Interview with Arthur Nicholson

Title

Interview with Arthur Nicholson

Description

Arthur Nicholson was working in a reserved occupation before he volunteered for aircrew training. After training as a flight engineer he was posted to 51 Squadron based at RAF Snaith. His first operation was to Essen. His aircraft was shot down on a daylight operation to Cologne and he became a prisoner of war. While enroute to the prisoner of war camp his train was attacked by American aircraft.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-09-22

Contributor

Julie Williams

Rights

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

Format

01:10:40 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ANicholsonA150922

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

AN: My name is Arthur Nicholson. Ex-flight engineer, Bomber Command. 51 Squadron. I’ll start this story from leaving school, starting work and then going into the forces. I left school in 1939. August. Just before the war began. And finding work was not easy at that time but I went into an engineering factory manufacturing printing machinery. I went as an apprentice engineer. Well, as you know the war started in September ‘39 and that was the week I started work. Well, for the first year we carried on manufacturing printing machinery but then changed over to manufacturing various armaments such as breech blocks for anti-aircraft guns and bullet making machinery and predictors for anti-aircraft. For the flak department. After that, well that created the fact that I was then in what was classed as a reserved occupation. So my life in the wartime would have been working as an engineer in that factory. And nobody could get me out of there. I learned later on that the only way to get out of there and to become in the military was to be, to join aircrew. Well, I was working with a team of four older fellas. And was very disappointed in the amount of money I was receiving and the amount of work that I was doing which was more than these other four were doing all together. So on my eighteenth birthday I decided I would leave this job and go and volunteer for the RAF. So I went down to Leeds. Put my name down to join aircrew as a flight, as an engineer. It didn’t matter at that time whether it was ground staff or aircrew but they said being in a reserved occupation you can only go into air crew. So I said, ‘Well fair enough. That’s me joined.’ So they said, ‘Oh yes, you’re alright.’ So it was a quick interview and a medical and they said yes you’re fit enough to go at the time. To start with. I said, ‘Well, how long will it be before I’m called up?’ He said, ‘Well, six to eight weeks.’ So I said, ‘Oh well fair enough.’ So I went home and told my parents that I was joining the Air Force which they weren’t very happy about because my elder brother had already been in the Air Force for a year and was flying as a navigator. And he was flying some of the heavy bombers but he never got to go on operations before he was killed in an accident. But so, but that’s later on. It took nearly nine months after me volunteering in January. It was September before the authorities were able to get my release from that reserved occupation. And suddenly in September I received a letter to say I’d been accepted and to report to St John’s Wood such and such a day. And from that day on that was the RAF. The usual thing — you went down to St John’s Wood. Completely strange place. You know, met at Lord’s Cricket Ground and that was my first day in the Air Force. Which was quite an interesting day. You just went from one to room to another being interviewed, being examined and being tested for various things. And halfway through the day somebody brought you a mug of tea and a teacake and that was your sustenance for the day. Eventually we walked away from there. There was hundreds of other lads coming in. Just the same. Little suitcases or bags on their back with just personal belongings. And some corporal or sergeant mustered possibly two hundred of us and said, ‘Right. Follow me.’ And we set off and we walked down the roads of St John’s Wood and we finished up in the swimming baths. The bloke there said, ‘Right. We need to know whether you can swim or not.’ He said, ‘Right. All them who think they can swim get in at this, stand at this end. We’ll give you a pair of trunks.’ They all give us a pair of trunks. ‘The ones who can’t swim stand over there on the right. And the ones who think they might be able to get down to the shallow end.’ So I thought well damn it all. I wasn’t a good swimmer but I didn’t know what was the results of not of being able to swim so I said, ‘Right. That’s it.’ So when it came to me turn I dropped in at the shallow end and had to swim to the deep end. You had to do a full length of the pool at St John’s Wood to be classed as a swimmer. So I struggled and I managed a length [laughs] without drowning and that was that. So, right that’s it. You’re a swimmer. Passed A1. From there on we were taken away and to some ex, I don’t know if it was an ex-block of flats or an ex-hotel or what it was. He said, ‘Right. Find yourself a room in there and go to,’ such and such a place down the road here, ‘For some food. And then, and then you’ll be called in the morning at probably half past six or 7 o’clock to register and muster with the people who you’ve made up friends with.’ Well, I walked into this room and there was one other bloke in there. Then two more came in. And they were three Geordies. They were all from Tyneside. And I could hardly understand a word they said. They were all quite strong Geordies but we got on reasonably well together. Decided which bed we were going to sleep in and where to put the little bit of stuff that we had with us. From there on I went, we went and had food and then came back. We went together. We all had to have a haircut the next day and everything else like they usually do. And I I have always been used to doing a fair amount of walking in the area I used to live in. But two of these lads had always gone on the bus everywhere and they didn’t like walking [laughs] But I made friends with these three people and I stayed with those three people through the basic training at Bridlington and Usworth up in Durham somewhere. And then when we transferred from there it would be possibly eight to ten weeks after basic training which was the usual physical training. Rifle drill, marching, saluting. Everything else. From there then we got the time to go down for the engineering course at St Athan’s in South Wales. And I was still with these three same people all the way through that course which was, I think, then a six month course. And it was very intensive, and the things that we learned was, it was very good. There was always the same discipline. The church parades. Marching in. Waiting for food there. One thing and another. But it was exciting. And it was all new. And I was basically a mechanical engineer but what was taught there was all kinds of the details of hydraulics and electrics and various other bits and pieces. And you had to learn a little bit about, a little bit about navigation. The stars. A bit about oh [pause] yeah the weather. The clouds and everything else. You had to learn about, be able to write the weather forecast damn here. Be as good as Paul Hudson on the telly. But that went on for, for six months until two weeks before I should have — oh in one period in that we were supposed to be selected to what kind of aircraft we would be flying. And you had to put your name down. Well, I fancied at that time to keep away from Germany so I volunteered for Coastal Command and I wanted to fly on Sunderlands. Well, that didn’t come off. So eventually I found that, I’d been told I was going to be flying in Handley Page Halifaxes and was sent on a course to Liverpool. To the manufacturers. We spent a week, or more than a week in the manufacturers learning as much as you could about the individual bits of an Halifax. Well then, two weeks before the end of the engineering course I got a sudden, a telegram while I was in a class. And I was dragged out of the class to the orderly office and told that my brother had been killed [pause] I had to go home.
[recording paused]
AN: Well, the process there was I had to hand in all my equipment at RAF St Athan’s and I was given a train ticket to get back to Otley in Yorkshire the best way I could. So obviously it was a bit of a round about route. To go into London first. And then from London up to Yorkshire and then a local train in Otley. It took eleven hours did that. And at that time more or less all the trains were fully occupied so half the time on that journey I was sat in the corridor on my kit bag and just wondering what my mum and dad would think. Well, the bit I’ve left out of here is after starting work and me coming in to the Air Force I was in the Air Training Corps. And my brother was in it as well. He was a bit brighter than I was and he went off as an navigator and I, I finished up as an engineer. But I thought well I’ve got to go back to the Air Force after this leave. I was only on leave for the funeral of my brother. So I went to this funeral. It was in town. Which was a bit of a ceremony because all the Air Training Corps was there. They had a pipe band at the time and so we had to follow this pipe band to the cemetery. And it was a bit traumatic. Course then we had to go home. Mum and dad weren’t particularly talkative at the time but they didn’t want me to go back. Not at that time. They didn’t want me to go flying. So I had to toss up one way or another when the time came for me to go back. I decided well I don’t want to become ground crew. I’ve learned all this now. My chances is as good as anybody else’s. So, so I went back to St Athan’s to finish my course which was only supposed to be another week. Well, when I got back there all my friends who I’d made in that course had been posted and left to go somewhere else. So I had to start and find a billet on my own with some other intake that was come a lot later than I had. And nobody was interested who I was or anything. And that’s how I finished at the engineering course in St Athan’s. Well after that you were sent home on leave and then you were sent to join an Heavy Conversion Unit. And that was over at Riccall in Yorkshire. So I went to an Heavy Conversion Unit and we learned all about the actual aircraft. The Halifax. They were Halifax 2s and 3s. Mostly 2s at that time. But at the end of that period. Near, well part way through that period we was, we were told to gather at this hangar. And when we got there, there was a lot of other airmen there of all the different categories. Air gunners, pilots, navigators and said, ‘Right, well you’ve got to find a crew.’ So I thought well I’m surprised at this because they’d pushed you into this hangar and there were these different crews all gathered together and you had to go and find one to join because the, the other people had all six, there were six aircrew there that had been flying twin engined-aircraft and they were converting to four engined-aircraft. Whereas they didn’t need an engineer before that. So now they needed an engineer for a four-engined aircraft because there were more complications and assistance with the fuel handling and things like that. And I’d have thought that a pilot — a pilot and his mates would have decided on which engineer they would like. But it worked the other way round and you had to go and pick your own crew. It amazed me and I’ll never understand that. I don’t really. Because they’d already been together for probably six or seven months and for a stranger to come in and pick them rather than them pick the stranger surprised me. Anyhow, I looked around and I saw these different lads. Some of them were a similar age to myself. The pilot, who was an officer and a bit older, well that gave me a bit of confidence. So I asked them if they would like me as their engineer. It seemed to work alright and I was accepted. So that was a full crew of seven people merged together. And we stayed together then for the rest of the time in the Air Force. Well, the time when we were still in Bomber Command. We carried on there until when we learned to fly together and do night flying, cross-country flying, all sorts of flying at the Heavy Conversion Unit. At the end of that we were posted to a squadron. And we got all the kit together and we piled onto the back of an old Bedford wagon and we were driven away to 51 Squadron. We didn’t know where we were going but it turned out to be 51 Squadron at Snaith in South Yorkshire. And so, and we were dumped in a small field off, off the squadron really with little Nissen huts. No facilities and God knows what. The washing facilities were probably a mile, a mile and a half away. And the canteen and the mess. And so we used to have to walk up from there and go in through the main gates of the camp and go to the, you know the general facilities. Because the rest of the billets on the camp were all, had all been taken but eventually we moved up into the camp and, but we were all at a fair dispersal in different, we were still in Nissen huts. And all the crew, our crew was all together apart from the pilot who was in the officer’s mess. Unfortunately, during the trip from Heavy Conversion Unit to the squadron the pilot got some, some foreign body in his eye. And so when he reported to the squadron MO he was told he couldn’t fly until his eye got better. So, there were, we didn’t know how long this would be. I mean the next time we saw him he had this great big cotton wool patch on his eye. And so we were, I was introduced to the engineering leader at that time and several other of the flight engineers. We used to meet on a morning and go for different lessons and things like that. Unfortunately we couldn’t fly so we did all sorts of silly things like flipping learning to jump off a table to land as from a parachute and silly things like that. But this carried on, carried on but I knew we were going to be, and all the rest of the crews on that squadron were going out on operations at that time. So we began to wonder how much longer it would be before we went on ops. Eventually I were in bed one evening, one night about 9 o’clock and some silly bugger came shaking my head and said, ‘Hey get up. Get up.’ ‘What’s the matter?’ ‘You’re on ops tonight.’ I said, ‘Don’t be so silly,’ [laughs] He says, ‘Oh yes you are. You’re on ops.’ He says, ‘There’s an engineer gone sick,’ he says, ‘You’re flying tonight,’ he says, ‘But you’re a bit late. You’ve missed the briefings and you’ve missed the aircraft inspection period. You’ll have to get cracking up there.’ And so he took me in a small little Morris van up on to the squadron to this aircraft. And they were just ready and the engineering leader give me the inspection sheet. He said he’d done the inspection, ‘Get in and find your place and you’re off,’ and I thought well I’d no idea who I was flying with or what the crew was like or how much experience they had and this was my first operation. Well, it turned around after being to it most of the time when you’re in an aircraft on a job like that it’s no speaking. Only speaking for a particular technical reason or some, or you’ve seen something that’s unusual. So I’d probably been flying two hours before I spoke to anybody. Eventually giving instructions on what fuel conditions were like and one thing and another. Carried on, on that operation and it wasn’t until we were nearly at the site for bombing that I was told where we were going. It turned out to be, of all places, Essen. Well, as everybody knows Essen was well protected. There were black smoke and shells bursting all around us, and it didn’t, it didn’t seem to bother me then because I didn’t understand what half of it was. But nothing happened. We turned around and dropped bombs, turned around, came back home and landed quite normally. And when we were in the truck being taken back into the headquarters for de-briefing the pilot then said to me, ‘Well, that’s it. You’re lucky.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Well, that’s your last operation.’ I says. ‘What makes you think that?’ He says, ‘Well that’s what we were told.’ I said, ‘Well, you’ve been told a lie because that were me first.’ ‘Oh God,’ he says [laughs] He said, ‘I would have talked to you a bit more if I’d have known that. I just thought you knew as much as we did and carried on.’ It were their, I think it was about their twenty eighth out of the thirty but anyhow that was the first operation, because our skipper was still unable to fly. And this went on for eight weeks. And my next operation was a similar, only about the one beforehand and I went to briefing same as everybody else. But then after that we flew as a crew. I can’t remember which destinations we were and what we were bombing. But all our flights were night flights over Germany. Mostly four and a half to five and a half hour flights at that time. And things happened on these flights. One time we had a bit of a fire in the navigator’s place where the H2S set on fire and I had to go down with the extinguisher and put that out. There was another time when we should have set off and I wouldn’t accept the aircraft because it had a big slit in one tyre. Which, that wasn’t looked on very well by the ground crew and everybody else but we’d been instructed that a tyre with a slit in the side wasn’t acceptable. So I refused to fly. So that put the whole crew couldn’t fly. But unfortunately there was a spare aircraft kicking about so they kicked us on to a spare aircraft and we still had to fly. But in one or two of these ops there were things happened. I mean one time and thank God I were only a little fella. My position used to be stood under the astro hatch which is a plastic hatch on top of the aircraft just behind the pilot. And a piece of shrapnel flew through this hatch straight out through one side and out the other. Well, if I’d been five foot six instead of five feet four that would probably have been the end of me. There was another time when we had a few holes in the aircraft from anti-aircraft fire but we always got back. There was one memorable time when we got back to the, we’d been out, I don’t know how long for. Probably five hours. And we got back and when we got back up into Yorkshire it seemed to be pretty bad weather. And we thought oh we, we’ll have to land somewhere. We came to land at Snaith and it was covered in fog. But by that time it was too late for us to go anywhere else. We were about out of fuel sort of thing. So we decided, well the skipper decided we’d have to land. And we were in contact with ground personnel there. And there was no lights on the runway or anything like that at that time so we had to circle two or three times around 51 Squadron at Snaith until they put these goose neck flares all down the side of the runway. We just managed to get in and give a big cheer. Thought we were the first back but it happened we were the only one back because everybody else had listened to the radio broadcast except our radio operator who loved to listen American Forces Network quite a lot for dance music. And he’d missed an instruction to divert. We’d been diverted somewhere down south. I don’t know where it were. And so we cheered, we thought we were the first ones back. So we got a little bit of a lecture on what we should have listened to and things like that. There was another time when, when they wouldn’t, there weren’t two times, I think twice when we went off to bomb certain places. This was getting towards the end of the war and our job then was sort of backing up the advance of the troops after D-Day. And unfortunately they must have given us some wrong information when we set off but we got nearly to where we should have been and the troops had advanced in to the place where we were told to bomb. So we had to turn around and come back. Well, this is one of the things which I thought were bloody silly because we’d gone all that way, bomb load, flown over quite a bit of defensive Germany and yet we were just turned back and fly back just the same. Why we couldn’t have had another target, another fifty miles further on I don’t understand. But this happened twice. Well on the second time back, well also then there was, you could only land your aircraft with a certain maximum weight. Well, the amount of bombs we had on made as we were over that weight. So, you used to have to drop so many in, in The Wash or in the North Sea. And I used to have to calculate the fuel contents. The weight of the fuel, the weight of the bombs and decide on what the all up weight would be on landing. And to tell the bomb aimer how many bombs he had to get rid of, you see. Drop two five hundred pounders or two, and things like that you see. So this I did and the bomb aimer decided he’d be a bit extravagant. Instead of dropping two five hundred pounders he decided he’d drop four just to make sure [laughs] that we were underweight. Well, then we, we got back and the usual debriefing, and, ‘What did you do then?’ ‘How many bombs did you drop?’ When he told him he’d dropped four and the bloke did the calculations that I had done said, ‘You should only have dropped two.’ He said, ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘But it made it safe.’ He said, ‘Yes but —’ then we got a lecture about how much bombs cost to manufacture. and the number of hours people spent making bombs. And there was another, well, twice when two different flights went. We landed away from base because we showed, the instruments showed a shortage of fuel. According to my calculations there should have been sufficient fuel for us to get back to base. But to play safe we landed away. We landed at Carnaby. And landed at Hethel, another place and it turned out to be an American place. But landing at Hethel was a mistake. We should have been landing at another RAF place which was about two miles further on. And when we were on the runway on the run in to the landing we got challenged by some American fellas to identify ourselves or we’d be shot at. So I had to shoot a blinking verey cartridge out to the colours of the day. And the wireless op was on the radio trying to tell them who we were. So anyway, we landed alright there and we were looked after. All these Yanks with B49s. And they thought we were marvellous flying in the dark which they didn’t do. They used to do all daylights. More of their flights. But twice as high as we were. And so we, we were looked after there until the next morning we went out to the aircraft. We should have been flying back to Snaith. And I pretended to be a bit dumb and all their aircraft were twelve volt aircraft and ours, ours was twenty four. So, their starting equipment wasn’t suitable for starting our aircraft engines up. So, and I thought well it’s simple enough to get two or three batteries in series to make twenty four volts but I said nothing. So we were there for three days [laughs] We were there for three days. Going to the pictures in Norwich and being fed like lords. Never seen as much food in all my life as what there was on this American base. You could have anything you wanted. Fruit and meat and goodness knows what. To finish they had to send somebody down from 51 Squadron to do some battery alterations and some [unclear] to start our engines. We were three days there [laughs] and it were like a holiday. Anyhow, then I got called into the squadron leader’s office and the engineering leader was there and I got a bit of a lecture on fuel management and one thing and another. And they said that if I didn’t improve at the next flight I would be sent back to St Athan’s for further instruction. That worried me a bit because I thought well everything I’ve done was according to book and log looked alright. It’s just that the instruments didn’t seem right. Anyhow, we were grounded for two days. The next night the officer commanding the squadron took the same aircraft — MHL. I’ll never forget that. Personnel were waiting next night. MHL didn’t come back. Landed away from base short of fuel. Bloody thing were leaking like mad from where one of engines were running, were losing fuel. So I got an apology from [unclear] and that was it. Anyhow, things went on as normal until getting on we thought the war was about finished and Germany would have had it but then we were told we were going to go on a daylight raid. And we went to, we were going to Koln. We went in briefing at early morning. Probably be 6 o’clockish. Something like that. Well we went to Koln. Well, this was our first daylight raid. So we set off as usual. Happy as anything. Nice to do a daylight raid. You can see where you’re going and what’s around you and things like that. But there were a bit of a flak about and an odd fighter was about but when we got on to the bombing run which was the usual straight and level and things and controlled from the bomb aimer the matter, and we were in the second wave. There were four minute intervals between three waves of an eight hundred bombing raid. Eight hundred bombers. Three waves of, and we were second wave. Well, the bomb aimer, we were listening to the master bombers talking at that time and suddenly the master bomber says, ‘Stop bombing reds. Bomb greens from —’ such and such a course. You see. Well, really what we should have done was carried on and bombed reds because we were all half way through the damned bombing run then. But the skipper and the navigator decided and the bomb aimer had a little chat and decided well that must be for us we’d better change course. So I said, ‘Well, this is a bit of a dangerous thing to do. We’re flying half in to the wave. Carry on and bomb as had been instructed beforehand.’ And for us to turn across that everybody else were flying, we were flying at ninety degrees to the rest of them. So they were missing us by inches and one thing and another. And we went out, further out and turned to come in on a different direction. And course we were out on our own at that time. Daylight raid at 10 o’clock in the morning. Flipping flying towards Cologne to drop bombs on it on bloody green targets. And bomb aimer says, kept us on a straight and level course and we did our best and he dropped our bombs. And as soon as our bombs had gone the mid-upper gunner shouts, ‘We’ve just been hit on the right hand side. Starboard engines,’ he says. It’s bunch blazing like mad.’ I looked out and saw the instruments. Skipper switched the engine off. I operated the fire, internal fire extinguishers and I operated the propeller to feather the propellers so they didn’t go around because that made difficulty for flying and also helped to keep the fire going. But nothing was too any avail and you could see this fire getting worse and worse. Of course half the wing’s full of petrol and aviation fuel. And that was it. So the skipper gave us the order to bail out. So, the mid-upper gunner was shouting and telling us what, how this, bad this fire was getting and bits were melting off the wing. The rear gunner turned his turret around and he was hauling back with his head up and telling us about bits flying off. The bomb aimer should have been the first out of the escape hatch which was down in the front. On the floor. What to do with the escape hatch? And him and the navigator were arguing about what to do with it. I said, ‘For God’s sake pull it out and throw it down the front in the bomb aimer’s place.’ So they did that. And the bomb aimer must have had a bit of a dizzy on because he wouldn’t, he was supposed to be the first out and he hesitated so the navigator went out. The wireless op went out. And then the bomb aimer went out. Curly, the rear gunner went out and dropped off the back end. The mid-upper gunner came, scuttled past me and to go down the hatch. I set my parachute and clipped it on and I was stood at the side of the skipper who was still hanging on to the controls trying to keep it straight. I clipped his parachute on to him. And then I said to him, ‘Cheerio Stan. Good luck.’ And I disappeared and that was it. Well, none of us had any parachuting experience or anything like that. It was a cold morning. Snowing at odd times. And we were at about twenty thousand feet. So, and I pulled the rip cord and the little chute came out and then it pulled the other one out. And all of a sudden you slowed down. And there’s me hanging on a few bits of string going around and around and one way or another and swinging backwards and forwards. I thought well the one thing you used to worry about was whether any of the back end of the aircraft might hit you as you dropped out because you just dropped underneath it. And sometimes people had been hit by tail fins and stuff like that. Anyhow, I thought well, that’s it. It’s alright. Here we are in the middle of Germany. You don’t know what sort of a reception you’re going to get. Anything like that. So, and there was an eighty mile an hour wind blowing. If it hadn’t have been we would have probably landed in occupied territory. But as it was this eighty hour wind blowing it was blowing the Germany way so we landed just the other side of the Rhine. Unfortunately I landed in what you might call a copse. A field of small trees. Probably twenty, twenty five foot high. And my parachute, my canopy was over one tree and I was in another. But come to release myself and all of a sudden there’s three blokes with rifles pointing at me. I’d landed in the blasted searchlight squadron or battalion or whatever they called them. And so no chance to run or get anywhere. I wouldn’t have known what to do in any case. So, I was caught straight away as you might say. Had only scratches here and there from twigs breaking and things. But, and that was it. And hence the others who had bailed out, I’d seen the aircraft gunning around and but I never saw another parachute get out so I wasn’t sure whether Stan had got out, the pilot, or not. But evidently he didn’t because he was killed. He went down with the aircraft. And I saw it when the wing dropped off and then it suddenly went down in a spiral. And I’m still floating down. It took nearly twenty minutes to come down. So, but as I say landed in anti- aircraft field where there was a searchlight field and was picked up immediately. I was taken into a police station in a little village. And another RAF bloke was brought in at the same time and people were shouting at us and one thing and another. Didn’t know what were going to happen but the day, the day dragged on and then we were taken out of there and set off to march for somewhere, we walked behind these two policemen. And we crossed the River Rhine at Bonn. We walked across the Rhine at the bridge at Bonn. And then we were taken by a truck to [pause] I think it would be Hamburg. No. No. Frankfurt. Frankfurt. We were put in solitary confinement at Frankfurt and we were kept in solitary confinement for about ten days. And in that confinement you’re in a little cell. Be six foot by eight foot with a stone flag bed. No blankets. No facilities. No nothing. Just a little catch at the side of the door. If you wanted to go to the loo you’d to drop this and the flap dropped outside and some German guard came and rousted you out. But he wouldn’t allow anybody to go out and down that corridor if there was anybody else coming in that corridor because you weren’t allowed to speak to anybody. Used to go to the loo. Get your hands and face washed and that was it. And they used to keep altering the temperature in this cell so in the night time one minute you were cold and the next minute you was too hot and things. But this went on for eight to ten days. Then one day we were, we were taken into a fancy office with a big German. I don’t know what rank he was but his fancy uniform on, sat at a great big desk. And he decided to interrogate us and the usual thing. Rank, name and number and that’s all I’d give him. ‘Now, don’t be silly. No more. The war’s finished for you.’ I said, ‘Well, it might have been but that’s it. Rank, name and number.’ And so he says, ‘Well who’s just your squadron leader. Who’s your flight commander?’ Who’s this and who’s that? I says, ‘I’ve no idea really. I haven’t been on the squadron long enough to find out.’ He says, ‘Well, I’ll tell you.’ And he could tell me more about 51 Squadron than I’d ever known in my life. Commanding officer. Who were flipping different flight officers. How many raids they’d done. And all sorts of things. So he says, ‘Well that’s it for you. Your war’s over. You’ll be sent to a prisoner of war camp somewhere.’ Back to the doings, your cell until they come and collected us. Took us down to the station and they pushed us, there was about forty of us, into a cattle truck. You couldn’t, there weren’t room to sit down or lay down or anything. There was about forty of us. All in a cattle truck. We set off from there. We didn’t know where we were going. On the journey in this cattle truck lots of people had been, they must have been POWs on the run for days. Some of them were poorly. Some of them had diarrhoea and one thing and another. And they used to stop just at the beginning of the evening time at some, out in the country and let us off but all these guards around with big dogs. So you hadn’t the chance to run away. We were, the next day we were going along and we stopped outside a little station and there was a bridge just in front of us. And all of a sudden you could hear these aircraft coming. And, what’s going on? And these bloody aircraft started dropping bombs on us. Well, none of them hit us at the time and so, but we couldn’t get out of these trucks. They were all locked up but we, we [pause] it quietened down a bit so the Germans opened the trucks and said, ‘Out.’ And they sent us round and they’d scattered themselves about around the field next to where we were. And I can remember jumping down over a wall and across a stream and getting my head down. And there were these American twin-engined aircraft that were bombing us. Well, the next three that came in we saw them come in and the blow the engine off the track and they blew the next coach which was full of Germans. The officers, the guards and one thing and another. And then several bullet holes through all the rest of the cattle trucks as we’d class them as. But then they gathered us back up and took us back up to the station. But from then on it were walking. We couldn’t do because the train couldn’t go. We walked for another day then. Then we were picked up again and eventually taken to Nuremberg which we were put in a POW camp. And a massive Nuremberg POW, the camp there. I don’t know how many different compounds there were. And you were just dumped in a doings. Finding, well in each compound there would probably be two to three hundred men. In our compound they were mostly RAF men but there were some army people. And the ones who had been there a bit had formed an organisation. There was always somebody in command in different rank and various things. But all you could do there was walk the perimeter as you might say. And go down and get a wash. The toilet was a big log across a big pit. That was all we had for a toilet there and we were frightened to death of falling into it. Rations were very scarce because the Germans by that time were short of food themselves. They were very short of food. We got to eventually the rations was a sixteenth of a loaf which was one of these black loaves. And one potato. That were your day’s ration. Well, at that time when I first went over there I think I weighed, well my standard weight was nine stone six. But when I came out from there I was just under seven stone. So that teaches you to, it isn’t the kind of food you eat it’s the amount of food that makes, makes you fat [laughs] So anyhow that went on for quite a while. It must have been March, April. Must have been end of April when Americans were in Nuremberg which was south of Germany and Patton’s army were coming through then. Two Gun Patton. Well, we could hear a lot of shelling and bombing and things around us but nothing happened in the camp until one day we was told we were being released. ‘What do you mean we’re being being released?’ ‘Well, the Germans have gone. Patton’s been here and he says we’ll get you some food there and there’s no point — but don’t leave this camp because we want to organise your repatriation,’ you see. ‘So, don’t leave the camp.’ Well, that went on for two days, three days. The food that they sent were typical modern American bread which had no nourishment in it whatsoever. Fluffy stuff. And very little else. So, and I mated up with two Americans and do you know I’m disgusted that I can’t remember their names. Lofty and Shorty. And I met up with them and we decided we’d go for a walk out of the camp. We went out of the camp gates and down and we were following this stream through the farm and I heard a lot of noise going on. Squealing and shouting. Got a bit further on and there were these chaps. There were obviously been a bit of a pig farm and there were these chaps chasing these little pigs and big pigs with big sticks and the iron bars and they were trying to catch and kill these pigs. And I found out they were ex-Russian prisoners and they were starving. And oh they killed these pigs and they just hung them up on the trees. And I met one bloke coming back with a big lump of fatty pig in his hand. Nibbling away at it. It hadn’t been cooked or anything. I thought oh God. Anyhow, we went on a bit further and I got two hens. And we grilled these two hens and then went back to camp again because there were nowhere else to go. You were always frightened and being told be careful. If you’re, if there’s any SS about or anything like that there are certain German troops who wouldn’t hesitate to shoot you if they see you see wondering about on your own. So we went back to camp. Well, eventually they came and they took us from there and took us too a little airstrip called Ingoldstadt. And we just spread out in this place and we were supposed to take our turns as to when we would be lifted off. And we were lifted off by Dakotas. American’s flying Dakotas. And they used to get, I think about twenty four of us into a Dakota. And they flew us from there to Reims. Reims Airfield in, in France. So, we were dropped off there. Well, then we were, we were fed reasonably well. Well, too well for most of them because they couldn’t eat because they hadn’t eaten for — some of them had been four and five years as POWs then. But we, I mean us, we’d only been there two or three months. And after, after that the Lancasters came to Reims. Just Bomber Command Lancasters just as they were. No, no seats in. No nothing. Just as they were as bombers. And we used to get about twenty four or twenty six of us all laid down on the deck. And they flew us over to England and we landed at Tangmere. In one of the RAF fighter bases in the south of England. And well, the thing there, it was, I don’t know who’d arranged it but you got out of this aircraft and, ‘Follow me.’ We goes up this there’s these blokes with blooming back packs and pumps on spraying you. Covering you with delousing powder. This is a fine reception. So you were covered in delousing powder. Then you went up, taken in another hut. Half your clothes were taken off you. And you went to a shower. Then they give you a coat to put on and we went in to this big, well I presume a mess room at Tangmere. And the food that were laid on there. It was amazing. Well, and all the attendants there were some of the best looking WAAFs you’d ever seen. So we went. People had as much to eat as they wanted and you were shuffled off to go into camp to go to bed. The next morning you were taken to a kitting out place and given a uniform to fit you out as best you could. And then you were given a telegram form to fill in to send home to your parents. And that were the first thing they knew about me being alive. And then you were given a railway ticket to get off home on indefinite leave. That was it, so your job as Bomber Command were finished. You didn’t know what was going to happen after that. Well, after about six weeks leave you got called back again. I got called to Cosford near Wolverhampton. I went to Cosford and that, that was a shock for such as us. I mean I were then a WO but it was one of those what I shouldn’t call it but a bullshit place. Stones were painted white. And all guards were there with white webbing on and all that sort of thing. It was a big RAF training camp. And also it was a big sports camp there at Cosford with a swimming pool and a track and all that sort of thing. They used to teach the RAF sportsmen all what they had to do. It were just a gathering place for us. And I think we were there for two weeks. And then we were sent off. There would be, probably fifty of us at that time, to Hereford. Went to Hereford which was now the what do they call these special forces? It’s their, it was their, it’s their camp now. The army special forces. But that was another one. It had been a flight, a flight mechanics training place and an officer’s training place. Well, that was another one that was a bit what I class as bullshitty style. And we were arriving in old usual battledress on and a bit scruffy really because we’d got out of discipline altogether. Well not out of discipline but out of being in your first grade uniform. You were just as you used to fly with your battledress top and your trousers and that was it. And we got there and they were just emptying the place as an officer’s training place. And there were a few, a contingent of Dutch airmen there. Young lads training to be flight mechanics. And when we arrived and there must have been two hundred of us eventually, we were in different billets. And we found our own billets and, and I came across one of the blokes who, one of my Geordies I’d first joined up with there. So we were together again. Macpherson. And we carried on there. What they did with us, they used to gather us together and chop us into groups of about twenty and send you out learning how to throw hand grenades, how to strip a rifle, how to put a machine gun back together. Why the hell do we need this lot for now this war’s finished? War’s finished. And that’s what we were doing all day long. But we used to go down to the mess and there were no food. So we went down parade one morning. About two hundred of us all lined up and all, all ex-Bomber Command, all ex-people who had been on tours and from sergeants to warrant officers. And word went around that when they come to dismiss us stand still. So we all stood there when it came to be dismissed — and what’s? We’ll get so and so to come and read the riot act. The squadron commander. The site commander. Whatever he was. I think he was still one of these officer training people, ‘Well, we’ve no food, you’ve no bread. There’s no meat. There’s no cereals. No nothing. Just these poor Dutch lads doing a few slices of toast and an egg now and then and trying to keep you going on that.’ Well, it wasn’t suitable to us lot after that. So we were stood firm and the commander sent another, a waggon over to Credenhill to, which was a RAF wireless operator’s training place, to fetch a load of food. And they had to fetch this in a blinking waggon and they organised a bit better kitchen staff. And it took them a few weeks to do that. Well, we used to be getting up on a morning, ‘You’re going on a route march today.’ Oh no. No. And half of us would drop out. We’d finish up in picture house in, in Hereford. And one day lights went on in this picture house and there were three big MPs stood up on the stage. ‘We’re looking for — ’ so and so and so and so, ‘That’s missing from camp.’ They had a look around at the cinema half full of flipping ex-Bomber Command lads. So they backed off and went. And that were it. Well, then from there I got posted to 51 Maintenance Unit at Fradley, which is near Lichfield. And it were a bit different to me then because the bloke I got in there, I got sent to Motor Transport Section and I were doing repairs to tractors and fire engines and things. And this, he were a little full time warrant officer. He’d been in for twenty or thirty years. Permanent staff. Warrant officer there and lived in the village next door. They he like us aircrew because we were the same rank as him. Like we were warrant officers and we’d only been for a year. And he took me down to this garage. It was a separate place. And there was this Fordson fire engine there. He says, ‘Do you think you could change this engine?’ I said, ‘What do you mean change the engine? He said, ‘Well take that one out and put a new one in.’ So, I said, ‘Well I can have a try. Who’s going to be showing me and helping me?’ ‘You’re a flight engineer. Have a go.’ So I thought, right and he went off. I looked at this damned thing. Looked in the engine. The bits to take off it, carburettors and things like that to take it out and found a set of blocks. Took engine out. Put the other one back. Put all the bits on. Carburettor, magnetos and various other things, and that were finished. So I finished it off two days later on. He says, ‘Right. You’d better go home then. See you in the morning.’ So I saw him the next morning. He says, ‘Does it work?’ I said, ‘I don’t know if it works. I don’t think there’s any petrol in it.’ He said, ‘Well, there’s some in that tank there. Fill it up. Fill this petrol, this fire engine up and press the starter button.’ And off we went. It were, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘That’s not so bad,’ he says, ‘Right,’ he says, ‘You’d better take it off for a test drive.’ I said, ‘I haven’t got a driving licence.’ He says, ‘That doesn’t matter. You’re on an Air Force camp.’ He says, ‘Take it around the perimeter and just see if it’s alright.’ So there’s me with a bloody, I don’t know what it would be, a four or five tonne flipping fire engine [laughs] changing gears and one thing and another. He got it back and that was it. So I was a bit better friends with him after that. And I used to be on tractors and oh, Coles crane. I learned quite a lot there. But then the government were running out so they shifted me then into an office. And an office was where we used to do this long term storage. There used to be these aircraft flying in. Some of them had just flown in from America. Seven hours flying and things like that and they were putting in, inhibiting them with various materials. All engines were coated and things. And then they were taken away and put on storage. But then at the other end of the camp where they were bringing these aircraft back out of storage and dismantling them for scrap. And they used to bring them down and they used to get axe, fireman’s axe out of the aircraft and just chop into the petrol tanks and let it run out. Put a big, a canopy or something like that onto it and let it run and divert it into a big tank. And then there were a bowser at the side sucking it all out and doing things like that. Well, it used to be all over the blooming place, the fuel. And there were these people riding around in bikes smoking and God knows what. I used to think this is not the place for me. And I used to have to record all these. How many hours it had flown. What inhibitor they’d had put on and all that sort of thing. Well, office work weren’t my cup of tea. But I kept on doing that till one, one day somebody must have ridden down with a bike and thrown a tab end down and aircraft and bowser and the whole lot went up. Three blokes got killed. I thought well this, all excitement. But by this time then I’d met my wife Sheila in the next village. Because we used to go into Lichfield to the dances and we used to, as usual picking the girls up where you could. And I met Sheila and we’ve kept together ever since. That’s what? Sixty eight years now. So, but I carried on. I moved from that job then into — what did I do next? Oh into the tools stores and cycle. Cycle stores and tool stores. So I were in my element with all the different tradespeople. They used to come in and want, and there was a list of tools that each, a plumber had to have or a rigger or a flipping, all that. And I used to be making the tool boxes up. Then when I got demobbed I used to have to count them all and make sure everything were there and send them back to headquarters if they weren’t there. And they got charged for them and things like that. And I was there until I got demobbed. And I got demobbed. Came back home. Went back to my job in printing engineering. They started making printing machines again. And carried on like that with oh — and then I had to go back down to the village to get married. We got married down there. My wife and her sister. We had a double wedding. Had a double wedding. The only one there had ever been in the village. And the village was Alrewas. Do you know where the Arboretum is where all the war memorial things. Well it’s there. That’s where, where my wife comes from. So, and then we came back up here. Finding out, we lived with my mother and father for a year before we could find a house anywhere. And eventually got the house. Started a family. I started making printing machines again. I started going backwards and forwards in England and Ireland repairing them or fitting them and making new ones. And then that developed into going further afield. And I used to be going off on my own to various parts of the world fitting printing machinery up. And then I had three, three sons. And after that I was at home one evening about 11 o’clock there was a bang on the door and some works manager looking for me. He’d been told that I might make a decent works engineer. So I had to go and I said, ‘Well I’m not looking for a job. I’ve just, I’ve got one,’ But I says it would, if I went this was at a factory in town. Employed about two hundred and fifty people. And he says, ‘You wouldn’t have to be going abroad anymore and you could, you know,’ So I went there. A bit of a strange, a lot of strange machinery and things like that but put up with it and did quite well there. I got to the stage where if there were new machinery to be bought the managing director and the works manager used to go. It was mostly to Germany. And they used to take me with them over to Germany to inspect these machines and see whether they were properly suitable for British safety regulations and one thing and another. And different, the different attitude to when I first went to Germany as a POW and this attitude when I was going as a big customer buying a million pound machine. Out to dinner. Out to this. And out. Oh God. Lovely. And that’s how it’s gone until I retired. I didn’t want to retire at sixty five because the job was interesting. I could cope with it fairly well. But it was the policy of the company or the insurance company that ran the pension scheme I don’t know. So I finished at sixty five and that’s it. I think that’ll do for now. Don’t you?
MJ: On behalf of the International Bomber Command I’d like to thank Flight Engineer A Nicholson for his recording at his home on the 22nd of September 2015. Once again, I thank you.

Collection

Citation

Mick Jeffery, “Interview with Arthur Nicholson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 26, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11428.

Item Relations

This item has no relations.

Can you help improve this description?