Interview with Peter Morris


Interview with Peter Morris


Peter Morris lived through the East End blitz. He joined the ATC as soon as it was established and applied to join the RAF as aircrew. He was accepted for training as a navigator. While waiting for a course he was part of a group that was sent to repair bomb damage from the V-1 attacks and was then sent to support the armourers at RAF Waterbeach by working on the bomb dump. Peter finished his training just as VE day was celebrated and then was sent to prepare for the Far East just before VJ Day. Peter became an instructor and was also posted on to Coastal Command where he took part in air sea rescue operations.




Temporal Coverage




01:07:03 audio recording


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AMorrisPG171010, PMorrisPG1701


RP: This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Rod Pickles. The interviewee is Peter Morris. The interview is taking place at Mr Morris’ home in Collompton, Devon on the 10th of October 2017. Francis Platt is also present. Good morning, Peter. Could you start by telling us when and where you were born and what led you to joining the RAF, please?
PM: Well, I was born in East Ham in East London in the June of 1925. I lived in London throughout the Blitz and I suppose was full of bravado when the ATC started in 1941. I joined. And I decided to train as air crew. And after a couple of years in the Air Training Corps at seventeen I joined the Royal Air Force and I was accepted to train as either a pilot bomb aimer or navigator. I was called up just two weeks before my eighteenth birthday and I went initially on an education course because I left school at fourteen and I was keen to get my education better. And after that I went through the normal basic training for the RAF which was just the normal square bashing and so on. And I spent twelve hours flying on Tiger Moths to see whether I’d got the application to be a pilot. But I wasn’t too keen. And then after a lot more [pause] I then did more aptitude tests in London and it was decided that I should train as a navigator. And then I was sent to Heaton Park in Manchester which was a holding unit for air crew and I was there for nearly six months waiting for a navigation course. At the time they told us that the losses in Bomber Command were less than they were expecting. Well, as one in two got killed I wondered just how many they were expecting.
RP: Well, yes.
PM: And whilst I was there they called for volunteers to go to Hornchurch, just outside London to help repair houses damaged by the V-1 Doodlebugs and I went down there. Spent about a month repairing houses just killing time. And then we were called back to Heaton Park and then they decided they would send us, a group of us went to RAF Waterbeach to work on the bomb dump. The armourers just couldn’t cope at the time as there were twenty aircraft on the station and there were some that were doing two raids a day. And when you had to prepare all the bombs for it. So, we arrived at Waterbeach and the next day we were sent to the bomb dump and there we were shown the bombs that we had to prepare. There were four thousand pound bombs which needed a nose ring fitted because they had pressure fuses in them to help build the pressure up in the noses and the tail fin had to be fitted. And also the lugs which held the bomb on to the aircraft had to be screwed on. Then we had the thousand pounders and there you had to fit the tail units and also you had to fit, fit the fuses in the nose. The only thing we weren’t allowed to do, we weren’t allowed to put the detonators in because the detonators were very very touchy and they could go off with the warmth of your hand and so the armourers would fit the detonators. They would screw in the pistols so that was all ready. Another job we weren’t allowed to do were the long delay fuses because they had, not like the Germans, apparently they had a clockwork system. Our long defused, long delay fuses had acid and various forms of plastic rings and as the acid burned through the rings and then it let the firing pin go forward and set the bomb off. But they had an anti-handling device. You only had to turn it half a turn and it would release the trigger and the bomb went off. So we weren’t allowed to do that. The armourers had to do that. And of course the armourers put them on the aircraft. It was quite a job to think that everyone had to be hand winched up in to the aircraft. And we were there for about a month. The first day I was there we got there about 9 o’clock in the morning and I, still there 9 o’clock the following morning. We had spent all night. They brought food out to us at the bomb dump and we were just getting these bombs ready for them to get on the aircraft. And I remember sitting on a thousand pounder and I fell asleep sitting on it until someone woke me up. And then another job we had doing were packing incendiary bombs. As incendiary bombs they came originally a hundred and fifty in a canister and then they extended the canister so they could get another fifty in each side. So there were three sets of bombs in them and we had to fit another hundred and fifty incendiary bombs in these canisters. And these were small bombs. They were hexagonal shape and there was a small fire, a small pin which you had to fit so that it was kept shut by the can, by the hexagonal shape. And I remember one of the chaps, he happened to accidentally drop one and it went off. We were doing this in a hangar and he had the presence of mind to throw it out the door of the hangar. And the next thing we knew the fire brigade had arrived. They’d seen all the smoke going up —
RP: Yeah.
PM: From this incendiary bomb. But they were very touchy. We were, as I say we were there for about a month doing this and then they, we were called back to Heaton Park because they said that I’d got a navigation course and I was fortunate in many ways because the course was on the Isle of Man. At Jurby. And so I went across to the Isle of Man and qualified as a navigator there and finally qualified in May 1945 just as the VE Day had been declared. And then I went on to train on Wellingtons in preparation to go out to the Far East. And again they dropped the bomb and that stopped that. And from the Wellingtons we went on to Lancasters and I finally went, finished up on a squadron in Bomber Command. Number 90 Squadron at RAF Tuddenham in February 1946.
RP: So most of your war then was dealing with waiting for a course and then —
PM: Yes. Yes. I was, I was a good six months waiting for a navigation course.
RP: And then its VE Day and you don’t see any action.
PM: VE day. They didn’t know what to do with us when we finally qualified and we were sent home on indefinite leave and I had about six weeks at home. And then I got a telegram telling me to report to Number 26 Operational Training Unit at RAF Wing near Leighton Buzzard. And then that was on Wellingtons. And from there, as I say, through to Lancasters.
RP: So when, when you sort of realised that, you know, after the VJ day.
PM: Yeah.
RP: Were you, were you feeling relieved or disappointed? Can you remember?
PM: A bit of both. You obviously at that time you didn’t really know what it was like to go on ops and you always thought that’s what you joined for but at the same time you were relieved that you hadn’t have to go.
RP: Yeah. But did you, when you were at Waterbeach did you meet any of the air crew? Did you get to know any?
PM: No.
RP: You weren’t —
PM: No.
RP: In touch with any of them.
PM: No. No. I think they deliberately kept us out of the way of air crew because they knew what was happening and we didn’t.
RP: So, so only a month. You didn’t feel inclined to become an armourer then.
PM: Oh, no. No.
RP: Seen what they were doing.
PM: No. I wanted to be a navigator.
RP: So you qualified as a navigator. It’s now 1946.
PM: Yeah.
RP: So what happens then?
PM: Then in 1946 they brought out a scheme where you could sign on for three years in the RAF and four years Reserve and they’d give you a hundred pounds for doing it which was a lot of money in those days. And I decided I would sign on and so I signed on for the three years and four Reserve and I remained on the squadron. And then there was trouble out in Yugoslavia and we were sent as an advance party out to Malta to be prepared for going bombing Yugoslavia as they’d attacked one of our ships and also attacked an aircraft I believe. And we spent ten days there and then the whole thing fizzled out and we flew back home again. Then the squadron moved to RAF Wyton which was a permanent station whereas Tuddenham was a wartime base and we re-equipped with Lincoln aircraft. And whilst on Lincolns we had the job of testing the new auto pilot. And one of the jobs that we had was to test it to see how it went and operated under bumpy conditions and low level. At that time everybody’s gradually getting demobbed and there were only two navigators on the squadron at one time, myself and the nav leader. And so anything that happened one of us had to go along. And the navi didn’t want to go on this particular trip so I went along and they said, well we went to the Met Office and, ‘Where can we find bumpy conditions at low level?’ They said, ’How about the Nile Valley?’ And sort of tongue in cheek we said, ‘Great. We’ll apply for it,’ and they accepted. And so we then, we flew out to the Canal Zone in the Middle East and to start with we used the autopilot as the bomb aimer had a control in the bomb aimer’s position for doing bombing runs. We did some bombing runs in the desert there. And then we flew low level along the Nile up to Khartoum. So around about fifty to a hundred feet mostly, up along the Nile with the autopilot in all the way. And then from Khartoum we flew to Nairobi and again at low level. Not quite so low because it was mainly jungle we were flying over. Whilst at Nairobi it was Battle of Britain Day and they asked us if we would do an air display for them which we were quite happy to do. We did that and then again flew back the way we came out and back to RAF Wyton. I remained on the squadron then until, it must have been about the end of 1948. ’47. And one of the other navigators on the squadron had been posted to RAF Coningsby as an instructor on Mosquitoes. And they wanted another instructor there because I had done an instructor’s course when I signed on. They wanted people to be instructors and he volunteered me against my will to go on to Coningsby to fly on Mosquitoes. And I turned up at Coningsby and our job there was to train the navigators in using GH which was a blind bombing radar device. Of course, we couldn’t show them in the aircraft because it only, only held two people. So we had an Anson Mark 19 fitted out with all the gear on it and we trained them on that. But I wasn’t too happy flying in Mosquitoes. You didn’t have a navigation table. You had a piece of board on your knees. Your chart was pinned on it with drawing pins and all your instruments were on pieces of string all around because if you dropped it you’d never find it again. I preferred the heavies. And the nav leader there said, ‘Well, you’re not happy on these are you?’ I said, ‘No. I’d rather go back to heavies.’ They then posted me to RAF Lindholme to do a course to go back on to them again. And when they found out I was a qualified instructor they were one short and they said, ‘Will you remain as an instructor on navigation?’ Which I was quite happy to do. And so there I was training people to use H2S which was a radar which showed a picture of the ground underneath you. It was very primitive compared with what there is now but we were doing that. And [pause] and I remained there until nearly 1950. And towards the end of that time the wing commander flying called me in and said was I interested in taking a commission? And I said, well yes I was. I’d got nothing to lost. And I filled all my papers in and waited and waited. Nothing happened. The wing commander called me into his office. He said, ‘Very sorry. Your application’s been lost.’
RP: Dear me.
PM: ‘Will you fill them in again?’ Which I did. I filled them in and waited, and waited and waited. Nothing happened. And again he said, ‘We’re awfully sorry,’ he said, ‘But they’ve been lost again.’ So I filled in a third lot and again I waited and waited. I was getting a bit upset now because to start with I had now finished my three years and I was on no contract whatsoever with the Air Force to remain in.
RP: And what rank were you at this time?
PM: At that time we were, our ranks had changed. We had air crew ranks.
RP: Yeah.
PM: And we were called navigator 2 which was the equivalent of a sergeant.
RP: Oh right. So here you are. It’s your third application. Does it go through?
PM: It was the third application. And at the same time I’d applied to sign on to do twenty two years in the RAF.
RP: Right.
PM: And again, I went and he said, ‘It’s been lost again.’ Well, I was getting a bit cross now and I said, ‘Sir, you can stick your commission. I will sign on ‘til I, to do twenty two.’ And he more or less agreed with it. We left it at that. And I then applied to do an advanced navigation course and I was accepted. And I went to RAF Shawbury and did the advanced navigation course. It was the most concentrated course I’ve ever done in my life, I think. In six weeks we went from basic algebra to spherical trigonometry and your head was absolutely buzzing. You had to learn about every piece of equipment you had in the aircraft. Not how to use it but how it was made and how it operated. And that took us about three months and then I was posted to RAF Swinderby as an instructor at an Advanced Flying Unit and then back on to Wellingtons again. And while I was in Lincoln I met my old nav leader who was at Scampton and he said, ‘They found your applications. They were all in the station commander’s office when it was the station commander’s home amongst newspapers when he was posted. And they found they were all there.’ Which made me a bit upset.
RP: Yeah. So they couldn’t, couldn’t initiate it from there then?
PM: No. No. So, I remained at Swinderby for, was it two, two years because that was the average time you stayed at any unit. And from there I was posted on to a ground course. Ground crew out in Germany to be at a fighter plotting unit. And when I got there the first thing they said to me, you know, ‘Well, have you trained on this?’ I said, ‘I haven’t.’ They said, ‘Well, you’re no good to us.’ So they sent me to RAF Oldenburg where they had a small mobile radar unit with a mobile plotting table and quite honestly it was a doddle because as a navigator you knew all the maps and so on. It was just a case of sitting at a table watching airmen pushing little arrows around. Much as you see on the Battle of Britain things. And I did that for two and a half years. And at the end of that I was posted back to England and I had to go to Air Ministry for them to decide where I wanted to go from there. By now I’d gone up a rank. I was now a flight sergeant as they’d brought back the old ranks again. And initially I said, ‘Well, can I go on helicopters?’ as my friend had gone on helicopters. They said, ‘Oh no. Not with your experience. How about Coastal Command?’ So, that will do me. And so I was posted then to RAF St Mawgan to train in Coastal Command and I did my basic training there and then was posted to Kinloss up in Scotland to train on the Shackleton Mark 1. And from there I was, when I finished the course I was posted to RAF St Eval where we had Shackleton Mark 2s. So I arrived on 42 Squadron in September of 1946. I went in to the orderly room to book in and the first thing they said to me, ‘Can you go overseas at a moment’s notice? Otherwise,’ he said, ‘We’ll send you to another squadron.’
RP: You said 46.
PM: Fifty.
RP: ’56. Yeah.
PM: ’56.
RP: I think Shackletons weren’t around then.
PM: No. They Weren’t. No. 1956.
RP: ‘56 yeah.
PM: And so, apparently the squadron had just been made the colonial policing squadron and this involved us going out to Aden for short terms. Well, my wife was heavily pregnant at the time but I didn’t tell them and I said, ‘No, it’s alright. I can go.’ And we then had to train from using the low level bombsight which the Shackleton was fitted with to using a high level bombsight which was the Bomber Command bombsight. And we spent several months dropping bombs on a practice range. And then the squadron was moving out there at four aircraft at a time. Four would go out to Aden and then as they were relieved by the other four that were back in St Eval. And it was in July of 1956, ’57 now that our crew was posted, was sent out to Aden. And we were not allowed to fly across the Arab countries because they refused us permission because they said we were going on a warlike mission against other Arab nations. And so we had to stow the guns inside the aircraft because we had two cannon in the nose of the Shackleton and we flew out first to Cyprus. From Cyprus we flew along the borders between Turkey and Syria, down through Iraq, down to Bahrain and from Bahrain we flew down across the desert over Muscat Omans area. Right down until we reached Aden. And [pause] and when we arrived in Aden the temperature was terribly hot. Forty degree plus. At times it was fifty degrees there. First several flights that we did were getting used to the area. We flew with one of the crews from one of the other aircraft because the maps were so poor there. There wasn’t any satellite navigation then and so you more or less had to make the maps up as you flew. And so we got to know the area we flew over. It was mainly along the Yemen border with Aden. And the idea was to, to look out for people that were coming across the borders and causing trouble. This was a sort of a pastime for them. They would come across the border, fire a few rounds off and go back home again. And we did this. I suppose [pause] living up in that area was an RAF intelligence officer. In fact, he lived just like an Arab. Dressed like an Arab. He even looked like an Arab. And he would, we would contact him and he would give us directions to fly to check on at certain areas. A couple of times we had to do some bombing runs. We had fourteen one thousand pound bombs and we had to drop these in areas where the RAF Venoms, they couldn’t reach because they would normally go with rockets. But the mountain, it was so mountainous there because most of it was six thousand feet. And down in the valleys the Venoms couldn’t get in so we would go and drop bombs where these intruders had gone in. A couple of occasions where they’d misbehaved they would go and warn them and drop leaflets and say at such and such a day at such and such a time we’re going to come and bomb your fields. And so they kept clear and then we’d go and we’d drop a stick of bombs across their fields to make them, to bring them back into line again. Then one Saturday morning we were called in and they said, ‘Right. You’ve got to go Bahrain immediately. Don’t know what for but get your kit and off you go.’ And so we got our kit and we flew up to Bahrain. Sunday morning they said, ‘Right, you’re going to fly over Muscat Oman. And you’re to go with a Pembroke pilot from here that will show you around the area.’ So we took off and we flew over to, near a place called Nizwa which was a large sort of town almost and in the centre of it was a very large circular fort. And there’d been an uprising. The Sultan’s brother had rebelled against him and we had an agreement with the Sultan that if he was in danger then the RAF or the British forces would go and, go and help him. So that’s what we were there for. The pilot of the Pembroke was showing us around and he took us up one valley. He said, ‘Well, you can turn around when you get to end and come back again.’ Well, you could in a Pembroke. But in a Shackleton no way. And when we got to the end there was this great cliff in front of us and with full power on we just managed to scrape over the top of it. So we decided we wouldn’t go up that valley again. And then our role then was to fly out every day and we were given certain villages to fly over. Some were friendly. Some weren’t. And we had to observe what they were doing. And this went on for about seven or eight days and in that time nothing seemed to be happening very much but we’d been building up. The army had flown in. The paratroopers had arrived at Bahrain and they were going to be flown out to an airfield which was on an oil well out in Muscat and they would march across the desert to attack from that side. And we were dropping leaflets all the time. We had different colour leaflets. I think it was white ones to drop to friendly areas and pink ones to drop to enemy areas. More or less telling them you know one was saying the Sultan was a good man. The other one was saying you’ve got to stop what you’re doing and come and join the Sultan. All that sort of thing. Anyway, on one of the trips we carried a group captain who was the senior air staff officer for Middle East Command. He wanted to see what was going on and again we had the leaflets to drop. And on one particular village, a place called Firq, which was just south of Nizwa it was a very small fort there and they said, ‘Right, you’ve got to drop these leaflets. They’ve got to go in the fort but they mustn’t go outside it.’ Well it’s not very easy when you’re dropping leaflets like that and so we decided we’d go in at about five hundred feet and drop these leaflets. And we were in the middle of dropping them and we felt like a ripple go through the aircraft. We realised we’d been hit by small arms fire. We were very lucky really because in the nose of the aircraft there were three of us. There was the bomb aimer, that was the other navigator in the nose, there was one of the sergeant signallers who was putting the leaflets down the flare chute and the group captain and a bullet came up. It hit the switch right underneath them, split it in half. Missed them all. One half went in and hit the co-pilot’s intercom box so it knocked it out completely. He didn’t know what was going on. And the other half later we dug out of a tin of sweets in the emergency rations. In the tail there was a tail lookout and the chap laid in the tail look out had a bullet go in by his shoulder and go out above his head. And we decided it was time to clear the area. And I remember our captain, he called up the two Venoms that were attacking another village up the road and said, ‘Watch this place. They’re sharpshooters.’ And one of them said, ‘Oh, I’ll save a rocket for them on the way back.’ And this group captain was on immediately, ‘No. No. No. No. They’ve got to be told first.’ As we were dropping leaflets telling them that they would be attacked the following day. And when we landed back at Bahrain we found there were other holes in the wings where again we were so lucky. Your wings are full of petrol and full of wires and it missed everything. Gone right through the wings in out through the top and nothing was damaged at all. And I remember they, they repaired the holes. They hadn’t have anything to repair them with so they used aluminium beer cans and riveted them over the holes. They were, the following day we took off again and we were told there we’d got to be there before eight in the morning and again go in low level, dropping leaflets telling them they would be attacked within half an hour. They weren’t too pleased about that. Anyway, we got there and we thought that we’d wake them up so we flew across firing our twenty mil cannon to make them keep their heads down. Then came back, dropped our leaflets and came home. We had to allow for the loss of ammunition and so we said we’d done some air sea firing on the way home to account for the ammunition and got admonished for wasting ammunition in that way. Anyway, the, the army did attack that day and the Venoms went in first with the rockets and attacked the fort and then the paratroopers moved in and they gradually drove them up. At Nizwa they’d got a tanker, a lorry which was the, been going from one of the oil wells. They had captured the crew of the tanker and had got them in this large fort and they had said if we attacked the fort they would hang them over the balconies. And we could actually see them there over because it was a big circular fort and we could see the chaps there so obviously we didn’t attack it. Eventually they did get in and they drove the rebels up in to Jabal Akhdar which was an eight thousand foot high mountain nearby and it finished up with the SAS going up the mountain and sorting them out. And that was the end of the sorties there. Before it actually finished the CinC Bomber Comm, the CinC Middle East Command ordered that we be sent back to Bahrain. He said, ‘Go back there and cool off.’ But if you can imagine cooling off in Bahrain. Anyway, we decided, well we didn’t decide we were sent back to Bahrain to have a so-called rest. And the next day we were told we’d got to go on a bombing raid and two aircraft were involved. One of the flight commander’s and our aircraft. And we loaded up with fourteen one thousand pound bombs and as the flight commander was taking off white smoke started pouring out of all four engines and he just managed to pull it to a halt at the end of the runway, and they cancelled the bombing raid. And they found that in the heat in Aden we used a thing called water metholated, water meth which gave increased power to the engines and this was injected in to the engines. And in the heat it had distilled out and it just put straight water into the engines and so it didn’t do them any good. And the following day we again, having found this out they changed all the water meth and we’d loaded. Loaded up again with the bombs and took off and we did the raid up in the hills. And a couple of days later we were sent back to Bahrain to assist because now they were carrying out bombing raids using, using small anti-personnel bombs. These were nasty little things. They went off above the ground. They had got loads of sprung steel in them and you got this spring steel going around which did a lot of damage to whoever they were dropped on. We didn’t like them particularly because they had a pressure fuse in them and occasionally, there was one occasion in fact where the bombs started going off and they set the bombs going off behind them and they almost went back up to the aircraft again. So we weren’t too happy about using them. I think they’ve now been banned from use because they’re considered not the right thing to use [pause] Then the length of time of time we stayed in Bahrain or in Aden depended on the number of hours the aircraft had flown. We were supposed to be up there for three months but we’d done so much flying over Bahrain from Bahrain that we had reached our target in about six weeks. And so again we had to fly home and [pause] and two aircraft were coming back to the UK. One was a flight commander and he took off just about twenty minutes in front of us and this time we were allowed to fly over the Arab countries because we weren’t going on a warlike mission. And so we flew down the Red Sea across the border of Abyssinia and then right across the Libyan desert, the Sahara Desert to a place called Castel Benito, which was an ex-Italian airfield. It took us about twelve hours I suppose to fly across there and we landed there and there was no sign of the flight commander who had gone in front of us. And about an hour later I bumped into the navigator from that aircraft. I said, ‘What happened to you?’ Oh, the flight commander was there as well. He said, ‘How did you get here before of us?’ And jokingly I said, ‘Stayed on track all the way, sir.’ Which didn’t go down too well because his navigator apparently, just after take-off, the flight commander came back to see, look at the charts, dropped a cup of water over his chart completely soaking it. And he’d picked it up and screwed it up and throwed it away when he realised he hadn’t have another chart. There wasn’t another one for that area. So he’d had to get it out, unscrew it, stretch it out and of course now it was all out of shape and apparently they got quite lost going across the desert and they landed about an hour after us.
RP: Not the right thing to say then. Yeah. He was still speaking to you afterwards.
PM: Oh yes. He did after. He was normally quite a decent chap but he blew his top a bit. Anyway, the following day we took off and came back to UK. While we were in Aden we were being relieved by 35 Squadron which had been based in Malta and that was going to go to Aden permanently and remain there. And so that was the end of the squadron’s flying out in Aden. We then returned to our normal Coastal Command duties. One of them of course was air sea rescue and quite often we got a call out to go after, to go over the Atlantic Ocean to assist [pause] Constellation aircraft. They had a habit of losing engines coming across the Atlantic and we would fly out at a thousand feet and they would be up at twenty thousand feet and we would call them up and they would say, you know, ‘Assist us,’ and so we would turn around and fly back again, and usually they had landed at Heathrow before we got back to St Eval because they were going a lot faster than us on three engines than we were doing on four. The end of my tour there the squadron commander called me in. He said, ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I’m afraid that NCO navigators aren’t going to be employed on RAF operational squadrons anymore. So,’ he said, ‘Your time in Coastal is finished now.’ And he said, ‘What I have got here is, I’ve got a piece of paper that’s just come to me that says that they want volunteers to go and serve on Thor missiles as this is going to be the new Bomber Command. I suggest, I suggest you do that. At least you’re guaranteed a job then.’ So I thought about that. So I applied for this and I had to go to Air Ministry to be interviewed and the interviewer was a wing commander who I’d known as a flight lieutenant on 90 Squadron. So that was the end of the interview really. We just chatted and I was accepted and we then sailed across to, well we were busy. We were going to New York but we went on a Canadian Pacific ship. We went across to Montreal and our first stop was Quebec and then we sailed up the St Lawrence to Montreal. Beautiful river. Lovely day. And it was marvellous sailing along there. It’s a huge river because if you imagine there you’ve got these large ocean going liners and two of them could pass quite easily along the river. From there we got the train to New York where we were given a couple of days off and we managed to go up the Empire State Building while I was there. And then we got an aircraft to take us to Tucson in Arizona and it was a DC4. And it was supposed to land at Tucson Municipal Airport. Well. the pilot thinking as we were all RAF and we were all going to go eventually to [pause] we were going to be stationed at Davis-Monthan, which was a SAC base in Arizona. And so for some reason the pilot decided to land at Davis-Monthan. Well, SAC bases are very very security tight and an aircraft suddenly coming in which they’re not expecting they don’t go much on and they sent us over to the far side of the airfield. We were ringed with machine guns and first of all they wouldn’t let us out of the aeroplane. Well, it’s very hot in Tucson at the end of August, the beginning of September. And eventually they let us out but they surrounded us with the guards with machine guns. And eventually they sorted it out. Apparently, they’d been waiting for us at the municipal airport with a group of local dignitaries to greet us there.
RP: Right.
PM: And when they managed to sort it out it was only a case of driving through the gate because we were billeted just outside the main airfield in Davis-Monthan. We spent a month there learning about the missile. It was so new then they hadn’t actually fired one successfully. The instructor we had was on the previous course and that’s his knowledge was what he’d been told on the previous course there. But we, see we spent a month there and then we got sent on a Constellation to fly out to Los Angeles. And from there we went to [pause] from there we went to Vandenberg which was the main missile base in the States at that time and we carried on with the course there. We actually saw the missile for the first time but again they hadn’t fired one successfully. We saw various films of them taking off and then crash landing and exploding and so on but not one that actually worked. And when we’d finished the course there it was now December and they decided they would fly us back to New York and normally what happened you caught one of the Queens and they flew you, brought you back to UK. And when we got to New York it was freezing cold. When we’d left California we were in shorts. Eighty degrees. There was snow on the ground in New York and the temperature was minus goodness knows what. And it was like walking into a brick wall as you walked out of the aircraft with the change in the temperature. Anyway, they, they said, ‘Well, at the moment we can’t find any way to get you home so we’ll leave you in New York.’ We were abandoned there for ten days which was great. We were given ten dollars a day expenses to live in New York and we were billeted initially in the Governor Clinton Hotel. But they were expensive in there. They charged you four dollars a night just for the bed and then you had to pay for your breakfast and everything on top of that. And we found that the YM, you could do it for a dollar a night and so a number of us moved into the YM and stayed there. Of those who stayed at the Governor Clinton would tell us if anything had happened and they wanted us for going home. The beauty, while we were there is that we had American ID cards and so we could go into their [pause] they had a very good United Services Organisation there and you could go in there, show them your ID card and you’d get free tickets to any theatre in Broadway, any cinema in Broadway and through the day you could go on various tours. And I managed to go through the United Nations building on one tour. Another one they took us up inside the Statue of Liberty where you could climb right up to the top and the band around the Statue of Liberty’s head they are actually windows that you can look out. We were there for, as I say about ten days and then they managed to get Douglas DC6 to fly us home to the UK on Christmas Eve. And so we flew home. I managed to get a taxi home from London Airport as it was then. And so that was the end of my tour there. And from there I was posted to RAF Hemswell in Lincolnshire. That was the main base for the missiles. But there were a number of squadrons and each squadron was based at a different base. These were mainly the old wartime bases and I was sent to number 106 Squadron which was stationed at Bardney. Which again was a wartime airfield. But we still hadn’t got the missiles then. In fact, they were still building the site. The missile goes into a covered shelter and they hadn’t even got the shelters there. They were still putting in the rails for them to work on and it must have been six months or more before it was completed. And then the missiles started to arrive. They were flown over from the States in the large American aircraft. Then sent through the streets to the various sites. And when we’ve actually got them then we had to start the proper shift system because they had to be manned twenty four hours a day as the oil in the guidance system was so touchy that if the temperature changed the oil would solidify and would ruin the gyros which cost thousands of pounds to replace. And so we had to be there all the time with them. This meant manning twenty four hours a day as I say. And then we were put on a shift system where we’d do four days mornings, four days afternoons, four days nights. Four days off. This went on for ever and ever and ever. It was the most boring job in the world because you couldn’t do anything with a missile other than just watch it. Anyway, after a few months they asked me if I’d like to go to Hemswell, the main base to work in the main office there. The training office. And I said, ‘Yeah. I’m quite happy to do that,’ because it was nearer to where I was living. I was living on a caravan at the site at the time because we couldn’t get married quarters there. And so I went there and the role there was to doing, checking on the missiles because every now and again one of them would be selected and the crew would do a practice firing. This involved pumping liquid oxygen into the tank on the missile itself. It carried eighty six thousand gallons of liquid oxygen. And then it also had an eighty err seventy five gallons of fuel. And this was pumped in to a tanker because they didn’t want to get the two together to risk any chance that they might fire. The igniters were taken out so they couldn’t possibly fire. And we’d go through a practice countdown and our role was to go out and just check to see that they’d pressed the right switches and so on. This was much better. It was a more interesting job than I was doing before. Shortly after that I was promoted to master navigator which was warrant officer rank. And I did, I carried on doing that for two or three months. And then I applied to sign on ‘til I was fifty five. And again the letter that came back from Air Ministry did I want to take a commission? So I spoke to my wife and we thought about it and I said, ‘Well, what can I lose?’ I get a higher pension as a commissioned officer than I would as a warrant officer. But I get more respect as a warrant officer than I get as a commissioned. So we decided I’d try and go for the commission. And I went, I had to go to see the AOC, the air officer commanding the area to be interviewed by him. And the day before a corporal in our orderly room had gone up to see him so I said, ‘What did he ask you then?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘He wanted to know, because we’d been to America he wanted to know the American system of parliament. Or the equivalent of our parliament. He also, apparently he’d been the air officer in Pakistan and so he asked him about Pakistan. And so he said he also wanted to know who the various Commonwealth prime ministers were. So that night I did a quick check up on all those. I went and sat down in his office and he said, ‘Oh, yes,’ he said. Tell me, what’s the system in the States for their parliament sort of system.’ And I was able to explain it to him, you know. He said, ‘What’s the set up in Pakistan now?’ I said, ‘I think there’s been a coup recently and the army had taken over.’ ‘Who’s the prime minister of Canada? Who’s the prime minster of — ’ He said, ‘You seem to be very well read.’ He said, ‘That’s ok.’ That was the end of the interview. And then I went to Jurby again on the Isle of Man for three months to train as an officer. And at the end of that I qualified as a flying officer rather than a pilot officer the way most of them did because if you were a warrant officer you went up a rank. And the beauty of it was that you had to be paid more than a warrant officer got. And a warrant officer got more than a normal flying officer got. So I was on a higher rate of pay and the commission I had was called a branch commission which was especially for NCO aircrew and it, after three years you were automatically promoted to flight lieutenant. So at the end of the course I was then posted back to Coastal Command and I went up to Kinloss and there we now had Mark 3 Shackletons. And I had to do the course again. And the thing that did annoy me was that they insisted that I did a basic navigation training course again. And so I waited at Kinloss for a while. I was attached to 120 Squadron until I’d done this navigation course. They were doing several trips there and on one of them going to Gibraltar for the weekend. I said, ‘Well, can I come along with you?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, great,’ you know,’ you can. You’re welcome.’ And I said to one of the navigators, ‘Can I have a go on the table? Give me a chance to get my hand back in.’ He said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ And when I went to go the captain of the aircraft said, ‘Definitely not.’ He said, ‘You’ve haven’t done your refresher course yet.’ He said, ‘You can’t, obviously you can’t go on.’ So I thought fair enough. I went down the back of the aircraft. Got my head down. This was a night flight out there. And after about an hour someone woke me up and they said, ‘Would you come forward?’ So I said, ‘Yeah.’ And when I got forward both the navigators were sick. Would I take over? Which pleased me no end. And we’d only now were just sort of going down the Irish Sea. And so I managed to take over and sort of, sort out where I thought we were. And then that engine packed in and so we diverted into RAF St Mawgan. And while we were on the ground there the other two other navigators recovered themselves and so they took over and they flew it down to Gibraltar so I was a passenger then there and back. But it did amuse me a little bit. And anyway, I did the navigation course at Topcliffe and then back to Kinloss. Did the basic Coastal Command course all over again and then back on to 120 Squadron and there I became, we had first and second navigators. The senior navigator was the first navigator and the junior one was second navigator. I became the second navigator on a crew. The first navigator, he had already done a tour in Gibraltar and he, we were back on, under our normal coastal work which was surveillance of, the Russian fleet was always floating around somewhere in the North Atlantic and we kept surveillance on them. Russian submarines were continually turning up close to our shores and we would do surveillance on them. And also they had fishing boats which were absolutely covered with aerials. We called them ELINTS — Electronic Intelligence vessels and we would have to go out and try and locate them and when you’ve got somewhere three or four hundred Russian fishing vessels and the Russians they used the same type of fishing vessels for everything and so they were all exactly the same. But one of them would have all these aerials on them. You would have to find that one in amongst all this lot. And once you’d located it of course then you could keep track of it and see what it was doing. Once they were located they realised they’d been caught and they would sort of clear off. On one of the occasions we used to fly out quite often to Iceland and we’d do a patrol going up to Iceland. Then from Iceland we would patrol across to Bodo in Norway and have a couple of days on the ground in Norway and then another patrol back to Kinloss again. And on this occasion we were flying up to Iceland and we came across a Russian submarine support vessel which we reported back and when we landed in Iceland there was a great fuss on there because they hadn’t, didn’t realise it was in the area. Normally the Americans had sort of passed on the information but they didn’t even know it was there and our AOC in Scotland ordered us to take off as soon as we could to relocate it. Well, the following day there was a seventy five knot gale blowing at Iceland. The station commander had closed the station. He said it wasn’t safe to take off because it wasn’t down the runway. And our AOC ordered him to open the station up, to open up the disused runway which luckily was straight into wind and we were to take off. And so we did this and we couldn’t locate the aircraft err the ship on the way back. We went back to Kinloss. The following day we had another panic on. A Russian submarine had been located in the training grounds just off Northern Ireland where the navy did all their training with us and often they would join in the exercises. Anyway, they located this submarine right in the middle of it and four of us were ordered off that night to try and locate it and try to force it out of the area. And we’d been airborne about twenty minutes and the aircraft behind us we had a call, a mayday call, he’d got an engine fire and he was returning to Kinloss and the engine, they couldn’t put the fire out and it spread along the wing and set the second engine on fire. And he was, managed to get across over Inverness and he crashed it on Culloden Moor. In fact he crashed he said by the light from the flames from the engines he could see where he was going. And all the crew luckily got out. Now, that aircraft was the one that we’d flown in on the day before. It had only done twenty minutes flying from when we took off from Iceland. If it had happened the day before we wouldn’t have had a hope in hell because of the winds blowing like that. As I say there wouldn’t have been a hope in hell of us getting back anywhere. Anyway, we, one of our aircraft did locate the submarine and it was forced to the surface and it was escorted out of the area. We then had what was considered a jolly. We were going down to South Africa, to Cape Town and we were going to join because the South Africans also had Mark 3 Shackletons and we were going to do exercises with them. The British Navy was down there with their Navy and the American Navy and the American Naval aircraft were there as well. And we flew, this time we flew down to El Adem in North Africa, in Libya. From there we flew across the desert at night to Nairobi. From Nairobi we flew down to Salisbury or Harare as it’s called now. From Harare we flew to Ysterplaat which is the airfield just outside Cape Town where we were going to be based. And we did one exercise with the Navy and then we were going to do another one that night and our CO took one look at the weather, he said, ‘No. We’re not going. It’s a waste of time because the sea state would be so great that you wouldn’t be able to do anything anyway.’ And he decided to cancel the exercise but the South Africans, with their Mark 3s they decided no. They were going to go ahead and do it. Anyway, the next morning we’d had a tremendous gale in the night. In fact, it was hurricane that had gone through and we were immediately, we were called in immediately after breakfast and were told that the aircraft that had taken off was missing. They reckoned that the winds at six odd thousand feet were a hundred and fifty knots and they hadn’t heard from take-off. Anyway, we were the first aircraft to go and we were ordered to go and fly the route that he was supposed to have taken. And we flew out over the, the sea. I was getting winds of seventy five and eighty knots as we sort of went out. The sea was absolutely mountainous. There wasn’t a hope in hell of anybody surviving if it had gone down there sand we flew out and were airborne for about thirteen hours and found absolutely nothing and so we came back. And the following day they said there was a slight chance he might have gone down in the bay outside Cape Town. And two of our, two aircraft were ordered out to go and do a close search of the bay. Whilst there in fact we noticed what we thought might be some wreckage and the thing was if you saw anything like that you’d immediately divert the nearest merchant ship to go and pick it up. And we came across a large Japanese bulk carrier and we did the normal fly across the bows and put the engines up and down to attract his attention. He didn’t take the blindest bit of notice so we came back again and we fired green verey cartridges across the bow. No notice. We came back again with red cartridges this time. Took no notice whatsoever so it obviously wasn’t, I suppose there probably wasn’t anybody on the bridge. And when we landed back apparently he had been called in to Cape Town and they were heavily fined for not following the rules of the sea. Anyway, our CO as we were more conversant with air sea rescue we were given the sort of the control of what was going on and he got the tapes from the tower and listened to them and very very faint, “Mayday. Mayday,” shortly after take-off and they decided they would use a helicopter and go and look in the mountains just off Cape Town. And as they flew over the mountain they could see, they found the aircraft at the bottom of one of the valleys upside down. And the sonar buoys that we carried were bright dayglo orange and it was upside down. The bomb doors had burst open and so they could see these sonar buoys there so they knew immediately what it was. And of course all the crew had been killed. And they must have got into huge turbulence and it flipped the aircraft upside down and that was the end of that. Anyway, the South Africans decided to call the exercise off. And so we stayed there for a little bit longer. They managed to fly us down to Durban for the weekend. We went down there on one of the South African Dakotas. And then we flew home again.
RP: So what year was that?
PM: That was in 1963. Then we went back to our normal sort of surveillance work we were doing and I applied to do the weapons instructor’s course that was actually at Kinloss. And before I could go on that they sent me to RAF Uxbridge which is the RAF School of Education to do an instructor’s course. And I went there and I managed to qualify with an A2 instructor’s category and I went back to Kinloss, did the course as a weapons instructor and back on the squadron where I was made squadron weapons officer. I was then promoted flight lieutenant. And I then got a message through saying I was going to be posted to Malta. Shortly after that I got another message saying I was going to the Maritime Operational Training Unit as a weapon’s instructor. Apparently they had, when I completed the course they had called for me to join them. And so I went to the weapons course at St Mawgan, St Eval, no. Sorry, at Kinloss. And whilst on, on the Operational Training Unit they decided to move the two squadrons that were at St Mawgan up to Kinloss and the Training Unit down to St Mawgan. And so the whole lot had to be moved down to St Mawgan. And before we moved I was called in, they said, ‘Well, would you take over as chief weapons instructor when we move to St Mawgan?’ So I said, ‘Yeah, I don’t mind.’ So I took over and I went down to St Mawgan and we had to set the whole thing up again. All the training classrooms and so on. And I remained there until 1967 when I was posted to Singapore. Now, my wife said she didn’t want to go to Singapore because we’d recently bought a bungalow, the children were both settled in school for the first time because they’d been moved from school to school. So she decided she would remain at home and I didn’t fancy spending two and a half years on my own in Singapore. So they had a scheme whereby if you volunteered to go do, on an unaccompanied tour anywhere in the world it lasted for a year. So I volunteered for that. And they said right, they’d got a post at as ops officer in Labuan in Borneo. So I said that would do fine. And I got all my kit together and just about to go and the signal came through Labuan closed six months ago. And they didn’t know about it apparently. And so they stopped that one. So they said, ‘Well, how about Bahrain?’ So I said, ‘Yes. That would do me.’ Go to Bahrain. And that time they brought out a redundancy scheme for the Air Force had got what they thought were too many older officers. They wanted to get rid of them to make room for the younger ones coming up and so they brought this scheme in which really it was too good to turn down. I think I was, I was given a five thousand pound to leave plus full pension. So I decided I’ll leave. So I volunteered to go out on that and was accepted to leave and I spent another six months or so floating around at St Mawgan doing all sorts of odd jobs. One of them while I was there we wanted, they wanted an aircraft to go out to locate Sir Francis Chichester on his return from his round the world sailing. Because then there was no sat navs and so they had no contact with him. They knew roughly where he was. An aircraft from 42 Squadron was there and an aircraft from the MOTU. We took off to search for him and we were fortunate that we found him and we were able to direct the other aircraft to us because we had reporters on board and the reporters were not allowed to take any photographs until both aircraft were there so neither got the advantage over the other. But it gave me the advantage. I was able to take some photographs before they got the chance for them to do it. Anyway, as we say we located him but he was most upset at being located. Normally, you know, if you found people they would give you a wave when you flew past. But he just didn’t stand up. He didn’t wave. We dropped a message to him in a container welcoming him back and thanking, you know and saying what a good job he’d done. He watched it go past his boat. He didn’t even bother to pick it up. So I think he was most upset. He wanted to sneak in I think without having being seen. And so that was the end of that one and I think one of the last flights I did was on the Torrey Canyon. We were checking the oil that was coming out of that when it crashed at just off the Scilly Isles. And I didn’t know what to do when I came out of the Air Force. I did a computer course at Camborne in Cornwall and it was to train to programme computers but then I realised that there were only two computers in the whole of Cornwall at that time. One, the one we were using was at County Hall and the other was at John Keay House in the China clay industry. So the chances of getting a job there were nil and I didn’t want to leave Cornwall. Cornwall. And so one of the other chaps who was leaving with me, he said he’d applied to train as a teacher at St Luke’s in Exeter. He said, ‘Why don’t you come and, you know try that?’ So, I said, ‘Well, I left school at fourteen. They won’t want to know me there.’ Anyway, he said, ‘Well try it.’ And I went and the principal there was an ex-wing commander navigator.
RP: So you were made. So, I think we finished your RAF career so we might need to bring it to an end there. But did you, just to round it off did you finish your sort of working career as a teacher then?
PM: As a —?
RP: As a teacher.
PM: Yes.
RP: You stayed then.
PM: Well, I’m saying I taught for ten years.
RP: Yeah.
PM: And then I decided I’d had enough again at fifty five they said you could retire. So I took early retirement from that.
RP: Very nice.
PM: And bought a small holding.
RP: Well, that’s, I mean that’s a fascinating, a fascinating career and I say thank you very much for that. I’m just amazed they were still training you as VE day approached but I suppose you were lucky in a way that you didn’t have to go on ops and you could —
PM: No
RP: You looked forward to a full career in the RAF.
PM: Yeah. It was, because you don’t know how you would react to going on ops. The chap that you should have interviewed, that is a chap called Ted Frost. A friend of mine. He did fifty seven ops. DFC. And I said to him, ‘Have they been in touch with you?’ ‘No he said. They haven’t asked me about it.
RP: Oh, well I’ll take the details if you like.
PM: So I can give you Ted’s telephone number.
RP: Absolutely. No. That’s the sort of people I, I would just like to, we’ll just finish this and I’ll say thank you very much, Peter. It’s been fascinating.



Rod Pickles, “Interview with Peter Morris,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 14, 2024,

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