Interview with Ronald Mather


Interview with Ronald Mather


Upon leaving school, Ronald was employed first as a pawnbrokers assistant, followed by butchers assistant. In 1943, upon reaching the age of 18 he followed his brothers footsteps and enlisted in the Royal Air Force. After initial training, he attended radio school at RAF Yatesbury where he was taught Morse code and the 1154/1155 radio. Flying training was carried out in a Proctor aircraft operating from RAF Bishops Court in Northern Ireland. On one occasion, flying over the Irish Sea, they were shot at from the Queen Mary. Following qualification, further experience was gained at RAF Husbands Bosworth on Ansons, at RAF Winthorpe on Stirlings, before completing his training at No. 5 Lancaster Finishing School, RAF Syerston on Lancasters. Posted to 49 Squadron, Ronald operated from RAF Fiskerton, RAF Fulbeck and finally RAF Syerston, completing his tour of 30 operations just before the end of the war. He describes the concern he used to feel on the 1000 bomber operations because of the closeness of surrounding aircraft. On one occasion a nearby gunner accidentally strafed his aircraft when carrying out a gun test, the bullets passing inches above his head. He recalls one experience when atmospherics of flying over the Alps affected him to the extent he firmly  believed that the figure of a person walked past the outside of his window. Having taken part in the Dresden bombing, he describes how he felt and also witnessing the flames from Dresden still being visible the night following when they were on a operation some 100 miles away. Following the completion of his tour, Ronald was posted to an airfield near Stratford Upon Avon as station warrant officer where German prisoners of war were being billeted. He was finally demobbed in December 1945.




Temporal Coverage




01:58:30 audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 29th of December 2017 and we’re in Nottingham talking to Ron Mather who was a signaller about his life and times. So, Ron what’s the earliest recollections you have of your life?
RM: I went to Radford Boulevard Junior School and we had quite a few, it was a good school and it was a very good educational school. And I went from there to Forster Street and then from Forster Street my mother and father moved to Aspley. And I went from there to William Crane School. I passed my eleven plus and I could have gone to Secondary School but my mother said no. From there I went to [pause] when I left school at fourteen I went to a pawnbroker and I was a couple of years as a pawnbroker’s assistant and I used to write about a thousand pledges on a Monday with people coming in from the Windmill Road which was a poor selection, section of Nottingham and it ruined my handwriting I’ve no doubt [laughs] And then from there my mother got me a job at the butcher’s shop opposite where we lived in Aspley and I stayed there as a butcher until I volunteered for the RAF.
CB: What did your father do as a job?
RM: He was a baker.
CB: So why —
RM: A good baker.
CB: Why —
RM: One of the best in Nottingham.
CB: Right. So why didn’t you go into his business?
RM: Because my mother got me a job. In them days your mother, your mother told you what you was doing. And it was rather convenient because I was here and the butcher’s shop was just across the road. So as I say I stayed there until I volunteered for the RAF.
CB: So, what prompted you to volunteer for the RAF?
RM: I volunteered for the RAF because my brother volunteered for the RAF and he became a wireless operator air gunner. And unfortunately, he was killed after, on his second op.
CB: So what was he like?
RM: Took some, he was brilliant. He was very very very clever. When he left school he went to work at Pickford’s and they made him the manager after he’d only been there for four months.
CB: And he was —
RM: So that was the sort of thing I had to, I’m not saying that I am not intelligent because I am reasonably intelligent but nothing like he was. And then of course I joined the RAF at eighteen in April the 5th 1943.
CB: Ok. And where was that?
RM: I joined at St Johns Wood in London.
CB: And what happened when you were there? What did you do?
RM: Well, it was just a reception area and from there I went to ITW for training. Military training and discipline. Learning the discipline and then from there I went to Radio School in Yatesbury in Wiltshire.
CB: So what sort of things did you do in your initial training?
RM: Morse Code. Fortunately, I was very good at Morse Code and I could do up to thirty words a minute. So I thought that when I was, when I left the RAF I was going to take that as a job but I didn’t. I went as a baker.
CB: Ok.
RM: So I got to work with my father [laughs]
CB: Yeah.
RM: When I left the RAF.
CB: Secure job.
RM: Yeah. I went to, he was canteen manager at Chilwell COD and he worked the canteen. He was in charge of the canteen. So I became the baker.
CB: Right.
RM: And I went to radio, to the school, the University at Nottingham and got my City and Guilds in Food Technology.
CB: Right.
RM: And became a manager.
CB: Right.
RM: Later on.
CB: So back to your early days in the RAF.
RM: Yeah.
CB: You did your initial training at ITW.
RM: Yes. And then —
CB: And you did Morse Code there. What other things would you have to do?
RM: Well, it was more or less discipline than anything and keep getting you fit. It’s teaching you discipline and fitness which I was pretty, well because I played football [laughs] so I was pretty fit anyway and of course I wanted to be as good as my brother which I suppose I succeeded in the end. Better than him because I managed to survive.
CB: What influence do you think your brother had on you?
RM: Pardon?
CB: What influence did your brother have on you?
RM: He had a hell of an influence. I wanted to be him. He was very, as I said he was very clever so I wanted to be clever. I wasn’t. I was nowhere near as clever as him but I wanted to be like him. Yeah. So of course, when he got killed, when he went in the RAF I volunteered and I was lucky enough to get in the RAF because they wanted them at that time, aircrew at that time because that’s when they really started to build up the Bomber Command.
CB: So what, when was he killed on his second op? When was that?
RM: Just a minute.
CB: I’ll just pause for a mo.
[recording paused]
RM: Same as —
CB: I think I think an interesting point if I may just go back to it is this. You said that both your brother and you —
RM: Yeah.
CB: Passed the eleven plus.
RM: Yeah.
CB: But your mother didn’t want you to go on to further —
RM: No. No. We didn’t go to either.
CB: The next level of education. Why was that?
RM: Because she wanted the money. She was a, she was like that I’m afraid. Very much so.
CB: So how did your brother and you feel about not going on to the next level of education?
RM: Not very happy actually. Especially him. But then again he went to Pickford’s and within a month —
CB: This is the removals people.
RM: Yeah, it’s a removals firm. They realised how clever he was and they made him a manager at about he must have been only about sixteen.
CB: Yeah. Right.
RM: I wasn’t as lucky [laughs] I was a butcher. But nevertheless I went to and got City and Guilds in Food Technology.
CB: Later on.
RM: And art as well.
CB: Yeah. So just exploring the family situation here your father was a baker.
RM: Correct.
CB: He had his own business from baking?
RM: No. No.
CB: He worked for other people.
RM: He worked, he went as in charge of the bakery at the COD Chilwell.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And then when I came out the RAF the firm wanted to send me out of Nottingham as a baker.
CB: Yes.
RM: So my dad turned around to me and he said, ‘You come and work for me. With me in Chilwell COD.’ So I went and I worked seven and half years in Chilwell COD and while I was there as I say I went to Technical College and Art College and got my degrees.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And then I became manager of the firms.
CB: And what did COD stand for? Ordnance depot was it?
RM: Yes. Ordnance. Civilian Ordnance Depot.
CB: Ordnance Depot. Right. So the family house. What was that? Was it detached?
RM: Similar to this.
CB: In a terrace or —
RM: No. Similar to this.
CB: Similar to this. Semi-detached.
RM: Yes. It was, it’s just up the road. Not far up the road.
CB: Right.
RM: It was a similar house to that.
CB: To the ones over there.
RM: You see that.
CB: With tile hung on the walls.
RM: Yeah. It’s like this, yeah.
CB: What, what sort of facilities did you have in the house?
RM: Everything.
CB: Except?
RM: Everything.
CB: Was the toilet in the house or in the garden?
RM: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
CB: It was.
RM: We had everything there.
CB: So you had everything there.
RM: Don’t forget now we’re talking about 1946.
CB: I’m talking about, I’m talking about when you were at school.
RM: When I was at school we lived in a terrace house and the toilet was outside. And it was the gasman cometh. And as I said we had the radio on the floor and the family that lived just near the bottom of us was Sillitoe. The writer. And as I say I went to Radford Boulevard. Then I went to [unclear] Street then from there I went up to this one.
CB: To the one at the top of the road.
RM: Right.
CB: You said the radio was on the floor.
RM: In the basin.
CB: Yes. So why was that?
RM: Because it was 1924.
CB: Right.
RM: There weren’t such a thing as radios then. This [laughs] this was a radio with a —
CB: Sort of —
RM: What do you call it? A battery.
CB: A crystal set.
RM: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: And the effect of putting it in a steel basin was to amplify the sound.
RM: Yeah. And we sat around it.
CB: Right.
RM: That was the way it went.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Not for long of course because then of course the old-fashioned wireless came out.
CB: Ok. So that’s really useful for background. Thank you very much. We’ve talked about you joining the RAF. You went to the Radio School at Yatesbury.
RM: Yeah.
CB: What did you, what was the training at Yatesbury? What did it comprise?
RM: Well, they taught us the Morse Code. Taught us to operate that thing.
CB: Which is a radio.
RM: The 1155.
CB: Radio. Yes.
RM: And the 1154 which was a transmitter. And discipline of course to a certain extent. Not a lot. It was, it was quite good as well. I really enjoyed Radio School.
CB: What were the other people like who were with you?
RM: Very good. They were all, we were all mates. Of course, when I passed out at Radio School I became a sergeant then.
CB: While you were training you were what rank?
RM: Cadet. I just had that. Same as that photograph of Reg.
CB: Yes.
RM: With a white —
CB: So a forage cap with a white flash.
RM: I had a forage cap with a white thing in it that showed that I was trainee aircrew.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Yeah. It was marvellous when I went to the Palais de Dance. I could get some women I’ll tell you. Being a short ass it didn’t help matters but being aircrew in Nottingham it was something because they had Syerston and we had an awful lot of airmen come in to Nottingham in the 1940s.
CB: So what, the code for short ass —
RM: Yeah.
CB: Means vertically challenged.
RM: [laughs] Yeah. Yeah.
CB: In other words you were shorter than some people.
RM: Five foot one I was when I went into the RAF.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Five foot one. And I’ve got a grandson that’s six foot five. How does that happen?
CB: Obviously been fed well in his early years. So, at the Radio School then what sort of opportunities were they telling you you would have next? So you were being trained as aircrew.
RM: We were being trained by Morse Code and how to signal, how to take signals, how to transmit, how to receive and how to look after, to a certain extent the 1155 and the 1154.
CB: We’ve got one of those in the room with us. That’s why we raised it.
RM: I know you have. I saw it. It’s in the [toilet]. Yeah.
CB: Just for the tape. This is the early days of radar so to what extent did you touch on that? H2S I’m thinking of particularly.
RM: We, I’m just trying to think when we started Monica. That didn’t come ‘til later.
CB: So Monica is a tail warning radar receiver.
RM: Yeah. That’s right. And that was at OTU.
CB: Right.
RM: So we didn’t get that at Yatesbury because it wasn’t even invented.
CB: No. So you come to the end of the course at Yatesbury which was how long roughly?
RM: Well [pause] I joined in April the 5th. I went to what’s the name and then I went there so it must be about six months I would say.
CB: Yeah. And what was the passing out parade like?
RM: We didn’t have one. It was Christmas. We never had a passing out parade. But we did get the brevet.
CB: So who put the brevet on?
RM: And now we were the first ones to have the S brevet because normally all they had was the sparks on here and an AG badge.
CB: Yes.
RM: But I didn’t take firing a —
CB: You didn’t do gunnery at all.
RM: I didn’t do gunnery at all.
CB: No.
RM: Because they’d started this radar system.
CB: And it —
RM: And they knew we was going to come in to that and have to operate the radar system [unclear]
CB: They expanded the syllabus.
RM: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: They expanded the syllabus to take on these other items.
RM: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Right. Ok. So how did, how did your course end in terms of putting the brevet on to your tunic? Was there any formalised putting that on or —
RM: No.
CB: You sewed it on yourself.
RM: I came in. We came back from a meal and it was underneath. You know how you used to have your blankets?
CB: Yeah.
RM: All set out.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
RM: Then your hat. My brevet was underneath my hat. That’s how I got it.
CB: Right.
RM: Because of course it was Boxing, it was Christmas Day.
CB: Just coming up. Yeah.
RM: Yeah. So they were more bothered about Christmas than that.
CB: Of course. What about your sergeant’s stripes? Were they also there?
RM: That was there. They were with it.
CB: In the pile as well.
RM: That’s it. That’s how I got. I didn’t get presented.
CB: Right.
RM: We didn’t have a passing out parade.
CB: No.
RM: No.
CB: And at what stage did you know your posting? Did they tell you there or did they get it later?
RM: No. No. They said I could go on four weeks leave [pause] on a fortnights leave, I beg your pardon and we would be notified as to where I was going.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And then we got notification that I was going to Bishops Court in Northern Ireland and that I had to make my way up to Lossiemouth in Scotland. And you can imagine a eighteen and a half year old man going up there on his own. Somewhere he’d never even been and my, let’s put it this way. My travels were limited. I went to Skegness perhaps once or twice. So it was quite, and then to go across to Ireland and then getting in Ireland and then going to Bishops Court where I hadn’t even got a clue where it was. But it, was an education.
CB: What did you mean about Lossiemouth because that’s in Scotland so how did you come to go there?
RM: Well, we had to. I had to go up to Lossiemouth in Scotland.
CB: First.
RM: Go over to Belfast on the ferry. And then from the ferry at Belfast go to Bishops Court.
CB: Ok. I think, ok, we need to clarify the geography on that. Yeah. Right. Ok. So Bishops Court. What were you doing there? It’s an OTU.
RM: That’s when we started flying.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And in Proctors I think.
CB: Oh right. How did you feel?
RM: Eh?
CB: How did you feel about that?
RM: Marvellous. I did. Thought it was marvellous. But then there’s only one trouble is that at that time there was trouble with the, the Irish factions.
CB: Yeah. The IRA.
RM: The IRA.
CB: Yeah.
RM: So there was places we couldn’t go in.
CB: Right.
RM: Because if you went in there we’d get beat up.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Because there was, and that’s how it was at that time.
CB: So what was the nearest big town to Bishops Court?
RM: Oh, God. What was it?
CB: Was it up by Londonderry?
RM: Oh dear. I don’t, I can’t remember the name.
CB: Ok.
RM: But we used to go in the pub and I had, my mate was six foot two so he’d go in first. And the bar was long like that. RAF, ordinary Irish and IRA. This is true. And before the night was finished one lot was fighting the other. Sometimes it was the IRA and the RAF or sometimes it was the IRA and their own people but that’s how it was in them days believe it or not.
CB: And you kept going back because you liked the action.
RM: Oh of course. He used to carry me on his shoulders [laughs] He was a Scotsman. MacMillan his name was.
CB: Macmillan. Yeah.
RM: As I say he was about six foot two he was, and I was five foot one don’t forget [laughs] And then we went from there to, when I was at Bishops Court we was flying over the Atlantic. No. Over the Irish Sea. We were in a Proctor which is a smaller, a real small —
CB: A single engine. Yeah. Gipsy engine.
RM: And all of a sudden we had anti-aircraft fire all around us and we looked down and there was the Queen Mary and we was getting too near it so they fired at us. Yeah. When you come to think of it it’s, you can understand why because I mean they didn’t have anything did they?
CB: No.
RM: They had a couple of guns on one end of it.
CB: Yeah. Well, it relied on speed.
RM: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And that’s if you got too near. They didn’t aim at you.
CB: Right.
RM: But they did fire at, fire and let you know you’re too close.
CB: The shells were bursting.
RM: But of course, there would be thousand of troops in that. In the Queen Mary.
CB: Right. So Bishops Court was flying these small Proctors.
RM: Smaller aircraft. Yeah.
CB: And from there —?
RM: We went to Husbands Bosworth.
CB: Yeah.
RM: In Warwickshire. And there we went in to the Blenheims.
CB: Right.
RM: No. Anson.
CB: Right.
RM: Ansons. Not Blenheims. Ansons. Two. Two engines.
CB: Small. Yeah.
RM: From there we learned to send signals.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And receive signals.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Then you had to pass out there. I managed to pass out first there.
CB: Right. So did they have, did you go to a bigger aircraft there or did you have to move somewhere else?
RM: As I say went to a two engine Anson.
CB: No. No. From the Anson.
RM: From the Anson we went to —
CB: Did you go to Wellingtons there or did you go to somewhere else?
RM: No. We went to Wellingtons.
CB: Yes. Was it on that?
RM: Husbands Bosworth.
CB: It was at the same place.
RM: No. It was a subsidiary of Husbands Bosworth.
CB: Right.
RM: You know. There was two.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And then we went on to Wellingtons where we got straight into the 1154 and the 1155.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And then from the Wellingtons we went to Newark to go on to the Stirling.
CB: To Winthorpe.
RM: And then from Stirlings we went to Number 5 Radio School at Syerston to go from Stirlings to the Lancaster.
CB: Yes. On the Lancaster Finishing School.
RM: It was —
CB: How did you feel about that?
RM: Fantastic. It was marvellous. It was. It was. I went, I can always remember the first time when they had these air shows. The starting of the air shows. So I went. I was probably fifty at the time and I thought God how big that is and yet I hadn’t thought it was big when I was flying in it.
CB: Yeah. Years later you’re talking about.
RM: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: So from the Lancaster Finishing School at Syerston.
RM: We went to a place. To Scampton —
CB: Right.
RM: For a fortnight while we was designated our squadrons.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And then it was either 44 Squadron which was a Rhodesian squadron or 49 Squadron which was the one I went to at a place called, was it Snitterfield?
CB: Right.
RM: I can’t remember. Then we went there and within two days we was on ops.
CB: So going back to Winthorpe, sorry to Husbands Bosworth you’re then crewing up. So you’ve done your specialist training in the smaller planes.
RM: Oh yes.
CB: The Anson.
RM: I beg your pardon. At Husbands Bosworth we crewed up.
CB: Right.
RM: Right.
CB: So how did that work?
RM: This fella, I was operating a set, you know and this fella walks in. He said, ‘Would you like to belong to my crew?’ So I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Righto. Ok.’ And that’s how, that’s how it happened. And then later on of course we met the whole crew.
CB: So he was the pilot was he? The captain.
RM: Yeah.
CB: Who came in.
RM: Yes. He was the pilot. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Willie. Willie.
CB: Yeah. Right. So he, Willie Williams, yeah he had —
RM: Jay. Jay. His name. His name must have been John I think but we called him Willie. Everybody called him Willie. So —
CB: And he was a flight lieutenant at that time.
RM: He was. Yeah.
CB: So he’d already been around a bit.
RM: No. I think —
CB: Was he?
RM: No. He was, he was a flying officer.
CB: Right.
RM: He got his flight lieutenant when we was actually on the squadron at Fiskerton.
CB: Right. Ok. At Fiskerton.
RM: Yeah.
CB: Right.
RM: That’s where we started our ops. Fiskerton.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And from Fiskerton we went to Fulbeck. And then from Fulbeck we went to Syerston and I finished my tour at Syerston.
CB: Ok. So what did you do after your tour ended?
RM: They said, right, I went to a place near Stratford upon Avon as the station warrant officer which was the absolute it was, it was nothing because it’s only a little one. It was all German prisoners of war and things like that. So that’s what I was looking after. And I stayed there until I left.
CB: When? When were you demobbed?
RM: December. Everything [laughs] everything finished up in December.
CB: Fantastic.
RM: Yeah.
CB: ‘45 or ’46?
RM: December ’45. And I got three months leave.
CB: But it was your demob.
RM: That was my demob. I did sign on. I thought about signing on actually because they said that we’d be able to continue flying. But they’d got too many so I didn’t get it.
CB: Oh. You applied but they didn’t select you.
RM: Oh yeah. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
RM: I didn’t get it because there was too many lordships around and there was, that was definitely a fact. That if you were an ordinary person the officers got preference.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Naturally. Because that was the RAF in the old days wasn’t it? And I suppose it still is now. I don’t know.
CB: So you were the SWO at the prisoner of war camp. Just to explain that.
RM: Yeah.
CB: SWO is the Station Warrant Officer.
RM: Station warrant officer. Yeah.
CB: At what point had you been appointed to warrant officer?
RM: Every year I got higher.
CB: Yeah. It was a staged process.
RM: It was a staged process. I went from sergeant. And then sergeant to flight sergeant. And then from flight sergeant to warrant officer.
CB: Right.
RM: And then while I was at [pause] SWO.
CB: Yeah. At Stratford upon Avon.
RM: I became a sergeant. They demoted me to sergeant and I finished up as a sergeant.
CB: Because it was —
RM: That was the way they did it.
CB: In practise as far as they were concerned you were acting warrant officer.
RM: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: But you were working —
RM: I went from station warrant officer to looking after these POWs.
CB: Yeah.
RM: That’s when I was demobbed.
CB: Demoted. Yeah.
RM: Demoted.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Because they said I couldn’t have that authority. No.
CB: Was this prison, a German prisoner of war camp, or a prisoner of war camp of Germans on an airfield or was it somewhere separate from that?
RM: Oh yeah. It was on an airfield. Yeah.
CB: At Marston was it? Or —
RM: No. I can’t remember what it was called. I know it was about four miles outside Stratford on Avon.
CB: Ok. Well, we’ll come to it.
RM: Because we used to go to Stratford a lot.
CB: Yeah. Ok. So, let’s go back to your operations.
RM: Yeah.
CB: So, your first operation. Where, what was that? Was that an exciting experience?
RM: My first one was Handorf. Handorf. And then I know where the second one was because it was a place called Karlsruhe which was in right the north. In Norway I think it was. Karlsruhe, it was.
CB: In Germany.
RM: Yeah. It’s in Germany but right at the top.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And the battlefield, the German battlefield.
CB: Battleships.
RM: The ships were there so we went and bombed it.
CB: That was Kiel wasn’t it?
RM: No. Karlsruhe.
CB: Yes, but —
RM: Then we went, my next one was Kaiser, no Kaiserslautern. That was up north of Germany as well. We got picked out because it was a good crew. And then from there I went to Düren. Then Gravenhorst. The Urft Dam. That was after the, it was a similar sort of thing as the Dambusters.
CB: Yeah.
RM: [laughs] things. It didn’t get the publicity of that, of course.
CB: No.
RM: And then I went to Munich. That was nine hours.
CB: What was Munich like?
RM: We went three times to Munich. It was one hell of a long trip and coming back from one, and this is true I phoned the skipper up. I said, ‘Skipper, where are we?’ He said, ‘We’re just over the Alps.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve just seen someone walk past my turret.’ And I swear to this day that I saw somebody walk by my, I do really.
CB: Whereabouts?
RM: In the Alps. We were flying over the Alps.
CB: No, yeah but where were they walking?
RM: They just walked past the window.
CB: Right.
RM: So that was fanciful I suppose. And that was Munich. Gravenhorst. I went there again. I think I only went to the what’s the name where all the things were. What did they used to call it? Where all the munitions and that was made. The area.
CB: What? The Ruhr?
RM: Yeah.
CB: The Ruhr.
RM: I only went to the Ruhr about, I went to [Gardena]
CB: In Italy.
RM: Yeah. Yeah. That was in Italy. They were all nine hour trips, you know.
CB: So, going. Taking the Italian trips did you do Spezia as well?
RM: Pardon?
CB: Did you do Spezia? Spezia or, anyway going to Italy.
RM: Yeah.
CB: You had to fly through the Alps did you?
RM: Yeah.
CB: So what was —
RM: We went over —
CB: What was that like?
RM: We went over Switzerland.
CB: Yes. Oh, you did.
RM: It was tiring. I can tell you that. And I went to Karlsruhe again. Ladbergen. That was in the Ruhr again isn’t it? Yeah. And then the one.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Dresden.
CB: Go on.
RM: I went to Dresden. I have never seen [pause] we went to a place called Rositz the day after which was an oil refinery a hundred miles from Dresden and we could see the flames of Dresden a hundred miles away. We were told to drop the bombs indiscriminately. Well, that’s where I, that’s what the bomb aimer said. So that’s what we did,
CB: As a crew when you were on the Dresden raid how did you actually handle that yourselves? What did you think about it on that day?
RM: Not very much. Not a lot. It’s a thousand bomber raid don’t forget. So you’d got aircraft all over and you could see some of them being hit and all you could see was the aeroplane just exploding in a ball of flame.
CB: Right.
RM: And that was nine people gone. Or seven people gone. So we made our run and then my skipper [pause] went down to five hundred feet and went down so low he said because people, fighters couldn’t follow us down there. So he knew what he was doing. He was a clever man. A clever man. We got, we got attacked three times. We got shot at three times but we were lucky. We thought we had a direct hit on one but you couldn’t, you couldn’t tell really. But the next one, not Berlin, I beg your pardon. Lutzendorf. Where is it? Where’s [pause]. Berlin. No. Where is it? Oh, it must be the last one. When they crossed the Rhine we bombed the German on the other side. And as we were going around to settle up all of a sudden de de de and the bullets, I’m glad I was only five foot because the bullets went all the way across.
CB: Through the fuselage.
RM: One of the chaps was testing his guns. He didn’t test them. He bloody well fired them and it went straight across my head and just missed my head. So that’s why I consider I’m a lucky person.
CB: So are you talking about somebody else’s gunner or your gunner?
RM: No. Somebody else’s gunner.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Checking his guns. But where was I? Wesel. Wesel.
CB: Ok.
RM: That was where that was. Wessel. Mid-upper gunner [unclear] [laughs] So we must have had a what’s the name because of course he finished his tour early.
CB: What do you mean happened?
RM: Pardon?
CB: What do you mean? Must have had a what?
RM: Well, he only did about twenty with us.
CB: And then he left.
RM: Yeah.
CB: So are we talking about LMF?
RM: Oh no. No. No. No. No [pause] No. No.
CB: What did you mean then about the mid-upper gunner?
RM: I think you did thirty the first one and twenty the second one. I’m not sure.
CB: Oh right. So he came to the end of his tour.
RM: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Right.
RM: And he disappeared. So I got a phone call from my mum. She said, ‘Do you know Crawshaw is here?’ And he come and stopped at our house for a month. He was like that. He was really. [unclear]
CB: He’d run out of women had he?
RM: Oh boy, did he have some women. [pause] That’s funny.
CB: Ron’s looking through the squadron record for these ops. What was your last op then?
RM: The 4th of May. Now that’s, that’s wrong because what’s the name as I said we was just coming back from a training flight and Mr Williams nearly hit the bank so they stopped him and I went. And a Mr Philipson Stow [talking to someone outside room] and we went to a crew called Philipson Stow and I’m sure I took a couple or three with him.
CB: Three ops with them.
RM: Yeah. But it was only just going across and bombing German troops.
CB: Right.
RM: That was all.
CB: So what are we talking about. This was early ’45 was it?
RM: Yeah. Early ’45.
CB: Right. And daylight or in the dark?
RM: Both.
CB: Right. We’ll just pause there for a mo.
[recording paused]
Other: Did you get on with him?
RM: He was good looking and knew it but he could just go and see a woman and he’d be with her.
CB: This is Crawshaw.
RM: Yeah.
CB: A lothario you’d say.
RM: A real lothario. Yeah.
Other: He had plenty of that.
RM: Yeah. Different to me [laughs]
CB: Yeah [laughs] Yeah. So how did the other crew feel about that?
RM: Oh.
CB: Envious?
RM: Let’s put it this way. The officers were the officers and the sergeants were the sergeants. My mid-upper —
CB: What, your rear gunner? Anderson.
RM: I’m just trying to, the bomb aimer.
CB: Oh yes.
RM: Came as a sergeant.
CB: Bert Crowther.
RM: He got offered his commission.
CB: Right.
RM: So he went with, the navigator was a flying officer and so the officers were the officers. We didn’t mix.
CB: Not even socially.
RM: No.
CB: At all.
RM: No. No.
CB: So what was your main entertainment when you were off duty?
RM: Women [laughs]
CB: On the airfield?
RM: Well, we just did the normal things that we did. You know what I mean is the sergeants were altogether.
CB: In the sergeant’s mess.
RM: Yeah. In the sergeant’s mess. And we used to have. When I come to think of it I don’t drink now. We used to have a five star special which was whisky, rum and three more shorts all together.
CB: In a pint glass.
RM: And the beer was Dublin. What was it called? Guinness.
CB: Guinness. Right.
RM: So we had that and a Guinness and we’d have about five of them. Well, who knows what tomorrow was bringing? We didn’t, we never knew whether we was going back did we? And we had some nice girlfriends as well [laughs] But we had a hell of a life. I had a good life in the RAF. Yeah.
CB: What I was looking for was where the socialising took place because it was limited on the airfield.
RM: Yeah.
CB: So did you —
RM: No. Didn’t.
CB: Did they have dances at all on the airfield?
RM: Oh, we had dances.
CB: But not drinking.
RM: In the sergeant’s mess and the officer’s mess. We didn’t mix.
CB: Right.
RM: The officers didn’t mix.
CB: So —
RM: We, when we got in the crew, when we got together we was one. Soon as we got in that aircraft we were one. The whole lot. When they left the air force, the aircraft we had our own lives. My skipper as I say owned a whisky distillery in Southern Ireland and he’d got a ruddy great car and he had his girlfriend come from Ireland and stop in Newark. So all he was bothered about was whipping off in his car and that. I had a motorbike. I remember that. But that was the way it was. But we had a good life. I think so. I had, I had a magnificent time in the RAF.
CB: And going out to the local pubs was there enough beer there or did they run out sometimes?
RM: I only drank in the sergeant’s mess. When we went out all I had was a couple of pints. That was all. But when we were in the sergeant’s mess because we knew they could stagger back across into our billet which were just across the parade ground. Yes. I did have a wonderful time really. I got hit in the back of the head with a flare from a verey pistol.
CB: When? Oh, on a night out.
RM: In Syerston. Yeah. I was walking to the sergeant’s mess and this chap fired this. Fired it and it hit me on the back of the head.
CB: No lasting damage.
RM: I don’t know [laughs]. My wife said yes there was lasting damage.
CB: Made your head rattle didn’t it?
RM: Oh yes. It did. It did. Yes. I had a good life really. I did really.
CB: So going to the operations.
RM: Yeah.
CB: Then you said Munich was really difficult going nine hours three times.
RM: Yeah. Yeah. Because we had to go over the Alps and come back.
CB: So you took the route over the Alps did you?
RM: Over the Alps to the top of Italy and then come back.
CB: Oh, did you really?
RM: Yeah. Yeah. That was the worst one.
CB: What was the most difficult? Why was it bad?
RM: Then again they were only our squadron. It wasn’t like the others. Like Dresden and what’s the name because they were thousand bomber raids so you got the aircraft all around you there whereas when you went to Dresden err what’s the name?
CB: Munich.
RM: Munich. You was on your own. Just the squadron.
CB: Right.
RM: Yeah.
CB: So flying through the mountains was that the most difficult? Is that what you meant was made them difficult?
RM: Yeah. And the fact that it was so long. Don’t forget when you sit up there in a confined space for about, I think it was seven and a half hours or nine hours. Something like that. It might say it in there. How long it took.
CB: Yeah. The Munich one is nine hours isn’t it?
RM: Yeah.
CB: Because of the distance.
RM: Yeah.
CB: And then you didn’t —
RM: And all you do is just call the crew every so often to see. I had to call the crew to see whether they were alright. And then of course towards the latter end we had what was called [pause] fitted to the aircraft.
CB: Monica?
RM: Monica.
CB: Or H2S?
RM: H2S. We had H2S anyway.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And then we had Monica.
CB: Right.
RM: Halfway through our tour.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Where I directed the, I had a screen in front of me.
CB: Right.
RM: And I directed, and I directed the tail bomber.
CB: Yeah.
RM: As to where he was and I was telling him I’d looked at the screen and I told him where the fighter was.
CB: So it wasn’t just showing there was a fighter behind. You could actually see.
RM: Oh, I could see it from the —
CB: Whether it left, right or up and down.
RM: Yeah. And they were, and I guided. I guided the, but not the mid-upper turret.
CB: No.
RM: Curiously enough.
CB: So, and did he engage those planes or did he ever shoot at them?
RM: Oh yeah.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Yeah. Yes. Yes.
CB: And how many did he shoot down?
RM: Well, we think one. We think one definite.
CB: Because it disappeared from your screen did it?
RM: Yeah. Yeah. We think we hit, definitely but don’t forget my rear gunner was a pilot.
CB: Oh, was he? And what had happened to him?
RM: Nothing. They made the pilot, you know when Monica first came out they thought that rear gunners weren’t intelligent enough. This is the RAF. I mean, thought they weren’t intelligent so they took these twelve pilots and made them rear gunners. And my, my rear gunner was a pilot. So when the people saw him they’d said, ‘But you’ve got a pilot. What’s the pilot?’ I said, ‘That’s where we back the plane up.’ And they believed it. It’s true. It’s true. He was a short ass the same as me.
CB: Yeah. How did he feel about being the rear gunner?
RM: Pardon?
CB: How did he feel as a pilot about having that role?
RM: Aye, it was something we took for granted. Everything we did was for a purpose.
CB: Yeah.
RM: We had a, we had a good bonhomie if you understand for the crew. Everybody. As I say we called the skipper Willie.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Never —
CB: Flight lieutenant —
RM: Squadron leader.
CB: Yeah.
RM: As he became squadron leader.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And he became flight commander later on. But he was Willie to us and the other officers, the bomb aimer and I we were friends. He was there but of course when he first came on the crew he was a sergeant and then he got his commission while he was flying with us and we used to go out together. But the officers kept themselves to themselves in their amusement because of course we couldn’t go in the officer’s mess. We could go in the sergeant’s mess but —
CB: So as a group of sergeants although there was flight sergeant and you became a warrant officer how did you feel about the crew from a social point of view working separately?
RM: We didn’t consider it separate. What we, we had two lives. We had flying and we had leisure and they were two separate parts. Two separate items if you understand. We went our way and they went, as soon as we finished flying and that they went their way. That was the officer’s mess and we went to the sergeant’s mess. That was the way but there was, there was no disagreement. We never had an argument. We had a fantastic attitude. All of us. You know, we were really tremendous. But [laughs] as regards you were saying what we thought about the RAF I thought that the RAF was officers and airmen. There was just that was it. You were either an officer or you were an airman and they didn’t mix. We mixed in the plane because we weren’t officer and airman. We were skipper and wireless operator if you understand. That’s how we had a fantastic feeling in the crew.
CB: And on the professional side you’re talking about then to what extent was there an interchangeability of skills in the aircraft? In other words could the bomb aimer fly the aeroplane?
RM: Yes. And the, the bomb aimer and the engineer could fly the plane. They were the only two that had lessons if you like.
CB: They’d had training on flying before.
RM: They could take over the flying.
CB: Right.
RM: The rest of us, we couldn’t because we were lower crew.
CB: And the navigator?
RM: He didn’t. No. Because his job was getting us there and getting us back which he was very, he was brilliant at. The way he’d ask me. I used to take positionals. Tell him where we was as regards from the RAF, from the radio I’d get a fix as to where we were and that would confirm where he was on his maps.
CB: Right.
RM: Yes. Well as regards to doing our job in the aircraft we were different if you understand what I mean.
CB: Completely different approach. Yeah.
RM: Yeah. You did.
CB: In your direction finding your position gaining position. What was the process of finding out the, making the fix? In other words this was —
RM: I used to phone a certain number and I’d press my key and they’d take a direction finding on me and then tell me where we were and then I’d tell the what’s the name. And then I had that job and I also later on I had, this is why they made signallers because of the —
CB: Monica.
RM: Monica.
CB: And H2S.
RM: Yeah. Yeah, and I had that as well.
CB: And did you operate the H2S or was that not used a lot?
RM: No. That was —
CB: The mapping radar effectively.
RM: Yeah. I told them that. I informed this, the navigator exactly where we were and what but yeah. I did.
CB: So when you said you phoned them up you would, how would you actually get the position because you’d normally have radio silence would you not?
RM: It was radio silence over the, over the bomb.
CB: Right.
RM: When we was, you had radio silence as soon as you reached the target.
CB: On the run in.
RM: That was it.
CB: The run in to the target.
RM: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
RM: But then again you see as soon as you come out the skipper had because he, he was a bugger. Straight down. I don’t know whether the others did. That was what they did. What we did. Straight down. And he’d be flying over rooftops more or less.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And then the fighters couldn’t see you because they couldn’t make an attack.
CB: But you said on one occasion you had three attacks.
RM: Oh yeah. Oh yes. We did.
CB: How was, how did that help?
RM: That was coming back.
CB: Yes.
RM: Going back we had to be in the bomber stream.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And you’d have what fifty or sixty fighters come and attack the bomber stream because we was all going together. I mean we’d have planes what fifty, fifty feet each side.
CB: In the daylight.
RM: Yeah. In daylight. Well, we did —
CB: At night you had a bigger spacing wouldn’t you?
RM: Quite a few daylight ops.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Yeah. But when we went to Munich and Dresden and the oil refineries and when we bombed the German battlefleet we bombed them. We got, the skipper got a DFC I think for getting a direct hit on the Prince Eugen.
CB: Prinz Eugen. Prinz Eugen.
RM: In Gdynia harbour.
CB: Yeah.
RM: But as I say the crew was the crew. When you went in to that aircraft you were, I was the wireless operator.
CB: Right.
RM: If you can understand what [pause] when we came out it was different again because we didn’t mix.
CB: No.
RM: Because he’d go to the officer’s mess and I’d go to the sergeant’s mess. And I suppose we had the same reaction with the ground crew.
CB: So tell us about the ground crew. How did you liaise with them?
RM: We had a fantastic ground crew. We had the same ground crew for the whole of our tour and Nobby Smith he was the man in charge and he was just the job. He was really. He knew what we wanted and he made sure that everything was right. We never went in that aircraft, never without it wasn’t perfect.
CB: And who was the person or people who liaised with Nobby about after the flight and beforehand?
RM: Well —
CB: Would you all —
RM: Before. Before the flight.
CB: Yeah.
RM: You’d go in to a room and you’d be told exactly where you were going.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And everything. And then when you came back you went in and you was interviewed by the personnel.
CB: The intelligence officer.
RM: Telling you, you know what had happened. You know, whether anything had happened at that.
TCB: So each member of the crew would be debriefed.
RM: Oh yes.
CB: By the intelligence officer.
RM: By yeah. Their own individual officer.
CB: Yeah.
RM: But you were told en masse where you were going. But when you came back you just went to your section commander.
CB: So after the squadron briefing what did the individual crews do?
RM: Went their way. We went for a good piss up or [laughs]
CB: No. After the briefing, before take-off what was the procedure?
RM: Oh, straight to, straight to your aircraft.
CB: Right. But the —
RM: Oh yes.
CB: The navigator would have to draw in his information wouldn’t he?
RM: Well, we went to our own. We had the big briefing.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Telling us. They showed us where we were going.
CB: Yeah.
RM: What was, what was happening. Whether it was a squadron raid or whether it was a thousand bomber or a two fifty. I hated thousand bomber raids.
CB: Why?
RM: It was too dangerous.
CB: What? For collision?
RM: There were some real stupid buggers they used to come right up over us and touch the wing some of them. I suppose I was frightened really. But as I say coming back we went our own way [laughs] straight down and he weren’t with the cruise or anything. He weren’t with the stream. He was a good man.
CB: So you had the major briefing. Then you dispersed.
RM: Yeah.
CB: To your specialities.
RM: Yes, to your specials and then —
CB: From a signallers point of view what was the next briefing for you before going to the aircraft after the main briefing? Was it to do with radar?
RM: No.
CB: Signals or —
RM: No. No.
CB: What was your briefing before you went.
RM: No. No. We’d already had that in the afternoon.
CB: Right.
RM: Then we went to the briefing.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And then we went to the aircraft.
CB: Ok. So this chap, Nobby Smith.
RM: Nobby Clark.
CB: Nobby Clark.
RM: I don’t know why all Clarks are Nobbies.
CB: Yeah.
RM: They are.
CB: So he, would he be receiving effectively handing over the aircraft to the captain or to the navigator, to the engineer or what?
RM: Well, we had a crew. I think [pause] I think there was four in our aircraft.
CB: Well, there were seven crew.
RM: We had the same. We went straight to the same place.
CB: You had four ground crew.
RM: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
RM: We had about four or five ground crew and each one was, he’d come up and tell me. Especially when we went on the whatever you called it. Monica.
CB: Yes.
RM: He’d come in and just see whether it was operating.
CB: Whether it was working alright.
RM: Yeah. But no. Just walked in. Went in and took off. Come back. Went to bed and that was it. That was your life.
CB: Did the crew have any rituals before getting on board?
RM: No.
CB: Like watering the —
RM: No. No.
CB: Stinging nettles.
RM: No. Not really. We each one had a knife down there for protection which when you come to think of it is a load of crap really.
CB: Did you carry a firearm?
RM: We wouldn’t have been able to use it. We didn’t carry firearms. No.
CB: No.
RM: Then you, every so often you’d go for training. You’d go to these bloody great where every station had this what’s the name of water? What did you call them? For the firemen.
CB: Oh yes.
RM: You know.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And you’d go in there and jump in.
CB: This was your dinghy drill was it?
RM: Yeah. Dinghy drill. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Yeah. We’d do that.
CB: Then you had to dry it all out.
RM: Hey?
CB: Then you had to dry it out.
RM: No. No. No. No. No. No. It was there permanent.
CB: No, you [pause] for firefighters.
RM: For the firefighters.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Yeah, but instead of going to the nearest park they always took us in there because they said the water in the ocean isn’t warmed [laughs] So we had to go in, do our saving kits, you know.
CB: Life saving yeah.
RM: Have a —
CB: The dinghy drill.
RM: Test as to how we were going on.
CB: So you come to the end of the tour.
RM: Yeah.
CB: How many ops had you done at the end of the tour?
RM: I think it was twenty nine or thirty one because I didn’t think we went when we was on OTU we went dropping leaflets in France and some people counted that as an op. I didn’t. So I would say I did twenty nine. A full tour.
CB: After you left the RAF or the squadron, the crew disbanded. To what extent did you get together afterwards?
RM: We didn’t.
CB: Ever?
RM: No. I [pause] I tell a lie. The bomb aimer, Bert Crann and I we went together for about three or four years contact with one another and we went on holiday to Brighton and the Isle of Wight together but he got married so, and I didn’t so I went to Ireland of course.
CB: Never looked —
RM: So that was that.
CB: Never looked back.
RM: No. No, I didn’t.
CB: So you’ve no idea what happened to Crawshaw after his huge expenditure of energy —
RM: Oh God, no. No.
CB: On women.
RM: He’s probably in jail [laughs] He had his own way of looking at life.
CB: Yeah.
RM: He if he wanted to do anything he did it. He says, ‘I might be dead tomorrow.’ But none of the other crew had that attitude curiously enough but he did.
CB: One other thing we touched on earlier to what extent were you aware of the LMF system? Lacking moral fibre.
RM: We had one or two. Especially when we got to the OTU with the, when we went on to Wellingtons. I don’t know. I wasn’t frightened. No. I was never frightened.
CB: No.
RM: No. Mind you lets get this to understand I haven’t a lot of personal feelings. If you understand what I mean.
CB: Sure.
RM: I’m odd altered to a certain extent and I was then.
CB: Resilient.
RM: It was probably that that taught me to be that way and my son is exactly the same. My daughter isn’t though. She takes after my wife. She can’t understand why I haven’t got feelings sort of business.
CB: So you said you knew one or two. These were in other crews are they you’re talking about?
RM: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. So what was the situation and what did they do about it?
RM: Well, you had a feeling. You knew that they were frightened so you tried to buoy them up you know. Say, ‘Oh you’re alright. We’re coming back. You’ve been there haven’t you? You’ve come back. So there you go.’ Yeah. And they’d say to me, they’d turn around and say, ‘But Jim didn’t.’ So that was their attitude. They had different attitudes. You could, you can’t say really. I found that with my crew. They were all like me. Hadn’t got an awful lot of feelings. I don’t know whether I’m saying this wrong or not. I have got feelings of course but I’m not as [pause] the same as a lot of others.
CB: No.
RM: I look at a thing basically.
CB: So all these other ones were any of them removed?
RM: Oh yes.
CB: As a result. They were —
RM: Oh yes. You couldn’t afford to have people like that and you knew. Or I, you know, you knew instinctively they’re never going to make this and you did know because they were frightened. They just [pause] I never thought I was going to get killed. I knew I was always coming back. A load of bullshit really but still that was it. But then again you got some that, that my brother was the same. He was taciturn. The same as me. I don’t know.
CB: We’ll just stop there for a mo.
[recording paused]
RM: Right.
CB: Now we’re restarting.
RM: It was too heavy.
CB: Well —
RM: Too big. I was only five foot one.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Don’t forget. When I went in the RAF. That’s two inches lower than I am now. I’m five foot three.
CB: Right.
RM: So —
CB: You had a stretch.
RM: Yeah.
CB: We’re —
RM: What [laughs] did you say?
CB: We’re restarting because I had to change the batteries.
RM: Yeah. Ok.
CB: I’m not quite sure how far we’d got.
RM: Yeah.
CB: But if we could pick up on some of the things we talked about.
RM: Yeah.
CB: The first one is what rituals did the crew have before getting into the aircraft like the tail wheel.
RM: Not really. I used to pee on the wheel.
CB: Right. The tail wheel.
RM: What did the others do?
CB: I didn’t notice. They probably had their own idiosyncrasies.
RM: Yeah.
CB: But I didn’t notice them. The skipper. He wouldn’t. Everything had to be so with Willie. The only one thing is when he handed me the empty bloody bottle and I had to go down, walk down to the chute and drop, drop the empty bottle. So he’d drink the bottle whisky on a raid.
RM: Would he really?
CB: His own whisky.
CB: That he, yes, his distillery. This is the Irish skipper.
RM: Yeah.
CB: What age was he?
RM: Oh —
CB: Old meaning twenty five.
RM: Thirty.
CB: Thirty. Oh right.
RM: No. Don’t forget I was only eighteen.
CB: Yes. Had he been in the RAF —
RM: He had gone, no. Don’t forget he came from Southern Ireland.
CB: Yes.
RM: I don’t know how he got in the RAF I’m sure. But he came from Tullamore in Southern Ireland. I never did find out how he came to be —
CB: Well, there were a lot of Southern Irish people.
RM: A lot of Southern Irish. Yeah. Yeah.
CB: In the British forces and regiments that were —
RM: Yeah.
CB: Made up of Southern Irish people.
RM: He was taciturn.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Very quiet. Very.
CB: But professional.
RM: But professional. Oh, definitely professional. If he spoke to you he spoke to you as the skipper and you listened to what he said and you did what he said. I think probably that is why we were such a good crew because everybody was the same. If the, what’s the name was doing something that appertained to him so say the rear gunner was talking about what’s the name you listened to him. He was in charge and that’s, that’s how we were. And then of course when we get, ‘Have you seen your new air gunner?’ ‘No. Where is he?’ This little chap. He was about the same size as me. About five foot. He comes walking up the road. He’d got bloody —
CB: Pilot’s wings.
RM: Pilot’s wings on here. So that’s where we used to get a lot of fun out of saying this, ‘Oh, we’ve got a pilot both ends.’ Because if we want to go backwards he does it and they believed us. Believe it or not they believed us.
CB: Going back to the rituals.
RM: Yeah.
CB: People have done all sorts of different things and some would have a lucky charm.
RM: Oh yeah. They’d probably have their own rituals when they got to their areas but don’t forget you see they were up there.
CB: Up at the front you mean. Yeah. So the wireless operator —
RM: I was —
CB: Your position.
RM: I was about halfway down the boat.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Down the plane.
CB: Yes.
RM: In a little area with a what’s the name and two things there so I didn’t see what the majority of them were doing.
CB: No.
RM: I was similar to the rear gunner. The mid-upper gunner you know you’re isolated.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And all you have in contact is the headphones. The skipper was, ‘Righto, we’re ready.’ Or what’s the name or the navigator turning around, ‘Oh we’ve got, we’ve got to take a turn.’ So you knew that in the next minute the plane was going to turn right or left. So we did talk a lot on the, you weren’t supposed to really.
CB: On the intercom.
RM: No. But we did talk on the intercom.
CB: In the event of fighter attack then what would the pilot do?
RM: Well, the, all I did was just sit there because it was all to do with you kept quiet because you’d got the skipper talking to the rear gunner or the mid-upper gunner. He was in charge and that was it so I, and they did do a, ‘Corkscrew port. Go.’ And you know.
CB: So the corkscrew manoeuvre was —
RM: Yeah. Until later on when the Monica come on of course and I’d be telling. I’d be looking at the thing and telling the rear gunner —
CB: The screen.
RM: Where the opposing aircraft was coming. So that changed halfway through our tour really.
CB: And did they procedures change when it became clear that the German night fighter could lock on to Monica?
RM: Yeah.
CB: So what happened then?
RM: They still used it. And we, we had one what was called fish, fish —
CB: Fishpond.
RM: Fishpond. We had fishpond. That was it. A ruddy great thing on the bottom of that and that was to help the, I think it was to help the navigator because that sent signals down and told him where we were and that. But as I say all I was interested in was I did very little sending messages.
CB: What was your role? As the signaller what was your, what was the regular task you had to do?
RM: The majority was taking messages from headquarters. If they’d sent as I say all of a sudden there was a big load of fighters coming, they’d tell me and then I’d inform the skipper. That wasn’t until later on of course. Not, not in the early times because they hadn’t got that.
CB: And when you were going on an op to what extent did you feel you needed to psyche yourself up and what did you do?
RM: I didn’t do anything because as I say I was [pause] I hadn’t got a lot of emotion.
CB: No.
RM: If you understand what I mean?
CB: But did you talk to yourself?
RM: So [pause] No. I never talked to myself. No. I didn’t. No. I never did talk to myself. No.
CB: And as you walked to your position —
RM: No.
CB: Did you —
RM: I’d just go and when I got there just did the job that I was supposed to but I never did talk to myself.
No. You said you kicked the box on the way.
RM: Oh, you used to hit it.
CB: Hit it on the way —
RM: Yeah.
CB: To the seat.
RM: I don’t know why but as I was going up bang. And then you think to yourself what did I do that for?
CB: Yeah.
RM: You know. But it’s something I did.
CB: Now when you were on the raids. On the ops, and you’re closing on the target then the aircraft is being steadied straight and level for the last —
RM: Yeah.
CB: So how did that work and how did you feel about that?
RM: Well, I was here. That’s the window and there’s a window there.
CB: Next to you. Yeah.
RM: Yeah. And I looked out the window. I’d look out the window and see. I couldn’t see an awful lot [laughs] I could see the other planes. Especially when we were on a thousand bomber raid. You could see all these bloody planes and then you could see others being attacked. You could see that and think, ‘Oh, for Christ’s sake don’t come over here,’ sort of business, you’d say to yourself. I don’t know really. As I say I wasn’t very emotional.
CB: But it’s slightly nerve wracking to have to do straight and level.
RM: The worst part was coming home. Especially when you’d been to Dresden. Not Dresden. Munich.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And you were coming back over the Alps and you felt very lonely then because it was such a long time. So you’d done your target. Everything’s gone smashing. Well, you couldn’t come down so much. So he’d have to go with the flow and, but when you was coming home it was so lonely. And I think that was when the loneliness turned around and that’s when I said I saw that chap walking by my window. But I swear to this day I saw a man walk past my window. I swore to it.
CB: Is he walking on air? Walking on the wing?
RM: Yeah.
CB: Or walking on the mountain?
RM: Just walking. Just walked past.
CB: Right.
RM: So it must have been imagination of course.
CB: Atmospherics.
RM: Yeah. I don’t know what it was.
CB: And thinking of atmospherics how did you deal with the temperatures? Because what is the temperatures at, you’re flying at what height?
RM: It was normally twenty five, thirty. Thirty thousand.
CB: And what was, what did it feel like in temperature?
RM: Well, you got your flying suit and everything so I was never cold. Never cold.
CB: What about the others? Did they feel the cold?
RM: I don’t know [laughs] I didn’t ask them.
CB: Were they —
RM: That was the thing that never, we knew what the temperature were. We knew. We knew we were cold.
CB: Well, it’s minus forty.
RM: It wasn’t something that we talked, curiously enough there was very little talking. Very little talking. The skipper and the mid-upper gunner talked more than anybody because he could see. He could see more because he could see all the way around so they had more talk. All I had was talk with the navigator telling him whether, if he wanted a fix from somewhere. Apart from that I didn’t have any communication with the others.
CB: Would you say you were quite busy on a flight?
RM: Coming back, no. Coming back it was bloody, it was boring. That’s why I say coming back it was boring. Going it wasn’t because you’d got, they attacked us more going. Although I tell a lie there because we got attacked on our aerodrome when we were landing three times and we got shot at. Shot at when we were landing.
CB: On the same occasion or different occasions you were shot at?
RM: Three different times.
CB: Yeah.
RM: We got shot at.
CB: And did they hit you?
RM: Didn’t hit me [laughs]
CB: No, did you get —
RM: I don’t know. They did. They did hit the wings and things like that but we didn’t get anything serious. As I said the only serious thing was when that bod, when we were going to Wessel he was testing his guns and our own air gunner and it just went straight across. That was the only time that I got really [pause] That was the nearest time any bombs came to me err bullets came near to me. We didn’t get hit. The plane didn’t get hit at all.
CB: It didn’t. Right.
No. No. The rear gunner got very near hit. It went to the side of him. But apart from that we never got hit. Somebody was looking after us.
CB: Yeah.
RM: No. We never got hit.
CB: So when you were returning from an op you come, you’re coming back and there are lots and lots of airfields. Literally hundreds of airfields. How did you find your own airfield?
RM: I was stationed at Fiskerton.
CB: In Lincolnshire.
RM: Which had FIDO.
CB: Right.
RM: So we knew. You see sometimes when you was coming back you’d be, we finished up in Scotland. You’d be diverted to land at Scotland because the weather conditions on your own aircraft weren’t, weren’t good. So we finished up at Lossiemouth and that’s the farthest you can get in Scotland and, but as I say when I was at Fiskerton we had this FIDO and you could see. When you was coming in you could see the flames at the side of you. You knew exactly where to be.
CB: This was the fog dispersal.
RM: Where you were landing.
CB: Yeah. But under normal circumstances how would you pick out your airfield as opposed to the others?
RM: I didn’t. He did [laughs]
CB: Ok. So how was that done?
RM: Well —
CB: Because there was a beacon flashing was there?
RM: I think there was. Yeah. Now, of course that was the pilot’s job.
CB: Yeah.
RM: He did that. He knew what he was doing.
CB: But —
RM: The navigator would tell him to go, to a certain extent where to go and I didn’t. I didn’t talk to the skipper about where we were. I talked to the navigator and the navigator talked to the pilot.
CB: But there was no radio signal coming out.
RM: No.
CB: For you to —
RM: No. No.
CB: Focus on. And what about the situations where some airfields had searchlights shining up?
RM: It didn’t make any difference.
CB: No. Did that, did that happen on, was that a —
RM: No. I don’t.
CB: At Fiskerton.
RM: No. We [pause] where did we have that? You remember me telling you that incident about the Queen Mary?
CB: Yeah.
RM: That’s the only time we were ever illuminated with searchlights and they definitely put it on the aircraft and they definitely shot up. They weren’t near us but, bloody get off. Away.
CB: Right. What would you say was the most memorable event in your experience in the RAF?
RM: Dresden.
CB: What was it about that that was, was it the next day or that actual day itself.
RM: The next day we went to Rositz.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Which was a hundred mile away.
CB: Yeah.
RM: But we could see the flames a hundred mile away and then we had to go very near and when I saw that Dresden you have never seen anything like it in your life. When people turn around and said there was what thirty thousand people killed in that one night and you think that you contributed to it. That’s the biggest thing that I’ve ever thought about actually is the fact [pause] none of the others meant anything but Dresden to me was a terrible terrible thing.
CB: Was, was that at the time or in retrospect?
RM: At the time. Even when we were bombing it because it was the first time that we said, ‘Drop your bombs on the town.’ So we knew what we were doing and we did. And coming back as we banked to go away I saw Dresden.
CB: Yeah.
RM: You’ve never seen anything like it. Flames was absolutely everywhere and I’m not talking about isolated incidents. The whole town was all on fire.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Oh, and the flames were terrific. There’s no describing it. Honestly. No describing it. It was the most awful thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
CB: What was the best recollection you had of the Air Force?
RM: Looking under my hat and seeing the sergeant’s stripes and the S brevet. That was the best thing I ever had.
CB: Achievement.
RM: Oh yeah because I knew I’d done it, you see because I knew I was going to do it because I’d come top. So, but when you lifted it up and you saw the S brevet and the first, I thought what the hell is this S? What does that stand for? And we had to go and ask because we thought we were going to get an AG.
CB: Because it used to be a wireless operator/air gunner.
RM: Yeah.
CB: Which —
RM: We’d got, we’d got the thing there. The sparks.
CB: The brevet.
RM: That you put —
CB: Yeah.
RM: On your arm.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And then you got your brevet with AG but what, what’s that S? So we told everybody it was the shithouse [laughs] because we didn’t know.
CB: No.
RM: We didn’t know that it was signaller. We always said, if it was anybody asked the S stand for? Steward. We always used to say it was steward. Not signaller. No. And then of course they became regular. Everybody had them but we were the first.
CB: You said early on about your inspiration to join the RAF or motivation was the loss of your brother.
RM: That was the reason.
CB: And —
RM: No. I went, when Reg went in the Air Force I joined the Cadets.
CB: The Air Training Corps.
RM: The Air Training Corps. That’s why I was, when I went in the RAF I could do thirty words a minute already.
CB: Right.
RM: That’s why I was always coming top because I’d studied it in the five years that I had from fourteen to eighteen. Four years at the Cadet Corps.
CB: Yeah.
RM: And so wherever I went I was competent if you understand what I mean. So I never had any thoughts that I was going to fail. I knew damned well that I was going to pass and I was going to get it.
CB: Right.
RM: The only other experience was we didn’t bomb, we were a specialist squadron and we didn’t bomb the Ruhr an awful lot but my brother died bombing the Ruhr. So the one time that we did bomb it I was able to say, ‘That’s for Reg.’ And that was the only other time that I thought like that. Thought like that. I’d done my bit. I’d bloody well dropped bombs on [pause] Now, of course, my son, my grandson’s married to a German and she didn’t know. She don’t know that I bombed Germany or anything like that because we don’t discuss it and of course she come through one of the places that I went to originally. Was that somebody knocking?
CB: No. We’ll stop there for a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: So, let me just ask you the question.
RM: Yeah.
CB: We talked an awful lot about what you’ve been doing but what about people close to you? You didn’t meet your wife until after the war but to what extent did you ever discuss your experiences with your wife?
RM: I didn’t. I did not.
CB: And why was that?
RM: I don’t know. That was, it wasn’t part of my life with her. My life was [pause] was with Mary and my Mary was fantastic to me. We got married sixty three years and she’s, she’s fantastic. She was. She was really.
CB: Did she ever ask you?
RM: No. No. That’s, you see how can I put it? She was Irish and it was the Irish that was her life.
CB: Northern Irish.
RM: Northern Ireland. Yeah. So, the fact that I had been in the RAF, she knew I’d been in the RAF and she knew that I’d [pause] it didn’t mean anything to her that I’d done thirty ops. I went and joined the —
CB: RAF Association.
RM: RAF Association.
CB: Yes.
RM: At our local pub.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Which, well it isn’t local it’s up. And the things that I did with the what’s the name she would see to it that that was part of what I wanted and so it never, it never interfered. I could do what I liked with the RAF as long as the RAF was with me.
CB: Didn’t come home.
RM: You follow what, you understand what I mean.
CB: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
RM: Yeah.
CB: What about your boys? To what extent did they want to know?
RM: My younger boy, he died when he was eleven he was more interested than my eldest son. As I said my eldest son is like me. Very much like me if you understand what I mean.
CB: Stoic.
RM: Yeah. He’s more interested in his family and, you know the fact that I would bomb Germany in the war didn’t mean anything to him. He knew I was in the RAF. Yeah. Whereas my younger son they both went to High Pavement. They both went to High Pavement and he took it more if you understand what I mean but neither of them took it to an extreme. They knew that if they went to the RAF, ‘Oh he was in the RAF.’ And that’s it. I was in the RAF but what is this if different to that?
CB: What made, what made you join the RAF Association?
RM: Because I thought, with not discussing it with anybody else I simply thought I wouldn’t mind. And not only that but one of our next door neighbours was a rabid RAF Association and you know he was really RAF and he got me in to it sort of business. But no the, they never thought of anything like that. He’s in the RAF. He’s going to be RAF. Yeah.
CB: When you look back at your experience in the RAF how do you feel about it? Do you feel a sense of pride?
RM: Yes.
CB: Do you feel any —
RM: Yes.
CB: Reservation about your experiences?
RM: I thought it had to be done. As I said the only reservation I ever had was when I saw Dresden. I didn’t appreciate that. I knew that it had to be done. Well, I thought about it later on. In actual fact it didn’t ought to have been done because all it was doing was making the English get to Berlin before the Russians. That was my idea. And I think that’s what it was for. Because I didn’t think that it was necessary.
CB: Did you ever —
RM: Never thought it was necessary.
CB: Did you ever meet people in the RAF Association who’d been involved in the Hamburg raids?
RM: Never. Oh, I went to Hamburg, I think. Yes. I did one trip down to Hamburg I think. Because that’s the time I said, ‘That’s for my brother.’
CB: Right.
RM: When I went to Hamburg because that was in the Ruhr, wasn’t it?
CB: Well, it’s outside the Ruhr but it’s North Germany.
RM: Yeah. No. As I say Dresden altered my opinion I think. That it was not entirely [pause] Not until a long time after that when I was, people started talking about Dresden and the implications of what happened then. About, I think it was about twenty or thirty year ago weren’t it? Dresden suddenly came into being didn’t it? I hadn’t thought the implications of it as to why it was done and that and now I realise that that’s what it was about. That it was to stop, to get to Berlin before the Russians did. And that’s my opinion. That’s why it was done.
CB: It seems curious in a way that the RAF and Britain take the flak as it were and the emotional flak for Dresden.
RM: Yes.
CB: When the RAF did the first, the night bomb then the Americans did the day bomb.
RM: That’s right. They followed.
CB: The Americans never get any adverse comment.
RM: No.
CB: Why do you think that is?
RM: They don’t do they.
CB: Why do you think that is?
RM: I think the reason is that there was so much damage done on the first raids that when the Americans did all they were doing was just adding to it. Do you follow what I mean? Because if you’d have seen when I looked out that window and saw Dresden it makes me shudder now. True. I can see it now. And then to go the next night to Rositz which is only about a hundred miles away from it and to realise that the flames that I kept seeing was Dresden. And I thought oh God. That’s awful.
CB: Well, because the RAF bombed the second night as well.
RM: But that’s it. Apart from that my life in the RAF was brilliant. It was the four and a half years the best part of my life.
CB: And you —
RM: Apart from the sixty four years that I had with my wife.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Or sixty three years I had with her.
CB: Yeah. So Ron Mather thank you very much for a really fascinating conversation.
RM: Well, I hope I’ve satisfied your—
CB: It’s really good.
RM: What’s the name? Your memory sometimes goes and you can’t think of it.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Taking everything in the what’s the name I thought my life in the RAF was absolutely fantastic. It was really. I couldn’t half get [laughs] some women.
CB: But even on a serious note you gave a payback for your brother.
RM: Yes. Yes. I went to, very near the same place and yes, I think that it was it was a good thing. It was a good life.
CB: Thank you.
[recording paused]
RM: It was my attitude I think. I think it was enjoy yourself. I enjoyed myself. I never got serious with a girl though until I was thirty. Until I got married. But I was never seriously attached to a girl. I went out with many but they were, I’ve got here sort of business. No. I wasn’t, it wasn’t like that but you could pull women with a, if you were in the RAF and in Nottingham.
CB: Yeah.
RM: Because there were so many. You went to the Palais de Danse and three quarters of the people at the Palais de Danse were airmen. All the rest were women. So I mean it didn’t help matters the fact that you were but it did help if you’d got sergeant’s stripes and a brevet [laughs]
CB: Yes. The ground crew weren’t so keen on that particular aspect of —
RM: Yeah [laughs]
CB: Service life [laughs]
RM: I’ll tell you something. I used to go, we used to go when, when I was stationed at Syerston I’d come home regularly of course and we’d go at 8 o’clock or 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning at Trent Bridge thumbing a lift and I’m talking about twenty or thirty people. All RAF men thumbing a lift to get back to camp. And we got plenty of lifts.
CB: Did you?
RM: People stopped.
CB: Yeah.
RM: They did.
CB: Lorries as well? Trucks?
RM: Lorries. Everything. They all stopped because well the RAF were good weren’t they? Conceited [unclear] aren’t I?
CB: We’ve met your type before.
RM: I know. I know. Mind you I will say I have never used my RAF career to help me in any way. I hadn’t thought it was necessary. I’ve got a skill. I was a baker and one of the best in Nottingham as it happens. And I was a manager so I was happy enough.
CB: On the flip side of that though after the war did you ever get an adverse reaction to the fact that you had been flying in Bomber Command?
RM: Not really. No. No. I’ve never mentioned it you see. I mentioned it to his, people like his dad and him.
CB: Darren, yes.
RM: But I wouldn’t, I never mentioned it to anybody else.
CB: No.
RM: That was just something I’d done.
CB: Yeah. A long time ago.
RM: A long time ago. I was just thinking I didn’t go into the RAF until I was eighteen/nineteen in the last year of the war so anybody that’s bombed during the war has got to be ninety three. So there isn’t many of them is there? Although people are living a lot longer now, aren’t they?
CB: I’ve interviewed —
RM: I think so.
CB: I’ve interviewed four people aged one hundred.
RM: Yeah. I’m not surprised.
CB: You keep going Ron.
RM: You have to be a hundred to be in the war at the beginning wouldn’t you?
CB: Absolutely.
RM: Yes. They would. And that’s what I was thinking the other day and I was thinking when we went to, where was it we went down south?
CB: Duxford. Flying legends.
RM: The only people in the RAF suits was the soldiers and me. So and I thought to myself there can’t be many of us left then.
CB: No. No.
RM: Yeah. No. I never talked to my wife about it at all.
CB: You didn’t feel the urge to do so?
RM: With her being not only that but with her being Northern Irish and we’d go to Northern Ireland and we’d get trouble there. When I first went to, when I first went there we landed at Belfast and a chap with a rifle had a look at my luggage. So that’s how the situation was at that time there. And also, the fact that the two people Catholic and the Protestant were so different to one another. I mean nowadays when you go it’s as different again. You don’t notice. I know it’s started up again hasn’t it but up to when I went about four years ago it was, it was lovely. Religion meant nothing or anything. It’s just got a bit nasty just lately I notice.
CB: Well, let’s have a look at your pictures and things.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Ronald Mather,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 19, 2024,

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