Interview with Bruce Minnitt

Title

Interview with Bruce Minnitt

Description

Bruce Minnitt served in the Second World War flying Wellingtons on maritime reconnaissance in the Mediterranean and B-24s in India. When war started Bruce joined the Home Guard, and in 1941 when reaching 18 years of age, he enlisted in the Royal Air Force. He actually wanted to be an air gunner but was assessed as suitable for pilot training. His flying training was carried out in Alberta, Canada. After over two years of rationing, he enjoyed the improved diet he received in Canada. Flying in an open cockpit through a Canadian winter was particularly challenging. On his return to Great Britain, he was posted to No. 6 Operational Training Unit near RAF Carlisle to fly Wellingtons. He was then sent to RAF Haverfordwest, from where he was sent on leave for 48 hours before being sent overseas. Arriving home, he proposed, and married by special licence before returning to his unit. It was to be over two years before he saw his wife again. On return to his unit he was tasked with delivering a Wellington to Rabat in Morocco. From here, Bruce joined 221 Sqn in Southern Italy. He flew 29 maritime reconnaissance operations, but before what would have been his final operation, both Bruce and the wireless operator became ill and had to be replaced. His crew failed to return from their final operation. He describes one sortie when his aircraft was attacked by two Me 109s. With no radio or hydraulics, they were forced to divert and upon landing they discovered both main wheels had been damaged. Luckily, the airfield was aware of their plight and were able to dispatch immediate assistance when they crash landed. Allocated with another crew in Egypt, he carried out four further operational flights on 244 Squadron, and following its disbanding, Bruce was posted to 36 Ferry Unit in India. He spent the remainder of the war delivering B-24s to operating units throughout South East Asia. Bruce finally returned in June 1946 and having declined the opportunity to remain a member of the RAF, was subsequently demobbed. Whilst in India, Bruce met up with his brother, a serving army officer who was on leave. By disguising him as a RAF officer, Bruce was able to smuggle him on board to enable him to accompany Bruce on a delivery flight.

Creator

Date

2017-03-14

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

02:02:47 audio recording

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Identifier

AMinnittPB170314

Transcription

DK: Right. I’ll just introduce myself. So, this is David Kavanagh for the International Bomber Command Centre interviewing Bruce Minnitt on the 13th of March 2017 at his home. If I just pop that down there. You'll see me keep looking down.
BM: Well, I'm not familiar with all these modern gizmos.
DK: No. I’m not [laughs] I'm not either to be honest. The technology hasn't let me down yet but there is always a first time. So if I keep looking down I’m just making sure they're both going. It says one’s going there. So what, what I’d like to just ask is just a few questions and whatever and just sort of get a bit of background. First of all, what I would like to know is what were you doing immediately before the war?
BM: Thinking that the war started in September 1939. Well, let's getaway a little bit in so far as our age is concerned. I was born in 1923.
DK: Right.
BM: So that made me when war broke out in 1939 I was sixteen.
DK: So you were still at, still at school.
BM: No.
DK: Ah. Right. Ok.
BM: I left school fourteen days after I was fourteen years old.
DK: Right. Ok.
BM: So my education has been sadly neglected during my lifetime and as it happened upon leaving school I was very fortunate because fourteen days after leaving school I had a job.
DK: Oh right.
BM: But my grandfather owned the local village shop and my father of course was part of that concern and I got a job. Ten shillings a week. It was wonderful for the hours that were put in.
DK: And that was working in the shop was it?
BM: And I was working in the shop as a —
DK: Yeah.
BM: A lad with an apron around me and I was [pause] I enjoyed it and the experience did me good because after a couple of years my father arranged for me to go to Lincoln and I got a job as a sort of an apprentice working for the best grocers in Lincoln. I used to think they were the best grocers because they had a couple of nice little vans and I used to drive around Lincoln. I was only sixteen —
DK: Yeah.
BM: Years old. I didn't have a licence of course. We used to drive all around Lincoln. No problem. Never, never got bothered by anybody and so I had a couple of years of experience in that and then I went back home and very soon I joined up. I actually volunteered, myself and another friend when we were both [pause] How old would we be? Seventeen and three quarters. I joined up in February.
DK: Was there any, any reason why you chose the RAF? Was —
BM: Well yes of course. I mean it was so glamorous, wasn't it? I mean, we were always going to be Tail End Charlies. I joined up as a, at least I thought I joined up as a tail gunner.
DK: Right.
BM: On bombers. I mean, in 1940, ‘41 rather they were looking for bombers because the high point of the fighters had gone. I was trained as, as a fighter.
DK: Right.
BM: On singles.
DK: Right.
BM: And I did, then I did a navigation course on Ansons and, in Canada whatever. And then we came back from Canada to this country and the first thing of course that I had to do was a conversion course.
DK: Just, just stepping back a bit your, by this time you’ve, you’re a pilot then are you?
BM: I was. Yes. I got my wings in Canada.
DK: Right.
BM: But it didn't matter really whether I was a fighter pilot, bomber pilot or whatever.
DK: Right.
BM: I think they used to move us around as and when required. I mean the fighter era really —
DK: Yeah.
BM: Was in 1940.
DK: So, what, what was the first type of aircraft that you were trained on?
BM: The first one that I actually went and did my original training on and got, went solo on was a Magister.
DK: Right. Ok.
BM: Now, I don't whether you've heard —
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: Of those.
DK: I know the Magisters.
BM: Magisters. A lovely little —
DK: Yeah.
BM: Biplane.
DK: Monoplane. Yeah.
BM: Monoplane. And we did that at Reading.
DK: Right. Yeah.
BM: Woodley.
DK: Yeah.
BM: At Reading. And it was just about deciding whether you were fit to be able to fly an aeroplane or whether you’d got the confidence to, to do it.
DK: So were there sort of aptitude tests?
BM: That's what it was.
DK: It was. Yeah. Yeah.
BM: And we had to be able to, I think the basic test was you had to do your solo in the maximum of twelve hours.
DK: Right.
BM: I think that was what happened. Well fortunately I think what was I? Eight and a quarter or something like that. I had a little bit of an aptitude for it but I always remember my instructor. I thought at the time, well he was a very brave man. How old was I? Eighteen. Sending me off in this plane on my own up there and I always remember thinking, ‘My God, I've got this bloody thing up here. How am I going to get it down again? [laughs] And —
DK: Were they, were they very good, the instructors?
BM: Well —
DK: What were, what were the instructors like?
BM: I think they had to have a lot of faith.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And —
DK: So can you, can you remember how many flights you had with the instructor before you went solo?
BM: Well yes, I did about seven and a half, seven [pause] I haven't unfortunately I think it was about seven and a half I think.
DK: Seven and a half hours was that?
BM: Hours.
DK: Yes. Yeah.
BM: Dual flying.
DK: Right. Yeah.
BM: Before they said, ‘Right.’
DK: ‘Off you go.’
BM: ‘Off you go.’
DK: So what was your feelings then when you went off by yourself for the first time?
BM: Well, I thought what a damn fool I am [laughs] going up with this aeroplane on my own up there. Nobody to help me. No radio. Nothing like that. I couldn't shout, ‘Help.’ You know, ‘What do I do now?’ And I thought I’ll just try and remember what he told me. All the different checks you go through.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Had I got them all right? And I came and landed. It must have been reasonably alright because he said, ‘Off you go again’ so off I went and did another circuit and bump and came around and he said, ‘Ok.’ And that was that. Still did a little bit of flying. Only a time or two after that before we got moved on.
DK: Right. So you got moved on from Reading then.
BM: We got moved on from Reading.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And our, our first EFTS —
DK: Yeah.
BM: I'm not going to try and confuse you with letters.
DK: That's ok.
BM: Elementary Flying Training School.
DK: Right. Ok.
BM: Which was in Newquay.
DK: Right. Ok. So, Reading and then Newquay.
BM: I went to Reading.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And then Newquay. And it was an Elementary Flying Training School but we never did any flying. It was all, you know pounding the streets of Newquay and that.
DK: Square, square bashing.
BM: I did the six months down at Newquay and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And well it was some hard work but I still enjoyed it because the weather was decent. We used to play a lot on the sands and that sort of thing, you know.
DK: Yeah.
BM: We enjoyed that. And then we went from EFTS. I’ve missed some out. My memory is I can’t remember what my own name was.
DK: Don't worry.
BM: I’d moved to Canada then.
DK: Right.
BM: We’d done our ground stuff. I think actually they got a little bit fed up of me because we got moved up to Heaton Park near Manchester.
DK: Right.
BM: It was sort of a transit camp. You go there before you get sent here, there and everywhere and I used to break out of the camp at night and I’d come out on the train and that sort of thing. I remember no one occasion I went back after a weekend at home which I shouldn’t have been because I had no passes and I jumped straight into the arms of the military police. I went through the wall in the, in the park at Heaton Park. A lot of lads had found that out. We jumped through this hole and there were four or five of blooming military police stood on the other side.
DK: Did you, did you get into trouble over that then?
BM: Well, ‘Report to the adjutant 8 o’clock tomorrow morning.’. So I got a week confined to camp for that.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Well, what they used to make us do you put a heavy pack on your back and you had to run around the blooming park. The perimeter of the park.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Which wasn't funny. And then probably have to go back to the orderly room and polish the floors and all that. Well, I went, I saw some leave passes on this adjutant’s table while I was there. I thought, oh, you know he might not miss a few of those. So, I put some of these leave passes in my pocket and while I was there I got, he’d got the old stamp. You know, they used to stamp them. That's fine. And I got a mate of mine he could sign them for me.
DK: Yeah.
BM: His name was Squadron Leader Fred Bowls or whatever his name was [laughs] and it was all very nice but unfortunately one of these weekends I went home using this pass [there was nothing to do] we were a few weeks at Manchester. It was a bank holiday weekend. Well, that was the worst thing I could do because all military traffic, leisure traffic was stopped for the weekend. The civilians were all very much in need of all this traffic and I went home on this weekend and of course again the military police, ‘Where's your leave pass? What are you doing?’ Well, I’d got a nice little leave pass there which I showed them it. ‘There you are corporal.’ ‘Very good. Carry on.’ I said my grandmother wasn't very well so I had to go home and see her before she died.
DK: Oh dear.
BM: I had to. There were a lot of poorly grandmothers around in those days and it was a bad weekend to go. And as I’ say there were other weekends. The last weekend I got the opportunity was when I went and jumped through the wall in to the loving arms of the military police. Anyway, shortly after that we got posted and we went off to Canada.
DK: Do you remember much about the trip over to Canada? Were you on a, can you remember which ship you were on?
BM: Well, I don't remember. But I do, what I do remember it was, it was amazing really we had two battleships.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And we had four cruisers, and we had ten destroyers and that was going the other way. And it took us three weeks to get to St Johns, Newfoundland.
DK: Right.
BM: From Glasgow we went actually and we went right across Canada. Saskatchewan, Manitoba and all the rest of it. Lovely people the Canadians.
DK: What did, what did you think about Canada when you got there?
BM: Oh, it was fantastic. Absolutely fantastic because you see you must remember that this was 1941, the beginning of 1942 when we got [pause] and everything was rationed of course.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And we didn’t have white bread. It was all this stingy old brownish bread and everything like potatoes and milk. Poor old milk were about ninety percent water. I know there is a lot of water in it anyway but most of it was water and it was miserable old stuff. We got across to Canada full cream milk, the food was fantastic. Lovely white soft bread. We thought we were in heaven. And every station that we stopped at and it took us a long time as we were going across Canada there was always a group of lovely ladies came out on the platforms to welcome us and give us fruit and I mean, we hadn’t seen an orange or a banana or anything like that for, for years. And all of them made these wonderful offerings and eventually we ended up at a little place beside the Alaska highway in [pause] north of Calgary. Alberta.
DK: Alberta. Yeah.
BM: And about a hundred miles north of Calgary and it was a real old-fashioned place. There was no roadways or anything like that but it suited us and what we liked about that place which we hadn’t experience in England everything was laid out in, you know in lateral squares.
DK: Yeah. Yeah
BM: So you had a job to get lost.
DK: Right.
BM: Really, I mean it was —
DK: The grid system.
BM: We had a wonderful navigator. Unless, of course and we did have it happen one young fella he was going north when he should have been going south and [laughs] of course he ended up, if he’d kept on going he would have been at the North Pole but of course he ran out of fuel very easily. Then he had to walk back to get back but that was all part and parcel of the experience —
DK: So what —
BM: Of learning.
DK: What sort of training did you then have in Canada?
BM: Well, we went onto Stearmans in Canada.
DK: Right.
BM: That was our first one. This little place called Bowden, and a very very very very safe stable aircraft. I don't know whether you’ve ever seen the, sort of realised the make of aeroplane that there were but these Stearmans were like a big Tiger Moth.
DK: They were biplanes. Yeah.
BM: Biplanes.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Very stable. Very very safe. And you could, you could drop them in from a fair old height and, you know they would just bounce. Well most aeroplanes would, you’d buckle the undercarriage up. That was the biggest problem you know with would be pilots was the judgement in landing an aircraft.
DK: Right.
BM: I mean anybody can take an aeroplane off. You’d open the throttle and keep it straight and off you go. It’s a different kettle of fish when it comes down to judging that height.
DK: Right.
BM: Just get it down and drop it in nicely. And there were more people I think got failed for that particular fault.
DK: Not being able to land.
BM: Couldn’t judge the distance.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: To drop it in. And —
DK: So –
BM: Failed because of that.
DK: At this time are you flying solo again or have you got —
BM: Oh, we, oh yes we got so we were flying solo. And I did quite a lot of hours. There was a statutory number of hours.
DK: Right.
BM: Whether you were good, bad or indifferent you had that to do. And when you reached a certain standard than the whole lot of you, fifty bods usually in a, in a flight would get moved on to the next stage and we went on to the SFTS then.
DK: Right. Yeah.
BM: Yeah. And —
DK: SFTS. Yeah.
BM: You did [laughs]
DK: Yeah.
BM: And at that point we went on to Harvards.
DK: Right.
BM: So we were still training to be fighter pilots. We were still on singles. Now, the Harvards were a wonderful aircraft and we then did a full course on the Harvards. Funnily enough it just made me remember we went to Zimbabwe for a holiday several years ago with a cousin and we were going around Zimbabwe and we went into a museum in Bulawayo.
DK: Right.
BM: One day. A little museum with a few aeroplanes in it and there was a beautiful Harvard in there.
DK: Oh right.
BM: They’d had, they had this Empire Training Scheme.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Which was really —
DK: Yeah.
BM: Out in South Africa. Rhodesia as it was then. It wasn’t Zimbabwe and they did the same course. A lot of the lads went out from this country out to South Africa did the course there and then moved up to the Middle East.
DK: Yeah.
BM: It was much easier for them to get posted in to some sort of military unit in the Middle East. Either in the Western Desert or —
DK: Yeah.
BM: Wherever they went. And it just reminded me that Harvards were, were in South Africa just as much, well not as much they were so very busy with training aircraft in Canada. They did a wonderful job and the Canadians are forever in my heart and I have always wanted to go back full for a holiday.
DK: Right.
BM: To take my wife back after the war. We never got there. Anyway, we came back when all this was over. Well, I’m jumping a bit before we got there. When we’d done the training on the Harvards a group of us got moved from there to Navigation School.
DK: Right.
BM: On Prince Edward Island. PEI as they used to call it. And it had got a job to [pause] it was alcohol free. You know, it was like the old what's the name that they had in New York, didn't they? The —
DK: Oh, the prohibition mission. Yeah. Yeah.
BM: And they had the same thing on Prince Edward Island. The only way we could get any decent drink and that was invariably it was rum, good thick rum. And we didn’t cope with it [phone ringing] and we could buy this in the mess.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And we had to get a licence to buy any alcohol off service premises.
DK: Right.
BM: You know, because there were like alcohol stores where you could buy stuff on licence.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: But you wouldn’t just go in and, ‘I’ll have a pint of beer missus,’ or whatever you know. You, you had to buy it on licence. But we got all we needed anyway.
DK: Yeah.
BM: So we did this course and then we came back when it was over down through the eastern side of America. I forget the name of the States now down north of New York. Then came back to New York and we came home from New York.
DK: Right.
BM: Actually.
DK: Did you actually stop off at New York. Or not —
BM: We got on at New York.
DK: You got on at New York. Yeah.
BM: Yeah, because we came down by train.
DK: Right.
BM: From Prince Edward Island. From Philadelphia, was it was one of them.
DK: Right.
BM: New England.
DK: Right.
BM: It doesn't matter. Anyway. And we got on at New York and came back from there to Liverpool in seven days.
DK: Right.
BM: It took us three weeks to go out.
DK: Yeah.
BM: The same journey. Well, it wasn’t the same journey really because we were just over. We still lost one by the way. We still lost a troop ship going out. With all these ships looking after us we found more escorts than we had people to go, bods on them because we were going the other way.
DK: Right.
BM: And of course, at that point then the Americans were in the war. They joined up pretty well straight away in 1941. Well, December ‘41 is when they came in didn’t they?
DK: Yes. Yeah.
BM: So it would be ’42. And we got the Empire, Empire Air Training Scheme going and we were going the other way. Anyway, we came back and it took us a week and it was said, now we’ve no way of knowing whether it’s true or not there were twenty thousand troops on that boat.
DK: Wow.
BM: On the Princess Elizabeth. And it was the first time, not the first time that we came in but it was, it was used for civilian traffic before it was actually launched as a passenger vessel.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Because it was launched at the beginning of the war, wasn't it? The Queen Elizabeth.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And interesting really. We slept in the swimming pool. There was no water in it. We got these palliases and it was plenty warm enough even in winter. And —
DK: So was the convoy attacked at all on the, on the way back?
BM: Do you know it didn't have one escort.
DK: No.
BM: Not that we saw anyway. If it did it kept out of sight.
DK: Right.
BM: We’d no escort whatever with the Queen Elizabeth and it was, it was forever never, never took a straight course. But it was said and of course everything we got was all rumour. We didn't know whether it was true or not that it was doing about thirty knots all the time and it was too fast for a U-boat.
DK: Yes. Yeah.
BM: You know, there was no way they were going to catch it unless, you could get four or five of them like a pack. And it was maybe difficult to get away then but whether it actually got attacked I don't know but it certainly did fire its guns. It might have been in practise I don't know. It had got some massive, massive guns on as big as a warship.
DK: Right.
BM: And also they’d got dozens, literally dozens of anti-aircraft guns. I mean the Elizabeth was a big ship.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: There was a lot of space there to look after and they did a wonderful job. They got us back but of course we went back to a bit of nice English food having had all this wonderful food all the time we were out in —
DK: You had a bit of a shock then, was it? Coming back to this.
BM: Oh yeah. Coming back to this. So then we did [pause] from there we went, moved on to training on Oxfords.
DK: Right.
BM: Twin engine planes.
DK: Can you remember where you were based then? Flying the Oxfords?
BM: Well, you know my first place really was South Cerney in Gloucestershire.
DK: Right.
BM: There was South Cerney and there was Bibury. We did different sort of out-stations like we, one was at Lulsgate Bottom. I remember that one because it, it actually became Bristol Airport.
DK: Right. Yes. Yes.
BM: Eventually.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Lulsgate Bottom. And it was, it was a bit tight because the A5 ran right alongside. You know the way Scampton does? You’ve got the A15 pretty well right —
DK: Yeah.
BM: At the end of the runway. You’ve got the A5 there at Bristol and I remember on one occasion I was awaiting my turn to take off because invariably you flew on your own even in a twin engine aircraft and he came in to land and just touched the top of a furniture waggon and the furniture waggon went past on the A5 road and the runway was just over the hedge and he just, he just touched it. But he, and I was stood there waiting and he carried on and landed OK but I should think the driver of the vehicle had a —
DK: A bit of a shock.
BM: An enlightening experience.
DK: Yeah.
SM: Has he mentioned about the Americans when he was in Canada? Flew in to —
BM: No.
DK: No. No.
SM: There was a flight of Americans came in. They all crashed didn’t they? Couldn't land.
BM: Oh, well this was in Canada.
DK: Canada. Yeah.
BM: Yeah.
SM: With the frost.
BM: Oh, we had a few experiences. We were, at that period we were going through part of the winter.
DK: Right.
BM: Well, Canadian winters were rather strong —
DK: Yeah.
BM: And one weekend, over one weekend while we were there we actually had eighty degrees of frost. It was [pause] I've got to get this right. Fifty degrees below zero was eighty two degrees of frost.
DK: Right. Yeah.
BM: It was cold.
DK: Right.
BM: It was. And bearing in mind we were flying Stearmans which were open cockpit.
DK: Oh yeah.
BM: And we used to have a, some chamois leather face masks with three pairs of gloves. Silk gloves, woollen gloves, leather gloves. All of it and you are only allowed to fly for twenty minutes.
DK: Right.
BM: That was it. Because of frostbite. You could easily get frostbite.
DK: Yeah.
BM: You were wrapped up like a Chinese monkey and when your time was up you had to come back and land. Get out. Otherwise you would just freeze up.
DK: Right.
BM: It’s sensible I suppose really. And of course, everything was frozen up. You didn't know where the runways were. It was just solid snow and that. On one occasion, this wasn't of course public knowledge but the Americans were supplying the Russians with aircraft and, because we had a photograph of a Flying Fortress with a Russian Star on it. We had, we had 5 Airacobras. Do you know what they are?
DK: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
BM: Yeah. They —
DK: Single engine fighters.
BM: One of the early [ tricycle ] undercarriage planes.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And five came in one after the other. Coming in for re-fuelling on the way up.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Up to Alaska.
DK: And to Russia that way presumably.
BM: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And we were right on the Alaska Highway. The side of the Alaska highway and it would take them up to [pause] I forget the names of the places now. Anyway, they’d go up to Alaska and then over the —
SM: Bering Straits.
BM: Bering Straits.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: And come down in to America that way. They didn't have to fly them across long stretches of water. Long stretches of snow instead. But these five Airacobras they came in and they couldn't pull up because it was on a shortish runway with a fair amount of wind and the brakes wouldn't, they wouldn’t, I don't know, they just, I mean we could see them doing it. You slid right down the blooming runway such as there was and, on this occasion, came down, landed and there was the old Alaska Highway such as it was but it had all snowed up. But we did have a hedge. The first one went straight through the hedge and the other four followed him just boom boom boom. So we had, we ended up with five Airacobras in somebody's field.
DK: Oh dear.
BM: But they didn't do an awful lot of damage.
DK: No?
BM: Really. They did some damage obviously.
DK: Yeah.
BM: But didn’t do such a lot of damage.
DK: Nobody, nobody hurt then.
BM: They weren't very popular. But I mean, you couldn't blame the pilots. They’d absolutely no chance and I mean once the wheels were on the ground that was it. They just kept on sliding.
DK: Yeah.
BM: They’d no grip. But just another [laughs] funny incident. Not quite on the same day but we, we had one or two lads up doing navigation exercises in Ansons. Well, they weren’t flying them. They were there navigating them. Learning how to navigate. And this, as I say this little runway they couldn’t get the aircraft down. It wasn’t a case of getting it down and making it stop down. They couldn’t get it down.
DK: No.
BM: Because an Anson just used to float on the wind you know. Like a butterfly when it was coming in and you’d get down just a few feet off the ground and you couldn’t get it to come down and stop down. You cut the engine off about somewhere at Dunham Bridge and you could [laughs] you’d come drifting in and in and in. And it went around and around. I’d seem one of them. I don't know how many times it went around but it went around a few times before it did eventually get down. And I think he was actually landing at Lincoln and then coming in [laughs] It was, it was a funny incident really watching them. But anyway we were on about these Airacobras. That was quite interesting. They’d all got the Russian Star on them.
DK: Yeah.
BM: I think if the English public had known that they’d got the Russian Star there really it would, it would be after. It would be after Russia actually came in officially.
DK: Yes. Yeah.
BM: In to the war but not all that long afterwards.
DK: 1942 wouldn’t it when the Americans supplied.
BM: It wasn’t that that long after.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Because they’d actually got to get all the aeroplane [pause] well they weren’t converted. You had them all prepared.
DK: Yeah.
BM: With the proper markings on and all that sort of thing. All these Russian aircraft and the, but they weren't, we didn't see any that I can remember Russian transport. Land transport, you know. Big heavy armoured vehicles and all that sort.
DK: Yeah.
BM: But we did get the aeroplanes. But anyway to come back to where I was we were watching these aircraft do aerobatics at the end of the A5 at Lulsgate Bottom.
SM: Before you say that dad have you mentioned you lost your leave as well didn’t you in Canada? Which wasn't your fault.
BM: Lost me what?
SM: Leave. When someone had been smoking. Can you remember? You had to stay in camp and everybody went in to America.
BM: Lost my leave.
SM: Yeah.
BM: We don't talk about such things as that, Simon.
SM: Yeah. That wasn't your fault, was it. Can you remember?
BM: There was all sorts of things were my fault. I was forever getting myself locked up.
SM: It doesn't matter if you’ve forgotten.
BM: I have. I have.
SM: But he did. He lost his leave.
DK: Lost his leave.
SM: Somebody had been smoking and everyone [pause] they didn’t own up.
DK: Yeah.
SM: And —
DK: You got the blame for it.
SM: Dad got the blame for it and they all went on to, into America on their leave and dad had to stay on.
DK: Oh dear.
SM: On the camp.
BM: Anyway, I did this. This training.
DK: Yeah.
BM: At two or three different small aerodromes you know that —
DK: Yeah.
BM: That were where the main aerodrome had sort of landing grounds and there was, Bibury was another one.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Near Gloucester that we did a bit of training. Oh, I think we did, that one was blind landing, you know.
DK: Yeah.
BM: You had to, without having any visual you had to come in. I don't know whether anybody has ever told you how they do it. Or did it. I mean there are all these modern gizmos today.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: I mean, they can do it but in those days you did it with like Morse Code. A series of, you’d got a dit dit dit dit dit on one side. Then on the other side of the landing as you were coming in da da da. And then you had to get them to join up. You were doing this totally blind. You were just seeing the instrument and you could —
DK: You’re hearing the noise in your ears.
BM: Yeah, we were hearing it.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And it had got a constant sound so you got the dit dit dit and the da da da. You could [daaaaa] and when it all —
DK: Came together.
BM: Came together then you knew you were actually on the line. It was very simple but it, it worked, you know. You’d get people down. It didn't tell them how high they were but at least it got them in. Got them down. I mean later in the war they got all sorts of gizmos they were using for landing. There was one system called BABS. It used to amuse us because my wife's name was Babs and they’d got this —
SM: Still is dad.
BM: They’d got this landing. Anyway, we did all this series of different training. When it was all completed then of course you got together. You got navigators, bomb aimers.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Pilots and all the rest of it and you went too [pause]
DK: The OTU.
BM: You've got it, you know. Yeah. And we were sent as a group up to —
DK: Can you remember meeting up with your crew and how that happened?
BM: Well, it was at, that was the way it was done. They would put in a big room I suppose the numbers, equal numbers that they required so many bomb aimers, so many wireless operators, this that and the other all and you just sorted yourself out. I mean if you saw somebody looking a bit like a lost sheep and you’d know what, what job he had whether he was an observer or an air gunner you’d got a —
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: And then say, ‘Ah, we want, we want an air gunner in our crew.’ Or, ‘We want a navigator.’ Or whatever. But even sort of —
DK: Did you think that was a good idea of getting your crew together because it seems a bit random?
BM: It was very much random but [pause] how else would you do it? I mean you wanted so many bomb aimers. You wanted equal numbers bomb aimers, navigators, pilots. You wanted more air gunners.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Because most aircraft had got at least two —
DK: Yeah.
BM: Lots of air gunners on.
DK: You've got, you’ve got no idea how good they are at their —
BM: No.
DK: Jobs though, have you?
BM: They might have been bloody useless. And in fact, some were.
DK: Yeah.
BM: I suppose that did happen but once you’d got them you’d got them.
DK: Yeah.
BM: They formed part of your crew and —
DK: Can you remember which OTU you were at?
BM: Yeah.
DK: Or where it was?
BM: Number 6.
DK: Number 6.
BM: Silloth.
DK: Right.
BM: Near Carlisle.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: And you see Coastal Command flying Wellingtons I never told you that had I? Anyway, you didn’t have a lot of choice it was a, we were Wellingtons —
DK: So you were, you were literally posted to a Coastal Command OTU.
BM: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Yeah. It wasn’t until that point we’d got away from being trained as [pause] Oh yes it was. Of course, it was because we had to do a conversion course as pilots from singles.
DK: Right.
BM: On to multis, you know. And we did that —
DK: So was this —
BM: Through Oxfords and —
DK: Was it a bit of a shock then that you weren't going to be the fighter pilot? You were going to be put on bombers?
BM: Well, I mean everybody —
DK: Or larger aircraft.
BM: Everybody realised that basically the fighter’s war was over. I mean a lot of the lads were lost. By that stage of the war they were then getting they were wanting bombers.
DK: Right.
BM: Fighter bombers. They did want fighter aircraft but more or less working in safety situations.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Really, you know guarding other bombers and being —
DK: Not being, not being offensive then.
BM: No.
DK: Yeah.
BM: No. No. Not —
DK: So you met your crew then. What did you think of them personally? Did you, were they a good crew?
BM: You know there’s a more reliable statistic.
DK: You don’t have to say anything you don’t want to [laughs] I can soon turn the recorder off.
BM: I think that’s the easiest way.
DK: If you want to something [laughs] Ok. Fair enough.
BM: Yeah. You get, you get a mixed bunch really.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: You’re bound to do and there weren’t many crews and I did know one that, there was one crew which they, all of them seemed to be smashing fellas.
DK: Right.
BM: You know, they really were and they all appeared to know their job. But they were very decent fellas. But you see you got such a mixed bag. I mean, we had an Australian navigator for instance. We had a, a second pilot who was a Cockney. A Londoner. Another one who was a Cockney who was a wireless op/air gunner. We had a radio, w/op from Belfast. They were from all over the blooming place you know. They were such a mixed bag. Well, you usually used to find that people coming from similar areas you know would gel —
DK: Yes. Yeah.
BM: A lot better. You know, like two or three northerners for instance.
DK: Yeah.
BM: But again they would stick together. Which may not have been a good thing in some things. It didn’t help mix everybody up but they were. Anyway, we did that. I had one little incident where we was a little bit alarming in the course of doing this. Way out in the Atlantic there’s a little rock. Nothing else. It’s an island made of rock and seagulls and it’s called Rockall.
DK: Yes. Yeah.
BM: You’ve heard of it.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: It was quite a long way out in the Atlantic and it was used as a navigation training exercise.
DK: Right.
BM: You had to, a good training point for the navigator because he was the one who was responsible for it. Make sure you got to the right point and you, and you had to photograph it because we all carried a big —
DK: Prove you’d been there.
BM: So to prove that we’d actually been there.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Some would say, ‘Well, yes, we got there boss.’ Alright. No, you had to prove that you’d actually —
DK: Yeah.
BM: And we got a little bit under fuel, the shortish side and we came back and we knew we weren’t going to get back home so everybody, well the navigator sketching out as fast as he could the nearest convenient place that we could get down on and we got down. We came in to land off the coast of Scotland. A little place called Port Ellen. I don’t know whether you’ve heard of it but —
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: All they’d got there was a few sheep. Didn’t even keep any aircraft there. It was an emergency place for anybody who was in trouble for any reason and then there was a hut in there.
DK: Yeah.
BM: We, we put in there for the night. We got refuelled. Had a night there listening to the flaming sheep bleating all night [laughs] And then we filled up and went off again the next morning. But it, it can be a bit hairy being out in the sea there.
DK: Yeah.
BM: It would be a bit wet if you —
DK: Finding out you were running low on fuel.
BM: If you didn't make it. You get back. You quite a long way to come at that point down the West Coast of Scotland around the sort of northern tip of Ireland.
DK: Right.
BM: And then came in and up to Solway Firth.
DK: Yeah. So was, was it at the OTU then you first flew the Wellington?
BM: Oh yeah.
DK: Right.
BM: You wouldn’t get any opportunity to fly it before then.
DK: No. So that was —
BM: That was the first time you ever flew as a, as a crew.
DK: As a crew. So how did you feel about the Wellington then because it was quite a bigger aircraft than you'd been used to up until then?
BM: Oh, yeah. Well, they were actually discarded ones from the, that had been on bombing.
DK: Right.
BM: So you could imagine that they —
DK: So they were a bit rough.
BM: They were a bit rough alright. One particular occasion we were doing a training exercise and we came in and landed and we’d no brakes at all. We couldn't. There were no way we were going to pull up before we’d go through somebody's chimney and we came down towards the end of the runway and all you could do was accelerate a lot.
DK: Right.
BM: On one side. I think it was on the portside and swing it around. Nothing to hold it back on the other side, you know. You was —
DK: Yeah.
BM: And then eventually you’d run out of steam but if anybody got in your way it was really awkward but they were such a clapped out blooming aircraft. They really were but they weren't as bad as we had on in many respects as we got on Ferry Command. There were some dodgy ones.
DK: So from the OTU then were you then posted to an operational squadron?
BM: No.
DK: Right.
BM: We did the, we did the OTU and then we got, we got sent back. We got sent to Haverfordwest.
DK: Right. OK.
BM: So that was one end of the country to the other nearly and we got down to Haverford West and it's a long way down there you know to Haverfordwest in those days because you had to come to London.
DK: Oh right.
BM: Out of London and then oh —
DK: Then back out again.
BM: Blooming heck. Anyway, we got down to, and we were just getting off the train down at Haverfordwest Station. A little old station down there and there were some MPs out on the platform. ‘What's gone wrong now?’ And they were giving us out forty eight hour leave pass and a warrant for the train.
DK: Right.
BM: They said, ‘Well, you've got forty eight hours leave.’ And we’d just come all that blooming way from God knows where. So I had to get back on the train, back to London, back up, well to Newark as far as I was concerned. Two lads were able to get off at London because they came from London.
DK: Yeah.
BM: But, and another lad, I’m moving on a little bit but we came back. Got back to Newark and I actually walked home to my wife. She wasn't my wife then. My fiancé. Just down the street here. I walked home from Newark station.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Quite a fair old walk. Got in at 8:00 o'clock in the morning. I walked in and said, ‘If you want to get married we're going to get married tomorrow.’ And that’s the first —
SM: He did. Yeah.
BM: It was the first she ever knew about it. We never discussed it but —
DK: That’s the way to do it.
BM: And I was —
SM: Yeah, but you knew you were going to be posted dad, didn’t you? You knew you were going to be posted away at that stage.
BM: Oh, aye. I know. Anyway, we fixed this up we were, we were going to get married. Well, a lot of pandemonium and all the rest of it. We had at that stage my wife’s house. In those days it happened quite a bit where you got service people were billeted —
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: On somebody who had substantial accommodation. My wife was a farmer's daughter so they considered that they had enough square space to accommodate a couple of senior officers and they had a Wing Commander —
DK: Right.
BM: Who was the CO of the engineering outfit. Engineering officer at 5 Group.
DK: Right. Yeah.
BM: On Lancasters. And he was billeted up there. I used to get along with him like a house on fire. I didn't call him Bill and Fred and all the rest of it but, and this he treated me you know with respect and of course I did him. I mean a senior officer. And he said, my wife and the family were obviously going down to Nottingham to do some shopping. He said, ‘I'll take you to Newark.’ I mean, I had a wing commander, you know, I said, ‘Oh, my God.’ And he took them all off to catch the train at Newark Station. All the way there apparently because I wasn’t there, all the way there he was trying to persuade her all the time, ‘Now, are you sure you want to get married? You’re a bit young,’ and all this, that and the other, you know. She said, ‘Yes, we’re getting married.’ She wasn't twenty one of course, I wasn't either and anyway off they went to Nottingham and they came back and it was arranged that we would meet the officer and train and he got back to the train. And then of course in the meantime I think it was realised we didn't have a licence to get married and they’d got forty eight hours. So, and Saturday was already on its way. They kept the train waiting on Collingham Station while they went and hunted out my mother and my wife's mother to get their written permissions —
DK: Right.
BM: On the, on the licence application to be able to get married. So I went to, all the passengers on the train were enjoying this bit of drama. So I did that and then we carried on on the train. I went up to Newark. To Lincoln trying to, of course this was late in the day. This was teatime to get the rest of the particulars and we had to get a licence. Seven and sixpence and of course it was sod’s law it was Saturday and these sort of bods don’t work on Saturdays. But we went and hunted them up my sister and me and we got this blooming chap. Registrar of births, deaths and marriages. He was very good actually. We got him fairly late on in the evening and I said, ‘Well, I’m going abroad in a couple of days.’ I mean, this was happening all the time obviously.
DK: I was going to say I imagine it so—
BM: And he was, he was —
DK: It was quite common.
BM: So he fixed us up with a licence. Seven and six pence and that was, that was that. We got married the next day on the Sunday.
DK: Right.
BM: We’d got the vicar primed. There were no banns. Nothing like that. And my wife did a wedding breakfast. Wonderful for her. There were sixty people there present. All these had been notified in the previous twenty four hours.
DK: Yeah.
BM: My own father didn’t know, you know. I thought we’d better ring him up and tell him his son is going to get married. Anyway, we got married and had a sort of wedding breakfast and then off we went to Nottingham for a honeymoon and we came back on the Tuesday morning and we were back to London and back to Haverfordwest and that was our wedding. And two and a half years later I saw my wife.
DK: Right. So you did know you were about to be posted overseas then at this point did you?
BM: We did but we didn’t know —
DK: Where?
BM: Until actually we were on the train on the station.
DK: Right.
BM: At Haverfordwest.
DK: Right.
BM: We didn’t know.
DK: And that’s why you got the forty eight hours leave then.
BM: Yeah, we had the forty eight hour leave pass.
DK: [unclear] leave. Right.
BM: They didn’t give you much did they?
DK: No.
BM: Forty eight hours and —
DK: You had, you had no idea where you were going. Just that you were going overseas.
BM: Just that we were going.
DK: Right.
BM: That was it. And of course, a certain number of days and you were back. So —
DK: Can I just ask what rank were you at this time because you mentioned you —
BM: Oh, I was an air marshal or something like that, I think. I was a Sergeant.
DK: So you were a flight Sergeant then at that time.
BM: He’s there look.
DK: Ah. Oh right.
BM: That’s me. Good looking fellow wasn’t he?
DK: Yeah.
BM: Well, the woman was a good looking girl.
DK: Good looking lady.
BM: Yeah.
DK: Ok. So you were a flight Sergeant at that point then.
BM: Well —
DK: Sergeant. Yeah.
BM: I suppose so. Yeah. Yeah.
DK: Ok. So you’d gone back to Haverfordwest so you're now going overseas. So where did you —
BM: Yeah.
DK: Where did you go then?
BM: But we didn't know where.
DK: Yeah.
BM: They didn't give you a lot of information out and they said, ‘Well, you will be taking a new aircraft to Morocco.’
DK: Oh right.
BM: Rabat in Morocco. So we had to fly —
DK: And this was a Wellington was it?
BM: That was a Wellington. Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Brand new. And of course what happens next? We were waiting for this and somebody went and smashed it up. They were doing an air test on it and smashed it up so they held us back. Not very long. Three or four days or something like that they kept us back. Until another one became available.
DK: Right.
BM: We got that. Took it down to Southampton and gave us all the instructions to get it to Rabat.
DK: Right.
BM: Which was a circuitous route to say the least because we had to go out to, we had to try and avoid France.
DK: France. Yeah. Spain.
BM: Spain. Portugal. All the, because we hadn't any ammunition.
DK: Right.
BM: They sent us out with his blooming brand new Wellington. We got all the guns we needed on it.
DK: [unclear]
BM: But there were no ammunition. We’d no ammunition because we had to load the thing up with as much fuel as you could get.
DK: Right.
BM: You know, you needed all that. You couldn't be wasting space on bullets.
DK: Right.
BM: And but allowing though if you happened to see a few Focke Wulfs come on you, on your tail but anyway we flew through the night and it would be —
DK: Did you go direct to Morocco then or —
BM: Did we —?
DK: Did you go direct to Morocco or stop on the way?
BM: No. We flew, oh sorry we flew direct from Southampton. We went out over the Channel Islands.
DK: Right.
BM: And we were alright being fairly closer in to France but we never went over any, any land.
DK: You didn't stop at Gibraltar or anywhere.
BM: No. No.
DK: You went all the way to Morocco.
BM: No. We didn't. We very nearly did but it was accidental. We came in towards, we thought, the navigator thought we’d got to Gibraltar and we did and then we suddenly realised Jesus better get out of this or else. They were a bit handy with the, with the loose cannon you know if they didn't have proper warning.
DK: Oh right. You weren't expected.
BM: Turn around quick.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And head out to sea to get a few miles behind us and then we went down, turned to port again and went further down across Northern Africa.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Morocco to Rabat.
DK: Right.
BM: From, that’s where we parked the plane and —
DK: So were you officially with the squadron now?
BM: No.
DK: Oh right.
BM: No. We were in transit.
DK: Ok.
SM: You had an incident didn’t you when you landed?
BM: We were, well actually it was rather interesting. We knew we were, we were getting dangerously short. We were living, or were flying on fumes pretty well.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Jesus. Keep paddling on and we got, we actually came in to land and we looked down and we ran out of fuel. It was cutting it a bit fine but the coincidental part of this was that a corporal came out in a little fifteen hundred weight truck to the end of the runway. We couldn’t get any further unless somebody was going to push us and he said, ‘What’s the problem?’ We’d no fuel and I looked at him and bloody hell. I went to school with him.
DK: Yeah?
BM: Yeah.
DK: The corporal who had just pulled up?
BM: I went past his, he was a farmer’s son.
DK: How strange.
BM: I went past it yesterday funnily enough. At Leverton. And he was, he was there, he wasn’t there but I don’t know whether their still, the family are still there now up to this day or, I don’t know.
DK: Did you both immediately recognise one another then?
BM: Oh aye. He recognised me and I recognised him because you’ve got to bear in mind that.
DK: Strange.
BM: This was in 1942.
DK: Right.
BM: Would it be? No. It was ’43. The end of ’43. We’d have not been from school long either him or me, you know.
DK: Yeah.
BM: It weren’t, we weren’t talking sort of years back so we hadn’t got to remember far back and he was, he was at school with us and there he was.
DK: How strange.
BM: Shepherding aircraft at this, on this blooming runway at Rabat. Anyway, we parked the plane up there and then we got instructions to move on via American transport plane I think.
DK: Right.
BM: We went sort of down the coast of Morocco and Algeria. We went to, stopped at an American aerodrome at Algeria and it was all sort of in transit.
DK: Right.
BM: And from there we moved around again and we moved across to Italy. To the heel of Italy.
DK: Right.
BM: Near Taranto. What were we talking about?
DK: Right.
BM: Yeah. No, it’s Taranto isn’t it? Right down in the coast. Grottaglie they called it.
DK: So, what were your thoughts about North Africa then when you got there and —?
BM: North Africa?
DK: Yeah. What was it, what was it like?
BM: A bit dry [laughs] but we didn’t really see a lot of it. I mean and unfortunately of course in those days we didn’t have much money to go out and buy cameras.
DK: Right.
BM: If we could have got cameras we couldn’t, we couldn’t buy film.
DK: Yeah.
BM: You couldn’t get the blooming stuff. I’ve got very few aircraft, very few photographs taken really of wartime and that sort of thing. But anyway we got across to Grottaglie.
DK: So the Americans were flying you across then.
BM: The Americans actually you see they landed on the west coast of Africa.
DK: Right. Yeah. Yeah.
BM: And they attacked it from —
DK: Operation Torch.
BM: The west and we were coming up from —
DK: Yeah.
BM: The Tobruk area. And [pause] Montgomery’s lot were meeting with the American.
DK: Yeah.
BM: What was his name? General, was it Mark Clark?
DK: [unclear] Yeah.
BM: Anyway, they went coming from, we were behind the Americans at that stage. They were moving into Africa and we only had to have a couple of spots in our squadrons and there was really no need to have done that if they could have found an aircraft with sufficient bods on it to fill it up to —
DK: Yeah.
BM: You know, to take it to —
DK: Yeah.
BM: Exactly where you wanted to be.
DK: So having arrived in Italy then, the heel of Italy are you, had you been allocated to a squadron at this point then?
BM: Yeah. We were on, we were on route right from our transport instructions. Our transport officer right from where we landed in Rabat.
DK: Right. Ok.
BM: But then sort of under the control of a transport, you know a designated transport officer.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And he would just move us on from place to place and we were on 221 Squadron.
DK: Right. And 221, they were, they were flying Wellingtons again I assume.
BM: Yeah.
DK: And they were part of Coastal Command.
BM: Yeah.
DK: Or Middle East Air Force.
BM: Yeah. Yeah.
DK: Coastal Command.
BM: I mean I've never actually been on any other aircraft until I got to Ferry Command.
DK: Right.
BM: It was always, my operations were always on Wellingtons. I did a tour of operations except one.
DK: Right.
BM: I was one short of completing.
DK: Right. So, and these were all from Italy then.
BM: Yeah.
DK: All these operations. So how many operations did you actually do?
BM: I should have done thirty and I did twenty nine.
DK: Right. Ok. So for Coastal Command then what what sort of form did those operations take?
BM: What?
DK: What were you actually doing on those operations for Coastal Command? What was your role as it were?
BM: Well, I suppose to a large extent it was reconnaissance.
DK: Ok.
BM: Shipping and troop movements and that sort of thing. But we always, we carried bombs and guns and pretty well every time we came back we’d line somebody up with a few bombs. But across and Greece —
DK: Right.
BM: Yugoslavia. Albania.
DK: So most of, most of your operations then they were actually were over land.
BM: Yeah.
DK: Rather than over the sea.
BM: Oh Yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah.
DK: Right.
BM: There were very little operations actually constantly over water. We were over water but I mean we were, we were attacking, if we knew they were there E-boats and that sort of thing and light armoured boats. We never encountered any heavy stuff.
DK: Right.
BM: And our biggest commercial boats would be about what? Six or seven thousand tonnes?
DK: Right.
BM: They weren’t massive big things you know because they were on basically on, on transport. On coastal transport you know.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Port to port and that sort of thing.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Right around back by Trieste and Venice and back down the Italian coast but on, on one occasion we went across to Greece. We pretty well got through our designated number of trips to different places. Some of them were interesting, some of them were a bit sharpish but we never flew very high.
DK: No.
BM: We never did any of this twenty, twenty five thousand and stuff for it. If you knocked off the five it would be nearer. We [laughs] we had about —
DK: So what sort of heights were you?
BM: Five. On average about five thousand feet.
DK: Oh right.
BM: So we’d get a good view of what was going off down below. You know when you think about it we did a fair bit of chasing e-boats and that sort of thing. How do you tell a difference between an e-boat and an MTB for instance?
DK: At that, at that height.
BM: When it’s dark.
DK: Yeah. At that height or dark, it would be difficult.
BM: I thought at the time well I’m damned sure that wasn’t a blooming German. I reckon he was a Navy man that we just dropped some stuff on but it happened because we couldn’t tell one from another. If they didn't, if they didn't put up a rocket —
DK: Right.
BM: Or anything to warn us that you know that —
DK: You dropped a bomb.
BM: It’s a wrong place to do it or whatever.
DK: So you didn't have necessarily specific targets you just flew out.
BM: Yeah, and —
DK: Saw what was there and —
BM: Dropping them on, we were taking photographs.
DK: Right.
BM: Of what there was and where because obviously the military ones at that moment and used our own discretion.
DK: Really. So that your main role then was really intelligence.
BM: Basically.
DK: Reconnaissance type of thing.
BM: You know intelligence and reconnaissance.
DK: And if you saw something —
BM: Yeah. And if there was something which was obviously —
SM: Bomb it.
BM: Foreign.
DK: Yeah.
BM: You know you would, you’d just line them up. We did this on [unclear] I mean [unclear] is a lovely place to go for a holiday.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: But not if somebody is dropping some unpleasant stuff on top of you. And it was, it was summertime so short nights and that sort of thing. Getting broad daylight when we left and we came back. You had to bear in mind that nearly every time we went we went on our own.
DK: I was going to ask that. Were you just flying singly?
BM: We didn’t go as part of a group.
DK: Right.
BM: Two at the most.
DK: Right.
BM: You know. There was never big numbers of aircraft involved and we set off from Greece to come home and all of a sudden we were getting [pfft] coming past us [pause] And the rear gunner had said nothing about anybody chasing us or anything like that and we’d got two ME109s coming up behind us giving us a belt up the rear. And they actually shot out the port engine and the fuel. They did the, with doing the engine they did the hydraulics because the flaps, the undercarriage, the guns, everything was driven by that port engine.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: With hydraulics.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And if they did that that was goodbye Mary and they shot all this lot up and we ended up without any flaps, without any guns really, and we before we even knew anything was happening to us. You know there were guns, bullets were coming into us before we realised what damage was being done. Anyway, we put one engine out. Had to do. Stopped it so we were lucky the other one didn’t stop as well because the fuel was, you know floating backwards and forwards between one engine and another. But the, we had a, an American Marauder.
DK: Right.
BM: I don’t know whether you’ve ever —
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
DK: They were one of the early tricycle undercarriages.
BM: Yeah. Twin engine plane.
DK: Fighter bomber.
BM: Yeah.
BM: Twin engine thing. But the Americans apparently didn’t like them because they were stuffed full of guns. They’d guns coming out of them in all directions.
SM: You mean the Germans didn’t like them.
BM: But they were —
SM: Yeah.
BM: Very strongly armed.
SM: Yeah.
BM: And he’d seen this because there had been a number of aircraft had been on this exercise and he’d seen it so he told us afterwards and he came up and the, these two 109s didn’t hang about then. They don’t like Marauders because Marauders have got .5 guns on them.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And we were all 303s which were like a, like a blooming peashooter. Anyway, the [pause] he came up with us. We’d no radio. Couldn’t talk to each other so he got busy flashing with his aldis lamp.
DK: Yeah.
BM: What the hell was he talking about? It was a job to understand what was, what was going backwards and forwards. Anyway, the gist of it was, ‘Are you ok?’ You know. Well, fortunately we were very fortunate indeed the navigator had just been nicked a bit but other than that nobody else got hurt and ok, so we carried on and eventually we got back to Bari, on the coast of Italy.
DK: Right.
BM: We headed for the nearest one that we could likely to get down at and it happened to be an American occupied station.
DK: Station. Yeah.
BM: And it’s only got a shortish runway on it and we came in to land on one engine, flaps down, undercarriage down. You’re not supposed to fly on, ought to be able to fly on one engine with all the hydraulics down. It won’t do it and it did. And we came around over the harbour nearly taking the masks off some ships which were in the harbour. It was really close to because you can’t do an overshoot with a lot of space. We came around again and came in a little bit slower and I think we were sort of trying to make sure that we got in the first time but we didn’t because we were halfway down the runway we were still airborne on a short runway. We tried to get around again and we got in. We came in to land low, lower and a little bit slower and we came in and damn me we put down and both tyres had been shot out and we didn’t know it. You can’t tell when you’re flying the blooming thing.
DK: No.
BM: If you looked out of the, you know but you weren’t bloody looking out and doing a bit of window gazing but both tyres and damage to the aircraft. Both tyres had been, we were told this when we got down but it was too late then because we’d no radio. You couldn’t, you know they couldn’t talk to us which was unfortunate and strangely enough when we came in the second time there were several blood waggons, ambulances, fire engines and that sort of thing lined up on the side of the runway so they were expecting somebody to have a bit of a bump. And the American, and as we came past where they were parked up on the end we could actually hear them. I could hear these, these blood waggons. You know they started up [whirr] As we were going down the runway they were behind us and of course the aircraft just went [pfft] That was it. The tyres were a bit empty. So it rather, apart from other damage that had been done by the bullets and that sort of thing it smashed it up a little bit.
DK: Did it remain on the undercarriage or did you —
BM: No. It collapsed.
DK: It had collapsed. Right. Ok.
BM: Yeah. You know, with flat tyres —
DK: Yeah.
BM: It does tend to do that.
DK: Yeah. It collapses on to the belly of the aircraft.
BM: Yeah. On to the rims.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And then I think the wheels went so we didn’t stop to hang about and have a look. Anyway, our CO —
DK: So you were all, you were all ok then when you got out.
BM: Oh yeah. Yeah. We got out as fast as we could get out. Get the lid open and get out and let them sort it out.
DK: Was the aircraft on fire at this point? Or —
BM: Well, I expected it to be.
DK: Yeah.
BM: But I realised that it was unlikely because you could smell petrol. It was unlikely to happen.
DK: Still didn’t want to hang around though did you?
BM: Because they were right behind us.
DK: Yeah.
BM: You know, they were going as fast as we were down the runway so, and a number of them as well. They’d got foam. I got hit with the blooming foam, with some foam as I was getting out. I didn’t mind that but couldn’t get out the top. Anyway, our CO he got in touch with the authorities on this aerodrome and he said, ‘I’ll come and fetch you.’ So he came down in his Wellington to pick us up. Oh, I didn’t tell you we’d moved up to Foggia.
DK: Yeah.
BM: From Grottaglie. Only on a sort of a temporary posting. We weren’t there many weeks because it was nearer a target point of view from Foggia than it was from Grottaglie. It was halfway up the country.
DK: Right. Yeah.
BM: And the Army were just moving further up. They’d got up to Rome and were moving slowly up. So we got moved back again to Grottaglie after that but we went back, they flew us back to Foggia. We’d one more operation to do to complete a full tour of operations and they gave us a weeks leave. A bit odd but I wasn’t going to turn it down because we, it was a weeks leave. There was a pass but we had to make our own way, our own transport. We had to hitch it. Oh, I am, I’m so sorry. Would you like a cup of tea or a cup of coffee?
DK: No. I’m fine thank you. Yeah.
BM: Really?
DK: Seriously I’m fine.
BM: I’m sorry about that.
DK: No. Don’t worry.
BM: My wife —
DK: I had one before I came out.
BM: My wife’s got dementia but, she’s very very deaf as well. She likes to keep out of the way. Very difficult for her.
DK: Ok.
BM: Anyway, we hitched across the country from Foggia to Sorrento and of course the roads were up, the bridges were up.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Italy is a country with a lot of bridges and a lot of rivers at [pause] We got there. We got to Sorrento eventually. Had a weeks leave. A lovely place Sorrento and [pause] have you ever been?
DK: I have. Yes. Yes. A few years ago.
BM: Been up in the Blue Grotto?
DK: Yes. Yeah.
BM: Lovely place.
DK: Yes.
BM: To go swimming there. Anyway, same sort of trip back and after a week got back to Foggia and we were, at that point we were billeted in tents. We were always in tents. All the time I was in Italy we were always in tents and we were in amongst a lot of grape vines. You know everywhere there was blooming just coming, just coming eatable.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Well, barely eatable really. They were still very green and I got a lot of diarrhoea. Not a good thing to be flying an aeroplane when you’ve got diarrhoea.
DK: No.
BM: At all. Anyway, we —
SM: Was it your navigator that did the same thing?
BM: No. No. I was, I was the only one who got —
SM: Right.
DK: Diarrhoea.
BM: The wireless op got a bad cold but I don’t think the others were affected really. In fact, I never even saw them eating grapes. They maybe thought they were too sour. They really were very sour. They weren’t ready. They weren’t ripe. I got this and I had to go to the MO because we were down to — [ chiming clock] — Shut up you. It did you see when you talk to them right, you know.] And I had to go to see the MO because we were all down for an operation that night. The last one. I said, ‘I’m not fit to fly. I can’t fly. I’ve got the screamers. No good at all.’ He said, ‘Right. I’ll stand you down.’ And the wireless op said, well he’d got a very bad cold and he weren’t fit. You can’t use oxygen or anything like that when you were —
DK: No.
BM: It was unfortunate. So we stood down and got a replacement pilot and wireless op. Sent them off. They went off and that was it. I never saw them again.
SM: They didn’t come back.
DK: So all of your twenty nine operations then they were all with 221 Squadron.
BM: 221.
DK: Right.
BM: And that was it.
DK: And that was, the twenty ninth was the only time you were attacked by another aircraft then.
BM: That was all. Yeah. This was all due to being attacked by these —
DK: Yeah.
BM: FW 190s coming back from Greece. It all developed from that.
DK: Right. Yeah. Yeah.
BM: And —
DK: So, so at that point you’ve come back to the UK have you? Or —
BM: After that?
DK: Yeah.
BM: No. No. I finished and it was obvious they couldn’t trace the aircraft. That was the main thing. They were trying to trace it and there was no trace of it whatsoever and in fact, I’ve got a letter from the, from the War Office Records saying that extensive searches had been done for this aircraft and there was no sight or sound or record of where it was. What had happened to it.
DK: So this was the aircraft you should have flown on then?
BM: Yeah.
DK: And and the rest of your crew were —
BM: All down there.
DK: So —
BM: So there was two of us alive.
DK: Right. So your crew went out with a different pilot and a different —
BM: Different wireless op.
DK: Wireless operator.
BM: Yeah. Yeah.
DK: And they were just never seen again.
BM: And they were never seen again.
SM: Maybe they were lucky grapes.
BM: How lucky can you be?
DK: Yeah.
BM: But another thing I’ve never mentioned either was that the air gunner went home on a forty eight hour leave when I did.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Same thing. He got married the same weekend, on the Sunday. Never saw his wife again.
DK: Right.
BM: After he went back.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: After the forty eight hour leave was up.
DK: Yeah.
BM: He went back and that was it.
DK: So as the —
BM: That was the length, sorry, that was the length of his marriage.
DK: Yeah. Blimey.
BM: One weekend.
DK: So at this point you, you knew then that the rest of your crew was missing.
BM: Yeah. And in fact, their names are inscribed on the War Memorial at Malta.
DK: Right. Yeah.
BM: And also at Runnymede.
DK: Runnymede.
BM: So the Middle East Air Force run the Malta one. I don’t know why this was done twice but I had no control over it. That’s where it is. I haven’t seen it at Malta but I have seen it at Runnymede.
DK: Do you know where they were flying too? What the operation was to or [pause] When they went missing?
BM: Yes. I do. I do. I’ve got it on a letter. I’ll give it to you in a minute.
SM: Ok.
BM: Will you go and fetch it for me, Simon? If you would. It’s in the kitchen. In a red book.
SM: Ok.
BM: On the table.
[recording paused]
BM: So we’d some, interesting I suppose is not quite the right word.
DK: You didn’t know this other pilot then that they flew out with.
BM: I’d never met him before in my life.
DK: No.
BM: I didn’t know who he was but he took my place and if he’d been a regular crew member —
DK: Yeah.
BM: Thank you. Thank you.
[pause]
BM: So, after that of course I was without a crew and they [pause] they sent me back to Egypt.
DK: Right.
BM: I came back by train down to Taranto. Then by boat. Came by boat over the water to [pause] I think it was Alexandria we came to.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And from there I went and did another OTU. Started that again with another new crew in Palestine.
DK: Wellingtons again.
BM: Wellingtons again.
DK: Again. Yeah. Yeah.
BM: I tried to get a transport, a transfer on to Hurricanes.
DK: Right.
BM: I wanted to go back to —
DK: Fighters.
BM: Fly the [pause] But they wouldn’t let me. Actually, I’ve started doing a bit of a journal. Memoirs. There’s still a lot to do at it but —
SM: Yeah. I‘ve given David, it’s just a brief summary of that.
BM: I’ve got about, I was hoping to include about fifty photographs. Yeah. I must tell you this that my father did a memoirs.
DK: Right.
BM: In the First World War and he actually won a Military Medal and a Military Cross.
DK: Oh Right.
BM: On the Somme.
DK: Right.
BM: He got a Military Medal as a corporal at a place called [unclear]
SM: [unclear]
BM: Eh?
SM: [unclear]
BM: Oh, was it?
SM: Yeah.
BM: His French is better than mine. And then a year later he was back on the —
SM: No, it wasn’t a year dad. It was two years later.
BM: Two?
SM: Yeah. He got his first one in 1916.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Yeah.
SM: As —
DK: As a corporal.
SM: As a corporal.
BM: Yeah. Corporal.
SM: And —
BM: He got commissioned in the field.
SM: And then he went to Italy and he came back. Within a mile of where he won his first medal he won the second one —
BM: He got, he got —
SM: As an officer.
BM: No, he got a Military Cross.
DK: [unclear]
BM: And he was an officer then.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: He won the Military Medal and the Military Cross.
SM: He was lucky to survive.
BM: Yes. And he wrote at the age of eighty five something like this.
DK: Oh right.
SM: Well you’re ninety three and you’re doing —
BM: In fact, its yonder on that stool Simon. By the looks of it.
SM: Have you found that letter yet?
[pause]
BM: Look at that fella.
SM: I know. Are you looking for a particular letter dad?
[pause]
BM: There you are. Look. “Christmas Greetings and good wishes from the Royal Air Force Middle East.”
DK: Middle East. 1944.
BM: 1944. I’m looking for this blooming letter [pause] I’ve got it somewhere.
SM: Well, do you want me to look for it while you carry on chatting?
[pause – rustling papers]
BM: That’s your mother.
SM: Yeah. Let me have a look, dad while you carry on talking.
BM: There’s a, there’s a, there’s a letter from the —
SM: The War Ministry.
BM: Yeah.
SM: Let’s have a look then.
BM: Whether I’ve got it in the right book.
SM: Maybe not.
BM: Might be another one.
SM: Let’s have a look.
DK: So you’re at, so going back you’re now in Palestine.
BM: Oh I went to Palestine.
DK: You’re back in Palestine with another OTU.
BM: Hello.
SM: Hello mother.
DK: So you’re getting another crew together at this point then are you?
BM: We got that and when that course was complete we we went down from Port Tewfik at the end of the Suez Canal down to Aden.
DK: Right.
BM: In a troop ship. A lovely quiet gentle journey that was. We enjoyed that. The best part of the war up to that point and I learned to play Bridge as well.
DK: Oh right.
BM: The three fellas could play Bridge and they wanted a fourth. I could play cards but I couldn’t play Bridge. I’d never played Bridge. Anyway, right. Three days then. Very enjoyable. We got to Aden and then I got sent from Aden by Dakota, had to get up to Aden and then go up in a Dakota to a little island called Masirah which is just short of the Persian Gulf.
DK: Right.
BM: It’s up the Indian Ocean off the coast of Oman just before you go around the corner and go up the Gulf. That was 244 Squadron.
DK: Right.
BM: And we posted there and we got basically the same sort of job. Shipping reconnaissance in dhows, you know [laughs] you know, watching for smuggling but fortunately they didn’t shoot back at us.
DK: How many trips did you make with 244 Squadron then?
BM: I only did four.
DK: Oh right. Ok.
BM: And then that was it.
DK: Right.
BM: Because the way that came about I got a rather nasty dose of sinus. I’d been in Palestine, and in hospital in Palestine rather, in Tel Aviv. I had about ten days in hospital with sinus. I used to get it pretty badly but anyway I had another dose and got to Queen Elizabeth Hospital In Aden and it was a thousand miles from where I was in Masirah to Aden and they laid on especially converted Wellington again to fly from Masirah down to Aden.
DK: Right.
BM: Especially laid on to take me a thousand miles.
DK: Oh right.
BM: And I was in there again ten days in this hospital and when I was better I had a call to the adjutant and he said, ‘I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you.’ He said, ‘Which do you want first?’ I said, ‘I’d better have the bad news first.’ He said, ‘Your squadron’s being disbanded.’
DK: This was 244. Yeah.
BM: He said, ‘Its just been disbanded,’ and he said, ‘You’ve been posted. You been posted to 36 Ferry Unit in [ Allahabad ] in India.’
DK: Right.
BM: And he said, ‘Your crew has been disbanded. Gone.’ They had apparently gone back to Cairo. To Egypt apparently. And he said, ‘The good news is you’ve been promoted to warrant officer.’ I said, ‘Oh well.’ Which do you want first? [laughs]
DK: So you were sent then to 36 Ferry Unit.
BM: So I got posted to 36 Ferry Unit.
DK: Right. Based in India.
BM: From the hospital in Aden. I didn’t go back to Masirah.
DK: Right.
BM: Flew straight there.
DK: To India.
BM: To India. Yeah. And I spent the next, what, eighteen months on 36 Ferry Unit in India. That’s alright because we didn’t spend much time at our own base. We were all over the place. You know, you’d maybe get sent back to Cairo or Heliopolis or —
DK: And what sort of aircraft were you ferrying about then?
BM: Well, as it happened I was in Dakotas but not as first pilot. I was the second pilot.
DK: Right.
BM: I was actually on Liberators.
DK: Oh right.
BM: They were four engine.
DK: Yeah.
BM: I liked flying those because in America everything was spot on.
DK: So you, while you were with the Ferry Unit then you were always as a second pilot.
BM: Not always as second pilot.
DK: Pilot. Yeah.
BM: It all depended on the availability of people to fly any particular —
DK: Right. Ok.
BM: Aircraft. And their ability to fly in any particular aircraft.
DK: So the Liberator was the first four engined aircraft that you flew.
BM: They were the first four engine that I flew. Yeah.
DK: And what did you think of the Liberators?
BM: For many things I liked them. They didn’t have the, they didn’t have the power that Lancasters and Halifaxes would have on two engines. You’ve got two engines you could nearly say well it’s goodbye Mary. They didn’t have, if you’d got any weight on at all you’d no chance.
DK: Right.
BM: But —
DK: So were you delivering new aircraft for the units then?
BM: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
BM: That was our main job was taking, moving new aircraft from MUs, service delivery points.
DK: Yeah.
BM: To say we’d go down to Ceylon with a new one and bring an old one back to Calcutta. Now that was all very well but some of these aircraft had never flown for several weeks or even months but stood out in the hot Indian sun didn’t do them a lot of good.
DK: Right.
BM: And [good morning. She keeps coming and having a look at us.] We had, early 1946 we had a stop put on Mosquitoes. I never actually flew a Mosquito. I always wanted to do but I never got the opportunity to. And there were two instances apparently where wings had fallen off. They reckoned it was because of the extreme heat that they’d been subjected to.
DK: Yeah. Like the glue.
BM: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And they were just stationed. Sat there in the sun and it subjected to a bit of extreme, you know, if they were doing a bit of manoeuvring and that sort of thing perhaps. A bit of extra strain on them. I don’t know what the reason was but anyway apparently two aircraft wings fell off and they put a stop on all movement of Mosquitoes.
DK: So at the war’s end then you’re in India still ferrying —
BM: Yeah.
DK: Aircraft about.
BM: Yeah. I mean the war ended, what was it? May 1945.
DK: Yeah.
SM: You’ve not mentioned about meeting up with your brother have you? While you were in India.
BM: Sorry?
SM: You’ve not mentioned about dad’s brother —
DK: Right.
SM: He was in the Army.
DK: Right.
SM: Flew out to, was it [Jahalabad] and you, he got him to impersonate RAF personnel. So he was, he stayed a week with my father.
DK: Yeah.
SM: And he was flying different aircraft all through the week. In fact, my father, this is my uncle told me that he went with dad was it on the Friday and were you in a Liberator at that time?
BM: Yeah.
SM: Dad took off and everything.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
SM: My Uncle Robin was next to him and dad said, ‘Right. Ok. You can take over now.’ He said, ‘Just follow the Nile.’ And they all went back in to the back to play cards.
BM: Well, they did —
SM: And this was an Army officer.
BM: They needed the experience.
SM: Oh, he’d flown that week with different people.
DK: Oh, that’s ok then [laughs]
SM: And he was impersonating an RAF. He’s not flying a four engine aircraft.
BM: He’d just been promoted. He’d done a course as a promotion from an NCO.
DK: Yeah.
BM: He was a sergeant then to a second lieutenant and he came and had this week with me at Karachi because I wasn’t very well. Not Karachi. At [Allahabad] and I couldn’t do a lot in those days but he, we finished up with several different trips in different aeroplanes. Dakotas and Corsairs, Liberators.
DK: So you put him in Air Force uniform as well then.
BM: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Yeah. We dressed him up as a navigator. Well, it made it easier you see as we were walking around the aerodrome. He didn’t get stopped. If you were a young Army officer they’d say, ‘What are you doing?’
DK: Yeah.
BM: And if you were a navigator he could walk in the mess and go and have meals and everything. It was —
DK: Wasn’t his own unit missing him or —
BM: Was he?
DK: Was his own unit missing him at all?
SM: He was on leave wasn’t he?
DK: On leave.
SM: That’s what was commented in the first instance his brother I know it was a big place.
DK: Yeah.
SM: Where everybody was flying in and flying out from but —
DK: Obviously, [unclear]
SM: This always amuses me. My father has told me this but he hadn’t told me the bit about the playing at cards bit and its only until I saw my uncle Robin a few months ago.
DK: Yeah.
SM: That he told me the other side of the story. That on this one occasion he went up with my father.
BM: That’s life isn’t it?
DK: Oh yeah.
SM: He said, he was trying to fly this four engine bomber.
DK: Yeah.
SM: Because, he said during the week he’d been flying two engine ones which manoeuvred a lot easier and he said he was all over the sky with this four engine because every movement he made was so slow.
BM: ’Keep, keep it level. What the hell are you playing at?’
SM: Yeah. Dad came back and said, ‘Oh, that was a rough ride.’ [laughs] But you know at that age you think bloody hell. The risks they took. Yeah. Didn’t give a damn.
BM: He enjoyed it. The little incident though that took place while he was there. Our CO, we had a bit of a scheme where good watches were in short supply. You know, you couldn’t just go and pick up a nice —
DK: Yeah.
BM: Omega watch or something like. A decent watch and he had a scheme where just once a year he would raffle off half a dozen. I don’t know whether the the NAAFI part of job organised the thing. They bought a half a dozen Omega watches.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Omega, you know were decent watches and he’d buy these and he would raffle them off. Well, anybody who wanted to go in the raffle it didn’t matter whether they were an officer, NCO, whatever they were they could put their names down and have it drawn it out and you’d get to get, you had to pay proper price for them but at least you had the privilege of getting one.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Which was even difficult to do that. So my brother Robin and myself both put our names down for a blooming watch and damn me if we didn’t get one. Out of six watches and hundreds of people who actually —
DK: Yeah.
BM: Put their names down for to get the raffle he and me got one.
SM: You both got one.
BM: Both got one.
BM: And we’ve still have them today.
BM: You still have them. Oh wow.
BM: I don’t use mine but the last time I had it it was it was going but it was losing a lot of time and he said he’d still got his.
DK: Oh right.
SM: I didn’t know that.
BM: That was 1946.
DK: Right.
BM: And they’re still going. Omega watches.
DK: You might just need it serviced.
SM: Yeah. I’ll get dad to do that.
DK: It would be worth doing.
SM: Yeah. It’s worth doing for nostalgia, isn’t it?
DK: Exactly. Yeah.
BM: I ought to write to them.
DK: Yeah. Hopefully a watch —
BM: I might get a free watch from them.
SM: We’ll get that sorted.
BM: Yeah. I’d do well to get a free watch didn’t we? We got two of them. Not one. We’ve got two circulating. I’ll tell you what though. A little tale of it it just reminded just recently Lord Mountbatten was Viceroy of India of course and we used to hear about him circulating and different things and on one occasion he came as a trip of inspection. He came to our unit to inspect not just us I mean we were only a very small unit and we got a, unless actually in Charingi in Park Street in Calcutta probably about twice as big as this room and that was it but it was ours and you know it was a very quiet little place. Anyway, he came to visit us on this particular occasion and he flew in, he had this own private Dakota. He flew in and a guard of honour was all out there on the Parade Ground there and called them to attention inspecting them and away he went. Job done. Half an hour later another one flew in. Another Dakota. Looked like an identical aircraft and it was his wife, Lady Mountbatten. She flew into this. Have you heard this tale before? I should doubt it. Anyway, she flew in and the same thing. Got the same guard of honour. Three rows of troops all out there, sort of thing and she inspected the first row and as she walked down the second row her lady in waiting walking at the back of her with our CO at the side of her and she suddenly bent down and picked up something and dropped it in her handbag and carried on down the next row and back. At the end of the third row off she went. The lady in waiting. Nicholas.
SM: Her pants had dropped off.
[laughter]
SM: She never batted an eyelid from what dad said.
BM: It’s true this is. She, she actually walked off that parade ground knickerless. Well, we’d have had a titter about it and her lady in waiting there I don’t know what [laughs] I was too far to see. I saw it happen. There was a few of us there who were watching the parade but we didn’t know actually, I couldn’t prove it was a pair of knickers that she actually dropped but it was. She’d dropped them off.
DK: Oh dear.
BM: And she never batted an eyelid.
DK: No. Well —
BM: She went up and down those three rows. Never said a word. Funnily enough about two days, three days later the [unclear] got the same incident in mind and I happened to be appointed the officer of the guard. All the lads would take it in turns, you know. We’d do a weeks duty. Officer of the guard and that sort of thing and being a warrant officer I had the same job to do as a, as a commissioned officer.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And as I said there weren’t many of us.
SM: He did turn his commission down by the way.
BM: I called them all, called all the guard to attention and turned around. Saluted the flag. All the guard pulled it down but the blooming thing didn’t shift. I stood looking like a fool looking at it waiting for it and it still didn’t. I looked at the bottom and there was nobody there to pull it down so I said [laughs] I had to turn around and say, ‘Carry on Sergeant.’ And off I went. I had a bit of a red face I can imagine. I had to spend the rest of that week on, on guard duty. Well in charge of the guard every so often. I mean we, we were a bit security conscious.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And we used to go shuffling around in a, you know a jeep around the perimeter of the aerodrome and looking at different units seeing that you know they were all at different places out on guard with their rifles.
DK: So, how long were you in India for then?
BM: Well, I left in India in the end of June ’46.
DK: Right. Ok.
BM: And I came back.
DK: Back to the UK.
BM: By train to Karachi.
DK: Oh right. Yeah.
BM: And then by boat. I didn’t fly back.
DK: Right.
BM: I came back by boat from Karachi. Crossed the India Ocean and the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean and then all the way back to Liverpool.
DK: So did you spend much more time in the Air Force after that or were you demobbed?
BM: No. No. No. You see I was married.
DK: Right.
BM: I had a very quick fire marriage. I got married and it was two and a half years later when I saw my wife.
DK: Yeah. So you left, you left the Air Force at that point.
BM: I left the air force and went to, Cirencester I think was the DPC or the, you know the unit where they disbanded the [pause] I’d had five and a half years in the control of the RAF because I joined up in February 1941.
DK: Right.
BM: And actually I left the control of the RAF in August 1946.
DK: Right. So what did, what did you, what was your career after that then? What were you —
BM: I, well I became actually a retired peasant.
DK: Right [laughs]
SM: He was offered the chance to fly for the Canadian —
DK: Right.
SM: Not the Air Force. The civilian.
DK: Oh right.
SM: Which was a big honour.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
SM: Because everyone wanted to do that.
DK: Yeah.
SM: And mother wouldn’t go out. Not Canadian. Australian.
DK: Australia. What? Qantas.
BM: Qantas.
SM: Yeah. That’s —
DK: Right. Yeah
BM: Yeah.
DK: So you didn’t. You didn’t carry on your flying then after that.
BM: [clock chiming] It’s your fault. Yes. My wife didn’t want me to go and do it. I communicated with her and she said, ‘No.’ I’d been away a long time. ‘You want to come back and get some work done.’ I came back and I joined where I’d left off.
DK: Right.
BM: With my father’s little village business.
DK: Oh right. Ok.
BM: You know, as a —
SM: You did, you did rent a light aircraft for several years though didn’t you? You did fly again. You still flew.
BM: Well, yeah, I got a private pilot’s licence.
DK: Right.
BM: That’s a year. I think he reminded me because he came a time or two and —
DK: So you carried on flying for a few more years then.
BM: Yeah. I did a bit of private flying in an Auster.
DK: Right.
BM: As a friend of mine had kept it up at —
SM: He still has been flying until —
BM: Say what?
SM: I don’t know. The last two or three months.
DK: Oh right.
SM: My son flies.
DK: Oh right. Ok. So he’s still going up then.
SM: He’s still going up.
DK: Excellent.
BM: His his son is all over the blooming place. He went to Le Touquet not very —
SM: He was up in Scotland near Cumbernauld yesterday.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Where?
SM: Cumbernauld. In Scotland. Near Glasgow.
BM: Did he? He’s all over the blooming place his lad.
DK: Ok. Well, I’ll finish there. I think that’s really good. Thanks for that. I’ll just ask one final question. All these years later how do you look back on your time in the RAF? What’s your feelings now?
BM: Well, in some ways obviously there are some regrets. I mean I regret the opportunity to go to Qantas. They reckoned I had the experience, you know in the different aircraft.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And this, that and the other. And you know probably capable of doing it. But I didn’t do it and I’ve always regretted that.
DK: Yeah.
BM: I mean, talking about the experience. When we were out in India we got a signal from Air Headquarters which was in Delhi. Headquarters for our lot anyway. No. The Far East Headquarters were in Delhi. I got a signal, or my CO did. ‘Warrant Officer Minnitt is to go take the unit Expeditor.’ You know what they are?
DK: Yeah. Twin engine plane. Yeah. Yeah.
BM: Lovely aircraft. ‘And go to Delhi, pick up a senior officer and fly him to Munich.’
DK: Right.
BM: Which is a fair old way. Had to fiddle with fuel a time or two but the CO said, ‘You, you can’t do it.’ No. Let’s get this right. The MO said, ‘You can’t do it.’ Because I’d not been very well. But the CO said I could. You know, he said, ‘You can go and do it.’ And as I say we were more or less on personal terms. We were, we were such a small unit.
DK: Yeah.
BM: I mean, little instances crop up from time to time that you think about it but you said, ‘What are your feelings about it?’ Well, I enjoyed my time in the RAF I must admit. There were many instances which was, you might think well they were a bit rough but it happens. I mean one night for instance we, when we were at Grottaglie it was a bombed out hangars aerodrome. No roof or anything like that on them. If we wanted to see a film we had to wait until it was dark and then we would take our own petrol tin, a five gallon petrol tin and that was our seat.
DK: Yeah.
BM: You could sit on that and you could watch a film. It was alright. Better than nothing.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And we were doing that one night and looking at a Wellington take off and it was one of ours and he got to near the end of the runway and he just, he got airborne, he went down again and [pfft] Fully laden. Fully fuelled up. And we ran across to it and all we could find was a boot. Something like that you know.
DK: Yeah.
BM: There was nothing. With four thousand pounds of bombs and full tanks you’ve got no choice. And we don’t know why. He just didn’t have enough speed.
DK: He needed to take off.
BM: To get up. And we saw it happen. Just, I mean, these sort of things did happen. That’s part of, I wouldn’t say it was part of life but I mean it, they did happen and there you go. You live with it.
SM: Well one of your very first experiences dad was, if you remember —
BM: Eh?
SM: When you, before you joined up the RAF you joined the [pause]
BM: Oh aye.
SM: Not Dad’s Army. They didn’t call it Dad’s Army then.
BM: I joined the ATC.
DK: The ATC, yeah
BM: Artillery training. Was it auxiliary training?
DK: Air Training Corps.
BM: Something like that. Anyway —
SM: There was an aircraft wasn’t there crashed at Laneham.
BM: Yeah. It did.
SM: And you were the first there. Only as a young man.
DK: Yeah.
BM: This was the, well it was a squadron actually based in Lincoln. What was it? 1265 or something like that. I forget the squadron. And they’d got, they’d got this which I joined and I was in the Home Guard at the time. I was always in blooming uniform. From the Home Guard right from 1940. But a Hampden came around the river at Laneham where I lived and I was talking to one of my, the other side of the road and this big bang and we got on the bike and went to have a look at it and it had come around the river at Laneham very low and didn’t make the bend.
DK: Right.
BM: And it was a Hampden from Scampton. They bunged us in and again that was all little bits and pieces and this pal of mine I mean we went to, we thought we were good you see. We were in uniform. Home Guard. And we went to keep the spectators away from it all.
DK: Yeah.
BM: And all the rest of it and it was still bobbing off fireworks. Bombs, not bombs, bullets kept going off. Aircraft tanks exploding and that sort of thing. It was a right old mess. So eventually the RAF fire brigade turned up and some other I think there were one or two police came and didn’t need us around any longer so we just packed in and came home. But that was my first experience of flesh. Burned flesh. You get used to it you know. It happened from time to time. And so —
DK: Yeah. This this incident then obviously didn’t put you off joining.
BM: No.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Not at all.
DK: No.
BM: I mean, it was rather when that time came we went to what were the new barracks at Lincoln and, ‘What have you come for?’ ‘We’ve come to join up.’ We were seventeen when we did it, he and I. ‘What do you want to join up as?’ ‘An air gunner.’ ‘You want to join as an air gunner. Right.’ Filled in all the paperwork and I don’t know whether it was at that point that I said we actually went to Cardington. You know where they made the old —
DK: Yeah. The airship hangars.
BM: Airships.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
BM: And that sort of thing. And we did the actually, the joining procedures. You’ve got the filling in —
DK: Yeah.
BM: Give you your numbers and that sort of thing. My number is nearly 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. It’s 1 2 3 2 3 4 7.
DK: And you still can remember it now.
BM: You see, very close to it. And he said, ‘Well, why don’t you remuster as a pilot?’ and I wonder sometimes wonder why. Why was that?
DK: I find that quite unusual actually because other sort of veterans I’ve spoken to they nearly all wanted to go in as pilots.
BM: Yeah. Yeah.
DK: But they crashed out for some reason.
BM: Yeah.
DK: And then remustered.
BM: Yeah.
DK: Under a different trade.
BM: Yeah.
DK: It’s unusual to hear somebody —
BM: Yeah.
DK: Who wanted to go in as an air gunner and ended up as a pilot. Yeah.
BM: We thought to be an air gunner you know it was all very glamourous and we were going to shoot them all down. Bang bang bang. They said, well that was, we don’t shoot them down but the, we went the other way. I’ll be honest with you. I left school at fourteen. My education wasn’t wonderful in those days and I finished and that’s basically is the reason why I wasn’t commissioned.
DK: Right.
BM: Because I was, you never found anybody commissioned who hadn’t been to a secondary school at least.
DK: Right.
SM: But didn’t you turn your commission down because you were going to be worse off?
BM: Oh, but that was later. That was when I was out in India. I was offered the opportunity to take a commission. That was in 1945. I thought well the war would be over by the end of this year.
DK: Yeah.
BM: No point in having it because I’m better off now as a warrant officer in the uniform I was wearing. The type of uniform, the perks I’d got.
DK: Yeah.
BM: The money I got and I was getting an extra bonus and that sort of thing. I was better off than I was as a flying officer never mind a pilot officer so I, you know I didn’t have any mess fees to pay and all that sort of thing.
DK: So you think then as you left school no qualifications at fourteen the Air Force was good for you in that respect.
BM: It was. It was good for me.
DK: Helped you learn and that —
BM: In that, in that respect. It must have been. I mean, as I say my education was, left a lot to be desired but it was made up in a way with the experiences that I’d got.
DK: Yeah.
BM: In different things and different parts of the world and that sort of thing and that I should never possibly have got in civil life. And I went around the world quite a bit. I mean, I went across the world that way. To Canada. The other side again.
DK: Canada. And then —
BM: Then came back the other way. Right across North Africa. Italy. Middle East. Palestine. Into Aden.
DK: Yeah.
BM: Masirah. India. [Allahabad] and then flying. I did quite a bit of flying into Burma and the war was still on then but places like [Agatara] [unclear] and delivering aircraft in to their places. Into their units and flying their old crap out back to the Mus. We used to go down to Ceylon quite a bit. We enjoyed it. I mean, it was like I just missed out on that opportunity of going to Australia but there we are. These things happen.
DK: Yeah. Ok then. Well, I’ll stop it there I think. Thanks very much for your time. That’s been very interesting. Thanks.

Collection

Citation

David Kavanagh, “Interview with Bruce Minnitt,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 13, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11406.

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