Interview with Charles Mears


Interview with Charles Mears


Charles left school with no formal qualifications and was undertaking further education when the Second World War commenced. Being too young to enlist, he joined the Air Defence Cadet Corps and - upon reaching 18 - he eventually was able to join. He was detached to the United States for training. Upon boarding the Queen Mary, he was aware of damage to the ships bow which had been repaired with concrete. Training was carried out at No. 5 Basic Flying Training School in Florida. Mixing with Americans, he experienced things like deodorant. Charles also came across discrimination: having given his seat on a bus to a pregnant black lady, he was interviewed and told that being a guest of America, he must respect the American way of life. Upon return to the UK, he was posted to RAF Fraserburgh to convert onto Oxford, followed by anti-surface vessel training which involved flying trainee wireless operators over the Irish Sea. After several months, Charles was posted to the Wellington operational training unit at RAF Desborough. Whilst here, he was involved in a leaflet drop over Brest. Following conversion to Lancasters, Charles was posted to a squadron operating Gee H radar. This was mainly daylight operations. On these sorties, it was necessary to fly straight and level for 40 miles to the target, which led to many arguments between him and his navigator. At RAF Methwold he saw a row of ambulances taking injured aircrew away after a particularly bad operation. On one occasion he had to make an emergency landing at Woodbridge. He was told by the navigator he was over the sea and since he was struggling to control the aircraft he dropped below the cloud straight into a barrage of anti-aircraft fire. He performed a corkscrew manoeuvre and managed to get out of trouble and successfully land at Woodbridge. On the only occasion he took the wakey-wakey pills he found them so disorientating he couldn’t even sign off the aircraft on landing and although he desperately wanted to sleep he just could not.
Superstition was rife amongst the crews. He describes his experience as traumatic but worthwhile. He met so many friends that he has remained in contact with throughout his life.



Temporal Coverage




02:12:50 audio recording


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AM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Alistair Montgomery, Monty, and the interviewee is Flight Lieutenant Charles Mears, Distinguished Flying Cross. The interview is taking place at Charlie’s home in West Kilbride and his son in law, Jim Ferguson is present. Charles, good afternoon. Tell me a little bit about your family background and where you lived.
CM: Yeah.
AM: Prior to joining the Royal Air Force.
CM: Yes. Well, I was born in Manchester. My parents had an off licence and grocers in a place called Hulme. H U L M E.
AM: Right.
CM: And I I was born on the 9th of December 1923. And my father was a Scot. He was born in Edinburgh but emigrated to Canada. And he joined the, during the First World War he joined the Canadian Army with his brother George and they were both in France and they met my mother’s brother in France. And my mother’s brother invited them over to their home in England and at that time they were in Manchester because my grandfather was a tunneller and he built the first, well he didn’t personally but he was the foreman ganger on the first tunnel under the Clyde. And they’d moved to Manchester because in the Victorian era they were building all the sewers in, in Manchester. And my Uncle Jack, which is my father’s brother he was also a tunneller and in fact I think they were in the tunnelling company in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. And they obviously, that’s where my father met my mother in England and that’s why I’m here. And we lived there. I went to school at Princess Road School which was just famous for, for footballers really. And then the war broke out in in 1939. Oh, I wanted to go in the Royal Air Force and I wasn’t, my schooling wasn’t, it was only an elementary school so that I needed, I needed to have experience in English, maths and science. So I went to night school as we called it, evening school if you like, for three years with a view to going in to the Royal Air Force as an aircraft apprentice at Halton. But of course the war broke out in 1939 and me and my pal, which was a Welsh boy were determined to, to join something. And we first of all went to join the Navy and I didn’t know much about it and I said to John, my friend, ‘Well, what do I do? What do I say we go in as the Navy?’ He said, ‘Well tell them you want to be an artificer’s mate.’ I said, ‘What the hell is that?’ So he said, ‘Well, I don’t know but tell them you want to be.’ So, anyway we joined up and they gave us a form for my father to fill in because I was fifteen when the war broke out. Anyway, cutting a long story short my father threw it in the fire and said, ‘You’re not joining the Navy.’ I think because he’d been in the Army in the First World War and told me stories where he never had his boots off for three months and horrible things about the war. Anyway, we then said, John my pal, said, ‘Well, we’ve got to join something.’ So we’ll join the, we’ll join the LDV which it was then. The Local Defence Volunteers. That was before the, before the Home Guard. And he said that, ‘But they’ll ask you. You’ll have to have some experience of shooting.’ So, he said, ‘Tell them you’ve, you’ve experience of rabbit shooting,’ he said, ‘Because I used to shoot.’ He came from Wales and he said, ‘I’ve done a bit of rabbit shooting.’ So we went to this place and I said, when they asked me I said, ‘Well, rabbit shooting.’ So, they said, ‘Well, where are the bloody rabbits in Hulme?’ And so we got kicked out of that. So we said, ‘Well, we’ll join the Army. We’ll join the cadets.’ So there was a place called Hardwick Green Barracks in, in Manchester. So we, we went there and there was a big door and a little door going in to the big door. And I opened this little door and there was a line-up of lads with just a cap on, with a peak cap, all with one rifle stood in a line and must have been a sergeant or somebody shouting all sorts of things at them. So I closed the door and I said to John, ‘We’re not doing that. I don’t like the look of that at all.’ So he said, ‘Well we’ve got to join something.’ He said, ‘The only thing left is the Air Force.’ So he said, ‘But the Air Force don’t have a cadet force.’ The Army did and the Navy did but the Air Force didn’t. So he said, ‘But they’ve got what they called the ADCC,’ which was the Air Defence Cadet Corps. So he said, ‘We can join that.’ He said, ‘The only trouble is you have to buy your own uniform.’ he said, ‘And it’s, it’s five pounds.’ Or four pounds fifty. I forget now which. Well, that was equivalent to a man’s wage in those days because where I was working, ‘cause I started work at fourteen that was in fact I remember them taking a guy out to a for a drink who’d just managed to be awarded five pounds a week. So anyway, surprise surprise my father said, ‘Well, that’s alright. I’ll pay for it.’ So we bought this uniform and I joined the ADCC. Well, that in in due course became 1941 ATC Squadron. That was, as far as I know the first ATC squadron there was. And during that time the, the three officers used to come periodically and interview people to go in for the forces. To go in the Air Force. Well, you could be, you could be called up at, at eighteen then. That means conscripted when you were eighteen. But you could, you couldn’t be, you couldn’t be conscripted into aircrew. You had to be a volunteer. Anyway, I didn’t know anything about this. I knew you had to be conscripted because my brother was three years older than me and he’d been conscripted in to the army. So these people, I used to be, I used to march the cadets in to see the officers for this selection board and they said why aren’t, have you, ‘We haven’t seen you sergeant.’ I was a sergeant then in the ATC. So I said, ‘Well, I’m not old enough, sir.’ They said, ‘Well, we’ll do it now anyway.’ Anyway, they interviewed me and then about, it must have been a few weeks afterwards surprise surprise I got papers, a travel warrant to go up to Cardigan. So I went up to Cardigan and went through various tests. And then I was taken into a room and swore my allegiance to King and country. That was in October ’41 and I was in the Air Force. So, so they couldn’t call you up until you were eighteen and a quarter so, so I was duly called up and went to ACRC Air Crew Receiving Centre in London. And from there you did a few, you did various things. Got your uniform and what have you. But we went to, we were ACRC in, for us, for me was at Lord’s Cricket Ground and they, the first of all you went into the place and, and they said, they asked you where you, what’s your name and address and what school did you go to and what newspapers did you read. And I made what I later realised in later life a mistake because I said, which was true Princess Road Elementary School. Well, that wasn’t the answer really that I should have given. I should have said a High School or something. And they, they sort of sized your gas mask that you’d kept very religiously all, well from being fifteen from the time war broke out until 1941 you’d sort of treasured this thing and guarded it with your life. It was taken off you and thrown into a heap. This was, oh I don’t know, a mile high of all gas masks. And then a guy weighed you up for a uniform and he seemed to be able to just look at you and weigh up what, what you required by just a glance and he gave you this uniform and underwear and the rest of your kit and off you went. And we were put into, which are now we know are quite expensive flats in St John’s Wood. And you had little few exams and if you passed them alright you went to ITW. Yes. Initial Training Wing. And if you didn’t you went to Brighton for more maths instructions. And funnily enough I wasn’t. We’d never done algebra or those things at school so, and one of the things we were asked was transposition of formula which is what it was called. So I said to a colleague I’d joined up with, Bernard Hall, I said, and he was a university boy from Hawarden. Hawarden, I think you pronounce it. In Cheshire. And he said, ‘Don’t worry, Chesa. I’ll show you what to do.’ So he showed me and anyway, I must have passed. But strangely enough he mustn’t have passed because he was sent to Brighton for extra maths and I went to ITW at Cambridge at what was then New Clare College.
AM: Right.
CM: And then, then from there we did twelve weeks at ITW and then I was posted to Manchester to, like a big holding centre where they put all the people waiting for, for movement. Funnily enough it was a place that my, my father in law had been, it transpired later on, had been to in the First World War. Anyway, I was there for I think about a couple of months at which time I was billeted out. Lived at home at the off licence and grocers I told you about. And then one day we were told would you, asked, ‘Would you like to go to Communion because we’re going, possibly going overseas?’ So I said, ‘Yes. I would,’ because I’d always been brought up to, to go to church. I went to Communion and then we were marched to the railway station at Heaton Park and we were put on the train up to eventually ended up at Gourock in, well not very far from where you live. And we were put off the train in to I think it was called a lighter and I don’t know how we, we obviously arrived at the side of this huge piece of steel it looked with just a big hole in it. And we got off in to it and went up this beautiful staircase. And later on because of a plaque that was on the wall we found out that it was the Queen Mary and apparently the, we were on the way to going to America. And on its trip before this one we went on it had cut through a destroyer and the bow was all stove in and filled with concrete. And anyway we sailed. I think it took about three or four days and the weather was very rough. We went well north because the Queen Mary didn’t have a, it was considered too fast for the U- boats so we didn’t have any escort at all and we ended up in, in Boston Harbour. And then we got off at Boston and were put on the train and went up to Moncton in Canada which is in New Brunswick. And I just wondered how far it was from Montreal because I thought perhaps I could visit some of my relatives if I knew where they were. Anyway, we were in Moncton for only possibly a couple of months I think ‘til November because I think because we were in, we were in an Armistice Day Parade in Moncton. And then we, we got on a train in Moncton and then —
AM: So what were you doing in Moncton? Were you doing any more training?
CM: No. I didn’t do anything.
AM: Right.
CM: We just did a bit of marching and that was it. And I know a fellow used to come around who was a bit of, he used to come in the morning and shout out, “Hands off cocks and put on socks, any sick laymen’s lazy,’ and then you reported sick. I remember that. And we put on this train in Moncton and we were apparently going down to Florida for, to join 5 BFTS, British Flying Training School. And I think navigators went to, to Rivers in Manitoba but we were on this. And we went down through New York first and we were got off the train in New York and we were invited and taken to the Stage Door Canteen which was a famous place where apparently all the troops went. And the main, main artist on at the Stage Door Canteen was Larry Adler at that time. The well-known harmonica player. And a lady took my name and address at the door and said, ‘We’ll send a card. We’ll send a card to your mother and let her know how you are.’ Well, later on. Many, many years later my sister I have a well I had a brother and I still have a sister but she’s thirteen years younger than me. My brother was well was three years older than me. He’s dead now. Been dead some time. And my mother had the, still had the card from that they’d sent. And it was a Jewish lady who’d sent it and said, “We’ve seen your son and he’s alright,” and that. That was the first word she’d had of me. So she was very pleased to get that.
AM: Oh aye.
CM: Yeah. So then we never got off the train after that. We went down through, through Georgia and I marvelled at the, I mean America was so vast and we were miles and miles of peanut stacks in Georgia and things. The first stop we came to in Florida was a place called Sebring, which I believe was where the five hundred miles road races are or something. Sebring. And they greeted us with a silver band and two big sacks of oranges. And we hadn’t seen oranges or anything, you know for a long time. So that was nice. And then we arrived at Clewiston which is right at the bottom of Lake Okeechobee which is the big lake in, not very far. And went up to, we went to, came to our camp and we couldn’t believe our eyes when we arrived there and saw this big swimming pool and all the billets were all like little apartments were around the swimming pool. And I was, we were put in, apparently it was Course 12 and it was the first course that had Americans with us. Apparently the, we heard that the Americans had decided that our navigation was probably superior to theirs so they trained, because they’d all trained with us they were Army or Air Force armaments instructors but the American instructors and your ground duties were American. The Meteorological fella was a fella from New York who used to talk about the turning and turning of the, of the clouds for the, in the cumulus and cumulo nimbus. And they were, most of the Americans were already or some of them, there were seven. The course was a hundred. A hundred people total and seventeen were Americans and eighty three of us were British boys. So they, and they’d come from, from some sort of university to, to 5 BFTS because they used to talk about, they had lots of sayings which when you’ve seen American fellas on the television they’re marching left right and singing their songs and this but they said, superiors used to say to them, ‘Stand to attention. How many wrinkles have you got under your chin?’ And when you were on the tables for your lunch they’d say, ‘Pass the salt and don’t short stop it.’ They meant you couldn’t, if you were a junior then you couldn’t stop the salt being passed down. It had to go from one to the other so, so they had what they called a, they appointed one cadet from, from, from the British side and one from the American side to be what they classed as a senior under officer and he was like the commandant of you, and any complaints and so on he was the one who had to direct it to the authorities. And they called it the honour system. And they used to say, well the Americans have got the honour and the, and the British have got the system because we didn’t take any notice much of things that were going on. And I had four, well not I, we had four Americans in our billet and they astounded us at first because they all had different smelly stuff, you know. Sprays and stuff. Well, we didn’t have any of that. We had, we used to perhaps a bar of carbolic soap or something. But they had all squeeze under your arm and whatever. Anyway, we were chatting around and they said, the two boys I was with were a fella called Harold Wilkin and Jack Hough. And Jack Hough was an elderly bloke. He was married. Well, elderly to me because I was eighteen. I don’t know, he was twenty something. And Harry used to, I found the, some of the ground subjects quite difficult because I hadn’t been that well educated and Jack used to, I had the top bunk and he had the bunk underneath me and he didn’t seem to do any studying. He said, ‘You do all the studying. I’ll be alright.’ And then he’d, he’d try and copy off me if he could. So, but it was, it was unbelievable to have this beautiful swimming pool. Anyway, we were there until, and I, they said, the boys said, ‘Well, the first thing to do is Palm Beach can’t be far away.’ Well, Palm Beach to me the words were just something you heard on, on the films as we called it, you know. Or the pictures. But they said, ‘Well, so we’ll hitch a ride to Palm Beach.’ Well, we, we did one weekend. When the first weekend came up we, we thought we’ll hitch a ride. Well, it turned out to be ninety miles to Palm Beach. And so we saw a truck coming by and it had all melons on the back and there was a couple of what we used to then say coloured fellas driving it and we, we gave them the thumbs as you did when you were hitching and got on the back of this wagon. And we eventually got to Palm Beach. What we thought was Palm Beach. But we were expecting to see the water and the beach but there wasn’t. There was just this strip of water and nothing. Well, apparently that is a place. The water at, is not Palm Beach when you’re there. Its West Palm Beach. Palm Beach is across the strip of water which they called Lake Worth. It isn’t a lake but it’s a strip of water and a bridge over to, to the other side which is Palm Beach proper. The proper beach. So, anyway we, we asked somebody at, the Americans have a thing called the PX which is the equivalent of like our YMCA. So we went into this PX and asked them and they said, ‘No. Well, if you want Palm Beach you’ll have to go across the, across the Lake Worth.’ So we stayed. We said, ‘Well, where can we stay?’ They said, ‘Well, there’s a nice little inn just, just around the corner.’ So we stayed there the night and the next morning we went across this bridge and we noticed like black men peddling these like big bassinette affairs, carrying a couple of white people over the bridge. Apparently this is how they, they travelled around. And we got to the end of the road and it was a road called Coronation Road and we went down to the bottom. There was a little picket fence. And then we saw this lovely beach and then the ocean. So we climbed over and we settled ourselves on the beach and lo and behold there were there were which I now know were coconut trees on and some coconuts husks. Well, I now know they were coconuts husks on the, on the ground and these trees. So I said, ‘Oh, look at those.’ They said, ‘Yes. We’ll bag those up.’ And so I said, ‘What are they?’ He said, ‘They’re coconuts.’ So I said, ‘Coconuts?’ Well, the only coconuts I’d seen were the ones that are on a coconut shy. So they said, ‘Oh no. That’s the coconut’s inside those. We’ll show you what to do.’ And they broke open this thing so I learned now the coconut was inside the shell. I didn’t know that. So we settled down there and had a swim and then suddenly a black fella arrived out of the, and came along the beach and said, ‘I’m afraid you can’t stay here. You’re on private land.’ So I said, ‘Private land?’ He said, ‘Yes. This belongs to, to Waikiki,’ which was, he said, ‘But I’ll have a word with the mistress and see what she says.’ So anyway, this lady came down and her name eventually we found out was Mrs Nesmith. N E S M I T H. And she said, ‘Oh, where are you?’ And we explained and of course she knew nothing about the British boys at 5 BFTS or anything else. So she said, ‘Oh, come up,’ and she said, ‘You can change in our, in our bath house here,’ she said, ‘And then come in.’ So we chatted to her and she said, ‘What are you going to do?’ I said, ‘Well, we’ll get, hitch, hitch a ride back.’ She said, ‘Well, no. You can stay the night’. She said, ‘We can fix you up alright,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you some of Isla’s pyjamas.’ Well, Isla must have, well is her husband and apparently he had been a banker but there were a lot of private banks prior to the big crash of whenever it was. And a lot of these little banks had all gone bust so they’d, they’d taken to be estate agents and they had this big, big house called Waikiki and they said, ‘You can stay here,’ and she gave me this thing. Nice pyjamas. And she said, ‘Well, if you get a chance you can come here anytime and just, just help yourself.’ So anyway, cutting a long story this lady befriended and treated me almost like my mother. She was elderly and I was, well seemed elderly she was probably fiftyish and I was, I mean I was only eighteen so she really treated me very well. And she eventually she actually set up a Cadet Club at Clewiston and she also arranged, she said, ‘Well, I want to arrange for you to meet some, some girls and some of the wealthy people of Palm Beach.’ Well, I thought well if you’re not wealthy I don’t know what is because they each had a car. She had an Oldsmobile and he had a Plymouth and they had this lovely place. Well, that actually that was one of their letting places. That wasn’t their, their home. Their home was at I think 206 Pendleton Avenue if I remember rightly. And eventually me, Harold Wilkin and Jack Hough were the first people she’d ever befriended and as I say she, she eventually set up a Cadet Club in Clewiston and she also befriended over two thousand RAF boys. And she was awarded the, I think I’ve put it in the papers there. I think it was the King’s, the Kings Medal for, not for bravery. For something. And she was given it as an honour on a battleship in, in Miami. But she were a fantastic lady and, and she actually after, after that part of the war she still corresponded with me and my parents and, well mostly my mother and my little sister and sent us all sorts of, I think the first Christmas cake we’d had, and was a really wonderful lady. But funnily enough we, we didn’t want to chance hitchhiking back because we had to be in camp by 23.59 you know. Like a minute to midnight on such and such a day. So we decided to go on the bus. And they said, ‘Well, you can get a bus straight to Clewiston from here.’ This is, this is where, she showed us where the bus stop was and we were standing there and some black people came and stood behind us. And apparently, we found that the black people couldn’t get on the bus until all the whites were on and they couldn’t sit with you. They had to stand or they could sit on a seat with them but they couldn’t sit. And there was a pregnant lady who stood by the side of me and I, I got up and said, ‘Sit down.’ So she said, ‘No. I can’t.’ I said, ‘Just sit down.’ And anyway, apparently, I didn’t know but apparently when I don’t know who did it, whether it was somebody on the bus or one of the driver or what but I was hauled before the coals the following day and said, ‘You’re a guest of the American nation at the moment and irrespective of whatever your feelings are you will obey what they do.’ So I said, ‘Well, what’s the matter?’ He said, ‘They’re just not allowed to be with you.’ And when you went to a cinema they went in one part of the cinema, the coloured people as I call them, I apologise if I’m using the wrong expression but to be honest I’m at a stage where I don’t know really. It’s a different world to me. I don’t mean any disrespect to, to any nation but I just, just instinct with me. So it was, I mean in those days apparently there was, was just complete segregation. They weren’t allowed to. The black or coloured or whatever you call them people were not allowed to mix with you. And even when if you were fishing anywhere, they and you actually, I remember catching some, I think it was cat fish or something and I asked the fella who was showing me the fishing, I said, ‘Can you eat these?’ And he said, ‘Niggers do.’ Well, I mean it’s just a completely different world altogether, but in 1942 that seemed to be the way things were but anyway —
AM: What was the, what was the flying like at Clewiston?
CM: The flying?
AM: The flying.
CM: Well, the flying was strange because we were, we were in Stearmans which were open cockpits, twin wing aircraft and, and it was on a grass airfield and at night when we were doing night flying you had to wear snake boots because there were, there were rattlesnakes in the grass. And in fact Milton Steuer, one of the American boys who who had come to join us he was like a famous literary person because he could, he wrote like a brochure afterwards of, of our course, Course 12 called, “Listening Out.” And he, he had a, he had a what I then learned afterwards he had a prize Harley Davidson motorbike. Absolutely beautiful thing. Most of the boys. The American boys all had, some had their wives with them and some had their motorcars and everything. And they, they had the uniforms made weeks and weeks before the graduation. They were all commissioned. And beautiful material. You know, pink trousers and olive green tops. Really lovely stuff. And they, so he shot one of these rattlesnakes and we had, he skinned it and we used to have the skin on the, on the barrack room wall. And Mrs Nesmith arranged for us to go on a deep sea fishing trip with one of the guests of one of her houses and we, we were fortunate. It was a beautiful yacht where there were two seats at the back where you sat with these big rods doing the fishing. And we caught what we called, it was a sailfish but it’s like a swordfish and it had a bill that was about, well the whole thing, the whole, I don’t know whether Jim sent you a picture of it and it was on and it was over seven foot long.
Other: A Marlin.
CM: Yeah. Well, we call it a sailfish. And it had, it had this bill and they used to put the bill on the wall of the billet as well. And you flew a pennant if you’d caught one of these. And this fella whose yacht we were on said, ‘Damn me,’ he said, ‘I’ve been fishing twenty years and I’ve never caught one of these,’ and he said, ‘Here you are your first trip and you catch one.’ So that was, that was a thing I remember. So then when, when you graduated oh well you did your Wings exam as they called it. That was your final examination and I didn’t know whether I’d done any good or not because I studied like hell but I was at a disadvantage from the beginning because some of the boys, one boy in particular used to, well when he went to the examination he had three different bottles of ink and used different colours to write the answers in. And I think he became top of I don’t know how many people but I had a trouble with, with meteorology at first. I couldn’t. I mean like if I’d had, and I had the misfortune to have one of these strange minds who made fun of everything and like Buys Ballot’s Law. I learned that and it’s like stand with your back to the wind and low pressure’s on your left hand. Well, I, I joked with this so often I actually put in in the answer in the first one. I put, “Stand with your back to the wind and the wind’s behind you.” And the Met Officer, Harold C Cowleyshaw his name was. A real New Yorker. And he said, ‘I suppose you think that’s funny.’ So I said, ‘Well, I didn’t,’ I said, ‘It’s like Newton’s law of motion.’ He said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘A body is at rest and it continues at rest until it moves.’ So he said, ‘Oh, get off.’ So, but these things happen and you make these mistakes. But I was, Mrs Nesmith had said, ‘Well, you boys can come to, to me at Christmas,’ she said, ‘But one of you will have to do the cooking,’ she said, ‘Because Ida,’ that was her servant, who was a a black servant, ‘Goes to Canada in, in the summer because, and normally I go,’ she said, ‘Because it’s too hot in Florida. And also the termites come and they have to treat them. Anyway,’ she said, ‘I’m not going.’ So, she said, ‘One of you will have to. Not you son.’ She wouldn’t let me do a thing. So I must have been looking miserable. She said, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m sweating on, on my exams.’ She said, ‘Oh, I’m not having that,’ and picked up the phone and phoned the station and asked for the CO and wants to know how I’ve done. So she came back and said, ‘Nothing to worry about. You’re fifty fourth.’ So I said, ‘Well, that’s better than being a hundred.’ [laughs] So, so that was alright. But, but she was a lovely lady and that’s my, my highlight of being with 5 BFTS. Well, then I, we trained up and I got bitten by a horsefly on the leg the day of the passing out parade when you got your wings and I had to go into a hospital and so I missed the graduation dinner. And then when we got on the train they arranged for an orderly to come on at every halt to come and drain my leg from this horsefly bite which was quite, quite a nasty thing. And we trained up back to Moncton and then we were on the Louis Pasteur which was one of the ships that were plying backwards and forwards to, to England. And we came, came into Liverpool and I was posted up to Fraserburgh for a conversion on to twin engine aircraft because what had happened is the Battle of Britain had finished. And therefore although we’d actually trained and learned all the fighter manoeuvres in fact two of our boys were killed on simulation of tight turns for fighters, and there was a few accidents of boys getting in to a stall because you had to be tighter and tighter and tighter. So they said. And you did it with fighter affiliation you do, you call the exercises. And they all, they nearly all the boys are buried at a place called Arcadia and the people of Arcadia where they, we went to a few of the funerals of the lads who were killed and the people of Arcadia looked after their graves ever since, and they’ve done a fantastic job. And 5 BFTS have sent them paintings of, of the Stearman and the Harvard together as an acknowledgement of the help they’ve given us. And the 5 BFTS was, Association was formed and it went on for well it only finished not last year it would be the year before. We had a letter we no longer had to give subscriptions. He said they’ll still, they’ll use the money sending out the, the yearly bulletin until the money run out and then the last one out was [unclear] That was it because they, I mean I’m, I’ll be ninety four in December so nearly all of them are no longer with us. But yeah. It was. So I was posted to Fraserburgh. Which was a shock because I’d never been to Scotland. Only once. Although my father was a Scot. My mum and dad with them having the shop never had a holiday together and he brought me up in 1934 to Glasgow to the Empire Exhibition which was in 1934 at Bellahouston Park. And that’s the only time I’d been to Scotland. He went to see two friends. One was in Cathcart I think and, where my father had lived. And the other one was in what I first of all said Milngavie but he soon corrected me and said Milngavie see. So, but Fraserburgh when we came up in ’43 they had to feed us by air. It was, the winter was that bad. And, and the dances which I thought we would be going to an ordinary dance there you didn’t get a ticket you put your arm through and they stamped it, “Paid,” with a, with a indelible stamp on. And every, every dance was a Eightsome Reel. And I could neither dance, I couldn’t, well I could dance. I couldn’t dance the Eightsome Reel. And I couldn’t understand a word the girls were saying. And in fact, this morning I was singing they’ve, they’ve got a song which everybody knew but me and they said at the end, ‘Well, what song would you like to have now?’ So I said, ‘Well, any song you like as long [laughs] as long as it’s in bloody English.’ Anyway, that’s by the way because the only songs I’ve got are, are Scottish songs were ones my father told me but they were either by Will Fyffe or —
AM: Harry Lauder.
CM: Harry Lauder but —
AM: So what was the flying like there?
CM: It was alright. Fraserburgh was, we did and I loved the, the Airspeed Oxford. It was a lovely little aeroplane. And we went to different places along the coast. Dallachy and one or two others on BABS flights or SBA flights. Did those. And, and did all the night flying all around.
AM: Because the weather must have been quite a factor.
CM: Oh, it was dreadful. Dreadful weather. But then from there I was posted to Hooton Park which is now the —
AM: Yeah.
CM: Vauxhall Motor plant. And I was there for about seven months on, on ASV. That’s Anti-Surface Vessel training with, they were wireless operators who were being trained to, in the Liverpool Bay to look for U-boats and you flew from from Hooton Park anywhere between our coast, our west coast out as far as the Isle of Man and around about. And fortunately because you, I mean you didn’t know where the hell you were going and I could navigate in, I’d only navigated in, in America and that’s where all the loads of north and south are and the, my instructor seemed to, he seemed to, he said to me he could tell where he was by the colour of the soil. But I don’t think he, that was the main thing because he used to fly quite low and we’d fly around the water towers, and all the water towers have their name on them so I think [laughs] he was reading the name. But I found the navigation was, was fairly I could do that alright but in in Scotland or England it’s not quite the same.
AM: No.
CM: So, we did that and then I was at Hooton Park as I say for about seven months and what I found that I’d fly around because you didn’t know where you were going. They just guided where they went and they were looking for whatever the instructor was teaching them. So then if the time was up which I think was about an hour or an hour and a half I used to fly, fly east until I hit the coast. If I could see Blackpool Tower it was alright. And then I’d, I’d turn right and there were two rivers. There was the River Mersey and the River Dee. So, I knew it was the second one and then fortunately there was a railway line. It isn’t there now. But there was a railway line that went right from like from West Kirby right the way through to Hooton so I just followed the railway line and went in. So that was easy enough to find. It was a bit disconcerting sometimes if, if there was a clamp on and the visibility was quite low. But then I was posted from there to, to OTU. Operational Training Unit at Desborough on Wellingtons. So we did, did fifty hours on Wellingtons and one of the, they used to have if they had a thousand bomber raid or whatever they, they seconded, all training units as well flew. Generally with aircraft that were not exactly top notch because they’d been used for training for a long time. And they obviously had a number of what they called nickel raids which are dropping leaflets instead. And either the Germans couldn’t read them telling them to give up like but either they didn’t read English or they didn’t take much notice. And I, I went to Brest for my nickel raid and it was one of the worst trips I had. It’s because that’s where the U-boat pens were and it was very very well defended. And when we came back we were diverted because it was fog bound and we were diverted to Boscombe Downs which was a grass airfield. And I remember you’d, when you land you open the bomb doors first to see if there’s any hang-ups presumably. And when I opened the bomb doors of course all the shower of leaflets fell out which is — so I had the boys scampering all over trying to pick up all these leaflets and I realised afterwards they really needn’t have bothered. They didn’t worry about a few. I mean they wasn’t the English people weren’t worried about them anyway. So, but that fortunately I found afterwards that actually counted as an operation anyway so, which I was glad it did because it was a pretty hairy target, Brest. So, then from, from that I went to Shepherds Grove I think it was called in in Suffolk for a Heavy Conversion Unit on to Stirlings and then from Shepherds Grove we went to, to Feltwell which was a Lancaster Finishing School.
AM: And was that where you crewed up?
CM: No. No. You crewed up at OTU. But the crewing up was a strange thing because I’d, I was coming from, from I think it was from Dishforth to, to [pause] I don’t know if it was Dishforth to Feltwell but as I got off the station, out of the train on to the platform this young navigator came up to me and said, ‘Are you crewed up, serg?’ Because I was a sergeant then. Either a sergeant or a flight sergeant, I forget because I’d been a sergeant over twelve months. And then, so I said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ He said, ‘Well, can I be your navigator?’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ I mean I said, ‘Yes, certainly.’ So I’d already got then one crew member and then we went in and when you go to a station you have to go to, to all sorts of departments you know. Well, you’d know. Well, you did then. You went to the sick quarters and went to the bike shed and God knows where. So I went to the sick quarters and I’m sitting there waiting to see somebody and then a gaggle of blokes came in and slumped on a form of chairs and [unclear] and all these blokes were sort of lolling asleep and this one fella was quite awake. And apparently they were a load of bomb aimers who’d come from Morpeth I think where they’d been doing, it was a Radio School, I think. And a fellow who everybody called Dick, and I called him Dick once I’d been introduced to him he, he came. He was only a livewire. Well I’d found out then later that they’d all just come from, all the way from, from Morpeth in the North East so they were tired. But he seemed quite chirpy. And I found much later on in life that his name wasn’t Dick. His name was actually Bob but his surname was Turpin see. So he was Dick. Like everybody who was White was Chalky White. Anyway, I thought, I said, ‘Are you crewed up?’ So he said, ‘No.’ So I said, well he was what we called a flying A, A haul because he wasn’t a, he wasn’t a navigator he was an observer. And he was both a gunner, a wireless operator and navigator as well. So he was the best of all works. And eventually he was one I, I became closest to and I actually taught him enough to get the Lancaster down because I thought it was, was stupid for say if I got shot or killed and there’s all the crew, I mean. You know they didn’t know anything so, so he could at least put it, I don’t say it would be a good landing but he could put it down. So that was he was fixed. That was, the navigator was fixed. And Bob was, or Dick was fixed and he was a sort of back up navigator if I needed it and he said, ‘Have you got any gunners?’ So I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Well, I’ve got two Geordie gunners,’ he said, ‘And one of them wants to be a rear gunner,’ he said, ‘Which is unusual. So,’ he said, ‘Should I ask them’? So I said, ‘Yes. Fine.’ So then I got the two gunners. So I was fixed up apart from the wireless operator. Well, we were going to, I forget which station we were at now but I was passing the, where the wireless op was being, where the wireless operators were being trained and this circle of people were there around this one bloke and they were all laughing their socks off. And I thought well he’s a livewire whoever it is in the middle so I said I’ll have him. Well, I didn’t realise they weren’t laughing with him so much as laughing at him because he was, he was the most well intentioned bloke but he really wasn’t that well clued up because twice he [pause] well once on the Wellington he nearly gassed us all to death because he, it was his responsibility to turn the ground and flight switch on to flight when, on the Wellington when you took off and he’d forgotten. And suddenly the cockpit filled with fumes you see. And it was only Dick who said, ‘You bloody well haven’t switched the thing on,’ see. So the battery was going. And he also, he when the wireless wasn’t working once he stripped it all down. He said, ‘I’ll fix it.’ Well, he couldn’t put it back together again, so [pause] But, and he and the navigator who was we called Titch because he was only five foot one and he had a, a motorbike and used to, we used to joke, if you see the a bike coming along and there’s nobody on it that’s Titch. So that was, that was quite funny. So then I was fully crewed up and they truthfully were, were a good bunch of lads. And my rear gunner could turn his hand to anything if, he used to do all my sewing for me. Darn my socks. And whenever I got any increase in rank or what he’d sew it on. And if you lost anything he would get you another one. He would acquire one from somewhere [laughs] Whether it was a bicycle or, or a gas mask or whatever it was he would get it. ‘Don’t worry about it, skipper. I’ll see to it,’ he’d say. That’s right. But they were really a good bunch of lads. And that was it. I was fully crewed up. But apparently what they did they was, if you read the stories they shoved everybody in a hangar and they had to sort theirselves out. Well, that didn’t work for me. Mine came like I told you and I never had any trouble. And the only thing was you didn’t, you didn’t want your crew flying, flying with anybody else. You just, but they all, one of the snags was one and it’s funny how I, how I got my commission I think because at Ched, I didn’t, from Feltwell LF Lancaster Finishing School we went straight to the squadron which was at Methwold which was in Norfolk. And that was the first time I ever realised they were on ops because prior to then you just wanted to get on the squadron you know. You desperately want to get on the squadron. But when we drove through the gates because it’s only a few miles from Feltwell to Methwold there were ambulances pulled up at the outside. They’d been to, I think to Homberg they’d been to and they were lifting some of the people out and putting them in the ambulances. They’d been shot. They’d had a particularly bad trip and of course I would see it at the time but funnily enough it was strange because after I’d done this, when I’d seen these, all the bomb aimers and got crewed up you went to the bedding store, that was the last place you went to to get your blanket. Well, your three blankets and two sheets. And the fella looked at me and said and must have been when I spoke, he said ‘You’re a Mancunian, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘So am I.’ He said, ‘Now, don’t worry son,’ he said, ‘I’ve seen hundreds go through here,’ he said, ‘And I can tell you now you’ll be alright.’ You’ll see things through. So I don’t know why he’d sort of gave me and the strangest thing out. I’ve told this story many times. Later on. H came from Blackley. As we called it Blackley as it’s spelled. A lot of people call it Blackley who don’t know Manchester, Blackley and we corresponded with each other for only by Christmas card but for must have been twenty odd years until the Christmas cards stopped and presumably he’d gone. But when I was back in civilian life my wife and I were walking down Cannon Street in Manchester and there was a ladder up against the wall and I was just going, I said to my wife, ‘Don’t walk under the ladder. We’ll walk on the outside,’ were just walking round the outside and then suddenly somebody pushed, pushed us both to one side and a coping stone fell off the roof and crashed right down by the side of us. And I turned around and looked at the, who’d pushed us out the way and who should it be but Wilf Brennan. The fella who had seen me at the, at the station and said I’d be alright. And I thought, well what a coincidence you know. Just, but he must have I mean obviously he was quite a bit older than me. Well, nearly everybody was. So that was that. And then we’d only done one op from, from Methwold when the whole squadron was posted to Chedburgh and I found out it was what they call a GH squadron. Which was mostly daylights because we had, we were fitted with Gee which was, which was a radar scheme to, but it was only, it was only accessible as far as the Ruhr. That’s the farthest distance it had and and I was, the way the aircraft were were differentiated was they had two yellow bars on the fins of the, of the Lancaster. And I used to take off from, from Chedburgh and rendezvous over Ipswich and we would either communicate through the Aldis lamp or with, on the RT for, to give your call sign and they would formate on me. So we’d fly all the way to the target in what we called vics of three. I would be the leader and one on either side and it was formation flying all the way until you dropped your bombs and then, then virtually they were supposed to fly back with you but frankly it was every man for himself after that. Didn’t work. We didn’t do that at night but daylights and the, I mean I did I did twenty two day trips. I only did I think about eleven nights and then a nickel raid and that. I think I did thirty six altogether. But I think the trouble with the night flying was the searchlights because you, with GH the thing was it was only accurate if you flew straight and level for about forty miles going into the target and the navigator used to complain bitterly if you, you went off slightly off course because he’s, he’s sat behind his curtain thing and once or twice we had words because I’d say, ‘Get the bloody hell, get your head out and have a look,’ I said, ‘And you’ll see why I’m diverting a bit.’ ‘Cause as you would know you always say you don’t just say left or right you always say left left and then right to differentiate between the two so he can’t mistake what you’re saying. But you’ve got to be forty miles absolutely straight and level and not deviate so that the thing is accurate. And the trouble is you’re susceptible to fighters on daylights. The FW190 was the one we were worried about. Daylight it was. Night time it was searchlights because we were briefed that the ordinary searchlight wasn’t too bad but then they had what they called the master beam and if that, if that got you in his sights then all the beams came on you. They must have coordinated somehow and you had I think they had, you had, they had sixteen seconds in which to replot the actual position you were in from the time the searchlight, master searchlight got on you. So you had to be quick. But what I developed over the, over the time which wasn’t particularly brave but I used to ask the, I asked the two gunners, the mid-upper and the rear gunner, I said, ‘Look out for another Lancaster or Halifax or Stirling or whatever you can and if you see one let me know.’ And I used to dive over the top of it if I could with the idea being that if the searchlight was following me and if I went over the top of him the light would be on him for a short period of time and then if I was able to get out of the way very quickly hopefully they’d have lost me and be on somebody else. And I for daylights I used to tell the lads, the gunners, I said, ‘If you see what you think is a FW 190 or a Stuka or whatever it is,’ I said, ‘Don’t fire at it in case one of three things. A — he might not have seen us. B — he might have seen us but be like me and want to stay alive so he doesn’t want to get shot down.’ And I said, ‘Those are two things you must take into account because I said there’s no point in drawing attention to yourself,’ you see. And our, my mid-upper gunner was at first on the first three trips were, very first three night trips were very gung ho. He wanted to go down and have a go at the searchlights. But I politely told him I don’t think that’s on. Not in those words.
AM: And did you ever have to do a corkscrew at night? Or —
CM: No. Yes, I did. On the really shakiest trip I had was I’d gone to a place, well I didn’t get there. I was going to Dessau which is about, I think it’s about a hundred miles southwest of Berlin. And it was a night trip and we were, I was going there and suddenly the port outer had a runaway prop and I tried to feather it and it didn’t feather. And then to my consternation it burst into flames. So I thought, oh shit. What the hell am I going to do? So I, you had in the Lanc you had what they called four graviner buttons. One for each engine. So I pressed the graviner button and it, it didn’t seem to to put the thing out. So I thought oh I’ll have to do something. So I resorted to a manoeuvre I’d learned early on in, in my flying days, sideslipped. So I, I sideslipped it left to try and, I thought one of two things. It would either help to extinguish the flames or else it will increase the, the chance. I don’t know which. But fortunately it went out but the trouble is the prop hadn’t, hadn’t feathered and it was windmilling like the clappers. And obviously immediately I lost, I started to lose height because I was at, I’d started at twenty, about twenty one thousand feet and it just started to drop like a stone so I said to, to Bob, or Dick as he was, I said, ‘Just jettison.’ So he jettisoned and that sort of arrested the fall for a bit but I didn’t regain control until about I must have been about nine thousand feet and I said, we had piles of Window stacked in the back which we were supposed to shovel out. So I, I got the boys shovelling this stuff out as fast as they could. And I’ve read many books since where what we thought we was, was helping to jam their, their radar, in point of fact was doing just the opposite. They were, it was helping them more than not. So then I was, said to Titch, ‘Well, just give me a course as far as you can. As near as you can to, to get to base.’ I said, ‘But you’re better not to go in to base because I haven’t got any hydraulics. So you’d better go in to Woodbridge,’ which was the nearest. There was Woodbridge, Manston or Carnaby were the three emergency. But I don’t have to describe those to you. You know what they are. Three runways of different calibres. So there was a battle line and then the bomb line and they’re two different lines because you had to be sure you were over the bomb line before you dropped any bombs because of your own troops being in the way. Anyway, Titch said to me, ‘You’re alright now, Skip. You’re over the, over the sea. You can let down.’ Because I was over nine thousand feet and I was struggling to, to hold the thing because as you can see I’m only five foot and my, I’d got as maximum trim as I could on but it was still a struggle for me. So he said, ‘Ok, you let down now.’ Well, when I came out of the cloud instead of being over the sea I was met by a load of tracer and very heavy anti-aircraft fire. So I, I did a corkscrew as you say which was not, it’s not very pleasant for the crew. Not very pleasant for me. But it seemed to, seemed to do the trick and we sailed on over the North Sea and then, then I don’t know whether what aircraft there are now, whether they [unclear] but on the Lanc you had what they called a star wheel which is the trimmer which, which altered the trim. A little piece of strip on the back of the elevators to, to for fine tuning and I’d got it obviously full, full on for, for, from my left leg. And I had on, because it was cold as well because the boys, actually you were you were given Kapok suits first and then, then on top of the Kapok which is like a thermal material. It’s called Kapok in those days. Then you had, you had your underwear first. Your silk underwear. And then your Kapok suit and then like a gabardine suit. This is what you had on your what they called you flying kit. But as far as I was concerned certainly my crew and every other crew I’d know didn’t, didn’t wear that stuff. The gunners.
AM: Yeah.
CM: Actually, especially the rear gunner they wore electrically heated suit. A bottom and a top which the boys said didn’t always work. Either the top of it or the bottom worked. But we just wore our thermal underwear, well not, it wasn’t thermal then. It was silk worn in two layers. And then your ordinary battledress with a fisherman’s, what I called a fisherman’s sweater and fisherman’s socks and then, then your escape boots which which had a little section in the side where you could put a, which was a pseudo strip of Wrigleys chewing gum. A long strip but it contained a hacksaw blade. And I had every single button on my uniform was a compass. If you took the top off the button then there was a little like pin on it and you could put it on the top of the thing and there was a little yellow dash which pointed to north. That was on every button. And I also had, because I was friendly with the, one of the intelligence officers and I had the cigarettes, not a tobacco pouch which you broke open the lining and it had a silk map of Europe with Spain and so on. And I had pipes that either unscrewed and there was a compass inside one end of the pipe or pencils that you could break and there was a compass inside that. I said, ‘If the Jerry’s ever get me I’ll run a [unclear] over the stuff’ [laughs], but I had every, every aid there was and our plan was, which wasn’t very good, Titch, the navigator had done a little German at school so we were all too, if we were to bale out we were to all get together which is being possibly impossible anyway and he would be able to talk his way out. He’d be able to talk his way out. I don’t think he would.
AM: Yeah.
CM: But that was the plan. So, as I say we, we had all this so coming in to land obviously as you start to throttle back then you have to take the trim off. But with three gloves on I got my fingers stuck in the bloody star wheel see. So I’m sweating cobs that I’ve got to get my hand out of this so I could get both hands on the stick. And anyway we got in alright and just ran to the end. And I’d, you were issued with what we called wakey-wakey tablets which were Benzedrine, I understand. And I never used them. The boys used them a lot for forty eight hour leaves. They used to use them and then they could stay awake all night and you know get pissed as a rat and stay in London or whatever. But I never used them but this time I thought well I’d better take these wakey-wakey tablets because it was, it’s a long way back from, from Dessau to, to base. And it must have been about four hours I think. I know it was a long way. So I’d taken these bloody tablets and the affect it had on me. That was the only time I ever used them but you sort of wanted to go to sleep but you couldn’t. And you had to go into the Watch Office first and sign your name on something. I said, ‘I’m afraid I can’t. I can’t sign anything.’ I didn’t, I just didn’t couldn’t do. I don’t know why. I just couldn’t write. Anyway, I went in and it seemed to be alright. And that’s, that’s the worst trip I’d, I’d had. I’d had one or two bits of scrapes but that was that was the one that was the worst one for me. And —
AM: What about the losses on the squadron? Did it affect the crew or you?
CM: Well, no. What happened is, you didn’t. They were, we used to refer to it as getting the chop and what happened when there were no number thirteens on anything. On the lockers or anything. And if, if a crew got the chop, if you were all, I don’t know how many of us there were in the nissen hut but there wasn’t just our crew. There was another crew. Or at least one crew and if they got the chop they didn’t fill those beds until another intake came in. And the, I don’t know whether he thought it was the right word but the, the normal way of things was if there was a girl on the station who’d gone with somebody let’s say a pilot from another crew and had got the chop she became a chop girl. So that was taboo. You didn’t, you didn’t go out with her at all. And there was one poor girl I, I know. This was on Wellingtons. Not not before I got on Lancs but she had lost. This had happened to her twice and so she said, ‘I’m not going out with anymore aircrew fellas.’ And she went out with a ground staff sergeant and he walked into a pillar. I mean, and superstitions were absolutely rife. I mean my, my crew Dick always wore a pair of his wife’s cami knickers as they called them in those days. Which was like coms, but with, with three little buttons which fastened on the crotch. And he always wore those. And his wife Mary because he was the only one married in the crew and she travelled with him wherever she, wherever we went and played the piano which was good. So she was, you know friendly with every one of us. Well, she gave me a scarf. It was a paisley scarf. A lovely one. And Dick came to my home sometimes when, when we were on leave and more often than not I came up to Blyth because it was a better atmosphere. And so I’d ask my mother to wash this scarf which of course it got dirty after, you know. So she said, ‘I haven’t seen this before. Whose is it?’ I said, ‘That’s Mary’s.’ So, she said, ‘That’s, that’s Dick’s wife isn’t it?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ She said, ‘You’ve no right to be wearing some other man’s wife thing.’ I mean that’s my mother all over. So I said, ‘Well, I do and that’s it. So if you don’t mind just wash the bloody thing.’ Well, that was him. Now, my, my flight engineer always wore a white towelling shirt. And he never washed it. But he always wore a white towelling shirt. And my mid-upper gunner always carried a kukri in his flying boot. You know a big kukri. And I think it was the, I think he was the rear gunner who had a rabbit’s foot. And you found, I don’t know whether it was just coincidence or what but one of the fellas, fella I remember his name, Marley because he had a Riley car as well. A Riley sports car. He went and he lost his life on take-off on one operation and they found his rabbit’s foot in his locker and they said, ‘There you are,’ you see, they said, ‘He didn’t bloody well take it.’ Well, we also had a stuffed cat. Which was not a real cat but it was a stuffed cat called the Mini the Moocher and we always had it tied to the, the stem of the loop aerial. In the Lancaster there’s a little bubble behind the pilot’s cockpit where the loop stands. And Mini the Moocher was strapped to that. And when you used to take off you’d come along the peritrack, all lined up taxiing and then they’d signal you to go on to the runway and you’d sit on the end of the runway and there was the dispatcher’s hut and they would shine an Aldis lamp with a green for you to go. And always at the side of the runway there would be the padre, and the CO, and possibly two or three WAAFs and maybe one or two of the ground crew. And you would sit there until you got the green and then you’d open the tap and off you’d go. Well, one day we had, we’d forgotten Mini the Moocher and suddenly one of the ground staff came peddling up like the clappers and waved to us and stopped so we could, we could have Mini the Moocher and strap it to the thing. Yeah. They were very superstitious. But you do. I mean when you think about it now it didn’t make the slightest difference but it did in your mind, you know. So that was that so —
AM: You mentioned going home to see your mother when you went home to Manchester.
CM: Yeah.
AM: During the war.
CM: Yeah.
AM: What was it like for you? An operational pilot.
CM: Well, my mother didn’t know I was on ops. Only the boy I told you about John, John Fowkes the Welsh boy who’d been with me, who’d been with me throughout. He had joined the Air Force and he was in Bomber Command but he was actually at, at Mildenhall which was only a few miles from Chedburgh and he, he used to come over and see me. Well, his parents were greengrocers. Nearly all my friends when I was at school were the son of street corner something or other. Greengrocers or chip shop or butchers or whatever so, and he was on ops and he was before me. I didn’t know this but he was on a squadron and his mother had met my mother on some occasion and she told him. Oh yeah. ‘I see your Charles is doing the same as John.’ Well, she didn’t know see. So the next time I came on leave she gave me a pile of stamped postcards all ready to post. And she said, ‘Now, we hear on the radio,’ she said, which they did. They’d say ‘Last night our aircraft bombed — ’ whatever. Frankfurt. And so many of our aircraft of are missing or they all returned safely or whatever happened. Or Lord Haw Haw would tell them. So she gave me all these cards and she said, ‘Now, post them to me as soon as you get back so I know you’re alright.’ So I said, ‘Ok.’ So what I used to do is I used to tell her I was safe and that before I went and posted it, you see so she didn’t worry about anything. And if I wasn’t, I wasn’t so that’s [pause] But the first time as I say she’d ever heard from me for all the months before was that card she had from the Jewish lady in New York. So she didn’t know. But what we used to do is when we came up to Blyth which they were much, beer was, was rationed completely and Mary was also loved by everybody because she could play the piano see. So she came because she was with Bob, Dick and she would, she would play the piano and we’d sing. Have a sing song. And when, when we came to Blyth the one song that we all used to stand in a circle and we’d sing was, “With someone like you,” altogether, “A pal good and true, I’d like to leave it all behind.” You know the song. And I introduced the same thing at home so we all had a, had that song and a bit of a, possibly a bit of a weep together like I’m doing now and but there was songs seemed to have a, you know a special something about them.
AM: Resonance.
CM: But that’s, that’s how it was and —
AM: Tell me about the day the war ended.
CM: Well, we were on [pause] what happened when, I finished early on in April. The war finished in April, May. VE day was promulgated I think on the 8th of May. But we finished in April. I forget what date it was now. I’ve got it here somewhere. I did, I did my last op on [pause] this incidentally I don’t think. You can have a look at it. This is when I came back from any of the ops there was always a cutting, or not always, generally a cutting in the newspaper. Like this stop press news, “Our bombers new route. Daily Sketch correspondent. People in the north east saw for the first time last night something which the south has seen many times before. The organised might of Bomber Command proceeding on a mission. The concentration of aircraft was the biggest ever seen over the north east.” And this was Kiel.
AM: God.
CM: We sank the, and I used to write, I used to write what I’d thought about the trip. And they used to put the bomb load in. The one five hundred medium capacity. “Another master bomber effort and very impressive. A good way out at two thousand feet. Really good. The target itself was beautifully marked and though the flak was intense it was well below our height. Searchlight gave us persistently little trouble. I’m pretty sure it was a grand prang.” That’s the word we used. “The only thing that marred the trip was the long delay in getting us down.” And then this was where we sank the, the I think that was the Admiral Scheer.
AM: The Admiral Scheer.
CM: Yeah. So that’s, that’s I’ve got a record there of every trip I did so that it starts right at the very front page with the details of the Lancaster. I don’t know whether you’ve —
[recording paused]
AM: What did you do after the war, Charles?
CM: Well, as I said to you at the beginning after the war when I was on the Berlin Airlift they had, they had a, they had a lot of small aircraft. Freddie Laker had some of his aircraft and Blackburn Aircraft Corporation had a lot of aircraft and they were I don’t know how it I was seconded or whatever to help the war. To help the Berlin Airlift. And I met a pilot. We were actually talking over the intercom and he recognised my voice and I spoke to him and I met him at, we used to go to a place called Bad Nenndorf for r&r because the, it was quite a strain on the Airlift because we were flying twenty four hours a day seven days a week and we didn’t, we didn’t always get back to the billets to go to sleep. You slept in the watch office. So you had to go to a place for a bit of rest. And we often used to meet up there and I met with a bloke called Takoradi Taylor who was called Takoradi Taylor because he’d been in Takoradi before the war with the Air Force and he, I’ll show you later on. But I used to play a lot of golf when I first retired and we were playing at Haydock one day. We had, with the veterans you went to different, different Golf Clubs to play in the Veteran’s Association and I walked out on the tee and there was this fella with, and there was this bag he’d got and he looked as if it was made of sort of snakeskin and I said, ‘That’s a wonderful bag.’ So he said, ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘My brother got it for me,’ he said, ‘From Takoradi.’ So I said, ‘Oh, that’s a name that rings a cord,’ I said, ‘I knew a bloke on the Berlin Airlift. Takoradi Taylor,’ I said, ‘But unfortunately,’ I said, and he, I said, ‘That’s the first time I’ve heard that word Takoradi for a long time,’ I said, ‘But unfortunately,’ I said, ‘He flew for a firm called Flight Refuelling,’ which was one of Cobham’s people. And I said, ‘Unfortunately, they were,’ I said, ‘He was a friend of mine and I last met him at Bad Nenndorf and he recognised me from, we were at OTUs together. At Operational training Unit.’ So, I said, ‘I hadn’t seen him from that day,’ I said, ‘And I met him at Bad Nenndorf and I said, I said to him, ‘Well, we must have a drink together.’ So he said, ‘Yes, so he said I’m flying back now with the boys,’ he said, ‘All the, all the pilots from Flight Refuelling are flying home to Tarrant Rushton,’ which is near Southampton, he said and, ‘That’s where, where I’m going for my rest. But when I get back I’ll give you a buzz and we’ll get together.’ And I said, ‘Fine.’ Well, apparently the whole of them. All the pilots flew into a problem at Tarrant Rushton. Whether they flew straight into the ground or what but they were all killed. And so we never did get together but I told, we had a magazine at the Golf Club and I told them this story which went in, you know. So that was that. But what I’m saying is when we were talking over the intercom and I talked to this fella called Des Martin who lived on the Wirral and afterwards we got together. He’d been at Clewiston with me on 5 BFTS. So he was flying for Blackburn Aircraft Corporation and he said, and he said he was getting a hundred and twenty pounds a week, you see. Well, I was a flight lieutenant in the Air Force. I was getting sixty pounds a month. So he said, ‘Well, you’re stupid to stay,’ he said, ‘You’re doing the same bloody job.’ He said, ‘Just apply for your, you’ve just to apply to them and,’ he said, ‘You’ve got all the qualifications. You’ve been flying the route for God knows how long,’ he said. ‘You’ll have no trouble,’ So I did but they said, ‘Well, what you need is a course at Tarrant err at Hamble. Well, by the time I got my compassionate release because I told you Margie was ill the course had finished. And you had to have a hundred and twenty hours on type which I couldn’t afford you see. So instead of going to fly, I hadn’t decided to emigrate then I thought well I’ll see what they have to offer me. I’d worked before. I’d worked for a firm call Lec Transport and I was happy but it was only a mediocre job. So I went to what they called the Appointments Bureau which was supposedly for officers. Like the Employment Exchange but a bit of higher up. He said, Mr Green was the fellas name, so he said, ‘What’s your name?’ So I said. He said, ‘Well, you’ve got a good war record son,’ because he had my details, he said, ‘But the war’s over.’ I mean, I knew that. So, he said, ‘And what I can offer you, I can, I can fix you up with a job down the mines or, or I can fix you up with, with you can go into a cotton mill.’ So, I said, ‘I’ll find my own job.’ So my brother had, he was in, he worked for Milner’s Safe Company and he had been selling steel furniture which Milner’s sold to different firms in Manchester. And one of the firms was an office equipment company which had furniture and adding machines and calculators and typewriters. So he said well, ‘I’m sure he’d give you a job.’ So, so I I went to see him and he said, ‘Have you got a briefcase?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ So he said, ‘Well, I’ll show you what these machines are. Typewriters and so on. He gave me a little bit of instruction on how to use them and he gave me a load of leaflets. He said, ‘Well, just go out and sell some of these.’ Well, cutting a story short I did that for about, I don’t know, maybe twelve months. Hated it because well after being an officer and being used to eating off linen and all nice things it was a shock to, to come to what was reality. And anyway I, I stuck at it and eventually became the sales manager and then I became the general manager and then he was the director of the company and then he made me a director as well. And then I’d, we had a fall out which I don’t need to go into but it was, it was a case of misinformation in various areas. And I’d met a fellow who was in a similar line of business. He had a stationer’s shop in amongst other things in Liverpool and he’d always said, ‘If you ever think of changing your job give me a bell.’ We got on well together. So I did and I started work with him and they were [pause] he didn’t want me for stationery. He wanted me for a new branch of his firm which was called Industrial Stapling and Packaging. So I eventually got to be the admin manager of this company and we were taken over by a firm called Ofrex who manufacture stapling machines and tackers and all sorts of different machines. And when they took us over they also had a stapling machine called, stapling company called IS & P Industrial Stapling and Packaging which was based in Aylesbury. So the head of the company, the director and the only director of the company said it was silly having two companies. One in Liverpool and one in Aylesbury. So he decided to merge the two into two called British Industrial Fastenings. And he took the whole thing down to Aylesbury. So, they, they obviously wanted me to go to Aylesbury. Well, I had a word with the managing director of the company down in Aylesbury and he wouldn’t meet my terms. I said to him, ‘I, first of all I want a house equivalent of the bungalow I’ve got here. And I want pay equivalent to the sales manager’s because,’ I said, ‘I’m the manager of the whole of the thing.’ Anyway, he wouldn’t meet my requirements so I said, ‘Alright. Well, I’m not coming.’ So I saw my boss back in Liverpool and he said, ‘Well, don’t worry Charles.’ Now, we’d started to buy some machinery and some strapping which was plastic strapping from a company in America. So he said, ‘Get your ass over to America and learn all you can about all the machines and how they make the strap and everything and then come back and see what you can do here.’ So I went over there for about three weeks and I had to learn about all the different machines and how they made this what was then polypropylene strapping. And cutting up a long story short I, I took a twenty year lease on a building which belonged to the Coal Board in, in, in Ellesmere Port on the other side, on the Wirral. And I arranged for the, for the factory, the extruder and the drawer stands and all the rest of it and we set up this company called, we just called it Laughton’s [unclear] Strap. That’s the name of the strap the Americans were making.
AM: Right.
CM: But we started. I said, ‘Well, we won’t make money being the last in line. We have to manufacture the straps.’ So we bought these extruders and we bought all this stuff and I had to take a twenty year lease out on this place in Ellesmere Port. But anyway we set it up. Within, within twelve months we were, we had a turnover just over a million quid. And it went from strength to strength and we eventually we then were taken over by Gallagher’s which not only had tobacco companies like Benson and Hedges and so on. They also had, they owned Dolland and Aitchison, the opticians. They owned Prestige Pans and a lot of other companies. But they in turn were taken over by the fourth largest tobacco company in the world called American Brands who then got themselves into litigation about cancer. So they decided, this was after I’d retired. I retired in ’86, but after I’d retired they decided they weren’t going to get into this litigation about cancer so they sold everything back to Galla. Well not, they sold it to Gallagher’s. And Gallagher’s and American Brands not only owned the tobacco side which was Lucky Strike and God knows what. They also owned Pinkerton’s, the security people, they also owned Titelist Golf Balls they also owned Jim Beam Whisky. And what they did is they sold all their tobacco business to Gallagher’s and Gallagher’s sold all their stuff off to, back to American Brands and, and everything but so then American Brands to divest themselves of all the tobacco stuff and they sold out to a firm called Acco Europe. Which is probably one of the biggest firms. They first of all started out in what I call continuous stationery which is if you look at machines going it prints all sorts of loads of different stationery. So that’s who the company belongs to. But Laughton’s was a business on its own which didn’t fit in to anything so it’s now gone kapput. It no longer exists.
AM: Right.
CM: So, but that’s the way it was. But I, I was appointed to the board on that company as well because I had a number of quite good ideas. One of which has come to fruition but not with me. But I, I dreamt up the idea of a thing called, ‘Call and Collect.’ Which was people phoned up the company, and on the phone with our computers which I’d put in. Then you keyed in what they wanted. You had to have a code and all that which was very different from these days when everything’s [unclear] and I bought a place next door which had a big door at one end and a big door at the other end. I had different stalls put up and we put a lot of our stock which was the main big seller down in this, this warehouse. And the idea was for people to phone up. This would be processed and they would be picked by people and then the car from the company would drive in one end, load it up and drive out the other. But it didn’t take off at all. But this Click and Collect at Tescos and God knows where.
AM: Yeah.
CM: But it just didn’t work.
AM: Did you, after the war Charles keep in touch with any of your crew members?
CM: Bob, or Dick. Yes. I did. We used to, they used to come and stop at my house and I used to go up to Blyth and stay with them. We, we stayed together for right until Bob died. He’d be about seventy one or seventy two.
AM: Right.
CM: And then Mary, his wife died. And I still, I still keep in touch with their daughter. And one of the boys I was with at ITW, Initial Training Wing, the one who I told you how I met the wife when she was dancing around. Well, I kept in touch with the daughter for quite a years when they didn’t know he was killed or what. He was just missing. So I kept in touch with her. She died and her husband saw some of the correspondence so he asked if he could keep in touch with me. He still keeps, well he stayed in touch with me until he died. And then his daughter found this correspondence so she’s still in correspondence with me today. And my sister who I told you he thought the world of she always puts a cross on in the arrangements for us in the Arboretum in Staffordshire somewhere. Yeah. So I do. My, my other crew. My Bomber Command crew I kept in touch with them until they, they all passed, so there’s no — as far as I know my mid-upper gunner went as a tea planter in Ceylon and I lost touch with him. And the flight engineer. I wrote to him. He’s from Glasgow. I had a couple or three letters from him and then that died off. And Freddie Collins, the wireless op I’ve never heard or seen anything from, from the day we went on break up leave. And my navigator I told you got killed on his first trip. So that accounts for the crew and the, the other crew that I kept in touch with was the York crew. But they’re dead now so I don’t keep it going. I can’t keep in touch with them. So, there’s, there’s virtually nobody left.
AM: So is there anything else that you’d like to tell me of your time in Bomber Command?
CM: No. I don’t think so. As far as, as far as I know. I mean if there’s anything you think of and I’ll try and tell you. I mean all I can say to you that it was a traumatic time but at the same time I made friends that I, I was, I’d been never been closer to anybody in my life. Just one of those things and, and it taught me an awful lot. The Air Force really [pause] the Air Force in general, it made me feel that I want something better out of life than I was, was having. And I mean the very fact that I got commissioned was, was quite an uplift for me really. I never, I mean I never dreamed that I was ever that, I was never university type. But at the same time it also taught me that as far as I can tell I’m good at what I do. And I’ve been fortunate in that the two private companies I worked for were individuals who were able to, there must be many many people who are working for firms that just either it’s so remote that they don’t see anybody. But these two fellas were, they owned the company. And like there’s one guy now phones me, has phoned me religiously every month since I’ve known him. Forty odd years. And he has a, he has a, he owns a huge paint factory. Got factories all over the world and a multi-millionaire. But he phoned me only a few days ago just to see how I was. And never, never fails. And he said, ‘We’ve been friends for so long,’ and he, he hasn’t got a ha’pence of side on him at all. I mean, you wouldn’t know. I mean when, when I took him out for a meal at Formby we just went to an ordinary meal place and he said, which I can hear him saying, he was a real Lancashire lad, he said, ‘Anybody having pudding?’ I mean and they all seemed, and given the chance I’m pretty certain whatever I’d have done I’ve made a success of it.
AM: Yeah.
CM: It’s just worked out that way. And I’ve been, I’ve said in all my papers I have been very, very lucky. I had a, had a wonderful childhood. And I can truthfully say I never had a day when I got up and said, ‘I don’t want to go to work today.’ I’ve always been happy in what I’m doing. And I think it’s, it reflects really what you are and to the people that you meet you know. And even all the girls who come. The carers. I get on like a house on fire with them. I mean. And I say to them, which is true I don’t know how anybody can criticise the —
[recording paused]
AM: Charles Mears. Flight Lieutenant Charles Mears, Distinguished Flying Cross, thank you.



Alastair Montgomery, “Interview with Charles Mears,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 1, 2023,

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