Interview with Dr Derry Derrington


Interview with Dr Derry Derrington


Dr Arnold Pearce Derrington grew up in Cornwall and joined the University Air Squadron at Exeter. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1942 and completed training at RAF Ansty, South Africa, RAF West Freugh and RAF Moreton in the Marsh, where he trained as a navigator on Wellingtons. He was posted to RAF Driffield where he served with 462 and 466 Squadrons. Most of his operations were over the Ruhr. He discusses H2S and Gee in detail. He was later an instructor at RAF Moreton in the Marsh and was demobbed in 1945. He kept a diary of his time in Bomber Command.



IBCC Digital Archive




Julie Williams


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01:08:21 audio recording





Temporal Coverage


AS: It’s 15th July 2015. My name’s Adam Such. I’m a researcher for the International Bomber Command Centre and this is the second half of an interview with Flight Lieutenant Derry Derrington former DFC, former navigator on 466 and 462 squadrons RAF.
Derry first of all good morning thank you for allowing me to come back.
DD: My joy.
AS: Great. I’d like first of all really to take you back to briefings. I know that they weren’t all exactly the same but can you give me a general idea of how long they’d go?
DD: Well a briefing used to last about three quarters of an hour at most. Sometimes it could be done in a quarter of an hour and once we had the briefing the navigator would settle down to make out what his flight plan. Do you know what a flight plan is?
AS: Roughly. But if you’d like to go through it.
DD: It’s on every chart and every log I’ve got here and you’ll see that we knew the complete journey that we had to make and it wasn’t always direct. It would appear that it should be but we had to do all sorts of diversionary courses in order to fox the enemy and I’ve got a chart that I want to give you which shows every target we went to with, as it were, a straight line going from Driffield or our take off point was called Flaxfleet and it wasn’t a straight line as my chart shows but it’s easy for anyone to notice and we didn’t go in straight lines like it appears to be. I’d like to give that to you now while I think about it.
AS: Ok.
AS: Now I now have your chart in front of me with your thirty one missions on it.
DD: Yes.
AS: Yeah, as you say straight lines but the doglegs would be quite substantial I suppose depending on where the -
DD: Well depending on the time. We could always lose time. We couldn’t pick it up unless the pilot really stepped on the gas but two minutes was the most that we have to, we mustn’t get there too early or we had to lose some time but we didn’t do that very often but of course once your jigging around like that you’re crossing the path of other members of the stream of aircraft and you were taking a risk. You’ve got to be very alert. You don’t want collisions in the air.
AS: Back, back to the briefing where we started did, did the whole crew go just to one briefing or was there separate briefings for pilots and navigators.
DD: No it was a total, all the crew was there for it and they went back to do whatever they wanted to do with their equipment but we had to sit down and work out our flight plan and the flight plan was a very handy thing because it depended of course on the forecast winds of that time. They may have changed completely by the time we would do the operation but they would have been just about five or six degrees difference perhaps from one course to another and it wasn’t just a case of the calculation course you had. You had to work out deviation and also each aircraft was tuned differently so that you had to amend the calculated course that you were going to steer. You applied correction and deviation but that was the navigators job to do that and well it took some time with the computer working out the courses that we had to go but the bomb aimer might have been with me on these occasions. Jonah our bomb aimer was quite keen and he would be watching what I was doing. And we were great pals. They were wonderful crew to be with.
AS: After, after the briefing and you’d worked out your flight plan it’s, what happened then? I mean
DD: Well.
AS: We hear about the operational meal, the operational egg. What -
DD: Well we had, some of the chaps said they had a good meal beforehand. I only seem to remember a good meal afterwards [laughs] they gave us plenty to eat. Two Eggs on My Plate is, I believe is the title of one book written about our experiences in those days. But they did feed us very well with a good old fry up.
AS: Then out to the aeroplane.
DD: We felt we were very privileged people because in those days were the days of rationing.
AS: Then out to the aeroplane. How long before take-off would that, would that be?
DD: Probably two hours, two and a half hours or so before take-off. And it wasn’t a case of being waved off we just were there and we went and didn’t know who was waving us off or what we were just intent on being there and doing our job.
AS: You were, were 4 Group, in, in Yorkshire.
DD: I was - ?
AS: 4. In Number 4 Group.
DD: 4 group yes.
AS: Now that’s between the 6 Group North.
DD: Yes.
AS: And the other groups South. Did you climb out directly on course or or did you have to avoid the other aircraft from -
DD: Well we had a collecting point to move from near Spurn Head, a place called Flaxfleet and we didn’t set course from the airfield as such we were out warming up and going around, flying in orbit around the area but we wanted to be at Flaxfleet by the time of take-off. TOT time of take-off or time over target TOT. And we set off from there and well we were on the alert all the time to see we weren’t too near other aircraft. I say we - especially the gunners. They were the eyes of the plane and the pilot.
AS: Once, once you had formed up and I presume for daylight operations there was more of a coming together than, than at night time?
DD: You mean the aircraft flying close to each other?
AS: Yeah.
DD: I suppose there must have been. Most of our operations were night time, dark, in the darkness but we did some daylights. The Yanks were daylight people. They didn’t do too much dark, night time flying but we were day and night. And our trips were not quite as long as some people spent a long time. I suppose the maximum length of time you’ll see from our logbooks the maximum length of time on any of our operations was approximately eight hours but some people had time longer than that.
AS: Yes, I -
DD: We didn’t have any very long drawn out operational time. I’m amazed we did what we did in such a short time.
AS: I see Magdeburg probably was, was the furthest you went.
DD: Probably, yes.
AS: On your trips or perhaps Koblenz.
DD: Ahum
AS: Yeah. Coming, coming back now if I may coming back from the trip was there much of a desire to be home first? To open the taps? To -
DD: No. No, we went along steadily the only thing was in the funnel when we were coming to land we sometimes the Germans had a fighter lurking around and we had to be equally alert at landing time as we were taking off. That was that. Have you heard much about that happening?
AS: No I’d like you to tell me about -
DD: Well -
AS: The whole process.
DD: They had fighters in the funnel sometimes and of course our fighters were up to combat them but we had to be on the alert because of that.
AS: Could you talk I know you were inside behind your curtain but could you talk me through perhaps the, the sort of aids to final navigation? The funnel lights, the drem pundits, Sandra - that sort of thing. Could you talk me through the process of coming back to base and landing?
DD: Well I didn’t have much to do with that. I got them back to the area where we had to be and the crew looked after that as a whole. They got their eyes open and the pundits, those are, those are the flashing lights you’re talking about?
AS: Ahum.
DD: Well the pilot had his job to do and the bomb aimer might have been there to help him and be observing with him but as a navigator I’d was, I’d got them back to very near the base and I’d done my job but I was alert to write and record whatever had to be done and I’d hear the conversation of the crew and if I heard anything significant then I’d make a note of it on my log.
AS: Which brings me nicely into afterwards. After landing. You said you’d done your job but perhaps you were the most important man at the debriefing. What was the debriefing like?
DD: We were asked all sorts of questions and were you at the target in time? What opposition did you get there? And of course the crew would say as much as I would about that. If they’d said at the time they would have been on my log recording it. I believe my logs are pretty neat. I’m not as tidy and neat now as I was then but I know you’ll their fairly clear. I did everything printing. I didn’t do anything cursive writing at all. It was fine print.
AS: And they, they would they go through your navigation log either then or afterwards,
DD: Oh they’d have an overview quickly. And after the operation was over the navigation leader would have a look at the log and the chart. They were handed in together. And he’d write a comment do you see there are comments on the front page of it - A satisfactory trip or did you take enough fixes, take more than you do and what they may say what was your opinion of H2S when it came in to us initially. You’ll see one or two of my charts are in a colour different from the others instead of the normal red printing on a white background.
DD: Yes they had a white background and the towns shape is in brown and the brown showed up very good against the white background and if a town it isn’t just a red glowing dot on the fluorescent screen it was a shape on the chart that we had and if there was some projecting point in some way that you could identify then that a bearing on, from that could be taken and that would give me my position. It was, your attempt was to get a position every six minutes at least apart from any visual sightings there may have been and this radar was a wonderful help.
AS: Was it generally reliable?
DD: Oh yes. They did try to jam us but we didn’t have much of that to worry about. They couldn’t jam the H2S but the window that we scattered was supposed to confuse their ground systems for identifying us.
AS: But the actual installation in the aeroplane? Could you be confident you’d go in there and turn it on and it would work?
DD: Oh yes.
AS: And work in the air
DD: Oh yes it was very reliable.
AS: Was that generally true for the aeroplane? You’d walk to your allocated aeroplane and it would be fully functional for the trip.
DD: Yes. Oh yes.
AS: So the standard of maintenance was, was pretty high.
DD: Very good indeed. The ground crews were very helpful. And if we weren’t satisfied they soon knew it. [laughs]
AS: Were your ground crew predominantly Australians by the time you were on ops or a mix?
DD: We were a totally pommie crew with an Australian captain. And I don’t think we were, it wasn’t a case of tolerated we were treated as equals. We had a very good company. A jolly good lot they were too.
AS: The ground crew? Were they mostly Australians?
DD: No I don’t know any ground crew were Australian. They were all British I believe.
AS: Ok.
DD: One thing which was rather interesting I ended up as a lecturer in Manchester University eventually and there was one fellow who came on the staff. He said, [?] ‘My job was I trained as a navigator but they were beginning near the end of the war not to need any more air crew things were going on so well and it was my job to load you up with our bombs, with the bombs. I was doing that job’. So he has diversified to be loading up bombs for us and well we just took off with what they gave us.
AS: When we talked yesterday we talked a bit about the French at Elvington. Did you have much to do with the Free French squadrons?
DD: We just knew they were there and we were just delighted I think that we were cosmopolitan as we were. We had a Maori in our squadron and well we were British and the French were there and well they had the same directions and the same intentions as we did and we were just delighted I think that we were a multinational gang, 4 Group
AS: Yeah. Indeed you definitely were.
There we are. So we talked that you were an Australian squadron fully accepted as English people.
DD: Ahum.
AS: The Australians were far from home can you tell me a bit about their life. What they did for leave and how - ?
DD: Well quite a few Cornish people went overseas mining years ago. There’s an adage if there’s a hole in the ground there’s a Cornish miner at the bottom of it. And the thing is that some of these Australians who came over had relatives in England. They weren’t all convicts [laughs] and they went off and had leave and visited relations and well they liked going to London to see the bright lights.
AS: Did your Skipper, did he come home with you? Did he?
DD: No. He has been home since but not during operational time.
AS: On the squadron can you recall any real characters and why they were characters?
DD: Oh there was a chap called Tiny Cawthorne. He was a very big chap. Very tall. There was a man called Ern Shoeman and Ern Shoeman was reputed to be a millionaire property wise and he and I were good friends. He used to write me quite a bit and he knew we had a handicapped daughter. Our daughter Mary is fifty nine, she’s Downs Syndrome and she’s a very sweet, gentle little soul. She’s at a home up in Wadebridge and she’s got a very good carer looking after her. My nephew Michael is very good to her, takes her out for morning coffee and so on. She doesn’t speak because she lost her voice when my mother in law died and she was annoyed. Or Mary’s reaction was, ‘I’m not going to speak any longer ’cause granny’s not here and she didn’t tell me she was going.’ And we’ve had speech therapists for her and she is not speaking but my son David is coming down, takes her off for a walk somewhere when they’re the only two there and she’s able to make herself known. She understands sign language and she’s a great joy and friend to us and we’re very relieved to think that she’s looked after so well because we’re ancient and we shall probably pass on before she does but normally Downs Syndrome people don’t live beyond the age of fourteen but we were told that she wouldn’t live beyond the age of two but she’s still going on ok.
AS: That’s
And they treat her like a little doll up there where she is with the Home Farm Trust. That’s the name of the organisation looking after her at Wadebridge.
AS: And she, she used to interact with this character from the squadron. The property developer.
DD: Oh no, Ern Shoeman -
AS: Yes.
DD: Used to write and ask how she was getting on.
AS: Ok.
[phone ringing]
DD: He was a very pleasant man. He was a pilot I think.
AS: Are there any other characters that you can recall?
DD: Well there was this chap Jackson who used to smoke his pipe through the inside of the oxygen mask [laughs]
AS: That was insane.
DD: Very risky business.
AS: Presumably when he was on oxygen.
DD: I think so.
AS: So there was room in the squadron for characters was there? Discipline was, was reasonably relaxed?
DD: Oh yes. Yes. We didn’t go on parade very much. I can’t think of many more. We were characters I suppose.
AS: Characters and survivors yeah. So, what, what would a day on the squadron, a non-flying day on the squadron have been like?
DD: Difficult to say. I did some of my book. You’ve seen the -
AS: Yes.
DD: Song of Songs. Places like, let’s see, Mablethorpe. That seems people used to go there for a day out if there was a forty eight hour pass or a stand down I ought to know if I thought of that I could think of that easily I just can’t think of any. They would go to one or two coastal towns between Spurn Head and oh I just can’t think of the names of them.
AS: Don’t
DD: [I ought to. I’m ancient you see [?]
AS: Doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. So switching tack a bit. You have the DFC.
DD: Yes.
AS: How did you hear about your award and how was it presented to you?
DD: I’ve got a newspaper cutting about it there. It was in the Gazette. Rotherham Gazette I think and I had a very nice letter from the George VI - Secretary presumably. The king was indisposed. Wasn’t able to be presenting personally as he would wish to do and wished me well in my future career and it came through the post [laughs]. No ceremony or whatever. My wife has the MBE. We went to Buck House to get that and my sister in law and my daughter could go with us.
AS: Fantastic.
DD: But there was no ceremony about it and immediately after the war and for at least twenty years Bomber Command was almost in the dog house. They were thinking in terms of all the damage they did to oh someplace or other. Let’s see which would be the one?
AS: Was it Dresden?
DD: Dresden.
AS: Yeah
DD: That’s the one. Well we weren’t involved in that at all. We don’t know if we injured many civilians. There were bound to have been at times but you couldn’t be that selective. Necessary they might have been injured or killed. We tried to do our best not to damage local human beings but bombing is a very, well not exactly indiscriminate but we had taken, aimed to be as accurate as we could.
AS: You mentioned at Bomber Command as you put it was in the doghouse after the war. Was this a real feeling that, that you and your comrades had that your -
DD: Oh we didn’t feel that. It was the attitude of the general public and Bomber Command wasn’t popular with the national attitude for some time. It was some, afterwards I think people have come around to believe and to know that we were the only ones to really get to the heart of Germany and the industrial heart of it. And if it wasn’t for Bomber Command well the war would have gone on much longer. And of course Guy Gibson’s dam busting that created havoc and that shortened the length of the war, the length of the time of the war finishing.
AS: I’m, I’m really interested in the fact that you think that it’s, it’s changing. For what it’s worth I agree. But do you think things like the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park and what we’re doing up in Lincoln, do you think that is, signifies a change in public attitude?
DD: It was very popular at a time when the green park memorial was the biggest attraction in London and some silly fools went and defaced it with some paint.
AS: Yes I saw that. It was
DD: You saw that?
AS: Yes I was up there for the opening as you were.
DD: Oh it was a lovely day.
AS: Yeah.
DD: Yes they fed us well. They provided positions for us. We booked to go to it in good time to go see it. I went a day or two earlier I was so excited about going and Charlie and I were together and my son and my grandson went with me. They were the two guests I had and they were very impressed and delighted.
AS: There, there was this feeling amongst the aircrew that they weren’t appreciated before that. Is that the case?
DD: We didn’t think or care about it.
AS: No just -
DD: We were there and did the job and it had to be done. We didn’t care what the public thought. I will say this in terms of the public and Bomber Command I’ve been to a few reunions and I sometimes had a taxi to go from Paddington to another station, our reunions were often up in York, and I met a taxi man and he said, “Oh come with me I wouldn’t dare charge you chaps. I know what you went through.” And that was a lovely gesture. I’ve met that on two or three occasions.
AS: Moving completely different track if I may for a moment - use of wakey wakey pills - amphetamines or Benzadrine I know they were in the escape packs but were they ever offered to you before flying?
DD: I don’t recall anything about it at all. I don’t think so. No, we didn’t, I didn’t take any. I knew they existed but I didn’t want any or need any and neither did our crew.
AS: Excellent that’s good. Continuing on with the escape kit theme did you have any sort of escape training?
DD: Yes.
AS: And what did that consist of?
DD: We went to battle school and I seem to remember walking around on my hands and knees and I believe we had details to store a map in our caps or in our shoes in case we needed to make reference to the land to find our way around. We did escape training about a fortnight as far as I know.
AS: In your training before going on operations what, what sort of, of flying did you do? I’ve heard of bullseyes for instance. What were they all about?
DD: Yes they were practice flights to targets and they gave the bomb aimers and the gunners experience and the bullseye was operational experience and the bullseye was operational experience and a part of operational training. We didn’t do that when we were on operations. That was prior to operations.
AS: And did you get involved in leaflet dropping as well in training?
DD: No. I think the wireless operator’s job was to throw leaflets down through the chute and he’d take a handful every three minutes or so and they were in different languages. Some of the leaflets were like little booklets. I’ve got one or two there stuffed away in my general folder but I did have a lovely collection of leaflets and I went out to give a talk on one occasion and I’m sorry to say someone obviously pinched them.
AS: Oh Lord.
DD: I reckon I lost about twenty different leaflets on that occasion.
AS: That’s not a very nice thing to do.
DD: One leaflet I remember particularly was about the flying bomb site Watten that we went to and that’s now a visitor attraction with a coloured leaflet to hand out to people. And we knew that we had an aiming point. There was a great hole beside of the take-off place for these V1s and the walls of it were eight feet thick so you can imagine they needed to give good protection to the missiles which were stored inside.
AS: And you destroyed it.
DD: Hmmn?
AS: And the bombers destroyed it.
DD: Well they shook it up a lot [laughs].
AS: All the way through the crew has been the major part of your experience I think. Since the war I think you’ve kept in touch. Have you had -
DD: All the time.
AS: Have you had reunions?
DD: Oh yes we’ve had reunions. We went to Llanelli where Charlie the, Dennis Cleaver was, he married a Welsh girl. Whether we went to the wedding or what I don’t quite know. I did give an address at Jonah’s funeral. I am a Reader in the church and I wanted to talk about Jonah at the time. He was my particular close fellow ‘cause he sat beside me while we were on operations.
AS: What, what, what form did the reunions take? Would you all go off to a hotel somewhere or go back to Driffield or what?
DD: In York itself I think, mainly. It was Betty’s bar they used to talk about. They used to meet there when - you said what do people do on their day off or when they had free time - Bettys Bar in York was popular. I wasn’t a drinking fellow and that was very popular. They were a very hearty, jolly lot the Australians. Very easy to get on with.
AS: And you’ve been to Australia yourself a number of times.
DD: I’ve been nine times. Not just because of our daughter but there have been reunions in Australia. I did have some reunions to do with South Africa too. The [Hornclip?] Association. [Hornclip?] was a volcanic mountain with a flat top near where we flew from and that Association has packed in now but that was quite a popular meet up. I think we had one or two reunions in London.
AS: I think we’ll, we’ll pause there.
DD: I don’t think we were using H2S until the end of our tour.
AS: We have from your fantastic folder here we have a, a collection of souvenirs[?] papers from each mission and one of them we have here - Mission 25 to Cologne does in fact have your H2S map here. Could you, could you talk me through what we’ve on this map?
DD: Well we had a fluorescent screen same size as the Gee was and the shape of the town would come up as a darker pink glow against a faint background and the shape came up like you see here. These different shapes of towns. You see London over there, a big patch, different towns in England and that was a case of navigating by H2S and I could take a fix every six minutes with no difficulty. See the scattering towns look.
AS: Yes.
DD: That’s the Ruhr there. You can see the shape of towns alright there.
AS: But on here you have a number of different coloured lines and writing could you, could you talk me through those. Base at Driffield there with -.
DD: Yes on the track that we wanted to keep there’d be two arrows and the wind that we found would have three arrows on it, the vector with the wind and we took off from Flaxfleet but you see our base Driffield is about twenty miles north of Hull and there’s a place called Flaxfleet not far away. That’d be the start of that thing. It was a village I suppose. I’ve never been to Flaxfleet. I’ve got a, somewhere over in that file over there big file I think I’ve got a postcard with a picture of Flaxfleet on it. Not that it’s very important but that’s the name of it.
AS: And then this, this is your track pre-planned. This is the track you’d planned beforehand.
DD: That’s right. On the way out. That was the wind vector there. That green.
AS: Ahum
DD: The target would have a triangle there.
AS: So you’re routing over, over Reading on this particular occasion.
DD: Yes.
AS: Is that, is that a regular route?
DD: I don’t know. Not often.
AS: But would you, would you always avoid London?
DD: Oh I suppose so. It’s such a sprawl. Anyway so long as I got my fix every six minutes that was all I really needed to have, needed to do.
AS: And you’re calculating a lot of wind vectors. One two -
DD: We were probably wind finders about that time and maybe[?] transmit that to PFF. There’s a rash of towns along -
AS: And as you say they all have different, different shapes.
DD: Shapes.
AS: What was the -
DD: Cologne.
AS: What was the target in Cologne?
DD: Railway. Railway marshalling yard.
3549 Other: Morning.
DD: Morning Abigail everything ok
AS: So an enormous amount of information on here and you put this, which of this would you put on before you took off.
DD: Nothing.
AS: Information -
DD: Maybe that green, we dropped leaflets or something.
AS: That’s window, says window or something.
DD: Oh yes that might have been put on there before we took off.
AS: Also with your chart here we have a second chart and that’s -
DD: Sometimes we were asked to replot an actual operation and that might have been such a case. I don’t know.
AS: At short notice.
DD: After the operation. Analysing what we did.
AS: Ok.
DD: They kept their eye on us pretty well.
AS: And we also have a flight log. Flight plan, excuse me.
DD: Yes that was, that was target there. Before the target. After the target.
AS: Ok.
DD: What does it say here?
AS: Ok. - KJ Brown , Flying Officer.
DD: Hmmn
AS: So he was -
DD: He improved.
AS: Entirely satisfied with that one, with the Cologne trip. Can you, can you talk me through some of this. Here where it says watch - fast and slow. What’s that all about?
DD: Oh by watch when they gave us the time signal. Was it four seconds ahead of the actual Greenwich time signal or four seconds behind. That would be recorded there and the time would be important if I was doing anything to do with astro navigation but to the nearest minute well in terms of astro navigation a minute meant, a minute in time meant a four miles position difference and we had to correct for that.
AS: So you were navigating to that, that degree of accuracy?
DD: Yes.
AS: Ok. Here we have - is that required track?
DD: Yes, and those were the different winds we used.
AS: These would be given to you before the op would they?
DD: Yes. Yes that’s right.
AS: And then is this after take-off. This section of the form is
DD: That’s right
AS: After take off
DD: Yes.
AS: What actually happened rather than -
DD: That’s right. Watches synchronised so my time was what the pilot had in front of him. Why did I underline that I wonder. Is that take off time?
AS: Airborne. Yeah.
DD: Yes.
AS: Climb to six thousand over base. That must have taken quite a long time with a -
DD: Heavy aircraft.
AS: Heavy aircraft.
DD: The pencil’s a rather light colour. You can read it anyhow.
AS: Ahum [pause] and what’s that say?
DD: Master switch off. The master switch meant that the bombs couldn’t be released afterwards once it was off. We had a hang up or two once or twice with bombs. It’s not easy landing when the bombs are held up.
AS: Can, can you recall what size of bombs they were?
DD: Oh there’s a list of it. I’ve got a list of it on, let’s see, I think in the logbook there’s a list of the weight of bombs which we carried. You remember you’ve got the logbook?
AS: Yes. Yes, we can, we can have a look through that but this is marvellous this is a record of every single thing that happened isn’t it?
DD: Well that’s what the navigators job was you see. Not that we were going to do a post mortem or anything like that but at the debriefing they may have had questions to ask us.
AS: And also you have a target photograph.
DD: Cologne.
AS: Yeah.
DD: Anything on the back? No.
AS: What’s that telegram say?
DD: Best wishes and love, Helen.
AS: Fantastic.
DD: And that was the envelope the telegram came in. You don’t get greeting telegrams, you don’t get telegrams at anymore I suppose.
AS: And what’s the address there? Is that something Hall? Is that your officer’s mess?
DD: [Arley?] House, Marazion. That was my home address.
AS: Ah ok. Right. Shall we?
Derry in amongst the things that you’ve kept is this Gee lattice chart here.
DD: Yes.
AS: Gee lattice chart North German chain. Could you talk me through what Gee was and how you used this chart?
DD: Well Gee was signal which came to us from a ground station and sometimes of course those did get attacked but we were delighted to be able to pick up these transmissions and we had a screen in front of us and we could find out where we were and the position lines as you see had certain values written on them and the value on that it made sure we were keeping to the same signal all the time and we had to record our position and we wanted to get two signals. One signal to cross the other and the better it was in terms of being a right angle it was more spot on. If it was say a thirty degree angle between the two position lines it wasn’t very satisfactory so we had to pick out the signals that were the most suitable to give us an accurate position and when we got our fix we used to make a mark with a cross on the chart according to where we were and it was my hope all the time to take a fix whichever method we did it every six minutes because six minutes being a tenth of the hour it was easier to work out by moving the decimal point the speed that we were doing and the Gee fix that we got showed us our ground position. By joining the air position to the air position we got an angle, a vector from which we could work out the wind direction and speed and that was the navigator’s job. The duties of a navigator are shown very well in the AP1234.
AS: Yeah, we, we’ll come to that.
DD: Does that tell you a lot?
AS: That does tell me a lot thank you and I can see here the crosses that you, some of the crosses that you’ve made.
DD: Yes.
AS: The lines are the Gee lines, the lattice lines are in green, red and purple. So were they different lines for different stations?
DD: That’s right. Yes.
AS: Ok and what would you see on your instrument, your Gee instrument? Would you see the values or -
DD: No I would set with some little tuning knob which station I was on which, and then take the reading for the position line and transfer that on to the chart I was navigating on.
AS: Ok and on here also apart from the crosses we have this pencil line coming down from [Maesemunde?] along the Dutch coast and then inland to by Krefeld.
DD: Yes.
AS: What, what was that? What does that represent?
DD: I don’t know. It might be if we were flying in that area whether we would be dropping window or whether we’d be dropping leaflets. It should be labelled but I’m not aware of it if it’s not labelled.
AS: Ok
DD: Is it a man-made line or a printed one?
AS: It’s a thick, thick pencil but no matter, it was a general query. Do these grid squares do they match up to a GJ there. HJ
DD: Pardon?
AS: They match up to your squares on your -
DD: The transmitting units? Those are different, the transmission would be here.
AS: Yeah excellent.
DD: Well modern laptops, on the computers are quite a frequent things but this is a laptop and it’s a circular side, slide rule and here we set the speeds and we used to prop the wind from that centre point how long it was, each one of these is ten miles and when we rotated this we set on the course that we were going to fly and take the reading off at that point there and I don’t really remember how I used this completely but it was a very useful tool.
AS: Which course would you pass to the pilot? Would you pass the true course?
DD: No. No, it had to compass the deviation and the compass correction and the true course was just, was a mathematical figure but that wouldn’t be handed to the pilot. And that was for converting statute to nautical. Centigrade to Fahrenheit. Indicated air speed.
AS: That’s a remarkable tool. It has a green and red pencil. What, what was the significance of the green?
DD: Well.
AS: And the red end?
DD: We used green for the fixed position and red for the target position but the green was used much more frequently than the red. And you’ll see the different colours on the charts that I’ve got.
AS: Yeah.
DD: Used occasionally but I think more likely than not ordinary pencil is more significant in my calculations than the different colours.
AS: Ahum
DD: I hope I’m talking sense.
AS: Absolutely. Now amongst your souvenirs alongside the computer is this air navigation.
DD: Oh AP1234.
AS: Now that is your bible perhaps.
DD: Yes.
[phone ringing]
DD: The ladies will answer that.
AS: Yeah. Now it -
DD: Somebody will come up very soon
AS: It seems.
DD: Oh she’s got the extension with her I expect.
AS: Fantastic. Quick thinking. It seems incredibly comprehensive
DD: Yes.
AS: Scope of navigation, bearings, compass error - was this a tool you used every day or something like a textbook from, from training or both?
DD: In training time. It wasn’t taken in the air with us. If you look somewhere around page thirty.
AS: Page thirty.
DD: Yeah that’s, that’s the -
AS: The circular slide rule. Excellent. Which is what we’ve just been looking at. The navigation computer mark III.
DD: Yes, I used that which is in your hand if I was giving a talk somewhere and that would have been put on top of that page I expect.
AS: Ok.
DD: These straps were there for a Mosquito pilot who was wearing it. He’d strap it to his knee and it had, it mustn’t move, like that. That would keep it from falling off his knee and being readily found if he needed it ’cause more likely than not he didn’t have a navigator with him and that was, he did his own navigation.
AS: Good Lord.
DD: [mentioned?] about arrows? Yes. Track two arrows the course that the pilot had to go was with that single arrow and three for the wind I think. Yes the vector of all wind velocity. The triple arrow.
AS: It’s completely comprehensive isn’t it? The formula and the dos and the don’ts.
What sort of examinations on all this did you have in training that you had to pass? Were they very detailed or - ?
DD: I don’t remember at all.
AS: Ok.
DD: We passed those exams that’s the thing.
AS: Yeah. You did your training in South Africa. Was there any anti-British feeling that you came across amongst the Boers?
DD: Oh yes we had to walk out in fours because there was a group of desperate Boers called the OBs [?] the Brothers of the Wagonette they were horse drawn people and they, they would assault air force people because of the pro-Boer feeling. South Africa had apartheid going on out there, colour bar, and that was cancelled later on but we kept together if we were walking out so we wouldn’t be attacked by these desperadoes.
AS: Was there, the other side of the coin was there a lot of kindness shown by other -
DD: Yes. .
AS: South Africans to you?
DD: Oh yes. South African families. Met some very interesting people called Thornton at East London and the lady of the house her husband was supposed to have the best stamp collection in South Africa. He was delighted to show that to us. They had a son and his friend, same age as myself and a friend, and they were training as doctors and I kept in contact with their son Geoffrey until he died about ten years ago and they, they were delighted to look after us. And the lady, Mrs Thornton, it so happened that when we moved to Queenstown from East London they were in a Red Shield Club, Salvation Army there was a friend who’d been to school with the lady that had met us in East London.
AS: Incredibly small world isn’t it?
AS: Derry, one of the other the other things you’ve kept is your, your logbook.
DD: Yes.
AS: Observers and Air Gunners Flying Logbook. It’s not a blue one. It’s not a nice blue one. Why is that?
DD: Oh yes well of course the thing the normal ones are issued in England had a cloth binding. This one in South Africa just the bare boards. And this started to come to pieces and the repair I had done with that that blue colour there is the colour it should have been and it’s repaired somewhere in the St Just area. There’s a very good shop in St Just called Cookbook and they, I buy books there occasionally, I sell them books occasionally and they bind books as well and they repaired this for me.
AS: It’s a wonderful job.
DD: That you see there was my log when I went to grading school at a place called Ansty near Coventry flying Tiger Moths. Only small amounts of time.
AS: And these exercises 1, 1a, 2 they’re still used today.
DD: Oh are they?
AS: Yeah. Still used today. Very short time. September the 13th to what, the 26th is there any more on the back. Less than a month. Twelve hours.
DD: Ahum
That’s Guy Gibson.
AS: Yes. So grading school and then in October 1942, and then jump straight to Queenstown in South Africa.
DD: Ahum.
AS: In October ’43.
DD: That’s when I passed out.
AS: Ok. Qualification.
DD: Do you know the pewter tankard I’ve got? It’s got a glass bottom in it. Do you know why?
AS: No.
DD: You don’t know?
AS: No.
DD: Well if it was a solid bottom and you were drinking than someone could easily draw a knife or whatever and give you a prong and that’s so you can see what was happening.
AS: I didn’t know life in an officer’s mess was so dangerous.
DD: Hmmn.
AS: Right. This is your result of your ab initio course.
DD: That’s right.
AS: At Shawbury.
DD: Shawbury?
AS: Ahum.
DD: Ahum that was a speck end course we called it. I’m entitled to the letter capital N like people put BA after their name but I don’t use it.
AS: And what, what’s your remarks there? What do, what do they say about you?
DD: Good results on course. With his pleasant personality and keenness this officer can satisfactorily fill a staff position. So you see I was called a staff navigator. They might have called me into a briefing room or something like that and there we are, that’s part of it.
AS: I’m just trying to get a sense of how much flying you did in training.
DD: I don’t think I did more than six hundred hours.
AS: It’s quite intensive Derry.
DD: Ahum.
AS: In South Africa on Ansons. I mean here - 14th of July. Good Lord, that was, 14th of July 1943, that was seventy two years ago yesterday.
DD: Yes ahum.
AS: Yesterday. You did three trips in an Anson.
DD: Ahum. Usually two as first navigator and second navigator. My friend Harry Dunn I was telling you about would be flying with me then and they had all sorts of strange names, Dutch names, these Boer people. South African Air Force they wore a khaki uniform.
AS: And army ranks.
DD: Yes.
AS: I believe. Yeah. In training did you feel it was high pressure and very intense or was it reasonably relaxed?
DD: Oh reasonably relaxed. My terrible feeling all the way along was will I be ready in time to do something worthwhile and we used to blame Air Commodore Critchley who was supposed to be a Training Command Officer and we used to blame old Critchley for not moving us on quickly if we got waiting and waiting and waiting for the next posting and I didn’t think I was going to live long enough to do operations but thank God we did.
AS: So did you get the feeling that there were an awful lot of aircrew in the system by time this time?
DD: No. No, we just accepted the fact we were a course going through and they must have planned well ahead to make places for us in South Africa and in Canada and in Rhodesia. I did write something about our overseas training. The Empire Air Training Scheme they called it.
AS: Was that published somewhere or -
DD: I don’t think so.
AS: Ok.
DD: It might have appeared in, there was an aircrew magazine called Intercom and I believe it was published in that but I’m not sure.
AS: I can look out for that. And then from South Africa by the time you left South Africa you had done what forty two hours day.
DD: Not very much.
AS: No eighty eight hour day flying and twelve hours twenty at night. Total flying. Left South Africa. And how did you get back to -
DD: On a troop ship called the Orduna.
AS: Ahum
DD: A South American boat. And there were a lot of women and children on board being repatriated out of India, service wives and children, and we went up through the Red Sea and we were kept at Tufik on the Red Sea until the Germans were cleared out of Italy and then they were afraid that we might meet some submarines in the, in the Mediterranean so we were well protected. They made well and truly sure that we’d be safely transferred.
AS: Ok. And you came into, to Liverpool?
DD: Liverpool again, yes.
AS: Super. Had you been commissioned by this time?
DD: Oh yes but we didn’t have commissioned uniforms until I’d travelled from Liverpool to Harrogate and that’s where the measurement and fitting of pilot officers uniform came into it.
AS: I hope you got a first class travel warrant.
DD: I suppose so [laughs]. I expect I did.
AS: And then we’re at Number 4 AFU is that Advanced Flying Unit?
DD: Yes, Advanced Flying Unit yes. Was that West Freugh?
AS: West Freugh, yeah.
DD: Stranraer.
AS: Yeah. And this was still, I suppose, individual training for you. You hadn’t crewed up at this point?
DD: No.
AS: And this was on Ansons?
DD: That was Ansons again. To get used to British conditions.
AS: Navigating in the fog. Yeah. Was it, was it a shock coming from the, the bushveld and the plains of and South Africa to what, what we have in the UK.
DD: No. We just took it for granted that it would be slightly different and we coped.
AS: And all the principals and all the training were - you could carry them straight.
DD: Yes.
AS: Straight across. Ok. Right, so we’ve got here a pundit crawl. Can you remember what that was all about?
DD: Travelling from red light to red light I think.
AS: Really ok.
DD: Whether it was the gunner’s point of view or from my navigation point of view I don’t know. Maybe I just had to record what was done. A pundit crawl.
AS: Yeah. And then 21 OTU.
DD: That’s Moreton, Much Binding in the Marsh.
AS: And it seems to get really serious at this point. You’ve got a page of dinghy drills, parachute drills, wet dinghy drill.
DD: We went to the Baths at Cheltenham for that. In the middle of England well away from the sea.
AS: Yeah. And by this time you, you’d crewed up?
DD: Yeah. No.
AS: Ok.
DD: Yes at OTU we crewed up, that’s right.
AS: Ok and you were using Wellingtons.
And that is super we did your OTU and crewing up and whatnot yesterday so I think we’ll draw a pause there if we can.
DD: Ahum
DD: Turning on now?
AS: Yes.
DD: Occasionally we had a little wicker cage with pigeons in it and I believe the idea was that if we were shot down or if we were captured then the homing pigeons would come back with the news [laughs] and it only happened to us two or three times but I was aware that it did happen occasionally.
AS: And did you carry them on every trip or just -
DD: No. No.
AS: Just a few.
DD: Just occasionally.
AS: What, one wonders how you could release a pigeon from an aeroplane at two hundred miles an hour but perhaps it was if you crash landed.
DD: The crash would release the cage. The poor pigeons.


Adam Sutch, “Interview with Dr Derry Derrington,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 20, 2019,

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