Interview with John Foster Thorp


Interview with John Foster Thorp


John Thorp was born and raised in Manchester where he attended North Manchester Grammar School. At seventeen he joined the Home Guard. When he was eighteen he volunteered for the RAF with dreams of becoming a pilot. While waiting at Heaton Park to transfer to further training overseas he became increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress. When invited to volunteer to train as a gunner he decided to accept because he wanted to progress. After training he was posted with his crew to 467 Squadron at RAF Waddington. Returning from the operation on D-Day he saw the massed armada waiting to sail to the landing grounds in Normandy. On take-off to an operation there was a loud bang heard throughout the aircraft. When they returned from the target they tested the undercarriage and the wheel flew past John’s turret. They had to effect an emergency landing at Woodbridge and the pilot completed a remarkable landing.



IBCC Digital Archive




Julie Williams


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01:38:37 audio recording




AThorpJF160412, PThorpJF1601

Temporal Coverage


BW: This is Brian Wright interviewing Warrant Officer John Foster Thorp of 467 Squadron at his home in Bamford, Rochdale at half past one on Tuesday the 12th April 2016. Also present with us are his eldest son Derek and his wife Betty. Warrant Officer Foster, excuse me, Warrant Officer Thorp if you can just describe for us please your family set up. Where you were born and grew up? How many people in your family? Please.
JT: Yes. I was born in Manchester and I grew up in Manchester. In Higher Blackley mainly. And I was there until I was eighteen years of age at which point I went into the RAF.
BW: Was there only you in the family? Did you have any brothers and sisters?
JT: I have. I had one sister. She’s now deceased. But no brothers. No.
BW: And where did you, whereabouts did you go to school?
JT: I went to the local school first until I was fourteen. Sorry. The local school until I was ten. And then I went to North Manchester Grammar School, Chain Bar, Moston. And I left there in September 1939 when the war broke out and the school was evacuated but my father wouldn’t let me be evacuated.
BW: And so you stayed in —
JT: So I stayed at home. And when I became seventeen years of age I joined the local Home Guard which gave me some insight into military training.
BW: And did your sister remain at home at the same, same time? She wasn’t evacuated either or did, did she leave?
JT: She was in a different school.
BW: I see.
JT: So — yeah.
BW: And what prompted you to join the Home Guard at first? Why? Why them?
JT: Just to be military I suppose and wear a uniform. My father was in the ’14/’18 war, in the army and he told me, ‘Don’t go in the army,’ he said, ‘When you’re eighteen.’ So I, I had visions like most eighteen year olds of flying a Spitfire. So, I went to the RAF station, RAF recruiting office in Manchester and volunteered for pilot training. I was accepted. I eventually had to go to Cardington in Bedfordshire to have the aircrew medical and written examination. And then I was waiting then. I was on deferred service until I became a full age for military service. That’s turning eighteen. And, when was it? September 1942 I was called up to the RAF. And they, they had a general course for pilots, navigators and bomb aimers. They called it the PNB Scheme. And you took a general course in navigation, elementary navigation, meteorology, signalling, Morse code and RAF law. And other odds. Engines. Engines. And I did that initial training at Scarborough, Yorkshire.
BW: How long were you there?
JT: About four months I think it was. And then from there I went up to Scone in Scotland, near Perth, where there was a flying, flying school.
[recording interrupted]
BW: So, just to pick up we were, we were saying that you joined the Home Guard and been selected for pilot training and that you’d then completed your initial training and been posted back to Heaton Park. Coincidentally just a mile away from where your parents actually lived.
JT: Yeah.
BW: And your home was in Manchester. So, you were waiting there for your name to come up on a, on a list to either be sent out to Canada, South Africa or where ever.
JT: Further training. Yes. That’s right. And while I was at Heaton Park we used to have a morning parade and a roll call to make sure nobody had buzzed off home with being so frustrated waiting at the, at the — [pause] And so, one morning at the morning parade the person in charge of us said a course had been started for air gunners. And if anybody would like to volunteer to go on to this course then report to the office. So, like a lot of others, they wanted three hundred volunteers and they got over two hundred for these. You see, the point was that Lancasters, Stirlings, Halifaxes carried two gunners and they needed, so they needed more gunners than that. Than any other trade. And so I went and volunteered for air gunner and I was posted to Andreas in the Isle of Man. And there was one of two, one of three airfield on the Isle of Man. There was Andreas was the gunnery school, Jurby was bomb aimer’s and the Royal Navy had taken over Douglas Airport for their, training their Fleet Air Arm people.
BW: Where? What was the first base called?
JT: Andreas.
BW: Andreas?
JT: Andreas. A N D R E A S.
BW: Ok. And that was specifically for air gunnery was it?
JT: Air gunnery training. Yes. Yes. Used to go up on an, in an Avro Anson which had an upper turret and about six of you would go up with the pilot and then an aircraft would come along towing a drogue and you fired from the turret at this drogue. And then when they dropped the drogue on the airfield when you’d finished the exercise they counted the number of holes. And there was six of us firing at it so they divided it by six and that was your score. So, whether you’d hit it or whether you peppered it, you know.
BW: Yeah.
JT: That was the way they worked it.
BW: Nowadays they use, they use coloured paint on the, on the bullets but they didn’t then.
JT: No. No.
BW: They just — right.
JT: So —
BW: This is interesting because at this time in your life you’ve joined the Home Guard. You volunteered for pilot training. You’d been accepted as a pilot.
JT: Yeah.
BW: As you say in your view you were going to fly Spitfires.
JT: I wanted to.
BW: What, what changed in your mind to go for air gunner? What, why the change from pilot?
JT: Frustration.
BW: Simple as that.
JT: Frustration. Not making progress. And that was what it really was. And the same with a lot of other people. And so I passed out on the basis of the number of shots in the, in the drogue. I passed out as an air gunner. As a, they gave me the rank of sergeant and the wing. I got my AG wing. And I was then posted to Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire which was a base where pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, radio operators and so on came there and they formed into crews. And what happened with the pilot this was the, of course the skipper of the crew and he used to be wondering around with a piece of paper and a pencil and he’d go up to a person and say, ‘Have you got a crew yet?’ ‘No sir.’ ‘Would you like to go in my crew?’ Well, an Australian, an Australian flying officer. Flying officer rank pilot said to me, ‘Would you like to join my crew?’ So, I said, ‘Yes. Yes.’ He seemed a nice fellow and I said, ‘I’ll join your crew.’ So he said, ‘First of all, before you definitely decide,’ he said, ‘I’m on retraining because I had a crash and my bomb aimer was killed. We were flying in a Wellington and one engine cut out’. The Wellington didn’t fly very well on one engine and that’s why he crashed. And so I said to him, ‘Well,’ I said, ‘Everybody is allowed one crash.’ So, I said, ‘I’ll join you.’ And I never regretted it. He was a smashing fellow. He was about, I think he was thirty years of age. Which was getting old in flying ranks you know, really. And he said, ‘Come on then. Now you’ve joined me,’ he said, ‘What’s your name?’ So I said, ‘John.’ ‘Right, Johnny.’ And I was Johnny from then on, ‘And, I’ll introduce you to the, I’ll introduce you to the crew. The other members of the crew,’ he said, ‘I’ve been looking for a rear gunner,’ he said, ‘And that’s the final one I wanted.’ So, I said, ‘Ok.’ And there was Herby Phillips the navigator, Canadian. Eric Clem was the mid-upper gunner. Poor Eric never, he didn’t last the war. He was killed. And then there was [pause] do you want the names if I can remember them? There’s Herby Phillips —
BW: Yeah.
JT: Who was the navigator. Canadian.
BW: Eric Clem was the Aussie.
JT: Pardon?
BW: Eric Clem was an Aussie. Is that right?
JT: Eric Clem was an Aussie. Yes. Eric. Yes.
DT: He was your mate wasn’t he?
JT: Pardon?
DT: Eric was your mate.
JT: Can you throw me that red book? That red book off there please.
DT: Yeah.
JT: I made a list of it the other day and — thank you very much.
BW: Was your pilot called MacLaughlin?
JT: David MacLaughlin was the pilot and when he introduced himself he said, ‘My name is David MacLaughlin,’ he said, ‘While we’re flying you call me skipper. But all other times it’s Mac.’ Showing the lack of rank. Not pulling rank you see. So, anyhow, oh dear. I damaged it [pages turning]
DT: Do you want to carry on talking dad?
JT: Here we are.
DT: And I’ll have a look for you.
JT: There we are, Derek.
DT: You’ve got it.
JT: David MacLaughlin pilot. Aussie. Herbert Phillips — navigator. He was Canadian Air Force. The bomb aimer I could never, I can’t remember his name. He was rather a fellow who didn’t mix very well.
BW: Was it Craven? Does that sound familiar? Craven.
JT: Yeah. It does. George Craven was it? Have you got a list of them somewhere? [laughs] Albert Smith, the radio operator. He was from the northeast of England. Reg Hodgkinson was the engineer. He was, he was from Warrington. Eric Clem was the mid-upper gunner. Australian. And myself then. Rear gunner.
DT: Didn’t you start out with another mid-upper?
JT: Pardon?
DT: You started out with another mid-upper gunner didn’t you but he wasn’t able to — ?
JT: Well, we had one. A Canadian. But he couldn’t, he couldn’t stand altitude flying. He used to pass out if he got up to altitude. So that’s when —
BW: And so you swapped him, did you?
JT: Pardon?
BW: You swapped him, did you?
JT: We swapped him. Yeah. Yeah.
DT: It was, was it his skull? His skull hadn’t closed up properly.
JT: That’s right. Yeah.
DT: And there was a hole in the middle of his skull. And when he went up to altitude he passed out. So he was —
JT: Medical problem.
DT: Medical. Yeah.
BW: Wow.
JT: He was a Canadian.
BW: And George Craven. Was he an Aussie or was he, was he British?
JT: George Craven. He was an Aussie. Yeah. But Eric Clem, I said he didn’t last the war. He, he’d done, he did twenty ops with us. Twenty trips with us. Eric. And then he was taken ill with tonsillitis. Went into the sick bay and when he came out he didn’t re-join our crew. And he joined another crew and went, he went to Stuttgart and didn’t, they didn’t come back. He was my room-mate actually. We shared a room. He was a very special little chap. He was twenty nine years of age which was getting on for aircrew really.
BW: Where did you live with the crew? Were you in a Nissen hut or were you in married quarters on the station?
JT: At Waddington? Waddington. Well, it was, was a peacetime base so they had proper built up accommodation over the sergeant’s mess. There’s accommodation for sergeants and like I say I shared a room with Eric until he was killed.
BW: And at this time, you, you’ve met the crew at Upper Heyford and you then were posted as a crew to 467 Squadron at Waddington.
JT: Well, well at first we were at Upper Heyford. We were flying Wellingtons in training. Crew getting, crew getting used to being a crew. Crew training.
BW: What did you think of Wellingtons?
JT: They were alright. Good solid aircraft. Yes. A bit heavy and all that but we didn’t fly in them operationally. It was purely cross-country flying. Bombing practice and things like that. Just straight general training. And then we went from there to Stirlings to swap on to four-engined mark types. Be on four engines then. And that’s where we picked up a navigator - flight engineer. And then from Stirlings we went on to Lancasters. Just a short session. Conversion on to Lancasters and then from there to Waddington.
BW: And do you recall the Conversion Unit where you flew Lancasters?
JT: Was it Wigsley? Was it Wigsley? I’m not sure. I thought it was Wigsley. We went around a bit. No. That was Stirlings. Not Syerston were it? [pages turning]
BW: But as you say you weren’t flying operations at this time. You were just learning to work together as a crew.
JT: To knit together as a crew. Yeah. Yeah. Everybody was still being trained to some extent. Syerston.
BW: I see.
JT: Syerston. That’s where we converted on to Lancasters.
BW: And how long was your course there? How long was your course there? Do you know?
JT: Syerston? Was about a fortnight. Three weeks. It was purely getting used to that type. I mean we’d converted from Wellingtons on to Stirlings for multi-engine. Four engines. And then we’d gone from Stirlings then on to Lancaster conversion because Lancasters were in short supply, you know. Being they were building up the Lancaster force on Bomber Command.
BW: So, so what time, what sort of stage of the war was this? Was this ’41, ’42? Or —
JT: That was in April 1944. That was before D-Day that was of course.
BW: And how did you rate the Stirling aircraft? How did you find them?
JT: It was fairly solid but it was a bit cumbersome. Lumbered along you know. And the thing that struck me really was I was, I was airborne before everybody else because it was quite a long fuselage. They put the tail up to keep the nose down while, while they’re going down the runway and I’m up in the air and everybody else is down on the ground.
BW: And so when you moved then to Waddington to join 467 and start on Lancasters what was your, your impression then? What was the feeling between you and the crew about getting on to Lancasters? Was it like moving from a biplane to a Spitfire? Or was it —
JT: No. From my point of view it was always the same because it was just a turret. Flying in a turret, you see. More and more different for the pilot really and the engineer and that. But from my point of view I just sat in the turret there.
BW: Did the aircraft itself feel different? Lancasters are notoriously cramped.
JT: Yes. It was a comfortable aircraft to fly in. Yes.
BW: You found it comfortable.
JT: Yeah. Found it comfortable. Yes.
BW: And you joined in April ’44. I suppose a similar time of year to what we’re in now but this is in the run up to D-Day which we know now.
JT: Yeah.
BW: Did you sense anything about the coming invasion? Invasion.
JT: No. Not really. What happened, there was a tannoy, you know. The tannoy loudspeaker system around the airfield and there was a tannoy message went out, ‘Will all crews of 467 Squadron report to the briefing room.’ That was one afternoon. And the commanding officer of the squadron told us that, they didn’t say it was D-Day of course because it was still secret then so much but he said, ‘You may be called for an early morning flight. Operation. So, get in to, get, get to bed early tonight and make sure you fully sleep.’ Slept like you see. And about 3 o’clock in the morning there was a hammering on the door and [unclear] much shouting on the corridor. People were being sent to waken all the crews up. And Eric and I got up, got dressed went down to the mess. Had a meal. The usual meal of bacon and egg and all that kind of thing. And, and then from there out to briefing and then we went out to the aircraft. And the thing we noticed as we were going out to the aircraft was they’d painted black and white stripes underneath the wings for recognition purposes. And we, we took off on D-Day morning about, I think it was about 3 or, about 3 o’clock in the morning or something like that. June the 6th [pause pages turning] D-Day. Excuse me. A bit slow.
BW: That’s alright.
DT: You’d done a few ops before then hadn’t you dad?
JT: Pardon?
DT: You’d done a few ops before then hadn’t you?
JT: What? Before D-Day?
DT: D-Day wasn’t your first.
JT: Oh, we’d only done a few before D-Day. Yeah. 2.40. Take off 2.40. St Pierre du Mont in France. That was 2.40 in the morning. And D-Day was quite a thing with us because we went, we went out at like I say 3 o’clock in the morning and as we were flying over, coming back, flying over the Channel — over the Channel there was a vast armada of ships going out. They were going to the landings. And I was going to say about them [pause] anyhow [pause] we flew back, we flew back to our base and they told us then that the D-Day landings, the landings had taken place. And, and again in the afternoon he said you’d be wanted again this evening for a flight. And that was midnight. Now, this was an interesting day. At midnight on D-day. And we took off and of course the Germans always anticipated that the invasion would take place from Dover to Calais. The shortest distance. And they’d stationed a lot of armour and troops south of Calais ready to repel the invasion but it came — it never came. And, so, we, we were detailed on that night of D-Day to bomb some railway, railway tracks. To stop this armour and these troops being transferred from south of Calais, taken over to, to Normandy to, to attack the British forces you see. Anyhow, as we rolled out about, just about midnight almost. Queued up to go on to the runway and then eventually our turn came. We went on the runway. We started, charged up the runway. We were about three quarters of the way along and heard a very loud bang like an explosion. Mac, Mac, in his Aussie twang said, ‘What the bloody hell was that?’ [laughs] And of course nobody knew. Anyway, he pulled it off the ground. We were about three quarters of the way down the runway so we couldn’t, couldn’t stop. We were too far. So, he pulled it off the ground and we carried on and after a few minutes he said there was no, whatever it was it hadn’t affected our controls. So, and the flight engineer said the engine readings are normal. So, Mac said, ‘Ok. We’ll carry on.’ And we carried on, we bombed and we started back and as we crossed the south coast Mac radioed to base and told them we’d got this. Oh no, sorry, before we got to there, as we got to the Channel Mac said, ‘We’d better check the undercarriage,’ and as the wheel went down a big black object flew past my turret. And the engineer looked out. He said, ‘We’ve lost our starboard tyre.’ That big bang was a tyre bursting as we were taking off. So Skip, Mac radioed base at Waddington and told them that we were having this problem. And another thing was as we were heading down towards, towards Waddington we got a constant speed unit in the propeller, in the propeller was, went faulty and we had to shut an engine down. So we were on three engines then. Anyhow, that was on the way to Woodbridge in Suffolk where there was an emergency landing place with a big runway and such. They were kitted out with ambulances and fire engines and all sorts there ready for emergency landings. And so I thought well how was Mac going to get this down, you know, with only one wheel? Anyhow, he went in. He kept this wing up with the dovetail, with the bad wheel and he landed on one wheel and the tail wheel and rolled down the runway and gradually, as we lost speed this wing dropped and the hub that was left after the tyre had gone, the hub hit the ground and we spun around and off the field. Off the strip on to the grass at the side. So, it was a marvellous bit of flying really. To fly a big aircraft like that on one wheel. Yes. So that was D-Day night.
BW: And so you didn’t, you didn’t get out to the target in France? You had to divert before you got there. Is that right? Or did you —
JT: Yeah. No. No. We got to the target. We bombed.
BW: You got to the target. Bombed the target.
JT: And on the way back but we didn’t, we didn’t know what the problem was then. It was only when we started on the way back and we started thinking about what was it? This noise and all that. And Mac put the wheels down and the engineer told us that we’d lost our starboard tyre. So, that was when we first knew about it.

BW: And did you get to find out how successful your attack on the target had been after all that?
JT: Sorry?
BW: Did the, did you get to find out how successful your attack on the target had been after all that?
JT: No. We never did. No. You’d usually get an aiming point photo. They had this, the camera and it was geared up with the bomb, bomb release and it switched, switched on when the, when your bombs had landed. And it should show your bombs. The effect of your bombs. A little camera.
BW: And this aircraft you were flying in at the time, I believe it was S Sugar. Is that right?
JT: Pardon?
BW: I believe the aircraft you were flying in at the time was S Sugar. Is that right?
JT: No. We flew in S for Sugar on our first operational flight.
BW: Just your first one.
JT: First one. June. 28th of May I think it was.
BW: Yeah.
JT: It was S for Sugar.
BT: Handy that log book, isn’t it?
JT: Hmmn?
BT: Handy that log book.
JT: Yes.
BT: Are you looking for something?
JT: July. May. June. What were we talking about? It’s got a W. It wasn’t W. That’s [pause]
BW: Yeah. So that, that’s your first, your first trip.
JT: Well, that was a special exercise, that was a —
BW: But then after that the aircraft you were in on D-Day wasn’t S Sugar then was it? It was, it was another one.
JT: Not D-Day. No.
BW: But that first one you flew in went on to be a well-known Lancaster didn’t it?
JT: It is. It’s, I’ll tell you something about that a bit more [pause] Oh yeah. There. 28th of the May. S for Sugar. 28th of May that.
BW: That’s it. Yeah. Bombing Cherbourg.
JT: Cherbourg. That’s it. So, actually it wasn’t our first. Yes. It was, it would be our first op that. First op because that was a special exercise. That was a special exercise when we flew in it. It was something to do with the radar check on something. And that’s our first trip. That was S for Sugar. Divert a little.
BW: And these are photos that you’ve got of the aircraft in the RAF Museum at Hendon. Is that right?
JT: These. No. No. No, these are Derek’s.
DT: My daughter.
JT: Two grandsons.
DT: My daughter and her husband and my grandsons went down to Hendon.
BW: I see.
DT: A few —
JT: Went down there and —
DT: Well, a few months ago and they took a load of photographs because of my dad’s association with it. They made a little booklet up for him and —
BW: Right.
JT: They allowed them, they allowed them in the prohibited area didn’t they?
DT: Yeah. They did. Yeah.
BW: Yeah. Well, that’s good of them.
JT: There they are.
BW: Yeah. That’s them in front of your turret.
JT: Yeah.
BW: And have you been to the same aircraft in Hendon? Have you seen it yourself?
JT: Well, I’ve been there a couple of times. Yes, and introduced myself. And they sent a young lad, a young chap with us who was on the section and he said he could he could take you to the aircraft. He took us down there and he undid the door and let us climb in. He said, ‘I can’t,’ he said, ‘I don’t know a lot about it,’ he said, ‘Because I’ve only just come on this section. So, I can’t tell you a lot about the Lancaster.’ I said, ‘Well I’ll tell you shall I?’ [laughs]
DT: Is that when you said it didn’t smell the same?
JT: Pardon?
DT: It didn’t smell the same.
JT: No. No. That was one thing that struck me was the smell. And then I realised a long time afterwards that there was no fuel in it, you see. It was an exhibition piece. There was no fuel in it for precautions. Safety precautions. So the aircraft didn’t smell the same [laughs]
BW: And when you were going on ops it presumably had a heavy smell of fuel in it.
JT: Oh yes. Yeah. Well, it always did when you were going on ops or not, you know. You could always smell the aircraft. Yeah.
BW: And when you were preparing for these early trips what sort of things did you have to do? What, what were you doing yourself to prepare for the, for the operations?
JT: Well, of course you had, you had your meal first and you were waited on by WAAFs. They volunteered to wait on us. A courtesy measure, you know for the lads that were going on ops. And anyhow then you went to, along to the, one of the hangars and they got to give you your flying rations. Which were boiled, a packet of boiled sweets, packets of chewing gum and [pause] what else was there? Boiled sweets, chewing gum, oh a block of chocolate. And depending on how, how long the flight was going to be depended on when you got two bags of chocolate [laughs] And then you went and picked up your parachute. You’d already picked up your flying gear from your locker and you picked up your parachute from the parachute store. And then you’d go out to the crew bus and they’d take you out to the aircraft. And that was the only preparation we did really. Picking up stuff we needed. Yeah.
BW: Did you attend the briefing with the rest of the crew?
JT: Oh yes. Yes. Oh yes. They had a long table. A long, you know, a collapsible table and benches, seat, chairs. And each crew used to gather around a table and the navigator usually had a map in front of him and he was already working on a flight plan. Yeah.
BW: And when you see it in films, where they unveil a map on a wall, was that the same kind of thing or different?
JT: Yes. Yes. Sometimes. I mean, once everybody was in they shut the door, the blinds were down and everything and then there was a map on the wall with a tape, a red tape going from your base down to where ever the target was. And the squadron commander would give, first give a chat about what the target was for and why it was picked for a target. What was being done there. Aircraft production or bombs or whatever. And then of course the Met officer. The meteorological officer would then give the weather report for the flight. What it was expected to be like over the target. Clear or not and, and what it would be like when you came back. And diversions. Possibly diversions if, if your airfield was fogged out. Of course Lincolnshire. You got quite a bit of mist in Lincolnshire. And you had to perhaps plan to be away from home when you come back.
BW: Most of your targets at this time are over France in preparation for D-Day. Did you get to fly over Germany at all?
JT: Oh yes. Yes. I’ve never logged precisely how many of each. Each way. But —
BW: Was there a difference in the operation between targets in France and Germany? Did you, did you feel one was more dangerous than the other? Or one was easier than the other?
JT: Well, Germany was obviously — particularly in what they called the Ruhr Valley. That, that was a bad place to go. And I can’t think what we used to call it now but I mean we were at Cherbourg, France which is only just on the coast you see. It isn’t so bad. We did one flight to Königsberg on the Baltic and the actual time was ten hours or something like that. So, it was a long flight. Down Stuttgart. That was where Eric was killed. But this wasn’t, he wasn’t on this flight. That was a eight hour. Eight hours. You notice, you notice the writing changes because Mac, the pilot’s, captain, the crew captain used to collect all the logbooks for his crew and he used to mess about with the logbook, you see. And Mac said to me, ‘You’re not putting enough information on. I’ll keep your logbook for you in the future.’ And that’s why. Why the writing changes.
BW: I see. So —
JT: I just used to put Ops — [unclear] Ops — St Pierre du Mont and then, but Mac put all sorts of, these sort of things down,
BW: What has he put on that one?
JT: Which one?
BW: What has he put on this one?
JT: “Ops Rennes. Landed at Skellingthorpe. Diversion was unsuitable.” Skellingthorpe was next door to our base. Next door to Waddington. There was Skellingthorpe, Bardney and Waddington were in a little group. That says, “Landed at Skellingthorpe.” It must have been fog. So, we were diverted there. I think we did about a third were German and the remainder were France because it would be about D-Day. Around about D-Day of course when we were very much involved in things. Königsberg, East Prussia. Ten hour fifty.
BW: And on such long trips like that how did you keep yourself occupied?
JT: Keeping my eyes open [laughs]. That was important. Yeah. Keep a look out you know. At night time of course. I remember one instance we were on a daylight operation actually. We were flying along and we were coming back and another aircraft just in front of us like that and I saw a Junkers 88. A fighter, German fighter, the 188 which had radar on the nose. And we were flying along and I saw this 188 so I told the skipper like, I said, ‘Junkers 88 starboard quarter. Starboard quarter level.’ So far, such a range. I forgot what it was now and so he said, ‘Keep your eye on it.’ Anyhow, the mid-upper gunner said, ‘I think he’s creeping up on this other Lancaster. And they don’t seem aware that he’s there. He’s coming up on them.’ I said, ‘Shall I fire a burst at him?’ So, the bomb aimer was a bit, you know. The bomb aimer said, George, he said, ‘No. No,’ he said, ‘Don’t you fire at him,’ he said, ‘He may come and turn on to us.’ I said, ‘Well we can’t sit here and watch. And watch him shoot that fellow down can we?’ I said, ‘Let’s give him a warning shot.’ And that’s what I did. Skipper said, ‘Yes. Go ahead.’ So, I gave a warning shot at this Junkers 88. And then the rear gunner of this other aircraft then opened up. And our mid-upper opened and he just dived away. The 88. And so then it was where had he gone to? Had he come around or was he coming around the other side. Where was he? Was he going to be a bit spiteful at us depriving him of his target? But we got away with it.
BW: And the other aircraft remained unscathed as well.
JT: Oh yes. Yeah. Yes.
BW: And when you fired that burst what, what sort of guns are you firing? Are they the 303s or did they change to the .5s at this time?
JT: The 303 Brownings. Four. Four 303 Brownings. And they were [pause] Yeah.
BW: How did you rate them? Did you find them effective weapons?
JT: Yes. Yes. I mean when I fired at this 88 I could see my bullets striking his [pause] they had the port. The port engines. They call it covers. Striking the cowlings on the, on the starboard. On the port engine. But how effective it was I don’t know. It didn’t shoot him down.
BW: But it winged him.
JT: Yes. It frightened him off perhaps.
BW: And was that the only time that you fired your guns at a target?
JT: No.
BW: Or did you get opportunity to use them on other occasions?
JT: Well, had one or two pops off at different ones. But we weren’t, we weren’t really, I wouldn’t say attacked. We were never attacked by a fighter. I got the impression if you fired at them and showed them that you were awake they went off. They weren’t interested. Yeah.
BW: So, just coming back to the start of a mission. When you get in to the aircraft to get into your turret what sort of actions are you going through then? What do you do to settle yourself into the turret?
JT: Well, just get in. Check the gunsight is lit up and of course plug into your intercom so that you’re in communication with the skipper and others. Couple up to the oxygen system. And you’re sitting on, in the latter part you were sitting on a parachute as a cushion of course.
BW: A seat pack.
JT: Yeah. A pilot, a pilot’s type pack they called it. Meaning the other one is the observer pack they called it. That was the one with the chest. Chest pack.
BW: But when you were carrying your ‘chute you had the seat pack. You, you sat on your chute. You didn’t stow it.
JT: Sat on it. Yes. Sat on the parachute. That was an advantage being in the rear turret really because if you had to bale out you turned the turret on the beam so that you were facing that way as you were going along this way say. Open the doors behind you, uncouple your, your plugs and pick your knees up and roll out backwards. And you sit on your parachute. So it was an easy place to get out of. Safest place. Safer than the mid-upper. I wouldn’t have liked sitting on the mid-upper turret.
BW: Did you ever, you never swapped positions?
JT: No. No.
BW: Or flew in that position at all.
JT: I didn’t want to.
BW: You stayed purely rear turret.
JT: No. As a mid-upper he’d got to come down out of from his turret. Down the roof of the bomb bay. Down on to the back. Back end. And then turn to the door, open the door. And if the aeroplane was going like that that, you know it was a bit of a job.
BW: But you never had to bale out.
JT: Oh no. No. I got it planned in my mind. I knew just what I would do.
BW: And what did you, what was your plan if you had to bale out?
JT: To bale out? Well like I say —
BW: You would turn the turret around and bale out but did you, did your plan extend to what you would do on the ground once you were down there?
JT: No. Well, some of the lectures you had were on escape procedures and all that kind of thing. To try and get what they called a home run. You’ve been aware of all this haven’t you? What’s your connection with the RAF?
BW: Me personally? I, I had a couple of years in pilot training in the mid-80s but it was, well for me personally, I was nineteen, twenty years old and, you know flying a jet at that age was ultimately not something I was cut out for so, you know, I left. But in the same manner that that you were briefed on escape and evasion procedures we had as well. And we had exercises in the country about things, you know. You were briefed on what you could expect. And of course flying over enemy territory you had escape kit as well, didn’t you? You had things like silk handkerchiefs with maps on them.
JT: Oh yeah. Yes.
BW: Compass in buttons and things like that.
JT: That’s right. A compass. Two buttons. Two buttons. You’d cut them off and one had a little pin in it like that in the middle and a dimple in the top one and that was, made a little compass in those. Yes.
BW: Thankfully you never had to use them.
JT: No.
BW: You had a good pilot who got you back every time.
JT: Oh yes. Got me back. Oh yes. He was a good pilot.
BW: You said you got on pretty well as a crew altogether.
JT: Hmmn?
BW: You said you got on pretty well as a crew altogether.
JT: Oh yeah. Yes. We got on.
BW: But did you socialise together after the operations?
JT: Not really. No. No. Didn’t [pause] That’s one thing I regretted really. That we didn’t have a sort of a get together after. When we’d finished. Mac was awarded a DFC and when he was going he came to me one day he said, ‘I’m going down to London,’ he said, ‘And he didn’t say about his DFC but I found out afterwards.’ He said, ‘I’m going down to London,’ he said, ‘And they’re flying me down there,’ he said, ‘I believe you’re going to — ’ what is it called? Near Market Harborough. He said, ‘I believe you’re going to,’ so and so, ‘Can we drop you off there?’ So, I said, ‘Oh yes. If you don’t mind.’ So, I got my two kit bags and my other pack and all that and he said, he said, ‘I’m in a hurry,’ he said, ‘So, as quickly as you can.’ And I never got time to say anything to the other lads before I went. And I thought afterwards, you know, it was a bit rotten after flying together all that time.
BW: And so that sounds as though it was the end of your tour when that happened. Is that right?
JT: End of the —
BW: Was it the end of your tour when that happened?
JT: Oh yes. Yes. See they stipulated that you were required to do thirty five ops. The squadron’s commander decided how many trips you had to do to complete what they called a tour of operations. And different squadrons had different numbers. Some had thirty. Some had thirty five and ours was thirty five. Mac, when the crew first arrived on the squadron from training the pilots of course had no operational experience so, they used to send them on a trip or two trips if possible with an experienced crew. And to get, see what, what the Pathfinders approach to things, you know. Over the target and that. And the, I was going to say [pause] anyhow I never got the chance to say goodbye to anybody or exchange addresses or anything. So completely lost touch with them. That was it.
DT: That’s why you did thirty three ops wasn’t it?
JT: Pardon?
DT: That’s why you did thirty three operations and not thirty five.
JT: Oh well, we did thirty three.
DT: Because Mac had done two.
JT: Out of thirty five. Well, Mac did two of these experience trips so we needed thirty five. They said that’s it. So we only did thirty three.
BW: And you, you didn’t go on to serve with another crew. You stopped at that point and finished altogether.
JT: That was it, yeah. Yeah.
BW: And in your log there are some targets that you attacked at the end of June which were V-1 sites. Do you recall what was briefed about those at all? Were they static sites or just storage areas or —
JT: Well, there was Peenemunde of course which was attacked. That was where the Germans were concentrating their rocket activities. But no it was at a targets, you know. You were given a target and that was it. You go and do the job. It’s rather strange you know because our last trip was, was to Mönchengladbach in Germany. And we bombed there one night. That last one and that was it. And 1956 I think it was, our swim, we belonged to a swimming club, the boys and Betty and myself belonged to a swimming club in Manchester. And one of the boys had been in the army at Mönchengladbach and he had formed a friendship with youngsters in the swimming club there [unclear] himself. And he formed this friendship and then the club, their club decided to come over to England and have a joint swimming competition with our club. And it was from Mönchengladbach. And they asked us to, would our members accommodate some youngsters? So we said we’d have two boys. Having three sons of our own. And Heinz and Hans Peter. Hans Peter has died since but Heinz and his wife Sabina, we’re still in touch with them. We’ve been over a few times. They’ve been over here. And I’m walking around Mönchengladbach and think well I bombed this place a few years ago, you know.
DT: Didn’t they take you to a hill dad?
JT: Pardon?
DT: They took you to a hill that was built out of rubble.
JT: Oh yes. Yes. At the back of Sabina and Heinz house there’s this mound. Big mound grassed over and a path leading up so you go up and seats and a garden on the top. A memorial garden. And Sabina said to me one time, she said, her English was very good. She said, ‘Do you know what this is, John?’ I said, ‘What? No.’ So she said, ‘This is rubble from when they were bombed during the war.’ So, I said, ‘Oh dear,’ you know. I didn’t tell her we’d made it, we helped to contribute to it because they were a smashing couple. Yeah.
BW: Did you ever get to see any of the V-1s that you were attacking the ground —
JT: No.
BW: Targets for.
JT: No.
BW: It was just another —
JT: Another target.
BW: Another target.
JT: Yeah.
BW: There were a couple of times where you flew in support of allied troops. One was over Caen and the other was over Königsberg. Did you get to see any of the troops on the ground or were you too high for that?
JT: Oh, too, we would be too high. Yes. Yes.
BW: Your CO, I believe was a Wing Commander Brill.
JT: Brill. Yes. Yes.
BW: What do you recall of him? He was Australian, wasn’t he?
JT: Australian. Yes. Wing Commander Brill. Yes. Deegdon was the flight commander. A fellow called Deegdon.
BW: Deedon?
JT: Flight commander.
BW: And which flight were you in on your squadron?
JT: I can’t remember.
BW: Ok.
JT: No. I can’t remember. He was Australian. Deegdon. I’m not sure whether Brill was killed later in a flying accident. I seem to remember.
BW: Your last trip in your log is to, is it Rheydt. R H E Y D T is that?
JT: Rheydt. Rheydt. Yeah.
BW: Rheydt.
JT: Yeah.
BW: And there was a notable incident on the, on that that raid. Do you recall what it was?
JT: To Rheydt. That was Mönchengladbach. Rheydt. Mönchengladbach.
BW: And who was the master bomber?
JT: Oh yes. Gibson. Guy Gibson. He was killed on that raid. Yeah.
BW: Was there any information given to you about what had happened to him?
JT: No. No. No. I don’t recall. Guy Gibson. Yeah. Wait a minute, yes. Just a minute. I saw, I could tell you something on that. As we were coming back over Holland, we were coming back over Holland and I saw, looking down I saw this twin-engined aircraft on fire. Flying on fire. And it was obviously under control because I thought it was trying to force land. And I saw it hit the ground and burst into flames. And when we got back to base they told us Guy Gibson hadn’t reported back. And I never connected the two facts of seeing this twin-engined, this twin-engined aircraft on fire. I never connected that with him at that time and it was a long time after that that it really hit home that it, there was a possibility.
BW: Because he was in a Mosquito.
JT: A Mosquito. That’s right. Yeah.
BW: And killed over Holland.
JT: Yeah.
BW: It was said that he was heard giving the crews on that raid a pat on the back before turning for home. Was that something that you recall and was it something that was broadcast to crews? Were you able to hear something like that or, or not?
JT: Well, we would have heard. We would perhaps would have heard it over the intercom but I don’t recall anything of that. No.
BW: Were messages broadcast between aircraft that you could hear on the intercom as well or was that only between the wireless operators on each aircraft? Could you? Could you hear exchanges on any raids with other aircraft?
JT: No. I don’t think there was never much communication between aircraft. The master bomber used to, used to communicate with the crews and you know, call in. You were in a flight. You were a wave. You know, you were wave one, two or three. You were told that when you were being briefed. You would be on such a wave. And timings were based on that and [pause] but the master bomber would, if the target, if the aiming of the target, you know, they dropped a marker to, as an aiming point. If it wasn’t accurate they’d say add two or three seconds or something like that to, for overshoot. If the targets, if the flare drops there and the target’s there and you’re coming this way he’d say three. Add three. And you’ve got your bombsight goes through, through the marker and then you’ve got the one, two, three - bang. Drop yours.
BW: Yeah. So, if the marker has fallen short of the target.
JT: Short of the target.
BW: And you’re heading in the direction of the marker you then add three seconds in order to hit the target.
JT: That’s right. To do that.
BW: And when the master bomber was giving you those kind of instructions could you as crew members hear that on the intercom?
JT: Oh yes. We’d hear that. Yes.
BW: And were there occasions when you recognised master bombers perhaps? Like Gibson. Had you heard him before?
JT: Not really. You knew who the master bomber was. And Willie Tait was another one. Willie Tait. Guy Gibson. One or two. One or two were a bit unpopular because they made a cock up of it sometimes. Some of these master bombers.
BW: And did you get to meet Gibson or —
JT: I saw him once. When I was at the Isle of Man. When I was in training. And there was a squadron was walking along, marching along to a lecture and the chappy who was in charge of us said, ‘Oh, here comes the CO.’ And they were coming, a group of about four or five people. Officers. And of course eyes right, you know. That kind of thing. And one of them was Guy Gibson. Yeah. And it was after the dams raid so he was known, you know, and that. And that was at, that was at Andreas. Want to see if it is in the logbook? I’ve got his logbook here. A copy.
BW: How did you come by that?
JT: I forget now. Somebody gave it me.
BW: And what was, this was after the dams but what was his reputation?
JT: I couldn’t really say. Supposed to be umpty, a bit huffy sometimes, you know. This is when I was at Andreas. It would be somewhere about [pause pages turning] Trying to pinpoint when Gibson was [pause] he had a friend on the camp. Some other officer. And he’d come to visit him and he’d flown in to —
BW: I see.
JT: Andreas. To see his friend. That would be August ’43.
BW: Right.
JT: It was round about that time but if it’s in his logbook I don’t know.
BW: Yeah. The log here that you’ve got a copy of says September 16th 1944. This is a copy of Gibson’s own logbook. It says his last recorded trip was in a Lightning. Which would be a P38.
JT: Yeah.
BW: From Langford Lodge. So, prior to that he’d been flying Oxfords but interspersed with Lightnings and Mosquitoes. So —
JT: It doesn’t say his destination does it?
BW: Langford Lodge. To and from Langford Lodge. That’s all. But —
JT: No. I mean I wouldn’t have —
BW: It seems he’s not been long on that op. On those, on that tour. But when you were out over the targets of these places particularly over, over Germany what was, what was the area like? I mean, were you able to see much or was there frequently heavy cloud or were you able to see a lot out of the —
JT: Well, you could see a lot. You could see the, you could see the fires and things like that. And we were too high to see, see much you know. You couldn’t see people or anything like that.
BW: You’d done, in total thirty three ops in just over four months which was pretty consistent flying really. Did you want to continue and carry on and do another tour?
JT: Well, I did. I went from operational flying on to instructing at OTU. Operational Training Unit. And then one of the pilots [pause] I’m trying to think which one it was [pause] One of the pilot instructors said to me one day, ‘I’m getting a crew together to go back on ops. Do you want to come with me?’ So, I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll come with you.’ So, and, well that must have been before, before June. June ’46 was it? ’45. Anyhow, he said, I said, ‘Alright, I’ll come with you.’ So, we went into the training and while we were in training we went to, we went to 100 Squadron for training and [pause] just casting my mind back and it developed then that the war was over. So, there was no point in us completing. And then he decided to cut down squadron strength and of course we were all old stages more or less — due for early de-mob. We were the first lots to be de-mobbed. So, so they made us redundant. Our crew. And, and then I was told I was going to 9 Squadron. At Waddington strangely enough. Back to Waddington. Of course, 9 Squadron was an old First World War squadron. Number 9. Oh and a chappy, Pete Langdon, he was the, he was the deputy commander of the squadron. And that’s when we went out to India. I went and reported to the 9 Squadron adjutant when I arrived. I was posted as a single, as an individual rather than with a crew. And I went in to the adjutant and he said, ‘Hello John, how are you?’ and he was, he’d been one of the instructors with me instructing. And so he said, ‘Did you come to join us?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘We’re going out to Hong Kong.’ So, I said, ‘Oh, I’ll come with you. I’ll join you on that.’ And anyhow, we finished up at Salbani in India. Which was a different place altogether.
BW: And what was it like out there?
JT: Pardon?
BW: What was it like out there?
JT: What? Salbani. Well, just, just out in the wilds. Out in the wilds really. There was, there was the airfield. The airfield, the railway station and that was about all.
BW: Did you get much time off? Off duty? Were you able to go off base into the nearby town?
JT: No. No. Didn’t go off. The nearest place was Calcutta. I went there twice. I went on the train and went twice. I got nose bleed and, I broke my nose when I was a kid you see and it used to bleed sometimes. They said it was the heat causing the rise in blood pressure. I went sick and they sent me to Calcutta to see the ear, nose and throat specialist. I went twice.
BW: How long were you out in India for?
JT: About four months. Yeah. Be four month. Yeah. January to April. January the 2nd we took off. Should have gone on the 1st but the weather wasn’t suitable. Flew to [pause] North Africa and then along over the desert to Karachi. Sorry. To Egypt. Egypt. Egypt to [pause] oh my mind’s going. From Egypt to —
BW: Would you fly to —
JT: Karachi. North Africa.
DT: You went to Italy first didn’t you?
JT: Pardon?
DT: Didn’t you go to Italy first?
JT: I went to Italy. I went to Italy on, that was Operation Dodge.
DT: Oh yeah. Yeah.
JT: Dodge they called it. The flying troops back. Flying the 8th Army chaps back. In fact, there’s a picture of them in. This aircraft was included in it.
BT: Are you warm enough love?
BW: I’m fine thank you, yes.
BT: Are you warm enough David?
DT: I’m fine, love. Yeah. No problem.
BW: Yeah. So they did. They did. Yeah, they did repatriate soldiers and POWs in Lancasters. Yeah. Operation Exodus.
JT: This wasn’t prisoners. This was the 8th Army.
BW: 8th Army. So, that’s an original photo of S Sugar with, as you say troops from the 8th Army about to board. And what were you? Were you still flying Lancasters out in India or were you flying something different?
JT: Oh yes. Lancasters. Yeah. Yeah. Glad. Yeah.
BW: And when you, when you returned back to the UK what, what happened then?
JT: Well, I got married. Didn’t we? [laughs] Yeah. 1946.
BW: And where had you both met?
JT: Hmmn?
BW: Where had you both met? Where did you meet each other?
JT: Oh, we grew up together. Lived in the same road, didn’t we?
BT: Lived on the same road.
JT: Yeah.
BW: So, you’d known each other for years before you joined up.
JT: Oh yeah.
DT: You lived at, what was it mum? You lived number 65.
BT: What?
DT: You lived at number 65 and dad lived at 57.
BT: 57.
JT: That’s right.
BT: So he knew all about me.
DT: And didn’t mess about.
BW: So he knew what he was getting in to.
BT: What love?
BW: He knew what he was letting himself in for.
BT: Oh, he knew what he was taking on. Yeah.
DT: There was no messing about because that was my mum’s dad.
BT: That was my dad. A policeman.
JT: A copper.
BW: I see.
DT: That was, that’s my grandad.
JT: She’s like her father.
BW: Yeah.
DT: He was a big man.
BT: Yeah.
JT: Thirty years. Thirty years in the police.
BT: Lovely fellow wasn’t he John? Really nice.
JT: Oh yeah.
BW: He looks like he, he’d had service too. Did he serve in the Second War or was he in the First?
JT: No. Well he’d got the defence —
BT: A policeman.
JT: He’d got, the policeman and ambulanceman and fireman all got the defence medal didn’t they?
BW: Alright. Thank you.
BT: He used to take the kids at that time you used to take the kids across, you know from, from the school to the other side of the road and they all used to run just so to take hold of his hand.
DT: He was huge. He was about — how tall was he? Six foot something.
BT: Six foot seven.
BW: Wow.
BT: Something like that.
DT: He was the police, the police tug of war team. He was the anchorman.
BW: I should hope so.
BT: Got some lovely presents. Some lovely prizes. Cups and things, you know.
BW: So, when you returned from India you got married and then you were demobbed.
JT: I was demobbed in, soon enough. I enrolled at St John’s Wood. Lord’s Cricket Ground, St John’s Wood. I was de-mobbed at Wembley Stadium.
DT: Didn’t you go on Lincolns dad?
JT: Pardon?
DT: Didn’t you go on to Lincolns?
JT: Ah yes. We went on to Lincolns for a short while. Yes.
BW: And where were you flying those from?
JT: Lincolns? [pause] Binbrook was it? Or Lindholme? Lindholme. Number 9 Squadron attached to Lindholme for —
BW: So, you wouldn’t have been months then doing that. Once you came back from India you wouldn’t be many months with 9 Squadron would you?
JT: Yes. I were with 9 Squadron until the end of the war. Until I was demobbed rather. When we were on Lincolns. I were demobbed from the 9 Squadron.
BW: I see.
JT: At Binbrook. Binbrook. When we came back from India.
BW: Once you left the RAF what did you go on to do then?
JT: I went, I worked for the CWS before. In Manchester. The Coop headquarters in Manchester. I worked for them before I went in the RAF and when I came out of course they had to give me my job back. And I went, I was in the sales accounts department.
BW: For the Co-op.
JT: For the Co-op. Yes. In their head office there and the chappy who was made the boss. The boss retired, the manager of the department. He’d stayed on extra years during the war and of course when peace came he, he opted for his retirement. And the chap who took over as boss, he’d married one of the CWS director’s daughters. So, of course he was a squadron leader in the RAF and when he came back he, they gave him, the boss gave him the bosses job when the boss retired. They gave him his job. And he said to me one day, I mean he had a bit of a soft spot for being ex-RAF as well. He said to me, he said, ‘There’s a vacancy in the taxation department,’ he said, ‘Are you interested?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘It will pay better than this department.’ So, I said, ‘Oh yeah. Certainly.’ So I got the job in taxation. Company tax work. And very interesting it was. Cut and thrust with the Inland Revenue you know and sending, we used to do audits for various Co-op societies and I used to do the tax work then. So, what they had to pay in tax from the profits or how money we got back from them for the losses and such. You know. And I finished up as managing the department at one time. And then they merged. They merged with the auditors and you’ve heard of KPMG have you?
BW: Accountants.
JT: On London Road. And they merged with them so I was just about due for retiring then so I got out. And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the work. Interesting.
BW: I can think of a few people who’d be, who’d be asking for your skills. I can think of a few people who would be asking for your skills these days.
JT: Oh yeah.
BW: Somebody who lives at number 10 I think.
DT: Yours was company tax wasn’t it? You were company tax. Not personal tax.
BW: Yeah.
JT: Company tax. Not individuals. It was company tax. Yes.
DT: But you used to fill my tax forms in and you’d say, ‘Cross that out. Cross that out. Sign. Tick that, tick that, tick that. Sign that,’ he said, ‘That’ll be thirty guineas.’
DT: You managed to fly Lancasters as well didn’t you dad?
JT: Pardon?
DT: You managed to fly Lancasters.
JT: Oh, I did fly a Lancaster once. Yeah.
DT: Yeah.
BW: How did you manage that?
JT: Well, we had a pilot who decided that it would be a good idea if different crew members interchanged. So, he said, ‘Here John,’ he said, ‘Fly this.’ I said, ‘Oh aye. Go on.’ I got in the pilot’s seat. Flew it. But just straight and level stuff, more or less, you know.
DT: He wanted to make sure you got home.
JT: Hmmn?
DT: He wanted to make sure he got home in case, if he was hurt.
JT: Well, no this was after.
DT: That was after was it?
JT: After all. Yeah.
DT: Oh, I thought it was —
JT: No. Mac didn’t. No. Mac was, Mac was the pilot.
DT: Yeah.
JT: He was in charge.
DT: Oh right.
BW: Was he pretty strict about that sort of thing?
JT: Yeah. He were a good pilot.
BW: There’s a photo here of your CO and the Duke of Gloucester. Duke of Gloucester’s on the left there.
JT: He became —
BW: And your CO —
JT: Yeah. He was at, he was made the Governor General of Australia wasn’t he. So he came to an Australian squadron to say, when he went to Australia there he could genuinely, could say, ‘I’ve met the lads in England,’ you know. That kind of thing. Yeah.
BW: Do you recall that visit taking place? It would be about the time you were on.
JT: No. No.
BW: Waddington.
JT: I do remember actually. We were told he was coming but I, we’d been on operation that previous night and I said, I’m not getting up to go and see him [laughs] Yes.
BW: There was a couple of Australian crewmen in that photo too.
JT: Yeah. Wing Commander Brill. Yeah.
BW: Did you happen to know them? The other, the other crewmen. They’re named.
JT: No. I don’t. Where did you get this from? Got secret information. Got me here.
BW: That’s from the Australian War Museum that particular photo. But you shared that that base at Waddington with 463 Squadron as well didn’t you?
JT: 463 and 467. That’s right. Yes. Yeah.
BW: And did you get to mix with them at all from the other?
JT: Not really. You didn’t really know. You know there was just a mass of fellows and you didn’t know whether they were 463 or 467. The only, the only near association and strangely enough it was, that was through Derek. That mate of yours who [pause] they formed [pause] what do you call it? Oh God. What’s his name? His father. Johnson.
DT: Johnson. Max Johnson.
JT: Johnson. Johnson. That’s right.
DT: Peter Johnson. Max Johnson was his father and Max Johnson was on 467 Squadron wasn’t he?
JT: That’s right, yeah.
DT: Yeah. And he’s actually listed as one of the pilots of POS at the time.
JT: Yeah.
DT: Yeah.
JT: That’s right. Yeah.
DT: Another coincidence, Brian. I worked for a company. I worked in the chemical research department and I was seconded to a university in Australia to do a research project over there. I was there for two months I think it was. My wife and my daughter came with us and and in the department there was, I was talking to some of the lads in the lab and in the research area and I was saying, ‘Oh, my dad was in the Royal Australian Air Force.’ And they said, ‘Oh you want to come and see Doc Pete. A fellow called Peter Brownall.’ And they said he was on Lancasters during the war. So, they took me along to see this elderly university lecturer and we got talking. A really nice guy you know. And he says, he says what squadron were you with? I said, ‘What squadron were you with?’ So he said 467. I said, ‘Oh that was my dad’s squadron. 467.’ But he was slightly after my dad and I think he was just there, he was there just as the war finished. He’d done his training and he got on to the squadron but 467 then was at Metheringham. And so he was absolutely hacked off because the war had ended and he hadn’t been able to —
BW: Yeah.
DT: Go on operations.
BW: Participate.
DT: So, he was flown, he flew back then to Australian and took up his post as, I think a botany lecturer. Some sort of science lecturer, you know.
BW: Yeah.
DT: So I was talking to him and it was interesting. And there was a not a DVD but a tape of that time. This was 1994. A tape had been produced about, called, “The Lancaster at war,” and I told him about this. So, when I got home I searched out a copy of it and posted it off for him. And I got a really nice letter back you know, thanking me for this. And he said he’d had to go out and buy a tape player and people had been coming around and he’d been, you know he’d been showing this Lancaster thing, Lancaster tape to all his, all his pals. But he was a nice chap. And do you remember that cartoon that he gave me? And it was —
[recording paused]
BW: Last, I think, section to, to cover. Since your retirement and since you left the RAF how does it feel to see Bomber Command being commemorated after all this time? There’s now the Hyde Park Memorial and there’s the Spire in Lincoln?
JT: It should be. It should be.
BW: Have you been to the unveiling of the Memorial Spire in Lincoln?
JT: No. No.
BW: Did you go last year?
JT: No. No.
BW: So, you —
JT: I don’t think that should have been built in London. It should have been built in Lincoln.
BW: Well, the Memorial in Green Park was unveiled a few years ago but they are, they have unveiled a Memorial Spire at Canwick Hill which is what the Bomber Command Centre are responsible for. Have you, have you seen that? Have you been?
JT: No.
BW: No.
JT: I haven’t. No.
BW: But it’s in, and certainly I’m sure you’d agree it’s in the right place. You know, it’s —
JT: Oh, it is. Yeah.
BW: So, there’s a spire which is the height of a Lancaster’s wingspan and it has memorial walls made of steel situated around it. And that’s where the Centre will be built. The Chadwick Centre which will house the digital archive which, you know, this information is going to go into. But you can —
JT: I don’t know if I’ll ever get over to Lincoln now.
BW: Well if you do it’s, it’s worth seeing.
JT: Yeah.
BW: They had a, they had a beautiful unveiling ceremony last year and a flypast. Unfortunately, the Lancaster couldn’t make it but they got the Vulcan instead. And that was, that was really special. If you do get the chance do go and have a look. So, are you, are you glad these sort of commemorations for Bomber Command are coming about now?
JT: Sorry?
BW: Are you glad these sorts of commemorations for Bomber Command are coming about?
JT: Oh yeah. I am glad. Yes. There’s, because there are so many uniques in the army and so on, and navy and they were specifically honoured. And Bomber Command, I think people regarded them as dirty words because of bombing civilians. I think that’s been a failing really.
[recording paused while John leaves the room for a moment]
JT: A while later. A few years later I went to see him. He said, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘The firm’s selling up. They’re merging with someone else,’ he said, ‘I’m retiring.’ So, he said, ‘Good luck,’ and all that. So, anyhow a few days later a partner from the firm came with a parcel and he gave me that. Gave me that picture. And I rang this chappy up to thank him for sending it and he said, ‘Well, it belongs to you more than it belongs to me,’ he said, ‘You did some good work for us,’ and all that and so —
BW: And that’s —
JT: He gave it me.
BW: And that’s how you acquired the picture.
JT: That’s how it came. Yeah.
BW: And so you’ve always, you’ve always got that association now with.
JT: [unclear] yeah.
BW: POS and you know.
JT: Yeah.
BT: That was good of them wasn’t it?
BW: And it’s, you know, on permanent display now in the RAF Museum.
JT: Yeah.
BW: So, that’s brilliant. So, when you, when you look back over your career in the RAF has it given you good memories, and?
JT: Oh yes. I’ve got good memories. Some good mates, and you know it was, it’s alright. It’ll be alright. Yes. I never regretted going. Yeah.
BW: We’ll move on to other things like the photographs and whatever. So, you know, for the, for the audio anyway I’ll leave it there for now. So, thank you very much for your time. For the interview. And for giving the information to the International Bomber Command Centre. Thank you.



Brian Wright, “Interview with John Foster Thorp,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 10, 2019,

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