Interview with Harry Rossiter


Interview with Harry Rossiter


Harry Rossiter grew up in East London but his family moved to Essex which gave Harry a “ringside view” of the Battle of Britain. He volunteered as a bicycle messenger and tried to join the Royal Navy as a telegraphist. He was encouraged to join the RAF to train as a wireless operator. He was originally posted as support for 217 Squadron in Ceylon but he was later returned to England and posted to 115 Squadron at RAF Witchford. His crew survived a number of night fighter attacks while on operations. He recalls the losses on Bomber Command and his demobilisation in 1946. Harry had always had a love of music and played the trumpet and cornet in dance bands throughout the war and into civilian life.




Temporal Coverage




01:19:05 audio recording


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AS: This is an interview for the International Bomber Command Centre at Lincoln carried out by Adam Sutch on the 23rd of September 2015 with Mr Harry Rossiter who carried out a full tour as a wireless operator on Bomber Command. Harry, thanks ever so much for agreeing to this interview. It’s fantastic to get the chance to talk to people with, with such memories. Could we start with a little about where you come from and your background before you ever joined the Air Force?
HR: Yes. I was born in Stratford, East London on the 11th of August 1922. And when I was ten years old, we moved out in to Essex. In a place called Laindon which you may, talking of the Battle of Britain I had a ringside view of that. Anyway, we’ll come to that presently. In 1938 I was a member of a District Scout Rover crew whose aim in those days was to do anything for public service and learn to lead the proper life. And part of it was I joined the air raid precautions. That was in April 1939. I took an anti-gas course. Learning all about the various types of poison gas that might be used against the British civilian population. Following on from that I became a cyclist messenger when the war actually broke out in 1939, at the age of seventeen. And it was very well organised on a district basis. The idea being that if the telephone service broke down there was an admirable means of district communication. I served in that until I joined the RAF. I cycled up to the Romford Recruiting Centre where I said I’d like to be a telegraphist in the Navy. ‘There are no vacancies at the moment but the RAF desperately need wireless operator air gunners. What about that?’ So I said, ‘Well yes. Alright. If they’re so —' [laughs] So I could do six words a minute Morse code from my time in the Boy Scouts which came in very useful. Ultimately on the 16th of January I attested at Uxbridge as 1332079 AC2 Henry Charles Rossiter. And they said to a gang of quite a lot of us, ‘We’re not ready to start aircrew training yet as far as you’re concerned. You can go home and wait six months and we’ll send for you on RAF pay. Or you can come in straight away.’ So, we all looked at one another. Well, we’d all said our goodbyes and whatnot so we’ll come in. And so, a group of us was sent to Northern Ireland on ground defence outside Lisburn, Lisburn Landing Ground it was called, which actually was a blessing in disguise because by the time we did start aircrew training we was marching like all seasoned airmen. And I noticed that particularly. One of my, a chap I became rather friendly he came straight out of the [unclear] university and he was seen, found crying because he was homesick. But by the time we left there he was just one of us and quite a decent chap. I do hope he survived the war. His uncle was an air vice marshal and he wrote to his uncle several times, ‘When are we going to start our training?’ In August ’41 we did. I went to Blackpool to do Morse training. And then we were sent to ground operating to get experience and so I went to 16 Group Headquarters in Gillingham which was an area combined headquarters. And I was there for six months doing ground operating. Which is very useful. I’ll tell you a funny little story about that. The sets we had were like packing trunks. About, you know, about a foot wide, deep, called the Tin 84. Thirteen valve set, excellent radio. And there was a repair gang that used to go around keeping them in order. One of them was a Sergeant Moran and he was known, always known in his absence as Spike Moran. So, one day I’m sitting there and it went dead. And instead of engaging brain before mouth I said, ‘Spike. My radio’s dead.’ And of course, he came and thumped his fist on the table, ‘How dare you call me Spike? Sergeant Moran to you’ [laughs] Anyway, profuse apologies and the set was fixed. In August ’42 [pause] wait a minute. I’m ahead of myself. I said I went to Morse training. I forgot to say in the August, in the Autumn of 1941 we went to Yatesbury in Wiltshire where Number 2 Signals School where I did my radio. And I played, I played trumpet in a brass band in a dance band and cornet in a brass band and my training suffered for a little bit. But anyway, I passed and as I say we were sent on ground operating. Then in August ’42 went to Madley in Herefordshire to do flying training. We flew in the Domini. That’s a twin-engine aircraft with five, five students, the pilot and instructor. And we took it in turns to sit on the radio and do an exercise. I wondered what that scruffy looking biscuit tin with the rope handle was doing in the corner but I managed to keep my food to myself. That’s alright [laughs] Anyway, following on from that we did some training in the Percival Proctor. A single engine aircraft. Just myself and the pilot. And I passed alright and then I was sent to gunnery school in Walney Island just off the coast at Barrow. Now these, the Gunnery School there used the Boulton Paul Defiant. Rather unusual for gunnery training but that’s all they were fit for really after their initial success and of course they were quite good as a night fighter. But the fighter, fighter command couldn’t use them anyway. Did my training on Defiants. This is August. No, it was later than that. My memory [pause] where were we? Oh yes. I’ve got it here. September 1942 posted to Air Gunner’s School, Walney Island. And of course, it was still summery weather and after we’d done our little detail the pilot hopped along the beach to Blackpool and we flew along the sand almost at zero feet. All the holidaymakers waving to us. And after that we finished our gunnery school, gunnery course. ‘We want four volunteers for Coastal Command,’ So, Bomber Command’s not too clever these days. Yes, all right. What we didn’t know of course was that it was to train on torpedo bombers. The Bristol Beaufort which wasn’t very clever [laughs]. To cut a long story short we went to Number 5 OTU where they trained people on Bristol Beauforts. A crew of four. A pilot, the observer who was a navigator/bomb aimer and two wireless operator/air gunners. And we were quite a happy team as regards the crew. And then we did our torpedo training and then they said, ‘Right. You’re going off to —' They didn’t tell us in words of course. It was a bit hush hush but what it transpired, what it came out to us we were to reinforce 217 Squadron in Ceylon. So we found ourselves at Portreath in Cornwall on the 12th of June ready to fly out. But the radio, there was trouble with the radio so delayed for twenty four hours. Anyway, we flew out and when we got to Karachi in India where all the aircraft entering India had to be serviced and made ready for tropical service, you know. Water tanks and all that sort of stuff. Special air filters and all that. They declared all Bristol Beauforts were now obsolete. Considering that we went to the Bristol Aeroplane Works and collected a brand new Beaufort and it had got twenty hours off the assembly line it seems an awful waste of taxpayer’s money. But there it was. We kicked our heels at the aircrew transit port in Poona. And all aircrew in those days were more or less during the war quite multi-national. A lot of Australians. And of course they kicked up a fuss. They were a bit uninhibited and who could blame them? They’d come all the way from Australia and then they’d only been messed about by the stupid poms as they called us. Anyway, be that as it may. In November we left Bombay on a troop ship and got home eventually on the 4th of January. And after leave we went to the Advanced Flying Unit in Millom to start re-training on Bomber Command. And after training we joined a squadron, 115 Squadron on the 15th of August 1944. And the rest, and the rest as you say is history. Not quite I suppose because we had and we were very lucky. We were attacked by night fighters several times but the skill and the sharp eyes of the gunners and the skill of the pilot we never received any damage at all. The only time we did the Germans were holding out at Le Havre. We went there four times. The first couple of times were rather, was a bit tragic in a way because a lot of Frenchmen got killed. They’d sent us to the wrong place. But the last one we did we were well and truly we found them and they put a cannon shell in our port outer. We stopped it but a Lancaster can fly well on three engines so we were in no danger but that’s how low we were. They said, ‘Do not bomb below nine hundred feet if the cloud base is at such.’ The bomb aimer, being a very enthusiastic Northern Irishman, I won’t use his exact words he just said, — concern [laughs] ‘The flak. Let’s bomb.’ Which we did and as I say we got a cannon shell in our port outer for our sins. The only time we ever got damaged. And I remember standing up in the astrodome looking, plugged into my radio, making that extra pair of eyes and in the night time it was, well it’s as though you’re watching a film in a way. I can’t quite explain it. Deep down you were, you were scared. Anybody who says they weren’t either have got no imagination or they’re telling lies. You couldn’t help it. You knew damn well what was going on. I mean you could see a Lanc, a Lancaster, it wasn’t quite as pitch black as you might think. What with the fires we were flying over and the searchlights you could see quite a distance and you could see a Lancaster suddenly a big, a great big red ball of fire. A big ball of fire as they say, there it goes, and the bomb aimer would say, ‘Chalk port.’ Which meant somebody had got it, you know. And that’s how it was. And then we did a lot of daylight raids and that was another danger. I’ve got the piece here to show you in here. This is, this is A Flight. The Flight I was in. Yes. Those two aircraft, those mentioned on there, they said they collided. But we had other ideas about that because we were bombing on radar. Very accurate. There was a great deal of accuracy with this stuff called GH. And it resulted in several aircraft trying to be in the same spot in the same, in the sky at the same time. And of course, what happened? They dropped their bombs on the one below. And though it just, it just says they collided. But three times standing looking up I looked straight up in the open bomb bay of a Lancaster direct above us. Obviously, they knew we were there otherwise I wouldn’t be sitting here but three times that happened. It was scary that was.
AS: And because both of these aeroplanes are down as collided —
HR: Yeah.
AS: The explosion took both aeroplanes out.
HR: Absolutely and that means Runnymede panel. That means there’s no known grave.
AS: Yeah.
HR: At Runnymede there’s a memorial to twenty seven thousand RAF and Allied aircrew who have no known grave.
AS: Yeah.
HR: So, some of them just, well they were all atomised I suppose you’d say. A full bomb load. Two aircraft colliding on their way to Dortmund. That’s where we were going. And the last occasion we were flying our last drop and there’s a bit of a tradition to be try and be the first back. So, the skipper tried a little experiment. I was looking out the astrodome and I could see the bursts of the anti-aircraft. They had got our height exactly and each burst was coming closer. The rear gunner said, ‘Skipper. They’re knocking on the back door.’ So he quickly dived back into the cover provided by Window. Metalised strips that confused the German radar. That was the other, that was the other case when we nearly, when we were in danger. But David, David Jenkins, the pilot, he was completely unflappable. If you look at that photograph, you’ll see. The next. He’s the tallest one. Now, that one, that’s Bill Ranson, a pharmaceutical chemist in civvy street. He was about ten years older than us. A hard headed Yorkshireman. And [laughs] they didn’t get on too well together but it never showed up because we functioned as a very good crew together. But he would sometimes say, ‘Jenks,’ he called him Jenks for short, ‘We’re one degree port of track.’ [unclear] Completely unflappable and he rightly got the DFC. If, if you look, if you look at that I can tell you. That’s the flight engineer. He was, he was a regular. He joined as a boy, a boy entrant, as a mechanic. That’s the mid-under gunner. Where are we? See that there? That’s a .5 sticking out the bottom. He sat astride a big hole with a .5 pointing up like that because the Germans used to go underneath.
AS: That is unusual. Does, does that mean then that you didn’t have H2S?
HR: That’s right. Yes.
AS: You had a .5 fitting.
HR: That’s right. Yeah. And next to him is Bill Ranson I told you about. That’s Bob. Bob Patton from Dungannon. The bomb aimer. And that’s myself. And that’s Bill Gorbon, the rear gunner and this chap is Reg Bijon from Vancouver. Royal Canadian Air Force. He’s the mid-upper. So we had eight in our crew instead of seven.
AS: So, many nations. From Canada to Yorkshire.
HR: Oh yes. Yeah. They had a lot of Australians, New Zealanders. One or two West Indians. Several Canadians. Bomber Command was really a multi-national force. One of our flight commanders was from the South African Air Force. And he achieved a little bit of notoriety. Well, that was the wrong way because he was doing a good thing. Towards the end of the war the Germans had taken all the food they could from Holland and they were starving. So 115 Squadron was selected to drop them some emergency food parcels. The Germans agreed not to fire on them and this chap, this South African, Captain Martin his name was, he led, he led the first drop of food to the starving Dutchmen. Later on, of course it was very well organised. And when the war ended the Americans joined in as well and dropped it. Ever so many food parcels for the starving Dutchmen. Anyway, so our tour came to an end of ops. We all went our different ways. I think I’m the only surviving member, they’re all they’re nearly all dead now, they are. I used to keep in, keep in quite contact with him. Bill Gorbon. He moved to Canada. Who else? Oh and of course, David. David Jenkins, the pilot. They’ve all, they’ve all shuffled off I’m afraid. I’m the last surviving member of the crew. Now, what are my thoughts about Bomber Command? Well at the time we were doing a job to shorten the war. Occasionally you thought, you know, those poor buggers down there are getting the rough end of it. But then we were told it was necessary because there was a lot of talk about area bombing. We were always given a target to bomb. Factories. Always factories. We did a lot of Ruhr bashing. And there’s only one, one occasion when we were aware of it. We did a raid on Stettin which is a long way away. We took off, we took off at dusk and landed at dawn. We were out all night on that one. Nine hours ten minutes. And it was a ship repair facility and the idea was to burn the workers out of their homes so that they couldn’t work on the ships. That was the idea. Now the only time we ever mentioned, ‘Your target tonight is the old city of Stettin which is occupied by a lot of people repairing ships. If your raid is successful, they won’t be able to any more.’ It wasn’t particularly aimed at the population. It was just aimed at their houses so they had to move out. Whether it worked or not I don’t know. We did several raids on Stettin. The raid I did was with another crew. That’s how I came to do thirty ops, because normally only the pilot, his first trip was with another crew so the rest of the crew only did twenty nine but I did another one with another crew and that’s how I did thirty. After my ops I was posted to an air sea rescue station at Beccles. They were flying the Warwick which was like a larger version of the Wellington and they could carry an airborne lifeboat. It dropped on three parachutes. And on the station strength there I was working in the ops room as what they called signals briefing. If a crew was going out they all took it in turns to put them up to date if there were any changes. I always used to remind them make sure you switch your sets on and check that they’re on. Because there was [laughs] an unfortunate incident that happened regarding a rather senior member. Anyway, that’s by the way. That was part of my job and while I was on the squadron. I was promoted flight sergeant. And in due course of time I was promoted warrant officer. Well, the station closed in August ’45. Just after VJ day. And 280 Squadron as they were were sent up to Thornaby on Tees. So, there we are. There were four of us, four warrant officers doing this job, signals briefing as it was called, and we were all out of a job. And the chap who took over the command of the station said, ‘Look you chaps I’ve got four jobs for you. Pick them out and please yourself.’ And we looked and one of them was station warrant officer. And that’s the one I picked. So, I suddenly found myself the senior NCO on the station. Only about a hundred and fifty men left because they were just packing up stores mainly. But I had a job to do and I did it. And one of them, before the signals staff were posted away, ‘Mr Rossiter would you like to take the wireless operators out in the perimeter track and give them a spot of drill?’ I thought yeah okay, ‘Righto sir,’ and I did. And they, you’re not supposed to move when you are giving orders. So, I’ve got a good voice and they’re marching along and a lorry went by just as I shouted out, ‘About turn.’ And you’ll never believe this. Half of them turned and the other half didn’t. So, they were [laughs] ‘About turn,’ and of course they both turned inwards and they collapsed with laughter, you see. This is perfectly true and it couldn’t, it couldn’t have been worked better if they’d prepared for it. It was so funny. But that was my experience of drilling. Anyway, the time came when the station completely closed and they sent me up to Thornaby to do the same job with the squadron. Briefing. Signals briefing. And I was discharged from there. Well there’s one little thing. My Lorraine was born in March ’45. She was just coming up to fourteen months old and my wife said, ‘Can you try and get a pushchair?’ Well there was a Halfords. Just across the river from Thornaby is Stockton on Tees and there was a Halfords there. And I bought a pushchair for the grand sum of two pounds ten shillings. Quite a sturdy thing and just before I left Thornaby the group captain said to me, ‘Well, I see you’ve had a year’s signals experience. You’d probably keep your rank if you stayed in the regular Air Force,’ because normally you drop a rank. He said, ‘You’ll probably keep yours but I can’t make any promises.’ I said ‘Well sir I’ve got a daughter — a wife and daughter, and I think my first loyalty is to them. So, thank you very much sir but I must decline the offer.’ So, the following day I’m walking out the station. I’ve got a kit bag, an attaché case and a pushchair. Transport. And I walked out and he came by and said ‘I see what you mean by domestic responsibilities!’ he said [laughs] Yeah. That ends my tale of RAF service and — any questions?
AS: Absolutely, Harry. That, that is the best, most joined up, most coherent presentation I have ever seen.
HR: Thank you.
AS: Ever heard. Thank you very much for that. I think we’ll pause and have a chat about some of the things that are in it if that’s alright.
[recording paused]
AS: There is of course more after RAF service, Harry.
HR: Yes. When I was discharged from the RAF in May 1946 I could strip a Browning gun in the dark and I could send Morse and receive Morse code at eighteen words a minute. I hadn’t got enough flying hours in to join civil flying so I went where I could earn money and it turned out to be the Ford Dagenham. Ford’s at Dagenham. Building gear boxes. The pay was good and their formula was very simple. You work and we’ll pay you accordingly and I got a decent wage but my health began to suffer. I did six years. There I was, half asleep, taking the gear box off the line, putting the back end on, putting it back on. Forty seconds that took and I could do it without thinking about it. Anyway, as I say my health began to suffer. I was always catching colds and my hands were perpetually permeated in grease. So wherever I did, you know. Anyway, I said to Edna, my wife, ‘I need to get out of there. I need an outdoor job.’ Right. You know, ‘You can see I’m not all that much.’ She said, ‘Why don’t you join the police force?’ Well, I was horrified. Me a copper? But it was the best thing I ever did.
AS: Yeah.
HR: Because I was outdoors. The middle photo there is when I was a village policeman. A constable. Village constable. And the one above is my wife standing at the door of the police house. A place called Horndon on the Hill in South Essex. And I had six very happy years there. Or we did. They used to come and speak to her as much as they spoke to me because if she didn’t know she knew where, some way to find out and she was very popular in the village. And she loved it and so did I. But in the fullness of time they decided to make me a sergeant and I was posted to Chelmsford and I was in the town there. And then I was sent on a rural section. I don’t know if you ever watched that programme “Heartbeat.” Well it’s similar to that but, mind you not all my men were on duty at the same time. I had to spread them out over like most of the day and night. But that was called a rural section at a place called Danbury which is an Essex beauty spot. I stayed there for six and a half years and then I bought my own, we bought our own house in Braintree. This particular job, a rural sergeant you had to live on the job. So they posted me back to Chelmsford town where I was a station sergeant for about six months. Then I asked to be transferred to Braintree where I was living. So, I finally finished up resigning, retiring from Essex police in August 1977 after twenty five years’ service. And then I went to the Lord Chancellor’s Department in charge of court security at Chelmsford Crown Court. And then I became a county court bailiff. And that was a most interesting job. As a county court bailiff you were entitled to, you were able to do, make legal arrangements. Suppose you owed this sum of money I would come to you and say, ‘Now, you owe this sum of money. How can you pay it? Have you got any way of paying it?’ Well we could manage so much a month. Well, I said, ‘Sign your goods over to me. So long as you do what you say you’re going to do you won’t see me again.’ And occasionally I would, if they were a bit overdue I’d call on them and collect the money. It didn’t matter to me. I wasn’t supposed to but the person got their money. That was the important thing. That’s why I considered that to be the most important. I did get a couple of pats on the back for it. Whenever you’re bending the rules a little. If they’re overdue you’re supposed to take their goods away. But then the plaintiff had got their money. You know. That was the most important thing. So I quite enjoyed doing that.
AS: That’s great. Look. I think we’ll pause again there.
HR: Okay. My arms hurt.
AS: Yeah.
[recording paused]
HR: We were all sent. The three of us, and my friends. The four of us who volunteered were sent to Turnberry. It’s now a golf course but it was an RAF station. On the top of the hill overlooking the golf course as it is now is a large hotel. That was an aircrew hospital. Anyway, I say there was a bunch of us and then there’s this big room. I seem to remember there was some booze knocking about. I’m not quite sure about that. I know it was all very friendly. And I started talking to a chap. He was a Londoner. A chap called Ted Hall. He came from Ely and he was a furniture designer. A bit older than me. So he came to me and he said, ‘I’ve found a nice pilot,’ he says, ‘I think he’s very intelligent. Come with me,’ So we went, and Bill Thompson his name was and he came from Largs in Ayrshire. Quite a well to do family. His uncle was Lord Mackay. He used to run British Caledonian but I didn’t know that at the time. A very likeable chap. Same age as me. A civil engineer. And then we looked around. Of course, we had what they called an observer. An observer being the one who had both trades of navigator/bomb aimer and he wore the O brevet. And we found this chap was sitting in the corner looking rather disconsolate so we went and spoke to him. He was an older man. [unclear] Monroe. He came from Wimbledon. And so he came and we, the four of us got on very well together. We were together for a year — 1943. And we never never ever had a crossed word between us at all.
AS: And you were all first tour were you?
HR: No. This was, we never did do a tour. This was Coastal.
AS: Yeah.
HR: This was Coastal Command training.
AS: Yeah. So, when you crewed up none of you had ever been on operations?
HR: Oh no. That’s quite right. Yeah.
AS: Okay.
HR: Yeah.
AS: Can you think back to, to what the OTU training involved?
HR: Yes. It’s a Coastal Command. As I say they were torpedo bombers. But they were also used for general reconnaissance. So did a lot of navigational exercises over the Irish Sea and to the northwest of Scotland. What’s the furthest outpost? I forget the name of it now. Out in the Atlantic. We had to fly there by dead reckoning and there was no problem with that. Spot on time. ETA. There it was. You probably know. I just can’t remember the name of it now. It’s a rocky outpost.
AS: Rockall?
HR: This is on the northwest of Scotland. I don’t think that was the name. No. I’m not sure. You may be right. I can’t remember.
AS: I’m rarely right, Harry. We can check that out on the map.
HR: I mean that’s, that’s how, sorry, he was good. Course we all clapped hands [laughs].
AS: Were you involved in the navigation with him? Were you taking bearings, QDMs and all the rest of it?
HR: Well, this involved mainly him. But he did ask me twice for a QDM. You know what that is of course. But mostly his mathematics were spot on which is one of the reasons why I couldn’t. I had to be a wireless operator because my, I left school when I was fourteen. A thorough training. A very good training. The 3Rs.
AS: Yeah.
HR: Excellent. Laindon High Road School. Excellent school. But, oh yeah, one thing I forgot to mention. In November, when I was on the squadron the signals leader, he said, ‘Right son, I’m putting you up for a commission’. Alright but when it came to it of course the flight commander, a Squadron Leader [Gorrey?] I remember him very well. He put a piece of paper and on it was A+B=C. He said, ‘Do you know what that means?’ And it just blinded us. And I said, ‘I’m sorry, sir. I haven’t a clue.’ I mean the most simple. I know all about it now but I didn’t know then. So he said, ‘What sort of education did you have?’ I said, ‘I left school when I was fourteen, sir.’ ‘Oh I see. Well, I’ll pass you on to the squadron commander. See what he thinks.’ Wing Commander Shaw. I remember the name. He said, ‘Well, you’ve obviously got some quality otherwise you wouldn’t have been recommended but I’m afraid your lack of education shows.’ I said, ‘Yes sir. It’s no more than I expected.’ He said, ‘Try again in six months’ time. In the meantime, find a good officer and see what your shortcomings were.’ That’s rather funny. It’s all written down there. And the Irishman, is that him, yes Bob Patton from Dungannon. He got himself blind drunk. He was missing for twenty four hours. They found him in the toilet, dead drunk.
AS: The gents, I hope.
HR: Was he a good officer? [laughs] Flying officer, in fact he was. Anyway, there we are. But the war, the war in Europe finished in six months because I’d finished my ops in December ’44.
AS: On, on the Coastal you told us there were two wireless operator/air gunners. Did you switch duties?
HR: That’s right. Well we had a gun turret in the Beaufort. Two gun turrets. So, one worked it and then another day he’d say, ‘Harry, would you like a turn and I’ll go and sit in the turret?’ That’s how we worked. Very friendly. As I say this lot we performed quite well. We all seemed to do our job. There was no arguments in the air but when we finished our tour the group captain said, ‘We’d like you to go on Pathfinders. You’re a good crew. But you’ve got to go together. So he said, ‘I’m not flying with him anymore.’ So that was that. So there, as I say we had so we had a reputation as a good crew. Otherwise they wouldn’t have said that.
AS: So when, when you’d come back from India you’d been in the Air Force quite a long time.
HR: Two years. Yeah.
AS: Were you really keen to get on to operations or —
HR: Well, yeah we were really. I mean, we were completely in the dark as to what we were going to do. Didn’t know we were going on to Bomber Command. We guessed we might be. The possibility. But we didn’t know until all of us got our embarkation leave. We thought to RAF Number 2 Advanced Flying Unit. And that’s what it was about.
AS: And so you, in a sense you’re going through the training mill again.
HR: Yeah.
AS: For a very different job. What —
HR: So 1943 was a complete waste of time because that’s when we did all our Coastal Command training.
AS: Yeah.
HR: A complete waste of time. And then when you shudder, it makes you think, taxpayer’s money. I mean. There was about twenty crews. Not as many as that. About fifteen. About fifteen. I think it must have been at least fifteen crews flew out from Portreath to India. Diverted to join 217 Squadron in Ceylon. As I say that was as far as we got. Karachi and Poona. Poona was just a, just a rest camp really. It didn’t, the CO was a Wing Commander Beck and I really felt sorry for him because he did his best. Him and his adjutant was a Squadron Leader Findlay Fleming. They did their best to find us things for us to do but the Aussies didn’t appreciate it very much. One day, oh and incidentally we were all issued with 38 Smith and Wessons when we left to go to India. Why, I don’t know. We never knew. Anyway, afternoon in Poona all taking a nap and these Indians, there’s a road ran through the camp, these Indians with their monkeys performing tricks. ‘See the monkey dance sahib?’ You know. And suddenly a bang bang bang. Looked out and there’s these chaps running for their lives. And this Aussie is sort of clinging around this post of his, blazing away, over their heads of course. ‘You, waking us up. Waking us up you silly bastards,’ et cetera et cetera. So, there was a hell of a stink of course. They called in all our revolvers. We didn’t want them anyway. But there you are. That’s typical of Aussies. There was another occasion too when we were on OTU. A couple of chaps came in late and they were arguing the toss so one of these Aussies, ‘Put that light out.’ ‘Get knotted.’ ‘I said put that light out.’ Old gunner et cetera. So he pulls out an air pistol and shoots the bulb out.
AS: Yeah. On, on this year, or more than a year when you were training and then on the Coastal and out to India did your music, did you take that through or did, as well?
HR: Yes. At various because I used to do a lot of trumpet playing. Because what happened, when I was twelve I was in the Boy Scouts Brass Band and there was [unclear] at a place called the Manor Mission which is the only part of old Laindon left. Everything else has gone. Anyway, and they had an adult brass band and one of them volunteered to be the band master. So he said to my uncle who had played tenor horn in the band, ‘If we put Harry on tenor horn you’ll see he practises won’t you?’ He said, ‘Of course I will.’ And he did. That was quite fun actually. That’s when I started playing. But we didn’t use the expression cool in those days but it was cool really for a young man to play cornet. You were playing a tune you know. You were somebody. So I did, I graduated to cornet. I tried euphonia first for a while which I quite liked but I had to get on cornets which I did. And that graduated to trumpet playing. And I played in a village dance band called the Rio 7. There were never seven as far as I knew. Edna said they were crap. Those were almost exactly her exact words. But we were the only band in the village so we got plenty of work playing the trumpet. When I went into the RAF, if there was any opportunity, I did some trumpet playing. When I was on my signals course, as I say I played. There was a Training Wing dance band. I played second trumpet. A big band it was too. Mostly Glenn Miller stuff. And other places where we moved to if they had a dance band I’d go and sit along, sit down with them, you know. So I did a fair amount. And 1945 I was in the Beccles place after my tour. Of course, the end of the, the end of the war in Europe there was a lot of parties and that little band we had, we were in great demand and my nose started bleeding. When I saw the MO, he said, ‘Well you’d better pack up the trumpet for a while. It’s a good job it did bleed,’ he said, ‘It may have given you a stroke. High blood pressure like that. So leave it. Leave it off for about six months.’ So I was thinking, alright. I’ve got to play something. I know. I’ll learn to play the piano. So I go in to Beccles and find this lady, very well known in show business called Madame Shapiro. And she gave me the piano lessons and she said, ‘What you’ve got to do is to play scales and play scales every day for an hour at least. You’ve just got to do it and the sooner you can play scales without looking at the keys you’re ready to start playing.’ Well, I hadn’t got the patience. In any case If I started doing that in the sergeants mess I’d probably have something thrown at me. So, I never really did get, did master the piano. But it went off and I was back playing. In 1963 it was, in the police force, the Essex Police Band was formed and Edna said, ‘Well I know you like playing. You go along and play if you want to but you might regret it.’ Very prophetic. I’ll tell you about it in a minute. So I went along and played in the Essex Police Band and I was their principal cornet for a while till somebody along, came along a bit better than me. Then I was the deputy principal cornet. There we are there. That’s it. You can see me sitting. That one. That’s the Essex Police Band 1972. And I had some quite happy times. And what she meant by, ‘You might regret it,’ I was in charge of a small section in North Chelmsford called Melbourne Park and myself and five constables. And the chief constable came along to see me one day, Sir John Nightingale. ‘Sergeant Rossiter, why haven’t you passed your promotion exam?’ I said, ‘I suppose I haven’t studied hard enough.’ He said, ‘Well bloody well get on with it. I need inspectors.’ Well that was most unusual. I’m not kidding you. You don’t get chief constables telling that to sergeants every day. He was inviting me to be, he said ‘I want you to be an inspector but pass your exam.’ I never did. Too much playing you see. That’s what Edna meant. She said afterwards, ‘Well, perhaps you might have been a bit worrying. You’re happy being a sergeant, aren’t you?’ I said, ‘Yeah. It don’t worry me.’
AS: Fantastic. When, when you were back and it’s after D-day by this time you were posted to, to the heavies to crew up all over again. What was that process like? Much the same or —
HR: Much the same. Well it was slightly different. This was at Silverstone. A big old bomber OTU there. We went there in early April and, well actually what happened was in between OTU [pause] no, the AFU at Millom and the OTU we had, we had ten days leave so I got married. In March 1944 we got married. And there was another humorous situation because the vicar, we knew him quite well, I said I’ve only, ‘I’ve only got a few days,’ you know. So he said, ‘Oh that’s alright. I can get you a special licence. Don’t worry about the banns. You haven’t got time for the banns.’ So he got me a special licence. And we were married in this church, ‘And I now pronounce you man and wife’ and he said it, so funny, he said, ‘Oh go on Harry. Kiss her’ [laughs] as if needed prompting. Yeah. And so, there you are. And I, Edna said, ‘Well ask them for an extension of leave then. They can only say no. They can’t shoot you.’ So I did. And of course it came back, ‘No. Come back.’ So, when I started OTU which was at Silverstone, it was a big crowd, about two hundred of us sitting in this room. And the instructor said, ‘One of your number recently took himself a wife. He liked it so much he wanted an extension.’ Ha ha. And my friend said, ‘I bet that was you.’ It was [laughs] Anyway, he left and said, ‘Get yourselves crewed up.’ Well we were wandering about. Now who did I meet first? I can’t remember really. Yeah. Who was it who I met first? No. It wasn’t Bill. I think it was Jenks actually. Yes. I went up. I saw this tall chap with pilot’s wings and he stood here, I said, ‘You looking for a wireless operator?’ ‘Yeah. You’ll do,’ he said. ‘That’s alright. Yeah.’ And then we were joined, who was on next? [pause] One of the gunners. Which one was that? The French Canadian. Reg Bijon. He was the next one. And then, I don’t know how we got on to Bill. Bill Ranson, the navigator. I suppose he was looking sorry for himself. I don’t know. And the flight engineer. We did all our Bomber Command training on Wellington’s which strictly speaking didn’t need a flight engineer. But nevertheless he was part of the crew. And then when we learned to fly four-engined stuff, Stirlings it was called a Conversion Unit. A Heavy Conversion Unit. Then we acquired an extra gunner which was Bill Gorbon. A farmer from Northwich in Cheshire.
AS: Wonderful. Now, you, you’d come off twin-engined coastal. Virtually early, early war so you were doing wireless and DF. Did you have to learn a lot more to cope with the equipment in the heavies or was it much the same equipment?
HR: It wasn’t, it wasn’t a question of it. Just that the, there were, that’s why we had to go to this. Because of the Bomber Command way of doing things. It wasn’t very complicated and already got the basics thoroughly ground in after the service with Coastal Command. As they, as they say, take it on board. It’s quite easy really. Radio silence was strict but there was one. This trip I did with the other crew was different. It was a wind finding aircraft. It’s all in those notes. As you know when you drop a bomb it’s liable to be knocked off course by the wind. So they had to feed, to steer, you steered to allow for it. And that was called wind finding. So what they did, this particular crew every half an hour the navigator and the bomb aimer between them estimated the speed, the speed and direction and I was handed a slip of paper and told to send it back to base. In the Morse code, you know. It was all Morse code. I did it every half an hour. And when Bomber Command, because we weren’t the only aircraft doing it and they worked out what, decided what was a good mean average wind speed and direction and half an hour before zero hour on the raid it would be transmitted to the whole force to be used.
AS: So everybody set the same wind vector on to the bomb sights.
HR: Yeah. Yeah. And it did help but as you know in 1944 things were starting to get better because we had the Gee. The Gee. The Gee box as it was called. A very good thing. Oh that was another funny story. At Beccles this 280 Squadron, occasionally one of us would be sent up with one of the crews to see how they got on and we had a load of ATC boys. About four of them anyway. And the Warwick was quite roomy. A table about this big with, and, so one of them said, ‘Can you show us how you work out.’ So I said, ‘Yes. You —’ I had a copy of the receiver in the thingy, ‘See those bits,’ you know they were lined up, you know. And took the readings off them and put them on to the chart. And we were over the North Sea at the time but according to my calculations we were just off the coast of Cornwall. I thought my face was red. I was using the wrong chart, that’s why [laughs] So we got the right chart and managed to save my face.
AS: Because there, there was more than one Gee chain wasn’t there?
HR: Yeah.
AS: Yeah. Could we talk a little, a little bit about preparations for, for a mission briefing and what not?
HR: Yes. Well —
AS: What was your, you know, day for a raid or a night for a raid? What would be a typical?
HR: Suppose it was a night raid. The, over the tannoy would come, ‘There will be a lecture for navigators at 12 o’clock,’ at so and so. And that was the beginning. That meant that we were going on ops that night and that’s how they announced it. So all the navigators got together and of course they were given all the details and usually joined by the pilots. They found it a good idea to do so. They were allowed to do so if they wanted. Most of them did. And then posted up in the sergeant’s mess and the officer’s mess would be the battle order. A big A4 sheet of paper detailing all the crews that were on it. And that’s when you knew. And then you went on to the main briefing which would be about two hours before or about an hour before take-off time due. Then first of all you’d would get the intelligence officer saying what the raid was all about. Then you get the Met. And then you get the squadron commander. Then you go into details and they used to talk about all, about all up weight, the amount of petrol you were carrying and all that sort of stuff. Don’t quite know what good that was but there you are. And then as I say the squadron commander would go into the details and what to avoid. What’s this and what’s that and don’t forget your banking. We didn’t have, didn’t have a mid-under gunner at first. We used to do banking searches like that to make sure nobody was hiding underneath. And there was, oh yes that was another funny thing which is in there. Before we got the mid-under gunner Paddy the bomb aimer said, ‘I’m going to drop a flare.’ You know, the bombs go. ‘Would you mind walking down and see if it goes?’ Well, we were at oxygen height so I clipped an oxygen bottle to my parachute harness and down I went. Down the fuselage and just as I got to the chute I saw it go down. Zunk. And then suddenly I was thrown off balance. We were being attacked. And I’m in pitch darkness I hadn’t a clue. There’s an intercom socket but I couldn’t find it. So about five seconds there was a bit of panic because I didn’t know what was going on. Whether we were going down in a dive or whatever. But I couldn’t stand up and the reasons why it was the bottle had become detached from my parachute harness and I was treading on it. And that was why I couldn’t stand up. I did. Plugged in and it was okay. I said it went, you know and that was all he wanted to know. But yeah, it’s one of the, one of the only times really when I really was what you might call blind panic because you don’t know what’s going on.
AS: So that was a fighter attack.
HR: Yeah.
AS: At this stage of the war what, were the fighters your chief concerns or the flak or collision or or what?
HR: Fighters really. Yeah. No doubt about it. But they had, they had choice, you know. They were spoiled for choice. And the infamous raid in March on Nuremberg. You may have, if you ever, if anybody talks about the Nuremberg raid they talk about the one in March which was a complete and utter fiasco. We lost a hundred bombers that night. A hundred. Ninety six were shot down, mainly by night fighters and another ten were written off when they got home and crashed. A hundred and six I think is the official figure. One of them is mentioned in there as being number ninety six or something. Shot down.
AS: Picking up on that, and not so much the raid but the loss of aeroplanes, what, how big a factor was, was the weather? Did you ever go out and the weather changed and you end up with this —
HR: Yes.
AS: Big mess over England.
HR: The very last one. December is when Glen Miller was killed. And I’ll tell you what happened. Well it’s been generally accepted what happened. December the 15th we were sent out to bomb a place called [Siegen?] and there was a lot of, the weather was putrid and all civilian flying was cancelled, you know. There was no question of it. Because what happened of course as we climbed up to fifteen to sixteen feet icing took over and one Lancaster, when one Lancaster crashed because of it they called us all back. Well we never landed with a full bomb load. We used to jettison our bombs in The Wash but others jettisoned them in the Channel. What the popular theory is now is that Glen Miller’s plane was brought down either by a direct hit from a bomb but more likely from a blast from a bomb. Because there was a rear gunner reported seeing a light aircraft plunge into the water. It must have been Glen Miller’s plane because there was no other plane out.
AS: Yeah.
HR: That’s the only time. There was another occasion I believe. In that box file is my flying logbook.
AS: Shall we pause and get that?
[recording paused]
AS: Okay. Harry, so we’re, we’re back again with the tape running. We’ve just been talking about an example where the smooth bomber stream perhaps didn’t quite happen on the [ Siegen ] raid. Could you tell me what happened then?
HR: Yes. There was very very thick cloud. A lot of Cumulonim about which was a rather dangerous cloud. So we were dodging that but when we finally broke cloud about fifteen thousand feet the bomber force — the Lancasters and Halifaxes were all over the sky. So whoever was leading the raid decided to do a big loop. A circuit I suppose you’d call it. And as he did it so we all formed up and so we headed for the target in some sort of order.
AS: So this was a force of hundreds of bomber aeroplanes.
HR: About two hundred and forty.
AS: Doing a merry go around in the sky.
HR: That’s right. Yeah.
AS: And not, not troubled by flak?
HR: No. We weren’t actually [pause] of course I couldn’t tell you where we were but we were certainly over the continent somewhere. Because of the thick clouds as I say when we finally, obviously trying to avoid collision in the cloud but when it finally did break through as I say we were scattered far and wide. And I was standing up looking out the astrodome. I saw it all happen.
AS: And this, this actually was your second consecutive trip to [Siegen ] and the first one.
HR: We didn’t.
AS: In your logbook says —
HR: Didn’t get there. Recalled.
AS: Duty not carried out. What was that about? Was that the weather?
HR: The weather, yes. Icing. Icing.
AS: Okay.
HR: After icing had brought down one Lancaster they called the rest of us back. And that was the day when Glen Miller was killed. And it’s a popular belief now that he was killed by jettisoned bombs in the Channel because he couldn’t land with a full bomb load. And our squadron jettisoned in the Wash so we weren’t responsible. But some squadrons jettisoned in the Channel. And we think Glen Miller was brought down by some of the bombs.
AS: Okay. Did you have, as a squadron and as a, as a group particular forming up procedures to join the stream and places to go?
HR: No. We were just told to fly in a sensible, sensible gaggle formation and just be careful to avoid collisions.
AS: And this was on daylights presumably.
HR: On daylight raids. Yes.
AS: Was it any different at night?
HR: Well you couldn’t see. Although, as I say visibility wasn’t as bad as you might think at night time but you couldn’t sort of, you couldn’t see everywhere and in any case another Lancaster, perhaps it was a half a mile away or so it would just be lost in the darkness. But we did see others sometimes and we always used to try and keep clear. But I don’t, I don’t remember any cases of collisions at night, strangely enough when you might have thought it would have happened.
AS: How about coming home? Did you, well your navigator would do it but did you come home on Gee to particular points?
HR: Well, we did, you had this course of course to come home on and we had Gee to help navigation. What we had to be careful of when joining the circuit to land was intruders. At Witchford they used to have, and all the airfields had a red, red light flashing out their code so you could know where you were. And if they were switched off that was to warn you that German fighters were about. Of course, you were coming in to land totally relaxed and they would nip in and shoot. In this book there’s a record of intruders at Witchford where, where I think three Lancs were lost one night through intruders.
AS: Wow. Can you remember the procedure then? What if the light goes out? What happened then? Do you scatter or go to a beacon or — ?
HR: No. You just continue flying but you’re very much on the alert. Until they just gave up and went off. It was all clear and the light would come on again and we’d land.
AS: When you landed and a big sigh of relief, switched everything off there’s the debriefing. Could you tell me some details of how debriefings used to go?
HR: Well, as soon as we touched down that was a moment for relaxing and a great sigh of relief. Whoopie we’re home again. Thank the good lord. Yeah. That was, that was the feeling and a noticeable lack of tension. Because when you were taking off you’re flying into the unknown. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Whether you would be coming back or not. But when you had come back and decided all was safe then we used to get out and say, ‘Jenks, well done,’ you know. And he’d say, ‘Well, never mind. I couldn’t have done it without you lot.’ It was a great relief. And then we used to go to be picked up by the crew bus and given cups of coffee with, laced with rum which used to, strangely enough helped us to sleep. And everybody got asked whether they had anything to say, you know. And we’d say, ‘I saw ——' And one would say, ‘Yeah. I saw a chop,’ he’d say. ‘Whereabout were you?’ ‘We were just passing over the middle of the target and saw a chop out to starboard.’ There was a little bit of, I don’t know what you’d call it but it’s put about that the Germans put up what they called Scarecrows. Things that explode to make you think it’s one of your bombers being, being hit by night fighters or flak. Well, the Germans denied any knowledge of that. They said, ‘No, we didn’t.’ So it did seem as a little bit of thing to try and keep the morale up. It wasn’t, well they weren’t, that was the Germans trying to scare us. The Germans said no that wasn’t the case.
AS: So potentially at least the Scarecrow story was put out by your own.
HR: Yeah.
AS: High Command.
HR: Yeah.
AS: Yeah. And you’re talking about, about tension and the release of tension. When, one of the things that what one certainly reads about that for trips, long trips sometimes Benzedrine or wakey- wakey pills were available. Did you as a crew or an individual have any experience of, of this?
HR: Well, you were, you were given the choice. You were given the Benzedrine tablets. I usually took one. We weren’t sillily taking them. Just the one. There was one raid when we were coming back and I found myself, see I sat in a seat with the bench in front of me with the Morse key on my right and the set in front of me and I was down under the, my head was banging underneath the table and I was sound asleep and I came, obviously because what happened when they wore off you didn’t exactly go faint but you’d used up all your energy as it were.
AS: Okay. What — so they were freely available. Were they, well they weren’t on the table like sweets but did the medical officer hand them out or —?
HR: You know I can’t remember.
AS: I’m not surprised.
HR: Let me think. When we were, when we were being briefed we were given flight rations. Glucose sweets, chewing gum. I don’t remember ever getting chocolate. I know we used to get these boiled sweets and chewing gum. Chewing gum was very useful because as you got higher so your eardrums tend to stick and if you’re chewing gum they didn’t. That was the reason for these you know, it’s [pause] And I just can’t remember about the wakey-wakey pills as we used to call them.
AS: It was certainly available to you and I mean looking –
HR: Oh yes.
AS: At your logbook here. Stettin is a nine hour flight.
HR: That’s when, as I say we took off at dusk and landed in the dawn. Out all night.
AS: So would you take them, as you say on take-off but regularly or just when the longer flights or a mix really.
HR: I have to admit I can’t remember.
AS: It’s not, it’s not surprising.
HR: You know.
AS: Yeah.
HR: I remember taking the odd one but I certainly never took them in the daytime. I know that. Never took them in the daytime. Only for night time.
AS: Okay.
HR: Because obviously in nature you sleep at night so you’re in opposition to your body’s usual clock so you had to take something to compensate to keep you awake. That’s what it, really the reason for them.
AS: There’s a lot of, a lot of notes on flak in your, in your logbook.
HR: Yeah.
AS: An ever present danger.
HR: Oh yes. The German ack-ack was extremely accurate. It was very good. That’s why we dropped these metalised strips which completely confused their radar screens. But if you were out by yourself you were dead. Absolutely a sitting duck as far as they were concerned.
AS: What was your crew or your skipper’s attitude to weaving to try and avoid the flak? Did he do it? Or did his navigator persuade him not to?
HR: No. As I say we didn’t seem to have that problem because of the Window. I can never, can never remember — I mean as I say that the last occasion I mentioned in daylight when it did. It certainly changed height. Got back in the Window stream as it were. But apart from that I don’t think so. We were more, we used to weave of course if they were, if we were being chased by a fighter which apparently obviously worked because as I say I wouldn’t be sitting here otherwise. I’ll tell you a little thing that I only thought about it in recent years. At being briefed, it might be about twenty odd crews sitting in the big room all around a big table. You know. Seven, seven husky young men and a few hours later their remains are being shovelled into one coffin.
AS: Did you — ?
HR: Didn’t know about it at the time of course. It’s only, it’s only come out recently. It’s all, it’s in here. It’s all in there.
AS: Yeah. Its perhaps a very insensitive question but did you, when you were looking around the room of twenty crews did you ever get the feeling well he’s not going to come back.
HR: Yes. It did. We wondered. You know, the chap sitting there. He might be brash and bragging about his feminine conquests or something like that, you know. Yeah. I wondered, I wondered if he’d be doing the same tomorrow night. You know. Or tomorrow morning. Did occasionally. Not, not very often. You’re too preoccupied with your own thoughts, I think. Am I going to make it somehow?
AS: Yeah. On, on those own thoughts. Although you were very close obviously as a crew did you keep them very much to yourself? Did you ever discuss in the crew these issues of survival or not?
HR: No. It was never, it was never discussed amongst ourselves. No. I suppose, well I can’t explain it really. When you’re on the ground and after raids or before it you would, you would talk about other things. Sometimes I’d talk about music because there was this Welsh flight engineer. He had a good voice. He used to like singing. And talk about Welsh music sometimes. Things like that you know. Anything but, shall we say. Yeah. I often chatted. And sometimes when you were up, when you were flying the skipper would say, ‘Cease idle chatter.’ Yeah. It didn’t happen very often though in the air.
AS: So, so is it fair to say that, as young men you, you had to fight this personal battle, internal battle as well as being on top of your training and doing your job?
HR: I can’t say I’m aware of that. I used to think of, obviously at the time when I was on ops I was married and Edna was expecting actually. You know. I’d think about her and what she would say if she got the telegram. If I didn’t come back, you know. But not a great deal. My memory doesn’t serve me all that well. I don’t remember ever being in very, in much intensive conversation. We used to go to the squadron pub called the Lion of Lamb which is now just called the village, The Village Inn it’s called in Witchford it’s called. You went in there and all sorts of silly things, silly games you know. Singing around the piano perhaps.
AS: Yeah. Your, your ops were, were quite close together. There’s not a lot of stand down time was there? At this, at this period of the war.
HR: Yeah. There was some of course. But as you can see in red and green. Any in blue would be non-operational. Sometimes we were called upon to, if an aircraft went in for a major inspection. It needed an air test and the very last trip we did together was an air test. That was in January ’45. I think you’ll see it there. Air test.
AS: Yeah. Yes. Transit Thornaby. Yeah.
HR: And the only one I ever saw again was David. The pilot. David Jenkins. I never saw any of the others again. I spoke to them. Bill Gorbon, the rear gunner, he emigrated to Canada. He died in Toronto, I think. He was living near Niagara Falls. And Bill, Bill Phillips, the flight engineer, he’s dead. As a matter of fact, it’s through him, writing to him, I’ve still got the letter somewhere that he got out, he sent a letter. It just came out of the blue really, “You may remember me. I was your flight engineer.” Et cetera et cetera. And that’s how I got in touch with the others. And he started it really. As I say two or three of them. I mean, I was told that he was dead, and that he was dead. I don’t know about, that’s Les [Algon?] the mid-under gunner. He comes from Edmonton, and Bill Ranson was from Doncaster but I never knew anything about them at all.
AS: It seems a fairly common part of of service, or at least Bomber Command life that crews were almost deliberately dispersed I think.
HR: Well, I don’t know about that. I’ve got, I’ve only got these records because they’re my friends and this is a boyhood friend of mine in Laindon. We were in the Scouts together and he was a navigator on 83 Squadron. And he had three lucky escapes. The first time — that was a raid on Stettin and the aircraft was damaged. Was fatally damaged and they ditched in the sea. And they all got in their dinghy and floating along. Suddenly one of them fell out. He stood up. And they were off the coast of Sweden and [laughs] they thought the rough seas, rough seas were coming their way. It was the breakers on the beach. So they were very lucky. And the second time they were coming, they went out on operation but they’d developed, two of the engines packed up so they had to bale out. And, but then he did a second tour and in November 1943 they were shot down over Berlin and he was killed in action. And this other one with, he was the one who gave me the dig in the ribs and said, ‘I bet that was you, his name was Peter Barnes. He was on Beauforts. We were on Beauforts together. And they were killed on their first op in a brand new Lancaster. The first, the first the first operation for the Lancaster and the first operation for them and they were shot down at Russelsheim. That’s why I keep those.
AS: Yeah, I can, I can understand that. Did you mainly have you’re your own aeroplane?
HR: Mainly yes. It survived the war. It’s HK5 78. That’s the serial number, you know. Because some of the aircraft went from squadron to squadron so they had different squadron letters. We were, as you might be able to see on there KOC. C for Charlie.
AS: Charlie. Yeah.
HR: KO was the squadron letters. Because there were three flights. Each flight, eight to ten aircraft so of course you run out of letters in the alphabet. So the Flight C had a different course, different letters. KO was A and B Flights and C Flight was A4. And in November ’44 195 squadron was reformed using C Flight. And they went off to a place called Wratting Common and then we acquired another C Flight with the letters IL. And that’s how it worked. And some squadrons did different. They would say C flight would have the letter, they would put the letter F2 or something like that. Another way of doing that. But that was number 3 Group. That was the way we did it in 3 Group. One squadron that was part of our base, 514, they put up twenty two aircraft. That was the Nuremberg raid. Only four came back. They lost eighteen aircraft. That’s how it was. Yeah.
AS: Did you ever have anything to do with the emergency landing grounds? Woodbridge or Manston or Carnaby?
HR: We knew all about them but no. No. We, as I say we only got, we only got damaged once and that was just the one engine. We knew all about them of course.
AS: Yeah. A different theme entirely if I may. When you weren’t on ops was there much training? Dinghy drills?
HR: No. The only thing that used to happen if you weren’t on ops each each aircrew trade had its own leader. So, all the wireless operators, all the air gunners, all the navigators if they weren’t on ops they had to meet up and the leader of their trade, I mean ours was called the signals leader would give you any latest information. Points to watch, you know and anything that was new and you had to go. I remember this one chap, the signals leader was a Flight Lieutenant Hartley. A very nice chap. A gentleman. But one [laughs] he had to tell him off about his language and the strange thing was about that man I had some email from a relative, “I understand you knew… his name was Marston, Sergeant.” ‘Yes, I remember Sergeant Marston because he was told about his language.’ He wasn’t the only one of course who swore but Mr Hartley didn’t like a lot of it in open. And as I say it was during one of these sessions that he said to me, ‘I’m putting you up for commission.’
AS: Going again in another direction. When you were in Bomber Command, out in the pubs or wherever or on reading the press and listening to the newsreels what sort of sense did you have of how the population thought about Bomber Command at the time?
HR: There wasn’t much to tell about that. If we, if somebody had said to them, oh think of all those civilians that were killed, you know. Hamburg was the worst. Forty two thousand people were killed in air raids in Hamburg. They talk about Dresden. Twenty seven thousand. I mean that’s bad enough. Two wrongs don’t make a right and all war is evil. Whatever people say. If anybody talks to me I say civilians were killed. Yes. But then all war is evil. But what people used to think at the time was ---— bloody good luck. They started it, you know. We remember Coventry and Rotterdam. Of course, as you know Exeter took quite a pasting. Now, I’ve got a book. Oh, it’s upstairs, called, “The Baedeker Raids.” And it’s a lot of, and there’s one [pause] now where was I at? Let me think. Is it in here? No, I don’t think so. No. Anyway, there was in the, in this book it mentions Exeter and it said Number 17 Regent’s Park took a direct hit and it wasn’t this house. It was over there. The numbers were different.
AS: Yeah.
HR: But then all the tiles were blown off. That’s why there’s a lot, there’s a lot of moss on them. Because instead of the earth with the material I’m thinking of? They’re concrete tiles and they, ‘cause the moss, a lot of moss. And somebody suggested I ought to have the roof cleaned. A number of builders came along and one of them, common sense, said, ‘Does your roof leak?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Well leave it alone. There’s extra protection.’ I’ve never thought of that. But that’s why.
AS: Yeah.
HR: Anyway, there we are.
AS: So very much the public was, was supportive.
HR: Oh yes.
AS: Behind you during that.
HR: Absolutely. Yeah.
AS: When it was over and you went back to civilian life do you think that support changed over time as new ideas came in?
HR: Not in the current population because they were, it’s very well for the people to talk about in the piping days of peace. They’ve got to, people have no idea how people were during the war. They can only guess unless they, they’ve still got parents old enough to tell them. It’s so totally different. You can’t really reconcile the two points of view really because people thought differently. I mean some people saw their relatives blown to pieces by bombs. We know that we killed more of them then they did of us and two wrongs don’t make a right and war is evil. But there it is. That’s the war. I did, I did send a letter up once to The Express and Echo. I think it’s in one. I don’t know if it’s in there or not. I’m not sure. Talking about this and I said. Oh yeah. Talking about the Memorial. That’s right. It’s a waste. I said, ‘Never mind about your thoughts about civilians. That Memorial is to the fifty five thousand five hundred men who were killed in action. Not killed or wounded. Killed in action.’ No other, no trace of them, you know. Their graves are there to be seen. And that’s a lot of people and if you’d have told them, I mean as I say this chap when we were sitting at OTU and talking about it I thought, ‘You don’t know it mate but you’ve only got about four months to live,’ you know. You didn’t think of that. Didn’t think of it of course. We thought we’d all survive. I had some good friends. One of that crew that collided, the wireless operator, he was a Canadian named Joe Dunsford, Flying Officer Joe Dunsford. He always had a book under his arm. Never went without it, ‘Hiya Harry. Read any good books lately?’ And suddenly he wasn’t there. You know.
AS: Yeah. Did you go to the opening of the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park?
HR: Yes.
AS: Yeah.
HR: I was in the salute area. Gina was with me. I’ve got, I’ve got photos of all that. This lot is Sunday. Last Sunday at St Paul’s Cathedral.
AS: Wow.
HR: You show me what they are and I’ll tell you what they were. Oh, that’s Mitch coming out of St Paul’s toilet. They’re four members of the Yatesbury Association, three members of the Yatesbury Association who I met there.
AS: So you all trained or did part of your training at Yatesbury Wireless School.
HR: I did my training.
AS: Yeah.
HR: They didn’t. The other three are they were all post war. That’s inside, that’s inside the City of London Guildhall where they had a reception after.
AS: And that is a large chunk of your family.
HR: That’s it, yes. That’s Lorraine who you’ve just seen. Gina. Gina, my granddaughter. My son in law and my grandson. You know, the one who’s up there. The Batchelor of Science.
AS: Why is it that aircrew always attract stunning blondes?
HR: Do you know who that is?
AS: I don’t.
HR: Have a look. It’s somebody quite famous actually.
AS: It’s Carol Vorderman?
HR: That’s right.
AS: It is.
HR: It is.
AS: She’s had her hair blonded.
HR: That’s right. Yeah.
AS: She lives less than two miles from me.
HR: Does she?
AS: I didn’t recognise her.
HR: And there’s that one. I was wearing, I’ve got a little pin badge shaped like a Lancaster. It's in my lapel. And she explained to this city alderman, she said, ‘See. That’s the four Merlin engines on the Lancaster,’ she was saying to him.
AS: The same.
HR: The same. That’s a copy of the same one.
AS: Yeah. Fabulous. I’ll just pause that.



Adam Sutch, “Interview with Harry Rossiter,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 17, 2024,

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