Interview with Charles Philip Blackham


Interview with Charles Philip Blackham


Philip Blackham became an apprentice engineer at Diesel engine company Mirrlees, Bickerton & Day, of which he became a sales manager post war. He served in the Home Guard becoming a driver, then he enrolled in summer 1940 with initial training at Cambridge University, St John’s College, for engineering. After that he went to Marshalls Airport, Cambridge for flying training. Eventually he became a flight engineer at Barry, South Wales.
In 1941 Charles was posted to Canada to complete training at RAF De Winton, learning to fly a Chipmunk and then converted to four engine aircraft: 'I got a pair of Air Force wings which is my pride and joy. Best thing I’ve ever done in my life'. Canada was described as being nice, vast, and cold, inhabited by friendly people, with plenty of fine food that wasn’t available in Britain. Very few details are given about wartime service. After the end of war, he went on to serve in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force as an engineer and representative of Meteor jets, which he also flown. Charles also became an Air Training Corps superintendent. Describes his involvement in one of the 550 Squadron reunions at RAF North Killingholme where they discussed Operation Manna. Talks about PA474 Phantom, a 550 Squadron aircraft.




Temporal Coverage




00:46:52 audio recording


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JM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Julian Maslin, the interviewee is Mister Philip Blackham. The interview is taking place at [deleted] Cheshire, on the 23rd of October 2016. Philip, good afternoon.
PB: Good afternoon.
JM: Could I ask you to tell us a little bit about your family background, where you were born and brought up and where you went to school?
PB: Well, I went to Stockport School, which is a well-known secondary school in Stockport on the main Wellington road going south out of the town and I was there for four years and I rose from being seventeenth in the class to top of the class. Amazing because they decided to honour my parents who’d paid for me to go to the school, I hadn’t won a scholarship so I went on to be top of the class to my absolute amazement, sharing that top position with another young man in the class of twenty or thirty cadets and pupils and I got my school certificate with a distinction in art, believe it or not, and physics.
JM: So you have some science and maths in your background.
PB: Yes, I was a hopeless failure at chemistry. Otherwise I passed in everything.
JM: And what had you thought you would do with your life, had you got a choice of career in mind?
PB: I thought I was gonna be a priest at one stage but it didn’t happen, it didn’t go on in that direction. I became an apprentice in mechanical engineering at a very big and famous diesel engine company called Mirrlees, Bickerton & Day, a very, very wonderful firm which I had greatly admired and it’s just been dismantled in the last twelve months.
JM: And had you started your apprenticeship before the war began?
PB: No, the war was already starting, I think. I hope I’m right about that because I can’t be absolutely certain.
JM: Had you got any experience of flying? Had you ever thought of joining the Royal Air Force when you were at school?
PB: No, no, I hadn’t, no. I just wanted to get into the services cause there was a war on and my father had fought in the Great War and become very lame so I had to stand for [unclear] his good example, he was still alive and hobbling from war wounds in his legs.
JM: So you perhaps didn’t feel to join the Army but perhaps the RAF was a choice.
PB: Well, I had no interest in the Army whatsoever. The Air Force interested me because it was aeroplanes and petrol engines where of tremendous interest to me.
JM: So, your interest in engineering was really a factor of perhaps you becoming a flight engineer
PB: Oh yes, yes. I also became an engineer, I took the engineering qualifications at Barry, South Wales.
JM: Right. When you were in the RAF.
PB: Yeah, qualifying, after qualifying as a pilot, took the engineering degree as well.
JM: Right.
PB: And I still got the certificates.
JM: Let’s go back a bit. What age were you when you joined the RAF?
PB: About seventeen or eighteen.
JM: Seventeen or eighteen. Had you seen anything of the air raids against Manchester or Liverpool?
PB: Yes, yes, we had a bomb in our own garden in Stockport, a district known as Edgeley and this was a plane that was dumping its bombs I think and the neighbour tried to throw a sandbag on a firebomb and while he went to fetch another sandbag because the first one burst, a high explosive bomb dropped, about as near as that wall there.
JM: That must have done a lot of damage.
PB: And I had me motorbike, I was, I must have been seventeen cause the motorcycle at the time had been inverted so I could fit a bicycle dynamo to it, cause it wasn’t an electrical motorbike, it had an acetylene light, 1929 model, I was very fond of it, it was a lovely thing and I got it going extremely well, used to take people out on it, going horse riding in the country in Cheshire. All over the place on a 1929 Raleigh motorbike so I was fond of engines.
JM: Right.
PB: And I had totally rebuild that engine myself. So I was going to be an engineer and I was and in due course became the chief, something, the title for my position in Mirrlees, Bickerton & Day, [pauses] I’ve forgotten the title.
JM: Doesn’t matter.
PB: I had a big title for the whole of Europe at London office, they moved me from Hazel Grove, Stockport to the west side of London.
JM: I imagine you could probably have stayed in that company during the war as a reserved occupation.
PB: Yes, they were trying to reserve me and I wanted to get out to it and get into the services.
JM: Why did you think so strongly to, that you wanted to join up?
PB: I wanted to be in the action because the war was at its worst at the time, at the time of the Blitz and the bombing.
JM: So, we’re in 1940, the summer and the autumn of 1940.
PB: Yes, I can’t see you very clearly by the way, there is a very bright light behind you. I don’t know whether the curtains could be closed, could they, just to reduce the strength of the light, that’s a good idea, thank you.
JM: What did your family say when you told them that you were going to sign up?
PB: Nothing. They just, they accepted it, there was a war.
JM: Did you have brothers perhaps, at all, older brothers?
PB: Yes, my brother came with me into the Air Force, my older brother and he was recruited, conscripted, I volunteered, so I could be with him,that was how it happened.
JM: Right. Do you remember where you went to enrol?
PB: Oh, I’d been in the Home Guard already, by the way, I had no interest in the Army, I had been a Dad’s Army member, a very happy one too and I used to walk home down our road from the Headquarters of the Home Guard to my house carrying a rifle and ammunition. That wouldn’t be allowed now, would it?
JM: No, it wouldn’t.
PB: At my young age and I had the amazing experience of being told, if you don’t stop asking stupid questions you’re gonna be thrown out of this lecture room. That was what the Commanding Officer said to me.
JM: And what were the stupid questions you were asking?
PB: Oh, just quizzing him about things he was lecturing us on, I’m sorry, I can’t tell you exactly.
JM: Well, they weren’t stupid questions if you were, seeking clarification.
PB: They weren’t stupid questions, they were questions about six rounds, rapid fire between yonder bushy top trees,that was the sort of terminology. And I became a Home Guard driver eventually, that’s another thing that levered me towards being a motorist. I knew how to drive but hadn’t driven, so I got myself into headquarters where the, there’s an Armoury in Stockport, a major building for military purposes called the Armoury, and I got myself recruited there as a driver and took a party of Great War veterans with their respirators and tin hats to a village nearby, name was Marple, in snow and ice, and I’d never driven before ever [emphasises] on the roads, but I had a motorbike, so I knew what the rules of the roads were, this 1929 Raleigh which was my pride and joy incidentally and got myself to Marple which is a very, very hilly area and I was stupid enough to get the passengers to get out and push instead of bouncing as I should have done up the steep hill called Brabyns Brow.
JM: Let’s go on with your time with the Royal Air Force. Do you remember where you went to enrol and what happened to you once you joined?
PB: I went to Manchester to enrol, was immediately accepted, I was fit and well and very thrilled about going into the Air Force.
JM: And where did you receive your initial training?
PB: Cambridge University.
JM: Was it?
PB: Would you believe that? Wasn’t I lucky? In St John’s College, Cambridge, which is a very famous college
JM: It is.
PB: And had a very famous choir.
JM: It has.
PB: And I was there in the ancient buildings on the river Cam.
JM: And were you receiving basic military training there or was this aircrew?
PB: Yes, Air Force engineering and stars and sky and [glider]
JM: How long were you there for, do you remember?
PB: Twelve months.
JM: Twelve months.
PB: And I was living in the college building and even got, for some silly reason a friend & I decided we would sleep out in the quadrangle one night and we were, some students were also in the college, they carted us off into a far corner of the quadrangle where we couldn’t easily get back into our quarters and the rain came and the [unclear – could be “sirens”] went all at the same time.
JM: I imagine there were plenty of examinations, weren’t there, as you were being trained?
PB: Oh yes, they were.
JM: And how did you do with those examinations?
PB: Probably still got the books if the truth be known.
JM: Really? Yes?
PB: I’ve certainly got my brother’s books.
JM: Did you pass the examinations well?
PB: Oh yes, I had to do that.
JM: And what happened to you when that course of training was complete? Where did you go next?
PB: Uh, got to think about that. I can’t remember.
JM: Do you remember if you went for flying training?
PB: Not till I got to Cambridge.
JM: Right.
PB: That was my first flying where I went to Marshalls Airport, Cambridge.
JM: Yes, it’s still there.
PB: And eventually, much later still, I became the Manager of the Marshalls Airport.
JM: Right. How did you get on?
PB: [unclear]
JM: Do you remember what you flew first of all?
PB: Tiger Moths.
JM: Tiger Moths. How did you get on flying with Tiger Moths?
PB: I loved them, beautiful little plane. And I was not taught to look out behind me and look for trouble and I was criticised for that but that was the teacher’s fault, he hadn’t taught me to look round.
JM: Do you remember?
PB: There is a chimney there called Joe’s something or other, it a brickwork
JM: Yes.
PB: On the other edge of Cambridge Airport, do you know it?
JM: I don’t know.
PB: Cambridge Airport, Smokey Joe it was called
JM: Right.
PB: And we used that to tell the direction of the wind.
JM: And do you remember how many hours before you went solo?
PB: I didn’t actually succeed in going solo until I got to Canada.
JM: Right.
PB: In a plane very similar to a Chipmunk, it was a Canadian built two seater, [pauses] just like a Chipmunk to look at
JM: Yes.
PB: You wouldn’t even tell the difference but it was in fact a six cylinder engine, whereas the Tiger Moth and the Chipmunk had just four cylinder engines.
JM: So you were sent from Cambridge by sea to Canada to complete your training.
PB: That’s right.
JM: And that was in 1941, was it?
PB: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. And what was it like? What were your impressions of Canada, a young man arriving in Canada?
PB: Terribly impressed, was a big thing cause I’d crossed the Atlantic by sea in the submarine chase.
JM: Do you remember the ship that you travelled on?
PB: Yes, the Aquitania.
JM: Right.
PB: Let me think about this, yes. That’s it.
JM: Yes.
PB: I was hoping for the Queen Mary.
JM: [laughs]
PB: Cause it was in use in those days but I didn’t have the luck to go in the Queen Mary, I went in the Aquitania.
JM: Well that was a big ship, was it?
PB: Was a huge liner, built in 1914.
JM: And do you remember whereabouts in Canada you went to?
PB: Yes. First of all, De Winton near, what’s the big city in the far west?
JM: Vancouver?
PB: No, not as far as that.
JM: Calgary?
PB: Calgary.
JM: Right.
PB: De Winton is the airport for Calgary.
JM: So you went to Calgary.
PB: It’s straining my memory trying to remember these answers for you.
JM: Well, you’re doing very well but I mean, I think people will be interested in what it was like to be living in Canada and flying there
PB: Oh.
JM: So, anything you can remember,
PB: I can remember all that.
JM: Please tell us a bit.
PB: We had a first posting was the eastern part of Canada, a place I can’t remember the name of, where my cousin has just gone to live now to look for work in the building industry. I have not told you about that, have I? He’s gone to live there, looking for work as a builder.
JM: But what was it like for you in 1941 being in Canada? What was the food like?
PB: Oh, everything was perfect. It was very cold, I remember that, we had to be careful not to get frozen. And when we eventually got out to the prairies. And then we went from eastern Canada and I’m sorry I can’t name the exact spot, we were there for say a week or ten days and we went by rail right across Canada. And if you want a silly joke, the attendant in the steam train said that “you want to hurry up, if you hurry enough you’ll see Lake Winnipeg”. And we did, we hurried down for breakfast to make sure to being ready to see Lake Winnipeg and we were passing it for a day and a half.
JM: [laughs]
PB: That is a fact.
JM: So, that’s a big lake.
PB: A day and a half by a slow steam train, which was very dirty and dusty. And they had to come round with a brush all day long sweeping up the soot. And we eventually got via intermediate cities across Canada to Vancouver, no, sorry, not Vancouver, Calgary. And there I was for six months learning to fly a little plane, very similar to a Chipmunk.
JM: Yes. So, you were flying single engine aircraft at that stage.
PB: Yes.
JM: And did you want to continue as a fighter pilot on single engine aircraft or?
PB: Yes.
JM: You did.
PB: I did.
JM: And how come you were selected then to fly bombers?
PB: Well, I think they were short of bomber pilots and they had to convert me to a four engine pilot.
JM: Do you remember what, what large airplanes you flew first of all? Once you’d qualified.
PB: Just those. We flew Chipmunks of course, for 190 hours on Chipmunks learning to fly to get our wings.
JM: Yes. You must have been very proud when you got your wings.
PB: Oh, I was. Still got one.
JM: [laughs] Good for you.
PB: I’ve never worn them for [unclear] have I?
JM: No.
PB: I got a pair of Air Force wings which is my pride and joy. Best thing I’ve ever done in my life. And we were graduated in the middle of the Canadian desert, as it were, it was a wild and windy place with cold weather.
JM: I was wondering.
PB: It was the 21st of April, I can remember that too. I always remember the graduation date.
JM: I was wondering if you ever flew the Oxford out there.
PB: Only as a navigation exercise.
JM: Right.
PB: Just once or twice.
JM: Yes.
PB: Navigation with about three of us on board, taking turns to navigate it.
JM: Yeah.
PB: Yes.
JM: And how did you find navigation? Was that a skill you could master?
PB: Oh yeah. I was qualified as a navigator.
JM: Right.
PB: I got a certificate to say so.
JM: Did you do observation of the stars as part of your navigation?
PB: Yes, all that lot. And I frightened one of my instructors by doing a violent evasive action when what I was avoiding was Saturn.
JM: [laughs]
PB: This is a fact, it frightened me to death. I still dived out of the route I was supposed to be taking, when doing some low flying over the Bow River in Calgary area.
JM: Did you meet the Canadian people very much? Did you go to their homes?
PB: Yes, one or two were very good to us and kind and we got friends with the family, doctors and such like. And we even were allowed to drive their cars and we got petrol for them. They had English cars with American tyres on them that were below standard, they were some wartime grade of tyres they were allowed to use in wartime. And we had a “meatless Tuesday”, I’ve never forgotten, “meatless Tuesday”, as a feature of Canadian life.
JM: A number of airmen who trained there and came back to Britain remarked as how they’d grown when they were living in America and Canada and eating all the steaks and the fine food that wasn’t available in Britain. Do you have that sort of?
PB: No, I don’t recall that at all. Just had good food I know
JM: And exercise.
PB: Very satisfactory.
JM: Yeah. Where did you go when you were off duty?
PB: To the local cinema [laughs]. That’s all.
JM: Did you have dances or it was just the cinema?
PB: Oh yes, we had dances and invited the local villagers from another, yeah, the next aerodrome I went to after De Winton was another one which I have forgotten the name of, if you could switch off for a minute I could.
JM: Now, Phillip, I gather you have a story about a motorbike tyre.
PB: Well, I was running an Ariel Square Four motorbike by then and I’d graduated from the 1929 Raleigh 250 to a 1939 Ariel Square Four and it needed a tyre and I bought a tyre in Stockport, my local town. But it proved to have a fault, it was a crack in the side of the tyre or something undesirable, so I took it out to Italy because I knew they put up with any tyres they were short of anything at all that goes on their cars and motorbikes. They didn’t realise it was a tyre of an undesirable size, unsuitable for a Fiat or any other sort of small car. But they gladly gave me quite a lot of money for it and put it under the seat of the Lancaster [laughs], carried it to Italy and disposed of it there for a good price.
JM: [laughs]
PB: Was quite amazed. And what’s the other story?
JM: The other story is about the picture at the reunion at North Killingholme for Operation Manna and.
PB: Well, I can’t remember a reunion, there’s something that-
US: Each year the reunion that the Dutch come to [unclear]
PB: They come and join in our parties and the prayers at the memorial, there is a beautiful memorial being built at North Killingholme [sighs] probably before the end of this talk we shall remember where I was trained for the Lancaster, I’m sorry I can’t think of it.
JM: It’ll come to you. I’m interested to hear about the reunion and the story of the painting of the Lancaster. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
PB: I’ve got a print of it, that’s all, just a print of the Lancaster with a title on it, forgotten what the title is, it’s gone, I’m sorry.
JM: Now, Phillip, we are looking at a lovely copy of a painting of Lancasters flying over Holland dropping food. Can you tell us a little bit more about the story of this painting?
PB: Not of this painting, I’m sorry. Because I don’t remember ever seeing a windmill in Holland.
JM: That might be a bit of artist license, mind you.
PB: I think they substituted that. But it’s a lovely painting, isn’t it? These are the bankings around the water, I think. Here, drainage areas, but I can’t add anything to that except there are three, five Lancasters, I don’t remember seeing it, can I look at the other side of it for a minute? I don’t know why I wasn’t aware of this. There’s the Phantom of the Ruhr.
JM: Yes, there is another painting here showing the Phantom, the Lancaster PA474.
PB: I got a print of this.
JM: Yes. Wearing the colours of the Phantom of the Ruhr 550 Squadron aircraft.
PB: I’ve got a print of that one but that one is new to me.
JM: Philip, at the top of this print of the Lancaster there are a number of signatures. Do you see these here?
PB: Can I look? Cause I may have signed this, Jack Harris, who is a well-known organiser of the meetings.
US: He’s the other pilot.
PB: Can you see any other names? Can I bring it nearer to you? There I am. [unclear]
JM: [unclear].
PB: It’s very indistinct. Yes, I’m there. How did you get this? Cause I haven’t got one with my signature on it. Do you notice we have aerials spreading from the cockpit to the tops of the rudders?
JM: Yes.
PB: Spitfires had a rather similar arrangement with aerials trailing to the top of the rudder.
US: I think a couple of these chaps are now dead.
PB: I wouldn’t be surprised, Jack Harris was the organiser of our meetings at North Killingholme.
JM: Who is that, Philip, can you read that one?
PB: Let me try and see that. It’s not clear in my sight at all.
JM: Ok.
PB: He’s the navigator.
JM: It doesn’t matter-
PB: Chaz somebody. I might be able to recognise his name if time comes. By the way, I continued flying right up to the Squadron being closed down in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force.
JM: I was going to ask you about that.
PB: I will come to that later if you like.
JM: Well, please tell us now while it’s in your mind.
PB: Alright, well, I went and joined the Royal Auxiliary Air Force while I was earning my living in Manchester and working as an engineer and representative and I [pauses] what did I do?
JM: What was it like in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force?
PB: Wonderful, a real life and the CO used to organise motor rallies.
JM: Did you fly with the Royal Auxiliary Air Force?
PB: Oh yes.
JM: What did you fly?
PB: Meteor jets.
JM: Did you?
PB: Phew
JM: So you were a jet pilot as well as a Lancaster pilot.
PB: Yes, that was the big thing in my life. Every weekend I was zooming about in Meteor jets twin engine, at all levels and in all kinds of formation aerobatic and I survived it, two, three of my friends were killed.
JM: Very sad.
PB: Three of them,
JM: Yes.
PB: For various reasons. One who I’d just taken home on leave and he was killed the next weekend.
JM: And I believe you also had time with the Air Training Corps, I believe you were an officer with the Air Training Corps, will you tell us about that?
PB: Yes, I’ve been a civilian and
JM: Civilian.
PB: Everything in the committee that you can be,
JM: Yeah.
PB: All the small positions right, leading right up to the top position as the manager, civilian manager of the Air Training Corps.
JM: So I expect you flew with them.
PB: Two or three different squadrons in Manchester and Stockport area, so.
JM: I expect you must have flown an aircraft in the ATC.
PB: Yes, to this day I am still the Superintendent of an Air Training Corps squadron.
JM: Right.
PB: Still active although I’m immobilised as you will have noticed, I still do that work.
JM: When you look back now from where you are in your life now to your wartime experiences, what feelings do you have? What did it do for you?
PB: Well, it’s a long distant past now, it’s just the past and it’s gone by, that’s how I feel about it. The happiest days were at Cambridge, there’s no doubt about that, but I also continued in Cambridge as Manager of Marshalls Airport, on another job for the Air Force.
JM: Yes, yes. So when you left the Air Force, what year was it you left, do you remember?
PB: No, I couldn’t recall
JM: No, no. But you
PB: I’m sorry.
JM: Your life after leaving the airport was very much involved with engineering?
PB: I was a chief sales manager of the Marine Division of Mirrlees, Bickerton & Day and National Gas & Oil Engine Company which were associated with each other, they were related, two factories eight miles apart.
JM: And you were telling me that you had a job as a journalist working on a magazine to do with steam trains.
PB: Yeah. That’s right.
JM: Tell us about that, would you?
PB: Well, I, the publisher was, the name of the publisher, has just escaped me, who was right near the, [pauses] there was a famous cathedral.
JM: Here in Manchester or? No, in London?
PB: No, in London. Can you name a cathedral?
JM: St [unclear]
PB: A famous cathedral?
JM: Saint Paul’s Cathedral?
PB: No, no, further south than that.
JM: Uhm, Southwark Cathedral?
PB: No.
JM: Westminster?
PB: Westminster Cathedral.
JM: Right.
PB: We were just outside the doors of that.
JM: Were you? Yeah. And you were producing.
PB: I was writing and checking and working with them and I learnt the art of editing a railway gazette and writing nearly the whole of the articles sometimes, the whole of the magazine was my responsibility. I even went to the publishers, which was Odhams Press, to put it to bed as they call it.
JM: So, your whole life really had a theme of engineering in it from when you left school, through the flying and in your life after that, your working life after that was, engineering was a common thread, wasn’t it?
PB: Yes, absolutely. And I, huge engines in, were as tall as this room, massive marine engines
JM: yeah.
PB: And I’m very proud of one or two jobs I had to do. One was this City of Victoria, a huge passenger liner with four engines sailing from Vancouver to Victoria Island across the water
JM: Yes.
PB: Do you know that area at all?
JM: I’ve been there once, yeah. But I wanted to ask you about your, you told me that you had kept in touch with your crew members.
PB: Yeah.
JM: I gather you were quite involved with the veterans, the members of 550 Squadron.
PB: Oh yes, yes. Still go.
JM: Are there many left now?
PB: There’s dozens, but only a few go.
JM: Right.
PB: Cause a lot of ground staff go.
JM: Did you have much to do with the ground engineers when you were on the squadron?
PB: No, nothing.
JM: You just kept yourselves as a crew flying.
PB: We were flyers.
JM: Yeah.
PB: And we had, one of the nicest thing was one Sunday, I was minding my own business with my Ariel Square Four tucked away in safekeeping while I was overhauling the cylinder head, I was always working on these motorbikes, as well as using them to come to Stockport at the weekends and the Flight Commander arrived in my hut right across the fields from church parade where he had been. You know the church we go to? Well, I found myself sitting close to the Wing Commanders and people in charge of the squadron and one of them suddenly turned up at my, in my Nissen hut, and asked to see my Ariel Square Four, well, I think, get out of bed and take him out to the Gents toilet where I kept it [laughs] across a muddy field and he was in his best outfit, cause the church parade was medals, in all his fancy regalia in uniform and his flat hat on, a top man in the squadron, not the Commanding Officer but one of the very, very senior flight commanders. I used to fly in the RAFVR. RAFVR
JM: Yes.
PB: After the war, after my full-time service. Oh, I stayed on with the Air Force because I loved it and it meant everything to me. So what, did I say I’d done?
JM: In the African desert.
PB: I had a job of repairing the engine of a York, which is identical to the engine of a Lancaster by the way, but the wings are higher up the body, they’re down here in a Lancaster and they’re up there on a York and I had to be on the scaffolding doing the repairs myself cause I was qualified to do that sort of thing and repair the fuel feed pump, something that had to be changed and everyone else was having the afternoon in bed on a very, very hot sunny afternoon and I was working on the scaffolding on the aircraft, which was a terrific, terrific privilege to me to be allowed to tinker with the engine on a York aircraft. I’d never tinkered with one before by the way.
JM: And you were successful.
PB: Oh yes, it flew away to Singapore. And I should have been going with it but this delayed my departure so that I wouldn’t have been back in England in time to report back to work. So therefore I had to get off this York and then get me baggage and rubbish and go back with another plane back to England and guess what I came back in? A Sunderland flying boat.
JM: Tell us about that.
PB: That was a wonderful experience to me. This beautiful Sunderland flying boat was gently resting on the waves at Valletta harbour and they took me on board to give me a lift home and said, would I like to fly it? And apart from the act of take-off and the landing, I did all the flying all the way back to England.
JM: Was it an easy aeroplane to fly?
PB: Beautiful, amazing experience and something I’ve always remembered. And the crew went to bed in the back of the plane. Honestly.
JM: Oh yes, a big aeroplane.
PB: With little round windows all way along the side. And I’ve since met an Air Training Corps officer, very senior one called Cross, who was in charge of the whole of the Air Training Corps, and he said, his father was an Imperial Airways pilot that what set him up as a pilot in the first place. So he knew what I was talking about with regards to flying a Sunderland, huge plane but beautiful.
JM: And this would have been presumably in the late 1940s?
PB: They did the take off and the landing by the way, I didn’t do that but we found out where we were, we got lost over France cause we weren’t expecting to be very precise with our navigation over France. I’d done numerous jet’s trooping between England and Italy, England, Italy, England, Italy, Italy, England, from Milano to this aerodrome that I couldn’t name in Southampton area, I’m sorry I can’t remember the name of it, it’s a very well known, it’s where they fly American transport planes to this day.
JM: Well, we’ll come back to that. Are there any other stories that are in your mind from your RAF time either during the war or after that you’d like to tell us?
PB: Certain funny ones. One in particular was when I was driving back from Grimsby on a motorbike and only a 350 and we found an Australian crew of a Morris Minor, now I don’t mean the modern Morris Minor, I mean the wartime Morris Minor which is a very square [unclear] sort of, very sluggish sort of aeroplane, eh, car I mean sorry, and they’d broken down by the roadside so I offered to tow them back to the aerodrome, they were members of my crew. And we got going you know, slowly gathering speed up a very gradual incline up to the aerodrome about five miles and they had about five people in this tiny little car and they had to get out on the running boards to accommodate them all, including my crew member as well, my navigator in this case or my, uhm, not the bomb aimer, yes, it was the bomb aimer, a man whose name I could tell you later on, he may still be alive too. Uhm, he was an expert on Robbie Burns, and that was, he was, he loved reciting to me, taught me all about Robbie Burns, he was my bomb aimer and we carried on until I felt the back of the motor bike was squirming like this, and I looked round and it was going from curb to curb [laughs] we got up such speed and although it was only a 350 motorbike with all these Australian crew plus my bomb aimer hanging on the running boards not in it but on it, we got out of control so I had to slow down and I got them back to the aerodrome.
JM: It’s a story of young men enjoying themselves for the moment.
PB: Well, they’ve been out enjoying themselves in Grimsby and, or some pub on the way to Grimsby. I had the great joy of escorting them back on the end of a rope from a motorbike. It must have been their rope by the way.
JM: You wouldn’t have one of those on your bike, would you?
PB: I wouldn’t have had a rope on it, no. But this was only a little 350 Triumph. A powerful one by the way. Before I graduated onto an Ariel Square Four.
JM: Are there any other stories that you’d like to tell us? About your wartime service, your flying time?
PB: Well, only that we were chased by Spitfires for practice for them, that was quite an interesting experience.
JM: Tell us about that, please.
PB: Well, I just took photographs of the Spitfires that were honing in on us, homing in on us, to take photos I suppose.
JM: I think that was called fighter affiliation.
PB: That’s right, that’s exactly what it was called.
JM: And that was giving them a chance to practice intercepting and you a chance to practice evading.
PB: That’s right. And they were probably from an aerodrome which I subsequently flew at myself on Spitfires and the name’s escaped me just at the moment, uhm, [pauses] sorry, the name’s gone, it’ll come back, cause I used to be there for months after my demob, well, towards my demob and they were a nice crowd till the Flight Commander was killed while I was there.
JM: In a flying accident?
PB: Yes, he made a mistake doing a roll over the runway and just dived straight into the ground and he had just given me leave, was very sad about that. The name of the aerodrome I shall easily find in my memory because of having difficulty with remembering it in the past. I’m sorry it’s gone. You want to switch off while I’m thinking that name? I will do in a minute. I want to tell to them ‘cos it’s so funny.
JM: Tell us the story then.
PB: Well, I’ll tell you about Lyneham being a landing point back in the United Kingdom near Southampton and they now have American transport planes landing there.
JM: And this was when you were bringing the prisoners of war home.
PB: Troops, not prisoners.
JM: Well, ex-prisoners of war.
PB: Yes. Or servicemen who couldn’t wait for a boat.
JM: Ok. Oh, I see, so they were any servicemen.
PB: Not just prisoners.
JM: Right.
PB: A story about life on North Killingholme aerodrome, was near Grimsby, we had a Warrant Officer called Warrant Officer Yardley and he stopped my navigator and said to him, Warrant Officer, well, forgotten his surname at the minute, “what are you doing out on your motorbike without your hat on”? Which is how he expressed himself, he was a very brusque Warrant Officer in charge of the discipline on the Air Force bomber station, “what are you doing without, your, riding your motorbike without your hat on”? And “Warrant Officer” the man at fault said, “but Sir”, very polite to this Warrant Officer cause he was very firm, “you can’t ride a motorbike in a strong wind”. Forget exactly how he expressed it, “you can’t” and the Warrant Officer looked round at the sky and said, “but there ain’t no wind today” [laughs]. It was a calm day that particular day.
JM: Was a calm day.
PB: But he still had to wear his hat and of course he’d generated a certain amount of that wind himself.
JM: yeah.
PB: I had a nasty smash on that same motorbike and finished up in hospital for a week.
JM: Oh dear.
PB: When I should have been doing some bombing runs.
JM: Philip, you’ve told us many lovely stories, you’ve really described the life of a young man here in England and in Canada and on operations at the end of the war. Thank you very much for your interview. It’s very important, thank you.
PB: It’s been a pleasure- And I’ll tell you the name of.
JM: Just as an afterthought, you’ve told us that you were commissioned as a Flight Lieutenant and I’m going to conclude this interview by thanking Flight Lieutenant Blackham for his interview. Thank you very much.
PB: Thank you.


Julian Maslin, “Interview with Charles Philip Blackham,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 24, 2024,

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