Interview with Gerard Norwood

Title

Interview with Gerard Norwood

Description

Gerard’s father died when he was very young and was so raised by his mother and his stepfather, who he and his brother disliked. He was working at an engineering factory when the war broke out and continued until 1942, at which point most of his friends had gone to war, so he decided to volunteer for the air force after failing to join the army and navy. He joined the air defence cadet ward, and then volunteered for aircrew. Six weeks later he got a letter calling him to Oxford University for an examination and a medical – Gerard passed everything except mathematics. After 3-4 months he was called up. As a sergeant he went to Sifford to pick up a crew and so was transferred to another operational training unit as a rear gunner. While there he caught rheumatic fever and was in hospital when his crew were killed as their plane crashed on take-off on a training flight.
He flew with Flight Sergeant Dalish to Stuttgart, and then Frankfurt and Berlin. He describes how he had to call evasive action several times during his tours. He flew on D-Day to bomb just inside the French coast.
On a flight all four engines stopped and although they did manage to land the skipper refused to fly as a skipper again saying he would not take on the responsibility of the lives of a crew and would only fly solo. Gerard says they did not often make friends outside of their crew because too often they did not come home.
After finishing his tour with 460 Squadron he was posted into Blackpool to a driving school, passing his test and then being posted to Scotland and then to RAF Biggin Hill. Gerard later got married and moved to Kent and went to work with his father-in-law at an engineering factory

Creator

Date

2016-02-01

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

01:39:03 audio recording

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.

Identifier

ANorwoodG160201

Transcription

GN: Hughie Edwards, VC.
NM: Ok. Carry on.
GN: And this is one of the records I’ve worked out because of, well we’ll come to it when we, when we get to this bit because this is I have to tell you not all about it because it’s a bit deceiving.
NM: Ok. Let me just make a start. Can I just make —
GN: Deceiving because —
NM: Can I just make a start Mr Norwood and then we’ll —
GN: I’ve got quite a few photographs but —
NM: Yeah.
GN: This one is one that makes me —
NM: Gerald Norwood interview.
GN: Terrible of this country for their attitude of veterans of Bomber Command. But I’ve been to Australia a couple of times. The last time we went to Australia we had dinner at the French Embassy in Canberra and the Ambassador said, ‘Is there anyone here of you that flew on D-Day?’ I said, ‘Yes. There was quite, one or two of us.’ And he said, ‘Well, give me your names.’ He said, ‘We cannot issue you a medal,’ he said, ‘But we’ll see what we can do.’ But since they’ve done this they have given all Australian, but you have to be Australian to get it but they sent to the English people that weren’t born in Australia or anything a diploma to say you operated on D-Day for France and, but, but this country gave us nothing. You know. This is only because I went to Canberra you see. If we hadn’t gone to Canberra we wouldn’t even have known about that. But anyway let’s get on. Let’s sort this out for you.
NM: That’s interesting.
GN: Because —
NM: Can I, can I just make an introduction?
GN: Yeah.
NM: And then what I’d like to do is ask you a few general questions.
GN: Yeah. Yeah. Certainly.
NM: Then the idea is they don’t want to hear me talk. They want to hear you talk.
GN: I see. Yes.
NM: So I shall, I shall keep quiet. I might make a few notes.
GN: Yeah.
NM: And then there might one or two questions as we go through it.
GN: Right.
NM: But the idea is to listen to you tell your story. Ok. So, the date is February the 1st. I’m with Gerard Norwood.
GN: That’s right.
NM: At his Lancaster Lodge appropriately, in Well Cottage, Ivinghoe Aston in Leighton Buzzard.
GN: That’s right. Yeah.
NM: In Bedfordshire.
GN: Yeah.
NM: And so can I ask you to tell me a little bit about your background? Your childhood, your growing up before you joined the Air Force.
GN: Yeah. Now, well, this is why I’ve got this actually because I was born in Berkhamsted but we lived in Bricket Wood and unfortunately when I was two years old my father died. I didn’t even know my father really because I was too young to remember him. And my mother struggled along but eventually she got married again and when we moved we moved into Watford. But unfortunately, my elder brother and myself we couldn’t get on with our step-father and we left home and went in to lodgings when we were fifteen years of age. And when the war broke out and I was with my brother and we were trainees at an engineering factory as a centre lathe turner. And it was only after working for about from 1939 to 1942 in the factory working twelve hour nights seven nights a week when all my friends had been called up or volunteered for service I thought to myself, ‘What am I doing just turning wheels and things? Doing nothing really for the war effort.’ It was absolutely nothing. So I thought well I’ll volunteer. So I went to, from one Friday morning, I came off of work and went up to Deansbrook Road, Edgeware Drill Hall to volunteer. Well, when I tried to volunteer the Army man said, ‘Show me your registration card.’ So I showed him. He said, ‘No. Sorry. You’re a Reserved Occupation. You can’t.’ I tried the Navy and the same thing happened. I went eventually to the Air Force because pre-war I had, when I was about twelve to fourteen years old I did, when we first moved to Watford I did something and I joined an Association which at that time was made by this man and they lived in bungalows just off of Watford bypass and he started the ATC. But it wasn’t called the ATC. It was called the Air Defence Cadet Corps and we marched in the Lord, last Lord Mayor’s Show before the war and if you check you’ll find not only all the donations of the people that made it but a list of Cadets and you’ll find my name is down there somewhere at the bottom. So I thought to myself well let me try the Air Force. So I tried the Air Force and he said, ‘Well —’ he said, ‘You can’t.’ He said, ‘The only thing you can volunteer for is air crew. If you want to fly,’ he said, ‘I can, I can put you down.’ So I did do. I said, ‘Well, you can do that.’ And about three weeks later I got a letter from the Air Force to report to Oxford University to sit an examination and a medical. And I went to Oxford and then after going through all the different phases there I was put forward to the selection board and the air vice marshal there said, ‘We are very surprised that you, with the education you had because you only had a normal school education for two years from twelve to fourteen —’ When we moved to Watford because I went to, because at Bricket Wood there was no school and you couldn’t, there was no transport or nothing. No buses to take you. You had to walk. And the only schooling we had was at the top of Mount Pleasant Lane, Bricket Wood you turned right was Munden and at that time it was Sir Holland-Hibbert but he was Lord Knutsford afterwards when his mother died and he had his own private school for his worker’s children. And all the local children had to go to that school because it was the only one there. And the only teachers we had were two women but they, they were, they were absolutely brilliant because they were really strict but they taught you in such a manner that you couldn’t forget what they told you because the things like, well say the rivers of Scotland. Tweed, Forth, Tay, Dee, Don, Spey and Clyde. I mean the way they taught you you never forgot and that’s what he said, ‘We were very surprised because you passed everything except mathematics and if you are willing to go to night school for three nights a week before you go to work for six weeks on mathematics we will swear you in today and give you the King’s Shilling.’ Which I did and well, after about three or four months I was called up and went to St Johns Wood and did the square bashing and so forth. Then we were transferred and it was, by this time it was about November ’42. They transferred us to Ludlow in Shropshire under canvas and it was pouring with rain. It was absolutely mud and every morning they used to call you out and say, ‘Right. We want twelve of you. The first twelve here will go to this ITW.’ And I missed out on two or three and eventually I got one and I went to Number 7 ITW at Newquay. But unfortunately, I’d been at Newquay I suppose about six or seven weeks and I was struck with rheumatic fever and I had to be taken to sick quarters and of course I lost about three weeks training. And when the exam came I failed the exam because I had no, no possibility of catching up with the others and I was sent then to Blackpool, the Suspended Air Section at Blackpool awaiting discharge to go back to my job. I was there probably two or three weeks and I got called up to the office and the officer said, ‘Are you sure you want to go back to Civvy Street?’ I said, ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do.’ He said, ‘There is.’ He said, ‘If you’re willing, and you don’t want to go back to Civvy Street you can re-muster today and I’ll guarantee that you’ll be a sergeant in six weeks to seven weeks.’ So I said, ‘Well, I’ll do that. There’s no point in me going back.’ I said, ‘I’ll do that.’ And which he did and I was, from there I was then sent to Pwllheli, in North Wales. Llanbedrog was the village and there was a small airfield there and surprisingly enough they started you know with a round circular thing on the ground for air firing and so forth and then you had to go up in a Blenheim. You turned because they packed three or four of you but each one had different coloured bullets, well, and some Lysander was towing, towing a drogue so you had to fire at a drogue. And surprisingly enough for me one of the pilots, they were nearly all Polish but one pilot stood out and it was a friend of mine. He’d just come back from Rhodesia, and he’d got his wings and he was flying a Lysander. So he said, ‘What number are you going?’ I said, ‘Number three.’ He said, ‘Right.’ So when number three came up the drogue came sliding nearer and nearer with the Lysander. Of course [laughs] I got more shots at it than anybody else. Fortunately, of course, I passed and after six weeks there I was passed out. I was a sergeant gunner and from there I was trained. I went to Driffield to finish off and before I went to Conversion Unit and so forth to pick up a crew and I’ve got a photograph of myself somewhere when I first went and then I went from there to, I think it was Faldingworth. I think it was. No. It wasn’t Faldingworth. It was [pause] Seighford. Gunnery Flight at Seighford and picked up a crew. And then I got struck down with rheumatic again and I went in to hospital and when I came out I hadn’t got a crew because unfortunately the pilot, we were all in one room and you made up your own crews. The crew I’d picked, we’d picked, I picked and made up had crashed on take-off and were all killed. So they said to me, ‘Do you want to go back and pick a crew up? Or we can transfer you to ITW again because we have a crew there but their conversion from Wellingtons on to Lancasters and they’ve only got one gunner. They want a rear gunner. They’ve only got a mid-upper.’ So I said, ‘Yes, I’ll do that. So that’s how I got transferred then to pick up Flight Sergeant Teece and his Australian crew and that’s how I joined 460 Squadron. Of course, I stayed on 460 after that. But on the way back from Magdeburg one of the ops we did we we were coming around on the outer circle and we called up, ‘Lancaster M on circuit.’ And they said, ‘All aircraft down five hundred feet and —’ Your turn to land. And the skipper called up and they said, ‘Prepare to land.’ And he was on the outer circle coming around for the funnel and the four engines stopped and we were probably about a thousand feet up or something. They said, ‘No way of baling out or anything. Much too low.’ And he said, ‘Hang on chaps. We’re going in.’ And I just hung on and we hit the ground and he was a very good skipper. He must have pulled the stick back just before we hit the ground tail first and the tail broke off by the rear spar and the turret turned over, banged me in the chest. Unfortunately it hit me right where the parachute harness buckle is in the middle and it knocked me straight through the turret doors and I woke up looking at the sky. So [laughs] and stars. So I was very fortunate there but unfortunately one or two of the crew were injured but Teece said, ‘I’ll do anything but I will not take the responsibility of a crew.’ He said, ‘I’ll fly anything but it’s got to be solo because,’ he said, ‘I don’t want the responsibility of their lives.’ So the crew got split up but the wireless op and myself they said, ‘You can stay on the squadron as spares.’ So, I said, ‘Well, we might as well.’ Ron said, ‘Yeah. Ok. I’ll stay on as well.’ Which he did. Buddy Mansfield. But about four ops later he was with a crew and we heard the crew calling up and the man panicked. The skipper panicked. Well of course panic. If anybody panicked that was it. It was fatal. You had to remain calm and we heard him calling him up, ‘I cannot bring my port wing up,’ and he was going around in circles and crashed. But little did I know that it was the aircraft that Ronnie was in. So of course, Ron, old Ron got killed. When I came back the wireless op officer he sent a special car out to pick me up instead of the lorry or the van. So I said to the WAAF driver, ‘What’s the problem?’ She said, ‘Oh, Dusty Miller —' the signals officer, ‘He’ll tell you when he sees you.’ So I said, ‘Oh, fair enough.’ So when I got to interrogation Dusty Miller was there and he said, ‘I cannot describe how I feel.’ I said, ‘Well, you know I’ve taken Ron to my home two or three times.’ He was the only one I really palled up with because you didn’t make pals because you were all the same and there was, you were all comrades but you were all doing the same job. But you didn’t make fast friends because you’d never know whether they were, whether they were coming back or not so you didn’t really get really involved with them. Ron was the only one I really took to. But anyway, Dusty said, ‘Well — ’ he said, ‘It was an easy op wasn’t it?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ Because it was after D-Day and it was only a field battery or something. He said, ‘I have to get my flying hours in to keep my flying pay.’ You had to give so many hours to keep your flying pay even if you were in charge of a section. So I said, ‘I know you had to keep your flight time.’ He said, ‘Well I tried to talk Ronnie into standing down and let me take his place so I could get my flying in.’ And he said Ron said, ‘No. I’m going.’ He said, if he’d have changed,’ he said, ‘I wouldn’t be here.’ It was just fate you know. But anyway, after that of course I was with all different crews. I never made really good friends. I made just normal comrades and I flew then with quite a number of crews on their first op and one of the crews, that’s one that I’ve got here. When we, oh that’s one. One of the, this was the one I think. Yes. And I used to, oh yeah, this is it. I used to say to the skippers when they went out there you know when you were with the spare gunner or a spare wireless op but you always had to go with sprog crews on their first op [laughs] Always, always on their first operation and I used to say well, to the skipper, well, if you don’t mind me saying so the Australians were very good because no matter what their rank was and even if they were squadron leaders they would listen to you and do what you said. And I used to say, ‘The first thing you do no one talks unless they’ve got to because no one shouts or anything because you start panicking because if you panic that’s it. You’ve had it.’ So, I used to say to the skipper, ‘What you do, you should, you don’t need to call up your flight engineer because he’s sitting next to you. You don’t need to call up the bomb aimer because he’s lying down beside but call up the rest of your crew in turn about every half an hour to make sure they’re all awake.’ Because some of them were fatal. When the doctors came out before you took off, while you were waiting he used to feed you with wakey wakey pills to keep you awake and they used to, a lot of them used to take one. As soon as he was out spit them out and that was fatal if you didn’t take your wakey wakey pills because you could go to sleep and I said, ‘Make sure that all your crew are awake because it’s fatal if one of them’s not.’ And it was this particular crew that I said to [laughs] said to them, so they said, ‘Oh ok.’ They did but we were on the way to Frankfurt and all of a sudden the mid-upper started firing and I swang around the turret to have a look where he was firing and I said, I called up, I said, ‘Stop firing. It’s another Lancaster.’ It was another Lanc but because, you know I suppose he was on his first op but when we got back in to briefing after they were briefed we used to go and get your rum ration drink and a coffee and newspaper people were there. [laughs] And that was the newspaper people took photographs of those. So that was Flight Sergeant Daley’s crew and I did a couple of ops with them. And a little while after that I flew with Dan Cullen and his crew and I flew with Bourke and his crew then. One of the crews on the squadron that had done about fourteen ops their rear gunner was killed so they said to me, ‘Would you? Did you want to take his place?’ So I said, ‘Yeah. I might as well take his place.’ I said, ‘Of course. No, no problem.’ And that was Pilot Officer Mullins, that was his crew and I did sixteen ops with him to finish the tour. So, he, Ron Mullins, he married a girl from Grimsby and she’s written to me from Australia a couple of times and sent me different photographs but he died about five years ago. Ron. But no they, they, they were marvellous blokes. As I say I’ve been back to Australia twice now. Two I think. The last time we went to Australia was because we had one aircraft on the squadron which was always a spare aircraft because they used to load up one aircraft that had no crew with bombs and petrol load in case we got a mag drop or something somebody we used to transfer them to the spare aircraft and G-George was always the spare. And sure enough everybody [laughs] every, somebody had a fault because G-George was always shot up and would always come back. It did ninety two ops that aircraft. There wasn’t much of it left of the original aircraft of course but everybody flew with him. But when the war finished they took it to pieces. They shipped it to Australia and it was refurbished and rebuilt and it was presented to the Canberra War Museum and that’s when I went and that’s why, how I got there. I went to Canberra when they put G-George up. So then as I say since then I’ve got into different things like that and I was very surprised at the way that the Australian people and the government of Australia and New Zealand have treated their veterans and Bomber Command and this country has tried to hide the fifty five and a half thousand young men who were all volunteers that got killed, under the carpet. And Bomber Command. And this is why now I’ve done everything I could to help them to make sure that that they’re now not pushed under the carpet because I think, I mean in Australia you’d be surprised. They do everything they can. I mean, even now every month they send me a list of all the Association meetings and their Bomber Command meetings and everything. They really look after their veterans you know and the ones that got killed well you know they put Memorials up and everything and I was surprised when they put, they put the Lincoln up. I was surprised. But even then other people have had to do it. The government hasn’t done it. It’s been done by the public. So this is why I’ve done all these things as I say when Steve said to me will I go to London to sign these photographs I said yeah. And I went to Little Gransden Airport and signed photographs and books there two or three times. And quite a number of the public surprisingly enough that buy the books you know they all come up for a signature and they’re willing to donate so much money for every signature and that raises money to help the Memorial and this is why I do it. But unfortunately, about eighteen months ago I was struck with a, well a tumour I suppose you’d call it and I had an operation which was cut from there to there and I couldn’t walk for about six or seven weeks after. But fortunately, I have this specialist in Watford. He’s absolutely marvellous. Mr Arbuckle. He’s absolutely, he lives in Stanmore actually and he does a lot of work at Bupa Hospital as well but he gives certain days to the National Health Service and he was the one that operated on me because I said to the wife on the first night I felt bad I said to her, ‘Look. You’ll have to get an ambulance or ring up for an ambulance to get me to hospital because I don’t think, you know I think there’s something wrong.’ So they did. They took me in to Watford General and Mr Arbuckle came around and he was there and he said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘We’ve had a scan on you.’ And he said, ‘You’ve got two options. You either give me permission to operate or you die tomorrow because that’s what it is.’ He said, ‘I either operate or you die.’ I said, ‘Well, you operate. That’s it.’ You know. Which he did do but he said, ‘It is a terrible operation.’ He said, ‘Because the colon has to be split and —' he said, ‘It won’t be joined and you will have two holes to take everything from your body.’ He said, ‘If you’re willing to do that and to have two bags.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve got no option,’ I said, ‘Otherwise I die.’ And he said, ‘Well, fair enough. The next morning after the operation and they came around I was in the Intensive Care for about three days and he came in and he said, ‘You’re a very lucky man.’ So I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘I could join your colon. So you don’t have — ’ I’ve still got the scars where they made the holes but there’s no, I’ve got no tubes there fortunately. And he said, ‘You’re a, you’re a lucky old bastard,’ he said and he really is genuine. He’s been on the telly a couple of times actually but he’s an absolutely brilliant surgeon. And now I go every six months. He makes me have a scan and then when he gets the results of the scan he calls me up and I have to go and he says, ‘Now, fortunately the last eighteen months nothing has grown,’ he said, ‘Because I took a tumour and sixteen other pieces from your body.’ And he said, ‘But nothing has, nothing has grown.’ So fortunately, I was lucky there so he said, ‘There’s another life you’ve got.’ So I said, ‘well,’ I said, ‘I’ve survived an aircraft crash.’ That what I did. So I said, ‘I’m really extremely lucky.’ I said, ‘I admit.’ I mean ninety four years of age I mean you know if you live that long you are lucky because I mean you look at people now some friends in the village here he’s a millionaire and two years ago his wife died. She was forty five years of age. Cancer. Terrible. You know. So when you think of these things like that you realise how lucky you are.
NM: Amazing.
GN: I think to myself, ‘Well, I must do all I can because you haven’t got all that long obviously.
NM: Can I —
GN: Yeah.
NM: Can I take —
GN: This is what, this is what —
NM: Can I take —
GN: This is what the Australians sent me about the —
NM: Oh, the —
GN: And this is what they sent me.
NM: Legion of Honour commemorative medal.
GN: Yeah.
NM: This is the French is this? So you’ve got the Legion of Honour.
GN: Yeah.
NM: From France.
GN: Yeah.
NM: For your work on D-Day.
GN: Yeah. And they, they even sent this. me, this is the D-Day operation and we’ll be on there somewhere with Mullins. One of them shown. Oh, this is the one that Steve Darlow sent. Even if I would sign the, go to London to sign the photographs so I said yeah. Will do. Which we did do and one of these people in the village here surprisingly enough he’d done all they can to help Bomber Command and they had this made up for me and that’s, that’s, that’s the photograph of flying back from Frankfurt. And this is when I first went home. That was when I first passed out of Flying School. Air Gunnery School. And they, I don’t know where they got the information. They must have got it from somewhere but [pause] they had this book made up. But they had all this information from records and what I’d done, it’s all done and we were attacked by a fighter and God knows what. Yeah. Very good.
NM: So, can I take —
GN: So if you want any photographs or anything.
NM: Yeah. Can I take you back to your first crew. Well not your first crew because they were killed after your rheumatic fever.
GN: Yeah.
NM: But the crew you then joined. Was it Teece did you say was the pilot?
GN: Yeah.
NM: Tell me, I mean how many operations did you fly with that crew and can you tell me —
GN: With Teece?
NM: How many? Can you tell me any stories? I mean, you obviously had the crash after the Magdeburg raid but —
GN: Yeah. Well —
NM: What was that, what was that crew like to fly with and where did you —
GN: Very good. They were all very good. I can honestly say, I mean people used to say and it’s been mentioned a few times. LMF. Lack of moral fibre if anybody [pause] I can honestly say with all the aircrew that I’d seen and flown with I had never seen one that was really afraid. They seemed to keep it within themselves. They didn’t spread it as it were you know to make everybody panic or anything. I never found anyone that was afraid. They were all just doing their job and that’s it but what, surprisingly enough after the crash from Magdeburg I was on the squadron and I went down to the local pub one night and went into there and I was on my own and having a drink and I got talking to one of the older members of the village. He was an ex-1918 soldier and he was a farm worker but he’d retired. But when the war broke out and the farm labourers were, he went back to work to keep the country moving. And he was very old and he said to me, ‘You’re very, you’re very despondent. You’re very, ‘ he said, ‘You don’t look as if —’ I said, ‘No..’ I said, ‘I’m wondering whether I’m doing the right thing with Bomber Command.’ I said, ‘Dropping bombs, you know.’ I said and I explained to him how I felt but his words to me changed me entirely because he said to me, ‘Son, don’t feel guilty.’ He said, ‘You’re giving to the enemy what the enemy has given to us and to others.’ And I thought well that’s it. So why should I feel guilty about doing this? And that’s how I was after that. I didn’t worry at all. I just, I just got on with what you were doing and that was it. And that was with Teece. That was Berlin, Teece. Yeah. I remember Teece to Stettin. Berlin. Magdeburg was the one we crashed. And then I flew with Flight Sergeant Daley, sprog crew to Stuttgart and then one I did with them to Frankfurt and after that I did with Pilot Officer Bourke to Berlin. Then with Pilot Officer Bourke to [unclear] and I did two ops with him. Then I did [[ Cullen, Dan Cullen, still alive actually Dan is. He’s ninety nine actually. Yeah. He’s still alive Dan is. And after that it was Lancaster Q-Queenie Mullins. And I did sixteen ops with Mullins ‘til he’d finished his tour.
NM: So did you ever fire your guns in anger? See any night fighters?
GN: No, because if you studied fighter affiliation to really, the guns there were put there to, to sort of
think you might think you have something to defend yourself with but if you really studied it they didn’t defend you because they were only 303s. They tried .5s but they burst their mountings because they were too powerful so they could only put 303 Brownings in the turret and the tracer bullets used to go about two hundred yards and then pfft all over the sky. I mean they just hadn’t have the power and the fighters had got cannon shells which were much more powerful and if you studied your fighter affiliation and you kept your eyes open and caught the thing, the fighter you used to call the skipper up, and say, ‘Stand by skipper. There’s a fighter on the port quarter down.’ So you watched him and he was flying like that. Now, if he suddenly dipped his wing, started to turn that was it because he’s got fixed guns. Her can’t move his guns because they’re fixed in the wings like a Spitfire. So the only way he could keep you in his sights was in a curve of pursuit and if you, as soon as he’s turned his wings, started to come in, ‘Dive port, skipper.’ Dive into his turn. He couldn’t get you. But you had to be awake and you had to know how to call up the skipper and if you did that you didn’t need to fire your guns because you wouldn’t have hit him anyway. This one pilot, the only time you fired your guns at him is if he did come close to you, within a few hundred yards and then give him a burst. But otherwise, it was just a waste of time. So if you got that fighter and they did take you up on fighter affiliation at the Gunnery Schools with the Spitfire but you didn’t have the guns. You had a camera. And if you, if he came in to attack and if you learned your fighter affiliation properly they had a job to shoot you down. The only thing that really [bothered] wasn’t the German night fighters it was the anti-aircraft because there’s no doubt about it we came back across the Thames Corridor past London on the way back if you went to France or somewhere and the anti-aircraft were firing at the Germans and the anti-aircraft shells were bursting miles below us but the German anti-aircraft was, we could be twenty five thousand and they still burst above us. They had marvellous defences and when you come to think of it the people don’t like to say it but when you have a thousand bomber raid then you’ve got four waves. That’s two hundred and fifty aircraft in one wave and you weren’t all at the same height. You were all stepped down. Up and down. Well, all those aircraft going through the bombs coming down a lot of our aircraft were lost with our own bombs. They must have been. Impossible to think every aircraft would get through and I used to say to the skipper, ‘When you get to the target area and the bomb aimer is giving you directions, ‘Left. Left. Right.’ I said, ‘All you’ve got to do is put your nose down and lose about two thousand feet and belt like hell as fast as you can through the target area because then you’ve got less seconds for any of those bombs to touch you.’ And that’s what they used to do. They all used to all take notice of it and surprisingly enough every one of those crews finished their tour. They all finished their tour. I couldn’t believe it. Mullins, Cullen, Daley all finished their tour. Some of them were posted to Pathfinder Force and from the squadron but they all finished a tour. They all did their thirty ops. So I thought well there must have been some good I told them you know because they all survived and that was it.
NM: So did you ever have to call evasive action on an operation?
GN: Call any —
NM: Did you have to call evasive operation if you were in —
GN: Oh yeah. Yeah. Many times.
NM: So you saw, you saw fighters.
GN: Yeah. I saw fighters. Oh yeah. Yeah. It’s mentioned in the, in there. One of the, I keep forgetting which one it was now. We were attacked by a fighter and things went [pause] No. If if you as I say if you know your fighter affiliation you could if you wanted any photographs I’ve got loads of these photographs to give anybody.
NM: So you had to call it several times on your —
GN: Pardon?
NM: You had to call evasive action several times on your —
GN: Yeah.
NM: Your, your tour. Tell me a bit more about what you did on D-Day then. The operation on D-Day.
GN: Yeah. Yeah. Because the operation on D-Day that was, that was the one that they sent to on the field battery. It was a field battery and that was the most marvellous sight that you could ever see but you could never describe it to anyone because well it was just really impossible to describe. It’s a pity that you couldn’t have photographed it a bit because we, we bombed at just inside the French coast and it was we’d taken, we took off late. We didn’t take off about five or six. It was late in the evening and we bombed this field battery and we turned around and came back across the Channel. And as we came back across the Channel I looked behind and the Channel, it was breaking dawn, you could just see it was absolutely full of craft going across it. And then you’d look up. There were the gliders going in being towed across there. And the battle ships laying off on the English coast firing across the tops. An absolutely wonderful sight. It’s really impossible to describe it. I mean you would never see it again obviously but it was, it was an absolutely marvellous sight. That was at St John Wood on the twenty fifth anniversary of the RAF. That was, that was St Johns Wood. Yeah.
NM: So, Magdeburg, Frankfurt, Berlin, Stettin, Hanover. Any other particular targets?
GN: Any one —?
NM: Any other particular targets that you recall?
GN: Well, that is the only particular targets that I recall was the one at Magdeburg when we crashed obviously. Frankfurt, when we, we got back and the reporters were there. And the other one was one where we got attacked by fighters. It’s in here somewhere.
[pause]
NM: Did they get close enough so that you could recognise the aircraft?
GN: Oh yeah. Brunswick was the 14th 15th of January 1944.
NM: Were they close enough so that you could recognise the fighter?
GN: Yeah. We were attacked by a twin engine fighter.
NM: A twin engine.
GN: Yeah. Yeah.
NM: That was —
GN: Junkers 88. Twin engine one. That’s at the top here. Yeah, I think [pause] Yeah, I don’t know where they got those records from. They must have gone somewhere. They must have got them from, well surprising enough every, every one that I’ve had to ring up or go to they’ve all done all they could to help. I mean I, I, after the war I suffered with deafness and it was only somebody that said to me, ‘Well, get in touch with the Air Force and see what they can do.’ And I got in touch with the people at Blackpool and I was surprised because the woman said, ‘Oh yes.’ She said, ‘I know exactly. Exactly what you’ve done,’ she said, ‘Because we have all your records. They’re all underground here. We have a mile underground with all the records of what everybody has done and we know what you did.’ So, they said, ‘Well, we’ll send you to Mount Vernon Hospital to give you a check-up here and they did do and they said, ‘Well, you’ll, you know, you’ll be deaf within a few months.’ So I had to have hearing aids but they gave me a pension because they said, ‘Well, it was a deafness of the four Stirling engines noise that lost your hearing because none of the family have suffered with hearing and I got a war pension from it. And then, you know they all seem as if they can’t do enough for you surprisingly enough. The only thing that annoys me is the politicians and really and truthfully even the British Legion because I marched in the annual Cenotaph march two or three times but the British Legion did everything they could to push Bomber Command out. They didn’t want it. Not much had been known because you’ll upset people because you’re Bomber Command. Even the British Legion. And that’s what annoyed me about it because I mean those fifty five thousand young man, I mean they were all average eighteen to twenty two but they were all young. I mean they fought, gave their lives to stop being ruled by a military politicians but no. They, now the politicians want to push them under the carpet. This is what annoyed me with it. Whichever you must think it’s bad and this is why as I say I think it’s wonderful the way they built this Memorial. The people in the, [unclear] the pop group bloke who did a lot towards it.
NM: Robin Gibbs.
GN: Yeah. Robin. Yeah. Marvellous really because people like that they recognised what they’d done and if those fifty five thousand are not forgotten and really it might stop it ever happening again because nobody wants it to happen. I mean, it’s just a terrible thing really. But I mean when one or two old people have said to me when I’ve asked them well what you’ve got to realise is that the war started because the Germans went in and bombed Poland, Warsaw without even declaring war. And they dropped bombs on the city killing the Polish people so why shouldn’t they have it back because really and truthfully even with the Middle East now with Israel they’re the only country that if anybody goes and does anything to them they go straight back and do it to them. And they‘re the only people with any guts to do it because it might, it might stop it. I mean it’s, it’s silly really that people would be being annoyed about Bomber Command I think but there you are. That’s just what they feel I suppose. Well, that’s it.
NM: So you finished your tour.
GN: Yeah.
NM: With 460.
GN: Yeah.
NM: What happened after that? What did you do?
GN: Well, I was surprised really at what the Air Force did because surprisingly enough I got annoyed about one thing because after we finished and I went into Wymeswold or somewhere I think. Yes. It was Wymeswold I went to on rest. It came through on Orders and everything the whole of Ken Mullins’ crew were decorated. I was the only one that was left out and I thought well if they don’t want to recognise me I don’t want to do any more. So when it was my turn to come up they said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I don’t know want to do anything but fly.’ I said, ‘If I can’t fly. Nothing.’ So they said, ‘Oh dear. Can you drive?’ I said, ‘No. Never had a car. Never had the money for a car,’ I said. They said, ‘Well, that’s fair enough.’ The next thing they‘ve posted me to Kirkham and Wesham just outside Blackpool to a driving school for six weeks starting on Austin 7s, finished off on Thornycroft and trailers and stripping engines down and things. Marvellous time. I passed out and I passed my test with the police on the big Thornycroft lorry and the next thing I know I was posted. So I said, ‘Where am I posted to?’ And they said, ‘Brackla, Scotland.’ On the Moray Firth. I said, ‘Oh.’ Well, we got up there. Nothing to do. So I was there, must have been two or three months just hanging about and doing nothing really. Just drinking and so forth. And then they said ‘You’re posted.’ And I said, ‘Where am I posted?’ They said, ‘Biggin Hill.’ I said, ’That’s Fighter Command.’ They said, ‘Well, you’ve been posted to Biggin Hill.’ So I went to Biggin Hill. When I got there they said, ‘Oh, well —’ by this time of course I’m a flight sergeant you see so he said, ‘Oh well, we’ve got a job for you.’ I said, ‘What’s that then?’ ‘They said, ‘Driving the padre.’ And he was a real gentleman, the padre so I said, ‘Oh well, that’s alright.’ But he lived outside the camp. About two mile up the road from Biggin Hill.’ But he used to get as drunk as a Lord and I'd be sitting in the sergeant’s mess, the phone would ring and the steward would say, ‘You’re wanted on the phone.’ I used to say, ‘Right.’ Well, they’d say, ‘Officer’s mess here. Bring the car for the Padre.’ I used to go up. They used to bring him out paralytic, put him in the car. I used to take him home, get him out the car and take him up to the door, ring the bell and then run like hell because his wife would come out creating [laughs] because he was drunk. But he was, he was, when he was sober he was marvellous because we used to go around visiting airmen who were home on leave and taken ill and so forth and he used to have to go and visit. Or anybody got killed or anything he used to have to go to the funerals and so forth. And then they called me up to the Orderly Room and they said, ‘You’re posted.’ I said, Where am I posted to?’ They said, ‘Number 5 Staging Post.’ I said, ‘Where’s 5 Staging Post?’ They said, ‘Norway.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to go Norway. What the hell do I want to go to Norway for?’ They said, ‘Well, you’re posted there.’ So when I was, when I told the Padre I said, ‘They posted me.’ He said, ‘Well, where? Where to?’ So I said, ‘Norway.’ He said, ‘Do you want to go?’ ‘I said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to go. I might as well stay here.’ So he said, ‘Leave it with me. I'll see what I can do.’ He said, ‘Well, where do you live?’ I said, ‘Watford.’ So he said, ‘Oh, well. I’ll see what I can do.’ So, a week later they said it’s cancelled. ‘You're not. You’re not posted.’ A few weeks after that they said, ‘You’re posted.’ I said, ‘Oh, not again. Where am I posted to?’ Where do you think they posted me to? Number One Group Headquarters, Transport Command. Where was it? Bushey Hall Hotel, Watford. By this time I'm a WO and he said, ‘There's no officer there because they had to have an officer or a Warrant Officer in the section, Transport Section to draw the money for drivers that were out on driving when the Pay Parade was on so they got their money when they came back. So, they said they must have [pause] So he said, ‘You can be a Warrant Officer and sit in the office and just run it.’ Keep track of petrol because the transport on the station like the fire engine and the ambulance had to be run up every day to make sure it started in case anything happened. So of course, it used fuel and you used to have to balance the fuel to make sure the tanks were okay. And that's why they sent me to Bushey Hall. And I was there for about eight months I suppose and Group Captain Butler and one or two of them surprisingly enough, well I suppose it was, it was his life but used to ring up and he used to say, ‘Group Captain Butler here.’ ‘Yes Sir.’ ‘I need a car tomorrow because I'm doing a run around the circuit on all the stations. I'll be away for three or four days and I want a car to take me around to all the stations. I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said, ‘Who’s the driver?’ I said, ‘Well, LAC —’so and so. ‘Is it possible to have LACW — ’so and so? His fancy woman. A WAAF driver and I used to say, ‘No. That's quite alright, sir. I think we can manage that.’ And then he [laughs] they used to ring up and say, ‘Butler here. Do you want a new uniform?’ And then when I was notified to go to Uxbridge to get demobbed Butler said, ‘Stay in. Don't get demobbed. Stay in.’ But I was, I was married by then and and I said, ‘No. I’m alright.’ But that’s where they sent me and I finished up right on my doorstep. I couldn’t have been any closer. And I thought to myself well I’ve moaned and groaned but I said, I thought well I’m lucky really because the way I’ve been treated. You know, I mean I couldn’t fault it really. It was, you know absolute, well, it was so easy there up at Bushey Hall and of course the Yanks had just moved out of Bushey Hall and the Air Force had taken it over again and it was with the golf course and everything there, you know. Bushey Hall. And, well of course you live right near it don’t you? But that was another thing was that when my father died my mother had to do local work and one of the big houses halfway up Mount Pleasant Lane was Mr, Mr Bristow and my mother was doing housework for them. And Mr Bristow offered my mother to take her two boys, that’s my elder brother, my real brother, the others were step brothers and myself to send us to the Royal Masonic Orphanage, Bushey. We could have gone there. My mother wouldn’t let us go. But we could have been educated absolutely spot on there but that was one of those things, you know. She said no. She wouldn’t part with us so we didn’t go. But well as I say I think I’ve been very lucky that someone up there, at leas Old Nick has to take me. So, you know.
NM: So you were demobbed. So, what, what did you do then?
GN: And then I got demobbed and well with the money that I had with the gratuity coming out the Service and so forth I was married and we moved to Bexley Heath in Kent and I spent all my money buying a house, furniture and so forth and I went to work with my wife’s father in his engineering factory. And he had an engineering factory just outside Woolwich and I was working with him and we were doing work for the British American Optical Cigarette Companies, John Players and [Donegan] and Wills of Bedminster, Bristol. And I used to have to go down to these places and unfortunately for me I didn’t realise it at the time but a friend of theirs, a family, their son was carrying on with my wife. And it was only through luck one morning I got up to go to work and I thought, and I smoked so I stopped about twenty years ago but I used to smoke a lot then and I thought where’s the cigarette lighter? And her handbag was up there. I thought, oh well, the wife’s got a lighter, and I found a letter and there was no, you couldn’t say that there was nothing going on because it was absolutely written there. I thought well I must, must go because I might lose, do something that I shouldn’t and I went down, I went to work and her father came in and I said, ‘Look.’ He said, ‘Oh. Leave it with me.’ And he said, ‘I’ll come back.’ And he went and she just ran out of the house and that’s it. I never saw her again. And he said, we found that she had arranged for a furniture van to come the next day to take, even take the ruddy furniture out of the house and leave me with nothing. And they, they just, and I said, ‘That’s it. I’m packing up and I was out of work. I had no home. I got in debt with the Building Society. So I had to [unclear] and as it stood with the furniture and everything and of course I lost everything and I’d no money and I managed to get lodgings and fortunately the chap who I lodged with he was the manager of a shop and he said, ‘I’ll see if I could get you a job with me.’ He said, and we did. I got a job with him and it was Crown Wallpaper shops and he said, ‘Right. We’ll train.’ And I was with them for about six months and they said, ‘Right. Now we are opening a new shop at Dorking and you’ll be the manager.’ And I opened the shop at Dorking and after about nine months or so they moved me to a bigger shop at Epsom and then by this time I’d already got divorced because while I was at Dorking a local solicitor got in touch with me and said, ‘Mr Roberts from Bexley Heath, his solicitor has been in touch with us and wants you to divorce your wife.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll think about it but what I should have done is said to him, ‘Yes, if I get back all the money I wasted on her. I want the ring and everything.’ But I didn’t. I said, he said, ‘You know if she comes knocking on your door,’ he said, ‘You’re bound by law to take her in.’ I said, ‘I don’t care if she does because,’ I said, ‘There’s no way that I’m taking her back and the point is my firm will move me and you’ll have to try and trace me,’ I said. So he said, ‘Well, I’ll explain it to them.’ And he came back to me and he said. ‘Well, they’re willing to pay all costs.’ So I said. ‘Well, if they’re willing to pay for everything. The divorce.’ He said, ‘Yes.’ Right. So he said, ‘Well I’ll get in touch with them and say you’ll do it.’ And he did do. He got in touch with me and said we’ll come up in the law courts. In those days it was a KC was Kings Council because the King was still alive then and we went in to, in to the court and the KC said to me, ‘When I put you in the witness box,’ he said, ‘Don’t look at me. Look up. You’ll see a round hole above where the judge is sitting.’ He said, ‘Look straight at that and all you say is yes, my lord. No, my lord. Don’t go into any conversation. Just say yes or no.’ He said, ‘I’ll ask you in a way that there’s only one question. One answer.’ So, I said, ‘Right.’ Went in. Bang. Bang. Bang. It was all over in about ten minutes. We just came out, he said, ‘Quick, wasn’t it?’ So, I said, ‘Yeah.’ But it cost him four hundred and fifty quid in those days. They paid it but I was still, I didn’t get anything back but I got divorced and then I eventually met the wife who is now and she lived at Chipperfield because I came to Watford from Epsom one day to see my brother. He lived in Watford and we went out and we met her, you see. And we palled up and gradually I thought well this is a long way apart you know. So I said to the area manager of the shop, I said, you know, ‘Any chance of getting a move somewhere?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘I think we could arrange it.’ So they moved me to Ruislip and I got this job in Ruislip so I was a manager of the shop in Ruislip then for a few years and we got married and it was only after I suppose a year or so at Ruislip after we got married and I saw in the paper, “Reps wanted.” So I applied and I got a job at the Eveready Company, the battery people, as a representative and I was with them for quite a few years as a rep and then my brother said to me, he said, ‘I’ve bought a cab. A taxi.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you come in?’ So I thought well I’ll have a look at it to see. So I decided to sit the, sit the test so I did do but unfortunately for me somebody got in touch with Eveready and said that I was doing part time taxi work and they said, ‘You’ll give up the taxi or we’ll sack you.’ So I said, ‘Well, fair enough.’ I said, ‘You can do what you like.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to give it up.’ And then I was with, I was a taxi driver then for my own taxi for twenty five years until I retired. That’s right. There you are. But, no, I had a marvellous time even taxi driving really because I picked up so many people, you know. Hughie Green, I couldn’t stand him on the television. “Opportunity Knocks.” But I used to drive him about quite a lot when he lived at Baker Street and he was a marvellous bloke. And he used to fly his plane in to Leavesden Airport, and I used to pick him up there at Leavesden Airport and take him up to Baker Street. But the first thing he used to say, ‘You know the first drop?’ I said, ‘Yeah, [Cornice] Drive.’ ‘No. The pub.’ [laughs] He wanted a drink. So then Sir John Mills from, he lived at Denham. I picked him up quite a few times. Diana Dors. I mean there was so many different people and so many actors and that that you picked up. It was surprising. I had a marvellous time really. I couldn’t complain about that but the wife didn’t like it because she didn’t like the job and the hours, you know. It was the thing but there you are it was one of those things I suppose. So —
NM: So the RAF taught you to drive and —
GN: Pardon?
NM: The RAF taught you to drive.
GN: Oh yeah. Yeah.
NM: And you became a taxi driver.
GN: Of course. That was another thing.
NM: That was the rest of your life.
GN: And oh, that, that [laughs] you just, you’ve now surprised me when you were just you’re now surprised me with something I’d completely forgotten because when I first come out the first time I’d spent all that and I couldn’t afford a car so I let the licence lapse and of course when I come to meet the wife that is now and I thought about a car I found my driving licence but I’d have to pass the test again. So I bought an old Singer car and I applied to pass the test and they said Slough. Safety town in those days when they first brought out the safety crossings and so forth. So I said, ‘Yeah. Right.’ They said, ‘Well, we’ll have to send you down.’ And I said, they sent me down. I put the, put the application in and I got a letter back saying yes, you know, a week’s time. Come so and so, something else. So I reported there. The instructor came out. He said, ‘Right. Lets go.’ And we started off and he said, ‘Now when we’re going along along I will suddenly put my hand on the windscreen.’ He said, ‘I want you to do an emergency stop.’ So I said, ‘Yes. Right. Fair enough.’ Boom. Bang. The ruddy seat broke and he went back [laughs] in the back of the car and he said, ‘God, where did you learn to drive?’ I said, ‘Kirkham on Wesham.’ I said, ‘At Blackpool. British School of Motoring.’ He said, ‘Well, I can’t fail you.’ He said, ‘Because I was one of the instructors.’ [laughs] And he passed me. That’s it. So I got a driving licence again. There you are. But I forgot all about that. Well, it was so funny at the time because it was a little old car, you know. It wasn’t worth much but still and as I say he finished up in the back of the car. But no, I suppose when looking back on life I have been extremely lucky because things have happened that you know you wouldn’t think you would get over but I’ve never really survived, thought that I would go. I mean even during the war I was surprised. Surprisingly enough the night we went to Magdeburg we were standing outside the aircraft waiting to take off and the doctor came around, I took, took the pills and so forth and there was an atmosphere and I thought something is going to happen. But I wasn’t afraid because although I knew that something was going to go wrong that I would survive. That I would still be there so what it was I don’t know but it was and after that every time anything has happened I’ve always known that I was going to survive it. I don’t know why but it’s just one of those things, you know. You feel, like when I went in for the operation it didn’t frighten me because I knew I was going to survive. But the wife and my daughters came in the hospital and they said that I was still unconscious and the tubes are out here and up your nose, down your throat and everywhere and of course they thought well that’s it. He’s going to go. You know. They didn’t think I would survive. I said, but surprisingly I knew that I would survive. I don’t know why but there you are. It’s one of those things. I suppose you know you think yourself extremely lucky if you’ve got those premonitions that you will survive whatever happens. I’ve even, I’ve even did that with a car. With a, with a car because I was doing a lot of driving and I was, I did a silly thing. I drove all day Friday, Friday night I drove somebody down to Cornwall. Saturday morning I drove back to Margate to pick somebody up to bring back to Watford and it was in the wintertime and there was a bit of snow on the ground and I came, I dropped them in Watford and I came up Watford High Street and I got to where the Town Hall roundabout is and there was, there is another roundabout where the Technical College is. And when it happened I don’t even remember driving around those roundabouts but I must have fallen asleep at the wheel because I woke up in a crash. I went straight into a lamppost. The whole front of the car collapsed, the steering wheel collapsed and the door came off and I managed to drive the car because it was automatic. I didn’t have to change gear. I still drove the car off the main road around to the little road that runs off the roundabout by the Technical College. Parked up. Absolute write off but I hadn’t got a scratch. Afterwards I thought amazing. When they looked at the car they said, ‘How did you survive it?’ Because the steering wheel was all collapsed and gone. Everything. And the whole front of the car had gone. So there again. I survived it. I don’t know. My wife, my daughter said to me once, ‘You’re very lucky. You’ve got nine lives like a cat I suppose.’ But there you are. One of those things. But anyway, is there anything more we can help you with?
NM: Just looking back at your time in Bomber Command I mean you’ve touched on it a few times already but what are your main reflections as you look back?
GN: My main what?
NM: What are your main thoughts and reflections as you look back on your time in Bomber Command?
GN: Well, I I think it was a terrible thing to have to do but I think it was something that had to be done because I think personally that Bomber Command dropping the bombs shortened the war because I think it would have gone on longer. So I don’t think to myself that I don’t feel guilty about dropping bombs because I think it did do something to help stop the war because I know, I know that when I first got demobbed that they went, I went back to the firm when I got demobbed out the Service. I was in Watford. Although I was married we’d got digs in Watford and everything and I went back, they said, ‘Oh, you’ll get your job back that you volunteered from.’ So I went in and I reported there and I was just clocking in and a chap came up. He said, ‘Who are you.’ I said, ‘Sorry, sir. I’m just starting work.’ Where’s your card?’ I said, ‘What card?’ He said, ‘Your Union card.’ I said, ‘I haven’t got a Union card.’ ‘You can’t start here.’ I said, ‘Well, fair enough. I can’t start then.’ So I waited until the managers come in and when the managers come in they went in to the office to see this shop steward or whatever he was then, he came in. ‘He can’t start here. He’s got to have a Union card.’ I said, ‘I’ve just fought a dictator.’ I said, ‘You’re dictating.’ I said, ‘If you’d have come to me and said, ‘Look, it’s now a fully-fledged Union shop. Will you join the Union?’ I said, ‘I would have said yes but,’ I said, ‘The way you’ve told me I’ve got to join the Union. Do this. Do that,’ I said, ‘There’s no way I’m going to do it.’ And they couldn’t sack me. They had to keep me for six months. But six months to the day the manager called me in to the office. He said, ‘Look, take a week off and find yourself another job.’ He said, ‘Because,’ he said, ‘We’ll have to let you go next week.’ I said, ‘Fair enough.’ They gave me a week’s holiday and I found another job. But that’s what turned me against Unions because it was the attitude. They were, I said, ‘We’ve just fought a war against a dictator.’ I said, ‘You don’t dictate to people. You ask them.’ But there you are. That’s the way it is I suppose. That’s one of the things that put me off of Unions and going in to a factory again. But there you are. Never mind.
[recording paused]
And it lasted a long while but that’s the only thing as I say I hope it’s done some good to stop any more wars if we can because no war, every, any war is a terrible thing. I don’t know why people have to fight. We know most wars are caused by either politics or religion and why they have to fight and kill people because they don’t believe what you believe in. You haven’t got to turn around and kill them. But they do. Why? That is one thing I can never understand. Why they can do that because it doesn’t matter what they believe in really. Everybody is the same. You are free to do and believe what you want. But there you are. They don’t. I suppose they think it’s the right thing to do. I don’t know. Anyway, do you want a cup of coffee or anything?
NM: No. I’m fine. Thank you very much.
GN: Are you sure?
NM: Yeah. I really appreciate it. Yeah. No, I’m fine. Thank you.
[recording paused]
GN: He was a prisoner of war, Reg was. For the rest of the war. And it was Reg who said, that’s Reg White. That’s another one of 460s ones. And these and Reg said to me, ‘Would you be willing to go to Dunstable once a month? To the ATC at Dunstable?’ I said, ‘Yeah. Why? What for? What for Reg?’ He said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘The officer in charge of 460, of ATC at Dunstable has got in touch with 460 Squadron in Australia and they have given him my name and he’s asked me would we go to visit them. So I said, ‘What for?’ He said, ‘Well the thing is,’ he said, ‘They are 460 Squadron ATC.’
NM: Oh right.
GN: But they want to change it because they don’t like the number and he said, but the Air Force got in touch with him and said you don’t change. You don’t want to change it because 460 Squadron was the top squadron of number 1 Group, Bomber Command. And Peg Leg Ray was the, Air Commodore Ray was the, was the CO then and they said, ‘Would you be willing to go and visit the ATC? So we did do and we got invited to their do’s and meet the Mayor of Dunstable and so forth and we were given the Freedom of Dunstable and everything. And we, and then it, unfortunately he’s now left. He’s been promoted. He’s gone to another ATC and the one that’s there now is not interested in doing a veteran’s do, so we had to leave it. And this one is [pause] and this was the order of a wreath laying and so forth. We went to that one. That’s the Australian War Museum in London. We went to that one.
NM: So what was it like serving on a mainly Australian squadron as opposed to being an Englishman on an English squadron?
GN: Oh they were marvellous blokes. I couldn’t fault it. People say about them but alright they were a bit rough and tumble but once you got to know them they were absolutely marvellous blokes. Yeah. There’s the original paper.
NM: Did you get any ribbing for being an Englishman?
GN: Any what?
NM: Did you get any ribbing for being a Pommie?
GN: Oh yeah, they called, oh yes. They did everything they could, you know. Only in fun. They did it all in fun. They were marvellous blokes because on the ground you were all the same. But when you were flying you did what they say. The officer takes over but when you were on the ground you could never be broke because if they ever said, one bloke said to you, ‘Go on. Let’s go down the pub.’ Say, ‘Oh no. I’m a bit skint.’ ‘Come on. I’ve got two pound. Come on. Off we go.’ But you were the same as them. You had to be the same as them and you got on well with them and as I say I’ve, to me they were absolutely marvellous. I think it was probably better than going on a British squadron because I think they were all marvellous blokes and of course with all the, even the, a lot of the ground crew were Aussies as well, you see. Not only were the aircrew Aussies but I mean in charge of our aircraft, Teece’s aircraft was Flight Sergeant Tickle. He was an Australian. An absolutely marvellous bloke. Australia. Hoping that 460 Squadron Association —
NM: So this was, this was your —
GN: Veterans will try and trace anybody, relatives of Ron.
NM: So this was your pal, Ron on 460. This is, I just, I have to catch up on the recording here. You, at the Spire you found his name.
GN: Yeah. Ronny Mansfield. Yeah.
NM: And you took a photograph.
GN: Well, hoping that they can find somebody and I could send them a photograph and, a couple of photographs that I’ve got and so forth I could send out to them but I don’t suppose I’ll go to Australia again. I’m a bit too old now because the trouble is with going abroad now at my age is the insurance. They charge you a fortune.
[recording paused]
GN: I always had a job to get into the turret because you’d got the rear bulkhead doors and you had a gangplank down in to the turret but when I’d got my electrically heated suit on and everything and I got in to the turret I couldn’t get my hand, or arm around to open the rear turret doors once I’d centralised the turret to get out if anything happened. So Ronnie’s job was to come down if anything happened, open the bulkhead doors, come down, open the turret doors to let me out. So that’s how I got so friendly with him because that that was agree that if anything did happen to us he would help me out because our parachute was in the fuselage you see. It wasn’t in the turret with me was it? So I’ve got to get out to get the parachute to jump out you see. But I don’t know whether you know the story of Alkemade do you? Sergeant Alkemade [pause] Well Sergeant Alkemade was given a certificate by the Germans because Alkemade was in a damaged aircraft and it was crashing and Alkemade couldn’t get out to get his parachute. So he turned the turret on the beam because the aircraft was on fire and he opened the doors and fell out backwards as they were at eighteen thousand feet. And he lived because it was near the Black Forest and it was in the middle of winter and the thing that saved him was the pine trees that go like that. He hit the pine trees and they broke his fall but he fell in to a twelve foot snow drift and when the Germans found him he had a broken leg and broken arm and one or two things. They wouldn’t believe him that he had jumped without a parachute but they had to because he’d still got his parachute harness on with the buckle and the clips. So when you put your parachute on the front and pulled the rip cord they come out and swing you over but his was still intact. It had no burst, it proved that he had jumped without a parachute and lived. That was Sergeant Alkemade. Whether he’s still alive or not I don’t know but it’s in one of the gunnery books I’ve got. It’s called, “The Tail Gunner.” The book. And Alkemade was one of them.
NM: So as a rear gunner do you —
GN: I was a rear gunner. Yeah.
NM: Did you feel a long way from the rest of the crew? Did you feel very isolated?
GN: Well you did feel a little bit a long way but as I say you felt satisfied that they all would all do what they could to get you out and as I say Ron was, his first job was to come down and open the bulkhead doors and go down and open the turret doors for me because there’s no way I would have got out I don’t think if I had to have got out quick. But fortunately it never happened that I had to get out quick and the only time as I say that I did get out the turret was when I was knocked through by the guns. They put me in hospital for about a fortnight because, oh they rushed me in to hospital because I’d bit my tongue. Holding on in some way I’d bitten my tongue. I had blood coming out my mouth and they thought it had hit the ribs and broken, it broke three of them off the ends and turned the end to the lung and pierced the lung. And they sent a telegram to my mother saying I was dying. To go and visit me in hospital in Louth. Yeah. The old County Infirmary. They sent her a, you know, that I wouldn’t live because they thought my lung was punctured but it wasn’t. Fortunately, it missed. It didn’t quite touch the lung. They’d knotted up. The only thing is now that if I walk very far I get a terrible pain there and they thought worse. Heart trouble. But the doctors say no. It’s not heart trouble. It’s the muscle of the lung because the rib is too near the lung.
NM: That’s from following that crash.
GN: Yeah.
NM: After the Magdeburg crash.
GN: Yeah.
NM: Wow.
GN: Yeah. I was fortunate there that that didn’t puncture the lung but there you are. It’s just, I suppose it’s fate really. As I say I’m not a religious person. I don’t believe in religion but I believe in fate. I think it’s just fate. What’s going to happen is going to happen. That’s it and there’s no way you can stop it, you know. So one of these things. But anybody that’s religious well good luck to them if they want to believe it, you know but the damned fools all fight over it. It’s just, it’s to me it’s utterly useless and a waste of a life because there’s no reason for it. But there you are. I suppose it’s one of those things. Religious fanatics and there you are.

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Citation

Nigel Moore, “Interview with Gerard Norwood,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 24, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11429.

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