Interview with Clifford Watson. One


Interview with Clifford Watson. One


Clifford Watson at first wanted to join the navy because of a high demand in pilots. After being rejected, he joined the RAF and was sent to Rhodesia for pilot training, but then remustered to become an air gunner. He flew seventy-six ops in total. Was posted to North Africa and recounts various episodes: targeting enemy trains; flying operations over Italy; the accidental targeting of a ship full of British prisoners of war during the German evacuation of North Africa. Flew to Bergen with 9 Squadron and operations targeting dams in Holland. Recounts an operation to Politz on the Baltic, where they bombed the wrong target.




Temporal Coverage




01:57:17 audio recording


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AWatsonC170628, PWatsonC1704


CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 28th of June 2017 and I am with Clifford Watson at Fenstanton near Huntingdon to talk about his life and times in the RAF. So, what were your first recollections of life, Cliff?
CW: I was born in Barnoldswick, 1922 about three years after my father returned from the war, he opened a radio shop and was building radios and he was getting kits of radios from Pye in Cambridge and I went to the local infant school which was about fifty yards away from the shop. Two years later, my sister joined me there, that’s about the age of ten, my family moved to Keighley in Yorkshire, my father was engineer and manager of the radio relay system. Three years later we moved to Norwich where he established another radio relay firm rather, few years there we moved to London. Went to school at the age of ten, I was at the local elementary school in Norwich. At the age of thirteen, I went to the Norwich junior technical school and two years later to Unthank college in Norwich which a very different curriculum. I hated English literature there but I got a credit in the school’s certificate, by reading, another book overnight and I took the exam with a different book from the one I’ve been studying, I’d read it overnight and I got a credit. When I left the college at sixteen, I was, I was then, what’s the word? I was then with a firm of accountants in St Paul’s Churchyard and when I used to look out, yes, the war had just started and I used to look out through the window into that churchyard, there were a number of graves there and on one of them there was a double cross and it said neath this SOD, is another SOD, Adolf Hitler, it didn’t actually say SOD of course, it said it, yes, well, then the Blitz started and the family firm was in real trouble cause all the engineers had been called up, well, most of them, so I abandoned accountancy and went and helped the family firm in Battersea, I’d been there just a few months when four ladies came for a job, one of whom was a lady of eighteen and Hilda became my future wife, right from now.
CB: I stop, I stop for a minute. Just going back from your school days, what were the things you excelled at there?
CW: Well, at the elementary school, the age of thirteen, I wanted to get to the Norwich junior Tech but I needed recommendation for that, I had to do something and show that I was capable. My father got me a kit of parts for a radio, agreed it was a simple radio, it was from a [unclear] by Telecom, [unclear], I built the radio and gave a talk on it, demonstrating the thing working and I drew the circuit on the blackboard as I went along, told them how it worked, and that secured me a recommendation for the tech but there of course it was all physics, chemistry, mechanics and so on and two years there onto Unthank college, very different, I had, I carried on with tuition, with tuition in chemistry, physics I enjoyed, maths I enjoyed and all went well, that gave me five credits which gave me access to training as an accountant.
CB: Ok. You were talking a bit earlier about the shortage of engineers because they’ve been called up, so, your father tried to engage ladies, how did that go?
CW: Well, my father at that time was in Abyssinia and there was a manager there with little technical knowledge and instead of being a foreman with about six wiremen, there was me and four fourteen year old schoolboys and we were working on overhead lines, I was working about fifteen hours a day, I was earning, yes, fifty shillings a, yes, fifty shillings a week, at the end of the Blitz, well, almost the end of the Blitz, I’d had enough, and I thought the manager was, oh, I, one evening I was, I filled in my paperwork for the day, I put it in the secretary’s tray and there was an official looking document with my name on it and the manager was trying to, it was case it was the Ministry of Labour to get Clifford Watson exempt from callup. And I was furious, I tore the thing up, the next day, instead of going to work in overalls, I went in my best suit, well, my one and only suit and that’s when I went up town [unclear] made a beeline first for the Fleet Air Arm and things worked from there.
CB: So, when you went to, when you tried for the Fleet Air Arm, what happened? You went to the recruiting office.
CW: Well, I couldn’t get further than the door at the Fleet Air Arm.
CB: What did the man say?
CW: Can I help you, lad? That’s when I put on my Yorkshire accent [laughs] which wasn’t difficult at the time. The following, about a week later, I went to industrial house and there was very young [unclear] there, there’s a fairly big hall, half a dozen doors, each leading into a fairly small office and in each place there was I think five Lieutenant and a sergeant, when I went in, we were given a form which I filled in and I was given a card with a number on it and it was the number above the door or two numbers in fact, the doors were numbered and there was another number, when that number comes up on that [unclear] or those two numbers come up, you go through that door and I was interviewed by the officer and the sergeant and they said, this is a very, very preliminary interview, just want to give you some idea of how things go, and they asked a few questions: What did your father do? What do you do? Why do you want to join the RAF? And so on. Ok, there was an interview, there were about fifty people waiting and it was very pleasant, very pleasant too, they said, alright, we wish you luck, and you should hear from us within a few weeks. So I went back home, letter came, report to some place near Euston and I went there, we had three one-hour written papers and then an interview and a medical. At the interview I remember two questions, one was, which is colder, minus 40 Fahrenheit or minus 40 Centigrade? I pretended to work it out, I said, same thing, same temperature, well, I knew the answer, I didn’t need to work it out, but I pretended to do. Right, he said you’re, you know, in a flimsy belt, you’re half a mile offshore, a breeze is trying to take you, what was it [unclear] get it right, the breeze is trying to take you inshore, the tide is taking you out of shore, so in practice you stay put, you’re infested with alligators, all sorts of, animals in the sea but you’ve got to get ashore, what do you do? I said, I think the answer you want is that I lower the boat in the sea, increase the tide, the effect of the tide and reduce the windage, I think that’s your answer but I don’t like it and he laughed, yeah, he did laugh, he said, quite right. That was the two questions. [laughs] After that, that was about the interview, we already had the three written papers and there was nothing there particularly tricky and then there was a medical, half a dozen or so medical people, we went to each one and everything seemed alright, said, right, good show, we’ll let you know and I had a letter, a few weeks later, telling me to where to report but before I reported, I was to see a dentist for one filling and, two fillings and one extinct
CB: extraction
CW: One extraction. I did that and two fillings and one extraction at a cost of three shillings. Imagine today. Anyhow, I don’t question. And that was it. Eventually I was told where to report, meanwhile two other chaps locally had found that I was joining, I joined the RAF, so had they and the three of us got together and we travelled to Newquay together and in fact to Rhodesia together but years later, the one, the first one became captain of a Stirling and disappeared on his first trip. The other one, like me, came off the pilot’s course, I nearly said failed but I don’t agree with that term, I came off the pilot’s course with the other fellow and then carried on. He became a rear-gunner of a Stirling and they were shot up on all three trips which he did, different crew each time, first trip he ditched in the sea, two, he plus two survived, second trip they had to bail out, he and one other survived, third trip, they landed tail heavy, the turret came adrift with him in it, the aircraft bounced, blew up, killing everyone on board and Tommy woke up in hospital, that was there, carry on. [unclear] Whilst in Rhodesia, we were seven weeks at sea getting to Rhodesia, oh, getting to Durban and in Durban we had no money, we’d handed all the English currency in and they were to exchange it for local currency when we got to were [unclear] we were going and on the main track in Durban with no money and outside a Barclay’s bank was a rotary insignature, insignia and it said, Durban welcomes local visiting Rotarians, well, I wasn’t a Rotarian but my father was, I went in, could I see the manager please? I had an introduction card from Battersea Rotary. Let’s see the manager, please, well, the three of us walked in, saw the manager and I said, I’d like to borrow a couple of quid and send it back to you when we get to wherever it is we’re going. He reached into a drawer and gave each of us an envelope with the equivalent of ten pounds in each, he said, that with a compliment to a Rotary, don’t try to send it back, he said, you’re in Africa now, that was it.
CB: We’ll stop there just for a moment. Just quickly before we go on to your, more details of your flying training, Clifford, you mentioned the fact that you were interested in joining the Navy, as Fleet Air Arms, so-
CW: The reason, the reason I went to the Navy was the first one, all I wanted to do was fly and Fleet Air Arm needs pilots, it said, and as you’d heard, I got no further than the door, Fleet Air Arm pilots don’t work, that’s it, and I did, and that was the end of my naval experience. All I wanted to do was fly, that’s all, fighter pilot of course, but that didn’t matter, if anybody had said you prefer bombers or fighters, we’d seen plenty of fighters, it would have been fighters.
CB: There was a glamour in being a fighter pilot
CW: Mh?
CB: There was a glamour in being a fighter pilot at that time.
CW: Oh, everybody, all the boys wanted to be
CB: But, after being rejected
CW: Well, having seen bombers going down in flames and fighters getting away with it, fine, naturally they wanted to be fighter pilots
CB: Yeah. So, the effect of the rejection of the navy man, made you do what?
CW: So, the?
CB: The effect of talking with the man from the navy, that, what was the effect of that on you? You went home and then what?
CW: It didn’t worry me, except that I had this ridge across my nose, and I thought there’s no point in going into the RAF medical with a ridge on my nose
CB: From your glasses
CW: But, from the, yes, from the bridge as, but that disappeared, was only just a mark, so I left my glasses off and it made no difference, I passed the medical alright, in fact, quite often during the war I did wear glasses and I wore them flying in place of the goggles. The goggles were there but didn’t really need them, cause I did wear glasses, I remember a briefing one day and I put the glasses on and one of the officers was looking at that [laughs], a rear gunner wearing glasses? Oh, dear me! They made no difference,
CB: Just going to your experience in Rhodesia, so you did pilot training, how many hours did you do?
CW: Oh, I did eight hours flying with five different instructors and then, in six weeks, and a day or two before the end of six weeks, I got in a further three hours with a sergeant pilot who claimed to have been a Hurricane pilot in North Africa which we didn’t believe, so at eleven hours they were still, let’s get it right, yes, after six weeks, out of the course of fifty, there were still thirty on the course, only fifteen of whom had gone solo and I was one of the other fifteen who hadn’t and that fifteen had to see a fly test and everybody was scrubbed, everyone failed. Well, of that fifteen, twelve of us notified a grievance, we went through the grievance procedure, why had we failed? Why had I failed? And the CO pretended to look up his notebook, Watson you failed on two counts, a, you did wheel landings instead of three pointers, secondly you took off and climbed at half throttle. Well, I said, firstly, I landed exactly as I was instructed and secondly, if it took off and climbed at half throttle, I prefer a miracle and we could all do with one of them, I spoke twice out there, I remember and that was it, there was no appeal, everybody was taken off for some silly reason. A year later, Wing Commander Powell, Speedy Powell, who was in charge of all flying training became our group captain in North Africa and I was about to tell him it was a scam when he told me, he said, no, you didn’t fail, he said, they were just not in a SFTS, he says, to cope with the numbers from EFTS and there were hundreds of you waiting after EFTS to go to SFTS, so they established an air gunner training school and observer training school at Moffat near Gwelo. We were given the option of an observer course and they said, there’ll be a little, there could be a delay in getting on to the observer course, maybe a week or two delay, well, we’d already met people the previous night who’d been there for six months waiting for the thing, so they were not, they were dishonest, there was only one thing to do, and that was re-muster to air gunner and we, there were forty five of us on the course, there’s a picture of that with all those chaps in there.
CB: So, you became an air gunner
CW: Yes, it was an, I think it was an eight weeks course
CB: And where was that held?
CW: That was at Gwelo, aerodrome was called Moffat, at Gwelo near Marandellas in Rhodesia, I spent quite a lot of time on the farm at Marandellas, where there was a little girl called Wendy and I remember repairing a puncture on her bicycle, we had to do something in return for the hospitality. Everybody seemed to pass the air gunner course, I won’t comment too much on that [laughs]
CB: So, did you get your brevet at the end of that course or did you get it later?
CW: Oh, at the end of the course
CB: Then what?
CW: Yes, the two instructors there, they weren’t even qualified air gunners [laughs], I should delete that,
CB: What did you do the training on for air gunnery?
CW: They were Anson aircraft and Anson aircraft, yes, and there was a scarf ring with a Vickers gas operated guns and the only firing we did was on the beam at a drill [unclear] by a Miles Magister, Miles Master, which was, she was
CB: So, how did you get on with it?
CW: Oh, it’s rather, on the way back, we came via Cape Town and whilst we were in the transit camp the three of us went to, went to, oh my Gosh, I can’t recall the name, Muizenberg yes, we were in the beach in Muizenberg and a lady came to us about ten o’clock, she said, look, chaps, what are you doing for lunch? So, well, we’re not [laughs] see that big house over there? Come and see me there half past eleven, come and have lunch with us and we did, at the door ask for Mrs Macbeth. Ask for Mrs Macbeth, right, we duly went to the door and I asked for Mrs Shakespeare [laughs] Many, many years later I was on the [unclear] talking to an amateur in South Africa, I told him where I was and he said he was in Muizenberg and I said, I remember Muizenberg and I told him about that, he said, that place is now a guest house and that’s where I stay and that’s where I’m speaking from, not only that, but he said, whereabouts are you in Mbeya? And I told him, and I said, I’m in what’s the boys quarters at the back of the transferring station in the back of the cottage there in the boys quarters and he said, have a look through the, can you see the back door of the cottage? And I bent down, Yes, yeah, he said, is there a hole in the door, about a foot off the floor, in the middle? Yeah. He said, if you’d been down and looked through that hole, you’ll see a mark on the wall back, there’s a passageway, a mark on the wall. Have a look and I did, and it’d been, it had been plastered over, he said, that’s where my gun went off when I was careless, he was stationed there during the war. And, now, there were two coincidences, million to one, millions to one, infinitely to one, he was told about Mrs Shakespeare and we’d, he’d sat in the same seat during the war. Amazing. [unclear], Rhodesia was a wonderful place.
CB: And the local families, when you had time off, when you had time off from training, what did the local families do?
CW: Oh, on the farm? Oh, they were farmers, we tried to help out on farm, I did a bit of wiring whilst I was there, a lot of wires on pylons and they were in a bit of a state and I did a bit of tidying up there, I remember that
CB: Did they feed you?
CW: Oh yes, yes, was wonderful, Marandellas, that was. Yes, we were entertained quite royally in Rhodesia.
CB: So, we were talking about your holding point at Cape Town when that, what happened there? From Cape Town what happened?
CW: Well, from Cape Town we got on the boat and came back. It was a passenger liner, we’d gone out to Durban in the Mooltan, that was a cargo ship and we were down in, on the bottom deck, about three decks below, coming back we were on the Empress of Bermuda and there were people on it from the Middle East and quite a few Italian prisoners and we came back straight ten days, straight line ten days, the U-boats didn’t stand a chance, going out we had a terrific escort and must have been a dozen ships in that convoy, a dozen navy ships, coming back we were on our own and in a straight line [laughs]
CB: Cause it was fast
CW: It was fast, yes
CB: So, where did you dock?
CW: Where did we dock? Yes, Greenock, came back to Greenock, we had to carry our own kit bag, get our kit bag off the ship, we had full pack, a suitcase, and in fact we had two kit bags and we had to hang them over, one was for the flying kit, which was exactly as it was when we left, we didn’t even open the stuff, we didn’t need it in Rhodesia
CB: Because of the warmth.
CW: Mh?
CB: Because it was so warm.
CW: Yeah. We were and we lined up on the dock with all our kit and our red cap came along and recalled us to attention, right turn, double march, we just stood there with mouths open, double march, with all that clobber? there were no trollies, anything like that, we had to walk. I think we went straight to a train, I think the train is coming to the dock, I’ve got that picture, got on the train and we went back to West Kirby on the wirral. And that was it. From there, train down to Brighton and from, actually managed my pay book said I was, air gunner UT wireless op, which is what I said I wanted to do and he said, well, you can have the wireless op course if you wish, but it means going back to where they say, and you lose your tapes and you go back to where they say, forget that, he said, apply for another pilot’s course when you’ve done a couple of tours. Yes, oh yes, we were at Brighton, I was at Brighton for three weeks in a hotel, we would go in one direction, couple of miles and we’d have a lecture, then a few miles more and do a bit of swimming and that sort of thing, somewhere else do a bit of drill, bit of PT here there, just filling in time which all we wanted to do was get on. [pause] and we were posted straight to OTUs and I went to Finningley near Doncaster and that’s when I skivved off for Christmas and went to see my mother and got caught up in the time, was called out. Doncaster, there was an ENSA concert whilst we were there and the posters gave the impression that it was a real variety concert and they made it very clear, once you are in, you stay in, you don’t come out [unclear], you stay in, watch it, ok, it wasn’t a variety concert, it was an orchestra playing there, all playing classical music which was not really our kettle of fish. The only other ENSA concert I saw was at Kairouan when the Queen Mary came up, you know, the flat top thing, the Queen Mary came and there was a double grand piano on the back and a trailer where the pianist lived, it was Rawicz and Landauer and that was very good, I just sat there on my notebooks watching the, this on the piano and that was a real, they played stuff which appealed to us.
CB: Just to clarify the point, the Queen Mary is an aircraft recovery trailer.
CW: Yes, it was a big flat top carrying anything, tanks, aircraft
CB: So, you appreciated the music
CW: Yes, yes, it was good, was very good, but they were the only two ENSA concerts I saw
CB: So how long were you at the OTU?
CW: That’s a good point, about three months
CB: And you, what were you flying there?
CW: That was Wimpeys. Some Wimpey 1 Cs and then Wimpy 3s, mostly 3s.
CB: And from there where did you go?
CW: I gotta think.
CB: So, after the OTU you went to an HCU.
CW: No, no, we were on Wimpys. From 25 OTU Finningley we went to 30 OU, 30 OTU at Hickson, in Stafford and there we did more cross countries and whilst there we did three trips to France and then we were, then we joined, we went from there, we were there about three months, we went to 150 Squadron at Snaith. We didn’t do any flying from Snaith, one flight from Snaith was being detached overseas, they didn’t say where, we went to, one flight has to go, to go overseas, the other flight stays over Germany, so if you’d both give a preference of what you want to do and we opted to stay over Germany which meant of course that we went overseas. Our entire crew had trained overseas and we wanted to stay in England for a while but, no, from there we went back to West Kirby, back to West Kirby and we boarded a big, boarded a ship and on the deck there was some very big crates and the address Murmansk, it had been partly painted out, the name partly painted out. I said, Crickey, surely enough, we found later that they’d written Murmansk and partly rubbed it out so that the enemy looking at that thought we were going to Murmansk but that’s, that was what they said but we didn’t. We then from there down the Clyde, into the Med, then we went to Algiers, the troop ship just ahead of us was torpedoed and staggered into [unclear] and all the air gunners were on the deck of our troop ship, one air gunners, we’ve never seen the Oerlikon guns before, anyhow, that was it, and we disembarked in Algiers and in Algiers, yes, from Algiers we were stationed thirty miles south at Blida and there was a cargo ship unloading bombs and the bombs were put on ordinary bomb trolleys and trundled with tractors all the way to Blida and Blida is a very busy place, the Americans were there with all sorts of funny aircraft and we operated from Blida on Wimpys.
CB: Ok, we will stop there for a minute. Two, three disappointments in the RAF, yeah.
CW: No, two
CB: Two
CW: One was coming off the pilot’s course
CB: Yeah.
CW: [unclear] on 227 Squadron I was, the gunnery leader disappeared after a couple of weeks and I was a warrant officer then and I became acting gunnery leader and I stayed that way for six months as a flying officer doing the job and the wing commander commented on that and the adjutant oh, Cliff hadn’t done the gunnery leader course, so he said, better do the gunnery leader course. Couple of weeks later, I went up to Yorkshire somewhere and on the course thirty of us arrived to do it, we were given a test on arrival, we arrived on Sunday afternoon, Monday morning we all had a test and at the end of that we were divided into two flights, A and B, fifteen in each, I was in B flight and B flight was told to assemble in the hut next door, in the next hut, we did that, and we were each, we are not recording?
CB: Yeah, it’s ok.
CW: No, not.
CB: You don’t want to?
CW: No.
CB: No, ok. So you had a trip from Sir Archibald Sinclair. What did he say?
CW: Well, Archibald Sinclair thought we would be pleased at coming back through Sicily, Italy, France and so on, we weren’t amused but at Kairouan our diet was bully beef and biscuits. Each morning one member of the crew would go to the mess tent, collect two tins of bully and if we wanted, a few biscuits but they were big biscuits about six inches in diameter, but we used to go into the [unclear] city and I saw, we saw there once, oh, we had a Volkswagen there, a Volkswagen which had been abandoned, we shouldn’t really have gone anywhere near it, we were in big trouble for doing that, anyhow we went to this Volkswagen and one of the chaps fixed it, we more or less pinched the petrol, hundred octane petrol which didn’t do the engine any good and we used that at Kairouan, eventually it was confiscated by the military police, anyway in Kairouan, in
CB: Kairouan
CW: In Kairouan there was a vegetable stall in the market and there were some watermelons and we were admiring those, and the chap invited me to take one so I took it and gave it to him, he cut it up and we enjoyed this watermelon, it was lovely, I thought we could do with some of these back on camp, I bought two hundred of them [laughs] and oddly enough we could afford two hundred between us and we gave them in at the mess tent, some went over to the officer’s mess but when it came to use these watermelons, they were not watermelons at all, they were marrows, that didn’t matter to much because we stuffed them with bully beef, well the cooks did, how on earth, we loaded those watermelons into the Volkswagen but they turned out to be marrows we got there so, how that happened we don’t know, we just can’t understand. But, that was Kairouan, it was from Kairouan we saw this armada of Dakotas and gliders and they were going to Sicily and of course, soon after that we took off. A very interesting operations from, in North Africa, we felt we were dealing there with the Germans, with the military as apart from civilians, bombing them from four or five miles up, we were right down there with them, was a better feeling somehow, we felt we were a little bit nearer.
CB: What were your targets?
CW: Well, there’s a list of them here. In North Africa, all in North Africa, oh no, there’s a page full here.
CB: Ok.
CW: Tunis, Monserrato, Decimomannu, Tunis, Tunis again, Bizerta, Trapani and then there Villa Credo, Palermo, Napoli, Cagliari, Rome, Alghero, Castelvetrano, Chieti or something, Borezzo, Pantelleria, Sardinia, Sardinia, Sicily, Pantelleria, Napoli, Pantelleria, Pantelleria, that was in one night, twice to Pantelleria that night, Siracuse, Pantelleria, Messina, Napoli, Siracuse, Rome, Salerno, Bari, San Giovanni, Messina, Trapani.
CB: So, we are talking about largely mainland bombing, are we, what’s the balance between daylight and night bombing?
CW: This was all night bombing.
CB: All night bombing. Right.
CW: All night bombing.
CB: And how did you conduct the operations? Were you in a bomber’s stream or
CW: No.
CB: Were you in formation? Just as a gaggle.
CW: We’d take off one after the other independent to navigation all on the same route, ETA time on bombing, all the same, but operating independently, at maximum effort there, there were only twenty-six of us
CB: Right, how did you keep a sufficient spatial distance?
CW: What, from the others?
CB: Yeah.
CW: I didn’t even see them.
CB: Right. And you were all set the same height to operate from, were you?
CW: Yeah. Yes, yeah.
CB: And you, the speed was dictated in advance?
CW: Same, was the same, maximum economic cruising speed, it was the same for everybody.
CB: What would that be?
CW: I don’t know, it wasn’t my problem.
CB: No.
CW: One sixty-five knots. And, you can’t quote that, I’m not sure. I was the rear gunner.
CB: Right. Of course, yeah. So, in an operation, after dropping the bombs, you made your own way back
CW: Yes
CB: How easy was it to find the airfield that you started off from?
CW: Well, if, the navigator was pretty good, it was all dead reckoning now, there were no navigational leads at all or no electronic aids, then the navigator had a drift sight, I had a drift sight in the rear turret, I could, coming back over the sea, could drop a flame float, put the guns on that and of course, with the wind on the side and so on, we’re crabbing along, relative to the ground, the nose is not going straight forward, it’s on the
CB: You’d forward the deflection.
CW: There was a deflection
CB: To the navigator.
CW: And I could measure that deflection on the thing at the side and I would tell the navigator, we got sort of three degrees starboard drift or whatever and he would plot that, he could also measure the drift on his drift sight, and it was good, and of course, you hit the North Africa coast, and can see it and fly along if [unclear], if you’re too far east when you hit it but there were no other aids.
CB: So, the role of the gunner is to defend the aircraft. How many times were you attacked by German or Italian aircraft?
CW: No German aircraft, we saw a couple of Italian aircraft, one came up and we looked at it and looked as how it was, be a bit offensive, I fired at the bloke but he cleared off, we’d no trouble in North Africa. We got a bit closer to the enemy attacking, we were supposed to be strategic air force, that was the title but a lot of our work was tactical
CB: Supporting the army
CW: Supporting the army, attacking trains
CB: Yeah
CW: And so on. Low level stuff
CB: When you say, low level, what height are we talking about?
CW: Three hundred feet. Attacking a train at three hundred feet, there’d be three of us, we did two trips like that on the railway line from Suez up to Tunis, a German troop train on there, there’d be three of us, one aircraft would go directly above and bomb it and invariably stop it, stop the train. We would come upon the right, two hundred yards and strafing it, the train was stopped, the Jerries got off at the other side and they tried to get away a bit and that’s when the other fellow came in, number three, blazing with the front turret, and one beam gun and that was it, the three of us would carry on, turn round and then it depends what had to be done then, we didn’t want to derail, we didn’t try to derail the train, anything like that
CB: No, cause you needed the line
CW: We wanted the line for the army
CB: Army did, yeah, so
CW: One of the last things, in Tunis the Germans were evacuating from Bizerte, Bizerte?
CB: Yeah.
CW: Yes. And we was attacking the troop ships, we cut it down, well, I don’t know if it was us or one of them, anyway one of us caught a direct hit on a troop ship, which turned back and beached. And about a thousand British soldiers got off it. Three of them were killed, three British soldiers were killed by us but that was, that ship was full of POWs and it should have been lit up, by international law it should have been well illuminated
CB: Like a hospital ship
CW: But it wasn’t, there were no lights and there was nothing to tell us there were British on board, as far as we were concerned it was a German.
CB: Yeah.
CW: Anyhow, it beached, three thousand troops got off it and we met some of them in Tunis and we weren’t very popular
CB: No
CW: Because we’d killed three of their chaps but they didn’t think [unclear] the rest of us had done lucky [unclear] to be here, they did a good job and they didn’t think so
CB: Cause the Germans were evacuating with ships but also aircraft, so, did you have any role in trying to intercept the aircraft that were escaping? They had the big transport planes, the Arado
CW: We didn’t see any German aircraft, having said that I, I’ve got a vague idea we did once, there were two, one night we were on the way to Italy and at briefing they gave us position of a U-boat reported on, reported, a U-boat in that position and briefing officer, he said, if you see it, make it crash-dive, said, don’t try to bomb it, cause you won’t hit it, I wonder [unclear], speak for yourself, mate [laughs] just divert off normal track to that U-boat, if you see it, make it crash-dive, do a couple of circuits when you get to that spot and try and do that and we saw it and we went for it but we didn’t see it crash-dive but it, when we saw it, the bomb aimer saw the shape, it was just submerged, and he saw this cigar shape, we went down on it, and it’s big trouble when we got back. Can’t you tell a U-boat from a Royal Navy submarine? [laughs] How could we?
CB: No. No way. It’s a good thing you didn’t hit it then, with your bombs.
CW: The bloke was right. Don’t try to bomb it, you won’t hit it.
CB: No, Yeah. On that topic
CW: Speaking of submarines
CB: On that topic of U-boats, the U-boat base was at La Spezia in North West Italy, did you bomb La Spezia?
CW: I don’t think so. I don’t recall the name, no, it’s not here, we were told there was a refueling base, U-boat refueling at Alghero, refueling base, there’s a, oh dear, what do you call it?
CB: A long jetty
CW: A long jetty out, U-boat refuel at the end of the jetty and the oil is trundled down there, if there’s no U-boat there destroy the jetty, but try not to damage the town, strafe it but don’t, no, no bombs, use them on the jetty, and we did and we strafed the town but there was no U-boat there. It was an innocent fishing village but we were told that the U-boat refueling
CB: And this is before the Italian surrender of course, isn’t it?
CW: Oh yes, yes.
CB: In 1943. Yeah. Ok, so you, what else did you do during your tour?
CW: In Africa? Well, it was interesting, but we felt we were part of the war there. Between Sicily and mainland there are ferries going all the time and we bombed both terminals, we put [unclear] to the [unclear], to the, and we hit those terminals.
CB: You’d be flying at a higher level for that, what level would you be flying at?
CW: Six thousand feet was our normal bombing height. We were halfway there on Sunday, that was at three thousand feet.
CB: Were you? What sort of flak did you encounter?
CW: On Italy? A bit of light flak, that was all. On Rome, probably however six thousand and that was supposed to be an open city, we weren’t supposed to fight.
CB: What were you bombing? What were you bombing in Rome?
CW: On Rome, on the city, we dropped leaflets,
CB: Ah.
CW: Then we bombed the marshalling yards then down the Tiber to the Lido di Roma, seaplane base and we bombed that, we didn’t see any seaplanes, but we bombed the, we hit the hangars.
CB: So, what level of accuracy would you say you normally achieved?
CW: I would say pretty good, it wasn’t carpet bombing anywhere, we had, it was pinpoint bombing. Mind you, there were only twenty-six of us, maximum twenty-six.
CB: How many did you lose?
CW: We did lose one or two, we lost five percent, it was twenty-odd when maybe one wouldn’t get back, the losses were the same as over Europe, on average, which I know that’s surprising, probably for different reasons.
CB: So, you came to the end of your tours, then what?
CW: When we finished in, when we finished at Kairouan, we went on the Queen Mary up to Tunis, we had a spot of leave on one occasion, just after Tunis was liberated, or just after Jerry was kicked out, we went up to Tunis, there were several canteens and that’s where the bomb aimer ran into trouble, there were five of us, the canteen was crowded and four blokes got up just as we sort of got near the table, they got up and we sat down but there were five of us, so then the bomb aimer saw a spare chair a few yards away, picked it up, place was crowded, he put it over his head and walked towards our table and some happy soldier looked up, saw the chair hovering over his head, it went round and it gave such a [unclear], knocked him out, well, almost knocked him out, knocked him down, silly devil with a chair over his head.
CB: Yeah.
CW: And the red caps came and he was arrested and put in jail and the, was in at the police station and we moved from where we were staying to a hotel next to the police station, at 49 Rue De Serbie, I remember that address and Chadderton was in jail, was in prison, well we went into [unclear], the canteens were all crowded but there was another we came to, officers only, so, our tapes were just on one arm, on an elastic band, off with the tapes, off with the hat, and we went in, into the, into this posh hotel and sat there having a beer. About half an hour later, the bomb aimer, he almost turned white. I looked round and Speedy Powell was there, our group captain [laughs]. And of course, we got an [unclear], hello chaps, I didn’t realize you chaps were all commissioned [laughs], what are you drinking? [laughs] I thought, oh Crickey, we are in trouble here, so, I like to see a bit of initiative, jolly good, very good show, chaps [laughs], he spoke like that, Speedy Powell [laughs].
CB: How were you notified about
CW: He said, I’m going back, when you’re going back to Kairouan, he said, couple of days? He said, I’m going back tomorrow, give you a lift if you like and he did, he took us back to Kairouan. But first of all, we went to that prison, to the police station and he got Chadderton out, 49 Rue De Serbie, that’s where we were.
CB: So, you got back to camp, then what?
CW: Well, we got back and our tour was nearly finished, whilst at Blida we’d sleep, it was a question of crew but one aircraft per crew, you stuck to the same aircraft, that was yours whilst you’re here, well, there was no vacancy at the when we got there, we’d a spare week waiting for the aircraft and we went to a place called Setif on the coast, a big hotel there and we stayed in that hotel at RAF expense for a week, that was good. And the rooms were already occupied and there was real French entertainment, you see what I mean [laughs], that was, that shouldn’t have been really, anyhow sorry I digress.
CB: That’s alright. So, how did you know that you were at the end of your tour?
CW: We’d done two tours, we’d done, I think it was fifty four trips there, we could have come back after thirty five, it was normally thirty over Europe and thirty-five in the Med but we could opt to stay and do, carry on, which I preferred, and we did fifty-five, in fact we did more than that because a trip under three hours and there are quite a few, well, there are several, a trip under three hours only counted as a half [laughs], so you’d do trips to, well, like those trips to Pantelleria and Lampedusa just under three hours, but it was, you only, was credited with a half, and again you see, if you can’t take a joke, shouldn’t have joined [laughs], there was a Luftwaffe base on Lampedusa and we didn’t know it, we didn’t see it, we were bombing the harbour.
CB: So, did nobody attack the airfield?
CW: No, we didn’t do, I don’t think, I don’t know, we knew there was one, we were not told of any airfield, our job was the harbour
CB: So, you reached the end of the tour, what happened then?
CW: Well, we went on the Queen Mary to Tunis, then
CB: From Tunis, yeah
CW: And then in lorries to Algiers onto a troop ship and back to England, back to Greenock.
CB: What was it like on the troop ship?
CW: I’m just trying to think, yes, well, it was full of troops, I don’t think there were any Germans aboard
CB: Prisoners?
CW: I don’t, don’t remember much about it, the first troop ship coming back that was Empress of Bermuda, what was that airport we got from?
US: Bengasi?
CW: Down the road
US: Where are we?
CW: Mh?
US: Where are we?
CW: Monarch
US: Stansted?
CW: Monarch of Bermuda, that was, I think that was the, it was on that trip Monarch of Bermuda and they’re luxury airliners
CB: Right
CW: Luxury liners
CB: Yeah
CW: And it was good
CB: As a warrant officer, what facilities did you have? Sharing a room or four to a room?
CW: Oh, it didn’t make any difference,
CB: Right.
CW: Rank didn’t really mean very much and the skipper was the squadron leader, the only time we called him sir was if we had to, if there was any VIP nearby then, we might call him sir, otherwise it was Chess, his name was Chester, squadron leader Chester, he never did an OTU, he was- we’re on this thing.
CB: Yeah, go on. We’re stopping for a moment. We’ve restarted as you arrived in Greenock, what happened then?
CW: Well, we’ve come back from
CB: From Tunis. So, you’ve returned from North Africa to Greenock at the end of your two tours.
CW: Yes, from there we went by train down to Brighton, and of course and there it felt it split up and I was posted to, yes, I was posted to 84 OTU and second day I was there I was given a schedule of duties, lecture on the Browning gun, lecture on combat manoeuvre, the corkscrew and so on and I had this schedule, I said, I don’t like this, I haven’t done a course on the Browning gun, I’ve been using one for two tours but I’ve never done a course on it, what’s this corkscrew business? You’ve never heard of the corkscrew? No, what is it? The corkscrew, yes, on a bottle, well, I became an instructor on the corkscrew after I’d had some instruction and combat tactics, what can you do except move and fight it out, he said, what you need is an air gunner course, yes, I said, by all means, ok, I’ve done the job but that doesn’t make me a good instructor, no, I’m not instructing, so they gave me eight sprog air gunner trainees, to shepherd, I became a course shepherd and in doing that, I gradually picked up what really goes on and the corkscrew, you know about the corkscrew
CB: Yeah.
CW: I’d love to do another one [laughs], well, eventually we had, there was a complete crew and we went to Winthorpe and converted to Stirlings and on Stirlings we did a week of circuits and bumps and then cross-countries and then the first cross-country we went North towards Scotland to a bomb site, a bombing range rather, did an exercise there and on the way, or maybe the way back over Yorkshire, you’ll be attacked by a Hurricane, we need a good picture, make sure your guns are on safe and get a good picture of the Hurricane. We were attacked and the rear gunner hadn’t the vaguest idea, he said, weave skipper, weave, he was yelling, weave, it’s coming, it’s nearer and I thought, what the hell is that? He got no idea and the aircraft came from down starboard quarter, came right at us and then came in again and same again from the port quarter, nothing happened, and it came in, I was mid upper by that [unclear], it came in from the beam on the starboard and I gave, well by then was a textbook type of commentary winding up its corkscrew starboard go and nothing happened and the aircraft went underneath, came up on the quarter, more textbook but corkscrew port go, and that time we went dump up [unclear] up board, up starboard, down starboard, that was obviously the screen pilot the instructor.
CB: Ah.
CW: That was good. When, then, he said, on the way back, we’re going down on a raft off the Lincolnshire coast, we’re supposed to fire, strafe that raft but that’s what you’re supposed to do but don’t do that, there’ll be, there are seals on the raft, they live there, I knew that, they’ve been there dozens of times, just give a short burst in midair, fire at the moon, fire as it were , we did that and I just fired a short burst with one gun [laughs], cause they had to be cleaned afterwards, I fired a short burst, the rear gunner didn’t, ok, rear gunner, says the screen pilot, oh, no sir, the guns are faulty, I felt, Christ, was sort of physiology is that? They weren’t US, they were faulty, mid upper gunner, have a look, go and fix him. I went back to the rear turret, opened the flimsy door, and [unclear] pushed him aside, the guns weren’t even cocked, I said, where is your cocking toggle? He said, he didn’t understand, he didn’t know what a cocking toggle was, well, his hat was there, his fancy hat, remember that hat was there but took [unclear] the cockpit, number three gun I saw the thing, cause it was on safe, so I took the safety catch off and I yelled at him, now pull the trigger, botch the trigger, pull it, and he did, he nearly fell off the seat, he would have done if he hadn’t been tied down, said, now do the same as that to the other three, they’re the other two guns, cause one was a camera gun, and he hadn’t the vaguest idea so I did the same to the number four gun, fired that and he just, he hadn’t a clue, and ok but we’d fired from the rear turret. Next morning, the gunnery leader when I booked in as it were, he showed me a report from the screen pilot, do you agree with this? And it was that the rear gunner, he doubted if the rear gunner had had any operational training, did I agree? I said, not only I agree, I don’t believe he went to gunnery school, if he did, he didn’t learn anything literally and that’s what he wanted to know. I said, I’d like to see his logbook, well, it was the end of the month and the logbooks were in the flight office so I went to get them and I got them for the whole crew and I looked at this fellow’s logbook, he’d done no flying at all except at Winthorpe circuits and bumps, and the odd cross-country, that cross-country would have entered but there was nothing there except circuits and bumps but in the back was a certificate that he’d completed the air gunner course, very sad. Anyhow, we got rid of him, I said, he’s finished, that fellow, he’s not flying in my rear turret. I developed a little problem; would you mind if I?
CB: We’ll stop
CW: Nip up there for a second?
CB: So, you find the gunnery school
CW: Is that off?
CB: It’s on now, yeah, right
CW: Rear gunner had the faintest idea and he was sent to Eastchurch, he’d finished
CB: Now
CW: Now on the grapevine, all the information everybody seemed to know what was going on and the chap, the warrant officer on the clay pigeon shooting asked me what was happening, and in fact I didn’t know but he said, look, I want to join a crew and in fact he did, he joined our crew but he was a mid-upper gunner and I said, that’s fine, show me, you can have the mid-upper, I’ll have the rear, if they gunnery leader will agree and he did and the skipper agreed and we acquired a very good mid-upper gunner. Pete Foolkes, Pete Foolkes who eventually went to Canada, and stayed in and joined the Canadian Air Force, nice bloke.
CB: So that’s how you got into mid-upper, sorry, rear gunner, that’s how you became a rear gunner.
CW: I’ve always been a rear gunner.
CB: Yeah, quite.
CW: It was just that
CB: On the Stirling.
CW: I preferred the rear turret.
CB: Did you feel more comfortable with four guns?
CW: [laughs] That’s quite right, the mid upper did just have two, didn’t he, did?
CB: Yeah.
CW: I wasn’t too familiar with the mid-upper, I think you’re right, it’s bound to be [laughs].
CB: There was only space for two. There was only space for two guns.
CW: Yeah. Yes, yeah.
CB: So, you were at the OTU, after the OTU where did you go?
CW: Oh, OTU, right I’m with it again, we that was
CB: Winthorpe
CW: That was a conversion course
CB: Yes
CW: After an OTU.
CB: Alright, a conversion course
CW: A conversion course at Winthorpe
CB: Yes
CW: Well, from there, we went to Bardney
CB: Yeah.
CW: The skipper was promoted to squadron leader and he became flight commander, of A flight and A flight it worked in, with I think it was up at 9 squadron for a few weeks, I did the odd trips with, I think the first two trips from Bardney as part of 9 Squadron really at [unclear], from there we went to Strubby, did a couple from there and then on to Balderton, where the Americans had just left Balderton we moved in and B flight was already at Balderton. We then became a complete squadron of two flights and we operated from there, first trip was on Bergen, I did six trips with that squadron leader, first trip was on Bergen, and we were told to be a very careful run on a specific point in the docks, whatever’s there at that point, if anything, that’s the point to hit, be very careful and we went to the East and coming back, westerly course over Bergen, on the bombing run and there was an awful bang, a bit, wing went down, nose went down, we went down and the skipper, he was trying to hold back on the control column, nothing much was happening and we were going down and it was the navigator who went forward, crawled forward and turned it tail heavy, turned the elevator back and we came out and we came out at three thousand feet. What the bang was we’ve no idea, there was no damage anywhere but of course, the bomb doors were open and we came out at three thousand feet but we came out of it on quite a steep climb and we climbed up to eight thousand and the bomb aimer woke up, say skipper, can you go round again, we still got the goddam bomb [laughs] and Ted was the navigator, [unclear], oh, we are going round again and he pulled the jettison toggle and the bomb rolled [unclear], the bomb just went in the sea, complete waste of time the whole thing and we then came back and landed at Milltown and [unclear] Bergen.
CB: Where is Milltown in Scotland?
CW: Oh, Bergen, 28th of October 1944. Squadron leader Chester.
CB: So, this is with 9 Squadron.
CW: Oh no, no, that was all in the [unclear] of 227.
CB: Oh it was, right.
CW: Bergen, the next one was another fiasco to Walcheren. Walcheren, that was on the Zuiderzee and we were to bomb the sea wall, bomb the, not the sea wall, the, what it was called?
CB: The dikes.
CW: Dike, we were to bomb the dike and ahead of us, mind you, I’m in the rear, I didn’t see all this, there was another Lanc ahead and he went across the dike, stick the bombs right across and of course they all went in the sea, it only needed one bomb on the dike but they all went in the sea and our skipper, I can understand him, he thought, well what a ruddy silly way to destroy the dike, we were in the destruction business afterall, so we went round to the east and came in and went over the dike and dropped a whole stick of bombs all the way along the dike and destroyed it for half a mile, all they wanted us to do was make a hole in it so the water could come through, that’s what we were supposed to do, dug a hole in it and we were actually briefed to bomb a gun emplacement but that gun emplacement was already under water and the barrels were sticking out, there was no point in bombing that, we’d no secondary target so we decided, the skipper decided to do the job that he thought the others were going to do and we destroyed that wall for half a mile and it took, what was it? The pioneer corps I think it was, the pioneer corps took six months after the war to repair it and the skipper was in real trouble for doing that but that was a second trip on there. Next one was an ordinary trip to Hamburg and then Harburg which was a subsidiate, well, in the suburbs of Hamburg, that was long after the destruction of Hamburg, Heindbark, oh, that was a dam, Politz [laughs], Politz, a night raid of course, they were all night raids, Politz on the Baltic, night raid and the navigator, five minutes to Politz but everything was quiet, but by that time there should have been some action ahead, and two minutes to Politz, bomb doors open, ok, bomb doors open, and we, everybody thought, well, we are running up on Politz and we were over Politz and was absolute dead quiet, everything was quiet and then it started twenty miles to the south, fireworks below, twenty miles south and, oh Crickey, we’re twenty miles north of the target, and both the skipper, both the navigator and bomb aimer said, we are over Politz, we’re over the coast, but down there’s not over the coast, we are, we are over Politz, and the skipper wouldn’t have it, everybody is bombing there, we’ll join them and we did, and we destroyed an awful lot of good agricultural land. It was Pathfinder force, no, we weren’t using 5 Group Pathfinders, it was 8 Group Pathfinders, they put the markers down in the wrong place and that agricultural land was in a hell of a mess [laughs]
CB: [unclear]
CW: Many years later, I was talking to the air traffic controller in Nairobi, I was in charge of the con centre at night and we were having a little natter, and he mentioned the, he said, he told me, one night, when everybody bombed twenty miles south where they should have done, and I said, that was Politz was it? Politz! Yes, yeah! We were there at the same time and didn’t know it of course. But the interesting things like that you, happen, Politz, Houffalize, Houffalize, oh, that was the Falaise gap, yes, that’s when Jerry broke through, the Falaise gap, and it was very foggy, there was a film made with that raid, which was a lot of rubbish.
CB: Cause we are talking about France now in July ’44
CW: Yes, well, this was December ’44, Houffalize
CB: That’s not Falaise, is it?
CW: Mh?
CB: That’s not Falaise?
CW: Houffalize.
CB: Houffalize, right. Yeah.
CW: Wasn’t that the Falaise gap?
CB: No.
CW: Well, what was Houffalize?
CB: This is after Arnhem you are talking about now?
CB: [unclear] check it out. Yeah.
CW: Karlsruhe then Politz, Rositz, this is, can’t read that, these were spare boat trips, our skipper had finished by then
CB: Right.
CW: He did six and
CB: Where did he go?
CW: He went on a board of, no, he went on a summary of evidence, he was helpless, in fact at a reunion, many years later, the wing commander said, Chester was the biggest disaster that our squadron had, oh, he wouldn’t have said that if he didn’t mean it
CB: No.
CW: He got rid of him.
CB: Who was he replaced by?
CW: He was replaced with wing commander Balme, BALME, wing commander Balme, although he didn’t take up the point position of flight commander but he was there as a supernumerary, he did the job but didn’t sort of get recognition as a flight commander because he was more senior, I saw him in hospital in Nairobi, wing commander Balme.
CB: So, how many more ops did you do after that change?
CW: I did exactly twenty.
CB: Twenty, did you? Twenty more? Twenty in total? Ok.
CW: I was crazy to do with seventy-six, that was the number of ops, but I counted the halves as whole ones.
CB: Yeah.
CW: I don’t accept that it was half,
CB: It was a [unclear].
CW: Half a tour because
CB: Half an op. So, what caused the end of the twenty? Was it?
CW: Had finished D-Day.
CB: Right. No, ended the war, VE Day
CW: VE Day, sorry, VE Day.
CB: Yeah. So, from VE Day
CW: D-Day occurred when I was at OTU as instructor
CB: Yes
CW: VE Day, D Day, then we went to Molbice, Leipzig,
CB: Leipzig, yeah.
CW: With flight lieutenant Hobson to Leipzig, seven hours, Lutgendorf and Leipzig again, I went to Leipzig three times in all, twice on our own behalf and once with the Yanks [laughs]. Because we diverted to Norwich on one occasion, on one of those occasions, to, and Norwich, not Norwich airport as I knew it then but Horsham St Faith which became Norwich airport
CB: Which became Norwich airport, yeah.
CW: And that’s where I got the idea of a washing machine, that’s a different thing, and in Norwich, what a weird hang-up, I don’t know, not mentioned that have I?
CB: No
CW: No. We diverted to Norwich, and we were resting in a lounge, and very early morning a top sergeant came in, he said, say bud, who’s the headman? I said, him, woke up, what’s the problem? He said, we can’t get the overload tank off. Oh, don’t worry about that, the fighter engineer overload tank, we didn’t know what a tank, yeah, sure, it’s downgrade thing, and the bomb aimer woke up, I did describe it. Crikey that’s odd, that’s a four thousand pounder, no, don’t make bombs that big, that’s a four thousand pound bomb, what do you want, leave it! What are you doing? Anyhow, the skipper sent the flight engineer and the bomb aimer out to go out to look, they tried to take it off, it was, and the tannoy blared everybody to evacuate a mile from the Lancaster [laughs], oh dear, while we were three days in Norwich, which I’d welcomed because I’ve been to school there and I went to see an old girlfriend, Joyce, used to go to school with Joyce, and I went to see her in number one Chester Street and the warrant officer came to the door, I met Joyce and it was good, and he was flying Lysanders, anyhow and a crew came up from Balderton and moved the, took the bomb off [laughs]
CB: That’s why you were there so long because they hadn’t got anybody to move the bomb.
CW: No, they wouldn’t, they, the thing was on its own, they wouldn’t go near it after that.
CB: No
CW: But our own chaps came and shifted it
CB: Cause it would have been fused at that point, would it?
CW: No, it couldn’t have been, it wouldn’t have been.
CB: No. So, when you went on a, when you went
CW: The bomb aimer should have checked when we landed, make sure it’s got, in fact he should have checked before we landed,
CB: Before you landed, yeah.
CW: After we supposed we had dropped it, he should check
CB: So, thinking of fusing, when you got airborne with a full load, at what point were the bombs fused, ready for dropping?
CW: On the bombing run.
CB: Cause what I meant was that this bomb, if all the other bombs went, why would this one not be fused? So, there was a pin extraction job to do.
CW: [unclear] that’s a good point
CB: Cause the hang-up and the fusing are not related.
CW: I haven’t given thought to that one, I wouldn’t think it was fused, I don’t think it could have been
CB: I can’t see how it couldn’t have been, if you’ve dropped all the other bombs, but I don’t know of course, cause I wasn’t there.
CW: I think we bombed, I think we bombed out now, with the [unclear] if they were not fused, could be done,
CB: Yeah, the answer is I don’t know, something worth looking at but I would have thought that the fusing would’ve taken place in a, some time before release, all of them together, that’s what I meant
CW: Normally
CB: But had you dropped
CW: minutes to when you start the serious
CB: On the running
CW: left, left, steady business, yeah
CB: But on that particular op, did you drop bombs in earnest?
CW: I don’t remember, but I think we did
CB: Rather than dispose of them at sea?
CW: I’m not sure which raid it was actually was on
CB: Anyway, so, we’ve got to VE Day, what happened then?
CW: We got to VE Day
CB: You all stood down
CW: Oh, the war was about to end, isn’t it?
CB: Yeah.
CW: But Leipzig was the last raid,
CB: So, did you take part in Operation Manna to supply the Dutch civilians?
CW: No.
CB: And did you?
CW: [clears throat] long after the war I went to a reunion and there was a fellow there, he said he’d been shot down three months before the end of the war, he’d been shot down, he was looked after by a German family who was, didn’t like it. He was released, he left the family and joined when the Americans got close he joined the Americans and they got him back to Mildenhall by air and from there he hitchhiked back to Balderton, this is what he said, got back to Balderton and he said he arrived just in time to take part in Operation Manna and to bring prisoners back from Germany. And I listened to all this, he was a gunner, an air gunner, well, I didn’t recognize the bloke which that was not conclusive, I said, who was your skipper? Oh, he said, I didn’t have a permanent skipper, I did all the spare boat trips, remember Mcgilleyfrey, gunnery leader? Yeah, I said, who could forget? Mcgilleyfrey, I said, yeah, he said, who could forget old gilley. I said, remember Cliff Watson? No. I said, I was acting gunnery leader over that period, Mcgilleyfrey I’ve just invented, 5 group did not take part in Operation Manna, and what was the other point? And we didn’t bring prisoners, neither did we bring prisoners back from Germany, we didn’t take part in that and they came back from Belgium in any case, not Germany. I’d like to see your logbook, oh, he said, I’ll go and get it, he went out to his car and we never saw him again, but there’s lots of things like that going on. The navigator was at a reunion and he, there was a chap giving a talk on his experience in Malta, and one of the, he said, one of the chaps there was in Malta and he said that bloke’s talking an absolute load of rubbish, nothing of what he said actually happened. And I said, I was there, he’s challenged him, and he was on a lecture tour all over the place, lecturing on all this had happened to him in Malta and all a lot of nonsense
CB: Amazing.
CW: I worked with a chap in Nairobi like that, oh, he’d been everywhere, he’d flown Sunderlands from Belfast down to Southampton, from the factory in Belfast to Southampton, he’d been torpedoed in the Pacific, he’d done everything, he was working as a radio officer in Nairobi and we kept a card index system of his [unclear] [laughs]. It was a medical book, not a word of truth in any of it, he had on his briefcase, Slate VC, and he created the impression and deliberately set about to do so the impression that he had a VC, his name was Vivien Charles Slate, the VC was his initials, Slate VC, Vivien Charles [laughs] and everybody thought he had a VC, except some of us who knew better, oh, he’d flown everything, he wasn’t even a pilot, he’d been a pilot, a wireless op, he’d done it all, in actual fact he’d done nothing, he was a traffic control assistant, ok, might have done a good job, but [unclear] done [laughs], Slate VC
CB: Just quickly for background, the repatriation was Operation Exodus, just for the tape. That’s been fascinating, so I’m gonna stop the tape now. Thank you very much because you’ve had a good run and we’ll pick up the other bits later. Thank you very much indeed, Clifford.
CW: Oh, it’s a pleasure.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Clifford Watson. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 7, 2023,

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