women coming in and you’ll be able to teach the women.’ So I didn’t get called up. And then eventually the war started. And the women come in to the steel works and there was me teaching women little jobs that men did. And I wasn’t, I wasn’t quite on — I think I was about twenty. I wasn’t twenty one but anyhow whilst the women was there we had we had rationed the chocolates and things like that. We could get it. And then anyhow these women they was very good to us all and all the rest of it. And the next thing is they told me I have to be transferred and they transferred me to Kettering furnaces.
DK: Right.
JL: And it was the worst bloody job I ever had in my life. I’m not kidding you.
DK: So how old were you when you started in the steel works then? Sixteen?
JL: We, when we come to Corby from Northampton we had nothing. My father was out of work. And he got a job as a work chauffeur.
DK: Right.
JL: So I’ll be about sixteen or seventeen.
DK: Right.
JL: When we came to Corby.
DK: So you’d be about sixteen or seventeen working in the steel.
JL: Yeah.
DK: Corby. Yeah.
JL: And I did get a job straight away. Of course, the steel, the Germans were still building the steelworks. And I biked to Kettering, and I got a job in Kettering where they made furniture. And then when, round about Whitsun time the bloke says, ‘Jack, I’m sorry. We don’t want you anymore.’ So I went back to Corby. Went down to the local dole place. They said. ‘You’re just right. They’re taking young lads into the steel works.’ So, I got a job in the steel works. And I’ll tell you what. Men were teaching me and they was on, one or two blokes who knew all about it but most, most of the chaps had come down from Scotland.
DK: Right.
JL: Where they’d had it, had it rough. So I never picked up the wages like, like the beginning of the steel works. So the first thing I did, I had to, in them days you handed your money over. I handed my mum over and she give me ten shillings. The first thing I did with that ten shillings, I went straight into Kettering and put the ten shillings down on a fifty bob suit.
DK: Right.
JL: The fifty bob tailors. And then the fifty bob tailors was bloody good in them days. So, anyhow that was it. In that time I used to go into Kettering. I did a bit of dancing and all the rest of it and I picked up a young lady there. We got on alright together and all the rest of it but one night when I was taking her home in Kettering her old man come out and he said, ‘If that’s one of them buggers from Corby he can bugger off.’ So anyhow, I said, ‘I’m not from Corby. I’m from Northampton.’ So he took me in. We had a cup of coffee and all the rest of it. I said, ‘I’ve missed the bus.’ He said, ‘You can borrow my bike.’ But that was the end. The Kettering people didn’t like the blokes from Corby. So anyhow, eventually I did take, take the job in Kettering. But it was the worst job I ever had. In the meantime I got married.
DK: Right.
JL: And I had to live with her mother. She told me, ‘If you marry me you’ll have to,’ But she wanted me to marry her because she was only eighteen and I was twenty or twenty one. But anyhow we got married. And the job I had in that place was bloody horrible. So I went straight down to the Labour Exchange and I volunteered for the RAF.
DK: Right.
JL: So, they filled in all the forms and all the rest of it and they sent me to Cardington. They sent me to Cardington. I passed the exam and all the rest of it. They interviewed and they said, ‘Right. We’ll put you down as a flight engineer.’
DK: Can you remember what year this would have been? Had the war started by this time?
JL: The war had started by that time. It would be —
DK: 1940 sort of time.
JL: You stay there.
DK: So it would have been 1942 then.
JL: Yeah. So anyhow, as I said I went and had the interview and I had to come home. And they put me down for a flight engineer. And I was married. I was living with, with the mother in law and all the rest of it. And I thought this was, it was alright but the money was no good. Eventually I wrote to the RAF to call me up. And they did. And they sent me down to the RAF Regiment. And I went over to the Isle of Man and did training with the RAF Regiment and all the rest of it. And then eventually I was in the RAF Regiment and then others, others was volunteering. They wanted aircrew and all the rest of it. But I don’t know why, I never bothered about it. Then all of a sudden it come to my head and I went to see the adjutant. I said, ‘Look, I’ve got a paper here.’ I’ve got it still in there. I said, ‘I wouldn’t mind going aircrew.’ So he said, ‘Why not?’ So, he sent me up to London. I had an interview and I think I stayed at one of the posh places up London and they says, ‘What did you — ’ I says, ‘Well,’ I says, ‘I didn’t know what to do.’ So anyhow, he says, ‘Right. We’ll send you down.’ And they sent me down to the RAF Regiment, and I was with them and then all of a sudden I went and saw the adjutant. I said, ‘Look, I’ve got this bloody paper here. Aircrew.’ So he said, ‘Right.’ He sent me up to London again and the next thing is I was training to be an air gunner and I trained at, over the Isle of Man.
DK: Right.
JL: And from that on I met a friend of mine, Bunny Rothwell. And when, when we’d passed our tests we were sent out to Desborough way to our IOU and then we went and trained on Wellingtons and things like that.
DK: Yeah.
JL: You know.
DK: So when was your training first of all in the air? Was the Isle of Man — ?
JL: Yes. Well, the first time we went training in the air it was on Ansons.
DK: Right.
JL: And they had turrets on the ground and all the rest of it and that’s how we, how we trained. And then —
DK: So you trained on the ground first of all.
JL: Yeah. Yeah.
DK: And then in the turret in the, on the Anson.
JL: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
DK: So what were your targets in the air then?
JL: Pardon?
DK: What were your targets? Your training targets.
JL: What?
DK: What were you shooting at?
JL: Well, they used to put a plane in the air with a bloody great big trailer on the back of it.
DK: Yeah.
JL: Yeah. Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
JL: We used to shoot at that.
DK: And try and avoid the plane.
JL: Yeah. Yeah. Of course the bullets was covered. All the rest of it.
DK: Right.
JL: And that would be on [pause] that would be Ansons.
DK: Right.
JL: That would be about 1944 on Ansons. And [pause] then they sent us to an OTU but we was on Wellingtons. And from Wellingtons, well we had the, I must admit we had the time of our lives because we used to bugger off when there weren’t anything else. And the next thing is, the next thing is —
DK: Is that where you met your crew?
JL: No.
DK: Oh you hadn’t met your crew yet.
JL: No. No. First of all they sent us to, we was on Wellingtons. And then they sent us to a Conversion Unit. And I don’t know why but I arrived a bit late. And they seemed to be all crewed. Crewed up. So when I walked down there the first bloke I met was Bunny Rothwell. And I was at air gunner’s school with him. So he says, ‘Just the man, Jack. You can come. You can be in our crew.’ He says, ‘We want a rear gunner.’ He said, ‘I don’t want [laughs] I don’t want to be the rear gunner,’ he said, ‘No. You. I’m the mid-upper.’ So, Curly Read was the pilot. And that’s how I got crewed up. And then —
DK: So this was on 9 Squadron was it? Or before? Before then?
JL: Just before then.
DK: Before. Ok.
JL: So we was in an OTU.
DK: OTU right.
JL: But we was training on Wellingtons.
DK: Right.
JL: Then we went on what they called Conversion Unit.
DK: Ok.
JL: And then we went over on Stirlings. The [pause] everybody hated flying in Stirlings. The aberration of the air force. So anyhow —
DK: You didn’t, you didn’t like the Stirlings then.
JL: No.
DK: No.
JL: So the next thing is we got called up they sent us to 9 Squadron.
DK: Ok.
JL: The best of it is when we got to 9 Squadron the bloody place was empty. So we went into the sergeant’s mess. So we said to said to the young, somebody in there, ‘Where are they?’ They said, ‘Shhhh top secret. They’re in Russia.’
DK: Right.
JL: So 9 Squadron was in Russia.
DK: The Tirpitz.
JL: We went, we went down to the local pub. The Jolly Sailor. And everybody in there, they knew, ‘Shhh top secret. They’re in Russia.’ And they, 9 squadron had flown out to Russia to get the Tirpitz because of that. But, ok. They was there. So, alright, they didn’t get it so when they did come back they brought a load of Russian money back which was worthless. So anyhow —
DK: No vodka.
JL: Yeah.
DK: No vodka.
JL: Anyhow, when we got back like, we got crewed up and all the rest of it.
DK: So which base was this then? Which RAF station? Was it Bardney?
JL: Yeah.
DK: Bardney. Yeah.
JL: And then we got crewed, we got a crew. Curly Read was my first pilot and we crewed up. And then [pause] right. We, we really, really enjoyed it at Bardney. That was around about 1944.
DK: Ok.
JL: And we’d already been [pause] we’d had already been to Munich.
DK: So where was your first?
JL: We’d been to, we’d been up to Norway.
DK: Right.
JL: To the fjords. The idea was to get hold of the boats that do that. So we had, whilst we was there me and my mate Bunny Rothwell we had, you know we really enjoyed ourselves. We used to go down to the local pub, The Jolly Sailor . Which ain’t there anymore and that. So when we, we carried on, we did a few flights and then we come back. It was very, oh we’d been up to Norway. We’d come back and it was very very foggy. He overshot the runway and he tried to get around again and he crashed. I fell out the rear turret. And the next thing is I was laid on the bloody floor in mud. The next person I saw was Bunny Rothwell. So we went over, saw Bunny. And as that one bloke stepped out of the plane and he fell down. And then another one come out. He fell down. I pulled the parachute cover up one of them and that was when the navigator and the bomb aimer, they was, they was killed. The pilot, we couldn’t find him. But he’d gone through the canopy. He was over, way over there but he was still alive but he had a [pause] skull. And the wireless operator he had a fractured skull. So that, that was him gone. 1944. Just before Christmas. So we moaned and moaned and moaned. They was, they was going to take them two lads back to where their parents was. And I managed to get home for Christmas, to Kettering. And that was on operation. We’d been to Stettin. Crashed on return to base. Then afterwards Ray Harris had these two air gunners and they got shot up well one day and he lost them. And then I joined Ray Harris and I flew, flew with Ray Harris right ‘til the end of the war. And he was the man who started the reunion. 9 Squadron. The first reunion we ever had was RAF Club Piccadilly. And he had a little bit in the News of the World about it. My mate Bunny Rothwell, he rung me and he said, ‘You’re going.’ So, we went down and we stayed the night at some hotel. We stayed at, went to RAF Club Piccadilly. When we, you’ll laugh at this bugger then. When we stayed the night we had the time of our life. We was going back to the hotel. When, when we got back to the hotel there was these women in the doorway and they said so and so and so and so, ‘You can have the night for us for thirty quid.’ And me and Bunny Rothwell bloody laughed our heads off. He said, ‘You’re a bit expensive.’ Anyway, we never had, we never took any notice of women. We just bloody went up. And we didn’t know half the stuff that went on in bloody London you see. So anyhow, we went, we went back to 9 Squadron and then well me, we had, any time we could get away we used to go down to Nottingham. Why we went to Nottingham it was always known that was the place for wine, women and song. This is true. One night we was down Nottingham. So we didn’t have to get back until the morning. So we booked a bed in, this is true, we booked a bed in at the YMCA. So, we went down to this pub, not a really nice pub. We’d become, I forget the name of it now. But anyhow, we was up the bar. We were having a drink. Now, this is a fact this lady come up to us. So she says, ‘Are you two boys in Nottingham for the night?’ We says, ‘Yes.’ ‘Well,’ she said, she was very nice, she said, ‘Well, my husband is in the Middle East and he’s a major. But it was always our intention if anybody was aircrew they could stay in our house for the night.’ We thanked her very much and all the rest of it. In the end we did go back to her place. So when we got to her place in Nottingham, lovely. Like that. The maid opened the bloody door and we sat down. We had a couple of drink and all the rest of it. So she said, ‘I’ll show you to your bedroom.’ She showed me to my bedroom. And then she showed Bunny to his bedroom. And we got up in the morning. We told her we had to be on Trent Bridge. We’d get the lorry back. So we went up. And we got up in the morning and there was the maid there. All that. And she come down and she said, ‘Don’t forget. Go back and tell your boys they could stay here anytime.’ So we went back and told the blokes about it.
DK: Yeah.
JL: And we had a laugh. Anyhow, when we got back we never bothered about going back to Nottingham. We’d go to anywhere. We’d jump and all the rest of it. And of course, I’d been married and my, and my wife had buggered off with the bloody Yanks.
DK: Oh no.
JL: So, that put the cap on married life. So anyhow, one day I went down to the mess. Picked up this letter and I read it. And I went straight down to the gunnery section. I says to Bunny Rothwell , you know the night we stayed at Nottingham?’ He says, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Did you sleep with a woman?’ He says, ‘I did.’ I said, ‘And did you tell her your name was Jack Linaker?’ He said, ‘Yeah. I wasn’t going to tell her my own name.’ He says, ‘What’s the matter. I said, ‘She’s just died and left me all her money.’ [laughs] He tells the same story but the other way around.
DK: Yeah.
JL: So anyhow, we, I went. I started to fly with Ray Harris. He, he went out on the motorbike and he crashed the motorbike and hurt his leg. He never went flying again. And I flew with Ray Harris right until the war ended. We did a tour of all the places we —
DK: So how many operations did you do altogether?
JL: Pardon?
DK: How many operations all together?
JL: Counting leaflets I only did eighteen.
DK: Eighteen.
DK: So how, how many were with the first crew and how many with the second crew?
JL: That, that was my second crew.
DK: Yeah.
JL: That would be 1945 would be the last time I flew on the squadron. Then I finished up in Singapore. Not flying but they sent me to Singapore and that, that was it.
DK: Were most of the flying night time? Was most of the flying during the night?
JL: Pardon?
DK: Were they daylight operations or during the night?
JL: During the night.
DK: During the night.
JL: I don’t, I don’t think [pause] I think I did one daylight raid.
DK: Right.
JL: Over in France.
DK: Did you, as an air gunner did you ever fire your guns while on operations?
JL: Once.
DK: Once.
JL: Once I fired them. Once. But the best of it is when you, when you went out with a squadron and that, the, the Germans could put up a Lanc, pull up a Lanc and they put it in the bomber stream. So, and also if anybody was tailing you you’d tell your pilot you were being tailed. He’d either dive to starboard or port you see. And one night a Mossie was there. And I said to him, ‘If that Mossie doesn’t get off our tails I’ll give him a shot.’ Anyhow, the Mossie, the Mossie buggered off and all the rest of it so that was it. And when I think about it and all the rest of it you know, I was a lucky bugger.
DK: The one time you did fire your guns can you remember what you were shooting at?
JL: Yeah. We saw this bloody Dornier come in but he was at quite a distance. So I told the pilot. I says, ‘I’ll give him a shot.’ And I did. And the next thing is he buggered off so we never saw him again. And the next time — I did fire once more. I’ll tell you what. We, we were going over. I think it was to Munich and they’d put the flood lights on. And I turned the guns down and threw a few shots at the —
DK: The searchlight.
JL: Searchlight.
DK: Searchlight. Yeah.
JL: And they went out and that was it.
DK: So, was, was your role then as an air gunner to be more of a lookout? To warn the pilot of dangers.
JL: Pardon?
DK: Is your role as an air gunner to warn the pilot of dangers?
JL: Well, the role of, the role — this is a fact. The role of a rear gunner. He had a life of four hours.
DK: Right.
JL: That’s what they said to that. So you’ve got to be lucky because many a time they get hold of the rear gunner and all they do is throw meat out. Now, one night, before, before we went on the squadron there was this pilot come in with a [pause] it was either a Hurricane or a Spitfire and he crashed. They couldn’t get him and he was screaming. Well, one of the blokes come out with his arm and he, he fired his gun straight into that because they couldn’t get the pilot out. And killed him.
DK: Oh dear. So how, as, as all these years later as you look back on your time in the RAF how do you feel about it now?
JL: The time I had in the RAF I did, I did try to stay on. Of course I was a warrant officer. And the bloke said to me, ‘You’ll drop a rank.’ And I said no. I’ll stay on but no drop. And that’s when I come out. Because I’d got to drop a rank. I wouldn’t have minded staying on if I didn’t have to drop a rank but I did. And I come home and I’d got, I’d got my job back in the steelworks and a bloody good job and all the rest of it. And then my father fell out of work. Me and my wife bought him a taxi and he run a, run a taxi. And then when that, I packed up the job when my dad died. I packed up my job at the steelworks which I shouldn’t have done and run the taxi business. And I should have bloody sold it out there then. So I didn’t.
DK: Do you look back on your time in the RAF as proud of that time or is it — ?
JL: I look back on my time in the RAF. I enjoyed every minute of it. I probably, I would have stayed on if I didn’t have to drop a rank.
DK: Yeah.
JL: But today you get different views. Now, we are always on about these migrants coming over and all that. When I think about it you see the little babies being pulled out. And I want, I look, I want to know, they would have been much better off staying in their own country. And I I look at children. Unfortunately, we never had any children what with one thing and another. It was something to do with the wife but we tried to have children and didn’t. But there was always kids in this house. And there’s that little girl up there. She would have stayed here. A relation of ours. This is me personally. Every child when they’re born should be baptised. Why they should be baptised? You never know what that child wants to grow up to be. So, like one of them who married in to royalty. He was baptised but he wasn’t confirmed. That. But he had to go and get, do it before he got married into royalty. But I still say I believe and sometimes I wonder why do I believe? But —
DK: Ok.
JL: It’s one of these things. I love to listen to Songs of Praise on Sunday and things like that. I do go in to church. I do say prayers. And sometimes it makes you wonder where was God?
DK: Yes. Very true. Ok. I’ll just pause.
[recording paused]
JL: Those electric clothes. You know, we was well looked after.
DK: So you had electrical —
JL: Yes.
DK: Overalls.
JL: What we used to do, we used to plug in before we got into the aircraft. In that. Got them warmed up and that and then we plugged ourselves in.
DK: So you felt very confident in the Lancaster then did you?
JL: Oh yeah. Never worried me, flying in the Lanc. I’ve seen one or two packed up flying. There was one bloke he’d done sixteen trips and he’d had enough. And they stripped him. Left his brevet on and stripped his tapes off of him because he refused to fly anymore.
DK: Right. So —
JL: And he’d done sixteen. And there, we used to go in to the mess sometimes and there was this bloody bloke he got his ticket. He was trying to feed the ducks on the bloody wall. And there was another bloke. He was in the, and he wouldn’t, he wouldn’t wash. And two of the blokes took him down to the showers. Washed him. Brought him back. He still refused to wash and we reckon he got his ticket in the end. He wouldn’t wash.
DK: So, the, the crash you were returning from Stettin?
JL: Stettin.
DK: Stettin when the aircraft crashed. And, and the crew, and the crew killed.
JL: Two of the crew was killed. That was Whitey and the bomb aimer. The other one was smashed in the head and all the rest of it but I, I was the first one to fly again. Bunny Rothwell, he started flying again. Then he went out on a motorbike and hurt his leg and crashed. He never flew again. So I was the only one that carried on flying until stopped. I had to go.
DK: What about —
JL: I had to go training somewhere and —
DK: So the bomb aimer was killed. And the pilot was killed.
JL: No. The pilot was —
DK: Bang on the head.
JL: Yeah.
DK: Oh. So was the flight engineer killed or —
JL: Yeah. The flight engineer was killed.
DK: The flight engineer and the bomb aimer were killed.
JL: Yeah.
DK: And the others all wounded.
JL: Yeah.
DK: Were you hurt yourself or —?
JL: The two was killed and I was alright. I managed to go home for that Christmas.
DK: Ok. It happened just before Christmas didn’t it?
JL: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
DK: The 21st of December. So you were flying again back in March.
JL: Yeah.
DK: And that’s with Harris, I see. Yeah. So Flying Officer Read never flew again.
JL: No.
DK: Ok.



David Kavanagh, “Interview with Jack Linaker,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 28, 2024,

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