Interview with David Wilkie

Title

Interview with David Wilkie

Description

David Wilkie was born in Edinburgh. He volunteered for the RAF and began training as a flight engineer. While training at St Athan he met his future wife, Kathleen. He was posted to 432 Squadron with a Canadian crew. He witnessed the gathering of the armada sailing towards the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. After his tour he was posted to Ceylon as an administrator dealing with court martial cases.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2016-11-02

Contributor

Julie Williams

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

00:35:06 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AWilkieD161102, PWilkieD1601

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

RP: This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Rod Pickles. The interviewee is David Wilkie. The interview is taking place at David’s home in Christchurch, Dorset on the 2nd of November 2016. Also present is Adrian Goodwin. David, good afternoon and thank you for inviting me here. This interview is all about you so if we could sort of go back to the beginning and your, your days when, where you were born and when you left school and what your thoughts were about joining the RAF. So first, tell us where were you born?
DW: I was born in Edinburgh. Well, part of Edinburgh on the 3rd of May 1924. I went to a school from five right on until I left it at fifteen, sixteen. Trinity Academy. Quite a good school.
RP: So that’s one school from primary through secondary education.
DW: Yeah.
RP: That’s a good idea.
DW: All the way. Which is very good. And it was a good school. Good playing fields which made me happier than being at school because I was quite an athlete and very keen on games and rugby and so on.
RP: What was your, what was your, your best sport you were the best at would you say?
DW: My best sport was actually rugby but on the other hand I was pretty good at a number of athletics. Running around tracks and things like that.
RP: You’ve got the build of a fly half to me. What position were you?
DW: I was fly half but also on the wing.
RP: Oh right.
DW: But we’ll say fly half. And in fact, at that time my ambition was to become a teacher at a school. Doing, what do you call it, jobs? Not jobs.
RP: Teaching. Teaching physical education.
DW: Teaching.
RP: Games.
DW: Games and the like.
RP: So what, what persuaded you to another career then?
DW: Well I think the realities of the situation. When I got to fifteen, sixteen I left school and in fact I went into, by persuasion from my parents I went into a solicitor’s office for a time. That was a local one. But I wasn’t keen on that very much so it didn’t take me too long to volunteer to get into the RAF.
RP: Was there a particular reason you chose the RAF? Was there any family association or was it just a good idea?
DW: No family association at all. And my father had been in the army of course and so forth. But no, I just liked the idea of flying and I was, I was accepted for pilot navigator observer trainee. But there was a huge queue for that and I wasn’t yet, we were told to go away. Come back. Go away. ‘Join the ATC and we’ll have you back as and when there’s room.’ That seemed to go on forever. That was what had been discussed because by then we were in the ATC so we decided that, in fact, three of us did, that it was too long to wait. But they are looking for flight engineers. So why don’t we volunteer for that? Which the three of us did. And we were trained and we had training of course down at Wales mainly. And that’s about a year’s training or so.
RP: Whereabouts in Wales were you?
DW: It was down near Cardiff. Between Cardiff and Swansea.
RP: St Athan, would that have been?
DW: It was in fact St Athan.
RP: Yeah.
DW: Thank you for helping me with that. I should know that quite well.
RP: Yeah.
DW: And of course I met my wife down, Kathleen down —
RP: Oh right. So that’s why you’ve got memories of Wales then.
DW: We’ve been back and forward. She died about eight years ago now.
RP: But it must have been interesting when Scotland played Wales at rugby then.
DW: Absolutely. But there was an agreement in the family that, you know, when Wales was playing anybody else. England or whatever it was I’d vote for Wales. And likewise Kathleen would vote for Scotland if in fact it wasn’t playing Wales. And so on.
RP: That’s an amicable solution.
DW: Absolutely. Now we, we, in fact we’ve been married, or would have been married seventy years this year.
RP: Goodness me.
DW: But she died a bit sooner.
RP: So was she in the forces then? What was she?
DW: She was an ATS.
RP: Oh right.
DW: I’ve got a picture of her there somewhere.
RP: Ok.
DW: ATS. But just as a normal private. Didn’t do anything special. So, let’s see. That was that. I’m still on score. Or should I be talking about —
RP: You were at St Athan. You were in St Athan.
DW: St Athan.
RP: You’d finished your training. Where did you go to from St Athan and when you’d finished training in Wales?
DW: From there I went up north to East Moor I think it was. And then we were allocated of course, in due course.
RP: Yes.
DW: To a crew. I say allocated but what happened, once you were ready to go in, to join a crew and go into Bomber Command and fly we all met in a big, a big hall.
RP: So this was, did you go to an Operational Training Unit before that then? An OTU.
DW: An Operational Training Unit would go, we’d go to that after we’d joined a crew.
RP: Oh right. So you joined a crew first. I see. Yeah.
DW: I think so. Yeah.
RP: Yeah.
DW: I’m sure we did.
RP: Yes, Yeah.
DW: Anyway, we centred around this big hall looking for a crew and, which was rather difficult. You’re looking around and looking around. But then a group of four came and approached me and somebody said, ‘You’re a Scotsman.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘Right. We’re happy to have a Scotsman in our crew. Would you like to join us?’
RP: Oh, that was nice.
DW: So I looked at them and well, rather quickly I said, ‘Yes. Sure.’ And that was it.
RP: This was, were they Canadians?
DW: Canadian.
RP: Was it a Canadian squadron?
DW: It was a Canadian squadron.
RP: And what number was that?
DW: 432.
RP: That’s four, so that was mostly Canadian aircrew with a —
DW: Practically so. They didn’t have any engineers.
RP: Oh right.
DW: So of course that’s why we were allocated.
RP: I see. Yeah.
DW: Allocated because I don’t suppose they, whoever did it decided they had to find engineers for them. So that was that. And then we did some more training obviously at, well it was just north of York. And before we went on to actual —
RP: So —
DW: Operations.
RP: Before, from joining a squadron how long was it before your first operation? How much training did they give you?
DW: Quite a bit. The training of course was a whole year and part of that and I think probably about five or six weeks when you got to know the, your crew.
RP: What aircraft was this you were flying?
DW: This was, I flew with a Halifax.
RP: Ok.
DW: A Halifax 3. Or a Halifax 5 as it happened. And these had the radial engines and that happened to be what I liked rather than the inline as it happened. Lancasters were more popular but in fact I liked the idea of radial engines and there it was. So we joined 432 Squadron as Number 6 Wing up north and just beyond York and we did our tour from there.
RP: So what was your first operation then? Can you remember that?
DW: First operation. Yes. Was [pause] I’m desperately trying to think which one it was now. I know where it was but [pause] sorry about that. You don’t mind if I hesitate.
[recording paused]
RP: Ok David. So, your first operation was to where, sorry?
DW: To Caen. In France.
RP: And that was on D-Day.
DW: And that was on D-Day.
RP: So did you just —
DW: The night, well the night of the 6th of June 1944.
RP: Yeah. So —
DW: And of course D-Day was that morning.
RP: Yes. Yeah. So you were part of the the D-Day attack.
DW: Yes indeed.
RP: Right. Did you know? Did you know —
DW: No.
RP: It was sort of D-Day as such.
DW: No. No.
RP: You didn’t. Oh right.
DW: No. Not then.
RP: No.
DW: But of course coming back over The Channel here we saw this mammoth —
RP: The mammoth fleet. Yes. So you realised something was on. Yeah.
DW: Big, big ships and all the rest of it. So at that particular point the whole crew saw this and — it must be D-Day [laughs]
RP: So you were able to see them yourself. Yeah. You had a look and sort of saw the ships. It must have been an amazing sight.
DW: It was an amazing sight. It was. We saw an armada of battleships, destroyers and landing craft heading for the beaches of France. Of course we had not been told it was D-Day but, which was still a secret but in fact the pictures made it crystal clear as to exactly what —
RP: Yes. Exactly.
DW: Yeah. And I must say in our hearts, I’ve got a wee note here, in our hearts we prayed for those brave soldiers. Many of whom would not see the end of that day.
RP: Of course, yes.
DW: Which is true.
RP: So that was the first one. Can you remember any other particular sorties for any reason? Where do you think you suffered the most flak that you were flying over on one of your missions? Can you remember that?
DW: Well the longest journey we did was the one I told you about to [pause] What did we say to?
RP: Stuttgart.
DW: Stuttgart.
RP: That’s a distance. That’s a fair.
DW: That’s a long trek.
RP: A long trek.
DW: About nine or ten hours.
RP: Good grief. That is a long time isn’t it?
DW: A long journey. So that was a long, that was probably the one that figures most in my mind because it was a difficult one. We had more, well, guns firing at us enroute and so forth. So that was on D-Day. Yeah. And of course we had then, on the way back saw the Normandy landings and, and then we knew it was D-Day. We hadn’t known that before.
RP: Gosh. That’s an historic moment isn’t it?
DW: Very much so.
RP: So you carried on with more. More sorties.
DW: Yeah.
RP: I just wondered, on the D-Day one, is your first, in your first one as you climbed into the aircraft were you thinking, crossing yourself or thinking here we go, or praying? Were you worried or apprehensive or it was just something you had to do?
DW: You were conscious that you were going in to, you could be going into a lot of trouble but, and we were conscious of that. But nonetheless we seemed to be fired up to go there. Although we were very conscious of the dangers.
RP: Yes.
DW: That we might have. But certainly, we didn’t sit around and just worry, worry, worry. It wasn’t like that.
RP: It was just, it was the job you had to do basically.
DW: Yeah.
RP: That’s how you approached it.
DW: The only time that there were comments was during the initial [pause] well the initial discussion with the senior people telling us where we were going. And then of course they didn’t tell you. They just took a screen off the map.
RP: Right.
DW: And there were either sighs of horror or —
RP: Yeah. And then you find out where it was.
DW: Where you were going. And as I say the first one we had was to Caen which wasn’t bad.
RP: But I noticed that obviously from some of your, the sorties. Some of them obviously to Germany. To Hamburg and other places. But also you were doing a lot of bombing on the French ports weren’t you?
DW: Yes.
RP: Because that was obviously to stop the German shipping I suppose.
DW: Absolutely.
RP: You did one to St Malo I see there. And Brest. Brest, I think was where the submarine pens were. Was that the mission?
DW: That is right.
RP: The mission was to bomb the submarine pens, you think.
DW: Yeah. Quite correct.
RP: Was that successful? I think that was quite successful. I don’t know which squadron but I think they did eventually wreck them didn’t they?
DW: I think so but of course we don’t, we didn’t always know about the total result.
RP: No. You just did it.
DW: Of what we were doing.
RP: Yeah. Course.
DW: And our interest of course was basically what we were doing ourselves.
RP: Yes. Yes.
DW: And it might have taken some time for the intelligence people to get to us and say what had happened. So that was D-Day. And —
RP: So with your Canadian crew then was it a good, a good bonding with them?
DW: Very good.
RP: Very friendly.
DW: Very good.
RP: And how did you operate with ground crew then? Were ground crew allocated to you or did it, was it —
DW: No. We had two ground crew.
RP: Right.
DW: That were allocated to us throughout.
RP: Oh right.
DW: And whatever time of the day or night we went these two ground crew were there.
RP: So they were part of your team as such.
DW: Absolutely.
RP: So there was a lot of camaraderie you think.
DW: Very much so.
RP: Canadians.
DW: In fact, somewhere or other I probably have some pictures of them because they were part of the —
RP: Yeah.
DW: You know, we saw them as part of our group.
RP: In serviceability terms was the Halifax a good aeroplane?
DW: Well, we thought so.
RP: You never had—
DW: That was our allocation mark you but —
RP: Can you ever remember having to cancel a sortie because your aircraft —
DW: Sorry?
RP: Can you ever remember cancelling a sortie because your aircraft was not ready?
DW: I think that only happened on one. One occasion.
RP: Well that’s a pretty good rating really isn’t it?
DW: Yes. We found the aircraft was very good. We had no, no problems with it and people said, well Lancasters are better and we might say that’s a lot of nonsense.
RP: There would always be a that sort of us and them wouldn’t it? Yeah.
DW: Yeah. And of course, one of the reasons that I favoured a Halifax is because it had radial engines. I seemed to be more comfortable with that.
RP: Yeah.
DW: During our training.
RP: Which is fine.
DW: Rather than the inline.
RP: Yes.
DW: And so, it was as simple as that.
RP: So, when they, when you were actually training is it, are you doing circuits and bumps or going on bombing ranges? Or how do you — what are you training?
DW: Well you are actually doing both but mainly circuits and bumps. That was your initial training. You got the crew and you had to join up with them. But they had already joined up and the flight engineer actually was —
RP: Right.
DW: The last guy to be hauled up. And it was just a big hall and people were moving around. Looking —
RP: Yeah.
DW: For the rest of a crew.
RP: So, it’s just becoming familiar with the aircraft you were training once —
DW: Yeah.
RP: So once they think that — were you ever assessed then? Was somebody assessing the pilot.
DW: I’m sure the pilot was assessed. [unclear]
RP: Yeah. And when they felt you were ready to go.
DW: The, they had already got all the crew bar a flight engineer.
RP: Yeah.
DW: And they had already gone through some training.
RP: Yeah.
DW: And the pilot of course had gone training on other aircraft too.
RP: Of course. I mean we all, I think we all know the tremendous losses that Bomber Command took.
DW: Yeah.
RP: Were there many on your squadron? Did you lose many?
DW: Oh yes. We lost some. But of course, you didn’t [pause] if you lost a friend who might have been there that was hard going but people, I mean we lost about fifty percent of our —
RP: God.
DW: Off the squadron.
RP: So a lot of people you’d made friends with.
DW: And also some were prisoners of war.
RP: Yes.
DW: Had to bale out and so forth. A whole mixture.
RP: But I mean to come to the end of your time, your tour. It’s quite unusual really isn’t it? A lot of people didn’t.
DW: Absolutely.
RP: Yeah. So you were, you were blessed in that way.
DW: Blessed. And I recognise, pretty lucky.
RP: Fate. Fate.
DW: Fate.
RP: Well that’s what it’s about. Fate. Do you ever, have you been in touch since then with any of your crew at all?
DW: Well, I kept in touch with a couple of them. One was the navigator. And the pilot. But of course they went back home and retired in Canada.
RP: Yes.
DW: Whilst I went out to the Far East to start flying out there. But in the event the atom bomb was dropped five days after I got to Bombay.
RP: Right.
DW: And that was the end of it.
RP: So where, were you heading for an Indian airfield? Yeah?
DW: We went to Bombay to begin with.
RP: Oh right. Yeah.
DW: And then you were allocated to another airfield.
RP: So, what was the intention? That you should fly? What aircraft would you have flown if, if it had continued?
DW: I suppose it would be a Halifax.
RP: Still a Halifax. Yeah.
DW: But in fact I really didn’t do any flying because the war finished and instead of that I was already commissioned. I was allocated to a wing or a squadron and, as adjutant. So I was an adjutant at one time and subsequently I went on to a wing job.
RP: This is in India.
DW: In India. Well in Ceylon. Sri Lanka by then.
RP: Oh. So what, what was the RAF station in Ceylon where you were actually based.
DW: Trincomalee.
RP: Oh right. That’s up in the north east.
DW: Yeah.
RP: Yeah. Yeah.
DW: On the coast. Yeah. So we did a bit of flying.
RP: Very nice too. Were they, were there Flying Boats there?
DW: There were Flying Boats there. Yeah. Because we were right on the coast.
RP: Yeah. It’s right on the coast isn’t it? Yeah. And so in Ceylon you, your flying career over you became an administrator.
DW: Yeah.
RP: What work did you work in Ceylon then? Could you tell us a little about that?
DW: Well, by then I was, well, flying officer. But in fact I was then allocated to HQ Ceylon.
RP: Right.
DW: Which was the headquarters.
RP: And where was that?
DW: HQ. That was in, well Colombo to begin with.
RP: Right.
DW: But in fact we moved up to a smaller place in [unclear] I can’t remember now. I’ve got it somewhere.
RP: Right. That’s ok.
DW: But we moved about a wee bit.
RP: Right. Yeah.
DW: As a headquarters. So I stayed in headquarters as HC HQ as they called it and I was then running courts martial, courts and crime.
RP: Yeah.
DW: And the like.
RP: So you were making sure the criminals were caught. Well what was the most serious offence that you can remember for a courts martial? What sort of offence?
DW: Well nobody, nobody had been killed.
RP: No.
DW: But there were certainly serious offences of people bashing each other up.
RP: Right.
DW: On occasion. Not too many. Not too many.
RP: Yeah. Were these normally airmen or officers or —
DW: Normally airmen.
RP: The workers. Ok [laughs]
DW: The workers.
RP: Right.
DW: Oh, we did have a little trouble with some of the —
RP: Yeah.
DW: Officers. But —
RP: Do you think this was just high spirits?
DW: Probably a bit more.
RP: High spirits or just downright bad behaviour then?
DW: I think bad behaviour was quite common.
RP: Yeah. Right. That’s a shame.
DW: And I suppose the feeling that the war is finished in Europe let’s get home.
RP: Yeah Was there a delay in repatriation from the Far East do you think?
DW: Well it took me about two years to get away from there. That depended on your [pause] the number of your let out. And I think I had a number of twenty two.
RP: Right.
DW: So it went on a bit.
RP: So you were in a sort of, on a waiting list that was sort of slowly.
DW: You were on a list.
RP: Slowly going up.
DW: As soon as your group, twenty two I think was mine.
RP: And when you reached the top you went.
DW: Yeah.
RP: If I could just go back a little bit. I think when you started flying you were NCO aircrew. Yes.
DW: Yes.
RP: So at what point — do they decide to commission you or do you decide you wanted to be commissioned? Or is it just one of those things that happened?
DW: I think it’s one of the things that happened but indeed I suppose some of us thought it would be nice to be officers and in fact that happened after I was finished flying because I was still part of, sergeant.
RP: Yes.
DW: And the others were, or the pilot was commissioned.
RP: Yes. I noticed in your logbook.
DW: Later on.
RP: He was NCO aircrew initially wasn’t he?
DW: Yeah. Yeah. We were all NCOs.
RP: Yeah.
DW: And I was, they were flight sergeants.
RP: Yeah.
DW: I was just a sergeant.
RP: Oh right.
DW: At that time.
RP: So your commission came as you moved to Ceylon really then. Yes. Just before.
DW: No. Before that.
RP: Just before that.
DW: And then, then I was posted to Ceylon.
RP: Ok.
DW: As a, well probably a flying officer by then.
RP: Right. So your, your time in Ceylon is over. How did you get back to England then? Did you fly or did you have to sail back?
DW: No. By boat.
RP: Oh my goodness that’s, that’s a fair trip then.
DW: And quite, well I was there for about a couple of years and in HQ Ceylon as I say it. The headquarters. And then court martials and courts of enquiry and things like that.
RP: I suppose the fact that you were sailing back in what 1947 ’48?
DW: Yeah.
RP: At least you know there’s no U-boats out there.
DW: Well, that’s very true.
RP: So where did you dock when you came back then? Were you docking?
DW: I think it was Liverpool.
RP: So from Liverpool where did they send you then? Or by this time were you actually demobbed by then?
DW: We were getting demobbed.
RP: Yeah.
DW: And I think I went back to York somewhere.
RP: Oh you went back to East Moor.
DW: And then I finished off of course. Immediately back home. In Edinburgh.
RP: So you went. So from, you were demobbed in Yorkshire, and — so what sort of provision did the RAF or the government make for your civilian career? Did they help you at all?
DW: Yes. Indeed. Very much so. And again that depended on, well frankly your commission or whatever it was and I was flight lieutenant by then. So we, we had a two year course in, in Edinburgh. Well it was, it is now a university but at that time it was a, well a top school and, and I think I had two years there altogether. And then subsequently from there you had to join a company if that’s what you wanted to do, say in engineering. Although I wasn’t an engineer I always worked in an engineering company as an accountant. I finished training for that. That was my profession.
RP: Right.
DW: And we, I guess we were posted up in to Scotland for two years having to learn some of the ropes of management.
RP: Yeah.
DW: And so forth and so on. So that was pretty good too. Good training.
RP: So by this time, had you married by this time? Were you married by then?
DW: We married. We married quite soon.
RP: Yeah.
DW: Because, in fact we were married. I was, well Kathleen would have been nineteen when she married.
RP: Right.
DW: And I was twenty one.
RP: So you were married.
DW: [unclear] For some time.
RP: Just as the war ended then. About that time.
DW: Yes.
RP: Oh.
DW: It had ended.
RP: So she was there when you moved back to Edinburgh. Was she with you in Ceylon? Or did she have to stay here?
DW: No. No.
RP: She had to stay behind.
DW: Ahum.
RP: So that was a long separation then.
DW: A long separation but I remember the first time I saw Kathleen was, she was on the dance floor of the [pause] yeah the time I was down in Wales.
RP: Oh yes. Yeah.
DW: And her big sister, elder sister could only be, go to dancing at the officer’s mess if she had her sister with her.
RP: Right.
DW: Kathleen was a wee bit young for that but I must say that I really made up my mind when I saw this charming lady dancing.
RP: Yeah.
DW: With somebody else. Around. I thought that looks like someone I would like to meet which I did.
RP: Yeah.
DW: And in fact I got to know her then.
RP: Yeah. So where were you married? Where? Were you married in Wales?
DW: In Wales yeah. In Cowbridge.
RP: Right.
DW: Small. Small town.
RP: So when you arrived back for demob did you get to see Kathleen quite quickly? When you’d been demobbed.
DW: Oh yes. Yes. We had, she came up, and then, well before then of course we had well we were demobbed and so forth but we both went up to stay in Edinburgh with my parents for a time. And then subsequently I went on this government scheme and finished up in, in Fife. Or in yeah. In Fife.
[recording paused]
RP: So, thinking about the civilian life then you sort of completely changed away from what you had been doing in the RAF.
DW: Yeah.
RP: And so where did that take you after you’d finished your sort of courses? Engineering and accounting. Where did you end up?
DW: Well I became a chartered secretary.
RP: Right.
DW: Company secretary. And that was the channel I went in to for one reason or the other. And it depended sometime on how much training you then had to do. I mean, I did think about becoming a chartered accountant but there it was. There were certain difficulties in terms of time about that. So I became a chartered secretary. And then of course that meant I had more training in Scotland and became a chartered secretary in due course. Then of course I finished up most of the time as, as an MD.
RP: So who did you work for? What was the company?
DW: It was a company which became part of the quite well known group but it was — oh dear. I’m terrible aren’t I?
RP: Oh no. No.
DW: You forget these things.
RP: Don’t worry it was a long time ago.
DW: It was. I know them very well.
RP: I think you mentioned earlier when we were talking, about Champion.
DW: Champion. Champion were, well it wasn’t Champion there.
RP: It was the initial group and then they became amalgamated.
DW: They amalgamated and my company went, which was in Scotland and Wales. Sorry. Not in Wales. In Fife.
RP: Right.
DW: In Alloa, Clackmannanshire. So, and I stayed with them becoming managing director of that.
RP: So, there you are in Clackmannanshire. And how do we end up here in Christchurch then? All the way from Alloa. It’s a long way from Alloa.
DW: That was said before. Well that was because before I got into Champion I had to get a job and one job that was offered to me which was very attractive was one down in the south coast.
RP: Oh right.
DW: And that became part of Champion.
RP: I see.
DW: It was taken over by Champion.
RP: So when did you move to Christchurch then? When did you come to the south coast? How long have you been down here?
DW: I’ve been down here a large number of years.
RP: Gosh.
DW: We came down in [pause] when did we come down? Sorry about some of this. I’m not sure I have anything.
RP: No. No. It’s ok. I was just wondering because you’ve been here, obviously a few years after you qualified then.
DW: Oh yes. Yes.
RP: So it’s a long time.
DW: Absolutely.
RP: So, you could call yourself a citizen of Christchurch.
DW: I think so.
RP: If you look back to your RAF days David, what would you say would be your outstanding memories of your RAF career? If someone says, ‘What did the RAF do for you?’ What would you say? What was the memory you have of your time?
DW: Well the memory I have of my RAF career was of course bombing and flying with aircraft chasing after you and so forth.
RP: Did you ever come —
DW: That’s the memory I have.
RP: Yeah. Did you ever come under, did you come under attack very often?
DW: Oh yes. Sometimes by other aircraft. Sometimes we lost an engine. Well we have done that more than once.
RP: Yeah. And this is where you, your job becomes more important then. Yes?
DW: Yes. That’s true.
RP: I take it when you lose an engine you have to balance them all out for the power do you?
DW: Yes. Indeed.
RP: And to make sure you keep, keep it level.
DW: You have to know which engine is gone of course and so on.
RP: Yes. Yes. And in terms of being attacked by another aircraft then was the Halifax manoeuvrable in that sense to avoid?
DW: Yes. Quite. Quite manoeuvrable. But of course if you were in a group it was sometimes difficult because your neighbours were your own crews.
RP: Yes.
DW: But it tended, it tended to get lost in that because you know people were keeping you away from each other in case there was an accident which there were. Particularly initially when, when you first started off.
RP: Well yes. I think you have to be very careful. But was it, did it have enough armament, the Halifax, to defend itself?
DW: I think it did very well. You had a front gunner.
RP: Yeah.
DW: And, sorry a rear gunner and an upper gunner.
RP: Yeah.
DW: The front gunner was, there was a gun available but that was usually a position taken over by the chap who was going to guide us to drop the bombs.
RP: The bomb aimer. So the bomb aimer was the front gunner basically. Yeah.
DW: Yeah.
RP: So he had a sort of dual role. He’d be on the guns and when you were over the target —
DW: Yeah.
RP: He would —
DW: He would be busy directing the pilot just exactly where he should be going.
RP: So he becomes the most important man on the aircraft at that point then.
DW: Could be. There were seven people in the aircraft.
RP: Yeah.
DW: Pilot, navigator, bomb aimer, flight engineer.
RP: Yeah.
DW: How many’s that? That’s four.
RP: And you’ve got three gunners. You got —
DW: We had two gunners.
RP: Did you have the co-pilot then? Or just the one?
DW: No. In fact, there was a co-pilot but when they then put flight engineers into it the flight engineer then hopefully became the co-pilot.
RP: Oh right. I see.
DW: And sometimes one of the other crew. Particularly the bomb aimer maybe had been trained in some way in flying an aeroplane.
RP: Yeah.
DW: But in fact if, if our pilot, Bob wanted a break he just let me fly.
RP: Oh right.
DW: So I did a bit of flying too.
RP: In the sense of keeping it level on the trim and making sure it was ok. Yeah.
DW: Yeah. Yeah.
RP: But I take it the arrangement was that RAF tended to do night bombing. So, did you ever do daylight bombing?
DW: I’ve done some but it was mainly night.
RP: Yeah. Because obviously daylight you’re even more of a target I would imagine.
DW: Sure. But having said that it didn’t take the Germans too long to be able to fire their guns up at a stream of bombers —
RP: That’s right.
DW: Going over.
RP: Yes. Although of course I suppose as 1945 came around they were retreating further and further back so they didn’t have quite so many aircraft I guess. Or did you find there was no change?
DW: The Germans?
RP: Yeah. Towards the end of the war.
DW: Yeah.
RP: Do you think there was less attacks in sort of, say February March of ‘45? Did you feel —
DW: I don’t think I was flying in ’45.
RP: Right. You’d finished before then.
DW: Finished before then.
RP: After, after the D-Day.
DW: 1944.
RP: So you had gone to Ceylon so, yeah. That’s amazing. Thank you for that. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you David. I appreciate these memories. It’s been
DW: [unclear]
RP: It’s been a privilege to hear you tell me all about your stories. Thank you for inviting me. Thank you.

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Citation

Rod Pickles, “Interview with David Wilkie,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 22, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11771.

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