Interview with Percival Trotman


Interview with Percival Trotman


Applying for RAF Bomber Command in May 1940, Percival Trotman was called up in September 1940, training as a pilot at RAF Towyn in Aberystwyth. Being present at Coventry when the town was bombed, he recalls deciding that the Germans deserved to have the same done to them and pushed to do well in his training. Completing his advanced training at RAF South Cerney, Percival was rated above average and was sent to RAF Cranwell to train as a flight instructor, without seeing active service. He gives some examples of training, including low flying over hedges and almost crashing into a caravan, which eventually led to him being moved to an operational training unit where he trained to fly Wellingtons. Whilst completing his training, Percival was drawn into the ‘thousand bomber raid’, without completing his training. Posted to RAF Binbrook by mistake, Percival took part in operations over France and minelaying. Explaining a close call on a return from am operation on Hamburg, Percival gives insight into how he dealt with a crew member's loss during a crash landing. He explains that he felt fear during operations, but kept it hidden so that his crew remained strong. Completing 30 operations in total, he was eventually transferred to the Pathfinders, earning the Distinguished Flying Medal and flying Mosquitoes. Percival recollects his crew members fondly, including his Pathfinders navigator ‘Tubby’. Percival outlines what the aftermath of a crash contained, including making it back to Great Britain, giving insights into another crash he had on the return from an operation.




Temporal Coverage




01:21:24 audio recording


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DH: Right. This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Dawn Hughes, the interviewee is Mr John Trotman. The interview is taking place at Mr Trotman’s home in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, on the 4th of June 2018, and thank you John for agreeing to talk to me today. So can we start off with, if you remember last time we talked about the lead up to joining the RAF so what made you join the RAF? How did it come about?
JT: Well the, obviously there was, everybody was being taken into the services, Army, Navy, Air Force. And I considered the Army but, you could volunteer of course, if you volunteered you would be taken instantly, but otherwise you would be called up, so I felt I should volunteer. So I considered the Army, and I thought about the first world war and I thought there is no way if we get into trench warfare that’s, that’s something I don’t want to be involved in. Navy, I‘m not a very good swimmer so if I’d off into the ocean in the mid Atlantic I’m not going to get very far, so I decided the Air Force was obviously the thing to do, and in any case they had a much nicer uniform. So that was my decision to join the air force. And so, I went and applied at Reading, I was given an interview and then subsequently I was sent up to an airfield in the Midlands where I spent twenty four hours going through a tremendous [emphasis] number of tests. Overnight we slept in a bell tent, all with our feet towards the middle and er, the food wasn’t too bad and then we came home. And then I had to sit and wait, to be called up. And in fact from the time I was there, which was in May 1940 I wasn’t called up until the September, which was quite amazing, first, first of September. I was called up to, went down to Torquay for two weeks and then six weeks in Aberystwyth for basic training. And life changed of course, no longer [laugh] was life a sort of semi-leisurely situation, you were under military orders and of course your life changed completely, of course, and I wasn’t unhappy about that. Obviously like all the others we were keen to go through the training and get on with the job.
DH: Okay. So, what was the initial training like? Can you tell me a bit more about that.
JT: Initial training at Torquay well, you know, it was sort of getting your hands and feet in the right direction and doing all the right things according to drill, and of course you quickly adapt to that. So it was a question of drilling, marching up and down and doing about turns, and you know, there was responding to orders which was what it really was all about; time passed very quickly, until eventually we got our posting, which was to Aberystwyth. To do that we had to go by train, so we got on the train at Torquay but the train got stopped just outside Bristol because there was an air raid going on and we went across and stopped outside Cardiff because there was an air raid going on, and then this train chuffed its way right up to West Wales coast; took a total from midnight when we embarked on the train to Torquay till three o’clock on the following afternoon, on a train with no food, no toilets, we got packed sandwiches, but no toilets so every time the train stopped at a station there was a mass city central in the toilets! [Laugh] Anyway we finally got into Aberystwyth and then we got oriented of course. Where it started, you were out of bed at seven in the morning, in fact you were doing PE at seven o’clock in the morning, so you had to be ready for that, and you did that for half an hour each morning on the sea front, then from half past seven you went back, changed and you had to be at breakfast within quarter of an hour, quarter to eight for breakfast, breakfast finished at quarter past eight, on parade at half past eight, then march to the classrooms and spent all day in the classrooms. That happened every [emphasis] day, except on Saturdays we were, eased off wee bit; we still had things to do on Saturday, but you got Saturday afternoon, and Sunday, except Sunday we had to church parade, in which case I decided, I was Church of England, but I decided I’d try the Catholics and the Jews and everybody else [laugh] so I went to their services as well. That was interesting. At the end of the course, [clock chime] you had to pass and you had to reach a certain standard, and if you didn’t pass that standard then you were out, or as I say you were moved to other things, ground jobs within the air force.
DH: So at that point in time had you, had your trade been established?
JT: Sorry, had it?
DH: Had it been established that you were going to be a pilot or - ?
JT: Oh yes, once you had reached a certain level to their satisfaction yes, you were destined to be a pilot, considered so.
DH: So did you [emphasis] choose that, or did they choose you to do that?
JT: I wanted to be a pilot and I didn’t know until long afterwards that apparently I was rated above average, through sheer hard work and it was that I think got me through to what I wanted to do. That was what I was posted to, Coventry, just outside Coventry.
DH: Can you tell me what happened then, ’cause I believe you had a part in the clear up in the Coventry bombing.
JT: Yes, I was posted in on the, Coventry, the airfield just outside Coventry and that night there was an air raid warning, so we went down into the shelters and of course that was the night that Coventry was blitzed. So the next morning we were loaded into trucks to what, taken into Coventry to see what we could do to help in any way at all. To try and help the military and the civil authority maintain some sort of order and help clear up the worst situations. And the worst situations were something, I don’t think you want to, talk about very much. For example the Owen Owen’s department store had a whole lot of people in it when the air raid started.
DH: It did.
JT: So they were all bundled down to the basement; it was a shelter, but unfortunately Owen Owens got a direct hit: the whole building collapsed in on itself and they were buried, alive and of course I think over eighty people died in that alone. So you can understand that some of the other situations were [sniff] not very nice. So aft, at the end of that day I think we’d had enough and glad to, well right get on with your training now and that’s what we did.
DH: Yeah.
JT: So, that had certainly instilled in me [emphasis] the effects of an air raid at first hand and I thought, like everybody else, we’ve got to give it to them back, they’ve got to know what happens under these circumstances you just can’t do this willy nilly. Obviously they were after targets in Coventry because there was a high concentration of companies: tool makers, aircraft part makers, I think there were six main manufacturers virtually in the centre of Coventry because that’s the way the city became built. And that’s why the centre really, the centre of Coventry got such a battering.
DH: Yeah. I can, I can understand why that would make you think, yeah, I’ve got to do that back, yeah. So from, so that’s your initial training so how did you come to start then, next? You went to Cranwell, didn’t you.
JT: Yes, basic training just outside Coventry then went on to advanced training on twin engined Oxfords at South Cerny in Gloucestershire, at the end of that course they then decided, which way, you qualified for your wings, so you were a qualified pilot at that stage. They then decided your future. Most other people were sent to either to a squadron at that time of the war, or for operational training unit where, for heavier aircraft, at that time Stirling. But for some reason I was sent instead, again I was above average on the course, and I was sent to Cranwell to train as a flying instructor, which surprised me no end. And that meant three weeks on, learning to instruct on the bi-plane and another three weeks learning to instruct on twin engined Oxfords, and it was hard work because there was so much to do. You had to go through twenty eight subjects on each aeroplane, and you had to not only learn that but you also had to espouse this, that as an instructor and I didn’t know how to do that, so it was really hard work for six weeks. While we were there incidentally we suddenly heard a funny noise, rushed to the windows to look outside, and saw an aeroplane take off and it’s got no propeller, this was absolutely amazing! How actually does an aeroplane fly without a propeller? This was of course the basic first jet, so quite amazing sight to see, but, er filled us with wonder and tremendous encouragement I think we’d got the thing that might end the war, for flying anyway, did help, but not till much later, had to be developed. Anyway after that I went back to Shawbury as a flying instructor.
DH: So you were on Oxford Airspeeds there?
JT: Yes.
DH: So, so at this point you’re, you’d done training, you’re an instructor, but you hadn’t seen active service.
JT: Oh no. I stayed in Shawbury for nine months and quite frankly I got to the point where enough was enough, I felt. You trained a few people to fly the plane and then subsequently supervised later in lessons as you went through it. Then the next course came in and you started all over again, and then the next course came in and you went through it all again, very repetitive. And it tested your flying skill at times, because for example the undercarriage and flap levers on the early Airspeed Oxfords were side by side, and if in fact you wanted to, took off an aeroplane for example, you wanted to lift the undercarriage, and you or, you lifted the flaps instead, it can be a hell of a job to get off the ground at all, or alternatively, if you do what we call an overshoot in other words you come in to make an, you do an approach to land and then you command the pupil to open the throttles and go round without landing, and at that stage your flaps are fully down to retard the speed of the aircraft, so in this case if the chap pulled up the wrong lever, the flaps would come up and the plane just sank like that, hit the runway and where it would explode virtually, so you had to be very [emphasis] sure that he pulled up the right lever, [chuckle] and you watched like a hawk to see which one he was going to pull up, and one chap did pull up the wrong lever, I was there, and without any hesitation I whacked my fist down on the back of his hand and knocked the lever back into position! He was protesting strongly that I’d bruised his hand! I said well that’ll remind you which lever you’re pull up in the future. [Laugh] Anyway, life goes on. But at then at the end of nine months I’d had enough, decided to leave. The circumstances of my leaving were unique perhaps in a sense that I took a pupil down to, just north of the A5, towards the midlands and there was a low flying area specifically where we trained people to fly low. The purpose of this to evade enemy fighters because no enemy aircraft can get under you if you are low flying of course, and that’s your vulnerable part. So I took this pupil down there and he wouldn’t fly below two hundred feet so I said, ‘look this is nonsense, you really must get down, now let me show you.’ and I took him down, right down, so low we that were actually hedge hopping over hedges and flying between trees, and he looked with horror at the moment, for a moment or two and then suddenly he began to get the excitement of it all and we came out across an airfield that was under construction. All the work was lots of sea of mud and two runways and right at the intersection of the runways was a big caravan on wheels. And two chaps on the veranda of this were looking out over the scene. Obviously discussing things, the engineer or the architect. It just so happens that this caravan was in my line of flight, and I was only about ten feet off the ground. I flew towards this thing, hopped the plane over the top and these fellows jumped for their lives, unfortunately down into the mud, which was a very naughty thing to do really. But in fact it was, had results because one of the gentlemen was the officer commanding Shawbury, a group captain, and his gold, hat with gold braid fell into the mud which had to be sent away for specialist cleaning and his wonderful uniform got into a mess. I was posted forthwith.
DH: Oh wow!
JT: And frankly it suited me down to the ground actually and I think I got a detrimental report on my, on my record. Still.
DH: So you got moved for doing what you were supposed to be doing!
JT: Yeah, well.
DH: It’s just he got in the way.
JT: He got in the way.
DH: Yeah. Oh wow!
JT: I was very sorry for him afterwards, really.
DH: Yeah. I’m sure you were! [laugh] Not. So when you were posted then, where did you to go then?
JT: I then went to an Operational Training Unit which was at Pershore, in Worcestershire. There, as the Operational Training Unit you had to fly Wellington bombers and to do that you had to have a crew. You got a navigator, wireless operator, front gunner and rear gunner; the front gunner also being a bomb aimer. So you collected your crew, and you met people, you formed a crew, which we did. And then we went through the appropriate training period for that, for that aircraft. Towards the end of the training period, lots of night flying, cross countries where you would fly from that place up to, virtually up to Scotland, down the Irish Sea, to, down to sort of bottom end of Wales, and then fly back into this, that would be a normal night cross country exercise to get the idea of long distance flying at night, and so, you know, we were just, getting towards the end of that training, and suddenly Bomber Harris - chap in charge of Bomber Command of course - decided that he would like to wanted to bomb, do the first thousand bomber raid. Now, Bomber Harris had not got a thousand aircraft in Bomber Command. So he had to take some from the Training Command, some - one or two from Coastal and various other sections - to make up his thousand, which he did. So despite the fact we hadn’t finished our training, six aircraft were designated from our training unit to join this thousand bomber raid, though we hadn’t completed our training at that stage. Fortunately the other five people had a qualified pilot sitting alongside them, so they were all right, but since I was also, got lots of flying hours in, been an instructor, I was told I was going on my own. And so we flew to Cologne which was the first of the thousand bomber raids. Which was quite, that was the first time we did, and quite spectacular it was. The defences were completely overwhelmed with one thousand aircraft did the whole job in about ninety minutes, and that’s really [emphasis] intense bombing, and it virtually destroyed Cologne, most of it in the centre and the outlying areas: devastating. And of course two nights later we all went to Essen to do the same job there, but since, at Cologne we could see everything, visibility was perfect; at Essen there was cloud and we actually had to bomb through the clouds, because we hadn’t developed the Pathfinder thing to the right extent at that stage. And then they said right well you’re operational we’ll post you to a squadron and that was it. So I was posted to, eventually to an Australian squadron just north of the Humber. And when I arrived there the commanding officer was on leave, so we went down to the flight and got us out an aeroplane, one of their aeroplanes and flew it around on navigational exercises we decided on our own, to get used to the area. The engines were not the beautiful engines on the, ones we were used to, these were American Pratt and Whitney engines and if you, they had notorious, they were absolutely notorious because when they took off the noise was out, absolutely outstanding, very noisy aeroplane due to the design of the engine, well, anyway we got used to this, and at the end of the week we were told the CO was back and he wanted to see us. So we marched in, lined up in front of his desk, he points to me, ‘Right, what’s your name and where you from?’ [Australian accent] So I told him, he said, ‘You’re a bloody pom! I don’t want any bloody poms on my squadron, you’re posted!’ - that was it. And so same with my rear gunner who was also English, ‘cause the other three guys were Australian, in my crew, and so they remained, formed another crew, and unfortunately they didn’t survive the war. But the other gunner and I survived the war, that’s, the way things went. We were posted another British squadron this time and to carry on to do the other twenty eight trips necessary to make up the total thirty. So, our crew, Aussie crew, were hell of a nice guys, one from Sydney, one from Melbourne, I forget where the other one was from, and when we first met, when we’re crewing up in the first place, in training, they took one look, said to me ‘Christ we’ve got bloody poms running our, bloody, on us’, I said, ‘Christ we’ve got bloody colonials working for us!’ [Laugh] So all together [cough] we got on like a house on fire, great guys, thoroughly enjoyed it.
DH: Good.
JT: That part.
DH: At what point did you go to RAF Binbrook on the Wellingtons? Is that the period of time you’ve just been talking about?
JT: Yes, that was the time when I was posted just for a brief time to Binbrook.
DH: Yes.
JT: And this turns out to be a mistaken posting for some reason, so we weren’t unhappy about that one. From Binbrook we went to the Aussie squadron and from there we went on to the English squadron.
DH: Right. So. You did some raids, or a raid on, at St. Nazaire. Can you tell me about that?
JT: St. Nazaire, yes. Well, St, Nazaire, like Lorient on the west coast of France of course, were submarine bases, with huge concrete submarine pens there, they were bombed incessantly and so they built these huge concrete pens, so that submarines would come from the sea up, a narrow channel and then dive under the concrete shelters so that they could then load, refuel and ready to come out again. The trick was, while the bomber command had tried all sorts of bombs to penetrate this concrete, waste of time because they were just bouncing off concrete: they could be six nine feet thick, reinforced. So the trick then was to try and catch them either coming in or going out. The most effective way to do that was to drop mines, sea mines, in the, in the channels leading into the bunker, you know. And that we had to do. So to do that you had to fly an aeroplane one hundred feet above the water, at a set speed, because of the, it has to be about, only about a hundred knots, that’s about a hundred and fifteen miles an hour, and then you open your bomb doors and absolutely accurately from one hundred feet above the water, in pitch dark, [emphasis] you had to drop your bombs up the line of the channel. And these bombs, the mines in effect, would sink into the water and they would lay there, and just any metal boat that went across the top of them, the bomb would explode; just lay there all the time. So about six or eight aircraft sowing a whole host of these things on the water, would stop submarines coming back for refuelling and that all sort of out in the Atlantic and they certainly stopped the loaded boats from coming out, ‘cause they couldn’t get out that was the principle of it. It was effective in a sense, but the Germans of course decided that all these mines had got to be set off, and the easiest way to do that was to get a French trawlerman with a metal boat to travel and explode the bombs, and killed the Frenchmen on the way: didn’t matter. That’s effectively what they did.
DH: So they were magnetic I presume.
JT: Hmm.
DH: So they’d come up and hit whatever was metal.
JT: Aye. Well they’d trip, trip a magnetic mechanism within the bomb and [explode sound] go up yes, and sink any French, metal boat that was going over it or submarine for that matter, German submarine. It would sink them The idea was that if we could get a few submarines sunk in the channel that they would stop using the top, have to use the, the two depots.
DH: How long did that, did you do that for? You know, did they make a decision right to stop them?
JT: Yes, virtually, almost continual basis over a period of time, perhaps once a week, once every two weeks you’d go back and have another go and because of this the banks on either side on the approach to this, these were lined up with anti aircraft so when you went there with your hundred feet steadily at that speed with anti-aircraft fire coming in from both sides and you just crossed your fingers you would get through safely and of course you couldn’t take evasive action a hundred feet above the water, the slightest movement you’d be in the water yourself. So it was a, rather a dice with death situation. Not as simple as it sounds.
DH: And can I ask were, did many crews get killed, doing that?
JT: Sorry?
DH: Did many, were many aircraft killed, shot down?
JT: Yes, a few, I don’t know the total frankly, but certainly a few. Well, you were a sitting target so just the way but once the mines were in the water, it was quite effective in inhibiting where the submarines could get, go in and out.
DH: Reading your book, you talked about Lorient, the Bay of Biscay. What happened there? Was that, is that around the St, Nazaire?
JT: That is, yeah, one is up the coast, one is further down the coast, exactly [emphasis] the same sort of situation. Again, the thing was, again there was a channel which the u-boats went in and out and again we were throwing these mines into that channel, to stop, stop their progress.
DH: Yes.
JT: This was particularly important as we, as we got to D-Day of course, we had to stop them dead.
DH: Okay. You mentioned in your book about, is it Mainz, to do with a gentleman called Viv Parry.
JT: Yes.
DH: Can you talk about that please?
JT: We did bombing raid in Hamburg and we had a hard time with that one, and coming back we realised that we were losing fuel, one of the petrol tanks had been holed and we were, not losing fuel from it, and so we got to the point where almost half the way back across the north sea and I had to stop, the engine just stopped for lack of fuel and I feathered the propellers and we were now flying on the one engine, bit tricky because we hadn’t got very much fuel left, so in the remain, tanking on the other side, so by cutting its power back, on the engine, so it consumed less fuel, we also were losing height until eventually we crossed the Yorkshire coast very low indeed and we were desperate to look for somewhere to land and I was really dicing because it was a question as to how long we would stay in the air, give us time to find an airfield to land on. In fact we ran out of fuel. And so from about a thousand feet I had to suddenly look round in the early dawn, to find somewhere to land the plane. I suddenly spotted one just about the last hop would do the trick, dead engines, the plane just wasn’t exactly a good glider, it came down fairly rapidly, I managed to screw it round get into the airfield and do a perfect belly landing which I thought this is absolutely superb, marvellous. I even thought, you know how good it was, until eventually, we approached a copse where were quite, fairly slow down, then suddenly the wing tip on the right hand side collided with a young tree, just projecting out, and this had the effect of swinging the plane round, rapidly, it came to a stop. Now part of the procedure in all this crash landing is that the crew goes into what we call crash position and brace themselves. I stayed in the cockpit doing the flying and they all brace themselves. The rear gunner turned his turret to one, to right angles like that to the, to the line of flight, and he opened his little back doors and he unstrapped himself so as he could get out quickly, and the unfortunate effect of this, this catching the wing, swinging the aircraft like that it ejected him from the rear turret, he must have flown through the air about twenty, thirty feet, landed, unfortunately broke his neck and it was me was, to discover this. A complete shock, you know one of your own crew, one of your best and close friends; suddenly there he is lying dead. You can’t stand there, do nothing.
DH: No.
JT: So, was a question of having him covered up, one chap stayed with the plane and the body, and the other guys were sent in different directions, and I went off to look, we all went to look for help get to a telephone and get to the air force and that’s where I sort of waded into a, through a canal, put my boots back, on knocked on a farm door, the farmer eventually answers the door, looked at me, I was bloodied, because I’d cut my head badly, blood all over my face, I was wet, I looked a wreck, and, he didn’t know what I was, in fact he thought probably I was a German, he didn’t, my speech was a bit slurred. Anyway I managed to convince him who I was and he invited me in and put through a phone call, called his missus down from upstairs and she came down in her nightie, a little dressing gown over the top, being a practical woman of course, she immediately got a bowl of hot water and started cleaning up the wound and making me reasonably respectable and for good measure stuffed a big double whisky down me, [laugh] in to me which made me feel just a little bit better at that time. So we got recovered, plane and everything else. And we set off on leave of course. Viv Parry was buried in a graveyard in Anglesey, where he lies to this day.
DH: Was the plane re-usable after that?
JT: No, only in parts. The strain put on the crash landing and the effect of hitting the tree couldn’t support some of the metal parts, so they weren’t prepared to risk taking off the wings and trying to get it to fly again, when they reassembled it, so I think they used it for spares, so we never saw it again.
DH: At some point after that I understand you went to Tilstock, as an instructor. Was that after, that was after that was it?
JT: Yes, after the tour of operations I was posted to Tilstock in Whitchurch. I was there for quite a time. Flying Whitleys, Whitley, old fashioned Whitley bombers. You took pilots up and you trained them to fly the plane and when they were qualified as you felt fit and you, you put the crews in and then they went off on to practice, cross country work round the country, all round the country, the bombing range at er, just across, not far from here, they used that as a bombing range, of course other bombing ranges were in different parts of the country. So they had to navigate their way to this particular bombing area, do the bombs and then carry on a circuit, prescribed circuit and then come back. In other words it’s a virtual imitation of what they’d be doing when they qualified. And it was from there, they went on, at that stage of the war most of them would go to what we call a conversion units to convert from two engines to four engines, and then from the conversion unit, with a crew they would go on to operations, operational trips. Tilstock was a nice post. It was a relief to survive to become an instructor on that, one or two adventures of course, there always is. Which isn’t always totally reliable.
DH: So you completed, was it thirty ops, you completed thirty ops before you went there.
JT: Yes, at that stage.
DH: So that’s where you got the DFC.
JT: Er, I didn’t get the DFC till much later in the war, I realise is utterly wrong, when I joined the Pathfinders.
DH: So after Tilstock what happened then?
JT: Well, they decided at Tilstock should, was approaching the end of 1943, and they decided they wanted to train people to gliders, towed gliders to go in into the invasion, and so the whole airfield was converted to a different type of aircraft and towing gliders and mixed in with the Army. And so I was moved on to a place called Peplow, not far from Wellington, and there I became an instructor on another different type of aircraft altogether, Wellington. Which I gave up after a while became test, briefly a test pilot for every one that, every aeroplane that came out of over, being overhauled I would fly it to make sure everything was in order. I decided early on, that to avoid any errors, I’d, the chaps who worked on the aeroplane, the fitters and riggers, had to fly with me when I did the test flight. They quickly cottoned on, they made sure that if they flew with me on the test flight it had to be right, and so apparently the quality of the servicing shot up! [laugh, cough] Just a little trick you learn.
DH: That’s a very good trick!
JT: From there on, after D-Day I decided I had to get back into the war, that’s you know, going on to Mosquitos.
DH: Can you tell me about Mosquitos then?
JT: Sorry?
DH: Can you tell me about your time on Mosquitos then please?
JT: Yes, the Mosquito was a beautiful aircraft, it was never given an awful lot of publicity, but was a workhourse and did a lot of good work. So we had two weeks on a training course, joined up with a navigator, chap, navi, Tubby, Bernard Tubbs his name was, my navigator, thin as a rake, but because of his name he was called Tubby, and we got on like a house on fire. He already done a tour of operations himself on Lancasters, so he was a good navigator and an experienced one and I’d done a tour and been an instructor. So we went in to Pathfinders and in two weeks, we’d not, I think only a short four hours, flying the Mosquito. Lovely aeroplane to fly, really was, we were very pleased with that. In fact one stage I think I flew over the centre of England and I could see Ireland on that side, and half way across the north sea on the other side, in those days yo,u flying at thirty five thousand feet, was something so rare, you know, didn’t happen. Today it’s commonplace of course, had to, had to have oxygen, and it was a nice scene rarely, rarely you get weather that good in Britain. Anyway, from there we went, posted to Gravely, in er, not far from Cambridge, and we did our second tour of operations, another forty operations over Germany with the Mosquito. The Mosquito was used in various ways Pathfinder squadron. So either you would join in an air raid on a particular German city. The principle was that the main force, of Lancasters and so on, would go to the target. We would take, they were, we would take off after them because we were a lot faster, we then flew over the top of the bombing raid, got in to the target ahead of them and then dropped right the way down and spread markers on the ground so that they knew what to bomb. So by the time they came in, we’d put all the markers there and so they could come in and bomb the markers and know that they’d done an accurate bombing job. So as we were Pathfinders we were prime targets for the Germans of course, but that was the way it was. But apart from that, we did not many of those strangely enough. We were sent off, because at this time of the war, the idea was to be bombing as many Germans cities every [emphasis] night as possible. That meant the workers were down in the cellars and if they’re down in the cellars they couldn’t be making guns and ammunition and aeroplanes. And it was quite effective in that sense. So a lot of the trips we did, fifteen, twenty, twenty five thousand feet, over various, while the heavies were doing all their damage over one part of Germany and we were scouting out and dropping bombs on other parts of Germany. That was the general idea of it all. So flying at twenty thousand, twenty five thousand feet, today’s jets, was quite common. We were very fortunate, because they developed one type of Mosquito that could specially fly that high, the engines were slightly more, got more beef in them, they provided heat, and they provided some pressurisation which was virtually unknown in those days. So in fact we were flying in a pressurised, heated aeroplane, rather like today [laugh,] really deluxe stuff. In fact we were the only squadron who had this type of aeroplane. Quite remarkable, but it was a nice way to go! Until you had trouble of course, and then, then it wasn’t. Because if you suddenly lose the heat, and the oxygen, at about twenty five thousand feet, you got difficulties.
DH: Yes, I can imagine.
JT: Because above fifteen thousand feet, no oxygen, you’re [pooft sound], you then become unconscious quite quickly, apart from the fact that you’re flying at temperatures of, at that height, could be minus thirty, minus forty degrees.
DH: Did you ever have any close shaves like that?
JT: The only time I’ve ever had was, was, having flown down to, started off and flew to the target in south Germany and, in the normal way you climb up to, in that case I think it was twenty five thousand feet, and then head off for the target. But the plane I was in, I’d got up to about five thousand feet and suddenly I looked the temperatures and the pressures on the engines and the temperatures were up and the pressures were down, which meant the engine was over, both engines were overheating; that wasn’t good news, particularly when you’ve got a bomb, big bomb on underneath you. So I levelled out and flew the plane a short while, level, throttled back the engines and they seemed cool down, to almost normal. So again I opened and climbed another three or four thousand feet, again they overheated and I levelled out, they cooled down, then I went up in steps to about seventeen, eighteen thousand feet I think, and I thought this is silly, so I flew along for a while at, about that height, eighteen thousand I think it was, and the engines came down, to, temperatures were up, slightly up, pressures slightly down, not enough to worry about anyway, so I thought right we’ll go, but of course this was all time consuming. Whereas we should have been first on the target to mark it, the other guys were way ahead, including the main bomber force. So we plodded our way down towards the target, and we got within sight of the target which we, thirty, forty miles ahead, I suddenly looked at the port engine temperatures were up, way up [emphasis] pressures right the way down, if I left it running it would just stop, catch fire, and in a wooden aeroplane that it not good news, so immediately cut the engine, switched everything off, cut the fuel and everything else, carry on with one engine but I daren’t open the other engine because we got ourself in trouble with that one, so I had to leave that one as it was, which was in a cruising position because one engine, two engines support the plane, one engine doesn’t, so the plane progressively started to lose height. So instead of bombing the target at twenty five thousand feet that night or whatever, we were down to five thousand feet by the time we got to the target which was thoroughly well alight, but fortunately the bombing raid was over and the Germans were all rushing around putting out the fires and dealing with everything. So we flew in straight over the target at five thousand feet, which is very low, let our bomb go right bang into the centre of the target we were aiming to do. And of course, as soon as the Germans spotted that, they’d heard a, an aeroplane with one engine, not two, so they thought it was one of their own that far down in Germany.
DH: Wow.
JT: So they assumed it had to be one of their own with those engines, so that’s why we got in dropped the bomb and it was only then that they realised who we were and then suddenly there was a whole barrage of stuff, heading out at us, we just did a quick turn, that way rather, and vanished into the darkness, and worked our way back up, in fact because we hadn’t got a bomb, we’d used half our fuel, so made the plane was much lighter of course. So with the one engine left in that cruise position it actually climbed and back up at eighteen thousand feet. So we kept a sharp eye out to be sure we weren’t going to be followed or attacked and crossed over the border into Belgium, and suddenly I looked at this engine, the temperature had crept up, the pressure was down, and I thought that’s it, you know, just the way these things were going, we had no hope of getting it back to the UK. So that’s when we called it, started calling up ‘Mayday, Mayday’. Got no response. So I thought there’s only one thing to do, let’s try, may, I think I sent out nine maydays altogether, in groups, nothing and er, so I said right, we’ll go. So Tubby went down and tried to release the bottom hatch which is the normal way to go out, but of course we were pressurised. So the only other was out was through the top, you pull emergency lever and the hatch flies away, top hatch, flies away. The whole plane was depressurised, that meant that anything lightweight [swooshing sound] was sucked out of the plane: chocolate bars, baps everything went out the top, [laugh] which didn’t matter at that stage anyway. And so he clambered up, and went out through, I brought the plane back to as low a speed as I dare, which was only about ninety miles an hour, and he went out through the top, and parachuted. I thought well, that’s me, I’m next. So the idea is, you switch off the engines, chop the fuel, put the plane into a glide and you go out through the top as well. By that time I could have got out through the bottom with the pressure’d been released, either way I was just about close the engines down I thought I’ll give one [emphasis] more try and I went, ‘Mayday, Mayday, Mayday,’ and immediately a voice came back, in English, and said, you know, ‘what’s your problem?’, so I told him, and in no time at all they’d put up a cone of searchlights and the engine by this time was on its last legs, I really pushed it [cough] I landed the plane with almost, one, just, barely an engine working at all, managed to get the undercarriage and flaps down and landed and it was, it was a forward English fighter aircraft base, fortunately was also a maintenance unit, so I thought well that’s good. So I checked in with the people there, and they said we well can’t do anything tonight, but we’ll send a wire to er, I said why don’t you just send a wire back to the squadron to tell them where I am? ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘well, I’ll send a signal’ but he said, ‘no chance,’ he said, ‘there’s so much going on in Europe at the present time, the chance of your getting a signal back are fifty-fifty.’ So I said ‘well how do the squadron know that we’re missing?’ I said. ‘Well the only way they know you are missing is ‘cause you don’t come back, from their point of view.’ So just had to hope that somehow a signal could find its way through in the end. So I, they found me a bed to sleep on that night, and we looked around the aeroplane the next day they said well they were too busy today with other fighter aircraft to get them in the air, so we’ll try and look at your plane tomorrow. So that was it. That night we went out to a bar, we got in the car trundled along, and there’s nothing on the road generally at night, except we came across a couple of wagons, French peasants, and there hanging lanterns under the wagon that’s to tell, so you know that if coming up from behind, [laugh] you know there’s something in your way. We went into a bar there and, had a couple of drinks and were drinking away happily, and suddenly there was a click, click, click of heels, sorry, we decided, having had a drink we decided go to the loo. So we were standing there was we gentlemen do, and suddenly a click, click of heels and women walked right past us, so I looked at this gentleman and ‘Oh’ he said, ‘don’t worry chum, you’re in Belgium now, men and women use the same toilets.’ [Laugh] I’d learnt a lesson! Anyway the next day they did look at the mossie, the one engine that had failed they said nothing much we can do with that its either a new engine or we’ve got to strip it right down, and refurbish it which will take time, so I’m sorry you can’t use your aeroplane unless you can take off on one engine and the runway wasn’t very long and in any case each side of the runway was lined with German planes that had been dropped off their, down off all their undercarriages, so you daren’t deviate off the runway. So I said no, I’m not going to take this plane off like that. The plane had a tendency to swing to the left on take off and if you tried it, you came to that, the left hand engine, running ahead of the right hand and that’s how you took off a mossie, the way, as long as you knew the trick, that was the way to do it. So I said if you try to take a mossie off with the starboard engine running full out and nothing on the left hand side, the tendency to swing to the left is going to be accentuated and I have no way of countering it. If I had got a very, very long runway of about three or four miles, I could gradually ease it up and with time, I could work it, get power up and get off the ground, but you haven’t got that long a runway. And if I did take it off on your runway, once I’m airborne, the chances are the plane will just flick over on its back and dive in the ground and I don’t intend to commit suicide at this time. So I said no, you’ll have to repair it. So they said well can you fly a Wellington bomber? I said yes, I can fly a bomber. We’ve got one in the hangar we want to get back to the UK, we can have it ready by tomorrow. So I said all right I’ll fly that back. So we that night, we went to a local, he said come on, we’ll go to a better place than we did last night. So we went to this place, semi-circular building, and virtually in the centre, sort of half a circle, as it were, circle in the centre of that was a woman behind a humendous cash, national cash register, biggest one I’ve ever seen, and stairs going up, and a lot of dance music seemed to be coming down from upstairs, I thought that’s nice for the lot of air force lads, lot of army lads, said it must be nice for these lads, a night out. And so I was chatting, we got beers brought across to us, and sitting there chatting away and suddenly a very beautiful [emphasis] woman, girl must have been in her early twenties I suppose, came across, sat down beside me. I glanced at her, didn’t take any note, carried on talking. She tapped me on the shoulder, says, ‘You no like me?’ I said, ‘Oh yeah, very, very nice,’ and carried on chatting. She tapped me again, I forget her name was, she gave me a French name, ‘oh yes, I recognise that, but I’m talking to this, my friend,’ and suddenly she was stroking me round the, [chuckle] round the unmentionable area. I thought what the hell’s going on here and my colleague was laughing like hell. Of course we’d come to a, an appropriate place for that sort of thing! I said, ‘Look I’ve got a girl, I’m not going to get into this sort of situation.’ ‘Oh!’ he said, ‘you can’t leave now you’ll insult the girl, insult the management and if you get like that they’ll think nothing of cutting your throat when you get outside.’ ‘Oh’ I said, ‘that’s a difficult situation,’ and I thought, I turned to this girl with my friend, so I said to her, ‘I’m sorry, but we are only here for a short time because we have to go flying, so I would like to come back and see you tomorrow, at seven o’clock.’ And she said, ‘oh, oui monsieur’. So I stood up, she stood up, shook hands, kissed on both cheeks, I got this bloke and went out the door and said [mutter] ‘spoilt my whole evening!’ [laugh] So we got out and the next day I flew the Wellington back to the United Kingdom. And then finally got back to the squadron. My navigator landed in a ploughed field and because you got the plough, the way the ploughed field is, you put one foot on, down the trough and one foot on, got himself a black eye so he didn’t feel so good, but anyway managed to bury his parachute in a ditch, kind of off the main road because there’s no hedges or fences, and looked at the stars, decided which was north, south east and west, and decided he’d go west, or north west, which is, the road was generally in that direction. He plodded along for a while and he came to a village. He looked around the village for a plaque, you know doctor, found plaque there, banged on the door, finally chap opens the window upstairs, you know, ‘Qui est la?’, - who is there? - and so he told him who he was, in his fractured French, and ‘Non, non, non. Allez!’ Slammed the window and told him to go away, which he thought well that’s not good for a doctor, so he banged on the window again, door again and the chap opened the door and pointed a double-barrelled shotgun at him. ‘Allez, allez!’, you know, and so there’s no arguing with a shotgun, so he walked away and told the, told the chap he should have married his wife in b, in voluble English language –
DH: Yes.
JT: - hobbled along and down the road for a while and suddenly he heard some vehicles coming towards him from the west and thought well now, are they retreating Germans or are they advancing Allies? So he dropped down the ditch out of sight. All the stuff trundled past: vehicles, tanks, trucks. And eventually one stopped just above him, stayed silent as the grave because if he’d emerged from the ditch and decided he was English, they would just shoot him and leave him in the ditch. So he kept very quiet, till a voice said, [American accent] ‘Hey Mac, will you give me a cigarette?’ He was out of the ditch like a shot! The headlights of the jeep across, identified himself and they said, ‘horrible weather, mac,’ they were pointing at, two cocked pistols pointed at him. Americans, you know, quick on the draw, anyway eventually he identified himself, one American soldier sat at the back of the jeep, he sat in the front by the driver with a pistol in his back and they went back to the local military depot and before long they get into another American airfield, I’m sorry, and given food, medical treatment, sorted out and sent to bed. And they said well, we’ll see if we can get a message back to you, into Britain but you know how it is, we have to report back to brigade headquarters and they have to report to London, and London has to report to the Air Ministry and by the time they get around be an age, he said until you are identified, positively identified back from your Air Ministry you’ve got to stay here! So a couple of days went by so enough’s enough, then eventually a chap flew in, came in to the mess where he was, an American pilot, he got chatting to him, ‘Yeah, I’m on delivery, at present on Dakotas and I’m bringing in supplies sure I can give you a lift back, take you to Southampton, is that all right?’ So he flew back, back in this thing to Southampton, and got some money out of the American adjutant to get him back home, and went home to check with his parent to say, tell them he was all right, and then got to London and then came back to the airfield and I was very pleased to see him. So he had his little adventure in his own way.
DH: He certainly did, didn’t he!
JT: And then we carried on with the war, as you do. [Rustling]
DH: So is, after that had happened [rustling] obviously D-Day had happened by then, and we were with the allies as plans, so what part did you take then, after that, before the end of the war?
JT: Well, we, we continued bombing into Germany because that’s where, you know the stuff was, ammunition, guns, tanks were still being made. and it was important to stop those. But there was a case where, just before Christmas 1944 that we established that there was a tremendous build-up of arms, ammunition, everything else, in West Germany where, at the point where they go through a series of tunnels and they come into France. They quickly picked up that there might be an attack down there, but, so what happened they were a bit slow in getting the, moving troops into the area to contain it, and that was where the Americans did a breakthrough actually about that time, unfortunately the weather was, we couldn’t fly in the weather that was going on at the time, so there was nothing really to stop these guys actually, bursting their way back, Germans bursting their way back into France. So the only way we could tackle this was to close down the tunnels, that’s where the supply route was. So the job was to fly down the banks, where the tunnel was, fly down the banking on either side, down along the tunnel railway tracks about twenty feet up and then drop a bomb, so it was actually, you thew, literally threw your bomb into the tunnel with a delayed action fuse and hoped that it worked, and of course it was unfortunate that all the tunnels had got machine guns rooted round them so you went in, you know under those conditions, it was, just so happened this happened when I was on a day off, or stood down for the day anyway, but I know that our squadron did go in and they did drop some bombs, blew up a lot of the tunnels in that area, so as to stop the trains getting through. And one of my colleagues was last seen going down in flames, was obviously shot into bits. But it was a tough time. Anyway, it all helped to stop the Germans and their supplies getting through, and in the May, stopped because they only got so far, then they ran out of fuel and they had to pick up the fuel locally where they could, there sort of, there was no further supply of ammunition, so they were isolated and the whole thing failed of course.
DH: Was that still flying Mosquitos then?
JT: Sorry?
DH: Was that still flying Mosquitos?
JT: Oh yes, yes. So we were getting towards the end of the war at this stage and just wanted to finish, but still we had targets we had to hit. Hammering Berlin was the usual; we went to Berlin nineteen times. Try and hammer them into submission, you know. I’m not sure the public wanted submission, but they’re not being allowed to submit, under those circumstances, and then Hitler committed suicide, and his lady friend and the war ended quite quickly after that.
DH: So how regular were you going, in that period of time, how regularly were you going? Like, every day? Every two or three days?
JT: Sorry?
DH: To do a bombing run. How often were you going?
JT: I’ll tell you. [Shuffle of paper] Trying to catch up, yeah, so many pages, ah yes, yes, it’s er, ah right, 21st October: Hamburg, 10th of November: Hannover, 11th of November [indistinguishable], 21st of November: Hannover, 24th of November is Berlin, 25th is Nuremburg, so it’s sort of two nights running quite often then a break. 27th of November was Hannover, 29th was Duisburg, 30th was Duisburg. December 1st was Karlsruhe, so you know, it was -
DH: All over the place, and regularly.
JT: December, that’s when I had the trouble, December the 5th, I didn’t get back to flying operationally, until February the 5th after it was, I forget what happened earlier, it was Berlin, Mannheim, Berlin, Berlin, [tuning pages] Erfurt, Berlin, Berlin, Dessau, Berlin, Berlin, Bremen, Berlin, Berlin, Berlin, Berlin, Berlin, Dessau, Berlin, Berlin, Hamburg Munich Berlin, Berlin, Kiel, Munich, airfield and so on.
DH: Yeah.
JT: Some of them little bursts of two or three days and then a break.
DH: Yeah. So in between bombing raids what did you get up to?
JT: Oh well, you went out to a local pub and had a few beers! [Laugh] The main thing was you drank in the mess sometimes but the tendency was to get away from the atmosphere, the flying and everything else, into a local bar and meet with normal people.
DH: Can you think of any capers that people got up to?
JT: Oh, I can’t think of anything particularly but I’m sure they did! [Chuckle] There were sometimes you’d get to the pub and there’d a drinking party going on, not very common the publican in those days had to close at ten o’clock prompt at night. So he’d close the front door at ten o’clock then open the back door, so if you wanted to drink you went to the back door and kept going till two or three in the morning, as long as his beer ration lasts.
DH: I was going to say that, was there much beer?
JT: There seemed to be a reasonable amount of beer going round but you, if one pub ran out of beer then you moved on to the one that had beer - the word quickly got around on these situations.
DH: Very good. So.
JT: In other words get away from the military atmosphere get into a relaxed atmosphere. It was good to do that –
DH: Absolutely
JT: - otherwise the whole thing would bear down on you and you’d be no good to anybody.
DH: So after VJ day how do you think the war affected you, did it affect you in any way?
JT: Well I think a) we were glad the European war was over, but remember the far east war was still on. We were given some opportunities to choose what we wanted to do. I’d always thought the idea, we were still ferrying Canadian built Mosquitos from Canada, and flying via Greenland, Iceland to Europe and then you went back on a commercial transport of some sort and then brought another one in. But then fortunately I investigated it, and I found that in Iceland the weather conditions can be such that suddenly like a cold air meets the warm air and a blanket of fog [noise] just descends on the airfield and you could be flying from [cough] Greenland to Iceland, suddenly arrive at Iceland and they’d be blanked out with fog. there was no way you can land the aeroplane and you certainly wouldn’t have enough fuel to head to England, or Scotland. So they were stuck there bail out waste of aeroplane so on, and if you landed in the sea up there you didn’t last very long anyway.
DH: No. Oh my god!
JT: So I thought this is almost as bad as operational flying, so I thought right I think I’ll give that one a miss! [Laugh] So I went to an Operational Training Unit then, so I could train people to fly, and it was a more relaxed atmosphere, in any case the air force had decided the there’s no point now doing operational flying; the war’s over, so the amount of flying it was doing less and less and less, and so they had to keep us occupied, with either courses or you had to take parades you were in to the old pre-war military situation of parades and officialdom really came into its own. And these characters who had been sitting around, administrators and everything else, been doing as they’re told for all this time emerged from the woodwork and didn’t make life too easy for the people flying. [Clock chimes] In the end I decided anyway the particular airfield I was on, that I wouldn’t, I’d got extended service, that is to say I applied for, and they gave me extended service, that meant I could continue with the service till it, the air force had sorted itself out in which case I could remain in the air force and carry on using it as a career, so I thought I might well do that. Until I got to this station, particular airfield, where I became an instructor there, along with others, but one of the problems with it, in the officers mess at I was at this time there were two squadron leaders, and they were bango whizzo type characters who didn’t think the war was over, so they’d think nothing of walking on the ceiling and drinking themselves silly and making the whole, most in fact people didn’t go into the mess any more, they couldn’t stand these two characters. But unfortunately there was no one in a senior position, the group captain who ran the station was due to leave the air force anyway any minute, so he’d lost interest in the field, the wing commander also in charge, he was in a similar situation so there was no real [emphasis] somebody to do something about it. And one of the, favourite trick of these two drunks, was about two o’clock in the morning they close the bar in the officers mess and they’d go round tossing people out of bed just as a, just for fun, and I remember about half past two in the morning you’d suddenly find yourself on a mattress on the floor being tipped out of bed, and these two characters guffawing like mad and going ahead and trying somebody else. I thought this just isn’t going to happen. So I thought, all right, and three nights later, drunk again, I could hear them coming down the passage, so I got up, stood behind the door, one of them barged in, I closed the door right behind him. I got hold of him, slammed him up against the wall, he was drunk mind you, and I put my fist under his nose and I told him, you ever come in here again, you’ll know what you’ll get. I made sure he understood that, and I opened the door and pushed him out and he fell on the floor, drunk of course, in the passage outside, when he looked at me I knew one thing, right there and then, I was a flight lieutenant, he was a squadron leader. I had insulted and virtually assaulted a superior officer and I could be in real trouble. So I thought that’s it, I thought about it, so I sat down and wrote my resignation from the air force there and then and requested immediate, you know, removal from the air force, and I went first thing in the morning at half past eight I was in the, put the letter in the hands of the adjutant officers. And at ten o’clock, or half past ten I think it was, I was told to report to him, and he was an old timer, a bit of a character, and he threw the, he threw this thing across the desk at me, ‘what’s this nonsense about, why should you leave the air force?’ And that’s when I’m afraid I lost my dignity and a lot of temper, we were all stewed up about the situation, I let him have it, hard, about how the station was not being run properly, about the mess was a mess, mess was a mess, these two squadron leaders acting like overgrown schoolboys and disgrace [emphasis] to the service and gave him a long lecture about this. Me a flight lieutenant, lecturing the commanding officer, and he was going purple in the face, nobody’d ever spoken to him like this. I said that’s my decision to leave, sir, gave him a smart salute, about turn and walked out! And I was out of the air force in a week, that’s in a week, I was gone, civilian life, got rid of me. But [emphasis] I still had contacts back in the, back in the mess, and a chap actually ring me, er two weeks later and said I don’t know what you did but by god things have changed, you rattled the CO something rotten and he went into the mess at about eleven o’clock one night, found these two squadron leaders drunk as, like I have described to you, making a mess of themselves. and he you know, suddenly they spotted him, standing in the background, ‘Hello sir, good evening sir, come and have a drink. sir,’ you know, something stupid like that. He turned round and walked out. So the two squadron leaders were posted forthwith to different areas, left the station, and this chap said suddenly the whole atmosphere of the mess, everybody came back into the mess, the whole atmosphere changed, wonderful, nice to have it back again, nice to have our mess back again. So he said I don’t know what you did, by golly it worked. So I was rather pleased that something had come out of it anyway.
DH: Did you have any regrets about leaving?
JT: Sorry?
DH: Did you have any regrets about leaving?
JT: In a sense no, because the air force was changing, it was no longer, the wartime service was, I know it was death and destruction but you were in, a tight family, you knew everybody, knew what was going on, were up to date, but suddenly there was nobody to fight. And so, as I say they had to keep us occupied, so we were up to, a lot of administrative duties were thrust at us, which, a lot less flying was being done, the whole atmosphere was beginning to change, as I say these people who’d been in the background: administrators and everything else, now came to the fore and weren’t making life too easy for the flying people. It was just one of those situations at that time. So I said enough’s enough, I’m off and that’s really precipitated my leaving.
DH: So what did you do then with your life after you left?
JT: Well, I hadn’t made up my mind really what I wanted to do, except that in my home village for many years, they decided, the local authority decided that the village should be by-passed and the by-pass was rumoured for a long time and then it became something more important after the war, something they could get on with. So I thought well, the situation was that my father ran a garage anyway, and what we would do was open up a petrol station on this by-pass probably with sort of motel type accommodation or accommodation of some sort, and that would be a good idea. So, I knew the, roughly where this thing was planned to go, and so I approached the landowners with a view to possibility of purchasing this land, but the word had obviously got around what was happening, so the idea of a) they refused and b) they raised the price so, it was all, eventually I gave up on this it was a good idea, but not practical for me, a rather penniless man trying to get into the world, it just didn’t happen. So, er, I was escorting my lady friend at that time, she lives up here and obviously offered me a chance of connection up here and the chance of joining Hoover, I thought well, something to do keep me occupied for a while. So I went on a training course, a few training courses, before I knew it I was the manager, regional manager and the whole of Birmingham and the Midlands was all, then moved down, they moved you about every four years, moved over and looked after the western half of London and out in to the counties, east part of London and into the counties, then up to the west country taking over the whole of Devon and Cornwall and all that sort of area like that, and then moved up to the north as you do, every four years until we finally settled there, just up the road in Cheshire. So it was a very nomadic sort of life particularly when you’re bringing up youngsters and various schools they had to attend. No, I enjoyed that, responsibility and everything else, just upsetting moving for the children’s education point of view, but from the housing point of view it was an advantage, because that was the time after the war onwards, house prices were rising. First house I bought was a semi-detached house on the outskirts of Birmingham for £1,975. Then we moved to Harrow where I paid £3,200 for a four bedroomed semi-detached, from there I moved to, er, Chelmsford, about £4,900 for a brand new, four bedroomed detached property with double garage, and from there I moved down to the west country. I paid £7,250 for a four bed detached double garage in a nice area, and from there we moved up to Cheshire where I in fact, I bought a piece of land and had a four bed detached property with double built there. So I took advantage of the rising prices, I don’t know what the last Cheshire one was, about, I don’t know three or four hundred thousand, something like that. Ridiculous when you think about the prices.
DH: I know. It’s daft isn’t it.
JT: Crazy. And as long as the land is restricted to build on, so the prices will maintain their, and that’s the problem Where do you find land to build that doesn’t upset people.
DH: That’s right.
JT: So. But there’s a lot of land available that’s not being utilised. Anyway, that’s another story.
DH: Can I ask, can you think of any occasions when you were absolutely scared to death during the war?
JT: [Breath out]
DH: Did you get scared?
JT: Oh yes, I think you did get scared. You, the thing about being a pilot, you daren’t, particularly when you’ve got a crew, you daren’t show it, you know your heart’s in your mouth and all that sort of thing, I know that dropping these mines in that water at a hundred feet with people springing out everywhere ‘am I going to make it, am I not going to make it,’ and when you go in, you think, well there’s a job to do, I’ll do it, but whether I’ll survive it I don’t know, and I did. But somehow and I think I explained in the book, my mother, grandmother on my mother’s side had this virtue of, or they called it a virtue, had second sight, that is to say she could, tell you things that are going to happen, before they happen. For instance, for example, she was doing some washing in her house, my mother told me this, suddenly she took off her apron, put on her hat and coat, took a tram in those days to the other end of Eastbourne, she knocked on the door of a house she’d never been to before in her life, she told the woman who answered the door she was to go immediately [emphasis] to a hospital in London, her husband was calling for her. She so convinced the woman that she caught the train, went in to London, she arrived at the man’s, her husband’s, bedside half an hour before he died. How did she know that?
DH: Wow.
JT: My mother had it to a lesser extent, I never really thought, well I’d heard these stories but you don’t take, as a kid you don’t, it doesn’t mean much to you. It was strange enough I got to one point on the squadron where I knew instinctively [emphasis] whether a crew would survive or not. At first that was a frightening experience, you get the guys and then a couple of weeks later they’re gone. And you know, when you’re losing crews like that, that’s not, it’s no good, you know, this instinctive feeling I had about it I just had to submerge it, forget about it. But it was there, I could tell if they were going to live or die when they came on the squadron. Never happened before or since. Can you explain it?
DH: No, I can’t.
JT: Probably inherited in the family, something like that.
DH: Probably, yeah.
JT: But, er, something my sons never had, not that I’m aware of.
DH: You said right at the beginning that, when you’d gone to Coventry and when you saw what happened there, you wanted to, you wanted the Germans to understand what we were going through. By the end of the war did still think that, did you have any regrets about what you’d done? Any dilemma in your head or anything?
JT: Not really. The idea was you know, to, really try to bomb them into submission, to agreeing to stop the war was all we wanted, to stop the war, and that was what the bombing was all about, apart from the invasion of course to stop these people fighting, that was all we wanted, and when it was over that was it. I think perhaps we tidied it up a bit better after this war than we did after the first world war, but it was not doing the job properly after the first world war enabled the Nazi party for example, to rise. It hasn’t happened so far in Germany and we hope that, it is obviously a reasonable country.
DH: Is there anything else that I haven’t, or we haven’t covered, while we’ve been talking that you think might be of interest to people?
JT: Not really, I can only express this from a man’s point of view in the situation, from the women’s point of view: wives and sweethearts, and all that sort of thing, it was tough because the men, we go off to war and you’re never going to know if you’re going to see them back ever again, that was a tough situation particularly as the families were concerned that was, was rough because there were many widows as a result of all this, plus the effect of war which was disastrous really, we don’t want wars but if you’re forced: you fight back, and that’s the result of what happens. A modern type of war, the second world war anyway, was a bit disastrous for civilians, no doubt about it. If you have another war it’ll be rather a different kettle of fish, again just whole civilians war, be engulfed. But I don’t know what would happen, have fair idea what will happen, but just hope it never will.
DH: Absolutely. Right. Can I say thank you very much.
JT: Oh you’re most welcome.
DH: It’s been fascinating to listen to, and very informative.
JT: As I say, there are stories in the book you might want to include.
DH: Yes, yeah. Your book’s fascinating.
JT: Hmm. Anyway, it was very nice to see you.
JT: Is it still recording?
DW: I shall turn this off then, okay.



Dawn Hughes, “Interview with Percival Trotman,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 7, 2023,

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