Interview with Peter Rowland Ruthven Neech. Two


Interview with Peter Rowland Ruthven Neech. Two


Peter was born on the 7th of January 1925, in West Hampstead, London. He worked in a jewellers in Hammersmith and left his job to join the air cadets at RAF Hendon from 1941 to 1943. On his eighteenth birthday, he joined the RAF to begin training as an air gunner, this took him to RAF Dalcross, Scotland, where he completed his training in July 1943. On arriving home on leave, he found his family home damaged after a German bombing attack. In December 1943, Peter trained on Wellingtons and Stirlings at No.11 Operational Training Unit, RAF Westcott, where he was picked to join 75 Squadron, as a mid-upper gunner by Sergeant Donald George ‘Hoot’ Gibson. After flying Stirlings for his first month, the crew trained for Lancasters at 1651 Conversion Unit, 75 Squadron then moved to RAF Mepal, and in April 1944 they converted to Lancasters. Peter completed thirty-one operations with 75 Squadron. In August, he returned to RAF Dalcross, to fly in Martinets which towed targets for aircraft practice. After taking a short break, he joined 98 Squadron in March 1945, and flew B-25’s as a rear gunner until VE Day. He took part in gardening operations, which involved low flying to drop sea mines on estuaries in France to prevent U-Boat attacks. Towards the end of the war, Peter shot down a Ju 88, after it came too close, his only claimed kill of the war. Peter continued his flying career with the RAF post-war, as an air gunner with Lincolns, Lancasters, and Shakletons, and then joined Coastal Command at RAF Benbecula until he retired in 1956. In the 1960s, Peter moved to Singapore to be an instructor, married in 1962, but his wife passed away in 1969 and he remarried a few years later.




Temporal Coverage




01:08:10 audio recording


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ANeechPRR180705, PNeechPRR1601


GT: This is Thursday the 5th of July 2018 and I’m at the home of Mr Peter Neech born 7 January 1925 in West Hampstead, London, England. Peter joined the RAF on the 7 January 1943 at the age of eighteen, beginning his training to be an air gunner in the July of 1943. Once training completed and fully crewed, Peter completed a tour of Ops on 75 New Zealand Squadron with Stirlings and Lancasters in 1944. Then, after a break, joined 98 Squadron B25 Mitchells until VE Day. Peter continued his RAF career post war as an air gunner on Lincolns, Lancasters and with Coastal Command in Shackletons until retiring in 1956. Peter, thank you for allowing me to interview you for the IBCC Archives. Please tell me why and how you joined the Royal Air Force.
PN: Go ahead now. Yes, I joined because I was working in Hammersmith, London in a jewellers’ shop where my brother had originally worked until he joined the Air Force and so I worked there and the son of the manager came along one time and said ‘Oh I’ve really done it now. I’ve joined the, the I joined up, virtually, but it was in the Air Training Corps Cadets and I’ve joined the Cadets.’ And I said ‘Well that’s a good thing. I’ll join up’, and I joined the Hendon Squadron of the Air Training Corps and em I served with them from 1941 something like that until about 1943 when I joined the Royal Air Force on my eighteenth birthday and I started in as an air gunner on training and went through the training and eh at Westcott I selected, I saw eh ‘Hoot’ Gibson and his crew and I thought ‘They look a very steady crew to me.’ And eh he was third in line for picking out air gunners because they, they hadn’t that’s what they’d come to this country for, so I, he looked my way in between the third position and got in his crew. And from there on I was in ‘Hoot’ Gibson’s crew as a mid-upper gunner.
GT: Outstanding. So, so em, Peter, when you initially then joined as an air gunner at what bases and places did you train before you joined crew?
PN: Before I joined crew? I don’t think em
GT: You were in Scotland?
PN: Yes. Oh yes, I joined up in Scotland at Dalcross. RAF Dalcross and eh that was about three months and then it was there I passed out as a, as an air gunner. And I was very pleased with the little WAAFs there who very kindly sewed our tapes and brevvies on our uniforms. I wouldn’t have been able to do that but they could and they did. And so they sewed our uniforms up with ah the brevvies and the sergeant’s stripes and we were then sergeants. I came down to London then and eh on leave and eh got a, as I’d got a lot of kit, flying kit, I took a taxi home and eh the taxi stopped suddenly and I thought ‘What are you stopped here for?’ and he said ‘Well that’s where you wanted to be.’ And I looked around and true enough it’s my house had been eh quite badly damaged in a local bombing episode when night bombers had come over from Germany and bombed, laid a lot of bombs, and they had blown up a house only two doors, only two houses away from me, damaging my home quite severely. And eh but it got repaired and I went back then to eh a Wellington OTU at Westcott.
GT: So that was late 43 when you eh when you went home to find your house bombed. Was that German bombers or?
PN: German bombers.
GT: Not the German missiles? Not the V1s or the V2s?
PN: No, no, no. They came much later.
GT: Much later, okay. So, so then you arrived at 11 OT, OTU at Westcott in December 43.
PN: Yes.
GT: And, and what aircraft did you join up with there? Or did you go straight to the crew?
PN: No. Went in to Wellington bombers there. And eh I had picked out a crew at that time, ‘Hoot’ Gibson, and eh his crew, I became their mid-upper gunner. And we went from there to Stradishall because that was where they had fighting bombers and Stirling bombers, short Stirlings. And eh I had a mid-upper gunner there, and then we went on from there. And we had, there to [unclear] on to Lancasters and once again there was a mid-upper gunner turret, and then from there we went on to 75 NZ Squadron.
GT: So in Stradishall, and I’m looking at your notebook here and, and pretty much you only spent one month there on 1657 Conversion Unit.
PN: Yeah.
GT: Yeah. And that was, that was, now ‘Hoot’s’ crew,
PN: Yeah.
GT: Can you name, name the crew members and where they were from, please?
PN: I, I can, but eh I’ll, no, I’ll have to look it up.
GT: No problem.
PN: Because I have got them all, but em
GT: We, we’ll come back to that.
PN: Their all, apart from one Englishman, who came from Brentford in Essex, the engineer, flight engineer, and myself, we were the only two Englishmen. The rest were all New Zealanders, rear gunner, navigator, em pilot and em bomb aimer. They were all New Zealanders and em from various parts of New Zealand. But eh I can’t remember exactly without looking up, where they came from. I have got the information but eh I can’t remember it now.
GT: Understood.
PN: Who could, who could remember New Zealand words anyway, Maori words [emphasis] at that. [chuckles]. So there you go.
GT: [laughs] All right. So you, em you, you arrived in early April on 75 New Zealand Squadron at Mapel?
PN: Yes. That’s right.
GT: And eh, you eh you did the first month there all on Stirlings?
PN: Yes.
GT: And then you went to LFS at Feltwell in the April.
PN: And changed into Lancasters.
GT: Late April into Lancasters. What, what was the difference between the Stirling and the Lancasters to you?
PN: Size.[chuckles] I used to stand beside the wheel of a Stirling and I came just to the top of the wheel. The Lancaster was much smaller. It’s a fighting bomber but it’s much smaller somehow. Em in size. [coughs]. Quite a, quite a good size and eh quite a good, neat little bomber.
GT: And you were able to fly higher?
PN: Yeah. And it’s a fighting bomber just the same as the Stirling, but much smaller than the Stirling. Wasn’t the same size.
GT: What was your view like. Em was it, was it better on the Lancaster?
PN: Oh yes. It was a, it was a mid-upper gunner turret. Just the same. And em we, we flew on that, on that for twenty six operations. Somehow the tour on one of the things was thirty operations. Somehow or other I managed to do thirty one. [laughs] How I, how I managed to do that I do not know, cos I did. And then I went on to [unclear]
GT: Right. Well, let’s stay with Mapel for the moment. So with, with your gunnery actions and your thirty one operations, did you get any squirts away at the enemy?
PN: Em, occasionally we had eh little eh squirts at them. But on the last, especially the last day, one German aircraft came fairly [emphasis] close to us on the starboard side and eh I kept my eye very closely on him. Eh but he was just flying alongside me, it was towards the end of the war, and all of a sudden he dropped a wing towards us and I didn’t like that at all. Then we, all of us, the rear gunner and myself we fired at him and we shot him down. And that German plane went down and a few seconds later there was a little explosion on the ground and that was him gone.
GT: So you can claim one kill?
PN: One kill at least. Certainly.
GT: The aircraft type was a ?
PN: JU88. A JU88. He probably wasn’t doing any harm but he did, he did drop a wing towards us and I didn’t like that and eh so that’s when we attacked him. I shot him down.
GT: So, did you say to the skipper, ‘I’m Shooting.’ Or did he, did you have to get permission? Or did you just do it?
PN: We didn’t need any permission, only as we’ve opened and fired our guns away. He was close enough I suppose two or three hundred yards. Something like that. Not all that close but eh close enough for us. But he dropped a wing in our direction, I was, I was going and I was firing.
GT: The um, you, you have a little note in your logbook saying that you thought you might have been fired upon from, from below. Was that, was that a rocket?
PN: Oh yes, we did see rockets coming up but em we didn’t take much notice of them. We didn’t even know what they were [emphasis] at that time. So eh, we didn’t take much, we thought they were just anti-aircraft fire as far as I know. But they did come up and they went whistling past us and that was eh they didn’t hit us and that was eh quite happy that they were gone.
GT: So later on you thought they were rockets? Wow.
PN: Later on I did think they were rockets and we learnt about rockets and we suddenly thought probably they were rockets and they had come passed us.
GT: Now, there, there, later on 75 Squadron there were some under-gunners. Did you hear anything about under-gunners?
PN: Never heard. Never heard or saw any under-turrets. No, didn’t see any of those at all.
GT: Did you have any problems with em German aircraft coming up underneath you at night?
PN: Well, we watched, we didn’t eh, we got the skipper to bank over well to one side and we searched underneath very diligently either side, and a little later on we, the other side, we turned the other side there, and searched under that side. We searched underneath very diligently, very carefully and em made quite sure there was no one coming up underneath us to attack us from underneath.
GT: You had been warned about that type of German attack, had you?
PN: Yes, we knew about that kind of German attack. Yes. And eh we were well aware that they could attack from underneath and we took steps to make sure they didn’t attack us [emphasis] from underneath.
GT: So em, how many night operations did you complete?
PN: Em, thirty one, I think on 75.
GT: No, the night time ones though. You did night and day, and day operations.
PN: Oh well, I’d have to consult my log book on that.
GT: And so, for the, for the raids at night though you did not see the other Lancasters next to you?
PN: Em.
GT: Could you see them very well?
PN: Occasionally you’d see them come up close and they would, yes, I did see one come up and I thought he looked a little bit like a fighter and em so we kept a very close watch on him but eh he turned out to be a Lanc. In fact the wireless operator, he has a little radar screen of his own there. He was shouting and saying that there was a fighter coming up on the port side, and I told him to calm down because I had been watching that aircraft for a good ten minutes and I knew [emphasis] that it was another Lancaster and he couldn’t see that he could see just a dot on his screen. But I had been watching it well and knew that it was another Lancaster.
GT: You, you wouldn’t want to be shooting down one of your
PN: And I wouldn’t want to shoot at that. [emphasis]
GT: Did you hear of that ever happening? That other Lancasters shot other Lancasters?
PN: No, no, I didn’t hear any of those. But em there was a time when eh we got eh bombed on the airfield and a lot of air, oh well one aircraft came back with a [unclear] bombs on and he made a very bumpy landing, a very damaging bumpy landing and eh he had [unclear] bombs on board and they kept those bombs on because the aircraft was going to do the same old place again the next day. But about four o’clock in the morning that aircraft [unclear] bombs blew up and blew the aircraft to pieces and quite a number of other aircraft of A Flight as well. And eh they did a lot of damage, but the following morning the replaced an aircraft in the afternoon and we had an aircraft come in to complete the Squadron again.
GT: It was that quick they replaced them?
PN: They replaced. And funnily enough they came in and em landed at the eh the site for A Flight and out of the aircraft a young women got, a young women came out and she climbed out and she had flown this Lancaster on her own, [emphasis] without any other crew and brought it in from transport. She was an air transport, air transport auxiliary and she’d flown that Lancaster on her own and landed it and delivered it to eh to us. Which was an amazing [chuckles] thing when you think of it.
GT: Huge surprise huh?
PN: Well we looked around for the rest of the crew and she said that ‘I am the crew’ she said, ‘I am the crew.’ And that was it. She was the crew.
GT: And eh
PN: And there was no one else, no one else in the aircraft at all. They, they went in and they looked around to find the rest of the crew and eh they came back and they said, ‘Well there’s no one there.’ She said ‘Well, there won’t be. I am [emphasis] the crew.’ And she went back to Air Traffic Control and eh brought the aircraft in and that was it. She just landed it on her own.
GT: So those aircraft that blew up?
PN: Yes, there was quite a lot of them eh on A Flight and B Flight. They, they all suffered damage from this aircraft that blew up at four o’clock in the, well they had [unclear] bombs on. Four thousand pounders and they all blew up and they damaged a lot of the aircraft.
GT: And you, you were in bed at the time? Did you hear it, feel it?
PN: I did and I shot out of bed. We thought that we were being bombed and eh that we were being under attack. But eh
GT: Pretty much an own goal?
PN: Yes. But it wasn’t eh [mumbles] it wasn’t that at all.
GT: But no one was hurt. That was the [unclear]
PN: No. No.
GT: But you managed to find some bits and pieces.
PN: Yeah. I did and I’ve collected an axe, an escape axe that there was lying there. It was lying on the ground. So I captured that and eh I’ve got it to this day.
GT: You still have it and you’ve just showed it to me. So that’s, that’s very good. That was, that was normally where on the Lancaster? Where did that axe normally sit? What position?
PN: Well, there were two, there were two. There was one bolted on to the side, of the starboard side of the aircraft and there’s one on the rear end eh on the stick before they get into the rear turret, there’s another axe. So there are two axes on each aircraft. I’ve got one of them.
GT: And, and they’re identical. You don’t know which position this one came from?
PN: No. No, no. You don’t know. They’re both identical. But I got one of them. And I’ve got it to this day.
GT: So, in the mid-upper turret position em when you were seated in it you could spin yourself completely and just keep going round and round?
PN: You could, you could [mumbles] cos I did like that.
GT: And, and were the guns positioned so that you couldn’t shoot your own tail?
PN: Ah, yes. I did have a, an interrupter gear. The, the raise that the guns, when they came towards the fins as well, they would raise up automatically and down the other side so that they couldn’t fire at their own tail or rear of, rear of the fuselage or any part of the fuselage. When you turned them round to the front they would raise up above the fuselage and down the other side. They couldn’t eh, it’s an automatic interrupter gear.
GT: How many rounds did you have per gun available to you?
PN: Em, around about three thousand, I think.
GT: Each gun?
PN: Yes. Each gun. And the rear gunner, he had ten thousand, because he had a track going down the fuselage with rounds in them. So he had lots more ammunition than we had, but we had about three thousand per gun.
GT: So the tail gunner had four, three lot threes and you had two.
PN: Yes.
GT: Okay, and so where was your ammunition stored? In boxes underneath your guns?
PN: In a box at the side. Eh, ammunition boxes at either side that fed up to each gun. Yes. Em and the rear gunner he had a track leading down the fuselage and into his turret.
GT: So the guns were right next to your shoulders or your head?
PN: Em, well, I forget now but they were reasonably close to, yes they came up round one side and into the guns themselves.
GT: So you could feel them when they went off, yeah?
PN: Yes. Yes. Yes, they were quite close. But not too close.
GT: And you, you were sitting in the seat or were you suspended?
PN: It was a seat that swung up like em like a [mumbles] swing, that eh you swung it down whilst you were sitting in it. But to get out you would have to swing it up and then get down again to the floor of the aircraft.
GT: Was it comfortable? You might have had to have sit in that way for eight hours or so.
PN: Yes. Sometimes we did indeed sit there for quite a long period. It didn’t, it didn’t worry us. That’s eh that’s [unclear] rear ends. [chuckles]
GT: And, and there was no size restriction, any, any height of a person?
PN: No. No height, em sometimes it got a bit cold in the turret. I did at one time get em the perspex shot away and eh I was out in the cold so I slipped down into the turret with just my eyeballs just above the eh turret then where the perspex should have been and I just kept an eye on any, any other aircraft that might be following us.
GT: And that was in the Lancaster?
PN: Yes.
GT: And, and was this anti-aircraft shrapnel or bullets from another aircraft?
PN: Who knows? I don’t know. Just the perpex just vanished. It might have been shrapnel. It could’ve been shrapnel and it just vanished.
GT: And, and did you em suffer from frostbite on your face?
PN: No, fortunately not. I had a oxygen mask on of course and eh goggles, so eh we, we did get a bit of frostbite where it showed but nothing much.
GT: On the forehead?
PN: Yes. Nothing much. No, the goggles were there and the oxygen mask was there and that protected us a lot.
GT: Now eh if you saw a fighter coming in was it your job to tell the pilot to corkscrew?
PN: Yes. If I was, if I saw one, I did occasionally see one eh I was wait, wait till they got to six hundred yards and then having warned the skipper that we wanted to corkscrew to port or starboard as the case may be, eh I would give a running commentary and eventually ‘Corkscrew. Go.’ And he would then drop a thousand foot and roll and drop another thousand foot and roll and climb a thousand foot and roll and up into his normal position again and that was a corkscrew. And by then the fighter had gone. Don’t know where he’d gone, but he’d gone and eh glad that he’d gone. That’s it.
GT: And Hoot was really good at a corkscrew, was he?
PN: He was excellent. He was really excellent at corkscrewing. He used to await my orders and as I said ‘Go,’ he would go [unclear].
GT: You had em, a couple of different pilots. You had Timmons and Williamson as pilots near the end of your tour.
PN: Yes, because on D, the D Day I had been off sick ah with those ears. Infected eardrums.
GT: Ah, now you thought you had ear wax. [emphasis]
PN: I thought I had earwax. But in fact, the doctor, when he looked he [unclear] he said, ‘No, you’ve got collapsed eardrums.’ And I was in hospital for a while having that repaired and that’s why Hoot gives a carry on to this tour and finished early to me. And I had to then go with another crew to finish my tour ah with other, with other pilots, Williamson, Squadron Leader Williamson was one of them and Timmons eh he was the other one.
GT: And they were short of a gunner so you stepped in?
PN: They, they that’s it, I stepped in then. Yeah. I finished my tour that way.
GT: And of your thirty one trips was there any operation that was, that stood out for you besides shooting down an enemy aircraft? Was anything dang –
PN: Not that I can think of.
GT: Dangerous? Ack ack? Em.
PN: It was always dangerous. It was always dangerous. There was flak coming eh and large amounts of flak bursting all around eh but it didn’t hit us and while it didn’t hit us we were happy. And that was it. But there was lots of flak going on, on the ground and flak coming up through the surrounding air, airspace, lots of fires below, where our bombs were going and when the bomb aimer released the bombs it sounded as if someone was slapping the side of a car. If, if you put your arms out of the car and slapped the side door, that’s what it sounded like when the bombs were released. And they left the aircraft, they banged as they left the aircraft. And the bomb aimer said, ‘Bombs gone,’ and the, about twelve thousand pounds worth of bombs a lot of bombs. So the aircraft eh raised a bit, raised up a bit, being the, having lost that much weight, and so eh that’s how it went on. But I suppose we came to expect that.
GT: Now if we go back to your, your first month on 75 and, and at that time the Stirlings were, well certainly well overdue to be replaced on a, for a front line squadron, I believe 75 NZ was one of the last front line squadrons to be replaced with the Lancaster since they’d already been flying for nearly two years. That was a bit criminal of Bomber Command to let you guys carry on flying the Stirling on that op. But you, you did quite a few gardening trips.
PN: Yes.
GT: What was the gardening trips like compared to later on when you were doing high level bombing?
PN: Ah well, they were much lower and much [mutters] mainly in the places like [unclear] and down in the south of France we laid mines in the eh estuaries, where U-boats were likely to come and be harboured. That was mainly our job on those. Dropping these mines for our action against U-boats.
GT: And what eh, what did the German defences have against you?
PN: Oh, they were quite lively. They were quite lively. There were plenty of flak positions, but then I looked at them and I shot down their beams, straight down the em searchlight beams particularly and it’s quite interesting to see, all of a sudden, the searchlights would suddenly switch off very fast and all way down the flight path, that was because they were getting a good sprinkling of eh my guns. [chuckles].
GT: And you, you could give them a good squirt from your mid-upper position?
PN: Yes. Oh yes, we, yes, we banked, banked a bit over and gave a good squirt of the guns, the guns at the searchlight positions and the searchlights switched off very quickly and the anti-aircraft fire started up quickly. Yes.
GT: So did they have land and sea flak positions, ships, flak ships as well, did they?
PN: I didn’t see any flak ships but eh I imagine there were flak ships about. Yes. I didn’t see any though.
GT: And you said you lost a very valuable friend on one of those gardening trips?
PN: Yes. He was on the third operation to, his third operation to Kiel, laying sea mines like we were. We were on the same operation but em it was our fourth operation and his third operation and he was, they were laying sea mines and a fighter came up from a nearby fighter station and unfortunately shot them down and they were all killed. That was em Megson and his crew, yes, Megson, I think is.
GT: Was your bomb loads all the same on the trips you did? They stuck with cookies and GP bombs?
PN: Yes, about twelve thousand pounds, about twelve thousand pounds altogether. The cookies and em bombs.
GT: What was the furtherest [sic] trip that you remember doing? Was it, was it over to Stettin or Berlin?
PN: Stettin was a long way off. Yes, Stettin, Stettin was about fifty miles north, north east of Berlin. Quite a long way away and took about eight hours altogether.
GT: And that was your third to last op, so you were, you were stretching it right at the end of your tour. Weren’t you?
PN: Yes, that’s quite so.
GT: And, what was, what was the morale like on 75 Squadron for you guys?
PN: It was good and in fact I came back from that particular operation and eh expected to see eh my particular pal, Pat Butler, he was eh living in a, a bed next to, virtually next to me in our hut and people called the Committee of Adjustments came round and collected up all his uniform and they collected up quite a few of my bits too. [emphasis] I, and they were the Committee of Adjustments and they collected up uniform and things like that to, to put them away. And it took me quite some time to get back to them and get my own bits of uniform back [emphasis]. Because they collected them up as well.
GT: So that was a, that was a good idea to make sure before you went on an op all your stuff was packed away nice and neatly, yeah?
PN: Yes, yeah. And eh the Committee of Adjustments came along when someone was shot down and they eh collected all of their possessions. Any eh, if they were talking about a man, they didn’t want any letters from his girlfriend eh, falling into the wrong hands as it were. So the Committee of Adjustments had the job of collecting up any letters like that. Making sure they didn’t fall into the hands of wives and eh others arrangements.
GT: Very wise that.
PN: Yes.
GT: Very wise. During July of 44, 75 Squadron suffered seven aircraft loss in one night.
PN: Yes.
GT: Do you remember that?
PN: Yes. Yes, that was a trip to Hamburg, a trip to Hamburg, and it eh took us quite some time and it was em
GT: Were you on that raid?
PN: Yes, I was on that raid.
GT: Particularly, specifically?
PN: Yes, on the
GT: 20th of July.
PN: Yes, yes, on the Hamburg raid and it was quite a, quite a lively bombing mission but we fortunately got back, we got damaged, we got damaged as we did very often on, on them. And em but we, we got back okay. And we came to land alright. But that was quite a hairy operation, to Hamburg.
GT: And to lose seven in one night must have been pretty devastating to the rest of the Squadron, yeah?
PN: Well, it was em it wasn’t out of the ordinary, we didn’t think too much about it. We, we kept a, we kept a, we expected losses, just as we expected everything else and eh what came, came along. That’s it. That’s part of squadron life. So that’s what you had to do. You might get eh, you might get more [emphasis] than seven going sometimes. Who knows? It was the luck of the draw.
GT: Who was your skipper, eh sorry, your commanding officer, on 75 at that time you were there?
PN: Maxie. Wing Commander Max.
GT: And what was he like?
PN: He was a good bloke, yes a good bloke and em we all liked him. And he used to come round to all the aircraft and have a little chat with them, mainly with the pilots and those others. Before they, before they taxied and went off. He used to drive round and have a little chat with them. Wish them good luck I suppose. But he didn’t [unclear] [chuckles] gunners as well. But he didn’t have time for the gunners. We were there that was all right.
GT: Wing Commander Max’s medal group was donated by his wife to the 75 New Zealand Squadron Association.
PN: Was it really?
GT: And they’re currently on display at the Wigram Airforce Museum in Christchurch, New Zealand, but they are, the property of 75 Squadron Association of New Zealand, so, so just to let you know that em, your, your ex-Commanding Officer’s medals are on display.
PN: On display. Good old Maxie. He was a good bloke, a good bloke was Max. Now I got em I got another set of medals, a second set for one of my sons who is now unfortunately deceased. So there’s a set of my medals, identical to my medals which are going spare, which eh, I would be quite happy to donate to eh.
GT: You eh, you and I can have a chat off microphone.
PN: Yeah. Yes.
GT: Thank you, Peter. Okay, so your, your time on 75 though, you must have gone to some pubs?
PN: What did you say?
GT: Some pubs.
PN: Well,
GT: Go and have a beer or two somewhere?
PN: Very occasionally, I wasn’t a, I wasn’t really a drinking man at all. I didn’t, I didn’t like the stuff really, if the truth were known. I would go to a restaurant to have a nice meal occasionally. But I wasn’t really a beer man, I didn’t like beer. Nasty stuff. [laughter]
GT: Cos there was, there was three main pubs, the Chequers and the Three Pickerels in your area.
PN: Yes, we went to them occasionally but very occasionally, but I wasn’t, I would eh go on the, be there for a, perhaps a few minutes and then nip off back home to bed.
GT: So eh, so did you go to any of the churches or cathedrals around Mepal?
PN: No, I don’t think I did.
GT: There was quite a few of them around there.
PN: Yes, there was Ely, of course, Ely Cathedral.
GT: And there’s Sutton, one at Sutton as well.
PN: Sutton there, yes.
GT: Now, the one at Sutton has eh, the complete casualty em, list of all airmen killed on 75 Squadron.
PN: Have they really?
GT: And they turn the page every day and I do think a copy was made and that is in the Chapel of St. Marks, on my old base, base at [unclear] and the chaplain on that base turns the page every day as well.
PN: Oh, yes, good.
GT: And so, so all your colleagues that were lost in the five years of 75 New Zealand Squadron RAF are remembered every day.
PN: So, Pat Butler’s name would be among them. He was a mid-upper gunner, the same as myself, and he was lost on his third operation to Kiel. Laying sea mines in Kiel canal.
GT: His name will certainly be remembered in this, this book, for sure.
PN: Yes, he was a great bloke.
GT: So next to you was at Mepal, after 75, there was 115 Squadron.
PN: Yes. that’s right. Witchford, on the road to Ely. Yes, they were there. I didn’t know much about them. Passed them on the road there. Often they were going, they were taking off at the same, much the same time as we were. On operations. But I didn’t know much about them.
GT: They, they were very unfortunate, at least on one night, had one aircraft shot down by a Messerschmitt 14, eh as it was coming in to land. Did 75 Squadron have any trouble with night fighters stooging around whilst you were coming in?
PN: We did hear, we did hear, have them occasionally and we had to keep a very close watch out and I can’t recall any being shot down. But eh I believe it did happen on more than one occasion.
GT: As the gunner, was it your responsibility to clean and fit the guns, or was that the armourers?
PN: No, I did mine, I did my guns. I did. The armourers could, would do them, but I, I used to do mine, look after my own guns and cleaned my own perspex, to make sure that my perspex was cleaned, in the top turrets.
GT: How did you clean your outside perspex? Did you have a door through the canopy or did you have to get out on the fuselage?
PN: I used to get out. There wasn’t, I think, [mumbles] there wasn’t a place where you could get out on to the front of the fuselage and there was em perspex polish that I could use, and I did, to make sure that my perspex was cleared and clean on the inside as well. If there was a scratch, the searchlight would hit us, a scratch and would split [unclear] effect. It was no good, so I made sure my perpex was clear.
GT: Like a prism mm.
PN: Mmm.
GT: With your training that you did as an air gunner eh, did that, eh when you look back at sitting in a Lancaster turret and doing operations, did that training, was that good enough, did that do the job to prepare you?
PN: Oh yes. Oh yes. Em and I used to keep very close watch on all those around me. I used to spin the turret around and make sure I saw, and I used to ask the skipper occasionally as we heard, to dip his wings down one way, or dip down the other way, so that I could search underneath the aircraft in case there was anything creeping up underneath. But eh that’s how you got on.
GT: And you had good coordination with the tail gunner? Did you talk a lot between you?
PN: We didn’t talk a lot but eh if occasionally em it was necessary to confer we used to. But we didn’t talk a lot really.
GT: And if you
PN: We were very good friends on the ground.
GT: Good yeah.
PN: Yes, we were very good friends on the ground [unclear] and myself were great pals on the ground.
GT: What was the radio talk like? Was it ‘skipper’, ‘rear gunner’, ‘mid upper’? You didn’t say your names did you?
PN: No, didn’t say your names but say, say your position. ‘Mid upper to skipper’, or something of that sort. And he would say, ‘Go ahead, go ahead mid upper’, and you would pass a message to him.
GT: And was, Hoot, Hoot was the flight sergeant em when you joined up together as a crew and then he was commissioned, so
PN: Yeah.
GT: So, so did the commissioning matter to you guys?
PN: No, not at all.
GT: You were a senior NCO and a, and a pilot officer or an officer.
PN: Yes, didn’t make, didn’t make any difference. He was still Hoot Gibson.
GT: But you couldn’t go and drink together in the same mess?
PN: Oh no, no, no. No. We had that, there was that difference. He was a commissioned officer after all. But it didn’t make that difference.
GT: And you were a flight sergeant at that time?
PN: Yes.
GT: Did you want your, did you want a commission as well?
PN: Ah yes I did, but eh but for some reason I didn’t go for it.
GT: You weren’t offered it?
PN: Yes. I can’t remember what exactly it was. [unclear] he was getting commissioned.
GT: As a tail gunner? Wow.
PN: Yes, he became commissioned. But I can’t remember just exactly the circumstances. He was like that later on he became commissioned.
GT: So, your time with 75, em and, and you thoroughly enjoyed?
PN: Oh yes. Oh yes. I was there until I done my, how I, how I had to do thirty one operations I don’t know but I did and I got posted away to, funnily enough, back to Dalcross where I’d done my training.
GT: Your training. So, so when you were posted, what did they say? ‘Right you’re off!’ No fanfare. Just
PN: Oh no.
GT: Called you into the office and said, ‘So right, you’re next, you’re leaving.’ Is that it?
PN: Oh yes. Yes. Just you posted. Yes.
GT: And that would be at the end of eh August?
PN: It would, yes, I think it would.
GT: Your last operation was August the 25th and that completed thirty one ops. You had a hundred and thirty six hours during the day and a hundred and twenty hours of night and em that’s a pretty, that’s a pretty great record there Peter. So your, your log book states that you moved on to Dalcross at 2 AGS and there you were flying in Martinets. [emphasis]
PN: Yes, that’s right.
GT: What were they [emphasis] like?
PN: [chuckles] They were a fighter aircraft, they were like a fighter aircraft as far as I was concerned. But we used to em, had to virtually em they had a real [unclear] of you might call cords really. Then we had to almost stretch out of the aircraft to thread through pulleys and fix them on to the drogue for other aircraft to shoot at.
GT: And so the Martinet was a drogue towing aircraft?
PN: That’s right. Yes.
GT: So you didn’t deploy the drogue until you were in the air?
PN: That’s right. And then you had to bend and you were half way out of the, of the aircraft hooking the drogue on.
GT: This was a hole in the floor of the aircraft?
PN: Yes. Yes.
GT: So how long was the hoars of the rope? Eh, the
PN: About eight hundred, eight hundred yards or something like that.
GT: Was that a safe, safe distance?
PN: Yeah. Safe enough. Yes. Safe enough. Yes.
GT: And what were the gunners and eh, of the aircraft taking the drogue?
PN: They, they did occasionally fire and hit the drogue towing aircraft thinking it was, thinking that was what they had to aim at.
GT: That’s friendly fire.
PN: Yeah. They, they used to do a quick dive away then, but eh mainly that was alright and you could tell in the drogue you could count up the bullet holes because the bullets had got paint under them of some sort. They were coloured.
GT: Did they have a fight over who, who was, what hole was [unclear] [chuckles]
PN: No, I don’t think so.
GT: All good. And therefore you went, that was in eh November?
PN: Yes.
GT: And so you had a little break in between leaving end of August, so you had September, October off?
PN: Yes.
GT: Where did, what did you do there? Did you, did you go back home for a bit?
PN: Eh, I went, I did, I was, I can’t remember exactly what I did.
GT: But you did have a bit of a rest though didn’t you?
PN: But em anyway, I made sure that eh I counted the months and eh while there was only four months and then I went back on the Squadron again.
GT: Aah. Okay, so, so that was 2 AGS at Dalcross and we’re still on the Martinet and Martinet right through to January and eh and in February you moved on to Number 2 GSU on Mitchells.
PN: That’s right. Yes.
GT: As an air gunner, so you were, you were ramping up on the B25.
PN: That’s right.
GT: Were you the mid upper gunner for there too?
PN: Rear gunner.
GT: Rear gunner on the B25.
PN: Rear gunner on the, yeah. And eh you didn’t have a seat to sit on, you sort of eh, virtually on your knees, half on your knees, half sat, sat on the sloping seat. Not a very comfortable position at all. And you had two point fives I think in the rear turret.
GT: Now, the point five was a little bit more heavier than the three nought threes.
PN: It was indeed.
GT: More punch and distance?
PN: Yes, and the you see what happened.
GT: Well now, obviously for the recording eh Peter had a bit of a close escape here, and I’m holding a fifty cal shell eh minus the head and eh there’s a big hole in the side of it. Peter, what happened to you there and this was in the rear turret of a B25, yeah?
PN: Yes, that’s right and it was quite, that, it was quite close to, the bomb was quite close to my shoulder and em the armourer, when we came back, I didn’t know about it, while we were airborne, but the armourer came to me and said, ‘Would you like this as a souvenir?’ and at that time it had a shrapnel inside of it and the, the bullet too. Em but unfortunately, while examining it, my son, the little bit of shrapnel that had caused the hole, put it in the dust, in the ashtray and it got lost. And eh so I don’t, I, I searched for the, I think it was about ten days afterwards that I found it was missing and I searched for the, that little bit of shrapnel, but I couldn’t find it, unfortunately.
GT: Well, it’s very fortunate, [emphasis] for you Peter, that you’ve been able to keep the shell and eh it also has an official RAF photograph tucked with it.
PN: And the [unclear] at the bottom end you notice that it hadn’t been fired.
GT: That’s true, yeah, yeah. The firing element at the base there’s eh, there’s no pin impression so that’s, that’s a special piece of history right there for you.
PN: Yes.
GT: Fabulous. Alright Peter, now, you, you’re suffering badly from eh, from your knees.
PN: Arthritis.
GT: And arthritis, but [emphasis] you were talking to me earlier about your kneeling position of a B25 rear gunner.
PN: Yes.
GT: And can you attribute your current problems with knees back to that?
PN: I wouldn’t be at all surprised. I wouldn’t be at all surprised because you were sort of half on your knees, half sitting on a sloping, a sloping seat.
GT: Gosh.
PN: And it could well have been that em that was the cause of the arthritis.
GT: Well you started flying B25s in March 45 and eh you completed more operations in, in the end of April. Now your trips here in your log book for your Mitchell flights are anywhere between one and, and one and two and three quarter hours. So you were flying from em 98 Squadron. Where were they based and, and where did you go from there for more ops?
PN: Now. 98. Yes, I, oh I can’t remember the dates. Is it not in the book? On top of the table? The places that we went to? I do know the name of the aerodrome but I can’t remember it.
GT: Farfield. So you, so your log book is very well presented, of course, and you’ve got a lot of trips there across to Bremen, em certainly into Germany em and beyond. So, so that’s very impressive. So during your, your flights in the Mitchells, did you have any opposition from the German em Luftwaffe?
PN: Em, we did, and eh I can’t remember the exact details, but we, we eh got flak, flak as much as anything. We had to dodge the flack because we’d got anti-aircraft fire bursting near us, a lot of anti-aircraft fire bursting near us.
GT: How many bombs did you carry?
PN: Eh, oh, I couldn’t say.
GT: It wasn’t a very big bomb load for a B25?
PN: Eh, no, about, about eight or eight or so five hundred pounders probably. I’m not quite sure.
GT: And this was an RAF squadron flying American aircraft?
PN: Second Tactical Aircraft, yes, Second tact.
GT: So what was it like flying an American designed aircraft compared to the English Stirling and Lancaster?
PN: Uncomfortable.
GT: Uncomfortable.
PN: Yeah. Uncomfortable.
GT: It didn’t go very –
PN: On you knees, you see. You were on your knees and the seat sloped and you had your bottom on the, on the seat, and you were half on your knees and eh it wasn’t a comfortable position, wasn’t a very comfortable position at all. But there you are, that was, that was hard luck. And em we did quite a, did quite a few to Bremen if I remember rightly, quite a few to eh yes, the city of Bremen and em they were quite lively, a lot of flak coming up.
GT: It must have been low level, was it?
PN: Em, not really low level.
GT: Oh, no? You were still up high?
PN: Still, still, yes, fairly high I think. I can’t quite remember these details now.
GT: And what was your crew like? For the B25s
PN: There was about five members of a crew in the B25s.
GT: All English?
PN: As far as I know, yes. Ah, yes I think so, yes. They were. Yes. I do mention their names.
GT: Now your, your last operation with eh 98 Squadron was the end of April and then you moved through as passengers in May and you, you began a second trip, tour in, in June as the rear gunner and eh also did some trips, through, as passengers to look over Germany and in July. So you certainly got around for a little bit after that.
PN: Yes.
GT: So tell us a bit more about the eh, okay, the –
PN: I was stationed in Germany.
GT: Ah, there you go. So VE Day, what happened with you on 98 Squadron on VE Day and what did you do after?
PN: So, yes, I remember VE day.
GT: You went to Germany after that was it, directly, or did you stay in England?
PN: [mumbles] Difficult to remember. I think I was, I think I was stationed in Germany at that time. I think, yes, I think, I can remember we were living in tents and all of a sudden the CO of that Squadron popped down and said, ‘It’s all over, chaps. It’s all over!’ and [unclear] drinking his own champagne. And didn’t invite us in at all. And that was the end of the war. And we were in Germany at that time, living in tents. Aachen [?] Yes.
GT: Did you stay on?
PN: We went to Brussels. We took, we took, we went by an aircraft. We took an aircraft into Brussels, but I didn’t think much to that. And eh visited a short time and we came back, back to Aachen [?] again, and stayed there. Didn’t think much to it. It was all over as far as we were concerned and that was it.
GT: So did you want to stay in the RAF? Or did you look at demobbing or?
PN: No, I was demobbed soon after and em I did various civilian jobs and eh basically I got sick of them and went back into the Airforce again after a fairly short time.
GT: As an air gunner?
PN: Yes, eh I was an air gunner instructor this time. I was instructing.
GT: And your log book says in 1951 you were at 230 OCU in Scampton?
PN: Yeah.
GT: In Scampton?
PN: Yes.
GT: As an air gunner exercise so em that was from February
PN: I was instructing then.
GT: And what aircraft were you with?
PN: I think Lincolns.
GT: Lincolns?
PN: I think Lincolns and then Shackletons and finally Neptunes. Yes.
GT: Yes, you have a lot of entries here from being in Lincolns. What was the Lincoln like compared to the Lancaster?
PN: Bigger. And that’s all, apart from that. [mumbles] Yes, they were bigger. A bigger version of the Lancaster.
GT: And the Lincolns had fifty cal? Half inch? Did the Lincolns have the bigger gun systems?
PN: As far as I know, yes, I think so.
GT: And you moved on from three nought threes. Yeah?
PN: Yes.
GT: And then you moved on to 9 Squadron at Binbrook?
PN: Yes, at Binbrook.
GT: And you become crew, you become part of a crew then, were you then? Is that what you were doing?
PN: I think so, I can’t remember. It’s difficult to remember. It’s a long time ago, as you know.
GT: No, that, that’s fine there, Peter. So we’re just moving through and eh you, you were em just working through on the Lincolns right through to 1952 and em with, with your changes you moved into Coastal Command?
PN: Yes, Shackletons. Oh, yes, low flying over the sea doing searches and things like that.
GT: What was the Shackleton like, as an aircraft to fly in?
PN: It was much, it was something like, something like a Lancaster but fatter. You know, it was a bigger, bigger fuselage than the other one. It was much like a, much like a Lincoln.
GT: Now what em, what caused you to finish up in the RAF then? You’d had enough again do you think or?
PN: Yes, yes I did instructing for a while. I was instructing on various subjects and then I came out, I think, I think, I came out and took, took my pension. To get a pension and em I came out and got a pension.
GT: Well, some of your last entries in your log book eh Peter, are at Kinloss em with, with Shacks and eh and then eh you’ve got a P2 Neptune entry here as well.
PN: Eh [mumbles]
GT: In mid 56.
PN: Yes, it was actually the islands, Benbecula for a while. That’s not even mentioned in there, I think, but I was [pauses] just at Benbecula for a while, which is one of the Outer Hebridean islands. But not for any reason.
GT: Yeah. So then you moved down to Singapore for a while. Tell me a, tell me a little bit about that, please, because that was in the mid, early sixties there when you went to Singapore.
PN: Ah yes. Yes.
GT: Was that with the RAF?
PN: Yes, oh yes. And em, Singapore. I think I had a crew there.
GT: And you were doing the administrative stuff? You were?
PN: Oh yes, I was doing admin as well, yes. Instructing em, instructing.
GT: And there was a [unclear]
PN: [unclear] yes. Um I think I was doing instructing as well as doing –
GT: And so that was after the confrontation eh had finished?
PN: More or less I think, yes. Instructing em discip. I was a flight sergeant discip there too. Yes. Various jobs yeah.
GT: Various jobs. Now, you, you were married and had children by then?
PN: Yes, I had been married, I got married in 1962, think it was 62 and unfortunately em my first wife died in 1969. She got breast cancer and she died in 1969. But see we had a tour in Singapore and she quite enjoyed that. So she did have some good life there.
GT: Nice. And you moved back to the UK then?
PN: And we came back in 1966 and then eh we were, she was ill for two or three years and she died in 1969.
GT: No children?
PN: No children. Well, previously we had had four, four sons but long before you know and the eldest which is the one who’s birthday it is today, they were born 50, he was born in 54, 1954 and the last one was born in 1958. Yeah.
GT: Pretty tough to lose their mum a little bit later. And so then you, you remarried later?
PN: Yes. Two or three years afterwards. Yes.
GT: And so, you, you’ve lost two em
PN: And I’ve lost her too.
GT: Several years ago.
PN: Yes.
GT: And, and what did you do after the RAF, Peter? How did, how did that go?
PN: Em I did do, em, what did I do? I engraved [?] a house, do something, engraved [?] a house. I forget now. I forget
GT: Peter, you’ve, you’ve got a lot of memories here and a lot of archives from your time
PN: Yeah.
GT: Especially with Bomber Command.
PN: Yes.
GT: And that’s pretty special. And eh now I’ve known you for some years now and popped in to see you from my trips from New Zealand here to the UK so I’m eh, I’m quite honoured today really to sit and chat with you about your [emphasis] Bomber Command time and your life, a bit of history. This recording will go to the Bomber Command archives and eh and I know that they will gratefully receive your information and your recollections and memories.
PN: Sketchy as they are.
GT: Sketchy as they are. No problem at all, no problem for us, Peter. Is there something that you would like to make one last comment about Bomber Command? Your time, the war, that had to be done, that could have been done any different?
PN: I don’t think so. I was very lucky to have eh, to have a skipper, Hoot Gibson. He was a great, a great pal and a great flyer [coughs]. And we got on very well with him, and the crew for that matter. It was very unfortunate that the navigator, Bill [unclear] unfortunately, he was in a hurry to get home to New Zealand, chose to hitchhike with an American crew, which crashed.
GT: Wrong, wrong choice.
PN: Killing them all. Yes, killing them all. Unfortunately.
GT: Peter, look em I think it’s fabulous of you to be able to sit with me today. Thank you for this interview and it’s been a pleasure being in your company and presence in your house today and I’m gonna say thank you from the IBCC for your recollections. And eh I think we, we can close the interview now if that’s okay with you.
PN: I think so, yes. Sketchy as it might be in places. You’ll have to pick out the bits and pieces. Of course, I mean I’m ninety, getting on for ninety four and memory does tend to get a little bit sketchy at times at that age. But I’ve done my best. Tried to remember the best I can.
GT: Thank you for your service to your King, your country and now your Queen. It is much appreciated. Thank you.
PN: Okay. Good.


Glen Turner, “Interview with Peter Rowland Ruthven Neech. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 16, 2024,

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