Interview with Edward John Smith


Interview with Edward John Smith


Edward served on 90 Squadron as a rear gunner. Born in 1925 on the Isle of Sheppey, he was employed as a butcher’s boy at the outbreak of the war. Evenings were spent fire watching, for which he received a small wage from the council. He became a member of the Air Training Corps and enlisted in the RAF on his eighteenth birthday. Edward chose to be a rear gunner because the path to being operational was approximately half the time to that of a pilot or navigator. After initial training, he was posted to the Air Gunnery School in South Wales. He recalls using inferior ammunition from the First World War and watching the bullets cartwheel towards the targets. Despite this handicap, Edward qualified and progressed through to operational training. Whilst in Suffolk, the mid-upper gunner, Ken Bird, purchased a motorcycle but unfortunately did not obtain any petrol coupons. Edward tells how they relied on the generosity of passing Americans to keep them mobile. Finally, his crew qualified and were posted onto the Lancasters of 90 Squadron. His first operation was with another crew covering for a sick gunner. In total he flew thirty-two operations, supporting the advancing ground forces and attacking the supply lines of the retreating German army. Although they were not attacked directly, they were hit by anti-aircraft fire on one occasion. Both the tail and main plane were hit, leaving holes big enough to put your head in, and a piece of shrapnel passed through his turret fortunately missing him. Following the completion of his operational tour, Edward spent the remainder of his service career on ground tours, finally being demobbed in 1947.




Temporal Coverage




01:19:41 audio recording


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ASmithEJ180705, PSmithEJ1801


CJ: This is Chris Johnson and I’m Interviewing Edward John Smith today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We’re at Ted’s home in Kent and it is Thursday the 5th of July 2018. So, thank you Ted for agreeing to talk to be today. Also present at the interview is Stan Jordan, a friend of Ted’s. So Ted perhaps we could start by you telling us where and when you were born please and something about your childhood and your family.
ES: I was born on the 27th of February 1925, and we were living in Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey. [pause] This was just before the start of the war that I joined. That’s a load of balls. Sorry.
[recording paused]
CJ: This is Chris Johnson and I’m Interviewing Edward John Smith today for the International Bomber Command Centres Digital Archive. We’re at Ted’s home in Kent and it is Thursday the 5th of July 2018. So, thank you Ted for agreeing to talk to me today. Also present at the interview is Ted’s friend Stan Jordan. So, Ted, perhaps we could start by you telling us about where and when you were born please and, and your family situation.
ES: I was born on the 27th of February 1925 and I lived in Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey and left school at fourteen in 1939. I had a job as a butcher boy which I enjoyed very much because I learned quite a lot about it. In fact, reading other tail gunner’s episodes the first few weeks run in parallel [pause] As a butcher boy when I, which I enjoyed very much because I learned quite a lot about it and I worked in the abattoir as well. This was a fascinating job to me. Whilst I was doing this in the evenings I was fire watching. We’d go up to the second floor in Burton’s building, Burtons everywhere this is near the clock tower in the centre of the town and patrol across the rooves. We used to get paid for this by the council and I can’t remember what. How much it was. It wasn’t very much I know that. Although we had plenty of aircraft flying over the town it was on the estuary of the Medway and the Thames and naturally they were all making for, for London. [pause] We had a little bit of excitement on the island when some aircraft had been shot down at Eastchurch which then was a fighter drome. If I remember correctly that got knocked out very quickly. A friend and myself cycled from Sheerness down to [unclear] Farm and we saw this 109 in one of the fields. Can you stop this?
[recording paused]
ES: I’d heard so much about what was going on so I joined the ATC in 1941 with the thought of going in to the Air Force. In the ATC we had a chance to go on a flight which was from Detling Airport, aerodrome. I asked my mother if I could go but she wasn’t that keen that I went in to the Air Force. On one occasion my brother who was eighteen months younger than myself was at the cinema and flashed up on the screen was an important notice. They wanted fifty thousand pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, air gunners. He came running home and told me this and I decided that as soon as I was eighteen I was going to volunteer for the Air Force. The morning I was eighteen I said to my mother, ‘I’m going to enlist.’ I went to the Recruiting Office. I must have been mad at the time. I don’t know [laughs] and said, this is how naïve one can be, ‘I want to fly in Lancasters as a rear gunner at night.’ So the recruiting officers said, got this written down and said, ‘Ok.’ They put me on deferred service for about six months. Of course crews were coming in so quickly. Passing through. And when it did come or rather when I told my mother what I’d volunteered for she wasn’t very happy at all.
CJ: Stop it?
[recording paused]
ES: Yes. The reason I volunteered for being a rear gunner was the fact that you had about a years’ training whereas if you were volunteered for a pilot you’d be training for two and a half years and the idea really was to get in to the war and do your bit. At that time things had been getting better for us and many aircrew were coming on. When, when I did get, get my call up papers I was posted to St Johns Wood. They were luxury flats just near the Lord’s Cricket Ground and we did our square bashing there. Kitted out. Kitted out and had our square bashing. We were there for about three weeks and after that we were posted to the training. Elementary Air Gunner’s School. Elementary flying training. Then on to Elementary Air Gunner’s School. Then Air Gunner’s School for about two months. Having passed out at Pembrey as a fully qualified air gunner I was then able to put up my coveted brevet. At Pembrey I was unfortunately caught up in a flu epidemic and was in hospital for about three weeks. The intention was that once I’d passed it became known that the course that I was on was going to Rhodesia. Now, my father was in the Army and he was, he was already out in Rhodesia and the idea was that I’d probably be able to meet him. However, because of losing three weeks of schooling I had a test but I wasn’t quite good enough to get this posting. Can you stop it a moment?
[recording paused]
ES: Having, having at last got my call up papers I was ordered to go to the ACRC which was the Aircrew Reception Centre at St John’s Wood in August ‘43. Following the square bashing session there we were posted to Initial Training Wing at Bridlington and we were there for about a month. And from there we went to Elementary Air Gunner’s School at Bridgnorth. What I remember about Bridgnorth is there is a high and a low town there and to get from one to the other you had to climb about a hundred and forty steps. Having completed the course at Bridgnorth we were then posted to Number 1 Air Gunner’s School at Pembrey in South Wales. I was there for about two months, passing out with a mark of 75.5 percent. We were flying in Ansons there and doing air to air firing but the bullets I think were 1918 bullets and I feel sure that the cordite degrades over a period because we could see our bullets cartwheeling. So you can imagine what our test results were firing. Mine were absolutely abysmal. Couldn’t understand it. Well, I did understand it to see these bullets cartwheeling. Anyway, I passed out with a reasonable mark and the CO at the time who was signing the official form that I’d passed said, “Well and truly interested in his work. He should make a good air gunner.” I said to my colleague at the time, ‘I bet he says that to everyone.’ [laughs] Anyway, from elementary, from air gunner’s school, having got my wings at last I was on a month’s leave and was then posted to Operational Training Unit at Wing in Buckinghamshire which was mooted at one time in later years as the third airport for London. Do you remember that? I’m trying to think what [pause] At Wing we were flying in Wellingtons and when we did ditching drill or any crash landing drill the pilot would give the word to be ready to get out. I would have to get out of my turret, climb around the rudder and run up the top of the aircraft to where the dinghy would be. We took them out automatically. In fact, we became quite good at it. Just as well. Seems to me I’m going through my Air Force time rather quickly. What I can say is that I enjoyed every minute of it. Can you turn it off a minute?
[recording paused]
ES: Once I left Pembrey and had got all my flying gear with me I was posted to 26 OTU. Operational Training Unit. Here we picked up our crew. The idea was that some three or four hundred mixed bodies, pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, wireless operators, air gunners would be put in to a big hangar and told to sort yourselves out. Well, Ken and I were sitting there talking away and someone tapped us on the shoulders and we turned around and he said, ‘Would you two like to be my gunners?’ So, we both said, ‘Well, would you like to look at our logbooks?’ He said, ‘Yeah. That’s fair enough.’ I said, ‘What about our percentages of scores?’ He said, ‘Well, don’t worry about it. What I’ve heard is enough for me,’ he said, ‘You’ll be my gunners.’ He then found the navigator, Nobby Clark. And the wireless operator who was an Aussie which naturally bore the name, Abbo. He was a very quiet individual but he was great with his job. All we were looking for then was the bomb aimer. The first bomber we, bomb aimer we found and was trained with the pilot wasn’t very pleased with his results so he sort of gave him the push as it were and we ended up with Bob Griggs who came from Whitstable. He was a qualified electrician actually but he was a failed pilot as well. And we then did our flying training of course at 26 OTU. After that we were posted to a Conversion Unit. That was from twins on to four engines, and the Heavy Conversion Unit was at a place called Shepherd’s Grove, about eight or ten miles south of Bury St Edmunds. We were introduced to our night flying with an unfortunate accident. We were the second to go off and the chap in front of the other one was on a night trip. A night cross country. What the hell happened we don’t know because he finished up hitting the control tower and the two gunners and the radio operator were able to get out in time. Now, I can’t remember whether flying was cancelled that night or whether we went on to do our night circuits and landings.
[recording paused]
CJ: So, Ted, you said you were converting from two engine aircraft to four. So what were the aircraft types you were flying and what were the crewing arrangements please?
ES: Well, when we left OTU we were posted to a Heavy Conversion Unit which was the four engine Stirlings. And it was there we picked up, is that switched on? It was there that we picked up our flight engineer, Wally Hodges. Came from Sittingbourne. In fact four of us came from Kent. The navigator was a greengrocer. He was thirty four. Came from Dover. I came from Sheerness. I was about nineteen and a half then. Wally Hodges came from, oh I said that. He came from Sittingbourne. And who was the other one? Come on Smith, think. Think. Think. Think. Wally. Bob, the bomb aimer. Nobby and myself. That’s the four of us from Kent. The training on the Stirling was pretty good and we were at a place called Shepherd’s Grove which was some five or six miles south of Bury St Edmunds. It was at Bury St Edmunds that we purchased a motor bike actually. There was a section within the RAF called the Committee of Adjustments and this Unit looks after the wherewithal of the crews that didn’t make it. Anything that they had of value was put up for sale and Ken Burt, the mid-upper was a very keen motorcyclist. What came up was a Triumph 500 with the three gallon petrol tank and the silencer missing so you can imagine the noise it made. Anyway, we got it for five pounds. We couldn’t believe it. That same day we motored into Bury St Edmunds to Halfords. Didn’t realise they’d been going that long. Anyway, the silencer, we broomed right into Bury St Edmunds. A hell of a noise. Bought this silencer for seven and six pence. Fitted it. Quiet as a mouse. Really lovely. The only problem we had was that we weren’t issued with the petrol coupons. When we did run out which was quite often we’d wait by the wayside. The bike being held at an angle of about forty five, fifty degrees getting every drain of petrol out. Along came a Yank lorry, ‘What’s the matter, bud?’ ‘Run out [laughs] run out of petrol again.’ He said, ‘Oh, no worries.’ Round the back of the lorry. Out came, comes the jerry can. Filled up the tank which lasted quite a while. They were so good the Yanks. I’ve great admiration for them, for them actually. Right. At the Conversion Unit you did the usual initial dual circuits and landings, overshoots, checked your, and then we had what was called evasive action which meant corkscrewing. The corkscrew was if the fighter was coming in from the port side you would turn into the fighter and at the same time you would just have been shouting, ‘Corkscrew. Corkscrew port.’ And the pilot would immediately put the Stirling into a dive. Dive down a thousand feet, rolled, what we called at the bottom, come up a thousand feet, down another thousand feet, up a thousand feet. Each time we did this it meant that the fighter had to adjust his sight on us. He had to keep his nose in front of us whatever we were doing for him to be able to hit us. It was the only time that I really felt sick in the Stirling. By the time we’d finished I’d had enough. I don’t know what causes it because it was an aircraft that the wingspan was nearly, or rather the length was nearly as big as the wingspan. But I was as sick as a dog. Got out of the turret, looked at it and I thought, oh Christ. So the ground crew came along any way to see you down. I said, ‘I’m sorry chaps but I’ve been sick in the turret. Do you mind cleaning it up for me?’ ‘It’ll cost you a half a crown, serg.’ Worth every penny of it. It was of course here on the Conversion Unit that we picked up our flight engineer Wally Hodges. I don’t, I can’t remember how long his course was but he was in control of all the petrol consumption, oil consumption, revs. Anything to do with the aircraft controls. Not controls. Instruments. He was good at his job. I don’t think I could have done that. But there’s more to say about Wally Hodges. That came about when we were transferred to, transferred from the Heavy Conversion Unit to the Lanc Finishing School where we then picked up the coveted Lancaster. We did six hours on Lancs at night, six hours daylights at what was called a Lanc Finishing School at Feltwell. We had some leave before we got posted to a squadron but when we were posted we were posted to 90 Squadron. We were in 3 Group in Suffolk. And at the time we were told it was a chop squadron. Now, the meaning of the chop was that you’d had it. No sooner than you’d joined the squadron then you were most likely to be shot down. Touch wood, it didn’t happen. Can we stop a moment please?
[recording paused]
CJ: So could you tell us please Ted how long these courses were before you were posted? How many hours you flew?
ES: Well, at the Operational Training Unit we flew a total of eighty two hours which were, there were two flights there. A Flight and C Flight. And we had, on A Flight we had twenty nine hours day, three hours night. And on C Flight we had twenty three hours day, twenty seven hours night. A total of eighty two hours. The number of hours increasing with the night time flying consisted of night time flying cross country details which would take four hours some of them. Others three hours. Mostly night times. Five hours. On the OTU flying, night flying we were on a special exercise called a bullseye. Actually [pause] preparing you for a long trip. We had a near thing on that occasion. We felt an aircraft go over the top of us. We don’t know whether, we felt his slip stream but we don’t know whether he felt anything from us. We had a lot of high level bombing. Night time and day time. All preparing us for our progression to four engine aircraft. From the twins, that is the Wellington we went to the Conversion Unit where we were going to pick up a flight engineer who had been training separately on the [pause] What’s the bloody word? On the intricacies of the dashboard looking after the engines, keeping them running and in good order. We did plenty of dual circuits and landings, overshoots and then we went solo. Meaning the instructor no longer needed us [pause] We had one long cross country which was six hours. That was a cross country. Base, Goole [pause] east of London, Thornton, Barnstable, St Mary’s, St David’s, Fishguard, Bardsley, Aberystwyth, Luton, Elmdon and back to base. Getting us used to long trips at night and day. As a rear gunner I was always in the rear although on one occasion Ken did say, ‘How about swapping over for one day?’ So I did a session as a mid-upper gunner and Ken did his session in the rear but he still preferred to have the mid-upper gunner’s situation.
CJ: So, how many hours did you fly there on the HCU before you were posted?
ES: We flew about forty seven hours. Thirty five hours daylight. Twelve hours night time.
CJ: So then after that you were posted to 90 Squadron did you say?
ES: No. No. Before you get there you go to Lanc Finishing School which was at Feltwell in Norfolk and we did six hours daylight and six hours night flying. That was dual circuits and landing, overshoots, local flying, fighter affiliation, corkscrews, circuits and landings and a small trip of three hours. It was then we were posted from LFS, Lanc Finishing School to the squadron. When it was known we were going to 90 Squadron we were told that that was a chop squadron. Now, whether this was because before the Lancs they had the Stirlings and unfortunately for, unfortunately the old Stirling couldn’t get up above sixteen thousand feet. It struggled and it took a lot of hammering. They lost many Stirlings on those occasions. Fortunately we converted to Lancasters and posted to which we thought 90 Squadron was the squadron in the RAF. At Tuddenham in Suffolk. We were, in fact, a satellite to Mildenhall. Like to stop.
[recording paused]
CJ: So, Ted you’ve now joined 90 Squadron which had a bad reputation for being a chop squadron. How long was it before you went on your first operation?
ES: It was about three weeks but the, as for it being known as a chop squadron it didn’t enter our heads that it was such a squadron. My first trip actually took place on the 6th of September flying as a spare, not a spare gunner, the replacement gunner because the original, the gunner of this crew of Flying Officer Hooper had been taken sick. Now the CO, the MO wouldn’t let anyone who was feeling not one hundred percent fly at all. It was no good you being, trying to be brave or anything like that that you insisted on going. He definitely ruled it out. People who were sick. You weren’t doing yourself any favours and you certainly were not doing any favours for the rest of the crew. So that was why I went as a rear gunner for another crew. The night we actually got to the squadron we were allocated to a Nissen hut. Two, two crews to a hut. The crew that were in there were a Canadian crew and they’d gone out that night but they didn’t come back. So, that was my, and our introduction to the squadron. As the spare gunner the target was Le Havre and I always kept a note of what bombs we were carrying. This information I got from the bomb aimer. The bomb bay of a Lanc is immense. We carried eleven by a thousand pounds, four by five hundred. About thirteen thousand pounds of bombs. In other words something like five tons. Anyway, we got back from that trip quite, quite safely. We went on [pause] I seem to have missed something. Can you stop?
[recording paused]
CJ: So, your first operation was to Le Havre and you got back safely. How did you and the crew feel having got one first operation?
ES: Well, it was quite pleasant really. It was a four hour trip in all but we didn’t meet any, any opposition except for some flak. But our general targets were helping the Army consolidate the beach head. And we had various targets of course and it was on one that we were bombing a synthetic oil plant at a place called Kamen which was north of the Ruhr. And there we flew as a squadron in vics of three. There were a dozen of us and we opened out as we were going towards to the target and we got hit by flak that particular time. I had a hole in the tailplane I could get my head in and the bomb bay was like a pepper pot with the flak. And in the starboard main, mainplane there was a head, hole there, a head and shoulders you could get through. I had a piece of shrapnel come through the turret from the right hand side, across at an angle of about sixty degrees out the other side. Later on in our trips I used to stand up and look over my bombsight err gun sight and could see our own bombs falling away. [pause] Night trips. This is a funny thing. Here was I in my innocent youth volunteering for night flying. What happened? I did six nights and the rest were daylights. Good God. Anyway, we did three or four ops helping the Army. Spoof raids, dropping dummy parachutes and bombing again, Sangatte and Calais block houses and strong points, here again helping the Army out. Well, we hoped we did anyway. Calais we were bombing regularly. The strong points and marshalling yards. Anything to stop them getting their troops supplied with reinforcements.
CJ: So this was Autumn 1944 after the invasion in June ’44.
ES: Yes.
CJ: You were supporting the troops that had invaded France to fight the Germans. Yes?
ES: That’s right. We had night fighter affiliation. Good job it was just affiliation. We were shot down three times by a Hurricane.
[recording paused]
CJ: So could you tell me please, Ted a bit about how you found out for each operation where you would —
[recording paused]
CJ: Could you tell us please Ted then how you found out when operations were on? Where you were going and what the target was, please?
ES: Well, there was what was called an operations board and you’d go down the list of crews looking for your crew. Then once we knew we were on an op we knew we were going to have a general briefing. But the pilot, the navigator and the engineer I would think had a separate briefing. And the wireless operator would go to a separate briefing. Different instructions on each operation you did. Call signs and that sort of thing. The gunners of course weren’t brought into the briefing until the final briefing, which was understandable. So you would — are they making too much noise?
[recording paused]
ES: Yes, and the gunners had their usual briefing making sure that all the ammunition that you needed was on board. And of course you relied on your ground crew who kept us up there and I feel should have had more recognition because they were out in all weathers at any time. The other thing about the ground crew you never seemed to get really attached to them. I mean, we didn’t know the names of our ground crew and I think the feeling has been that they’ve seen crews come and go and it must have been as hard for them as it was for us. Anyway, at the main briefing where all the crews were seated seven to a crew everyone there, the CO will come up and outline the target. What was happening. And the navigation officer and the intelligence officer would tell us where there is supposed to be loads of flak but probably fighters. All taken down and written, you know. And then it was, ‘Right. That’s the end of it. Good luck, chaps. On your way.’ We were bombing communication centres. In fact, we went to Saarbrücken which was a blitz on communication centre. At night. That was a trip. Five hours twenty. And this one, Dortmund. Well, we had a tale to tell there. Our flight engineer had been taken sick and we had a replacement. We’d done the trip and were in the circuit and into our finals probably about four hundred feet. Two starboard motors cut so you’ve got a dead wing. So you fell out of the skies then. Hit the deck with our starboard undercarriage. In the meantime the skipper said, ‘What the [pause] is up?’ The engineer knew exactly what was up he hadn’t switched over to main tanks which he should have coming in to land. Anyway, we hit the deck with our starboard wheel. The engineer knew exactly. Switched over the tanks. We were still on the ground. The tail was still up in the air and the skipper had gone full bore through the gate as it were and the two starboard motors came on. The two port motors cut. So we were on the deck. Left starboard port, starboard port, starboard port. And the pilot managed to keep it flying still and pulled up over the perimeter lights back in to the circuit again. The station engineering officer was watching us come in. ‘Where the bloody hell did you get to?’ [laughs] ‘We had a bit of trouble flight.’ ‘Oh. Alright.’ Anyway, the next morning the CO calls the skipper in and said, ‘You did good work last night, Hick,’ he said, ‘But we do like our cross countries to be taken in the air.’ [laughs] What I forgot to say is that each crew is introduced to the wing commander flying. So, we were, it was our turn to go in to meet him and produce our logbooks and he turned to the skipper and he said, ‘You’re not going to fly with these two are you?’ he says, ‘Yes, sir. I am.’ He said, ‘But look at their results.’ He said, ‘I’m not bothered about that,’ he said, ‘As a crew they’re ideal. We’re putting up with that.’ So, more or less, ‘On your head be it.’
CJ: So, can we come back to —
ES: Yes.
CJ: When you were going on operations. So, you’ve had the main briefings, you’ve had final briefings with the gunners. How then did you prepare yourselves and the aircraft before you actually went on the op and how did you check the aircraft out?
ES: Well, the aircraft was checked by the ground crew and there was usually a flight, a sergeant or a flight sergeant in charge. Chiefy, he would be called. After a while you adapted your flying kit to how you were more comfortable in it. So you would [pause] what the hell was it called? Anyway, you’d go to the crew room where you started putting your flying gear on. Mostly the last thing you picked up was your parachute. And the girls were usually doing the parachutes as you know and they would fit you with a harness. And you can imagine the ribald remarks that were going on.
CJ: So, when you say girls these were WAAFs.
ES: Yes. These were WAAFs. Anyway, they made sure that your harness was the right fit and the warning was, ‘If you pull your parachute we’ll fine you half a crown to repack it.’ Anyway, you adopted all manner of kit somehow. Just what you were happy with and comfortable with and —
CJ: So how did you, as a rear gunner keep warm in a turret that wasn’t heated?
ES: Well, you had a heated flying suit. It was called an inner flying suit. Besides the silk underwear that you had which was pure silk, and you had silk gloves and then leather gloves. Or silk gloves first and then you’d have your heated gloves and then your leather gloves. You did adopt, as I say the clothing that you felt comfortable in. Prompt.
CJ: And when you were actually on an operation then obviously you as a rear gunner would be looking out for aircraft. Were you ever attacked and what would your job have been if you had been attacked?
ES: Fortunately we were never attacked by fighters but plenty of flak. If we had been attacked by fighters we would go into a movement called a corkscrew. And the corkscrew enabled you to keep out of the range of the enemy aircraft should they attack you. Whichever side he attacked from you flew into that. You flew down a thousand, this is in the corkscrew, you flew down a thousand feet, rolled at the bottom where if you were being followed by a fighter he would have to do the same thing and you’d literally be face to face and if you were lucky enough you could get off a few shots and maybe and shoot him down. But after, after the first thousand foot you came up again a thousand feet. Down again. Continue that movement until you, he either shot you down or your shot him down.
CJ: So, if you had to do that manoeuvre and you were being attacked I assume would you be trying to shoot at the fighter as you were doing the corkscrew?
ES: Oh yes. You would pass him at the bottom which was called, the term called rolling. And yes. More or less at point blank range.
CJ: So those were your operations. So you, I believe you completed a full tour. Is that correct?
ES: We did.
CJ: Thirty.
ES: Yes. Thirty two. The first trip was a spare trip. And the second spare was where were we? The second spare trip was [pause – pages turning] Oh, west of Utrecht in Holland. We did it a spoof raid helping the Army. Dropping dummy parachutes.
CJ: So was there a big celebration with the crew when you finished your tour of ops?
ES: We didn’t go overboard let’s say. We went to Duisburg once. A blitz on communication centres. Now, that was a thousand bomber raid. And we went in the afternoon, around about half past two in two waves of five hundred. And on the way in to the target I should think about half to three quarters of a mile away there were three aircraft, obviously from the same squadron flying in a vic of three. He must have been carrying a Cookie because the leading aircraft blew up. So that was five tons of bombs blown up. His starboard wingman caught light. Did the same thing. Blew Up. And the port section from the door back was blown away. But they must have all been killed by — [door squeaking in the background] the wind.
Other: I’ll just shut the door.
[recording paused]
CJ: So you mentioned a Cookie blowing up. Could you tell us what that is please?
ES: That was a four thousand pound bomb with a very thin skin. And [pause] we carried that on a number of occasions actually. Let’s look.
ES: Chemical factories. We were bombing any targets that were beneficial to the enemy.
CJ: So, you did, you did a tour which was actually two more than the standard. You did thirty two operations. So, did you remain on the squadron after that?
ES: No. We were posted on leave then for six weeks. And then I was posted to Thurso in Scotland. Anyway, there’s an item here that I would bring to your notice. We were bombing gun emplacements in Holland at a place called Westkapelle. And heavy gun emplacement positions, eleven by a thousand in that, but it was funny because on that particular trip we lost an aircraft. 90 Squadron that is. Can you read — ?
[recording paused]
CJ: So, on your tour of operations were there any other notable operations that you recall?
ES: Well, there was one. I think [pause] the pronunciation I think is Siegen. Anyway, we were about two hours forty in to our trip and we were recalled. Now it’s not very advisable to land with a full bomb load on so they were always dropped in the Channel. Now, this happened to be the day that Glen Miller was being transported in an American Norseman communications aircraft to France and he went missing. No idea where. Otherwise they would have been looking for him I think. But that was rather unfortunate.
CJ: And how many, how many aircraft were on that?
ES: It would probably be about three hundred aircraft on that particular trip all dropping their bombs into the Channel. We went the following day to the same target which was a communication blitz. [pause] Getting into December. About the 21st of December we went to a target called Triere marshalling yards and on this occasion we led 90 Squadron. The next, on the 23rd we went back to Triere again bombing marshalling yards and we were detailed as the deputy master bombers. The last trip was to a target called Rheydt. Marshalling yards again and on this trip we led the thirty three base and the attack. And the very last trip was on the 31st of December to Koblenz which was again marshalling yards with a bomb load of one Cookie, six by a thousand and two by five hundred. That was the end of our tour.
CJ: So you did your thirty two operations and then you said, I believe you had six weeks leave. Is that correct?
ES: It seemed like six weeks. On the last seventeen targets that we bombed we had our own aircraft. L for love.
CJ: So, what, what did you do then after your leave?
ES: Well —
CJ: At the end of the tour of ops.
ES: I was asked if I wanted to stay in the RAF and I would have done but the girl I eventually married wasn’t keen on it so I came out in ’47. And fortunately, her parents were friends with a neighbour and he was the head cashier of Shell Mex in the Strand and he got me an interview for a job and I became an accounts clerk. After five years [pause] Oh, the other good thing about it was we were buying their house through one of their companies and the house was Joyce’s, well my wife’s grandparent’s house. Fourteen hundred pounds it cost us. Anyway, after five years Shell Mex had an economy drive so it was last out first in. No. Last in first out. Mostly servicemen. So, going home in the train that night I happened to meet one of my football colleagues. I told him, ‘I’m out of a job next week.’ ‘Are you?’ He said, ‘Well, we’re looking for staff.’ I said, ‘Are you sure?’ He said, ‘Yes. Come along and get an interview.’ So I went to, it was with the British Iron and Steel Corporation. Or in those days, early days the Iron and Steel Board, 1953. I became eventually the head office cashier. Then a job came along for their overseas department and so I decided to join them, still in the accountant’s side and became the project accountant for the English side of a Saudi Arabian contract and we also had a project accountant on the Riyadh side. So individually we were buying Stirling equipment, or buying equipment with sterling and out there they were buying equipment with riyals [pause] We also had a contract with building a steel plant in Mexico. Was it Mexico? Yes. Mexico. And that proved to be a very lucrative contract. In the meantime, of course I married Joyce in 1948. I met her in ’46. As usual at a dance. Most servicemen who’d met a girl they’d met her at a dance. We had two children. Or we had two children. My son is a safety consultant with Petrochem. And Joyce was a marvellous mother. We had, as I say a boy and a girl. They provided us with seven grandchildren. And the seven grandchildren provided us with fourteen great grandchildren. Unfortunately, Joyce died about three years ago. She would have been ninety and we would have been married, if she was still alive now we would have been married seventy years. But they’ve been very good to me. Looked after me well. So, anyway —
CJ: So after the war were you able to keep in touch with your, the other members of the crew?
ES: Well, we had a Squadron Association which ran for twenty years. And myself [pause] who else? [pause] I think I was the only one who, from the crew who joined the Association. We’re now part of what is called the Mildenhall Register. I don’t know whether you’ve heard of it. It’s got five squadrons 9, 15, 90 and 22. Or was it 622. Excuse me a minute.
[recording paused]
CJ: So, Ted, 90 Squadron was included in the Mildenhall Register, the Association along with 15, 149 and 622. So did you usually go to reunions that they had?
ES: When I was able to yes we did mostly. But as the years went on and the members got older the numbers were falling down and to keep the Association going you joined with other groups. Likewise the Mildenhall Register which is made up of four bomber squadrons and is still operating. They were good, good functions. We used to probably get about in all aircrew and relations about a hundred and fifty people would attend. And nine times out of ten we would be hosted by the Yanks who were at Lakenheath and they couldn’t do enough for you. When, when we had a meet we also had a church service. We’ve got a roll of honour in the local church which is very old. We probably lost about five hundred and twenty chaps between ‘39 and 1945 and they provided, I’ve got one or two photographs here if you’d like to see them.
[recording paused]
ES: Unfortunately I haven’t been able to get to these functions since they take up two days and I don’t drive anymore. My son and daughter decided I was getting too old. No. Really it was because I’d developed Parkinsons although once you get in to a car and get behind the wheel you’re a different person. That’s what I kept intimating. ‘For Christ’s sake I can drive. I know I can.’
CJ: So, tell me something. For you, as a member of aircrew, how do you feel Bomber Command were treated after the war? Do you think they were given sufficient recognition?
ES: None at all. We were so long getting recognition we wondered why we were doing it. No. It’s appalling I think the way we’ve were being treated. Especially by Churchill. All right he was the man for us during the war but to ignore the fact that propaganda put the kibosh on anything he was going to say in favour of Bomber Command. All this talk about thousands and thousands of people being killed. That’s war. We’re all involved. I mean we had to take it. They’d taken it their way as well but we proved to have a bigger fist then they had. No. I don’t regret my service or what I did one moment. I just regret that we didn’t get the recognition we deserved because we lost a hell of a lot of good chaps.
CJ: I believe recently you’ve had a stay in Lincolnshire and visited a few places. Would you like to tell us about that?
ES: Well, I went to the Lincoln Memorial. The Spire. You’ve been there obviously. That is really something. Solid steel going to rust. And it’s going to be quite a feature. And there were quite a few deaths marked there which is unfortunate again. Anyway, my nephew, who lives in Grantham arranged for us to break off the guided tour we were getting with Shearings, ‘Give me a ring when you’ve seen the two outdoor museums and I’ll take you about.’ Phoned him up. He comes along. I said, ‘What are we doing?’ He said, ‘Oh, I’ve got something lined up for you.’ So he spoke to one of the ladies helping at the Lincoln Spire. He said, ‘I want to try and get Ted into a group going around the Memorial Flight. Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.” So this lady gets through to Coningsby. Says, ‘Yes. We’ve got a group going around. He can join that,’ which I did do. After a tour around we got invited back to the waiting room, had a coffee, spoke to about five other aircrew, four of which, four of whom were tail gunners and one of them was [pause] ok. Beg your pardon, do you know it?
CJ: Yeah. Ted’s handed me a copy of the book, “A Tail End Charlie’s Story,” by James Flowers. Yes. I’m aware of it. But I think you had an extra surprise in store at Coningsby with the Memorial Flight. Is that correct?
ES: Yes. We, they pulled the Lanc out for those who wanted to take photographs of it and they pulled it back in. It was before this that we’d gone to the saloon. What am I talking about saloon? The lounge, to have coffee and meet these other lads, bods. And then the acting CO called me over and he said, ‘Would you like to come with me?’ I said, ‘Yes sir. Where are we going?’ He said, ‘Just follow me.’ So we walked back into the hangar and he took me to the Lanc. There was a staircase there, ‘It’s all yours,’ he said, ‘See how quickly you can get into the turret.’ Oh my God. You’ve got the two handles here, up here and you just pull yourself and slide in. I could at one time [laughs] God, it was bloody awful. I loved every minute but it was chronic. It was painful. That was getting in. Getting out, well I’d have been mincemeat I think because I’d have had to get out to get the ruddy parachute. Oh, that was something else that I remember. I had a fire in the turret. A short circuit at night which was a bloody nuisance. Still have to rotate your turret though port starboard. Eventually I got out, and I thanked him very much you know and he gave me one or two little items of memorabilia.
CJ: So what memories came back to you when you were actually in the turret?
ES: I’m trying to remember. The flying gear I had on wasn’t extremely bulky. And flying boots. It was like putting a cork, a stopper in a bottle. Pfft you’re in. And getting out was as easy. We’d go out two ways. Either by the door or turn the turret around and go out backwards which was the safest way to do it. Yes. It did bring back some memories. But it seemed so enclosed. I don’t remember it being like that. Perhaps because I’ve put on a bit of weight [laughs] It was fantastic. It really was. I couldn’t have wished for a better thing. I just felt sorry for those that didn’t make it.
CJ: Well, thank you very much for talking to us today, Ted.



Chris Johnson, “Interview with Edward John Smith,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 8, 2023,

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