Interview with Derry Derrington


Interview with Derry Derrington


Dr Arnold Pearce Derrington grew up in Cornwall and joined the University Air Squadron at Exeter. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1942 and completed training at RAF Ansty, South Africa, RAF West Freugh and RAF Moreton in the Marsh, where he trained as a navigator on Wellingtons. He was posted to RAF Driffield where he served with 462 and 466 Squadrons. Most of his operations were over the Ruhr. He discusses H2S and Gee in detail. He was later an instructor at RAF Moreton in the Marsh and was demobbed in 1945. He kept a diary of his time in Bomber Command.




Temporal Coverage




00:56:20 audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and I am conducting an interview with Doctor Arnold Pierce Derrington and we are in his house in Cornwall and we are going to talk about his experiences over the years in the RAF but starting off in his early days and then after the war with his civilian career. Today is the 14th July 2015 and I’m asking Derry to start in the early days. What was your background Derry and how did all of that progress?
DD: Well I was a child in Devon. I came to Cornwall at the age of eighteen months to live at St Erth. That’s still my model village and I was there until about 1930 and the family had grown by then and we moved to Marazion near St Michael’s Mount and I had my childhood days there. Very happy memories of Marazion and I still see friends from there and still hear from there.
I had a friend living nearby in a place called [?] and he was a navigator too. He’d been a clerk in an agricultural merchants and the, he went into the air force, and did a tour with Coastal Command and was posted to Rhodesia where he was an instructor. When he died eventually I spread his ashes from a lifeboat in Mounts Bay. But he and I were childhood friends. We were little rogues really because his father was a policeman and the father was very incensed sometimes. Some man came to him and said someone’s put water in the petrol of my motor tank in the tank the petrol tank of my motorbike and it turned out that we two boys had done it. Very embarrassing for the policemen. That boy’s sister is still alive. She visits me occasionally.
And at Marazion I was at the county school at Penzance and never dreamed I’d be flying. I saw Alan Cobham’s Air Circus. I’ve got his little notebook here. It’s in that blue container there. Do you have it? Alan Cobham’s book. That’s it. And I have a very dear friend I haven’t seen for seventy seven years. I went to that air display with his parents. And that was an air display that flew around with trailers behind the planes saying where the display was taking place and we were talking recently about that actual airfield which is between Marazion and Haile and my mother said, ‘Don’t you dare go up flying’ and I was offered a free flight and I did say no but within ten years I’d done a tour and got a DFC. It’s amazing how things go on isn’t it?
Now, where do we go from there now? I was at Marazion in the LDV or Home Guard and when I went to college at Exeter I decided to join the LDV there. And after a month or so the University Air Squadron was opening up in Exeter and I joined that and I was at St Luke’s, Exeter which was a teacher training place and until the last two or three years there were a few of us around but I’m the last one of them still going strong. One of the chaps Archie Smith from St Austell was on the county council with my wife. She was a councillor and had a very good career about it. She ended up with an MBE.
Well I went on then to University Air Squadron from this Home Guard lot there and I’ve even got a greeting telegram somewhere from a relation congratulating me on joining this University Air Squadron. I could dig that out if you want to see a picture of it I expect.
And well it was good training. We had a, a, a commanding officer called Searle who was the head of the physics department at Exeter and he had an adjutant called Crosscut and the main chap we met from an interesting flying point of view had the Croix de Guerre. He was a rear gunner. He was badly scarred.
And from the University Air Squadron I was attested in Weston Super Mare in June 1942 and that same month I joined the air force at Lords Cricket Ground. Our first payday, first money I’d earned in my life cause having been University Air Squadron I was a leading aircraftsmen and we were very superior indeed to the AC plonks. They only got a half a crown a day. And after a short time at Lords I was posted to Manchester to await overseas posting but they discovered that I needed corrective goggles so I was sent down to Brighton Aircrew Dispersal Wing, ACDW and had a very happy time there staying in a huge great hotel, sleeping on rough beds at the Hotel Metropole. And there was another one The Grand there was well and the [air?] parade still took place in those days and we saw some of the rather shaky soldiers who came back from there.
And from ACDW I was posted to grading school Ansty near Coventry. I was made into, well I did fly in a Tiger Moth but I was made into as a navigator and I’m very glad I was because it kept me going during the very horrible times that we were doing operations. I had my head down getting on with the job. I did look out a time or two but it was so horrific I got back to my base very soon and from the grading school I went to Blackpool waiting for overseas posting and from Liverpool I sailed to South Africa. It wasn’t straightforward because we were afraid of the submarines that might have damaged us so we went across the coast to America and then back again to freestone, Freetown and then from Freetown down around the Cape to Durban. We didn’t get off the boat at all. I was on gun duty on oerlikons.
When we got to Durban we went to a transit camp called Clairwood and there we were thrown an empty linen case and told to stuff it with grass because that would be our palliasse bed and the toilets, they were like huge great egg racks. I think there was accommodation for about eighty. And they fed us very well. It was very nice. The novelty of South Africa was interesting indeed. I met very interesting people there who worked in the Red Shield Club and they invited us into their homes and there was one family called Thornton who had a son same age as myself training as a doctor. I’ve heard from him right until recently when he died. And when I moved away from East London to Durban, Durban to East London we did some training in the air force work there. I went up there to do night flying at a place called Aliwal North and that was a place outside the town of Queenstown. It was a very strange volcanic rock there with a big flat top called [?] and there was [?] Association and I was a member of that for a long time and correspondence kept on.
And I met a dear man who was flying beside me called Harry Dunn. Because my name came in the alphabet first before his I was graded as first navigator he was graded as second navigator. And well I did turn out to be a better one than he did because I came top of the course. But Harry came to me when we went to our next stage up at Queenstown almost in tears. He said, “My maths is no good at all. Will you coach me?” Harry was out with the girls and drinking and didn’t bother at all really. He was good company but very happy go lucky.
And well we both got through and he came back with me on the same troopship back through Tufik (?)in the Red Sea. And the Germans were still in Italy and we had a lot of women and children on board who were being repatriated from India. They were service families. And they weren’t going to take any risks. When the Germans were clear, after a fortnight in Tufik we came back through the Mediterranean and home in time for Christmas 1943. And we were very popular because we brought back things which were normally rationed.
I bought a lovely Omega watch in East London for seven pounds ten shillings and well the same watch these days is nearly two thousand pounds. I lost that but that’s another story. I’ve bought another Omega since. I navigated on that one all the way through. They issued us with proper watches but I was delighted with my Omega. And I believe I had to hand wind it. I’d rather forgotten but recently I’ve seen the certificate when I bought the watch and apparently it had to be handed in to be oiled every year. Well mine never got any oil on it at all and I navigated on it pretty well. I was very happy with it. Delighted with my Omega.
Now where have we got? Oh yes. We were posted after Christmas leave, to West Freugh to acclimatise to British conditions and we flew up and down the Hebrides. Very fascinating indeed. I saw Iona which has a church which is the same pattern as our village church here in Pendeen - cruciform. And after going to this unit at West Freugh Harry got posted off to Transport Command and I was posted to Bomber Command. We were told, ‘write your wills. You won’t be here in six weeks time.’ I thought I’d find out how Harry’s going on. No reply. Wrote his parents – no reply. So I thought, well that’s it. I still have a lovely photo of him.
And I went on from West Freugh to, let’s see, OTU at Moreton in Marsh. Operational Training Unit. And that was on Wellingtons. In the meantime Harry had gone to Canada and became a fur merchant after the Transport Command experience as a fur merchant like his father was. And twenty or fifty years later on his conscience was pricking him because he had borrowed a book from an old aunt living near Bath and he came back to England from Canada to take this book to her. She was dead. Had an uncle ten miles away. Went to see him. He was dead too. So he thought I’m so far west I’ll go down Penzance and see old Derry. He didn’t tell me he was coming. I didn’t know where he was. I hadn’t forgotten him. And that day my wife and I were taking an old lady to hospital so we weren’t there in order to see him and Harry caught the train back to [?] to stay or he hoped to stay with a [sugar bidder[?]] there that he played rugby with before the war. When he got to the a [sugar bidder[?]] house he was out but the caretaker said, “Come on in and have a meal. He’ll be back in the morning.” and he was telling his tale of the book and going down to Penzance to see an old navigator friend. And that caretaker said was that navigator called Derry Derrington. He said, “How did you know that?” “I sat beside him on thirty one operations in bomber command. He was my navigator. I was his bomb aimer.” That dear boy has died since but his wife is still alive.
So after being at West Freugh Operational Training Unit there we crewed up, six of us, because we only had Wellingtons. We weren’t on a four engine outfit so we needed a flight engineer later and we gelled as a crew very quickly. Our pilot was an Australian called Les Evans, a dairy farmer’s son and he came from a place called Kingaroy in Queensland. And Les Evans was a very good pilot. He had been an instructor. We were all good chaps. We were never, there never was as good a crew as we are. Charlie will think so too. Charlie was friendly with another gunner called Dennis Cleaver and those two had crewed up together and they were looking for somebody to join and my pilot, Les Evans chose me for his navigator. I was delighted. Didn’t care whether he was Australian or Chinese or whatever he was. He was a dear old boy.
And after Les Evans, he and I were together, we chose the oldest wireless operator we could get and that was Tom Windsor. Tom was thirty one. We thought he was our grandfather [laughs] and Tom was a good old boy with the girls. One of the joking things which Charlie and I still talk about he used to say, “I’d like as many shillings,” and what that definitely meant we don’t quite know but we could guess all sorts of things. We were quite youngsters really in our early twenties. Tom was thirty one.
And well, we had Jonah who was in antiques with his brother. I was a trainee schoolmaster just qualified. Tom Windsor was a bookies clerk and Charlie and Dennis, the gunners, were both fitters and there were six of us. And we did OTU work at Moreton in the Marsh on Wellingtons and that was good. I saw my area where I live here from the air for the first time. I had been to see Alan Cobham’s Air Circus and did a flight - very limited indeed, but this was very wonderful to see our area from the, I suppose it was about ten thousand feet.
Well from the OTU we were posted to a Heavy Conversion Unit to get used to a four engine aircraft and we picked up an engineer who had been on the Queen Mary - Jock. Dear boy. Scotsman. A wee haggis we called him and he was good. In fact we had the most hair raising experience when we were doing a flight near the Isle Of Man because he had to change the petrol tanks over every so often in order to balance the aircraft, trim it up properly and he needed to go to the elsan and whether he was there longer then he should have done or what we don’t know but two engines cut out on us and I as navigator had to hold the escape hatch open, I did, ready for the crew to bailout and we got, Jonah, no Jock the engineer came back quickly, switched the right tanks over and she picked up and there we were again but we were very dicey indeed in those days.
Well we started our tour of operations. We were posted from our Heavy Conversion Unit to Driffield in Yorkshire just about twenty miles north of Hull. A lovely peacetime station. And the pilot did a second dickey, that is to give him experience. In the meantime we did all sorts of training to keep us well and fit. And on from there we started our own tour. And the first trip was an easy one cap griz nez. It was to do with army cooperation.
The second trip is one that was probably the most momentous in our lives. It was to a flying bomb site. Now on our back from leave we’d gone through London. We’d seen the headlines - Pilotless Aircraft over England and well those were the V1s and we didn’t know what that would mean and we were told this was a highly secret operation. We were not to talk to anybody about it at all and we were going to hit this target over, in daylight, at minute intervals. And as we were going down the country toward Beachy Head some silly bounder flying alongside us pressed the wrong button and what the crew were saying among themselves mentioned the name of the target. And that was [?] for the Germans. My pilot could see that every other aircraft was being shot down and he climbed an extra two thousand feet after Beachy Head [?] and did a shallow dive on the target. That gave us that bit more speed and we got there that split second before the minute was up but the flack came up and the Germans shot down one of their own fighters on our tail. Oh the gunners were quite screaming about it and we really felt we were getting acclimatised.
Well we got back from that we knew we’d got an aiming point. I’ve got a reconnaissance photograph of it here. It’s in my file which I’ll talk to you about later. That big fat file there is a list of all the things we did. All the, and I think it’s quite unique because the Australians were such a happy go lucky mob they didn’t collect them from us to shred them like most other people had done. I’ve got a complete unique set of operations and I know that we did well. We were good at wind finding and we did PFF support because we used to broadcast the wind that we found that was used by the master bomber.
Now where did we go from there? Well we did thirty one ops. Mainly over the Ruhr - Happy Valley, Flak Alley - all sorts of names for it and we got hit a time or two but we luckily came back and a lot of our dear chaps didn’t. I got back from a week’s leave and found seven complete crews wiped out. And they were dear boys. They were a jolly lot. They were mad as hatters. Motorbikes going around the mess, footprints on the ceiling. My speciality was doing forward rolls on the top of billiard tables or else in the fireplace. I’ve been told this later but I don’t remember it. And one chap flying with us he was the navigation leader he smoked his pipe through the side of the oxygen mask which was a little bit risky I think what do you think? Would you fancy doing that?
CB: No.
DD: No. No sensible person would I’m sure. In the middle of my tour I came home once and I thought I I’ll go up and see how my dad was getting on and I found him lying dead in the garden beside a bonfire. He’d had a stroke at the age of fifty four. That was, I was the oldest one of four children and my brother and I are the only two in our family now left but that was a great shock to me. It was the first dead person I’d seen and I was very saddened about it. I determined I wasn’t going to do any more flying when my tour was up although we were invited to be PFF people but I explained that I was the eldest of four and I couldn’t go back again and it wasn’t held against me. I was with a very fair lot.
The Aussies were a mad, happy lot. I got on wonderfully well with them. They were dears. And I never knew them do a bad, evil deed with anybody at all. They were wonderful. You’ll see pictures of some of them and some of the targets we had in my main logbook there.
Well we did get through our tour. I say the general thanksgiving every day for our creation, preservation. Preservation deeply underlined because we were preserved from all sorts of horrible things and we were able to save ourselves and our country by what we did. My Charlie, the rear gunner has a grandson I think it is who’s a Member of Parliament. There’s a photograph of him up there and I’ve got a letter of his in my general logbook here saying, ‘If I can do a much for the country as you chaps in Bomber Command then I shall feel I’ve done well.’ He’s a Doctor of Medicine as well as a Member of Parliament and I believe he had an increased majority at the last election. Charlie’s very proud of him. Charlie comes down this way on holiday occasionally. He was staying at a place called Mousehole not far from here with his, this man’s brother owns it and Charlie and his wife were down and we had some wonderful times together.
Earlier on I was talking about my friend in Canada who was, who met my bomb aimers crew over in Effingham near Goring and when this Harry came at one time he gave me my computer. Do you know it?
CB: I do.
AS: It’s a whizz wheel.
DD: A Dalton.
AS: A Dalton computer, yeah.
DD: A Dalton mark 3. While we were training as navigators this was our bible AP1234. There is an AP4567. I’ve seen it but I can’t get another copy. Anyhow, where I got this I don’t really remember but it was a precious book.
Well the tour was horrific. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world but I wouldn’t wish anyone else to have done it. And the crew were magnificent. We never had any quarrels or arguments. Les was a wonderful leader and well the mid gunner was a bit dicey sometimes but he was a jolly old boy and he loved singing too. We got on well. Talking about singing I’ve got a list of some of the ribald songs we sang.
We had lots of waiting around and because I live in the sticks down here in West Cornwall it took a long time to travel from Yorkshire to Cornwall. Twenty seven hours usually, stopping in London overnight very often, that I couldn’t come home on a forty eight hour pass. The time would be spent all with travelling and I passed my time away by doing this. This was my engagement present for my wife. This I did on an engineer’s bench in Air Force Station Driffield. The Song of Songs. In the back it says where it was done. Bound and written out by Arnold P Derrington between October and December 1944 at Driffield. I’m very proud of the title page of it. And I gave this to my wife and it will be my daughter’s eventually and this is the main title page. There.
CB: Wow.
DD: The Song of Songs. And I have bound a book before under ideal conditions but that was done on an engineer’s bench. The leatherwork as well and it’s very precious as you can imagine.
CB: What prompted you to do that?
DD: Pardon?
CB: What prompted you to do that?
DD: Well the language in it is very lovely and I felt it was a suitable engagement present for my wife.
I’m wondering what is the next thing to talk about?
CB: Would you like to have a break?
DD: Hmmn?
CB: Would you like to have a break?
DD: No.
CB: Ok.
DD: No.
CB: So you said it was horrendous on operations so could you describe a typical operation that was hairy please?
DD: I got a diary which is totally illegal. There’s a black book over there somewhere. That’s it I think
Yes diary of an RAF career after the 20th June ACRC etcetera. A tour of operations. An illegal document. Well its written, there’s quite a bit of detail there and I used it on one occasion for the people who are writing a history of our squadron. You see a book there, a big heavy book. That’s it. And my grandson Adam, who is going to have this stuff was so delighted he bought a copy for himself and, I was given a gratis copy and the two chaps who wrote it one is called Lax he was an ex air commodore and the other man there, a hyphenated name he was a chemistry professor very near where my daughter who lives in Australia. I’ve never met these two chaps but I’ve just had phone calls from them and with extracts from our diary and other things o sent them they got fifty references to us as a crew in that book. What’s it called again?
CB: To See the Dawn Again.
DD: To See the Dawn, yes. Well number, operation number eighteen. After much lighting, lightning the usual restless night I woke to a lovely morning. No signs of movement. Today is St Luke’s day. What happy memories it recalls. Possibly too many of us over the world - Canada, Africa, India, Gib West Indies and dear old England. Have I longed to, how I’ve longed to be on the cliffs today. Hanging around in the morning. FFI in the afternoon. Promise of pay then wait. Nothing doing. Draughts and roll call. Detailed for more, for move off tomorrow. I can’t read my own writing. Five weeks have elapsed since I heard from Helen and another five weeks will pass before I hear anything more. [?] I hadn’t done any operations that day.
CB: So this was a diary that you kept in addition to your logbook was it?
DD: Yes my logbooks are rather scruffy looking things.
CB: Yes I saw it on there.
DD: The South African one.
CB: Right.
DD: If I’d had it in England it would have had a rather nice blue cloth cover instead of a plain cover like that.
CB: Right ok. What prompted you to keep the diary?
DD: Oh just being [fussy?] and breaking regulations sort of thing.
DD: I ought to be reading my own writing but I can’t.
CB: Well off the top of your head though what would you say was the most hair raising experience you had in a raid?
DD: Well even in the last raid we did. It was the 27th of December and we were going to the Ruhr and I’d had flu and I didn’t feel like flying at all. It wasn’t a case of LMF and it wasn’t a case of jitters it was a case of finishing near the end of the tour but I just did not feel well. My pilot Les said come on you’re alright you’ve always done well for us so far on previous occasions and off we went and I got taken sick and Jonah was sitting next to me the bomb aimer and I could tell him what to do when I couldn’t do it myself. And then I passed out and the heating failed at minus forty four. And we had to come down and I just vaguely knew what was happening. We had to come down to ten thousand feet because of the oxygen shortage. The heating had failed and the oxygen failed as well. And we had bombs being dropped by our own chaps up above and they were shooting at us down below and the fighters on our tail but I was able to work out the courses for the pilot. I’m sure you all know what the preparation is beforehand and there are estimated courses and things which one should take and as a navigator I’d worked that out in the briefing beforehand and I just read off from those and applied variation and deviation and gave the pilot those courses and we got through where we were going and whether we hit the target or not I don’t know because I handed over to Jonah, the bomb aimer. And on the way back I was feeling very unwell indeed and this was all due to the flu business I think. Anyhow, we did get back and thank God for that. That was a very hair raising situation to be in. I didn’t like feeling unable to do the job I had to do.
It was a very necessary job but a very horrible job and when I think we were trained to kill it’s a very revolting thought but if we didn’t do it we would have had much worse done to us as a nation and so I was very grateful to have got through my tour and because we were the only pommie crew amongst a lot of Australians they didn’t discriminate against us. Maybe we were favoured all the more I don’t know but they were dear fellows. We loved the lot of them and a very sad time it was when some got lost. There’s a recording of so many names of people who were lost after an operation.
That was a bit hair raising. Anything else you’d like to ask me?
CB: Yeah in practical terms was after the pilot was the navigator the most worked member of the crew?
DD: Oh yes and I was glad I was occupied like that. I didn’t see some of the horrible things that were going on but I had to record things. I had to give him new courses if need be and my main job was wind finding and I was able to do that well and our winds that we found were picked up, were broadcast so PFF could pick them up. And we were helpers of PFF we weren’t direct PFF people but PFF support was the denomination that we were given.
CB: So what is PFF?
DD: Pathfinders.
CB: Pathfinder right.
DD: Yes. They could wear a very special little golden wing.
There’s a little map showing Elvington and such places we were talking about. You’ve got it alright?
CB: Yes thank you yeah.
CB Now on your plane.
DD: On?
CB On your Halifax did you have H2S?
DD: Oh yes.
CB: How did you use that?
DD: Yes.
CB: How did you use it?
DD: Well there was good screen to pick up the shape of towns and if a town had particular projection on one corner we could take a bearing on that and know where we were and I’ve got one chart in my, the big book which you can look at later on and I’ll show you a map which was specially adapted for H2S work. Gee was our main help and I’ve a Gee chart there. That gave us position line and we took a fix every six minutes and that was very handy because six minutes is a tenth of an hour and we could use the decimal point to move whatever our speed was. It was my job to find out what speed we were going. If we were getting to a place too early we’d have to do a dog leg beforehand. Do you know what that means?
CB: Just a weave.
DD: It was an equilateral triangle.
CB: Oh right.
DD: And you flew sides of it instead of a third and you just dodged with a piece across the bottom and you could lose two minutes or three if you would but that if you did that you were taking a colossal risk because you were crossing the main stream coming along. We were pretty close to each other sometimes.
CB: You couldn’t see them could you?
DD: No and there were times when you felt the slipstream of other aircraft almost as if the plane had hit a brick wall. She juddered because of it. Can you imagine that?
CB: How did you do your wind finding?
DD: Joining up the position on the ground to the position in the air and taking the vector that you got between the two you could work out the speed and the direction of the wind. The angle between the air position and the ground position gave you the direction of the wind. The length of the vector a quarter of the time you’d been working in the air you could work out the speed. It was done, this computer, are you aware what it was like? We had a red and green end on the pencil. It’s a laptop.
DD: Had you seen one of these? No?
CB: No.
DD: No? Well speeds are set like that, went around that way and you put your wind on and you take a reading off against this point here and you know what angle we were working on.
CB: So this is the navigational computer mark 3, the Dalton Computer.
DD: And this was the circular slide rule converting centigrade to fahrenheit. Nautical to statute miles and so on. And my dear old friend on Transport Command brought that home from Canada for me.
CB: Oh did he? So it wasn’t standard issue in -
DD: Yes.
CB: The RAF? Was it?
DD: Oh yes.
CB: Oh it was. Right.
DD: Have a good look at it.
CB: Yes.
DD: And in that navigation manual there it tells you how to use it.
CB: Yeah.
DD: It talks about the duties of a navigator as such in that book too. The Navigator’s Bible.
CB: So back on operations a lot of it was the Ruhr. How did you actually find the target?
DD: Oh well the Pathfinders had been ahead normally and dropped flares. In daylight of course. It was a matter of the bomb aimer having taken near the target he’d then take over when we were say within ten miles of it, whateve,r and the target, when the PFF marked it, they had different methods of dropping flares. One name, I almost get nightmares about it - Wanganui. That was the name of an island near where Pathfinder Bennett lived. I’ve seen it from the air. Charlie Derby who you’ve met had been right around the south island of New Zealand and so had I. We went out at different times and stayed with Les Evans and his family. Les Evans has been here and stayed with us too. And Wanganui was the, when they dropped three different colours of flares and the master bomber would be overhead circling, looking down at the target and he’d give the bomb aimer instructions, drop your bombs to the right of the yellow flares or whatever. Yellow flares, red flares and green flares. Those were what we used.
And just to explain that Les Evans was an Australian but he emigrated to New Zealand.
DD: He married a New Zealand girl.
CB: Oh right.
DD: And he moved to Auckland.
CB: Right ok. So when you weren’t on operational flights what were you doing?
DD: Well keeping, getting as near to the right track as possible to the next turning point and we didn’t fly directly there. I can show you some little dots on little charts I’ve got there. Show you the operations we did and I’ve drawn them on straight lines but we never flew directly to the targets. This was in order to fox the Germans and we did all sorts of zigzags and shapes like that. And we also dropped window. Do you know what that is?
CB: Yeah.
DD: There’s some bits of window in my main big heavy blue book there. One of the wireless operator’s jobs used to throw out leaflets, propaganda leaflets. One thing which is rather saddening I had a lovely collection of leaflets and on one occasions when I was talking to a group somebody pinched them. I’ve got a few leaflets left but not the main lot that I did have.
CB: A collectable item.
DD: I suppose so yes.
So when you’re flying to the target you’re in a stream.
DD: Yes.
You’ve no idea where the other aircraft are. You said there were a number of issues, things that happened and you were glad you weren’t watching them because you were navigating so what sort of thing was that?
DD: Well it was up to the gunners and the bomb aimer went down into the nose. And they were keeping their eyes open for other aircraft too. We had no lights on of course as you can imagine and the pilot of course was alert to see that he was avoiding any other aircraft and you could feel the slipstream of other aircraft sometimes. It was quite a jolt at times to feel that but I still stayed at my post as navigator recording what was said by other people if it was necessary to record it and also making sure that I could easily feed the pilot with the course to steer once we’d been to the target.
I have rather an interesting business happening. Every October I go to a place called Porthleven and that’s where Guy Gibson was and I was flying at the same time as Guy Gibson but not actually on the same operations as he was and the people of Porthleven, he was there as a boy they’ve got a plaque up on a wall near the town clock which is away on a wing beside the harbour and because I’m a flying fellow I get invited over to it each year and they come and collect me for it and it’s a wonderful occasion. Very heartrending. And people reminiscent of their experiences of Guy Gibson as a child living in the town. Porthleven is about thirty miles from here I suppose. Out towards the Lizard Peninsula.
CB: As a crew, as a crew you did everything together.
DD: Oh yes.
CB: So when you weren’t flying what were doing?
DD: Writing that book you saw. Difficult to say. Ordinary sort of things. We visited local towns and did a bit of shopping. We weren’t a drinking party.
CB: Did you have many tasks to do on the airfield though?
DD: No.
CB: When you weren’t flying?
DD: Orderly Officer sometimes.
CB: Ahum.
DD: I was orderly officer on one occasion and a boy came up to the table and collected his pay, a corporal, and he’d been a boy at school with me. This was when I was at the Operational Training Unit and I got a message over the tannoy would Corporal Mitchell report to the Ordinary Officer. Got the fright of his life. Sounded terribly officious and when he saw me he just melted completely. And he was a boy with me at St Erth. His father was a carpenter and the president of the little band in the village and he was in that band.
CB: Now as you finished your operations.
DD: Oh yes.
CB: Then what happened?
DD: I got posted to Operational Training Unit as an instructor at Moreton in the Marsh and I decided then it would be a good time to get married and we lived in a village called Blockley which wasn’t far from the airfield there. It was an interesting little village. The plumber was called Mr Ledbetter.
The butcher was called Balhatchet. The chemist was called [Milton?] and I might think of a few more in a minute but, and the vicar was called Jasper. I was confirmed in Blockley.
CB: And what did you actually do as an instructor? Did you -
DD: Well, I didn’t fly then.
CB: Go up in the Wellingtons much
DD: I was a ground instruction.
CB: Right.
DD: And the young fellows who were going through were just needing, they were glad of my operational experience and one student who came through was a squadron leader who’d been with me in South Africa. He was a regular I think. I can’t think of his name now.
CB: And why would he be there?
DD: Oh to take a tour of operations. He hadn’t done any operations beforehand. He, he’d been a navigational pilot instructor. I can’t think of his name at all.
CB: No. So he was a pilot instructor as a pilot.
DD: Yes.
CB: But why was he getting navigation -
DD: He wanted -
CB: Training from you?
DD: To do a tour.
CB: Right.
DD: A tour was normally thirty one.
CB: Ahum.
DD: I believe Charlie who you met he had to do an extra one and he did it with a crew he had some illness or had flu or something and couldn’t go on operation with us and he said that they were a ropey lot. They were smoking. They were falling out among themselves and they were no, no sense of duty at all. But we were a very agreeable wonderful lot together and it was an experience that I can’t define. Closer than brothers. Our lives depended absolutely on each other and we relied on each other totally. Absolute trust. Absolute frankness.
CB: So what was your feelings at the end of the tour when you were all dispersed?
DD: When I was?
CB: When everybody was dispersed to other places.
DD: Well we wanted to keep in touch. We kept in touch with each other. I went to Dennis’ wedding at one time down at Llanelli and Dennis was a good old singer as I was saying. He had been a rather broad Oxford dialect beforehand. Now he’d become quite a little Welshman.
CB: So how long were you at the OTU as an instructor and what happened at the end of it?
DD: Well I was approached by someone who said, “You are an experienced navigator. Would you like to become a full time navigator?” I took the staff end course at Shawbury which was not far from Shrewsbury and right near there a place was called Church Stretton and the hill Caradoc which is the bungalow name here was overlooking where we were flying from. And the doctor who lived in this house before me came from that home district and he named this house after that hill called Caradoc which is a [?] in Shropshire.
Church Stretton has been rather precious to me because I had an aunt who lived there. She had a Breeches bible and she gave it to me which I’ve now handed to my son. My grandson Adam who will receive all my air force stuff he was married to a girl who came from there so we went back there to his wedding. And so church Stretton has been a little bit meaningful to us.
We had very good instruction there and I flew up to Reykjavik in Iceland. Went up on astro and came back on LRN Long Range Navigation.
CB: When you said you went up on astro that was because you were using the astrodome.
DD: Yes.
CB: And the sextant
DD: It wasn’t very, it wasn’t very accurate.
CB: But using a sextant.
DD: Oh yes.
CB: How often?
DD: A proper sextant.
CB: How often did you use sextants?
DD: Very rarely.
CB: On operation?
DD: I got I knew how to use one but it wasn’t used very often because it did need really precision and Gee and H2S gave us that. We could be much more precise than just map reading and well we were so high sometimes map reading wasn’t so easy and of course sometimes there was no character in what the land was below us.
CB: So how did you feel about using Gee because -
DD: Oh Gee was ideal. Yes the Gee screen gave us the position lines which we plotted and the more the angle between two position lines got nearer to a right angle the more precise it was. If it was shallow and less then say fifteen degrees it was little bit too inaccurate so we attempted to get position lines that would do that. In the book that I’ve got there the big heavy one you can look in that. Maybe you’d like to turn over a different pages in that and talk to me about that.
CB: Yes.
DD: But we, I stayed there after Shawbury, went back to Moreton in the Marsh again and I think I was offered the chance, “Would you like to come back in to the air force. Full air force.” No I didn’t wish to. I wanted to settle down to married life and family life and I did but I did ATC cadet work and that was very rewarding indeed.
CB: So -
DD: One of my cadets is still a local farmer here. He was a farmer’s boy and he was such a good cadet he was given something that in 1950 or so was a great privilege - a free flight to Singapore. I still see him and he still remembers the joy of being able to do that sort of thing. He went back to farming again.
CB: When were you demobbed and where?
DD: In September 1945. And my son David was born in that month as well. I was demobilised, where was it now? Harrogate I think. I’m not really sure. Harrogate I think.
CB: Right. I think in a moment we’ll pause for a break but just talk to me please a little more about H2S because that was sort of a mixed blessing.
DD: Well it was very good. H2S - just a code name for it, gave you on your screen a fluorescent picture of the ground below and towns stood out more so than anything else and if a town had a particular projection you could cotton on to that in order to get a bearing from it. And you’d rotate the screen [phone ringing] in order to – can you answer it please?
Tape mark 5308 the telephone begins to ring and the interview answers it for the interviewee – not transcribed.
Tape mark 5348 TAPE THEN REPEATS UNTIL MARK 1.47.20
CB: Derry we were just talking about the fact you were on 462 and then 466 squadrons
DD: Yes.
CB: At Driffield. Could you just explain how that evolved with the two squadrons?
DD: Well I started off with 466 all together but, and then 462 had been in the western desert and were posted back to England to take special duties. They were going to have a station of their own later on so we were transferred from 466 to 462 for that interim time. When 462 was built up to be a good squadron size then we were posted back to 466 and I can’t remember the name now but 462 went to not Swanton Morley
CB: Foulsham
DD: Faversham was it? That’s it so they were posted to that. They were a complete squadron on their own and you can read about it in the book by Mark Lax and the professor of chemistry. It’s possible that Mark Lax may be coming over to see me in late autumn this year. I’ve invited him. Whether he will or not I don’t know.
CB: So what’s his involvement with the squadron?
DD: He was just interested writing its history.
CB: Right.
DD: What his Australian Air Force career was I don’t know but he was an Air Commodore.
CB: And what age is he?
DD: Oh I should think middle fifties I should think.
CB: Right.
DD: They’re both younger than we are.
CB: So that covers that extremely well thank you very much and what were, oh final point. What were special operations?
DD: They might have been gardening which of course is laying mines in shipping tracks that was called gardening - code name for it. It could have been dropping food to needy people in certain areas that were damaged, overseas that is not in England. Those were their special duties.
CB: Right.
DD: They weren’t torpedo dropping but I did have a friend who was on Swordfishes dropping but that would have been a special duty but that was left to the RNAS which later was embodied in the RAF.
CB: Thank you. I’ll stop it there and pick up later.


Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Derry Derrington,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 26, 2024,

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