Interview with Albert Smith


Interview with Albert Smith


Albert was born in Aberdeenshire. Before the war he worked as an apprentice in an engineering firm. In 1943 he volunteered for the Royal Air Force, trained at London, Bridlington and Newquay before going for mechanical and engineering training. His final training was at RAF St Athan where many different aircraft flew in for maintenance. He joined his crew, which was mainly Canadian, at RAF Lindholme and their first flight was in a Halifax Mk 1. From there Albert went to the Lancaster Finishing School and then joined 170 Squadron at RAF Hemswell and began operations, the first being to Nuremberg. Whilst there the crew sometimes went to the Saracen’s Head in Lincoln or to the Monks Arms, the local pub.
Albert remembers operations to Dessau and Magdeburg. On one operation shrapnel caught them, there was a big flash and the aircraft filled with smoke. A crew member bailed out and was taken as a prisoner of war. The last two operations were to Heligoland and Bremen, and the crew were also involved in Operation Manna. At one point, Albert was accused of selling aircraft fuel as a million gallons had gone missing, but he was not charged. After completing another mechanics course Albert went to Gibraltar. From there he returned home to be demobbed. After the war Albert finished his apprenticeship in engineering and became a fitter and turner, eventually working for ICI in Northwich. He married a girl he had met while at Hemswell. Albert didn’t keep in touch with the crew but remembered a Simpson (pilot), Pete Jenkins (bomb aimer), Wally Pyle (navigator) and Bob Hayes (rear gunner).




Temporal Coverage




00:31:07 audio recording


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ASmithA171018, PSmithA1701


SP: This is Suzanne Pescott and I’m interviewing Albert Smith today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We’re at Albert’s home and it is the 18th of October 2017. So first of all Albert thank you very much for agreeing to talk to me today.
AS: Fine. You’re welcome.
SP: So do you want to tell me a little bit about your time before the war? Before you joined the RAF.
AS: Well, of course you’re talking about my working life really. I started school. I joined the RAF. My working life before that really I left school, and I worked as an apprentice in an engineering firm. And when I, in 1943, ‘42/43 I volunteered for the aircrew. And I went to Edinburgh and I was finally accepted and I joined up in 1943.
SP: So where did you, once you joined up where did you go to then?
AS: The first place I went to for attestation was Edinburgh. And then after Edinburgh when I eventually got the call up papers to go I travelled down to London. Strange for me. All the way from Aberdeen where I was. That area where I was born in Aberdeenshire. I went to, for training and to get all my flu jabs, uniform, things like that and learn about a different life altogether. And then my first station was in Bridlington which was an ITW and then I started training. And then I finished up in Newquay, ITW. I carried on training, and the next bit of really mechanical and engineering training was at Weston Super Mare at a place called, that airfield there I just can’t quite bring to mind. Locking. That’s where I did the first training and then of course from there I went to St Athan and that’s where I finished my engineering course. And from there I was then posted to Lindholme in Yorkshire which is a training course in the first aircraft that I flew in was in a Halifax 1 which in fact had the Merlin engines of course. And then from there I went to the Lancaster Finishing School. That at Lindholme where I joined the crew. Most were Canadian. The skipper was American but he was in the Canadian Air Force. The only other UK guy was a wireless operator and me and the rest were from North America. And then from the Lancaster Finishing School we joined the squadron, 170 at Hemswell and I stayed there throughout, until the end of the war. Well, right to the very end. After the end of that I, we had an option of signing on or staying and going getting discharged like. But of course being late my demob wasn’t due for quite some time yet. So, I finished up, went down to, did a mechanics course and finished up in Gibraltar. I was there for a year. I was in charge of a petrol installation there at the back of the Rock of Gibraltar and it’s from there that I came home and that’s when I got demobbed.
SP: So just going back over that you were based at Bridlington to start with. What was life like in Bridlington at that time?
AS: Well, life. Really, I can’t remember anything what life was like because we wasn’t, obviously it was council houses that had been taken over by the Air Force I suppose. But to me it was completely new. A different life altogether, because again it was the same for all the other people because there were so many different dialects there and of course I had mine at the time. So it was very exciting for me and I was very, very happy about it. It was like a new adventure because I was only a youngster then of course.
SP: So what would a typical day in Bridlington be like for you during your training?
AS: I didn’t see much of it. I went to course and then we did a lot of physical training. PT is think is more to make your fit really. That’s what it was for there. Did a lot of drill and stuff like that. It was not until I went to Locking that I went to the engineering side. It was different stages. They assess you as you go along and then whether you go on. If you don’t go on you go off for a bit. Then you come back. But eventually I managed to carry on and finish a course at St Athan like I said.
SP: So what was it like at St Athan? What did you do there?
AS: St Athan was to me was really an eye opener, because that was, it’s quite a big camp. For me to be a country kind of guy. Naïve. Very naïve of course as were many others. And that’s when you got, really get involved in the aircraft because alongside the engineering training for engineers there was an airfield and that was also a maintenance unit and there were all sorts of aircraft flying in and out for maintenance. And so I was, ‘Oh, look at that,’ and, ‘Oh, look at that.’ And that’s the first time I saw a Lancaster flying. I said, ‘Oh, isn’t that great?’ I didn’t realise I’d land up being an engineer on one. But that was quite an experience to see it and also all the other aircraft was going in and out of maintenance because a lot of the training was outside in different bits of aircraft as you went through the course. So that was quite an education for me.
SP: I notice you talked about crewing up. Where was it you crewed up?
AS: Well, I did crewing up came at Lindholme. When I was at RAF Lindholme because these people had been training in Wellingtons. Twin engine aircraft. And also for them it was quite new because they were from twin engine to four engine I suppose. Of course, they were all experienced and there was I quite young and so naïve you know. Anyway, they took me under their arms, and they were very good and of course you were really tied up with your training and things like that because don’t see much about the countryside. You don’t go touring and visiting and that. You were tied up with all the training and things like that. Well, there was one occasion that the skipper, he said to me, took me to where we do our changing room and he put it on the mic he said, ‘For God here, now read some poetry to me,’ because, he says if I get excited and go back in to my blinking brogue. So I educated my English a bit because they were all from North America you see. It was difficult for them. That was a little experience. I’ve still got the accent of course. But that was an occasion. Yeah. And then we went on. From there we went to Lancaster Finishing School. And that was quite short actually because I think I was very lucky. He was an exceptional pilot, this captain. His name was Simpson. Warren Simpson. He was very good and they all made me very welcome. So the crew really got together and I thought it was very nice. Something new for me of course. And then from there we went to Hemswell for the 170 Squadron. That’s when I started going on the operations. And from then on, then on —
SP: So, at Hemswell obviously you did your first op. Are there any particular operations that stood out in your mind that —
AS: Oh, well I had a few. We had, well, the first action ones they put us on daylights for, the first one was I think over Nuremberg and I knew nothing about it because the flight engineer was the only that was kind of free you know. I’m not sitting in a seat. And then this target was Nuremberg. And then there was a shout from the rear gunner, ‘Corkscrew go.’ That was a fighter evasive action. Of course all my stuff was all over the place while he was doing his twists and turns and ups and down. But I never saw any fighter action anyway. As it happened we lost him. They lost him so that was good. We didn’t have any more trouble after that. There’s only one really. First thing that was quite lucky on it was we were going to a target called Dessau and we were flying towards the target and then flying heading for Magdeburg. That’s where we were. There was a terrific amount of flak and the skipper, and then we got hit by shrapnel. And what happened was a piece of shrapnel had gone through the aircraft and hit. The bomb load was a cookie. A four thousand pounder was surrounded by incendiaries. And the shrapnel hit one of the incendiary boxes and exploded and blew a little hole in the — a lot of the thing I’m telling now is after because I didn’t know what had happened at the time. Neither did any of us, you see. And a big flash, and this aircraft was completely full of smoke and the captain said, ‘Prepare to abandon aircraft.’ Straightaway you see. However, when, then the smoke went away and then a searchlight came on us. Now, that was quite an experience. You can’t see a damned thing. You’re trying to course through and for some reason or other they switched the light off. The searchlight off. So we flew on and then the damage was what we knew then it had hit the hydraulics and the bomb doors had opened, or to, fell down. You know. So then, what we did then the skipper, well the bomb aimer jettisoned all the bombs and of course it was also the thing was will we make it back with the bomb doors open? Things like that. And the thing was they decided to go to Manston which was an emergency ‘drome. So we made it alright and there’s a special system they have in the aircraft. It’s a pneumatic system. It takes over from the hydraulics and it operates, as far as I remember right, it’s going back a bit like, it takes over the undercarriage and flaps so you can operate the flaps and thing like that. It hadn’t damaged the ailerons or anything like that. It was just a little, well fairly small on the side of the aircraft just behind the operator on the port side. As it happened so we managed to get to Manston and then of course the wireless operator was also, it affected the radio. The radio wasn’t working either see. So I was using the verey lights to indicate. The special lights you put up to show who you are and as we were coming down what they called the funnels there we had, it was quite a scene. It was daylight then. The fire engines were coming down. All waiting for us to land. As it happened for us luckily this pneumatic system worked and operated the undercarriage and also the flaps so really it was quite a normal landing but we didn’t know it was going to be like that. When all the rest of the crew are behind, behind the rest bed in case we had to crash land but it was a perfect landing. And that was it. So we got there. Well, I was a little, well I think it was quite a pleasant experience. They didn’t come and fly us back to Hemswell. Again, I forget the name of the people who do this by train. So I come by train from Manston – Lincoln, so they were arranging carriages. And we got into one of the London stations. I could imagine what they were thinking because there was a crew with blinking parachutes and all sorts, you know sitting there. And there’s this old dear was sitting there, ‘What did happen?’ I was, ‘Oh, we had a bit of a trouble,’ I said, ‘We had to do an emergency landing.’ Things like that. Bomber Command. Yeah. She disappeared. And then we was put in our own compartment. And this dear came along and knocked at the window. So we opened the little window. She hands up her chocolate ration. Bars of chocolate. That was nice of her wasn’t it? That was just a little thing you treasure in your mind. Anyhow, we got back so continuing flying ops until the end of the war. That’s it.
SP: So, how many ops did you actually do, Albert?
AS: I think somewhere about twenty.
SP: Twenty. And your actual plane. Obviously you landed at Manston. How did the, how did the Lancaster get back to, to base?
AS: No idea.
SP: No.
AS: Service people took that over. We got another aircraft.
SP: So you didn’t fly that particular aircraft again.
AS: No. We didn’t.
SP: No.
AS: It was M-Mike as it happened.
SP: M-Mike.
AS: Was the name of the aircraft that got damaged and then we flew on what you call L-Love after that.
[recording paused]
SP: So, Albert you were talking about your, when you had to land at Manston and the aeroplane filling with smoke. Do you want to tell me any more about what happened after the plane was filled with smoke while you were in the air?
AS: Well, there is one thing which is which I haven’t mentioned. The fact was after the smoke went then we got caught in the searchlights and thank goodness they switched it off after two or three minutes which was a big relief. We managed to fly. It was straight and level. The only thing was that the bomb doors wouldn’t shut. The hydraulics had been attacked. So then I went back to the rear of the, to look at the aircraft for damage and as I was going back that’s when I noticed the back door was open. And that’s when I found out the rear gunner had in fact taken the skipper’s information to bale out. He said prepare. He didn’t say to bale out. But of course he’s at the back end of the aircraft. He gets all the blinking smoke I suppose. Well, he’d baled out and he’d baled out over Magdeburg somewhere. So that’s after that we managed to make our way back to Manston Airport.
SP: And do you know what happened to the rear gunner?
AS: Yes. I saw him. He was a prisoner of war. He was a sergeant, a flight sergeant and when he came back off prisoner of war he come to see us at Hemswell and he got a commission as a pilot officer. And as a matter of fact he lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and I was in Toronto, Canada. Oh, I’m talking my working life now doing a job. So the other Lancaster I found out was there so I went to visit him one weekend and the rear gunner lived there and I spent two or three nights with him. And they’ve got a nice museum down there and the Lancaster was being serviced. So that was an occasion. So that’s the only one I saw after the war.
SP: You didn’t keep in touch with any of the rest of the crew.
AS: No. No. And that’s it. I suppose they’ve all gone now.
SP: Can you remember the names of the crew and the —
AS: Oh, yes.
SP: Who was your pilot?
AS: Well, I kept. His name was Simpson. He finished up as Flight Lieutenant Simpson. And the bomb aimer was P [Jeakins], also the Canadian Air Force. Wally Pile, he was the navigator. He was also a Canadian. And the rear gunner was Bob Hayes. The one who lived in Hamilton. And I’m trying to remember the name of the mid-upper. I can’t remember his name off hand. No. But that’s briefly what it is.
SP: Yeah. So you then had to get a new rear gunner when you came back to base.
AS: Yes. A British guy. Again, I can’t remember his name but, I don’t know. It wouldn’t be in here.
SP: So how did, how did you go about building him into the crew? How did that happen?
AS: Well, the rear gunner was there. Actually he had suffered some burns. He was actually flying in Stirlings and he was, he was posted to replace the mid-upper. Sorry, the tail gunner. The name nearly came to me. And he joined. Well, he was a little bit older than me but still young so we joined together quite well. We went out quite a lot.
SP: Where did you go? You say you went out quite a lot.
AS: Well, the only place was Lincoln and you used to catch a bus. The Scunthorpe, the Scunthorpe bus used to go by the end, end of the camp. And if you missed it that was a long walk home. It’s a long walk home. But after that of course most of the crew went to a pub. A local pub called the, called the Monk’s Arms at Caenby Corner. So that’s where I spent most the time but of course you wasn’t, you wasn’t supposed to drink if you were going on ops or anything like that you know. But actually the time seemed to fly by. I was tied up doing something, doing the like checks and things like that.
SP: And what, what would, where would you go in Lincoln?
AS: Saracens Head it was called I think. I think it’s gone now. Saracen’s Head. And that’s where a lot of the crews met other people who had been training, through their training, and a lot of them come together. Yes. That’s right. Saracen’s Head. It’s just come to me there. That was in Lincoln. By the Bow. Up near the Bow in Lincoln. I think that’s it.
SP: Yeah. What about you say it was a long walk home but from talking about that it sounds like you had to do that.
AS: Once I had to. I missed the bus. I think I had to walk and I got towards almost Scampton and then I got a lift from there up to Ingham and I walked the rest from there. Quite a long walk that was. And I had to sneak in to camp past the guardroom [laughs] But as it happened I didn’t get, I didn’t miss anything. But that’s youth I suppose. No. I’ve nothing else really.
SP: You also talked about going to Heligoland in your logbook.
AS: Oh well. The question on the last two ops was quite interesting it was the second last one was the one to Heligoland. As far as I remember it was a mass attack on the submarine pens. It was a lovely, lovely clear day. Then there was also Halifaxes flying around. This Halifax had got caught, sent down and the crew baled out. And clear as day we could see them floating down in their parachutes and they landed right in the harbour where all the bombs were dropping. And I remember seeing, well we saw this that they’d gone out with a boat to pick up these airmen who had landed in the drink. So that was very good of them really. That was it. And then the final raid I was on was on Bremen. We went to Bremen and then just before we reached the target it was called off. We had to come back because British troops had gone ahead and they were, they were also in Bremen so that’s the only time we brought the bombs back.
SP: So, did you bring the bombs back to base or did you have to jettison them?
AS: Yeah. Back to base. Yeah.
SP: Right. How was it landing with all the bomb load on?
AS: Well, careful. Careful. Well, I didn’t. Well, I was only the engineer. I wasn’t the skipper. The thing was that was the decision as far as I remember anyway. But you’ll have to excuse me. My memory isn’t as good as it was.
SP: And what was the date of that last raid?
AS: The last raid on Bremen was, that was the actual operation against the enemy was the 22nd of the 4th ‘45 of course. And then of course there was the, we did the involvement in the Manna supply dropping which was in the Rotterdam. As far as I remember I think it was a racecourse. Oh, aye this was also quite interesting. Well, I heard we didn’t get, we didn’t get permission. We had to fly at two hundred feet. Had to be low and of course I think the skipper enjoyed that and we was flying along after dropping bombs and then people were up on their rooves. They were, because they be a hundred feet up and they were waving to us so we gave them a wave back. That was a nice, nice feeling that was. That was in Rotterdam. We was flying past at two hundred feet and then off we went. So that was a little experience wasn’t it? Oh, they must have had a rough time, the Dutch people because their fields were all flooded you know. Shame. But there we are. I didn’t know all the facts then. I’ve learned a lot of facts since then from television but I was quite happy and of course I think I’m very lucky. A lucky, lucky man.
SP: Yeah.
AS: That’s about it I think.
SP: So obviously you finished all your operations and you were involved in Manna. And then you said you went to Gibraltar was it?
AS: Well, there was a choice. If you signed on for aircrew you could stay in aircrew but I wanted to finish my engineering studies. So I went on a flight mechanics course. I can’t remember the name of it down in England. And anyway, I finished that course and I got posted to Gibraltar. Of course, there was a lot of surplus aircrew then doing all sorts of different jobs. And then I was posted to Gibraltar. And in the, after Gibraltar we’d got the fuel tanks at the back of Gibraltar in a place called Catalan Bay and they put me in charge of that because their previous sergeant had to go, or demobbed or something. So I finished my time. Well, I might as well tell you about this little bit as well. I finished my time on the, on the petrol installation. Three tanks were high octane fuel and there was one seventy five octane which was for motor, motor transport and things like that. So I was quite happily finishing on there and I was ready for my demob. And usually they flew us home but one day I was, a policeman came up into my hut. Military police I’m talking about. He started with money. Of course these tanks were built twenty years ago for only for ten years and the tops of the fuel tanks were rotten. Full of holes. And you could actually see the vapour from the fuel coming out the tanks on certain days. But in the meantime there was a corporal come out to the stores and he’d been checking over the petrol supplies over the years and things like that and they found over a million gallons of petrol missing. Well, at the time I knew where it was going because we were losing about a thousand gallons a week. But he didn’t know that and they thought, the policeman actually thought I was selling it. You can imagine me. So I was put in open arrest. I was ready for my demob so I was under court martial so I had to go to a bit of an enquiry with a court or something run by a wing commander and other people and police support and I thought oh blimey. A million gallons. So, anyway I explained. I think where it was going so they went, the wing commander was very good. He went back over the years and he’s checking checking, checking, checking, checking, and they must have got it down to almost the last few gallons of petrol. So I was cleared there. So they said, ‘Oh, but Mr Smith. Also on your side there was a fire engine with wheels on.’ Somebody had nicked them so they thought I’d sold them as well. What a start that was. A finish to my RAF career. That was nice wasn’t it? So then the wing commander said, ‘Well, Mr Smith. Ok. We’ve got, there’s no, there’ll be more charges. As regards the wheels we’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.’ What the Spaniards did they used to come around the boat, come in the boat at night and pilfer things. Not only from mine. And they pinched the wheels. And we had two dogs there that didn’t do anything about it. So then they shipped me on to the blinking fast troop ship that was coming from the Far East. It was the SS Mooltan and I came back home, sick as a dog in the Bay of Biscay. And then when I came into Southampton I had the wonderful sight of the two Queens. The Queen Mary and the other Queen. And then we docked there and then I went for my demob. Here endeth the rest. How’s that?
SP: Right. Yeah. That’s great. And there’s some really interesting stories there. So just talking about you on the boat it would be interesting to hear what life was like on the boat. I know you said you weren’t well but were there a lot of crew coming back from India and the Far East on it?
AS: Oh, there was loads and loads of people from the Far East. Oh yes, of course there were. And I think I was, I was put in a bunk right at the bottom of the ship and had fish for breakfast. Of course I wasn’t the only one that was seasick with there. That was suffered but other people were really bad. However, part of life.
SP: So obviously you got demobbed and then what did you do? What job did you go into when you’d finished?
AS: I went back to finish my apprenticeship in engineering. It was called a fitter and turner. So I finished up there. Finished my time of course. I got married in the meantime and I stayed with my mother. My wife, I met her whilst I was at Hemswell. She come from a village called Spridlington. And then she, we got married and then eventually I finished up a job in Northwich in Cheshire with the ICI company. And the thing was after a while if you were accepted you got a council house which was something then in them days. And I stayed in Northwich ever since and here I am today.
SP: Ok.
AS: And that’s it.
SP: Anything else you want to add?
AS: No.
SP: Do you think you have everything there? Yeah.
AS: I don’t.
SP: Ok. Well, I’d really like to thank you Albert for taking the time to carry out the interview today on behalf of the International Bomber Command Archives. So, thank you very much for your time.
AS: Oh, thank you. You’re more than welcome. If I can help you at any time just say so.



Susanne Pescott, “Interview with Albert Smith,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 24, 2024,

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