Interview with Donald Raymond Harris

Title

Interview with Donald Raymond Harris

Description

Donald was born in Acton, London. He stayed at school until he was fourteen and then worked as a tea boy/general help for O. C. Summers, a firm that laid gas mains in Slough. When that job ended, he worked for another ganger in Shepherds Bush. Soon after he heard that one of his brothers was missing in Burma.
When Donald was sixteen, he joined the local Air Training Corps and later went to St. John’s Wood, where he was entered as a wireless operator / air gunner. He did his basic training at RAF Bridlington and was then posted to a wireless school in Hereford. While there he was taken ill and sent to hospital. On his recovery he asked to be re-mustered as an air gunner and was sent to the Isle of Sheppey to be trained on a Napier. He was then posted to RAF Bridgnorth gunnery school. After finishing the course, he was sent home until he was summoned to form a crew. The crew was posted to RAF Halton where they flew on Wellingtons. Their next posting was to RAF Wittering where they transferred to Lancasters. Donald was then posted to 625 Squadron at RAF Scampton. The squadron flew to Belgium and later to Italy to bring prisoners of war home. They also took part in Operation Manna over Holland. On returning to England the crew were split and Donald was posted to RAF Uxbridge and then demobbed. He went back to work at O. C. Summers until his retirement. At the age of 38 Donald married a typist who also worked for O. C. Summers.


Creator

Date

2019-05-08

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

01:20:56 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

AHarrisDR190508

Transcription

HB: Right. This is an interview for the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive on the 8th of May 2019 between Harry Bartlett, volunteer with the Digital Archive and Mr Donald Raymond Harris who served in Bomber Command during the Second World War. Well, thank you for agreeing to the interview Don. The interview is taking place at Earls Barton in Northamptonshire, where Mr Harris lives. Right. Don, well like all good stories we start at the beginning so where were you born?
DH: Acton, London.
HB: Right. Oh right, and did you, you went to school there did you? Yeah.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
DH: A Common School. A Common School.
HB: A Common School. Oh right. So, you were at that school until what sort of age?
DH: Fourteen.
HB: Fourteen. Right. And so that would be, yeah we would be talking about the year war was breaking out.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Yeah. So, as you came to fourteen did you, did you leave school and go to work straightaway?
DH: Yeah. Yeah.
HB: At fourteen.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Yeah. And what sort of things did you do, Don?
DH: What? Work?
HB: Yeah.
DH: Teaboy.
HB: Right.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Well. That’s, that’s what the official title was. I was the teaboy.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And I had to travel from Acton in London to Slough to go to work. I had to catch a lorry that took me down there with all the men.
HB: Right.
DH: Digging the road up, laying gas mains.
HB: Right.
DH: That’s what my Reserved Occupation was because gas mains were being bombed. Broken. All kinds of things. So we had to go out and repair them. And there had to be a teaboy because you could not allow the men to walk off to get cigarettes or tobacco or whatever else.
HB: Oh.
DH: I had to do it. I had to go and get the men’s, whatever they wanted. They weren’t allowed to leave the job.
HB: Right.
DH: So that was the original.
HB: Yeah.
DH: It was rather amusing in as much that being totally ignorant and fourteen years old I also had to tidy up round the office. There was an office for the ganger and I had to tidy up coke because it spread you know. That kind of thing. And I found a little package about that big. Didn’t know what it was so I took it in to the boss’s office and I opened it and it was all the men’s wages. The stupid agent had hidden it amongst the coke.
HB: Oh dear.
DH: So, I locked the office, went up to see the ganger. What was his name? Dave. No. No. Anyway, the ganger. I went up to him. I just took him to one side. I said, ‘I found a package.’ He said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘I found a package,’ I said, ‘And it’s got all the men’s wages.’ ‘Come with me.’
HB: Right. Yeah.
DH: So, he went there and he counted how many wages there were which was right. He said, ‘Ok.’ He wanted to make sure —
HB: Yeah.
DH: I hadn’t put one aside. But that was some of the interesting things as a very young boy.
HB: Yeah.
DH: At fourteen years old.
HB: Yeah. Who, who were you actually working for?
DH: At that time it was a company called O C Summers.
HB: Right. Right.
DH: That was the name of the company.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Eventually, I mean I got rather well known and when that job finished I came back to London, worked with another ganger in [pause] it was in Shepherd’s Bush. Which is near, well not near but reasonably near home. I could go there by bus. So that was the second one. Then [pause] when that work finished, you know we’d go to another job. And it was then that my brother was reported missing in Burma.
HB: Oh right.
DH: I did get a lot of information because a friend of mine daughter went up to London and got a lot more information about them. He was the 3rd Carabiniers, which was tanks and they did a silly thing. They drove their tank up and they saw a tank, a Japanese tank on its own. And as far as they can learn all the people, there were five, four members of that tank that were captured by the Japs. They don’t know what happened to them. Never found any remains or anything like that.
HB: So, what year would that be Don?
DH: Oh, fairly early in the war.
HB: Yeah.
DH: When they first got to Burma.
HB: Right. Right. Yeah.
DH: That’s when it was. But she got a lot of information. Although they couldn’t find the graves or anything like that they itemised the four people that were missing because that’s, they had to report them missing.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: They put up a memorial then. I think it was Calcutta. With their names on it.
HB: Right. Yeah.
DH: But that’s all.
HB: Right.
DH: I got to sixteen so it must have ‘39 or ‘40/41 time.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: Then I decided then that I would want to go in to the Service and the eldest brother was in the Royal Corps of Signals.
HB: Right. Yeah.
DH: He was the eldest.
HB: So, let me just stop you there, Don. So, there’s you, two brothers.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Mum. Dad. Any other family in there? There? Sisters?
DH: No. My sister died before the war.
HB: Oh right. Right.
DH: She was twenty five.
HB: Oh dear.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Yeah. So, yeah. Sorry. So, yeah. You decided that you were going to join.
DH: Yeah.
HB: The Services.
DH: I wanted to join it. Now, there was a unit in Acton, in the school there which, what the devil was the name of the people training for the Air Force?
HB: Air Training Corps.
DH: Yeah. It was. And that was in a big school. High school. Up in there. And I went there once a week. Only to once a week and it was quite interesting because we went through lots of things. Not guns. Not guns.
HB: No.
DH: But radio. Morse Code. All that lot. You know.
HB: Yeah.
DH: So that was interesting. Then I got a letter to report to a place up where the balloons flew from. I can’t get it yet because I do forget.
HB: Yeah.
DH: But anyway —
HB: Oh, well, that’s understandable. Yeah.
DH: Where the in the balloons. We went there and we went through several tests and it came out that I’d remembered some of the Morse Code [laughs]
HB: Oh right. Right.
DH: Anyway, it was a little while later on when I got a letter to report to St John’s Wood.
HB: Right. Yeah. Yeah.
DH: Yeah. Report there. And they entered me as a wireless operator air gunner.
HB: Oh, w/op. Yeah.
DH: And once I got used to being in London the next place I moved to was Bridlington.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Just to make sure I wasn’t near home like.
HB: Yeah.
DH: But I had a sergeant. Brilliant. Blakey. Sergeant Blakey. He was absolutely brilliant. And our particular unit we got the highest recommendations. He was brilliant. Absolutely. Only a small fella but a sergeant and he really was good.
HB: So, was it, was this your, like doing your basic training —
DH: Yeah.
HB: Don.
DH: Oh yeah.
HB: Right. So, so we’d be talking what now? We’d be talking, coming up 1943/44.
DH: Yeah.
HB: That sort of the time.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And we had twelve bore guns shooting out to sea.
HB: Oh right. Yeah.
DH: It was great. And this was the first time in my life I’d ever run six miles. Run. And I had to run from the coast back to my camp. And I thought oh. I laid down on a bed when I got back and I was puffing and at my age I should have been fit. Anyway, that was that. Then I got sent to [pause] oh Christ. A wireless school was at [pause] isn’t it funny? I can’t remember. Big city. Big city and, you know Hartleys Jam and things.
HB: Yeah.
DH: They owned the land that we were on.
HB: Right.
DH: And they said if ever you want to work come and work in the fields with all the fruit —
HB: Lovely.
DH: Got paid.
HB: So that, so that would be [pause] was that north? Did you go north?
DH: No. Never.
HB: Or, I’m just trying to place because there were one or two wireless schools.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Knocking about.
DH: Yeah. No, that was [pause] Hereford.
HB: Hereford. Right. Yes. Yeah.
DH: Hereford.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And while I was there I got ill and of course the sick quarters was well, kind of a hospital. Kind of. But the girls who were nurses only went for the officers. And then they sent me to a hospital. Credenhill Hospital. I’ve remembered that right down to the last word. The nurses there were like lady so and so.
HB: Oh.
DH: Oh yeah. And they were really good. They were good. And I met another bloke named Don and we both could play darts.
HB: Oh, right. Yeah.
DH: And we used to go in to town, go in to a pub. That was our first shall we say attempt of them getting their beer for nothing but instead of that we both could play darts.
HB: Right.
DH: And so we didn’t buy a pint. They did. Yeah. No, this is all reacting because I was ill. I really was. How I got to the hospital I don’t know. I was out.
HB: What did you have? Did you have some sort of pleurisy? Or —
DH: Cold and chill and something else.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: It was all luck. And that, then I went back to the school. You know the —
HB: Yeah. The wireless school.
DH: Went to see the officer in charge and I said, ‘We’re not getting anywhere.’ I said, ‘Nobody is wanting wireless operators. There’s plenty of them.’ There was. I said, ‘I want to remuster. Air gunner.’ He said, ‘Yeah. If you wish to do that we could do it.’ So I remustered as an air gunner. And do you know what they stamped on my docs? Lack of moral fibre. Yeah. If you found my documents you’d find it’s got, “Lack of Moral Fibre,” on them because I remustered. I remustered to a more dangerous bloody job.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Anyway, I wanted that and they sent me to the island at the beginning of the Thames.
HB: Sheppey.
DH: Sheppey. Which was a Fighter Command. They sent me there. They were Typhoons, Tempests. That’s what they were and they used to start them with a long cartridge. They’d be turning it over with the battery and then he’d fire it which would kick the engine over and start.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Well, the engine was a Napier. Made by Napier’s anyway and oh they were powerful things. God, they were powerful. It only took a very short distance to take off.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: And it was really, talk about noisy. Christ. Totally different to the Spitfire.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: Totally different, but it was good. So, from there I was sent to Bridgnorth.
HB: Were you? Yeah.
DH: Bridgnorth was a Gunnery School and there we did all the necessary flashlights and bit of this and bits of that and stripped the gun down and put it back. But it was just right. I liked it. I really did. And anybody that didn’t read the Morse Code with the lamp didn’t get in.
HB: Right.
DH: I did. I could read it easy. It didn’t make any difference. So, I finished there and sent me home. Home.
HB: Right.
DH: Until I got a summons to go to Aylesbury.
HB: Yeah.
DH: There was a main aerodrome and a sub. A little one.
HB: Yeah. Little satellite. Yeah. Yeah.
DH: Yeah. And we were in Wellingtons. Lovely aircraft but a bugger to fly and even at one time the skipper, who was, who was New Zealand, he called me up from the turret, ‘Come up and help me.’ So of course, I went up there and said, ‘What’s the matter, skip?’ He says, ‘Help me push this bloody thing down.’ [laughs] Because Aylesbury is all hilly.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: And the draught coming up was coming up and lifting us instead of going down.
HB: Oh dear.
DH: So I got in to the co-pilot’s seat and shoved it and we got down.
HB: Was this, so this was an Operational Training Unit.
DH: Oh yeah.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
DH: Yeah. Well, we used to have to turn the engines over by hand.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. How did, how did you get in to a crew there? Did it —
DH: When we went to the main aerodrome.
HB: Yeah.
DH: There. We got all the crew sorted out. We didn’t do it.
HB: Oh right.
DH: They did it.
HB: Right.
DH: So, the pilot was New Zealander. The bomb aimer was New Zealander. The wireless operator was Irish. Irish. Not Northern Ireland. Irish. Our mid-upper gunner was Scotch. Bob. I even remember where he lived. Edinburgh. The main road. That’s where he lived. And me. So that’s six of us. We hadn’t got the engineer.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And we went oh several times. We went over, we had to fly over London to let the air people shoot at us. But they were told to shoot low [laughs] and also the searchlight.
HB: Oh right. Yeah.
DH: Because the searchlights taught them and us.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: And then we flew back to Aylesbury. That’s where we were going. So we landed at the auxiliary aircraft because the other place was busy. We landed and we, you know that type of aircraft the Wellington was kind of a big aircraft. But it’s also marvellous for keeping flying even if it had got a hole in the side, you know.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And all of a sudden we got a warning and all the lights went on. Americans landed because they couldn’t land at their aerodrome so they could land at ours and of course they’d got all these big fur coats and Christ knows what else on. Oh, and they were, got their big aircraft with four engines, you know. All this. A couple of the English blokes there said, ‘Yeah. You go underneath our wings, don’t you?’ Almost caused a fight but never mind. From there we went to just north of Stamford. There was an aerodrome on the farm land that done it and they had Stirlings. Bloody great things. Seventeen foot to the bottom of the aircraft. We weren’t interested in that. We transferred from there to Lancasters and we were trained on the Lancasters. Now —
HB: Can you can you remember what that airfield was? Was it Woolfox? No.
DH: It was about three miles outside Stamford.
HB: Right. Yeah.
DH: On the main road by the way. A1.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And the airfield was on the right, and we had interlopers follow our aircraft in and they bombed the bloody girl’s place. WAAFs. Killed a lot of them.
HB: Oh dear.
DH: But anyway, that’s good. We did further training and for the skipper’s point of view nobody else. Him and me. And we practiced corkscrewing.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Do you know what that is?
HB: Yeah. Well, you. You tell me what it is.
DH: Well —
HB: I presume you were a rear gunner.
DH: Oh yeah.
HB: Yeah.
DH: We took off. Got up to a height and then we were looking for fighter. And it was there was the fighter. The skipper said, ‘Can you see what it is?’ I said, ‘Yeah. A Spitfire.’ [laughs] So, he said, ‘Right,’ he said, ‘So, is he within range?’ I said, ‘No. Miles away.’ It was amazing I could recognise it. Anyway, all of a sudden I saw this Spitfire getting closer and closer and when it got to about six hundred feet I said, ‘Corkscrew port go.’ And of course, where does the tail go? Voom.
HB: Straight up in the air.
DH: Straight up [laughs]. And I had a camera.
HB: Yeah.
DH: On the guns and I followed it to the word. Down, port, up starboard oh. Got a complete film. Complete film. So the Spitfire broke away. Waggled to say good. And that was it as far as I was concerned. And then we got back, landed and that afternoon of course the cameras went in to the photography department and they, we got a call over a tannoy, ‘Warrant Officer Mitchell and crew attend the Photography Unit.’ I thought oh, I must have made a mistake. Instead of that the bloke that did it, it was an officer and he said, ‘Watch it.’ He said. It only goes for a short while because you’re down. Up. Up. Up. You know. So we did. The film was absolutely perfect.
HB: Oh right.
DH: And this officer turned around and he said, ‘You’ve got one of the best gunners that I’ve tested.’ He said, ‘That pilot was dead from the first shot.’
HB: Really?
DH: Yeah. I thought well that’s —
HB: Yeah.
DH: And then we had the other test to show that we were fit for action. It was, you know, the usual things. Aircraft recognition.
HB: Yeah.
DH: How to load your guns and all that kind of thing. And then we all had to attend a meeting with the people who were in charge of all of that and he said, ‘We’ve got some good results.’ What was he? A squadron leader, I think. And he said, ‘We’ve got some exceptionally good people.’ So, he said, ‘136.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ ‘You’ve got nineteen and a half points.’ I said, ‘Out of how many?’ ‘Twenty.’ Nineteen and a half out of twenty. And the one thing I forgot. Where [pause] you know how the bullets go down a tray.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Into the turret. Up into the guns. Right. Now, when you stop these continue to run.
HB: Yeah.
DH: So something has got to stop them. At the bottom of the tray here there’s a hole like that which just fits the bullet. So it goes into that hole and it stops running.
HB: Right.
DH: And that’s what I missed.
HB: Oh.
DH: And my mid-upper gunner got nineteen. Just shows you doesn’t it?
HB: That’s, it’s still pretty good.
DH: To me it was of interest because I wanted to be perfect as a —
HB: Yeah.
DH: It’s a, I’m a defender.
HB: Yeah.
DH: You know. So, we did. It was good.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And then from there I went to oh I can’t remember the name. I did tell you.
HB: Was this being posted to a squadron?
DH: Yeah. 625.
HB: 625, yeah.
DH: Which was, come on. It’s six miles outside. North of Lincoln. It’s a permanent station.
HB: At Scampton.
DH: Scampton.
HB: I wasn’t supposed to help you there but —
DH: No.
HB: I thought I would.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Being as you got nineteen and a half for your gunnery I thought I’ll let you have that.
DH: Yeah. Yeah. We were Scampton. We did. We did. I’ll tell you what I liked about what we did. I’m not talking about killing people I’m talking about what I liked. We flew to Holland. Instead of bombs we had sacks of food.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Marvellous. I was so pleased to see that.
HB: Do you remember what that operation was called?
DH: Yeah. Because we had to follow the sign on the, painted on the roof of the hospital. And it was two fields beyond and we had to drop the food there. One silly pilot flew underneath another one and when [laughs] it went straight through the cockpit.
HB: Blimey. Yeah.
DH: Flew. Flour everywhere. Daft.
HB: Did you know that was called Operation Manna?
DH: No.
HB: Manna from heaven.
DH: No.
HB: Yeah.
DH: I know I liked it. We were only a hundred feet high.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And as we flew along, I mean the roads and everything else I got a clear view because as you know there was no back in the turret.
HB: Yeah.
DH: I was amazed to see this German and a machine gun but he wasn’t anywhere near it. He stood well back.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And when I looked at him I thought Christ he could only be fifteen. Fourteen. Fifteen. And we were told not to get near the guns. Good job because I mean we were all loaded.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: And we flew back over the sea at a hundred feet. I didn’t like that.
HB: No. I can imagine.
DH: No. Not really.
HB: Yeah.
DH: It was alright but I mean we trusted the skipper obviously but I just didn’t like it. It was too near the sea.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Which is going to, but no. They said we mustn’t fly.
HB: Had you actually flown any night operations before that, Don?
DH: We were on the battle order two or three times.
HB: Yeah.
DH: But we didn’t go. We went out to the aircraft. Went to the nice little café in the middle of the airfield. You know where I mean?
HB: Yeah.
DH: And it was nice because we got eggs and bacon and a few —
HB: Who was running that café? Was that —
DH: Yeah. Lovely.
HB: Was that the WAAFs running that or —
DH: No.
HB: No.
DH: No. The Air Force.
HB: Yeah.
DH: They ran that.
HB: Yeah.
DH: It was really nice. It really was. We thought we would get a call in a minute which you were liable to do. If you get one of the others calling with the breakdown of engine or whatever else then we would have gone.
HB: Yeah.
DH: But I think we, four, four times. Yeah. And that was at Scampton.
HB: Right. Right. So you were, you were like the reserve group.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Ready to fill in.
DH: We were the first reserve. Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
DH: But that’s what they said when you said you were on the Battle Order. You are. You’ve got to obey whatever. Another thing we did there was when the, when the troops were advancing over in Germany and France and Belgium directly they got to this Air Force place. Well, it became an Air Force place. It was Belgian place. We were told to go there, land, switch off your engines. Switch off.
HB: Right.
DH: Yeah. Because there were still some bomb holes in the [laughs]and they were filling them in quick.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And we were bringing in prisoners of war home. And we brought them to England.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Buckinghamshire, I think somewhere. And then we flew home.
HB: Right.
DH: And we did that twice.
HB: So you, so you flew from Scampton.
DH: Yeah.
HB: You flew over to Belgium.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Parked up if you want to call it that.
DH: Yeah.
HB: And then how would the prisoners of war arrive?
DH: Oh, they were there in, this was the stupid part. They were there and they had fed them. Fed.
HB: Oh.
DH: Yeah. You can imagine. They fed them beautiful meals and when we got them on board. Oh —
HB: Yeah.
DH: It was a bit rough. But anyway, we got them home. Directly we landed in Buckinghamshire somewhere and unloaded them. Then we flew back. And then they had the job of cleaning the aircraft.
HB: Who? Who cleaned the aircraft?
DH: Ground crew. Yeah. They had power hoses and everything.
HB: Yeah.
DH: But there again at least we got some of them back home.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: We then got orders to move to [pause] I can never remember the name. I wasn’t there long. Where the bombers are? Where you went.
Other: Coningsby.
HB: Coningsby.
DH: Coningsby. We got there. We were just getting settled in and what’s the squadron? 97? [pause] And about three days later we were called into operations room. We had to fly to Italy.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And we went. There’s two areas which we could have gone to. But the one we chose was at the foot of Vesuvius. Right at the foot. We landed at Naples Airport but we couldn’t take off because the runways weren’t long enough with a load of people on board.
HB: Oh.
DH: We were —
HB: So this was all still part of Operation Exodus.
DH: Oh yeah.
HB: Bringing the prisoner of war home.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Right.
DH: But those there were mainly officers.
HB: Yeah.
DH: What was it called? Lamy? Lamy camp?
HB: Could be. Yeah. Yeah.
DH: Yeah. I think it was.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And they were nearly all officers. So —
HB: This is, this is still in Lancasters.
DH: Oh yeah.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
DH: Oh yeah.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: The dodgy bit was with a load of people on board. As the gunner it would have been my job to dash about with an oxygen mask for each one to have a puff. But I never made it. I was ill.
HB: Right.
DH: Yeah. I went into this hospital in [pause] just south of Naples. It’s a little place. And I was in there for two or three weeks. When I came out I went and saw the sergeant that was in charge of getting people home and I said, ‘Right. When can you get me home?’ I said, ‘My skipper’s gone.’ I said, ‘He’s already taken off.’ Because the Yanks came and right at the end of the runway was trees.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And I’m afraid their big load of stuff took off and they had all the trees [bulbed] out and the runway lengthened.
HB: Oh right.
DH: So that they could get off.
HB: Yeah.
DH: It’s purely luck. Not anything else. It was warm.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Naples.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Warm. Christmas time. And we had our Christmas dinner in the palace at Naples.
HB: Oh right. Yeah.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Yeah. What rank were you at this stage?
DH: Flight sergeant.
HB: You were a flight sergeant. Right. Yeah.
DH: Nice. Everything. Then they said, ‘You’ve got to fly.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘Good.’ So, I said, ‘What do you want me to do?’
HB: ‘Act as a rear gunner.’
DH: I said, ‘Well, I won’t act at it,’ I said, ‘I am one.’ So, he said, ‘Oh. Alright.’ So, he said, ‘Well, you’ve got to look after the men on board.’ Twenty. Twenty men. Apart from the crew, you know.
HB: Yeah.
DH: We couldn’t take more than that because we had to go over the Alps.
HB: Oh yeah. Yeah.
DH: The air is different.
HB: Yeah.
DH: So, we did go over the Alps. And it was a bit of job to go amongst all the people so I got the mid-upper gunner to do the same for the other ten. So I did ten and he did ten.
HB: Right. This was with the oxygen.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Well, up there over the Alps there is no oxygen, virtually.
HB: Yeah.
DH: So —
HB: So, did they give you extra oxygen bottles for them? Or —
DH: Oh yeah. Portable ones.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: Or you could plug it in where ever you had it.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Where the hospital bed was, you know.
HB: Yeah.
DH: There was one there.
HB: That’s up, so that’s up by the main spar.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Going through. Yeah.
DH: So, you’d got all kinds of things that you could use. But we did. We got over the other side of the Alps and we came down to a nice level. Twenty thousand was nice. And we suddenly got a broadcast. The skipper, we still had plug in and this skipper whoever he was, and I’ve still no idea who he was said, ‘We’re not going home.’ I said, ‘What?’ ‘No.’ He said, ‘Fog in England. Covered in fog.’ So we couldn’t land. I knew we could if we’d have gone on FIDO.
HB: What, what was FIDO?
DH: Fog dispersal. They had the runway covered in a pipe with loads of holes and big huge tanks of petrol and they pumped it through and lit it and that just lifted the fog. Very dangerous if the skipper wasn’t alert because the heat from the [pause] would lift it.
HB: Lift the aircraft. Yeah.
DH: Anyway, that, we didn’t go. So we had to land in southern France. Now that was not popular. We landed. We were told to switch off the engines and sit in the aircraft. Not leave it. That was the Frenchmen. Well, didn’t like that.
HB: Yeah.
DH: We were fighting for them as well. Anyway, we sat there and it must have been about midnight I think because we took off at 9 o’clock in Italy.
HB: Yeah.
DH: When we got down in France as I said we sat there and then we got clearance from England.
HB: Yeah.
DH: So, the engineer went out, primed the engines, started them and we took off and we landed somewhere near the Wash. Well, that’s where FIDO is.
HB: Oh right.
DH: Yeah. I mean it was quite interesting actually to know that we couldn’t use FIDO. Mind you it would have used a hell of a lot of fuel.
HB: Yeah.
DH: It gets pumped through at a hell of rate.
HB: Yeah.
DH: But we knew all about it because we were told about it. We couldn’t train on it but we were told about it and it was quite interesting but then I wasn’t at my aerodrome.
HB: No. Of course not. No.
DH: The people there were looking at it. How can I get home? And suddenly this officer came and he said, ‘I’ve just been brought down here by a vehicle. He’s going to go back. Not quite to your aerodrome but he will take you there.’ I thought oh thank God for that. You know.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And we went up through Boston. Lovely.
HB: Yeah.
DH: What was that? Bloody hell. What was that station? Dogdyke.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
DH: What a name for a station. Dogdyke.
HB: Yeah.
DH: That’s the station’s name. So, we went back there. I said, well I’ll need a bed.
HB: Just bear with me a second, Don. I’ll just pause this a second just while the tea —
[recording paused]
HB: Right. We just turned the tape back on after we’ve been provided with tea and biscuits. So, we’ve got these officers from Italy. We’ve come back and we’ve landed.
DH: The van.
HB: At Dogdyke.
DH: It was a van.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Took me right back.
HB: Took you all the way up to Dogdyke.
DH: Yeah. They took me to the entrance.
HB: Right.
DH: Yeah. Yeah. I walked in. Well, I didn’t walk in. They, I got stopped at the gate but when I said who I was and what I was. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Yeah. The adjutant wants to see you.’ So, I thought how did he know I was. I thought to myself they must have told him in Italy. Anyway, I said, ‘Well, it’s a bit late now. I doubt very much if he’s there.’ So, I said, ‘Is he still there?’ ‘No.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll need a bed for tonight.’ The bloke said. ‘We’ve allocated you one already.’ So I went there and evidently it was a new crew that had just, there was a spare bed.
HB: So, I bet you were popular.
DH: Well no. There was a spare bed. I don’t know why. But anyway. I went to bed and I did sleep. I really did sleep. I didn’t know what was going on. The next bed to me the bloke said, ‘You were dreaming.’ I said, ‘Was I?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘And it sounded pretty bloody awful.’ ‘Oh.’ I felt alright you know.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: Anyway, I got up. Got dressed. Went to see the adjutant. What’s going on. I didn’t know then so I said, ‘You wanted to see me sir.’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Alright. What’s going to happen because my crew’s not here.’ He said, ‘No. They’re on your way to New Zealand.’ I said, ‘What?’ ‘Yeah. Two have gone to New Zealand, one’s gone to Edinburgh, one’s gone to Ireland, the other one to London.’ I thought, ‘Oh.’ ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘And you are on your way to Uxbridge. Do you know where it is?’ I said, ‘Oh, yeah [laughs] Do I know where it is?’ So, I said, ‘Why am I going now for?’ ‘Demob.’ ‘Oh.’ ‘You sound surprised.’ I said, ‘Well, I am. I like the Air Force.’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘You can’t.’ Just like that. He said, ‘You’re going. In front of me are all your train passes. All your leave passes. And you will be going to Dogdyke Station.’ That’s why I remembered it.
HB: Right.
DH: So that I had to go from there to Boston. Train to London. Get another train from there to Uxbridge. You get out at Uxbridge and there would be a vehicle waiting for you. It was well organised. It really was well organised. I mean that. Everything was like he said. Got to Uxbridge. Looked. There was a vehicle. I said, ‘Where are we going now?’ ‘Oh, Wembley.’ ‘What for?’ He said, ‘Demob.’ I thought, Christ. They’ve done that all in the time that the phone message going from Italy. Now, that is some organisation.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Bloody well is. Really is.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And of course, when I got to Wembley they were ready for me. Gave them my paper. I got my shoes [laughs] blue suit, shirt, tie. All complete. Everything was there.
HB: What did you have? Did you have a cap or a trilby hat?
DH: Trilby.
HB: I thought. Yeah. Trilby.
DH: And that was it.
HB: Yeah. After those years that you’d spent just finished.
DH: Yeah. No, they, once he said, ‘You’re going back,’ I knew what he meant because obviously the amount of damage created by the bombs was tremendous in London and that’s where we worked.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Oh Christ. We even laid a main on top of the pavement. On top of it. To pump water because water mains down below were broke.
HB: So how quick did you go back to doing your job from being demobbed?
DH: Straightaway.
HB: You didn’t have any leave or anything or —
DH: Oh no.
HB: No.
DH: No.
HB: Right.
DH: Straightaway.
HB: And did you go back to, was it OC Summers, was it?
DH: Yeah.
HB: You went straight back to them.
DH: Yeah.
HB: And they, had they kept your job for you?
DH: Oh yeah.
HB: Yeah.
DH: They had to.
HB: Yeah.
DH: So then —
HB: So, what job did you go back to, Don?
DH: As a joint maker.
HB: Right.
DH: A joint maker. It’s one that the sockets and spigots enter one another and then you put yarn in and then you run hot lead in. And then you set it up.
HB: Yeah. Ok.
DH: Good. It was very very complicated. I used to go with a ganger and then they’d come and get me to take me to another ganger to run his joints for him.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And then go back to it.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Like that.
HB: So, what, what year would this be then, Don?
DH: The end of the war.
HB: ‘45/46.
DH: Yeah ’46.
HB: ’46. Yeah.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Yeah. Can I just take you back a little bit, Don?
DH: Yes. Yes. Yes.
HB: You know, before you joined you were in Acton. You would have gone through the Blitz.
DH: Oh yes.
HB: And your family. You had bombing around Acton.
DH: Yeah. We had a bomb in the bottom of the garden [laughs].
HB: In the bottom of the garden.
DH: Well, I had a big garden.
HB: Oh right. Well, yeah.
DH: We had a long garden.
HB: Yeah.
DH: It must have been about a hundred feet long. Something like that.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And the bomb was at the bottom. It did kill a boy. Sixteen year old in the house opposite [unclear]
HB: Yeah.
DH: He got caught, you know.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Terrible. Yeah. I was there when the fires were roaring like hell. A big red glow in the docks.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: Yeah.
HB: And so, so obviously you’ve come through that. Did you actually ever fly a live, I’ll call it a live operation to actually drop bombs?
DH: No.
HB: Right. Right. So, you come towards the end of the war. You’re what by now? You’re nineteenish. Twentyish. What about girlfriends?
DH: No.
HB: Social life.
DH: Not interested.
HB: Did you not have a social life in the RAF?
DH: No. The only social life was in a pub in Lincoln.
HB: Right. Right. Right. Yeah.
DH: And it was in the cattle market. There used to be a cattle market.
HB: Yeah.
DH: There was a cattle market in Lincoln and there was a pub in the cattle market.
HB: So, yeah, so you come to the end of the war. You’ve gone back to OC Summers and you’re now doing a jointer, a jointer’s job and did you, did you just carry on with them then?
DH: Them. Yeah. For forty years.
HB: Forty years.
DH: Yeah. Because they count service as working for them.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: That was, oh before, before the forty years I was made a ganger and I went in to a gas works which I never expected.
HB: Oh right.
DH: Because that was a vastly different type of job. You do all kinds of heavy lifting. Crane work and everything else.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Now, I was the ganger there. The original ganger was ill and died and I took over.
HB: Right.
DH: Directly I took over they started to do big work. I ended up with, you know twenty five men doing different jobs.
HB: Yeah.
DH: I couldn’t cope because I couldn’t be everywhere at once.
HB: No. No.
DH: So, I asked the governor who I knew personally, I asked him if he could get me some men with knowledge. And one of the men he sent in was a ganger that I worked for.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And he came, he came in and he says, ‘Hello Don.’ I said, ‘Hello,’ I said, ‘Christ, I haven’t seen you — ’ because he was very experienced. And he said, ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘Don’t let it worry you.’ He said, ‘You’ve got the responsibility. Not me.’
HB: Yes.
DH: See. And he was a very nice bloke.
HB: Yeah.
DH: He really was.
HB: Yeah.
DH: I mean, we used to go fishing together. We went, particularly when we worked night work I drove him home in the morning and then we’d drive out. —
HB: Oh right.
DH: And go fishing.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Anyway, Sammy Jefferies his name was. A really, a nice bloke. And he was [pause] amazed at the work I was doing. We had a forty eight inch main, gas main which gathered all the gas out the tanks into pumps, in to a main and so forth. And I had to cut a bit out of the gas main. We used to cut. Put a collar on and then put another bit of pipe in and draw the cord up. And that’s the first forty eight inch joint I’d run.
HB: Right.
DH: And what we had to do was we had a twelve inch ladle. Twelve inch. Quite deep. We filled that up first and then one bloke stood there, one bloke stood there with another nine inch ladle to top me up if I said so. Because if I couldn’t see that we were going to run it we could run out of lead so we pulled it in to my ladle and then I ran it.
HB: Yeah.
DH: So we did it. And the senior engineer in the gas works he had done a bit of district work, what we called district work and he stood there the whole time that I got it apart. Because we put gas bags up the main.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: To stop gas coming through. Well, we shut the valves but I mean —
HB: Yeah.
DH: If they leaked.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And that was me. I came. They took me out of the works, Summers and put me in charge of a gang that’s going on holiday. A gang of men. So, I did that. Then they sent me to another one by St Pancras Station where there was a T-junction. And the lid was around but it was leaking bad. So the main there was eighteen. Eighteen. Eighteen inch. What I had to do was shut it off. So I ordered twenty four inch bags to put in there so that a twenty four inch bag would fill it.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: Up.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Take the lid off. Re-drill it. Put new bolts in. Whip it out. And put it in. You’d be surprised. It’s really quite a technical job.
HB: I wouldn’t be surprised. I’d be terrified.
DH: Bloody hell. But after I’d been there for forty years John Laing —
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: Bought Summers because we were making money. So, they bought OC Summers. I lost [pause] well, twenty one years pension because Summer’s pension wasn’t as active to buy me equipment.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. I see what you mean. Yeah.
DH: So this posh speaking man from Laing came down to one of Summer’s depots which I was then responsible for all depots and he came down and he said, ‘Well, I’m afraid this is what is going to be.’ I said, ‘No. It isn’t.’ I said, ‘You’ve knocked twenty one years off my pension,’ I said. ‘And that’s not on,’ I said, ‘And I’ve got with me several agents who have got over twenty years on sites and I want twenty years pension.’ He said, ‘Are they the agents that’s running the area?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he said, ‘Oh, I’ll have to see what I can do.’ And if they all packed up the jobs would stop.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: And eventually he came back and he said, ‘We’ve made arrangements that when you do get to retirement we will give you a gift of money to go in to your pension. Not to you. To the pension.’
HB: Right.
DH: No.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Actually, they did. I did do well in a way. The firm because the old managing director came with the job, got six thousand pound.
HB: Right. Right.
DH: When you put it in the figures to get six thousand pound like that meant a little bit each month. Only a little bit.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
DH: But there you go.
HB: Yeah. So, so you’ve, we’ve gone up to retirement. But you must have got married at some stage.
DH: Oh yes. I did. Oh yes. She was a typist in the gas works.
HB: So that would be, what? Nineteen —
DH: Oh God.
HB: Fifty something.
DH: A bit later than that I think. Well, you can work it out if you like. I didn’t get married until I was thirty eight.
HB: Oh right. Right. So you were thirty eight. Right. Well, yeah. Yeah. That’s, yeah, yeah so you —
DH: My wife.
HB: You were well on. Yeah.
DH: Yeah. And because I’d lived in a house all my life I could not live a flat.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And she had three boys.
HB: Oh right. Right.
DH: Eighteen, sixteen and fifteen. And I said to her, I said, ‘I can’t live in a flat.’ She said, ‘What are we going to do?’ I said, ‘We’re going to buy a house.’ She said, ‘We haven’t got any money.’ I said, ‘I know we haven’t.’ I said, ‘But I know what I’m doing. We’ll go and find a house first. Then we’ll go to Lambeth Borough Council and because this is a flat owned by Lambeth Borough Council they’ll willingly give us the money so that we get out.’
HB: Right. Yeah. Yeah.
DH: It’s true. That is what they did.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And then the first house we bought was in Mitcham, Surrey and it was six thousand pound [laugh] And don’t laugh but that six thousand pound.
HB: Yeah.
DH: But that was a hell of a drain on the money.
HB: Oh, it would have been yeah in those days. Yeah. Yeah.
DH: So, yeah and then the firm decided to make me the depot manager of Watford.
HB: At Watford. Right.
DH: Yeah. But on condition I moved.
HB: Right.
DH: Because I had to be near it because we were on duty day and night. Still mending gas mains.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: So, the pleasant surprise was that it was the firm’s solicitor that dealt with the sale. That means that they paid.
HB: That saved you a few pounds that way. Yeah.
DH: Oh yes. Yes.
HB: Right.
DH: So, we lived in Bushey Mill Lane, Bushey. We lived in there for quite a long time.
HB: Right.
DH: I don’t know how long. Graham would probably tell you.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And we bought a house in Slip End which is near Luton.
HB: Right.
DH: Lovely house. Beautiful house. It was ideal. The first job we did was have double glazing.
HB: Because of the airfield. The airport. Yeah.
DH: Yeah. That was the first job. And unfortunately, she didn’t like it.
HB: Oh dear.
DH: It was a lovely house. You remember it. You liked it didn’t you?
Other: What I remember of it. Yeah.
DH: It was a really nice house. Four bedrooms. About two garages. Lovely. Anyway, she didn’t like it. Move. So we had to find somewhere to move to. So we moved to Sawbridgeworth.
HB: Yeah.
DH: So that is three miles north of [pause] Oh God. Shopped there long enough. Harlow.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Yeah. So, it wasn’t far from Harlow. Three miles. But it was a lovely little village.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Beautiful little village. And it had a direct train line to London.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Which of course is a benefit.
HB: Absolutely. Yeah.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Yeah. So you, so we’ve got we’re sort of coming to the end of that part. Just take you right back. Right back. Just something that’s sitting in my mind. When you went, when you did your training and you ended up at the Radio School at Hereford.
DH: Yeah.
HB: You, you were actually doing wireless operator training.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Operator training.
DH: Yeah.
HB: Did you do any air gun training at all there?
DH: No.
HB: No. So you were doing your wireless operator with a view eventually like a lot of them did you would go wireless operator and then you’d do an air gunner course and then you’d be wireless operator air gunner. Right. So I’m about right thinking like that. When they, when you said it’s not, you know it’s not working for me. I’m, you know I’m not happy with it. Did they ever give you a reason why they put it down as lack of moral fibre?
DH: No.
HB: They never gave you a reason.
DH: Never. I didn’t know they did it.
HB: Right.
DH: Until somebody found out for me.
HB: Right. Because were you keeping a logbook or a diary at the time?
DH: No.
HB: No? How strange.
DH: Yeah.
HB: How strange.
DH: No. It’s, it’s stamped across my documents. Where every they are or whatever they are.
HB: Right. That’s [pause] yeah I’ve, it’s just it suddenly, suddenly came to me. I’ve just never heard of that before. Ever. But then to become a rear gunner on a Lancaster. It’s a little bit contradictive to some extent.
HB: Yeah.
DH: Well, look I think we’ve come to a sort of a, bit of a natural conclusion, Don and thanks ever so much for tell me that to consider, considering that before we turned the tape recorder you said you thought that you wouldn’t be able to remember anything I think you’ve done really well. I really do. I think you’ve done well. And it’s, and it’s interesting that you’ve done Operation Manna feeding the Dutch, you’ve done Operation Exodus bringing the prisoners of war back because people only ever think of the Lancasters steaming off in to the night dropping bombs and like you say they were the humanitarian side of it.
DH: Yeah.
HB: As well. Yeah.
DH: I think that’s important.
HB: It is. It’s very important.
DH: And when you look at it the ones we picked up in Belgium some of them were ex-RAF.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
DH: It’s inevitable isn’t it really when you think about it because the planes came down.
HB: Yeah.
DH: And they were put in the prison camps.
HB: Yeah. You were bringing your own home. Well, Don thank you ever so much and we are going to stop the recording because it is nine minutes past four and I think you’ve done an exceptional job, Don and thank you very much. Very useful.

Citation

Harry Bartlett, “Interview with Donald Raymond Harris,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 24, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/17230.

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