Interview with Gerald John Castleton


Interview with Gerald John Castleton


Gerald John Castleton was born in Southsea. He worked in demolition until he joined the Royal Air Force. He flew operations as a flight engineer but was shot down and became a prisoner of war.







01:28:26 audio recording


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PL: Ok. I’m in the home of, It’s Pam Locker and I’m in the home of Mr Gerald John Castleton of *** on the 19th of July 2016 and I’m interviewing Mr Castleton in his home so can I just start John by saying thank you very much indeed on behalf of the Bomber Command Memorial Trust for allowing us to interview you. And I guess I’ll start by saying do you want to just tell us a little about your, your family?
GJC: Yeah. My family?
PL: Yes.
GJC: Well, as the war started here in Southsea and the first bombing my mother and father went to live at Cosham. It was a bit safer. And I stayed in the house on my own. From then on I had different jobs. I did demolition. I did a training course in metal but I was naughty at the factory and I got instant dismissal with a friend and I won’t say why, you know but I really wanted to work for this firm that was putting up the chimneys, a hundred and, two hundred foot chimneys on the [electrolyte?] company with the furnaces and everything and I used to be up there and that was in the forties and sometimes the aircraft come around. We weren’t supposed to stay up there, you know. But from then on I went demolition and then I wanted this job at the labour exchange and they said you go so and so and I said, ‘I’m not going,’ you know. And they said, ‘You’ll get your calling up papers,’ you know. I was eighteen then and I ignored it. I got my job and the next morning, in forty eight hours I got my calling up papers from the labour exchange [laughs] and they sent me, sent me to the army recruitment office and I’d already, I’d tried before to join the air force but they told me to join the, you know, the cadets and get some in. Anyhow, I didn’t do that. Anyhow, when they sent me down to the army office I went into the air force and I didn’t know it then I suppose but they were getting short on men. They were taking the fitters and that, putting them into aircraft and as they couldn’t stand it so I joined. I waited a year to join. I joined on 20th, 20th of December and I went, I went to Oxford, you know [laughs]. Keble College. For forty eight hours, you know, doing basic maths and a little essay and I thought I’d passed and anyhow when I eventually goes in to the air force I was going in as a gunner/radio operator but I had an aptitude test for radio and they scrubbed that and they, I didn’t know then but I got made into an engineer’s course which was a direct, I was direct entry number six and from then on it was six, three, six - half a year in a classroom. We used to exam every week verbally of bits and pieces. The old aircraft and that. Yeah. And while I was in training I witnessed two Spits colliding one afternoon. It was a lovely sunny afternoon. One pancaked into the, into the station. The other went into a field at the back and then, but this is wartime, you know and so many things happened, you know. Anyhow, I did my six weeks, six months rather and we were saying so and so’s passed and someone says, ‘He’s been shot dead.’ And we said, ‘No. He can’t be,’ you know. You didn’t believe it. He’d only been in the classroom. But that’s what it was then. Anyhow, I got, I passed out. That’s the only time they gave me a decent uniform ‘cause I had second hand boots, tatty old trousers and a tunic which was near worn out so I sewed my new tapes on them and went down the road. I didn’t go a hundred yards, got ordered to go back and they dished me out with a new suit. You got a, you got sheets once you became aircrew. Before that you just had blankets. Yeah. And of course in training you were doing two guards a week. One station guard, one wing guard and a spell in the cook house peeling spuds. You know. It was a, and you used to get a ration of cigarettes in them days. Twenty five fags or something like that. ‘Cause your money was low wasn’t it, you know? I think it was about a guinea a week you know and I used to send five shillings home to my mum but had some good times there though. Anyhow, eventually I get sent to Rufforth. That’s outside York and there we crewed up. Must have done about ten hours training and the first time I went up I was as sick as a dog. I fell out the aircraft. I couldn’t stand. And I can remember the officer saying, ‘How long has he been like this?’ And I was sliding up and down inside. That was, that was terrible. Anyhow, they sent me to the doc and they gave me tablets and that cured me and I found after I’d been flying a fortnight like I could leave them off and I never got sick on an operation. It’s funny that, you know. And I went from Rufforth then we got posted to the squadron and that’s, they all decided I hadn’t had leave for, I had a week earlier in the year but I had nothing, you know and they said they got our crew together. We were on that night and I was, I protested, you know. I said, and I know it sounds corny but I did. I kicked up and I said, ‘I’d like to see my parents.’ I mean once ‘cause [there was those tales you were getting?] Anyhow, they, they scrubbed, the crew already had, they all went on leave and I was put with another crew and he wrote a book, “The Pilot Walks Home” ‘cause he got shot down the next trip but they all got out, you know. Yeah, but I went. It was the worst night of my life. I’d never kept a proper log, I did it all off the instruments, they couldn’t believe it when we landed. And I said you know I can do that lot and I can remember 6 o’clock in the morning walking down the road and getting a lift on a lorry full of old tires into York. Yeah. That was my first trip and I had my, my lonely er you got these leaves but when you got home everyone was working or, or your mates were in the services or something. [?] They were great days though when you look it and the life in York during while the bombing were, on the bombers. A girl gave me a theatre seat. I could always remember that. In the front row and I had too much to drink and fell over the wall, you know. But I did have an unusual thing. I went down and used to go to The Ouse Inn. It was a little pub down on the river and I used to come out of there, I used to get in a rowboat and have a row and I’m rowing this out but who should I see? My brother in law. He’s in the King’s Scots, King’s Scottish Borderers you know. The Cosby’s. Yeah. I won’t mention the girl. A nice girl. But then when after about, I did about five trips and the thing I remember mostly about them is Flamborough Head. You know coming over the, over the, just near Hull, Bridlington. Out over there and you could, in the distance you would see Flamborough Head and you’d see the Northern Lights. Lovely at night. I liked that. I found, strangely enough, on bombing raids you got the odd bump and that, you know, but I used to, you had, and in the Lancaster er Halifax you had to move back to the centre of the aircraft to change tanks and that and I used to sit there ready to change my tanks and it was a certain peace you know. It was really nice but but er then frightening things of searchlights. Yeah. But like I said I was lucky. I had a good life and I enjoyed that and the night I was shot down it was all over in seconds. We’d gone through a barrage and I was stood in position and I saw a little flame of light come through the wing and it, within minutes, seconds had shot back to the tail and the wing peeled off. All the top just peeled away and it’s, I didn’t see it then but I looked out the back and I saw this trace and I thought, ‘They’re not trying to shoot us from the ground are they?’ It wasn’t. It was a fighter wasn’t it? Tracing. He drove in. He hit us. Nobody was hit in it though. There was this, ripped up the floor a bit and he broke away over our port wing and the next thing I know is the skipper tells the mid upper because he’s only a kid really to look in the dark side. Don’t look at the fire. He said he was hot and he said don’t look at the fire. Turn to the dark side, you know and me he gave the order to release the locks. Well, when you think about it for no reason at all whatever went through his mind at the state of the aircraft he should have given the, I ponder with this now, he should have given a baling out ‘cause I never moved ‘cause he didn’t tell me to bail out. [I knew better to do that] and while I was struggling to get to the midships to get to the locks I looks around by that and then daylight inside the aircraft with the fire and I could see two of them baling out the nose and I thought [laughs] ‘Something’s not right here.’ Anyhow, straightaway I made my way. I picked my way, I picked up my chute, made my way to the front and there’s the bomb aimer standing there. He never had his chute on or nothing and I don’t know where, you don’t know what goes through men’s minds do you? They did nothing and they, they went so. Anyhow, I just jumped straight through and the wings then, I could always remember as a I come past the pilot I tapped him on the leg and the wings were coming up, engines still running flat out and we were going into a spin and that’s what made it difficult getting to the escape. Anyhow, I got through, fell back and oh that’s lovely. I can remember now how cool and suddenly I remembered I ought to pull my chute and it was clipped the wrong side. I went like that and there was nothing there. Luckily I just went like that and used the other hand and I opened it up and I looked around. I thought it’s totally black. I couldn’t see a fire anywhere. And suddenly I looked down like that and that was underneath me. I covered my face and as I covered my face there was an explosion and I landed on my back. And I stood up and I was embarrassed saying all this but I relive and relive that. I stood up. I cursed. I swore. Ridiculous really. Suddenly, I dropped on my knees.
And I thought of my mother and father and I thought, ‘You sodded up their Christmas.’ [laughs] but the aircraft was in front of my a hundred and fifty yard away. The back end was still standing and there was one pile of, what’s that, I thought four were in it and I stood there while it burned and then I thought, then I turned around and I covered my chute up. I put it under some bushes and that and started walking in the night and it was like a heath. Mass of bushes and that sort of thing. Anyhow, I came to a road and I started off along the road and as I as I started along the road I looked up and I could only see shadows because there was no wind, no movement and I see a barn and I thought, ‘Well I’ll get my head down. Have a bit of rest.’ I got in this barn, found a sack and laid down with this sack and suddenly I heard a noise and I got up and I went towards the doors, big doors and looked out the crack and I could see three figures and, with a lamp coming towards the barn and you don’t know what, whether they’re guards and that and I think well there’s no good doing anything here. Anyhow, I’m not going anywhere with these flying boots. So I stood in front of the lights. They came up. Held my hands out like that. Stood in front of the light and they took me into the farm house. Well, evidently, well I think they were, they must have been because no German would be working on the farm the farmer and there was these two young blokes and they took me into the farmhouse. None of them spoke. I tried, said gendarmes and silly words like that and I got nothing out of them but you won’t believe this the one sat in the corner they were laughing and he played Tipperary on a mouth organ. It’s unbelievable isn’t it? Yeah. Anyway, they kept me there and then the Gestapo came. Two. And they called me English bastard. That’s the first. Women and children baby murderer. And I said some things. What about Pompey, you know. Anyhow, they takes me down the local, there’s a little wooden bench on a chain against the wall. That was for the night. The two, the navigator and the bomb aimer er the navigator and the wireless op were already there. They’d been taken so they must have come down near the aircraft and all but we had to stay there. Well we slept there and six in the morning we were taken outside and that’s was the only time I felt a little bit uneasy. It was a little stone courtyard, they stood us against a wall and said, explained to us we’re going, you’re going to go to the station, you are going to walk down the middle of the road, the guards will be either side. So the three of us had to walk down with the guards each side and when we got down there, there was another engineer been picked up. He’d been hit with a shovel though ‘cause you never know. You could understand them I suppose, it’s just your luck isn’t it. If you’re going to land somewhere where you’ve dropped bombs you’re going to get it in the neck aren’t you? But anyhow we waited for the, the train. We got on the train and we, ordinary train. We sat there. Two guards. They were drinking schnapps and carving up a loaf. Never spoke to us or nothing, you know. And they stayed like that and they took us all the way into Frankfurt. Frankfurt we went into the, into the cooler and all the Yanks, there was a load of Yanks with us, been shot down and they were all in their underwear ‘cause they used to take all their, they used to have all the flying kit you know. The old leather coats and that and the Germans used to have all that off them and they’d be standing there in those big electric boots that were no good for anything. Standing in them you know with no, in their underwear and the officer who was in charge of us we went on the tram and the tram someone wrote in the paper the other day about it. They remembered the tram. The tram to the, where we were locked up and the chap in charge of that turns out, he was a Nazi but he turned out to be from New York but Germans that worked overseas or anything like that if they went back to Germany or anything they automatically got snatched and put into uniform. Yeah. Yeah. Strange isn’t it? Anyhow, then I started my confined to, to my little wooden box.
PL: So where were you taken to, John?
GJC: Pardon?
PL: Where were you taken to?
GJC: Where er -
PL: Whereabouts were you taken to, when you became a prisoner of war?
GJC: Whereabouts I was?
PL: Where was the camp where you were taken to?
PL: Was that near Frankfurt?
GJC: Er well no it must have been a couple of hours train ride to Frankfurt. I’ve got it on paper somewhere. What’s the name, but um you were taken up there anyhow and you spend, I spent from the 21st to New Year’s Eve in solitary.
PL: Good gracious.
GJC: I was taken out once and they asked me where I was from, where’s your identification and I said I’m wearing the King’s uniform and I left it at that and they put me back inside again. They all seemed rather nice [at times?] yeah. But there was a slice of bread. One guard used to unlock the door, the other’d throw a slice of black bread on the bed and you’d get a tin of, a cup of mint tea. Used to get that every day. Mint tea. And when we were at the end, New Year’s Eve, I can always remember it, we had salmon and potatoes. Tinned. Through the Red Cross. That seems so ridiculous doesn’t it? You know. Yeah. But one of the most unusual things that happened apart from the navigator saying he wanted to recommend, we should recommend Lou for a medal and they were the sort of things that always get up my back. I could never see the point. I know some people earn them, they do and that but when it goes to people I can’t understand it and I said, ‘What for?’ Well, to him maybe he saved his life but he also neglected Nobby I think. He should have given a bale out order.
PL: So was this -
GJC: We used to practice it.
PL: So is this the pilot -
GJC: Why didn’t he do it?
PL: So this was the pilot -
GJC: Yeah.
PL: And what, and his name was?
GJC: Cable.
PL: Cable.
GJC: His name, yeah. Lou. Really, a dour sort of bloke but the pair of them Lou and the navigator who I fell out with were always talking about what they were going to do together. Not, didn’t mix with the rest of the crew. No, we’re going to go on Mosquitos. We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that. To me that’s not done is it, you know. I took offence to it anyhow and as he carried it he carried it on. I went to meet him twice at Chichester where he lived and I, he spoke to me but it was hard for him I think. Anyhow, so really the whole crew bust up.
PL: So did you, did you all survive that crash? Did the crew, the whole crew survive it?
GJC: Did the crew survive?
PL: The crash. When you were, when you were shot -
GJC: No. No.
PL: Down? No.
GJC: No. Three died straight out didn’t they? The Germans told us that. Your crew. I thought four had gone but Roly had baled out from the turret, you know. That’s the rear gunner. He bailed out from the turret but Nobby, the skipper and the bomb aimer they died. Yeah. Killed on impact. That what they got it down as. But that night, New Year’s Eve, this is unbelievable. A naval officer, um a German officer came there to see a British navigator. Youngster he was. And it was his son. Now, and it came to the final end at the end of the war we were taking people in into the camp. His mother came there to be with her son. She knew her son was there and she came. Unbelievable isn’t it?
PL: So she [coughs] sorry, she was a German was she? His mother.
GJC: No. English.
PL: So how did it work that they were -
GJC: Well she’d married, I suppose she’d married the German, she’d had a baby but whether she’d had it in England or what but -
PL: Extraordinary.
GJC: He was, he was -
PL: So she was interned in the camp with her son?
GJC: Pardon?
PL: She was interned in the camp with her son?
GJC: No. She was, she was living a normal life I think. She was married to the German. She was living that life. It was only when things got rough and the Russians turned up she made her way into our camp. That’s only roughly I got it but it’s a story. I think it’s well known. Yeah. And one of the quietest mornings was when the camp, camp um ended. There wasn’t a German in sight. It was quiet and there was hundreds of horsemen. Come outside and there were Russians on horseback. Yeah. And they gave us a half a dozen tins of beans er sacks of beans and a cow. [laughs] Yeah. And when you see them on the move the one side of the road had horse and carts and the other side would be tanks and that. They were all moving. I had a good time the last two or three weeks when the Germans left, you know.
PL: So tell me about your life in the camp. What was it like being in the camp? How long were you there for?
GJC: Eighteen months. Oh, I had, I had appendicitis er made me way to sick quarters on my own. I was in agony. They left me on a stretcher for about six hours then eventually they took me outside to the [santenair?] or whatever they called it. It was wooden huts but they had double glazing, you know and two French doctors. And they said to me, ‘Oh young man.’ I got there and anyhow they sat me on a table in my shirt and I lay back and they, they gave me chloroform out of the bottle, you know, and operated on me and two or three of my mates or two or three mates was at the side watching, you know. Yeah, ‘cause if anything] the sanitation was vile inside the camp and even the hospital. There was only a pit and that was inside but I suppose you, it’s obvious. You’ve got to do something like that, isn’t it? They were pits. About forty seats. Yeah. Yeah.
PL: So how many of you were in the camp? Roughly.
GJC: This, in our camp? Must have been thousands. There was, there was six, what’s it say on there. One of them there is a, what’s the name of the camp there? Is it. That’s the documents when I was taken. That’s when I was taken prisoner. That one. And that, yeah that’s the camp. I was in these, I think. Opposite the, opposite the gate. Two hundred.
PL: You were in one of the long buildings.
GJC: Yeah. Yeah and the Russians, well, there was all sorts in them, you know. Yeah. They used to keep there, it was rumoured they used to keep their dead to have them counted ‘cause they get their rations that way. Quite a few were walking around. They let them out. I don’t know why. There was a load of French, Italian. Poor Italians. They used to give them the dog’s life ‘cause half were fighting for Germany weren’t they and half, half were Emmanual. Emmanual they used to say. When I had my operation the chap looking after me he was running around me all the time. An Italian. He must have been six foot two. He was enormous. I mean, the boys were always taking the mickey out of you if you had, it didn’t matter what happened like water up your bed and things like that. And he’d, I used to go, ‘Guido.’ He used to come running. Yeah. Had a little Italian in there with one arm. One arm, one leg. All on one side and they used to pick him up and lay him out on the grass. You know, they tried to get him going with a broom handle, with a broom like but - . I had another one there. Air force he was. He got shot getting through a window because our windows all they were with a bit of barbed wire over them. They were so big, the huts, two hundred people and that, you just used to cover them up in the winter with a bit of, with cardboard or something, you know. From the Red Cross boxes. Yeah. And he got, he got shot through the hip, I suppose it was and he lay in bed and he had his legs stretched. He had a bucket of sand to hold his legs down. Two of my mates were repatriated. Well they weren’t mates. They were army. They were captured on Leros and Ron, he got a paralysed arm and the other one, he had cancer and he died on the, on the Spanish border being repatriated. Yeah. Yes, hundreds of, in there. Not much said about the bombing is there?
PL: So what was life like in, in the camp, John?
GJC: What was what?
PL: What was life like in the camp? What did you do to pass the time?
GJC: Obviously we all went walking. Everybody walked. You were afraid to run [laughs] And there was one dumbbell. It was a hundred kilo I think it was. Old fashioned one, you know, with the big iron balls. And that used to, and you could walk around there and you could pick that up. I came home quite fit actually and about three weeks home and I was back to normal. Yeah. Yeah I had, I had a tan. I was, yeah that was, not all, some were morose. Stick in their bunks and they don’t seem all there. It’s strange, you know. I mean, I used to go out at the end of the war when the fighting and that, when the Russians first got there so for three weeks the war was still going I used to go around and there would be all sorts of things that would - I remember seeing an old boy lying in his great big house, like this, laying in the pathway in his long johns and a pair of boots on and he’s, he’d obviously been shot ‘cause he’s laid back there and someone stuffed a pillow over his head and his hands like that. I always remember it because his hands laid back like that and he had his pipe in his hand. You know. Yes. Strange. Yeah. Went to a farm one day. Tried milking a cow. That didn’t work. And there were Russians in this farm. A German was making boots, sewing boots. A really smart farm it was, the bedrooms and that and in, in the, what would be like the kitchen was a half a pig smoked, you know, hanging up. We was always looking for [laughs], we got more than we bargained for there. He cut a bit of the bacon off and tossed it and he gave us a big onion and that was the meal. And the Russky, he looked at us, we tried biting that, cried like and he picks the big onion up and he eats it. Yeah. Strange.
PL: So this was after you were liberated from the camp.
GJC: Yeah.
PL: Yeah.
GJC: Yeah.
PL: So what was -
GJC: Yeah.
PL: The food like in the camp? What did you get to eat?
GJC: What? After the camp?
PL: In the camp?
GJC: Mostly skilly.
PL: What’s skilly?
GJC: Well its dried veg, you know, chopped up like you get here. You get a mixed veg don’t you? But you used to have it there. It was like, dried and they’d, they’d you’d get it and you used to make your own trays cut up. You had, salmon was a common thing because it was always in the Red Cross. You might have to serve, share it between two [?] four of you trying, from the Red Cross. Whatever turned up? There might only be enough for, you wouldn’t get one for each of ourselves like. Yeah. But we, and oh and spuds. You got spuds every day. Maybe four with their skins. Yeah.
PL: And what about the Red Cross? How often did you get things from the Red Cross?
GJC: How what?
PL: How often did you get something from the Red Cross?
GJC: Oh.
PL: Or was it just random?
GJC: OH it could be three or four weeks or something like that and then it would be shared, you know. We used to look forwarded to the American really because the American they used to, whereas with our Red Cross they would stuff it up with paper you know to what’s that, the Americans would stuff cigarettes in, you know. And you could, it was and that was wealth in a, people sell their life for fags. I used to, I used to get twenty five fags. Half used to go on either jam or coffee. Somebody’s have coffee. I’d give them twenty five er twelve fags for it. They had a price, you know, so many. Even buy German bread with fags. Fags could buy anything. ‘Cause there was some Poles taken prisoner and the amount of stuff that was sent to them from South America that the Jewish side oh it was, and it all got through. It’s amazing.
PL: So what was the connection there?
GJC: Well it used to come through on the, on the rail and the Germans would never touch it. That’s, that’s was the worst thing a German could do was touch any of that. He’d be on the eastern front. Yeah.
PL: So, so the stuff that came from South America.
GJC: Yeah.
PL: That was collected by the Jewish community and sent to the Poles.
GJC: Yeah. Yeah.
PL: Gosh.
GJC: Yeah. Oh I had a pair of slippers. They turned up in Brighton after the war from South America. A pair of slippers. Funny isn’t it, you know? Strange. Yeah.
PL: So after you were liberated by the Russians from the camp tell me about your, your journey home
GJC: How many?
PL: Tell me about your journey home once you were liberated.
GJC: Well I didn’t. I stayed with Germans. [Kurt ?] he was a teacher. I stayed with him but that was before the end of the war and the Russians threatened anyone who was harbouring English. I don’t know why but any Englishmen living with the Germans was, they were threatened, you know but er yes. It was a bit mixed up then. I decided with my mate, he come from Manchester. What’s that? I thought of his name this morning and this guardsman we decided to move on from the – distrust the Russians. I got it down that they was going to take us down in the local, you know, the lockup. ‘No. Don’t bother. We’ll get back in.’ We got back through the fence to the camp and the next day we walked out the main gate and they never did nothing. There was three of us and we walked through an old, an airfield with real old aircraft. Russian, you know. Stringbags and that. And anyhow we must have walked twelve kilometres I suppose and we come to this village or town and there’s like the square and in the square is a table and four chairs and a Russian girl in red shoes and a tommy gun and invites us to sit down. This table got Stalin’s photograph on it, you know. This is out in the street. There’s nobody around, you know. Strange. And while we’re sitting there they must have been Poles come along, three or four, in civvies like, started chatting her and the chap, the sergeant who was with us he understood them and he said, They’re getting ready to send us back to the camp. They’re going to send us back to the camp,’ and we thought, ‘Oh my,’ you know. And at the same time a jeep. You can’t [laughs] this all sounds so, it’s not real is it. A jeep comes to the side turning. There’s an American officer and a sergeant in it and he sort of slows up and the sergeant yells to them and he says, ‘Runs for it.’ And I always remember that. We run. She could have mowed us down I thought but anyhow we all run for the jeep. We all, we got on it and the officer said to the sergeant, ‘Get out of the, get out of here.’ The square. So he dives out the square and we was trying to get over the river. He said they’d had enough. The Russians keep trying to take their jeep. Course the Americans had not advanced that way, they’d only advanced up to the river and we were still in Russian territory. So, anyhow, we’re tearing up this road and we thinks there’s a bridge over the river, over the Elbe and of course when you think about it there are no bridges. It’s obvious isn’t it but you can’t see that running up this road to you know you can see the bridge. It ends a bit. And as we’re doing it somebody there starts yelling at us from the from the bank and then we realised we had to turn around, come back and went off along the grass and we came to a bailey bridge with the Russians guarding one side and the Yanks the other side. So we sat out there real what’s the name and saluted and drove over the bridge and the Russians did nothing, you know. Drove over the bridge. Stopped the other side [and they all] all started all excited we was and we all had a wee wee. I can always -
PL: In celebration.
GJC: And then we got back on the jeep again and we set out and I can never think of the place we went to. It’s an airfield they’d taken. The yanks. Anyhow, we got on the jeep and the jeep, the back of the jeep was full of K rations. You know. Up to your knees in them.
PL: K rations?
GJC: You know. There was chocolates.
PL: Oh.
GJC: Everything and anyhow, we spent two hours on the autobahn and we ended up at this airfield and the first thing we get is dry cleaners with negroes. ‘Cause they never carried guns did they? They had all the menial jobs didn’t they? A lot of the negroes. Anyway, dry cleaners like the one at home. Big drier and that so takes all our clothes off and we’re sitting on the lawn with a blanket around us and as all our clothes dry cleaned and then I think we had egg and bacon. Something like that. Followed by whatsitsname and they said, ‘Go in.’ And we went in their, where the stores are, you know, like for razor blades. Everything in this place. [?] or something they calls it and we goes in there and you had to laugh ‘cause we [?] the bottom of our trousers up running [nickerless?] in the stuff ‘cause never had any of it. And we had underwear, toothbrush was there, everything. Everything you wanted and they’d been there four days and they had a film. They fixed up a cinema and I saw the er Charles Laughton in, ‘The Suspect.’ I think it was. Yeah. Yeah. And then, then you decided you had to go home like and there were Dakotas everywhere. Dozens of them. And they’d say, ‘Where are you going?’ ‘New York.’ ‘Over there.’ ‘Where?’ ‘Australia.’ ‘No. Australia you have to go to London.’ So and so and anyhow we got booked for Brussels and they, everyone had loads of loot. One bloke came out with a Volkswagen. He was a NAAFI type he was and he had this Volkswagen full up with towels. All sorts of stuff and he was thrown it away. I picked up a couple of pieces and we got on the aircraft and they said you can take what you like but no guns. You know. So that was fair enough. I had a badge. I sold it. I think I got forty pounds for it. We went on holiday once and it paid for a holiday.
PL: What was the badge?
GJC: Yeah. When we got to Brussels the [?] gave us the blow, blowed up your trouser leg, you know. Delousing. Then they gave you a fiver. Well, by the time I bought Hazel some scent I didn’t have nothing left, you know. The fiver went on that. We stayed the night in Brussels. Then we flew back with a Lancaster to what is now I suppose the main airfield now isn’t it? Yeah. And from then on to the Midlands. Get kitted out with the uniform and, yeah. One thing that stands out in my memory too is when they shot the air force officers. They got caught escaping didn’t they? There was ten of them or eight of them. They shot them and they issued, we had to stand still and they gave the order that escape is not a game and this is the result, more or less, you know. I had one or two, had six killed, I think, outside the camp during a strafing. There was aircraft everywhere at the end of the, the war. A Thunderbolt gave us a low level view attacking a train alongside the camp and you could see the pilots and the boys all stood out there. Yeah. And then they strafed each side of the camp and they killed six. That was a mistake. Even if they saw a cow they had nothing to, nothing to fire at, you know, at the end. That’s what it was. And the sad one is that we had, one of the air force chaps used to hide every time we had a parade mornings he would hide. He wouldn’t, he wouldn’t show up for a parade and things like that. And one morning we heard bang bang and when we got outside he was against the fence. They’d shot him. Yeah. Yeah.
PL: Why did he hide?
GJC: Pardon?
PL: Why did he hide?
GJC: I think there’s some people are a little around the twist aren’t they? That’s the trouble everybody. When I was in training one, you can’t say whether it was suicide or not but he walked around and walked into the propeller. In training that was. You know like the classroom. See, you can’t, you can’t tell really. You get some cranky. That’s the way it is isn’t it? Like there was a, this is a name I don’t know whether they was [?] he was a smashing looking bloke, you know. Curly hair and they made shoes for him. Two piece suit you know and he was forever dressed up like it and it’s one of those things I suppose. There was a Frenchman used to dance on the stage but he should have been a ballerina like, you know. Took all sorts. You didn’t have [a sexuality?] I don’t think people, didn’t take a lot of notice of it then. You can’t understand it.
PL: So was it something that you were aware of but everyone was just tolerant -
GJC: Yeah.
PL: Of it.
GJC: Yeah. If you see a couple of sergeants walking around hand in hand no you wouldn’t just, didn’t enter your, didn’t enter your head. No. It’s, it’s mind you see the camp I was in is equivalent to a large city. There were hundreds there. All Russians were Joes ‘cause of Joseph Stalin. Joe. I had one as a pal the whole time I was in there. He’d been wounded sometime. Used to limp a bit. And one of my mates was blonde and I named him the blonde bastard and the Russian used to, he learned that and he come out with it but he was there all the time. I often wonder what happened to him. Course they were so primitive and yet there used to be one Russian used to come around singing opera. Come in mealtimes and they, the thing is they used to abuse him but that’s the way it was. They all appreciated it really but it was easier to have a go at him like, you know.
PL: So how, how were they primitive? How were the Russians primitive?
GJC: Well, I suppose, well they come from all, lots of them came from the Far East. Most of them they weren’t like you see now. A lot of them came from the Far East, you know. That sort of, well I suppose that’s all they could. They didn’t appreciate anything when they got it. Put it that way. You gave them a big house, they’d be in there and they’d be wrecking it, you know. Fowling it up and then you’d see them and then you’d come across, like I did, one officer. He was driving a Churchill tank or whatever it was, a British tank, and he had black leathers on. Immaculate. You know. He was totally different. Yeah. Yeah.
PL: So when you got back. You got to Brussels and then how did you get back home from Brussels?
GJC: Lancaster.
PL: Right.
GJC: Yeah. Lancaster, we flew in. Landed at um, well it was, what’s the big one now? Terrible isn’t it this is? Where you all go on holiday from now.
PL: In the south? Down south.
GJC: Well it’s quite close to London isn’t it? I can’t think of the name.
PL: Not to worry. So you got to, so did you then -
GJC: Oh Heathrow. It wasn’t Heathrow. No it was the other one. Gatwick.
PL: Gatwick.
GJC: That’s it. I reckon it must have been Gatwick. You know ‘cause it wouldn’t, that’s what seventy years ago wasn’t it?
PL: So when you, when you got back to England were you then given some leave and time to go and see your family? What happened to you then when you got back?
GJC: They took me to the Midlands. Kitted me out. And I can remember having a [payraid?] getting about a hundred and fifty. [laughs] Yeah. Because course you got paid, got promoted at all didn’t you? ‘Cause that’s, when I look back on it, I think that’s one of the shames. The Yanks all get together but I couldn’t eat with my, with my navigator and bomb aimer. Seems ridiculous doesn’t it? Yes.
PL: So why, why was that?
GJC: Well there’s, they had an officer’s mess and a sergeant’s mess and they were sacred years ago weren’t they? But we used to end up to be together be in the ordinary, ordinary room, you know. Yeah. But people used to disappear so quick. I remember the Canadian. He was just behind me in the hut. There would only be five of us in the hut and he was there and I’d never spoken to him really and then suddenly he’s not there. Course they whip in, they take all his belongings and that. Done within seconds you know. ‘Cause that was the first one I flew with.
PL: So what happened to him?
GJC: Pardon?
PL: What happened to him?
GJC: Got shot down and luckily I met him again. Well I see him in prison camp, Frankfurt and he was covered in fleas. He had fleas all over him ‘cause they weren’t very, not very clean really. I mean I never see a wash or anything.
PL: But the Canadian who was in the bed near you that disappeared in the camp. Why did he disappear? What happened to him? Do you know?
GJC: Shot down.
PL: He was shot.
GJC: Yes. Shot down.
PL: But why?
GJC: I don’t know. Crew. There was [Fewson?] I always remember him. Straight, straight to the squadron. His first posting and he’s making the, making his bed and we said to him you’re not, ‘What are making that for?’ He said, ‘I’m going to sleep in it.’ ‘You’re going to be lucky.’ He got shot down but they all lived. All that set of crew. Seven of them. Yeah. Some, you laughed at some, some was serious. My skipper wouldn’t. He, he was dour I suppose, some would say. He got drunk once and we carried him back to camp and when we got through the gate he stood up and he says, ‘Thanks fellas.’ So, another night he came and he fell in a ditch and we left him there thinking like, he’d come around [laughs] and get back to camp. Lou aint coming. Went back and still in the ditch. Hilarious. Yeah.
PL: So what were you doing when the war came to an end?
GJC: When the war came to an end.
PL: Yes.
GJC: Well VE night was absolutely terrifying. The Russians was firing everything. We went to a wood yard and got in between the timber and stayed there because it was, it was horrendous. Yes. And then after that everything sort of, the war ended. That’s, it was getting out then, that was when I took out the old, strange. Yes. Oh, I did, flying back with the Yanks with the, in the Dakota he took us along Happy Valley and he showed us Kassel. Whereas, I did two raids on Kassel and the second raid wiped it out and we flew over it, he flew over it to show us and there was absolutely nothing. Yeah. Course it’s going to be a lot harder the next one isn’t it? You wonder what’s coming.
PL: So –
GJC: It’s the human race though. All through history. That’s all man ever done. Destroy himself.
PL: So after the war -
GJC: Pardon?
PL: After the war how did you feel Bomber Command were treated? Do you have a view on that?
GJC: Yeah. Well I’m a, I’m a [?] person. I couldn’t care less but [pause] unbelievable. Even Churchill turned on it didn’t he? If you do something you, you do it. Do it and you accept it. You can’t apologise for sixty thousand dead can you? And not, and not respect them. That’s like me. I joined Brexit. I can’t understand anyone wanting to go to Europe. Give up their, their sovereignty. For the life of me I can’t. Even if you go to the bottom you can always make your way up again but I think they were a nasty shower weren’t they?
PL: Well -
GJC: You don’t ever get over it I suppose. I’ll never get over it. What the Germans said to me. ‘English bastard.’ But I treated it as a compliment. English I am. And the other bit. Well that’s a matter of opinion isn’t it? Yeah.
PL: Well John. It’s been a fascinating interview. Thank you very much indeed. Is there anything you wanted to add before we finish?
GJC: I mean you’re a bit faint.
PL: Sorry. John, I was just saying thank you for a fascinating interview.
GJC: Oh that’s alright. Thank you.
PL: And is there anything else that you would like to add at all?
GJC: Well Stoney Cross is a little story. Stoney Cross. I worked there as a labourer. That’s Beaulieu. Worked there as a labourer, airfield. We had an up and downer with a foreman and he was a whatsthename. Nobody on, on the firm would work with me so, and I knew I was going in the air force mind you but I used to go in every day. Catch the bus. Used to go across to Southampton each day and I used to go dressed and I eventually I had to leave and go in the air force and now we go back after the, after the war. I’m, went to Bournemouth for the day with my brother in law and we pulled up in the forest and I looked at it and I thought I remember this. The airfield’s gone. There’s still bits there. I remembers this. This is Stoney Cross but the bit that I remember mostly is nineteen forty something after the war when I was at Manby because there used to be a pilot and navigator and engineer on your own most of the time. Sometimes you’d take a wireless op. You flew down to Stoney Cross. What for? Three Christmas trees. We cut them down. One for me, one for the sergeant’s mess and one for the officer’s mess. And we put them in the bomb bays, had dinner and then flew back. Who’s done their Christmas shopping with a Lancaster? We once took some of the boys home from Manby. Got rid of it from Manby. We took them home to Newcastle. We charged them half a crown and that was given to, went into the charity you know. Half a crown. And a mate of mine lived in Ireland and as he was on holiday we flew him to Speke. They’d go mad wouldn’t they? Wouldn’t the Daily Mirror have loved that sort of story wouldn’t it? Yeah.
PL: Well that seems like a wonderful story to -
GJC: Yeah.
PL: End on. If you’re happy with that.
GJC: Yeah it was a laugh. I flew the, my Halifaxes at the end of the war. I flew from Rutland. I flew the last bomb, horses. Two hundred and forty drops in a night. Two of you, that’s all. Loosed a rope. Yeah. That was the last of the [horses?] that was. Then we flew them for break up flew them down to Lasham. Lasham. The Spanish had the last of our Lancasters didn’t they? The latest ones. The Mark 6s. They went to the Spanish air force. Yeah. Oh well.
PL: Well, John, thank you very much indeed.
GJC: Yeah.
PL: Thank you.
GJC: Yeah.
PL: Restarting interview with John Castleton.
GJC: Yeah.
PL: So John you were just about to tell -
GJC: I think that was -
PL: Us about the bombing.
GJC: In Mannheim. Two thousand pounder and they -
PL: And that was the first -
GJC: Seemed to go straight down [but as far as we knew?] really isn’t it? That and leaflets. Leaflets. Them leaflets there. Hang on. Yeah that’s it. Adolf and that’s a Jerry in there. Whatsisname, yeah. I keeps that because I think my mother must have [?]
PL: Goodness.


Pam Locker, “Interview with Gerald John Castleton,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 24, 2024,

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