Interview with Gwynne Price


Interview with Gwynne Price


Gwynne Price was living a rural lifestyle until he volunteered for the RAF. His dream was to train as an RAF pilot but since there was a surplus of pilots he chose to train instead as a flight engineer. On operations Gwyn observed the surreal feeling of one moment being in pitch darkness and the next being in the bright light over the target. On one operation they were coned by searchlights but managed to get clear by the skill and quick reaction of the pilot. On another occasion, their aircraft had a near miss with a Ju 88. When Gwyn left the squadron he became an engineer instructor but later retrained as a pilot; he went on to fly in the Far East and the Congo. He flew a large number of different aircraft including Hasting, Provost, Valetta, C-47 Meteor and Harvard.




Temporal Coverage




01:38:25 audio recording


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IL: Recording on the 1st of October 2015 at the home of Gwyn Price in Colerne in Wiltshire and Ian Locker conducting the interview. Right, Gwyn tell us a little bit about your early life and how you joined, how you became involved in Bomber Command.
SGP: Yeah. I was born in 1925 so we’re talking about some seventy odd years ago when I did my first operation. So, although the mind is reasonably clear and I’ve had a look at things we really have to go back and give you the background. My rural background. Farming community. No — no electricity, no gas, no water, no sewage. Everything done on the range. But plenty of food and not an unhappy life. A very happy life in fact and I feel that with my later experiences that you make the most of what you’ve got and it was an ideal start because there was a determination to keep one foot going in front of the other if nothing more. I was always interested in flying and my main aim was to become a pilot in the Royal Air Force. I enjoyed the —
IL: What sort of age was that Gwyn? Sorry.
SGP: Well, when I was about fifteen — Grammar School ATC. I joined the Grammar School ATC and actually did all my proficiency exams. Did better at that than my academic subjects and became a flight sergeant which was a bit unusual to get that high. So I was then committed to join the Royal Air Force. And when I became seventeen and a quarter I, without anybody knowing I shot off to Birmingham for interviews and hoping to be a pilot. But the situation then was such, this is ’43, there were a lot of pilots being turned out and so I was offered a flight engineer. Which, in retrospect was a very good place to be because I eventually ended up on Lancasters and sat in the right hand seat and did a lot of flying and all the rest of it but — so there I was accepted as a flight engineer in 1943. Because of my age I was deferred until I was eighteen and a quarter which was the 7th of January 1944. And then my world, you have to — from a rural background, never really been out of the county very much, very quiet and laid back and shot into London for all my pre-RAF equipping and inoculations and films on sexual behaviour. People fainting all over the place [laughs] And some people fainting with the sign of a needle. And we suffered all through that and then went off to Newquay to start our initial training which was a three months course initiating us into the history and the aims of the Royal Air Force and the background. Plus all the navigation, engineering and all sundry things. Plus physical exercise. Lots of, beautiful down in Newquay. Very, got very fit. Sitting on the side of the cliff there breaking down Bren guns and things like that. And eventually came out. By this time I think we were beginning to feel a little bit like servicemen. And so then I went off to St Athan for my engineer training. Flight engineer training which was a six months course. And this was extremely complicated in you, you went from talking about engines from the autocycle right the way through to Rolls Royce, Merlin, V12s plus all the, the other equipment. Electrical engine, hydraulics. Oxygen. All the other systems in the aircraft and I eventually decided I wanted to be in a Lancaster because the Lancaster engineer sits by the side of the pilot and I felt then I would have a good chance to get some flying in. So, I passed out in October, practically on my birthday, nineteen year old birthday in 1944. And then shot off to do a little bit of Anson training. About ten hours. A little pilot training on the Anson before I then joined up and went to the Heavy Conversion Unit, Lancaster Heavy Conversion Unit to start my training as, on the job as it were, as a flight engineer. I then only did, let me, I should go back and say that passing from a cadet to a sergeant flight engineer my pay went up from three shillings a day to twelve shillings a day which was a ginormous jump. I’d always been a saving man and I sent a shilling a day, sorry. Yeah, a shilling a week home and saved that so I had a car at the end of the war. But there you go. So, we’re on our way. Flight engineer training. I did twenty four hours training as a flight engineer and then I was then considered fit to join a crew. And this was very, for a poor old engineer you had the boys coming in with their crews already formed, flying Wellingtons, pre-Lancasters, where seven crew were required. And the engineers sat like wall flowers on the side waiting for a crew to say, ‘He looks a decent sort of chap.’ ‘He looks like he might be sensible,’ or whatever. And I didn’t get picked for a while. I think I was probably too good looking actually [laughs] They didn’t want, they didn’t want any, they wanted a dour, down to earth engineer who would sort things out. Eventually this big Aussie, God he was big. Bob Newbiggin. Big Aussie. About six foot five and huge. He was the surf swimmer for Australia. He was in the “Guinness Book of Records” eight consecutive years. He was surf champion of Australia. A lovely chap. And he looked at me and the rear gunner was a bit older than the rest. A bit, he had a bit more savvy. He said, ‘Well I think he looks alright.’ [laughs] And I said, ‘Well, you look alright.’ So, so this Bob Newbiggin’s crew was formed. And then off we went and we did only thirty three hours training as a crew before we started our operations. We were declared fit for operational service which, when you think about it was not very much. After serving the Royal Air Force and flying about, nearly five thousand hours afterwards I realise how green we were at the time and, but how we managed despite that to cope with the difficult situations.
IL: So, had Bob Newbiggin and the rest of the crew been flying together for a while or were they — ?
SGP: They had, they’d only been on Wellingtons and formed a crew. They’d only probably done about fifty hours together.
IL: Right.
SGP: As a crew. So that formation but they had in fact had that advanced experience that I hadn’t had so I had to fit in with these other chaps you know.
IL: Yeah.
SGP: And I’d better say a little bit about myself. I used to read my bible every day which was a bit, the lads used to say, ‘Are you coming?’ I’d say, ‘No. I’ve got my scripture reading to do today.’ [laughs] And I didn’t drink very much at the time. I was a good boy. That changed a bit later on but, so anyway we all got on very well and then, in fact we were posted to 195 Squadron at Wratting Common in Suffolk.
IL: Right.
SGP: A beautiful area but of course we were at the — 1944, the winter was severe. We had snow on the ground and there was icing everywhere and it was really, really difficult. And we were living in Nissen huts. Metal huts. Yeah. You know N number, about twenty in a room. Two whacking great stoves burning coke and coal. Absolutely red hot. Talk about health and safety. It just hadn’t come in to being in 1944. They would have gone mad then. The thing would have never got off the ground. Anyway, we were comfortable enough in our way you know. And we were then waiting for our first operation. So, on the 14th of December we were and I’ll go through the operational briefing which was very important. So we’d all go down to the briefing room. Already equipped. And sometimes you’d be selected for a flight and sometimes you wouldn’t. And you would have the CO and all the navigation, signaller, engineer leaders, gunner leaders, all there briefing on any particular trip on any facets that might affect the individual crew members. And a big curtain. A curtain was drawn. Secrecy was tight until then. The curtain was drawn and then you were given a target for the night. Well, it was so vague actually I haven’t even got the name of the target. First target. But because we got half way across, got airborne, fully laden, half way across the North Sea and it was aborted so we had to drop our bombs in the sea and return saying, ‘Oh.’ Oh. Amazing that we were feeling miserable that we hadn’t gone and completed our first operation. Which gives you an idea of the calibre of the people and their attitude to the war.
IL: Absolutely.
SGP: We would, we then and now I have no regrets about what I did. And I think when you think about the way the Germans indiscriminately bombed our cities. You had your V bombs. You had your doodlebugs. There was no way that they could be targeted specifically at military targets. It was just pattern bombing. So we never felt any regret about this. Either then or now. And so we were a bit miserable on that occasion. A little bit post the briefing. You then, you had to go. The navigator would plot out his route. Because every, every aircraft was planned to operate individually which was very important. And then the signaller and myself and everybody else would be all briefed in the briefing room. And then the old truck used to come round, pick us up and drop us off at the dispersal point. And this particular one was a daylight flight and my role after all the crew went in the aircraft up the rickety old ladder that we had into the aircraft I would have to go around and check everything. Check all the things were tight. No, no cowlings aren’t loose or anything of that sort. No leaks. All the de-icing paste on the leading edge of the wings and the props was all done. So that we were all ready. And then I do say this and it’ll cause a laugh. You had, always had a last pee on the tail wheel before you went in, for good luck. So I did that and away we went. And then the crew did all the starting up procedures and everything else and pre-flight checks which were very thorough and then eventually taxi-ing out with all the other aircraft and you’d get your green light from the caravan at the end of the runway and away you’d go. And when you think about it we were probably laden with about two thousand seven hundred and fourteen gallons of fuel plus about twenty thousand pound of bombs, four thousand pound plus two fifties and that sort of thing. And so sometimes you were scratching a bit when you were getting off but then away you went and then you were individually working your way to the target. Now, in daylight it wasn’t too bad because you obviously could see people most of the time if the weather was fine and you could obviously avoid them. We did have a system to confuse the enemy radar where we’d drop what we called Window and they were long metal strips in packages. We’d throw, put them through the chute and they would spread all over the air below.
IL: Yeah.
SGP: And confuse the radar. But the only trouble with that is that in daylight you could see these piles in front of you and they would tend to get in the, in the oil cooling radiators and overheat the engines. So you’d do the up and down, up and down until the crew said, ‘No. No more.’ [laughs] you know, ‘No more. We can’t have any more of this.’ Anyway, that was a little bit of an aside. So, at night and I’ll go through at night because —
IL: So, because, because presumably most of, most of your operations were night time because obviously Bomber Command was doing the night time.
SGP: Exactly.
IL: And the Americans were doing the daytime.
SGP: Exactly.
IL: Weren’t they?
SGP: Yeah.
IL: Yeah.
SGP: We did a lot of daylight over France supporting the army on the second front and all that sort of thing. So we did quite a lot of daylight ones as well but the majority of them were night.
IL: So were you fighter escorted during the daytime?
SGP: No.
IL: You were on your own.
SGP: Only the, only the Americans had escorts. They had N number of guns, God knows how many fighter escorts and they carried very little, very little in the way of bomb load.
IL: Yeah.
SGP: But Flying Fortresses [laughs]
IL: Yeah.
SGP: There was a song about that but I won’t go into it.
IL: Is it a rude one? [laughs]
SGP: Carrying a teeny weeny bomb. Anyway, the night trips, you can imagine you would take off in a stream, one after the other and then you’d all be heading your own way. Planning your own trip. And so, what happened then if you were in heavy cloud, you’re getting iced up, ice was flying off the propellers on to the fuselage, cracking on the fuselage, and St Elmo’s Fire flashing around. All these sort of things were new to us and I was always concerned about temperatures of engines and things like that. But then you, the thing you have to remember is we didn’t have any naked lights in the aircraft. All the, all the instruments, flying instruments were just luminous dials and with the background a little bit of radium light. And they, I I used a little torch with a pinpoint light from it to do all my logs for the fuel consumptions and all the rest of it. And the navigator was in a blacked out little cabin there behind with his light on the desk. So there was absolutely no light in the aircraft. Absolutely black. So there was no light in the other aircraft either. So you wouldn’t see them. The only thing you would see are the exhaust flames and suddenly you would see exhaust flames and you wouldn’t be too far away then. And some of them were very close. And if they were navigating to get there on time some were probably a little bit ahead so it would be crossing the main stream to be back on time. This sort of thing. So, it was pretty hazardous and if the cloud, you were being iced up and the turbulence was bad and all that sort of thing it was pretty — that’s one of the biggest things was to look out. Just keep the eyes peeled. So, so that gives you a little bit of background of what it was like at night. And I might as well get on now to the difference because at night you’d be flying along in darkness and suddenly the target area would be as light as day. Lit up by fires, by all the flares put down by the Pathfinders and everything that was going on. And you could see all the other aircraft flying around, all the bombs coming down and you’d unfortunately see some aircraft being hit at the time and going down. That sort of thing. And all the stuff coming up as well. I shall never ever forget what it was like ever because it was so surreal. You, you’d go from total blackness into this light and you’d think everybody, you could see everybody you know and it was very unreal, but [pause] So we got our next flight. Let me have a [pause] was, was on the 24th . We did a flight to Bonn and this was heavily defended and we were well tasked, you know, to experience what I’ve just told you about. Both the night flying and the difficulties and also the light over the target area.
IL: So, Bonn was your first night flight?
SGP: Yes. Yeah. And I’ve gone over the [pause] we completed that trip without any trouble and then went on to —
IL: You say it was heavily defended so, you know. Do you mean sort of flak, or —?
SGP: Oh yes.
IL: Fighters? Or —
SGP: Oh yeah. Flak. I didn’t, we didn’t personally see any fighters.
IL: Right.
SGP: Except on one which I’ll tell you later.
IL: Yeah.
SGP: Because that was a bit close. But I suppose we had two major problems. One was a little bit later on over Kiel. No. Can I just have that for a minute —
IL: Oh yes. Please do. Please do.
SGP: Yeah.
IL: Do you want me to pause for a second.
SGP: Yeah. Pause.
[recording paused]
SGP: We completed five further operations in six days. And the last one to a place called Vohwinkel. And we were, came back to base. The cloud was thick down to base so we were diverted to East Moor in Yorkshire. And I just want you to picture N number of aircraft all being diverted to East Moor. All stacked at five hundred foot intervals up to over twenty thousand feet. All desperately trying to get in and land and the weather wasn’t very good there either. So, we found ourselves in these orbits. Carrying on orbit, orbit, orbit until you were gradually coming down five hundred feet at a time and eventually you were the one five hundred, just five hundred feet and you were then in to land. And they got us down very well. But I thought about it. We’re in this cloud, continuously in cloud all the time but just going on instruments flying around in the orbit and if anybody had had an altimeter wrong or something like that only five hundred foot is the difference between the heights. But anyway, we landed ok and the next thing wasn’t so good. East Moor had only been given a short notice of us arriving. So, we’d had quite a long trip of about six hours. A bit tired out and a bit wound up with the, being diverted and having the towering let down procedure thing. And we arrived in our little huts and all they’d done, God bless them was to put piles of blankets on each bed. With no heat or anything. So [laughs] so we had to make the most of it. And that was the calibre of people we had those days. I should really go back to the beginning because I missed it out at the start. We came from a generation where we had great respect for the history of the country and our, what we’d done throughout the world. And that was still there then in the 44’s. We were very much in respect of the monarchy and the parliamentary democracy that we had and to the extent that even if you were at home we used to stand up when the national anthem was played. So, coming from that background it was a place in history that we accepted and we took it on for the, for everybody really. Because it was in defence of our country which we loved, you know. So, going back that gives you a little bit of a feeling for how we felt at the time. But after the, after the Vohwinkel one we completed eleven operations and then we were selected for the Pathfinder force. Well, we all thought, we were asked if we would be happy to go and we said, Bob said, the pilot said he’d be happy so we all decided we’d be happy to go to the Pathfinders. And then [pause] the, we, we went on our first flight which was a trip to Duisburg. As a Pathfinder. Now, the Pathfinder situation was that you had to go down to about eight thousand. That sort of height. Master bombers sometimes went lower than that and he circled continuously so their problem, they had a bigger problem than us. But we would go down and at least circle the target twice at something like eight thousand feet. So, what you had was, you had things coming up and you also had rather lethal things coming down from all our, the main force going through in their hundreds, sort of thing. Dropping bombs. In fact, our last squadron we had one tail turret taken off by a four thousand pound bomb. Clean straight off but the aircraft got back to base but the poor old gunner didn’t, obviously. So, and we circled around a couple of times and buffeted around. Anyway, we got our flares away because you’d, what you did was you identified the target where the flares were and then re-centred them on the, on the coloured lights that were down on the ground. And we did that a couple of times and we tore off home. A little bit wondering whether we’d done the right thing by going on the Pathfinders side [laughs]
IL: So how many, for a raid how many Pathfinders? Just the one or —
SGP: Oh no.
IL: For each squadron.
SGP: No. You had quite a lot.
IL: Right.
SGP: You had a master bomber.
IL: Yeah.
SGP: Who would be there, technically going there and identifying the target and putting down the, the first indicators and then the main force would drop on those indicators. And then you had what they call visual centre’ers who’d come along and replenish the flares so that the rest of the force coming through would have a target to aim for. If it was, the weather was bad and you couldn’t identify the target you had a visual, a marker chap who would have his H2S equipment to identify it through the cloud and then put what they called Wanganui flares. And they would be suspended in the air and you would drop on those.
IL: Right.
SGP: Which was, subsequently these sort of things were done more by the Mosquito because they had Gee and the navigational equipment that was more accurate. And they would be up at, say twenty eight thousand feet. Above everything really. And they would drop their markers accurately on, it was worked out on Gee and they would drop their markers. And that was very accurate. They, they did a lot of that towards the end of the war. But, so, so we, we completed that and the next thing is after five more operations we were over Kiel and we dropped our bombs and immediately we were locked on by three, coned by three searchlights. And we were totally blinded. Couldn’t see a thing. Absolutely unbelievable. Well, Bob then, he went like a maniac and we, we went down and out and around and whoa, and we ended up, we got away from them and we ended up over Kiel harbour and it was amazing. It was almost like heavenly sent as it were in that we went from chaos in one minute, light and chaos and then immediately to peace and tranquillity. And we were only, we were down to five thousand feet by this time and we felt a bit vulnerable sitting there on our own, you know, with no — so I wasn’t too keen on saving any fuel that night so it was full bore and away. But we got away with it and that was up to Bob. He did, he did a marvellous job and I was standing up at the front looking to see what was going on. And that was, so that was that. That was probably our most frightening experience. And then, almost our last flight we were on, enroute to Bayreuth and we suddenly had a Junkers 88, head on, come over the top and nearly took our canopy off. It was so obvious it was a Junkers when it was overhead. And the noise and he was gone and what I said in my little book was we didn’t know whether he had run out of ammo, was short of fuel, was tired and realised the war was nearly over, and thought we’d give them a fright but we won’t damage our aircraft. So we got away with that. I mean he could have taken off our canopy off.
IL: Yeah.
SGP: Without any trouble at all, you know. And we were a bit apprehensive about that. Whether he was going to come back or not but he never did so we went ahead and completed the target.
IL: Gosh.
SGP: Then on the 24th of April the CO asked for volunteers for a flight engineer on a crew where they had lost their engineer. And it was to drop medical supplies to prisoners of war in a place called New Wittenberg. And I said I’d go. So the crew said, ‘Don’t go Gwyn. You know what happens when you have an odd bod in the aeroplane. Nine times out of ten you get clobbered.’ And anyway, I was a bit pig-headed I suppose and I said, ‘Ok I’ll go.’ We were in fact told, the war wasn’t over then, we were told that there was a, the Germans wouldn’t in fact attack us on the way. Well it turned out there was three aircraft involved and I was in one of them. And we went across Germany. Lovely night. Clear blue sky. Not blue skies, moonlit sky at about five thousand feet. Quietly going across, found the target, dropped all our supplies on the target and then came back without any problem at all. In fact, I did a lot of the flying that night actually but, which was a good experience. And then that was it really. That was my last trip of the war. And —
IL: So you were still a flight engineer at that point?
SGP: I was still a flight engineer. I was at, I became a [pause] I got accelerated promotion. In fact, I would have been, I was on the list for a commission and then the war ended and that was the end of that. But I was a warrant officer at the, at the end of the war. And so that was the end. I should like to say that I’ve always said that the lads who went ahead of us were flying in inferior aircraft. Not good navigational equipment. Not able to get the heights and that that we got and operated under extreme difficulties compared with us. We had a really good aeroplane. Good navigational equipments and carrying a good load of bomb. But the point I’m trying to make is that even on the last day of the war we lost a crew. And he was a very well decorated man. He was in headquarters and he came down to the squadron, booked himself out to do a trip and he picked up all his men. They were all in the eighty, ninety operations and he, they decided they would have this last op but they got shot down and all died.
IL: Gosh.
SGP: Right at the end of the war. And I mean, you know so there was no safe operations.
IL: No. Absolutely.
SGP: And so that was it. That was my, my sort of war if you like. And after that I’ll go into the post —
IL: Oh no. I —
SGP: War era.
IL: Just, you’ve obviously you know, as a crew you became, I understand that, you know crews became very close. Tell me about the rest of the crew.
SGP: Yeah. I think we were, we were all very quiet. Nothing —
IL: Even the Australian?
SGP: Yeah. Yeah. Bob. Yeah. Well you did have a little bit where you had Bob was an officer and we were other ranks. The navigator was an officer and the bomb aimer was an officer. And the rest of us were other ranks. So there wasn’t the same sort of get together.
IL: Right.
SGP: Although we did get together. We had fine times but we were all very quiet crew and we operated together as a crew very well. Really well. Without making a fuss about it, you know.
IL: Yeah.
SGP: Just getting on. Getting on with the job. And I think that’s the point I’d always make. People ask me were you ever frightened? And do you know I was only frightened if I had a fuel calculation wrong or the oxygen was queer or the hydraulics or something or this and that. You were so involved with the operation, your own operation that nothing else mattered really. You had to, I suppose that was the responsibility of both the crew and to the operation itself that you felt like that which seemed to put everything else to one side. I can’t say that ever, even when we were crashing all over the sky over Kiel with the searchlight on us I didn’t, I didn’t feel any fear then. I think, was it because we were too green to be, to have fear? Because everything was new and was to some degree was quite exciting actually. I don’t know. A lot of people go, go and say they were frightened actually but I will, I will say one thing. As a crew you have all you boys up the front and your two gunners down the back. One mid-upper gunner and one tail gunner. Now, we always felt sorry for the tail gunner. He was out on his own. His, he was away from the centre of gravity of the aeroplane and the centre of pressure and whatever. So everything we did with the aeroplane it would be accentuated back there. I don’t know how he managed to draw beads when you were doing a corkscrew on an aircraft coming in is anyone’s business. And what he did on the night that we were flying all over the sky trying to get out the searchlights I don’t know but he quite got on with it. But we always felt that the rear gunner was a bit special because, one he’d be stuck in the tiniest little cockpit. A little area. Doors behind him. And that was it. He was in there. And he’d have an electrically heated suit. Sometimes he was burning on one side and freezing on the other. Icicles. Condensation. Unbelievable. I mean we did a couple of eight hour trips to the eastern front and he’d be sitting there for, well it would be longer than the eight, the actual flight times were eight hours. By the time you got in and got all your checks done and everything else you were talking about another eight and a half hours or more. Which is a heck of a long time to be sitting in that, those conditions. And so we always felt a little bit sorry for him. By and large we were, we had a reasonably heated environment in the cockpit and from the ground up at night we were always on oxygen. Daylight we went on about ten thousand. But it was reasonably comfortable and we had a nice bottle with a chromium plate with a little lid on the top where we could have a pee if we wanted. And I’ll tell you a funny thing.
IL: For eight hours you need it.
SGP: I’ll tell you a funny thing. Bob, our skipper was desperate for a pee about halfway across one trip. So I said, ‘Ok Bob. I’ll hand you the bottle.’ And if you can imagine, apart from having long johns on, flying suits on, parachute harness on, seat harness on, trying to organise yourself to cope with that. And he tried desperately. In the end, as I said in my little book I think he must have tied it in a knot but he never said anything about it afterwards [laughs] So, no. We, we I think we were always good friends. And I mean I still call the, Frank, the signaller, but he’s not well at all now. He’s older. He’s about ninety three now.
IL: Gosh.
SGP: And he’s just been taken into hospital. He had a fall. And he’s the only one I know who’s alive. And I was looking at the goodwill tour which I’ll talk about later on because they were things that happened later on. I was looking in the book and there was a little note there from a P Farmer and she was the wife of our, our Farmer in the back cockpit. And she’d seen the name Jack Stratten, who was a Newfoundlander, bomb aimer, who flew with us.
IL: Yeah.
SGP: And she’d seen his name mentioned. She was writing to this chap to see if he was the chap who flew with Bob Newbiggin and Eddie Farmer the, her husband, who had unfortunately died. And she was trying to get, I only looked, I only found that last night and I’ve been trying to pick up the threads ever since and Frank’s the only one that I’ve been able to contact. So that’s sad you know. Because we did [pause] but I suppose in a way we took it in our stride. I I took the whole thing in my stride and I had a longer term ambition to stay in the Air Force. The rest, none of the rest of the crew stayed and they all went back to civilian life. So, I had plans to be a pilot and so my next, I’ll go through, have a little break. I’ll go through my next period of service.
IL: Yeah. That would be —
SGP: After we’ve had a little break. It’s getting a bit hot in here.
IL: Yeah. It is actually. Might have to open the door for a second. Just, just suspending the recording.
[recording paused]
SGP: Rather than talk about military matters and flying and all the hazards associated with that you want to know a little bit about my personal background. And I’d like to put on tape my wife and I and our association for over sixty five years of married life recently. And it started off when she was evacuated from Liverpool to Herefordshire and was evacuated to my little village of Eardisland. It’s a lovely little chocolate box village of Eardisland. Very quiet. Nothing ever happens. And so she came down and then I eventually went off to start my service with the Air Force. And eight years later I was home on leave. I was actually taking part in the tug of war match for the local village and Muriel and her friend came down. And the, one of the neighbours who knew her said, ‘You know that’s Gwyn Price?’ She said, ‘Oh no. It can’t be him. He looks too young.’ [laughs] Which was always a problem I’ve had actually [laughs] And anyway what happened was we just chatted a little bit together and then there was an outing laid on by the village for a bus to go to a local village to a dance. And I didn’t know this but I turned up in my bow tie and everything else at the bus stop and immediately walked in behind Mu as I call her and sat down by her side. And from that moment on we never left each other, you know. The moment was done and the die was cast. And what I found out later was a friend of mine had actually bought the ticket to take Muriel. And I don’t know but I didn’t feel too bad about that actually [laughs] And after two years and I was on my way to, we courted for about two years and then I was on my way to Singapore and I said, ‘Well, we must get married.’ And the Air Force didn’t recognise you were married until you were twenty five. So, I actually bucked the rules and married just before I was twenty five. And so we were married and that’s the, that’s the start of our married life. And I’ll go to our association. From then on she became an Air Force wife. And we would never be anywhere without our wives because we spend so much time away from home. And I’ll go through all the times I’ve been away. And months on time. And they’re there running the home, looking after the kids, organising everything, looking after finances. Everything. And without a good wife it wouldn’t last which proved its point. So that’s my little bit of fill in. Social life in the middle of my Air Force history. Can I go on now to the —
IL: Oh yes. Please do.
SGP: The next point really is I’d completed twenty eight operations with, eleven with the main force and sixteen with the Pathfinders and then on the 24th of April, before the end of the war — no. Sorry. I beg your pardon. Not the 24th of April. On the 30th of April, before the war was peacefully declared we were geared to drop supplies to the Dutch people who had been starving under the Germans. They were really, they were eating rats and tulip bulbs and everything else and they were really, really in a bad way. Well, hundreds of RAF aircraft, Lancasters were filled up with food. Not any parachutes or anything like that. Just filled in the bomb bays filled with food. And we were, planned to do this and on the 30th of April we carried out an operation out at, in Holland. And I shall never forget this because we came in low from the sea at about a hundred feet and lo and behold there was a little hillock on the coastline and we couldn’t believe it. There were Dutch people there waving flags. Kids and everything else. Waving. And we could see the German soldiers standing there with their rifles down below. And you know, they obviously knew it was over then but we came in and dropped our supplies and then, that was known as Operation Manna. The Manna from Heaven. And ever since then there’s been this association with the Dutch people and the people who operated on Operation Manna and I’ve been there and feted by the Dutch people. I’m talking about fifty years later. And people, old people would come up, put their arms around you and cry. It was so dramatic that they were in desperate straits. The other important thing is and I think this is a reflection on our teaching in the schools. The youngsters were all taught this and were involved in carrying on this knowledge and this history, historical period. And I found that interesting because I find that even my own children are lacking in knowledge of World War Two and what was happening and who was doing what and where. And there’s a general feeling that the British Empire never did any good. And I really do feel strongly about that because I just ask one question. Can you name me one colonial power that was, one colonial nation that’s better off since the colonists went? Is this racist?
IL: No. No.
SGP: I don’t think it is because I’m, I’m rebutting what kids feel and what they generally feel today. What did we give to India? We gave the railways, we gave them a diplomatic service and we gave them the English language. Now, where would the Indian nation be without the English language? I don’t think they’d be as far ahead as they are. I know that they have got their social problems. They’ve got their peaks and lows in terms of riches and poorness but I do, I do have a bee in my bonnet about what we did. And I’ll say a bit more about that when we go to the Congo when I was with the United Nations in the Congo war. So we, we did our drop and Operation Manna was something that’s lived on in the memory of the Dutch people and it also was for us, was very emotional. We’d been dropping bombs on the Germans. Then suddenly we saw how the Dutch people ignored the sentries and were standing out there waving their flags and I thought, and the kids and everything. I thought it was very emotional for us. We felt really very emotional about it and very pleased to be able to help them. And talking about the food supplies because we were all free dropped on the ground. And they talk about the margarine and the sugar and all the rest of the stuff that came down. Scrape it off the grass or whatever. They were so appreciative and that’s stuck on. I mean, we’re talking now, they’re still, in fact doing it you see. Appreciating it and thanking us for it. But so that was Operation Manna and then we had all these hundreds of bombers. Lancaster bombers and we were totally employed then on bringing back our POWs from all over the place. From Belgium, Italy. We had Bari in the south. We had Naples. Pomigliano was the airport there at Naples. And we were in and out. Hundreds of aircraft on the undertaking and we could only carry twenty or so people and they were all sitting on the, on the metal floor in the cockpit. But I probably shouldn’t say this but we used to take Italian prisoners of war out and then bring our own boys back. And I won’t say what the treatment, how the treatment differed between the two because I’d probably be had up.
IL: Oh you wouldn’t. So how did it? How did it differ?
SGP: Well we gave our boys blankets and comforters and we also stayed at a reasonable height where they wouldn’t suffer from an oxygen lack or anything like that [laugh] We were naughty then but of course we were, we were getting over the war actually. It had been a trying period. And the other thing we did apart from all this, carrying all the troops around that was great because we felt we were humanly doing something very important. And we’d get our boys up in to the cockpit and if they were coming back and to see the white cliffs of Dover after four or five years of prisoner of war camp was too much. They all broke down without exception and it was very [pause] but they were so happy as well and had to work it out that way but so that was that and so, that was that. Then we amalgamated with 156 Squadron and primarily to represent Bomber Command in all the celebrations that one does after a war. The Victory Day fly past over London. The VJ day flypast. The Battle of Britain flypast. So we had twelve Lancaster aircraft in white and doing formation flying over these cities. And then we were, we were then ready to go to the good will tour of America. And so we took off from Graveley which was our base in Huntingdon, near Huntingdon and shot off via St Mawgan to the Azores, Newfoundland and then all around America. From right down from, from New York to Colorado to California to Texas. Washington. Giving exhibition.
IL: So was this with the same crew? With the same crew that you’d had?
SGP: We only had the amalgamation of the 156 and 35 didn’t come without its pain because obviously some people, they only wanted half of each squadron.
IL: Yeah.
SGP: And we lost everyone except myself and my rear gunner. And the navigator came with us as well. So there was three of us on our crew. And we had another pilot who, in fact was then a Flight Lieutenant Harris who was an ex-master bomber pilot.
IL: Right.
SGP: A very good pilot. And so we joined up with him and flew all around the States. And had a very good time. They feted us but I don’t know whether I should put this in but we found, this is talking about 1946 we are talking about how parochial they are. They read their local papers but their international knowledge and even knowledge of World War Two was unbelievably bleak and barren if you like and they were, you know, they were, amazed to see people, other people who had actually been involved in the war other than the Americans. And this was something that we weren’t very comfortable about because I mean we always get the state where the Americans win the war but they, they’re load of bombs dropped was much less than we dropped. And they also — are you were getting near to the end of your tape?
IL: No.
SGP: Ok.
IL: I’m just checking.
SGP: Yeah. We all get blamed for targets that shouldn’t have been bombed. You know what I’m talking about.
IL: Absolutely.
SGP: But the Americans also had a daylight bombing of that, of there as well. I can’t think of the name at the moment. I can’t remember. I’ve gone a bit queer. But so that was one thing about the American tour that I was a bit, we were a bit shaken by really because I mean we were so involved with the war the whole people, the whole nation had been subjected to all this bombing and everything else and the terror attacks and what have you. The Americans didn’t have any of that.
IL: No.
SGP: They didn’t have any of it. All they got was their films and their propaganda, you know. Then of course on the lease lend they made sure the British empire wouldn’t last forever.
IL: Absolutely.
SGP: And this went on but I mean that’s a side issue which maybe is my view rather than anything else so.
IL: Just one, just on the war so how do you personally feel about this lack of recognition that you’ve had? Not you personally but, you know —
SGP: No. No.
IL: That Bomber Command has had.
SGP: I should, I will stick my neck out and be quite positive about this in that we only have one man to blame for that and he’s the honoured man Winston Churchill. Winston gave Arthur Harris, Bomber Harris, our great bomber commander the authority to break the will of the German people and Arthur Harris went out and we helped to do that. At the end of the war Churchill didn’t want to know. It was bad publicity to have this hanging around his neck. So, Bomber Command and including Bomber Harris and our Pathfinder chief, none of them were awarded at all. They weren’t given proper recognition and we felt very bad about that because they were, they were good commanders and we thought the world of them. And I think politically it wasn’t, it wasn’t to his liking you know to pursue that glorification if you like, in brackets again, of the war effort by the, by ourselves. That I think has pursued us down the years until we had the Memorial in Green Park which is —have you been there?
IL: I haven’t but I —
SGP: It’s a marvellous Memorial. It’s late but it’ll stand the test of time. It’s wonderful. The architecture. The setting. Everything about it. And I went to a political party meeting recently and I suppose I told the MP there. I said, I had a little bit of a go at him on this because it was not only Winston Churchill but every other prime minister since then. They ignored it. And he said, ‘But we did give you money.’ I said, ‘But nothing like enough to cover the cost.’ It was all done by voluntary subscription. And so I don’t even pinch any glory from that side of it, you know. It’s a political argument. I think it was lost and I do feel strongly about that and I think all my friends do as well.
IL: Absolutely.
SGP: Who served at that time. But better late than never and another one is coming up in Lincoln.
IL: Yes. Well tomorrow.
SGP: Which will be good. Yeah. I was hoping to be there actually but you coming in the [laughs] No. It wasn’t that actually. It was a little bit longer. The journey was a problem in itself and it’s a day, it would have probably have taken two days or something. But I’m sorry I’ve not been there, you know. But so that’s what I felt about that. So then I left the squadron and I did a flight engineer’s instructors course. I did a little bit of flying as a screened engineer and then went on and flew about fifty hours on the Lincoln which is the bigger version of the Lancaster. And then the phone call came, ‘You’ve been selected to go for tests for a navigator or pilot.’ And so I went down there and went through about a week of pretty strict physical and mental tests. And then we were all brought out on the parade ground and we were also, I was hoping I wouldn’t be a navigator. I couldn’t stand that. Anyway, I was picked as a pilot. I was selected as a pilot so my day was made and my aim was achieved. I still had to qualify. Go through all the tests and pilot training etcetera but from that moment on I was happy and I started my pilot training and —
IL: Did you, so did you train on the Lincoln?
SGP: No. No. No.
IL: Right.
SGP: We started, oh gosh I started on the only aircraft I think that has ever been, that I would really call an aeroplane. That’s the Tiger Moth. Because it was such fun. And I mean we used to sit up there with our heads out in the winter with the scarves around and the goggles on hanging from your straps in the freezing air. Cutting your engine. Then doing vertical dives to start the engine again. All that sort of thing. It was a fun aeroplane. The only thing was it wasn’t like the Stampe aeroplane which is like a Tiger Moth which the French have.
IL: Yes.
SGP: And that had an automatic [pause] Oh God. [pause] Carburettor. Carburettor sorry, which would allow it to turn upside down and still fly. Keep the engine going where the Tiger Moth would cut out straight away. If you were upside down too long it would just cut out. But no that was a fun aeroplane. So we, we started on that and did quite a number of hours on the Tiger Moth and then we went on to the Harvard. And the Harvard was a wonderful aeroplane too. A wonderful trainee aeroplane and eventually with all the hard work we had nine months of solid training and then you’re going through everything from meteorology to navigation to everything, you know and plus all the tests and everything else. Plus all the flying. It’s quite a, quite a tough, a tough course. Anyway, I eventually passed out and they decided that I would be more a transport man. So I was, I started training on the Wellington which was the old wartime aeroplane with geodetic construction and all the rest of it. And I had a very interesting training on that because I think probably the only person who ever had two airspeed indicators fail. One at night and one in the day. So I had no airspeed at all. I was just flying along on the seat of my pants, you know. And they came up and said, ‘Do you want somebody to come and, come and side by you?’ I said, ‘No. No. I can feel the aeroplane. I can fly.’ Fly the inside. So I landed both happily. I got an above average assessment at the end of the course for that. So, after that I started on the Dakota which was going to be my operational aeroplane and that was a wonderful aeroplane and I eventually passed out on that and went off to Malaya. And of course there was a war on in Malaya. In the emergency, 1950 ‘53. And the, Singapore still hadn’t recovered fully from the Japanese invasion. Changi Jail. We were based at Changi Airfield which was near Changi Jail. And the place was pretty dire, you know. And we were supporting the army in the jungle of Malaya and flying a lot from Kuala Lumpur and Penang. And I mean, health and safety. Oh gosh. I can’t think about it now but we used to do all sorts of things. The army, because I know they’re cutting their way through the jungle and eventually getting tired and wanting to form a little camp with a dropping zone. DZ.
IL: Yeah.
SGP: And they would pick them in the most awful places. Sometimes at the end of a valley. We could hardly turn around. I mean we had a wing tip to get around. And I was on one trip and it was on the side of a hill. I was coming in from the valley side, concentrating on the DZ and at the last minute the trees were coming towards me on the top of the hill. So I had everything open, a little bit of flap and I just went over the top. That was the sort of situation we found. In fact, that situation was probably more dangerous than anything I’d ever had during the war. And the other stupid things we used to do we had a big base at Ipoh which is North Malaya. And we would fly from Kuala Lumpur. It was always cloud covered at Ipoh so you couldn’t get down in to drop your supplies for the troops on the ground for distribution. And so what we would do, believe it or not, we’d fly, and at north of Malaya there was a little valley opening and a railway line used to work its way through the mountain up to Ipoh. And we’d go up through there, windscreen wiper on, raining, coming down and you’d wind yourself up, hardly any room for the aircraft to go up and eventually come out at Ipoh at the end underneath the cloud. Drop your supply and then you climb out to sea and you’d be ok. But little things like that, that I mean it wouldn’t happen today I don’t think. Even on operational circumstances it wouldn’t be on. But we had lots of flying out there. We used to travel from Ceylon as it then was or Sri Lanka now. And I had a two months — married my wife in the August, she came out by troop ship on the, on the, in the January. Seasick all the way because we got these boats as reparation from the Germans. They were all designed for river boating [laughs] so they had very little keel on and the sick, unbelievable sickness. Anyway, she came out. She was sick all the way and within a week I was off to Ceylon for two months. That was the beginning of our Service married life. And this was life in the Service. So, I was on air sea rescue out there and then we would go out the other way through, right through Indo-China as it then was. Through Saigon, [unclear] up to Hong Kong. And Hong Kong then was a small [pause] Kai Tak, the airport, the RAF airport there was small. You may know it or not know it.
IL: I do know it.
SGP: And you had Lion Rock up here.
IL: Yeah.
SGP: And we’d come in over, along the valley on the south west side and over Kowloon and then you’d do a [pfhtt] straight down, chop everything and land and then the sea was at the other end. And then the Hong Kong Island on the other side. So that was interesting. So that, we were on San Miguels then. the San Mig which was very popular and very, very nice. So I experienced there — weather. I’ve taken off in pouring rain from Hong Kong island, from Kai Tak not from Hong Kong Island.
IL: Yeah.
SGP: From Kai Tak. Pouring rain. Could hardly see the end of the runway. Windshield wipers going like this. Targeting a non-directional beacon on the top of Hong Kong Island in cloud and just climbing like mad hoping that, the indicator going mad and you were trying to keep up and hoping that nothing failed otherwise you’d be straight in Hong Kong Harbour. And it was sort of things like that that made life interesting. So we would then go on to, up to Okinawa and then off to Iwakuni in Japan. And we were up there in the 50s which wasn’t that long after the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombs. And we were landing at Iwakuni which was quite close to them. So we had a good sight of the devastation that was there. Of the land and the houses and everything else. So that was, made us aware of how powerful — ok Japan houses, Japanese houses were not that resistant to that sort of treatment but it was all vaporised really and it was very, made one aware. We had our group captain [pause] not Townsend [pause] Who was our man? Famous man. A hundred operations.
IL: Not Leonard Cheshire.
SGP: Cheshire. Yeah. Leonard Cheshire. Leonard Cheshire was on one of those flights.
IL: Gosh.
SGP: And they’d made him, he’d done over a hundred ops and got a VC. And he was then seriously worried by using that type of bomb. But there you go. It’s frightening. But so on one trip coming out of Okinawa I’d just got airborne and my port engine seized and it’s from sea to sea at either end. So I had to do, I did a quick dink around and came back in on a reciprocal. Landed. So that was one of the interesting things that we had. And the other route we used to go to the north would be through Labuan in Borneo and then up through Manila. And we were then on Valettas. I transferred to Valettas because the Dakota went out and I did about four hundred on Dakotas out there and about eight hundred then on Valettas. But the Valetta was a different animal. They had the Hercules engines, Bristol engine, and as soon as you get in very cold air the oil cooler would, all the oil would get thick and it wouldn’t run through the engine. So you had to do the opposite. You had to slow down, put revs up and fly at the slowest. And I was going up there just north of Borneo over the sea, engines coring. We call it coring. When you get overheating and you do the opposite to what you would normally do and eventually you get the temperature back down and away you go. So that was one little flying incident. So after that tour I was then made a command flight safety officer at Upavon.
IL: Right.
SGP: I was the trial and command flight safety officer. So I had two and a half years there which was good fun. And I went to [pause] where did I go after that? [pause] No, I’d bet, can I, can I rescind that?
IL: Oh yes.
SGP: Can I rescind that?
IL: Yeah.
SGP: Well can we —
IL: Please do.
SGP: Restart. I jumped ahead of myself on the last. On the command flight safety officer. My next, in fact, in September ’53 I was put forward for an instructor’s course at the Central Flying School at Little Rissington. And then passed through that course flying Harvards and Provosts and was then posted to Ternhill in Shropshire as a flying instructor on the Provost aircraft. I qualified on the Meteor jet and completed the instruction at Ternhill, posted to fly Hastings aircraft at Colerne. This required a lot of time away from home and one of the main trips and the most memorable trip that I did was to, in July of ’58 I flew out to Kiritimati Island. Or Atoll. In the middle of the Pacific. Commonly known as Christmas Island — for transport support for the hydrogen operation, Grapple Zulu which was carried out at the Atoll then from a Victor aircraft. I’d like, just like to say to get out to Christmas Island it took us ninety hours flying in the Hastings. Eighteen days. And so we then arrived from, finally from sort of Brisbane to Fiji to Kanton Island and then up to Christmas Island and then if you get the idea of the space from Fiji was about five hours flying. Six hours. Then up to Honolulu, Hawaii was another six hours. So it’s a long, you can imagine. It’s a little spot. Coral Atoll, in the middle of the ocean. Obviously an ideal place for an atomic explosion. Or a hydrogen explosion that was then. Anyway, on the day of the explosion we were all on the tarmac with our backs to the blast, in flying suits and covered up. And the aim was that it would be dropped from a Victor aircraft and exploded about ten thousand feet. And then when we did anticipate, because they had old buildings and that on the island to see the reaction of the, of different constructions to the atomic bomb. The experience then was something I’ll never forget. We were on the ground. Sitting on the ground with our back to the explosion and hands over the eyes, eyes tightly shut. And yet the light from the explosion was obvious to us even in that situation and then the blast of air coming through was tremendous. And the power happening about thirty miles away was unbelievable. And I’ll never forget it. And then of course when it was safe to do so we turned around and looked at the mushroom cloud which was going, going up at that time. You could see the immense power in the, in the cloud. And the thing which I think there was a bit of naivety about the effect of radiation. But we had two Canberra aircraft with sniffer things on the, on the wings and one of them was in the cloud for about fifteen minutes. Another one flew through it which was less time. And in reflection, on reflection I don’t know what happened to the pilot or what effect it had on him or the other pilot. But of course a lot of people have suffered and there’s been a big fight about the effect of, the effect on one’s skin and cancer from, from the explosion. I’ve only had about fifteen lumps taken off so far and only one was cancerous [laughs] but then that involved five years in Malaya, Christmas Island for months, Ceylon for months, Congo for months and so my, my skin’s been exposed to a lot of sunshine which is not a good thing now. I’ve even got problems coming up. I’ve just had a few taken off my face actually.
IL: So, were you given, was there any radiation protection? Or was it just flying suits?
SGP: Nothing at all.
IL: Nothing.
SGP: Nothing at all. I’ll tell you an interesting story and this is about a doctor. I, I knew this doctor because he was at Farnborough and they’re all a bit mental there anyway because that’s why they’re there. They’re prepared to try anything. I know, I know he had, one of his tests was air sickness. He wanted to test it out. So he would get his mate with a flying machine with an aerobatic ace and he’d have a couple of eggs and, just before the flight, and he’d sit there with his stopwatch and his bag seeing how long it would take him before he was sick. But that was one of his, that was one of his little things he used to get up to. And then they, they he managed to contrive to have a railway track and they had a thing on wheels that had a rocket behind it and these rockets were actually dud ones. And they didn’t know what they were going to do with them. Whether they would go off or fizzle or disintegrate or whatever. I mean it just shows the way they — to see the acceleration. The effect of acceleration on the human body. And that was one. Well, I think he topped it in Christmas Island because he had some special glasses with, that were flicking at a fraction of a second. Timed for when the bomb went off. Looking at it to see what effect it would have on his eyes. And I was standing by to fly him up to Hawaii to a medical, you know, to get treatment. But in the event it wasn’t too bad so obviously he wasn’t exposed for very long. But I mean, his name was Whiteside, a super chap and there were three things I could say. He wasn’t on his own. I mean he was just I think a bit mad actually but he was still prepared for the interest of science to sort of expose himself to such terrible risk. So that was it at Christmas island. We used to fly around there. The frigate bird was obviously getting, we were flying all over the place. We used to be clobbered on take-off. They were a bit of a pain really. And then we had crabs who used to come and, on the island to lay their eggs and things or whatever and thousands used to come and you’d just drive over them because they were just too many. They were everywhere. And it was a very small island, Atoll, you see. And anyway that was an experience that, you know stands out in the memory. And of course, going up to Honolulu. It was very nice up there. Waikiki beach was very nice [laughs] and the food was nice and we’d go around to all the pineapple places. So we used to have a break up there. But then we, I had about three months out there and then we were back and I had one more job which was of interest and I flew the body of the Columbian ambassador from England to New York. And I think it’s probably the worst flight I ever had in my life. I took off at Colerne here on the short runway which was very rarely used, in a blinding storm. Got to Northolt and let down there totally down on the ground, pouring with rain, landed and thought I was going to run off the end because I was aquaplaning down the runway. Stopped there. Took off the next day for Iceland. Reykjavik. And with the body on board of course by this time. He wasn’t worried. No, I shouldn’t say that. However, we landed in Iceland. The weather to Goose Bay in Greenland was diabolical so they said, ‘You can’t go yet.’ So we were in and out of the aeroplane. Eventually got off. Landed in Goose Bay. By the time we refuelled the oil had gone solid and we had to go into the, into the hangar to warm the lot up and eventually got the engines turned over and got airborne. And by this time there were people in New York waiting for us to be there, you see. Waiting for time scale with the reception party and everything else. And then lo and behold we had one hundred knot headwinds going down the east coast of, the west coast of Canada and America and arrived in New York at 2 o’clock in the morning. Terribly late and where the guard of honour took off the ambassador and then we managed to get some sleep after that. The next day we had an engine failure and couldn’t, had to have it fixed before we could turn back. And we had just the same sort of weather all the way back. It was one of those trips you remember very clearly.
IL: Absolutely.
SGP: So that was primarily one to think about. Then I did do an attachment to Accra in Ghana as OC Accra. We had one Hastings aircraft there supporting the Ghanaian troops under the United Nations banner. In the Congo. Operating in the Congo. And I went into what was then Leopoldville which is now Kinshasa and I was amazed. You know right in the middle of, I wouldn’t say the jungle that would be —
IL: Yeah.
SGP: Implying whatever, that Africa’s a jungle which it isn’t. But you go to Leopoldville, it was a city. A beautiful city. Wide boulevards with trees. Just like a continental city. And a lovely university on top of the hill. A small aircraft that did DDT spraying every day so it didn’t get any mosquitoes. Beautiful. And what happened was the Belgians said — at midnight tonight you can have the Congo. It’s all yours.
IL: Yeah.
SGP: And they moved out lock, stock and, well not lock stock and barrel. They moved out to a man at that time. Left all their houses. We saw villas. Beautiful villas. I mean ok you could make an argument about they were living well but villas with all the tables laid and everything else. They just walked out. And their big mistake was they’d not really promoted anybody above artisan class. So there was nobody really in that sort of echelon to take over power of the country. But then, as so often happens and it’s the one thing I feel about the colonial reign was that because we were able to organise and run a country with very different ethnic people involved we tended to put a ring around. We got it everywhere. You can talk where you like. You can go to Kenya, you can go in to Iraq or anywhere like that where colonials put a ring around. In the Congo you had the people up in Luluabourg in the north who were totally opposed the south. And as soon as the Belgians went they wanted to take over the north. And since then of course the country has really gone down. It’s the richest mineral wealth country in the world and yet it’s in a terrible state. Roads and everything else. There’s been so much corruption and money taken out. It’s, it really is very sad but I mean I experienced that as part of the United Nations and I think, well perhaps it wasn’t perfect for everybody in the Congo when the Belgians were there but at least there was the rule of law as it were. And I believe the people respected it, you know. I mean a lot of people in India didn’t want the Raj to go because the place was organised and run but, and the same happened in Kenya. I mean Mugabe, he drives me up the wall that fellow because there was so many, so many things that, they’ve killed more people than we ever killed there. Opposing tribal, tribal situation. Anyway, I don’t want to go, that was my one little trip to the Congo. And then I did a flight to Gibraltar and that was the end of my flying at Colerne and you know, down the road here, on the Hastings. And my next trip believe it or not was to Singapore again. I came home and said to my wife, ‘We’re going to Singapore,’ and she nearly had a fit. She said, ‘I’m not going back to Singapore.’ She didn’t like the heat.
IL: No.
SGP: And the humidity. Although we had some extremely good times there. Had lots of very good friends. The kids said, ‘Oh great. Going back to Singapore.’ Well, the one, the first child, Debbie was born in Singapore on the first tour. So anyway, we went back out as I went as OC, the transport operations in Seletar. And of course, the upshot of that was that I got myself involved with the Borneo campaign and I went out with the commander out there. And in fact, I was the assistant to General Walker who was the army commander. And we arrived, we’d had a [pause] not a Valetta [pause] oh the big plane. Oh God, my mind’s going. Anyway, we all arrived in Brunei. The first night our accommodation was on a boat on the side of the river there. In the harbour. Not very comfortable. But eventually we set ourselves up as a headquarters in Brunei. And for a habitation, I shouldn’t say this really, but we went into a girl’s private school. Into their accommodation. You won’t believe this. We got in. We found the beds were lice ridden. All around the beds, we all went around with all sorts of things like lighters and things like that to kill all these bugs off. We eventually got ourselves reasonably comfortable there but we did have one chap who came over to visit us and we kept one bed specially for people we didn’t like and then a good skinful of Tiger Beer. Not a very happy lad in the morning. Anyway, that’s by the by. Now, we eventually moved down to Sarawak. To Kuching. Sarawak. And I was OC of the transport so I was, I was tasking all the transport aircraft. There were Pioneers and Valettas and Beverleys. Beverleys the aircraft. It was the Beverley that flew into [Lap?] and took the airport to start off with.
IL: Right.
SGP: That was the beginning of the war and they just got in and the troops got out and sorted it out before anybody else could do any damage to the airport. But so I was tasking the aircraft, mainly twin and single Pioneers and helicopters. And I had an interesting request from an army commander. They used to go up and down the Rajang River with twin outboard motors belting out the longboats you know. Up there. And he got a chief up there that he was wanting to get onside. And so he asked for a helicopter to go out and take the chief for a ride. And I said negative. I’ve got too many operational tasks for that. So he came blazing back down as fast as he could on the Raja, on the River Rajang in this outboard motors and had a go with this commander. The commander said, ‘Not a chance mate. You’ve had it.’ So that was that but the other thing was you get involved with the natives, the local people when you go up and so we all went down to a longhouse up on the sticks with a big hole in the floor for any business that one wanted to do. And you’d sit all around talking to the people. And out would come, the rice wine would come around in the cup. Well I’m not ultra fussy but I’m a little bit fussy [laughs] You come and you see the flies floating on the top and the globules of rice. Things look horrible and you have to take a drink otherwise it’s very unpopular. It’s like eating the sheep’s eyeballs in Arabia or wherever which I couldn’t, I wouldn’t cope with that either [laughs] And but we, we had that was in the interesting aside. They were head-hunters. They were in their loincloths. Very, very good chaps actually. We had no trouble with them. And so that was technically the end of my, my time out in in the Far East on the second tour. Because then we came back home. Then I came back to be command flight safety officer at Upavon. And that was a very interesting time because one had to look at the safety operation of the aeroplanes. And the war was over. And there was a greater pressure, if you like on operating, operating aircraft within safety measures. I mean we’d operated out of Colerne, for instance for years. Fully laden and everything else. Never had a problem. Then they produced Operation Data Manual which required that if you had an engine failure on take-off you’d never be able to cope at Colerne. So they were, Hastings were banned from Colerne although we’d been operating for years just because this Operation Data Manual. And we had the Argosy aircraft come out and the power on that was terrible. When you put the Operation Data Manual you could hardly carry a mouse. And the Beverley wasn’t a lot better so that was one of the things I had to watch was the safety. And we produced a magazine every month which obviously was a bit of a pain because you could never get enough people to put in contributions, you know. So you were always having to scratch at the last minute to complete your [laughs] your book. So, so where are we gone now then? We’re up to —
IL: You were in Upavon.
SGP: We’re up at Upavon. After that I was selected to go to the Ministry of Technology to do a project manager for simulators.
IL: Oh right.
SGP: And I got in the back end of the Belfast liaising with the companies concerned. And also the VC10. And I had a complete management on the navigation and the signals simulator. And I was kept on, in fact for five years to finish that. And that turned out to be a very good training aid for the RAF and they were very pleased with it. So, so that was that really. And after that I, I decided I wasn’t sure about what I was going to do but I felt that the mahogany bomber wasn’t quite me and I did my last tour as a personnel officer at Andover with Transport Command and finished. Retired from the Air Force in [unclear ] after doing thirty one years in the Air Force.
IL: Gosh.
SGP: Which I think was, I enjoyed every minute because the big, apart from the operational flying side of it the sport side was attractive to me and I used to play rugger regularly and cricket. And we used to play badminton, squash and all the games, tennis but rugby was my game. I played on the Padang at Singapore. In the, in the heat but I went out as a young flank forward on the open side usually so I was tearing around a bit. And the Tiger beer didn’t do any good. I came back as a front row forward and they didn’t like that very much.
IL: No. It’s —
SGP: I remember playing the police force and I eventually got my arm was hanging like that. My one leg had gone and I thought, ‘I think you’re getting a bit old for this lad [laughs]
IL: Absolutely.
SGP: So we, we packed it up but, and also from the flying in the Lancaster which I didn’t mention, if you can imagine health and safety again I had a seat which dropped down from the side of the aircraft. It had to be moveable. The bomb aimer had to get through. Our escape hatch was just down below us. We had to dive down and a way to go. And so it had to be moveable so it used to fold up just a single seat. A little bit of foam on it and then you had a belt behind you. Yeah. You put a bar up. Put a bar up in front of you to put your feet on and that was your seat [laughs] And I never really thought much about it actually but if we came to a sudden stop I’d be probably, I’d be probably in the next parish [laughs]
IL: Right.
SGP: So there was no, there was no security there. But after that I had a lot of back trouble for a long time. and the RAF at that time had one cure for back trouble. That was lie on your back. PID I think it was called. Something about rest and something.
IL: That’s the current, that’s the current feeling. That’s not the current feeling is to keep going but it was for a long time.
SGP: Three weeks I was on this bed in Cosford in the RAF hospital there. Getting more and more uncomfortable. Not being able to do anything. You know. Back end wise as it were. And eventually they let me up to go to the toilet which was a great relief. But I came out a lot [pause] much worse than I went in, in fact. So uncomfortable and of course on nothing in the way of a mattress. It was just hard. And they wouldn’t let you turn over. You would lie on your back permanently for three weeks. That was hell. And I thought well I can continue, I had continuous manipulation on the back at Nocton Hall and places which used to be another hospital when I was up there. And eventually when I came down here to Colerne I went to Headley Court. Headley Court cured me because the first thing we did I was going there with the sciatic nerve trapped and dragging my leg along. The first thing you do, it was a lovely summer and you get down on, you’d be playing cards and you’d have a penalty — push-ups. So you’d be lying on your tummy on the floor. You’d either have to push up or lift your legs up and they continuously did that. Strengthening the back. Tuning up the back dorsal muscles. Whatever. And also heated pool. And we just had inner tubes. Quite a deep pool. You couldn’t stand up in it and you would have to hang from those. And you didn’t dare move. Just total relaxation. And that plus it’s a lovely place, Headley Court. I don’t know whether you know it. It used to be a house.
IL: I do know it. My brother in law is a physio. Well, was a physio, in the army and he was head of rehab there for a while.
SGP: Was he? Marvellous. Wonderful place. I saw people coming in who were smashed up. Really literally smashed up and they walked away. And it was continuous help and aid and wonderful. I’ve never had a problem with it since. You know, it did the job and manipulation didn’t. I’d have the manipulation, go home and I’d lean across and it would pop again. But, but having said that I now have mobility problems so, but the Service are looking after me well in that respect.
IL: Good.
SGP: Yes. It’s been a fascinating life and, and by and large the family have enjoyed it. It’s given us, I’m talking now about a country lad, farming stock. Rural background with they say two h’s Hertford and Hereford hardly anything ever happens. And Hereford is one of them. Hardly anything ever happens. So, it’s quite a remote place and I’ve moved on I suppose from that into where we are today and we’ve lived a very good life and a very comfortable life actually. And I, I thank the Air Force for that. The only regrets I have is as you say the boys who died, fifty five thousand of us didn’t get recognition earlier and I think that’s very sad. And it’s sad that it should be a political gesture that caused that to happen, you know.
IL: Absolutely.
SGP: Yeah. But so here we are. We’re back to square one and how do you think it’s gone?
[recording paused]
SGP: A little reflection. I really intended to start this talk on the basis that I didn’t ask to be a part of this reporting system. And I was asked to do it. And I didn’t consider my service, my number of operations, my general service as any more remarkable than anyone else’s and the fact I was doing a job that I enjoyed was, was fine and I, I wouldn’t like to think that I’ve been courting publicity in putting my history down on record [laughs] Ok.



Ian Locker, “Interview with Gwynne Price,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 15, 2024,

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