Interview with Douglas Arthur Smith


Interview with Douglas Arthur Smith


Douglas Smith grew up in Bressingham, Norfolk. He joined the Royal Air Force in October 1940, at the age of nineteen, and trained as a wireless operator. He joined a crew on Wellingtons at No 10 Operational Training Unit, RAF Abingdon, before converting to Halifaxes at 1658 Conversion Unit, RAF Riccall. In April 1943, the crew joined 76 Squadron, based at RAF Linton on Ouse. He describes their first operation to Germany, the danger of searchlights, and visiting Betty’s Bar in York during their downtime. He recounts a trauma that occurred on the 28th of September 1943, when his crew, piloted by Sergeant Hickman, was shot down on an operation to Hannover, while Smith was grounded due to tonsillitis. He continued operations by filling in for crews lacking a wireless operator, including two trips in support of D-Day, and one emergency landing back at base with a full bomb load. In July 1944, Smith moved to 158 Squadron, RAF Lisset, and completed operations to Le Havre, Dusseldorf, and Kiel. He describes his role as the wireless operator, releasing Window through a chute, and an operation to Stuttgart where the crew shot down two night fighters. After completing thirty-three operations, he instructed at 19 Operational Training Unit, RAF Kinloss, before working as a transport officer at RAF Shepherds Grove until demobilisation.




Temporal Coverage




00:55:43 audio recording


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ASmithDA190219, PSmithDA1901


DK: So, this I’ll just introduce myself. This is David Kavanagh for the International Bomber Command Centre interviewing, do you like, are you Doug Smith or —
DS: Yes.
DK: Doug Smith at his, Douglas Smith, at his home on the 19th of February 2019. I’ll just make sure that’s working. Ok. If I just put that a bit nearer to you. If, if I keep looking over I’m just making sure it’s still working.
DS: Yeah.
DK: So what I wanted to ask you first of all was what were you doing immediately before the war?
DS: Before the war I, I was living in a small village called Bressingham near Diss in Norfolk and I’m the son of an ex-World War One —
DK: Veteran.
DS: Veteran.
DK: Yeah.
DS: Who was also injured during then. And I was born three years after World War One. My family, they’re agricultural people.
DK: Right.
DS: My father was a farmer, and when the war broke out —
DK: I might just come a bit closer to you if that’s ok.
DS: Yeah.
DK: If I move that there. Is it ok if a sit here?
DS: Yeah. Sure.
DK: Yeah. Yeah. Ok. Sorry. You were saying.
DS: Yeah. As I said I was born the son of a farmer and well, you see the real Depression after the First World War.
DK: Do you know, do you know much about your father? What he did in the First World War?
DS: He, yes he was, he was a soldier that fought in the, on the Somme.
DK: Right.
DS: And unfortunately he got injured with shrapnel and had to be repatriated. And as I said from then on I came on the scene [laughs] and a sister. My sister. And when World War Two broke out. I just fancied I’d like to join the Royal Air Force because all youngsters at that time —
DK: Did your, did your father advise against the Army then, did he?
DS: No. He didn’t have anything. To be quite honest my father, I did all this on my own back.
DK: Oh, right.
DS: I didn’t have any discouragement or any encouragement.
DK: So what, what made you look towards the Air Force then? Was there something that drew you to it?
DS: Well, I think, I think the idea of flying.
DK: Yeah.
DS: I mean flying was in, well it was in it’s the initial stages in them days.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
DS: And I think a lot of youngsters. So I just went down to Norwich and enlisted and, and that’s where I started my career, and that was in 1940.
DK: So —
DS: October.
DK: Right.
DS: 1940.
DK: And how old would you have been then?
DS: Nineteen.
DK: Nineteen.
DS: Yeah.
DK: Right. So, what, what’s your first sort of posting then in the Air Force? What did you do first of all?
DA: Well, first of all —
DK: I mean, presumably were you looking to become a pilot? Did you think or —
DS: Well, in the selection board once you, when I went to Norwich to get enlisted, they took all particulars and I went through various examinations, tests and, and they asked you what your background was. And they then suggested that I became a wireless operator although I would like like everybody else to have been a pilot.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
DS: But I was enlisted as a wireless operator/air gunner.
DK: Right.
DS: And then from then on just went through the basic foot bashing stage of the —
DK: Yeah. Is that something you took to was it? Or was it something you liked? Or —
DS: Well, it was quite new to someone who lived in the country and it all came, well I was surprised. But that was intriguing actually really.
DK: Yeah. Can you remember where it was you did you square bashing?
DS: Yes. I went to Blackpool.
DK: Right.
DS: And done all the square bashing there, and after that there was a period when I had to wait for the training to do with the flying side because the square bashing was just a preliminary.
DK: So, presumably this would have been your first time away from home then was it?
DS: That was my first time away from home.
DK: Yeah.
DS: We were billeted in private hotels and in hotel accommodation sort of thing. Then once we’d finished that we had, we all, everybody had to be put somewhere and, while they were waiting for the air training side of the, of the Air Force and I went to, I was stationed at Norwich for a while. Attached to the signals to get some idea because they were [pause] what I had to face eventually because we got with, operating Morse Code and all that sort of thing. And then from then on I was, I went to an Air Gunnery School at Evanton in Scotland to learn all about the machine gunning. What the aircraft would be.
DK: So what was the training like then on the machine guns? Did you, were you taking them apart or —
DS: Well, you had to take them to pieces and —
DK: Yeah.
DS: Know how they operated if you got stoppages and just mainly getting to know. I think that they were, the guns were Brownings I think and just get general knowledge of what you actually might need to handle.
DK: Yeah.
DS: Although my main job really finished up as a wireless operator.
DK: Right.
DS: I never had anything further to do with the gunnery side apart from taking the course. The course in gunnery which everybody had to do. The first aircraft I think I flew was a, was a Botha.
DK: Oh right.
DS: Which was —
DK: Yeah.
DA: A lot of people haven’t even heard of today.
DK: I’ve heard of them. What was that like then? Your first flight in one of these old things.
DS: Well, as I say that was one of the first flights I did. I couldn’t compare that one with any other.
DK: No.
DS: Back then when I first got there. Looking back they were very daunting and they were [laughs] they were not over safe either.
DK: No.
DS: And then once I completed the gunnery course —
DK: Did you, did you do any air to air firing?
DS: Yes.
DK: At that point?
DS: Oh yes.
DK: At the drogues.
DS: Yes. That’s right.
DK: Yeah.
DS: Firing on drogues and I’ve got it all recorded in my logbook there. And, and then after that [pause] let me think. Get this right.
DK: It would have been for the wireless operations.
DA: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
DA: I think I went back to Blackpool again because that was where I had to learn Morse Code and —
DK: Right.
DS: And, and that’s, once again we were billeted in the hotel and guest houses, and our training, the training when we were learning was in a tram shed in Blackpool, and they were all set out for all the pupils to get to know what Morse Code was about. And you had, once you completed your course you had, you had to maintain eighteen words a minute.
DK: Yeah.
DS: Yeah. Once you passed that. And then from there —
DK: Is it, was Morse Code something you found you could pick up easily was it or —
DS: Well, for some. It wasn’t easy. But was interesting and same old double Dutch to start with but I got there in the end.
DK: Right.
DS: Which most of us did. Some of them failed.
DK: And how many words a minute did you have to do?
DS: Eighteen.
DK: Eighteen.
DS: Eighteen words a minute. Yeah.
DK: Right.
DS: And, and then after that I went to Abingdon where I met the, met up with the, where we met up with the crew.
DK: Right.
DS: You know. I went there as an individual. You met up and you formed. You formed a crew which my crew was Sergeant Hickman, and —
DK: And this would have been the Operational Training Unit.
DS: That’s an operational, yes.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
DS: That’s an OTU. An Operational Training Unit and that was, that was on Wellingtons.
DK: So, how did you think that worked with you meeting up with your crew. Just putting everybody together in a hangar sort of thing? Did that, that work out well?
DS: Yes. Well, of course we were, they were all, we were all strangers. We were all experiencing the same, the same problem, you know. Meeting someone for the first time.
DK: Yeah.
DS: But, but you became like a little family in the end because you social, you socialised.
DK: Socialised. Yeah.
DS: Socialised [laughs] rather together and you more or less lived together and as I said you became a family and we were, once we went through all the process of the OTU which meant —
DK: If I just go back to the OTU. What did you think of the Wellingtons then, as an aircraft? Were they —
DS: Well, they were much better than the Botha [laughs] At least that was the [pause] I think the Botha was a, I’m not quite sure if that was a single engine or not, but yeah that was a little step up going to the Wellington but —
DK: And your, your pilots name was?
DS: Sergeant Hickman.
DK: Hickman. Right. Ok. And was he, was he a good pilot?
DS: Yes.
DK: Yeah.
DS: I think so. He was, as I said they all had to pass to a certain standard so I mean, yeah. Yes. They were. He was, he was quite good and unfortunately later on he bought it as we called, used to say in the Air Force.
DK: So moving on from the OTU then what was, what was your next, next step then?
DS: The next step from the OTU was I went to [pause] to —
DK: Was it 76 Squadron?
DS: 76 Squadron.
DK: Yeah. Yeah. Is it alright if I look at your logbook?
DS: Yeah.
DK: Is that ok?
DS: Yeah.
DK: So I just —
DS: To Linton on Ouse. I went to Linton on Ouse.
DK: Right.
DS: The station commander, or at least the squadron commander of 76 Squadron which I joined was Wing Commander Leonard Cheshire who became, eventually became Group Captain Cheshire.
DK: Just for the recording I’m just having a look at your logbook here. It says you were at Number 8 Air Gunnery School.
DS: Yes.
DK: Yeah. And then, then it was number 10 Operational Training Unit.
DS: That’s right. Which was at Abingdon.
DK: That was Abingdon.
DS: That’s correct.
DK: So that’s mostly all local flying and you’re the wireless operator there.
DS: That’s right. Yeah.
DK: Camera gun exercises etcetera.
DS: Yeah.
DK: And then just, then it’s, I’ve then got 1658 Conversion Unit.
DS: Yes. That was after we left, oh yes. I got ahead of myself there. We went to Riccall.
DK: Right. Ok.
DS: Yeah, to convert from the Wellington to the Halifax.
DK: I’m just looking on your logbook here. You’ve got the Halifaxes here. The aircraft serial number. It says BB304 and R9434, W1003, W1168 they were quite early Halifaxes, were they?
DS: Well, they, well they must have been. Yes, because that was, they were they were flying with the Merlin engines.
DK: Right.
DS: In those days.
DK: Yeah.
DS: Because later on we went on to radials. Hercules.
DK: Yeah.
DS: And —
DK: So, what did you think of the early Halifaxes at the Conversion Unit?
DS: Well, we, we liked them. Well, we thought we were going up from two engines to four engines but yes they were. Yes. We got on very well with them. Yeah.
DK: So, it would have been at the Conversion Unit then that you would have been joined by your flight engineer. Did you get an extra crew member then?
DS: Yeah. I thought we had the flight engineer from the start but —
DK: Oh, ok.
DS: I mean we had the gunners. The navigator and the bomb aimer, and as I said —
DK: Can you, can you still remember their names?
DS: Yeah, I might have to refer to it.
DK: Yeah. Ok. We can, we can go back to that later.
DS: Yeah.
DK: Ok.
DS: Well, our rear gunner was Scott. And our navigator was Keene. Bomb aimer was either Pringle or Prangle or —
DK: Yeah.
DS: And, yeah —
DK: So then in looking at your logbook again in April 1943 then you’ve gone to 76 Squadron at Linton on Ouse.
DS: That’s right.
DK: Yeah.
DS: Yeah.
DK: And that’s flying Halifaxes again.
DS: Yes.
DK: And can you remember were they the early Halifaxes again or the later ones?
DS: Yes. They were the early ones.
DK: The Merlin ones.
DS: Yeah.
DK: So, I notice all your flying there is with Sergeant Hickman.
DS: Yes.
DK: As your pilot.
DS: Yes.
DK: And so you say the squadron commander then was Leonard Cheshire.
DS: Yes.
DK: Did, did he make much of an impression on you?
DS: Well, we as young recruits saw, we didn’t see a lot of the commander.
DK: Right.
DS: We just, we just, we had a, I think a section commander. A Flight Lieutenant Ince. But no, we didn’t get [pause] I never really got in contact much with Cheshire but —
DK: Do you remember seeing him there though?
DS: Oh yeah.
DK: Yeah.
DS: I saw him. Yeah. Yeah.
DK: So what was his squadron like? Was it a well-run squadron would you say?
DS: Yeah. Yeah. He [pause] he, in the early days because he flew the Wellington on operations and apparently he brought one back with a great big hole in the side. They said you could get an Austin 7. Yeah. No. He was [pause] no, he wasn’t a character but he had, he was, and actually in later years he turned religious.
DK: Yes.
DS: That’s another story.
DK: Yeah. So, so his, so your crew then there was no officers on the crew.
DS: No.
DK: No.
DS: No.
DK: Right.
DS: No. No. Late in, the navigator was made up.
DK: Right.
DS: As a pilot officer later on but all the others were just, you know sergeants. That was the minimum you were was a sergeant if you were flying. And —
DK: So, I’ve got, I’ve got on here then it looks like you joined 76 Squadron quite early in April ’43 and then would this have been your first operation then? To Pilsen.
DS: Yes. That’s right.
DK: So what, what was it like to go on an operation then for the first time? What sort of happened?
DS: It was quite an experience really and it’s something I don’t think anyone other than the ones who were on these raids could really describe what it was really like. I mean, it was just something like out of this world, you know. There was the German searchlights trying to pick you up. I mean, they had a master beam which used to pick you up, and then a series of smaller searchlights would beam, would beam on you and then, then you were, well yes that was nearly fatal because the Germans used to fire up the —
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
DS: Up the beams and I mean we, fortunately we managed to manoeuvre and get, not get picked up by these master beams but we could see others that were being illuminated with the searchlights and that. Not awful but you could see people, the planes just exploding and, yeah. Yeah, that. But the thing that really amazed you was the, where the bombs and the flares and things were on the towns that we bombed. You could, it was just like a furnace burning. You know, like that. As I said it’s a sight, you can’t describe it to —
DK: No.
DS: To anyone.
DK: Right.
DS: That was, and then of course you had fighters chasing you around. Chasing you. Which were, you had to keep your eye out for and —
DK: Were, you were you ever attacked by a night fighter?
DS: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
DA: Yes. But as you will see later on we shot down, well, we ourselves shot down two.
DK: Oh, right.
DS: Two Jerry fighters.
DK: So, your first operation then was the 16th of April 1943.
DS: Yeah.
DK: And then 20th of April ‘43 you’ve gone to Stettin.
DS: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. They were all —
DK: I’ll just read this out for the —
DS: Yes. Yes. That’s right. Yes. That’s correct.
DK: So, and then 27th of April, Duisburg. Duisburg again on the 12th of May. And on the 13th May, Bochum. I’ll turn that around for you. So, 30th of May, Mönchengladbach.
DS: Yeah.
DK: And then Mannheim. 15th of September.
DS: They were with different pilots they were.
DK: Right. Yeah. That’s Troak. I’ll spell that out T R O A K.
DS: That’s right.
DK: So, then Mannheim on the 5th of September. Munich on the 6th of September. So, you’ve gone on two operations. One following the other. Mannheim and then Munich. Then you’ve got another pilot here. Smith.
DS: Yeah.
DK: So, that’s the 3rd of October. Kassel. And then the 4th of October. Frankfurt.
DS: That’s right.
DK: So that’s operation number nine then. Yeah. And the tenth op 8th of October to Hanover. And then 22nd Of October, Kassel.
DS: That’s right.
DK: Interesting here. So, the 26th of November 1943 you were in Halifax K. Your pilot is Lemon.
DS: That’s right.
DK: And its ops to Stuttgart and it says, “Emergency landing. Three engines with full bomb load.” Can you —
DS: Yeah.
DK: Recall that?
DS: Yes. I can. We, we had just got airborne and one of the engines packed up. So we called base for instructions and we went, we were told to go out to sea and drop our, our, the bombs because you, it was not known for an aircraft once you’d took off with a full bomb load to have been able to come back and land.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
DS: So, but the pilot was a regular pilot who was in the Air Force before the war.
DK: Oh right. So that was Flight Lieutenant Lemon.
DS: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
DS: And he, he called back to base, said, ‘Well, I can’t get out. I can’t go to sea. I’m coming back in.’ And we did come back in, but I think what probably he did put on, when he went in to land put a few more revs on.
DK: Yeah.
DS: To compensate. And the next thing we knew they were following up the runway behind us with all the local fire engines.
DK: So you landed with a full bomb load then.
DS: Yes. We had a full bomb load.
DK: So that was quite unusual then.
DS: Yes.
DK: [unclear]
DS: I’ve never known, well it might have happened but as far as I know that had never been known before.
DK: Yeah.
DS: But —
DK: It must have been quite, quite frightening at the time.
DS: Well, it all happened so quick you see because we’d hardly got off the end of the runway and the engine blew up.
DK: I see here the total flying time was actually five minutes isn’t it?
DS: That’s right.
DK: So you’d just done a circuit and then straight back down again.
DS: Yeah. So that was a bit hairy, I can —
DK: Yeah. So then, carrying on from there you’ve got 3rd of December. Leipzig.
DS: That’s right.
DK: And then 7th of January 1944 now. So it just says, “Bombing. Night.” It doesn’t actually say where.
DS: That’s yeah that’s an exercise.
DK: Oh, is that an exercise? Then 20th of January 1944 you’ve got your twelfth operation and it’s to Berlin.
DS: That’s right.
DK: Do you remember travelling to Berlin on that flight?
DS: It was just like another place to us, you know because we were quite keen to go there because that was the, the capital of, you know of Germany when we got there.
DK: And that was with Flying Officer Falgate.
DS: Falgate. Yeah.
DK: Falgate. Yeah. So that operation then was seven hours twenty.
DS: That’s right.
DK: Right. So [pause] and then 21st of, 21st of January 1944, Magdeburg.
DS: That’s right.
DK: And then 28th of January, Berlin again.
DS: Yes.
DK: [unclear] And then you’ve got 27th of May here [unclear] That’s in Belgium isn’t it?
DS: Yeah.
DK: And you’ve landed at Bruntingthorpe.
DS: Yeah.
DK: Was there a problem with your aircraft then?
DS: Yeah. Yeah. I think we’d lost pressure somewhere in that. We had to, to, instead of getting back to base we had to make an emergency at Bruntingthorpe.
DK: Carry on then. I’d like to say you’re now in the Halifax 3s. So they’re the ones with the —
DS: With the Hercules.
DK: Hercules engines. So were they a better aircraft to the earlier Halifaxes do you think?
DS: Yeah. Oh yeah. Much better. Not only that they were safer for us because being air cooled radial there was no manifolds on the engines.
DK: Right.
DS: They’re, the Merlin’s had twin exhausts on each engine and at night time they got so hot that they illuminated.
DK: Oh right.
DS: And of course the Germans could —
DK: See them.
DS: I mean, so we were much safer once we got to the radials because the only way we were picked up by the Germans was either by the searchlights or night fighters which was bad enough.
DK: And I notice here your pilot then was Flight Lieutenant Forsyth DFC.
DS: Ah huh.
DK: So that was the 1st of June, Halifax 3 and it’s letter R and it’s off to Cherbourg. And then I see you’ve done operations actually on D-Day. 6th of June. D -Day support operations on both. Well, two operations on 6th of June, in fact, wasn’t there?
DA: Yeah.
DK: Forsyth DFC. St Lô. And you’ve put there invasion front. And then 4th of July there’s your first daylight operation.
DS: That’s correct.
DK: So to St Martin. And that’s with Flight Lieutenant Forsyth again. What was it like flying in daylight on the D-Day operations?
DS: We didn’t, we didn’t get any, any opposition from the Jerries at all. That’s, well as I said that was just a hop over the Channel and back, you know.
DK: Yeah.
DS: That was when you were going in to the, in to the heart of Germany when you were going in to the Ruhr Valley and there. I mean Jerry put up about thirty thousand extra ack ack guns when the Battle of the Ruhr was on. That was like hell on earth that was. But —
DK: So, though it was in daylight because it was over France the opposition wasn’t quite as deadly.
DS: No. No.
DK: So 18th of July then ops to, I’ll spell this out it’s A C Q U E T. That’s in France I think, isn’t it?
DA: Yeah.
DK: That’s twenty one.
DA: This guy turned out, after he came out of the, out of the war he was he was my solicitor right up until he died.
DK: Ah.
DA: Yeah.
DK: So, that was flight lieutenant —
DS: Crotch.
DK: Crotch.
DS: Yeah.
DK: Flight Lieutenant Crotch.
DA: Yeah.
DK: So he was your pilot on the —
DA: On that —
DK: 18th of July. And then he became your solicitor post-war then.
DS: Yeah. Yeah. Right up until recently. Until he died.
DK: Oh. So 23rd of July. France again. Then 24th of July Stuttgart. And so this is the 24th of July 1944. The pilot’s Flying Officer Macadam.
DS: Yeah.
DK: Had gone to Stuttgart and I see here it says two enemy fighters destroyed.
DS: Yeah. That was —
DK: What happened there then?
DS: Well, what happened was that we had been previously chased by a couple of Jerry fighters but we managed to, to avoid them because what was the known thing was once a Jerry fighter turned in to attack you, you turned into him.
DK: Right.
DS: So, so anyhow we evaded the first lot and the second ones I don’t think they saw us because we were, I think where they were, they had blind spot. What we used to call a blind spot if you were flying over an aircraft as a pilot and then there’s a plane underneath. I think we must, that must have been a blind spot for it.
DK: Yeah.
DS: Oh well, that’s only what we assumed. And then, we shot down the first one. We didn’t realise that he had a mate with him. You know, flying alongside. But then he came in to, to bring us down but fortunately we managed to get him as well. And that was recorded. That wasn’t just what we said.
DK: Right.
DS: Because what happens once you come back to do a briefing you have to state what you did or saw.
DK: Yeah.
DS: And lots of other aircraft saw these two fighters being shot down so we got it recorded and that’s how that happens to be.
DK: Yeah. So someone else had witnessed it then.
DS: Yeah. Exactly.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
DS: Yeah. Because everything that happens up there has to be logged if you see anything unusual.
DK: And who got them then? Was it both the gunners working together?
DS: Mainly the mid-upper.
DK: Right.
DS: Well, I think they both worked together but being as he was flying over the top he could see further.
DK: Yeah.
DS: Rather than somebody at the tail end.
DK: And can you remember the names of the gunners?
DS: No. I don’t. No.
DK: No. I thought we could check on that.
DS: No. No.
DK: So, do you know what type of aircraft they were that you shot down?
DS: No.
DK: Right.
DS: No.
DK: Right.
DS: I would think, I mean probably, I don’t know for sure but I think probably Junkers 88, I think.
DK: So, they were twin engined aircraft.
DS: Yeah.
DK: You shot down. Oh, right.
DS: As I say we didn’t have time to look —
DK: No.
DS: At them at the end of the day.
DK: So you’re, you’re sat at your radio at the time while all this is going on. What, what’s that like as you’re being, as you’re being attacked by a night fighter?
DS: You still had to, you were always listening out and you don’t make any communications with base.
DK: Yeah.
DS: Because of detection, you know. Jerry. So, but we just, we just log what we hear. But naturally we didn’t log the fighters.
DK: Yeah.
DS: Because that was, that was on the debriefing that we had to record those things but —
DK: I’ve just noticed here as well that in July 1944 you’d moved squadrons. You’re now with 158 Squadron at Lissett.
DS: Yes.
DK: So this incident then happened while you were with 158 Squadron.
DS: Yeah.
DK: And it’s, it was Halifax R and it was Flying Officer McAdam.
DS: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
DS: See what happened previously was when I was flying with Hickman earlier I got tonsilitis.
DK: Right.
DS: And they wouldn’t let me fly so I had to go in the sick bay. They flew off to Hanover and they never come back and that’s where, that’s where their —
DK: Yeah.
DS: Why their names are on your —
DK: Right.
DS: Memorial.
DK: If can just go back to that then. That happened when you were with 76 Squadron.
DS: Yes. Because that’s, yeah —
DK: Yeah.
DS: When I was with Hickman.
DK: Yeah. And can, can you remember when that was that that happened?
DS: It was —
DK: Are they on here?
DS: Yeah, I think that’s —
DK: Can I take a look?
DS: Yeah.
DK: OK. Oh, this is the [pause] yeah. So, they were in Halifax DK 6, DK266 MP-O.
DS: Yeah. That would be it, I expect. Yeah.
DK: And this was on the 28th of September 1943.
DS: Yeah. Yeah. During that period. Within a few weeks of that I lost my wife and child at the same time.
DK: Oh dear.
DS: So I had [pause] they talk about people having trauma these days but I mean I had to suffer the loss of my whole crew and then shortly after that, in only a matter of weeks I lost my wife and kid as well. A child.
DK: I’m very sorry to hear that.
DS: Yeah.
DK: Yes. Oh dear.
DS: So, that was, as I say that.
DK: Yeah.
DS: But you see then once you get split up from your, from a regular crew you were, you were like what we used to call an odd bod. If somebody was short of a radio operator they picked on you. And then of course by that, doing that you never had a, you never had a full crew again. You just flew when they were short of somebody.
DK: Yeah.
DS: And then of course all the accolades for when the others got medals and DFCs and DFMs and whatever. You know, such as myself we were, not that I worried about the medal but just glad to be here but you just missed out on any gallantry medals.
DK: If you don’t mind I’ll just go back a little bit because you, you when all this happened you were with 76 Squadron at Holme on Spalding Moor.
DS: Yeah.
DK: So you did an operation on [pause] where are we?
DS: There must be a period of breaks somewhere.
DK: There is. Yes. I think it’s here isn’t it because they’re saying your crew was lost on the 28th of September 1943 and that was to Hanover. So you’ve flown on an operation to Munich with Falgate and then he was lost after that then.
DS: Yeah.
DK: Yeah. Oh dear. And that was because you had the tonsilitis.
DS: Tonsilitis, yeah. Actually, I think I was in hospital for about a couple of weeks.
DK: And just to clarify this for the recording then this was that the crew was lost on The 28th of September 1943 on a trip to Hanover. Do you know what, were they shot down then or was it —
DS: Yes. They were shot, yeah.
DK: Did you ever find out anything more about what had happened to them?
DS: Not. That they were shot down. I think it says in there where they were shot down and I wouldn’t have known that without what you’ve got there.
DK: Yeah.
DS: I just knew that they’d been shot down. I didn’t even know. I was going to contact the war cemeteries and see really where they were.
DK: Yeah.
DS: But —
DK: It’s got the Rheinberg War Cemetery.
DS: That’s right.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
DS: Yeah. That’s right. Yeah.
DK: Oh dear. So you’ve, after that terrible incident then you’ve, you have actually carried on flying haven’t you?
DS: Yeah. Yeah.
DK: Almost with different pilots.
DS: Yeah. That probably was a good thing in a way, I suppose.
DK: Can you, can you remember Falgate’s first name?
DS: Les.
DK: Les Falgate.
DS: Yeah. Yeah.
DK: Right. So going forward again, you’ve then gone to 158 Squadron.
DS: That’s right. I think that was out of Lisset. I think that was.
DK: Yeah.
DS: I think. Yeah.
DK: Yeah. 158 Squadron.
DS: It was Lissett. Yeah.
DK: And we’ve covered the, the incident when the night fighters were shot down. So then you’ve got three more operations here in August 1944. So these were daylight ones presumably.
DS: Yeah. They were.
DK: So, the 24th of August, Brest. 27th of August, Homburg. 31st of August somewhere in France. That’s not twenty eight operations and then September 1944, on the 9th 10th and 11th you went to Le Havre three times.
DS: Yeah. That’s correct.
DK: In daylight. The 15th of September to Kiel. And then 23rd of September 1944 to Dusseldorf.
DS: That’s right.
DK: So that was your —
DS: That.
DK: Thirty third operation.
DS: Yeah.
DK: Was that, was that the total you did then?
DS: Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
DS: Yeah.
DK: So can you remember much about Le Havre in daylight on those three operations.
DS: No. No. No. As I say two in one day I think they wanted.
DK: Yeah. On the 9th 10th 11th of September. In the same Halifax as well. LV940.
DS: Yeah.
DK: And the same pilot, Flight Lieutenant New.
DS: Yeah.
DK: So could you just speak a little bit about what your role was as, as the wireless operator? What you were. What you did on the operations.
DS: Well, on the operations the radio operator you had, you didn’t do [pause] you were mainly there to listen out for information from base. You never had to, you were not allowed to contact base because of the detection side of it.
DK: Yeah.
DS: You may listen though and made notes of what, anything that was going on within the plane. If the navigator says something or whatever. And mainly look out for enemy fighters. I had a window where I sat.
DK: Because in the Halifax whereabouts are you? You’re kind of sat under the pilot aren’t you? Or —
DS: Here [pause] Yeah.
DK: Right.
DS: Right there.
DK: So you were in the nose there.
DS: Yeah.
DK: Sort of below, below the pilot.
DS: Yeah.
DK: Pilot up there and then bomb aimer. Air gunner and then bomb aimer down there.
DS: Yeah.
DK: So you did thirty three operations in total then and then it says here you were then screened.
DS: Yeah. Well, that means that then I went on to instructing.
DK: And this was at 19 OTU at Kinloss.
DS: That’s right.
DK: So you were back on the Wellingtons again.
DS: Yeah [laughs]
DK: What was that like? Going back to the Wellingtons.
DS: Not very good [laughs]
DK: So you were there for quite some time then weren’t you? Right through to 1945 on Wellingtons again [pause] So, right through to February 1945 you were training then. Oh, and carried on until March. There’s quite a few flights in Wellingtons by the looks of it.
DS: Yeah. Yeah.
DK: Training flights. So, you finished then March 1945.
DS: Yeah.
DK: Was that when you finished in the Air Force then or —
DS: No, I finished flying in 1945.
DK: Right.
DS: And I became redundant and we had to, we had to muster to some other part of the Air Force, and I was asked what my background was and that. I said I was, spent my few months or early years as a, working in a garage as a car maintenance and so I said I wouldn’t mind going back into transport or something like that. And then they, there was a position came up at a place called Shepherds Grove which is near Bury St Edmunds as a transport officer. So I took over the airfield as a transport officer.
DK: Yeah.
DA: And I was there. Well, the base closed. I closed the base down while I was there because that was no longer needed because the war had finished and that’s where I finished and got demobbed.
DK: So, how do you look back on your time in the Air Force now? All these years later?
DS: It was a great experience. It really was. At the time you just took things for granted and we never saw any fear. I mean if our names weren’t up to fly on a certain night we were disappointed. I mean there was no such thing as saying, ‘I’m glad I’m not going.’ We were so keen. We didn’t, we didn’t want to miss anything, and I’ve never, I’ve never ever heard of anyone saying that they were, they may have inwardly, never scared.
DK: Yeah.
DS: No. There was one of our biggest moans ever since was the accolades going along pre-war is all about Halifax, no all about Lancasters.
DK: Lancasters. Yes. Yes.
DS: The poor Halifax never gets mentioned.
DK: Yeah.
DS: If there’s a fly past.
DK: It’s always a Lancaster. It’s like the Spitfire, isn’t it?
DS: Exactly.
DK: The Hurricane gets ignored.
DS: Yeah.
DK: Yeah. So you liked the Halifaxes then as an aircraft.
DS: Yeah. Well, as I say we didn’t have a lot of choice really but —
DK: Did you ever fly in a Lancaster then?
DS: No. No.
DK: No. So, you can’t really compare the two.
DS: No. No.
DK: Yeah.
DS: The only advantage that they said the Lancaster could fly about another couple of thousand feet higher than us which the higher you could get the further away you were from the enemy —
DK: Yeah.
DS: Ack ack guns, because the point was they could get you wherever you went. But of course the fighters used to chase us back. Even follow us right back to the base. There had been certain, it had been known where our own aircraft were shot down over, over on the, on coming in to land on our own bases.
DK: Yeah. And —
DS: It’s unbelievable really when you look back.
DK: Yeah. How did you feel when you got back from an operation then?
DS: We always used to look forward to coming back because of the spread. It was the only time you got a decent meal [laughs] We used to have egg and bacon and as much as you wanted.
DK: And —
DS: You had to do the debriefing once you’d landed and you went back to be debriefed and that’s like if anyone saw anything unusual. That’s when the question of the fighters came in you see.
DK: Yeah.
DS: And anything that happens you had to make a note of. I mean I remember coming back [pause] that was when the first Doodlebugs went to London.
DK: Oh right.
DS: We saw this object illuminated. We knew it wasn’t an aircraft because we didn’t know what it was.
DK: Yeah.
DS: And all things like that we had to make a note of and then, then the radio operator on various operations we had to drop what they called Windows.
DK: Yeah.
DS: Which is a —
DK: It reflects the radar.
DS: A series of like tin foil to, to obliterate the German detection.
DK: Was that one of your roles?
DS: Yes.
DK: As wireless operator.
DS: Yeah.
DK: Yeah. So what did you do? Did you feed it down a tube?
DS: There was a chute.
DK: Right. Yeah.
DS: And we were told every, whatever —
DK: Yeah.
DS: Seconds or minutes, I can’t remember exactly you had to drop and that because everybody did the same thing because I mean lots of the raids we went on I mean they were four and five hundred bomber raids. I mean and usually however many there were, there was in the raid, we were, we bombed out like, half of you would be bombing at a certain time.
DK: Yeah.
DS: And then three minutes later the second wave.
DK: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
DS: Of course we relied on the Pathfinders to drop the flares because it’s the Pathfinders that gave us the exact target.
DK: Yeah.
DS: I mean today things are different now I mean with radar and —
DK: It’s all computerised.
DS: Computerised, you could pick out a needle.
DK: Not quite the same is it?
DS: No. But yeah.
DK: So, when you were with your crew then did you socialise together?
DS: Yes.
DK: What did you used to do on your time off then?
DS: Well, mainly we used to go to the local bar. Not on the base.
DK: No.
DS: We used to, we were stationed in Yorkshire and —
DK: Can you remember the names of the pubs?
DS: Yeah. We used to go to Betty’s Bar.
DK: Betty’s Bar.
DS: In York.
DK: Yeah. Yeah. I know it.
DS: And as I know the place, I think today they’ve got some inscriptions even in Betty’s Bar today.
DK: Is your name there?
DS: I don’t think my name is there [laughs]
DK: Probably not [laughs] You’ll have to go there and put it in.
DS: Yeah. Yeah. Well, yes we used to go and have a few beers. And then anyone who got newly commissioned they used to take his hat.
DK: Yeah.
DS: And pour a pint of beer in it to christen it or something like that. Yes.
DK: So, it must have been a great loss then when your crew went missing.
DS: Oh yeah. Yes. I mean we used to spend so much time together.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
DS: And —
DK: So after that you were just crewed up with wherever you were necessary. You didn’t join another —
DS: No.
DK: Another crew as such.
DS: I flew with Falgate for a while and actually I’ve come, been in contact with some distant relatives of Falgate. It’s, you know since the war and one of the young girl of this family got a lot of information from the 76 Squadron Association and —
DK: So, the crew. I’ve, I’ve just slightly misunderstood something. The crew that went missing was Hickman’s.
DS: Hickman.
DK: Hickman. And what was his first name? Hickman’s first name. Would it be in here? I’ve slightly got confused with the names of the pilots.
DS: Yes.
DK: Sorry about that.
DS: Yes, well that was I flew with several pilots.
DK: Yeah. So, it was Hickman who went missing on the 28th of September 1943 in Halifax DK266 MP-O.
DS: Is his, is his name up there?
DK: That’s George Scott. Was he one of the other crews?
DS: He was a rear gunner.
DK: Rear gunner. Ok. So it was, sorry I slightly misunderstood that. It was Hickman that went missing.
DS: Yes.
DK: To Hanover you say.
DS: That’s right.
DK: On the 28th of September 1943.
DS: That’s correct.
DK: So, it was after that you were flying with Falgate. Les Falgate.
DS: Yes.
DK: Etcetera. Yeah. Slightly confused there. So, have you got the names of your crew somewhere or were they, did you say they were written down somewhere? That’s only got the one crew. G Scott.
DS: They should all be there shouldn’t they?
DK: I can, I can check after. That’s ok.
DS: I thought they were all on there.
DK: Yeah. Just the one there.
DA: Yeah.
[pause – pages turning]
DK: Because your last operation with Hickman was, or the last time you flew with him was 16th of May 1943. So it must have been soon after that you got the —
DS: Yeah.
DK: Tonsilitis. Yeah. And then as I say he went missing in the September.
DS: Yeah. That must be it. Yeah.
DK: Ok. Well, thanks for that. I’m just going to pause this for a moment and have a look at your photos there.
[recording paused]
DK: Just put this on again. So you’ve got a photo of your Halifax in the background there and your crew. Can you name the crew there?
DS: That was, that was Falgate.
DK: Falgate. He’s in the middle. Yeah.
DS: I can’t. I don’t know. I can’t remember them. The crew.
DK: Right. Are you there?
DS: Yeah. There.
DK: Ah you’re on the end. Ok. So you’re on the right and Falgate is in the centre.
DS: That’s correct.
DK: At the back. Yeah.
DS: Yeah.
DK: So, you’ve got another photo here. That’s, that’s your ground crew as well presumably.
DS: Yeah.
DK: So, that’s Falgate there again, is it? He’s in the middle isn’t he?
DS: Yeah. Yes. That’s right.
DK: Yeah.
DS: And I think that’s me there.
DK: And that’s you there.
DS: Yeah.
DK: Third from, third from the right. So, this is one of the earlier Halifaxes with the Merlin engines.
DS: Yeah. I think it is.
DK: Yeah.
DS: Yeah. Oh, yes. It is, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.


David Kavanagh, “Interview with Douglas Arthur Smith,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 9, 2023,

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