Interview with George Eric Cromarty

Title

Interview with George Eric Cromarty

Description

Mr Cromarty joined the Royal Air Force as an AC2 and served as ground personnel before training as an air gunner. He flew operations as the rear gunner with 630 Squadron from RAF East Kirby. He discusses what operations and life on a station were like and how Bomber Command has been remembered.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2016-03-05

Contributor

Hugh Donnelly

Rights

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

Format

01:17:35 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ACromartyGE160305
PCromartyGE1601

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

JM. This is Julian Maslin and I am interviewing Mr George Cromarty today March the 5th 2016 for the International Bomber Commands Central Archives. We are at Mr Cromarty’s home *** Stoke on Trent and it is about half past ten in the morning. There are no other persons present. George thank you very much for agreeing to talk to me today, could I ask you to start by telling us a little bit about your background before you joined the Royal Air Force?
GEC. Where to start, I was born in Bermondsey, South London, South East London, my Father was a builders labourer eh, I am one of eight children, two elder brothers and the others younger than me obviously so I was third in the family. We had a hard life I suppose, things were never easy, money was short but we still all survived, all of us, they must have done something right. Em, I always wanted to fly even as a very small kid. I think I told you I used to watch em writing in the sky, writing Persil and Sunlight and that sort of thing and I would always like to do it but never dreamed that I would get the chance. I never thought that for one minute and eh until the war started and then I thought perhaps there was a possibility that I could join the Air Force eh. But still didn’t think that it would happen but it was still a possibility. I left, I was in London during the bombing which wasn’t very nice and I think I was sixteen then when I finally left London, went to work in the Midlands, in Bedfordshire. Working in the building trade you, you couldn’t, you were in controlled labour so you couldn’t chuck the job in at any time you had to stay there. So if you wanted to join the Forces you couldn’t you wasn’t allowed to you were in a semi occupation that was it, reserved occupation that was it so I couldn’t pack the job in until the particular job we were on finished and then they let me. But then by that time I was due for call up and they let me go anyway. So eh, I asked to go for the Air Force and eh I went to Astra House in London before a selection board and I think there was four or five people round the table that were doing the interviews. They all had rings round their arms up to their elbows, I don’t know what rank they were I have no idea but they were obviously well up in the Air Force. I told them I wanted to go as a Pilotbut my education was no so there was no chance of that at all really, I still wanted it. They said “you can go as an Air Gunner” I said “I don’t want to go as an Air Gunner I want to go as a Pilot.” At the end of the table there was this Officer and I know he had a huge band on his arm so he must have been at least and Air Vice Marshall. [laugh] He was sitting on the end and he was a big man, a broad man, he made three of me he was that big and he had a big Walrus moustache and eh, he looked at me and he looked over his glasses and he said “and what’s wrong with Air Gunners?” and I looked at him and said “nothing” and when I looked he had an Air Gunners Brevet on his chest. That put that one stopped, anyway they didn’t say no more they said alright “we’ll leave it for that for now” the next thing I knew I got called up for the Air Force of course then I went into in eh, in Bedfordshire, Cardigan, eh
JM. Cardington.
GEC. Where the balloons come from, Cardington wasn’t it, that’s where I first went and from there I went to Tangmere on the South Coast where 486 New Zealand Squadron, hope my memories good there, I am sure it was 486 New Zealand Squadron, they had Typhoons at the time. I worked on those and every opportunity I got I used to jump in the cockpit, if they were towing them I was first on in the cockpit, ‘cause someone had to get on the brakes. When they were towing someone was on the brakes and it was usually me and if they were towing them into the buts to fire the guns it was me that got in the turret, they didn’t bother, nobody seemed to bother you know, everybody else was quite content to let me do it. I would sit in the Typhoon and stick it up on the ramp, you know, lift the tail up and point it at the buts and then they would fire the guns and of course it was me that fired the guns, sit there and press the button. I used to love that, really love it and eh we used to refuel the planes that came in from other Squadrons and land at Tangmere this is during the eh, first part of the Normandy landing I think it was and they were doing quite a bit of low level strafing you know the Spitfires, Hurricanes you name it they were there. They would all land at Tangmere and I was part of the gang of GDs that went out and helped refuel them. I mean I didn’t do the refuelling or reloading but I was there to help.
JM. GD is?
GEC. General Duties, AC2 lowest rank possible in the Air Force but General Duties was what the class that they called us and em, of course we used to help them to reload. The Pilots would lay around on the grass in those days. They would get out of the planes lay on the grass while we refuelled them and made sure they had enough ammunition. They would take off from Tangmere, go across to France and when they finished they came back to us usually and refuel and if they were going out again we would rearm them. Sometime that would come back again, refuel and go to their own drome. They used to Mess at Tangmere, they always used to gather at Tangmere, we’d have hundreds of planes there at the time and it was quite exciting even then. I used to love that, you would get on a truck with a trailer, trolley ack on the back and you would pull it out to the plane. They didn’t have starters most times, you would start them with a trolley ack and eh, this is what we used to do and it was good time and I suppose I stopped there for about six months. There was an Education Officer there and I got talking to him and I told him I wanted to go as a Pilot. He didn’t say anything, he didn’t try to discourage me but he said “why don’t you come to classes and we will see what we can do” And this is what I used to do and the Air Force let me have one day off to go to classes and I used to go to Education Classes and I would do stuff on a evening on my own, giving us work to do. I would do Maths and English and things like that ‘cause my writing and English was atrocious, it was bad, so they did teach me a lot.
JM. You told me you felt at a disadvantage being left handed.
GEC. It was a terrible disadvantage because they wouldn’t let me use my left hand in school they would wrap me across the knuckles with a ruler. My left hand was quite bruised most of the time where the ruler was crack across the hand. I had at one time my arm was strapped behind my back to stop me using it em. It wasn’t a nice time as a kid being left handed because I am sure the idea was if you were left handed you were backward, you weren’t normal and eh I had an elder Brother who was very clever. The fact that he was very clever made it even worse because they picked on me even more. They thought if he was clever then I should be and I wasn’t so that was it. So as I say it was a hindrance but in the Air Force it didn’t seem to bother them, they weren’t bother whither I was left handed or right handed and I liked that eh, I did write a little poem.
JM. Could we look at that later on.
GEC. Yeah, I’ve got a little poem I wrote when I was there but em, Anyway I joined, went to the Education Classes for about six months and in the end he came to me one day, this Education Officer and he said “ I have got a request for you to go to Flight Training School, eh Gunnery School, would you be interested?” “Well eh yes anything is better than stopping here, you know” So he said “right we will put you down” and within a couple of weeks I was at Flight Training School. Went to Dalcross in Scotland and went to Gunnery School there. I had a lot of trouble being sick, I got air sickness and eh they did say to me at the end of it, at the end of the course “if you want to pack up you can, because the sickness is that bad, if you want to pack up you can but we are not asking you to, as you will probably get over it eventually” I said “no I don’t want to pack up, I got this far, I certainly don’t want to pack up through something as silly as being sick.” So anyway they let me carry on and after that I think I was only sick once it, it seemed to stop for some reason. Whither, I still think to this day, it is probably something to do with your ears, it’s balance and I still think to this day that’s all it was, you know. I was sick in the Anson and I was only ever sick once in the Lancaster. I was never sick in the Wellington or Stirling or any of those. So it was only the Anson and only once in the Lancaster and that once was a different Pilot it wasn’t my own Pilot and that was the only time, I don’t know perhaps it’s something to do with the way you feel I don’t know, but it didn’t happen again.
JM. Could you tell a little about what it was like training to be an Air Gunner?
GEC. Em, I can tell you an incident in the Ansons, it was ok we was flying up the Cromarty Firth, which is my name and when we used to come back I mean, it’s a bit silly I know but when I was sick you had a helmet, gas helmet, plastic helmet and I was sick into that. So of course when I came back I used to have to go into the toilet and wash it out, clean it all up. In the toilets was an old Scotchman he was always there and he would come up to me and say to me “ah good morning to you lad” or something like that.I can’t use the accent but he would say “have you seen Cromarty this morning” and I would say “yes” it was the town of Cromarty and we used to fly quite near it. That was the same regular thing, I would get asked the same question. We flew up and down this Cromarty Firth in Martinettes with the tow beside us that we were shooting at. I enjoyed it, it was good fun. But one time we took of and I think, I think it was three gunners to a plane if I remember rightly. The Pilots were Polish so em, you couldn’t really have a conversation with them, you get in turn into this turret but they are a funny turret because you put, put your head in and the seat is just a little platform on a, on an arm and when you put your backside on this arm you can alter the controls so that it lifts the seat up. And of couse as you lift the seat up it pushes the guns down and you manoeuvre from side to side just the same as you do in a normal turret. As I say you turn the controls to lift your seat up so as your seat goes up and then when you focus your gun on something or you want to go up you want to go down you go up from the controls. This particular one we had every time I depressed the controls the seat went up and it kept going up and up and up and so I was squashed in the top of the turret. Now they didn’t, you weren’t allowed to land in the turret, when you land nobody was in the turret when it landed. See in this case I am stuck in the turret and I can’t get out. There is a jettison at the bottom of the turret which I can’t reach but someone else in the plane could. They tried to jettison, to release it but couldn’t so of course I was stuck there. Then they had to get special permission for us to land with me in the turret which was unusual and eh but this is one of the things, one of the incidents happened you know. Apart from that the rest of training went pretty well.
JM. I understand that different Gunners had bullets with different paints on so they could work out is that actually what happened?
GEC. Yeah each Gunner had a particular colour, there is three Gunners one had red, one had yellow one had blue so that we all fired at the same drogue and it was then cause when we landed they’d drop the drogue on the runway and count the number of particular spots on the drogue. If mine was red the number of red holes in it were down to me.
JM. And a drogue would be kind of a long sleeve of material.
GEC. A long sleeve is about twenty foot long I suppose, it’s quite long.
JM. Did you train to fire at night?
GEC. We did,not really not there, no. Not in Gunnery School that was nearly always done during the day., but then you did when you started getting onto Wellingtons, then you did. But then you were doing it with cameras not with bullets. But em, but say with the Ansons with live rounds, I think I done really well, I think I got seven per cent hits sounds lousy but they seemed to think it was pretty good at the time. So you got seven hits out of two hundred rounds, sounds terrible doesn’t it but as they say most of it you wouldn’t have wouldn’t have hit them anyway. The chance of hitting something is pretty slim you just aim and hope, you know. I think this is what it was but em, they seemed quite satisfied with seven bullets.
JM. But what happened after Dalcross?
GEC. From there we went to a place called Bridgenorth I think, I don’t know why we went to Bridgenorth we didn’t go straight to a unit. I think there must have been too many Gunners at the time, you know too many trained Gunners they just couldn’t ‘cause then you got your Sergeant when you left Dalcross and we went to Brigenorth I know. We did a bit more training there, ground training we didn’t fly at all and then from Dalcross to OTU.
JM. And OTU was?
GEC. Bruntingthorpe 29 OTU that was on Wellingtons, that was pretty good. We used to do night flying there, we used to do cross countries eh we did quite a bit of night flying there. Then we would be attacked on the way by different fighters when we went round. They would never tell us where but em, you had to keep your eyes open and eh and they would attack you again with cameras and we had cameras fitted to the guns. We took film of what we were doing and they took film of us.
JM. Did you spend a lot of time on aircraft recognition training?
GEC. Yes you do that right from the off. Right from when I first joined Aircrew which was in Regents Park, went to Regents Park that’s where we first went and you do it there ‘cause that’s where you do all the Medicals and everything at Regents Park and eh. You do all your training, quite a lot of the basics there, most of the aircraft recognition there, but em.
JM. And was it at the OTU that you formed a Crew could you tell us about that please?
GEC. Yes it was at OTU that is where you first get a Crew, without the Engineer, no Engineer there.
JM. How did you Crew up how did you form a Crew?
GEC. They just stick a load of people in a room and say sort yourself out and that was how it was. I think with me the, the Pilot, the Navigator and the Mid Upper Gunner they were all Bank Clerks so I think they had something in common, ‘cause in those days Bank Clerks was quite a good job, wasn’t it? So I think they had something in common there.So that probably drawed them together. With me I probably one of the last Gunners to be left you know, so I got picked because I was the last one. But em, we got on alright as a Crew we seemed to get on ok.
JM. Your Captain was an unusual –
GEC. Yeah he was South African em he was in the South African Army Air Corps. He was a Captain, Flight he was a Lieutenant not Flight Lieutenant he was a Lieutenant in the Army and during the time we had with him he was made up to Captain. So he was a Captain in the Army, he talked semi German if I can say it that way. It wasn’t an English accent but it wasn’t a pure South African accent it was quite a lot of more German accent. He did say yah and nein, not a lot he tried to stop himself I am sure. But he did say it when he got excited he would say it which was quite funny really. He had a peculiar name, I could never say his name and the last three letters of his name was r.o.n. Ron, so this is what we called him was Ron we always called him Ron. Say we couldn’t say his name Brand or something like that his name was but it was an African name. None of us could say it, he accepted Ron and that’s it, so we called him Ron. But he was nice bloke I liked him you know, a bit stern eh, eh he kept us in control, there was no messing about with him, you couldn’t mess around with him. We would go out for a drink together, we would get drunk, blind drunk most nights when we did go out. We’d go out as a Crew all the lot of us, we didn’t have cars in those days we had push bikes so we all rode down to the pub on pushbikes but you never took the pushbikes home they were always left there until the next day none of us could ride them but em if we weren’t flying we were drunk, it was a good life.
JM. Did you do your first Operations, did you do Nickel Raids ?
GEC. We did a Nickel on Stirlings, I don’t know what was going on, I can’t really remember why we did it but we actually did a Nickel up the Coast, then across to France and we travelled right up the Coast to Holland dropping Nickel all the way.
JM. Now Nickel was the code for leaflets wasn’t it?
GEC. It was the foil, we were dropping foil.
JM. Window ?
GEC. Window yes, yes so we dropped that along the Coast, went up and back again. So that was the first real op if I can say it that way, though it didn’t count as an op.
JM. It didn’t ?
GEC. No that was on Stirlings so that was on Conversion Unit.
JM. And where were you on Conversion Unit?
GEC. Eh Swinderby.
JM. Swinderby near Lincoln.
GEC. Yeah, in Lincolnshire yeah. That was ok there I liked it there. Stirling’s were nice planes to fly, they were heavy if I can say it that way. They were nowhere near as agile as the Lancaster no they was all slow and cumbersome.
JM. Limited ceiling.
GEC. Yes they did have limited ceiling, it was limited ceiling although we really didn’t test it ‘cause we were only just getting used to four engines, that was all and that was when we would get an Engineer when we got there, that is where he joined us. I can remember one day in a Wellington we were flying along somewhere and eh, we swapped over Gunners the other Gunner got in the turret, I got out and walked up the fuselage. It was only a narrow gangway up the centre of the fuselage and eh, they are only fabric only and eh and as we were going along the plane lurched for some reason to one side and I came of the gangway put my foot right through the canvas. They didn’t say nothing they just accepted it, it wasn’t really my fault. I was a bit clumsy but it wasn’t really my fault it did lurch ever so badly, he really, it went from one side, really tipped and I just wasn’t ready for it and I just woop, and your foot’s of the board. The board is only about a foot wide and you are off the board and through the floor but eh, there it is.
JM. And from Swinderby you went then to Lancaster Finishing School.
GEC. Lancaster Finishing School that was at Syerston at Newark, wasn’t there for long, only there for a few days about nine days, no longer and then from there to the Squadron.
JM. And tell us about your posting to the Lancaster Squadron.
GEC. To the Squadron, we didn’t do much at first, when we first got there. You don’t straight away go into it, they keep you training, we did a couple of high level flights a couple of cross countries, things like that.
JM. This was six three zero Squadron?
GEC. Yes 630 Squadron.
JM. And this was at ?
GEC. East Kirby in Lincolnshire em but as I say they don’t throw you straight into it and then the first Op. that I did was with another Pilot, not my own but I done it with this Pilot. But none of my Crew went on an Op that night, I was the only one that did because that particular plane was short of a Rear Gunner he was ill for some reason and they were short of a Rear Gunner so they stuck me in it, so I went on that on me own. Now the others, the first Op. with my Pilot we had another Pilot with us. So there was two Pilots and that was the first Op. we did, I can’t think where we went now.
JM. Now what age were you when you started flying on Operations.
GEC. On Ops. Nineteen I suppose [unreadable] I would have been nineteen.
JM. Can you tell us what it was like to sit in the rear turret of a Lancaster as you were going on an Operation?
JM. Em, it’s, it’s when you, the first thing you find in the morning you look at the board and you look to see if your names on the board, the name of the Pilot is on the board, not your name it would be the Pilots’ name to say whither you are on that night or not. You do this every morning when you get up, you go for your breakfast and in the Mess hall in the hall in the entrance is the board and on the board are the names of all the people who are on flying that day or that night and you look down that first to see if your names on it. But if your names on it you knew you were in, on for call. Now usually eh, you went for briefing about three o’clock in the afternoon, something like that, depends what time you were taking off, but they would tell you what time it was. You would go to briefing and when you would go to briefing they would tell you where you were going. Of course you all, you would go into the room, all the Crews are in the room and the maps on the wall but the wall’s covered in a curtain so you can’t see where you are going it’s just the cover. Then they take the curtain down and it’s either a gasp or a ha! You know and everybody gasps as to where you are going. Once you realise where you are going and eh, at that time you would get a bit scared, can I say it that way, you would say oh, bloody hell that’s a long way [laugh] you would get a bit worried then. Once you started getting dressed it used to, I mean with me we had so many clothes it used to be unbelievable. I wore silk gloves, I wore woollen mittens, electric gloves, gauntlets over them. My body was silk vest, silk long johns, ordinary vest, ordinary long johns, shirt, trousers, eh, May West, heated suit, capox suit, waterproof suit all on top of one another, so when you finished you looked like Michelin Man, you couldn’t move. Flying boots, diving sailors socks right up to your thighs, big woollen socks and eh, see once you got dressed you couldn’t move. This used to take you about an hour to get dressed of course if you wanted to go to the toilet you either went then or you never went at all. And eh you had to then get dressed and once you were dressed you went into the final briefing and then they would tell you where you were going. I think that was the worse time and then you would take off at say five o’clock in the evening, six o’clock in the evening, you make your way out to the truck and they would take you out to the plane. You used to sometimes sit outside the plane for say, quarter of an hour, have a smoke. I never smoked until I joined Aircrew, you sit in classes doing aircraft recognition, navigation whatever you were doing and we sit in classes and they would say after about an hour, break for a smoke, of course I didn’t smoke. Everybody else was smoking and I was sitting there not smoking and in the end you joined them you know, you had to have a smoke didn’t you? So I ended up started smoking, biggest mistake I ever made, smoking. Then of course, when we went to the plane we would, say sit outside for ten minutes, quarter of an hour, have a smoke before we got into the plane. More often than not I would be the last one in, ‘cause quite often I could turn the turret to the side and climb in from outside where everybody else had to go through the door. If I had to go from inside I had to, you had to lift yourself in. You had a couple of bars over your head and you had to, you’ve got the rear wing spar and you had to lift your feet up into that spar. So you pulled the, hands on the lead bar, lifted yourself with your arms and you slid your legs in. Then you had to work your way in sliding all the way into the turret, so your feet went into the turret first, ‘cause you couldn’t walk in, there wasn’t enough room, no height you know there was just enough room to crawl through. You slid in and plonked yourself in the seat, I know a lot of them when I’ve been to Coningsby they talked about people having their parachutes in the fuselage, stowed in the fuselage. I didn’t mine wasn’t stowed in the fuselage it actually was me seat, it formed the cushion for me seat and I used to actually sit on me parachute so it wasn’t until I, I used to put it on outside the turret, but once I got inside the turret, the seat, formed the seat and the harness was already on. Once you got into the turret it wasn’t a great deal of room. You had a bit of a wire and you pulled the wire and the doors shut behind you, there were two sliding doors. There was a chopper on the top of course to cut yourself out should anything happen, which was more dangerous as it was because it was there. More often or not you hit your head on it because every time it bounced, you bang on the chopper. That’s the thing that happened once I think we done about ten ops, I don’t know, quite a few and eh, and they decided the Pilot had to do circuits and landings and he didn’t like it at all. He thought it was below him to do circuits and landings so we took off and we done a couple of circuits and a couple of . Probably about the third one eh, he asked for permission to land and the control, girl in the control tower said, eh, I can’t remember what the plane was but we used to fly “Uncle” if we could, She’d say Gauntlet,Uncle permission to land, we ask for permission she’d say “Gauntlet, Uncle permission to land” permission to land and she’d say “bounce to the end of the runway and turn left” [laugh]. It really got him annoyed anyway we went round this once and he came and he hit it that hard, he did hit the ground with a thump, I banged me head on the chopper, I thought I had knocked me bloody head off on this chopper ‘course he burst the tyre and it stopped on the runway lopsided and we all jumped out the plane. I had to spin the turret on its side and out and everybody else pours out the doors. Of course we look around and there is no sight of the Pilot anywhere. Well what has happened to him.so a couple of them go back in to try and find him. When they get back in there he is in his seat, in the cockpit, sitting there snoring. He was blind drunk [laugh] he had got upset for sending him on circuit and landings he’d gone and got himself loaded with whisky. He got away with it, nobody said a word, we didn’t say nothing, just got him out the plane and back to the Mess before anybody knew.
JM. George can I just pause you there just for a moment just for the tape, did you say Gauntley, Gauntley was the call sign for six three zero Squadron.
GEC. For 630 Squadron yeah, “Silk Screen” was the drome, “Silk Screen” that’s it yeah. That’s right we used to call up “Silk Screen” we would say “Gauntley, Sugar, Gauntley Lead” whatever. “Silk Screen, Gauntley, Uncle” The two callsigns, yeah. It’s a lot to remember, I am pleased I remember this.
JM.I want to take you on a bit, because you described so vividly sitting in the aircraft.Can you tell us what it was actually like taking off and when you were on a raid?
GEC. Before you took off you were, you were frightened, you were. You’d get in the plane, and you’d sit in there and they’d taxi in line there’s twenty five of you fifty all waiting to line up on the runway. At the end of the runway there was always the caravan and there was always people waiting there waving you of, always, every time there was always someone there. Probably a dozen perhaps thirty or forty people there waving you off. Once you took up the runway, once you went down the runway you were, you were on edge and of course the tower, I am stuck on edge I don’t face rear, I face the side and you lock it on the side for takeoff this is because if anything goes wrong you can jump out quick. So of course as you go up the runway the tail lifts of and the wheels get of the ground and he says, full power he says to the Engineer then he says through the gate, so they obviously go up to a gate with the throttles and he pushes him through to give him that extra power to get him off the ground. Once he does that you lift of the ground and you start to fly. From then on you are not bothered the fear has all gone. I don’t know how to explain it, you are not afraid any more, it’s just you are there, you accept it and then you sit back and enjoy it and honestly I do, you enjoy, you enjoy the flying. I did anyway whither other people did or not I don’t know, I did I used to actually enjoy it and it wasn’t until you got to say the French coast or the German coast or even the Dutch coast you know, Denmark em, it wasn’t until you got to there and flak started coming up that you was concerned again, I don’t think it was you was really worried. You worried when you got to the target but you didn’t worry before that. You know em, that’s a thing that em, used to happen to us, you would see these huge balls of fire, beautiful colours, this big ball. Say it was all the colours of the rainbow in this ball and we used to call it spoofs. I don’t know if you ever heard this before but we used to call them spoofs and when we came back they’d say “how was it” and we would say “yes we saw a couple” Oh yes you are bound to see them they did do them you know. It wasn’t until several years after the war I found out they weren’t spoofs. I mean this was quite a while after the war and I found out that they weren’t, I think they should have told us.
JM. Would you like to tell us what they were?
GEC. They were real planes, they were planes going up, I didn’t know it nor did any of us but it was planes. It was always on much the same level as us. So it was other aircraft, other Lancasters.
JM. Blowing up?
GEC. Yeah, Yeah.
JM. And this was due to ?
GEC. Enemy aircraft fire, anti aircraft mostly, I suppose the odd one would have been fighters but if it was we didn’t know. It was definitely aircraft going you know. I thought it at the time but when we came back and would say something they would say “No it’s only Spoof.” So you’d sort of well alright, they must know what they are talking about so we let it go. I suppose if we had known it would have really frightened us, really frightened us so I suppose it’s as well that we didn’t know, yeah.
JM. Now you completed twenty two operations between the autumn of 1944 and the end of the war and I understand that some of them have left a particular memory with you Politz was one and Dresden was another, could you tell us about those please?
GEC. Yeah em, we did one daylight, I think that is an easier one to tell you em it was only on Dortmund Emms Canal. I think it was Dortmund Emms Canal, I am not certain about this but it was one, it was a daylight anyway. It was the only daylight I did, the planes, normally you didn’t see other planes you occasionally seen one whip past the tail, you didn’t see many, they were there but you didn’t see ‘em. But in the daylight you see ‘em, they are above you, below you, everywhere. There was a plane that was right over the top of us and I watched his bomb doors open and I watched his bombs fall and they went past our tail by I imagined inches but it must have been more than that. It was that close if you can imagine a bomb going past your turret and that is how it was and that was really frightening.[Laugh] I said to the Pilot, for Gods sake get out the way. He said he could see me as much as I could see him and I thought that was it, alright, that was it was really frightening. But eh, that was the only daylight I did and I didn’t want to do any more. [laugh]. The Politz raid the Pilot got the DFC for that was because we left left Lincolnshire went out to the North Sea out to Denmark, crossed Denmark and lost the engine as we crossed the Danish Coast. Em, we weren’t very high at the time, we were climbing I think we would leave this, this country and we would start climbing towards Denmark, I suppose when we got to Denmark we were at about six to seven thousand feet, no more. Of course we had lost the engine, it meant that we were very slow then to pick up. I heard the Pilot and Engineer talking between themselves, he said “ how’s thing Joe?” the Engineer was Joe. “are we alright” “yes” “any, any, how’s the fuel?” “ yes that’s ok” “think we can manage if we go on” “ Yes we are alright” Didn’t ask anybody else just the Engineer. “Alright we will carry on” and so they carried on and we crossed the tip of Sweden and then into the Baltic and eh we couldn’t get the speed that we wanted and we couldn’t get the height. I hear people talking today of Lancaster’s doing 260 and 290 mile per hour we never did 290 mile per hour we used to do 190 and if we were down hill would perhaps get 210, 220 out of it but that was all. Certainly with a full load on it you couldn’t do too much more. You might have got 200 with a struggle. Not everybody could do it so to keep us all together we used to stick to eh 190. So as I say as we went along we couldn’t get the height, I think the bombing height was 14000 but we could only get up to about 10. We ended up about ten minutes late over the target I do know that and we went across the target and eh we got picked up by the blue search light and we were actually on the bombing run then so the bomb doors was open and we were doing a nice steady run. The beam caught us and as the beam caught us some German Gunner must have been trigger happy and he fired probably too soon because the other search lights hadn’t coned onto us only one had us and none of the others. ‘cause what happens the blue one comes on and the others cone in on it. Well only the blue one had us and the others hadn’t coned in and the shell went under the back of the plane and tipped it so we went nose down and we went from ten thousand down to about six thousand I suppose and the Bomb Aimer had gone forward in the turret and smashed the bomb tit that he had in his hand, that smashed, it was useless. So the Pilot said “what are you going to do?” He said “ I can’t do it from here we will have to jettison” So he said “we will go round again then and jettison” I am sitting in the back and thought “oh my God” they must be mad. But there it is they turned round and went back in again. The Wireless Operator jettisoned the bombs, when the Bomb Aimer told him the Wireless Operator jettisoned the bombs. So we jettisoned the bombs and we set our way home eh, the whole trip was oh, about eleven hours so the engine packed up after two hours so we still had another two or three hours to do before we got there. So it was quite a long way on, on three engines plus the fact, I can’t think what engine it was but whatever one it was it affected the mid upper turret, the mid upper turret wasn’t working. Luckily it wasn’t mine because if it had been mine we would have gone back for sure. But eh the mid upper had packed up so we had no upper turret, if had met anything we were in trouble and eh, but eh we got back ‘cause when we landed he called up to land they said, I don’t know what it was Gauntlet Sugar I think we were in “number fifteen or number seven to land” and he said “nein, nein number vun, number vun” I don’t know what they thought in the Control Tower at the time they must have thought it was a German Invasion.[laugh] Anyway we got over it.
JM. You must have felt a huge sense of relief when you got back after that.
GEC. It was, it was it’s nice, it’s nice to get back on the ground and of course the first thing you did, the minute you were out the plane, was light a cigarette, sit there, shaking I’m sure.
JM. Now I understand that your Navigator had an interesting technique, tell us about that.
GEC. He always stuck to the middle of the stream if he could. I mean he couldn’t see the stream no more than any of us could. But I, me being in the back I don’t think anybody else could see the planes around us, perhaps the Mid Upper Gunner could. Me being in the back could see them crossing over, they would go from Port to Starboard I would watch them. If two or three of them did it I knew we were coming out of the stream and I would say to the. The Navigator would call me and say “how are we doing George?” and I would say “they are going from Port to Starboard” “right two degrees Starboard” he would move the plane over and then he would say straighten it up again, or two degrees Port then a couple of minutes “two degrees Port” were in the middle of stream and of course when we talked about it afterwards this is what he told us. All the time he kept altering the course to get us in the middle of the stream, “never on the edge” he said” they bit you off on the edge, I’ll make sure your in the middle” I always thought he was a bloody good Navigator for that, nobody objected, least of all the Pilot who had to do the corrections, he never used to say nothing. But I think it’s him that got us through it, the Navigator, I am sure it was him as much as anybody. The Pilot was good no one can argue on that, he was a good Pilot. They were a good Crew all of them, I can’t argue with any of them but the Pilot and Navigator I think were exceptional. It’s those two that got us through it anyway I’m sure of that.
JM. You took part in the Dresden raid.
GEC. The Dresden Raid, yeah, we were the first in at Dresden, we bombed at ten o’clock. I think 250 planes were the first ones into Dresden. It was very good we actually lined up on Leipzig, so we, we homed in on, we actually did the course to Leipzig and them from Leipzig we done a straight line from Leipzig to Dresden. Now Gerry thought that we were bombing Leipzig I’m sure so he concentrated on that but we then actually over run Leipzig straight into Dresden and bombed Dresden. So they wasn’t expecting it at all. There wasn’t a great, there was flak from Leipzig quite a bit but there was none from Dresden, hardly any at all. So they wasn’t expecting it, it was very quiet when we got there, nothing there, the flares went down and we bombed on the flares then we turned, as we turned away it was starting to burn, and it was really burning. I could see it a good fifty or sixty miles after we left the target I could see it burning and it was really burning you know really bad. And em Bomber Command sent 750 at twelve o’clock and the Americans went next day and had another go, so there wasn’t much left of it. I think you know a bit much wasn’t it, bit drastic but eh I suppose it’s war isn’t it.
JM. I understand you had seen some things in the Blitz of London which influenced how you felt about;
GEC. Yeah I was there during the bombing in London and em, I lost a lot of Family, quite a lot. I mean probably fifteen, twenty of my Family were killed. Not my actually Family but my relations Aunts, Uncles, Cousins. One particular Family lived at a place we called Downtown, they had a block of flats it was right in the Dock area of London and eh, they lived there because when the Docks were bombed, the first day of the bombing they moved them out into a school a bit away from the Docks and the bomb actually hit the school and killed all the people in the school. So all the Family that were in the flats, the flats are still standing today, but they moved them into the school and they all died and that was eh, it was me Uncle me Mothers’ Brother, his wife I think he had about seven, seven, eight children and only I think one of them or two of them survived. He lost an arm and an eye, me Uncle. So and there were a lot of the Family like that, you know who died, so em, I,I,I wanted revenge you know they, they, I. It was unnecessary he bombed London willy nilly he didn’t care what he hit, did he? So I don’t see why we should care and when I hear people say “you shouldn’t have done this, you shouldn’t have done that” I think he should, you know, I think he was right in everything he did.
AM. Lets have a pause there shall we. [tape paused]
AM. Will you tell us some more of your stories of the Operations that you took part in?
GEC. The one to Leipzig, em, We couldn’t get, the cloud was fairly thick, we went from here to France and from France to the French Alps but we couldn’t get up high enough to get over the Alps and eh of course we had gone into ten tenths cloud. We couldn’t see really where we were going. Eh, we circled and circled to try find a way out and we we couldn’t and a lot of people I know, we found out afterwards, a lot of people turned back, probably half of our Squadron turned back and em. In the end the Pilot saw a gap in the clouds and he said to the Navigator “I am going to go for it” So they went for this gap in the clouds and once we got through it, me being in the back could see that the gap that we had gone through and the lightening was dancing across it full blast. So it was a bit scary we had actually gone through a wall of lightening more or less. But eh, as I say we got there all right and we got back all right so it must have been ok. We, we went to a place called eh, Wesel there were only twenty five planes on, on that one. The Controller called us into bomb and the first plane in well almost the first one dropped a couple of bombs into the river, into the Rhine and the Controller screamed his head off “stop bombing, stop bombing” and eh nobody took any notice we all carried on and bombed but the rest of the bombs actually went onto the town of Wesil. So it worked in the end and none of them fell on our side in the end so everybody was happy on that one.
JM. Now I think Wesel is spelt Wesel and we are dealing with the crossing of the Rhine in the Spring of 1945 April?
GEC. Yeah, Yeah it must have been, I can’t remember dates like that but you are probably about right, yeah, it was it was, the Army was advancing through France and Germany in those days another one was on a place called Royan on the French coast. They sent us there, the Army had gone completely round it. So it was just stuck in the middle on its’ own, Germans in the middle, British or American Army all round it and they sent us there because there was a lot of tanks and they were causing a bit of trouble so they sent us there to bomb that and we bombed that. There was no resistance at all we just went over and dropped bombs and came home again. It only took a couple of hours, it was a very short one. So you couldn’t really call that one an op, just a day out. I dunno much else that happened, I know at one time I, I wanted to go to the toilet and couldn’t, got dressed and thought I will go when I get in the plane and of course you know where it is, you forget all about it. Of course we carried on, we’d been flying for about eight hours and I wanted to go bad by then and I said to the Pilot “can I get out of the turret?” well we’d crossed back into France and he said “all right go on, come out, go to the Elson in the fuselage” Of course I walked back to the Elson, or crawled back to the Elson and eh you have got your parachute harness on and eh I am banging the button on the harness and it won’t release. I am just bang, bang, bang, bang and it just won’t release it. It just stays there and of course I am in such a predicament by then and I just said “oh bugger it” and I just crossed my legs and peed and it goes all down me legs into me boots, doesn’t it. I got back into the turret and plug the suit in, it will soon dry it but it didn’t it shorted it out and it fused the bloody lot. So of course I didn’t say nothing more to them but em, I, I often wonder, I probably did suffer a bit with frostbite because it solidified in me boots. So I didn’t do that again, I made sure I went to the toilet after that.
JM. Did you ever have problems with ice crystals in your oxygen mask?
GEC. No, no it got pretty cold no but it never really got that bad, it never really got that bad. I heard some people did but it didn’t happen to me anyway.
JM. I understand that your tour of duty was influenced by your Captains sporting activities ?
GEC. Yeah, he was full back for the Springboks. In his early youth he cracked his skull so he was the only person in the Springboks team to wear a crash helmet, so it was a head guard, wasn’t it?
JM. This was the rugby team.
GEC. Yeah, Yeah ‘cause nobody else in the Team would wear a hat, they don’t today do they or very few of them. He wore this thing because as I say he had a cracked skull at one time. What it meant was that being a Rugby Player he would get called for the to play Rugby, because he had to go up to Twickenham to play it. So of course, more often than not if there was flying at the weekend and rugby at the weekend it would be rugby rather than flying. Of course when he got the DFC everybody on the Squadron said he got the DFC for rugby playing not for flying.[laugh] Which is probably true. Another little incident I can remember quite well, we used to have to do gunnery duty on the ‘drome around the ‘drome there was I think six or eight gun emplacements there were two, mounted twin point fives and they was all round the ‘drome, I think there was about eight of them altogether. All the Gunners on the ‘drome were on a rota to man these guns. Now if you weren’t on Ops you were supposed to be on the rota to man guns. Of course, sometimes on a Saturday night we would have a dance in the Mess, so we would all get done up in our best clothes and went to this dance. Usually about seven o’clock in the evening it lasted until twelve. On this particular Saturday we em, it was our turn on the guns you know we was, I think there was about eight pairs. Me and the Mid Upper Gunner we were allotted to a particular gun. What you are supposed to do when you are told you are on to find out where your gun is, go and have a look, see where it is and everything about it. Go and have a look at it and see that it is working all right and then come back and you are ready should anything happen in the evening, you are ready to go out there. Well we didn’t bother, no nothing will happen, we didn’t bother we went to the dance all in our best blues and of course the siren went about nine o’clock didn’t it? Course we had to get on our bikes then and find this bloody gun. So we hadn’t a clue, we had a rough idea where it was. So we would get on the bikes and go up this country lane, no lights is there, it’s all black and eh, we, we driving along and I said “it must be here somewhere, well it’s on the left, it can’t be on the right, no it’s definitely on the left” we look over this edge and there is this mound in the middle of the field “it’s there, there look there it is you can see it” “alright” he said “where is the gate” I said “ I can’t see no blooming gate” he said “go on I will give you a lift over” So he puts me foot in his hand and hoycks me over this hedge. Of course the hedge has got barbed wire in it, in’t and of course as I come down it just rips me trousers from top to bottom. I said “well that’s it I am in the field at least” So I run across the field to this lump and of course it gets up and goes moo and runs of [laugh]. Of course another half an hour later we are still trying to find this gun. Eventually we find it, we pull the cover off and pull the cover of and when we are standing there, pulled the cover off, hadn’t even cocked the guns or anything over comes Gerry a JU88 and he is ever so low, he couldn’t have been more than a couple of hundred feet up but he didn’t fire he just went straight across the ‘drome and em if we had been on the guns as we should have been we could have had a go at him[laugh] but we didn’t. After that we went to [unreadable] the gun, we didn’t leave it to chance anymore, good days though.
JM. Could you tell us a little about what it was like to live on East Kirkby on the base there. What was the accommodation and the food and the atmosphere like?
GEC. It was a Nissan Hut there was about a dozen people to a hut. Crews were in one hut, Officers in another, bloody cold, we didn’t have central heating or anything, we had a, what do you call them, a pot bellied stove, just a little stove in the middle of the room and we could go and get coal or wood from the corner of the, there was a heap of coal at the edge of the field you know the are where the tent, where the Nissan huts were. We’d go and load a bucket up with that and fetch it back, stoke the fire up, keep the fire going. There was a lake quite near and round this lake was moorhens, ‘cause moorhens would lay their eggs round the edges and we used to go out and raid this nest and collect the eggs up. Perhaps about two dozen eggs, we’d sit round, put the frying pan on this stove and cook these eggs. The trouble was we didn’t think to break them into a cup first we’d break them into the pan. Of course you would get about ten or twelve eggs in the pan and keep breaking them in you know and one of them would be addled wouldn’t it of course it ruined the lot, start again. [laugh] We did that again and again. But we used to have a feast on moorhens eggs.
JM. Did you have the experience of loosing friends on Squadrons?
GEC. Yes I lost a Mate eh,on the raid on the Rosettes. He was a Tail Gunner, his name was Herbert Davies came from Shropshire, the same as a Rear Gunner the same as me. We got on well together we used to go out drinking or girlfriends and eh. This raid on Rosettes he got shot down, as far as I know he is buried in a cemetery in Berlin. I have never been to see it perhaps I ought to one day before I get too old. The Pilot I know is buried in Belgium but the rest of the crew were never found. I think they only found two of the Crew. The Pilot was American, his Pilot was American. Dave I called him, his name was Herbert, horrible name, he was Welsh, Welsh accent because he lived in Shropshire which is Welsh almost Welsh wasn’t it ? [pause] he was the closest that I knew, you know I mean other people, lost other people there that we knew. The worst part was when you came back and eh they’d come into the hut and picked up somebody’s belongings and eh you knew then they weren’t coming back, that was about the first year. I mean in debrief you knew that someone was overdue but you never knew where they went because they were over due. They could go almost anywhere, they could be in France, they could be in England somewhere. But eh when they came in to collect their belongings that you knew that they were gone. That was upsetting you know, that really was upsetting and it used to happen a lot we didn’t loose, we didn’t, six thirty didn’t loose a lot of planes at least I don’t think they lost a lot but eh the ones they did loose it used, it used to feel it.
JM. Did the replacements come in, did the replacement crews come in quickly.
GEC. Fairly quickly yeah, there was, there was usually ones to take their place pretty soon, yeah. It was the planes that they had the most trouble replacing.
JM. As a, as an Air Gunner did you have much to do with the Armourers in terms of maintenance of guns and bullet loads and things.
GEC. No, no you didn’t you didn’t do a lot to that, no. I mean you had to know how they worked and every thing about them to work them. You relied on them to look after them and they did usually. I can only remember one occasion when I got into the turret and turret was swimming in oil, me boots just were sliding on the oil and eh I thought it would give me trouble, I thought if it is leaking you know the oil that bad, I am going to have trouble but eh, before we took off they sent for the Armourer because you know you couldn’t talk to anybody, they had to do it by Aldis Lamp and they sent for an Armourer and he came and had a look because he used a tissue or something, paper, because he mopped up this oil well he saw it would be alright and left it at that. ‘cause we took off, I think we were late in taking off at that time because of this. But it did happen it was alright in the end and it did work out, so it must have been something they spilt on the floor, rather than a leak.
JM. You mentioned that your Pilot got an immediate Distinguished Flying Cross was there any discussion about the awarding of medals, what was the attitude of people to that?
GEC. Em, I don’t think any, I didn’t really give it a thought, we came back, we came back of that raid and eh the same night they gave him a medal it wasn’t , it wasn’t discussed or anything like that it was just immediate you know straight away, the DFC. We didn’t fly no more, that weekend we was sent home on a hol, on, on leave so we had I think it was nine days leave so they did that immediately. Didn’t talk about it just said get on, right get on leave. So they gave us a week to get over it which I suppose is a good thing in a way.
JM. Did you have any experience of knowing of cases where Operations were too much for men.
GEC. There is only one that I can remember, LMF but em there, there wasn’t a lot there wasn’t many. I don’t, I can’t remember a lot about it. I know it happened and I know the person, I can’t think of his name now but I do remember the person and he was just frightened, that was all there was to it, he just couldn’t cope. Which is unusual most be people do, most people hide their fear don’t they? But he couldn’t and that was it. So I mean, I don’t blame him for one minute, probably more brave than I was because he had the guts to admit it, there it is.
JM. Could we now turn perhaps to how your Operational Career finished and what happened to you at the end of your Service could you tell us about that please?
GEC. When the War finished in Europe it was still going on in Japan wasn’t it, my own Pilot, the day War finished he went straight back to South Africa. He didn’t even say goodbye he just went and that was it. In the Mess one day and he was gone. We were immediately allocated with another Pilot, the Crew was still together but just a new Pilot and eh they were talking then about going to Japan or going to the Middle, the Far East and they were saying that we would convert to Lincoln Bombers and go to the Far East but we had to volunteer for it. We had to volunteer as a Crew, so we discussed that between us and we all said yes, this is what we had in mind going to the Far, converting to Lincolns and going to the Far East but em as I say they dropped the Atom Bomb and that was it finished that so that, stopped it. Because once that happened everything was eh finished and they just shut down six thirty Squadron, shut down straight away, more or less. Em, they went me to Weeton just outside of Blackpool to eh retrain and I went as a Fabric Worker of all things, repairing bi planes a little bit of upholstery or what ever. I did I think what was a six weeks course at Weeton and then from Weeton I went to Holmesea South and there I went into the workshops at Holmesea South and we did a, we looked after maintenance of all the vehicles which in those days, quite a lot of them were canvass backs, canvass tilts on them. We resprayed the cars I had I think three or four people working for me, because at that time I would have been a Warrant Officer so they had to find me something to do. I had a couple of Jamaicans in there and I had a chap an Irish chap he was a Sergeant, Sergeant Gunner. There were a couple of LACs in there if I remember rightly. There were about five of us in this place and we used to go out and pick up a wagon or lorry or car or something and fetch it in if it was a bit dented and I would get them people to straighten it up and we would respray it in the shop but eh, I didn’t like it, it wasn’t it wasn’t me. So of course they came across to me one day and said would you be interested in leaving, so I said “yes.” That was it I just packed me bags and went but eh, if I had been flying I would have stayed, I would have stopped to this day but eh, once you stop flying you loose interest.
JM. Could I just ask you finally just to say how you feel about the way Bomber Command has been treated and your feelings about Harris and Churchill.
GEC. I think it has been treated very badly, I always have done but eh. We’ve never got credit for what we did whither we wanted to or not. We didn’t get credit for it, we got a stupid little medal, it’s not a medal it’s a piece of tin, which I don’t thinks’ right at all. I mean people got medals just for going from here and stepping one foot in France and they got a medal for that. But we, not me personally, a lot of them did sixty ops or so. Although they did get a medal if they were in before 1944 I think it was but after that they didn’t get no matter how many ops they did they didn’t get a medal for it. You got the European star which everybody got if they were in Europe no matter what you did. So it wasn’t really a medal for being in active service in France or Germany it was just a medal for being there eh, so that I think was unfair. There it is can’t alter it. With regards to Harris, well I admired the man, he had a difficult job it is something not many people can do, is it? There is not many people who could have done his job. And he did what he did, what he believed with what he had and really did believe in what he was doing, you have got to admire him for that. I mean, I think I have told you they used to tell us he would get his boffins, his local men and get half a dozen of them and give them a couple of bottles of whisky and send them to the country and say “come back with the next target for me” and they would come back and tell them which target to bomb. There was not method to it, it was just random. There was a bit of method but this is what we used to say. Course another thing we had a saying, a little ditty what we used to say, Merseyberg, Colingsberg, Politz and Gadinia 2154 going sick. 2154 being the amount of petrol, fuel you carried, that of course meant that it was the longest you could go so you knew you were up for ten, eleven hours. So of course that was the words, you know and Merseyberg, Colinsberg. Politz and Gadinia they are all ten or eleven hour trips so that is the little ditty that used to go around the drome. ‘Cause specially if you got on that night was one of those, that would come straight out. On the whole it was a good life, at least I think it was. I am still here, a lot are not for those I feel very sorry. [Pause] some nice blokes, some very nice people that I knew. Dave in particular was, I thought a nice person nothing aggressive in him at all no, no he was a nice person. It shouldn’t happen to people like that but it did and it happened to a lot of them didn’t it? It’s the evil ones like me who stayed. I always said I must have been ever so evil because he never called me they reckon he only calls the good ones.
JM. George Cromarty thank you very much indeed. I thought that was an excellent place to stop.

Citation

Julian Maslin, “Interview with George Eric Cromarty,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 21, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/3387.

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