Interview with John Harry Waye


Interview with John Harry Waye


John Waye grew up in London. He was ten years old when he was hospitalised with diphtheria. When he was discharged he discovered his mother had died while he had been in hospital. John was working in the retail trade and was in the ATC before he volunteered for aircrew. He trained as a gunner and was posted to 355 Squadron at RAF Salbani. As a member of 355 Squadron he and his crew were involved in operations against the Japanese. He was then posted to air sea rescue duties from Jessore.




Temporal Coverage





01:31:46 audio recording


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




CJ: This is Chris Johnson and I’m interviewing John Waye today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We’re at John’s home in West Malling, Kent, and it is Monday 9th of October 2017. Thank you, John for agreeing to talk to me today. So, perhaps we could start at the beginning and could you tell us, please, where and when you were born and what your family background was?
JW: Well, I was born [pause] at Wickham as far as I, on my birth certificate that’s it. Wickham Place, which is nearby Borough High Street. And the whole area was erased and new houses put up in that place. And most of my knowledge stems from there ‘til I was, most of my knowledge stems from living in Mermaid Court. That’s a courtway between London Bridge and the Blue Eyed Maid which you’ll find in Dickens’ book. And from there well I went to Snowsfield School, the local school, until I was ten. Now, you want me to, do you want to go through what whilst I was there? That period?
CJ: Well, perhaps you could tell us a bit about what you did. Did you have any hobbies? What jobs mum and dad had?
JW: Well, as far as I can remember I used to have to toddle around to the shop to get a loaf of bread. I know that because I used to eat the crust on the way back home. And in those days each shop had its own particular business i.e. if you went to a shop you could only buy a dairy, dairy products. The dry greengrocer, not the greengrocer, the dry grocer he only sold you, sold tins. But he did sell bread about the thickness of your little, of your forefinger. And there was a little ridge there which probably denoted where it came from, you see. There were a few pubs around there. I know two shut down.
CJ: Did you have a job before you joined up?
JW: Well, oh yes, but prior to [pause] I’m going through the early stages.
CJ: Right.
JW: And my mother used to write out the paper what she wanted. A penny packet of tea or a pound of, a pound of sugar. We used to get butter. But that was during the Depression. But fortunately, my father worked on the river, and he would do a little bit of work here and there according to how much came up on the ships. If it came up light well he only had a couple of hours work. If it came up say in the summertime or the springtime they’d load up with tomatoes. Dutch tomatoes. See that goes back to economics and tax. Prior to that, stuff would come in from Spain or Canaries. Tomatoes. But then on a certain date tax, fourpence tax as far as I know went on to the cost of those tomatoes and the produce, put it that way. That went on and I used to run around at the end of the street. The street was only two hundred yards long. There was two bookmakers and my father used to like a bet. And he’d look, he’d come out of work at 12 o’clock because his working day was eight ‘til five on the docks. He was slightly later than that on other jobs. Like longer hours. And he’d write out a bet and I’d take it around to the betting shops one way or the other. If there was any money to come he’d show me how to work out a bet and I worked out there three cross doubles or trebles. Anything like that. Knowing full well that when I went around to the bookmaker and the bet came to, say two and fourpence ha’penny he would keep that ha’penny which was the usual practice of business. He wouldn’t give it to him. Give it to me. So, when I got dad I’d say to him, ‘I’m a bit short here.’ He’d look at me. He did no more. He put his hand in his pocket and gave me a ha’penny because betting was illegal before the war, you see. That’s why we had street pockets. Those, those people who could afford big money they dealt with turf accountants, you see. That’s the difference like between tuppence halfpenny and a few quid or something. So, that’s how I got on. Well, when I was at school when it comes to arithmetic and I get this, I only had a sheet of paper because you’d write down and they’re putting the thing on the board. There was a sum on the board. You had to work it out. Well, I could work it out and it was dead easy. I was doing it every day on the bet or something like that. And I’d be sitting there sort of say scratching myself. The teacher sent me out to make the tea. Or if I, if I happened to be in the playground or something they’d put it out and say, ‘Oi.’ You had to go upstairs, they’d say, ‘Go over there and get some biscuits,’ or something like that, over at the shop. So, I made sure I didn’t go, didn’t get to school too often early. Like lunch hour. Because you’d get, took an hour and three quarters for lunch. But most, most of the knowledge I have is up until 1933 because when I was ten I went into Hither Green Hospital with diphtheria. I had a sore throat one morning or one night or something like that. And I, the next morning I told them I’d got a sore throat. My dad whipped me round to Guy’s because Guy’s, Guy’s is just over the road from us, and he probably went to work or something like. He came back at mid-day, had a chat and I was whipped out the hospital straight away. And I finished up on my back in Hither Green for about six weeks. Couldn’t blooming move. You can’t move. All you can do is your eyes moving. Like that. You’re dead stiff on your back. And each morning at 7 o’clock the cleaner lady would come along. Oh, before that, at half past five you’d hear the night nurse on. Only one nurse on a ward. And she would, would be sitting there in case anybody woke up or was disturbed or something. Then at half past five the cups would rattle, and you’d hear the cups rattling and you’d know tea was coming around. So you’d get a beaker or something like that. And then at 7 o’clock the lady came in for cleaning the, polishing and cleaning the — and she opened the door and said, ‘Hello,’ or ‘good morning,’ or something, and you were pleased as punch to hear something different. You know, sort of I’m still alive at any rate. (Laughs). Yeah. And then when I got up from there I started, well I tried to race about. A bit stiff but I was all racing up and down as soon as I could. Get down in the yard there. Only between these two, like the two walls like. Racing back and forth. But in the meantime, going back, I’d come home. I’d come home from school and my mother would say to me, ‘Here take the bowl.’ We had a big enamel washing up bowl with a handle either side. The mission was to come over from Billingsgate Market. Well, that was only over the bridge to where we were living. Just below, near Borough Market. Go over there and they would, and they would have a number of like silver metal, metal dustbins. Not aluminum but steel but highly polished. Obviously for food. And in those days, there’d be the samples of different things depending which, who was the supplier. And we’d go over there and might get salmon or fish or something and come back with a big bowl or it might be tinned fruit. Anything that come in tins which they’d sampled or that particular area in it would come. And there is a book in the library, in the Southwark Library in the Borough High Street written by a young woman who lived opposite me. I lived in number 14 Mermaid Court. I can’t remember her name. But I know her name. Single name was Winnup. But I don’t know the married name. She’s probably down as her married name. But they got it there because when I asked some years back any information, the chap who was in charge of the library, he took out a book and put the folder right in. Put the pages in the book on the machines. And of course some of edges when it’s reproduced is not up to scratch. So, a little while, a couple of years later I happened to go up to Guy’s for my annual check and I popped in there. And somebody had taken all the pages apart carefully and put them in the right way. As you would making a new page, this booklet. But I’ve been up since. That chap has gone, and the newcomers are a couple of women. They don’t seem to know anything about the paper. The book. It’s in a book form but I don’t know who the author is or the chap who copied it. All I know is the person’s name is Winnup. The woman who wrote it.
CJ: So, John you were saying how you’d been in hospital for diphtheria and then you were cured.
JW: Yes. Yes.
CJ: And came out of hospital.
JW: Yes. At ten I was in, in hospital. So, then I was, I’d got, I was, I got well. Because whilst I was up each time I asked the nurse, ‘When can I go out?’ Because I felt I was being detained and I was alright. Seemingly. But she said, ‘No. You’re still not pro — ’ [pause] See, I can’t. I know what, I can’t find the words.
CJ: So, you still weren’t clear of the disease.
JW: Yeah. That’s the long phrase.
CJ: Yeah. Right. Ok.
JW: But there’s one word which in pro, not prominent. Something like that. I forget. And eventually I went out. And my dad came in. He was in black. All in black. But I thought, I didn’t take much notice of it since it’s cold. So, we gets down to London Bridge Station. We probably caught the train from Hither Green down to London Bridge Station. Walked out. We’re not walking down to Borough. Borough High Street where we lived. We’re going around to my grandma’s house. So, we were walking down the street and my aunt was walking on the other side of the street coming towards us. And when she got almost opposite she walked over to me. Took her purse out. Took her purse out and giv e me sixpence. Cor blimey. Sixpence was a heck of a lot of money. Thanks very much. Been in hospital. So, I gets around, gets around home and there’s, they lived just off Bermondsey Street, my grandma, grandpa. Then they told me my mum was dead. So, my life just, I didn’t know what day, what they meant. So, I had no reason. I couldn’t reason. What? She’s gone? She’s not here. So, with that went on and then of course I realised that I was, my mother wasn’t coming back because I had to pack in with my family and my grandma. So, that was that. But I couldn’t understand. I had two cousins. They were a bit older than me and they never seemed to play. I always used to be out on my tod in the street. If I went out to have a game there were always kids all running around playing football together. But I just couldn’t understand it. Whether they were told not to get too close to me or something I don’t know. You see in those days it was prevalent. Unsurprising, the number of people in the present day who speak out and say they had diphtheria. Because down where I lived the only flowers we saw were flowers on coffins. That’s something. Now, you go along you see shops in every High Street or something selling flowers aren’t they? That’s, that’s tough that was but anyway that went on like that and I didn’t, as I said when I was at school I, I was quite good at arithmetic and that type of work. Not, not so much English because they didn’t put too much into English. I think because we were close to the City and it was all quick-thinking money, the Stock Exchange type, I don’t know. Anyway, I tried to get in the Stock Exchange but I couldn’t get in when I left school at fourteen.
CJ: So, what did you do after leaving school?
JW: Oh, I, I got a job as, in the in the clothing trade, and we, we were making up stuff. I was making collars and nothing in particular…… and carried on like that, and after, after a couple of years I asked for a rise. Oh, my dad was out of work because — going back, I was working then when the war broke out. And the governor told us not to come in for a fortnight because he didn’t know what was going on. No work coming in. And went back to work, only for a while then they switched over onto war work. No extra money or anything like that and I asked for some. I asked for a rise and the governor was willing to give it to me but the paymaster wasn’t. So, I didn’t get any extra money. I was getting older. I packed up because my, my dad wasn’t doing too much work. Simply the traffic wasn’t coming up the river. He was a stevedore. So, and as he was, as he wasn’t he was able to work like odds and ends. A few hours or a day to cut a corner, whether the ships came up light or laden. So, we was either doing well or we wasn’t doing well. And that’s how, that’s how these things went. And he happened to be out of work at this particular time so I packed up. They didn’t give me a rise. Because the point is during the Depression whoever was working, they had to stay in work to support the rest of their families you see. And you can’t get cabbages growing in the streets in London. You can get them down here. You can, you can see them in the hedgerows or something. Get something to eat can’t you? But not in London. So, there wasn’t any extra food forthcoming that way. But I used to go to the market over, across the road in the Borough Market. And I used to take a sack, a small sack with me to school you see and at night when we finished I would race up over to market there and see if there was any carts left behind. Because if, say there used to be a sack or something burst open, there’s odd potatoes or a cabbage or something fell out or onto the cart or something they just used to kick it out off the cart because they can’t take them or they’d get pinched for stealing. You see. And if I, if I happened to touch lucky any particular day I got a good bag full of vegetables, I’d take them home and take them around to — oh that’s going back a bit farther really, take them all home to my mum. She’d take out what we needed and, ‘Take them around to grandma.’ So, I’d take them round to grandma and get a penny. Things were tough. It wasn’t for the laziness of the people. Everybody was out of work. Whether you were say a labourer or that type or whether you were an educated chap. There was no work for anybody.
CJ: So, were you still working up to when you volunteered to join up?
JW: Oh, yes. I was. I was working any odd job I could get hold of a few bob. It was a case of surviving in that respect. And as there weren’t much work in certain lines of business, because everything was geared to war work, it was like, tough. And the wages were still kept bottom because the production workers keep a lot of people going on top. Once the production worker goes their jobs go.
CJ: So, could you, could you tell us a bit about joining up, please, and how you decided on going for the RAF?
JW: Well, I was, I was interested in the, in aeroplanes and I went to the ATC. Joined up the ATC. So, I was ready to go in the RAF as soon as I was eighteen which I did do. So, I signed on straight away at eighteen. And during that short period we used to do a bit of training and like theory. See I can always remember how to fire an engine. You see you can’t go one two three four because of the alternate. Things like that you see. Little bits. Only little parts of aircraft and so on. In the end I went into the RAF. I went to [pause] I went to St Johns Wood, off Grosvenor Park, Val, begins with V the house I was in. It was in a little cul de sac with about three or four houses osn but it was, it was a modern, a modern place. A nice big bathroom. And there was only about eight or ten of us in a room. But it shows you how big the room was. All the beds were packed together like that. But the main thing was when you looked at the bathroom and the surroundings you could see how well off the occupants were in the past. Anyway, to get back onto what I was saying.
CJ: So, was this for initial training that you were in St Johns Wood?
JW: Ah, yes. Initial training. Yes. I, as I joined up and it was just you were drilled. Drilling and general get you in trim like. But after say 5 o’clock you had been to tea you could, you were free to go till 23.59, not twelve hundred hours, 23.59. So, we used to go swimming over the Seymour Road Baths. That’s only, that’s just behind Oxford Circus. And we marched, marched down there. I don’t know. I forget how many. Probably maybe about thirty or so. Something like that. We’d do that. We’d go, we’d go to Lord’s for drill. Lord’s Cricket Club. Up and down the slope like there. Marching up and down and doing all the drills and getting ready. Oh, I got fitted out. Fitted out but they didn’t have enough clothing there for the newcomers. So, all I got was a pair of boots, a black tie and I think there was a forage cap. So, of course I mean I had to wear that outfit whilst I was in the, in the RAF at the time. If I’d have changed into, into Civvy Street I would have been contravening the rules wouldn’t I? So, I goes home like that. Get on a bus and I just went home each night. Well, one day I gets on the bus to come back to the unit. There’s a chap sitting in front of me. He turned around, he says, ‘You’re improperly dressed.’ Who the blooming hell is that? He was a corporal. And I said, ‘I’ve just joined up and this is the uniform I got.’ Now, when I told him where I was going he was probably going to the same place. And it transpired that he was a publican in a pub about three hundred yards away from where I lived. On the old area where I used to live. Somewhere. I never saw any more of him and I had no, no more than that. One day I was on, I went, being home or I’d finished. Finished for the day and they had Nat Gonella playing some concert in aid of the Royal Air Force. So, I thought well I might just as well go there and pay the, contribute to the Air Force funds. So, I went there and I came back. 12 o’clock. ‘You’re late on parade, airman.’ It was just 12 o’clock. ‘You’re on a charge.’ ‘What for?’ You’re supposed to be in 12 o’clock. ‘You’re supposed to be here at 11.59.’ ‘Well,’ that’s 12 o’clock.’ ‘11.59 Air Force.’ So, a few minutes was three days.
CJ: So, where did you go after you’d —
JW: And what — go on.
CJ: After your initial training.
JW: Oh [pause] Oh, they shipped me down to Newquay. School like. To continue through you see. Well, I walked to work through there. And when they give you these papers to sign and I couldn’t understand some of the mathematics. How, how, how could A+B - equal that? A’s got nothing to do with figures. So I was stumped. Anyway, I failed that there. Then from there they sent me to Brighton. They got the same type of teacher on the board. On the book. A = Y Z and all that paraphernalia at the time mind you. I didn’t, couldn’t understand them. They didn’t come around to me and say here’s the, there’s a right-angle triangle. That’s the, that’s the adjacent, that’s the opposite and that’s the hypoteneuse. And if you use this one it’s not the same as that one. Each, each side indicates a certain type of system. We can come back to that after. I was beat again simply because they used, they used the letters A B C in algebra rather than show you how the job’s done. This is all what I’m recalling in my head and reasoning which is true. When you get older and you work that out. So, I went up to Bridlington. Then did the training up in Bridlington. Then I was shipped off to the Isle of Man.
CJ: I think you said that before the interview that Bridlington was a gunnery school. So, you’d been selected as an air gunner by then had you?
JW: I expect so. Because I had no say. You don’t have any say in the, in the services. You were a number [background interference] [unclear]
CJ: You had no choice.
JW: Had no choice. No.
[background interference] [unclear]
JW: You see. Anyhow, I went over to the Isle of Man. Did my gunnery course there and came back. Came back. I went on leave. And after the course I did about a fortnight, about a fortnight’s leave I think we got. And I got my marching orders to go to Harwell for operational training. So, I went on to Harwell. Did the operational training there and then that’s when they said, well I’ve got my log book. Told me what to do. Not to put any names down. They knew where I was going shall we say. I had no idea where I was going. So, I just had my log and from there I went — trip, trip, trip. Hurn. Hurn. Then from there to Porth, Cornwall. Porth to Gibraltar. Gibraltar to Fez in Morocco. Fez to Tripoli in Tripolitania then to, B26 Cairo. That was the aerodrome in the desert by the Sphinx. And that was that. I remember the number. It’s 26 Kilo it was.
CJ: So, were you flying out in the aircraft that you were going to be flying operationally?
JW: No. No. We went out as passengers. Myself and Nick Johns who was a pilot. We scheduled to go east on any command shall we say. We didn’t go by ship or anything like that. They probably wanted aircrew probably specifically because they’d got the B24s coming into operation. And as I said we went out there. The crew who flew us out they stayed on in the new Wimpy 10s. They were taking a new Wimpy out to replace the old 3s.
CJ: Wimpys are Wellingtons.
JW: Wellingtons.
CJ: Yes.
JW: The crew, they stayed on. They stayed on and they stayed on into 355 Squadron as well, and we went out as their passengers. Then we went to Cairo. Stayed there for a, for a week or two. Oh, about a month, I think. Then got shipped over to Tel Aviv. The old Lod. The old biblical name of Lod. I remember there we were standing there waiting. Waiting. There was supposed to be a bus or coach coming along. Don’t know how long we were going to remain on the station. Just, there was about half a dozen other chaps there, standing there. And the railway track passed the gate, the entrance to the aerodrome at the time. So, I stand there and the road comes parallel with the railway track and then goes diagonally straight across it. So, as this comes along I jumped out of the little crowd there, grabbed the tailboard of the truck as it went past and it yanked me along. Managed to climb up. It was very difficult. Tapped on the cab. The chappie looked up. You could see the fear in his face almost. He slowed down and I got in the cab. Apparently the Arabs at that time were having a go at the Jewish immigrants and there was turmoil out there you see. Apart from our war. I didn’t know that. So, we went there. Went to Tel Aviv. I always remember Tel Aviv. These low buildings. Whitewashed. Just the odd stone building which was the proper prefect’s place or offices or something, and a stony beach. Yeah. Stones like that which you get down the Mediterranean. You see the pictures now you might as well be looking at New York with all the skyscrapers there now and the cars flying along. Then, from there where did I go? From there to — is it [pause] it’s in the Iraq neck — what’s the capital?
CJ: Baghdad.
JW: Baghdad. Well, the RAF had a station there on the lake. I think it’s about a hundred yards from Baghdad. Before the aircraft were going they had flying boats doing the run across to Australia. So those water points, those flying boats could get down you see. That was before the aeroplane was strong enough to do the distance. What was the name of that?
CJ: Baghdad.
JW: No. No. The lake.
CJ: I don’t know.
JW: Habbaniyah.
CJ: Ok.
JW: Habbaniyah. That’s it. Habbaniyah. Habbaniyah. We stayed there for a couple of days or so. Then we got moving again on to Sharjah. That’s on the Gulf. There’s a RAF station. Habbaniyah, Shaibah which is in, which is Qatar. And then from there, from Qatar we went to Bahrain. They used to call them Trucial States, there were about five little States along the coast there you see up to the Horn. And we had stayed. We had bases there. Well, well after thoughts and knowledge Winston Churchill bought into that oil at Qatar in 1911. So you see where we got our fingers in the pie there. He was smart enough to know about the oil. But whilst I was at, what did I call that ‘rain? Bahrain is it?
CJ: Bahrain.
JW: Bahrain. In the souk. There was Americans. Oil. Then they were prospecting for oil around the area at that time. We used to hang an earthenware chatti up on the door in the sunshine to cool the water. It was, you could barely move, you know. It was an effort to move because of the moisture. What do they call it?
CJ: Humidity.
JW: Humidity in the air. Terrible it was there. Luckily we were away after a few days from there.
CJ: So, where did you get moved on to next?
JW: Karachi. From there we went straight over the bay of [pause] it was the northern part of —
CJ: Bengal.
JW: Bengal into Karachi. Stayed there probably about, stayed there about a month or more because the monsoon was on. Cor, you could see the train lines were up there like a boned fish. Sticking up out the ground they were. Water everywhere. Flooded. Terrible that. Eventually we got to Salbani. Into Calcutta. Then out again to Salbani.
CJ: Salbani was the RAF base.
JW: And that was, as I say the permanent operating base.
CJ: And were you the, so you were in 355 Squadron there. Were you the only squadron there?
JW: Well, when I was there the remnants of 159, 159 had moved from Salbani to Digri which was about twenty odd miles along the railway. There was no road. Very little roadways out in the area because they get washed away with the monsoons and so on. So, most of the aerodromes were on a railway track. And they were at Digri, which was about twenty or thirty miles farther on from where I am. Where we were at Salbani. They were operating from there, bombing whilst we were being trained by the remnants. Or shall we say a working party of 159. Because 123 chaps who were training us were ex, well when I say ex they were 159 people. And then we came into force as 355. And whilst we were training it was only 355. And then as the crowds came in 156 were training but we were operational then. And then that was Royal Air Force India. We came under India Command. On the New Year they changed it to South East and Asia Command with Lord Mountbatten as the CO. And I’d finished my time on there and all the, most of the chaps who did their flying there seemed to be moved off because some went down to Kolar. Oh, first off all the Aussies were being shipped back, back to Australia. And I was in the crew like an Aussie crew. Half Aussie in ours. Captain, he was Aussie, navigator was Aussie. Very very good. Most of the navigators were ex-schoolteachers. They came from Sydney. Mainly Sydney and the other southern Australia. South Australia. The whole lot. They’d come a roundabout way through Nassau when they did their training and then went on to meet us in Burma and that’s where we come together. Oh, and incidentally they were shipping them home. Time expired, and they shipped off at what, about three crews to my knowledge were shipped out to other units. Well, I went from there to Jessore. That’s it. I went to Jessore. Our crew, or more like the remnants of the crew, went with some others on air sea rescue to 91, I think it was, squadron.
CJ: Can I just come back to Salbani? So when? When was this roughly when you arrived there for your training after this long trip?
JW: Well, it was maybe about August or September. I don’t know. It was —
CJ: Of which year?
JW: ’43.
CJ: ’43. Ok. So, you were, before the air sea rescue you were flying bombing operations after your training from Salbani.
JW: From, from Salbani we, we were trained on four-engine bombers with the remnants of 159 Squadron. When that was done we still remained on the aerodrome as 355 Squadron, and 355 stayed on after I’d gone for a year or two to my knowledge. And when they found that we were time expired after six months trips or learned the whole kaboosh seemed to be shut down. As I said some went down to Kolar on, which was down in South Central India. It’s a rich town. I can’t think of it off hand. Some went there and they were obviously training new recruits because I read after, in say in in the books that these people were coming from Kolar to South East Asia in 1945. So, the remnants of our squadron were down there training them. And we were shipped out onto, I think it was 291 Air Sea Rescue at Jessore. Then we went up to [unclear] I think it was. We went to another squadron and that’s where I got my, all of us got our pass home.
CJ: So, when you were with 355 Squadron at these different bases you were flying bomber, bombing operations then were you?
JW: Well, at that time if you put your fingers out like that across Burma that’s how the mountains were. Fourteen thousand feet and upwards. Very very steep. Like that you see. As if something like a concertina had been pushed together and they gradually get narrow. Well, that’s Burma and they work from the Irrawaddy River towards the coast. And there’s only maybe two or three passes whereby you could come through. Otherwise you’ve got to climb over fourteen thou. Well, what had happened, we probably controlled those passes but the Japs came over the top. They were, they came through the jungle. Hacked their way through the jungle. And that grass is as thick as that. It’s called grass but you needed a mach, we carried a machete to cut our way through. But there was the coast road. A road came up from Rangoon up the coast, you see. And as they were getting quite close to Imphal and I can’t think of the name [pause] the British were holding them back. The Japs were pushing and pushing. And it was a seesaw seesaw so we were coming over and coming down and bombing the positions of the Japanese if they were there. Sometimes we’d get up to the runway and they cancelled because the British had pushed the Japanese back down the line and that position we were due to bomb was British held. My mate now he complains that we bombed his brother-in-law. His brother-in-law tells them that the blasted Englishmen were bombing us. You see. See that was going. Well that’s all we were doing, and then gradually in the meantime we’d go over to Mandalay or Pegu or some of the railway junctions. Nong Pla Duk, that was out near Bangkok, that one on the Siam Railway. And we’d be doing all those trips and that was our, my term back on the station.
CJ: So, which aircraft were you flying then?
JW: I flew. I was flying mid-upper all the way.
CJ: The aircraft. I think you said they were Liberators. B24. Is that correct?
JW: Oh yes. We weren’t flying. That’s why we went out there. To fly on it. To fly on the B24s.
CJ: So what were the crew positions on the B24s?
JW: Well, when we were flying we flew, we were still flying, taking out the old Mark 3s with the four machine guns in the back and a mid-upper turret. That was the aircraft. And then after about six months in come Mark 6s. Well, they had a front turret on. Or they might have been an earlier type. I don’t know. They had a front turret on and a rear turret. In fact I don’t think I ever flew with a chap in the front. I can’t remember anybody flying in it. Then we had 6s come in which had a ball turret. And I flew in that once. That was enough for me. I didn’t want to know about flying.
CJ: So, the other crew positions. You had a pilot. Co-pilot.
JW: No. No.
CJ: Flight engineer.
JW: There was a rear gunner, myself, wireless operator, flight engineer, navigator and a pilot. Didn’t have a second pilot. We had just a seven man crew.
CJ: You were mid-upper, you said.
JW: I was mid-upper. Yeah. But as it transpired later on they put other, as I say, ball turret gunner. A front gunner in. Then they put side gunners in from what I gather. From what I’ve read in a book. But that’s in 1945. Well, I’m home here.
CJ: So how many of these bombing operations did you do then against the Japanese positions?
JW: I don’t know, honestly. It never, it never bothered me. All I knew I was alive. So, I didn’t care where. I wasn’t in England. Would I like to get home? I was out there, so it didn’t make much difference how many trips. But I was tour, tour expired and they probably take in the number of trips plus the distance you had to fly on some trips. So say you do twelve, fourteen hour trips, you’ve got to keep your eyes open all the time to see, and you’re on, as I say you’re on your nerves with anytime someone could take a pot at you.
CJ: So did, was there much opposition on these raids from fighters or anti-aircraft fire?
JW: Not, not the, not on my particular trips, fortunately. It was other people who had the attacking by the aircraft. Now, most of ours was ack ack. We got caught in, over Rangoon. And oh, Joe [pause] Murdoch was second in command of the unit and he took over from Ercolani when he, not Ercolani, Dodson when he moved out. That’s right. And he took over the crew. And [pause] what were we talking about? Oh —
CJ: You were saying that when you’d been tour expired that they took into account the number of trips but also —
JW: Oh yeah. That’s it.
CJ: How long those trips had been.
JW: That’s right. And I suppose they just wanted the old, the old crews out and then the new lot were coming in. I’d read that they were already training. The Canadians already had a place out in Canada where they trained them on B24s, so there was no need for them to be trained up from two-engine to four-engine job because they were already experienced on it. Any rate, we we was over Rangoon and got caught in, the searchlight caught us, and it caught all the searchlights which were waving about. The whole lot. You couldn’t see a thing. You see that. See that edge. That’s all you could see. You can’t see the pictures on the wall. You can’t see yourself or anything. All you could see was a hairline of the outline of whatever the object was. The gun was just the shape of a hairline shape. A box. You couldn’t see what was inside that. It never denoted the frame or any bullet marks or anything on it.
CJ: So, when you were coned by the searchlights then they started shooting at you.
JW: Oh, they started shooting. We come straight down like nobody’s business. We got out of trouble, fortunately, but Joe was one of those chaps who wanted to be first home. And in the mean, in the meantime, I was sent to Bhopal on a course in central India. So I know the chap named Murphy. He was a rear gunner but he took over my place for the trip. And Joe, they come home and Joe ran out of gas over the Sundarbans. The Sundarbans are the mouths of the Brahmaputra River. Massive river that is. And it’s all like fingers of water going out. Some are deep and some are shallow. Well, he came down there and they all got out, but he went in with the aircraft and he got shot through the Perspex and it scalped him and, what I heard, that he was the first bloke who had penicillin in India. The first man to get it. I don’t, we don’t hear much of what goes on. Not much information what happened to him, but all those little things crop up. They’re not in a sequence to say it. Just something that reminds you during the conversation and you have to keep backtracking.
CJ: So, then, then you said you’d been sent on to another squadron for air sea rescue. This was still before the end of the war, was it?
JW: Oh yes. I’m still, I’m still in SEAC. I’m in SEAC now. And they trained, they seemed to clear the squadron out of the old hands. In the meantime, new crews had been coming in and a I suppose they were trained up, and it seemed to me that about a half a dozen crews had been shipped out. As I said some went to Kolar. We went, two crews went down to Jessore and another crew went up to Shillong on different units. But it was whilst we were in the, whilst we were in those squadrons, we all got notification that we were on a boat being shipped home from Bombay. But from the time we got notification till the actual move was a couple of months. As if someone got on the phone and said, ‘Five crews. Send them over. We’re sending them over to England.’ And when word goes around you expect you’re on your way. But no, it took a long time for papers to come through. Then we were at Bombay about three months waiting for a ship. Just hanging around. There’s no, no drills or anything. It was just a place to sleep. Somewhere to eat. Or if you’ve got the money and can afford the fare up to Bombay. Don’t forget the money was, was a pittance. God, it was terrible. And the army controls India at the time, and their monetary system was so poor they must have been about two hundred years back. You got, you want a week’s, a week’s wages to buy a cup of tea out there.
CJ: So, eventually a ship arrived to bring you back to England.
JW: Yeah. It was, it was a pleasure to come back on that ship. It was nice and sunny. See the flying fish coming along. And see that blue sheet? That was how the water was. Nice.
CJ: And did you know when you were on the ship what you were supposed to be doing when you got back to England?
JW: No. You’re just going back to England. You’re in the Army, in the Navy or the Air Force you was a number. Whatever it was. And you were being shipped from one place to another place.
CJ: So this was — when was this? It was still before the end of the war. Yeah.
JW: No. I was [pause] we were laying off. We came through the Suez and we were lying off Gibraltar. And I woke up this particular morning, looked out and saw all these ships. All these American ships out there. I said, ‘Gawd crikey.’ They must have sent them a convoy down towards the Mediterranean, right up to Gibraltar then come up that way to England rather than come in the northern. But it wasn’t until after a couple of days that they got the information that President Roosevelt had died. So I’m not sure what date it was. About 1944 I should think. But I do know where I was when President Roosevelt died. I was, I was just coming up the Bay of Biscay somewhere out of Gibraltar.
CJ: And then what happened to you when you got back to England?
JW: Well, we laid off. We came into Glasgow. Glasgow. And Burn, something Burn. The first bridge up in Glasgow was as far as the ship could go. Because you could stand on the ship and there was the bridge maybe hundred, two hundred yards away. It’s the centre of Glasgow. So we waited there and we were there a day or a bit more than a day. Then come late evening eventually we were told a train pulled in alongside the dock. We just walked down the gangplank and got the train. It was during the night. We were going through to Wirral. West Kirby. That’s in the Wirral. We gets there. We gets there at night time. No idea of the time. Didn’t have watches in those days. We were given, we were given, given something to eat, a meal, and packed off. Had some equipment and we went to bed. We got up the next morning. On parade. They took us up to, across to Liverpool. Jumped on wherever you were going. I, myself and the other chaps going to London or south got on the London train and that was that.
CJ: So, that was you being demobbed was it?
JW: No. No. No. This was 1944.
CJ: Right. So you were still in the RAF.
CW: Still in the RAF. Yeah.
CJ: So you were put on a train. You didn’t know where you were going.
JW: No. Not yet. Oh, we had a pass when we left the Wirral. They’d given us a fourteen-day pass. Call it leave, you see. Of course we went down there and I got a letter to report to — Harwell, was it. No. No. Somehow or other I was —I had to go up to (Shrivenall?). Up north of Shropshire. A squadron there. It was Rednal or Ridnal or something like that. An aerodrome, yeah. A nice wooded place it was, and I was put on flying control. So, I was up there for a couple of months and then the squadron was moved out from there to Wiltshire. Near Trowbridge. The aerodrome was near Keevil. Keevil. That’s Trowbridge. We was there a few months. Myself and another chap, Titch, and we were shipped [pause] shipped up to Newcastle. Now, what was that aerodrome there? It was north of Newcastle. Acklington. Acklington. That was the station there.
CJ: And what were you doing there? Was that aircraft control again?
JW: Aircraft. Aircraft. The two of us. And I was in charge of the ground aerodrome, you see. And one day, one evening Titch and I were in pairs and in control of the shop, and we needed a tractor so I said, said to Titch, ‘Go down and get one of the tractors, Titch’. We had a big Edsel Ford and it was useless it was. It had no guts in it at all. It just went along, put it that way. One day I got on and all they had was a piece of wire to stop it and start it. You pulled the wire out and it kicked over. You pushed it back it stopped. So, I had to go around the aerodrome and I’m driving around and down to, like the aircraft. They were putting it off the aerodrome. Turning it around and pushing it in to the, the hangar. And I’m coming along and I can’t stop this damned thing or do anything to slow it down. Luckily, they had to push it up. I went underneath them. That was a good job I didn’t hit it otherwise I’d have been up, right up the creek. And then I asked Titch to go down and get, to get a tractor and he went down there. I thought, ‘Crikey he’s a long time, isn’t he? I wonder what the heck’s happened to him.’ Couldn’t find out what was wrong. Where he was. Why it was. The next morning gets onto the sick bay again. ‘Oh, we sent him to hospital, Hexham.’ ‘Oh. Ok.’ Then we got information that he’d, they’d sent him to hospital which was at Hexham, that’s near Carlisle. Right across country to Carlisle, and I went in and I said, ‘What happened to you?’ He said, ‘Well, I swung, I swung the handle to start her up. It kicked back and smashed me — .’ Took two inches out of his arm. They had to shorten his arm. Take out all the smashed bone out and put that on. Never saw him again. Suppose when he got better I suppose he was demobbed. And I’ve heard nothing since.
CJ: So, were you doing aircraft control until the end of the war?
JW: Yeah. And then I was left there on my tod. The other, the officers, the two officers they never turned up. Well, I didn’t see them, put it that way. And I thought to myself, I never got a breather because it was a three, three shift system. By the time you got home and had a sleep and got up again it was time to get ready and go out again. And somebody wanted, somebody lived up north, was stationed at Tangmere and, and he wanted to shift up north. Well, I heard about it so I said, ‘Well, I’ll have it. I’ll change over. See if I can change my job or something, you know beside being nearer to London as I thought. Didn’t realise Tangmere was still seventy miles from London [laughs] So, we changed over and I finished up at Tangmere. I was demobbed from there up to London. Demobbed.
CJ: So, do you remember what you were doing, what the atmosphere was like when the end of the war came?
JW: I didn’t —
CJ: How you got the news?
JW: How the what?
CJ: How did you get the news that the war had finished? VE Day.
JW: Well, to be quite honest it had no effect on me personally. It did on some people. And you see them depicted in the paper or the news. Everybody enjoying themselves. I didn’t because I happened to be on leave and I’ve never seen such misery in my life. I went home. There was nobody there, only old women. And they didn’t have coats. Some of them had shawls. You see they moan about these, what do them call them? Muslims with these —
CJ: Hijabs.
JW: I’m not saying the ones with the high side and the hat and the pin underneath the chin. Well, some of the women dressed like that. Because they never had the money to buy. They were expensive. Women’s clothing. And I came home and I seen these elderly people walking about. Neighbours. No lights. And unlike India and places like that where there’s thousands, millions of stars up there just like lights shining down you could see your way about everywhere. You had lampposts and things like that on, in front of you. I went into a pub and there was only me and my father in there, and my stepmother. And I think the old-fashioned oil lamp on the counter. No noise. I thought, bugger this. I was glad to get back.
CJ: So was there a lot of bomb damage as well in that area?
JW: Oh, at Guy’s Hospital. They counted fifty six bombs in Guy’s Hospital. Where that Shard is at London Bridge Station. A bomb. On this particular night I went to the pictures. The Troc-ette up in Tower Bridge Road with my mates at the time. We went in there and when it finished we came out. My mate, he said, ‘Well, my mother and sister, are down in, down under London Bridge Station, in the shelter.’ And they had a huge massive steel door. You went through the front and behind. In the tunnel itself there was a massive door. They went down there. Myself and my best friends, we went home. We didn’t know until the next day that the bomb had hit that shelter and killed so many people. And also the secondary bomb which was dormant temporarily had exploded and killed the nurses and doctors who were out from Guy’s looking after the children, the people in there. So that part laid derelict, laid derelict until they built the Shard. That’s fifty years isn’t it? In the meantime the, the Post Office used, used the top to take their mailbags up. They made a path, a road up from the ground and they came up that way from, from the street. And I was opposite, in bed in Guy’s and I used to look out and on Saturday nights the bottom, bottom part there they used as a dance club. Rented it or something like that. And usually crowds of youngsters up there bawling and shouting because there was a dance on. We used to see that. Well, then they cleared them out and they put the Shard up there.
CJ: So, when was it you were demobbed, and what did you do after that?
JW: I went back on tailoring. That’s all I knew. If I’d have known [pause] If I’d had knowledge of what was, what to do through experience, as I said to you I was quite hot at arithmetic and figures. I’d have gone in, I’d have been better off going in the air in one respect. Because after going to school through the RAF I learned further education, you see. Which the children don’t get. Next higher up levels as you go up. So, in one respect I’ve never been lucky on raffles and things like that. You see. But, I’m still alive. Now, my mates we went to the pictures on that particular night. He went home. John. John Rose he was. My mate’s name. He went home. He joined up the RAF just after myself and he joined up as a aircrew. Volunteered for aircrew and you’d got to be able to pass an exam to get into aircrew and be fit. And he went to Pembrey. There’s a gunnery, a gunnery school there down in Pembrey in South Wales and so on. Then he was posted to 76 Squadron, Linton on Ouse. I had a couple of letters. I had them here. And he wrote back and he said, “Well, I don’t mind going to Berlin.” Now, Berlin was always splashed in the paper as a terrible place to go to for aircraft. I suppose it was just reassuring news that to the public at large. But he said his squadron were doing like the dirty work. The — what’s the word for it? Diversionary. And he got shot down and killed over Magdeburg. Don’t know. There’s no name of where he went. He’s one of the nine thousand odd missing. So, all I can figure out is that they’ve gone in to bomb. The shell’s done that. I only hope that he didn’t get damaged and come down in the North Sea because he’d just freeze to death in the North Sea.
CJ: So, did, did you carry on tailoring until you retired?
JW: Yeah. Yeah.
CJ: Or did you have any other jobs?
JW: Yes. I was tailoring. And [pause] some clothing if it had silks woven into it. Stripes, bottoms. Hundred percent tax. There was no turn ups. They were all straight bottoms where before the war they were turn ups. That’s one of the things that made it hard for tailoring to make a good profit. Also, if the cost of the primary object was increased all those people who get a cut all the way to the retailer, put the price up. So, it was to their interest that they kept the price down, so the tailors were always, as different jobs came in sometimes you were rushed. You would be working late into the evening and half the night with jobs. In that particular trade people would, businessmen would come in. Business people would come in. And they, they would make arrangements say for next year or sometime next year. Well, if you get one or two people come in at the same time and want, you’ve got the job half done. Like prepared. Not finished. Three of them come in and say well shall we say and all wanting in the one day or two you’re working half the blessed night. You see. That’s the, that’s the point when the chap works on his own on a business.
CJ: So, coming back to the RAF. Was there a Squadron Association that you joined and you went to any reunions? Or did you manage to —
JW: I was too busy.
CJ: Keep in touch with anybody?
JW: I couldn’t. The job itself, my job itself wasn’t a regular nine to five job. So, therefore I couldn’t. I couldn’t say well I’ll be in such and such a place at 6 o’clock three months’ time. I don’t know, I might be busy. And if I’m busy and I’m working there and I don’t do the job there was no work. You see. Whereas the chap who, say for instance the chap who works for the government he’s a salaried person. He walks, well he gets to work at a certain time, does his jobs and walks out. Finished. At the end of the week in those days, or a month there’s his cheque. If he goes to buy his house — ‘Who do you work for?’ ‘Oh, I work for this government place,’ so and so, and so and so. Income and all that. They’re guaranteed to get their money back in a sense because as long as you’re alive they’ll get their money back eventually and the profits on it. On the other hand, the manufacturer or the person working in manufacturing he could get the sack, the sack with an hours’ notice. There’s no, I can’t think of the word. There’s no guarantee that he’ll be working next week. He signed up today. He might be out of work next week and can’t afford, hasn’t got the repayments. So, they’re not going to take chances on him and they couldn’t give it. It’s only when that, do you want some money lark came in and they allowed people to buy their house it was like chancing it. It’s all changed.
CJ: I think you told me earlier that you’d been up to the Bomber Command Centre a couple of years ago. Was this the opening?
JW: Yes. That’s. Now, did I have it here? I don’t know whether I —I went up there. I don’t know how I got, I may have got it through the club. Oh, here we are.
CJ: But this was for the opening of the Spire was it?
JW: Yes. It may have been sent through them. I can’t remember but —
CJ: So, did —
JW: My mate. He’s mad on aircraft and anything and he’s, he’s in this here, the club at Shoreham.
CJ: The Friends of the Few.
JW: Yeah.
CJ: At Shoreham Museum. Yeah. Ok.
JW: You see. And through him he probably may have put my name down or something or the other. Anyway, I got that information and he himself was going up there so he said, ‘I’ll take you up.’ So, he takes me to Biggin Hill and, because I can’t get out of here. I’ve got no car and I don’t drive.
CJ: Did you get to see some other, to meet other veterans when you went up to Lincoln?
JW: No. No. I didn’t. I didn’t meet any, any there when I went to Lincoln. Well, that’s another point. I went to Lincoln. As I said there was this big marquee where all the ex-aircrew were and there was seating there for four hundred and only three hundred odd turned up. So, I’m sitting here, and my granddaughter took me up. She’s sitting there on my right, and there was an empty seat opposite me and a chap came in and he sat down opposite me. That’s right. I said, ‘Good morning,’ or made, to make a conversation. But he was dumb in a sense. Alright. We get our dinner. We’re getting through our dinner and my granddaughter, she’s asking him and talking to him and so on and so forth. I can’t hear because I’m partially deaf, and then the noise, the hubbub going on. And then I saw a woman slide in, in that empty seat opposite my granddaughter, and she put a paper in, about that size. A4 folder. Opened it up, and it’s something or the other and he started crying. Put his head down weeping. I thought, well what’s happened here? Well, it transpired that he’d have been involved in this Croix de Guerre or something which the Frenchmen put out. He’d been flying over Paris or somewhere in France and got shot down. He was captured by the Partisans but he managed to get away. The Partisans got shot by the Germans but he managed to get away. And then he, he got through somehow or the other. He got back to England. He went over again and he got shot down again. And something serious really upset him. Whether that was the first time he was manhandled by the Germans or second time, something like serious upset him and he was just shaking and crying there. His head was almost on the table. You couldn’t console him. Just let him go out. And she gave him this. She showed him this citation and the paper and she read it out to him. He was in no condition to read it all. And, I don’t know, I can’t remember whether she gave him the medal or if this was just the citation before the medal was presented. But I said to my granddaughter, ‘There you are. That’s, you’ve seen it with your own eyes what these blokes went through.’
CJ: So, how do you feel Bomber Command were treated after the war? Aircrew?
JW: Well, quite honestly I was too busy trying to make a living. I didn’t have a secure type of job. So, I was like in and out of work short time, because once you finished your job you were paid and that’s that. There was no, no signing on the dole or, or things like that which people get. That’s the difference between my way of thinking of the past, pre-war to those who were born after the war and always get these freebies. Think they’re hard done by if they have to work or something. But otherwise every time I have a flash, sometimes I might be half asleep and I have a flash come through and it reminds me of where I was or sometime or the other or what we were doing. But not just reading it off, like from a book. It’s gone out the back of my head. That’s why these are patchy like when the, as I’m talking. I’m talking at the present and something’s happened before that in in the past leading up to the present or the future. But I’m just my, the crux I have when I think of the children. How they’re not getting an education that they should be getting. Because there won’t be any work now when those ships come here from China with a million tons on board. Come up the Thames. Were they going to come up here with cars? You see Chinese cars on the market, or like pictures or films of them? We’ve been led to believe that the Chinese are a poor country or something. But when you, when you see the traffic around Beijing. Those places. It’s always us who are behind. Not them.
CJ: Well, thank you very much indeed, John. That was a fascinating interview. Thank you for talking to us today.
JW: Well, that’s quite, I’m glad to have a chance to talk about it. I’ll probably remember a lot of things when you’re gone. But that’s one of those things.
CJ: Well, thanks very much. You remembered an awful lot.



Chris Johnson, “Interview with John Harry Waye,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 20, 2024,

Item Relations

This item has no relations.