Interview with Andrew Barron. Three


Interview with Andrew Barron. Three


Andrew said that during leisure time the crew drank, sang silly songs but didn’t really socialise much. He recalled an occasion when the Germans sent in about 200 night fighters infiltrating the main force on its ways home. They shot down a B-17 as it came into land and all crew were killed. The German aircraft had passed Andrew’s one as it was waiting to land. He mentions four daylight operations: over a fairly short period the squadron did 38 operations. Andrew remembered on 1 January 1945 he was on operations and made some gross navigational error – he had been up late on New Years’ Eve and had drunk quite a bit. May 1945 ended operational flights: on the 26th Andrew did a trip with 223 Squadron from RAF Swannington, in a B-17. When the war ended, they were allowed to go on one of the Cooks tours around the Ruhr to see what damage had been done. Andrew was then posted to 102 Squadron at RAF Pocklington doing local flying with circuits and bumps. They did three flights in a Halifax disposing bombs into the sea. Following various postings, he was demobbed and trained for a civil license.




Temporal Coverage




01:56:35 audio recording


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ABarronAJK190510, PBarronAJK1901


NM: Okay, so this is Nigel Moore, I’m with Andrew Barron and we’re going to catch up from where we started last time. So Andrew, can you tell me a bit about life on the squadron when you were off duty, when you weren’t on ops, what were you, how did you socialise, what did you do?
AB: I’m sorry, what was it you wanted?
NM: When you weren’t on operations, tell me about the squadron life, what did you do for recreation and down time?
AB: Drank too much and sang silly songs! Really, wasted my time I think would be the, the most succinct explanation. I had no social life really, on the squadron, as I’ve already explained. I was pitchforked into this half qualified crew in the Bahamas and I had really no sort of social contact with them. The captain had flown, as far as I know, half a tour in Coastal Command, so had the navigator and so had the, the chief wireless operator. The rest of us were all sprogs who were drafted in to the crew to make it up and we had no particular social contact. I don’t know what their, what they did. I don’t think Scotty Steele, the skipper, was very happy. He’d, his experience had all been Coastal Command long range patrols, flying at about a thousand feet, two thousand feet perhaps, over the oceans for twelve or thirteen hours, and he had no, he had, I don’t think he had any chums in the squadron either, they were all stranger to him and I don’t think he took to night flying in the, at high altitude in the Liberator, and in fact I think he had one or two rather dodgy landings and I believe [emphasis] he sort of disappeared from the squadron after a few weeks. The, I was pitchforked into this Canadian crew, and as I’ve explained, the skipper, his father had been in the British Army in the First World War in Mesopotamia, funnily enough the same as my father, and I think Tony used to go off searching up his English relatives up in the north of England. The co-pilot, Mervyn Eustace, his brother had just completed a tour in 4 Group, I think it was 4 Group, which was the, either 4 Group or 6 Group which was the Canadian bomber group and Mervyn used to go off to seek out his brother who was, um – god, what are they called - he was at Shawbury acting as an instructor to new crews coming over so that disposed of them and I just used to go home and as far as, when I was on leave, and as far as the rest of the time was concerned, I think we worked a rather more intensive pace in 100 Group than the average main force group. If you look in Middlemiss’s tome The Bomber Command Diaries you’ll find that, you know, a different, groups weren’t turned out, they didn’t operate at every night that Bomber Command was operating: 100 Group did. 100 Group went out with everybody. Either we went with the main force to jam the radars in the target area or else we were sent out with, as a diversionary force or if main force wasn’t operating we were sent out to stir up the Germans anyway. So you look at my log book and there’d be, perhaps, in a week we’d fly four sorties, maybe, five sorties; Bomber Command didn’t operate at that pace. So we didn’t have all that much of a social life in the mess anyway and some of us were bookish, and Ron Johnson, who was one of the squadron navigators, he studied music I think in his spare time in the mess. I just used to go in there and drink and when I’d had enough, or probably too much, I’d stagger off to bed and sleep it off until the next day. And we used to sing silly songs, you know, good night ladies and of course the WAAF officers never did go off to bed, they used to stay and listen to us. They were all schoolboy songs, just snippets of which I remember [chuckle] and that was it. I know, oh dear, think er, I’ve forgotten the chap’s name, but the fellow who more or less runs things in the little village of Oulton le Street organises the teas for all us chaps when we come up for our memorial celebration in a week’s time and he’s asked me sort of what were my impressions. I didn’t have any impressions of Oulton, you know, they were just houses there and we drove past the houses as we went to our various offices, the, there was an intelligence room which had digests of the previous night’s operations and you know, you could leaf through those and I remember my sort of impression of them was that if the losses had risen to two figures, you know, we hadn’t done a very good job, you know, we ought to have done better than that and it had various publications of, you know, trying to instil a better spirit in us I suppose, but I don’t think, well, as I say I [emphasis] don’t think, I don’t think, I’ve no idea what other people thought because we never discussed the previous night’s operations, we never discussed what we were doing. The jamming was highly secret and it was more than your life was worth to try to chat up anybody about what all these weird instruments were that were in the back of the aeroplane, you know, they’re not your business laddie, but would you like to have a spell in Sheffield in the RAF’s penitentiary for asking too many questions, so you didn’t ask any questions and we just wiled the, they er, wiled the, our life away if you know. One day some of us went up to town and bought ourselves revolvers and small arms of that kind and I know I got a Webley which had a 22 sort of insert in it and we used to go down and shoot at the trees on the Blickling Estate. It just really, wasted my time.
NM: Going back to operations, when you wrote to me, an email you described -
AB: Pardon?
NM: When you wrote to me an email recently you described how you were, on approach back to Oulton, you were overtaken by a German fighter aircraft on its way to shoot down a B17 ahead of you. Tell me about that.
AB: Oh yes, that was Unternehmen Giselle, trust the Germans to make Giselle into an unfortunate name like Giselle. Anyway, the Germans in, I think it was, it’ll be in my log book, but early March ‘45 they sent in I think about two hundred night fighters with the, they infiltrated the main force on its way back home and they kept schtum until they were over the UK and the planes were circling their bases coming in to land and they intercepted a B17 which was, of 214 Squadron, which was coming in to land and shot it down, literally, just about as it touched down and they were all killed, all the crew were all killed. And according to Mervyn Eustace the plane had actually flown past us as we were orbiting overhead, you know, waiting our turn to land, and of course as soon as the balloon went up we got the order to disperse and the, Tony said: ‘course for Brawdy navigator.’ Brawdy being somewhere down in south west Wales, so I gave him 270 as being the nearest westerly heading that came into my head and off we went. All the lights out, all the gunners at their positions and everything on an active basis and we stooged off into the darkness of the Midlands and after about twenty minutes I got a fix, you know, a Gee fix, not a, that kind of fix, and found a wind from that and did the job properly you know, and laid off a course for this place Brawdy and we got there about, oh I don’t know, about an hour later, something like that and kipped down for the night, flew back the next day.
[Other]: I’m really sorry to interrupt. Daddy, do you know what mummy’s pass code is for her?
NM: So you took part in the last operation of the war, tell me about that.
AB: Yes, we, it was um, a feint to Schleswig. It was when they thought that the Germans were going to mount an attack from the forces that they’d got in Norway. There were two things, there were, one was that they were going to launch an attack from Norway and the other one was that they were going to launch their forces from down in the Alps, I think, using Bertchesgarten as the operational headquarters but both failed of course and the Germans surrendered.
NM: So how many of your operations were in daylight and how many were at night time?
AB: Sorry?
NM: How many of your operations were in daylight and how many were at night?
AB: Oh, I only did four daylight, those were the Big Bens right at the very beginning, you know, when they thought that the V2s were radio controlled, but they discovered that they weren’t so that was finished. They realised that there was no protection against the V2s, no warning, nothing, they just came out of the blue, and er, ooh, and blew a, excuse me, I’ve got a bit uncomfortable there-
NM: Are you all right? Do you want to move?
AB: So, as I say, the Big Bens were closed down and we were put on to the, the ordinary Window diversionary sorties, well the, the three operations. One was the escorting of the main force, jamming whatever the special operators could pick up as we flew along with [emphasis] the main force and when we got to the targets, orbiting it for, oh probably eight or ten minutes, something like that and jamming anything that they could hear, they could pick up. That was the one operation then the second one was the Window spoof forces, where a couple of dozen or so mixed force of Liberators, Fortresses and Halifaxes went out from the Heavy Squadrons in 100 Group and they mounted a, a spoof; they would break away from the main force and pretend to be an attacking force on another target. I used to think at the time that it was all a big guessing game but in fact it was very carefully thought out and timed to convince the Germans that it was a genuine attacking force, it wasn’t just a, a spoof. And then if Bomber Command was stood down for the night, usually because of the weather, 100 Group would be sent out, a couple of dozen planes would go out, everything else, a Mandrel screen would go up to, to screen the approaching forces from the, from Britain and that was carefully timed and little gaps would be opened in it to allow the Germans to get a glimpse of the opposing forces coming behind the screen and we would be sent out to threaten some town or city. It was helped by the fact that one of the other squadrons, I forget what its number was, but it was an Australian squadron, they always carried a few bombs and markers cause as they said, [Australian accent] they weren’t gonna come half way round the world just to drop bits of paper over Germany! So they carried bombs but we never did. The Fortresses and the Liberators were both completely, all their bombing equipment had been all stripped out and so that was left to the Halifaxes and that was it and then on May 2nd it all finished.
NM: So when it all finished, what was it like on the squadron?
AB: I don’t really remember. I think everybody was sort of, you know, quite happy, have another drink. We were allowed to go on Cooks’ tours round the Ruhr, you know, to see what sort of damage had been done by Bomber Command and crews were left to pick their own routes. And I did a couple, I did one with Tony in a Liberator, they’re in here somewhere. [Noises of opening box, looking through papers] You see here’s November, November the 4th, the 15th, the 25th and then the 25th, 26th, 29th, 30th – well main force didn’t operate at that sort of strength. See the 25th of November was a Window, we had to climb to twenty four thousand feet. That was another of the advantages of the, the Fortress and the Liberator, they had a higher ceiling than the Lancaster. Then the next night it was a Window, again, and then three nights later another Window, and the next night another Window: busy, busy. And one or two other months were a bit like that. February: 20th, 22nd, 24th, 28th as I say you compare, and March 7th, 20th, 22nd, 23rd, if you compare that with the Bomber Command Diaries it would have been different groups would have been out and not all the squadrons in all the Groups would have been turned out, so that over a fairly [emphasis] short period I flew thirty eight sorties. Even April, 2nd, 7th , 10th. The 2nd was a Window, the 7th was a target, Malbis, which is an, sort of a outskirt of Leipzig, and the 10th again was a Window all way to Dessau to Leipzig. The Russians are coming – show ’em what the RAF can do. Well, there was an element of that. And that was, as I say the Meritorious Service and Good Airmanship in that a full operational tour. I was only once uncertain of my position and that was I think on the 1st of January 1945 when I’d been very late to bed the night before, celebrating the New Year, and found myself on the ops list on the 1st of January, rather hung over, and I made some gross navigational error, I don’t know what it was, I’ve not been able to discover what it was, but anyway it, we ran out of Window. We ran out of engines actually, we ended up on two and a half engines for a start, and then we ran out of Window and so Tony decided to cut it short and go home but we didn’t get penalised for it which was what counted.
NM: You made it back home on two and a half engines did you?
AB: Yes, yes.
NM: Running low on fuel.
AB: Yes, but then you say, at the, I never did get on to the Cooks Tours; here we come. May the 2nd, that was the last operational sortie; that was the Window to Schleswig aerodrome: uneventful, thirty two, and then on the 5th of May we did an air test and on the 7th of May with Tony, we did a cross country: we went to Gravesend, Dungeness, Cap Griz-Nez, Ypres, Brussels, Aachen, Koblenz, Cologne, Dortmund, Essen, Duisburg, Krefeld, oh and so on and back home and that was the one I remember. It was a nice clear day, sun shining and we flew all over the Ruhr and the whole thing was glistening with the broken glass and in the whole length and breadth of the Ruhr there was only one railway train to be seen operating, so you know, it was, it was flattened. Mind you it was a bit deceptive because of course what the bombs did, they blew out the windows, they blew off the roofs, but they didn’t in many cases, they didn’t destroy the heavy machinery so that a lot of production carried on. That was on the 7th and then on the 26th I was called in to, I was at RAF Swannington at that time – I’ll tell you about that in a few minutes - on the 26th of May I did a trip in a Fortress of 223 Squadron and that was a rather limited one. We did Cap Gris-Nez, Antwerp, the Ruhr, the Mohne Dam, Vimy Ridge and back to Oulton. I was rather keen on Vimy Ridge because when I was a boy, one of my father's friends in Wolverhampton was actually a Canadian who’d come over with the Canadian forces and had decided to stay in England after the First World War, and of course Vimy Ridge was a Canadian operation, they organised the whole thing themselves and it was a majority of Canadian forces who took part in it and they captured the Ridge and it put Canada on the map. After that Canada got its independence.
NM: When you flew over the Ruhr and places like the Mohne Dam what did, can you remember what you thought at the time looking down at all the damage?
AB: Pardon?
NM: Can you remember what your thoughts were when you flew over the Ruhr valley and saw the damaged cities?
AB: Not really. No, I, you know, I didn’t feel vengeful, or sort of there you are you bastards, you got what you asked for.
NM: Was it just professional detachment?
AB: I just noted the fact that the place was just a carpet of broken glass glistening in the sunshine. I don’t think, I mean, again, I can only speak for myself, I can’t speak for others cause I never asked them anything, but I don’t think, I don’t think many fellows had a vengeful feeling, you know, we got in to the war and we won it and that was it. You know, I don’t know if fellers whose fathers had been in the trenches in the First World War used to talk about it with their fathers or if they did, what they had to say about it. No idea, it was, you were just there and you did it.
NM: Tell me about your RAF -
AB: Pardon?
NM: Tell me about your RAF service after the war.
AB: Er, yes, well of course, I remember vaguely being posted up to Yorkshire, to, and according to my log book where you can record your units at which served as observer, 223 Squadron 7th of May ‘45 and then the 10th of May, 77 Squadron, Full Sutton, Yorkshire for a day: got 10th of May to 11th of the May and then the 11th of the May, of May I was posted to 102 Squadron at Pocklington until the 15th and I do have some record of that. RAF, 102 Squadron, 1st of June: local flying: circuits and bumps. And 7th of June: more circuits and bumps. And this went on until the 9th of June, was a busy day, flew four sorties, to, we flew to Snaith where we picked up a load of bombs, thirteen by eight by thirty pounds and we flew out to sea somewhere and dropped them in the sea, I ask you. We did three of those.
NM: That was in Halfaxes.
AB: And that was with, yes, in the Halifax, that was with Flying Officer Briscoe as the captain. Well Flying Officer Briscoe had been a pre war University Air Squadron pilot and had learned to fly, he’d actually got his wings as a cadet in the University Air Squadron and he was an ex, he worked in the Air Ministry as a Civil Aviation, came under the aegis of the Air Ministry pre war, and John Briscoe was a member of that organisation so the instruction came round that we were destined to be Tiger Force to go out to the Far East and teach the Japanese what was which, but obviously some time in June the decision was made that you had to be a volunteer to go out to the Far East and John Briscoe had decided he didn’t want to volunteer, so that was that. He disappeared. And then mixed up in the middle of that you see it says here, 102 Squadron: 11th of May to 15th of May, June disappears and then I was, on the 15th of May to the end of May I was sent down to RAF Swannington which was one of the 100 Group night fighter bases and was the home of 85 Squadron and 157 Squadron and I was sent down there to learn these Mosquito navigators how to do the job properly. I felt a right bloody lemon cause there was me, you know, nothing on my chest but a few hairs and half these blokes had got DFCs and DFMs, and DSOs and you name it and so as I say I felt a bit of a lemon and then I was, that was cancelled and I was sent back to, I suppose I was sent back to 102 Squadron. I remember one of the Mosquito fellers flew me up to Pocklington to rejoin 102 Squadron or whatever it was. And then Japan collapsed and I wanted to, I decided that I didn’t want to go back to college, that I’d stay in aviation, there was a future in aviation and I’d stay in aviation and become [cough] a civil navigator, little knowing of course at the time that the pilots were busy manoeuvring all the other crew members out of their seats; the pilots were going to take over the navigation, I don’t know what was going to happen to wireless operators, I think they were just going to disappear because it was all going to be voice transmission over the oceans and everywhere but anyway I decided that I’d stay in civil aviation and [cough] what I needed was experience of long distance flying, you know, to present to some prospective employer that I was the right sort of material that they wanted. So I tried to, [cough] I tried to get in to one of the squadrons that was doing these long range passenger work, I think I mentioned that the Lancasters and Halifaxes were re-employed to fly out to the Far East and come back with, you know, fifteen or couple of dozen squaddies who were due to be demobbed because the airmen and soldiers in India and the Far East were getting very restive because they knew that men were being demobbed in Europe and they weren’t and they didn’t like that and there were some near mutinies. But so anyway, I left Pocklington, presumably I left Pocklington, according to my log book it said 102 Squadron and actually the next entry, 102 Squadron, oh that’s right, Pocklington, 31st of May to the 11th June ‘45 and then I entered into an interesting period, during which I was crewed up with a, I forget what his name was, Purvis I think, who’d been, a man who had been flying Halifaxes and we were posted to Mashing, we were posted to Great Dunmow, Earls Colne, about a half a dozen aerodromes in 38 Group in Essex. We were posted to them and we’d get to them and they’d say: oh no you, you’re Halifax trained, we’re flying Stirlings in this squadron so, you know, go away on leave and so I stayed on leave until [laugh] until the 13th of November 1945 when we arrived at Shepherd’s Grove which is just east of Bury St Edmunds, 196 Squadron and it was flying Stirlings in 38 Group and they said, oh yes, you know, no problem old boy, you know, we’ll convert you on the squadron and this is in fact what they did because I stayed with them until March of 1946. And in March 1946 I was posted to the Empire Air Navigation School at Shawbury to become a specialist navigator which would hopefully improve my possibility of gaining a permanent commission in the air force. Well in fact, I didn’t get, I was turned down, I don’t know why. In those days you weren’t told if there was something unsatisfactory in your RAF career. There is now apparently, they have to tell you and you have the right to, I forget what the wording is, anyway, you can complain against the fact that you were turned down for a permanent commission or whatever but in those days you weren’t so I ended up at Shawbury and I spent probably two months at Shawbury, learning to be an advanced navigator, which in fact was a load of old rubbish because you know, we thought it was a laugh a minute you know, the RAF had got its fingers on all sorts of German navigation equipment and they thought it was a bit of a laugh but in fact of course, it wasn’t; the Germans, certainly in 1940 were well advanced on the RAF. The RAF’s pre war navigation was, well it wasn’t a joke, it was very much less [emphasis] than a joke, the RAF hadn’t got any idea how to bloody well navigate at night or at long distance and they would land near a railway station and ask them where they were all that sort of stuff. The Germans had this nichbein, bent knee, I think that’s what it meant, they had this nichbein equipment which enabled them to bomb Coventry with considerable accuracy in 1940. [pause] It erm, and they had various other bits of equipment; they had a thing called the kirskopler which was really just a method of following a defined track, what the RAF, when we were training in Canada, was look down on on its nose, called track crawling, where you, you followed the track that you’d been given to fly and when you’d found you were off track, you made a correction of course to get back on track, which I used to do, much to the disgust of our Navigation Leader of course, who used to call it guestimation. But we thought we were going to be the bees knees, but in fact of course I mean even at that time the airlines were busy phasing out the navigators, as I said, they were training pilots to be navigators and there were two or three rather advanced BOAC pilots who, who had cottoned on to this jet-stream business, you know, they had been transatlantic pilots and they had noticed that you got these very strong winds and they happened under certain meteorological conditions and I mean you know, proper navigation, it took off after that, but I didn’t know of course all that, it was happening. So I quite happily went to Shawbury and did the short N navigation course which didn’t get me a permanent commission or anything like that. So I left Shawbury and was posted to Tarrant Rushton down in Dorset which was within weeks of closing and I was posted in as deputy Station Navigation Officer, a high faluting title. My boss was V. J. Wright I think, who’d been a bank manager in Great Dunmow and he was the Station Navigation Officer and it was interesting, they’d taken part in Arnhem. Incidentally I forgot to mention that at 196 Squadron where we finished our tour round East Anglia and were given a home, every man on the squadron had been shot down over Arnhem, it was that bad, and one of them had got the MC and they reckoned he would have had the VC if he hadn’t shot his mouth off quite so much about his exploits once he’d been shot down; I forget what his name was. Anyway, and then when Tarrant Rushton closed down and I left there with a truck full of surplus instruments of various kinds: I had three or four sextants and that, because the worst thing you could do in the air force was to end up with a surplus on your inventory. When you came to close down an inventory you couldn’t show any surplus equipment because, well, where did it become surplus from? And then of course there was a long and tedious investigation as to why [emphasis] this particular piece of equipment was surplus to requirement? So in the, anyway, from there I was posted to Netheravon which was one of the first World War One RAF aerodromes and in the foyer of the officers mess they had a, oh I don’t know, one of these pre First World War rotary engines on a stand and the story was that when they were doing some [cough] excavating there they’d dug this engine up [laugh] and it was on display. The, the Chief Technical Officer, he was a bit more down to earth, he said, oh he said, you know what happened there, they found it was surplus to somebody's inventory and they buried the bloody thing. Well they might have done, but anyway, they had this thing on display there. It was an interesting unit. It was the Heavy Glider Servicing Unit of 38 Group and they had the Horsa gliders which was the, no, the, yes it was the Horsa glider, which was the man carrying glider in use in the British forces. They used to carry about, I think it carried about a couple of dozen soldiers, you know, volunteers, you, you and you, you – you’re all volunteers. They landed hours before D-Day on the west, on the eastern side of the British Sector and their job was to capture the bridge over the river Orne which bordered the western edge of the, of the zone, the landing zone, and they did this and it was abs, we, it’s worth a visit if you get the chance. These gliders, they landed these bloody gliders within feet, [emphasis] I mean feet [emphasis] of the targets that they were supposed to land the things on. Mind you, the chop rate was pretty terrible. I think about half the glider pilots were killed of course because they, it had made these heavy landings in the darkness and very often they came to rest on these steel girders which the Germans had buried in the ground as a deterrent to that sort of thing. But it was an incredible job, they, they, this glider force, who were, I think they were the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry, you know, they were just volunteered for the job and they did a, anyway they had these Horsa gliders at Netheravon and they used to do all sorts of experimental things, like snatching them. You know, you’d sit in the glider and the tow rope would be taken out in the front and a big loop put up on a pole and a Dakota would come roaring over the top trailing a hook and this hook would engage in this loop and literally pull the glider off the ground; it was quite exciting. I mean you, I did it both sitting in the glider and sitting in the Dakota and the glider took off with a bloody great jerk and the Dakota came sailing over and the airspeed indicator read something like about a hundred and, I don’t know, a hundred and thirty, a hundred and fifty knots and the hook would take and this bloody great drum in the, in the Dakota would start spinning round and the airspeed would go “eurgh” and fall down to about eighty knots, very exciting. But, er, I spent some months doing that and then where was I, at H, yeah, the Heavy Glider Servicing Unit, oh that’s right and then I was in June ‘47 I was posted to TICU, Transport Initial Conversion Unit at Bertram Newton which was very nice because that was a pre war station as well. I mean Netheravon was very nice cause it was pre First World War station and it was, that was very pleasant. I used to have a running battle with the adjutant there, Ross Beldin, because I used to go off every weekend, used to go back home every weekend and I was busy courting then and on Monday mornings I’d catch the local train cause Dorothea lived in the next town up towards London, so I’d catch this train and meet up with her at Hampton station and when we got to London I’d walk her across to her office in the city and say goodbye to her and then I’d get off to Waterloo station and catch the nine something to Salisbury, where I’d get out. I’d had breakfast on the nine o’clock train, very civilised, and I’d get off at Salisbury and the glider pilots, there were always a load of glider pilots on the train and they’d always got transport, you know, they’d got their own jeeps and that, so I’d get a lift up to Netheravon and I’d sneak in to Netheravon just about round lunchtime and the Adjutant, the Station Adjutant, Flight Lieutenant Beldin, he knew I was up to something, he knew I was absent on Monday mornings but he never managed to catch me and, until one day he saw me after lunch I think, and he ‘oh!’ he said, ‘the CO wants to know where you were this morning.’ So I gave him some cock and bull story, ‘oh well,’ he said, ‘he wants a report about it,’ he said, ‘so let me have it this afternoon.’ So I thought you sneaky bastard, he doesn’t know I’m missing in the mornings, so anyway I went back to my room and wrote this report and took it up and there was nobody in the adjutant ‘s office so I thought ha, I’ve got you you bastard, so I knocked on the CO’s door to give him this report and the bloody adjutant was in with the CO, he said: ‘oh yes,’ he said, ‘I’ll give it to the old man, thank you very much.’ And that was the last I ever heard of it, but he, later on, he got dismissed from the service for having hanky panky with a WAAF when, the days when it wasn’t allowed to do that sort of thing I think. It’s a bit, they’re a bit more open these days, but not in those days they weren’t. So anyway, I went up to TICU and that was quite pleasant, but it was just classroom work and I wasn’t getting any flying, and I thought well sod this so I deferred my leaving the air force by about two years I think, but I realised I was wasting my time, the air force wasn’t going to give me what I wanted so I packed that in and after about, I don’t know how many months at TICU, oh, about six months, 23rd of June to the 2nd of December 1947 I came out and I went to ooh, something aviation training limited and got myself a civil licence which again was full of esoteric rubbish, you know: how to construct a chart and all sorts of things that you, you never saw in a year’s, so anyway I got my licence. There weren’t any jobs going and I was very lucky, I got engaged and I got a job, I think it was advertised in the Telegraph or something like that, as a navigation instructor at one of the RAF’s Reserve Flying Schools. They’d reconstituted the Volunteer Reserve after the war and I got a job at Castle Brom with number, forget which number it was, it was either 5 or 18, 5, 5 RFS at Castle Bromwich, which is all blocks of flats now, and that was quite interesting, I learnt a lot there. I learned not to shoot lines, because I discovered that I was talking with, many of my reservists had forgotten far more about operational flying than I knew. One chap had been flying Vickers Wellingtons, which was a single engined RAF long range bomber pre war [laugh] an antiquated machine and he was flying with a squadron of them from, I think from Khartoum actually, and when Italy entered the war on Germany’s side, he said they had to go and bomb Eritrea and Italian East Africa and he said they used to get the wogs, they used to get the natives to light a bonfire at a deter, at a designated position sort of way out in the desert a hundred, hundred and fifty miles away from Khartoum and they’d fly to that and find a wind from it and then they’d use that to navigate round Italian East Africa. [Laugh] Very crude navigation, but that was the standard of RAF navigation, you know, I mean the first sorties that the RAF flew over Germany in 1939, 1940 were ridiculous. I mean the Germans were in fact well ahead of us. Well that’s it then.
NM: So, Castle Bromwich, what happened after Castle Bromwich?
AB: Pardon?
NM: You were at Castle Bromwich?
AB: Oh yes! I spent about eighteen months, two years at Castle Brom and the Chief Flying Instructor left and went down to Fairoaks, which is near near Woking, and he contacted me and he said he had a vacancy for a Chief Ground Instructor would you like to come down and have it? It was another, I don’t know fifty, hundred pounds a year pay better of, which mattered in those days. I mean you know, when I started my pay was about four hundred or four fifty a year and we lived quite happily on that too. So anyway, I accepted his offer and we bought a caravan and lived in that. Somebody towed it down to Fairoaks for us and we lived quite happily in that and I spent about another three and a half four years doing that, until - I’ll give you the date - until 19th of June ‘53, 19th of June ‘53 when the government of the day decided that the next war was going to be a push button war and there wouldn’t be time to call up Reservists let alone retrain them, so the Volunteer Reserve was shut down and we all had to look for other jobs and the best offer I got was as a flight navigator with Scottish Aviation flying Yorks all over the world and I did that for five years until they decided that they weren’t going to do that sort of flying any more, but I enjoyed it. Whether it trained me for married life I don’t know, probably not.
NM: So after Scottish Aviation?
AB: But er, pardon?
NM: After Scottish Aviation?
AB: Yes, I was flying Yorks. The York was the transport plane developed from the Lancaster in the, in the 1940s and of course it was basically the RAF’s only heavy transport aeroplane. Churchill used one for flying around about all over the world and it was extensively used. Wasn’t a bad plane. Climbed like a lead balloon, terrible rate of climb, you know, about five hundred feet a minute or something. So it took me a long, long time to get used to the modern aeroplanes’ rate of climb. You know, you get in the thing, you sit on the runway and the pilot calls out rotate and the next thing you’re about three thousand feet up in the air!
NM: So what did you do after Scottish Aviation?
AB: Pardon?
NM: What did you do after Scottish Aviation?
AB: I became an air traffic controller, which um -
NM: Where was that?
AB: Well actually I was flying from Stansted with Scottish and I became an air traffic controller and at that time one of the training stations was Stansted so fairly naturally they posted me to Stansted to do my initial training and from there I went to Gatwick. I didn’t get on very well with the Civil Aviation Authority. At the time it was, hmm, it was a government department then still, and I forget which government, I think, which department it was in then. Anyway, I did me training at Stansted and then I was posted down to Gatwick and did further training and you had to validate at the end of your second training station’s time and you passed the eagle eye of the deputy chief, act, in the, no I forget what, we went through department after we started out as the Ministry of Civil Aviation, then it became the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation, then it became the Ministry of Transport and so it went on as governments changed they changed the nomenclature of the thing, anyway I didn’t get on very well and I was very nearly thrown out, but given another lease of life and sent to Blackbushe, which was, which is west London, sent to Blackbushe to have another go and I did that and that actually passed out from there and then I was posted back to Stansted but -
NM: You stayed at Stansted for the rest of your career?
AB: Pardon?
AB: Did you stay at Stansted for the rest of your career?
AB: Well, no, I didn’t actually, I was posted back, I went to Blackbushe and then from Blackbushe I was sent back to Stansted and I qualified at Stansted and I stayed there and then they brought in the requirement that you had to qualify on radar before they would grant you permanent status and so I was sent to London to qualify on the radar at, not actually at the airport itself, but at the Area Control Centre. Civil Aviation was becoming more and more organised. When I first joined it was very much do it yourself, where do you want to go to old boy, oh so and so and so and so, well put the ruler on the map, draw a line on it then go, but then the system of airways percolated over from the States and controlled airspace, where you couldn’t fly, or you could only fly, in certain areas, you know, by obeying strict control rules. Well anyway the first such centre in, was established in the UK in London and I was sent there to train up on the radar and oh, it was interesting and it became a matter of domesticity. I used to spend my afternoons off driving round the countryside looking at houses which were as far the other side of Heathrow as I was living at the time, so ,I one day somebody said, ‘oh,’ he said, ‘would you like to go back to Stansted?’ I said yes please. Somebody who’d been posted away from Stansted needed replacing so back I went to Stansted and I got the radar ticket at Heathrow and Stansted had everything except [emphasis] radar, they didn’t have any radar! But that didn’t matter, I’d got the rating so I didn’t have to worry about. I stayed at the Heath, at Stansted all the rest of my time and I enjoyed it. It, for a junior controller it was a rather satisfying job, you had the responsibility. I mean at somewhere like Gatwick or Heathrow, if an aeroplane came in and called up some kind of emergency you had to call the watch supervisor and if it was a bad enough emergency you had to call the, the Chief Air Traffic Controller of the whole kaboodle, but if it happened at Stansted - [pause]
NM: So if it happened at Stansted you -
AB: Pardon?
NM: If it happened at Stansted, an emergency, you had to take responsibility yourself did you?
AB: Oh yes, you were quite a junior, I remember we had, we were still a civil, a civil service department and the boss man was the Commandant and he used to go home at five o’clock and he didn’t want to know about the place, he expected the duty controller to look after things when they were gone. We had a KLM aeroplane come in to refuel on its way to New York and they poured the petrol in and it started leaking out and so it ended up that they had to defuel it to the point where it didn’t leak any more and then fly it off to Amsterdam where they could either change it for a serviceable aeroplane or fix the leak and so normally Stansted closed at eleven o’clock at night but the duty controller had the authority to extend the hours for three hours, you know, under various circumstances, so I extended this and it got to three hours and this crisis had developed and as I said to the point where they could defuel the plane and then fly it off to Amsterdam, so I said well, you’d better do that and it ended up that I shut the airfield and I was passing, as I was driving home, I was passing the fellows who were coming in to open up for the morning and the next day when I was on duty the commandant rang up, and he said, well he said, who authorised [cough] all this and I said well I did, and I explained the circumstances and that was it, you know. Nobody else was involved. So, and you know those sort of things happened, you know, you weren’t expected to call in higher authority, you were [emphasis] the higher authority on duty and you were expected to get on with it, make your decisions and justify it, but the blokes at Heathrow used to think we were a load of drongoes, you know. Well Heathrow, of course, like all these big airports, it’s an entirely different thing: it’s time is what matters at Heathrow and New York and all these other places, you know, you’ve got to, everything’s got to go on time, you’ve got to, you can’t afford to have fifteen seconds’ time wasted between aeroplanes, I mean that’s how you don’t get the movement rate. I mean Heathrow gets its movement rate by the fact that the planes are coming in like that, and they’re fifteen seconds apart and that’s it. It’s got to be fifteen seconds, not fourteen, not thirteen, fifteen and if you don’t make that they don’t want you.
NM: Andrew can I take you back to something you told me last time we met. You mentioned a man called George Sidebottom. Was he in Bomber Command?
AB: Oh yes, George. I was at school in Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton Grammar School, George and I were in the same class in Wolverhampton Grammar School.
NM: And did you say he ended up in Bomber Command?
AB: That’s right, yes, a few years later. He ended up as my, brother in law’s skipper in Bomber Command and he was in, I think 100 Squadron in Grimsby, I’m not quite sure which group that was in, whether that was in 3 Group I think, but I’m not sure, Grimsby. And my brother in law was his flight engineer and they’d had to abort two operations due to mechanical trouble but the CO wasn’t very receptive to that and told George in no uncertain terms that if he did it again he might very well find himself down the mines, so they were pressing along, they’d got some mechanical trouble, I don’t know what it was, I’ve forgotten, and anyway they were on their way to Leipzig and I think about the about the 13th of February 1944, something like that, be in the book and well it’ll be in, I’ve forgotten, the chap who has the record of all the Bomber Command casualties. Anyway they were chugging along and they were attacked and they were shot up and they were badly enough shot up that George said look chaps, he said, you know, we’re not going to make Leipzig, let alone get back to base, so he said I give you the option of baling out now, so they all decided to bale out and they all got away with it and apparently when the news got back to Grimsby that they’d all baled out there was a bit of a oh yes, hmmm, you know, hmmm, he’s done it twice, got away with it the third time, but my sister in law told me that, or told us, that she was reading some book and it was a reminiscences of a German night fighter pilot and he quoted this, he quoted this plane, this sortie you know, serial number, everything and you know, it was proof that -
[Other]: Are you taking a plate and a fork please?
AB: Oh thank you my darling.
NM: Lovely. Thank you very much.
AB: And it was proof that George hadn’t just done a “come on chaps let’s finish the war”.
[Other] [Unclear] on the table darling.
NM: I’ll just grab that if I may, thank you very much, lovely, thank you.
[Other]: What’s wrong, take another piece.
AB: And it got back to the squadron that – thank you darling - that it was a genuine one that they’d all baled out and Vic and, Vic and one of the other crews, they were picked up about two days later, but two of the crew got all the way to the, I mean they baled out near, oh, well near Potsdam, quite close to Berlin, but two of the crew got as far as the Dutch frontier and they pinched a couple of bicycles and they’d cycled across this bridge into Holland and for some reason or other they were sort of unsure, they were uncertain of where they were or something and they turned round and went back and they were challenged and apprehended by one of the German Volksturm, one of the German Home Guard [laugh] and Vic ended up in Heidekrug which was as far north west as you could get in Germany, it was right up in the tip top tip of east Germany and of course when the Germans, or rather when the Russians started advancing seriously across Poland and then into East Russia, the, East Germany, the Germans evacuated and Vic ended up on the Long March. That was rugged. Couldn’t look a turnip in the face after that.
NM: But he survived and was repatriated, yes?
AB: Mmm?
NM: He survived and was repatriated?
AB: Hmm.
NM: So he was a prisoner of war until the end of the war.
AB: Yes, eventually, the, [eating] they ended up in central Germany somewhere, I don’t know where.
NM: So his name was Vic, and what was his surname?
AB: Mendelski, Victor Mendelski, I think it was 100 Squadron and it was about, round about, round about February 13th I think, something like that. And as I say, it’ll be in Bill Chorley’s books. You’ve got those have you?
NM: We’ve got access to them.
AB: You’ll find it in there, something through that.
NM: Okay, just to finish with then, you’ve been going to the 100 Group reunions for a few years now.
AB: As I said, when Scottish packed up we all had to find other jobs and a number of them got jobs with the Civil Aviation Flying Unit which was based at Stansted and which was responsible for, it was responsible for the flight checking of all the radio aids, the navigation beacons, all the instrument landing systems and so on throughout the country and some of them abroad and they also did the flight checking of applicants for pilots’ licences and then for instrument ratings because one of the things that devolved from the airways system and all the control zone system that I mentioned earlier on, was that pilots had to be able to fly on instruments, had to have an instrument rating, and Stansted did all the examining for that. Well I got to know a few of them who’d been at Reserve Flying Schools and after I retired these chaps said, oh he said why don’t you join the Aircrew Association, which was an association which was open to [cough] all aircrew, everybody, cooks, stewards, the lot of them if they’d been flying, one of the chaps his wife had been an air steward in the RAF, she was a member, anyway, but I did join but I didn’t take to it, it was a, perhaps I shouldn’t say this but it was full of air gunners for one thing! And they used to meet at a pub in Saffron Walden which was not really convenient for me and perhaps I’m not the club-able type, a great cry of I’ll say rises to that, but so I dropped out, but during my membership I saw a notice in their magazine of a memorial stone being dedicated at Oulton, you know where I’d flown from, so I thought oh well I’ll go and go up to that so I went up to Aylesham and stayed in a B & B there and I happened to meet a fellow Squadron Leader, Richard Forder, a retired engineer who was researching the fate of one of the three Liberators that was lost from 223 Squadron, it was, oh I forget, it was captained by, he was either Flying Officer or Flying, or Flight Lieutenant Ayres, nicknamed Lou Ayres naturally, who, one of whose gunners Richard Forder had met when he was a small boy, I forget where he was, he was somewhere in the West Country, Shropshire, somewhere like that, and he’d met this chap, this RAF sergeant who’d given him some toy trains as a souvenir and this chap had been one of the casualties of this, [cough] of this flight and Richard was researching it and I’d been on the same detail. We’d done a spoof, a Window feint to Cassel. We’d come out from, we’d split off from the main force which had gone on to somewhere in the east, Leipzig or somewhere like that and we’d formed a force which flew on up to Cassel which some of the Halifaxes had bombed and we turned back from Cassel and gone home and on the way back from Cassel, Lou Ayres was shot down and we passed over his, over the wreckage of his flight and I was able to provide Richard with all sorts of information, you know, flight times and all the rest of it and proved the accuracy of my navigation, [laugh] reasonably. So that’s how I got involved with the 100 Group Association, kept it up ever since.
NM: You’ve got the next one next week I gather.
AB: We’re meeting the next, what’s the date today?
NM: 10th. May the 10th.
AB: Next weekend. Come along some time.
NM: Really looking forward to it.
AB: We congregate at the memorial stone which is on the eastern end of the old Oulton airfield. It’s about half past three, four o’clock, four o’clock something like that and say a few words, and I usually get asked to, well there’s two things, there’s the one: When you go home tell them of us and say for our todays, we gave, for your tomorrows we gave our todays. I can relate to that. And the other one is, the better known one, is the, what is it, it’s the, oh I’ve forgotten, it’s the [pause] no I’ve forgotten. But I, to which I can’t relate because it’s the one that says about the fellows, for their tomorrows we gave our todays or something like that and I’m thinking I bet they bloody well wish they’d still got their tomorrows.
NM: I think that’s a very good point on which to finish. So thank you very much for your time Andrew. Shall we finish the interview there?
AB: It’s [crockery noise].
NM: Shall we finish it there?
AB: I think so yes.
NM: I think that’s a good place.
AB: Yes. I never, you know it was, I stayed in aviation, as I say, I met all sorts of chaps when I was in the Reserve and I learnt not to shoot a line and then after the Reserve I went flying with Scottish and there were a few occasions where I was rather more frightened than I had been at any other time in my aviation career and because I was a married man by then, I’d got responsibilities and I was rather more aware of the fallibility of aeroplanes and of course, in something like the York, you used to have to fly through it not over it and the prospect of having to fly through the Monsoon was not something which you exactly looked forward to, I mean the rain was so heavy that you could barely, oh haven’t got my civil log book with me, you could barely see the inboard engines, let alone the outboard engines, but I mean it was real flying and you had to do it yourself.
NM: Very good.
AB: Mind you, there’s still real flying going on as that Russian aeroplane the other day. Not very funny.
NM: No indeed.
AB: Has there been anything more in the press about it?
NM: I haven’t seen anything since the accident itself, sorry. Andrew, can I just finish by saying thank you on behalf of the IBCC for giving us your story. Much appreciated. You’ve given us a lot of time.
AB: What’s the next step now? You get it -



Nigel Moore, “Interview with Andrew Barron. Three,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 19, 2024,

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