Interview with Thomas Carroll


Interview with Thomas Carroll


Tom joined the Royal Air Force as a flight engineer. He did his ground training at Mablethorpe, followed be a course at RAF Locking and RAF St. Athan. Tom speaks highly of the training he received. He went to RAF Lindholme where they crewed up as part of a Lancaster crew, although they originally started on Halifaxes.
Tom was posted to 100 Squadron at RAF Grimsby. He pays tribute to the wing commander and group captain. The former taught them to corkscrew and dive through a searchlight, reassuring them about flak. Shortly after sorting out a problem with the air pressure, Tom became a flying officer. He recounts the crew’s ritual on each flight with a lucky handkerchief.
Tom explains how they were anxious about the Ruhr and how they observed a Lancaster shot down by a Me 109. He also describes the bravery he witnessed. Tom noticed a huge number of ships coming back from a raid on marshalling yards and railway tracks; it was for D-Day. He was involved in Operation Manna, dropping food parcels in Holland.
Towards the end of the war, Tom moved to 626 Squadron at RAF Wickenby. They flew to Ludwigshafen, Dortmund and Cologne.
When war ended, Tom retrained as an air traffic controller in the Air Force. He was sent up to Scottish Command and describes a couple of incidents. He became an author, writing children’s books and about his RAF experiences.




Temporal Coverage




01:14:31 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 Tom Carroll. The interview is taking place at Mr Carroll’s home, near Tarpoley in Cheshire, on the 18th of April, 2016. [Pause.] Tom, good morning. I wonder if you could start by telling us a little bit about your background, where you were born and brought up.
TC: Good morning to you. Yes, I was born in a place called Woodlands, Doncaster, in 1923, 5th of August 1923. It was a model village, and the king and queen came along and declared it to be so. I lived very happily there, with loving parents. My father was a miner, he came from Ballinasloe [unclear] in Ireland. And my grandfather – we all lived together in the same house at this stage – my grandfather worked down the mine when he was eight years of age. I think it’s – I’d like to say a little about him, because I asked him ‘wasn’t you frightened?’ when I was a little boy and we went walking with him around the village and so on, ‘weren’t you frightened, Grandad, at eight years of age working down the pit?’ He said ‘well I was at first.’ And I said ‘well what did you do Grandad?’ He said ‘well they put a piece of rope in my hand, and told me to pull it down, until I couldn’t pull it down any further.’ ‘And then what did you do?’ He says ‘they told me to release it.’ I discovered later on of course this was part of the fresh air that would be brought into the mine. [Pause.] He did, he did this, and I suppose – ‘were you allowed to, when you’re allowed, were you allowed [emphasis] to work down the mines?’ Well he said in those days there was a lot of poverty around, and if you got a letter, you could send a letter to the head teacher, and say that if you had a job they would allow you to go. So that’s how he worked down the mine. Grandad and I became very good friends, and on one of our little walks, he suddenly said to me ‘you know life Tommy? Life is nothing but smoke, magic and dust.’ Now I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about, but there was something about the words ‘smoke,’ ‘magic,’ and ‘dust’ that stayed in my mind until I began to write books. And then I thought, that’s a title of a, I gave to my novel ‘Smoke, Magic and Dust.’ Because, when I grew up, and had lived through the war, smoke, magic and dust made sense [emphasis] to me somehow. I’d been living a life not knowing where I was going or anything, and then, some magic came along and I realised that that was all part of it. And then Hitler, himself, became dust, towards the end of the war. And I thought to myself, really, life is smoke, magic and dust. We all I’m sure can say to ourselves at one time of our lives ‘where’s life taking us to? What is it all about?’ And then we experience some magic, perhaps we fall in love and get married, and that’s magic. But at the end of it all, of course, it all comes to an end in dust. Anyway, that’s how I came to write a novel later on, I’ll talk about that later on. But, everything was happy. We were living a simple life, walking out with my friends, and everything was farmland around the village. We would walk out, bluebells gathering, nuts we got from the trees in the little woods around the place, and then, we, when we were a little older, life began to change [emphasis]. Because of this man called Hitler, and what he was doing, and how he’d invaded this country, and yet another one, and by this time, my mother and father were getting very concerned, because my mother had lots of brothers who’d been in, not only in World War One, but Uncle Bernard had been in the Boer War as well [emphasis], and I remember sitting at his feet at our house and listening to his stories about the Boer War. One of them I’ll mention. At night time, they used to throw barbed wire entanglement around the troops because the Boers would perhaps attack them, and so they hung metal tin cans to the barbed wire which would sound an alarm if they were attacked, and they stacked the rifles ready just in case. And they were attacked, or at least they thought they were one night, the cans rattled on the fence, everybody leapt up, grabbed a rifle and began shooting in the direction of where the noise came from. And everything went quiet, and in the morning, when dawn broke, they found out what had happened. The mule that carried the water for them had somehow stumbled into the fence, and now it was dead, shot dead. But, later on in life I realised what these camps, prison camps were like. When the Jews were later imprisoned in camps. But at that stage, [shuffling] we just [unclear] going from there. [Beep.]
JM: Tom, could you tell us what it was that lead to your enlisting in the Royal Air Force?
TC: Yes. When I was, when I was fifteen and a half, I left school. I learnt to do shorthand and typing, and I thought it would be jolly nice if I could become a newspaper reporter. But, I didn’t. I became, at that early age [chuckles] an assistant cashier for an inter, an international company. Erm, the erm, I’m just trying to think – [Beep.]
TC: I was working for this international mining company, and the war had started, of course, and we were all speculating, young people working there, what would we do when our time came to join up. Immediately I wanted to join the Air Force. The prospect of flying was far more interesting to me than firing at people from a trench [emphasis]. So I must confess, it was excitement of the prospect of flying in aeroplanes that I thought of. And, it sounded much cleaner and scientific and everything else. That’s why I wanted to join the Air Force. And, when I went to be interviewed, by the authorities when I approached them I was eighteen years of age, they rather talked – I wanted to be a pilot, but they said ‘we’ve got a better job for you in the Air Force than being a pilot,’ I said ‘oh, how’d’ya work that out?’ They said ‘well you sit next to the pilot, you won’t be called the pilot, you’d be called a flight engineer, but you’ll be able to take part in operating this aeroplane, and you’ll be an engineer as well [emphasis]. So, that’s a very important role.’ So I said, ‘jolly good, I’ll do that.’ Up till then, the only thing I could do was mend punctures on a bicycle. But they said ‘don’t worry about that, you’ll be trained.’ So in due course of course I was called up, and I was trained at, I remember going to [pause] to, I think it was, it was, I think it was Mablethorpe I think it was, were we did our ground training. Drill and all that sort of thing. And this was where I met a guy called Ken Cameron, who became a friend of mine, a wartime [emphasis] of mine. Dear Ken was killed in the Air Force later on, but we were in it together. Everything [emphasis] we did together, Ken and I, Ken Cameron. He came from Scotland, he came from, he lived in Scotland, and [pause] we were at a dance I remember, at Mablethorpe, it was a very hot day, and we had the ice cream man outside. So we went downstairs to buy an ice cream, and ran slap bang into the arms of a, Warrant Officer Bloomfield, a flight sergeant, a sergeant and a corporal. Well, the outcome of all of that was the warrant officers taking the name of flight sergeant, taking the names of the flight sergeant, taking the names of sergeant, and the corporal, and took our names, and we were marched in and put on jankers for a week, scrubbing pans and all the rest of it. And Ken and I were also having to march up and down and round with a log held on one shoulder each, [unclear]. Anyway, it was a very interesting period. And eventually we went down on the first course of training, which was to be [pause, beep].
TC: So, after the misery [emphasis] of scrubbing all the pans clean, then it became the business of getting us prepared us for flying. And we, we did a course down at RAF Locking, in Holton, and then onto the actual course itself, down at South Wales, at, erm –
JM: [Whispers] St Athan. [Louder] St Athan.
TC: Holton.
Other: St Athan.
JM: St Athan.
TC: St Athan, rather. At St Athans. Erm, [pause] I must say this about the training, if I may. The training in the Royal Air Force, and all the other services I guess, must be the best training in the world, because if you didn’t understand a certain thing, they stayed with you until you did understand it. And in the end, of course, came the day when passed out, and we were sewed on our sergeants wings. That was tremendous. Tremendous. After that we were given some leave, and Ken Cameron, my friend I mentioned earlier on, instead of going all the way up north to Scotland in those forty-eight hours, he came home to Yorkshire with me, and spent a weekend at our house. That was tremendous. And our friendship blossomed [?]. We went back to, we trained then, as, with a crew – we had to be crewed up then. And we went to a place in Yorkshire called Lindholme, and I remember entering this room – how we even saw [emphasis] one another I don’t know. It was absolutely filled with smoke, everybody was smoking their cigarettes, and I was smoking too. But this guy came in, this officer came in, and said he would leave it to us to get crewed up. There were pilots in the room milling around, with air gunners and navigators, and they were all looking for a flight engineer to finish the, to finish the crew off. And a pilot came to me and said ‘would you like to be flight engineer in my crew?’ And I said ‘yes.’ I joined with them and it was terrific, that we were allowed to choose to fly with the people we wanted, we felt we wanted to fly with. So, I said ‘who’s that guy then?’ And someone says ‘oh it must have been a shrink’ [chuckles]. But it was very clever, I think, to be left to choose our own friends to work with. So, that’s how I became part of a Lancaster crew.
JM: What did you think of the Lancaster as an aeroplane to fly in?
TC: Well, we originally trained on a – it was a Halifax, which I thought was a very good aircraft. And then, halfway through the course on the Halifax, we were told we were going to fly Lancasters. And I thought the Lancaster was absolutely terrific [emphasis]. I was so interested, I knew every [emphasis] nut and bolt in that aircraft. I really, I really did. In fact, that’s how I gained my commission through knowledge of the Lancaster. I remember, we were posted then from this place to 100 Squadron at Waltham, and I remember the name of the group captain, Group Captain Newbiggin, and Wing Commander Patterson was the wing commander, I remember them both, and after – it’s very interesting to recall how, what happened when we arrived on the squadron. The [unclear] said ‘you go and see the [unclear – maybe wing commander] now boys,’ he said ‘you give us a buzz and you can go in and see him.’ Okay, we waited for the buzz, and eventually the buzz came, and we marched into his room and saluted. But to our surprise he wasn’t sitting down there to welcome us, he was lying flat out on a long table, and he was wearing, on this hot day, it’s true, he was wearing his overcoat [emphasis]. Somebody said to me, whisper, ‘he’s flak happy.’ Flak happy? [emphasis]. So he said – he told us he was going to take us on our first trip – second dicky. And we duly left. And the [unclear] saw us coming out with these long faces. Second dicky was – he was suffering from, obviously, flak happy, he laughed, he said ‘he’s not flak happy at all,’ he said ‘the reason he’s lying on that table is occasionally because he had a crash landing after doing so many ops, it’s affected his back and he has to lie on his back for a while,’ and the reason he was wearing that overcoat, he says ‘it’s just arrived this morning for him, and he was trying it on when his back went’ [JM laughs] ‘so he really is very, very good.’ And he says ‘the last time you’ll see Wing Commander Patterson flying around on his bicycle,’ and truly that did happen. But nevertheless, after a period of small cross countries to check out our navigator, who incidentally was a Canadian, we were declared fit to go. I was very happy with my pilot – I remember my first time we did a most wonderful landing together in training. The way that he looked at me and I looked at him, it was smashing, it was. So we went on our first op. I just can’t remember what [unclear]. Anyway, it was, it was somewhere in France I think, just my memory, and I remember the wing commander was flying in my skipper’s seat, he was sitting next to me. My skipper was sitting in my [emphasis] seat next to the wing commander, and I was sitting on a little rumple [?] seat at the side. Anyway, I reminded him at twelve thousand feet that he had to put oxygen on, so we all did oxygen, and everyone said yes they were receiving their oxygen, and as we approached France I saw, it was like kiddie’s sparklers, up in the air, and the wing commander says ‘don’t worry about that, light flak is, is, only goes up about twelve thousand feet, don’t worry about it.’ So we didn’t worry about it, and he said ‘I’ll explain what the heavy flak looks like when we get there.’ And, on we went. And suddenly, a searchlight came on, and began, and swept towards us, and he said ‘now, if a searchlight comes on like that to us, you have to do a corkscrew,’ and he described what to do, and he said ‘this is what we do,’ he says ‘you dive through [emphasis] it, you don’t run away from it, you dive through it.’ And then he had difficulty finding it again, well we dove through it, and the searchlight went out, it must have been faulty or something, but anyway we got the idea that you did a corkscrew through an aircraft beam, and you dived through it not away from it. So we thought that was very good training, I was very pleased with Wing Commander Patterson, by then. ‘Cause what we’d done, we’d called him Harpic, you know [JM laughs], clean round the bend [both laugh]. His nickname was Harpic as far as we were concerned, and he never, never escaped that name, but he was known with affection from now on as Harpic. Eventually, we saw what he’d been talking about, this heavy flak, I was rather frightened I must say, because the heavy flak, it lit up the sky with a flash as big as a motorbus. A fla – but out of it you can see big black pieces flying out of it, so we said ‘that’s heavy flak.’ Yeah. Well we had to keep on, with flying [?] and we got to approach the target with the heavy flak pounding away. I didn’t see any aircraft actually getting hit that night, but I thought, as bombs went, you know, I heard ‘bombs away,’ my foot [foot shuffles on the floor] felt peculiar [emphasis]. It had been hit up and down, I thought ‘God, I’ve been hit already,’ first trip! I didn’t tell anybody, I took off my flying glove, I put my hand down my flying boot and stocking, and tasted my hand to see if it was blood. Nothing there. And it wasn’t till a moment or two later, I thought ‘I know what it is.’ I’d been standing on a bomb slip cover. A bomb slip cover is a small piece of metal with a clip that you could pull out with your hand in case the bomb wasn’t released mechanically, you could release it by hand, and this had rattled of course under my foot when bombs were released. So I never told anyone about that, I kept that to myself. Then, on, on our – we landed back safely of course, and we were debriefed, and after briefing we went back to our place, and we were all sergeants at that stage apart from Jack Slater, the Canadian, ex-mounted [?] policeman, a bomb aimer, Goody navigator, a Canadian, he was an officer, pilot or flying officer – both, they were both flying officers, and our pilot, he was a flying officer as well. So our mid upper gunner was a chap called Robinson, and when I say we called him Robbo, we did, because he was a Czecho-Slovakian Jew I think, we could, nobody, nobody knew exactly where he came from, but he was a fantastic gunner, and we put up with him because of that really, although he couldn’t speak. We said ‘why [emphasis] Robbo, did you call yourself Robinson?’ He says ‘well, if we were shot down,’ he says,’ I give ‘em my name, rank and number, my name’s Robinson,’ he said ‘they’d think I was an Englishman.’ [Chuckles.] A Britain, oh dear, oh dear. Anyway, that was Robbie. But he had a little grammar phone, did Robbie, that he carried about with him, and in this Nissan hut where we were sleeping, it was a thin walled hut, made of metal, thin metal war hut, and you could hear the rats moving around in these thin walls, and Robbie and, erm, well he didn’t sleep very well to begin with bemuse, well we were still thinking about the trip, but eventually we, everybody fell asleep except Robbie, who got out, took out his little grammar phone and sat beside the stove in the, the stove in the middle of the room, and began to play records. ‘Shoo Shoo Baby’ was one of them, and what was the other one now, ‘Shoo Shoo Baby’ and [unclear], and another one, ‘Let’s Take the ‘A’ Train.’ And as the ‘A’ train went faster and faster I have to say it inspired the rats [emphasis] to move faster and faster [laughter] it’s amazing really, its true. The rats seemed to wake up and run faster as the ‘A’ Train was playing. Eventually Robbie got tired too, went to bed and fell asleep. I don’t know how long we’d been sleeping, but we were awake at – I woke up, I could hear somebody moving about the room very quietly – this is true – and what it was, there were people coming in, and there was one crew who hadn’t come back, and what they were doing, they were cleaning the bed spaces out from that and making it ready for the crew who were coming in the next day [emphasis] to take their place. So, that made me think, I’ll tell you, because I never ever [emphasis] thought I would die. I was – and all the young people I’m sure who flew, thought the same as me, they were too young to die. And so I was never really frightened very much. I always thought I’d get out of it. But anyway, we did a couple more ops, and by that time, we were legendary [chuckles]. We were the people who’d done three operations, and Group Captain Newbiggin, the group captain said to my pilot ‘do you mind if I borrow Sergeant Carroll and the wireless operator? I got so many hours to do every month to keep in touch, and I’d like to borrow them.’ So, the pilot couldn’t refuse the groupie [chuckles]. So off we went, and he was a nice, he was a lovely station commander [cough, followed by beep]. Group Captain Newbiggin was a, was a marvellous fellow really, I thought he was terrific, and we did about an hours’ training together, and we came back alright, and we said ‘we’ll have to do that again.’ And I thought ‘yes, if we’re not, [laughs] if we’re still here.’ At least, that’s what Mitch said to me, ‘that’s if we’re still alive.’ But we didn’t mean it seriously, we thought we’d go on forever. Anyway, I went up with him this next time, and we’d been flying around doing all sorts of [uclear] flying and all the rest of it, flying one-three [?] and all the rest of it, and then I noticed that our air pressure was going down, very rapidly [emphasis]. ‘Oh.’ He said ‘what’s wrong, Sergeant Carroll?’ I said ‘there’s something wrong, sir, our air pressure’s going down, we’ve got to do something about it because we’ll go off the runway be – we can’t land without any air pressure.’ He says, ‘can you do anything about it?’ I said ‘if I find where it is that, I can repair it.’ I was confident I could fix it. So I thought ‘I’ll check, I’ll check it first of all on the source,’ so I swung down into the bomb aimer’s compartment, and in the bomb aimer’s compartment on the port side was a container for compressed air, and I could hear, even with a flying helmet on, I could hear it’s ‘ssss,’ ‘ssss.’ The noise coming out, escaping. And it was, there was a loose connection on the pipe as it turned into a curve. A little gland had become adrift. So I did as all good flight engineers would do, I took out the chewing gum from out my mouth, stuck it round, I got some binding tape out of my bag, wound it round and that was a job done [emphasis]. So I got back again into my seat, he says ‘that was quick work, what was it?’ And I told him, he says ‘well that’s a story I can tell the wing commander flying tonight.’ And it was a short while after that I became a flying officer [laughter]. And, or I’m pretty sure it was because of the chewing gum and this tape.
JM: Would I be right in thinking it would have been quite unusual to have a commissioned flight engineer?
TC: Oh it was, yes. I was, I didn’t know any.
JM: No, I’ve never heard of any others.
TC: No, I was. There were others though, of course. But, later on in the war there were quite a few. But I was probably one of the first, I think. So [pause], oh there was Mitch, the wireless op who had been with me, he spread it about he said, ‘if it hadn’t have been for Tom,’ he said ‘we wouldn’t have been here today, we would have been off the end of the runway.’ So he said ‘we’re gonna take him out tonight, and we’re going on the razzle.’ And it coincided that – there had been a clampdown, and it coincided with a very special girl appearing on the stage. And she was the girl who appeared in all the new, in one of the newspapers, of Daily Mirror fame. Jane.
JM: Jane.
TC: And she was there at this theatre [emphasis] in Grimsby. Well, we all got there after several – I must say, I think we were a bit sloshed, and they came on the stage, she came on the stage, and of course the spotlight fell on us because we were in uniform, she’s, she said she wanted someone to help her, and of course the crew grabbed me, threw me onto the stage [laughs] and I was, I had to do a high kicks competition together with the rest of these, along with these little legged girls. And I with my short fat legs couldn’t kick very high. But nevertheless she gave me a huge big kiss afterwards as a reward, and it was a big greasy patent [?] kiss [JM laughs]. My lips and everywhere were smudged red. I got back to my seat and I began to wipe my face with a handkerchief, and the crew said ‘don’t you dare throw that away’ [JM laughs], you see. And the flight engineer was always the last one to get onto the aircraft. He got the final checks to do before takeoff. So the bomb aimer got on first, wouldn’t go up the steps until he’d kissed the handkerchief belonging to Jane. And that became the ritual, the whole of our trips. First he did it to Bill the pilot, then the navigator, then the wireless operator, mid upper gunner, then there was Mitch, the rear gunner. They all kissed this, we wouldn’t do anything – it’s crazy [emphasis] I know [JM laughs] –
JM: Not at all. A little.
TC: But that’s what kept people going during the war, these crazy things. So that was that –
JM: That –
TC: I don’t know what happened to that handkerchief in the end. But somehow it disappeared. I don’t know where it went, but it was, sometime after the war I think, sometime [chuckles].
JM: By now you’re operating in the summer of 1944 and it’s about the time of D-Day.
TC: Oh –
JM: Could you, could you tell us a little bit about –
TC: Yes.
JM: Your experiences of operating around D-Day?
TC: Yes. Well there were two things really. What we were really, we were a bit afraid of was the Ruhr. The Ruhr, we called it Happy Valley because there were fighters waiting for you before you went in, fighters waiting when you went out and on either side of the Ruhr there was big eighty-eight millimetre guns, and we were told on this occasion, oh we knew it was the Ruhr again, ‘don’t worry boys, we’ve got a crew going up the side of the coast dropping window. The night fighters will be there, and by the time they find it’s a ruse, they’ll be short of fuel and they’ll need to go back again, so you’ll be okay.’ Not on, somebody must have told the Germans about it, and I saw more aircraft shot down that night – there must have been about twelve [emphasis] I think I saw, and what, what was happening was, they were waiting for us approaching the Ruhr, what they couldn’t shoot down they somehow – well we had to get into the Ruhr to go – shepherd us, it was like shepherding us into a pen. And we went on like this, and we were supposed to be radio silenced of course, from the crew, but honestly this is true, a little voice spoke up, and it was of a Lancashire or Yorkshire voice I couldn’t tell, and it says ‘please God, let me get back from this one, and I’ll be good to Ethel.’ That, well, we don’t know who it was, we don’t know who Ethel was, and we don’t know whether, if he got back to be good to her or not, but that’s what I remember of that one. I remember some very, very brave things too. But, let me tell you about a couple of things then I’ll get onto D-Day. There was one time we were flying, and I remember Wing Commander Patterson telling us about doing a corkscrew through the, through the searchlights, and on this occasion, a searchlight took a lucky strike on an aircraft. We were at twenty-thousand feet, this must have been a bit higher, and it fell flat on this Lanc, illuminated this Lancaster, seven people in it, they knew all about diving this way and that way and corkscrewing, but it was like slow-motion [emphasis] in this searchlight, and then climbing up this beam, was MU109, and just, it got so far, you could see it, and just like a kid’s sparkle came from it, and the next thing was, the poor old Lanc blew up, never to be seen, a dark [emphasis] space where it had been, seven people in a Lancaster had been, and that was the end of that. That really did make us think, that one. And the other one that I remember vividly, was we hadn’t got H2SR, radar in our aeroplane at the time, and the MCs, Master of Ceremonies, were marvellous people, they were like commenting on a cricket match. ‘Right-o chaps, that’s bang on, lovely, now, instead of bombing the reds, bomb the greens, bomb the greens [emphasis], lovely, spot on.’ And off they went. And these people were fantastic in the, when they were marking a target, they were so brave [emphasis], I thought. This Lancaster, it was a Lancaster, because I heard him afterwards bailing his crew out, they were flying about twelve-thousand feet, they were shot at from every direction, and they were hit, and he bailed out his crew, and the engineer went last out of it, [unclear] was going out of it, but he was still talking when the plane blew up. And the deputy then came in and he [emphasis] then started talking just as though the other chap had been there. Yeah I’ve never ever experienced such bravery as I’ve seen in the Air Force. People just ignoring death completely. It was, it was, things I could never forget it, never ever forget it. So, that was that. And I’m going to explain about D-Day. It was decided that the thing to do, we’d been bombing all the railway tracks, marshalling yards, all that sort of thing, and we’re doing this on this particular occasion. And we seemed to be getting no flak hardly, no night-fighters, it was dead easy [emphasis]. Anyway, amazing, ‘keep a good look out for something, something’s going to happen.’ So we headed back home and then we were looking down into the early hours of the morning, I saw a number of ships, I’ve never seen so many ships in my life. They were, it was, you know, it was D-Day I was witnessing, fantastic. And off we went, and we were told at debriefing that was what it was. The other thing I remember about flying are the V-Bombs, you know, and we could see our fighters fling past us, to go and shoot down these [unclear]. Fantastic, well just before, just towards the end of the war, of course, you’ll remember the [pause], Holland was flooded. The dykes had been opened, and the poor people were flooded up to the rooftops, practically. And the RAF Bomber Command was asked if we could help. And 100 Squadron was taking part in, it was called Operation Manna. Oh off we went, I’d been twice, and we flew, we seemed to be just grazing the rooftops, dropping parcels of food and water, and children no older I would say than eight or nine, they were running along the rooftops like cats [emphasis] catching these, and having fun and catching these things before they could fall, drift into the water. And I remember the bomb aimer Jack Slater saying to me, he says ‘one thing Tom,’ he says ‘it’s far better dropping food and water than dropping bombs isn’t it?’ And I had to agree. And I thought about that when I was with him a short while afterwards. The war was over, and we were doing a three day trip to Germany to see the extent of damage. We didn’t want to go really, but somehow or another we had drawn lots or something and we had to go. And, it was, we were staying – we landed at Gatto [?] airport, we were duly met by a German chauffeur who drove us to, I think it was a Yugoslav Embassy really –
JM: This was in Berlin?
TC: In Berlin. And it was a magnificent, I had never been in such an opulent place. It was wonderful [emphasis]. And the food, drink, everything, fantastic. There was even someone there who looked and sang like Lili Marleen, woman who sang like Lili Marleen. And there was a member, there was an army officer there, I knew, I got to know him, he was a French Canadian I think, and he was sitting at a table, there were no other girls there, and we were all young and wanted to dance to the little orchestra that was there, and he was sitting with about eight most beautiful [emphasis] looking girls, they were all French or, different nationalities, they were all in opposite uniforms, but they were all beautiful. So Jack said to me and Goody, ‘you’re, you’re a good dancer Tommy. Go and ask him, ask him if he can, if we can dance with the girls.’ So I had a couple more drinks and I ventured over to him, and I said ‘excuse me sir, do you mind if I danced with one of your retinue’ or something, he said ‘yes,’ he looked at me, he was about six-foot-seven I think, a big heavy looking fella, and he said ‘but you will bring her straight back won’t you?’ That, it was the way he looked at me frightened me to death [laughter from TC and JM]. More than all the trips I ever done [laugher]. Yeah, so I danced with this girl, and I do declare that I, that the space between my hips and her hips was about three foot [laughter]. I was dancing away from her. All I, and she said to me, ‘excuse me,’ she says ‘but have you been wounded?’ [Laughter] in a French voice. I took her back, and he said, he told me to sit next to him, and I did, I couldn’t really stop it and he had, I never tasted brandy before. And he had this big goblet there and he topped it up with brandy, and he drank that. He kept me there talking, took me nearly, told me what he was going to do, he said he’d make sure that Berlin was alright and turned around,’ and I thought ‘I bet he does too.’ [Laughter.] He was so fierce, I thought ‘it’s bound to do what he wants.’ And that was, the first night |I think we’d stayed there. And on the second day Jack Slater and I decided to go down to the Birches [?] Garden, to try and see the Reichstag rather because that’s where the Germans were going with their valuables to try and get the new currency to try and buy food with. So Jack and I went along there with our packed lunches, and on the way we saw this girl, she had a baby in her arms, and she was so young looking and frail, and she indicated she was hungry. Jack and I promptly gave her our sandwiches for which she thanked us profusely, and then I remembered I had a tuppence-ha’penny bar of Fry’s chocolate in my pocket, which I took out and gave to her, and she give a bit to her baby, and I’ll never ever [emphasis] forget the look in that baby’s eyes, when it reached out for more. And I vowed [emphasis] at that time to myself ‘I’m never going to talk about war or have anything else to do with war after this lot, not now,’ not after seeing what happened in Germany, you know, what war had done. And I never did. I didn’t register with 100 Squadron, or 626 after this, or anything, I kept quiet, until I think we were talking about the war memorial in London.
JM: The Bomber Command memorial?
TC: Yes. And the Dutch had already done it for the, for us, but Winston Churchill or nobody else had ever done it for Bomber Command, which, that didn’t suit me at all. But anyway, the Gibbs brothers were very important, gave a lot of money towards it. And we went there, to the war memorial in London, and in fact I wrote an article about it which I sent to a colleague of yours about it, but on the way away Joyce was wheeling me in a wheelchair at the time, and one of the WAF officers said ‘oh, you mustn’t do that Mrs Carroll, plenty of big strong men here who can do that for you.’ And this fellow, he was about six foot odd, tall, and he had more medals than most of the RAF people there had on, and that’s because, although he hadn’t been flying, he’d been to Afghanistan I think three times, or was it six, I forget. And, as he wheeled me away, we stopped under a tree because it was very hot to get a bit of fresh air, and he says ‘my father was in the Air Force, you know, Flight [unclear] Carroll,’ I says ‘was he?’ ‘Yes, he was in Bomber Command.’ ‘Oh, what squadron was he on, do you know?’ ‘Yes, he was on 100 Squadron.’ Well, I says ‘really?’ And he pulled his bit of paper out of his pocket, and on the four, was it the fourteenth of March I think it was in 1944, he says he’d been on an operation, and Joyce, my wife, she pulled my operation book out of her handbag, and on the same date, we’d flown in different aircraft of course, to the same target. Well, he asked if he could take a photograph of me, and I strongly maintain, I know that the photograph he took, who he saw, was not me, it was his father. And he cried, we all cried didn’t we? Anyway, that was, that was the end of the war memorial there, and then I said that I wasn’t going to do anymore towards the Air Force or the RAF ever again. But, I thought later on, something at home happened –
Other: It’s okay – [beep]
TC: And then we came out, change of squadron. My partner [?] became squadron leader attached to 626 Squadron, Wickenby. We didn’t fly many operations there, we went, before war began, close to the end. I remember we went to Ludwigshafen, that was the twenty-fifth op that we did was Ludwigshafen, and we went to Dortmund in February, February of forty-five, [pause, shuffling papers]. And Cologne, we were at Cologne from 626, and then it, towards the end of the war, it became, the Dutch requested, they said the dykes had been opened, the rooftops were almost reached by floodwaters and would the RAF help. So we dropped, we went on the third of May 1945, we went to drop food in Holland. And again on the, I forget, it’s the second and third we went there dropped food for Holland. And I remember, we were flying over the rooftops, almost skimming the rooftops, and the kids were on the rooftops like cats [emphasis], just between the ages of say five and eight years of age, trying to grab the things before they landed in the water. Tremendous. And Jack, the granddaddy of the crew saying to me, ‘it’s far better dropping food and water than dropping bombs Tommy.’ And I had to agree with that.
JM: Did you take part in the operations to bring back the prisoners of war? Operation Exodus?
TC: Never brought – no, we didn’t take part in that, no. It’s after that, after we’d finished the operations, 626, the next thing I remember is being trained – what would it be after that? Oh no, yes, after we’d, the war ended, all I remember is everybody leaving and going to various homesteads. The Canadian people went back to Canada, Bill, he went back to Wales, still playing rugby [chuckles], breaking more bones I would have thought. I went – what happened to me? Eventually I went up to be trained as, I retrained as an air traffic control officer in the Air Force. And I was sent up to Scottish Command. That was a very interesting situation. All I remember was that we were responsible in the RAF for any, for the safety of aircraft, [unclear] air traffic control centre, Prestwick. We were responsible for the safety of all aircraft, military, civil, up to ten degrees west. Any other distance further west than that, that was the responsibility of America. And I remember, this particular room we had, we had our set up, it was fascinating really. It was about the size of this living room, and the wall I am facing now wasn’t a plaster wall, it was etched in glass. And on that glass was etched every airway and RAF station, main master airfields that we had, such as Kinross, Lochenrouse [?] and Leuchars and so on. And they had special equipment at these airfields, they had long runways to begin with, that was important. But they had a piece of equipment, that if an aircraft called ‘mayday’, or any other emergency, a light would shoot out, and it would emit a signal, would make a light shoot out on this etched glass board we’d got, and where the aircraft was deemed to be was where the light crossed in the cocked hat [?]. So there I was on this Saturday morning, sitting at my desk in charge of everything, on a Saturday, everything quiet, everything – nobody flew in the RAF on a Saturday in those days. And I was reading the Scotsman, feet up on the table, reading the Scotsman, having my coffee, I’d checked all around, the master airfield, everything fine, nothing to worry about. ‘Pan, pan, pan.’ This is so-and-so-so-and-so. I’ve got a flame out. I’m at thirty-thousand feet, heading from Abbotsinch up to Lossiemouth.’ Splash, coffee flew all over the place. I switched on what we called a gun in front of me, as a light shot out from, to form this cross up on the board. And what I’d got – we called it a gun but it flashed on there three hundred and sixty degrees of the compass on the board, which I could get a bearing on either transmitting into a course to steer, or they’d ring you showing distances, separating each wing with their [unclear]. So I was able to flash this gun onto the cocked hat [?], and see that this aircraft was in fact thirty miles from Leuchars, and he said, he was plunging down like a stone, it was no, it was a youthful voice, and I’m over forty of course by this time, experienced, he thinks ‘if I just get in touch with air traffic control, they’ll tell me what to do and I’ll be safe’ [emphasis]. He didn’t realise these things could go wrong. So ‘pan, pan, pan,’ so I get back to him, I forget his call sign, I said ‘you’re thirty miles east of, west of Leuchars. Turn right on the heading of zero-nine-zero,’ and he did that, and I knew the runway of course zero-nine-two-seven, main runway, and I pressed a switch on the controller at Leuchars came on, ‘what is it Tom?’ I said ‘I’ve got one for you, a flame out,’ he said ‘oh crikey.’ He says ‘I’ve put people on painting the runway.’ I says ‘well you get them off, quickly else because he’s got a flame out and he’s gonna,’ – ‘hang onto him if you can.’ So ‘I’ll hang onto him as long as I can’ I said, and of course the lower the poor chap got, the less these lights shone out from these respective airfields, until the end of it the only light I’d got on was the one from Leuchars. And as he approached Leuchars of course, he’s now getting low, he’s twenty-thousand feet descending, less than that, and then the light at Leuchars began to twiddle and, oh. I knew it was hoped, he was over the top of Leuchars by this time. So I maintained his heading out onto zero-nine-zero, timed him for a few seconds, turned inbound [?] two-seven-zero, and he broke cloud at seven thousand feet and saw runway straight ahead, he said [emphasis, JM laughs]. And the controller came in at that point and said ‘runway clear Tom.’ I said ‘well, he’s just landing now.’ That little chap phoned, he phoned back to thank me afterwards, but little did he know what a close shave he’d had. And I remembered a similar thing in Germany, I was doing air traffic control in Germany, and I was at Gutersloh, which happened to be Herman Goering’s airfield [emphasis], and you’ve never seen anything like that airfield. Perfect. No running around bits and pieces there boy, fifteen hundred weights and things like that, all by railway. Bomb dump [?], fuel, everything [emphasis] by rail. And I was sitting in the control, doing approach control on this particular occasion, with a CRDF tube in front of me, you know what I’m saying don’t you?
JM: I did, yes. Say it, would you say it for the, for the recording?
TC: Yes, yes. CRDF tube it’s – whenever an aircraft speaks to me on the frequency that we’re on, a light will shoot out from the CRDF tube and it will point to, and I can get either a steer for it to come to our airfield, or I can tell him where it is, where it is on the tube. Whereabouts it is. So that’s a CRDF tube, I hope I’ve explained that alright.
JM: You have. All these experiences that you’ve had as an air controller were after the war?
TC: Yes. Yes, this, this was after the war. But the RAF was strong, was very strong in Germany at this time because the Cold War on [?] with Russia. Anyway, there’d been a clampdown on at, I forget what squadron it was, but they’d been operating fighters from there. We were opping Canberras from where I was, there were Canberras. They took part in Suez, the Canberras from [unclear] airfield. I mean I could go on for hours about what happened there. But anyway, what happened was they diverted, I think it was eighteen, or was it twenty-four aircraft, to Gutersloh, where I was sitting in the chair there, and that was the most fantastic job. The people in a caravan at the end of the runway at that stage could talk them down, but it’s a longer job. You had to be really smart and quick to get people down in a hurry. So, it, I was absolutely thrilled by this opportunity to get them down. It was, I forget what it was, there was a green flight, a red flight and whatsoever [?], so many aircraft in each [unclear] stacked up, all above one another all coming in. And I took one after the other, one squadron after, one flight after another to bring them in. And I brought them in over, overhead [?] turned them out [?] parked them in [?], smack down the middle of the runway, then the second lot did the same. And of course, while you got this sort of thing going on, you’ve got the group captain to wing commander flying, all the, all the high persons [?] there, and of course I was congratulated afterwards by everybody. That was a tremendous thrill.
JM: That’s a, that’s remarkable. But I know that there’s another remarkable element to your career, which is that you’re now an author, writing about your experiences. Could you tell us a little bit about that please?
TC: Well, yes. I, I used to tell my grandchildren stories at night. I used to go, if I was babysitting with my wife, I would go and take, lie on the bed next to them, falling asleep myself [laughing] and make up a story to tell them. And they were so impressed by these stories, that in the end they said ‘Grandad, why don’t you write them down?’ And of course I did, and I wrote a story about wizards first, ‘The Angry Witch,’ ‘Witch’s Revenge,’ and ‘Witches on the Run.’ And they were the first three, and the next one I wrote about was ‘Somebody’s Kidnapped Santa.’ And the last one I wrote about is a solar powered dog, and that’s waiting for, I’m doing a sequel to that one, and I’ve got to do a sequel to another [emphasis] one I’ve wrote as well, which is ‘Smoke, Magic and Dust.’ Now ‘Smoke, Magic and Dust’ means something to me. I was out with my granddad, I mentioned him earlier on, and he said to me, on one of our walks, that life was only smoke, magic and dust. I was too young to understand what he meant by that, but the words ‘smoke, magic and dust’ remain with me, and always will remain with me.
JM: And that book is about your RAF service in part?
TC: Part. In, in book two it’s, yes. It leads up to the part where I joined the Royal Air Force. And everything in it, about the flying, training and the operations are all true, absolutely true. The only thing that’s slightly different is I’ve had to change the names slightly, about Jack Slater and Goody because, well, they did certain things and it’s better that they were private. So, some of the things I wrote about them aren’t true. Everything else is true, except when I went to college, there was a German girl that came to visit us at this college, this is true, and she spoke about Hitler and Germany and all the rest of it, she was a beautiful girl too, I fell in love with her, I was fifteen, and I wondered how on earth I was going to get her to talk to me. And I knew that if I could, and she was staying over Christmas, she would come to the Christmas Dance at the college, we always had one. So I thought, ‘well I wonder how I’m going’ – and then I remembered the Hitler planes, and the other fascist planes that had bombed Guernica. So I said to her ‘what did you think about Guernica?’ And the teacher at that time, he was called, he was called – he was a nice guy, but he was, he was annoyed with me. He said ‘you mustn’t ask questions like that Carroll. I’m surprised at you.’ Because, she didn’t answer. I knew she is [unclear] at home, and it turned out, so I kept quiet. But I knew she looked at me and she knew what I’d said about Guernica, and it came out that she was going to serve at Christmas and come to our dance, and she did come to the dance, and I got her to dance with me. All the boys were lined up one side of the gym, and all the girls along the other, and the teachers I know were putting bets on who would move with her [?]. And they said ‘well nobody will move,’ so I thought ‘well I’ll move,’ when they said, and they told us what to say, ‘please may I have the next dance with you?’ [Laughs] Joyce, my wife will tell you about that later. But, so I went, I broke ranks walked over, and said ‘please may I have this next dance with you?’ So we danced together. And we became quite friendly all the time she was there. But when, then when it was over she went back to Germany, and that was the end of that. But in the book, I kept her in my book that we kept in contact with one another, and, she came back on a further holiday and became more than friends. And so, during the war I never mentioned this to the crew. But in the book, I’m so concerned about ‘are we bombing her?’ Wondering if she’s alright and what will, what will happen to her. But you’ll, it’s all mentioned in the book.
JM: Tom, thank you very much. I think that would be a very appropriate place to finish the recording. Tom Carroll, thank you so much for sharing with us all your memories so clearly, so vividly, it’s been a very, very interesting interview. Thank you.
TC: Thank you.
JM: Wow.



Julian Maslin, “Interview with Thomas Carroll,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 18, 2024,

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