Interview with Jack Delfosse

Title

Interview with Jack Delfosse

Description

Jack was born in London and went to Highgate School where he learnt navigation, Morse code and marching. On leaving he became a medical student but left half way through the course. He then joined the Royal Air Force and initially trained on Harvards in Northampton. After gaining his pilot qualification, he flew Wellingtons before joining 619 Squadron with Lancaster bombers. Jack had carried out about 20 to 25 operations, including a raid bombing V-1 launch ramps. After the war Jack went to Silver City working as a pilot for a while. He moved to Folkestone and met his wife at his parents’ shop, they eventually married and had three children. She left Jack when the children were still young and he brought them up.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2017-07-27

Contributor

Julie Williams

Rights

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 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

00:37:09 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AVanDammeJEC170727, PDelfosseJEC1701

Coverage

Transcription

CJ: This is Chris Johnson and I’m interviewing John Edward Charles Delfosse today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We are at a residential home in Hythe, Kent and it’s Thursday 27th of July 2017. Also present at the interview is John’s daughter, Cara. Well, thanks very much for agreeing to talk to us today. So could we start please perhaps by you telling us where and when you were born and what the family background was?
JD: The family background. My father was a lieutenant in the Belgian Army on the left of the canal at Yser. The Germans were on one side and the Belgians held it right down to Nieuwpoort. And then the Germans had smashed Ypres so badly, you know all the they had Vickers machine guns which kept them. They just chucked the bodies in to the river. All covered with the blood all over. And the Belgians had to take over the whole of the line. The whole load. Look after their you know, father had Vickers machine guns. And then when the Second World War started he said, ‘I don’t want you to be involved in any military action like that. I want you to get a Reserved Occupation.’ So, I said, ‘Fair enough.’ We went down to Paddington Moor Hospital and Dr Moran who was afterwards the physician who used to accompany Churchill every visit. Flew, he flew all over the world with Dr Moran. I became a medical student. I got half way through the course and then they gave me the leg of a girl to dissect. It was stuffed and it was kept so bad I said ‘God, I can’t stick this. I’m not going to.’ And I walked out. I finished medical stuff. I walked straight on to the tube down to Euston House, to the basement where RAF recruiting was taking place. There were ten other chaps there and we got through all the tests. Eye tests, colour blindness.
Other: Dad.
JD: Teeth, ears, all the rest of it.
Other: Where were you brought up?
JD: Hmmn?
Other: Where were brought up?
JD: Highgate School.
Other: Ok. So —
JD: And a prep school first where they got us prepared for entry into Highgate.
Other: And where were you born?
JD: In Crouch End. In South East err North East London.
Other: Ok.
JD: Crouch End.
Other: And where were mum and dad from? Your mum and dad.
JD: They were both born in Ghent.
Other: Belgium.
JD: In Belgium. But that was long before the First World War.
Other: Yeah. We’re just talking about you. What happened when you were growing up? So, when you were growing up where did you used to go?
JD: I went to Highgate School. And I got passed out.
Other: You used to go to Belgium a lot didn’t you?
JD: Oh yes. We —
Other: For holidays.
JD: Every holiday. We had a villa in Le Zoute. Right up against the Dutch border. We spent every single holiday there. Now, what else?
Other: And your mum. What happened with grandad and grandma? They, they ended up coming to England, didn’t they? From Belgium.
JD: Yeah. Well, my father said, ‘I’ve seen so much here and the Germans will be back again. You just wait. We’re going to sell and live in England.’ So we set up. We had a house in Folkestone and lived there for quite a time until the Second World War. And then the Second World War he said, ‘I don’t want you to join any military force.’ And I was a med student as I told you. But then I couldn’t stick it and I went down to Euston House, in the basement and volunteered. Passed all the tests. And there were, in the end there was a board of four senior officers, well decorated. Two in front and two on the side. And they said, ‘Why do you want to fly?’ I said, ‘I’ve already learned to fly with my grandfather’s Stinson Reliant.’ And he said, ‘Where did you go to school?’ I said, ‘Highgate. Just up the hill from here.’ And one of them stood up and said, ‘He’s alright. He’s an old Cholmeleians.’ And that was it. I was in.
CJ: So, so you chose the RAF because you could already fly.
JD: Yeah. And they said we haven’t got enough training schools available. Go back to your local aerodrome in [unclear] . We’ll give you a badge with RAF VR on it and the teachers locally teach all the kids their navigation, Morse code, marching. An RAF bloke taught the marching. And I was there for about, oh about a year and then the brown letter arrived, “Report to Viceroy Court.” And I reported early in the morning. I had the number 27 bus going near our house which went straight past there. Very good. In the basement of Viceroy Court there was a big dip down where they had a car park. It was all benches so, breakfast. Cooking. Went down there and they gave us a meal straight away. And I sat opposite Richard Attenborough. The actor who’d been in, “Brighton Rock,” you know. And I said, ‘What are you doing here?’ He said, ‘I’m volunteering.’ I said, ‘Well, you’re a bit short aren’t you?’ But he ended up at Manby as a, trained as a rear gunner until the Air Ministry realised that he had this acting ability and they made propaganda films with him to show, you know what happens if a member of a member of the crew is a coward and lets the rest down and things like that. And this was up at Heaton Park. We had to stand with capes, ground capes on us. It was pouring with rain. They sprayed water on us to indicate the rain because it’s always raining up there. Got soaked to the skin. And there we are.
CJ: So that was your initial training. And then —
JD: Initial training. And then at Heaton Park as I say was a step up, you know. They had various hut assortments. I was [pause] I put, was put in a hut. One side we had us RAF VR blokes and the others were University Air Squadron blokes and they thought they were a bit, bit upper class even though I’d been to university myself. Anyway, I refused to, I got the cigarette ash thing in the tea in the morning every time a draft came up because I wouldn’t cross the Atlantic with the submarines. And eventually there was, on the [pause] the corporal noticed on my docs that I’d been a medical student. He said, ‘So, you’re good at carving with a knife.’ He said, ‘Report up to the master butcher.’ A tiny room at the top. Big boxes, wide boxes, square boxes — lambs’ liver from New Zealand, and he said, ‘Carve those up before lunch.’ Gave me big boots and an apron and all the rest of it. And I did and they took them off me and they went to the WAAFs who did the cooking.
CJ: Sorry. Could you just explain the, why you were putting cigarette ash in your tea?
JD: Yeah. Well, that was to get off from, get the heart attack, the heart beating. It appears to be like a heart attack but of course it isn’t. To get me off the draft, you know. I didn’t want to cross a submarine. They’d had to, they used pre-war liners and they used to put the Italian and German prisoners right at the bottom. The aircrew on the top. Training air crew on the top and they’d lost one or two of those and they’d all gone down. So, naturally I wasn’t very keen. So that’s what it is.
CJ: So how did the training continue then after you’d finished carving up the meat?
JD: Well, I got that down to the hut and joined my unit. And they said they wanted volunteers for a new type of training. Air Ministry training type C. So, I and my best friend Ginger Brookes, a bright red-haired fellow we went and volunteered for that. And they put us on a train to Ansty, Northampton. And we were stuck in a hut there. The university one side and us the other side. And lower down there the three Free French pilots who had already trained as pilots but they had to go for some training to learn English commands and things like that. I could speak French and I got on very well with them. Anyhow, we, we’d taken part our air bus err aircrew bus to a little short field by the side of a road near a farm and if you got through in four hours, went solo within four hours you were naturally a pilot. You know. You passed as pilot. And we only had one bloke who didn’t. He landed on top of another Tiger Moth and he was chucked out straightaway [laughs] Later I heard he was a Commissioner for Refugees and he was with the United Nations. He was a Danish bloke. And then we went up to Church Lawford. And when we arrived we could see these fifteen Harvards. You know, camouflaged and yellow underneath. And they gave us wonderful training up there. The first instructor I had was a chap called Duck. A very pale fellow. Unfortunately, every time that other people saw him in my aircraft they would go, ‘Quack. Quack. Quack. Quack.’ And he applied for a transfer and we got another one. A chap who had been a warrant officer in the Battle of Britain. And he was really nice. Really good. And he, he one day there was clamp on and he said, ‘Jump in the back and I’ll fly from the front.’ And he took off and we climbed in the mist and tight turns, circled around up like that. He counted the numbers of seconds the runway was on went straight back down and lo and behold the runway was right in front of us. Came down in one piece. Fantastic. He was the best instructor I ever had. Warrant officer. And then after that we got our wings. Air Marshal Inglis. And he said, as he pinned the wings on you he said, ‘Congratulations. You’ve saved us so much money. What do you want to apply to go on to later on? I said, ‘Well, I want to be an airline pilot after the war.’ So he said, ‘Alright. We’ll put you on bombers. There were two of us [unclear] and we passed out and I went to 21 OTU at Moreton in the Marsh which is along, it’s called the Fosse Way. Delfosse [laughs] we got to, they were using old Wellingtons that had been in the desert and if you landed heavily all the sand came up in your eyes [laughs] all the time. Well, one day one of these Wimpies it came in and I could, I could see the roads from Moreton in the Marsh to Chipping Campden. And they had a graveyard there. All the white crosses [unclear] time, and the engine coughed. And I got it down safely and I reported this to the engine bloke. And he said, ‘Impossible,’ he said, ‘I checked it personally.’ I said, ‘Well, it happened. I can assure you.’ And that afternoon we did ground training and another crew took over. And the crew who took over were a Cranwell trained bloke. And when they came back in the evening we could hear them going over and suddenly there was an enormous bang and crash and it burst in to flames at the back of Chipping Campden. And I thought, my God. That’s a stroke of luck. You know. Sheer luck again. And after that went on to the Lancaster training place near Rutland. You know, up on the hill there was a Conversion Unit. And I was on 619 Squadron. We were trained as a back up to 617. And we did all the training with 617 including getting the leaves and branches in the air intakes, you know. Hitting the target of water over Derwent water and climbing up quickly from the hills. And then they did their job and we were very sad for them of course. They did the job even though they lost the, about twenty eight men in the process. Then they, we did the Eder Dam. Guy Gibson. He led them through this. There was a church on the hill and a very difficult approach. But the bloke who did it had to try thirteen times and he eventually hit the dam and broke it. But the trouble was the water flowed down a long, an enormous volume of water went down and there was a Russian prisoner of war camp there and they were all, ten thousand of them they couldn’t get out. They were drowned. Just like that. What a waste of life. And we were very sad for them. And afterwards they, the London and the south coast were being bombarded by the V-1s and V-2 rockets and me and another chap who knew the French coast pretty well. We could speak French. We volunteered to go and see if we could destroy them. And we, the Resistance would send the coordinates and it might be in a farmyard building or if one place was in rogue village with canvas over the top. And we managed to knock out most of them. The other bloke he and I eventually got the whole lot knocked out. And then the Germans ended up on the coast in Holland. Pushed further back by the Canadians and the Air Force. And they started bombarding the Antwerp docks. In the process they had these unstable rockets. Very short range. And they must have hit Antwerp itself and lots of blokes were killed in Antwerp. People anyway. Men, women and children. So that was inevitable of course. And then after that, after the war that’s when I went on Silver City’s.
CJ: So do you remember, just coming back to the wartime do you remember how many operations you flew?
JD: Oh, it must have been about twenty. Twenty five. Something like that. And —
CJ: And apart from the Eder Dam are there any of the operations that particularly stand out? Any difficult ones or —
JD: No. We were very lucky you know. We got, you could always see. There was a ramp for the V-1s. And you could see that because they had four round pitch with forty millimetre Oerlikon guns. But they didn’t open up until it was apparent that you had actually found it. And when you flew along the line there was a better chance of hitting if you fly up the line then across it. They found that when they got to the Falklands and that only got the one bomb on the runway. So, we knocked all those out. And after the war I went to Silver City Airways really.
CJ: So, could you tell us about Silver City? Where you were flying from and what the aircraft were?
JD: Yeah.
CJ: And where you were going?
JD: It was the Bristol freighters that they’d used in Australia to get cows frozen in the farms direct. Stuck in these freighters. Take them down to Sydney. Put them on the ships to bring to, feed the people in England, you know, during the war. And then the Silver City realised after the war there was a lot, a lot of money to be had flying these film stars and various famous people like Peter Townsend. Margaret’s boyfriend. I actually went around the corner and nearly knocked him over [laughs] And anyway in the back of the aircraft you know there were all these cigarettes, boxes full of cigarettes. It was the flight attendants duty to sell as many cigarettes as possible. And one day the flight attendant was crawling over these cars. There was a racing green Bentley and he looked down and he thought what I wouldn’t give for that racing green Bentley, and the seat next door had a cushion, a bit of white sticking out. He pulled it out. Hundreds of hundred pound banknotes. They were — a hundred pound banknotes were rare things in those days. And he set up a garage in, in — what’s the town now? Not [unclear] but the one next door. I can’t remember the name of it. The garage is still there. Absolutely amazing.
CJ: So, the aircraft were carrying passengers and cars.
JD: Oh yeah. Passengers and cars. And one of the tricks was as you — there were special crew who unloaded the cars. They’d unload them and would deliberately bang them so the exhaust dropped off. I used to go in a café there and I’d pick up two bottles of [unclear] cheap red wine, bring it back and eventually I built up a wonderful collection of wine at home.
Other: What about times, dad when you were in the RAF. You know, when you used to fly low with, to say hello to some of your girlfriends or — [pause] remember?
JD: Oh, yeah. We used to. When I was on the training with the Harvards we’d fly down the canals you know. Before Wittering. And the land falls away. It’s full of canals. And we would fly low and chuck this, we’d come up a bank and the Land Girls there would chuck toilet paper at them. Just to let us know that we’d been there. They got a lot of free toilet paper those girls.
CJ: And on, sorry just coming back to the raids that you, where you were bombing the V-1 launch ramps.
JD: Yeah.
CJ: I take it this would be low level with just a small number of aircraft was it?
JD: Yeah. I think one aircraft at a time used to do that and if you spotted the glint of the thing you made sure that you climbed up. That’s when they opened up on you. But luckily we just got a few holes in it. And we saw the bombs actually explode all the way up the ramp to destroy it.
CJ: And was there ever any fighter activity around the ramps?
JD: No.
CJ: Or were they not expecting you because it was a single aircraft.
JD: No. They’d lost so many fighters by that time that they hadn’t got that many left. Mind you there’s a few very good examples of FW 190s and 190s restored. My son found them in a museum in Southern Germany. Masses of German aircraft in there. Completely restored.
CJ: Ok. So you were working with Silver City. So you were flying as a pilot then.
JD: I was a pilot.
CJ: Yeah.
JD: And the chap next door on one trip we had Carolyn was in a carry cot on my assistant’s knee. She was in a carry cot. A little tiny baby. And then that was because I’d flown for Silver City before and I had a complimentary free pass, you know, to do that.
CJ: And where were you flying from and to?
JD: Oh, Silver City’s were flying from Lydd. A metalised runway. And we used to do one, two trips to Le Touquet. The third trip was to Ostend err to Calais and then the fourth trip was to Ostend but we had to climb up because there was anti-aircraft. Belgian anti-aircraft gun training area. And you went right up and then you had to come right down ,land at Ostend and many of the people in the cars they were warned not to drive on the left. But of course they forgot and they drove on the left. And the next time you come around you’d find dozens of cars wrecked completely. Head on collisions. Brought back again. Oh dear.
CJ: And so when, when did you leave Silver City?
JD: I left Silver City oh after about, they moved to, to Southend Airport with the larger DC4s that could, they could lift them up and put about twenty cars in. And that was when I left Silver City’s. I wasn’t — it was too far to drive.
Other: One very important thing. What about who did you marry?
JD: Oh, I married a girl in the Westminster place where all the film stars married. There’s a photograph of her. Me in a lovely suit. And —
Other: How did you meet her?
JD: She worked at my parent’s pet shop.
Other: In Folkestone.
JD: And I’d broken my —I was in the drawing office at De Havilland. We were designing the Comet. I was electrical port inspector where two parts were clashing together. And I was, I’d broken my arm and I was up in the, my attic room and this girl came up with a cup of tea. And I thought oh she’s a nice looking girl, you know. When it was healed I got my car out and we went all over the place in the car. And then we got married in this place where the film stars are. But her, her, my father wouldn’t come to it because he knew she was a bit of a flirty type. And the wedding reception was held in Castle Hill Avenue, paid for by the mother. And I had a big caravan then and I knew she loved cats and we used to, I drove her to the zoo at Beach Bourn and we looked at all these tigers and leopards and panthers and things like that. Great time we had. And —
Other: How long were you married for dad?
JD: Hmmn?
Other: How long were you married for?
JD: Leonie?
Other: To Leonie. Yeah.
JD: Well, we had two girls first and then she suddenly disappeared. Where she was. Where she went to. We found out later that she met an IRA man who knew she had money from her grandmother. Her grandmother was a wealthy woman. And presumably she’s still in — what’s the name of the town in Ireland? Main town in Ireland.
Other: Belfast.
JD: She’s in — hmmn?
Other: Belfast or Dublin.
JD: Dublin. That’s right. She’s either running a dress shop or she’s lying at the bottom of the River Liffey because they pinched all her money. That’s all they were after.
Other: You’ve got a son. So you had three children.
JD: Yeah. Later on.
Other: How old were they when she left?
JD: When she left you were, you were still very young. Still very young.
Other: David was three.
JD: Yeah.
Other: I was four and Pat was seven.
JD: Patricia was the oldest. You were second and David was very very young. I knew I had a house which was on where they had been the last V-2 to land in Folkestone had hit. And there was a school right across the road. So in the morning I gave them a good breakfast. Then went across to school. Had lunch at school. In the evening came back. Good supper. Bath and all the rest of it.
Other: So you brought up three kids by yourself.
JD: Oh yeah.
Other: That’s fine.
JD: Bathed them and then put them to bed. And repeated the process day after day.
CJ: And you said you’d been working as a draughtsman for De Havilland on the Comet. So what work were you doing after that that brought you to Folkestone?
JD: Well, when the Comets crashed it didn’t appear to be any good staying locally there so I came back to Folkestone and settled down with my parents in a, in a second floor flat. You know the road that goes to the motorway now. That was a gravel road and then there was the golf course on the right. And we lived there. The chap who lived above us with his Scottish wife was an estate agent in Hythe. He died and I’d meet her you know, the Scottish lady, in the town. We were great friends. Had meals together and things like that. You know, took her out to lunch. There’s a model of the Lancasters on the window ledge there.
CJ: And after the war did you manage to keep in touch with any of your old crew members?
JD: Yeah. I was going, I went up to London for an interview for a job and on the way back had to wait in the train so I went in to the cafeteria. And I was sitting at, on my table and across the other side suddenly there’s Stan Lewis. My rear gunner. Sitting there. And I’d saved his life in the, in the training over Bristol Channel. You know, they, we used to go over the Bristol Channel and wave the aircraft backward and forward and he used to always shoot the drogue down with depressing ease. And one day we were over the Bristol Channel and he didn’t reply. So I sent one of the other chaps back to see. He was blue in the face so, I dived immediately straight down below ten thousand. Got some air in him and he told his wife, ‘That’s the man who saved my life. I wouldn’t be here now today if it hadn’t been for him.’ Great, great amusement.
CJ: So did you have crew reunions or squadron reunions?
JD: No. Never been. Never been to one. Never been to one.
CJ: And how do you feel about how Bomber Command were treated after the war?
JD: Well, there was an RAFA Association bloke in Deal and I went to see him. I said, ‘What would have happened if I had been killed during the war?’ He said, ‘Well, it’s just too bad. You wouldn’t have got anything. No pension. No nothing.’ That’s when I said, ‘Thank you very much,’ and left the RAFA and never went back. And then later on I drove buses for East Kent Roadcar Company. You know. Double deckers. All sorts of buses. Electric controlled drive single deckers.
Other: So he could look after the kids.
JD: Ones with [unclear] there from Scotland and had a great time and eventually ended up on National Express. Went to, used to take a trip to Catterick where the Americans used to come over to do the tour of Europe. And as they got out when I took them back they put the hat on the doorstep and they used to fill it up with dollars. And I got that three or four times. I had a hell of a lot of dollars then and converted them into English money of course. And that’s when [unclear] got me a flat because I was living in a motor caravan. But then I got glaucoma in this eye and I realised I couldn’t —
Other: The time he went around Europe.
JD: And I met a German lady doctor at a place in Spain. And she said, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘I’m going to Morocco.’ And she said, ‘Oh I’d love to go there.’ And she had a little terrier dog. When we got to [pause] I forget where it was. The town where you booked the tickets for the trip over to Morocco. She went in front of me.
Other: In Spain.
JD: When I drove in there was a blonde girl talking to her, and I said, ‘Who was that?’ And she said, ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘She said she and her husband had all their money stolen. Have you got some money to give us?’ I said, ‘You didn’t let her look in her handbag did you? Because this husband and wife are doing that trick all over Germany and Spain.’ And she said, ‘Yes. She saw right into my purse.’ You know. So I said, ‘My God.’ Anyway, we went to look for a place to park up for the night where the dog could walk on the beach. And as we walked on the beach I kept looking back to make sure the caravan was there and when we got back I got in my caravan and sure enough there must have been somebody in this row of houses had seen it and they got into her caravan somehow and they pinched all our money, keys, house number everything. Passport. The lot. I said, ‘Well, I’ve got my Visa card and I’ll escort you all the way back to Perpignan in France.’ And when we got there she got her money back but she said, ‘You can’t go back to Spain now. It’s the water. Wet season. All the rivers will be flooded.’ She said, ‘Lake Constance and Bodensee is just as nice. Come back home with me.’ So I went back and lived in this enormous house she had and I had my set of rooms one side and she had her set the other side. And funnily enough my oldest daughter is a water diviner and she found that the dividing line between the rooms was the water, water running underneath the house. Quite a big surprise. Anyway —
CJ: You had some adventures since the war.
JD: Oh yeah. We went all over Europe.
Other: [unclear] split up with a split screen for your camper van.
JD: Because my son had met this Turkish girl at the English School of Languages in Kosovo I believe, or something and he’d fallen in love with her. [unclear] her name was. She was a nice looking girl. Brought her up to me. They got married but the father wouldn’t come over because he’d trained at Heidelberg in Germany and he didn’t feel happy in England. And the mother paid for the reception. Lovely reception.
Other: How long were you travelling for around Europe?
JD: Oh, quite a few years.
Other: How long do you think? Twenty years?
JD: No. No. No.
Other: Fifteen? Ten years?
JD: Five years or so. Went everywhere. All over Spain. Portugal. All the way down to Hungary when the trouble at Sarajevo was on. And great fun.
Other: You’ve always been an adventurer.
JD: But the mother loved cats. So I took her once to the zoo at Beach Bourn and we saw the tigers and the black panthers and the other cats. And had a great time. She was the sort of woman I’d have married myself if she wasn’t already married.
Other: She was something.
JD: Great fun.
CJ: Well, thanks very much for talking to us today. That was great.

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Citation

Chris Johnson, “Interview with Jack Delfosse,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 27, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11748.

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