Interview with Ron Mayhill


Interview with Ron Mayhill


Ron Mayhill was born in Auckland, New Zealand. He joined the Air Training Corp in 1941, automatically entered the Royal New Zealand Air Force in 1942, trained as a bomb aimer in Canada, and travelled on the Queen Mary to the UK in 1943. While flying Wellingtons at the Operational Training Unit, RAF Westcott, Mayhill formed a crew with pilot Jake Aitken, but the gunners pulled out due to the youth of the other members. Despite the rarity of brothers flying together, identical twins, William and Henry Monk, joined them at RAF Chedburgh, where they flew Stirlings before converting to Lancasters at No.3 Lancaster Finishing School, RAF Feltwell. The crew joined 75 Squadron based at RAF Mepal, undertaking operations between September 1944 and May 1945. He recalls the fascinating view of yellow flares, anti-aircraft fire, and searchlights from his window over Russelsheim, narrowly avoiding bombs dropped from an aircraft above at Kiel, and a daylight operation to Villers-Bocage. On his twenty-seventh trip, Mayhill's eyes were wounded by perspex splinters and he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for successfully completing the operation. Despite the squadron’s reputation for heavy losses, he recalls rarely feeling nervous and enjoying downtime with his crew, whom he remained friendly with after the war. Finally, Mayhill describes his opinions regarding the poor treatment of Bomber Command and the process of writing his eye-witness account, 'Bombs on Target', published in 1991. He also expresses his approval of recent recognition and describes attending the Hyde Park memorial in 2012, as the President of New Zealand’s Bomber Command Association.




Temporal Coverage




01:35:34 audio recording


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AMayhillRD190307, PMayhillRD1901


GT: This is Thursday the 7th of March 2019 and I am at the apartment home of Mr Ron Desmond Mayhill, DFC in Auckland, New Zealand, born 6 February 1924 in Auckland, New Zealand. Ron joined the Air Training Corps in 1941 and the RNZAF in 1942. He began his training in the Manucau and Rotorua area, then off to Canada and then the United Kingdom by the end of 1943. After several UK bases, he arrived at Westcott 11 OTU then Chedburgh at 1653 Occupational Conversion Unit, flying Stirlings and then to Feltwell number three Lancaster Finishing School, before his operational posting to 75 New Zealand Squadron RAF, at Mepal, Cambridgeshire flying Lancaster Mark 3s. Ron completed twenty seven wartime operations before being severely wounded on the twenty seventh trip and was awarded an immediate DFC, Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions on that day. Ron, thank you for allowing me to interview you for the IBCC Archives, so please begin by telling me why and how you joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
RM: Yes, I was at school before the war broke out. This war broke out in my first few years at school, at the at the secondary school and of course we were all thinking about war, especially as the headmaster would read out the names of old boys who had just died, some I knew, prefects. 1941, Air Training Corps started up and I was attracted to that, I liked the idea of flying. Of course in those days people were still thinking of trenches and marching in World War One: that was in the minds of many, many people. The air force was new and also there were opportunities, as we found out as we started training. Left school in ’41 and automatically went into the air force ‘42. We were called Blue Awkwards by the army particularly, because we were “precious” they thought, we had a very smooth run in to the air force, a fast track. So, at the age of eighteen, I went into the cab at Seagrove ADU, Aerodrome Defence Unit on the Manucau harbour. It was glorious fun for us. We were school kids, well I was, although some had left school a few years. We had assignments to do at night, I found them easy having just left school and I had to admire a lot of those chaps who had left school quite a few years and they really had to work, and work, and work to get through, and we helped them. We moved on Rotorua ITW, Initial Training Wing. We were really put through it, physically, psychologically, they tried to persuade me not to join the aircrew. And we were in decompression chambers, we had a lot of tests, quite severe tests and a lot of the guys missed out, a lot of my friends missed out of aircrew. Even things like colour-blindness, you’d miss out. From ITW we went off to overseas, I was on the Matsonia, one of the Matson Lines of course. Going up the gang plank with a kitbag on my shoulder we were welcomed by tough looking Yanks, lining the rails: ‘you’ll be sorry, you’ll be sorry, you’ll be sorry!’ I can still hear those shouts, and they were tough boys. They had knives on their belts, we were warned not to go on the upper decks at night. And they were pretty tough. They had boxing, in those days the blacks, they weren’t called blacks in those days, they tied their legs, two of them together, put them in the ring and they just swung blindly to hit each other. The crowd thought it was great fun. But there were some lovely things too on the ship. I can always remember one of our boys playing lovely songs on the clarinet and I still remember the flying fish. Mind you, crossing the line was rather tough too, those Yanks had their money’s worth. After beating us up with hoses and brooms, we slithered up and down the decks. We had to meet the King Neptune and had to choose the physician or the surgeon. Now I didn’t like the surgeon much because the chaps had their hair cut on the centre shaved one side and the hair long on the other side, so I took my medicine and then I wondered whether I should have. It was a tumbler full of ink and vinegar and it had a physical effect on me which was coloured green for one or two months afterwards. I don’t think my kidneys liked it very much. Then to Canada. That was, that was a wonderful experience. We went ice skating, never ice skating in my life, but we fell over all the time and every time you fell over a pretty girl would pick us up: we fell over lots of times. Canada was great. We were flying on Boligbrokes, which were Blenheims, Ansons and you couldn’t go wrong in Canada, because all the roads went east/west or north/south, grid fashion and the railways went east/west. Every railway station had its name on the place [unclear] it was very hard to get lost and the weather was great. It was pretty cold in Winnipeg, it was fifteen degrees below zero one day and your ears would freeze in about three minutes and very painful getting the, the skin come off and new skin growing. But we enjoyed Canada. We had leave and I thought I was quite rich having a hundred dollars, going across to New York my final leave before I went across the Atlantic. I ran out of money one day, but I was lucky enough to know where to go and I was put up with a millionaire in New Jersey and that was an experience too. We went from Halifax on the Queen Mary. The Queen Mary went alone, not in convoy because it was so fast. But apparently a cruiser, American cruiser, got in its road and went over the top of the cruiser which sank of course. So the Queen Mary had a list, I mentioned that in my letter home, but the censors cut out the bits. We arrived at Greenock on the Clyde after a big dash across the Atlantic - Hitler had offered Iron Crosses to anybody who could sink that ship - and it lasted the whole war, it was very fast. We were in blackout trains, on our way south to Brighton, our holding station, and luckily for us, we thought, there was an air raid so we were stuck in London peeping at the blackout blinds in the carriage, looking at the searchlights, hearing the bangs of bombs, we thought it was great fun, very exciting: mind you we were only eighteen, nineteen. We were kept in Brighton for a while, in hotels, wating for our turn to go to a station. Occasionally a daring Me110 would come in, use machine guns on the windows of the hotels, we had to duck down. The beaches were full of land mines and a few of those exploded and pebbles shot through our windows. We were sent to AFU West Freugh which was near Stranraer, the port for Ireland. We were flying Ansons and we were bombing using infra-red camera, and a white spot would appear on the photograph at Conwy in Wales, Ronaldsway in Isle of Man and so on.
GT: Ron, just for the record, that you sir, you joined the RNZAF as an air bomber.
RM: I joined, I don’t know what I was going to be, as a pilot, I thought we’d all be fighter pilots cause those were the days of Battle of Britain. It wasn’t to be, they didn’t want fighter pilots, they wanted bombers, bomber crews and I was on a composite course, even though I said I wanted to be a pilot in the Bomber Command, they didn’t want me as a pilot, and I was put as an observer, a new category. In those days the bombing was not accurate. Mind you the navigation aids were very, very poor and bombs were spread round the country, and a lot of us were put as bomb aimers. In Canada we didn’t get a B for bomb aimer, we got an O observer because we’d done navigation courses.
GT: That was your brevet you’re talking. You’re talking about your brevet.
RM: I was on the Milton Ontario navigation course and we flew Ansons up the Lawrence river to St John and we couldn’t understand what was going on, everybody spoke French, everything was written in French, the shops all spoke French - we were in France and that was exciting too. Anyway, jumping across to Britain, we finished our course at AFU and then we were sent to Number 11 OTU Westcott where a lot of New Zealanders had gone through. We were on Wellingtons at that stage, they were great little planes, well fairly big we thought too. We had ten new crews and we crewed up which was an amazing business. We were put in a hangar and after a little speech we were told we had a couple of hours to crew up. Anybody not crewed up in two hours would be put in a crew. Our crew was young. I knew the navigator from Seagrove, way back in New Zealand. He was just turned nineteen, and I was just turned nineteen so we got a pilot who was just turned nineteen, or was he twenty. We had a, an air gunner who was very good, but after a while he said I think you’re too young for me, I want a bit of a lark on leave, I don’t have a lark with you, so he pulled out and we lost our other gunner as well. Next we were moved on to HCU Chedburgh on Stirlings and there we had to pick up two gunners and the two we were given were identical twins which was most unusual because even brothers were not supposed to fly together, they’d separate them. They were so identical we couldn’t tell them apart, although the navigator could because he was going to be a dentist and he could tell by their teeth, so we made one wear a pocket knife on his belt. So there’s Willy and Henry and they came from San Paulo, Brazil, which again was most unusual. They were of Scottish background though, their father had worked in San Paulo. From Stirlings, which are huge aircraft we moved on to LFS Lanc Finishing School on to Lancasters: they were beautiful aircraft. Everybody liked the Lancaster, they were so easy to fly. There were no problems with the Lancaster: they reckoned they could overshoot on two engines and land on one engine if they had to, I don’t know that’s right or not, but that’s what they told us. After a short course there and lots of fun on the Lancaster we moved on to 75 New Zealand Squadron. We were asked whether we wanted to join that squadron, I wanted to I think most of the rest of the crew wanted to join as well. Was some beginning, was about two days after D-Day and three crews had finished their tour of thirty ops and I think it was the first time crews had finished a tour at that stage of the war for about three months so we were realising that the war was really on and not just as much fun as we thought it was. We trained, we were accepted. One interesting thing, our pilot is supposed to do a second dickie, that is a trip in the right hand seat before he takes his crew on an operation, but we were called off to pick up a new aircraft at our headquarter station at Westbridge, which we did and then to our horror we found the crew that Jake was supposed to fly with were missing, so he would have been missing.
GT: Who was your skipper? What was his name?
RM: John Aitken. His initials were JK so he was always Jake. Our wireless operator had been best man at a wedding and that poor feller went missing on that trip too, he’d only been married about three weeks so the war was real. We did our first operation, which was a learning experience. Everything went very well until we got close to the target, then everything started to happen at once. There was a jolting of the aircraft, so close to us at night time of course, no lights, dodging aircraft, dodging shells, taking your turn to bomb, the flak, the searchlights, quite a memorable experience. A lot of crews went missing on their first five operations through lack of experience. So we did our best. Our crew by the way, seven of us, the oldest was twenty, lots of people were eighteen, nineteen and twenty, lots of aircrew, but we were the only crew I’ve ever heard of, all seven were under twenty, were under twenty one.
GT: Ron, you had already had a crash before you arrived on squadron. What was that about?
RM: Yes, OTU Westcott, we found that pretty tough going. We lost four crews by the way, through inexperience and through bad luck. In fact we had a very dicey one. We took off from Oakley, which is a satellite, flew towards Brill Hill and I saw John place his feet on the wheel and press. I yelled, ‘what are you doing?’ He said, ‘put your feet up too!’ So we both pushed on the wheel to try and get the nose down, but the nose was up too high and the airspeed was coming down. We staggered and this red light of Brill Hill got closer and closer, we couldn’t go any faster cause we were, the angle of attack was too high, then John suddenly realised he had to put the wheel, put us nose heavy and we staggered across very, very low and he said to me later on, the trim wheel, there’s a knob at the top, that shows as right, and he had, on checks, he touched the knob at the top, was right, he didn’t know it had been turned three sixty degrees putting it tail heavy. That’s the sort of thing that happened. I can remember another incident where oil pressures and temperatures were all wrong, so our screen engineer or screen pilot just got a screwdriver out and altered the clock and said that’ll be right, so some poor chaps in the aircraft after us’d also have oil and pressure problems. I don’t know, but at squadron level things were very efficient and we got into the routine: going down for breakfast in the mess. And I was an officer and so was John and so was the navigator Dunc, we had a wonderful time in the officers mess, there were so many young ones, there was a competitive spirit: there was table tennis, there was shove ha’penny and so on, darts. We also had mess parties when nothing was doing, always led by the Wing Commander, jackets inside out so no rank, trousers rolled up to the knees, all singing air force songs, the words were pretty shocking but we didn’t worry about the words, in out the windows, over the top of the piano, thumping on the floor under the tables, all doing follow the leader, all singing. There was a wonderful spirit on the squadron. And of course on ops people go missing and when you’d come back from a trip, you’re being debriefed, you look up at the board, can see the words overdue, landed was good, landed, landed, overdue and if you’re one of the last to be finished with the intelligence officers it could be missing. Actually we were reported missing once, because we were overdue. Ten and a half hours, across Denmark, across Sweden – which was neutral - to Gydinia which is near Danzig, laying mines. We had to go over Hell. Hell was the naval base, and they gave us hell. We were coned with searchlights, there was flak – a lot of it - and John, the pilot, thought we must have been holed by the flak, we couldn’t have lasted that long, so he and the engineer organised, they cut down the speed, they were a bit worried about the motors, didn’t do much good to them at our speed, so we came home slower and that’s why the trip was ten hours thirty and we were a bit overdue. Well, I still remember some of those ops, vividly, Do you want me to go on Glen? Russelsheim, which is on the Main river, we were going after submarine parts, delicate instruments, gyroscopes and so on. We were in the second wave, so ten minutes from the target which is about thirty three miles - we dealt in miles in those days - there was a glow, a yellow glow ahead, had to be the target, so for ten minutes we were flying along this eerie, you know, corridor, there were planes up high dropping parachute flares which fluttered down slowly, turning everything yellow, ever so many slim black blips around us, they were the bombers, keeping the same height, same speed, same direction. The little black dots which were darted all over the place, they’d be enemy fighters, there were lots of exchanges of fire, I could see necklaces of tracer, the red flashes amongst the fight as the fighters sprayed the bombers and the bombers returned the fire. As we got closer and closer, we got into the searchlights, forest of them waving very deadly and then they would catch on to a plane, cone it, especially the master cone which would be a pale colour by radar and the poor aircraft would flutter all over the place up and down and sideways, try to get escape. Very often it caught fire and went down slowly, occasionally there was a bang in the sky, a bright light and then nothing. By this time the flak was pretty heavy too. The flak was our height, they had us on radar. The black grey parts with reddish bits in it, they were really [emphasis] dangerous, red hot metal was flying – shrapnel. The bigger white clouds, they were nothing to worry about, they were spent, just flak clouds. That was thick, the searchlights were heavy, the fighters were there, on the ground already there were pools of fire, and the pools were getting bigger and bigger, lakes of fire: the city was burning. Flak, the flak was flashing in all directions, no pattern to it, they were sparks. The lines of white lights they were the sticks of bombs dropping. Then there was the photoflashes. All the aircraft dropped a photoflash, and you had to do a straight and level, say, we had to do thirty five seconds after the bombing straight and level which was not very good because the fighters were active, and then our flash would go off, to record our aiming point. We could see buildings, the shapes of buildings in those flashes, and black lines which were streets. It was a kaleidoscope of, of action and colour. Meanwhile the Pathfinders were dropping TIs – Target Indicators – the whole world would go red and then the Master Bomber might say, we are all bombing five miles short, next wave drop your greens two seconds later. So the greens would come on, the whole world would go green. There was certainly action, things I will just never forget. I was fascinated at this kaleidoscope, I stuck my eyes on the window after doing my own bombing, waiting for the photoflash, I couldn’t leave it alone, I just watched and watched. It was awesome. A lot of a death and destruction, mind you we couldn’t see anybody dying, we couldn’t see anybody getting hurt or buildings getting destroyed. We were remote up here and it was fascinating, I’d never seen anything like it. And finally, we could turn away the camera told me that the photoflash had gone off, we turned off and I was still watching out of the side window at the target and we got into friendly darkness, which was relief in a way I suppose. Fear, fright, of course fear is natural, but we had to do our duty, we couldn’t let our crew down and we had to suppress fear and duty would win. I suppose you could call that courage if you like, but we got used to it and we were young, we were so lucky. I never lost a night’s sleep over worrying, actually not, in my later years again I‘ve never lost a night’s sleep my whole life about bombing cities. These days there are lots of critics because we were aerial bombing, we were bombing the coloured Pathfinder flares. Industries of course were scattered right through a city, and around industries there were lots of workers’ homes. And a lot of workers would be working in transport centres and we bombed transport centres. Yes, war is horrifying, but once you’re in to a war, you’ve got to win it, and that was one war which had to be fought. It wasn’t economics. It wasn’t politics. Hitler and his gang of Nazis, you know, very, very horrifying story, concentration camps, the Jewish camps. These memories are quite vivid still. I could tell you about Kiel, the naval base, again I remember that. Our skipper, John Aitken was a very conscientious pilot, one trip, it was Beauvoir, I remember that because was, in French a good look, there’s a lot of cloud around so the Master Bomber over the mic would tell us to orbit port, which we did, and then bomb by any means possible. And that to John was the dive spiralling down to the ground. We went tail back, nose first, right down and the cloud broke at about two thousand feet above the ground and I had only seconds to give some instructions. We bombed the target but a stick of bombs crossed us as we’re trying to bomb, and it’s true, I could see the writing on the bomb, the number. I was too shocked with fright to record it, and the stick of bombs missed both engines, crossed the wing; the crew were shouting by this the time, the two gunners and the wireless operator who was in the astrodome. We got out fast, we were very, very lucky. It made us think that aircraft below the bombers were very vulnerable. We had many, many things to think about. At Villiers-Bocage, at Normandy, again, there was cloud cover, we knew our own troops were very close, we had to be very accurate. We were told to orbit port - this was a daylight by the way - the Americans had immaculate formations; we were a shambles, we did night flying at daytime so the planes wobbling about all over the place, above us, below us, ever so close and we did this big whirl of shambles, I’ll never forget that. Then the clouds opened up a wee bit and we bombed very carefully so we wouldn’t bomb our troops, and my photograph showed two planes way down below that obviously been the Master Bomber and his deputy, they also took huge risks. Yes, we had frights, but being young, I think excitement took over from being scared and we were very busy. We were very busy from take off to when we came back; we never relaxed. Our crew had decided that getting through a tour was near impossible, that almost half were killed, went missing. We were doing our best to survive, by obeying our orders absolutely, not taking any unnecessary risks, by doing our duty as well as we could and if we were to go down, we would take a lot of Germans with us. By that time there was supreme realism, we just knew what the odds were. People had rituals, lucky charms, we had nothing like that. In fact one chap gave me a last letter to send home, I tried to say well I’m doing the same trips as you are! And I always felt fatalism like that leads to carelessness, you make your mind up you won’t survive. He went missing shortly after giving me the letter. We had no rituals except of course by the tail wheel before we got on to the aircraft to relieve ourselves: that was the only ritual we had. Bomber Command was a great life really: the chaps were wonderful, the food in the officers mess was wonderful, our leaves were wonderful. Lord Nuffield had paid for us to go to one of the top hotels and we went to St Ives, Cornwall. People in the streets would look at you, see your New Zealand flash, and the British are pretty reticent and conservative – ‘good on you, good on you, give them hell, give them hell!’ And every day in the newspapers, the headlines would be we bombed Berlin, we bombed Hamburg, we bombed Nuremburg, and so on and that brought the British morale up. There’s certainly no faint hearts in those days The British people were right behind us and we couldn’t understand after the war when there were so many critics of what we had done. We had the highest losses of any Allied military force. That only two per cent of bomber crew of the military forces, two per cent, we were given forty percent of Britain’s resources because Churchill, as part of his “few speech” had said looking around: the Navy can’t hit Germany, the Army which had now been evacuated, certainly couldn’t hit Germany, the fighters couldn’t hit Germany, the only way through must be Bomber Command bombing Germany. And that’s what we did and we, our bombing trips from the first day, September ‘39 to the end of the war in May 1945, people bring up names like Dresden. Yes, Dresden was awful, a lot of things about Dresden we don’t know, were never made public, but I think the people in charge knew a lot more than we did, we were just told it was going to be Dresden I wasn’t on that trip, I’d finished long before, but people tell me they’d never heard of Dresden china, they never heard of Dresden arts, it was just another trip, and that unfortunately tainted Bomber Command. People forgot that Japan had got far more Dresdens. They had a hundred Dresdens in Japan. Name a city: it was a Dresden. They firebombed, the superforts from Taiwan, and they did a great job, as we did in Bomber Command.
GT: Ron, 75 Squadron had a reputation. They had a very high loss rate across the five years of their bombing operations and 75 Squadron was nicknamed the chop squadron. Did you see or know of that on the squadron at the time you were there?
RM: Yes. A lot of people, lot of New Zealanders didn’t want to come on 75. They also felt if they went on an English squadron they’d be spoilt [unclear] and as a New Zealander – we were never called Kiwis by the way, you were Newzies, Aussies and Newzies - that’d be something unusual on an squadron they’d be invited to English homes. But I wanted to go to the 75. We were called the chop squadron, we knew that. Our Wing Commander pushed press on regardless and he himself lost an engine on take off and flew a whole trip on three engines, he certainly wasn’t a come back. And anybody who returned early through failures were really put on the mat, so we were almost scared to come back if intercom had gone, or a motor had gone, and that contributed, yes, to being a chop squadron.
GT: And you were on the squadron at the time 75 lost seven aircraft on one night.
RM: Correct, that was Hamburg, oil refinery in the Ruhr. We didn’t fly on that trip because John had a bad cold. We woke in the morning and there were about five beds missing from our hut. So we went outside, and there were the chaps coming outside from the next door neighbour’s hut and we’ve got five missing too and so on, right down the lines of our nissen huts. We knew something bad had happened. Seven aircraft went missing that night and some of them were very senior pilots, almost finished their tours. It was the highest loss any squadron during the war.
GT: From one sortie, from one raid.
RM: Yes. Now you think about the Battle of Britain, which lasted four or five months, they lost a lot of pilots, but Bomber Command lost on one night, Nuremburg actually, they lost about a hundred aircraft and it was about seven hundred people. A few escaped with parachute. There were second dickies on that trip. Yes Bomber Command lost in one night enormous number of people. 75, Hamburg was our bad night.
GT: Now towards, well, on your twenty seventh trip you, you were wounded. Can you describe and tell us about your experience there please?
RM: Yes, was an easy trip and we’d had some tough ones, in Normandy, flying bomb, we were coming in beautifully, bit of cloud around and I noticed flak on our port, coming towards us. I said to the pilot: ‘skipper there’s flak coming, our height, it’s probably radar, it’s coming closer, can you see it?’ He said, ‘yes, I see it.’ He didn’t move an inch, he kept on going towards the target, and inevitably we were engulfed [pause] and my eyes were pretty sore and I couldn’t see too well and I rubbed my face and it was prickly and blood, but nothing to do, I didn’t say anything, but the engineer caught an eye on me and he said I think the bomb aimer’s been hit and John immediately called, ‘are you all right?’ I said, ‘yes I’m okay.’ And we bombed the target but the bomb release wouldn’t work. I pressed and pressed, it wouldn’t work. So I said jettison bars across and of course the whole bomb load went at once, we’d overshot by that time and the plane of course lurched like anything, it jumped up with all the bombs releasing at once and then I looked over at my controls on the right hand side: [cough] it was smashed. No wonder the bomb sight wasn’t working. Later on I was given some of those broken parts of the bomb sight. I was lucky because my windows had been smashed of course and shrapnel had missed my face and destroyed the bomb sight [cough] and I was lying over my bomb sight, so that’s what happened and then the crew came to see me in hospital, and I think one of them said, a bit embarrassed, I think you’ve won the prize of the races, I said what’s that? He said you’ve got the DFC which was a big surprise to me.
GT: And the award for your DFC was an immediate?
RM: Yes, immediate for the action, from carrying on, 75 pressing on regardless. We had a song about pressing on regardless. We had songs about most things.
GT: So your, your eyes were affected by the splinters of the Perspex, and they still are?
RM: I couldn’t hear that.
GT: The Perspex had splintered into your eyes and you are still affected by that today.
RM: Yep. I had many operations in the Littleport hospital, and yes, I’ve got the dust of Perspex in my eyes still. It doesn’t seem to worry me. And a strange thing, they realised that Perspex was compatible with eyes, hence lenses, contact lenses fitted into eyes, they were Perspex.
GT: Were you a bit of guinea pig for these operations?
RM: Not meaning to. And they gave me penicillin, which was pretty scarce in those days, only just been discovered. My face was full of splinters, eyes unfortunately. I didn’t wear goggles. Perhaps I should have. I could tell you lots more about Dave Moriarty and so on.
GT: Your time then, so, John Aitken was your skipper.
RM: Yes.
GT: Where did Dave Moriarty come into the picture?
RM: It was the Caligny raid. Dave Moriarty was John Aitken’s best friend, on course, both pilots and during the raid on Caligny - it was a fantastic raid - we went over the Normandy beachhead, and I just couldn’t believe it, there was no water, just ship, ship, ship, ship, no enemy fighters, the Mulberry harbours, which were artificial harbours put out for bigger ships to come in. But boats were going to and fro, you couldn’t see much water, and we flew low level over the front and there were the Germans, there were tanks, things were flying at us, we saw the German helmets, they were ducking for cover, and a few seconds later we were over the British front line, with their tin hats. It was so thrilling, but unfortunately John Aitken said, something’s happened to so-and-so aircraft, that’s Dave, Dave Moriarty’s aircraft. So he’s most anxious to find out what happened to that aircraft. Speaking to the crew later on - and I was I was in the hospital with Dave – so I knew him pretty well at Littleport, he was, a bit of flak had gone through his eye and come out his head, but he was still able to see a little bit out of the one, the other eye, although it was weeping in sympathy. Ian Ward, the bomb aimer who was one of my best friends, he said they knew that Dave had been hit and Dave had said don’t tell the crew: they’ll get worried. So Ian and the engineer between them called airspeeds and heights and Dave more or less flew on the seat of his pants, without instruments. They talked, they didn’t want the crew to know, but Dave Moriarty was absolutely convinced he was going to try and land it. His eye was dangling out of, out of his head and somehow he landed it. Wasn’t a good landing they tell me, but it came down and the crew were safe. The crew idolised Dave, I met Dave Fox and so on, Bluey Montgom, we knew the crew very well, and they always called him skipper all the way through life until they died, till about eighty something.
GT: Dave Moriarty only died recently and Dave Fox is still alive, so.
RM: Great fellow. He got a conspicuously gallant medal which is the NCO equivalent of the DSO, would have got a VC for what he did.
GT: Only three were awarded that award, GSM, on 75 Squadron: he was one.
RM: That’s right and I knew all three. One was the bomb aimer who landed his plane, at Marsham Downs, that’s right, in Salisbury. He’d never done any pilot training but he got his crew down. Oh yes, the other was Sillwood.
GT: On D-Day Ron, when you flew over the beachheads, 75 Squadron did two raids that day. Were you on both of them or just one?
RM: Just one raid.
GT: Okay. Now did the RAF bombers bomb all of the beachheads or just some?
RM: We didn’t bomb the beachheads. In fact we were not allowed near the beachheads because the, they’d fire any plane that came close. Like navy, navy’d fire at everything in the air. We were allowed on the beachheads this time and they were told below, the Lancasters were coming across. No we never bombed the beachheads, but we bombed the fighting inland. Sad, but Villers-Bocage.
GT: There is a movie out shows B17s bombing the beachheads.
RM: I wouldn’t go much on the movies. They did Dambusters and the guy who took the part, he was about fifty. Richard Todd I think.
GT: So once you were wounded you obviously couldn’t go back on to operations so how long did you spend in hospital.
RM: NO. My eyes were still damaged, and I’d promised the doctor at Littleport I wouldn’t fly on ops again until he said it was okay. I went back several times to Littleport because I had pains in the eyes and had more operations. That happened several times.
GT: Did your crew carry on without you or did they finish?
RM: They carried on, and they said it was pretty tough going too. They only had three to go and the three of them were tough. Yes, I would have been very worried if anything happened to them on those three. I knew my crew very well. I knew them after the war. Of course John and Duncan and I, John lived in Gisborne, Duncan lived in Opunake the three of us would go and cray fishing on the coast, pig hunting, trout fishing. We had a glorious time until those two got married and it changed things. And then the others: I went to Britain ever so many times, I think about eighteen times I went to Britain after the war and I stayed with the twins in Norfolk quite often.
GT: Now what was their names again, Ron?
RM: Monk, William and Henry Monk. And then I, Gordon Grindley, I stayed with him. He was north of London, at St Albans and then at Watford. I knew them, they were all great chaps.
GT: So how did you come home from England after the war? By ship? And what ship?
RM: On the Andes. We took off from Southampton, we had Lincolns flying across to say goodbye to us. They were training for J Force at that time. We broke the record to Freemantle, Australia and then on to Melbourne, still a record for any ship, and then we broke the record across the Tasman for the slowest journey ever. It was Labour weekend and the races were on and the watersiders had refused to land us. So the boys had big signs up “Welcome Home, Except on Labour Day”. And the Minister of Defence - Jones was his name - the guys pelted him with eggs when he was making his speech of welcome. The captain was roaring: ‘stop that, stop that!’ We polite officers did nothing, just watched. And then we came into Littleton and the ship was too big to get into the harbour but somehow it got in, and then we went to Wellington and we were quite amazed at Britain, at the New Zealand shops: tin verandas, tin iron roofs, so different from Britain and we were a wee bit disappointed. Now, some people had great trouble settling down after the war. I had no trouble whatsoever: the war was over, I got on with life.
GT: Some have commented that, a lot of the ladies that were left back in New Zealand, and families, didn’t want to know what you did.
RM: That’s right.
GT: And when you guys came home, you just closed up in little boxes and just kept it all.
RM: Apparently some of the early guys who came home, some great fellows, [cough] started to say things like: oh, you don’t know what flak is, you don’t know what defence is, this is just easy, you should have seen what we went through in Europe. That was not at all [emphasis] popular, these guys were demoted; there was no place for them in RNZAF. You had to be very, very tactful but it was true, we lost more planes one night than all [emphasis] the planes, all the deaths in the air war, in the Pacific, but we didn’t want to remind people at home about that. One of the great guys was Dick Bolt, Dick was patron of the Bomber Command Association, I knew Dick very, very well, he was a modest guy. He knew what went on.
GT: Well the Ohakea air base has a very beautiful new building named in his honour.
RM: Have they?
GT: Yep, they’ve kept his name alive of the Royal New Zealand Air Force because he became Air Marshall.
RM: On our trip in 2012, I was president of the Bomber Command Association leading them our fellows, there were thirty one of us and we had a wonderful time. We saw the Queen open the, the statues at Green Park, the Bomber Command Memorial. We were in the front rows and we saw all the Royal Party arrive - there ever so many of them. There were very few RAF because the government still [emphasis] would not support Bomber Command. Churchill put his back to us. I was in the air, illegally by the way. I’d gone back to 75 Squadron as an instructor on the link trainer. I got a trip, a Manna trip dropping flour at Rotterdam because the Dutch were starving and we flew very low level across the water, across Holland, dropping our flour and I heard a broadcast, the wireless op had turned on the radio and Churchill, [in Churchill tine] ‘we must thank the boys of the fighter command, we must thank the boys of the navy,’ and they mentioned the Graf Spey. ‘We must thank our paratroops’ – think of the poor red devils, and so on and so on. He thanked the fighter for the Battle of Britain. He did not mention Bomber Command. It was official speech and apparently Arthur Harris, head of Bomber Command, was angry and questioned him on this and Churchill was just evasive, a new election was coming up and there’s a whole civilian sympathy for the dead in the cities and Bomber Command, much to our amazement was in disgrace, after all we had done. We just couldn’t understand it. I can remember some, such wonderful fellows saying to me was it all in vain? I only wish they had lived long enough to see the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park. Strangely there was a pop singer, one of the Bee Gees, Robin somebody.
GT: Gibb.
RM: Started it all – he had a relative in Bomber Command, and then the Daily Express got on of it and another couple of newspapers, and millions went in. Now I went back, as I told you, in 2012 to see the wonderful memorial.
GT: I was there with you.
RM: And next day we went back, have a look and it was covered in flowers and covered in little notes pinned on it and the government says don’t do this, we’ve got to clean it up but it still happens. There are so many out there. Fifty five, fifty six thousand aircrew died in Bomber Command and there are so many uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, children, grandchildren still remember what happened. And every day, even today, they put notes and crosses on the Bomber Command Memorial. So despite politics, what those in charge condemned Bomber Command, we feel what we did was very, very important. I always remember an intelligence officer on our squadron, 75. Some of the boys were being disturbed, look we’re bombing cities, women and children. In fact one of the navigator’s hair was black; it turned white in two weeks. I’ll never forget that. The intelligence Officer had us all together and he said you boys are doing more than your share to end this war as quickly as possible and every day you shorten that war, you’re saving hundreds of lives. You will win respect in the end, you’re doing far more than your share. And that was very helpful. Years later after the war, I met, I’m trying to think of his name, the VC.
GT: Les Munro?
RM: The one who had the homes for the cancer society, he did a hundred ops, it’ll come to me, that’s silly. I heard him speak and he said - in New Zealand - I don’t want any questions about the war, I want to tell you about what we’re trying to do with these homes for incurable cancer people, but of course inevitably somebody did say, do you regret bombing cities? And I’ll always remember his words. Of course I do, I regret, I regret very much having to bomb the cities, But, he said, imagine if a gangster ever, terrorist came in the wings of this theatre now with a machine gun started spraying you with machine guns, what should I do? Just let you die? What we did was, I’d take out that gangster as quickly as possible, by any means possible, and that’s exactly what Bomber Command did. That was very impressive.
GT: It was the understanding of air power.
RM: Yeah. It’s very hard for people in post war to understand war. War is horrible, but you avoid it wherever possible. This is a war that could not be avoided: had to be fought.
GT:: One major thing that has consumed the Bomber Command and its history from World War Two story is that of the issuing, or the non issue, of medallic recognition for you chaps. You’ve been very vocal on that in the last while. What’s your feeling in reference to the Bomber Command Clasp and the lack of a medal for you guys.
RM: The Bomber Clasp was an insult. We deserved our own medal. Forty percent of resources went onto that. By the way, the VC was Leonard Cheshire. [Pause] Yes. I’ve lost my train of thought.
GT: Bomber Command Clasp and a medal for Bomber Command.
RM: Oh, the clasp. It wasn’t enough. We didn’t get our own war medal; just two percent doing all this to win the war. You know Bomber Command sank more submarines than the navy and right through they did so much, [pause] and the sacrifice was so big. They gave us a clasp after so many years, most of the chaps never got one of course. The French were better, they gave Legion of Honour, but that was a long time later too.
GT: And that’s been a big struggle, Legion of Honour too.
RM: Say slowly.
GT: The Legion of Honour has been a big struggle, and I have put up for six medals for six gentlemen and only three have received theirs, so that too is distinct, but for the Bomber Command Medal that should have been there are still people that are fighting that fight for you.
RM: I agree entirely. The Legion of Honour was narrow, for those who helped liberate France after D-Day and liberate Paris. But all those boys who died before D-Day, they were fighting to liberate France in a way too. That was a very narrow business. I was one of the lucky ones to get one but so many better ones than me missed out.
GT: Your Presidency as the Bomber Command New Zealand Association - how long were you President for and what was one of the good things that you come, that came from that?
RM: I was President for seven years. This 2012 trip to see the Memorial opened by the Queen, I had a ring on the telephone from Bunny Burrows who was the President, he said I’m getting old and I need some help and this is coming up would you help me? I said of course Bunny, I’ll help you any way I can. Next thing I knew Peter Wheeler had announced I was the vice-president and straight after that it was announced that I was now President.
GT: And for the record Mr Peter Wheeler is the Executive Officer for the New Zealand Bomber Command Association. He is not a veteran.
RM: Bunny thanked me, and I found that I was brand new at the job, and every time we did anything on that trip - and we went for two weeks - I had to make a speech and it had to be different things each time of course. That was quite a strain on me from enjoying the trip, but I struggled through. After that I found making speeches quite easy; I was well-practiced. As our Museum Commemoration services and then our newsletters, I always try to make my President’s remarks sincere and original.
GT: For the record there, the 2012 unveiling of the Green Park Memorial New Zealand, Australia and Canada supplied aircraft and there were veterans that were included to attend that memorial service. I assisted from the New Zealand Air Force side of things and the 75 Squadron way and Ron, you were part of a team of thirty one who went over, with the Chief of the New Zealand Air Force, Mr Peter Stockwell.
RM: Yes, Canadians treated them very well. They’d handfuls of little badges to give away for example, handfuls of them. I came home with I don’t know how many Canadian badges. The Australians didn’t do much until New Zealand moved, but fortunately for us our Prime Minister decided to help and I think Peter Jackson was also busy there too, the film maker. Yes. The Australians followed because New Zealand was doing something, we had a special aircraft to take us across. We had five stops, overnight stops, which I don’t know if that was good or not - we used to take off in the dark, early morning. That was wonderful in a way Darwin, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai and so on.
GT: It’s okay, you were flown by the New Zealand Air Force in its 757 with a VIP fit, and that was very fitting too.
RM: Yes, John Key the Prime Minister, I thanked him personally for that. Aussie followed us, the Canadians were in force and I said earlier, the poor Brits had to make their own way to London, pay their own fees, pay their own board because the Conservative Government didn’t like Bomber Command; that all came after Churchill. I know there’s lots of controversial things, but I think this International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln is on the right lines. The University at Lincoln only came into on the understanding it’ll be wide open to all points of view, not just supporting Bomber Command. Critics of Bomber Command are just as welcome and they of course are full of latest technical resources, recording resources and they put their hearts into it as well. It’s a wonderful business and I am lucky to have this chance to say something about my little part in the war and many, many others having the chance to say something and what a shame that majority will never get this chance.
GT: Ron, you are amongst some the few that produced your own story and you have named it “Bombs on Target”.
RM: Yes, I didn’t name it that. I had great trouble getting that done. I offered the manuscript to New Zealand. they wouldn’t touch it, but it was bombing cities so I went to Britain and unfortunately the firm that I had a contract with lost money and decided not to print so I had lawyers threatening them, to sue, it passed through about four or five hands until it was printed and it met a very good reception.
GT: So it was first published in 1991.
RM: Yes.
GT: By Patrick Stephens Limited and on the dust jacket it shows as Sixteen quid is the price.
RM: It took many years of research. People wondered where I got all the detail of each trip. I used the navigation logs from my navigator. I used my own Bomber Command H2S logs because I used to work H2S and I did a lot of interviews and a lot of reading research and I tried to make the book original, a bit different. I tried to break in every slang word we had, once only, not too often. I didn’t want wizard prang all the way through it, I didn’t want wilco out all the way through it. But they’re all in there, just glimpses these, and many people have written to me about it and I now know how Uncle Peter lived. It’s the first time I realised. My wife and I, Kath and I, went to the station many years later and we went to the local pub.
GT: Yes, this is RAF Mepal?
RM: No, was Witchford, no, it was Sutton, was Sutton, on the boundary, a lovely stocky church, Norman church and we met an old lady, when I say old, about my age, arranging flowers on the pews and I happened to mention that I was here in wartime and she said, ‘oh you were naughty boys,’ and I said, ‘naughty? I know my wife’s eyes rose with that, ‘yes, those songs you sang in the pub!’ And when I came to think of it, those songs, some of them weren’t very nice, but we just didn’t think of the words, we were just singing together, morale. I went to the Sutton pub another time. I said where’s all the guys’ black ties we had up there? We used to dip it into beer, suck his tie, try to chew it off, then cut it with scissors and put it up. We had about three or four hundred ties up there, most of the chaps dead. Oh, we got rid of that stuff years ago, when we took over the pub. Didn’t mean anything.
GT: Was that Chequers?
RM: Chequers pub, Sutton, you know the pub.
GT: Yes, been there. And then you had the Three Pickerels.
RM: That’s Mepal, that’s on the river. I still remember the pubs. Funny thing, I never drank my early days, even my wings party in Canada I never had a drink. It was at Westcott and the CFI – Chief Flying Instructor - was a chap called Fraser Baron, he looked as young as we were. And he’s sitting at the top table, got bit bored, and he saw us about same age and he came and sat with us and we thought this is wonderful and Fraser said what are you drinking, I said oh this orange. He said I’ll get you another orange and there’s a Wing Commander getting a lowly Pilot Officer an orange drink. And I liked it and said but what was in it, something else? Oh just a double gin! That was after about three trips for more oranges, and I realised that all these double gins hadn’t hurt me at all and quite liked them!
GT: Well, your book’s “Bombs On Target” and the dust jacket has the words “a compelling eyewitness account of Bomber Command operations” by Ron Mayhill, DFC and the front cover picture of a Lancaster which is a painting which you have hanging here in your apartment.
RM: It’s in my aisle there, yes.
GT: You and I have taken photographs in front of it before and it’s a fascinating painting.
RM: It’s a painting by an artist in Gisborne for John Aitken. He did several and John Aitken didn’t want them all and gave me one.
GT: And the number on the aircraft’s AA-U for Uncle.
RM: AA U Uncle, yes.
GT: And U Uncle was your aircraft?
RM: That was our aircraft.
GT: Fascinating.
RM: Crews don’t get their own aircraft until they’ve done a few ops. You know, gen crews. So you’ve got to earn your, and be lucky enough to do, say a dozen ops and then it’s your aircraft.
GT: Keep the same one, yeah. For the record here the ISBN number for those who will look for your book Ron, is 1-85260-274-0 published in 1991 and it is certainly a fantastic, fabulous read and I thoroughly recommend if someone can find a copy of that, of Ron’s book. Now Ron, you have been talking to me now for nearly an hour and a half and it’s been a fascinating discussion. You, is there anything else that you recall that you would like to tell about, your time after the war, what you did in New Zealand after?
RM: Yeah, I told you I settled down, no problem, I went to University, did a BA, then went overseas. Friday night the boys used to meet at a pubs in Auckland and suddenly one said let’s go to England. Yeah, we’ve not enough money to go to England, because in those days no airlines, just shipping and somebody said I think Shaw Saville got an office up here somewhere, lets go and have a chat. So I went up to Shaw Saville on the Friday night and the person in charge just said ah yes, so many people want to go, I’ve got a list of a couple of hundred want to have a trip, work their way, there’s not much chance. Anyway we insisted, he said, give me your addresses, your phone number and he said you got passports and actually we had passports because we had been talking about going across anyway, saving enough money. That was Friday. The next day, Saturday, urgent call we’ve got the Temeraire leaving and we’re three short and we can’t find the crew. He said come down, I can’t get people from all over the country, you’re just here locally, come down and you probably won’t sail because the police will round them up, they know where to look, Mark Leeson for example, a certain pub, they’ve probably found a girlfriend. And even when we’re out in the channel on the pilot boat we’re told he’ll probably take us off and the crew the police have found put back in. But no, we sailed! So I had to send a urgent telegram to my school saying I wouldn’t be there next day [cough] and -
GT: And you ended up in England a couple of weeks later.
RM: And then when we got there, Shaw Saville said by law we’ve got to repatriate you to where you came from, but I know you want to stay in the country a while, don’t you, but if you leave your name, we’ll take you home, we won’t pay you, you’ll work for nothing, ah, we’ll give you a shilling or something so you won’t be slave and we’ll take you home more or less when you want to go home. So I stayed almost two years! I did three marvellous trips, this is 1950, 51, 52. Three marvellous trips, one to Scandinavia: Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, north Germany, each, that was an amazing trip – by car by the way - and then another trip but unfortunately I had gone to hospital cause I’d been working below water line in the heat, I was scrubbing floors with net that was very inflammable in front of the furnaces, the bakehouse. I was a bakehouse scullion, unfortunately I lost the toss and everybody got up one so the bakehouse scullion became a cabin boy and the cabin boy became steward, I had signed on as a steward and I went through as a bakehouse scullion. Then went another trip, Norway, I went to Portugal, North Africa, Tangier, Spain of course, France [cough] and then a third trip east, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Yugoslavia. In those days Yugoslavia had lost more people per population than any country except Russia. Everything was upside down in Yugoslavia. Tito was in charge. And we took our car in. Some places there were no roads across a river, we had to go across the railway bridge, bumping over the sleepers, inevitably a train came, so we were half way across, we met the train, the train backed off for us so we could go bump across. The all the train people got out and produced some wine: we had a bit of a party. This sort of things happened. I’d sent for my maps. There was one big city on the way to Belgrade, so we stopped there, it was muddy, looking for petrol station. There’s no petrol station in the big city. The only vehicles around were army vehicles, so we followed one army vehicle to the military camp, stopped by the sentries and I said petrol, cause I couldn’t speak Yugoslav. I could say dobra, dobradan. Churchilliski, petrol, petrol. No petrol, no petrol. Touristi, touristi, englishki, englishki, touristi, petrol No petrol. Ring ring ring, telephono Tito, telephono Tito. That got them buzzing round! So they gave me some petrol - in kilogrammes. I don’t know what I paid for it. They weighed it out for me. But telephono Tito did the job. I would haved have rung him up too if I could have, and we got to Belgrade where we did find some petrol. We were stopped by military police long before we got there, time after time because they were difficult days. The Serbs hated the Croats, they hated the Muslims of Herzegovina, there were seven different parts to Yugoslavia, they hated each other. No wonder they, it fell apart. I go on and on, lots of things.
GT: Yes. Fascinating stories, Ron.
RM: That was one trip after the war. I went back so many times because my son had gone over there, married over there, had a grandson over there: was a good excuse to go across.
GT: Well Ron, you’ve explained, you’ve discussed, you have told me some fascinating information: your history, your time on, through Bomber Command, and it has been a fascinating listen and I hope and I am sure that many people who now listen to your interview with the IBCC they have now a first hand account from what you experienced over the target and from your injuries and from your training. So, and I have one memory of you, you and I have been friends for ten or twelve years now, and it was at John Aitken’s funeral, and the family very kindly put me up and we managed to drive across to Gisborne and I arrived ten minutes before the funeral and I went up on stage to give my eulogy for him and then you came in behind me to give your eulogy for John, and we shared a room that night at their family.
RM: That’s right.
GT: And you remember you said to me Sarge, if I snore, I was out of there. And I had to admit, yes sir!
RM: You remember.
GT: I remember and I have very much appreciated your friendship over the years, and Ron, it’s been an honour and a pleasure to record your service and history now for the IBBC for you. So I think we should wrap it up now, and we’ve done the paperwork, I’ve listened to your fascinating story and I hope that others can now read your story in “Bombs On Target”, and is there any last words, I’ll leave you to do the last word on the recording. Thank you Ron.
RM: Looking back on a long life, I’m now ninety five. I lost a lot of friends in the war, I still think of them and war is horrible, but it did a lot for me. I was made an officer, I realise I had responsibilities. The things, the discipline never hurt me, I think it made me philosophical about life. I think I gained a lot from my experiences which has lasted me all this life: try to see the funny side of things, putting up with things without complaining and meeting any ups and downs, vicissitudes of life, equally. Life’s not always smooth but you can face these things and I think the air force taught me that; the death of my friends taught me that. That’s all.



Glen Turner, “Interview with Ron Mayhill,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 23, 2024,

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