Interview with Ernie Patterson. Two


Interview with Ernie Patterson. Two


Before joining the Royal Air Force on 4 February 1942, Ernie worked as an apprentice joiner. On being called up he went to RAF Blackpool for training, which included Morse code. Following training at different places he then attended the advanced flying school. After travelling to RAF Abingdon for crewing up they trained on Whitleys and then Halifaxes. From there they went to RAF Downham Market to train on Pathfinders. Ernie was transferred to another crew, to replace their wireless operator who had been killed. When flying, members of the crew each had a ration of six boiled sweets, a handful of raisins, a packet of chewing gum and a block of chocolate. He explained about dinghy training. Ernie remembers an operation when they had a recall to bomb Osnabrück; another squadron did an operation to Nuremberg and lost 95 bombers in that one night. The crew did a daylight operation on Nuremberg and they were escorted back by two Mustangs. Ernie remembers buying a Morris Minor from a colleague and describes the mishaps he had, due to its poor brakes. Ernie met his wife at a dance at the Corn Exchange in Wisbech. His son was born while he was posted in India. He had 350 flying hours in Lancasters, 250 of which were operational. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal a Pathfinder Award Badge. At the end of the war, he was offered a commission but didn’t take it as he wanted to return to civilian life.




Temporal Coverage




01:08:37 audio recording


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 and


APattersonGE190126, PPattersonGE1901


BE: So, this interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre, the interviewer is Beth Ellin and the interviewee is Mr Gilbert Patterson. The interview is taking place in Mr Patterson’s home in Darlington on the 26th of January 2019. Joining us is his daughter Catherine Hodgson. Off you go!
EP: Me? Well I was accepted into the RAF on the 4th of February, 1942, and prior to that I was helping to build aerodromes such as Middleton St George which is a bomber station and the satellite to Middleton St George which was Croft, that was, and from there I was called up into the RAF and the first place I went to, where everybody went to, was Blackpool and it was there that I was trained and learned to do Morse Code which was, I’d been accepted for. And we, it was all done in the Winter Gardens and all the teachers were ex GPO instructors and they were the ones, and there you had to get to ten words a minute and you got tested four, six, eight and ten, and if you failed any of them on the way to ten, if you, you sat it three times and if you sat it the third time you’re out.
BE: So you passed.
EP: That was, that was, the first thing you were doing all the foot slogging and everything. The Marks, I always remember the Marks and Spencers was where they kept all your documents. We used to do a guard duty on ‘em, two, two hours on and two hours off and we’d march up to somebody’s back street they’d stop outside somebody’s garage, they’d open the garage door and it was full of rifles and that was where we had to get, we were issued with rifles then and we did rifle drill on the Promenade at Blackpool. We were there about three or four month and we used to do PT on the sands, and the next time we went from there would be a ground wireless operator, place called Madley and from there we went, the next stop was Yatesbury where I trained to be air wireless operator and from there I think we went and we did a, I went to gunnery school up at Evanton and trained to be an air gunner as well, but I was never in the turrets on operations. Am I doing, is this all you want? And that was at Evanton up in Scotland and from there, that’s where we got our three stripes as a sergeant and we marched to the RAF marchpast when we’re on the passing out parade, I always remember that, but it’s hard to remember where I was. Then after that we ended up at, I forget what is was we were at, it was at, I think we ended up at an advanced flying unit where there was sprog navigators and sprog wireless operators and we had instructors with us on this at the advanced flying school, and from there I went, I don’t know I went to there first, after the gunnery school, and we ended up crewing up which was at a place called Abingdon and it was there that you all crewed up and you were all put in a hangar and you had to pick your own crew. You once told you were flying with them, you picked your own crew there. And I think we flew from there, our first time I was flying and their satellite was called Stanton Harcourt and that was where we flew in Whitleys. Then from there we went from Whitleys up to heavy unit on Halifaxes, at Rufforth, that’s near York, have you heard of that? That’s near York, and from there, we were, when we graduated from there we were recommended for that we could have either gone to 10 squadron in Melbourne which is main force or we could have gone to Downham Market on the Pathfinder and we plumped for that. See we, that was our dealing with us then, we could have gone there and got the chop, but this, we got to Downham Market. At Downham Market I was there a month [emphasis] before we went on operations and prior to that we had been training for five month as a crew, you know, before we got on operations, so when we got to Downham we were training on Downham Market for five, for four weeks before we got on operations which was after D-Day and it was there that I crossing the runway to do a DI on a bomber I found a horseshoe which is now over the back door in my kitchen and it were on every bombing raid I went on that, that horseshoe. Look. No kidding that.
BE: And were there other things people had, in the plane that were for superstitions?
EP: Pimpernel.
BE: Well, yes.
EP: We got, there we were issued Pimpernel aids. Have you heard of that, eh? Have you heard of it?
BE: Tell me.
EP: That comb on there, I’ve got it, show you, it’s got a compass inside it: that was one, they were called Pimpernel aids. Then there’s also you know the clip on the pencil which navigators had, you know the metal thing that goes on with the blob on the end, that was another one, you could stand it on the end of the pencil point like that and the blob on the end pointed north, this was in case you got shot down, help you to find where you were and which way to start walking.
BE: And the trees. South.
EP: And we went to lectures to see, they showed you pictures of places where you could get shot down and to give you extra idea of where you were and the only thing I learned from it was that the longest branches of the tree point south, [emphasis] that’s the only thing I can ever remember of it! Not that you could do – but we didn’t need any of them – but also you could have pipe which navigators, a pipe, you pulled the stem out the pipe and in the end of that stem there was a bit of cotton wool there was a compass in there! That was in a pipe and you could have a pick whatever you wanted. And you could also get a pair of buttons, which you put on your trousers and if you could pull them off and turn the buttons round like that and there was a pin on one end and there was a dot on the other one and it would point north, that was another helping to find you, where you were. Have you been told this before?
BE: Not, in an interview, no. It’s really interesting.
EP: Right. That was another way of finding, if you needed, to find your way back. But as it was, that was, as you know, main force you did thirty missions, then you went on to, you go as an instructor somewhere, then you go back and do another fifty. But on Pathfinder Force you had to do the fifty, cause you had all the latest gadgets for navigating and they didn’t want you to leave, so you had to do fifty trips on Pathfinders, if you didn’t make it. Now as we went on to, with us being recommended, lots of crews would go on to Pathfinders that were already on a squadron and they’d done ops, but when you go on to, I suppose this happens on a squadron anyway, well if you hadn’t done any operations and you get on to the Pathfinders, your pilot goes with an experienced crew – I bet you’ve known this before cause they’ve told you - and they fly with another crew to show him what it’s like before he takes his own crew. Well what happened on our, with us he did his second, call his second dicky, and he, cause and he and the two navigators who had already done, he’d done thirty trips, we, they were taken off and posted away, cause you had to be good as a navigation team, that was the main thing on a Pathfinder crew, and with him doing his second dicky we only did twenty nine the rest of the crew and that pilot and the two navigators weren’t making the grade as far as Don Bennet went, he was the boss of Pathfinders, and they were posted overnight and I don’t know where they went, but that left us all spare, the rest of the crew. We’d all done our twenty nine. Well I got on to another crew that lost their wireless operator. Apparently they’d been at the same stage as us, well you know what they were doing, and apparently they’d been shot up over somewhere and they were on two engines coming back to this country and he was heading for Woodbridge, emergency landing strip in Surrey, and on the approach he lost another engine and it crash landed. They all got out bar the wireless operator, he was killed and I took his place.
BE: And his name was?
EP: And his name was Jimmy Crabtree. I think he was from Rochdale, I always remember that, and I think he was an ex-police cadet before he joined the RAF. I always remember that.
BE: And what happened about his sister, writing to you?
EP: And his sister, once she got all his belongings and that, there was a picture of me in it and I’ve got a picture of him somewhere, and she said I hope you have better luck than what Terry did. That was from his sister.
BE: You’ve still got the letter?
EP: Eh?
BE: And you’ve still got this letter.
EP: And I’ve still got, I haven’t got her letter, I’ve got his photograph.
BE: His photograph.
EP: That was that time. Then what was the next thing? I got in with this crew and after that we were top dogs after that. We lost the, I was this wireless operator, and towards the end, I’ll go back to when, when you’re on a Pathfinder Squadron you’re not all marking the target, you know what the Pathfinders did, don’t you, you marked the target, but lots of you, you didn’t all mark the target you went as a supporter, you supported, supported the ones who were marking the target. Anyway when you get to be, you were selected to be a Master Bomber and you were a Master Bomber as you get, first there you were marking the target, you find it and marking it for the bombers and I can always remember the calls, the callsign was Portland One and it always reminds me of a bag of cement, I used to say. And as I said you’re first there and you’re orbiting the target, directing operations to where the TIs and marking the target and the skipper’d tell, speak to all the bombers who were listening out to you, and you had to, and time was the main thing. You had to be there on that minute so that you didn’t bump into one another: there was lots of people lost by that. Where the TIs went down off marking aircraft, being a Master Bomber you’re circling and you’ve got a deputy going round with you, and you’d be wherever the target indicators were going down and cascading on to the aiming point, see we’d marked the aiming point and you tell them if you weren’t on the target, the Master Bomber would tell all the bombers to bomb to one left, or to one right or to the cascading red greens or whatever to go, he’d maybe tell you to ignore the bomb the fading green TIs and bomb the red ones, so that’s what the Master Bomber did. When that raid was over the skipper would assess that raid whether it was successful or not and me as the wireless operator, he’d tell me and I used be in touch with this country before any bomber got back, with that information. And he’d say if that wasn’t a success, said we’ll be coming here again. [laughs] That’s what a Master Bomber did, and I can still remember our base callsign was Off Strike and the aircraft was called Cut Out. I can still remember all that. And I’ve got a, I’ve got a thing in the garage now, and it’s got all the callsigns of all the squadron on a piece of lino, [emphasis] which were, and it’s written in chalk and I’ve still got that chalk on that lino from 1944.
BE: Wow!
EP: It’s in my garage now. Nowadays there’d be some sophisticated computer to give you, give ‘em all information like that.
BE: What about the bombs and people getting killed with the wings getting chopped off?
EP: Oh aye, and on a daylight you think you’re the only ones in the sky when it’s dark, at night time, and on a daylight raid when you used to go, you had to watch if you were getting bombs dropping from an aeroplane that was above you: knocking wingtips off, knocking rear turrets off with the gunner still in it – it happened all the time, but.
BE: What about when you used, with the coffee and trying to get through the plane?
EP: I was in charge of six, a flask six coffees in, to me, I called it creosote. I’ve never drunk coffee ever since, it was that terrible and I used to have to go down to the rear gunner with a flask of coffee and emergency oxygen bottle and you had to slide down on there you couldn’t just walk there, you were all over the sky avoiding flak and searchlights and all that. And I can remember, with being on the Path, you had what they called an H2S, which the second nav, you see we had two navigators. The second navigator operated this H2S and it was like a gadget you could see through cloud with it, onto the road, and that was why, with very little of it, we were the first to get it and you could see the ground. I’d just go back to rear turret, bang on his door, he’d open the door and I’d take the top off flask and give him, straight into his mouth and he’d break a lump of ice off his lung, off his exhaust thing on his mask and give it to me and I’d take it back up to the front and I’d throw it on the navigator’s table and the next day when I went to do a DI on that bomber it was still there but it’s smaller. And that was, that was one of the trips. And in that there were six flasks of coffee and they were all breakable so you can imagine they all did get broken, you’d just get the case off the back of your truck, and you’ve got a packet of rations and in it was six boiled sweets, handful of raisins, packet of chewing gum and a block of chocolate. Have you been told that before?
BE: No.
EP: That’s what we got for the rations.
BE: What did you eat when you landed?
EP: When you landed we got egg and bacon, and chips. And they was all rationed in civvie street, we had a ration thing for it. But we had three, I’ll give you three stories. This particular day, when the army couldn’t take Osnabruck, right, if you remember that was one of the places, and we were on, if you weren’t on missions you were on training and I can remember when we’d go on a cross country run that was for the navigators and meet up with the fighters somewhere, exercise for the gunners or we’d end up over the Wash to drop the, for the bomb aimer to practice dropping smoke bombs that were called ten pound smoke bombs. And what fascinated me, and still does, when the skipper talked to the ground, tell them that we were going to start bombing, the target was in the Wash, you used to have to tell ‘em what height you were at, they used the word Angels, right, Angels Five, you were at five thousand feet, you were ready to bomb the site, that sticks in my mind, what a lovely word: Angels Five to describe your height. I always remember that. [laughs] Anyway, this particular day, we, and I had to, me, I had to contact base every half hour in case there was a recall and this day there was. We had to get back and it was to bomb Osnabruck which the army couldn’t take, they were having trouble getting it so we had to go and soften it up, but the thing was, when we got back and we were briefed to where we were going and we went straight away, whereas as a rule, they take, once you know where you’re going, they take you out to the bomber and you’re kept there for an hour, an hour and a half, before you left but this raid was very important for the army. We took off straight away, but when we got in the aeroplane, we found it weren’t full up and one of the ground staff they left it to another lad to put petrol in and he didn’t and we were ready to go out to take off. The flight engineer, that’s him there -
BE: His name?
EP: Harry. Sitting next to me on that picture. Harry, his name was Harry Parker, but his real name was John Henry: that’s him, and that’s him. He said we haven’t got enough petrol to get us there and back skipper. And the skipper said we must have, he said how much have we got and he, the navi, he tried to work it out – the flight engineer – and he said well what was in, it’s not enough to get us there and back and the skipper said we go and we’ll bale out over France!
BE: Coming back.
EP: We got out to take off, got to the end of the runway, he turned on and went on to another dispersal, broke RT silence and I said about that we had no petrol, cause we were, otherwise we would have had time to sort that out, but we could have taken off straight away after being briefed. Anyway, what happened, but navigation leader and had to talk with the navi, they came in a bomber and they were all taking off to go and he, you know when you go to a target you dog leg, you never fly straight there, did you know that? You fly dog leg, that way Jerry’s guessing which way you’re going by doing that, and he has his fighters on a certain place and you don’t go there, that’s how we used to fox the fighters. And he said we’ll have to cut that leg out and that leg out and take off at such-and-such a time. By the time they got the bowser from the NAAFI, one of the NAAFI drivers got the bowser, that’s the thing that carries the petrol in, hundred octane it is by the way, not what you could buy, this was hundred octane, by the time they got him down there, to fill and to give us enough petrol to get us there and back. He said well -
BE: Somebody came, someone came on the plane.
EP: We cut that leg out, we’re going to be taking off at this time. And he said well, the joke that’s coming, he said in the end, we set course fifty minutes late: they were all well on the way by then. And in the end the skipper said well we’ll cut all the legs out, we’ll go straight to the target, and one of the navigators, Buddy, he said we can’t go, bloody suicide going that way, and the skipper said well we’re going, are you coming with us? That’s the line and somebody said I might as well, got nothing better to do. That’s true story that.
BE: Very, very brave.
EP: We went straight, and that was the highest we ever got, we used to bomb at about nineteen thousand feet all the time, we were up at twenty three thousand feet that day and I was always in the astrodome. You know what that is, don’t you, the dome and inside that was a piece of bullet-proof Perspex in that in case you were attacked, we had to do that, and that particular day we were at twenty three thousand feet to try and avoid some of the light flak, or flak, and all of a sudden there was about half a dozen bursts of flak on our tail. Straight away the rear gunner shouted flak skipper: dive! And he put the aircraft into a dive and I were looking in the astrodome and I could look back and you could just imagine they were reloading and firing, and they burst and we were split second in front, away from it, if they’d been a bit nearer they’d have hit us. But we dived out of the way but that’s what happened and do you know the feeling when you’re last to go to bed you think somebody’s behind you, that’s the feeling I had. You could see all these flaks burst right behind, follow you, you could see, following you down like that, you could see where we’d been but anyway where these things gone off. Anyway, we managed to get there in time we did what we had to do and that was it. That was at one of the raids.
BE: How did they check the dive?
EP: Eh?
BE: How did they check the dive?
EP: Oh that was on Nuremburg that was.
BE: Oh right.
EP: D’you want another story? Right, we did a daylight on Nuremburg, do you know on a night raid we lost ninety five bombers, did you know that? You didn’t! Well you, we lost ninety five bombers: Lancasters, Halifaxes in one night, [emphasis] You didn’t know that, well you should have done. The lads must have told you that. I wasn’t on that raid though. And there was twelve crash landed in this country which were write offs, but that was the most we ever lost. Anyway, we did a daylight raid, that was a night raid but we did after that, being in the forty five we did a daylight raid on Nuremburg and we were on the first to drop ours and we got walloped and the aircraft, affected the ailerons or something, we went into a dive, and Harry, he told me he had his back up against the pilot’s control and he was pushing the control stick back with the pilot and it eventually responded and he levelled out so he came round, the raid was over, they’d all, they were all gone and on their way back home to England and we, he came round, just dropped the bombs, and he eventually turned round, tried to find our way home and all of a sudden these two fighters we thought were coming for us, and when they come along, I could see the mid upper gunner waiting for ’em, he was ready to have a go at them, they were coming and they were Mustangs, you’ve heard of them, haven’t you. Have you? American Mustangs, well they flew right along, escorted us back, and there was one on each side of us and this feller at this, on the starboard side, he had his hood back, coloured lad, and he was smoking a Havana cigar, let the smoke out. That’s a true story. [Unclear] They were based over there somewhere.
BE: You had no engine power, gun power, is that right?
EP: That was another time, that. Anyway, when they left, from out of nowhere what came alongside? It was a Spitfire! Where the hell he’d come from? He followed until we crossed into the Channel area and he broke away as he was based over there. That was another story. Are you interested?
BE: Very interested!
EP: And that’s what happened to him. Do you want another story?
BE: Definitely!
EP: I think, we were briefed to go to Leipzig and our second navigator, he was a Russian Jew, his name was Boris Brezlov. He came from Russia with his grandparents and the name was Breslovski and they cut the ski off the end and they called themselves Breslov, anyway he was doing his chart, in flying control and he could sense somebody standing behind him, and he said the waiting [unclear] to go and he said don’t stand there behind mind, bugger off somewhere else and at that this arm came over his shoulder with all the bloody gold braid on it and he seen it and it was Don Bennett, Air Vice Marshall, but he was in charge of the Pathfinders, and he said, and he expected to be taken outside and shot. Said only RAF to tell an Air Vice Marshal to bugger off! That’s another story. True story that, yeah. But, er, is that enough?
BE: If you would like to take a break, we can take a break and come back in a bit.
EP: We’ll take a break.
BE: So we’re just coming back from a little bit of a break.
EP: Well this first pilot I flew with his name was Jack Harold, and he had a car, a Morris Minor, and with him getting posted, he came into the billet, he says anybody want to buy a motor car? And I said to him Jack, yeah I’ll have it, how much you want for it? He says twenty eight pound. And I said to him I said well I’ll have it Jack no intentions of driving and I’ve still got, I went into out Downham, into village, and I borrowed, I took twenty five pound out of me Post Office Saving book, what I’ve got in that drawer over there, and I had three pound in me pocket and that was the twenty eight I give him for the car. And the very first time we all three of six of us went into Downham Market in it and it, what happened, I found the brakes weren’t very good so the next time, before I went the second time I went in the car and I found I’d have a job, and they were all cable brakes and not like they are now, and I of course, clever me, I just thought I’d slacken them off meself and I put, and we got in it and of course when I took off I’d tightened them too much, and they were getting really hot and hubs of the wheels were red hot with binding, they was stretching acting as a brake, I couldn’t hardly move so we stopped and I could see all the hubs of the wheels were red hot so what we all did we did, we had a pee on the wheels to cool ‘em off. True that. Yeah. We did.
BE: [Laugh]
EP: We got back in and went the rest of the way and back without any brakes at all. I managed, I slackened them right off. I thought I’d adjust them by tightening them and we found that all brakes on cars you could hear ‘em when you tune up, you can hear ‘em catching. That’s how they should have been. Cause I slackened them right off and we went the rest of the way there and back without any brakes. And that was where I used to go to what they called the Corn Exchange in Wisbech and that was where you had all dance bands in there, that’s where I learned to dance and where I met my wonderful wife. In the end eventually she used to phone me up in to the mess, at times there weren’t allowed any outside calls come in, security wise, and you know you never seen anybody with cameras, they were taboo, you weren’t allowed cameras but she used to phone me every day and if I wasn’t going to see her on the night I used to say to her how did work go down this morning and when I said that she knew I wasn’t going to see her then on that night. You couldn’t, there were times when they wouldn’t allow outside calls coming in. That’s how security was, when you, like you see on here you talk about. That was it. You never went anywhere. What’s next?
BE: Octane, hundred octane fuel for your car.
EP: Anyway, we got a shop in the village, I managed to salvage one of the lad’s, we had water bottles and a bag that fit it to put it in, and I managed to salvage that and I got three of these bottles and they just went snug into this bag and I used to take them out to the ground staff lads out that, where the bomber was based, but sometimes they only had MT petrol, was a lot less than hundred octane. But course you know they used to, with the petrol that the ground staff lads had, they used to clean the nacelles, you know where the nacelles are on the bomber, it’s where the wheels go in to and they used to clean the engines nacelles with the stirrup pump and petrol in the bucket and pump it away inside the bomber where the wheels go and one guy used to fill these three cans for me with six pints with petrol what they used to clean the engine out, and he’d put it in and leave the bags in the back of the car, he’d, after I’d filled the tank up with that six pints he’d get it after he’d had his dinner, he’d go back to the bomber and he’d put, he’d fill ‘em up again and he’d come back and he’d fill it up again, and that’s a gallon and a half for the night out and I used to pick him up and the six of us in the one car and that. That was very naughty, you aren’t allowed to do that. But we also had FIDO and it used ninety thousand gallons an hour and it used to disperse the fog, you know on the side of the runway. There was only two bomber stations that had it at the time and we were one of them.
BE: So what did you do when you went out with your crew on kind of leave time and your relaxation time?
EP: Leave.
BE: What did you do with, you say you’d go to the Corn Exchange?
EP: That was what we’d do of a night time, it was where a dance bands, that was proper dancing in those days, quicksteps, waltzes and all that, you got a lot of excuse-me dancing there, and that was where I met the wife and she was in the Land Army, have you heard of the Womens’ Land Army, and she was on a shilling an hour, five p an hour, that was her wages for her that. And you know me, as a flight sergeant, do you know what my pay was, sixty two and a half pay, that’s twelve and six a day, that was my pay, a shilling of that was danger money, that was right, sixty two and a half p a day. Now when I left school in 1936 and went to be apprentice joiner, my pay were twenty seven p a week: that was the pay. In those days you could buy a three bedroomed semi-detached house for three hundred and sixty five pound!
BE: Did you mention Newcastle airport?
EP: Then with me being a joiner, I was, when the war started 1939, all building work stopped and I ended up, before I went into the RAF, I ended up working at Middleton St George which was a bomber station weren’t it, and Croft was a satellite to it and I worked there and from there I was called up and went in back to where, you know where I started off with this going to Blackpool. That was when I started.
BE: When did you go to Newcastle Airport?
EP: That was, as I say I was working at Newcastle Airport, it was called Goosepool before, that was it’s name. I can remember when I was a young lad I used to go and meet me cousins that lived near the airport, and we used to go bird nesting where it was Bomber Command, took off from there, and that was there. I can always remember I was working in one of the village for the future crew, soldiers and all was gonna take it over and the army was having a practice, a display, one lot was chasing the others and they [unclear] down to some aircraft flying nearby and some of these soldiers came through these billet holes I was fixing a doorway in and on the frame of the doorframe there was a strap to hold the frame together when you fixed it, and I was stood, what amused me was, one of these, one of them, you know the red the red army banners on and ran through one was being chased by the green lot of soldiers, they was practicing whatever, and he tripped up over this blinkin’ lath and he just dropped, he just fell out of the aeroplane and they were chasing, chasing and he tripped over this lath. [Laughs] He gets, the man said get up and he runs off. I didn’t dare face him anymore, I had to turn away. That was, that was before I went into the RAF, all that. All a long time ago.
BE: What about the characteristic of a Lanc take off.
EP: Did you know that the Lancaster has a pull to port on take off? Did you know that? She knows it.
BE: Tell the story though, be great.
EP: No, but this is it. The pilot had to juggle with it. That’s why we had eight in the crew. There’s two navigators, one was, one of them, the proper navigator, he was a lecturer in zoology at Reading University before he went into the RAF and the other one was, I told you, Boris Brezlov and he came from Russia with his grandparents, and he used to operate the H2S, the gadget we see through the floor.
BE: Their names, Graham Rose, their names?
EP: Graham Rose, he was the navigator, but you wouldn’t think he was on a bloody bomber here, cause I sat here and he sat there, and Boris sat there and I used to stand up and look through the astrodome, cause I got good marks, one exam I had I had excellent night vision, eyesight, this was part of it, when we got near the target he used to shout over tannoy get in that astrodome Pat, that shows I had good eyesight, keep me eye open for fighters, but the thing was you don’t fire at them unless they fire at you. This H2S, do you know what, it was all see through cloud, you could see the ground and now and again you’d get the navigator telling the pilot to tip his wing like that so that he could send the bloody radar to check how near another city was, used to check his and you wouldn’t think he was on a bomber raid he was that involved, with his, every five minutes on his chart was a little diamond track, and he was on course all the time and this is why I put it down to how we get away with it: we were in the right place at the right time. A good crew they were. And we all kept going until we all did, some did about fifty four trips, we all kept going till we all got our fifty in and that. And that, the first crew I was with, we seemed to get more, and out of all the fifty one raids we was on in all we lost two hundred and seventy five bombers, that was, I kept a check of it, and I got three hundred and fifty flying hours in Lancasters alone, and two hundred and fifty of ‘em was operational and I never got the defence medal because I wasn’t, I’d got to do three years non-operational. You see on the phone they said you only did two, they had tabs on you all the time, you only did two and I was still training, that was two training with the crew before I got on ops. And I always remembered, if I’d been in the Home Guard or the Fire Service that would have counted, all the time I was building aerodromes before I went into the RAF, so they could have taken that into account, couldn’t they? That was better than being on Home Guard, that’s what it was. And I can still remember our callsigns, I may have told you this anyway: it was Off Strike: base and Cut Out for the aircraft, and you more or less got your same aircraft all the time unless it was getting a service and that. Wonderful aeroplane, the old Lancaster, wonderful. We had a squadron of Mosquitos with us, you know what, there was about eight, seven or eight Mosquito Pathfinder squadrons during the war and biggest part of them was Mosquitos and we had a squadron of Mosquitos and they originated from Thornaby, which is just up the road, and they could take off with a four thousand pound bomb if the bomb doors weren’t fully closed. I’ve got, show you some pictures. Pull it back. This was, is it still going? This was our, my last raid on Heligoland.
BE: Oh, wow!
EP: That was there. Read the bottom of it, tells you the height we were at and everything. And that’s the raid we did on Nuremburg where we had a bit of hiccup there.
BE: They’re amazing.
EP: That’s all bombs leaving the bomber. Yeah, there was a four thousand bomb following all that.
BE: That’s incredible.
EP: That’s, that was from our own aeroplane. Yeah. This is my log book. Just look at that front page. You see what you can read on the right hand side. Read all the places I was at. We were on that one sunk the battleship von Scheer. German battleship, we were on that raid.
BE: Amazing. The red and the green and the black means different things.
EP: The red’s night time and the black’s daylight bombing raid and the green’s the daylight raids. You see Admiral von Scheer. Now my very first trip was on Stettin, you know where that, that was Poland. Eight and a half hours airborne and it wasn’t put, we went there a few times. On one raid we went up, we came over Norway, over Sweden, down into Poland. Eight and a half hour trip it was, and one time this pilot was listening out on his radio, and Sweden was opening fire, they weren’t trying to hit you, and you’re listening out and they said: ‘you are flying over neutral territory,’ you know, you shouldn’t be doing that, and pilot said, ‘we know, anyway coming back don’t open fire again.’ This pilot answered: ‘you are three thousand feet off target,’ [emphasis] and they answered them, said, ‘we know!’ They weren’t trying to hit you, they were just warning shots. True story that. That’s something to read that, that’s just that one, that’s the last page and that says, [pause] I was awarded the DFM, you know what the DFM is, don’t you, you do! Distinguished Flying Medal. I got twenty quid with that when I got demobbed! Yeah. It’s worth about four thousand pound now. And also, you get me that pen over there, all of that, all that. I’m going to show you some of my proud possessions. Being in the Pathfinder Force, you had to have a permit to wear them, to wear the badge, the gold badge. You could be pulled up, you could be pulled, that was my pilot, you could be pulled up by the Military Police if you were wearing it. Lots used to masquerade and weren’t entitled to it and were pulled up, and this was a permit I had, that was a permit I had to wear it, signed by Air Vice Marshal Bennett. You read that.
BE: That’s amazing! Awarded Pathfinder Force Badge, 23rd of February 1945.
EP: And that, not until you get permission from him, and that’s it, that’s one of my proud possessions.
BE: It’s amazing.
EP: Are you reading it?
BE: Yeah.
EP: You soon read that! And that’s the skipper, the second skipper I flew with. He died in 1990.
BE: His name?
EP: DSO, DFC he got. We all got decorated.
BE: His name.
EP: Eh?
BE: His name?
EP: Alex. That’s his book there look. There’s his name, there’s his book.
BE: Alex Thorne, DFC, DSO.
EP: That’s him there, he was top, a hell of a bloke, hell of a pilot. That’s what I put it down to, my idea, the navigator was the main one. He went, took you over the right spots, but and those, because cameras weren’t around get the very full pictures you get now. All the pictures you see and that’s his book. And that was at the Nuremburg raid. You can see the craters, see all the bomb craters on that one.
BE: Yeah, it’s amazing.
EP: The garrison see, flattened it. and we go on about the Germans, Germany did to us. We got nothing in this country to what the Germans got. The damage we did was out of this world to what, to what they got. Terrible. I thought that was sad, the damage we did. But er, if you want to read that after.
BE: Do you want, about the dinghy training?
EP: What?
BE: Dinghy training in Blackpool.
EP: What was that?
BE: About the training you did in dinghy training. If you came down in the sea and the aids that were on it.
EP: Well that’s it. You remember the comb? There’s the comb with the, with the compass inside. Can you see, if you look, you can shake it you can hear it at times. Can yer?
BE: No, I can’t.
EP: Can you [unclear] see there’s something inside the plastic, in there. Turn it over, there’s a compass in there.
BE: You would not know.
EP: Eh?
BE: It’s very clever. You would not know.
EP: Yeah, you just break it. Used to say you had two pins, two buttons you could sew on your flies, I said you put them on your trousers you’d pull them off to see where to go and your trousers would fall down. I used to crack on about that. But that’s all the page that. When you’ve finished doing this you can read that, but that was one of my proud possessions. You put it back did you? Was that. That was a permanent award. When I got demobbed you got, it was called a gratuity. It’s called redundancy now when you get, you finish work, in those days it was called gratuity, I got eighty two pound for all that and I got twenty pound for me gong, but now with all the memorabilia, with my DFM, me Pathfinder Certificate, that thing there, and me mate and all that: it’s worth two or three thousand quid.
BE: Amazing.
EP: And she kept them, my, in that, it’s all in that cabinet over there. I made that cabinet.
BE: It’s lovely.
EP: What else, pet?
BE: This was about the dinghy training and you used to, how you would detach from the plane and the training in Barrow-in-Furness
EP: Barrow-in-Furness, I don’t know how we go there. But the thing was you had to put all this flying gear on, what someone else had been training on it, it was all wet, trying to put it on and in turn you had to jump off the high dive, into the water, into a dinghy and one of the exercises was: the instructor there, he’d turn the dinghy over and you had, in turn you had to jump in the thing and try to get on to your knees into the round part of the dinghy and a couple of rubber handles on the bottom like that and you got to lift, don’t you, you’re right underneath it aren’t you and all the rest of the crew there would be in the water waiting to get in it and they’re all going get in it and you’re underneath it, [unclear] all get in it [laughter].
BE: So if it came down in the sea what was it equipped with?
EP: Inside of it? I was in charge of a portable tele, transmitter. The handle was folded up and also you’re tied to the bomber, in the right, into the starboard wing there was a plate there and on the inside of the aircraft if you know you’re coming down in the sea, channel, you pull this cord and it inflates the dinghy in the wing and blows this panel off and then you’ve got to get out of the aeroplane and get into the dinghy before it goes down and there’s a knife in there in the socket, you’ve got to cut the wire, if you didn’t it would pull you down in the water wouldn’t it so you’ve got to cut yourself free and make sure you’re all in it, and that’s how and this portable wireless that I was in charge of, what you’d to do you’d just connect this handle and crank it and it sent out SOS on a continuous note so they could take a bead on you, see where you are. I don’t know whether it worked or not, but that was what the job was, this portable and it was covered in about six inches of foam so it wouldn’t sink. And did you know the wings, the petrol tanks on the Lancasters, it’s got about six inches of foam round on about six petrol tanks. You take off two of them, and then you use the others and when you take off the two you landed on and they’re covered in six inches of foam, in case you get hit with flak, of course it’ll seal it again. Once you get, I only ever saw two fellas ever bale out of a Lancaster, they was all in the stream, bomber stream and they were on fire and I only seen two get out and it still kept going along with us, till eventually got away. But I’ve seen aircraft get a direct hit in the air and it just explodes. Pretty terrible, awful sight. Don’t know they’re born now. And do you know what, I don’t get a penny pension for what I went through. You don’t get nowt. I came out A1, if I’d come out wounded I’d have got one: I don’t get any pension.
BE: What about the dispersal, when you landed in fog and you followed a vehicle on the runway.
EP: The very first trip I did with this second pilot, we went to Merseburg and we lost a lot of bombers that night. And coming back it was that foggy where we were based, was working, and it was all, technical aircraft that they landed there, yes I, I had to listen to Group headquarters and the message was to all us bombers: we were diverted to Ford down near Southampton. I always remember that, and we were up at ten thousand feet, and the women, who were controllers, they were marvellous, their voices, women, they used to handle it, bring aircraft down wherever they were at, and you would get an aircraft calling up permission emergency to land short of fuel and someone ill on board and it would er -
BE: You landed, and a vehicle.
EP: And when you do land, you land and all of a sudden a little fifteen hundred weight van would nip in front of you and big words would appear on it: follow me and you would follow him somewhere then and when you get where he switches the light off and he goes and gets another aeroplane. Then the next day you had to go find, there was that many bloomin’ aircraft on the ground it took you ages to find your own aeroplane, course they all look alike on the ground, don’t they. Yeah. And coming back right, we were at the lowest I’ve ever been, we were hedge hopping all the way back. You know what hedge-hopping is? That’s what it means, hedge-hopping.
BE: Tell me.
EP: You used, rather tricky, you come down, had to take down to at least a thousand feet. We were just keeping low to get back, we were that low I couldn’t use the radio to tell them that we were coming home.
BE: What’s hedge-hopping?
EP: That was it, that was called hedge-hopping.
BE: You mentioned about when you checked the plane after you’d landed for the holes.
EP: That was the first trip, more action, you walk round the bomber, with, you all had equipment, to count all the holes you got in there, I can remember the flak used to go straight through the aeroplane you know, no problem at all. I can remember getting out of my seat to look at the astrodome and then when I went to sit on it again I put my hand on my seat to steady me down and there was hole, a bit of flak had gone through there. I wasn’t sitting on it at the time or it’d have gone right through!
BE: Lucky.
EP: That would have made your eyes water wouldn’t it. [Laughs]
BE: It would!
EP: That was it. Was a wonderful aeroplane. Three hundred and fifty flying hours in one and three hundred, and two hundred and fifty is operational. My longest trip was eight hours and fifty minutes, in the air, all at once. You take on oxygen all the time.
BE: What was the time you had a go at flying it?
EP: Oh aye, skipper give me, I had a fly of the bloody thing, you know. He had the automatic pilot in and I sat in the seat and the radome switched it back out back of that and you can feel your nose going, you pull your nose back and when you’re done and you feel going over like that and you pull that back you should go up over you go to pull that down, and the navigator Boris he comically said now try using your hands. [Laughter]
BE: Not your feet! What were the tests where they clipped your column?
EP: When they were testing for night vision tests. There was four of you sat round this thing in front of you and you all had a screen each and so you wouldn’t go forward to see what was, and they’d send a silhouette picture of a German aircraft, you had to identify what make it was and how far away it was. Cause guns we had were only effective at four hundred yards. Did you know that? You didn’t did you? They were Browning guns and they were only effective at four. And so that you wouldn’t cheat and lean forward they used to fasten your coat to the back of the chair, so you couldn’t go forward. Then at gunnery school we were, we were firing air to ground. There was a mixture of tanks, well there was the tanks on the ground and what we’d do, we’d take off, these were in Ansons, a different type of aeroplane, you fly down England, go to the targets were there, and this, with an instructor gunner and he kept saying hold your fire, you know I thought, and you go down - this was right on the edge of the coast where you would see - and you’d fly out to sea, turn round, come in and you come this way your guns would be on the other side then wouldn’t they, coming down there and he kept saying hold your fire and you’d come on and come on and you’d go out to sea at that end, turn round come back, he said this three or four times. I said what am I keep holding my bloody fire for? Then all of a sudden coming along there I heard the word fire so I let go and I was firing all of me bloody guns at target I could see the bullets ricocheting off all off ‘em all over and between the short bursts I could hear him bawling, ‘what the hell you doing? Can’t you see those bloody fellers putting that gun right?’ I just stopped in time or I’d have hit some of them, they were putting something, doing something to the model and that’s why he kept telling me hold your fire, they weren’t ready to be fired at, and I just heard, I just, all I heard was the word fire so like I just let go! Any more pet? [Laughter]
BE: The recent anniversary, at the unveiling of the Canadian pilot at St [unclear] George’s Hotel at Teesside Airport.
EP: This is only four or five, four years ago.
BE: Yes, but this guy that sat next to you how that came, and he had a silk worm.
EP: Well we had a Canadian Bomber come on the squadron, didn’t we, you know that, and it based at Middleton St George and I got chatting to this fellow, he flew from there and he -
[Other]: [Unclear]
EP: He had a caterpillar on his lapel, you know what that’s for don’t you? For using the parachute, the lad was saved with a parachute. You know and I’m chatting to him and apparently I was on the same raid as him that was on Hannover, not Hannover, Dortmund, and he was, I was, we lost fourteen bombers that night and he was in one of them, and I showed him, anyhow I pointed out in my log book and he was on that raid and he was there, that same night that I was on the same raid as him and I was down in Norfolk and he was flying from Middleton St George.
BE: And he was taken prisoner.
EP: And he was taken prisoner, weren’t he. He was, he was, good time he had as a prisoner. This is my proud, that’s it, and he didn’t have his log book because when you got shot down they take everything and you never see them. Well I’ve still got mine and anything in the papers mind I check it with this. You see that page there? It shows you Admiral von Scheer, there was a German pocket battleship, the Admiral von Sheer, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, that was three of them and they were all German battleships, they all got sunk you know. Our lads, hell of an aircraft, the Lancaster. I was thinking of buying one and I keep it in the garden.
BE: What about the story when you were demobbed and were sent to India?
EP: Oh, after the war I was recommended for a commission though after, be the same time we got a fortnight’s leave and we had to go back to the squadron and I, we decided get married and I got a wife and a fortnight’s extension of leave. And the [unclear] seven days granted you only got seven days, you had to go back. But this particular, we finished flying they give me seven, they give me a fortnight, and course while I was on leave at home I was bloody posted to another Pathfinder squadron and I never got me commission.
BE: It’s still out there waiting.
[Other]: Aw!
EP: I was a warrant officer.
BE: Where were you sent to in India?
EP: So instead of that, if I’d have taken a commission, you know when you get a commission in the RAF you get discharged and you’re brought in as an officer with a different number and you’ve got to do at least twelve month. But the war was over, I wanted out so I didn’t pursue it. I was going to pursue it, and it had gone a month, they’d mislaid it so I didn’t bother, I wanted out. But they sent me, I still ended up out in India. A place called Korangi Creek, near Karachi, I ended up out there. I was out there about ten month.
BE: And Keith was born, your son.
EP: And Keith was born there.
BE: No he wasn’t. He was born whilst you were out there.
EP: While I was out there. He was seven month old before I saw him. Nowaday they let you sit by their bed when they have babies, in the services. I tried to get out of it by reporting sick, it was the only time I ever reported sick in the RAF, had a hell of a cold, I’ve still got it, the same one, Friar’s balsam in a basin, with a towel over your head, breathe over it, you’re going to India and I still went out there. I ended up in flying control out there, in charge of flying control and it was there where I got a trip in a Catalina. That was a flying boat. But it -
BE: The incident with the boat and the paddle and you nearly died.
EP: We used to go fishing on the creek. If we caught anything we used to give it in to the mess, the sergeant’s mess. And this particular day, we took this little boat fishing and we couldn’t get back into put to shore because we, the current carried us out into the Indian Ocean. And do you know what the paddle was made out of? A lid off a tin of paint on the end of a brush and trying to get back and that and in the end the bloody launch takes, sees the aircraft, the Catalina’s off: they came to get us. But that was it.
BE: But how? How did you do it? How did you [unclear]
EP: I lifted it up, I just flicked it like that, and it flashed awhile on the shore and they saw it and they came out to get us, they knew we were in trouble. And when you get off the little boat off the creek onto the land, it’s like opening the oven door, it was that hot out there. Terrible.
BE: About your flying boots and your ammunition.
EP: Oh aye. With the flying boots we had on, when we went to squadron they issued us with a 38 revolver. We used to have to go on this range they had. In those days you used to fire like that, nowadays it’s like just two hands, isn’t it. You couldn’t hit anything with that so I brought the thing out and they used to give you a packet of ammunition. I used to empty the packet of bullets down my flying boot, so if I’d baled out the buggers would have dropped out wouldn’t they! [Laugh]
BE: What was the laminated thing you had if you came down and you had to say in Polish?
EP: We went, the Russians were and we had a, first time I’d ever came across plastic. We had a plastic thing round our necks with the union jack on it, and we had to say something - we are British airmen or something - and of course with the second navigator come, he knew Russian, he’d come, originating from Russia, he said, if you said it like what we had to say he said if we said it like that we will shoot you. [laughs] Couldn’t get your mouth round it, in case you had problems you’d be easier to fly on than land in Russia, come home. Long trip we did, like Kiel, some hot spots going over there. I can remember was a Mosquito squadron where we were and it landed was in daylight and we were going on the same raid as them, give ‘em a hand, and he said the flak’s that thick you can put your wheels down and ride across on it! [Laugh] Always remember that. Course they’re a wonderful aeroplane. You know that we were losing that many aircraft bombing Berlin, I wasn’t on any of them, I wasn’t qualified by then, we were losing so many they stopped going to Berlin as early as March 1944. We lost seventy bombers on the last raid on Berlin, but the Mossies were going, they could get up to thirty five thousand feet, they couldn’t reach ‘em and they’re the ones that carried the war on on Berlin, was the Mosquito, that’s a wonderful aeroplane it had this two engines, like the Lanc had four engines. And full tanks on the Lanc was two thousand one hundred and fifty four gallon, that was full tanks and we had six tanks. You took off on two and then you used the others – that was your flight engineer’s job to keep switching tanks for the pilot - and you landed on the same two you took off on, so you knew we had plenty of petrol.
BE: What did you write on?
EP: Eh?
BE: What did you write on?
EP: Write on what?
BE: When you were a wireless operator. You made your notes on something.
EP: As the wireless operator, all your information, frequencies and callsign and people it changed every six, every six hours and so you had to have two lots of information and it was all on rice paper and I used to tear a bit off the end and chew it, just to make sure, you had to, it changed. And I can always remember when the skipper was speaking to the main force, he used, they all had a callsign, and most of the time it was Press On, cause we used to say press on rewardless, and our callsign for base was, I’ve told you this haven’t I, was Off Strike, and you flew in your same aircraft all the time from Cut Out, that was the base call, and I’ve got a piece of lino in the garage now with those callsigns in chalk, still on a piece of lino. Would you like to see that?
BE: Love to after the interview.
[Other]: And what about the reunion mum went to with you in the Royal Albert Hall and Bennett was there and you did a present -
EP: That was the Lancaster Hotel that.
[Other]: Oh right. And you presented Bennett with the scroll.
EP: Oh, that’s right.
[Other]: And mum said there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
EP: Mum went, and Don Bennett was there as well because he was the boss of Pathfinders, and there was dancing and all that. Do you remember Kenneth Wolstenholme what used to be on the television? He was there and he was dancing with your mum, when he met Kenneth Wolstenholme and was it Benson that -
[Other]: It was a reunion, long after the war.
EP: Yeah. Bennett gave a speech to all the lads that, they were all ex-Pathfinder aircraft crew. The thing he said it made everyone emotional didn’t it.
[Other]: And mum said there wasn’t a dry eye in the house and everyone stood up -
EP: That’s true.
[Other]: To acknowledge him. Yeah.
BE: He was our boss. That was where he put his arm -
[Other]: Must have been the seventies, dad.
EP: He was the one that put his arm over Boris’s shoulder, you know, you called, shouted bugger off. Oh, he said, I expected to be taken outside and shot. He said there’s no one in the RAF told an Air Marshal to bugger off! True story that!
BE: Brilliant. Do you want to stop now? Yeah.
EP: Have a cup of tea.
BE: Thank you very much. It’s been absolutely brilliant. I’ve loved all the stories, they were absolutely great. Thank you very much.



Beth Ellin, “Interview with Ernie Patterson. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 17, 2024,

Item Relations

This item has no relations.