Interview with George Mackie


Interview with George Mackie


George Mackie served in the RAF as a pilot. He flew forty-four operations, fifteen as a second pilot. Was posted to 15 Squadron in 1941 and critically examines the state of Bomber Command at the time. He was posted for eighteen months to RAF Waterbeach where he flew three operations and took part at the thousand bomber operation to Cologne. Describes the Stirling, its characteristics and performance and compares it to the Flying Fortress. Remembers being hit once by anti-aircraft fire over Leverkusen but without being seriously injured. Was then posted to 214 Squadron, where he flew on Flying Fortresses. At the end of the war, was transferred to Transport Command as an adjutant. Talks about low morale among the aircrew and mentions Scarecrow shells. Remembers his most frightening experience when he flew for five hours in an icing cloud on the way to Hamburg.




Temporal Coverage




01:39:10 audio recording


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GM: In that silence, revulsion of what Bomber Command did and a claim for what Bomber Command did, were in that silence, that trivial monument in Green Park is for the benefit of the multi-millionaires that erected it, in [unclear] in Flanders, every name of the dead is inscribed in stone, the only names inscribed in stone at Green Park are the millionaires names, the rest are painted, this cheap, cheap gesture on the part of about half a dozen millionaires, so, if you want to carry on with that knowledge of my opposition to monuments, I’d be
CB: That’s fine. Did you go to the opening of that? Were you invited to it?
GM: Of course not [laughs]. I wouldn’t be seen dead near that monument.
CB: Did they invite you though?
GM: No.
CB: Right.
GM: Very glad they didn’t. I wrote against it. It’s also a hideous piece of architecture. So, let’s talk about the war
CB: OK, we’ll do that, I need to be able to. My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 22nd of December 2017. We are in Stamford in Lincolnshire, talking to George Mackie about his experiences of life and the RAF. So, what are your first recollections of life, George?
GM: I can’t remember. I think
CB: You were born in Cupar, in Scotland
GM: Yes, and I was in my teens, was waiting for the war to begin.
CB: Right.
GM: It began and I wanted to fly so I presented myself in Dundee at the recruiting office. On Monday because the war had started on a Sunday but nothing happened for weeks until I went back to Dundee school of art and then I was called down to a place in the Midlands for medical which lasted two days, Warrington and I wasn’t actually called up until June of 1940 and sent to Babbacombe near Torquay for a month or six weeks square bashing which I thoroughly enjoyed, squad of fifty people being drilled,
CB: Yeah
GM: And from there [unclear] Cambridge, St John’s college, lectures on navigation, meteorology and so on, contrast to Babbacombe and from Cambridge again a contrast to Stoke-on-Trent to begin flying on Magisters, very difficult conditions for flying because there was no horizon. A horizon is very necessary for learning to fly and there was none, was just smoke and no one said the absence of horizon is going to be difficult, so we thought we were [unclear] and but I got through. From Stoke-on-Trent to Cranfield which is a very inconspicuous place compared to today and we flew Oxfords and I started liking flying for the first time. I remember engine failure at a thousand feet [unclear] the fuel and diving down to [unclear] the fuel that was good, good stuff, that was exciting. And from Cranfield onto Wellingtons, a place twenty five miles south of Cambridge whose name escaped me, flying Wellingtons, one day a Stirling through across at a thousand feet, they were very silent, Stirlings, compared to other aircraft, they were huge, very impressive and I went straight to the adjutant and said, I want to go to the Stirling squadron, now, further or not, that had any bearing on the final decision I don’t know but the point was I was posted from the Wellingtons to 15 Squadron at Wyton, one of two squadrons with Stirlings and I have almost one thousand five hundred hours flying in Stirlings which I think is higher than anyone else. You have to switch thing off [unclear]
CB: That’s ok.
GM: So, there I was in 15 Squadron during 1941 and what I didn’t know was how appalling the mess was that Bomber Command was in, we was sent off solo, there was no such thing as a bomber stream, we went off fifteen minute intervals trying to find a target in Germany, we were hopeless at navigation, we were, my navigator had a sextant to try and navigate with, can you imagine?
CB: I’ve used it [laughs]
GM: We weren’t hitting targets
CB: Right
GM: And by the beginning of 1942 the retrenchment of Bomber Command and I was posted to a newly formed Heavy Conversion Unit to train pilots on the new four-engined aircraft, the Stirlings were just coming in and mostfully I was at Waterbeach for eighteen months in which time I only did three ops, they were the thousand bomber raids and I didn’t go back on ops until the Autumn of 1943 in 214 Squadron, so my eighteen months in Waterbeach was a wonderful period of learning to fly the Stirling cause until you instruct on an aircraft you don’t know it and I got to know the Stirling intimately, the most peculiar airplane, take-off, particularly take-off, the talk from the four engines plus the fact that the rudder was out of action until the tail was up in the slipstream meant that the take-off had a colossal urge to veer right off the runway, so the first thing you did was to put the stick fully forwards and open the throttles diagonally, now in Mark I Stirlings, the throttles were parallel, topped by large bulbs, large knobs, which my hand could not encompass
CB: Right
GM: So it was quite tricky trying to open the throttled diagonally nor could my legs reach the rudder bar because they were too short so I had to stuff a parachute behind me to reach the rudder bar so that couple with the Stirlings own eccentricities made flying the aircraft rather tricky. That I got to tell [unclear] sort of course, switch off.
CB: The Stirling was a Marmite type airplane, was it? People either loved it or hated it?
GM: What is Marmite?
CB: You either love it or hate it.
GM: Oh, I loved it because I survived in it and it was [unclear] in design, it was made to be, it was supposed to be the [unclear] version of the Sunderland flying boats with a wing span of a hundred and ten feet, in the event the wingspan was cut down to ninety-nine feet to enter peacetime hangars which were a hundred feet wide, of course, most of the maintenance was done outside anyway, day and night, and that made the aircraft most peculiar, a huge undercarriage and the angle of take-off was absurd
CB: Well, you were sitting twenty-eight feet above the ground, weren’t you?
GM: Well, yes.
CB: So that meant the tail was very low in comparison with the
GM: And until the tail was up, the rudder didn’t work
CB: Yeah, that’s interesting
GM: The [unclear] was switched
CB: Yeah. What sort of speed would you have to get to, in order for the tail plane to get up?
GM: Oh, maybe fifty
CB: Right. And then, when you got to V2, what would you be taking off at?
GM: Oh, ninety?
CB: Right
GM: [unclear]
CB: Right, yeah, oh, one [unclear]
GM: Well, a hundred with bombs
CB: Yeah
GM: A hundred and ten, it depends, it depends on the aircraft, they varied quite a bit
CB: Right
GM: And from Stirling to Stirling
CB: Right. As we were talking about the HCU, what condition were the planes in at HCU, Stirlings?
GM: They were all second hand, they were all ex operational, the groundcrews worked twenty four hours a day, we didn’t give them sufficient credit for what they did, we took them for granted, I’m sure you’ll find this a refrain from aircrew, we took them for granted.
CB: And did, what was the reliability like, as they were clapped out?
GM: Oh, various having an engine failure, no, the Hercules engine was extremely good
CB: You mentioned thousand bomber raids, three of those or three ops to [unclear]?
GM: Well the thousand one which has gone down in history
CB: Yeah
GM: That was a [unclear]. I remember standing by the Stirling while the Wellingtons were going out, dozens and dozens and dozens at about a thousand feet climbing. When we took off, I mean, across the North Sea, you could see a long distance away Cologne bombing, a clear night and we got to the target, we were towards the end of the raid, it was an excellent opposition, next to no searchlights, next to no flak and I had a telescope, I remember trying to identify Cologne through this telescope, we finally got the [unclear] bombed, it was an absolutely easy job, operation but militarily of no significance, psychologically yes
CB: We’ll stop for a mo. So, the reason that the Lancaster and the Halifax didn’t have the yawring problem same was because their [unclear] were
GM: Because they had two rudders
CB: Two rudders
GM: Directly in the slipstream
CB: In the slipstream, yeah, whereas yours was part of the fuselage so it was blanked off
GM: Yeah
CB: Yeah. You mentioned that early on in your ops you flew as second pilot, what was the
GM: Everyone did
CB: Right
GM: Was standard until in 1942 as part of the re-organisation of the Bomber Command was a man called Peirse, was before Harris,
CB: Right
GM: a disaster, a disaster of a man, I can’t tell you how badly organised Bomber Command was in 1941
CB: So how it operate there then?
GM: Where?
CB: In 1941, how was it operating on operations?
GM: Well,
CB: They didn’t use bomber streams, so what did they do?
GM: Well, we went off at endurance, I should write this down
CB: You should, yeah. You’re going to get this back as a written testament anyway
GM: Mercifully Harris took over and he at least organised things, although he finished up there being a quite psychopathic about bombing German cities, that was, you know, in terms of military advantage it was a crazy, compared to what the Americans were doing
CB: So, with Peirse, can I go just back to Peirse? With, you took off at intervals and
GM: Very few of us, I mean, a maximum effort by Stirlings squadron in 1941 would be say half a dozen aircraft?
CB: Out of
GM: Half a dozen
CB: Out of how many in the squadron?
GM: Well, maybe ten and four only on serviceable
CB: Right
GM: I mean, compared to late, the late war, two Lancaster squadron were maybe forty, fifty aircraft
CB: Yeah
GM: That was a form of the fulfilment of Bomber Command
CB: Yeah, a Lancaster squadron would typically have at least twenty, wouldn’t it?
GM: Yeah
CB: Yeah. But in your day, with the Stirlings, much less
GM: The Stirlings was electrical and it was a nightmare to keep serviceable
CB: Eh?
GM: Everything was electrical and nothing but short, short brothers
CB: Short brothers and short circuits. What was the most common reason for them going U.S.?
GM: I don’t know. We took, I took no interest, I just put the thing U.S. and that was [unclear]
CB: So, early in the war, you were still, you were using flight engineers on the aircraft.
GM: Oh yes
CB: And they were busy dealing with
GM: Oh chiefly petrol, tanks, we had fourteen tanks so they kept on manoeuvring the petrol, two tanks for take-off and then after [unclear] minutes changed the tanks and also I believe the flight engineer held the throttles and things like that, never in my time
CB: Right
GM: I did it all, get airborne, get the throttles fully open, undercarriage up, up,
CB: Electrical undercarriage as well, not hydraulic
GM: Seems as they were [unclear] retract
CB: Yeah
GM: If it retracted. If it didn’t retract, it had to be done by hand, it took about fifteen minutes, yeah
CB: Who would do the winding?
GM: Oh, anybody, not the pilot
CB: Right. So, initially, your first fifteen ops, you said were as second pilot, then you became the captain after that
GM: I did two as a captain and then I was posted off ops, as were quite a few of us
CB: Yeah
GM: To become instructors
CB: Right
GM: At the newly formed Heavy Conversion Unit and as I said, I was there for eighteen months
CB: Yes
GM: Before going back on ops and when I did go back on ops, I knew the Stirling aircraft, down to flying it, I mean, intimately, and it increased my chances of surviving my second tour of ops
CB: Yeah
GM: And in 214 Squadron I had the great good fortune to start flying fortresses in a hundred group
CB: Yeah
GM: Radar, anti-radar [unclear], we accompanied the bombers, carrying no bombs and if I were a German night fighter pilot and he’s a Stirling, a fortress full of electronics, and here the Lancaster full of bombs, and go for the Lancaster, so we had very few fatalities on 214 Squadron with Fortresses
CB: Because they knew they didn’t carry a bomb load
GM: There’s a piece of paper with the rotors
CB: Yeah. Here we are. So, we’ve got a piece of paper with your ops on and then
GM: There’s the Fortress losses
CB: Yeah
GM: There’s the Stirling losses
CB: Right, yeah. So how different was the Fortress to fly?
GM: The Fortress was child’s play, the perfect aircraft, from mass production for mass produced pilots, the Stirling was the worst possible aircraft for mass produced pilots, it was like something unique, the Fortress, you pushed the throttles open, the throttles were perfectly attuned to your hand and it just took off like a dream and landed like a dream, child’s play, perfect for formation flying, stable, very stable, the Stirling wasn’t, the Stirling was agile, frisky,
CB: Well, the Fortress was designed in the concept of formation box flying
GM: It was designed for formation flying
CB: Yeah
GM: And it was perfect for formation flying
CB: Yeah
GM: It didn’t want to do anything but [unclear] flying
CB: And on the Fortress, the B-17, did you fly with a co-pilot there as well?
GM: Occasionally
CB: But not normally
GM: [unclear] second pilot just for one or two trips, for experience, the idea of doing fifteen as a second pilot was out by 1942
CB: Yeah. Because of the HCU
GM: Was useless
CB: Yeah. The HCU system dealt with that, HCU
GM: Yeah
CB: So when people joined the Stirlings, they, you said they were difficult to take-off, was there a high accident rate associated with that?
GM: Hundreds.
CB: Which did it, it bent the aeroplane but did it, were there fatalities linked to that or just?
GM: No, just crashed, swing and take-off
CB: What was the best thing about the Stirling?
GM: Agility, agile, remarkable, remarkable manoeuvrability, unbelievable for an aircraft that size. I, mastered a stall turn, which is going up like this, can you imagine a large four-engine aircraft at this angle? And kicking the rudder bar stalled, I got quite a reputation for it at Waterbeach.
CB: Was this proving a point or because it was exciting?
GM: Just showing what the Stirling could do, stall turn, quite remarkable
CB: So, a steep climb and then kick the rudder
GM: Yeah. It had a very bad reputation, didn’t carry more than two thousand pounds weight of bombs, I mean, because of the bomb containers
CB: The size of the them
GM: What the Lancaster does was quite stupefying, the weight [unclear]
CB: Yes
GM: Stupefying, nothing in the world like it
CB: Yeah
GM: At the time
CB: Yeah
GM: I mean, Britain did lead the war [unclear], not like today leaving Europe
CB: What was the crew’s reaction to the, your crew in 15 Squadron, how well did they work together?
GM: They were [unclear], various of camaraderie
CB: What were they frightened of mainly?
GM: Death
CB: But the aircraft or
GM: Death,
CB: Or just
GM: Death,
CB: The raid?
GM: I mean, the whole squadron was infected by fear
CB: Was it?
GM: Oh, I think so. Cause when you are not doing anything positive
CB: Yeah
GM: Just being exposed
CB: Cause this is part of, is it, what you were talking about earlier, the disorganisation of Bomber Command meant that it worked in a very inefficient way
GM: [unclear] If you look at the dates of ops
CB: Yeah
GM: Quite absurd, the Stirlings just in service. July in 1941 the 6th and the 7th, then the 12th and the 23rd, 25th and then a month before August 25, then between August 25 and September 19th, October the 12th, the 24th, why weren’t Stirlings used more often? Yes, it’s frightful indictment
CB: What was your conclusion about why they were not used more often?
GM: Oh, we didn’t conclude anything, we didn’t even know the morale was bad, how do you know that morale was bad at the time? You don’t know
CB: Right
GM: You think, this was my first operational squadron
CB: Yes
GM: For all I knew this was normal
CB: Right
GM: In that respect, I know that morale was bad
CB: So, can you talk me through a raid, starting with the briefing? How would this evolve over the course of the night?
GM: Well, briefing didn’t change, it got more complicated
CB: So the briefing was everybody together in the ops room to hear the target and the route, is that right?
GM: Yeah. Well, that didn’t change, only towards the end of the war there were half a dozen streams instead of one, well, in fact, there were no streams to begin with, just [unclear] the target and the navigator worked it out how to get there
CB: So in the ops room, in the briefing room you would be told what the target was and the route.
GM: Oh yes.
CB: Was the route, the navigator had to work it out but was the route straight or was it?
GM: I think it was, I think it was [unclear] the navigator to work out how to get there
CB: Oh, right.
GM: Which is part of the amateurness of the role
CB: Yeah. So, as the war developed then, none of the raids would have a direct route to the target. So in your day initially, what was the state then?
GM: Well, I suppose, I suppose so. I suppose we knew where the concentration of searchlights were, but I don’t know. Later on in the war, you not only had different streams of bombers but you had dummy streams which 214 Squadron did, we set off on spoofs, half a dozen Fortresses charring out Window
CB: Right. Yeah
GM: To simulate five hundred bombers, that was quite important, quite a safe job too
CB: It was safe because the Window secured the view of your aircraft, did it?
GM: Well, the night fighters were after these real streams
CB: Right
GM: And we didn’t go far into Germany, we just went across Holland and then turned back home. 214 Squadron was so lucky, so fortunate with its Fortresses, that was a stroke of gigantic luck being posted to 214 Squadron
CB: So, the crew is the same, was it? As the one [unclear] flown in
GM: The one [unclear] to 214 Squadron
CB: Pardon?
GM: We were a mixed lot, New Zealand, Peruvian. My flight engineer was called Pedro Honeyman. Obviously of Scottish descent. Didn’t keep up with any of them. We had extremely good adjutant to 214 Squadron called George Wright, what George had done before the war I do not know, but he loved being adjutant to a bomber squadron, the aircrew, he loved the aircrew and they really good for us, so before my ops came to an end, I said to George, when I finish, I want to go on Transport Command. [unclear] Before I got a posting to Transport Command where I finished the war. And that was before I was sent to India and North Africa. It’s interesting. George Wright was seen after the war in 1951. My wife-to-be and I were on our way to Paris and we went into the 1951 exhibition on the South Bank and who was selling tickets? George Wright. [unclear] come down for you. I went back to art school
CB: When were you demobbed? When you were demobbed?
GM: Yeah
CB: In 1946.
GM: Yeah
CB: Yeah. How long were you at art school?
GM: I did my fourth year at Edinburgh College of Arts, post diploma fifth year, then a year of travelling scholarship was six years
CB: How did you finance yourself in those days?
GM: Oh, paid for, paid for. People don’t remember but we were privileged, we got no fees at university, a grant, I had a pension, three pounds, ten schillings a week, [unclear] for ten schillings a week, so I had three quid to spend, were privileged
CB: You received an RAF pension because
GM: No
CB: Was it?
GM: I suppose it was
CB: Yes, because you started the war when it started, when, at the beginning of the war
GM: Yeah, I suppose it was RAF
CB: So, in that context, you weren’t VR, were you? You were RAF
GM: I was RAF VR
CB: Oh, you were VR
GM: Yeah
CB: Right
GM: I’ve got the four-volume history of Bomber Command
CB: Yeah
GM: Which you really ought to know
CB: I’ll just stop there for a mo. Yes. The History of Bomber Command
GM: Harris, he is in this book
CB: Did he?
GM: Oh yes
CB: Noble Frankland, and who is the other chap?
GM: Sir Charles Webster
CB: Yes
GM: They’re both historians. Yes, you promised me your book, your [unclear] for it
CB: I shall put, I shall get hold of it, cause these are really important and this links together with your testimony
GM: You [unclear] and your job, you must have it
CB: I do, yes, need it. They’ve got it at Lincoln.
GM: Have they?
CB: Yeah
GM: It’ll be in the university library
CB: Yes
GM: Or it should be
CB: Yeah. Well, we’ll check actually as you come to ask. Can I just go back
GM: I was once in publishing so I can get things at cost
CB: Ah, right. Can I go back to your comments about 15 Squadron? You said that the crew effectively lived in fear all the time, the fear of being shot down or the fear of the aircraft not performing?
GM: No, the fear of not coming back.
CB: Right.
GM: I think that was general, the morale was low
CB: Yes
GM: When morale is low, you lose confidence
CB: Yes. And what was the RAF doing about it in your perspective?
GM: Nothing
CB: Right
GM: Nothing
CB: And what was the squadron commander doing to get together?
GM: Nothing
CB: Right
GM: Nor the Wing Commander. Everyone was tainted
CB: Yeah
GM: In my recollection. The crew I trained with, what’s the name of that place?
CB: At Wyton, oh, at Bassingbourn
GM: Bassingbourn
CB: Yes. On the Wellingtons
GM: Two pilots, flight engineer, navigator and bomb, gunners, I trained the guy called Metaxi, M-E, M-A
CB: Yeah
GM: So, when we got to Wyton a line was drawn under MA and I went as second pilot to an established crew,
CB: On Stirlings
GM: Metaxi crew went to a newly promoted captain, he had no training with the new captain, they disappeared on their first op, the first op, no training, Pierce, group captain wing commander, why? Of course they went down on their first op, they didn’t know each other. That was my introduction to operational flying. Nobody mentioned it.
CB: No. And in the ops in those days, you went off as individual crews, you said, rather than in any kind of orderly fashion. What was the process of finding the target?
GM: Looking at the ground [laughs].
CB: In the dark?
GM: What you could see.
CB: At what height were you flying in the Stirling?
GM: As high as you could go. Which was sixteen, seventeen
CB: On a god day
GM: Right down to twenty. Oh, what a business.
CB: And how did you, when you returned, you were debriefed by the intelligence officer, were you?
GM: Yes, yes.
CB: And what would you have to tell him?
GM: [unclear] we always thought we bombed the target of course [unclear] the first target I properly identified was Cologne, the thousand bomber raid,
CB: And at that stage you were at the HCU. At that stage you were at the HCU, weren’t you? For the thousand bomber raid
GM: Yes, yes, yes
CB: Yeah
GM: Little diversion from training
CB: Yes
GM: The following day you, circuits and landings, circuits and landings again, I don’t know how many landings I did in the Stirling, it must be ten to hundreds
CB: How did you feel about the student pilot flying it?
GM: Oh, they all arrived in a state of great anxiety, the Stirling had a very bad reputation and so the first thing you did was to show them what it was in the air and then the New Zealanders, Australians, South Africans, all nationalities, the most democratic outfit Bomber Command became, I wouldn’t have missed it
CB: What was the most exciting experience you had on operations or in the HCU?
GM: Well, the most dangerous experience I had was five hours in icing cloud trying to get to Hamburg in which 1651 Unit lost four out of nine aircraft in one night through weather and that was touch and go in cumulus cloud.
CB: So the icing cloud should never have been entered but how was it
GM: We should never have set off
CB: Exactly
GM: Again it was a cock-up and no one of course was never held responsible but to lose four out of nine is quite a shock. But the following day, take off and landings, take off and landings
CB: So that goes back to the point about debriefing, there was a met man who did part of the briefing, was there?
GM: That, the North Sea was [unclear] of clouds and of course we dropped the odd bomb to try and get more height, couldn’t and that was just flying skill to survive that night and one of the survivors was Frazer Barron, to finish that was nineteen ops, DSO & Bar, DFC & Bar, he lost his life later on of course, he was smaller than me, so how he could get the rudder bar I don’t know. Frazer Barron, one of the so-called Barron
CB: Barn Brothers
GM: Barnel Barnes [unclear]
CB: So, when the crew went back to 15 Squadron, you talked about the low morale, in the off-duty times what happened, what did people do? Cause you are all NCOs in the aircraft, are you? At that stage
GM: We did nothing. After time boring, there was no overall intelligence trying to further our training as bomber aircrew, it’s just, it was, the whole thing was inept. You know, we were losing the war like mad
CB: And what were the senior officers doing?
GM: I never saw them, I was in the sergeant’s mess. I mean, we arrived at Wyton by train, a bus from the station to the airfield, no welcome, put into such and such a fight, didn’t meet the flight commander, no one would tell you hello, this is 15 Squadron, this is what we do, we just arrived, oh, dear, oh dear, that was bad, it was shocking [unclear]
CB: Wyton was an expansion period airfield, so what was the accommodation like?
GM: Nissen hut. We took off from Alconbury, Wyton had no runways, so we flew the aircraft at Alconbury where it was bombed up, and then we went back to [unclear] and got briefly briefed at Wyton and then bus to the station light. I remember the bus going through Huntingdon, people going about their business, going into pubs and so on, where am I going?
CB: Yeah
GM: 21 squadron was quite different cause the war had been going on for years by that time, September 1943, Stirlings would have been taken off German targets, again the luck I had, being posted to a Stirling squadron cause they were being withdrawn and then we heard this extraordinary rumour going on [unclear] and the rumour proved to be true till, we got an American pilot with half a dozen landings and off we went solo, captain of a Fortress, throat microphone, all up to date
CB: Yes
GM: Electric flying suit, all up to date, American
CB: The whole crew had the electric flying suit, did they?
GM: I don’t know about the crew, I took the crew for granted. I hadn’t a warrant officer, my navigator was a flying officer and that was my two fingers up to the system, you see and it didn’t last long, I was a commissioned officer within weeks
CB: We’ll stop now. How often did you get hit?
GM: Once, oh, well, the aircraft got hit more than once of course
CB: Did it?
GM: I got hit personally once, over Leverkusen
CB: Oh.
GM: To an [unclear] squadron to Leverkusen to [unclear] as a souvenir, one of the aircraft came home with shrapnel quite often
CB: So what was the wound that you experienced?
GM: It was?
CB: What wound did you get?
GM: I didn’t get wounded, didn’t even draw blood. Spent shrapnel upper left arm. Colossal braw. If I hadn’t been strapped in, I’d be off my seat.
CB: Was the explosion in the aircraft or just outside?
GM: No, the shrapnel, piece of shrapnel. Flak
CB: Did that hit you hard?
GM: Flak I suppose.
CB: Yeah
GM: Didn’t even draw blood. The arm was swollen of course
CB: Yeah
GM: And that was nothing
CB: What about other members of the crew, did they get?
GM: Nothing
CB: Nobody
GM: No. A nasty surprise flying along in the black, suddenly shrapnel [unclear], flak and this enormous bash which as I say, would have got me out of my seat but for being strapped in
CB: Amazing. This was in the Fortress, was it? Or in the Stirling?
GM: Probably Fortress.
CB: There was a bigger crew in the Fortress, so?
GM: Yes.
CB: That was more gunners.
GM: The Fortress crew
CB: Right
GM: [unclear]
CB: Have a look at that. So, with the Fortress, you, the Americans flew with two pilots but you flew with one pilot in the Fortress in the RAF fashion
GM: Yes, yes. They flew by day, of course
CB: Yes
GM: What the Americans did was remarkable I mean, seeing them go down, we saw them going down in darkness
CB: Yeah. Did you get any planes exploding next to you?
GM: There were things, in Bomber Command we believed in a thing called Scarecrows
CB: Ah, yes
GM: Have you heard this word?
CB: Yes
GM: But there were no such things, they were actual aircraft and we kidded ourselves, another Scarecrow and some could be very close
CB: So, the Scarecrow notionally was an enormous shell when actually it was a German fighter firing upwards with Schräge Musik
GM: [unclear] bomber going down in flames
CB: Yeah
GM: But mercifully we didn’t know. I was never attacked by a night fighter and that may be part of the fact that wherever over dangerous territory I was endlessly weaving the aircraft, endless, to give the rear gunner [unclear] a vision of the area, a vision
CB: You did that on both aircraft
GM: Oh yes
CB: Yeah
GM: Oh yes
CB: Same technique
GM: Endless, gentle weave
CB: And how many reports of air sickness did you get from the crew?
GM: Oh, never. Weaving, that’s nothing, you don’t even know you’re doing it, didn’t know I was doing it, but it’s so far more.
CB: Yeah
GM: I’ve heard a Lancaster sitting a straight and level being shot at, not least by a member of who, by ex-member of my crew, he was shot down later on and we were attacked and the pilot froze, froze, that’s why we were shot down
CB: Froze over the target or [unclear]?
GM: Night fighter attacked, there was no evasive action team
CB: I see, right. But you were trained in the corkscrew?
GM: Oh yes
CB: And could you do the corkscrew with the Fortress or not?
GM: Yes, nothing like [unclear] nothing like this
CB: A big aeroplane
GM: Nothing like this, cleverly, let me have that logbook, thanks,
US: That’s the last, this is the first one. Is this the one you want?
CB: No, he’s just checking
US: Do you want to have a look at it now?
GM: Hey?
US: Do you want to have a look inside it?
CB: I’ll just stop there a minute.
US: [unclear] Air Force for you.
GM: We flew an aircraft from East Anglia to Belfast
US: Right.
GM: You get a cask of Guinness for a party. When you think of the cost of that pint of Guinness
US: [unclear]
CB: Amazing. But you did need that training experience, didn’t you? Was this from the HCU or the squadron?
GM: From the squadron
CB: Yeah
GM: The things were so relaxed. I had the memory of the friend of my father’s came down from Scotland, Ed [unclear], wanted to go up in a Stirling so I just said, an aircraft needing a flight test such and such took off in fifteen minutes
CB: What was the reaction of your family to your flying as a pilot in Bomber Command?
GM: My father and I didn’t communicate, ever.
CB: And you mother’s reaction wouldn’t be cause she
GM: Stepmother
CB: Stepmother, I meant
GM: Stepmother, no communication
CB: Right, ok. Any other members of the family you spoke to? Just stopping there again. Because your father had been in the trenches.
GM: Yeah, I mean Bomber Command is admired beyond reason, the worst that could happen was five minutes in [unclear] alive going down, think of the trenches, think of my father survived after three years in the trenches compared to what I had, Bomber Command was lucky. We lived well
CB: Yeah
GM: You know, it’s over exalted but easy, easier, the troops after the invasion going up through Holland far, far worse than Bomber Command was. I didn’t see a dead body. My father not only saw dead bodies, he saw the remains all around for years, no wonder he didn’t speak about it. Bomber Command too much talk saving your presence. No, it wasn’t all that difficult, it wasn’t.
CB: Now, when you went to 214, you had a completely different crew there,
GM: Yeah
CB: Because you’d come from the HCU
GM: I inherited a crew
CB: Oh, did you? Right, so how well did they gel together?
GM: After
US: You know, I can’t remember
CB: Anyway, professionally as a crew
GM: There was a romantic tosh spoken about Bomber Command crews how they gelled, how they drank together, how they did this together, how they did that, I suspect in many cases that just wasn’t true, wasn’t true in my case
CB: But it also varied, it would appear depending on whether it was an entirely NCO crew or a mixed commissioned NCO crew, in terms of them socialising.
GM: No, in my experience, socialising went on between commissioned and non-commissioned, there was no sense of division. No, no, Bomber Command was very democratic, a great mixture of people, no, no, there was no bullshit. No, no, none. I remember one parade, I can’t remember where, there was no discipline, in my experience, there was self
CB: Self-regulation
GM: Self-engendered discipline, there was no bullshit, no, none. You did your job in the air, you were left alone. Me, when I put that Tiger Moth on the [unclear], I didn’t even get a rap on [unclear]
CB: So, when was that? When were you
GM: Waterbeach
CB: Right. So, what happened there, you borrowed it, did you?
GM: I was in the mess, I had this aircraft flying over and landing and [unclear] and I went down to the flight centre, it was the wing commander giving ATC cadets a touch of flying experience and he saw me and he said, hey, Mackie, you take over. Well, I’d never flown a Tiger Moth and I took over. I took off with the first cadet, flew around and landed after a, a second cadet started getting too cocky, anyway, that’s how I got to [unclear]. It was a lovely summer’s evening and I was quite excited to land, there was earth, [unclear], trees and this great big wide river, flat, not a ripple on its surface, inviting, irresistible, I did a perfect landing, tail down
CB: Yeah. Who was in the back?
GM: I was on the front. I think, we passed over the back, we got to the surface and he was saying, do you mind, look at my dress to dance tomorrow! And I said, you shut up! So and so, I got worries of my own now, the wing commander’s aeroplane
CB: So, were you actually practising an emergency landing or did you feel that you
GM: No, I got in a high-speed stall
CB: So, what were you doing in your manoeuvre at the time?
GM: [unclear] trees
CB: So you were really low, you were going round the trees
GM: Breaking the law and all sorts of things
CB: That’s right
GM: But I didn’t know you had to increase the throttles, [unclear] control, high fifteen tons, you’re supposed to increase the engine revs
CB: Right. In the Tiger Moth
GM: Cocky
CB: But you would have had to do it in the Magister anyway
GM: I don’t remember doing high speeds, [unclear] the Magister
CB: No? So what was the attraction in the river?
GM: The flatness
US: Yeah
CB: But the people, what about the people in the river?
GM: They [unclear] spectacle
CB: So you were busy just
GM: You’re alright? You’re alright? I said, yes, I’m alright, [unclear] job trying to get the parachute on board the, onto dry land, the weight of it [unclear] water
CB: And they helped you pull the plane into the side as well?
GM: No, the plane was just right in the middle of the river, I was completely submerged
CB: And what was the result of this then?
GM: Not, no, nothing happened. I was a confident Stirling pilot, that was the important thing
CB: Right
GM: This, the Tiger Moth just an aberration
CB: So the wing commander said
GM: Nothing. He wasn’t even crossed
CB: And your logbook said
GM: [unclear] somewhere, he was a very good man, he was the best wing commander I ever had, I had some poor wing commanders, he was particularly good, he was called Menaul and he finished up in charge of atomic bombing tests in the South Pacific just after the war and he lived quite near to where my elder daughter lives and she kept on saying, why don’t you look him up? And I kept on saying, no, no, and I wish I had. M-E-N-A-U-L, he’s a good man. I had the worst commander in 214 Squadron called McGlinn M-C-G-L-I-N-N, he didn’t take to me, part because I was a warrant officer I think and froze the normal distances of promotion and once the aircrew were altogether for a talk by him and he suddenly, said, Mackie, what does that mean? And he pronounced a long German word, you know, a multi syllable, multi [unclear] and I said, I don’t know, Sir, and I hope I never do, the squadron erupted. This is still a German prisoner of war camp name, I said what? Anyway, that was my come up and stand up to the wing commander. No, he wasn’t a good type.
CB: So, you reached warrant officer and then when you went to the HCU, you were still a warrant officer, were you?
GM: I became warrant officer at Waterbeach, yes
CB: At the HCU
GM: Not automatic [unclear], sergeant, flight sergeant, warrant officer,
CB: Yeah
GM: A good rank, taken miles
CB: Absolutely
GM: Have you heard that expression?
CB: Yeah
GM: Doesn’t exist [unclear] expression
CB: No. And your commissioning took place when you joined two, joined at 214?
GM: Having more than doubled the hours than any other pilot on the squadron then and the [unclear] ranking, it was this to the system, it was meant to be, I’d finished the war as [unclear] there was anything left [unclear] but they made me take commission
CB: Was McGlinn, this, this CO, was he part of
GM: The station commander intervened
CB: Ah!
GM: He saw, he told me, you’re taking commission, Mackie, which I knew was inevitable and [unclear] didn’t have to ask for it
CB: So what was the process that you went through for that?
GM: Nothing. A new uniform and that was it
CB: But they took you off somewhere for a briefing, did they? Or selection?
GM: I got five minutes
CB: Ah, right
GNM: At Mildenhall
CB: What did they have, a board of assessors?
GM: No, no, just one man, [unclear] after all be all the way as Mildenhall and all the way back for this formality, out of the comedy, tragicomedy
CB: So there you had the opportunity to move into the officer’s mess
GM: I had to and the airfield we shared with an American squadron and the first formal dinner evening took place, when I say formal, peacetime thing, towards the end of the war [unclear], towards the end of the German ascendancy and being the most junior officer, I had to give the royal toast and the toast to his, the president of the United States of America, not a single ring of having lost my [unclear] morale. No, there is one thing I want to emphasize, it was easy
CB: An easy war for you
GM: Easy war, an easy war for most of the crew, if you got shot down, five minutes. I mean, think about it, that’s quite a good way to go, five minutes.
CB: Did you come across Guinea pigs, who’d been burned?
GM: Yeah
CB: And how did they take to flying after being Guinea pigs?
GM: Well, I don’t know, I mean, well actually, I knew them, I met them, I saw them, never knew them personally
CB: Right
GM: But that was extreme. If you got killed, you got killed, in a burning aircraft, you know, you are going down. You see, in 15 Squadron, going out seven, half a dozen aircraft, one missing, that’s quite a lot of proportion, week after week, one again, one again, one again, one again.
US: It is here, Tiger Moth [laughs]
GM: Of course, nobody knew at the beginning of the war. Bomber Command did no night flying in peacetime
CB: No. Were your original ops with 15 Squadron in daylight or were they always at night?
GM: There were two daylight ops on Northern France with Spitfires and Hurricanes, protection. That was so-called circuses, supposed to engender combat between our fighters and their fighters, they never materialised, it’s a waste of time
CB: And how did you feel like flying in daylight bombing on a, in a Stirling?
GM: Well, glad that I missed it. By that time the RAF had learned the sense of not flying by day over Germany
CB: No
GM: To begin with, we thought we could do it with impunity, flying in formations of Wellingtons or, what’s the other aircraft?
CB: Or in Blenheims
GM: Blenheims. 50 percent loss, time after time, sheer incompetence, wasted for nothing, peacetime air force, but by [unclear] what a transformation in 1944, target could be identified and destroyed, terrifying, pinpointed by Mosquitoes, TIs, target indicators, and the [unclear] watching, watching, doing nothing
CB: So in your two and four, flying your B-17 Fortresses, what was the activity going on in your aircraft?
GM: I don’t know, I didn’t know, yeah, I took no interest
CB: What was it supposed to be doing?
GM: Jamming control, jamming communication between ground control and German night fighters, that was one thing, we carried a German speaking wireless op and in a minute he got on to this German night fighter frequency, he jammed it, I believe but there were other, we carried a [unclear] radar which is one reason why operational flying was so infrequent, it was the [unclear] in the world and constantly tinkering new this, new that, but it was so complex, I wasn’t interested. I was interested in one thing, survival.
CB: And these German speaking operators, did they tend to be of foreign origin or were they?
GM: They were German.
CB: On the aircraft?
GM: Yes. But I, when I looked back I missed, actually I should have been more interested in what they were and how they came to be aircrew in the RAF, they were perfect German speakers, I believe. Pedro Honeyman, how did he come to England from Peru? And no one charged him. Cause Honeyman is a Scottish name
CB: He was a signaller, was he? He was a signaller.
GM: He was my flight engineer
CB: Oh, flight engineer.
GM: We all smoked of course, like chimneys
CB: In the aircraft?
GM: Coming back, yes, once you’re over water, down to a thousand feet, open the window, switch off the oxygen, first cigarette, oh, the bliss, the bliss of that first cigarette
CB: So, for non-smokers, explain please what, why it was such an important thing
GM: Well, salvation,
US: You’re a non-smoker.
GM: You were over the North Sea, you’re at two thousand feet, in half an hour you can see the flashing beacons, you’re safe, you survived, you’re off the scaffold, that was why, and the nicotine in the blood stream. Oh, I was a confirmed smoker. I regret having, had to give it up, but I wish I hadn’t. My father smoked forty a day until his late eighties when he died. He had the right answer. Were you an ex-smoker?
CB: No.
GM: You’re both non-smokers?
US: I smoke
GM: What’s that? Pack?
US: Rolling.
GM: You’re rolling [unclear]. Oh yes, so did I. I used to have brown paper, cigarette papers, I’ve [unclear]
CB: What made you start smoking? Did you start because of the flying?
GM: No, before the war I started.
CB: Right. And what made you give up?
GM: Oh, slow asphyxiation. [unclear] for five before the war, the day’s ration. [sighs] Well, Chris
CB: So you, that’s really good. We’ll stop for a bit.
GM: Yeah. Fifty percent of Bomber Command aircrew died for nothing. There’s no way of proving it but that’s my feeling.
CB: Do you mean particularly in the early days, do you mean? Because it was so disorganised
GM: Yes, but it extended into the, towards the end of the war, how many aircrew did damage to Germany? One [unclear]. I’d have had been killed, the damage I had affected on Germany was minimal, minimal, at what expense?
CB: Well, in your two and four days with the Fortresses, you weren’t carrying any munitions, so any bombs.
GM: Were not very successful,
CB: Oh
GM: It was a colossal enterprise involving fighter squadrons, Halifaxes, Fortresses, but it never did enough damage, I suppose was expected. I mean the hundred fighter squadron used to go out at night and circle German airfields
CB: The Mosquitoes, the Mosquitoes did
GM: Yes
CB: Yes
US: Interesting
CB: Interdictors
GM: And they weren’t successful, I believe. And then Transport Command, when I think about the expense, six thousand feet all the way to Germany, straight to India, four days, bed and breakfast, North Africa, bed and breakfast, Palestine, bed and breakfast, Iraq, Karachi.
CB: And what were you flying in Transport Command?
GM: Stirlings, the Mark V, an extra ten miles an hour
CB: And you wouldn’t want to get there too quickly, with all that nice hospitality on the way, did you?
GM: Oh, just a routine bed and breakfast, you know.
CB: What could the Mark V Stirling carry? What could the Mark V Stirling carry?
GM: Sixteen passengers or so much freight, a lot of postal freight, you know, letters [unclear] was abroad
CB: So, did you enjoy that, overall?
GM: Oh yes
CB: How did you come to be posted to Transport Command after 214?
GM: I’ve told you, George Wright
CB: Yes, but in the mechanism of the system, it just automatically
GM: Well, George Wright got me posted to Transport Command
CB: Yeah, as the adjutant
GM: That was it
CB: Yeah. There’d be a less smaller crew there cause you didn’t need gunners, so what did you have?
GM: Oh, navigator and flight engineer
CB: And that was it. No signaller?
GM: Wireless op, possible, you see they were going a-begging, they weren’t needed
CB: No
GM: [unclear]
CB: How did you meet your wife and when?
GM: When did I meet her?
CB: Yes
GM: I don’t know the exact date although I can recount it in detail but I shan’t
CB: [laughs]
GM: My wedding was in [unclear], 1952 in the registry office in Scarborough, cost five quid, got back to Edinburgh that same day, that was the beginning of our marriage
CB: Where did you meet her in the first place?
GM: Edinburgh College of Arts
CB: Edinburgh College of Arts, right. After the war, in other words.
GM: Oh yes, oh yes,
CB: Yeah
GM: ’48 or ’49, the best thing I ever did.
CB: And how many children have you got? How many children do you have?
GM: Two daughters.
CB: Right. Local?
GM: Two daughters, two granddaughters, two great granddaughters. I don’t want any competition [laughs]. Let the name Mackie die
CB: And no brothers or sisters of yours? You have no brother or sister yourself?
GM: Well, no, my mother died after my birth
CB: Cause you were the first child, right
GM: And my stepmother had no children
CB: We’ll stop there. Post-war, what career did you follow?
GM: Well, I taught in a college of art for some years, I free-lanced, I became royal designer for industry, designing books for Edinburgh University Press, I am a member of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters and Water Colour, and now, I don’t know, that’s about it.
CB: So, how did you get down here, in Stamford?
GM: Retirement. Driving from London to Aberdeen, I took the wrong turn at Millhill roundabout, six bloody [unclear], following the A25, and then the A1, and Aberdeen seemed a long way away, roundabout, roundabout, roundabout. I came to a sign saying, Stamford, one mile and so help me. I turned off. [unclear] this is a wartime thing, I don’t know, a monumental thing to do, because it changed my life. The entry into Stamford from the south is the finest entrance to any town that I know.
CB: Yeah, past Burghley.
GM: It’s Extraordinary
CB: Yeah
GM: The George Hotel. So I kept on coming back and found a slum, I’ll let you see what it was like
CB: When is this, 1980?
GM: Yes
CB: Ah, right. It had just been neglected
GM: Completely
CB: Yeah
US: Of course, it’s a lovely building
CB: And you said it was affected by a fire behind it
GM: Oh, that was later on
CB: Ah
GM: When I saw it, I saw [unclear]. The fact is I made it. In Aberdeen I had a wonderful house with twenty, how many years? Twenty-four years there. Wonderful, wonderful. When it came to selling, it was valued forty eight. I said, nonsense, it’s worth seventy. I got in a week [laughs]. Forty-eight to seventy in 1980. And a bloody Scotch lawyer charges a thousand pounds for the convenience for half an hour’s work.
CB: That was a bit much, wasn’t it?
US: Yeah
GM: I had an interviewer here and told him what I thought, he said, I’ve never been spoken like this before, I said, well, it’s high time.
CB: Quite right.
GM: Bugger
CB: Yes
GM: A thousand pounds, in 1980
CB: That was a hell of a lot of money
GM: I mean, I sold it, I did the ad, I did the interviewing, I said, excessive, five hundred, even that, [unclear] enough, that’s a long time ago but still rankles
CB: Yeah
GM: Scotch avarice
CB: Quite right. But you never got the
GM: Anyway, then I could buy this and do tens of thousands of pounds on the house, new electricity, new walling, new this, new that, new [unclear], and it’s been a wonderful house for the family and [unclear] buggered up all went downhill
CB: When your wife became ill
GM: The worst possible conclusion. God, if he exists, is a master sadist. Oh, gentlemen, can I offer you anything now?
CB: I haven’t had anybody else criticize Bomber Command
GM: You haven’t?
CB: No. But that partly for the reason perhaps that you mentioned earlier which is that you were there right at the beginning, when Bomber Command was in a powerless state, and the leadership clearly, from what you said, was lacking severely. The bit I forgot to ask you about because it links quite well with the early comments you made about lack of morale, because this comes out of it in a way, what about LMF?
GM: Oh dear, LMF, how these initials frightened us. We didn’t quite know what it was all about, very effective
CB: Was it?
GM: Oh very, frightening words, frightening initials, and partially frightening because we didn’t quite know what it was. I only came across one [unclear], a commissioned officer, commissioned RAR cause he trained with me this man, the majority of us became sergeants, he became a pilot officer, [unclear] in a flying boat [unclear] blew a tool off and he had a history of early retirements
CB: A pilot?
GM: Pilot
CB: Yeah
GM: I never saw him again.
CB: Do you know where they sent him?
GM: He just vanished. But that was LMF. Poor man, is he still alive? The memory will be constant, he should have died.
CB: Yeah
GM: And of course, LMF was designed to make sure you died rather than anything else
US: That was on the doorbell
GM: Ah, thank you.
CB: What would you say it did to the, what effect did it have on the crew?
GM: Made them bloody sad, they wouldn’t be LMF. Tell me what lack of moral fiber, cowardice
US: Right
GM: Frightening initials. Till today
CB: Sure
GM: That was crude but that was effective and so unfair, it could [unclear] that someone that had done almost a tour and impact in, you know, he proved himself time and time and time again and you’d have reached the end of his [unclear] but LMF had no respect for that kind of achievement, oh, is cruel. We never talked about it. Never talked about it, never mentioned it. You must have found this is the constant in your interviews.
CB: Yes, I have, had a number of people talk about it
GM: Not mention saying what was mentioned
CB: Right, so, it’s been mentioned, yes, by several people
GM: Yeah
CB: And the effect on the crew
GM: Yeah
CB: Because it’s very unsettling
GM: Yeah
CB: And also the deterrent effect, the objective of deterrence
GM: It worked
CB: Yeah
GM: Yeah. Oh God, I’d have died rather than being labelled LMF, oh quite clearly
CB: So, he was commissioned and vanished but what was your perception of what would happen to the sergeants, if they were?
GM: What?
CB: What would happen to the sergeants if they were labelled LMF?
GM: They were stripped of rank of course and just vanished; I suppose. Anyway, I don’t know what happened to the commissioned officer, whether he was uncommissioned or I don’t know. The whole thing’s a mystery.
CB: Yeah
GM: Well, is it Chris?
CB: Yeah
GM: Sorry
CB: It’s alright.
GM: Well, you promised me that you will get access to these four volumes
CB: Yes, absolutely
GM: It’s not the easiest of reading but it’s right up your street
CB: Oh yes, it is
GM: There’s a whole appendix, giving the details about how many bombs fell [unclear] explode for instance [unclear]
CB: Yeah
GM: The bombs were inefficient
CB: Yeah
GM: So many things were incompetent
CB: Yeah. It’s not as though it was new because they had a very high failure rate in the First World War
GM: Yes
CB: Of bombs and shells
GM: My father never once asked me about Bomber Command, very most peculiar, I envy sons who had a good relationship with their fathers,
CB: What was the main stumbling block would you say?
GM: Well, losing his wife when he did, that buggered him, buggered him. Small town [unclear], like his father before him, like his grandfather before him and I would have been the starter, if the tractor hadn’t come, the tractor saved me.
CB: What did the tractor do?
GM: Made [unclear] redundant, no horses, mean this [unclear] two or three [unclear] all gone
US: All gone
GM: My hometown is like, Stamford, you know, agricultural market town. Have you always lived in Stamford, nearby the airfields? [laughs]
CB: In the dark
GM: Yeah, training
CB: Right
GM: Waterbeach, we were sent to other airfields, you see, and I [unclear] all apologetic but five miles apart the circuits overlapping
CB: But it must have been quite difficult, how did you, coming back from an operation or any sortie, how did you identify your airfield in the dark?
GM: Well, the flashing beacons, the Germans knew them all, out, you know, two initials, they never changed, the Germans must have known them all. And the three searchlights intersecting at two thousand feet all over the place, oh God it was a, what a performance! What [unclear]!
CB: So every, when you returned, there was always the searchlight on,
GM: Oh yes
CB: Unless the Germans had followed the bomber stream in
GM: Oh yes, and that should help from the German point of view, why they didn’t do that more often? What an advantage to have their fighters come across
CB: It could’ve been a turkey shoot
GM: It would’ve been a massive one. And they did it, well, they did it, when I was training the Wellingtons it happened once and it scared the daylights out of me, trying to learn to fly and at the same time, knowing there is an enemy aircraft around. Bassinbourn?
CB: Yeah. So if
GM: They missed a great opportunity
CB: If there was a known interdictor, intruder, what did the airfields do, they turned off their lights, did they?
GM: Oh yes.
CB: Then, what did that leave you with?
GM: That never happened to me. No, there was no trouble getting home, I mean, finding one’s way, I mean
CB: Because of all these lights
GM: Oh, the, and you had the radio beams and things, you know
CB: Yes
GM: I took no interest in, QDEM or something
CB: Yeah, did you have DREM lighting as well? The DREM lighting round the airfield?
GM: Yes, of course, I suppose so
CB: They do
GM: Round again that was nothing, I mean, you know, running at night, night flying was easy, it wasn’t difficult, above the weather
CB: And fog?
GM: As [unclear] it is, pilots, well, they know pilots, I when I was in an aircraft going to Boston one day, [unclear] stupid, so I wrote a wee note to the captain, I said, my last flight was from Gibraltar to Lyneham, sixteen passengers, height six thousand feet, and [unclear] speed a hundred and seventy five, can I come up to see you in your office? So the attendant sent up study staring into his cockpit
CB: Ah, this is on a 747
GM: Was it? I don’t know what the hell that was. Anyway, there was a vibration, you couldn’t see a bloody thing and they are all rushing but half a dozen of them, I thought, this isn’t flying, nor is it, we flew through the weather
CB: Yeah
GM: Christ, we, I was flying, you were actually controlling the bloody thing. It was good, you were doing something.
CB: God!
GM: You were in control.
CB: Yes
GM: It was responsive.
CB: How much did you use the auto-pilot on your aircraft?
GM: What you had to do, it was a chore. Invaluable. That night, when I survived the icing cloud, that was thanks to the link trainer, there’s a record at the back of the books somewhere
CB: Of the amount you did on link trainer?
GM: Yeah
CB: But on the aircraft itself, on the Stirling, did they have an automatic pilot?
GM: Oh yes
CB: They did?
GM: I never used it, at least I did in Transport Command, but not over Germany, ever
CB: Because you were always weaving
GM: For a fraction of a second, you know, [unclear]. But the thing is, Bomber Command was never on air, [unclear] my father’s trench war
CB: Yeah
GM: It was boring, can you imagine spending eight hours most of which when nothing was happening, eight bloody hours, Stettin and back, nothing happened, what a bore, all the bombers over over valued because it was dramatic. What the trips, after the raids above Holland, 1944, is undramatic compared to what happened in the air, so Bomber Command was overvalued. Which is why you’re here.
CB: Flying a B-17, how was that different from flying the Stirling?
GM: You couldn’t Make the bloody thing maneuver, it didn’t want to, it just wanted to stay straight and level, which was its job
CB: Yes, absolutely
GM: I mean, the Americans, the Air Force, they didn’t fuck around
CB: No
GM: They [unclear] straight and level
CB: In daylight
GM: Flew it all in daylight, my word, that’s bravery
CB: Absolutely
GM: That’s bravery. Oh yes, we had it easy
CB: And
GM: We had it easy, too much a cream,
CB: And simple comforts on the
GM: All sheets of a kind [unclear] breakfast, drink, cigarettes,
CB: In the Fortress
GM: No, in the Air Force
CB: OH, I see, yes, right, in the,
GM: [unclear]
CB: On the ground, yeah
GM: And too much prestige, too much
CB: In the war
GM: Too much
CB: Yeah
GM: No [unclear], too much. I mean, think what a submarine is like compared to what we did, bloody weeks in the air compared to a submarine, we did a few hours then we were all back to civilisation, so we are overvalued, overestimated. It took me a long time to work this out, I’m convinced of it now
CB: It’s unusual for people to have done more than two, one tour, you did two and then a third one.
GM: No, I did less than two. I did forty-four ops
CB: In total
GM: Supposed to be fifty. I came back from a spoof, nothing, and the wing commander said, Mackie, not [unclear], he’d been a [unclear], Mackie, you’re finished. That’s it, [unclear], I’ll never forget, completely, Mackie, you’re finished
CB: George Mackie, thank you very much indeed for a most interesting conversation
GM: Thank you for coming



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with George Mackie,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 19, 2024,

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