Interview with Anthony Tompson


Interview with Anthony Tompson


Anthony Thompson worked as an engineer for the Post Office before he volunteered for teh Air Force. While training as a pilot in Canada it was discovered he had a difficulty with perception and he trained instead as a navigator. On return to the Great Britain he was posted to 90 Squadron at RAF Tuddenham. Here the crew undertook a number of operations including several drops to Resistance groups in France. He describes one occasion when the Resistance group had been infiltrated and they came under attack from ground fire. After his tour he became an instructor but wanted to return to the excitement of operational flying. He was posted to 162 Squadron at RAF Wyton flying Mosquitos. Expecting that their first operation with the new squadron might be a gentle one he was rather surprised to find his first operation with the new squadron was to Berlin.



IBCC Digital Archive




Julie Williams


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01:16:04 audio recording





Temporal Coverage


NM: So, it’s, it’s Monday the 25th of January. My name is Nigel Moore. I’m with Flight Lieutenant Anthony Thompson DFC in his house in [deleted] in Hertfordshire and it’s 11 o’clock. So, would you like to start by telling us a little bit about your background, your childhood, your growing up before you joined the RAF?
AT: Well, I went to a secondary school and county school and took matric. And because I was more practical then theory and academic, I intended to look for an apprenticeship. And because I’d been interested in things electrical I joined the Post Office, Engineering Department. Sorry about my voice. I’m recovering from a bit of sickness. And I joined the Post Office and was with them for three or four years as an apprentice and I learned quite a lot. I learned about life for one thing and quite a lot about electricity. I went to in night school and day time study. And this was all immediately pre-war. Pre-war. And when war broke out or just before, the RAF were appealing for young men to come forward and volunteer for flight training. The idea appealed to me so with a bit of bending of the truth I managed to get in and was accepted for flight training. After the usual ground courses, I got sent over to Canada to learn to fly on a Tiger Moth. That went alright and I was eventually posted. Passed out and posted to another unit at Calgary in Alberta, where we were flying Airspeed Oxfords. And this was a much more sophisticated aeroplane and it was a bit beyond my abilities and I had trouble landing it. I was unable to judge height and I either landed six feet above the ground, so to speak, or six feet under it. Seldom on it. And I then, after a week or two of this the chief flying instructor took me on one side and kindly suggested perhaps this wasn’t the best profession for me, the best occupation for me and I’d like to think about something else. I could either drop the idea of aircrew altogether and look around for a ground job or I could carry on in a different aircraft, a different aircrew — I’m sorry. A different aircrew capacity. And after looking at the pros and cons we decided that navigation was something I could do quite well. So I was transferred to the Central Navigation School in Manitoba and did the course there which was run, just six months long. And I passed out fifth of about thirty students. I did quite well there and I loved it. And so I became what in those days was just called, sorry about my voice, in those days it was just called a navigator. These days I think it would have been [unclear] navigator or some other such thing. Anyway, from Canada I came back to the UK and did a few refresher courses. Mainly to relate what I’d learned at the environment of Canada to the rather different environment in Britain and went through to an OTU or Operational Training Unit where I joined a pilot and a gunner to form the nucleus of an aircrew. And we went on from there as a trio. Did quite well and went to a Conversion Unit where we picked up another four crew members. There we were, seven strong. A seven strong crew waiting for a posting which was eventually to a squadron in Suffolk at a place called Tuddenham. Which before the war had been a little village. A rural village. Mainly agricultural land. Grain growing country. And we joined this unit flying Stirling aircraft. The Stirling is one of the world’s forgotten aeroplanes. Designed immediately pre-war by Short’s. Short Armament of Belfast and, as I say drawing on their experience of designing the Empire Flying Boats, Catfoss and so on. The Stirling was built to the same standards of a flying boat and the characteristics of a flying duck. Had lots of room. Bitterly cold in the air. But there were some better low level performance than at height. They never really took off as one of the mass bombers that it was hoped but it was ideal for intruder work. And having formed this crew we went through one of the courses together and eventually passed out as an operational crew and were posted to 90 Squadron at, as I said, Tuddenham in Suffolk. And there we took part in various operations bombing strategic targets like railway junctions and things like marshalling yards and specific buildings. And later we got involved with the French underground, the Maquis and we were involved in supplying them. Dropping arms and ammunition to them in various locations. In view of the Stirling’s range and ability, in our case it was the foothills of the Alps and down near Lyon. We’d fly down there at low level to avoid detection as much as possible and to make air attack difficult and somewhere about a thousand feet or less. It was a strain on the two pilots and fairly, fairly easy for me because there were lots of opportunities for map reading. And we’d go down to the location which could be a clearing in a forest or a particular farm yard. Something of that kind. And we exchanged light signals with the people on the ground and having established identities we’d do a bombing. A bombing run and drop cylindrical containers of the required arms down by parachute. And there’s some lovely photographs of these things drifting down in the back of the, in the wake of the aircraft. Catching in the slipstream. Canopies opening. And down below they had the reception committee waiting and they were usually led by a British army officer. And these would be, these containers were would be collected and hidden and the parachute silk disposed of through domestic channels. And then we’d go back and wait for the next one. These were flights of about seven or eight hours. Rather tiring. We had two nights off afterwards. Two days and nights during which we could rest and recover and recreate as they say. So, we’d have a few beers in the mess and generally get ready for next time. That went on until just at the end of the war. But before then I’d finished my tour. A tour was thirty trips. I did those and then at the end of that time I went on to pass on what I’d gained in the way of knowledge and experience to people coming behind and became an instructor. That lasted for about six months. It was utterly boring. And I volunteered and was eventually managed to get out. Was posted to a Mosquito, to a Mosquito squadron of 8 Group. The Pathfinder group. And I was based at Wyton. Excuse me. In Huntingdonshire. And there we took part in [pause] nurse [pause] Sorry there was a pause for a slurp of water. On the squadron at Wyton I was part of what was known as the Light Night Striking Force. Light being reference to the weight of bombs you could carry. And I remember our first trip. We went to, had a crew of two, pilot and navigator and we went into briefing and expecting to be given an easy trip for the first, first time. Point of fact the target was Berlin which was rather, rather a shock. And that went off quite well. We found the abilities, the flying abilities of the Mosquito were more than a match for the enemy defences. And the worst thing you really could get was being latched on to by radar and tracked by night fighters. But we had enough speed to outfly them. A wonderful aeroplane. They were held together by glue. The wooden wonder. The wooden wonder it was called. And I finished the war on, did a second tour, thus completed a second tour on Mosquitoes and that was the end of our career really. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stay in. The peacetime RAF were going to be, was going to be very different from the carefree, happy family environment of Bomber Command. And, excuse me, I decided to take my demob and to come out which I did. And then it was a question of making a living. And I got accepted for a job with British European Airways as it was then. And they had a contract with the Post Office, the British Post Office, to deliver mail to the remote locations in the Hebrides and the Scottish islands. And this involved a certain amount of navigation and I was accepted as the unit’s navigator. Navigator. I did a number of flights in helicopters delivering mail. Firstly, in East Anglia to practice and work out techniques. Then up in Scotland, around the islands. It was great fun. And there would be a reception committee. A postal van and a dour Scot in a Post Office uniform waiting to exchange mail. And this went on until, this went on for some months till suddenly the contract ended and it was not renewed. So after that I was again out of work and I joined, I saw an advertisement for somebody with roughly the qualifications I had to join de Havilland’s. Which I did. I applied and got the job. And this was in their guided weapons division. And I got into the world of rockets and things like that. Alright. Do you want to go on?
NM: Keep going. Yeah.
AT: And this was largely working with the Ministry of Supply to develop things like the Firestreak. The air to air missile. Finished up with Blue Streak which was Britain’s intercontinental, sorry about my voice, intercontinental ballistic missile. That involved a number, a number of trips to Australia. To Woomera. And I suppose that lasted for a year one way or the other. Eventually, eventually the time for retirement. Not something that really seemed to occur in RAF life but in civilian life it did. And after a period in London behind a desk, which I did not enjoy, I took retirement. And here I am. Reminiscing. Rambling on in a failing voice. I’m sorry about that. But over to you.
NM: Can I take you back to your time in 90 Squadron and Stirlings?
AT: Stirlings. Yes.
NM: You were doing mine laying, bombing, you were supplying the Resistance?
AT: Yes.
NM: Tell us about the, some mine laying trips and also the time that you were sort of ambushed with your Resistance supply dropping.
AT: Well yes. We, the mine laying trips were individual efforts. You went out as a single aircraft with an area to be mined. And because the Stirling had a considerable capacity, endurance, we really got the long trips. So, one of our favourite areas was the Eastern Mediterranean and across the Bay of Biscay to the estuary of the Garonne River which leads down to Bordeaux. The enemy was getting in supplies by sea via these routes and the British War Cabinet wanted it stopped. So we went around laying mines across the area and the enemy spent time trying to get rid of them. And there was a sort of a battle that went on. We laid more mines. They’d get rid of those. It occupied their, their forces and their strength and probably formed a useful diversion which was exploited by our side. Anyway, they were long trips and for a lot of the way, navigationally speaking they were boring trips. We set out with a forty five minute crossing. Crossing of the sea with nothing to see except stars and astro navigation. You felt sometimes you’d made the wrong choice. You’d like something more exciting. But we worked quite successfully at this and in due course became one of the senior crews on the squadron and carried on with this sort of work. You had a general scope of mine laying and Maquis supplying. Supplying the French and attacking a few strategic targets in between. And that’s how life went. The days were quite pleasant down in the agricultural area of Suffolk. If you weren’t flying you’d go down to the village for the evening. Drop into the local. And they were always very generous and looked after the Air Force and we’d have a few beers and a singsong with them. In the morning was a 9 o’clock briefing and then you walked up to your aeroplane. To your individual Stirling. Like luxury, 3 Group was. You had your own aircraft. You didn’t take one from the pool. And you’d fly your Stirling for an hour testing all the equipment. An air test it was called. You would fire the guns. Drop practice bombs on a range. Check all the radio equipment and make sure it was in first class order when you got back or reported defects to be put right during the afternoon. And then at about 5 o’clock you’d have an aircrew meal of something sustaining and then go off to the briefing. Had the final operational briefing and then straight out to the aeroplane and off. Come back, hopefully, some hours later. And there was always a member, it was rather like a family on the squadron and you sort of took interest in each other. And one of the questions they always got was, ‘Who’s not made it yet?’ ‘Who’s not made it back yet?’ Not so much what we have experienced and managed to overcome but how were other people getting on. And you could sometimes find an aircraft was lost and our last, last thoughts were people, you were friends. People you’d had a few drinks with a night or two before. Where were they? What were they doing? And life on the squadron was very much like that. And occasionally we had a virtual stand-down where you had a week’s notice that there would be no operations on a particular night and you planned for a party. You could invite the local big wigs in with their wives and have a formal dinner dance or you could forget about that and just let events take their course when things got a bit riotous. And that’s roughly what life was like. There were the afternoons. And when we had the morning air test and then lunch the afternoon was free until proper briefing time. We got on our bicycles, the rear gunner and I. He was much older than any of us. He was a country man. He was born in the, in Surrey and raised on a farm and joined the Brigade of Guards as a job. In the Blues and Royals. And he had a self-discipline, a self-discipline engendered by his experience in the army which more or less rubbed off on the rest of us and I’m sure improved our efficiency. Anyway, we’d go out in the country on our bicycles and sit down at the edge of a cornfield and just listen to the sounds of what was going on and just reminisce and chat and relax. That’s a great, a great foil for the activities that may be on the coming night. Anyway, I ramble on. Is there anything more I can tell you?
NM: Tell me about the operation with the Resistance supply that seemed to go wrong.
AT: Oh, the Resistance supply was planned that you would go to this point that was [pause] I’ll start again. The Resistance group was liaised, possibly, possibly led by a British Army officer who was seconded to them. Usually from the Royal Artillery. And they would, he would mastermind the operation and give information back to Britain by radio. Giving us information about what we, what we needed to know regarding dropping in a certain dropping area. The times, recognition signals and anything else of that nature. And on the basis of that information we planned the operation and organized the times, organized the aeroplane and fly off on the schedule we’d worked out. And fly, for security we’d fly at low level. Usually below a thousand feet. Map reading our way across Europe. And the crew we got to, with practice we got the crew very good at reporting what they could see. And I sat back with large scale maps of the area trying to correlate the information they were giving with the details on the map and that way we worked a good system. We could find our way around Europe pretty well. And having got down to the rough area we’d do a wide circuit flashing the recognised, the agreed recognition signal. And from the ground we’d get the matching signal back. The counterpart. When we were happy with each other’s identity they’d light a flare path. A long line of flares with a cross piece and this would give us a wind direction and the line they wished us to drop on. Then we’d do a straightforward bombing run on that. At the appropriate moment release the containers. The rear gunner would report they’d gone, He’d count the parachutes and say that eight containers had gone. We knew how many we were carrying so we knew there were no hang-ups. And that was it pretty well. When they’d all gone we could do another circuit and they would flash back a thanks signal and we’d wish them luck and fly back home. Long trips. Boring in some parts. But always susceptible. By this time the enemy knew we were, what we were doing. They knew roughly, they knew roughly where we were and they’d have night fighters up. Night fighters up on our route back. So there was a certain amount of activity on the aircraft keeping an eye open for them. So we got back to Britain, we’d flash again the recognition signal as you approached the British coast and the British defences would pass you on. Acknowledge your signal. Then you’d get in touch with base. And after that it was just a question of flying back to base and landing. Then it was debriefing. We had a truck waiting for the crew. For us. Hand the aircraft over to the ground, to the flight sergeant in charge of the ground crew. Any defect, any problem, any damage report to him. He’d get it sorted out. We’d get on board the truck, go down to intelligence and answer their questions. Tell them what we’d discovered. What we saw. This would go into a pool of information coming back from various aircraft in various bases that night and generally build up a picture of what was going on, on the other side for the operation, the operational command. Then off for an aircrew meal and to bed.
[recording paused]
AT: Eventually she got disenchanted with this and went in for nursing instead and was on the theatre team of the hospital. The Dunstable Hospital. So she’s kept an interest in us, Francis and me ever since this trouble started and we helped her. So that’s why she’s around.
NM: Ok. Can I take you back to the, there was one incident in the, when you were dropping supplies to the Resistance that seemed to go wrong?
AT: Occasionally units of the French units, the Resistance units were infiltrated by traitors and could be, could be taken over and used by Germans. By the enemy. And it happened to us once. We carried on with our normal routine and the answers came back very, very swiftly and pat. And we began to feel, to get that feeling that something wasn’t quite right. And you couldn’t do anything about it except be doubly alert and sure enough when we were doing our bombing, our run to drop the containers with the aircraft flaps out we were going along, barely airborne, as low as we could we had a great attack from the ground. As I say the height we flew precluded air attack or fighter attack but left us vulnerable to the ground and they had, they attacked with all sorts of gunfire. And we were, there were a few minor injuries. Bits of shrapnel flying around. The aircraft had some damage. And we got out as soon as we could and got home and lucky to get there I suppose. But that was the sort of excitement that one had on those in those days. You just used your training and your initiative to pick up on those things and cope with the situation. Over to you.
NM: There was another occasion when you were attacked and lost part of your wing and had to resort to astro navigation to get back was it? Can you tell us about that trip?
AT: Navigation. What was the navigation?
NM: You were, you were attacked and lost part of a wing and you carried on with the operation and had to get back using astro navigation.
AT: That’s right.
NM: Tell us. Tell us a bit about that trip.
AT: Well the aircraft was controllable. The performance was debased but we managed to get, to keep it airborne. We, the pilot and the co-pilot. And the flight engineer was happy with the situation. And we had to rely always on an alternative. We couldn’t quite follow the route home that we’d planned from landmark to landmark. So we had to use astro navigation which meant flying steadily for two minutes I think it was. The sextant taking our star shots with us, or a number of star shots with the sextant. Now, the sextant worked with a chamber inside it which contained a liquid which under pressure with a capsule was pressurised, could be pressurized by taking a screw out a screw and this caused a bubble to form. And the idea was it had bubbles like a spirit level. Had to be kept in by moving a sextant and it kept in the middle of this chamber. And this was illuminated dimly as a light coloured ring. And your, the image of the star you were using appeared in the, within that frame according to the way you were holding the sextant and directing it. And you worked the, altered the positions, the latitude of the aircraft until the image appeared in the centre of the bubble. Then you carried on gradually coming back. Anyway, it was a tedious business and it went on for two minutes and that’s a very long time when you’re holding a sextant. Trying to balance. And at the end you had a set of readings which, with which you went in the air almanac which was really a list of readings that should be obtained if you are where you hope to be. Various places along, along the route. And you plotted. Your reading could be converted into what was called a position line. A bearing along, somewhere along which you were at the time and you’d reduce it to that. Plot that on the chart and then try and find another. Another position line. Either from a different star or from ground observation which would intersect the first as closely as possible to a right angle. You get a sharp cross. And that was your position at that time. Astro navigation was a tedious business and not popular but it was there and it couldn’t be interfered with so something you fell back on. And on this occasion we managed to fall back on it. And I can’t remember the details now but no doubt we got information which was sufficient. Sufficient for the purpose because here I am.
NM: So how was the aircraft damaged on that occasion? Was it ground fire? Flak? Or was it a night fighter?
AT: I think it was ground fire. I don’t recall it very clearly. I think it was ground fire. Flying at low level it wasn’t, it wasn’t difficult for the enemy to work out the direction you were, in which you were flying and to alert gun positions further along that route. And with four radial engines, seven hundred and fifty horsepower each blasting out the exhaust they could very quickly latch on to hearing you and plot you and pick you up. And at low level they’d got a chance of hitting you.
NM: There was another occasion you had a double engine failure on take-off with a crash landing.
AT: That’s right. That was on a Stirling. That was something that could happen and [pause] I think Colin was the pilot. Sergeant pilot. He was very quick. He and the flight engineer recognised this and alerted everybody to the situation. We all got in the crash positions where if the aircraft crumbled around us we’d all stand a chance of surviving. I know mine was back in, in between the spars. The Stirling wing was a massive girder which passed from one wing tip through the fuselage to the other wing tip and there were two four and a half girders with about four or five feet between them and my crash position was in between the two. I remember scrambling down there, lodging myself in firmly. And as for the Stirling’s nose the bomb aiming panel was cut out from the other side of the nose which left it like a scoop. And as the aircraft hit the ground this scoop was bringing up stones and soil and so on. Piling back into the fuselage. I looked at this and wondered if it was going to, whether it would stop before I had to get out or whether I’d have to cope with that as well. Fortunately it stopped but that was another interesting thing. They found afterwards there was a design fault somewhere in the system which caused the engine failure. I’m casting my eye around. Somewhere around this room maybe, or this [unclear] is my logbook.
NM: We can, we can look at that after.
AT: I’m sorry?
NM: We can look at that afterwards.
AT: Yes. I was wondering if it contained any details. Never mind.
NM: We can pick that up. Yeah. Now, you, you took part in an operation on, on D-Day.
AT: Sorry?
NM: You took part in an operation on D-Day itself, didn’t you?
AT: Yes. It was obvious from general events that D-Day was coming and we had one or two practices. And then the whole environment on the squadron changed. Everybody was kept on camp. Nobody could go off into the local town and nobody went off on leave. We were kept. Locked down as it were. And you had an aircrew meal which usually contained an egg in some form. This took place early in the afternoon I remember. At the usual time. And it was obvious to us what was going to happen. Anybody with any intelligence knew we’d been waiting for this and this was it. And we were told to report to the briefing room ready to go. Complete in flying clothing. All equipment. Which was unusual. Usual that we changed clothing after briefing but not on this occasion which added to our certainty that this was it. And from briefing we got on to enter the crew bus. Straight out to the aircraft. No stopping. No diversions. No possibility of informational leaks from one place to another. Service police were around and watching. And straight into the aircraft. And then it was normal procedure. And we flew, according to instructions, at low level. Down across the UK. I think we got to [pause] I’m not sure if it was Beachy Head. Somewhere on the, some location on the south coast. And they took off across, took off from the aircraft. Set course across the channel and there was quite a battle. I remember I saw quite a lot of activity down below and we were dropping supplies to the army. We got to the dropping zone. Went through, went through the motions. Dropped the containers and got out again as fast as we could. We got back to the UK, landed at base. Again, heavy security and a very truncated debriefing. Normally that went on for some time to get as much information as possible about enemy dispositions and movements on the other side. On this occasion there was none of that. A question of — you’re back, anything vital to report? Ok. Back to bed. You may be wanted. Straight to bed. And ready to be called out maybe an hour later depending on how things went. Fortunately we weren’t called and in the morning of course on the news was all of the invasion. The invasion is on. And the, the [public knew?] about as much as we did. What you do, the policy of the security is what you don’t know you can’t reveal. So we weren’t told anymore officially than we had to know. Yeah. There afterwards a question of operational requirements. Dropping further supplies if necessary. A bit of strategic bombing if it was needed. Knock out that rail junction or a road junction in advance of the army.
NM: And part of your drops on D-Day.
AT: Sorry?
NM: Part of the drops you did on D-Day itself were a lot of Window and also the Rupert dummies.
AT: That’s right. Thank you for reminding me now. Yes. Ruperts were fun. They were about five feet high I suppose. Cut out of a figure with a parachute and fireworks were verey cartridges that went off on landing. Pressure switch. And simulated the sort of signal that you would expect from an assembly rallying point. And the dummies going down, they attracted enemy fire. I can’t remember much else about them. I know we had one in the briefing room and it was used as a demonstration model of what was going to happen. Yes. Ruperts. I don’t know why they were called Rupert. Presumably it’s the designer or somebody high up had that name. And D-Day was quite striking. You could see the landing craft making their way across The Channel and it wasn’t, wasn’t terribly smooth. We thought of all those seasick soldiers who would have to carry on. And we were at low level. I can’t, I don’t remember now about the ground operations on the beaches. I think we were in advance of that. I think we were preparing for it but didn’t actually see it. But the, the sight of those landing craft was quite something. We’d seem them before on practice runs. Usually off the, somewhere off Weymouth. That area. I recognised the vessel but they were having a very rough time. I gather there was a chance the whole operation would be postponed because of bad weather but that would have been an enormous thing. An enormous task to undertake. I think they decided to, obviously they decided to go. Anyway, we felt we were safe and snug in our aircraft and thankful we weren’t down below. And straight back to base afterwards after having done what we had to do. Straight back to base by the shortest route. Refuel. Reload. And get to my debriefing. Get to bed in case you were wanted again. In case things on the ground over there took a turn for the worse and we were needed to urgently resupply. So, get what rest you can. Which we did. But we were not called. Things went as required, I think.
NM: So that was the end of your first tour.
AT: Well yes.
NM: How did you adapt to becoming an instructor after the operational side of life?
AT: To begin with you were hesitant. As I am now. Which wasn’t very impressive. But eventually you got used to it. You got the patter. You knew the syllabus you were trying to follow. You knew how to liaise with people. You went through each student you were allocated. Three or four students to look after. And you went through their practice flights in fine detail. See where they had made a mistake or a wrong decision and you go through with them after like a tutor. You were a tutor. And we’d get used to that after a few episodes and I didn’t enjoy it very much. It was nice I suppose knowing that you would go back to a comfortable bed. Wouldn’t be roused in the middle of the night to go and do an air sea rescue. That was another feature. If somebody ditched, went down in The Channel, efforts were made to get them back. Firstly, I think it sounds a bit callous but I think firstly to prevent them falling into enemy hands and being interrogated by all the devious means the enemy was using. Drugs mainly. And [pause] what led me into this? Yeah. So this was one of the features of going to bed and getting as much rest as you could because it was one of the things you could get called out for. We were one night, somewhere up on the North Sea and we never found anything. We were given a box, an area to cover. When you covered it you’d have a brief look again and then come back. It appears to me as something I get right.
[recording paused]
NM: So, after six months instructing you joined Mosquito 162 Squadron.
AT: That’s right.
NM: Led by Ivor Broom.
AT: That’s right.
NM: Tell me about life on that squadron.
AT: Well, that was quite a different environment. First of all, on a Stirling squadron if you were lucky you had to wait for an, wait for an aircraft. You weren’t allocated your own aircraft until one became available. And this might be several, several weeks away. But I turned up at 163 and they said, ‘Right. Your aircraft is R for Roger. Go and have a look at it and meet the ground staff,’ which was rather a shock. I didn’t expect anything as fast as that but in 8 Group things moved quickly. Partly because it was led by a dynamic New Zealander and this group philosophy sort of filtered down to the squadrons. And yeah, we took our first flight in the aircraft and I remember, I remember that they too, the navigator was the bomb aimer as well in the Mosquito. You had to leave your seat and go and lie down prone beside the pilot. This meant that the oxygen pipe had to be long enough to put out a supply in the new position. It had to be fairly long. And I remember that during the practice, during the operation, the first operation it wasn’t long enough. There was no way it could get down there. It was one thing we failed to check during the air test. It was a warning — never assume anything. Check. Always check everything for yourself. And, yeah I remember the thrill of that first Berlin. That was always the big one. The Mosquito wasn’t so big. It could go high up. Beyond, beyond a lot of the ground defences. Most of them. And the horror of going down to the nose, finding the oxygen pipe wasn’t long enough at twenty five thousand feet. So I took two or three deep breaths, I remember. Filled my lungs with oxygen as far as I could and went down and did the bombing run. That was a salutary lesson. Never assume that things will be what you expect them to be. And [pause] I was trying to think if there was anything else. Anything else notable on that trip. I haven’t read my notes. Was there anything you want to mention?
NM: There was another one of these trips you were attacked by a night fighter.
AT: Oh yes. This happened suddenly. Without warning obviously and I was sitting around. The pilot was very, very good. Very skilled. And he took evasive action and I had to tell him which way to turn and what action to take. I was sitting in my usual position with my head screwed around so I could see backwards. You could see lines of tracer bullets from an enemy passing by. Get an idea where he was and transferred this information into suggestions to the pilot that he might fly at this location or dive or climb or take some manoeuvre to throw the enemy off. And this seemed to work. All of these ideas you practised during the daily air test. Every day do an air test during the morning with the Mosquitoes up in The Wash. Over the sea. This voice is ridiculous.
[recording paused]
AT: Ok. Over to you again.
NM: So, in total you went to Berlin twelve times.
AT: Twelve times, that’s right.
NM: What about other targets?
AT: Well yes, usually of tactical importance. Railway crossings, railway junctions, road junctions. I think we went to one or two docks. Ports. Oh, by this time the invasion was on. There was a question of disrupting enemy communications and their ability to move materials and men in numbers around north west, North Western Europe.
NM: Were there any particular operations that stand out in your second tour?
AT: This distance in time it’s hard to remember.
NM: So, in 1945 you were awarded the DFC.
AT: Yes.
NM: How did you feel about that?
AT: I was chuffed of course. Very pleased. Not sure I really deserved it but the CO seemed to think so. Of course it cost me a lot of money in beer. In beer in the mess that night. And a trip to the Palace to receive it. It would have been the king but the king was ill with lung cancer and it was [unclear]and the thing about it that sticks in my mind is quite stupid. He was wearing white knitted gloves. Machine knitted. He shook hands with everybody but he was wearing white gloves. And we of course had none. And I thought, why? I recognise the importance but why does he have to wear gloves at all? It can’t be that we would contaminate him in some way. Anyway, perhaps its protocol. And it was stolen later. It was silver. Made of silver of course and at this time there was an interest in silver as an important resource for the country. And people were trotting off to the jewellers with the silver cutlery or silver tankards and things. And about this time the house that we owned in Harpenden was intruded, burgled. And my logbook went. And the DFC, and a few other bits and pieces. The logbook turned up later on a bookstall. I remember Toc H, the charity. They ran a Saturday morning bookstall in Harpenden outside the George Hotel. And one of our friends was passing by one day and he had a habit of stopping to see what there was there and he saw this unusual book. Had a look. Saw whose it was. Recognised it as mine and he bought it. That’s how I got it back. But I never saw, never saw the DFC again. For ceremonial purposes I got a replica which I still have and when it was necessary to wear the full medal I wore the replica [pause] and nobody knew.
[Telephone ringing. Recording paused]
NM: So, did you stay in touch with the RAF after the war in terms of squadron reunions or Associations?
AT: I have been, yes. I joined the local branch of the Royal Air Force Association. I joined the Royal Air Force, I joined the Association as a life member. Attached to the local branch I obviously knew that it had disbanded some years later. Well I’m now attached to a head office role and I get the magazine. “Air Mail” they call it. And notices of events. Some of which I go to. But I think one or two old colleagues are still around. We’re of an age now when we’re dropping off one by one. Falling off the perch as we used to say. And I don’t know of any of my crew that are left. Mosquito pilot’s gone. I know all of the Stirling crew are gone. Canadians are gone. The rear gunner’s gone. I don’t know how I’m carrying on really. I don’t know how. I’ve been well looked after I guess. Anyway, the Royal Air Force Association was open to all ranks and the local branch was a bit of a, a bit of a disappointment. They held its meetings in the function room of the local pub and that was a recipe for disaster. It became a, really what they used to call a boozy evening. Didn’t achieve very much. The Association as such. It still organises a number of interesting events. Some of which include Runnymede where there’s a memorial. But gradually memories are going. Individuals are going. Individually, I see it as an organisation which will eventually join forces with the British Legion and any celebrations will be in November. And I think it is going to come. At the moment we stagger on from event to event. A new Bomber Command Memorial. The Spire. A new enthusiasm. I’ve not been to see it. I probably won’t go now. I found it sensible to give up motoring when I had my little troubles. I realised that in any accident I was involved in which would include the police they’d look at my medical records and say, ‘Oh yes sir, I see sir. Yes sir. Quite so’ And I’d get the blame whether I was guilty as it were or not. So rather than go through that and the tedium of insurance compensation which costs a lot I decided to give up. And what I saved in tax, fuel and so on pays for taxis as we need them. And my family are very good. They’re all motorists so I’ve only to say I want to go to so and so and I have two or three offers. So we manage quite well without. But what led into that?
NM: When you look back on your time in Bomber Command.
AT: Yeah.
NM: What are your main reflections?
AT: In wartime of course it was one big happy family really. Matter of fact it’s comradeship. Interest and concern really for other people. Joe Bloggs. Did Joe Bloggs get back? And the sadness if the answer was no and you would sit back and get a bit reflective. What happened to them all? It was like there was sort of a cosy feeling when you went in the mess. Everybody was like a brother. On the operational side everything that was, could be done to safeguard the crews was done. It was rather, there was no great glaring gap. No great, sort of, why didn’t they do this or do that? And I think Bomber Command was good one to be in. It didn’t have the charisma of Fighter Command or the sheer boredom of Coastal Command.
NM: And how do you think Bomber Command has been recognised since the war?
AT: Well we’ve now got the Spire. And Runnymede. But it wasn’t very much after the war. We had the odd reunion. Gradually in time, you get individuals went and [unclear] the impetus was lost. It wasn’t till this last few years we got the Memorial at Runnymede that people have taken a new interest. It became a way of life really. In Fighter Command you were available and could be called on at very short notice. At Bomber Command it was more quietly planning. You had a routine.
[recording paused]
AT: There were times when you’ve been on leave. Maybe had ten days leave and days eight, nine and ten you wondered what to do with yourself. People, chaps you knew in civilian life were away in the forces somewhere. It got very boring. Relatives loved having you around. You had to consider that. But generally speaking you felt more at home in the Air Force than you did at home. [unclear] but it’s all different now I guess.
[recording paused]
AT: Various jobs after the war. I think the pilot, Colin, went back to, I think he was a marine draughtsman. He went back to that. Ronald, Ron the rear gunner, the ex-guardsman, went back to training police horses. The bomb aimer, a Canadian, went back home. Took a degree at the University at Guelph in Ontario and became a, he started breeding horses, [unclear] horses. Sadly he died. I went to stay with him once at a rackety farm. Farm life. And we had a wild week in Ontario. People are not so confined to activities over there or in Australia with the use of a gun. Over here it’s something that immediately attracts attention. The police want to know if you’ve got one but out there nobody seemed to bother.



Nigel Moore, “Interview with Anthony Tompson,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 15, 2019,

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