Interview with Ernie Tillbrook


Interview with Ernie Tillbrook


Ernest Hector Angelo Pedrazzini was the son of an Italian father and an English mother. After the war he changed his name to Tillbrook. Ernie’s father escaped from a prison camp during the First World War and finding his way to Russia and employment in the pre-revolution years before escaping to Moscow and making his way back to Italy and then to his young family in England. Ernie Tillbrook was employed at the Gillette’s factory when he left school and experienced the London Blitz as a messenger before he volunteered for the RAF. He started as a mechanic before undertaking training as a flight engineer and flying operations with 431 Squadron.




Temporal Coverage





01:45:36 audio recording


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ATillbrookEHA160105, PTillbrookEHA1603


PL: Ok. So this is Pam Locker and I’m interviewing Ernest Hector Angelo Pedrazzini.
ETP: Pedrazzini.
PL: Pedrazzini. Which was his birth name and service name but later changed to Tillbrook, at his home at xxxxx, in Hull on the 5th of the 1st 2016 at 11 o’clock. Well, Ernie, can I start by just saying an enormous thank you.
ETP: Sorry?
PL: Could I start by saying an enormous thank you to you on behalf of the Bomber Command Memorial Trust for sharing your story with us.
ETP: Very kind of you. Thank you.
PL: So if we could just start, just before we started the recording you were telling me a little bit about your father. Perhaps that would be a great place to start.
ETP: Well my father was Italian. My mother was very English. So it was a little bit of a mix up. However, my father really lived his life in the trade. Restaurant trade. Eventually, because he was a naturalised Italian rather than British he went to, in the army. The Italian army. Unfortunately, I can’t find much about what happened. All I know is that he never, hardly ever received his payments because he had enough money from England. So he paid other army people to go and take his payments. Anyway, finally he was in the retreat of Caporetto which is a well known Italian retreat at the time. And there, somehow or other, he escaped. I don’t think he escaped so much as walked out of a prison camp with about thirty thousand prisoners. From there on, being a son with insufficient knowledge of what my father was doing I found that he eventually reached Russia or the Ukraine. He reached it by eating turnips and potatoes in the field and in effect pinching them. Anyway, he finally reached the Ukraine I think and luckily got a job is all I can say in, with a very rich — what one would call a [pause] head man in a big mansion. Unfortunately — he was very happy there but and had very good food and everything but of course at that time in Russia the Bolsheviks came in. And eventually the communists as they are known now. He then left and somehow or other without passport or any means of knowledge got to Moscow. And from Moscow he eventually got to Italy and found his family. His sister and presumably other members of the family. Finally he left Italy and reached England where of course his wife, my mother, and two sons were there. I’m a son of later birth. I was born, for some reason, nine years after my brothers were there. Now, shall I go on? From there on I suppose I come to Gillette’s. My first job after I left the, sorry, the school. And I had a very nice, I really enjoyed Gillette. It was one of the best companies you could be in at the time. However being young or foolish I wanted to be like my brother who was then in the British RAF. Having said that of course my brother got thrown out of the RAF because he was part Italian. It’s a long story. He became eventually a very [pause] sommelier in the Hyde Park Hotel. From there some very prominent air marshall or something said, ‘What’s a young man like you doing in the air force.’ Or whatever. Which was a little bit foolish but anyway my brother said, ‘Well I’d like to get back. And this air marshall, whatever he was, got him back in. But funnily enough in his records there’s always a name there to tell anybody that knew that he mustn’t be posted without permission of the commandant of the place. That’s the story of my brother. He eventually got into Bomber Command of course and he was with 637 Pathfinder force. Unfortunately, in August of ’44, just before I joined a squadron, he was shot down by the German Air Force and was killed. Funnily enough his bomb aimer — by the way my brother was an observer or navigator, his bomb aimer escaped. An Australian. He escaped somehow but tragically a few weeks later he was shot by a German patrol. So, that’s the general story of my brother. As far as I’m concerned, as I say being young and brash I decided that I had to go in to the air force. I could have been in a reserved occupation at Gillette’s but oh no. Brave Ernie Tillbrook or Ernie, sorry Pedrazzini at the time had to go into the air force. I joined a place somewhere in Victoria. One of these big offices. And there I was interviewed for all sorts of things which as far as I know I passed. But my final interview was with three dear old squadron leaders sitting at a table and I thought this is alright. I’m going to get through here. But oh no. They finally found that apparently I couldn’t see far enough from my eyes. Now, I’m not sure that anybody in an aircraft coming towards me I would know, be put off by somebody coming quite near me on my eye. Anyway, that was the story. So again I should have gone back to Gillette’s but oh no. I decided I’d go in to the — an ordinary airman as a flight mechanic. Which I did. I eventually got the wonderful, wonderful promotion as a leading aircraftsman which funnily enough I was prouder of that than any other promotion I took after. Anyway, that was in Wales. I had a nice time there. Eventually somebody asked quite a few of us at the time in Cosford, would we like to become flight engineers. So of course Charlie boy here goes again and volunteers to be a flight engineer. After a long story I eventually passed out as a flight engineer at — in Wales. St Athans in Wales. And that was the end of it. Eventually of course I went to 634 Squadron up in Yorkshire and passed out as a flight engineer on the Halifax’s. There, unbelievably, being a flight engineer I joined a crew who had been flying Wimpies and things for a long time. Of course there was no flight engineer so I had to join. People sometimes say to me, ‘Oh you must have all joined and been together and worked with each other.’ Forgive the expression but that’s complete balderdash. I went in to a large room where several of the other airmen were there and eventually I saw a funny looking chap with a pilot’s wings. Dear old Don and said, ‘Do you want a flight engineer?’ He looked at me and there must have been something in my face that he liked. He said, ‘Yeah, I suppose so,’ in a real Canadian voice. And that was it. That’s how I became on Halifaxes at the beginning as the crew of, of course in those days, seven crew. So there it is. I eventually went to Croft which is a horrible place from the point of view of weather. And I can remember, if I may tell you the story, the Canadians there who allegedly were used to hard winters and lord knows what, they shivered. In fact, getting in to those terrible bunks we had they used to — one I can remember wore his pyjamas, his clothes, ordinary clothes and then his flying suit over the lot to try and keep warm. We did have a fire of some sort. One of these big fires but of course we never had enough coal. The only time we had any was when we scrounged some coal from somewhere or other. Having said all that of course I had an excellent time with the crew and as a sergeant and then I was with Halifaxes and we lived quite well. One or two odd spots which made me very nervous but we got through. Until eventually we went to Lancasters. Which of course despite the, one might say, the joy of the Halifax which seemed to be a much sturdier kite at the time we went to, on to Lancasters and I don’t know how in these days we ever transferred. Because with the Halifax we had Bristol engines and typically with the Lancaster we had Merlin engines, but that’s the time. We learned very quickly, and that was it. I completed the rest of the tour. Thirty one trips. And eventually left to go in to Transport Command on Yorks. Is that? I’ll go on?
PL: So, tell, tell me first of all what your job involved as a flight engineer.
ETP: As a flight engineer. I’m sorry. As a flight engineer I was, I was, in command. Well, I had charge of the engines with the cooperation, with the pilot who really was the one that was the master. But I would look after the engines, all the hydraulics, any other things. Flaps. Ailerons. Anything that went wrong it was my responsibility to see if I could do something. If we had a fire on board it was my responsibility, with the pilot to, to stop the engine. Hopefully. And we had a Graviner fire extinguisher, which again hopefully would stop it. We did have one accident. One of our aircraft had a fire while we were flying to [pause] I think Germany somewhere. But anyway again being press on Charlies we kept on with three engines. And my job then was to see that the petrol was in the right sequence and in the right order for carrying on with three engines. So, I think that’s basically what my job was. But, as I say, in general it was to look after the aircraft and its working throughout. Which was a job a bit different to the rest because really the pilot was the pilot and obviously controlled the aircraft. The bomb aimer was the bomb aimer. And which, by the way I often did the bomb aiming when it was in cloud. And then of course you had the navigator who for obvious — doing the navigation. The wireless operator for doing the wireless operating with various jobs of looking out for German codes. And finally those poor devils, or at least particularly the rear gunner who had the job obviously on the rear guns. I don’t know how anybody [pause] and my rear gunner was called Hal who was an excellent pianist, but however, he stayed in those things for sometimes up to nine hours in the cold. I don’t know how anybody could do that. The mid-upper gunner was in a similar position but at least he could occasionally move down fairly easily, so it wasn’t quite so bad. I think that’s the crew as I knew it.
PL: You said that in cloud you used — sometimes when there was cloud you did the bomb aiming. So why? Why was that? Why was it specifically when it was in cloud?
ETP: If you were looking for a target then sometimes the target was covered by cloud so you couldn’t really find any point of aim. So what you did — you had various things. Gee and various navigational aids and you pinpointed as near as you could by means of the navigation aids where, where the target was. Purely guess work. Sometimes of course you could already see the pause] sometimes you could already see the markers from PFF planes through the, through the haze or through the cloud but if you couldn’t really see you just bombed. What should I say? Rather in hope than anything else that you could hit through the target. So there we are. Should I go on?
PL: Please do.
ETP: I ended, as I said before with thirty two trips. We all left each other. I did see my skipper some years after but as far as the rest of the crew we never saw them again. Just as a part of it my skipper, at one time, in his usual way managed to get into a Spitfire and practice with a Spitfire. Which of course he came too close where I was flying in a Lanc on another occasion and nearly shook the living daylights out of me because he was too close. From there on I went again to some place in Victoria in London. And a chap said, ‘Ah. Just the man we’re looking for. We want you to go to India.’ That scared the living daylights out of me because India was right in the whole thing. So I said, ‘Well are you sure? I thought I was going somewhere else.’ He looked up his papers. Typical RAF and said, ‘Oh I’m very sorry. You’ll be going to Transport Command.’ So anyway.
PL: So why was that?
ETP: Pardon?
PL: Why was that?
ETP: Why what? Well it was a mix up in names and I think they just saw me. Probably didn’t even recognise Pedrazzini anyway and thought I was another chap that had come in. How should I say? A bright looking man. No. And as I say luckily much to my happiness I eventually went to Riccall in York. To train as a, further train as a flight engineer on York aircraft which was really a transport aircraft with same engines. Merlin engines. And there I did many trips to India [pause] well India, Calcutta. I’m not sure now. One’s India. One’s Pakistan. But anyway, wherever it was I went there and did several trips backwards and forwards from England.
PL: What sort of things were you transporting?
ETP: Pardon?
PL: What sort of things were you transporting?
ETP: Oh. We were transporting all sorts. Mainly service people. One trip was very nice. We had a whole load of nurses. Which was excellent. But in general it was squaddies. No. I can’t call them squaddies can I? Army personnel flying and one particular incident by the way, if I may explain it, we were flying from London — from Gibraltar to London or to, sorry, to England and over — passing over I think the Massif in France and believe it or not we were up at seven thousand feet because we couldn’t fly higher than that because of the air. No oxygen. We were flying at seven thousand feet and suddenly — boom. We fell over three thousand feet. Now the Massif must be going somewhere near four thousand feet. I don’t know. Luckily I had a New Zealand skipper who had enough strength. I mean I was hopeless. I was just stuck on the ceiling. He was able to grab the stick and eventually managed to bring it back under control. I’m not sure to this day how because I was useless. As I say I was stuck on the ceiling. My navigator was just trying to hold himself on a seat and that was it. Eventually we got back. We got back and of course the first thing was — oh by the way, in getting back the first thing we brought back a bunch of Scottish Highlanders in their, and of course they were dressed to come back. They were khaki true but with, forgive me for saying — a skirt. I don’t know what the Scots would tell me about that. But anyway —
PL: Their kilts [laughs]
ETP: And as they came up of course it was quite a sight. All their, forgive the expression again, all their skirts flew up and, mind you I didn’t have time to look to see what was happening but to cut it short we landed in Bournemouth. Somewhere near Bournemouth and of course me being, you know to, I went, I did honestly try and see some. There was one poor little squaddie at the back who got a special pass to come back to England and unfortunately the stick which holds the undercarriage when it’s still rose up and hit him. But anyway we managed to do that and we got back, and of course I got back kissing the ground and lord knows what when somebody came up and said, ‘Did you know your tail’s missing?’ Well the York had a mid-fin. And that was made of steel rods and canvas. Well that had flew off. But anyway we hadn’t noticed it obviously. And, finally, as a final story forgive me for saying this a [pause] what do we call the people that look, you know, careful you’re not stealing anything from the —
PL: Security?
ETP: Customs man. Customs man. Because we had those. Oh yes. We had those. We had to be careful. Anyway, customs man came up and took a look and said, ‘Oh you’ve had a bit of a trouble.’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Don’t go up there.’ There was a ladder to go up. He said, ‘Oh yes. Why not?’ I said, ‘Well, just don’t go up there. It’s a bit mucky.’ Oh no. He couldn’t believe that. So up he gets and if, how do I put it, he then found that he had a handfuls of excrement from the elsan which we had, which was the only means of toilet we had in the plane had all flown up. I’m sorry about this but there it was. That was a true story. And if you customs people will forgive me we were very happy about it [laughs] but I’d better not say anymore.
PL: So, so what —
ETP: But then eventually I carried on.
PL: Can I just stop you before we move on?
ETP: Yes.
PL: Because I’m just curious to, to, what was the cause of the loss of altitude then? What caused the near accident?
ETP: Well of course most people say its, what do they call it, anyway basically it’s the downdraft of air. People say it’s all sorts of mysterious but frankly it’s a downdraft. Particularly if you’re over hilly country. Or mountainous country. You get a sudden downdraft. There’s nothing you can do and remember these kites were big things like they are today and we just went down. So down draft is the true explanation.
PL: And the, and the chap at the back who got hit by the lever from the —
ETP: Yeah the little chap, the little —
PL: Was he all right?
ETP: I call him squaddie, forgive me. Little army chap. I think he was going back special leave and he was sitting right at the back quiet as a mouse and the poor little devil — this big stick which is used to jam the undercar, wheels underneath which should be there [pause] he just, it wasn’t fixed and it just came up and turned around and hit him. Not too badly I think but obviously we had to take him back to the medics. I think that’s it.
PL: So losing the tail fin. That was part of dropping so —
ETP: Well the York — the Lancaster as you know had two whatevers, sorry about this, had two but for the York, to give it more stability it had this centre fin which is only a canvas and whatever and of course that just ripped off. But of course I was to eager to get away. I didn’t realise it until somebody said, ‘Oh you’ve lost your tail plane.’ [laughs] Sorry. There we are.
PL: I’m interested Ernie just to go back a little bit to a couple of things that you talked about. The first thing is that you said that you were in Lancasters and you were nearly hit by your old pilot in a Spitfire. So how did that come about because you’ve told me that you were in Halifaxes?
ETP: Oh sorry.
PL: From Croft.
ETP: Unbeknown to me at the time Don Hagar, our pilot, managed to get a trip or managed to get, before he went back to Canada, managed to get a trip or joined a Spitfire squadron and so I don’t know to this day how he did it but anyway typical Don Hagar he realised that I was flying a Lanc with another pilot and of course the temptation was just too great. He just swept so near me. Too near for me as far as I was concerned and said, ‘Hello,’ in fact out of the cockpit.
PL: So what was the job?
ETP: I wasn’t sure I liked it at the time. Pardon?
PL: What were you actually doing?
ETP: Oh we were doing a cross country check for some reason.
PL: Right.
ETP: It was after my tour, and I was joe’d as a flight engineer to go with some other pilot to do a cross country check or something. I can’t remember now what it was but just to fly and see that the aircraft was ok and we landed back.
PL: And you nearly didn’t.
ETP: Pardon?
PL: And you nearly didn’t. You nearly didn’t. Because of the —
ETP: Oh yeah. Well that’s what I thought. He was probably further away than I thought. I thought that’s typical Don. Get out of it [laughs]
PL: How funny.
ETP: Yeah.
PL: So Ernie, what about, what about your tours. You haven’t spoken very much about the tours that you did.
ETP: The?
PL: The tour that you did.
ETP: Oh. Well in those days — 1944, one must remember that frankly it was getting towards the end of the war. Not that everybody realised it at the time. We still had great trouble. We did trips. The first trips we did were possibly in relation to the D-Day landings and we, in other words we were doing daylight trips to Calais and various French ports but of course that was in the late summer so of course there was more light then. So as I say we were doing more daylights which were allegedly were easy [laughs] but quite frankly a lot of planes, a lot of aircraft were lost at that time because the Germans had plenty of flak, you know and night fighters at the time over there. But eventually of course it began to get darker and then we started the long trips to people like, to places like the Ruhr. Castop Rauxel which is one of the petrol places. I never did a Berlin trip but one long trip we did was to [pause] sorry. Munich. Munich. That was a very long trip. Nearly ten hours. Which was pretty tiring as you can imagine. Funnily enough there was raids on Munich before which we weren’t in, and they had terrible time. They were shot down, a number of them. But rightly or wrongly by the time we got to Munich there was hardly any defence at all. I think the people which I suppose one might say, poor people then but that never occurred to me as such. We, we bombed from about nineteen thousand, twenty thousand feet and had hardly any flak at all ‘til we came back. Then it got a bit dodgy as we got into Germany deep and of course the fighters started to come up. I think once we were hit by flak. I was very nervous. Hit by flak but as I say really didn’t have a scratch. The only thing was of course, typical RAF, having done all these daylight raids that was considered to be much easier than going to Germany and all the rest of it, which is a load of typical RAF bosh. Anyway, instead of doing thirty trips, which was enough, they made us do thirty two trips. And why? Because some boffin or other in the RAF decided that we wouldn’t just get a number of points for a trip. We would get a point in order of the trips. In other words a trip to France would only be two points. A trip to Germany would be three points etcetera etcetera. So then that is why we did thirty two trips and those two trips made me very nervous at the end. But again, I got through alright so, and as I said just now lucky enough to get onto transport command. Which is quite hairy in its own way. Shall I explain?
PL: Yes. Please do.
ETP: We used to land in Libya. Castel Benito. That was our first landing. From Castel Benito we went to Egypt. From Egypt we went to a place called Shaiba in the desert. And from Shaiba we’d land in Karachi. Which is by another name now which I’m not sure. Is it Mumbai or something like that? Anyway, that was Karachi and sometimes we went over to Calcutta. I landed in Calcutta once just before the monsoon and that was a most horrible experience. There was no water. There was nothing. But, anyway, I got over that. And of course at the time there were a lot of riots you had to be careful of particularly in Calcutta. Because as you know the Indian and Pakistan people began to riot. Mostly amongst themselves rather than to the Raj. I eventually made a trip, oh yes, that was a trip worth knowing. If I can think of the name. No. Forget that bit. I’ve forgotten it. It out in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a holiday place now.
PL: The Canaries or [pause] the Canaries or something like that.
ETP: The Azores.
PL: The Azores.
ETP: Yes. The Azores. That was rather interesting. We landed in the Azores. You had to find it. If you weren’t careful you’d miss it. Anyway we found it there and the strange thing was that as we were going in our van to the airport where we were staying for the night — the big red crosses on the doors. And of course in those days of course it was suffering from disease. Disease which I’ll think of later. Anyway, that was —
PL: Not the plague.
ETP: The good thing about the Azores, sorry is what I was, we were all to bring back all sorts of goods free of custom. Forgive me for saying but particularly silk stockings for the ladies. Anyway, there you are. That was our one trip to the Azores. And that was it really.
PL: So what were you — why were you going to the Azores?
ETP: For some, I think they had a base there for something. Partly an air force base but I think it was also an army base. And presumably went out to do food or whatever, every so often. I think we did have, yes we had, we were loaded with big crates of food and mail and stuff like that which we took back to the Azores.
PL: Fantastic.
ETP: Now, you carry on.
PL: Now, something else I wanted to, just before we move on from your, from the tour that you did was there anything else that you wanted to talk about your tour. Any particular experience.
ETP: The what? Sorry.
PL: About your tours. Your thirty two trips. Anything that you wanted to —
ETP: Well I’d like to but typically, you know, we went through the tour. Basically we escaped without a scratch but of course we had one or two nasty trips in, I think it was Castop Rauxel where the flak got us and its very frightening. I think I was in a Halifax at the time. It’s very frightening to hear all the shrapnel tinging against the side. Oh — one beautiful trip we had, if I may put it that way, was to Norway. One of the big towns in Norway. And we went from here which was England obviously and Don was Darlington sorry, well near Darlington. At Croft. And we flew at a level of I suppose about three, three thousand feet all the way. It was lovely. It was a sunny day. And you could see all the Lancasters, no, sorry they was Lancasters at the time, we could see all the Lancasters going across, and our poor bomb aimer, our skipper was a bit of a devil, said to the bomber, ‘Hey, come out here. Have a look at this.’ Well I was already looking. I could see what it was. But this devil of ours, Don, the pilot he must have been almost at sea level because you could almost see the spray coming from the propellers. Well, of course when poor old McKenzie, the navigator came out of his little hole, hut and looked out in to the sea it scared him like nothing on earth. He quickly got back and said, ‘You’re too low.’ Which wouldn’t have been much help anyway. But anyway we weren’t too low and suddenly as I say the fantastic flight and seeing everybody rise up to about ten — ten or twelve thousand feet and we bombed Stavanger or somewhere in Norway. Unfortunately, the tragedy was we, well bombed it because it had various factories and things on it but unfortunately one of the bombs and I don’t know whose, I hope to God it wasn’t ours, hit a school. One can only say It was part of war I suppose but it was very tragic. Other than that it was one of the wonderful, most wonderful trips I ever had in a Lancaster at the time. Yes, I’d love to say we were very brave and we were shot all over the place but quite frankly apart from when one aircraft, one engine failed we had a pretty good trip. Sorry about that [laughs] I’d like to think of all the others but I’d have to go through all the papers and try to think of it.
PL: No. No. That’s fantastic.
ETP: There were one or two remarks in the thing I made in the thing I made about high level of flak. Low level of flak. All sorts of things like that.
PL: So just a couple of things that I’d like to go back on that you mentioned. What are Wimpies?
ETP: [laughs] sorry. Wellingtons. My apology.
PL: Not at all.
ETP: Wimpy was taken from a cartoon in the paper showing Wimpy whatever he was and from then on of course they were called Wimpies.
PL: Fantastic. And the other thing I wanted to ask you about your, when you were in Croft what sort of things did you do in your free time?
ETP: Yes. We visited —
PL: Darlington.
ETP: Darlington. Yes. It was a very good, nice life in Darlington. Everybody was very friendly. But then I think all Yorkshire or northern people are friendly. But anyway I can remember one point we went to a cafe. And remember it was wartime. But anyway they did us well. I think we had a meal which consisted of dinner, no, what’s the first thing you have at dinner?
PL: Starter?
ETP: Starter, dinner and —
PL: Pudding.
ETP: Pardon?
PL: Pudding.
ETP: Yeah. Pudding. All on one plate [laughs] It was wonderful. Yes. I can always remember that. They really did us proud I suppose. But we did that. In general we went around. We saw York. We went to — yes we had a big ceremony at the cathedral. What’s the other cathedral?
PL: York Minster.
ETP: Yeah. York Minster but then there’s — was it —
PL: Durham Cathedral.
ETP: Sorry?
PL: Durham cathedral.
ETP: Durham cathedral. I think we had a, there was a plate put in for us. So we had various little trips like that to various places. I quite liked Darlington. It was [pause] yes but in general of course we were up in the north. And it was quite odd for the Canadians who had never been — well some had been to strange places as well I suppose. But in general I did like it there. And Croft. Well Croft was a typical out station. We had a good canteen thing there. Funnily enough, if I may say, and I hope it doesn’t upset anybody, we were with a French squadron. The Alouette. Our own squadron was the 471. The —
PL: I have it here.
ETP: Iroquois Squadron, sorry. I’ll think of it in a minute. Yeah our own squadron was the Iroquois but there wasn’t very much friendliness. There was friendliness between one or two of the people but in general there wasn’t much friendliness between the French and the Canadians. Yeah. I know they were all Canadians but you know what I mean. So, my memories, in general of Croft is going to the local farms with the young lasses. Nothing wrong with, in getting bread and onion sandwiches because there was nothing else much. And we went, you know, went out to, go off to go to a flight. We’d go along to the local farm. And as I remember two young lasses used to come in and feed us with this big hunks of bread. Lovely bread. And onion. And that got us off to a good start on the aircraft. As I say unfortunately with Croft, I’ve been around to various places — I’ll sing a song to you in a minute if I dare.
PL: Yes.
ETP: And you know I I did go around to various places and saw people but it was Yorkshire and quite honestly as a Londoner, very much, I didn’t know much of what else was going on in Yorkshire. I enjoyed what there was there but other than that. Yes. We used to sing songs. Horrible ribald songs during the time.
PL: Go on Ernie. Give me one of your ribald songs.
ETP: Dare I?
PL: Yes.
ETP: I can’t sing now. You know that. You can hear.
PL: It doesn’t matter.
ETP: Well I’ll just — it’s rather a sad one. “A flight engineer he was dying, as beneath his Lanc he did lay, to the engineers gathered around him, these last parting words did he say. Take the crank shaft out of my kidney, take the con rod out of my brain, out of my back take the cylinder and assemble the engine again.” Bom bom. Sorry about that. I told you it was a nasty one.
PL: Dear.
ETP: There was more to it than that but —
PL: Lots of black humour, lots of black humour I would imagine.
ETP: Oh very much black humour I’m afraid but that was the way it was.
PL: Of course. Of course.
ETP: We got up all the tricks you see on the films of jumping over chairs and squalor. When I — more on Transport Command. We had a lovely billet in Holmsley South. Beautiful old house. With a bar. Typical. Obviously a bar. But really when I think about it, very often on a so-called dining in night which was very formal or should have been. The bar would be swimming with beer on the floor. Everybody would be doing all sorts of tricks. Lord knows what. And then suddenly it was all stopped one day because the, what would he be, above a squadron leader. Wing commander I suppose or maybe above, came in and saw what was happening, oh no, he came in and said, ‘This much stop. You must behave like gentleman.’ And then unfortunately the squadron leader said, ‘Oh I’ll help you out, sir,’ and immediately the, he slipped over the beer and landed on his backside. Which didn’t help. After that what was called dining in nights, dining in nights were very formal. I was just lucky. Normally the lowest officer, you know, pilot officer or something would have to give the speech at the end. Thank goodness I just escaped it. Some poor little chap of a pilot officer had to give a speech. And of course they were all dressed up. Obviously we were only dressed up in our number ones but the army people would come up in their full regalia and I think the [pause] the what did they call him? Not squadron leader.
PL: Wing commander.
ETP: Wing. No. One above. Air — [pause] I’m not, anyway, let’s say the wing commander. He, he wasn’t a happy man having slipped on the beer. Oh yes. We were only allowed a sherry after that. So there we are. We became gentlemen once again. Hopefully. There we are dear.
PL: That’s wonderful. There’s two other little things I wanted to ask that are sort of personal questions really but obviously you’re, because of your nationality you — because of your nationality you’re unusual in the people that I’ve spoken to. Did you, with having an Italian name, did you experience any prejudice because of that?
ETP: Hardly any. I experienced lots more later which is, without going into it one of the reasons I changed my name. But before that? In the air force. Yes. I had one. I can remember one chap when we were all in the hut. I was only a squaddie at the time. He got a bit niggly but everybody else jumped on him anyway. So, frankly no. I never suffered any. Unless you can say, we had the typical corporals and I hated corporals in general and at that time and he [pause] what did he do? I’ve forgotten what he did now. Anyway, the corporal came in demanding something or other. So being a big head myself I said, ‘You can’t do that corporal.’ Now I was only, I think I was leading aircraftsman at the time. So naturally he stood up and said, ‘I can do what I like.’ Well, I suppose I acted as a bit of a [pause] —
PL: Lawyer. Barrackroom lawyer.
ETP: Barrackroom. Thank you and told him in no uncertain times that, God knows how I knew the names but anyway told him he couldn’t do that. So, yeah, obviously otherwise I mean I never had any trouble that I can remember. Luckily. In fact, if anything, it got me on because people you can imagine when you’re going to say about the corporal, he’d be there, we’re all on parade and he’d be saying, ‘Jones.’ ‘Smith.’ And then suddenly he’d say, ‘Ped ra zzini.’ ‘Corporal. Pedrazzini.’ ‘You?’ Because I was auburn haired, very fair, typical I suppose one could say British boy and there — Pedrazzini.
PL: Lovely.
ETP: Anyway, I got away with it.
PL: How old were you then?
ETP: Pardon?
PL: How old were you then? In 1944.
ETP: Twenty. Twenty one. Twenty. Very brave. I don’t think. Anyway, yeah, no, on the whole again I had a very good time. I was glad I went in. I was even happier because really I wanted to follow my brother so I was happier that I was a flight engineer. But as I say before that I had quite a good time. I suppose if I’d have been lucky I would have eventually become a corporal. Lord help me. But anyway, you know, I got — I eventually got my sergeant. Obviously when, you automatically got that. And then, luckily in the Canadian I got flying officer. Pilot officer and flying officer. Very brave [laughs]
PL: You mentioned, you mentioned you brother who of course you sadly lost. But you said you had two brothers.
ETP: Yes.
PL: What did your other brother do?
ETP: Jimmy? Funnily enough he was in the Savoy hotel. He was a chef. A trainee chef in the Savoy hotel. The story goes that, in fact somewhere I’ve still got a bronze medal of the competitions they did. But rumour has it that he would have got a silver or a gold medal but two chefs or two trainee chefs were on the same thing and the trainee chef allegedly overcooked or left it on and blistered the fish that my brother had. But he died unfortunately. He was only thirty one. He was very young. Shame really. My other brother was in Clapham College which was a very high college. It was a Catholic college at that time. I’ve heard some of the tricks he got up to [laughs] but I won’t repeat them. But anyway he was very good and of course he could speak perfectly French and Italian. Which was really the tragedy when he got shot down. And yes, he — I think I’ve always regretted of course losing two brothers. Although one was ten years older and one was nine years older than me. Because I suppose the gap was when my mother, when my father went back to Russia and things. I’m not sure. If you work out the dates it all looks a bit odd but anyway yeah. It was a shame really.
PL: So how did your, how did your parents meet?
ETP: Ah. Believe it or not. In the catering. There was a place in Hyde Park. A very big restaurant. And it’s still there I think. It’s a bird sanctuary and something there now. Yeah. Well way back it was one of the places to parade around. I’m talking. I mean I didn’t know them but anyway way back. My mother was a Devon lass who for obvious reasons I suppose came to London which they all did if they could and met my father. And that was how they met. My mother of course in those days immediately stopped working. And my father went on to places like Oddonino’s, the Cafe Royal. All sorts of places like that. Places I can’t even think of now. Yeah it’s quite — my brother went. He was in a very good position. As I say you may have not heard of the Embassy Club which was with the old Prince of Wales and all that lot and the [pause] it’s gone. The chap who was in India. In charge of India. British chap. Anyway —
PL: Mont?
ETP: Got it? He was killed by the IRA.
PL: Was it Montgomery?
ETP: No. Not Montgomery.
PL: No. No. I always get them muddled up.
ETP: Anyway, anyway, he was killed by the IRA.
PL: I know who you mean.
ETP: Pardon?
PL: I know who you mean.
ETP: Yeah.
PL: Yes.
ETP: All that crowd. Him. The Prince of Wales. The old Prince of Wales. They were all in that crowd. My father used to hate them because they couldn’t leave until the last one had drunk his whatever. So it was pretty rough for people in a way but anyway that was all part of it. Silly. Isn’t it?
PL: Yes.
ETP: Mountbatten.
PL: Mountbatten hurray.
ETP: Mountbatten.
PL: I’m so glad you got it Ernie. I’m so glad you got it. I was wracking my brains.
ETP: Well as you can see I have lapses. I keep telling everybody when I can’t think of something. I say, ‘I’ll give you a ring at 2 o’clock at night and tell you what it is.’ Oh dear. I’m talking too much.
PL: Moving on, moving on to after the war. After you’d finished your service what happened to you then?
ETP: I went back to Gillette’s. By the way I’d been a, what did they call it? Jack of all trades and master of none I suppose. Yeah. I went back to Gillette’s but I felt then I couldn’t get on with my learning. You know my —
PL: Your training.
ETP: You’ve got to realise a lot of people had stayed in Gillette’s and they were getting this and that. Probably me but I thought I wasn’t getting there. So believe it or not I was a grocer. Now, this was in the, a grocer when there was rationing and everything so I made money. I was with a so called friend. Unfortunately. And we had a shop and eventually we got another shop. But it just didn’t work out. And it’s rather funny, just to, not to bore you but as far as I — we used to take three hundred pound a week. Now, that sounds ridiculous now. But in those days it was and I know when I got there and it must have been my wonderful voice or something we made four hundred pound a week. Which was a lot of money. Anyway, that’s it all ended pretty tragically. So believe it or not I went back to St Thomas’ Hospital. And I was a, I suppose they’d call it a technician now. In the early days of electronics. Yeah. So —
PL: How interesting. And you, are you able to tell me about your wife?
ETP: About?
PL: Your first wife.
ETP: Yes. That was a bit unfortunate. I lived in something buildings in Lambeth and let me say first of all I should never have left the air force. That was the tragedy. And anyway, yes, she was in the army or whatever they called it. What do they call them?
PL: In the WAAF. Was she in the —
ETP: Not the WAAF. The army part.
PL: Oh sorry.
ETP: Anyway, it doesn’t matter.
PL: I can’t remember.
ETP: She was that. So I don’t know. It all went wrong soon after. We went, we went through the Blitz. I went through the [pause] she was a warden, I was, no I wasn’t a warden I was a messenger or something. I was what? Nineteen. Eighteen nineteen. We went all through that. We had a fairly happy time but it just didn’t work out. Unfortunately we had two children. Which I’ve got two children now. Well not unfortunate. One’s a vicar and one’s a vicar’s wife. So what more could I ask?
PL: Absolutely.
ETP: I’m hoping I can get a good [laughs] no. No. I mustn’t say that [laughs] yeah. So yes I don’t know what to say really. I was probably a bit of a snob. Probably. And it just didn’t work out. There was further complications to which I can’t really go into it.
PL: No. no. difficult times. Let’s move on from that because that’s your personal, personal story.
ETP: Yeah.
PL: Going back to — I’m really interested to hear about your experience during the Blitz.
ETP: During the Blitz.
PL: Yes.
ETP: Oh wonderful. I was in Lambeth as I told you. Every so often we were showered with incendiaries. We had a big church. Unbelievable. It’s still there. Most of it. With a huge tower. Have you ever been down to near Waterloo? Well if you look through Kennington Road.
PL: My son lives on Kennington.
ETP: Pardon?
PL: My son lives on Kennington Road.
ETP: Really. He must be a rich man then.
PL: He’s not. He’s in a room [laughs] anyway tell me about —
ETP: Anyway, yeah. Well, your son will know it. There’s a big tower. It was an American built tower and at the top it had stars and stripes or something. And you’ll never believe it. Our warden’s post was underneath that lot. And well, we did the usual. Every night around about 5 o’clock [brrrr] thing and we used to dive in to there. And I, as a, I don’t think I was a warden. No. I was some sort of messenger or something. And there was this steeple, the huge steeple as I say but also there was a wooden steeple and that just went up in flames one day. A bomb hit. I was in, we were all in the shelter, again ridiculous really, when you think about it. One good bomb there the whole lot would have gone. And we were there one day and we were all trying to sleep as you did. And suddenly — boom. Right opposite there was a bomb. Luckily it was a small bomb. Of course brave Mr Tillbrook, no, Mr Pedrazzini at the time, came along and a chap got up and panicked completely. I remember it to this day. I don’t know how this happened, ‘Stop everybody,’ that was me. Stopped the whole lot. Because there was quite a crowd. There was two shelters. One here and one. And that stopped. As I say other than that one of our friends or at least he was a warden at the time. An older man. He went out into the middle of the road , playing about and suddenly he was surrounded by incendiaries , yeah at the time he was sort of dancing, ‘Look at me.’ You know playing about and he said, came around. The other thing was we had a rather —
PL: What happened to him?
ETP: Pardon?
PL: What happened to him?
ETP: He was alright [laughs] he got through. We went into this so-called shelter which was only a church entrance and luckily no big bomb hit it. Incendiaries hit it but no big bomb. We were saved on the whole thing because the people — wardens and myself and things like that we were able to take all the incendiaries away. Or see that we were. Used to cover them with sand or something [laughs] terrible. And they were all up in the church there but luckily we managed to get them all and save the whole place otherwise like all the other churches around it would have gone up in smoke. St George’s Church which was my Catholic church is St George’s Cathedral actually which is just along from Kennington we thought oh this is great nobody’s been hurt during the weeks. But suddenly May the 10th my birthday we had the biggest raid. One of the last raids luckily. The biggest raid And I think every church except this one went up in flames. So I got married in the place near the church because that had gone up in flames. So, Bishop Amigo Place it was called. But that was it. Another thing — I’m not boring you with all this am I?
PL: Not at all.
ETP: Another thing was in Lambeth which I think was [pause] not like Kennington Road. The next road. Westminster Bridge Road I think. There was a, what were commonly called a doss house. You know. You may have heard of them. Which is a great place. A lot of army people used to come in from Waterloo Station. Go there for a — I don’t remember how much it cost. A few shillings a night. But forgive me for saying but one of things, every man had, what can I call it? A pee pot. Sorry.
PL: A jam jar.
ETP: I can’t think of the other name for it. A gazunder some people used to call them. And anyway, a Hermann Goering bomb landed right in the middle of the place. It didn’t explode. It imploded. And the whole place, again, I’m sorry but, I can always remember we went — it was Christmas. It was one Christmas and my brother and I had been to sleep. We thought brave boys, we’d been sleeping in the house. The old house we had. What happened there? There was suddenly a [voom]. Anyway, we got up. Couldn’t see a thing ‘til we got around the corner and there was the old doss house. Whatever it was called. Quite a big place. And I’m sorry about this but it was surrounded by pots. As I say it had imploded rather than exploded which was probably lucky in many respects and it did affect, it was called Lambeth North Station and it affected there. It was so deep. It was a big Hermann Goering thousand pound bomb or something. I’m laughing about all this. It wasn’t very funny at the time. Anyway, I was ok.
PL: So all the pots were outside.
ETP: Yeah. I don’t know why. I’ve got a picture of them all sort of —
PL: How weird.
ETP: I don’t know why it did that. Where they went, but — and for months I was in the shelter and for months after people were coming from all sorts of places asking if they knew of [pause]. And of course it was almost impossible to know who was there and who wasn’t. I think there was some sort of record when you went in but —
PL: And presumably they were all lost.
ETP: Yes. Most of them were lost. Yes. I think most of them that were in there were lost. I can’t remember anybody. Excuse me. That got out particularly. But it was all a bit hazy at the time. There we were. You know. You can imagine. We got — suddenly saw this big crater.
PL: Yeah.
ETP: Anyway, there it is. But funnily enough all around wasn’t too bad. If it had exploded it would have devastated the whole place. But it imploded. Very deep implosion. So sorry about this. I’m boring you.
PL: Did you, did you — no. It’s absolutely fascinating. Did you —
ETP: By the way, I did say your son was probably a rich man and you said he wasn’t. Do you know where I lived in Lambeth Road which is a little bit away, they want one million something for a house. God knows what we paid. My mother paid. Or father paid for it. A few hundred probably. But there you are. That’s the way it’s gone.
PL: So during that time, during the Blitz.
ETP: Sorry.
PL: During the Blitz.
ETP: Yeah.
PL: Were you afraid, were you excited? Were you. How was it as a young man being involved with this extraordinary event?
ETP: Frightening but quite exciting in its way. As I say regular thing 5 o’clock at night. Around about five. Sometimes a bit later. Sometimes a bit earlier. The old [brrrr] the old things would go and my mother, my mother racing along. And suddenly as we were racing along a bomb came down. Not that near actually. I can always remember this, my mother laid flat on the ground and I think I laid flat but whatever but nothing happened because we were much further away than we thought. In a way we were lucky around about that time because we were right near the train station. One or two nasty places but on the whole we didn’t get too bad considering we weren’t quite in the middle. I mean the middle was the east end and that place but we had — I can remember oh sorry, I mustn’t, you’re getting me —
PL: No. No. Keep going.
ETP: We went to the pub. 10th of May. Why not? In I go. With my wife at that time. We were all in this pub and [brrrr brrr] off it went. So we thought being very keen citizens we’d better go out and help and that was the 10th of May which was the worst blitz of the lot in that area. Loads of — you could stand out and see fires everywhere. So there we are. But again, being young you don’t see or take much notice of half these things. It’s all a great adventure. Sorry dear.
PL: So did you, how often did you — how often were you on duty?
ETP: Well, in effect, every night. We had the warden’s post we used to go in. The chief warden was there. He, by the way, was a communist [laughs] but anyway, yes.
PL: Is this the same one that was dancing in the street?
ETP: Sorry.
PL: Was it the same one who was dancing in the street?
ETP: Oh no. No. No. No. No.
PL: That was another one.
ETP: Oh no. No. No. No. He was a very, I think he was a, no he wasn’t a docker. He was, he had something to do with the docks. Righting something or other. No. He was a nice chap actually. No, laughing his head off like an idiot and suddenly realised he was in the middle of all these incendiaries.
PL: So you went —
ETP: He got away with it.
PL: So you worked at Gillette’s all through the day.
ETP: Yes.
PL: And then you went and did the wardening at night.
ETP: Afraid so.
PL: So when did you finish?
ETP: No.
PL: When did you sleep?
ETP: The best time was when I was with the Middlesex Home Guard with my rifle. Guarding the factory. Gillette’s. Lovely factory. And one night I was in the, not the workshop, it was the [pause] in effect it was the -- what do you call it, anyway I was there in the, we had a little office place where I used to make things. It was lunchtime and I fell asleep. Lovely. [Knock knock] next minute. ‘Did you realise you were asleep Ernie.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Why were you asleep?’ I said, ‘I’ve been up all night.’ He said, ‘Why have you been?’ It was unbelievable. Ten miles away you didn’t know a thing about what was happening. I mean occasionally a bomb would come but you really didn’t know.
PL: So where was the Gillette factory then?
ETP: Hounslow. Near Hounslow.
PL: Right. So it was sort of really that bit out of London.
ETP: Sorry?
PL: It was that bit out of London
ETP: Oh yes. Roughly ten miles out of London. Made all the difference. You still got bombs occasionally here and there. Oh what’s the name of the place? Have you been that way at all?
PL: Not really.
ETP: No.
PL: So how —
ETP: The Great West Road.
PL: Right.
ETP: Along there. Yeah. As I say —
PL: So how did you get in and out? Was there a problem getting home and out to work? How was travelling?
ETP: I used to get the train.
PL: Right.
ETP: To Waterloo.
PL: Right. So that wasn’t affected by the bombing?
ETP: Pardon?
PL: Was the train not affected by the bombing?
ETP: Not usually. Occasionally it did because obviously being in London but then if that happened I’d stay in Gillette’s. Because I used to sleep very often at night.
PL: Right.
ETP: As a Home Guard with my rifle.
PL: Right. So was that an additional job?
ETP: Hmmn?
PL: That was an additional job was it?
ETP: Oh yes.
PL: So you had three jobs. You were a warden.
ETP: Yeah.
PL: And you were in the Home Guard.
ETP: As I say more a messenger than a Home Guard.
PL: Right.
ETP: And then I went to Gillette’s and had a job and then I don’t know every day or two I was with my rifle. I even got a medal for shooting then. In Gillette’s.
PL: Goodness.
ETP: Wonderful place. Anyway, yeah, that was it. Yes, so I suppose we did have three jobs.
PL: So did you have any interesting times in the Home Guard?
ETP: Well at that time we were in Hounslow. Near Hounslow. I don’t know what, anyway, near Hounslow Barracks. The only thing I can remember. We used to do practices you know. And I can always remember one day we had an exercise with the guards of all places, of all things and there we are all night with our rifle or machine gun or whatever we had. All there in a ditch. And suddenly the guards came over. I can remember them now. They came over the top of a power [unclear] factory. Came over the top and I said, ‘You’re dead.’ I won’t tell you what he said. But he said something like, ‘Bloody well get off.’ [laughs] and that was it. No, we used to do exercises in Hounslow. And we’d do exercises at Gillette’s. But more, we used to have fire guards. Do you remember? Fire guards. Well — and we had a big tower. Gillette’s, if you can see it, had a big tower with a clock in it. There used to be an old boy in there. I’ve forgotten his name. He used to be in there at washing, and they had maps and they used to get information by telephone which way the plane was, the bombers were coming. And they used to make us sit in, and if they came to near they would sound the alarm and the whole factory would shut down. Yeah. Making thousands of blades a day. Very good.
PL: So that was, so Gillette’s. So what was Gillette’s doing? What was the factory making? Did you say?
ETP: Basically razor blades.
PL: Right.
ETP: You know every army man needs a razor blade.
PL: Yes. Absolutely. Of course. Of course. I just wondered if it had changed to other sort of war work.
ETP: Well yes it did. At one time I was making some sort of thing for an aircraft. Oh I know what it was. It was the, not the Lancaster. Not the Halifax. The Stirling. It was built like a flipping boat. Horrible thing it was. Although I’ve met some Stirling people and they’d kill me if I said that. Yeah. And it had hydraulics and things of all sorts. As far as I was concerned I thank God I never went in one. But anyway a lot of people did and a lot of people famous for it. What was I saying? Yes. Oh yes. We made parts. One of the things was a hydraulic pump thing. And of course you had to get down to minus temperatures to test it. Well, if you’ve ever seen the lark we used to get to try and get up to test this thing. I don’t think we ever did actually. But there it was so off it went. Somebody hoped it worked.
PL: So what did you do?
ETP: Pardon?
PL: What did you do? How did you do? What did you do to test them?
ETP: Well we used to have a tank with ice and everything in it. That’s as far as I can remember. We tried. I suppose nought degrees would be the maximum we could get down to. I think that may have been the test and you just hoped for the best after that.
PL: Absolutely.
ETP: They were, they were a literally, as far as I can remember they were literally built like a boat rather than like an aeroplane but that’s my opinion of it. Well, I can’t say a lot more. We made one or two things during that time in Gillette’s. Made a little, I can’t really remember. Not a lot because the main industry for them was the razor blades because as I say every personnel wanted razors. Well apart from the navy with their beards. They wanted razor blades. And they were flown all over the world. Given all over the world as well. So yeah. I loved it there. Had a good canteen. Clean. I don’t know if you’ve seen some of the factories in England. Terrible. They were. Maybe a bit better now. I wouldn’t work in them for love nor money. Yeah. But anyway there you are. That’s it dear.
PL: So one, my last question is going back to Bomber Command and being involved with Bomber Command. What did you think about how Bomber Command was treated after the war?
ETP: How we were treated generally? Well first of all remember we were pretty young. Croft, I suppose, looking at it was a bit rough. But then this was general then. I mean who had enough heat and light and all the rest of it. But other than that I had, as far as I can remember, I had a pretty good time. How were the RAF people treated?
PL: I suppose in terms, I was thinking more in terms of the perception of Bomber Command’s role in the war.
ETP: Ah. To be blunt we didn’t think of it. We had a job to do. We didn’t like the Germans and especially when he heard some of the, later when we heard some of the things they were doing. So we didn’t like the Germans. We were there to do a job. A very nervous job at times. It was only after the war, later that we saw some of the atrocities that they got up to. I think that caused us more trouble. But then of course as I say now in general in the RAF if you were in any sort of position like a sergeant you weren’t treated too badly. A bit rough at times but not too badly. I still remember that place at Darlington with that big food. No. So that was, it had the old fashioned — I say army perspective of how people should behave which got a bit lost in the end. It still got a lot of discipline which you have to have really. It was very disciplined. I know I was too good to ever get too bad but probably I deserved it sometimes. The things we got up to. I did a court martial for one chap. They were pretty rough on the, with the WAAF and the men if there was any mixing. Taboo. It happened of course. But it was very much taboo and I got caught in the — I had to go to a court martial. This chap I was unfortunate. I was there one night with the WAAF sergeant. Ooh no she was more than a sergeant. WAAF officer. And we were doing the rounds to see that everybody was behaving. And this idiot came up and tried to be funny. He was going too go out. He was going to take his girl back. Well you don’t do that sort of thing. You might like to and probably many did but you didn’t, you didn’t profess it. So of course he got caught. And I hated it. Obviously we turfed him off and the squadron leader or whatever came in and I had to do a court martial. And I think the chap [pause] have you heard of LMF. Lack of moral fibre. I think he was eventually. He was an officer I don’t know? To this day I can’t remember what grade he was but anyway he went too far. He was out. Lack of moral fibre’s an interesting one. A lot of people are against it now but in effect at the time say for instance I did one trip, or didn’t do it. Was all trained up to go and do a trip and I suddenly got nervous or too frightened. Well then you’d be — even if you were an officer, or a sergeant in particular you were taken down to nothing again. So from that point of view it was pretty tough. I can always understand it because I suppose one could say you didn’t realise what you were getting into. But on the other hand you did a lot of training. You knew something of what could happen and so you just said, ‘I don’t want to go anymore.’ And of course with all that training and everything it was LMF. Which was a bit of a fatal word. You still read about the paper about how bad it was. But to a great extent I’ve got sympathy with the fact of the hierarchy. I don’t know.
PL: And how do, how do you feel about the fact that it’s taken so long for Bomber Command to be recognised?
ETP: Sorry.
PL: What do you think about the fact it’s taken so long for Bomber Command to be recognised for its contribution?
ETP: One word. Disgusting, I suppose. Yes. We were killing people. I never thought about it on a whole. I have occasionally thought God I wouldn’t like to be down there with those poor devils. But no, you were doing a job. You were told that it was them or us to a great extent. I never really felt any conscience of bombing people. Because they were bombing us you see. So it’s a bit of a tricky one. I know some people thought very much about it after but Dresden as you know. Everybody says Dresden. Well to me that’s a farce because Dresden wasn’t just a place with pretty pictures of people and these things there. They were just as much in the war with making things as anybody else was. What do I say? I was never sorry for them but I can have sympathy with them. In other words I wouldn’t have like to have been underneath them at the time. I think it was a farce because we know, if anybody had any truth, that Dresden there was the Russians wanted to come in there with Dresden. Obviously Dresden was a place with manufacturing so it was a natural target. And of course since they were escaping from the, from the Russians they were coming across in to Germany or into the, what do you call it, coming across into the south. That’s not the word I want but anyway I think it’s unfortunate of course there were a lot of refugees as such but then again what do you do. For all you know those people that were coming could have been escaping from the German army — or from the Russian army anyway. And the Germans, German soldiers and things coming in. So it’s a bad choice I know but at the time I never even, I wouldn’t have considered it if I’d been there. I didn’t actually have to go because it had ended. The main thing. And it was only afterwards. I’m sorry I’m going on a bit. I don’t know quite what to say.
PL: No. Not at all.
ETP: I was never really let me put it this way I was never sorry and nor could I understand all this nonsense about Dresden. As far as I was concerned it was another town. Whether that town should have been hit is another matter. Anyway, that’s about it dear.
PL: Well that’s fantastic. And I guess my last question is, Is there anything else that you want to add to this?
ETP: Probably.
PL: Wonderful story that you’ve told me.
ETP: I’ve been talking too much anyway.
PL: Not at all.
ETP: I can’t really think of anything. If I think of anything else. I told you about Norway. That was one in a strange way a beautiful trip despite what happened at the end.
PL: Well that’s —
ETP: I often, I often used to look out when we were over Germany or somewhere and you would see all these flares and everything. Quite a sight if you could put your mind to looking at it. Once or twice I was brave enough to look out. The navigator and bomb aimer very seldom looked out anyway. And as I say I did a lot of bombing myself rather than the bomb aimer because in those days with the, all the new techniques and things one could do that. I think that’s about it dear.
PL: Wonderful. Well can I just end by thanking you very much indeed on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre.
ETP: I hope I haven’t gone too far with it.
PL: You’ve told us an absolutely fascinating story. Thank you very much indeed.
ETP: Thank you.
[recording paused]
PL: So Ernie having switched the recorder off you then told me a wonderful story about your father who was — and his role in the war.
ETP: Yes. My father, I was going to say funnily enough but it wasn’t funny at all. When the Italians walked in to the war a [paused] he was interned but luckily he was never taken to the Isle of Man or anywhere as most of them did. He then, imagine, with two sons in the air force my father wasn’t allowed a radio. He wasn’t allowed a bike. And he wasn’t allowed to go beyond, I think, a five mile radius. And I must tell you now against all the laws if the radio was there my brother and myself used to come in and turn on the radio because my mother wasn’t allowed either. ‘Cause she again was not allowed. She was Italian you see because of her marriage. Yeah. So finally he had no job. Some of the, oh I must be careful, some of the people in the restaurants wouldn’t allow people like my father to work, so he had no job. He had to go on the dole which he’d never been on before. I think it was still called the dole. I don’t know. Anyway, he finally got a job, sort of doing odd jobs in the big church which I — and the church was actually, not Wesleyan. I think it was either Wesleyan or something. It was an American based church. And so he got to work. He used to do odd jobs in the church and acted as warden I suppose. In his best Sunday suit, very well dressed, he used to greet the congregation and I still picture to this day, in a Wesleyan or whatever church it was greeting all the congregation with an Italian accent. I thought that was marvellous. Anyway, he was very happy for a time until a bomb hit quite near and the water gushed in and his lovely boiler which he’d got in pristine condition, a pretty old boiler, he’d got in lovely good condition he got drowned, his boiler got drowned because it was below the ground. It was drowned in this boiler room. I think he cried his eyes out with that. Anyway, eventually it was pumped out and he got back.
PL: And he did that for the whole of the, did he do that — he stayed in the same place until the end of the war. Until you came home.
ETP: No. Eventually remember the Italians gave in in 1944. Something like that. So he was able to go back into the restaurant business. Oddonino’s I think it was at the time which you may know was a big restaurant. Well not very big but was a very well-known restaurant of the time. And later on unfortunately he died of so called nephritis which is a disease of the kidney. As far as I knew he wasn’t a big drinker. He like his beer and strangely enough although he knew Italian wine like the back of his hand he used to love a pint of beer.
PL: How lovely.
ETP: Except when he was in Devon one day and at the local Crown or Cushion or whatever it was called. No, the three, four — the Seven Stars Hotel I think. A small hotel I think in [pause] anyway. In Devon. He was convinced to go in because it was so much cheaper to go and drink a pint of cider. Well unfortunately he drank two pints of cider which he thought was quite tasty and quite good. But he went to bed and sometime in the afternoon and never got up until about 7 o’clock at night. Yeah. So there. He got back into the hotel trade as I say. But at sixty five he caught and in those days of course there weren’t the same things for kidney disease and the rest of it. I think they gave him pills or something to try and cure him. Not cure him but help him and it was rather tragic. Just went on for a few months and that was the end of it.
PL: Well thank you for sharing that additional story with us Ernie.
ETP: I hope its, there’s probably more I could have told you.
PL: It adds more colour to your story. Thank you very much.
ETP: It’s a pleasure.
[recording paused]
PL: So, this is Pam Locker again making another recording with Ernie Tillbrook on the 5th of the 1st 2016. There was just a couple of additional things that Ernie was going to add to his story. So Ernie you were telling me a couple of stories about bombing. You go ahead.
ETP: About?
PL: The first one was about taking off.
ETP: Oh yes. Yeah. Oh yes. Oh dear. The most frightening time I ever had. We were coming in to land from somewhere and my dear skipper, Don, overshot the runway. So the natural thing to do was wheels up and off. Back up. Unfortunately, I don’t know what happened. Whether my plug came out of my hearing or what. I didn’t hear the order to lift up the undercarriage. So we were flying very low and as far as I can remember when I was looking out the side, nervous as hell, I remember we just about went over the top of a hangar. Luckily Don was quick enough to see what was happening and pulled up the undercarriage which allowed us to just miss by feet, or even inches, the hangar. I was so nervous. Partly because I thought I’d failed. Partly because it was a frightening thing to see. I know I got out of the aircraft and wouldn’t talk to anybody for some time after. To such an extent that my crew wondered what was, wondered what was wrong with me. That’s it.
PL: Terrifying. And then the other story you were going to tell me was about the island.
ETP: Oh yeah. One of the things which, how can I put it, was exciting for me but probably wasn’t very exciting for the poor devils that were on the island. As far as I know they were a load of army personnel manning some guns which had to be destroyed because they were in the way of the Mediterranean in general. So, we all came along at about ten thousand feet. Can you imagine a great load of Lancasters all with bombs flying over this poor little island called Ile de [Cezerre?]. No. Ile de Cezembre and all I can remember is looking out over the side. Our gunner, rear gunner was having a wonderful time shooting everything he could see. And when I looked out there was a poor, what I presume was some form of army personnel running like mad trying to get away, but being bombed. With bombs falling all around him and presumably obliterating the whole island. There you are. Don’t get me too far. I’ll keep thinking of stories.
PL: Thank you very much Ernie.
ETP: It’s a pleasure. Thank you for listening.



Pam Locker, “Interview with Ernie Tillbrook,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 23, 2024,

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