Interview with Bill Leckie. One


Interview with Bill Leckie. One


Bill would spend his school holidays with his grandmother in Scotland. He went to St Edward Island in Canada to do a reconnaissance course, after which he went to Harrogate to await posting. He did another course on Chipmunks before being posted to Scotland, leaving Coastal Command to join Bomber Command working on the Halifax. His crew, which joined 77 Squadron at Elvington, were all Scottish. They mainly did operations to Yugoslavia dropping weapons, food and occasionally personnel by parachute. The crew went overseas south of Naples. He was posted to Brindisi and then spent time in Egypt with 216 Squadron. Bill ended his RAF career as a pilot officer and was commissioned while in Italy. Post-war he got a full-time pilot’s job with Airworks before moving to Aer Lingus, flying Boeing 737.



Temporal Coverage




00:38:00 incomplete audio recording


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ALeckieW190301, PLeckieW1901


AM: Right. Bill, good afternoon. How are you?
BL: Fine. Kind of alright.
AM: Right.
BL: Kind of alright. Not that brilliant.
AM: Right.
BL: I’ve just come back from, I had a couple of days with our son and we spent two full days as it were travelling.
AM: Right.
BL: And they took us to one of my old haunts where I used to spend as a young boy on my holidays in the summertime because it’s where my granny lived.
AM: Right.
BL: So I spent summer with my granny down at the seaside. Down in a place called Drummore which is in Galloway.
AM: Right.
BL: It supposedly has the name of being the most southerly village in Scotland.
AM: Right. And it’s called —
BL: Drummore.
AM: Drummore. Right. I know where it is now.
BL: There’s another one in Ireland, Northern Ireland but it’s got a different spelling.
AM: Right.
BL: But it’s still Dromore. Yes.
AM: Right. Let’s check actually.
[recording paused]
AM: Right. I’m sure that will be fine. I’ll put it further over. There we are. Ok. Right. So we were, so there so it was a bit sluggish to fly.
BL: Oh yes. It was but it wasn’t always a fast aircraft, plane but it was nice to fly.
AM: What about the landing in water? What was that like?
BL: Well, it was different to landing on land not that you’re cared of any different but you’re long the floor any period because it was such a long runway.
AM: Right.
BL: But, but you still had a certain distance to land in as I say but most of the landings float landings and again as I say I enjoyed flying. It was, I was sorry I didn’t get on to a squadron. So when I finished the conversion that way and then had to go back up to Canada. Up to Prince Edward Island to do a reconnaissance course. You had to do that as part of your training as a conversion for Coastal Command.
AM: Right. You said a reconnaissance course. Was that in the air?
BL: Yes.
AM: And was that also in the Catalina?
BL: No. Oh no.
AM: No.
BL: We didn’t do any Catalina flying once away from Pensacola.
AM: Right.
BL: That was the end of it. We went on to Stearmans.
AM: Oh right.
BL: And I had to do another course in that way. It was a funny way. A terrible waste of time that was. It took me nearly four years to get to a squadron.
AM: Yes. [unclear] yeah.
BL: I came back then but I came back to Harrogate and I was stationed in Harrogate for I think about six or eight weeks.
AM: Right.
BL: Waiting to get a posting.
AM: And presumably at this stage you assumed you were going to go to Flying Boats.
BL: We were still supposed to be going. That’s why we were being held up in Harrogate.
AM: Right.
BL: Waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting. It was ok but I’d rather have been on and get on. But anyway, it didn’t happen and I did another course and this was on the [pause] I ended up on the early Chipmunks. We went down [pause] Oh, it’s the Central Flying School now. What do you call it down there?
AM: Was it the Empire Flying School or —
BL: Possibly it was, no it wouldn’t be Empire Flying School. It was. My memory is elusive.
AM: And whereabouts was this?
BL: This was still in the Harrogate area.
AM: Oh you’re still in the Harrogate area. Right.
BL: Yeah. As I was —
AM: So it’s in Yorkshire.
BL: Yes. It was all classroom work.
AM: Right.
BL: Until eventually I got posted to [pause] where was it? I’ve forgotten some of that.
AM: Don’t worry.
BL: The next thing that comes to my mind I was posted up to the north of Scotland up to a place called Forres.
AM: Right.
BL: And we had to do flying there. Again, I was in for Bomber Command and lost the Coastal Command. Come out of, been posted out of that and into Bomber Command.
AM: And when you were in Forres what aircraft were you flying there?
BL: When I got to the end of [unclear] [pause] I’ve forgotten.
AM: Was this part of the Conversion Unit to Bomber Command?
BL: I guess it would be. Would be [pause] no, I’ve come to a stop.
AM: So when did you move on to the Halifax?
BL: What?
AM: How did that come about?
BL: Well, that came about after the posting back down south when I was posted to York.
AM: Right.
BL: And from York I stayed around York all the time. I never left 4 Group.
AM: Right.
BL: Because that was the Halifax Group and I was always on the Halifax and I stopped there.
AM: So where did you, where did you join up? Or when did you join up with your crew? And how did you go about selecting your crew?
BL: I can’t remember the name of the place but I think it was probably Harrogate.
AM: Right.
BL: And we just sort of, you know mingled around and you know the lads who were looking for a skipper and I’d be looking for somebody and you’d get talking to somebody. You’d ask them if they were looking for a skipper and I mean if thought to yourself well he would do and the crew, he’s in, and if he said ok well then that was it.
AM: Right.
BL: That was to start you off. You picked your own crew.
AM: And did you have a sort of mixed nationalities on your crew?
BL: It started off that I was going to have, try to get a Scottish crew.
AM: Right.
BL: And I managed to a point up ‘til finding a wireless operator. I couldn’t find a Scottish wireless operator.
AM: Right.
BL: But the age old happened when I finally made my decision on a chap the following day a lad came up, a Scottish lad came up to me to say, Are you looking for a Scottish the wireless operator?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I was up until today.’ And I’d already agreed with the other chap and he was an English chap. Nice chap. I mean I liked him well enough but that would have been the whole crew would have been Scottish and —
AM: Right. That would have been pretty unusual I would have thought.
BL: Might have been. Yes. Might have been. And so my wife, who wasn’t my wife then. We were just engaged. But she bought scarves. Little Scottish scarves there. The Clan MacGregor scarves. And each one of the crew got one.
AM: Right.
BL: She bought a scarf for each of them.
AM: I have to ask you why was it the Clan MacGregor?
BL: Because that’s my Clan.
AM: Right. Right.
I’d accepted the Clan MacGregor.
Right. And everybody was quite happy to wear the MacGregor tartan then.
BL: Oh, I never thought any the [unclear] [laughs]
AM: So, so what was the sort of [conversion paid] with your crew like? I mean presumably you were probably the oldest in the crew. Was that right?
BL: I would say.
AM: Yeah.
BL: I would.
AM: And you must have also been very unusual to be engaged.
BL: Yeah. Well, I’ve, I’d known my wife for, or my future wife when I was seventeen to eighteen and that. She was seventeen and I was eighteen.
AM: Right.
BL: When we first went out on holiday.
AM: Right.
BL: And we just stayed together. I wouldn’t get married. We didn’t get married until after I’d finished. We just stayed engaged.
AM: Until, when you say after. You mean after the war.
BL: After the war. Yes. Right.
AM: Right.
BL: Yeah.
AM: And was that fairly commonplace for aircrew to delay getting married until after the war?
BL: I wouldn’t say it was commonplace. No. In fact, I think it was possibly the other way.
AM: Right. It was what you both were comfortable with.
BL: Yes. We were. My wife was of the same mind as myself. There was no point dead [unclear] the way I was. I didn’t know how long I could last and she would have been a widow. So, but it never came to it but we stayed friends. I don’t know.
AM: So after your conversion period with your crew you went to your first squadron. And what was your first squadron?
BL: 77.
AM: 77. So that was at, was that at Elvington?
BL: It was actually but I only spent about ten days there.
AM: Right.
BL: And we were all moved to Full Sutton.
AM: Right.
BL: To give Elvington over to the Free French.
AM: Right.
BL: The Free French squadron went to Elvington.
AM: Right. So how did you feel about leaving Elvington for Full Sutton?
BL: Didn’t like it.
AM: Why was that?
BL: Well, Elvington was a peacetime station. Full Sutton was new.
AM: Right.
BL: It had just been put up for the wartime so it wasn’t the same. Wasn’t the same accommodation.
AM: Right.
BL: But it was ok. We liked everything else but I mean I preferred Elvington.
AM: So tell me about some of the sorties you flew from Elvington or, or Full Sutton while you were still in Bomber Command.
BL: I feel —
AM: Do you want me to stop it for a wee bit?
BL: Ah huh.
AM: You can have a wee rest anyway.
[recording paused]
BL: [unclear] up to a point I think that was the last flight I did.
AM: Ok.
BL: That was five hours and thirteen minutes and —
AM: Just a wee —
BL: It was a raid. It was just part of a raid.
AM: Ok. I’ve switched it on. Bill, tell me just, tell me just a little bit more about your time on 77 Squadron at Full Sutton and what the kind of operational missions that you did there. What were the main types of target?
BL: Well, according to one that is printed in here they were flying bomb sites.
AM: Right.
BL: The first one I visited was at the forest of Nieppe in France. And the next one again that was the same one. Nieppe, in the same place. That same one. So that was twice I visited that. On the 5th and then on the 6th of August.
AM: And were these day sorties or night sorties?
BL: Day sorties.
AM: Right.
BL: Yeah. They were day sorties or was it a night sortie? Which was something to do with the German Army.
AM: Right.
BL: It was [unclear]
AM: Would that be —
BL: France.
AM: Would that be supporting the invasion troops?
BL: That was on August the 7th.
AM: Right. ’44.
BL: ’44.
AM: Yeah.
BL: And then I did another trip back to France. Back to a different oil storage dump. And the next target was [unclear] There was one on the 9th. The next one was on the 11th. It was the railway repair shops. And then on the 12th I went to a place, a Flying Bomb factory at Russelsheim.
AM: Right. Before you, if the sorties were you given on any briefing on the flying bomb itself and what it’s role was or —
BL: No, we never. Oh no, we knew about the bomb, what the flying bomb was alright but apart from that —
AM: It was just a target.
BL: it was a target.
AM: Right. And particularly on the day sorties did you see any enemy fighters or —
BL: No. I was, no. Not at all.
AM: Right.
BL: No. Never intercepted.
AM: And what about the flak on the night sortie to Russelsheim?
BL: Yes. There was some we had. I don’t know where it was. We went out to the bombing more or less the bombing altitude was high bombed then after we had bombed we made a crash dive to get down to five hundred feet or a thousand feet.
AM: Right.
BL: And came back. Low level flying all the way. That’s what we did.
AM: Tell me before you went on a mission like your last one to Russelsheim what was the sort of feeling like in the squadron and what was the attitude of people like?
BL: I don’t remember.
AM: No. What about your own crew? How did they —
BL: Like myself I think they accepted the fact that it was part of the job.
AM: Right.
BL: We were going.
AM: Right. And —
BL: I mean we’d never hear until we went to the briefing room where we were going.
AM: Right.
BL: We didn’t know the target. So we went to the briefing for it.
AM: And by this stage in the war were you, were you aware of the extent of Bomber Command losses or was it something that wasn’t talked about?
BL: I’d say that we were aware of it alright. Yes. It was because the posting came through to go elsewhere and I was quite happy to go.
AM: Right.
BL: Because I was getting out and being posted overseas. I knew that.
AM: Right.
BL: I was going overseas. I didn’t know when but it just it turned out it was Italy.
AM: And how, how did you find it’s difficult to remember this perhaps but what was the morale like on the station at Long Sutton at this stage of the war? Was it fairly buoyant or —
BL: Well, I would say it was. As I say I wasn’t one for, I wasn’t one for mixing.
AM: Right.
BL: So —
AM: So what, what was mess life like for instance?
BL: Well, it was just you went and you had your meal and chatted to someone or other and you got to know them.
AM: And what rank were you at this stage?
BL: I would be a sergeant.
AM: Right.
BL: At that stage.
AM: And by the way were all your crew NCOs or did you have —
BL: Yes. No, I had no officer crew.
AM: Right.
BL: No.
AM: And was that, how did that compare to the rest of the squadron? Were there a number of all NCO?
BL: No idea.
AM: No. No. I don’t think I would. So I mean the sergeant’s mess was obviously a kind of lively place. Would you —
BL: Oh yes. That’s right. Yes. Well, I mean I went right through from sergeant all the way up to flight lieutenant in the end.
AM: Right.
BL: So that was just the way it worked.
AM: So you said you were selected to leave 78 Squadron and go overseas. How did that come about? Do you remember? Was that a surprise or —?
BL: Oh, it was a surprise. Yes. What it was, it wasn’t a surprise entirely but it was a surprise as to where I went. I didn’t know where I went. It was just it was put on the notice board that there was two or three crews they wanted to go overseas. And I thought to myself well this is just, you know being in the UK and in the bombing stream you were a sitting target all the time and it was, it was danger. As much danger up there from other aircraft [unclear] as from the anti-aircraft so I thought that was kind of a thing. Time to get out of it and get overseas which is what happened.
AM: Right. And did you go overseas as a crew? Did your whole crew go with you?
BL: Yes.
AM: Right. And where did you go to?
BL: Started off in Naples.
AM: Right.
BL: And then we were sent from Naples to Brindisi.
AM: Right.
BL: And that’s where we stayed.
AM: Right.
BL: Until we finished the operation.
AM: Right. And what sort of sorties on the understanding you were no longer technically part of Bomber Command but you were still flying a bomber aircraft. The Halifax.
BL: Oh yes. That was the Halifax.
AM: Right. And what, what were these sorties?
BL: Well, the sorties were just to different parts mainly in Yugoslavia that the partisans occupied for a certain time.
AM: Right.
BL: But they were well within the German lines. Behind the German lines.
AM: Right.
BL: But there was, no there was never much activity in the German lines at all.
AM: And were you flying these as a single aircraft or as a —
BL: A single aircraft.
AM: Right. And what, what sort of things were you dropping?
BL: Oh, mainly ammunition or rifles and food as well.
AM: Right.
BL: General. General supply aircraft so you would.
AM: And were these dropped, were these drops from medium altitude or relatively —
BL: Yes.
AM: Right.
BL: About eight, eight hundred to seven hundred feet.
AM: Oh, seven hundred feet. So that was quite low really.
BL: Oh yes. I had to come down to eight hundred. Even came down to five hundred.
AM: And was this by day or by night?
BL: Sometimes by night but usually if it was by night it would be by moonlight.
AM: Right. Because presumably you had to try and drop really accurately.
BL: Well, yes. You had to do your best.
AM: Right.
BL: It was up to the bombing run really.
AM: Right.
BL: You know.
AM: And this was all in 148 Squadron.
BL: No. No. That was in 77.
AM: 77 Squadron, sorry. Right. And that’s all still in the Halifax.
BL: Oh yes.
AM: Was it the same version of the Halifax that you had flown on as a bomber pilot?
BL: Yes, it was.
AM: Right.
BL: But we soon changed to the, well you might say the Mark 2 Halifax.
AM: Right.
BL: But I did fly the Mark 1 Halifax for quite some time. That was the one with the triangular tail.
AM: Right.
BL: Instead of the square tail.
AM: Right. Ok.
BL: Yeah. And it wasn’t so good for stability.
AM: Right.
BL: Putting on the square rudders at the end when they made the change helped a lot.
AM: Right. And had they changed the engines as well at that stage or —
BL: No.
AM: That same engine.
BL: That came later.
AM: Right.
BL: [unclear]
AM: Right. And as well as dropping supplies and [unclear] did you drop any personnel?
BL: Yes. Joes as called them. Yes.
AM: What did you call them?
BL: Joes.
AM: Joes. Right.
BL: Joes.
AM: And did you have anything to do with them or were they just cargo.
BL: The person who had to deal with them was the chap who was the mid-upper gunner in the original crew. He was a dispatcher. He was known as the dispatcher.
AM: Right.
BL: He did a dispatcher’s course.
AM: Right.
BL: Special area in where these chaps who were coming in and they were going to be dropped you know by parachute so most of them had never done any parachute training you see so they had to be trained.
AM: Right.
BL: And so our dispatcher had to go along on a course.
AM: Right.
BL: A training course because he had to see them out and he was the one who organised them for getting out of the aircraft.
AM: And was it usually just one of these Joes or did you sometimes drop a couple of them?
BL: Oh, we dropped three or four of them.
AM: Right.
BL: Sometimes. Yeah.
AM: Right. Gosh. That must have been fascinating to say the least.
BL: I must say I never actually saw any of them.
AM: No.
BL: You know, the only one, I mean the dispatcher was the one who would speak to them generally speaking but very often they were local people. They weren’t really English speakers.
AM: Right. So they would, they would be Serbs or Croats or —
BL: Aye, could be. But it was the dispatcher who had to speak or did speak with them. None of the other members of the crew were involved.
AM: Right.
BL: And there was only one instance I remember where he talked, the chappie he had been speaking to could speak any English and we knew more or less where we were going. You know, once we had been given a target and it seemed according to this chap we were passing the town where we were going to be dropping this chap and he lived in that town and his wife was still living there.
AM: Gosh.
BL: And there were some lights in the town funnily enough. It wasn’t completely blacked out. And so we were dropping, dropping some on the hillside on a plateau.
AM: Really.
BL: The village he was heading for was down the road.
AM: Right.
BL: Eventually, well not eventually but when we came back [unclear] but they didn’t make it and they complained that we dropped them not in the exact spot. But we dropped them where we were told to drop them and the reason that was given, nothing was officially said but the reason that we got to know about the fact that we dropped them as far as the lad said we dropped him in the wrong place and that was done on purpose because they didn’t want the Germans to know there was anybody down on the ground who could see there was going to be a drop in this area. So that was that. So the actual dropping spot wasn’t known until we were briefed that night to go.
AM: Right. Right.
BL: So —
AM: And did you do any, any drops over southern Germany or —
BL: I couldn’t tell you that.
AM: No. I remember reading somewhere —
BL: I don’t think so.
AM: I remember reading somewhere that you were involved with a drop that took place near Berchtesgaden.
BL: Yeah. No. I didn’t do anything like that. No. We were in the Balkan Army.
AM: Right.
BL: That was all that we were in.
AM: Right. I think somebody said you were involved in this project called, which became the film, “The Monument Men.” Is that correct?
BL: Oh yes. They did portray that. Yes.
AM: Right. So what happened with that? What was the story behind it?
BL: Oh, well it was to do with the Germans had, had captured a lot of stuff. Hitler’s souvenirs or whatever you call it and they wanted to come through. I mean this was at the time when Jerry was in retreat, you know, moving back. And they were supposed to destroy a collection of paintings and one thing, and artifacts and one thing or another which were being held in this area. And the chaps we were dropping they were going down to safeguard these things.
AM: Right.
BL: They were being dropped in the areas so we dropped them in the area and they then made their way down in to the village and I think, I don’t know what really happened after that but they was lads that we had dropped down. They were supposed to be going down to and they were going to take over and [unclear] or something. I don’t know. Something to do with safeguarding these supposedly at the point priceless things that Hitler had, you know —
AM: Requisitioned.
BL: Requisitioned. Yes.
AM: Right.
BL: Yeah.
AM: Gosh. So you finished the war still in in the Balkans flying.
BL: Oh yes. Yes.
AM: Right.
BL: I was posted from there down to, you know Italy. Down to Brindisi.
AM: Right.
BL: And what was lifelike in Brindisi at that stage of the war?
AM: Very [pause] very easy I think. There was nothing much different about it and we sort of in some ways you made your own amusement and whoever your friends were and as I say I was much of a loner. I didn’t go out much at all. So I didn’t go down into the town of Brindisi like some of the lads would go down there and they didn’t know where they were by the time the night went out. I’m afraid that was never my style but —
BL: So what was it like the sort of the day or the couple of days around when the war actually came to an end? What was the atmosphere like?
AM: Well, I wasn’t, I wasn’t in the squadron. I was on 216 Squadron at that time.
BL: Right. So you’d moved on from the Halifax.
AM: I’d moved on from the Halifax. I was flying a Dakota.
BL: Right. And —
AM: And that was immediate.
BL: Right. So you moved before the end of the war.
AM: Oh I did. Yes.
BL: From Brindisi to Italy.
AM: Yes. That’s right.
BL: Right. Right.
AM: So that’s quite a change going from the Halifax to the —
BL: Oh of course. I quite enjoyed that. I did quite a lot of flying in the Dakota anyway.
AM: Right.
BL: Before that.
AM: So when the war came to an end you were in Italy.
BL: Yes. Maintenance.
AM: And you were a flight lieutenant by now. Is that right?
BL: No. I was a pilot officer.
AM: Pilot officer. Right. Sorry. Right. So where were you when you were commissioned? Were you in Italy or in Egypt?
BL: Italy.
AM: Italy. Right.
BL: I think. [pause] Yes. I was in Italy because I had to go across to Algiers to get my uniform.
AM: Right. Was it your uniform was made in Algiers? Your uniform was made in Algiers.
BL: I don’t know about being made there but —
AM: But that’s where you had to go.
BL: That’s where the stores were.
AM: Gosh. So you took an aeroplane over to get your uniform.
BL: I had to go.
AM: That’s brilliant.
BL: As a passenger.
AM: Right.
BL: Yeah.
AM: So how long did you spend in Egypt on 216 Squadron?
AM: I can switch this off for a minute. We can have a wee rest.
[recording paused]
AM: Bill, I know you’re looking at your logbook at the moment but what was the total number of operational hours that you flew?
BL: Two hundred and sixty in round figures.
AM: Gosh. So when you retired from the Air Force you were flying —
BL: I didn’t. I was in the Reserve and stayed on in the Reserve and I would do weekend flying.
AM: And what aeroplane was that on?
BL: That would be on the Tiger Moth.
AM: Right. Right.
BL: Later on I went on to Chipmunks.
AM: Right. Which must have been quite good fun.
BL: Oh yes. It was a much improved. Much improved.
AM: And just to conclude tell me a little bit about the latter part of your life because you went back into professional flying didn’t you?
BL: Oh, I did. Yes. I did. Yeah.
AM: And what did you do?
BL: I was flying the thing it was just a Transport Squadron. Not a squadron. It was a, I was down for flying at the weekends when I first went back having finished in the Air Force as such. But I went to [pause] to Perth and we got there at the weekends and flying up there and did some link work for one thing. And then eventually a staff pilot’s job came up which I applied for and got and that started my career.
AM: Right.
BL: And started flying fully on the full time in Perth.
AM: And which, which company did you go to fly with?
BL: Airwork.
AM: Airworks?
BL: Ahum.
AM: Right. And after that?
BL: That was it.
AM: Right. Did you not move to Aer Lingus?
BL: Oh yes. Sorry. Yes. I left Airwork and went to Aer Lingus. That’s right.
AM: Right. And what, what was your, what was your final aeroplane with Aer Lingus?
BL: The three hundred. The Boeing.
AM: Boeing 737.
BL: The Boeing 737. That was it. Yeah.
AM: Right. And that was your, if you were to, this is a terrible question but if you’d to fly one aeroplane again what would you choose to fly?
BL: What would I choose to fly? [pause] Well, I always enjoyed flying a large aeroplane. That’s what I wanted to do and what I got to do. So I suppose you might as well say the [pause] I think possibly the Dakota would be the aircraft —
AM: Right.
BL: [unclear] to fly because it was a nice aeroplane to fly. Very tricky to land but not much. You could make a mess of it. So, you could. So I’d say the Dakota.
AM: Right. Well, Bill Leckie, Captain Bill Leckie, Flight Lieutenant Bill Leckie, thank you very much indeed.



Alastair Montgomery, “Interview with Bill Leckie. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 15, 2024,

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