Interview with Anderson MacCormick


Interview with Anderson MacCormick


Anderson MacCormick grew up in Glasgow and joined the ATC while he waited to join the service. He trained as a flight engineer. He recalls the risks aircrew faced and some beautiful sight he saw in the air. On a flight as part of Operation Exodus an ex-prisoner of war was brought forward to the cockpit as they were approaching the coast and Anderson was struck by the emotion that this sight had on this returning airman.




Temporal Coverage




01:46:26 audio recording


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BJ: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Brenda Jones. The interviewee is Anderson MacCormick. The interview is taking place at Mr MacCormick’s home in Milngavie Glasgow on the 26th of November 2016. Thank you Anderson for agreeing to talk to me today. So could you tell me about your life before you joined the RAF?
AM: I don’t think there was anything especially particular about that. As compared to today for a young children I’d say that we had an awful lot more freedom. It’s a, it’s a comparatively small area where I was brought up in Alexandria. That’s in the Vale of Leven. And as children we were allowed to do, get out and play and go where we liked within that area without any fears. A bit different from what children have today. I worked. I went through junior school and then I went to the academy. And I started working as a part time boy with a firm when I was eleven year old. It was a reporter and press photographer. That was just delivering messages and doing work for him after school and at the weekends. That was quite interesting. It brought in the time at the beginning of the war and this particular freelance reporter he had, during the First World War put in a small paragraph in the local papers of all the men who were killed during that war. And he was trying to carry on doing the same thing in the Second World War. It meant going and asking questions around about. He would hear that someone had been killed. In particular at the period of Dunkirk. And he would normally get the information in but we had to query that and confirm it before he would put in his paragraph. So that was interesting. The [pause] the situation came that his main photographers was taken away. Were called up. And I wasn’t sufficiently qualified to continue working with the business and so I had to leave there. And from there I went to work with the Insurance Society and was working with them as a clerk in the office until such time as I went away to the air force. During that period from the start of the ATC I joined that and was a member of the ATC until I went into the air force itself. The [pause] I don’t think there was any great special things about my youth or that the, my memory of that time was the freedom that we had to do as we wanted to do. I remember a whole summer another lad and myself we spent going up to Pollok Park where motor, rowing boats were hired and we helped the people there and played about there. That was something which I don’t think many children would be allowed to do today. That was when we must have been nine or ten year old that we were doing that. So, as I say there was a tremendous amount of freedom in these days to get out and literally enjoy life. But there was nothing terribly spectacular.
BJ: So how did you come to join the RAF?
AM: Because my mother was in the WRAF in the First World War. And I had in fact intended applying to become a boy entrant in to the RAF prior to the war starting. I had the application papers all completed for that and, but that was cancelled at the start of the war. The boy entrants were cancelled at the start of the war. It did start up again I believe. But I think possibly because my mother having been in the service during the war and I wanted to go the same way. Always had a great interest in flying. And, but because the the boy entrant, the scheme was stopped that finished that idea. So the, it was a case of learning something about flying with being in the ATC. That again, nothing terribly spectacular about that. The only thing that came with that was that one of the officers in the squadron I was in had been a glider pilot and he had a, they had a glider there. I think, I think it was his glider, the officer that was there and we’d take that out. It would be taken out on a Saturday or a Sunday and erected in a field in Dumbarton. And we hauled it back and forward over the field and one or two of the lads, the older lads that were there were allowed to get in it and do what you would term a ground slide. And that gave me an attraction to the gliding. And that was carried on through the period I was in Germany. I’d done some gliding there and then joined the gliding school when I came back when I was, after I was demobbed. Joined the gliding school. The ATC Gliding School at what, it was Abbotsinch Airfield. Now Glasgow airport. That the connection there was always an attraction to be flying.
BJ: So when you joined the RAF tell me about your training.
AM: I don’t, there was nothing spectacular about the training. From we spent, I can remember my first meal in the RAF which was at Lord’s Cricket Ground. We did, I had of course travelled down overnight to London never having been there before. And of course there was the old story if you wanted to know anything you always asked a policeman. And when I arrived in London I did that. I asked a policeman both for the direction, directions to get to Lord’s Cricket Ground and also where I could buy some breakfast. The policeman, he lived up to their reputation and took me around to a cafe where all the railwaymen had their food. Their breakfast. And I got a real breakfast there I think at, what would you, how would you describe it? It had practically everything in it and it was all fried. That certainly was the — from getting that meal I got to Lord’s and at lunchtime there we were all queued up and given a bowl of soup and a hunk of bread. I couldn’t say it was a slice. It was just a, it was I think more like a [pause] the French roll of bread and just a piece torn off that was our, was my first meal with them. And then again [pause] the same as everybody else who went through the whole procedure in London of getting kitted out. Going and doing our, the [pause] the a swimming trial. And one of the things that turned out there was being told I’ve, I was at the front, on the front rank and getting dark in London in the January. We had to carry an Alladin lamp there. One at the front and one at the rear of the column. And I was given the job of carrying the Alladin lamp until they found that I was trying, I was walking fast, marching far too fast for any of the wee fellows at the back. And I was the lamp taken away and I was shoved up the back so that they didn’t have to march so fast as I was making it. But the few weeks we spent in London we went through various different lectures. The one thing I can remember we had PT every morning and it was like this kind of weather we have at the moment. And that was over at the zoo at the premier park [pause] I don’t know if I made a note in here for that. No. No. One of the big parks in London. It’s got a big pond in it. Where the zoo is in the park and I’ve, I’ve forgotten the name of it but we had our, we got our meals there, in there. And the dining room was over in the park itself and one of the things that did happen there was it was, we’d always to queue to get into the dining room and that queue was along the side of the monkey enclosure that was there. And very often the monkeys would be copying us inside and near the enclosure. We had to queue along the side of it to get into the dining room. Again that was something that was totally new to most of us. For a lot of us it was completely new being grouped together with a large number of strangers. A large number of people we didn’t know. The lads who’d been to boarding school had been used to living with other youngsters there. They could handle it an awful lot better. I think possibly being in the ATC and having done the various camps there did sort of bring me into it much better than if I was completely new to it because I’d done that before. But we went from London down to Newquay and had our ITW down at Newquay which was very pleasant. Very nice down there. That’s what you had to fill in there. The ITW at Newquay. And we were there at Newquay for what — six weeks. Again it was one of these things of getting to know very much the people who were around about you. Usually your first sort of introduction to them was who walked into what room and what bed you got in a room and the people who were there. But again out of it was usually an intake of somewhere about fifty people coming in. In time you got to know the others who were there. But that was again the usual drill, marching, shooting shotguns and or pistols. Learning Morse and doing a test for, to see whether you were capable of reading Morse. With that, on the Morse actually when they, when they were giving us a test for that the a lot of the intake I was with did not survive the test and we all complained that this was the person who was sending the Morse was the problem. He was up in the top room, up in a house and we were away out in a field. And we managed to overturn the decisions on that because we claimed that the way the Morse was sent wasn’t satisfactory. We probably were all a bit too lazy and didn’t learn it [laughs] but it wasn’t his fault, whoever was sending it. But these are the things that happened. The other things I remember at ITW was going out and going cross country running which a lot of us had probably never done before there. And in general it was a, a period of learning and learning quickly. That, that the whole course we moved off from there and then all met up and we went to various small stations to do some flying experience. And then we met up at Locking which was number, number — [pause] Number 7 S of TT. That’s the School of Technical Training we went to. And then we went from there to St Athan which was Number 4 School of Technical Training. And there we spent, what? It wasn’t ten months? [pause] Six months. Between the two stations. I think we were six weeks at Locking and then the rest of the period up to October we were out at St Athan. And that was then that when you got passing out and got your wings if you passed the exam. Again, a very interesting period. We were all I think at the same stage all learning something totally new there that, I’m coming on with that. I feel that just the things that happened, how circumstances worked out at the end of the period at St Athan they were, as I said before there was, there was a blockage in the line and too many people and not enough places to go to and we were sent on our leave after we’d finished the course. But instead of being posted direct to a Conversion Unit I was not in the half, my name was in the latter half of the alphabet and half the people who’d passed out at that time were delayed. I was sent — when I finished my leave and returned to St Athan they just sent me home again for another period. I can’t remember just how long it was and then I went to the aircrew school at Sturgate for two or three weeks before I was posted to a Con Unit. But that pushed me back, oh a month, six weeks. If I had have gone straight to the Con Unit from St Athan as a big part of that intake went I’d have been flying on ops over the winter of ’44 ’45 and that was a period where there was quite heavy losses. A rotten winter it was. Deep snow. I learned how to shovel snow off a runway at that period. But by not, by being held back over the winter I was actually doing the training in the Con Unit where others who’d been sent to a Con Unit right away would have been on to operations during that period. So I always have felt that that possibly saved my life. That a lot of these chaps there who were flying on ops during that period they, the one chap that I was very friendly with and kept up with until after the war he [pause] they’d done their Con Unit and then they went to a squadron and had done one or two ops. And then went to — they volunteered to go to PFF then and this stopped them. They had to do a further period of training before they could fly on ops there and Fred, they never, they’d never done any more ops after they went to PFF. It was just the time was spent training. But I’m sure a lot of the chaps who were on that same course as I was on would have been flying on ops during that period and a lot could have been lost. So I’ve always had this feeling that by that happening to me it possibly saved a life there. That particularly after going to Con Unit, finishing there we were posted to a squadron. And another crew joined the squadron on the same day and I got to know them because when we were sent on our first op, we were there for maybe possibly a fortnight after we got to the squadron. We went on our first operation and so did that other crew. They were sent on a gardening or a mine laying trip. We went to Duisburg on a bombing trip. We came back. They didn’t. So again the circumstances there it could have been us that went on the gardening trip just as they were, out of, we were the two new crews that were there. And something must have been looking after me at that time. But it’s amazing just how circumstances can change. Change the chances you have and change a life. And I’ve always felt that being held back however much you didn’t like it had been worthwhile as far as I was concerned.
BJ: Can you tell me what your job involved then?
AM: The job.
BJ: Yes.
AM: As a flight engineer.
BJ: Yes.
AM: Right. You, you [pause] you’re the member of the crew who had to know the aircraft and all the systems in it. And before a flight, before every flight you had to check quite a number of the systems. Checking the outside of the aircraft to see that everything was as it should be. The skipper usually had a walk around the aircraft as well. You had various systems to check inside before you went off. But these pre-flight checks had to be done and they then, whilst flying you were assisting the skipper, the pilot. You were in charge of the engines and setting of engines and the checking of the fuel that had been used and keeping a record of that. Keeping a record of the temperatures of the various, of the four engines there. The [pause] you were the one person in the crew who was always on your feet and could be up, around and doing something. You helped the pilot on take-off. He would start off and take the engines up so far and normally the engineer would take over and put the throttles through and lock them. You’d attend to adjusting the flaps. And in general that really was you, you were working with the skipper. Working with the engines. Trying to, if you could get them synchronised instead of being like the, I don’t know if you’d ever heard about the German engines of a German aircraft where they were mainly pulsating. A different sound entirely. We tried to get the sound of the engines all to be in sequence there. But there was not [pause] oh and just looking after the engines and the skipper. That was the job.
AM: So, can you tell me what it was like going on the missions?
BJ: Well, I would say for the first one it was an easy one. You didn’t know what you were going into. The skipper, usually he’d done what was termed a second dickie and he went to, on a trip with an experienced crew before he took his own crew on an operation. So he had some idea and I can remember once my skipper, he went to Dresden on his second dickie. And we all were all asking him what it was like there. My memory tells me he couldn’t give us an awfully satisfactory answer. But then when we were going and I certainly found and I think that the other members of the crew how it was, you trained for a long time to go there and you were literally looking forward to it. But you didn’t know what you were going into. So for that trip it wasn’t too bad. Subsequent trips you knew what you were going in to and if it happened to be quite a long trip you were going on you knew that the chances of you meeting up with a night fighter were greater the longer the trip that was there. And I can’t remember having any great anxiety on going off on a trip. Either at night or a day trip there. That it was just another operation you were going on. But again we were all young. Well, eight of us were all, six of us were all young. The rear gunner we had he was, I think he was, Nobby was thirty nine which was old for aircrew at that time. And the rest of us we were all between eighteen, and I’d say I was about twenty three and that was for the lot of us. Oh I’m forgetting the bomb aimer. We never did know which, what age Jim was. He was a Canadian and we never found out much about Jim but he was certainly, certainly an older person. But I would certainly say that the first op was no great hassle. Although where we went to was one of the heaviest defended towns in Germany. But it certainly, it must have had some effect on us. The fact that we knew we were going into and knew what we were going into and what we were going into in subsequent operations. And I only did thirteen actual bombing ops but they were thirteen times you could have been knocked down. And we were pretty lucky. We only were damaged once that I know of with flak. We had a hole in one wing when we came back. Some of the things that you saw there at the various different operations such as rockets being used. And you could watch them being fired from the ground, coming up, the light on them. The flaming from the rocket. You could watch them coming up. And being coned by searchlights. Quite a nasty experience. But you just took it and accepted that was what was going down at that time [pause] But the [pause] I don’t, I can’t remember any particular feelings. Glad to be back obviously once you got back home. We had one particular operation. It was a daylight and it was to Bremen. And we were not flying our normal aircraft that we usually had. We found it quite difficult to getting this aircraft to climb above about seventeen thousand feet. The bombing height for that op was somewhere about between twenty one and twenty three thousand feet depending where you were stepped up. So on that, the aircraft was very fast. We actually were able to fly up to the front of the stream, you know for a few minutes and have a look at the twenty two thousand pounders that were being carried by the leading aircraft. We flew up underneath them and had a look at them because they had just a fairing around the bomb where you could see it in the bomb bay. And then we allowed ourselves to get back down in to the stream again. Into about the middle of it. We flew up and beyond the target at Bremen. And then turned around and coming back in over the target but we were this two thousand feet at least below all the rest of the stream. The — coming in to the target the bomb bays were opened and looking up you could see the bombs and they were thousand pounder blast bombs in the bomb bays of the aircraft above us. We were right in the centre. When you looked into a bomb bay when it was sitting on the ground and the aircraft had bombed up they didn’t look all that terribly fierce things but when you looked up there and saw them there you knew that they were going to be getting dropped in seconds and that you were right underneath them and knowing the stories of aircraft that were knocked down by being hit by our own bombs from the aircraft above them it was not a very pleasant feeling. The bombs were eventually released and they dropped right in front of, I was looking out to the right hand side of the aircraft and they literally they dropped in front of the engines and then dropped between the main plane and the tailplane of the aircraft to. The seconds would have been, too see these bombs there, the bomb doors opened knowing they were going to be dropped and when they were actually dropped they were long seconds. Luckily the skipper knew what he was doing. He still flew straight and level. If he’d have tried to escape from these bombs dropping I’m sure we would have been knocked down but he just continued on straight and level. We didn’t get touched by any of the bomb but by God they were close. That certainly was quite an experience. Not nice. But one of the things we knew about was just after we’d joined the squadron there was one crew who’d had the, on a night raid the bombs from an aircraft above them had hit them. Had actually gone right through their wing there and luckily missed the fuel tanks that were in the wings and had gone right through the wing. Another one they had the incendiary bombs which had been dropped from above, gone into their wing and luckily none of them went on fire. Which they were very lucky with. But the thoughts that would have gone through head at the time I can’t remember them now but I know its one situation I will never forget. Just seeing what was there and knowing what was going to happen. That could have been a bad day that one but it wasn’t. And the, the, that really was the only time well not the only time when ops were a bit dicey. The one trip to Kiel which was where we saw the rockets being fired at us. And at that same trip we were coned by searchlights. And another aircraft from our squadron was flying alongside us and it was originally coned and the cone went off it, came on to us and luckily it moved on to another one and we went out of it before we’d even, the skipper had even started to try and take any evasive action at one two three. And we think, I think that the number three got hit. But this other aircraft that was beside us it had a name painted on it of a squadron and we knew it was one of the aircraft of our squadron with this name that was on it. It’s not nice during a, it’s as if it was in broad daylight, it was actually the middle of the night, with a cone of a searchlights hitting you. You could be blinded for a while. But that really is [cough] we had the situation on a couple of trips of coming back rather short of fuel. In fact in one of them one of the engines had cut out because of shortage of fuel just as we landed. Again quite lucky that then you had the situations that you get back after a long trip. Coming in to land, being given permission to land, coming in to land and suddenly an aircraft comes in underneath you. And we were a mixed squadron of Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders. I think there were a couple of Americans there. And the Australians particularly were prone to do things you didn’t fancy that we had that happen to us. Coming in on approach and an aircraft coming in slipped underneath us. They hadn’t been given permission to land. They just — in. That was it. Couldn’t care less who they pushed out the road as long as we had to go around again and go through the whole approach. That was always something that annoyed you. When somebody had done that. Other than that I can’t see there was any other things that disturbed us all that much more at the time. When you’re young you have a different way of looking at things. And of course coming on the end of the war, well before the end of the war we were, we’d done the trips to Holland. For Manna.
BJ: Oh yes. Tell me about that then.
AM: Well, that one wasn’t it? I reckon we were on first trip. On the Sunday. And that really was the only one that was any possible problem there. We didn’t know whether Jerry was going to keep to the — we’d been told at briefing that the truce had been made with Germany. In fact it hadn’t. We went on the Sunday. The truce wasn’t signed until the Monday morning. That the [pause] and initially we were called oh what, some time about 5 o’clock or something Sunday. Saturday night. And I assume, I cannot remember now but I assume we had been out on the town on the night before. On the Saturday. And the SPs came around and gave the usual shake and shout and wakened us up. Both crews that were in the Nissen hut that we were in there. So we were, they told us that there was a battle order. The war hadn’t finished then so it was still classed as a battle order and that the — obviously went through the procedure. Then up to our flying breakfast. Got to the briefing room and that’s where we learned that we were going to drop food to the people in Holland. We had, I’ll put this light on a minute. We had done a practice just before that with low level dropping of food at the, tut tut, was that tea a bit strong for you?
AM: No. It’s fine thanks.
BJ: You quite like it.
AM: Yes.
BJ: Ok. Right. The [pause] yes we were went through and got a briefing that we were going to Holland to drop food to the people there who really were starving. And the weather was atrocious. The, we were given a time for take-off. That passed. And I can’t just remember the times off hand but it was at, an hour or two passed for our time to take off for this because, we believed, the weather. Eventually at one point I think I can remember they wouldn’t send us because of the weather and then they came and told us we were going. And there was only two aircraft from our squadron and it was both the crews were in the one hut. We thought we obviously we had been picked on in some way that we were going for this trip. However, it was probably pretty much the worst weather flying over England that I’d ever flown in. Rain, low cloud and we were flying down to under a thousand feet at times. And flying over the North Sea we were certainly down to about five hundred feet because of the cloud. And then got so far and then it cleared. Coming up to the Dutch coast. Cleared. In we went. It was a lovely day over there. That would be possibly, what [pause] it would be the time of the day we would be there. What time did we actually go off? [click] oh , hit in the eyes.
Where is it? That’s Rotterdam. Yeah. Oh yes. It was afterward. It was 12 o’clock and after 12 o’clock in the day by the time we got there. So it was coming up to the middle day and, but we continued because of what the job we were going to do we continued flying about the five hundred feet although we’d flown at that height across most of the North Sea. And dropped our food, came out and one of the things with that was we were we were actually I think about the fourth, the fourth aircraft to go in and drop our load at Leiden. And there were various different drop, drop zones. But flying over the villages there seeing the people because of the sound of the engines they were getting they were coming out the houses, standing in the middle of the street waving to us. Some of them still in their nightclothes coming out on to the street there. Again a four engine aircraft going over at about five hundred feet over the house you hear it. You know what it is. And to see the German troops in pairs on the street carrying their rifles over their shoulder. There was also light ack ack guns crew there who literally followed us around with the, their gun. Now they could have opened fire. We had no guns at all. All our guns were taken out of the aircraft. And the, the if someone had done the wrong thing we hadn’t an awful lot of hope at that height with the guns that they had there. It could have been nasty. As it turned out they didn’t fire on us. The [pause] after we’d dropped our food at, on the field at Leiden we turned and came straight out. Our instructions were you must stick to the definite passage that was agreed. We would come straight out over the coast. We turned out, coming over the coast we went over and there was the sand dunes there and then there was a jetty. A wooden jetty going into the North Sea. And on the end of the jetty a German soldier, his rifle on his shoulder, his tin hat in his hand and he was waving [laughs] That he obviously thought he was getting some of this and he was quite pleased that this is what was happening in the war because he was standing there waving with his tin helmet in his hand. Now, I’ve, at the moment I’ve been writing back and forward to a lad in Holland who is trying to write a book about the dropping of the food. And he’s been trying to identify where that actual jetty was. It’s the sort of thing you didn’t take any notice of at the time. But he might tell me one of these days he’s found it. But it, the [pause] having we’d just been told that the Dutch, the people in Holland were starving. Not had any great, great information about it. It was still felt an awful lot better and I made a note to that effect. It felt an awful lot better dropping food to them then dropping bombs. And certainly I subsequently went across to Holland in ’85 and we met a lot of the people there who had been the recipients of getting that food there. But that’s a different story. The actual truth about the truce that had been made — they had been, Air Commodore Geddes had been negotiating with the Germans for quite a wee while to get this truce completed for us to drop food to them. But the, why they had decided to go ahead on the Sunday to drop it, for us to go ahead, I don’t know but the [pause] I think the truce had been sort of made completely but it hadn’t been signed and it wasn’t signed until the Monday morning when the senior German officer Seyss-Inquart came to the school at [pause] oh gosh the name of it. Oh heck. I’ve forgotten the name of the wee school where they used it for the actual signing of this truce. But we were going there without any real cover when that truce hadn’t been signed. The Yanks didn’t go till the Monday. Until after the truce was signed. But the, out of the four trips I went on there was certainly a bit of, a wee bit of worry about going on the first one. Not only was the weather that bad but we just didn’t know what the Germans would do. And as I say if they had have opened fire on any of our aircraft it could have been quite nasty. But that certainly was the, quite a, shall I say a high moment of flying. The second day we went there having been there once and knowing that everything was ok we enjoyed a period of low flying. Which in Holland, in the flat country they have there it was very good. When the skipper’s got to shout for full power to get across a wee bridge [laughs] you’ve been really down on, on the deck and flying low. That, that the, it was quite good. We eventually [pause] we were issued with chocolate. The usual flying rations. Chocolate and what have you each time we flew. And after the first one and knowing what was happening they gave you a bit more information about it we were able to make up a wee parcel on a parachute and drop some of the sweets for the children there. And certainly having learned subsequently what these children went through at that time it certainly was needed there. They had a pretty rough time of it in the western Holland. In fact funnily enough I just got that wee booklet there given to me today. It’s come over from Canada. It’s a, it must be a Dutch. It might be a Dutchman who’s written this in Canada for Canadians. And that’s my son in law. His sister is just come over on holiday from Canada and she picked up this book in Canada. Haven’t even been through it to read it yet. And it’s about the hungry winter. But the, that’s going to interesting to get reading that. In fact funnily enough there must have been a book signing because it’s signed by the author. There. Really, going on from there the flying part we also brought back troops from, the POWs from Brussels. And then we went on to bring back some troops from Italy. Those were Exodus trips was from Brussels. They were POWs. And from Italy it was Dodge trips we’d done from there. Going in to, flying into just outside Naples. The airfield there. Pomigliano. But that was quite interesting.
BJ: What were, what were the POWs like from Brussels that you picked up?
AM: We didn’t get much contact with them but the [pause] the lot we brought back had all been issued with new uniforms so you hadn’t seen what they’d been like. But coming back there was one officer in the group and the skipper invited him to come up to the cockpit as we were coming up to the white cliffs of Dover. And I don’t know how long he had been in the camp but the emotion showed by that chap and he must have been there a year or two was something to see. Something to realise just what it, what that must have meant to him to see these white cliffs. That really, nothing said but just the actions itself showed how he was feeling that day. And following that it wasn’t long after that that our squadron was being disbanded and the, some of them were going to join another, another squadron and we, my crew went away out to the Middle East. And I was made redundant. So I spent chasing around the country doing various different jobs and stationed in various different places. I quite enjoyed life.
AM: Were you still in the RAF then?
BJ: Still in the RAF. Yes. They couldn’t demob everybody at the one time so you had to wait your turn and the, although a lot of people had asked to get retrained into another different ground job some managed it and some didn’t. Some wanted to continue flying. I would have liked to continue flying but I saw the way that they were giving some of the people who had said they would sign on for a period, and didn’t like what I saw. They, they got them to sign on, on the basis that they would continue flying and then given them a ground job and just kept them there. I had actually, and because of seeing this the various different jobs I was doing in different stations where I was moved around sort of indicated you would probably be on the ground and not getting back to flying at all although they had agreed that you would be flying. There was one station I was on there was a warrant officer navigator who’d completed a full tour and he was being used as a clerk for equipment. A clerk. He’d signed on for to stay in the air force and but on the basis that he would still continue flying. But he was being used as a clerk. One, one of the things, I met a chap I knew who had done, a gunner who’d done two tours. He’d signed on to stay in the air force and the last time I met him I met him going across the esplanade at Edinburgh Castle. I’d gone through there for a day. It was one of the places I used to go. To the castle. And I met him there. Now, I’d last met him in the air force and knowing when he was, when I met him there he was the messenger boy at the recruit centre in Edinburgh. No word about going back on flying or doing a flight although he had signed on, on the basis that he would continue flying. That was after I came out of the air force. The war had finished. But it was not very nice and I know that about a week or a fortnight after I was demobbed we had all been told if you were a flight sergeant you were back down to sergeant and you covered up your tapes during the day. You were just an AC1 and equivalent to them although you still got your sergeant’s pay. But the week after or a fortnight after I came out even the stripes were taken away and the pay was down to an AC1. The same as an AC1 was getting at that time. That, ok they had thousands of people in the services. The cost of paying them all and paying them at the rates they had been giving them must have been terrific. Quite a big job for a time too. But when they got you to sign on there and you’d done that and then they don’t carry out their side of the bargain it’s not, not very nice, not. So, I’d have liked to have stayed on in the service stay but better paid. I didn’t. You could have been lucky or very unlucky.
AM: So did you keep in touch with people after you got demobbed?
BJ: Well, I was into the gliding at that point. And again that was to a certain extent was keeping in touch with the air force in general. That was over a period of about twenty years that I was working at the gliding schools. So it was, in a way I kept on in touch but then going back to various, one or two different stations, active stations where they were doing gliding there. And they [pause] you were to a certain extent keeping in touch there but not to the extent of keeping in touch with the active air force itself. And again of course a lot of the people I was meeting through the gliding school, the instructor’s were all ex-RAF as well. And they always kept a contact with it. It was the [pause] many cases during the war and the comradeship you had was quite a nice life. But I don’t know how it would have been in peacetime. To be constantly there. As you can see I still keep [laughs] actually my son in law is in a job where he does a lot of night shifts and he buys all these magazines and I get them handed on to me to read and they’re still of interest.
AM: Could you tell me a bit about what it was like on the, on the base when you, during the wartime? What did you — what was the life like and what did you do when you weren’t on operations?
BJ: You mean on, on ops when what you were —
BJ: Is that, what it would be like? Generally, squadron life?
AM: Yeah. Yes.
BJ: Literally you sort of lived from day to day. You could either be doing some training [pause] even between the operations you went on you might be sent off to do some air to ground, fighter affiliation flying there. Or bombing practice at the bombing range. And some days you would be sitting around doing nothing if you weren’t called on for, to go on ops. The, that the, that there certainly was one particularly cross country which we did but I think that was at Con Unit. I can’t just remember. I think it was when we were, before we finished Con Unit. It was a flight from the base I was at either — probably the Con Unit there. At Sandtoft. Where we actually flew up towards the Grampians in Scotland, turned out to the west and we were flying up. This was during December so it would be. Yeah it would be at the Con Unit. The ground there, it was quite a lot of snow during that particular year and we were flying somewhere around about the twenty thousand foot mark. The ground was covered in snow and all the mountains were covered in snow. And we, it must have been a full moon. Turned out to the west and we had a turning point on over one of the islands out in the west. As we flew out, and I would say as we flew over the coast that the cloud below us disappeared and what we were seeing there was islands that had snow on them. The sea was black. The islands sparkled like diamonds. With the full moon of course it was beaming up there and the sight of that I can still see that image of that now. But I wasn’t acquainted with the islands. I hadn’t spent any time on them in these days but this was absolutely marvellous. As we came out over the edge of the cloud you came to the, the cloud was if you were going over a cliff and you went over it and here were these islands out there glistening in the black sea. And that was a fantastic sight to see that. I’d love to see that again. I don’t think I ever could. And from there we flew down to Lands End. And then we were back up over the country again. It was quite a long cross country that. The [pause] but the navigator, the bomb aimer, they were doing a H2S [pause] exercise and they had to identify a town on, on the radar there. And the picture all went [laughs] and we were, we had a wee while chasing around and not knowing where we were. I’ve just forgotten which of the towns it was that they had to select and make a pinpoint. However, we finished up by going and doing a bombing, a high level bombing in the dark. And I think that trip took us somewhere about ten and a half hours which was a long, long trip for a cross country at home. It was exceptional but that sight of these islands I can never go to the islands without thinking about what they looked like seeing them from that height and these circumstances. I think it was quite — a memory keeps coming back of a thousand bomber raid where the, during the flight it would actually be over France at the time and going up to the astrodome and looked out and all I could see around — the sky was clear and right around the horizon as far as I could see was aircraft. There were so many aircraft all there that they were right to all the various horizons all the way around. And I can’t remember where we were going that night. It must have been southern Germany somewhere but certainly it was quite a sight. Again, something which occasionally comes back. Remembering that something I’ll never see again. But the, one of the bad things about it if I’d have had a camera it would have been worthwhile and there were a lot of our crews although cameras were prohibited. Supposed to be. A lot of the crews Canadians and Australians who could buy the cameras in their own country and could get film from there that could take. I’d have loved to have had a camera in those days. It would have been quite good.
AM: What was it like inside the aircraft?
BJ: Sometimes cold but it depends which aircraft you got. Some of the heating systems weren’t all that terribly good. But the — I certainly was in a position I could get up and move about there which probably helped me. The gunners, wireless operators, navigator they were all stuck in their seats where they were all the time. It could be very cold for the gunners at some times. But the, Nobby our rear gunner would tell us of how he could get an icycle going right from his oxygen mask right down to the floor. That [pause] some of the trips could be monotonous. Long trip. And then in the air I was certainly taking readings from the various stages and recording them but I think they were every twenty minutes or something. I cannot put it in my mind how often that they were. Half an hour or twenty minutes you had to take I these reading but the rest of the time it was a case of just looking out. Constantly looking. Always. Keep a sharp lookout for night fighters if they were anywhere there. Nothing has left any great impression on my mind as the feelings I was getting at that time. It was just ok. You were doing a job. Giving the skipper his cup of coffee at the [pause] a bit monotonous at times when it was dark. You were seeing nothing, and quite glad to get back home. Yeah. There was times. I remember on one trip when the Remagen bridge head had been, over the Rhine and the, and on that occasion we had been warned at briefing to stay well clear of it because the, both the Americans were on one side, I think it was the Yanks that were there. It could have been the British troops. And the other side was Jerry. Neither of them wanted the bridge destroyed. And their anti-aircraft fire would open up to aircraft at any height. Obviously the, I think our own troops and the Americans would not have normally fired on the aircraft above a certain height. But there they said if you got anywhere near it from either side they would go and we, that was on the road coming back, and somebody obviously did go near it. We saw this open up, the bombardment from the anti-aircraft guns and an aircraft went down. They’d obviously gone too near. But a bit of bad navigation on somebody’s part to do that. Part of the chances they were taken there but the long trips out, back and forward were a bit monotonous. If you, unless you were constantly occupied doing something and certainly other than just recording instrument readings that was it. Just a monotonous flight in a way although I could get up and move around and that probably helped.
AM: What did you do on your time off?
BJ: It was just [pause] I can’t really say. Just evenings you might have went to the NAAFI or to the club. They had, at Waltham there was a good club there. I don’t know who ran that one. The [pause] during the day I certainly at Elsham, I used to go with another engineer to the link trainer and see if there was any spare time there. That was supposed to be all the pilots that would go there but we used to go there and this was great to go and fly in a link trainer. Whether we could do that I can’t remember whether there was only certain days you could or whether you could go there every day. But on the, that there was many days I should think that we just had nothing to do and we used to sit around and sit in the aircrew room reading the paper and that was it. There was usually some flying at some time during the week. Some exercise of some type. If we weren’t flying possibly the, in the engineer’s section may have had a wee lecture there to fill it in. We weren’t pushed around all that much to do anything. But I’m trying to remember. It’s not something that’s ever [pause] I can’t really remember [laughs] That’s seventy years ago. During the period during the war certainly we probably had maybe a lecture or something to go to or as I say sit reading the paper. After the war then you probably had a job that kept you working all day depending on the job you were in. I can remember one place. I was down in London for a while. Another sergeant and I were in charge of the dining room of the unit down there and there I spent at least two hours most days out in the rowing boat in the park. Regent’s Park it was. And that was lovely. So much time there. Just nothing to do. The girls who served in the sergeant’s mess they would lay the tables and lay everything out and you just could go around and see if everything was ok and that was it. No problem. Other places, in one camp I was in one of the duties I had was working with redundant equipment. And I had the use of forklift truck that I’d go around this airfield and pick up crates. Mainly full of clocks. And I had a, one hut in the camp which was full of clocks of all different descriptions. I remember I used to go in there. I could spend a couple of hours winding all these clocks. But that, it was just a job to keep you occupied. The [pause] except once I went over to Germany. Over there we were we talked ourselves, quite a few of us talked ourself into going over there. We’d heard about a detachment that was going there with the Air Ministry Special Duty Flight and we went up to see them at their head office in London and talked ourselves into going over there. Supposedly we would be over just as AC1s. But in fact you still used the power. You lived in the sergeant’s mess and you still used the power of the sergeant’s stripes. And we had quite an interesting time over there working with the gas bombs that Jerry had stored there.
AM: Where was this?
BJ: In Germany. We were stationed at RAF Freiburg. I can’t remember the name of the place where the bomb dump was but it was very close to the Russian border to the — somewhere there. And that the Jerry had underground bunkers. They were actually on the surface but covered with soil and grass. Camouflaged concrete bunkers where they had these bombs stored in big wooden crates. And at the end of the war some of the people who had been there they had gone in to the bunkers and toppled. They were a bit, they were five high the boxes with these bombs in them. And they had toppled some of them over breaking the casing of some of the bombs releasing the gas that was in there. Which made it a wee bit on the dangerous side because the gas masks we had weren’t any use to protect us against what was there. But we were in charge of German, German troops as you called them [unclear] and they’d done the labouring part. So the lifting up of the bombs and working out and we had to take out the picric acid and the dynamite that was in them, in the bomb. Sometimes you were getting a bomb, take it out of its crate and you’d find that the casing had been cracked. If it’s one of them that had been toppled the casing might have been cracked and the gas was leaking. But one of the strange things it was a poison gas. It had the same properties as phosgene and mustard. But the chief scientists at the plant where they made the gas on one or two occasions he was brought over to check and tell us whether a bomb was cracked or otherwise. And he would go up to the crate and stick his nose in it and take a great big sniff. And he would say, ‘Right. That’s cracked.’ Or, ‘No. It was alright.’ But the fact that he would stick his nose right in to check it. He must have known what he was doing because he made the damned stuff. But again it was very interesting. I was quite interested there being able to talk to a lot of the young Germans who were employed there. Some of them could speak English. And it was interesting to, to hear their side of the story and what they had to go through in their own army. That [pause] in the main the most of them were very much like our own people. They [paused] I talked to quite a number of civilians as well as the chaps who were in the service about what the effect of the, oh what did they call it? The youth organisation in Germany. Hitler Youth. What they thought of that. And this was very interesting. But the mere fact of getting to talk to them was worthwhile.
AM: What did they think about the Hitler Youth?
BJ: They thought the Hitler Youth was excellent. And I think it probably was for the majority of them. It, it certainly was very much more, very much more militaristic than any of the organisations we had in this country. But that was the pattern there although they were controlled an awful lot more. But again for young people it took them out of their towns and out. Got them out. Took them away hiking and doing various different things. And to gymnastics and running and sports there which if it hadn’t had a militaristic end to it, it would have been very good. But I think the most of the ones the younger ones there they thought it was excellent. Never got around to talking about Hitler. That was a sort of conversation that was taboo. You didn’t want to get to that. But there wasn’t a great number of them could speak English but there was always one or two and they, they no matter when you spoke to some of the [unclear] that were there telling them what to do, what you wanted done there they’d always one would come up and he would want to translate for you. He was a boy who wanted to do, to make sure he got the jobs as time went on and being able to speak English when the English were controlling his country meant he could get the job as opposed to the others who didn’t know what they had been told. And there was always a few fly boys there. Again, interesting to see it. To see how it worked with them. And that’s an interesting period which I’m quite pleased that I even with the danger that was there with the gas bombs it was quite an interesting period at that time. But again just very much spending time waiting to get out.
AM: So what did you do when you left the RAF?
BJ: I came back to [pause] and joined the firm as a photographer. The chap I had known before I went in to the air force he had taken over the business which the old man I had worked with initially had and they, they had promised me a job when I went back there if I wanted to go there as a photographer. They really I wasn’t all that terribly qualified as a photographer. Although I had taken some [laughs] not classes but supposed to be getting some training from the air force as a photographer under the EVT system. The one day a week I got going to the photographic section to do something but really that wasn’t much use. But I was with them for oh what five or six months until the, I’d actually received an invitation for to go along to the Army Reserve. The unit. They asked me if I’d like to come along and see them and they’d handed the note in to the office where I was working but as soon as the bosses saw this they wanted me to take the camera along and start working there for them. This was a private invitation which I had had and when they knew what it was they wanted to get in there and start taking photographs there which I just did not want to do. Being invited along privately I knew some of the people who were running the Reserve. I can’t remember. Did I tell you? Something to do with the Territorial Army at that time and I didn’t think that was right so I had an argument with them and consequently decided to leave and I went back to the job I had given up was as a clerk in the insurance office but once I had started with the photographer people I had given that job up. And I went back to them and took a job as an agent. I purchased an insurance book there and started as an agent with them. And that’s where I spent the rest of my working life. With that insurance society. One of these things that you either think something’s right and you do it or no. And I wasn’t very happy there in the first place anyway. I didn’t feel I was really capable of handling the photography work. And they probably were quite glad to get rid of me. However, that was certainly a different story entirely. But the life in the services if you liked it was good. I liked it. It was quite a good life but you had to really like it and although I don’t know how it really would go for family life. Let’s say something if one was getting married your wife would have to be able to go along with that type of life and I don’t think it suits everybody. However, it is something if you like at and you’re good at doing your job with reasonable people then it could be a good life.
AM: So how do you think it affected you? Having your service in the RAF. How did it affect the rest of your life?
BJ: Oh, well it took a boy and made him a man very quickly. The [pause] the, most of the youngsters who were going there would be about eighteen years of age. Some might have been in jobs where they had a responsibility in the job and felt as a man a responsible person. But the majority of us were eighteen and nineteen year old. A lot were just on, just eighteen. And most of us I think were still sort of finding our way. The training I think was good. Although it could have been an awful lot better. As far as the engineer’s position was concerned I think it could have been better. The, as far as the other trades were concerned then I’m not so knowledgeable about them. I think the engineer’s training unless they were going to go on flying somewhere was the only one of any use to them in Civvy Street. And the, the [pause] with that you were then once you were trained you were in a position to make decisions which would affect other people and that sort of certainly made you have a different outlook I should think to what you went in as eighteen year olds. And certainly for myself made me always feel I wanted to be in a position of authority. Not being the one that was told to do things all the time but they were, you were the boss. And for most of my working life after that I was in a position of being the boss in a way. But it’s amazing how small things change life and it can change the whole of the rest of your life completely. But sometimes I regret not having stayed in the air force and other times I’m quite pleased I didn’t.
AM: Ok.
BJ: When I see some things that, and the way some people were treated I’m quite pleased I didn’t stay in. I don’t think I can tell you anymore.
AM: Ok. Well —
BJ: I don’t think there’s any more to tell.
AM: Well, Mr MacCormick thank you very much for sharing your experience with us.
BJ: I’m sorry I’ve taken —


Brenda Jones, “Interview with Anderson MacCormick,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 19, 2024,

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