Interview with Vic Farmer


Interview with Vic Farmer


Vic Farmer volunteered for the Royal Air Force at eighteen and trained as a navigator in South Africa. He describes his experiences of crewing up and serving in 550 squadron, RAF North Killingholme. He saw action on D-Day, and participated in further operations to bomb Paris marshalling yards and Bordeaux. He recalls an incident on an operation when he was outranked and as a result the wrong target was hit. He was commissioned and after further navigator training at RAF Shawbury, became an instructor. After the war, he became a teacher and eventually the head of a primary school. He talks of his feelings about Bomber Command and how veterans have been treated.




Temporal Coverage




00:34:46 audio recording


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VF: I’m now coming up to age ninety two. I am the last member of my crew, of the Bomber Command in Bomber Command Number 1 Group flying with 550 squadron flying out of North Killingholme.
MJ: And your name is?
VF: And of course my name is Vic Farmer and I flew, I joined the RAF as soon as I reasonably could. I wanted to join when I was seventeen but my parents would not give their consent. However, when I was eighteen, shortly after, I volunteered for aircrew. I wanted to be a pilot but I’m afraid when the, in the training that followed the ground course I just couldn’t fly a plane so not to waste, waste my abilities they put me to be a navigator. That meant going abroad for training and I trained in South Africa. At East London and Queenstown in South Africa. Came back to this country and did further training as a navigator in the, in our climate here in this country and eventually went on to be crewed up.
I remember shall we say being approached by an Australian pilot. A young Australian pilot. He was putting together a crew but to his own specific formula. He wanted two Australians, two Canadians and two Brits. So the two Canadians were gunners, a bomb aimer and the pilot they were Australians, the wireless operator and myself - we were the Brits. These are part of his formula – no officers. So we began our training together first on twin engine Wellingtons then on Halifaxes and on Lancasters.
But on the way we had problems. My pilot, because of the policy of the Australian government was commissioned and then of course he had what we call women, a woman problem and a pilot with a woman problem was dead. Was, shall we say, not a very good thing. So on our training he actually crash landed us in a Halifax. We were lucky the engines practically fell off red hot but fortunately we didn’t go up in flames. If we had I would probably not be here. So that was, we then refused to fly with him - the crew. And I had to speak up for the crew and eventually they, our plea was accepted and we waited to be taken over by another pilot.
Along came a Flying Officer Thomas. He was over thirty. He had a paunch and he had a sort of an eye twitch and I thought my goodness talk about, shall we say, out of the frying pan in to the fire. But however he proved to be an excellent Bomber Command pilot. He had been a flying instructor and he was the only commissioned person in the crew so he had us all organised together and to work as a crew and we went on to fly with him and we went to 550 squadron which had only been formed, in 19, late 1943 and we actually flew on D-Day itself. Well not quite on D-Day itself. It was twenty five minutes past midnight on the 7th of June.
And we were working extremely hard because we were flying day and, and night during our tour and we did a whole range of targets but many of them were to, how shall I put it, made travelling conditions for German support to the D-Day, for our front shall we say very difficult so they could not bring up their reinforcements. Our first attack was on, so they could not attack us, on [inaudible], shall we say - a railway marshalling yard, marshalling yard just outside Paris.
So we flew as I say at night at first and then by day and night so my actual flying operationally was only for just over three months from the 6th of June until about the, shall we say mid-September.
We always flew together. I flew thirty times with my pilot whose name, we always called the Skip. We never called him any other name. In fact I didn’t know his first name until just a couple of years ago. So he was always known as Skip and shall we say he, I am sure, saved us. I’m sure I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for his skill and to a certain extent our good fortune.
He, we were being stalked by a German night fighter and the manoeuvre at that time was for the gunners to call out ‘corkscrew’ port or maybe starboard depending on which way we were being stalked by a German night fighter. And we went down to port but of course the night, the German night fighter at that time knew of our manoeuvre and just hung there and waited until we went down and then turned and came up again and there we were, there they were waiting for us. But our pilot didn’t do that. Instead he went down to port and we kept going and we, if you like flew a circle which the plane at which was angled to the, to the ground below and about two minutes later he’d turned and gone down and came up again and two minutes or so later we were back where we started but the night fighter had been put off. We never saw him again. And we got back home.
I think on the next occasion which really sticks in my mind that we did a daylight raid lasting nearly eight hours down to Bordeaux to bomb oil installations to keep the German forces short of oil. But the, when we were first in and were flying at a height of eight or nine thousand feet and we were opposed by predicted flak. In other words the people had to work out where we were going to be and at what height and set their guns and such but our Skipper just took us on the same direction, the same speed and we dropped our bombs but what he had done he had slowly increased our height so from the prediction being made, the guns firing and the time taken for the shells to explode we were about, about a hundred feet higher. We got a lot of damage on the under surface of our plane but nothing serious. That took courage to do that. Most people would have tried to dive out of it and would, in so doing would probably dive into the flak and so and possibly be shot down.
But those are the two occasions. Another occasion we had lost a wing commander and a new man had come in and I think he wasn’t very well liked. He had the idea he gave that he came from a second class public school and shall we say rather talked down to people but he chose to fly with our crew to go Douai to bomb, once again, railway marshalling yards but at this time we had six Lancasters in formation and the wing commander flying in the lead of the first of three and shall we say there was I, a flight sergeant, with him sort of nagging at me cause he didn’t think I was doing a good job but we did get to Beachy Head on time, set off for France, arrived over the French coast in the right place, on time and when we came to do a turn it had to be a large turn because we were flying ahead of the, of the Bomber stream where they were expecting to follow us to well and make a well and truly coordinated attack but halfway through the turn the bomber, bomb aimer said, “I can see the target. “ But I said to the wing commander we haven’t completed our turn. He says, “Take over bomb aimer”. So the bomb aimer took over and guided us to another French town about thirty or forty miles away but the whole bomber stream took no notice of following us and went on to bomb the right target.
Once he’d found he’d bombed the wrong target the wing commander took this formation of six Lancasters to fly around North France, Northern France with a very, very high density of anti-aircraft guns and to look at the target we should have hit and to circle around and see what we should have done and took us then back home. And meanwhile I had logged everything. I had my chart but the, so I was quite happy that I had in a sense I’d done my job but had been ignored by the person making the decisions. So when we got landed, got home I went in to do for briefing I’d got my log and my chart which were taken from me but before we went in his hand went to my collar pulled me back and said this is what to say and to this day the squadron records record that the Pathfinders were late putting down their, their flares and that the visibility was not very, very good but it was good enough for the bomb aimer to see the wrong target so I don’t see how that really fits. However that’s, that’s what happened. So what does a flight sergeant say to a wing commander anyway when he knows he’s making a mess up. So I had to suffer that.
However, we went on and our pilot got us through our tour and immediately after the tour I was commissioned and I went from on from there and of course our crew broke up and went different ways. We had a strong link with each other. A very, very strong link because we were going to either, shall we say, die or live depending on our own particular skills in, in in the crew.
But the crew broke up and I was commissioned and went on to become a staff navigator. Being a staff navigator was one cent higher than being a normal ordinary navigator course. I went and took that course at Shawbury when they were, shall we say, were pioneering polar flying at the time. And after that I became a flying instructor and I had one rather particular task was, just after the war had finished prisoners of war were coming back. Many of them were part of the permanent RAF and they had to be brought up to date with navigation which had taken great strides during the war using radar equipment in particular. Generally speaking the people were very good because they were often a higher rank than me but there was one person, he was a squadron leader and he came in to my class and while I was lecturing he put his legs up and read a novel. I thought if this is what permanent people in the RAF are like I don’t want to know them so when the time came for me to leave the RAF I was offered to stay in a bit longer and consider a permanent commission. Remembering that person indeed certainly clouded my decision not to stay in the RAF.
So I came out to be a civilian with no job, no career of any note to, to, to go back into civilian life. So having been an instructor I thought it wasn’t much of a step to go along and become a school teacher. Instead of instructing shall we say adults I would probably teach young people to help form their lives for the future and so I did and after a very miserable start I became quite competent and eventually ended up as the last eighteen years of my teaching life as a head, Headmaster of a primary school. Now much of my success in that I always feel was my life in the RAF and my special time on operational flying because they had taught me as a young man not to be a middle class prig but to accept people as they are and that helped me in my career because I had an awful lot of contacts with teachers and parents as adults as well as with children. So I always look back upon my air force career and my time in Bomber Command as being, if you like the things that formed me as a person. I grew up very quickly joining the RAF at the age of eighteen.
And that’s virtually what I did. So I’ve been retired from teaching now for over thirty years. I still go back to my [?] school and the youngsters there questioned me about my life, shall we say as a child, in my wartime including my time in the RAF, my time teaching and retirement. And of course so many changes have taken place that this has become a part of their, if you like, history course to be able to talk to somebody. But I don’t just go along and talk to them and tell them. They ask me questions so I have to be prepared just to answer any questions they put to me.
Well here I am now living on my own. My wife died nearly eighteen years ago so I look back on my life in the RAF and Bomber Command with rather great satisfaction if you like. It has really made me as a person.
I do feel about Bomber Command which I am proud to have served my country flying in Bomber Command but I do feel it has had a sad history just after the war. It was influential in a very, very strong way of winning the war and it also it helped us not to lose the war ‘cause I don’t think, I think the bomb - shall we say the dam busters did a wonderful job but I think the most influential raid made by Bomber Command was to Peenemunde when they bombed the research for the German V weapons. V1 the buzz bombs to the V2, the rockets and equally they were shall we say pioneering a very long range gun but when the, shall we say this was the, the place, Peenemunde where the Germans were doing all their research and putting into practice what they thought would win the war. That did actually affect, but I think it so messed up the German, the German shall we say research that there was a delay in the V1s and the V2 weapons being used against this country and nor were they put in numbers that the Germans had anticipated they would use and as the flying bombs came, began to, to fly their unmanned bomb, flying bomb, I think about ten days after, about ten days if memory serves me after the, the invasion of Europe. The, if the German programme had gone as expected they would started four or five months earlier and then they could have put us out of the war before we, before we invaded in Normandy. That could have, that could really have happened. And once the bomb, once the V weapons were being used I can recall many of my operations were against V weapon bomb sites in storage centres. That was part of the programme of Bomber Command in June, July.
I also feel that the, whereas Fighter Command flew a wonderful defensive war and kept us from, shall we say, losing the war, they did it in a defensive way, in a sense I do feel Bomber Command by its aggressive wage of, waging of war did save us from defeat at, at the hands of the V weapons.
But when I go back to my old school and children ask me about what I did in the war. They ask the questions, I give the answers. And one of the questions which always comes up as different group of children I see, meet, each year is was it right for you to kill civilians? Well the answer to that? I did what I was told. I couldn’t choose what I, targets I would take on ‘cause civilians might be killed. That’s one thing. The second thing is they didn’t understand that all wars civilians always suffer anyway but also I wasn’t we were not intent on killing civilians as such. What we were doing at Bomber Command, we were helping to fight a war which we knew that the German people were being led astray to believe that they, they were the master race. That they were superior to everybody. Had, had we lost the war what would the German victors have done to us? Would they allow us as being quite closely related to you might say, in race, to Germany allow us to be also part of that attitude that we were superior to other races. And so that we were really fighting not the people but a very wrong idea of the way the world should be run.
And I say this to the youngsters who, very often I’m talking to a class which is about seventy eight percent children with a background from, from the, that is come from where we might perhaps have called them black children as against white and I would say to them, you are equal in our country and in the sight of God to anybody. You are not an inferior race which you would have been if the Germans had won the war. So you make up your own mind whether killing civilians on the way has ensured, if you like - your future. It’s very difficult to get over, over to the youngsters aged eleven that conception. But I don’t tell them whether I did right or wrong I tell them the circumstances and leave them to make up their own mind.
Now as, as after the war I didn’t, people knew that I had flown in the RAF but I would always hesitate to say I flew in Bomber Command. There were a whole, shall we say generation who grew up thinking that we were civilian killers. I think that has passed now and they realise that the numbers lost, the lives that were lost in Bomber Command, over fifty five thousand people. That was nearly half, nearly fifty percent of people who flew in Bomber Command what a great sacrifice that people flying in Bomber Command made for our victory and have been neglected for so many years.
I suppose I look upon myself - I did nothing heroic. Shall we say I didn’t have, have to bail out? I didn’t, I flew my time in much of the same aircraft on a very little known squadron but at last it has been our, our work and sacrifice has been acknowledged and it was the Bomber Command memorial in, near, it’s at Piccadilly. That is a wonderful memorial and I was there when the Queen opened it in the year of the Olympic Games wasn’t it? And I was privileged to be there and on that occasion the whole royal family were there as well and that was the time when, when final acknowledgement was of Bomber Command was really appreciated.
I’m proud that I flew in Bomber Command so I’m proud of my service in the RAF but just to think I served in the RAF for four and a half years and in just over three months I flew operationally. Makes you think doesn’t it? That the rest of the time I was either in training or helping to train others. But I flew in Bomber Command and I say, I look back, aged nearly ninety two with a great deal of satisfaction but I was one of the many. Now Bomber Command has been accepted for what it really was and did. So many people have died who have never known that Bomber Command was going to be, at last, accepted. I’m the last of my crew to, to be alive and some of those particularly the two Canadians they have died without ever knowing that what they did flying in Bomber Command was, shall we say, fully recognised. I think that’s rather sad but because I’m still alive today I have, I have a bit of notoriety personally for, because I’m still alive. So many other people did what I did and did it better in their time but they have died. I’m still alive. And because there is a scarcity of people who like me are still alive we now have a little bit of notoriety, shall we say, at last.
And I’m also glad that the new, the new Bomber Command in Lincolnshire, the Bomber Command memorial there which is being set up at this time, not yet completely functional. But I’m glad it’s that because whereas the, shall we say the monument there in London, Piccadilly is made of stone - is wonderful. It’s quite emotional to go and see it but it does nothing. It doesn’t move. It just helps the mind remember but to be able to be, help the new Lincolnshire project which is more than just is, is somewhere where people can go and do and take part and look at the archives and I’m so glad to be able to help in that in my own little way.
MJ: On behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre I’d like to thank Vic Farmers. Navigator?
VF: Navigator.
MJ: Navigator, for his interview at his home in Oxted, the date of the 13th of July 2015. Thank you very much.



Heather Hughes, “Interview with Vic Farmer,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 24, 2024,

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