Interview with Colin Deverell


Interview with Colin Deverell


Colin Deverell was born in Croydon. Upon leaving school, he worked for Oliver Typewriter Company, where he gained engineering skills to become an amateur rigger for Imperial Airways, before finding employment with Rollaston Aircraft Services in 1939. His mother was killed in a bombing on Christmas Day 1940, motivating him to join the Royal Air Force in 1941 and train as a flight engineer. Deverell completed thirty operations based at RAF Wratting Common and RAF Tuddenham. He details the engineering differences between Stirlings and Lancasters and recollects the events of operations to Kiel, Lorient, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart, Peenemünde, Berlin, and Szczecin. He then completed a further four operations, filling in for a crew with an injured flight engineer. On his thirty-fourth operation to Szczecin, they were attacked and he burnt his hands extinguishing a fire on board. By 19, Deverell was promoted to flight lieutenant and awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal. In 1944, he undertook ten special operations that required low-flying to release boxes of equipment according to light signals from the French Resistance. In 1945, he took part in Operation Manna, before joining 51 Squadron to return servicemen from the Far East on converted Stirlings. Finally, he recalls his career following demobilisation in 1947, the treatment of Bomber Command, and attending reunions at Tuddenham. As the Honorary President of the Royal British Legion in his hometown of Tenterden, Deverell has also been awarded the Legion d’Honneur.







01:38:13 audio recording


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ADeverellCRE190722, PDeverellCRE1901


CJ: This is Chris Johnson and I am interviewing Colin Deverell today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We are at Colin’s home and it is Monday the 22nd of July 2019, and thank you Colin for agreeing to talk to me today. Also present is Colin’s daughter, Liz. So Colin perhaps we could start by you telling me about where and when you were born and something about your family please.
CD: Yes, well I was born in Thornton Heath, Croydon, on the 28th of November 1923, at number 13 Camden Way. It was a council house. I had a father who was on the buses as an inspector and a mother who worked jolly hard at home doing the washing and everything else in those days. I went to school locally, Elementary school, Ingram Road, that was quite close. It was quite a good school actually. And later on, I failed, I have to say I failed the grammar school, the exam for the grammar school, so I failed that and I went to a secondary school so that was up until I was aged fourteen, when I left. Okay. And then on from there, and on from there what to do as a job. This is the trouble with boys, they didn’t know what they wanted to do you see, but I was very keen on aircraft but at that stage you couldn’t get anywhere with aircraft but I went to, worked at a firm called Oliver Typewriter Company, Oliver typewriters – I have one upstairs actually - and I was making those and that was the best bit of engineering I did really, to learn how to, how to drill through metal, how to put a thread in a hole for a bolt and things like that and stamping out pieces for the typewriter, you know, all the arms that come down, everything like that. So that was, that got me into Imperial Airways, my father worked hard to get me in to Imperial Airways in some way and became a rigger, just an amateur rigger, you know, to start off. Well the reason I’d got there was because I had got all this information from the typewriters, engineering, and I learnt a lot from these aircraft, putting parts into the aircraft, doing this, that and the other, dogsbody, making coffee for the people that worked there, that’s what boys had to do and I watched other engineers soldering wires together and that sort of thing so I learnt from that you see, and that went on, until, well that was all these Handley Page aircraft, big bi-planes with four engines, fixed propellers that didn’t move at all and it flew at about four thousand miles, er four thousand feet at about a hundred and ten, hundred and twenty miles an hour and took two and a half hours to get to Paris. So the steward on board, they had stewards then, cooked them a meal, all of them a meal, they had proper meals. So that was a nice little trip for them at four thousand feet. Well that went on until the war started and I’m afraid it went out of business of course and I was there till about November 1939 and I was told well I’m afraid the apprentice had come to an end, so that was the end of that and I lost my job as well so I had to find something else. I searched round and a lot of little firms at Croydon aerodrome, lot of hangars down there, one of them was called Rollason Aircraft Services, and I went there and yes I got a job there, I was drilling and all sorts of things, working on bi-planes Hawker Hectors, Demons and Audaxes and all obsolete aircraft and that was a wonderful period. Of course the war was on unfortunately. So what happened, by July, July the 10th, 1940 the bombing started on airfields and Biggin Hill and Kempston and Kenley and all these got a bashing. Croydon got it on the 15th of August, 15th of August 1940 at 7pm in the evening. These Messerschmidt 110s came over and there’s a picture up there, and I’m sorry to say, well I was underneath an Airspeed Oxford, it’s a twin-engined wooden aircraft, now we had to get this aircraft out - this was seven o’clock in the evening - we had to get this aircraft out of the hangar by the morning because they were bringing some Hurricanes in that needed repairs, so I was underneath there with another chap doing some wiring when all these bombs came down. At the back of our factory there was a Bourgeois scent factory and about fifty girls got killed there, we lost about, there were sixty were killed or injured in Rollasons, so I was, I mean how lucky can I be [emphasis] to be underneath that aircraft, glass, metal came down, the glass went through the wood, it’s a wooden aircraft, through the wood, into the metal tanks, into the metal tanks to glass [emphasis], thick glass, yeah, so I think I would have died, I wouldn’t have been here if I had been outside. But I don’t know if you want more information on that but thing is, I was covered in muck and glass and stuff, you know, and severely dazed, the place was on fire, the little canteen had been bombed and there was a bottle of Tizer - I found a bottle of Tizer - and took the screw off and poured it over me head and I don’t recommend that to anybody because it’s very sticky! So I had a sticky head, so that’s my Tizer. Anyway, I had a new bike, my father bought me a new bike for two pound seven and sixpence, two pound seven and sixpence, and I thought to myself where’s my bike. Well this, you know it went on through the evening, we were told to go down to the air raid shelter and went down there and after a few minutes told to come up again, because the siren hadn’t gone, you know, before the raid. No one knew it was happening. Nobody, nobody on the gun, cause a Bofurs gun there, nobody there to operate it to shoot aircraft down. Anyway, so I got on, oh I found my bike leaning against the wall and it was all right so I cycled home and at that stage we were living in Thornton Road, Croydon, a little flat there, and when I got round there I saw my mother leaning out of the window actually, cause she knew the place was being bombed you see, she thought I’d have had it. I mean seven o’clock it happened, it was ten o’clock when I got home. Just imagine, how pleased she was to see me. Sadly for her we were bombed, the house was damaged quite badly and she died on Christmas Day in 1940, all the ceiling in the kitchen came down on her head and damaged her brain, so I lost my mother quite early in my life, which was very sad really. Anyway, I moved to another, to a friend of mine in Streatham, and that’s when I went to this new school, and then eventually. Sorry, I’m going back a bit here, but that’s when I left to go to erm, the, oh sorry, when I went, oh the yeah, sorry, after the raid we, they treated me very well – Rollasons - I went back to them, I was very dazed as you can imagine, being bombed as a boy, I was only fifteen and I went to the office they said and well we’ll keep you on pay for the time being and we’ll let you know what happens. So I went home again and eventually we were told we were going to Hanworth aerodrome in Middlesex, funny little aerodrome actually, it was just a sort of almost a private, just grass, you know. They had a few Fairey Battles there. Anyway, we still continued repairing Hurricanes, but they felt there were one or two bi-planes left over from Croydon, they put these on a lorry and I remember sitting in the cockpit of a, I think it was a Hawker Demon and went all the way from Croydon to Hanworth and I was waving to people as I went by like that, [laugh] and I think they thought it was quite funny. [Laugh] I mean it’s all obsolete aircraft. But you know, went back on to Hurricanes. How did we get there, you know, each day, as I was living in Thornton Heath still, in Thornton Road. They had put a coach on for us, from West Croydon station and any of us living there, took a tram for a penny, a tram in those days, for a penny, up to West Croydon station, went over and sat in the coach and it took us to this aerodrome, and at the end of the day they brought us back again, another penny on the tram back home. So that’s how it went on. That went on all the way through 1941 and I thought to myself I want to join, I’m going to join the RAF to get my own back, my mother died, you know, so I had a sort of grievance feeling about all this. So I went to the Croydon, the Croydon agency and they said well, we’re sending chaps down, down the coal mines as well as the army. I said no, no, I’m working on aircraft, I want something to do with aircraft, I want to train as a pilot. Don’t they all, she said, I remember, she said don’t they all! And there was a three month waiting list, okay, for, to train as a pilot, but she said we’re desperately in need of flight engineers, and they did have them on Imperial Airways actually, so it goes back a long way, on four-engined aircraft. So yes, okay, I’ll do that, so within the week I was called up. I was, I went to Lords Cricket ground, that was fun! “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here” was the sign up there. We picked up all sorts of stuff there and we, we went to, were put into flats, in Viceroy Court which is just outside a zoo, so we could hear the monkeys laughing at us and we were there for a couple weeks, or something like that. We went to Torquay from there, Torquay and did all the physical training: clay pigeon shooting, physical training, running, sports, anything, you know, just to keep our mind off things. But I used to like the running, cross country running as I got used to that, you know. Clay pigeon shooting – I got good at that - swimming I was never very good at, but anyway we’ll pass over that won’t we. One of the things we had to do was go to the quayside there, and there was a place there, it was about the height of the ceiling down to the water. And the idea was to jump off there with a Mae West on you see, and to swim to the shore. I wasn’t very happy about that, you can imagine, though I did it and I managed to get to the shore, so that was fine, but I never have been a very good swimmer. Anyway, so I joined up and within a week I was, sorry, I’m getting muddled here, I went down to Torquay, that’s it, Torquay, and I was there for six weeks, did all these familiar things, the running and the sports and everything else. And then as flight engineers we had to train at St Athan in South Wales and we had to choose between a Lancaster, oh no, Stirling, Lancaster, Halifax and the flying boat. The flying boat, what was that?
CJ: Sunderland?
CD: Sunderland, Sunderland. So it was three, four, yes, there were four we could choose from. I don’t know why, but I liked the idea of the Stirling: it had radial engines, I knew something about those you see, so I decided to train on those. So that’s what I did at St Athan, I trained on these Stirlings. It was, you know, a full day, a really full day, training and I was there, I was there for some weeks, I can’t think how long we were there now. Anyway that was in ‘40, ‘42, yes. The Stirling was a strange sort of aircraft really, it was all electric, all the other aircraft were hydraulic controlled and even the undercarriage you had wiring and a solenoid, which introduced a control there I think you’d call it and the flaps. We had fourteen petrol tanks and this was the flight engineer’s job, he had to look after those, all different amounts in each tank, you can just imagine. It was all levers and wheels, nothing, no buttons you know, like you have today and with the undercarriage the pilot switched the switch down, just as we were coming in to land, to get the undercarriage down. No, let’s start off by going up. So if we, the undercarriage was down obviously, we’d take off, the switch goes, switch up, and a lever up like that and the undercarriage should then come up, if it doesn’t the flight engineer would have to go back to the middle of the aircraft, to the control machine there and you had to wind the undercarriage up and it could be up to five hundred, five hundred turns! Yeah, so that’s, occasionally I did the flight in Stirlings, I had to just start it off. This is where you had to be careful, if you started it off, you see, and you said to the pilot try it now and he switched it up or down, whatever it is, the undercarriage, it would go round and round, and the handle and you’d break your wrist and some flight engineers did break their wrists doing that. So you had to tell the pilot: do not touch that switch till I tell you to! So that’s all, that was the operations. You’re in flight coming down, so switch down, lever down, undercarriage should come down, if not, put the switch back again, go back to the and wind it for a little while, then tell, take your hand away and take the handle out and tell the skipper to switch the, there, switch it down, [unclear] so it was quite a complicated business really, so I don’t think anyone recommended the idea of electric aircraft, but they’re all electric now, aren’t they, everything’s electric, even cars! So that’s what we had to do. It’s a very long, long aircraft. There’s an elsan at the back of the aircraft if you wanted to go to the toilet, but who would want to go all the way back there in the dark to the toilet and then be shot at by a fighter, sitting on the toilet so we never did use it, we found other means. It was fairly slow really, I mean we used to cruise at about a hundred and seventy miles an hour, whereas a Lancaster could do much more than that. And height, height was a problem: we could only go up to ten thousand feet, so anyone going to Tunis, Milan, which they did in the Stirlings, over the mountains of course, so ten thousand feet was about the limit really. And of course you took all the flak, you know, if it was Stirlings and Lancasters, as Lancasters we would be up there, we used to be up at seventeen thousand feet in a Lancaster, and the Stirlings were down here, ten thousand feet and they got loads of flak. They lost more Stirlings, including the number that actually flew, they lost far more Stirlings, so that’s the, that was my choice. We went to Chedburgh for training on the aircraft as the flight engineer, and the pilot and we had the instructors with us, we took off and did all that we needed to do at Chedburgh. And then eventually we were appointed to a squadron and on this occasion it was Wratting Common, which is quite close. I don’t know if you have, no, anyway Wratting Common was the place. Oh! Terrible place, it was all mud, it had been raining like mad and it was all mud everywhere and on one occasion I walked through the WAAF quarters as it was much drier and I was told off, oooh you can’t do that, mustn’t do that, ooh no! Anyway, the first operation we did was to the Frisian Islands, the Frisian Islands off Germany there, dropping mines, that was uneventful, came back. The second trip was to Kiel, Kiel Harbour, yup. And we had mines to go down there because the u-boats were in there, you know, and I think probably they hadn’t got the pens completely ready so I think we probably did knock out some of the submarines there. So that was the second. Now the third trip was to Lorient, l o r i e n t Lorient on the south coast of France. Lorient was a place where they had u-boat pens and they had built them there, and they were very, very thick concrete so how they thought we could, well we would, we dropped mines, we were hoping that the submarines coming back would hit one, I mean that’s what it was all about really, but the bombs wouldn’t have done anything to them. But what happened with us there, we nearly got the chop there, because off the island, I think it was about a mile, two miles, two miles off, there was an island called Isle de Croix, Island of the Cross, and our bomb aimer, he took over you see, when we were going to drop the mines, the idea was to go around the island, but we went over the island, quite low down actually and there were all these Bofors guns there, these, like onions, red hot onions on chains coming up each side of us. How they missed us I do not know! We got over the island safely and then we had to go round the island again, round [emphasis] the island and then drop these mines. But that was a close, very close, but that was what the sprog crews do, the wrong thing, you see, that’s why you always get the chop in the early days, I’m afraid. Now what did I do after that? I think we went on to Lancasters after that, we did a conversion, that was it at Tuddenham or Wratting Common. I’ve got an idea that might have been Wratting Common. The Stirling was taken off because the chop rate was so heavy; they couldn’t continue like that, and it didn’t carry much of a bomb load anyway. So that was the end of that. But of course they were in use quite a bit later on – I’ll tell you about that. So what we do we went on to Lancasters, which was what we really wanted really because we knew it was much faster, it went up much higher, seventeen thousand feet was quite usual, we thought we’d be out of the range of their flak, we hoped, so that was what we did. Actually I went to Derby with my pilot to do I think it was a couple of days on the Merlin engine, so that was quite useful and I did that without going on leave. Some went on leave you see, but I decided I wanted to learn something about the Merlin, so that was done, I came back. What was my first trip, was a – can you switch off a minute?
CJ: So what was your first operation when you’d converted to Lancasters?
CD: Well, it took us by surprise actually, it was Duisburg in the Ruhr. Course that was a very important area round there: they were producing aircraft, tanks and everything else. So on the 25th June ‘43 we went to the Ruhr valley, Duisburg which we knew would be heavily defended. We took off from about ten pm and made for the Dutch coast where we met some flak, fifteen thousand feet ahead of us we could see lots of activity in the air as we approached the Ruhr. The Ruhr was important for Germans because it was full of heavy industry and so we need to prang it hard. We had on board four thousand pound bomb, shaped like a large cannister, and ten one thousand pound bombs and loads of incendiaries. The Pathfinders were dropping their coloured flares and the Master Bomber told us to bomb a certain colour – I can’t remember which colour it was – anyway we were now approaching the target when all hell was let loose as flak and searchlights were each side of us, we could hear shrapnel hitting the sides of our aircraft, this is the dreaded moment as the skipper opened the bomb doors, at this stage we were unable to manoeuvre: we just had to keep straight and pray. Skipper says to our two gunners, Dave Maver and Ronnie Pritchard, watch out for any night fighters, not that we could do much about it at this stage. The bomb aimer now took over: left, left, steady, right, steady, at this stage the chewing of gum was speeding up, it was sheer terror. Bombs gone says Epi, our bomb aimer. Skipper closes bomb doors and our chewing reduced in intensity. Our pilot banks to starboard and loses height to get out of the way of searchlights and flak, this is another time when night fighters are looking for us. Our navigator gives a new course for the Dutch coast, but we do a dog leg, zigzags to avoid the enemy fighters. We were watching aircraft going down in flames which makes us all a bit nervy, well it’s not like a holiday flight to Tenerife is it! - I said in brackets - We saw a small aircraft to port and a bit above us but we did not think it had been, had seen, had seen us, this was a German aircraft we thought because just twin engines but then he suddenly disappeared, we were in thick cloud and it was raining. Let’s hope we don’t collide with another aircraft. As for me as flight engineer, I was trying to keep a fuel log in the dark and with all the activity going on it was not easy. I kept a note of throttle changes because that makes all the difference to the amount of fuel one uses, plus temperature outside at our height. As we had eight – I’ve got fourteen – as we had eight [emphasis] tanks I didn’t want one to go dry, causing an engine to stop and possibly create an air lock in the system: my name would have been mud. I also kept control of the engines in orders from my skipper. I’m able to tell you that we got back safely to base and I found out later that my petrol calculations were just about right, we landed back at four thirty am, that was six and a half hours. Just over four hundred Lancs and Halifaxes took part and we lost six point one percent of the force, twenty five aircraft. Later we understood that reconnaissance had shown that much of the industry in Duisburg had been destroyed. We lost one aircraft on our squadron. On 27th of June we were due to go to Cologne, so, on 27th June 1943 we were briefed to go to Cologne in the Ruhr, but it was called off at the last moment because of foul weather over target. We briefed again on 28th of June with a slightly different route to try and fool the enemy. Over the Dutch coast the Germans had dropped chandeliers to light up the sky and so we expected to be mauled by the German night fighters. We climbed to eighteen thousand feet hoping to avoid them, but no such luck, a fighter came up on our rear, probably an Me110, a twin-engined fighter. Ronnie, our rear gunner called to the skipper: corkscrew port skip which my pilot did immediately and we went down to ten thousand feet and came up again in the corkscrew to fourteen thousand feet. Tracer bullets had gone just over the top of us at the beginning of the corkscrew, but when we settled down at fourteen thousand feet, we felt we had lost him, a really nasty moment and very nearly the end of us. We pressed on to Cologne and ran in to thick cloud, the Master Bomber told us to bomb a certain colour and we couldn’t see them. we could see some fires below so we dropped out bombs and incendiaries on those fires and hoped for the best. We returned to England mostly in cloud and landed at about five am. We were shocked to learn that forty aircraft failed to return. The next three nights we were on shorter trips to France. Marshalling yards in Paris and a place called Wizernes where they were making these V2s I believe, if I remember rightly and it was heavily defended. Dusseldorf, went to Dusseldorf on 12th of July. Dudsseldorf was another heavily defended place, because all industry, and if you killed people down there, they were probably working in the industry anyway you see. It was a heavily defended town because of the amount of industry there. We went through the usual procedures briefing and a meal et cetera, I think take off was around ten pm. We met flak and searchlights over over France I remember, and even more so as we entered Germany. Our skipper told us, the gunners, to look out for night fighters as they were bound to be operating. Eventually we could see ahead the Pathfinder’s flares and as usual in the Ruhr, a wall flak and searchlights. As flight engineer I had to do several jobs at the same time: keep looking out of the cabin for the position of the searchlights, help the skipper with the engine controls, keep a close watch on the fuel we were using, and write up my log so that I would know when to change the petrol tanks; all this on twelve shillings per day, and as a bonus we were threatened by death at any moment. Ah well, I did volunteer! Yes, one of the raids we went to was Stuttgart, this was another heavily, sorry, have to cut that out, yes, we pressed on to Stuttgart and dropped our bombs on target. We bombed the coloured flares dropped by the Pathfinders, skipper did a sharp turn to starboard and nearly hit another Lancaster, it was only just a few feet away from us, as it climbed in front of us. We climbed to seventeen thousand feet in clear skies when suddenly Ronnie Pritchard, our rear gunner, shouted over the intercon: corkscrew to port skipper and down we went to twelve thousand feet. It was another case of an Me110 was still on our tail, so up we went to starboard and then down again to port. I think we’ve lost him. Another thing, this sort of activity was not good for ones stomach! And also try to work out the fuel we’d used, anyway, I did the best I could. But that was a pretty grim trip because we nearly crashed into this other Lancaster. Yeah, yeah. On 17th of August 1943 we were given a very important mission. Apparently our spy planes had detected some rockets at a place called Peenemunde, in northern Germany. It had been known for some time that the Germans had been producing hard water at Peenemunde, which is used in atomic weapons, but of course these weapons had not been produced by any nation at that time. But the future would have looked bleak if they had been able to carry on their research, the powers that he, told Bomber Harris, oh the powers that be that he had told Bomber Harris that Peenemunde must be obliterated. Almost six hundred bombers, almost six hundred bombers would take part and we expected heavy losses as we felt it must be defended. We flew by night of course, and the flight arrangement was as follows: two hundred Stirlings would go in first at eight thousand feet, followed by four hundred Lancasters at ten thousand feet. The Pathfinders would be there first, dropping flares to light up the area. By good fortune a feint was going on over Berlin, with twin engine Mosquitoes, the Germans thought Berlin therefore was the main target and sent their night fighters there. The Stirlings went in to Peenemunde and dropped their bombs, and then turned for home without any losses. the German night fighters realised their mistake and turned back to Peenemunde just as the Lancasters went in to bomb the place. I remember a great deal of chaos, as aircraft after aircraft was shot down. It was, [sigh] it was very unnerving to see so many Lancasters on fire, we dropped our bombs on the target and fled the area and got back safely. Forty Lancasters - actually it was forty two – forty two Lancasters were shot down that night, ten percent of the force. Analysis later showed the bombing effort had been reasonably successful. Spy planes would keep an eye on the place in case another attack was necessary. My squadron lost one Lancaster out of twelve despatched. On the next night we were on the flight list again. At briefing found we found subject was Bremen. Well, that was fairly cushy compared with Peenemunde. Yeah. At Peenemunde was a very important town for us to destroy because the V2s they were producing would have been ready before D-Day, and you can just imagine what would have happened if that had happened: the D-day wouldn’t have been possible, you know. As it was, on D-Day one never saw a German fighter because they mostly had been destroyed, but Peenemunde was the, the town to get, we never had to go back there because they moved the whole lot to somewhere else in Germany which we kept bombing later on, but that was the most important one for D-Day, was Peenemunde, okay. At a briefing on the 23rd of August 1943, we learned the worst, yes, the worst, yes, it was to be the first big night raid on Berlin, by six hundred and fifty Lancasters and Halifaxes. Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, had said that no foreign aircraft would be allowed to fly over the capital of the Third Reich, well we’ll have to see if he’s right. We were all rather depressed about this operation as we knew that Berlin was considered to be the most heavily defended of all German towns. We were taken out to the aircraft at nine pm and I remember we sat around the aircraft waiting for start up time and nobody hardly spoke a word. We took off at nine thirty pm and we would be amongst the first wave into the attack. Berlin’s thirty five mile area was dotted with lights, so that it was hard to distinguish the bursts of anti-aircraft shells below from the coloured markers dropped by the Pathfinders. The first thing we had to do was fly through a wall of searchlights, hundreds [emphasis] of them in colours and clusters. Behind all that was an even fiercer light glowing red, green and blue and over there millions of flares hanging in the sky, A huge mass of fires below. If this is Hell, then I have been there. Flak is bursting all around us at fifteen thousand feet, there is one comfort, and that is not hearing the shells bursting outside because of the roar of the four Merlin engines. We flew on and it was like running straight into the most gigantic display of soundless fireworks in the world. The searchlights are coming nearer now all the time. As one cone split then it comes together again. They seem to splay out then stop, then come together again and as they do there’s a Lancaster right in the centre. Skipper puts the nose down, more power he asks, and I increase the throttle and we are pelting along at a furious rate as we are coming out of the searchlight belt more flak is coming up from the minor defences. A huge explosion near our aircraft: it shakes like mad. Skipper asks everybody to report that they are okay. I thought that the aircraft must have been hit somewhere but everything seemed to be working as far as I could tell: engine revs okay, oil pressure okay, petrol gauge okay. Would we get out of this hell alive? Hello skipper, navigator here, half a minute to dropping zone, okay says skipper, bomb doors open, bomb aimer now takes over, okay, steady, right a bit, bombs gone, bomb doors closed, keep weaving skipper, lots of flak coming up, I tell him, going to starboard something hits us, but we don’t know what or where. I report to skipper that a Jerry fighter has just passed over us from port to starboard, our mid-upper gunner also reported a fighter, we keep going out of the main area of searchlights. I take a look at the furious fires below and masses of flak and Pathfinder flares, a mass of other Lancasters and other Halifaxes has to get through. Looking back we can see aircraft going down in flames, thank god we are out of the main firestorm I say to myself. Skipper through the intercom tells everyone to watch out for night fighters as they are bound to be active. I give my log a good check in as we couldn’t be short of fuel at this stage, but everything seems to be okay, the oil pressure was a bit low on two starboard engines, I wondered if flak had damaged them. I report this to our skipper, keep an eye on it he said. Away back over the Baltic, so different to the way we came. There seemed to be flak coming up from all over the place so we are not out of trouble. We knew there were fighters about as they were dropping flares. Suddenly Ronnie, our rear gunner said corkscrew starboard skip, down we went and I fell, I fell out of my seat and hit my head and was stunned for a bit. Up we came to port as tracer skimmed the side of our aircraft, Ronnie took a pot at the German fighter but I don’t think he hit him. We levelled out at eight thousand feet and we were now in cloud and we stayed in it to dodge the fighter. We came out of the cloud over the Channel, oil pressures on starboard engines were getting too low, so it was decided to land at Woodbridge, just on the border of Suffolk, it had a long runway for situations like ours. We landed at five fifteen am after a horrendous night. I thought that Bomber Harris might well obliterate Bomber Command as well as Berlin! Our aircraft had been damaged by flak, including two engines so it was unserviceable. We were taken by coach back to, was this, this is where we went wrong, this is says Wratting Common but it should be Tuddenham I think. The squadron lost another Lancaster, a total of fifty eight heavy bombers were lost that night, fifty eight, and so ended our first trip, and our last I hoped, to Berlin, the big city as it was called. Our aircraft would be out of service for a week, but we were given a new aircraft that had not been flown on ops. Our wireless operator Charlie Higgins didn’t like the idea as he was terribly superstitious, hence the rabbit’s foot in my pocket. Charlie had to come round to the new aircraft, or leave the crew. He came round to it. Right, now this is the crunch, our thirtieth and final operation, but what a momentous time it has been over the last few months: a lot of airmen have died. Once again we were briefed on 28th of August and we were out at the aircraft when it was cancelled. And so back to the de-clothing area, this was always very stressful and our nerves start to give us trouble by a slight shake and very noticeable when holding a cigarette. The 29th of August 1943 was to be our last trip and hopefully we will return. Briefing was at four pm, we all sat down and then stood up when the Group Captain entered the briefing room at four pm. The door then locked, he stood on the stage and said Captain answer for your crew, and beware if you’re not there, you’re in trouble, anybody not there would be in dead trouble. The curtain pulled back and lo and behold the target was Stettin, on the Baltic, a very long trip and so I’ll have to be very accurate with my petrol calculations. Stettin was a large port and apparently the Germans were bringing men and war weapons back from Norway to put to the war in Russia. The idea was for us to blast the ships in port and anything we saw moving. It was going to be a long night with full petrol tanks and loads of bombs, or, no incendiaries, just bombs. Take off at nine pm. Stettin was partly on the way to Berlin, but a bit further to the west and a somewhat longer trip, we hoped the Germans would think we were going to Berlin and send their fighters there. We went through thick cloud at first, but over Germany it was clear skies and we had to watch out for the German fighters. We got caught in searchlights but the skipper managed to weave and corkscrew out of them. Heavy flak, shrapnel shells hitting our aircraft, we dropped our bombs by the reflection of the water, so there were no Pathfinders for this raid. We managed to leave the area safely and flew into the cloud again where it was pouring with rain, better than being attacked by a night fighter when flying in in clear skies. Sadly our Squadron Commander, Squadron Leader Warner failed to return from this op to Stettin, a total of twenty three Lancasters were lost out of three hundred and fifty on the operation. And now my crew sort of split up for a time here, we went on two week post-operational leave. Now, after, I returned to Scotland after some leave and did several weeks as flight engineer instructor. One day, my friend Jack Ralph, a pilot, came up to me and said as his flight engineer had been injured, by shrapnel I believe, would I be willing to do, to be his flight engineer as he only had four operations to do. Jack was somewhat older then I was at the time as he was thirty and I was still nineteen and he had a lot of experience and had earned the DFC. Without thinking of the possible consequences, I said yes. Being so young I didn’t really see the dangers ahead, anyway that was my decision. Jack’s crew accepted me okay and that was the main thing. My first operational briefing with Jack was on 23rd of September 1943, Mannheim, a big industrial town, well in, that was the usual thing; fifteen Lancasters were lost there, and then Hannover, I think we lost an aircraft there. Turn it off just a moment. At this stage in my tour of operations – thirty two to date - I was becoming decidedly jittery, a nervous twitch perhaps. I felt I was getting to the end of what I could take, nevertheless I never showed this in my behaviour, but it was just that I felt it inwardly, after all I was still only nineteen years old. Us bomber chaps often wrote poetry, some have been published and at this moment I would like to quote one of mine. I found it amongst my papers a few years ago, and it was written by me during my tour of operations in 1943. It might seem a bit naive now but it was how I felt at the time. Viz: “What think you airman when you fly so proudly there in heaven’s sky? Do you exalt in your great might as you go onwards through the night? I think of death beneath my wings, and of the load my bomber brings. My spirit flinches from the thought, that of this carnage may come naught. I pray that soon the day will come when at the rising of the sun that man will offer man his hand and peace prevail throughout the land. I face up to my moments’ task, but three things God, of thee I ask: please help my flesh and mind to stand the strain and protect me Lord this once again. And if this cannot be your plan, give me the strength to die a man.” So that. I wasn’t sleeping too well at this particular time, and I had a sort of of foreboding about the future, it was only one more operation to do, strange how the mind works. On the morning of 18th of November, I woke in the usual way and had breakfast. I went to the aircraft and had a chat with the ground engineers. No problem with the engines, there were full tanks, two thousand one hundred and forty gallons and full bomb load. In fact I worked out that our full weight would be way [emphasis] above what it should be, but it was often like that. No chance of survival if we had engine failure on take off. Briefing was at four pm where we found that the target would be Stettin again, on the Baltic coast, a long hard journey ahead as you would know from above. I had been there before. Stettin was a very important town for Germany because it was the embarking point to Norway. Stettin was heavily defended by guns, searchlights and night fighters. At the briefing we found out that we were to use new tactics by flying low over the North Sea, under German radar with a moonlight night and then to sweep across Denmark and up to the Swedish coast and then down to Stettin, hopefully we were told we would hit Stettin from a different angle and take the Germans by surprise. As we left the briefing Jack said to me let’s hope they are right! Take off at nine pm. Fourteen Lancasters from our squadron would take part. We had our supper in the usual way and collected our rations: chocolate and chewing gum. We then collected our flying clothes, harness and parachute. The padre was there to wish us well and safe return. Well that was something to help me anyway. We were taken to the aircraft in the liberty van, as we called it, would take us in to Newmarket, it took us in to Newmarket when we were not flying. We got ourselves into the aircraft and made sure everything was in order. The skipper and I did what we called pre-flight checks, as nothing was left to chance. A very light was fired from the caravan at the end of the runway for take off. We queued up and then our turn came. Skipper opened up the throttles and then I took over to giving him full power as we were overloaded, we sped down the runway, hoping we would make it into the air-and we did. Skipper pulled the aircraft off the ground and did a circuit of the aerodrome, before speeding off and crossing at Cromer and then over the North Sea. We flew at five hundred feet towards Denmark. As we crossed the Danish coast e-boats were firing at us but fortunately missed. We were now on the way to Stettin, we saw one Lancaster crash into a windmill because it much too low. Before I continue I must mention something about Stettin. This town manufactured consumer goods, including cosmetics. At the end of 1943, there were still six million Germans employed in consumer industries. The Armament Minister, Albert Speer, his efforts to cut back consumer output were repeatedly frustrated by Hitler, personal veto. Eva Braun intervened to block an order banning permanent waves and manufacture of cosmetics. Apparently Hitler was so anxious to maintain living standards. Anyway back to our flight. After leaving Denmark we had to climb to fifteen thousand feet, because we were approaching the Swedish coast and they were neutral as far as war was concerned. We were using our new radar equipment – H2S – so our navigator was able to pick up the town of Stettin. We flew over the southern tip of Sweden and apparently the authorities complained about this to Churchill through the Swedish Embassy. We now flew south and I could see heavy flak ahead so I knew we would be in for a pasting. We could see the Pathfinders were there this time. flares and the Master Bomber was telling us to bomb a certain coloured flares. Suddenly we got caught in two cones of searchlights, but skipper Jack Ralph acted quickly and down we went to starboard and we escaped. But was a close run thing again. Flak was bursting all around. We dropped bombs okay on a mass of flames below us. We left the target area which looked like hell below. After a short time the flak seemed to quieten, so we knew night fighters were in the area. Suddenly a loud shout from rear gunner on the intercom, corkscrew port skipper, and down we went, but unfortunately the Messerschmidt 110 night fighter caught us underneath our aircraft. The tracer bullets through, ripped through the underbelly and caught our port inner engine, which caught fire. We also had a fire in the fuselage, just beyond the mid upper gunner. The hydraulic oil that feeds the turret had spilled into the fuselage and that was what was on fire. The turret in fact became useless. Skipper had brought the aircraft out of the corkscrew and levelled off at about eight thousand feet. The fighter did not follow us down. So, what were our problems at this stage of our flight? A – port inner engine on fire. B – fire in the fuselage. C – what damage had been done underneath us? D – mid upper turret not now working. C, sorry, E – losing height and another three and a half hours to home base. F – outside temperature minus forty degrees centigrade possibly too cold to bale out. G – if we are attacked again no chance of survival on three engines. H – have we enough fuel to get home? So the action we took was this: 1 – my skipper feathered the propeller on the duff engine. He operated the fire extinguisher in the engine fortunately the fire went out. All this has to be done within seconds of course. I attached an oxygen bottle and my mask and took a fire extinguisher with me. I found my way down the fuselage to the fire, which was looking quite fierce, especially everywhere was dark. I connected up my intercom and told skipper what I had found. Should we bale out he said? No, I said I think I can put the fire out – [wry chuckle] I had not brought my parachute with me from my position by the pilot! It was stacked up there. I didn’t think I had any chance of survival if the fuselage broke up anyway. Anyway I played the extinguisher on to the fire but it didn’t all go out. The aircraft was full of smoke but fortunately we all had our masks on and I used my official goggles for my eyes. There was some tarpaulin or something nearby and so I placed it on the fire but some of the flames shot up and I burnt both of my hands. I struggled with the tarpaulin and the fire went out. My hands were very painful though as you can imagine, but I wondered at that time whether the airframe had been weakened by the heat. I told the skipper what I had done and what I had, and that I had painful hands. Thank god you have put it out, he said. I crawled back to my station by the pilot. He was trying to keep the aircraft at eight thousand feet, we were then on three engines. Somehow or another I had to write my log to see how much petrol we had left. The navigator said he would be back at base, we would be back at base in three and three quarter hours, keeping in mind that the aircraft was slower on three engines, but of course only three engines were burning fuel. I worked out that our speed at that time, our height and more propeller revolutions and no more corkscrewing we would have thirty minutes fuel left on landing. My hands were now very painful but there was nothing I could do about it as we had no creams to put on them or water to plunge them in to. I kept thinking to myself, why did I volunteer for another four operations? Well, here we go, back to base. We were at eight thousand feet and flying through thick cloud and it is raining hard, we are all wearing our masks and goggles as there was still a lot of smoke in the aircraft. I wondered if any damage had been done to the aircraft framework. Was it weakened in any way? Best not to be negative, I must be positive about getting us back to base. The skipper was aware of the fuel situation, and kept the engine power to a minimum, keeping in mind that we only had three engines working. After two hours we came out of the thick cloud and all the buffeting, we were now over Holland and we could see lots of flak near the coast, so we needed to avoid that. A big aircraft flew near us and we thought it was another Lancaster, we hoped. Our navigator picked up a couple of towns on the new radar H2S, very useful because we couldn’t see anything below due to haze. I checked the fuel situation but it was difficult writing as my hands were so painful. The navigator told the skipper and myself that with our speed and outside wind we would be at base at about one hour forty five minutes. I began to sweat at that bit of information as it was longer than he had given some time before. Anyway, I worked out my fuel usage and then told my skipper that we had two hours twenty minutes fuel left so we should make it okay if something, if nothing else happened. But fortunately nothing else did happen, we got through the flak on the coast of Holland, and we were now over the North Sea headed for England and hopefully safety. Skipper got in touch with control, with the control on my squadron and told them of our situation. Would the wheels come down? We still didn’t know. Skipper was given emergency landing procedures so we crossed the East Anglian coast. We operated the landing gear and it came down okay and locked itself in the down position. In one hour fifty minutes we were down and so my petrol calculations were spot on. At this stage I was beginning to feel a bit faint what with the pain, considerable stress and smoke. When we landed most of the smoke disappeared. I got out of the aircraft at five thirty am, eight and a half hour flight and sat on the ground, exhausted. Skipper Jack Ralph lit me a cigarette, which was wonderful. Suddenly everything everywhere was quiet except for the singing of birds in some nearby trees, the dawn chorus. Two aircraft failed to return to our squadron out of fourteen at take off. Though later we found out that one aircraft had landed at another aerodrome due to damage to their aircraft. Thirty aircraft failed to return all told. I believe four hundred Lancasters went to Stettin. Jack Ralph’s tour off thirty had ended and I had done a total of thirty four operations. I was still only nineteen. What happened to me next? Once I was returned to base, well, I was then taken to the first aid area and my hands were cleaned. I was then taken to the hospital at Bury St Edmunds where I stayed for two days. My hands were treated there and it was found that the burns were first degree and so I wouldn’t need any skin grafts: that was the best news I could receive. I forget what they did, but I remember my hands being wrapped up with bandages and lint. Within three days I was back on the squadron, where I was put on light duties. The bandages were removed after two weeks and I believe, but my hands were very sore and still a bit painful, but being exposed to the air was going to be helpful. After a few weeks I received a call to see the Station Commander at certain time of day. My memory defeats me, I was a bit nervous about this, but of course I went. The Group Captain asked me about my hands, he said that I had done a wonderful job. Now I was told two wonderful things to cheer me up: first offered a commission in the Royal Air Force,, wow, me, an officer in the RAF. He told me all about it and what I would have to do as my extra duties. Also he said to go and see the Station Adjutant as he would give me all the details about buying my uniform and the money. He said I would have to start a bank account once I was an officer, just think of it, me born in a council house, I left school at fourteen and now I’d become an officer in the RAF. An even greater thrill was that I had been recommended for a decoration, namely the Distinguished Flying Medal, for helping to save the aircraft and enabling the whole crew to get back to England. That was definitely the icing on the cake. My skipper Jack Ralph was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross because he displayed leadership as he was an officer, I was a flight, yes I was a flight sergeant, I had a medal. I would meet up with Jack Ralph again in my career. Within a week I was up in London to buy my clothes. [Unlcear] Well I was informed after a time that they were wanting Stirling crews at Tuddenham, my old base. As you will have read above, I had already done some special duties during my tour and so I jumped at the idea and made an important, an appointment to see our squadron commander. He said I don’t know anything about it. Of course, of course that’s what they always say. Anyway he did check up and found it was true. I got an immediate posting back to my bomber station and I met up with my, part of my old crew, so I joined up with them. While there we got a couple of gunners, rear and mid upper, and a wireless operator. I told Doug and Dick about my adventure into the fire what I did on my last trip. I did some revision on the workings of the Stirling as I had not flow them some time. We also did some circuits and bumps. Early 1944 a briefing was arranged and I believe there were twelve crews all together. We were informed that we would have to do a lot of practice low flying over the Norfolk Flats – no hills anywhere - we were also told that the job would entail flying on moonlit nights and between five hundred and a thousand feet. Of course our particular crew had already done a few of these trips as we had already early in our tour so we knew what to expect. It was clear that D-Day was coming soon and so they wanted us, wanted to get as much more, as much equipment as possible to the resistance people, agents were being dropped in France at night from the Lysander aircraft. We started our flying practice during the day, low flying over the flats of Norfolk. We hoped that Dicks navigation and map reading would be as good as hitherto. Well he seemed to find his way around the flats okay. We did many days of this type of flying. I think they thought we were up there having fun, as for me I would have to get my petrol calculations right as I wouldn’t, it wouldn’t do to have an engine failure at five hundred feet, which is what we were going to have to do. We did low flying over long periods to get it absolutely right at night. The night came for us to do our first mission and operation. It was a full moon and clear sky on 21st of April ’44. The technique for crossing the French coast was to cross at, was to cross at eight thousand or nine thousand feet to avoid a heavily defended coast. When our skipper thought it was safe he descended to about five hundred feet. I must say that we actually went all the way down the French coast, not over Pas de Calais because the Germans were still there, so went down the French coast, round Cherbourg, down to Boulogne. It was just below Boulogne where we crossed. When our skipper thought it was safe, he descended to about five hundred feet so we’re over the coast and down we went. At five hundred feet however, all hell broke loose. There seemed to be a gun firing dead ahead and to our starboard. Skipper flung the aircraft to port and he couldn’t do much because we were so low down; we were hit on the starboard side and underneath. Fortunately the tracer was small calibre so not a lot of damage. But there was a hole in the starboard fuselage and a hole near the skipper’s foot. We think [clock chimes] we were hit underneath too, but we were all okay. To the port side of us we could see a Stirling being hit at very low altitude, maybe about two hundred feet and then crashed, fortunately the crew of that aircraft survived and were taken prisoner. Well we pressed on, very low level, as low as two hundred feet at times, towards the eastern side of France, near Lyon. We followed roads and rivers and contours of the land, we knew that we could easily get lost, and some crews did. We had a good navigator and I did a lot of map reading myself when I wasn’t watching the petrol situation, as I said before. I couldn’t let a tank go dry and an engine stall at two hundred to five hundred feet. Anyway, we arrived at the area and the next thing was to look for a torchlight shone by one of the French Resistance, Maquis. If they were caught by the Germans they were usually tortured for information about others and then shot and of course we would easily have been shot down and too low for parachutes. We found the light after circulating the area. I then went to the back of the aircraft and opened the trap door in the floor. On instructions from the pilot I pushed out the big boxes which were on parachute and as we were at five hundred feet they landed reasonably safely, I hoped. After that we made our way to the coast. That was another difficult part because if we crossed at five hundred feet, we could have been shot up by German e-boats which were all along the coast. Climbing to seven thousand to eight thousand meant that we would be easy prey for German fighter planes, but we did climb to eight thousand feet and got over the coast safely and we arrived at Tuddenham, our base, exactly eight hours later, but the undercarriage wouldn’t come down. We tried all the usual methods, like thumping the solenoid and pulling the wires, but nothing happened. I might have mentioned it earlier, just to say that as the Stirling everything, oh yes I have mentioned it by electricity, in the Lancaster it was hydraulics. The final thing to do was for me to go half way down the fuselage where there was a motor winding gear. I asked the skipper to switch off the undercarriage switch on the dashboard and then I started winding. I knew that if I had to wind it all the way down it would be five hundred and forty turns, phew! Anyway, I wound twelve times and I asked the skipper to trip the switch down and wonderful, the undercarriage started to descend and it went all the way down, and locked. What a nightmare, had it not come down and locked we would have had to belly land. We landed safely and we reported to briefing. We mentioned that a Stirling was shot down; it was reported later that it was David [unclear]. The ground engineers on our aircraft found that the undercarriage gears had been damaged by the coastal gunfire so we were lucky to get the undercarriage down. Well two nights later we were due to go again, when the moon was high, so.
CJ: So Colin, after your ten missions on Special Duties, what happened to you next?
CD: Well, I was an instructor for a time, which I got bored with; you had to have a sprog flight engineer. But by July, er, no, August, August 1944, these V2s and V1s were becoming a bit of menace. And so, they’re clever people, they said these are not operations, cause there are no German fighters about but what we want you to do is take over a sprog engineer to train him, and go behind a Mosquito. The Mosquito went in first, okay, he had this new radar called Oboe, and that was marvellous, picked out different places there, and when he dropped his bombs, the idea was we dropped ours. I think there were about four Lancasters at a time went with this Mosquito, and so that’s what we did. So we did that for, er, some time I think. I’m still on aren’t I? Yes. And then eventually that came to an end and I went back on instructors again. I went up to Leconfield, up in Yorkshire, goodness knows what I went up there for, cause I can’t remember I ever did anything! I came back again anyway, to Mildenhall. I was just really an odd bod, an instructor, that’s what I was and I was called an instructor. Oh, yes, eventually, before I went on to Transport Command, we had a, there were aircraft called a York, it was a passenger aircraft, and they wanted to find out what the centre of gravity was because of all the weight of the luggage and everything else on board. So that was my job, with a senior chap. We had all these, all these Yorks in a hangar, several of them, with the tails out, finding the centre of gravity. I can’t remember what I did now, but we found it and I think that did the job and I was made a flight lieutenant for a time, while I was on, to give me some authority. Wasn’t that nice of them! There we are, that’s what I did. But at the end, right at the end, two weeks before the end I went on Manna from Heaven. And there we are, I’ll show you a picture of that. And what we did, these little food parcels, there was sort of some rubberised, they were very good at doing things like that, I think it was probably Americanised, but rubber stuff and all these sweets, powdered milk, powdered egg and all that was inside each one of those. No parachute or anything like this. We were very low, I think we were two or three hundred feet when we went in, and they were warned to keep away because if one hits you it could knock you out you see. There’s another one coming in, another one back there. This went on for several weeks. It was known that some Germans were firing on the Yorks as they flew over, no Lancasters, we were on Lancasters then, Lancasters. They were firing on the Lancasters and the colonel was warned [emphasis] if you allow that to got on you’ll be up in court, you know. So I think it stopped after. The Dutch have never forgotten it. If you speak to a Dutchman now, they’ll tell you: the RAF did us a good thing. I think I’ve got something here from a Dutchman if you’d like to, hang on, here we are, shall I read it. After the war and after Manna from Heaven food parcels arrived, a letter from a Dutch person. “We shall never forget the nights when your squadrons passed us in the dark on the way to Germany, the mighty noise was like music for us: it told us about happier days to come. Your passing planes kept us believing in coming victory, no matter what we had to endure. We have suffered much but Britain and the RAF did not disappoint us, so we have to thank you and the British nation for our living in peace today.” So there we are, that was nice, wasn’t it. So I think -
CJ: So towards the end of the war Colin, where did you go next?
CD: In August of 1945, we as a crew of five with Jack as a captain, Jack Ralph, joined 51 Squadron at Leconfield, near Minster in Yorkshire. We were to have a period of training there on Stirlings, yes Stirlings, our old wartime friend. The powers that be were so short of passenger aircraft that they took the gun turrets out of the Stirling and put some seats down the length of the aircraft. The whole idea was to bring back servicemen from the Far East, including hopefully, some Japanese prisoners of war who had a dreadful time as prisoners. I think the Stirling had about forty seats, down the length of the fuselage with a galley for food and toilet facilities. The aircraft would fly at about eight thousand feet, no oxygen, and so it would have been quite cold and miserable. I remember saying to myself, that if the Japs don’t kill them, then perhaps the Stirling would. But at least they would be coming home and after the business of the Japanese camps I felt they would put up with anything. There was my crew, there were so many pilots back from Canada after training, and the war was over, and of course missing the war, authorities didn’t know what to do with them. Well many of them were trained as stewards, they didn’t like that really, to look after the passengers, to feed them et cetera and so we had one in our crew, but he wasn’t very happy about it. The time came for us to make our first overseas flight. We took off from Leconfield on 20th of August, and made for Stoney Cross, an airfield near the New Forest in Hampshire. We picked up all sorts of equipment, including a refrigerator which was fitted at the rear for use when we picked up passengers. On 22nd of August we took off for Luqa in Malta, which took seven hours thirty five minutes. On landing we were amazed at the bomb damage, we just wondered how they survived. We took off the next day for Castel Bonita, which was an airfield in Libya, North Africa. The temperature in the sun on arrival was one hundred and nineteen degrees Fahrenheit. [Laugh] Phew! We were able to have a quick look at Tripoli, and we were amazed at the number of ships sunk in the harbour. The ships were bombed when the Germans were there in 1942 ‘43. On the next day we took off for Tel Aviv in Palestine; this took us six hours thirty minutes. I was very impressed by, with Tel Aviv, a wealthy town and populated mostly by Jews from all over Europe. We had time to spend an afternoon on their lovely beach, but we were pestered by beach sellers who tried to sell us anything they thought we would wealth, they thought we were wealthy like the population. At that particular time there were battles going on in Jerusalem, so it was out of bounds to us RAF. Their troubles are still going on today, sadly. I mention above about the wealth in Tel Aviv, being a Jewish town, but just outside there was a village called Tel Avivski which was populated by Arabs, who were growing lemons and oranges. Their homesteads were very poor indeed, and what a contrast to Tel Aviv. The next day we took off for Basra, in Iraq which was very much in the news in recent years. The aerodrome was called Shaibah which was outside Basra. Shaibah was a terribly hot place. It was always between a hundred and twenty degrees Fahrenheit. It had a good population - of flies! The billets were poor and so it was a good thing we were only there one night. Tea had a peculiar taste and the food wasn’t terribly appetising. Have I painted a nice picture I say to myself. I must say that the people were very friendly and of course this was 1945 and maybe they aren’t so friendly today. Any airman ground staff could only stay in Shaibah a maximum of six months of the year because after some of them started to go mental called Shaibah blues. As flight engineer I had to supervise the refuelling of our aircraft. They used what they called a bowser and we just hoped it was filled with a hundred octane fuel to give us plenty of lift and power. At least we could get cold beer in the officers mess, just like in Ice Cold in Alex. The next day, 24th, we took off for Karachi. The badge I have on my, on my coat that I had on just now was bought in Karachi, in Pakistan although in 1945 fortunately it was still in India. The aerodrome was called Meri, Moripoor, this aerodrome was quite modern compared to Shaibah. We would be there for two days and so we had the opportunity to visit Karachi. I quite liked this town, but like all Indian town it was full of markets selling just about everything. Of course you never paid the price they asked and so quite a bit of time was spent bargaining with the vendor but he made you comfortable by giving you something soft to sit on then bring you a glass of coca cola which fell apart, no sarsaparilla, sorry, a coco cola or a glass of sarsaparilla, not so nice. I remember buying a pair of shoes which fell apart in a few days and an Indian wool rug which was very nice, I sold it at home for a good profit. The main street in Karachi was called Elphinstone Street, named after Lord Elphinstone who lived in Hastings and there’s a street named after him there too! This was the end of our first flight abroad which took us four days. On 27th of August we flew back to Stoney Cross, many passengers, mainly army personnel and they didn’t like the cold in the Stirling after being in a hot country, still I am sure they were pleased to get home at last. When we arrived back at Stoney Cross we found that we had been posted to Stradishall in Suffolk. This was, and still is, a pre-war RAF station and so at least we had food, accommodation and a batman. The batman, I had was shared with two officers in separate rooms. It was jolly good because he did lots of jobs for us, cleaning our shoes, looking after our laundry and making sure we had everything we wanted. The real benefits of being an officer! The downside was that we had to do Orderly Officer duties from time to time. One of the duties, one of the duties was checking on the food in the general mess. As I went on the Sergeant of the Day which called out ‘any complaints,’ usually there was silence but on one occasion one of the erks said, I have been given very little meat, sir. It looked very small so I got the cooks to give him another slice of meat. I think the erk had eaten quite a bit before I got it, got there. Of course the Orderly Officer was actually in charge of the RAF station when the Group Captain was away at night time too. So it was quite a responsible job if anything went wrong at the station. We had parties there, with plenty of girlfriends, lots of fun with booze. I think we’ll leave it at that now.
CJ: So on these long trips Colin, with Transport Command did you meet any interesting people?
CD: Well one of the people I did meet was at Cairo. We stopped at a hotel called the Heliopolis, Heliopolis Palace and I think we were on the third floor. Now, King Farouk, he somehow or other he didn’t like the British, I don’t know why, I don’t know why. But he would, you would see him belting through the streets in the middle of two guards in a jeep type of vehicle, you know and be crouched in there. We actually met him actually, at a reception at Helioplolis Palace and he sort of didn’t want to really say too much to us, us chaps chaps. He wasn’t a good leader, he liked pornography, he had loads of pornography, you wouldn’t believe it, stuff he had. Well eventually he was ousted of course, wasn’t he. I think it was Nasser came in after him, wasn’t it. He was dead scared of travelling around, he thought he’d be shot any moment, you know, they didn’t like him. So that’s King Farouk, I’ve met a king, okay.
CJ: So when did you leave the RAF Colin? And what did you do after that?
CD: Well I was there during that very cold winter and it soon after that actually. By May, May 1947, May 1947 I said farewell to my friends at Lyneham, I took the train to Preston in Lancashire and that was my demob station, okay. So I came out and there I am, and that’s what, various documents including identity card, ration book and some money, so that’s what I got for putting my life on the line. But still, it was better than nothing. I’ve now signed off from the RAF and I was given a sort of dowry, but I can’t remember how much it was, but I don’t think I was terribly rich. I came back to London to stay with my, an aunt for a time. I stayed at, I stayed with my grandmother in Beckenham. She had a son that was employed at the Standard Bank of South Africa and I was very friendly with him, because he played cricket and all that, in his job, and he said how about getting into shipping, the Union Castle Line near me, where I am, I know they’re looking for young men. I said yeah, that sounds interesting to me, shipping, well I don’t want to fly again and, and that’s what he did. I went up for an interview and I got the job. I think it was about two hundred and fifty pounds a year. [Laugh] I thought you see, I could train perhaps as a purser eventually and I wouldn’t mind going out to South Africa and stay out there for a bit as I was single, as easy as it was then. So that’s what I did and I started 15th May I think it was, 15th of May. First up yes, I would be employed in an office down, oh I was employed in an office down in the East India Docks for a time, Blackwall, yes, at a salary of two hundred and fifty pounds per annum. I bought a month’s season ticket on the Southern Railway at the cost of one pound fourteen shillings and that would take me from Elmer’s End to Beckenham or Cannon Street in the city. I used it seven days a week, I used it at weekends. Arrived at the office on the first day at nine fifteen am and met up with the manager at the docks office. Really old buildings, it’s real east, sorry about that, just chuck it aside, sorry. Yes, it was very, sort of worn out buildings there, everything was sort of archaic really, you know. Big, it had a big shelf to write on. And a stool. And if you’ve ever seen any Charles Dickens films, just like that really. Goes back to those days you see.
CJ: And what was your job there?
CD: Just as a clerk, to start with, just as a clerk, did a lot of writing, oh and I got the job of going down to the docks to meet the ships, with a senior man first, but then eventually I went down myself, to the West India Dock, King George the Fifth Dock, Queen Victoria Dock in London, don’t exist any more of course, and Southampton went down to Southampton. Yes. That was the most interesting part of being with the Union Castle actually, going down to the ships, so I enjoyed that. Now eventually we were hearing rumours you see, that oh they united with the Clan Line, that would have been a few years after and eventually we could see that the end of the line was coming because people were flying to South Africa and East Africa. We didn’t have an empire any more, you know, Uganda, Tanganyika and all these of places, so I decided I think I’d better change; I had two young daughters at the time and I thought I’d better think about changing. So I got a job with Beecham Research Laboratories in their offices. I did a few jobs outside in hospitals and took on that job, in Kent, that’s why I’m down here. I used to visit the consultants, so that was interesting. Yeah.
CJ: So after the war did you manage to keep in touch with any of your old crew?
CD: Yes I did. I was the secretary, we used to have reunions up at Tuddenham, Tuddenham and there’s a building there that we used to use, it was more convenient than Mildenhall really, although we used to go to Mildenhall. But I was the secretary, so I did the newsletters, it was great and yes, I was given a glass bowl at the end which is upstairs. And curiously those eventually died off and that’s very sad.
CJ: How do you feel Bomber Command veterans were treated after the war, for example by the government?
CD: We were treated very badly. We were treated very badly. Churchill never thanked us, he thanked every other, every other side of the war, Army, Navy, Coastal Command, but not Bomber Command, Fighter Command, but not Bomber Command, never Bomber Command, and yet he was the one that said early part of the war we will bomb every town in Germany and make them pay for what they’re doing to us. That’s what he said, you know, and that’s wanted us to do. But it all came to a head with Dresden, didn’t it. And of course that wasn’t Bomber Harris’ idea at all, he didn’t want to do it because it was too far for his crews, it’s really the Russian general out there. He, he told Eisenhower that the town was full of German troops and weapons, you see. And he said would you, could Bomber Command bomb the place. Eisenhower got on to Churchill and Churchill got on to Bomber Harris and Bomber Harris said well it’s just too far for my troops, I don’t want to do it. You’ve got the order to do it, you must find a way of doing it, so that they get there and back. That’s, you know, that’s the sort of attitude he had you see. So, it came about and of course it was found that it was mainly full of refugees rather than troops, so you know, but that’s the one, if you mention Bomber Command, that’s what people mention. What about Dresden, you know. But it’s no different to any other town, what about towns in England? And if he’d had his way V2s would have obliterated London completely. So yes, I don’t think we, it’s only since we’ve had the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park that things have softened quite a bit now. People, when they hear I’ve been in Bomber Command are quite impressed, you know cause there’s not many of us about are there. So I think the attitude has changed a bit, but I was a great admirer of Churchill you know, during the war, he gave us that feeling of we were going to win, that’s what we wanted really, someone behind us, but he never stayed on at the end. I could never understand why really, never understood why. The Queen Mother always supported us and I went to the, the church in the Strand, what’s the name of that church in the Strand, I can’t remember it, anyway it’s the RAF, it’s the RAF church and it was Bomber Harris’ monument that was being built there, next to Dowding, the two of them there you see. And you wouldn’t believe it, all these layabouts were shouting at us: murderers. The Queen Mother she always supported us and said take no notice of them, I was standing right next to her, actually, take no notice of them. One chap there had got his uniform on, had red, red paint thrown over him you know, that’s how we were treated. Yeah. It was pretty grim really. And the police didn’t do much about it really, they’re just yobs he says, what can you do?
CJ: But on the other hand I gather you’ve been honoured by the French.
CD: Yes, absolutely. I have also at our do on Tuesday night I said I want to send a toast to the President of France, President Macron. So I don’t know if he ever got the message but I you’ve read the letter, yes.
CJ: This is the letter that confirms that you’ve been made a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honeur.
CD: That’s right, Nationale, Legion d’Honeur. First introduced by Napoleon in 1802 and used extensively during the Battle of Waterloo, 1815. He used it for his highest gallantry award. So whether it’s still used as a high gallantry award I don’t know. It wasn’t used in the second world war because they gave in you see right at the start. But it was used in the First World War, yeah.
CJ: So what else keeps you busy nowadays?
CD: The garden! Try to. Well I belong to Probus. I belong to, I’m the honorary president, honorary president of the Royal British Legion, in Tenterden. Church too, I go to church so I made lots and lots of friends there. We have different little dos from time to time. I go to the day centre here on a Tuesday, that’s tomorrow. They come and pick me up, they have lunch there.
CJ: You’re living in Tenterden and there’s a heritage railway I think you had some involvement.
CD: Oh Kent and East Sussex Railway! Oh yes! I’d forgotten about that. In 1967, we came to live here in 1966 you see, and in 1967 well we heard that there was a railway coming along, didn’t know much about it then, down station road, so we thought we’d go and have a look and they had a couple of little engines down there, one was called Hastings and there was another one down there as well. And I went to the meeting, they had meetings to try to get the railway started somehow. Oh, the rows that went on! You know, between the secretary and the president, and the chairman, had different views from each other, you know. They were told: if you don’t get your act together you’ll never run a railway. Of course you wouldn’t, not like that. But eventually it all settled down but interesting meetings. I’ve still got [unclear[, upstairs, amazing!
CJ: You were volunteering on the railway, you were helping?
CD: Yes, I did a signals course in 1968 I think, ‘69 something like that, ‘69, nothing like what they do today, it’s much more. But then they said we really need somebody in the booking office to get it started, so course I’m married, two children, you can’t spend too much time. Anyway, I took it on. I ordered these little tickets, cardboard tickets as you push in the machine: boom boom. It puts the date on it, you know, that’s what it was. Quite cheap as well. At that stage, 1974 it opened, 1974. Bill Deedes came down, he opened it. Just went as far as Rolvenden, that’s as far as we could get. It took another two or three years to get to Wittersham Road. Ted Heath, oh yeah, he came and opened it, Ted Heath, yeah, and to Bodiam and Northiam, so it took many many years, it was quite a few years after. Opened in 1974, about ‘88 something like that I think, it got to Bodiam. The Lottery I think paid for it, paid for part of that between Northiam and Bodiam. But they were always short of money, you know, no matter what. A new boiler costs at least ten thousand pounds you see, for an engine, everything is so costly now, I’m afraid. So that was my job. So I did do things, I didn’t just sit at home doing nothing!
CJ: Well, you’ve certainly led an interesting life, Colin, and thanks very much for talking to us today.



Chris Johnson, “Interview with Colin Deverell,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 22, 2024,

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