Interview with James Christian Mortensen


Interview with James Christian Mortensen


Born on 27 December 1924 in Aigburth Liverpool, James was 15 when war broke out in Europe. He intended to join as a pilot, navigator, bomber aimer in 1943 but due to shorter waiting list and training time he trained to become a wireless operator at RAF Madley. James mentions that he trained in older medium bomber such as Blenheims and Wellingtons, and mentions how he met his regular pilot, Sgt Aedy. He qualified for heavy bombers at RAF Bottesford, on Lancasters, before being assigned to 149 Squadron 'West Indies' at RAF Methwold.
James says that a separate briefing was held for wireless operators to inform them of callsigns and code words to be used before the main briefing. James was also the mid-under gun operator when the aircraft required one. James’ crew only flew four operations over Berlin being near the end of the war; he mentions a mis-identified target incident and an attack by a night fighter. James’ account also details being involved in the Operation Dodge and Operation Manna, as well as recalling a time that he was invited to fly in a Mosquito which he described as ‘a terrific aircraft’. James continue to serve until 1947 until he de-mobilised due to his ‘dislike of a lack of flying’. James retired from active service as a warrant officer. He would work as a delivery driver until retiring in 1997. James recalls that he kept in contact with three members of his crew until 2015.




Temporal Coverage




00:49:17 audio recording

Conforms To


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AMortensenJC180917, PMortensenJC1803


BW: This is Brian Wright interviewing Warrant Officer James Mortensen of 149 Squadron, at 2.30 on Monday 17th September 2018 at his home in Leyland, near Preston. First questions if you don’t mind James, if you would just confirm your service number for us and your date of birth please.
JM: Double two o nine five seven five. [Laughs]
BW: You never forget that, do you?
JM: You never forget it. [Laughs]
BW: And what was your date of birth?
JM: 27th 12th 1924.
BW: Which makes you currently 93.
JM: Correct.
BW: Where were you born and where did you grow up, you mentioned -?
JM: Liverpool.
BW: Liverpool. Whereabouts in Liverpool, actually in the centre?
JM: Aigburch, Liverpool 17.
BW: Okay, and Aigburch, that’s an unusual spelling, isn’t it. A u g -
JM: A i g b u r c h.
BW: And along with your mum and dad did you have any brothers and sisters?
JM: Yes, I had two sisters and a brother.
BW: And were you in between, or were you the older brother?
JM: Yeah, I was third, [laughs] I had two older sisters and a younger brother.
BW: And what was home life like in Aigburch, was it quite a nice area?
JM: It was very good, my father was a detective in the police.
BW: What did your mum do?
JM: She just stayed at home [laughs].
JM: Unfortunately, she died in 1937. Very, very young. [Pause]
BW: So you would have not been so old yourself, about nine.
JM: About thirteen, fourteen that’s all.
BW: Thirteen, okay. And whereabouts did you go to school?
JM: St Anne’s Church of England School.
BW: Was that the, was that your first one, was it a primary school or - ?
JM: It was a primary school, yes. And it was, it was a church school right through, from five to fourteen.
BW: And you stayed there, as you say, until you were fourteen. I saw a school report that said you had a special aptitude for Maths and English, is that right?
JM: Yeah.
BW: Were they your favourite subjects then?
JM: Yes, [laughs] maths still is.
BW: Do you think you have a technical background, or a logical sort of brain to-?
JM: I can always remember phone numbers. When I pick up the phone I can ring up anybody and I never look at the, I know the numbers. [laughs]
BW: And you came top of the class in your last examination.
JM: Yeah.
BW: So was that, I think they called it high school certificate, is that right?
JM: Yeah.
BW: So in your year, you were top of that year.
JM: Had my mother been alive, I’d have gone to university. But dad decided otherwise. He was a self made man, he was a detective sergeant and he reckoned that all his children should be the same.
BW: What would you have liked to study at university had you been able to go, did you have plans?
JM: I don’t know, I never considered, I might be, I’d have got there.
BW: I just wondered if you’d had plans –
JM: No.
BW: Or particular focus on things to study.
JM: I was always very keen on maths, probably would have been something to do with that.
BW: And when war broke out you would have been about fifteen years old then, wouldn’t you?
JM: Yeah, I was in the ATC.
BW: And that only started in 1941 didn’t it.
JM: Yeah, number 7 Squadron, 7F squadron, the Founder squadron. That was in Liverpool.
BW: Did you join in 1941, or did you -?
JM: I can’t remember when I joined.
BW: Okay.
JM: I’d got up to NCO or some sort, I remember that, but which I don’t know.
BW: Did you manage to get any flying?
JM: Oh yes, and also we did gliding. That was great [laughs].
BW: So was it –
JM: RAF Sealand we went for that.
BW: Okay.That’s in North Wales.
JM: Yeah, North Wales, Cheshire, Cheshire.
BW: Was it the flying that attracted you to join the Air Force or was there some other aspect to training?
JM: It was flying, flying.
BW: And did you have intentions to become a pilot at this stage?
JM: I went in as a PNB, you know, pilot, navigator, bomb aimer; and when we got the, we went down to Bridgenorth when we, when I was joined up. We went to London first, you know for the ordinary thing at Lords cricket ground, and then I was moved to Bridgenorth. A lot of us decided then what we were going to do. And I went as PNB, and they said well you can go as a PNB but there’s a hell of a waiting list, and you’ve got to go to America or Canada. And he said, ‘it’s a long course,’ he said, ‘of course you can go as a rear gunner right away,’ I said, ‘No thank you’. [laughs]. And he said, ‘well we’ve got a radio school going, as a wireless operator.’ He had a course. I said I fancied that, so I went on that. If I’d gone on the PNB course to America I would have had to wait about eight months, and then it’s about another eight or ten months flying, so it rewarded me well.
BW: So what year was when it you joined up then?
JM: ‘43.
BW: In June I think it was, so you’d have been eighteen.
JM: Yes.
BW: And that was, at that time the minimum age for joining wasn’t it, the earliest point at which you could join.
JM: I’m not sure.
BW: Were you, you said you left school at fourteen,
JM: Yes.
BW: Were you employed between fourteen and eighteen?
JM: Yes, I worked in an office first, as an office clerk, doing the postage stamp et cetera, and then I went into Roots aircraft, building Halifaxes.
BW: And what were, what was your trade when you were building Halifaxes?
BW: Well I got up to like a leading hand, in charge of, they were all of women then, very few men and I was in charge, I was only about eighteen, seventeen whatever it was, and I was in charge of older women, because at that time they wouldn’t let women be in charge [chuckle].
BW: And what kind of things were you instructing?
JM: I was doing the interior of the Halifax, you know the riveting all round. You’d hold the gun inside while somebody outside -
BW: So you had to be quite, exactly the right position.
JM: Yeah, well you went along in a row, and you went from one to another and if you missed it hard luck! [laughs]
BW: And did you enjoy the work?
JM: Oh yes, it were very good.
BW: Was, sometimes these shifts I understood would have been pretty long and very long working hours, did you ever get a chance for a social life in between at all, or-?
JM: Oh yes, we used to go out and enjoy ourselves, a crowd of us. [chuckle]
BW: So you, you joined up in 1943, and you decided to go to be a wireless operator.
JM: Yeah.
BW: And that was simply really because of the shorter waiting list and training time, wasn’t it?
JM: Yeah.
BW: How did you find the training for that profession?
JM: It was excellent. It was RAF Madley in Hereford.
BW: And how long were you there?
JM: About eleven months, it was a long course.
BW: Can you describe what sort of things you were doing during that time?
JM: Yes. We started off learning the morse code, and eventually you had to get up to a certain speed, I got up to thirty two words per minute sending and twenty eight receiving which was not right at the top, and then we learnt all about the TR1154 55 which was the radio transmitter receiver we used in the Lancs. And we had to strip them, well they stripped them down and we had to put them back together eventually when we’d learned all about the valves, they were valves then of course. [chuckle] We used to take the condenser out, or put a dud one in or a dud valve and you had to come in and sort it out.
BW: Presumably this was not just so that you could maintain the radio let’s say in daylight hours in the aircraft, taken out, potentially you would have had to look at a problem with the set in the aircraft at night as well.
JM: Yeah.
BW: Were you training in fairly realistic conditions, in the sense would they turn the lights off to try and recreate night conditions or anything like that?
JM: No.
BW: Just for practice -
JM: Not that I can remember.
BW: Okay. I believe you began your training from then on Wellingtons, your sort of aircrew training.
JM: Yeah.
BW: Do you recall where that was?
JM: It’s all in me log books this. I can’t remember them all.
BW: Okay.
JM: We had Blenheims as well.
BW: So you learnt on Blenheims too?
JM: But on the radio school we were in Percival Proctors.
BW: Okay.
JM: And Avro Ansons and then the flight things for the radio. We were taught it on the ground first and then we used to go two or three in, in an aircraft and take over.
BW: And what kind of exercises were you doing in the aircraft.
JM: Only air to ground communications, morse code and everything.
BW: How did you find that compared to doing it on the ground, any different?
JM: It were very good, very interesting. [Laughs]
BW: What were your assessments like on that, did you, you said you came pretty well near the top on the sending and receiving in Morse Code, was that the same in the air, did you find that, those easy?
JM: Well yeah about the same. [pause]
BW: I believe you met your pilot who would become your, let’s say your, your regular crew pilot while you were flying Wellingtons.
JM: Yeah.
BW: Was that Sergeant Heady?
JM: Addy.
BW: Addy.
JM: A d d y.
BW: And what was, what was he like?
JM: He was fine.
BW: Did you get on pretty well?
JM: Big, tall chap, he lived in Torquay actually. [pause] He was a sergeant then of course. Then eventually all Bomber Command pilots were commissioned.
BW: And so he, he obviously was potentially one of the last remaining NCO pilots, wasn’t he?
JM: Yes, he must have been because it was March when I got to the squadron, ’45 so only few months before, er after a, the war ended.
BW: And from Wellingtons you went on to Lancasters and I believe you started at 16 68 Heavy Conversion Unit.
JM: Yeah, Bottesford, yeah.
BW: Is that Norfolk?
JM: No, I don’t think it is.
BW: South Lincolnshire?
JM: South Lincolnshire I think, Bottesford.
BW: And how did you meet the rest of your crew? ‘Cause you’d meet at the Conversion Unit or thereabouts before going on to the operational squadron?
JM: Well when we met the skipper there were other people, other navigators and bomb aimers there and we all sort of got together.
BW: Did you, some crews met in a hangar, was that your experience?
JM: I can’t remember that. [Laughs]
BW: You just sort of met them -
JM: It’s seventy years ago [laughs].
BW: Do you recall once you got to Methwold in, was it Methwold?
JM: Yep.
BW: In Norfolk, and 149 Squadron, East India Squadron. Do you recall the rest of the crew?
JM: Oh, I know the crew very well, yes.
BW: Do you know what their names and roles were at all?
JM: Oh yes, I kept in touch with three of them.
BW: Who were they?
JM: I kept in touch with the pilot, we used to send Christmas cards to each other every year till about three years ago, then it stopped, I’ve heard nothing since. The navigator died of pneumonia many years ago. The rear gunner, I kept in touch with him and his wife wrote me to saying he’d died. The navigator died of pneumonia I think it was, oh many years ago. So there’s only the bomb aimer and the mid upper gunner that I didn’t know anything about, and I still don’t.
BW: Do you recall their names at all?
JM: Yeah, Bob Simpson the bomb aimer he was from North, up Northumberland, and Barney the gunner, the top, no, mid upper gunner he was from London. Whether they are still alive I don’t know, but they are the only two I don’t know about.
BW: Do you recall who the rear gunner was at all?
JM: Alf Fawcett.
BW: Alf Fawcett.
JM: F a w c e double t. I kept in touch with him and then it was his wife who rang, or phone, sent a letter to me saying he had died, many years ago.
BW: And when you joined were the rest of them all NCOs, were they all sergeant aircrew like you or were any of them -?
JM: All except for the flight engineer, he was the older one of the lot. He remustered from ground crew. So he was like the father of us all, he kept, kept an eye on us. We had a father figure amongst the crew.
BW: And who, do you recall his name, who he was?
JM: Oh gawd, it’ll come back to me, I can’t think of it all but.
BW: No worries. And you said you, said earlier, that you flew with a reduced crew and there was only two gunners.
JM: We only ever had two gunners – a mid upper and a rear gunner.
BW: Okay.
JM: We never had a front gunner, the bomb aimer used to do that. And if we had a mid under, I used to do the mid-under. [pause]
BW: What was, what were the facilities like on the base at Methwold? Do you recall? Did you all share the same accommodation or were you in the sergeants mess, or -?
JM: We had a sergeants mess, but then, it was, they had six wings, and every wing had a dance. So six nights a week we were dancing. [Laughter] and we used to bring in the civvies from Hereford, on the bus, which the WAAFs hated.
BW: So there was, there was quite a good social life through there.
JM: Oh yes. Brilliant social life. And at Methwold, they didn’t have a cinema in Methwold and we had one on the camp so we used to bring the girls in to watch any films and things. It was a very sleepy little village.
BW: Was it quite close by?
JM: Yeah, couple, two or three mile, that’s all.
BW: So you could walk in to town.
JM: Oh well, you wouldn’t walk it, but you could get there handy, you know.
BW: Okay. Did you ever socialise off, off base as well, did you go into Methwold for drinks or anything like that, or did you just stay there?
JM: Yes, they were very good actually, because. My wife has been dead over twenty years now, but when she was alive we decided we’d have a, we had a caravan, I used to tow a caravan, and we stayed in Norfolk, so we went to Methwold, and as we drove into Methwold, right opposite at the junction we came to, was a café, and I said to my wife, I said: ‘That used to be a pub.’ She said, ‘It’s a café,’ so I said anyway let’s go and have a cup of tea. So we went and had a cup of tea, and I said to the lady, this looks very, very like a pub we used to drink in, and she said come with me and she took me through a little side door, and in the back was the bar we used to drink in.
BW: Did it bring back a lot of memories?
JM: Oh yes.
BW: Did you share many of those memories with your wife at the time?
JM: Oh yes, they were very good, some of them [chuckle].
BW: So just thinking now in terms of your sort of operational duties. Can you describe a typical operation, how you prepared for it?
JM: Well the first thing we did, we used to go down to the wireless operator briefing, they’d give us the call signs and everything else we needed to know, and emergency come-backs and things, and then we all used to go to the main briefing and then we found out where we were going.
BW: And how long would the main briefing sort of take?
JM: It would be half an hour, to an hour you know, on the Berlin one, explaining everything you know. It was quite a long flight.
BW: Hmm. Berlin was a notoriously difficult target, how did you feel –
JM: That was our last one.
BW: Yeah. How did you feel when it came up on your list again?
JM: Um, I don’t know, at twenty years of age you’re not frightened, [chuckle] you should be, and I think half the time you felt it was an adventure, off we go again.
BW: So once the briefing had finished, what kinds of things would happen then? What would you be doing in order to join the aircraft?
JM: You’d get all your equipment together, the order they do things and then you needed helmets and then out to the aircraft.
BW: And would you be bused out there?
JM: Oh yeah, well either bused or in a open, or a closed in, what do you call, lorry.
BW: Yeah. A truck with a canvas back sort of thing.
JM: Yeah, yeah.
BW: And did you or any of the crew have any superstitions or particular rituals for getting on board? I mean some crews did, but it was particular to them. Did you have any?
JM: Nothing I can think of, the rear gunner used to wave to a WAAF friend he used have, as we drove down, taxied round the perimeter, she’d you know come out and wave to him and that was about it.
BW: So you would all get on the aircraft then, ready to start the operation.
JM: Yeah.
BW: What kind of checks or preparations would you make at that point?
JM: Well we’d have to set the transmitter receiver up for the frequencies we were going to use, because every hour we got a group message, any agency could come in between, but every hour they got a group message, and you had to set up for that and everything. If you went in a different aircraft, because you never always flew in the same one, somebody else would have a different call sign so you’d have to put your own in.
BW: And did it take long at all to, to get ready, were you fairly quick and efficient at doing it?
JM: Yes as soon as possible so as you could sit down. [Chuckle]
BW: And as you sort of taxied out would the pilot be calling the crew for checks or anything like that, would he - ?
JM: He would just make sure we were all in position and then he’d took over with the control tower.
BW: So right at the, I suppose, start of a, an operation then, [cough] how did it feel if you think back to your first operation, and you having done all that training in the lead up to it, do you recall how it felt to go on your first op, over Germany?
JM: I think they all felt the same, we went either to the Ruhr or Berlin, but they all felt the same. At twenty years of age you weren’t bothered.
BW: There were no butterflies in the stomach or anything like that?
JM: Well, I suppose there must have been, but it wasn’t really in fear, I always knew I was coming back. ‘Cause I always made arrangements where I was going the next night. Mind, it didn’t always work out that way.
BW: And being so close to the end of the war because this was around March.
JM: Yes, March ’45. Yeah.
BW: 1945. Did you feel at any point prior to that an eagerness to get on to operations before the war ended, or -?
JM: Oh yes, we wanted to go, I mean we did three or four, and then we had a mess up and we were sent to Feltwell on the bombing course.
BW: And was there any reason given for that, being sent on the course?
JM: Well yes, [chuckle] a difference between the pilot and the navigator, and where to bomb.
BW: And do you think that was a mis-identified target or -?
JM: Yeah.
BW: Okay.
JM: When we came back, because there was a camera on board of course. And they photographed where we bombed and we were sent from Methwold to Feltwell which only a couple of mile away, and we did a fortnight bombing practice.
BW: Were those the only repercussions from the incident?
JM: Yeah. That’s all that I knew. I don’t know what happened to the pilot, have no idea. But they still stayed with us.
BW: So they certainly weren’t separated or anything like that.
JM: No.
BW: Were there any particular incidents from other raids that you went on? You flew in total four operational sorties, two during the day and two at night. Were there any particular incidents that stood out from those?
JM: Only one, when we were attacked by a night fighter. That was fun, well it wasn’t fun then but, but the mid upper started on him and the rear gunner and then I had a mid under and I had a go but I don’t think we hit him. But it must have been about, well a month later, we got a DFM sent to the squadron, only one. I don’t know who got it, I’ve no idea, it shouldn’t have been shared between the crew. somebody got it I don’t know who, could have been anyone.
BW: So potentially that might, might have been over, over Berlin, on your last sortie.
JM: It could well have been.
BW: Were there any other, there were no other, no other incidents, you only mentioned the one.
JM: No, I saw a few Halifaxes and Lancs hit and go down, but we were never hit or anything, so, just that one, the night fighter came down, over, he never hit us, he just went just past us and went underneath and that was it.
BW: And you mention your role was dual role as a mid-under gunner as well. Can you describe what that entailed?
JM: Well, it was very, very, very few aircraft had a mid-under turret. Most of the time they didn’t. They was just all flat prone. But if we were on an aircraft that had a mid-under I used to use it, that’s all. It was very seld,I think I only used it once, I think.
BW: And what sort of –
JM: Because most of them didn’t have them.
BW: What sort of gun were you firing?
JM: The 303, four 303s or two, I can’t remember now. They were 303s I know.
BW: And how were you positioned in the aircraft, clearly you’d be sat on the floor.
JM: Yes.
BW: But were you just, was there any kind of seating for you to be in as there was for other gunners?
JM: No, not really. You sort of bent down sort of thing, you know, on the loo seat we had. But then only happened once so, all the other aircraft didn’t have mid-unders.
BW: And were you given any gunnery training?
JM: Oh I did some gunnery training, yes,
BW: And was yours –
JM: ‘Cause I went in as a WOP/AG first, then half way through they changed it to the S brevet for Signals, so WOP/AG finished and the Signallers took over.
BW: And were you, was yours the only aircraft on the squadron with the mid-under gunner or were there any, any others?
JM: We didn’t have a mid-under gunner.
BW: Or any of them –
JM: It was the wireless op that did it. [laughs]
BW: Yeah, but were, were there any other aircraft on the squadron, on your squadron, that had that facility?
JM: Some of them, I never went through them all, but some I flew had, I think there was two had it, all the rest didn’t. Cause there were very, very few of them had them.
BW: Interesting this.
JM: Because they were old ones. Because they were the early mark one Lancs that had the mid under.
BW: Okay. And were you, from your position in the aircraft, you are fairly enclosed, were you able at any stage able to see the targets you were flying over at all?
JM: I had a window alongside me.
BW: So you had a reasonable view.
JM: I had a wonderful view, [laughter]. It was only when, apart from the pilot and the bomb aimer in the front, this was the only window, it was smashing and I could look out and see what was happening.
BW: Do you recall what it was like flying over the targets during the day as opposed to during the night, was it any significant difference for you?
JM: You were more vulnerable during the day, you could be seen easier of course, but we never had any problems at all, apart from that once. Which was like a trip going out and coming back, dropping your bombs and coming back. We were very lucky.
BW: Fairly straight forward then, wasn’t it?
JM: Yeah. Fifty percent luck.
BW: And I believe you were also involved in, or your flights after the Berlin raid and after the surrender, involved POW repatriation.
JM: Yes.
BW: You had one around May.
JM: Yeah, brought Italian prisoners, our prisoners from Italy, brought them back and also dropped food supplies to the people in Holland, got a photograph there of it.
BW: Can you describe those kind of sorties? They are quite different.
JM: It was wonderful actually, because we were flying over, we had to fly pretty low to drop them, and there were thousands of people round the, wherever we were dropping them, and we were frightened of hitting them, so that’s the point, they were so, because the minute the stuff dropped they were on them, because they were short of food.
BW: And when you say it’s very low level, would you say it’s below two hundred and fifty feet, something like that?
JM: Oh no, I wouldn’t think so.
BW: Slightly above.
JM: Probably about a thousand feet.
BW: Thousand. Okay.
JM: But, we couldn’t be too high or when they dropped you didn’t want to damage anything. You didn’t drop from a big height. We’d have messed some.
BW: Did they, do you recall how they delivered the food packages? Was it a case of just opening the bomb bay doors or did they go out the side, the sort of the crew door or anything like that?
JM: We used to throw them out the doors mainly ‘cause you couldn’t put them in the bomb bay really.
BW: What sort of size packages are we talking about do you think?
JM: Oh, I can’t remember, but they ended up on a short parachute down there, but the minute they landed they were on.
BW: So I guess they were kind of um, boxes that you could lift and -.
JM: I think there’s a photograph there isn’t there, that one.
BW: Yes, so these show, this photograph happens to show a Lancaster with its bomb bay doors open.
JM: There must have been some went down from there.
BW: And that, looking at that, the people on the ground obviously seem pretty happy to see you. Was that something, does that photograph look pretty familiar to you, was that the kind of thing you would see?
JM: Yeah, they were all waiting, we had to be very careful we miss them.
BW: Did you fly many of those, or was it just the one?
JM: Must have been a couple that’s all. We also took the top brass over the bombing areas after the war. They wanted to see what damage had been done to Berlin and places like that, I forget the name now, there was a special name for it. But top brass used to come and fly with us, so that they could see what had happened and went back again.
BW: Did you have to give up your seat for any of them so they could have a look out the window?
JM: No, I had to stay there in case there was a call. [Laughs]
BW: And just thinking about the POW flights, what can you recall of those?
JM: Oh, that was unbelievable, they were really, down and out and we took cigarettes and chocolate with us and gave it them, they were pleased as anything, you know. More Brits we brought back, from Italy.
BW: How many do you think you, you managed to fit in the aircraft?
JM: I can’t remember that.
BW: Because it was quite tight those.
JM: But they, they made room for them, you know. But they were very, very, very [emphasis] grateful for being brought back.
BW: And were they all RAF POWs? The Army?
JM: No, no, the Army, Navy, not Navy, Army and RAF mainly.
BW: And did they look like they’d had a rough time at all or were they - ?
JM: They didn’t look very happy, well they did happy when we got there.
BW: You flew both Wellingtons and Lancasters. Did you have a preference having flown either, was there any – ?
JM: Oh, the Lancaster.
BW: Particular characteristics?
JM: The Lancaster definitely, much better. Also flew in a mosquito.
BW: Have you: what was that like?
JM: Well, it was queer how it happened. I was a Warrant Officer then, I believe, or a flight sergeant, one of them, and I was in the office and this bloke came, was a pilot, he came in and he said, ‘Are you busy?’ I said, ‘Not too busy why?’ He said ‘I’m going up for a flight’ he said, ‘I need someone with me.’ Okay, fair enough. Told them, say where I was going, I went out there was a Mosquito, [laugh] terrific.
BW: Do you recall where you went?
JM: No, we were just flying round generally but, terrific aircraft.
BW: It wasn’t at low level was it, was it er - ?
JM: Just bits and pieces.
BW: Really.
JM: Oh no, the only low level was in the air display down in London, that was er, murder. We all went down for Battle of Britain day and the Lancs were going to do a low level fly past and the pilot was Squadron Leader, I’ve forgotten his surname now, but he said, I was going with him, only two of us, I had to act as flight engineer as well. He said okay. We got there and it was pouring rain so we all went to the pub, then the sun came out and they decided to go ahead with the operation. Did a four engine fly over, then a three engine, then a two engine. He said, ‘do you fancy a single?’ I said ‘you can go to hell!’ [Laugh] And then on the way back he said, ‘I’m knackered’ he said, ‘you can fly it back,’ so I flew it back, only straight and level obviously, keep the height and that’s all. And then woke him up when we got near the drome.
BW: You had no issues flying it, or taking, taking control or anything?
JM: Hmm?
BW: You had no issues taking control or anything it was very easy to fly?
JM: Well we used to take turns apiece the crew, pilot used to come out and, not on ops obviously, but low, on cross country flying we used to take, he’d to say come and have a go I’m having a rest and we’d all take turns. [Laughs]
BW: How did it feel to fly?
JM: It was fine.
BW: That’s quite something, to be just given a go on a Lancaster.
JM: Mind you, don’t forget there was a flight engineer sitting alongside you and he’s a pilot as well.
BW: True. Were there any other incidents, or sorties that were particularly memorable for you?
JM: No, I don’t think so, only the low level one we did, over East Anglia, about five of us in formation. Oh god, cows and sheep running riot.
BW: So there were five –
JM: They had permission to do that of course.
BW: So there were five Lancasters, in -
JM: Formation.
BW: Were you fairly close formation?
JM: No, not too close.
BW: So fairly loose formation, and presumably shaped like an arrowhead, one lead and two either side.
JM: Yes, from what I can remember. Oh, it was great.
BW: What sort of height were you for that?
JM: I can’t remember that, it was quite low.
BW: And you were over East Anglia.
JM: Yes.
BW: At that point. Did you go over the beach?
JM: Over the sea as well.
BW: Excellent. And who was your CO? You mentioned, you mentioned him before, when you went down to display, who was your CO on that?
JM: Group Captain, I can’t remember his name now, but he was a smashing bloke. And when we went out on day trips and things, instead of him coming in the car he come in the truck with us. He was a real down to earth bloke, you know, very nice.
BW: There was a Wing Commander Cholton in charge of the squadron at the time. I don’t suppose he, his name rings any bells does it?
JM: No.
BW: No. Okay. So after the war ended and you’ve had these, er additional sort of sorties, what sort of things happened to you after that?
JM: Well I was asked to stay on, sign on and stay on. And I had, had three months of church parades, drills, no flying, and I got bored to tears and said oh gawd this isn’t for me so I came out. But I was offered a commission if I stayed on, but I didn’t, perhaps it was a mistake, I don’t know, I’d have got a lovely pension by now. [laughs]
BW: So at that stage you were a Warrant Officer.
JM: Yes.
BW: And sort of, potentially you’d been asked to consider going up to officer but declined it, and so this would be, your, your service in the RAF ended in –
JM: ’47.
BW: February 1947.
JM: It would be the end of ’46.
BW: And you asked –
JM: I wasn’t the only one, I think they asked quite a few to stay on, but I was one of them. After having, as I said, a few months of no flying, ‘cause we hardly ever went up after the war finished, apart from these special ones, and there was that and loads of church parades every Sunday, and parades during the week, no, I thought I couldn’t stick four more of this. But afterwards I thought maybe I should have done.
BW: And were you still based at Methwold during that time?
JM: No, I was up at Kings Lynn. Marham. RAF Marham.
BW: And so eventually in ’47 you asked to be demobbed, and what happened to you then, what, what course did your life take after that?
JM: Well, I was sent to Burtonwood, that’s where we got demobbed, and I got me suit [chuckle] and then I went home.
BW: So Burtonwood’s not too far from Liverpool, really.
JM: No.
BW: Near Warrington.
JM: Yeah, Warrington. That’s where we got demobbed, at Burtonwood.
BW: And did you go back to the family home in Aigburch?
JM: Oh no, my father had remarried then and moved to Hunts Cross, which was a [posh voice] superior area of Liverpool, so they say.
BW: [Cough] And was he still in the police force at that time?
JM: Yep.
BW: So presumably he had been promoted from -
JM: He’d made it to Detective Sergeant, yeah. And then he remarried of course, and we won’t go into further details, and I left home. [chuckle] He [emphasis] was all right.
BW: And where, okay, So, um –
JM: I went into digs then.
BW: And were you still in the Liverpool area, on your own?
JM: Oh yes.
BW: And what did you do for employment after that, after coming out the RAF?
JM: My uncle was in the aircraft industry and I went into Roots and they were making Lancasters, Halifaxes then. No, start again, [mutter] can’t remember, oh, um, what the heck did I do then? [Pause] I went to the British School of Motoring, as a driving instructor.
BW: And how long were you there?
JM: About fourteen months, because someone said to us there was a firm opening up at Speke, where they made Ford cars and they wanted delivery drivers. So, I had a pupil, I said ‘you’re going for a nice long ride today, we’re going out to Speke!’ And we went out to Speke, I went to see the manager and he signed me up right away, well, being an instructor. And a couple of weeks later I was delivering new cars and Fords, all over the country. Single cars. Then eventually I drove the car transporters.
BW: How long did that last?
JM: Oh gawd, twenty odd years, I was there a long time. I retired from there actually.
BW: And what –
JM: I’ve been retired since 1997.
BW: And what sort of things have occupied your time since? I mean obviously you spent time with your wife, as you say, before she died two years ago, sadly.
JM: We had, well we had a series of caravans in the Lake District. We loved the Lake District and still do, and we had a caravan near Keswick, so we used to spend nearly every weekend up at Keswick. Used to go for long walks and it was great.
BW: Very nice part of the world.
JM: Oh, I love Keswick.
BW: And, just thinking about the sort of commemoration and recognition given to Bomber Command and the veterans since, have you been to the Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln? Alright. Okay, but you’ve been to East Kirkby and to Coningsby and so on.
JM: I went to Madley once, that’s all. I’ve been to Lincoln.
BW: And did you go to the unveiling of the memorial in Green Park?
JM: No, no, I went to the Cathedral, because they’ve got all the information in the Cathedral there.
BW: And what are your thoughts about the recognition that’s been given to bomber crew since?
JM: I think it’s about time, I mean we did lose fifty percent.
BW: Yeah, the 125,000 crew that’s –
JM: Yes, that’s a lot of crew.
BW: And lost 55,000 plus.
JM: Yeah.
BW: And were there any additional or other memorable incidents that you can recall from your service at all?
JM: No, not really.
BW: Do you think we’ve covered everything?
JM: Apart from one when I could have died, [chuckle] that was our own fault. We went out to a night do, in Hereford, a dance, and the last bus was eleven something and it was about twenty to twelve, and the, what do you call it? the SPs came up to me, said, Warrant he said, ‘I am going to give you a chance, there’s twenty minutes to go till midnight, if you are still here at midnight we’re booking you.’ So, we stayed didn’t we, and we got booked. But anyway we came out, there were no buses, and it was about eight mile back to the camp, about one o’clock in the morning and we were all walking along, horrible snowing and all, it was a horrible night, and lucky a, one of the transports came along, with food things, we got a lift back in that. God knows how we’d have got back otherwise. [Laugh] Course we got seven days for that, didn’t we.
BW: Was that the only time you spent in –
JM: CB, yes. [Laugh]
BW: And when you married, what, what happened? You had, obviously a son, Dave and -
JM: Got another son in America, Andrew, and a daughter in the Wirral. My son’s coming over from America in November.
BW: So you’ve had a pretty good post war life really, haven’t you?
JM: I’ve a very enjoyable life.
BW: Yeah. You enjoyed your RAF service and you’ve enjoyed your time since.
JM: Yes.
BW: Good. Well, that’s all the questions I have for you, James, so -
JM: Good!
BW: Thank you very much for your time and the information you’ve given to the IBCC.
JM: If you want any other stuff, there’s photographs there maybe, if you want them, and the, just make sure they’re working.
BW: So would you –
JM: Short burst on each, front and rear, and you know, that was it, as I say it was only once I think, only once or twice at the most, I ever had [emphasis] a mid under, most of the time I didn’t. There were very few Lancs had them.
BW: And you, you’d never fired your guns in anger had you?
JM: Only once. That was once.
BW: Just the, when you saw that night fighter.
JM: Yeah. Whether we hit it or not I’ve no idea. But we got a DFM to the squadron afterwards. I don’t know who got it. They said we were going to draw lots to get it, never heard any more about it.


Brian Wright, “Interview with James Christian Mortensen,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 21, 2024,

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