Interview with James Thomas Bateman


Interview with James Thomas Bateman


Aged 17, James volunteered for aircrew in June 1942 purely for the adventure as he was looking for something exiting. He trained in Canada as a navigator and after a wonderful leave in New York returned to England for advanced flying training. on completion he was posted to 149 Squadron flying Stirlings at RAF Lakenheath.
On one of his operations he arrived over France to drop supplies to the French resistance but, in the absence of a reception committee, returned home and successfully repeated the trip the next night.
After converting to Lancasters, his first trip was to Duisburg but he forgot to operate the bombing master switch which meant they had to go around again and work their way back into the main bomber stream. James considers himself very fortunate to have survived that episode.
He speaks warmly of his crew but admitted that on the morality of mass bombing he had a dispute with his engineer and actually came to blows.
In December 1944, he completed his 30th operation to the Oberhausen oil refinery but became ill with tonsillitis and hospitalised. On recovery he spent time at RAF Feltnell training new crews on the ‎Gee-H navigation system.
James was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross and after demob spent time as a clerk before joining Quantas Airways as an air navigation officer. Unfortunately the training was too complex for him and he left to pursue a career as a salesman for 25 years.
James speaks at length of his strong feelings on the importance of the role that Bomber Command carried out, which was not recognised by the leaders, and considers that the enemy were not the German people but the Nazis.




Temporal Coverage




00:39:41 audio recording


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This interview is for the International Bomber Command Centre the interviewer is Barry Jackson the interview is Jim Bateman the interview is taking place at Mr Batemans home in Marsfield, Sydney, Australia on the 2nd of August 2016.
JB. My name is James Bateman I joined the Air Force in June 1942 and eventually having been trained in Canada went to England and joined 149 Squadron where I served as a Navigation Officer and completed a tour lasting from May 1944 to December 1944.
BJ. Jim what made you volunteer for Bomber Command?
JB. I think it was purely adventure, I was very young, I was seventeen and a half at the time when I actually joined and em yes I looked forward to something exciting.
BJ. Were you made aware of the high casualty rate.
JB. No we were not.
BJ. Once you completed you training or you went back to Bradfield Park where did you go, you mentioned Canada?
JB. Yes after being at Tammora and not succeeding as a Trainee Pilot I was posted back to Bradfield Park, I waited embarkation and travelled to Canada, Edmonton where I was in the eh 2 AOS at Edmonton and did my training there as an Air Navigator and eh Then after that, having a wonderful leave in New York going to England where eh eventually going through advanced training flying course to understand the topography of the English countryside and that eh finished up at the OUT at Wing where I formed a Crew.
BJ. And how did you crew up eh how did you choose your crew how did you make that thing which is pretty important of course.
JB. Well crewing up was something that was completely, quite unexpected it was just herded us all into a large hanger, Pilots, Navigators, Bomb Aimers, Wireless Operators and we were told to find ourselves a Crew. Well luckily the Pilot I chose I trained with him at Bradwell Park well nearly twelve months before and I knew him, not that well and that was the start of our Crew.
BJ. I’ve got a question, what happened to the people that were left over in the Crewing side of things, was there anyone left over?
JB. I can’t remember
BJ. What were your thoughts on that first Operational Mission?
JB. The first Operational Mission was really quite a simple one, we did mining across the North Sea off the Dutch, the Islands of Holland and eh very uneventful but that was just to introduce us to the em Operational Experience but the first real Operation was a Resistance trip to supply the Resistance eh deep down in France and eh to our chagrin we found we had the Wing Commander going to fly with us. So we had him, him on duty and eh and all I can say is that the Bomb Aimer and I we did a fine job and got to the place where we were going to drop the eh packages but unfortunately nobody turned up and em after flying about six or seven times from the starting point to the small plot of land eh, the Wing Commander with us said “well you had better go home boys” and eh, that’s what we did. Then they sent us back to the same place the next night, so we got there and dropped out packages and did our job.
BJ. Well, well, how many ops did you take part in ?
JB. I did thirty, but the Crew did thirty five.It was due to the fact that I had a spell in Hospital at one stage, I had my appendice removed and to my great disappointment also was sick on the last trip. I had a bad attack of tonsillitis, they put me in Hospital and little did I know they were going to fly that night. Luckily they came back and we were tour expired and eh got away with doing five less than anybody else.
BJ. Eh and what happened then, how old were you then?
JB. I was still twenty.
BJ. Can you remember your last Op before you obviously got sick?
JB. It, it would have been to a eh place eh eh Oberhausen to do an attack on eh, eh Oil Refineries they were converting coal to oil and that was our task on a GH Operation which we were the Leaders.
BJ Ok and you never had any close calls with Flak or Night Fighters or anything like that.
JB. Oh we had a bad time, our first trip when we converted to Lancasters to a place called Duisburg and on that occasion due to inexperience with the aircraft we arrived at the Target. I as Navigator had the responsibility to put the Master Switch on so that the Electronics worked the Bomb Bay and fired the bombs. Unfortunately when we get to the target which was very quiet, nothing happened because I hadn’t switched the Master Switch on. Our Skipper who was a very conscientious man did a round again trip. In that round again trip everything happened there was searchlights, flack the whole thing, then having to work our way back into the Bomber Stream which was about six hundred bombers that night. So we were very fortunate to survive all that.
BJ. I reckon. What were the two aircraft that you done your Operations in, the Stirling and the Lancaster what are the pros and cons for each one of them and obviously ?
JB. Oh well as being a Navigator the Stirling was an ideal aircraft, had very comfortable appointments and eh for a Navigator. It was very stable and eh I think the Pilot liked flying the Stirling but when he got the Lancaster that changed his opinion all together, it was a superior aircraft in all ways and eh all that I can say is that I would fly in a Lancaster anytime.
BJ. Yeah, yeah you must, the maximum altitude of a Stirling was how high, how high was the maximum ceiling?
JB. Oh about twelve thousand feet, but you see when we were operating on a Special Duty job we were flying at five hundred feet, so it didn’t matter. With the Lancaster we were up at nineteen, twenty thousand and that was what we did.
BJ. Yeah yeah and during eh my previous interviews the eh Gentlemen that I talked to spoke about their eh last thoughts as they were taxiing out joining the stream. There was a very light I believe eh there was a light eh there was a lady that used to give you a green or red signal eh. Did you have any thoughts or were you just concentration on your work.
JB. No the Navigator he was busy at that time eh, working out what the Pilot had to do, what height to fly so he didn’t have much time to think about if it was going to be good or bad. The Gunners on the other hand were sitting with plenty of time on their hands. As far as I am concerned I was busy and that helped me all through the Operation, I was busy.
BJ. Yeah, yeah well that was a good way to be and what were the conditions like at the em Base that em you were at and eh did you have a good social life was the food good.
JB. [laugh] Well you see we were at a Wartime Airfield. Little did we know that sometime before after we finished our Con Unit training, to fill in the time they sent us on what they called a Battle Course. The Battle Course was held at Methwold and eventually well we didn’t think much about it, it wasn’t very comfortable and it didn’t have any atmosphere at all. Then they sent us from 149 Squadron at Lakenheath to 149 Squadron at Methwold so we were back at the same place and it wasn’t [laugh]a very inspiring choice. The point was a Squadron that had a great tradition, Middleton who had won his Victoria Cross there. So there was a very strong feeling of Family in the place. So that made up for War time discomfort.
BJ. Did you, that’s an interesting point because you had Australian, you had English I assume you had all the Commonwealth countries gathered around you had New Zealand, Canadians, South Africans did you all have different groups did you all just rib each other or did you ?
JB. Well speaking about our Crew we were all quite, very close, we had three Australians and three Englishmen and em, we got on well together and the em, atmosphere at the Squadron was good and em we used to go out to the local pubs and, and have social eh, interaction like that. So we didn’t really mix that well with other Crews,we knew them of course, I was a Navigator and got to know other Navigators and em really a lot of the people we didn’t get to know at all.
BJ. That Crew you really got to know really well,there was no outliers?
JB. No, we were very close, there was one occasion we had a bit of a problem, I had a problem with our Engineer and er I don’t think I should go into that sufficiently to say it was all patched up. It was a silly dispute and eh eventually travelling to England after the War I called twice to see our Engineer and his Family and we got on well.
BJ. Yeah but as I said to you before I knew you in my eh eh the Navigator and Pilot are very important but as a whole crew there are seven of you.
JB. All I can say about that is that we had a very good Skipper who had a very good affinity for us. All, all over the times between the end of the War and now and until Wal Crow died we were always going out together, always, as a Crew and the Wireless Operator who is still alive, we see each other as much as we can. So it was a very strong bonding that we had and that was typical of Bomber Command I would say.
BJ. And I loved the way the Crew were formed, my and you can probably tell me a bit more
JB. The skipper used to talk about “my Navigator” something would happen and he would say “I want my Navigator to know about that,” And I I later on in my life I joined a Probus Club with him and he was forever praising the little things I done. I was a Tourist, Tour Officer and he would always ring up next day and say that that was a good outing, you did very well Jim,that was his way, he was wonderful.
BJ. And of course and he had the Crew ah eh, he sounded eh like he had the Crew eh.
JB. Oh right behind him, he was considered very highly by the Squadron, he won a DFC and for my sins I won one too.
BJ. There you go, that’s what its all about eh there are another couple of questions here and I will ask about after the War. Did you have any thoughts of the Targets you flew over and the Civilians, possible Civilians.
JB. All I can say about that without going into the dispute with our Engineer, which was to do with that type of thing eh. When we did the GH Targets, bombing the Oil Refinery that to me is what I wanted to do, I wanted to do things that didn’t involve places, area bombing, bombing cities. I can’t say I was all that happy about that and that is the reason we had a bit of a dispute. He was an Engineer and previous to becoming and Air Engineer he was on a Squadron on Malta, on a Fighter Squadron and the Luftwaffe used to come over from Sicily every hour on the hour and shoot the place up. He had, he had very little respect for Germans as such. So our first trip with the Lancaster was to Duisburg on our return after settling down in our hut he said “I think we killed lots of Germans today” I said “I don’t think we did that Stan I said “I think we were bombing this” and one thing led to another and I gave him a fat lip.
BJ.Lets not beat about the bush.
JB.It wasn’t very good for a Crew at three o’clock in the morning to be doing things like that, anyway we got over that. I must say from my experience I was happier doing that other type of bombing.
BJ.Was there any trip that you would say was worse than the other or did one stand out as probably the worst mission you had ever done? Eventually when you were allocated that trip was oh no Christ what are doing?
JB I would say the Duisburg trip.
BJ.And why was that.
JB.It was putting us at the reality of bombing what a well defended target was, what you could expect and just wondered if every trip was going to be the same.
BJ.And when you finished, when you completed the thirty missions and obviously you had to visit the Hospital em when were you, where and when were you demobbed?
JB.No,no because of my training on the GH equipment it was decided to set up a small school at Feltwell nearby.
BJ.GH what did that stand for?
BJ.What did that stand for?
JB.GH it was using the Gee Box system with the uses of the Oboe technology.
BJ.What happened after that then, you went back to training people?
JB.I was at Feltwell with a small group who were training new Crews eh on the, the GH System. Just prior to the War ending I was transferred to a Squadron where I was nominally called the GH Officer.
BJ. There you go.
JB. For a very short time.
BJ. Eh when the War finished eh where did you go, did you go back to your former work or did you.
JB. I must say eh I eventually came back and was disoriented like we all were. We had been used to a different way of life for some few years and settling wasn’t easy. I went back to my old job as a clerk in this motor body company and er. Eventually after a short time I was talking to a friend who told me Qantas were recruiting aircrew. So I reported to Qantas and I was employed as an Air Navigator on Qantas Airways.
BJ. For how long?
JB. Not for very long, just on two years until a decision was made by the eh Department of Air that all Navigators should produce first class licenses. Being a Wartime Navigator I was given automatically a second class license. Which involved sitting exams on very difficulty subjects and Qantas provided the opportunity for us by setting up a small school situation with a a a lecturer. All the Wartime Navigators were given time and for three weeks we attended classes to prepare us for these exams. Unfortunately for me I found that getting Maths to work out the various problems associated, I found I just couldn’t formulate equations in my mind resulting in the fact that I failed the exam and was told I couldn’t fly with Qantas at that time. Qantas offered me a job, they were a very small company then, they weren’t very big as an er Air Traffic Officer. Well I decided that was not a good idea and for a while I was getting married and I didn’t have a job [laugh].n
BJ. No problem we can sort that out. So how old were you then you must have been in your early twenties wern’t you?
JB. Twenty One. So eh [laugh] what happened next eh I lived at a place called Lidcolme, Lidcolme Jensen Australia Limited had their factory. They were makers of swimwear as everybody would know and sportswear. Anyway it occurred to me they might have some kind of job for people like me. So one day I went over there and asked to see the er office manager and er which I did and asked him about jobs available. He said “no unfortunately, but maybe the sales department do” He arranged for me to see the sales manager who said “we are just thinking about employing more salesmen and deciding what to do and we will let you know.” Well I was married still had no job, but then just after Christmas in 1947 eh, I eh, was told I had a position with Jensen as a Salesman and that became my career for the next twenty five years and I have a watch on my wrist as a token of their respect which is still going very well.
BJ. How good is that? Excellent and there is a whole load of discussion after the War. One of the things I wanted your opinion on is, what do you think of what you did during the War, Bomber Command and the legacy you left, the sacrifices you made and what that said to future generations,they younger generation today. Is it something that should be strictly remembered eh reminded of, the sacrifices that you, you people made in those years?
JB. Yes, I suppose immediately after the War like most of us we just wanted to get on with life and and not think too much what it was all about.Because eh, you had to bring up children and a living. I did start going to ANZAC marches with other Aircrew friends and they were always more or less eh, jolly occasions, not really thinking of the War much at all. As time went bye and maturity set in, it gave me like a lot of others, the opportunity to think what it was. Now being a member of the Bomber Command Committee, mixing with Bomber Command Boys that are still with us eh, and knowing why we were em there. I have come to the conclusion that Bomber Command was a very necessary weapon for the Allies to have. After all they had nothing else going for some time until D Day and the Russians were able to do what they did. So we carried the War on against Hitler and the Nazi’s and I prefer to think of the enemy as not Germans but Nazi’s and Hitler. The German people and I, I, have become friendly with some, they were possibly in the same situation as us. They needed to be released from the awful eh [unreadable] of the Nazi policy which was a totally violent and eh, non human organisation. So I’d answer the question, I think it was necessary for us to go to War. We had to stop Hitler and the Nazi’s and whatever we did to do that, had to be done.
BJ. When did you learn of the atrocities that were.
JB. And off course the War finished and the reality of what took place in Eastern Europe, that was more so the reason for us to have done what we did. The fact that our boys lost so many, after all Australians lost 3500 killed, prisoners of war as well and eh eh, wounded eh altogether 10500 Aircrew out of 52000 Aircrew. Em the losses were terrific and all that I can say is that we were fortunate that our time of Operations was a relatively easier and eh healthier, healthier time.
BJ. Do you, do you, were there many of your colleagues, friends and associates that didn’t settle down after the War. I had Uncles that couldn’t settle down after the Adventure that had to go and do something else Adventurous, like train for the Korean War for example.
JB. Well Aircrew were pretty sensible people eh. One of the members we lost track of and it took a long time to find him eh it turned out eh an English Boy and he turned up we found out as a warder in a prison. But we couldn’t, he had sort of moved away from us, I don’t know why but. Eventually he was caught up in our family because our Skipper had to go to England quite often with his business. So he was able to contact a man called Harry Sue and eh we got together again writing letters to each other. But he was one of the first of the Crew to leave us, he died rather early considering em and eh. Otherwise where it comes to other people I don’t think that Aircrew as such went through the same kind of trauma as other soldiers did. ‘cause after all, even though we saw some of the, some boys seen some of the worst things you could ever see, their Crew being wounded and things of that kind. We weren’t like Soldiers fighting and killing people. What we did we killed people no doubt, but they were at length, they were away, they were down there, so it didn’t it didn’t feel the same. I think looking back on the War and, and being close with old wartime colleagues em you realise what we did and how important it was.
BJ. For sure, and in that strain did you ever get any criticism either subtle or otherwise for what you did during the War?
JB. No, no we never had that happen to us but some would have, yeah some would have. Some were accused of being eh, Jap dodgers, going to England and doing what they did in Bomber Command. They certainly would have been dodging the Japs, so that was bad. We never experienced that, as I say eh. As a Crew we respected each other and the duties we had and that kept us above all that other noise that was going on. Its rather sad that the War finished when it did with the Leaders being so critical about what Bomber Command did and I refer now to Winston Churchill, he never in his Victory Address mentioned Bomber Command, it was left completely out. Because of legal questions his relationship with the Russians etc he joined the forces of criticism of what we achieved. We didn’t, didn’t have to destroy all those cities in Germany. It wasn’t necessary. We realised it was, because how else would the Germans have realised what, what, what they were up against.
BJ. A different era, the same argument could be about Japan, their dropping bombs.The bombs that they dropped on Tokyo in January plus the two Atomic Bombs. The same thing could be applied it was a job that needed to be done.
JB. I think it’s a em a case of em Politicians with there attitude em about what is possible and what is not possible, they change their mind very readily when they find they have opposition. And Churchill unfortunately despite all the wonderful things that he did in, in Bomber Commands opinion he let them down. We never receive a particular decoration for being in Bomber Command although there was a decoration called Aircrew Europe but that was on a limited basis reflecting the most difficult time of Bomber Command and from nineteen, middle of forty four on you could not qualify for that you qualified before that. We were given the France and Germany Star which was given to every Soldier eh, you know. So there was no distinction. Through all these years there has been a lot of lobbying to try and rectify that and what has happened is that they have issued a small bronze em, ah, em [slight pause] addition to our medals specifying Bomber Command. That is what they have done.
BJ. I was surprised that there wasn’t a Bomber Command medal.
JB. It was all to do with what was taking place politically. Once the Russians had occupied their area in East Germany they started to make all kinds of em unfortunate statements about what had happened there. For instance in Dresden they originally said that something like over 100,000 people were killed. That wasn’t so, after much research the situation wasn’t good but the number was nothing like that, it was 2500. Dresden after all was one of the cities that Churchill himself had designated as important for the Russians to have eliminated as, as opposition as they came through. That was decided six months before, so Dresden was always a fait accompli. The facts are that Dresden had many Wartime factories that produced all kinds of important instruments. So and it was a very big rail centre for the transferring of Troops into the East. So it was certainly a very important target and unfortunately for the people in Dresden the East German Nazi’s did not protect them. They did not have any air raid centres, the only air raid centre of any use was occupied by the Gael Lighter the German Political Boss of Dresden, he survived. It certainly was a tragedy that Dresden was damaged to such an extent. However I have had the fortune to be in Dresden three or four times and I have seen what has happened, it has been completely rebuilt. There are certain things that will never be rebuilt and not change, for example most of the buildings were made from a local sandstone and the horrific fires that came on the night of the bombing burnt into the stone and those stones are still black, they can’t remove it. And, but Dresden has returned to a very charming and beautiful city.
BJ. Do you think eh ah, certain authorities have done enough to recognise Bomber Command, I know they have opened up the Bomber Command Centre in Green Park. Do you think that has gone some way to recognising what you did?
JB. I think the Air Force people do eh, they, they have made great efforts to rehabil,rehabilitate Air Crew. Em,[unreadable] affairs have been good we are based on the standards of veterans, eh, I don’t think we are singled out particularly but er we are given a lot of eh, wonderful support. Em, I don’t think with Australia being involved with the Japanese threat, that the fact that Bomber Command operated in England against Germany etc eh made much impression on the general eh population of Austalia, I don’t think so.
BJ. In those days communication wasn’t as rapid as it now so they wouldn’t have known.
JB. However having said that I must say whenever I have marched on ANZAC day the amount of em, wonderful em, acclamation that comes from the,the crowd watching is a marvellous thing. They recognise a lot of them, because there has been many documentaries showing Bomber Command. If you go to Canberra to the War Memorial there is a wonderful display there of a, a bomber G for George, being attacked at night, a simulated attack if you wish. I think that has brought a lot to peoples minds.
BJ. No it’s a wonderful, I think it is better than anything I have seen in England it’s fabulous.
JB. I feel that Australia with the great respect and eh and eh care. I would have no, no criticism.
BJ. Are you feeling all right, do you want to have a break or?
JB. Yeah I’m alright or do you want a cup of tea?
BJ. Yeah we might do that.
JB. You sit here I’ll make it.


Barry Jackson, “Interview with James Thomas Bateman,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 22, 2024,

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