Interview with Philip Batty


Interview with Philip Batty


Philip Batty grew up in Walsall. He discusses the death of his older brother Dennis, a wireless operator with 226 Squadron, early in the Second World War. Philip volunteered for aircrew. After training, he was posted to 50 Squadron at RAF Sturgate as a wireless operator/ air gunner in May 1945. He was involved in Operation Dodge and United Nations peacekeeping in the Congo. He worked in Rhodesia and Cyprus and survived crash landings in a Vulcan and an Anson. He reminiscences about work colleagues and tells some humorous stories relating to his career in the Royal Air Force, which spanned 40 years.




Temporal Coverage




01:02:22 audio recording


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CH: Right, this interview is taking place at Phil Batty’s home in Wellingore, Lincolnshire on the 14th of October 2016, it’s being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. The interviewer is Cathie Hewitt, also present are Guilia Sanzone, Ann Batty and Chris Aram. Okay Phil, if you’d like to give me this information of your date and place of birth and your early childhood.
PB: Right, well, I was born on the 7th of March 1925, at a small village in Yorkshire. Er, my parents, my father was, actually in the Flying Corps in World War One, and he, he stayed in after the war and married my mother in 1918, but mother didn’t care for the Air Force, they were stationed at Castle Bromwich, and father decided that they would leave and he got himself a job as a draughtsman at Rolls Royce in Derby, but unfortunately came the depression and he was laid off, the only job that he could find was in the mines up in Yorkshire, which is where we went, but mother hated that even more, she was determined that we were not going to stay there [laughs] and er, we emigrated back to the West Midlands where father got a job with Walsall Town Council as a roads foreman, and, that’s where I was brought up and educated, at Elmore Green Central School. Mother didn’t care for that either [laughs] I went to sit the entrance examination for I think it was the King Edward Grammar School in Birmingham, I passed it but unfortunately Walsall refused to pay the fees. So, I was stuck in Walsall and went to Elmore Green for my secondary education. I was quite happy there, and, I stayed there until of course war broke out in 1939 when I was fourteen, I was just about to leave school anyway, I’d got a job at the town council myself in the transport department as a clerk, and, there I sat, waiting for things to happen. My brother Dennis, of course was a fully qualified wireless operator air gunner [indistinct], he was with 226 Squadron and once the army got themselves organised they all deployed over to France as the advanced air striking force with the British Expeditionary Force. They were equipped with Fairey Battles, a single engine light bomber, utterly unequipped to face the Luftwaffe, but there they are, and there we sat and waited. Dug a big hole in the back garden, built ourselves an Anderson shelter [laughs] and that sort of thing and waited for the real war to start, which eventually, it did, with a bang, crash, wallop, and, er, Dennis came home when the army retreated, they suffered horrendous losses. He kept a little diary while he was in France of his — of his friends who didn’t come back, because the Messerschmitts knocked them out of the sky like fly swatting really, er, but he came home eventually with his kit bag full of champagne and [laughs] and stayed with us for about a week and then went back, and his squadron reformed with Blenheims and were based at Wattisham, and there they started to bomb the Channel ports where the Germans were then assembling an invasion fleet. It was on bombing, there was bombing raids they went in, inland to bomb an airfield, and they were attacked by some Messerschmitts, the pilot was hit, in the neck, but Dennis shot one Messerschmitt down and that put them off, they left them alone and they got back to base safely and that's where all three of them were awarded the DFM. And, Dennis came home to celebrate. Unfortunately he was posted up to Scotland, I think he was going on the gunnery leaders’ course, but this is a week later and he was killed in a flying accident [pause]. This was my first [pause] real [pause] [cries].
CH: Would you like to take a break?
[interview paused]
CH: Okay?
PB: And er, of course, that’s the last thing my mother wanted [laughs] she said, ‘No, no way, you’ll never pass the medical’, ‘cause I’d had an ear operation, she said, ‘You won’t pass’, [interference] anyway, she said, ‘You’re not going until you’re called up’, and of course eventually I was [laughs]. Passed the medical, went for aircrew, went to Birmingham to the attestation centre, er, which was where they gave you a little exam to make sure you could read and write a little essay and that sort of thing, and, then they did [indistinct] a little test with a little machine keeping a dot in the centre, and they said, ‘Oh, what do you want to be?’, and I said, 'Well I want to be a wireless operator air gunner’, they said, ‘Oh you, no we’re, what about pilot, navigator, you know?'. I said er, ‘Well, how long’s that take?’. He said, ‘Well, you’ll be put on a list and we’ll call you when we want you’, but I said, ‘Will I be quicker being a WOP AG’, he said ‘Yeah a bit’, I said, ‘I’ll have it’ [laughs] and er, that was it then, er, course mother was dead against it, but I said, ‘I’ll be alright’, [emphasis] you know it’s, I hadn’t the faintest idea of course that the losses were mounting for bomber crews at the time but, anyway eventually I got this paper asking me to report to Lords cricket ground, I thought, whatever, funny place for the Air Force, but off I go and they were playing at the time, I think it was the West Indies, I’m not sure, but that’s where you got issued with uniform, numbers, 2220759, ha, ha [laughs] you never forget it [laughs] and er, all the stuff you needed, and put your civilian clothes in a suitcase and send ‘em home, and, we were accommodated in London, in flats at the time being, for a little while, and then put on a train to Bridlington. Bridlington by the sea, yes, and there we were taught to march, yes, and I thought oh God, if this is aircrew, you know, I thought we were going to fly [emphasis] but no, we were marching up and down the promenade and [laughs] and er, learning the Morse code and that sort of thing, signalling by lamp and all the rest of it, and er, we were there for about , I suppose about four to six weeks and then I was posted down to the radio school at Madley to be taught the real skills of being a wireless operator air gunner and, there started the real training really. Er, I was there, I suppose about eight months, passed out, but that was the real jump [indistinct] because when you got your brevet, you got immediate promotion to sergeant, and now this is a big lump, a big jump really, er, and I was posted at the same time over to a place called Staverton, just outside Gloucester. They had a sergeants’ mess, we had sheets [emphasis] on the bed [emphasis] [laughs] fantastic, and we had knives and forks set out in the mess, we thought, you know, we’ve started to live, yeh. Er, the other funny thing was that we were briefed secrecy, you will see an aeroplane here, which you’ve never seen in all your life because it hadn’t got a propeller, it just whistles, and of course it was the jet, the very first, and it did seem very odd I must admit. Er, and we were there for six weeks flying an Anson and that’s where I first met up with my navigator, John, and we flew together for some time, and I think it was when we finished at, there, we went off up north to Dumfries and by God it was cold, [emphasis] we were living in Nissen huts and they were freezing [emphasis] oh, one stove in the middle that everyone tried to huddle round and how it is, but, once again it was just about six weeks, and then we went to, down to the OTU, that was just outside Leicester, where we upgraded to Wellingtons and that’s where we got that leaflet, the operational crews were diverted in one night, and I must admit they all looked clapped out [laughs] very tired, but er, I think that, we went, OTU was where we first started to fly as a crew, we picked up a pilot, a co-pilot, er, I still flew with John Tidmarsh, we’d been flying together then for six, seven months or so, so we de-, decided we’d stick together and the rest of the crew could join us [laughs] which is what we did, as you do, a little band of men. And, we did, I think it was a couple of months on Wellingtons, flying round the countryside practising navigation, bombing, and waiting to march onwards which we did eventually. We were posted to a Lancaster conversion unit, and I think I went to the one just outside Newark, er, it’s in my log book somewhere, and that was the, yes [pause]. Chris’ll find it in there [pause].
CA: Winthorpe.
CH: Winthorpe.
PB: After I, after we’d finished at the, I remember looking at the, where we were, 'cause it had big chimneys at the end of the runway, and I said to the pilot, he's a bloke called Ford, Henry, I said, ‘I hope you can manage to get a Lancaster over the top of those chimneys’, Henry [laughs] ‘they look pretty ominous to me’, he said, ‘Don’t you worry Phil’ [laughs]. Anyway, we passed and eventually 'cause we are coming to right to the end of the war now, and I didn’t, didn’t think we were going to make it before VE Day, we just about did it, we would have done, but not quite. We were posted to a squadron, posted to 50 Squadron at Sturgate and, off we went, and we’d just done the, squadron commander flew with us and pronounced us fit to join his squadron and, but I think it was a week later that we had VE Day, that was it, the war was over. So, we came into the briefing room one morning and saw [unclear] the squadron commander and said ‘Well fellas, well done’, he said, ‘It’s over’, he said, ‘We are now part of the Northern Striking Force', he said, 'Who we’re going to strike I don’t know but that's who we are’, he said, ‘5 Group are going out with Tiger Force to the Far East to fight the Japanese, but we’re staying here, but I’ve got some good news for you’, he said, ‘You can draw some khaki drill’, he said, ‘'Cause we are off to Italy on Monday’, [laughs] he said, ‘What we’re going to do’, he said, he said, ‘We’re going to pick up some prisoners of war up and bring 'em home’, he said, ‘Everyone, yes’, he said, ‘Our [emphasis] prisoners of war [laughs] not theirs’, he says 'We’ll paint twenty circles on the floor’, he said, ‘You put twenty passengers each and off you go’. 'And it’s like an operation, there’ll be sixty or so aeroplanes and some are going to Pomigliano and some to Bari, but we’re going to [unclear]’, he says, ‘Now there’s three things, one, do not try and change your money on the black market, none of that, don’t go down to Naples and get drunk on the local vino, right, and make sure you look after the soldiers [laughs] 'cause they won’t have flown’ [laughs]. But of course they hadn’t, but they were very pleased to jump on board the Lanc, er of course it took a long time, I think it was seven or eight hours trip each way but they didn’t care. Is that what you’re looking at Chris? Yes, they called it Operation Dodge, yes and we did one or two of those and, that was how the — the war virtually ended for me.
CH: Did you bring many prisoners back with you?
PB: Yeah.
CA: I don't think he heard you.
CH: Did you bring many prisoners back on the trips in the Lancasters?
PB: Pardon?
CH: Did you bring many prisoners back from Italy?
PB: Yes, yes, yes, and we landed in the UK at, Polebrook, yes, I don’t know how many times oh, er, eight was it, I don't know. Chris, I think is looking now [unclear]?
CA: Yes, at least eighty.
PB: I did several trips, anyway, yes, I remember that we went to see the ruins of Pompeii, John Tid — Tidmarsh and I, yes. While we were there we thought we might as well, yeah, yes, but, very interesting actually, yes, we did behave ourselves and we did realise that the best things to take out were cigarettes and coffee for trading, and er, we could hand those in and bring back jewellery and that sort of stuff, yes, from the Italians, yes, er, quite enjoyable. Chris is looking now in my logbook, which will be scanned presumably? Yes. The length of the time that the trips took, yeah, quite long, yeah, okay.
CH: What happened after you finished doing these trips bringing the prisoners back?
PB: That was it for the time being, erm, I was posted then to, out to Transport Command for a little while, and then the air force [background noises] in their wisdom thought [?], in their wisdom, sent me out to Southern Rhodesia for two and a half years, er, onto [?] the navigation training school, flying Ansons, where I had a marvellous time [laughs] I really did, I thoroughly enjoyed it, you know, there were no tourists, the game was wonderful, it really was, marvellous place. We went to Victoria Falls and that sort of thing, er, saw the whole of the country at low level 'cause we were flying Ansons, and the navigators for their passing out trip, we took 'em down to Cape Town and back again, and after two and a half years I came home, and I decided to stay in the Air Force and rejoin Bomber Command, and, they’d got Lincolns then, so I was back on the old Lincolns and posted to Wyton and I was waiting there when of course the atom bomb came in, and the old Lincoln, I’m afraid, wasn’t big enough. So we borrowed some B29s from the Americans, the air force called them the Washington, and er, we converted from the Lincoln to the Washington, and that’s where we ended up at, Coningsby er, on the B29 or the Lincoln, and that’s where I was for quite a while until I think that I moved around a bit, on coastal, I think that, I spent a —a little time converting, then I was posted out to Malta and did a tour out there, with my good lady [laughs]. The Cyprus problem blew up — [interruption]
CH: That's —
AB: And, we were doing trips from Malta to Cyprus, once round the island and back, sixteen hours [laughs] rather tiring, so they decided to send us out to Cyprus and, camp on the edge of the airfield instead, so we could do shorter trips. So, we ended up camping on Cyprus for a bit until it was [laughs], time for us to come home, which we did in nineteen, ooh, was that sixty we came home?
AB: I think so.
PB: Yes, something like that, and I was [pause] posted back up to, Coningsby I think.
AB: Topcliffe.
PB: Yeah, oh, Topcliffe one or the other, yes, and er, after that they sent me back to, Bomber, where I converted on to the Vulcan eventually, that’s where we stayed did we not? Yes, I think so. Yes, they, the Cypriots had taken the [background noises] the explosives in a sandwich — in a sandwich tin, just in it, just in between two pieces of bread and they put 'em on the hinges of the aeroplane and blew the wing off, yes, the pilots didn’t like it, no, weren’t too keen on that. So, they put closer guards on the aeroplanes, that’s the only thing they could do [background noises].
CH: What year was this?
PB: Yes.
CH: What year?
PB: Erm, gosh, what year was Cyprus Chris? It’s in there, when we're doing the Cypriot runs. Five, yeah, it’ll be listed there. [pause] 'Cause they were gun running as well, that’s what we were doing there [?] just trying to pick up the gun runners at night [background noises].
CH: I'll pause that. What were you saying about the Cypriots?
PB: They were very clever in the way they smuggled their weapons and stuff in, that’s why we were doing these orbits around Cyprus at night to try and catch the boats, the little boats they used to get weapons over, and explosives and that sort of stuff, yeah.
CH: Was this the time of EOKA?
PB: Yes, exactly, yes, yes. [pause] I think it was eighty something, yes.
CH: That would have been in the fifties, nineteen fifties.
PB: Yes, that’s it [indistinct]. But I moved over onto the Vulcan, 'cause we went off to Finningley for our conversion and I’d only flown on piston aircraft, piston air, and I sat in this, monster and he said, er, ‘opening the throttles, full throttle’, whump, and I found myself up over my seat and I thought, good grief, [laughs], and I, I got the instruments in front of me 'cause we’d got an altimeter and an airspeed indicator, and he shot down the runway and I watched the altimeter go like that [laughs], winding upwards [laughs]. I’m not in a fighter but a fantastic performance, it really was, but I did get used to it of course, in the end, but, one or two of the blokes I flew with like Dave Thomas and, and Andy, could really handle a Vulcan well. Dave Thomas, when we’d, we'd done a display, we were coming home one Sunday and he said, ‘Do you mind if I try and roll it?’ and I said, ‘Well, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t Dave’, and he did a roll and my desk lid lifted about half an inch and went down again, that’s all I knew, but somebody on the ground saw him, reported it to 1 Group Headquarters, and we were all summoned to see the AOC [laughs] 'cause we were both squadron leaders and he gave us both a right rollicking, and he said, ‘Don’t ever do that again’, [emphasis] well he said, ‘If you do don’t let anybody see you’, [laughs] ‘And would you like to stay for lunch’, [laughter] so he wasn’t really annoyed [laughs], but. Ah, ha, but, we did have some fun in the Vulcan one way and another [pause]. Ah. When we were training we were given a weekend off and, mother was always very pleased because we got a special, ration for aircrew and it added to her points, I think it doubled them just about and of course we got a free railway warrant, so I used to always, um, ask for a one to Birmingham and I used to exit at New Street station which was open and then catch the bus home, and that way I ended up with a few free tickets, you see, that I, I could use later on, which I did and during the war, yes it was very handy, but , yes every six weeks we were sent, to, to clear off and have a rest, eh, because we never knew but the sky over Britain was, must have been full of aeroplanes at night, that we didn’t know about, there was no radar cover, nothing like that, you just flew and fingers crossed, hope for the best that you saw everybody else, eh, fortunately we survived, no problems [laughs].
CH: Did you keep in contact with any of your crew that you flew with in the war?
PB: Yes, yes, eh, I haven’t contacted Henry, I did John Tidmarsh for a little while, I’ve lost contact with him.
AB: Johnny, Johnny King.
PB: Yes, but , Johnny King that, flew with since the war, yes, still in contact with him, he's in Canada but, we're in regular contact, yes, we flew together on, on Lincolns, yes, in fact he was a flight engineer and then, changed to pilot, trained to be a pilot, yeah.
AB: Lorenzo, Lorenzo.
PB: Yes, eh, anything else I’ve forgotten?
AB: Lorenzo.
PB: Oh yes, I kept in contact with Keith but he’s dead now of course, passed away.
AB: The Canadian ones, we’ve been over to Canada and stayed with them.
PB: But, [interrupted].
CH: Were there Canadians in your crew?
PB: Er, no, no there was, one Irish and the other one was a Londoner, the two gunners, yeah, one London, one Irish and one London. Paddy Mack [?], he was the rear gunner and there’s a little London fella, I can’t remember his name is the mid upper gunner, and I was the reserve gunner if necessary [laughs] but, I was never used [pause]. I think that’s about all I can remember, apart from the fact that flying was always cold, very, very cold [emphasis]. The only warm place in the Lancaster was in my position in fact, er, that wasn’t too bad, but the rest of them the Anson and the Wellington were perishing [laughs]. You used to wear as much clothing as we could to keep warm and you could hear the gunner in the back cracking the ice in his oxygen mask [laughs], crunching away [laughs], [coughs] but eh, you learn to live with these things [pause]. On Vulcans, Andy Milne and er, the rest of them [interrupted]
AB: Dave Thomas.
PB: Yes, but I think Andy Milne [interrupted]
AB: Jerry Strange.
PB: Was the best, 'cause we, we went on the bombing competition twice so we must have been pretty good [interrupted]
AB: And won, each time.
PB: But eh, yes, we beat the Americans at one stage but er, out in Barksdale, they didn’t like that very much [laughs], poor old, but they’ve been very good to us the Yanks I must admit, yes, um, but yes that was, that was a very good crew I must admit and we, we're still in touch, all of us. Yes, Andy's down in Devon with his own small holding, and, but our co-pilot settled in the Far East, built himself a house [unclear]
PB: And er, my navigator’s still around, he comes, still comes to the meetings occasionally [pause] but, trying to think that’s, that’s about the limit of -. 'Course, there was our, my crash in the Vulcan, that was quite interesting [laughs]. Well we got to — went out to fly one day, Flight Lieutenant Galway was the captain at the time and, I was the AEO, Stan Grierson was the co-pilot, and we had, Alan Bowman and, was the radar. Anyway we got, this, almost brand-new Vulcan, it had got about ten hours on the air frame. Anyway, climbed on board, and set off and we were flying about an hour, when Ivor said, ‘The hydraulic pressure's reading zero’, I said, ‘Well tap the gauge Ivor, you know, use the old knuckle’, [laughs] he tapped it, wouldn’t come back you know, I said oh, ‘Hang on then I’ll see if it’ll move my,’ got a little scoop on the rover gas turbine in the wing, a little motor, I put my switch on and off, didn’t move, I said, ‘This looks ominous Ivor, it looks to me as if we’ve lost all our hydraulic pressure’, ‘But we’ve got air, we’ve got air, yes, have no fear, we’ll go back and use the air,’ he says, 'Okay, right', so we, we came back to base and um, burnt off a bit of fuel, you know as much as we could and then he said, ‘Right selecting emergency air, undercarriage down,’ down it went, bang’ [emphasis]. Two greens, one red. Oh dear, [sigh] ‘Which is the one?’ he said, ‘It’s the starboard wing, port undercarriage has not gone down and locked’. Now that’s bad, you can’t do anything about that at all. ‘I’ll check the electrics just to make sure that it’s not a fuse’, it wasn’t. So, he said, ‘Well , what about bailing out?’ I said, ‘Bailing out!, the nose wheels down', I said, 'I’ll go sliding out and the first thing I’m going to hit is the nose wheel,’ I said, I’m not too keen on that Ivor, if you don’t mind,’ I said, ‘The navigator and the radar might want to have a go?’ but, he looked at me and said, ‘No sir, I said, ‘What are you going to do Ivor?’, he said, ‘Well, I’m going to land her’, he said, ‘I’m going to try and land’, I said, ‘Well I'm, you are going to have two, three passengers on board as well, so to make sure you don’t clear off we’ll keep the safety pins in the seats all right, if you don’t mind, so you don’t accidently pull those handles and disappear,’ [laughs] he said, ‘Right oh,’ he said, I said, ‘Well, shall we prepare for a crash landing,’ he said, ‘That’s a good idea,’ so, we went through the drill, he said, ‘What we’ll do, we’ll pull the handle, get rid of the canopy, so that we can get out of the top at the front if anything happens,’ you know, that, and he said, ‘We'll, we’ll try.’ So he, he did a roller and it held up, but eh, and we went round again, came in, he said, ‘Well, here we go, hang on fellas.’ And eh, as he lowered the wing, bump [emphasis] down it went, straight onto the ground [laughs]. Round we went, twice [laughs]. We came to a halt about twenty yards from another Vulcan [laughs]. The bottom, our exit was okay, it was clear, actually, we could get out and the aero, the aeroplane was still upright, there was enough room for us to get out and clear off, which we did, as quickly as possible [laughs]. The aeroplanes left there with its wing on the ground, eh, yeh, a complete failure of the down leg had cracked [whispering], split, and all the hydraulic fluid had vented [?] to air. Nothing you could do about it [background noises].
CH: Let’s just pause this.
[interview paused]
PB: Crash landed twice in Rhodesia, [laughs] flying along and the pilot [background noises] said to me, ‘The controls have jammed,’ he said, ‘I can’t move the control column Phil, [background noises] can you come and give me a hand up here?’ I did, we couldn’t shift it at all, we were in a steady slow climb, so he said, ‘[unclear] I'm going to wind full nose trim on, we’ll go down and look for somewhere flat’ [laughs]. Which is what he did, [laughs] we did a very slow descent, we got two nav- cadets on board and I said, ‘Get in your crash landing position, it might be a bit bumpy when we land,’ but they [unclear] were very good you know, straight in, bent the props back and all the rest of it, chopped the ground up a bit, but er, opened the back door and the two lads jumped out, not even a bruise, yeah, yes. A clapped out old Anson you see, the control cables had dropped through the guides and jammed, you couldn’t move 'em, but there we are [laughs]. These are little things you’ve got to be ready for [laughs]. Yes, I had a time when I had to fly the aeroplane back when the pilot fell asleep, as well, poor [unclear] Freddy [laughs]. I said, ‘Fred, [laughs] we need to go back to base Fred’, [laughs] Fred Holloway, ‘What you say Phil?’ [laughs]. I said, ‘One eighty and head for Thornhill Freddy,’ [emphasis] [laughs] ‘oh, you’ll have to do it Phil’, I said, ‘Oh, crikey, I’ve not done this before Freddy,’ [laughs] ‘Nothing to it,’ he said, ‘Just keep it steady,’ he was right, you know I just [laughs], half an hour we were back over the top and he was awake by this stage. I said, ‘Do you think you could land it Freddy?’ oh, got the goose necks out there they are, I could see them, oh, he managed it. Ah, he’d been flying continually for, I think it was a week we’d been doing night flying and without any rest, or something like that, he’d overdone it [pause] yes, right oh, [pause] yes. Well the, the trips to the Congo were, well the Russians packed it in, they wouldn’t go, they, they’d got their aircraft out there, but , they said it was too dangerous, apparently. The weather was always icy [unclear], you know, going through the front but, we just, filled the old Hastings up with their soldiers and off we went and did it, but , we managed to get there and back okay.
CH: What was it that you were doing in the Congo?
PB: Ferrying the United Nations troops from, Nigeria and Ghana into the Congo to, as a peacekeeping — peacekeeping force really, because there were, having a, a dreadful war out there, Katanga, and political as well. They were slaughtering each other left, right and centre, as they do, out there, and so that’s what we were doing, ferrying the troops back and forth [pause]. RAF Transport Command, the black people saw 'em and thought they were commandos, that we were ferrying commandos in to attack them. And eh, we had to go through Leopoldville, which every time we went through, this chap in his ragged [unclear] came out with his hand, wanting so many thousand dollars so that we could go through and get into the Congo proper, where we wanted to be, and, I've forgotten how many thousand dollars we had to hand over, and if you didn’t they set up a light machine gun and trained it on the aeroplane, [laughs] so we paid [laughs]. Yes, we had to put on our United Nations hats, be part of the United Nations force, as opposed to the Royal Air Force [pause].
AB: I don’t know I didn’t hear what she said either Phil.
PB: Eh [unclear] yes, but , yes, yes, you never know — know when you were going to get through or not, that was the trouble, they tried to pull us back once because they thought we’d got the Prime Minister on board, they thought he was, the, the Prime Minister that had been giving them all the trouble, they thought we’d kidnapped him and we were taking him away [laughs] and they said, you must return to Leopoldville immediately, but er oh, it was old Bill Corker[?] who was flying, he says, ‘Tell 'em not bloody likely,’ [laughs] he said, ‘We’re going back to Accra as fast as we can [laughs] and we're not going back to Leopoldville, thank you’ [laughs]. Yes, that was their, the, the biggest problems were handling these people properly, so they could be very tricky these, black politicians. I’ve forgotten what his name was now but he was, [background noises] he caused a lot of trouble out there [pause], 'cause they’re all starving, and, we gave them all our food, all of us [unclear], as much as we could [pause].
AB: And this is one of the letters from the one he's talking about.
PB: Yes [unclear].
AB: Because they used to write regularly to us, letting us know what was going on in the other, the half and I just thought there might be something in here, erm, well there is about killing two Europeans before they got off, before we let you go we are going to kill two Europeans. I’d have to go through the whole of the letter for. I think they're the only two letters we kept, we had piles of them, didn’t we? [pause]. Yes, why I brought that out that was to show you that that’s how we used to communicate.
PB: I remember that, that’s the first time I saw Dennis’s name in, in print after he was , in the chapter called, “Men Like These”, yeah.
AB: Yes, it is only a small part of it, but I just thought that you would be interested, you know, because a lot of it happened in the era that you don’t remember. But, I think maybe David’s got the book.
PB: Oh yes, possibly yes, the one with the red cover, yeah, yes, bit tatty but , yes, yes it was a good book, yes.
AB: Any book that’s got a bit about the family in it, is good [laughs].
PB: I’m sixty, four, forty, KCs, but, as I say the aircrew of course, treat these things with er, well I, I can’t say it really, because its racist but er, [laughter] ‘Hello, hello darkies speak to me you black’ [laughs] and such like, as aircrew a lot, but, bit like that I’m afraid [laughs]. But, er, he’d never heard of it he said, but I said, 'Oh I can assure you it was an emergency [unclear] system during World War Two'.
AB: I know this has only got to do with [unclear].
CA: Not to mention the high jinks you got up to after a dining in night, and you decided to drive down to London to see the Queen, in a sports car, four of you, do you remember that?
AB: I remember them going, yeah. I remember them coming home [laughs] yeah, but that, is that the sort of thing you also want to know about?
PB: What's that?
AB: When you and, erm, what’s his name, all climbed into his sports car to go to visit his auntie, in London.
PB: In Mayfair.
AB: You and?
PB: Stan Grierson.
AB: And Ivor Galway.
PB: And Ivor Galway.
AB: All in their mess kit.
PB: Yes, not, not the best thing to do.
CA: Not having [?] imbibed a certain amount of alcohol?
PB: Weren’t in our right senses, no. ‘We’ll go and see my aunt, she lives in Mayfair [interrupted].
AB: This is from Cottesmore [unclear].
PB: 'She’s got a very nice flat’. ‘Okay Stan, yes, let’s go’. We get the car [laughs] oh dear.
AB: Carry on love.
PB: Yes, then all the wives panic, ‘Where’s my husband gone?’ [laughs]. ‘Don’t know, haven’t the faintest idea?’ We were on our way home, safe and sound.
AB: Yes, all of us were ringing each other up, the wives, to find out, is he home yet, to [unclear], Ivor’s wife, ‘No he’s not home yet, haven’t heard from him’, 'Haven’t you heard from them?’ ‘No.’ They were in London, in their mess kit, all in one sports car, they'd stayed the night, had their breakfast with auntie and then set off to come home. Arrived home at, oh I don’t know, maybe eleven o’clock, eleven am, to irate wives as you can well imagine, having been, been one [laughs]. Go on carry on, what happened then?
PB: Well, that was it wasn’t it, young and irresponsible, absolutely, totally irresponsible.
CA: As children, we were told you’d gone to see the Queen.
AB: Yes [laughs].
PB: Especially for a mature gentleman like you, yes.
AB: Well, you were the oldest member of the crew, you were the responsible one, all the others were young.
PB: Yes exactly, yes, I was the leader, yeah, yeah.
AB: I mean what a thing to do after a dining in night, you'll know about the dining in nights and how they, raucous they can get. Let’s go to London and see the Queen.
PB: It seemed a good idea at the time, yes, yes [laughs].
AB: You can imagine them arriving in London can’t you, all in their mess kit [pause]. Auntie didn’t turn a hair, did she?
PB: No.
AB: Gave them breakfast and sent them on their way [laughs].
PB: Yes, she did have a very nice flat, in Mayfair.
AB: It’s a pity those sort of things can’t come in the thing, 'cause they are hilarious, you know, but erm, what else did you do?
PB: Oh well, I’ve always been a good fellow you know that, I haven’t done anything.
AB: What about the ones in Nottingham? Auntie, in Nottingham, and Fosco?
PB: [laughs] Yes.
AB: I think we wives could write a book.
PB: Yes, come home, all is forgiven, Mother Vallance [laughs].
AB: This was, shall I carry on with it? This was one, one of the young men was, was violently sick when they went to stay in this house in Nottingham where they all used to go if they couldn’t get home 'cause the last bus went at seven o’clock at night, I mean, ridiculous really, so they used to go and stay, and he was very sick in the bedroom and he didn’t tell any of the crew, 'til he got home, and of course, she, the landlady went up and found all this, and she, she eh, was furious obviously. They all sent her a bunch of flowers and a letter saying, you know, we are sorry about this, and she wrote a letter back saying, all is forgiven, come home, love Mother Vallance [laughter]. 'Cause, this is when they were all at Coningsby.
PB: [laughs].
AB: But there’s lots of little stories like that, you know, that don’t come under the terms of flying, you know, but I think we should do a book on what the wives remember [laughs].
PB: Yes.
AB: Anymore?
PB: No, he’s still going strong, isn’t he Fosco?
AB: Yes, the one who was sick, he must be about, they were, they were all probably five or six years younger than Phil, he was the oldest member of the crew, erm, so he will probably be in his early eighties.
PB: Yes.
AB: Still lives at Coningsby. It's funny thinking about them all now, you know, it —
PB: Yes.
AB: 'Cause, Ivor Galway, the pilot of the plane that crashed, he used to live at Woodhall Spa.
PB: Yes ah.
AB: She had an unhappy end didn't she, committed suicide, a lot of the wives couldn’t take the pressures, as they were in those days, you know, the bomb and what not, you know. You, you never knew when they were called out on a QRA, does your husband, still do, is he still in the air force?
CH: No, it’s my son.
AB: Pardon?
CH: My son.
AB: Oh son. So, he would still do QRAs, rushed out in the middle of the night.
PB: Yes, that’s right.
AB: A lot of funny stories about QRAs and being called out.
PB: We used to wait for the call, ‘Attention, attention, this is the bomber controller for Waddington QRA only, readiness zero two is now in force’, and jumped in the car and straight out to the aeroplane and fire it up and get ready. That’s what they used to do [pause].
AB: It’s alright, that’s just a little passage, from the book. They arrived at the door in their flying kit having been brought home by bus because they were all, you know, a bit shaken.
PB: The MO thought we were all shook up, he said 'Go home', yes, I said 'I’m not shook up'.
AB: And we didn’t care less anyway we were, we were too busy with our sherry [laughs].
PB: Yes.
PB: Yes, QRA was a bit of, bit of a, bit of a bind but eh — [interrupted].
AB: And your son will know all about that if he, do they still do QRAs?
PB: Yes, well I suppose they do really eh, sleep in your kit and er, be ready to go eh, at a moment’s notice and it was eh, sort of broken sleep, that sort of thing, mind you at the same time, the food in the aircrew feeder was excellent eh, 'cause we had our own little restaurant, yes, but , [coughs] and of course, you could probably go a couple of nights without being called at all, and then suddenly, you know ‘Attention, attention, this is the bomber controller,’ and eh, and off you’d go, but, but you took your turn, you weren’t on it all the time [pause].
AB: Can I speak [whispered]. 'Cause that’s how a lot of the wives couldn’t cope because they never knew when they were called out on QRA, where they were going and what they were going to do. They could have been called to Russia and when they've passed a certain boundary time, place, they can’t turn round and come home again, they have to keep going, and a lot of the wives, lot of the wives could not cope with this, not knowing when their husbands went out on a QRA call, whether they were coming home or not.
PB: Yes.
AB: Especially the ones who were called out on the, the last, the Falkland do.
PB: Yes.
AB: They actually all wrote letters to their wives because once they got out they wouldn't have been able to turn round and come back.
PB: I think the really serious one was the missile crisis with Russia, you know, with the ships eh, going to Cuba, and J F Kennedy was the really serious one [pause]. That’s where — where we were on full alert, ready, ready to go, actually. Not that anyone wants to 'cause you know well that, there'd be nothing to come back to, if it ever happens, that’s why we want to stop these missiles spreading, it’s very difficult to do but we must try our best.
CH: I shall end that there. Thank you very, very, much Phil.
PB: Yes [laughs].
CH: Thank you.



Cathie Hewitt, “Interview with Philip Batty,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 14, 2024,

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