Interview with Taff Owen


Interview with Taff Owen


Aneurin ‘Taff’ Owen was born neat Dolgellau, near Penmaenpool in Wales, and joined the Royal Air Force at the age of 18 in 1942. Taff was a farmer’s son and as such was put into a reserved occupation, so some of the areas of the Royal Air Force were not open to him. He became a wireless operator/air gunner after his training in 1942. He tells of his sighting of his first aircraft at the age of nine and of seeing a travelling flying circus, which fanned his love of flying. Whilst he was training, he flew in Dominie biplanes before progressing onto Proctors. He tells of flying in Ansons and going to 27 Operational Training Unit in RAF Lichfield flying in Wellington bombers before serving in a Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Lindholme on Lancaster. He then transferred to 153 Squadron based at RAF Scampton. His tells about his first trip which was an operation on the submarine pens in Kiel and he tells of his training for Operation Manna and the food drops into the fields in Holland. He also says that the image on Pathe News showing a Lancaster flying over St Paul’s on VE Day is the Lancaster he was in at the time. He tells of catching chicken pox and having to repeat his courses, his problems with a navigator who was colour blind, and the heavy losses experienced at the Operational Training Unit. After the war, in 1946, despite wanting to stay in the Air Force, he returned to farming, retiring when he was 65 years of age.




Temporal Coverage




00:52:24 audio recording


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DK: Right, so, this interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is David Kavanagh, myself. The interviewee is Mr Owen. The interview is taking place at his home on the 3rd of June 2015. So, if you’d like to just describe your early life.
AO: Yes, well, my very early life started, of course, in Wales, as you might imagine with a name like Aneurin Owen.
DK: I was going to say. [slight laugh]
AO: And, um, it was near Dolgellau near a little village called Penmaenpool, that was our nearest point, near the farm. I was a farmer’s son and we farmed there in them days. And I can recall going to, walking about three miles to school, each way that was in those days with — in all weathers, but the thing was then, most children did in that part of the world in them days. Also, um, I was very lucky, I always thought, in them days. I had a wonderful teacher, er, a primary school teacher. We used to get to school wet through sometimes and she used to slip all our clothes off and get them dried for us with one of these old fashioned stoves, you know, the old tortoise stoves we called them and, er, she was brilliant with our — with us, certainly with me, and some of the other farm children. But I suppose looking back as well in that time — I left there about ten years of age or nine years of age, nine and a half — and, um, just before a year or two before I left, I came across my very first sight of an aeroplane which was flown in the very early days. I don’t know whose it was but he used to travel from Dolgellau to Barmouth on the Mawddach estuary to — all along the river there, and he used to look down from the cockpit, an aircraft flying with, along there, with an open cockpit. I assume it was a Percival Gull type of aircraft, something like that but I don’t know, of course, now what it was. I don’t know, even know, who it belonged to. But that, er, was my very first experience of seeing an aeroplane close too, I suppose. The very first one. Then we left there after Depression, the Great Depression, 1929 and ‘30, early 30s. I came to this farm in about 1934, nine years of age, took a farm in Husbands Bosworth and, er, we started dairy farming from there, from then onwards, because obviously dairy farming was an important event after the Milk Marketing Board just came into being in those days and gave us a monthly income. But, er, one of the jobs I had to do before going to school, of course, here, going to, to the school at Lutterworth, was to milk two cows in the morning and two when I got home from school, and most of the time it was my own [slight laugh] but, er, it wasn’t a very pleasant job, actually, to do either before going to school, I found, because it was a dirty job. The cows were dirty and you had a job to get yourself cleaned up again in time for catching the school bus you got in those days. But, er, it was a job I didn’t care much for, like, because me and my father didn’t get on terribly well, er, in those days. Well, er, one, if you didn’t do your job properly then you got a thick ear for it [slight laugh], for not been doing what you were told. But going back to the flying, the first aircraft I saw, of all things, I saw in about 1936 here, flying up above the valley was an autogyro. That was the first time I ever saw one and I think he was on his trials run. I think it about 1936, no later than 1937 anyway, and he used to come along the valley from Market Harborough to Rugby and then follow the line but the autogyro — I can’t remember now who designed it. It was wing commander somebody, wasn’t it? I can’t think who it was exactly but going from — and then, that period as well, what really fascinated me was being able to see Amy Johnson. She used to come with the, with the, their flying circus team to do, well, flying demonstrations and flying trips for people, I think, which were about ten shillings a time, something like that but it doesn’t sound much money today but it was lots of money in those days. And I used to go an watch them at an airfield just near Husbands Bosworth and, er, I’m trying to think, Alan —.
DK: Cobham.
AO: Cobham. It was his flying circus. It became an annual event, and of course one of the people who came was Amy Johnson with him.
DK: Oh right.
AO: And, er, I got to see them flying their aircraft. I assume he used to do these events for financial reasons, to help them go on their world tours, they used to do probably as well. To get enough money for that. But it fascinated me to watch these aircraft taking off and I thought that’s the life for me, sort of thing, at the end of the day but that was only around about 1936. Yeah, 1936 the Tomahawk, would have been and then onwards, as I say, I didn’t get on terribly well with my father. My father was a strict parent I suppose, er, in lots of ways and, um, so I decided, I thought well I won’t stick it with farming, I’m going to do something else in life. And of course the Air Force, at that time, wasn’t in my mind as such but I wanted to do something different to farming so I thought I’d go — I was friendly with a guy named George Briggs from Bradford, who were wool merchants, and I decided to go there as an apprentice in the wool trade but, of course, by 1938, ’39 time, you could see the war clouds are looming and the expansion of the military forces as well, so things looked a bit different altogether at that time, and anyway, by 1940, my father died all of a sudden in — he had a heart attack and he was only thirty-seven years of age. But I’d still made my mind up, I wasn’t going to stick to farming but I think that was probably a mistake in some ways, as far as my mother was concerned, but, er, I made my mind up and that was it, and once I was old enough, I volunteered for the Air Force, you know. That’s what — and then by the time I was about seventeen and a half [cough], excuse me, er, I volunteered for — well, I was in a reserved occupation, of course, being in the farming side, so I could only go into air crew or submarines. But, er, submarines I didn’t fancy, didn’t — I wasn’t any good at swimming anyway [slight laugh].
DK: Yes. I can understand. [slight laugh]
AO: But at the back of my mind, I just wanted to go — flying was in my mind, you know, as far as that goes, so off I went to — I was supposed to volunteer. It was on a Sunday and I went to Leicester, I think it was to start with, and found the recruiting office was closed but I’d cycled to Leicester from here but there was a notice there saying the Hinckley office would be open, so I cycled to Hinckley and volunteered from there and, in the meantime, I also joined the Air Cadets in Lutterworth, yeah, Lutterworth branch that was, and we were able to go from there to, um, to an ITW to fly in a Tiger Moth on one or two occasions. That was at Desford, that was, which is a ITW, Initial Training Wing for — at that time and, within a short period of time anyway, I got my call-up papers come through and I had to go to Cardington for an interview there and do medical tests and so forth, to see if I was suitable for air crew and I passed that alright but unfortunately they found out I was under age. I was only, I was about seventeen and three quarters.
DK: Did you have to be eighteen then?
AO: Yes. I had to be 18, yep, so I came — they sent me back home from there until I was eighteen in November. And, anyway, I had Christmas at home that year, 1942 that was, and they called me up in, um, [inaudible] my papers came before Christmas, to report to Air Crew Receiving Centre in London, at St Johns Wood, of course, Regents Park, so that’s where I went to have further tests, be kitted out there, and also to have more exams and medicals there and, unfortunately, they found out that I had a lazy eye, so that restricted me to some parts of the air crew section, so that’s why I went out a wireless operator in the end. WOPAG they called them as well. And from there, of course, I can’t remember how long exactly, three or four weeks there, I suppose, by the time I was kitted out and initial square bashing you might describe it, and discipline, and Air Force law and that sort of thing. And we went on to, um, Bridgnorth, into ITW, Initial Training Wing, where we did quite a lot of square bashing in there and also Morse code and, er, radio equipment, basic equipment that was really. The Morse code was the most important thing there because you had get to, to be assessed at eight words a minute to pass there fairly quickly and then, er from then we had to do eighteen words a minute, but you only got one chance. If you failed you were out, sort of thing, you know, so that was it. You didn’t get a second chance. I don’t remember many having a second chance anyway at all. About three months there, it was altogether, in early 1943 and, er, we moved then to, to the Radio School in Yatesbury in Wiltshire. I think it was Number 2 Radio School, yeah, Number 2 Radio School, I think it was. That was quite a big unit that was there and, of course, we had to learn all the theory of radio and everything else there and also continue, of course, with our Morse code and, er, coding system, plus the procedure of Morse code as well, which was important of course. And then we had quite a long time there at Yatesbury, unfortunately, because the, um, this course was about a year-long altogether, after the theory part and then the practical part of it. We did a bit of flying then, eventually in Dominie aircraft bi-planes. That was our first part of flying in there and then we continued then as we progressed further, we went on to Proctors. And they had three different airfields there at Yatesbury. They had the main one for the Dominies on the main airfield, then another one which was called Town End, the Proctors used to fly from there, and then another one on occasion we had to go, which was miles away, was at Alton Barnes in the, in the Wolds, in the Downs, the Wiltshire Downs. Three airfields operated from there, actually, altogether and we used to be able to take a cook with us to Alton Barnes, because the local crowd [inaudible] there. We took a cook from the cookhouse with some meat and potatoes and they used to cook it for us, you know, in there, out in the open field with all mud [inaudible] early type of bake house, sort of thing, they had in there. And then after I finished, after Radio School — unfortunately, I did catch chicken pox in there and that set me back quite a bit. I was about nineteen, I suppose, eighteen or nineteen there. Again it was ‘43, late ‘43, that was, and I caught chicken pox and that put me on the sick list for quite a few weeks, you know. I’d be in the isolation hospital for a while as well so that when I came back from leave after sickness, sick leave, I had to go back and do another the course. Because I’d missed so much when I was sick, so I had to go back on another course then. But eventually I travelled from there to, of all things, from Calne in Wiltshire up to Scotland, at West Freugh, which is near Stranraer, which is an initial flying unit and gunnery school as well there. I was still doing gunnery, of course, at that stage, as well, in those days.
DK: Was the idea then, as a wireless operator, you were also an air gunner?
AO: Yes, there was, yeah. WOPAG, yes. Although there was a signaller’s course, but I think they did drop the air gunnery bit eventually but we were still doing it then, air gunnery course, yep. Yes, um, we travelled from Calne. I always remember that journey really well because, well, I’ll go back and tell you one thing I should have mentioned to you in London. I got fed up in London because of the air raids, I had to go in the shelter every night I was there so I was glad to see the back of that and, of all things, when I left Yatesbury, er, we caught the train in Calne and there was a carriage of us, of, of us, travelling up to Scotland. I can’t remember the number, actually, but the carriage was pretty full anyway and, er, we got as far as Bristol and got caught in an air raid there, so got stuck there for two or three hours in the, in an air raid. And so, we eventually moved to the next stop was Crewe where we had refreshments and then carried on to Carlisle, further refreshments there, then on to Stranraer where they picked us up. We didn’t get there until about twenty-seven hours later, it was, the journey took us altogether. And, er, we were rather late getting back into camp, to West Freugh, and there was police there. There was transport for us there that picked us up at the station. Then from West Freugh, I suppose — I’m trying the think how long we were there for, er, about two months I suppose it’d be, roughly, there, yeah. And I finished the — I think I did more gunnery there, probably, than anything else. We did do quite a bit of wireless work, flying out over the Atlantic, over Northern Ireland on the radio, in the Ansons there. And, er, one situation was, we had an engine failure with, with no land in sight anywhere so we had to go back to the nearest airfield there was and it happened to be Tiree. We was, we was stuck there for about five days whilst they flew another engine out that had gone US with us, you know. And, er, then after then we finished there and I went to my first OTU, on to Wellingtons at Peplow, in Shropshire. That would be around about 1945, August, early August in ‘44 that would have been. Yeah, we were in Peplow for — we started training then, more or less, straight away in Peplow and, um, unfortunately I’d been there a week or two and my sister got killed in an accident, you know, so I had some leave at that time to come home for a few days and then I returned to Peplow, but not long afterwards — let’s see — the airfield was rather, one of the boggiest sort of places, very — and it wasn’t very suitable for the aircraft or they didn’t seem to be and they decided to close it down and they moved us to, well, to various OTUs all over the place and ours was the one to, our group went to, er, Lichfield, which was 27 OTU, that was. And as a matter of fact, that was a very good base to get to because they were mostly Canadians and Australians there and, of course, the food was a lot better than what we’d been used to. Obviously they were getting a lot more imported food from somewhere, anyway, for them particularly, the Canadians there. And it was a very good base to work, and my flight commander was an Australian as well, Squadron Leader McIntyre. I’ll always remember him. And that’s where we finished our OTU with him. Not long after being in Lichfield, I was having problems, or we were having a bit of problem with the navigator a little bit, because my fixes and bearings that I was getting on the radio weren’t, tying, tying up completely with the position the navigator was getting on his, on his Gee chart and I thought it must be me. I kept double checking everything I was doing and couldn’t find what I was going, doing wrong but, anyway, one morning coming back after a training flight — quite a long flight it was, about 4.30 in the morning we got back — and, er, the navigation officer was waiting outside the aircraft for us and he said, ‘I want you all in my office.’ he said, ‘Before you have your breakfast.’ And, er, he said to the navigator, he said to go through his chart again, with his fixes and that, and what he was getting on this Gee, Gee reading. You had to get two readings and you got different coloured lines [inaudible] on the Gee chart and he was going along each one with a pencil and then coming back again, taking quite some considerable time really, whereas he should, should be able to do it a few seconds but he was taking quite a long time doing it. He said, ‘What are you doing that for?’ He said, ‘I can’t see the different coloured lines.’ And that was the answer to his problem, you see.
DK: I’m assuming he was colour blind or —
AO: He was colour blind, yep. Yeah, he was colour blind, yeah, and —
DK: I mean it should have been identified earlier, in his medicals?
AO: Yeah. In fact they checked his records, the, the, er, navigation leader checked his records and, of all things, it was recorded in his medicals and he was only to be trained as a navigator but, of course, when he, when he joined up it didn’t matter. I suppose that he was colour blind but, of course, when Gee came out, it did and he just couldn’t tell the difference. The reds and greens, I think he was confused completely you know.
DK: Yes. Colour blind is reds and greens.
AO: And he just could not — and that’s why it was taking such long a long time then, of course, to get his fixes. By, by the time he got his fix sorted out, we’d travelled probably another ten or twelve miles or more, yeah. So we had another, er, a spare navigator then. He, he had come from Pep— yeah, from Peplow with us actually, he had been, and he was the sole survivor of a mid-air crash in Wellingtons. He was a fly— flying officer and he was a very, very — well, probably one of the best navigators I ever flew with. He was a very good navigator. He was a maths teacher, I think, before the war and, er, Flying Officer Junior, Jock Junior his name was, and he only flew a few trips but his nerves broke down again with him on, er, one very bad night, we had on a cross country trip and it was very wet, gale force winds were blowing, and we had a bit of trouble really getting back to base because we were facing a head wind of over a hundred miles an hour, sort of thing, in this gale, you know, at that height and unfortunately he cracked up completely after that. So, so we had to get another navigator then, that was our third one, to start all over again and this — we’d already been in OTU, how long now? I’m trying to think back now, probably, er, six weeks probably, another month or two, yeah, we’d been in OTU nearly three months at that stage. We should have been finishing it nearly. We got an Australian navigator then and that seemed fine but, of course, had to go through the whole course again with the navigator and, er, it was the end of the year or early January before we finished our OUT, then, at Huddersfield. Early January ‘45 that would have been. And we went from there then, at that period, into a Conversion Unit, Heavy Conversion Unit. He wants the name there.
AO: Heavy Conversion Unit at Lindholme, onto Lancasters, and that was a different aircraft altogether, you know, a different world completely from the Wellington. I wasn’t all that keen on the Wellington because we’d had so many problems and so many losses at OTU, [inaudible] the casualty rate was horrendous sometimes.
DK: Was that your first close-up of a Lancaster then, was it?
AO: Yeah, in Lindholme, yes it was.
DK: What was your first impressions when you saw it?
AO: Yes because it was a very big aircraft too. Your first impression as you walk up to it, you know, a massive thing. And the first flight or two I had — it was a different thing altogether. It was a beautiful aircraft to fly in, comfortable and —
DK: Did you feel more confident?
AO: Oh, far more confident. A lot more, yes. The Wellington had been, been troublesome. We’d had lots of problems with them, you know, maintenance-wise, where probably the aircraft were worn out, most of them, as well but there was a lot of problems with them. And as soon as you got in a Lancaster — I remember one of the first flights I had to do very early on, was with another pilot who was taking another trainee pilot with him. For some reason they got me as a wireless operator because he couldn’t fly multi-engine aircraft. They had a wireless operator, of course, in them days. That was one of the [inaudible] you had to be, so they got me out of the office somehow and I went off with them on this flight and I always remember the, the feathering engines in turn for practicing and it was still a stable aircraft, you know, altogether and they feathered, I think it was, it was three engines eventually, and then the very first one that they started, failed to start so they had to get the other two started quickly —
DK: At one point you were flying on one engine?
AO: On one engine, yes. But it was still, it was still manageable that was, that aircraft, yes. You would, er, you would probably have travelled, according to the instructor, quite a distance but losing height gradually, it would have gone quite a long way on the one engine. But, anyway, they got the other two engines going and we made a landing on three engines with no problem at all. And I heard them saying that the balance was — wasn’t a lot different to the full engines from losing one engine there on the one side and, possibly, if you lost both, both engines on one side I think it wouldn’t, I think the aircraft would still be manageable but you’d trim it, you know, to being able to fly it reasonably straight and level, yeah, but it was such a big improvement, you know, from the Wellington. It was a very big step, it was. And then, eventually, from Lindholme, we went then to — how long were we there, at Lindholme? I’m trying to think now, um, probably about a month or so I should think, at Lindholme. Yeah, it might have been longer, might have been six weeks, I should think, there at Lindholme altogether, because it was January, or late January, when we got there to start the training. And then at that stage, of course, there seemed to be a lot of air crew coming through the training system at that stage as well. There was a lot of us about and, er, I suppose they were looking for a base to send us to and they sent us to Sturgate for a short period, and it was a holding unit for air, for air crew. We were there only a few days. It didn’t seem many days before we were posted to Scampton, to 153 Squadron. But we settled in there very, very quickly, there was no — well, going from Lancaster to Lancaster, there was no problem. It was a good base, Scampton. Well it was one of the pre-war bases. A good building, good accommodation there, the food was excellent as well there and we were well looked after. And we had a Canadian wing commander, squadron commander there, er, Wing Commander Powley and, er, he met us, introduced himself to us as soon as we got there. But a lot of new crews came in, in March that — and I think it was the worst, probably the worst period in the history of the squadron, March and early April. We lost, in March alone, we lost seven Lancasters and the crews and there were two more Lancasters that were struck off charge. They were so badly damaged they weren’t worth repairing. As a matter of fact, my, a friend of mine, a Flight Lieutenant Wheeler (he was a pilot), I remember him saying — I think it was about that period when he had a third, very bad mishap. He was shot at by night fighters and I think the third one, I think he had to leave it. He had to make a forced landing back of the lines in Belgium and got back about three days later. And I remember, what was his name? Flight, Flight Lieutenant Baxter, the engineering officer, er, going out the mess one morning and having breakfast where Wheeler was, and his crew members with him, or two or three of them were, having breakfast there and he tapped, and Baxter tapped him on the shoulder just as he was going out and said, ‘Wheeler, if you’re going to carry on like this I’m going to start charging you.’ He said. [laugh] I always remember that bit. And then, of course, our very, our first raid — well, I’ll go back to where we were losing these aircraft and Powley then decided to put his name down on the next battle order and, er, I think he felt morale probably getting — people were getting a bit jumpy, all these losses in, in one month. And, unfortunately for Powley, he took John Gees crew and he was shot down, well, a few days later. Early April that was, in, er, on a mining trip. And on another aircraft, Flight Lieutenant Winder was with him, a deputy flight commander. He — they were both lost. Two out of five aircraft went and two were lost and he was one of them and then, a few days later, we, er, I went on a Kiel raid then, that was our first trip out that was on —
DK: That, that was your first operation?
AO: Our very first trip, yep.
DK: How, how did you feel before that as your first operation? Can you remember your sort of feelings of —
AO: Yes, I was just feeling anxious to get on with the job as much as anything, get the war over with, sort of thing because we could see the war was coming to an end, at that stage, and we’d just started as well having, er, lectures on survival. And the Tiger Force were planning to go out there, to the Far East, of course, at that time. It would have been just about that period it would have been, early April time, I suppose when we —
DK: So, um, Tiger Force was actually mentioned quite early on then, before the defeat of Germany?
AO: Well, before the defeat of Germany, definitely, yes it was. Yes, we were having it on — the plan was once Americans, I think if I remember rightly, it was a long time ago now, but once Okinawa was cleared, you know, of Japanese that was, sort of, one of the nearest islands we’d get to get near Japan. That was the idea of it, I think, initially. We wouldn’t have very far to travel from Okinawa.
DK: So, you were always expecting, after Germany, you’d go out to the Far East?
AO: Yeah, within a short period of time we thought, you see, yeah, within —
DK: Sorry, I’m interrupting there, but back to Kiel as your first raid and after that —
AO: Yes, after that. Yeah, the first raid, as I say, we went to Kiel and, um, I always remember that, because obviously, the first one very well and we were carrying, I think, twelve or fourteen five hundred pounders and a four thousand pounder and then it might have been four two fifties, I think it was, two fifty pounders. They were armour piercing bombs. The idea was, we were after the submarine pens ideally [cough] and then I remember the approach of it very well. We hadn’t met much ak-ak fire on the way, one or two, particularly as you turned. We turned different legs, zig zag course, of course. We didn’t go direct to Kiel but did a zig-zag course to it, of course, and we did come across ak-ak fire in one or two places we weren’t pleased with, but getting to Kiel seemed very quiet and I could see the time was, zero time was coming up for our target time, and there was no sign of the master bomber and there was nothing at all, and I could see pretty well in the dark, but there were no markers or anything going down and there was the one searchlight, a stationary searchlight, immediately in front of us. I always remember it was a master searchlight which has a bluish tinge to it and, um, I thought, ‘I don’t like the looks of that at all.’ It was directly in front of us, in our flight, and a few miles ahead and before we got to it, it went off, switched off, and blow me, immediately we got over it, it switched itself back on again and we were caught right in the middle of the beam and, of course, the other searchlights came on to us and we were caught in the beam. But at that stage we’d started our bomb run from the Kiel canal and we were going up to the submarine pens, but still no markers going down. But just at that point, as well, everything seemed to happen at once. The master, master, bomber’s voice came over to bomb the centre of the greens. We saw the markers going down and he said immediately bomb, bomb the centre of the greens, so we carried on with our, er, bombing run, got it completed and, of course, once the bombs had gone, been released, from the Lanc, I felt the four thousand bomber go because that was under my feet because I was standing on my — on the seat above me. I felt that actually go because the aircraft just went.
DK: Could you feel the aircraft go?
AO: Yeah. We had several probably, and two or three under my feet and then, um, we went to corkscrew immediately after. We didn’t have time to take a photograph of the actual — from a photoflash and, er, we corkscrewed out of that one and we dropped about two or three thousand feet and, for some reason, all the searchlights went off all of a sudden. The master searchlight went off. Whether the power plant had been hit, that’s the only thing I can think of, but why would a power plant supply all the other different searchlights as well? I don’t know why they went off but they did.
DK: You’d think there’d be a separate supply, wouldn’t you?
AO: Yeah. You’d thought so but I don’t know, never did find out. But I was just glad to get out of the master searchlight. That was the main thing because he’d locked on to us, you see, with a radar controlled searchlight. And then from, as I say, once that had gone off we gradually pulled out of the, er, pulled out of this corkscrew and gradually climbed back on to course again to fly, to fly over sort of Denmark, to the North Sea. And while pulling out, oddly enough, we were flying back over Denmark, over Kattegat, and it was just where our squadron commander was shot down a few nights before. I didn’t know that at the time, I found that out afterwards. And then we got back, you know, and no aircraft were lost, not in our squadron, anyway, that night, but there was a few, quite a few others got shot down but we all got back safely. And then, er, I eventually carried on from there to — I was going to say, on the Tiger Force but, er, we were still having these lectures, not many, just a few. I can’t even remember how many we had now but there were a few of them. And mainly if you were shot down in the jungle, what to eat, what not to eat, jungle survival, in other words. And then, on the, around the 21st the April, I’m pretty sure that was about the right date, when Lord Trenchard came to visit the base, you know, to give us a pep talk, supposedly. Well, at that period we were still doing some practice dropping of food supplies for Holland, you know, for the Manna drops. We, we were certainly doing them at that stage. We’d just about got it sorted out by then because there was some mistakes made. One of them was, a week or two before Lord Trenchard came — I’m trying to think of the guy’s name, Flight Lieutenant — oh dear, dear. He only died two or three years ago. His name will come to me in a minute. Langford, his name was. He went off to do a demonstration at an airfield to show some top brass how it was done, and he went badly wrong, unfortunately.
DK: Was that dropping food?
AO: Dropping the food supplies that was, yep. I don’t know what sort of containers he was dropping because I wasn’t there at that point, but I know it went badly wrong. I don’t know what happened but, er, he nearly dropped it all on the staff car and all the brass had to run for their lives [laugh] and get out the way. But anyway, by the time Lord Trenchard came, about 21st of April we’d got it and we gave a demonstration for him in the morning, er, and I’m trying — now I can’t remember whether we had our parade before then or after. Oh, I think it was after then, we did this demonstration for the food dropping for him, the Manna drop, when Lord Trenchard came for that bit for the day and I remember we had to put our best uniforms on, of course, you know, all these buttons and brass, badge and everything else, all of us to greet him on the parade ground and he inspected us on, on the parade ground. Late in the morning that was, and we gave a demonstration for him which went very well, on food dropping, to give him some idea how it would work. Then, after lunch that day, he, um, he give us this talk in the station cinema. He had, he had — by then there was another squadron at Scampton, 625 had arrived, only, not many days, or a week or two before. So there was two squadrons based there and we all had to pile into the station cinema and he, um, gave us this pep talk to congratulate us on the work that we’d been doing and so forth, and then he said, ‘Anybody think [inaudible] time on Tiger Force, I’m afraid you won’t be going off, not, not immediately’ he said, ‘because if the Russians don’t stop in Berlin, Bomber Command will be the first line of defence, you know, as a reserve there, so we’re holding you back into reserve for that period.’ So, I thought, ‘Blow me. That’s my Far East trip has gone to pot now then.’ That’s the first thing I thought straight away.
DK: Was there a, a genuine worry, then, that the, the Russians would have kept going west?
AO: Well, there was, there was quite a bit of talk in the mess about it which — and there was, there was a fear of it, that the Russians would not stop there. They’d keep going west. And, er, I think Patton had got that idea as well and I think he was prepared for it, General Patton. I think he was —
DK: How did that make you feel then, that there could have been a continuing war, not just the Germans but the Russians and then the Japanese?
AO: Yes, we thought the European war would never be done because I could see the Russians would have taken some beating, although at least by that stage we had a lot American fighters for protection at that stage as well, which was quite good, er, and in quite large numbers as well and also the latest Spitfires, of course, with the Griffin engines and that in them. They were a better aircraft altogether for defence and escort and that’s why I thought going to the Far East, I thought it would have been fine going to the Far East because, obviously, the defence of Japan was nothing like the Germans had and also the Americans had a very good escort, a fighter escort there. But anyway, that had to go to pot, that idea, out of our heads anyway. And we didn’t have a lot more lectures after that regarding the, the Tiger Force. It went very quiet around I remember. I don’t remember having many after because that put the tin hat on it, I suppose you might say.
DK: Obviously Tiger Force never came about because of the dropping of atomic bombs, did that make you sort of feel — how, how did that make you feel that the war wasn’t going to continue in the Far East?
AO: Well, you see, we were still hoping to go to the Far East, of course, until the atomic bomb was dropped but, er, when things settled down in Europe as it — much better than they anticipated I think, at the time, because if the Russians still kept going it would have been a huge problem obviously. But, er, of course, at that stage the, military-wise, we were pretty strong and the Americans were, of course, at that stage so that we just couldn’t see the Russians making much of an advance with the opposition that we’d got in front of them, particularly the air power as well on our side at that stage, and anyway we were still hoping to be able to go to the Far East, oh, right until probably end of, end July, early August. When was the atomic bomb? Middle of August, something like that.
DK: Early August the bomb was dropped.
AO: Once they dropped the atomic bomb and that was it. I thought, ‘That’s it, the war’s finished now.’ That’s —
DK: How did you feel at that point, relief?
AO: Yes, I suppose. I don’t know the feeling I had about that because we were quite happy, I certainly was, I was quite happy with the Air Force life. I hoped to stop in it for quite a while.
DK: How many operations did you actually do over Europe?
AO: I only did seven all together, yep.
DK: And were Manna drops —
AO: Manna drops as well, but the Manna drops, the very last one actually was on May the 8th , and if you look on, on the internet you can find out through Pathe News records there’s a Lancaster flying over St Paul’s cathedral on VE Day morning and, oddly enough, it’s got to be us going over St Paul’s because when — after briefing that morning, I remember my pilot said, ‘I’ve just had a word with the squadron commander,’ he said, ‘and I’ve asked him for permission to fly over London this morning to see if there’s any celebrations going on.’ And he said, ‘Yes, no problem at all, so long as you behave yourselves, you know.’ And, er, we flew down over London that morning, early morning, and you can find out on, on the internet these days and it’s got to be Lancaster ‘C’ Charlie from 153 Squadron. I’m pretty sure it’s that one and we were on our last journey to Holland, on our very last trip on VE Day morning, and of course the end of the war came back and I don’t remember —
DK: Just going back to the Manna drops do you remember, um, seeing the Dutch people?
AO: Oh yes, the Manna trip, very much so, yes, particularly on the — well, the first one was a race course in, um, in the Hague was the very first one, and then, yes, the last one wasn’t — and then the rear gunner said next time I’m going to take my camera and take some shots, you see, because we were flew very, very low level at that stage. You can read the time on the church clock as we went by, you know. We were low enough for that.
DK: The only reason I say that because I met, a few years ago, a Dutch lady, who was a girl at that time, and she was in awe of the RAF coming over dropping the food. She was only eight or nine at the time and she said she was reduced to eating tulip bulbs and daffodil bulbs and said, you know, seeing the planes come over and the Germans who were still there not firing on you. That was a huge relief to her.
AO: Yes. Yes, they had the ak-ak guns silenced. You can see the guns traversing round following us, you see, but they didn’t fire and, um, I saw several Germans of course, with their rifles on their shoulders, you know, bicycling about on the roads and that. I saw two or three of those about and, er, as I said, but the Dutch people there, how they didn’t get injured I’m sure. They were running on the fields, picking food sometimes, and the food was dropping round them, some of them, particularly in Rotterdam that was, more than the Hague I think, if I remember rightly, because the next three drops was at, at Rotterdam it was and the last one of the war was on VE Day morning was at, er, at the Hague, that was the racecourse at the Hague, yeah. But there was, they were waving to us, you know, and cheering like mad, the Dutch people were, and rushing on the field, on the edge of the food, picking this food up and it was still dropping from the air.
DK: It must have been a marvellous sight, seeing you come over, dropping the food?
AO: Yeah, it must have been for them to see all these aircraft coming close together, you know, and very, very low level, about two hundred feet or —
DK: What she said to me, she said that what, what really gave them confidence was looking, seeing the Germans not firing on your aircraft and knowing it would all be over soon.
AO: Yeah, but the biggest shock I had really, on looking back on that, was how much of Holland was under water, been flooded and it was dreadful, it really was. Why the Germans did that, at that stage of the war, when the war was more or less lost, and then to breach the dykes like they did. It looked to me as if half of Holland was under water, you know, but you could see vast areas of it, just farm houses, you know sticking up, and that’s where they were. Yeah.
DK: So the war’s ended now, um, how, how did your RAF career go on after that? Were you in the RAF for much longer?
AO: I stayed in till the following year. We, we were fortunate because we were — they picked several crews out. I think it was, how many? Eight or ten crews, to do field trials, or user trials, on H2S Mark 4. Yeah, we went, started on that, just about when the atom bomb was dropped there. Once the end of the war came then we were transferred under that, more or less straight away, to do that work and then the Squadron, 153 Squadron and 46 was disbanded in September, I think it was, September ’45 and I don’t know what happened to a lot of the crews but we were, the ones that had been chosen to do the field trails on H2S Mark 4, we were transferred to 12 Squadron at Binbrook.
DK: And was this your entire crew that moved over so they were all the same guys?
AO: Yeah, Ted Miles our navigator, was an Australian and —
DK: So you got yet another navigator [slight laugh]?
AO: Yeah, we had to get another navigator at that stage, yep, and Mark Bass, he went but, oddly enough, I think just before the end of war, as I understood it from [inaudible] I had been recommended for a commission, and also my navigator had as well, and he was — but, of course, the end of the war came and the Air Force more or less put everything on hold regarding, er, any promotions at that stage because, obviously, there was a lot of surplus crews about all over the place, all over the world virtually, and then the Australians and Canadians, the bulk of those would be going home. Well, Mark, my navigator, he went to, to pick his commission up. His was, er, carried through. He had to go to London, I suppose, to the, to the Australian — what do you call the —
DK: The embassy?
AO: Well, yeah. Not the embassy, you called them. Well, I’m trying to think what they called them in them days, but anyway, he picked up his, um, commission up and he, he didn’t come back to squadron again. He, you know, more or less went straight back to Australia on the next boat home I think, so he didn’t stay here long at all. So, unfortunately, we didn’t see him to — see him before he went, you know. We assumed he was coming back from London but that wasn’t the case, unfortunately, and then we had another navigator, of course, from then onwards, and another spare one, because all, as I say, nearly all the Canadians and Australians went back. But our signals leader, who I was very friendly with, was a New Zealander but he stayed on to the end, until the squadron disbanded. But what happened to him after that I don’t know because we went off to Binbrook and he went in another direction somewhere and, er, we stayed there at Binbrook then until ’46 before the trials had finished, all these H2S trials.
DK: Where were the trials done then? The H2S Mark 4 trials?
AO: Yeah this was, this — we finished the trials. Most of them were — well, we went all over the country doing the trials, all over the place, in all weather conditions as well. Also taking a lot of photographs of the screen itself to record the various towns and cities all over the country as well.
DK: Just in the UK?
AO: Mostly in the UK, yeah. And, er, when that was finished some — I came out then. I was under, under Class B, because they wanted me back home, unfortunately. Class B was a reserved occupational status again. I should have came back and agriculture came back very early compared with some of the other crew and they stayed on. They were on Lincolns then, flew on Lincolns.
DK: How did you feel about leaving the RAF at that point?
AO: I wasn’t very happy, no. No, well, I was quite happy where I was. I was doing a flying job there, which I thoroughly enjoyed, flying quite often, not every day but quite very often anyway and I was quite happy to stay in the Air Force and, er, I was considering a life probably in the Air Force but anyway they wanted me back home again. Let’s see, my father had died 1940, then my sister in ‘44 and I think it left my mother in a rather tight hole, so there was nothing for it but for me to come back home farming and I then stuck to farming the rest of my life.
DK: So how old were you by the time the war had finished then?
AO: I’d be twenty-one in, um, in end of, end of November ‘45.
DK: Not even twenty-one? [slight laugh]
AO: [slight laugh] Yes, yes.
DK: So, from then onwards was, has your life been on the farm?
AO: Yes, mostly I’ve been on the farm since then, yep, but same farm. I came to this house here, I came here in 1957 I came here, so I’ve been here ever since.
DK: Have you, have you remained in touch with your crew at all or —
AO: Yes. I keep touch. As I say, my navigator died about four or five years ago but I was constantly in touch and went to visit him in Australia as well. And my pilot is still alive. He lives in Majorca at the moment, but unfortunately the poor chap’s got Parkinson’s disease and he’s very, very deaf as well, probably due to the Lancaster engine noise, probably. I don’t know. And the other, the rear gunner, I was in touch with him. I picked — I lost contact with him altogether. He was in the farming world and I picked him up about — not far from Duxford, he lived in the end of the days but his life was a bit of a tragedy. He’d been adopted and his life was messed up completely and going from one place to another and had a lot of problems with family life and he died a few years ago. I did go and visit him a year or two before he died. And then the rest of the crew I haven’t been touch at all with them. I say, I knew, once, the bomb aimer, Norman Kirkman. He was a professional footballer before the war. I think Preston or Burnley, one or the other. Preston I think it was, and he came to, er, visit on a weekend in Leeds with my old pilot. But me and the pilot, old pilot and navigator, were the only ones in touch all the time, constantly in touch, while we could and were healthy enough to travel about. And Bill Edmonds came from Australia each year for several years to the reunion in Lincoln.
DK: Do you still attend the union— reunions, the reunions for your squadron, do you still attend those?
AO: Yes. We used to travel — when they first had them at the war. They started the reunions more or less after the end of the war and I missed the out first ones few to start with and they used to travel about to different parts of the country each year, er, in February-time. And then my first one was about, around about, 1956 I went to Doncaster. They had one there. And from then onwards it — a great lot of guys to be with, of course, been with them during the war years and they were good company to be with, all these fellas, you know. And, um, from then onwards we went to — oh, we went to Grimsby twice, er, Grimsby, then Cleethorpes, er, and then we decided then travelling was so bad in the winter, February-time. We were caught in a very bad winter there and we decided to have it a bit later in the year, in May, and stick to Lincoln and have it in the — what was the Grand Hotel in Lincoln. Because The Saracen’s Head was the place we used to mostly to congregate mostly in Lincoln of course, near the bridge there but it’s not any more. I don’t know what it is these days now. The other place we’d congregate, if you could get through the door, because it was packed with aircrew all the time. But then I stuck to farming life then for, for right up until twenty years ago, twenty-odd years ago. I retired then when I was sixty-five, twenty-five, twenty-six years ago coming up now it is, yeah.
DK: How do you feel now looking back after all these years about, you know, your period with the Air Force and Bomber Command is it something you, you know, you look at with pride and [inaudible]
AO: Yes. It was, it was a period of my life I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, that period of my life, yep. It was a good eye opener and also for me to meet an awful lot of people, you know.
DK: OK. I’ll stop there.



David Kavanagh, “Interview with Taff Owen,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 24, 2024,

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