Interview with Henry Townsley


Interview with Henry Townsley


Henry Townsley completed two tours of operations as a flight engineer and served as an instructor. He put his background as a vehicle mechanic to good use with aircraft on occasion. After the war he worked for Rolls Royce.



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01:12:56 audio recording





Temporal Coverage


CB: I’ll just do the introduction. My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 14th of March 2018 and I’m in Diseworth near Derby, talking to Henry Townsley DFM, about his life and times as a flight engineer. So Henry, what are your earliest recollections of life.
HT: Well, I think being born at a place called Harrington, Workington. I was born there in 1920.
CB: And what do you remember about that?
HT: Well, I can remember it being quite depressing in those days, a lot of unemployment.
CB: What was the main local employment?
HT: Well, steel working, place called Moss Bay was a steel plant and It was iron and steel. Of course it was, there was quite a bit of coal mining and the mining of the ore at Egremont, a few mile away and then there was the land so we had all the ingredients for the ore in the area.
CB: Right. And what did your father do?
HT: Well, my father was the, was a chauffeur for quite a long, got the chauffeur uniform, many years, yeah.
CB: SO there was the town, but fairly countrified as well.
HT: A town of twenty six thousand.
CB: Was it? Right.
HT: Yeah, so it was fairly large town.
CB: And where did you go to school?
HT: Ordinary elementary school until I was fourteen. And then of course I left school and I think perhaps I was in the air force before I started other things moving.
CB: And when you left school at fourteen you must have gone to something else. What did you do?
HT: Well, I, at fourteen I left school, went into a local garage as a vehicle fitter, to serve an apprenticeship as a vehicle fitter. Quite a large garage, there were six, employed there, six craftsmen, so it was quite large: Whitehaven.
CB: In Whitehaven.
HT: Whitehaven.
CB: Yeah. And this is 1934.
HT: Yes.
CB: So that’s a long way off the war. What, did you keep working there or did you do something else?
HT: Yes, until I was seventeen. And, until, unitl the war started. I was there until war started, yes.
CB: Okay, and did you do any more education while you were working in the garage?
HT: No, I didn’t do any of that.
CB: Did you do any night school?
HT: No. No, no didn’t do any night school. It was after I left there.
CB: So you, when the war started in ’39 what did you do?
HT: ’39? Well I was actually working in this garage at that time. I just forget now what, yeah, what I just.
CB: I think we’ll stop, just for a mo.
HT: Yes, it’s just a blank there really.
CB: Okay.
HT: I was on the water vessel Chesapeake, a tanker, ten thousand ton and that sailed form Swansea, in South Wales, and I was a junior engineer, there were three. Three juniors, and there was the three senior engineers and I believe there is a chief engineer, on the water vessel Chesapeake.
CB: And that was ten thousand tons.
HT: Ten thousand tonnes, yes.
CB: How did you get into that?
HT: Well, I er, well, I was working in this garage, I think I said, at Whitehaven at that time.
CB: Yes.
HT: And one of the customers, his brother in law was the engineer, chief engineer on the ship. That’s how I started, the customer coming in this garage where I was. [Laugh] He was, he was of course working as a second engineer he was at the time, and of course he was the bloke who pushed me in.
CB: Was he?
HT: Yeah. The Anglo American Oil Company.
CB: Oh yes. And what was real the tipping point that made you want to join the Merchant Navy?
HT: I think perhaps the fact that the, my family were seafaring, before me, so, my mother’s family were all seafaring. And it was, it was that what, it was my mother’s side of the family, not my father’s were seafaring people, and so that’s why I joined the, the Navy.
CB: Before that, when you were working in the garage, then you were studying engineering. At night school.
HT: Well yes.
CB: What was that course?
HT: [Telephone] It was the Workington Technical College. Yeah. On the National Course.
CB: Right.
CB: Yup.
HT: The Ordinary National Course.
CB: And did that specialise in a particular type of engineering? Was it marine?
HT: Engineering. Several types of engineering. Several types.
CB: Yes. Was it, any of it in construction or was it all in vehicles and ships?
HT: Well vehicle engineering, yeah.
CB: Yes. So when you joined the Merchant Navy, what did they do about training you, about shipping engineering?
HT: Well, I will have had to sit me tickets for me certificates there, you know. But of course as I say, I didn’t, I wasn’t there long, only a few months, and then, of course, I moved into the air force.
CB: So what prompted you to volunteer to join the RAF?
HT: Well, I wasn’t too keen on the sea: I was sick! [Laugh] So it didn’t agree with me constitution! So that was the main reason. [Laugh] Had I been able to stand the sea sickness I would have stuck it! That’s why I didn’t stick it. Quite obvious!
CB: Well you might have joined the Army, what made you join the RAF?
HT: The air force well, I think it was the chance of flying really, yeah, it was the senior one of the two. Aero engineering was the, seemingly the coming thing, of course naturally I felt okay, seems to be the thing to go for.
CB: Did you get recruited immediately for aircrew, or were you recruited for ground crew to begin with?
HT: Oh, for on the ground, yeah.
CB: So what was the course that you did?
HT: Oh, I don’t know exactly, I did engineering courses, on the ground, yeah. I did several courses on the ground before I moved, yeah.
CB: And where did you go for that?
HT: [Laugh] Locally, it wasn’t too far out of, I just forget now, but it was somewhere local, you know.
CB: Well if you were, if your ship was based in South Wales did you go to St. Athan?
HT: Yes, I did some courses there, at St. Athan, South Wales, yeah, yes, certainly. You know you’ve left it a bit late. Mind is not as quick as it was.
CB: You’re doing okay. So they were training you initially to be on engines was it or - ?
HT: Yes. Yes.
CB: Okay. Engine mechanic.
HT: Engine, yeah. Engine fitter I think.
CB: Right.
HT: Was it? I’m not sure if it was fitter or a mechanic, I think it was fitter. I did a fitters course.
CB: Yep. Okay.
HT: So I may have done both. I have a feeling I did a mechanics course, have you got it, flat mechanic? And then I went back and did a fitters course which was three months, three or four months there were, during the war.
CB: Yup.
HT: So I did both courses. So I was a fitter, a fitter engines.
CB: So we are talking about your joining in April 1940.
HT: Yeah.
CB: And things were warming up then, in the war.
HT: That’s true, that’s true.
CB: So what prompted you to become -
HT: Aircrew.
CB: Aircrew.
HT: [Laughter] Now then. I suppose there, the fact that there was fairly quick promotion really, you know! Was probably one of the things that did it!
CB: And more money.
HT: If it hadn’t been for the promotion and that, I might not have done it! But they were all, you were pushed up to sergeant you see. So of course, naturally, that was the recruiting agent for aircrew.
CB: For flight engineers.
HT: You all had the rank of sergeant, yeah. That’s, yeah, that’s all I think. You got the pay with it, so.
CB: So you were well schooled already in the basics of automotive engineering and then aero engineering.
HT: Well, I’d been, the, in working, yeah, on ordinary car engines for some years.
CB: Yeah, quite.
HT: Five years probably, five or six years.
CB: Six years.
HT: So I was well based in the base of engineering.
CB: Yeah. And when you came to volunteer for flight engineer you had a different training from the ground engineer. What do you remember about that?
HT: Training about the flight engineer. I every, fortnight’s training,
CB: Oh.
HT: [laugh] For me anyway, it was a fortnight’s training for me, and that was it.
CB: Right.
HT: As a, at my particular status, all I had to do was a couple of weeks.
CB: Right.
HT: I passed them and was through. Others had to do three months.
CB: Yes.
HT: Particularly a fitter 2A, if he was only an airframe.
CB: Yes.
HT: Only did the airframes and not the engines. But if he’d been a 2AR just. In those days, yeah, an airframe fitter, he had to do an engine course.
CB: Yeah.
HT: So his course was three or four months you see.
CB: Yes. And you’d already –
HT: But I was already an engine fitter so I only had minute training to do you see.
CB: So on the aircraft that you were, you were being trained to fly in four engine bombers.
HT: Lancaster, yes.
CB: Yes. Stirling, Halifax and Lancaster.
HT: Yes, that’s right, I did a bit on Stirlings, yes.
CB: So -
HT: I may have done one trip on Halifaxes, which I think I did, one. But I did a few on Stirlings, I did a few trips on Stirlings, probably six or eight and then on, moved on to the Lancaster. You know, finish the training.
CB: Yeah. Just going back to this earlier training for flight engineer. You were already proficient on the mechanical side, of engines.
HT: Yes, absolutely.
CB: So what were the other aspects that you needed to focus on for flight engineer?
HT: For flight engineer well, there was the airframe side of the aircraft.
CB: Yup.
HT: Which I had to know a little about.
CB: Hydraulics.
HT: Yes, hydraulics. Well of course, yes the undercarriage, yes. But mainly, well the airframe is part of the airframe you see. So I had to be reasonably, have a reasonable idea about the airframe side of the aircraft as well.
CB: Yep. And then the electrics of course, and electronics.
HT: Yes, electrics, yes. Oh yes. They were part, involved with the engine side as well.
CB: Right. Okay. So from your training at St. Athan, then where did you go after that?
HT: Yes, I was trained at St. Athan, and, I don’t know it’s down -
CB: So then you moved on to Swinderby.
HT: Swinderby, yeah, that’s in Lincolnshire, yes.
CB: And according to your log book, you were flying in the Manchester.
HT: That’s right.
CB: What was that like?
HT: That was a twin engined Lancaster, really.
CB: Right.
HT: The same, the same airframe as a Lanc, but twin engines, that was the Lancaster. That was the Lancaster, yes.
CB: The basis for the Lanc. The Manchester was the basis for the Lancaster.
HT: Basis for the Lanc.
CB: And were the systems the same on that, in both aeroplanes?
HT: Yes, pretty well. yeah. Yes.
CB: So you went on to Swinderby, and then what did you do?
HT: Well I moved from Swinderby on to a squadron. On to 97 Squadron. Is that right there?
CB: Right. Well, it looks as though you went to Winthorpe. You went to Woodhall Spa, on to the Lancaster.
HT: Yeah.
CB: From Swinderby.
HT: Yeah.
CB: We’ll just stop there for a mo.
CB: [Cough] So we’ll take this in bites. So is it, better for you to - do you need your glasses? Is it better for you to have look at this or I’ll just take you through?
HT: Yes, I can go through.
CB: But here, [cough] as you say, [cough] 94 Squadron, at Woodhall Spa.
HT: 97.
CB: 97 squadron I meant to say.
HT: Yes, yes.
CB: And from there you did quite a few ops.
HT: That’s right.
CB: Yeah. So we’ll just go on from there.
HT: So poor old Munro he got killed, yes.
CB: So his name was Munro was it?
HT: Yeah, Munro, the pilot, yeah.
CB: You were going to say, Jessie.
[Other]: I was going to say, yeah. There’s a couple of things that I found interesting, that you said, when we was at the Battle of Britain Anniversary, you spoke about the lights that came up that dazzled you. Do you remember those lights?
CB: Oh, searchlights?
HT: Yeah. That’s right
[Other]: The searchlights that dazzled you. We was, we was all sat round listening how you got out of such, such a situation.
HT: Absolutely, yeah!
[Other]: You was diving, diving to get out of the searchlight. Which was amazing!
CB: Right. Yeah.
CB: Was that the first or second tour?
HT: Well there was a time when we were, coned as it were.
CB: Let’s just cover that. So I’ll just ask you a question, you can tell me. [Pause] Having talked about your activities on the raids, on the ops, what, what would happen, as we talked about you going near the target. What was the most difficult thing about being near the target?
HT: Well, it was just the, the flak, you know, over the target area then you were getting all the flak, that they were shooting up all around, you see.
CB: But how did they identify where you were?
HT: Well, they could see us.
CB: What, with searchlights?
HT: Above, well, yeah.
CB: So what were the searchlights like?
HT: Well they were quite bright, they were quite good, the searchlights.
CB: Hmm. And so.
HT: So what happened, if the, one searchlight caught us, then they put another on, and then another [laugh] so they cone us in searchlights, and then, they would shoot, up in to the searchlights. So he wasn’t very happy, it wasn’t very happy when they did that.
CB: Right.
HT: Yes, that’s what happened, that was.
CB: So, so what did the pilot do about it?
HT: Well all we can do, if we were at reasonable height: we could - down. The only thing we could do. Down! [Laugh]
CB: And how did he go about that?
HT: Well he just did [emphasis] that.
CB: What, vertical?
HT: In effect.
CB: Would he put it –
HT: Down as quick as we could.
CB: Would he put it into a vertical –
HT: Nose down and down as quick as we could! Got out, yeah, it was the only way to do.
CB: And how far would he go down to do that?
HT: Oh, probably a thousand feet, if possible. Maybe not. Maybe.
CB: More than that?
HT: Maybe. No, we wouldn’t go any further than that. But we’d get out of it about, probably have to go down to a thousand to make it out.
CB: To one thousand feet, or by one thousand feet?
HT: One thousand feet.
CB: Down.
HT: Down to one thousand feet.
CB: To [emphasis] one thousand. Having got there, then what did he do? Continue flying at a thousand feet or did he - ?
HT: Oh yes, until we got out of the flak area, till we got out of the area, you know, the flak area and then we would rise.
CB: This is on the way to the target?
HT: Yeah. Yes.
CB: What I’m getting at is did you get coned on the way to the target, or only at [emphasis] the target?
HT: Well, you’re talking about the target, when we’re over the actual target. Dropping the bombs.
CB: Yes.
CB: Well, it wasn’t really often, you know, that we dropped right down to the bottom.
CB: No. Not then.
HT: Not then, no.
CB: No. Because you’d get bombed. So could you see other aeroplanes near you?
HT: Oh yes. Yeah.
CB: In the dark?
HT: Yes.
CB: Because of the fires was it?
HT: Well, er yes. The fires would light it all up. Yeah. Yeah, oh yes, you could see some of the aircraft.
CB: And when the fighters came to attack you, that was outside the target area was it?
HT: Generally, yes. They could attack us in the target area. But generally yes, you were out, outside.
CB: So when you are flying along and you’re not filling in your log book, what are you doing?
HT: Er, not filling in the log book?
CB: Not filling in the log.
HT: Well generally I’d check -
CB: The flight log.
HT: I’d check. Used to check, often, not indiscriminately, often.
CB: Yeah.
HT: Probably every ten minutes or quarter of an hour at least.
CB: And what are you actually checking?
HT: Well, check the oil gauges for pressure and, for temperature, check the gauges for temperature and pressure mainly, you know. Yeah. And then there’s the fuel, the coolant, you know, the coolant system, you got to check that, that. Yeah. Yes.
CB: And to what extent are you helping as a lookout?
HT: I was a lookout, yeah, quite a lot, I would say yes. Definitely.
CB: And what are you, are you looking out for fighters or are you looking out for other bombers getting too close?
HT: Well both. Any aircraft that’s going to get in the way, or a, or a fighter.
CB: Yeah.
HT: Oh yes. You keep a check out for any bother, anything. Make sure you’re clear of it.
CB: So how often did you have to move out of the way of other bombers?
HT: Well, it depended, you know, on circumstances, where you were, where you’re flying. It depends, if you were in a jumble, if you’re in an area where you’re jumbled up, landing, it’s something like that, you’ve got to keep a check.
CB: What would you say was the most vivid experience you had of being on an operation, on a raid?
HT: Well, I’ve got a thought, but I don’t know, it, quite a few. I’ve left it too long you see.
CB: Yes. I’m sure, yeah. We’ll stop there for a mo.
HT: That’s going, isn’t it that, Air Marshal.
CB: Now, 97 Squadron was a standard bombing squadron, but at one stage then it became Pathfinder. What happened there?
HT: That’s right. Pathfinder, yeah.
CB: Yes. What happened there?
HT: Yes, it was a top squadron. 97, alongside 617, we were there together on the same base, 97, on the same [emphasis] base.
CB: At Woodhall Spa.
The Dambusters were at Woodhall Spa on the same base.
CB: And from Woodhall Spa the squadron then moved to Bourne, why did it do that?
HT: Bourne. Move to Bourne.
CB: In Cambridgeshire.
HT: That would be after the war was it?
CB: That was 19, May 1943. This is because the Pathfinder operation was transferred to there.
HT: I can’t say I, I forget a lot you know.
CB: Yeah.
HT: It went on, yeah.
CB: Okay stop there.
HT: I forget, a lot of the things, I’ve forgotten.
CB: Of course.
HT: But generally, some of the, quite a bit I remember you know, after the stint I did.
CB: So in your Pathfinding then, in July ’43, your pilot, Munro, was awarded the DFC.
HT: Yes.
CB: Any other members of the crew awarded a distinction?
HT: I just forget, now let’s see. I think the navigator, I think he got a, an award, navigator. Yeah, the navigator, and the bomb aimer and the pilot all got awards before the rest of us. The bombing team should we say. They’re the bombing team.
CB: Yeah.
HT: The bomb aimer, the navigator and the pilot. Depended entirely on them, when the bomb was dropped, as a team.
CB: Were they officers, or only the pilot?
HT: Well. some were officers, some were pilots. Some were, I think generally on my second crew I was the only one, that was, I was a warrant officer all the rest were officers.
C: Were they.
HT: That’s in the second crew, yeah. And of course the first crew, well I, after about two or three months, three of them were commissioned. So I never bothered, you know, it didn’t worry me. I made it through, I made it through, I didn’t bother.
CB: The pay was all right?
HT: Oh yeah, I was happy. I wasn’t bothered at all. So er, and I wasn’t pushed, I wasn’t pushed to be responsible for anything. So I was happy, and I mean the commission that I may have had would have had some responsibility pushed on to me, you know, but I wasn’t, so, so I didn’t.
CB: So, just keeping on the first tour, and the crew, how did they gel together?
HT: The first crew, that was Munro the pilot, and Hill the rear gunner, Bennett the mid upper gunner, and er, there was -
CB: Signaller?
HT: Watson the bomb aimer.
CB: Watson.
HT: Yeah. Suswain he was the Suswain, the first was the first bomb aimer was Suswain, in me first crew, Watson was the second crew bomb aimer.
CB: What about the flight, the wireless operator?
HT: Yeah. the wireless operator was, just forget now, the er, one of them was only an NCO, was only a flight sergeant. A warrant officer probably.
CB: But when you joined the first crew, that was at the Heavy Conversion Unit.
HT: Munro. All sergeants together.
CB: Yeah. But how did they get on as a crew? ‘Cause you joined when they were already a crew.
HT: Well Munro. When I joined we were all sergeants, and they moved ahead, and Munro undoubtedly got, was commissioned first, whilst we were flying together. Three were commissioned, there was Munro was commissioned, the navigator was commissioned and the bomb aimer was commissioned. And that was it. Three. So they were what they called the bombing team. They were responsible for dropping the bomb, you see. That’s why they commissioned them.
CB: Right.
HT: ‘Cause navigator, pilot, and the bomb aimer. They worked as a team, together.
CB: Yes.
HT: So of course that was an excellent team.
CB: Hmm. And socially, how did the crew get on together?
HT: Quite well, on the, on my crews I can’t remember any, any obstruction in any way. We all hit it off pretty well.
CB: What did you do for relaxation?
HT: Oh well, I, that’s easy, I can tell you, normally we had a drink, you know, occasionally, not tremendously, but occasionally, we would have a drink, as a crew, to get together, be together.
CB: Was that in pubs, or - ?
HT: Eh?
CB: In pubs or on the airfield?
HT: Oh that’s outside. In the evening probably. In a pub, in the local, you know. We rarely bothered, rarely had a drink on the airfield.
CB: Right.
HT: We always used to move out to have a drink.
CB: What was the accommodation like?
HT: The accommodation wasn’t too good at Coningsby, too large a base. But er, wasn’t too good.
CB: So what were you housed in?
HT: I was in the, I was in the sergeants mess, the sergeants part, I was lucky. I had a room of me own! I used to come out of my room, walk along the passage and I’d be in the bar. [laugh] That was a mess, the sergeants mess, so I was lucky at Coningsby. My room was next door, next door to the bar! Well, I came out of me place, then along to the right and there I was in the bar area.
CB: And when you went to Woodhall Spa, what was the accommodation like there?
HT: Well that was, what I was saying, it was a permanent accommodation, you see, permanent mess, you know, everything was peacetime establishment and I was, my room, I had a, there were rooms along, there were passages along you see.
CB: Yes.
HT: Outside the main area and I was in one of the rooms. I was in the nearest to the bar.
CB: This is Coningsby and your second tour.
HT: Coningsby, yeah.
CB: But in your first tour -
HT: Yeah.
CB: You were at Woodhall Spa. So, what accommodation did you have there?
HT: Oh, nissen huts [laugh], nissen huts. Old nissen huts.
CB: The whole crew’s there. How many crews in a nissen hut?
HT: Oh that one.
CB: One each?
HT: One crew would be in a nissen hut, yeah, oh yeah. Sometimes you were split, you know, sometimes you might have, you were spit up. But that was where they was a satellite airfield. Coningsby was permanent, you see, the structure there.
CB: Hmm.
HT: Yeah. Oh yeah, we were split.
CB: What about the food?
HT: Yeah, the food. I would say was reasonable, I can’t complain. The food was reasonable.
CB: Lots of fry ups?
HT: I think the food was fair, fairly good, off hand, yeah, from what I can see, particularly at Coningsby, in the sergeants mess. It was supposedly better than the officers so, there we go, [laugh] so they reckoned anyway. They reckoned so. Some of the lads that were commissioned, you know, and left the sergeants mess, they told us it were bloody rubbish in the officers mess. They were worse off, worse off, they could be, I agree. Yes.
CB: So at the end of your first tour, then you were rested, effectively.
HT: Six month. I decided I’d be off six month and I had six months off.
CB: Yeah. So your six months off was at a Heavy Conversion Unit at Winthorpe.
HT: That’s right. Six months, yeah.
CB: And so, at Winthorpe what were they doing there, and what were you doing?
HT: Winthorpe? Well, it were the same as we were doing anywhere.
CB: You were training people, weren’t you.
HT: Training, yes, same as Coningsby.
CB: Right. And what was your role in the training at the Heavy Conversion Unit?
HT: Me? I was a senior instructor, I suppose. Was responsible for a schedule of people coming through, to see that their training was completed properly and in order. So I was, er, yeah, I think I was fairly responsible really, for the training.
CB: So you had ground school, did you, as well as flying?
HT: Me? Yes. I was a fitter, so I did a mechanics course: four months, and then went back and did a fitters course.
CB: No, I’m, I’m talking about Winthorpe, when you were at, after your first tour.
HT: You have to be first –
CB: You were then training other aircrew at Winthorpe.
HT: Oh, training the aircrew.
CB: What were you doing to them there? You had, gave them tuition on the ground, did you?
HT: Tuition, yeah.
CB: And in the air, as well as in the air?
HT: Yes, we, they were given tuition in the air as well. Yes. On some occasions, not on all, but on some, yeah, they were. That was the part of the job we weren’t very keen on [laugh] to be quite honest. Oh no. So we had er.
CB: ‘Cause the nature of the heavy conversion unit was that the crew would already have been together from the operational training unit.
HT: Yes.
CB: And then [cough] then the flight engineer joined, the crew.
HT: That’s right, at the Conversion Unit. That’s right, yes. And the gunner.
CB: And the extra gunner.
HT: Yeah. They joined the crew at the Conversion Unit. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. So what are you actually doing with the flight engineer who is under training with you? Are you monitoring what he does or are you telling him what, showing him what to do? Or what is happening?
HT: Well he, I suppose instruct him, telling he’s a good idea though. He’s worked there as a flight engineer before he’s reached us, so he’s got some good idea of what he has to do. Any instructions you can give him you do. Yeah.
CB: So after your period, so what we’re talking about at Winthorpe, is, you joined that in October in ’43, and that went on until February ’44.
HT: Yeah.
CB: Then, from there you went to Warboys.
HT: Warboys, yes.
CB: So this was the NTU, so here we’re talking about getting into Pathfinding again. Is that right?
HT: Well, Warboys, an NTU, yeah, Navigational Training Unit.
CB: Yes. So it’s more specific navigation.
HT: Navigation, yeah. Is the -
CB: Is the idea.
HT: Well, that’s the, the main reason for it, navigation, yeah. So you are training the navigators generally.
CB: And this is when you now start, after that, you go to Coningsby, and this is where you are doing your Pathfinding with a new crew, and your pilot is a chap called Baker DFC.
HT: Jeff Baker, yeah.
CB: So what do you remember?
HT: Baker’s an Aussie.
CB: Is he?
HT: Yeah. Australian, yeah. Jeff Baker, yeah. So that was at – Coningsby.
CB: That’s Coningsby.
HT: That’s right, it was.
CB: So what squadron is that?
HT: 97
CB: It’s still 97
HT: I was with 97 all the time.
CB: Right. But it’s the beginning of your second tour.
HT: That’s right. Yeah.
CB: So what stands out in your mind about some of the operations there? ‘Cause we are talking April ’44, before D-Day.
HT: I had quite a, a fair amount of time for Baker. He was, I hit it off pretty well with him, he was quite a decent pilot from what can recollect of him. So, we didn’t have any breaches, we managed to do the tour complete.
CB: You said all the crew was commissioned except you.
HT: Yeah.
CB: How did the crew gel?
HT: How did the?
CB: How did the crew get on, how did they gel?
HT: Well there was, let’s see, there was, I suppose they applied for a commission, most of them.
CB: No, no how did they get on together as a crew, flying as a crew?
HT: Oh absolutely, no trouble, no real trouble anyway, no real trouble.
CB: Were they all second tour people?
HT: Er, they would be, yes, yes, they were.
CB: By definition, for Pathfinder they’re going to be second tour.
HT: Absolutely. Yes.
CB: So you all got your Pathfinder badge.
HT: Yes, you did, had to do so many trips, and you were awarded the Pathfinder badge. I don’t think it was many, one or two. Then of course you had to do a certain number and you were issued the Pathfinder badge permanently.
CB: Right. Now a lot of your flying is daylight as well as doing night time.
HT: That’s right, yeah.
CB: So how did you feel about the daylight raids?
HT: Well, there wasn’t many, there was only three I think, was there?
CB: You’ve got a good, you’ve got quite a few.
HT: Have I? Daylights?
CB: Well actually, a lot of it, I take that back.
HT: I thought I only had about three or four.
CB: Yes. It’s all to do with, yup, okay, a lot of it is actually to do with flying in the UK, daylight.
HT: Oh I see. That’s right, yeah.
CB: What stands out in your mind about the second tour particularly?
HT: I think probably the pilot that I had, he seemed to get on well with, with, Baker. I hit it off pretty well with Baker, Jeff Baker. He was the Aussie, a flight lieutenant.
CB: Did he become a master bomber?
HT: Baker? Yes. He was the flight commander, deputy flight commander.
CB: Right.
HT: He was a flight lieutenant.
CB: Yeah.
HT: The squadron leader was the flight commander you see.
CB: Yup.
HT: And then they’d have a wing commander as the squadron commander
CB: Squadron commander. Well quite a bit of the bombing at that time was of France.
HT: Yeah. Quite so, France mainly, yes.
CB: And the end of the tour was twenty five ops, you said.
HT: Twenty?
CB: You did twenty five ops on your second tour.
HT: Yes. Thirty on the first, twenty five on the second. Fifty five all together.
CB: Yeah.
HT: Yeah. It’s all down there, I think. Yes.
CB: So that takes us to –
HT: You won’t find many like that: two tours.
CB: No. More on Pathfinder.
HT: Absolutely. Oh well, of course. You’d get them, more on Pathfinder, system, yeah.
CB: So this took you through to October, the end of September ’44, didn’t it.
HT: Yes.
CB: Then where did you go after that? You went to somewhere, something different.
HT: Did I? What’s it got on the top there?
CB: It, it’s got you flying with all sorts of different pilots. And that’s when you started flying Stirlings, so.
HT: Oh, I was on a Conversion Unit.
CB: Yes.
HT: Yeah. That’s 16 61, it’ll be down there at the end.
CB: Right. Okay.
HT: 16 61 Conversion Unit.
CB: Where was that?
HT: Winthorpe.
CB: That was also Winthorpe.
HT: Yeah.
CB: Okay.
HT: That’s near Newark.
CB: And the Stirling was used as a, this is October ’44 –
HT: As a substitute. On the Conversion Unit.
CB: Yes. And then they converted to Lancasters, is that right?.
HT: That’s right. Yes, they pushed them into the Stirling initially and then of course they were trained secondly on the, on the Lancaster, yeah.
CB: Hmm. And what was the Stirling like compared with the Lancaster, completely different aeroplane certainly.
HT: Absolutely.
CB: So what was that like?
HT: Well, that was interesting. That was really interesting, I’m pleased I didn’t do my operations on it! It was disgusting. The damned aircraft would only go up to about sixteen thousand feet.
CB: Right.
HT: Seventeen. So it had the, it hadn’t the altitude that it should have had, you know. I wouldn’t have liked to do operations in, no way. Twenty was my, twenty thousand was mine.
CB: You were happier up there.
HT: Lanc. Yeah.
CB: Hmm. What was the work load? How was it different from the Lancaster workload as a flight engineer?
HT: On the, er?
CB: On the Stirling.
HT: Well. On the Lancaster you were sat together with the pilot in front and had all the controls in front of you.
CB: Yes.
HT: On the Stirling you weren’t, you were at the inter part of the fuselage, you had the flying panels there. So you weren’t, the bomb aimer, the pilot sat together, at the front, so you had the control panels in the, seemingly in the centre of the aircraft.
CB: With your own seat.
HT: On the Stirling.
CB: With your own seat.
HT: That was the Stirling.
CB: Because the Lancaster you didn’t have anywhere to sit.
HT: The Lanc you were right, you were at the front, all together you see with the pilot. You had all the controls there, the flight controls were on the left, and [emphasis] you had the throttle controls–
CB: In the middle.
HT: Between you. And you had the, the propellor controls you know, as well, together, four, for the revs, rev counters, and the undercarriage that was between you, between the pilot and you. The flaps, that was between the pilot and engineer, both could operate them. So, er, yeah, so that was that.
CB: But you, but you spent a lot of time standing in the Lancaster.
HT: Absolutely. Yes.
CB: Behind the pilot with your dials on the wall, didn’t you.
HT: Well, no. We, I had a seat and I could let it down, alongside the pilot.
CB: Right. Yeah, but the stuff behind you.
HT: In many cases I did a lot of standing as well. I didn’t sit down on take off, anyway on that rig. I always stood, so er -
CB: Yes. You felt safe enough with that?
HT: Oh yes.
CB: Even on landing.
HT: I was quite safe enough, yes, and ready for the run in…[laugh] Not really, no. I managed quite well there.
CB: But on the Stirling, then you’ve got effectively your own office.
HT: On the stern?
CB: Stirling.
HT: Oh the Stirling!
CB: You’ve got your own office, effectively, haven’t you, your seat and all your controls in front of you.
HT: They’re all in the centre. Yes, the engineer’s got a seat there in the centre as far as I’m aware, yeah. I did a few hours on Stirlings, flying, because we had them on the Conversion Unit.
CB: Yes.
HT: We were using them initially. And then moving them from there on to the Lancaster you see.
CB: Yeah. What was the most difficult thing about the Stirling?
HT: The Stirling. Well, I wasn’t actually involved with the flying of it. But I preferred the controls where they were on the Lanc, half way down the fuselage. And another thing you had about twelve tanks on the Stirling. [Laugh]
CB: Oh did you?
HT: Six on each wing. So that’s bit of trouble. You had the, you know, had the intermediate, you had the fuselage running between the it, between the two fuselages you could move one off for taxi and one on the other side, you were hid. So there was, yeah, so there was quite a lot of juggling going on in the Stirling. [Laugh] Them bloody tanks were disgusting! On that thing there.
CB: In what way?
HT: Well there were about, there must have been a dozen tanks! And both, more probably. There were quite a lot of tanks on Stirling, yeah.
CB: So how did you manage the fuel on the Stirling then, that was different from what you did on a Lancaster?
HT: Well, you had all, had all the, the systems all there just, pretty well, you know. The tanks were all properly joined, they were all joined up, you moved one from into another sort of style, you know, several tanks you could, there was your initial tank, you used for providing the engine with fuel and that was the tank that you moved all the fuel into initially.
CB: Like the Lancaster, it also had wingtip tanks, did it, which you drained early?
HT: The Stirling? Yes, there was tanks in the wings there, I don’t know exactly where, but there were tanks in the wings there. And tanks in the fuselage as well.
CB: Ahead of the bomb bay?
HT: In the Stirling, yeah.
CB: And er, how did the pilots like flying Stirlings?
HT: Well, I don’t think, I wasn’t too keen on them, so I don’t suppose they were, no. I would rather have the Lancaster any time!
CB: What about reliability?
HT: The Lancasters were much easier, you know, to control. They were far easier to control than those things. And you know, you had twelve tanks, twelve, at least twelve tanks, maybe fourteen. You had a lot of tanks, they were all in each wing, and all tied up together. Crossed over.
CB: On the, the Stirling, how reliable were they [emphasis], compared with Lancasters?
HT: Oh, I’ve not time for the Stirling compared, the Lancaster was a much better aircraft, far better. On the Lancaster three tanks in each wing, and you had two tanks linked together. The two inner tanks, the outer tank there was, you could only move it into the inner tank.
CB: Right, yeah. To the main tank.
HT: The main. You couldn’t use the fuel, I think you had to move it.
CB: Into the main tank.
HT: Into the main tank.
CB: But on the, the Stirlings were not used too much on raids later. But what was the condition of the aircraft you were using for the training at Winthorpe? What sort of state were they?
HT: Oh okay, I think, quite good.
CB: Were they.
HT: I was quite happy with the system, the maintenance, yeah. Of course we didn’t use them too much I don’t think, they were, we, just a small amount of the training, you know, initial, you know, initial training before they moved on to the Lanc.
CB: So, your time at Winthorpe, on this Heavy Conversion Unit went past the end of the war.
HT: Yes.
CB: What do you remember about the end of the war in Europe on the 8th of May 1945?
HT: The 8th of May.
CB: That was the end of the, the Germans surrendered.
HT: Yeah, the end of hostilities.
CB:Were there celebrations on the, at Winthorpe, or what happened?
HT: Not to any great extent, no. I think, suppose we probably had a drink [laugh] out of the camp area, you know, to celebrate, but I think it went down normally, you know.
CB: We’ll pause there for a mo.
CB: So you had a considerable time on Stirlings but then you went, at Winthorpe, but then still at Winthorpe you went on 16 61 Heavy Conversion Unit. You went on to Lancasters because they had the Lancaster finishing school there.
HT: Well generally I worked on the Lancs most of the time.
CB: Did you.
HT: I can’t recollect really being involved with the Stirling at all. I may have been slightly, you know, I was slightly but not to any great extent.
CB: But almost each time you flew with a different pilot because of what it was, so how was that?
HT: If I was at Winthorpe, then yes, I’m afraid so.
CB: That was because they were trainee pilots.
HT: That’s right. So I, I wasn’t flying all the time there, of course, but I did fly some of the time. Yes, we all had to do a certain amount of flying.
CB: Right. So it looks as though in August 1945 you gave up being there, at Winthorpe, and then you went to Honiley, in Warwickshire.
HT: Oh. That was after the war.
CB: Yes, September, so we are talking about much later.
HT: Oh yes, much later.
CB: That was when you were in –
HT: I returned to the air force in 19, 1948.
CB: Yes, so we’ll just cover that. It says here, total hours on release of, from the RAF on the 2nd of February 1946 was 734 total, of which 342 were daylight.
HT: Yes.
CB: A lot of that was because you were training other people.
HT: That’s right.
CB: So you left the RAF in ‘46.
HT: Yes. And returned again in 1948.
CB: But what did you when you left the RAF, in 1946? You were demobbed then.
HT: Yeah. What was I doing, yeah.
CB: Because you were an engineer of course, in the air force.
HT: I don’t know what I was.
CB: I’ll just stop there for a mo. What made you go back in the RAF?
HT: Well the job I was doing wasn’t of any real, you know, value.
CB: Right.
HT: So I thought I’d be better, better re-enlist in the mob, in the service.
CB: Yep. In September ’48 you returned, to the RAF.
HT: Well I went as a corporal, you see, I think I was, when I returned to the air force. I wasn’t at the bottom of the ladder like, at least, so I was, and it was a year or two, so of course I, I didn’t drop. I should have had, if I’d been older I wouldn’t have done it, you know.
CB: No.
HT: I was only young you see, early twenties.
CB: Twenty eight.
HT: Now had I been any, you know had I been any younger, any older, I might have had more, more about me, but er, yeah.
CB: So what did you do when you returned to the RAF?
HT: In 1946.
CB: The flying you did you would appear just to have been a passenger.
HT: Oh, I was –
CB: Was that because you were doing air tests.
HT: Oh I was fitting.
CB: Fitter.
HT: Fitter, yeah. I said I’d back, didn’t I, fitting, yeah, I was fitting.
CB: How long did you stay in the RAF after rejoining in 1948?
HT: Well I signed for three years.
CB: Ah.
HT: And of course I was in there fifteen months and then they posted me abroad, after fifteen month.
CB: Right.
HT: They kept me for four years, because I liked it a lot, I had twelve months extra to do, it was one of those things. So I got kept for four years. I got posted abroad, and I was in, where was I? I got posted to, to er, Mirpur is it? Mirpur, that’s part of India. That’s Pakistan I should say, I went to Pakistan.
CB: Which was an independent comp, country by then.
HT: It was independent yeah. India.
CB: What were you doing? Training Pakistani - ?
HT: I don’t think was doing anything there. I just passed through think, maybe there for a week or so.
CB: I’m just going to stop for a mo.
CB: So you dropped, stopped off in Pakistan for a week or so you said, and you’re a ground fitter.
HT: Yeah. I was a corporal.
CB: A corporal airframe fitter.
HT: Engine.
CB: Engine fitter. So where were you going?
HT: Well I did a tour, I believe I was out in Malaya.
CB: Oh were you. Right.
CB: So I was at Penang. Have you heard?
CB: Yes I know it.
HT: In the north, on the coast, of Malaya. I was there. That was the, that was the rest centre, I was there on several occasions, in Penang and I was actually on the island, Singapore.
CB: Oh, were you.
HT: Yeah.
CB: Do you, what sort of aircraft were you - ?
HT: I can’t recollect.
CB: So you left the RAF again in 1952.
HT: Yeah.
CB: And what did you do after that?
HT: In 1952, yes.
CB: Because you’d signed on for three years but they made you do four. So that takes you to 1952.
HT: 1952, yeah.
CB: So you went into engineering in civilian life did you?
HT: 1952 I don’t know what I was doing.
CB: Because you’re aged thirty two by now.
HT: Yes, thirty two.
CB: What age did you get married?
HT: Oh, I was only twenty three.
CB: Were you. And where did you meet your wife?
HT: Oh, I met her at the RAF, the RAF at the RAF station. She was working in the NAAFI.
CB: In your, where you were stationed?
HT: Where I was stationed, yeah.
CB: In ’43?
HT: It would be ’42, yeah.
CB: ’42?
HT: Yeah.
CB: Right. So this was before you?
HT: It would be ’42.
CB: At Woodhall Spa, or Swinderby was it?
HT: Er, it was, er -
CB: Anyway, you were chatting her up in the NAAFI were you, and that’s how it started?
HT: In actual fact no, what happened, I, there was a dance going on
CB: Oh!
HT: At the station. So of course, I was in the sergeants mess having a drink and I decided to, that I’d go out and see what was going off in the dance you see. So I came out, and I was on me own, and I came out and there was these girls, come down from the NAAFI would be about four of them, so I tagged on to one of them then she became me wife [laugh].
CB: Never looked back did you.
HT: So she never looked back, she didn’t! So I tagged on to one of them and she was me wife! [laugh]
CB: What was her name?
HT: Iris, she was only on the NAAFI a couple of month.
CB: Oh. That’s in ’42.
HT: That’s in 1942, yes.
CB: And she, was she a WAAF, or was she a civilian?
HT: No. Civilian. Yes.
CB: And what did she do, after you met her? Then where, did she stay on the station or do something else?
HT: No, she was married then, married for life.
CB: When did you marry her?
HT: I think was it 1942 or 3? Yeah.
CB: So it was fairly quick.
HT: Oh yes, she had a family quickly, yes. So we were married, well married. We had one or two before the war finished, so it was, we had one or two kids before the war finished, two probably. Yeah.
CB: How did you manage to keep in touch, with your operational and training flying, with your wife? Did she live nearby?
HT: Yes.
CB: Her parents, what?
HT: For two, I would say that for a couple of month she lived on the unit, she was working in the NAAFI.
CB: Right.
HT: So of course after that, she left, and of course she was home you see, with her parents.
CB: Yes. But where was home for her?
HT: Her home was in Condover. Condover, you’ve heard of Condover. You’ve heard of Hera
CB: Oh yes, Condover. Yeah. I know, in Shropshire.
HT: Yeah. It’s a couple of mile from Hera. Condover. Can you remember where I lived?
[Other]: Not sure. Near Condover.
HT: You can’t?
CB: HT: In Derbyshire
CB: I’ll stop for a bit.
CB: When you left the RAF then where did you go? What did you work for?
HT: Rolls Royce.
CB: How long did you work for Rolls Royce? [Dog bark]
HT: Twenty six years.
CB: Did you.
HT: Yes.
CB: Was that a good job?
HT: Reasonable I think. I was, I was in charge of the job you know. It wasn’t well up but it was, I was in charge.
CB: Were you on Merlins engines still or had you moved on to jet engines?
HT: Merlins. I was on Merlins engines most of the time I was there. Jet engines, I just don’t know, I think I probably moved on to them.
CB: Bit later.
HT: In the end. But I was in charge of the job, yeah.
CB: That’s how you came to live in this area, was it, originally? Did you live in this area when you worked for Rolls Royce?
HT: No, I lived in Poulton.
CB: There was a Rolls Royce plant there was there?
HT: No, Poulton le Fylde. No, I used to travel into Derby.
CB: Oh, in to Derby.
HT: Poulton isn’t far you know, from Derby, so I travelled from there, yeah into Derby.
CB: Okay. We’ll stop there thank you very much.
[Other]: You went to Africa.
HT: That’s right.
CB: Now, on one occasion we missed, so lets pick up on this. You had to fly to Africa.
HT: That’s right.
CB: So what was the situation there? What were you bombing in the first place?
HT: Well we were bombing –
CB: Northern Italy, Spezia.
HT: Spezia, weren’t we. On the way back we bombed Italy.
CB: Yes. But the plane was not in a good state.
HT: Yeah, I can remember we, what was it, we were bombing in Italy, we were bombing somewhere, in Italy. Anyway, I er, we had to land in the, North Africa.
CB: Right.
HT: To refuel and then we could return to Britain.
CB: Okay.
HT: So when we landed there, I found that the aircraft was unserviceable and I left a note for the Chief Engineer to sort it out, and they did bugger all. So I thought well, I’m buggered if I’m stopping this dump here. [Laugh] So I got, the rear gunner says I’ll give you a hand to the bloody cowlings, take ‘em off, so.
CB: The cowling.
HT: The cowling.
CB: Of the engine.
HT: The engine, yeah. So the cowlings were off very quickly and the magneto points were out, and when Henry got the magneto points out they were solid, [emphasis] they were welded. [Loud laugh] You know what I mean, don’t you.
CB: Yeah.
HT: You’ve got a point on the mag. Like.
CB: Yeah. And they’re closed.
HT: You’ve got a pivot here. Have you got it? The pivot. Solid.
CB: Yeah.
HT: Points wouldn’t move. [laugh] Solid. So, what, so we looked at the aircraft next door that was cat AC, that had landed and was damaged.
CB: Right.
HT: So he took the bloody points out of one of the engines there. I didn’t ask. I took the points out. So I took the points out and put them in my aircraft.
CB: Yeah.
HT: And took off, had it not been for that, and had I left it, and I would have been there until the ground crew repaired it, and I would have been there for another three or four days.
CB: Yeah.
HT: So I didn’t want that.
CB: No.
HT: I wanted to get back. So that was the only thing I could do and I did. So you know, how many would do that? How many. [emphasis] Very, very, would do that, very few. I wouldn’t be the only one, I’d be, but there’d very few. I took the bloody points, even the points weren’t there for me to, I had to go to another –
CB: Another aircraft.
HT: I couldn’t use them, I had to go and get them from another aircraft. They were solid.
CB: Yeah. Which was a damaged one.
HT: They were welded, they were solid.
CB: That was the heat, was it?
HT: Oh, the heat, yeah, solid, so I couldn’t do anything.
CB: No. Did the engines overheat occasionally?
HT: Occasionally, yeah. But okay, that, okay that was quite an issue.
CB: Bit of initiative that was.
HT: And I, I left it for the chief engineer. I left the job for the engineering staff. And it reached the point where I had to do it myself or, stop, and remain there for some days.
CB: What was the pilot’s attitude to that? This is Munro is it, or Baker?
HT: It was either one or the other, I think it was probably Munro, so we, it was Jimmy Munro I think, yeah. So of course we were there and I, I did the job got it. Flew back. I got the, didn’t get a pat on the back, didn’t get any thanks. Bugger all. I might just as well have not bothered.
CB: But you got back.
HT: But we got back and that was what I wanted anyway. I wanted to get back.
CB: Now, just going back, further, sorry, go on.
HT: So, you know, I, I, the aircraft didn’t stop me, [emphasis] the aircraft was unserviceable and there was no one to repair it. I did it.
CB: Because you were the engineer.
HT: And I could do most of the things.
CB: Of course.
HT: So of course, naturally I, and if it was possible for a human being to do it, I could do it. And did.
CB: Having been ground crew originally.
HT: On occasions I did, and that was one occasion. In never got any credit for it or anything you know.
CB: What you did get credit for was for doing two tours, when you were awarded the DFM.
HT: Well I didn’t get the award, I didn’t get the DFM until I had completed forty five trips.
CB: Right.
HT: So I was on the way to doing two, I hadn’t completed two.
CB: No, you hadn’t finisheded two.
HT: Before they, before they suggested I should have the award, I had completed forty five.
CB: Yes.
HT: And then of course It came through before I properly finished you see.
CB: Yes. What about the rest of the crew? Were they all DFCs or only your pilot, Baker?
HT: Well I was on. Oh, Baker, Baker was a DFC.
CB: Already, yeah.
HT: And bar.
CB: Oh, and bar. And what about the rest of the crew?
HT: I think probably the navigator would, his navigator would have some, would have had a DFC.
CB: But at that stage you were flight sergeant rather than a warrant officer.
HT: I was a flight sergeant, I was a warrant officer probably, when, when I joined up with them.
CB: And wouldn’t you have got a DFC if you were a warrant officer?
HT: Well, yeah, I was a flight sergeant as you say, initially, but I moved on to warrant officer of course.
CB: But it was actually awarded to you, technically -
HT: That would have been awarded to me before.
CB: - when you were a flight sergeant.
HT: When I received the award.
CB: You were a warrant officer.
HT: Well I was told it was going to be, I had the opportunity of moving it to DFC!
CB: Oh you did!
HT: Yeah, I did, yeah.
CB: And what stopped you?
HT: Me, I said DFCs were ten a penny! There’s more, double DFCs than they had to DFMs. That’s the only reason. [Laugh]
CB: Right. Now you also got -
HT: So there you go. It’s true, what I’m telling you!
CB: Yes.
HT: You know, okay, a DF, they had far less DFMs, so they’re more important in my opinion. For the same, purely the same, one was an airmen’s award and they cut it out initially, they stopped it, it was wrong.
CB: Did they?
HT: Well, it wasn’t right, was it?
CB: No. No.
HT: So of course it was stopped. So I, so I got the DFC, DFM.
CB: DFM. You also received the Belgian Croix de Guerre. What prompted that?
HT: Yeah. Hey?
CB: What caused that?
HT: The Belgian Cross of War. I don’t know what happened there, I’m sure. The Belgians.
CB: Gave it to you yeah.
HT: They were the ones.
CB: And then you got Legion of Honour from France, fairly recently.
HT: I got that recently, didn’t I. And it was French, it was the French that -
CB: Yeah. Did that.
CB: Awarded me that. It was the MP what gave it me. He was the MP, he was the Member of Parliament for my area.
CB: Oh was he.
HT: Recently, Cumberland of course, you know, further north.
[Other}: Hope.
CB: Yeah.
HT: And I went there, and he presented it me. I don’t know what, he, he was an important joker, this MP; [laugh] he was an important bugger. What was he? I just forget now.
CB: You can say what you like Henry. [Laugh]
HT: His family and he were of some importance!
CB: If you want to take down MPs that’s fine!
HT: So I chuffed him up. [Laugh] I chuffed him up grand, yeah.
CB: Right. Henry Townsley, DFM, Croix de Guerre, Legion of Honour thank you very much for an interesting time.
HT: [Guffawing] It’s true!



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Henry Townsley,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 11, 2021,

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