Interview with Ron Priest


Interview with Ron Priest


Ron Priest worked in accountancy before the war and then served as a rear gunner, flying twenty five operations with 149 Squadron from RAF Lakenheath all on Stirlings. Describes his training in England, Canada and the United States, under the American Army Air Corps; a first-hand account of a crash landing; dogfights over the North Sea; witnessing a plane crash, initially attributed to pilot error, but later on confirmed to be caused by a mechanical failure. Remembers his last operation to Hanover, where they crossed an enemy aircraft on their way back without engaging it in combat and being reprimanded for that later at the debriefing. Remembers flying three operations on Hamburg in four nights and expresses his views on area bombing. Mentions the use of Window in the Hamburg operation. Remembers being posted at the end of the war to Libya, where he served as an accountant officer. Tells of his life after the war.




Temporal Coverage




00:57:52 audio recording


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DK: This is David Kavanagh for the International Bomber Command Centre interviewing Ron Priest at his home on the 20th of July 2016. If I just put that down there, it will pick us up. Yes, ok, so just going back, if I could start off then by start, just ask what were you doing before the war?
RP: Yes, well, when I left school, I went in, sixteen I suppose, I went into a local solicitor’s office as a shorthand typist [laughs]
DK: Really?
RP: I wasn’t very good at it but I think the principal wanted somebody there, just him and me, when he went out visiting clients and whatever, so I stayed there some many months, it was only a bus ride away from home so it was rather nice and I could get home for lunch.
DK: So where was home at the time then?
RP: Lewisham, Hither Green.
DK: Oh, I know.
RP: Whether you know that way or and then I, some of my mates were working in London getting what seemed to be enormous money but because I couldn’t get [unclear] so I said to the principal that I thought I’d like to leave if you know, [unclear], he said, well, what have you got in mind? I said, I’d think I’d like to work in London. He said, well, I know a friend of mine is a chartered accountant and I could speak to him about you if you thought so thank you very much, there was no animosity in my leave, [unclear], so in short I got the job, but it was a big firm for accountance, about five principles and I was the office boy answering the telephone and getting the cakes for tea for the ladies [laughs]. Well, I did that for some months and then I got on the audit staff, which pleased me, so it was a team of us that used to go round to various places and do their books you see, one of them was Bromley, Bromley borough council south east, and I went there with an audit staff, that was rather nice cause again it was a bus [unclear] away from home and then of course the war came about, more or less, and my brothers were evacuated, ok?
DK: Yes.
RP: And my mother joined them as well. She was in a nervous disposition and she was frightened about bombing and so forth because we’d had air raids at night and so forth, so they went down to Ewhurst in Surrey, near Cranleigh and father and I were left on our own, well, my father was a works manager working in [unclear] not far from where I was born [laughs] and I joined him cause he said, you’ll have to join up sooner or later, join me on the firm and I’m with you and you are with me and so forth, seemed a good idea, so that’s what I did and then it came along that late 1940 talking to me dad, he said, you’ll be conscripted soon, it was something like that and he thought of the horrors of the First World War.
DK: Your father had fought in the First World War.
RP: Yes, yes, he was in the, well, it wasn’t RAF then, I wonder what it was,
DK: Royal Flying Corps?
RP: Royal Flying Corps, yes, and he was in France, so I said, I’ll think you ought to volunteer for the Air Force, so that’s what I did, that was late 1940. I went down to, think, Rushey Green, the shopping area and enlisted in the office there, the recruitment people and of course I heard nothing for ages and I thought, well, I must go back to them, and then third of March, ok?
DK: Yes, ok.
RP: [laughs]
DK: To see if the numbers are going round, yeah, ok, yeah, sorry, sorry.
RP: The third of March 1941 I got a note to report to Uxbridge which you may have heard of [laughs]
DK: Yeah. Yeah. Oh yeah.
RP: For aircrew medical, so I had that and passed ok and then went to work with my father and we came home and went back the next day and so and so and then I gained a few more months and I got a note to report to Lord’s Cricket Ground, aircrew reception, number one aircrew reception centre and so I reported there and that day we moved off to Babbacombe in Torquay so that was my introduction but oddly enough, although I wasn’t in the air force as such, my date of joining goes to 3rd of March 1941 [laughs], so that’s how it all came about and the first stop was Babbacombe football ground where we stepped under the stand and then we got kitted out and then walked to, walked, marched, walked to Torquay where we billeted, that was the start of ITW, Initial Training Wing, so that was that.
DK: At this stage, did you know what sort of training in the Air Force you were going to do?
RP: No. I passed for aircrew.
DK: Yeah, right, that’s all you knew at that time, just passing for aircrew.
RP: That’s right, aircrew and of course we walked to some school I suppose and had lessons there, aircraft recognition, Morse training, did that, and we did and drill of course, but drill on the sands of Torquay [laughs] when the weather was kind. And that was the early days you see but you don’t want me to go on with the history of
DK: Whatever you feel comfortable with.
RP: Alright.
DK: So from there on is it, it’s interesting to know how the training came about actually.
RP: Yes.
DK: Cause it’s an important part of story, if you think about it is to how you’ve gone from a civilian, you working in a clerk’s office and go over to them.
RP: Yes, yes, well, we finished at ITW, which is about six or eight weeks and then we were posted to elementary flying training school this was near Carlisle, where we continue with lessons and drill and so forth, aircraft recognition, Morse, navigation, these sort of things and started flying.
DK: So what would you’ve be flying in at that time? What type of aircraft?
RP: Tiger Moths.
DK: Right.
RP: Tiger Moth, no, not the Tiger Moth, I beg your pardon, a Magister, it was either Tiger Moth or Magister, so we went on to Magister which was a plain wing, Tiger Moth was a double wing, wasn’t it? So we did that, I had flying lessons, and then we were cut short and taken to Heaton Park in Manchester, [unclear] great place a holding unit and we were held there holding doing nothing except going down in the morning to the cinema, having your name called and coming home again until we got a ship to Canada.
DK: Right, ok.
RP: And Newfoundland and then Moncton, Moncton was on the news a few weeks ago, some unit first training there, anyway that was [unclear], so we spent several weeks at Moncton in Canada then we were posted down to Maxwell Field, Alabama.
DK: Oh wow! I guess this was your first time you’d left England then?
RP: Exactly.
DK: Was it a bit of a cultural shock, Canada and America?
RP: It was too, but I mean, I was eighteen, nineteen so if there was, it was educational naturally and it was interesting, terribly interesting so we boarded this train, I don’t think it was the Chattanooga Choochoo [laughs] we rode it quite a while to go to Alabama,
DK: Wow.
RP: Alabama, Maxwell Field, now the thing is that we were under the training of the American Army Air Corps, now they weren’t in the war and instead of being an RAF body at home as we’d started off, we were in the army air corps, so we really started initial training wing all over again, drill, marching, we did have recognition, aircraft recognition.
DK: So were you commanding officers there Americans?
RP: Yes.
DK: Right.
RP: Yes, but there was a liaison then, ref but I don’t it was very good actually [laughs] so that was rather good I shared very good billets, I shared a billet with three other chaps, one was Michael Rennie, the actor that was,
DK: Alright.
RP: He got through, stayed up there as an instructor but and two other chaps, the police force at that time were releasing men to go into the forces and these three boys were ten years older than me, I was the sprog you know, I was really a nuisance to them if I might say it but I will just relate that we off the morning, about six thirty, we reckoned to be outside with the band to take us to the mess for breakfast, rather comical really, it was only from, no distance, two hundred yards [laughs]
DK: Was it an American Air Force band, was it an American Air Force?
RP: Yes, oh yes. And of course we filed into the dining room one by one and stood behind the chair until we got an order to sit. Yes. Very rigid army air corps as it was, you see, they weren’t in the war and we were conforming which was a bit nuisance really, as it turned out. So we were there some weeks, doing what we’ve done before in England initial training, marching up and down and so forth, but some aircraft recognition and things like that but all very involved because it was their peace time. We were in their peacetime arrangement you see and this was the real [unclear]. From there I got posted to Florida, Arcadia in Florida for flying trading on Stearmans which was a heavier aircraft than the Magister and I couldn’t cope with it, it was too much for me and I got what was called washed out, now dozens of us got washed out, which was a great mistake because we might well have gone on under wartime conditions in the air force, in the RAF but we ran the army air corps, the American, so I got washed out, came back to Canada after weeks [laughs] doing nothing and then it was a question of remustering, doing something else, well I thought, goodness knows how long I’ve been doing nothing really so I took the course as an air gunner, about twelve weeks.
DK: This was in Canada.
RP: In Canada, Mountain View. And I went through the course and passed out. Then I was hanging around again before we went to Newfoundland and then came home on the boat of course. Going out we were sprogs and we were in hammocks and a lot of people slept on the deck. We weren’t escorted, we just went cause it was a big ship, and coming back it was different because we were sergeants, so we had a cabin, did we, or shared a cabin,
DK: Luxury.
RP: Pardon?
DK: Luxury.
RP: [laughs] so we got back here and then one of the next things was to go to elementary flying training school and there we got crewed up, very haphazard arrangement as you may know, you just said, oh, that chap looks like a nice bloke over there [laughs]
DK: How did you feel about that way of crewing up, where everybody just got together and you formed your own crews [unclear]?
RP: It worked out in a whole, it worked out and it worked out for us.
DK: Cause it’s quite unusual, it’s not a military thing to do when [unclear]
RP: No, it isn’t, but on a whole it worked out. And I don’t know of any units where they crewed up in that way where it didn’t work actually, so the upper gunner and me, we looked around, we went over to this pilot and said, would you be looking for two gunners? And I think he had a look at us and yes ok, so we crewed up and from there we went to Stradishall with Stirlings.
DK: Can you remember the name of the pilot that you crewed up with?
RP: Yes. Bernard North.
DK: Bernard North.
RP: Bernard North. I met him a lot after the war and I was with him the week he died in hospital. We were quite very good friends, so we crewed up and he’d been trained on Wellingtons I think, so Stirling was his first thing.
DK: Right, so you got to Stradishall then.
RP: That’s right.
DK: And that was what? The heavy conversion unit?
RP: That’s right.
DK: Yeah.
RP: That’s right. And
DK: So what, was that your first time you saw a Stirling?
RP: That’s right.
DK: What was your impression as when you saw it?
RP: Well, I thought it looked a handsome aircraft and I still do.
DK: Yeah, [unclear] pictures on the wall.
RP: Yes.
DK: They are saying there are still none around, isn’t it?
RP: Sorry?
DK: It’s just a shame that none exist anymore.
RP: Oh, that’s right, that’s right. I’ll give you a story about that one later on perhaps if you.
DK: Yes, definitely.
RP: So from there we were posted to 149 Squadron in May 1943 and when you consider that our official starting date in the Air Force was March 1941, it was two years and I’d done so and so all, do you follow me?
DK: Yeah, yeah. It’s a long period of time.
RP: That’s right. It was good fun in a way because I got numerous leaves and well, before I tell you about those, that was very good but that’s how we started off.
DK: So where was 149 Squadron based at this time?
RP: It was based at Lakenheath, it’s now leased at the American, big long run way which was needed. Yes, so that’s where we started our operations. We did, I did twenty five
DK: Right. All on Stirlings?
RP: That’s right. And I, we had a nasty trip on the last trip as it turned out and I went into hospital and when I came out, was back for duty again the CO said, well, you’re finished flying, Priest, you’ve done twenty five and we’ve cut the strip down from thirty trips to twenty five.
DK: Right, ok.
RP: They were losing so many Stirlings that it was pretty soppy, anyway that’s by the by. So I didn’t do any more flying then and then I went to Chipping Warden near Banbury as an instructor and that’s the way it went.
DK: So when you were in your role then as a gunner, what exactly was that? What was your role in there? You’re there on an operation, so you’re obviously the lookout then for.
RP: Yes, that was it you see, I liked being at the rear turret and flew most of my trips in the rear turret at the
DK: So you could choose then, you could
RP: The other gunner wasn’t very keen and he got rather nervous, if I may say that, he kept thinking he saw fighters coming when they weren’t there. So, this may I say, displeased the pilot a bit, so he went into the mid upper and I went into the rear one, I preferred that oddly enough because with the mid upper you were, half of your body was out in fresh air and you could fall [laughs]
DK: So you felt kind of safer in the rear turret?
RP: I did. Oddly enough, oddly enough, but of course if it came to an emergency, you’ve got to open the doors, slid them back, your parachute was hanging on a thing there, gotta get your parachute, you put it on all this time you see but then was the way it was, now I’ll just tell you about my last trip then. I could have made these notes but some of them are not too relevant. Yes, it was a trip to Hanover, it was my last trip twenty five, and we went out ok and over the target, well first of all, yes, over the target area, we got coned by searchlights and that’s a frightening thing cause it lights up the aircraft so you put all the bombs on the [unclear] and the pilot sensibly and very knowledgeably stalled the aircraft, we went down to, from fourteen thousand feet, which was ceiling at the Stirling, ours anyway I mean, the Lancs were up at twenty six, twenty eight and we stalled, levelled out to four thousand feet, now the thing is that we were well off course and the bomb aimer and navigator had to work together to get us back on course which we did but when we got into the target area it was all very quiet, in other words the main force had gone, we were on our jet jones but there were no anti-aircraft guns or fighters or anything like that
DK: So it was completely quiet over the city then?
RP: That’s right, it was fortunately, I think the fighters didn’t follow us down from the coned aircraft cause they thought we’d gone four thousand, down to four thousand feet quickly, anyway we had to climb up again to bomb to fourteen thousand feet which [unclear] up time and eventually we set course for home, we just about cleared the Alps for five thousand feet I mean Mount Blanc is fifteen and a half thousand feet and you could see over there [laughs] anyway we started homeward and we came across a Ju 88 going the other way. And we kept our head still, I think he did as well over the mountains we didn’t want to get into combat so we sensibly kept going, you see, and that was ok. Afterwards when we had our debriefing, we got chocked off about that, you should have engaged him, anyway my pilot said, so were it for you sir [unclear] [laughs] anyway now then we’ve come to the nitty-gritty, we get to the French coast to come home and I think it’s a known fact that when the crews got there they thought oh ok, famous last words [unclear] because you got to go over the North Sea and I was [unclear] to death about the North Sea, you think black’s black don’t you? But looking down there, you couldn’t see the sea, it’s just blackness, I was frightened, more frightened at that than anything else, frankly, anyway we were proceeding to come over the coast and over the sea we got attacked by two fighters, one, there was a second pilot coming for his first flight with us to get experience, he got his leg damaged from a shell and my pilot, who was actually flying the aircraft, had a shell land between his legs and go into the control column but it didn’t do any more damage than that but what happened was that, I was a mid-upper gunner this trip, one of the shells shattered my Perspex cover and I just got fresh air all around me. Well I fired because with the 303s you got to wait for the fighter to get in range to start with cause he’s got cannons, don’t he, you see [laughs]. We both fired at the one and he dived away underneath and then the other one came in and we fired again and so forth and he dived underneath. What happened to it I don’t know, we never saw it again. And we came home then, eight and a half hour trips, landed at Boscombe Down short of fuel, well we had to do that dive down to four thousand feet and then climb up again and got lost a bit, didn’t we, you did follow me?
DK: Yeah.
RP: Sorry, you chose, so we stayed there. But when I got out the aircraft, one of the crew said to me, what’s the matter with your eye, Ron? What’s the matter with your left eye? I said, I don’t know, [unclear], it’s alright, it was alright, ball of blood, and what had happened, well, the paramedics were there and I got into the ambulance quite straight away, took me to Ely hospital and as it turned out I got two pinheads, a fleck or whatever in my eye, miraculously missing the iris and I was in Ely hospital for ten days and eventually was the fact that two pieces were taken out with a giant magnet that came down on my head and then I came back to the squadron and that’s when the governor said, well, you’ve finished there, you’ve done twenty five, you’ve produced the tour and that was the end.
DK: So by that point your crew split up then, did they?
RP: Yes, but I kept in touch with my pilot, Bernard North and visited several times, at Chiswick where he lived and went to see him when he was in hospital and he died there unfortunately but anyway
DK: That’s a shame. Is that fairly recently
RP: Oh no, it’s going back fourteen years, yes, yes.
DK: Ok, right. So how did you feel when you were told, no more operations, were you?
RP: Well, I was quite pleased quite frankly because the last incident had more than bothered me if you know what I mean, I thought we were so near death and we were terribly short of petrol as well, I mean, Bernard North did a wonderful job of getting us to Boscombe Down, it’s on the coast you see, an RAF station there, you may know, so that was the worst day of the trip.
DK: Was that the only time you fired your guns in anger or was it?
RP: Yes, it was, it was.
DK: And that was, sorry, that was Hanover, was it?
RP: Yes, Hanover, yes.
DK: Can you remember the dates that was of the [unclear]
RP: Here, yes, [unclear] somewhere.
DK: Just for the record.
RP: Yes, quite so, excuse me aminute.
DK: That’s ok.
RP: 27th of September 1943.
DK: Ok.
RP: Yes. Our last stop the tour with Stirlings had been reduced from thirty to twenty five. It’s an odd thing that our aircraft that we flew in about fifteen times EF4711, it’s one of these.
DK: Ah.
RP: It’s on the ground, it might be that one.
DK: Alright.
RP: And if you can see it, I can’t properly.
DK: So, EF
RP: EF4711.
DK: That’s EF411
RP: Yes.
DK: That one.
RP: That’s it. I think it’s that one.
DK: Yeah. EF411.
RP: That’s the aircraft. Now that is reputed to have done over sixty, near seventy operations.
DK: Right.
RP: It was the only, that was the highest one on 149 Squadron.
DK: Was that the one where the incident happened at Hanover?
RP: Yes, yes, yes.
DK: Alright. So, you’re in the mid upper turret.
RP: That’s right.
DK: Yeah.
RP: And, it was flying originally at Mildenhall.
DK: Right.
RP: And then it came to us and we did about fifteen in it. And it went on to do nearly seventy ops.
DK: Good. So apart from Hanover then, what were your other targets?
RP: Well, yes, most of the targets were in the Ruhr.
DK: Right.
RP: Short trips, if I can say that, three and a half, four hours, Essen, Dusseldorf, Dortmund, the like, and almost uneventful if I may say, you could always hear the shells on the aircraft, like ice
DK: Yeah.
RP: You know, ice dropping from the sky, but [unclear] we were never bothered by fighters, ever, before, no. But I just got something as an aside here, it was a [unclear] factory by the way that we were bombing. On the 9th of August ’43 it was arranged that we were to welcome a group of RAFC cadets to fly with us on a routine air test, one of the group had been allowed to M for Mother which was our aircraft and he stood with us at the dispersal, waiting to board, at this moment we watched flight sergeant Cummings take-off on his air test with another cadet, he took off and with increasing horror he lost power, struggled to maintain height over a forest area, finally thus scanning the tree tops, he stood on his tail and went into ground. All were killed. Now, Bernard North said to our cadet who’d watched it, we’ve all watched it, that’s not gonna happen to us, it’s very, very rare indeed, I’ve never seen it happen before but if you don’t want to come with us we’ll understand. So he said, yes, I’d like to go and he did and Bernard congratulated him on sticking it out, being plucky. Now an odd thing, an aside to that is some years afterwards, good few years afterwards I had a call from a Mister Cummings in France, the father of the pilot and actually the official record of it is that it was pilot error and he said to me, what can you tell me about my son’s aircraft and the crash? I said, well, and of course some time elapsed for all this you see, so I said, well, we were watching what happened, and it’s our opinion and certainly mine that it wasn’t pilot error, it was a mechanical failure. Now the records don’t show that but I thought it would be rather nice to tell him so he said, oh thank you very much Mr Priest, that’s very kind of you. So I said, well, don’t bother about it anymore, your son wasn’t seriously involved in the mishap, well, he died but I mean, it wasn’t his fault, it wasn’t his fault, I thought that was rather good. Oh, further episode of that trip to, the last trip to Hanover,
DK: Ok [unclear].
RP: Yes, we landed without further incident, that’s after the fighter, and at debriefing he CO was critic that we did not seek contact with the Ju 88, next day the bombing leader of the bombing section congratulated Bernard on being alive. So he said to him, why do you say that for? So he said, we found no photograph of your target but we did find the flare that should have gone out lying in the back of your aircraft, when you stalled the flare, when you stalled the plane the flare actually [unclear] slid vertically out of the chute and landed on [unclear] and there was a, it was a rotating thing, he said, on inspection it was found that the vibration and [unclear] had caused the projector on the flare to rotate, when you left the aircraft, there were just three more revolutions before it [unclear], it was the aircraft so I just [laughs].
DK: So who said you should have engaged the Ju 88?
RP: The CO at the debriefing, the debriefing.
DK: Ah right. Cause I was always under the impression you weren’t supposed to do that unless they engaged you because you are drawing attention to yourself.
RP: Well quite right, it was only fifty yards away.
DK: Yeah, and if he’s not bothering you
RP: Yeah.
DK: You don’t want to draw attention to yourself.
RP: Well, this is what the CO said cause Bernard was quite upset about it
DK: Not surprised.
RP: And we were over the [unclear] Alps and I was, it was majestic flying over the Alps but when you consider that our ceiling was fourteen thousand feet, it wasn’t very much to spare and I kept thinking, crickey, if anything happens to us now but there are no more fighters, do you see?
DK: Yes. How did you feel about the Stirlings though because of their lack of ceiling [unclear] the Lancasters were at ten thousand feet above you?
RP: Well, yes I know, well of course it was really a pilot thing really, Bernard liked the aircraft, he didn’t initially, Bernard my pilot, he liked the aircraft and I think he was quite attached to it but it was very nosey, there’s a big long nose on it, I liked it very much. I did fly in Lancasters later on but I liked it but it got, it stood very tall of course and the undercarriage was suspect and very often that was a cause of accidents taking off or landing.
DK: Yeah. So on a normal operation then, how did that work during the day? Did you know in the mornings that you’d be flying that night or?
RP: Yes, cause you’d go to a briefing you see and you’d wonder what was [unclear] [laughs] what’s it got to be, I never did go to Berlin, I’m not, but it was mainly the Ruhr, about nine trips to the Ruhr, three or four hours, which was rather good in a way but it was pretty sweaty over the Ruhr, Essen, Krupsworks and so forth, all the way down the Ruhr, the Rhine, these factories and where all the industry was.
DK: So just before the mission then, your crews got together and then you go out to the aircraft and
RP: That’s right, well, you have a good breakfast to start with [laughs], a good meal and you go out to the aircraft and for a certain time etcetera and then you are signalled off one by one, quite a sight to see them all lined up and taxing and ready.
DK: And did you see much of other aircraft at night or [unclear]?
RP: No, actually never did and very often I was, chaps reported they saw aircraft burning or it’s another one down here but I never did, I never did, maybe fourteen thousand feet, we were below what was happening further up, you see, I don’t know, cause the Halifax couldn’t get up to the ceiling of the Lancaster but again he got well above us, yes. There’s one here, I’m not sure of the date and target but the weather closed in and some seventy aircraft crashed on return, many being diverted from base, it was thought that conditions at Lakenheath were just about ok and we prepared to land in patchy visibility plus low cloud and mist. On the final approach Bernard lost sight of the runway and he gained the height and clipped, [unclear] the height and clipped the top of bordering trees, the undercarriage seemed intact and we didn’t know at the time [unclear] and we made a good landing, unfortunately Bernard found the trees had affected his brakes and contact with the trees had severed the brake candles, the brake cables, we must have swing off the end of the runway at speed and we careened round the perimeter [laughs], fortunately missing parked aircraft and other vehicles. It then still being in one piece and called the flight control who said [unclear] get off the air! There are others there trying to get down and in more trouble than you. Who said the words [laughs]
DK: Yeah.
RP: It was a [unclear] factory that we were going to Turin. Three days later we went again, I think only Stirlings went on that, about two hundred aircraft.
DK: That would be a long trip to Turin.
RP: Eight and a half hours, that was the longest one, the first one was a bit less than that but it was eight hours yes. I think that’s about it.
DK: Yeah, ok. So after your twenty five operations then you went, you were training?
RP: Yes, you went off as an instructor.
DK: Instructor
RP: All the crew did that, whether you’re a pilot or a navigator, you were posted to an operational training unit to give your experiences to would coming air gunners or navigators or
DK: So you were instructing new gunners then.
RP: Yes, that’s right, yes, Silverstone
DK: Silverstone. Yeah.
RP: Silverstone.
DK: What were you flying on while you were doing your
RP: Wellingtons. Yes.
DK: So how did you feel about having all trainees?
RP: Well, I felt responsible in a way but I never told them details, I never told anybody details [laughs] but you just got on with it and you wondered what might happen to them but well, that was the way it went, you see.
DK: So you were training, you were instructing, sorry, at the war’s end.
RP: Yes. Well, no, the war was still on then, but perhaps foolishly I don’t know I palled up with a good pilot at Silverstone while instructing and I think, like so many aircrew that had done a tour, they wanted to get back again, which was pretty soppy and of course some of them did another tour, some of them didn’t. Some of them went and did, our wireless op, went on special duties and he died some years ago, long time ago and I read his obituary in the paper, ninety three ops he did all together cause he did five, twenty five with us and then dropping supplies and agents and so forth. Pretty arduous really cause you couldn’t hang about long when you got down to let the men out or pick somebody up
DK: Can you remember his name, the wireless operator?
RP: Rowley.
DK: Rowley.
RP: Rowley. He was a printer in the old-fashioned way.
DK: Yeah.
RP: Printer, Sid Rowley, yes.
DK: So you met up with his pilot at Silverstone.
RP: Yes. I did [laughs] We were going to do another tour. So he was a Wellington man and he hadn’t been on Stirlings or Lancasters so we had to go on a course, we all went on this course, we picked up other navigator and bomb aimer and so forth and we went up to North Lincolnshire for, Wigsley, North Lincolnshire to a course on Lancasters cause he hadn’t flown Lanc and then we went down to 635 Squadron which was the sister squadron of 617 actually but that’s by and by and we were operational then, flying all together operational training, and then the bomb was dropped but we were part of the Tiger Force, Tiger Force to go and bomb Japan.
DK: So what was your feelings when you knew the war ended rather suddenly and you weren’t going out to the Far East? How did you feel about that?
RP: Well, really, I was quite relieved, quite relieved, and then of course, with so many aircrew not needed any more, we went up to a station called Burn near Selby which [unclear] the weeks on end being interviewed as to what we might be suitable for and because I’d been in accountance, I went on an accountance course, I’ve got commissioned by the way while I was on the squadron cause I went on a gunnery course and did very well. And they said, well you Priest, we haven’t got a lot of commissioned air gunners, we want to put you anyway [unclear], anyway I took it on. But greatly relieved when the big bomb was dropped and that was it you see. But we got to Burn and we had wait there and hang about, have interviews, see what we might be suitable for and I was put to accountance and then end of January I got, I was due for demob more or less in the August, so I was quite amazed to get an overseas posting and we were going to get married at Easter [laughs] and I was posted to North Africa, Cairo initially at group headquarters and then went up to a little station called Benina, Benina in Libya, Libya, and I was accountant officer there for some many months, perhaps nearly a year and then I got re-stationed at El Adem, which was Gaddafi’s principal airport, a very lovely place, specially built, well, Italians specially built billets and so forth, and I did that until I eventually got demob leave and came home, demobbed in [unclear] 2nd August [laughs].
DK: So what was your career after the RAF then?
RP: Yes, that was very thoughtful, yes. Well, I mean, I spent six years in the Air Force, I was only a glorified good office boy before I went in but I went for a couple of jobs and I could have got either one and I decided on one which was to work for the Co-operative Permanent building society, that was what it was called then, changed its name to Nationwide later on and I got taken on there as a clerk cashier and worked on head office counter which was rather prestigious actually at New Oxford House not far from Holborn tube station and from there I went to Portsmouth and then to Chester as assistant manager and then to Peterborough, my own branch which eventually was engulfed in a fire, we’d only been in it seven months, terrific fire, got the photographs and I stayed in Peterborough quite a time cause I had changes of office, moved about and I found a very nice place on Long Causeway which was being vacated by what was then almost a supermarket, Home and Colonial I think it was, and I told my people that this property was available to us, it was opposite the opening to Queensway, the internal thing so it was well positioned, Long Causeway, do you know Peterborough?
DK: Yes.
RP: Not too. [unclear] Not been here [unclear]
DK: Getting to die better.
RP: Yes, so I got this, I found this spot being vacated and I wrote to my people, in touch with my people and said this will make a good office, situation, location from where we are now, that was after the fire and my governor, the big man came down and walked around it, there was a big area at the back for parking of cars and there was a letting available upstairs and he said, it’s over four hundred pounds at that price, the board will never pay that, they’ll never, anyway they did and it’s a very popular office now although I say I got in there and we worked it up and then eventually our last seven years I went to Luton and was manager there with Dunstable and Hitchin and [unclear] as well and I didn’t like Luton very much but anyway it was financially ok and promotion that’s where I stayed for seven years and then retired 1984 [laughs].
DK: So after all these years then, looking back on your period in the RAF, particularly in Bomber Command, how do you feel about it looking back now?
RP: Yes. Well, I, I know you see I was involved with the Hamburg bombing, three times in four nights, Hamburg, and I mean, it is quite an effort to get there and do any bombing, let alone whatever. I reflected and my pilot did of all the people we’d killed, certainly in Hamburg, and I was sorry about that but I felt I’d made a contribution, you see, my daughter said to me, when you’re sitting in the turret and whatever and so, what are you thinking about? Well I said, I was excited, I was,
DK: Ok. Just make sure that we got enough tape there.
RP: [laughs] I said I was excited as a young man and you were thrilled because you thought I had to do, bomb, they bombed Coventry and [unclear] didn’t they? [laughs] So I was pleased with what I’ve done although I regret it. The terrible tragedy of killing so many people because it developed in the end of 1943 into area bombing, the idea was of course to frighten the death out of the population which never occurred, the same with the Battle of Britain, you know, people at home, [unclear], you know, didn’t they? Sorry all this [laughs]
DK: It’s ok. Alright, it’s alright. No, ok, still going, yeah, ok.
RP: So, I was pleased with my performance and when I look back on it and I’ve written my life story and given it to Angela, it’s short of certain material that I ought to remember, I’ve remembered but it is my own hand writing, she talks about getting it printed.
DK: Is Angela your daughter?
RP: Yes.
DK: Right, ok.
RP: But I felt, no, I don’t want it, it’s for my daughter, but particularly for my grandson and my great granddaughter cause know something about me, so I’m happy about that.
DK: So were you on all of the Hamburg raids or?
RP: Yes, well the Americans went there during the day, just to make matters worse or whatever.
DK: So you went on three
RP: Three in four nights, that’s pretty sweaty, three in four nights but of course it was a terrible thing, I mean we carried incendiaries in the main, in the [unclear] but of course as you probably know there was a very hot, humid day like we’ve had here the last three days and the wind got up and aggravated the fires, there was some massive firestorm right through the city, terrible, people dying in the streets, so we were told.
DK: But you wouldn’t have been aware of this at the time though [unclear]
RP: Oh no, oh no, no, no.
DK: And when you are having these briefings before the operation
RP: Yes.
DK: Was it clear as to what your targets were, was it like the centre of the city or
RP: Oh yes, oh yes, well, we were given
DK: They were quite up front about you hitting the city
RP: Yes, well, yes they were quite up front what the aiming point was, oh yes, it’s a very full briefing and of course you got the route mapped out to avoid fighters and so on and so forth, didn’t always work cause on the Nuremberg raid, which I wasn’t on thank goodness, we’d lost nearly a hundred aircraft, we lost over ninety on the occasion itself, let alone what we lost landing and all that, that was terrible, badly arranged.
DK: Was a straight line, was in straight, directly
RP: Well no, and up front you see, they were diversion raids, a small force would attack something near the target or just off the line of the target to induce people to, the enemy to think that’s where it was gonna be, you see, where it was, it’s gonna be there.
DK: So the Hamburg raid then, that was the first time they used Window, wasn’t it?
RP: Yes it was, it was.
DK: So do you remember anything about the drops of Window?
RP: Well, that was, the wireless op sent Rowley to drop the Window every so often and
DK: Was it explained to you before the Hamburg raid what Window would do?
RP: Oh yes, exactly, what it was going to do and it worked.
DK: Disrupt the radar.
RP: And it worked subsequently afterwards. I think we got it in mind for some time but we were frightened that the Germans would use it back on us because it wasn’t, you know, it was an understandable exercise these strips of paper, like making a Christmas decoration, you know, like that, [unclear], all in bundles, I’ve chucked it out and
DK: So when it came to the third Hamburg raid, how did you feel about that when you were going again?
RP: Well, it was a rotten night and I don’t’ think we should have gone because the damage had been really done and of course usually after a raid Mosquitoes go over and take photographs so we jolly well knew what we’d done, so I think it was superfluous really and it was a rotten night for weather and I know we got caught in an electrical storm, [unclear] lights flashing all over the aircraft, which frightened one a bit [laughs], yes.
DK: So you look back now, you said you spoke to your pilot about looking back at the
RP: Oh yes.
DK: What was his feelings on
RP: Oh, his feelings were deeper than mine, he regretted a lot of the raids that he went on, I mean when you went to, we went to France a couple of times, Montlucon, which was a Dunlop rubber factory, I mean, that’s what you were going for, you know that was understandable you see but the area bombing, in other words if anything got in our way, it was hard luck, wasn’t it?
DK: Yeah.
RP: I’ m afraid to say that. Yes.
DK: Ok.
RP: I’ve said enough.
DK: I was gonna say, I could listen to you for hours but I’m
RP: Oh, I’ve had a year, I’ve had an hour.
DK: I’m more concerned about yourself but let’s, I’ll stop it there if that’s ok.
RP: Yes. I’ve got one or two things perhaps to show you.
DK: Ok, let me just



David Kavanagh, “Interview with Ron Priest,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 23, 2024,

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