Interview with Leslie Grantham Lunn


Interview with Leslie Grantham Lunn


Leslie Lunn joined the RAF and after his basic training did his flying training in America. In the UK he joined 129 Spitfire squadron after completing his training. The squadron later converted to Mustangs. His squadron covered the D-Day landings and was switched to dealing with the V1 flying bomb threat, and during these sorties he destroyed one V-1 and recorded two probables. He later took part in fighter affiliation duties working with Bomber Command. He converted onto the Typhoon and later the Tempest with 222 Squadron after moving back to Fighter Command. He joined 1 Squadron flying the new Meteor jet fighter. He was later posted via Italy and Austria to the Middle East serving in the Canal Zone. When he returned to the UK he joined 63 Squadron flying the Canberra, and later converting on to the Vulcan joining 617 Squadron. He also became the display pilot for the Vulcan. He was awarded the AFC by Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace.







03:00:37 audio recording


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ALunnLG171107, PLunnLG1701


CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 7th of November 2017 and we’re in Balsall Common near Coventry talking to Squadron Leader Leslie Lunn AFC about his life and times. So, Les, what are the earliest recollections you have of life.
LL: My sister [laughs] boxing me in, in the house and looking after me. Not allowing me to move. I wasn’t allowed to move [laughs] I was very very young then. After that I don’t know. I just, I just went to school and it was we went to school at Wembley and then at Watford. Then we moved from Watford down to Plymouth and I went to a school called Warren School and didn’t learn a thing because it, it was a totally incompetent and my father and mother decided that their son was an absolute idiot. And I sat the entrance exam to Plymouth, Plymouth College and somehow or other passed and I started and I did my education in Plymouth College. Finished it off at the age, I started about the age of thirteen and I, and I got my School Certificate eventually at eighteen. And then with the bombing raids on Plymouth my parents moved out to, out into the country and we lived at Cornwood in, in Devon. And I volunteered for the RAF from there. I had a bit of a row with me mum and in a huff I went into Plymouth and volunteered. And when I came back and told my mother she wouldn’t believe me [laughs] until my call up papers came [laughs] And then I was attested in Oxford and oh, I had to wait something like oh three or four months before I was attested and then I had to go. I’d never left home and I had to get up to London to Lord’s Cricket Ground to where we were all assembling and I went up by train and eventually got to Lord’s Cricket Ground where there was hundreds of us waiting and we sat there and waited and waited and waited all day and, or for the rest of the day and eventually they never got to me. The L’s. So we were billeted out in, oh I can’t remember now, and we had to go back again and we were eventually had a medical and all that sort of stuff and I was in the Air Force. And the reason why I came to, went in the Air Force was that my father was in the First World War and he was in, he was unfortunately eighteen when the war was declared and he joined the Norfolk Regiment and was in the trenches for nearly a year and he saw these funny little biplanes flying up above him and he decided that he was better up there then down in all this mud. So he volunteered too for aircrew and he was sent to back to England and became an observer. And I can’t, and he was posted then back to Germany as an, as an observer and he flew with a captain, I don’t know his name, in and I can’t remember, I think it was 14 Squadron. It could be. I don’t. I can’t really remember. And the life expectancy was somewhere in the matter of three weeks. Possibly three months. And my father somehow survived for the rest of the war. Three years. So he was a very, very lucky man. And he met my mother in, on one of his leaves because his, his father was a master tailor in, in Norwich, Mother was a typist in in the railway or something and he met her and they were married. And after the war pop couldn’t get a job so he joined the Black and Tans.
CB: Oh.
LL: Yeah. The Black and Tans, and went to Ireland with my mother and my sister then who was a baby and they spent some time in, in Ireland. And it wasn’t, it wasn’t very pleasant. And then pop came, then when they came back father became, worked for a firm called Blundell’s. And they did a hire purchase system. And father stayed with them for the rest of his career and he became the manager of a department store in Plymouth because we moved from Watford to Plymouth and and he retired from, from that particular job. And then during the Second World War he volunteered for is it AR? Not ARP. What was it?
CB: Yeah.
LL: Was it ARP?
CB: Yes. Yeah.
LL: And he had a uniform and there’s a photograph of us somewhere with me in my officer’s uniform and pop in his. And, and the reason why I suppose I joined the, I wanted to be a pilot and join the RAF was because of my father’s background really. Am I nattering too much?
CB: That’s really good. Keep going.
LL: Oh, I see [laughs] where do I go from there?
CB: Well, you were at ACRC so —
LL: Oh yes. I I volunteered and, and I was at ACRC. That’s right. ACRC. That’s right. ACRC. And from there I was sent to Paignton to do my ITW and we lived in a [tin barny] hotel on the front and I made friends. Three chaps. And we all four of us got together and eventually the postings came through and my three friends were posted to, on one of the drafts to America to do their pilot training. And I was left out. And I tried to get on the same tour but they said that I would be on the next one. So anyway I continued doing my training at the ITW and then I was posted to America and we had to go up to Manchester and had to be called from Manchester which was a reception area. We went by, up to Liverpool. I think it was Liverpool where we boarded a troopship called the Montcalm and I had the most awful journey to America, or Canada. It was, it was our troopship plus another troop ship and the weather got worse and worse and worse and we were escorted by those American, ex-American destroyers. Four funnel jobs.
CB: Yeah.
LL: Nasty old things. Anyway, the weather got so bad they turned back to England and left us and we had to go right up towards the Arctic Circle to avoid U-boats. And we landed eventually in Halifax. And the life on that boat was absolutely awful. I was eighteen, never left home and I had to suffer these. Everybody was being sick and the ship was riddled with cockroaches. All the food that was just dished out, we had to go down to the galley and collect it had cockroaches in it. You sliced the bread and you sliced through a cockroach. And consequently I hardly ate anything for the two weeks I think it was. Goodness knows how long I took to get to Canada. But we landed at Halifax eventually and at, I went to Moncton, Moncton, Canada. Where we were stayed for I don’t know what we did there but then we boarded a train and went all the way down to Montgomery in Georgia. Or was it —
CB: Alabama.
LL: Montgomery. That’s right. Montgomery, Georgia. And that was quite an adventurous journey. We stopped at New York and we had a, a walk around Grand Central Station, and oh it was, to be in America and all the food was was absolutely fantastic. And I started, and then we did what they called a conversion to American system of marching and I was, oh yes. I’ll go back. I actually was, my number of the course was number 42H. So ‘42 being the year and H was my graduation month I think. And anyway, we did drill and lectures and things like that. Then I was posted down to Arcadia, Florida where I started my primary training on Stearmans. And my instructor was Mr Ryan and he was a civilian and he had three or was it four students. And I was the only one to survive. The others didn’t make it. And I did sixty hours there. Then I went to Gunter Field, Montgomery, where I did my basic training on [pause] oh dear, Vultee13s I think they were called. Fixed undercarriage and wound the flaps down, that’s right [laughs] So anyway another, did another sixty hours there and then from there I went to [pause] Carlstrom? No. I can’t remember the name of the place. Was it Carlstrom Field? No. I did my advanced training anyway on Harvards and I graduated in August. I think it was August. It could have been early September but I’ve got it in my logbook anyway.
CB: Ok.
LL: And they’re on the table there. And somehow I became a natural pilot. On the advanced we went down to an airfield, Eglin Field in Florida and did air gunnery. That’s right. And I did quite well and that billed me in good stead because eventually when we got back to England and we were at Bournemouth we were all interviewed and they were building up Bomber Command all, all the time. And I should think out of the hundreds that were there the majority of them were pushed into Bomber Command. But at my interview I said I wanted Spitfires and I wanted Fighter Command. And fortunately I had a good gunnery score and that, on my records and I was posted to 129 Squadron on Spitfires. Much to my relief. And to fly a Spitfire was absolutely marvellous. And I was still, let me see at the end of the year oh, I had, gosh [pause] I left a bit. I’m sorry. I was posted to an OCU. That’s right. From Bournemouth I was posted to Grangemouth. Grangemouth in Scotland where I did my OCU and, on Spitfires. And from there I was posted to 129 Squadron at, it was at [pause] oh dear. Oh dear. Carlton? That was Carlstrom Field, I think. It was one of these wartime strips with Somerfield tracking and we lived in — no. I’m I’m sorry. Ignore that. Ignore that. Ignore that. Ignore that. That was sometime later. Ignore that. That’s right. I went to, I joined 129 Squadron at [pause] is there an airfield near Ringwood? Oh I can’t. I can’t remember.
CB: At Hurn.
LL: It will be in my logbook anyway. And the Squadron had actually gone to Hornchurch and so my 129 Squadron didn’t, wasn’t there. So I had to wait until they came back again and then of course I started, and I started my ops from, from there. And we did [pause] I was very green of course and they looked after me, I suppose. And then we were posted from that airfield. I can’t remember the name again, to Hornchurch where I operated from. I don’t know for how long, but we were on Spitty 5s to start off with at, at the airfield I can’t remember the name of. And we then converted on to Spit 9s when we were at Hornchurch and we did fighter patrols and I was nominated as, as I was a good Number 2 I used to fly Number 2 to the station commander and also the Squadron commander. And from there we, the war, the invasion, we prepared for the invasion and we were posted down to, this is where we went to, oh dear. Why? Why can’t I think of it? It was one of these wartime airfields and it was Sommerfield tracking and we lived in tents and life was a bit rough. Unfortunately they had a system where the pilots moved to the new station and took up the aircraft and they had the ground crew of those particular aircraft. And the the airfield was run by a Polish wing and Wold, no it wasn’t Woldzinski, but anyway we had two Polish Squadrons there and we, and we joined with our Spitfires at this particular place. But we had Polish ground crew. But we got rid of our Spitfires almost immediately and we got Mustangs and our serviceability went down very badly because they didn’t understand what we were talking about and we didn’t understand what they were talking about. The ground crew. And eventually we got British ground crew and everything was a little bit more satisfactory and we did patrols. We escorted Fortresses to, into Germany. We did a lot escort work. And most of our, a lot of our, when I was on on on Spitfires we escorted American bombers in France and into Germany and yes it was all all very, very well, I can’t say exciting really. It [pause] and I’m about bouncing around a bit. Does that matter?
CB: Fine. It’s fine.
LL: I’m bouncing around a bit. So anyway. The invasion. We were at this airfield, and oh yes we with, with the Mustang of course we could stay airborne for quite a long time and we, on these escorts to in to Germany with the Fortresses we were airborne in the Mustang for three hours, three and a half hours, maybe four hours some times. And when we got back on one particular trip it had a tremendous rain storm and all our tents had been flattened. All our bedding was soaking wet. And it was a bit of a mess actually. The whole airfield. And it took quite a while to sort of get ourselves sorted out. The other thing about it was that the Squadron commander made me the imprest holder and I had to go to base accounts and collect all the money and pay the troops and the officers the money they wanted. And the trouble was there was there was nowhere to put this money. I had no safe. I had, and I and I used to go on operations with my pockets full of, full of money because I had nowhere to put them. I couldn’t leave it in the tent. So eventually I saw the Squadron commander and I said, ‘This is ridiculous, sir. I can’t, I can’t cope.’ Anyway, he agreed and they got somebody in to, an officer, ground crew officer and he took over the imprest. So if I had been shot down in Germany I would have had lots of money [laughs] Oh dear. So anyway, from there we went to [pause] we were preparing to go over to, over to France. Oh yes. The invasion. We took, we started with the, the invasion started and we didn’t actually take part in the very first day. The 6th. We were, we were on standby and we were on, and I flew supporting the invasion on the, the second day and it was amazing to see. To fly over that beach head and the, and the number of ships in the harbour there. But the Navy was very very light fingered and they invariably fired at us. And to avoid this they introduced a system where we lowered our undercarriages, circled round to prove to them that we were British and then off we went again. But they still fired at us and they invariably got at least one aeroplane which was very, very upsetting. But the fact was that we were then doing ground, ground support and we were supporting the troops in, against the German tanks and doing a lot of ground work and we lost a lot of pilots through ground fire. And I’ve got all the names in my logbook if you want it. And then we were, the Doodlebugs started and we were diverted from the invasion to shoot down Doodlebugs. And we went to Dungeness, a little airfield in Dungeness with our Mustangs and we were given new Mustangs with a higher boost so that we had more speed to catch these Doodlebugs. And I met, I got one which blew up in front of me and bits of metal through all, from the doodlebug sort of passed over me and blackened all my windscreen. And I got two possibles. So, so I had a little bit of a success there. And then from there I was tour-ex and I was posted to Ingham on fighter affil duties. Can we stop there?
CB: We will.
[recording paused]
LL: Then we had the undercarriage down and circled around them. And that’s the whole Squadron you know, sort of doing it. They still fired at us. But it was the actual invasion supporting the troops and doing ground, ground attack work was more or less new to us. We did what they called from Hornchurch and, and, and the other airfields we used to do what they called ramrods.
CB: Yes.
LL: That was low level stuff and we sorted out trains and German cars and things like that. Interdiction I think they called it, didn’t they?
CB: Yeah.
LL: Keep on whirring. So anyway, Ingham.
CB: Just quickly, what was the armament you had on the Mustang?
LL: Sorry?
CB: What was the armament on the Mustang?
LL: .5s, .5s.
CB: Right.
LL: .5s.
CB: But on the Spitfire you had twenty millimetre cannon.
LL: We had. The early ones of course they had eight 303s and then we got two cannons and two 303s on each wing. No. One cannon and one, that’s right and also a couple of 303s and then they dispensed with the 303s altogether and we had two cannons per wing.
CB: How did you feel about that?
LL: Oh, jolly good. Jolly good. For ground attack work they were marvellous. And on these what they called ramrods.
CB: Just quickly on the V-1 Doodlebug.
LL: Yeah.
CB: So what was the technique that you were trained to pursue with them?
LL: Ah. Well they came in at around about two thousand feet, the Doodlebugs. And we had a sea patrol which was, and then and, and we, if you picked and we stayed at about three or four thousand feet above and so when we saw them we used to have to dive on them and with that extra speed we managed to keep up with them. And we then chased them and fired at them or we hadn’t, if we had missed them, they were still pressing on we had to stop because there was a gunnery belt, anti-aircraft belt and we had to stop and turn back otherwise we would have been fired at. And the gunners took over the Doodlebug from us.
CB: Yeah.
LL: And had a go at it. So it ran a pretty dicey journey.
CB: Sure.
LL: The old V-1s, really. So it, oh yes and one of one of the gunners when we were on this airfield the gunners actually shot, shot one down and winged it and it didn’t blow up. It actually sort of tipped over and headed for the ground and it came straight for us. And we scattered and, and, and it landed in the field just behind the airfield. And when I, we sort of came, I came to I was under the petrol bowser [laughs] Can you imagine it? I was under the bloody petrol bowser. Stupid thing. So, anyway it was from, it was quite exciting chasing the old Doodlebugs.
CB: The one you hit —
LL: Because they didn’t fire back at me you see [laughs]
CB: No. But what was the recommended technique for the approach?
LL: To dive down on them from height to get the speed.
CB: So was it a passing shot or did you actually dive and then come in from behind?
LL: Oh yes. Always from behind. You couldn’t get a deflection shot on them.
CB: Right.
LL: You had to fire on them from behind.
CB: So the one that you got. The kill you did. It blew up. You got a ton of explosive at the front going up.
LL: I must have stopped the engine which then slowed it down and I hadn’t realised that and of course I then closed in rather rapidly and then of course my cannon fire actually exploded it.
CB: Right.
LL: And it, and somebody else did this and they finished up with bits of the Doodlebug stuck in their wings.
CB: Yes. And they were, people were brought down by it as well.
LL: That’s right.
CB: So now you’ve gone through the blackness and your windscreen you said was covered in black. So what did you do then? You can’t lean out and wipe the windscreen.
LL: Somehow, somehow you can’t lean forward and clean the windscreen [laughs] somehow by looking out sideways I managed to get back and land it. Oh, I had engine failure on take-off at that airfield too.
CB: This is at Dungeness.
LL: Yeah. We had Packard Merlin engines and they suffered from internal coolant leaks. And I was leading a section off from there and all of a sudden I started losing power and all this smoke came out of the exhaust. And I had selected undercarriage up because I’d just left the ground and the, and that was it. The engine stopped and I finished up at the ditch at the end of the airfield. And my number two sort of pressed on, fortunately.
CB: So, in those circumstances the number two leads the flight.
LL: No. He had no other opportunity. He had to carry on actually. I don’t know what happened. Whether he landed again or not I can’t remember. I was more concerned about getting out the aircraft [laughs]
CB: So you said there were two probables. How did that occur?
LL: They, they were winged but they, but they and they went down, started going down and then they went into cloud and, and that was it. They, for some reason or other they didn’t give the, they didn’t award me them. They just gave me probables.
CB: Because they couldn’t link it directly to you. Is that it?
LL: They couldn’t link it directly to me. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. How did you feel about that?
LL: Well, had to accept it didn’t I?
CB: Not as sick as a parrot.
LL: So anyway where did we get to?
CB: Right. So you then went to Ingham.
LL: Ingham.
CB: In Lincolnshire.
LL: Oh yes, where we had Hurricanes and Spitfires. And I’d never done this sort of thing before and of course the daylight fighter affil was, was relatively easy. In fact, it was enjoyable. Really enjoyable doing quarter attacks on, and we used to meet the bomber above his airfield and then we used to, off we used to go and do the quarter attacks.
CB: This is the fighter affiliation.
LL: Fighter affil, yeah. And, and then of course we, I had to do it at night. Well, at night time I wasn’t very, I didn’t like night flying very much and, but I had to get used to it. And again we had to take off at night, find the bomber because he always used to be above the airfield and then he used to lead us off. Off somewhere. And then we used to do our quarter attacks at night time. We had infrared lights or lamps under each wing tip on the Spitfires and the Hurricanes so that the gunner can photograph us at night time and assess their abilities. And it was their responsibility to bring us back to base because we had no idea where we were going or where we were. And we, the trouble was that we daren’t lose the bomber because we had no navigation systems and we had no radio systems to get home. And it was their, the bombers responsibility to bring us back home again and when it was a lot of cloud around the bomber used to descend into cloud and we had to formate on this bomber in cloud. And the only ident, the only visual, visual of the bomber was the downward ident light. And you had to sort of fly more or less underneath it to keep in touch with it. And it was quite, quite frightening actually. And you daren’t lost it because you had, you had no idea when you broke, if you eventually broke cloud on your own where you were and there was no identification on the ground and and you were really were sort of lost in a way. But fortunately I managed to hang on to the bombers and I never had that, that situation at all. But it was. And then from Ingham we were, they decided that we would have to go to the bomber stations themselves and we went to Lindholme. The whole unit went up to Lindholme where we operated on fighter affil there. And then we saw Bomber Command operating at its, at its full [pause] I remember one night. Would they have had Halifaxes or Lancasters? I think. I can’t remember. But they took, one aircraft took off and crashed immediately after take-off and then the next aircraft took off and that did exactly the same thing. And instead of selecting undercarriage up the chappie must have, they think who operated the flaps must have brought the flaps up and the aircraft must have stalled and gone straight in. But it was a dreadful mess. It was something that sort of stuck in my mind. Anyway, one of the pilots who was posted on to Typhoons and he didn’t want to go and I wanted to get away from Bomber Command at the time. So I wanted to get back into Fighter Command so I volunteered to take his posting and I was accepted and I went down to Aston Down and converted on to Typhoons. And when I was there the war ended. And I had managed to scrounge trips on Tempests instead of Typhoons. I got on to Tempests which was more of a faster and better aircraft and from there I was declared redundant. And I went home on leave and I was recalled and when I got back I found that they wanted pilots on 222 Squadron in Germany flying Tempests and I was nominated. And I was, I think I said, ‘Thank goodness for that,’ and off I went to Germany to, oh dear what was the name of the damned airfield? Anyway, I joined 222 Squadron and on Tempests. And we, we just did ordinary training and flying and, and then we were sent back to England. I was only on, in Germany for a short period like three or four months and the Squadron was brought home and we were converted onto Meteors. And we went to Molesworth and we converted on to Meteors and they were Meteor 1s. And of course they were twin-engine and we, I had never flown twin engines before. None of the pilots had. And we were given dual in an Oxford. And this, the asymmetric training they gave us was the instructor, throttle back one engine and he said, ‘You push the rudder in the opposite side to keep it straight. Ok? And if you throttle back the other one you push the other rudder. Ok?’ And he said, ‘Now, you do it.’ And I do it. And then we went in and landed. And that was my asymmetric training [laughs] They didn’t show no, no approaches or anything and and consequently we had an awful lot of Meteor crashes because the, the engine, the fuel for some unearthly reason had, when they manufactured was getting water into it and the engines were, were, tended to stop. And unfortunately a lot of pilots had to do asymmetric landings and they had very little training and consequently they, they killed themselves approaching on one engine and it, it was, it was, it was amazing. The Meteor had a very, very high accident rate [pause] What did I do from there? Oh, yes. I can’t remember, [unclear] no. Meteors. Where did I operate? We went to Exeter. That’s right. Exeter, on Meteors. And of course that was quite close to my home which was in Plymouth. And I used to sort of nip home over the weekends quite easily. And I had a car then so I managed to get home quite easily. And then I was posted from 222 Squadron to 1 Squadron to convert them on to Meteors. They had Spitfire 21s. And I had the opportunity to fly Spitfire 21s and 22s with, some of them with contra rotating props so you went from Meteors to Spitfires again. And the Squadron commander brought me in one day and said, ‘How would you like to be posted overseas?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ He said, ‘You’re a bachelor and they want pilots in Italy, and how about it?’ So I said, ‘Oh, ok.’ And consequently I was posted to Italy. We went by train all the way across the continent on this military train and it took two days to get to Northern Italy. And it was Treviso. Treviso in Northern Italy. That’s right. Where we flew Mustangs. So, I’ve gone from jets back to piston engines. And we, and of course they were disbanding Squadrons left right and centre at the time and our Squadron was disbanded and I was sent up to a transit camp in Austria where we spent days doing nothing and waiting for a posting. And I assumed I was being posted home again but I was posted to the Middle East. And I [pause] and I eventually after a lot of journeys and trains and aircraft I managed to get via Malta to the Canal Zone, Egypt, where we lived in tents. And from there I was posted to Cyprus on to 213 Squadron. And I, and they were so short of pilots there was the Squadron commander, one flight commander and two pilots. That totalled the Squadron. And I turned up plus a couple of others and we sort of expanded the Squadron a bit. And then they were gradually, Cranwell had started up again and we eventually got some Cranwell students. Pilots posted in and we spent about nearly a year in good old Cyprus. We had a marvellous time in Cyprus. And then I was posted from there. We were sent to Khartoum. And that’s the first time I really saw the Sahara Desert and I was amazed at the extent of that desert. It was fantastic. And flying sort of single engine aircraft over this desert is, is quite, quite something really. And anyway we arrived at at Khartoum and we spent nearly a year there. And we were, from Khartoum we had, yes that’s right it was hot and awful and they had what they called an international front. A weather front called a haboub. And this had, it was high winds and it picked up the sand and it had rain and this black cloud was extended, used to move right across the ocean northwards and and sand was blown everywhere and it was, and it was the first time we’d seen rain. And it was quite, it turned the sand into sort of mud and what amazed me was that after two or three days of this sort of haboub and rain the, if you looked horizontally across the sand you could see it turning green. Grass was actually growing again in the sand. And then of course it didn’t last. It was then of course the heat and the sun killed it off again but that is there, and what amazed me was that it could actually grow and if you could cultivate it I suppose you could have, you know turn the desert into the grass. But anyway, we from Khartoum we were sent down to Mogadishu in —
CB: Somalia.
LL: Somalia. Where we lived very very primitively. It was a dreadful thing. The only toilet was a hole in the ground with a big trench in the ground with holes in it and you sort of had to sit over the hole. We had an air liaison officer, a Claude [Histead?] his name was and he was, he stayed with the Squadron all the way from Cyprus. And he stayed with us for ages. Anyway, he decided that he was, and of course there was a lot of flies over this thing and he decided that he was going to do something about it. So he got some petrol and poured it down into this hole, there were various holes and threw a match in and the whole thing went up in smoke including the [unclear] so it was left a dirty big hole and no small holes for us to sit in, over [laughs] But he got rid of the flies. Anyway, the AOC came down to see us I can remember and, and we thought we’d give him a decent lunch so I went into Mogadishu and I bought these chickens and gave them to the chef or the cook and we, he cooked them up and they served them. And boy those chickens must have been a hundred years old I think because they were so tough that we couldn’t even get a knife into them. And so that was the special dinner for the AOC was a complete washout and we finished up eating corned beef and what was it? What are those red things? Oh, it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. Anyway, we had a makeshift corned beef lunch much to the amusement of the AOC. So we spent time there and we were actually supporting the army in the unrest in that area. And we used to fly, we had long range tanks of course and we had to locate this army unit and we used to fly over them. And our presence helped to back up their system I suppose in keeping the natives quiet because there was a lot of unrest there. And we used to put on rocket demonstrations at [unclear] and do rocket demonstrations just to show them what was in store for them if they didn’t behave themselves. You can’t do that these days. But we had quite a while at Mogadishu and then from Mogadishu we went up to Aden and stayed at Aden for a while where 8 Squadron was. And then I got up to, posted, we were posted back up to the Canal Zone. And the first thing they told me I was required at Group Headquarters for an interview for a permanent commission. And of course I hadn’t got any kit and anyway I got the batman to press my KD and whatnot. Made myself reasonably respectable and reported to Group Headquarters where they kept me waiting all morning and then when I was ushered in I can’t remember what rank they were but they started asking me questions on political situations and things. And I said ‘Excuse me, sir. I haven’t seen a paper or heard a radio now for nearly two years. I have no idea what’s happening in the world so I cannot answer your questions.’ He looked at me as if I’d gone mad and I got, I must admit I got a little bit annoyed because you know he just couldn’t believe that I didn’t know what was going on in the rest of the world. You know, with Russia and what not. And consequently I was turned down. And when I got back to base, to Shallufa, that’s right, Shallufa we were stationed at, the station commander said, ‘How did it go?’ And I said, ‘Not very well.’ And then of course it came through that I’d, I had failed and he said, ‘Right. I’ll put you up again.’ So I was put up again and before I was actually summoned for another interview I was posted home tour-ex. That was after two and a half years. And as a matter of interest my overseas allowance then was two shillings a day, 10p now. That was not exactly [laughs] that was added to my salary and of course taxed as well. Can I go back a little bit? Back to Khartoum.
CB: Do.
LL: When I was, when I was at Khartoum I was sent home on a, on a course. Some, I don’t know I’ve forgotten what course it was now but anyway I took the opportunity and I thought it was jolly good. Anyway, I eventually got back to England again and I did the course, and I had a week’s leave and when I was coming back to report back to Air Ministry I got, we had first class tickets in those days. In my compartment there was a young lady and a young man and she was wearing, and it was a hot day and she was wearing a fur coat. And I said to her, ‘Are you cold?’ She said, ‘Yes. I’ve, we’ve just come home from Khartoum.’ I said, ‘Really? So have I.’ She said, ‘Oh, my daddy is a district commissioner in, in the Sudan.’ And then I told her what I thought of district commissioners because while we were stationed at Khartoum they would have nothing to do with us. We used to go to the Sudan Club where there was a swimming pool and when we used to go to the mess they completely ignored us and wouldn’t have anything to do with us because we were service. And I told her what I thought of district commissioners and I left the compartment. Found somewhere else to sit. So I didn’t think much of her. So, anyway where did I get to?
CB: So you went back on a course.
LL: Oh yes. On a course. And, and that was on the train journey —
CB: Yeah.
LL: To London. Then I had to go up to, oh some transit camp up in Lancashire somewhere and then I got, got on a troop ship and we went, I went back to the Middle East and I rejoined the Squadron in the Canal Zone. And then of course we got involved with the Israeli Egyptian war.
CB: Yeah. 1948.
LL: Yeah,1948. And these, I can remember the Egyptian Spitfires landing at Shallufa and they were in a dreadful state these aircraft, these aircraft. There were panels missing off them and they were, oh dreadful looking aircraft. They were completely and utterly neglected. Anyway, the highlight then that had happened was that 208 Squadron had red nosed Spitfires and I can’t remember what base they were on and four of them went missing one day. And they’d been shot down by the Israelis. And our Group Captain Anderson came over to us and while we were at Shallufa we used to do readiness. We used to do twenty fours hours on, and twenty fours off and we shared it with 6 Squadron. And we had just come off readiness and they had de-tensioned the BFMs which is the Belt Feed Mechanism. And anyway, the group captain came to see me and my Squadron commander was in, in Cairo at the time so I was looking after the Squadron. And he said, ‘Get your aircraft ready, Les and we’re going to go and find these bloody Spitfires.’ And anyway, we got airborne and 6 Squadron got airborne and we flew towards Israel and, well it wasn’t Israel in those days. It was —
CB: Palestine. Yeah.
LL: Palestine, wasn’t it? Palestine. And we saw these two Spitfires, red nosed Spitfires flying out to our left and so we assumed they were 208 Squadron and they came around and the next thing that happened is they were firing at us and they shot down my number two. We couldn’t believe it. And these bloody Israelis attacked us and shot down and killed my number two. [Tattersfield?] was his name. He’d only joined the Squadron a couple of months before. Anyway, it broke up and I somehow finished behind a Spitfire which was firing at one of my Tempests and I pressed the tit to shoot at him and of course the guns didn’t work because my BFMs had been de-tensioned. Anyway, he must have seen me. He broke up and disappeared. So I, in way saved the chap’s life in that second. When we got back to base we looked at his aircraft and there were bullet holes through the fuselage and hitting the back of the armour plating. You know, behind the seat. So he was jolly lucky. And gosh, our Group Captain Anderson was absolutely furious. He said, ‘I’m going to put rockets on these bloody aircraft. We’ll, show these bloody Israelis.’ Anyway, Group managed, somehow found out and they calmed him down and that was the end of that. But it was, it was quite a thing and it never appeared in the papers. I don’t know what would have happened if, if I had shot this bloody Spitfire down. So that was quite an excitement there.
CB: These, these Israelis were all ex-RAF pilots.
LL: Most of them. Yeah. So, anyway what had happened is that they had shot down these four pilots and fortunately all four pilots survived and they were taken prisoner. And [pause] and believe it or not I was given a book and I think it’s called, “Silent Witness,” or something like that. This is stories by RAF pilots that had not been printed or not known. And one of the stories is the, is by the pilot of one of these Spitfires that were shot down. And he recalls his adventures or what happened to him after he was shot down, and he also mentioned the fact that the Israelis actually shot down one of the Tempests. So, I had a double. It’s up, it’s up in the bedroom somewhere, this, this book.
CB: This double link for you.
LL: A double link. I was reading both sides.
CB: Yes.
LL: I found out both sides of the story. But the Israelis were not very nice at all. They were, they were, they were bombing people. They were putting wire across the road, you know and motorcyclists, despatch riders were, had been decapitated by this bloody wire. They blew up half, one of the wings of the headquarters. They, they, they got hold of some army colonel or major and imprisoned him in a tomb somewhere and eventually the services managed to find him again. They were doing all sorts of nasty things there. And they were also trying to get extra aircraft and they would bribe, we found out they would bribe us with money if we actually landed our aircraft into Israel. They would take us over. They would take us out to sea and put us in a dinghy and say [laughs] and say that we had, had engine failure over the Mediterranean and of course there was no sign of the aeroplane. But I don’t think anybody took [laughs] took that little adventure anyway. But that was a little bit of bribery on their part. So it was all very sort of what do you call it? Exciting, I suppose. Interesting.
CB: What did they do with these pilots they captured.
LL: They, they put them in prison actually. And, and I think they looked after them. They didn’t sort of torture them or anything like that. But I can’t remember how they got released. But they were released somehow or other. But I’d have to read the story again. I can’t honestly remember. So anyway, I was posted back to England and I took over a comm flight at Hawarden in north, near Chester, North Wales, where we had Ansons, Oxfords, and this AOC had a Spitfire, and we had a Harvard. And we used to fly ATC boys over the weekend and we, and we flew people from A to B as, as a communications flight. And I eventually got my permanent commission interview and I got my permanent commission there. So it was quite a long time after the war that I actually I got my commission. And the reason, and how I stayed in the Air Force was that there were at the end of the war they were offering, it was about a year after the end of the war they were getting short of pilots or something or the other and they were offering four year commissions. And I accepted the four years and I managed to get my permanent commission during that period of extended service as they called it. Extended service. From, I stayed there for, [pause] oh I don’t know whether I ought to mention it but all my, my friends used to ring me up when they were posted from A to B because they didn’t have cars in those days and I used to go across with the Proctor and pick them up and take them to their new airfield. And I used to charge them ten bob for the [laughs] for the pleasure of doing it. I didn’t keep it. I put it in this, in the, in the flight fund and, and at Christmas time we spent this money on a nice party for the ground crew and the pilots. It was called, “Lunn’s Airlines.” [laughs] I don’t know whether I should say that. Nobody knows that really. So, anyway from there I was posted down or sent down to Little Rissington for an interview to be an instructor. And I didn’t want to be an instructor, but they said you’re going to be an instructor. So I eventually got a posting to Little Rissington on the instructor’s course. And what we used to do there is you had dual with a, you know with a at Little Rissington a CFS instructor and then we used to fly mutual. You know, two pilots together. And believe it or not my co-pilot or confederate was an Israeli I was told and believe it or not his name was Captain Israel Stern. He had renamed himself Captain Israel Stern and I went up and saw the Squadron commander and I said, ‘I don’t want this man. I won’t fly with him,’ and I told him a bit of the story and he said ok and he gave me, they gave me somebody else. But it was amazing that I should be given this bloody man because I must admit I hated them. Anyway, I graduated funnily enough with a B1 instead of a B2 and I was sent up to [pause] outside of York. What was the name of the blasted airfield?
CB: Elvington?
LL: Who?
CB: Elvington.
LL: Elvington. No. No. It’s a prison now. Full Sutton. Full Sutton.
CB: Yeah.
LL: Full Sutton, and of course the Korean War had started.
CB: Yes. 1950.
LL: Yeah. It was the Korean War and they were calling up ex-RAF pilots back into the RAF and we, and Molesworth was opened up again. And it was a disused airfield and there were no facilities there. There were nissen huts and I had half a nissen hut, a bed and a wardrobe I think, or a cupboard or something to put my clothes in. And we all ate in the airmen’s one mess because there was no officer’s mess or sergeant’s mess or officer’s mess. So we all ate together. And we had to set to and open up this airfield and prepare to get aircraft. And we got Spitfires believe it or not, and Vampires and Meteors. And we did a conversion course of these pilots who were being called up. It was, it was quite a lot of, in fact a graduated CFS instructor spent a lot of his time initially in shuffling manure out of the air traffic control building [laughs] so they could get that place, the air traffic control building sort of back into operation again. It was a bit of a mess actually. But after a lot a lot of work we got this airfield going again and I became a flight commander there. And it was a lot of work. We used to start at 6 o’clock in the morning and we lived in nissen huts. And the officer’s mess was a nissen hut and [pause] oh yeah. We, we worked jolly hard actually and we worked weekends as well. And then from there after I can’t remember how long I was at Full Sutton but I spent a lot of time, and of course I did a lot of asymmetric flying there because we had to teach these students or ex-pilots asymmetric. And they used to shut down an engine in the air and then do a single engine landing. And then so many aircraft had accidents they decided it was rather silly to shut down the engine so we just throttled it back.
CB: This was on the Meteors.
LL: On the Meteors, yeah. And anyway, I was summoned to the station commander’s office one day and he said there was an air commodore, I think he’s one, he said, ‘He’s never flown in a jet and,’ and he said, ‘I want you to take him up on a trip.’ So I said, ‘Ok. Fair enough, sir.’ So we took him out to the aircraft and I briefed him and whatnot and set him in and we took off and I got, had an engine failure just as I left the ground. There was a bang and bingo the engine stopped and by God, I really had to work hard to keep that aircraft in the air. Anyway, we managed to slowly climb away and we came around and landed again. And the air commodore said, ‘Oh, asymmetric flying is easy in the Meteor isn’t it?’ [laughs] Little did he know that I was struggling. That I struggled. Anyway, that was one incident anyway. It was a very primitive airfield. Everything was very primitive and it’s now, it’s now an open prison. Full Sutton is. And what happened then? Oh yes. I was posted from there as flying wing adjutant down at CFS where I met Diana Broadhurst, she was a WAAF officer there.
CB: So, Harry’s daughter.
LL: And, and she used to come down to the office every other day and see me. And she said, ‘Look, Les, the WAAFs in the tower haven’t got a toilet. Can you organise a toilet for them?’ And I said, ‘Well, there’s nowhere in the air traffic building that we can put a lady’s toilet.’ Anyway, she used to pop down practically every other day on this subject and so we got to know each other quite well, and I married her [laughs] And she said, ‘You’ll have to ask my dad.’ And I said, ‘Oh.’ And he was CnC Bomber Command at the time. And so I had to go up with Diana to High Wycombe and I stayed with the CnC that weekend and I asked permission to, to marry his daughter. I can’t remember whether he said yes or no but he, the one thing he did say. That she was extremely loyal, and Diana [excuse me]
CB: It’s alright.
Other: It’s alright.
CB: We’ll stop there just for a mo.
[recording paused]
LL: Yes. Oh, yes. We we got married at High Wycombe and her father Harry, Sir Harry went on this, the Vulcan was just coming in to service and they had three Vulcan 1s which they were, which they used for trials work and one of them they took out to the Middle East and then out to the Far East and Diana’s father went as co-pilot to Podge Howard, who was the captain. And they went all the way out to Australia and New Zealand and they came back again and they landed at, in North Africa somewhere. And they were scheduled to land at London Airport and the weather at London Airport was awful and they, and it was in the early days of London Airport and Broady, as they used to call him didn’t want to land at London Airport. And he said, ‘Waddington is open and clear. We’ll go up to Waddington.’ But they said, ‘The reception committee is at London Airport. You’ll have to land at London Airport.’ And Podge Howard said, ‘Ok. We’ll have one go and if we can’t make it we’ll divert to, up to Waddington.’ And you know the consequences, don’t you?
CB: Yeah. So do you want to just describe that?
LL: Anyway, what had happened is they were doing a talk down and of course they were doing a GCA.
CB: Yeah. Ground Control Approach.
LL: And you’re azimuth and elevation and you’re on the glide path or below the glide and you’re left or you’re right and you adjust to what you’re being told and the Vulcan 1 had its pitot head heaters, pitot head on the wing tips. So when you came in. we didn’t have flaps so when you were coming in on the approach the aircraft was at quite a high angle.
CB: Yes.
LL: And consequently you got disturbances in the pitot head which produced a two hundred foot error in the altimeter. Now, if you are being talked down it doesn’t matter what the altimeter is showing. You’re either on the glide path or you’re not on the glide path. The altimeter can read anything. If you are actually doing a talk down and they say you should now be passing through eight hundred feet you had to have a thousand feet on your altimeter to be at eight hundred feet.
CB: Yeah.
LL: So you had to add this two hundred feet on.
CB: Yeah.
LL: And they blamed this error into the actual cause of the accident. The trouble was the controller had not guided a jet aircraft in on a GCA before. It was his first attempt. And consequently it was much faster than the piston engine aircraft.
CB: Yeah. On his approach.
LL: On the approach. And they broke cloud and they were very low. And Broady looked up and the runway was at this angle instead of down there. Then they hit the ground and broke the undercarriage off or one of them and if, if Podge Howard had carried on and landed he would have slid and everybody would have been alright. But he attempted to overshoot. Anyway, he opened up to overshoot and somehow or other the undercarriage had hit the underside of the aircraft and knocked all the generators off, and the control systems were defunct. They wouldn’t work and the aircraft started to climb and roll. And Podge Howard said, ‘I’m going,’ and pulled his blind and shot out and Broady eventually yelled to the crew, the rear crew, ‘For God’s sake get out,’ and he was at an angle. You know, ninety degrees, and he operated his ejector seat and went out and landed and broke his, his feet or his, and his leg I think. Something to do with his feet anyway because he hit the ground rather hard. And of course his wife and other daughter Claire Broadhurst were in the tower waiting for him. And they have a controller at the side of the runway in the cabin and they came out and found Broady and they brought him into, into the cabin until they could get transport and take him in because he couldn’t walk. And of course they came out all in fire engines and what not and they thought that Broady had been killed because they couldn’t find him. And so for a while his wife thought she was a widow. But anyway they got transport out and they got Broady and they finished up in that military hospital. I forget where it was. And it was, and of course we’d only been married, what a couple of weeks and we were living in Peterborough and I was posted to 63 Squadron on Canberras and after the honeymoon, two weeks honeymoon I reported to, and of course to the Squadron and as I walked into the officer’s mess the Squadron Commander Wingco Charles was it, and his navigator met me and said, the first thing they said was, ‘Your father in law has crashed at London Airport.’ And I though God, I must get in touch with Diana. Anyway, I managed to get a hold of Diana but she had already been told by someone that her father was ok. But that was the beginning of our marriage really. Anyhow, I was on Canberras there and we lived in Peterborough and —
CB: Where were you stationed?
LL: At Upwood.
CB: Right.
LL: Oh, sorry. Didn’t I say? No, I was stationed at Upwood on Canberras. And then of course the, that Canal Zone fiasco.
CB: 1957.
LL: Nineteen, was that ’57? Occurred. And I think Broady must have, didn’t send 63 Squadron out. They sent, they sent the other Squadron because he thought it would be a bit unkind to send his son in law out after [laughs] I think. I’m only suppositioning this. And, and but he didn’t send me, my Squadron out. So anyway we were, I flew with my, the two navigators and one was the Squadron commander and he had asked for a mature pilot. And of course I flew these Canberras and it was, yeah we did detachments to Malta and that sort of thing. And then our daughter was born, Dorothea. And then I was posted after a while on to Vulcans and I was up at Waddington. Did the OCU and joined 617 Squadron. In the meantime we were, we had moved from Peterborough to, oh golly Moses [pause] A lovely thatched roof cottage aye, aye, aye. And that’s where Dorothea was born. Do you know I can’t remember the name of the place. Anyway, it doesn’t really matter. And I did the OCU at Waddington. Then I was posted to Scampton. And they had one Vulcan that had been delivered and they were building the Squadron up of course. And, and I stayed with 617 Squadron for five years I think it was.
CB: Was that a long tour or two tours?
LL: Yeah. I did two tours with them, I asked. I asked to do a second tour and I was nominated as the Bomber Command demonstration pilot and I used to go off on Battle of Britain days and demonstrate the Vulcan. And I went to Canada and I did it over there. I went to Norway, Oslo and I demonstrated it there. And I was awarded the AFC. I assume for my abilities.
CB: What was the Vulcan —
LL: Sorry?
CB: What was the Vulcan like to fly?
LL: Oh, it was bloody marvellous. It was an absolutely wonderful aircraft. It really was. When I was in, doing this demonstration at in, in Norway they were celebrating so many years of powered flight. And the Americans were there with a, B not a 52. 47? Would it be a 47?
CB: Yeah.
LL: Yeah. I think it was a 47. And at the briefing they said, ‘All the spectators are at stands at,’ so and so side of the runway, ‘Could you, can you, would it be alright if you took off on runway — ’ so and so, ‘Which is slightly downwind. You’ll have about a five knot downwind. Will that be alright?’ And the Americans thought and thought and thought and they got their calculators out and what not. And I immediately said, ‘Of course I can. No problem at all. I can get airborne in four hundred yards.’ At a guess. And these Americans wouldn’t believe me and they actually paced out four hundred yards on the runway. And I thought, ‘You’ve got to get airborne boy.’ [laughs] And on the very first demo I taxied out and opened up full bore on all those lovely Olympus engines, released the breaks and I, at the right time I hauled back on the old pole and the old Vulcan lifted off the ground and up she went. And everybody amazed at this aircraft climbing away. And I actually appeared on Norway’s television. And after I’d landed, the Americans they were shaking their heads. Bloody marvellous. Bloody marvellous. So I felt, I felt very proud of the old Vulcan then. I really did.
CB: Well, the story was that the 47 would only get off the ground because of the curvature of the earth.
LL: They had rocket assisted take off.
CB: Oh did they?
LL: Most of the time. Yeah. When, yes we used to do lone rangers from Scampton and we used to go to America. To Omaha. The base there. And I can remember taking off from there on the return journey and I took off and as I say they called up and said, ‘Call passing five.’ I said, ‘Passing ten.’ And they said, there was a pause they said, ‘Call passing fifteen.’ I said, ‘Passing twenty.’ [laughs] They couldn’t believe that I was climbing up that fast, you know.
CB: Yeah.
LL: Because they were used to the old 47s. Again I felt very proud of the old Vulcan.
CB: This was the bombing competition.
LL: And of course there was the bombing competition as well. Yes.
CB: How did you get on with that?
LL: We did, we did very well actually. We, the Squadron came, were second. We didn’t, we never actually won it. We came second actually.
CB: Was it an annual event?
LL: Yes. Oh yes. On one particular trip we were doing we had taken off, at night of course and we were pressing on and my navigator, not Godfrey Salmond. Oh lord. Lord. Lord. Isn’t it amazing how you can’t remember things some times? Anyway, he had a habit of acting rather funnily when he got on board the aircraft. And a couple of times my navigator Arthur Wheatman said that whatever his name was, ‘Is sort of banging his head on the table.’ And I said, ‘What?’ Because I can’t see, you know in a Vulcan, you know. They’re back down there.
CB: Yeah.
LL: And I can’t, I can’t see them. I could see the navigator that side but I couldn’t see down there. And he said, ‘Oh, he’s ok now.’ Anyway, on this bombing competition we were on, on doing the navigation leg and Arthur called on the intercom and said, oh God, I wish I could remember his name, I have to look in my logbook, ‘He’s banging his head on the table again.’ And I said, ‘What do you mean? And he said, ‘He’s looking funny and he’s gone white and he’s banging his head on the table.’ And I thought, well I said, ‘Keep me informed.’ And after about five minutes he said, ‘He doesn’t look too good, skipper.’ So I said, ‘Ok I’ll have to cancel, and I’ll call base and return.’ Anyway, I cancelled the thing, called base and, and got back to Scampton and I asked for an ambulance to pick him up and they hauled him off into the sick quarters. And I went to see him later on and he was sitting up there perky as anything. Anyway, that was the end of him. We couldn’t take him anymore. I got a new AEO called Godfrey Salmond. Why can I remember his name and can’t remember the other chap? And so I got a new, a new AEO. And anyway they got special permission for me to do the, our trip again.
CB: Right.
LL: Normally if you return its part of the exercise. You’ve failed.
CB: Yeah.
LL: But because of the situation they allowed me then to do my portion of it again for 617 Squadron and we got, we were second.
CB: Was he the nav plotter or the nav radar?
LL: Who?
CB: The one who had the problem.
LL: Oh, the AEO.
CB: Oh, he was the AEO.
LL: Yes. I’m sorry. Didn’t I say?
CB: The air electronics officer.
LL: I didn’t say AEO.
CB: Yeah.
LL: That’s right. No. I had, we had a good crew. I had a good crew. And the wives got on well together. And, and Harry, our son was born at Scampton. And Harry is, now lives in Australia. He emigrated about ten years ago to Australia [pause] Oh, when Diana died he immediately came home. Both of them actually, and they looked after me.
CB: We’ll just pause there again.
[recording paused]
CB: Now, you spent your formative years you might say in the war on fighters. And then you transferred eventually to the Bomber Command force but particularly into Vulcans. I just wonder whether as there were some people who had flown Lancasters or Halifaxes or Stirlings in the war whether there was any link in their minds with the more modern arrangement with the V force.
LL: It never, I don’t think it ever occurred to them. It certainly didn’t come up in conversation anyway. It, they like Tommy Thompson he was one of the pilots on our Squadron who was a wartime bomber. And he used to, he did refer occasionally to incidents during the war but he was very, very remisent about it. He didn’t. Unless you particularly asked him he would never introduce the subject. All I know is that Tommy, we used to do these lone rangers and they bought, and he he went out to, I think it was [pause] I forget. It was out to Butterworth, that’s right. In Malaya. And they staged back and they got to North Africa and at the time they said that we should only do one stage a day. And anyway things were getting a bit tight for them so they decided to, when instead do two stages to get home. And they got airborne from North Africa and, and headed home. And the got airborne from North Africa and headed home. And when they got back to Scampton the Group headquarters summoned him up and said, ‘Why did you do two stages instead of one when it’s against orders.’ And anyway, anyway he, I think somebody some high ranking officer was asking him and he said, I know, ‘If you can’t trust me at this stage, I’ve flown in Bomber Command during the war, I’ve flown Lancasters, Lincolns, Canberras and now on this and I have an impeccable record. If you can’t trust my judgement now I’m leaving the Air Force.’ And he turned around and walked out and resigned his commission.
CB: Did he really?
LL: And, and he finished up by going out to Australia. And he took a Land Rover and drove all the way out to Australia [laughs] with his family. That was one incident. That’s all I can think of.
CB: Did, did many people in your experience in the RAF after the war discuss their experiences during the war of any type?
LL: Well, most of the pilots on my Squadron were, weren’t in the war. You know, like in 213 Squadron there were no — they were all ex-Cranwell cadets or pilots that graduated after the war and got commissions and things like that. No. I don’t think so.
CB: Going fast forward again then to the Vulcan. It was an extremely manoeuvrable aeroplane. Did you feel any link between your fighter days and flying the Vulcan?
LL: Well, when I was doing the demonstrations, yes [laughs] In fact I’ve got a book down there and didn’t even bother to put my name to it. I was referred to as the “Star of the Air Show.”
CB: And what did you do there?
LL: I did my demonstration. And we had rapid starter on the old, on the Vulcan and and it was, we had an electrical and then they had air pressure and they made it a rapid start on all four engines. And I had my crew chief to make me a plunger thing which I could press down on the starter buttons and get all four to go down together. And I taxied out at, at, in Paris and, and stopped the engines at the beginning of the runway and then I called for take-off. Or they told me it was ok to take off and I pressed the old buttons, this thing down and I took off and consequently again got the aircraft airborne you know very early and I had a minimal amount of fuel and I climbed up and got almost, and then I practically rolled her and in fact they said I did a half roll and then I carried on with my demonstration. And I was referred to as the star. “Star of the Paris Air Show.”
CB: Where was that? That was at the the [unclear] Show was it?
LL: That was —
CB: Orly.
LL: I can’t remember the name of the airfield in Paris we went to. Anyway, my crew were all married of course and and the wives came out and joined us. In fact, Diana came out with Stuart Macgregor. I think his name was Stuart McGregor and he was Broady’s AD, not ADC. He was something to do with, he was a Squadron leader anyway. He actually had, flew Diana out in one of the Bomber Command communication flight aircraft into, into and she joined me at the hotel in, in Paris.
CB: So in your demonstrations did you ever roll the Vulcan? Or at any time?
LL: No [laughs] I wanted to but I thought it would be a little bit too far-fetched in a way. I half rolled it but I never fully rolled it.
CB: So —
LL: So, of course my crew in the back were sitting there being thrown around.
CB: So, technically a half roll is being inverted is it?
LL: That’s right. Yes.
CB: Yes. And then taking it back.
LL: Yeah.
CB: And pulled through and turned.
LL: That’s right. That’s what I used to do at the top of the climb.
CB: Yeah.
LL: And pull around.
CB: And then turned back the right way on the way down.
LL: That’s right.
CB: So we’ve —
LL: I used to enjoy those, it and when I went to Canada it was their, some exhibition and I was introduced to a chap, a Canadian who, he told, he was a most interesting chap. He had spent his career flying. And he started flying a solo aircraft and out in the Arctic, Northern Canada and he used to take, deliver mail to these outposts in the Arctic and he used to sleep in the aeroplane because there was nowhere else to go. And to stop the aircraft oil system solidifying because of the intense cold he used to have a small burner thing underneath it. Underneath the engine to keep the engine sort of warm. And he did that for some years and then he bought a twin engine, and he became quite a rich man and he had, he used to spend six months down in Florida. In for the summer and then fly back up to Canada again for the Canadian summer. And, and I was allowed, or the AOC who was out in, in Canada with me as part of the ground effort allowed me, said that it was ok. This chap wanted to fly in a Vulcan. And he said, ‘Ok. You can take him up.’ So, anyway, on my demonstration he sat or stood on the ladder holding on to the back of the two ejector seats while I threw the aircraft around. And when I landed he said, ‘God, that was bloody marvellous, [laughs] That was bloody marvellous.’ And when we were due to come home he had this fruit farm, or I don’t know, but he had he brought this crate of peaches and he put them, we put them in the bomb bay and when I landed at Scampton, we got all these peaches, this crate out and we distributed amongst the fruit to the, to the ground crew. But he was a marvellous chap. And, oh yes, the ex-Squadron commander of 617 Squadron. The Canadian. And he was the first to drop that huge bomb. What weight was it?
CB: Oh, the twenty two thousand pound Grand Slam.
LL: Grand Slam, he was one of the first to drop that. He was the CO and he was in Canada and he contacted me and actually took us out a couple of times. In fact, we were invited to a hotel, to a big reception and he, this ex-Squadron commander and my crew had a table and it was dry, there was no drink. And anyway this, why can’t I think of his name?
CB: What, Shannon?
LL: Sorry?
CB: Shannon?
LL: Sorry?
CB: Shannon or did he not become a CO? One of the Dambusters was Shannon. He was an American.
LL: Yeah.
CB: Who became Canadian.
LL: No. He was a Canadian.
CB: Right.
LL: Not an American.
CB: Ok.
LL: No. He was a Canadian. Oh lord. I wish I could remember his. Because he looked after us and in fact I think he was invited and he in fact invited myself and my crew to this reception. And they had all these dignitaries on a top table and all these other small tables around in this big hotel. And anyway, anyway this ex-Squadron commander called a waiter over and said, ‘I want some drinks.’ And he said, ‘I’m sorry, sir.’ He said, ‘Get me some drinks.’ Anyway, we had wine with our dinner. And, and anyway. Oh dear, my navigator. He was —
LL: Right. We’ll just stop for a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: So you all got your wine.
LL: We all got our wine. Anyway —
CB: Yeah.
LL: That naughty navigator or ours went around collecting napkins.
CB: Oh yes.
LL: And he tied them all up together, you know, into a great big — and he crawled to the next table and said, ‘Pass it on.’ You see. And this long stream of napkins headed its way up towards the top table. And I thought, oh God. Anyway, it started, it got to the top table and started to go across and then it stopped before it got to the dignitaries and of course our AOC was on the top table as well. And he, and next, next morning the AOC came to see me. Oh, I can’t remember the name of the bloody airfield, and said I was a very naughty boy. And when I got back to Scampton my squadron commander met me and said, ‘I understand you’ve been a rather naughty boy, Les.’ [laughs] but it was a good party. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
CB: Why was it a teetotal event? Was it a religious?
LL: I don’t know. It was a teetotal event. For some reason they had it was I forget what it was all about. I don’t, I don’t think I ever did know. But anyway this ex-Squadron commander got a little bit tiddly and when he was driving, he was driving us back home he stopped and said, ‘God, I can’t drive anymore. You drive Les.’ And of course, I [laughs] I drove his car back to, to base.
CB: Vancouver was an Air Show where they very much appreciated the Vulcan.
LL: Yes. That’s on, that’s on the further side.
CB: Yes.
LL: Yeah.
CB: So this was the Atlantic side.
LL: Oh yes. That’s the thing I had not mentioned and that was that we had a reunion when I was at Coolham. That’s right. Coolham. This airfield down south. And from there we had a reunion. Afterwards, that’s right. No. I’m getting a bit mixed up. Hang on a second. Anyway, the Squadron in that area had a reunion which also celebrated the invasion [of the day] and somebody organised all this and they got hold of this lady whose father, Skip Paine was her father and he was killed in a flying accident at Coolham. And she came over from Canada and we met and we became firm friends. And Christine and Rick, he’s to do with the theatre, they come to England and they come and see me and we talk and I keep in touch with them and and they’re very very good friends. Christine and Rick. And her father, she planted a tree in memory of her father when she came over once. Can I pop and see Sarah?
CB: Please do.
LL: Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: You’ve talked about the tragic accident at Heathrow.
LL: Well, we used to do target study.
CB: Yes.
LL: And we had to do so many hours every week and we used to go in to a locked secret room in the operations block and study our targets. And I always think at the back of my mind that it was never going to happen. And I think we lived with that feeling that it’s not going to happen because it’s impossible. We can’t do this sort of thing. It would be ridiculous even to start it.
CB: This is nuclear war.
LL: Yeah. A nuclear war is out. Really out of the question and I think in our minds that people will eventually sort themselves out and it will all be cancelled. And I took a Blue Steel out to Australia in the Vulcan.
CB: Right.
LL: Because that was, I don’t know, a weapon.
CB: A stand-off weapon.
LL: A stand-off weapon.
CB: Yeah.
LL: And I was hoping that we would be able to fire it but they had, they took it off our aircraft and put it, and they did it themselves. The test people down there out in the —
CB: They didn’t drop it from a V bomber at all.
LL: No. Well, I don’t know what they did with it. They must have done trials on it. They must have dropped it from something.
CB: But a Canberra wasn’t big enough.
LL: And of course the navigator had to keep the Blue Steel working all the way out and of course he had a lot of work to do.
CB: Yeah.
LL: But when we got there a car turned up and I said, and they said, I said, ‘What’s this for?’ He said, ‘It’s been ordered for you.’ And I found out that that dear father in law of mine had been in touch with somebody out in Australia and ordered this, this car for me so I could use it to get around.
CB: Fantastic.
LL: That was, that was marvellous.
CB: This is, this is Woomera isn’t it? And Woomera is the middle of ruddy nowhere.
LL: Broady was, he was a fine chap actually and it’s, and that’s his picture up there when he was a wing commander.
CB: Oh yes.
LL: And there are all his medals.
CB: Yes.
LL: Behind you there. And those medals were sold. Somebody who was doing the history of Hornchurch, a chap called Mr Smith got in touch with Diana because he knew that her father was station commander at Hornchurch at one time. And he told her that the medals were at this particular auction, on an auction and I tried to stop it and I couldn’t. I just couldn’t get anybody to talk to me. Eventually I got hold of somebody after a lot of trying and I said I wanted the medals to be withdrawn. And they said, ‘You can’t do that. We can’t do that. A family member has put them up and they’re in the catalogue and they will be sold.’ I said that, ‘They are not to be sold. They are to stay in the family.’ But no, they wouldn’t listen and they were sold. So where Broady’s medals have gone I have no idea but I think they fetched something like thirty eight thousand pounds at the auction. And where that money went to I don’t know. But Diana’s half-sister Claire she was a rather spoiled girl. She dropped us completely and after her mother died she inherited everything. Diana hardly got anything at all. And she just dropped us. And we haven’t heard from her at all for donkeys years. But Harry, actually, when he, she’s living in Spain and Harry actually managed to get in touch with her by email to inform her that Diana had died but she didn’t even try to contact me or anything. So as far as I’m concerned Claire doesn’t exist. But Diana’s other sister Jill, she lives in Herefordshire and she’s been absolutely, she was absolutely marvellous and I keep in. I still keep in touch with her. And she’s very artistic and I’m celebrating my ninety fifth birthday in January and she is doing the invitations for me.
CB: Oh excellent.
LL: And it [pause] and I’m going to have that put on the front.
CB: Oh excellent.
LL: And this is the sort of invitation.
CB: That’s jolly good. Yeah. With your picture on the front of it. That’s really good.
LL: Yeah. That’s right.
CB: With your Meteor behind.
LL: That’s right. Yeah.
CB: Is that a 1 or an 8?
LL: This is a Meteor 3.
CB: Oh, 3. Right. Just quickly you mentioned you never expected a nuclear war to happen. Did you believe in those days that you were making a substantial contribution as a deterrent?
LL: Yes. I’m pretty certain we did. I’m pretty certain we did. We did all this QRA, you know.
CB: Quick Reaction Alert.
LL: Quick Reaction. And we were also detached on to a peculiar airfield in Scotland so that if Scampton was bombed at all we would be up, you know away from it. And we did have, I had, Diana and I had discussed it and she said, ‘If anything does happen I’ll grab the kids and everything else and head for Herefordshire. If it does. If it does happen.’ So we had planned that sort of thing.
CB: Changing the topic to an earlier one which is the crew of a V bomber is five and three of the crew sit facing backwards. In the case of the Vulcan below the two pilots. Only the pilots have an ejector seat. What was the attitude of the crew to the inherent danger of such an arrangement for escape?
LL: They just, they just accepted it.
[telephone ringing]
LL: They just accepted it.
CB: Yeah.
LL: I don’t think [pause] did we ever bale the rear crew out? Yes. I was watching the Vulcan take off once and as the nose lifted the whole nose wheel hydraulic system fell out and the nose wheel ran along the runway so he just had a stump. And I rushed back and rang air traffic and said, ‘For God’s sake get hold of that aircraft. He’s lost his nose wheel.’ And anyway they called him up and he came on around and they took and he flew low over the airfield and they said, yes, the nose wheel had disappeared. And then for some unearthly reason they sent him over to Waddington and they baled the rear crew out over Waddington. Why they didn’t do it over Scampton I don’t know. But a chap called Blackwell I think his name was, his ‘chute didn’t open properly and he was killed. But they naturally had to have the undercarriage up because the nose wheel was right behind the door. The whole structure. So if you slid down the door you hit, you would hit the the nose wheel. So therefore the undercarriage had to be retracted to bale the rear crew out.
CB: So, then what did they do? Did they do a —
LL: They, they, they had the undercarriage up, they opened the door and you had to have the speed somewhere below two hundred knots actually to —
CB: Yeah.
LL: For the door to open fully.
CB: Yes.
LL: One of the Vulcan crashes was that, on the Mark 1 and they grounded the Vulcan for a bit was that the a, that they had a single buzz bar for the generators, alternators. And one of the alternators back fired and knocked off all the other general alternators and this was on a long range to Canada.
CB: Oh.
LL: And they were over Canada when all this happened at forty thousand feet. And they always said that the batteries would operate the powered controls for ten minutes. Anyway, they had, believe it or not there was no means of resetting these alternators. So they couldn’t get them back on line again and so the aircraft was incapacitated really and it started to descend and it consequently got faster and faster and of course the co-pilot ejected and the captain didn’t. And they couldn’t get the rear crew out as far as I know.
CB: Because they couldn’t open the door.
LL: They were going too fast. And anyway, the co-pilot was, hadn’t got his Mae West on and he landed in Lake Michigan and was drowned.
CB: Jeez.
LL: And the aircraft crashed and the Vulcan was grounded. And then they split the buzz bar, so that if it happened again you’d only lose one side.
CB: Of power generation.
LL: Yeah. So that was the only time I can think of that you would want to get the rear crew out. But then of course the door wouldn’t, as it was over two hundred knots the door wouldn’t open properly. So —
CB: Now, after a bit then the nuclear deterrent was withdrawn and replaced by the Navy so low level flying was the order of the day.
LL: Yeah. It was quite exciting. Low level. But it wasn’t designed for that sort of thing. It, it didn’t absorb the, you know the disturbance or the bumps.
CB: The buffeting.
LL: It was an uncomfortable trip really. No. It’s the old Mark 2 of course we could get up to what forty thousand feet almost fifty thousand feet on the old Mark 2. It was a bloody marvellous aeroplane.
CB: Some people got over sixty.
LL: Yeah.
CB: Thousand.
LL: Yeah. I got a Canberra up to forty odd thousand feet [laughs]
CB: Just going back to your very earliest days there you are in America being taught by civilians. Are you treated as civilians yourselves in civilian clothes or was it RAF?
LL: We were in, we were the first British cadets to go in uniform after America had declared war. Before that they had to wear civvy clothes.
CB: And the instructors. Were they all —
LL: At, they had American sort of senior instructors but they had recruited civilians because they hadn’t got enough instructors with the expansion.
CB: Right.
LL: And so they employed the ordinary civil aviation instructors.
CB: And what was the general attitude of the American towards the British? The RAF.
LL: They were fine. Fine. We put up a bit of a black hole when we arrived because we arrived at Turner Field. That’s right, Turner Field on the very first day. We came down from Canada we finished at Montgomery at Turner Field and when we got off the train we all assembled, fell in and we were marched off and somebody struck up the tune, “As we go marching through Georgia.”
CB: Oh.
LL: And we all started singing, “As we go marching —” and the Americans were not very pleased [laughs] and [pause] in fact we had a mutiny there on my course. It was, they were in six months we did all the ground school and all the flying and sometimes we used to get up at 6 o’clock in the morning. Do ground school until lunchtime, flew all, flew all the afternoon and then did night flying. And then, alternatively it was flying. Get up, do flying in the morning ground school in the afternoon, night flying at night. So it was a lot of, a long, long day.
CB: So the mutiny was —
LL: I admire the Americans for their organisation. They expanded so quickly and they really, they really got cracking once they got, they declared war. They really did. Craig Field. That’s right. Craig Field. That’s where I went to. Did my advanced. Craig Field.
CB: And there you’re flying Harvards.
LL: Harvards. Yes.
CB: Or T6 Texan.
LL: Yeah. Oh, you remember I said I had these three friends at ITW.
CB: Yes.
LL: Well, all of them were killed during the war. None of them survived. I was the only one to survive.
CB: But was that on operations or were some killed in other ways?
LL: Well, one was killed on, on, in Bomber Command. Another one was on Mosquitoes and I don’t know what happened to him and the other one was on Tempests and they were off on a trip to France and he had engine failure over the Channel. And of course he tried to ditch the thing but with that great big intake in the front, you know —
CB: Yeah.
LL: It just immediately tipped up and it sank and he was killed. And in fact, I’ve got another, in that same book this chappy is talking about this particular incident of Neil. Neil was his name. Was it Neil? Anyway, that’s how I got confirmation that he [pause] so all three of them died.
CB: Yeah. You were talking about the losses in training. Were they a mixture of the instructors and the students or just the students?
LL: Well they had, we lost, again the course before me, where that would be 42 EFG F 42G they, we did a day/night cross country. We flew the, the, these were on basic training. I think it was the basic training. Anyway, we did a first leg down to Miami from from Montgomery. It would be the Vultee basic training aircraft and then they did a trip. Took off at night and flew a dog leg and back up to Gunter Field. And the Met forecast was completely and utterly wrong and they hit one of these ghastly tropical storms. And there was something like twenty odd aircraft. One aircraft managed to get back to base. We lost six pilots that night, were killed. And others force landed and survived. But that was a big blunder by the Met people. That was the course before me. And when I was at primary I think you were either born lucky or born unlucky and I certainly was born exceedingly lucky. But this chap was flying with his instructor and he hadn’t got his seat strap done up and they hit a bump and he left the cockpit and finished up sitting astride the fuselage in front of the rudder. Much to the amazement of the, of the instructor up front. But anyway the instructor managed to get the aircraft back again and landed and then the next, then a couple of days later he was testing the mags at the end of the runway, running the engine up and the engine just blew off. Just left the aircraft. Boom. And then believe it or not somebody landed on top of him and killed him. Now, that is what I call unlucky.
CB: Yeah. Extraordinary.
LL: Yeah. But the Americans were very good actually. We, we had no — the only leave we got was three days I think it was. After primary. And we registered at this military club and they were, Americans would come along and pick you up and take you off and entertain you and look after you. And two of my friends and I went to this club and these Americans [unclear] was their name, took us down to, this was in Florida, to their house and they had a private beach with cottages on it and they gave us a cottage and we lived in this cottage. The provided all the food and we had barbecues and they looked after us. And they wrote to my parents as well. So yes, they were very good actually.
CB: A very hospitable people the Americans.
LL: Very good.
CB: Right. We’ve done extremely well. Thank you very much and I think we need to have a pause because you need your lunch.
LL: [laughs] Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: Did the, the turbine blades would come off at any time would they on the Meteors?
LL: Hmmn?
CB: The turbine blades you said separated.
LL: Yeah.
CB: Was that in flight as well as on the ground?
LL: Oh yes.
CB: And what was —
LL: Mostly in flight.
CB: What was the effect of that?
LL: Just a rumble really. A vibration.
CB: And then you had to shut down the engine quickly.
LL: You had to shut down the engine. Then you were faced with asymmetric which you hadn’t been trained for. That’s why you had so many fatalities.
CB: Yes.
LL: The thing is on an asymmetric, on the approach you have an approach speed and if you get low and of course as you, as you approach you’re throttling back and if you’re getting a bit low you open the throttles but you’ve got have to have sufficient rudder to offset the amount of asymmetric.
CB: Yeah.
LL: And eventually if you got too low and you got too, if you had too much power the aircraft would naturally, you’d got full rudder on but you would still divert from your heading. So you’re only faced with one thing and that is to dive and get a bit of speed up but then of course you haven’t got that height most times.
CB: Oh right.
LL: So you’re in, in a non-return situation.
CB: Was it realistic to go around again?
LL: Well, you wouldn’t be able to do because your rudder wouldn’t allow you to open up to full throttle.
CB: Right.
LL: All it would do was swing you around and eventually you’d —
CB: You’d topple it.
LL: Topple on to your back and that would be it.
CB: Right.
LL: You couldn’t go around again.
CB: Right.
LL: Because your speed was too low.
CB: Yeah, I see, right.
LL: You had an asymmetric speed of say one hundred and sixty five knots or something and you didn’t want to let it go below that.
CB: What was your touchdown speed normally?
LL: Well, as you approached the runway of course you could reduce that speed and it was the actual Meteor touchdown was something like ninety, ninety five knots.
CB: Oh was it?
LL: Something around about that.
CB: I’ve seen figures that suggest that the RAF lost four hundred and eighty pilots flying on Meteors.
LL: Yeah. And also they lost pilots because of the oxygen system. We had a couple of aircraft go in from altitude at Full Sutton and when they were doing that they couldn’t understand why. We assumed that they’d lost control and they’d gone into a spin and that was it. But in fact what had happened was when they were doing a service, a major service on one of the aircraft they had the oxygen system out and they was found that it wasn’t actually producing the oxygen that was required. There was something wrong with it. It had worn or was leaking or something like that and they checked all the other Meteors and they were all, they were faulty.
CB: Were they?
LL: And we were all flying Meteors with a faulty oxygen system [pause] And they were of course passing out from lack of oxygen at height. And then of course that was it.
CB: They wouldn’t recover.
LL: They wouldn’t recover in time to do, and they lost a lot of pilots that way.
CB: So we talked about you on Squadron in the Vulcan. And we haven’t got to the end of that.
LL: No.
CB: So, did, did you move to another Vulcan Squadron after 617?
LL: No.
CB: Or did you go to something else?
LL: I went straight from 617 to Boscombe Down.
CB: Right.
LL: And I joined the Transport Flight at Boscombe Down and I spent six years there. A most enjoyable six years.
CB: And what were you actually doing then?
LL: I was, well I was on the transport side actually.
CB: But was it experimental or were you delivering people?
LL: Well, it was experimental with the VC10 of course. And we had the Andover. And I’m not a test pilot. And the other pilots were in fact test pilots.
CB: Right.
LL: And so they were doing trials on cross wind landings and all that sort of stuff. And we did some overseas tropical trials. And what Boscombe normally do but you need a test pilot to qualify to do it?
CB: Yes.
LL: And I was not qualified. So I spent some time just flying. We had, we had a Beverley [laughs]
CB: Gosh.
LL: I took, and I took a Beverley all the way to Churchill in Northern Canada. We took [pause] we went from, from Boscombe Down to Iceland.
CB: Yeah.
LL: And then —
CB: Greenland.
LL: No. We didn’t. We were going to go to Greenland but there was a lovely low and they had, we got the navigator had found that we had if we went a little bit further south we’d have a lovely tail wind and the old Beverley was tanking along at a hundred and forty five knots. With a, you know fixed undercarriage four bloody great engines. And we went from there —
CB: It’s a flying brick.
LL: All the way to Goose Bay.
CB: Oh yeah. Labrador.
LL: Labrador. And then from Labrador we went to [pause] where was it? Near Toronto. An airfield near Toronto and then from Toronto up to Churchill. That was an amazing station. That really was.
CB: What were, what were you doing there? Delivering something?
LL: I was, I went there to collect the helicopter that was doing cold weather trials.
CB: Oh.
LL: And the helicopter was put in the back of the Beverley. And I had ground crew with me as well of course to keep us in service and, but I’ve never, of course the Aurora Borealis was in full swing when we were in Churchill. And it was amazing to see all this. And I could see icebergs in the in the gulf there. And the, and the whole station relied on this power station that provided electricity to keep the station going. And they had an emergency system that if ever that power station packed up that the Churchill itself would freeze. And consequently like the loos and all that sort of stuff would all be non-operative so they had an emergency escape. Evacuation system.
CB: Oh.
LL: But as far as I know it never happened. And they also had warnings that when the temperature was so low that they weren’t allowed to go out and most of the buildings were actually interconnected so you didn’t have to go outside.
CB: Too cold.
LL: To get to another building. And of course to get people to actually service there or work there they were, they were usually naughty boys who [laughs] who wanted to get away from it all. Like doctors. That’s what I was told anyway. But it was, it was quite an experience. And there from there, from Churchill I went all the way to the Azores and we landed. I had to refuel enroute. I forget where. Then we finished up at the Azores. And on the way to the Azores the engineer was, said, ‘Well, the revs have dropped slightly on number three,’ I think it was. And he said, ‘It’s still running ok.’ Anyway, when we landed he ran the engine up and it sort of, and there was hardly any mag drop. Or the mag drop was in limits anyway. Anyway, we took off the next day and this engine was still showing a bit funny but it was running reasonably smoothly, or smoothly and when we got back to Boscombe Down when they checked the engine and put it unserviceable they found that one of the cylinders, you know, a radial engine had actually become detached and it was actually bouncing up and down with the piston.
Other: Wow.
CB: Blimey.
LL: And it actually had dented the actual cowling.
CB: Gosh.
LL: And that engine kept going.
CB: Bristol Centaurus.
LL: Amazing, the old Centaurus, yes.
CB: So after Boscombe.
LL: Boscombe. Oh yes. I was sent up to Finningley to take over the Vulcan simulator. And I had to be checked out on the Vulcan again.
CB: On a flying one.
LL: Yeah. And we used to go there and I used to fly about once or twice a week.
CB: So, with the simulator did the crews go into that before they did flying in the OCU?
LL: Yes. Part of their training for their conversion.
CB: Yeah.
LL: Was to do the simulator.
CB: Right.
LL: And then they had to, when they were on the Squadron they had to do so many hours on the simulator every month.
CB: Right.
LL: And of course they came to me. Then we put in faults and all that sort of stuff.
CB: Yeah.
LL: And it was very, it was an analogue type simulator. It was nothing like what they have these days.
CB: Right.
LL: And the one I saw at Heathrow for an aircraft, I forget what it was, you know you could dial up Toronto or Singapore or various airfields and you could do your landings at, you know at those particular airfields. And when you took off it actually looked as if you took off. You know. There was a slight rumble and they’ve got airborne and the horizon and the cloud and all this sort of stuff and it was so realistic it was amazing. It put my simulator to shame.
CB: So how long did you do your tour at Finningley?
LL: I did —
CB: What age were you then?
LL: I retired there and I was coming up to tour-ex and I didn’t, and of course we bought the house and we were living in it and I applied to stay. So I actually did another tour. I did nearly ten years there.
CB: Did you really?
LL: I got a bit bored towards the end of course with it all. I tended to lose a bit of interest.
CB: Well, you’d been doing it in total for how many years? The Vulcan.
LL: Yeah. Anyway, the, I left the Air Force and then they decided that they would civilianise instructors on simulators, The Air Ministry. And as I was leaving the Air Force I thought I might as well become a civilian. And I had to go down to Air Ministry and had an interview and I got the job with the Civil Service as a simulator instructor. A civilian one. And I did that for a couple of years and then because the Vulcan was, the V force was disbanded and I lost my job. And that’s when I left for, a friend of ours put me, put me in touch with somebody or somebody was put in touch with me and came to see me and asked if I would like a job with a recorder with the Milk Marketing Board. And I said, ‘Anything to stop me being bored.’ And that’s how I started and I did ten years of that. And then Diana retired because she was a teacher.
CB: Right.
LL: At the Rossington School in Yorkshire. And she did twenty odd years teaching. When we were at Boscombe Down she just suddenly over one meal said, ‘I’ve enlisted in the teacher’s training course in Salisbury. I said, ‘What? You’ve done what?’ ‘She said, ‘I’m going to be a teacher.’ So, anyway when I was posted north she hadn’t finished her teacher’s training course. She had another term to go. So I got into a married quarter at Finningley and Diana stayed down at, in Salisbury. She stayed with a friend of ours, Geoff Boston and his family. And then she came up and got this job with, at Rossington School.
CB: Brilliant.
LL: You could hear Diana out. I used to go and pick her up sometimes. She had her own car but sometimes I used to go and pick her up. And I could, as I approached the school you could hear Diana’s voice telling the kids to shut up or do something or other. Using her sergeant major voice. One day when I was there and the kids had all gone out and I was back, still on the classroom I wrote on the board, “Silence in class,” in big letters. And the next morning when Diana came in, and the children she couldn’t understand why they were so quiet. You know. Sitting there all peaceful quiet. And then she turned to put the date on board and saw, “Silence in — [laughs] Oh dear. Lovely. Lovely.
CB: Can we do a fast backwards?
LL: Oh yes. Go. Yes.
CB: Most people flying with your seven thousand hours of experience have had the odd hiccup and we’ve talked about one or two things but when you were at Hornchurch what happened there as the most dramatic event at Hornchurch when you were taking off one day?
LL: At Hornchurch.
CB: So, two of you in Spitfires.
LL: Do you know I can’t [pause] Hornchurch.
CB: You mentioned earlier that at Hornchurch you’d had a bit of a dicey time taking off with your wingman.
LL: Oh yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, it was a grass airfield. Hornchurch was. We were over there. 129 Squadron and 222 Squadron were over here and Wing Commander Crawford Compton.
CB: Oh yes.
LL: Was the wing commander flying and he had a Spitfire which was the pride of Hornchurch. It was a special finish. And anyway that day we were called for operation and we used to take off in twelves. And Crawford Compton taxied out with 222 Squadron and lined up across the airfield and we came up and lined up behind us. And I was flying as number two to the CO. And I had my number two, number, number one to the CO, and I had my number two tucked in here and of course we had the other aircraft. And we saw the aircraft ahead of us 222 Squadron getting airborne. And [unclear] was my Squadron commander and he put his hand up and dropped his hand and we were off and I formated on him. Up came my tail to be confronted with a bloody Spitfire right in front of me, you know. And I slammed. I couldn’t turn left because I’d hit the CO. I couldn’t turn right because my number two would have gone straight into me. So I slammed the throttle closed and I couldn’t stop and I finished up on top of the Spitfire. I married it [laughs] And Crawford Compton saw me coming and he leapt out. Got out of the cockpit but he was still attached from his Mae West to his dinghy and so when he left, got out the cockpit he was held in, part in and part out by his connection and he actually physically broke it.
CB: Blimey.
LL: And then fell onto the ground as I hit, landed on top of his aircraft. And he tried afterwards to break that and he couldn’t. It was sheer bloody wilful powers.
CB: Yeah.
LL: That actually did it. And that morning he had said at briefing anybody who damages or [unclear] that Spitfire is posted out. And I’d got two. [laughs]
CB: What had happened to his Spitfire that caused you to catch him?
LL: Well, it was my prop chewed up all the tailplane and the fuselage and that sort of thing. And anyway, Crawford Compton came to see me afterwards and he said, he apologised to me. What had happened was that he had been running his engine on the Spitfire and consequently it was warmish or hottish before he got into it. And of course we started up and he taxied out and he was looking at his watch for take-off time and of course it got over heated. And he closed the throttle and shut down the engine and waved the rest of the Squadron on, and stayed put. Well, it was bloody obvious that the Squadron behind, somebody’s going, somethings going to happen. What he should have done was taxied out and to hell with the engine boiling and got out of the way. But he apologised for, and said that it was alright. And funny enough when we were married and at the reception committee at the CnC’s house old Crawford Compton was there. No, it wasn’t Crawford Compton. It was, I’ve got the wrong name. He was a New Zealander. Anyway, he came up and sort of was talking and I said to him, ‘I nearly killed you.’ And he looked at me and he said, ‘Hornchurch.’ I said, ‘Two Spitfires. Remember.’ ‘Oh, of course.’ [laughs] He was at, he was at our wedding reception. Crowley-Milling was the CO of 6 Squadron out in the Middle East. And he became quite a very senior officer. He became an air marshall or something.
CB: Yeah.
LL: And I met up with him again at Broady’s funeral. He was there.
CB: Yeah. He was a Battle of Britain man.
LL: That’s right.
CB: What would you say was your most memorable point during your service in the RAF?
LL: That’s a very difficult question. Getting my AFC at Buckingham palace, I think. Because I’m very much a royalist and to go to Buckingham Palace was really something. And Diana was with me and my mother.
CB: How did the day go?
LL: Unfortunately, Diana had a stinking headache when she came out and we were going to celebrate but all she wanted to do was to go to bed and rest. And so we were staying with a friend of hers and so the rest of the day was, had to be cancelled. But it was, you know I think getting, going to Buckingham Palace and getting the AFC was really a highlight in my life. And I appeared in, my name was in the Plymouth paper and what not.
CB: So how did the day progress? How did it start?
LL: What for AFC?
CB: Yes. Did you spend the night in London?
LL: Oh, yes.
CB: And then go.
LL: Yes.
CB: Or what did you do?
LL: We were living in Salisbury and we came up by train and we got a taxi. And I think we went straight to Buckingham Palace.
CB: You were a Squadron leader at that time.
LL: No, I was — was I? I suppose I must have been. Yes.
CB: And what was the procedure? You came to the front of Buckingham Palace.
LL: Yes. And then the ushers actually took us in and took us to this big hall and got the AFCs and those sort of minor medals were right at the end. All the knighthoods and things, you know were up front.
CB: Yeah.
LL: So I was right, right at the end.
CB: In your number 1 uniform.
LL: And the Prince. Yes. Oh, yes. Nicely pressed and presented. And Prince Phillip said, ‘What did you get your medals for?’ I said, ‘Well, I haven’t seen the citation, sir.’ In fact, I never did see the citation.
CB: oh.
LL: And I told him that I was the Bomber Command demonstration pilot and I performed in various places and countries. And he said, ‘Did you bend it? Did you bend it?’ Said Prince Phillip. I said, ‘No. I pulled the odd rivet, I think.’ And he grinned and that was it.
CB: So the procedure is that he pins on the AFC medal.
LL: Yes. That’s right.
CB: What did you do then?
LL: Oh I don’t know. I think we just left. There wasn’t a sort of reception or meal or drinks or anything like that. I think we, I think we left. Do you know I can’t recall. All I know was that Diana wanted to get away because she had this ghastly headache. It was a migraine of some sort.
CB: In the wartime what was the most exciting activity that you engaged in? Was it chasing the V-1s? Was it ground attack?
LL: I think it was ground attack. We, when I was on Mustangs at Coolham and the invasion started we had two five hundred bombs stuck underneath each.
CB: Did you?
LL: One under each wing and every time we went over there we bombed sort of bridges or targets, and various targets, and it was, it was quite hairy at times I can tell you. We’d got twelve aircraft sort of, you know milling around and doing things. You had to keep your eyes open.
CB: Did you have a designated target before you left or was it a target of opportunity?
LL: No. It was, we had to go to a certain area.
CB: Yes.
LL: And possibly bomb a certain bridge, and then it was freelance after that. But we knew where the front line was and all that sort of thing. And it was the old Typhoons that really braved the day. Of course, the old Tyffy was designed for ground attack and at Falaise Gap they really slaughtered —
CB: Yeah.
LL: The Germans there.
CB: With rocket firing.
LL: Yes. The introduction of rockets was really a step forwards.
CB: Yeah. The sixty pound warhead, rocket.
LL: When they said that Rommel was killed, you know.
CB: Wounded.
LL: I think it was, was it an accident?
CB: He was in his staff car, wasn’t he?
LL: Well, I thought it was me did it in a way because on one of these ramrods I was leading another Mustang and we came across this staff car with outriders and, and we attacked it. And the, and the occupants sort of dived for the ditches and that sort of thing and it looked like a senior officer as I shot over the top. So afterwards I thought I must have done it. But I hadn’t. It must have been some other senior officer. But on those ramrods. It was a target of opportunity if you see what I mean.
CB: Yeah. You weren’t called up by a forward air controller.
LL: Yeah. We went for trains and that sort of thing. Engines.
CB: How did you get trained to drop your five hundred pounds bombs?
LL: Sorry?
CB: How did you get trained to do your bomb dropping?
LL: Ah, there’s a thing, there’s a thing. When, before we went on to Mustangs or it could have been afterwards, anyway we went to an Armament Training Centre. Now, where I’ve no idea. I think it was North Wales. We did air gunnery and we did bombing. And the way you did bombing was using your gunsight. You know, diving down but generally speaking when you’re low level it, we just came up towards the target, hoped for the best, pressed the tit and both bombs went.
CB: But you needed to know —
LL: It was hit and miss. Very much a hit and miss but with the, if you dived down from any height you used your gunsight on a target and you had to get a, possibly a forty five degree angle.
CB: And would you put deflection on the gunsight?
LL: That’s right. And when I was in the Middle East with 213 Squadron I became an ace at rocket firing, I don’t know why.
[doorbell rings]
LL: Ah, that’ll be the gardener.
CB: Right, I’ll stop it there.
[recording paused]
CB: We talked a bit earlier about fighter affiliation and you being up at Ingham and it’s really the process of that that I wanted to know more about. So before the sortie, how did the briefing go when you ran a fighter affiliation?
LL: I was just told that the bomber would be over head at a certain time and then it was my responsibility to get airborne and meet it.
CB: Right.
LL: That’s about it.
CB: I was thinking in terms of once you’ve done it you can do it regularly. But what was the instruction for the fighter pilot? In terms of his actions —
LL: Had to do quarter attacks on it.
CB: Right. So that means —
LL: To give the gunner deflection —
CB: Yeah.
LL: Type practice.
CB: So would that be from the forward as well as the rear quarters?
LL: You mean the upper —
CB: When you’re coming away from —
LL: Well, whoever I suppose all positions were manned and I suppose they were all taking pictures of me.
CB: Yes. I was thinking of your attack on the bomber. So the bomber is flying along.
LL: Yeah.
CB: Would you be doing some attacks from the front quarter?
LL: No. I would up to the left and diving down on to them
CB: Right. Now, with fighters there is a fairly prescribed route that you take. You don’t go straight in, do you? It comes, you come in you come in on a curve. How does that work?
LL: Practice.
CB: But, but yes, so you work it out. Could you explain how you work it out what you need?
LL: Well, the thing is somehow, in daytime of course it’s easy.
CB: Yes.
LL: Because you can see the bomber and you do a quarter attack on to it as you would do on to, on to another fighter really.
CB: Yes.
LL: But at night time, of course to see the bomber invariably you had to be much closer before you actually started.
CB: Yeah.
LL: If you were got far away you lost sight of the bomber.
CB: Yeah. Just going back on this just to get some idea are you coming in in a sort of parabolic curve? So that means that it’s not entirely predictable but you are coming in instead of straight —
LL: Oh yes.
CB: In a curve.
LL: One varies one’s attack, so from partially below or from above. And that sort of thing.
CB: Right.
LL: Oh yes. You had to vary your, your attack.
CB: Yeah. And in the dark identify where the bomber is. What can you see of the bomber? Can you see the exhaust flashes?
LL: Not really. Not really. They had the downward ident and I think while we were actually doing the attack they had the nav lights on dim or something like that. We had a method of somehow seeing the bomber. You know, you are asking me something now I can’t honestly remember. All I know is I daren’t lose it.
CB: No. But you were in a, in a group doing this activity at Ingham. There was a unit.
LL: That’s right.
CB: So there were a number of you who were fighter pilots who’d finished a tour.
LL: In fact one or two were ex-bomber pilots.
CB: Oh.
LL: Who’d been transferred across. And they’d come from Lancasters to Spitfires.
CB: Really?
LL: In fact when I, that posting I told you about that I accepted it was one of the bomber pilots, ex-bomber pilots who was posted on to Typhoons and he didn’t want to do it, and I took his posting.
CB: So, as a, as a unit to what extent did you exchange views, ideas and experiences in attacking bombers?
LL: I don’t think we did, we did it just our own experience.
CB: Because you were all experienced. Normally you were experienced pilots.
LL: That’s right. We were all experienced.
CB: Yeah. And then in the dark you would follow the, if you were at Ingham then the bombers didn’t land at Ingham did they? So —
LL: Oh no.
CB: So did you land with the bomber and then move in the daytime back to Ingham?
LL: Well, Ingham was quite close to the Bomber Command station and sometimes, most times we flew up to the, say Lindholme or Sandtoft or someplace and met them above. Above. Above.
CB: Yeah. But you wouldn’t be able to see the airfields normally would you?
LL: No.
CB: Right. And did the bombers have their IFF switched on so people —
LL: Ah. If they did it certainly didn’t help us.
CB: No, but I was, what the reason I asked that is the Identification Friend or Foe is designed to make sure that other aircraft —
LL: Oh yes, yes.
CB: Night fighters particularly don’t shoot you.
LL: Well, we carried IFF enough.
CB: Yeah.
LL: On the fighter.
CB: As well.
LL: I’d forgotten about that.
CB: So yours would have been switched on.
LL: Yeah.
CB: Because you don’t want to get jumped by a bona fide night fighter.
LL: [laughs] Oh dear, yeah. Then of course when we moved from Ingham and we were actually posted to, to Lindholme we were actually on the airfield where they took off.
CB: Yeah.
LL: And so therefore we used to just take off and meet them up above. And I can remember once there was thick cloud and I climbed up and up and I came out the top and I hadn’t a clue where I was. I couldn’t find this bloody bomber. I milled around and I called him. We could talk to each other and I couldn’t find him. And so I eventually descended and fortunately I knew where I was.
CB: When you go under the cloud.
LL: Under the cloud. I came in and landed. Aborted.
CB: So —
LL: Couldn’t find the blasted man.
CB: So, you’re in the dark coming back to land. How do you know where the airfield is and what runway you’re on?
LL: Well, contact air traffic.
CB: And they would put up the landing lights, would they? Airfield lights.
LL: We had — yes.
CB: The lights on the runway.
LL: That’s right. They had lights on the runway. They had to have.
CB: I’m thinking of just as —
LL: Yeah.
CB: The RAF did interdiction into Germany to shoot down night fighters the Germans actually did the same. So you had an interesting contradiction here.
LL: Do you know I suppose they must have had some sort of lighting on the runways. I can’t honestly remember. I can’t honestly remember. And talking about landing. Going back right back to America. When we started night flying on Harvards the American way of landing a Harvard at night was to come in on the approach and when you touched down stuff the stick forward to stay on the ground. And I couldn’t do this. I was either too early or too late and consequently if you hit the ground and you were a bit late you started bouncing. And I couldn’t master this and I went, go around again with my instructor sort of in the back getting a bit sore and I said, ‘Can I land this thing the way I want to please, sir.’ And he said, ‘Alright.’ And I came in and landed three pointer as I would in the daytime. And I made a lovely smooth landing. And he said, ‘Oh, that was good. Do it again.’ So off we went again. Opened the throttle, round we went on the circuit and I came around and I did another beautiful three pointer again. He said, ‘Right. You can do that in future.’
CB: So, there was a logic to their process. Their own process. What was that?
LL: I don’t know, it was a stupid idea.
CB: A good way of bending your propeller.
LL: And the wheels actually touching the ground, instead of touching you had to stamp your stick forward to hold, to keep the thing on the ground and of course the tail came up in the air. Oh dear. It was the most awkward bloody movement. I didn’t like it, that’s why I couldn’t do it I suppose.
CB: Did it result in accidents with people cartwheeling?
LL: No idea why they did it. But they did teach me one thing, and that was to land in the dark with practically no runway lightings. They had these goosenecks.
CB: Yeah.
LL: On the runway.
CB: [unclear]
LL: And they only had two at the beginning and two at the end. Towards the end. And the rest of the runway was dark and we had to land on that. Now, that bore me in quite good stead because when I was at Coolham George Powell and myself were scrambled in the, in the evening to intercept some fighters and it was aborted or something. Anyway, it got dark or getting dark and George and I somehow got separated and they had told us to divert to Ford Airfield. And I didn’t get it because my radio had gone unserviceable. So anyway, I returned to Coolham in the dark and circled the airfield and I came in and landed on the airfield in the complete darkness. And my flight commander came out and said, ‘Christ, how did you do that. What did you do that for? You were supposed to land at Ford.’ I said, ‘Was I?’ But I landed at the airfield in the dark on this, the runway which was this Somerfield tracking.
CB: Because of your training. At Ingham did they have Somerfield tracking?
LL: No. It was just pure grass airfield.
CB: So, landing there with no identification of runway —
LL: That’s right.
CB: In the dark was a bit of a challenge was it?
LL: It was a challenge at night. Yes. They had, sort of the odd light sort of around the airfield to indicate where I think, where the peritrack was or something like that but it was it was just a grass airfield. We just landed on it.
CB: Right. A lot, a lot of airfields had drem lighting, so once you got on the drem pattern —
LL: It’s amazing what you can do from just pure experience.
CB: Yes. But the drem lighting system led you on to the airfield.
LL: Yeah.
CB: You didn’t get that.
LL: They didn’t have drem lighting.
CB: No. Right. Which was the aeroplane you enjoyed flying most?
LL: I liked the Mustang. It was a roomy cockpit you see and we had this big canopy and you could actually sort of look around and it was, it was nice to fly.
CB: Bubble canopy.
LL: Bubble canopy, yeah.
CB: Yeah.
LL: No. I think the Spit, the Mustang and the Vulcan were the aircraft I liked flying best. And we were caught out in thick fog once in the old Vulcan and, and the country had gone out and when we got back to base they were completely out and they diverted me to Waddington and they were just about as bad. And, and of course we had this ILS approach. And I actually started the approach with the ILS and I kept on going and I couldn’t see the airfield at all. I just kept on coming down and then I flew over a landing tee, you know which is at the beginning of the runway. And I actually got on to the runway and I touched down and I yelled to the co-pilot, ‘Stream.’ And we streamed the ‘chute and I slammed on the brakes because I really couldn’t see where I was going. But I landed and I actually stopped on the runway. Much to my amazement. And I had to shut down there because I couldn’t see the taxi the fog was so thick. How I got down I just don’t know. But the wingco flying, silly bastard. He came out in a vehicle and parked himself beside the runway when I was landing. I could have —
CB: Run him over.
LL: I could have run over him if I hadn’t got straight on the runway. Anyway, they towed, they had to tow my aircraft back into, because I couldn’t taxi it. And when you put your landing lights on of course it reflected on to the fog and it made it even worse.
CB: Yeah. So you landed without your landing lights.
LL: Yes. I think that was my hairiest landing I think I’ve ever done.
CB: What were you carrying at the time?
LL: What was I — ?
CB: What were you carrying at the time? Bomb load.
LL: Nothing.
CB: Right.
LL: I wasn’t carrying any bombs or anything. It was just purely a training flight. Any more?
CB: That’s it. Les Lunn, thank you for a most interesting talk today.
LL: I hope I haven’t bored you.


Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Leslie Grantham Lunn,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 20, 2024,

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