Interview with Mike Chatterton

Title

Interview with Mike Chatterton

Description

Mike Chatterton grew up on a farm. His father, John Chatterton was a Lancaster pilot during the war, before returning to university and becoming a lecturer, then later becoming a farmer. Mike joined the Royal Air Force from university in the 1970’s and flew Jet Provost, helicopters, Shackletons and Nimrods. On posting to RAF Coningsby he joined the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight where he progressed to Captain the Lancaster. He was able to fly his father and some of his crew. Mike also carried out taxy runs on ‘Just Jane’ at East Kirkby and assisted in the recovery of parts of Lancaster PD259 from a crash site in Scotland to RAF Waddington.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2016-03-31

Contributor

Dawn Studd

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

01:24:28 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AChattertonM160331

Conforms To

Transcription

MC: Carry on with my RAF career a bit at a time?
DE: Ah yes.
MC: Alright.
DE: OK. So, I’ll just check it’s recording, yes. This is an interview for the International Bomber Command Project, my name is Dan Ellin, I’m interviewing Mike Chatterton, it is the 31st March 2016 and we’re at Riseholme, also present in the room is Shelley the dog. So, Mike could you start please by telling me a little bit about your early life and how you grew up?
MC: Yeah OK. Well I grew up in a farming environment always and farming was always destined to be my future career I guess but I was always aware that father had been a Bomber Command pilot in the war and that was always a side-line of interest. I think I used to consider farming to be quite hard work and long hours and dirty and grubby and it didn’t seem to appeal to me that much so I used to not be devoted to that line of thought. Anyway, I suppose Airfix models are the main thing that started me off in aviation. Initially watching Father make them for me, and then after a little while getting involved and adding a few bits on myself and of course the good old Airfix models of fifty years ago was where they gave you all the precise names of the various bits so you learnt an awful lot about the aircraft at the same time as opposed to nowadays where it’s just lots of diagrams and arrows. But I think that was where my interest in aviation sort of came to fruition in all the models I used to make, and there were a lot of them, all over the house, and also I recall as I say initially getting Father to make them and he’d slowly let me do some of the easy bits and after a while he’d supervise me whilst I did the slightly more awkward bits, and after a while I slowly got to realise that actually I could do it better than Father could. I then got impatient with him trying to do it and just wanted to do it myself. That’s another, I suppose, idea of growing up, but didn’t actually hear a great deal about Father’s war time environment. I think for me, and I tell people that the highlight of the year for me wasn’t necessarily Christmas or my birthday, but the highlight for me was the Finningley airshow, and if you’d like to say religiously, I suppose you could say that, and as long as the, it wasn’t coinciding or contradicting with the harvest time, which was even more important to father, the Finningley airshow was one of the main events of our annual calendar. Along with my uncle, Uncle Will, Father’s brother, we’d go along in some battered old pick-up or something, join the queues, get to the air show and then follow the routine of going round the ground statics before the actual flying displays started, and then we were stuck in one place and watching the aircraft fly past, and of course in those days it was some wonderful old vintage aeroplanes, Shackleton’s and Varsity’s and some of the early jets and things like that. But for us the highlight was always the Lancaster, if there was a Lancaster airworthy at the time, if it was going to take part then that would be the main event. And of course, I’d then start asking Father a few memories about what he recalled, and used to get some of the fun, get none of the personal details at all, just some of the technical details, some of the fun activities he got up to I suppose, but none of the personal details at all. And so that was life as a kid, I think he then encouraged me to join the Air Training Corps which was a thing I’d never actually thought of much before. I used to love the airshows and I used to get very jealous of all the RAF people wandering around in their uniforms thinking I wish I could do that, but never actually thought about the idea of joining the air force, I thought there’s no way I’m ever going to get in the air force, and the way my academics were going I was sort of working towards being a draughtsman or something like that. I used to have a sort of natural tendency towards the drawing side of it but not the academics. And so I think a friend of mine said ‘How about joining the Air Training Corps?’ when we were about, quite late on about fifteen years old, and I said ‘Yeah, OK’ and we went along to the local squadron and joined, quite late on, because of, we were a bit older than normal joining age then things like gliding courses became available because you have to be a certain age for this. I think I went away on a gliding course and got my wings at Hemswell flying gliders. Where I then heard some more stories from Father about when he’d flown aircraft, Lancaster’s, at Hemswell and then whilst I was in the Air Cadets say things went on, because I’d got gliding wings I made a corporal, because I was made a corporal I got to be an instructor and because I was an instructor I got to be put forward for a flying scholarship etc., etc. It just sort of went on and on, and in the background there with Father always working away at the farm, helping with Father, I was aware that he was a member of various squadron associations because he was with 44 Squadron Association, so I used to be aware that every so often he’d go off and do that, but work I think, farming for him took all his time up and there was very little to do with aviation really apart from, as I say, the annual air show and occasional Airfix model, and I suppose then the Air Cadets were the turning point for me because obviously the idea is to get you air minded and the staff were very good and they used to encourage me to think about an idea of an RAF career which I say I’d never considered before, they were good for my confidence by the fact that I managed to achieve various different stages through the Cadets, I suppose that helped my confidence as well and so they persuaded me to actually give it a try and try and join the RAF as a pilot, which was a bit of a shock, but I went along I think in my sixth form and applied, went down to the selection centre at Biggin Hill and went through all the various processes which were pretty scary because you were having to sort of take part in discussions and then lead physical activities and then have little problem solving things and got called into the interview room at the end and they said ‘Not quite up to the standard we need but we like your enthusiasm so think about applying again in a couple of years time’. So that took me through school, and the air force had always said we prefer people with degrees, this is back in the ‘70’s, so I thought right I’ll get a degree and then I’ll apply again.
DE: Um.
MC: Well I’ll start a degree, and with Father’s background and my life on farming we decided to go for agriculture engineering and because of Father’s background as farming and also in the academics, because we’ll talk about Father later I guess, but he’d gone from the war back up to university and then gone straight, having finished his university course, to be a lecturer so he was involved in all the academics of that. So, he still knew a few people in the academics world of agriculture and so that helped I think to get me into the university course. Got some, scraped some A levels, I remember hearing that my A level results had come through whilst I was actually loading bales on a trailer, so combining the two together, the farming and the future air force. So, got to university and then applied, fairly quickly, because the university had university air squadrons and that was one of the requirements about where I was applying to go to, that they had a university air squadron which taught you to fly, although with no commitment at the time, and moved on. I think applied as soon as I could, got in there, so got a start being taught to fly the Chipmunk aircraft which again brought a few stories back from Father because it was one of the last aircraft he had flown after the war, and I suppose I didn’t get to hear much more from father about his flying time at that stage, it wasn’t really I suppose until quite a few years later on where having gone through my training, I got onto multi-engine aircraft and eventually got onto the Lancaster, and what I say to people is that I didn’t hear so many stories from Father about his activities but I heard having met a lot of the old veterans, a lot of the guys who knew Father, who would tell me some of the stories of what Father got up to, which he would never actually necessarily mention himself because they probably bent the rules rather a lot, and because of this, because of the contacts I made then I managed to find out and do some more digging. We’d always been encouraging Father to write his biography because we used to have all the little snippets but no sort of general put together information and so whilst I was at flying with the BBMF, flying the Lancaster and meeting so many people that knew Father from those days, I think Father was turning not towards retirement because you never actually retire as a farmer but he was in a mode where he was trying to do a little bit less and so he got more involved with the squadron associations, I think he became the secretary of 44 Sqn Association, so he was involved a lot more, spent a lot more time with that so again I got to hear more about what he was doing and what he had done in the war until, I say I was on BBMF, and then for us father and son idea I suppose the first time we actually flew together was in a Lancaster, so for me that was very, very special, taking him flying, I was only a co-pilot at the time so I didn’t have much say in what was going on but we got him on board anyway and flew around for a little while with him down behind me in the sort of wireless ops/navigator seat and then as my time on BBMF progressed I got to be captain then with the extra responsibility you get a bit of extra pulling power as well so not long after I got made captain of the Lancaster I managed to get Father back in the aircraft again and this time managed to get him in the right hand seat and me in the left hand seat so the Chatterton crew were airborne again. And what was very nice about that is, not only did I manage to get Father airborne but managed to get also three of his war time crew with us as well in the Lanc at the same time. That was the bomb aimer, the rear gunner and the flight engineer, so we all flew in the Lanc together. And I think Father used to really enjoy the fact that I was flying the Lanc, he spent far more time involved with the associations as I say and following what I was doing and every time I came back at the weekend I had to give him a full report of all the flights I’d had that week, at that time and he used to absorb it all and whenever I was flying around Lincolnshire, which was obviously quite a lot of the time as we were based at Coningsby, but if ever I was in the right direction I would always come back via Father’s farm and give him a bit of a flypast, so as I say he wasn’t used to seeing me much above four hundred feet or so doing that sort of thing. I think that sort of covers basically the connection between me and Father.
DE: Um. How does it make you feel flying with your Father and members of his crew?
MC: Um, when I was flying as captain you, lot of people ask me what it was like, what you’re thinking about when you’re flying the Lanc and I think my rather bland answer is that when you’re flying an aircraft like that you’re concentrating, or any aircraft to be honest, you’re concentrating on getting that job done, you’ve always got a job to be at a certain place, at a certain time with your mind set up to go and do a display or whatever so often at the actual time you’re not thinking too much about the importance of it, it’s only afterwards when you’ve landed and it’s all been successful, you can then allow your mind to wander back over what you’ve just achieved, on those occasions with Father, when I was flying with Father, it was just fantastic, absolutely marvellous, very, very, proud to watch them all. I know when, the first time I took them flying I was slightly wary of the rear gunner because he’d been the old man on the crew when the guys flew together, so I knew he was not very able but he, when we met them at BBMF, he had his, the rear gunner had his, I think grandson and grand-daughter with him, he walked with sticks and looking, you know, not very capable of clambering in the Lanc and so I was a bit concerned about how on earth am I going to say that having got this far it was going to be too dangerous to take him on board because he was going to be a sort of liability to himself and the rest of the crew? And I was thinking about this and they went out to have a look at the aeroplane first and he hobbled over towards the rear steps. He then dismissed his grandchildren, dismissed his sticks and ran up the stairs and in the turret before we knew it. So, there were no complaints, no problems there my fears had gone away then. Somehow, and it often happened with the veterans when we took them on board, I suppose that was one of the highlights of their lives, and so the youth just returned, and as I say even though they approached the aeroplane on sticks and walking frames somehow that just got thrown aside and they remembered lives when they were in their late teens and things like that. And whether the body itself may not have been willing but the spirit certainly was and we often used to see that, and the same as at East Kirkby it was getting the old boys on board and it was fantastic how they were so nimble again. The other thing, digressing there again, is when you got groups of these old boys together, in their eighties as they were, some nineties, is how they used to speak to each other. And again, they’d go back all those years, the sense of humour would be quite sharp, quite cutting but always well natured and you could see what a band of brothers they were I suppose.
DE: Did they include you in that as a pilot of the Lancaster or?
MC: I think we were embarrassed as the crew because if we used to go to these gatherings where they came to the aircraft at Coningsby or whether we landed the aircraft and had the old boys come round us we used to be embarrassed by the sort of celebrity status we had you know, and they were all asking for our autographs and asking what it was like to fly the Lanc, because there were quite a few of them in those days and it just seemed all wrong to me, really embarrassing you know that they were treating us like heroes and celebrities and yet they were the ones who obviously flew these aircraft for real as I say. Nowadays I think the veterans are treated with more due respect and things like that but twenty years ago when I was flying there was quite a lot of them around and they weren’t necessarily treated in the same way. But as I say that was what I used to recall is the embarrassment of them treating us like celebrities, but it was great meeting them as I say they used to fly these aircraft for real.
DE: Um, I think we’ll come back to that in a bit, could you tell me a little bit more about your career in the RAF?
MC: OK yeah. So, RAF wise, didn’t get in the first attempt at school, got in the second attempt with at university, so in my one of three years my university course was agricultural engineering, as I say it came from the RAF background, came from the farming background, the RAF just wanted a degree, they didn’t care what subject you had they just wanted a degree. So, we thought with my life at that point then agricultural engineering would be the best chance of getting through so we did. So, university where we got to learn the Chipmunk, and we flew that and I think I must have got about seventy hours or so, it was sort of every weekend, occasionally during the week, but mostly weekends so my university life was either working academics during the week and unlike a lot of people who sort of let their hair down at weekends, because I had hair in those days, we used to just go off to the RAF camp and fly. They’d have the RAF social life but generally not sort of the mad student social life. So, from university then the destiny was to go to Cranwell where we were trained to be officers, I think about sixteen week officer training, initial officer training course, usual sort of running around, carrying pine poles, leadership exercises and air warfare studies and general service background stuff, oh a lot of marching of course. I think my uniform fitted me better than average so I was made parade commander for Cranwell so again huge, huge pride in being the parade commander in front of the RAF College at Cranwell but as I say at the same time very, very busy concentrating on what you were doing and then again when it all finished and hopefully went successfully, huge sigh of relief and just realised what you’d just done, what you’d just achieved, anyway. Having finished officer training then went off to do pilot training, going to back step a little bit now because I finished university at the end of the academic year, sort of July time and then my entry at Cranwell wasn’t until, I think, quite late in the following year. So, I had about nine months, I had nine months holding before I started at Cranwell and that nine months was great fun because I just went and held on various different RAF stations. I went out to RAF Germany for a while and held at Gutersloh and were flying, associated with the Pembroke squadron there. The Pembroke’s used to fly all over Germany a sort of communications aircraft and then at the back of the hangar was a Pembroke with curtains over the windows, never used to move, I never used to see it move, anyway occasionally it wasn’t there, and then it was there, we never used to see it going in and out and that was the one that used to go off to Berlin and recce the corridors and things like that, but whenever I used to ask about it people just denied it was there so I found it very strange, rather than telling me what the truth they just denied its existence altogether. Anyway, that was one posting and that was very interesting going to Berlin for the first time and being given a guided tour of all the various parts of Berlin that had been affected by the Cold War and my Father’s war, imaging Father up there in the air above. Another holding post I think was at Farnborough where I was used as a guinea pig basically. So, Farnborough is the Institute of Aviation Medicine and so some days we’d be boiled in hot water and see what reaction we had, sometimes we’d be frozen, sometimes we’d be squashed, sometimes we’d be stretched. Spatially our average human bodies were trying out different, to see what the reactions were as far as various protective clothing and escape equipment and things like that were, so that was painful but interesting. Yes, so go back now, went and joined Cranwell, did pilot training that was on the Jet Provost and I found most of the way through training it was quite hard work for me. I never, ever sort of aced anything, I was always very middle of the road on all the things but we were quite aware that each flight it was quite high pressured because if you sort of failed one particular exercise then you’d be given another chance but after that they’d be looking at you quite closely so there was always quite a lot of pressure I remember about that and I always used to have in the back of my mind what would I do if I didn’t get through pilot training? And along the way we’d lose colleagues through getting washed out so you were always very much aware that the fact that it was possible that you wouldn’t be fulfilling your career or aim of flying. But I got through Cranwell alright and then we were going to go to the next stage which was the work up for what is called group one, phase one, which is basically you were working up to go onto the world of fast jets because at that stage of the air force, of the RAF, and this is talking mid-seventies there were no more people going to the multi-engine world they didn’t require any pilots, it was all cut backs and so there wasn’t any requirement for multi-engine pilots anymore and so the only option was either fast jet which I didn’t have much faith in me surviving the course or helicopters. So I opted to go helicopters, so I went up towards helicopters, and initially it was on very old helicopters like Whirlwinds which were quite nice and straightforward to fly and then progressed onto things like the Puma which was quite a difficult aeroplane to fly, very unstable, I never got on particularly well with that and after a while progressed through to the conversion unit but never feeling particularly comfortable with it and eventually had a mutual agreement that I wasn’t going to progress any further on the helicopter world and fortunately, for me, the multi-engine world had started up again at that point so there were positions available. So I remember going for an interview with the station commander at Odiham where I had been doing my helicopter training and saying that I’d like to go on to be a multi-engine pilot and he said ‘Well what are you going to do if you don’t get to be a multi-engine pilot?’ and I said ‘I’ll try to be an airline pilot then, I’m going to fly’ he said ‘Well I’ll cautiously recommend you for multi-engine on the grounds that I don’t think much of your loyalty, because you’d rather go and join the airlines rather than stay in the air force as an engineer or something.’ So, I thought, weird, anyway, for me that was perfect because that was what I’d always wanted to do multi-engine. So, I went and did multi-engine training on the Jet Stream it was in those days at Leeming and this was quite fun now because it was an aeroplane where you were doing , wasn’t doing wacky aerobatic stuff, you were doing procedural flying which was flying on instruments, going places so you were working out how to get from A to B and stuff which seemed far more applicable to my sort of way of life and abilities. And so it came towards the end of the Jet Stream course and they said ‘Right you can put down what you want to go onto next’ and in those days the options were Vulcans, Victors, Hercules, VC10’s, flight check Andover’s and Shackleton’s, and nobody wanted to go Shackleton’s because you were going back in time about two decades but I knew of course, dear old Dad and his Lancaster, my best chance of getting anything like a Lancaster was to go and fly a Shackleton which is the grand-daughter of the Lancaster.
DE: Sure.
MC: So I thought well I’ll go and volunteer for that ‘cause it would give me a chance to know what Father’s flying was like. So, I volunteered for Shackleton, they said ‘Are you sure?’ Not many people did that so I got my choice and went to Lossiemouth to convert to the Shackleton which was, it was quite a step back in time, because the Jet Stream I had been flying was the most newest aircraft in the Royal Air Force inventory, and the Shackleton was the longest, oldest one I think. It was a step back in time as far as the technology of the aeroplane and the procedures and things but an interesting job. We used to have an airborne early warning radar under the nose of the Shackleton so we’d go off north and try and chase, well not chase, but go and spot the Russian aircraft coming down from the north, most of the Russian aircraft went a lot faster than we did so we had to get sent out in good time in order to try and spot them before they cleared off and went back again. But interesting job, flew out as a co-pilot for about two years and then they said ‘Right time to move on‘ so we’re going to replace the AW the airborne early warning Shackleton with an airborne early warning Nimrod, we’re going to get a Nimrod, we’re going to put a radar on the front of it and another one on the back of it, it’s going to be very high tech and it’s going to do the same sort of job as a Shackleton but much better. So, go and get some Nimrod time first and you’ll be able to come back onto the AW Nimrod. So I went off into the maritime world, so I was only just moving down the road to Kinloss and did a conversion unit at St Mawgan onto the Nimrod and those six months at St Mawgan were basically, as I recall, forty knot fogs, because that was what the weather was like down in that part of the world over winter, often foggy and the fog moved very rapidly which was unusual so quite a lot of frustrations with the weather but got through the Nimrod conversion and then got posted back up to Kinloss as expected ‘cause I had a house up in that part of the world and then went onto the Nimrod, arrived in quite an exciting time ‘cause I arrived at Kinloss in 1982 which was the Falklands War time. So, Nimrods were heavily involved in that and what was supposed to be a about two-month conversion onto a slightly better version of the Nimrod, a mark two Nimrod, which had more modern equipment was a bit more capable, instead of it being two months it was two weeks. So, we very rapidly rushed through this course and then went straight onto a squadron where the squadron were preparing to get sent down to Ascension Island where they were going to provide cover for all the aircraft carrying on all the way down to the Falklands themselves. So all these new equipment they brought in was quite interesting they, for the Nimrod which as I say had just been basically a converted Comet with regular engines and a bomb bay, all of a sudden because they realised the capacity or the capability of this aircraft could have, we were given air-to-air refuelling so we could extend the range of the aircraft hugely, we were given the ability to drop one thousand pounds bombs from a Nimrod which was fairly unusual, and the idea of that was we were to tax some hopefully defenceless shipping, some Argentinian shipping, wouldn’t send us against anything to shoot back I don’t think but the idea was that we would be able to do that, so we hadn’t actually had a go at bombing and when we saw the bombs in the hangar beforehand I’m sure they had 1945 written on them, so I think there were some of Father’s leftovers that were still kept airworthy, or whatever the word is condition. So, I was very proud of the fact that I went and dropped one single thousand-pound bomb and then a stick of three, I thought wow this is certainly following in Father’s footsteps, that was up at the ranges at the north of Scotland, and I think I actually hit the target as well which is quite nice, ‘cause the co-pilot had to actually release the bomb whilst the pilot was busy flying. And also we got air-to-air anti-aircraft missiles so we actually had anti-aircraft missiles fitted under the wings of the Nimrod which was pretty wacky and because it was war time ish so all these things just got put in and put on without too much paperwork and bureaucracy. The idea of that again was that we were going to try and shoot down the Argentinians 707’s ‘cause there’s no chance of us ever going against a fighter or anything like that but all these modern toys and clever bits were put on and then I was really miffed because our crew had a date to go down to Ascension Island and start flying that area between the Falklands and Ascension Island and then we had a crew farewell party, so we all got together to have a party to say ‘We’re going to be off now for a few months’ and I was really miffed because the bliming Argentinians went and surrendered that weekend. So, we never got to go, it was really frustrating, we’d done all the training, all the work-up for it and then a huge let down. I think, people said ‘Were you not worried about the fact that you could have been shot down or hurt or damaged?’ and it’s interesting reflecting on that because having done so much training we all wanted to get on with the job. There was one guy, I think he was a bit older, who sort of thought I’m not sure about this it could be a bit dangerous, but generally we all wanted to go down there so it was all a bit embarrassing when we didn’t go, quite miffed. So anyway carrying on with the Nimrod world, and I think by this stage the Nimrod AW had been attempted and they’d realised that it wasn’t going to work, they had too many problems with the technical side of getting the radar at the front to talk to the radar at the back, and so it was shelved and so basically I was on Nimrods I was going to stay on Nimrods, so I carried on and at Kinloss the idea was that you’d do a ground tour so you’d maybe be in a simulator as an instructor checking the guys going through and then you’d go on a flying tour and having done it for a while you’d go onto another ground tour so I was in ops doing plans, planning future flying, and that’s the way it used to work generally you’d alternate between the two between a flying tour and a ground tour and then I think around about ’89 ish I got a ‘phone call, I used to talk to the posting man every so often, he would sort of discuss what we wanted to do and what he wanted us to do and the posting man said ‘Would you like to go and fly the Lancaster?’ Stunned silence, ‘What?’ he said ‘The pilot of the Lancaster at the moment is finding the extra workload a bit much for him and he wants to get another pilot.’ So absolutely astounded said ‘Oh yes please, rather!’ So got all set up for leaving Kinloss and going down to join BBMF and whilst all this was happening the paperwork was all going through I discovered slowly but surely that actually you can’t get a posting to BBMF, ‘cause all the jobs on BBMF are done by people who have a job in the local area who then volunteer to go on BBMF, so I found myself going down towards a ground job at Coningsby I was going to work in ops at Coningsby, and then I’d have to apply to join BBMF so I felt a bit miffed at that I’d been sort of tricked into it almost to go down to do this ground job without the certainty of BBMF but I knew Paul Day who was on BBMF who used to come shooting on the farm with father and so got down to Coningsby, got established in my ground job in ops and went and kept on battering on the door of BBMF until they let me in. So the situation was it didn’t quite turn out as expected, they had the captain and then they had two co-pilots flying the Lanc and they’d never been the idea that there was going to be another captain flying the Lanc just the one and that was OC BBMF so the chap in charge was the one who flew the Lancaster and he was the only full time member of the aircrew on BBMF, all the other aircrew members were, had jobs elsewhere so the fighter pilots would be instructors flying the Tornado, the navigators on the Lancaster would be probably in a ground job either at Finningley where they were training navigators or at Coningsby itself, the flight engineers would all come from Finningley where they would be training other flight engineers and I was there in ops so I got to fly as co-pilot although it was a pretty big secondary duty as we called it and it would be every weekend and it would be during the week as well. So, we then had the sort of battle between my primary job which was in ops and the fairly high profile requirement to be on BBMF and I had a squadron leader boss in ops but his boss was OC Ops and OC Ops was also in charge of BBMF so if it ever came to a battle between my normal day job and BBMF then BBMF used to win fortunately which I was very pleased about and my ops squadron leader was a bit miffed. So, onto BBMF. So that was in ’89 I joined BBMF and of course that was the 50th anniversary of the start of the second world war so my time on BBMF was highlighted by all these anniversaries of events of the fiftieth anniversary various events throughout the second world war. Initially, as I say, as co-pilot on the Lanc, so simply flying the Lanc was brilliant, absolutely fantastic then as time went by the army decided they wanted to fly, or jump out of a Dakota. The army wanted to jump out of a Dakota to celebrate D Day plus fifty and Arnhem plus fifty and all those sorts of things so they’d heard about this Dakota which could be made airworthy or brought back to be being airworthy, the powers that be in the RAF said ‘There’s no way the army are going to fly that, we’ll let the RAF fly and if it’s going to be flown by the RAF it will have to go to BBMF’. So the Dakota arrived on BBMF, they didn’t give us anymore ground crew to cater with the extra aircraft type so the support aircraft we’d had before that a Devon, which is a lovely little aeroplane a two engine forties type design aeroplane a transport design aircraft, it only carried about seven or eight people, but ours was a VIP fit so it was a very comfortable aeroplane to fly around, so the Devon which the multi-engine pilots used to fly was taken out of service because there weren’t enough ground crew to look after all these aircraft and the Dakota came in. And the boss, so we had to have a captain for the Dakota and so the boss of the flight who had been the Lanc co-pilot decided he was going to fly the Dakota as captain therefore we needed another Lancaster captain, wee hee, there I was volunteering. So ’92 I got to fly as captain, then initially just as sort of transit and doing odd fly pasts and then fairly quickly I got display authorisation. To display an aircraft you’ve got to go through an extra sort of set of hoops, it’s got to be approved at a fairly high level, so we had to work up to that and then get approved to do that, it’s a thing that happens at the beginning of every year, so there I was fully fledged Lancaster captain display pilot and that’s when I started, managed to get Father flying and taking Father off to various events. So, I could talk about BBMF for hours and hours and hours but basically say all the fiftieth anniversaries you get to do things with that aircraft that you wouldn’t be allowed to do with another aircraft so if I fly down the Mall at five hundred feet, dropping poppies on the Queen’s head everyone cheers, if I’d have done that in a Nimrod I’d have been out of the air force very quickly. So, it’s not only a wonderful aeroplane to fly it’s the stuff we were allowed to do and also the way you got treated you were a celebrity as far as the airshow fans were concerned, equivalent to popstars and royalty and all that sort of stuff so you got treated really, really well. Life was quite good in those days, the air force had a bit of money I suppose so whenever we used to go away at weekends we were normally staying in hotels and on allowances and things like that which was all quite generous, it’s all slowly cut back over the years but even so it was very good at the time. And then initially I was sent to BBMF for two years, or to Coningsby for two years, to fly. After two years it was review time I was having a great time I could see that the captaincy was going to come up after two years, I was captain of the Devon, so I said to them ‘Can I possibly, you know, stay another year?’ so they said ‘Oh OK, it’s not doing your career any good to stay on a ground tour’ I said ‘I don’t care about that I want to carry on flying’. So did that and I think that might have happened about another year later on so reviewed again and stayed on BBMF again and interestingly I got to captain then and that was a point actually as well where as far as my RAF overall career came to a decision point whether I wanted to leave at that point or stay on, that’s one of the option points, most of my old Nimrod and Shackleton colleagues were all leaving to go off to the airlines so that was the obvious option for me but decided well here I am, I’ve got you know, the likelihood of flying the Lancaster for a few more years as opposed to going off and being air airline pilot, so there was never any battle, never any decision for me I was going to stay where I was so I lost that opportunity to go out there really but with no regrets at all. So, carried on flying the Lanc, so after a couple of years say they asked me and I said ‘I’ll stay on’ after a couple of more years I think I probably said the same thing again and interestingly then after about four or five years they said ‘Would you mind staying on because we can’t find anyone to replace you?’ so they actually started asking me to stay on flying BBMF so that was even nicer. Because I think the reason was that the job of a BBMF pilot then you had your own normal Monday to Friday, eight to five routine, and then BBMF in theory was in the bits that were left. So normally on a Friday from say March through to October time November, yeah October, you’d either get airborne on a Friday afternoon, go away or get airborne early Saturday morning and you’d be away all weekend and then landing back on the Sunday evening, possibly Monday, so with all that the family didn’t get to see a great deal of you, and I’d got young daughters growing up and they weren’t seeing very much of me either so it was an interesting contrast from being away at the weekend where you were a celebrity and treated with all this pomp and circumstance and then you’d get back you’d land the Lancaster, maybe the kids would be there to meet you, the wife would sort of hand over a child, say ‘Right, these are yours, the grass needs cutting and the decorating needs doing’ it was down to earth, literally as well as physically so it was an interesting comparison. But it was a lot of time away so I think that was why they had a job finding people, people of the right sort of background ‘cause there were no Shackleton’s flying anymore so they hadn’t got people of a Shackleton background, Hastings was the other aircraft type they used to like people with background of and there were none of them around so they were a bit short of supply for Lancaster crew pilots and so they couldn’t actually find anybody for a year or so they couldn’t find anybody to come and replace us and so they eventually found one guy who came along quite happily, another Shackleton experience, and he was also senior to me as well so I could see my nose being a little bit out of joint now, he was senior he was qualified as an instructor so he was going to have a higher training position but then curiously he was crook almost for about two years with various family problems and injuries and things like that so it actually meant that rather than getting pushed to one side I actually got all the Lancaster flying, so for two years it was my Lancaster which used to annoy Paul Day no end. So, all the high profile and low profile stuff I got to do. I think the Lanc used to fly about ninety-four hours a year and I used to get about ninety of those ninety four hours so life was very good. But then the chap came back in fully trained up senior to me, so the writing was sort of on the wall for me. You can either stay on for a little bit longer as a junior or time to move and I reckoned after nine years I maintain that I’d achieved everything I’d wanted to do in a Lancaster, legally and illegally, one way or another so it was probably time to move on and the air force by now was sort of saying ‘Time to get back to a proper job’. So in ’97 sadly I left BBMF and I expected to go back to Kinloss to the maritime world up there to fly the Nimrods again with all the associated problems of being so far away and having a fairly detailed time that they told you when you were going to have your leave and not have your leave and fortunately I think in rather a strange way that happens with the air force there’d been an accident with a Bulldog, where a chap had been killed, so they needed to replace him and the chap who replaced him had to have a Nimrod background so he was taken from 51 Squadron, who were flying Nimrod’s at Waddington, so a slot appeared on 51 Squadron at Waddington and with me at Coningsby obviously it was ideal. I knew a few people on the squadron, they said ‘It was a pretty good way of life, what they do’ so managed to get a posting to Waddington. So, in ’98 I had to go on a quick refresher back at Kinloss on the Nimrod and then to Waddington, and the aircraft there was a Nimrod again but an electronic reconnaissance version, so a very different aircraft to the one at Kinloss, not maritime at all. Basically aircraft used to go up high level and listen to all the electronic transmissions, whether they be verbal or whether they be radars and things like that radio emissions, and again interestingly from a sort of medals point of view I think I think about that, I used to go along to all the Remembrance Day services and having been in the air force all those years had a very bare chest compared to all the old boys who had lots of jangling medals, and because of the role of the reconnaissance Nimrod we were over the Balkans, we were over later on we were over Iraq and Afghanistan and so I seemed to collect medals almost once every six months or so, so I thought ‘Hurrah’ now I’ve got all my medals I can go to these Remembrance Day parades and bravely wear my medals proudly, and then you think about it and actually most of my medals were awarded for being in the right place at the right time and with the aircraft we flew if ever there was any hint of danger we’d run away very quickly, so most of the people we used to fly against there wasn’t much of a threat to us but if ever there was a significant threat then having a high profile aircraft like ours we were just told to run in the opposite direction.
DE: Um.
MC: So I used to think then, well these guys got their medals for getting airborne knowing they were going to fly against fighters and flak and all the problems of darkness, and a lot of them wouldn’t even get any medals for doing that, whereas I was getting airborne and you know my medals were for drinking excess red wine and pizza’s in Italy and things like that so it used to sort of bring it home the value of them all but anyway Father liked to see all these medals. Obviously, Father was quite disappointed I think when I left BBMF but there was nothing we could do about that because he’d been very much involved in watching me go along and towards the end he was involved in lots of press interviews and things like that and so went to the reconnaissance Nimrod and then did that job, very enjoyable job, again flying lots of interesting places we went to, the flying itself wasn’t that exciting because we were just sort of flying around in big orbits at thirty thousand feet but the job we were doing was pretty interesting, and then we heard that the Nimrod was going to be taken out of service, and I think just before that in fact, again a lot of the multi-engine guys were going off to the airlines and they were concerned they were going to run out of Nimrod pilots so I was approaching my fifty five year point which is where you normally leave, and wondering what to do at fifty five because it was quite a strange age to start a new career, hoping maybe you know the airlines again because I thought maybe I’d get an airline job at fifty five but wasn’t sure and then the air force surprised me by, I was called into the boss’s office and said ‘Would you like a five year extension beyond fifty five?’ I thought what another five years of living in Portakabins overseas in the desert, not sure about that. But when I actually sat down and worked out all the financial side of it as opposed to the unknown of going off to the airlines it seemed like an easy decision so decided to stay on up to the age of sixty in the RAF flying the Nimrod, and then not long after I’d made that decision we then heard that the Nimrod was going to be taken out of service. So we were all very concerned about that ‘cause we thought we were doing a pretty good job with the Nimrod and it was being very much appreciated around Libya and Afghanistan by the army guys on the ground who we were helping but I think when Libya kicked off all of a sudden we got an extension of about three or four months with the aircraft otherwise we were all expecting to go off to other jobs, and on the Nimrod squadron, 51 Squadron if you had more than five years to go in the RAF then they were going to retrain you onto the American equivalent which we were going to get ourselves eventually but if you had less than five years they went off any other sort of job and because I didn’t have long left, I only had about two and a half years left in the RAF, they decided that they weren’t going to give me a flying job it would be a ground job, so I ended up working behind a desk as flight safety at Waddington which I can’t say I enjoyed at all with all the frustrations of a ground job. And then the age of sixty arrived and I left the air force and have had a wonderful time in retirement ever since.
DE: Ah ha.
MC: Now, I’ve not given up flying totally, I now I’ve joined the AEF, Air Experience Flight at Cranwell, so I fly cadets every weekend or whenever I want to basically. We fly cadets in a little single-engine training aeroplane so that’s great fun. I also fly, got a PPL, so I just fly friends around in a little four seater and the best thing for me just recently is I’ve taken, starting flying a Tiger Moth, which is an old pre-second world war training bi-plane and I do my presentation about my time in the air force I like to finish it off by showing pictures of the Tiger Moth because my Father, the first aircraft he flew in the RAF was a Tiger Moth and he went on eventually to Lancaster’s and then he ended up flying Chipmunks with the university air squadron at Nottingham and when I first joined the RAF, the first RAF aircraft I flew was a Chipmunk, then went onto Lancaster’s and ended with a Tiger Moth. So, the whole sort of circles gone all around together, that’s me.
DE: And you also do taxy runs in ‘Just Jane’?
MC: Yeah, so when I was flying on BBMF Lanc I’d always known about the Panton brothers at East Kirkby, Panton’s and the Chatterton’s, so my father and the Panton’s had known each other for quite a few generations. My father had been born on the site of where East Kirkby airfield was later made so he also had a sort of family connection with the area but the Panton’s and Chatterton’s have known each other for years so long before I got involved with the Lanc the families had known each other and we’d known that the Panton family, Fred and Harold Panton they’d had an older brother called Christopher and he had been a flight engineer on Halifax and he was lost on the Nuremberg raid which was one of the worst of the war and that had always been a very sore point to the family, the Panton family yet Father Panton found that his best way of dealing with this was to sort of black it out, blank it out. So, he’d never allowed, the boys were never allowed to go across to Germany to look at the grave, never allowed to not quite talk about him but never allowed to get involved or anything with what actually happened to him. So, it wasn’t until the father died that Fred and Harold could then do some exploration and find out a bit more about their brother and what had happened to him. They went over to Germany, Durnbach cemetery, where they found his grave and they sort of wanted to do something back home rather than sort of just a gravestone. They wanted to something rather more vibrant and so they started a museum at East Kirkby just basically in his memory and they wanted to get hold of an aeroplane. They couldn’t get hold of any Halifax’s ‘cause they weren’t any Halifaxes around and so they’d heard about a Lancaster for sale up at Blackpool so they acquired the Lanc, well they didn’t acquire it initially, when they were first interested in ’72 it had been bought by somebody else and it went to the main gate at Scampton this aircraft, NX611, and it had spent quite a few years there and whilst it was there the owner who’d bought it decided he didn’t want it anymore so put it up for sale again. So in ’83 the Panton’s successfully bought the Lancaster but had nowhere to put it so left it at the main gate at Scampton, but slowly but surely got their plans together and on part of the old airfield at East Kirkby which they’d acquired for chicken farming, they acquired the area around the control tower, they had half a hangar built on one of the old hard standings where the hangars had been, they had half a hangar built just big enough for a Lancaster and in ’88 the Lanc was dismantled at Scampton again, because it had been dismantled at Blackpool and moved to Scampton, then it was dismantled again moved by road with the help of the RAF to East Kirkby and reassembled. So, it arrived there and was reassembled in ’88 and looked magnificent and of course we all went along there and admired it tremendously and they had quite a few events there, reunions and things and it all looked very good. We could see that Fred and Harold were not satisfied with this and I think when I was on BBMF at the time they’d said ‘Do you think, do you know of anybody who could you know have a look at the engines, see if there was any chance of getting one of the engines running?’ There were a couple of guys, or one guy in particular who had been an engine man on BBMF who I knew called Ian Hickling and he had left the RAF at his due point and had gone off to do various jobs involved with aviation companies but I knew he wasn’t particularly happy with it so I said to Ian ‘You ought to speak to the Pantons ‘cause they’re interested in getting one of these engines running. He said ‘Yeah, yeah I will do, I will do, yeah’ and whenever the Panton’s spoke about it I said ‘There’s a chap called Ian Hickling, he’s very interested in getting involved, you ought to give him a call’, they said ‘Oh yeah, we will do, we will do’. Used to get really frustrated, for goodness sake, so eventually I got them speaking to each other, so Ian was taken on and within about seven months of starting on the Lanc he actually got one of the engines running so ’94 they got the first engine running at East Kirkby and before long they thought about starting another engine and then they approached me, I’d never been very far away, I was still flying the Lanc at Coningsby and said ‘Would you consider coming and taxying the aeroplane for us?’ So yes, certainly very happy to. It was all very tentative to start with but they made sure the hyd, the pneumatic brakes were working, the basic flying controls were working, the hydraulics were working and then in ’95 we struck the inboard engines up and released the brakes the aircraft just moved forward a little bit, the user brake stopped it again, so for the first time in many years anyway a Lanc was operating at East Kirkby again. Having got the first two engines going it wasn’t long before they got the third engine and then the fourth engine going and then they started offering taxy rides to people.
DE: Ah ha.
MC: So they started charging people for a ride around the airfield, or a little bit of the airfield. Things then moved on, sort of developed all the time. They then started doing night runs which I thought were the best of all because it’s atmospheric to have a night Lancaster night bomber operating in the night in the dark on a Lancaster airfield. Very, very, very, very moving I think that was and quite difficult as well, it used to give me, it was alright to taxy the Lanc in the daylight, but we operated in a fairly confined area but then when we first started doing the night runs it was also in a confined area, and it was, I was amazed how difficult it was because you’d lost sort of sight of the ground, all you had were peripheral views of lights and people with marshalling wands and things like that and again it gave me great respect and admiration for the people that had done this throughout the war in all weathers, very impressive from that point of view. Took people, so we took people for rides in it, I think the next sort of stage of development there was the BBC approached the museum with a view to doing a drama documentary. It was going to be a story about a wartime crew, present day, this was in 2000 but with flashbacks. They wanted to do some Lancaster filming, they couldn’t use the one at Coningsby because the RAF aren’t particularly enamoured with film companies and things like that and they won’t spend any excess time with film companies, so the film company came to East Kirkby instead and said ‘Is there any chance we could get the tail airborne?’ which is quite a major ask [acknowledging laug]) so the engineers again went down the back and tightened up a few of the bolts and put a few extra cables and fasteners in, and we took it out to an extension area. East Kirkby had been a standard three runway airfield, with a six thousand and two four thousand foot runways but after the war the Americans had moved into the airfield and extended one of the four thousand foot runways, east/west runway by an extra four thousand feet and so you had this eight-thousand-foot runway that they’d used. The old airfield had been reduced back to taxy ways and agriculture but that four thousand foot extension the Americans built was still there. And so, it was quite an adventure getting the Lanc from the hangar onto this four thousand foot extension. It involved some ingenuity in putting metal temporary runway covers down into the grass, it was an area where there just wasn’t enough space between some chicken hutches to actually get the wing span through so someone came up with a very clever idea I thought, they actually put a pile of sand by one of the chicken hutches so that as the Lanc was moved the wheel went over the sand, the wing went up over the chicken hutch and down on the far side. Very, very clever. Got it out there, got it onto this extension and very cautious to start with, so without any film cameras around, we just ran the aircraft down the runway, checked the brakes out ‘cause we’d never done more than walking speed before, so went a bit faster, checked the brakes out and next time went faster, checked the brakes out again, we found some fluids coming out of various places, I think it was just corroded water, and things like that, but we assured everything was alright, the brakes seemed to work, they seemed to work evenly so we got quite brave, said ‘Right we’ll go for it’ so this time at the end of the runway, put the power on, this time I put the stick forward and the tail came up quite beautifully within just a few yards of gathering low speed we roared off down the runway. The battle then of course was to keep the speed on enough to be able to keep the tail up but not go so fast that there was any chance of getting airborne, that was the last thing we wanted. We played about with the power and found that out, did it a second time and then a third time I think and then happy that we could do it the film cameras arrived a few, about a week later on the base, with all the paraphernalia that a film crew involves, the thing I remember the most is the catering wagon which was a converted double decker bus, it served wonderful food, anyway. We did all the film work and again got the tail airborne, sometimes with actors on board, sometimes with actors on the outside and it all worked really well, and so a great success. The BBC had kept the public at a sort of distance really, they didn’t want too much publicity about all this, I suppose it made a bigger impact in the film or TV programme when it came out and so having known this had all gone on there was quite a lot of clamouring from the public saying ‘Can we you know do it as a regular event? Can you get the tail up again?’ Well by this time they’d lost access to that runway extension and anyway it was a long way from the museum, so the thought was to acquire a bit of grass not very far from the museum area and get it well flattened down and rolled a few times and then look at the possibility of actually getting the tail airborne on that. And so, we did, we tried it a few times, it was much shorter distance so the tail only went up for a few seconds and then down again but there are some very nice pictures around of the Lanc on the grass with the tail airborne as we roared off across the grass. I think the family sort of thought about the risks involved and decided not to do that as a regular basis, ‘ cause if they’d have been a problem then it could have ruined the whole of the Lanc. So, we didn’t do that very, we didn’t do that many times, a few times and it was very spectacular. And then so the Lanc just went back to the regular routine now of providing passenger runs and they do it on a very regular basis, I think two days a week and bank holidays as well, and they take about ten people on board for not a small fee but I know it’s very, very popular and they’re booked up for about a year in advance so it’s a very popular pastime. If you think about it it’s the only way, only place in the world you can get a ride in a real live Lancaster on a real live Lancaster airfield, it’s the only place in the world you can do that so it’s very special, so no shortage of people queueing up to do it. Whenever I talk about the Lanc people always ask me ‘Well will it fly, is it ever going to fly again?’ So I knew that the public, the family, the Panton family have declared in the press that they do intend to get the aircraft airworthy again, it’s all very exciting. You don’t see a lot of evidence of it at the museum but in the background there’s quite a lot of work going on. They’ve got um, they’ve paid for, acquired airworthy engines, a lot of the work they’re doing now is up to an airworthy standard so any bits they change [unclear] airworthy but still a long way to go. Obviously, they’ve got to have money, it’s going to cost a lot of money, it’s going to be a technical problem although I’m sure it is feasible and the other thing is it’s a decision they have to make. If that aircraft becomes airworthy then the museum loses their centrepiece for a lot of the time when the aircraft’s away earning its living, it’s not going to cost money just to get it airworthy, it’s going to cost money to keep it airworthy so the aircraft will be away displaying and things so a lot of the time it won’t be at the actual museum itself. There’s always a risk of course of losing the aircraft as well so that’s another thing to consider, so there’s sort of three decisions; one is the finance if they can do that, one is the technical side of it and they reckon they can overcome that, so the big one is the decision, do we really want to do this? You know and I think to my mind while we can get actually get people in the aircraft doing these taxy runs, they probably wouldn’t be able to do that when it’s airworthy, to my mind whilst the one at Coningsby is flying and that obviously must come to an end at some point, when the great British tax payer decides it’s not going to pay for it anymore or whatever then that might be a cue for the East Kirkby Lanc to get airborne, don’t know, we’ll see.
DE: Do you think, do you think that they should then?
MC: I’m in two minds. I think I would love that idea of flying that aeroplane although it might be beyond my age scale now, and it would be great to see it flying, but it is very nice for people to be able to clamber over it now and actually get first-hand experience of what it was like to be in a Lanc so I like the idea of keeping it on the ground for now yeah.
DE: Ok, when we were talking earlier you spoke about flying on three. Could you tell me a bit about that?
MC: Yeah, OK. Often see pictures of, looking out over the wing of a Lancaster with the propellers feathered or one or two propellers feathered. One of my Father’s stories which I’ll recount is, as an instructor ‘cause he did his ops survived his tour of ops with 44 he went to be an instructor with 5LFS, 5 Lanc Finishing School at Syston where it was then. He spent quite a lot of time there about a year I think, and he says that’s when he really got to know the Lanc and love it even more so than the operations he was doing so he actually got to be an instructor officer there and he was very keen to pass on that confidence in the Lanc to other people so when he was doing the conversion with them, he didn’t have many flights only about seven or eight flights to convert people on the Lanc, but on one of the early ones he would get airborne, a nice good height, and he would show how capable the aeroplane is. So, he would shut one of the engines down and show the crew you just need a bit of extra power on the others, you can trim the aircraft out and it will fly quite happily on three, as we know people carried on with bombing missions on three engines all the way there and all the way back. He’d then shut the other engine down on the same side, so you’d have two engines on one side, two on the other, so that gives you quite a lot of yaw so you’d have quite a lot of trim on you’d probably have a bit of boot of rudder as well to keep the aircraft straight, but the aircraft would maintain height, you’d get rid of the bomb load if that was the case but the aircraft could still maintain height on two engines. Interesting to land but it could be done, he’d then shut another engine down and so you now had one engine running and where he was, at fairly high level at fairly light weight, then he’d sort of say ‘Yep the aircraft will still just about maintain a slow rate descent so you could probably get the aircraft back’ and then he used to surprise them, he tells me he’d surprise them, by shutting that engine down as well. So, it would be very quiet, have no engines running at all and the aircraft would glide and he’d show mid glide at a fairly good rate. And then he’d just think of the consequences he’d just punch the feathering button to restart the engine and they’d start up straight away and you’d put the power on and the aircraft would climb away. So that was always in my mind, not that I was ever going to do that in my case, but it was always a thought about four engines and there was a healthy rivalry on BBMF between fighter pilots and bomber pilots, a good little bit of rivalry, and we always used to maintain that we had nice, four nice reliable engines and they only had one so whenever we went over any water or built up areas then they would be quite nervous, you could see them trying to get higher and higher to give them a chance to either find a suitable field or parachute out, whereas we had a good solid four Merlin engines. But of course when you’ve got four engines you’ve got more chance of possibly having problems with them and my, when I first started flying on BBMF the chap who was in the charge at the time, the captain, was quite a nervous individual and he didn’t really like practising problems, practising emergencies on the grounds that if they had more problems with aircraft like Canberras, they had more problems practising emergencies than they actually had dealing with emergencies, so we never used to do any emergency training with him. Then he was replaced by a chap called Andy Tomlin who had come from a training background so he was far more used to the risks of training and practising and so he regularly used to teach us the co-pilot, me and the other co-pilot, he’d show us and we’d practise engine failures, shutting an engine down and then dealing with the remaining three engines and then bring the aircraft back into land and the various yaw problems associated with it. Then it turned out that on my very first flight as a captain, we went off down to Boston to do a quick fly past and come back and we had a problem with one of the superchargers to I actually had to shut the engine down so my very first trip as captain I came back on three engines. And then you look out over the engine, over the wing, and you see that stationary propeller and think that’s not right at all but again you concentrate on what you’re doing, so you concentrate on getting it done properly and then when you land you think whew, a sigh of relief. Curiously the next time it happened to me was when I took my Father flying with his crew. Managed to get him airborne and some of his wartime crew and again we got airborne we went off down south and came back again, and I thought a special treat then we’ll do a touch and go, so we landed the aircraft, put the power back on and take off again. And this was with Father’s rear gunner in the rear turret, a dour Scotsman, we’d landed and put the power on to go off again and he couldn’t understand this. A perfectly good landing, Father’s landings weren’t that good all the time, so perfectly good landing so why have we gone off again? I explained we were just going to do it for practice and then just, he said ‘There’s a great pillar of smoke coming out of number four engine’ and the crew looked at the engine and it was, there was no fire but it was just smoke, I think one of the cogs had broken up inside which was pushing out oil. So again, we went through our rehearsed drill, shut the engine down and feathered it so we’d got a stationary propeller which looks very odd and Father who’d now been moved back to sort of the operators’ area, he just couldn’t help himself but came out with a few sort of comments, because when you take the power back, you’ve got the aircraft trimmed down with power on three but not on one so when you bring the power back it has the effect of sort of turning the aircraft the other way. So, Father from down in the depths was saying ‘Don’t, you know remember about the trip you’re on power off’ ‘Yes thanks Dad, thank you very much’. You could see his years of training as an instructor and also the fact that he was my Dad he wanted to sort of help out as much as he could. So, I think I wasn’t too curt with him but I think I said ‘Yeah thanks Dad OK, let me get on with it’. We landed safely and took the aircraft back in again. So, the crew photographs we had afterwards were with one engine feathered, that was quite interesting.
DE: How did that make you feel having that experience with your Father?
MC: Delightful. Very, very proud after all those years where we’d been to the airshows together, seen the Lancaster flying and paid due reverence to it and all that sort of thing to actually go flying in the Lanc with him well there’s nothing better really, with all the various things I did in the Lancaster, legal and illegal, most definitely the best was to take Father flying in it as well.
DE: What illegal things did you do?
MC: [Laughs] Could talk about it now I suppose. It was just [high jinks?] generally. Whenever I used to, if there were any events on at East Kirkby on a Sunday afternoon wherever I was coming from I used to sort of manage to get the aircraft over East Kirkby somehow. And in the Monday morning I’d normally be summoned to OC Ops office to explain why I’d been wasting Lancaster hours. And then various heights, there was one time, I’d always wanted to fly down the Derwent Dam because everyone knows about the Dambusters and all that stuff and they’d flown in their rehearsals, the Dambusters themselves when they were rehearsing had flown over the Derwent Dam, and when they’d done the film they’d spent a lot of time flying over the Derwent Dam so it was always something I wanted to do. I was co-pilot for the fiftieth anniversary which was very highly publicised and lots of press but wasn’t allowed to touch the controls because again the guy was a bit nervous about the height we were going to go down to. He kept far too high as far as I was concerned, so when I got my captaincy it was something I always wanted to do is fly over the Derwent, always, always, always. But every time I’d asked because everything a Lanc does is approved at fairly high level and every time I asked they’d said ‘No, no it’s too high profile to do that sort of thing’. Eventually it was a rather sad occasion that one of the ground crew who been a great friend and a great help of mine had left BBMF and then died very suddenly of a heart attack not long afterwards and his family had always been associated with the Derbyshire area and they had permission to put a little plaque on the Derwent Dam just in memory of Terry Shaw. So, the family had got in touch with me and said you know ‘Is there any chance of giving us a flypast?’ I thought this sounds good, so approached the powers that be and put it in all the right phrases and good public relations and stuff like that and I think the response I got was ‘OK but one pass and no publicity’ and so that one pass actually because of where we were we got there a little bit on the early side and we weren’t too sure if the family were there going to be all ready for us so I went round twice anyway so that was slightly illegal, and the height we came down to was definitely illegal. [Laughs]
DE: Wonderful, OK thank you. Again, before we started the interview you told me a little bit about Peter Lees and a little bit about your Father’s book, do you?
MC: Yeah, when Father’s crew were assembled in the usual ramshackle way of who knew who and what friends got on with who they ended up with seven bods obviously and the bomb aimer had, called Pete Lees, the bomber aimer had come from an RAF background where the rest of the guys had just sort of come in for the war, Pete Lees had been in a little bit longer and so he had a bit more experience and therefore was a little bit I think miffed with the casual attitude of these brand new shiny sergeants who only, hadn’t got anytime time in so to speak. But he was a very conscientious bomb aimer and at times when they were over the target and he wasn’t actually happy with the set-up he told the crew to go around again which they weren’t obviously too happy about the idea of in the middle of a target, but he had the, he was a perfectionist, he wanted to get the job done properly if you were going to go all that way. And one night quite early on in Father’s tour after he’d been on ops for about a month they were selected to be a standby crew, and a standby crew on a squadron on 44 as all the other stations they were the crew that would provide any spare bods if somebody was needed for another crew. So if any one member of a crew that was going to fly that night went sick then a standby crew would provide the spare, unless I think if it was a pilot. If it was a pilot that went sick then the whole crew were replaced. But on this occasion, I think it was 23rd November ‘44, chap called Buckle was captain and his bomb aimer called Mantle-Scott was sick and I’m not too sure why but I do think that it must have been very late notice because I believe that Mantle-Scott’s equipment was all on the aeroplane at that point because it was subsequently lost and he had to claim for it, so it must have been quite a last-minute call he went sick. So, my Father’s bomb aimer Pete Lees was called and he had to go in his place with Buckle and as often happens on these occasions the crew didn’t come back. It was a trip to Berlin I think as well, crew didn’t come back and so quite a blow for Father and the crew having just sort of started off on ops for that to happen and there are some quite poignant little ideas that Father wrote to the parents of Pete Lees to explain, well you couldn’t explain, but to just give their sympathies and hold out hope and it’s interesting that in Father’s letter he says you know ‘From the number of people shot down there’s quite a large percentage alive as prisoners of war’ which I think is twisting the truth a little bit unless that is what Father genuinely believed but he was trying to keep the spirits up. And so, for a little while they flew with odd other bomber aimers, whoever was spare at the time, and eventually the sick bomb aimer joined Father’s crew and they were delighted with him he was very much more of sort of in their ilk and fitted in with the crew very well so they were very pleased with him, Mantle-Scott. So, they all finished the tour and they all went off and went off to be training instructors and things like that later on. But much, many years later, when I was involved with East Kirkby I had a call I think initially it was from the relations of the family of Pete Lees who were, were getting in touch and met up with them, met them at East Kirkby and they brought the memorabilia they had of Pete and it was in a brown suitcase, an old brown suitcase, and it turned out that this was the old brown suitcase that my Father had posted and gone through all Pete’s stuff when he was lost, had actually posted it back down to his parents along with the letter that he written to him and they’d bought all this stuff back to show me. So, the brown case, the letter that Father had written, I’d never seen before but had heard of and various other memorabilia that Pete had had. And we took the families, took the family, and showed them round the Lancaster at East Kirkby and then we showed them the spot at Dunholme Lodge where we think Pete would probably have flown from, where the last time he’d been on the ground so to speak alive so obviously it was very important for the family and quite moving for them and not long after that I had another ‘phone call again from East Kirkby by another person who had approached the museum trying to get hold of me and it was a lady called Jen Scott, Jennifer Scott. Jen Scott was the grand-daughter of Mantle-Scott the bomb aimer who’d joined Father’s crew and it turns out she was at Newcastle University doing a history degree and she’d decided to do her dissertation on Bomber Command and I think the media, how the media reported Bomber Command, and she just wondered if I could help her a bit with some of the research she needed to do. So of course, we got her down to East Kirkby, took some photographs in the nose of the Lanc where her grandfather had been and took them to also look round the Lancaster at Coningsby and also out to Dunholme Lodge again to the spot there. So this is quite moving for us and the family of course and I just kept remembering the fact that if her grandfather hadn’t gone ill that night then she probably wouldn’t exist ‘cause he’d probably have gone down with the Buckle crew, so quite poignant and she was very grateful for all the help she got and we kept in touch and she knew about the family of the bomb aimer that had been lost and on one occasion she went to visit Berlin for something else and was going to go and visit the grave of the chap who was lost and contacted, through me contacted the family and we came up with a nice little plaque which they produced and she went and laid it at Peter’s grave. I thought this was very, very poignant that the grand-daughter of the chap who survived, because he had a cold that night, went and put a little plaque by the grave of the chap who hadn’t survived. All down to a cold.
DE: Are you still OK?
MC: Yeah, [laughs].
DE: Can you, can you tell me a bit about your Father’s book? You said earlier that he wouldn’t talk about it, how did he come to write it all down?
MC: Yeah, so Father didn’t speak much about the horrors of the war he used to talk about the flying and he’d talk about his love of the Lancaster and that sort of thing and obviously, there was a lot of other parts of his life, when he’d been a student beforehand and growing up as a kid and then after the war when he went off to be initially a lecturer and then a farm manager. Lots of little stories he’d tell us, he was great at telling stories but he was no, and they used to get bigger each time of course like the length of the fish, but they got bigger and better each time. And I knew that with my memory and the family’s memories etc., etc we’d lose all these unless we wrote them down so we used to say to him ‘Will you write them down?’ He said ‘Yes I will when I retire I’ll write these little stories down’ and we knew that was never going to happen ‘cause you never retire as a farmer. And it sort of came by chance that often you used to get sort of fan mail and things like that into BBMF and one letter was written by a chap called Richard Underwood who worked for the Council down in Bourne, I think he was a planning officer or something, and he was going to write a little article about Father and I for the Parish magazine or the Council magazine I think it was. I think he was going to plan about two sides of A4 in this and so he asked if it was OK, he asked our permission to do that. And as always with these things we used to pass them onto Father and he’d replied ‘Yes sure that’s fine’ so Richard wrote down a couple of notes, or a couple of pages of notes that he’d gained from Internet and magazines and things and gave them to Father and Father had changed a few bits, corrected a few bits, added a few little notes and added a couple of interesting stories and sent it back to Richard said ‘There you go ’and Richard was so impressed by this, said ‘Oh that’s really good, if I incorporate those can you have look at that again and if you’ve got any other little stories ‘ and he used to go to and fro for about two or three years getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger until he got the whole story covered and there was a lot of discussion about the name of the book but eventually they decided to call it ‘ Ploughshare and Shining Sword’ based on Harris’ opinion that the Lancaster was his shining sword, and that ploughshares were converted into Lancaster’s and after the war converted back to ploughshares I suppose. Anyway so the book was slowly, and it was a slow process getting it together, and then I think they had quite a while trying to find someone to publish it as well, and eventually it went through all the publishing and corrections, etc., etc. and illustrations and things and then came the day of the, we knew the date of the publication was getting close, but father was getting iller and iller with various heart disease and things like that and it turned out that father had actually seen everything of the book but had actually passed, had died six days before it was actually published so never got to saw the final finished version but as far as I was concerned I think they had about a thousand copies made and the proceeds went off to the Linc’s and Lancashire Association, but as far as I was concerned I just wanted one copy with all those stories recorded forever which is what I’ve now got so very happy with it.
DE: Smashing. How, it’s another big question, but how do you, what are your thoughts on the way Bomber Command has been remembered?
MC: Yeah, I guess I have been in an environment of Bomber Command for quite a few years now and obviously everyone in the environment I’ve been has been very pro Bomber Command and everyone I’ve met has been very pro and you do realise obviously there’s the other side of the story as well and every so often I just sort of quietly reflect on the fact that the Lancaster was designed to destroy and wonder why it’s got such a wonderful following everywhere, because wherever I go everyone raves about how wonderful the Lancaster is and sometimes depending on the environment you sort of say ‘Well the aircraft was designed as a machine of destruction’ and then see what sort of a reaction you get but most people say ‘Yeah but it was necessary at the time’ that sort of thing so I suppose you’re testing the water a little bit. I follow the general line that the guys at the time were all doing their job and I know sort of from personal experience if you’re trying to put together an operation where you’re trying to have one particular aim of getting an aircraft whether its bombing or whatever over a particular place at a particular time there’s so many different factors involved that there’s nearly always something that goes wrong. So, you have to sort of try and allow for all these things that are going to go wrong and achieve what you can at the end of it, occasionally everything goes wrong like the Nuremburg? raid and very little is achieved and they lose a huge amount of aeroplanes and then on the other occasions very few things go wrong and the target gets devastated like Dresden. And so that’s my sort of form of explanation as to why things like Dresden happened. It wasn’t that they, it was just [unclear] made a special effort to kill as many people as possible, just that all these factors were involved every night and occasionally it all came together and occasionally it didn’t. But for the crews themselves I think because of all the armchair experts after the war and the fact that they never got a sort of campaign medal and things like that, an awful lot of people did just withdraw into themselves and didn’t keep quiet about the war but I think they were reluctant to talk about what they did. So probably again with my Father he’d tell me about the Lancaster but didn’t tell me much about the actual raids or the things he saw and went on. So yeah you feel a bit mad really that they were cheated out of it in a way, everyone else got the recognition for it and yet what they did they should have been recognised for it as well. So, I suppose I, fairly standard sort of line that you maintain and yes there’s recognition nowadays but it’s just annoying it’s too late for so many people.
DE: Do you think that lack of recognition is somehow led into the way the squadron associations were created in their little individual memorials on stations and things?
MC: Yeah, I guess that’s a good point, and I think the associations seemed to sort of blossom, I guess it tied in with most peoples’ retirement so when they were busy working they didn’t really have time for things like that and when they’d stopped working they had a bit more time for reflection and thinking about it. They’d think about the characters they’d worked with and the friendships they’d made and sort of try and re-live some of that and when they did get back together again they’d talk about what they’d done and they’d find that this feeling of reluctance to talk about what they’d done in the war was a mutual thing and sort of because they were in the environment they were in they could talk about it, they could talk about the bad times as well as good times. And therefore I think the associations were a good thing because it got all these individuals who had their own private thoughts together to realise they shouldn’t be ashamed of what they did, it was, they were doing their job etc. and stuff like that. So, I think the associations are a good. Sadly now we’re at the point where most of the old boys, the veterans, are either not with us any more or at a point where they can’t sort of get together so the associations are slowly dwindling away.
DE: Do you feel that your job flying the Lanc gives you any special insight too?
MC: I think it gives you responsibilities almost in a way. I think flying the Lanc and taxying the Lanc at East Kirkby is sort of representing all the guys that flew the aircraft as I say for real so I think it’s important that we do tell the story of them and keep the memories alive and I’ve got a little presentation that I give called ‘The Tale of Two Lancs’ it’s normally to sort of Womens’ Institute and groups like that in the back of the village hall, and I finish that presentation having spoken of all my Lancaster experiences and the fantastic opportunities I’ve had by just putting up the badge of the Lancaster and the badge of BBMF, the Lancaster is to remember the many and then the BBMF is lest we forget and I think that is an idea that when I do my talk I just want to bring back and bring and highlight the memory of all these guys who were lost or carried on and sort of died naturally but with the, that sort of sometimes that idea haunting them all the time behind, but just like to make sure that the memory of what they did stays alive.
DE: Smashing. I think I’ve gone through all the questions I’d jotted down. Is there anything else that you can think of that you’d like to?
MC: Just talk a little bit about the Lanc at Waddington.
DE: Ah ha. Sure.
MC: When I was at Waddington flying my Nimrods I was surprised to find one time that I was asked to go and taxy a group at East Kirkby that were all from Waddington which is where I was based and I was quite surprised, why am I, do not know about this group? And it turned out that this was a project, force development project, force development was an idea the air force developed about ten, fifteen years ago, they realised that some of the young airmen in the RAF actually had no idea about the history of the air force or what the air force had achieved. So, there was a certain amount of resources and energy put into educating the young folks about the history of the RAF, and also encouraging them to develop their own personal abilities as well. So, a project started up at Waddington which was to research an aircraft that had crashed in Scotland and I got involved with this. This group that I had offered to do a taxy ride for were the group that were involved in this project, and it turned out that a Lancaster Mark I which had the registration PD259, which had got airborne from Waddington on 31st August ’44 on a training flight and the crew on board were Australians ‘cause it was 463 Squadron and they were an Australian squadron although they had a Scottish engineer flight engineer. And we’d heard that the aircraft had crashed up in the highlands of Scotland not very far from Aviemore and nobody really knew why, but I was surprised that I didn’t know anything about this because I thought I knew quite a lot about Lancs and the ones that were left, but I didn’t know anything about this one at all. So, did some investigating and joined this little group at Waddington and in 2008 there was an expedition organised to go and visit the crash site, and I wasn’t too sure about it because it involved four hours of walking from the nearest bit of road on the A9 up to the crash site, and the nearest town I think is Kingussie and the crash site as I say was up in the peat bog highlands and was about a four hour walk from the nearest bit of civilisation. So was very much looking forward to it, got out there, had seen some photographs of what was out there, got out there and was amazed to find the state of the bits that were there, the wreckage still perfectly good markings, you could see the squadron letters on the side of it J, O, G, you could see bits of the roundels and lots of the markings on the aircraft that had been sat out there in this environment of plus 20 in the summer to sort of minus 30 in the winter of snow and ice and hail and survived over sixty cycles of this was still in such good condition, amazing. So obviously very fascinated and also very daunting to wander round the crash site of where these seven young men had been killed thinking that’s the spot where these guys were killed, and that was just sort of a visit to the site initially. Got back absolutely full of enthusiasm thought it would be really nice to get some of those bits back to Waddington. The land owner had been a very good chap, he’d been very protective of the site because it wasn’t a burial site because the guys had all been returned to, or been recovered, bodies had been recovered and buried in Cambridge War Graves Cemetery, apart from the engineer who was buried in Scotland. But he was very protective of the site, didn’t want sort of pilferers and people pinching stuff ‘cause it was quite significant to him but he when we explained what we were trying to do he was very pro very much onside and with a bit of wrangling managed to get hold of a helicopter on a training flight in the local area and with a specialist team that were involved in under-slung loads you have to be quite careful about what you put under a helicopter of course, all these experts came along, all of this came together and I was very impressed about how it came together and we actually managed to recover some of the parts of the aircraft in the under-slung load down to by the main road, by the A9, and then back to, ferried back to Waddington. We did two events like that one in 2009 and one in 2010. So, we’d now got some very significant parts of this aircraft recovered back at Waddington and with the help of the Lanc at Coningsby some engineers have made an internal frame just the same size as the inside of a Lancaster so we’ve actually managed to attach some of these sections that we’ve recovered onto this frame sort of almost like a reconstruction of a Lancaster although we haven’t actually got enough room to make a full-size Lancaster. So, it’s quite significant now and it achieved the aim of the people at Waddington who can now actually put the hands on something that if they’re ground crew their forebears did, were involved in seventy years ago. So, it’s quite tangible to see something of a real live Lancaster and we were very impressed, this aircraft was only three weeks old when it crashed, so I call it a brand new Lancaster which amuses people when you see the state of it now. It was a brand new Lancaster, three weeks old, it had still achieved seven, carried out seven operations in that time, six or seven operations and one of the pilots who’d done three of those operations, a chap called Bill Purdy had heard about our project even though he was in Australia and he’d come over to see his old Lancaster and gave us some wonderful tales about the stories of how it had been involved in his general life as well and so we thought as a nice idea we’d present him with part of the Lancaster to take home. So, we found one of the exhaust stubs, there were quite a few of those scattered over the hillside, we found an exhaust stub, rather bent, but we gave it to him to take back. On the grounds that we thought it might look rather suspicious going through the scanner at the airport security we gave him a sort of signed certificate to confirm it was his property and that we’d presented it to him and the significance of it. So, he went back very happy with that. Didn’t expect to see him again but he’s a very adventurous chap and he’s been back to the UK several times since then and come to visit and see the progress in our project. But because when you take bits off a crash site you have to have a licence to take bits off it when you, the licence has to be in somebody’s name so it’s in my name, and so when I recover bits I have to send a full report of all the bits I’ve taken off the crash site and then the MOD come back with a letter, a standard format letter, saying the RAF and the MOD have no longer any interest in these parts, they now belong to you. So, all these Lancaster bits belong to me so I’ve got my own bits of a Lancaster which I’m very proud of, and the visitors centre is open to members of the public by prior arrangement.
DE: Smashing. Well thank you very much again.
MC: Good stuff.
DE: Unless you can think of something else you want to add that will.
MC: I’ll check my notes, things I thought about. Covered it all really. Pete Lees, PD259, my Father’s stories and the two Lancs presentation I do, yeah, brilliant. Yep, so do you, would you want copies of Father’s stories?
DE: I’d love to yes.
MC: Yeah, electronically on there if you wish.
DE: Oh brilliant, that’s fantastic I’ll get those sorted.
MC: Yeah.

Collection

Citation

Dan Ellin, “Interview with Mike Chatterton,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 14, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/3373.

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