Interview with Henry Leslie Shackleton

Title

Interview with Henry Leslie Shackleton

Description

Henry Shackleton listened to Chamberlain’s speech on the radio and hoped to be a Spitfire pilot. He began his training and was selected as a flying instructor and was posted to Canada. On his return to the UK he was posted to his operational squadron 419 at RAF Middleton St George. He then went on to join the Pathfinders. He was shot down over Berlin and became a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft 3.

Creator

Date

2017-06-29

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

00:39:25 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

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

Identifier

AShackletonHL170629

Transcription

CJ: This is Chris Johnson and I’m interviewing Henry Shackleton today for the International Bomber Command Centre's Digital Archive. We are at Henry's home in Kent and it is Thursday 29th of June 2017. Thank you, Henry for agreeing to talk to me today.
HS: It's a pleasure.
CJ: So, first of all Henry could you tell us please where and when you were born and what your family background was?
HS: My father and indeed my elder brother and I are all civil engineers. So when dad came back from Canada with my brother and my sister and he and mother landed in England, I was born in Hailsham which is on the outskirts of Eastbourne. So I’m English but my brother and sister were Canadian.
CJ: Okay. And did you go to school in Hailsham when you were old enough?
HS: When I was a year old mother took me up to Heysham. My father had decided to no longer be a civil engineer but looked at Butlins Holiday Camp and thought, ‘Ah. I'll compete.’ So he bought a castle in Heysham where he had the Morecambe Bay Holiday Campers. And therefore I grew up from the age of one to the age of ten with all the happy campers around me with my mother saying, ‘Darling, if they offer you a sweet you have to say no thank you twice. If they offer it a third time you can have it.’ The number of times I said, ‘Ah. Ah.’ And they went off, but I did get some sweets.
CJ: And did you have an interest in your early years in aircraft or flying?
HS: Just once. Mother and I went down to Blackpool where Gracie Fields was on show and there was a chap there who said, I can't believe it, ‘For ten shillings two of you can come up in a plane over the bay.’ I believe, certainly we did it, mother and I in this plane. And I said, ‘This is thrilling, isn't it?’ But that was the only bit I’d ever done before the war.
CJ: And when did you volunteer for the services? And why did you choose the RAF?
HS: Mother and I, just mother and I alone, my brother and sister were away at work or school just before the war. We were living near this house here at a place called Holmlea, Rhodes Minnis, and I was in the garden and mother called me in from the garden on September the 3rd 1939 and said, ‘Darling, come in. There's something on the radio.’ This was in the days before television. And on the radio there was a voice saying, and, ‘I am Mr Chamberlain and I have to tell you as the Germans have refused to withdraw from Poland consequently this country is at war with Germany.’ So I turned to my mother and I said ‘Hey, I’ve seen Spitfires above Rhodes Minnis. Do you think I could be a Spitfire pilot?’ And she said, ‘Darling, you're far too young. You're only seventeen.’ Anyway, I enquired and they said, ‘You can join The Air Force in Canterbury when you're eighteen and three months’, and I joined exactly when I was eighteen and three months saying, ‘I want to be a Spitfire pilot.’ ‘Oh no. You've got to do various other things including marching.’ A thing I found quite interesting in that first half year before I started being trained as a pilot we had to march to teach us what people did in the Air Force. Obeying orders. But we also were down in Torquay for a weekend break and there I was told that an RAF officer wished to interview me while I was down there. I didn't know it but it was to be an interview to see if I was of officer of material. But I didn't know it but boy did I say the right thing. I went in there and he said, ‘Sit down,’ he said, ‘You arrived here yesterday in Torquay.’ ‘That's right,’ I said, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘What did you do? Just go swimming?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘As a matter of fact I paid ten shillings for a ride on a horseback.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I have two horses. I’ll tell you I have this model and I have another one here,’ and he told me all about his horses and I got a commission [laughs] Anyway, on we go to the next one. Such was life. Anyway, we did the roundabout and do our duties and I rose from aircraftsman second class to leading aircraftsman to go to Meir, Stoke on Trent where a Flight Sergeant Raffley was to be my instructor on Miles Magisters which is still my favourite little monoplane. Lovely little thing. He said, ‘I’m in the back. You're in the front. You’ll do what I bloody well tell you.’ So I did what he told me. After six and a quarter hours he said, ‘You can go solo.’ And then it rained. So you can't. And it rained for three or four weeks. He said, ‘You can't go up now,’ he said, ‘With that interval you've got to come up with me again.’ So I had to go up another three hours with Flight Sergeant Raffley. ‘Off you go on your own,’ he said. I went up, thrilled to bits, all on my own. And I waltzed around thinking gosh this is wonderful. Oh blimey, where's the airfield? And there was nobody with me to tell me and for the life of me I couldn't find that grass strip. Oh, there's a railway line. And I remembered there was a railway line near it so I went to the railway line and I got on it. And then to my horror above me I saw barrage balloons with wires going down on either side of the railway line to keep the Germans away from bombing it and me in the Miles Magister going where the Germans shouldn't be. And I thought, well I can't turn left or right so I carried on straight. Oh, there's the field. Thank heaven for that. Went down and landed. Thank God for that. So that was me solo. I was then sent to the RAF station. What is the head office? And there my instructor was a far more superior man. It was Flying Officer Raffley MC. Went to Cambridge University, ‘Shackleton, take your seat. And before you do anything else there's one big error the Royal Air Force people have. They insist upon saying, when they take over an aircraft, ‘you've got her’. I can assure you there is no need for the word ‘got’ in the English language so with my pupils, you ‘have her’. What he didn't realise, and nobody could ever tell him, noisy aircraft require a virtual ‘Got,’ which you could hear. If you said, ‘I’m sorry, I didn't quite get that,’ at which point you've crashed. Anyway, while we were with him we had to say ‘you've got her’. and I said ‘got’. He said, ‘Right. You qualify. You can get your wings now at RAF Cranwell College’, and I said, ‘Oh good. Spitfires?’ And I’d been trained on an Airspeed Oxford, a twin-engine bomber. ‘Oh no,’ he said, ‘No. No. You and I together are going to be instructors. I'll be doing more. You'll begin. You have qualified as a flying instructor and we're going abroad I can't say where we're going because I don't know but we've to get in a train next week.’ The train doors were locked and we went from Middleton St George all the way up through England. Got to Glasgow. We were released from there, put on a boat and before we knew where we were we were in Iceland where I was in charge of the censorship. All the letters that were written there, and we were there three weeks I had to check as a nineteen year old and there was some, ‘Darling, I can't say where we are but it's an enormous clinker.’ So I had to put a line through it and tear it off. And we were there three weeks because there were three U-boats outside wanting to kill us. We had to wait ‘til they left. Then we were put on a huge vessel and where did we go? Canada. Where in Canada did we go? Where my brother and sister were born. And I was there a year and a quarter while my dear mother was being shelled in, near Lyminge. Well, Lyminge in Folkestone. She suffered from Doodlebugs. The house opposite was wrecked and four people killed. But not me. I was in Canada with pupils. Taking some pupils on a navigational trip up north to an RAF station. Well, it was a station up there at North Battleford. Have I got that right? Where my brother was born. Then turn right and go down to Regina where my sister was born. Then back to the base for Regina. I mean, I found it incredible. Now, I’m not going to record any of the things I said in confidence because the Royal Air Force wouldn't like it. Can I give you a tip off? Two of my pupils say, ‘Sir, can you loop an Airspeed Oxford?’ I am not going to tell you on this recording what my reply was. So on we go. We're released from that and I’m back in England. This time told although you're RAF and you've got a commission and you're now a flight lieutenant you are going to be with the Canadians with an English crew. And the thing I thought was first rate about the Royal Air Force and probably other air forces when you're building up your crew you as a pilot with other pilots are sent to a hangar in the square, in the squadron. And you stand in a group slightly separate from the other pilots and you look across the hangar and there's one group. They're rear, they're rear gunners, they're mid-upper gunners, they're navigators, they're pilot engineers, they’re engineers, there's the front tail gunner err the front gunner and, ‘You're the captain, get your crew.’ So I looked at one bloke and I said, ‘Will you join me tail gunner?’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘Can I take Bert because he's a mid-upper gunner? He's a pal of mine.’ ‘Yep. Come on Bert.’ So I took them on. I looked around. There was one bloke with a large forehead. I said, ‘Would you like to be my flight engineer?’ No. Flight navigator, that's it. Because of the forehead I thought the navigator. And Bert Ashford said, ‘Certainly, would be delighted.’ So he came and joined me. But the important thing was, and I did eighteen bomber trips with them and later on Pathfinders with them, I had chosen them so I could never complain. But one of them was chronic. He was the flight engineer whose job was not in any one place. He had to walk around the aircraft while we were on our bombing trip plugging in saying, ‘Skip, fuel okay.’ Walk a bit further, ‘Skip, water okay.’ ‘Skip, altitude seems to be alright, Skip.’ But every time, wherever he was, plug in and, ‘Skip.’ And if he didn't I'd say, ‘Oh, Dick where are you?’ Silence. I haven't heard a Dick in. Nothing. So I thought the heck with this. ‘Look, crew, forgive this but I’m going to try and alert him,’ So I waggled my wings like mad. Click. ‘Oh. What's wrong, Skip?’ I said, ‘It's you that's wrong. You’ve to keep in touch.’ ‘Oh. Sorry Skip.’ So, click, ‘I’m here now. Tail gun.’ That's all right. We were flying along and we did eighteen bomber trips with not one problem. Not one. Apart from one. We were at twenty one thousand feet which is the normal altitude for bombing and suddenly I saw a dark object which was very clearly a fighter. Without any warning at all to the crew I dived like mad. Dived down to earth, and halfway down, ‘Did you want me, Skip?’ [laughs] Oh boy. I said, ‘Just avoiding an enemy aircraft for God's sake.’ ‘Well, you waggled your wings. I thought you wanted me.’ [laughs] I said, ‘What did you do before the war, Dick?’ ‘Oh, I was delivering groceries on a bicycle.’ Oh God [laughs] Anyway, our crew held together and we got away with it no trouble at all on eighteen bomber trips. So I said to the crew, ‘Look, I'd like to be a squadron leader. Wouldn't you like to be a flight sergeant instead of a sergeant?’ ‘Oh yeah.’ I said, ‘Well, if we all volunteer, and I’ve been told we can because we've done so many trips now and I have so many flying hours.’ Normally the pilot has about two hundred flying hours. I had about eighteen hundred because I'd been training people. So, yes we volunteered and we went down to head office. Is it RAF Wyton, I think? Where the head office. But this time it was with the Canadians and it was great. We did four trips. Instead of dropping bombs we dropped a white flare where our Master Pathfinder had dropped his. We would have to follow. If there were a thousand bombers bombing his flare about eight hundred would probably achieve that but by that time, fifteen minutes later than his flare, the flare would be moved by wind. So my job was to go and drop another white flare where his had been, and I can assure you it's the rottenest and most dangerous job in the Air Force. What is it? You arrive fifteen minutes after all the main body. You drop a flare which illuminates you. The fighters of the enemy are all up by then. The searchlights are all focused. The guns are all poised. And Henry arrives, ‘Can you see me?’ Sure as eggs, fifth trip, fighter on starboard, fighter on port. I’m told later by my flight engineer who survived, that ‘You yelled out, “Abandon aircraft,” as the first fighter fired across the top of your cabin. I saw your cabin and the top of your cabin was wrecked.’ He'd got the Perspex at the top and wrecked it. ‘But you ducked your head and missed the bullets which went right along the leading edge of the port wing’, which meant the port wing had no lifting power. So it just sent me on my port down to Berlin. It was our fifth trip bombing or dropping flares on Berlin, and I dived down there and just sat there. I thought well you know this is hopeless. Suddenly the whole of the cabin gave way and I was sucked out into mid-air. Thank God. The wireless operator, no, the bomb, the who was it now? Bert Ashford the yeah the wireless operator air gunner. Anyway, he said he'd heard me say, ‘Abandon aircraft,’ and he thought well what's the, and he was suffering like all of us then without oxygen, what's the point of jumping out if you've nothing to eat? So with me going down to Berlin he took off his parachute in his cabin, undid it, opened a drawer, he told me this later when I saw him, took out a bar of chocolate, put it in his tunic, put his parachute on, ‘Oh. The Skip’s gone out of that bloody great hole.’ So, he jumped where I'd gone. He said he wasn't one minute before he was in the main street in Berlin with a German on either side, ‘For you the war is over.’ And that was him captured. Me, who's always been remarkably fortunate, I don't have horrid things like that. Where do I land? Well, what's the nicest place? A park. Yes. But where? Oh, in a bush for a soft landing. You know. And my parachute was trailed all over the bush. So I pulled in my parachute. It was two o'clock in the morning. Freezing cold. January the 31st, 1944. A year and a half before the war ended. So there was me in this bush thinking well I can't start moving now because it'll be light at about six o'clock. I think I'll wait over a day ‘til it's nighttime and then I'll go for a walk. During the day two dogs wanted to get me. They were on leads and the two Germans said, ‘Kommen sie mit’, and they just walked past me. The dogs saw me but the two Germans didn't. So I just sat there waiting till they'd gone by. First night, right, Henry, you're on your own now. Now you make for the Baltic. So I walked out of the park, went through a village, that was fine. Saw a railway line, thought, ‘Well, if I get on that and the truck goes to the Baltic I’m on. Dead easy.’ And the bloody thing taxied and it landed up underneath the signal box and I had to spend the whole of that day when daylight came lying on a, an oil tube, an oil pipe frozen to bits with a guard just above me, keeping out of his way. He didn't see me. The following night they shunted a little bit, then they stopped again. So I thought well I don't like this. So I got out and walked through my second village, and I got away with that. Ah, while I was stuck in my tree wondering how to pass the time I felt around. Oh, take the zipper off your trouser leg and put the, felt there in front of your chest. Take the other one put it behind you to keep warm. Oh, and there's a little booklet. I’ve never seen that. So in it, it said, “Where have you landed?” If it's France it's, ‘Bonjour. Comment allez vous. Vous avez [unclear].’ But page four is Germany and I'd landed in Berlin, and I’m not all that bright but I thought it must be there. So it said, “Guten morgen.” “Guten tag”, and down at the bottom with no pronunciation but down at the bottom, very odd thing was it, “Ich aber in eile” or was it, ‘Ich aber as eile?’ But it says, ‘I’m in a hurry’, and it worked. I walked through my second village. Passed a German. He said, ‘guten tag.’ I said, ‘guten tag.’ ‘til the end. Blinking cul de sac in Berlin. There was a, a wall across the road, so I had to walk back passing this chap again. ‘Oh ja’ I said, ‘Ich aber in eile.’ ‘Oh ja,’ he said and off I went. So that got rid of my second night. Third night my dear friends started bombing Berlin again which meant the alarms went and everybody went down their shelters. And I’m not too bright but I thought if I go down and be sheltered with them they're not going to like me very much. So I carried on walking, then the all clear went. Out came some children, saw this bloke all alone in the main street, walked round me and captured me. So I was captured by the school children and I walked with them. They took me to the mayor's house, and I do like recording the fact that the German women in particular were charming. Here was a young man, slightly injured. They bathed my face, they gave me coffee, they gave me — what was it? Something else they gave me. Oh sandwiches, and I said to them, ‘Danke schön. This is very good of you, and I hope in England when your sons are in my country I hope my ladies give the same to your pilots as well.’ And they said, ‘Ja, it's good.’ Then the door opened. In came a pompous little drunken German officer, ‘Heil Hitler.’ Two great big thugs with him with rifles. ‘Kommen sie mit. For you the war is over. Ha ha’. So, I went outside, got into this saloon car with a gas tank above it. They put me in the back seat with a revolver into each side of me. He was in the front roaring with laughter, happy as Larry he’d got a prisoner. And off they went through this park. As it happened to the city of Berlin. And do you know I said I’ve seen the film. I remember that film. You're halfway through then I get out, go into the woods and they kill me. I know it. The guns are waiting. So I waited. They must. They didn't. Not with me. Oh no. They take me there. Put me in a cell with a radiator. Lovely. But they won't speak to me for four days then. The idea is if they do nothing with you you'll be so keen to talk you'll talk. So when my turn came to be interrogated I went out there. There was a bloke sitting behind a desk and I went in. I said, ‘Flight Lieutenant Shackleton 68185, sir.’ So he said ‘Yes. Yes. We know that.’ ‘Where was your station?’ I said, ‘68185. Flight Lieutenant Shackleton.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘You're one of those. Call in the other one.’ So the other door opened and there was Red Williams. ‘Blimey, skip. Oh. Sandwiches.’ He went straight to the sandwiches, bashed into them and the officer said, ‘I think you go. We have good material here.’ So as I walked away I said, ‘You speak very good English. Where did you learn it?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I played tennis in Bournemouth before the war.’ I said, ‘Oh, lovely. Did you enjoy it?’ ‘Oh yes. Very, very pleasant. Off. Off. Yes, my friend what are you going tell me now?’ Little Red, with his sandwiches, happy as Larry.
CJ: So, Red was from your crew.
HS: Oh yeah. He was one of my crew. The only one who lived. The tail gunner and the mid-upper were shot dead, and we heard about that. They, one was never found and since the war I’ve now three times been to the three graves in Berlin of that crew. I was there this year putting not only wreaths on each one but because the squadron, when we left them with the bomber lot gave me a whisky flask, the best of British luck. I poured whisky over each grave thinking they'd prefer it. And the interesting thing this spring when I did this some Germans came up to me and they said, ‘May we have the honour of shaking your hand,’ So I said, ‘Why on earth do you want to do that for?’ ‘You killed Hitler. We didn't and we should have done.’ So that's how the Germans are treating it now.
CJ: So was that —
HS: So that, they had me away from there I, you know, went to visit them. The war was over. Oh, I ought to tell you hadn’t I. I was then sent to Stalag Luft 3 in Poland where I was there for a year and a quarter. I could go into detail but it just overdoes it a bit. I’m in the bottom of two beds. There was always one bed above the other and when I got to mine, twelve of us in one room with, with an oven in the middle for cooking food. Jolly nice blokes, all RAF officers. The Red Cross were wonderful. We got food and we got books and things. We were treated well. And I studied geology. And it was all very pleasant. The only thing I didn't like too much above me every morning I would see “Pilot Officer Buchanan, 17 Liberton Street, Glasgow. WC2.” And that was his name. And I said, ‘Why have you put your name on all of these boards?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘If you don't put your name on they'll pinch them for the tunnels. And they give you a string. Oh no. They're not having my boards.’ So, I know his name. Way after the war, years later, married. We were in Glasgow and with my wife I went to 17 Glasgow, Wimpole Street Glasgow WC2 and out came George. Wonderful. He was the chief librarian in Glasgow. Anyway, that was me there. And I'd been there fourteen, fifteen months; suddenly the Germans who were very elderly old boys, the guards, one was called Fingers because he'd only two fingers. They were, you know old crocks really, but they had a rifle and knew how to fire it. And suddenly there was an announcement, ‘Raus. Raus. You have two hours to go. The Russians are advancing. Anything you carry you can have but two hours no more here.’ So after two hours with food and one darling, I’ve got it upstairs, a darling little bible which was given to me when I was in Canada by a cousin who said, ‘You keep this, it will help you.’ On every bombing trip and every long dangerous trip of any sort, car or whatever, I’ve always taken this little bible. And I also take the whisky flask. So there are two things I’ve always remembered and are still with me. Anyway, we start marching and I have a great sense of humour. I turned to one of the guards and I said, ‘Is that rifle heavy?’ ‘Ja,’ he said, ‘Me carry it?’ I said. ‘No. Maybe later. But right now I think I carry it.’ [laughs] And we had to make our way a hundred miles to Berlin, but part of the journey we did on a train. But we got to a camp and in that camp it was horrific. There were thirty, I’ve got it on the screen to show, I think it was thirty-eight thousand prisoners on the outskirts of Berlin behind, behind two rows of barbed wire. No hope of getting out. I saw a pile of potatoes. A man went to take one and he was shot dead. So I thought, ‘Right. You're not having potatoes lad.’ So I just wondered what the devil are we going to do? There were Poles there, there were nationalities. There were French, British, Canadians all stuck in this huge camp on the other side of the river from Berlin. And then a Russian tank appeared and on it was a Russian woman machine gunner. She was on the top of it. The tank went through the barbed wire, went along the inside and out again and four hundred of us got out immediately, crossed the bridge and was in American hands. Two lunches, one after the other. When I’d finished my second lunch all by myself, where the others went I don't know, but I was there and one of the Americans said, ‘Say, what were you flying?’ So I said, ‘A Lancaster.’ ‘Oh. Would you like me to take you to the Lancs?’ So, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Get in the back of my van, chum. Got your two loaves of bread? ‘Yep.’ So in the back of that he drove down an autoroute onto an RAF station, said, ‘Say fellas, I’ve got one of your pilots here.’ They said, ‘Great. We're going back to England this afternoon. Would you like — ' I said , ‘Would I like?’ I was back in England that afternoon. Wasn't that fabulous? With nobody else, there were no other prisoners or anything [laughs] and I’ve often said if I can meet that German (Russian) machine gunner I would really like to appreciate what she did. She let us out. So there you are. That gets me home. Pictures of the village having celebratory meals. What do you do? You go to university because you hadn't gone before. So I went to Leeds University and to the first meeting there I went to the Freshers’ Ball and able for the first four months or so to wear my RAF uniform. But all the competitive males were in civvies aged eighteen. In walks the president with his lady friend and says, ‘You shouldn't be in here, you fellas. You're supposed to be in the ball dancing.’ So I said, ‘I will if I could dance with this young lady.’ And the young lady said, ‘That is not the idea. I am with the president.’ Who did I marry? Her. Took three years but working on it, Bobby White married me. Which was very nice. And she said, ‘Well, I’ve got my honours degree. I’m going to Downing Street.’ And she, we always used to joke in our family that we all suffered from BO — Bobby Organizing. She was a very positive lass. And down in Downing Street the head man there said, ‘I don't understand it, I thought we had some people from Poland.’ They said, ‘Oh yes. Yes. Oh, they've all been sent off to Bradford, I think it is.’ ‘Well, who sent them?’ ‘Oh, this young lady down below.’ And they, ‘Bloody hell. Call her up.’ He says, ‘I’m running this place, not you.’ Anyway, Bobby was down there for a year and she said, ‘When you get your degree I will then marry you.’ I failed the degree. So her parents said, ‘He's failed the degree. You don't need to marry him.’ ‘Oh no,’ she said, ‘I’m marrying a man. Not a piece of paper.’ So we did get married, and a year later having been married to Bobby with a son I then got my degree. It took a bit of doing but I got it. So there you are. That's the end of my story I think.
CJ: Well, what, what work did you do after the war?
HS: Oh, my brother was a civil engineer. My father was one. And it's a lovely career. I enjoyed it thoroughly. And just for a joke I say, ‘Well, I’ve wrecked a dam so I’ve built a dam. I’ve wrecked an oil refinery so I’ve built an oil refinery, you know. I’ve wrecked many houses and I built several hundred.’ But it's been a good life. My wife loved it as well, and when our children went to boarding school we travelled the world. And I couldn't recommend a better career. So there we are. That's it.
CJ: And how do you feel Bomber Command were treated after the war?
HS: Well, you didn't want to make a fuss. You were glad to be alive. Five of your crew were dead. But yes, they were the glamour boys. And we just had to say, ‘Oh well, if I'd been a Spitfire pilot I'd have been one of them.’ But we were, we kept quiet. And then somebody said, ‘Look, have you got a few hundred quid, old boy?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ So I said, ‘What would you like?’ They said, ‘Well, two hundred and fifty quid. Something.’ You know. Two. What was it? Two hundred and [pause] two thousand five hundred quid I think it was. I said, ‘Would that be okay?’ ‘Yes. We may be back for more. But if we can get all Bomber Command to give us that we can have our own monument. And we will have one.’ We got one and the Queen came to open it. So we said there we are, we've got one now. But we had to arrange our own. It's fair enough. They were the glamour boys. And I mean a lot of ours were killed too. It's just the way of life.
CJ: Can I just recap on your squadron? So, your first squadron where you did eighteen ops at Middleton St George was 419.
HS: Moose squadron. Yes. A Canadian Moose squadron.
CJ: Yeah. Okay. And which aircraft were you flying there?
HS: Oh, Halifaxes.
CJ: Halifaxes.
HS: Which I think you'd probably like me to say, I mean it was the only bomber I knew. I’d been in a Whitley and I’d been in a little trainer, the Airspeed Oxford. So, you know, the Halifax was okay but when I got onto the Lancaster it was lively. It was airborne. It was mobile. With the Halifax it was a tank. You got airborne, you drop your bomb and you come home. There we are. And then I went to another squadron which is also Canadian, and they were, the Canadians were very good. The only thing is on my fourth Pathfinder trip one of the things they did in the Air Force stations almost every night, they cut us off from the outside world by telephone at 6pm. They didn't just do it when we were bombing. They did it most nights so that the Germans didn't know what we were doing. If they only did it when they were bombing it would be useful. So 6pm couldn't ring home. And there was another night, 6pm, ‘Oh you’re wanted in the squadron room.’ You go in there. There are the rest of the air crew all with our leaders being told what we're doing. And, now what was it? The Australian who was the group captain, Don — Harris I think it was. Was it? I think it was that. Anyway, he was the officer commanding. The Australian Group Captain. Gordon Ramsay? Oh lord. This is bad for this isn't it? Let's say Donald Harrison. Hope for it. Anyway, he said, ‘Any questions?’ So, I said, ‘Yes. I’ve been on four trips and this is our fifth with Pathfinders and we go on the darkest of nights with no lights. Surely there's a risk of collision.’ ‘Oh yes. Yes. I expect to lose twenty of you out of a thousand but I can assure you if you had lights on I'd lose the whole bloody lot of you. Any other question?’ Yeah. I said, oh thanks a lot.
CJ: And did you have any adventures?
HS: Don Harris, I think it was. What?
CJ: Did you have any adventures with the Canadians on the squadron when you weren't on operations?
HS: Oh, you're talking about the car, aren't you? Yes. My darling mother. When I was in the Air Force, after I'd gone home on leave once, she said, ‘Darling, I can't get any fuel for our car’, and it's an Austin 7. It's BV 3252, “Barkis is willing”, I call it. ‘Would you like it, because in the Air Force you probably get some fuel.’ So I drove from Rhodes Minnis down in Kent all the way up, way up to Middleton St George. And the Canadians were thrilled when they saw it. They had never seen a car so small. I was in bed one night in the squadron, with the Halifaxes and they said, ‘Shack, I think you better come downstairs.’ Two o'clock in the morning. Past the lesser rank, into the main lounge. Mother's car was there dripping oil on the carpet. The wing commander was in the front seat pressing the horn which was damn nearly flat. An HP Sauce bottle in the radiator. A picture off the wall in the back seat and the squadron, in pairs all behind saying, ‘Tally ho.’ And I said, ‘Oh, great,’ I said, ‘You will put it back in the morning.’ ‘Oh yeah. We'll put it back in the morning.’ The following morning the group captain in charge of the squadron said, ‘Would that chap Shackleton come and see me.’ So, I went in. I said, ‘Flight Lieutenant Shackleton.’ So he said, ‘I take it you know there's a war on.’ So, I said, ‘Yes. I understand that.’ ‘Well, will you see that bloody Austin 7 is out of the hangar. It's getting far more attention than any of the Halifaxes. Out.’ ‘Sorry sir’. And that was that. But mother's car made us a very happy crew. We would go pub crawling when we weren’t bombing. It was a lovely present from her and we never damaged it. That's it I think.
CJ: Well, thank you very much for talking to us today.
HS: Blathering but isn't it a —

Citation

Chris Johnson, “Interview with Henry Leslie Shackleton,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 30, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11611.

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