Interview with Arthur Peter Smith


Interview with Arthur Peter Smith


Peter Smith was born in Kent and attended school until he was 14. He started working for a woodwork shop and when the war began, they started building army huts. In 1941 he joined the Air Cadets. He recalls how one Sunday he and a friend saw an aerial dogfight which they watched for two hours. They heard and saw spent ammunition landing on the ground close to them.

In 1942 he attended his RAF medical and was given deferred service. He was called up in March 1943 and attended various training courses to become a rear air gunner. Posted to RAF Lichfield he formed up with his mainly Canadian crew before moving on to an Operational Training Unit flying Whitley’s. At a Heavy Conversion Unit his crew moved to Halifax’s and finally Lancasters. In November 1943 they were posted to RAF Ludford Magna with 101 Squadron. Their first operation took place on 27th January 1944 to Berlin. Peter lists the German towns he was sent to on operations, including Nuremberg in March when the squadron lost seven aircraft. His thirtieth operation was against large guns at Calais. Normally the end of a tour, they were asked to carry out a special duties' operation on the night of 5th June 1944. They flew back and forth between Dover and Paris dropping Window, foil strips, out of the aircraft. It was not until they returned to the station that they were told it was part of the invasion of Europe.

He describes what he did in his spare time and the preparation for operations. Over the thirty-one operations he flew, Peter says that he never had to fire his guns even though he did see some night fighters. Only on one occasion did their aircraft have trouble, when one engine stopped working and there was no power to his rear turret. He describes the various roles he had after completing his tour until he was demobbed in January 1947.







01:12:33 audio recording


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ASmithAP180103, PSmithAP1801


CJ: This is Chris Johnson and I’m interviewing Arthur P Smith who is usually known as Peter today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We’re at Peter’s home in Kent and it is Wednesday the 3rd of January 2018. So thank you, Peter for agreeing to talk to me today. Perhaps to start the interview you could tell us about your background. Where and when you were born and what your family background was.
PS: Yes. Right. I was born at Wateringbury just outside of Maidstone and my mother and younger sister were working on a farm I’m afraid but that was the way it was in those days. And I stayed there at school at Nettlestead and Wateringbury until I was nine. And then we moved to Paddock Wood where my mother had two sisters because my mother had about nine or ten sisters altogether. So we were all trying to get roughly together. And I went to Paddock Wood School from nine until I was fourteen which was the time in those days practically everybody left school. Boys and girls. And when I was fourteen, in Paddock Wood they had a wood work shop where lots of younger boys could learn woodwork which was quite a good thing in those days and we carried on doing that for two or three years. Then the war started I’m afraid, and you would not believe it but we started making army huts. And I’ve never seen so many army huts in all my life which were going all over England. So of course they were calling up, all the boys for service life and they had to have somewhere to live which was, that was where our army huts were going. And we carried on doing that as, all the time I was there. So then in 19 — the beginning of ’41 a friend of mine, we decided to join the Air Cadets but we had to go to Tunbridge Wells which was a fair cycle ride during the blackout in those days. So we had to go on a Sunday and one day in the week. So, but in the middle of June to July we happened to be going on a Sunday lunchtime and all of a sudden there was a, well it was a dogfight between Germans and English right over our heads at a place called Matfield. I shall never forget it because we sat on the side of the road for about two hours listening to the Battle of Britain and we couldn’t believe it. All of a sudden there were horrible chink chink clink clink and a pile of ammunition hit the road which luckily didn’t hit us so we did worry too much about it. But that went on for sort of two or three hours then. We just sat there until it finished. But in 1941 we, we joined in those days was the Air Defence Cadet Corps. But in 1941 they started the new ATC which a new squadron started at Tonbridge. So we could go there by train so we didn’t have to cycle to Tunbridge Wells anymore. So I joined that and because I’d been in the Air Cadets for quite a long time I found myself being a sergeant very soon. It was only for mostly drill and that sort of thing. So, and then I stayed there ‘til March. March ’43. But in the meantime in the middle of ’42 I’d had a medical but they said because at the moment we haven’t got room for training we’ll put you on deferred service which they gave you a little silver badge which you wore but two people still kept asking, ‘Why aren’t you in the service?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m waiting to go,’ so which I did in March ’43. So, as most people know when you joined aircrew in London it’s so many things to do. Medicals. What you know? Do you know? What you’ve got to know. And we had two weeks in London and then I went to Bridlington for six weeks doing all sorts of training. Aircraft recognition, Morse Code and drill and how to take a gun to bits and put it together and all that sort of thing. And then I think I think I had a weeks’ leave from that and then I went up to Bridgenorth for another six weeks training which was a bit more advanced than what we’d already been doing. And then I finished that six weeks and then they decided that they had a new Air Gunnery School at Dalcross, just outside of Inverness. So I ended up there for another six weeks where I did my six weeks air gunner’s course. So when it ended up, it was a beautiful summer that year and I remember we used to go out flying and the weather was so lovely I don’t think ever once did we have to cancel anything because the weather was beautiful. And all in all by the time we finished I went from an AC2 joining the Air Force to four and a half months and I was a sergeant air gunner, and most people couldn’t believe it because I had a job to believe it as well. But, and then we came home, had some more leave and then I went up to Lichfield which, I think is in Lincolnshire. And I just couldn’t believe it because we went at this, you know and there was about four or five hundred different air crew. Pilots, navigators, wireless ops, bomb aimers. Everything. And everybody was just wandering around smoking, chin wagging, coffee when you could find one. And then I was standing over at a tree looking out over the woods and these two Canadians came over. A pilot and navigator, and they came over, started chatting and the pilot said, ‘Hey mate,’ something like that, because he didn’t know my name, ‘Would you like to fly with me? Or my navigator, and we’ve got a bombardier over there so that’s three Canadians. Would you like to fly with us?’ So I didn’t know any better so I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll fly with you.’ ‘Ok,’ he says, gave him my name and everything and they took it down and went over and saw, there was a couple off officers sitting at this table writing everything down. And then they said, ‘Oh, well, come and we’ll introduce you to the wireless operator.’ And then that, at the moment was all our crew which was five. Just the navigator, pilot and bomb aimer, wireless op and me, the other gunner. And then they said, ‘Right. All get in a lorry,’ and went to a little sort of well it’s just a little aerodrome called Sleap which was the OTU where we started to learn all our air [pause] I don’t know what you’d call it. Instruction I suppose. And we were flying Whitleys and the pilot said, ‘Well, I like them,’ because they’d got two nice, I believe, Merlin engines I think. I think, but and they had a rear gun. And we did where the pilot and I, I can’t remember how many circuits and landings we did but I know we kept on for about a week. Circuits and landings about ten times a day for a week and then we started doing sort of small cross countries for about probably an hour. Then we kept doing that and then we started doing bombing trips as well so the bomb aimer could get some time in and the wireless operator. We all did sort of different jobs just to get more, well so we knew what we were doing. And then we did that. We was there for about six or seven weeks. And they found out that we got so many crews they didn’t know where to put them. So I think I remember we went home for about two weeks again. Then we went back. We went back to the same OTU for a week. And then they decided to send us to a Heavy Conversion Unit which was a Halifax and the pilot said he was a bit annoyed about that because he didn’t want to fly on a Halifax. He wanted Lancs. And so we did four or five weeks in this Halifax. Mostly circuits and landings again for about a week. And then we started doing more bombing trips, and trips for the wireless operator and a lot of more cross countries but all our flying was over England. And we did, oh quite a few cross countries and then I can’t actually remember the time but I think it must have been sort of October perhaps something like that. Maybe November. But then we got another week’s leave because we got so many crews lined up we didn’t know what to do with them. So we had another week and then we went back to [pause] Oh God, I can’t remember. No. It wasn’t Coningsby. No. I can’t remember the name but we went back to another Conversion Unit which was a Lancaster Finishing School which made the pilot happy. So we got back to there. I think it was somewhere around about the beginning of November which we started doing cross countries, bombing trips for about four or five weeks. And then we had another weeks holiday and then we ended up back at, or back at Ludford Magna which we didn’t know was a bomber station in those days because it hadn’t been going, only I think since about the middle of July and we went there just before Christmas ’43. Then we did another few cross countries, bombing trips, all in training. And then they said to my pilot, ‘You’re going on a second dickie tonight.’ So, I don’t know if you know but Canadians had a Commissioner in London. So if you didn’t agree with some things you used to go and see the Commissioner and they would sort it out you hoped. Anyway, my pilot said, ‘I’m not going.’ And he wouldn’t go because, you don’t probably know but quite often if that pilot went on a trip with a operational crew it was always surprising the number of pilots went missing. And the crew were left at home with no pilot. So that crew either had to get another pilot or start training again. So anyway my pilot said, ‘I’m not going,’ which he didn’t go. So about two or three nights later they said, ‘Right. You don’t want to go on a cross country. You can go on a raid.’ So that’s the 27th of January we went to nine hours to Berlin. And we’d never been out of the country before and that was the first trip. They said, ‘You’ll be alright. You can have a rest tomorrow night.’ Of course we didn’t. We just were just sort of thinking about getting up when we got called in. ‘You’re going to Berlin again tonight.’ So, which we did. And then we had a weeks’ leave from there. And then we came back. Then I think, I think we did another Berlin. I think we did about three in a row and then we started doing Schweinfurt, all the —
[recording paused]
CJ: So you’ve got your list there.
PS: Yeah.
CJ: Of the raids you went on.
PS: Yeah. Yes. Well, I have a list here of all the raids we did. And we did the first three were Berlin. And then Leipzig, Stuttgart, Schweinfurt, Augsburg, two more Stuttgarts and then two to Frankfurt. And then we did a fourth Berlin. That was middle of March. And then Essen. And then we went to that horrible Nuremberg where we had the worst night of the war as far as Bomber Command went because we lost ninety six aeroplanes of just Bomber Command. And we lost seven aeroplanes from Ludford Magna which was, the old sergeant’s mess was a bit quiet on the next morning, 30th of March. I’ll never forget that one. And then after that we started doing a few to France. Another one called [unclear] Aachen, and then we went to Cologne. Dusseldorf. Karlsruhe. Another one to Schweinfurt and [unclear] Hasselt, Cologne, Duisburg, Dortmund and two to Aachen which was back in Germany. Then we did two in France. A place called Trappes. And then on the thirtieth of, our thirtieth trip we went to do the big guns at Calais which was quite a nice trip. Only just over three hours. We were home, back to bed in four hours. Lovely. And then the next night we thought well we’ve finished our thirty. That’s us finished. But they, after that which was the 5th of June they said, ‘You haven’t finished yet because you’ve got one more. Everybody.’ And that was a special duty operation which we thought well what special duty? So this night, the only night we didn’t carry any bombs but all the aircraft were filled with Window which was a type of paper which was used to interrupt or stop the German radio from working properly. But so we spent all night going from Dover to Paris dropping this Window all night which, well it wasn’t quite all night, it was only six and a half hours but, but all two squadrons were just going backwards and forwards all night dropping this Window. Then when we decided to go home we couldn’t think, we got the other side of London and we saw sort of hundreds of aeroplanes all going the other way. Going towards France. So we didn’t quite figure it out until we got back and landed and then they told us that the, all the troops and everything had gone across the Channel and were invading France. We didn’t see anything ‘til we got home which was, well we thought it was quite good. But in that time I was at Ludford Magna we lost seven hundred and thirty nine aircraft from the time we were landed. And we lost five thousand two hundred airmen in our time.
CJ: Yeah. And did you talk about that much on the base or was it something you just —
PS: Oh, you didn’t talk about it at all. No. You just [pause] well we were lucky in one way because we had six NCOs. Only one officer. Only the pilot was the officer. And we were lucky in another way that we had a small hut. Just us six. So it was just us. Well, and as I say the pilot used to spend most of his time with us and just go home to bed. You know, eat or drink sort of thing. But other than that we sort of lived in that hut on our own you know. Yeah.
CJ: So, how did you pass your time on the base when you weren’t on ops?
PS: Well, I used to play a lot of badminton. I know I couldn’t play all day but and they took, we took over one of the hangars, or we had two badminton courts painted on the floor sort of thing, you know. And there was four, five, six of us who quite often played badminton. And I I got my bicycle there as well and quite often, well quite often but maybe once or twice a week I used to cycle out for the day, you know or to [pause] I can’t remember the name of the village now but we went to, you know riding around just for something to do. There was two or three of us used to cycle around because it was alright cycling in those days because you didn’t see only about four, four cars a day because they just wasn’t about which was quite nice. And there was plenty of places to cycle and quite little tea shops. All, even in war time there was little tea shops around. So all in all with badminton and cycling we didn’t do too bad. And the navigator and I always, if possible we went to church on Sunday morning. And we were the only two in our crew. But we thought that was quite nice. We thoroughly, we really enjoyed it, but on a Sunday morning and there used to be always quite a few local people there. A very good church service.
CJ: So when you were going on a raid, on ops how were you told and how did you prepare for it?
PS: What happened? What happened? Even though, if we’d been on a raid the night before we didn’t used to get up until lunchtime. So we’d always go to lunch but normally if you got up for breakfast there’d be a notice on the board, “Meeting at 10 o’clock,” which everybody had to go to. Every flyer had to go to. And you would see around about there’d be policemen around about making sure that odd people can’t get in anywhere. And then you’d all go to the crew room and the CO and that would walk in and mention ops tonight. And then he’d say, ‘Make sure you have your meals and everything,’ And there’d be another meeting at probably three hours before you went on a trip. So you went to the meeting and the navigation people and the bloke in charge of the weather.
CJ: Meteorologist.
PS: Yeah. And he would tell you what the weather was going to be like. Possible to where you were going. And there would be a big notice across the top of the board where you were going which used to make you wake up a bit. And they’d tell you all the different places roughly where you’d go over or around and then they’d tell you what bomb load you’d got and what petrol load you’d got, because if you were only going sort of the middle of France or the entrance to Germany you never took a full bomb load which was twenty one thousand two hundred and fifty four petrol. Which quite often you didn’t take a full bomb load. And then you would, about two hours before you went you could go and have supper which was always egg and chips for supper. Every time. Same old thing. Egg and chips. And then quite, that’s it. You’d get a lift on a lorry to take you to the crew room. Then, being the gunners, the two gunners we had to wear more cold weather suits than anybody else because the front five of the crew were, being up in the front of the aircraft they got hot air from two of the engines which we didn’t have in the two turrets. But just before I went there they’d arranged to have electrically heated flying suits, or a suit you wore under your outer suit which had wire to your arms and legs and you had slippers on which were electrically heated and gloves and your body waist coat. But you never had nothing around your legs. Only the wire that went to your feet. By the time you’d got all your gear on, four pairs of socks, I’d got a nice pair of silk stockings and ordinary shoes and a great big pair of flying socks as well. By the time you’d got them on you had a job to walk. And the suit was a great big suit that you wore over the top of everything. And I always used to wear a silk scarf because I always sort of felt I, my head was always cold. But I never felt cold in my hands and feet which was a good thing. But then one night we, we’d come halfway back and you found the oxygen wasn’t working. So we managed to get the oxygen bottles and stick them on but my ears really froze so bad that the lobes were frozen more or less for about a week before they came back into real circulation which I, which I didn’t fancy very much. But then another night we came all the way back from Berlin with no rear turret because the outer port engine used to work the rear turret which of course the engine didn’t worked. The only time we had ever had anything go wrong was that one engine when I couldn’t use the turret. Other than that we had thirty one trips with nothing really went wrong. Absolutely superb aeroplane. And I always think we had a really good pilot which I’ll show you what he did in a minute. But, and other than that I don’t think we never got attacked once. Saw quite a few fighters but we were told unless they actually attacked don’t let them know where you are. You want to come back. So I never fired my guns once at all. Only just to test them sort of thing. Never fired them at anything. But quite often over the target, because when you looked over the target it was like a beautiful big bonfire which it was, and you could see lots of fighters criss-crossing the raid and quite a few Lancaster’s as well but what I was more frightened about than anything was running into another aeroplane. A Lancaster. I wasn’t worried about anything else because unless you sort of have been there and seen the number of aircraft that you’re all flying the same way. I mean sometimes we were having eight hundred more aeroplanes all going the same way and all being over the target within sort of thirty, forty, fifty minutes. Which is a lot of aeroplanes going the one way and, but luckily enough I mean quite often you’d see a great big bang where you know two aeroplanes have collided. I mean you saw more of that than you see of anything going wrong really. That was more frightening than anything else because I just didn’t fancy, well I didn’t fancy falling out the aircraft where you don’t know where you’re going. So there again we were so lucky. Yeah.
CJ: So what would your responsibilities have been as the rear gunner then if you were attacked?
PS: Well, if you were attacked well it all depends. They used to sort of, they didn’t sort of come down they always came up under your back side. And it was a thing to keep your eyes open sort of level down because if a fighter was coming up he was probably coming up from the darkness wasn’t he? And you’ve got to try and see him before he sees you. But, and if he did it’s your, to attack and tell the pilot what to do. I mean if they sort of come around to the left you’d want to go to the left. You’d tell the pilot, ‘Corkscrew left,’ you know, sort of thing as quick as possible. Or right or whatever and just well just hope for the best every time. But as I say we were just so lucky that it didn’t happen. But as I say we, we were never attacked once and everything all those trips over to Germany but just well you think there’s thirty there and we was never attacked once. You can’t be much more lucky than that can you? I don’t think you can anyway.
CJ: So, what happened to you and your crew when you’d done your thirty first op?
PS: Well, we had two or three days together and then we all had, I can’t remember, I think we had about a fortnight’s holiday. We went, I can’t remember where we went back to but I went back to —
[pause – pages turning]
CJ: So you went back to where?
PS: Yeah. So when I finished there I went back to 27 OTU Lichfield which was another trainee OTU for trainee aircrew which was Wellingtons. And I was there for well, where are we? [pause] I was there, I was there for three months and then they eight or nine aircrew they came in one morning and said, ‘You’re all going to learn to drive. You’re going to Blackpool.’ So we said, ‘Oh lovely. That’s alright.’ But one or two of the blokes could drive anyway but then we all went anyway. But in the end ended up ten of us went to Blackpool to learn to drive. Because I didn’t know how to do it but two or three had already driven. But in there we used to go down the, where all the lorries and things were about 8 o’clock in the morning. And then we’d have perhaps two hours being told all what makes a lorry and car go, and all how to repair it. How to take a wheel off. Everything. Everything about a car. But we had like two hours every day and then we’d go and have two hours driving around the aerodrome. Well, it wasn’t an aerodrome. It was a driving school. We’d have two hours driving round and then after lunch we’d have another two hours learning how to put the lorry together. Then in the afternoon we’d have another two hours driving through Blackpool. There weren’t many cars about in those days but we did this for six weeks. Oh, God it was shocking but in the end we all passed because they just used to say, ‘Drive.’ You were just told what to do and we did it and they’d say, ‘You pass.’ We didn’t have like it is now. But we all did that and then they said, ‘Righto.’ We’d got another week’s leave and when you came back they said oh I’m going to RAF Gravely which is in Norfolk, not too far from Cambridge which was a PFF Lancaster squadron and a Mosquito squadron and we were, you know just joined all the, all the other LAC drivers and that. But most of us were ex-aircrew and when we used to drive around because we used to pick up the aircrew which were going on ops. We used to drive a mini bus and take them out to the ops. A lot of these aircrew said, ‘How do you get a job like this?’ Which was quite laughable really because we’d already, us, had already done our tour, but they didn’t know that. But we used to explain to them what we’d already done and you know of course they didn’t like it very much but as I said, ‘Well, you finish your ops you can get a job like this.’ But, and we used to go to the other side of Cambridge and get a load of bombs in a lorry. We used to think it was hilarious in those days. Get a load of bombs and drive them back from Cambridge to Graveley. Oh, my goodness. So I had about, about three months there and then they said, ‘Oh, you’re going back to OTU.’ I said, ‘What on earth for?’ ‘Well,’ they said, ‘You’ve got to get up to date with what you know.’ So I went back to an OTU. I think that was back to Lichfield. And I was there for two or three weeks and then I got posted to another squadron, another OTU and much to my amazement I ended up with three Australian aircrew who hadn’t been on any ops. So of course when I found out I’d got myself another crew with three Australians and the other gunner was a boy I’d known in the Air Cadets in Tonbridge before joining aircrew. And anyway we started our training on Wellingtons and we did about three or four weeks training and they dropped the first, well we, we were told we were going to Japan before, when we started. And then they dropped the first atom bomb but that was only three or four days before they dropped the second one wasn’t it? If you can remember. So anyway they dropped the second one and within two or three days all the war in Japan was finished wasn’t it? And within a fortnight the three Aussies were on their way home because we, they said we don’t want them anymore. So they were all back home after about three or four weeks after that. And then [pause] I can’t remember. Oh yeah. Then they decided because this is sort of nearly the end of ’45 wasn’t it? And they said, ‘Oh, we’re sending you to Cranwell.’ I said, ‘Why the Dickens are we going to Cranwell?’ They said, ‘You can learn to be a teleprinter operator.’ So I said, ‘Right.’ They said, ‘You can get a ground job now. You won’t have to fly anymore.’ So anyway I did this. There was about ten of us. All ex-aircrew learning to use a typewriter. So we had this. I think it’s about seven or eight weeks I think training and to be this teleprinter. And then in the end there was a Scotsman which was, he was about six foot six tall, massive, and another Londoner, flight engineer and we were posted to 19 Group Coastal Command in Plymouth. So goodness gracious me. We went to this place and there was three airmen and of course nearly all the other operators were all WAAFs. About twenty of them, you know and it was Coastal Command. A place called well Mount Wise, or something. Mountbatten, which was in Plymouth Harbour. It’s Coastal Command. Anyway being us, us three men they decided they wouldn’t let us work at night so in the end we ended up only doing about three or four shifts a week because they didn’t want us at night. They wouldn’t have three airmen with the WAAFs at night. I mean, I know there was only probably about four or five WAAFs at night but a dozen or so in the day because there was a whole row of teleprinters. So I was there for just over a year and I think it was about one of the best, well Devonshire weather I’ve ever known. It was beautiful. And what we used to do if we wasn’t on that day we’d go down the road, we’d get on the first bus that came along, pay a shilling and when we got to that shilling we’d get off and walk home. That’s what we did every day. Yeah. It was just something to do. But the weather was just absolutely fantastic. And then I was there for Christmas ’46 and I got, oh God [pause] not laryngitis. What’s the other thing you get in your throat? Oh God. There was something wrong with my throat and the doctor said I’ll give you, no, not penicillin. Yeah penicillin. And of course that really upset me so I had to come off of that. But something else he give me and I’ve never had anything wrong with me throat since that day. You would not believe it. Never had this what it was. Not, laryngitis I think it was. Yeah. I was going to have it done and it didn’t and then he told me, he said, ‘Whatever you do never take — ’ no, it wasn’t paracetamol, it’s Penicillin. He said, ‘Whatever you do never taken penicillin anymore.’ So I never have. In all, I’ve had different things. And so I’ve never taken penicillin anymore. So it doesn’t cure everybody. But whatever the other thing that it was. And then in January we had this horrible fog and that’s when I went to London and got demobbed. Then I had another three weeks paid. Three months paid holiday which was very nice. That’s my life, near enough.
CJ: So what did you do after demob?
PS: Well, I had another mate. He’d, he’d been in the RAF but he didn’t fly. And about June or July we decided, we used to, he got a motorbike and started, got a motorbike and we used to drive around on a motorbike for two or three months. Nothing else much to do. But then we decided to go fruit picking. So of course the middle of Kent there was plenty of apples, pears, plums and I think, I think we did plums and pears I think first and then we went to apple. But we made a fortune because you used to get paid at so much a bushel. Well you could pick a bushel of big apples in ten minutes and then you got so much for it you know. Cor we made some money. We used to make ten bob a day and then go home. Which was a lot of money in 1947. Cor it was wonderful. Course then we had this motorbike and we would sort of do a half a days work and then go to the seaside. We had a wonderful time. And then come to, coming up to Christmas my father had been a male nurse in a mental [unclear] and he said, ‘Why don’t you give it a go?’ So I don’t know if you know, ever heard of Chartham. If you know Canterbury. Yeah. Yeah. So that’s where he’d been. So I went there and got talking to the boss and he found my father had been there before the First War because my father went in the Army as a, well a rifleman. He was a first aid bloke as well. You know, he did it all sort of thing and he got away with it alright but then he got rheumatic fever. That’s the only thing. Which didn’t do him any good, and I say I had three years a mental nurse. That’s where I met my wife. So from there on it was us. But I didn’t mind the work but I just couldn’t be, stand being indoors in the end because quite often you’d be indoors for a whole week. Indoors, you know. Not, not in and out doors but indoors looking after patients, you see. After three years I decided I couldn’t stand anymore so I, I, then we got married and then another friend of mine he rang up. He said, ‘We want a cowman.’ And I thought oh my God. I didn’t know anything about milking cows. So we went to this farm because it had a nice, a nice little bungalow and everything and learned all about milking cows. But then they decided to set up after a while to sell the milk that we produced. Then in the end we used quite often I’d milk the cows, have my breakfast and go and deliver the milk. So we had, and in the end we had three milk rounds and I used to do, sort of this one this week, that one then. Milk it, deliver it and everything else. So we did that for ten years. Well, I know people say, you know farm work and all that sort of thing but it was quite interesting. You know, it was interesting. You know. Say milking. Looking after, looking after the cows, doing all the milking and bottling up and everything and delivering it and keeping everything running. And we made it work too because it was, well it was a big farm because we had our own cows. All outdoors as well and, well they had to be indoors in the winter. But we had ten years there. And then after that another, another friend rung up and he said, ‘We want a baker’s roundsman in Chatham.’ Well, and of course, God what am I letting my insides for?’ But he said, ‘Come and have a look.’ So I did and the pay was about four times I was getting on the farm. I was on this estate for twenty years delivering bread. This estate and another estate. It was alternate days, you know. Then the baker showed up in the end. Then I went to work for BP over the Isle of Grain. I did four or five years there. And then that packed up. That sold up. God, what did I do after that? I can’t remember. I can’t. You know what —
CJ: Coming back to the RAF.
PS: Yeah.
CJ: Did you manage to keep in touch with some of the crew that your flew with? I think —
PS: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, he and I are the only two left now. The rest are all dead.
CJ: So some of these are Canadian you said are in the crew.
PS: Yeah. That one. That one. That one. Then my navigator he said, ‘We’re coming over to England in the summer.’ I forget, somewhere in the summer. Anyway, we lived, we lived here and he came over. He and his wife came over for four weeks and of course I’d, I had a car so we went about. I looked after him for a week and then they went up to the Midlands somewheres. Somewheres near where that motorbike came from. They went up there three weeks. Then they came back. Then in, I forget when it was but then in 1980 he said, ‘Why don’t you come over? We’ve got a big reunion in Toronto.’ So, oh yeah I managed to get three weeks off from the bakery so he said, so, there was only Margaret and I, so we went to Saskatchewan and they picked us up at Toronto and we went to [pause] oh God. Anyway, we went to this Saskatchewan and we went to this mess. There was five thousand people in a room. Men and women. About three thousand men and women. And it was wonderful. It really was. A big meal. Plenty of people to talk to and you would not believe but one of the people there was the chief of the German night fighters. He was there for a, yeah he was. Cor, he was quite a well-known name but he was a chap, the bloke in charge of the German night fighters. He was there on holiday. And I say that was really good. And then about forty two we went to Canada again for a month’s holiday. And then ’84 we had another big reunion. About, about another, you know five odd thousand. My navigator, he’d got a little, nice big buggy we could all sort of sleep in it if we wanted to, but we didn’t. He took us right across, right across Canada which was absolutely fantastic. Thoroughly enjoyed it. And then we went and stayed with them again. Then my wife’s sister decided to go to America. To her daughter. So in the end we went four weeks to Salt Lake City. And cor it’s a place that is. Believe me. And so we had a, going around there, and we had another in the end he got a sleep van. What do you call it?
CJ: A camper.
PS: Camper. Oh God, my bloody brain. And so we went half way across salt err Grand Canyon. Well, it’s the big Grand Canyon. All up in the mountains, everywhere. Played snowballs in June and all that sort of thing. We had a lovely time again. And soon after they all went and died so we didn’t go anywhere.
CJ: So while you’ve been talking, just for the listener we’ve been looking at a wonderful photograph of you and your crew.
PS: Oh yeah.
CJ: Around a motorbike and sidecar. So you used this when you were on the base did you?
PS: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Of course he, well he got in touch with his friends in, I think it was Birmingham I think, and because he knew they’d be, apparently he’d known them before the war or something. And anyway —
CJ: So on the photograph this is the gentleman sitting actually on the bike.
PS: That’s the navigator.
CJ: Yeah.
PS: The pilot in there as well. We used to get, quite often got four on it. Then we went out to dinner somewhere, you know.
CJ: Yeah. And how did you manage to find the petrol to keep it going when it was so scarce?
PS: Well, I don’t know. We just used to park it behind as I say that’s not our hut, but we had a little hut. We just used to park it behind the hut and every time we went and got it it had petrol in it so it must have made it in the night. Well, it worked alright. And as I say we quite often got four on it no trouble.
CJ: So, so for the listener when they see this photograph online you’re the gentleman in the middle row. Sorry the back row in the middle.
PS: The middle. Yeah. Yeah. Well, that’s as I say this is the flight engineer, and he was the radio operator. That was the mid-upper and I was the tail gunner and there’s the bomb aimer.
CJ: So coming back to Bomber Command after the war. Do you have any opinions on how Bomber Command were treated after the war?
PS: No. Because, because we, well we had a big Bomber Command Society thing. Aircrew Association. And well, right up right up to about a few years ago we were going. But we had over a hundred in Maidstone but they’re nearly all dead now. I’ve got a book in there it’s about eighty odd signatures. Well, not signatures. I used to take our Standard. And there’s eighty odd signatures there from the hundred odd we had. I mean when we used to have dinners and dances we had a hall full. I mean up ‘til last year we probably got four, five, six of us go to a local pub in Maidstone. Yeah. Well, we haven’t been this. Didn’t go. The last six months we haven’t been. But we’ve still got four or five of us, you see. Yeah.
CJ: And have you been able to visit any, view any Lancasters in museums?
PS: Well, as I say I’ve been to [pause] oh golly.
CJ: Duxford is it?
PS: Well, I say Duxford. I’ve been there. And the one in London. What’s the one in London?
CJ: Hendon.
PS: Hendon. I’ve been there. Yeah. Oh, I’ll tell you another one I like is East Kirkby.
CJ: Just Jane.
PS: Pardon?
CJ: Just Jane.
PS: That’s it. Yeah. Well, quite often when we used to have the reunion in Lincoln we used to have the dinner in Lincoln and then we’d go to Ludford for a service and that. But when we went there we used to go to stay with my wife’s sister at Newark and, you know because we could drive home from Lincoln to Newark no trouble. But then we used to go to, on the Monday, always on the Monday we’d go to East Kirkby and spend the day there. Then if I, two or three times I met my wireless operator there. And then this other bloke Rod Moore I think they might have let you know about this thing, he’s there. And we used to spent the day there and I got to know the two brothers. But one died didn’t he?
CJ: The Panton brothers.
PS: Yeah. That’s it. Yeah. Well, the two. I’ve got a book there signed by them somewheres. By the two brothers and the, and the sister. And I got there one day and he said, ‘Come on,’ so we went over, got in the aircraft, got in the aircraft for about two hours. Just sitting around, you know looking. I got down the rear turret. And then when I had my eighty fifth birthday a lot of my friends, because we had a lot of these, a lot belonged to our aircrew by then. Still. They all put two or three or four quid in a pot and we got enough money to go up to East Kirkby, sit in the turret and go around the airfield. Yeah. Because it’s, I think it was, I think it’s about a hundred and twenty pounds, a hundred and thirty pounds in those days just to ride around the airport. As you probably know. Get four engines going you soon get rid of a couple of gallons of petrol. But we used to go around. I’ve got a photograph somewhere of my daughter because she ran around. She ran all the way around the bloody airfield behind taking photographs of me sitting in the rear turret. Yeah. Cor, she ran some miles that day. But as I say I sat in the back. We got there on this, I think Monday morning and the man who had already signed to sit in the turret didn’t turn up. So I already told them the day before if anything goes wrong I want to get in the turret which I did. But it, it was a .5 turret. I don’t know if you know the difference. You probably do. But, but it wasn’t as good. I had the first .5 turret at Ludford, at 101. The, the boss man he knew two brothers from the local village who were mechanics and they made a .5 turret. It was about two or three inches wider than the old .5 and what was good about it you could just about get two people in it and you could sit on the seat and you’d got no glass in the front. The whole front was clear. You didn’t have to bale out the back. You could bale out head first straight out the, and you didn’t have to have one of these sit ons, well it was but you didn’t have one of the old clip on parachutes. You could have one of these sit on ones and you just sit here like that and if the worst comes to the worst head first straight out the back and you was away. Really super. But the .5 turret at East Kirkby is not the same gun as I had in Ludford because the one I had in Ludford was up here like this. But the one they had in East Kirkby was the guns were in front of you. In the way. And you had a job to get in it because the was the seat was different.
CJ: So when you’re saying a .5 turret for the listener that doesn’t know the difference the original guns were .303.
PS: Yeah. Sorry. Yeah. There would be four guns in a normal Lancaster are 303 but when we got the .5s they were bigger guns, bigger ammunition which was the American type like they had in all their Flying Fortresses. They had all .5s. Yeah. It’s quite good actually. They made more noise too.
CJ: How did it feel to be sitting in the turret again?
PS: Yeah. Well, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Yeah. Good. When it was going around the airfield it didn’t half go around every time. I don’t know how my daughter kept up because she ran all the way around. Yeah. Yeah. She got some good photographs. But I was going to [pause] there’s my pilot.
CJ: Well, I think we’ve covered everything today, Peter. Thanks ever so much for talking to us today.
PS: Oh, it’s my pleasure.
CJ: For the —
PS: It’s nice to see you. It’s nice to talk.



Chris Johnson, “Interview with Arthur Peter Smith,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 24, 2024,

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