Interview with Fred Crawley DFC


Interview with Fred Crawley DFC


Fred Crawley joined the Royal Air Force in 1939 when he was 18 years old. While at an operational training unit he survived a crash which killed five members of his crew. He was treated in hospital at RAF Rauceby for burns. After training he completed 74 operations as a navigator with 158 and 139 Squadrons.




Temporal Coverage




02:05:36 audio recording


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PL: Hello. I’m Pam Locker and I’m here today in Enfield interviewing Squadron Leader Fred Crawley DFC and the date is the 22nd of December 2015. So, Fred, can I just start by saying thank you very very much indeed on behalf of the International Bomber Command Memorial Trust for agreeing to talk to us and I know you’ve lots of things that you want to say so please, please do start. What I’d like to hear first of all is how you got in to the RAF in the first place.
FC: Well, I thought about the beginning of this and I thought to myself well what I could do, I could tell you, Pam as the interviewer just three lines of information and that would be my career. The first thing I would tell you I spent six and a half years in the RAF from 1939 May to the last day of 1945. I did over a thousand hours flying in doing what I did and I did seventy four operations against Europe. Twenty nine of those came on four engine Halifaxes and the forty five came on the Mosquito Pathfinder squadron. That was all continuous but the amazing part of the story really is the amazing change that happened in my career, not of my doing but what the authorities decided to do with me. So I will start by enrolment. I enrolled in what was known as the Volunteer Reserve, the VR, in May 1939 by leaving the office where I was being trained as an accountant and went to London in Embankment and there I was interviewed. First, for fitness to see if I was fit to be considered at all and despite having had appendicitis the year before and having happened on the Saturday morning when the local hospital had no doctor. They just had a student and he made a complete and utter mess of it and the RAF doctors who examined me on the day I enrolled said, ‘You’ll never fly with that wound.’ So I said, ‘Well, don’t be silly because I’ve been playing football and cricket ever since,’ So I said but if you say it, well they gave me such a pummelling I thought they would break it open but they didn’t and in the end they said, ‘Ok. You’re fit to have an interview,’ and my interview took place the same afternoon with an elderly, well ranked, he was an air commodore and all he said to me, ‘I suppose you want to be a pilot.’ I said, ‘Oh no. No. No, I don’t want to be a pilot. I want to be a navigator.’ ‘Why then. I’ve heard about this.’ Heard about navigation. I thought the first step which told me something really important and I said, ‘Well I, I’m interested in all things mathematical,’ I said, ‘I went to a good grammar school. I’ve been in employment for a year. I’m eighteen years of age and I would like to go in and train as a navigator’. Accepted. Then things started to move quite quickly. We had a few lectures in London and then I was posted to what was called ITW the Initial Training Wing and that turned out to be at Bexhill and it didn’t take long to see why. I thought I was fit despite my appendicitis operation but Bexhill pebbles, if you pound up and down Bexhill pebbles you get fit and we were without anything really except training, drilling, guarding at night with broomsticks and that finished with one of the most laughable things I’ve ever heard. It didn’t take long. It was just over two months and we went to the Delaware Pavilion which was quite a famous pavilion in Bexhill and there the chap in charge was once again an elderly, high ranking, I think he was an air commodore too, and at the end of his speech he said to me, ‘You who are about to die, I salute you.’ And I thought we’re back in Roman times. And so there was just dead silence and then muffled laughter and so that was the introduction to the RAF and almost immediately we were posted. We were all going to be navigators so the whole building was filled with would be navigators. That told you something. We were short of navigators and they were trying to redress the balance and we were posted to Scotland to Scone airfield which is just north of Perth. It was a grass airfield and I started in fact about it was there wasn’t one RAF personnel on the station. Not one. The navigation training was given by retired sea captains, the aircraft, which happened to be DH Rapides, de Havilland Rapides, they were flown by retired civil airline pilots over seventy and we did all our training but it was a wonderful training because they were not satisfied, if you didn’t understand they would go over it and over it and over it again to make sure you did and when you were in the air the pilots would respond. For example, would say, ‘Are you lost?’ ‘Yes, I’m lost.’ ‘Well down there is Lord Inverary’s place. I was playing golf there yesterday and you notice a strange building? That’s their home.’ And that was the attitude. I loved it. It was so friendly but those old people, those old sea captains, those old pilots, they were the salt of the earth and so we had a very marvellous training but nothing was skipped and we had a longer training than was normal. But all things come to an end and we left Perth to go to a place in North Wales for bombing and gunnery training. I couldn’t pronounce the name because it was P W L L H E L I which is pronounced Pwhelli. Well, we found out when we got there that that was where we got out and we were met and we were taken for bombing and that was done by old Fairy Battles which had become worn out and open cockpit Demons. Biplanes. So you could see it was using the rubbish really that we had only to use and so that went on and then we left there and, where did we go then? Oh then we went to Penrhos which was for bombing and gunnery and we did have a wooden platform built out on Aberystwyth Bay and you were supposed to try and hit it. Well there was one snag because they were very small bombs that you used because we couldn’t afford to waste any real bombs and I for one couldn’t find anyone who had hit it but so it was. We left there then to come away -
PL: Can I just ask you a little bit more about that?
FC: Yeah.
PL: So you would go up in just that little open -
FC: Cockpit.
PL: And then what? And there would be a bomb dropped from? How did that happen?
FC: Well the bombing was done from the Fairy Battles which were outmoded. They went to France I was going to talk to you about that. They went to France when war broke out and the French had of course, the French, made the fundamental mistake of relying on the Maginot Line but left the end open for the Germans to walk around the end and our 12 squadron, I think it was, were sent and they were literally wiped out. They destroyed a few bridges here and there but that was all. They did no good at all in stopping the advance of the Germans. So there we were and we were at the end of my training and I was posted then to my first operational squadron which I did on 12 squadron and that was on the Oxford Road at Benson. Well it was a crew of three. The pilot was in an open cockpit. He sat up in front. You couldn’t reach him from the inside and at the back was me as navigator facing forward and behind me, back to, was an air gunner/wireless operator with a single Lewis gun with a pan on top and that was our defence. The only other thing that was terrible about it was that if you got down inside to bomb then you had to pull the slide back and right in front of you there was the radiator for the Merlin engine which just about singed your hair off but that was life but of course in a way it was exciting because I was going to France. I was being trained for France and in being posted to Benson they had this off shoot of that to train people to replace the losses in France and that’s how it worked. In the meantime we were utilised. We used to attack our own forces, the military and bomb them or give them experience of low flying aircraft attacking them head on. Well, we didn’t have any bombs and this is perfectly true, we were given bags of flour and they were tied at the neck and we used to drop them over the side and hopefully hit a tank and one day I did. I was the only one who did but I did and it went straight down the turret which was open and the chap standing in it and it covered him with white flour. I never had the skill to do it again but anyway it was good fun. That was then for Benson in its prime but of course all things come to an end and the powers to be soon realised it was a waste of time sending our dilapidated aircraft to France to be shot down like flies by the Germans fighters who were so much better and the French had nothing at all. They pulled 12 squadron back and so I therefore never got further training in 12 squadron. I was then posted to my next move and so - I’m trying to see now what I put down. They decided that in going from Benson I would be well used in training others. I must have been giving a good impression that I had done fairly well because I never, I couldn’t get away from this training others as an instructor and so I was sent to Prestwick and they had a racket going there in my view. I’ve got to be careful what I say. I think I’ll withdraw that Pam because that might have repur but it was run by a private firm and they had one four engine old Fokker, a German plane, fixed undercarriage. It made the noise of twenty five devils when it took off and we crammed forty or fifty pupils in that with a small table to write on and we tried to teach them navigation and it didn’t work. So they then got a few Ansons and that was better. The old lady of the air force who I loved actually. I flew them myself as a navigator and so I was there at Prestwick for a time and then it was obviously costing a lot of money paying this private firm and I was moved down to, lower down the coast of Scotland to, where are we, [pause] oh yes I went then to Penrhos which was a navigation school and there I had a happier time. They were equipped with Ansons mainly and then I was posted yet again to another training place in Scotland and I kept, I was there until, flying Fairy Battles again, which weren’t used in France anymore and the replacements that came back from there. So the accent was always on training. Training, training, training and so in the end I began to get a bit annoyed and I said to the CO of, of the training station look I didn’t come in to the air force to train others. I want to do something for myself. So, at long last I was posted to [pause] forgive me, I went from Prestwick to [?] I was posted to an operational squadron of Lancasters by myself. Now in the air force it’s very dangerous to be on your own. If you’ve got six other blokes you regularly fly with you form a compact seven and you trust each other but to go by yourself, it’s a nasty position to be in but however I went to 106 squadron at Coningsby and the man in charge happened to be Guy Gibson of fame and he said, ‘Well we’ve got a navigator who’s permanently sick, he’s really ill. So,’ he said, ‘I think the chances are he won’t come back and the crew that you will go with are experienced and they will be pleased to have you.’ And I thought wow and would you believe I hadn’t been there for two or three days and I got my first op and that was to Poland so I was chucked in at the deep end and we went to Danzig Bay and we laid five very large mines in the harbour. Very cleverly done too. One mine perhaps would let two ships over before it got, this one would let four ships go over, this one would only allow one to go up so it shut the harbour right down for a very long time till they got them all up. So I thought right [?] and would you believe luck run out again because the first part of the war I had no good luck in it at all. The chap came back from sick. He wasn’t very well but he passed fit for operations so I was out of a job and I said to Gibson, ‘Look. What are we going to do?’ ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘I’ll fit you into a good crew.’ So I said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to be the odd bod fitting in an odd place. I want to be posted and pick up a crew of my own and fly with them.’ And so, so he said, ‘Right. I’ll get you posted. Well I was sent back to Prestwick but much to my utter amazement it wasn’t to teach others. I was pulled in to the CO’s office and he said, ‘We’ve got a special job for you.’ ‘Oh what am I going to do?’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘We are going to ask you to lead formations of the American 8th Air Force from Prestwick down to their bases in East Anglia.’ I said, ‘Why do you do that?’ ‘Because they are getting lost going from Prestwick to East Anglia.’ And I can understand that. Where they were training if they came across a town there can only be one town because there’s no other town near it but when they get over here of course one town merges into the next one and the poor souls they just, they lost some aircraft too. Crashes. And in the end I had a wonderful time with the American 8th Air Force. They’d do anything for me. They supplied my mother, who lived in London, with butter, eggs and that’s what, that’s what they gave me as, ‘Thank you very much.’ So happy times. Here we go. And so having got away from 106 I was then with the 8th Air Force until, again they did get the idea how they could get from Prestwick to East Anglia without having someone to lead. I was given a special aircraft, a B25 Mitchell, a twin engine and a pilot whose name, would you believe it, was Lieutenant John Haig. Now, I liked whisky and here was a chap with a whisky name and we were great friends by the time we parted but parted again. I had to say, ‘Look, this has got to stop. I must, I must get on to a proper squadron and so I got posted to, much to my amazement from 5 group where Gibson was to Yorkshire, 4 group, on Halifaxes and I went to Marston Moor where they had an OTU, an Operational Training Unit and you were there to pick up a crew and well when I found the crew they were short of a navigator and I thought how odd. That’s the second time this has happened to me. What’s the matter with the chap? Well, he’s not the right type. When he gets angry he loses his temper, he breaks all his pencils and says, ‘’m not doing any more navigation.’ Well they were a young crew. A very young crew. I was the oldest at twenty one, I think. Yeah, twenty one, and so anyway we introduced ourselves and we got to the stage where we were doing the last night circuits and bumps, you know, as you do, with an instructor pilot on board. Well, in the Halifax a navigator’s position on take-off is on the rest bed in the middle of the aircraft. It’s simply because his navigation equipment is up front in the nose and so we did two or three. It was in February ’43. A rotten night. Very dark. Windy. They kept changing the runway to suit take-off better and he said to the pilot, I heard him say it, ‘Well you’re not too bad. Do one more then call it a day.’ He got out and we took off. Well, by this time I’d got fed up lying on the rest bed and I decided to do something about it so I said to the mid upper gunner, ‘Look you’ve had your turn. Can we change places? You come and have a rest on the rest bed and I’ll go in your turret and I can at least see what’s going on.’ No problem. ‘Yes, fine.’ He was fed up being up there himself so we took off and then all bad things happened. We were only just off the ground at about five hundred feet possibly when fire broke out in the starboard outer. So you remember the pictures of Concorde with all the gaps and there it was and we, everything was done that could be done. The fire extinguisher was pressed, the fire didn’t go out and it was trailing back and so all I heard at all was somebody said, ‘My God. We’re low,’ and with that there was a big bang and I went out like a light. Now that aircraft happened, by sheer luck, to be landed on a downhill field so it hit, it didn’t dig in, it bounced. The tail section broke off with the tail gunner in it two fields that way. I was thrown out. I didn’t know how, what had happened but I found out after the middle section broke off from the front section and I was catapulted but I had no shoes, no socks, no trousers on, and I was half in and half out of a bush. The rest of it was down another field and burning like fury and I saw one bloke come to the edge but he fell back in and he’d obviously had it. Well, of course this was on Marston Moor. There were no roads on Marston Moor so they could see the fire but they couldn’t get to it but the MO, the Medical Officer, he had a motorbike so he eventually managed it although he came off the motorbike several times. He got to me because when I came around, the reason I came around my feet were in a small pool of burning petrol and it was the pain of that that brought me around but the experience that I had then was bang, but then you’re going down a long, long black shaft and I was saying to myself if I reach the bottom I shall die. If I reach the bottom I shall die but then a voice out of the darkness, ‘Is there anybody there?’ And it was the farmer whose farmhouse we just missed on the way down and I yelled and said, ‘Yes I’m here.’ And he was, he had his small son of about six or seven with him and he picked me up, carried me on his shoulders and took me to his farmhouse. Laid me on the floor. And the MO got to me there and he filled me up with morphine and then of course I went out for a light, well, as a light and I woke up next morning in York Military Hospital lying on a stretcher in the corridor. Then I found I couldn’t move anything this side at all. Everything didn’t work. Legs, arms, shoulders anything, and they were very painful. I then saw the senior medic in York Military and he said, ‘How are you?’ So I said, ‘Terrible.’ I said, ‘What’s happened?’ So he said, ‘Well I’m puzzled by you,’ he said, ‘You haven’t broken a bone in your body. I’ve been all over you,’ he said. So I said, ‘Well what’s happened?’ So he said, ‘Well, what did you do immediately before the crash?’ I said, ‘I was looking at the fire.’ Of course I was. So I turned the turret around to look at it and so we were going that way you see and I was looking this way so I took everything on this side and he said, ‘What has happened is the force of the crash,’ which must have been a hundred and sixty knots or something like that, a hundred and fifty possibly, he said, ‘All your nervous systems have been so pulverised but,’ he said, ‘If you think you’re in pain now it’s nothing to what you will experience when it starts to recover.’ And it was true. It was agony. So I stayed in York Military. I had facial burns, burns to my legs and I was transferred to Rauceby near Ely Burns Hospital and there of course once again luck on my side. They had just got a new technique to deal with burns which applies to this day and they treated me and the only way Joyce could tell subsequently that when I got hot you could see that there was this side. You could see the outline of the fire and the legs too. And so there I was. So I was in hospital for a month and when I came out they said, ‘Go and have some leave.’ I was arrested in London because they thought I was drunk. I was taken to the SP’s hut and I said, ‘Well I’ve just come out of the burns hospital. I can’t put my coat on because I can’t do it.’ He took me into a pub and bought me a half a pint of beer and got me on the train home. So eventually I go back. I go back to Marston Moor.
PL: Did anybody else survive that?
FC: Well there were seven crew members. The tail gunner and I were the two survivors. The other five died. Two on impact and three from their injuries subsequently and it’s on the internet. My daughter-in-law found the account of this and all the pictures on the internet. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve still got it somewhere. Yeah. So back I go to Marston Moor. So I’ve been in the air force quite some time. I haven’t done anything worth talking about so when I got back to Marston Moor it was difficult to believe but they said, ‘Well, we are a navigator short in a crew.’ Ah. So I said, why, why, ‘Why, are they short?’ ‘Well he’s got a bad temper.’ it was exactly -
PL: Same chap?
FC: And I was convinced it was going to happen to me again and so when I saw the crew I’d got from a young innocent crew I’d got, I mean I was the oldest at twenty one and ok I was a bit older now. This was a Canadian pilot and and these people were a different calibre altogether. And to cut a long story short no trouble. We did our training at the OTU and we were posted to 158 on the East Yorkshire coast and that was my introduction to the operational theatre but I’ve wrote down here I’d been in the air force nearly four years and I’d done one op. Poor return. But then of course as so often happens in life things started to get better. We had, we did a full tour on 158 near Bridlington. I got the DFC and the pilot got the DFC for that and I was then posted to an OTU to train others and I thought I’m back to training again and this kept on dogging me. I get pulled in again but mind you to go to Blyton which was near Gainsborough, dreadful place. Wartime airfield. Nissen huts running in condensation. You couldn’t get a dry shirt and so I got very friendly with the adjutant who happened to be a West End actor. Unfortunately, I can’t remember his name now but he was quite somebody to reckon with at the time and he said, ‘Isn’t this a dreadful station?’ I said, ‘Yes it is.’ So he said, ‘I’ll tell you what,’ he said, ‘Suppose we put on a show.’ ‘Doing what?’ I said. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I thought of a mannequin parade. We’ve got some lovely, young, beautiful WAAFs. I’ll go to London and I’ll get all the dresses and you write the music,’ ‘cause I used to play a lot in those days. ‘You write the music and there’s a WAAF, there’s a WAAF officer, she’s a good pianist we’ll tune one of the WAAF pianos so we got two pianos and you write the music.’ So I thought, ‘I don’t think I can do that.’ ‘So,’ he said, ‘The first thing you’ve got to do you’ve got to retune the NAFFI piano to match the Grand in the mess. Never try it,’ he said, ‘It drives you nuts.’ However, we did it and there we were and so he went to London and he came back. Well, when he showed me some of these dresses it left nothing to the imagination, Pam and I said, ‘It won’t do,’ I said, ‘You’ll have a riot because,’ I said, ‘The erks at the back, they’ll be on the stage grabbing them.’ So he said, ‘No they won’t. No.’ He, so he said, ‘Let’s give it a try with nobody in attendance.’ Well no we asked the CO to attend. So he said, ‘Well I can’t see anything wrong with it,’ But one girl was a very pretty girl. She took one look at the dress she was going to wear and she said, ‘I’m not wearing that.’ So he said, ‘Look. Nothing will happen. It will be like a graveyard. They will be so mesmerised by you and your,’ well to cut a long story short again it went ahead and it was true there wasn’t a murmur. I concocted something that was [in a Strauss?] nice and easy, bouncy stuff, you know and the WAAF, she was a lovely pianist and we did well there but when the girls came on in these wonderful dresses, I mean they left nothing to the imagination I can assure you, there wasn’t a murmur and they went out to thunderous applause and we then toured the area to the other airfields with it and so the time at this terrible airfield went quite well. But again I wasn’t happy because I had to go around the night skies with these to make sure they were doing alright and sometimes when I saw them do I thought, ‘Oh dear. You won’t last long.’ And so I thought to myself, ‘I must get out of this somehow.’ How am I going to do it? Well I had a particular friend at Bomber Command Headquarters in York and so I phoned him up and said, ‘What have you done with my application for Mosquito Pathfinders?’ ‘Oh I didn’t know you’d sent one in, Fred.’ ‘Oh yes,’ I said, ‘It’s been in a long time.’ I said, ‘I thought you were craving for navigators,’ because what they were doing they were taking pilots who’d got through the initial training, hadn’t done much flying, but putting in an experienced navigator with him. Only a crew of two you see and that made it compact but I said, ‘Well see what you can do.’ He came back to me and said, ‘I found your application.’ I hadn’t sent one in so he was lying in his teeth. So I said, ‘I’m so pleased. When can I go?’ So I said, ‘Like tomorrow?’ ‘Well if you want to go that quickly.’ So I did. I went the next day and I went to Warboys just near Huntingdon and there they were all being selected. Sprog pilots with experienced navigators and they would have had to have done a tour on something to be considered. Well, in that group of inexperienced pilots was a chap that worked in the same office as me in peacetime and who I knew very well and so it was obvious. I phoned his wife before I went and I said, ‘When is Mark coming down?’ ‘Tomorrow,’ she said. He’d been training at Lossiemouth in North Scotland and so we met and I saw the chap who was dealing with the matching. I said, ‘Look, I know him very well. Is it alright with you?’ ‘Yes. You take him.’ So my crew was established. Now, he wasn’t a particularly good pilot to start with. He became one and I was well satisfied with him and we did forty five trips as Pathfinders and of course with Pathfinders you’ve got radar. I had two types of radar. Gee in the nose and H2S up here. Do you know what I’m talking about? No. Well a Gee is a two wireless stations transmission of beam and you’ve got an oscilloscope and you measure the strength of each beam and where they meet that’s where you are. So that was the simple thing. The H2S is something quite different. This was a scanning machine which rotated a hundred and twenty degrees like that in the nose and you could illuminate any building ahead of you to a hundred and twenty degrees wide. You couldn’t take a back bearing. If you’d gone past it you couldn’t do it but with H2S, H2S is the symbol for hydrogen sulphide isn’t it? You know, bad eggs. I mean somebody had a sense of humour and so those two, navigation I was always fascinated by. In fact I loved what I was doing and but mind you the Mosquito, a lovely aircraft and I’ve listened people say marvellous aircraft and I think to myself, ‘Yes, it was,’ but it was, it had it drawbacks. For example, it was so cold. The engines could never give you enough warmth. They gave you a pipe which were supposed to stuff up your trouser leg, you know, to preserve your manhood sort of thing but it was only a trickle of warmth and at the blister at the side, thick ice, that thick. But the windscreen always freezed [they covered that?] But again no toilet. Now if you fly for five hours in freezing cold there’s things happen to the human body and the pilot had a tube between his legs, it came up as a nozzle here and the navigator had to try and get it down there but you know nobody worried about that because it was a wonderful aircraft to fly and so we developed our own skills there because when he came it was bumps-a-daisy for landing. He couldn’t get it right and so I said, ‘Well I think it’s too much to ask. You’re having to do too many things. I’ll do some of them. For example I’ll put the wheels down. I’ll put the flaps down. I’ll call out the airspeed.’ And, ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘Would you?’ I said, ‘Oh yeah.’ And we even gravitated to when we were on our way back having bombed and marked oh and by the way the radar screen, you always took a picture of it and if it wasn’t a picture of the target you didn’t get it, you didn’t get credited. It was tough. The WAAF officers used to develop it and in the morning when you came down from your sleep they had a big blackboard and there was the target and your ribbon, you know, O-Orange that’s your picture and if you had a picture of a herd of cows you weren’t there and you didn’t get it. So you had to work for your points. So there it was and that went on and on. There was never any talk of giving up because in Pathfinders once you got, you know your special brevvy as you did. It shows you in the picture there you never talked about giving up. You just went on. I’m sure, we had one bloke who did flip and he was found at 2 o’clock in the morning walking around the perimeter track and it was too much. But he went to hospital, he came back and finished his tour. Yes, it’s amazing what people did in those days and so I continued with him and I actually went on the last raid of the war which was in 1945 to Kiel where the Germans had set up their puppet government and do you now that was one of the worst trips I’ve ever experienced because there was nothing happening. No searchlights, no flak, nothing. It was eerie but I kept on thinking, ‘What if the engines pack up? The last war raid that’s likely to be. War is going to be cancelled tomorrow and I get shot down. I ditch in the North Sea.’ And it wasn’t until I saw the lovely cluster of searchlights that always appeared on the English east coast to welcome you home I thought, ‘Oh isn’t it lovely.’ Now, you would think that was the end of my career because the war had finished. I had done, as I said to start with, a thousand hours flying. More than a thousand hours flying. I’d done seventy four trips and I had done six and a half years’ service but no when the war finished myself and one other chap were given a weeks leave. It looked perfectly normal, perfectly normal. I said, ‘Oh that’s very nice.’ And of course I knew my co very well. I was friends with him after the war and he said, ‘Go and enjoy it. Go and enjoy it. You’ve earned it.’ You know. I should have twigged that something was in the wind but I didn’t. I had a nice weeks leave. I was reunited ‘cause we weren’t married then. We knew each other. We’ve known each other ever since babies because our mothers were great friends so we will be married sixty seven years and we are now in our sixty eighth year and so I called on her. We had a lovely weeks leave. And it was that that started it ‘cause I said, ‘Oh we must do more of this,’ you know, and we were married within six months or so and [laughs] when I got back from leave I saw the same CO and he said, ‘You’re posted.’ ‘Oh yes? Where to? Somewhere nice?’ ‘Oh yes. Very nice,’ he said. So I said, ‘Where?’ ‘Italy,’ he said. ‘Italy? But the war’s over.’ ‘Well I’m sorry. You’ve been chosen.’ ‘Am I going by myself?’ ‘No. We’re sending a pilot with you so the two of you are going.’ ‘Mosquitos?’ ‘Yes.’ I thought this is all very fishy. So he said, ‘But you’ll have to go by boat.’ To Italy. So off we went the very next day to Morecambe. We got on the Empress of India or a boat of that ilk and it took us a couple of weeks to get to Naples but right out to Atlantic and down the Med and into Naples and there I was met and billeted near the base of Mount Vesuvius. Nice, nice billet provided you remembered to walk on the duck boards because if you walked on the sand it took the skin off your feet because it was so hot. So, anyway, I was met by the duty officer and he said, ‘We’ve got you all lined up,’ he said, ‘Stay the night here and we’ll get the train to the airfield.’ ‘Train?’ I said. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘Don’t you know where you’re going?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘You’re going to Foggia,’ which is right in the middle of Italy towards the south. Oh well. Anyway, on the way in the train I was very lucky. I’ve been lucky too because I sat in the same compartment with two army officers who had been on leave and had been in the area and they were starting to ask questions, ‘First time out old boy?’ you know, he says. Well they could tell by my knees ‘cause my knees were white. I said, ‘Yes. I’ve just come.’ ‘Oh. Have you got a gun?’ So I said, ‘Well yes but it’s in my kit bag.’ I’d never had any reason to fire a gun. So, he said, ‘Well get it out and load it and always wear it,’ he said. So I said, ‘Why? What’s happening?’ He said, ‘Well it’s very very dangerous out here,’ because they had literally got to starvation by the end of the war and they were ripe to take anybody’s food, clothing, transport or anything. And so I had [?] at Naples airfield. I had Foggia in the middle and I had Bari airfield on the east coast. The Adriatic coast. And so he said, ‘I’ve been detailed to give you two days run around the area.’ So I said, ‘Oh well that’s something. Yeah.’ So he said, ‘But do come prepared. You must wear your gun and you must be prepared.’ He said, ‘Never stop for anybody.’ ‘Never stop for anybody?’ ‘No. Like this,’ he said and out in front was a small village and out of a side turning came a poor old chap. He must have been fifty or sixty on a very rickety bike and he deliberately drove in front of us. So I expected him to stop. ‘Oh no,’ he said, ‘This is it. Don’t take him on. He’s not what he seems to be.’ I said, ‘What are you going to do?’ ‘I’m going to run him over.’ And he, well he tried but that chap was off that bike so nimbly we went over the bike but we didn’t go over him and of course all his cohorts were -
PL: Hiding.
FC: Behind the wall. And the other trick was to get the girls to pull their skirts up on the mountain roads all by themselves you see but the blokes were all behind the wall and it was very dangerous. And that was after the war had finished. And so that went on and by then I realised I had the most wonderful job I’ve ever had in my life. Never mind about air force. My job, I was in charge of three airfields. The three I’ve mentioned. Naples, Foggia and Bari and in each airfield there was a marshalling area for all, any kind of military personnel who was due to go home for leave, demob or whatever and my job was to get the aircraft from this country to these three airfields to take them there and I could, I had a very powerful radio station. I could order seven hundred aircraft at the drop of a hat. The power. It was marvellous, you know. You don’t, you can’t believe you’ve got that power and there they were all coming into the three places. The colonel or the major in charge of the army camps, they got all the details ready and they were loaded on the aircraft and they all came back to this country. You couldn’t do better than that. I could have made a fortune because everybody wanted to get on the planes but of course they had to take their time. I only did it once and that was because a chap came in, came to see me in the administration building where I was and he said, ‘Can you help me get home out of turn?’ I said, ‘No.’ I dare not do it. ‘Everybody is allotted a day. I can’t do it. Why should you be so particular?’ ‘Well,’ he said, he looked embarrassed for a minute, he said, ‘I’ll be frank with you,’ he said, ‘My girlfriend lives in Milan, she’s pregnant and she’s going to have a baby tomorrow. Now, if you could drop me off tomorrow I can be with her when she has the baby.’ Well, I didn’t know what to do but one of the Lancs that came in I knew the pilot very well and I said to him, ‘Do you think you can sneak a landing at Milan, drop my bloke off and take off like the hounds of hell were after you?’ He said, ‘I’ll do it.’ And that chap gave me a travelling American suitcase so you could take all your gear and it never creased and that was the only thing I ever got out of it. And then it all finished when my number came up ‘cause I had a very early number having been in so early. I found that it was my turn to go and I thought well this time I will get a Mosquito to take me home. No. All the RAF effort was controlled from Caserta in Northern Italy and they told me point blank, ‘I’m Sorry. You’ve got to go home on the train.’ Anyway, we had an Italian train allotted to us, no windows because they’d all been blown out and this was December. Bitterly cold. And the only thing that saved my life was I met my old batman and he had a primus and so he made tea every half hour. I had a stinking cold. I think I almost had pneumonia and he kept us going on that. When we got to Milan we changed trains to the Swiss railway. Lovely. Oh luxury and at every station we stopped at, ‘We hope you will come and have your holidays here.’ You know. Well listen to this when we got to the French border it was the smallest tank engine I’ve seen in my life and it had to pull this whole long train to Calais. Well it had to stop every hour to fill more water in the thing but eventually we got to Calais and, as I say, up to Birmingham for demob and that in a nutshell is my story.
PL: What an extraordinary story.
FC: Yeah.
PL: What an extraordinary story.
FC: It is. I mean could put all sorts of fine detail on it but I think it would spoil it because I think, it’s a true story. I have a job reading my notes so I stumbled a bit here and there but what it taught me was and I only got to this conclusion when I had finished putting these notes together for you. It was obvious to me that they had singled me out to be of the utmost use in training others. They weren’t interested in me getting on to an operational squadron. They’d much rather get the through pull of dozens of fellows. Much better return on paper. Yeah. But then you see four years in. One op. Six and a half, seventy four ops. So they all came in the end but they were the killing years. 1943 was dreadful. I mean the losses were so high. I mean, you could sit and have your eggs and bacon before you took off. When you came back sometimes there wouldn’t be one crew on the table. There was one table. The losses yeah. And touches still come flooding back because on Mosquitos they were really some of the elite if you like. I mean they were blokes with long flying experience because pilots had caught up a bit now. The navigators had been at it a long time. We lost some. We lost one or two perhaps a week. Never found out why. But of course Gibson himself had been killed in a Mosquito, but that was a boob. That was his navigator killed him but he changed over the wrong petrol tank. Still not many people know that. But -
PL: Sorry, what did he do? He changed over the tanks?
FC: Sorry?
PL: He changed over the tanks.
FC: Changed, yeah, the navigator had to do that.
PL: Right.
FC: Because the cocks, he sat in his seat here. The cocks were down there.
PL: Right.
FC: Now, it was very easy, so it was an unwritten rule that the navigators and of course when we were flying Mosquitoes we used, there were drop tanks underneath the wings, papier mache. There was two tanks in the wings and two tanks in the centre piece. Two tanks there. Now if you weren’t careful you had a couple of pints in that one, a couple of pints in this one, a couple of pints in that one. If you were caught when you got brought back ‘cause the weather had closed in you had it all over the place. You didn’t want that so we used to drain every tank dry so ok the drop tanks cause you would jettison those. They were made of papier mache you wouldn’t get a second and then move to the wings because that’s where the shells were going through and you would have fire so drain those and leave it so the centre section ‘cause if you were hit in the centre section you were, you were gone anyway and so we worked that out so we always had every drop of petrol, when we were coming in to land and coming out of markers and watching the beacons we had all our fuel in one place so if we were diverted because the weather packed up, we didn’t get too many. I think the met people did a wonderful job during the war. Far better than they do now sometimes and so petrol in one place. In the heavies you learned the hard way. Now we were raw recruits in East Yorkshire but it wasn’t long before you realised that if you stayed straight and level over there somebody would creep underneath you and - so don’t stay still but move to the side a bit. Get somebody else to take your place. And we and I was the main instigator in this sort of thing. I used to think about these things and say, ‘Well don’t do it.’ It’s a bit of a drudgery you know and of course you had to do it if you saw a fighter. You corkscrewed then but, but I think so many of the crew that were pushed in to these four engine Lancs and the Halifaxes they hadn’t had enough training and that didn’t get put right until 1944 when, of course, the German air force was marvellously organised. Their radar was every bit as good as ours but they used it for a totally different purpose. We used radar to find a target, they used the radar to find you. And they did. And they had directly you crossed their coast they were then saying, ‘Well, where’s he going? Where are they going? Are they going that way or that way or that way,’ and they had got everything organised to pass you on and they did. Pass you on box to box and that’s how it went and one thing that I shall never forgive the RAF for in 1943, round about September, October time, I suppose it was obvious something new was happening because you got these terrible explosions in the sky and it was obviously an aircraft blowing up and you thought well why are they getting so many? Well, we found out afterwards but the RAF said it was because the Germans were firing decoy shells which exploded and made it look like an aircraft going down but when you’re near it you can see it’s an aircraft going down. And that was dreadful because it was so many.
PL: So why were they saying that? Was that just about morale?
FC: Well just to get you, yes it was. That’s to stop you sort of getting the wind up. But as I said at the time when you’re looking at it you’re in no doubt what it is. Yeah. Yeah. And they were red hot. I only had one dodgy time on the Mosquitos because they were so fast they had to be in the position to catch you. And so what they did was as standard we went to Berlin more often than not because we had two types of oboe squadron. Mosquito squadrons. I had one type of radar and the other type of Mosquito had a different type of radar which was used for the Ruhr Valley because the Ruhr Valley was always covered in smoke and dust from the manufacturing. You couldn’t find it and so they controlled the Mosquito entirely from take-off. They took off, set course and they would give them changes of direction and they would even get you in a line which went right through the target and tell you when to drop [targets?] whereas we had to find them and in our case the Germans knew what we were at because the best way to find a target is to identify something near it or comparatively near it which you could see on radar and radar picks out buildings or more particularly, water. So if you go over a big lake you can see it because there is no response at all from water and so the great lakes north west of Berlin and about a twelve minute run in to Berlin stood out on the radar and it was a dead reckoning and so once you got there and took the line, altered course, twelve minutes you were there. You couldn’t miss but they put all their fighters around the great lakes and one of them was educated in this country and he would come on our frequency, he got our frequency taped and he would say, ‘Good evening gentlemen. You’re a little late this evening but we can see you all right,’ because we were the end of the contrail of course and they were up above us because they had the super chargers ME109Fs. They were up above. They could see our contrails. We had three markers per target so the three of us were very close together. They made a lot of contrails dead stick and they would come down, they could dive, they could get the speed to catch them but they had to get us first shot otherwise they were gone through us and they would never catch us up again but, but he would talk to you all the way. He would talk to you all the way in and say, you know, ‘Just stay like that, we’ve got that,’ and he –
PL: So they were really really -
FC: Yes.
PL: Messing with your heads and -
FC: Oh yeah. It was a war of psychology really, you know. He knew exactly how to ruffle people. Yeah. Yeah. And he would talk to you like that.
PL: So, so -
FC: But there is about the story of my RAF life.
PL: It’s just an extraordinary story. It really is. Do, do, I get the impression then that you, did you feel safer in the Mosquitos?
FC: Oh it was so much faster. Yeah
PL: Did you sort of feel in control of the situation more?
FC: A German fighter could outrun you but only in the diving mode so they used the height to catch you and of course we were flying, we always flew at twenty six and a half thousand. Don’t ask me why. Someone at the air ministry rather thought that’s a large figure so they won’t dream of, but always twenty six and a half thousand. Sometimes somebody would say alright we’ll make it thirty thousand but very rare and of course we were, time and time again the target was Berlin because we didn’t need any escort. No escort could keep up with us and so we always went the same way across the north German plains and came back the same way taking bearings on Hamburg, Mannheim and all those places as they came up on the radar screen. Yeah. Yeah
PL: I’ve heard a lot about the relationships within the crews and you talked a little bit about that earlier on.
FC: Yeah.
PL: With that dreadful crash but on base did you, I mean obviously you were in pairs in the Mosquito. Did you all socialise together and form relationships or -
FC: Well in my case because I knew Mark Wallace so well we shared a room. Didn’t have to. You were just allotted a room. We had batwomen instead of batmen by then of course [?] but they were the salt of the earth. They would defend you so that you got some sleep and they would make up their own boards and put them, “Quiet. Operational crew sleeping.” And they’d do your uniform and oh they were the salt of the earth. I always had a tremendous affection for them because they were all in the forty to fifty group, years of age, yeah but they wouldn’t take anything for the, you know, extras. Go treat yourself to something. No. They wouldn’t do that. No. They were really wonderful and of course again we were lucky here ‘cause whereas the Yorkshire one was a wartime airfield I can tell you something about that too but you might want to pack up. Upwood was a peacetime camp so it was all beautifully laid out and the mess was all brick built, everything was brick built. It’s still there. It’s just a massive American hospital now. Not working except for the local airfields. They treat any airmen from their local airfield but it’s there to deal with a calamity like, you know, a multiple train crash or something.
PL: So where is that?
FC: It’s just outside of a place called Ramsey which is just near Huntingdon.
PL: Right.
FC: Yeah.
PL: Right.
FC: And the airfield is called Upwood and it’s still there. I’ve been there. I was taken there by the mayor and of course they wouldn’t leave me alone. They’d say, ‘Was it like this when you were here?’ I said, ‘Yeah. Oh you changed that,’ or, you know, and then you get a magnificent meal you know, oh dear that was a lovely time. George came with me and of course the mayor was one of the, well he wasn’t a real relative but he, we were very great friends and he said well I’ll take you there. I’m invited to bring friends and so I did. Yeah.
PL: Lovely.
FC: Yeah.
PL: Tell me about the Yorkshire airfield.
FC: Well, it was, as the name suggests, a wartime airfield. It was built probably in late part of 1941 or thereabouts and it was all nissen huts except for the control tower. That was made of brick. And it’s another odd thing about my time in the RAF I was always, a squadron normally has two flights A and B. Sometimes, if they’re big enough they have C as well but normally it’s A and B and never, never was in A. I was always in B and I placed some importance to that because I thought I want to be in B for luck. And so as it was a poor airfield you can guess I was a bit of a rogue in those days I got back one morning about half past two in the morning. We’d had our debriefing and so on and we went back to the nissen hut and I thought, ‘Oh this is awful.’ Running in condensation. Well I had -
PL: This is the Yorkshire airfield.
FC: Yeah. Yeah.
PL: So, different from the one down in -
FC: Huntingdon.
PL: Bladon, Bladon, Was it Bladon near -
FC: Blyton.
PL: Blyton yes. Where you had the show.
FC: Yes.
PL: Right.
FC: No that was pretty stark.
PL: Right. Yeah. Ok. Fine.
FC: So that was alright. But I wasn’t flying this particular night and I missed the last bus back to the airfield. That’s me, you know. So I thought, ‘What do I do?’ I gave myself up. I went to the local police station. ‘Can I sleep in one of your cells?’ And they said, ‘No. We can’t do that. That’s for locking up prisoners.’ So I said, ‘Well, what am I going to do?’ ‘Oh, that’s no trouble. If you go along the main road to,’ I can’t remember the square number but it was Beaconsfield Terrace, ‘And the second house as you go in, ask for Mrs Wilson.’ I said, ‘What will she do?’ ‘She’ll give you a bed for the night and breakfast in the morning in time to get the bus back.’ So I said, ‘Really?’ So I went there. I trudged down to Beaconsfield Terrace. I saw this lovely Yorkshire grandmother she was and she looked at me and she said, ‘My God you’re thin.’ Well of course I was. I hadn’t long been out of hospital. I’d been flying on ops as well. So, ‘Come in. We’ll have to get some flesh on you,’ she said. And she took to me like and she, I stayed at Mrs Wilson’s so I had an arrangement from then on. I thought well if I can do it this far I can go a bit further. As the adjutant, I always made a friend of the adjutant because he’s the all-powerful admin. So I said to him, ‘Look, can we have an arrangement? If I phone you and say its Fred here you can tell me if I’m wanted back or not and if you say no I’ll stay in Bridlington and I’ll get the afternoon bus.’ So he said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘What if it changes?’ I said, ‘Well I’ll leave you a number to ring just in case something pops.’ It worked like a charm. I was never let down by the adjutant. I never got caught. I used to get the afternoon bus in and she fed me up. I used to have hot milk and whisky at eleven in the morning. No charge. And she used to make the life of the butcher on the corner of the square a misery because, ‘Look at him. Look. He’s hardly got a bit of flesh on him. Give him something.’ And do you know that continued after the war.
PL: Really.
FC: Joyce and I, we were married by now. We used to go up there for holidays.
PL: How lovely. Whereabouts was that in Yorkshire?
FC: Bridlington.
PL: And this was at Bridlington.
FC: Yeah.
PL: You said about Bridlington.
FC: Yes. In the main square. Yeah.
PL: Fantastic.
FC: Yes lovely, lovely women she was. My boys she used to call us. My boys. I had two brothers. One was in the navy on North Atlantic convoys on the, on one of the small, I forget what they called them now, small boats. Terrible time. My eldest brother was too old to serve as a combatant. He was, he was put in, some sort of officer in charge of a prisoner of war camp in Cornwall so he had a lovely war did my brother, Harry. Of course they’re all dead now. Everybody’s dead. But er but we met once only. My brother Bob and he come up with his wife. Yeah. Stayed at Mrs Wilson’s of course. He had the front bedroom on the first floor. Now, Mrs Wilson had one weakness. Her drink was port and brandy. I thought that’s a killer. I couldn’t take it. I’ve never been very good at strong drink. I like a whisky with lemonade. That’s the sort of stuff I like. And so she said, ‘We’ll have a celebration.’ So, ‘righto,’ my brother was there with his wife. The whole of my crew. Now the whole of my crew were all younger than me and she bought them all a port and brandy. Well you can imagine what it did to these kids. I mean at twenty three now, I was, I was the oldest. They were out like lights so they all went to bed early. We heard them all collapse on the bedroom floor. Somebody went up and put them to bed but the thing I always remember with some amusement my brother was just an ordinary sailor, a matlow as they called them. Never try and undress a sailor because we couldn’t get, his wife and I we were so convulsed with laughter we put him to bed in his uniform in the end because we couldn’t get it off. But they were the good times. Yeah. Yeah.
PL: And he survived the war. Your brother. That was in the navy.
FC: He survived the war. Yes. Yes. He was never caught by a submarine or anything and he did it all the war. Backwards and forward to the States. Yeah. Bore a charmed life. Yeah. Harry was -
PL: Talking about the lucky, about being lucky, being lucky, the B squadron was lucky. Did lots of you, were you, were you sort of superstitious in that way? Was there a sort of -
FC: I think everybody -
PL: Did people have charms.
FC: Flying is superstitious really. You, for example you would never dream of dressing to fly except in one way. For example, you always put something on first and then something on second and if you do it wrong you’d strip, start again. I’ve done that. I’ve done that a dozen times. Never change that. No.
PL: How funny.
FC: Yeah and you get an affection for a particular aircraft. That’s the funny thing you see. You know, I had an amazing experience. We had an [laughs] am I boring you?
PL: Not at all.
FC: Oh. Because we had great losses in 1943 and our replacement aircraft used to be flown in by little girls dressed in a beautiful white uniform and they had the time of their lives because they always stayed the night in the mess and then they were picked up. Nobody asked any questions and so and they were right royally entertained but now and again a particular aircraft, I nearly always flew in O-Orange or P-Peter and one of those photographs is O-Orange.
PL: What does O-Orange and P-Peter mean?
FC: Well, each, each aircraft has its squadron letters which in, in Yorkshire was NP but then on the other side of the roundel that was on all our aircraft the NP was on the left of the roundel but the letter of the aircraft was on the right. So you, A flight was from A to H, I think it was, and then B flight was from say L to, no, yeah L to Z and so you identified yourself as you were coming in. You’d say O-Orange
PL: Right. Right, I see.
FC: So, you see, they knew who you were. But we had one occasion which, it really accentuated superstition because the little girl brought the aircraft in. There was three of them. They brought in three Halifaxes from the factory but we were operating that night and we were one aircraft short so we had to bring one of these new arrivals in to the raid and it happened to be the one that was given to us because our own aircraft had been so badly damaged it couldn’t fly and I said, ‘What’s its letter?’ It hadn’t got a letter. It had just come from the factory. It’s got a squadron letter NP but no individual because they didn’t know what it was going to be. Well, I said, ‘Well that’s alright. We’ll call her O-Orange. So we did. We thought of her as O-Orange. That aircraft flew like a gem. It was fast. It was trouble free. It gave us no trouble. We had no trouble finding the target. We had no trouble with enemy fighters. Everything was perfect. I said, ‘We’ll keep this one.’ So we all went to bed. When we came down to the flight offices there’s the chap in charge of maintenance said, ‘Sorry about your aircraft.’ I said, ‘What aircraft?’ ‘Well, the one you flew last night.’ ‘Yes. Wonderful aircraft. We want to keep it.’ ‘It’s finished.’ ‘Finished?’ I said. ‘It will never fly again.’ I said, ‘What on earth are you talking about?’ He said, ‘Well, it’s got a major fault in it.’ For that one raid it didn’t show it. Anyway, it was loaded on a Queen Mary vehicle and taken away in one piece. It never flew again. It was broken up and made into another one.
PL: Good gracious.
FC: I know. And that convinced me -
PL: So that had two flights.
FC: Just that one.
PL: It was delivered and then it went on the raid. How extraordinary.
FC: Extraordinary isn’t it? Yeah. But people did have a, did get a love, it was always a kind of love anyway, you know because for example in the Mosquitos we had one old timer. It was, it was operational but it didn’t have all the modern amendments. For example, the windows at the side were flat whereas in the new version it had big blisters so you could see backwards and that poor thing it kept on going and going and going but I never liked it and we were sitting at the end of runway waiting to take off. It was dark. It was a night take off and S-Sugar it was, with the side windows flat was sitting in front of us. As was the first one to take off in front of us and we saw it go down the runway, we saw him lift off but then the tail lights started to do this and he, obviously something terrible happened to it and it went straight out of control, straight in to the bomb dump of another airfield. Boom. Nobody knew what happened. Poor Mark said, ‘What on earth was that?’ I said, ‘Don’t worry about a thing. Just concentrate on what you’re doing.’ Yeah. So, yeah, poor old S-Sugar had a poor end. Yeah.
PL: Goodness me.
FC: I could tell you a story. One more story about the Mosquitos. Now, our, our losses of course were so little compared to the big ones. After all we had two fellows to lose instead of seven, for one thing and of course the big ones were much more vulnerable. Well, on this particular occasion we had marked very successfully. A lovely picture on the screen showed we were right on the dot and we, the bomb doors shut, pictures taken and dive and turn to come home and we were coming back across the north German plains at about twenty two thousand, something like that ‘cause we were gradually losing height and picking up a bit of extra speed and I started to feel very uncomfortable. I’ve told so many writers about this it’s almost as if I, you know, it happened yesterday. Well, I said to Mark, ‘Is everything alright?’ ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘Let’s have a good check all around. You check yours and I’ll check mine.’ Couldn’t find anything so I thought, well, sat down, got on with my work and this feeling came back. I said to Mark, ‘There’s something wrong here. I know what I’ll do.’ We had a little extra astrodome and if you got your head into it you could see backwards so I said, ‘I’ll have a good look around. Perhaps somebody’s on our tail somewhere.’ Anyway, I got under the astrodome and I had wonderful eyesight in those years. I could see things in the dark that most people couldn’t which I’ve now lost of course, completely and I said, ‘Well I can’t find anything, Mark,’ and I sat down but as I sat down something down there caught my eye. I couldn’t see it when I tried to see it so I thought, ‘I know. I’ll wait for my eyes to get adjusted here and I’ll look again,’ and there about a thousand feet down but flying the same course was a single engined plane. Couldn’t be mine. Couldn’t be one of ours. We had no single engines during that so it was obviously one of these 109Fs and so I said, ‘I’ve got him.’ I said, ‘I can see him now.’ ‘What’s he doing?’ he said, I said, ‘Well he’s not doing anything. He’s just flying parallel to us about a thousand feet down,’ but I then began to notice he was getting a little bit closer all the time. Very, very, very slowly. And I said, ‘Oh I know what he’s going to do. He’s going to get as close as he dare and then he’ll come up, firing as he comes up.’
PL: Underneath. Yeah.
FC: So I said, ‘I’ll tell you what we’ll do. Let’s turn around and go back into Germany.’ ‘What?’ he said. I said, ‘Let’s turn right around and go right around and go back into Germany for three or four minutes. Then come back on the course again.’ Exactly what we did. I sat down. I felt quite comfortable but in a few minutes the feeling was back and so was he. He’d done exactly the same as we had. So I thought this is no, no pupil here this is a really experienced bloke and this time he was definitely closer. So I said, ‘Now, get ready now Mark. Do the same again but dive. Stuff the nose right down,’ and as I said that up he was coming and as we turned he came and he was firing but of course we’d dropped out of his firing range. He gave up after that and I knew he’d given up ‘cause I felt fine. So I think you do get senses of things. Yeah. No more trouble. I said, ‘He’s gone Mark. We can proceed.’ And that’s I think I could bore you to death if I carried on.
PL: No. It’s, absolutely, honestly it has been fascinating hearing you. Really. Are there any other stories you want to share?
FC: Pardon?
PL: Are there any other stories you want to share?
FC: Well, I suppose the story that haunts me all my life, has done and still does, is when I crashed on Marston Moor because I think I was half dead. When I was going down, when we hit there was this colossal bang and blackness and I was out but I was conscious, no, I was aware that I appeared to be going down a long black shaft. Not terribly fast but I was saying to myself, ‘If I reach the bottom I shall die,’ and I’m convinced that had I reached the bottom and been conscious when I did I would have died. So I have no fear of death at all. None at all. I mean we often talk about it, Joyce and I. She’s ninety four. I’m ninety five. I’m ten months older than her and we talk about it. Now, what we have done we have decided we will not go into a home so we’ve persuaded our daughter who has a lovely house in Royston, a big house, to build on it a suite for us and we’ll pay for it. Now, it’s all been done. We have stayed in it. It’s a little bit smaller than we had hoped because when they started to build they had to do something in the building of whatever and so it is a little bit smaller but it’s beautifully done and so when one of us goes the survivor, when all the battels are cleared up will go and live with our daughter and I’ve got the most wonderful family in the world.
PL: How lovely.
FC: My daughter and son are and their spouse’s, well, no I’ll qualify that. No. One of the, my daughter’s husband is an absolute gem. He’s just like a son to me. I say my two boys. Yeah. My son’s wife is not so easy but she’s alright but I often think of that time and I’ll never forget it. It comes back to me. Yeah. And to think that you could survive. Just think, you’re coming down and you hit the ground at about a hundred and sixty miles an hour. That breaks off, the next bit breaks off and the front stays there, huge fire and I’m out here somewhere in a bush. No socks, no shoes, no trousers.
PL: And if you hadn’t have gone up into the top -
FC: Ah that’s the point. If I hadn’t have asked that chap to change places with me I would have been where he was and I would have been flying up from there as I was but he died in my position and he was quite glad to do it because he was bored to tears of course. He’d done it three times already. He didn’t want to do it a fourth time, ‘Yes,’ so we changed over. I actually saw the fire start because, you know, you’ve got your big cupola turret. I happened to be looking down and saw the first globule of flame and I thought, ‘That’s odd.’ Then suddenly there was a long streamer of fire and going back toward the tail end and so I called him up and I said, ‘I think we’ve got a problem with the starboard outer.’ ‘Oh good gracious. Yes,’ turned the petrol off but one thing ‘cause the chap who was CO was Cheshire. Leonard Cheshire. He was my CO at Marston Moor and he said, ‘Well what did you do?’ I said, ‘Well in the front they did everything right except for one thing. They did not feather the prop,’ So the prop was windmilling and dragging that wing down and that did it. And the fire of course did the rest, you know, but they were so inexperienced. They had very little flying between them.
PL: But it’s amazing that you dared go back up again. Were you not terrified when you went back in to the air?
FC: Well I, when I went back to Marston Moor and they told me they’d got another crew whose navigator [laughs] I thought, ‘Oh no. I can’t take that again.’
PL: No. No. No
FC: So I thought, ‘Oh well.’ But of course you can’t refuse. I mean you’re under control from the air force and, but when I saw them I thought well these are a different kettle of fish and the chap, the Canadian pilot, he had hands like ham bones. You know. When he got hold of the [cold column?] he dwarfed it but even then he hadn’t got these [?] you see. It was his first trip and it could have gone so badly wrong because on the first trip which they gave you always what was called a gardening trip. A gardening trip. What do you mean by a gardening trip? Laying mines. And so three newcomers to the squadron took off together on this night and we were going across Denmark in to the Kattegat and putting the mines down in the shipping lanes. Well, there were only three of us flying from that squadron that night and we were the last to get off and the other two were on our left so we were following here but they kept on drifting further and further left and my pilot kept on giving a touch on the rudders to follow them and I said, ‘Don’t do that. They’re not right.’ Drifting away, ‘They’re not on track.’ He did, well he didn’t know me so I got set up but when it got dark he couldn’t see them so I gave him an alteration of course, brought him back where I knew he ought to be and we found Terschelling Island which was the turning point, went over the point of the island, into the Kattegat, down the lanes, no problem at all. Back again to Terschelling Island, home and we were home and in the debriefing room all finished. No sign of the other two. I thought, ‘Oh dear, we haven’t lost them already have we?’ Anyway, they turned up very very late, they had got lost and then been chased up and down the Norwegian coast by fighters but they got away with it but that taught me a lesson so I said to Smith, the pilot, ‘If you ever do that to me again I’ll finish with you.’ I said, ‘I’m navigating. If I say you ought to turn right, turn right.’ If I’d have said it’s raining cats and dogs outside he’d have believed me from then on and they all got their commissions in turn and it was an all commissioned crew in the end.
PL: How wonderful.
FC: Yeah. Yeah.
PL: And that’s photograph that you showed me.
FC: Yes. That’s the photograph. Yeah.
PL: So, what, so what was the relationship like between navigator and pilot then? Was that -
FC: Ah well you had to have good relationship. I mean when you think of a pilot what is he doing? He’s sitting in a seat. He’s strapped in as tight as he can be. He’s staring into the dark, darkness. He can see all the terrible things that are going on. Aircraft going down in flames and so on you know but he’s got to what his instruments and so he doesn’t, and the compasses. His job is just to do what he’s told and do it well but then of course you’ve got to think about other things because the Germans devised the JU88 and also the ME110 where they, underneath, no on the top of their aircraft they had upward firing cannon. It was called schragemusik. You may have heard of it?
PL: Ahum.
FC: Well of course what they did was if you got a bloke flying along straight and level they’d come along underneath. The gunners couldn’t see him unless he did, the aircraft was doing something like and then he would manoeuvre his German aircraft out, to right or left, it wouldn’t matter and he would fire into the wing where all the petrol was. Boom. Gone. If you manoeuvred he’d let you go because he could find somebody who won’t and I got very friendly with a number of German night fighter pilots when I had a writer here. His name was Williams and he said they knew straightway whether the aircraft they were looking at was one that knew the ropes or didn’t and if they started to jink about it was too difficult to pick somebody that starts. And I had a wing commander once who came from Training Command, took over and of course they only flew occasionally, wing commanders, on ops. Anyway, in my, Smithy was not well so as a natural choice he turned to me and said, ‘I’m taking your crew.’ ‘Oh,’ I thought, ‘I don’t like that,’ because not only was he green but he wouldn’t listen. So when I said to him, ‘I think it would be a good idea if we did a bit of jinking and weaving.’ ‘I’m the pilot here and I will do what I think fit.’ I couldn’t believe my ears. So I said, ‘Well we have learnt sir, from experience, that if you stay straight and level you gradually find that someone is underneath you and the gunners won’t see him if you don’t move anything.’ ‘I’ll decide when we do that.’ He lasted two trips and he was shot down. That’s the sort of thing. So, gradually, throughout your tour you were learning all the time. Little things happen and, ‘Oh I must remember that.’ You know.
PL: Because it might just save my life. After the war did you, did you sort of, was it a big shock at the end of the war, you know, your transition into doing other things? I mean were you -
FC: Oh the worst time of my life was in the aftermath of war and demob because Pam, I went back to where I came from. They paid me a small salary throughout the war which was very nice. I was training to be an accountant in a big commercial enterprise. When I went back there all the men that didn’t go had the top jobs and all the people below them were their girlfriends. I’m not joking. They were all their girlfriends or [?] so there was nothing for me at all. I went back as an office boy. I came out as an office boy really at eighteen and I went back in exactly the same and the secretary had the gall to call me down when I went back ‘cause he phoned me up and said, ‘I’m so glad you survived,’ you know. ‘Jolly good show chaps,’ you know. ‘When can you come back?’ I said, ‘Well I’ll start on Monday if you like.’ I’ve never had a day’s unemployment in my life. So he said, ‘Well that’s great,’ he said, ‘We’ll make sure we look after you.’ The first morning I got back he called me down and I thought well he’s going to call me down for a drink. I really did. And when I walked in, ‘Oh it’s good to see you. Lovely to see you.’ Something in the boss changed and he said, ‘Let’s get one thing clear,’ he said, ‘You may be able to take an aircraft from A to B and bomb it to blazes but you’re no good to me unless you can do the job which earns money.’ And I thought, ‘Well.’ So I was thinking all the old boys have got the top jobs, the girls underneath them got the second row. Where do I fit in? There is nowhere. So I thought well I don’t know what I’m going to do so I decided the only way to do it was to do two jobs so I went to work for a football pools and I worked Saturday evening and all day Sunday and I earned more money doing that because I love maths. Permutations and combinations were my bread and butter. I loved it. And so old Alfie Coates, it was Coates of course, which was quite near. They’re down in Edmonton. We were living in Palmers Green and he took a shine to me. I soon got on to the top rank of payment and he said to me, ‘I’d like you to come to work for me,’ and I was tempted because I was earning more on the Saturday night and Sunday than I was getting for the full week but I thought, no. You never knew what was going to happen because they were all Jews of course and [laughs] he said, ‘Well I must use your skills,’ he said, ‘You don’t, don’t sit in the factory. Come in to my private office and we’ll give you all the syndicate coupons,’ you know and they put thousands and thousands of lines and very complicated. I might only do five coupons the whole night because there were so many lines but I loved it and that was so satisfying but I learned one of the major lessons of life and that is what you can do as discipline with staff if you have the guts to do it and this came about because with Coates they got so much bigger and bigger and bigger their throughput got bigger and bigger and bigger they wanted more time so they then started to say, well, Saturday evening, all day Sunday. Can you come in Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evening? Well, of course if you’ve got a young family of course I couldn’t do that so what he did in the end was, he said, ‘Well, I’ll take people who can work Saturday evening and Sunday out to lunchtime but if you can’t work beyond lunchtime come to my desk and tell me why.’ So I watched this parade of people going up to the desk and I watched them coming back. They obviously hadn’t got their own way at all but what I never expected ever to see in England all the exit doors were barricaded, locked and a guard put on so nobody could leave the factory and he never got taken. Human rights? I mean, he broke every law imaginable but he never got taken to task and I thought, yes, if you’ve got the guts to do it you’ll get away with it because those chaps had to have the money. They were all fighting for money to support their family and their wife and they would do anything to do it. I did it myself. But then of course things do change. We had a change of chief accountant and somehow my face fitted. He was hated as a man and as the chief accountant but for me he had all the time in the world and he was a lay preacher. Now, of course I was a church goer in those days and I was an organist at the church and I used to read the lessons and so on so I had some sympathy for him and so he said to me one day, ‘Do you think you could drive me to the station to go on holiday?’ I said, ‘Of course.' That was another brick in the cement. All building the wall. And his wife took a shine to me. She was the mothering type. She took to me. It was embarrassing. She always wanted to give me things. And I said, ‘No you mustn’t do that,’ but where he was concerned he suddenly said to me, ‘I think you’re wasted where you are.’ He said, ‘What would you say if I gave you a department of your own?’ I said, ‘I’d say thank you very much and I’ll go for it.’ I finished up, he gave me one, he gave me two, he gave me three, he gave me four and it was damned hard work but I learned the lesson, never complain about the hard work. That’s not what pleased him and I watched one of the other departments that I hadn’t got. The chap who used to work to 5.36 no less on a Friday afternoon for the weekend. Well, of course there comes a time when you’re doing dividends and so on and this chap came in, very close to 5.36 and this chief accountant said to him, ‘How are you getting on.’ ‘Fine,’ he said. ‘I’m in a bit of trouble ‘cause I’m a bit behind.’ ‘Why is that?’ ‘Well, we haven’t got the work done.’ ‘Yes I know that. Why is that?’ You know this was the kind of, I thought, ‘You idiot. Fancy, you’re provoking,’ what happened in the end he said, ‘Look I’m a reasonable man,’ the chief accountant said, remember Friday evening, 5.36 knocking off time he said, ‘I’ll be generous,’ he said, ‘You let me have that at 9 o’clock on Monday morning and we’ll call it square.’ And the chap said, ‘Thank you very much sir,’ and walked out. Now I don’t know when the penny dropped but I said to him, that’s the chief accountant, ‘You’re the wickedest man I’ve never met,’ and he laughed his hat off because nobody had ever spoken to him like that and from then on we were not master and pupil. We got on like a house on fire and in the end, unfortunately, he died in my arms because he said because we used to go out together around the area ‘cause it was a big area. We were in the Enfield offices and had our meeting with the manager there and said, ‘Well this is not good enough, do this,’ and he, my chap said, ‘Well I’ll go down to the car now. You finish up Fred and I’ll write up my notes and give them to the typist when I get back and they’ll have it ready for the next morning,’ and it was in the local manager’s hands the next morning. You see, pressure. So I said, ‘Ok.’ And I finished up and when I got to the car he was slumped like this and he’d had a heart attack.
PL: Oh my goodness.
FC: And although I yelled for the manager, the local manager to come down and drive the car and I got behind him and I massaged his heart but I couldn’t save him. He died. I think died shortly after we got to the [?] but and that and then life was good. I had four departments. I had a beautiful office over the main door at the south end. I was then promoted to be the manager of two large warehouses where we introduced a system whereby it was all computerised and a crane picked it up and put it down and put it, and then of all things I got the sack. Why? We had a steering group where we all prepared and I asked a question of the eastern board, Eastern Electricity Board’s chairman, I said, ‘Can we go anywhere to see this system working?’ ‘No.’ ‘Why is that?’ ‘Because there isn’t one.’ I said, ‘You’re buying on spec that it’s going to work.’ And he said, ‘Oh it will work.’ I said, ‘How do you know that? You haven’t seen it work have you?’ ‘No.’ Anyway, I said, ‘Well you’re going to have to use a system of contractors which will be liable to failure instead of using solid [states?] I knew a bit about things then and he said, ‘Oh no. That’s old hat,’ he said, ‘We’re going to do exactly as I say.’ Then he appointed me as the manager. Well it never did work and it wasn’t capable of working but of course who do you blame? You blame the bloke in charge and, you know I, Joyce and I used to go down to the warehouse at 8 o’clock on a Sunday evening, cure all the faults on the cranes, automatic cranes, get it all loaded so the lads could pick at 8 o’clock on Monday morning. Nobody knew we were doing it. I even drove a ten tonnes lorry to get supplies down to Harold Hill in Essex on a Sunday night. Nobody knew. And of course I’d have been sacked if they’d have found out but I had such a host of friends now from Harold Hill who realised that I was facing getting the sack because I hadn’t, well I’d driven bigger things than a car, yes, but a ten tonnes rigid full of parts and machines and at the end of course they weren’t satisfied with output of the factory and so we had a meeting and they said, ‘Well, regretfully we’ll have to say we’ve got to have you out.’ I said, ‘Well that’s alright. I fully expected this. In fact I anticipated what you came here for,’ because in the interval they had a spare engineer. They didn’t know what to do with him. He was a very objectionable bloke too so they put him down with me and even said that he has got authority over you but where he made his terrible mistake, he loved sailing so he used to disappear from the factory at Friday lunchtime and come back Monday lunchtime. Never saw him. So he had no idea what was going on. Not a sausage. So of course I all I said to them when they literally sacked me, the secretary of the board was a very old friend of mine and he said to me, ‘I think you’ve been treated abominably.’ I said, ‘Well that’s life. ‘It happens.’ He said, ‘But there’s a job going in Hemel Hempstead but it’s going back to accounting.’
PL: How funny.
FC: ‘How strange,’ I said. But then he said the chap that’s leaving has been promoted and he was very good. It’s the best area on the board. You’ll have a job to beat him. And I said, ‘Well I’ll try.’ And I got there. I got the job by merit and I made that district the best in the board.
PL: How funny.
FC: And then of course once you’re known the deputy chairman said, phoned me one afternoon and said, he never announced who he was, he said, ‘Are you going to be in this afternoon?’ I said, ‘Of course.’ So he said, ‘I’ll come, I’ll be over shortly,’ and he came over and he said, ‘I’m moving you.’ I said, ‘Oh I’m just enjoying myself here,’ I said, ‘It’s a lovely life here. It’s cushy. The entertainment is lovely you know. We go for walks at lunchtime.’ So I said, ‘What’s the job?’ And I dreaded it. It’s the trouble shooter for the board. So if anybody’s in trouble Charlie goes and sorts it out and gets it right. And in this area which was Pinner. Which you may know. Yeah. The offices were just, well you know where it is the manager was permanently sick, was never there, just take it over and get it back. So I did. And that’s where I retired from.
PL: Good gracious.
FC: And I closed that factory down as I retired because we’d moved on and we brought other premises. You know.
PL: So did you never miss your navigational skills? Did you, did you ever think I’d have love to have carried on with something or -
FC: Well you see I tried to -
PL: Flying or -
FC: I tried, well I tried to get into civil flying but I was knocked about so much. So, that, I I had a fictitious medical category. So, you know you get A1 or A2 or whatever. I was called, I was RAF A3B. There isn’t such a category but I was. That was me.
PL: So what did it mean?
FC: It meant that he shouldn’t be flying at all but as he wants to go and fly let him fly and that’s how I went through with the Mosquitos. I was always A3B after that crash but everybody sort of turned a blind eye and said well if he wants to fly let him fly. And I must say I look back and it’s only one of pleasure I look back on because I met some wonderful friends. I met some wonderful characters. Really. I mean one of the pilots was a policemen in the Met police. Totally different from my own who was very careful, nursed an aircraft. This fellow, this policeman his idea was thrash it. Get home first. Why? ‘Cause you got the meal first you see. [laughs] And he was always back first. I never knew why but I said to him quietly one day, ‘One of these days you’re going to get caught.’ ‘Why so?’ I said, ‘Because you’re racing back. You’re using more petrol and you won’t have enough petrol to contain the diversion. I said, ‘Think on it Alec because,’ I said, ‘One of these days you’ll regret,’ but when it came, he should have been a fighter pilot because he was an artiste. I mean you couldn’t tell he was down because I flew with him four or five times when my pilot was sick. You couldn’t tell he was down. He was shhhhh shhh shhh wonderful wonderful pilot. Natural pilot.
PL: So did he get caught?
FC: No. No, he didn’t. He saw the war out and he, he I had to laugh because he liked to drink. He married the owner of a pub whose husband had died. [laughs] Now if that’s not -
PL: So he was lucky to the last.
FC: Well there you go. Yeah. Yeah. I can look back and say I was frightened many times. You can’t go off it but generally speaking I look back with pleasure because you get so skilled in what you’re doing ‘cause in navigation the rule was you fixed your position with radar, you plot it, extend it forward three minutes, alter course in three minutes so it’s six minutes. I did that in three. So I got my fix and in three minutes I altered course. I never got out of the stream so everybody else was there. It made all the difference. You were never a low one that could be picked off by anybody that was about.
PL: So do you think, how do you think your experiences changed you for the rest of your life or -
FC: Well I’m lucky to have the loveliest woman in the world. I mean, to me the thing where Joyce is concerned we only had two children but I would have been quite happy with one but David was very dangerously ill before he was one and finished up in Great Ormond Street but I won’t go into that but she was an only child and she said, ‘That’s wrong. I think we ought to have two children,’ So we had, we got Gillian and my two to me they are the salt of the earth. They’re wonderful. If I have a preference its only because naturally a father thinks a little bit more of his daughter I think. And she, she’s lovely. And I’ve had a wonderful life. Wonderful life. Joyce has been the kindest, the most efficient ok she’s got trouble now. She’s a very bad knee which, every time she goes to the hospital to get it done they find her blood pressure has gone up so they won’t do it. And so I said, ‘Just give it up old girl. You’re never going to get it,’ because she suffers from [Coates?] syndrome, you know. She goes to the doctor her blood pressure goes up. Never win. You know. I hope -
PL: Well Fred –
FC: I haven’t bored you
PL: You have, I’ve been absolutely fascinated. You haven’t bored me for one second.
FC: Oh I’m glad of that.
PL: But I guess there’s just one last question that I’d like to ask you and that is what are your thoughts about how Bomber Command were treated after the war?
FC: Badly. Well of course it hasn’t been handled well this side. First of all let me preface by, I feel very strongly. You’ve touched on a rise, well I won’t speak.
PL: You must say whatever you want to say. This is your moment.
FC: Well, Fighter Command saved this country to start with by not allowing the German air force to rule the skies and to allow an invasion and nobody can take that away but Fighter Command unlike Bomber Command had good aircraft in the Spitfire and the Hurricane. A good match for anything the Germans had, in fact slightly better and they were able to hold their own. Their trouble was pilots. They didn’t have enough pilots and Dowding said very, very strongly, ‘I wish I had more pilots,’ but of course it wasn’t quite as bad as it might have been because we had the university air squadrons, we had the club squadrons and they all had got some training and they were able to slot in. Mind you some of them flew with very little flying hours, I know that, but so did the Germans. They had to bring [?] so there was a parity there which at least gave them a chance of holding their own and so it proved it be and of course they were in foreign territory coming from France. We were on our home territory. If they baled out we could fly again where the Germans once they were shot down they were shot down. They were finished. So gradually they, and Hitler gave up any idea of an invasion but if you look at the history of Bomber Command. Are you alright?
PL: Yeah.
FC: Yeah.
PL: Fine for batteries.
FC: If you look at Bomber Command, the Bomber Command had not been dealt with properly. When we went to war we had no decent bomber aircraft. What we did have we sent to France. They were shot down like flies and in the end it was given up as a bad job and that’s where I first come in the picture when I go to Benson. I’m being trained to replace somebody killed in France. Ok but of course on paper things were happening. New designs were emerging. The Fairy Battle was never a bomber worth talking about. It was a crew of three. Pilot, open cockpit. Couldn’t get at him. One single Lewis gun at the back and nowhere to do navigation. Hopeless. Absolutely. But it served the purpose of giving our military on the ground some experience of being attacked by low flying air and the laugh of the flour bags. So, gradually we got replacements. We got the Wellington. We got the Whitley. We got the Hampden, the Hudson but they were not really satisfactory. They were only twins but of course the Germans made exactly the same mistake. They never went for four engine. The only four engine they ever had was the Fokker Wulf which they put on the convoy routes and so of course they made their mistakes as well but they were never really successful and of course above all else the thing in my book which turned the balance was the advent of radar. Now, we and Germany were well on track for being first. In the end it was a tight race and I think the Germans got radar more or less the same time we did but totally different motives. We were keen on two things with radar, defending our country by detecting incoming aircraft but more importantly finding targets in the dark which we could not do. I mean you can’t just circle around in the dark and hope to pick up something and we couldn’t find the targets and so when we got radar along came the better aircraft to equip it and so we had three. The foremost in the public mind was the Lancaster. Then came the Halifax and then came the Stirling. Now the Stirling really was the poor man’s plane. It was big, cumbersome, slow, couldn’t get the altitude and really was although they flew through the war I always felt desperately sorry for them. I know one or two people who flew them, one particularly well and I said, he was always down there. We were up here and the Lancasters were a bit further up and so gradually we not only got better aircraft but we got radar as well and they became standard. We could find places in the Ruhr because we had two types of radar. The type that finds the targets in the Ruhr were controlled from this country. Two radio stations and you flew on a beam and as long as you got your fix, crossed swords, you flew and kept it if you bring it back and then they would tell you when to mark. I didn’t get that. I got the other one. I got the H2S which was totally different, which was long range. It was, it was a signal which was radiated by the aircraft and so it swept on this, on those, a hundred and twenty degrees like that and I, if I went over a town I could take a bearing on it. I’d get a fix. Never let me down. Never let down once and Gee was marvellous. Gee had its limitations ‘cause the Germans were very clever. They learned how to block it out. And so you got Gee to the enemy coast or just short of it and then they jammed it, you know and so I feel that we were totally wrong when dear old Chamberlain you know, was trying to give us peace in our time, as he said, and then he said, ‘I regret to say we are now at war with Germany.’ Of course we were at war with Germany. I could see it at eighteen coming and that’s why I decided to go in the RAF. I didn’t want to be in the infantry and I didn’t particularly want to be on the waves so I went with that and so I think we were poorly led at the start of the war. We were ill prepared and only the natural gifted talents of our beloved country and the men that would give their lives for it could got us back into it in the end and I think that at the end and to answer your specific question when it then started that Churchill took sides against Dresden I thought don’t they realise the only reason we bombed Dresden was because Stalin asked us to. Dresden was the rail and road junction where all the pulling back of the German forces were going through and it was wood and so of course it burned. I went and looked at it. We’d been to Berlin. I said, ‘Let’s go and have a look at it,’ because we were quite confident by then about what we were doing. And nobody has had the guts to say well, A) Stalin asked to have it bombed because it will reduce his losses as they were pursuing the fleeing Germans and of course the nature of the town being wood it was catastrophic but it was no more catastrophic than Hamburg in 1943. I went to Hamburg two nights running, I should have gone the third night but the aircraft was u/s and that, I saw a town as big as Hamburg on fire from end to end and thousands of people died in their cellars from suffocation because the fires were so intense they had a fire storm and that destroyed all the oxygen in the cellars and so they couldn’t breathe. And so Dresden was no exception but Churchill, I felt he thought he was on a weak wicket here and he, to our dismay anyway, I thought he just let the blame go to Bomber Command. No. Old Butcher Harris, he knew what he was doing. After all, think back in the war. What were we trying to do? We were trying to bomb individual factories which we couldn’t find. When we got radar well you could find the town but you couldn’t find the factory. You didn’t know what it looked like. It took Butcher Harris a long time to convince Churchill we ought to bomb the towns because if you knock the houses down the workers won’t be able to go to work and you’ve effectively stopped production. And so it did and of course time after time you could, well I used to always navigate by the fires, you know. As you were going across the north German plains you go across Mannheim and Frankfurt and all those places you could see where they’d been because of the fires but all those chaps didn’t go to work the next day and so the production dropped and in the end well they either did one or two things. They either had to take the factory, get it undercover, mountains something or caves and transfer all the people that worked there to it and that’s the way they survived in the end. Yeah. So I think and then of course when it came to supporting Bomber Command there was not a voice raised. Not a sausage. And I still think that memorial opposite the RAF club in Piccadilly is is abominable. Do you realise they’ve dressed them up in uniform which we never used. They’re old fashioned clothes. They were the days of open cockpits. So -
PL: Goodness.
FC: Really, you know, so often I see people on the television. They’re usually gunners or wireless operators and they talk about wonderful aircraft to fly. They didn’t do anything to make it fly. Only two people did that. The pilot flew it and the navigator got it to the place it wanted to go to and let’s face it if you didn’t get to where you wanted to get to the pilot is superfluous but most pilots would agree with that and they would say well they were sitting there in the dark. Very little light. I mean the lighting in those things was an anglepoise lamp attached to the outside which came over your shoulder with a nozzle at the end and in that nozzle was cardboard with a pinhead opening and the light [of emmission?] came through that and you were navigating on your knees, you know and people, I mean these blokes how could they know that? They had no experience and it always tickles me, of course, ‘What did you do?’ ‘I was a wireless operator.’ Well he sat down below and he used to listen to the German night fighter controllers, usually wetting his pants as he did so ‘cause the bloke I had he would come eyes as big as saucers and say, ‘They got so and so, all up. We’re going to get a terrible pasting.’ I said, ‘Yeah. Alright well we’ll deal with it when we come to it. Go back and tell us what’s happening.’ But I felt so sorry that we hadn’t got somebody in authority who could have said, ‘Don’t talk rubbish. Tell what the real reason was why we destroyed Dresden.’ Why did we destroy Hamburg then ‘cause that was a burn out. Thousands upon thousands of people killed in their cellars. Doesn’t that merit an equal comment to Dresden, but of course Dresden was wood. Made it worse. It just jumped from one place to another ‘cause all the initial load were all incendiaries. Get the fires going, drop the bombs in, kill the firefighters. Yeah. It’s very sad because, you know, now and again one of the things, I hope you don’t mind me saying this.
PL: No. Not at all.
FC: One of the things that appals me we have got so many women in parliament now. You know they come on the box and they talk with great authority and I think how old is that one? Twenty three. Twenty seven perhaps. But you know they talk as if they’ve lived a life of experience. Hands on, you know but they can’t have done. They’re not old enough. Mind you they sometimes get men that are no better. And one thing I do admire is the vitality of these girls. They work and they speak well too. Yeah. So, but I sometimes I think to myself I don’t thing they have the right to say that to me. [laughs] And how does she know? But there you are looking at an old, irascible, sort of awkward old boy.
PL: I think that’s perfectly fine.
FC: Well there you are. I must say it’s been a pleasure to see you.
PL: Well it’s been an absolute pleasure to talk to you.
FC: I wondered how could I talk? That’s a big task. When you talked about an hour and a half I thought to myself well you’ll be lucky to get away with an hour and a half if you really are going for it but you’ve been very generous. You’ve just let me ramble on.
PL: Not at all. I think it’s been an amazing story and -
FC: Yeah.
PL: I’d just like to say thank you very very much indeed.
FC: Jolly good.
PL: For sharing that with us.
FC: Oh well it’s my pleasure to meet you too. I would love to meet your husband and perhaps that might happen one day. Who knows?
PL: He’s, I’ll switch off here.
FC: Yes. Ok.



Pam Locker, “Interview with Fred Crawley DFC,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 24, 2024,

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