Interview with Peter Bellingham

Title

Interview with Peter Bellingham

Description

Peter Bellingham worked as a post office engineer before volunteering for the Royal Air Force. He trained in Rhodesia and South Africa and completed a tour of operations as a bomb aimer, dropping supplies with 138 Squadron from RAF Tempsford. He describes the different roles each crew member was given, the briefing, the lights which signalled the target, the release of the parcels, supplies and agents, and the debrief. He then became an instructor and after demobilisation in 1946 he worked in agriculture.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2016-11-21

Contributor

Katie Gilbert

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

02:05:02 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ABellinghamPF161121

Transcription

CB: And it’s now rolling. So my name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 21st of November 2016, and we’re in Whitfield near Brackley speaking with Peter Bellingham about his life and times before, during and after the RAF. So, what are your earliest recollections, Peter?
PB: Well, I was born in Charlton in London, SC18, at three – believe it or not I can remember, 3 Kinveachy Gardens [CB laughs], and I left when I was three years old. My parents bought a house in Welling in Kent. In those days it was in Kent, I believe it’s part of Greater London now, and it was very, very agricultural. We were part of a large estate, but our house actually overlooked a farm and you could not, not see another house at the rear. My father was at Siemens [emphasis] the electrical company, and he unfortunately died when he was fifty, just before when he was going to be made a director of Siemens. He had a very – he was in the First World War in the artillery, in the Territorials, and he stopped in the Territorials and was commissioned, and then he joined the Home Guard and ended up as a Lieutenant Colonel, Honorary Lieutenant Colonel after the war. In fact he led the parade of the Home Guard at the march past of the Victory Parade in London. Unfortunately he developed a brain tumour, they don’t know why, but it killed him in 1947 when he was fifty. That’s really enough about my parents. My mother carried on, she never married again, and she died when she was about eighty, I can’t honestly remember off hand. I went to school in Welling in Kent, which was in Kent then, and I spent the last two years at a Iris [?] technical college. I was destined to be an engineer because [laughs] I was good with my hands, and that, in my father’s view made me an engineer. But unfortunately, I left school in July of 1939, sixteen years old, and war broke out on the September. It wasn’t my fault incidentally [GG laughs] and I really, I was going to be a student of engineer, but all of those things stopped in the war, and I never got round to doing it, but I went into the Post Office Engineers for a short while. And I remember the Blitz very well, from the outskirts, and I remember walking home one afternoon, late afternoon, and watching the first daylight raid on London, and seeing all the fires from, on a wide arc, ooh something like about forty-five degrees I expect, and then making a resolution that I was going to be a Spitfire pilot. I didn’t as I say, I joined the Post Office Engineers as a makeshift job really, and in 1941, I’m not sure exactly when, but the government or the Air Ministry decided that they would recruit pilots and observers who had reached the age of seventeen and a quarter [CB laughs] and then they would attest them and then send them back in civvy street and call them up when they were ready for them. I was a bit over the seventeen and a quarter mark, but I did volunteer and went to Adastal House I think it was, in London, where I was – I didn’t have to move to London, I travelled to London each day for three days, and I did my attestation there. That was very simple for anyone just left school, mathematic test, intelligence test, and an essay on a choice of subjects, which I chose the importance of Gibraltar, a medical and I was duly accepted into the RAFVR, RAFVR [emphasis], as a pilot under training. Was given a little lapel badge RAFVR and a number 1391635AC2, pilot under training and sent home to be called up [emphasis] when necessary, when ready. In the beginning year, I’m not sure as, I think it was January of forty-two I was called up and went to Aircrew Receiving Centre, I think it was Number 1 Aircrew Receiving Centre, headquarters was at Lourdes Cricket Ground, and we were there for just short of three weeks. We ate and dined in the zoo [emphasis] [GG laughs] and we lived in the high class hotels [CB laughs, clears throat] overlooking, or near St Johns, in St Johnswood, very near the Lourdes Cricket Ground. But of course, instead of one bedroom for one person or two, there was about ten or twenty in it [laughs] but we slopped around there for nearly three weeks, and we were in flights of thirty, and then on the Thursday of the third week we were paraded out, and we were assigned to ITW, initial training wings. There was about ten or twelve of us that was left standing with nowhere to go and Corporal Speller, I remember his name [CB laughs], Corporal Speller, probably even an acting corporal [laughs] and he said ‘look,’ he said, ‘I’m not allowed to tell you this,’ but he said ‘you’re going to Southern Rhodesia, but don’t tell anyone I’ve told you.’ So sure enough, we were sent home to report to Blackpool on the Monday at the beginning of the fourth week in the Air Force. We did a bit of square bashing and getting inoculated and one thing and another at Blackpool, and then after a little while we were shifted up to Liverpool and kitted out – I can’t remember whether we were kitted out at Liverpool or whether we were kitted out at Blackpool, but we kitted out with tropical kit and had ATT and TAB injections and blood tests and whatnot, and then we were told by a very, very gnarled group captain that just because we’d got our tropical kit ‘means that you’re going to the tropics, it’s all done to fool the enemy’ [emphasis] [CB laughs]. So eventually after a week or two of medicals and one thing and another, we went off to Liverpool where we were stuffed almost into a boat, and we wallowed around for a week [emphasis]. After a week we sailed up to Scotland [emphasis], I’m not sure where, where we formed a huge convoy, and we left after about a week, and we headed north-west, more north I think than west, and it got very, very cold, and we began to think the group captain was right and we were going off to America or Iceland or somewhere [laughs] but we gradually turned south and we ended up after a while at Freetown. Incidentally, the convoy I counted I think it was over seventy ships, it was a huge [emphasis] convoy. In the middle were the troop ships, so there were all the Empress boats, the Empress of India, the Empress of Australia. I was in a uni, a Union Castle liner, the Arundel Castle, and that was pretty grim. We had a mess room, which I suppose there must have been about thirty people in, and then above the tables we had our hammocks which we strung. Well, as I say, we arrived – I could, I counted, did I say I counted about seventy ships [emphasis] I think it was. Huge [emphasis] convoy, the aircraft carriers and all sort of things, and lots of crumps [?] in the night and various rumours that floated around, and we arrived at Freetown. I can’t remember whether it was Sierra Leone but its Freetown [emphasis] and we were there for a week. It was jolly hot, and then we went off again south, and we ended up at Cape Town after about six weeks [emphasis]. And we spent a couple of nights at, days, nights, at Cape Town, and then we took a wonderful [emphasis] train journey up through the Hex River Mountains, to Southern Rhodesia in Bulawayo. We went to ITW I think it was, Initial Training Wing, which was completely different from other ones in Canada and England, in that you did six months at Bulawayo just on the ground course and went up to the wings exams, and I graduated from there. Had a wonderful holiday at Victoria Falls and then went up to EFTS, Elementary Flying Training School which was at Belvedere, which I think is now Harare [?] Airport. But it was the main airport in Salisbury in those days. But unfortunately I didn’t make the grade as a pilot – the old story you know, that they either had to ban everyone else from the air or ban me [CB laughs] so they banned me, but I, I did, I was very disappointed when I failed my, my flying. And then I was called in front of somebody and they said ‘but we have a marvellous new category. They’re splitting the observers into navigators and air bombers, and as an air bomber, you will continue your flying lessons and you will end up with a double wings brevy with a B in instead of RAF, and you will be the second pilot.’ So I thought that sounded good so I said ‘yes.’ So I went down to South Africa and went to East London, I can’t remember the name of the school. It was groundwork, very, very simple because I’d done it all before it was very simple stuff. And then went to Port Elizabeth, that was 42 Air Squadron, it’s all in here [bangs hand on something, presumably his book]. And then graduated as an air bomber [emphasis]. It was a bit early in those days for air bombers, and we were presented with the old O [emphasis] brevy, and we didn’t get that changed until we got back to England. Well we messed about in Cape Town which was a wonderful holiday, and then we sailed for England in the Moritania [?], and whereas coming out we took about six weeks, I think we took about ten days to get back to England. Very, very wonderful. I will say that when I was at East London I think it was – Port Elizabeth I think it was, I’m not sure where it was – anyway we, it was very much like a peacetime. We never did any work at weekends and we used to spend a lot of time at the sea. Beautiful surfing, without a surf board, we didn’t have a surf board in those days, and they had a boom [?] across the bay, a shark boom, which was supported by a big steel metal cable, and we used to, flew out to this cable and have a rest and then swim back. And this was I think for me the most scariest time for me in the war. I’d swam out once to this cable, by myself, and I was sort of hanging on resting and there was three fins, so I thought ‘oh my God I’ll get back inside.’ So I swam back inside and to my horror I found these three fins were circling me [laughs]. Course they were dolphins, but to me they weren’t dolphins [CB laughs] they were sharks [laughs]. And I swam like hell and clambered up the beach, and that was I think that was one of the most, if not the [emphasis] most scary time in the war believe, believe it or not. So anyway, we graduated, came back to England, went to Harrogate to wait for our kit, the CO of the unit there was Squadron Leader Legames [?], the English and Kent wicket keeper, and then we went off to Millom AFU. I don’t remember the number. The AFU is Advanced Flying Unit I think, I don’t remember what it was called. Millom is just opposite Coniston, and we had a lovely month or six months there, but we could get into Coniston in the Lake District there, beautiful. And it was there that unfortunately I found out that my brother was shot down, eventually became a prisoner of war. But then from three we went to Number 11 OTU, operational training unit at Westcott, with a satellite at Oakley. And I will just mention, you probably are aware but I’ll just mention, that’s where the individual aircrew, apart from the engineer, were pushed into big hangar or room, and told to sort yourself out and become air, a, a crew. And someone came up to me and said ‘are you crewed up yet?’ and I said ‘no,’ and they said ‘well come and meet who we’ve got.’ And there was a pilot, who was ancient [emphasis], he was about thirty-two [both laugh] and he seemed a very decent chap, and the others, so we were crewed up with a pilot, navigator, air-bomber, wireless operator, and two gunners. Six is that? Is that six?
CB: Mhm.
PB: Should be anyway. And, so we bombed around there, and did our flying training. We had several episodes. We had one particular episode where as we came into land, the Wellington, the radial Wellington was subject to pushing out flames from the engines – it was a radial engine. And this time we decided that it was more than usual and that the engine was on fire. So he called, the pilot called up and we were told to land on the runway and come to a halt and switch everything off and we’ll be sorted out. Well we were sitting there thinking ‘oh thank god we’ve made a nice safe landing on one engine,’ and there was a great war [emphasis], roar, and [laughs] Wellington [?] took off and sailed overhead. We found out afterwards that it was an instructor pilot thank God and we dived out of the aircraft but before we could get very far away the blooming Spitfire took off [laughs]. The wing commander and the squadron leader ops [?] whatever he was called, they came flying [emphasis] out and they, they blew their top and they said ‘you knew very well that it pushes out flame,’ and we said ‘well no it was more than that, it was the engine was on fire, and you press the gravendor [?] switches and you know, that kills the engine and ruins it.’ So anyway he said, more or less, ‘I’ll have your guts for garters [laughs] if you, you’re wrong’ and we weren’t wrong, but I should imagine someone really got called over the coals for it, because obviously the caravan that they have at the end of the runway which gives you a green light to takeoff, and the flying control weren’t in control [emphasis], and we never heard anything so we presumed it was on fire. Well we’re convicted it was on fire. Another little episode we had – we had many a sort of scrape with single engine landings and what thing or another. It was notorious [emphasis], the Wellington at an OTU, officers, operation training unit, for accidents. But one of them which was damned nearly my demise, was that some boffin at Air Ministry decided that it would be a good idea for air crew to have a sort of maintenance exercise, so if they were shot down in the middle of Berlin they could patch up their aircraft and takeoff. It’s a wonderful idea but absolutely useless I think [CB laughs]. Anyway, one very, very foggy day, we were sent out to, what do they call them now, the dispersal units, and there was this Wellington and we went round and did our job. I finished mine, and I went round to the rear gunner, and of course the Wellington rear turret was right on the ground, I mean the aircraft in those days did three point landings, they didn’t have tricycle things. And the two guns were sticking out, and I was leaning against this machine gun, a Browning, right into my ribs, and I suddenly thought ‘well that’s not a very bright thing to do.’ So I moved across and because it’s all open at the back, and I had the two guns either side of my ribs, and I was just about to speak to the rear gunner and the damn thing went off [both laugh]. There was a huge whine [emphasis] as the bullet travelled and we knew we were somewhere around the houses, and we thought ‘my God.’ And the mechanic saw the machine gun is if there’s one up the spout, if the breech goes forward it goes off bang and that’s it, and someone had obviously left one up the spout, which is a thing you shouldn’t do. But we kept very quiet and no one was reported killed [laughs] so we thought we were alright [CB laughs]. Eventually we were messed around a bit, I won’t say where we went, I can’t honestly remember, but we ended up at 17 HCU, a higher conversion unit at Stradishall, and there we converted to Stirlings [emphasis] which was a great thrill, wonderful aircraft to me. And the very, very remarkable, not remarkable, memorable [emphasis] thing of that place was we were, took off once on some night trip, and – I can’t remember now, perhaps it wasn’t night. But anyway, took off and one of the wheels, the tyres burst, and the distance on the ground to the cabin was about twenty-six feet I think on a Stirling. You’re nodding, I think, I think that’s right. Anyway, we were fortune with the squadron leader, the flight commander and instructor, and he said ‘well that’s it,’ he said ‘we’ve got to do a belly landing’ he said, ‘we can’t land because if you try to land on one wheel, you’ll just, as your speed decreases to about eighty you would just drop a wing and you’d cartwheel and that would be the end of that.’ So we went to Woodbridge –
CB: Mm.
PB: Have you heard of Woodbridge? Woodbridge was a particularly designed aerodrome. I think, I think [emphasis] it was about a quarter of a mile wide and about four miles long. Now that’s probably an exaggeration but it was a huge [emphasis] airstrip basically, and it was designed for shot up aircrafts to come and land on it, you know if they got people who were injured, or the aircraft. So we were told to go and land at Woodbridge and go get rid of our fuel. So we bummed [?] around and dropped our load of fuel and then we went in. And I say, fortunately we were with a, with a squadron leader and he did a wonderful belly landing, and of course the danger is that if the props are milling around, or even the sparks, and ‘poof,’ you know, you go up like anything. But I can remember seeing a blood wagon one side and a fire engine on the other. Whether or not they operated the fire engine I can’t remember, but anyway we came out and we were okay, it was wonderful [emphasis]. So eventually, we were to be sent to a squadron. Now, as I said my, my pilot was a, I think he was a journalist but his father was the equivalent of an MP, and he had a lot of clout and he was a great mate of the High Commissioner, would his name be Fraser? Memory’s – but anyway, he came back from, from a leave once, a weekend or something, and he said ‘ooh’ he said ‘I’ve met an old friend of mine that’s just finished a tour of operations with a special duty squadron.’ Now he said ‘I can’t, he won’t tell me what it’s all about but,’ he said ‘for God’s sake try and get on that squadron. It’s 138 Squadron.’ So as I say, this chap had a certain clout and he came back and he said ‘how do you feel?’ And we said ‘oh yes, anything’s better than the bluming’ old coffin run or whatever you’d call it,’ so sure enough we got posted to 138 Squadron [emphasis]. Well we had a wonderful welcome, Wing Commander Burnett, he was a Canadian, and there was another crew with us, and he paraded us, well we went into his room and he said ‘well,’ he said ‘I’ll be honest with you’ he said ‘the sooner I can send you back the better, because’ he said [laughs] ‘I don’t want Stirling pilots, we operate Halifaxes,’ but he said ‘don’t mose around or anything and keep your head on the ground.’ And he called us in the next day and said ‘well I’ve been told that I’ve got to accept you because we’re going to transfer to Stirlings’ [CB laughs]. So that was [laughs] quite a start but we did. And we had to do a certain amount of training obviously because it was a different type of operation. The air, mid upper gunner was made a dispatcher. He didn’t get a different brevy but he was called a dispatcher, they did away with the mid upper turret on the Halifax and later on the Stirling, and he was sent on a parachuting course, and I had to go on a map reading course for about a month [emphasis] I think it was. And the pilot had to transfer onto Halifax, which was quite easy really. And we, that’s what we did. Oh, to go back [emphasis], it was quite true to start with that I did do a lot of pilot training, a lot of link [emphasis] work, you know, the link trainer, and on a, on a Halifax I was a second pilot, and on a Stirling that was wonderful – I liked the Stirling that was wonderful. We had great armour plating seats and there was dual control it was really lovely. But later on, the Lancasters of course the engineer was the second pilot, so we started off on ops. I, my first op, the navigator, the bomb aimer and the pilot had to do an op with an experienced crew for the first op so we did those and then we started doing our normal ops. And a very strange thing happened to me, and it was after somewhere around five ops. We used to get bacon and eggs, we were very privileged, we got bacon and eggs before we took off, and I went down after several ops and I began to feel awful. My head felt it was imploding [emphasis]. I can’t describe it but I just couldn’t, I couldn’t, couldn’t do anything. And so I got up and paced around, and then we went out to the aircraft and believe it or not when we got in the aircraft I was perfectly alright. And it happened for two or three ops, and I really don’t know what it was but I think it must have been an anticlimax. My father being in the Great War, and sometimes unbeknown to him I sometimes used to hear some of his stories with his friends, and I had a great worry that I would not be able to make it, and I think it was all to do with that, I don’t know. Unfortunately it only happened a couple, three times and I was alright ever since then, perfectly alright. We had more or less a trouble free, more or less a trouble free tour of operations, and I finished, but I tell you that the squadron, in fact the whole, whole, both squadrons, 161 was the sister squadron, we were very lax in our discipline. We, we didn’t have parades and our type of mission was the fact that there was very rarely more than one aircraft on a target. I think there was sometimes two but I don’t think there were more than that. And believe it or not – well we couldn’t have a general [emphasis] briefing like they do on the films and things, we had individual briefings, and the pilot, navigator and air bomber, they went in and we discussed our route, and we chose our own route [emphasis]. I mean it doesn’t sound possible but we did. We used to say ‘right, well from experience from both us and other crews, we don’t want to go over that place, and we don’t want to go there,’ and we used to choose [emphasis] our own route to the target. And we used to fly low, I mean how low to give you an example was that once the rear gunner said to the pilot, ‘oh skipper, can you please go up a bit, I’m getting absolutely soaked with the slipstream.’ And I can remember going across Denmark once and seeing, I think it was a bungalow I can’t remember exactly, but seeing a house or a bungalow lit and the woman cross over and then the lights went out. That’s, I mean that’s how low we were. And I think that’s really what saved our bacon, being so low, because we were unexpected and too low for the radar and various things. We used to navigate mainly by map reading. Very, very difficult to get fixes whether they were radio or G-fixes, but the ideal thing was bends in rivers of course and woods [emphasis], and the woods on the continent were absolutely perfect [emphasis] on the maps and we used to plop from a corner of a wood to a bend in a river and – so we would arrive and the targets were invariably lights, three lots of lights a hundred metres apart, obviously, you know, downwind. And we would approach and they would signal up and we would – obviously each, each target had a different signal, an A, a B or something, and we used tp go in and we used to drop our load and the dispatcher would push the parcels out, whatever they were, at four hundred feet, and if we had any what we called Joes [emphasis], agents onboard, that was six hundred feet, and they jumped with a static line, and the dispatcher used to make sure they went – I don’t know if they used to kick them out the back door or not [GG laughs]. I don’t think they had to they were wonderful people. And that was it. We got shot at once or twice but nothing to worry about. One day we were told that we couldn’t make base, and we’d have to go to Woodbridge, and that was quite an experience because the whole place was covered in fog and they’d brought out a new thing called FIDO, have you heard of FIDO? Basically I think it was cans of fuel [emphasis], kerosene, diesel, something, each side of the runway, and they’d generate so much heat that the fog would lift. Well I think we must have been one of the first crews to do it, because when we went in we were on a Stirling and we had dual control, and when we went in, we went in and obviously we couldn’t see the land but, at that stage, but we were tossed around like a cork in the ocean. I mean one minute there was nothing on the clock and the next minute there was eighty and – anyway we got down and we were okay and that was at Woodbridge and then came back. Erm, we had, as I say, no real discipline [emphasis], no parades, nothing like that, and one day we, we were stood down – I mean the fortune [emphasis] thing as regards us was we only operated I think it was about ten days, ten days either side of full moon for obvious reasons, and this was during the operational period, but we used to do two nights on ops and then one off, and on our night off and the next day we weren’t flying, we took our ground crew out for drinks which we did regularly, and we got a little bit too much to drink. We were all NCOs at the time, the crew, and we went to sleep and then someone came rushing in and said ‘God you’re in trouble, they been tannoying [?] for you from the flights, you’ve got to report to the flights,’ which was almost unheard of. Anyway we, we went down and the Squadron Leader Rothwell, he was as mad [emphasis] as hell, and he said, you know ‘I’ve been looking for you, you’re in front of the wing co.’ And we went in front of the wing commander, who gave us a bit of a ribbing, and said ‘right’ he said, ‘I’m sending you to Sheffield,’ and that was a discipline course of three weeks, and it was where Spitfire, well [emphasis] where fighter pilots who landed with their wheels up – I mean we were far too valuable [emphasis] to get court martialled but we had to be punished [emphasis]. But after about three or four days, we got returned to base, and there we learnt that the whole trouble was that our flight commander, Squadron Leader Rothwell, he was about twenty-two I think, or twenty-three, and he was like a, you know, like a big school boy. And he thought it would be a brilliant idea to post the, we were A flight, B flight commander to the Far East, but unfortunately the Squadron Leader Brogan, he was married and got a little baby and they lived out, probably unofficially, but he was very, very upset, and he did it officially through the Orderly Room. I mean you don’t argue with a squadron leader, or you shouldn’t do [CB laughs] and a lot of friends, and probably the same rank as him said ‘look, you just coming [?] yourself too long, it’s no good it’s gone beyond a joke,’ and they told this Squadron Leader Brogan and they almost, I hear, they almost came to fisticuffs. We didn’t learn this until we got back. Now the reason we got back after three days was [laughs] because Rothwell, he went on an op – now it’s conjecture that he might have taken the op that we should have taken because the squadron leader was only allowed to do so many ops a month and a wing commander so many, and it’s conjecture that he might have taken our place. But anyway he, he went down on his, I think it was about seventy ops he did, seventy, seventy-two, and he went down by hitting the cables of balloons just off the coast of Holland, and he was taken a prisoner of war. And of course he gets to a PW camp, POW camp, and it’s [?] the flight commander [laughs]. My brother [emphasis] was under him but he never, isn’t it coincidence [emphasis], he never –
CB: Phshhh –
PB: Admitted to my brother that I was, you know, on his squadron. But anyway, perhaps it would have been best if wing command, if Squadron Leader Brogan had gone to the Far East because he was appointed CO [phone rings]. Oh, would you excuse me?
CB: I’ll stop it for now. [Tape is paused]. Brogan should have gone to the Far East.
PB: Pardon?
CB: Brogan should have gone to the Far East.
PB: Yes, I think he should have gone to the Far East, because he became wing commander of 161 Squadron and was shot down and killed shortly afterwards. So – and we had a habit of that. We had a – Watson, Squadron Leader Watson was a flight commander, I think it was, he took over from Rothwell, and he was made wing commander of 161 and he was shot down and killed so, it seemed to be a death warrant, going to wing commander 161. So anyway, what happened. So we were commissioned. In fact, our pilot, his commission came through before he actually went to Sheffield and he went to Sheffield as an officer, which was a bit better. My commission came through a couple of months later. What else happened – well we – it was a wonderful squadron, wonderful squadron, and I went through and finished my ops, did thirty ops. Went to France, Denmark, oh we did a trip to Germany, that was a bit out of the ordinary. That was in the Battle of the Bulge, you know, the Ardennes campaign. And our squadron and 161 Squadron were sent off to a just inside Germany to do a spoof attack, and we dropped dummies and fireworks and things to, you know, spoof attacks. So that was, that was, yes, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, went to Norway several times. I think the longest trip I did was ten hours fifty-five minutes. We, we used to take off and go to the target if we could find it, and then we’d come back to Lossiemouth or Kinloss and come back from there. Well them, then in, right at the end of the war, it was March – oh we did about the last op, with others, different [emphasis] targets, to Norway. No I think I must have – my last op was Denmark [emphasis], but anyway in March, I was finished my thirty ops, and the squad – 138 Squadron was, went to onto Lancs, and they retrained on Lancs, but they didn’t, I don’t think they ever did much after that because it was the end of the war. And I came to, up here Turweston. That was 17 OTU. And, well Turweston was the satellite of Silverstone, and I came as in instructor. I took an instructors course, a group instructors course, a Bomber Command’s instructor course and then a bombing leaders course, and saw out my time up here and then at Silverstone. They shut this place down and then I went to Silverstone and I was demobbed in 1946. I had a chance of a short service commission but by that time I’d got engaged to my present wife and I wouldn’t take the risk, I thought ‘do you know, there’s not the huge future for me,’ and I left the Air Force. I went back for a short while into the Post Office but I wasn’t at all happy and I came farming. My father-in-law had quite a large farm in those days, here in Whitfield, Manor Farm, and we got married and I, I worked on the farm. Do you want to know anything more of what I did?
CB: Yeah sure.
PB: Erm –
CB: Because farming’s a pretty varied experience in itself.
PB: Well that was, I thoroughly enjoyed farming – in fact of my son till carries on farming, and his son. I became chairman of the parish, I think mainly because no one else wanted to do it. I became church warden and we, the rector, he retired, and me being church warden, I had to take over the duties of – and I, they, we were priests in charge of Mr Payne at Sareshom [?] and he didn’t want to be, he said ‘I’m not going to be the chairman of the parochial church council’ so I had to be the chairman of the parochial church council, and eventually I, I left being church warden, and I went into Rotary, I became president of Rotary, Brackley, and I’m a [coughs] I’m an honorary member of Brackley Rotary, and I took up golf [emphasis] and I was a member for many years at Buckingham, and then a member at Silverstone, and I’m actually [coughs] an honorary member of Silverstone, and I got two sons. One’s coming up sixty-seven and one’s coming up, what would he be, about sixty-five in October I think. Got four grandchildren, one grandson and three granddaughters, and five great-grandchildren – what have I got? Three, three great-granddaughters and two great-grandsons. And my son, my eldest son still carries on the farm. But unfortunately the HS2 is going to go straight through his house. And my wife unfortunately, about four years ago, she got Alzheimer’s and she’s in a home now. She’s, she’s struggling, put it like that. I’ve got erm [pause] authro, no – what do you call it?
CB: Osteoarthritis?
PB: Arthri - that’s right [pause] osteo – one of bones. Anyway, arthritis in the knees, I’ve had a cataracts operation in the left eye, I've got material, material degeneration in the left eye and bleeding, bleeding in the right eye, and bleeding in the right eye, which I have injects for so [laughs]. You know [laughs] I’m struggling –
CB: And you’re only ninety-three.
PB: Pardon?
CB: And you’re ninety-three.
PB: I’m ninety-three.
CB: Yes [laughs].
PB: I’m ninety-four next birthday, yep. And I think that’s, that’s all –
CB: What kind, what kind of farming was it, arable?
PB: No, no it –
CB: It’s livestock is it?
PB: I had a mixed farm, but my son’s turned it into a very large dairy farm. He’s got five hundred head of cattle and he’s got a milking herd of two hundred cows, but it’s all going to stop I think in a few months time. I don’t know what’s going to happen [coughs]. Which is rather a shame really. My in-laws came here in 1914 [CB laughs] and [wrapper rustles] it was a big farm then, it was about five hundred acres [continued rustling]. But that’s, that’s, I think about it – would you like a sweet?
CB: Thank you.
[Tape paused and restarted. Rustling continues]
PB: Shortly [?] I was –
CB: So where, where did you meet your wife?
PB: Well that’s what I was saying –
CB: Yes –
PB: My wife, Stella –
CB: Yeah –
PB: I, I met her at an officers mess party up at Turweston here, in about April of forty-five, and erm, we hit it off straight away [zipping noise] and we got married in 1947. [Puts something, presumably a sweet, into his mouth.] Sixty-nine years ago, isn’t it?
GG: Mm.
CB: Quite a while.
PB: Pardon?
CB: Quite a while.
PB: Quite a while.
[Tape paused and restarted.]
CB: That’s very useful because it’s covered right through your working life, but going back to 138 Squadron, what were the crew members like, individually?
PB: Erm –
CB: So the pilot was quite old.
PB: What, what my crew –
CB: Yeah, yeah.
PB: - In particular? Well there was one [emphasis] one, erm, odd one, and as I said before – I didn’t mention actually, what I didn’t mention was that when we went to Stradishall [emphasis] to pick up a, to train on a Stirling bomber, we picked up a flight engineer. And he was always [emphasis] the odd one out. He was married, but we know that he had a girl in the village [CB laughs] and he was the odd one out. Otherwise all the other crew we were very close, we used to – right from our Westcott days, our OTU days we used to go out to out to the pub to drinking together and – we did drink too much in the war, there’s no question at all. But another very interesting thing which I might add, was I had a friend there who was a, a Lysander pilot on 161 Squadron, Bob Large. I don’t know whether that name’s cropped up at all.
CB: No.
PB: But Bob Large was an ex-one squadron [?], fighter of, erm, what – Battle of Britain pilot. And his wing commander was a chap called Boxer, who ended up air marshal or very high rank indeed. He’s dead now but he’s very high rank. And he wasn’t terribly popular this Box, Boxer, but Bob Large, he was a very popular chap. Flight Lieutenant Battle of Britain pilot, and he was, erm, what’s the word – framed [emphasis] if you might like to put it, by Boxer because one night when birds were grounded there was no flying at all, Boxer knew that Bob Large had gone off to the pub, local pub, and he put out a tannoy for him, and of course he didn’t turn up, so he court martialed him. And the rules of court martial are the court can’t have people that are on the same squadron on same unit, so the way they got over it, they posted the court, several of the senior officers, to other stations for the court martial. But he was found guilty and the facts were there and he was sentenced to be cashiered [emphasis]. And he told me afterwards – I’ll tell you why, he told me afterwards that he, he told me afterwards that he was the only one as far as he knew that was reprieved [emphasis] by the king, and the king stepped in and said ‘no.’ So he was, he lost two years seniority which was, didn’t mean much at all to him, but I didn’t learn this until after the war, and the reason I learnt this, going back to Peter Westcoombe [?], he invited me to, to Bletchley when they opened an SOE section, and he introduced me to the director who was a woman, I didn’t catch her name, but afterwards I was chatting to her. ‘Oh, my father-in-law was at Tempsford,’ I said ‘oh yes, when was he there?’ such and such. ‘Oh I was there then, what was his name?’ ‘Large.’ I said ‘good gracious me,’ I said ‘I know Bob Large very well, I knew him very well,’ and he gave me his, she gave me her telephone number and I rang him and we had a long conversation and he told me that he, he said ‘I’m sorry,’ but he said ‘I did deserve to be cashiered,’ you know, ‘I knew I was wanted for, I should be available,’ but of course as I said the birds weren’t flying. But anyway, he, he went back and lost his seniority for two years and ended up flying commercially for different people [CB laughs]. But, and he bought back that, what was her name? Violet, Violette Szabo?
CB: Szabo.
PB: He bought her back once –
CB: Mm.
PB: From France. And in this book – you should, I’m not going to let you have this unfortunately, I don’t want this to leave my – but if you, if you want [emphasis] you should be able to get it from the library –
CB: This is “By Moonlight” –
PB: And, erm –
CB: - Is the name of the book.
PB: In there it said that, which is unbelievable [emphasis] but I’ve read it and it said that only two Lysanders were missing on ops in the war. Incredible [emphasis] isn’t it?
CB: Extraordinary.
PB: And one [emphasis] of them was almost certainly shot down by a Mosquito [CB laughs] in mistake for a Fieseler Storch. And you remember, course the last pin point of it, well they knew when it was shot down, but when the Mosquito reported that it had shot down a Fieseler Storch at such and such a place, there was no doubt the Mosquito shot it down. You can’t really blame the Mosquito I suppose, but, yeah.
CB: And it was in the night.
PB: Well there are – if you look at the history of 138 and 161 – 138 in particular, the, the heroes, illustrious people that were associated, it was, they were, the chap that did the Amiens prison break out –
CB: Mm, Pickard.
PB: What was his name?
CB: Pickard. Pickard [emphasis].
PB: Yeah Wing Commander Pickard. He was on, I think it was 138 Squadron.
CB: Mm.
PB: ‘Cause 138 Squadron were started as a flight, and it was the King’s Flight. The group captain, who was still a group captain when I was at Tempsford, was chap called Fielding, Mouse Fielding. And he was the King’s Pilot, and there was all the different squadron officers and people. They were all on, they all wore, they all wore scarlet [laughs] lining to their jackets. And as I say, it started as a flight, it, it really – you really, I’m not going to lend you this because things go astray –
GG: Mm.
PB: But if you can get a copy, then it’s quite interesting reading.
CB: Hmm, mm.
PB: But, erm. It started off as a flight and they flew these two engine things to Poland and places and then gradually they got more sophisticated and they were landing Hudsons as well in the war. That was 138 Squadron, one, one, 161 Squadron I mean. But, and then they split one, 138 and 161 they made, and all the landing people like the Lysanders and the Hudsons were 161, and the heavies were 138.
CB: Now when you arrived at Tempsford, you didn’t know what you were in for –
PB: No –
CB: You said earlier –
PB: No.
CB: But 138 and 131 had a specific –
PB: 161.
CB: 161, sorry – had a specific requirement to re-affirm [emphasis] their –
PB: Well as Churchill said ‘set, set’ er –
CB: Official –
PB: ‘Set France alight.’
CB: Yes but Official Secrets Act you had to go through that again, so what was that? Tell us what that was.
PB: The Official Secrets Act?
CB: No, no. You had to reaffirm it because of what you were doing.
PB: You know I don’t remember that.
CB: Okay.
PB: I don’t remember, but we were, as I say it was very, very laid back, and when the wing commander Burnett said ‘well I’m afraid I’ve got to accept you, I, we’re going to re-master with Stirlings soon,’ so –
CB: Mm, [laughs].
PB: ‘I’ve been told that, you know, I’ve got to accept you.’ And he didn’t say, you know, ‘keep your head down’ or anything, he just said ‘welcome to the squadron.’
CB: Yeah.
PB: And we went our separate ways, we, as I say I had to go on an intensive map reading, low level map reading round England [CB clears throat]. The mid upper gunner was, lost his guns, lost his turret, and he went on a parachute course to Ringwood I think it was. And [pause] it was, looking back it was amazing really how informal [emphasis] it was.
CB: Mm.
PB: And I mean it was unbelievable when you hear about it and when you see these big briefings where, you know, ‘your target for the night is Berlin, urghhhh,’ [CB laughs], I mean we had nothing [emphasis] like that at all. We, we just used to go into a room, pilot, navigator and air bomber [CB clears throat], and they’d say ‘your tar’ – and there again [emphasis] I don’t know whether you realise this, I haven’t mentioned it, but your target was given a code name, and all of France was part of a horse, have you heard that?
CB: No.
PB: Yeah, the – it was Saddle One or Girth Two or Stirrup One or Denmark, I don’t remember what Denmark or Norway were, but they were never anywhere [emphasis], not in my logbook, it’s just Operation France or Operation Denmark, there’s never any mention – there must be some records in the Ministry somewhere of where these targets were.
CB: Mm.
PB: I remember we were in the South of France and that was no problem at all [emphasis]. There was a great big bonfire and we had a thing called S-Phones, which was new to us, and it was a walkie-talkie thing from about fifteen miles, and also it had red and green direction finding onto the target. So we went and dropped our goods, and then this voice said, oh it said ‘when you go back to England, will you look my sister up?’ [CB laughs.] ‘She lives at such and such a place,’ and we said ‘there’s no way we’re gonna look his sister up’ ‘cause if that got out we really would [emphasis] be for it, you know. So I’m afraid his sister never got the message, but erm, it was – I mean we used to drop our, we used to fly [emphasis] and then ascertain with the signal that it was the target and then we’d continue and drop our load and we’d go [emphasis], not because we were frightened but because it would give the enemy a clue if an aircraft was circling around.
CB: Sure.
PB: Erm –
CB: So if you missed a target what did you do?
PB: I’m afraid you just came back.
CB: Right.
PB: I didn’t, I didn’t lose many, I think of the thirty I did I probably didn’t, didn’t make six or something like that.
CB: Mm, so –
PB: I mean several of them were in Norway. I don’t know whether you’ve been to Norway but it’s a lot of snow [emphasis] in Norway –
CB: Mm.
PB: And if you’re given a target in Norway believe you me, it’s very [laughs] it’s very difficult to find.
CB: Identification points are very difficult aren’t they?
PB: Pardon?
CB: Identification points –
PB: Yes.
CB: Are very difficult.
PB: Yes.
CB: So could you just, can we just look at the briefing and how the sortie went? So at the briefing, how would that go?
PB: The debriefing?
CB: No, at the briefing itself, beforehand, so –
PB: Well as I say it was the pilot, navigator and air bomber and the others weren’t really concerned, they were just concerned with their job.
CB: Mm.
PB: And if there was any new things with gunnery or new things with signalling they would be told, but the actual trip, we sometimes had an agent [emphasis] who’d come back and he’d tell you what the business was like, but no, we were told that ‘this is your target, there it is, here’s your maps and which way do you intend to go?’ so you know, we’d say ‘well from past experience and what other crew have told us, it’s no good crossing the coast there, we think we should cross here,’ ‘yes,’ you know, ‘we agree with you,’ ‘and then we’ll go to this bend in the river, or this edge of a forest, road junction, avoid towns of course,’ and we’d get there.
CB: What – how would you plan the heights that you were flying at?
PB: Just low [laughs]. Damn low, as low as you could.
CB: Mm.
PB: And I think that’s what saved us a lot.
CB: Mm.
PB: That’s not on is it?
CB: It is, yeah.
PB: Pardon?
CB: It is now [emphasis], yes.
PB: Oh –
CB: Yeah.
PB: Oh, I won’t say anything more –
CB: What? Well I can stop for a moment.
PB: Well I just mentioned that we had a shortage of crews once –
CB: Yeah.
PB: And you can check it up, but erm, we had a shortage of crews before I got to the squadron, not sure when it was, it was something like, could have been June or something 1944, but they said ‘well obviously the best squadron is to have three aircraft from the Dambusters Squadron,’ and they sent three aircraft that promptly shot [?] the place up, marvellous flying marvellous pilots and everything, and everyone stared in awe, and they parked their aircraft and our ground crew went and said ‘oh no you can’t go in here we’ve got secret equipment,’ great fuss you know, so they said ‘alright, we’ll refuel and here’s your, what you’ve got to do.’ But unfortunately for them out of the three only one got back. And – is that on?
CB: Yeah.
PB: I got my theories and I’ll probably be court martialed [laughs] or something for this –
CB: Not now you won’t [laughs].
PB: [Laughing] I’ve got my theories that the reason that the 617 Squadron lost so many planes on the dam raid and also for a short while afterwards they, they really come, came unstuck was because low level to them was not low level what I call –
CB: Mm.
PB: And I mean the most vulnerable [emphasis] place to be is about three-thousand feet. I’m not saying they flew at three-thousand feet but I think that if they’d have flown a bit lower – I don’t know about this I’m talking a load of rubbish I know, but I think if they’d have flown a bit lower they might have got away with it, you know, but that’s – but they certainly came to us and, and out of the three only one got back.
CB: And what were they doing when they were with you?
PB: Pardon?
CB: What were they doing when they came to you?
PB: Well they’d just done the dam raid –
CB: Yeah but those three [emphasis], what did they, what, what were they doing?
PB: [Pause] what when they came to us?
CB: Yes.
PB: Well they were doing just the normal job that we did, because we were so short of crews we wanted, you know –
CB: So they were dropping supplies as well?
PB: Yes, yes.
CB: Right.
PB: Dropping agents, I don’t know about agents, I don’t think they dropped agents, there’s no mention of agents being killed, but they certainly were dropping supplies –
CB: Mm.
PB: And two of them, whether they were shot down or not I don’t know, but it said that only one returned to base, which, I think Cheshire was the wing commander and he wasn’t very pleased about it, but erm, yeah.
CB: So when you were on your ops then, what was the division of labour? Because you were right out, right out at the front, you were – were you feeding stuff back to the navigator or were you telling the pilot directly where to go?
PB: Erm, I was mainly in the second pilot’s seat, I did my map reading from the second pilot’s seat. And then when we were over the target obviously I was in the nose, but I didn’t have a bomb site, we just flew down the, the lights, bonfires or torches or whatever they were, and dropped, as I say, it was four hundred feet for parcels and the canisters and six hundred feet for agents.
CB: So at what stage from the target would you be moving to the bomb aimers position? How many miles out?
PB: Well when we were probably on the circuit. Just before we went, just before we, we – I made sure if possible that we were at the target and check that I was sure we were on the target I think we got the signal, then I would go into the bomb aimer’s position.
CB: Mm.
PB: But it wasn’t a question of getting anything fixed up. All you did was select the bomb switches and then press the button when the pilot flew down the –
CB: So the stores are all in the bomb bay –
PB: Pardon?
CB: The supplies are all in the bomb bay, and –
PB: Yes, and in the fuselage –
CB: Right.
PB: Packages.
CB: And could you drop the lot at the same time or did you have to have a sequence?
PB: Well there was a sequence which was automatic on the, on the –
CB: On the release.
PB: On the release –
CB: Mhm.
PB: I mean, I think it was almost instantaneous you know, one one one one, wasn’t a question of the whole [emphasis] lot together and it wasn’t a question of many seconds in between. It was a question sort of one two three four five, like that.
CB: Were they just dropped as they were or did they have parachutes?
PB: [Pause] they had parachutes [emphasis].
CB: Right.
PB: Yeah [laughing] yeah. For a minute [laughs, GG laughs] I couldn’t remember, but no I do remember they had parachutes, yeah, yes.
CB: Including the ones that were pushed out by the dispatcher?
PB: Oh do you know – I would imagine so but I don’t know [emphasis].
CB: With a static line? [?]
PB: I think if they’d have landed [coughs] without, they’d have smashed when they hit the ground.
CB: Mm.
PB: [Coughs]. But [pause] but –
CB: So you’re going over the target and you’ve dropped your supplies. How did you proceed back from there?
PB: Well the navigator had already worked out a course for home, and I don’t think I took much of a part. I, I think I’d checked obviously on what was going on –
CB: Mm.
PB: But I think the navigator gave the courses and we got back home [emphasis]. But the unfortunate thing was that after the V1s started we were ordered, all aircraft were ordered to come back into England over ten-thousand feet, and that was a damn nuisance. I had a friend that was shot up with the Royal Navy, and he was flying at a nice comfortable ten-thousand feet and the – that’s, that’s the story – is that on?
CB: Yeah, yeah.
PB: Well this is the story – I can’t remember the pilot’s name now. He was a New Zealander and he got shot up by the Royal Navy and he said ‘fire [?] the colours of the day [emphasis].’ Well the colours of the day were in a varied [?] pistol above the signaller’s head, in the roof. And he didn’t know what to do, and when they landed, the pilot was absolutely mad [emphasis] and he said ‘you stupid idiot,’ or words to this effect, probably more tastier than that [CB laughs], but he said ‘look,’ he said, ‘here’s a pistol, you just press it.’ [Laughs, GG laughs]. And he pressed it and set fire to the aircraft [all laugh]. And I don’t know whether it was a – I think it was probably superficial damage but, erm, yeah.
CB: So, the point, am I right in saying, of flying above ten-thousand feet was so that the people on the ground would not be shooting at higher level aircraft? Because they were shooting at the V1s.
PB: Yes, yeah. But, erm, we were, we were shot up by the Americans once as we, as we were going into the tar – well not going into the target but crossing our lines, and I suppose you can’t blame them really if they hear or see any aircraft they’re going to take evasive action, but – there were lots of instances. I remember a friend of mine he became a roommate of mine when I was first commissioned, and they couldn’t make the, the height [emphasis] above the clouds, the cumulonimbus, and the pilot went underneath and they got struck by lightning, and he was blind for a week. He walked around with the dark glasses, but he got his sight back. But he ended up with a DFC, he shot down two one-nineties [emphasis] which was very unusual.
CB: Was he mid upper or rear gunner?
PB: He was a rear gunner. He – and there again, coincidence and everything, he, he was my roommate, we were both commissioned together and he finished his tour just before me, and he went away, I lost touch with him. And years later my brother had returned from being a prisoner of war, and he was made CO of a, of an aircrew reclassification unit in Hereford I think it was, where the, all the redundant aircrew were put other jobs, you know, administrative jobs and various things, and who should be one of his pupils but this flying officer Dunning? Very strange.
CB: Hmm.
PB: But a story about him which is perfectly true and a modern person wouldn’t believe it I don’t think, but we used to go, about a flight of thirty, and have our different injections, TAB and ATT and blood tests, and he was a Liverpudlian, or near, near Liverpool, and he lined up and he had his injection, I don’t know which one it was, and within milliseconds [emphasis] he collapsed, and they said ‘oh my God,’ you know, ‘another wimp.’ Put him on the couch and then someone happened to look and said ‘my God he’s gone the colour of crimson’ [emphasis]. So they called, you know, the hospital, and called his mother [emphasis] actually, his father was in the army. But he was touch and go, and what had happened was, you, I don’t know about in your time, but in those days the doctors just used a needle until it was blunt. I mean there was no question of use once and throw away, but unfortunately for him the doctor had changed shift and put his syringe down with the serum in it and the next doctor picked it up and gave this friend of mine the lot, and this previous doctor had put about five doses in the syringe [emphasis].
CB: Jeez.
PB: And the doctor that took over didn’t realise this and he gave this friend of mine the whole [emphasis] lot.
CB: Jeez.
PB: And it damn nearly killed him.
CB: Mm.
PB: I mean, I know that’s true because he told me, but.
CB: Mm. Hm.
PB: We had another crew that – if they were right down in the South of France, I never did have the luxury of doing it, but if they were right down in the South of France, very often they would fly through to Northern Africa, Algeria I think it was, Blida [emphasis], is Blida North Africa?
CB: Mm.
PB: And they would refuel and everything and then come back, and I think probably drop some more supplies on the way back, but this crew, they started back and they’d got all the goodies which you’d never see, oranges and things [CB laughs], and they started losing height, and I think that part of Africa, I think was a thousand feet above sea level, but they gradually lost height until throwing everything that was movable [emphasis] over board, they said ‘it’s no good’ and they’d seen a, a ship which was lights on and they landed by it. And it turned out to be a, a Portuguese ship, neutral ship, and in the ditching, this friend of mine who’s an air gunner, he got a DFM for it, he rescued someone, but one of them was killed. I can’t remember who it was, and they came back to England and they, they were landed somewhere in Portugal and they flew back. But talking of that sort of thing, is this on?
CB: Mm.
PB: There’s a friend of mine who’s well tabulated, he’s, he’s in Max Hastings’ “Bomber Command” book – did I say a friend? He was a brother-in-law actually, my [CB laughs] wife’s sister’s husband, chap called Bill McGrath. Have you heard of him?
CB: Nope.
PB: Well he’s in the official history and everything. And he was a pre-war observer, and he was on the Blenheim Squadron, eighty-seven I think it was. Anyway, he was on the squadron and the Battle of France, before the Battle of Britain, Battle of France, and they used to go out in formation in Blenheims at about ten-thousand feet, and really get messed up, and he went out one trip and he was the only crew to return, and the next trip he went out the whole lot were shot down. And this is absolutely true, it’s, you know, it’s in the official recordings, and he was, he ditched [emphasis] and he was badly injured. He lost the sight of one eye but he never lost the eye, and he was injured but he was made a prisoner of war. He escaped [emphasis] three times [CB laughs]. And the first time, or second time he was recaptured, and the second time he gave himself up, the two of them because they were so cold and hungry, and the third time they made it from Paris, all the way down through France, over the Pyrenees and he got a [pause], what do you call it, erm, a military medal for it. But he carried on flying [CB laughs]. He was instructing [emphasis] and carried on flying, but he hadn’t got sight in one eye, he’d lost it. But he used to memorise the sight chart, and one day he, they changed the sight chart and they said ‘my God you’re blind’ [CB laughs] and he said ‘yes,’ so they says ‘right,’ and he was Irish, Northern Irish actually, or Southern Irish, Irish, and they said ‘right, you’re –’ he was a warrant, I think he was a warrant officer, sure he was a warrant officer. Anyway, he was, erm, reduced to a ground duty job and lost his seniority, and so, being Irish he wrote to his mother [emphasis]. He said, knowing that the letter would be, you know, scrutinised –
CB: Mm.
PB: And he said ‘I’m seriously thinking of leaving. I’m, I’m, I’m Irish so I can [emphasis] leave,’ said ‘it’s disgusting treatment,’ and the CO got to hear, course, course it was –
CB: The censor read it.
PB: Pardon?
CB: The censor [emphasis] read it.
PB: Censored, yeah. And he went in front and he said ‘what’s this McGrath,’ and he said what had happened, and he said ‘oh well don’t do anything,’ he said ‘we’ll see you’re okay.’ And he got commissioned in the [coughs] what was called Flying Control. But that’s the way they treated them. If he’d not been Irish he would have lost all his flying pay and his rank and he was, it was, yes he was – and he’s quoted in I think it’s Max Hastings’ book “Bomber Command,” Bill McGrath [emphasis]. We used to call him Mac but he’d referred to as Bill McGrath. My brother, they [laughs], they say that all air crew are volunteers. I don’t think that was strictly [emphasis] true to be perfectly honest, probably ninety-nine percent, but my brother did the same as me and he was older, and he was attested and they said ‘yes okay,’ you know, ‘pilot under training. Now do you want to come in the Air Force or do you want to wait to be called up?’ ‘Oh no’ he says ‘I want to come in the Air Force,’ so they called him up and put him on a wireless operator course at Yatesbury, Wiltshire, and then when he passed his wireless operator course he said ‘well,’ you know ‘what about my pilots course?’ And they said ‘oh God no,’ they said ‘you’re a wireless operator flying, and you’ve got to do fifteen ops’ or something so he was I think an LAC when he came out of the radio school, and he went on about a six week air gunners course [laughs] and came in as a sergeant, wireless operator air gunner, and then eventually he was told that he’s got to do fifteen ops and unfortunately I think he was shot down on his fifteenth op, but he was a POW, but, yeah.
CB: How did he get on with that?
PB: Not at all well [emphasis]. He’s, he’s one that just didn’t – he was, he was I suppose only [emphasis] sounds awful, but he was about two years as a POW from August forty-three until about May of forty-five, and he stopped on the Air Force for a little while, for about three or four years, and he left the Air Force and got quite a nice job in the city and then he was, they used to go and have a ploughman’s lunch and he suddenly got up and he was vomiting blood in the gutter, and he got a burst ulcer, but he recovered from that. But the POW business really [emphasis] upset him and he couldn’t go on the top flight of a bus [emphasis] and all sorts of silly things. He held a job, but lived on drugs and then eventually they killed him, you know, the drugs were just too much, and –
CB: Mm.
PB: And, he was in his sixties when he died, but [pause] he was just one that didn’t take to being shut up.
CB: Mm.
PB: Incidentally, he said that they were, erm, what’s the word [pause], released [emphasis], that’s the wrong word. I can’t think of words nowadays, by the Russians [emphasis].
CB: Mm.
PB: And they all started to go out of camp and the Russians were really [emphasis] nasty, and the senior camp officer went to the Russian colonel and said, you know, ‘we’re on your side,’ so he said ‘oh yes of course’ and so he said ‘okay, now is there anything you want?’ and he said ‘well we’re very short of food,’ and my brother said they were terrible [emphasis], they were barbarians [emphasis], they used to go round to the farms and places, and they said ‘oh we want that pig, we want that,’ and if they said ‘oh no,’ bang [?] they’d shoot them, and when he came back, and he wasn’t the only one, he said to me ‘we should go straight [emphasis] into Russia now,’ and he was convinced [emphasis] that there would be trouble with Russia. He wasn’t far wrong but it didn’t develop into anything, but he, he was convinced [emphasis] that Russia wanted tackling straight away –
CB: Mm.
PB: But, erm, yes. I’ve been prattling on – I don’t know what you, probably –
CB: When you –
PB: Edit a lot of this [laughs].
CB: Well, you –
PB: [Laughing] cut it out.
CB: When, when you were on, on an operation [clears throat], what were you actually doing most in the – how were – what was your task during the flight?
PB: Map reading. Very intensive, I mean it’s, it’s like if, it, well it’s a bit more intensive obviously, but if you go from here to Scotland all with a sat-nav. They call them sat-navs?
CB: Mhm.
PB: You know, you sort of concentrate, ‘oh you turn right here, you turn left here, go over the roundabout,’ well I mean that was my job, I never had time to – unless they said ‘there’s an enemy aircraft’ or ‘there’s an aircraft’ or something I never, I never left the map, I was, you know, concentrating on the map, making sure that we were on track.
CB: And you could do that perfectly well from the co-pilot’s seat could you?
PB: Yes, yes. You could see pretty well. Yes I didn’t, I didn’t very often get down in the bomb bay until as I say, until we’d got right near the target, and identified the target. And the target was, each target had its code name, which sometimes was a lovely audislamp [?] and sometimes seemed to be a candle [laughs] yeah.
CB: And, er, it was only in the later part of the war that you had the walkie-talkie link?
PB: Yes we only used it once and that was getting on for the end of the war in the South of France.
CB: Yeah, so apart from that, how were you identifying your target when, say, the outside visual, immediate visual distance, so at twenty miles how would you be getting close to be sure that you were on target?
PB: Well you, you, you got as near as you could until you saw the fires or the lights, and erm –
CB: ‘Cause we’re in the dark aren’t we?
PB: Pardon?
CB: We’re in the dark all the time.
PB: Oh, well [emphasis] it was moonlight –
CB: Moonlight.
PB: And believe you me, flying sometimes like ten days each side of the moon, full moon, it was almost like daylight.
CB: Oh, right.
PB: And once they could hear you coming, and it didn’t take much to set fire to these bonfires –
CB: Mm.
PB: Or to have a light and flash the light –
CB: Mm.
PB: And they were always, you know, downwind, upwind, wind was – and there would be three of them, a hundred metres apart, and at the downwind end there was someone would be there, with a bit of luck it would be a nice audislamp [?] and if you were a bit unlucky it would be a dodgy flashlight [emphasis] which would [pause]. But it was remarkably [emphasis] efficient actually. I don’t know – I suppose somewhere along the lines someone could find out what the percentage of successful drops were, but I think they were fairly high.
CB: Mm.
PB: I’m not sure but I think I missed – I could do it now if counted them, but I think out of thirty I think I missed the target about six times.
CB: Mm.
PB: And as I said, two or three of those were in Norway, and that was, that was –
CB: Mm. Very difficult.
PB: Really horrendous [emphasis]. Flying over that snow, it was very difficult indeed.
CB: Erm, how often was the aircraft attacked [emphasis] during your operations?
PB: We were very lucky, we were hardly attacked at all. Very [emphasis] lucky indeed, I mean – in fact I think, I think you’ll find that if you were attacked you’d usually had it, because there’s no way of bailing out at that height.
CB: Mm.
PB: So I mean you’d – and if you’d crashed you’d – like this squadron leader chap, flight commander, I mean he hit a balloon cable the story is there –
CB: Mm.
PB: And he was, I think all the crew was safe [emphasis], but erm. If you were actually shot down at that height there was very little chance of [pause], yeah.
CB: But it was quite difficult for the night fighters to get down to you because their radar wouldn’t work against you close to the ground.
PB: No, no that’s [coughs] their radar?
CB: Yeah.
PB: No, no their – and of course unfortunately our radar [laughing] didn’t work when we were close to the ground.
CB: Mm.
PB: But –
CB: And did you have Monica?
PB: Hmm?
CB: Did you have Monica to test, to check if anything was following you?
PB: Did we have –
CB: Did you have the Monica receiver?
PB: No. No, we never had them. No, all we had was G.
CB: Yeah.
PB: And, and just on the one trip we had these things called S-Phones.
CB: Mm.
PB: But they only operated about something like fifteen miles away from the target –
CB: Mm.
PB: And it was a walkie-talkie thing, and then it had red and green and you could home in on the red and green [pause]. Yeah I personally don’t think there’s enough credit given to the resistance, I mean when you read of – you see that, what was his name, the armaments boss of Germany?
CB: Oh, Speer [emphasis].
PB: Speer.
CB: Mm.
PB: And he said that, erm, many more attacks and Germany were finished.
CB: Mm.
PB: And yet –
CB: Particularly after Hamburg.
PB: Yes, but you see I never – I, I, I’m a great admirer of Churchill, but he was a politician, and I’ll never [emphasis] forgive him for what he, his action [emphasis] he took after the Dresden raid.
CB: Mm.
PB: Now, I’ve got the official history of the RAF, three or four volumes of it, and it’s all [emphasis] tabulated there, letters and memos and things, and Russia wanted Dresden bombed [emphasis on last four words]. And they told Churchill and Roosevelt they wanted Dresden bombed. And Churchill said ‘yes, yes, okay.’ And the chief of the air staff did as he was told, and they said to Harris, Bomber Command chief, ‘we want you to bomb Dresden.’ Now it’s documented [emphasis] that Harris said ‘there’s no point [emphasis], absolutely no point, it’s civilian [emphasis] sort of population and it’s a lot of rubbish to say that’s it’s a complication of troops coming,’ and for two weeks he stalled, and then – I’ve got all this in print [emphasis]. And Churchill said ‘look, if you don’t do as you’re told you’re out.’ So he was an officer, he did as he was told and bombed Dresden. Within a short while, I don’t know whether it was days or weeks, days I think, Churchill was up in parliament condemning the raids on unnecessary civil populations. And of course, another thing which I won’t forgive him for which is all the same thing, was that he never gave Bomber Command a campaign medal.
CB: Mm.
PB: I mean, there was the Italian campaign, there was the Burma campaign, but never [emphasis] Bomber – I got a clasp, I got a Bomber Command clasp [coughs] a nice fibre [?] campaign [laughs] clasp.
CB: Did you get your French Legion of Honour?
PB: No, no, never got that. I never said I deserved it, I don’t think I did anything more than what hundreds of other people did. But I do think that the French should, perhaps they have done, honour the French Resistance more, I think they – and I think our government should have recognised the French Resistance, definitely. I mean there’s a story, one of the stories I remember – I used to read a lot of war books after the war, and there was a great big unit, regiment or something, from the south, and because of the French harassment, the resistance, Maquis Resistance. They took not days but weeks [emphasis] to get up to Normandy, and they, these things aren’t recognised [emphasis], you know, there’s –
CB: Mm. When you got to the end of your tour of thirty, how did you feel?
PB: [Pause, laughs]. Believe it or not, I applied to carry on with the squadron that were due to go out in the Far East [laughs]. I must have been mad [laughs] I think, I must [laughing] have been mad. But, my, my pilot as I say, he had a bit of clout, and he stopped on, on the squadron when it changed to Lancasters, and he got a job as an instructor, or a coordinating chap, but my, the present, the flight commander at that time, he asked people that were in the know, our bosses, if I could go as his bomb aimer but they wouldn’t let him, they said ‘no, he’s done his thirty ops and that’s it, he’s finished.’
CB: Mm.
PB: Tony Darsefton [?], and I read after the war that he was killed in a civil air crash. He became a civil airline pilot and was – I saw in “The Telegraph” obituary that he was killed.
CB: Mm.
PB: But, oh life is full of ifs.
CB: What would you say was your most memorable point about your RAF service?
PB: Most memorable [emphasis] point [pause]. I can’t answer that, you know, I, I’d have to have an hour to think about that I think. I suppose it must be when I did my last op. I suppose it must [emphasis] be really, to think that I’ve – and then again you see ,the war when I finished was nearly over, so I’d got every chance of surviving the war. Sounds melodramatic but, erm. But one never, one never actually thought about dying or getting shot down or anything, or, if you – I mean one or two friends [emphasis] were killed, but a lot of them were ships [?] in the night, ‘oh hasn’t that one returned tonight?’ and that sort of thing, you didn’t, you didn’t know too many people intimately.
CB: And after the war, did the crew keep together, in touch?
PB: Well [coughs] the short answer to that is no [emphasis], but, erm, I did have one of my, the mid upper gunner, dispatcher [coughs] he came to my wedding, and the rear gunner, he came and brought his little daughter, but it didn’t last long, just the one visit.
CB: Mm.
PB: And there were two squadron reunions I went to, but I’d grown so away from that sort of life and the majority of people that I’d met from the squadron were sort of used car salesmen [both laugh], and I just, I just lost touch with them really. And I lost touch with my actual crew members, even the one that came to my wedding, and the one that came and visited us when we were both married and had children.
CB: When you were commissioned just after the pilot, what effect did that have on the social events of the crew?
PB: None at all. No, I mean, I was still a Christian name and we were Christian names, and – in fact, erm [laughs] to get commissioned I was called into the, well not called [emphasis] in that sounds a bit haughty, but I was, called, well called, I can’t think of any other word, to the orderly room and they said ‘oh your commission’s through’ [CB laughs]. I said ‘oh, okay, what do I do?’ They said ‘oh just report to the, the officer, the mess officer’ or something, so I went up to the officers mess and said ‘oh, commission,’ ‘oh yes,’ they said, ‘this is your room now,’ and [pause], I don’t know, but I mean, I just took my, I was a flight sergeant, I just took my stripes off my battle dress and put the ring on my shoulder [laughs]. And I was fortunate that my brother [emphasis] his uniform was at home, and I was easily, it was easier to go home for me from Tempsford in Welling, to Welling, and I used his uniform, and I went to my tailor in London, and I had my uniform made by my tailor, you know, who made my suits and things.
CB: Mm.
PB: An, but that was being commissioned [emphasis]. I mean the, I think the naval and the army people will be horrified [emphasis, laughs]. As I say, one minute I was a flight sergeant and the next minute [laughing] I was an officer.
CB: Mm. And was the navigator also commissioned?
PB: Eventually yes.
CB: But not then.
PB: No he was, he was [pause] – he must have been commissioned when were on the squadron. Oh I – he was about three months after me, that’s right, ‘cause I was commissioned probably in about the August [emphasis] of forty-four.
CB: And the engineer?
PB: No, none of the others were commissioned.
CB: Right.
PB: And again [emphasis] I don’t – you see, as a pilot, navigator and air bomber, you were automatically a flight sergeant after twelve months. But I don’t know whether the air gunners were or whether they have to do – I think they had a bit of a hard task, you know, they probably had to wait a couple of years.
CB: Mm.
PB: I don’t know how long you were between flight sergeant and warrant officer. Might be twelve months, or – but I was never a warrant officer, I was, I went from flight sergeant to –
CB: Rigjhy.
PB: And my pilot [emphasis] of course one day he was a flight sergeant, on the next day he was a flight lieutenant [emphasis].
CB: Oh.
PB: Acting flight lieutenant. Well, not on the next day but within a month certainly.
CB: Mm.
PB: But he was never a pilot officer. I think he was a flying officer from flight sergeant and then a, then an acting flight lieutenant.
CB: Why would that be do you think?
PB: Pardon?
CB: Why would that be?
PB: It was a pilot’s Air Force [laughs].
CB: Now, Tempsford was a wartime constructed airfield. What were the facilities like?
PB: Very good really, very good. I mean, as a, as a flight sergeant I think there was just our crew in the Nissan hut, there might have been a couple of crews. But when I was an officer, I was given a room with this chap I mentioned before, who had the injection and – in a house called Hassles. And it was a country house which the group captain lived in, and he entertained a lot of these important agents, and we had a room, ooh I think it was bigger than this room, with twin beds, above the stable block. And the group captains batman [?], we shared a batman [?] and we shared him part time, and he used to give us the odd gooses egg from the group captains [laughs] flock of geese. But it was very comfortable, it was a bit bigger than this room I think, very, very comfortable.
CB: Hmm. This is about eighteen square.
PB: I think this is [emphasis] about sixteen square, yes, I’m not sure but yeah, it was bigger than this room. Bit, bit bigger than this room and it was very comfortable, and we had – it was about a mile away from the ‘drome, and the, erm, this – he was made the flight commander after Rosswell [?], no after Watson moved onto to – Watson followed Rosswell, and Watson was 161 Wing Commander and got killed, but the chap that followed Watson was Tony Darsefton [?], and he used to live out at Hassles, he had a separate room, and he used to give us lifts in and it was, we’d always be able to get RAF transport if we had to go into the, well we had to go in. But it was, the discipline [emphasis] was almost non-existent, it really was. It was very laid back, but we did our job.
CB: The aircraft went of individually presumably, rather than in pairs or more?
PB: Well, well you couldn’t [emphasis] – I mean you couldn’t, obviously [emphasis] you couldn’t have a mass briefing because you’d have on the squadron alone you might have twenty different targets. I mean each flight consisted of about twelve aircraft I think, and twelve crews, but of course they weren’t all on the same night, but erm, but it was a very [emphasis] exciting time, and of course we got a lot [emphasis] of leave, we got a terrific amount of leave. We used to get I think it was something like ten days one months and six days the next. I was always [emphasis] home. And you used to get, as an officer, as a pilot officer, you used to get a first class travel warrant. In fact it didn’t apply to me, but most [emphasis] of the people [coughs] lived [coughed] up north, they used to put an aircraft on for what’s called a night flying test [CB laughs]. And they’d take them off to York or Scotland for their leave, and then lay on an aircraft to pick them up [emphasis]. Bloody selfish I suppose really [CB laughs], but it was done, I mean they –
CB: Mm. And they could have flown you to Biggin Hill.
PB: Hmm?
CB: And they could have flown you [emphasis] to Biggin Hill.
PB: Yes [laughing], yes I’d have more job to get from Biggin Hill to Welling [both laugh] than from Tempsford. The train was very good from there, yes. Very –
CB: Final –
PB: Very exciting times and –
CB: Right. So what was the most exciting thing do you think?
PB: The most what?
CB: The most exciting [emphasis] event that you had.
PB: In the Air Force? [Pause.] I don’t know.
CB: ‘Cause they were all exciting.
PB: Erm, some of them were boring. I mean the, the trips to Norway, I mean they were five hours there or so and five hours back, they were very [emphasis] boring. And we didn’t have any television or – I suppose we could have got the radio, I don’t know, never tried, but – they used to give us wakey-wakey tablets.
CB: Mm.
PB: I don’t know whether they worked or not –
CB: Benzedrine.
PB: Hmm?
CB: Benzedrine tablets.
PB: Was it?
CB: Mm.
PB: I don’t know whether they worked – I never, never gave them a chance to work. We used to do as we were told a lot. Not always, as I say I got into trouble for oversleeping. You see, going – is this on?
CB: Mm.
PB: Oh perhaps I –
CB: Go on.
PB: Well you can cut it out if you don’t want it –
CB: Yeah.
PB: This, this engineer, flight engineer, he wasn’t [emphasis], he’d gone to flights, and he wasn’t affected by our absence from flights when we went up to Sheffield, and yet you’d have thought he’d have said ‘ooh my God that’s my crew, I’d better go and wake them up and tell them that’ – I don’t know, very strange. But he was a real loner [?][emphasis] sort of chap, you do get them I suppose –
CB: He was the only one married, was he?
PB: He was married.
CB: He was the only one of the crew?
PB: No [emphasis], no, no the wireless operator, wireless operator air gunner was getting on a bit, he might have been twenty-eight or something [CB laughs], he was married with a child, yes.
CB: So you returned from an operation, and had a debrief.
PB: Yes.
CB: How did the debrief go?
PB: Erm, very simple really. I mean you’d – we had to fill out air bomber – one of my jobs to fill out a weather report. Mostly, obviously, the only thing you could report was well, fog I suppose, but was the cloud formations and different heights, and in those days I, I knew what the cloud formations was. I can’t say I do now. And what interference we had, erm, whether, whether it was easy to find, whether there was a good reception or whether it was a terrible reception. There were lots of stories – one story that floated around, I don’t know how true it was, but I think there might have been two crews, but there was one crew that went to this target, and they flashed their identification but it wasn’t quite perfect [emphasis] for some reason, and they thought that they’d best to not drop their load. I thought ‘this is a bit suspicious,’ and after several attempts this signal didn’t come through clear, I mean if it was dot dash dash dot they’d get the dot dash and then they might not get the dash dot. So they decided to bring this stuff back, and – this is rumour [emphasis] as I say I don’t know how true it was, but the story was that these resistance were surrounded by Germans, and every time they went up to, you know, press the signal, they were shot and killed, and if they’d have dropped the containers they would have stood a good chance of putting up a resistance. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, you got all sorts of things.
CB: Mm. Could have worked all ways.
PB: But the stories that are true and I’ve read in a couple of these resistance books – I used to get a lot of books after the war. And it was terribly [emphasis] laid back, gosh [emphasis]. In some cases there was a chap that was dropped, and he went to his safe place and the thing is you don’t walk in and rap on the door and say ‘hello, I’m here,’ you sort of observe the place and, and sure enough he kept an eye on it and it looked safe. So he went in and they said ‘oh come in’ in English you know, ‘come in,’ and they were talking in English [laughs] and he was absolutely flabbergasted [emphasis] at the lax security, but –
CB: Did you ever get to talk to the agents, you were dropping?
PB: Yes, yes. We had – on several of the drops we had an agent that had just come back, and he would give you a few tips, I can’t remember what they were but he could have told you that so many miles south west of the drop there was a German fighter unit or an AK-AK battery or something, which you know, did prove very useful.
CB: Mm.
PB: We did – yeah we had quite a lot of – and sometimes they were a bit of an organised talk by an agent who to tell you what was going on, but of course the tragedy was, I think it was the Dutch [emphasis] – don’t know whether you’ve heard of this, but the Dutch resistance was penetrated [emphasis] –
CB: Mm.
PB: Did you know this?
CB: Yep.
PB: So I’m, I, if I tell you –
CB: Go on, keep going.
PB: I’m only repeating –
CB: No keep going, keep going.
PB: Well as far as I know, they have a call which if they don’t use it, the signallers, then they know that they’re captured. And this signaller, he didn’t use his call sign, and the chap the other end he said ‘oh he’s just forgotten, don’t take any notice,’ and there was one chap at Baker Street which was SOE headquarters, who said ‘I don’t like this at all’ but he was more junior, and they said ‘no,’ you know, ‘everything’s alright don’t worry.’ And unfortunately they were just pitching agents right left and centre into the hands of the Nazis.
CB: Mm.
PB: And it wasn’t until sometime afterwards that they closed the whole circuit down.
CB: Mm.
PB: I, I never did do a trip to Holland.
CB: Mm, tragic.
PB: It was, it was infiltrated.
CB: Now you talked earlier about your later contact with Bletchley Park. To what extent were you aware of any contact while you were in 138?
PB: Was I [coughs], sorry, was I –
CB: Aware of contact with Bletchley Park?
PB: None, none at all. Well, funnily enough, the only contact which we had, and I didn’t realise the significance of course, but when I met my wife up here at this officers mess which would have been about April 1945, they’d imported a lot of Bletchley Park girls, and these two girls were standing by the fireplace there, and a friend of mine said ‘they fancy you,’ and I said ‘oh don’t talk such nonsense,’ you know, I said ‘go on’ I said ‘you’re a lady-killer, you go and ask them for a dance.’ [Laughs] so he went over and he came back and said ‘no they want to dance with you.’ I said ‘oh well you don’t know to treat women.’ So I went and it happened to be my future wife, and erm, I said, you know ‘would you like to dance?’ And they said ‘well, we’ve got the tip that the food’s coming up,’ course my brother-in-law’s, you know, here, the chap that was escaped from POW. So, but that’s how I met Stella. But what, who I thought [emphasis] was a girl, civil servant from Bletchley Park was actually Stella. But that’s the contact I had with Bletchley Park but I didn’t know exactly, I just thought they were evacuated civil servants, but, we didn’t, we didn’t know an awful lot to be perfectly honest. I mean, I met a chap in Rotary, I went to a, what do you call it, a district do, and this chap said he lived at Sandy, I said [CB laughs], ‘oh’ I said ‘I was stationed at Tempsford,’ he said ‘ooh were you?’ I said ‘yes,’ he said ‘well,’ he said ‘do you know, when your aircraft flew out they used to come found and padlock all the telephone boxes.’ I couldn’t really see the point of that but he assured me it was true. But it’s – they never, the Germans never attacked Tempsford. I’m sure they must have had some clue about it, they must [emphasis] have done. But, they, they never attacked Tempsford. They did have one huge raid in about March I think it was, in forty-five, and it was really like, like picking cherries off a tree for them. Because they sent a whole lot of fighters and they followed the bombers in as they landed and they were absolutely sitting ducks and they did do a lot of damage that particular time.
CB: Mm.
PB: But they never actually singled – as far as I know they never singled out Tempsford at all.
CB: Mm.
PB: You never know what dealings went on in war. There’s so much going on. I mean it’s a well known fact that we were dealing with Sweden and Germany were dealing with Sweden, and [laughs] you know it was sort of like this.
CB: After you’d finished your tour you went to the OTU, so how did that –
PB: Up here?
CB: Yes. So how did that work? What did you do there?
PB: I didn’t like it to start with, I didn’t like it a bit. But of course I met Stella shortly afterwards, my wife, and that made life very agreeable. I spent most [laughing] of the time playing tennis down here. But far as the work was concerned it was very good because I did a lot of flying instructing, I didn’t do much ground instructing. To be perfectly honest I didn’t know much [laughs] about the ground. I couldn’t very well say ‘when you get over the target you do this’ [laughs] because I didn’t know. I didn’t know anything about main force bombing.
CB: So you went up with the trainee crews in the Wellingtons?
PB: Erm, only with an instructor pilot. I never went up with just a trainee crew. I went up – sometimes on the cross countries where there was a bombing attack afterwards or a, what do you, a bullseye [emphasis] they used to call – where you went to London and you took an infrared photograph of the target. But I don’t think I ever flew with, with a trainee crew there was always an instructor pilot with me.
CB: So what were you doing as an instructor at the OTU?
PB: I often wonder [laughs] ‘cause I couldn’t tell ‘em how to operate the bomb site. Erm, I don’t know, it’s just one of these things that, you know, you’ve got to have an instructor. Well I can understand having a pilot instructor. To a certain degree I can understand having a, a navigator instructor, but why you need an instructor to, to – ‘cause you should know how to use the bomb site on the ground before you fly up. They had, I forget what it was called now, but the bomb site that I trained on was called a setting bomb site. A very, very primitive thing which you set the course, the air speed, and told the pilot to fly on a certain course, and a certain speed, and you dropped the bombs and they were miles [emphasis] away [CB laughs]. They really were miles away. Well I don’t know about miles but – the story, there’s one story which was round, going around, and this Polish [emphasis] crew, and you did a – last trip you did was a cross country, and you ended up from an OTU, a training point of view, you ended up in the Severn or one of these bombing ranges and you dropped a couple of five-hundred pound bombs [emphasis], and the story is that this Polish crew went up and they said ‘to blazes with this, we’re not wasting this on the sea’ [CB laughs] ‘we’re going to take this off to France.’ Have you heard?
CB: No.
PB: And the – I don’t know whether it’s true or not, but the story is that they went off and they dropped their bombs over in occupied Europe. And I think they got told off a bit but they were Poles, and I met several Poles and they were great people, really great people, really were. And good pilots come to that.
CB: I think we’ve had a good run, thank you very much.
PB: Well I told you a lot of –

Collection

Citation

Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Peter Bellingham,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 19, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/1571.

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