Interview with Norman Neilson


Interview with Norman Neilson


Norman Neilson was an apprentice engineer at St Rollox Locomotive Works when he volunteered. He had originally wanted to join the Navy but joined the RAF because the only way he could be released from his position was to volunteer for aircrew. His brother had been killed in a submarine and so he kept the fact that he had joined up a secret from his mother. Norman joined 103 Squadron and found himself threatened twice with court martial. He stressed that he had a huge responsibility for the safety of the rest of the crew. After the war Norman completed his apprenticeship and went on to join the design teams working on such aircraft as the Lightning, TSR2, and Arrow. He also worked on the Polaris submarine and the Blue Streak rocket and then the Hovercraft on the Isle of Wight.




Temporal Coverage




01:21:13 audio recording


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ANeilsonN160422, PNeilsonNS1604


BW: This is Brian Wright interviewing Flight Sergeant Norman Steven Neilson, also known as Norrey on Friday the 22nd of April at 10.30 in the morning at his home in Longton near Preston. Also with me is Norrey’s son, Ian. Ok. So, Norrey, if you would please just confirm your service number and your date of birth.
NN: 1823749. 18 23 749.
BW: And your date of birth was?
NN: 12 2 ‘24.
BW: Ok. Let’s put that further up there. And where were you born?
NN: In Glasgow. Springburn.
BW: Ok. And within your family how many of you were there? Did you have any brothers and sisters?
NN: Yeah. Six of us.
BW: Six.
NN: Six wasn’t there?
BW: And what, what were, what were they? There was, was there two boys and four girls?
NN: Four boys and two girls. Yeah.
BW: Four boys and two girls.
NN: I think it was. Yeah. Yeah. Stuart, Tommy — he was lost in the Navy.
BW: So there was Stuart, Tommy, yourself.
IN: Jackie. Jackie and Margaret.
NN: Jackie. Margaret.
IN: They were, they were twins.
NN: Eh?
IN: Jackie and Margaret were twins.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And who was your other sister?
IN: May.
NN: May.
BW: May.
NN: She was the good one [laughs]
BW: And what was, what was your family life like in Glasgow at the time?
NN: Oh it was fairly good. Yeah. We didn’t have much but we always, we always enjoyed ourselves. Looked after each other.
BW: Was it, were you living in the town centre or were you sort of out of in the country a bit.
NN: No. I was in a big tenement building wasn’t it?
IN: A big tenement. Yeah.
NN: Yeah.
IN: And then he moved to Springburn.
NN: To Springburn. Yeah, a long way.
IN: You joined the Springburn Harriers.
NN: The Springburn Harriers. Yeah.
BW: So that, that was when you were — when we were talking before and you said you started running at an early age.
NN: Yeah.
BW: What sort of age would you be there? Pre-teens or something like that?
NN: Yeah. About fourteen, I think. Wasn’t it?
BW: And the club was called Springburn Harriers.
NN: Springburn Harriers. Yeah.
IN: That was one of the first running clubs in Britain wasn’t it?
NN: Yeah. And I won the championship there didn’t I?
IN: You won the cross country championship.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Right. And whereabouts did you go to school?
NN: [unclear] school.
IN: Only —
NN: Eh?
IN: Only until you were about ten or eleven or something.
NN: Yeah.
IN: That was in Springburn and all wasn’t it?
NN: Springburn. Yeah.
BW: And I believe from there you left school and you joined St Rollox Locomotive Works.
NN: That’s right. Yeah. Apprentice engineer. I was a, I was good as well.
BW: And what attracted you to that? Why did you want to go in the railway yards?
IN: Well —
BW: The locomotive works.
NN: Well —
IN: His brothers were —
NN: I wanted to go to university but we couldn’t afford that so it was the next best thing.
IN: Well, they said, the headmaster said that he was good enough to go to university but his parents couldn’t afford to get him there.
NN: Yeah. I was good enough.
IN: And his two brothers were in the railway yards weren’t they?
NN: Yeah. He was, even at that age I said, ‘You’re talking, talking daft. Me go to university. No chance.’ When your father was a labourer. Six kids in the family. How could he get me into university? And the teacher said, he was always saying. ‘We could get you in to university.’ I said to him [unclear] I knew better.
IN: Yeah. Was it because your brothers were in the railway that you went?
NN: Yeah.
IN: I think you said that your mother had found, had a friend who said there was a place for you.
NN: What?
IN: Your mother said there was a place for you in the railway.
NN: Oh yeah.
IN: Go along.
NN: Yeah.
IN: Yeah.
BW: And you arranged an interview there. You had the interview and you met another apprentice called Andy Stirling. Was that right?
NN: Andy Stirling. Yeah. My old mate. Andy Stirling. Yeah.
IN: He went to India, didn’t he?
NN: India was it?
IN: I think you said he went to India.
NN: Yeah.
IN: And went to work on the railways in India.
NN: Yeah.
IN: He was trying to help them to —
NN: Yeah. He did well.
IN: Do everything to keep the railways going in India.
NN: Aye. Aye.
IN: So he, so he didn’t join up with you.
NN: No. Oh no. He was a bit, he was cleverer than me. He was a smart lad he was.
IN: Yeah. Well you tried to get them all to join didn’t you?
NN: Yeah.
IN: But that was the Navy.
BW: And your brother Tommy.
NN: Yeah.
BW: At this time had joined the Navy once war had started.
NN: Yeah.
BW: I understand he volunteered for the Navy.
NN: Yeah.
BW: What, what happened to him?
NN: He was lost in a submarine. Talisman.
IN: Talisman. Yeah.
NN: It was called the Talisman. Yeah.
IN: Record —
BW: Do you know what happened to the submarine?
NN: Well, no, you know —
IN: Seen the records on the internet. It just said that they think it was blown up by a mine off the coast of Sicily.
NN: Yeah. Called the Talisman.
BW: What was he in the crew? Do you know what role he did in the, what his function was?
NN: Engineer.
IN: Engineer.
BW: Like yourself.
IN: He was on the railways as well.
IN: Yeah.
BW: And so at this time in the early, very early parts of the war what prompted you to join the RAF?
NN: Because since my brother they wouldn’t let me go. I was looking into, there was something about occupation. I said, ‘Why can he go?’ ‘Oh. He’s volunteering for aircrew.’ ‘So put me down as well. I’ll be aircrew.’ And that’s how I got in. I wanted to join the Navy but I finished up in a Lancaster.
BW: So originally you wanted to join the Navy.
NN: Oh yeah.
BW: And that I believe, was it because Tommy had been killed that you wanted to join up?
NN: Yeah. He was. Yeah. He was, he was lost in the Talisman submarine.
BW: But the [pause] is it correct that your manager wouldn’t let you join the Navy? You tried to get all your mates to join up.
NN: Yeah. Yeah.
BW: And he wouldn’t let you.
NN: No. ‘You’ve got to stay at home, lad. We need you here.’ But anyway, when I found out that this other lad had got, ‘Well why is he going then?’ Well, he’s volunteered for aircrew.’ ‘Well, put me down.’ I wanted the Navy but I finished up on aircrew. I did a good job there as well.
BW: But he, he made a model, didn’t he? Of the submarine.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Or of a submarine.
NN: That’s right. Yeah.
IN: I still have that model.
NN: Pardon?
IN: I still have the model don’t I?
NN: Yeah. You have. Yeah. Yeah. He was the good one. He was the favourite. I wasn’t the favourite but we, we were he was the best of the lot.
BW: He was the best of the lot.
NN: I was a bad boy I one. I was. I was a bad egg. I wouldn’t take any, I wouldn’t take anything for an answer.
BW: Did you ever, did you get in trouble at all?
NN: Oh I always was.
BW: During your early life.
NN: All the time. I was always in trouble. Shooting my head off.
IN: Outspoken.
NN: I was a terror. I were a terror I was. I wouldn’t take anything from nobody.
BW: So what year was it when you joined up? When abouts would it be?
NN: 19 — it was wasn’t it?
IN: 1944. I think.
NN: Twenty. ’43.
IN: 1943.
NN: ’43. Yeah.
BW: And you went into, presumably the Recruiting Office in Glasgow.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And, and signed up.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Did you tell anybody in your family you’d done it?
NN: No. No. I didn’t. I didn’t, I didn’t want to upset my mother because she already had lost one son. But anyway I kept that quiet.
BW: And what about —
IN: You said you were working south didn’t you?
NN: Eh?
IN: You were going south to work.
BW: What about your other brothers? Did they join up as well?
NN: No. They were, they came, they went after the war, wasn’t it? Stuart.
IN: Stuart had bad eyesight.
NN: Bad eyesight. Yeah.
IN: Same as your father. He tried to join the First World War and his eyesight.
NN: Yeah. Yeah.
IN: Was to no good.
NN: Yeah.
IN: And then Jackie was too young.
NN: Too young. Yeah.
BW: And when you went to the air force did you know what you wanted to do as a trade? Or, or were you just open to whatever they offered you?
NN: Oh yeah. Yeah. I wanted to fly. I wanted to, I wanted to end the fight. So when they said, ‘You can be a flight engineer.’ ‘Ok. I’ll do that.’
IN: You went to Cardiff didn’t you?
NN: Yeah. Cardiff. Yeah.
IN: For the training. I think that was towards the end of ’43 wasn’t it?
NN: Yeah. ’42. Yeah.
IN: No. ’43.
NN: I liked Cardiff. It was great down there.
BW: And what was your training like? Do you recall much of your training at Cardiff? Your engineering training. Was it —
NN: Yeah.
BW: Was it good?
NN: It was a good training. It was really good. It was. It was — how long was it?
IN: I think you were six months weren’t you?
NN: Six months. Yeah. Six months training. Yeah. Come out on top.
BW: You finished on, on top of the class.
NN: Yeah. I was, I was always there.
BW: And from there what happened? Did you go to a training unit or did you, did you meet up with your crew? What happened next after you’d finished at Cardiff?
NN: I’m trying to think.
IN: Went to St —
NN: I went —
IN: I can’t think of the name the place in Bedfordshire. You went to Bedfordshire didn’t you?
NN: Pardon?
IN: You went in to Bedfordshire.
NN: Bedfordshire. Yeah.
IN: And you met a crew there that you were going to join.
NN: Yeah. That’s right. Bedfordshire.
IN: Yeah. But they, didn’t they say they had a friend coming that was going to join them so you said you’d get the next crew. Do you remember that? They were —
NN: Who?
IN: So, the crew that you were going to join they said they had another friend that was going to join them.
NN: Oh yeah.
IN: So you said you’d join the next crew.
NN: Yeah. That’s right. Yeah.
IN: Yeah. And then you met Ron Wright.
NN: Yeah.
IN: Right Ron.
NN: If I’d have gone on that crew — they got lost didn’t they?
IN: Yeah.
BW: So the original crew that you met and you said because they’ve got a friend coming I’ll join the next one.
NN: Yeah.
BW: They went off on their first mission the day after and —
NN: Were lost.
BW: Were lost.
NN: Yeah.
BW: But the crew that you then teamed up with.
NN: Ron Wright.
BW: Yeah. How did, how did you meet them?
IN: It was in this place in Bedfordshire wasn’t it?
NN: Aye. I went. I meet them. They come in. And the crews came in and they said oh ‘You’re going with this crew. So this is Ron Wright.’ That’s the way. You went there. The crew you got they’d been flying in small aircraft. Now they’re getting an engineer like me so they are going on to Lancasters so they make the proper crew. So I was the end. I said, ‘Right. I’ll go with them.’ Yeah. You know.
BW: And it was —
NN: There was, they had a crew but they wanted an engineer to go on to Lancasters. So, so I said, ‘I’ll go with him. Yeah. Sure.’
BW: And this was Ron Wright.
NN: Ron Wright. He was a good lad, Ron. Lost him didn’t we?
BW: And do you recall the names of the other crew men?
NN: [unclear] the Welsh. There was a Welshman wasn’t there? He was the, he was a grandfather.
BW: Grandpa. The oldest one of the crew.
IN: He was thirty two wasn’t he? Or something.
NN: Yeah. Thirty two. He was a straight one.
IN: I think you said he went, he was English but he went to Australia and joined the Australian Air Force and then got sent back here.
NN: Yeah. A Scottie here. A little Scottie here. A little Scottie here. And he was, and he was from [pause] he was Scottish. From Dundee. He was from Newcastle was it? Framlin. He was a Canadian.
BW: Framlin was a Canadian. Yeah.
NN: Canadian. Yeah. And he was a youngster wasn’t he?
IN: The names —
NN: Edward. Edward. Eastwood.
BW: Eastwood. Jack Eastwood.
NN: Jack Eastwood. He was a good lad. I used to, used to pal up with him a lot. We were good together. Yeah. Eastwood.
BW: So there was, there was yourself. There was Sergeant Ron Adam who was the mid-upper.
NN: Who?
BW: Ron.
IN: Adam.
BW: Adam. Ron Adam.
NN: No Adam. No. Ron Wright.
IN: No. There was the gunner.
NN: Eh?
BW: The mid-upper.
IN: I think he was the upper gunner.
NN: Who?
IN: Adam.
NN: Oh, John Adam.
IN: John.
NN: Oh yeah. He was a real Scottie.
IN: Right.
BW: And there was Norman Kelso.
NN: Kelso. That’s right.
BW: And he was the navigator. He was the Australian navigator.
NN: Norman Kelso. Yeah. He was from, he was in the Australian Air Force wasn’t he?
IN: You said he was being paid more than you.
NN: Pardon?
IN: Because the Australian Air Force were paying people more.
NN: Yeah. That’s right.
BW: And Ron Wright the pilot.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Jack Eastwood the wireless operator.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And then Framlin. Do you know what, what was Framlin’s first name? Was it George?
NN: Fram. Oh Framlin. Where was he supposed to be? Used to call him Fram. Gerald. Gerald Framlin.
BW: Gerald.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And he was the bomb aimer.
NN: Yeah. He was a good lad.
BW: And then Garrick.
NN: Gary.
IN: Garrick.
BW: Garrick, the rear gunner.
NN: Garrick. Yeah.
BW: What was his first name? Was it John?
NN: No.
IN: Was it James?
NN: Eh?
IN: Was it James?
NN: We just called him Gary.
BW: Gary.
NN: Gary.
BW: And you were given — when you arrived at Elsham Wolds.
NN: Yeah. Elsham.
BW: You were known as Ron’s crew. Is that right?
NN: Yeah. Yeah.
BW: Or Wright.
IN: Wright’s crew.
BW: Wright’s crew. Yeah.
NN: Ron Wright’s crew.
IN: Wright’s crew. Yeah.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Did you have another nickname for the crew?
IN: Some of them was never there. What did they used to call it because one person never turned up?
NN: Yeah.
IN: The phantom crew was it?
NN: Eh?
IN: They called them the phantom crew.
NN: Aye. The phantom crew. That’s right. There was always, there was always somebody missing.
BW: And what, what were the guys like? What were the crew, what were the other crew members like?
NN: Oh alright. We got on alright together. All went out drinking together.
BW: All went out drinking together.
NN: I didn’t drink much. I was sober. I was sober. I always made sure they got home.
BW: So you were always the sensible one.
NN: Yeah. I was the sensible one. Yeah.
IN: Always refusing cigarettes weren’t you?
NN: Pardon?
IN: You were always refusing cigarettes.
NN: Oh I wouldn’t have cigarettes. I wouldn’t have it.
IN: Just exchange.
NN: They were always saying, ‘Have a smoke.’ No. Because we got, we got a special —
IN: Ration.
NN: Ration. So I used to give them my ration.
IN: Swap them for sweets.
NN: Eh?
IN: You would swap them for sweets.
NN: Sweets. Yeah.
IN: Send them home to the kids.
NN: They would always say, ‘Have a smoke.’ I’d say, ‘I don’t want your smoke. I don’t want your smoke.’ Never did.
BW: And you, was that because you were keen on your running?
NN: Running. Yeah. That’s the job. ‘I’m a runner. I don’t want your smoke.’ It’s not good for you anyway.
IN: Yeah. They didn’t know the problems in those days as much did they?
NN: No. They didn’t.
IN: And did, you always stayed sober as well. Even when you went out socialising you never drank.
NN: Oh yeah. No. I never overdid it. Never overdid it. Maybe just once I think. Just —
IN: Remember that time? That time in —
NN: I would always stop.
IN: That time in Huntingdon when you went to the dance.
NN: Oh yeah. They were going to throw us out.
IN: What happened when the MPs came for you?
NN: The MPs come.
IN: And what were you doing in the street?
NN: Pardon?
IN: What were you doing in the street? You’re going to have to talk and tell.
BW: You were doing a doing a — you were doing a Hitler salute.
NN: We were doing the Nazi salute, ‘We’re going to join the German Air Force. They’re doing better than you. Better than you’ve done for us.’
IN: You were marching up the street shouting.
NN: Beg your pardon?
IN: You were marching up the street shouting. You were joining Hitler’s Air Force. Yeah. No one —.
NN: The Luftwaffe. Yeah.
IN: And then what happened? You got arrested didn’t you? And then they tried to court martial you.
NN: Yeah. And this, this guy got us off.
IN: Yeah.
NN: He was a good, a good solicitor.
BW: What was —
NN: He said, he said, ‘Just tell me exactly what you said.’ I said, ‘But you don’t want that.’ ‘Tell me exactly everything. Don’t leave anything out.’
IN: They were in the courtroom and they had to show them what, they had to show them what happened.
NN: So he got, they started getting all this stuff out and I thought, Oh God. And then this solicitor said, ‘Right. All that stuff is nul and void. You can’t use that.’ And he got me off. And I’d been in the —
IN: Yeah.
NN: [unclear]
IN: But you were the only that wasn’t drunk.
NN: Pardon?
IN: You were the only one that wasn’t drunk.
NN: Yeah. I was in [unclear]
BW: And did you, did you fly the same aircraft each time? Were you regularly on the same Lancaster?
NN: No. Not really. No. Sometimes we swapped them. Mainly that one was we always landed up with. Whichever one was available they put you on it but we stuck. Seemed to finish up with this one.
BW: And did you have a nickname for your plane? What did you know it as?
NN: [unclear]
IN: I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned that.
BW: That’s alright. Did you, did you have any preparations or rituals before you got on the aircraft? Once you’d been briefed what would you do as a crew then?
IN: How would you check, check the plane out?
NN: Yeah.
IN: Just make sure it worked alright.
NN: Yeah. Check it twice. Check everything twice and then we’ll go.
BW: And I believe your first operation was to Stettin.
NN: Oh Stettin. Oh.
BW: What do you recall of that?
NN: Oh it was terrible was that. We went there.
IN: How many hours were you in the plane?
NN: Eleven hours wasn’t it?
BW: Eleven hours.
NN: Yeah. Oh it was a terrible flight that was. The first one we got. We got back. I don’t know how we got back at all but we got back. We finished.
BW: What, what happened? What was significant about the flight?
NN: I think the wheels had stuck up. Was it? The wheel. One of the wheels had jammed up and we had to go around and around and try and shake them off. And he finished up with saying, ‘Right. We’ve got to go in and land. So we landed then. We landed on the wheel and we were down, bang. Luckily the wheel went down and we crash landed. We got away with it.
BW: Nobody was injured.
NN: Pardon?
BW: Nobody was injured.
NN: Nobody was injured. No.
IN: What happened on the way back though? I mean you were talking about jumping out and going to Sweden.
NN: Sweden, aye. Yeah. Sweden. Yeah. Neutral country. ‘We’ve had enough of this. Let’s, let’s go to Sweden Joe.’ [laughs] Anyway, the navigator, ‘If you tell that I’ll tell on you. I’ll tell what you’ve done.’ So we had to just get out of that and get back.
BW: The navigator was the oldest guy in the crew.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Wasn’t he?
NN: Oh yeah.
IN: And he didn’t want to jump because he couldn’t swim.
NN: Yeah. He wanted to get back. You’d think he would have made it. Oh we were a rum crew we were.
BW: And then the next time or one of the early missions was to Stuttgart.
NN: Stuttgart. Yeah.
BW: Stuttgart. What do you recall of that?
NN: It wasn’t very good. I don’t think it was. We got caught in the searchlights. One of the wings got shot up and we had to stagger back. Anyway, we got back. Eventually we got back. I think one of the wings was damaged. We had to do a crash landing. We got away with that as well.
BW: Were you diverted from your normal airfield?
NN: Yeah. We went to —
BW: Somewhere in Oxfordshire was it?
NN: Oxfordshire. Yeah. It was. What was the name of the place? What was it?
IN: Lincolnshire was foggy wasn’t it?
NN: Pardon?
IN: Lincolnshire was very foggy.
NN: That’s right. Yeah.
IN: You couldn’t land there.
NN: We had to get diverted.
IN: Yeah. As you were coming in to land there was two fighter planes coming at you.
NN: Oh yeah.
IN: Shooting at you.
NN: Yeah.
IN: You jumped in to fire at, back at them.
NN: Yeah.
IN: And then you fell into the nose cone didn’t you?
NN: Yeah.
BW: So on the way, on the way in to this diversionary airfield your aircraft was attacked.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And what, what do you recall of that?
NN: We had to do, do evasive action. And he would [pause] I told the pilot, ‘Dive. Dive down. Go as long as you can then pull out and swing around. And we just managed, makes me sick now, managed to pull out in time before we hit the ground. We got around again and then we landed.
BW: And I believe that one of the fighters was coming head on.
NN: Yeah. Yeah.
BW: And —
NN: Anyway, then we shot, we went down he went over the top of us.
IN: You were down in the nose cone shooting at them.
NN: Yeah.
BW: So you dived. You told the pilot to dive.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And to take evasive action.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And the fighter went over. Overhead.
NN: And I was firing at it all the time.
BW: From the front turret.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Did you see any strikes on the aircraft?
NN: Well I think —
BW: Or did you just scare him off.
NN: We thought we’d hit it but we said we didn’t find out any more about it. I thought I’d damaged it anyway. Because I was in the nose going like hell.
IN: Yeah. And then your foot slipped and you dropped down the stairs.
NN: That’s right [laughs] finished down in the nose.
IN: When the plane landed the tyre burst didn’t it?
NN: Yeah. It burst. Yeah.
BW: So you were lucky to get away with that one.
NN: We were. Yeah. Lucky. That was a rum one that was.
IN: Yeah. And in the morning you had a look at what, where you were didn’t you?
NN: Couldn’t believe it.
IN: How far away were you from the conning tower?
NN: About ten yards or something.
BW: Really?
NN: We were heading for the conning tower.
BW: So you were that close to the air traffic control.
NN: And then he put the brake on.
BW: And were you, did you say you were trying to brake the, to apply the brakes?
NN: Yeah.
BW: On the aircraft.
NN: Yeah. And it stopped. I don’t know where we were when we got out, when we went out there and saw the ground. Oh God. We were going straight ahead to the control tower. Only about twenty yards away or something like that.
BW: Wow. And then going into October you were tasked with a raid on Cologne.
NN: Oh yeah.
BW: But it says in your log that you returned early. Do you recall what happened?
NN: I’m trying to think what it was. Something was. We had to turn back hadn’t we?
IN: Was there a problem with the engines?
NN: Might have been. A problem with something. Something. Probably the engines. One of the engines was acting up. I think it was. And so we couldn’t manage so we decided to turn back. And we got away with that.
BW: And what, what happened in those sorts of situations? When you had to turn back were you interrogated by the senior officer or anything?
NN: Oh yeah. Yeah. When you got back. Why did you do it? And all that. Well, you told them why. And they said oh you were right enough to do that. That was the right thing to do. Right again.
BW: Well, you’ve got to make the decision as the engineer.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Whether you’re going to push on or you’re going to save people’s lives and come back.
NN: Yeah. That’s right.
BW: And then following on from from that there was an attack on a ball bearing factory in Holland.
NN: Holland. Holland. Yeah. Where was that now?
IN: That was the guy that wanted to go across there with you and stayed at so many feet above. He was higher up above giving you the orders to go down.
NN: He wanted to have a look. A better look.
IN: He was cut out by the Germans wasn’t he?
NN: Yeah. I said, ‘If you want a better look you go yourself. We’re going on. We’re carrying on.’
IN: And wasn’t that —
NN: Eh?
IN: Wasn’t that the one where two planes were shot down in front of you?
NN: Yeah.
IN: Yeah. Because the Germans had cut down him out on the —
NN: Yeah.
IN: And said it was alright to go down.
NN: Yeah. It was a ropey do that was.
IN: You didn’t like it did you? When you got back?
NN: No.
IN: Because they said it was a successful mission.
NN: Some successful mission that was.
BW: So, during these, these sorts of operations, during these flights what are you generally doing as a flight engineer? What kind of things are you doing?
NN: Looking at everything. Checking everything. Seeing everything was alright.
IN: What happened if an engine got hot?
NN: Oh, used to turn it down. Cut the engine off. Let it cool down a bit and leave it for about ten, twenty minutes and open up again. They was alright. Ok again. It cooled down because it was, it was overheating. If you leave it and it overheats you’d lost the engine. So I used to say, ‘Right. Shut it down and fly. Fly for about twenty minutes. Then try it again.’ And it was alright. Oh, I always checked. Check everything. Make sure it was right.
BW: And so, on a, this would be done regularly on a trip. That you would in effect I suppose rotate your engines.
NN: Yeah.
BW: If they were getting hot.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Shut one down. Feather the prop.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And then run it back up again.
NN: Yeah. That’s it. Yeah. Give it up to twenty minutes then start it up again. See if it goes and was ok. Off we went.
BW: And were you able always to keep with the other bomber force doing that?
NN: Oh yeah. Yeah. We managed.
BW: Did you, did you or the pilot have to run the other engines at a higher speed to make up for the loss of the fourth engine or not?
NN: Yeah. Some of the time. Yeah. If you were on three engines and had one idling. And when it had a rest you start it up again and it was ok like. Four engines again. Oh yeah, you had to look after them. A lot of lads used to let it go and you lost that engine. That was it. You never said it. I always say give it a rest. Give it twenty minutes. Try it again. And then it was alright so you had four engines on again. A lot of them they didn’t do things like that. They’d say that engine was cut. Gone. Flying on three engines. Then when you’re on three engines then your down to two engines. You were worse then.
BW: So in a way they were riding their luck weren’t they?
NN: Oh they were. Yeah. I always checked. I always, I always looked after the engines. Give them a rest. We always finished up on four engines. Every time. That’s what I wanted.
BW: And you were given at one point the Phantom of the Ruhr.
NN: Oh aye.
IN: And it had already done a hundred and twenty one missions.
NN: Yeah. That’s right.
IN: And you were given this aircraft to fly.
NN: Yeah.
IN: What did you think about that?
NN: Made a fuss about it. It was a hundred and twenty. A hundred and twenty missions it had done, I think, hadn’t it? I think it wanted a rest. Anyway, we took it and managed to get it back.
IN: What happened though? You took it up and you brought it back again didn’t you?
NN: Pardon?
IN: You took it up and you brought it back again because it was, wasn’t working properly.
NN: Oh no.
IN: And they tried to court martial you for it.
NN: Oh yeah.
IN: Do you remember?
NN: And the sergeant got me off.
BW: And that was the, you’re getting two things mixed up I think. Remember you said that you were on your way on the mission.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And the engines were so bad.
NN: Yeah.
BW: You rang up to say we’ll have to take the second plane.
NN: Yeah.
IN: But they said that had gone. You know, the spare plane.
NN: Yeah.
IN: And that had gone hadn’t it?
NN: That had gone.
BW: But you said you had to make a decision whether to carry on or go back.
NN: Yeah.
BW: You went back.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And they put, told you to stay in the barracks until —
NN: Yeah. They were going to court martial.
BW: But they found that it was wrong didn’t they?
NN: Yeah. Oh it was. Yeah.
IN: And what was wrong with it?
NN: It was something to do with the engines. It was faulty.
IN: The engines were no good but the fuselage was —
NN: Yeah.
IN: What? Like a corkscrew.
NN: Yeah. Was like a corkscrew.
IN: And one of the wings was hanging down low.
NN: Yeah.
IN: Yeah.
NN: Oh aye. You didn’t get away with much with them lot but they had you out there. When this, this, the guy we had he looked. He said, ‘You were right. You did the right thing.’ So we got away with that.
BW: But your pilot stood by you didn’t he?
NN: Oh he did. Yeah.
BW: He asked your opinion of what the faults meant.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And it seemed that you could make the target.
NN: Yeah. My pilot said, ‘My engineer said.’ That’s what he, the pilot said, ‘My engineer said —'
IN: Yeah.
NN: [laughs] Oh God.
BW: So you could —
NN: He knew I was right.
BW: You could make the target.
NN: Yeah.
BW: But you couldn’t get back.
NN: Couldn’t get back. Yeah.
BW: And so were you hauled up before the CO?
NN: Yeah. And, and in front of him this flying officer come on and he turned it all around and he got me off with it. They were going to court martial me for good then.
BW: Well, if they had found that the aircraft was actually serviceable.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And you had called them back.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Then yeah you’d have been court martialled.
NN: Yeah. But it was this lad got me [laughs] he made it right. Said, ‘You were right to do that.’ Yeah. Because you’d have, you’d have lost the crew. That’s what I was thinking about. I was thinking about them. Not only myself. Six other boys relying on me. I had to make a decision so I decided on that. Six lads. Look after them. Anyway, he got me off. He was a, he was good, that guy. He knew his job all right. He got me off with it.
BW: And so you what, what sort of indications were you getting then because this, this was happening in mid-air wasn’t it?
NN: Oh yeah. I didn’t think we were going to get anywhere with it.
IN: Didn’t you say the engine sounded really bad.
NN: Yeah.
IN: You said it sounded so rough. And the —
NN: Yeah.
IN: Meter readings on it were all over the place.
NN: Yeah.
IN: Because they had to be at a certain level on the instruments.
NN: Instruments. Yeah. Yeah they wanted. So I told them what I thought and they decided ok, you’re going on a court martial. I said ok. Anyway, he got me off. I did the right thing.
BW: And so what happened to the bombs? Because you hadn’t gone over the target.
NN: We had to —
BW: Presumably you couldn’t land with a full bomb load.
NN: No I didn’t. Just ditched them. Made sure it was over Germany. We were dropping them on Germany. Make a good job of it. I think it was Bremen it was.
BW: Near Bremen.
NN: Near Bremen it was. They’d be sorry about me.
BW: But you managed to get the aircraft back.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Safely.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And then when you landed you’d gone before the CO and explained to him.
NN: Yeah.
BW: But you were then detained for three days in barracks weren’t you?
NN: Yeah. Till it was all sorted out. ‘Don’t speak to anybody. Don’t say anything. Stay there.’
IN: You went to find out about it didn’t you? Find out what had happened. You went to the, to where the plane was to see what had happened with it. What did the engineer there say?
NN: Eh?
IN: What did the engineer say to you?
NN: It was rubbish it was. It’s a shambles.
IN: It had already been taken away hadn’t it?
NN: Yeah. Taken away to scrap. They’d have scrapped it. I got away with that as well. Anyway, the thing is when you’re the engineer six other lads are relying on you making the decision. So I had to do it. That’s what I did. It’s not just for yourself. There’s another six crew members.
BW: And did they, did they appreciate what you’d done afterwards?
NN: I think so. Yeah. Yeah.
BW: So, as a, as a crew during these sorts of missions what was the atmosphere like on the, on the squadron? Were you, were you sort of living for today as it were?
NN: Oh yeah.
BW: Was there that sort of atmosphere? Let’s —
NN: Yeah. Just take each day as it comes. Take each day as it comes. Yeah. We carried on. Carried on regardless.
BW: And where were you? Where were you billeted on the base? Were you in quarters or were you in a Nissen hut or something?
NN: We were in quarters weren’t we?
IN: I don’t know. I wasn’t there [laughs]
NN: It was. Yeah. We were all together we were. All the crew. Always stuck together. Even the pilot. He went, he came with us as well. He was an officer like but he went with us. All stuck together. He was a good lad he was.
BW: And you, during 1944 you were flying missions over France as well as Germany.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Did you notice any particular difference in terms of targets? Difficulty. Were they, were they easier when you went to France or more difficult in Germany? Or —
NN: No. I don’t think they were really. Some of them, some of them were awkward. The awkward ones you had to be very careful about what you did. Took it easy then.
BW: And with the long trips did you have plenty to keep you occupied?
NN: Had to keep awake.
BW: Was that the hardest thing?
NN: Oh yeah. Keeping awake. Keep drinking.
IN: Night missions weren’t they?
NN: Pardon?
IN: They were all night missions.
NN: Yeah. They were.
IN: The Americans had the day.
NN: Aye. They did.
IN: Because they got lost otherwise.
BW: So how did you, how did you manage to keep awake? What did you —
NN: I don’t know how I managed to keep. I had to keep awake. Keep kicking myself.
BW: Yeah.
NN: And another cup of tea. Aye. It was hard work really because when you’re eleven, eleven hours in the air it’s hard work. Aye. It wasn’t easy.
IN: Did you talk a lot to Ron?
NN: Pardon?
IN: Did you talk a lot with Ron?
NN: Yeah.
IN: A lot of talk.
NN: Yeah. Aye. I miss him alright. I couldn’t believe they sent him off because I had to, I had to stay behind. They sent him with another crew. They couldn’t wait for five days though. I was away only for five days. They couldn’t wait. Put him, put him with another crew.
IN: And was this towards the end of your tour?
NN: Yeah. Yeah. It was running. When I went to —
IN: White City.
NN: Eh?
IN: White City.
NN: White City. Yeah. For running. Yeah. When I got back they said, ‘Oh, you’re going with another crew.’ They didn’t tell me what had happened. Ron went with another, another flight engineer.
BW: And was this the time when Ron and Jack, was it when Ron and Jack Eastwood were away flying together or was this —
NN: Yeah.
BW: Was this a different time?
IN: That was when they went away wasn’t it?
NN: Pardon?
IN: When you went to White City they went.
NN: Yeah.
IN: That’s when they had their accident.
NN: Yeah.
IN: Yeah.
NN: Ron. Jack.
IN: There was only a skeleton crew because they were only doing circuits.
NN: Circuits and bumps. Yeah.
BW: And so you’d been selected to run.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And you attended the races at White City.
NN: White City. Yeah.
IN: The RAF wasn’t it?
BW: Yeah. And your crew was sent on another mission and they were killed.
NN: Yeah. I said, ‘Why couldn’t they wait for five, five days?’ Go, go, go. Pushing and pushing. But I mean when you were in a crew you knew what each other were going to do. I relied on the captain. He relied on me making the decision. When you get somebody else in well that goes to pot.
BW: And you said before you had a good working relationship.
NN: Oh yeah.
BW: A very good relationship with Ron Wright.
NN: Oh yeah. He knew what he was going to do and he knew what I was going to do. And we knew. And that’s the way it had to be. You had to realise what he would think and what you would think. That’s the way it went. But I couldn’t understand them going. Sending him with another crew just for that. Only for five days. What was the rush? They never told me though until later. I found out later.
BW: Between, between 103 Squadron and the end of your tour you did a short time on 582 Squadron. Is that right?
NN: 582. Yeah.
BW: Which was Pathfinder force.
NN: Pathfinding. Yeah.
IN: That was after the Phantom of the Ruhr wasn’t it?
NN: Phantom of the Ruhr. Yeah.
IN: Yeah.
BW: And what kind of — was there a different approach to a mission as a Pathfinder than with a regular squadron?
NN: Yeah. Well yeah. They had a big talk before, you know. Before you went. What things are and what you were going to do and all that. But it was just, you just got to think what, got to think together what — the pilot and the flight engineer get together and decide what, how we’d manage it all and carry on.
BW: And how far ahead of the main force would you be?
NN: Well, with Pathfinders you’d be about be about [pause] you’d be about, you’d be quite a long a long way ahead of them because you had, you had to mark the target and then get out. And they would come up and follow. Follow the route.
BW: And did you have to linger around the target while the main force hit?
NN: No. Well, you had, you went around and round, and then you took off. Then they followed up.
IN: Did you have bombs as well?
NN: Pardon?
IN: Did you have bombs as well? Or just, just flares?
NN: Just flares. Yeah.
BW: Did not carry incendiaries?
NN: You had some incendiaries. Yeah.
BW: And that was at Little Staughton.
NN: Little Staughton. Little Staughton. Yeah.
BW: And you managed to stay together as a crew.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Moving from one squadron to 582 and then when you went on to 550 Squadron.
NN: 550. Yeah.
BW: How did you manage to achieve that? How did you manage to stay together as a crew and continue through three squadrons? Did you request it?
IN: I’m not sure. Did you go to 550 or was that just Ron?
NN: Pardon?
IN: Was it Ron? I’m not sure whether Ron and, I think 550 was when you went to White City wasn’t it? And they were moved on.
NN: 550. Yeah.
IN: I’m not sure that dad was in 550.
BW: Oh, I see.
IN: I think he went to White City and they were moved to —
NN: Yeah.
IN: To that one. To 550 afterward.
NN: Yeah. They were saying that when I come back they were going with another crew.
IN: That would be [unclear] day.
BW: So that, right. So that accident when they were killed happened when they were on 550 Squadron.
IN: Yeah.
BW: But you didn’t transfer with them.
IN: He stayed there.
BW: At that point.
NN: No.
BW: So your last unit was 582.
NN: Yeah. 582. Yeah.
BW: So, how many, how many operations did you fly with 103? Did you, did you do thirty missions with your first squadron and then continue with 582?
NN: 583.
IN: 103 was your first.
NN: Pardon?
IN: 103 was your first.
NN: 103. Yeah.
IN: That’s where you first met and you were transferred to the Pathfinders as a crew weren’t you?
NN: Yeah. Yeah.
IN: After the situation with the Phantom of the Ruhr.
NN: The pilot.
IN: The whole crew was moved.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Because you hadn’t, you hadn’t got your full number of operations by that stage had you?
NN: No.
BW: So you were only part way through your first tour when you were moved.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And you mentioned this being in relation to the situation with the Phantom of the Ruhr. Do you think that that might have been some sort of — well punishment might be the wrong word but —
NN: Yeah.
BW: Do you think there was a repercussion of bringing that plane back?
NN: Yeah.
BW: That resulted in you moving to 582 Squadron.
NN: Yeah.
IN: That’s what he thinks yeah.
BW: Yeah.
IN: He thought they were trying to get him out of the way.
NN: Yeah. They didn’t, they didn’t like me. People at the top didn’t like me.
BW: Did you have run-ins with your CO before or something?
NN: Pardon?
BW: Did you have run-ins with your CO before?
IN: Well, he tried to punch him, didn’t you? When —
NN: Pardon?
IN: That one when they, you went to Holland and dropped the bombs on the ball bearing company.
NN: Oh yeah.
IN: Factory. When he came back you wanted to punch the CO didn’t you?
NN: You what?
IN: You wanted to punch him because you’d lost two planes in front of you.
NN: Yeah. Aye. They had to hold me back.
BW: So you, he called it a successful mission.
NN: Yeah.
BW: This raid on the, on the ball bearing factory.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And you said it’s not a success because I’ve lost two.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Crews. Good mates.
IN: Yeah.
NN: They were holding me back, ‘Don’t. They’ll do you for that. You can’t go and punch one of them.’ Oh I was well mad.
BW: Did, did you know the guys on the other planes well?
NN: Pardon?
BW: Did you know the guys on the other planes well that had been lost?
NN: Yeah. I was [pause] What was the name? I can’t remember the name.
IN: You’d be out drinking together anyway wouldn’t you?
NN: Pardon?
IN: You would have all been out drinking together and —
NN: Oh yeah.
IN: You know, in the mess together.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And one of your last operations was in February 1945 and you were in the third wave over Dresden I believe.
NN: [unclear]
IN: Dresden.
BW: Dresden.
NN: Dresden. Yeah.
BW: What do you recall of that?
NN: A bit shaky it was.
IN: Can you remember it was seeing all the fire?
NN: Pardon?
IN: Seeing it all lit up.
NN: Yeah.
IN: And one of the crew wanted to take a photograph.
NN: Aye, well yeah, ‘You can forget about that. We’re going back.’ He wanted to go around again. I said, ‘I’m not going around. If you want to go on you go by yourself.’
BW: You had to go around twice didn’t you?
NN: Yeah.
BW: Because smoke obscured the targets?
NN: That’s right. Yeah.
BW: And you had to go around a second time.
NN: And then he wanted to go around again to get a photograph. I said, ‘You can get a photograph yourself. I’m not going.’
IN: That was a bad night for the RAF though wasn’t it?
NN: Oh yeah.
IN: They got condemned for it.
NN: You what?
IN: They got condemned.
NN: Aye.
IN: For Dresden. Even though it wasn’t their fault.
NN: What?
IN: Even though it wasn’t their fault.
NN: No.
IN: It was the wind that whipped up the flames.
NN: Oh yeah.
IN: And set all the wooden houses aflame.
NN: Yeah. Yeah. Burned them down. Yeah.
IN: Ended up with a fire storm.
NN: Yeah. Fire storm. Right. All these places. Aye.
BW: Was that the only time you’d seen a city destroyed like that?
NN: Yeah. Fire. Terrible fire it was. Everything was [unclear] everything up. There was this firestorm wasn’t it?
IN: Yeah.
NN: All the wooden buildings as well. Everything on fire.
BW: And even, even at that stage was it — did you feel it was still heavily defended?
NN: Yeah.
IN: They were still firing at you.
NN: Pardon?
IN: Were they still firing at you?
NN: Oh yeah. It never stopped. Kept going. And we got out. Oh aye it was terrible. The fire was terrible. Couldn’t believe it. As you said all wooden houses wasn’t it? Every one of them up on flame.
BW: And afterwards were you told what had happened to the city afterwards? How did you find out later on what had happened?
NN: Who was it told us? [pause] Well, we couldn’t believe it, what had happened. Really. We knew it had been a fire storm like but we didn’t realise how bad it was really.
BW: Was much said about it afterwards?
NN: Pardon?
BW: Was much said about it afterwards?
NN: People. I think a lot of people didn’t like it.
IN: Yeah. It wasn’t. Do you think Harris should have been blamed for it?
NN: Eh?
IN: Do you think Harris should have been blamed for it?
NN: Not really. No. He got blamed for it didn’t he? Yeah. It was too much. But it was, it was a war wasn’t it? It was war. You had to keep on going. You had to do what you had to do.
IN: Wasn’t it the Russians that wanted you to bomb the communications there?
NN: Oh yeah.
IN: The Russians there said they wanted to get the communications bombed so that they could come into eastern Germany.
NN: Eastern. Eastern Germany. Yeah.
BW: And so at this point in February ’45 what was your sense of the war and its progression at that point? Was it, were you conscious of it coming to an imminent end or not?
NN: Oh. I thought it was. I thought it was coming to an end. Yeah. Felt things were. We’d got on top of things by then. I think it was, it was all going to be over.
BW: You were still having to fly missions though weren’t you?
NN: Oh yeah.
BW: And did they feel as tough in early ’45 as they did in ’44?
NN: Yeah. Not really. No. We thought we should have just left it, you know. We didn’t need to bomb any more. I mean the Germans were finished really weren’t they?
BW: And what happened when it was announced that the war was over? Do you recall where you were when you heard the announcement and what happened?
NN: I don’t remember really. It’s like that. It’s all over now, isn’t it?
IN: Where were you at the time?
NN: Where was I?
IN: You were in the army camp. No. The air force.
NN: Pardon?
IN: You were still in the air force weren’t you?
NN: Oh yeah.
IN: You were in the camp.
NN: Camp. Yeah.
IN: You didn’t celebrate.
NN: What?
IN: You didn’t celebrate.
NN: No. We didn’t celebrate. No.
BW: How long did you continue in the RAF for after that?
NN: Pardon?
BW: How long did you continue in the air force?
NN: Oh. Not long.
BW: Not long.
NN: No. As soon as I got out I was ready to get out. I’d had enough.
IN: You went to do some rescue missions though didn’t you?
NN: Oh I did do. Yeah. On the — over in Holland.
IN: Holland. Yeah. You went over that bridge that —
NN: Holland.
IN: Yeah. The Remagan Bridge.
NN: Remagen Bridge. Yeah.
IN: You saw it still standing when you went over it.
NN: Yeah.
IN: And then on the way back it had collapsed.
BW: Did your squadron help repatriate prisoners of war?
NN: Yeah.
BW: You did.
NN: Oh, we did. Yeah. We flew a lot of them back didn’t we?
IN: Dropping food parcels as well weren’t you?
NN: Pardon?
IN: Dropping food parcels.
NN: Food parcels. Yeah. Brought. Went to Germany. A lot of the camps, brought them, brought them straight back instead of them having to go all, all the way in trains and stuff. We flew in to, in there and brought the people from the camps. Put them on the plane. Flew them straight back. They were kissing the ground.
BW: They were so happy to be home.
NN: Oh aye.
BW: Kissing the ground.
NN: Oh aye. They got out the plane and they were [unclear] they were so relieved. We were glad to see them. It was a good effort really. Go there. Get them straight back. Not go on trains and boats. Straight in there, on the planes, straight home. And they kissed the ground.
BW: So you’d pick them up so they wouldn’t go on trains and boats.
NN: Yeah.
BW: You’d pick them up. Fly them straight back.
NN: Yeah.
BW: How many could you get in a plane? If you were flying Lancasters how many would you squash in?
NN: I think about twenty of us.
BW: Really?
NN: Yeah. All pushed in together. Oh, they were just put. They didn’t care. Get in there. They didn’t care where they were. And they’d never flown in an aircraft before. They were in, in the middle of it.
BW: So were they, they weren’t necessarily RAF guys you were picking up.
NN: No. No.
BW: They were army POWs as well.
NN: Army. Yeah. Everybody. Oh aye. But I mean they were glad to get back they were. Oh aye. Kissing the ground when they got back. Hallelujah. Aye. It was a great effort that. It was great doing that. Getting the people. Getting them straight back as soon as you can instead of going on boats and trains and everything.
BW: And you also flew sorties to drop food for the Dutch.
NN: The Dutch. Yeah. The Dutch yeah. They were starving they were. Plenty of rough stuff over there.
BW: Could you see much from the height at which you were flying?
NN: Yeah. You could see them there. They were all, all waiting there for the stuff coming down in parachutes. Bale them out.
BW: So the food parcels were in, were on parachutes.
NN: Yeah. Oh yeah. Aye. They were actually, they were starving. Really were. They were glad to get it. That was a really good effort they did. Glad to do that. Aye. Because they had a hard time during the war they did. Oh aye.
BW: And do you recall were you flying quite low over the cities to —
NN: Eh?
BW: Were you dropping the parcels over the streets and buildings?
NN: Yeah.
BW: Or were you aiming for fields on the outside? Where did you do it?
NN: In fields on the outside. Yeah.
BW: Ok.
NN: Getting inland. Get them on the land. Don’t, don’t go in the sea. Get them on the land and they can pick them up. Oh yeah. They must have been welcoming those parcels from the air.
BW: And were there people in the fields that you dropped the food parcels over?
NN: Yeah. Yeah. They were there gathering them up. Yeah. Aye. It must have been great for them. We enjoyed it anyway. Aye.
BW: Make a change from dropping bombs wouldn’t it?
NN: Oh it was. Yeah. Helping people. Aye. They must have been starving there.
BW: Do you know how many trips roughly you had to make?
NN: Pardon?
BW: Do you know how many trips you had to make to do that?
NN: I think it was about seven, I think.
BW: About seven.
NN: Yeah. Yeah. They were. They welcomed us anyway. Some of them were out of sight. You had to chase after them and get them. They got them back. Aye. They were good days they were. Helping. Helping somebody. Instead of dropping bombs drop food.
BW: And so as the war ended what happened then? You said you were demobbed. You wanted to be out straight away.
NN: Yeah.
BW: What happened for that process? For you to be demobbed. What took place? Do you recall?
NN: We had to wait hadn’t we? We couldn’t get demobbed right away.
IN: You had to go to Blackpool didn’t you?
NN: Went to Blackpool. Yeah.
IN: You decided you wanted to keep the greatcoat.
NN: Pardon?
IN: You decided you wanted to keep the greatcoat.
NN: Oh yeah.
IN: Because it was cold.
NN: Frozen.
IN: I’m doing that.
NN: And it was in Blackpool of all places.
IN: And you had, you went back to your apprenticeship didn’t you?
NN: Yeah. Apprenticeship. Yeah. Engineer.
BW: In the railyards.
NN: In the railyards. Yeah.
BW: And so they’d held your job open had they?
NN: Yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah.
BW: And so from Blackpool. You were there presumably a few weeks and then you —
NN: Yeah.
BW: Moved back home to Glasgow.
NN: Yeah.
BW: To be with your family.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And what, what happened after that? You resumed your apprenticeship and —
NN: Yeah.
BW: Did you re-join Sunburn Harriers?
NN: Springburn Harriers. Yeah.
BW: Springburn Harriers.
NN: Yeah. Yeah. Went with them again.
IN: You met, you’d met my mother in the air force hadn’t you?
NN: That’s right. Yeah.
IN: And you decided to get married.
BW: When did you meet her?
IN: Was it 103 Squadron?
NN: Pardon?
IN: Was it the 103 Squadron?
NN: 103 Squadron. Yeah.
IN: She was on the telephones wasn’t she?
NN: Yeah. She saw me and I saw her and that was it.
BW: And it, where was it? Was it, was it at a party or a dance or was it just on the base?
NN: Just on the base. Yeah. Yeah. Her father didn’t like me though.
BW: Her father didn’t like you.
NN: Did he? Her father. Her father didn’t like me.
IN: There wasn’t many people she liked.
NN: She did. She did. Her mother did. The grandmother did.
IN: Yeah.
NN: Oh.
IN: Yeah.
NN: The grandmother. The wee Swedish grandmother.
IN: Oh the Swedish one. Yeah.
NN: Oh she was wonderful. She was a wonderful person. She loved me. She, ‘You’re the greatest thing that’s happened here. I’m glad you’ve got here.’
IN: That was the Lonsdale side of the family.
NN: Lonsdale. Yeah.
IN: Yeah.
NN: The grandmother. She was a grand person. She was Swedish. She was lovely. She loved me. She said, ‘You’re great. You’re the one we want.’ Aye.
BW: And when, when did you get married?
NN: When I was —
IN: It was, you still had your uniform.
NN: Yeah.
IN: There’s a picture there.
BW: Oh yeah.
NN: Uncle Ron was it?
IN: 1945 wasn’t it?
NN: End of 1945. Yeah.
BW: So that’s very soon, very soon after you’ve been —
NN: Yeah.
BW: Demobbed.
IN: Demobbed.
NN: Yeah. Aye. Her father didn’t like me. He thought, he thought she should have married one of nature’s gentlemen. What did he think I was? One of the nature’s gentlemen. Aye.
IN: A bit rough and ready at that time though weren’t you?
NN: Pardon?
IN: You were a bit rough and ready [laughs]
NN: Aye. He thought she’d marry one of nature’s gentleman. I couldn’t believe that. I did laugh at that. Some bloody people [laughs] he didn’t, he wouldn’t take to me very much. But the grandmother would. She was lovely. The Swedish grandmother. She thought I was the greatest thing that happened.
BW: And what was your wife’s name?
NN: Enid.
BW: Enid.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And where was she from? She’s got Swedish heritage.
NN: She wasn’t. I mean —
BW: She’s got, her grandmother was Swedish but —
NN: Swedish. They were in Yorkshire.
BW: Right.
IN: The original story is that they was the Clegg’s weren’t they?
NN: Cleggs.
IN: Wasn’t the, think originally the Cleggs that came over. There were the Klings and the Cleggs.
NN: The Klings.
IN: Yeah. That came over from Sweden to Hull on the way to —
NN: Oh.
IN: To America. They stopped at Hull on the way to America. And the husband got ill and died in Hull. And left the three young girls and their mother stranded in Hull. And they sort of had to make their way in life living in Hull. And one of them was the grandmother that he’s talking about.
BW: Right.
IN: And her daughter, which was Bertha married my grandfather who was a Maynard.
NN: Maynard.
IN: Yeah. Became — my mother’s Enid Maynard.
NN: Yeah.
IN: They had three children. Two boys and a girl. And my grandfather set up the Maynard’s fruit and vegetable shops in Hull.
NN: Yeah. Did do. Yeah.
IN: Five fruit and veg shops.
BW: Right.
NN: He didn’t like me though, did he? He didn’t think I was good enough, but I was. I was good enough.
BW: And how long did you continue to work in the rail yards as an engineer?
NN: When I went to, I went to Glasgow didn’t I?
IN: Yeah.
NN: I worked in the railway. And then —
IN: I think you were just finishing you apprenticeship weren’t you?
NN: Yeah.
IN: Probably six months or something.
NN: Yeah.
IN: It wasn’t very long.
NN: No.
IN: And then you went back to Hull and you started working in the fruit and vegetable shops.
NN: Fruit and vegetable. Yeah.
BW: So you, you moved across to Hull to be closer presumably to your wife’s family.
NN: Yeah. Yeah. They didn’t like that did they? Didn’t like the poor bloke.
IN: Because of you and my grandfather were always falling out you decided that you were going to emigrate to Canada. So in 1953 you went to Canada.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Right.
IN: And we followed on.
NN: Yeah.
IN: About three months later. My mother and my sister and myself.
BW: So this is where you’d had some [pause] was it during this time before you moved to Canada you were trying to get in the Olympic running team?
NN: Oh yeah.
BW: And this, this was for the marathon was it?
NN: Yeah. Marathon. Yeah.
IN: You won the Hull Marathon didn’t you?
NN: I did.
IN: The first ever Hull Marathon.
NN: Yeah.
IN: And the second year you ran it again and won it again.
NN: Yeah. And you’d think when I went there I had to go down there and they were there already. Up in the morning.
IN: You had driven to Glasgow to run in the marathon.
NN: Yeah.
IN: The day after the Hull Marathon.
NN: And all these others had been there for weeks and weeks before and I landed the night before and just expected to run. What chance did I have? None.
IN: Well, you came second.
NN: I was leading. I was leading for the first fifteen miles and then [unclear] I faded.
IN: That was, that was a different one. That was the Boston marathon.
NN: Oh yeah.
IN: No. The Glasgow one you came second.
NN: Oh yeah.
IN: Yeah.
NN: Aye. The Boston Marathon I didn’t manage it. Aye. Up at 6 o’clock in the morning. How can you run a mile in that like that?
BW: So you ran the Glasgow Marathon.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And then the day after you ran the Hull one. And at this stage they were trialling for the Olympics. Is that right?
NN: Yeah. Yeah.
BW: And you just missed out.
NN: Yeah.
IN: Yeah. They could only afford to take one person.
NN: Yeah.
IN: So they took the person who won.
NN: Yeah, aye that, yeah. I could have beaten him really.
IN: Yeah.
BW: And so when you moved to Canada you also tried for the Olympic team in Canada.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Presumably you must have been a naturalised Canadian.
NN: Yeah. No. I wasn’t.
BW: Or got Canadian citizenship. Did you not?
NN: I wasn’t.
BW: No.
IN: You’d only been there four years.
NN: I wasn’t there for enough.
IN: No. You had to be there five years.
NN: Five years. Yeah.
IN: To get into the Canadian system.
NN: So I missed out again.
BW: And did you come back after four years in Canada?
IN: No.
BW: Or did you stay on?
NN: No. I went back.
IN: Lost, well he was working for Avro Aircraft Corporation.
NN: Yeah.
IN: Designing. Well, on the design team for the Avro Arrow and the Americans sort of pulled out of the scheme that they had for this plane and they closed the plant down. So he came back here to work at English Electric as it was then.
NN: English Electric. Worked there.
IN: And started working on the TSR2 and the Lightning.
BW: So were you on the design teams for those aircraft?
NN: Yeah. Oh aye. I was good I was. I knew my stuff. A lot of them didn’t like me though.
IN: Went to Vickers Armstrong working on the Polaris submarine. And to Spadeadam on the Woomera rocket engines and the Blue Streak. And then the Isle of Wight working on the Hovercraft.
NN: Yeah. Isle of Wight. Yeah. I was there. I liked it down there.
BW: So it must have been a bit of a shock and a disappointment for you when they cancelled TSR2.
NN: Oh yeah.
BW: And having been, having been on the design team.
NN: Yeah.
BW: How did that, how did that feel to see it fly though?
NN: Yeah. Fly.
IN: I saw it fly once.
BW: Did you?
NN: It was a good plane.
IN: It went over the school where I was in St [unclear]
NN: It was a good plane alright.
IN: Tree top bomber.
NN: Eh?
IN: A tree top bomber.
NN: Yeah. They could have bought it.
IN: That was, I think it was Harold Wilson’s government that decided they didn’t want to spend any more money on it.
NN: Yeah.
BW: And you worked on the Lightning as well.
NN: Yeah. The Lightning. Yeah.
BW: What did you think of that?
NN: That was a good plane really. I liked it.
IN: That was the only one that can still go straight up in the atmosphere and come back down in that atmosphere.
NN: The Lightning. Aye. That was the one wasn’t it?
IN: Yeah.
BW: And so when, when you look back now at what you were tasked with doing in Bomber Command how does that make you feel? Or what do you think of the coverage that’s been given to bomber crew more recently?
NN: What?
BW: What do you think of the coverage or the attention that’s been given to bomber crew more recently.
NN: Not much.
IN: Well they were rejected for a long time weren’t they?
NN: Pardon?
IN: They were rejected for a long time weren’t they?
NN: Oh yeah.
IN: Because of Dresden. You know they looked at us as something not to talk about.
NN: Yeah they didn’t, didn’t like to talk about it.
IN: But they’ve made that Memorial now haven’t they?
NN: Yeah.
IN: In Lincoln.
NN: In Lincoln. Yeah. Went down to see that.
IN: Yeah.
BW: What did you think of that when you saw it unveiled?
NN: Very good. Done something at last.
BW: Done something at last.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Did you get to see the Hyde Park Memorial? The one that was unveiled in 2012.
NN: No.
IN: Not been to London for a long time.
BW: No.
NN: No. I didn’t see it.
IN: No. I heard about it.
NN: What?
IN: I heard about it but I don’t think you remember it.
NN: Yeah.
BW: So is it good that the bomber crew are being remembered now?
NN: Yeah.
BW: In Lincolnshire?
NN: Yes. Time too. They did a lot of good they did. Aye. Aye. We lost a lot of good lads we did. I don’t know why I’m still here. Why me?
IN: It shortened the war though didn’t it?
NN: I know it did. Why did I survive?
BW: I think it was just —
NN: Somebody was looking after me.
IN: I think the British government were thinking that they might have to go to Canada. They were looking like they might lose it rather than win it. I think Bomber Harris at least.
NN: Bomber Harris.
IN: Changed the way the war went. Even though he was over the top sometimes. He made the difference.
BW: Do you think the same Norrey? Do you think Bomber Harris changed the war? The course of the war.
NN: I don’t think so. No.
BW: No.
IN: What? Bomber Harris.
NN: Oh yeah.
IN: Bomber Harris changed it didn’t he?
NN: Oh yes. He was all right. Old Bomber. Old Bomber Harris. We loved him. Everybody loved him.
BW: I believe he visited 103 Squadron at one point.
NN: Yeah.
BW: Did you get to meet him? Did you get to see him or not?
NN: No.
BW: No.
NN: No.
BW: But you just knew of his reputation.
NN: Yeah. He would have wanted to see me [laughs]
BW: Like a royal visit.
NN: I might have said something wrong. Might have told them where they went wrong.
BW: Good. Well, I don’t, I don’t have any further questions for you. Are there any other incidents or recollections you want to add?
IN: He’s finding it hard to remember things these days.
NN: Pardon?
IN: You’re finding it hard to remember things these days.
NN: Yeah. It is a bit. Yeah.
BW: Do you think you’ll get to see the Memorial again when the Centre is open?
NN: Yeah.
BW: Do you think you’ll see the Bomber Command Memorial when the Centre is open again?
IN: I can take him down there. Yeah.
NN: Yeah. Where’s this?
BW: At Lincoln.
IN: Lincoln.
NN: Lincoln.
IN: On top of the hill.
NN: Lincolnshire. Yeah. Aye. Lincolnshire. Good old Lincolnshire. The 103.
BW: Ok. That’s, that’s everything I think. So, on behalf of the Bomber Command Centre thank you very much Norman Neilson for your time.
NN: Yeah.
BW: It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.
NN: Yeah. They were a good lot.
BW: Thank you very much.



Brian Wright, “Interview with Norman Neilson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 20, 2024,

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