Interview with Frederick Joseph Keith Martin


Interview with Frederick Joseph Keith Martin


Keith Martin was working for an agricultural machinery merchants in Shrewsbury when the war started. This was classed as a reserved occupation but when he was nearly 20, he decided to volunteer for the Royal Air Force in April 1942 and was selected to be a wireless operator/air gunner. Initial training took place in Blackpool, followed by further training at RAF Yatesbury, RAF Ternhill, RAF Calveley. Promoted to sergeant he was then posted to 18 Initial Training Wing at RAF Bridgnorth to complete his wireless operator training. Flying training took place at RAF West Freugh and in October 1943 he was posted to an operational training unit at RAF Hixon flying Wellingtons. It was there that Keith was formed in to an aircrew. In December 1943 Keith’s crew flew their first operation, as part of their training, which was leaflet dropping over Belgium. January 1944 saw a posting to a heavy conversion unit at RAF Sandtoft to fly Halifaxes. In April their aircraft had an engine failure on take-off, resulting in a crash landing which wrote it off but injured no-one. He transferred to Lancasters at RAF Hemswell and was then posted to RAF Wickenby. From May he was in an operational squadron. Keith describes the many operations that he carried out, including an operation during which an aircraft below his exploded, and caused his aircraft to go out of control until the pilot recovered control at 2000 feet. In June 1944 he was posted to 300 Squadron. By August his crew had flown 26 operations. On completing his tour, Keith went on to spend a year at the advanced flying unit at RAF South Cerney before volunteering for the Empire Test Pilots’ School at RAF Cranfield. He was finally demobbed in 1946 returning to his pre-war employer, who had kept his job available.







01:41:51 audio recording


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DH: Right. Ok. Right. Let’s start off with a serious thing to start off with. This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Dawn Hughes. The Interviewee is Mr Keith Martin and you like to be known as Keith, don’t you? Yeah. The interview is taking place at Mr Martin’s home in Wem, Shropshire on the 9th of March 2018, and thank you Keith for agreeing to talk to me today. So, the first thing I wanted to ask was thinking about the lead up to joining the RAF how did it come about that you joined the RAF?
FM: Right.
DH: And what influenced you?
FM: I can go back to living and working in Shrewsbury. I was working for quite a big countrywide firm of agricultural machinery merchants with a branch in Shrewsbury. Hence that’s where I was working. My calling up papers came quite quickly. I was eighteen and my boss said to me, ‘You won’t need to go,’ he said, ‘Because you are on a Reserved Occupation.’ Well, I was very immature. Honestly. No, I was very immature and so that suited me. And it happened again a year later when I was nineteen. But when I was approaching twenty and I knew it would happen again I was reaching the stage where you felt guilty really if you were comfortably sitting at home, when even your own friends were going off and so I said to my father, ‘I’m going to volunteer.’ He said, ‘Volunteer for the, for the Royal Army Pay Corps,’ he said, ‘Because they get you, you’re excellent at figures,’ he said, ‘To get you well behind a desk.’ And, I, I thought about that and decided no. I liked the RAF uniform. It’s quite true. I don’t want to go in to the Army in case I land up with a bayonet. And I can’t stand the thought of the water but I can’t swim anyway. And so I went and volunteered for the Air Force which I was accepted straight away, and on the 20th of April 1942 I arrived at Padgate which is North Lancashire for my indoctrination. That’s the right word. I was there for five days only during which time there was a group of about thirty. This squadron leader addressed us and he said, ‘Would any of you like to take an aircrew medical?’ And so, well a damned good idea having a medical so I put my hand up didn’t I? And of course I passed the medical, which mainly funnily enough was, and several other failed through vision. Vision. What I didn’t know, I was innocent at the time, that I had already volunteered for aircrew and about four days, be about the 24th of the month, April I was interviewed by the same squadron leader and he said, ‘Martin, your legs are too short for us to train you to be a pilot.’ And he said, ‘Your educational standard is too poor for us to educate you to, to train you as a navigator.’ I accepted that, because I only went to the Catholic, Catholic ordinary school. So, he said, ‘We’ll train you as a wireless op air gunner.’ ‘Alright, sir.’ The following day I was posted to Blackpool, and I found that Blackpool was the school that taught you two things. One was, the important thing was how to learn the Morse Code and how to handle sending and receiving, and the other thing that was important to them but not to us was how to learn how to march up and down Blackpool streets. Behave ourselves because we were not in billets we were out to houses. Took us in, you know. So they took me. Was it how many? The school for wireless operators was I think three months. May. June. July. That’s right. And I left Blackpool having passed out at the required eighteen words a minute on the 4th of August. Went home for a, once you got a break you know. And then nine days later I received a posting to a place called Yatesbury in Wiltshire, which was the flying part of the learning to be a wireless operator. Doing it in the air. So, in effect that was the first, my first meeting with an aircraft. So, from August to November I was training as a wireless operator air, from which you got your sergeant’s stripes if you passed out. And I passed out, and got my sergeant’s stripes and was then sent for a short, what I call waiting to be properly dispersed. A small, well yeah it was a waiting station and that of all places was Ternhill. And I was at Ternhill for [pause] three weeks from the middle of November to the middle of December, and then I was posted to Calverley in Nantwich. Near Nantwich. And that really was further progress, and I have an idea of what we were flying then. Memory you know. Very good but —
FM: I think. ’43. No. That’s right. Calverley as I was saying was again just further progress on generally learning how to fly in the air, you know. Nothing particular. And then I was sent to Aircrew Recruitment Centre in London, and I didn’t really know why but it, it did, how can I put it? It was, in fact to tell me or to tell the person that they had been selected for A — wireless operator, and B — air gunner. And I’d been selected for wireless operator. And then, so then I was sent to 18 ITW, Initial Training Wing, Brignorth for just a month. Initial Training Wing speaks for itself. And from there, from that very station I got married.
FM: Then I was posted of all places to a place called West Freugh in Scotland which was Advanced Flying Unit, which you have to be in an aircraft flying over the sea, and you had to go through certain rules and regulations to do what you had to do. Having passed out there in May 1943 [pause] No. No. Sorry, no. No. That’s before, having passed out in August 1943. That’s right, when I finished at Yatesbury, and then to West Freugh. I passed out there in October ’43. Sorry. I was only there about six weeks and I was posted to Hixon, Stafford, which is an Operational Training Unit and we were, I was introduced to Wellingtons, Wimpies. I was also within the first week [pause] I was introduced if I can describe it as the crew. The crewing up procedure need, needs talking about because it’s something that outsiders wouldn’t know. How do you get crewed up? Who does it? The answer is the pilot chooses his own crew. The end of the week that you’re there being introduced as I said to Wellingtons, you’re told to report to the, what was the big room that was used generally for dances and things, and there was thirty wireless operators, thirty navigators, thirty engineers, thirty rear gunners, and thirty pilots. Now, that was a crew of a Wellington. Did not include a mid-upper gunner because a Wellington does not have a mid-upper gunner turret. So the skipper chose his own crew, and I was there in the room and this, seemed to be elderly gentleman he turned out to be six years older than me [laughs] came along to me and he said, ‘You’re Sergeant Martin.’ ‘Yes.’ He was only a sergeant, so I didn’t have to say sir. ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘You’re from Shropshire.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘So am I, would you like to fly with me?’ I said, ‘Thank you very much.’ And that in effect, I say to this day saved my life because he was a superb pilot, and he got the crew together and instead of us being half a dozen individuals we became a crew. Right. So we then flew Wellingtons as a crew in training from a place called Seighford, which was a depot of Hixon’s’ and we were, I was there from November ’43 to January ’44. I think it was possibly at that time that we flew our first not exactly operation but our first trip over a foreign country [pages turning] Yeah. It was on the 30th of the December during that period that we were sent to do a leaflet raid over Belgium. This was one of the Royal Air Force’s ideas that every crew should taste flying over the sea and flying over what was still dangerous territory, and so that we got back and we hadn’t lost our nerve and we didn’t report anything silly. You know what I mean, and so that was the important thing and that was in a Wellington on the 30th of December. Having [pause] passed that, we then immediately got transferred to a four engine Conversion Unit. Immediately after that. We were not going to fly in Wellingtons in operations. We were going to fly in the new four engine bombers that were coming on line. And the first thing we did when we got there was pick up a mid-upper gunner. The mid-upper gunners had been trained ready, but had been sent straight to Conversion Units as they’re called because it was there that the, the skipper would pick one up and so that’s where we got hold of Jock. And now we were a crew of seven which you need. And so we did Conversion Unit at Sandtoft, and during that time had a crash. We crashed a Halifax [pages turning] We crashed a Halifax on the 6th of April 1944. We had a 5 o’clock take off. Evening take-off. It was only what we called circuits and bumps learning, for the skipper to learn how to take off and land and he had an engine failure on take-off. And because we hadn’t really got any height the skipper, the skipper decided to crash land. The decision he made we just accepted it, and in the subsequent report which I’ve got a copy of it says, “No pilot error. No disciplinary action to be taken.” But we were a bit, we were sent straight to the medical to be checked over, and we were a bit cheeky so in their wisdom they sent us straight up again. Well, in a few hours, 9.15 that night we went up again but this time we were also accompanied by a senior pilot as well as our own to see that there was nothing wrong, and that went on all right. And the amazing thing is we saw that Halifax the other, the next day or the following day and it was, it was a ruin. We’d hit a tree in a forest or in a field, and it had torn the wing off. But how we all got out alive I don’t know but we did. The aircraft was a write off. So, we —
DH: Can I ask what plane that was—
FM: That was a Halifax.
DH: A Halifax, yeah.
FM: An old Halifax. They only sent the old ones to training places. So we had a couple of little trips before we, whilst we were there when we had to go to learn what they called ditching practice and this was up in Lincolnshire. Just a day out. You had to go. They had a big pool with a half a Lancaster in the middle and you were taken out but you had to get the dinghy out and on and get yourself home. You see what I mean.
DH: Yeah.
FM: Right. We were posted from Sandtoft to Hemswell for the month of April to transfer from Halifaxes to Lancasters. A small transfer. Just the difference for the pilot really and on the 1st of May 1944 we were posted to Wickenby.
DH: So can I ask with your job as a wireless operator what was different going from the Halifax in to the Lancaster for you? Was there any difference?
FM: Nothing on those two. Different coming from the Wellington because it was a different radio. But no my job was basically the same. Very little radio, and mainly standing in the astrodome as an extra set of eyes but I’ll come to that when it comes to operational flying. Right. On the 10th of May, on the 11th of May we were on just Lancasters locally. Further training. But on the 19th of May we had our first operation but to the marshalling yards at Orleans. Orleans south of Paris. Total time there and back five hours and fifteen minutes. Right. We then had to prepare for the next one by an air test. The next operation which was on the 24th of May which was the marshalling yards at Aachen right on the border. Five hours and five minutes. Now, I don’t want to go through these individually. I shall want to just pick out those that matter. We went to Aachen again. We went to marshalling yards. These marshalling yards were so important because it was coming up to D-Day. We didn’t know that. But the Germans were, their marshalling yards were bombed ruthlessly. The next one is a marshalling yard as well.
DH: Can you explain what a marshalling yard is please?
FM: Well [laughs] I thought you’d know that.
DH: No. No.
FM: A railway. Well, they’ve got a big railway. When you marshall all your equipment it’s a marshalling yard.
DH: Right.
FM: You know. It’s the same in this country. We got in to early June and we were on such things as heavy gun batteries on the coast. Railway junction again, and marshalling yards again. You can see the picture. We’re averaging the 5th of June, 7th of June, 10th of June, 12th of June. We were averaging one almost every other day and then [pause] that’s right. I’d passed it over without thinking how I got the Legion of Honour because on the 5th of June and the 6th of June was D-Day and in those twenty four hours we did two operations which was a thing unknown. To do two in twenty four hours. One was to the north of the coast, and one was to the south. And I’m talking about the German coastal batteries and we bombed them north and south. The south one we did first. You’ve heard a lot lately of these emigrant towns called, one was called Sangatte. Well, that’s where we, that was a bombing because Sangatte then was a big German coastal battery. So we did Sangatte and within a matter of no time at all we were off again, and this time we did the bottom ones near [pause] near, well I can’t think what the big town is on the corner. Anyway, that doesn’t matter. It was one of the southern ones, and doing those two on D-Day was the reason for the French had fixed that anybody operating on D-Day would get this medal. So, came to the last trip that I did was on the 12th of June. Again, marshalling yards and then I was transferred to the Polish squadron with a week’s leave in between. Got back. Got to the Polish squadron 17th of June. We, they didn’t waste any time. We air tested on the 17th of June morning and went on operations in the evening on the 17th of June. So we then go to several operations with 300 Squadron in June. I’ve got 24th, 25th, 29th and 30th. On the 30th, the last one was a daylight. Marshalling yards in the daylight God knows why. I can’t think of why but in fact the next one, the 12th of July, by now I must have gone on leave then. You had a leave generally every so many months because I have a blank space between the 30th of June and the 12th of July. On the 12th of July we started operations. Now were on longer distance ones. This one is nine hours and eight months. This one which I just wanted to describe is the most dangerous one we did. It was to a marshalling yard in the south of France, almost on the Swiss border at a place called Revigny, and when we got there it was ten tenths cloud. You were flying at about ten thousand feet in beautiful sunshine with a blanket of cloud right over the target. Couldn’t see anything. The Master Bomber, I don’t know whether you understand Master Bombers, the person who is there controlling. The master bomber said, ‘I can’t mark the target.’ And he recommends go home. You know, abandon. Abandon the exercise. And I can remember my skipper saying, only to us, ‘Look lads. We didn’t fly all this way to take our bombs home.’ He said, ‘I’m going to try to go through the clouds and see what happens.’ So then came the most scary time of slowly, slowly descending through cloud, and could see nothing. The navigator had taken the distance. No. Yeah. No, the direction that we were travelling so that we could reverse and go back and kept on going through this cloud to Revigny. Anyway, we came out into sunshine. Or night. It wasn’t sunshine. It was moonlight really. At four thousand feet. The skipper said, ‘Right lads. Now, we can reverse along so that we go back the way we come until we find these marshalling yards.’ And so the bomb aimer was the important one because he was lying in his turret in the bottom and he could see, and he right up, ‘Coming up marshalling yards.’ Right. So skipper said, ‘Right. Prepare for bombing run.’ And we had a very quick bombing run. Not the usual four minutes because he wanted to get the bombs away whilst we were over the marshalling yards, and so we bombed. We luckily we had time to close the bomb doors when a four engined plane which we could only describe as a four engine plane, couldn’t say it was a Lancaster or a Halifax came right underneath the clouds straight down underneath us, all four engines ablaze. An absolute, you know, a roman candle and either it exploded or it crash landed and exploded but it blew us up on our backsides. And I can remember skipper who never swore saying, ‘Oh Christ.’ And we seemed to be all over the place, and he was desperately trying to correct. Anyway, at two thousand feet he corrected, and we were back on an even keel so he said, ‘Lads, I’m going to stick these throttles right through, and we’re going to get home quickly.’ Now, when we got home we had to report to the intelligence. Why? Two things. A — the skipper had disobeyed an order to abandon to go home. B — he pressed on and bombed the target. A — he was going to be court martialled. B — he was going to get a medal. He got the medal. So he got the DFC, quite rightly. Then we carried on several quite long trips. Stuttgart. We went twice to Stuttgart and that wasn’t very nice.
DH: Can you explain why it wasn’t very nice? What mainly —
FM: Because you’re going to go through the Ruhr first of all. You’re on the chance of night fighters for such a long distance before you even get to the target because it’s an eight hour trip. Four hours each way. Do you see what I mean? You’re under, you’re in a, their well armed area, and to do it twice in oh hell, twice in four days. Yes. 24th and 28th. I can remember one little thing. On the way home on the second trip I said to the, through the, ‘Skipper, permission to speak.’ You weren’t allowed to talk, you know. ‘Permission to speak.’ ‘Yes, wireless operator.’ ‘Will you all wish me a happy birthday? It’s my birthday today.’ Because it was now, we took off on the 28th of July and on the way home it was the 29th of July.
DH: And did they?
FM: We did that night. Then there were several trips, and then came the period at the end of August. We had already now done [pause] we’d now done twenty six. And the skipper, and now the bomb aimer had also been made a [pause] a what do you call it? You know, we were still sergeants and he, yeah. You know what I mean. Anyway, the skipper called us together and he said, ‘I’ve had,’ because he said, ‘I’m a senior crew,’ he said, ‘I’ve got the ears of Bill Misselbrook — ’ our squadron commander that at the end of August the wing is being disbanded because the Poles have now got sufficient trained people to take over the wing completely. Now — ’ he said, ‘We’ve got four trips to do.’ And he said, ‘I would like to think that we could get them done without us being posted again to some other squadron, you know and have to start all over again.’ So, he said, ‘I’ve got to get your agreement that if you agree I’ll see Bill Misselbrook and say, ‘We volunteer for every trip that’s going.’ And he said, he must have agreed and from the 25th of August to the 31st of August we did four operations, and one of those was the biggest we’d ever done and it was at, it was up to a place in the Baltic called Stettin. Or it was called Stettin then and there was a Nazi naval base there and somehow Stalin had asked for us to bomb it. I don’t know how. You can get these funny things that go on. So we did Stettin as our twenty ninth trip and again on the way home he said, break the rules, he said, ‘I’m not going to stooge back under the rules of the speed that you can do safeguarding the engines,’ he said. ‘They can only shoot me.’ So it was boof, and we came home and the funny words, we landed and I can remember the words coming over the, over from the ground radio lady. She said, ‘U-Uncle. U-Uncle have you completed your mission?’ Because we were fifteen minutes before time getting home. Whereas the others took fifteen minutes longer obeying we’d, anyway that was another story. And then we did a daylight raid on the 31st of August and at the end of that I have a note signed by the station commander, and the squadron commander, “You’re tour is completed.” And so that in affect ends the chapter of my time doing bombing raids. Can you —
DH: Do you want to pause?
FM: Well, do you want any further more?
DH: I’ve got some questions if that’s ok.
FM: Because I mean going on, you can go on forever. I’ve got —
DH: Yeah, no, I’ve got some questions if that’s ok.
FM: Otherwise, I can go on so long with —
DH: No. That’s fine. On an op what would your job entail because it took you five hours, eight hours? So what would you do during your time?
FM: Your main job that you are trained to do for the, for the crew is that you take a message in code from Bomber Command Headquarters at oh, they’re active then. Not the headquarters now. They’re active headquarters every fifteen minutes. Every fifteen minutes they send out a message. It may be status quo. It may be they’d got a change of wind direction, change of wind speed, a change of anything, but every fifteen minutes the wireless operator takes a message and passes it on to the navigator.
DH: Right.
FM: In between, each skipper may want to use him in a different way but most want to use him as a lookout, standing up under the astrodome and helping to spy night fighters.
DH: Right.
FM: And the bit, the important thing he does on a bombing run, when you can imagine there’s a mass of aircraft coming through to bomb on the same you suddenly see one appearing above you and immediately you tell the skipper. Because what you don’t want to do is be bombed by one above. So you’re first of all a wireless operator and second of all you’re a lookout.
DH: So you kept busy.
FM: Yes.
DH: You mentioned before we started the interview, you talked about the Polish squadron. You talked about the make up of the Commonwealth crew.
FM: Yes.
DH: Can you explain that please?
FM: No, when a Commonwealth was pure luck and they had to use the name Commonwealth because they didn’t want to insult like for instance our navigator was a Canadian. My friend that I had there who’d trained could still be alive. The last time I heard of him he was in a wheelchair but his navigator was the most unusual thing. He was a Yank. But he was a Yank who had wanted to get into the war, and so he volunteered from America to join the Canadian Air Force, and from the Canadian Air Force he got, so there’s another one. So if you said it’s an English crew, or a British crew you could be offending, so it was called a Commonwealth.
DH: Right near the start of the interview you talked about your training and everything and you were saying that you got married.
FM: Yeah.
DH: Before we started the interview you said briefly about your feelings about getting married and did you do the right thing at the right age and that. Can you, can you talk about that again please?
FM: That came after though, dear. I don’t know whether it’s worth talking about. I mean, I didn’t [pause] how, how can you say that in effect during your period of the war until, until the later time that when she was allowed to come and live close to because I was no longer on operations but in those early days every leave was like a honeymoon. You got, you know you and to be honest with you we, we reached demob without ever realising what married life was, and then by then we got a baby on the way, very difficult to put it in to words. I just felt that she was too young. She never complained, but at eighteen.
DH: Yeah.
FM: But as I said marriage went on for sixty one years and we got a letter from the Queen here so that couldn’t have been too bad.
DH: Oh no.
FM: It was only in my own mind that. Yeah. Yes.
DH: Right at the start you were saying that you got the call up papers but you were in a Reserved Occupation.
FM: That’s right.
DH: So were you allowed to ignore those call up papers if you were in a Reserved Occupation?
FM: Oh yeah. Only, only as a volunteer.
DH: Right.
FM: Only, and if you were accepted you could have been a volunteer in a far more important Reserved Occupation for some reason and be turned down. You could have been in a, some kind of laboratory somewhere and what have you. But the rule was you, if you, if you, you had to volunteer and you had to be accepted.
DH: Right.
FM: And my Reserved Occupation was really only agricultural machinery. I know it was helping to keep the farmers going but it wasn’t of grade one importance.
DH: You said at the, near the start again that you went for your initial training. You said you went for training and the indoctrination. What did you mean by indoctrination?
FM: I think I can explain that. A big word for a little thing.
DH: Yeah.
FM: 16th of June 1943 [pause] That’s right. I hadn’t started. I hadn’t got to the [pause] Yeah. The first introduction to an aeroplane we [pause] now, can you edit this if you —
DH: Yes. Yes. It can be edited.
FM: The important thing was to try and make you sick on the basis that once you’d been sick you were never likely to be sick again. But if you persisted in being sick you would get discharged from aircrew because you couldn’t be sick.
DH: Right.
FM: You just couldn’t be. Now, that was the indoctrination that I, and it, on the 16th of June ’43, I went twice in one hour on a Dominie with seven, six others and we marched to the aircraft and as we marched they gave us each a bucket. Now, that was before we got to the aircraft they gave us a bucket. When we got inside they had purposely not cleaned it up and I think half of them were sick before we got off the ground. But then he was an experienced pilot and he could hedgehop. You were only up and hour but believe me we were all terribly sick. Is that sufficient indoctrination?
DH: Yeah.
FM: If you see what I mean.
DH: Yeah. Yeah.
FM: If you followed on, and I had four but the first two were only experience. The second two I had to do two message taking. That was my initial contact with the wireless.
DH: So I take it you stopped being sick.
FM: I stopped being, I was only sick once. It’s a terrible feeling and you walk out, stagger out of this aircraft and they say, they march you out, two march. ‘You now go and clean your bucket in the toilets.’ It’s not a nice story, but that was the indoctrination. It had, they could not have people who were going to be sick passed as aircrew. It could not be allowed, and so they had that method to making you sick and giving you four chances really.
DH: Yeah.
FM: I can only, I can’t honestly tell you if they all failed. All four. All I know is I was only sick once [pause] The crew, or most of them.
DH: Which one are you?
FM: None, I took it, I took the photograph as it happened. I didn’t know at the time, you know.
DH: Yeah.
FM: That I was going to take a photograph of the others. The skipper of course is in the middle. The one who looks a little bit elderly.
DH: All so young.
FM: Yes, all so young.
DH: So young. Can you tell me when you were actually on an op did you get a chance to get scared? Were you so busy that you couldn’t get scared?
FM: You were scared all the while. But you were a part of a crew and you got your courage from them, and they in turn got their courage from you. You were a crew. To say you weren’t scared would be a lie. Many’s the time I hung tight to the [pause] especially on, when you get a bad take off and you don’t get off the ground at all due to weather conditions but that’s another story. You can’t. You can’t. Some get all the stories you need to get your memory, you know. But scared, yes. We were scared. We were scared. Especially when you were flying over the Ruhr and the ack ack was almost bouncing off the bottom of your aircraft. You could hear the crackle of it. Yes. Yes. Anything else?
DH: I don’t think so.
FM: I think I’ve been pretty thorough.
DH: You have. You have.
FM: I, as I said I had two further RAF lives after that but I don’t want to go into them all.
DH: No. No. After, so after VJ Day how, how did, what affect did the war have on you do you think?
FM: None at all.
DH: No.
FM: We were still going on targets. The fact that they were targets of a different lot, because the one lot was being prepared for VE day and the second lot afterwards. No. The only thing, you know, how can I put it? When we finished we didn’t know that we weren’t going to be called up for a second tour and would have done if it hadn’t been for the Americans dropping the atom bomb. If that hadn’t have happened after six months or more of it we would have been called back again.
DH: So, after you finished your tour how did the RAF occupy you?
FM: Well, that’s another life. I could go on then about a whole year flying down near here, and then a third tour. A third life when I managed to get appointed to the Test Pilot’s School and that’s where I finished.
DH: Are you able to tell me about the Test Pilot’s School?
FM: Yes. It’s very interesting. We’ll forget the next bit. That was a year literally at South Cerney just outside Gloucester where I was flying with advanced, advanced trainee pilots when they sent, and it was a two engined aircraft, an Oxford when they sent them out to do night trips. They were not allowed to go without a wireless operator because the wireless operator could get them home by getting directions. So that was literally a year. And then there was a message on the notice board, “Volunteers wanted for the Number 4 Empire Test Pilot’s School,” which was being transferred from Farnborough to [pause] I can’t think of the name now. Anyway, I’ve got it in here. It begins with a C. Yeah, that appears, Neville Duke. I flew with him once. Empire Test Pilot’s School. What am I trying to tell you?
DH: You transferred from Farnborough to —
FM: Right. No. They were transferred. I was still at the Advanced Flying Unit until the end of October ’45.
DH: Right.
FM: So, I’d been there a little over a year and they wanted volunteers. Wireless operators who would go to just a quick training school to teach them how to help a pilot flying on his own on a four engine aircraft. You’ll appreciate that if being able to handle all the throttles, being able to close down one or more engines, jobs like that we were taught and then we were sent off to this school. And when we got there, there was nothing there and the station commander called. He said, ‘Your warrant officer has just come through Martin so you’re going to be in charge.’ So, he said, ‘You set up this unit. There will be five others,’ he said, ‘We tried to get youngsters who haven’t had the — ’ he called it luck, ‘The luck to have a bombing life because they came in too late.’ So he said, ‘They’re raw youngsters most of them but,’ he said, ‘There is one senior man as well as you.’ And so we set up this. They gave us an office. Oh anyway, we set it up and eventually it was got going but it was months. A long, I don’t, I can’t remember why but anyway it was January’46 before we actually flew when they were ready as well. And we flew from this Empire Test Pilots School. From Cranfield. Couldn’t remember it. Cranfield, which is north of, north of Bedford. Anyway, we started flying there in January ’46 and we did very little flying because they didn’t, they weren’t always flying four engines. They only needed you when they were. But, you know you did some interesting small jobs with them. And then came my moment of, there came a time in May ’46 when I think we’d had a couple of these six taken ill with something, flu or something and suddenly we, we had to do a lot more because I got a book here when I’d flew four times on the 6th of May, five times on the 7th May, twice on the 8th of May, five times on the 9th of May. I don’t want to go on but you can see I was doing a lot then and during that time, you’ve never heard of Duke have you?
DH: No.
FM: Neville Duke.
DH: No. I haven’t.
FM: Well, he became, later on he became a test pilot and he became holder of the speed record and I, and I just flew with him once for forty five minutes. N. Fifty minutes. So that’s my fifty minutes of fame, and carried on there still flying and the last trip I did before I was demobbed, 8th of July ’46. Without this I couldn’t remember all those things.
DH: No.
FM: That was the best and the luckiest posting I ever had. Suddenly going from training pilots in night cross countries often being more scared than I ever was bombing, and suddenly getting pilots good enough to be test pilots, you know. It was an entirely different experience. And the fact that I’d became a warrant officer which helped a lot. Financially it helped a great deal.
DH: Yeah.
FM: Right. Any more questions?
DH: So after, after you were demobbed what were you going to do?
FM: Well, I was lucky you see. One of the reasons that I could safely volunteer was the company, and I’ve got a letter from the boss, what would I call him? Anyway, he was the boss, guaranteeing any member of the staff anywhere in all of the branches around the, that volunteered for the Services, whichever Service and came back were guaranteed a job. And I’ve got the letter from Hubert Burgess himself and he thanked me very much for my service, services, and understood my feeling of, of volunteering. And so when I got back I went down to the branch in Shrewsbury, had an appointment with a man named Richards who I worked for. He’d, he’d been too old, you know to go in. Anyway, he’d be too important to have to go in the Services and he said, ‘Yeah. When do you want to start?’ And I said, ‘Well, can you give me a week? I’ve got to find, I’ve got to find lodgings for the wife and, and my daughter.’ And so I think I started work, I think I started work on the 1st of September.
DH: Wow, that’s, that’s quite good, isn’t it? That’s very good.
FM: It was good.
DH: For them to say that.
FM: Because, because this man Richards and I had a very long working relationship and he, he pushed me up until I was eventually, you know in a very good job. So that’s really the story of how lucky we were that we came back. I mean, I can remember one very good high rating head office boy who went, and he went in the Air Force and he came back and he went back to a job and it happened. He kept his promise. Your job was there, and that was a marvellous thing, you know. You didn’t have to worry about your week’s wages did you?
DH: No. That’s quite something.
FM: Another thing he did. This is, this is only for your information because you had to recognise what money was worth. He instructed the wages people to put ten shillings a week in an envelope in the safe in my name.
DH: What? During the war?
FM: All the way, whole time I was through.
DH: No.
FM: For the whole of the time I was through he paid me ten shillings a week for fighting for me country.
DH: Wow.
FM: Believe me when we came out that money set up the furniture for our first place. Now, how many bosses would do that?
DH: Not many.
FM: But that’s actually absolutely true. They say, ‘Oh, ten shillings a week,’ but ten shillings a week then.
DH: Was a lot.
FM: Was a different kettle of fish. And anyway, he didn’t need to give me anything, did he? Guaranteeing me a job was sufficient without paying me ten shillings a week for five years.
DH: Wow, that’s quite —
FM: So you do get good bosses. You do get good bosses. Yes.
DH: Well, can I say thank you. You’ve been absolutely fascinating to listen to.
FM: No. I, I didn’t want to overdo it as I said. There’s the three lives. The second one I told you about flying trainee pilots around the skies over Gloucestershire were not a happy experience and then the Test Pilot’s School which was quite marvellous. Quite marvellous. Although to get in [laughs] this is not for you, I’m just talking to you, you get in, and this test pilot he says, ‘Well, Martin —’ or, yes. Well, yes. Sometimes they know your Christian name but you know there was, you weren’t together long enough. He’d say, ‘Well, I’m doing single engine flying today.’ So he said, ‘You know how to feather.’ That was what I was taught of course. I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘Be careful to feather in the order that I tell you because —’ he said, ‘I’ll have to adjust the balance of the aircraft.’ So you get quite happily tootling along and he says, ‘Feather outboard.’ So you press the button for stop the outboard and the engine dies and it’s just running in in the wind and he’s adjusting. And a little later he says, ‘Feather inboard.’ So you press the inboard button and that so he says, ‘We are now flying on two engines.’ That’s alright. And then he said, ‘Feather inboard,’ or whatever. The one he prefers. He may say that he prefers to feather inboard, or feather outboard of the other two and you do it and suddenly you’re flying or trying to fly a four engine bomber on one engine. It has its own moments. It has its moments. Oh yes. But you trusted them you see. They were skilled, and they had to be able to fly this bomber on one engine without losing height. Just keep it and they would, they passed. Anyway, enough about that.
DH: Which aircraft were they?
FM: Lancasters.
DH: They were Lancasters.
FM: Yes. And the latest model too. The latest Rolls twenty two engines I think. They had all the best to train on they did. Yeah. Anyway, thank you for coming. I don’t want to bore you to tears.
DH: You’re not boring me whatsoever.
FM: I mean, I was one of the lucky ones to have lived through it and to some extent to still have an active memory. I do need this because the dates sometimes run into one.
DH: It would be very difficult to remember all those dates.
FM: Oh yeah. Yes.
DH: Very difficult, one last question.
FM: Yeah.
DH: Have you got any you know, lighter moments. Any funny things that you can remember from your time on operations?
FM: You know, it’s hard to remember a funny thing. I think the funniest thing was not what happened on the day but what happened on the day had a remarkable [pause] how can I put it? Resurgence of life many years later. And I’ll tell you this, I can’t remember which daylight raid it was but the Polish squadron, Polish aircraft my pilot had got friendly with their pilot was in, landed in the next bay, and they were getting out and we were getting out and they had, one of the ground crew was a bit snap happy taking pictures and he came along and we grinned at him and he took the picture and that was it. Never thought anything about it. Now, this is one daylight raid towards the end of the, with my life at Faldingworth with the Poles. Now, how many years later? I would be [pause] Phyl had died so it was one of their anniversaries at Faldingworth and I got an invitation and I had a friend, a golfing friend who was very keen on anything to do with, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I’ll take you. I’d love to.’ He said, ‘I’ll take you willingly.’ I said, ‘Ok.’’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about driving,’ he said. I was still able to drive. I hadn’t reached this stage but it must have been ’87 ’97. Fifteen. It must have been fifteen years ago. An anniversary they had and that we went up and we went first thing and we went in to the village hall which was also now laid out with old photographs and everything to do with the Poles. And the Polish people, or the remnants were there and a lot of them had got tales to tell. And I was walking along here, this lady had got a book and she spoke English. She said, ‘Have a look at my records.’ She said, ‘Do you happen to know my father? He was a Polish pilot in this.’ And I said to her, ‘Apologies,’ I said, ‘We were only there three months. We never got really to know our own lot properly let alone — ’ ‘Oh, I understand.’ She said, ‘Have a look at my pictures.’ And she turned over a page and there was the photograph there that he’d taken what would be the best part of, if he’d taken it in ’44 and this would be in, in ’84. The best part of forty years later. And I squealed. I said, ‘You won’t believe it,’ I said. ‘That’s me.’ ‘Oh,’ she said, reading it. This was the pilot who was a friend. And this ground crew had taken, and it had got to her and she got it and there it was. A photograph of myself and oh, I remember the bomb aimer was there and the rear gunner. Unfortunately, the skipper hadn’t got out of the aircraft because we were only disembarking, you know.
DH: Yeah.
FM: But I can remember squealing. Then I called my friend, ‘Brian. Brian come and have a look at this.’ So he came along and I said, ‘Look at that.’ ‘Bloody hell,’ he said. I said would you believe that you could come to a place and see yourself forty years ago. And that was in effect, you could call that the most happy and unexpected —
DH: Yeah.
FM: Thing to happen. To find that you, your photograph had been taken and been kept in this, her father’s album.
DH: Yeah.
FM: And had got to her. Anyway, yes so that was I think that was a jolly tale. You know what I mean. It was a happy one.
DH: Yeah.
FM: Not a miserable one. A happy one.
DH: Well, thank you so much for talking to me, Keith.
FM: I could tell you one which is dead funny. Unbelievable but still it happened. You wouldn’t know, couldn’t know but during the war only bottled beer was available. There may have been draft beer in small quantities round about Burton on Trent and places like that but I mean normally bottled was the only beer. And the day we finished operations was a daylight raid so like it wasn’t like coming back in the middle of the night and so we all, we were all going to go down to Market Rasen which was only three and a half miles away. The skipper had arranged transport. He’s the boss now. He’s well thought of on the squadron and he arranged transport so we can drink as much as we like. So we go in to this hotel in Market Rasen. I wish I could remember its name but it’s there. We go in to the bar. It’s quite early. Not in to the bar. Went in, oh no we went in to the smoke room. Didn’t mix. We wanted a big room of our own and there’s seven of us sat around this table and the, and the navigator, Frank who came to see me from Canada who, thirty five years later, but he said, ‘The first round’s on me.’ We didn’t argue about a round. But he walked up to the bar and we could hear him. This young girl came and he said, he said, ‘I want fifty six pint bottles of beer please.’ She said [pause], ‘I’m not joking,’ he said, ‘I want fifty six pint bottles of beer.’ And they were all brought around our table. Eight of us, seven of us, supposed to drink eight each. The skipper could drink one. The navigator could manage twelve. I may have managed my eight at a push, but I think that particular order was the biggest individual order for beer I’ve ever heard placed.
DH: Yeah.
FM: Yeah. That was Frank. He was going to buy the first round so he did but there was never a second [laughs] Yes.
DH: Could you tell me the names of the people on that crew?
FM: I can. Very well. Pilot George Davies from Oswestry. Navigator Frank Yate from North Hamilton in, in Ontario. Bomb aimer Freddie [Pittey] from Newbury, trainee, a trainee teacher and went back to become a school teacher. Jock Gilchrist. Jock, obviously mid-upper gunner, Scottish from Ayr. The one, the one we found difficulty keeping in touch with and I don’t know why maybe he got married and moved around was the engineer. I’ll think of his name in a minute. And then the rear gunner was the oldest. Harry [Fay], a cockney from East, East Ham. Harry was the first to die. He had a heart attack and one by one they all dropped off leaving me, yeah. I even kept in touch with the wives. With the widows. The two widows that I mainly, because it was rather amazing when you think of I went to the wedding of the bomb aimer and I went to his silver [pause] Oh, let me think. If he was married in ’46, and I went to his golden wedding, that’s right. That’s right. He was married in ’46. Ninety. Yeah, that’s right. And Phyl was alive of course and at his golden wedding of course we were guests of honour fifty years later. That was one amazing thing. The skipper of course married a New Zealand nurse who then wanted to go home and he didn’t have no interest in his father’s business which was a business that I was in. And when he’d gone and I was living in Oswestry and his mum and dad were still alive in Oswestry, I used to visit them didn’t I? And his dad who used to run this big agricultural, owned it, that George wasn’t interested in because he was a Batchelor of Science in his own right on metallurgy. Anyway, that’s another story. Anyway, his father said to me, ‘Get in touch with your boss and tell him that when I’m ready to retire I want you to buy the business.’ Now, geographically it was perfect. We’d already moved from Oswestry when we bought out a company in Welshpool so one more step to new town was perfect. And it happened. He called me, ‘Come and see me. I want to retire,’ he said, I want to safeguard my staff,’ he said. ‘You get hold of your boss.’ Well I did and of course my boss, the big boss then contacted my boss Ben Richards who’d been with me all the lifetime and we went down and we looked and eventually we bought it. And because of that I was made what you’d call area supervisor, having already taken over Welshpool as well from Oswestry, and the funny thing to think that from that day when George Davis says, ‘You’re from Shropshire.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I’m a Salopian too. Would you fly with me?’ Comes years later his dad. It’s, you know —
DH: It’s amazing, isn’t it?
FM: It is. You can’t really believe these things happen. Yes. Yes. I’m glad I’ve got a pretty active memory because sometimes I can enjoy going back on a given period. I don’t have to go back on the lot. I can remember doing something that I never thought you’d do in the wartime. Have you heard of mayday?
DH: Of?
FM: Mayday. The word mayday.
DH: I know what the word mayday means. Yeah.
FM: What does it mean?
DH: It’s a call for help.
FM: Right. It’s also something you don’t use unless you’re in —
DH: Trouble.
FM: In trouble. And so I called mayday and I had to explain when we got down why, and this was with these trainee pilots. We were out one night in January and we were in a horrendous snowstorm. He quite rightly had lost his way. I could understand that. We got down to, over a big town at about four thousand feet or was it, sorry four hundred feet, and we could recognise it was Cheltenham. I also knew that we were, had a safe flying height over the Cotswolds of fourteen hundred feet, and we were flying at four hundred feet. So I tapped him on the shoulder and I [pause] ‘Oh yes,’ he said. We climbed up, and then we were lost, you know. We were close to home and yet lost so I called, ‘Mayday. Mayday.’ The answer, ‘Your requirements?’ And I just said, ‘Searchlights.’ And within no time the beams came up. We could see them and we came home. Got home. I got away with them. My reasons for mayday. They accepted it. I don’t know whether he got away with having lost, you know. I don’t know. I can’t remember, but I do remember that. Possibly being the most scary night of the, you don’t call mayday once in a lifetime. Yeah. And then have to say, go in front of the intelligence and tell them why you called mayday. A thing unknown. Mayday. Yes. Yes. A bad thunderstorm in an old fashioned aircraft is pretty terrible you know. I mean you can’t see anything. Not like these modern things where you’re, yes, enough of me. You’ll never get home ‘til tomorrow. You get me on my memories and I’ve got so many. So many.
DH: Well —
FM: I don’t know.
DH: If you wanted to chat another time and give me memories that would be wonderful.
FM: [unclear] Right. My legs get, slowly but surely they’re deteriorating. You’ve seen that medal haven’t you? That’s the —
DH: Let’s have a look.
FM: That’s the Legion d’Honneur.
DH: Oh yes. That’s beautiful isn’t it?
FM: It is.
DH: Beautiful.
FM: Put that there.
DH: Yes.
FM: It’s just something. I don’t know if I’ve got it. It won’t take a second to look. I’ll finish my coffee. So many documents that I’ve got which [pause] Different crew members but I don’t want to show you bits and pieces. I thought I’d got a [pause] There’s the skipper. What you can see of him. Only his head.
DH: Oh, inside the plane.
FM: No. I can’t see there’s anything particular. It’s hard to remember [laughs] I told you we were in civvy billets in Blackpool.
DH: Yes [pause] Ah, which one are you?
FM: Right in the middle, at the back.
DH: Oh right. Oh yes, nuisance.
FM: I’ll get it. I’ll get it.
DH: All right, love. I did get a little one of the two gunners. The rear and the mid-upper together.
FM: Yeah.
DH: I’ve got other photographs somewhere dear but I don’t know where they are.
FM: Ok. What I’ll do is, if we finish —
DH: Yes.
FM: If I finish of the interview now.
DH: Yeah.
FM: And then I’ll explain a few things. Ok. So, thank you very much.


Dawn Hughes, “Interview with Frederick Joseph Keith Martin,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 20, 2024,

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