Interview with John Young


Interview with John Young


After John volunteered for the Royal Air Force, he reported to St John’s Wood before being posted to Newquay in April 1943. He was sent to RAF Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey with a short time in Lincolnshire. He chose to be a flight engineer or wireless operator. John was posted to an Initial Training Wing in Durham, followed by RAF St Athan, learning about different aircraft. He chose Halifaxes over Lancasters. John was posted to the Heavy Conversion Unit, RAF Dishforth, where he crewed up and learned his role as a flight engineer. He was posted to 432 Squadron where they did various test runs before completing 30 operations, many of which were to the Ruhr Valley.
John returned briefly to his former job before signing up for another five years in Signals. He then emigrated to Canada before eventually returning to Scotland.







01:04:49 audio recording


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AYoungJ170630, PYoungJ1728


JS: Ok. This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Jim Sheach. The interviewee is John Young. The interview is taking place at Mr Young’s home in North Berwick, East Lothian on the 30th of June 2017. John, could you tell me a little about your life before you joined the RAF?
JY: Yes. Well, before I joined the RAF I was, I was working on the railway as a, as a locomotive fireman. That’s in the days of the steam trains. And before that I was at school. And, well, all through the business of the war I was a schoolboy [pause] But do you want to go further back or is there no point?
JS: No. That’s fine. So where did you live then?
JY: Well I lived here in North Berwick. In — I lived up in the other end of town in North Berwick. In the council houses. And I left, I left school when I was sixteen and I went [pause] I went to work for the local electrician. A builder — electrician. Well that was until all his men were called up. So, that left the big boss, myself and the typist [laughs] So, that being not very good I decided to have a go at the railway. So, I went and I joined the railway and went as a cleaner. Just wiping with things which, in those days, it wasn’t very much. And from a cleaner you automatically were graduated to a fireman and from fireman to driver. Those were the steps you made and I stayed in the force, in the railway doing a bit of cleaning and a large amount of firing until my, until I volunteered for the air force at seventeen and a quarter. And then they shoved me off. Said, ‘Well go home. We’ll call you.’ And so, at eighteen and a quarter I got the first, first notification — ‘Please report to St John’s Wood.’ So, that’s when I went. I was there for about four weeks. Four weeks or six weeks. I can’t remember. And then I was posted down to Newquay, Cornwall. This was in April ’43. April ’43. And I was down in Newquay for three months. And then I was posted to the Isle of Sheppey in Eastchurch — no. Is it Sheppey? The Isle of Sheppey in the Thames Estuary? Yes.
JS: Yeah.
JY: Off Kent coast. And I was there for about a month just doing jack all really. I was waiting for a posting which was then given to me and I went up to a bomb dump in [pause] oh, in Lincolnshire. And I was there for about, oh, a month or two. And — and from there I was posted back to Eastchurch and I was asked what — what I wanted to do. So I said I’d prefer to be a flight engineer or a wireless op. So they said, ‘Fine.’ So, they, they sent me to — I was next posted to an ITW in Durham county. I forget the name of the place. And I was there for six weeks and then I was posted down to St Athan’s in South Wales where I was six months there learning the ins and outs of various aircraft. But, in point of view, we would, we were told that we would be either flying in Lancasters or Halifaxes and make your now choice now. Make your choice anyway. So, I preferred Halifaxes. So, on, on our now graduation we were, we were assigned to our different groups which required engineers. Now, the thing is the Canadian Air Force were not training engineers as such. They had a few but there wasn’t many. Now, we all got separated off and I was posted up to Dishforth which was a Heavy Conversion Unit and it was there I was, I was put in a hall. I was put in a, well a big — big hall like place and there were, were as many pilots as there were, as there were engineers. And the officer said, ‘Well there you are. Get mixed up. Take who you fancy as your pilot.’ [laughs] And then they comes and they were given the same chance. So, he says, ‘No one’s going to help you.’ So, he said, ‘Goodbye.’ [unclear] So, we flooded around and we met and ultimately, I picked this little sergeant. Well, little — he was the same height as me but he was fair haired and his name was Leslie Steadman. And I said — he said, as I remember right, he came up to me. He said, ‘Are you being crewed up with anyone?’ I said, ‘No. As a matter of fact I haven’t started.’ He said, ‘Well. I’m Les Steadman.’ He said, ‘I kind of likes the looks of you,’ [laughs] — looks. Anyway, he said, ‘Anyway,’ he says, ‘How are you on hydraulics?’ I said, ‘Not bad.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Thank God for that because I don’t know the first thing about them.’ And he said — there was something else. But anyway, he said, ‘The rest of my crew,’ he said, ‘Are – well they are skulking around somewhere but,’ he said, ‘I’ll get them and I’ll introduce you to them.’ And I said, ‘Well, before you do,’ I said, ‘Where have you come from? I mean air force wise.’ ‘Oh,’ he says, ‘Up in the Moray Firth,’ he said. ‘Flying Whitleys.’ ‘Oh God’ [laughs] I says, ‘You’ll be glad to get off them.’ [laughs]. So, he said, ultimately, we came to — we, we talked about the technicalities of the air frames and that and he says, ‘Well it seems to me you’re going to be a blessing in disguise,’ he says. So, he says, ‘I’ll tell you what. After tea I’ll get the crew.’ And we [rattling of packet] we [pause] that’s them. Well, there’s a bigger one. Aye. There’s Flying Officer Fox. He’s the bomb aimer. He’s the first one. And there’s flying officer, oh no, he’s the, Gates is the navigator. Flying Officer Fox is the bomb aimer. And Warrant Officer Hartley is the wireless operator and Sergeant Campbell is the mid upper gunner and Sergeant Busby is the rear gunner. And there’s myself. So, so that was my introduction. So, we all had our photograph taken by the company, the squadron photographer. And what’s [pause] right, well Sergeant Steadman, Flying Officer Gates, Flying Officer Fox were all from Ontario. Warrant Officer Hartley, he was from British Columbia and he was from, he comes from the back woods literally. But he was English. He was taken out to Canada when he was two years old. Sergeant Campbell. He was, he was the oldest one and he was, he was Southern Irish and was — had gone out as a young man to Canada. And Busby — he was, oh, he was a farmer from Saskatchewan. And Young me was a locomotive fireman. So, so that was that. So we, we all got our [unclear]. Gradually, we, we sort of knit together. Well I was, I knitted in to the rest of them because the rest of them were a crew. And then — well there was a series of— by the, the squadron [pause] damn it. [pause] The pilot and myself — we were taken to our — an aircraft. A spare aircraft. And the OC, the flight and the screen engineer who was a fellow who had done a tour of ops and was experienced would come with us. So, the pair of us would go with experienced people and we would go down in an aircraft and the logbook tells me we went. We had a wing commander and a squadron leader, a flight lieutenant and one or two POs were taking turns. And gradually the screened engineer showed me what I was supposed to do. And one of the things was you were supposed to get the engines started. You and the pilot. And behind the pilot was a little cubbyhole with a mass of instruments. They were all engine, engine-type instruments. You know, oil pressure, fuel pressure. Air pressure. Oxygen. Cylinder head temperature. Things like that. And you were given a log sheet and you had to fill this out every twenty minutes of flying time and — it was either twenty minutes or half an hour. And gradually we, well, we, we satisfied him, the screened fellas that we knew enough that we were sure that we were, we were prepared to be loosed off on our own. And, well, it — after that it was a case of bombing exercises, fighter affiliation exercises with a Spitfire diving on the camera guns for the gunners. And, well, this we had. And my circuits and landings, circuits and landings and circuits until you were bloody well fed up with them [laughs] but that made the pilot, he got it. And the engineer — he kept it, he got it. Well, towards the end of our Conversion Unit they said we’ll go on a couple of ops and see what it is. So, he said, ‘But it will be safe for you. You leave the airfield and you’ll fly out over the North Sea and you’ll go towards Holland and at a point twenty miles off the coast you’ll turn and come back.’ He said, ‘Just get the learning.’
JS: Yeah.
JY: So, we had a couple of those. A couple of those are things we did and then we got posted. No. [pause] Then we got posted to the squadron. Yes. And we got posted to the squadron and we were — that was —the picture there was taken at the squadron. That was there. And we were — went through the same [presence?] again of having a screened pilot and engineer go up with two of us. And they said well you’re good. We were sent on various test runs. Tests. Mostly circling the whole island, you know. The whole. That was cross country’s. And then we got the first operation and the first operation was, I think [pause] a radar bullseye. That’s what they called this photographic. Oh yeah. Le Havre. Le Havre we went to twice. Dortmund [unclear] Osnabruck. These are all Ruhr targets. And Kiel was our first, first night fighter, night flight and I’m telling you they flung everything at us that they had. It just seemed we were going through flak and then there was, as we were going to come on it he said, ‘Watch it Les, ‘he said, ‘A night fighter. Prepare to corkscrew port.’ And he said, ‘Corkscrew port. Corkscrew port. Go.’ And a corkscrew [unclear] was when they were fling it around and fling it down, the aeroplane and it rolls at the bottom and comes up on the other side. Well that’s a corkscrew. And Christ [laughs] I thought, Oh Jesus. And we, we flew over the target area, dropped the bombs and out in to the other side and then you’d have more fighters come for you. Course the fighters wouldn’t come where the flak was. They cut you before and after. And, anyway, we, and that was, that was the point there, the point when we started the flight they said you travel at one thousand feet over the, over the sea until you get to the Danish coast and then climb to get to your bombing height over here. Well, he said. Well he said, the idea about this was so that the German radar can’t dip down below a thousand feet. So ,there’s only one thing about it. The pilots get a bit twitchy about that ‘cause if an engine cuts on you you’re down in the sea before you can say Jack Robinson and anyway that’s how it started off. The Danish coast — climbed up. We got attacked by this night fighter and luckily he didn’t — he waited too long to press the button but allowing the gunner — gave him the correction and we made the bombing height, came around and down and I thought phew and come along, come back over the North Sea and the [fighter?], what I saw of it, I thought the first time, the first time I go on a night sweep I’m going to get up outside and I’m going go out on the first bus that comes for North Berwick [laughs] So, but anyway we we had several targets at Calais for ops. For [turning pages] Yes. Yes, we had, we had [pause] what do you call them? Buzz bomb sites and they was [pause — pages turning] There was, the next thing there was Duisburg. And Duisburg — that’s another Ruhr target. And Essen. Homburg. Cologne. Hanover. Cologne again. That’s a series of targets. Oberhausen. Duseldorf. Bochum. Gelsenkirchen. Hurlach. Munster and Opladen. Tresdorf. Cologne, Duisburg. Hanover, Magdeburg. And that completes our thirty. Thirty trips. And that’s before we go up in the [pause]
JS: That’s great. How did you — you said you fitted in with the rest of your crew?
JY: Yeah. Yeah.
JS: Because they were already a crew together.
JY: Yeah.
JS: How were they as a crew?
JY: Oh. Well these two stuck together more or less, you know. Being officers. And the sergeant and the warrant officer and the rest of us were [pause]] I forget who [pause] — I was, I was billeted in a room with four guys. There was a Jewish gunner on the far end of the room and another fella. I don’t know who he was. He was in another crew. So was the Jewish chap. And there was myself and the wireless op with the other two. And the two gunners were in another room. And the sergeant — I don’t know where he was. I don’t know. I don’t know. And of course, they were in the officer’s mess, you know. So, I found it — they were very easy to get along with, you know. And I don’t know with the officers. I — incidentally, I said, after I came out of the air force I went back to the railway. I stuck it for about ten months and then I said, ‘I don’t like this. My hands are getting dirty,’ [laughs] so, I signed up for another five years. So I signed. This time I chose the signals and I I I was [pause] I passed that alright but anyway they had all goofed off to Canada, you see, by that time. And the wireless op and myself — we corresponded. Well, now and again. And the at the end of my five years I came out and I worked for the [paused] oh I worked for the radar. For the [pause] radar. Oh Jesus. Well, it was a little, it was a little and I was working on this. Anyway, the four of us worked on this mobile radar at various army units and we used to — and we had a civilian driver. We were civvies then and we’d go around and we’d pick the things up and hoist the balloon and track it. Until one day Jimmy Oliver, one of the blokes, he says, ‘Here,’ he says, ‘Look at this Jock.’ And I said, ‘What is it?’ He says, ‘They want blokes to build a dam out in BC.’ A dam. ‘Yes. Look at the money they’re getting.’ I said, ‘What do you say we try for it?’ ‘Right. You’re on.’ So, it took us about six months to get, to get permission to land and we went across in, on an old Greek tub. Or a boat. And it was, it was, it landed at — oh what’s the name of the place? In Quebec. Oh yeah — Quebec City. And from there we we were just shunted off and the immigration people took our particulars and what trades we were and, by the way, said, ‘How much money do you have?’ ‘Two hundred dollars.’ He said, ‘That’s not going to last you for very long.’ [laughs] So, we split up and Jim and I we went to Montreal. This would be 1954 and we were six weeks. Six weeks. No. Not exactly. What would that be? It was four weeks before we and we were living in a rooming house in Montreal and there was about ten blokes in it. And there was a couple of Swiss guys, and a French guy and two or three Brits. And anyway, we were [pause] Jesus — oh God. [pause] Anyway, we went around the rounds of the RCA, Canadian Marconi and GE. GE and places like that. And, ‘Don’t call us. We’ll call you.’ Fair enough. So we — and suddenly there was a phone call. [unclear] We went to this place not far from our digs. A great big factory. And it was Northern Electric. So, we thought, Northern Electric, it sounds all right. And we went around and we were real, we were real upbeat you know, you don’t have any [unclear] get us down. [unclear] the guy says, ‘It depends what you do,’ he says, ‘What do you do?’ I says, ‘Well we’re radar. Radar and radio.’ ‘Well,’ he says, ‘That sounds interesting,’ he says, ‘But just a minute,’ he says, ‘I’m only a personnel,’ he says, ‘I wouldn’t know what you’re talking about.’ He says, ‘I’ll get Mr Young [laughs] down from the sixth floor and he’ll —’ So Mr Young came down along with another chaps and he was a fistful of pencils and a bundle of paper. ‘Right.’ He says, ‘Jim. You go with that fella to that room and you, you — my namesake,’ he says, ‘Come into this room.’ He says, ‘Alright. He says, what’s [Holmes?] law?’ [laughs] I couldn’t tell him. I was floored. I was [laughs] ‘Alright,’ he says, ‘Forget it.’ He says, ‘Draw me a one valve amplifier.’ Oh [chchchch] Right. Now, he says, ‘Draw me a forward part of a super head receiver. ‘ So, I did that. I said, ‘Alright?’ He says, well various other things. ‘Well’ he says, ‘I find you alright,’ he says, ‘When can you start work?’ ‘Tomorrow?’ [laughs] He says, ‘No. Monday. Monday,’ he says. Monday. So, we were there about oh I don’t know about four or five months and we got taken into the bowling team. You know this pin. Bowling pin. Oh, they were good to us, you know. And anyway another phone call comes from Canadian Marconi. So, he said, ‘Are you guys still interested in us?’ ‘Well, that depends what you pay.’ You know. ‘Oh,’ he says, ‘Well how much are you earning just now?’ We said, ‘Fifty five dollars a week.’ ‘Oh God,’ he says, ‘We can pay more than that,’ he says. So, he says, ‘Get yourselves up,’ to some district of Montreal, he says, ‘And bring your buddy.’ So, we said, ‘Right,’ so the pair of us scoot up there and well, to cut it short, he says, ‘Do you have briefcase by the way?’ ‘Briefcase?’ [laughs] ‘No. I’ve never had a briefcase in my life.’ And he says, ‘Well take my tip. Invest in one.’ He says, ‘Here’s two hundred dollars,’ he says, ‘That should get you a briefcase and the price of a flying ticket from Montreal to St John’s Newfoundland.’ Newfoundland. Oh Jeez. And he says, ‘That’s where one of our sites is.’ He says we will have, once you have a three months course at St Johns, at the company buildings, you know and he says then you’ll be posted off to various parts, you see. And in the meantime, we met up with this other bloke. He was a Londoner. So that was, that was a Londoner, a Geordie — that was Jim Oliver, the guy that came out with me and myself. And, well the Londoner went to — where was it he went? He went to Goose Bay up in Labrador and I went to the other end of the island at Stephenville and Jim went to North Bay. Went to North Bay. And that was still on the island. I forgot the name of the place. Ans anyway, we were all split up and we were, while we was there I was, when I was on this course at St Marie de Beauce in Quebec and I got into — we used to, when dinner time came the three of us would plump ourselves at a table and the waitress would come up. The waitress. We were billeted in the officer’s mess you see. So we were — ‘Letter for you,’ there, ‘letter for you’ there from the mail. So we were reading our letters and finally three women came up to the table and says to us, ‘You know, we’re getting a bit sick and tired of you guys.’ Yeah. ‘You’ve not come and introduced yourselves so we’re coming to introduce ourselves.’ Well one was a schoolteacher. One was an ASO [unclear] which was an adjutant of this radar, this small radar establishment and one was a nursing sister. And — well we all got talking together and gradually the school teacher and I became very very [pause] close. And eventually we married, you know after I was [unclear] I was married — I married her and we’ve got — then I was she was, she was posted. Well, she was at this station and that’s where she taught and I was sent down to Stephenville. And there come a time when I went over. I went over and [pause] Rhoda. Rhoda was her name. Rhoda Stewart. ‘How about coming down to see my parents?’ So, ‘Ok. Sure.’ So the upshot was we went to Halifax because they were down in lower Nova Scotia and we went up to Halifax and I bought her a ring there for her finger. So, this was after months, you know. And so, we was, we were married eventually and then we split again and when Easter time she came over to Newfoundland to be beside me. And we had a big trailer parked in a trailer park and there we started our married life. And we, we started our married life. And in the meantime I had written away to Atomic Energy in Ontario and because Newfoundland was a nice place but, you know, it’s kind of rough and ready. And so I wrote and after six months I got a letter saying, in effect — come on. You’re hired. You know. After that. That was after they sent [pause] oh no they sent a message to Liverpool CID and the CID sent a searcher up to North Berwick and the guys who, and Ben Miller, who was Jan’s first husband, he was a post office engineer and it was a time of the [golf at Govan?] and that’s where — he was up a pole, you know, screwing things around and this guy in civvies and a trilby hat says, ‘Are you Mr Miller. He said, ‘Aye. Who wants to know?’ You know. He says, ‘Oh,’ he says, ‘I’ll introduce myself. I’m Detective Constable [unclear]. Do you know a Jim Young?’ and he said, ‘Christ’ — what have I done now? ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Just a minute. I’m coming down.’ And he says, ‘Aye I know him.’ ‘Well what’s he like?’ He said, so, he explained who he was. He was from the Liverpool CID who had a message from the RCMP who were, who were checking up on me. He says, ‘He’s applied for a job with Canadian Atomic Energy.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Jeez,’ he says, ‘That’s interesting,’ he says, ‘Well,’ he says, ‘I know him very well. He was best man at my wedding.’ And he said they jawed about a bit. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Fine, fine. Alright. So long as you’re satisfied with him that’s alright. Fair enough.’ Shake hands. And I got, it was after that I got ok’d. So, we packed all our gear in a train and chugged off. Away to Montreal from Nova Scotia and then swapped trains and got on the Trans Pacific one to get to a place called Deep River Ontario. That’s where they had the town site for the staff to live in and they said there’ll be a house ready for you. Well a house. It was actually, it was a shack. Well it was wooden, you know. It was two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and a living room. So, and anyway Rhoda came with a dog. A dog. I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you. He was a poodle. A poodle. A French poodle. Anyway, it was a medium sized one and he was, he was a good dog. But [pause] so, I spent about twenty eight years of my life with Atomic Energy and then I retired from there and stayed in Deep River. And by this time my wife had gone into hospital with a complaint which I didn’t know at the time but it was multiple sclerosis and she — it wasn’t long before I knew about it and gradually it forced her into a wheelchair. And as it was her brain remained absolutely spot on and she could speak but the rest of herself she was absolutely immobile. And she was like that in a hospital in Toronto for, let me see, eight years. And I got a transfer from the research establishment up in Deep River, up in the pines down to Toronto which was their, well it was a [unclear] it’s a stuff where they build. Build machines. Refuelling machines for reactors.
JS: Yeah.
JY: And they had three up on the shores of Lake Huron which we used to go up to. But anyway, but anyway, Rhoda eventually died in ‘83 and after that I wasn’t interested in Toronto as such so I applied to my former branch head, you know. So I said, ‘Any chance you can get me back to it?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ’No.’ he says, but,’ he says, ‘I know another branch head who is willing to take you.’ So, I said ok. So, I got all my stuff bundled into my car and drove up to the, to the [pause] Christ. I can’t. Drove up to the point see. And I got in no problem. Turns up and I got a house. I got a three bedroomed house [laughs] just myself. And shower, so and so, kitchen, bathroom, living room and in the town area and it was, it was just a residential hacked out of the bush and I stuck it there until ‘94. ‘95. No ‘93. And I came, my father was getting on so I came across here and I fell in with Jan and we were married and [pause] where was I? My mum and dad, they — dad died in 1988. I had to come across to go to his funeral. So I went back and I went. While I was across at [pause] I forget — for Jan. And she was moving house and by this time her husband was dead. In ‘91. ‘91. And he was, well he was ‘91 and he was, he was sixty five and shortly thereafter we were married and we were, we had a house down there. Down the Forth Street. And then we came up and we got this one and I’ve been here since ‘2004.
JY: Yeah.
JY: 2004.
JS: Yeah. That’s great. Can I, can I just take you back a wee bit to something interesting you said earlier? You said that when you were in the air force you got the choice what would like to fly in? Would you like to fly in Lancasters or Halifax.
JY: Yeah.
JS: Why did you choose the Halifax? Was it — it was the choice you had.
JY: Yes. It was a choice. We had to. They split us. The course was — basically it wasn’t, it was before that as I remember it because each aircraft was totally different so you either went the Lanc route or the Halifax route. So, I chose the Halifax. Because we went [laughs] we went, they dressed us up in full flying gear and stuffed in a Lanc. Outside. And it was a sunny day and it was beaming. Christ. And I had a look. I said, ‘By Jeez,’ I said, ‘If I have to get out of this thing in a full suit and in a hurry there’s no way I’m going to get to a forward escape hatch packed in the back. Oh no. And the Halifax was different. You go straight up above and you had to deek around the mid upper turret but the rest of the fact was a straight run and up to the escape hatch. There’ s a door and — or you could go in the pilot’s get out, [laughs] put your foot on the pilots knee [laughs] and get out if he hadn’t already gone. And the bomb aimers they had a hatch in the floor. That was for three guys. Well, that’s why we had to choose the different — ‘cause the fuel systems, the hydraulics and all these wiring systems — they were all different. Just totally different. And you had to. Is there anything else.
JS: No. As a Bomber Command veteran how do you think you were treated after the war?
JY: It’s hard to say. I was, as far as the war was, I was thankful to get through a tour of ops, you know. And I think we were just, we were just so damned glad to get out of the air force, you know and shove it behind us. Come to think of it they didn’t do to much for us except giving you some money at the end. Demob money. And the rest of it — you were, ‘Alright. Get outside and get yourself a job.’ You know. Aye. No, I didn’t think too much about it because I already had a job to go to and I floated from one job to another.
JS: Yeah.
JY: But some of the others I’ve since read about, you know, over the years they had a hard time. A real hard time. And I’m fortunate. I never went the alcy way, you know. I never was much of a drinker. So. Yeah [pause] No.
JS: That’s great. That’s been really brilliant.
JY: What?
JS: That’s been really, really good. Thank you very much.
JY: You’re welcome.
JS: I’ll just stop this.
JY: Yeah.



James Sheach, “Interview with John Young,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 12, 2024,

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