Interview with Andrew Barron. Two

Title

Interview with Andrew Barron. Two

Description

Andrew hitchhiked from Edmonton to Calgary and then on to Mountain View by train. Gunnery training was in a Bolingbroke which had a mid-upper turret; bombing training was done in an Anson. Andrew was then posted to navigation school in Quebec for four or five months. He passed out as a navigator and was then posted to a general reconnaissance school on Prince Edward Island for about six to eight weeks. When commissioned he flew on B-24s - the crew went about halfway to Bermuda on an exercise to find a destroyer. Andrew was sent to Moncton where he awaited being shipped back to Great Britain and eventually posted to RAF Oulton in Norfolk where he joined Bomber Command on 223 Squadron. The crew flew in an Oxford on ‘Big Ben sorties’ up and down the Dutch coast spotting for V-2 rockets. Later they did decoy operations flying out with the main force. Andrew then became a navigator on B-24s. He recalled the time when they flew over Cologne and could hear the enemy’s anti-aircraft fire over the roar of their engine. On another occasion they had a near miss with a Lancaster.

Creator

Date

2019-04-18

Language

Type

Format

01:57:00 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Rights

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

Identifier

ABarronAJK190418, PBarronAJK1901

Transcription

NM: This is Nigel Moore with Andrew Barron. It is now the 18th of April 2019 and I’m picking up with Andrew from the first part of the interview from where he was being posted to 111 OTU in the Bahamas from his training in Canada. So Andrew, would you like to take us on from there please.
AB: Yes. Well, I think I regaled you with the thing of the train journey across the plains of Canada. The, what do they call it? The something shield. This, there’s a huge granite shield which, which covers central Canada and borders the Great Lakes, I think it’s Lake Superior, the topmost of the Lakes and the journey took, I don’t know, two, three, four days, I’ve no idea, I didn’t keep any record I don’t even remember what our sleeping arrangements were on the train; there must have been sleeping arrangements. The thing stopped every so often and threw out a number of cadets for the various places until we got to Calgary which was the terminus and some of us were transported to this RAF Training School Boden, Alberta and I restarted the pilot training and managed to take about, I think, an hour, an hour and a half or so for my solo which convinced the, the management and myself that I wasn’t very good pilot material and so I had the choice, having been re-mustered to pilot, navigator or bomb aimer and of the number I decided on the Navigator B which was the equivalent of the pre-war observer who did everything. He navigated the plane, he dropped the bombs when they got there, he took the photographs if necessary: you name it he did it. And so I had an interlude at the Canadian Air Force Manning Depot at Edmonton which was partly of course full of new recruits waiting to be sent off for primary training and it was partly where the residue, the naughty boys and the failures were gathered together for re-mustering and I think I said about the Dominion troops’ antipathy to having to salute the Canadian Air Force flag on the parade ground and the Australians took it to the extent of getting the fire axes and chopping the flag pole down. I was more sort of phlegmatic about it and I would march round the other three sides of the square rather than go past their bloody flag and salute it. And I spent about, I don’t know, two, three weeks, four weeks at Edmonton and then I was posted to Bombing and Gunnery School at -
[Other]: Hello! Oh you’re behaving yourself, you’ve got your feet up!
NM: Good afternoon.
AB: We’re switching it off.
AB: So anyway I was posted to Mountain View, which was Number 6 Royal Canadian Air Force Bombing and Gunnery School in Ontario, not very far from Trenton which was the Canadian Cranwell, not that made any difference, and I had a fortnight, I think, to get there so I took advantage of that to, when, I had transport I suppose from Edmonton down to Calgary because the two railways, the, anyway the two major Canadian railways, one went through Edmonton, one went through Calgary and my ticket was from Calgary to Ontario so I had to get down to Calgary and for some reason, I’ve no idea why, I hitch-hiked because I must have had transportation provided from Edmonton and I had a number of things: I had a lift in a Model T Ford, I had a lift in a rickety old car which was full of Ukrainian settlers in, in Canada, there were about a dozen of them in this vehicle but they got me in somehow, with my kit and I ended up in Calgary in a small van full of eggs going to market in Calgary. And from Calgary I went west through the Rockies to Vancouver because my maternal grandfather had, as far as I know, when he was in the Royal Navy, been at Esquimalt which was the naval base on the island of Victoria, which was offshore from Vancouver and so I went there and it was interesting and I looked at the totem poles that were preserved there and I went to a National Park, which I don’t know if the park was named or anyway, running through this park was the Capilano Canyon which was about a hundred and twenty feet deep and was spanned by a rather rickety wire rope bridge. I wouldn’t have done it these days, I’d have had forty fits at the dangers, but in those days I went across this bridge without any qualms and looked down at the, at the waters roaring along a hundred and twenty feet below me and then I got on the train and went back to, and started on the voyage across Canada. And I had a marvellous ticket, it must have been about a yard long and you tore bits off, there were, you tore a bit off for breakfast and another bit off for the sleeping car and another bit off for lunch and so it went on across the country and my researches afterwards revealed that we went across at the magnificent speed of about forty nine miles an hour [laugh] across Canada! It took about, I don’t know, about four days and we arrived at Mountain View which was a typical Canadian military station, two story wooden hutments which were the barrack blocks or barrack blocks and we started our training. Several days ground work and then we took to the air and the bombing training was done in Bolingbroke aircraft which were the Canadian built Blenheim bomber and I think we, oh I don’t know when we went up in twos or, twos, oh we did our gunnery, no sorry, I got that wrong, we did our gunnery in the Bolingbroke, because like the, the Blenheim bomber it had a mid upper turret and we took three or four cadets at a time and we fired bullets which were daubed with paint: green, red, nothing, and, white, no not white, it must have been three, must have been just green and red and blank and you fired at a drogue target, like the same sort of thing as the windsock on an airfield and some hardy characters in a Harvard would fly along with, trailing this drogue behind them two or three hundred yards behind them and you’d fire at this thing and they’d count the number of coloured holes in it and that was your score and it was the bombing which was done in the Canadian built Ansons, the good old Anson and we flew and dropped little replica bombs, they were, I think they weighed about twelve or fifteen pounds and when they hit the ground they let off a little puff of smoke and chaps in observation towers took bearings of these puffs of smoke and of course got your, the position of your strike from that and so it went on. We did, er, actually, if you’d like to grab my log book there and will tell you what my brilliant score was, or if you’re not particularly interested!
NM: Well, we will catch up with your log book later if that’s okay.
AB: Anyway, we did about, I suppose it was about two months I think, at B and G and we were assessed on that. And we had a polyglot course. There was six New Zealanders and about a half dozen Canadians, some of whom were re-mustered; they were ground tradesmen. We had a couple of sergeants I think, got a photograph of them somewhere and then the rest was made up with Brits. We had one strange character, we had a Canadian Jew, Moses Levine, who came from Montreal – where else - and we worked the Canadian system, we worked ten days and then we had four days off and then we had another ten days and another four days off which was rather nice because we were able to get off on sightseeing and we went to Toronto which wasn’t very far away. We went to Niagara which surprised me, I’d expected, reading the books, my adventure books, when I was a boy, I’d expected that this, these enormous falls would be out in the middle of nowhere, but they weren’t. They were out in the middle of bloody houses and buildings and all sorts of things, which was a bit disappointing really, but nonetheless exciting, the Niagara Falls. We just looked at them, we didn’t go down on the boats and get wet, I don’t suppose we could afford it, those days. And then I had another spell; I went to Detroit and was entertained by an American family and introduced to this weird system of American house numbering, you know, they were in a house number sort of twelve thousand three hundred and sixty seven, or something like that, but in fact it was the, this grid system of long straight roads and they were divided up into blocks and the blocks were numbered in these weird sort of twelve thousand and ten thousand and what have you. Interesting. And then having successfully passed that, we were posted, or I was posted to Navigation School which was Quebec, Ancienne-Lourette, just outside an airfield a few miles outside Quebec city and away we went, and got there they said, ‘you’re too early you’re on the next course. Go away, go away for a fortnight and come back and join the next course!’ So away we went. I went, several of us, went down to New York, I forget how we got down there, no idea, probably went by bus or something, anyway, we went down to New York and I stayed at a, stayed at, not the Army and Navy, the, oh gawd, what’s the er, the military organisation, they’re not military, they called themselves military and they go around towns playing bands and they run, and they run anti-drinking, anti-drinking - the Salvation Army! That’s the one. They, the Salvation Army they ran, in my opinion, they ran the best canteens and the best hostels for servicemen during the last war. And anyway, I stayed in one of them, and did all the sights in New York, you know, went to the, went up the Rockefeller Centre or something, I think was the tallest building in New York at the time and we were, you know, given tickets to various shows which was good fun. The, it, rather strange to British eyes, they, you go to the cinema and sort of half way through the cinema showing there’d be a break and there’d be a stage show that’d come on. I don’t remember any of the artists who appeared and we were treated to, you know, like night club showings and being a very, extremely callow youth I didn’t get in to any trouble which I quite possibly might have done had I not been a callow youth. So anyway, that, oh and we went to the Statue of Liberty and that was interesting. And we met Americans who’d got no idea who we were and what we were and on being introduced to a Scotsman amongst our numbers they: ‘Is he on our side?’ Very ignorant of the outside world the Americans were, and still are in my opinion, but so anyway that filled in the period and I must have caught the bus or the train or something back to Quebec and the business started in, the serious business of learning to be a navigator and it was a, it was about a four month, four or five month course. The times, the lengths of the courses during the war varied; it depended upon supply and demand, you know. If, if the chop rate had been particularly high, losses high, and the RAF were short of airmen then the course length, core, was shortened and you got trained as a pilot in about five months. If times were easy and it, there, there weren’t the casualties it took six months to train you. I forget what ours was, at Ancienne-Lourette, look it up in my log book but it doesn’t matter really, we got to Anciennes-Lorette in the, I think in the September. I had no idea, not the faintest idea, I guess some chaps did know, but the Quebec Conference had only just finished, the Quebec Conference where Churchill and Roosevelt and all the other bigwigs had met in the Chateau Frontenac I think, the big posh hotel on the outskirts of Quebec, but I’d no idea, nor had I any idea that Wing Commander Guy Gibson, of Dambuster fame, had been sent out to North America to visit the various training establishments and stir up the troops and encourage them to go out and get shot down. I had no idea he’d been out there, he wanted to keep him out of the way actually. So anyway we settled down to training and learned how to be navigators. We did about a hundred hours flying, or just over a hundred hours flying, again in the sturdy Anson, a rather more stable machine than the Ansons that were doing all the flying in Britain; they were the original Mark I Ansons, and the ones in Canada had a wooden fuselage and they were all enclosed of course because of the rigours of the weather there and were generally a more formidable aeroplane and we did our navigation in them and the drill was that we were settled, [rustling] settled into pairs and I was paired up with Johnnie Johnson, a New Zealander, and the drill was that you flew out to some point, you navigated out to some point and the second navigator oh, he took photographs of things and did all sorts of things, sort of took bearings and generally made himself useful and when you got to, hopefully you got, well of course you did [emphasis] get to the place you were aiming for, because the pilots were all ex bush pilots who’d forgotten more about the countryside they were looking at than we’d ever likely to know! They knew the country like the back of their hands so of course if you were a little bit away from where you should have been going the pilot, he closed it all up for you so you could put on your chart where you had actually been and then he’d take you there and the other chap would fly back, would navigate you back to your base while you did all the fiddly bits and that went on. At the end of January we had our final tests, and final exams and passed out in due course as navigators and you knew, you knew what to do but your ability to do it was probably rather doubtful. So anyway the next step was that I was posted to a General Reconnaissance School on Prince Edward Island and the idea of that was, you spent about six or eight weeks at GR School and there were two of them: one was Canadian and one was British and I was of course sent to the Canadian one and that was, I had, I think again the mandatory two weeks’ leave to get there because I was commissioned and had to go and get my smart officers uniform which I did at Ottawa, Canada’s capital. Everything was covered in snow so I got really no particular recollection of that. Actually, I do have a recollection of it because it was the second time that I was very nearly airsick. We were, the whole of Prince Edward Island was completely obliterated in snow and ice and quite indistinguishable from the mainland or the Gulf of, the Gulf of St Lawrence and we, one of our exercises was flying at low level, something like about a thousand feet, or few hundred feet across the, this snow and ice and lying in the nose of the Anson with sort of hot, rubbery air blowing in your face and it was remarkably bumpy, this, this icy landscape, or ice-scape, and I was very nearly airsick. Anyway, oh, and it was a bit of a laugh really, because you’d, the exercises were to fly to Halifax which was one of the pushing off points for the convoys across the Atlantic and you’d fly down to Halifax and you’d count the number of ships in it and what sort of ships they were and fly back report that and the afternoon’s detail would fall on you and quiz you: what was there, how many were there, what were they like, did you see any battleships and so on and so on and you’d give them all the gen of course when they got back in the late afternoon or early evening, they say they’d all bloody well gone – the harbour was empty! [Laugh] So anyway we spent about four to six weeks doing that and we were passed out and I was posted down to 111 OTU, Operational Training Unit, which was Coastal Command’s, I think it was Coastal Command’s one and only operational training unit, it certainly was for the Liberators anyway, and I was posted down there and this wasn’t a very popular posting because everybody thought oooh, Nassau, that’s the, where all the bigwigs, the RAF bigwigs who are on a swanny posting to Washington and places like that in the United States and Canada, that’s where they all go for their leave over there and, you know, they like to go and inspect the troops at the OTU to see what they’re up to, but in actual fact you never saw hair nor hide of the, of these bigwigs at all and Nassau was, it wasn’t a bad posting at all. The only weird thing was that the, there were two bases, one was Windsor Field, I forget what the other was called, one was called Windsor Field and that was where the American B25 twin engined bomber was based and they were used [cough] as the intermediate conversion from the pilots who’d been flying Ansons, who’d got their wings flying Ansons and they converted to these B25 Mitchells and they, they usually had two pilots and a navigator. Well, I was different. I was one, I was with one pilot and I was a navigator on my own with just one pilot who’d trained in Canada, chap called Hedges, Pop Hedges called him Pop Hedges because he was about twenty, sorry, twenty five and therefore quite an elderly person in the aircrew, in the aircrew family. So in fact Pop Hedges and myself flew with a staff pilot from Nassau and then when we’d, when Pop was considered competent, we were, the two of us were posted to the other aerodrome at Nassau where we converted to the Liberator under the care of a pilot from the UK who’d completed about a half a tour on Liberators in the UK and was sent out to be a captain on his own and a pilot, sorry not a pilot, a navigator who’d completed half a tour and was now sent to Nassau to be the Chief Navigator too, and I was to be the second navigator. I’m getting a bit rambling aren’t I? So anyway we did this training in the Liberators and at the end of that there was an exercise, you had to complete an exercise, the Kingsley Exercise, which, in which you flew out to about half way to Bermuda from which had come a destroyer and you had to find this destroyer by you know, your expertise in navigation, which was all very well. Unfortunately the, you had to use two charts and they joined in the middle and there was a one degree longitude overlap. Now when I came to do my navigation I made a mistake: I missed this one degree overlap in the longitude so when it came to the crunch we had to do a radar search for this bloody destroyer, and the result of which was I didn’t do very well on my Kingsley exercise. I mean I would have gone back to the UK as the second navigator, that was my destiny, but it certainly would have delayed my transposition to the first navigator, not that it in the end mattered because we were shipped back to Moncton, the RAF Manning Depot in New Brunswick to await shipping back to the UK and then distribution to our various squadrons or whatever else we were destined for. And we were about three weeks at Moncton when we were suddenly posted back to the UK and flown back. We were shipped up to Montreal and put into a Liberator transport plane and flown back to the UK, where I phoned up my parents and found that the residence no longer existed, it had been flying bombed and was uninhabitable and I’d got nowhere to go when it came to my disembarkation leave, but my parents had scouted round and found accommodation for me, some friends or people they knew in the road in Sunbury on Thames put me up for two or three, for a couple of weeks and I was put up for a while. What had happened was, that a flying bomb had come over and had hit a house about four houses up the road from where we lived, blown that house to bits, blown the next house to bits, and destroyed the next house and the house after that had been pushed over on to ours and made ours totally uninhabitable: broken all the windows, torn off the roof and so on and it all got a little bit disjointed. That’s right, when I got back from that, we sat around at Harrogate in this distribution centre, waiting to be posted, expecting of course to be sent off to the various Coastal Command aerodromes around the country and then the posting list came up and all these crews were sent, were being sent to RAF Oulton, where’s that then, nobody knew, then on the train and we eventually ended up in Norfolk, looking at black painted Liberator bombers and wondering what our destiny was and we found that we were in Bomber Command [laugh] so I ended up in the blacked out bomber flying to Germany, not looking, not seeing what was happening. But much to the surprise and the dislike of most of the rest of my fellow postees who were [beeps] – oh must mind your – who were nearly all of course, all virtually - oh that’s my tea is it, oh – virtually all ex Coastal Command men and that’s what they expected to be going to. [Pause for tea!] Ah! So I ended up in Bomber Command and they said well, you can fly as front gunner if you like for the time – oh that’s right, the task of the squadron was to, initially, to fly what they called Big Ben sorties which were up and down the Dutch coast about fifteen or so miles out to sea from, more or less from the islands, you know, the Scheldt estuary up to, I forget what the name of the, Ijmuiden is it, some? I think it’s Ijmuiden, a town about halfway up the Dutch coast and we were spotting for V2s, the rockets, lifting off, because they thought at the time that the V2s were radio controlled. Well they weren’t actually cause we found that out later, and our job was to send off a signal that one had lifted off. What good it would have done goodness knows, because the, they were supersonic so they were never able to give any warning of their approach and they’d no idea where they were going anywhere. So anyway, like it or not, I did a few exercises in an Oxford which was the equivalent to the, equivalent to the Anson and another RAF twin engine trainer and the squadron had a, had one for communications purposes and it was fitted up with the Gee navigation equipment which we would have to know how to operate because that’s what we would be using in Bomber Command and you know, just one or two flights like that and I went off I think on the 13th of October on my first operational sortie looking for these bloody V2s and I bloody hated it. I was scared stiff, sitting up in this turret. The navigator and the front gunner had to crawl through a tunnel about two foot square which ran along the right hand side of the Liberator, the right hand side of its front nose wheel undercarriage, you had to crawl up that into a compartment [beeping] up front which in the US Air Force housed three men: the navigator, the bomb aimer and the front gunner. In our case it was initially the front gunner and the navigator, and it was draughty, the air came in all over the place of this ruddy gun turret and you could only, the only thing you could see was the deep blue sea below you, we were at about twenty thousand feet, and if you craned your neck round one way or the other and turned the turret you could just glimpse the wings, or the wing tips or perhaps the outer engines. I didn’t like it, I didn’t like it at all. And anyway, I did three of them and then they discovered, by which time they discovered that the V2 was not radio controlled so the Big Bens stopped and the squadron reverted to flying decoy operations. They did two kinds of decoy operations: you flew out with the main force pretending that you were part of the main force and after a time, after you’d cleared the German frontier you broke off in a separate direction and you then started throwing out bundles of metallised paper, they were like chaisy tain, chaisy tain.
[Other]: Daisy chain!
AB: No [laugh].
NM: Paper chains.
AB: Paper chains with metallised on one side and they were cut to the frequency of the German radars so that when they fell out as a bundle and opened and spread out into a great cluster, they looked like a bunch of aeroplanes so that one aeroplane would look like perhaps twenty or thirty aeroplanes so the little force of twenty or thirty aeroplanes which were detached and sent out on a separate heading would look like another main force heading for a different target. Anyway, this was what the squadron was doing. So I was walking through the flight offices, the avenue of flight offices one day when the Nav Leader, who was, I think if I remember, a flight lieutenant on loan from the B17 squadron on the station who’d done a tour and knew what it all was about, anyway he came out of his office and he said: ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘would you like to be Tony Morris’s navigator?’ And I said ‘Yes please.’ Well Tony Morris was one of the Canadian pilots who got a bit too close to the Dutch coast or they got too close to a flak ship, which was one of the ships the Germans had which was covered all over in flak guns and was posted out in estuaries and places like that, and their navigator had unfortunately stopped a piece of flak - in his backside. [Chuckle] And so was uncommissioned, so anyway I was offered poor old Jack Wallace’s place, he survived by the way and came back on ops later on in the next year. But anyway, I got his seat and, and away I went and I’ve often wondered if Tony had realised and, I think Jack Furniss was the Nav Leader, anyway, if the Nav Leader had realised that my sole experience had been you know, just an hour or two in an Oxford on a bit of Gee training but otherwise, I knew what to do, but I really wasn’t, I’d never had to try to do it! I mean the first operational sortie that I did with Tony was the first time that I had ever been entirely and solely responsible for the navigation of the plane from point A to point B and back again, you know unguided, but I did it and it’s hardly surprising that my logs and charts or logs at any rate, are covered all over with the Nav Leader’s blue pencil things - why didn’t you do this and why didn’t you do that and lots of this, but you know, I’d done lots of work but I hadn’t done anything with it, but we got there and back and after that it improved. My, my er, I differed in my ideas with the, than the, from the Nav Leader, the copy book way of navigating in, well really, in the air force, in any conditions, hasn’t changed, you fly along a course you’re given, you fly along a course which you expect will get you to your destination. You check your position and you find that it’s not on the line that you expect to be and if you project the line from where you started to where you are, it doesn’t lead to where you want to be so you have to make a correction. So the copybook way is to project ahead to where you expect to be in say in another ten or fifteen minutes time, well I mean in those days, ten or fifteen minutes time, in those, that time, you then calculate the new course that you’ve got to fly to get to the place that you want to be at. That’s the copy book way of doing it. Well I didn’t entirely agree with that. I mean if I was flying along and I got a position and I found it was off the course that we were supposed to be on, I would say right we are ten degrees off course we need to alter course twenty degrees to get back to where we want to go, so I’d do that, I’d just say to the pilot alter course twenty degrees right or left or whatever it was to get to the proper place, then I’d do it properly: work out the new wind or find out what the difference in the wind was and do it properly. But it, he’d scribble on it, he’d say what’s this? Guestimation? Well it was, yes, but it was intelligent guestimation but in my mind, I mean it was intelligent guestimation, anyway it worked because it was the way I always worked and we never got lost, we got there. We only got lost once [chuckle]. And that was as I say, I only looked out once; we were I think, I think it may have been Cologne and it was cloud covered and it was, they were using what they would call sky marking. The Pathfinder Force released their markers up in the air, blind if you like, and the main force aimed for those markers, instead of aiming for a marker on the ground they aimed for something in the air. Don’t ask me how it was done, I mean it was, you know, a clever business. And anyway, it was very colourful cause there were flares all over the place and I looked out and there were all these brilliant lights and the little twinkling lights which didn’t really register with me at the time with the bursts of the flak shells. It was very colourful. I wasn’t there to sightsee, I mean I was there to navigate and far too many aeroplanes were lost, because crew members did sightsee, gunners looked down on the ground to see what the, see where the bombs were bursting, see what the, all the coloured lights were doing: you weren’t there for that. And as far as I was concerned it was an uneventful tour. I didn’t see what was happening. I’ve got a copy of Mervyn Eustace’s, Mervyn Eustace was our second pilot and his, I want to, I must make another effort to get in touch with Mervyn’s son to see if I can get his assent to well, bluntly, publish Mervyn’s memoirs cause Mervyn wrote his memoirs just for his own and his family’s use. But Mervyn of course was in the cockpit and he saw everything all the time, every time [emphasis] and he, he’s also a bit more, um, dry humour, Mervyn, so I must, and of course his comments on the tour were highly coloured by the fact that he had come from peacetime Canada to wartime England. He went through the mill the same as I did, he went through Nassau and he came from Nassau to England by boat and he was sent to a manning depot of some sort at Chelmsford, no not Chelmsford, Cheltenham, Cheltenham, that’s right, Cheltenham, and of course it was a complete, complete new world to Mervyn, not only, the conditions, I mean the weather conditions, the ground conditions, he said he got hold of a, he bought a bicycle and he cycled round on this and many a time he said he’d have to stop somewhere and ask some of the locals where he was and how to get to Chelmsford and he writes that he thought they must have thought it was a funny old sort of war that this Canadian chap who didn’t know sort of how to, where he was – how did he get on over Germany! [Laugh] But er, and then the food, and the living conditions of course made a complete impact, I think the food, brussels sprouts particularly were a nightmare for poor old Mervyn, but I mean the average Brit at that time, we’d been at war for about five and a half years and the average Brit ate whatever you put down in front of him and was thankful for it, we’d been at war for five and a half years, the privations of British barrack life, I don’t remember them because I was used to the fact that in my father, my parents bathroom at Sunbury on Thames, ice formed on the inside of the windows, [laugh] you were used to bathing in that kind of conditions. But no, Mervyn’s got a lot to, to recount and as I say, in a dry humour he says, he quotes the fact that when they were shot up they were, this, what do you call it - a salvo of shells ringed them and exploded when Wallace was wounded and Wallace was wounded, and he said you know it changed his outlook because he’d, up till then the war had been really, a bit jolly, you know. You’d got a nice uniform, you travelled around the world, you got well paid, but now you suddenly realised that down there there were a bunch of men hopping about and clapping their hands and cheering because they’d nearly shot you down, they nearly killed you, that was what they were there for. [Pause] So anyway that’s how it went on. We, I think we operated at er, a higher rate of work, if you pick up Middlemiss’s I forget what it’s called, it’s the Bomber Command War Diaries 1939 ‘45, if you pick that up, they list every single sortie flown by Bomber Command and the troops who took part, the groups which were scheduled for it and the squadrons in the groups which took part, in squadron, in, it took part. The average squadron I suppose perhaps flew once every week, two weeks, something like that. Well if you look in my log book there were patches where we flew sort of six or seven squadrons more or less on alternate nights because when main force flew: 100 Group flew. In fact 100 Group flew more than that because there were many nights when the main force was stood down, probably because of weather, but they didn’t fly, 100 Group were sent out simply to stir up the Germans, to get them up in the air, [interference] particularly of course towards the end of the war because by then the night fighter force. People say, oh well the night fighter force was a spent force by the, by you know, by the time of Dresden, February ‘45, well it wasn’t exactly a spent force, there were a lot of them and, but it wasn’t as well trained and you know, it was still capable, four hundred aircraft, four hundred [\interference] British aircraft were lost between Dresden, which was on St Valentine’s night and the end of the war. It’s quite a lot of aircraft that, and [pause] but the Germans, they sent out, they harboured their forces, they sent out their aces first, you know the, because they knew that they were the men who wouldn’t go rushing in and attacking the enemy forces when they were out of range. [Timer noise]
[Other]: Sorry about that. It’s my watch.
NM: So can I?
AB: Yes, go on.
NM: You said that a lot of your operations were decoys with Window.
AB: Yes.
NM: Did you just provide the Windows screen or did you ever, always accompany the main force to the target?
AB: Well no, there was, the main stream was, what they called the Mandrel screen, Mandrel was the jammer which jammed the long range German search radars and the Mandrel screen was sent out in pairs, they were, I think they were equipped with Stirlings and they were sent out in pairs over the North Sea and then as the battle line moved east the, that became Holland and north east France, Belgium, the Mandrel screen was sent out and these pairs of aeroplanes would orbit like a racetrack, jamming away, and then every so often they would open a little window in the Mandrel screen so they would let the Germans see what was coming up behind it to confuse them and the Window force would as I say, would probably be leading the main force, the main forces, and I remember one particular raid when we were, where the turning point was Cassel and we came out of the Mandrel screen somewhere over Belgium I think or maybe north east France and then we, somewhere past the, crossing the Rhine, we were at the head of the main force and we broke off and headed for Cassel while the main force behind us carried straight on and it did one or two more zigzags but it ended up sort of pointing elsewhere, and the Window force was also reinforced, very often, by two or three aeroplanes carrying markers and bombs, particularly the Australians, hardly surprising, [Australian accent] they hadn’t come half way round the world, you know just to drop pieces of bloody paper all over Germany! So they insisted upon carrying bombs and they were in Halfaxes which still had all the bomb racks and everything else in them and they carried bomb aimers too, so to add to this bit of realism they would drop a few bombs and markers on some town to give a bit of realism. But it all worked very[interference] well. I mean It worked very well. [\interference]
NM: So did any your trips involve radio counter measures in your B24s?
AB: Sorry?
NM: Were you, did any of your operations involve radio counter-measures, in your Liberator or was it just [unclear]?
AB: Oh yes, I mean there were all sorts of gubbins. The reason why the Liberator and the Fortress were chosen for the role was because we carried an equipment called a Jostle which was a large jamming, piece of well, piece of jamming equipment and it was about two, two and a half three feet in diameter and about five or six feet long, or high whichever way you like to look at it, high, steel enclosed I think to give it a bit of durability and that, as far as I know, transmitted on the, all the known radar and voice channels that the Germans were using and as far as the equipment was concerned to fit it, to have fitted it to a Halifax or a Lancaster, you’d have had to have taken the turret out, lifted it out with a crane or something, drop the Jostle in and then put the turret back in, if it had gone in, as it was, all they had to do was to trundle the, all they had to do was trundle it over a pit, lower the Jostle into the pit, put in a new one and then go off again and the Liberator and the Fortress still had their mid upper turret in situ and serviceable whereas, was the thing with the Lanc or the Halifax, they’d have lost their mid upper armament and seriously depleted the armament of the aeroplane. And then, in addition to that, they would have all sorts of things, with all sorts of comic names: I mean Monica, [interference] Tinsel, Tinsel was the microphone which was in the engine compartment and the pilot would just switch that on and it made this [pause].
NM: You okay? [Pause] You okay?
AB: Hmm? [\interference]
NM: Are you okay?
AB: Oh no, Tinsel, Monica.
NM: So did you know at the time what the Jostle operators were using, and what Jostle was doing or were you not privy to that information at the time?
AB: Oh no, no, you, they were just special operators these two chaps, who were, well they were sort of attached to the crew really, I mean even their position in the aeroplane varied. As far as our aeroplane was concerned, G George, the um, there was a shallow space amidships, above the bomb bay, I think it was aft of the main wing spar and there was this, there was this space, I suppose it was about three or four feet deep and as wide as the fuselage and ten or fifteen, ten or twelve feet long and that had gear in it, I don’t know what, and these two chaps lived in that, they, that was their working position. But in some of the old, the aeroplanes, that was down on the flight deck on our aeroplane, G George, so you went in through the, you went in through the front, starboard, lets see: left port, right to starboard, yes, front starboard nose, bomb, er bomb bay door was operational and open, and you got out to the aeroplane and you ducked under, you ducked under the wing behind the, the engines and you climbed in through this door and as far as the navigator was concerned, in the vast majority of ops that I was on, I was always the last on board because you had such a hell of a lot of work to do and so you were whistled out to the aeroplane and you clambered on board through this open door, chucked all your gear in front of you and operated the lever to close the door and then you went through a doorway and there was the flight deck. And on your left was the wireless operator, on the right was the opening to climb through to the nose and in front of you was steps up to the flight deck itself if you like, with the two pilots. The flight engineer didn’t have any seat or anything, he just stood about like a spare prick, bit like the navigator, but on some of them, the, one of the special operators was in the wireless operator’s position, I don’t know where the wireless operator went to. The wireless operator was a bit of a, he was a bit spare, I mean his job really was only to listen out for signals from base, chief of which was perhaps hopefully the recall, [snort] but that was about all he was able to do, or send out an SOS when it came to it, came to it. That was the main thing really I think.
NM: So tell me about the time you could hear flak over the noise of the engines, it must have been -
AB: Pardon?
NM: Tell me about the time you could hear the flak over the noise of the engines, it must have been pretty close.
AB: Well yes! I mean, [Laugh] I don’t know, we were, I think we were somewhere near Cologne, and obviously we’d got a bit off track and we got the benefit of a flak burst, the er, and say, well close enough to hear it and I wrote in my log: ‘flak, I heard it!’ and the Nav Leader put in: ‘Gee, you must have been scared.’ Well I wasn’t actually, but I bet the others up on top were, who saw it all, I mean especially after they’d had the, you know, they’d had the benefit of the salvo which had put poor old Wallace out of action and given me my job. And I mean it was a bit the same as when they, I don’t know, heard the, hmm -
NM: You also had a near miss with a Lancaster, didn’t you, over East Anglia.
AB: Oh yeah. Yes.
NM: What happened then?
AB: See I mean, matter of luck, I mean there must have been countless, countless near misses of pilots who just managed to see each other in time. I can but presume that in this case the Lancaster pilot saw us in time and was able to pull up and we wendered.
NM: Did you see the Lancaster just as it missed you or did your pilot see it?
AB: Pardon?
NM: Did your pilot see it just as it missed you, the Lancaster?
AB: Yes. You what?
NM: Your pilots, did they see it?
AB: I don’t know, I don’t remember anybody saying anything actually. Well I mean whoever said it was a Lancaster with its wheels down. But, no we never, it’s funny that, you know. After the war it all fell apart, the, Mervyn Eustace disappeared more or less overnight, he was posted off back to Canada. I’m not quite sure about - I never had any, you know, it’s funny I never had any contact with the crew. Whatever books you pick up, you pick up all these books and they all say oh what a marvellous, how the, what a close knit organisation the average Bomber Command crew was, you know, this wonderful system they had where everybody was turfed into a big hangar and you were told to sort yourself out, [pause] I think it was a, it was a, is it, almost I suppose, a perfect system you might say. I remember my [interference] brother in law saying that, at least I went to his funeral and his old skipper who, funnily enough, had been in the, be in the same class as me in Wolverhampton Grammar School, George Sidebottom, saying that you know, they were looking out for a crew and they’d got everybody except a flight engineer and said somebody, one of his new crew came up and said there’s a flight engineer in the next room who’s looking for a crew, said a nice bloke, got a funny sort of name, Mendelski it was, [\interference] and that’s how Vic Mendelski got crewed up. But that never happened to me. As I say, I was just plonked in with Pop Hedges in Nassau and we were plonked in with Pop, with Pop Hedges and Tommy Steele and I was second navigator to Freddie Freak and that was it, no choice. So actually when, I never had really much rapport with them, at Oulton when we first got there, I think they tended, Tommy Steele, Freddie Freak and er, and er, dear god, what was the wireless operator’s name? Hmm. I’ve forgotten what, anyway, the wireless operator. I think they had a rapport because all three of them had done ops on Coastal so, you know, they knew what it was about. I never had any chums. The Canadians, I think tended to live together, hardly surprisingly, and one of the reason was they pooled their food parcels and so they didn’t sort of hang about the mess like we Brits did, but even so, it, so I never had a rapport and then Tony Morris, Tony Morris’s father I think I said, had been English, he’d been in the British Army in the First World War and then emigrated and Tony, when he went on leave, searched out members of the Morris family. Mervyn Eustace’s brother had done, had just done a tour in Coastal Command, no it wasn’t Coastal, in Bomber Command and when he went on leave [pause] you, you, no sorry, I was away somewhere else.
NM: Just one last question for you.
AB: Mervyn used, we used to call him useless, Mervyn Eustace, he used to go off and look out, look up his brother who’d just done a tour in Bomber Command, and they didn’t come anywhere near the mess when they were on leave so I never saw any of them and it was several years [emphasis] afterwards before I made contact and I think [emphasis] I made contact through um, Vowler, Ron Vowler who er, did a lot of research after ex members of 223 Squadron and then Tony Morris, he was a geologist, an oil geologist, and he did a lot of flying through London to the Far East or, you know, where the oil fields were and he always tried to contact me whenever he came through but, and certainly -
NM: Just one last question for you Andrew, when you look back and reflect, what do you think of your time in Bomber Command? What does that time mean to you?
AB: Pardon?
NM: What does that time you spent in Bomber Command, what does that mean to you now looking back over the years?
AB: Well, I don’t know really. I, I mean I don’t think it really sort of meant anything. It was just something which um, [pause] I suppose, I mean I joined the, I joined the University Air Squadron I suppose because I don’t know that I really thought about it actually. Ach, I don’t know really, I never sort of discussed anything with my parents as I say, as I said at the beginning I don’t remember ever being asked if I’d like to become a naval cadet. I was brought up in a, in a background of [pause] – yeah.
NM: Shall we give it a rest? Shall we? Thank you for your time.
AB: Yes, I don’t think I ever really thought, I never thought about what I was going to do after the war or anything like that. I think, I think our tempo of operations in 100 Group, in 223 Squadron was significantly higher than the average main force crew. As I say, if you look at Middlemiss’s diary of Bomber Command, you know, you’ll see that squadrons didn’t fly continuously, I think 100 Group, 223 Squadron flew at a higher tempo than those sort of squadrons, so I suppose from that point of view, yeah, we didn’t really have time to sort of ruminate and think what you were going to do afterwards.
NM: Okay, I think what we’ll do, we’ll finish the interview there, thank you for your time and your memories and -
AB: I felt I’ve been wandering off a bit this afternoon. Did you get that feeling?
NM: No, it’s. Absolutely fine, It was perfect, thank you very much. We appreciate all the information you’ve been able to give us. Thank you Andrew.
AB: [Interference] So what the fellers, up until D-Day didn’t I think realise was that the aircrew Europe was for all aircrew, I mean it wasn’t Bomber Command wasn’t the only part of the air force that was operational after 1939, I mean there was Bomber Command, there was Coastal Command, there was all sorts of people, there were the chaps who fought in France of course as part of the British Expeditionary Force, they were operational aircrew and if they hadn’t had the aircrew Europe they wouldn’t have anything, poor sods.
NM: So you didn’t mind too much that Bomber Command wasn’t recognised.
AB: No, no.
[Other]: It wasn’t appreciated or recognised.
AB: I mean it was a bit distasteful, [\interference] the fact that we had to wait about another seventy years for some recognition and we got the aircrew, we got the -
[Other]: The Bomber Command Clasp.
AB: The Bomber Command Clasp, which I mean was similar to the Battle of Britain and various other clasps for various special operations, but where do you end, end up like the Americans with a - [laugh]
[Other]: Getting a medal for joining, which the Americans do. Five minutes after they’ve joined they’ve got a medal!
AB: Yes, yes. Well, I mean good luck to them. I read a very interesting book recently Mud, Blood and-
NM: Okay, so we’re looking at -
AB: I’ve got the types of tasks that 100 Group had to, or at least the two squadrons had to carry out was, one was just the plain, was the plain spoof target, now that’s Cassel there, now you see we came out on this line, where there’re two arrows, we came out on this line and then we carried on to here and split off up to Cassel to make it look as if we were going to attack Cassel, the rest of the force didn’t, they went off somewhere else to make it appear that way. Then the other thing was when there were no [emphasis] main force operations at all the same sort of spoof force would be sent out just to get the Germans up into the air. Simply. Nothing more, no less than that. And then the other was the target cover where you were sent out with [emphasis] the Pathfinder Force, with [emphasis] the main force to the target and the first plane would be, would be timed on to the target at about five, seven, eight minutes before the bombs were due to go down and you’d fly round and round and Mervyn puts it rather dryly, that everybody would turn on the navigator and say: go on, you know, we’re nowhere near the bloody target, you’re lost, you know, nothing’s happening, we’re the only aeroplane over Germany! And then there’d be the markers would go down and he said then everybody would be clapping their hands and thanking the navigator. And you know, you’d fly round the target for however long you were told and in the meantime, somebody else from your squadron would come up and he’d [emphasis] be circling the target and you’d be just jamming any radars that you, and any voice transmissions that you could hear, or that your operators could hear, you’d be jamming those while you were flying round the target, of course the one you didn’t particularly want was the one where they’d all gone home and they’d left you to tootle along behind them. But I would like to, you know, turn this in to something a little more legible.
NM: Just to explain we are looking a map of Western Europe with Andrew’s pilots, all his operations during the war. [Voice in the background]
AB: The other one that you didn’t want to go near was Hamburg and the Elbe estuary and then of course you’ve got the eastern cities, you’ve got Berlin itself, you’ve got, I’m not sure what that is -
NM: That’s Leipzig.
AB: And there’s, is that? No that’s Munich down there, Dresden’s somewhere in here but they got it later on in the war. Never talked about it. Nobody ever talked, never talked to anybody in the squadron, oh we wasted our evenings singing silly songs, [laugh] singing rude silly songs, most of which I’ve long since forgotten: probably just as well. But you know, there was no glorification about it, was, you know and we’re too bloody busy to worry about things, as I say the, you went into briefing and the [creaking] guards drew the, locked the doors and would have shot anybody who tried anything, and then all the Group Captain, the Station Commander and all the, Navigation Leader and everybody else all trooped on board and the curtains were pulled aside and there was a bloody great map, quarter inch map of Northern Europe with the red lines all over it and you knew where you were going. Well, you didn’t, you knew where everybody, everybody was going and who individually went where, I’ve had no idea. Poor old Richard Ford and other historians have probed us endlessly to try to find out when you knew where we were going, I said I’ve no ideas. [telephone ringing] At some time they would be given the specific route that they were to fly because if you were in one of the spoof things you were all spread out, so that spread was achieved by giving you slightly different positions to which to navigate.
[Other]: They all started off in a group and then they split, and split, and split to make it appear a much bigger group.
NM: Right, yup.
[Other]: That was it, wasn’t it darling?
AB: Yeah, I mean the only thing I can remember is that I used to think that it was a big guessing game, that the German controller was, the German controllers were saying [accent] is it dis vun, or dat vun, or der uder vun, or whatever, you know. But in fact the command, I mean our command, Bomber Command for a start, and then 100 Group Command for a second thing and finally the station itself would get down to the detailed plotting of, well, G George from so-and-so go so-and-so and J Jeep for another one and so it would go on, but when that happened I’ve no idea, you know you just, you just did it, you bloody got on with it.
[Other]: Darling, did you tell Nigel about taking German speaking English people with you?
AB: No I didn’t actually.
[Other]: From time to time, and they used to countermand the orders the Germans were being given and said no, no, no, that’s the British talking to you.
AB: That was quite widespread actually, they were, you know, right throughout main force, there was a lot of that as well, you know, German speaking operators were carried on board to -
[Other]: Countermand the German instructions to their crews.
AB: yes.
[Other]: There was quite a lot of jiggery pokery that we know nothing about!
AB: Yeah.
NM: Well, I think I’ll conclude it there on behalf of the Centre, so thank you very much for your time, both of you.
[Other]: Well thank you for your time!

Collection

Citation

Nigel Moore, “Interview with Andrew Barron. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 7, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/17168.

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