Interview with Fred Tiller


Interview with Fred Tiller


Fred was too young to get in the Royal Air Force, so he joined the Air Training Corps where they did aircraft recognition and visited various camps. He joined in 1943/44 and went to Lord’s cricket ground where he was evaluated to become an air gunner. He was called up to Preston for interviews and crewed up at RAF Abingdon. The crew worked on Wellington and Whitley aircraft at RAF Stanton Harcourt. Fred went to RAF Kirkham and then to RAF Bridgnorth to learn Morse code and to RAF Bridlington for further training. After a few days at home he was posted to the gunnery school on the Isle of Man and later to RAF Hardwick
Heavy Conversion Unit to work on Halifax. Fred carried out about 30 operations, including ones to Stuttgart and Chemnitz.




Temporal Coverage




00:23:42 audio recording


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SP: So this is Suzanne Pescott and I am interviewing Fred Tiller, who was an air gunner with 10 Squadron. Today, for the International Bomber Command Digital Archive we are at Fred’s sister’s home and it’s the 16th of July, 2018. Also present at the interview is Fred’s son. So thank you Fred for agreeing to talk to me today. So, do you want to tell us a little bit about the time before you joined the air force?
FT: I worked in engineering and from there, I was in the ATC and of course they were keen to get you in, and that’s how it sort of followed on. I don’t remember the exact details but there was one or two fellows there, in charge of us, quite keen to get a story, and we, that’s how we got on to it.
SP: So what made you want join the ATC?
FT: ‘Cause it was the nearest thing to the air force! [Chuckle] I was too young to get in the air force, but I could get in the ATC.
SP: And what sort of things did you do in the ATC?
FT: We did aircraft recognition and go round various camps, to get you used to service life, I think was the idea of that.
SP: So what area did you say, you were round Crawley was it, you went?
FT: What age was I?
SP: What age were you when you were in the ATC, yeah?
FT: I was sixteen, seventeen, something like that, you know.
SP: That was based around Crawley was it?
FT: No, that was, I was in, living in Bexhill then. And you’d put your name up and you’d go on tours, that sort of thing, you know. Anything to do with the air force they’d take you on.
SP: So from the ATC you then decided to join up?
FT: Say again.
SP: You then joined up.
FT: Oh no I’d been in then.
SP: Yeah, and in the air force?
FT: That’s it, I was out of the air force when all this went on.
SP: So you actually signed to up to go in the air force in what year? About.
FT: [Sigh] I’ve got to think about this as I had to get my parents’ consent, I was too young.
SP: Right.
FT: Oh god, Dad was awful, mum, I had to get mum to sign up. When did I go in Fred? Which year?
[Other] I think it might have been late ’43, somewhere in ’44 you managed to get far enough on.
SP: So it was about ’43, ’44, yeah. Where did you go to first of all?
FT: Where did I go first?
SP: Yup.
FT: Went to Lords cricket ground. That’s right.
SP: And what happened at Lords cricket ground?
FT: Oh, they evaluated you and took all the information they could, and then we’ll be in touch and off we went. Got a rail pass to go home, you know, that was all right. And then they got in touch with us, wanted us in. At the time, aircrew ACRC was up in Lancashire. We went there. What was the nearest railway station? Preston, Preston Northend. We got there, got out, looked like fish out of water, you know. And they took us in and fed us, and talked to us and they just went on from there.
SP: What did you do up at Preston?
FT: Pardon?
SP: What did you do up there, near Preston?
FT: Only went for interviews, that’s all. Oh, and they had, they had the Dance Hall in Blackpool. We were all for that, weren’t we, young fellers. That’s what we mainly did. We did a lot of chat and we all wanted a piece of the action, you see, right enough. And then we went. Where did we go for goodness’ sake? [Sigh] I can see the place. [Chuckle] Along the front, where did I say I was? Preston?
[Other]: Were you at Kirkham.
FT: Were we at Kirkham, that’s right, Kirkham.
[Other]: That’s right.
SP: So Fred, we were talking about Blackpool and then after Blackpool you went to Bridgenorth. What happened at Bridgenorth?
FT: Further indoctrination. There were some radio schools there for morse code and all this, and RAF law we had to know. Then, then we were given a pass to get home, and then we were give a pass to come back, to the Isle of Man. So that was quite a little journey for us to come up from the south coast. Up to London and out to Preston, and then worked our way across, yeah, the Isle of Man.
SP: So what were you doing on the Isle of Man? What?
FT: That was gunnery school, the Isle of Man was. Most of it was written work, you know. There was some outside work.
SP: What was the Isle of Man like then, at that time?
FT: Lovely! Absolutely beautiful [emphasis] for us. ‘Cause we come from where we were at home, everything was rationed. We get to the Isle of Man and you could go out and have a feed, you know, a blow out, when you liked. It was very, very nice and I’d never been before. Andreus, that was it, the Isle of Man. It was lovely. You could go out in the evening, and the pubs and all, they all did food, you know, to get business, obviously. But we enjoyed ourself there. Then we went it on. We were sent home and then recalled back to, where? Kirkham.
SP: Did you say you went to Bridlington as well?
FT: Yes.
SP: What did you do at Bridlington?
FT: Marched up and down! Did dome morse code, you know, sort of things like that, you know.
SP: So that was all your training. So where did you crew up, where did you meet the rest of your crew?
FT: Somewhere before we went to the Isle of Man, on the coast somewhere, must have been Preston.
SP: Right.
FT: I would think so.
SP: Who else was in your crew?
FT: Pardon?
SP: Who else was in your crew? Can you remember all the names of your crew?
FT: Yeah, I know the names. Nugget Werkham was the pilot, New Zealand, nice feller. Wireless operator was a New Zealander. Flight engineer was a Canadian. I thought that was Ken. He was the navigator what did he, what function did he play when we crewed up? I don’t know. Ken was from London and he was the navigator. Cookie was the flight engineer. He had the gift of the gab, from North America to take us all along. We didn’t have to speak at all, he nabbed it all. Oh dear, you look back on it now and think it’s a laugh, serious at the time. ‘Cause we were asked questions on it and I didn’t know where we’d been or what we’d done. Got a head like a sieve in one ear and out the other, straight through – what was that draught! [Laugh] That’s how it usually was. [Chuckle] Yes, we formed good friendships there. Oh well, you know I got on well, he was the wireless op. Ken Stewart we got on all right with, he was the navigator, Nugget was very good, he’s the pilot, New Zealander, yeah, he had us all buttoned up, no two ways about that. Couldn’t step out of line with Nugget, no way. He was good. It was all new to us. [chuckle] Starry eyed we were.
SP: How old were you then?
FT: Seventeen and a quarter I think I was. Only a nipper.
SP: So where did you get based as a crew?
FT: Melbourne believe it or not. Yeah, we got Melbourne, which was very good, so we knew it, you know. Up and down on the train, that was quite a journey. Get on the train at, where was that? Preston. Get on the train at Preston. Go down to Euston. Going across to Waterloo on the underground. [chuckle] Can you imagine it, hanging on! [Laugh] Gawd, we were daft as brushes. Wet behind the ears. Didn’t know from nothin’.
SP: So what were some of the things you got up to then, in London?
FT: We were in and through in no time. No time for anything, you know. We had a receiving centre there, we went to that and then we were whisked away to Waterloo to get on a train. You, you walked round and you liked the look of a bloke, you say, ‘Have you got gunners with you?’ ‘No’ he said, I said, ‘well, can we join your group?’ ‘Oh, all right’ he said, ‘over there.’ It was just like that, so you could bond together without, you, you’re with him. Shut up. We’re with the bloke we’ve chosen. Nugget was a short stocky New Zealander; he was a good pilot.
SP: So you were saying that you think that the crewing up was somewhere near Abingdon rather than Preston, so you crewed up down there, met all of your crew there, or was it your flight engineer joined you later?
FT: Cookie was the last one in; he was the flight engineer. He was a Canadian, Malcolm was, I shouldn’t say that, he was a good fellow, but, he wasn’t like Nugget and them, was he?
[Other]: I wouldn’t have known.
FT: No he wasn’t.
SP: So Fred, the crewing up was near Abingdon and you did some flights from Stanton Hardcourt.
FT: Got it.
SP: Which was just outside of Abingdon.
FT: Yeah.
SP: So what sort of planes did you fly from there?
FT: Whitleys and Wimpys. Glad to get in a Wimpy. Go like that, and you, Whitley we had to get it up and then keep going, out over the ocean, turn back over the land, to start getting it to get out there! Wasn’t great power there, they were in line engines. Whereas the Wimpy had radials, good strong stuff. As you, you know, remember it now, thinking back.
SP: Did you have any, you know were the flights good flights from there, or did you have any challenges going from there?
FT: No, no we were lucky. Well, I say we were lucky but we had a good pilot and a good navigator, that’s what you really wanted. Ken was from London, north London, he was a good navigator, he was, was good. But old Nugget was the key to it, wasn’t he, he was old enough to put a bit of authority on it all. At seventeen, terrified of Nugget. [Laugh] Oh dear.
SP: So did that help when you were on operations?
FT: Say again.
SP: Did that help when you were on operations then, knowing, that authority from Nugget?
FT: Yeah. Yeah. We only did some training ops from there, and then we went on up north to get the real crew. Where were we, up North?
[Other]: You went to Topcliffe, didn’t you, for -
FT: Heavy Con Unit, Heavy Conversion Unit, yep.
SP: So there you first met up with your Halifax?
FT: Yes, I think so, yeah. Then we went out to Melbourne which was gonna to be the base and we were introduced to the aircraft we were going to fly in, which is the Halifax, and that was good. [Sneeze]
SP: Can you remember which, which plane it was, can you remember what the letter was of the plane you flew?
FT: No! I had to have to, when I wrote to get my air gunner’s badge, and you say you trained on so-and-so, you know, and you fired so many rounds, because the target plane used to tow a drogue which was out on a string so you that didn’t shoot the aeroplane, you shoot at this drogue and the bullets were all painted. So when it come down with the drogue, they counted the holes and what colour was on the holes, and that’s how many shots you used to hit it, and that’s how it went, you know. And it punctured it, so it left a trace of paint. I’d forgotten these little details, but it all comes out now, don’t we, when we talk about it. Oh, we were young and had no idea what it was about really, I think.
SP: What was like, life like on the base at Melbourne?
FT: Well I found it excellent.
SP: What was a typical day for you there?
FT: Pardon?
SP: What was a typical day for you there, when you weren’t on ops?
FT: Well, you had to go to school. [Laugh] You had to learn morse code or use semaphore flags and all this sort of nonsense. It was a lot of ground work. My old noddle wasn’t good enough for it, I don’t think, but I got through. No, I enjoyed time there. It was the first time that we got in to touch with the reality of it without any bull, without anybody saying how, you know, good it was. Don’t you tell me, we’ll tell you [emphasis] how good it is! We’re the blokes at the sharp end. No, I enjoyed the, Melbourne.
SP: So what was life like in the sergeants mess?
FT: Good, all good, very good food. We were always [emphasis] hungry, always hungry! Couldn’t wait to get in, in the mess and feed. Food was good, they fed us well, they really did. I mean young men you need some feeding. And in the midst of all this we are learning morse code, aircraft recognition and all sorts of things, yep. So, trying to memorise things, I couldn’t remember me name never mind anything else! Oh I laugh now, but we got through somehow.
SP: So obviously, this was training for operations. This was training you for operations. So how many operations did you do?
FT: About thirty, which was a tour.
SP: Yup. And do you want to tell me about an operation? Are there any that particular?
FT: It was all very exciting at the time. [Laugh] We weren’t exposed to it. What was that! And we’d go on fighter affiliation. You were supposed to spot this plane coming at you, course he would come along underneath you, came up over the top, shoot across the top. If you didn’t get a film of it, you were in trouble. ‘Cause when you pulled the trigger on the gun, it worked the camera, not the bullets.
SP: So that was in fighter affiliation, yeah?
FT: Pardon.
SP: That was when you were doing fighter affiliation.
FT: Fighter affiliation, yes.
SP: Did you have to, you know, use the gun much when you were on operations?
FT: No, no, no, there was no time for it. Everything happened so quick, and we weren’t geared up to be quick, you know. ‘What happened?’ ‘Never heard’ ‘Never saw it, Nugget’. ‘It flew right by us!’ ‘It may well of done, but I never saw it!’ ‘It wasn’t fair, he didn’t wave to me!’ [chuckle] Oh dear. But it was serious at the time, dead serious. And our ability to get on and pass, reflected on the crew, because we were part of the crew, and if we failed they’d have to get somebody else, you know, and we didn’t want that, so we really tried. But they kept us separated so you couldn’t sort of, use the pilot’s knowledge of us to say well I want to keep him on as a gunner, you’d have to prove yourself. It was all very good. And then when we got to a station on operations that, that was fun! [chuckle] Go in the mess, not the mess, in the hall and on the end wall was a great big map of Europe and here was a little projector, putting a sign up where we were and all that, and where we were going. We had to pick off what the direction was, how many miles it was, all this, we had to write all this down, all be checked to see what our memory was like. Four guns, eleven fifty rounds a minute for each gun. So that’s four thousand six hundred rounds a minute you were popping out some lead in that. Everyone pumping out that at that rate.
SP: So Fred you were talking about your operations, and you did thirty plus of those. What sort of places did you go to on your operations?
FT: Stuttgart, Karlsruhe, one up in Norway. Och, can’t remember now. Where’s my log book, Fred? Not in the bag?
[Other]: No.
FT: Did I give it to you put it in the bag?
SP: It doesn’t matter. You did one to Chemnitz.
FT: Yes.
SP: And that was a very long trip, wasn’t it. Was that the longest trip?
FT: At that time I think it was. It was a long way down that was. We went right down, down the Ruhr, down almost into Switzerland, you could see the lights and everything and then we turned to port. Yeah, then we got there, then when we’d done that we come back. Once we’d dumped everything, bombs and that, we could head for home, quick as we can. Hurry up Nugget: we shall miss the tea!
SP: And did you have to wear something special on that trip because of the distance?
FT: No. Did we wear anything?
SP: Did you say you had to put something round you on that trip in case you were shot down because it was so far over?
FT: Oh, so the people on the ground would know we were ex aircrew.
SP: And what was it you had?
FT: We had a scarf round our neck and armbands that identified us.
SP: Was that quite unusual, was that the only trip you did that on?
FT: No, that was a regular thing.
SP: Right.
FT: After x, x number of these sort of things you are then qualified to go on. Right.



Susanne Pescott, “Interview with Fred Tiller,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 23, 2024,

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