Interview with Ray Charlton


Interview with Ray Charlton


Ray wanted to join Bomber Command but after going to RAF Paignton, he was re-mustered and went to RAF Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey where he decided to train as a flight engineer. He was posted to Bridlington and this was followed by a six-month course at RAF St Athan. He explains why he refused commissions at various times.
Ray was posted to Bomber Command, initially on Stirlings at RAF Swinderby and then RAF East Kirkby. He crewed up with four Australians and two other English men. He mentions the difficult conditions and crews who did not return. The mid-upper gunner faced several issues before being replaced due to injury.
Ray does describe some of the events on his tour: going round Mont Blanc; an encounter with a German fighter plane; instrument failure, going to the oil fields in Poland; insufficient petrol; the ground crew mixing up oil and coolant when diverted to RAF Tarrant Rushton; almost being hit by a trainer Lancaster crew when trying formation flying. He did, however, later find out that they had saved the lives of 2,000 troops crossing the river at Wesel.
When Germany surrendered, Ray was sent on leave, and then Scotland and Grantham for a commissioning course. He became a pilot officer and was posted to Iraq where he was made adjutant of 1 Squadron.
Ray explains how he felt about the treatment of Bomber Command.
Before his death, Ray’s wife, Jean, was married to another crew member, whom she met while training as a nurse.







01:19:22 audio recording


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PL: Hello, it’s Pam Locker and I’m in the home of Mr Ray Charlton of ****. So, if I can just start Ray by saying an enormous ‘thank you’ on behalf of the International Bomber Command Memorial Trust for agreeing to talk to us today, and I thought we’d perhaps start by talking a bit about your family and how you got involved with Bomber Command in the first place.
RC: I am one of five children to the Charlton family. I am the middle one. At the time of the war I’d just turned fifteen and then as it crept along to seventeen and a bit I wanted to join up in Bomber Command. My mother was absolutely [emphasis] against it and would not sign the admittance form, agreement form, so she said ‘You can wait’. So I had to wait ‘til I was eighteen and then I went in. I was sent along to London, Lords (Lords Hill I think it is called), flats there that had just been completed for upgrading. And then I was selected to go to Paignton in Devon and enjoyed that from the start, by the sea, living in a bed and breakfast apartment, run by the RAF of course, not by [unclear] the cooks and everything. But the main hotel in the town, in the village, was used as the headquarters where we dined and everything else, meetings. I found my initial test of weather. I could not for the life of me remember one set of clouds so they sent me off to be re-mustered. I finished up at the Isle of Sheppey, just outside London as you know, and then we had interviews one after another and I decided I’d train as a flight engineer and then from there I was posted up to ‒ now I’ve got it down somewhere ‒ and finished up at Bridlington and then from there it was down the west coast, east [emphasis] coast, to, er , ‒ until we passed out. And then, just to make things easy for everyone, I fell ill with pneumonia, about a fortnight before the exams so they had to keep me back until I recovered. After that I had to wait until the next intake to take the exams, which I had to join, to join with them to do the same exam. And we finished up being selected as trainee flight engineers and we were shipped off to South Wales, St Athans, to do a six months course. Twenty-six weeks of subject, each one taking one week except for the engines which was two weeks and, er, now ‒.
PL: So, did any of your other siblings go into the Forces?
RC: Yes. On one of the evenings attending the NAAFI a Canadian recruit who joined the RAF pulled out a roll of notes and in the queue next to us was a chappie with his eyeballs hanging down, so absolutely flustered. There was over one hundred pounds in a roll of notes. Apparently his father sent him ninety pounds a month to help him to live. Anyway, that night we’d all gone to bed the Military Police walked in, shut all the blinds up, and turned all the lights on and said, ‘Stand by your bed and your lockers’ and I said to the young Mo who stood near me, ‘What the matter?’. He said, ‘Shut up’ and in the end he said, ‘There’s been a robbery’. So I said, ‘Oh dear’ so I said, ‘Well. I don’t want to be funny but think of this as my bed, go into the next billet in the same position as this is’ (‘course they’re all in lines). I said [unclear]. Anyway they disappeared and then we were told we could go to sleep. Next morning I was sent for by the station commander, ‘How did you know that chappie was responsible?’ I said, ‘I didn’t’. So he [?] said, ‘I just didn’t like his absolute horror at seeing so much money, sheer delight to hold it’. So, he says, ‘Well, that was the money that was stolen’. So I said, ‘Oh thank goodness’. He said ‘Well, I’ll tell you this, you know the ruling here, if you get 70% you’ll be recommended for a commission. If you get 65% you will have [emphasis] a commission. So, I said, ‘I don’t want one, various personal reasons’. Anyway, he came out at the end of the exams and I’d got 64 ½ % because the day before was the final exam, oral, and the sergeant said to me, ‘You’re a devil. You know the answers and you’ve given me some wrong ones’. He said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘That’s my reason’. So he said, ‘Well, I don’t know what to give you, so many marks or so many marks’ and I chose the lower, the lower, number he mentioned and that was put on a piece of paper one and a half inches square which I had to take to the station commander’s office and hand it in and I put it on his desk after the normal salute. He said, ‘Is that all you’ve got? Who did this?’ I said, ‘Sergeant So-and-so’ and he bawled down the telephone, ‘Sergeant So-and-so here now’ and he came in and he says, ‘Why did you give this man so many marks?’ He says, ‘Well, that’s what he asked for’ [laughs]. He said, ‘I wanted to give him far more but’ he says, ‘I know he knew the answers but he gave wrong answers deliberately’. Anyway, he says, ‘I want you to alter it. I says, ‘He’s not to’ and refused to let him alter the figure. So I was left and I was ‒, I finished up, as Sergeant.
PL: Can you explain why you made that decision? Or if it’s personal that’s fine.
RC: My family was going through a very financial tight period. My father had lost his farm and prices for what he’d got fetched the lowest you could ever get and he refused to be made a bankrupt. He didn’t want the indignity of being a bankrupt, silly old devil. But anyway, he said he’d pay back every penny he owed and one of his brothers, he owed about £100 and he was the worst one to pay back. He demanded [unclear] until every penny was paid back. Anyway, it stuck and I was posted off to a bomber command, first of all at Swinderby on Stirlings (horrible tumbly things) but then on to East Kirkby where we started our bombing trips.
PL: I’m recommencing with Raymond Charlton.
RC: I’m Raymond Charlton. Now I’ve forgotten where I was. No, I can’t pick it up.
PL: You’ve just gone to East Kirkby.
RC: Well, before I got there I was asked, no, I’m jumping ahead. No, we went to East Kirkby and we were crewed up. Four Australians, the pilot, navigator, bomb aimer, and wireless operator were from different parts of Australia and the mid upper gunner came from Loughborough and the rear gunner came from Norfolk. I can’t tell you no more else. He was the baby of the crew. He was only nineteen. I was an old man of twenty. It was three weeks after I finished flying I became an old man of twenty-one. And then the fun starts. I was sent along to be re-graded for a job but being a VR, not many people know about this, the Air Force could not post you anywhere without your permission or change your job without permission of you. Er, it’s not flowing.
PL: So, tell me about East Kirkby. What was it like there?
RC: East Kirkby was very flat, typical flat Lincolnshire field. When the wind blew there was nothing to stop it. The snow came. The only thing that stopped it was your buildings. Our Nissan hut was completely blocked in one end. We had to use the back end and the floor was lino covered and in the winter months it used to be awash. So how we survived that I’ve no idea. And then of course they decided a very good frost put the kybosh on it. One tap only worked and that was in the cookhouse. Taps all over the camp wash rooms and such like were all frozen. So it was back to ‒
PL: Very uncomfortable.
RC: Very uncomfortable, yes.
PL: And did you share with the rest of your ‒ the rest of your group you were with or with others?
RC: Only the crew. We were put in a Nissan hut which housed two crews. Fourteen of you. And then, unfortunately, it appeared the other crew didn’t come back from a trip and then that happened on one or two occasions so they decided, as the bomb aimer put it, we’ve given everybody the jinx. So they wouldn’t let another crew come back in. They filled that bed up with the instrument repairer. He was a funny chap. Every time an aircraft went out and we were at home he was on his own but when the aircraft ‒, when we were not flying we had to sit up while all of them came back and landed. Well we’d never heard that noise before but he didn’t wake up at all. Then suddenly a tinkle bell went and it was an alarm clock in his kit bag and he woke up. So I says, ‘He never hears the aircraft, only tinkle bells’ but he was a nice chap to work with and did well. Then, of course, when we finished flying, I was posted off to a recruitment camp and they were trying to find us with jobs. First of all it was a young pilot officer still wet behind the ears, then a flight lieutenant, flying officer then a flight lieutnent , then a squadron leader. Then a wing commander came in and says, ‘You are causing trouble’. I says, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘You won’t make up your mind’. I said, ‘I will. I will not take a clerk’s job’. ‘Not even a clerk SD (Special Duties)? ‘No’ I says, ‘I’ll be a clerk when I’m demobbed. I don’t want to be a clerk now’. He says, he went on, ‘Well, the RAF regiment is recruiting officers. Would you be interested?’ I says, ‘Well, I could be’. He says, ‘You’re a funny chap. Three times you’ve refused to have a commission. Now you’re saying you don’t mind’. ‘Well, it’s a different situation isn’t it? When I was flying I didn’t want a commission’. I said, ‘How would I have gone from St Athans as a trainee flight engineer to join a crew, all of them sergeants. How would I feel as a pilot officer?’ I said, ‘That’s one of the reasons why I refused to do it.’ The there was another occasion when three of us were invited to the adjutant’s office to fill in a form. When we finished it I said, ‘Can I have my form back?’ He said, ‘The CO’s not signed it yet. He’s not back ‘til four o’clock’. I said, ‘I’ll have the form now’. So he gave me the form, the adjutant came into the room and I tore it up. I said, ‘This is for a commission and I don’t want it’. Then, of course, oh I forget. What was it? Yes, yes, the pilot said to me one day after muster (while we were flying this is). He says, ‘Can we go for a walk round the perimeter?’ He said, ‘I want to talk to you’. I said, ‘Am I in trouble?’ He said, ‘No, no, no. The CO wants you to change crews and go fly with him, the wing commander.’ I said, ‘Like hell!’ He said, ‘What’ll I tell him?’ I said, ‘Tell him to go to hell!’ Well, apparently he did [laughs]. ‘Cause I met him thirty-odd years later and I says, ‘I don’t expect you remember me’. He said, ‘I do. You’re the one who refused to fly with me. Go to hell!’ He said, ‘Why didn’t you want to?’ I said, ‘I just didn’t want to’. And then I said, ‘I’ve now taken it and come back in the RAF regiment as a Flight Lieutenant so now I’m happy’. I said, ‘Things are straight at home and everything else.’
PL: So, tell me about the relationship you had with your crew.
RC: It was a very, very, very friendly, easy to get along with crowd. Never any trouble. The only trouble we ever had was with the mid upper gunner. He called out one day, ‘My [?] heel was on fire’. His electrically heated suit had set fire at the heel. The connection had so the pilot said, ‘Go and sort him out’. Of course, being dogs body I went down to the mid upper gunner, took his shoe off, his sock off, put a dressing on his heel, ‘cause it was a horrible smell. Burning flesh is not very pleasant. Anyway I put his shoes back on and socks, put him in his perch and I says, ‘Get on with it and shut up’. Anyway, I hadn’t been back many minutes in my position when he said ‘It isn’t half draughty here’. So the pilot in very sharp terms and in terms I’d never heard before, ‘Go and sort him out once and for all and shut him up’. So, I went back and said, ‘What a matter?’ He said, ‘Well, when I sit under this I get a draught on my neck’. So I put my fingers up behind his head and they went straight through a hole. It could only be a bullet hole but I wasn’t going to tell anybody. Anyway, I said, ‘Don’t turn side wards unless you have to, you know, need to move, turn side wards, and you won’t feel it.’ When I got back to the pilot’s position he said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘Shush’, he said, ‘I want to know’. So I went back and said, ‘Bullet in the dome, bullet hole in the dome. Just one in the back’. And then when we landed the bomb aimer knew. He heard me say to the ground crew, ‘You need a new canopy. It’s gone.’ So he says, ‘We’d better go straight back to the hospital ‘cause he’s that bloomin’ thick the bullet’s probably still in his head’. We were really nice to each other normally but that was the worst remark I’d heard about any of them. And we just didn’t bother. But anyway, they changed the thing and, of course, just before then he’d insisted on doing one of my jobs, which was to dipstick the petrol tanks, but on a frosty morning I told him where to walk on the wing. I said, ‘Don’t go to the right or to the left. Keep on that line’. What did he do? He stepped over to the right and then you saw him sliding down the wing. It’s only fifteen feet high and when we got in the aircraft he says, ‘My left wrist hurts’ and I put it in a splint, sat him in a turret and said, ‘Work your right hand and keep your left hand steady’ and I said, ‘You’re all right’. Anyway when we landed we said, ‘We’d better go back to hospital with him’ and they took him there and the wing commander came in and said, ‘You’d better find a new gunner’. He said, ‘We’re a three months repair job - compound fracture’. Now of course sitting there working the turret wouldn’t do any good at all but he had no option. But he was an ex-boxer so you know how intelligent they are [laughs].
PL: So, what about your missions. Tell me a little bit about your tours.
RC: Well, most tours are, most of the tour, were without any remark you can pass. One to Munich once, after climbing Mont Blanc, which is twenty-four thousand feet, we couldn’t go over the top. We had to go round it. While we were getting near to the target the bomb aimer, bomb leader, who controlled where we dropped bombs said, ‘Hold back chaps. Do not drop yet. My boys are down posting the letters in the letter boxes. If anyone drops a bomb you’ll kill one or two of them’. Anyway, in the end he says, ‘Right chaps, boys’. But to get there we’d have to turn out and then back in the crowd. Well you know what it’s like trying to cross a busy road from a side road. You’ve got to wait for a space and that’s what we had to do, wait for a space between all the aircraft going in to the target. We got there, did the necessary, and went home. And then, on another occasion, oh dear, that’s gone.
PL: What did he mean, ‘putting the letters in the letter box’?
RC: They were flying that low to put markers down and to cover any not right, not in the right position to put colour on to cancel it. But they were flying at about fifty feet above house tops. The Lancaster going round and round directing them what to do, where to drop one and he controlled the rest of us. Now, what was another occasion? I had three occasions when the ‒ No, won’t come.
PL: Can you remember where you were sent on your missions?
RC: Well, that was to Munich. And then one day waking up in the morning the bomb aimer said ‘Oh dear, we’ve had it tonight, chop [?] We’re going to chopper [?]. We were shot down over the target.’ Now, funnily enough I’d had a dream myself and it was his remarks that reminded me of it. They always said unless you have a remark, a remarkable namesake you don’t know it, know what the target was, dream was. And I’d had a dream. In fact when we were over the English Channel I pointed to the navigator on his map where we would cross on the way out and on the way back. I said, ‘We shall cross there on the way back’ and I saw every river, every railway line and every forest area in this trip and then when we got over, over the target, I suddenly saw a black spot at, what we’d call ten past two. Look at your watch and look at ten past two. And I said, ‘Now watch it’ and all of us were watching that (the pilot was too busy). All six of us were watching that black spot area and it became closer and I said, ‘Well, that’s it’ and we did the necessary cork screw dive and with that he, this object just flew away. It was a German night fighter, realised we’d spotted him and turned away to look for someone else. But I can’t think ‒ there was three occasions. Never mind, they won’t come.
PL: So, you stayed with the same crew throughout your time?
RC: The crew was with us until we lost the mid upper gunner and then we swapped to Bob, Bob Mott, and he fitted in absolutely marvellous. The pilot and I selected him from the initial conversation ‘cause I said to Tommy, ‘This is the one’. We’d seen one but didn’t like him and then we saw another and then we told the third to go back to duties. And he fitted in as if he’d been with us all the time. We didn’t even realise it was a different man. Just the fact he just had a slightly different voice but the same attitude. We were all keen on doing a job. I’ll always remember one new crew came in to fill up a space, the other space on our billet, and they went out on fighter ‒, fighter affiliation. That’s where a Spitfire armed with a camera attacks you to see what reaction you had. And the mid upper gunner said, ‘He sat on his rest bed telling the pilot what to do’, and I said to our pilot, ‘What do you think of that?’ He said, ‘Not much’ and I said, ‘I think even less of it. How many do we give him?’ And we both agreed one or two trips and then the next night I was put on to fly in his place on their first trip because their engineer had fallen sick and I said, ‘I’m not going to go’ so they threatened me with a court martial.
PL: Why was that?
PL: Lack of moral fibre and I said I’d rather die a coward than live, rather live a coward than die as a stupid idiot and anyway they went off ‒ nobody thing. The next night we were sent on this trip with this same crew to go together in a thing. They didn’t come back. On their first trip they didn’t came back. But what do you expect with an attitude like that in training? We said they didn’t deserve to live but apparently the bomb aimer said we had got a name, putting a jinx on people, because the pilot and I used to say, ‘Give them five trips’, ‘Give them four trips’, and they never went beyond it. You knew by just how they behaved what chance they had.
PL: Was there a lot of superstition?
RC: I think there was a lot of ‒, yes, a lot of people carried things in their pockets, mementos from the family to cover, to guard them. It’s like, we were sent off one day to some oil fields in Poland. Now, on the way out from England all our instruments failed. Of the six main instruments only two worked. We’d got height and speed but not for wing movement or height to ground and we struggled on. The cloud was very heavy. We didn’t see where we were going. When we crossed the ‒, Norway and what not, what do you call that area? I can’t think of the area. Denmark and what not. When we crossed over there not one visible sign of any coastline so we didn’t know where we were. Poor old navigator had to do everything by dead reckoning and we flew off and after a while, flying ages (it was a nine hour trip), the pilot, navigator, said, ‘We must be somewhere near’ and we looked down and we saw some flares about fifty miles behind us. I said, ‘We’ve come too far’. So, of course, we turned back and what we saw my heart jumped because the flak was so dense, looking at a wall of flak, and we had to go in a circle and turn and believe it or not it was an arch like that and we flew under the arch and they said, when we were debriefed, ‘No bullet holes?’ No, not one. He said, ‘You’re the only one’. He said, ‘Have you been on the same trip?’ We said, ‘Well, we’ll prove that when the air camera shot of where the bombs dropped’ and it did give a very clear shot. We were over the target, the oil fields in Poland. Of course Gerry was very short of oil so it was necessary to keep it away from him. But, er, its, we never did, never did solve why the instruments failed. They blamed me, thinking I’d not put on, or removed, the protection of the tube letting the air in. It’s like just a hole in a pipe which told the instruments what to do, air pressure, and everything was registered. It was the six, and there’s two of them, instruments just like those. There was six of them in a block in every aircraft you could see, still is, and everybody accused me of not removing the protection which was on [unclear] the ground. Take it when you go flying, put it in your bag, just a plastic canvas tube cover. But no, that was alright, when we got there, and that was it. Never did find out why it failed. Then there was one funny trip, coming back, just after we’d left the target, I said to the pilot, ‘My oil drum, oil tank, petrol tank, on the wing, starboard side, looks a bit low’. ‘Double check and give me your readings’, so I sat and did all my calculations again. I said, ‘No, I’m fifty gallons short on starboard’. Well, he said, ‘We’ll press on’. Now, we didn’t know what it was. It could have been a hole in the tank and it sealed itself. They did that, they sealed themselves if there was just a small damage, or not. Anyway, I did a ten minute reading every time from then until we landed and as we came into land they didn’t want us to land, they wanted us to go away to some crash ‘drome. The pilot refused flat, ‘Not going, land here or else’. Anyhow, they allowed us in but we had to park somewhere way over, way away from where we normally parked. So, what did they do then? Put an armed escort on it until everything was checked. They recharged the tanks with some petrol and proved that I was very low. I’d only got twenty-six gallons left in both two tanks, which was just about enough to land on. Anyway ‒.
PL: Did they ever find out what the problem was?
RC: No, I still say they didn’t put it in but the petrol boys had a knack, a knack of filling their forms in that nobody could understand. But I don’t think they would do it deliberately. But it never did resolve itself. But the wing commander was very cross over it ‘cause we’d landed that much earlier than we should‘ve done and also not having the petrol right and my form which was normally within fifteen gallons of what it should be was way out. But still there we are.
PL: What was a crash drum? Did you say crash drum?
RC: Crash ‘drome [emphasis]. Aircraft ‒. There’s one in Norfolk. Eight aircraft could land at the same time on the wet. It was a special ‘drome built for crashing on. No aircraft normally use it. You landed and then they pulled you inbetween the trees out of the way so nobody could land at the same spot and it was about six or seven that could land at the same time. It was fantastic really. But he wanted us to go to another ‘drome that was prepared to let us aircraft land if they were not busy. But he refused to even consider it. But having got back it all blew over, but no ‒.
PL: Tell me a little about your job as flight engineer.
RC: Well, it just, my job was to make sure the engines were absolutely lined up with each other, to synchronise all four engines along with the pilot’s help. He’d do two and I’d do two and then we’d join the two inners to make sure they were together and naturally without any [unclear] he was shorter than me. He couldn’t reach all the levers. So if he wanted to, er, put some exhaust, acceleration [emphasis], on he’d have to go down, I’d [emphasis] have to go down and lift it up and hand it over to him to use, to ‒. ‘Cause when we first met he wanted to control all the engine’s controls, but I said, ‘No you don’t. I control those. That’s how I’d been trained’ and after a while he accepted it ‘cause he realised we couldn’t reach half of them. He was too low for him to reach but we never did fall out. My job, well you could say it was getting boring [unclear] ‘cause nothing happened. We never had any false alarms, never any fuses, we just went and we came back and we used to hand the aircraft over to the ground crews. Nothing to report, just clean it up, you know, just check it over. The only time we had any trouble we had to land at an aerodrome called Tarrant Rushton and I said to the ground crew there that had been allocated to our aircraft, ‘I’ll see you in the morning at eight o’clock. Don’t touch a thing’. Well, I got there at eight o’clock and he said, ‘I’ve done it Sergeant’. I said, ‘Have you?’ He said, ‘Yes’. All he had to do was to top up the oil, coolant and make sure the petrol level was right but he said he’d done it all and had checked, it was alright. We took off and I said to the pilot, ‘I don’t like the sound of our outer engine’. I said, ‘She keeps surging and easing off and surge again’. He said, ‘If you want to switch it off I’ll let you switch it off and we’ll go home on three’. I said, ‘No, we’ll keep it running and I’ll keep my eye on it’ and we did. Oh, ah [background noises] and we did, damn you [addressed to a pet?]. Yes, I says, when we got out, I says to the ground crew, our ground crew, he was a sergeant, Corporal Scott. The other one was an aircraft man, he was English, and much younger but he was very keen and very careful. But the engineer, Scott, was absolutely brilliant. I said to him, I said, ‘I don’t like the sound of that engine. She’s surging’. He said, ‘I’ll look at it’. ‘Course, when we went to be looked after he would start up the engine and I went back to him after my breakfast and the engine was out and he was working on the connections of the [unclear]. I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ He said, ‘Some bloody fool has put oil in the coolant and coolant in the oil’. I said, ‘Oh, has he?’ So I went straight back to the wing commander, I said, ‘I want that (and I got his name you see), I want this bloody idiot’. Shh shut up [addressed to a pet in the room?]. ‘I want this idiot. (I called him a bloody idiot.) Charge him’. I said, ‘He could have killed us’. He said, ‘He what?’ I said, ‘He filled up the [unclear] one engine. He put oil in the coolant and coolant in the oil.’ And yet on their lids they’ve got [unclear] of that size and right across it was these letters OIL or coolant CLT. So how [unclear] I wouldn’t know, lack of brain. So he says to me, ‘He’s been suitably dealt with’ and then the wing commander started to celebrate. He wanted to try out a new scheme of what they called formation flying. So, he chose our pilot, my pilot, to fly in the out of position, right on the edge of starboard so, naturally, when you went round right you had to run but when you went to the left you had to put your brake on. Anyway, we were flying out one day over the Wash and another Lancaster, obviously a trainee, a trainee crowd, ‘cause you could tell by the markings was a trainee crew and he circled in closer than what we were to the one [unlear]. We tried to shoo him away but there was no such thing as radio ‘cause we were on a different wave band, see, we had our own special wave band, and all they did was just smile and wave. ‘Go away’ [emphasis]. And suddenly we were flying off and the wing commander said, ‘Start to turn right’ [laughs]. I looked at the pilot and he did nothing. I think he was oblivious to the thing. He hadn’t realised this aircraft was as close as it was but we ‒, I pressed my button, I said ‘Straight ahead please’. The wing commander came back on , he says, ‘Would the person who cancelled my order give his name, his crew, his pilot’s name and aircraft number and the reason why he cancelled my order’. So I briefly explained. He said, ‘I’ll see you in my office afterwards’. Well, of course he finished off his training. He decided not to do any more formation flying and it was the idea of the Americans. You formed a formation from the front and the rest trailed behind. So it gave greater safety. But anyway I went to his office afterwards, ‘The information you gave me was enough to locate who the idiot was.’ He said, ‘You’ll be pleased to know he will not fly another aircraft. He’s been taken off’. He was completely irresponsible so what good was he as a pilot if he was irresponsible. But he circled in that close if we’d moved a foot or two we’d be within an inch of him ‘cause he didn’t know we were going to turn unless I ‒. We couldn’t tell him. But they said afterwards ‘Thank God you were sitting on top fully alert’. I said ‘Somebody has to be’ [laughs]. But I think that’s why we survived, all of us was of the same category of mind. You train to the extent we were still training when we finished and I still say that’s why so many went down. They thought it was a holiday.
PL: Is there anything else that you want to tell me?
RC: I can’t think of anything else.
PL: Just very briefly then tell me about what happened after the war?
RC: After the war?
PL: So the war ended and then what did you do?
RC: Yes, The war ended so when we ‒, when we finished flying we were sent on demob leave. Then when we were on demob leave Germany had had enough, finished. I got letter ‘cause up ‘til then we had seven days indefinite leave, seven days indefinite leave, and every week that was renewed. So I had a month’s holiday at the end of when we were flying and we ‒, then after four weeks, I had a notice to go to um ‒ I went then up in Scotland, just where the RAF regiment is now, funnily enough, it was there. Anyway, he said, ‘We’ve posted you to Grantham for a commissioning course. We’ve accepted your commission. This is your commission. Go!’ He said, ‘If you’d signed when you were on the flying side, all you had to do was sign a sheet and you’d get a uniform. Now you’ve got to prove you’re good enough.’ I said, ‘Good show, I’m another three months in England’. Anyway, I did my training, became a flying officer, no pilot officer, pilot officer. I was posted to Iraq, the Middle East. Iraq in the Iraq levies. I got out there. We had to see the colonel first. We had an army colonel in charge, Colonel Loose [?] and he said ‘I’m putting you with the transport. You can help out on the transport to start with but you may have another ‒, another drop’. Anyway I went to this transport office. There was about thirty or forty lorries or cars and, er, we were sitting one day in the office. This flight lieutenant in charge, he was taking a charge sheet of one of his drivers for some misdemeanour and the phone bell went and all he kept saying was, ‘Yes Sir, I’ll tell him Sir. Yes Sir, he will be Sir’. When he finished he said, ‘The Colonel wants to see you in his office after breakfast’. This was at six o’clock in the morning. He said after breakfast, which was half past seven. Anyway, I went to the office as per appointed and he said, ‘You are the Adjutant as from next week, of No. 1 Squadron’, number one wing, the first top wing, and yet I knew the adjutant of the number two and thought he was a much better chap at the job than me. But anyway he said, ‘I think you’ll be alright’ and four or five weeks after I’d been in the office he was walking up under this shade of the building, and he stopped outside the door, you know, this insect door. He flung that open. He said, ‘I knew I hadn’t made a mistake. You’re doing very well’ and walked on. I didn’t even have a chance to say, ‘Thank you.’ Anyway, things progressed and as I said the other adjutant was better than me. He said, ‘Well, he was here before you. If he’d been my adjutant I would have sacked him a fortnight after he’d started.’ He says, ‘I’m keeping you for months’ [laughs]. So I says, ‘That’s nice to know’ I says, ‘Why?’ He says, ‘You fit in. You get on with your job’ and I progressed very well.
Pl: So did you stay and make a career in the Air Force after the war?
RC: They wanted me to. They offered me extended service for seven years and give me nine thousand pounds at the end. I said, ‘Like hell! I’m not prepared to’. And they thought I was foolish so I often said to Jean I never knew what I would have been if I’d stayed flying with the wing commander or staying on the ground in the ground staff job. It could have been a complete change of life for me but I’ve never regretted it, ‘cause I couldn’t stand the petty indifference and intelligence of the generations of officers coming along. They were petty. They fiddled. They, er, mesmerized you. They didn’t give you a straightforward answer or anything. Yet I’d had to deal with them when I knew nothing. I mean, the person who followed me on had only been sent on a three months course on how to be one, I had one hour. But I fitted in just like that and yet it was absolutely new to me. But I’d see a stack of paper that high every morning but it was mostly, you know, discipline and what not. I had one funny case where there’d been a sergeant shot in the leg and a corporal was up on the charge of shooting him and after I had all the interviews, they’d all ‒, all the people had been sent to the Air Force Ministry in London, came back, no good whatever, please retake, all the questions, you know, all the examinations. So I did it myself and this corporal I says, ‘You’re a fool taking the blame and everybody’s blaming you. You did nothing wrong. It’s the others, the more senior officers, native [?] officers.’ They were commissioned by the CO Middle East. But it rounded off. In the end he got away. Oh yes, ‘cause of course the papers I sent in, they said charge him with about six charges and I looked through the legal book and I found another six, so I put twelve charges on his sheet, went across to his room where he was being held and said, ‘I still say you’ve a fool and you’re being charged with so-and-so and so-and-so so’. I said, ‘You’ll be here for years if you’ve not careful’. Anyway, then I got a phone call, ‘He wants to see you back again’ and the chief native [?] officer, who was a Russian by birth, who had been in the Russian Tsar’s army as a major, he was our senior native [?] officer, said to me, ‘He wants you in the cell again’. So I went to the cell. I said, ‘What do you want?’ He said, ‘I want ‒ ‘. I put a hand on his mouth. I said, ‘Shut up. You’re not going to say a word. You’re not going to blub out what you want to say now. You’ll do it officially.’ I put my hand on his mouth and shut him up. I couldn’t catch a word he said. He wanted to confess what had happened and in the end the AOC Middle East came in and saw the Colonel. The next thing I know the corporal was released. The officer who I thought had been the cause of the trouble had been quietly dismissed. No show, no nothing, political, it was all mixed up with politics, politics from the Iraq people and joining in with the British. The Embassy was hopeless. I’d always got on well with the Embassy but they faded away when that came up. They didn’t want to know. But anyway ‒
PL: Talking about politics then, something I need to ask you, your feelings about how Bomber Command has been treated over the years. Do you have a view on that?
RC: Shockingly. I still say the ‒, what you call it, the clasp [?] it’s a bit of tin painted in gold paint. I say after seventy years it’s disgusting, totally disgusting. As the bomb aimer used to say, ‘They give the pilot the big medal. Why can’t they make a miniature one for each of us? We’re all together in the same crew’. No, just the pilot had to have a big, big, medal thing. We got nothing. And that was the attitude. We were all just the workers, get on with it, and yet he couldn’t do it without us, any of us. We used to say the mid upper and the rear gunner were probably more important than we were. Who could have navigated, dead reckoning navigation over a cloud filled sky all the way to the bottom of Poland and back, and back? And he finished up on the same stretch, when we looked out and saw the state of the coastline and we were going over it. I says, ‘That’s where I’d pointed out, isn’t it?’ He says, ‘Yes, you were spot on within two miles.’ He said, ‘And that was only a dream’. I said, ‘Yes, but we did live, didn’t we?’ I said, ‘Tommy said we’d not, we’d not make it from the trip but we did make it’. And they were the factors that kept you going. Much obliged. I’m going to finish, sorry.
PL: Well, can I say thank you so much. That was a fascinating interview.
RC: I hope that was as good as you want.
PL: Thank you very much for being so generous with your time. So, recommencing with Ray Charlton. So we’ve just been talking about a fascinating story about Wesel ‒ . Would you like to share that with us Ray?
RC: Yes, I just recalled the trip to Wesel, which was on the edge of the river and Montgomery had moved his troops back three thousand yards. And I said to our CO, ‘Tell him as an insult to go back three thousand yards that’s allowing us to make all that much mistake.’ Anyway we were flying over about twelve thousand feet and the flak in front of us was quite heavy. Anyway we pressed on. And suddenly underneath us we heard a rush of noise, a heavy wind noise, and we were looking out watching and we could see anti-aircraft guns being shot out of action. They’d been firing one minute and nothing the next and that’s what had happened. Every time one fired the artillery boys pinpointed the site and aimed [?] it out. Well on one of my initial visits to Salisbury [other], Salisbury, we’d got a packed lunch with us, and we saw Philip ‒, Prince Philips’ regiment. Well I said, ‘We ought to go in here’ (‘course it’s not the present Prince Philip. It’s the previous one). And we had ‒, we were enjoying our lunch on the lawn, and obviously one of their men came and joined us, ‘Were you in the regiment?’ I said, ‘No, no, no, only the RAF regiment’. ‘Oh, I don’t know about those’. I said, ‘We’re all aircrew’, He said, ‘I don’t know much about them’. I said ‘Well, we did bomb Wesel. ‘Did you? You must meet our sergeant’. I said ‒. He went to find the sergeant but he couldn’t leave his post, he was on the door. Oh, he asked us to go to him and when I went to approach him he grabbed my hand and shook it so hard it hurt. I said, ‘What’s this for?’ He said we were told about you boys coming to raid it to help us. We were told to expect to lose two thousand men in crossing the river. He says, ‘And I was to lead the men over and establish and put the machine guns out of action’. He said, ‘When we got there not a single shot was fired at us. We never saw a single German, only dead ones, and he says, ‘How on earth did you do it?’ I says, ‘Just bombed’. ‘How did you get through all that flak?’ I said, ‘You ignore it’. I said to the sergeant, ‘We ignored it. Had to do. It was heavy to start with but it dwindled off to nothing. It was just one gun firing in one spot positon and that kept firing. He must have had a load in and we just thought nothing of it. To us we’d done a job.’ He said, ‘Well I shall never forget it. You saved two thousand men from this company, this regiment.’ He says, ‘That’s something to do’.
Pl: Wonderful.
RC: But he said, ‘And we achieved our objective. We never saw anything. They must have cleared all out, they must have moved out. ‘Cause they expected you’d have to go through every house and route out snipers but there wasn’t one to be found anywhere. The survivors said the bombing was so accurate and so intense that nobody could live through it, so we were quite happy. We did an easy job and that was it.’ And there we are.
Pl. Thank you Ray.
PL: This is Pam Locker and I’m in the house of Mrs Jean Mary Charlton, who was also ‒. Her first husband was called Robert Mott and her maiden name was Gilliatt [?]. And this forms a complement to another interview, with Mr Ray Charlton, about his experiences in Bomber Command. So, Jean, would you like to stat by telling us a little bit about what you were doing at the start of the war perhaps?
JC: I was in training for Nottingham City Hospital. D Day I was at training school [unclear]. Very little idea about what we were going to face. We saw the most horrific things, soldiers coming in still in uniform, covered in blood, just bound up, legless, armless. It was a horrible thing to have to remember really. But on the Saturday at the Goose Fair in Nottingham we decided we’d all go to the Goose Fair, so four of us went together. Four airmen came up and said ‘Come on girls, come and have a ride’. Of course, I was left with the old man, wasn’t I? Which was Bob. That was 1954, as far as I can remember. I think that’s right.
[Other]: ’44.
RC: No, ’45.
JC: ’45, sorry, I had it the wrong way round. We did a tour of Nottingham Castle and left and [unclear] ‘Will we see you next weekend?’ Then when they turned up there was Bob. We married a year later, came to Southampton to live, ‘cause I brought up seven children, that’s the youngest, and I decided to go back to nursing, went to the local children’s hospital and fourteen years in the district [unclear]. In the meantime Ray came down to Southampton and said, ‘Oh, I know someone who lives here and in that road ’ as he passed it, ‘I’ll go and look him up’, knocked on the door, ‘cause I was at work [unclear] and then he opened it, ‘Who are you then?’ He said ‘I’m Ray Charlton, the Flight Engineer’. Anyway, he stayed the night and went off again. A month later we were celebrating Christmas, my eldest daughter was home from Saudi Arabia, and we were going to have a special weekend, and Bob suddenly became ill and he died twenty-four hours later, a heart problem. And so I phoned Ray [unclear] and then, of course, I went on and moved into a flat, didn’t I, on my own? ‘Cause we gave up our house [unclear].
PL: So you moved house?
JL: I went to a flat. I was working for the district, it was this side of town, you see, and I kept in touch with Ray, wrote Christmas cards and things, and my granddaughter, she was at college, I was house-sitting for my son and Ray phoned up, could he pop in and see us, as he was at an RAF meeting in Bournemouth? And he came in, drove round Southampton, and from then on he started phoning me, to go to Leicester for the weekend, and they used to say, ‘We never know where you ae mum’ [laugh], and then we married, it took about ten years to make our minds up, didn’t it? To marry. We’ve been married twenty-three years. So we moved, now, as I say, he married me for my pension fund [laugh]. But we’ve been up to Lincolnshire, to East Kirkby, every year, haven’t we?
RC: Yes, every year.
JC: I used to drive up but in recent years the family would take us. We would miss it, wouldn’t we?
PL: It’s a very romantic story. So, just to be clear for the tape, one of the most extraordinary things about this story is that you were married to two men from the same crew.
JC: Yes, the first one was with me since I was eighteen.
RC: Do you remember when I Bob says to me, ‘Who are you?’
JC: Yes, I mentioned that. I think that’s me finished.
PL: Do you want to add any stories ‒. Have you got any memories that Bob shared with you about his experiences in the war?
JC: Well, not a lot, because he used to say, ‘We never had any problems’. They were all such a good crew together. Had little jokes between them but nothing that was [unclear]. Sorry, my voice isn’t clear.
RC: I think that was the trouble, there was never any ‒
JC: Friction between you, was there?
RC: No friction and no crystal to shine. We just ‒, just went smoothly on.
[Other]: Two crews.
JC: Yes, Bob flew with two crews. The first crew he was going for the aircraft and his knee gave way, so he had to go and have a cartilage operation.
PL: Right.
JC: And that’s how he came to join Ray’s crew, when he came back. We did meet one member of the crew at East Kirkby didn’t we? And I think we were chatting all day long to him [unclear].
[Other]: He thought dad had died. He thought dad had died.
RC: Well, that’s how we feel about the Pantons, isn’t it?
JC: Yes
RC: At East Kirkby. I’ve had some lovely letters from both of them and their wives.
JC: Yes. I miss Sharon [unclear].
PL: So Jean, is there anything else that you want to ‒.recorded for either Bob or Ray you would like included?
JL: I can’t think of anything.
[Other]: He used to say how tired he was mum, how he used to fall asleep standing up on the train.
JC: On the train. He used to come down to Southampton and, of course, he could never get a seat, and he would be stood there sound asleep. You’ve said the same thing about being on the, um, trains coming home and being asleep.
RC: When the parson and four of his parishioners, they wanted me to give up my seat, and he said, ’You leave him where he is’, and he says, ‘Every time you wake up your eyes span the whole window’. So he says, ‘Open your overcoat’ and I did, you see, he said, I knew you were aircrew’, he says, ‘As soon as you open your eyes that window’s searched.’ He said, ‘You do it automatically’. I said, ‘That’s how we lived’, but these women, they were with him, his parishioners, thought I was terribly rude not offering my seat up.
[Other]: What about getting the bacon mum? They used to go into the mess of the sergeants and pinch what was left of the breakfast.
JC: Yes.
{Other}: Do you want to tell that one?
JC: You can tell it.
PL: So, the next person to speak is Vanessa ‒
[Other]: Standley [?]
PL: Standley, who is Jean’s youngest daughter.
VS: Dad used to have supper in the evenings and the one thing that always made us laugh was dad liked everything with brown sauce and he loved cheese. We went to a reunion at East Kirkby a few years ago and bumped into someone who remembered dad from flying at East Kirkby and started to tell us some stories and one of them was that dad and someone else, I don’t know the name, used to sneak into ‒ I think it was the sergeants’ quarters when it was empty in the evening, and if there was some cheese left, ‘cause obviously they were on rations, they used to toast the bits of bread on the electric fire and put cheese on and brown sauce and they’d sneak back, you know, it was their secret. And I thought that was great ‘cause all through my childhood the one thing my dad always had was bread, cheese and everything came with brown sauce.
PL: So, is there anything else anybody would like to add for the record before we close?
JL: No.
PL: Well, thank you all very much. Your family has an extraordinary story with extraordinary connections, so thank you very much for sharing it with us.



Pam Locker, “Interview with Ray Charlton,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 24, 2024,

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