Interview with James Ferguson Latimer


Interview with James Ferguson Latimer


James Ferguson Latimer was born in Edinburgh. His family emigrated to Canada when he was young but moved back to Scotland in 1939. He recalls witnessing a German U-boat torpedo a ship as they sailed back home. Latimer joined the air force and completed basic training at RAF Heaton Park, initially hoping to be a pilot, but qualified as a bomb aimer. He trained on Wellingtons, before converting to Halifax. Latimer was stationed with 102 squadron, based at RAF Pocklington, and 462 squadron, completing 46 operations in total. He details his duty as the bomb aimer during operations, the differing flying tactics of British and American forces, and recollects a night-time operation in August 1944, where he observed a close friend’s plane crash over Braunschweig. He also describes low flying over the English Channel and bombing the German army to support D-Day. Latimer recollects a number of eventful operations including, taking control of the steering when the aircraft left the runway and the pilot lost his nerve, and volunteering to climb out of the aircraft while flying over Germany to release a bomb that had not dropped properly. After completing his operations, he recalls a posting at an Air Sea Rescue Unit in Scotland. Latimer left the RAF in 1946 as a warrant officer, married his wife in 1948, and opened a shop.




Temporal Coverage




01:21:46 audio recording


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ALatimerJF190928, PLatimerJF1903


BW: Here we go. Right.
GBD: Ok, Jim.
JL: Yeah.
BW: This Is Brian Wright interviewing Warrant Officer Jim Latimer.
JL: Jim’s Ferguson Latimer.
BW: Jim Ferguson Latimer.
JL: Thank you.
BW: On Saturday 28th September 2019 at approximately 4.45 at his home in Salford.
GBD: Prestwich, Manchester.
BW: Prestwich.
GBD: Yeah.
BW: Manchester. Also with me are his friend Gary Bridson-Daley, and World War Two author, and Jim’s wife Joan. And Gary, you wanted to introduce, introduce Jim as well.
GBD: Yeah. Just for a little minute. I’m very privileged to know Jim Latimer and Jean Latimer and they are from the same church as myself. They’re the longest parishioners there. Over seventy years they’ve been there which is quite astounding. I’m Gary Bridson-Daley author of, “A Debt of Gratitude to the Last Heroes.” And as part of my Debt of Gratitude Project going throughout the UK interviewing some of the last World War Two veterans I’ve been blessed to have interviewed over one hundred veterans from all services and backgrounds now of which Jim is one of them and is in that first book.
JFL: A fair amount isn’t it?
GBD: It’s not bad is it, Jim. Eh? Yeah.
JFL: Yeah.
GBD: It’s great.
JFL: You’ve interviewed a lot of guys.
GBD: And ladies too. Yes.
JFL: Yeah.
GBD: And it’s been an absolute honour and privilege to do so. It’s also a great thing to be able to help the IBCC with, with introducing veterans such as I have done today and Jim now, to help with their fantastic work. And anything we can always do to help people that are doing things for our veterans and to capture these precious stories for posterity and for the future and for the country and generations yet to come is a great thing, and I’m very honoured to be a part of it in my project and in helping others with theirs. So I’m going to hand over to Jim Latimer who was Halifax bombers, forty six missions. Bomb aimer. And now handing over for the interview to be done with Brian. And I just wanted to have a little, little part of that. Just —
JFL: Yeah.
GBD: Because it’s so special and they’re such good friends. That’s it. Well, thank you. Brian, over to you. Jim, enjoy the interview.
JFL: Yeah. Ok, Brian.
BW: Ok, Jim. Just to start off for us could you give us your full name, date of birth and service number please?
JFL: Yeah. It’s James Ferguson Latimer. What’s the next one?
BW: Date of birth.
JFL: Oh yeah. 21 12 ’23.
BW: And do you recall your service number at all?
JFL: Yeah. 1551478.
BW: Great. Thank you. And where were you born Jim?
JFL: I was actually born in Scotland.
JL: Edinburgh.
BW: And how many people were in your family? I mean obviously mum and dad?
JFL: Yeah.
BW: But any brothers and sisters?
JFL: There was two brothers. One came, another brother came later but one.
JL: Who are you talking about?
JFL: We emigrated. Well, I was only a tot of four or five years old and my parents emigrated to Toronto in Canada. Ontario. My dad had a good job over there.
BW: What did he do?
JFL: He worked on tall buildings. I don’t know what, exactly what was, I don’t know what his trade or profession was or anything like that.
JL: Sheet metal.
JFL: It was what?
JL: Sheet metal worker.
JFL: Yeah. That’s what he was originally. Sheet metal worker but there was a lot of building. Skyscrapers going up in Toronto at the time which was way back in the 20s. And he had a good job out there. That was the reason for emigration. There wasn’t much in Scotland where they originally came from. So they wanted to emigrate which is what they did.
BW: So there was you and two brothers.
JFL: Yeah.
BW: Any sisters? Or did they come later?
JFL: No sisters. No.
BW: And where did you go to school out there?
JFL: In the York township which is just north of Toronto.
BW: And when did you leave school? It was common in the UK for people to leave school at fourteen but what happened with you?
JFL: I think I was fifteen when I left High School and when the [pause] when the war started, or it was just before the war started it was obvious there was going to be a war with, with what was going on with Hitler and our Prime Minister here. My parents decided to come back to, well they came back to England. So the war had just started I think when we came back to Great Britain.
BW: And did you look for work or were you working at that, at that time when you came back? Or did you continue in education or anything?
JFL: I was still at, still going to school then at that time. I can’t remember how old I was.
BW: Do you recall whereabout you moved to?
JFL: I was —
BW: Did you, did you come to the north west of the UK at all or were you elsewhere in the country? Where did your dad and the family settle?
JFL: Came from Edinburgh because my parents originally came from Edinburgh, and then went over to Canada and my dad had a job at Toronto. I was at school. My brothers were at school, and I was, I went to High School. I did five years in high school which is like, I don’t know the equivalent in England. Grammar School. Something like that. And then the war, the war with Hitler you can, it was on the cards there was going to be a war. So for some reason or other, I don’t know why, my parents wanted to come back to Scotland and I wasn’t, I wasn’t very old then, and I had to had two brothers at the time. And the war started and we came back with the war being on. German subs were having a ball out there. Torpedoed a lot, an awful lot of merchant, merchant ships. I always remember I was only, I can’t remember, nine or ten on the ship on my way back to the British Isles, and I went up on the deck with my brother just looking at the Atlantic Ocean if you like and this, this ship passed on its way to either the States or Canada and they only got as far as the horizon. We were stood watching it. It was torpedoed. It just blew up. So all the poor guys on it they never had a chance. A U-boat obviously torpedoed it. And then —
BW: Was it a civilian ship?
JFL: I don’t really know at the time. It was, it could have been a passenger ship that passed us but it might just have been a merchant ship. Difficult to know. But it just got to the sky line. The next thing the sun, the sun had gone down and it just lit up the sky with being torpedoed. Poor guys.
BW: And from living in Edinburgh what prompted you to join the RAF? Were you minded to join any other service or was it specifically the RAF you wanted?
JFL: I’m just trying to think now. Yeah. I joined, I joined the Air Force here in Manchester. I was at Heaton Park. That’s where [pause] young guys from all over the world came to Heaton Park. If they were in bomber, if they were going to be in Bomber Command, you know. They came from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand. They all came to Heaton Park. So I was at Heaton Park there for a while waiting to be sent out to whatever flying base was available. And —
BW: And was that for your basic training?
JFL: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I did quite a bit of basic training.
BW: And when did you move to your sort of trade training to become a bomb aimer?
JFL: A bit vague. A bit vague on it. I was aircrew for a start so I don’t know why or, why or how I became an air bomber but that’s what I did.
BW: I believe you trained initially on Wellington bombers.
JFL: Yeah. Originally. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. We went even, the Germans had occupied France so we were, we flew. Started off with Wellingtons. We used to fly over France. And when we were bombing armament factories in France because the Germans had taken over. That’s how I started with flying. And then later on went on to Halifaxes. Big planes. And —
BW: What do you recall of the Wellingtons? What were they, what were they like?
JFL: Well, they were alright. Two engines. They were a bit, eventually a bit obsolete. It was all four engines. So that’s where, where we got to. So the, it was four engined going over Germany.
BW: And your first mission. Your first operation was as you say over occupied France but —
JFL: Yeah.
BW: I wanted to ask a bit about your time while you were at the base in Yorkshire. At Pocklington.
JFL: Yeah.
BW: Because you joined 102 Squadron.
JFL: That’s right. Yeah.
BW: Now, there’s, you said you were starting on Halifaxes at this time.
JFL: That’s right yeah because of the —
BW: Can you recall the names of the other members of the crew? The pilot and —
JFL: I can’t remember them now offhand.
BW: Your pilot was Flight Sergeant Mitchell.
JFL: Yeah. I remember that. Yeah. Yeah. But the, the two gunners. The two gunners I can’t remember. One was Scottish. The other guy was, I think he was from South Africa. A lot of them came over from different parts of the world to join up.
BW: If I read some of the names of the crew would you recognise or know anything about them? William McCorkindale.
JFL: Yeah. He was the engineer I think. Little Scottish guy.
BW: And RW Scott.
JFL: I’m sorry?
BW: RW Scott. Flight Sergeant Scott.
JFL: No. I can’t.
BW: No.
JFL: Oh, Scott. I vaguely remember him but I’m not sure. No.
BW: Mitchell was your pilot.
JFL: That’s right. Yeah.
BW: Maguire.
JFL: Yeah.
BW: Who, where was Maguire in the aircraft?
JFL: Sorry?
BW: Where was Maguire in the aircraft?
JFL: I think he was the rear gunner I think.
BW: And Flight Sergeant Thornton?
JFL: What was that again?
BW: Flight Sergeant Thornton. AF Thornton.
JFL: I’m not quite sure now.
BW: And the other was Kellard. Sergeant Kellard.
JFL: Yeah. I can’t remember the names now.
BW: Ok. Do you recall how you met each other? Normally you’d be left alone to sort of crew up they called it. Do you remember how you met your other crewmates?
JFL: I’m a bit vague on it. [pause] We were stationed at Heaton Park. That’s where, from the British Empire they all, they all came to Heaton Park from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand. This is where they ended up. And from, from there then they were sent to different airfields eventually. And the airfield I was sent to was, I can’t remember the name of it now. It was in the Midlands. England. And we were on Wellingtons. The two engine Wellingtons. And we did quite a few ops there. Mainly over France. Germany had occupied France then and there was a lot of munitions workers in the south east of France and that, that was our target. So that’s what I was on to start off with. And then from there we graduated to [pause] that was, those were Wellingtons. Yeah. Then I was on Halifaxes then. Four engine bomber.
BW: What were they like to fly in as crew? How did you find it? Was it, was it pretty cramped?
JFL: Cramped? No. No. No, there was plenty of room. It was alright. Yeah. Yeah.
BW: I’m going to show you a couple of pictures. One is of a Halifax, and the other is of crew positions inside.
JFL: Yeah.
BW: And just see if these prompt any recollections for you.
JFL: Yeah.
BW: The one you’ve got in your left hand of the crew position. That’s the flight engineer.
JFL: Oh.
BW: And then underneath that will be the bomb aimer’s position in the front of the aircraft.
JFL: Yeah. Which is —
BW: Does that —
JFL: Which is the front? I can’t make it out [pause] Well, when we, when we got to within a mile of the target I had to go down to the nose of the aircraft, lie down flat and the bombsight had a few figures in it. We had to adjust the bomb sight and then when we got within a mile going near into the city we had to fly straight and level and it would probably sorry [noise] very slow. The speed, the speed was slowed right down in order to get to the target to make sure the bombs were in the right position. So when we got to within so many, a mile perhaps from the target the bomb, the bomb aimer or the air bomber he was called, the bomb aimer he took over. Guiding. He was guiding the plane then so he was telling the pilot, ‘Left. Left. Right. Right.’ whatever, to get, get the bomb, the bombsight so that it was directly in front of the target. And then when you got the bombsight steady at all you could visualise it. You could see that from the nose of the plane and once you got just before, just before the target you dropped your bombs. So as they were going down they were going that way as well and they hit the target hopefully. And then I always said, ‘Bombs gone. Let’s go.’ The pilot turned around and off we went back.
BW: You had to keep the aircraft straight and level.
JFL: Oh, very straight. Yeah. For a mile or so.
BW: Yeah. After you’d dropped the bombs.
JFL: Going on to the target. Yeah. Yeah. A Lot of anti-aircraft coming up as well. An awful lot. We were peppered with anti-aircraft. And I saw two or three of our own bombers, Fokke Wolf 190s, you know the German fighter planes, they were swarming around and I saw, I always remember two or three of our bombers were shot down. I saw them going down, and in one of them I think, a guy, a guy I was very friendly with and I saw him going down to be killed. Crashed. I always remember that. I knew it was. I could see which plane it was. It was a Halifax and he was in it. That was the end of him.
BW: Did you see any parachutes at all?
JFL: Oh yeah. The odd one or two. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
BW: That particular raid would have been detailed. That particular raid was to Braunschweig and that was in August.
JFL: Where was it?
BW: Braunschweig [pause] It was in August 1944.
JFL: Yeah.
BW: And it was a night raid.
JFL: Yeah. Well, most, most of them were night raids. Yeah. Of course —
BW: The, there were two sergeants in the aircraft you described who were killed. One whose name was Craig and the other Curphey. Do you know which of those two might have been your mate?
JFL: I’m not sure now. Very vague about it.
BW: Ok. I’m going to show you a diagram of the bomb aimer’s position in a Halifax. Does that bring back any memories?
BW: It shows the position that you would have been in in the aircraft.
JFL: Yeah.
BW: You say laid down and looking out the Perspex nose.
JFL: Is the Perspex still here?
BW: Yes.
JFL: Yeah.
BW: And your control panel was on the left.
JFL: That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. So you used to lie down there actually ‘til a mile or so from the target. The air bomber more or less took over the plane. Guiding, guiding the pilot with, ‘Left. Left. Right. Left.’ Whatever. To make sure he was right on the target.
BW: Did you ever feel particularly vulnerable in that sort of position because you’re laid down, head practically out of the aircraft apart from the Perspex canopy in front? How, how did it feel to be in that position over a target?
JFL: Yeah. It did. Actually, it never, it never bothered me. I don’t know why. Used to be, you were busy guiding. Guiding the plane in to make sure you’re getting it right. ‘Left. Right.’ You just tell, tell the pilot move over to the left a bit or move over to the right a bit until you’re right over the target. And then just before you hit the target it’s bombs away, and you used to follow them right down. And nine times out of ten they hit the target. Mostly coastal targets. There was a lot of coastal targets. And then eventually it became routine.
BW: Did you ever have to tell the pilot to go around again to make a second run? Perhaps because there was smoke over the target or obscuring it. Did you have to make a second run at all?
JFL: No. I don’t think I ever had to do that. No. No. No. By then there was a lot of German fighters trying to get at us. They were all hovering all around. They did get quite a few but some of us were lucky.
BW: And could you see [pause] could you see the fighters around you? Could you make them out?
JFL: The German fighters?
BW: Yeah.
JFL: Yeah.
BW: Or were you just able to see the gunfire?
JFL: No, I could see. Could see the fighters.
BW: And —
JFL: And once we’d dropped the bombs it was a case of turn around, put the nose down and get away. Get as much speed as you could to get away. Then we had, the rear gunner was very good. The mid-upper gunner was also very good. And you could see the German fighters trying to get a bead on us but our own, our own bombers, the machine gunners they kept them, kept the German planes off as much as they could. I did see one or two of our own boys going down. One, one bomber plane that went down, one of the guys in it was a friend. A good friend of mine. And I could see him, I couldn’t see him but he was in it and that was the end of him.
BW: Could you see the searchlights at all? Were you, were you ever actually what they called coned in searchlights? Were you picked out at all and locked on?
JFL: Yeah, you could. There were, there were plenty of searchlights from the Germans. They had encampments with machine guns and bomber guns and anti-aircraft guns and they were usually lit up. They didn’t do a lot of damage but they sent up enough to catch, used to be a lot of holes in the plane. Fortunately, didn’t get to the right place for them.
BW: And the searchlights were coloured differently. Did you see any blue searchlights at all?
JFL: Any — ?
BW: Blue searchlights.
JFL: Blue?
BW: Yeah.
JFL: I can’t remember to tell you the truth. I remember lots of searchlights but I don’t know about blue searchlights.
BW: The gunners would occasionally if they saw a light coming towards them or a fighter coming towards them would instruct the pilot to take evasive action or corkscrew. Did that ever happen with you?
JFL: I’ve no recollection of that. No. Not really.
BW: So you were quite lucky that you never got properly bounced by fighters.
JFL: Yeah. I could see fighters. Not, most, most of the, it was mostly night flying. We did go on to daylight flying again when the invasion took place with the Yanks invading the French coast to get the, to make a start on getting the Germans out. And we did a lot of, we used to go low flying over the, over the Channel but then zoom up and bomb the German army. It was all daylight because the Yanks, the Yanks and the Canadians and the British were all on their way over the English Channel to get rid of the Germans. They suffered. They suffered a lot of damage then too. Our job was to bomb the German guns. The big guns up on the cliffs which is what we did.
BW: And when you were low flying over France on the way in to the target during the daylight. Do you recall much of what you could see? Whether there were any vehicles or movements on the ground or anything like that?
JFL: On the Channel?
BW: On the French mainland.
JFL: Oh, the French coast.
BW: On the French mainland when you approached the target what kind of things could you see?
JFL: Well, the Germans were, they were retreating. You could see that, and you could see the, the Yanks and the Canadians coming over on small, small boats to attack the Germans on, on the beaches. We could see all that. Then of course we had to, we got so far we used to climb right up because they had a lot of big heavy guns at the top of the hills and they were causing damage so we went up quite high. Came down to bomb them to knock their guns out. And that’s how it was.
BW: You were also as a air bomber or bomb aimer as they called them.
JFL: Yeah.
BW: To and from the target you’d also be manning the front guns wouldn’t you?
JFL: I’m sorry?
BW: You would also be manning the front gun wouldn’t you? The nose gun.
JFL: Yeah. I could. Yeah, they did that too. Yeah. Used to use that. Yeah.
BW: And did you ever have cause to use it on the way in? Keep a fighter away or anything like that?
JFL: Not, not so much because we had a mid-upper gunner and a rear gunner of course so they did most of the shooting against the enemy.
BW: So most of your ops were over occupied France, and there were a number into Germany.
JFL: Yeah.
BW: Would you say there was a noticeable difference between your targets in France and those in Germany?
JFL: Well, the ones in France they were very, very military but when we went, when we flew to Germany there was a different sections of cities we had to bomb. A lot along the North Sea and mainly military targets. But that’s how it was.
BW: And were they quite long missions for you?
JFL: The night missions were very long. They were very long. And of course then it all changed when the Yanks came over. We did all daylight missions. And we, as the Germans were retreating we were flying during the day, bombing the Germans as, as they tried to get back to their own country. And there was pockets of British soldiers and Yankee soldiers that, they got cut off by the Germans. They were in big trouble and we were, had to go out to help them. I remember that. So —
BW: And were you bombing enemy troops?
JFL: Yeah.
BW: Fairly close to where the Allied lines were or —
JFL: That’s right. Yeah. Not far off. Yeah.
BW: And did, were you able to see the bombs land accurately?
JFL: Oh yes. We were quite low. Yeah.
BW: What sort of height would you think you were at?
JFL: Oh dear [pause] A thousand feet [pause] Over. Quite, quite low we were because we were. Yeah.
BW: And were there a lot of aircraft on those sorts of raids or was it just like a small number of aircraft from the squadron?
JFL: Yeah. There wasn’t a lot of raids. Not a lot of raids flying in it but as the Germans retreated we kept going in and, to try and stop them from getting back to their own Maginot, not the Maginot, that’s a French line, getting back to their own line. So we had to keep intercepting them and they had heavy guns all the way around everywhere they were and they did a bit of damage with those. But we got rid of a lot of the guns that the Germans were using, because the Yanks and the British Army and Canadian Army they were all coming in now to fight their way to the Maginot Line. And we helped out on that.
BW: So, on those sorts of raids I believe you flew on a couple of times in larger raids with Americans. A combined sort of RAF and American type raid. Did you see any difference in the way the Americans flew?
JFL: Oh, definitely. Yeah. Yeah. Sitting ducks. That’s how you can describe them. Sitting ducks. They flew in a straight line and they didn’t, they didn’t do any manoeuvring. Just kept flying straight. And the German fighters they had a, took a lot of, took a lot of the Americans down with the [pause] We flew individually. We didn’t fly as a squadron. We flew in between different heights. But the Americans came in perfect they were but they never, never altered their position and the German fighters really tore in to them. An awful lot of Yanks shot down.
BW: So the looser formation that the RAF used allowed them greater manoeuvrability if you were attacked, whereas the Americans —
JFL: Yeah.
BW: Didn’t do that.
JFL: They didn’t have that. Yeah. Of course when we flew at night we didn’t fly as, we flew individually in the dark. The British Air Force. The Americans when they, when they started night flying they flew as a squadron and they were easy targets for the German fighters.
BW: And when you got back to base what kind of things happened then? What sort of things would happen on the way back from the targets and then landing?
JFL: Well, you got, you’ve still got the German fighters chasing you, trying to get a bead on to you. I remember the very first op we were on. We were up and down all the way back so this particular German fighter he chased us all the way back to the Channel, the English Channel. And we had to manoeuvre up and down just to keep him, so that he couldn’t get a sight on us and as we got within half a mile of the Channel he gave up on it and turned around and went back to Germany, thank goodness. But —
BW: So you were chased all the way home.
JFL: Yeah. I was. Yeah. Yeah. We were quite, this was what we were doing all the way back so he couldn’t get a sight on us.
BW: And when you eventually did land what kind of things would happen then?
JFL: When we landed, when we got out the plane and came over to, the CO was there and there would be, we were interviewed for, they wanted to know what happened and the medical officer was on site in case anybody was, anybody was hurt. And the —
BW: And what were the debriefings like? Did they give you a good interrogation about what you’d seen?
JFL: Yeah. A debriefing. Yeah. Yeah. Yes. They wanted to know various things. How it went and what happened. And the man with a collar. He was always there for, we had to, we had to have a prayer for safe landing. He gave us a prayer. We were very, very lucky I think. Very lucky.
BW: When you got back to your billets were you accommodated as crews altogether, or were you kept as say bomb aimers in one hut and flight engineers in another hut or did you all stay together as a crew?
JFL: We were more or less as a crew. Yeah. Yeah. Well, most, most of the, most of the flights up until the invasion when the Yanks came it was all night flying and we used to get back about 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. And by then of course we were very tired. So after being interviewed by [pause] whoever we went to bed.
BW: Did you ever get a chance to socialise much as a crew? Were there events on at the base and dances and things?
JFL: Yeah. There was the odd one or two dances. Yeah. But unfortunately I had two left feet. At the time. My wife was a very good dancer so eventually when I became a civilian I picked up on the dancing and I did alright but during the war we used to, there was always dances going on and we used to go and mainly just stood there looking at them and watching it. That’s all.
BW: And you flew a few raids with 102 Squadron, and then you were transferred to 462 Squadron.
JFL: Yeah. That sounds about, yeah 462.
BW: And there was one of those where, one of those sorties or ops where you came back and the aircraft went off the runway.
JFL: Yes. It left. It left the runway [laughs]
BW: Was this on, was this on landing?
JFL: The brakes. I think the brakes must have gone. The brakes went on it so we left the runway at, we were doing almost a hundred miles an hour when we left the runway and we went over quite a few fields bumpety bumpety bumpety. And eventually when the pilot, he was, he’d given up. It was too much for him. So I was sat beside him. I just kept the plane straight and then —
BW: So the pilot bottled it and you took over the controls.
JFL: Yeah. Well, just I was steering it. Yeah. Yeah. And then when we got to, over two or three fields I turned the plane around and it stopped dead because we didn’t know what was going to happen otherwise because it was still moving at a good pace. Anyway, I pulled the wheel around and it stopped. And that was it. And then the fire, the fire people came over to make sure the plane wasn’t on fire.
BW: I mean if it’s gone over two or three fields.
JFL: Yeah.
BW: Off the end of the runway. That’s some fair distance.
JFL: Yeah. It was a fair distance. Yeah. Yeah.
BW: Did you still have any bombs on board or anything like that?
JFL: No. We had, I don’t think we had anything on board. I think we got rid of everything. Yeah.
BW: Because there was an instance in your logbook where you noted that you were loaded with the bombs on board. Landed with the bomb load. But obviously not on that occasion.
JFL: Yeah. I’m trying to remember. I know [pause] One. We were over Germany but we’d bombed the target, but one of the bombs was, was hung up. It hadn’t dropped and it was on the plane with us and of course you daren’t land with it. It would have blown us all up. So Joe, I climbed, I climbed down and got outside the plane, turned the trap door and I was outside. I managed to release the bomb and it went down and it landed. I could see where it landed. I was outside the plane and I could see where the bomb landed. Right in a German village. That wasn’t very nice. We couldn’t have landed with the bomb because it would have exploded, exploded on landing. We had to get rid of it. And the engineer, our engineer he wouldn’t go and do it. He should have done it really. It was his job. But he wasn’t going outside the plane to do it. I was at a high field so I never gave it a thought. I said, ‘I’ll go down.’ I went down, got through the trap door, I was outside and —
BW: This was in the bomb bay though wasn’t it with the bomb bay open?
JFL: Yeah. Yeah.
BW: Yeah.
JFL: Yeah. I managed to release the bomb. I can’t remember the details now and I followed it down and it, there was like a German village. It must have blown an awful lot of houses up. It was quite a big bomb. So I climbed back up again.
BW: And that’s, that must have been, I’m assuming that, that was after the target and this particular bomb had not released. So you’re still over Germany heading on the way home.
JFL: That’s right.
BW: That’s when you had to go down into the bomb bay.
JFL: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
BW: To sort this out.
JFL: Yeah. There was just this one bomb. I can’t remember how we knew. But we all knew we had to get rid of it. We couldn’t, we couldn’t land.
BW: And from moving from 462 Squadron you then went up to Leuchars in Scotland.
JFL: That’s right. Yeah.
BW: To join [pause] the Air Sea Rescue Unit there. Is that right?
JFL: That’s right. Just for a short period. Yeah. Yeah.
BW: And what do you, what do you recall of that? That period.
JFL: Not a lot really because it was very peaceful.
BW: It would be quite a change from where you had been before.
JFL: We went, there was two or three of us. We went out with the Air Sea Rescue Teams, and we were flying around, not flying, moving around the North Sea. And we didn’t have any incidents that I can recall.
BW: So how did you then come to leave the RAF?
JFL: Leave?
BW: Yeah. You left in 1946.
JFL: Yeah. That’s right.
BW: Were you just demobbed or were you offered the chance to stay in?
JFL: I think we may have been but there was also demobbing, so I think I’d had enough for four or five years. I can’t remember how. So I was very fortunate.
BW: So when, do you recall how you met Jean? Your wife. Was that during the war or was it after?
JFL: No. It was during the war. All aircrew from all over the world — Australia, everywhere, south, South Africa. They all came to Heaton, Heaton Park. Aircrew. Potential aircrew. And that’s where of course I was. Heaton Park. And this friend I had made, he was, he was just walking down to what they called Sedgley Park. That’s not far from here. He was billeted in this particular house. They’d taken over a lot of houses and they had to let [pause] let them, give them up, they had to give them a bedroom. They’d no choice. The house keeper. I just said I’d walk, walk down with him for a walk and the, when we got to the house which wasn’t, not that far, there’s the daughter of the person from the house she came out. She was speaking. She had already met him because he was, he was billeted in their house. And the next thing I know this other girl came along and she was a friend of this first girl. And it was Jean. Do you remember Jean?
BW: And so —
JFL: She doesn’t remember.
BW: You married I believe in, I believe you married in 1948.
JFL: I think so. Yeah.
BW: And what, what other occupations did you have after, after the war?
JFL: Well, I wasn’t, I wasn’t trained for anything. I bought the, there was a [pause] it was a shop and it sold magazines, books, cigarettes, that type of shop it was.
JL: Yeah. Like [unclear]
JFL: Sorry
JL: Do you remember?
JFL: What?
JL: The newspaper. The wholesaler.
JFL: Jean. Jean’s father, who was a business man he, he bought the good will of the shop for me. Which was very very nice. He was a [pause] he had a biscuit factory.
BW: And he had a biscuit factory in —
JFL: He did. Yeah. In Manchester.
BW: Yeah.
JFL: He was a very clever guy. Yeah. He built all his own machinery for making biscuits. He did. He did it all. And he did, he was quite wealthy. And he got me started on the retail shop and I had that type of business ever since.
BW: And how long were you in the retail trade for?
JFL: I’ve got a, it must have been, I was in my seventies when I gave it up. I never had a trade.
BW: And now that we’re looking at commemorations for aircrew of Bomber Command how do you think that’s been. Is it something you welcome?
JFL: What was that?
BW: Now that we’re having the commemorations for Bomber Command and such like and there are now Memorials and such like being built to them how do you, how do you feel about that?
JFL: Yeah. I think I quite like that. Yeah. Yeah.
BW: I suppose it’s about time really isn’t it?
JFL: Sorry?
BW: I suppose it’s about time.
JFL: It’s —?
BW: It’s about time.
JFL: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That’s my logbook over there is it?
BW: Yeah.
JFL: Yeah. I thought I’d brought it in for you.
BW: Well, what I’ll do is I’ll end the interview there and I’ll look to photograph your logbook as well.
JFL: Right.
BW: But I just want to say that, you know on behalf of the Bomber Command Centre to thank you very much for your time and for your recollections. It’s been great to interview you.
JFL: Yeah.
BW: And very helpful for the Centre so thank you.
JFL: Oh, you’re welcome. Yeah.
[recording paused]
JFL: Ontario. About fifty miles from Toronto. That’s right. I come from Toronto.
GBD: Ok. Yeah.
JFL: And that’s where we did the flying.
JL: You went to Jasper Park.
JFL: Sorry?
JL: That’s where you trained. That’s where you trained [unclear] carry on.
GBD: You trained at Jasper Park.
JFL: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
GBD: You won a special award for accurate bomb aiming. You were given an award for accurate bomb aiming.
JFL: Yeah. I got something for bombing. Yeah. I tried, I tried to go solo to be a pilot but yeah, they were very fussy about it.
BW: So you originally wanted to be a pilot.
JFL: Yeah. That’s what I asked for. So what I’d be, while I was being trained I didn’t quite make the grade for being a pilot. I went solo once. That was very brave of me [laughs] going solo. I managed to land a Tiger Moth.
GBD: Right. That’s good.
JFL: Yeah.
GBD: Which places do you remember on your bombing missions over Europe by name? Which, off the top of your head which bases can you remember flying to on operations?
JFL: Oh. The German city on the [pause] it’s, it was a coastal town.
BW: Kiel.
JFL: Kiel. You got it in one. Yeah. I think so. Did a lot of bombs there. A lot of bombing.
GBD: And I remember you told me as well that you were bombing in the Villers-Bocage in France.
JFL: Pardon?
GBD: The Villers-Bocage in France.
JFL: Yeah.
GBD: When the, when the allied troops were pinned down by the Germans in the battle of the hedgerows around there.
JFL: Oh yeah. That’s right.
GBD: You guys were sent to bomb Villers-Bocage as well.
JFL: Yeah. Yeah. Then we had to stop the, when the German army was in retreat, when the allies, the Yanks and the Canadians invaded across the Channel they eventually pushed the Germans back so it was our job to stop them. Stop the German army from getting to the bridge before they could all go over. Then they would have blown the bridge up and we couldn’t have got at them so we had to stop them doing that. Which we did do.
GBD: Because you were active around Falaise as well I think I remember you saying. Around Falaise Gap as the German armies are trying to escape out there.
JFL: Yeah.
GBD: You hit them very heavily there as well.
JFL: Yeah. A bit vague.
BW: Can you remember any other places at all where you saw action? Anywhere by name that might be of interest to anyone listening.
JFL: Well, I did a lot of night bombing of course. That’s what I did that for two or three years. Night bombing.
JL: Do you know, Guy —
GBD: Hmmn?
JL: We ended up with five shops.
BW: I’m going to show you this picture of a bomb aimer. Does that look like the sort of position and place in the aircraft you’d be? Does anything about that jog your memory?
JFL: Is it, is it the nose of the aircraft and he’s lying down?
GBD: Do you want to borrow these?
JFL: No [laughs] it’s alright.
GBD: Are you sure?
JFL: Yeah. Yeah.
BW: You’ve got your instrument panel, your control panel to one side, and the bomb release button in the other.
JFL: Yeah. Well, the release button was there. When we got, when I got in the nose of the plane and it was all set up. It was quite sophisticated as well. Very accurate. I remember something about this. I’m not sure what it was now.
GBD: Does that look like the position you were in though when you were — does that look similar to the position you were in?
JFL: Yeah. It was lying flat.
GBD: Right.
JFL: Yeah.
BW: Because it was said that the bombing was often inaccurate. But from your recollections and what you’re saying is that the equipment you had and from what you could see the bombing was accurate.
JFL: Oh, I think so. Yeah. Yeah. Because just had to, well once you got down you got down a mile or so from the target. You got on to your stomach and you were lying flat and you were just telling, telling the pilot to go, ‘Left. Right.’ Whatever. Port. Starboard. Steady. And you’d just got to go steady until you got the what do you call it?
BW: The cross hairs?
JFL: They bombsight. Yeah. God. It was the very latest one and it was very accurate and you were looking through the bombsight and telling the pilot to do what he has to do. Left. Right. Whatever. And then when you get to the target the right position you pressed the button, the bombs go down and theoretically you should hit the target straight on which most of them did. But —
BW: Did you get any feedback or instructions say from a Master Bomber who might have been a Pathfinder aircraft or were they instructing you to bomb say on flares?
JFL: Daylight flying there was a Pathfinder. There was a, one in charge and you followed him but we didn’t do that. That’s what the Yanks did. Most of my bombing was night bombing and it was individual. The planes were all individuals. We were going to the same target but there was no formation or anything. But then we did some, went on to daylight flying with the, as it got well into the war we used to fly, fly with the Yanks. They —
GBD: Did you not use any Pathfinders for your night time bombing? Was there not any kind of help from them on certain targets?
JFL: Yeah. There was, the Pathfinders. They went in first. They dropped their bombs which lit up the target and as you got close to it you could see the target then because there was a lot of fire going on. And the Pathfinders did a good job because they were, they had to circle around the city you know and the German fighters were there waiting for them and they still had to sit, circle round. They couldn’t do much else. So it was dangerous. A very dangerous job they had. The Pathfinders.
GBD: Absolutely.
JFL: Yeah. They lit up the towns or city for us so we had a target to see.
GBD: Got you.
JFL: Yeah.
GBD: And do you have any other specific recollections of anything quite significant that happened? Certain incidents or certain strong memories about a particular thing that happened during any of your missions that you can share with us?
JFL: I can’t. I’d have to think about it now. It’s long ago.
GBD: Does anything stand out? Any particular memory of anything that happened?
JFL: Well, each, each bombing trip was much the same as the previous one. You were still very alert all the time. Couldn’t relax. You were watching for German fighters. There was always German fighters about.
GBD: Right. And you were saying your aircraft was peppered with holes. A lot of it.
JFL: Yeah.
GBD: So you must have come under direct attack.
JFL: Yeah. Yeah. They came in sideways and underneath you, and over the top of you.
GBD: So that must have been very frightening.
JFL: Yeah.
GBD: For someone young. Of your age. All aircrews obviously. To experience that.
JFL: Yeah.
GBD: What was that like when you were under attack from German aircraft?
JFL: The two, two machine gunners in our plane, Halifax they, they did their best to keep them off. So the Germans fighters couldn’t get too close because we had two [pause] two gunners on the plane, the tail end and the mid-upper gunner. And they did good work keeping the German fighters at a distance. They couldn’t come too close. They’d get machine gunned.
GBD: They must have done a very good job because you’re still sat with us here all these years later.
JFL: Yeah. Yeah.
GBD: How do you feel to have actually survived forty six missions because that’s quite something? Forty six ops.
JFL: Well —
GBD: Some didn’t survive more than five. Many didn’t survive more than ten.
JFL: I think when you’re a youngster it doesn’t bother you too much.
GBD: But looking back now.
JFL: Sorry?
GBD: Looking back now how does that, any thoughts about that? How do you feel of all those operations and you saw your friends going down?
JFL: Yeah.
GBD: But you were very lucky.
JFL: Yeah.
GBD: Because I know Remembrance means a lot to you.
JFL: Yeah. I saw a good friend of mine. He was, he went down. That was, that was very upsetting but you seemed to take it in your stride. I don’t know. There were some, a lot of, a lot of aircrew refused to fly. Quite a lot of aircrew.
BW: Why did they, why did they refuse to fly?
JFL: When they saw the targets they wouldn’t go. And they were, they were put in the, in the station prison if they didn’t fly. I don’t remember what happened to them but they were locked up in the prison if they, if they, if they refused to fly. When they’d seen where the target was they wouldn’t go.
BW: So if you’re in the briefing room and the popular view of the briefing room is a large hall with a lot of young aircrew.
JFL: Yeah.
BW: Sat there waiting for the CO to brief for the target for tonight, if you like. And the curtain goes back. How did the guys make it known that they didn’t want to fly? I’m assuming they didn’t just get up and walk out but what?
JFL: Well, they probably waited until, until it was finished with. Then instead of going back to their bedroom or whatever you’d like to call it they went to the guardroom and gave themselves up to be locked up. And that took some doing as well. There was always three or four of them, but they just wouldn’t fly. So —
BW: So not necessarily the whole crew. Just maybe three or four from a crew.
JFL: Oh yeah. It could be, not necessarily the same crew.
BW: Ok.
JFL: Just very nervous. It was unfortunate.
BW: And was anything ever said about what would happen? Did for example the CO make any, or give any orders about guys who didn’t want to fly.
JFL: Do you know I’m a bit vague on that now. I always remember two or three guys which I knew they, they gave themselves up. They went to the guardhouse and asked to be locked up there. They wouldn’t fly. That took, that took some doing.
BW: But none of your guys. None of the guys in your crew.
JFL: No.
BW: Ever did that.
JFL: Not in our lot. No. No. I got in the line up to volunteer to go over to India.
GBD: Oh yeah.
JFL: To fly over there to bomb the Japs.
GBD: Ok.
BW: I think that was called Tiger Force wasn’t it?
JFL: That sounds familiar. Yeah. But I was, there must have been about ten or twelve of us in a line up just waiting to give our name and whatever and halfway, halfway through the line-up it came over the radio. The Japs had surrendered.
GBD: Ah yes.
JFL: So —
GBD: That was that.
JFL: No point. Didn’t have to go.
GBD: Right. Lucky you.
JFL: Yeah. Well, I volunteered to go because I was still in the Air Force but it, it never happened. Fortunately the Japs surrendered. Singapore.
GBD: And you ended up as a warrant officer.
JFL: Sorry?
GBD: You ended up as a warrant officer.
JFL: Yeah. Yeah.
GBD: So that’s good. You did quite well there. Yeah.
JFL: Yeah. I was certainly glad they surrendered.
GBD: So you didn’t have to —
[recording paused]
JFL: We were still in Germany. The next thing I know the nose of the plane, a shell had come right through it and I was stood halfway down the plane on the right hand starboard side. This German shell came through and just caught my ear and then hit the, hit the side of the plane. I’ve still got, I’ve got the marks here.
GBD: Wow. You were very lucky then.
JFL: Yeah. It just cut my ear off a little on one side. Yeah. It’s still, it’s still there to remind me.


Brian Wright, “Interview with James Ferguson Latimer,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 23, 2024,

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