Interview with Murray Valentine


Interview with Murray Valentine


Murray Valentine was a wireless operator with 61 Squadron and 617 Squadron. He describes his duties as well as his job on board the Lancasters on bombing operations. He recalls going to an operational training unit and flying Wellingtons for three months before going on to Stirlings. His longest operation was to Königsberg, East Prussia which took over ten hours. He recalls his pilot always said, ‘Here we go,’ as they embarked on their operations. Towards the end of the war, he met Barnes Wallis whilst dropping the Grand Slam. Twenty years later, he met Barnes Wallis again at RAF Brampton.




Temporal Coverage




00:17:25 audio recording

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AP: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Andrew Panton, the interviewee is Murray Valentine. The interview is taking place at The Office Bar in Seaford, and the date of the interview is the 31st of July 2015. What were your duties and responsibilities as the wireless op?
MV: Well, receiving more than transmitting because transmitting made you eligible to be fired at. You had headquarter main line broadcast made about every quarter of an hour which told you what you were doing, and gave you the exact conditions, the weather, and you got home. That broadcast, as I say, every quarter of an hour. Also, of course your main thing was if you were shot down and, in the water, you had all facilities for transmitting and making yourself available and position at sea in a dingy. Fortunately, I had no occasion for any of these things, but we did have one occasion when we had a fin shot off by a night fighter and we- There again did not have to make an emergency, emergency transmission. So, with all the weather reports and positionings sent to us from the mainland, you had to pick them up every quarter of an hour and pass them to the captain, so the rest of the crew knew where we were.
AP: Were there any other duties that you were expected to do as the wireless op? Anything else you did in the aircraft?
MV: Well, are you referring to the-
AP: The Lancaster.
MV: Yes, when we dropped the ten tonner or the twelve-thousand pounder, winding in the retaining arms. If we had the Lancaster that did not have a- bomb doors that closed, you just made sure the arms were retracted and the aircraft was ready to return home. Once I was standing above the bomb when- Just before the bomb was released and the next thing, I was raised up and my head touched the ceiling of the Lancaster [chuckles], the weight of the aircraft releasing the weight of the bomb, which caused some significant distress to most of the crew, but particularly myself because I was standing there, about to open the bomb doors above the bomb as it went.
AP: How did the aircraft feel on take-off? Was it any different with that huge bomb?
MV: No, it- The pilots used to- Mentioned the fact that it was quite a thing to get off the ground with a heavy weight on it. You could feel the air- The engine straining and the aircraft straining to get off the ground but, in actual fact in the air, as far as the aircraft's movements and its aptitude, was just about the same. Well, I would say it was just like the twelve-thousand pounder, you took post when the bomb aimer went forward, or he was already forward saying, ‘We’re coming up to the bombing run’, and he would say- Give the pilot orders, ‘Left, left, right, right, steady, bomb gone’, and as it went you suddenly found yourself in mid-air going up to the ceiling as you returned of course you made an effort to get the grab things in [unclear] so that you get back to your, get back to your radio set because time was- Show, you’ve- have a broadcast coming from home would be almost due because you’d been out of your seat for quarter of an hour almost. And then, eventually you went to operational training unit, Wellingtons, where one day a pilot came up to me and said, ‘Are you- Have you got a crew?’, I said, ‘No, sir’, ‘cause I was flight sergeant then, he said, ‘Would you like to join me?’, which I said, ‘Yes’, and then we went from there to a, continued flying there for about three months on Wellingtons and then we left there and went to Stirlings, then we finished up with Lancaster finishing school for a fortnight and then to a squadron.
AP: And that- Was that 61 Squadron? Was that 6-
MV: In those days it was. Skellingthorpe, just outside of Lincoln. I’ve been there and seen them, they’ve got some recollection of it all but not much, but it was a station that did heavy bombing, from Bomber Command. All those stations there, Skellingthorpe, and two others- three round there, just outside of Lincoln.
AP: Was the weather ever foggy? Did you ever have to land with FIDO or any of those DRAM systems?
MV: We’d be diverted back home, that’s why it was important to get your quarter of an hour message ‘cause you might be diverted. There might be clamping[?] at Woodhall Spa and, or Skellingthorpe, and you would land away, probably only for one night, two nights, for a dance in the town, jolly good.
AP: And- But was that when the weather was bad at Woodhall Spa, you’d land somewhere else?
MV: Oh yes. You were diverted. Yes, you were diverted and you came back to the pilot, ‘Pilot, sir we’ve just had a- radio operator to pilot, we’ve just had a diversion’, ‘Alright thank you, navigator to pilot, he’s aware you’ve got the steer[?], we’re going to land at so-and-so’. All very- Everything is that you’re all very trained.
AP: Very, very, very trained, and the last point I wanted to ask is joining 617 Squadron, could you say a little bit about that transfer from 61 Squadron to 617, how it happened?
MV: Well, my pilot decide he wasn’t going home ‘cause he’d had a Dear John from his fiancé of three years, and I had just been commissioned so things were altering very much for me, having become an officer, and I came- We diverted back home, that's why it was important to get your quarter of an hour message ‘cause you might be diverted. There might be clamping at Woodhall Spa and- Or Skellingthorpe and you would land away, probably only for one night, two nights, for a dance in the town, jolly good.
AP: Transfer from 61 Squadron to 617, how it happened?
MV: Well, my pilot decide he wasn’t going home ‘cause he’d had a Dear John from his fiancé of three years, and I had just been commissioned so things were altering very much for me, having become an officer, and I came- We came back off leave and reported to the, to the old Skellingthorpe and we were taken by coach to Woodhall Spa, which was quite amazing to me, all very different. However, the fact what we were going to do operationally was also going to be very very interesting.
AP: What were the briefings like? Can you remember anything about the briefings that you had with 617? Targets and-
MV: Well, any, any target you went into, you, you tried to find out from your ground crew what the bomb load was, what the petrol load was and when you went to the- You had your, your briefing on radio, then you went into general briefing and they had, they had a blackboard and the briefing officer would stand up and say, ‘Gentlemen, it’s going to be a long night. Hamburg.’ ‘Woah’, you’d hear. Or, ‘It’s just to the French coast’, but whatever happens anywhere in Germany was always a heavy task because, you had- You were fired at all the way from the French coast into Germany and then when you got to Germany you really got the firing.
AP: And once you’d had to briefing, what happened between then and getting on the aircraft?
MV: Well, you’re all thoroughly briefed and highly secure, so you were just taken to coaches outside or- I think they were coaches, and driven out to your aircraft and boarded the aircraft and the pilot would then taxi as ordered on intercom, from flight control.
AP: Was anybody at the caravan waving you off or?
MV: No, not till you came round. You were called forward, and this was done by bright aldis lamps.
AP: So, like green, green?
MV: Yes, and as you’d- You’d probably in line taxi round, came round, and the pilot would say nothing more than, ‘B Baker taking, coming forward now,’ [unclear].
AP: What’s it like when he put full throttle back and the thing went down the runway?
MV: Quite exciting really because the- you’ve got a bomb load on, it’s entirely different to going on a, a flying training trip, the pilot was like, ‘Right, wireless operator, gunner one, gunner two, navigator, bomb aimer, that’s it, right here we go then’. He always used to do that my pilot, ‘Here we go then’. You feel the brakes go on, power of the engines revving and then the brakes let off and forward you go. ‘Here we go’.
AP: Was that then, standard Merlin?
MV: Yes, oh yes, four of those, even with the brakes on and the pilot would put forward his own feeling that the engineer would hold his hands to feel and the pilot would then let the handbrake off and away we go, ‘Right gentlemen, say cheerio to everybody, here we go’, our pilot used to say. ‘Here we go’.
AP: How long did it used to take to get up to your operating?
MV: Oh, I don’t know, probably- we- to get- we used to get to operational height before we really set course. So, we’d be over the- Near the airfield for an hour, to get- Oh yes circling, to get at [unclear] to get [unclear] and this, then the navigator said, ‘Are you ready? Now set 020’, or whatever it was and he said, ‘Right, pilot to navigator, on course’.
AP: And, did you eat or drink anything on those trips? They were long trips, weren’t they?
MV: Not really, we did, we did have something, I can’t remember what it was [chuckles], but we did have a thermos flask, all this of course was in case you happened to ditch, bail out, you see. If it was- It was- If they said, the raid is five hours, six hours, the longest we did was to Königsberg, East Prussia, ten hours twenty-five. Long trip.
AP: And was it cold?
MV: Not really, no. The heating used to be down by the radio operator, the heating, although people used to wear a certain amount but you didn’t wear the- Towards the end of the war we weren’t wearing the flying clothing they showed in the old days. Reliable but not particularly comfortable, was the Wellington. It was a geodetic construction with a cloth over outside. But it’s interesting to see the bomber command memorial, I haven’t seen it, opposite the RAF club in Piccadilly. It’s got geodetic construction across the ceiling, and who invented the geodetic construction? Barnes Wallis. They said- Many people have flown in Wellington and Halifaxes and it twisted and- but it didn’t fall to pieces, the geodetic construction. But I met him when we were dropping the Grand Slam for some reason (I wasn’t all that younger than the others) I was brought forward and introduced to him, and he said, ‘Take it easy son’, I [chuckles] ‘We have to take it easy Mr Wallis’, and we had a bit of a chat and that’s it. Then I, about twenty years later, I was at Brampton- Yes, RAF Brampton, and he was there as a guest of honour for the squadron, squadron reunion, and I mentioned I had met him before and I'd like to meet him again, and I was brought forward and I said, ‘Hello Mr Wallis, you won’t remember me, I met you when we were dropping the Grand Slam.’ ‘Oh but I do remember you’, and I've told that to his daughter, and I told it to his son, and his daughter said, ‘Course dad would, he wouldn’t forget anything on- In principle’. If the Lancaster was suddenly- I went to see one at- After the war, at the Battle of Britain memorial flight and it- We went to see- They have a special place to show the Lancasters, just got one left now, where it landed, and I went there with my father-in-law and he said, ‘Murray you’ve got tears in your eyes’, and of course, yes, you spent a lot of time in- Yes it could be hot, it could be cold and I- On occasions I'd look back, I was going on operation in- Take my battle dress off and have a- Myself in shirt sleeves regardless of the outcome, if I had to leave the aircraft suddenly. One was there doing a job and that was it.



Andrew Panton, “Interview with Murray Valentine,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 29, 2023,

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