Interview with John and Vera Casey


Interview with John and Vera Casey
Interview with John Casey


Before the war, John Casey worked for Vickers Armstrong. He joined the Royal Air Force and completed his training as a warrant officer at RAF Padgate. He learned how to fly Stirling aircraft at RAF Wigsley, Wellington aircraft at RAF Bruntingthorpe and Anson aircraft in Wales. He served at RAF Coningsby where he was trained to fly Lincoln aircraft and was at RAF Skellingthorpe as a member of 61 Squadron. At RAF Skellingthorpe he flew Lancaster aircraft. He survived one air crash by bailing out. On a later occasion, the navigator on an operation was killed and they managed to land in Woodbridge, in a badly-damaged aircraft. He participated in Operation Dodge. John met Vera, a farmer’s daughter, at RAF Coningsby. She recalls life on the farm adjoining the station during the war years, how some of their land was used to extend the runway and how the aircrew used to help with the harvest.







00:35:17 audio recording

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JC: Right I’m John Casey. Member of 61 Squadron Bomber Command and my number is 2219470. I met my wife at RAF Coningsby, a farmer’s daughter and we still live on the camp outskirts and that’s about it I think.
I originally worked for Vickers Armstrong’s in civvy street in 1943, of course I was a bit fed up with the job. It was a reserved occupation and one day we had half a day off my friend who worked in the pits and me we went down to Durham City had a day off and had a few drinks and decided we wanted to join the Air Force – air crew. So we went to the recruiting office and as it happened one of the chaps in there was a station warrant officer what I met years later in the RAF. A warrant officer [Holliday]. And we signed on. Of course my friend he had a shift off he worked in the pits. He was refused. He wasn’t accepted but I was accepted and I did my training at Padgate near Manchester and I originally ended up at RAF Coningsby where I met my wife, a farmer’s daughter, at the sergeant’s mess, at a dance one night. And from RAF Coningsby I went on operations, Skellingthorpe near Lincoln and that was where I finished the war. And I was posted to Coningsby.
VC: Wittering.
JC: Wittering yeah. I used to write to my wife from Wittering. I eventually was posted to Coningsby here where I met my wife, a farmer’s daughter, at a sergeants mess ball one night.
VC: But you went lots of other.
JC: Hmmn?
VC: You went to lots of other aerodromes before.
JC: Yes.
VC: You came to Coningsby.
JC: Yes I went to Wittering.
VC: And where you did your flight from
JC: Wittering and where else?
VC: Where you went on your raids. Where you went on your raids. You weren’t at Coningsby then.
JC: No I was Skellingthorpe.
JC: On bombing raids. I didn’t quite quite finish a tour. I did two thirds of a tour when the war finished. And from there I was posted to Coningsby where I met my wife in a sergeant’s mess dance one night. She was a farmer’s daughter. And I ended up there at the end of the war. That was about it I think.
JC: Well I was posted to Wigsley on Stirlings, training on Stirlings and then on one of the trips we caught fire, crashed and I bailed out and four members of the crew was killed in it. And then when I got back I was posted to Skellingthorpe on Lancasters. And on one raid there we got shot up over a place called Giesen [?] and we had a navigator killed. We managed to get back with a bit of effort from the bomb aimer. His knowledge wasn’t too good about navigating but he managed to get us back and we landed at Woodbridge at Suffolk. We were there two or three weeks till they got the aircraft repaired. It had got damaged in the attack and we got back to Coningsby and later on I met my wife at a sergeants mess dance. Did I
VC: You did lots more raids before then.
JC: Oh I did a few raids before that.
MJ: Where did you do your training?
JC: Bruntingthorpe on Wellingtons. And I was on Ansons in Wales.
MJ: That’s where you did gunnery training?
JC: Yeah gunnery training in Wales and the OTU at Bruntingthorpe in Leicestershire. From there, from Bruntingthorpe I went to Wigsley on Stirlings. I crashed in one of the Stirlings and I can remember the Caterpillar Club. I have a caterpillar.
Other: What is the Caterpillar Club?
JC: It’s a club for people who bailed out. Saved their lives when the bailed out
Other: Well people don’t know what the Caterpillar Club is so
JC: No.
Other: So that is?
JC: Yeah I’ll explain it.
Other: Yeah that would be good.
JC: It was for members that had bailed out of an aircraft and saved their lives.
MJ: You jumped out with – there was how many people were in the plane at the time?
JC: It was my memory fades. It was a full crew and the screen pilot, screen navigator and they were both killed and we -
MJ: Not all of you got out did you?
JC: Not all of us got out.
MJ: ‘Cause you were actually quite low weren’t you?
VC: You crashed near the Trent.
JC: Yeah.
VC: River Trent.
JC: River Trent. My memory fades.
Other : John you told me, told your grandson some stories. If you can remember some of them that’s great if you can’t don’t worry about it we’ll see what happens just say whatever you fancy.
JC: Well that raid we got shot up it was over Giesen [?] and we were attacked by a Messerschmitt 109 and he killed the navigator outright. We was corkscrewing but the shells coming in the side of the aircraft killed the navigator and from then on we had to rely on the bomb aimer navigating to get us back to this country.
Other : Did you manage to get the 109 or did you have to run out?
JC: We shot at the 109 but we claimed him as a probable, he never come back and we was crippled. We only had three engines. That’s why he attacked us in the first place.
Other: How did you lose the first engine?
JC: We lost an engine going out. We only had three engines. I suppose he thought we were a sitting duck. Anyway he attacked us and his aircraft shells came the side of the aircraft when we were corkscrewing and caught the navigator. Killed him outright. Missed me and the rigger turret which was very fortunate. And then from then onwards we managed to escape and we had to rely on the bomb aimer navigating us back home which he only had a minimum amount of navigation, the bomb aimer. But over the North Sea we were met by a Spitfire and he directed us in to Woodbridge in Suffolk where we landed straightaway and they well washed the aircraft out and repaired it and got back to Coningsby about ten days later.
MJ: The ground crew were amazed it was still flying weren’t they?
JC: Yeah cause the machine gun went through the main spar wing spar and we were lucky to get back and we was down there oh I don’t know ten days to a fortnight.
Other: And did you get any time off in that those ten days? Or did you have to do other things?
JC: Able to go to Ipswich. Used to go into Ipswich, walked there a lot. Hitchhiked. There was a lot of Americans around there and then they got the aircraft mended and washed out. The fire brigade I remember washing it out cause it was all blood. And then sent another crew down to pick it up to go back to
Other: So you didn’t fly your own plane back?
JC: No.
MJ: So how did you get back to base?
JC: We had a crew.
Other: Oh you.
JC: Flown down from Coningsby
Other: So the, I don’t know which plane flew you home?
VC: Wittering
JC: Where
VC: Wittering or
JC: No.
VC: Skellingthorpe.
JC: Skellingthorpe. Just outside Lincoln. That’s where we were stationed. That’s where the bombers were.
Other: So you had a separate crew bring you back.
JC: Yes. Had a crew Skellingthorpe come down to bring us back.
Other: So how long was it before you got back on operations again?
JC: Skellingthorpe. [pause] I don’t think we went
MJ: From when you landed at Woodbridge how long before you went on ops again?
JC: I was at Woodbridge about ten days I think and then this group come down from Skellingthorpe and flew us back.
MJ: And then you were you went back on ops again.
JC: Trying to remember?
VC: Yes you did because you had a new crew.
JC: Yes I went back on ops and I got a different crew. Different navigator. And then from there I was posted to Coningsby when the war finished, to train for the Japanese war. Tiger force they called it.
Other: So what is Tiger Force then?
JC: Tiger force. The RAF that was going out to Japan. Converting over to Lincolns, a bigger bomber than Lancasters. Converting to Lincolns
MJ: So did you actually go on Tiger Force?
JC: We didn’t actually go to Japan but we trained on the Lincolns at Coningsby here. It was Coningsby weren’t it? Lincolns.
VC: They did have Lincolns yeah.
JC: My memory fades I’m afraid.
Other: That’s quite all right when you got your Lancaster back. Or a new Lancaster
JC: Yeah
Other: With a separate crew obviously it takes time to get used to your crew is are there any ops you can remember that that you would like to recite or are you not ready for that yet?
JC: Yes we did. We did some more trips after Harry was killed ‘cause we had a new navigator.
MJ: You always enjoyed talking about Operation Exodus. In Italy.
JC: Oh to Italy.
Other: What is Operation Exodus?
JC: Bring the troops back from Italy for demob.
Other: Could you explain to me how you did that please?
JC: Well the whole of Bomber Command used to go out over to Italy after the war, when the war finished and the whole of Bomber Command would go out to to Maggliano airfield just outside of Naples and we’d stop there for maybe, well the second time we were there for about three weeks and then they brought all the army back in lorry loads. A lorry load to one aircraft and flew, flew them back to England for demob.
MJ: You had a good time in Italy didn’t you?
JC: Yes we had a good time in Italy. And I finished up meeting my wife in Coningsby and I was there the rest of the war wasn’t I?
VC: Yes, yes you were you were demobbed from Coningsby. No you weren’t
JC: Ahum
Other : Were you at Operation Manna?
JC: No
Other: You weren’t
JC: No dropping food to the Dutch. No. Our aircraft wasn’t on that one but the squadron was. You see after we were attacked I was a bit slow in doing the evasive action and that’s why the bullets went in the side of the aircraft and killed the navigator.
Other: Do you, I don’t think you should worry about how fast your actions are.
JC: Ahum
Other: I feel that you might think it was your reactions that took the navigator out. I wouldn’t worry about that.
JC: Yeah.
Other: It wasn’t your fault. It was the situation you were in. You, you rescued the rest of the crew.
JC: Yeah.
Other: So
JC: We managed, managed to get back to this country. Woodbridge.
Other: Yeah I I mean so I can say can don’t worry about that bit just put that to the back of your mind because you did far more than you realise and a lot of other people do so we’re not we’re not looking for you to worry about what you say.
JC: No.
Other: Ok. So you flew out in to Holland. Yes?
JC: Yes for my first operation just [unclear] island off the Dutch coast which was holding up the advance of the army.
Other: So what did that involve? Did you have to -
JC: We had to bomb the emplacements on the island itself. Yeah we lost one or two aircraft on that raid cause I could see them going down.
MJ: Was there a lot of enemy fighters or was there a lot of flak.
JC: A lot of flak.
Other: There was a lot of flak.
JC: There were no fighters at [unclear] just plenty of flack.
Other: How many aircraft went with you? Do you remember?
JC: It was just a 5 Group effort you know. Just one group. Two hundred aircraft that was all but we lost quite a few bombers.
MJ: Was it daytime or night time?
JC: Daytime. It was daylight.
MJ: Yeah. High level? Low level?
JC: No, high level, well medium. Yeah. Yeah I could see the shells exploding outside the turrets cause I had a clear vision. You know the panel was missing. And I could see the shells anti-aircraft bursting on the road. And the aircraft. I could see them going down either side.
MJ: Did you manage to get your bombs dropped on that mission or did you -?
JC: Yes we got our bombs dropped. Whether we hit the breakwater or not I don’t know ahum in fact it was my first operation. Was. Yeah.
VC: Well I am John’s wife and I’ve lived around the aerodrome ever since it was built in 1939 and the first aircraft were Beaufort and it was a very short runway in those days going back to ’39. And then we had Mosquitos and then the Lancasters came well we had others in between then but I honestly can’t remember. The Lancasters came and then we had the American Flying Fortresses and they had to extend the runway then because they weren’t long enough so they took quite a bit of my father’s land to build, to do the runway longer and the Fortresses stayed and then we had Manchesters and then we had Lancasters and we finished up the war with the Lancasters still here and while they were here we unfortunately had one or two taking off and crashing. One crashed into one of our fields. Unfortunately all of the crew were killed which was very upsetting. And then later, just later and that on a Lancaster and didn’t gain height and crashed into the gasworks on the River Bain and unfortunately all the crew there were killed and it was most upsetting, and we lost quite a few of the Lincolns, Lancasters on bombing raids. We used to count them coming back cause they flew quite near to our house and we could lie there during the night. They would wake us when they started coming back but they didn’t all come back but well we just used to live the life and we had quite a lot of friendly airmen on the camp. They used to come down to the farm and.
JC: Work.
VC: They used to work on the potatoes and the harvest.
Other: So the airmen actually helped you with the farming as well?
VC: Yes they did Yes they were very good. That was usually the lads that worked in the flying control. They quite, you know, different lads came on different days when they weren’t on duty and yes they were very helpful, very helpful and well we got to know quite a few of the air force, the lads on the, they used to come down to the farm and well some were interested, very interested yes.
JC: Pay them with cigarettes.
VC: Sorry.
JC: Pay them with cigarettes and that, and money.
VC: No. No, my father wouldn’t have encouraged them to smoke.
JC: Well he did.
VC: No.
JC: He did. When I was there. Gave them cigarettes.
VC: Well I didn’t know that. He didn’t let me know that. [laughs] ‘cause we weren’t allowed to smoke [laughs] but no they used to usually get well as far as I know they got paid as they finished because they didn’t come every day. They came probably two or three days and then.
Other: Yeah did you manage to get out of the farm yourself or were you doing so much of the farm work on the land.
VC: Oh I was working alongside them that’s what I spent my life doing yeah.
Other: So you worked and you played hard as well.
VC: No well there wasn’t a lot to do really.
JC: One of our Nissen huts was on the land wasn’t it?
VC: Sorry
JC: A lot of the Nissen huts was next to the farm.
VC: Oh yes we had the aircrew billeted in Nissen huts on part of our field, you know, part of our land.
JC: [unclear]
VC: Yes we used to.
Other: So you never got rid of them?
VC: [laughs] No.
JC: They used to mess about at night when they come home drunk tipping all the crates over and
VC: Oh no they weren’t too bad. Just mischievous
Other: Were you mischievous?
VC: No [laughs] I guess I was yeah. It was a hard life but that was the life. You worked manually. There weren’t the machines. We had horses. We did eventually we did get our first tractor in 1963 but
Other: Did the aerodrome itself affect your farming in any way? Scare your horses or
VC: No not really no no
MJ: Just the fact that they concreted a lot of it.
VC: True yes.
JC: Had a mosquito taking off one day on the runway.
VC: Yes that’s right.
JC: Went Right through the tatie garden didn’t it? Old Mr North, old chap who used to lived with us could have put his hand out and touched it as it went past.
VC: Yes that was a little bit -
JC: We had mosquitos at the time.
Other: Mosquitos used to leave from this airfield as well?
VC: Yes they did. Oh yes.
JC: This was a little while after the war like.
VC: Oh yes we’ve had all kinds
JC: We had Washingtons here those big American ones here. We had them here. Washington aircraft
VC: We even had some Lysanders. Well two Lysanders once.
JC: Ahum
VC: This was at the beginning of the war, you know.
Other: So what happened there then?
VC: No they just used to fly around. I think they used to go over taking photos you know. Used to fly over Germany well not Germany but Holland and the coast there.
Other: So you never knew when they were going to drop in on you?
VC: [laughs] No, that’s quite right. No it was, well it had it’s good times and its bad times.
JC: The aircraft were super forts.
VC: Yeah.
VC: [unclear] weren’t they.
JC: Yes they were.
Other: Did they ever have parties or anything in the billets or did your dad not let them?
VC: Party in the village?
Other: No you said they were billeted on your farm. I wondered if they ever -
VC: Oh, yes – no, no. I mean well you lived that kind of life then.
MJ: What?
VC: I mean you knew they were going on a raid and didn’t know if they would come back so you just accepted that they had to live as
Other: Live fast.
VC: Yes
Other: Did you manage [unclear] with them as well?
VC: No we didn’t see them very much. They were night raiding. They would be sleeping during the day and they used to spend a lot of the time on the airfield because you know they’d got the NAAFI and the
Other: Sergeant’s Mess?
VC: The Sergeant’s mess and what have you was on the airfield and they would go there for their food and what have you and spend their time on the field, on the airfield when they weren’t, weren’t flying. Yeah. Yes I’d forgotten about the Nissan huts
Other: Are they still there or
VC: No no they were taken down years ago. No. Well after the war finished they took them down and worked the land again. It’s back into production. They used to use our land a lot because of the bomb dump was, they had a bomb dump.
Other: Oh what is a bomb dump then?
VC: They used to store bombs.
Other: That was on your land as well?
VC: No just on the edge of our land. Our land went up to it and they used to travel. Put a concrete road through our farm so that it was not mud tracks but they used to go into the airfield. When they’d lengthened the runways they made an exit and you know, into the airfield itself instead of, you know, coming through ours all the time. It was, it’s still there. Course they don’t use it any more.
Other: It’s still there?
VC: It is still there.
JC: Yeah. Bomb dump.
VC: I don’t think, I can’t think of anything else.
MJ: No. How did you meet grandad?
VC: At the sergeants mess dance. Us village girls used to go to the
MJ: So you’d go on the base?
VC: Yes.
JC: Yes she was with her sister and another young girl. A hairdresser. Weren’t you?
VC: Yes.
JC: Three of them.
VC: Yes a group of us used to go.
MJ: How often?
VC: I don’t know. About once a month. Something like that.
JC: Something like that.
MJ: Good parties?
VC: Sorry?
MJ: Good parties?
VC: It was just a dance.
JC: Sometimes they had a buffet didn’t they?
VC: If it was a special one?
JC: Aye. A special one
VC: Yeah but not very often. Not during the war anyway.
MJ: Much to drink?
VC: No. I don’t think there was a bar. I don’t know Tim ‘cause I never drank.
MJ: I bet Grandad did
JC: Aye grandad did.
VC: I wouldn’t have dared. Oh it’s still on.
MJ: Right let me on the behalf of The International Bomber Command Oral History Project thank Warrant Officer Casey and Vera Casey for their stories on the 10th June 2015. The project thanks you.



Mick Jeffery, “Interview with John and Vera Casey,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 15, 2024,

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