Interview with James Mulhall. Two.


Interview with James Mulhall. Two.


James Mulhall trained as a flight engineer and was posted to 75 Squadron at RAF Mepal. On one operation the crew were surprised to be presented by the ground crew with a 303 bullet which proved that they had been the recipient of friendly fire. On their thirty fourth operation their Lancaster was shot down and the crew became prisoners of war. James undertook the long march from Stalag Luft 7B to Luckenwalde. After the war James returned to engineering work and eventually worked on V force aircraft.



IBCC Digital Archive




Julie Williams


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01:57:40 audio recording





Temporal Coverage


GT: This is Tuesday the 3rd of July 2018 and I am at the home of Mr James Edward Mulhall, known as Jim. Born 8th July 1924 in Gorton, Manchester, England. Jim joined the RAF at the age of eighteen as an ACHGD mechanic. Later qualifying as a flight engineer serving on 75 New Zealand Squadron Lancasters from Mepal, Cambridgeshire. Jim, thank you for letting me interview you for the IBCC archives. So, please tell me why you joined the RAF and where you did your training.
JM: Yeah. The reason I joined the RAF was I got fed up of being bombed by the Germans. Being blown out of bed on a regular basis. So I decided to get a little bit of my own back and I joined up at Dover Street in Manchester and did my initial training at Padgate.
GT: And you joined up to, to be a pilot or gunner or what was it?
JM: I originally intended to qualify as a pilot and I joined the PNB course. Pilot/navigator/bomb aimer. But my maths weren’t good enough to qualify as a pilot so I was offered the alternative as becoming a flight engineer. And this I accepted and trained at St Athans, in South Wales.
GT: How long was your training for, Jim?
JM: About three months.
GT: And what aircraft did you train on for that?
JM: I trained on Stirlings to begin with which I didn’t like. I thought it was underpowered and overweight. And then I got re-mustered because of the losses to Lancasters which I enjoyed very much. But as I’ve mentioned previously going from a four cylinder, fourteen cylinder radial air cooled engines to twelve cylinder liquid cooled engines, the Merlins, was a bit of a leap for me considering I only had a fortnight to qualify in this direction. And I was a bit peeved because I was genning up on night on the various different systems while my mates were out boozing. So, I didn’t take kindly to this. However we got along eventually.
GT: So, from, from your training at St Athan did you move to satellite airfields before you joined a crew?
JM: Yes. Satellite. Stradishall was one. And Feltwell was the other one. And we did the various training at these two stages on Lancasters.
GT: So, how long did that take? Months? A year?
JM: Oh no. As I said before it only took a fortnight to qualify as Lancaster crew. That’s the only time we had.
GT: No. But let’s, let’s go back to before you joined your crews though, Jim because you were still doing your training by yourself or with other flight engineers were you?
JM: Oh, they were trained, all flight engineers at St Athan.
GT: Yeah.
JM: And when it came to crewing up they pushed all the previous aircrew, who had been together on Wellingtons I might add. Five of them knew each other very well through training on Wellingtons and this, but they all sat down and they shoved, I don’t know, about eighty. Oh not quite that number. Let’s get this nearer to the fact. About twenty. Twenty or thirty flight engineers in to the big cinema with them and said quite briefly, ‘Go and find yourself a crew.’ And that was a bit disconcerting because we’d got all these pudding faces looking at us wondering whether, what kind of a bloke is this that’s going to hoist himself on to us?
GT: Yeah.
JM: So, I went up to one of them, Hugh Rees and I said, ‘Do you fancy an engineer?’ He said, ‘What’s your name?’ I said, ‘James.’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘Jim. He said, ‘I’m Hugh. This is Westie. This is Ray. So that was it. We joined up as a crew. Yeah. Most haphazard in its way.
GT: Yeah.
JM: But none the less it worked. Yeah.
GT: So, so from the time you joined to that time you joined a crew how long was that? A couple of years? A year?
JM: About a year. Yeah. About a year. I did the Padgate training at Skegness. The square bashing as they called it and we did about a fortnight in Blackpool. In November would you believe. No place Blackpool in November believe me. Its, particularly doing PT at 6 o’clock in the morning in shorts and pumps. Not very kindly to the torso at all. So, that, that was briefly the square bashing bit.
GT: So, when you trained as a flight engineer on Stirlings did they have a flight engineer position initially?
JM: Yes. Halfway down the aircraft was the flight engineer’s position. But as I said that’s why I lost, when I lost an engine. For the first, for the first six circuits and bumps we had screens. A screened navigator, a screened pilot and a screened engineer. But they left us and the first flight we did circuits and bumps I lost an engine would you believe. I could see the cylinder head’s temperatures going down. And the oil pressure disappearing so I knew the engine was u/s. I called up the pilot. I said, ‘Feather number two,’ and he said, ‘Feathering two. Why?’ I said, ‘The CHT’s going down. I’ve no oil pressure. The engines u/s.’ So, he said, ‘Right. Nobby, call up base. We want an emergency landing on three.’ He greased it and he made a beautiful landing on three and said to me afterwards, ‘I always wanted to do that.’ [laughs]
GT: What station was that on?
JM: Stradishall.
GT: And that’s where you were doing your —
JM: Circuits and bumps.
GT: The whole crew converted there.
JM: Yeah.
GT: Into four engines.
JM: Yeah.
GT: Wow.
JM: That’s in Feltwell. We got a fortnight at Feltwell to convert to Merlins and different energy systems for the undercarriage and flaps. And so for flying controls. Aye.
GT: So, had you done any operations on Stirlings before that?
JM: No.
GT: No.
JM: No. I never did any.
GT: So, the Lancaster finishing school at Feltwell was your first touch of a, of a Lancaster.
JM: Yes. We then, we were sent to Mepal to start our operational debut as you might say.
GT: On 75 New Zealand Squadron. RAF.
JM: Yeah.
GT: Yeah. So, what, when you got to Mepal was, was the squadron known by any nicknames or was there —
JM: No. We learned later that we got all the mucky jobs that’s for sure. We were known as a chop squadron. But I expect that identification was made among many other squadrons for the same reason.
GT: 75 New Zealand certainly had a reputation of, of being assigned a lot of tricky and dangerous targets.
JM: Yeah.
GT: And the chop squadron was certainly well known back in to 1943 with Stirlings. So, so for you to hear that nickname, carry on and you joined the squadron. Well, for that matter, yes — when did you join the squadron? What month? Date?
JM: May. May in 1944. But we didn’t start operating until August. Incidentally, it might be worthwhile recording that we did fly in different aircraft. And we had one aircraft, I think it was the captain’s aircraft of D flight and it had a caption on the front of a scantily clad young maiden astride a bomb. And underneath it said, “She drops them at night,” [laughs] Make your own conclusions.
GT: I’ve seen some fabulous nose art and that sounds like another one to add to that list.
JM: The ground crew did the nose arts of course.
GT: Fabulous. So, your crew. You’ve, you’ve mentioned to me that your mid-upper gunner Ray Alderson he was quite old and had quite an attribute. What —
JM: He, he was thirty err he was forty two years old when he should have been at the limit — thirty five. And once we were routed over Denmark at night and he said — ‘Will you bank,’ left, ‘Bank right,’ rather, ‘Right and left. I can see something moving down on the ground.’ And we were around about eight thousand feet.
[recording paused]
JM: The mid-upper asked the pilot to bank to the right because he’d seen something down below. And bear in mind we’re at about eight thousand feet now but he says he saw some lights travelling along a runway and he’s not sure what it was. But as it happened he followed this, managed to follow this aircraft because it had its nav lights on. It was rising up beside us and he said to the rear gunner, ‘Let me have the first squirt Charlie because it’s my, my thing to see here.’ He said, ‘I’ll open up first and you open up next.’ So, this was done and we imagine that the pilot was looking for our exhaust flames. He’d be looking upwards looking for the blue exhaust flames while he was being vectored on to us. So, he didn’t see us only a hundred yards or so at the side of him. Fifty, a hundred yards or so and so they both had a good squirt at him and he fell away but we don’t know what happened to him. We could only claim it as a probable. But that was how good the mid-upper’s eyesight was.
GT: And he was never contested as to being over forty years of age.
JM: No. He always said he was thirty five. The lying swine [laughs] he was the best spiv I ever saw as well. He’d start off with a pair of dirty socks on a Monday. He’d finish up with a bike on a Saturday that he sold to a farmer for four pound ten. That’s not bad spivving is it? He never, he never ate in the canteen. He always ate, ate in the guardhouse because he was always bringing in bacon and eggs from the farms around about that he knew so well. So, he always had a fry up in the guardhouse. He never ate with us in the cookhouse. Or I can’t remember it. Oh at breakfast. Yeah. After flight breakfast. Pre-flight breakfast he had with us because he was, he had to because we were silence from the aerodrome. All outward communication ceased.
GT: Right.
JM: Before an op.
GT: So, your, your skipper, Hubert Rees. He did a dicky trip for you.
JM: He did.
GT: As it were.
JM: To Havre. No. Nazaire. I got it wrong. I said Le Havre at first. The sub, U-boat pens at Nazaire. Yeah. That’s when the bomb aimer got a bit excited. Yeah.
GT: So, was he always one up for the whole crew. Doing a dicky trip? Did he have always —
JM: He must have been, yeah. Must have been one up on his log book. Yeah. But for some reason or other because he did that he was never entered in our logbooks. So, although we did — Mepal have us down as I’d done thirty four but there’s only thirty three logged. As you found out for yourself.
GT: That’s right. So, you, you completed thirty three.
JM: And a half.
GT: Yeah. We’ll get to that. Right. So, now one of the things you’re talking about was your bomb, nicknamed Westie. And on your first op something happened when you were coming in to the run that you’ve told me. Can you tell me what Westie didn’t see it?
JM: You want me to repeat that?
GT: I do.
JM: It’s a bit dodgy.
GT: I do. Go on [laughs]
JM: It’s as I say we were down under radar for flying close to the sea until we climbed for bombing height for penetration on the pens. And being the third wave in the sky was black with previous ack-ack puffs. Even the birds were flying. They were so close together they frightened the life out of us. And Westie was equally concerned. And when he climbed up to bombing height we had a burst fairly close to the nose but the fragments whip upwards so that’s not really dangerous to the aeroplane. But looking in to the bomb pit I could see Westie crouched over his bomb pit, bombsight and I saw him leap back and shout, ‘F’ing hell, we’ll get killed doing this.’ So [laughs] and we looked at each other over our oxygen masks. The pilot and I could see we were laughing. We had a bit of light relief over the run. So, that took place. That’s really true that is. Yeah.
GT: But you finished the op ok.
JM: Oh yeah. But we could see flames going down either side of us and oh, it was a tricky business really because they were well defended these U-boat pens as you can well imagine. The eighty eight millimetre guns could catch you up to forty thousand feet.
GT: What was your normal bombing height that you would —
JM: Around about twenty two thousand. Yeah. Because we carried and eighteen thousand pound bomb load and a four thousand pound Cookie needs six thousand clearance to get out of the blast. So, we were usually between eighteen and twenty two thousand we’d bomb. On normal targets.
GT: Was your four thousand pound HC Cookie, was that your largest bomb that the squadron used?
JM: Yes. Yeah. We used to use a four thousand pound Cookie, twelve thousand pounders and four cannisters of incendiaries. That was a normal bomb load for a short trip. If we went to Stettin or somewhere like that we’d have to carry more fuel because that was a nine and a half hour trip. So we’d have to reduce the bomb load, the stores as they called it to allow for more fuel.
GT: So, as a crew did you go and check the bomb load before you flew? Or you —
JM: I did. I checked it to make sure all the pins were in the right position for fusing when we crossed the enemy coast.
GT: So, that was the flight engineer’s role. Not the bomb aimers.
JM: Well, he did it as well but it was one of my checks as well. He did it to make sure the Mickey Mouse was clean. Clued up.
GT: So, who —
JM: That was the selector box. The Mickey Mouse.
GT: Ah. So, the selector box was on your panel.
JM: No. It was on his panel in the bomb pit. I had a jettison button on my combing and the pilots. In case he didn’t make it for any reason. I could open the bomb doors and jettison the bomb.
GT: Could you see your bomb load?
JM: No.
GT: From the cockpit.
JM: He could. He had a peep hole in the bulk head because we had a hang up once and I had to get rid of the hang up. Get rid of the carrier as well as the bomb. So that was a bit of a job trying to chisel that out of the way but we got rid of it eventually.
GT: So, you moved down through the fuselage and could —
JM: Yeah. To get rid of the carrier. Yeah. It was in the forward edge of the bomb bay. I didn’t have far to go and I was on an oxygen bottle.
GT: Now, for those that are listening that don’t understand what a carrier is it is the British call them carriers the Americans call them racks.
JM: Yeah.
GT: And they are what is bolted to the air frame that the bomb is then latched to and in this case most World War One err World War Two bombs had a single lug.
JM: Yeah.
GT: Lugged. And they were single hooked.
JM: Yeah.
GT: And they were electro, electro-magnetic or electro magnetically —
JM: Fused.
GT: Armed or fused.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
GT: Yeah. So —
JM: A fusing pin came forward and it was selected in the Mickey Mouse.
GT: So, can you describe then the way the bombs were fused?
JM: There’s a little wire ring piece in the front of the bomb and a needle when it’s selected on the Mickey Mouse in the bomb bay a needle comes forward and fits inside that loop on the wire on the bomb. So that when the bomb falls away that wire is pulled out by that pin. So then the bomb is fused.
GT: And the bomb is only fused once it falls from the aircraft and that wire’s pulled out.
JM: Correct.
GT: So, can the bomb be dropped without the wire being pulled through? In other words can it be dropped safe? Can the, the flight engineer or the bomb aimer drop his load?
JM: The bomb aimer can pre, can re-select to pull the needle back but there would be no guarantee that it didn’t get tangled up in the loop. So you wouldn’t know really whether they were fused or not. Sometimes we had to, if we had an abortive trip we’d have to drop the stores as they called them, the bombs, in the North Sea. And they tried to make sure they weren’t fused but there was no guarantee of this.
GT: So, the Lancaster could not land back at base with a full stores load.
JM: That’s right. We could take off at sixty eight thousand pound. That’s about thirty four tonne. But we had to get down to fifty six thousand pound to land. Otherwise we’d stress the undercarriage too greatly. It would bottom out and probably destroy the aircraft.
GT: Was there any cases where aircraft came back in with a heavy load at all?
JM: No. No. We never landed with a heavy load. No. The — when we were hit by the incendiaries I had to make a decision as to whether the undercarriage was locked down. And I came to the conclusion by listening to the reservoir tank that the same amount of fluid was going back in the reservoir tank just behind the pilot as was being taken out to lower the undercarriage. And after several occasions of this I came to the conclusion although I had no undercarriage lights, red or green and I decided that we could land at base with a reasonable chance of success. Which we did. And we did succeed.
GT: That’s without the undercarriage collapsing once you hit the ground.
JM: That’s right.
GT: That’s what you were trying to avoid.
JM: It didn’t collapse.
GT: Yeah.
JM: I made the right decision fortunately.
GT: Fabulous. Well, let’s go back to the reason why you made that decision. And you said incendiaries. So, you’re saying that the incendiaries were dropped from an aircraft above and went and hit your aircraft.
JM: It did.
GT: Can you tell me a bit about that please?
JM: The aircraft was shook about a bit and my instrument panel on the side of the aircraft, on the starboard side was knocked off its hinges and off its retainers. And the bottom plug down on the floor that carried all the communications that was hit and slid back. But fortunately I was able to get, to find the threads on that and screw it back in to complete the communication so we had intercom and instrument recordings as well. And the incendiaries were only, saved us because they were pinned in by being frozen at the height we were at. So, they didn’t trigger the incendiaries when they hit us. One, in fact hit us in the joint between the rudder and tail plane. Right in that joint there. Which was a bit dodgy really because any severe manoeuvres might have lost the tail, lost the rudder there.
GT: So, the incendiaries would have, would have exploded normally within the aircraft if it hit the aircraft or only if it had hit the ground?
JM: Yeah. They would have exploded in the aircraft if the pins hadn’t been frozen in. So, we were very lucky in that respect.
GT: And when you got back to Mepal did they come and take the flare, the incendiaries out of the aircraft gingerly or —
JM: Very very gingerly. We handed them through the door to the ground crew and told them that the pins were open, ‘Don’t drop them or they’ll go off. They’re magnesium flares.’ Yeah.
GT: Well, the armourers would have loaded them so the armourers would have taken them away I’m sure.
JM: Well, no. Only the ground crew. The armourers kept well away. They knew what might happen. They triggered off. No, no messing.
GT: I can’t believe, Jim the armourers would scarper [laughs]
JM: Well, you, [laughs] you were in charge of them weren’t you? But they stayed well away I can assure you. They knew it was far more dangerous than the ground crew did.
GT: Classic. Now, was there any time that your gunners, other that what you briefly mentioned did they have a chance to shoot at anything other than that one other time they claimed half each? Was there any other?
JM: No. The 109 we shot at was the only time the gunners opened up as I can remember. They did open up sometimes on the ground targets if we were going low over the, over France. And they could open, they could open up over convoys that they knew were enemy because of where they were located.
GT: Did they ever use the front guns?
JM: No.
GT: On the Lancaster.
JM: No. Westie never used the front guns.
GT: So the bomb aimer’s —
JM: Not to my knowledge.
GT: The bomb aimer’s role was also to mix in as an air gunner.
JM: Yeah.
GT: And he was trained as such.
JM: He was, well I assume he was anyway. He knew what he was doing. Yeah. My skipper wanted to play with them but the back ones. When I was playing with the aircraft he was playing with Ray’s gun err Alan’s guns. Enjoying himself I understand.
GT: Jim, did you ever do any flying of your own? On the squadron or in the aircraft?
JM: No. No. Never. The first flying I ever did was in a Stirling.
GT: But Hubert’s, did Hubert let you take the controls at all when you were in the crew?
JM: Oh yes. On several occasions. He would. Particularly if he’d had damage and was on an air test. We were supposed to do an air test two and a half hours and always climb to height to test the oxygen. But we never did climb to height. We could test it at low level just as well as at upper level. So he would then dump me in the seat. On his parachute I might add. I’m sat on his ‘chute and harness. If that isn’t confidence I don’t know what is. While he wandered around the aircraft trying other people’s jobs. Aye. And I’m stuck with it. Sat up front with thirty two ton of aeroplane to play with.
GT: Did you write up your hours?
JM: No [laughs] did I heck. No. I don’t. I don’t. I think it was frowned upon by CM. That was the publication that was issued to all aircrew as you’re well aware. So, no I did [pause] I must have totalled perhaps two or [pause] two or three hours at the controls I would say overall. Yeah. At half hour intervals or perhaps an hour at one time. But it got to the stage where the navigator used to say, ‘Whoever’s in the pilot’s seat will you turn on to,’ such and such a course. And I’d say, ‘Turning now,’ and watch the DR read off and say, ‘On course now. Thank you.’
GT: So, did you do any link trainer stuff?
JM: I did ninety hours link would you believe? The pilot had only done five hours. That’s when it came about. When the pilot said, ‘You’re going to earn your corn from here on in. You can fly the damned thing while I have a wander about.’ Which I did on several occasions amounting to perhaps two or three hours total in flight. Possibly about four altogether. So, I was in charge of the aircraft for that particular time on those particular days. Never on ops I might add. Only when we had an air test to do or testing new equipment. That was the only time I flew it. But I enjoyed it I must admit. It was a bit slow in input and recovery but very stable. A very stable aeroplane. Yeah.
GT: So, did you record your link hours in your logbook?
JM: No. No. I don’t know why but [pause] I’m not quite sure about that. I might have done. I might have done.
GT: So —
JM: I can’t remember now whether I did or I didn’t. I probably did.
GT: So, tell me about your logbook then.
JM: I probably did. Yeah.
GT: Tell me about your logbook then because that’s something of interest that I’ve heard from different stories that, from different folk that have said that they were destroyed. So how about your logbook?
JM: Well, as I said before that I was at Fenchurch. We landed at Cosford from Germany. Well, from Bristol actually. We flew from Leipzig to Brussels and Brussels to Cosford. To land at Cosford. And what was your original question? I’ve forgotten in my —
GT: Ok. So, let’s, let’s go back one because your, your flights. You managed to do how many ops?
JM: Thirty three and a half. We didn’t finish the thirty fourth.
GT: And what —
JM: We only got half way in.
GT: Please tell me about your thirty fourth op.
JM: That was George Howe work we were doing. We were supposed to pick up a yellow tailed, a Lancaster who had the Oboe equipment on to do this so called George Howe carpet bombing. But we didn’t manage to do this and we were told that we had to get in to the box at the back for fighter protection if we didn’t manage to pick up a yellow tailed aircraft. So we finished up in the box. And we were finally nailed by predicted flak on the run in for the bomb run. As I said before it’s fairly easy to dodge it. If the first burst doesn’t get you you’ve got between five and seven seconds according to your height to dodge it and be privileged to see where it would burst where you should have been but you’ve moved the aircraft so you’re not there any longer. And it’s quite a privilege to see it burst somewhere else. But unfortunately we didn’t outfly it and eventually it caught up with us and blew half the tail away.
GT: And the skipper couldn’t control it. You had to abandon ship.
JM: No. The navigator said, ‘Turn on to 270.’ But in turning he only had aileron control because he had no elevator or rudder control due to half the tail plane being shot away. But when you turn on ailerons the nose begins to drop off. You’re supposed to ease the stick back because one wing loses lift more than the other. And as it started to dive he said, ‘You’ll have,’ [laughs] We did a lot of parachute bailout, bailout business but Hugh just said, ‘You’ll have to get out lads.’ And so we did. I was the last out by the skipper. I had to watch the wireless op, Nesbitt, the hundredth operation man go past me and Ray. And the two gunners went out the back door. So I was the last out by the skipper. And I just reached for my, my parachute was in a rack behind his seat so I had to undo the bungees, put it on the clips, kneel on the hatch, take my helmet and oxygen mask and everything else off my head so that it didn’t strangle me when I went out. Get hold of the D ring and dive out. And that was goodbye. Cheers. Thirty four tons of junk swept away.
GT: And the aircraft was flat and level or was it sunk in a spin?
JM: No. It was in a shallow dive which made the skipper very difficult to get out because he went out the top hatch. And he told me later on at Dulag Luft all his fingernails were bloodied where he was trying to pull himself out against the slipstream which must have been about three hundred miles an hour by then because the aircraft is in a more or less vertical dive by that time. Yeah. So —
GT: And you all had good ‘chutes.
JM: Yes. Aye. All the ‘chutes opened, fortunately. I blacked out in fact. I’d been off oxygen so long that I was twisted and I got hold of the shrouds to untwist and blacked out through lack of oxygen. Anoxia. And I didn’t come to until I was a few feet above a pile of rubble in the centre of Hom with the Wehrmacht waiting for me to unzip all my clothing, pinch me watch and pinch me cigarettes. They didn’t pinch the cigarette case. They put that back in me battledress pocket but pinched my fags. And my watch. The swines. So, somebody got a good watch. My mother bought that as well for me when I started flying. Out of very meagre funds. Yeah.
GT: So when you were captured then did they, all your crew landed about the same area. Did you join up together?
JM: I understood later on at Dulag Luft we were all picked up within twenty four hours of each other. So, they knew where we were coming down. Don’t forget this is daylight and there would, there would be a Wehrmacht reception committee for everybody that came down. They’d have no chance at all of escaping. Or even do anything for themselves. They took these two. They were in a way they were they were a good thing to happen because civilians weren’t very pleased with us for obvious reasons. They used to call us terror flyers. Overlooking the fact that their flyers did the same thing to us years before. So, however that’s that was by the way. They took me to a police station and locked me in an underground cell. Took me boots off me and all. I were, I’m in bare feet. Well, just socks on. Took me boots off. They were flying boots that you could cut the top off you know and put it around you to keep warm. Yeah. They took those off me. I had to sleep in bare feet on bare boards in a prison cell in a place called Hom. So I understand. Yeah. The next morning the — I didn’t get, didn’t get anything to eat or drink either. I was pretty parched. The next morning they took me upstairs to be interviewed by the sergeant of police there. I forget what his title was but he started the proceedings by unholstering his luger, pointedly pushing the safety catch off — and I’ve fired a luger, I know what a hare trigger it is. And he placed the pistol down with the barrel pointing at me and then started to interrogate me. But between his German and my English we didn’t get very far so he gave it up as a bad job. Put the damned thing back where it belonged. But it was a bit unnerving for a lad of nineteen or so. Twenty. Yeah. To be faced with this. Yeah. I didn’t enjoy it I must admit.
GT: But he was Wehrmacht or SS?
JM: Oh, he was Wehrmacht. We only had one brief brush with the SS when they were fleeing from the — when we were on the march the Russians were only about five or six miles behind us all the way. And the SS were trying to escape them in ordinary saloon staff cars and one got stuck near us. And the two of them came out waving lugers, ‘Help get us out of the ditch.’ You know. We just walked past them. Bugger them. Let them get themselves out. They did eventually and drove on. But that’s the only brush — oh. They mounted a machine gun on one of the goon towers at Stalag, at Luckenwalde. And a Spandau machine gun on one of the goon towers and aimed it at the compound. But for some reason or other they didn’t open fire or else they’d have nailed a lot of us with that thing before we could get in to the huts or get behind anything. But they didn’t open fire. They packed up again and left. So that was a strange brush with the SS. But we saw them quite clearly. And the Spandau.
GT: So what prison camps were you taken to? Put in.
JM: The Stalag Luft 7B in Upper Silesia. Bankau, Poland. And then after the march we finished up at Luckenwalde. Thirty kilometres, kilometres south of Berlin. In fact at one stage the Russians and the Germans were swapping shells over the camp. Because we were only a couple of miles apart. One landed in the compound but it didn’t explode funnily enough. We had to roll it to the edge of [laughs] where the tripwire was. Up against the wire. We managed to get out of the, get it out of the gate.
GT: So how many of you —
JM: It was a five hundred pounder.
GT: How many of you were in the camp? How many were in the camp?
JM: Two thousand.
GT: And were you all RAF? USAF?
JM: Yes. I think there was a dotting of Americans and Naval personnel. But very few in number. Only perhaps fifty or so amongst our odd two thousand.
GT: So, most of you were RAF Bomber Command.
JM: Yes.
GT: Or Fighter Command.
JM: Or Fighter Command. Yeah. But aircrew anyway. The officers went to an Oflag so we didn’t see three of them after Dulag Luft. After interrogation camp at Dulag Luft. We didn’t see them anymore. They went to an Oflag. I don’t know where. Because they were commissioned officers.
GT: What was the conditions like?
JM: A bit rough. The food was the main topic of conversation. It’s usually sex or, sex or religion. But at prison camp it was food. All we thought about was food, food, food. We used to get something called sauerkraut which was some kind of cabbage in red vinegar. Disgusting stuff but it was edible. Just. And we had another thing called beetle soup which was supposed to be pea soup but inside every pea was a little beetle and we used to split open a pea and get the beetle out and put them down on the table. And we’d perhaps have a dozen or so little tiny beetles and then we’d eat the peas in the pea soup. Yeah. It’s true that. You couldn’t write that in fiction and get away with it but It’s true. Yeah. So, bread. We had to have a small like a Hovis loaf. Like a small Hovis and you had to divide it between eight men and you used to take turns at doing this in the hut between the eight of us because you got the last slice. And it would obviously be the smallest one so we had to take turns cutting the bread [laughs] How about that?
GT: No Red Cross parcels?
JM: Oh, we did get — what did we get? One. We got, in fact the SBO the Senior British Officer was in touch with one of the Red Cross officials. He had freedom to move about in Germany this fella. He had his own car. And he would advise the Senior British Officer, SBO that there was two wagons of Red Cross parcels in the sidings down outside the camp. But we only ever got one. The Germans used to pinch them and you couldn’t blame them. They were starving as much as were.
GT: Yeah.
JM: But we only got one Red Cross, Red Cross parcel between two of us. The only time I ever got a Red Cross parcel I must admit. It was very welcome. Klim milk and all sorts of things. Cigarettes. And dates would you believe. I got used to eating dates because they were very nutritious and they used to get the saliva going in your mouth. And I used to get used to eating dates. Ridiculous isn’t it? Yeah. I wouldn’t touch them in Civvy Street with a bargepole, with a sanitary inspector on the end.
GT: Was there any attempts at escaping from the Stalag that you were in?
JM: The [pause] we managed to get permission to have a sports field outside the camp. Down a little, on a little lower place so we could play football. We couldn’t do it inside the camp because of the trip wire near the goon boxes. You couldn’t get near that or else you’d get shot. That was about twenty yards inside the main wire. So we got this privilege. I think it was twice a week. And somebody managed to get a pole vault. Vault equipment in several different pieces and secreted it down on to this field. Unbeknown to the rest of us I might add. Only those in the know around about him that helped him to carry these different sections of the pole vault. And when he got down on the field the sentries patrolled outside the field to give us freedom to play football and so forth. And he put this thing together, took a run at the fence that surrounded the field, pole vaulted over the fence and I understand later on — to freedom. In to Switzerland. How about that? You couldn’t write that in fiction and get away with it, could you? But he pole vaulted over the wire. And I understand later on he got to Sweden. Yeah. Incredible isn’t it?
GT: Outstanding. So —
JM: I don’t even know what happened to the pole vault. Must have left it there.
GT: So, it was nothing like Hogan’s Heroes on television then. Yeah?
JM: Oh dear. He was, he was a real hero he was. Take my hat off to him. Yeah.
GT: Yes. Certainly.
JM: He made it.
GT: Now, one thing that before you were shot down on one of your ops you mentioned to me earlier that you might have had, you might have been shot at yourself. Your aircraft.
JM: Oh yes. We saw tracer one night. And we didn’t reply to it because we didn’t see anything to shoot at. Our gunners didn’t. We just saw the tracer coming towards us. But the following morning the ground crew showed us in the, the tail wheel has deeper slots on it on either side to stop it shimmying. And these slots were about three inches wide and about an inch deep and they showed us they’d dug out a 303 slug from this ridge. So, we were under friendly fire unbeknown to us because this was quite definitely a 303 slug out of a Browning machine gun.
GT: From above or below?
JM: Above.
GT: Better than the tail.
JM: It was firing down. Missed us completely. Must have been a rotten gunner.
GT: Day or night?
JM: Fortunately.
GT: Day or night?
JM: Oh, it was night time because we could see, saw the tracer. At night. Yeah. Very unfriendly fire. Yeah. It didn’t hit anything else fortunately. Or we didn’t see anything.
GT: So, prisoner of war and you knew that the allies were coming from one side and —
JM: And the Russians from another.
GT: So, what did the Germans —
JM: The borderline was the River Elbe.
GT: Ok. So what did the Germans do when they knew that their time was come and they — there’s much been talked of the forced march. Can you tell us a bit about that?
JM: They, well as I said before it was two hundred and ninety seven kilometres in twenty one days in the worst winter Poland had on record at that time. It really — you couldn’t see anything but snow. The only indication of the road were the telephone wires running alongside the wire. And that’s the only difference between the fields and the road. We were trudging along in snow all the time. We did the last fifty kilometres in a cattle truck. It was for six horses or forty men so you can imagine the crowding in that. The — we were bombed incidentally while in a siding. The Germans used to use a system of stacking. Wherever an engine was going if trucks were going the same they used to attach it to that engine and it would continue its journey with the various trucks it was supposed to take to different camps. And we were in a siding once when the Yanks bombed us. We knew it was the Yanks because of the size of the explosives. And it lifted our truck off the rails and we had to get [laughs] the Germans and all of us to hook it back on to the rails using a sleeper to get it back on to the rails so we could get attached to a train to pull us out of there later on. Imagine German guards and POW trying to get this cattle truck back on the rail. It was so crowded that we used to, half of us used to stand while the others stretched out a bit. You know. And take a twenty minute interval. They’d get up and we’d stretch out a bit because otherwise standing was a bit too much for us, you know on starvation diets. Yeah. They had one little trick. We had a can for urinating in. And there was a breather opening high up on the top side of the cattle truck and we used to fill this thing up between us and wait until we thought one of the guards was going past outside and hurtle this fluid out through the gap. We got one once. He started banging on the side with his butt of his rifle, you know. Cursing us. So we got one of them once. Yeah. You couldn’t write that in fiction could you and get away with it? But it’s true. Yeah.
GT: What, what was the reasoning for the Germans to do the forced march?
JM: The, Hitler was, we learned later that Hitler was going to use them as hostages to gather them around Berlin as far as he could to determine, to deter the allies from bombing close to Berlin. Because he’d be hitting his own POWs and particularly the tanks that were guarding the bunker itself in Berlin. So we learned that later. That we were going to be used as hostages. There was quite a number of us by then. We queued up with Lamsdorf on the march and there was two and a half thousand of those joined us on the march. So, when we got to Luckenwalde there we were joined by refugees would you believe. They, they were on the road for the same reason as us. They were fleeing in front of the Russians because the Russians never asked questions. If anything was moving in front they just mowed it down. In fact, when we were at Luckenwalde, this is another one you won’t believe but mothers were coming up with their daughters. We stayed in camp when the Germans left. They disappeared one night, overnight and there was no Germans guarding the camp anymore so, we took over guard ourselves. And there were women coming up to the wire with their daughters offering themselves and their daughters to live with them in their houses just to get a British uniform in the house because they knew the Russians had been told not to offend an allied uniform. So, it was their protection to get us to live with them. With an allied uniform in the house. How about that? You couldn’t write that in fiction could you? Some of the blokes did actually go but most of us didn’t. We, we were waiting to get out of the camp altogether in a way. In fact, there’s a, they had, the Yanks were allowing the Russians to cross the Elbe ad lib as they wanted to get back into their own country. But the Russians were stopping allied prisoners from crossing the Elbe in to the American territory until the Americans got wise to this and stopped the Russians. And then the Russians allowed the Americans to bring lorries up to the camp and ferry us by lorry back in to the American zone. Yeah. Leipzig they took us too. You see, it was a wireless school for the Germans. I was looking through the window one day in Leipzig and I saw a boot outside the window. I thought that’s an odd — there must be a one legged man walking about. A boot. Just one boot. And when I looked closely there’s a foot inside it. Would you believe that? I thought oh that’s enough for me. Do you know the Yanks had pineapple chunks and cream. Ordinary cream. On the tables at their camp. Right close to the front line. Pineapple chunks and cream on the tables in their mess. In their cook house. Aye. I couldn’t believe my eyes. We couldn’t touch it because our stomachs were so tender that we were told not to touch it otherwise we’d be violently sick. So it was very tempting but we had to leave it alone [laughs]
GT: So are you pretty positive that the Russians moving from one side and the Americans from the other pretty much prevented all you POWs ending up being —
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
GT: Yeah.
JM: In fact the Russians made a great show of mowing the wire down, the outside wire of the camp with a tank. And the following day they put it up again. Put the wire up. We were just pretty much prisoners of the Russians as we’d been of the Germans because they wouldn’t allow us out of the camp. They started, they said it was because there were a lot of Germans loose in amongst us and they wanted to ferret them out. And they started taking all our particulars you know. Writing them down like the Germans had done before at Dulag Luft. But we gave them all sorts of silly answers. I think some of us were circus performers. Somebody rode unicycles [laughs] Things like that. All daft things that they were writing down.
GT: So, how many of the RAF Bomber Command chaps would you think were dropped by the wayside and did not survive the forced march? And therefore, what happened to their bodies?
JM: I couldn’t even say. I couldn’t know that really. We did see several bodies by the side of the road but you couldn’t tell with the snow covering them who they were. We could see the spread-eagled shapes but, and the bunched-up shapes but we didn’t know who they were or what they were. So quite a lot of them didn’t survive.
GT: And the Germans were given orders to shoot?
JM: To shoot any prisoners that dropped by the wayside but we were to learn later on that they just fired in the air. As I said it’s an easy death. You just go to sleep with hypothermia.
GT: What kept you going, Jim?
JM: I really don’t know but I was young. I was only twenty and some of these prisoners had been since Dunkirk. They were very weak and on severe dietery all those years. They just couldn’t survive. You know. They just dropped out ad lib. In fact, some of the blokes that were fitter even than I was had a handcart and they were, they were picking up blokes that had fallen. And they had about six or seven in this handcart. And they knew that the sentries had only fired in the air because they saw them do it. And they were put in this handcart with survivors. How they did that I don’t know. It took me all my time to stay on my feet. Yeah. I had, I had my escape boots had a wrap around of nylon and you could, you had a little pen knife in a slot and you could cut this off leaving you just with the shoes. And I used to use this wrap on the front and the back of my battledress to try and keep me warm. I had a greatcoat on and all as well which the Red Cross issued me at Dulag Luft. In fact, there’s a photograph of me somewhere with my original documents with this greatcoat on. I think Pat’s got it now. I think she’s filched it I think [laughs] I haven’t seen it for years so she must have pinched it.
GT: So once you got to pretty much the end of that, of your march you were put into another POW camp and it was from there that the allies rescued you or took you back to what was it? Juvencourt?
JM: The lorries took us to a place called Leipzig. This wireless school as I’ve just mentioned. And from there they flew us in Dakotas to Brussels. And then from Brussels in Lancasters, eight at a time back to Cosford in England to be based at Fenchurch. That’s how we arrived back in England.
GT: So, was there much time between or was that pretty immediate?
JM: I think there was a couple of days. We spent a couple of days in Brussels. We got deloused by the Americans because we were in filthy uniforms and that you know. And they issued us with new uniforms at Brussels and we were able to go into Brussels. Gave us some money and have a haircut. They didn’t half rook us and all, the barbers. They knew we were coming and they knew we had money. Money you know. They rooked us. We had a ride on a tram while we were there for free. They didn’t, we had a ride around Brussels on trams. I think there was three of us. Three or four of us. So that was, that was a bit of an adventure in Brussels because everything was open. You know. Everything were pre-war as it were then.
GT: So what were they feeding you then? Because you’d pretty much been starved. So how were they feeding you? Gradually, with good food.
JM: Yeah. The —
GT: Was it up to you or did they supply it?
JM: We had what was known as a progressive diet. It came in a box. And it usually had a pork pie and some bread and butter. And a cake of some kind. As I vaguely remember. And we were allowed to eat this, I think twice a day until our stomachs got used to expanding enough to take better food. And then we got on to corned beef hash and things like that. You know. That our stomachs could manage. That’s why.
GT: So, was that sent over to Belgium from England?
JM: Yes. Yeah.
GT: Oh. I see.
JM: The, when we were on at Cosford just normal cookhouse food after that. Yeah. I remember sausages in mash. Oh, Shangri la [ laughs] I personally enjoyed. Yeah.
GT: When you left the camps and even after the march did many of your chaps have a chance to grab souvenirs like medals?
JM: Well, funnily enough we, I managed to bag a little small Beretta. The German officers used to wear them in a little leather pouch in their dress uniform. Quite a small Italian six shot Beretta. And I can’t remember where I got this from but I got it at Leipzig. From somewhere or other. I got one of the ober feldwebels caps at the same time which I brought home. And when we went to get deloused some swine pinched it. Funnily enough Jack Bagshaw at work, when I was at work at Avro’s he was a motor torpedo mechanic. He had six Packards between decks roaring away in his ear. He was deaf in one lughole. He used to get away with that. That’s another story. And he came, I was telling him this story and he came to work one day and handed me an oily rag and there was this little Beretta. Exactly the same model. He said, ‘You can keep it if you want.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘I’m not carrying a firearm in the house. You’re responsible. You get it back.’ You know. So I gave it back to Jack Bagshaw. Yeah. But it was exactly the same little six shot Beretta. Italian make. Yeah. It was a lovely little thing. Yeah.
GT: The reason I ask you that, Jim is because what one of the chaps on 75 Squadron, Randall Springer — he showed me several years ago a handful of medals that one of the prisoners of war had thrust into his hand as they pulled him on to the Lancasters. And one of them was an Iron Cross. So, that particular chap, POW managed to grab a bunch of medals from someone and they ended up in New Zealand. And I’ve heard of others talk of on the ship that arrived into Wellington or Auckland harbours taking all of the airmen back. A lot of them had firearms or daggers or bayonets and they, they got cold feet and threw them overboard before they, before they landed. So that’s the reason I asked you that question.
JM: Yeah.
GT: Brilliant. So, once you were back in England you arrived in Cosford you said?
JM: Yes.
GT: Yes. And they repatriated you pretty much so that —
JM: To Fenchurch. Fairly close by. In fact, I rang up directory. My Uncle Tom was a chief electrician of, was head of the Electricity Board in Leeds and I got directory to give me his phone number and I phoned him up. He said, ‘Where are you, Jim?’ I said, ‘I’m on Fenchurch station.’ He said, ‘Well, there’s a clock there. You stand under that clock until I come for you.’ And he took me back to his home and I slept there for, I had a sleeping out pass obviously carrying [unclear] and I slept there a couple of nights while we got acquainted. He took [laughs] he took me to his club that night among a few of his cronies. One of their private clubs, you know. In the city. And they plying me with ale and loosening my tongue you know and about halfway through this Tom said to me, ‘I want to speak to you Jim for a minute. I want to tell you a story. And it’s about a sparrow that got evacuated from London in to the countryside. And he was lost. He didn’t know where to eat or anything,’ he said, ‘And a bull came into the field and asked him what the problem was. So the sparrow told him his tale of woe and this bull said, ‘Oh, I’m fed on the best of stuff. I’ll drop you patch here. You get stuck in to that,’ he said, ‘I’m fed on the finest food there is.’ So, this was agreed. And day by day the sparrow used to climb up the tree singing his heart out ‘til he got right to the top. And he’s singing away his heart out on this rich diet. And a little boy with a new airgun came in and [pop noise] and down came the sparrow.’ He said, ‘There’s a moral to this story, Jim. When you get to the top on bullshit don’t make a song and dance about it.’ To my eternal grief and shame it was two days before I realised who the sparrow was. Me. [laughs] That was my uncle Tom. Yeah. He was, he was instrumental when I had the fire engine I told about. Seeing Walter. He, he, I pulled up one day outside his house in this fire engine and he said, ‘Good God. You can’t leave that.’ It was a [Banjo?] Avenue, you know. ‘You can’t leave that. Nobody can get past.’ ‘Hang on,’ he said, ‘I think I know where that’ll go.’ He came back about ten minutes later. ‘Follow me,’ he said, ‘But be prepared to back up when I tell you to.’ So I backed up. He stopped me about between the vicarage and the church. There was just room for this fire engine to get off the road you know and out of the way of other cars. That’s by the way that but that’s my Uncle Tom. He was instrumental in electrifying many of the Indian railways.
GT: Right. Well —
JM: Years before.
GT: So, from Cosford and the satellite that you were repatriated to did you end up back at Mepal?
JM: Only once. For the fire engine. That’s all. Well, funnily enough —
GT: No. But you were telling me about your logbooks. So, so what happened about your logbooks?
JM: Well, when I was at Fenchurch as I said a fifteen hundred weight opened the double doors at the back end of the cookhouse, backed in and tipped up. It must have been a thousand or more logbooks on to the floor and said, ‘Yours is in that lot. Try and find it.’
GT: So, were these just 75 Squadron logbooks or from all stations?
JM: I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know that. I went to the number that must have been from a number of stations. There wouldn’t have been all from Mepal. No. I had attempted to look through and I thought oh well, I wasn’t interested in a logbook. I’d survived. That’s all I was interested in.
GT: And therefore you do not have your logbook today.
JM: No. I don’t know where it is or even if it exists.
GT: It’s a lot of history. A lot of history to go. Now, the Aircrew Europe Star. We know that the Aircrew Europe Star was stopped at D-Day.
JM: A point. Yeah.
GT: At a point. And from there on all of those that flew ops in Bomber Command were only eligible for the France Germany Star.
JM: Yeah.
GT: What’s your thoughts as a person who went on ops across that time?
JM: Well, I singled it out as if somebody did one op during the qualifying period they would get the Aircrew Star. I did thirty four. Or thirty three and a half. A fortnight outside the qualifying period and I didn’t get it. And I was a bit peeved about that I must admit. Yeah. But it didn’t come through so that was it. They wrote to me and said that I was a fortnight outside. I’ve got the letter somewhere. Outside the qualifying period so therefore I didn’t qualify for the Aircrew Star.
GT: And to continue on from that there was no actual Bomber Command campaign medal although the clasp was introduced as a, an add on.
JM: Yeah.
GT: An attempted fix.
JM: Yeah. I’ve got that. It’s shown up on that photograph there.
GT: Brilliant. But what’s your thoughts then on the fact — pretty much I’m guessing it’s the same as what the France Germany versus the Aircrew Europe isn’t it? Bomber Command chaps like yourself never was showing the grace and the sacrifice you guys made by having your own campaign medal. You’ve had a lot of time to think of this, Jim. What’s your thoughts on that?
JM: I just dismissed it as the way the cookie crumbles. I wasn’t there when they wanted me to be so that’s the end of it. As I say I was a bit peeved I must admit. For obvious reason.
GT: Well, the Bomber Command medal or campaign medal it was decided that there would not be one and that was decided some years after the war.
JM: Yeah.
GT: So the fact that you guys did not get a campaign medal is, was they made a decision then and we’re stuck with. And there are still some folk still trying to make sure that you do get more recognition than just a clasp.
JM: Nice to know.
GT: Yeah. And the last piece therefore of medals is that you are eligible for the Legion of Honour from the French.
JM: I didn’t know that.
GT: And therefore I’m going to make enquiries to ensure that the application is put forward of your, of your service to the French. I have done six gentlemen in New Zealand in the last three or four years. So therefore, noting that at least some of your operations were against Le Havre and other French targets you are eligible. So, we will do something about that, Jim. Now, Jim when you finished obviously with recuperating did you stay in the RAF or did you, or were you demobbed come VJ day?
JM: As I said before I went in to MT. Motor Transport. Because I didn’t want to fly a plate washing machine. So, carrying tapes and a crown made me eligible to drive the buses. The thirty two seater Fordsons. And the Thornycroft crane. That was nine and a half ton. I took my wife over to the island when I was in Jurby because we were only married in the July and this was in September. So she had a few months there before I was demobbed the following year in January. I came back to Liverpool to get demobbed and get issued my civvy togs you know. The, there was quite a few things happened there as well. What was the first one? I know I was, I was driving an arctic with furniture. Taking to — from Jurby to Athol, further up the road. And I thought, oh no the wife’s shopping in Ramsey today. I know she said she was going shopping. I’ll go and do a bit of showing off in Ramsey with this Arctic, you know. So I drove off my proper route and went into Ramsey and I got it jack-knifed on one of the corners. A policeman came over and said, ‘What are you trying to do, son?’ I said, ‘Well, I was only married in July and I know the wife’s shopping here. I came, I came down to do a bit of showing off actually and I’ve got jack-knifed here.’ So, he sat back on his heels laughing. He said, ‘In thirty odd years I’ve never heard an excuse like that.’ He said, ‘We’ll get you out of here. I know who these drivers are.’ So they came out and had a good laugh at my expense, shifted their cars and I got this un-jack-knifed and drove out of Ramsey. It wasn’t until about a month later my wife said she’d witnessed all this from one of the shop doorways and kept out of the way [laughs] How about that? Oh dear. I never lived that down.
GT: Well, tell me, Jim about your lovely wife then. Where did you meet? And you married in the July of 194 –
JM: ’45.
GT: ’45.
JM: ‘45
GT: Please tell me about your dear wife.
JM: We — I was a, I was, I did a lot of roller skating and I had one partner called Jean. She was, I was only, what was I? Thirteen. I think she was twelve. And her mother told me off once because we were, as a gang we were messing about in air raid shelters you know. Lads and girl. And her mother told me off one day. Singled me out and said, ‘You’ve been messing about with my daughter in an air raid shelter. Now, I’m telling you now you’ve got to stop it.’ I said, ‘Alright. Ok. Can I take her skating on Saturday night?’ She said, ‘You’ve got guts lad. I’ll tell you that.’ She said, ‘You’ll have to ask her dad when he comes home.’ So, I said, ‘When’ll he be home?’ She said, ‘About 5 o’clock.’ So, I went and asked him. Got on my bike. I rode back up to [unclear] Drive from Levenshulme and I said, ‘Can I take your daughter?’ He said, ‘Well, she’s got to be home for 10 o’clock at night.’ I said, well he’d got piles very badly, he couldn’t move. He was locked in an armchair. He said, ‘You’d better have her home by 10 o’clock.’ I said, ‘Well, skating doesn’t end, finish ‘til ten and it’ll take us about half an hour to walk home from there. Can we make it half past?’ ‘Not a second later,’ he said, ‘Not a second later.’ And by the skin of our teeth we made it, you know. But after that Mrs Mac used to send him to bed to give us a bit of leeway coming home. So he never knew what time we got home after that. They always gave me a cup of cocoa before I rode home on my bike. I used to take my bike to the rink and walk Jean home and then get on my bike and ride home from their house in Burnage back to Levenshulme. Yeah. She was a brilliant partner too. We had some fun. Len Lee and the, Jack Woodford used to run a skate room at Levenshulme Skating Rink. And they used to, they had two elderly people taught Jean and I how to dance on skates and we taught Len and Jack how to dance on skates. So they picked up partners and liked to copy me and Jean and they learned to dance on skates. And one time we were doing a tango. Well, the skate was rectangular. The rink. And we used to do a figure of eight so that we could have more room on the wood then we would normally just following the rectangle you see. And we used to time it so that we’d pass one another, Len Lee and me in the centre of this eight. And one, the girls used to thump us. We were getting close. We couldn’t see each other. We were going by the standards on the side of the rink. The bar rails, you know. Where we were for the centre of the rink. We couldn’t see each other. And the girls used to thump us. ‘You’re too close. You’re too — ’ We couldn’t see each other. And one night our shirts actually touched. They were billowing out with the speed you know, so the bodies didn’t touch but our shirts actually touched. And I can hear him now, Len Lee ‘Jesus Jim,’ right across the rink, ‘How close is that?’ You know. Because of a closing speed of about twenty miles an hour. Dear. Dear. How we got away with that I’ll never know but that’s by the way.
GT: And you had children.
JM: Oh yes. Lynn is actually shown with my wife in that small picture there. She was first born. She contracted cancer when she was thirty eight. They gave her six weeks to live and she lasted ‘til she was forty two and then she died. So that was it. But she, she said, ‘When I’m going dad I’m going kicking and screaming,’ [laughs] and I bet she did as well. She once went hiking around the world with her mate Brenda and she’s only five foot two. She was only tiny. And Brenda was only small. And they asked me to drop her outside Altrincham so they could pick up a wagon to get a boat to Holland. And when I looked in my mirror and saw these two tiny figures the kit bags were taller than they were. And the next we heard was five days later with a postcard and a cross on it outside the Blue Mosque. She said later on, ‘The first thing we saw when we got to Baghdad was a van going past — Manchester University Student’s Union.’ Going past them down the street. How about that? You couldn’t write that in fiction could you and get away with it? She got very poorly Brenda. Eating fruit that she hadn’t washed and she was, Lynn was trying to bring her around on the pavement propped against the wall. A bloke stopped and said, ‘What’s the matter?’ So she told him. He said, ‘I’m a medical student. I think I can get her out of this.’ And he did. He laid her down in the prone position and started massaging her and got her, made her sick and got her right. So she was able to stand up again and walk. How about that for coincidence? A medical student.
GT: Yeah.
JM: Coming across the pair of them in extremis like that. Yeah. That’s another thing you couldn’t write in fiction but it’s true.
GT: So when you were MT driving you were given some jobs and one of them was Witchford.
JM: Yeah. Oh with the fire engine. Oh, I’ve told you this one already. Yeah.
GT: But Witchford is 115 Squadron’s airfield. Right next to Mepal which was 75 Squadron’s airfield. So —
JM: Yeah. Their drem systems were five, our drem systems were five miles apart. Yeah. The — I had some food. I collected a fire engine. Then I went for some grub to the canteen and one of the women serving me started crying. One of the WAAFs serving on the other side of the cookhouse bar. And she started crying. She said, ‘I know you. You’re supposed to be dead.’ I said, ‘How do you —’ She said, ‘You were from, you were from Rees’s crew. We were told you were dead.’ I said, ‘Well, I can assure I’m very much alive and I’m hungry.’ But she, how about that? She had tears coming down her face and she’s serving me breakfast. Yeah. Yeah. That was, that was a unique occasion. Yeah.
GT: So, why did they think you were dead?
JM: Say again.
GT: So, why did they think you were dead then?
JM: Well, because of this blown up business with the two aircraft that collided over the target. They thought our aircraft was one of them and that’s how the tale got back to squadron. Through the rear gunner surviving out of one of them. And that’s when I came with Walter and his ghost story.
GT: Oh, that was on an operation before you were shot down.
JM: Yeah.
GT: Ah. Now, what about —
JM: Oh no. It was on the same operation.
GT: That was that operation.
JM: Yeah. Three.
GT: Yeah.
JM: Three aircraft were lost that day.
GT: Oh right.
JM: From our squadron.
GT: So —
JM: Out of eighteen.
GT: So, now who —
JM: High attrition rate.
GT: Who was Walter?
JM: Walter was the father of the girl I was friendly with in the village.
GT: And what happened when you walked up to him?
JM: I’ll repeat this. I’ll repeat this for what it’s worth. There was some slightly rising ground on a hot summer afternoon when even the silence is noisy. You know what I mean. I parked this tender. The camouflaged tender in grey and green under the tree and walked up the slight rise towards Walter. And about twenty yards off I shouted, ‘Hi Walter,’ and Walter turned, looked at me, ‘No. No. No. Jim. No.’ And his son tugged at his leg, he said, It’s alright, dad. He’s real.’ ‘Jesus, don’t ever do that again,’ he said. He came feeling me to make sure I was real. You know. That was Walter. Aye. I was a ghost for three seconds. How about that? Yeah.
GT: He thought you were shot down as well.
JM: Yeah.
GT: And lost.
JM: As I say I wasn’t aware of this at the time but Walter was. He was aware of the tale and I wasn’t.
GT: And that, you walked up after you’d been repatriated.
JM: Yeah.
GT: From your POW time.
JM: Yeah.
GT: So, being taken POW were your family notified immediately or did it take some time?
JM: No. They gave us — that was a curious thing. They gave us a letter to write to be forwarded through the Red Cross to say that I was safe and well and a prisoner of war. And the Red Cross was supposed to deliver this to my mother. Which she didn’t get until six months later. But curiously enough a couple up in Scotland had a very powerful shortwave receiver and they used to listen to the Red Cross broadcast of prisoners of war and other items of interest to families. And they found out that I was a prisoner of war through this receiver and contacted the Air Ministry with this information. And the Air Ministry gave them my mother’s address. And six months after I’d been shot down this couple contacted her and told her that I was alive and well. How about that? Through the shortwave receiver they had in operation up in Scotland. In Lossiemouth in Scotland. Yeah. So my mother didn’t know whether I was alive or dead for over six months. That was a bit hard on her. Yeah.
GT: And how long were you a POW for?
JM: From November in ’44 ‘til April, ‘til May in ’45.
GT: Which was practically the whole six months. Yeah. The starvation thing that you endured did that have any lasting effect on you in later life?
JM: Only making my stomach small so that it was difficult to get back to eating solid food later on in Leipzig where the Yanks took us. They were aware. We weren’t the first prisoners of war obviously to stay there and they were aware of what was needed to get our stomachs to expand and gave us these feed boxes twice a day as I remember. That contained the necessary things that would make our stomachs bigger and bigger ‘til we could take solid food.
GT: So, after the disbanding from the RAF, the demobbing, what did you do as a career for the rest of your days? Your [unclear] days.
JM: Well, I was able to get what was called a green card from the AEU because of my service in the RAF. What I did then. And that allowed me to get an engineering job anywhere with the blessing of the AEU with this green card. And the first, first job I had was at Crossley’s in Crossley Road in Levenshulme building buses. I only stopped there for about a month and then I went up to Mirrlees where they made diesel engines and I got into their experimental department and worked there for about eleven years. And after that I was going by bicycle up from here in Ashford Road up to Mirrlees on a bike which wasn’t bad going but was pretty bad coming back up the hill when I was tired. So I got a job at Craven’s making machine tools and I became a machine tool fitter. I was eleven years at Craven’s. I were five years at Mirrlees and eleven years at Craven’s. So I became a machine tool fitter and began travelling up and down the country after a while putting machinery in for Craven’s. I put a fourteen foot borer once at Peter Brotherhood’s at Peterborough. That’s like a big turntable. It was in eight pieces that. Fourteen feet across. Two uprights and a cross slide. And I put that together myself and trimmed it off and that would probably last about a hundred and fifty, two hundred years that because of the way it was made. Yeah. Other things are [unclear] in, down in in Kent. Different places. And Falkirk. The funny thing happened in Falkirk. I was, I was putting a machine in there and I felt very uncomfortable and I thought, I went to the boss of where I was working, I said, ‘I’ve got to go home. I’m sorry. I feel very uncomfortable. There’s something happening at home and I don’t know what it is.’ And I got home later that day and my wife was teetering in the front room trying to hang a piece of wallpaper up and she was just about over balancing on the steps when I grabbed hold of her. I went in silently because I looked through the window first. Saw her as she was teetering and we both finished up on the side of the wall and in a heap on the floor. And she brought me home from Falkirk and I don’t know how or why. If that isn’t mental telepathy I don’t know what is. But she did that and I wasn’t aware of it. That’s true that is. Yeah. We all finished up on a heap on the floor and she had the two bits of wallpaper on the floor [laughs] ‘You made me jump,’ she said. I said, ‘You’d have jumped if you’d have fell over. You were overbalancing then.’ And she was as well. I cut the ropes on the ladder so that she wouldn’t use it again. Chucked it outside. So I went back up to Falkirk and finished my job.
GT: You had many lovely years with your wife.
JM: Sixty six years we were married. Yeah. As I said before I only, I only signed up for a fortnight. But anyway it was very enjoyable. She was a wonderful wife. She really was. I remember my mother saying, ‘She’s not the girl for you, Jim.’ But she was wrong. She was. She, I learned later I was in the rink, she first spotted me at Birchfield Skating Rink. And she said to a mutual friend of hers, she saw me come in the rink and she said to this friend, this friend told me years later as soon as she saw me walk in the rink she said, ‘I’m having him,’ [laughs] to this friend. And I didn’t even know the woman then, you know.
GT: How old was she?
JM: She’d be twenty. Twenty two. Yeah. Same age as me. Well, she’s the older one. She’s a month older than me. Her birthday’s in May and mine’s in July but she said to this mutual friend who told me years later, ‘I’m having him.’ And she did and all. I don’t know how but she did. Yeah. Yeah. She, as I say she was a wonderful wife. Wonderful mother. A wonderful person.
GT: Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
GT: [unclear] Jim.
JM: I get a bit emotional.
GT: Well, it’s understandable and I’m very sad to hear of her loss from dementia. That’s understandable. Jim, the engineering stuff that you learned from the RAF. Did that help you once you’d become a civilian again?
JM: Oh yes. Yeah. What I learned engineering on aircraft before I volunteered that served me in very good stead indeed because they had a little training school there for mechanics and they taught you the rudiments of engineering. How to file things, you know. How to fettle things. How to scrape things using a scraper. And that, and that lasted, I think about a month and it stood me in good stead in Civvy Street. Particularly as, oh that was the thing we used, they used to send Hurricanes over from Canada that had been made in Canada and the fuselage was in a big long box with the wings lay alongside it and the tail unit already in place. And we used to get these out, assemble them together and fly them off. And we used to work dinner times because they used to get a lot of fluff in the radiator and that used to seize up and get the engines too warm. So one day we were, we used to work dinner times if we could because we could get a couple of hours off later on you know and eat what we liked. And one day we were changing a radiator on a Hurricane and an Oxford landed. And my mate who was senior to me, he said, ‘Go and wave that in.’ So I went over on to the field and waved this Oxford in and shut it down. And I walked back again and got underneath, got on with this thing, and then we saw three figures walking along in American uniform and the middle one was in civilian dark clothes. And the other American was in American uniform. And he said, ‘Who’s that?’ ‘It’s Bob Hope.’ We’d heard rumours about this. It was Bob Hope. And he came over to us and he bent down underneath and he said, ‘What are you doing, lads?’ So, we said, ‘Well, we’re changing this radiator.’ And he shook hands, I said, dirty hands. And he shook hands with us. Dirty oily hands you know. And he gave us chewing gum. They used to be in little squares in the packet. You didn’t have it in layers. It was in little peppermint coated squares you know. All these tiny squares and a big packet of these. I gave it to the WAAFs later on because I didn’t eat chewing gum. But he did a show I understand in the hangar. He came to bury his grandfather who lived in Hitchin because he, he was British born, Bob Hope. And his grandfather died and that’s why he was up here. He was over with Frances Langford and one or two other. Bing Crosby. Entertaining the troops. In the USO in London, you know. That’s why they were over here.
GT: What was that? 1943 or something?
JM: Yeah. It was forty — no. It would be ’45 wouldn’t it? Oh no. Forty. No. You’re right. ’43. Yeah. And he gave quite a show in the hangar to everybody and signed a lot of autographs you know. On toilet paper would you believe. And I got one of them. I brought it home. Yeah. Signing autographs on toilet paper. You had to double it over to make sure. He was, he was a great bloke. Yeah. He came to bury his grandfather who died in Hitchin. That was about five miles away from Henlow where we were at the time. It was a peacetime aerodrome. Brick buildings, barrack room jobs. You know. Not Nissen huts.
GT: So, when did you retire? What age were you when you retired? Or year I suppose.
JM: I retired from Avro’s. I went to work at AV Roe’s because Cincinnati started buying out machines tool people and closing them down so that they could take the orders. Cincinnati in America were closing, closed Richard’s down. And then we knew they were going to close Craven’s down so one of my mates went up to Woodford. And he phoned me about a week later, he said, ‘Get your arse up here a bit quick. It’s money for old rope.’ So, I went up and because of my earlier training in the RAF I got in to experimental at Woodford. So I got in amongst the flying aircraft there and that was quite an enjoyable time to stay there. And I retired from Woodford when I was sixty five. Yeah.
GT: So you saw the introduction of the Vulcan.
JM: Oh yes. Aye. I’ve worked on the Vulcan. Would you believe a Vulcan is held, the engines in a Vulcan are held by one bolt? It’s about three and a half inches thick and it’s about a foot long and you have to feed it through a, through the engine and through a hangar in the roof of the engine bay. And apart from tags at the front and back to stop it from swivelling that’s the only thing that holds the engine in a Vulcan. Would you believe? One great big bolt. And they’re thirty three thousand horsepower each those engines. Olympus engines. Thirty three thousand horsepower each.
GT: Same as the Concorde.
JM: And one bolt holds them in. That’s unbelievable isn’t it?
GT: So what makes the howl?
JM: What makes —?
GT: The Vulcan howl.
JM: Oh. The — we had diffusers on the drum and they started by air pressure. We have what’s known as a Palouste with a little rover engine at the back and it builds up air pressure. You put this into the aeroplane and it drives the turbines around until they’re fast enough for the fuel to be ignited and then they open up themselves so that they shut it down, did that one by one. AV Roe’s do that. They’d run the engines. Not us. The [pause] I’ve nothing to add to that I don’t think. But these diffusers made the howl go upwards. They were L shaped. Big metal things. And they put out. They could hear us in Bramhall but we couldn’t hear an awful lot here because the sound went up. But they could hear us in Bramhall you know. Yeah.
GT: That must have been exciting times with the V force bomber aircraft coming on line and all the experimental little small delta wing aircraft.
JM: Yeah. I did the right thing going to Woodford although I went for a few months until I could get back in to the machine tool industry but I was there thirty years in all. And I’ve got a watch to commemorate it. It’s upstairs.
GT: Yeah.
JM: What did I want to say?
GT: What about the Saunders Roe? Did you have anything to do with — which had one of the first ejection seats from Martin-Baker?
JM: No. No. I had nothing to do with that at all.
GT: That was a Navy one.
JM: No. Funnily enough, Poggy the engineer on the Vulcan, he, they had to — there was a quite a reoccurring fault with the buzz bars at the back of the Vulcan and sometimes they used to go off line which left them with an aircraft with no power. They had a RAT an air rotating power unit that they used to drop down out of the wing into the air flow to give them enough time to check instruments and so forth. But he had to bale out as well. Bob Pogson. Anyway, we were able to compare Caterpillars together, you know. We both had the same card.
GT: [unclear]
JM: Bob Pogson. He baled out of a Vulcan. There was one did and all. They lost another Vulcan with Edwards and he qualified for a Caterpillar. We had three of us in Vulcan qualifying. Showing cards to one another you know and everybody looking and wondering what the hell we were doing. Yeah. The — one of the blokes at that I worked with on the benches, he said, I showed him some photographs some time and he said, ‘You’re my hero.’ I said, ‘Don’t talk shit. Heroes didn’t come back.’ And apparently he showed them around. I got quite a reputation at Woodford because he told other people like the twins and so forth like that. And they did very well really. You must be running out of time on that.
GT: One thing that always interested me was the V force bombers always had four — well the pilot and co-pilot always had the ejection seats and the men in the back were facing rearwards without ejection seats.
JM: That’s right.
GT: And I believe it became an issue that even went to your parliament. Do you recall anything that along that was talked of at the time and they —
JM: Well, Poggy told me that they had to drop the aircrew entrance door. That the RAT enabled them to do that because that was the supplying a bit of power. Random Air Turbine. And they dropped that and they dropped the ladder and they climbed down a ladder, turned. Oh, they’d got to turn the seats around obviously to face the gap and they take it in turn, the middle one first and then the other two in progress. Climb down the ladder, turn and face the undercarriage which they dropped down, get a hold of the leg and slide down the leg and roll off the nose wheel and pull the D ring. That’s how they baled out of the Vulcan. The pilots ejected after they had gone. The pilots made sure that they, the three were out before they ejected. So I understand.
GT: As long as you had height.
JM: Yeah.
GT: And good weather. There were quite a few Vulcans that went in.
JM: Yeah.
GT: That took everyone.
JM: That’s the only insurance you’ve got with an aeroplane is height.
GT: Yeah.
JM: You’ve got time to do things with height. You don’t have any height — oh dear. No insurance. Oh dear.
GT: And at that time with still Bomber Command.
JM: Yeah. It was. Yeah.
GT: The irony of you being in Bomber Command for —
JM: Yeah. We were towing an aircraft, a Shackleton across the short runway when a Vulcan was taking off and we had to wait on the short runway and the long runway was going past us like that and we were towing this Shackleton on to the compass point to swing the compass on the other side the aerodrome. And the Vulcan took off and the shockwave with it bent us over. And it’s about fifty yards in front of us. The runway. And yet the shockwave that followed it bent us all over and we stood by the side of the tow truck. How about that. The enormous force that that aircraft generated when it took off. Unbelievable. You wouldn’t believe that but we didn’t grab hold of anything but we were bent over. It was enough to bend us over with the shockwave. Yeah.
GT: Did you have anything more to do with Lancasters then once you’d finished? I mean were they —
JM: The — when we were at Coningsby. Coningsby. The photograph up there shows us at Coningsby. They invited us up there for the seventy fifth. See there. And put us up at the Petwood Hotel where the Dambusters stayed. There’s all photographs of that as well. And while we were there the — there was a hundred and fifty veterans there with their families in the hangar and the hangar was open wide. And eleven of us were up for gongs and when they read the, quote the citation out they read a bit of your war record. And we went through all these motions and had the clasp that went with it and the gong. And a little while later I was walking underneath the Lancaster. Our Lancaster. The Canadian one was there as well. They flew seven and a half hours over water in a seventy two year old aeroplane. That’s guts for you isn’t it? And they did it on the way back as well. The Canadian crew. Anyway, I’m walking about underneath this Lanc and the crew chief must have been listening and he came to the edge and he said. ‘Do you want to come aboard?’ Do I want to come up? Seventy five years since I’d been aboard a Lanc. Pat has a story. My daughter. She said, ‘You’re creeping about with your walking stick and as soon as he said come aboard you’re like a rat up a drainpipe,’ she said, ‘You couldn’t get in quick enough,’ [laughs] Funnily enough I had a feeling of claustrophobia when I got in. I didn’t realise how close it was inside the Lanc. And I used to get in there in full gear with my bag of tools, my parachute, my clipboard. In full altitude gear, helmet, oxygen mask on and climb over the main spar. And there was only about two feet between the top of the main spar and I used to get over that like a monkey. And I’m holding on to things here trying to get over the fuselage. A one in three slope. I didn’t get over the main spar. I never got on. My son in law did. Later on at Coningsby. He got over the main spar and into the front. He took some photographs of it inside. But I never got over it. Yeah. Silly isn’t it? But Pat’ll tell you that story. Like a rat up a drainpipe. I couldn’t get in at first because there was a step there that carries a dinghy — not a dinghy. Oh, I forget what but you’ve got to reach over this step to get into the Lanc and you’ve got to hang on to the bullet rails, you know. Bullet carrier rails to get in over this step. And I got in. I got over that and I got half up and there’s two two of the crew there watching people don’t do anything you know while they’re in the aircraft. There was two of us in at the time. The other fellow was in the rear looking in the rear turret. He was a rear gunner. I said, ‘Do you show the girl’s the golden rivet?’ He said, ‘Oh aye.’ We used to sneak the girls in at our squadron. Different popsies. You know, girlfriends. With the torchlight. The rest bed is half way down. Just behind the main spar. And the golden rivet is supposed to be over the other end of the rest bed. You know. Down below, underneath. And you get the girls to bend over and you bend over them. It’s Shangri la. You know. Showing them [laughs] He said, ‘We didn’t know about that. We’d have used that.’ But you’d have got done for that and all. We’d have got court martialled if we’d been caught doing that. Getting the girls inside the aircraft. I got Jean in. Yeah. I think, I think Ray got his girl in as well. Yeah. He did. Yeah. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I’ve got to get over the back of you to show you where the rivet is.’ [laughs] Shangri la. Oh dear.
GT: Jim, it’s been a pleasure chatting with you. And your birthday’s coming up soon. Coming up Saturday.
JM: Sunday it is.
GT: Sunday. And you will be?
JM: Ninety four.
GT: Fabulous. And I know that.
JM: If I get there.
GT: It’s only a few days away.
JM: Oh, don’t you start. Pat’s like that.
GT: It’s only a few days away. You’ll make it.
JM: Many a slip between cup and lip.
GT: You’ll make it. Thank you very much for, for telling me some amazing information about your time with Bomber Command. Your time with Bomber Command number two afterwards. And I know the International Bomber Command Centre would be, will be very very pleased to receive your recording here.
JM: My pleasure.
GT: And its and you know we’ve, we’ve been chatting for one and three quarter hours so it’s a fabulous piece of history that you have, you have displayed with me.
JM: I must have happened to thousands of other Bomber Command people. There’s nothing unique about me. Thousands of others have been through the same experiences I’m sure. Or some closely near to it. Yeah.
GT: I I would suggest that many haven’t had the opportunity to tell their story. There’s many that do not want to tell their story. You are a gentleman that has been very easy with your story and been very willing to tell it and it’s fabulous. It’s a fabulous piece of history.
JM: I suppose its, it’s a matter of boasting I suppose. I survived.
GT: No. You —
JM: I didn’t intend to boast in any way. It’s all true.
GT: You survived by the four letter word that you all taught.
JM: Yeah.
GT: Luck.
JM: That’s it. I was once told that flying was ninety percent boredom and ten percent luck. And that’s how you survive. Not far from the truth in some degree.
GT: Yes. It is. It is indeed, Jim. Well, happy birthday for Sunday.
JM: Thank you. But the, the youngsters Pat and David are organising a do on Saturday at our local steakhouse and there’s quite a few of us going to be there. The granddaughter, my great granddaughter Alia she’s going to Belgium on the same day, Sunday that my birthday is so to celebrate it we’re having the do on Saturday. We’re doing it then. There’s going to be his mother, Alia’s mother, Alia, David, Pat and myself and Pat’s mother, Mary. Which is quite a few of us.
GT: Well, I know your family very much love you and obviously are looking out for you. Caring for you. And you’re a very valuable person to us and the 75 Squadron Associations of New Zealand and UK and I very much have been impressed and thankful for your discussion with me today.
JM: I’ve enjoyed your company, Glen. Very much so. You’re a very understanding person and you’ve put me dry dead easy. You must have had some experience of this. One of the interviews I did for the Command people, Pat was listening outside and she came in. She said, ‘I haven’t heard half of this that your telling this fellow. Why don’t you tell me?’ I said, ‘You don’t want to know.’ She said, ‘I do want to know. Alia wants to know. Amy wants to know. Katy wants to know.’ Yeah.
GT: Excellent. Yeah. Well, see even your family can give you a right bollocking. Now, one last thing. Could you drive a car when you —
JM: I could do. Yes.
GT: During, during the time that you were serving on Bomber Command during World War Two.
JM: No. I didn’t drive a car then although I had a licence to drive because you were issued with a licence during the wartime years to drive any vehicle without, a provisional licence but without supervision. You could drive. So I did drive a car on several occasions then. Before I entered the RAF.
GT: The reason I asked you is because I interviewed a gentleman in New Zealand. A English man who was shot down on his third operation. Not on 75. Another squadron. And survived the POW time, and when the gates were thrown open five of his fellow POWs raced into the local town heading towards the Americans as opposed to away from the Russians and they came across a German driving a Mercedes car. And they hooked him out and he ran away. And then they looked at each other and said, ‘Right who’s going to drive us?’ And there was two pilots of Lancasters, there was a rear gunner, a bomb aimer and a flight engineer. None of those five or six chaps had ever driven a car before and they, they just all had to laugh at each other thinking gosh we’ve just survived all this and now we can’t even drive a car.
JM: It’s funny. You’ve triggered one there because I had a, as I say I pinched an ober feldwebels hat and I used to have this on at Leipzig. When we were at Leipzig. I used to carry this on. And I saw four people get out of a pre-war Ford. What the small Ford they had with the pointed nose and I said, ‘Whose is that?’ They said, ‘We’ve had it for a bit but you can have it if you want it. But,’ he said, ‘You’ll have to join up the clips at the back. They’d taken a battery out of a Focke Wulf 190 and put it on the back seat and hot-wired the ignition so as they could use this Ford. So he could start it and stop it. You stopped it by putting it in gear you know and holding the brake on and start it with a starter. So I drove this about for a bit. I quite enjoyed this with this f’ing great, it was about that long on the back seat out of a Focke Wulf 190. So I coupled it up. Got it driving and the Yanks were still bringing prisoners of war off the road on to the camp. And one of them saw me driving up the outside of this column that was going down and I was driving up the outside and he looked up and he saluted. He saw this car. Thought it was an RAF car. I got a Yankee soldier — a salute of a Yankee soldier would you believe. Aye. Yeah. It did happen that. Yeah. Surprising. And I handed it over to another group as I signalled some people out of a back column. Said, ‘Come over here a bit.’ I said, ‘This is what you do.’ ‘Right,’ they said. ‘Leave them off. We’ll do it.’ So, they took it over from me. To fill it up with petrol we just drove up to the Yankee filling station. ‘How much do you want?’ ‘Fill it up.’ He filled it up till it dripped out the side. Put the cap back on. Yeah.
GT: Recently I’ve interviewed two chaps. One — both in New Zealand Arthur Askew and Bruce Cunningham and both were POWs. Both with extensive stories to tell as obviously you have too. Recently you also flew with Project Propeller.
JM: Yes.
GT: By Graham Cowie. A very very worthwhile —
JM: That’s where I met Dee. Yeah.
GT: Yeah. And in this case, this last Project Propeller you were on two weeks ago.
JM: Yeah.
GT: You met up with some other fellow POWs I understand.
JM: Yeah. I showed you the picture there. They were at Bankau in Upper Silesia in Poland at the same time I was. There was another Caterpillar wearer there. There’s only two of us. And apart from, as far as we know we’re the only survivors that are available at this time of the year. If the others had survived then they can’t make the journey. But the Propeller Club are very good. Mind you we picked the worst day of the whole fortnight. The weather was terrible. Both going and coming back.
GT: Yeah.
JM: The pilot offered it to me. I said, ‘Not bloody likely. It’s too lively for me that is.’ He’s working hard at it all the time, you know. Shuddering and bumping. And it was the same coming up. We only just made it with the visibility coming back. Somebody going up north said, ‘You’d better get going pretty soon,’ from Halfpenny Green at Wolverhampton, ‘Because it’s closing in up there,’ and it did. I could see the rain streaming back off and you couldn’t see more than about a mile ahead it was so closed in. The weather. But it did begin to get a little bit clearer as we got to Barton and it was clear enough to land there.
GT: This was not your first project propeller though. Right?
JM: No. We went. We were — we’d gone three years before with a bloke called Duncan Edwards who lives in Bramhall and actually knows David and he had a share in a 72.
GT: And David’s your son in law.
JM: Yeah. David. And he knew him and but for two years we were stopped by bad weather from flying into the reunion.
GT: Yeah.
JM: So, it was the third year running.
GT: [unclear]
JM: That we’d try to get into this reunion. And we got this horrible bad weather to go with it. Bad weather. Aye. It was.
GT: So have you been to the International Bomber Command Centre yet?
JM: Oh yes. We went there when it first opened. We were invited there. Dee came as well. She gave me a wreath to put on the 75 Squadron gravestone.
GT: Brilliant. Dee Boneham’s the treasurer of the 75 Squadron Association in the UK.
JM: Yeah.
GT: Brilliant.
JM: Yeah. She’s a nice person, Dee.
GT: So, what’s your impressions of the IBCC Memorial?
JM: It’s very impressive isn’t it? Particularly the ring of stones around it. And it’s as high as the Lancaster wing is broad isn’t it? So they say. Yeah. It’s the same height as the width of a Lancaster wing.
GT: Did you see the displays inside?
JM: Yes I did. Yes. I did. They had a Blenheim come over and what was the other aircraft? Another. Oh, a Vulcan came over. And a Blenheim, whilst we were there. The Vulcan went over to Lincoln and flew over there, I think the Blenheim did as well. So they came and paid their respects as it were. When it was first opened. Yeah. It was very impressive. Particularly inside. Yeah. I can’t remember half the things I saw but it was very impressive I must admit. They’ve done a wonderful job. All volunteers as well isn’t it? Yeah. Not a paid hand amongst them. Incredible.
GT: They wish to keep your stories and your experiences alive for those of us in the future and it’s —
JM: The kids now don’t want to know do they? They don’t want to know. It’s outside their, it’s on another planet as far as they’re concerned. I think so anyway. Except for Pat and the local family of course. They’re interested. Yeah. Alia brought me back that stick in the hall from Poland. She smuggled it through the guards by putting it up inside her coat. I’ll show you when you go out. It’s all the way from Poland that walking stick. Yeah.
GT: Jim, I’ve often asked veterans that — what Bomber Command did and what Churchill and Bomber Harris achieved. Could they have done it any other way?
JM: I don’t think so. No. I think Butch Harris was right in as much as he said and I quote, ‘They sowed the wind. They’ll reap the whirlwind,’ unquote. And I think that’s what happened. Yeah. A lot of civilians obviously died. That was unavoidable. A lot of our civilians died. I got blown out of bed a couple of times ‘til I got fed up with it and joined up. A bloke in the next street got decapitated because he stayed. He stayed in bed instead of going down in his shelter. His mother and he used to go down in his shelter, ‘Come on.’ ‘Not I. I’m not going.’ but finished up underneath the bed. He didn’t half get, phew. When the Yanks bombed us in that siding it was terrifying. They were 500s. We were dropping four thousand pound blasters and thousand pounders. Dear oh dear.
GT: And your losses.
JM: Yeah. Sixty eight thousand operational aircrew. Fifty six thousand died. The highest attrition rate, attrition rate of any force in the world and no record of those who were wounded. Lost arms, or legs or eyes. No record of that. Must be many thousands more. Fifty six thousand. It’s incredible isn’t it? It works out into one in three isn’t it? Oh. No. One in two. One in two. Yeah. Rather less than one in two. We’d had, we’d have a crew move in to our Nissen hut and share handshakes all around. Show them how to operate the lock and particularly how to operate the stove to get the best heat out of it and the next day they’d gone. We’ve got the SPs coming to collect their kit and remove any offensive material, you know that might be in the lockers. Yeah. Gone. And we only had a handshake and they’d gone. That was a bit sobering at times. Yeah. The average life of a crew on squadron was five weeks. Not a lot is it out of a young man’s life? How the hell I survived I’ll never know. Somebody up there wanted me to carry on. I don’t know who but thank you very much. I’ve had a family since then and that’s been a bit of a bonus. Yeah.
GT: A great survivor. Thanks Jim.
JM: Dee said that once to me. She said, ‘You’re a survivor aren’t you, Jim?’ I said, ‘I hope you’re right.’ She’s a wonderful woman, isn’t she? Dee.
GT: Ninety plus, Jim.
JM: Aye.
GT: That’s awesome.
JM: She’s wonderful.
GT: Well, there are a bunch of us that are wanting to ensure that you realise and know and feel that we both love you and we also appreciate the service you did for both the king, the country and us.
JM: With the many thousands of others don’t forget. You know, there’s nothing unique about me as I repeat. Many thousands of others. And the real heroes are the ones that didn’t come back. They’re the real heroes. They made the sacrifice. We didn’t.
GT: Well, your sacrifice was your POW time.
JM: Yeah. That was a bit nasty.
GT: Yeah.
JM: I didn’t like that at all. I thought that was a bit unfair. Making me walk all those miles. Yeah. A bit unfair that [laughs] Trudging through snow. As far as your eye could see was snow. Just the telephone lines to tell you where they road because they were on the right hand side of the road. The only difference between the road and the field as far as the eye could see. Snow. And then the blizzards would start. Your eyelids would freeze. Close an eyelid and it would freeze. Oh dear. Glasses. I didn’t wear glasses then. Oh dear. It’s all [pause] it all seems to have happened to another person. Didn’t seem to have happened to me but it did. It did. Yeah. I showed you that mug, didn’t I?
GT: Yes.
JM: Yeah.
GT: Very good. Jim, let’s, let’s complete our interview now and thank you very much for, for your time and I will make sure your record is posted again with the IBCC and they will send you details of today’s visit and interview with you. So, thank you.
JM: I’ve enjoyed our time together, Glen. You’re a wonderful person yourself. Come on. Come on. No false modesty. You’ve done the armaments course. You know everybody that needs to be known and you’ve pumped me dry that’s for sure. With a great deal of skill I might add. Yeah.
GT: My special cause is you great gentlemen. So thank you. Righto. Ok.
JM: Thanks a lot, Glen.
GT: Thank you. Thank you, Jim. Ok. We’ll sign off now.



Glen Turner, “Interview with James Mulhall. Two.,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed August 8, 2020,

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