Interview with David Rose


Interview with David Rose


David Rose was born in Swanage, Dorset. His father had been in the Medical Corps during the First World War and suffered ill health afterwards. David believed his father had as much reason to be on the War Memorial as his two brothers who died during the conflict. David attended the local Grammar School in Swanage and then continued his education in Bath. He volunteered for the RAF and was very surprised that the RAF decided that he being a flight engineer would suit his skills. He joined a crew and was posted to 50 Squadron at RAF Skellingthorpe. After his tour of operations David became an entertainment officer. He wanted to continue this work and was accepted by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He went on to work for a touring company which was based in Essen and then for the BBC and eventually became Chief Commissioning Editor for Channel 4. He felt that his skipper in Bomber Command had a big influence on him right through into his peacetime life.







00:49:32 audio recording


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ARoseD161128, PRoseD1601


AS: Ok. We’re ready to start. This is Andrew Sadler interviewing David Rose for the Bomber Command Digital Archive at his home in London on the 28th of November 2016. Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed David. Can I start by asking you where, and where, when and where you were born?
DR: I was born in Swanage in Dorset. 24 Station Road. And my, my father was from a family of twelve. And in 1912, 1914 my father said he did not wish to kill anyone and they said, ‘Well, you’d better go in the Royal, the Royal Medical Corps.’ Which he did. He came out as a sergeant and he, he came out with ill health and, and he died young. And I believe that he died, the cause of his early death was the war. And two of his brothers Merton and Osmond both died in the First World War, and their names are on the War Memorial in Swanage overlooking the Bay. And of course, his name is not there and I think he gave adequate equal service caring for and assisting the dying. Particularly in the, in the Somme. And his discharge mentioned that he had to march from France to Essen to Cologne, a hundred miles or so, and that was one of the causes of his weak health. Yes. Swanage to Oxford.
AS: And what, when you joined the RAF why did you join the RAF?
DR: I was at school at Kingswood in Bath. I’d been at the Swanage Grammar School. I was advised to go away to school. I don’t know how my parents could afford it but I went. I went to a Methodist School in Bath. Kingswood. And in the summer holidays of 1939 we received a letter saying don’t go back to Bath. Go to Uppingham in Rutlandshire because the Admiralty are taking over the school. So I went to Uppingham where I did my last two years of schooling and when I left school I had a year to wait before I would be called up for the war. And I didn’t want to go in the army. I preferred the air force by choice and volunteered for the air force. And while I was waiting for the year before I joined up I went to a wireless college in Colwyn Bay. A friend had been and it occupied his time. And I was there and I left with a Guildhall Certificate which showed that I could be a wireless operator at sea. And while I was there I was called to RAF Padgate for them to check me out. And they sat me down and they put some blocks of wood on the table and they said, ‘Fit those together.’ And I couldn’t do it. So they said, ‘Where does the fuel go in a car?’ I said, ‘I think there’s a hole at the back.’ And, ‘What’s a two stroke engine?’ I said, ‘I’ve no idea.’ ‘Flight engineer,’ they said. ‘No,’ I said, ‘You’re not listening to me. I’ve just told you what,’ Flight engineer. So they took me on board when I joined. I joined at Lords Cricket Ground in London and from there went to Torquay for eight weeks during which time I had appendicitis. And then I went to — where was it? St Athan in South Wales, for nine months training. And then from there, when I finished training I went on to Lincolnshire. I can’t remember the name of the station first of all where I did a couple of weeks on Stirlings. And then went to Skellingthorpe and dash, I can’t even remember the squadron number. 51 and 52. And I did a tour of thirty four flights and, and then I was doing various other RAF stations and ended up in RAF Locking. And then was discharged. Yes. Locking — I’m sorry, Skellingthorpe. And there I joined a team who had already been together. I was the last one to join. Flight engineer. And the pilot was Johnny Cooksey. He was wonderful. I think he, he somehow made a tremendous team of us. And when, when we finally left the air force someone suggested we have a sort of annual meeting and he was, he didn’t wish to do that. I think he wanted to say we’ll turn our back on that period. And so we never really got together ever again. It was Lincolnshire. Skellingthorpe. The first week we did a few circuits and bumps and I, I don’t know what they call it but practice bombing. Then we did our first operation which was too La Rochelle in the south of France to bomb the submarine pens. We had armour piercing bombs and we formed up in a loose gaggle over Bridport on a wonderful sunny afternoon and headed off for the south of La Rochelle. And as we approached the target the other eleven seemed to be up ahead of us but we were dropping behind them. The crew were saying, ‘Why aren’t we with them?’ I said, ‘No. We can’t go any faster,’ and so we were a bit behind all the others. And it wasn’t until then I realised that going out with the bomb, bombs on board was heavier and we were using more fuel. Now, why I had never learned that or understood that? So, I had some faults I must say as a flight engineer. I’m not sure I was quite up to it. Anyway, we all survived. We, we, there was one flight we went on which was [pause] we generally, we generally carried about, I think twelve one thousand pound bombs but there was of course the cookie which was, I think a ten or twelve thousand pound bomb on its own which completely filled the bomb — whatever you call it. Where the bombs were. And they were very sensitive bombs. Two had exploded simply taxiing around and killed all the crew at Skellingthorpe. And it was Johnny and the navigator were the two who, and the bomb aimer I think, were the ones who went to the main briefing when they were told where they were going, we were going. And then they’d come out and tell us where we were going. And on this trip we had, as I say this cookie and on take-off Johnny and I had our hands on the throttles as we did. We held our hands together on the throttle and put them up. When we’d got the right revs we started down the runway heading towards take-off and Lincoln Cathedral in the background and just as we, wheels came off the ground two engines broke down. Just stopped. So, we quickly pulled the throttles back but we were going at some speed then and we ran off the end of the runway. And what I remember was seeing a man up ahead of us by a house just to the left of the end of the runway throw down the spade and run. We ran off the runway. Our undercarriage wheels dropped into a little stream and crashed the plane. We all leapt out and ran like mad. The rest of the squadron continued on their, on their way. And in twenty minutes we were in another plane doing circuits and bumps which I understood was because if you had an accident the quicker you’re in the air again the better. Otherwise it gets you, it gets to you, you know. You have fear of it. Now, if we’d had that cookie, if we’d had that cookie on board I don’t think I’d be here today. In fact, I’m damned sure I wouldn’t be. So, that seemed to be a great fortune. And a little end to that tale is the next night we were flying a strange aeroplane one we hadn’t flown before. And as we got on board one of the crew said to me, ‘I’ve put your can beside you place. Your position.’ I said, ‘My can?’ ‘Yes. It’s an oil can. You pee don’t you?’ And I said, ‘Well I never have done.’ It’s a long way back to the elsan right at the back of the plane so I somehow never wanted to pee in the air. Anyway, he put it there. We were going to Hamburg and we got caught up in searchlights so we did what was called a corkscrew. Throwing a plane down and across and up and across. I was rolling around on the roof but Johnny sort of threw off the search light and we continued on target. It must have been Hamburg’s worst night. It was dreadful. The fires. Awful. The place was just on fire. We ran in, we dropped our bombs and we turned for home. And the navigator said after a while mucho. I think he said, ‘Check your, check the petrol. I think some has got on my maps.’ I said, ‘Ok. Will do.’ I went back and checked the petrol but I knew, I knew what it was. I had had a pee in that can and it was all over his maps. He was a very fastidious man the navigator and he wasn’t a happy man, you know [laughs] Can we pause?
AS: Yes. Of course.
[recording paused]
AS: Ok. We’re starting again after a pause. Yes. Please, please carry on then David.
DR: As I say, I think Johnny, our captain somehow made a great sort of team of us. We were in Nissen huts sharing with another crew. And it was quite obvious to me that they weren’t a happy crew at all. They argued a lot. Anyway, I think Johnny’s influence was terrific as the captain. We went, of course in to Lincoln a lot. Went dancing at the some hall up near the Cathedral. And nearby, near quite near on the way in to Lincoln, somehow, for some reason I encountered one day what turned out to be an Irish family. And they were very keen to invite us in for a cup of coffee and things. And I, we later thought, I wonder why they were so friendly with us. I wonder if they were trying to find out where we were going. We of course, in the letters home we weren’t allowed to mention our flights. Occasionally my mother would sort of question. I’ve got a lot of it, about a hundred letters that I wrote during the time I was there. And clearly I was not, we were not allowed to mention our destinations. After the event even. But I think we were terribly well protected from what we were really doing. Public, the publicity about the air force trips seemed to be, have been saying we’d been to bombing in the Ruhr and mentioning the factories there. What they were doing. They never said we’re going to Hamburg to bomb the civilians but that was one of our purposes. To, to increase morale. To damage morale among the Germans and you know it was a dirty job. And I, I really, I was, I was never a member of the British Legion or the Air Force — whatever it is. I don’t think, I don’t think the war and serving in the services is something to be celebrated. They keep, this year particularly there has been an awful lot of talk of heroes and all that. And the Albert Hall Memorial Service they do where The Queen goes has become, I think, dreadful. There were families there. To all this music the families slowly walk down and the people applaud and applaud. I think grieving is a private thing. Bereavement is a private affair and should remain so. It’s like on the news. The news today has become dreadful. You think, can they get to get a clip of someone bursting into tears? It will be in there again and again and again. And I, I have great anxiety and worry about the way, the way the war is remembered. There we are. I’m getting off the subject of [ pause] what the crew was about. I remember one. One day we were at briefing. We were told we were going to, I forget, I forget quite where. We were going and we were, we were, everyone had cookies. These big huge bombs. But the station had run out so they said you’re, ‘You’ve got incendiaries.’ Now, we actually complained and said, ‘Do we really have to go with just incendiaries? There is a huge investment here. You’re sending a Lancaster bomber. You’re sending a crew of seven who you could lose.’ Fifty percent were being lost at that moment in time. And, ‘Isn’t it rather wasteful just taking incendiaries?’ ‘No, you’re going,’ they said. So, we had to go but I know there was a moment when I think, I’m not sure that we didn’t know ahead of time because we purposefully, I think we purposefully all of us went for a walk in the countryside to Mr Cook. I had to fly so didn’t miss it eventually but that was our intention. Strange thing to happen but there we are. I’m not quite sure what else to say at the moment.
AS: What, can you tell me about the, your duties as a flight engineer on the flight?
DR: My main duty as flight engineer was to keep an eye on the fuel consumption, and then cover [unclear] we’d have to switch over from one tank in the wings to another. That was the main job as we were throughout, throughout the flight. A secondary one was just, just to know all about the air frame. Just to know as much as possible about the aeroplane, so if something went wrong in the air technically I might be able to do something about it. Two weeks of our training were at the factory in Manchester where the engines were made. And flying, one of my jobs was to put out [pause] oh damn it. What did they call it? [pause] I hope, I hope, it was these strips of metalised paper.
AS: Window.
DR: Window. Thank you. We put Window out through this hole beside my position next to the pilot. I had a flap down seat. I don’t ever remember sitting on it. I stood always. Throughout the whole flight. But that was my main job. The fuel and to [pause] and that particular, what did you say it was?
AS: Window.
DR: Window. To put out the Window. Which of course was a huge quantity. As we got in to the aeroplane we always thought it was Christmas every time. Used parcels everywhere. I had to get all these. Keep going and getting more and more of these damned parcels to push out. That was the main job.
AS: Did you ever have to do any repairs while you were —
DR: No.
AS: In the air.
DR: No. I can’t remember that I did. No. Seems a menial task really. But there you go. I’m told that they started with two pilots but they really were running short. They, so they replaced the second pilot by what they changed to a flight engineer. A curious, curious job.
AS: How long was your training altogether, as a flight engineer?
DR: Nine months. That’s, that’s based at St Athan. St Athan. I’ve got a picture of the Astra. The cinema.
AS: How many sorties did you do altogether?
DR: We did thirty four. We should have done thirty but because it looked I think as though the war was coming to a, possibly to a close. They pushed us on to thirty four. And then we were having a break during which time before coming back for the second tour we [pause] well we didn’t have to start a second tour because of the end of the war. At which time I was at Locking. I was in Locking. I was at Wing, Leighton Buzzard where every Thursday I would take a group of airmen to Oxford and take them on the river in an airborne lifeboat and show them how that worked. Other curious, curious jobs. But I went to one air force station in Norfolk where I was appointed entertainments officer. And the first thing I did was to go and buy records to play in the RAF cinema there. And I, there was a drama group and I was directing a play. And I was, we were in the operations room where all those girls would push things around and I was lying on it with my head on my hand and the commanding officer came in and said — well, I was, he sent me off somewhere else. He didn’t want me there on the station behaving like that. But your question. It was a curious job flight engineer. It really was.
AS: Were you always with the same crew throughout?
DR: Yes. Throughout. Never, never changed. A couple of the crew had to fly with other, other, and then we were kept together throughout. Yeah. I’ve got the logbook of all the, all the flights. The longest flight was ten hours twenty minutes to [pause] I’ll try and find out. It was in the east end of the, east of the Baltic. I wish I could remember the name. Anyway, it was twelve hours twenty five. And we went out twenty five thousand feet over Scandinavia and then across to the target, dropped the bombs, dropped very low, came across Denmark very very low and we were told, ‘Don’t come back to Skellingthorpe. It’s fogbound. Go to Lossiemouth in Scotland,’ — where we had a great breakfast and then flew back to Skellingthorpe where they said you’ve got to go out to the same trip tonight. ‘You all missed the target. You’ve got to go again.’ So, we did another ten hour trip the next night. It was a long two days.
AS: And when you, can you tell me a bit about how you spent your time off-duty?
DR: Yeah.
AS: How you socialised.
DR: Well, we went into Lincoln. And to the theatre. The variety theatre there. And the theatre, and to the cinema there. All the time. And we had tea in, oh I forget the name of it but a well-known brand of tea places. We certainly went up to this dance hall near the Cathedral.
AS: Would that have been the Assembly Rooms?
DR: Yes. That’s right. The Assembly Rooms. Exactly.
AS: Can you tell me about the dances at the Assembly Rooms?
DR: Well, it was what dances were around in those days. The foxtrot. The slow. I was best at the slow foxtrot. Waltzes. And the band, the band, the bands were quite good. All the local girls would be there and we’d meet, we’d meet up with them. And I’m trying to think. What else did we do?
AS: There was a pub there in the High Street I think that was very –
DR: I was going to say we went to the pubs. No. I can’t remember which ones. I went, of course to the opening of that Memorial. Was it last year?
AS: Yes.
DR: Yeah. I went to that. You know, our time off as quickly as possible in time so that we spent every moment of time we could going into town. Lincoln. The city. Particular memories I have.
AS: When you, when the war finished what happened to you then?
DR: I was asked, I was asked what I was going to do before the war. Planning to do. And I said I really hadn’t planned, ‘Well, I think theatre. I want to work in the theatre. I’d like to direct, I think. Or stage management.’ So they said, ‘Well,’ get a, get a, ‘If you can get into the Guildhall School of Music And Drama we’ll pay your, pay the fees.’ And I did get in. I had to, I had an audition with the principal, Mr Lundall. He sat at a grand piano and I stood at the end and I did a poem and a scene from a play. I had to go to Bournemouth to the elocution woman to help me. And I did three years, three years there and my girlfriend immediately got a job in Preston in Lancashire. Preston. At the Royal Hippodrome. The weekly rep. I went to see her the first week she was working and they asked me to stay and do the same job as well with her. And I very quickly became, very quickly became a stage director which oversees the management. And I directed five of the plays during the eighteen months we were there. We did forty four plays every year. After that I, after that I went to [pause] we came for, we came to London to see what work there was here. And in London I got a job with my wife Valerie. I met Valerie at Preston. In the theatre. She was on stage management and acting. She was on an acting course but got the job as stage management. And we did a, we did a, I was the stage director at a late night club show at the Watergate Theatre near Charing Cross Station. And that was backed by a man from the Sadler Wells Theatre and he then asked me to join the Sadler Wells Theatre Ballet. First of all I did a tour with Kurt. Kurt. Kurt [pause] damn. Kurt. Kurt. Kurt someone. He was the father of modern dance. Modern European dance. I did a twelve week tour because they needed, his company, based in Essen needed a English person on the board to help with the tour and this international ballet company was based in Essen. We had bombed Essen. And I had the most wonderful letter from Kurt Jooss, yes — Kurt Jooss. I had a wonderful letter from Kurt Jooss when we left saying, “I’m sorry I can’t be with you at the end of the tour. I have to be back in Essen raising more finance. But I want to thank you and particularly your wife who operated a very dangerous spotlight.” An old fashioned metal thing. Quite burnt her hands. He said she was so kind and there was never any — I had a lovely letter from him and he never knew I’d bombed this. I was on the thousand bomber trip to Essen. We were about nine hundred and fifty or so. It was amazing looking ahead. Hundreds of aeroplanes in front of you. Astonishing. And of course my father had to march to Essen or near Cologne. So, Essen became a sort of, Cologne became a focal point because I was in Berlin. Yes. Two days after the war they flew us aircrew to Berlin and just to see it. Spent the night there. I was kissed by a Russian soldier in the, in the, an embassy in Berlin on both cheeks with a very rough beard. And I found only last week a little baby’ s helmet, little baby’s bonnet. A very fancy lace affair that some German woman had given me in reply, in reply to a packet of cigarettes. But we never, we never bombed Berlin thank goodness. Dangerous place to be, I think. Well, everywhere was but that particularly. Yeah.
AS: Did you spend the rest of your career in in the theatre?
DR: Yes. In the theatre and in, and in the BBC. Twenty seven years at the BBC including four years producing a series called Z Cars. And –
AS: Oh yes. I remember Z Cars very well.
DR: Yeah. And then I was asked by David Attenborough to go to Birmingham to start a new department. English Region’s Drama which I did for ten years. Which was one year from my retirement and then Jeremy Isaacs asked me if I would join the new Channel 4 as Senior Commissioning Editor. So, I went, I went there where I met my wife Karin. My third wife. And I’m a, I’ve a, I’ve got three, three of those BAFTA things up there.
AS: Oh gosh.
DR: I’m a fellow of the British Film Institute. I’m a fellow of BAFTA. I got the Gold Medal of the Royal Television Society. So I’m, and of course Channel 4. Well, I had, I had ten million a year to support twenty feature films. That was the first real, you know, opportunity for us in television to support the cinema. But I’ve got the Roberto Rossellini Award. Not me but given to the Channel at the Cannes Film Festival. Given by Bergman’s daughter. Yes. It’s been for film, television — series, film and television.
AS: Oh, well done.
DR: I’ve got several. There are lots of biogs of mine, sort of on the, on the internet. You can look me up.
AS: Oh right.
DR: I’ve got two copies of my book I can give you.
AS: Did you — it sounds as if you find it fairly straightforward to move from service to civilian life then. Is that the case?
DR: I did. Yes. I feel, I didn’t go to university. Just to Guildhall School. I think I learned on the job. I was thinking about this actually. I think it goes right back to my captain, Johnny. His attitude to things. I’m quoting in a lot of these things. A lot of these things. [pause] Well, as I say I did the job while in Birmingham because of the freedom that we had. We had. And like in London I had somehow a [pause] there was a budget. I can’t really explain this. What I’m saying, I think is I never hardly ever looked for a job. I’ve always been offered jobs. Like when I came to London and met Steven Ireland who was general manager of the Sadler Wells. He asked me. He was behind the nightclub, the club theatre that he asked me to look after at Charing Cross. And he then asked me to join Sadler Wells Theatre Ballet which was based at Sadlers Wells with the touring company. It like the Birmingham, the Royal Ballet in London and the Royal Ballet in Birmingham. Similar. It’s a touring company. And having got to, yes I was asked to, as I say by Attenborough to go to Birmingham. And I was invited by Jeremy Isaacs, out of the blue, to join Channel 5 err 4. Channel 4. Channel 4. So —
AS: After the war you say you never had any further contact with your crew.
DR: I, I, I had correspondence with Tom the bomb aimer who then died. And I went to see — I think he was Scarrett. Was he the wireless operator? I don’t know. I went to see him in Leamington. Not Leamington Spa. At a very English town in Sussex. I tried to have contact with them. Didn’t work out. We never met up. Only Scarrett.
AS: How do you think the Bomber Command were treated after the war? Do you have any views on that?
DR: Well, I think, I think the chap who ran Bomber Command, whose statue is in The Strand, isn’t it? At the end of Fleet Street. I think he got a rather bad deal from the public. The chap who ran Bomber Command.
AS: Harris.
DR: Hmmn?
AS: Harris.
DR: Yes. He had some criticism didn’t he? Which I think was unfair. He was doing his job. And a dirty job it was. He was, you know presumably selecting targets and there were, there were civilians as well as everyone else. I think, I think the air force put, put a very good face forward as a force. Better than the army, I think. Yeah. But I don’t know , I don’t know why anyone wants to, their careers to be in the services. Why do you make a career of killing people? I don’t know.
AS: Thank you very much David.
DR: Ok.
AS: That’s excellent.
DR: Right.
AS: I’ll switch off now.



Andrew Sadler, “Interview with David Rose,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 1, 2024,

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