Interview with John Derek "Bill" Bailey. Two


Interview with John Derek "Bill" Bailey. Two


Part two of the interview with Derek Bailey, a bomb aimer with 103 and 166 Squadrons.
Towards the end of the war, Derek did various bomber instructor courses and became a bombing instructor at RAF Lossiemouth on Wellingtons for Free French aircrew in 4 Group. He was an expert on the Mark XIV bombsights. He would deliver some lectures and fly as a screened bomb aimer to check they were following the correct procedures.
On the invitation from a flight commander, Derek volunteered to join Tiger Force at RAF Swinderby, a Heavy Conversion Unit onto Lancasters. They trained on a different navigational radar system, Loran, to get to Okinawa in the Far East. However, war then ended.
Derek was posted to RAF Blyton where he was designated as an equipment officer for bomb disposal in western Europe. He went on a course at RAF Bicester. Derek was demobilised when stationed at Technical Training Command headquarters at RAF Brampton. He had wanted to stay on in the RAF but did not want to lose his job with his employer.
Derek describes a typical day on operations and his role as bomb aimer, as well as a difficult operation to Abbeville in which Leonard Cheshire was the master bomber.
After the war, Derek was a company director in road transport and was very much involved with the Air Training Corps.




Temporal Coverage




00:49:33 audio recording


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HB: This is a further recording with Derek Bailey who was a bomb aimer with 166 squadron. It’s Friday the 13th of January 2017. Interview taking place in Blenheim Close, Hinckley. During the course of it there may be some sounds in the background as I’m in the process of copying a number of documents from Derek but we’re just talking about the fact that Derek was only twenty years old when he first signed up. That’s right isn’t it Derek?
JDB: No. Eighteen when I first signed up.
HB: Yeah. And that was, that was when you went to, where did you go to sign up?
JDB: Leicester.
HB: You went to Leicester.
JDB: On my eighteenth birthday I got on my bike and went down to Leicester to Ulverscroft Road and signed up.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: Went home and told my mother and she burst in to tears.
HB: Oh that’s right. Yes. Yeah. ‘Cause where we finished, where we finished the interview last time we’d just got to sort of the end of the war and we talked a little bit about the guy coming and asking you if you would go and join his crew.
JDB: That’s right.
HB: And we never got on to, never got quite into that. That was, that was something to do with the Far East wasn’t it Derek?
JDB: Yes it was.
HB: Right.
JDB: We got, do you want me to go into it?
HB: Yeah, please. Yeah. Yeah.
JDB: Well, the guy who came. At the time I was a bombing instructor up at Lossiemouth and one of the flight commanders came into our office and said, ‘I’m going back on ops. I need a bomb aimer. Who’s coming?’
HB: Right.
JDB: And so I volunteered myself and I joined his crew.
HB: What aircraft was, was that in?
JDB: Sorry?
HB: What aircraft was that in, Derek?
JDB: It was Lancasters.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: But at Lossiemouth -
HB: Yeah.
JDB: We were flying Wellingtons.
HB: Right.
JDB: Being an OTU and we, he came and enlisted me into his crew and then we got posted down to Swinderby to join Tiger, Tiger Force. The reason we went to Swinderby was that it was a conversion unit, a Heavy Conversion Unit and my new skipper had to do a conversion because he’d done his first tour on Halifaxes and needed to convert to Lancs.
HB: Right.
JDB: So that’s where we were and we got to Swinderby, we did the course and were in Tiger Force and then the war ended.
HB: So, so what was Swinderby like?
JDB: What was it –
HB: At that time of the war.
JDB: Well it was a Heavy Conversion Unit with Lancasters and it was just like any other Heavy Conversion Unit where people from OTU went to Heavy Conversion Unit and converted from Wellingtons to Lancasters.
HB: Yeah. How long had you been, just going back a little bit because you obviously finished your operational tour with -
JDB: 166.
HB: 166 and from there, I presume you had a bit of leave, that’s when you went to, after you’d finished your operational tour -
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Where did you go then?
JDB: Lossiemouth.
HB: And that so it was straight to Lossiemouth to the OTU.
JDB: Yeah. That’s right.
HB: And what were you doing at the OTU?
JDB: I was an instructor.
HB: Right.
JDB: A bombing instructor.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: I did several courses. I was an expert on the mark, oh Christ, where are we going now, saying I remember things. Mark 14 bomb sight and what other course did I do? I did the Mark 14 bomb sight, I did the actual bombing instructor’s course and there was something else which I can’t remember at the moment.
HB: Was it, would you have done, would you have done any special training to go, before that, to go to the HCU?
JDB: No. No. Not, for Swinderby you mean?
HB: Yeah.
JDB: No. No. That was just out of the blue.
HB: So you were, you were instructing at the OTU at Lossiemouth.
JDB: That’s right.
HB: Who was, who was the chap that came and asked you? Can you remember his name?
JDB: Yes. His name was, oh Christ, his name’s in my logbook actually.
HB: Oh right.
JDB: If you look in my logbook under Swinderby when you get to there and his name will be there. He took a duck in in seniority. He actually went from squadron leader back to flight lieutenant to take off his -
HB: Right.
JDB: The course at Swinderby.
HB: Was that Johnson?
JDB: Johnson. That’s it.
HB: Flight Lieutenant Johnson.
JDB: That’s him.
HB: Right. Yeah. Got him. Yeah. And it’s, and you’re shown all the way through to ‘45 your duty is air bomber.
JDB: That’s right.
HB: Yeah. Yeah so was it, what was, what was he? Was he a bit a character was he?
JDB: Who?
HB: Johnson.
JDB: Well, no not really. He’s just, just another Lanc pilot.
HB: Yeah. No. I just wondered how, sort of out of the blue he’d come.
JDB: Well, he -
HB: You know.
JDB: We’d got quite a few bomb aimers up at Lossiemouth and he got about, I don’t know, five or six to choose from.
HB: Yeah. I just wondered how he’d, he’d obviously, he’d obviously put his name up to go on Tiger Force.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: And it’s just it’s always intrigued me this business of how they got crews together. You sort of get the impression he suddenly thinks right I’ll go to Tiger Force and, oh I need a crew.
JDB: Yeah. That’s right.
HB: I’ll go and have a walk around and get a crew.
JDB: Yeah. Well he did.
HB: That’s pretty well what happened.
JDB: That’s exactly what he did. That’s what he did. He went around each section.
HB: Right.
JDB: The navigation section and sorted himself out a navigator, he sorted me out as a bomb aimer.
HB: Right.
JDB: Now. Oh I know, yes he got the gunners there and the wireless op. They were all sorted out up there and then we had to wait till we got to Swinderby before he got a flight engineer.
HB: Right.
JDB: And then, the input flight engineer we got, would you believe was a youngish, in fact he was a bloke I knew, I went to school with.
HB: Never.
JDB: He was recruited as our flight engineer and he was a pilot.
HB: Right.
JDB: Yeah because they were now getting a surplus of pilots you see and so this guy, I can’t remember his name but he was recruited as our flight engineer and he was, like I say he was a, he was a trained pilot.
HB: And you’d been to school with him.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Where would that, which school would that have been?
JDB: South Wigston Intermediate.
HB: Wow.
JDB: I can’t remember his bloody name.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: He was in the ATC with me at Wigston.
HB: Oh right. Yeah. Yeah ‘cause that’s right because yeah I remember you telling me now. You joined the ATC.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Yeah. And then when it, when it came the chance to, to join up, yeah. So you’ve all got together at, or the majority are together. You got to Swinderby. You’ve got a flight engineer. So, was there, like special training for Tiger Force at that point? I mean what was -
JDB: Yeah. Well the only bit of special training that I remember was, for Tiger Force, was that we were using a different navigational radar system. Instead of Gee which we used -
HB: Yeah.
JDB: Over Europe we were using, I think it was Lucan? Locan? No. It was a long range Gee if you like.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: Radar system and that was the only bit of training we got. We needed that to get to the bloody Far East in the first place.
HB: Yeah. So, so, where, where would you, where would you have been based had you actually got out with Tiger Force. Where would you gone to?
JDB: We were going to Okinawa.
HB: Oh right. Right. Yeah. Because obviously the Yanks had -
JDB: Well the Yanks were making Okinawa base ready for us
HB: Right.
JDB: And that’s where we were going.
HB: Right. It makes, it makes sense to do that. Yeah. And how, so how far did you get into that training before you were all stood down then?
JDB: Well we finished our course and then coincidentally the war ended as we were about to be posted to a squadron.
HB: Oh right. So oh of course you’re still on an HCU aren’t you?
JDB: Yes. Yeah.
HB: Yeah. So when you finished with 166.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Went to Lossiemouth. Instructor. But you were instructing on Wellingtons.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Did you not have to do any sort of conversion back for that? To go back on Wellingtons?
JDB: Well I did, I did a specialist course as an instructor you know because what we used to do as an instructor apart from delivering the odd lecture was to fly as a screened, a screened bomb aimer, fly with them to check that they were going through the procedures correctly and doing what they should be doing and they were all Free Frenchmen. We were training Free Frenchmen up at Lossiemouth.
HB: Oh right.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Oh right. ‘Cause, ‘cause there weren’t that many French bomber squadrons were there?
JDB: No. Well they were in 4 Group.
HB: Yeah. I think the French, one of the French squadrons I know about was based at Elvington.
JDB: That’s right
HB: Yeah.
JDB: They were. They were. Have you been to Elvington?
HB: I have.
JDB: Yes.
HB: I have. Very interesting.
JDB: Interesting isn’t it?
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Very interesting.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: That’s, so, right. So the Free French came to you for the training and then you get hijacked for Tiger Force and then as you say the war ends.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: So how did, what was the process of you dispersing then back -
JDB: Well -
HB: From that?
JDB: Well, before I left Lossiemouth, before I actually left there to go to Swinderby we started flying the Wimps down to Hawarden which is near Chester.
HB: The Wimps being?
JDB: Wellingtons.
HB: The Wellingtons. Yeah.
JDB: Yeah. And we, we took three down and brought one back with other crews in. Well not the entire crews.
HB: Right.
JDB: And so we ferried the aircraft. They were, I must say they were all disbursed with almost, almost undue haste.
HB: Right.
JDB: Really.
HB: Oh right. ‘Cause, yeah, so you, you flew out and flew these lot back.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Did you, did you ever do any of these Cook’s Tours?
JDB: No. I didn’t. No. Of course I wasn’t on a squadron then you see.
HB: Oh so. Right. I thought it was just something that happened, you know.
JDB: No. The squadron aircraft did the Cook’s Tours.
HB: Right.
JDB: Lancs. I don’t think they used any Wimps or anything.
HB: Yeah. ‘Cause I did speak to a guy who he was ground crew with Halifaxes and he did a Cook’s Tour in a Halifax.
JDB: Yeah. Yeah.
HB: All down around the Ruhr and -
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Around there. Oh right. So where did you actually, where were you stationed when you were actually demobbed then Derek?
JDB: When I was what?
HB: When you were demobbed. When you were, when you were -
JDB: When I, ah, I was stationed at Headquarters Tech Training Command.
HB: Oh right. Oh right. And what, and what rank did you have then?
JDB: Flight lieutenant.
HB: You were flight lieutenant then. Right. Right. And where was that at? Where was that based?
JDB: Brampton.
HB: At Brampton.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Right. Interesting. So the demob comes -
JDB: Yeah, well the demob. What happened was we were posted from, oh it was a ring around but we were posted from Swinderby. Went to, where did we go? Blyton I think. And they said, ‘What do you want to do?’ Well on the list of what do you want to do was Bomb Disposal Western Europe and that was getting rid of stocks of bombs so I thought well that, that suits my trade. I’ll put myself down for that and I did and I found myself sent to, I found myself being designated an equipment officer and I was sent to Bicester to do the course.
HB: Oh right. So yeah. Right. I suppose yeah so you’re going to go, you’re going to go to Europe.
JDB: No. I didn’t.
HB: Or wherever to get rid of bomb stores.
JDB: Oh yeah. I think they were dumped at sea.
HB: Yeah. But you never actually got to do it.
JDB: No.
HB: Oh right.
JDB: No. Well that’s sod’s law isn’t it? You know.
HB: Always the way.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Always the way. Yeah. So, so that doesn’t happen.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: And you’re going to leave the RAF. What, what –
JDB: Well no. No. I’m not going to leave the RAF.
HB: Right.
JDB: What I’d done I had actually signed on for six months past my demob date. My number.
HB: Right.
JDB: And in the meantime I’d applied for an extended service commission with a view to staying in the Royal Air Force.
HB: Right.
JDB: But in fact I didn’t hear anything and I was talking to the peace staff guys at command headquarters and they were saying, ‘Well you know we can’t rush things. We must, you know.’ I said, ‘Well I’ve got to make my mind up. I have got to make my mind up whether to leave the service or there won’t be a job for me where I, where I had a job before the war,’ sort of thing and and the day came when I had, I had to make a decision because my employer or potential employer had said, ‘Well look Derek if you’re going to sign on for any more time in the service we can’t keep your job for you.’ You know. ‘You, either you come back now or you don’t come back,’ and so I had, for various reasons, I decided that I would leave the, leave the air force. Which I did.
HB: Yeah. And how did you feel about doing that? Was that -?
JDB: Well I tried to go back again.
HB: Did you?
JDB: Yeah.
HB: When was that?
JDB: And I failed. Shortly afterwards. Not too long afterwards. I applied, I applied to start again sort of thing and I went for an interview to London to to air ministry as it then was and one of the questions the guy asked me was, ‘Well you’ve applied for a commission as an equipment officer.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Well, why?’ I said, ‘Well because you don’t want any more bomb aimers now and I would have liked to have been a pilot but right in the early days I was told I couldn’t be a pilot for an eyesight defect.’
HB: Right.
JDB: And so this guy persisted and said, ‘Well, why didn’t you apply when you re-applied? Why didn’t you apply again for a pilot?’ I said, ‘Because I thought it was a waste of time.’ Anyway I didn’t get it so -
HB: Oh right.
JDB: And by then, by then I’d come to the conclusion that I’d be better where I was anyway so that was the end of that.
HB: So we’re back to Civvy Street and -
JDB: Back to Civvy Street.
HB: And if I remember rightly you were working in the transport industry -
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Weren’t you?
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Yeah. So what was that like?
JDB: Well, it was, it was right in the middle of nationalisation.
HB: Right.
JDB: The company was being nationalised and blah blah blah and you know, eventually I ended up with a private company. I applied for and got a job with them and within about six months I was made a director of that company and that’s what I did for my entire working life then. I was a company director in road transport and, until I retired.
HB: Yeah. When did you actually retire Derek, from that?
JDB: When did I?
HB: Yeah.
JDB: Oh I was in my seventies.
HB: Blimey.
JDB: I’d already taken my pension. I was taking the pension and I was still working.
HB: Right. Right. So you’ve gone back to the transport industry but you do come back to the, was it, it was the ATC wasn’t it you came back to?
JDB: The what?
HB: The ATC.
JDB: No. Oh yeah. Do you mean as far as the uniform is concerned?
HB: Yeah because -
JDB: Yeah.
HB: At some stage you went back in to –
JDB: Yes I did. Yeah. After. It was a few years afterwards. There was a gap and a bloke came to me and said, ‘I’m with 1F founder squadron of the ATC in Leicester.’ It was a bloke I knew.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: And he said, ‘I need someone to teach our air cadets air navigation. How are you fixed?’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t know. Tell me more.’ Anyway, to cut a long story short I said ‘Ok I’d give it a go,’ so I did and I went to 1F and then a little while later I went to see a bloke on business and I was wearing an ATC tie and this guy said to me, Des Starbuck his name and he said to me, ‘Are you in the ATC?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Well I run the Coalville squadron and I’m desperately short of adults. How, do you feel like helping me out?’ So, so I, I sort of said, ‘Well I wouldn’t mind.’ And so the CO of 1F, he wasn’t very chuffed when I told him I wanted to leave his squadron but Coalville suited me better.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: Anyway I, so I went to Coalville and when I’d been there a few weeks old Des Starbuck said to me, he said, ‘Hey look, Derek, come on,’ he said, ‘You might as well get back into uniform and do the job properly.’ And I said, ‘Well alright. I’ll give it a go.’ So I did.
HB: Right.
JDB: And as I’d been commissioned before it was a very quick process. All a matter of filling a form in really.
HB: Oh right. Right. Yeah.
JDB: So -
HB: So, what year, what year, what year would this be Derek?
JDB: Well, it would be, I retired when I was fifty six and I did twenty years so it was nineteen, no, fifty six, and fifty do a bit of working out here.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: I retired when I was fifty six.
HB: Right.
JDB: So that means, and I was born, born in ’24.
HB: Yeah. So that’s 1980. Yeah.
JDB: I’ve lost myself.
HB: 1924. Plus -
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Plus fifty six.
JDB: Yeah. Well that’s when I retired.
HB: In 1980.
JDB: 1980. That’s when I retired.
HB: Right.
JDB: Twenty years I served so it was 1960.
HB: About 1960.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: All through the interesting years then.
JDB: Yes.
HB: All the youngsters with nothing to do and wanting to do things.
JDB: Yeah. That’s it.
HB: Brilliant. Right. And now, and were you able to bring your wartime experiences to the ATC?
JDB: Oh yeah. To some extent. The experience of the Royal Air Force was, was very helpful.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: So I was teaching them. I was teaching them air navigation because that was a subject for the ATC and some various other ones as well. I’ve got one of the textbooks still.
HB: Yeah. Did you actually fly with the ATC?
JDB: Oh yeah.
HB: Yeah. What sort of flying did they do?
JDB: Chipmunks.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: Gliding and if you went to an RAF base for camp probably get a flight in whatever aircraft they were operating at the time.
HB: Oh right. Right.
JDB: I had, I had trips to Malta, Germany and I took the first ATC camp to Cyprus. I was camp commandant.
HB: Oh right. When would that be Derek do you think?
JDB: It was Cyprus.
HB: Yeah. That would still be in the 60s.
JDB: I can’t remember exactly now. It, I must have some record somewhere. What happened was we used to have annual summer camps for selected cadets in Malta.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: And then when we withdrew from Malta we weren’t able to have the summer camps there and so they decided they’d try Cyprus but it was bit of a problem because of the cost.
HB: Right.
JDB: But anyway we did Cyprus and as I say I took the first camp there and it was very good, very successful and it’s a plum, I don’t know whether they’re still using it at the moment because of the, there must be a lot of actual operational flying going on from there at the present time with the conflicts in the Middle East.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: So -
HB: Yeah.
JDB: I don’t know.
HB: I just, one of the things that I thought of after we spoke last time Derek, because, because of the way you trained.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: And we went through quite a few of the operations that you flew on but I don’t think we actually talked about when you were flying operations.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: What a, what a sort of a typical, your job typically running up to and then going on the operation. I mean you’d obviously get called for briefing.
JDB: Yes.
HB: So having been called for or given a time for briefing what would your job do then until such time as you took off on an op? What would, what would you actually be doing?
JDB: Well the first thing to do, you’d go to the mess and have a meal.
HB: Oh right [laughs] yeah. Don’t forget to -
JDB: And then we go down to the flight, down to the briefing room at the prescribed time and go through the briefing.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: Until time to go out to the aircraft and then carry on from there.
HB: So what would your relationship be with the armourers?
JDB: Well I’d see the armourers earlier in the day.
HB: Right.
JDB: I used to go and see how many, how many bombs we’d got on board and how much petrol. Then I could guess where we were going. [laughs]
HB: Oh right. Right.
JDB: Roughly. If you’ve got a full load of juice.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: And a minimum load of bombs we’d be going on a short range one.
HB: Right.
JDB: And conversely of course. And then we would sometimes sit out on the, on the dispersal in a little shed they’d got there and having a chat with the armourers while waiting for take-off time.
HB: Did you, was part of your job actually checking the bomb load and checking the actual bombs?
JDB: No. It wasn’t. Nothing. Just checking they were on board. They were on. What was said were on. That’s all really.
HB: So how would you do that? Would you actually go to the bomb bay?
JDB: Just count them. Have a look.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
JDB: I mean sometimes the bomb bay was full and sometimes it wasn’t.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: The only, the only exception to the general run of things was when we were doing a bit of mine laying.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: And then they would put the mines on board. The naval petty officer was in charge of that and they’d load the mines on to the aircraft. Usually six of them. Six two thousand pounders. And then they would close the bomb doors and they were on for, until release where they were meant to be.
HB: Right.
JDB: They were never taken off and taken back to the bomb dump. Bloody things were magnetic and acoustic mines.
HB: Oh right. So how, how, I mean I suppose obviously there’s safety measures within the aircraft.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Particularly if they’re magnetic so once, once, once you’ve got them on the aircraft and you’re ready to take off you just, your job then is just to –
JDB: Drop them where they’ve got to be dropped.
HB: Drop them where they’ve got to be dropped.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: So you know, there’s no, you don’t go back during the flight and check everything and all of that.
JDB: Oh no. No. No.
HB: No. So –
JDB: I can’t get at them.
HB: No. No. So when you’ve taken off. You’re flying across to the target. Just can you just explain to me, say you’re about a mile, two miles out from the target and you’re going to start lining up for your bomb run. What, what’s the process then that you’re going through?
JDB: Well, when we’re approaching the target you would, the navigator had control and then when we were sort of whatever distance we decided we were away from the target he’d hand over to me and I’d be down the nose and start a visual, you’d have to have visual approach. We start the approach up in the cabin, on the H2S which is a radar system.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: It’s a ground mapping radar.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: And I would get, we’d locate, locate the point on the coast or whatever datum we were given and we would have to do an approach on that point and when we were directly overhead that started the countdown and from there I would be telling the pilot to steer a certain course from that point and I would have the bomb doors open and then we’d, after the sort of ten minutes or whatever time we’d got we’d, I would say after ten minutes, ‘Change course onto -’ whatever it was, if he needed to change course that was. Change course and start counting again to the, how many seconds and then I would release the weapon.
HB: Right. Right.
JDB: Or weapons. As the case -
HB: Yeah.
JDB: May be.
HB: Right. And that’s, don’t forget your tea Derek.
JDB: Oh I hadn’t forgotten it. Thank you.
SB (Wife of John): I’ll just make a cold drink.
HB: So, right, so you and this all the, all the systems obviously when you’re on the bomb run coming in.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Are you physically, are you physically controlling the aircraft or are you telling the pilot what to do?
JDB: Telling the pilot.
HB: Right. So at no time do you actually take over control of the aircraft for the actual bombing.
JDB: No. No. I could do. I could have done if needed to but generally speaking if I was going to do the drop on radar and not visually then I would probably control the aircraft then.
HB: Right. Right. And you’d, had you got sort of electronic controls in your position?
JDB: Well some aircraft did and some didn’t because there weren’t, everybody didn’t drop mines, didn’t do mine laying. So, yeah, usually I would tell the pilot when to, when to do turns and whatever. That’s all.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: The actual release of the weapons I would have control of at all times.
HB: Yeah. Yeah. Oh that’s, yeah, sorry. I just, I thought after the last interview I suddenly thought we’d talked about various bits and bobs.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: But we never actually went through the process of -
JDB: Yeah.
HB: How, how you actually did your job. So you’ve pushed the button or flipped the switch or whatever and the bombs have gone.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: What’s your job then on on the flight home?
JDB: On the flight home. Well, close the bomb doors and secure the aircraft and that’s it. That’s me done unless I need to use the H2s for navigational purposes.
HB: Right. So, what would be that, that would be an assistance to the navigator.
JDB: Yeah. That’s right, yeah, give him bearings or whatever.
HB: Right. Right. And then it’s home for tea and another meal.
JDB: Yes. That’s right.
HB: Right.
JDB: Egg, bacon and chips.
HB: The staple diet.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Brilliant. Brilliant. Right. Well I think probably that’s covered the bits I wanted to try and cover Derek.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: If that’s alright with you.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: What, I think when we spoke last time you said you’d have a bit of a think about it for me. Sort of things, things where you got a bit of a fright or something that was really really silly that happened.
JDB: I told you about, about [Abbeyville] didn’t I? When we bombed the flying bomb site. The second operation with 103 squadron.
HB: I can’t remember that one, I don’t think.
JDB: Well, we, our first operation, very first was against Stettin up on the Baltic. Nine and a half hours airborne in a Lanc which is not funny.
HB: No. No.
JDB: And anyway that’s the first operation but we, but as far as attacking defences was concerned it was a doddle you know. Nothing to it really. Anyway, second operation we go in for briefing and it’s a flying bomb sight and it’s only just in France which is obvious for a flying bomb site to be. It’s the right place. And it wasn’t far and we thought, oh this is a piece of cake. Anyway, we get briefed and I think, I’m guessing now Harry but I think we were briefed to bomb at something like six thousand feet which is pretty low.
HB: Oh yeah.
JDB: And we went over, we got over there and we were over, nearly over the target area and there was ten tenths cloud so it was a question of well we can’t see the bloody ground let alone the target and then we get the master bomber on the blower saying, ‘Main force. Ground not visible. Descend to three thousand feet.’
HB: Oh.
JDB: ‘Descend to three thousand feet. No opposition.’ And that were his very words and do you know who that was?
HB: Go on.
JDB: Then wing commander. Later a group captain, VC man.
HB: Oh is this the Leonard Cheshire?
JDB: Yeah. Cheshire.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
JDB: Leonard Cheshire, who was the master bomber.
HB: Ah
JDB: Amazing isn’t it?
HB: Yeah.
JDB: Anyway, there we were. Anyway, we said ok and we broke cloud and as luck would have it well it wasn’t luck it was a bit of skill in fact we broke cloud heading straight for the target and suddenly bang bang bang and I was looking out of the front at the time and two shells burst right in front of us and so so we were on the bombing run then.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: So I pressed, I pressed the tit and nothing happened so we peeled away and I I told skip, ‘Nothing’s happened. I’m going to change the fuse.’ So he did an orbit left and I changed the fuse, nothing happened again so we decided to bugger off and then suddenly the rear gunner says, ‘We’re on fire skip,’ he said. Looked out the back and said, ‘We’re not on bloody fire at all. That’s something else.’ And anyway we got away and it transpired that what he’d thought we were on fire and smoke was pouring backwards was vaporising bloody hydraulic oil.
HB: Oh right.
JDB: Yeah so from that point on we’d got no hydraulics. The bomb doors were open and we had no hydraulics. Anyway, we climbed away and started heading back for the, back to the North Sea and we flew into cloud of cunim and we lost, the skip lost his, lost some of his instruments. He had no altimeter.
[phone starts ringing]
HB: That’s alright
JDB: Alright.
HB: That’s alright. I’ll just pause.
JDB: Alright.
HB: I’ll just pause. I’ll pause it while.
[machine paused]
HB: Right. Just recommencing after that.
JDB: Doing that.
HB: Yeah. So, so is this the one where you came through the cloud to Wolds?
JDB: Through the cloud?
HB: To, was it to the Wolds.
JDB: Yeah. We came. No. No. No. No.
HB: That was a different one wasn’t it?
JDB: No. No.
HB: So you’ve -
JDB: We went into this cloud and skip said, skipper said, ‘Christ I don’t know whether we’re inside out or upside down or what,’ you know. ‘Prepare to abandon’. That was the only time I heard that said during my career. ‘Get your parachutes on and prepare to abandon.’ So we carried on and we came out of the cloud and de-iced and the instruments reappeared and we were all right so we ploughed on up the North Sea to the dropping zone and there I got the wireless op to help me and we, I had two pieces of wire about eighteen inches, two foot long with a hook on the end to trip the release mechanisms and drop the bombs manually. Which we did. Dropped them all in the bloody sea and got back late and then it’s a question of well we’ve got no hydraulics. What about the undercart? Well you can actually blow the undercart down with compressed air but you can only do it once and you can’t get them back up again.
HB: Oh no.
JDB: So we blew the wheels down and we’d got no brakes of course so we, we did a circuit, landed and rolled and couldn’t stop, you know and just rolled just to the end of the runway and then got it away and it was full of bloody holes the thing was.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: But that was that. A bit of a come back to earth lads.
HB: Yeah and was anybody hurt on that?
JDB: Sorry?
HB: Was anybody of the crew injured on that?
JDB: No. Would you believe? No. Nobody. The shell must have been just below the shrapnel to knock out wiring and pipes and things and leave the vitals intact.
HB: Blimey.
JDB: So it was quite a, quite a thing.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: But we didn’t have any other major scares.
HB: So basically, so basically, Leonard Cheshire brought you down and you got bracketed pretty well straight away.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Right. I bet you didn’t buy him a drink in the bar.
JDB: He wasn’t on our bloody squadron.
HB: [laughs] Yeah. Yeah.
JDB: Yeah. Well I suppose he’d flown, he’d flown over the target and those German gunners were not stupid. They didn’t shoot at one aeroplane. They just waited till they got several of us there.
HB: Yeah. Yeah.
JDB: And, you know.
HB: What, what was, I mean it’s something that we always ask and I didn’t really go in, much into it in the last interview.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: What, when you were actually on the squadron, you were on 103 and then predominantly you were with 166.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: What, what was your social life like? What, how, what did you do for a social life?
JDB: Well when we first went to the squadron it was just after, not long after D-Day and we were confined to camp. We weren’t allowed off camp for a while because of short notice calls.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: And then after that we used to get, you were allowed off, you had [limited bus], let you go into Scunthorpe for the night or whatever and that was about it but the main social life was around the village pub.
HB: Right.
JDB: Which is still there. The Marrowbone and Cleaver.
HB: Oh yeah.
JDB: The Chopper.
HB: Yeah. I think you mentioned that last time.
JDB: Yeah. I did.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: Did you ever have any socialising on the actual airfield or was that just not allowed?
JDB: Sorry not with you.
HB: Did you have any sort of like dances or anything like that on the airfield itself.
JDB: Oh they had occasional things like that in the, in the WAAF mess once in a while yeah but generally speaking there wasn’t much social life. Mind I had my problem with my, my face as well didn’t I? I think I told you about that. No?
HB: Oh was this when, did you have, you had like a rash or something didn’t you?
JDB: Yeah. That’s right
HB: Yes.
JDB: Yeah
HB: You did. Yeah we went, we covered that in our first interview.
JDB: I think I told you about that. Yeah.
HB: Yeah.
JDB: Oxygen mask dermatitis.
HB: Oh right. Yeah. Yeah.
JDB: It -
HB: A bit of a risk that one.
JDB: Yeah.
HB: But right, right. [coughs] Excuse me. Well, I’ll tell you what Derek I think we’ll just finish it there ‘cause it’s what time is it? Nearly 12 o’clock.
JDB: Don’t worry about it.
HB: I’ll just -



Harry Bartlett, “Interview with John Derek "Bill" Bailey. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 20, 2024,

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