Interview with Leonard Ralph Tyrell


Interview with Leonard Ralph Tyrell


Leonard Ralph Tyrell mentions always being keen on aircraft since he was a boy. He was sent to RAF Syerston near Nottingham for Lancaster Finishing School, and then an advanced flying unit near Wolverhampton, before heading to number 17 OTU at RAF Silverstone. He also describes his training in Canada, from where he returned with the rank of pilot officer. Lenard also recalls his first operation to the Dortmund-Ems Canal; the only time when his aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire; his involvement in Operation Dodge, picking up army troops in Italy. He flew with 207 and 44 Squadron during the war. Emphasises the sense of comradeship and brotherhood among crew members and praises the ground crew’s efforts and dedication to the aircraft and the aircrew. Mentions being awarded an MBE by the Queen and being trained for Tiger Force. Remembers being sent to India while waiting to be demobbed. After the war, remembers staying with the air cadets for over seventy years, covering roles from instructor to president.




Temporal Coverage




00:56:03 audio recording

Conforms To


This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit and




GC: Good afternoon, this interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. My name is Gemma Clapton. Interviewee is Flight Lieutenant Leonard Ralph Tyrell on the 29th of September 2015 at Great Baddow in Essex. Tell me a little bit about how you joined the RAF please.
LRT: Well, as a young boy, I was always keen on aircraft and aircraft books. So when the air training corps was first formed in ‘41, I decided that that would be for me. So I joined the air cadets as a springboard to ultimately volunteering for aircrew duties in the Royal Air Force. So, after basic training, it was in December ’41 when I had my RAF medical and I was given the all clear on that one and about a month later I had three days at RAF Oxford for attestation. This was intelligent tests, education tests and another stiff medical including blowing up a tube of mercury for at least sixty seconds. Then when the three days were over, the sergeant said to us: “Well gentlemen, I got good news and bad news. Good news, you’ve all passed, the bad news, we don’t want you yet. So we are gonna place you on deferred service.” So, it was about six months later, on the, my mother came into where I was working in the town and said, here you are, here’s your travel warrant, you’re going to join the Royal Air Force next week and that was in July ‘42. So after some basic training at St John’s Wood and then the toughening up course in RAF Ludlow, which was a tented camp with latrines and field kitchens, but it did get us feeling very fit and healthy and in of course the next course was Initial Training Wing at Stratford-Upon-Avon. That was a three months course, when you passed out, you became a leading aircraftsman, I was quite pleased with that, I used to walk down the town showing me propeller on me sleeve and I kept that rank until later on, when I found myself going by an ocean-going liner to Canada under the PNB scheme. We landed at Halifax after being escorted by Canadian corvettes about a hundred miles out because we flew, we sailed across the Atlantic unescorted but we zigzagged all the way to avoid the U-boats. To cut a long story short, after a period of time at Moncton which was a personnel depot, I found myself at number 31 bombing and gunnery school at Picton, not far from Toronto. That was a three months course, in which case we’d done bombing from an Anson aircraft, and air gunnery from a Bolingbroke, which was a Canadian version of the Bristol Blenheim. So we passed that test and then we went on for a long journey to Portage La Prairie, which is the number 7 air observer school. This was basically a navigation course, but the thing is when we were flying Anson aircraft and if you sat next to the pilot, it was your job to wind up the undercarriage and lower the undercarriage and believe you me, it was a hundred and forty seven turns to get a green light and a hundred and forty seven turns to get a red light. So we tried to avoid sitting next to the pilot but I used to get Joe for that [laughs]. Anyway, the course went through very well, we were said that on this course of nineteen cadets, the top six would get automatically commissioned, I thought, well, I will have a go at that. So, when the course was over, there I was in the top six, and I had become, from a leading aircraftsman to a pilot officer, the lowest rank in the commissioned rank of the Royal Air Force and said goodbyes to everybody in Canada. Canada and its people were very hospitable and it’s one of the best years of my life. [unclear] I’ll never forget it, the Canadian people were brilliant. I did manage to get to Niagara Falls on a hitchhike, so I’ve been to Niagara and there’s a rainbow bridge across the river there and there’s a white line right in the middle and one line on one side is the United States and on the other side is Canada. So I’ve got a picture of myself with one foot in one country and the other foot in Canada, so that’s there for all records [laughs]. But, so we sailed back to England and landing at Southampton again unescorted but this time it was on the Royal Mail ship Andes, a very fast boat but I was glad to see land again because the winter weather in the Atlantic is quite breezy to say the least. But after that we were sent to Harrogate for kitting out and the next port of call was advanced flying unit near Halfpenny Green near Wolverhampton. Passed that one okay. And then we went to number 17 OTU at Silverstone, which is today the home of the British Grand Prix. And this was a aerodrome full of Wellington Bombers and on one occasion we were told to assemble in the rather large hangar, the door was shut, they said, right, now you sort yourselves out into crews of six, cause the Wellington carried six, we managed to sort ourselves out. I remember the pilot come over to me, a blonde chap with an Errol Flynn moustache and a firm handshake, he said, would you like to fly with me? My reply, was, why not? And that was the beginning of a long and faithful friendship. We then bumped into a navigator who looked lost and I said, come and join us and then there was two gunners and a wireless operator on their own, we grabbed those three and we became what was called then the Howard crew, six of us, we met as strangers but ultimately we would be flying as brothers. So we’d done the OTU course, which included navigation, bombing, fighter affiliation and so on and so forth. And the next step was to go to number 1660 a heavy conversion unit, transferring from twin engine planes to four engined Stirling aircraft and this is where we picked up the seventh member of the crew, a flight engineer, because the pilot couldn’t cope with doing all the operations in the cockpit on his own and in any case the engineer was responsible for transferring fuel from one tank to another during the aircraft’s flight. So we joined up forces there and then after passing out the course, we got commanded on our bombing so much so that they gave us a forty eight hour pass for aircrew bombing and rather dire conditions. So, I was quite a popular member of the crew for occasion. Next step was to got to RAF Syerston near Nottingham for Lanc Finishing School, number 5 Lanc Finishing School, got to know the Lancaster very well inside and out, and once that was all over, we were then posted to number 207 Squadron in Lincolnshire, which as people know, is Bomber Command country. And there the life started to change quite dramatically inasmuch that war was only a few hours flying away. So our first operation was the Dortmund-Ems canal, it happened to be a daylight raid, and I could see the Pathfinder’s flares down below and that was successful and then it was a question of adapting to squadron life, flying and sleeping and having an odd pint now and then and but always with the crew. We were a mixed crew, three were officers and four NCOs but that didn’t make any difference, we were all called by our Christian names at any rate. So but, in spite of the casualties, that didn’t deter us from carrying out our duties and I look back with pride at what the crew achieved and we managed to come through it all. I have to tell you that when we entered the aircraft as seven young men, average age is about twenty one, there it was eighth member of the crew walking with us unseen and unsung and his name was fear. Cause there is always a fear that you might get shot down or wounded or burnt or taken prisoner or even that ultimate sacrifice, but I believed in God and before I took off, I used to go up to the front of the aircraft and say a little prayer: “Dear God, please take care of us, during the coming perils of the night.” And I think he did. And so that’s why I’m able to speak to you today of the experiences I’ve had and after that the war in Europe came to an end, thank goodness, and we had survived many a hectic night and day for that better and the occasions that I looked back on with a certain amount of pride and sadness because squadron life was quite hectic but crews came and go because of the unfortunate casualty rate, but I look back on my experience with a certain amount of pride and, that I’ve done my duty for my king and country. The war in Europe was over then and we went once or twice to drop food parcels over Holland and after that there was still the war in the Far East to be won and we were then transferred from 207 to 44 Squadron and we went from 5 Group into 3 Group and we were stationed at RAF Mildenhall. We trained for Tiger Force, learning all about the Japan country, cities, its peoples, its navies, air force, but fortunately the Japanese capitulated so we didn’t go. But during that period of no hostilities, we were on Operation Dodge. We shall fly to Italy either Bari on the Adriatic coast or Pomigliano near Naples to pick up twenty five British army troops who’d been out at the Middle East but a long, long time and we used to go off one day and come back the next. The travelling time was seven hours one way and seven and a half hours the other way [unclear] prevailing wind. We used to treat the soldiers with great respect and tell them what was going on and if they wanted to come up to the front and have a look they would take it in turns so we supervised that and we used to land them safely, I think altogether I’ve done about half a dozen trips called Operation Dodge. By this time it was getting near the end of ’45 and then a bloke came, we had to take our Lancaster to a field in Gloucestershire and leave it there and we were made redundant and we said goodbye to each other, promising to keep in touch, which we did. In fact the navigator came to my wedding and I went to his wedding and that was all very, very nice. But in any case, I wasn’t demobbed yet, my British crew hadn’t been promulgated, it was number 47 and I waited for that with some expectancy but I had to learn to be patient, in the meantime I said, right, you’re going out on a ground job out in India, so I went to RAF Lyneham and we flew out in an Avro York making two or three stops before landing at Karachi in India where I started my ground duties. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the water or the water didn’t like me because I finished up with a tummy upset and that kept me a little bit weak for the next two or three weeks. But anyway that was all sorted out and eventually I found myself doing service in Delhi and Calcutta. Calcutta the flight sergeant said, come on sir, I’ll teach you to drive. So I learned to drive in a jeep in Calcutta. I think if you can drive in Calcutta, you can drive anywhere else in the world [laughs]. Eventually the time when I was posted to the North-West Frontier of India, between India and Pakistan. This is before the separation of the Indian state. Today it’s called Pakistan but I was up there, near the borders of Afghanistan and I was up there for about four or five months, I suppose. In the meantime, my release group had been promulgated and I never heard nothing from movements at RAF Delhi so I rang up the wing commander and told him who I was and my release group was promulgated and his reply was sorry Tyrell, we seemed to have forgotten all about you, so could you remind me, my module might still be there. Anyway, they said, well, we’ll fly you back, I said, no, I don’t do no more flying, I want to go back by boat. And so I got on a train from Bashir down to Bombay, today it’s called Mumbai, but Bombay was the town, a city rather and I waited for the boat to come in, which was called SS Orontes and it took three weeks to sail from Bombay to Southampton. And after that, it was going up to Hednesford, RAF Hednesford for medical checks and pick up my civilian clothing and given leave and that’s my service life with the Royal Air Force, over. I’ve done my bit. And it was back to civilian life, job was still safe cause I was in the printing trade and the boss welcomed me with open arms and that’s another story. But at the end of the war I decided to offer my services to the air cadets which I joined previously in ’41 and I stayed with the air cadets from 1947 to 19, 2013, sorry, 2013, I’ve done a total of seventy three years’ service with the air cadets as a cadet, as an instructor, as a commanding officer, as a chairman and as its president. And I was in 1993, I had a letter from the Prime Minister saying that he had it in mind to recommend me for an award and in 1993 I went with my wife and son and grandson in uniform, my grandson was an air cadet too and we went to Buckingham Palace where the Queen awarded me the MBE. She wanted to know how long a service I had done, I said, fifty years Ma’am, she said, that’s a long time, well done, and then puts her head out and that’s the time to bow and leave. So, in my time with the air cadets and the RAF association has been a life of volunteering for the cause that I believed in and when I retired from the Royal Airforce Association after twenty five years as a president, they gave me a surprise painting of a Lancaster EMQ, which is the plane I flew in at RAF Spilsby and today that adorns my hallway for anybody to come and see it. And that’s my life story. Unfortunately this last year my wife has been taken away from me, she’s in a nursing home after a medical mix-up and I’ve just come out of hospital but I’m still pressing on, just like we did in the old days. Thank you.
GC: Wow. Can you tell us a bit about the camaraderie, the unit that flew in the planes.
LRT: Camaraderie, you’ve done everything together, you know, it’s, if we weren’t flying, we said come on, we go to Skegness, we called it Skeggy and the rituals then to, everybody had to buy a round, so whether you liked it or not, you had to have seven pints a beer or seven half a beer whatever but they were lovely days, I mean, on one occasion, George the rear gunner was sounding all very stupid in a way and the skipper said to me, Ralph go down and see what’s happened. So I trowed down in a pitch black, but knowing the Lancaster inside out, especially climbing over the main spar I found that his oxygen tube had become disengaged, so I plugged it in and pepped him on the back and he was fine, so when we got out of the aircraft, I said, George, you owe me two pints. But he never did buy them [laughs]. But that’s the sort of spirit we had, togetherness, I can’t describe it, it’s a closeness of spirit and a closeness of your personalities but we didn’t believe it a hundred percent, we believe in a hundred and ten percent, to make sure we got from A to B and come home safely and nothing more intrigued me than seeing the green lights and the funnel says we landed at night time and the skipper always said if I make a bumpy landing I’ll buy you a drink but he was a good skipper and his landings were perfect. But what a relief to get back on Terraferma! Should never forget it. I think that experience made a bit of a man out of me and I learned to understand other people’s points of view and give and take and that was part of my marriage, we were married to, my wife would wanna go out with the aircrew and we married together and we had some sixty five happy years together, got a son and daughter and five grandchildren. So, that’s it.
GC: You said you trained in Canada. Was it a different way of life out in Canada in the war because?
LRT: No, the food was slightly different, I mean, you had some sort of food that was slightly different but on the other hand we simply enjoyed the food because there was no rationing and there was white bread there and I used to love apple pie and ice cream and they served maple syrup with their bacon. So I got used to that as well but by and large, we used, I used to go to church every Sunday I could, I used to get invited to people’s houses for perhaps a meal, lunch or dinner, but now I kept up my Christian belief bringing up by my parents who were very Christian people and I followed their course and I think that helped. Yes, I think so.
GC: What can you remember about life during the war? I know you was on base, but can you remember what life was like?
LRT: Oh life was, we used to get leave every six weeks, because the pressure, if you want to put it that way, so used to get leave every six weeks, so it was a question of getting on the train, coming down to London and going into Essex and my parents and sister were glad to see me but they knew that I was just for the week, but we should look forward to leaves and go down and see all the people there in the office where I used to work. Cause it was a local newspaper I worked on, printed words, because I worked with my grandfather for a period of time before he retired and I more or less took over him so I love print so it’s planes and print for me and people. And so eventually I after the war the manager made me in charge of production and when I retired I got a big factory to run, plenty of work and [unclear] for the local paper point of view but we were printing for other people as well so I think we were printing about thirty five titles a month, so the workforce was very busily engaged day and night and it was a nice experience, I loved print and nothing is better than seeing a printing press in full flow. So that’s my job as a printer. Fortunately I managed to work the workforce as a team, learning what team spirit meant, and team effort meant as a crew in Bomber Command, that put me in good stead on how to handle men and ladies in the printing industry. I never look back.
GC: Wow. You’ve served towards the end of the war, what was, could you give us a description perhaps of an op?
LRT: Oh, the op, well, I mean, first it was pitch black, a bit cold, the only noise you could hear was the four Merlin engines flying. Occasionally you would hear the click of an intercom switch, perhaps the navigator would ask the pilot to steer a slightly different course, then I would sit with the navigator because I would be reading the radar fixes, transferring them to his plotting map and then, about half hour from the target I would go into the bomb aimer’s position, switch on normally the gear and make sure the bomb site was already and I used to listen in to the BHF for the Pathfinders instructions and perhaps we could see ahead a lot of searchlights and flak swimming up. And in those days we carried Window and this was silver paper which had adverse effect on the enemy’s radar and consequently the flak didn’t come quite so high as us because they were, take a measurement of the silver paper that was dropping slowly towards the earth but then we were told by the master bomber to bomb the red TIs or the green TIs or bomb north of them or whatever. But so I used to take over the aircraft and take the pilot in on the bombing run which would be as short as possible and once I was happy with the situation, I used to say to the pilot the bomb’s going, bomb’s gone, shut the bomb doors, and I used to flash up an aldis lamp to make sure all the bombs are gone and then it was home James. But nothing was a greater pleasure than seeing the white cliffs of Dover at about six o’clock in the morning. And I shall always remember that with some [unclear] of pride, and I think our landfall nine times out of ten was Beachy Head.
GC: You’ve thrown me now. Can you tell me a bit more about, my brain’s gone, my brain’s gone.
LRT: That’s alright [laughs]
GC: It’s just it’s so much I want to ask. Describe the Lancaster.
LRT: Well, it’s a bit of an aircraft, I think it was [unclear], but here I pay great tribute to the ground crew. All the time we were on the squadron we never ever had a malfunction, the ground crew worked like Trojans because they thought it was their aircraft as much as what we did with our point of view and they were the last to see us out and the first to see us back. And I know many a ground crew who were disappointed when air crew didn’t turn back, turn up but we turned up like a bad penny and the first thing, well the ground crews do, put a pint and stuck another bomb on the fuselage. And so the ground crew were excellent. And I do happen to, I remember going to the inaugural of the Bomber Command memorial being unveiled by Her Majesty, The Queen, I shook hands with Prince Charles and he said, did you ever fly on one engine? I said, yes, sir, we flew, but not very long. We couldn’t stay up airborne with one engine but it was in practice that we tried it out but I said, what I want to do is thank the ground crew for the wonderful efforts, he says, quite right too so that was that. And I managed to collect when the Lancaster come over and dropped all those poppies, the fifty five thousand air crew who lost their lives, I managed to get two or three and I’ve got those in my logbook now.
GC: Oh wow!
LRT: And that was quite an occasion.
GC: Yes, that was, that was quite something.
LRT: It’s a beautiful memorial. Beautiful memorial.
GC: Yes, it is.
LRT: The sculpture there has got the expressions dead on, you know, the relief on their faces, are coming back, perhaps after eight, nine, ten hours, you got to see it to believe it. But marvellous sculpture.
GC: It is, it is. Is there one enduring memory from your time?
LRT: The enduring memory I have is dark nights, flashing lights, fighters whizzing around you, diving and ducking, and eggs and bacon at the end of the trip [laughs].
GC: You said you signed up in ’41. Did you feel it was your patriotic duty to do it, did you?
LRT: I was just very keen to fly. My mother was just trying to dissuade me but I was determined, I wanted to fly in the Royal Air Force. And I was, my first flight as an air cadet was in a Miles Magister at RAF Denton, which was a famous Battle of Britain station and I was taken out by a pilot in a Miles Magister and I thought that was great so, but looking back, I suppose I’m speaking on behalf of probably thousands of others who had similar experiences as myself so I’m no exception, I’m just an orderly guy who served king and country and I managed to benefit from the experience.
GC: You said after you’d served in Europe, could you tell us a bit more, you said you did Operation Dodge, please?
LRT: Oh, Operation Dodge, that was, bringing the troops back from Italy, I mean, some I think the Eighth Army were out there for a long time and so they used to, I think we used to pick up about twenty five troops and sit them down and give them blankets cause they were quite cold but we couldn’t go too high because of oxygen but I think the average height was about six to eight thousand feet, that was alright and then we used to pass notes through to them, saying the white cliffs of Dover are just coming up and if you any of you want to go and have a look, come up and have a look. But most of them decided to stay where they were, they had little ration boxes for the flight and we landed at Gaydon I think it was near Peterborough where the customs and excise people wanted to see them make off the aircraft but in the meantime we had managed to get over some cherry brandy and peach brandy and put them sort of radar seats so got away with murder on that one [laughs] but the, it’s interesting because we went over to see Italy and when we landed at Pomigliano, I said to the skipper, before we land, skipper, let’s fly over Vensuvius [sic] and so we done a fairly sharp bank looking right down the hole in the volcano, which was Vensuvius [sic]. And while we were there, on one occasion we managed to go to Pompeii to see all the ruins so, well I have seen the ruins of Pompeii which quite a thing to say, but on those occasions you can have a typical look around but we used to stay in the hotel and we were served by German prisoners of war, a bit ironic but, yeah, of course Italy at that day was a very poor country, wasn’t a lot of food about but we were in and out in a day and I kind enjoyed that. On one occasion the navigator was having a liquid lunch and he was late nearly for take-off and he’d forgotten his maps and I said, good job I’ve got mine then. Ron, what, he said, I’ve got news for you Ralph, you’re left to map read. On one occasion I map read all the way from Mildenhall to Italy and back again but I enjoyed that. It was a question of plotting your route on the topographical map and pick out your pinpoints, tell the skipper what to do. On one occasion, I said, turn left, he said, I don’t turn left give me a compass point, I said, alright [laughs] laugh. Whichever, a good giggle sometimes when we got off so but that was all part and parcel of flying together with six other young men.
GC: I mean, you’ve said you was technically a part time navigator. How did you, did you choose or did they allocate you?
LRT: They allocated me.
CG: As bomb aimer.
LRT: Yeah, because it all depended on that particular time when they were short of pilots, navigators or bomb aimers but it’s a PNBs course, pilot navigator bomber’s course I was on, yeah, but if push comes to shove, I mean, I had sat in the pilot’s seat of a Lancaster more than once, especially when the pilot, he won’t spend a penny, and he’s gotta go right down to the bottom of the aircraft to the chemical toilet and, oh yes, I’d sat alongside the pilot on many occasions. He said, tell the engineer go in the front, in the bomb aimer’s [unclear] I sat with the pilot but were a very happy crew, I can’t think of one occasion where we had a falling out, I think a crew’s spirit and no dissention was the, probably the key to success and survival.
GC: What was it like, for want of a better word, lying down in the front of the Lancaster watching the world go underneath you?
LRT: Well, it’s a little bit frightening because you could see all the stuff that was carried up, I mean, the flak was, you could see the flak coming up towards you, you thought, it’s gonna hit me in a minute, then it exploded below because probably of the effect of the Window, silver paper droppings, but there were occasions where I was at least say a bit apprehensive but all I wanted to do is make sure I bombed the target, got rid of the bombs and, once the plane had got rid of its bombs, it was much lighter and more flyable and the skipper was able to put a few more knots on the airspeed and get out of the target area. And then after it was quietness, the engines were still running, which is the main thing, and on one occasion I do remember the flight engineer saying to the skipper that he didn’t think we’ve got enough fuel to get back and the pilot said to him, well, Burt, do your sums again, check your sums, you never could do your sums properly [laughs], so we laughed about that but in fact the engineer was quite right, we made an emergency landing at RAF Manston and the time we landed on this emergency landing ground, the time we got to the end of the runway, all the engines had stopped and we found out there was a, a lump of flak had hit one of the main tanks and we had lost a lot of fuel but we managed to get near by the skin of our teeth in a way. And anyway they repaired the aircraft, fuelled us up and we reported back to Spilsby that we were on our way back and all was over, all was done. That’s about the only experience we had of flak hitting the aircraft. Never felt a thing.
GC: So you said that was the only time that, did you have any sort of real close calls, was there any incident [unclear]
LRT: No, no, I’d, we saw night fighters but the trouble is if you saw a night fighter coming towards you and you are going toward him, the speed we were both going would probably get up to about four or five hundred miles an hour so we [makes a whooshing sound] you’re gone, you gotta be good eyesight for that but I mean all the aircrew had to have good night vision for that very purpose and the only plane I ever saw, was a German fighter near Sweden and he missed us and I said to the pilot, I’ve just seen a night fighter, get into the nearest cloud and which we did and but that was on the way back from Dresden. That was the longest trip of the war, nine hours fifty five minutes, most of that was over water but a very long trip but again the engines never failed us and mighty glad to get back on the ground again [laughs].
GC: I mean, you obviously required some variety of ops, was the danger different between a day op and a night op?
LRT: Well, at daylight you could see a lot more activity, you could see all the planes from Bomber Command all around you, or especially some above you, with all the bomb doors open [laughs], and though I think probably in daylights were just as hectic if not, also because you knew what was above you, and all depends what you are flying, bombing height was, cause I mean, bombing height varied from about twenty thousand down to about fourteen I suppose, you’re in layers and we all had TOT, Time on Target and they are very strict regarding timing and navigator slopes and they were all taken in and checked by the bomb navigation leader and if your navigation was out, you was having a day off you had to go on perhaps a cross country exercise to make you more efficient. But that was part of the course, part of the course.
GC: I know it’s a slightly personal question, but as a crew on as the job you were doing, how did you feel about what you were doing, knowing that what you was bombing, I know there was a variety of targets?
LRT: I don’t’ think that never came into as, I don’t think our conscience pricked us, alright, in wartime, civilian casualties were high, both to this country and across Europe, unfortunately people do get killed, but I have no regrets, no regrets, I, we were given a task by Bomber Harris and we carried out the duties he allotted to us, that’s all I gotta say.
GC: Let’s change tack. After Europe, you went to India. Tell me a little bit about India.
LRT: Well, That was an admin job really, mostly of some security cause at that time the Indians wanted the British out of India, so you had to be a little bit careful but I thoroughly enjoyed my time out in India because it’s such a vast country and I got on well with the Indian people, although while I was out there I never had a curry, it wasn’t until after the war I enjoyed a curry in this country, but I never had curry in the country, but while you were over there you had your own bearer and you had to pay him so much a week and I remember when my time come to say goodbye to Johnny, I said: “well, I‘m going now, Johnny, thank you very much for looking after me.” He was used to bringing tea and sandwiches first thing in the morning, prepare a bath for me, do my washing and ironing, I mean, I changed shirts about twice or three times a day, but in [unclear] I said, you can have all my loose change, and I think he thought he was a rich man [laughs], cause he had a wife and family to look after but that was the going rate to pay the bearer so much a day but I mean a rupee wasn’t much in those days but he could have [unclear] money but at any rate I was to sorry to say goodbye to him and going through the Suez canal. The roughest part of the sea journey there was going through the Bay of Biscay, with a little bit of up and down to say the least.
GC: That must be a bit different from
LRT: From flying
GC: From flying [laughs]
LRT: Oh yeah, very much so. But fortunately for us on our table, we got allocated a table and the captain of the ship, that was his table, we got to know him quite well, a right old sea dog but in the end he mellowed a little bit and invited us up to the, where he used to command the ship and we could see all the equipment that was there and, yeah, very, very entertaining, otherwise it was a question of playing the same game of solo, all through three weeks going through the various waterways [laughs].
GC: After service, after war or peace was declared, how did you feel when you found out that it was all over?
LRT: Well, it took a little bit of time to resettle because my mother said, you can’t settle down yet, you know, it’s a bit odd, up and down, up and down, always on the go, and but I didn’t even see it at the time coming, I settle down, and I thought, well, I’m not gonna give up the Air Force completely and that’s when I volunteered to offer my services with the air cadets and once a year I used to go back to the Royal Air Force taking air cadets to camp, which was rather nice and of course they knew I’d been in the Royal Air Force cause you got your wing and you got your medals, ribbons up and I said, well, what can we do to give you a better week? I said, oh, nothing, I said, well, what I would like is for the best cadet to have a flight perhaps in a jet if that can be arranged, oh yeah, we can do that for you, sometimes I would say, well, I’ve got a problem, I’ve got three cadets, I can’t differentiate between the three, oh, go on then, we can build a rise, so I said, I thought, well, you gotta be a good scrounger to be in the Air Force and he said, what else do you want, I said, I want some, take some topographical maps and plotting maps back to the squadron, so and teach the cadets navigation and so I used to come back with a few maps and a few bits and bobs and yes, we found very good the RAF officers who were then permanent commission officers, they were very kind to us, very thoughtful and knew what we were doing because we were training up air cadets who ultimately would become officers in the Royal Air Force and quite a few cadets I trained, I bumped into from time to time. I had to go down to Lyneham on a visit once and who should I meet in the control tower? Hastings aircraft was one of my cadets and he was a squadron leader. And he said, thank you sir for looking after me, for what you’ve done, here I am in charge of Hastings aircraft and I said, well, that makes it all worthwhile, you know, the time you’ve given up, hundreds and hundreds of hours, but the fact is that cadets may degrade and they become a better boy or girl, that’s worth it. That’s my philosophy.
GC: It must have been nice for them to have someone who served of your calibre [unclear] who gave them some
LRT: Yes, well, at that time, there were talks about 1946 time, a lot of aircrew officers had gone back to the air training corps and injected a little bit of wartime spirit and with their experiences they could relay perhaps a way of getting to learn a certain point in their training and unfortunately they [unclear] came 1955 the Air Force said, out you go, but they, I think, after they got rid of that, they filled a vacuum and there was left quite shortage of officers then but that the rules of MOD and that was it. But anyway I carried on as chairman for a bit longer and then eventually became president but you know it’s only just recently I’ve given that up because my wife is still in a nursing home so I gotta try and visit her at least two or three times a week. Because that’s, last year’s been hectic from one point of view to another.
GC: And then you get me asking you questions.
LRT: Hey?
GC: I said, and then you get me asking you questions.
LRT: Oh, that’s.
GC: You said you was really lucky when you flew on the Lancaster, you didn’t have any close calls, did you have a superstition or a ritual before you got in the plane?
LRT: No, the only thing I carried with me, cause you couldn’t carry the necktie, shirt and tie because, collar and tie because in case you came down in the water, I had an old neckerchief and it was a maroon one with little scotty dogs on and I flew with it every time. And it’s still upstairs and I haven’t washed it, it’s still got the smell of Lancaster on I think [laughs].
GC: Oh, what does the Lancaster smell like?
LRT: Well, a mixture of petrol fumes and metallic colour smells but grand old lady, grand old lady, I know, and whenever I see the or hear Merlin engines I know what it is. And about two years ago the RAF Association tried to assemble a wartime Lancaster bomber crew. And they managed to find about eight of us and we were taken up to Thurrock in Essex where many then took us all the way to Coningsby, at the Battle of Britain station and the, they made us so welcome there, the Lancaster was outside and I said, well after a comfort break and a cup of coffee all the national press are outside and they want to interview you separately and blah blah blah. And we were there for about four or five hours, you know, they took pictures and I got a beautiful picture of us outside the Lancaster, some poor old boys with sticks, one into an armchair, wheelchair rather [laughs] but they did treat us royally, they said, well, we gotta, we gonna fly a Spitfire for us so you can hear the Merlin engine and the pilot came down after he’d done a few low swoops and he said, what is that boys? Well, I said, we flew in a Lancaster [laughs], he laughs, he said, you on a Dam buster, I said, no. And I said, we used to fly over the British trawlers in the North Sea sometimes so let’s beat them up and we should get down to about fifty feet and waggle our tail at them and they used to wave back and but I said, that was that and [unclear], before you go, I’ll show you that picture.
GC: That would be nice. I have heard that Lancaster crews had the habit of flying very low.
LRT: Oh yeah.
GC: It was a, one of those things
LRT: My skipper used to like fly with one wing in the cloud and one wing out and you caught a [unclear] speed like that, you know.
GC: Considering it was a big plane then, with four engines, she sounds like she was quite agile?
LRT: Oh, very much so, very, the pilot loved the aircraft because he was a good pilot but very responsive, very flexible, I mean, he could always bank at about like that, and even if he was dropping bombs and it wasn’t quite straight level it didn’t matter because the Mark 14 bombsight compensated for when using a slight bank or dive or climb, it didn’t make any difference, cause you’re [unclear] controlled.
GC: I was talking to someone recently and he was a pilot of a Lancaster and he went to Coningsby and the BBMF guide was there and they had quite a long conversation and he was really jealous. He said, cause I only get to fly at flats and he asked him what it was like to go into a corkscrew and the BBMF it was like been told that Santa Claus existed.
LRT: Yes, we did the fivescrew, 5 Group corkscrew was, up port, up starboard, down port, down starboard, gawd dear oh dear your stomach used to come up to here, you know, and the roaring engines, God, I thought, surely the wings are gonna come off in a minute but, no, they made the aircraft well and as I said, the ground crew looked after us well, so.
GC: I had heard again, people say that the plane didn’t belong to you, it was
LRT: Belonged to everybody, belonged to the ground crew, is that my crew photograph over there,
GC: I’d like to get a picture of that. So it was a real team, everybody was
LRT: One hundred percent, well, a hundred and ten percent I would say.
GC: Wonderful, I’m gonna put on pause.


Gemma Clapton, “Interview with Leonard Ralph Tyrell,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 22, 2024,

Item Relations

This item has no relations.