Interview with Tony Snook


Interview with Tony Snook


Tony Snook was an air gunner and served on 115 Squadron in the later stages of the Second World War. A member of the school air training corps, he had his first experience of flight when his squadron partook in a summer camp. He describes how an opportunity to stand behind the pilot of a Beaufighter holding onto his seat came about. He enlisted as a PNB (pilot, navigator, bomb aimer) in November 1943, after leaving school. Following initial training he successfully undertook elementary flying training, however, after D-Day there was an excess of pilots, and Tony was moved to an air gunnery course on the Isle of Man. He describes meeting his crew and arriving at RAF Witchford in February 1945, where they joined 115 Squadron flying Lancasters. Five operations were undertaken before the end of hostilities. He describes the only time they came under fire and, unfortunately for the ground crew who cleaned up the aftermath, the major damage was to the elsan toilet. As members of his crew were discharged after the war, Tony was allocated to another crew. He describes several operations to Bari, Italy to repatriate soldiers from the Eighth Army in Lancasters that ferried twenty passengers and five crew. In 1946, Tony was posted to a gunnery instructor course and then to the central gunnery school at RAF Leconfield. In February 1946, shortly after his posting from 115 Squadron, his crew were all killed in a tragic accident. Tonywas discharged in November 1947, he regards his flying career as a great adventure, but appreciates that flying operations in 1945 were completely different from those undertaken earlier in the campaign.




Temporal Coverage




00:49:17 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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ASnookT180215, PSnookT1801


DK: Right. So, this is David Kavanagh for the International Bomber Command Centre.
TS: Yeah.
DK: Interviewing Tony Snook on the 14th of February 2018 at his home. Right. Ok. So, I’ll just put that, if I just put that there.
TS: Yes. Yes.
DK: I’ll, I’ll keep looking down to make sure it’s still, still working.
TS: Yes.
DK: Ok. So can I first of all ask you what were you doing before you joined the RAF?
TS: School.
DK: Ah.
TS: Well I left school. I was at Maidstone Grammar School. I left school in 1942.
DK: Right.
TS: When I, that was sixteen and, no. Seventeen. That’s right. And you were allowed to join the Air Force for aircrew at seventeen, at eight, seventeen and a quarter and then they kept you waiting for a year until eighteen. Then they called you up to Regent’s Park and you was, but you were actually sworn in.
DK: Right.
TS: And you got a number there. That, in, in 1942. That’s right. And then I went in in 1943.
DK: Right. Was, was the Air Force something you chose then? Is it something you wanted to do as opposed to —
TS: Well, I want to because I joined the, I went, the ATC. The school had an ATC squadron and I rose up and became a sergeant in the ATC and we used to go to camps. To West Malling just outside Maidstone which was a night fighter station which had Beaufighters and Defiants and Havocs. That was Douglas Boston with a searchlight in the nose.
DK: Yeah.
TS: Which used to illuminate supposedly and the Defiants flew alongside and shot it down. It didn’t often happen unfortunately. But anyway we used to go there and, that’s right 1940 I was fifteen and we were there and we were sent out to sweep up around the dispersals and things like that, you know. Just to, make do with us really. And the corporal, the engine, the engine fitter said, ‘Have you ever flown?’ I said, ‘I’m fifteen years old. How could I fly during the war?’ He said, ‘We’ll see what we can do.’ So anyway, the pilot came along to the Beaufighter. He was a flying officer then and he said, ‘Do you want a trip lad?’ So I said, ‘I’d love one.’ So he took me up in this Beaufighter. I stood in the well behind the pilot holding on to his seat. Well, it was still wartime. How would, how would health and environment think about that nowadays? [laughs]
DK: No health and safety.
TS: Yes. Anyway, that, but that was that but you know I was interested in aeroplanes anyway naturally. But that was wonderful I thought.
DK: So what did you think of your first flight then when you were —
TS: Wonderful.
DK: Yeah.
TS: Yeah. Because I could see. Just there was the chap’s head. And he was a Flight Officer Widdows who died about twelve years ago.
DK: Right.
TS: His, because I look at the Telegraph every day to see if I’m in it [laughs] But he was in there. He lived ‘til a hundred as an air commodore.
DK: Oh right.
TS: And his wife was about five years ago she lived till a hundred and she died about five years. So both of them lived ‘til a hundred.
DK: A hundred. Yeah and that was at —
TS: And —
DK: Sorry. Go on.
TS: Well, I mean then I was in. Because after that, we had actually what I first joined at the school was what they called the OTC. Officer Training Corps which was Army naturally.
DK: Right.
TS: And then I transferred to the ATC when it started. And so therefore at seventeen and a quarter I went into the Recruiting Office and applied to join for aircrew and they said alright. We went up to the house. Air Ministry house in London.
DK: Right.
TS: What was it called?
DK: Is it Ad Astra house is it?
TS: Ad Astra house.
DK: Ad Astra House. Yeah. Yeah.
TS: Something like that.
DK: Yeah.
TS: And you were given a medical and a small education test. And then you were sworn in and given a number. And you also were given a little silver badge which you put in the lapel of your jacket to say that, because you know people used to think oh, he looks a hairy, he’s not in the Service. We used to wear this little badge.
DK: Oh right.
TS: A little silver badge.
DK: Is that to stop people perhaps turning on you then and —
TS: Well, it might be. I mean it didn’t often happen —
DK: No.
TS: Very often.
DK: No.
TS: I mean surely they could see that the lad was probably not old enough to be in the air anyway. And I went in finally in November 1943.
DK: Right.
TS: Yes.
DK: So where was your first posting to then? In November 1943.
TS: ITW at Newquay.
DK: Right.
TS: Because I went in as PNB.
DK: Right.
TS: And I passed through ITW. Then they sent us to Theale near Reading.
DK: So that’s the PNB. Pilot, navigator —
TS: Bomber.
DK: Bomb aimer.
TS: That’s right. Yes. Yes.
DK: For the recording.
TS: And they sent us to Theale, outside Reading which was an EFTS. Elementary Flying Training School.
DK: Right.
TS: Which had Tiger Moths. And we did twelve hours there and I soloed after seven and a half and then completed the twelve. And then they had, this was just after the invasion, they didn’t lose as many as they expected. And there were rumours going around that so many people were [pause] if you were chosen as a pilot or that you wouldn’t. You know you probably might be made redundant. And this did happen a lot. The Air Force weren’t very kind at times, you know.
DK: No. No.
TS: No. Because naturally if we were PNB most of us that’s what we wanted to be. A pilot.
DK: Yeah.
TS: So anyway they thought I’d make a better air gunner [laughs]
DK: Was that a reflection on how you flew then or —
TS: No, because I got a good report from my instructor.
DK: Oh right.
TS: About flying. I mean after I soloed in seven and a half hours.
DK: Right.
TS: Which wasn’t bad.
DK: So it’s literally because they thought they wouldn’t need so many pilots then.
TS: Well, going forward when we went to Heavy Con Unit, flew Lancasters then we obtained an engineer.
DK: Right.
TS: And who was it? A pilot who they didn’t want. And you’ll see it on his, on the photo there.
DK: Yeah. Yeah. Oh right.
TS: With his pilot’s wings. And he was the engineer. They sent them to St Athans and gave them an engineer’s course. And there were lots of them so really I suppose that I was lucky because I kept flying because I met people who were with, started with me earlier on and they were doing one might say menial jobs about. And then I went to, they sent me to Stormy Down in South Wales to start the gunnery course. We didn’t used to fly from Stormy Down. We flew from an aerodrome nearer to Cardiff. Right on the coast. Which is now Cardiff International Airport I think and I can’t remember the name of it. It belonged [pause] I saw it began with P. But anyway we flew in Ansons there with the gunnery exercises and then after we’d done that we went back to Stormy Down and took the last exams and passed out and given our little brevets which that’s one there.
DK: Yeah. For the air gunner.
TS: Yes.
DK: Yeah. So, was ,was the air gunnery something you took to quite well then?
TS: Oh yeah. I’m a very, I suppose really I’m very, I was service minded. I wish I’d stayed in. But nothing mattered to me. I did what, you know.
DK: Yeah.
TS: It was what I liked so —
DK: So what sort of targets did you used to have to shoot at?
TS: Drogues behind the mainly Miles oh [pause] Miles, anyway. It was —
DK: Miles Masters was it?
TS: Masters. Something. Yes. Yes.
DK: So, they’re pulling a drogue and you’re —
TS: That’s right. Yes.
DK: Shooting at that.
TS: And the, to differentiate which gunner had, had got hits on the target the actual project, the bullet itself was painted with a soft paint and that used to make a mark on the drogue.
DK: Right.
TS: When it went through.
DK: Oh right.
TS: So anyway, did that and then after that I was, and one or two other off from Stormy Down went to Upper Heyford. North of Oxford.
DK: Yeah.
TS: Which was an old permanent station. A lovely place it was. All brick built and a lovely place. But we didn’t fly from there because they were laying, they were putting runways down. I think they were getting, the Americans had it afterwards. Maybe you remember that F 111s —
DK: Yes.
TS: Used to fly from Upper Heyford.
DK: Yes. Yeah.
TS: Anyway, we went to Upper Heyford and we, it was a lovely place as I say. And on the second day there, we had a sort of induction on the first day we were all put in to a big room. So many pilots, so many engineers, so, not, sorry not engineers, so many navigators, bomb aimers, and wireless op and two gunners and they said, ‘We’ll be back in an hour. Sort yourself out in crews and make sure you like him because you’ve got to fly with him.’ And that’s what they told us. So in an hour’s time all the people got together. I mean another gunner that I said, ‘Come on, Ron. Let’s join up together.’ And who do we look? ‘He looks alright.’ So we went over with Johnny Rimer, an Australian. So, that’s how we crewed up.
DK: Do you think, do you think that worked well?
TS: Yes.
DK: Because you’re, it was a bit unusual. The military normally you’re told here, there and there.
TS: That’s right.
DK: But with this —
TS: Yes.
DK: You had to sort yourselves out. It was very unusual.
TS: It was unique. No doubt.
DK: Yeah.
TS: It’s never happened since. You don’t get anything in the service which you sort of pal up with somebody and say maybe, I don’t know, a tank. It might be with a tank. It might be. I don’t know.
DK: Yeah.
TS: But that’s how they used to do it and it worked. Because I can never remember anybody saying, ‘Oh, you know, I don’t like you. I’m going to get out,’ because it didn’t happen. Everybody stayed the same. Yes.
DK: And is that where you found your pilot then was it?
TS: That’s right. Yes.
DK: And what was your pilot’s name?
TS: Johnny Rimer. John Rimer.
DK: John Rimer.
TS: An Australian.
DK: Right.
TS: From [pause] well, near Melbourne Australia. In fact we used to send, write and send Christmas cards right up ‘til the time he died which was two years ago.
DK: Oh right.
TS: Yeah.
DK: So there, can you remember the other crew you met up with there? Would have been your navigator?
TS: Yes. George, the navigator.
DK: George, the navigator.
TS: George, like, and he’s there anyway.
DK: Right.
TS: That’s George I think. There.
DK: Right.
TS: And he came from Warrington. But I can’t remember. It’s funny really I can’t remember his surname. I remember George.
DK: Yeah.
TS: Because that’s all it was to us. George.
DK: Yeah.
TS: And Eddie Harrison was the wireless operator.
DK: Right.
TS: Ron Stedman. Ron Stedman was the mid-upper gunner.
DK: The bomb aimer?
TS: The bomb aimer. The bomb aimer. Swettenham. Len Swettenham from London. The East End of London.
DK: Right.
TS: And he went out to Australia after the war and Johnny Rimer sponsored him.
DK: Oh right.
TS: He went out there. And that was the crew. And I’m the only one left of them. Everybody else has gone.
DK: So your flight engineer then. He came along later.
TS: Later. At Heavy Con Unit. Yes.
DK: Right.
TS: And he was the only one that was put into the crew.
DK: Yeah.
TS: He, you know, he didn’t say, look around and say, ‘I want to join them.’
DK: And can you remember his name?
TS: Yes [pause] Dick Tinsley. And they’re big farmers at Spalding.
DK: I’ve met him.
TS: Dick. Yes.
DK: Yeah.
TS: As a matter of fact I couldn’t remember his surname. He, funnily enough he was a bit the odd man out. He wasn’t very much of a beer drinker which we all were.
DK: Yeah.
TS: And I was in, I was invited to East Kirkby.
DK: Yeah.
TS: To the Lancaster.
DK: Yeah.
TS: In Lincolnshire. And my friend at the Golf Club is one of the, I think he’s one of the trustees. Paul [Mutitt]
DK: Oh right.
TS: He leant me a magazine and in the magazine was a reunion in Holland for the Manna trips.
DK: Right.
TS: And there was Dick Tinsley with a frame, you know.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
TS: To help walking. So obviously he wasn’t very good on his pins. But whether he’s still there or not I don’t know.
DK: Well, I saw him. I interviewed him for the IBCC on the 4th of June 2015. So he was still alive then.
TS: Yes. 2015 was when this photo was taken.
DK: Oh, ok.
TS: When they all did the trip to Holland.
DK: Because rather oddly I actually live nearby. I’ve since moved but I lived just up the road from where he was.
TS: Did you really?
DK: And I got to know his son. Also Richard Tinsley. And they, they knew the lady that my wife and I were renting a house off at the time.
TS: Oh yes. Yeah.
DK: So I went to see Dick Tinsley the senior and interviewed him then. And as I say it was 115 Squadron.
TS: Squadron. Yeah.
DK: And he said then he was a pilot, co-pilot. So he trained as a pilot.
TS: Yes.
DK: But as you say ended up as a flight engineer.
TS: They were never regarded as co-pilots.
DK: Yeah. Flight engineers.
TS: They were flight engineers.
DK: Yeah. That’s strange. Well, I think, I’m pretty sure he’s still alive.
TS: Is he?
DK: I haven’t heard anything to the contrary.
TS: No. No.
DK: Would you like me to find out or —
TS: Well, it’s a long time ago.
DK: Yeah. Well. I’ll ask anyway.
TS: Yeah. Yeah. Yes.
DK: I’ll let you know.
TS: No. I’d be interested to know if he’s still alive.
DK: Yeah. I was still in touch with his son just a few months ago.
TS: Were you?
DK: I’ll speak to his son.
TS: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
TS: Well if you take my phone number you can just give me a ring sometimes.
DK: Yeah. Sure. Yeah.
TS: And tell me.
DK: Yeah.
TS: Anyway, where did we get to? Heavy Con Unit didn’t we?
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
TS: That’s right.
DK: And do you remember where the Heavy Conversion Unit was?
TS: Yes. Langar, outside Nottingham. And as a matter of fact there was a factory next door to the airfield which reconditioned Lancs which had been damaged and they brought them there and they repaired them. And we did the course on heavy, on to Lancasters there. And that included which we didn’t know, I mean from Upper Heyford we were always flying in Wellingtons. Hercules engine Wellingtons which I forget now which mark they were but anyway Wellingtons have Merlins and we always had Hercules Wellingtons. And of course we did lots of cross countries but nothing outside. When we got to Heavy Con Unit we had to fly longer cross country’s down into the middle of France and back. And on two of them we had engine fires.
DK: Right.
TS: On the port outer. We didn’t, I mean, it was dangerous yes but I mean the graviner put it out straightaway and we just flew the rest of the trip on three engines and feathered the props and —
DK: So, what, what did comparing the two what was it like flying in a Wellington? What were they like as aircraft?
TS: Well, it was flying. On the other hand of course in Wellingtons there was only one turret so one of us used to go in the turret and one of us used to sit by the pilot because it had a, although the pilot’s sitting on the left hand side always and there was a seat. Some of them even had dual control. They used to sit there for the cross country. And another thing you used to go down and look through the astrodome and things like that.
DK: Right.
TS: Yes. Yes.
DK: So you got to the Heavy Conversion Unit then.
TS: Yes.
DK: Was that the first time you saw the Lancaster?
TS: Yes. Yes, it was.
DK: And what was your impressions when you saw that?
TS: Well, we reckoned it was a wonderful aeroplane anyway [laughs] and we, we had an instructor who, who was a bit wild and he used to throw it about. When he did a corkscrew you knew you were in a corkscrew. Yes. You know, he was the type of chap who if anything was in the fuselage through said, through you know you’d get parachutes coming up off the ground and going down like that and then flopping down. He was, he certainly used to throw it about. No doubt about it. But they put up with it.
DK: Yeah. Can you remember his name at all?
TS: No. He was, I honestly can’t remember his name.
DK: So the —
TS: Because after John, after John was passed out by him which wasn’t very long anyway we used to fly without an instructor after that on, you know cross countries, practice bombing trips with little twenty pound bombs and, but as I say these two cross countries from Langar down into mid-France and back again.
DK: Right. And you mentioned the corkscrew manoeuvre.
TS: Yes.
DK: What was that in aid of then?
TS: Well, you see you were sitting, sitting in the turret and you, ‘Skipper, enemy port quarter, five hundred yards.’ And you’d inform the skipper about it and then you would say, ‘He’d turn, ‘Prepare to corkscrew port.’ And then as he started to turn on his, the skipper would put, because you always turned into the attack. Turned in. Dived down. Turned to starboard. Back up. Over the top. Down and like that. That was a corkscrew.
DK: So it —
TS: And the rear gunner was expected to keep up a dialogue all the time that the attack was happening.
DK: Right. So, what, how would you describe your role as a rear gunner then? You’re sitting there and what is it you’re supposed to be doing for your —
TS: Well, you’re searching all the time. I mean not when, not when we were going to Italy bringing troops home. Things like that. But if you were anywhere near where there may be fighters you were searching. Going from port to starboard, port to starboard, port to starboard all the time. And looking up.
DK: So —
TS: It was better for you to look down in the main because —
DK: Yeah.
TS: The mid-upper looked up of course.
DK: Right. So you had to work as a team with the mid-upper gunner then.
TS: Yes. Yes. He didn’t, he would say anything if it was important but your dialogue was with the skipper.
DK: Right. So from the Heavy Conversion Unit then, you’ve then gone to 115 Squadron.
TS: That’s right. Witchford. Yes.
DK: At Witchford.
TS: Yes.
DK: So that was your first posting then.
TS: That was the posting. It was around about February 1945 anyway.
DK: Right.
TS: Yes. Yes.
DK: And, and you mentioned before, just before we put the tape on, the recorder on, the type of Lancasters they had there.
TS: I think they were Mark 1s when we first went there but they were gradually replacing them with Mark 3s.
DK: Right.
TS: They had had, in fact in my Lancaster, I’ve got a big book on the Lancaster and it does show 115 with Hercules. They are Mark 2s.
DK: Right.
TS: But funnily enough I mean the Hercules was a wonderful engine but the Lanc preferred Merlins.
DK: Merlins. Yeah.
TS: So they were reequipping them with Packard Merlins and paddle blades, you know.
DK: So by the time you got there then all the Mark 2 Lancasters had gone had they?
TS: Gone. That’s right. Yes. Yes.
DK: So how many operations did you then fly with 115 squadron?
TS: We flew five.
DK: Right.
TS: Three Manna trips. And there were two that won’t be recorded anywhere which I did.
DK: Right.
TS: And they won’t find anything about them.
DK: Right.
TS: No.
DK: So where were they to then?
TS: Well, they were just over somewhere.
DK: Oh ok. So that wasn’t with your crew then.
TS: No.
DK: No. Ok. So you did five altogether then.
TS: That’s right. Yes. Yes. Two nights. They were both to Kiel. And one to an oil refinery in the Ruhr. These were daylights. And one to, daylight to Bad Odesloe in North Germany and and the island in the North Sea [pause]
DK: Oh, Heligoland.
TS: Heligoland that’s right.
DK: Yeah.
TS: That was the last one.
DK: Right.
TS: Yes. Yeah. And coming back from it was a bit, it wasn’t amusing because the ground crew didn’t like it. Coming back from Bad Odesloe we used to fly in loose vics and after you know you got away gradually they broke up and we were formating with one. And just crossing the Dutch coast near Sylt and bang, bang, bang, bang three anti-aircraft burst right on our nose. A terrific clang and I said to the skipper, ‘I think we’ve been hit.’ Anyway, nothing seemed to be the matter but when we got down it had gone through the elsan [laughs] And the poor ground crew had to, I mean it hadn’t been emptied before the ground crew they had to clear this up. They weren’t pleased.
DK: Oh dear. So was that the only time you were hit by gunfire then or anti-aircraft fire?
TS: I think it was. That was the only time. I didn’t know of another time. No. No. No.
DK: No. You never saw any German fighters or anything like that.
TS: I did see one over Kiel.
DK: Right.
TS: And it was one of these. I think they used to call them lone wolfs. A FW190. And he was well above us and he dived down but some, he just went off. Kept going down. I could see him against the, where the, you know where the fires were down below. Going down. He just went down. It was an FW190 and I think they called them lone wolf.
DK: So the operations then, the bombing operations were all in daylight.
TS: No. The Kiels were night time.
DK: Oh right. Ok. Ok.
TS: Both. Yes.
DK: Right.
TS: Yeah. It was when the pocket battleship was hit by somebody from 115 Squadron actually.
DK: And was it your crew?
TS: And did a lot of damage to it.
DK: Was that your crew by any chance?
TS: No. It wasn’t. No.
DK: Oh [laughs]
TS: I remember very much the pilot who whose aircraft did do it and he was one might say, a bit of an uncouth sod [laughs] He used to eat peas off a knife. But he was a skipper and —
DK: Yeah.
TS: And I think it was his crew that did it. Yes.
DK: Right. So you mentioned earlier just before we put the recording on your pilot then went back to Australia.
TS: That’s right. Yes.
DK: So what happened to the rest of the crew then?
TS: Well, the mid-upper came with me to another crew and the rest just disappeared.
DK: Right.
TS: And I never heard. The only thing I did hear, Len Swettenhan, the bomb aimer he went on. He was taken off flying altogether and he told me that he went out to Singapore and he did quite well for himself because he was got put in charge of a stores down there [laughs] And I think he did quite well out of it. The pilot. Naturally Johnny went back and became a doctor in Australia.
DK: Right.
TS: Dick Tinsley, I’ve no idea what he did. He just disappeared.
DK: Yeah. I can tell you what he did.
TS: Well, he —
DK: He took up with farming so —
TS: Went to farming.
DK: Farming yes when I saw.
TS: Well, they were. When you’re going through you often see Tinsleys.
DK: Yeah.
TS: On those things in the field.
DK: When I saw him in the fields at the back they had about four hundred head of sheep.
TS: Oh really.
DK: So it was the sheep farming he were in to.
TS: Yes.
DK: And he did mention that post-war he just took up with the farm again.
TS: That’s right.
DK: That’s been passed on to his son now.
TS: That’s right. Yes. Yeah. Of course, they were, they were a big farmers weren’t they?
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
TS: And who else? Oh Eddie Harrison. He was just given menial jobs until he was demobbed. And then when he came from Liverpool. He went back to Liverpool and worked for the Liverpool Harbour Board. The Mersey Harbour Board. And funnily enough I didn’t hear ‘til later on through the Squadron Comrades letter that he’d moved to Oulton Broad. So I phoned him up and arranged to meet him at the pub at Gillingham. And we met there and had a drink and then he went off. And I’d gone away on holiday. When I came back I phoned up to make a [pause] and he’d died while I was away.
DK: Oh. That’s a shame.
TS: George. George was, I don’t, he was a lovely fella. A chap I always admired. Navigators. They used to sit at that desk with a chart and take us out there and back again not seeing anything. And really they were wonderful. How they could goodness only knows. They really were wonderful. George [pause] nobody, I asked the rest of the, you know the crew that like Johnny and Len Swettenham and Eddie if, because Eddie, George lived at Warrington which wasn’t very far from Liverpool. But he’d had nothing to do with him. No. No. He just disappeared. So that’s, and of course Ron Stedman, the mid-upper gunner, the last of the crew I’ll tell you in a minute. But he is not here anyway. But that was the, how the crew broke up.
DK: Yeah.
TS: And we went with a Flight Lieutenant Cantrell.
DK: And to which squadron did you go to after that?
TS: Oh, it was still 115.
DK: Oh, still in 115.
TS: Yes.
DK: Oh right. Ok.
TS: Yes.
DK: If I could just take you back a little bit you mentioned that you did three Manna.
TS: Manna trips.
DK: Manna trips.
TS: That’s right. Yes.
DK: So how did you feel about that? Were you —
TS: Wonderful. Wonderful. And one of the things that gave me great satisfaction, more than dropping bombs probably was when we were flying about five hundred feet and I looked down. There was an old gentleman with a black, a black Homburg walking along the dyke and he took his hat off and went like that. And I thought that’s wonderful. And funnily enough the other thing too with regard to Mannas that when we, when I went back to live in Kent at Bearsted there was a chap came and lived in the same road who’d been on the, he’d been in the army in Holland and he’d married a Dutch girl. And she was one of the people around Amsterdam Racecourse waiting for this food to be dropped. And you could see them all around and German soldiers all the way around.
DK: Yeah.
TS: Because [pause] I forget now where it is though I have read it that we started those Manna trips and we had no, no permission from Germany. They, although they’d been approached about it they hadn’t given anything. And I believe, I understand that another thing I’ve read is that because how it happened was that Prince Bernhard and Queen Julianna were living in London and they, through the Underground they learned how bad the Dutch were for food because the Germans had flooded their fields with salt water and things like that. And they approached Winston Churchill to ask if he could do anything. And that’s when he started. He gave the Air Force the order to do these Manna trips. And the Americans did it as well.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
TS: And in fact there was a major major major something. He was a south African on the squadron who used to wear the South African khaki uniform and he was one of the people that helped to develop these panniers which they put in the bomb bays and filled with food.
DK: Right.
TS: And this lady, when she learned that I was one of them she was overjoyed.
DK: So you could —
TS: Yes.
DK: You could see the people waving to you [unclear]
TS: Yes. Yeah. They were all standing around it.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
TS: Because we dropped into Amsterdam Racecourse and the other one. The other big [pause] Amsterdam. What’s the other big city in the Netherlands?
DK: Rotterdam? Or —
TS: Rotterdam. That’s right.
DK: Yeah.
TS: Yes. Yes. In fact, I think Rotterdam is now the big international airport isn’t it?
DK: Yeah.
TS: But that’s where we dropped them. There. Yes.
DK: So what sort of height were you at then when you —
TS: Well, we used to fly over the Dutch coast at about five hundred feet.
DK: Right. And do you know what sort of foodstuffs you were taking?
TS: Well, potatoes. You know. Dehydrated potatoes. Things like that. And lots of tinned stuff.
DK: Yeah.
TS: Yes, all kind of things which you could drop which would, which would be you’d think you know would put up with being dropped.
DK: Yeah.
TS: And we always used to get our chocolate ration and things like that and throw them out. I used to throw them out the back [laughs]
DK: So with 115 then you’ve now moved to a different crew.
TS: Yes.
DK: And did you fly any more operations with the second crew then?
TS: No more operations. The war finished then you see.
DK: Right. Ok.
TS: Because Johnny, the war finished when Johnny was taken away.
DK: Right.
TS: It was three or four days after the war finished.
DK: Right. And I’ve got, just for the recording here I’ve got a picture of you and you crew and the Lancaster behind it. Can you came them all now? Who’s who?
TS: Yes. That’s Dick Tinsley.
DK: Dick Tinsley. Yeah.
TS: Yeah. That’s George the [pause] George the navigator. Eddie Harrison the w/op. John Rimer the skipper. Ron, now [pause] what was the bomb aimers name?
DK: Ok. So that’s the bomb aimer.
TS: Yes. And me.
DK: Oh right.
TS: And Ron Stedman the mid-upper.
DK: Ah. Yeah. And was that your Lancaster at the back there?
TS: No.
DK: No.
TS: No. I mean people say, ‘Oh, you did all those?’ ‘No. That was the Lancaster that did it not us.’ And they asked what, what we meant and there was bombs on for bombing trips.
DK: Yeah.
TS: And windmills for Manna trips.
DK: Oh right. Oh, the windmill’s a Manna trip.
TS: Yes.
DK: Oh ok. Yes. Dick, Dick Tinsley has got that photo.
TS: I don’t doubt it. Yes.
DK: [unclear]
TS: Because how it happened was when we were, when we knew Johnny was going we went down to the photographic section and got hold of a WAAF down there.
DK: Right.
TS: And we stood and took, she took that photo for us.
DK: Well, I’ll definitely speak to his son. As I say when I saw him a couple of years ago he, well as you say he was walking with a bit of difficulty but I’ll see if he’s still around.
TS: Yes.
DK: I’ll let you know.
TS: Yes. I would imagine that he must have had something to do, or you know goes over to East Kirkby to the, at times because he’s not very far away from there.
DK: No. No.
TS: But he might be so incapacitated now. I don’t know.
DK: I’ll have a word with his son.
TS: He’s probably about two years or more older than me anyway.
DK: Yeah. So the war’s come to an end then.
TS: Yes.
DK: What were your plans then? What were you going, intending to do?
TS: Well, I wasn’t intending. I wanted to stay flying. That’s all. Which we did.
DK: Right.
TS: And when the crew broke up and then of course some weeks after that they started these trips to Italy bringing troops home. We used to fly down there and bring twenty home at a time.
DK: Right.
TS: And of course there was no need for both of us to go and Ron wasn’t terribly keen so I used to go all the time. We did three of those. And I used to look after the soldiers on the way back and probably give them a cup of coffee if they had —
DK: Can you remember where you picked them up from?
TS: Yes. Bari.
DK: Right.
TS: On the east coast of Italy.
DK: Right. And how many did you have in the aircraft each time?
TS: Well, there was the, that’s right, five of us because the mid-upper never used to go. And twenty troops.
DK: Right.
TS: Yes. And we used to put the officers in the bomb bay at the front [laughs]
DK: So some of the, some of the soldiers presumably hadn’t seen England for some years.
TS: Oh, they’d been in the eighth army.
DK: Yeah.
TS: They hadn’t been home for four years or more.
DK: Yeah.
TS: Never seen. And I met one, I don’t know how I came to meet him actually but he hadn’t been home for four years and we took off from Bari in the morning and we dropped them at, we used to use two aerodromes. Either Glatton near Peterborough or Tibenham just over the other side of the 140. Tibenham there because they had customs facilities and we dropped him at Tibenham and he was home for tea.
DK: Wow.
TS: But of course, you know it took, it used to take a bit of time coming from Bari. It’s not like the jet age.
DK: Yeah.
TS: When you do it in a couple of hours. It used to take us five and a half hours or so to —
DK: So, you were going over the Alps presumably then were you?
TS: No. I’ll tell you another thing. We always flew down to Marseilles.
DK: Oh right.
TS: Straight and then across the north of Sardinia to Naples and then to Bari. And we weren’t allowed to take parachutes.
DK: Oh.
TS: Because it wouldn’t have looked very good if we’d had parachutes and the twenty troops didn’t.
DK: Didn’t. Oh, I see.
TS: And that was it. The only one who had a parachute was the skipper. And he had to sit on his of course. The first time we went down we got near Naples and of course they, well luckily there was no one within sight of us anyway although there were Lancasters behind us coming down. And we asked Johnny Cantrell, we’d like to circle around Vesuvius and have a look down the crater. And that’s what we did. We circled around, had a look down a crater and then on to Bari. And the last time that I went down there we stayed there. We went down on November the 30th 1945 and through bad weather in England they kept cancelling the trip. Day after [pause] So we got up to Christmas and we’re not going to get home for Christmas and they gave us the option of either going to a holiday. We were, by the way at that time we had flown from Bari over to Pomigliano outside Naples and that’s where we were, then we landed there. And there’s a picture in my Lancaster book. All the Lancs at Pomig’ and our aircraft is in there somewhere.
DK: Oh right.
TS: But anyway, we went there and they gave us the option of either going to Rome or a holiday resort down south of Naples. Well, we, we chose Rome. So they took us in a QL Bedford. Most uncomfortable. About five hours on the drive up to Rome and we spent three days at Christmas in Rome.
DK: Right.
TS: In a football stadium. That’s right. And they, we had a wonderful time there. A lovely Christmas dinner with an Italian tenor singing to us. And we came back on January the 3rd. And that is a bit of a sad time for me after that because when we got back, the second day after coming back the gunnery leader called me in and he said, ‘You’re going off to an instructor’s course. Gunnery instructor’s course.’ So I said, ‘Oh, alright then. Yes. And then I’ll be back.’ And he said, ‘No. You won’t be coming back.’ So I said, ‘Well, I don’t want to go then. So cancel it.’ He said, ‘You’re going and that’s all there is to it.’ So I went. I went over to Andreas on the Isle of Man first of all and I wrote to the, I wrote to the crew. Never had any reply. Then I wrote to another skipper who was a friend of Johnny’s and he told me that ten days after that they were all killed. And in, I don’t know whether it’s in that Lancaster book but in one Lancaster book I have it gave every, the registration number of every Lancaster that was built and what happened to it.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
TS: And on February the 3rd 1946 they were out on a cross country and it blew up over Red House Farm in, in, [pause] over, near Warwick anyway.
DK: Right.
TS: Yeah. Leamington Spa.
DK: Right.
TS: Yes. And they were all killed because, and do you know the only reason I got to know this because I went home on a weeks leave around about that time and I’d taken a pair of shoes home. I used to take my shoes home and have them resoled. And the little boot mender in the village said, ‘Tony. What are you? You’re not here.’ I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Well, in the paper you were one of a crew that was killed.’ And my name was in there. How it had got in there I don’t know. But anyway that’s how I found out about it.
DK: Oh dear.
TS: And I tried to find out what happened. No, no one would say. No.
DK: And that was your pilot then.
TS: The pilot.
DK: Yeah.
TS: And then strangely enough when I left Andreas and I went to the Central Gunnery School at Leconfield —
DK: Yeah.
TS: And I passed through there and went and they said, ‘Would you like to come back, Tony?’ So, I said, ‘I would like to come back here,’ because they had nice cricket facilities and rugby and it was a nice place to be. An old peacetime drome. So I went back to Andreas and they called and I went back to Leconfield.
DK: Right.
TS: As an instructor at the Central Gunnery School. And going back from leave from there one, I used to go up from Kings Cross from Kent and there used to be probably a paper train where you could go in and sleep for the night. And then they’d go off about 5 o’clock in the morning back to Hull you see. And anyway, down the cab was Bill Quinn. The wireless operator. I said, ‘Bill.’ He said, ‘I know what you’re thinking, he said, ‘Do you know what happened? I had sinus trouble that morning and they wouldn’t let me fly.’ So somebody else took his place.
DK: And rather strangely your name was down as one of the crew then.
TS: That’s right. Yes. Yes.
DK: Yeah.
TS: Yes.
DK: If, if you’ve still got the book has it got the serial number of the aircraft?
TS: Well, I don’t. No. I don’t think I, the book, this book I got with all the numbers in it I got from the Suffolk Library.
DK: Oh right. Ok.
TS: I don’t think mine has. I’ll get it out in a minute.
DK: Yeah.
TS: And just have a look at the back.
DK: You can’t remember.
TS: I don’t think it has. No. I can’t remember.
DK: No. No. You can’t.
TS: Numbers like that are so long.
DK: So it’s February.
TS: About February the 3rd it was.
DK: 1946.
TS: Yeah. It was the only Lanc that crashed around about that time.
DK: Yeah. I’ll have a look into that for you.
TS: As a matter of fact I thought that we were the last one or our, that aircraft was the last one that 115 lost. But some [pause] when I left Kent and come up to Norwich and working here and in the building next to our works a chap was interested in aeroplanes and he said, he said, ‘Tony,’ he said, ‘I saw an advert in the paper asking anybody who, about that time to get in touch.’ And I got in touch with these people and apparently whether they, because they went over to Lincolns and then to of all things Super Fortresses afterwards. And on, over North Norfolk they were they were either on an exercise affiliating with fighters and one crashed into them and that these were relatives who were asking if anybody remembered them.
DK: Right.
TS: And then as I say I went to Leconfield and I stayed there until November ’47. Then I came out. And I had a lovely time there.
DK: Just stepping back a bit. The relatives were trying to get in touch with which accident? Sorry. That was another one was it?
TS: Another one. Yes.
DK: Another one. So a plane.
TS: Yes.
DK: Did it hit a Lincoln or a Super Fortress?
TS: It collided with it.
DK: But it was —
TS: It was either a Lincoln or a Lancaster.
DK: Right.
TS: One of the two.
DK: So it’s around the same time.
TS: Around about the same time. Yes.
DK: Same time. Right. Ok.
TS: Yes. And they doing you know a big air exercise with the fighters affiliating with bombers probably intercepting them.
DK: Right.
TS: Which was very unfortunate. But it was so unfortunate when things like that happen. I mean Johnny Cantrell and his crew had done, they had done about fifteen I believe when we joined them and of course they go and do that and then they’re all killed.
DK: Oh dear.
TS: I have some ideas on it but I’m not going to —
DK: No. No
TS: Tell you.
DK: Fair enough.
TS: In there. You appreciate that.
DK: No. No. That’s fair enough. Right. So when did you actually leave the Air Force then?
TS: November ‘47
DK: Right. Ok. And what career did you go into after that?
TS: Well, I got married by the way.
DK: Oh right. Ok.
TS: In February the 10th. In fact it was our seventy first wedding anniversary last Saturday but my wife died three years ago. But that was our wedding in 1947.
DK: Right.
TS: And I had nothing to do. I mean I’d never done anything before going in the Air Force and I had some screwy idea pf another friend of mine because we lived in Kent in among fruit orchards of buying up the fruit in an orchard and that didn’t work out. So I went to work for a company called Serck, S E R C K whose headquarters was in Birmingham. And funnily enough they used to make the oil coolers for the Hercules engines.
DK: Right.
TS: They also made the oil coolers for the Concorde.
DK: Right.
TS: They developed that using fuel going through the matric to cool the oil. Which was a good idea but sadly they’ve gone now. They were sold to BTR. A load of asset strippers.
DK: Oh dear. The old story. So all these years later how do you look back on your time in the Air Force?
TS: An adventure. Yes. it was. Yes. It was. How I would have felt after doing thirty ops I don’t, I might have been nervous and one thing and another because lots of people were. I mean the great time when Bomber Command were really desecrated in a way was ’42 ’43 and up to almost the invasion in ’44. And when we went, when we went as I say we were sprogs really when we went there. And the Germans, you know they were so few, short of fuel. I mean the ones over the Ruhr. I did see some. This was in daylight but there were so many Spits around us and one thing and another that none came near us. But, whether, whether I would have felt different but altogether it was a great adventure. There’s no doubt about that.
DK: Ok. Ok that’s great.
TS: Yeah.
DK: Let’s stop it there shall we?
TS: Yes. Alright then.
DK: On that positive note. Well, thanks very much for your time. That’s been absolutely marvellous.
TS: Well, I hope it’s you know I’ve been —
DK: No. It’s very good.



David Kavanagh, “Interview with Tony Snook,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 27, 2021,

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