Interview with Leslie Temple


Interview with Leslie Temple


Leslie Temple spent four years in the Air Training Corps before joining the Royal Air Force as a radio operator. He completed a tour of 30 operations with 101 Squadron at RAF Ludford Magna, as a German speaking special operator. He describes how having an eight man crew and extra equipment affected the interior of the Lancaster bombers. He reads from “Fighting Back: British During Military Contribution in the Second World War” by Martin Sugarman throughout the interview.




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00:49:39 audio recording

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AS: Yes we are, we’re ready to go. Okay, this is, we’re ready to start. The machine’s running I think. Yes okay, so this is Andrew Sadler interviewing Les Temple, Mr. Leslie Temple, at his home in Ilford on Tuesday the 27th of September 2015 for the Bomber Command Archive. Thank you very much for allowing us to interview you Les.
LT: Good.
AS: Can I start by asking you about your date and place of birth?
LT: My birth date is 12th of January 1925 you see. Now I was born in the East End of London, and I had an older – my parents who – my father had come from Poland when he was fourteen and my mother as a young baby when she was born, she came over to England with her mother, and my parents had my brother Arthur. He was four years older than me, Arthur, and he went into the Army. When the war started, he was conscripted into the Army and in 1941 he was sent to France and there lo and behold in France, he was captured and made a prisoner of war. He was a prisoner of war for four years [emphasis] in Germany, and there’s quite a bit of history in his name obviously. But in the meantime, whilst he was away I reached conscription age and living in the East End of London at that particular time – when I was born, I was born and my brother was a bit older [emphasis] than me, so he didn’t sort of used to do the same, same things [laughs] together. He went into the services and then we moved at the beginning of the war to Leyton [emphasis], E10, and from there I was conscripted at the age of eighteen and I was conscripted for the RAF because I had spent four years in the Air Training Core [emphasis]. I was in the Air Training Core, I was conscripted, and in effect I was happy to be going into the RAF and for air, aircrew duties. And I went in initially as a radio operator, wireless operator and in that time, before that time I had been at school in Leyton, E10, at which I was sorted out there because I was always receiving first place in class – and my father was a tailor, and in effect he [laughs] couldn’t afford for me to go on to higher sort of class, school when I reached the age of fourteen and he, I had to go to work. But the fact was, is that I had my school reports there [laughs] of which I have first place in every one, and in that respect the school wanted me to go onto higher school, Leyton County High School, and, but my father I’m afraid in this respect he wasn’t earning much as a tailor and he couldn’t afford for me to go on in school, and I had to go to work. And strangely enough my first job was for the London County Council, Mr. Charles Leyton who I worked for in the office when I left school at the age of fourteen, he was the principle of the London County Council [emphasis]. So he took me into the London County Council and I was worked, worked there for a couple of years. And I found that I couldn’t earn enough to satisfy my parents who it was rather shame that they, you know, things weren’t all that good in those days in the, in the tailoring trade and so on and so forth. So it went on that I found various jobs to improve my mode of being able to live and earn money and I went into the insurance business [emphasis], and I started at a pretty young age in the insurance business, learning the office work and so on and so forth, and then I went into, into the Air Force because the war started and I was taken in as a radio operator, and in effect I had joined the Air Training Core during that period, and I was four years [emphasis] in the Air Training Core, which I did, did quite well, and as you can see here, the history is even in here about me being in the Air Training Core, and they decided it would be good for me to go in as a radio operator into, into the RAF.
AS: Why did you originally go into the Air Training Core, what inspired you?
LT: Well it inspired me because my brother [emphasis] was going to be conscripted in the Army, and I felt that I was capable of handling the things required in the, in the RAF, and I was pretty good at the Morse code and one thing and another in the Air Training Core, and so I applied to, to go into the RAF, and that’s how I was conscripted at that particular time for the RAF. And in effect [paper shuffles] let me see now [continued shuffling, pause]. Ooh, yes [shuffling, pause]. [Reading]: ‘confounding the enemy, the RAF Jewish Special Operators of 101 Squadron, Bomber Command.’ Now in the RAF I was, I did all the examinations and so, learnt the Morse code pretty quickly and so on, and as it got in the book here, [reading]: ‘much of the history of the secret telecommunication of war, against the Germans during the Second World War is still classified and shrouded in mystery, including the radio countermeasures of RAF Squadron 101.’ Now –
AS: So you were in 101?
LT: I was in 101 Squadron you see. Now 101 was a particular – [reading]: ‘it was a great history of the advancement made of telecommunications in the RAF because we were using the special Morse code details for confounding the enemy and also learning what they were transmitting, and we’ – the normal – I went, I went into various [emphasis] stations – I’ll show you, just a moment [pause, papers shuffle]. Well I had it here before, it’s all down here. [Reading]: ‘confounding the enemy in the RAF Jewish [unclear] 101,’ right. Right, my number was 1893650, would you like to make a note [?]. [Pause, continued shuffling].
AS: Good, carry on.
LT: Now, as it says here, [reading]: ‘1893650, Flight Sergeant Leslie Temple, born in 1925 to Jane and Solomon in Stepney, joined the RAF in January 1943 aged eighteen, but has served in the Air Training Core from the age of fourteen. He received initial air training at Bridgnorth in Shropshire, on De Havilland Dominies and Proctors. Radio training at Madley, acclimatisation on B17s at Sculthorpe in Norfolk and a Lancaster Conversion Course at Lindholme in Yorkshire, before being sent as a full flight sergeant aged nineteen to join 101 Squadron.’ I don’t know whether you’ve heard of 101 before, have you?
AS: No, not really.
LT: No, well – [reading]: ‘to join 101 Squadron at Ludford. He’d learnt German at school and spoke fluent Yiddish at home.’ Well you know Yiddish was the language which the foriegn Jews used when they came to London. They couldn’t speak English properly so they were able to speak easily to each other. [Reading]: ‘but the SO work was so secret that they had no idea until he arrived at Ludford,’ – I arrived at Ludford Magna, that was the station that I arrived at. They used to call it not Ludford but Mudford [laughs] it was so, so bad. [Reading]: ‘until he arrived at Ludford why he’d been sent there. He completed thirty missions between 22nd of June against the Reims Marshalling Yard and 28th of October 1944, Cologne.’ So I did my air operations between 22nd of June and 28th of October 1944, on Cologne.[Reading]: ‘other raids from his still prized logbook including Essen, Frankfurt, V1 [?] sites, through concentrations after D-Day, Cahagnes [?], Hamburg and Sholven. Special operators worked intensely on the journeys out and home for several hours, but over the target could only watch. Once the bombers were near the target, it was obvious to the enemy where they were going, so jamming [?] was superfluous.’ When you got near the target you stopped jamming [?] you see, only when you was coming to the target and listening, listening into what the Germans were saying. [Reading]: ‘Leslie Temple explained that the rear gunner in Able ABC Lancasters,’ ABC is you know, Airborne Cigar, that’s ABC – ‘had heavier machine guns than usual because the planes were particularly vulnerable transmitting over enemy bombers.’ Now did you see a thing, Lancaster Bomb, Lancaster Bombers –
AS: Yes.
LT: Ah it’s under, under this book there.
AS: Yeah.
LT: You see now, Lancaster Bombers – the compliment for a crew for a Lancaster was seven, a long was seven. But 101 was the only squadron that had eight [emphasis], and we had eight because we were a special aircrew, squadron which was trans, doing the special operators work, interfering with what the Germans were transmitting to their fighters and so on. Now, the fact that I had a knowledge of the German language , the fact that I had a knowledge of the German language made me that eighth member of the crew, because when I was, when I went to, what’s her name at the beginning, my first squadron at Ludford – I, I had this crew, I joined the crew which I joined because it was time they arrived and I arrived you see, to make up the eighth, eighth member. I did six operations with them, but the skipper, he used to mess about with ladies and so on and so forth, and what happened was he, the crew was disarmed and so on, and taken off [emphasis]. And there was I, left at Ludford without a crew [emphasis]. And I, I had done six operations with them. Well when I was there on my own it was lucky for me that Eric Neilson came in with his crew, and he had seven members of his crew who came to Ludford Magna, to 101, to start operations. So they said to me ‘right, you join him as a special operator.’ Now aircraft in 101, their machine guns were point five. The normal machine gun in a Lancaster and aircraft used by the RAF were 303s. We had heavier machine guns in 101, and it was a wonderful reason that we had [laughs] point fives, because they were very useful on many occasions, and I joined them as a special operator. Now I don’t know whether you know, the Lancaster was converted to a special operation aircraft because when you got into a Lancaster, behind the door on a normal Lancaster was a bed. Well on our Lancasters, 101 Squadron, the bed was taken out and the place was made for the special operators. I had my recording equipment and my equipment to listen, listen in to the German transmissions, and I could hear the German language and I could understand what was going on, and I would transmit that to my skipper when anything was happening that was useful to us. And so we had eight in the crew. Our Lancaster was converted from seven individuals to eight [emphasis], and I was the special operator, and the whole [emphasis] squadron was this way. We all had eight in the crew [phone rings]. Oh, excuse me a minute, is that –
[Tape paused and restarted].
AS: Okay, do carry on.
LT: Right, now I was up to this question – what, have you been over this question of why we had eight, eight members?
AS: Yes.
LT: You’ve been over this, and where they were situated and so on –
AS: Yep.
LT: And so forth. Now where were we up to –
AS: You just told me that.
LT: Yeah. Now when, when I had got my crew, Eric Neilson came in and I joined them. I had done six operations, you see when – you know the tour was at thirty, you were supposed to do up to thirty you see, so I did twenty-three with them, which is in my logbook and, for you to see, and in effect, we were getting on extremely well. I was, you know made[laughs], made right for them, but I couldn’t do the full tour that they were doing, you see. They would have to do the thirty and I would only have to do twenty-three to do. And in effect this, this situation developed where I did the twenty-three with them and I had to come off because I done thirty. I did six and I did another one with another crew, just one, to finish off my thirty [emphasis]. And Eric Neilson had to get another operator you see, so in effect as it says here in this history, that we got on very well together, we had a number of difficult situations to do, but the worst operation we had was on a raid on Kiel [emphasis], where we went to Kiel [papers shuffle]. We took off from Ludford just before midnight, at twenty-three fifty-five for the heavily defended German naval base at Kiel. The Lancaster was blown slightly off course over the North Sea so the bomb aimer had to ask that they, that they fly round for a second time over the target to ensure accuracy, which was always extremely hazardous. As we did not jam [?] over the actual target, I could watch everything from the astrodome. I used to go into the astrodome when we reached the target area, because I had to come off my, my equipment and we started doing our bombing [emphasis], and dropping, and dropping the bombs you see, and as it says here: [reading]: ‘there was a solid curtain burst and hellish flak, wall of searchlights across the sky. Other bombers all around waiting to release their bombs, and predatory German night fighters spitting canon fire. Finally we dropped our bombs on target, but were suddenly nailed by a master searchlight on the way out. Immediately, a dozen others combed us at twenty thousand feet.’ All these other searchlights, we got on a master searchlight caught us in its [laughs] light and the other searchlights came on and we were combed at twenty thousand feet. [Reading]: ‘extremely German flak opened up and we were scarred with shrapnel which simply passed through the airframe, over our two port engines and burst into flames. I feared the worst as I could not bail out over the North Sea at night.’ We were over the North Sea and we had these two engines caught [laughs] fire. [Reading]: ‘our quick thinking Canadian skipper, Eric Neilson, who was given the DFC from this operation, nose a Lancaster down and pulled out of the beam at five thousand feet. The pillar and flight engineer, the pilot [emphasis] and flight engineer managed to extinguish the flames over the North Sea using the internal extinguishers, and despite no power from the directional equipment because of the two cut engines, our skilled navigator used’ –. Now this is – he, our navigatior, he always carried a sextant. You know what a sextant is, for direction and so on and so forth, and [reading]: ‘stars trying to get us home on two engines. We crash landed at Ludford in Lincolnshire and our back at our aerodrome, a special crash landing base at about four a.m. with over a hundred [emphasis] holes in the Lancaster.’ We had over a hundred holes in it, and er – [reading]: ‘after debriefing, I laid on my bed and could not stop shaking for twelve hours. The MO said the best cure was simply to get back up again soon and of course we did.’ No counselling in those days, so that was a pretty difficult situation, which we [laughs], we got, we came back on two engines and crash landed [laughs] and so on and so forth. Now tell, I’ll tell you something that we haven’t written down. The way to get your wheels down in a Lancaster was through hydraulic tanks. Now, if you were out too long, or else [?] they were punctured, the tanks then you couldn’t get your wheels down. The only way you could get down was you had to crash land. So we couldn’t get our wheels down when we got back to our base [emphasis] and the pilot said to us ‘right boys, you’ve got to go and do business [laughs] to pee, to pee in the tanks, the hydraulic tanks.’ So we had to go and pee in the hydraulic tanks, and we managed to get sufficient water to get the wheels down, you know, and that was the only way we could get down safely [emphasis] by doing that. And we just [emphasis] got down, you know, it was a tremendous situation otherwise we were going to have to crash, crash land without any wheels you see, and that was, that thing on Kiel. And that really, on the 23rd of July 1944 was the worst possible trip that we had, and in my thirty operations that was the – because we got shot up and we had, you know, all the situations that developed, being involved with the Germans at that time, but anyway, we managed, managed okay. So is that quite clear to you?
AS: How many more trips did you have to do after that? Where was that in the –
LT: Er –
AS: In the order of them?
LT: That [papers shuffle] that was my twenty-third [emphasis] operation that was.
AS: So you got another seven to do?
LT: Another seven to do, yeah. And you know, it was very, very close. After serving in 101 I was told to take a long leave and thereafter working as ground crew, and [long pause] –
AS: So, so you did your thirty and after that you worked on the ground. You didn’t have to do anymore?
LT: I didn’t have to do anymore, no.
AS: Right.
LT: I worked on the ground –
AS: ‘Cause I read some people had to do another thirty and then –
LT: Oh well that is if you did a straight [emphasis] thirty you weren’t forced [emphasis] to go do a second operation, operational trip. They asked [emphasis] you if you wanted to go you could go, and you found a suitable crew you could go. But I’m afraid that doing thirty trips in a Lancaster at that particular time [laughs] it, it didn’t sit, make you want to go back and have another go [laughs], I can tell you that much.
AS: Were there many people who did thirty, I mean, I mean it was incredibly dangerous wasn’t it?
LT: Oh yes, oh yes.
AS: You must have lost a lot of comrades on the way.
LT: Well, I lost my best pal in the Air Force, a boy named Jack Whitely. We were on a raid going out, and we were circling off the coast, off the English coast, waiting to go out when we saw an explosion in the sky, and what happened was two aircraft had collided because when you were going out, you went to the coast and you all got into your positions. There might have been three or four hundred aircraft, but you all had certain times where you would take off for your target you see, which would put you in a certain position. Well, at some times you got there a little early, you couldn’t go, go off for your operation, so you had to wait. All you’d do is you’d go round and round and round, you see, waiting for your time to come up while you went on operation. Well, at times you were very, very close to other aircraft, especially at night and they were very much a number of collisions. And Jack, real name Jack Whitely who I went through radio school and everything, and as a matter of fact I’ve got information here from his family. They wrote to me, I think it’s in that file there. They wrote to me and you know, because Jack and I we used to be, go to each other’s homes and so on and so forth when we were on leave, and he got killed. They fished him out the, fished him out the sea. And this is the sort of life you had in the Air Force. You didn’t know where you – you made friends but you didn’t know what was going to happen on your next, on your next, next trip.
AS: Your thirty trips, how far, how far apart were they?
LT: Thirty – well in the winter they were further apart than in the, in the summer. A lot depended on, on the weather. I did my, my thirty took me about what, four, four, about five months it took me, yeah. And sometimes it took much longer, it took seven or eight months, and in the summer, if we were completely in the summer weather, well you were that much better off [laughs] as far as getting down quicker. But a lot of boys went back and did second, second tours. But I found myself that getting through one tour was heavy enough.
AS: You’d had your luck, and you were sticking with it.
LT: Yes, definitely [emphasis], definitely.
AS: So when you, then you became ground crew. What did you do with the ground crew, as a ground crew?
LT: Well, when I went back on ground crew I was teaching other boys, you know, carrying on, on various squadrons to teach other boys what you learnt when you [emphasis] were flying, and that’s, that’s what I did, and it, it was 1944 and we were getting towards the end [laughs] of things then. We were finding things that promised, made, we made promises [emphasis] to finish, finish the war then and it, it was a great life at the time because I’d never been abroad when I went into the Air Force. I’d never been abroad or anything like that, and it was a totally, totally different life. And since then it’s been seventy, seventy years [emphasis], seventy years since –
AS: Hmm.
LT: Finishing a tour.
AS: When you did the ground, when you were with the ground crew, was, where were you stationed then? Was that still in Lincolnshire?
LT: Oh yes, yes, Lincolnshire. I think I got [papers shuffle] something here [long pause]. Got here, [reading]: ‘there was little doubt that outside the small circle of 101 Squadron veterans, few knew, few know the important dangerous work of the special [emphasis] operators and their Lancaster crew comrades. Less still, the role of the Jewish SOs,’ special operators, ‘it is to be hoped that this study will bring deserved, if belated recognition to this brave band of brothers.’ Now where did I – [papers shuffle, long pause], hmm.
AS: So how long were you – was it ‘til you were demobilised at the end?
LT: What come off aircrew?
AS: Yes. I mean when you, when you left the RAF, when was that?
LT: I left the – well I was, what, in the RAF nineteen, nineteen, what – just a minute I’ll give you the details, are just here [papers shuffle, long pause]. Hmm, excuse me, looking this up. [Long pause] 24th [?] 1944 [long pause]. [Reading]: ‘from October 1943, Squadron 101 flew two thousand, four hundred and seventy-seven sorties with Airborne Cigar from Ludford Magna. They dropped sixteen thousand tonnes of bombs between January 1944 and April 1945 alone [emphasis], and flew more bombing raids than any other Lancaster squadron in Group 1, losing one thousand and ninety-four crew killed and a hundred and seventy-eight prisoners of war.’ Now, we lost more individuals in our squadron than any other RAF squadron –
AS: Mm.
LT: You know. [Reading]: ‘the highest causalities of any squadron in the RAF,’ 101 Squadron. It’s a good thing for you to have noted. [Reading]: ‘it dropped sixteen thousand tonnes of bombs between January forty-four and April forty-five, and flew more bombing raids than any other, than any other Lancaster squadron in Group 1.’
AS: Hmm.
LT: Yeah. [Reading]: ‘losing one thousand and ninety-four crew and a hundred and seventy-eight were prisoners of war. The highest casualties of any squadron in the RAF.’ It, we were a tough, a tough squadron.
AS: So what date did you, were you demobilised from the RAF?
LT: What date –
AS: Yes.
LT: Did I, excuse me [papers shuffle, long pause]. Well I finished my tour 23rd October forty-four. Now [papers shuffle]. Now, 28th of October forty-four – I started operations [continued shuffling] in June forty-four to October forty-four. That’s when, that’s my whole –
AS: That’s from your logbook.
LT: Yeah.
AS: But when did you actually leave the RAF?
LT: The RAF was in, in forty, forty-five I think. I can’t –
AS: Did you leave immediately after the war finished?
LT: Er, yes [shuffling]. I’ve got a note somewhere when I left the RAF.
AS: What did you do after, after you left?
LT: What did I do?
AS: Hmm.
LT: I became – I had one or two little business activities, but I went into insurance business. I was an insurance broker for many years. I had my office in The Temple. You know The Temple?
AS: Mm.
LT: Smiths [?], Selma [?] and Temple and Company, Temple Chambers, Temple Avenue, East E4, that was, that was what I was involved in –
AS: Did, did –
LT: When I came out the RAF.
AS: Did you find it easy to settle back into civilian life or?
LT: Well, the early days weren’t easy, the early days weren’t easy. But – because I did a lot of cold calling on businesses in those days, a lot of cold calling to build up a basic clientele. But then I, I got known quite well. I had an office in Shoreditch, and then I went up to Ludgate Circus, and then from Ludgate Circus we were doing well with the Norwich Union, and they said to me that ‘we’ve got offices in The Temple.’ They owned these offices in the Norwich Union and ‘we’d like you to come in there and operate [laughs] and we can do business together.’ So that’s the way – until my retirement at sixty-five. Really I retired too early [emphasis]. I could have gone on working and it’s, I mean when you look at it gently, I’m now coming up ninety-one. I’m retired, you know, twenty-six, twenty-six years ago [laughs], it’s, you know to fill in your time over those years it takes, it takes a lot of doing. And I’ve filled in a lot of my time with doing building for other people sort of thing, going, passing on my know how to other people, and that’s the, that’s the way it’s been.
AS: And tell me about your comrades in your crew. You told me you kept in touch with them.
LT: Yes. Well did you see that letter –
AS: I did yes.
LT: From my skipper?
AS: Yes I did. Your skipper Eric Neilson.
LT: Yeah.
AS: Tell me, tell me, tell us about Eric.
LT: Eric’s, Eric was a – well he had his own aircraft in Canada. He he had his own plane, and he wanted me to go out there but I missed it. I didn’t go out to Canada and then things, things happened that are just right. We were writing, phoning each other and so on, keeping, keeping in touch [emphasis]. I kept in touch with about four of my crew. The one you saw the card, just died, Stan Horne my navigator. Kept in touch with him, and with Eric, Eric died pretty early [emphasis] you know.
AS: Did he? And he was the one who was the deputy prime minister in Canada.
LT: In Canada, yes. And you can see in your, in the book there’s some very nice pictures of him.
AS: And this is his memories, his autobiography we’re looking at.
LT: Yeah [shuffling papers]. See there’s our, there’s our crew there –
AS: Oh yes [long pause, shuffling].
LT: Lovely man [shuffling continues]. Life moves very quickly.
AS: And after the war what – I mean how do you think that Bomber Command were treated? Have you got any opinion on that?
LT: On Bomber Command – well no not really. I haven’t got a lot of experience [emphasis] with Bomber Command.
AS: No.
LT: But I’ve kept together, yeah I’ve been going to the RAF club regularly. I still go there occasionally.
AS: In Pall Mall?
LT: In Pall Mall, yes.
AS: Yes.
LT: Opposite the memorial.
AS: Yes.
LT: And go up there and, you know, because it gets to the stage when you’re here, you know, you make friends with someone and then they’re gone, die [laughs] you see. And there’s a session, session, a procession [emphasis] of men dying now –
AS: Hmm.
LT: Because everybody, everybody will, we’ll all go. I don’t know when, how much longer [laughs] I’ve got, you see. But it’s been a great [emphasis] experience in one’s life, to have gone through, gone through all this. It’s – I could go on for, on for days [emphasis] going over, going over things that –
AS: Shall we, erm, well shall I stop the recording, and we’ll look at some of the –
LT: Yeah.
AS: Archival documents –
LT: Did you –
AS: Materials that you’ve got. The book that you’ve been reading from – can I just –
LT: Did you see this letter?
AS: I’ll have a look at it in a second. The book you’ve been reading from is “Fighting Back: British During Military Contribution in the Second World War” by Martin Sugarman isn’t it?
LT: That’s right, yes.
AS: Yes. Okay, thank you very much, I’ll turn the recorder off now, and –



Andrew Sadler, “Interview with Leslie Temple,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 19, 2024,

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