Interview with Seymour Owen Scott


Interview with Seymour Owen Scott


Seymour Owen Scott (usually referred to as Owen) served as a Lancaster pilot during the war. He mentions always having a passion for flying since he was a little boy. Owen remembers training, in Canada and the United States, to become a flying boat pilot in Coastal Command and then, surprisingly, being assigned to Bomber Command. He mentions various service life episodes: converting onto heavy bombers in England; a flight engineer being posted from the squadron for concealing his hearing loss; losing an engine on the last operation on the submarine pens in Holland. Owen gives a detailed account of a harrowing emergency landing with a hung-up bomb and remembers a frightening experience with a New Zealand instructor while training on Halifaxes. He also gives a vivid description of the dangers the Lancaster crews faced during an operation and mentions a brief encounter with Arthur Harris and a case of Lack of Moral Fibre.




Temporal Coverage




01:15:21 audio recording


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JM: This interview is being conducted for the benefit of the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Julian Maslin. The interviewee is Mr Owen Scott. The interview is taking place at Mr Scott’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon on Friday the 4th of September 2014, sorry 2015. Owen, I wonder if I could just ask you just to tell me a little bit about your early life, where you were born and your family background.
OS: Yes, well, I can do that, it’ll take a long time though [laughs] [clears throat] first of all I was born [pauses], I don’t know whether you want to know this but I was born in London in 1922, my family then moved to Broadstairs in Kent and at the age of ten I attended school in Broadstairs, Kent. I’m having to stop and just think about it because I’m not sure whether I’m, I don’t want to give you the wrong impression and I’ve got to remember what I did in those early days, I went to Chatham House grammar school in Ramsgate, Kent for about two years, when I eventually left the school, my uncle’s suggestion who was very keen for me to get into commercial life and start making a living, he did in fact find a job for me in Harris Lebus, the furniture manufacturer in Tottenham London where I was for about a year and then I returned home and I worked for a local builder as a clerk and typist and after that whoopsie-daisy the war came up and I was always very keen on aircraft and my school pal and I used to go the local RAF aerodrome and watch the aircraft and so I got the bug from that and was always very interested in flying and thought that I’d love to be a pilot. Now, it so happened that I worked, rather a lot happened around that time but anyway I, yeah, I volunteered to the RAF to become a fighter pilot, that’s what, what really urged me on and I just, I thought I’d love to be a fighter pilot flying Spitfires. Now, things got rather hastened at that stage and anyway I was accepted as an aircrew potential and joined the RAF and I was enlisted in London and started serving my time in the RAF. I was eventually posted to, oh dear, what’s the name of the place? Oh dear, on the east coast, damn it, forgotten that, anyway, I then flew for the first time in a Tiger Moth with an instructor of course and it was rather frightening because we took off in snow and I could not believe that the first time I left the earth and it was snowing like hell and subsequently we lost two aircraft over the river, near the Wash, just near the Wash it was and eventually we did our land drills and things like that in Scarborough and was eventually told to stand by but because five o’clock the following morning we were going to Liverpool and no, I didn’t solo at all, I only did about an hour’s flying and that was all, it’s all in my logbook and we were posted to Liverpool and to our astonishment we were put on board the SS Orbita ship and we took seven days to travel to Canada, we were under the impression that we were going to serve with the Canadian Airforce but the actual fact we were on standby for two months in Moncton, New Brunswick, that’s Canada and eventually we were put on a train and to our astonishment we went down to [unclear] just outside I can’t remember but anyway to [unclear] and it was at [unclear], that was an island, I flew solo for the first time. And it was a very exciting time and I remember the instructor saying to me, for goodness sake, don’t hit the tyre as you go off ‘cause the wind’s in the wrong direction and anyway they put the sandbag in the aircraft, this is an American twin-winged aeroplane but anyway I took off and made jolly sure anyway I did the circuit came in and landed safely and hurrah, hurrah, I’ve gone solo. Now then very shortly after that we were told to stand by five o’clock in the morning which always seemed to be the operational time and we got on a train and believe it or not, it took us six days on this train to go down to Pensacola in Florida where we transferred to the American navy. And the idea was to become acquainted with get our wings and to fly American Catalinas flying boats. Now I have recorded on various occasions some of the things that happened when we were in America, I was in America for just under a year learning to fly flying boats and had some rather exciting times which I have since recorded for posterity I hope. But some of the American instructors were very nice chaps but there was an element amongst them where they didn’t like, these goddamn limeys as they used to call us, and then eventually I got my wings and I passed out to be a full captain of a Catalina flying boat with the idea of returning to this country and serving in Coastal Command in America, in Scotland, so here I am with a, oh and also I dropped off at, in Canada, I’ve forgotten the name of the islands now but I did an advanced navigation course there before finishing off, thinking I’m jolly good, I’m gonna fly flying boats out of Scotland. Now when I got back to the UK, to my astonishment, we were told that we were going to go on a conversion course to landplanes and that we should fly with Bomber Command as Bomber Command pilots. Now this was startling news because here we are, I got my wings, I got my special ticket I got from the Americans to fly flying boats and we had to come back to UK to be told that you are going on Bomber Command was very disheartening and in actual fact I made a special request to meet a high ranking officer in Liverpool to, with a view to persuading him that I should go back onto flying boats. He told me to ‘Effing well get back to my squadron’ and was very rude for me indeed and he said, ‘If you don’t do as I effing tell you I’ll put you on a court martial,’ which was very, very frightening for me at that time, now, this seems to be a very long story.
JM: Please continue, it’s wonderful.
OS: But I’m trying to remember, I can remember very well all of this period today, what’s the date of today?
JM: Fourth of September.
OS: The fourth of September 2015 I’m making this recording in front of my charming chap.
JM: Julian.
OS: Julian. To continue with it.
JM: May I ask what year this was that you were joining Bomber Command?
OS: This would be 1944.
JM: ’44.
OS: Am I giving you enough information?
JM: You are. I was going to ask, did you go straight on to a squadron or did you have to do a conversion, did you go to a heavy conversion unit?
OS: Yes, I did.
JM: Tell us about that, please.
OS: Well, yes I flew, oh dear, anyway I lost my train of thought [unclear]
JM: Sorry.
OS: Yeah so much happened around that time is that I want to be as accurate as I can for this purpose and it was a very exciting time but at the same time it was a very frightening time because the thought of going on to Bomber Command wasn’t really what we were looking forward to at all so we were forced into it [clears throat]. I flew Halifaxes, first of all a four-engine bomber which were lousy aircraft and I had a very frightening experience with a New Zealand instructor who I would like to say was checking my crew out and he wanted to fly the aircraft and test my crew and I decided to fly in the rear turret for the experience so he was at the controls with my flight engineer, now we took off and suddenly he shouted, ‘Undo that, undo that, stop that, pull this up, pull that up, pull that out’, just as we took off and it turned out that he had forgotten to unlock the aileron controls and here we were off the ground, climbing and he had no control whatsoever over the aircraft. It frightened me to death ‘cause I was in the rear turret, didn’t know what to do and he kept shouting ‘Undo this, undo that, pull that lever, pull that lever’, and eventually the securing lugs that held the ailerons and rudders and flaps and everything else came into power and eventually they landed safely. I took the man to task and he threatened me and said, ‘If you report me then I will make sure that you are court-martialled’, so I had no option but to forget about the whole thing but it was a very, very frightening experience and it could have killed all of us. Now, around this time, I’m doing this off the top of my head of course, do you think I could just stop a minute and--
JM: Of course.
OS: And just think about
JM: Of course.
OS: Now here I am continuing my yarns about my lifestyle [laughs] and my experiences in the RAF. Now we flew the Halifax bomber as a, not as an operational aircraft but as an introduction to four-engine bombers. I did not like it at all and it was common feeling that it was a lousy aircraft to fly, put it that way, fortunately I did very few hours but as I said before like an introduction to going onto frontline Lancasters four-engine. Now I just stop there for a second if I may. I’m just going to think about that period because it was rather a lot happening particularly when I’m going to talk about, which I have recorded by the way, about picking up my flight engineer. Now both, Halifax, no, I’m not sure but anyway the Lancaster, you had to have a, you couldn’t fly a Lanc without a flight engineer, this is what we call a Lancaster finishing school which was also prior to going onto a squadron but of course now I’m in a situation where I’m going to pick up a crew and I think that’s where I better start.
JM: Please.
OS: Switch on.
JM: Go, it’s on, go. Yeah.
OS: Right. The method of gaining a crew and there were six other members to fly in the aircraft, two gunners, navigator, bomb aimer and flight engineer, oh and wireless operator. Seven of us altogether in every Lancaster. Now so what happened was that chaps got together, we weren’t commissioned at that time, we were flight sergeants and someone said, this chap over here is a nice fellow and I understand he is a good shot, this is a good navigator, they got together, came to me and said, ‘We think these guys will serve you well because we’ve lived with them for a few weeks and I think we’d like to introduce you to them.’ Right, now the next thing is that I met these crew apart from the flight engineer and this story I’ve already recorded because it is a full story and I’m gonna tell it now because I think it will be viewed with a lot of interest. The way they did it was that the crews and the skipper went on parade in lines and the fully qualified flight engineers used to march round the circle and as they passed each crew would fall out and attach themselves to that squadron. I don’t want to go into it any deeper than that but that was a simple as that. Now when the guy comes past me and stopped and then said, ‘Hello skip, my name is—' whatever it was and I looked at this chap and I could not believe to, now we were all around the age of twenty one, twenty two, twenty three, twenty four years of age, this guy looked to me as though he was thirty one, anyway I and also he was a very heavy chap, and he looked to me he was about fifteen stone and I could not believe that I got landed with this sort of chap although he seemed a very nice fellow. Eventually my crew came to me and said skip, of course he would, by that time I was commissioned by the way, so I wasn’t living with my crew who were all flight sergeants, he came to me and said ’We found out that so-and-so the flight engineer is thirty one, he’s not thirty one, he’s thirty one’ and he’s, but he said, ‘We’ve now found out that he’s forty one.’ I could not believe it, anyway there was no appeal, you had to take what they gave you and then when I started having him on the crew I found out that he was an ex Manchester policeman and he was in fact forty one. He was not, he found it difficult to get inside the aircraft and get up beside me on the cockpit, he was very slow on the uptake, on various things, and when it came to being qualified in how do we switch tanks, what pressures and temperatures, the engines would fly at, he was very slow and worried me to death and when I asked him to identify for example lights at night, he would say ‘Did you say, which one did you say, skipper? Which one is that, is it the one on the left or the one on the right?’ And I said, ‘It’s the green one, well, can you see it?’ ‘No’, he said, ‘I can’t see green’ and it frightened me to death. Anyway I’m gonna stop there for a second to get my breath back. Now I’ve already indicated some of the difficulties I had with this flight engineer. I’m now going to recall something I will never forget, one of the things I will never forget and it was that we were on this particular, I forget which one it was, it was a German, German raid at night and lousy night, bad weather, flying in cloud and anyway I’ll skip the bit about the bombing run and the attack but on the, soon as we left the target, my rear gunner called me up and said, ‘Skip, I’m sorry to tell you but the starboard inner is on fire.’ I couldn’t see it from where I was sitting but I got out of my seat and to my amazement the damn engine was on fire and flames was shooting from out of the engine and I knew I got, so I did all sorts of manoeuvres like trying to blow the fire out, by diving in corkscrews and all that sort of thing, the fire wouldn’t go out and I knew it meant trouble because the flames were getting bigger coming from the engine. So what I had to do was to tell my flight engineer to fire the fire extinguisher on that engine, the crew I must say were very quiet and a little concerned, so I said to the flight engineer ‘Now stand by to press the fire extinguisher on the engine that’s on fire, that’s the starboard inner.’ He said, ‘Okay skip, don’t worry, you tell me when you want to hit the button.’ So I said, ‘Well stand by.’ So having dived and climbed for several times at very high speed, at very low speed to get rid of the flames that wouldn’t go out, so I said, ‘Well, on the count of three, I want you to press the fire extinguisher button on the starboard inner.’ ‘Okay skip,’ he said, ‘I’m waiting.’ So, I levelled the aircraft, and I said ‘One, two, three, now!’ The engine, the aircraft immediately yawed or to use a [unclear], anyway the aircraft swung round to the left, I could not believe it, he had pressed the wrong button and killed my point inner so now with two, only two engines left and there was a long way to go home over the North Sea, we got another four or five hours flying home. I, the aircraft, as I said, yawed again and I, once you fired the fire extinguisher you couldn’t fire it again. And anyway to this day I cannot remember how I got that port inner engine to fire and to be serviceable, I have never remembered how I did it but it was an absolute miracle and fortunately I got that engine started and we returned home on three engines. Now when we got back to base, as far as I remember it was about five o’clock in the morning, still dark and I landed and my flight engineer disappeared, we gotta go now for a debriefing, so he didn’t come to the debriefing and my crew and I reported what had happened on the debrief and we went and had our bacon and eggs and went to bed. Now it was still dark and my batman woke me up and said, ‘Skip, your flight engineer wants to see you desperately.’ So I get out of bed and he came in and he said, ‘Skip, I,’ he said ‘I’ve come to tell you what happened and why.’ He was in tears, he said, ‘Skip, my father is stone deaf, my mother is stone deaf, my sister is stone deaf,’ he said, ‘And I’m going deaf,’ he says, ‘And I couldn’t hear you.’ And I said, ‘You realise, do you, that what’ he said, ‘I could have killed us all’. I said, ‘You could, you stupid boy, why on earth did you go through with it like that, knowing that you were going deaf? How important it was to fly alongside of me in the cockpit?’ The following day he was posted from the squadron and I, when Nan and I, my wife and I were on honeymoon, I had a letter from him to say that he had taken on a pub in Manchester, we looked in and said hello, he was very happy to see me of course, so I said, ‘You’re still alive then?’ That’s all I could say. With a sarcastic tone and my wife and I carried on to the Lake District for our honeymoon. That’s the end of the story. There are two things that our eldest daughter Toni has suggested that I should record.[pause] I’m gonna tell you, don’t record, I’ll tell you afterwards but I just want you to see what I was gonna say, now just before I, no, don’t record it, ‘cause I will do.
JM: Yeah.
OS: I’m just trying to [unclear], I want to get into the rhythm of it and I want to get it right, having left the Lancaster Finishing School, we were eventually posted to a squadron. I can’t remember the name, the number of the squadron actually, but it was some fair way from Hemswell where we had the Lanc finishing school. It was about ten o’clock in the morning and we arrived at this squadron and I was greeted by the wing commander who said ‘Come in the office, nice to meet you, you can see what I’m doing here can’t you?’ And I said, ‘Well’, I said, ‘well, I’m not sure.’ He said, ‘I lost ten crews last night’ and I was horrified, he lost ten crews out of ten, wiped out the squadron, and he was going on the blackboard down with a duster wiping them all off. He said, ‘Well don’t worry about it’, he said, ‘You and I will be on a new squadron together and you’re gonna be my second in command.’ You see, so, I thought, oh, oh, alright, here we are, welcoming handshake so to speak, but crews started to come in and we started to build up the squadron with other crews, and after about a couple of weeks he called me in the office one morning and he said, ‘I’ve got something to show you’, and I said, ‘Oh yes’, took me in his back room and there was a container, about ten inches in diameter and about three feet high, it was a food carrier and alongside it there was a packed parachute, I was a little unsure what was going on and he said, ‘I’m just about to fly to Paris and I want you to cover me.’ And I was mystified, I said, ‘I’m not sure what you mean’. ‘Well’, he said, ‘my wife is still living in Paris’ and he said, ‘I’m going to take her a food container and I’m gonna drop the parachute over Paris and I want you to cover for me.’ I was so bewildered I suppose is the word, about this I didn’t tell my crew, but eventually crews started to come in and eventually we started operations against Germany. But he didn’t put me on to fly on ops so I went into his office this morning and I said, ‘Sir, I’m begging your pardon but why aren’t you putting me on ops?’ ‘Well’, he said, ‘you don’t want to go one of these piddling, stupid things on the north coast of France’, he said. ‘Rubbish’, he said, ‘we will wait till we get a big one then you and I are will fly together’. I said, ‘Fly what?’ He said, ‘Well, we’ll go on a big raid.’ Again, I was mystified. And he didn’t put me on. And now, I could not, for the life of me, bear the thought of me flying over France, over Paris, while he dropped some food to his wife, and I thought, I’m not gonna jeopardize my crew and myself here, I’m not gonna do it but I don’t know how I’m gonna get out of it ‘cause he’s a very powerful man. And anyway eventually, believe it or not, a posting came through for me and my crew to form another squadron. I was so relieved, my crew didn’t really, ‘cause I never let on I didn’t want to upset them but I did tell them a later time. But eventually, yes, we were posted to Hemswell to form 170 Squadron. And that leads me to another story. Now, the story goes like this, in the officers, by this time I was commissioned and my crew of course were all flight sergeants, eventually one or two of them did become commissioned but my crew and I were set now to go on an operational bombing squadron at 170 Hemswell. Now we had a little bit of a knees-up so to speak in the mess, in the officer’s mess, one. very shortly after this, one night, and to meet our new wing commander and during the course of the evening his wife came across to me and asked me if I’d go outside with her ‘cause she wanted to speak to me privately. I was rather surprised at this but we went into another room and she says, ‘Owen’, she said I, ‘You don’t mind me calling you by your Christian name, do you?’ I wondered what on earth was coming and she said, ‘But I’d like you to help me if you can.’ And I said, ‘Well, I will if I can but what is the problem?’ She said, ‘The problem is that my husband’ wing commander, forgot his name, ‘He’s not gonna be capable of carrying the post that he’s got’ and she said, ‘And I wanted you to if you would, try and help him all you can so that he doesn’t make any mistakes.’ But of course I, it was an unbelievable thing to happen on a night of frollity, put it that way, that’s the wrong word but, a pleasant evening and I did say to her, ‘Well, I’ll do whatever I can.’ Now then, we started operating hot trot trips over Germany and the wing commander was very weak at the briefings that we had to go on these raids didn’t put himself on at all but it was expected that the wing commander would fly operationally with the crews, he didn’t do that, and it was very difficult to approach him and I thought of what his wife had asked me but I didn’t have the opportunity and I could see that it was going to be inevitable that the man would not last in the post, it so happened that he was posted, we never saw him again and we eventually had a new wing commander. I never heard from his wife but I think that was a story that was a little unusual and for me at the time to find myself involved with the wing commander’s wife, well I can laugh about it now but it was very serious at the time. End of story.[pause] On one occasion on 170 Squadron Hemswell Bomber Command, I think it was on the raid to Duisburg, not, I can refer to it, it’s in my logbook anyway but it was a big target and there were over a thousand Lancasters on it at night and situation over the target was absolutely petrifying, there were fighters above, searchlights and you had to be careful of searchlights ‘cause once they got you in the searchlight they predicted anti-aircraft fire and you’re a goner. And I remember too many times being caught while I got caught twice on searchlights and but how I got out of it I’ll never know, I’m the luckiest guy, the luckiest crew. But coming back to this particular, I think it was Duisburg, but anyway what happened was this, we went on the raid and at night of course, and the job of the bomb aimer was to check through a peeping hole in the bomb bay just to make sure that all the bombs had left, had been jettisoned. The word was that ‘Skip, I’m sorry to tell you’ but that we got the cookie, that’s a two thousand pound bomb, it was fused and could not be defused. Once it was fused and it had to go. And there were five other five hundred pound bombs in as well. Nearly all night I flew up and down the North Sea trying to get rid of these bombs, they would not go and I think there was a malfunction in the bombing mechanism but no matter what I did I could not shake these bombs off. So I returned close to the squadron and called up control and said ‘I got a problem, can you advise me?’ And the guy said, ‘Oh yes, I’ll call you in five minutes.’ Very casual and some of these controllers in the control tower really used to irritate me because they were so damn cocky about things and I said to one of them on one occasion, ‘It’s alright for you sitting there smoking your cigarette but here I am in trouble and all you got to do is say goodnight.’ But anyway they said after five minutes, ‘You can either put the aircraft on automatic, head it out to sea and parachute over the sea or you can put it on automatic and bail out over the land but make sure that the aircraft sets itself and blows itself up in the sea. Or you can land with it and just be gentle how you land it,’ so I called him back and said, ‘I’m thinking about it’, so I said to the crew, ‘I don’t want to persuade you but I’d rather than bail out either over the sea or over the land, I’d rather put it down.’ And the crew were marvellous, they said, ‘Skip you can do it, you can do it, boy, we all vote for you, we are going with you.’ I was very honoured, sorry, upsets me even today. I don’t know what to think about it, but this is what happened, now it’s dark, pitch black and it was raining a bit anyway I called funnels that was the to let the control know where I was and I came up on the, they didn’t, they wouldn’t light the airstrip, the landing field for me because you weren’t allowed to light up at night oh dear in case there were fighters about but anyway I’ve got very few lights, it was pitch black, raining slightly and I didn’t say anything to the crew but I thought to myself, come on scotty boy you gotta put this one down right. And anyway I came in and I landed it on three wheels and my rear gunner called me up and he said, ‘Skip, that’s the finest landing you have ever made, that’s the finest landing you’ve ever made’ and I was still rolling up the runway. And I’ve got to put the brakes on and then he said, ‘Skip, and furthermore you’ll never in your life make another landing like that. It was fantastic’, now I’m now rolling up the runway and I’m doing about a hundred and thirty knots and I gotta put the brakes down and I’ve got these damn bombs stuck up in the bomb bay. So I, and I warned the crew, I said, ‘When we get to the end of the runway, I want you to open up all the doors and the hatches, jump out and run with me like bloody hell.’ Because I knew that if that bomb fell off, it would blow the squadron to smithereens, because you could not defuse it. I turned off very, very gently into the lay-by and [sighs] It upsets me to think about it, but we were the luckiest crew that ever lived because when, I didn’t open the bomb doors, normally after you’d been on a raid you opened the bomb doors when you finished doing the survey and so we ran away and went and had our bacon and eggs and then had a debriefing. Now, later on, that morning I decided to go to my aircraft to see what the situation was. They’d already got inflatable bags under the bomb bay and under the wings and the idea was that because this bomb was still there, they had to lower it very, very gently otherwise it would blow up. Now an actual fact, I recorded this matter, on ITV about a year ago and a full description I gave of it and it went like I’ve said and now here we were now. The frightening thing was that when I landed the actual bomb, the big one, the cookie, the two thousand pounder, which you couldn’t defuse, was resting on the bomb doors. And if I had done the usual practice of opening the bomb doors it would have fallen out and blown up the squadron. But how lucky can you get? We got away with it. End of story. The, it was never disclosed why that bomb had hung up and the five hundred pounders you see there was a mechanism that the bomb aimer used to drop the bombs and looking back on it, it was never really looked, into, we were all so pleased that the war is over, hallelujah and let’s have a good time, get back and let’s live again but I think there was a malfunction in the mechanism of the bomb aimer because he was a lovely guy and he actually became our good, our best man at our wedding, good old George, am I recording?
JM: Yes.
OS: Yeah, so, I’ll stop there a minute. Our executive officer on the squadron, lovely guy, he used to look after, bringing the bad news to parents and wives and so on, all our losses, lovely guy, called me into the office and he said, ‘Scotty I’ve got some good news for you, you’ve been appointed, you’ve been awarded the DFC’, and I couldn’t believe it, he said, ‘Yes you have’, he said, ‘And furthermore I want you to take the Croix de Guerre.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Well, there is a Croix de Guerre for you as well.’ He said, ‘I want you to take it.’ And I said, ‘No, I’m not’, I couldn’t do that. You see, it was the end of the war, celebrations and never again gonna fly a Lancaster, never gonna bomb anything and I said, no, I couldn’t do that. Now, there’s a sequel to this but I anyway, I met him in the mess that night and he says, ‘Scotty, I really wish you would take it’, and I said, no, I couldn’t do it, now I tell you a bit more to that and it went like this, we were briefed and told that this was the last raid the RAF Bomber Command would do, it was the end of the war, then this is going to be the briefing for the last one which was to bomb the submarine pens in Holland. I think it was Holland, I can’t quite remember, but it’s in my logbook. And I was put on with the rest of the crews and now I am hesitating for a second because this was a very, very hairy situation so it was at the briefing it was for a daylight raid on the submarine pens as I say in northern Italy, Holland. And so it’s gonna be daylight, there were a thousand Lancasters on it and it was the last raid of the war. Okay, now then, we get the briefing, take off, I get to within fifty yards of the end of the runway and I lose an engine. It just went dead on me and I don’t forget a Lancaster when it’s fully loaded is thirty eight, repeat, thirty eight tonnes and you got to be very careful, I don’t care what anyone says, I’ve done it, when you fly in a Lancaster you have to be absolutely red hot about everything. Now I’m getting just a little bit emotional about this but it’s something that I can never forget in my lifetime, and I’m telling this true story, now I got off the end of the runway, how I got off the runway with eight tonnes on board of bombs, I’ll never know and I gradually went up into the circuit ready to go to the submarine pens. In view of the fact that it was gonna be the last and it was declared, this is the last raid of the war, in daylight, I said to the crew well I was entitled to go out to sea and discharge my bombload and return to base but like the stupid fool I was in those days, aged twenty two and I thought, for various reasons we’ll go I put it to the crew, they said, ‘Yes, come on skip, you can do it, we’ll do it, it’s the last one of the raids, last one of the war, it’s a daylight, it’s a cinch, it’s a walkover, come on, we’ll do it’, so I went on three engines, it was a stupid thing to do but I’m trying to build the story as to why I should do it but anyway we got near to the target, beautiful sunny day and a Lancaster flew very close to me, just under my port side, and don’t forget I’m flying now with three engines and he waved to me and put his thumbs up and he drifted across and went below me and we are now on the bombing run and my bomb aimer is saying, ‘Left, left, steady, steady, steady, ready, you know, stand by, I’m gonna fire it’ and we are all, ‘Good old skip, here we go, on the last one, we’re gonna drop this one on and stop these bloody submarines from coming out and damaging our ships.’ But to my utter amazement I saw this guy that waved to me go down and a parachute fell out, followed by another one and six parachutes came out and my, one of my gunners said it was a Messerschmitt 109 shot him down, and I was mortified so he hit, they were going down in parachutes, six parachutes opened but the seventh parachute didn’t but I presumed it was the skipper who couldn’t get out and I got my radio opposite, radio operator to phone base straight away and say they’d gone down in the sea and we never heard again what happened but this damn Messerschmitt 109 got him. We dropped our load and we got back safely. Now when it came to the debrief, my crew were very anxious to tell the female intelligence officer who debriefed us what happened, that we lost an engine and I went on three engines, she just marked it down as ‘he returned on three engines’. I was so disappointed because although it was a stupid thing for me to do, it was a celebration but to think that that guy lost his crew because of a 109. End of story. Well, one of the things that happened during the raid was when my - raid over Germany of course - was that my navigator rang me and says, ‘Skip, I’m sorry for Jerry, but we are six minutes early, we’ve gotta lose six minutes because the master bombers have got it wrong somewhere.’ Well, the frightening thing was how on earth am I gonna lose six minutes? so what I had to do was form a three hundred and sixty degree turn in amongst all the other Lancs going in and the perspiration was running off me because I thought, any minute I’m gonna get smashed up with another Lanc, but fortunately and I’m a lucky guy and weren’t we a lucky crew, we got away with it and we continued onto the target but the raids were petrifying, well the raids were terrifying because you know, a Lancaster’s a big aircraft, it was the biggest aircraft in the world at that stage and as I’ve said before, with a full load, you got thirty eight tonnes hurtling through the sky at two hundred and forty five knots and with the searchlights that used to be [unclear], I only went to Berlin once and when you got within striking distance, you’d have thirty searchlights all come on together and light the sky up, and then you see all these aircraft and I can remember on one occasion my bomb aimer saying, ‘Watch out for the sky, on your right, skip, he’s very close’ and he was and the bomber, and the rear gunner couldn’t have told his skipper I was within literally twenty five feet of him and I ducked underneath him and came up on the other side and it was like that and you knew there was fighters flying around but when the searchlights went up, you saw all these things happening and when the master bomber used to call you up and say, ‘This is master bomber one calling the main stream, good evening gentlemen, we are ready to mark the target and we will drop the first flares on the target in four minutes’ and then you see the green lights lighting up on the ground or red and you knew that the target markers were flying at literally at two thousand feet over the target and being shot at and we had the greatest admiration for those guys that used to fly Lancs and four engine oh dear, I’ve forgotten what they’re called, fast aircraft.
JM: Mosquitos?
OS: Say?
JM: Mosquitos?
OS: Mosquitos, yeah. Used to fly and then you get a message that says, ‘This is the master bomber calling you, this is master bomber two’, and you knew that number one had been shot down, it was always very scary but we had the greatest admirations for these guys, you know those who’ve all got VCs because there is so many of the guys that marked the target and never came back. But to, well, we’ll never forgotten any of them.
JM: I believe you were on the Dresden raid, Owen.
OS: Which one?
JM: The Dresden raid of February 1945, the one that attracted all the publicity post-war.
OS: Oh yeah, I was on that one, yes.
JM: How did you feel about that?
OS: What, when we bombed the?
JM: Dresden.
OS: Dresden, yes. Well, I was on the second raid, and they told us this is not, this is a very, very important target and every effort must be made to help make a success of this raid because it’s where we’ve got the Russians coming in from the East, there’s a lot of transportation of German equipment there and it’s gotta be blotted out, it’s gotta be, it’s gotta be a hot raid. Now I was on the second raid there were five hundred and fifty nine on my things and when we got, it was a hell of a way to go as well, it took us I think six hours to fly down there at night and we had a few fighters knocking about on the way down. When I get to telling this story, my American accent starts to come out so forgive me if I talk like an American occasionally. But my wonderful navigator Derrick, who was the best on the squadron said to me, ‘No [unclear] skip, I never want to look out of the window’. On this particular night I said, ‘Derrick you come out here and look at this, you will never ever see anything like this at all in your life’. I made him come out and he said, ‘My God, what on earth is going on?’ There was tremendous fires all over the area and there were so many Lancasters knocking about, you had to be careful as well and the crew, particularly the gunners, I said, ‘Keep your eyes peeled fellows you, we’re not gonna know what’s happening here, we’ve gotta get on with this job and we’ve gotta get back’. Now here we go and Derrick, my navigator, he said, ‘I’m so glad you called me out from under the canopy, weve never seen anything like this.’ We did our job but there was a long way to get home and that night we flew for ten hours eighteen minutes on that target. End of story.
JM: Could I ask you Owen, what did you, what do you feel about the way in which Bomber Command was treated by the politicians after the war?
OS: Disgraceful. Disgraceful.
JM: It must have been very difficult as, you probably looked up to Winston Churchill
OS: Oh yeah.
JM: And there he is forgetting to say anything about Bomber Command. That must have hurt.
OS: Oh, it did. We were waiting for it. Didn’t come. And Bomber Harris, well, tell you a story about him, he came up behind us one day, are we on air? We are on the air?
JM: Yes, yes.
OS: Well, I was taking another squadron, taking another crew in a transport this particular day and damn me if Bomber Harris didn’t come up with his flag on his car behind us, was waiting to get past us. When the two crews all gave him the V fingers and called him, you know, Butch Harris, we called him, and was shouting at him, ‘Butch Harris, you’re a butcher, you’re a butcher!’ and I thought, I said, Shut up chaps, you’re gonna get ourselves in a load of a trouble here’, here comes my American accent, I can feel it, and the guy came up alongside us, they were all giving him the V fingers and I knew he was gonna pull us over, but he didn’t, he drove on. And that was an experience.
JM: So you’re saying that Harris was not popular with the aircrews?
OS: Oh yeah, that’s what we used to call him, Butch Harris, Butch Harris. And end of story.
JM: Okay.
OS: I was just going to say that a pal of mine on the squadron, lovely guy but I couldn’t believe that he was married with two children. I never mentioned it to him because I thought it would undermine his confidence but to think of him with, married with two children, he lived in Hull apparently, but he was a good pal of mine on the squadron, we used to play snooker together, we used to go out together, he had some frightening experiences like I did, had a lot in common, and on one particular occasion [laughs], just springs to my mind but, he and I were on leave at the same time and we arrived at three o’clock in the morning in Gainsborough and met by chance and we normally stayed in the local pub overnight waiting for a taxi to take us back to the squadron which was about nine miles away and on this particular night [laughs], it was a freezing cold night, we couldn’t get put up at the pub so believe it or not, but we sat in a telephone box, all night, sitting on our luggage, freezing cold and waiting for the dawn as it were so we’d get a taxi so we get back on squadron and he tapped me on the knee and he says, ‘Scotty’, he said, ‘you are awake, aren’t you?’ And I said, ‘I’m freezing’, he says, ‘So am I’, said, ‘But’ he said ‘ I want you to know’, he said, ‘You know I love you, don’t you?’ [laughs] and he made me laugh so much but he was that sort of guy and I missed him dearly because I came back on from another leave in the transport that brought me back, they told me the bad news that he never came back and he was a lovely guy. And I’ve never forgotten him. End of story.
JM: How did you feel as the end of your tour approached, were you and the crew nervous about whether you would complete or did you just take it a day at a time?
OS: Well, when we finished you mean?
JM: As you were approaching the end of your tour.
OS: Approaching the end of the tour?
JM: Mh.
OS: I got my logbook there with it all in. We are not on air, are we?
JM: Yes.
OS: We are on air?
JM: Yes.
OS: Ask me the question again.
JM: How did you feel as you approached thirty completed operations? Were you confident that you would finish your tour?
OS: No. I was scared to death ‘cause we got away with it for so long and we only got, shall we say I remember when we got to twenty eight, the crew never mentioned it though we were very tight-lipped about it, scared to death really, oh my God, we got this far, we’re gonna get knocked off tonight and on one occasion we were briefed for a bash, as we used to call it, and this officer came past me and he was in tears, he was absolutely throwing, he was absolutely drenched in tears, looking dead ahead he never saw me. I knew the guy, he was a fellow officer, he never came back that night. It was like that. And so the last two were very scary, very scary indeed and it was still intense activity full volume, you know, when you get a thousand Lancasters all going to the same target, it was absolutely terrifying but you had to keep your gut, you had to keep yourself in tight and you had to not think about it too much and the you used to dread going in the briefing room to see what was the, see what the target was and you know when it came up, you knew the bad ones and, oh my God, we’ve gotta go there tonight and I remember on one occasion, my batman woke me up, he says, ‘Skip, I’m sorry to tell you but you’ve missed the briefing you’re on. They forgot to tell you.’ They forgot to tell me that there was a raid on. And I climbed out of bed and put my flying boots on and eventually my batman took me out to the aircraft, the engines were running and my flight engineer had started the engines, and in the briefing when they called my name, they called my name, ‘Yes, I was available, I was there’ but I wasn’t and I got in the aircraft, the engines were running and I taxied out and took off and I said, ‘For Christ’s sake, someone tell me where we are bloody well going!’ And they said, ‘We are going to—' oh dear, hot target, I’ve forgotten the name of it for the minute, because I was going down the runway and I said, ‘For Christ’s sake, someone tell me where I am going!’ And when they told me, my God, it was some, something, I’m getting a bit worked up talking about it but never forgot it that night and that was somewhat typical of how life was on the squadron.
JM: You were all brave men but did you have any experience of any men for whom it was too much?
OS: Yes.
JM: And they refused to fly? Could you tell us what happened?
OS: Well, I had one good chap that I knew very well, he came to my room one night and said, ‘Scotty, can I talk to you?’ I said, ‘Of course you can.’ Lovely guy. He says, ‘Scotty, I have decided that I can’t go on, I can’t do it.’ And I said, ‘If you have decided that you know what you gotta do.’ He said, yes. I hate the thought of it, Lack of Moral Fibre, as soon as you said you couldn’t go, you were marked straight away, LMF, Lack of Moral Fibre, and it was a disgrace and he eventually, well, you see, if you did that, they posted you from the squadron straight away and they sent you peeling potatoes or something and it was marked on your logbook, Lack of Moral Fibre, couldn’t go through with it. This guy went through with it, I didn’t see him after that, a lovely guy but you see, there weren’t many that had the courage because they hated the idea of the expression Lack of Moral Fibre and that’s why it was put that way to prevent them from doing it and in other words so many thought about and nearly did it and didn’t and carried on and got killed. But that’s how life was on squadron.
JM: When the war was over, did you think about staying with the Royal Air Force or were you very anxious to go back to your civilian life?
OS: I was anxious to go to civilian life and what I did was you could apply to have an extension of six months on your term of office so what I wanted to do really was become a commercial pilot and bearing in mind that I was very fond of the sea because you know I was in the merchant navy as a young boy, fifteen, and with my experience in flying boats, my hopes were that I could get myself a commercial position flying flying boats. So I asked for an extension of six months, I was then transferred to another squadron and there are stories I could tell you about that. So for six months I had time to think about civilian life, I got married et cetera et cetera and I applied to British BOAC British Overseas Airways and then I sent an application form but I wasn’t successful, that’s how it was, but during that time, when I was with, I went to another squadron because my own squadron was disbanded and there’s lots of stories I can tell you about that, but for the moment I think I’ll shut down.
JM: Owen Scott, thank you very much for sharing your wartime experiences with me for this recording, it’s been a privilege to listen to you. Thank you very much indeed.



Julian Maslin, “Interview with Seymour Owen Scott,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 23, 2024,

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