Interview with Charlie Darby


Interview with Charlie Darby


Charlie Darby joined the Royal Air Force in September 1943 and recounts in great detail, his training as an air gunner/wireless operator on Wellingtons and Ansons at RAF Bridlington, RAF Bridgnorth, RAF Castle Kennedy, RAF Acaster Malbis and RAF Riccall. He explains how he crewed up at 21 Operational Training Unit, RAF Morton in the Marsh, before being posted to RAF Driffield with 466 Squadron, where he served as a rear gunner. He recounts operational experiences, including an operation to Bochum. He discusses discipline and living conditions. At the end of the war he was transferred to ground work and moved between a number of stations before being demobbed in 1947. He worked for Hoover and other companies before setting up his own engineering business. He recalls what happened to his crew after the war and his participation in the unveiling of a memorial in Driffield Gardens in 1993.







01:57:04 audio recording


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CB: Right, so my name is Chris Brockbank and I'm here to interview a gentleman on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre and the interviewee is Mr Charlie Darby and we've got here his wife Barbara as well and ably assisted and interrogated by Tony Lee their son-in-law.
CB: Okay Charlie it's running now, so here's Charlie Darby and please tell us about your life, Charlie.
CD: I'm Charlie Darby, I was born on the 26th May 1924 from a family of six boys, three girls and went through normal schooling. Went to work at fourteen [pause] er and when I became seventeen I was directed labour a government scheme that you had to fall in line with. If you didn't, there were two other choices: down the mines or prison. So, I took the job on which was at Mirdam [?] Ways, High Wycombe dismantling Churchill tanks. And I stuck at that for eighteen months and I just did not want to know any more about it [laughter]. So there was only one thing to do; that was to volunteer for the forces. And that's how I became to join the Royal Air Force. Now, having joined the Royal Air Force, or rather prior to that, I had to have an attestation which I took at Houston House, Houston Square in London. Got the result, I was passed to go into aircrew. Now, I waited my call up which came the 20th of September '43. I had to report to St John's Wood, London, for two weeks initiation. The same day of joining, I had to go down to Lord's Cricket Ground to get kitted out. And from there, I went to Bridlington ITW (Initial Training Wing) for eight weeks training. From there, number 3 EADS Bridgnorth, another eight weeks, from there, that was EDA Elementary Air Gunnery School. From there, to a place in Scotland, I don't know where they got it from but I was there. [background laughter] A place called Castle Kennedy. Never did see the castle. Eight weeks there was the AGS which I successfully passed and I was made aircrew and presented with brevet and I then awaited call to my next station which was Moreton in Marsh Gloucester, 21OTU and this is where we crewed up. There was one day we were assembled on this bit of green, [cough] and three officers came and approached us NCOs and my pilot, navigator and wireless operator were the three officers. And Les, my pilot, approached, we accepted and we found out afterwards: 'How did you do this, Les?' 'I went to each section and looked at your, your pass marks' and that's how he took judgement on us. Because we had our names on our breast and he knew where to go, he knew the names he was looking for. So therefore that is the way we crewed up. But, you never had an engineer, that came at a late a stage er at Heavy Conversion Unit. Which is what we did, er, [pause] yes just after that. But prior to that even, still in Yorkshire, we went to a place called Acaster Malbis and did a battle course. That was living rough, think that was the only, the occasion arise, you got adapted to it. Anyway, we went on to Riccall, near Selby, to 1658 Heavy Conversion Unit and did our first flying on four engines. And from there, we went to my operational station of Driffield where 466 was. Did er, training from there prior to operations [pause] yeah but-
CB: Okay we'll stop there for a mo. What I'd like to ask you to do please, Charlie, is to explain so we can understand what's coming next, how you were trained, so what happened at your initial training and in your gunnery training? So, how did that go?
CD: Dis-dis-discipline and er squad marching [pause] that it?
CB: Okay.
CD: Only two weeks of it.
CB: Right, then gunnery? So you had initial gunnery and then main gunnery.
CD: Initial training wing a little bit more extra started to pick up Morse code.
CB: Right
CD: That's something we had to know as a gunner to help the navigator. We had to know Morse at a simple rate of eight words a minute which was what occults and pundits flash at the rate of. A pundit flashed two red letters which were the letters of the aerodrome but an occult flashed one letter in white, that gave a navigator a bearing. So if you saw an occult flash, you called up your navigator and told him 'occult flashing so and so'. And then I guess I've got the bearing, we're not, we're about a mile off track. That sort of talk. Right then that it?
CB: And you're gunnery, so how did the gunnery training go?
CD: Very good.
CB: So what did they do initially?
CD: They started off with -
CB: Shotguns, was it?
CD: Yeah, yeah, started off with a point two two, a little pallet of a shot. At short range, yes, did quite a lot of clay pidge shooting, er, learning deflection. And from there, we didn't, we didn't go on to the main guns until we got to um [pause] er OTU. We were there on Wellingtons, oh may I add that, at this stage we haven't got a flight engineer. That came when we met with four engines, 'cause you didn't need a flight engineer on a Wellington.
CB: No.
CD: A pilot did all his -
CB: Yeah
CD: fuel changing. So we are now at Riccall on heavy conversion work. The normal day light, night time, cross countries, air-to-sea, air-to-air, firing and er -
CB: Were you firing live or with a camera gun?
CD: If we having fighter attacks you had a cine camera twenty-five feet of camera. And they assess you on the radical [?], on the film. To see whether you were on target or not. Er -
CB: And they had towed targets, did they? They had towed targets for you to shoot at?
CD: Yes the drogues I forgot that.
CB: Drogues
CD: I forgot that, I should have come up with that and erm -
CB: So that was live ammunition?
CD: Castle Kennedy, yes, at Castle Kennedy we were on Ans- I sh [?], I can't think of it all the time -
CB: That's alright, that's okay
CD: I can now, we were on Ansons, and an Anson took six gunners up at the time. And the one that sat next to the pilot wound the wheels up. Twenty-three turns, I might add. [laughter] Anyway, the drogue was towed by a Martinet, just above you, in front of you. So all you had level with you and behind was the drogue. Now, each gunner had a colour and the tips of those bullets for the space of two-hundred rounds I would think at the time, blue, red, etcetera etcetera. So if you were blue, they knew you were blue, bad aim [?]. And if you fired at this drogue, they'd count the number of blues and cut them in half, because it's going through the drogue, it's making two blue marks so it's gotta be halved. That's how they assessed how many hits you had. [pause] er this -
CB: I'll just stop you a mo. [beep] Right, so we're restarting now, with Charlie.
CD: I was -
CB: Johannson [?] wheels.
CD: At Castle Kennedy AGS and we were six to a plane. Six to an Anson. And the last one in sat next to the pilot who and then you had to wind the wheels up for him and [pause] I er, rather premature in that respect whereby I started to wind the wheels up far too soon for the pilot, not 'No no no!' he said 'I have not trimmed it yet'. By the way, he was a Polish pilot [laughter].
TL: Now carry on.
CD: And now, I finally passed the exam to become an air gunner and I went on leave waiting for posting to 21 OTU Moreton in the Marsh. This is where we crewed up, man-to-man, assembled on the grass. People approached one another, and that's how crews were formed. [pause] er less, a flight engineer, as you didn't need them on twin engines air craft. That was selected when you went to RCU - HCU - (Heavy Conversion Unit). The one we went to was 1658 Riccall, near Selby, Yorkshire. This was where my pilot selected his engineer, from thereon, we were fully crewed. Went on to four engine training, did the right exercises, then went from there to squadron. We were put to Driffield where 462 was, 466 was rather, beg your pardon, and in the time of pre-training operations, 462 came from out of the desert and reformed at Driffield. Ah, by the time we got operational, our first operation was with 466 and then, the time we come to our second operation, 462 was formed. Australian, yes, these were Australian squadrons by the way, and when we got through our second operation, 462 were ready formed up and started and we did our second op on their inauguration on the squadron. From there on, we did our operations. We did twenty-three in all on 462. And they were then posted down to Foulsham in Norfolk, on RCM work (Radio Counter Measures) which was in 100 Group. As we had only seven to do, they put us back on the 466, it wasn't worth sending us down there to do seven operations. They switched us back to 466, and there we completed our tour, which in January 1945. Now, the nitty gritty bit is, I ended up going into hospital halfway through my tour, which put me behind my crew. So, it eventuated that I had one trip to do at the time when my crew had done the last trip which was Hanover one the 5th of January. From there, I was placed on a battle order the next night with a crew strange to me by the name of Flight Lieutenant Stewart. And it was a hair raiser, [laughter] things like we were just set course, and one shouts to the other 'Throw the cigarettes up then, I threw them up last night!' Now, our pilot’d had gone beserk if we'd have smoked on an aircraft. With hundred octane petrol about, not good is it? Not good for life. However,[background noise] I managed to get through that operation [background noise] I went on these then I had to report to ACRC Catterick (Air Crew Receiving Centre) as we were being made redundant to be put on a ground staff job. Thus, what we did to the day I was demobbed.
CB: So, just going back now, to the HCU.
CD: Yes.
CB: When you're at the HCU, how did the programme go to create a crew that was operational?
CD: We did the right designated exercises to do, so many affiliations with the fighter, at night and day, to resemble an operation. Now, coming back to my initiation at squadron, we were on a cross country, a daylight cross country, which took us the last [pause] part of the er, cross country. We took a leg up to Belfast. We turn off at Belfast down to Fleetwood, near Blackpool. Well, we got to Belfast the while, the flight engineer said 'We're going down to the Elsan, Snowy' That was the pilot's nickname, Snowy. Okay, so we get down there and all of a sudden four engines cut. [laughter] 'Jock [?], where the hell are you?' [laughter] 'Down at the Elsan], Snowy', 'For Christ's sake, get back here soon! Sooner than that' he says. [laughter] We were icing up, because there were icicles on my gun that night outside, and everybody was getting to stations of bail out [background laughter]. We are now over the Irish Sea, heading towards Fleetwood, and Jock rushed back quick as he could and changed over and all the four engines picked up, just like that. In that time, all four engines had cut and we'd lost 5000 feet, fell like a tree. Everything righted itself. The explanation was for the engineer was he thought, he thought that the dials indicators were frozen. He said he checked them before he left his post but they were showing still fuel in the tanks but it wasn't so. [laughter] However, all was fair, we managed to get back to base, and that was the start of operations for you. That was a lift that, wasn't it?
CB: Now, were you mid-upper or were you tail-gunner?
CD: Rear. I was tail.
CB: Right, so did you come to choose that yourself?
CD: Well -
CB: How did you decide which position to be in?
CD: I favoured the dr- rear to be honest, and, we don't come on to operations. We are now, our second operation, the first on 462, was the flying bomb site at a place called Waddon [?] just the side of Dunkirk. And we did that one Friday evening and daylight. Succeeded with that, got to, I think, number seven. We went, we were designated to Kiel, U-boat pens , that was a night trip, very bad weather round the target area. But coming back we somehow had a fracture of the oil pressure. We're coming back over the North Sea and the pilot realises that he's got one wheel down and one up. The whole of the distance across the North Sea, he was up and down up and down with the good wheel hoping for something to happen. After about an hour, it succeeded. It dropped the good wheel and they both went back together and that was solved, just like that. That was Kiel. Now, we're coming now into September, we went to a place called Neuss in the Ruhr - N E U double S. On leaving the target, a hazy target as well because there were plenty of fires. Dead astern of me was this 1-1-0 or 2-1-0 it didn't matter, literally identical but for a small [inaudible] unrecognisable one from the other. Oh, I butted on here because, going back to my training, the instructor would always say to you 'traverse your turret'. Now after, between there and becoming operational, I sat sometimes and thought a lot. Now, if I'm round there, he could be coming from there, I can't see him. So, I decided in my mind, I'm just gonna sit there, and look. You pick things up and you cover a bigger area than you would by doing this. Because, by doing that, he could be there, it only takes seconds. You wouldn't know anything about it. So that's what I, I kicked that one out of the window and I always sat dead astern, looking dead astern, and looking for everything that's coming from those quarters, because that's where it comes from. And coming back to this, where I sighted this 1-1-0, 2-1-0, whatever, if I'd have done what my instructor had told me, I probably wouldn't be here now. To the point that I saw him, and I kept my eyes on him, and I had already informed the pilot 'prepare to corkscrew' it's gonna be port because he was dead astern of us and they're at our height [?]. So I let him get nearer, and then I gave the order to corkscrew which was to port. Now, there's one advantage there by going to port, it helped the pilot who was sitting on the port side, as he goes down to come back up, he can see going down and he can see going back up. Didn't fire, I always held fire because on your ammunition belt, every fifth bullet was -
TL: Tracer.
CD: Tracer. And with the speed of the guns firing eight hundred rounds a minute, that tracer becomes a red line and it immediately gives your position away. And that's one thing you should not do, give yourself away. [phone rings] You, you er, you er, [background noise] [pause] yes, you must not give your position away. I'm there to defend the aircraft, I don't attack, I only attack with bombs, so therefore, you do not [phone pings] put yourself in that situation by what they call firing in anger. I didn't believe in it and I never ever would but I never did it. And I think on those, on those terms, puts us on the right side of success. You getting through?
CB: This was in the night, was it?
CD: Eh?
CB: This was in the night this 1-1-0, 2-1-0 were coming at you.
CD: Yeah, at night, yeah. But in the day light totally different. They can see you, you can see them.
CB: Exactly.
CD: You adopt a different attitude then.
CB: Do you think he'd seen you?
CD: Hum?
CB: Do you think he had seen you?
CD: Oh yes, without a doubt. He had probably honed onto us. He was going that fast, it was this [pause] a matter of seconds, eight seconds, and it was all over. He never fired, by the way. So it just shows you how things happen so quick and once we did that, to start down on the corkscrew, it went, Dennis ran right us and said 'There he goes' I said 'I know Dennis I've been following him all the way along.' As we went down on the corkscrew, he went over the top of us. Now, my pilot comes up and we're in a bubble of corkscrew, I won't, I won't say the complete statement but he said 'Let's go back up and see where he is' I says 'You stop down here'.
TL: Or words to that effect.
CD: Plus a few more syllables. [laughter] Deathly hush, deathly hush because I chewed him. [laughter] And I, I'm now saying to myself, 'What have I said?' Sat in that turret thinking ‘I'm really heading for it now’. Not a word was said and between there and getting back to base, I made up my mind, if he doesn't say anything, then I won't. Let it just calm away. That's just what happened. Nothing was said. I think, I think, in a nutshell, he knew I was right. Well, I know I was right, because we were told in training, back in training, a pilot is always the captain of the aircraft but in a situation where you're under attack, he takes orders from you. That's why I did it, that's why I said it. But, having said that, I still, I still blinkering [inaudible], what am I heading for [laughter] because I could really have been brought upon the coals about this. But no, it petered out.
BD: You dropped your bombs.
CD: Yeah.
CB: What do you think was in his mind?
CD: Well, being a naughty, I think he being a bit of a daredevil. Or, he was making a joke of it. But it was the wrong time of day to make a joke! [laughter]
CB: So what other incidents did you have that were-
BD: What about when, when erm, chap shot the mid-upper, nearly shot you?
CD: Yes, I'm going back to pre-operation training-
CB: Right.
CD: At Driffield. After a daylight operation, beg your pardon, a daylight wide cross country, we had to go out into Bridlington Bay, do some air-to-sea firing at nought feet. He's shooting the foam to get deflection. He said, my mid-upper said, 'Do you want me to fire first?' I said 'Yes, okay Dennis' so he fired his five hundred off, he said 'I've finished now' and I went to go traverse round onto the beam to start mine, and I heard this zoom, and there's an on and off oxygen dial just slightly above my head to the left that hit that and went somewhere in the turret [laughter]. What was it? It was a cooked round from one of Dennis's guns. When the guns finished firing, they should always stop in the recoil position so they're clear of a round. So every time a breechblock goes forward, it takes a round with it up the spout of the gun. Hence, what they call a cooked round. The bullets in the barrel, the heat of the barrel sets it off. That's what happened. I did not fire one shot [background laughter]. It was straight back to base, to get inquiries on it. The gun, the gun was faulty. It er, it should have stayed at the recoil position but it just did not. Hence, the cooked round.
CB: So of the thirty operations you did, how many were in the dark at night, and how many were daylight? Roughly?
CD: Twenty-three daylight and seven night, I did.
CB: Other way around?
CD: No beg your pardon, that's wrong.
BD: It's the other way round.
CD: Twenty-three on 462, seven on 466. No, I did fifteen on each. Fifteen daylights, fifteen nights. At one stretch there I did ten in nine days I think it was.
CB: And how often did you have to use your guns?
CD: I didn't. I say, I did not fire in anger. I made my mind up on that one. This is the trouble with, I think, I may be wrong, but I think that by firing away willy nilly at something they got a hold on you. You see that tracer? Why expose yourself?
CB: What was the purpose of the tracer?
CD: If you were guidance. Give you, give you a guide to what you were shooting at. And, I would never, ever fire in anger. And I think, in my mind, I think that's where we lost quite a few aircraft. Not saying I'm right, but I would think it inclinates that way.
CB: How often were the aeroplanes hit?
CD: How many?
CB: How often were the aeroplanes hit by flack or fighter?
CD: Varied. I, there was one instance at a place called Bochum this was on November the fourth, fifth, where I saw one of ours over the target. It was on fire from wingtip to wingtip and it came to pass in the aftermath and later years that it turned out to be Joe Herman and with the descriptions that I know of now, that resembles Joe Herman's aircraft. The one where he finally went out last but it was blown out. The plane then blew up. I never saw the explosion, but I saw it from wingtip to wingtip. On our course, it wasn't spiralling out of control, it was still going along you know. But I can't keep looking all, too long, you've gotta look after yourself. So it was a question of just that and concentrate on your own, you know, it's, and that's what happened. It blew up. And it blew Joe out of the aircraft without a parachute. And, he went down, down, down, grabbing at anything possible. And he finally grabbed something and it was the legs of his mid-upper gunner on his chute. They went down together and they were talking to one another on the way down but he said 'Just prior to hitting the ground, I'll release myself' which is what he did, and he broke his leg doing it. Vivash [?] came out of it alright. And, er, but the others had already bailed out, they were the last two to go and Harry Nott the flight engineer was, he he was asked, told to put the fires out, the small one in the fuselage. Well, he did that but then the whole kaboosh was alight, wing tip to wing tip. So he bailed out and he hid in the forest for five days, eating anything he could put his hand to. But he decided to cross the Rhone [?] and that's where he was caught. He was made prisoner of war and the other three, four, Vivash and Joe heard gunfire. It came to pass over latter years but quite recently in this day that the, the blokes were shot by Gestapo. That was, one bloke was Underwood he was the bomb aimer, Wilson, someone else and, how this has all come about now whereby I've got young enthusiasts of 462 and 466 that have taken me up in the last two years back to Driffield and has encouraged me to go with them and tell them all the things that I've been telling you now. And Paul Nott was the great-nephew of Harry Nott the engineer on Joe Herman's crew. Now, Paul, as an enthusiast he is, he's a private pilot himself. He had this painting done by someone in Shrewsbury. He flew up and collected it. Went over to Aces High in Wendover and had it framed. And now he's got it hung in his office at Ascot. In my plane he's put above it between two search lights because I told him I saw that plane on fire. It could onl- the description that he gave was identical to what I saw it could be no other. And that's how it's now become we're close friends with the Australians, Tiana Adair the lady. Her father was a pilot I think he was, and all these things of years gone by have all come together with someone being a relative of someone. And this is what has happened. I went, only this April on Anzac day (April the 25th) and we went to Driffield Gardens and we had the memorial which we dedicated in 1993 and Joe, Harry Arnes and myself, he's a prominent air gunner and he was on his second tour. Incidentally at Driffield he was on his second tour and I've met him twice since and last year we laid the wreath at the Gardens memorial and he came this year again but he had to get away quickly because he was going the next day to Drongen in Belgium to another parade. So, things went well. So the point, yes, it renewed our old way of living as regard being air crew in World War Two.
CB: So what was your pattern of living? What was the pattern that you went through? You got up in the morning.
CD: Yes.
CB: What happened?
CD: You went to, you went to your section and did a DI on your, on your turn (daily inspection). You cleaned your, you cleaned the Perspex with special Perspex polish to cut out all spots from the engine you get exhaust oil splashes the like and believe you me if you got any like that you think well that's an aircraft that one and that spot of oil on the air on the Perspex. So it was down to you to keep your turret clean. It's your vision, you rely on it. So-
CB: What about the guns?
CD: Yes.
CB: What about the guns? How did you clean those?
CD: You clean those with what they call four by two.
CB: Wooding?
CD: Yes, a cloth, like a flannel. You had a pull through. We cleared the flannels. Yes.
CB: So after the DI, then what?
CD: Well, you went back to section. And then if the battle orders come out, you look up and saw upon the jar the DROs and you destined. Report to briefing at so-and-so time. From there on things worked.
CB: What's a DRO?
CD: Daily routine orders.
CB: Right.
CD: Sorry.
CB: Okay.
CD: And each section line pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, went to their respective section, did a flight plan after briefing. And the gunners, engineers just sat and wait and report to parachute rooms at such-and-such a time. From there on it was on the, the bus to the perimeter track to dispersal point got up your aircraft. In my case, set my guns to fire. There's a fire and safe on each gun so you had to put it on fire, from there on hold it there.
CB: 'Cause you got four 303s you didn't have the retro fitter point fives [?]
CD: Yes I had round a minute they fire. So you got three thousand two hundred a minute. But you'd never fire it for a minute, just short sharp bursts. Yes, so-
CB: So what time would you normally be going on a raid? Did it vary a lot?
CD: Anytime. Any time of day, yes. Daylights. When we, when the, [pause] when the [pause] erm, the army was for-, going forward in France, we were always bombing the French ports because that was the last of the resistance from the guards, the German army, and they were really dug in, they were very hard to get out, suss out. And [background noise] to do a daylight, early morning, you were up at one o'clock, two o'clock. You were called by someone in the guard room came round your billet woke you up. From there on breakfast, briefing, the [inaudible], airborne, drop your load and back you come. Now, as I say, that varied, as my log book shows. Any time of day, any time of night. And I might add, every time we came back and entered the debriefing room, there was always that man stood there by the, by the tea urn [laughter] and the biscuits. And the station padre, no matter what time of day or night, he was always there. Something I noticed, it always sticks in my mind, how dedicated that man was. Yeah.
CB: How did the crews feel about that? How did the crews feel?
CD: Well about like, about the same as me I think. Such dedication, this, this is what went through all aircrew as well. You know, you had to do that to survive.
CB: What was your crew like?
CD: Very good, very good. My, especially my navigator, he was quite exceptional. And Tom, the wireless op, yes, good man. Lost him quite young, he was, he was the daddy of the crew. We were twenties and he was thirty-one. And he died when he was forty-two, back in '54. Terry and I and the bomber, we went to his funeral in London. Yes. And pilot, Les, he came over on two occasions. He was married to a New Zealand girl. He got married, lived in Australia, and his home town of Cowgill [?] Cowgill [?], yes. And she wanted to go back home, she couldn't stand the heat. This he did, [background noise] and when we went and met him on our fiftieth wedding anniversary, my son-in-law, daughter, two sons and two grandsons put us on an air ticket and we had two weeks in Brisbane with her cousin, the other two weeks in North Island New Zealand with Les my pilot and his wife. But sadly since then, they've both passed on, and my wife's cousin. And at that stage, we're now left with one two three four five. In turn, they've all died off to the point now that where there is only two of us. That's Derry, my navigator and myself.
CB: As a crew, what did you do when you weren't flying?
CD: My first and foremost job was and I did it every day like a nut, I used to write to her, yeah.
BD: Her?
CD: Every day. Can you imagine that? I think I should put it on a rubber stamp because it's the same old things I would say [laughter].
CB: We're talking about Barbara here.
BD: Yes.
CB: And what a lucky lady she was. [laughter]
CD: Yeah, well there you go you see.
CB: We're just going to stop for a cup of tea now.
CD: Okay.
CB: And pick it up in a minute. [Beep]
[At 50:20 there is a break and the recording seems to start again on another day]
CB: Right, my name is Chris Brockbank, listeners, and we're now on the 7th of July and we're with Charlie Darby and Barbara Darby and Tony Lee their son-in-law. And we're just going to pick up on where we finished up last time really which was the end of the war. And then we'll pick up on some other items. So, Charlie, we came to the point where the operations finished, what happened next? You'd done your thirty.
CD: After leave.
CB: Okay, so how much leave did they give you?
CD: Oh, there was about six weeks.
CB: Right. Yep. And then what?
CD: We then had a telegram to report to Catterick on ACRC [background noise] (Air Crew Receiving Centre) as we were going to be made redundant, they would issue us with a ground job. And, that was it. I went in on to a course called aircraft finishing which was a coating of paints and so forth, putting on [inaudible?] on aircraft. I went on a course down to Locking in near Weston-Super-Mare for that. And along came the end of the war. And from there on I just went from pillar to post, station to station, and things were never, did never happen as regards that course. So as I've told you earlier, we were just a person not needed.
CB: How did you feel about that?
CD: Well, depressing.
CB: Was all, were all the crew members together?
CD: No, no, we all went respective ways. My pilot is now already on his way home, all’s finished with him as far as that was concerned. The re-, Derry, the navigator, went to Morton in Marsh as navigation instructor. My other gunner, he went down to Wales-
CB: What was his name?
CD: On the bombing site-
CB: What was his name?
CD: Dennis.
CB: Dennis.
CD: And in the end, he turns up marrying a Welsh girl and that's where he stayed. And that's where he died, in Wales. Don, similar aspect, but then he went on the, the er Elizabeth Line.
CB: Was he the bomb aimer?
CD: No, he was the flight engineer.
CB: Right.
CD: [background noise] He went as a steward on the Queen Elizabeth and something else. Arthur, the bomb aimer, he went on a bombing site. He was sol- a practice bombing site. He was sole charge of that, somewhere up in the Midlands, and that just about covers it.
CB: And the signaller-
CD: The wireless op-
CB: Wireless op, yeah-
CD: I never did know what he went in to. And then, as I said before, shortly after that he died, not many years after this.
CB: He was the one who died - he was the grandpa of the crew and died at forty-two?
CD: Yes that's correct, yes.
CB: Right. Now, your rank when you were flying most of the time was flight sergeant?
CD: No sergeant.
CB: Sergeant.
CD: Sergeant.
CB: When did you become flight sergeant?
CD: About, it came in about a year's time, a step up.
CB: Okay. And then you became a warrant officer, when was that?
CD: Yes. That warrant officer, that was between '46 and seven. Immediately I got it, immediately they took it away. That sort of time.
CB: And put you back to what?
CD: Sergeant, basic sergeant.
CB: And what happened to your pay?
CD: Still the same.
CB: You still get flying pay?
CD: No, no. The rank of whatever.
CB: But the flying pay stopped when you stopped flying did it?
CD: So I. Yes. I think so.
CB: How much did you get paid? Do you remember?
CD: I think it's something like fifteen shillings a day. Something like that.
CB: And then the flying pay. How much?
CD: [Pause] Tough to say.
CB: Okay, doesn't matter. Now, going back to the early days-
CD: Adding to that, mind you-
CB: Yeah?
CD: We had a donater by the name of [pause] he was, er-
BD: Nuffield?
CD: Pardon?
BD: Nuffield.
CD: That's right, Lord Nuffield. He gave money to operational aircrew and you received that every leave you went on while operating. To the, to the tune of fifty shillings, something like that, every six weeks. And that fund is a trust fund still running today. Yes. I had the pleasure of meeting him once on the golf course up here at Flackwell Heath. Yeah, anyway that's another point.
CB: After the war?
CD: After the? No. No, during the war.
CB: Oh.
CD: It was on my first leave in '43. Amazing isn't it?
CB: Yeah.
CD: Then were we? I was on a ground job, yes, but it didn't materialise as I thought it was going to do. Like Dennis, Arthur, they had a distinct job of doing something on a bombing range. Well, that didn't happen as far as I was concerned. It just didn't have an end to it. I was in the end just doing silly jobs. You can't describe really.
CB: So how did they - when did they demob you? And what was the process?
CD: They demobbed me in '47, May '47. I had to go to Lytham St Anne’s near Blackpool where I was issued with civvy clothes and came home on leave, the something about leave, and then that stopped. In other words, go and get a job.
CB: So what did you do?
CD: From there, I went into Hoovers. Hoovers Limited. It was like engineering. In the time I was there in twenty years my, my bit of fire service experience before I joined up came to light again as they had a fire crew within the works and I was able to join that. Which is what I did.
CB: That was as an extra? Or full time?
CD: That was during the work time. Any fire on the building, you went to it at the same time the local fire engine was coming up. Yes. We were paid a, extra and they used us funnily enough to collect the wages every week. Down in the town, down the bank because we were insured as firemen so that allowed them to insure - to use that same insurance for us to go down the bank and collect the money. Every Friday, I had to wear a mackintosh. Along, along, a - with weather like this or even hotter, I had to go and pedal into work with my mate 'What the hell you got that mac for?' I says 'It might rain, you know?' I dare not tell him the secret was I had to wear a poacher's jacket underneath which held all the paper money. And we used to go down to the bank, the man used to taxi us, conveniently had his business right outside the bank where he drove out of and he came out. We could see him coming, we went out the door as he pulled up by the pavement and we go on in one movement and all way. It was all done. And people working next to me never ever knew what I was doing.
BD: Did I?
CD: I think I told you whilst I shouldn't have done.
BD: Ooh God.
CD: Yeah. [background noise] The money I've carried was nobody’s business.
CB: So, you worked there twenty years?
CD: Yes.
CB: So that gets us into the later 60s. What did you-
CD: ‘67.
CB: ‘67, what did you do then?
CD: I still kept in business when back to BroomWade where I did the tank work. I did precision grinding there. And then I moved to a small business in Beaconsfield, Oppermans, did work for Martin Baker. I told him [inaudible] for he had yet to see. And then from there, I went on franchise work, from the bakery, the local bakery. And he made me redundant. From there, I decided to set up myself, then I went painting, decorating. I went on a course created by Margaret Thatcher to encourage people to do that sort of thing. And I was tax-free for a year, wasn't I? I think.
BD: Forty pound a week.
CD: Something like that. And after a year, it stopped. But then I was, I'd established a little bit of a business, enough to keep me going. And this is what I did to the end of my working days. I was working right up to seventy-five, even longer I think.
BD: And now you've stopped.
CD: Even longer. And that was it. And now we're at this stage and I'm still working.
CB: Quite right. [laughter]
CD: They say when you retire, you'll be able to play bowls, yes [laughter] no way.
CB: Let's go fast backwards to when you joined.
CD: Yes.
CB: So, when you joined, where was it, and what type of people were there who joined with you?
CD: What, people with me?
CB: Yeah. To the RAF.
CD: Well, we were only there a fortnight.
CB: Yep.
CD: At St John's Wood. So you didn't get a lot of time to get personalised. Bit more introductory, check you out on your health. You had to see the dentist, he was the other side of Hyde Park [laughter] it's true.
BD: It must have been a big job for this.
CD: And did a fortnight there at St John's Wood, then went to Bridlington, ITW (Initial Training Wing).
CB: So, what sort of people were with you, were they all Brits? Were they people from abroad?
CD: Yes, all Brits.
CB: Okay. And what sort of backgrounds? Were they technical type people or office based or what were they?
CD: I wouldn't know to be honest.
CB: Right. So when you got to -
CD: Pretty general like me.
CB: Okay.
CD: Workers in the day.
CB: Yeah. And at Bridlington, then what? What were they like there? What sort of people?
CD: Well, as I say, a bit strict on the instructional side. But they have to be, don't they, to deploy discipline? Early morning start, 06:30 parade, it was very, very civilised. We paraded down by the Spa Hotel which was our mess deck, in other words. The ball- dance hall floor ballroom was the mess. And the theatre side of it was used for Morse code and semaphore flagging, flag and signals. If the weather was fine, would they use the beach. You stood at one end, and he stood the other, about a mile away, and you did your exercises there. Small arms fire, shop frontage people that have sold up or what and they've taken it over because they took over all the, all the boarding places for holidays. That were taken over for us to be housed in. And each course was sixty strong, you kept that sixty all the way through. And that was eight weeks there, seven day leave. Next place was Bridgnorth, number three EAGS. You did a bit of squarebashing there.
CB: So EAGS was gunnery school?
CD: Elementary Air Gunnery School.
CB: Air gunnery school. And what was the elementary training? Was that with shotguns or what was it?
CD: Yes, shotguns. You didn't get to the big stuff 'til later.
CB: So shotguns and clay pigeons?
CD: Clay pigeons, yes. We did quite a lot of that, especially at the next station, AGS. That was the one in Scotland, Castle Kennedy. And that's where you went for your rigorous- The main subject to think about was aircraft recognition. Because, if you didn't know your aircraft, you could be shooting at one of your own. So you had to, you had to know the characteristics of all aircraft and when you sat in the classroom, they would put up on the screen a flash of a sighting of an aircraft no matter what distance, not close up, never close up, and, a hundredth part of a second and you had to write down on a sheet of paper what it was. And you were told afterwards so that was a vital subject. It was before, it was placed before, learning the Morse code. You had to know your aircraft. It happened so many times, people had been shooting their own. Not by me! [laughter] Success at the end, having passed, as you saw in my log book, eighty-one point five percent out of one hundred. I finished third of the sixty. The remarks were above average as you saw.
CB: Yeah. Now, did some of the course of sixty not get through?
CD: Some, well, they, I don't know what they did, they just, they're not required for aircrew.
CB: That's what I mean, they weren't all selected for aircrew because they couldn't see or shoot. Was it?
CD: No, no. You went for that and from the word go.
CB: Right.
CD: Their testing found you out.
CB: That's what I mean. Yes.
CD: Yes. Sorry.
CB: Yeah. So, what I meant was, it was a very high standard-
CD: Yes.
CB: [Background noise] And some of the people didn't pass so they went to other jobs.
CD: Yes, for whatever, ground job, it’d be anyway. But one, one day, at the AGS I was called before the gunnery leader. I thought 'What the hell does he want?' Referring back to our last interview, I mentioned about firing at drogues, didn't I?
CB: Absolutely.
CD: And they recorded your hits by the colour of the paint on the tip of the bullet. Now, I was called before him and he said 'I've called you in,' he said 'because you've got an exceedingly amount of extra bullet marks.' I said, he said, 'What's your answer to that?' I said 'Well' quick thinking, I said 'Well, it can only be one thing, I'm must be nearer the drogue than I should have been.' And I said 'I'm not in control of that, that's the pilot's job.' 'Good answer,' he says and it ended like that. Now, I get pulled up, it doesn't make sense to me, I get pulled up for having too many hits. [laughter] Does that make sense? No. But that's what happened, that's what passed. He accepted what I said, but he had to, I had no other answer.
CB: What sort of range was the drogue being towed at from the aircraft you were in?
CD: Well, about one hundred yards I suppose, maybe a little bit more. It was always above you. The martinet was the one in front of you, it was a long tow rope for obvious reasons. [laughter] I'd be shooting the martinet down! [laughter] Yes, that's how it worked and the pilot of your plane, he did that. So you got more movement to make more deflection so it made it harder to hit the drogue.
CB: So, could you just describe what is deflection shooting?
CD: Well, deflection shooting is, you have two moving targets, the object and yourself. So, you've got to lay it off in front of the actual movement of the object. You never aim straight at it for obvious reasons. It's that. So you had to be in front of it and it goes into it. Now, the most common attack on an aircraft by a fighter is the curve of pursuit, what they call the curve of pursuit attack. From, from the b- er, the quarter, it comes in like that now-
CB: In a curve.
CD: You have to lay off your aiming point in the front of it, always. That is deflection.
CB: Right.
CD: And a good idea of that registering up there is doing a lot of clay pigeon shooting. Because, when they shoot those clays out, you've got to be in front of it, although you're stood still, your arms are moving. You've got to fire in front of it. There's no good aiming dead on it. You must - that's allowing the speed of the object and the speed of your bullet to be there at the same time. And that's how you register your hits. That's my term of deflection.
CB: So after you'd been at the AGS and passed that, you then went to the OTU?
CD: Malton in Marsh, after about a month's leave was a, a little [background noise] an extra for what you've done. We reported there, and after I suppose about two weeks we were all assembled on this big piece of green, some people went in hangars, and that's [background noise] where you selected your crew. Always the pilot, he was always the one that approached because he's the leader of the aircraft. And I say, he came, Les, the pilot, Derry, and Tom they were three officers. They came and approached us fellows who were stood all as one and Les, the pilot, as I said earlier, he went to every section and checked on the pass marks and the remarks of any individual and it turned - and it came to pass, he was looking for me because I'd got my name on there, everyone got their name on there. And Dennis, [background noise] because he'd been with me from day one, and Arthur the bomb aimer and that's where I met him and we were pretty close together there and it made it easy for Les. Well, he literally asked us all three stood together, if you get what I mean? Flight engineer comes into the, into the quota when we go on to four engines. Because on one engine, you didn't need a flight engineer. So, that was made easy by him, by doing what he did.
BD: Sorry.
CB: So Les had done an initial selection of his navigator -
CD: The crew, correct.
CB: And bomb aimer.
CD: Yes.
CB: When he came to you, he was an Australian.
CD: Yes.
CB: But, when you were in the hangar, he checked on the scores, you said, but he didn't know where the people came from, or did he?
CD: Well, yes, it would be English on your papers.
CB: So-
CD: Your service number would show that anyway. An Australian Air Force number was different to us.
CB: Because at that stage, they were, were they, Royal Australian Air Force, whereas originally, they joined the RAF?
CD: No, no they still come in as R double A F.
CB: They did?
CD: Yes. Yes. They came here with their Air Force number from Australia where they trained. Yes. Dennis, my other gunner, he came in with his ATC number. That started with 301, seven figures. Mine was 189, seven figures. I used to pull his leg, I says 'With a number like that, you want to get some in' [laughter] Yes. Anyway, I couldn't run that one too long.
CB: Just expanding a bit on the OTU before we have a break.
CD: Yes?
CB: You've now got the crew.
CD: Yes.
CB: Les has. When you started training, each of you is doing something different, so what were you doing as the gunner?
CD: Doing the exercises that was required. You saw in my log book, exercise one 'till three, whatever. Yes.
CB: So did they -
CD: Air-to-air, air-to-sea firing, pretty well the same as the other stations.
CB: Yeah.
CD: We were still on learning Morse and we were getting taught the essential aim of oxygen, why it's so specially needed. We were shown the proof of that by six of us getting into an oxygen chamber, compression chamber, the instructor outside looking through the port hole. And one of you not wearing the oxygen, the other five wearing it. Now the instructor would say this is the proof of what that oxygen does or if you haven't got it, it does it the other way. And we will show you now. And the man that hadn't put the mask on is now getting a bit dreary like. He said to the one sat next to him go to his pocket, take out his pay book. He looked down, he didn't, he didn't know he had taken that that log book. Afterwards, when they put him back on oxygen, and he'd come to his senses, and the fellow said 'Did you see him take anything from your pocket?' and he said ‘no’. That's, that drove it home, so essential that oxygen was. Now, [door creaks] talking on the oxygen side, we, especially at night, we always had oxygen on from the ground and going up. Normally, you can leave oxygen off up to ten thousand feet, but rather than make the contrast high up we did it at ground level. But you were okay without oxygen up to ten thousand feet, so they told us. But especially on operations you had it on, it comes on automatic anyway on four engines. With the, with the Wellington, you had this, this situation of get putting the oxygen on yourself, i.e. before getting into the turret there was a circle in, up here on the oxygen line and that had a cotton reel pushed in to close it off when not needed. [laughter] And that cotton reel is tied on a piece of string and you pulled the cotton reel up away and it just dangled and you then got the flow of oxygen. Then in the turret, you got on off tell tale. But one night, we were on a cross country and after about quarter of an hour I'm, I'm feeling, I'm a bit, I'm a bit drunk - a drunkenness had appeared you know? Light headed. And it suddenly dawned on me I hadn't pulled that cotton reel out before I got in the turret. Honest. I'll letcha go. So when he opened the door and pulled out I came round. None of the others ever knew, I just didn't bother to tell them, would have felt ashamed to. [laughter] And one, there was one exercise we had it was called a bull's eye. It involved, it was on Bristol and Derry, we had been together now what, a week I suppose, green horns, and it came to pass we got there and it was all over Derry was about quarter of an hour late. And that worried him stiff. ‘Derry boy’, the nav leader said to him 'Go and have a good drink, Derry, don't worry about it.' And from there on, Derry used to have his half a pint because he never drank before he met us. He was a lay preacher, he'd been a lay preacher for fifty years after that [laughter] but he liked his drop of sherry. [laughter] So I bought him a bottle when we left. And yes that was it, we were too late for the bull's eye. And then from there, we're going on up into the Yorkshire area now. We had to do a f- two weeks at a place called Acaster Malbis about three miles outside York. It wasn't an aerodrome it was just a plain battle course training. They took you out in the day, live it rough. One night we went out, we had the choice, we stopped at a farm, we had the choice: sleeping in the barn or under the far wall. It was a nice hot day, like one last week, not as hot as that but it was a hot day, so we proposed, [laughter] we proposed to lay under the brick wall with our ground sheets. [unclear] in the barn, went down the pub, had a couple of drinks, came back, slept under the wall, woke up the next morning, oh that bloody great cob horse stood over the top of us [laughter], oh dear. The things that went on. Did that a fortnight, then we went down the road, not far, to a place called Riccall 1658 HCU (Heavy Conversion Unit) and that's where we picked up with our, Les had a choice of flight engineer. Which is what he did. Got together, now we're now fully at strength, seven personnel starting on four engine aircrafts. Going through all the courses again, exercises, cross countries, day and night, fighter affiliation, mock attacks. Used to do that with cine camera, twenty-five feet cine camera. And then, as I say, cross country. We did, we did one and it took us up, I told you before I think, it took us up to Belfast, and the next leg back was to Fleetwood and from Fleetwood over to base, straight across. And we got to Belfast, Jock, the engineer says 'I'm go down to the Elsan, Snowy.' Okay, we barely got down there before all four engines cut. We were at freezing alt - we were icing up, had icicles that long on my guns. Daylight, cloudless sky, yeah, eighteen thousand feet, icing up. He just about gets down to the Elsan to do his necessary and they cut. All four engine cut. 'Jock where the [pause] are you?' 'I'm down in the Elsan, Snowy.' 'Well for Christ's sake get back here quick as you can' [laughter] Back goes Jock [inaudible]. He switches his tanks over and then all four had picked up just like that. But, in the meantime, we had dropped five thousand feet. Fell like a tree. Twenty-five tonne of aircraft, won't stay there, will it? [laughter] So, we were all prepared to ditch because we were over now over the Irish Sea but it didn't have to happen. Eventually got back. [background noise] On another occasion, we did a cross country, we had to go out into Bridlington, Bridlington Bay and fire air-to-sea. From Bridlington to base it's probably about twelve miles, so, nothing, just- And Dennis fired his five hundred first, he said 'I'm finished now', I said 'Okay' and I went to swing round to, to port beam, port quarter rather, and I heard this zutt. I looked up there and there was the mark, the bullet's gone I don't know where. Left me in a state of [laughter] 'What's up?' they said, I said 'For Christ's sake, something’s gone wrong here.' And it came to pass on me that Dennis, one of his guns was faulty [background noise] it stayed in the forward position. When going forward, it takes a round on the face of the breechblock into the, into the [background noise]
TL: Barrel.
CD: Barrel [laughter] into the barrel, hence, the heat of the barrel ignited the detonator the pull it [?]. Should I have gone onto the beam a fraction earlier it could have been - we marked it on getting back to base, it could have been anyone there. It was there, you see. Because it went round with the turret, it [pause].
CB: So on that -
CD: That was the obvious conclusion of it.
CB: Right.
CD: And it was called, commonly called, a cooked round.
CB: Right. So when you landed, the ground crew then-
CD: Well, we were notified then what had happened, and little doubt had then to recti- probably the recoil spring on a rod, it was a long rod like that, and the recoil spring was over it. It's probably that that snapped at the. You see, a browning [?] gun can fire eight hundred rounds a minute, for a solid minute which you never did fire a solid minute. But that was the rate of of shot. So it [unclear] the mechanism, it's amazing how it works at that rate of knots. And well you can think of many things I suppose, it's probably more technical than what I can think it can be to suggest yes that did it. But no, no-one came back to us so we assumed its righted itself in their knowledge.
CB: I think we'll take a pause there, because you've done well and we'll start another track in a minute.
CD: Yeah my tongue tells me that.
[Beep, background noise]
CB: Right, we're restarting after our tea break. And what I'd like to ask you to do please, Charlie, is to talk about a raid. So, how did you prepare the raid and, the sortie, how did it work?
CD: Well, you were first brought up on battle order, then you knew you'd got to go and do so-and-so so-and-so, then the respect of pilots, navigators, bomb aimers. After briefing, which we all went to, after briefing, they went to their respective sections and did their flight plan. Other people like the flight engineer and gunners you just sat and waited because you had nothing to do until you get to the aircraft and then you prime your guns ready to fire in action if any. You went for operational meal, then to briefing, then to respective sections and wait for take off time. In that time, ground staff are loading up with bomb, required bomb load, to each aircraft. You go to parachute room, collect your chute, empty your pockets and wait for the liberty bus to take you to your respective aircraft. Get aboard, do your pre-flight checks, pilot so-forth, gunners, breach your guns up, put them on to fire, when you press the slot to put them on safety, you get airborne and you put them back on to fire, and you were ready for any action, if any. Some occasions, it was a straightforward flight, on other occasions completely opposite. Lone situations and situations you can see from other aircraft but you never ever know what is the problem but you saw it happen, you know what I mean? I.E. the one about the Lancaster. Coming off from the target, a gas incursion. It was flying very strangely, it was veering here and there which gave it the impression there was something wrong with the works. I.E. the rudder for instance, I don't know, it's pure guesswork. There was no smoke, no flame, this this was the foxing part of it all. Anyway, it suddenly went up and over onto its back, and went down into a dive, and in that time, four parachutes came out, unfurled. And went further down and not much further it just disintegrated [?] no explosion whatsoever. It just, just fell apart. Now on the chutes, shown so, it guess the ultimate. On another occasion, the one on Bochum, where I saw Joe Herman's plane, that was alight from wingtip to wingtip. It was still on course, still able to go, it was below us, but still with us, and I had to take my eyes off him because I've got to look after my aircraft, our aircraft, so there wasn't much chance to sit and gaze. So therefore, I never saw the explosion which happened. Three, four, four of the crew have already bailed out. This is in the aftermath, it's all in the squadron book. Harry Nott, the uncle, the fellow I know and recently Paul Nott, his great nephew, who lives in Hartford, he's one of the enthusiasts of the squadron, young enthusiasts, and it tells you what really happened when Joe went for his chute. The plane exploded. It blew him out the aircraft, and he just floating down, grabbing at anything that he could put his hands to. Suddenly, he grabbed this fella, his mid-upper I think it was, he grabbed his legs, and they both went down together on the chute. They arranged it, prior to hitting the ground, that he would release himself from his legs to lessen any dead fall. And they did that, but in that throw, he broke his leg, Joe, the pilot. Anyway, he got, he got the piece of the parachute and Vivash had got an injury to his ankle. He rips some of the parachute up, and wrapped it round his foot but then they decided they'd got to give themselves up, he couldn't try to escape with a broken - he broke a bone up here as well as one in his leg, so they were forced to give themselves up. They heard gunfire and it came to pass that, they found it out since the war, one of, one of the, it must have been a farmer, he had a horse and cart with one of the crew on it. He was injured. I think it was the bomb aimer, it wasn't the bloke called Underwood, Australian. And in the presence of I think there was an army bloke, a German army bloke, and up came a Gestapo. And he didn't mince his words whatever, he just pulled out his gun and shot Underwood. That is the glowing report from the farmer with the horse and cart. They, those two, heard gunfire so went seems the match what really happened. Yeah, there's four of them who were eventually in one cemetery from that particular instance, incident. [pause] Others, there was one after we'd finished our operations. One was coming in at Driffield one foggy morning in April '45. It was on the circuit over at Kirkburn Grange which was a farm right on the circuit of Driffield. He went round and he asked permission again because it was thick fog and they requested him to go to Carnaby just up the road, ten miles up the road, to a crash landing site. He said 'Well, I'll give it another try.' He did. At this farm, there were cops of about three hundred yards, and narrow too, about three hundred yards long, and he hit that, ploughed right through it. Right by the farm house. And the present farmer in '83 was the son then. He was five years old and he didn't know a thing. That plane exploded, what, just at, about fifty yards from the house. We went over there on the '83 reunion, in a cab [?] of cader [?] cars and the squadron leader Riverton [?] he went with us and he took the Halifax book and presented it to the farmer. He wondered what was happening I think. Coming there was [?] about six or seven car loads of us. [Laughter] Anyway, we went to the site and I took a photograph of it from memory out of the book. And I wasn't far out. I leaned over the hedge of the ploughed field and I took that photograph and it was as I say as near as I could get it. But I've loaned the book out to someone with that photograph in it and I can't think who. No, that won't have gone [?]. If he'd have taken the orders right, and accepted from the control tower go to Carnaby things would have been different. But no, he wanted to do it again. Inexperienced pilot apparently, and he got people on there with DFCs, people on their second tour no doubt. [background noise] It just blew into pieces. [pause] I told you the one -
CB: Any other trips you remember when you were doing the bombing of Northern France for the flying bombs?
CD: Yes. What?
CB: What height were you and what sort of experience did you have with those?
CD: Well, that was only our second one you see and I [laughter] erm [pause] there was - it didn't happen in our squadron, but we got to know that one of the aircraft on that raid, one of the crew, must have been the engineer I would think, he's the only one who seemed to walk about, and he lifted the, the inspection panel to look and see the bombs go. It - he unscrewed the panel, got down on his knees and looked down through and a piece of shrapnel hit him in the throat. The thing, hard luck story there to the point, you're going about two hundred miles an hour and something comes up through a hole about that big, and hits you in the throat. It, now, that was the crew, it wasn't on our squadron but we got to know about it. There's another incident you see I would never ever have known about it other than getting it from our people. And [pause] that's encouraging [?]. One of those two days that we did, went there consecutively, I forget which one it was but turning, we had to turn round onto the target. And I looked round to see where we're going and this block barrage it was like that just a solid black wall of flack. At our height, dead heights, and I said to myself 'Christ we've got to go through that?' Only we did, somehow. I have said to Les the pilot afterwards he said 'I just climbed above it.' Well I didn't know that at the time you see, still had flack going around you at various heights but this block barrage, well it was just like looking at that screen. It was a massive black wall of flack bursts. I don't know how many guns had to do that, probably about fifty rapid firing. I don't know, pure guesswork. But, that was an incident and I, I don't know whether that was the same one when I saw that Lancaster do what it did because we went there two days running, yes. Seventy years ago it's tough to remember what day it was so. That was that incident. [Pause] er.
CB: Which did you prefer, flying at night or flying in the day?
CD: Well, safety wise, well obviously day light. Because when these turning points as I was saying in that Bockholme one that Bockholme bay was seven-hundred and forty-nine aircraft. And you all, you're all converging on Aufitnez [?]. You're all coming at different angles so, I had it written down here. [pages turning] [pause] First turning point whereby all aircraft were coming in at all angles to turn off onto the next heading. [cough] Incidentally, all navigation lights are turned off so you're in a complete darkness which helps towards a hazard. Within our crew, we found an idea to help to overcome this. Derry, our navigator, would call up and notify us, the gunners in brackets, ten minutes before turning point and ten minutes after the turning point. This about covers the time it takes [cough] seven-hundred and forty-nine aircraft to pass through. We, you could do a raid of a thousand bombers in a quarter of an hour over the target. So that ten minutes each side of that turning point served a good purpose. [background noise] But there was this raid where I saw two aircraft collide at the first turning point, Orford Ness .
CB: And what happened to them?
CD: Well, they just hit one another and that was the end of the story. Just a vivid blue flash.
CB: Oh was it?
CD: And a black pall of smoke to follow.
CB: You couldn't see-
CD: Joe Her- incidentally, Joe Herman saw that same one. That happened just off the North, from Orford Ness in the North Sea. Yeah.
CB: So you didn't see them before they collided, just the explosion 'cause it was in the dark?
CD: No no no it was just above us too.
CB: Was it?
CD: So you wouldn't see it above us.
CB: No.
CD: No, you couldn't help but see it. Just a blue flash.
CB: Yeah. So if we go forward a bit, you've now completed the sortie and you've landed. What happened next?
CD: [background noise] You go to debriefing. First person you saw, and always saw every time no matter what day or night was the Padre, the Station Padre. He was stood there just inside the door with the tea urn and the biscuits. And welcomed us back. And then we went and sat in our crew at one table, crews at another table, [background noise] and you systematically interviewed and told what you saw, [cough] things happened. The navigator was always logged in so as, right that aircraft went down at so many degrees east or whatever. And the others gave their remarks and that was it. You went down to the mess had a return meal, no matter what time of the morning or night. From there to bed.
CB: Was it as standard meal, you always got something?
CD: Egg, bacon and chips. [laughter] Yeah, egg, bacon and chips.
CB: Okay.
CD: Some used to craftily get in there and get a meal and weren't on operation. They, they sussed that one out. So the WAAF behind the co- the hot plate, had a list of all the crews that were in operation and they used to ask you your name and if you weren't on there she didn't give you a meal, which is fair enough. How other way are you going to defeat it? And that's not all they did, tried to do, they did until they found it out. Yeah.
CB: So you've had your debrief, you've gone to bed, how long were you allowed to rest or sleep for before you had to do something else?
CD: We, you just got up and if it was too late a day to go and do a daily inspection then you didn't do it. You were probably on battle orders again the next night. I'll give you an instance, [background noise] they were very, the discipline to help the individual himself rather than not break his morale, they let discipline slide a bit. Whereby there was none of this saluting when you passed an officer and all that, as it was in training. I remember once in training at AGS, Dennis and I were walking up to the section and there were two officers coming down the drive. I says 'We'd better sling them one up, Dennis.' 'Oh, bugger him' he says, 'Bugger him' he says. I went up and he didn't. He got seven days [laughter]. 'That's alright for you.' I says, 'All you had to do, Dennis, was that.' Anyway, we came back to twelve noon again, and then, simple as that. That's strict discipline, that, you see and that, that didn't occur in- I'll give you the instance why. We had a billet inspection by Wing Commander Shannon, Dave Shannon, and we're all stood at the end of the bed, waiting for him and his entourage to come in and inspect, and Bob Elliott, the Canadian, he was in that far corner and he's still in his bed, he'd been on ops the night before. So immediately Shannon went straight over to him you see and he woke him up. [laughter] Elliott went like that on his poliasse, paliasse rather, 'What're you doing on that bed?' he said, 'I was on ops last night, sir', Oh well, alright, well get up and sweep this bit of bed fluff up.' [laughter] That's all that happened. Now, if he'd have done it the army way, he'd have blown the bloke to hell, wouldn't he? So they never, they never inclined to go down that road. In the army, his feet wouldn't have touched the ground. You know that. He'd have been in the glasses. But no, he just laid him back there 'I was on ops last night, sir.' 'Well alright, get on and sweep this bed fluff up.' I was stood down the other end, yeah, heard it all. That, that was the sort of discipline on the squadron.
CB: 'Cause we're talking about-
CD: We had to be at a level otherwise you'd have broke, you'd have broken up-
CB: Yep.
CD: You know what it is.
CB: Yeah.
CD: I don't have to tell you, do I?
CB: So, the accommodation is an H-Block.
CD: Yes.
CB: At Driffield.
CD: Yes.
CB: So that’s real comfort, relatively.
CD: Yes.
CB: Then you go to Foulsham, when did you get there?
CD: I remember, Nissen hut, wasn't it? I've got an old photograph of it in that other book, pimpernel book.
CB: Was that, what was the condition of that like? Comfort?
CD: Well Nissen hut, you had that all the way up in your training. [pause] I had a tortoiseshell stove and a mirror on the hut [laughter]. I always picked the bed away, yes, picked the bed away from there because they would all sit along the edge of your bed near the fire. [laughter] So I kept well away. But, oh, I had an incident at Bridgnorth. There was this farmer bloke, he was a farmer really, all Gloucestershire boy, you know. And he'd been out and had a few and he came back I was, I was half asleep I just got into bed. I hadn't been out. I never ever went out anyway, I was always religiously learning up, swotting up all the time. Plus, the letter writing, it all takes your evening up, doesn't it? So, I got into a habit. I never ever went out. Anyway, this night he comes back a bit worse for wear and I think he had a bit of encouragement from others and [background noise] he came and tipped my bed up. What does one do? I got straight up and hit him one. Only hit him once, honest to God, yeah, yeah. 'Oh uh buh' [?] he went, I thought 'Yeah.' I had every right, didn't I? And he had my left. [laughter] That was one of the incidents.
CB: What was the food like in general?
CD: Pretty good. Yes. Pretty good. Another, another incident there at Bridgnorth, you remember that advert, Chad? It was a head looking over a wall and a long nose hanging over the wall. Well, our, our instructor was a bloke called Firth, and he was, he was Jewish and he'd got just one of those conks you know [laughter] and in the ablutions up over the taps was: 'Beware, Corporal Cashew watching you' and that he was Corporal Cash, beware Corporal Cash is watching you pissing [[laughter]. Nobody was ever pulled up, what could they do about it?
CB: Banter.
CD: Another instance, going back off a weekend leave to Locking [?], Weston-Super-Mare, we always used to-



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Charlie Darby,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 1, 2024,

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