Interview with Carolyn Pritchard

Title

Interview with Carolyn Pritchard

Description

Carolyns father, Arthur, joined the Royal Air Force on his 18th birthday. Following his training as a flight engineer, was posted to RAF Winthorpe. He was allocated to a crew consisting entirely of Australians. In February 1944 the crew were posted onto Lancaster aircraft of 463 Squadron at RAF Waddington. On the 7th May 1944, they were posted to 97 Squadron at RAF Coningsby. It was from RAF Coningsby on their 21st operation on board ND 764, they were shot down 30 miles south of Paris. Carolyn describes in detail the events, from the aircraft being damaged by anti-aircraft fire and then being attacked by a Luftwaffe fighter, to the escape from the aircraft and subsequent contact with French civilians who sheltered him up to his return to the UK after the liberation of Paris in August 1944. Following his return, Arthur was granted three weeks leave. He did not return to flying, instead he retrained and became an air traffic controller. He was posted to Scotland, and it was here he met his future wife. In the 1970’s, whilst on a holiday in Europe, her sister managed to establish contact with members of the French Resistance who had sheltered Arthur. In 1977 Arthur was able to visit them and the graves of his fellow crew who did not survive and remained in contact for the remainder of his life. Carolyn recalls her father describing a superstition the crew used to carry out before each mission. Each crew member would urinate on the aircraft wheels before boarding. Several members of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force came to wave them off on their last mission and discretion meant they were unable to carry out their routine.

Creator

Date

2017-08-23

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

00:26:53 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Rights

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

Identifier

APritchardC170823, PPritchardA1701

Transcription

SP: This is Susanne Pescott and I’m interviewing Carolyn Pritchard today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We’re at Carolyn’s home and it is the 23rd of August 2017. So, first of all thank you Carolyn for agreeing to be interviewed today. So, first of all do you just want to tell me about your father and what he did before the war?
CP: Yes. As he joined up on his, on his eighteenth birthday he didn’t have, after leaving school he worked for a baker’s delivering bread and that’s it really. And then he joined up.
SP: Yeah.
CP: On his eighteenth birthday.
SP: Did he ever say why he wanted to join the RAF?
CP: No. No. No. He didn’t. He didn’t mention why.
SP: Ok. So he went into the RAF and do you know what, where he went first of all? What he did?
CP: Yes. He was, he joined up on his eighteenth birthday and he was, he did his training at St Athans in South Wales. He passed out as flight sergeant and was posted to RAF Winthorpe in Lincoln where he was introduced to his Australian crew as flight engineer. And that was on the 29th of February 1944. He joined the 463 Squadron. That was the Australian squadron in RAF Waddington. They did seventeen sorties while they were in Waddington and they were Germany, over Germany, France. And on the 9th no, sorry it was the 7th of May 1944, the pilot officer Bryan Giddings and crew, that was dad’s crew, they posted, they were posted to 97 Squadron. That was the Pathfinders and that was at RAF Coningsby. They completed another three missions. Seeing action in D-Day. On their twenty first sortie, that was the 9th 10th of June 1944, on a night raid over a railway junction at Etampes, that’s south of Paris, Pilot Officer Giddings and crew failed to return. Right. I don’t know how much —
[recording pause]
CP: After releasing flares over the target the Lancaster ND764 was hit by flak and they were then attacked from below by a night fighter. Many many years later when he was able to relate his story to me he recollected the moment the aircraft was hit. The inner or outer port side engine was on fire. He wasn’t sure which one it was. The suicidal height at which they were flying, the noise, the smoke in the cabin and unable to communicate amongst each other, the cramped conditions in the cockpit, no place to wear your parachute. He always stored it on the floor. Frantically searching for it, the rush of cold air from the open back door. That was the navigator jumping out. Then he trying to prise, prise open the escape hatch at the front. Every second was wasted. Making survival impossible. The whole episode could not have lasted more than a few minutes and before he realised it was a doomed machine he, he had jumped out.
SP: So, how Carolyn, when he told you that, how did you feel when he was relaying the story?
CP: Well, a couple of years later we’d gone back to RAF Coningsby to see the Lancaster and we were able to go on board. And I could then visualise because the Lancaster wasn’t aircrew friendly at all. It was so small and cramped. And I felt so sorry for the mid-upper gunner. Where he was positioned would have been impossible for him to get out. And the tail end Charlie was, he was in this small little cockpit and again that would have been impossible for him to get out and the aeroplane was going down so fast. And eventually when they did find the bodies they were found in, in the aircraft. Yes. The three of them.
SP: So three —
CP: Were, yes it was the bomb aimer, the mid-upper gunner was, he couldn’t get out and the rear gunner which was the tail end Charlie. They are the three that couldn’t get out. The pilot had jumped out when the plane was very very low but his pilot, his parachute didn’t open. And also the wireless operator. No. I’m muddling up now. It was the navigator. The wireless operator had jumped out already and it was the navigator that had jumped out without a parachute and he was found with the whistle in his mouth. So he’d obviously survived the crash but I don’t know how long and was trying to attract attention. Yes.
SP: And how was your father when he was talking about the story?
CP: He was, he’d put the whole episode really at the back of his mind all the years we were growing up. Even though he used to talk about them. The crew.
[recording paused]
SP: So Carolyn, obviously it’s quite emotional talking about your father and the crew there so can you just talk me through what happened then after he’d got out of the plane.
CP: Yes. Because the aircraft was on fire and it was so low he’d baled out and he’d sprained his ankle. So he was hobbling around the French countryside with a damaged ankle and famously asking villagers for the way to the coast. He was trying to get back to the coast. Eventually he’d arrived at a small village, Egly and entered the local church. He’d seen a local man at the altar and [pause] and told him in broken English that he was Welsh. That he was an RAF airman. The French man couldn’t speak English and what he did he took, he gave dad a glass of water and then he took him to a café opposite the church. On entering the café dad waved a hundred franc note from his RAF kit and ordered champagne for everybody in the, in the café. There was panic as the Germans were in the village and he was hastily ushered to the back room. A young teenage boy from the village was brought in. He could speak a little English and he asked dad to explain what had happened. Dad said that his aircraft had been shot at and that he’d baled out and, but he was really uncertain with the rest of the crew and he kept asking and asking how they were. So that they could check his identity with London they hid dad in a small air raid shelter underground and if they, if he hadn’t checked out right I think they would have just left him there. Once the ok came from London the local leader of the French Resistance was summoned and put him in the care of Monsieur George Danton and his family. They risked being shot if caught hiding a British airman and he was given a new identity, well an identity and civilian clothing. His ID was a deaf and dumb Frenchman. And a bicycle. He was moved from safe house to safe house until eventually he ended up in Paris. In Antony in Paris. He was always instructed to follow a parcel tied to the back of Mr Danton’s cycle. Not Mr Danton himself. And once they had arrived at Mr Danton’s house in Paris Mr Danton went into the building without the parcel. The parcel was still left on the bicycle and a few minutes later came out, picked up the parcel, took it into the house and then dad followed. And that was the time that they could embrace each other because they knew then that they were in a safe house.
SP: So, Carolyn obviously dad’s now in the safe house. Did he talk about what life was like in the safe house?
CP: Yes. He did. He kept a diary while he was there. Life was very mundane. And there was little food. Jam and bread kind of thing. And now and again they used to try and get a cigarette for him because he was absolutely desperate for cigarettes. And then they tried to teach him. They tried to teach him a couple of French words to just to get about and whenever it was a bit safe for them to go out Mr Danton used to take him to the, some of the airfields where the German, the Germans had their weapons and aircraft and say to dad, ‘You make sure that you remember this. That when you get back to the UK and you’re debriefed that you can tell them where things are.’ That kind of thing. Yes. Yes.
SP: So, how did he actually get back to — obviously he was in a safe house.
CP: Yes.
SP: How did he get back in to the UK?
CP: He was, he was in the safe house for over two months. And then there was the liberation of Paris on the August the 24th. Right.
[recording paused]
CP: Yes. On or about the 23rd of June they tried to get dad back to the, to the UK. They were expecting a Lysander aircraft to land on, on a landing strip but they tried a couple of times but it was, they felt it was too dangerous because the Germans were still, still around. So they had to, it was just too risky so they had to abort. They tried to get him out there but eventually he hitched a lift with a war correspondent for the Sunday Pictorial. A Rex North. And they eventually got to Paris. On the way there they were, he was given a bottle of champagne which I’ve, we’ve still got today actually in the house. Undrinkable. Yes. And eventually on the 24th of August he flew back in a Dakota to the French, from the French coast to Hendon. And at that time, after that he was debriefed. He had to go down to London to be debriefed to what he’d seen. And, and that was it.
SP: Did he talk at all about the debriefing? Did he say that was like or —
CP: No. He didn’t. He remembered. He had a marvellous memory. He’d remembered everything he’d seen while he was in Paris trying to help. Trying to help while he was back. No. He didn’t actually. No, he didn’t.
SP: And what happened after the debrief? Did he, what happened to him after that?
CP: Well he, he’d, he was allowed home. One thing. One thing that struck me when I was, I had always been speaking to him over the years was how he didn’t get any counselling and everything. There were so many people killed and he kept asking, ‘What’s happened to the crew? What’s happened to the crew?’ And they didn’t know. Even the crew, years and years later after speaking to the crew’s families they hadn’t known for years, well months, what had happened to them. And he was allowed to go home. Which, he came back to our little village here and, and that was it. He had a couple of weeks here and then he was posted to Scotland as an air traffic controller. So that was the end of his war. Yes. And where he met my mother.
SP: Right.
CP: She was in the RAF as well. She was a WAAF. Yes.
SP: So, obviously they met up in Scotland and then —
CP: Yes. They did. Yes. Yes. They met up in Scotland.
SP: And came back to live in Wales.
CP: Eventually, they did. Yes. They, they got married and always lived in this little village. Yeah. My mother was from Liverpool. Yes. Yeah.
SP: And then what did your father do after the war?
CP: He worked in construction. Working for big machinery. He was offered a career in the RAF as [pause] I think in Canada. They wanted him to be trained in Canada but he wasn’t interested anymore after going through such harrowing experience during the war. He didn’t want anything to do with flying. Yes. So he took a different career.
SP: What about you? How did it affect you growing up with your father’s stories? Was it —
CP: Well, it did. He always, he always, he hid a lot. He always talked about the boys.
[recording paused]]
CP: Yes. Always talked about the boys to our families. And as we were growing up we knew about them even though we had never met them. And when my sister Shirley and her husband had got married they had gone to Europe on their honeymoon and thought they would try and trace first of all the French Resistance families to try and get back in touch again. Which they did. They managed to, to get in touch with the French Resistance. That was in 1977. I think it was 1977. And eventually my dad went over for the first time in 1977 to meet the families of the French Resistance. And ever since, all his life he kept in touch with them. They either came to our little village here to see him or he’d gone back to see them. All always visiting the boy’s graves. By that time he’d known that they perished and they knew exactly where they’d been buried and the stories. The harrowing stories that followed. Yeah. So we did know the boys. And he used to come up with some funny stories about them. Like if he had a date with a WAAF they’d all go to the pictures together [laughs] Yeah.
[recording paused]
CP: Yes. He used to talk, like I said about the boys. One was an avid reader. Always had a book. Even when they went on, on their ops at night and the pilot used to have to say, ‘Put that light off,’ because he had this tiny little light in his, he was a upper-gunner. Just in case he attracted the Germans. And I think the rear gunner used to write poetry. I’m sure dad said he did. They were well educated. Very very well educated men. I think they taught my father a lot because first of all they couldn’t understand him when he joined the crew because he was Welsh speaking all his life. Had a very big accent. Welsh accent. Could hardly speak English to be honest. Yes. And they taught him a lot of culture. Yes. Took him to London on their time off when they had time off. And a few of them used to come to our little village when they, because they couldn’t go back to Australia obviously when they had time off and they used to come to the village here. My dad’s family had met them. Yes. Lovely men.
SP: And you kept in touch you say, with the Resistance.
CP: Oh yes.
SP: Did you keep in touch with the Australian families as well?
CP: Families, as well. Yes. And that, well he hadn’t really because I’m one of eight so during, during his time while we were growing up he had a lot on his hands [laughs] So he, he didn’t have time but as we grew up and we knew about the boys I used to try and say, ‘Oh, do you remember where they came from, dad?’ And all that. Anyway, I think it was in 2004. I think it was 2004 there was a knock on the front door and a man handed my father a letter and left. So he read the letter and it was a member of the crew. It was the Webb family. And they had found out my father, where my father lived, managed to get somebody that was connected to the 97 Squadron website, Ron Evans, to deliver, who lived in Wales, to deliver a letter to dad introducing themselves. Saying that if he didn’t want to get in touch, you know, keep in touch or get in touch with them that was ok. But my father was absolutely thrilled he had their address. They lived in Sydney so, and then we, I was on the internet then so I was able to email them and say yes of course. I think it was 2006 they came over from Australia and spent six weeks in Wales with us here. And that was very nice. And then the McGill family, that was the upper gunner, they came over in, I think it was just over two years ago and we went to the Bomber Command Spire. The unveiling of the Spire. They came and we were in touch and we’re still in touch with them all. Yes. We’re still in touch with the Australians. Lovely people. Send Christmas cards every year. Have letters from them. Yes. Unfortunately, part of, well the Giddings family they’ve, they’ve died. We’ve lost touch there. The Clements family the same. But the Seales we still speak to. The Webbs and the McGills. Yes.
SP: And how important is that to you to keep that contact going?
CP: Oh, it’s very important. Yes. The boys. Memories are still, still there. And actually the, actually both families the McGills and the Webbs we actually went over to France on different occasions to stay with the Dantons and to visit the graves. Yeah. So that they could see where they were. Yeah.
SP: So, we were talking about your father earlier. You mentioned on the day of the final flight.
CP: Oh yes.
SP: For the whole crew.
CP: Yes.
SP: They had certain superstitions. It didn’t feel quite right that day. Do you just want to share that story?
CP: Yes. Yes. They used to, well they used to, you know just before they taxied off for the mission they used to wee on the front wheel. But that particular night three or four WAAFs had come down to the air, airfield to wave them off so they couldn’t carry out the weeing. So that was the night that the plane was shot down so my father felt that if only they’d wee’d. Yeah.
SP: Did you talk about that? Saying that was a superstition that they had.
CP: They all, yes. They always carried it, they did that every time they went on a mission. Yes. But not that particular night. Yes.
SP: Just chatting, is there anything else you feel you want to say about that you haven’t had the chance to say about your father or any, the impact on the family or anything like that?
CP: Well, I think, I think going back to when they used to come back from their missions and then they were always, they always were given a big breakfast. And they’d be sitting there with their cigarettes obviously. And they used to call, they used to have tablets, uppers and downers I think but he never used to touch them. But the coldness of when they used to go into the mess and the fact that their locker had been cleared and as if they had never existed. You know, the crews that had never returned. I just felt that that was very sad and he always used to feel that was very sad. Yes. And the fact that he didn’t know, while he was in France, he didn’t know what had happened to the rest of the crew and he’d asked and asked and nobody knew and it was months later that he did find out and that was so, so sad for him. Yeah. Because they were best of friends. Did everything together.
SP: That’s ok. Alright. Well, I just want to —
CP: Yeah.
SP: Thank you Carolyn very much for sharing those stories and obviously the impact on you as well.
CP: Yes.
SP: So, on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre thank you very much.
CP: Oh, you’re welcome. Thank you.

Collection

Citation

Susanne Pescott, “Interview with Carolyn Pritchard,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 18, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11543.

Item Relations

This item has no relations.