Interview with Roland Spencer Williams

Title

Interview with Roland Spencer Williams

Description

Roland Spencer Williams was born in Christchurch, New Zealand. Wanting to get involved in the war he joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1942. After initial training in New Zealand, as an air gunner, he sailed on the SS Nieuw Amsterdam to San Francisco in 1944 and then by train to Winnipeg, Canada to MacDonald Gunnery School. September 1944 saw his arrival in England as a flight sergeant. Training and crewing up in Wellingtons with 11 Operational Training Unit (OTU) was followed, in January 1945, by Lancasters in 1655 Heavy Conversion Unit. In March 1945 he was posted to 75 Squadron based at RAF Mepal as a rear gunner. He describes operations to Keil harbour (where the cruiser Admiral Scheer was sunk), Keil shipyard, and Heligoland. On one operation he saw three planes all shot down, and on another he was injured when the aircraft’s undercarriage collapsed on landing. He was also involved in Operation Manna. After the war in Europe finished, he sailed back to New Zealand and was demobilised immediately on arrival. He then describes how he became a builder and ended up managing the business. He also became a guide at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand. Roland states that his service in the Royal New Zealand Air Force was “the best time of his life!”

Creator

Date

2018-01-15

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

01:50:33 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

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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.

Identifier

AWilliamsRS180115

Transcription

GT: This is Monday the 15th of January 2018 and I’m at the home of Mr Roland Spencer Williams, known as Blue or Roly. Born 18th February 1921. RNZAF air gunner NZ4215269. Flight sergeant. In Christchurch New Zealand. Roly joined the RNZAF in 1942. Trained in Canada and flew with 75 New Zealand Squadron, Lancasters Marks 1 and 3 from March to July 1945. Hello Roly, and thank you for allowing me to interview you. Please give us some insight and a little bit of history of where you were born, where you grew up and why you joined the RNZAF.
RW: Well, I was born right here where I’m living. The district I’m living now. And so I have never known anything different really. Why did I join the Air Force? One night laying in bed I thought well this war is going to last a long time. Do I want sand in my feet or do I want mud or do I want to bring up my breakfast every morning? No. I think I’ll join the Air Force. So within a day or two of that I went up to the recruiting depot in Mackenzie’s Arcade in Christchurch and made out an application form. And the first thing they said to me, ‘Have you ever flown?’ ‘No.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Because I haven’t had the opportunity.’ ‘Why not? Do you know anyone that flies?’ ‘Yes.’ I knew two people who had pilot’s licences but they were both years older than I was. But they couldn’t make out why I hadn’t been up for a trip. However, they accepted my application and I got to don the Air Force blue. I first posted to Omaka, just out of Blenheim. Full summertime. Full heat. We were parading on the tarmac. You got the backs of your legs sunburned. And then I went to just out of Palmerston North. Milson. And then I was shifted to Gisborne. And then at Gisborne we had that well known Air Force man running us. Tiny White. It was a bit of a holiday really up there. We were aerodrome defence and our defence was a Canadian two land barrelled rifle with a six inch bayonet. Pig sticker. The whole things was worse than, worse than useless. Absolutely useless. But I met some good friends in Gisborne and from there I moved to Rotorua. It was there that the medics took over and they found that my eye sight was out of kilter. We had to line up the two sticks horizontally. I was miles out so they said I couldn’t land a plane. So that destined me to air gunner or AG W/Op. From Gisborne we down to Trentham for a while. I presume while awaiting for a vessel to come in. And we were unloading ammunition there until the wharfies complained bitterly that we were working too hard, unloading too much and it was too dangerous and they were going to declare the port black if we carried on. Then came the call to report to RTO in Wellington and we were moved alongside a ship called the Nieuw Amsterdam. The Dutch vessel, the Dutch captain wanted to sail on the tide. There was quite a lot of gear still to go on including I don’t know how many bottles of Red Band beer. Crates and crates of it. We offered to put the Red Band beer on [laughs] once again the wharfies came up to the mark and said if we handled that beer at all they’d declare the port black. Hence my disapproval of wharf labour [laughs] The Nieuw Amsterdam was crewed mainly by Javanese and that. And of course, we had our duties to perform which was usually something to do in the cookhouse. The Javanese all had long aprons on and the concrete floor in the cookhouse was swimming in water. We used to wait until one of these little Javanese had gone past us and the apron was no use, stamp our foot in the water and up it would shoot up the backs of their little legs. That caused no end of problems. Then we had, I was told eight hundred and fifty German prisoners of war on board and they would come up about 2 o’clock in the afternoon from down way below water line for a bit of sunlight. And they told us then we were going to ‘Frisco. We had no idea where we were going. We went to ‘Frisco. We had a wee bit of trouble with them on one night. And the next night I was on guard duty and one prisoner called up that he was ill. So I had to get the doctor and go down there. And the bunks were about two foot apart, at least four to five high and we went down to see what was wrong with him. Apparently, it was suspected appendicitis and at any time the cordon could have fallen out on top of us and we had no hope. And the sten guns we had, well that blocked up with rust. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway [laughs] From ‘Frisco we landed on the station there and they were getting on doing a film there. They had all the Hollywood celebrities there. Then it was, I forget whether it was five and a half or six days on the train to Winnipeg. You know, through Kicking Horse Pass and that was wonderful scenery. Blue Lake. We got a station off Winnipeg and when we got into Winnipeg the station was all locked up. Apparently, the stationery owner on the previous station had rung through and said that some of the troops had tried to grab money and books and that from her stationery shop and so they’d rung through to Winnipeg and sealed it all up. The, I suppose the brightest spark on that trip was the last few mile. The big negro porter came in who we had not seen the whole trip and he had his hat in his hand by the peak and he says, ‘The boys have taken up a little collection for me. How’s about it boys?’ [laughs] He got the bum’s rush really. He forgot he was dealing with Kiwis. On to Winnipeg. That was, we were based at an old school for the deaf there. That was like going back to school again and I’d been away from school for five years. So it was pretty hard going. Most of the intakes then were UI entrants, or first year university boys. It was fairly hard going there. And then as a gunner I was posted to Macdonald which was a gunnery school. And at the finals there we had the drogue. Air to air firing with the drogue. Of course, being W I’m last on the list, very used to it by now because I was always, always the last on the pay line. It was very unfortunate for someone who was below me. And I was last in the turret. And I knocked the drogue down into the lake. Lake Winnipeg. So we had to come back, more ammunition and start all over again. And damn me if I didn’t do the same thing again. So they gave us all average marks. I maintained if you could hit that turnbuckle your lead was right. But it didn’t make any difference. So —
GT: What aircraft were the target towers? Ansons?
RW: No.
GT: [unclear]
RW: What was the Canadian Blenheim?
GT: The Bolingbroke.
RW: Bolingbroke. Yeah. Where did we go to?
GT: And no one shot the aircraft though.
RW: Oh, no. No. The aircraft was safe and sound. It was just the turnbuckle at the end of the drogue.
GT: And you got it twice.
RW: Took it twice. So then when I got to Padgate, which was the clearing station just out of Manchester a chap named Woody Woodhall, a wounded gunner was there and he took one look at my logbook, he said, ‘You trained at Macdonald didn’t you?’ I said, ‘How’d you know?’ He said, ‘From your score.’
GT: So, from, from your logbook, Roly you’ve got, you’ve got your pass out results for the ab initio gunnery course and the period of the course was 27th March 1944 to 16 June ’44. And so then you, you arrived into England what? By about September 1944?
RW: Oh yeah. About that I think. At that stage I didn’t take very much notice of time. I was more interested in where I was going and what I was going to do. So we went down to Devon. Just out of East Budleigh in Devon. Oh, what’s the name of that station? What was my first station there?
GT: I don’t know Devon.
RW: It’ll be in the logbook.
GT: You’ve got 11 OTU, which is up north.
RW: Yeah. That I know.
GT: You crewed up at 11 OTU.
RW: That would be in the front of the logbook won’t it? Westcott. I was stationed at Westcott. Well, we were flying Wellingtons here.
GT: Yeah. From September. September 1944 you joined 11 OTU.
RW: Yeah.
GT: That’s fine. Yeah.
RW: Yeah. The big thing about Westcott right at the end of the runway as you took off was the imprint of a Wellington that had burned and the imprint had burned into the ground. It would still be there today, I think, honestly. It wasn’t a very good sight. And then we moved to a satellite station there.
GT: Oakley. Oakley.
RW: Oakley. Yes. Coming back from a leave to Oakley we watched a flying bomb fly parallel to the train. It was at no great height whatsoever and we wondered where it was going to land. When we got back we found it had landed up into the Rothschild estate at Oakley and it was filled with [pause] printed matter.
GT: Propaganda that is.
RW: Propaganda matter. Yes. Then, oh where did I move to then?
GT: Did the Rothschilds take any notice of that at the time?
RW: No. We never heard anything about it. No. Just that it was a non-explosive one. It was a propaganda thing.
GT: Roly, looking at your 11 OTU Westcott time you did sixteen hours during the day. Eighteen hours at night. A total of seventy three flying hours at Westcott and Oakley. And then you moved on in January ’45 to 1655 Conversion Unit, North Luffenham.
RW: North Luffenham. Yes.
GT: So, yeah, Roly can you tell me a little bit about your crewing up?
RW: Oh.
GT: Because it happened at Westcott, right. So a lot of people have a lot of stories to tell about how they found their crew members. Have you got a story about that? have you got a story how you found your crew and skipper?
RW: Yes. I’ve got to think this through. I teamed up with the mid-upper gunner because we trained together. Pete Dixon from Auckland. And we were walking down to the flights one morning and talking about crewing up and I met a chap I knew. Neville Staples. ‘G’day, Nev,’ I’d gone to school with him. I said, ‘Are you crewed up yet?’ He says ‘No.’ I said, ‘Well, you are now.’ So, that was the beginning of the crew. Well, in the next couple of hours we had got a skipper, Bill Evenden who, we believed anyway I don’t know whether it’s right yet, had been a commercial pilot in South Africa. And then we picked up our bomb aimer, Tom Lane. And then I was looking for a pushbike because of the propensity of getting a pushbike and selling it at a small profit and I met a chap that said he had a pushbike for sale. He turned out to be our wireless op, so he got snared. The last one to join the gang of course didn’t arrive until OTU at North Luffenham was the engineer. A Welshman. We had to have a Welshman with a half English crew and half Kiwis. We had to have a referee somewhere [laughs] North Luffenham. I thoroughly enjoyed that time. I remember once we were sent out on a cross country at about 11 o’clock at night. The country absolutely under a white blanket of snow. We had to go to Galashiels and off we went. No. Sorry, we didn’t get off. We had engine trouble so they gave us another aircraft and the second aircraft also had engine problems. And so about 2 o’clock in the morning we set off to do a cross country. Other than that it was a fairly quiet period. I thoroughly enjoyed that time although it was a cold, cold area in wintertime until the call up came to the chop squadron. Now, I had heard about this since ’43. It was well known amongst the gunners. In effect I know two people who refused to go. Both got put onto different squadrons. One was a radio op. The other was a pilot. Because of the reputation we had. I don’t, it never worried me what squadron I was going to. If your luck was in it was in and if it was out it was out.
GT: So 75 New Zealand Squadron was referred to as the chop squadron.
RW: The chop squadron.
GT: Back in early ’43 when they were flying Stirlings.
RW: Yeah.
GT: From Newmarket.
RW: Yeah. Definitely.
GT: And that reputation kept on going for the next couple of years.
RW: Kept right through. Yeah. Yes. Oh yes.
GT: So you had no choice. It was, that was your posting. To 75 NZ at Mepal.
RW: If you’d like to object you could have. Yes. There will be hundreds of chaps say you couldn’t object. I know two that did. And both got put on other squadrons there. One completed his tour and went on to flying DC3s and that. The other one must have just about completed his tour as a radio op. Yeah. So they didn’t hold it against you.
GT: There were many that’s told me that they deliberately chose a New Zealand skipper so that they would get posted to 75 New Zealand Squadron.
RW: Didn’t make a bit of difference.
GT: Yeah.
RW: Well, the CO when I first went on the station was an Englishman. Fortunately, he went quickly. But the best CO I had of course was Cyril.
GT: Wing Commander Cyril Bateman.
RW: Absolutely.
GT: He joined the squadron in January ’45 after the newer CO, Newton was killed on New Year’s Eve.
RW: Ray Newton I knew personally. He was a traveller for Smith and Smith’s. And he was a great loss. He was a good skipper. A good skipper. He was a great loss. But Cyril put a new breath of life into the squadron in as much as he was young, the youngest wingco in the force, I think. And nothing was half measures. It was all or nothing. That’s what he got there.
GT: So, I see from your logbook and, and to those listening I’m reading out from Roly’s logbook because Roly is severely sight impaired so I’m helping him with, with some of the facts and figures here that obviously he wrote many years ago. So 1653 Conversion Unit, North Luffenham you joined the 29th of January ’45 and you departed after the 27th of February ‘45 and you flew Lancasters only. So that —
RW: Yeah.
GT: Included being a Lancaster finishing school. Flying, I guess at that Conversion Unit because you didn’t go to an LFS. They did everything at 1653.
RW: Yeah.
GT: And it says here that you flew a total combined flying time of twenty six day and eighteen night hours and then you joined 75 New Zealand Squadron at Mepal on, in early March 1945.
RW: Yes. Well, Mepal was a bit of a surprise. Being a wartime station the conditions were not very good. In fact, they were pretty poor. And here again we had to have a bike to get around. He, I don’t know that [pause] we filled in our time greatly with skeet firing. We didn’t do a great deal on the aircraft. We left a lot of it to the staff. The ground staff. They’d been doing it for five years. They knew exactly what they were doing. They knew what we wanted. And so I never had any complaints there. They were great.
GT: As a gunner did you clean and move your own guns and fit them?
RW: No.
GT: What was the story there?
RW: I left it entirely to the —
GT: The armourers on the squadron.
RW: The armourers on the station. The only time I had trouble with my guns I was on a night flight. A bit of heavy flak around. And all of a sudden the guns went dead. And all of a sudden my right foot was warm and I wriggled my toes and it was wet. Oh Jesus. I’ve got one. And I waited for the pain and the pain didn’t arrive. And I was still wriggling my toes around and they’re getting wetter and wetter. And it suddenly dawned me and I fished around and I pulled the top of the hydraulic hose out of the top of my flying boot [laughs]
GT: Could you put it back on?
RW: No. In the darkness and that, all those gloves on and that, no. I didn’t know even how to put it on. I suppose it clipped. I don’t know. However, I had to put a cord in my pocket. It had a couple of loops in it that fitted over the pulls on the guns and looped around. I could put my foot on it. And I could rotate the turret by hand.
GT: Right. And I must ask were you a rear gunner or a upper, mid-upper.
RW: Rear. All of us couldn’t leave the rear turret. You want to see where you’ve been.
GT: Yeah.
RW: Yeah. So I got some semblance of order back in. But the laugh of the matter was that the next day I took the heated flying suit down to stores to get replaced and they threw it back at me. How they expected heat to transmit through an oil soaked flying suit I wouldn’t know but that was the situation.
GT: And you wore it and it was —
RW: I wore it from then on.
GT: Oh.
RW: I had trouble with it once again. In fact, I lost the entire heat once there. I was that cold I wouldn’t have given a damn what happened. If you ever wanted something to happen quickly it was then.
GT: So you really, all your crew relied totally on those heated —
RW: Yeah. Oh yeah.
GT: Flying clothing.
RW: Yeah. Yes. Well, the point was that from the minute you gave the order for to the skipper to take evasive action you were in the hands of the gunner. Only he knew where the fighter was. Now, when we went on to daylights this became quite apparent because at night time you didn’t see the fighter until you saw the flare from the muzzles. If they were pointing too directly at you it was too bad. But in daylight you could follow the whole pattern there and when that fighter broke off usually it was a beam attack from above. Sometimes it was slightly below. The gunner was in complete control because only he knew where the fighter was. Fortunately, in the event we got no problem with them. We were one of the lucky ones there. But it was only the that when we went on to daylights that I realised how dangerous the night flights were. Over flights were common place. And in one of my last trips I saw three planes go down. The first one I was watching when it disintegrated in the air. The air just boiled. You could see it rising. Boiling. Just liquified. That was a direct hit in the bomb bay. That chap, I believe was Jack Plummer. He would, it should have been Jack because he would have been leading C Flight formation. He was the flight leader there. The second plane was only a very short time later, perhaps half a minute when I saw a bomb leave a plane above and come down and hit the plane below fair in the mid-upper turret. It just broke it clean in half. There. There was a body came out. I never saw a ‘chute. Within a half a minute because we wouldn’t have been in the target area any longer than we had to be I saw another Lanc collapse a port wing. It just collapsed right back at the inboard motor. And he just went into a spin and never came out. Those three chaps I think were Plummer, Barr and Brown. I had quite an interest in Brown. He was an Auckland boy and he, his first trip after his second, second dickie trip which was a night trip was a daylight and he had engine trouble going out but he followed on quite a way behind us but around about oh fifteen thousand if that. And he pushed on through the target. The Huns threw everything they had at him and he pushed on through the target. Target. Returned home. And I never heard a word of praise. Not a dickie bird there.
GT: That’s a true DFC.
RW: Oh, there were dozens of them around the bloody office. That was the trouble. The, he certainly deserved mention for it there. Then there was the 14th of July. Was that Kiel?
[pause – pages turning]
GT: The 9th of April.
RW: 9th of April.
GT: Yeah. Your fifth operation, to Kiel harbour and it was night time. Five hours forty. And that was the Admiral Von Scheer.
RW: That’s the one. Right. On that one we had engine trouble the minute we hit the English Channel. We had to close it down and the skipper called up and said, ‘Well, do we abort? Or do you want to carry on?’ ‘Carry on.’ Unanimous. So we did. We were a wee bit behind. We couldn’t maintain the height exactly, nor the speed. So we cut off a dog leg and we went, must have picked up a tail wind because all of a sudden Neville called up and said, ‘We’re over the target, skip.’ And I looked out and it was complete blackness and Bill, the skipper called up and said, ‘I’ll do a circuit,’ which he started. And we just got well into the circuit when the master bomber came in and he dropped his TIs and I saw where they fell. And I’d noted where the Hun set up their dummy TI markers and I directed the bomber stream on to the right ones there. And then the skipper called in and he said, ‘I’m going in.’ The reason being he knew damned well he couldn’t get back on to the bomber stream and get into that so because we were early, ahead of anything he goes straight through. Which he did. We dropped our bombs and everything was alright. The next day we get back and the CO calls us in the office. ‘What the hell were you doing bombing on that heading?’ So we told him and he listened. He said, ‘Bloody good show. You got an aiming point. You hit the bugger.’
GT: And the target was the ship.
RW: The target was the ship. Yeah.
GT: And you got bombs on the ship.
RW: Yeah. And well the aiming point was the target and —
GT: Yeah.
RW: We got it on. We then got the report that she was upside down in Kiel Harbour. Now, the Admiral Von Scheer was the sister ship to the Graf Spee. The Von Sheer had suffered some damage in the North Sea and when the time came for it and the Graf Spee to break out to get in to the Atlantic she wasn’t in a fit state. So she stayed up and was repaired up in north —
GT: Norway.
RW: Norway. There. The Von Sheer of course met a sticky end in the Battle of the River Plate.
GT: The Graf Spee. Yeah.
RW: Yeah.
GT: Yeah. True. So, so that was the Admiral Von Sheer that you helped sink with your aircraft, on the 9th of April.
RW: April.
GT: ’45.
RW: Yeah.
GT: And then on the 13th of April, a Friday you noted, you were detailed for the Kiel ship building yards.
RW: The Kiel ship —
GT: And that was your sixth op. Was there anything special about that one for you?
RW: No. Kiel had taken a pretty fair sort of a hammering and things were not that bad around there. It was all those towns leading in towards Kiel. The industrial towns, Hamm, Bad Oldesloe, Gelsenkirchen. All those. They were the sticky ones. So Kiel wasn’t that bad really at that stage. I would say perhaps in ’43 and that it was a sticky one.
GT: You have a note here your undercarriage collapsed on landing. From that op —
RW: Oh yes. We never heard the full story about that. I don’t know really whether we had damaged the undercart or whether it was a tight landing. But they don’t land gently at forty feet up.
GT: And were you injured that, that night?
RW: Yes. Looking out the back was just a sheet of flame as we tore down the runway and I thought, ‘This is not the place for Blue. Get out of here.’ So I rolled myself into a ball and went out the side. When I came to I was back at the aircraft trying to open the side door to let the boys out but the ground staff held me back and opened the door and let them out. And then the blood waggon grabbed hold of me and tried to put me in the waggon. But I decided that wasn’t a very good place either because I didn’t want to leave the crew. Nor anything, leave anything else. So I drifted in to the darkness. I never ever reported any injury but I’ve carried it for the rest of my life. I got two compounded discs which are now really set in place.
GT: Well, you flew another couple of months after that accident so —
RW: Yeah. Oh well.
GT: Were you in pain ever since?
RW: Yeah.
GT: So that was your operations five and six. Number seven was Heligoland.
RW: Ah. A brilliant day. I remember we took off about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. A brilliant day. As far as I could see was aircraft. We were quite early. We only had to fly to the Wash and gain a bit of height. We were almost leading the stream. And when we got to the target the clay from the cliffs had come down into the surf and was just starting to wash out into the water and you could see the German e-boats coming out and making a run for it. And the Mustangs and the Spits that were flying overhead cover you just see them drop a wing and down they’d go and all of a sudden the wash from the e-boats would be covered in the surge from the water. And the whole thing had just subsided into nothing again. I saw a documentary a couple of years ago on that. It was on television where they showed photographs of the damage there and I was amazed at how flattened the place was. There was nothing left standing there and as I say when we got there the cliffs were falling into the water. I’m not surprised. It was just fair pounded. It was a seaplane base and as such controlled movement into the North Sea.
GT: You noted nine hundred and eighty Lancs that night.
RW: Nine hundred it were, was it?
GT: I beg your pardon. That day.
RW: That’s what would be, we would be given.
GT: Your eighth trip there to Oldesloe rail junction. Six hours dead.
RW: Oh yes. Bad Oldesloe. That was a day trip too. That was the first time I’d seen railway lines flying. And we had just come out of the dropping the bombs, still in the target area, looked down and here was a whole section of railway line, sleepers all intact, flying up through the air. And I thought the buggers are coming up this way. It must have been hundreds of feet in the air. Yeah. Do you know they most like had that railway line back in twenty four hours with their forced labour.
GT: Wow.
RW: We spent thousands dollars getting planes there to blow it up. There would only be a few hours before they had it back but we would have disrupted them for quite a while. Yes.
GT: Well, that was your last op.
RW: Yeah.
GT: You completed eight. And that was on the 24th of April ’45. And your next trip to Europe was on the 4th of May. Supply dropping for the Hague.
RW: Oh yes. Oh dear. We were just crossing out of Ireland towards the Hague when all of a sudden black dots appeared in the air. Some bugger had fired on us. We were told we had safe passage through the air. We, we got to the target which was a racecourse so we dropped our supplies from very low. How someone wasn’t killed there I don’t know. Most likely someone was because the minute the food was dropped they just rushed out and I think it was a case of who got it. The Dutch or the Germans. Because one would have been as bad as the other. The Germans were collecting it to send home because they were starving too and the Dutch of course were starving. They were dropping in the streets there. There’s not much sustenance in a tulip bulb. I have met a woman who was nursing at the time and working for the Underground. And she had some quite exciting experiences running maps and all those sort of things amongst her medical gear to the Underground, and dates and that for meeting places. But those girls certainly deserved worldwide mention. Yes. The things weren’t easy. They were all on pushbikes and if they had a rubber tyre on their push bike the Huns would confiscate it and send it home. So they had rope wrapped around. Things were not easy at all. But when we got back from the Hague trip we of course were all cocky. We would up, start and go and bomb the hell out of them but that got frowned upon. And in recent years what I’ve read and what I’ve heard there’s a dispute whether they fired on us or not but I saw three go up. So they can fight that one out amongst themselves.
GT: And what was the kind of food you were dropping and what did you do? You stuck it in the bomb bays —
RW: All American. Here again the much of America proved its worth. Flour, sugar, beans, bacon, tinned meats. It was mostly spam and ham and that. All stuff that could be stored for a wee while too because no good sending perishable stuff that would disappear a couple of nights later. We didn’t know anything about this operation. It had taken place days before. They had worked out the flight plans. They had also loaded up the planes. And I think they were just waiting for the right weather. The right day. The right time. It was suddenly all on. That was operation manna.
GT: And it was the only briefing you got was the morning of the —
RW: Morning of the trip. Yeah. Yeah. Amongst the chief staff they’d have known all about it, about it but as far as the aircrew were concerned it was kept right away from us. Some just [pause] mention about that too. No. We didn’t know a great deal there. As I say I heard later on that there was no firing. Well, I’d seen enough to know it wasn’t scotch mist up there. No.
GT: Did you, did you see any other aircraft doing the same thing other than aircraft from 75 Squadron?
RW: Oh yes. It was about 75. Now, Operation Manna was a full 75 operation. There was only six of us went to the Hague. Most of the rest went to a target in North Holland. It’s well documented there. So it often made me wonder why, when we went through the target we were about second or third through there were very few behind us for, you know a main major food dropping operation. That was the reason. Because there were only six went to the Hague. Most of them went to another target north, in the north of Holland and I can’t think of the name of that target.
GT: It was at least three days that 75 dropped food and I’m assuming there was other, other squadrons doing the same and as the Americans did as the Chowhound side. And I’ve seen movies of the American side and they were the only ones dropping food. There was no mention of the British doing it so, but nonetheless there was many other RAF squadrons that —
RW: Oh yes.
GT: Participated on Manna too.
RW: Oh yes. There were other squadrons that participated to other areas. Yes. Well, it had to be a full op because I think at the time we had thirty three planes in the squadron. On my reckoning we put up thirty two. And on a report that I saw there was six planes went to the Hague and there were sixteen went to this other target. So that was thirty two. So it would have been an all out effort.
GT: The Dutch have built a Memorial to Operation Manna in Rotterdam. Have you seen that?
RW: No.
GT: I’ve been several times to it and to civil services. It’s fabulous and it’s built there specific. Especially to thank you guys for. The Dutch are forever thankful for your doing something.
RW: Yeah.
GT: To give them food and life.
RW: Oh well, it’s it had to be done somehow.
GT: Yeah.
RW: And had the Germans not been in such dire straits because they were starving too. They were not the only ones. The bombing had taken toll and also the sinking of the submarine fleet had taken its toll. They were not getting supplies through so they were in trouble. So anything they could get, lay their hands on that went back to Germany smartly. Yeah. And I can’t blame them for that.
GT: No. So, there was several other flights. I’m looking at your logbook again and the next one through to Europe was 25th of May, was a Baedeker. And the particular cities you mention here Frankfurt, Hanover, Düren, Aachen, Cologne, Koblenz, Hamburg, Bremen, Munster, Brussels etcetera. Seven hour flight. So, so tell me about the Baedekers and what they were about, please.
RW: That was [pause] the name came from a German who had had a tourist agency and a Baedeker was one of his tourist trips. We went from place to place to place looking at the war and so, ‘we did a Baedeker,’ was going over places that had been bombed to get an idea of the damage and assess the damage in those towns. Now, a place like Aachen which was on a bend in the Rhine river which was a perfect spot for a take-off for almost any target around there was absolutely flattened. You looked down on Aachen there wasn’t a roof left. If there was a wall standing you just looked in to the space where the roof had been covering. That’s all. Cologne. Wrecked all around the cathedral. Cathedral not touched. There you are. Good luck again. Absolutely.
GT: Was the Baedekers done by other squadrons? Was that a name given it from up high? Command?
RW: Yes. It was listed on the ops board as a Baedeker. I suppose other squadrons would have done it too. They’d want an assessment of the damage.
GT: Who did you take with you on those flights?
RW: Just us. Just the crew.
GT: And you photographed or filmed anything?
RW: Not officially. The, no [pause] that was the silly part about it. Had it been worked officially they could have got some marvellous shots there and been able to assess the damage really well from the photographs because they’d had so much practice assessing bomb damage. Even in London. But unofficially I had a little 620 Kodak in my pocket. I got some shots out of that. When I came home my father never once asked me what I’d done. But when he saw the photographs they got spirited away and I’ve only seen half of them since. He died in ’72 so I don’t know where they are.
GT: So, from, from your experience and it being right near the end of the war which obviously raged for some time then did, did Bomber Harris have a choice? Or did he do it right do you think? Was there anything talked about on the squadrons as to —
RW: No.
GT: No.
RW: You had a job to do. The hierarchy said that’s how you did it. You did it. Of course, he was right. Yes. All over one town. All the controversy. Absolutely. Like these woman getting raped in the film studios now.
GT: So, for Dresden was it something that was talked about?
RW: No. No. I wasn’t on Dresden. Had I have been on Dresden that was just another target. All the stuff going to Russia was going through Dresden by rail there. It was a railhead.
GT: A legitimate target. Yeah.
RW: Legitimate. Yeah. But also they were producing war material. No.
GT: Still doing it. So, did you see any fighters? Any aircraft come up to, to get you or escorts get them or —
RW: No. I never. That way we had a pretty charmed life. But afterwards I met a German at the aircraft museum where I was guiding and he was a radio operator gunner on an ME 110 which was firing vertically.
GT: Schrage music.
RW: Eh?
GT: Schrage music.
RW: Yeah. Schrage musik. And he was fighting for the ace. Flying with the ace. Prince someone who had been shot down during April and the German boy had parachuted out. And he gave me a booklet about the prince. Prince [Englestein] or something like that. He was a genuine Prussian prince and he had terrific career. There’s no doubt about that. He accounted for lots of planes. I think he, off hand he had about thirty odd he’d shot down. And I think we lost eight Mosquitoes in one night over Berlin with night music there. No one knew they were there. They came in on radar. We never picked them up. They just flew underneath ‘til they were slightly ahead of us, fired backwards. Curtains. Yeah. it was a wee while before they learned that they had to get ahead of the plane and fire backwards. Initially the flew underneath and let it go and of course they flew in to all the debris. Yeah.
GT: Now there was, what was mentioned of a ventral gun position in Lancasters?
RW: Yeah.
GT: Do you know of any ventral gun users at 75 Squadron etcetera that used ventral guns.
RW: We carried one on one trip. He was an Englishman that had done quite a lot of flights and I think he had been in hospital. And they must have taken out a panel in the fuselage towards the rear of the aircraft and they put a gun position in there. Now it must have been on a swivel mounting. I didn’t take any notice of it because to get in to the rear turret I climbed over the tail beam which was ahead of what his mounting would have been. So I didn’t know anything about it and when we got over the target I could hear this gun rattling. What the hell’s he firing at? And he went absolutely berserk over the target. We got back. We reported in. And we never saw him again. I think he just broke down over the target.
GT: During my trip to England last year I met with a 75 Squadron under, under- gunner and he said that he was going to arrive on squadron and then he and two others were picked and they disappeared for training for a week or two and then were just dropped off outside dispersal. And there was one aircraft each flight on 75 Squadron with an under-gun that flew for the last few months of the war. So as a gunner I’m interested to hear from your point that you managed to fly on one of those aircraft and he and his gun was assigned to that one aircraft as opposed to crews going over in anything so —
RW: Yeah. We were —
GT: Very intriguing.
RW: You see that was the only time I ever heard of it. An underbelly gun. Nor did we see him again so he must have been hospitalised surely. He just broke down completely. Yeah. At, I think by that time too they had got to a stage where they thought they could cope with night music in as much as their radar was better than us. We have to admit it. They could come in on radar. We didn’t even pick them up. We had nothing to pick them up with. I went on a course on — in Yorkshire of the radar gunsight. Fishpond it was called. Where the rear gunner had a oscilloscope in the turret and all he did was look into the oscilloscope and when the German plane came into view monitor its course in. Gauge its distance away. Once it got into the centre there all he had to do was press the tit and wait for the result. It never happened. Not only could they pick our radar up they also had better radar than us to pick it up with. And so fishpond was a disaster.
GT: What was the turret that you flew with in flight every time?
RW: FN.
GT: Yeah. Mark 8?
RW: I wouldn’t —
GT: Yeah. It was just four three. Not three guns.
RW: Four 303s, yeah.
GT: And how many rounds of ammunition did you normally carry for each gun?
RW: Two thousand two hundred.
GT: And did you get any shots on anything coming in to you? Or targets.
RW: I was a miser. I never fired the gun unless I had to. And if I did have to I might have a quick burst. It was no [laughs] no good exposing yourself if you didn’t have to. If he was going to press on the attack all well and good. That’s up to him. But don’t look for trouble. No.
GT: There’s many movies that show, ‘Rear gunner, test your guns.’
RW: No.
GT: You were never told to do that.
RW: No.
GT: Didn’t need to.
RW: Didn’t need to. No. The armourer had them all loaded for me and everything. All set to go. Yeah.
GT: So, as a tail end Charlie did you choose that position?
RW: Yes.
GT: And you’d know that tail end Charlies had a very low percent rate of survival? Didn’t matter?
RW: I don’t know whether I ever knew or not. I didn’t care.
GT: But you liked it.
RW: That’s the point I wanted was there. Yeah. When you come to think of it, it was a much better position than the upper turret where you were sitting in a sling all the time. God, no. I wanted to see where I’d been.
GT: Did you have to use the can at all?
RW: I should have but I didn’t. We had a rule. You didn’t use the can unless it was absolutely necessary. I think there must have been the odd time when the can was used. I never used it. But there was one time when I was puffing at the cheeks. I was bursting. And we got back on to the ground on the station and we taxied to a halt and I was sitting on the step with the pilot type ‘chute there. And I grabbed hold of the sides of the doorway and I heaved myself out. But unfortunately, my ‘chute caught on the lip of the step and tossed me face forward. Down I went. When I came to the ground staff were standing over me and there was blood everywhere and the bloody rigger says to me, ‘Wouldn’t your bloody ‘chute open mate?’ [laughs] Out again. I’ve never had that pee because I forgot all about that pee [laughs] I think in my time I had more humorous bloody episodes than I had dangerous ones.
GT: Did you have a good crew?
RW: Yeah. A bang on crew. Bang on crew. Nev, our navigator, spot on. We never missed a target. We were always within QE of time with that one exception. Bill never failed us. Radio operator was bang on. The bomb aimer and the engineer for Lancs, Herbert Morgan. A good Welshman. He was an engineer in normal life and he was a good engineer. We were a good workable crew. I don’t say we were top class or anything like that. If anything went wrong we overcame it. We always got to the target and we always got home. What more do you want?
GT: And what flight were you in, Roly of 75 Squadron.
RW: B Flight.
GT: B Flight.
RW: Yeah.
GT: It states on your logbook here your summaries. Operational sorties forty four hours fifty five. Baedekers seventeen hours. Post mortems seventeen hours. Food dropping two hours twenty. Army co-op four hours. Training thirty hours.
RW: Oh yes. We did a bit of army co-op work.
GT: Yeah.
RW: Co-operating with the army as they moved up through Holland and that.
GT: And summary. Aircraft was Lancaster Marks one or three. Operational. Seventy four hours by day, eleven hours by night. Training twenty eight hours by day. One hour by night. So you have a grand total of day hours one hundred and three and night twelve hours twenty five in the end. Total a hundred and fifteen hours. That’s still a huge amount of of time served. And so therefore your last flight on 75 New Zealand Squadron was the army co-op.
RW: Oh yeah.
GT: On the 13th of July 1945.
RW: ’45.
GT: And so the end for your crew you must have had many other crew members standing there wanting to get flights I suppose. Were there?
RW: At dispersal was again was another humorous situation. We were told that we were going to Lincolnshire. And amongst us was a [pause] Oh God, I’ve got his name too. A, what this for a wing commander.
GT: Squadron leader.
RW: Squadron leader. Squadron leader. Well, when we were leaving of course we all had bikes and that. We couldn’t take our bikes and we left them all against the side the toilet. And we weren’t the only crew in the truck either. There was a whole swathe of bikes there. And I looked out and I saw the toilet man coming up and I knew he sort of collected bikes. So out of that truck. And I said, ‘How much for that lot?’ and I’ve forgotten what he said now but it was a few pound there. And I said, ‘Right, they’re yours,’ and I climbed back in the truck and of course they all wanted the money for their bike. I said, ‘You tell me how much I got for your bike.’ So I was the one holding the cash. [laughs]
GT: Entrepreneur Roly.
RW: Oh, you’ve got to be quick.
GT: Yeah.
RW: The, the place we went to, the CO there was a squaddie too but he didn’t have the experience of the one that was with us. So he came to us and he said, ‘Look,’ he said, ‘They haven’t got rations for you. What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘Look, draw ration cards and put us on leave with a leaving address.’ ‘Good thinking.’ So that’s what we did. So we drew ration cards and Pete Dixon the mid-upper gunner and I high tailed it to London and I never saw any of the crew after that. They just dispersed. I didn’t see Pete again after I left him in London. [pause] He would have come home on the Andes as I did. But when we got aboard ship I went down to our quarters and, oh boy. They were a long way down. And they weren’t very good. So Blue says, ‘Now, look here Blue. You’ve got to do something about this.’ So I went up on deck again and I saw a staff sergeant there. I said, ‘G’day. What are your quarters like?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘They’re not too bad.’ I said, ‘Have you got room for another one?’ He said ‘Yeah. I think so. We’ll go along and have a look.’ So I went, we went along and sure they were miles better than we had. I said ‘Right. You’ve got another staff sergeant on your list.’ So I came home in their quarters.
GT: So you finished as a flight sergeant by rank.
RW: Yeah.
GT: And you came back on the Andes.
RW: Yeah.
GT: You were saying. So what port was that leaving from?
RW: Southampton.
GT: And did you have white Lincolns fly over with Baigent at the control. That would —
RW: I doubt whether I could see them.
GT: Oh, you were down.
RW: Because the air was white as it was.
GT: So, that was your tripping back to New Zealand so how long did that take? That sailing. A couple of weeks.
RW: Twenty one days. Record trip.
GT: And what, did you come through the Suez or the Panama?
RW: Suez. Yes. Suez. Now, there’s something else on that bloody trip.
GT: Because the Japanese war was still going, wasn’t it?
RW: The Japanese war was still going then. Yes. Yes.
GT: So you had to be careful for Japanese submarines, I guess.
RW: Well, I think the Yanks had them reasonably well bottled up by then. The drive down south would be well and truly held up. But there was, there was something else.
GT: So, when you arrived how long did you stay in RNZAF? Did you stay around as a territorial or —
RW: No.
GT: Demobbed straight away.
RW: There was no future in that for a gunner. I demobbed straight away and went back to work after. I had a month off. My mother and I went around the North Island visiting some of her relations, and mine I suppose. And I came back home and I couldn’t stick it. Life was too slow. I had to get back to work. So I went back and where I was working the boss there had a son the same age as me. An only son. An only child. And Ray had everything he wanted in life. Unbeknown to me he had joined the army and been transferred into the ack ack squadron which I was in before I went into the Air Force. I was in the Bofors. He would have been in the 3.7s I would have imagined because the 3.7s had taken over in the port. But ack ack base by this time.
GT: That’s here in Christchurch.
RW: In Christchurch. Around Lytteleton Harbour. Yeah. And all those crews were mustered together and taken up to the islands. And unbeknown to me the crew Ray was in was dive bombed by a Jap dive bomber and cleaned out completely. And so there was quite a few that I knew that had been on the Bofors with me cleaned up on that too. And so had I known that I wouldn’t have gone back. But I didn’t and so I went back so it must have been a pretty hard pill to swallow that I came back and Ray didn’t. And he called me in the office and said, you know I’d been off the tools, I was a joiner, for five err for three and a half years. I’d take a bit of catching up again and I said, ‘Well, look. How about we call it quits and I’ll move out,’ and that suited him. And I got on the tram and went home. I got off the tram at the street where I lived and a local builder lived first house on the street and he was there unloading an old Model A car. ‘Any chance of a job, Mr Allen?’ He said ‘When can you start?’ I said, ‘Now.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Make it Monday morning.’ So Monday I went along there, we loaded up the Model A and off we went to the first job. And I worked with him from ‘46 through to ’53. And in ’53 he came to me and he said, ‘Can you raise five hundred pound?’ ‘Oh, a tall order.’ He said, ‘Well, do you think you can do it?’ I said, ‘I’ll give it a go.’ So I managed to raise five hundred pound and I went into partnership with him for twelve months. He put in five hundred. I put in five hundred. We came out, split the difference and went on our ways. But of course in the meantime I had to do the plans, do the pricing, keep the books. He provided all the work, and we had plenty of work on hand and utilised his good name on all the business accounts and he, and in ’53 I went into the bank and changed over the bank account from the dual names to my name and took over. And then the hard work set in. Boy, if I was ever in bed before 11 o’clock and up again at six it was a great night. Drawing plans and that. I heard a knock on the door one night and a joker standing there with a plan under his arm. It was that door and he said, ‘Could he get a price on this plan?’ ‘Bring it in.’ So we went to the table there laid it out on the table and I took a look at it and there were pencil marks all over it. It was filthy. I said, ‘How many prices have you had?’ He said, ‘You’re the fourteenth.’ I just rolled it up, handed it back to him and said, ‘If there are thirteen other chaps can’t satisfy you I can’t.’ That was the end of that one. It was from then on I learned that that’s what you strike in business. Boy, I struck some hard ones here.
GT: So as a joiner this was all internal fitting.
RW: Well, I’d, as a joiner I’d done building construction and that you see. And then what I learned in ’46 through to, oh Charlie Wood had his eye on me. I suppose about ’49 he had been wanting to ease up. Yeah. What I’d learned from him then it was like learning another trade with him then, you see.
GT: Do you have a family here?
RW: No family. No. My wife and I. My wife died in ’72, I think. Yeah. But she was incapacitated too. And there was no family unfortunately.
GT: And you’re in the Brevet Club here in Christchurch.
RW: Yeah. I joined the Brevet in 1953. It started in ’52 and I joined early in the ’53. At that stage we had a membership of five hundred and fifty. She was a go ahead club but it was a boy’s club. They were still boys and they played as boys. We played it hard. And we got a name for it too where lots of places would not allow us in their premises. We got thrown out of one or two. But all in all we boxed on and gradually as age took over we settled down. We had presidents that went horse riding on the west coast and fell off and broke their arms. I don’t know. Some of the things that went on. We used to go on a picnic outing. And we had a big chilli bin and that was a big one. That was filled up with the grog. We had another chilli bin that had a little bit of food because you took mostly your own food. Also in the food chilli bin was a bottle of rum and a bottle of milk. And on the bus out to the venue we’d have a stop and there would be rum and milk. Now, I wasn’t very partial to rum and I was only a lone voice but I reckoned we should have whisky. So I persisted with this whisky and in the way, in the end I got my own way. And [unclear] down they got to whisky and milk. But then, you see a lot of the football clubs, these trips were spot on. They were never anyone obstructious or anything like that. We all knew our place and we stayed in it. We enjoyed our drink. We enjoyed our day out. We came back a little the worse for wear I admit that. But there was no trouble on the bus or anything like that until the football clubs got in to it. And then they lost control of it.
GT: Yes. It’s rugby football or football football.
RW: Rugby football.
GT: Yeah. Not football football for our English listeners now. Yeah. Some people have got sight that it’s football.
RW: Rugby football.
GT: Rugby football is big here in New Zealand.
RW: Yeah.
GT: Yeah.
RW: And that’s when it fell by the wayside. We were not allowed to carry on carrying liquor.
GT: Yeah.
RW: On the bus. They stopped that. Which of course put a dead halt on it. So then we started going to venues. But it wasn’t the same. You go to a venue and have your lunch. They put on a lunch and they provided the liquor but it wasn’t the same. There was not the camaraderie there and so that’s fallen by the wayside. And so, now bus trips are out but we have dinners once a month at a venue. The Chateau in the Park usually where they supply the meal and they put on the liquor and you drink as much as you like but it’s pretty quiet now. We’re also, all of us are now dragging a leg anyway [laughs] But that’s what happened to the picnic trips and had the Rugby Clubs not got into it because they lacked control of the younger players. That was the trouble. Ours were wild enough in certain venues when you got, got over the west coast boy there was nothing wilder than the Brevet Club. But then that’s what the west coasters expected. They, usually they led it. You know [dear] Scott and Co would be right in there, boots and all.
GT: When you came back from Europe, from the war in particular in the years that rolled through did you find that New Zealanders didn’t want to know what you guys went through? What happened over there. Was that a feeling you felt? Because many I’ve talked with said they just got on with life and many didn’t want to know and as a subsequence they suffered for it later on.
RW: I don’t know that they didn’t want to know. They didn’t even know what had gone on. Our papers never carried a great deal because it was all hush hush there. And so there are only illustrated magazines that came out that showed bomb damage or something like that. But then how could anyone sitting on a settee here relate to bomb damage in the East End of London? There’s not a hope in hell. And so they didn’t know. And when they talked here about rationing, yes we had rationing here. They had so much sugar and soap. So much of sweets and all the rest of it. It was only a fraction of what they had over there of the rationing. Jeez, I first saw a banana in London the kids stood with it in their hands. They didn’t know what it was. Hell. They had no conception of what people had to go through in wartime in war areas. We were alright here. Well, mum could still send me over a cake every now and again. Admittedly it had to come off her ration cards some. She most likely had to save up a bit for it. But at least she could still save up and still manage in the household. Over there you couldn’t have saved up if you lived to be as old as Methuselah. No.
GT: And you enjoyed your time in the RAF. RNZAF. I know it was wartime but some people —
RW: Yeah.
GT: Made good of it. Others —
RW: Yeah. Best time of my life. I learned more, I did more, I grew up more. But I must say that I didn’t grow up until I got back in to civilian life here because those years, my late teenage years I should have been learning. I wasn’t. I was learning something. That was how to keep alive. And it wasn’t until I got back here into civilian life and saw how people acted and reacted and that that I realised what I had missed in my growing up years. I had women on a pedestal. Absolutely on a pedestal. And it wasn’t until I got back here and when I was nearly thirty and I found out what they were like. They can be on a pedestal when they want to be.
GT: Did you have any affiliation with the Wigram Museum at all?
RW: Yeah.
GT: You did a whole lot of work with them, did you?
RW: Eighteen years as a guide there.
GT: Yeah.
RW: Yeah. Now, a great museum. A great museum. Did great jobs there. Some of those reconstructions were great when you worked out what they had to work with there. Planes like the old Hudson and that was a complete and utter wreck. They got it back into a viewable shape and that. The Oxfords. The Ansons. The working on the Wildebeest. Well, they were the first planes I saw when I was stationed at Gisborne was a Wildebeest. We had to go out and protect them at night with our Canadian long branch rifles. All we did was try to shoot pukeko at night with, with a 303.
GT: A moorhen. Yeah.
RW: Yeah.
GT: So, as a guide at the museum there were obviously children and others came through the museum. Were they interested in World War Two and Bomber Command and things? Could you, could you share your experiences?
RW: Not greatly. Not greatly.
GT: They weren’t interested.
RW: Today, I was with, there was only, I suppose two or three World War Two jokers there. The rest were all post-war.
GT: Today, this morning, you were at a funeral.
RW: Funeral. Yeah.
GT: For another World War Two veteran that’s just died.
RW: And even those post-war chaps have got no conception of what it was like. The post-war boys played at playing Air Force. They did a good job in Vietnam and that. I’m not saying that. There must have been times that were a bit sticky there but in comparison they were playing. Yeah. God, stuff the lizards you know, if there was a plane surplus to requirements on the station — take it away for a weekend. Didn’t happen in my time. No. The one time I do know where a crew took a plane away and it must have been in ’43, a joker named Ewan Knox, he would have been a flight lieutenant I would imagine took a Heinkel 111 out with a load of boys on leave and they crashed into the hillside somewhere. They were all killed. Now, you can look up Ewan Knox’s name and all about him in that booklet that’s in the museum. There’s a, there’s a master booklet there of all their names. His name is also on the Memorial plaque in the museum there. And no doubt you can google that name up. New Zealander Ewan Knox.
GT: So did, you got to meet and got to be very good friends with some very famous World War Two flyers.
RW: Oh.
GT: Johnny Checketts, and you mentioned Chuck Yeager to me earlier.
RW: Yeah. In as much as I spent quite a bit of time with Johnny at the museum and it was a common thing between us to talk about events that had happened. And then I went down to Wanaka, to the War Birds with Johnny and met obviously [pause]
GT: Chuck Yeager.
RW: Chuck Yeager, down there and had a great yarn with him. We had entire an entire dinner hour with him yarning and they both said the same thing there. That on these daylights they used to sit up there and watch the bomber stream going into the target there through this cloud of anti-aircraft fire. And it was so black I could smell the cordite through my oxygen mask. I I breathed pure oxygen from ground up. I switched on immediately we were taking off. I switched my oxygen on because I believe the more I could get in my blood the more I could stay awake. And you could smell the cordite. The fumes leaking through it. You could hear the shrapnel rattling down the sides of the fuselage there. Thrown off by the props. God only knows what condition some of the props were in. But it would all be light stuff I admit. The stuff that was thrown off there. But that’s how black the cloud was. And as Chuck said, they used to sit up there and watch them going and hope that they’d come out again. I suppose when one came out, right. Thumbs up.
GT: Fascinating. Fascinating indeed. Well, Roly. Blue. It’s, it’s time perhaps we wrap up our interview. But —
RW: Yeah.
GT: You’ve, you’ve said plenty for me.
RW: Good [laughs]
GT: Anything else you’d like to add before we, we finish?
RW: Well, I enjoyed my time in the army.
GT: The Air Force.
RW: And I had a chance of staying in the army. Captain Chapman asked me if I wanted to stay and I said to him well, we were very happy. I was doing well there. I could see myself doing quite well there. And he rang in and said, ‘’I’ve been in touch with the Air Force and they say you’ve got to go.’ So, that was the end of it. I thought, well now I’ve got to go I’d better make the most of it. Make the best of it. But to me brought up in a Victorian family it was such a different life. Also, I was brought up in a country life. We lived out here with the hills all around us. I went to town twice in the school holidays. Once to buy Christmas presents if I had any money and second to get my school uniform. Other than that I was running in the hills and that was all I knew. And when I was eighty I could scamper through the hills better than my grandson who was eighteen [laughs] Yeah. So that was my upbringing. I knew where every rabbit lived, where every morepork lived. I knew where all the wild pigeons were roosting and where they were feeding and what time they’d come home to roost. Yeah. There wasn’t a thing I didn’t know that went on in that, up that valley there. Yes. And when the ducks, when the south westerly weather came in and the pond came at the bottom of the rifle range there amongst the rushes I knew exactly when the ducks would come in. We had duck for dinner then. You didn’t need a licence when you were close to home [laughs] I know. That was my early days. And so I never had a great deal to do with people. I didn’t know how to talk to people that were older than me. I knew how to talk to my age group because I knew what they would be interested in but I didn’t know people who are older than me. And I sometimes feel I still don’t because lots of times I want to bring up the ante sometimes. And sometimes it doesn’t go down [laughs] I can see now many many things that take place that I’m highly critical of. And if I get too critical it meets with a very sad reception. But believe me it’s my belief and I think I’m right [laughs] And if I don’t think I’m right who else is going to? No.
GT: Fabulous. Thanks, Roly.
RW: It’s been an uneventful life in some ways. And events all came up all of a sudden. The years I was building was damned hard slog. All, nearly all hill work. One foot below the other all the time and that. Lifting everything up. Very seldom did you strike a job where you could slide it down. And I met some hard people. Especially the women folk. God. I struck one woman, one woman that I had a scaffolding up to do the barge boards and that on the roof. And she said to me could I leave the scaffolding there for her painter so he could paint that part of the house? I said, ‘Yes. I’ll leave it there for a week.’ God. I got lumbered with a two month bill for the scaffolding. Ran into bloody hundreds of dollars then. I went to her. She just laughed. So eventually I got around to taking her to court. I couldn’t get the, get the summons on to her. She was never at home. So I noted too that she went shopping on Fridays. Excuse me I’ll have to —
GT: Right [laughs] I’ll tell you what, Roly. Roly, it’s been lovely. Thank you very much for your interview.
RW: Ok.
GT: And I’m sure the international Bomber Command is going to welcome it.
RW: My pleasure.
GT: Thanks very much.

Citation

Glen Turner, “Interview with Roland Spencer Williams,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 17, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/11776.

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