Interview with Bernie Harris. Two


Interview with Bernie Harris. Two


Bernie Harris joined the Air Training Corps and volunteered for the Royal Air Force, joining in April 1943 and training to become an air gunner. He mentions his father serving in the Royal Flying Corps. As a young boy, Bernie witnessed the London Blitz. He describes training and operational flying conditions, and gives a vivid, detailed, first-hand account of Operation Manna. He expresses his view on wartime events, including Chamberlain’s speech, the North African campaign, the Phoney War and the Russian contribution to the Allied victory, and explains why, in his opinion, the Allies decided not to bomb the concentration camps during the war. He was de-mobbed in 1947, after a final posting to Italy with 112 Squadron. After the war he set up his own business leasing vending machines. He later became involved in an association of ex-servicemen who were involved in Operation Manna.




Temporal Coverage

Spatial Coverage




02:19:14 audio recording


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TO: Ok, good morning, good afternoon or good evening, whatever
BH: That’s a quick day, yeah [laughs]
TO: Whatever the case may be.
BH: Yeah.
TO: We’re recording, we’re filming this interview for the International Bomber Command Centre. The gentleman I’m, that I’m interviewing is Mr. Bernie Harris. My name is Tomas Ozel and we are recording this interview on the 26th of June 2016. Could you please tell me what year you were born in?
BH: What?
TO: What year were you born?
BH: 1925.
TO: And were you interested in aircraft as a child? Were you interested in aircraft as a child?
BH: Oh yes, yeah. Yeah, my father was in Royal Flying Corps, he passed it on. But always interested in aircraft, anyway.
TO: Did you collect model planes?
BH: Yeah. Spitfires, Defiants, Lancasters, yeah. Defiant were made with Balsa wood. These days they are more sophisticated but it was made with Balsa wood and coverings. They even put a little turret on top of the Defiant as it was then fighter aircraft with a turret for night fighters.
TO: And did your father ever talk about his experience in the Flying Corps? Did your father ever tell you about his time in the Flying Corps?
BH: Not very often, no. He kept it, like most air crews today I think. He didn’t talk about it much. Nor do air crew today, it’s only in the recent years where there’s not many of us left now become more interested but it’s taken 60, 70 years to recognize Bomber Command in the RAF.
TO: And what was your first job?
BH: My first job was to be apprenticed to tool making and I lived in Forest Gate in East London and I was apprentice to an engineering company in Islington and I was apprenticed to become a tool maker. But after six months, on a drill, right, I thought I was been taken advantage of, so I left and went off somewhere else and took a couple jobs [unclear] and finally I volunteered at sixteen and a half. In a nearby recruiting place, which is still there, Romford in Essex and in between I had a job in a shop one thing and the other. My father was a tailor and he wanted to teach me and he said, right, you start right from the bottom and you sweep the floor, and I said, ‘no, I don’t’, and that was the end of that [laughs] ‘Til finally I got myself in a job in a shop, which wasn’t bad, it was a tailor’s shop, actually, and I said, I volunteered with sixteen and a half and eventually, father had to sign for me really, I can still remember, father sitting at a table with a form in front of him, my mother leaning over his shoulder saying you’re not going to sign that are you? And he said, ‘if he wants to go, he goes’ and he signed and that was that. And then from on I went to Carding, Cardington [unclear] a test station you probably know about, and if you passed that in three days you were good and you came out there and you were graded PNB, pilot, navigator or bomb aimer and just waited for the call. And it was just before my eighteenth birthday that I got the call and that was that. I was in.
TO: Do you remember what medical tests they gave you?
BH: A1.
TO: And do you remember the things that they tested?
BH: The what test?
TO: The thing that they tested like your eyesight
BH: Oh yeah, everything. If you came out of there Cardington you knew that you were sane and you knew you were a hundred percent fit. No problem. 20/20 vision, hearing, everything, you were, I mean aircrew were the fittest of the lot I think. Examinations of course not only medical, physical, eyesight, hearing, mathematics, it was a three-day course with, when it was completed you got the badge RAFVR and that was that.
TO: And in the 1930s did you hear about Hitler’s aggression in Europe?
BH: In the 1930s I was aware of fascism in this country, I was eleven and also the Spanish civil war, I remember the placards with planes, with swastikas on them dropping bombs and flames in their placards. I’m Jewish, my, and even then I thought, you know, things are not so good. I knew what was going on in Germany through the [unclear] and but not to the extent about concentration camps or anything like that but I was aware of Moseley and his mob, saw them marching, you know, one thing and the other and also the Brady Street march in which he was stopped, yeah, I was aware. And all the more reason to get in the fight.
TO: And what did you think of Chamberlain? What do you think of Chamberlain appeasing Hitler?
BH: What?
TO: What do you think of Chamberlain and his plan of appeasing Hitler?
BH: I don’t know really. But can you say that again?
TO: What do you think of Chamberlain when he signed the Munich Agreement with Hitler?
BH: Oh Chamberlain?
TO: Yeah.
BH: Well, I wasn’t politically motivated at that age but it, I mean, from listening to the parents and other people they thought, maybe he’s avoided a war, but as it turned out he didn’t, so. So, my opinion of him was neutral. Well, I wasn’t politically aware. As it turned out, he was wrong.
TO: And do you remember the preparations that were being made for the war?
BH: Ah yeah, very well because I was fourteen and I’d left school but I got, I had, I’ve two sisters and a brother, who are younger than me, and my mother for some reason said, ‘stop work, I’m getting you evacuated’. And we were all evacuated to Chelmsford and guess what? Right next to the Marconi radio factory right, prime spot, yeah, I remember the guys being, territorial was being called up, preparations for the black out, the first air raid siren and I remember that vividly, yeah, I suppose it was more of a thrill than anything else, [unclear] something different, right? Yeah, I remember that vividly, but it wasn’t long before I got the bus and came back home, used to be an eastern national bus, used to go from Bow to Chelmsford and from Chelmsford back to Bow, I lived in Forest Gate was on the route so that was that back home. Eventually my mother took my young, my younger brother, sister, and two sisters to Wells, she evacuated to them there. And I was left at home with my father.
TO: Were you surprised when the war started?
BH: No, not really. I did read, at that age I read newspapers and I wasn’t surprised, I don’t think I was even fearful in that sense. More of an adventure, I think.
TO: And do you remember what you were doing on the day the war started?
BH: September the 3rd, 1939. No, I don’t actually remember what I was doing then but I remember the first day of the Blitz, the day Blitz vividly because my brother and I, we went to the local cinema called the Coronation in Manor Park and they were showing Gone with the Wind. And during the course, that the raid started and all the lights went up, they said, ‘you all [unclear] to leave if you want but you can go back, if you want to stay, go back under the balcony which is safer’ so we decided to do that. When we came out there was rubble everywhere and in the distance was my father saying where you two so-and-so’s have been, we’ve been looking for you. And I remember that was the first day of the Blitz. But September the 3rd, I can’t really remember was it, I think was a nondescript day.
TO: Do you remember Chamberlain’s speech?
BH: Yeah, ‘cause there was no television in those days. There was television, but only for the few that could afford it. But as soon as war had broke out the television stopped, anyway, yeah, peace in our time. There is a little piece of this, and a little piece of that, and I’ll have the whole lot.
TO: And you remember the speech where Chamberlain announced that we’d declared war?
BH: Yeah, that was on the radio, there was sort of quietness everywhere, everything seemed to have gone quiet.
TO: Did you have any relatives who were in the armed forces?
BH: Yeah, I’d two cousins. Actually he was, the first into Paris with De Gaulle and another one, he was a Spitfire pilot and finished up ferrying aircraft. My brother went in as a boy, because he’s two years younger than me, he is dead now unfortunately and he was no higher than this and because I went in he went and volunteered as a boy and he also volunteered down at Romford, anyway he went off, my father realised what he’d done, chased after him, when he got to Romford he asked what, oh, your son has just gone to Romford Station and he’s off to Abedon, Aberothy something or it’ll come to me in a minute and the tale is that he got to Waterloo and he said, went up to a military policeman and said, ‘we are so sorry’, he said, ‘why have you joined his Majesty’s service?’ He said, ‘yes’, he said, ‘well, come with me so’. And that was that, so my brother was in the service as well but he wasn’t involved in the war, he was a boy entry and that was that.
TO: Did they allow boys then? Did they allow boys in in certain roles?
BH: Yes, he was trained in [Reemey ?] and what killed him off was that he was finished up after the war, going to the hospitals repairing x-ray sets, and they didn’t do him any good at all. They didn’t have the facilities to have the protection in those days as they have now, so that unfortunately killed him.
TO: And did you have an air raid shelter at your house?
BH: Yeah, Anderson, the Anderson in the garden. There was a nightly call.
TO: [unclear] camera back so.
BH: You’re alright?
TO: Yeah, just checking the shutter. Yeah, it’s fine. Sorry about that. And did you consider joining the army at all?
BH: I did the air force.
TO: What appealed to you about the air force over the other services?
BH: Well, you go to the air force, you can fly. And then again, in those days, it was the only force that get in touch with the enemy. Especially after Dunkirk.
TO: And how did you feel when you heard about the Dunkirk evacuation?
BH: Pardon what?
TO: The Dunkirk evacuation. How did you feel when it happened?
BH: I can’t really explain really. It’s, it’s a mixture of excitement, in one thing or the other, and getting away from the humdrum.
TO: And were you ever worried that Germany would win?
BH: Never doubted it. Never doubted it.
TO: Can you tell me a bit about what you remember from the phoney war?
BH: The phoney war? Well, the phoney war was [emphasis] phoney. Everything was quiet, everybody going on their normal business. The only difference was the blackout. But, no, everybody went about their normal business. The phoney war stopped of course with the episode of Dunkirk and then the day bombing and then into night bombing by the Nazis, but the phoney war was phoney. Everybody went about their normal business.
TO: And what kind of rations did you have when the war, what kind of rations did you have when the war started?
BH: I really don’t know in a sense because I wasn’t politicised in any sense, I knew we had to fight Germany and I wasn’t really fearful or anything like that at all. My parents were worried ‘cause they knew what could happen that’s why I suppose being a bit thick it didn’t worry me but I mean fourteen year old what do you know? Yeah, but I know the phoney war and it was phoney, as I say, until after Dunkirk.
TO: And there were people, were your parents worried that Hitler would invade? Were you worried that Hitler would invade?
BH: I wasn’t worried, wasn’t worried at all, but I knew if they did and I knew their reputation as far as Jewish people concerned, right, where could you go? Into the hills, Wales, Scotland or anywhere like that? ‘Cause there was nowhere else to go. So we were in it, and fight. That’s it.
TO: And do you remember what kind of food you had during the war?
BH: What kind of what?
TO: Food you had, what kind of food you had during the war?
BH: Food?
TO: Yes.
BH: Well, my mother was the innovative and it was mostly vegetable stuff and little bits of chicken, ration meat and things like that, but she probably went without herself, lots of vegetable soups, vegetables, home grown vegetables, she kept chickens for eggs and even when we had visitors she found something, you know, to make a meal with, so nothing elaborate, I mean, cakes, we had home-made cakes, chocolate was, couldn’t get hold of chocolate, things like that. Meat of course was rationed and the ration books, [unclear] but she made do, like most women and housewives in those days they made do. Comes the occasion, comes the person.
TO: And what did you think of Churchill?
BH: Brilliant, could do with him again. I wish he would be reincarnated. Man of the moment. Didn’t think much of him after the war, he’d become a real Tory after the war but then again after the war there’s a great movement for Labour. People have had enough, I mean, people were returning from the forces so right, we’re not lackeys anymore, might be on better things. So, his speech as far as communism is concerned killed him politically but as a war leader second to none.
TO: Did you listen to his speeches much?
BH: Yeah. Yeah.
TO: What in particular did you like about him as a war leader? What, what, what in particular did you like about him as a war leader?
BH: He hated Germans.
TO: You already told me about the first day of the Blitz. Do you remember, are there any other days of the Blitz that stand out to you particularly?
BH: Yes, as I explained, the first day of the Blitz.
TO: Yeah, yeah.
BH: We were in the cinema, me and my brother. And when we came out, there was rubble all over the place, houses had been knocked down, something, so that was the first day of the Blitz.
TO: Do you remember other days of the Blitz?
BH: No, we just took it in our stride, went to work as normal. We used to get on the tram at seven o’clock in the morning to get to this so-called apprenticeship by eight o’clock. I was fourteen, I was working five and a half days a week, guess how much for?
TO: I don’t know.
BH: In out of thirty seven and a half p a week. I can remember my first wage packet bringing it home, and my mother pinned it on the curtain, it was [file missing] six pence for five and a half days work. No allowances for my age, so thirty seven and half p in today’s terms.
TO: How did the people behave during the Blitz would you say?
BH: All as one, helped one another, didn’t see any general fear whatsoever, I mean the patriotism was great. People helped one another. I remember when the night bombing started at five o’clock every day, people used to pack up stuff and we used to go to a communal bomb shelter, just across where we used to live and then eventually we want back to the Anderson but the first, pack up, be there by five o’clock, come out by six o’clock next morning amongst the rubble, hopefully your house was still intact.
TO: Did you ever see anyone behave badly during the Blitz?
BH: No, no, no, not at all.
TO: Was there a lot of bomb damage near where you lived?
BH: Yes, because the Forest Gate is not far from the docks and the first day of the Blitz was the whole dock area because the pool of London was the great entry into Great Britain, England and all the shipping used to go in there anyway. Most of the bombing in the surrounding areas but when they started bombing civilians that was another matter.
TO: And did you ever watch any of the dogfights that were going on, did ever you watch any of the dogfights that were going on?
BH: Yes we used to watch them coming over because we, actually we knew when raids were about because the balloons used to go off and they stationed all around us, there is a place called Wanstead Flats not far behind us where ack-ack guns were on and the, the balloons used to go up, to deter low flying, but the whole mixture of things really but I remember when, they brought in, like rocket fire, the ack-ack and everybody cheered because it used to be a one-off shell [mocks the sounds of gunfire] and then they brought in these, like rockets with massive, right, and everybody stood and cheered, at last we’re doing something, rather than the old pop-pop.
TO: Could you hear the anti-aircraft guns firing?
BH: Oh yeah. Yeah. In Forest Gate as I say about two miles behind us an area called Wanstead Flats which is part of the Green Belt and the ack-ack were on there.
TO: Did it, did it feel encouraging to know that the German bombers were being fired at?
BH: Oh, absolutely, yeah. But don’t forget the Luftwaffe was really indiscriminate, I mean, even today you know, people say about Dresden, but what about Coventry, Rotterdam, every city in the UK, Bristol, Plymouth, London, they didn’t care.
TO: And do you think France let Britain down in the war? Do you think France let Britain down?
BH: Well the trouble with France, they had the Maginot Line, didn’t they, and it was facing the wrong way, so that was a big mistake. Vichy France of course was fascist, so, as an ally, mediocre but not impressed with them.
TO: And so, when exactly, what year of the war did you join the RAF?
BH: 1943. I went in April 1943, just before my eighteenth birthday.
TO: And how did you come to be a rear gunner?
BH: Ah, as I said, I went in Cardington and came out as PNB graded, so, I, when I went, was called to ITW, Initial Training Wing, which was in Newquay and that’s a three month’s course which in peacetime is three years, so it’s condensed from three years, I did there for three months and from there I was sent to Elementary Flying Training School in Derby, which [unclear] factories on it now in a place called Burnaston. Unfortunately I had a Tiger Moth I was as others on Tiger Moths for a while and the weather was so bad I couldn’t get my flying hours in so to go solo but they didn’t determine the fact that so from there we were sent to Heaton Park. Now Heaton Park was a holding centre for aircrew to go to the Empire, you’ve heard about this, to the Empire Training Scheme and ‘cause it was near the Manchester ship canal as well. So we were stuck there for a while and we waited and waited and three of us went to the CO and said, ‘you know, what’s the problem?’ In a nice way. We said ‘there’s a hold up and we don’t know when you’ll be going’ so we said ‘what’s the quickest way getting to the war?’ He said, ‘go as gunners’, so we did. Others went, sent, who decided to remuster in the navy and that’s how I’ve become a gunner. So you become a rear gunner is because when you go to OTU, Operational Training Wing, which was Hixon, a place called Hixon in Staffordshire, which is on Wellingtons, then you crew up together and then you all meet up, either Australian pilots, Pete and we all met up and the other guy, there was the other gunner, he said, ‘I don’t want to be a rear gunner’, so I said ‘Okay, I’ll do it, it’s fine’, that was it.
TO: And could you have been a pilot? Could you have become a pilot?
BH: I could’ve, well if I’d stayed on, I’d have become a pilot, I’ve gone overseas but I’d have missed the war. As another guy did say, I met him later on, but he got his wings but he missed the war. That wasn’t the purpose, the purpose was to go and kill Germans.
TO: And so what was the first bomber that you flew in on as a rear gunner?
BH: Well there again, we were, as a crew, we go to, from Wellingtons, we’re six of us, go to a heavy conversion unit onto Lancasters, which is a place called Woolfox Lodge between Stamford and Grantham and you pick up a flight engineer. And the flight engineer, he’d got his wings but they didn’t want him as a pilot so they made them flight engineers. And then we, with various things of getting to know your Lancaster and one thing and the other, we didn’t get to the squadron till late which was in Mildenhall and then we was, we were sent on to various things, they put us on some secretive work and even in OTU the other guys would tell you we used to go out on Window dropping, a diversion raids, save the main forces going that way, we would go that way to get the Luftwaffe up in the air of the pundits, drop the Window, metal strips, as if the big force come, then come back and the other force would go through. So [unclear] they put us on secret [unclear] and testing one thing and the other, finally got onto Operation Manna. So that was my only operational, real operational side. Which was disappointing in a way. But we had to obey orders, didn’t we?
TO: And did you ever wish that you were anything other than a gunner?
BH: Well, as I say, I went as a gunner because I wanted to get in the war but my aim was become a pilot or navigator or bomb aimer, the PNB, that was my aim. But as circumstances would show, as I said, I missed the war, probably gone to Australia, to Canada, Texas or South Africa. But as it happens, when the war ended, we were earmarked to go to California as a crew to convert onto Liberators for the Far East but the [unclear] said, no we want the boys to go home. So the whole crew was split up and that was in August 1945.
TO: And what did your relatives think of you being in the Air Force?
BH: Oh, quite proud in a way. My mother was concerned ‘cause I remember going home with all my kit ‘cause we’d be going from one station to another and she spotted my helmet, oxygen mask to the top so she had a little cry but they were concerned, rightly so, I suppose really.
TO: And how did you feel when you first heard that the RAF had started bombing Germany?
BH: Elated. Couldn’t get in there quick enough to help them do it.
TO: How long did your training last in total?
BH: Our training, well the training started right from 1943 right through to ‘45. I think I joined the 62 Squadron in March ’45 as I said, they sent us on various things and one thing and the other.
TO: And were you on board Lancaster bombers?
BH: Yes.
TO: What were the conditions like on board the Lancaster?
BH: Better than the Wellington, actually I flew Tiger Moths, Harfords, Wellingtons, Lancaster and of course, yeah, the Tiger Moth, which is the nicest plane I’ve ever been in, or ever flew in. There there was if you were coming down the landing, the instructor used to say, watch the grass is grass then cut back [unclear] head over the side watching, but that was flying, that’s different, that only got you into next grade but it wasn’t pleasant especially when you were flying at height when icicles were forming on your oxygen mask, you had to break them off, we had the heating closing as well.
TO: Was it colder in the gun positions than in the main cockpit?
BH: Very tight, conditions were very, in the turret, the rear turret, cramped, very cramped, but then, you know, you’re in it, you’re in it, and that was it.
TO: Did you feel glad when you started going on missions over Germany?
BH: I didn’t really go on missions over Germany. They got us on all the experimental and secret stuff and then finally got onto Operation Manna, which we dropped food, have you heard of it? Obviously, so no need to go into that.
TO: Well, No, actually, if you can explain it but.
BH: We dropped, it’s three hundred feet, the old German airfield Epinburgh and after that we formed the Manna Association. Which I eventually finished up as secretary and treasurer. Now of about forty, forty five of us, is six left now.
TO: And, did you ever, did you have to fire the guns in training?
BH: Oh yeah, yeah. And tested the guns coming over to Holland over the North Sea, test them just in case but yeah, we had to fire drogues. In fact when I was, when the war was over I was sent to Italy and I joined the Centododici Squadron, this is 112, Sharks Squadron, they had sharks under the cowling and I used to fly with the air craft towing a drogue so they could fire at it, hoping that they would fire at the drogue and not at me, so, so that was alright but a bit of fun, but can I tell you an interesting story though? In 1945 the squadron was broken down, broken up and everybody went their different ways and were all made redundant and that was in ’45. So 36 years later this guy turned out to be a great friend with it, is Ted Livingstone and another guy, Phil Irvin, decided to put an advert in all, like the fly, all the journals for aircrew who would be interested in going to see the dropping sites in Holland? It cost a hundred pounds and get the coach from Graves End. So I said to my wife at the time, would you like to do it? Yeah. So, put my name down for it. Now I had my own business in those days and I’d been to an exhibition and I got home rather late, my wife said to me, you had a phone call, I think it’s the guy that’s organizing the trip to Holland. So I said, yeah, what’s his name? She said, Hallem. I said, Arthur Hallem? My own navigator. Anyway left his phone call and of course got on to him, chatted and he was going, right, with his wife. And we chatted, and during the course of the conversation, I said, he was articled clerk, I said, did you carry on with your accountancy? He did, yes, I am now the director of Wickbrits pension fund and I said, in Chiswell Street? And when I said in Chiswell Street, my wife said, Arthur Hallem? I’ve been dealing with him for years in the Abbey National round the corner in City Road what do you think of that?
TO: When you fired the guns, did it leave a smell of cordite in the air?
BH: Pardon?
TO: When you fired the guns, did it leave a smell of cordite in the air?
BH: Yeah. ‘Cause your shells used to drop off the side, you spew out anyway. But also in the training for gunnery you had to put a gun together blindfolded. I don’t know if any of the guys have told you that, yeah, during the training, you had to be blindfolded and then put the guns together, in case you had a stoppage or something like that while you’re out flying so it’s dark, it’s black, can’t put a light on, so you had to do in the darkness, take the bridgehead out, clear it, put it back in.
TO: Do you think it was hard to learn that?
BH: To be honest no and I’m not being snobbish in any way when a few of us came from our previous training, the guys up in Morpeth it was, the instructors had a bet that we [unclear] we would beat everybody and we did. Not because it’s snobbish or anything but we knew our way around so as I said [unclear] I’m not degrading the other guys in any way whatsoever but anyway they had a bet and they won.
TO: And what was your, I think I’ve already asked you this but what was your, was the Tiger Moth your favourite aircraft to fly in? What was your favourite aircraft to fly in?
BH: Tiger Moth, oh yeah.
TO: And were there any planes you flew in that were, that weren’t very reliable?
BH: There was what?
TO: Were all the planes that you flew in reliable?
BH: Yeah, expect the Wellington. ‘Cause Wellington was, the OTU operational training unit and we used to have in it Gee for navigation and I used to pop out and help the navigator, Arthur used to, I used to do the Gee and everything else, and we lost the Gee, and we got lost and we were in cloud and the aircraft started to vibrate violently so we had a discussion whether we should pop out or not, ‘cause we didn’t know where we were, anyway decided to leave and when we got back to base we went to the hangar, the chief engineer said, said to us, you had one minute before the port engine blew up. So we were rather lucky. So the whole aircraft was vibrating.
TO: So, did you have to bale out then?
BH: No, we did considered it but we didn’t know where we were, so we are sticking out, so eventually the weather cleared and we got down and it was a place called Gamston,’cause we’ve been moved there from Hixon and the chief engineer when we went to the hangar the next morning to see what’s the problem he said you had one minute before that engine blew up, in his opinion. So we considered it a lucky escape.
TO: Did Wellington engines have a reputation for doing that?
BH: Yeah, they were Bristol radials but as a [file missing] Merlin [unclear] different proposition altogether but of all end like anybody else the Lancaster was the favourite aircraft.
TO: Were the guns different on as Lancaster to another aircraft?
BH: No, 303s, the mid upper had two guns, is it alright?
TO: Yes
BH: The mid upper had two guns, as you know, the rear turret had four, later in they brought in 2.5s because the 303 only had a range. And the Luftwaffe knew it, if they stood off, right, the 303 were going then would start dropping, didn’t have the range until they bought the .5 which the Americans had, which was a different thing altogether and that’s why they introduced corkscrew, have you heard about the corkscrew? Yeah, that was violent.
TO: Did you have to practice the corkscrew?
BH: Yeah. That’s one of the things that we had to do on 622, they brought us in a new sight, gun sight, and it was like a square like that oblong, and there would be crystals and you had to recognize the aircraft like Messerschmitt and you set that in and if you got the aircraft in those crystals you couldn’t miss so we had to do an exercise with a mark 8 Spitfire and he did his attack and I got a hundred percent hits by then. My mid upper he didn’t want to do it so I did his and he got ninety-nine percent and the whole thing went to Air Ministry but we also did a corkscrew now a corkscrew, I don’t know if they told, how we get into it and why, I mean you just, an attacking aircraft who lay off you and he put your speed in and if he is on the starboard side which is [pause] to the right of the aircraft, right, so we called our pilot Pete, the corkscrew starboard so he’s got his wheel like that ready and as the aircraft comes in, he’s got to come in like that, and he’s got to come under the back he said, corkscrew go and he goes [mimics the noise of incoming aircraft] down like that and up again and then down again and his stomach comes up here, goes down there, good fun really.
TO: Was anyone aboard the plane actually sick, by those manoeuvres?
BH: No. Fortunately.
TO: And do you think the guns of a Lancaster would have been enough to take down a fighter?
BH: Oh yeah, if they got in range, as I say, the 303, as the other guys will tell you, the only, limited in range, they would drop down and the Luftwaffe knew that.
TO: And were people more afraid of night fighters than anti-aircraft fire?
BH: Mh?
TO: Were people more afraid of night fighters than anti-aircraft fire?
BH: I don’t think so but towards the end of the war they did have intruders. I don’t know if you were told about that. The Focke Wulf 190 used to follow aircraft back and as soon as you got in landing position, what they called funnel, there you’re lined up, your undercarriage is down, your flaps are down and you are more air worthy, you’re more or less, your air speed is down and it happened to where I was in Woolfox Lodge one of guys got shot down because they used to come in, follow the aircraft and while you’re in that position they were vulnerable and shoot them down. In fact to this day they haven’t found the air gunner, the rear gunner, so we used to get the signal to be sent out over the North Sea, Irish Sea, all clear but then that was towards the end of the war and it claimed quite a few victims, so.
TO: As a, sorry, as a rear gunner, were you in the most vulnerable position? As a gunner, were you in the most vulnerable position?
BH: Yes. Because I explain the line of attack would be, they would lay off, turn in and come round like that and then
TO: Come.
BH: Come to the rear so the rear gunner was really the first form of defence and the first to receive attack. As soon as they introduced these Dorniers with guns they called firing from underneath, I don’t know if you were told about that, right, they had these Dorniers and they were equipped with a gun who used to get under the aircraft and fire upwards, couldn’t see them until you exploded.
TO: And what kind of bombs would a Lancaster carry?
BH: Oh, the big ones. Yeah, sit [?] incendiaries, thousand pounders. And also the big one. It takes up the whole of the bomb bay.
TO: And what did you think of RAF leaders, like Arthur Harris?
BH: If anybody started on me outside, I’ll tell my uncle of you. But he’s brilliant and he liked his aircrew. He went to South Africa because he was contemptuous of the government for not demobbing the aircrew, made us all redundant. And that’s a story in itself, stupid. As I say, when the squadron broke up, we made redundant, send up to a place called Burn, up in Yorkshire, an old ex airfield here and are you ok for time?
TO: I’m fine. I’m just checking there be, yeah, I’m just checking the [unclear].
BH: And I get there, masses of ex aircrew walking about doing nothing and what it was it went there before a panel and you had three choices of a trade: radar wireless, wireless mechanic, driver or radar operator. So, and you got all ex aircrew sitting back, what do you want to do Bernie? Sort of thing. I said, ‘well, I’ll go as a radar wireless mechanic’, ‘nah, you don’t want to go, it’s a year’s course, you will be out by then’, so then, ‘I’ll learn to drive’, ‘No, no one is gonna teach you to drive, you’ll be able to, you go as a radar operator’, so ok fine. In the meantime I was sent to a place as a clerk. So they got that all wrong until I said ‘I’m not a clerk, I’m going as a radar operator’. So finally they realised because when I reported to St John’s Wood, when I first went in, there’s another guy named Harris and he starts three numbers 168 same as mine, but his other numbers were different, so they got him mixed up with me ‘cause they didn’t look any further until they realised their mistake. So that was that, so eventually after much arguments I was, ok go down to in Wiltshire and you will become trained as an operator. So about twelve or sixteen ex aircrew we’re trained as radar operators, yeah, for six months. When we finished the course, the signal came from the Air Ministry, all the ex air crew that had taken the radar operators are now redundant, report back to Burn. So we got back to Burn, said ‘what happened?’ I said, ‘I want to learn to drive’, ‘ok we’ll teach you to drive’. So that was that.
TO: And what did you think of other RAF leaders? What did you think of RAF’s general leaders?
BH: In general, loved it. You see, the pysco is this, with aircrew, all volunteers, no one conscripted, they all had the same state of mind, they all wanted to fly and kill Germans. So we had all that in common and air crew is like a big family even today. Even with so few of us left. Silly contact, so, although it was a war it was a great experience, [unclear] my teams.
TO: Were there any ever occasions where weather at your airfields damaged the aircraft?
BH: No. The only laughable thing is that the weather, one briefing we had at OTU we head to normal briefings what you gonna do and end of which is the met man, I can see him now, tall man, long neck, big Adam’s apple, when he’s going all through the [unclear] and he says, ‘you got five tenths cloud’ and all that, but we said ‘it’s raining outside’ , he said ‘not according to my map it’s not’, and it was, it was bucketing down, not according to my map, he said, and that’s true.
TO: And what kind of information would you be given at the briefings?
BH: On a normal target, what you got to do, courses, the courses, navigation, radio codes, gunnery, the whole lot and then finish up with the met report.
TO: What kind of gunnery would you be, what kind of gunnery would they cover at the briefing?
BH: What kinds of what?
TO: What aspects of gunnery would they cover at the briefings?
BH: Just to make sure that your guns are ok, your belts are ok, the gun belts ‘cause they run on the side and your gun is fully charged and everything else. And also the height you’ll be flying at, in most cases more than about ten to fifteen thousand feet, then up to twenty thousand.
TO: Did you bring any rations with you aboard the bomber?
BH: Yeah. There was chocolate of course, gum, I think the gum, I’m not sure, certainly chocolate, apple, I think, what they called the flying breakfast you had to have a pint of milk, there’s an urn of milk on the side, and you had your flying breakfast going and coming back whatever you did. Yeah, there was a chocolate, I don’t remember any of the others ‘cause I don’t think I used it. I did use the chocolate once, it was like a block of ice, it was frozen, nearly knocked my teeth out. So I used to have it, everybody had a flying ration.
TO: And what kind of rations did you have at the air bases?
BH: Very good, very good, at Heaton Park, where we were waiting to go abroad, they had a most brilliant chef there and he made trifles every Sunday, now if I was out on the site I would make sure I go back, he was brilliant, but the food was good.
TO: Did you have more in the air forces food than as a civilian?
BH: Then what?
TO: Than as a civilian?
BH: Yeah, I think so, yeah, yeah.
TO: And do you remember, sorry I’m going back slightly but, do you remember how you felt when the RAF won the Battle of Britain?
BH: Yeah, elated. Absolutely, that was a turning point of the war. But that’s set off the Blitz, then he resorted to air bombardments by the Luftwaffe and when he was beaten in that, in the Battle of Britain, he resorted to night flying, bombing.
TO: And do you remember hearing about the attack on the Ruhr Dams?
BH: Yeah, 617 Squadron. Yeah, that was May 16th, 17th, and May the 17th was my 20th birthday. So, I remember it well.
TO: Was it widely reported in the press?
BH: Mh?
TO: Was the attack on the dams widely reported in the press?
BH: Oh yeah, absolutely, yeah, yeah. See, don’t forget, the Battle of Britain was the only real victory that we had, I mean, the desert warfare was going backwards and forwards with Rommel, so that was the only real victory and the bombing of Germany was applauded because we’d had enough, we, it was a turning point, it was, it was as if the Germans were invincible, that was a feeling, but when we had these victories, they weren’t invincible, they realized we could do something about it.
TO: Did they report much about the campaign in North Africa in the papers?
BH: Well, the campaign in North Africa, was, until Montgomery came on the scene was backwards and forwards, Rommel came, forced the British back, [unclear] finished up outside Cairo, at El Alamein and he stood his ground there and he beat Rommel but a lot of people don’t know if you get into modern history of the Middle East, that Sadat who was president, became president of Egypt, plotted with the Arabs to attack Montgomery from the rear to help the Germans and he was arrested by the British, yeah. I won’t go into modern history about the Arabs or anything else, but yeah, he plotted as the others, the Mahdi of Jerusalem went to Berlin so Montgomery had a lot against him but he fought through and he’s held at El Alamein and that was a good victory there. And that was another turning point of the war but you couldn’t rely on the Arabs nor could you today, I have to say, but anyway, scrub that. But yes, so, Battle of Britain and El Alamein, the bombing of Germany. Dresden, right, you take Dresden, Canon Collins who was anti, against the atom bomb and everything else CND he used to go around preaching to aircrew not to bomb Germany and he was allowed to do it for some reason. However, that’s another story, but if you take Dresden with Stalin who was advancing, Dresden was no longer an open city, before that they were making gun sites as well, had a big industry in gun, opticians and, Stalin said to Truman at that time and Churchill that Dresden, the troops, German troops are massing in Dresden and I want them seen to, I want them cleared, so both the Americans, us, the RAF, bombed Dresden. Dresden was unfortunate but there was twenty five thousand casualties, Goebbels put another nought on the ending, it made two hundred and fifty thousand but Dresden was needed because Stalin wanted it, it was in the way of his troops to get into East Germany so no matter what anybody said about Dresden, I will always say Dresden was needed unfortunate. You tell me about Coventry, you tell me about Rotterdam, you tell me about Bristol, Southampton, Bristol, you tell me about those cities, don’t tell me, don’t talk to me about Dresden.
TO: And then, what did you think of the German aircraft of the war?
BH: Never flew one [laughs]. Well, they served their purpose, the Heinkel was the most hated, the 101, no 111, no 101, because they used to desynchronize their engines, whether they did that to avoid radar or not but you could always tell them, the Heinkel 11, they desynchronized [mimics the sound of engines] so that was a horrible sound. The 109s they were ok, the Focke-Wulf was alright and then they brought in the jet towards the end of the war, the Messerschmitt jet, yeah, fighter aircraft, [unclear] aircraft.
TO: And were you quite friendly with the ground crew?
BH: Oh yeah, yeah, especially the WAAFs. Yes, yeah, always had contact with the ground crew, and they’d always be at the end of the runway when you’re taking off.
TO: Did they see you, were they cheering at you?
BH: Yeah. [unclear] together two fingers back.
TO: And do you remember hearing about the first thousand bomber raid on Cologne?
BH: No, I wasn’t involved in it.
TO: But did they report it?
BH: Yeah, they’re good [?]. Actually they brought in aircraft from OTUs, Wellingtons as well, from OTUs and heavy conversion units, they brought everybody in, it was unlucky not to be called. Took tinsel instead. Window.
TO: And when was Window first developed?
BH: I think by Barnes Wallis, he designed the Wellington, I think it was one of his ideas. He just put it down the chute, the flare chute, just bundled it down. And of course, the Germans on their radar, swamped their radar.
TO: And you mentioned sometimes you went on these, was it secret operations or special operations? You said you went on operations to deploy Window as a decoy?
BH: Yeah.
TO: Would you deploy it around the North Sea?
BH: Yeah, I was [file missing] over the North Sea, yeah. The idea was if the main bomber, the main route was through Holland, from the East Coast to Holland. So, if a main group was going, say, across The Hague, we would go with the Window south of that because the German fighter group were patrolling round [unclear] so if they were sent off that way to find us with the Window, they used up their fuel so they had to come back to refuel and in the meantime the main forces got through. Coming back was a different story of course but the main force had got through.
TO: What do you think of the American aircraft of the war?
BH: Was a big aircraft with a little bomb bay. Didn’t have much to do with them really. I mean Mildenhall 3 Group where I was in, I was surrounded by the Americans, Norfolk and all around that. And the only thing against them was that, when they took off, they wouldn’t go over the coast until they got to their operational height and then they went, so if we had a [unclear] right, we got this humming guide on all the time and once they got their operational height, then their fighter escort would go off, and then off they would go, so we called them as a bloody nuisance. But they are good guys, I mean, they took a hammering, they really did. Their graves, memorial in Cambridge, massive, the graveyards there, massive memorial. Took a hell of a pounding.
TO: Did you, were you ever escorted by American fighters?
BH: No. No.
TO: Or Spitfires at all?
BH: No. The only time had contact with a Spitfire was that one they tested the side.
TO: Did you ever, did airfields ever run low on supplies like fuel or bombs?
BH: The airfields yeah, bomb dumps and fuel dumps, yeah. Yeah, self-contained, yeah.
TO: And did they ever run low on supplies?
BH: No, well planned. It was mostly worked by the Royal Army Service Corps. It was the same Royal Army Service Corps bloated our aircraft with food for Holland. Stacking up the bomb bay.
TO: Can you tell me how Operation Manna worked?
BH: Worked? I’ll tell you how it came about and worked. Yeah.
BH: Operation Market Garden, Arnhem was unfortunately a disaster. The idea was to shorten the war and go through [unclear] backed by the Germans. The Reichsmaster, it was a Hungarian, Austrian Nazi commander in Holland by the name of Arthur Seyss-Inquart was so incensed that he stopped all food coming into Western Holland from the agriculture part of Holland itself. Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard were here in England, in the UK, in exile and in January 1944 she called the railway workers to go on strike in Holland. Well this Nazi Reichmaster in retaliation ordered the sea locks to be broken, flooding Western Holland from Utrecht right round to The Hague. So, the dykes were broken and it was flooded. There was a population of three million nine hundred thousand in that area and this is a fact ‘cause I gave a talk on it to 622 Squadron which was reformed in Brize Norton in May, anyway. So out of three million nine hundred thousand, eventually twenty thousand died of starvation and malnutrition was rife, people were starving, so Queen Juliana appealed to Churchill and Truman and Eisenhower. Eisenhower said, they will have to wait, he is not committing his troops, while there are six hundred thousand Germans in Western Holland. Anyway, so Queen Juliana said, finally Eisenhower said, [unclear] find a way of delivering food. And he brought in Air Commodore Andrew Geddes, who was on tactical air force in main headquarters of the Allies, so cut a long story forward, he was met Bedell Smit and Bedell Smith to him, we have a situation, we got people starving and they have to be supplied by food by air. You devise a plan and you come and tell back and tell me what you gonna do. So, apparently, Andrew Geddes went away with others to tactical air force and he devised a plan for dropping food in certain areas in Western Holland by air incorporating the squadrons of Lancasters and also Pathfinders and he got hold of this Nazi [unclear] and in a school called, they met in a school called [unclear] and they explained the plan. The Germans didn’t like it, he said, not the case of you liking it, it’s what we’re gonna do. And if you interfere in any way in what we gonna do, you’ll be arrested as a war criminal. So, on April 29th, the 28th it started but the weather was too bad, so on the 29th of April Operation Manna started without the agreement being signed until the next day. And quite legally they could’ve been shot down and we’re going three hundred feet, hundred meters, something like that, we did a designated area, if anybody went outside that area they’d be warned by red flares and shot at and shot down. Anyway, so, it went off without incident and that was the start of Manna and it went from April the 29th to May the 8th. The Americans came in, they called it Chowhound, the next day and they finished on May the 7th. So in a total there was twelve thousand tons of food dropped overall, the RAF dropped seven thousand and the Yanks dropped four thousand. And to this day in Holland it’s taught, as history, by survivors and when we’ve been back there before we’ve been invited back, as I say, in 1981, we went in 1982 on that first trip, we were overwhelmed, we didn’t realise, people used to come up to us and still do when we go there, thank you for saving my life, thank you for saving my parents life, children are growing, it’s very touching. And that’s how it came about.
TO: And what do you remember the most when you were participating in Operation Manna?
BH: But we went in, I think about two or three thousand feet and dropped to three hundred when we got over to Holland. My first, I’m the last to see anything ‘cause I’m at the back, there’s this boy on his bicycle, on top of the dyke, flooded all around, astride his bicycle, waving a Union Jack and a Dutch tricolour, right and we were flying in just below the roof of a hospital, they were all waving sheets and God knows what else. And we went between The Hague and Rotterdam to drop at Eppinburgh and straight out again. But we could see people waving, they were warned to keep away, one guy whose pony rushed onto the dropping field, got hit by a sack of potatoes and that killed him. But other thing and the Germans were told that if they touched the food in any way they will be arrested as war criminals but this Nazi, he was eventually tried and hanged as a war criminal because not only was he involved in Holland, he followed the German army through the occupied areas organising transportations and everything else, he was a real, real Nazi and he was strung up.
TO: Is there anything else you remember in particular about Operation Manna, which sticks out to you?
BH: There is a guy named Hans Onderwater also a [unclear] historian, he wrote a book called Manna Chowhound, still very friends with him, right, and he organised a hell of a lot, what we, with the Manna Association, what we used to do, together with Americans, they used to come over here, we meet up in Lincoln, right, on the weekend, and we had four coachloads to go to various, entertained by various airfields the RAF Coningsby, Scampton, Waddington, places like that, and they used to, the fifth year we’d go to Holland, and boy! We didn’t know where were going and we were hosted all over the country, memorials, dining, visiting, schools, lectures, concerts, incredible, absolutely incredible.
TO: And the food supplies that you had on board the plane, were they, did they have parachutes attached to them?
BH: No, just dropped out the bomb bay. Just open the bomb bay, they’d fall down. The Pathfinders went in first who did the markers because they were told, the Dutch were told, the aircraft would be coming in and dropping red markers and then after that on their radios ‘cause they were all hidden, radios were all hidden, [unclear] anyway, the aircraft are leaving England bringing you food and of course all out on the streets waiting for the aircraft.
TO: Was there anyone that you know of who actually got fired at during Operation Manna?
BH: Yeah, one guy got a bullet through his foot because some irate Germans, we followed the guns, the anti tank guns, they were following us, could see that clearly and I tracked them as well, but of course we were vulnerable at that height, there were a few rifle shots, one guy got a bullet through his foot, and you could see that, that sort of things that were given there [emphasis: sound of papers rustling] [unclear] in there, a card from Prince Bernhard, he was our, he was our president, and that’s a card from from Bernhard when Queen Wilhelmina died I sent a card, a condolence card, got load of medals in there, as the other guys from Manna. Now, there is only six of us left and the guy, Bob Goodman, he was the leader of Chowhound, he died this March. So, like all good things come to an end, don’t they.
TO: When Operation Manna began, and you had the briefings,
BH: Yeah.
TO: Were you or anyone else surprised when you heard you would be dropping food?
BH: Not surprised, more of an adventure I think. I mean, it was humanitarian. No, it was a surprise, something we wanted to do and like all operations, when you go for briefing, the whole airfield is closed down, the gates are closed, RAF police on the doors, it’s a lockdown. You only go and get your gear and get your breakfast and go.
TO: Did it feel strange to have, to be carrying food rather than weaponry?
BH: Well we knew that, why we were doing it, I mean, three million nine hundred thousand people, I mean we got photographs of kids [unclear] walking about with large spoons, so when they went by these areas where the, kitchens, common kitchens, they’d scrape out the bottom of the urn, we got photographs of kids dying in the streets.
TO: Do you think Operation Manna could have been launched sooner than it was?
BH: I think it was in a timescale it should have done. Because they did know the seriousness after the what happened to, after Arnhem and this Nazi what he would do. He was rightly strung up as well anyway.
TO: And did you hear, was there much reporting on what was happening on the Russian front?
BH: Yeah, oh yeah. Well the Russians, you know, they took quite a beating until they got to Stalingrad, they could have gone, if they had gone past Stalingrad it would have been another story, but the winter of all things killed them, hope, unfortunately and the Russians, I mean, their hatred of the Germans, you couldn’t describe it, so, yeah, right, that’s why there was a great Communist movement in this country as well, because Communism as against, never mind what Stalin did with Holland he made the deal in ’39 didn’t he? With him, but regardless of all that, the British public could see the only real enemy and allies, as far as we were concerned, allies were the Russians. If it wasn’t for the Russians, the Germans would have been here. There’s no doubt about it.
TO: And when did you or when did the news of the Holocaust reach Britain?
BH: What?
TO: News of the Holocaust reach Britain?
BH: Well apparently, well being Jewish I know [unclear], we knew there was concentration camps and what the Germans did before the war with Jews and everything, with the refugees and everything coming over and telling their stories of what was happening. But apparently the leaders of the Jews in Germany were begging for the Allies to bomb the [unclear], but we were, with Enigma, Churchill’s excuse was we know but we, we don’t want the Germans to know that we have Enigma, that we’ve been broken their code, that was his excuse. There was one flaw, they were begging to be bombed because what was happening. But he didn’t want the Germans to know that we knew all about Enigma. So his excuse was no, if we know about concentration camps we would know their secrets. But they took no notice of what was coming out through the Jewish movement, with the concentration camps. Only it wasn’t only Jews, yeah, there’s the only fly in the ointment.
TO: And when did you personally first hear of the Holocaust?
BH: Not until the war ended actually.
TO: And what was your rank when you were in the air force?
BH: Flight sergeant.
TO: Flight sergeant.
BH: I was just coming up to warrant officer.
TO: And were you actually ever on bombing missions or was Operation Manna your first proper
BH: Operation Manna was only one, yeah. As I say, we were involved in experimental stuff.
TO: Did you ever experiment with stuff that turned out not to work? Did you ever experiment with equipment that didn’t work?
BH: No, no, the only thing we were doing was with that gunsight and also we were experimenting with things, high level bombing as well. I’ve got in my log book high-level bombing, which certain things had to be done and navigational things but as a person who wanted to get in the war I still regret not having a good run at the Germans by getting in to bombing raids. But then the powers above gave the orders. Couldn’t go off on our own. Have you ever met a guy named Harry Irons?
TO: Harry [unclear]?
BH: Irons? Harry Irons?
TO: Irons, I think I’ve heard of him but I have not met him.
BH: Oh, he’s local, he lives not far [unclear], he’d done two tours as a rear gunner. I was with him on June the 4th.
TO: Yeah. Of this year?.
BH: Yeah.
TO: Does he live that far from here or?
BH: Mh?
TO: Does he live near here?
BH: Yeah.
TO: Maybe you can put me in touch with him later perhaps.
BH: You want, well, do you want to see him?
TO: Well, maybe, if he wants to talk.
BH: He wants to, yeah, I only, I haven’t got his phone number. I got his phone number but it’s all wrong.
TO: Oh, ok.
BH: I’ve got his address.
TO: Maybe I could send him a letter or something.
BH: Do you want the address?
TO: Well, we can sort that later. It’s fine.
BH; Yeah?
TO: We can sort it later. It’s fine.
BH: Ok.
TO: So, where would you keep the parachutes on board the plane?
BH: Just inside the fuselage, behind the turret. You had to open the turret doors, get the parachute, click it on, turn the parachute, the turret to the side, open the doors and fall out. But you had to get to your parachute first, because it was in the fuselage. And if you couldn’t open the doors, hard luck.
TO: Did they have a steep hatch [file missing]?
BH: Yeah, further up. Yeah.
TO: And were there any occasions where you were flying over Europe and you got lost?
BH: Only in the one I told you about. We were actually fired at over the, over Jersey, we were doing a trip over there, a sortie over there, Northern France, experimental and we were actually fired at and I see this [unclear] coming up, but it missed, as you can see.
TO: Was the fire anywhere near the plane or?
BH: Not, it was why they missed, they went away. Just watched it coming up, this flame.
TO: Did you, were your missions mainly during the night?
BH: Mh?
TO: Were your missions mainly during the night?
BH: Yeah, night training yeah, most of my flying hours were at night.
TO: And how long would a mission tend to last?
BH: Well, it be anything, an hour, an hour and a half, if you are doing circuits and bumps it could be an hour, we say the circuits and landings, circuits and bumps we called them. But one and three quarters hours, something like that.
TO: Cool. And what was the procedure for a squadron’s aircraft to take off?
BH: Well that was controlled by airfield control. Would you like a drink?
TO: No thanks, I’m fine, my eyes are a bit sore. [unlcear]
BH: You’re alright?
TO: Yeah, I’m fine. Yes, so, do you remember what the procedure was for taking off?
BH: Yeah, first of all you went out to dispersal by the crew bus, then you, you got in your positions, everybody in, everything was tested, the ailerons, rudders, flaps, not the flaps but the, certainly the ailerons, then the engines were started up, first the hydraulics, I think was the port outer then the port [unclear] in [unclear] and so forth. Get them running up all ready, then you got the call from aircraft control and you taxied out. And you waited on the tarmac and then as you were called from the air control on the end of the runway, right, give you the green light, you just went round and off you go.
TO: And what about landing, what was the procedure for that?
BH: Same thing, they called it, what they called the funnel, you’re in, pilot called out ‘funnel funnel‘, and they’re calling and said, ‘you do a circuit of the airfield and you come in’ and then, landing in like that there, one after the other and they called that funnel. That’s when you’re most vulnerable, the flaps are down, undercarriage is down, you have slow airspeed and that’s when they took advantage with the intruders.
TO: Were landings and take offs ever nerve-racking at all?
BH: No, I loved them, it’s the best part of it, landing and taking off. Even now, with commercial aircraft, the best part.
TO: When you were flying, could you, were you always above cloud level or?
BH: Yeah.
TO: Or could you ever see the land below?
BH: Only when it’s what they called ten tenths but if it’s like this you couldn’t, probably the height of the clouds at the moment thirty, thirty five thousand feet so if you did it in twenty you could see, but as I say, most of it was at night and don’t forget blackout everywhere. So, it’s all done by navigation and Gee.
TO: And how did Gee work?
BH: It was a series of signals and it was like a small television screen and they had two bars running, one across there and one underneath it, with like “V”s on them, like that, and then as you match them up, you press another button, up come a map where you were, showing you exactly where you were. But that time we got lost somewhere over the Midlands so it didn’t work so we didn’t know where we were but yeah I used to enjoy doing that because when we knew we were quite safe I used to get out of the turret and help Arthur with his navigation ‘cause one of my pet subjects that was when we at ITW.
TO: Were you allowed to leave the turret or were you supposed to stay there?
BH: Unofficially. No once you’re in there, you’re supposed stay in there, but there you are.
TO: And how, how much, was it very noisy aboard the planes?
BH: Very noisy, drumming. A lot of guys suffered, I still have a bit of tinnutis, a lot of guys got pension for the tinnitus, the constant roar of the aircraft, the vibration as well.
TO: And did you, did you have radio sets to talk to each other?
BH: Intercom. They had what they call RT, radio transmission, which another funny story. Stan Fig [?], our radio operator, he could swear for twenty minutes without repeating the same word twice and at one time, we were coming back, on OT on Wellingtons, and we were in a circuit and down on the starboard side to me, which is the port side, ‘cause I’m in reverse to the pilot, I called up with his [unclear] ‘Pete there is someone trying to muscle in on the circuit’, right, on your port side, right, now before that he puts, he switches the RT on, asked for permission to land, now that goes everywhere. So Stan, he puts his head up then and he starts swearing about these guys trying to muscle in. When we got down in the crew bus, picked us up and then he went and picked the other crew up who were Canadians and they go, who is that so and so and so swearing at us? Pete the pilot forgot to switch off the RT, yeah, and it’s gone everywhere, the Germans must have thought it was a foreign language or code, when we, had to report to the air control right and the WAAF at the air control she had a fit with all the swearing and everything [laughs], so, everybody knew about it, right, so anyway we got roasted over that.
TO: And whenabouts did that occur? Do you know what year and month that occured?
BH: Ah, that was in ’43, ’44.
TO: And this was during a training mission, was it?
BH: Yeah.
TO: Could you ever see the cities below you when you were flying over them?
BH: No, that’s all blacked out.
TO: And did you hear about the D-Day invasion?
BH: Oh yeah. Yeah, because when it happened when they said it was a delay in pilot training they sent us back to St John’s Wood where we originally, all the aircrews reported to St John’s Wood. My first day I reported to St John’s Wood to have an inspection in Lord’s, I dropped my trousers under the portrait of W.G. Grace and again, I’ll tell you what, a plate of oxtail soup and we were billeted in St John‘s’ Wood so we were sent back to St John’s Wood and while we were still there the D-Day was on. We saw the aircraft going over. So, I remember that very well. June the 6th 1944.
TO: Were those have been the airborne troops or bombers?
BH: Yeah. Yeah.
TO: So were they airborne troops?
BH: Yeah. Were going over London from all round, from the South Coast, Sterlings were taking the gliders.
TO: What do you think of the Sterling?
BH: I’ve never got in touch with it, it was older and all but 622 Squadron they had Sterlings at first ‘cause it was a peacetime build up, peacetime field which 622 was born out of C flight of 15 Squadron which now flies Typhoons chasing German, Russian bombers. And they reinformed, we reinformed in Brize Norton three years ago and that’s why I was invited three years ago and also in May this last, this May to go there to give a talk on Manna. That’s why it’s all there.
TO: Did they enjoy the talk?
BH: Yeah.
TO: Do you know of anyone or meet anyone who ever refused to go on bombing missions?
BH: Oh yeah, yeah. Couple of Jewish friends, Harry Irons, who I mentioned, he was a tailor, he went in as a gunner straight away and, yeah, a lot of guys from Manna, who were wing commanders, one was a group captain, and we were as one, there was no rank then but great guys. One was Des Butters [?], he was a pilot on Pathfinders so yeah. Another one, I know very well, friend as well, David Fellowes, he is still very active, goes round signing books and he’s older than me.
TO: Were there any other times where someone refused to go on a bombing raid?
BH: Well, the only contact I had with anything like that is our first navigator, who was married and he couldn’t take it anymore and in those days they called it Lack of Moral Fibre. Today you’d go and see a psychiatrist and you’re just whipped away, away, demoted, taken to a place like Christchurch or something like that and demoted him and they treated you like dirt, where it’s a mental condition, I mean, they just didn’t want anybody contaminated, so we had to have a new navigator, a bomb aimer, sorry, he was a bomb aimer, a new bomb aimer.
TO: Did they ever, did he ever talk about what, the problems he had?
BH: Mh?
TO: Did this man ever talk about the problems he’d faced?
BH: No. No. Kept it to himself and then suddenly it’s gone.
TO: What is your best memory of your time in the RAF?
BH: My best memory is after the war when I was sent to Italy and I was on a Squadron, Cento, 112 Squadron and flying in a harbour towing drogues and they had the wing had it’s own rest centre with a hotel, the place called Grado and they want somebody to run it ‘cause the guy was going home. So I volunteered, so all I had to do was go there, make sure it was run properly, make sure it had all the rations and everything else, saw that the staff got paid, got myself a big ‘Q’ time dinghy, go down on the beach. Go back for lunch, go back to the beach again and make sure everything was alright. So until the winter set in then I couldn’t do it anymore and came home in January 1947. But there was the best time in the RAF [laughs].
TO: And, sorry to ask this, but what is your worst memory of your time in the RAF or of the war in general?
BH: The worst memory is the ones that I told you, when the aircraft was rattling and we didn’t know where we were. Everything else is taken in stride.
TO: What did you tend to do to keep up morale?
BH: Morale didn’t come into, as I said, we were all volunteers, we knew what we were in for, so we used to go drinking together as a crew when we had nights off, each one bought a round of half a pint , so that’s three and a half pints, twice, seven pints, so we used to roll back, go to somebody else’s aircraft and get a wick of their oxygen and go back to bed. And they probably did the same to us.
TO: How did the oxygen help?
BH: Well, it livened you up really, it sobered you up.
TO: Were there any occasions where you oxygen supplies froze up?
BH: Mh?
TO: Did your oxygen supplies ever freeze up?
BH: No, no. Not that I know of.
TO: And how did those heated jackets work that you mentioned?
BH: Very good, in fact they ruined my feet for a while. You had, first of all you had silk and wool underwear, vest, long pants right the way down to the, then you had the uniform. Then there was, as far as the gunners were concerned, there was this heated suit which plugged in, so you had slippers, heated slippers that plugged in and all connected, all the way up. Then, your flying suit on top of that, your gauntlets, inner gauntlet was a heated one and all studded to this inner suit and then of course, your, mae west and then your parachute harness on top of that, so you were really lumbering. They brought you at one time what they called the tailor’s suit, it was massive, I don’t know why they got it, we couldn’t get into the turret with it so we quickly discarded that. It was huge like, huge, you know, God knows, anyway it was a bad buy, called it the tailor’s suit. So, yes, we had a heated suit but the heated slippers created havoc with the sole of my feet, burnt them, and it took two or three years after I had come out of the air force to get it right and after that out of habit I still wear white socks.
TO: And do you remember what you were doing on the day the war ended?
BH: Yeah, I was over Holland dropping food. It was the last flight and then the war was over. May the 8th 1945.
TO: And what kind of entertainment did you have at your airbases?
BH: Well, some of them had ENSA concerts but there was not on the base, you had to go outside, at Mildenhall there was a cinema in the town. Some places had ENSA, where the singers and dancers used to come, they would do a performance, some were horrible, sometimes the cinema. One had a cinema that had broke down, halfway through the film, with Cary Grant, don’t remember the title but anyway broke down and that was that so went to the pub but entertainment mostly go to the pub, local pub.
TO: Were there any particular songs that the RAF liked to sing?
BH: No, not really. We used to sing flying, flying fortresses, fly never so high, go round [unclear] in circles finally finishing on their own, up their own backsides, something like that. Well, we put a girl on a bar in a pub and the song is, this is your ankles, this is your kneecap, this is your and this is r, r, r, you know, all that palaver and the girls loved it. But apart from that, made our own entertainment.
TO: And on days when you were just stationed on the airbases, not on operations, could you hear the drone of other bombers flying around?
BH: Well, the Americans. Oh yeah, well at Mildenhall because they used to start four o’clock, five o’clock in the morning. ‘Cause they would totally fly in day, in daylight, which they could, you know, they were vulnerable, very vulnerable.
TO: And do you think the war was worth the price?
BH: Mh?
TO: Do you think the war was worth the price?
BH: I’m sorry.
TO: Do you think the war was worth it?
BH: It was essential. You wouldn’t be here today. Nor would I. It was essential. The biggest mistake was, when Hitler came to power, I think, Churchill warned, war was coming, nobody took him notice until finally 1938, ’36, the Spanish War, which was a rehearsal for the Germans, they should’ve start rearming then, ‘cause the writing was on the wall. But there were a lot of vested interests in this country like Lord Halifax at that time, who was, he wanted to negotiate with the Germans. Churchill sent him to America as an ambassador, he was a German lover and there were a few others in the arms industry as well, them German lovers, vested interests. So in 1936 the writing was on the wall. So, Churchill was the only one who could see it. And they called him a warmonger. But they say, comes the moment, comes the right man.
TO: And how do you feel about Germany today?
BH: The old generation I don’t want hear anything to do about. The new generation are different ‘cause they don’t want anything to do with their own teutonic ways of life, they’re youngsters, you can understand, they’re a great help to Israel, lot of Germans used to go to Israel, kibbutz and all that, I’ve been there, they’ve been there, right, and no, from what they doing I admire them but the only thing now is, I mean, now we got this exodus, well, I call it the exodus, Brexit, coming out of Europe, my opinion is that in time that Germany will be the dominant nation in Europe, who don’t like the French and the French don’t like them. I just hope [emphasis] that it all works out, we don’t get sucked into another war. Because the idea of a united Europe in the first place was to stop wars. So, I’m sad at the outcome. But as far as the Germans today, I admire them in a way, they’re doing well, very well. In part of course they got right wingers again, which has clouded the whole issue with the referendum, I mean immigration has clouded the whole issue, people can’t see further than, so I won’t go on to that. ‘Cause there is one man I blame, it’s the worst president at the wrong time, at the wrong time, Obama. You can edit this but I’ll tell you, when he said to the Syrians, yeah, that if you use chemical weapons on your population, that is a red line, and he’d become a puff, a puff of a pink line, he’d done nothing and that was the signal for them to do whatever they wanted to do. What general tells the enemy or, I’m not going to send an army in, there will be no boots on the ground and that caused what is happening now and that’s caused, who wants to leave their home really, and that’s caused a desperate refugee problem in Syria. I put it down to, the quicker he goes the better, he’s out anyway, so. That’s my opinion.
TO: And what do you think of Britain’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan?
BH: I think it was the right one. I really do. With Afghan it’s been going on for years, when I mean the Russians and all they’re interested in doing there is killing one another and killing everybody else. I mean, it was going on before the First World War, our Bomber Harris used to fly biplanes, and they used to fly with I think it was a pot of gold ‘cause if they were captured, they gave it to the Afghanis, the tribesmen otherwise they cut their testicles off. So, that’s pre 1914. So that’s [unclear]. With Iraq that was a different story, yeah. The biggest mistake with Iraq when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, yeah, and Bush senior invaded, don’t forget Palestinian also, Palestinian terrorist also sided with and in they went into Kuwait as well, right, thought that was a good thing. But when George Bush senior and the Allies went in and pushed them out of Kuwait and on the road to Baghdad all the goodies said stop, you mustn’t do it, said stop, that created the next problem and the next problem was, who knew, he did have gas, he gassed his own people. Of course he had a secret weapon. All these do-gooders, yeah, what happened if they did have them? But the biggest mistake was and is, the Western world does not understand the hatred between the Sunni and the, oh God.
TO: The Shi’a. The Shi’a?
BH: Shi’a. They hate one another. And always will hate one another. They didn’t understand the enmity. So the Shi’a were the governing body in Iraq and the Sunnis hated the sight of them. ‘Cause you got Iran fostering them all up as well. But the bigger to say was they used to call the Foreign Office the camel brigade, Arab lovers ‘cause most of them used be educated in Lisbon, they don’t understand the hatred between the Shi’a and the Sunni and that will never go away. There will never be peace with them. That’s the biggest problem. Don’t blame Blair, blame his advisors who knew the Arab mind, they knew about Islam, they didn’t advise him properly. You go in, make sure you got a proper government. Don’t leave it to the Sunnis or the Shi’a. And that will go on.
TO: I think I pretty much asked all of my questions, so. Thank you so much, I really enjoyed.
BH: You are welcome. Do you want a cup of tea or something?
TO: Ah [file missing] So.
BH: Did the museum supply you with that?
TO: No, it’s my own.
BH: Really?
TO: I brought my so, I do film interviews. And, have you ever watched films about the war?
BH: Yeah.
TO: And what do you think of them?
BH: Yeah, quite good. Glorified, you know, made for the screen, a couple of, a few things they say makes me wince, but for instance pilots always have to be commissioned, right, but, in actual fact you could have a sergeant pilot and a squadron leader rear gunner, right, but films glorify, I mean, as far as a pilot is, ‘cause he’s, the officer he’s the only one to talk about, so. The best film I ever saw was “Journey Together”, where, it takes Richard Attenborough, when he was very young and somebody else, can’t remember his name, where they come together in the ITW and it goes through their course and Richard Attenborough, and then he’s gone overseas, and so is his friend, his friend come to pilot, Richard Attenborough can’t tackle flying, crashes the plane [unclear] and he doesn’t like it, he has to be a navigator, so it is a very good film, so they put him to the test, right, so the screen pilot is flying an Anson which is the one of the planes I was trained on and says I’m not [unclear] and Richard Attenborough, I can’t get what, you know, he want to be a pilot, anyway he says I’m not [unclear] something then they got him, he actually got up, worked it all out then where he were and he realised then that he is just as important as a navigator as all the rest of the crew. Each one has his job to do, they are all important, so, I think that was the best one ever. Another one was the “Journey to the Stars”, we see again only officers please, yeah, otherwise worth watching but that with the “Journey Together” was the only one that I really liked. The other was, you know, we only serve officers if you don’t mind.
TO: What do you think of the Dam Busters film?
BH: Well, that was quite factual, and they couldn’t mess about with that. So, that was quite good, that was quite factual. In fact, in matter of fact, we met his daughter, Barnes Wallis’s daughter up at Coningsby year before last.
TO: Yeah.
BH: Was Open Day up there. I don’t if you went.
TO: No. And do you remember hearing about Japan attacking Pearl Harbour?
BH: Yeah. Yeah, 1941. Of course.
TO: And what was your attitude when you heard that that had happened?
BH: Well, this is the Axis, the come together the Japanese and the Germans, and the Italians of course. No, it was all part of the war process, wasn’t it?
TO: And what do you think of America’s use of the atomic bombs?
BH: Absolutely right. The war could have gone on for ages. Could have gone on for years. Are you tried to sorting out all those islands full of Japanese soldiers and the poor people in the camps? Right? Building the railways, slave labour, starving to death, of course it was right. Absolutely. Don’t call me a warmonger.
TO: I’m not.
BH: [laughs]
TO: And what do you, do you think Bomber Command was treated unfairly?
BH: Bomber Command was not?
TO: Treated unfairly after the war.
BH: Sorry?
TO: Do you think Bomber Command was treated unfairly after the war?
BH: Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s why Bomber Harris went to South Africa. He didn’t want us to be redundant. Don’t forget a lot of them had to cover up their chevrons, they had to cover up their rank, I mean, that was degrading.
TO: Why did they cover their chevrons?
BH: Because they were given [unclear] office work and things like that, yeah, and so they couldn’t work amongst people, all the aircraftsmen so they had a thought, oh well, they cover up their chevrons, after all that, the thinking of some of them in Air Ministry that’s why Bomber Harris went in disgust, he wanted us demobbed.
TO: And do you remember hearing about when the Cold War was starting and Stalin was taking over Europe?
BH: [unclear] sorry?
TO: Do you remember hearing about when Stalin was taking over Eastern Europe?
BH: Oh yeah, yeah. Well, first of all there was a treaty between him and Germans over Poland which the Germans broke fortunately, they brought Russia into the war, but he was just, to me, you know, Fascism and Communism in it’s rawest form are just as bad as one another, even to this present day, I mean Putin, he is just mixing it all up and that’s the Russian way of going. And we again in the West are too weak, Crimea, he got away with it, as he gets away with everything. ‘Cause he’s too powerful, he’s bombing civilians. In Syria no one takes any notice but I bet you, because personally, right, if the Israelis done anything like that, it’d be like that on the headlines. Which they wouldn’t. Are you with me?
TO: Yeah.
BH: But Russia, no protest from anybody. He’s moving children out there in Syria on the pretext ‘cause he’s shearing up Assad, ‘cause he wants the Mediterranean Tripoli port for his Mediterranean fleet. It’s the only reason. But he’s a murderer. So he’s as bad as any Nazi.
TO: And do you remember, were there any particular celebrations when Japan surrendered?
BH: When what?
TO: When Japan surrendered, were there any particular celebrations?
BH: Oh yeah, well that was in, what was it June, was it, ’45?
TO: Yeah, August/September.
BH: Yeah, ’45, oh yeah, but that was a sort of a sideshow, as to the war in Europe. But the emancipated people that came out on the, terrible, I mean, they’re animals to do what they did. So, that’s all behind us now, was it?
TO: And how do you feel today about your wartime service? How do you feel today about your wartime service?
BH: I’m quite proud of it. I wish I could’ve done more. Yeah.
TO: And what was your career when you left the RAF?
BH: Irregular [laughs]. To own my own business, owned my own business, had that going. Don’t forget that, you know, I’m not the exception but a lot of people, thousands of people, I mean, come out the forces, they didn’t know what to do, right, some had been in five years, four years, three years, I was in four years, four years out of your teens yeah, so you don’t want to be regulated if you know what I mean, right. You are really unsettled until you find your niche and yeah, unsettled, ‘til finally I founded my own business and that was that. Then I knew what was about.
TO: And, sorry I didn’t ask, during the Blitz, whereabouts in London were you living?
BH: In East London, Forest Gate and then we moved not far from here, to Chapel Heath, which is further up the road there and bought my own house, we had a great time there. The only reason I’m here is ‘cause the house was too big for my wife, she was suffering from emphysema, so the best thing is to get a retirement flat like this. I’ve got a sister who lives in Arizona, we’ve done three months there. I got a son and grandchildren in Israel, we’ll have three months there and the rest of the time in between summer months here. But as soon as we retire, that’s what we’re gonna do. So we bought there [unclear] outstanding [?], you tell him upstairs what’s going on, and what your plans are, he’ll laugh his head off. Didn’t work out. Within two years she was dead. So I’m here, don’t particularly like it, I make the best of it, so I go to Israel a few times, my son is now living down in the Negev but it is too hot for me, I was there last October, [laughs] hit a hundred and four Fahrenheit, so a bit too hot for me, it’s alright further north, Tel Aviv and all around there, Jerusalem, but not where he is. So that’s the name of the game but always say, tell him up there, your plans, laugh his head off, he’ll make sure it doesn’t work out, and you know what I mean.
TO: Is there anything that was important to you during the war that you’ve not talked about, which you think is important?
BH: What?
TO: Is there anything that was important to you during the war which you’ve not mentioned so far, which you think is important?
BH: No, not really, I can’t think of anything. I certainly know when the V1 was about because we were training over the, flying over the North Sea, and we were told, if we see anything like that we shouldn’t mention it to the public, and when on leave with the V2 we just walk, suddenly there’s a thump, it’s the rocket had landed, but then again you know, you’re immune to these things, coming conditioned I think.
TO: So did the V1s or V2s have any impact on public morale?
BH: Concerned but they weren’t frightened of them, they knew, you know, it was the end of the war anyway. Everything was going right and that was the last throw of the Germans, Peenemunde was known about and bombed, but the V1 was transferable, they could move it around, with the V2 rockets had to have their own base and they were bombed out of sight, but a few got up and dropped but people took it as they did in the Blitz.
TO: Did you ever visit any of those places like Coventry or?
BH: Only on business, yeah. Places I built. Portsmouth and Plymouth, Plymouth, new town, new city. Rotterdam new city, absolutely new.
TO: And what do you think was the biggest mistake that the Allies made during the war?
BH: I don’t think they, I think it was circumstances, I don’t think there was any mistake. They had to respond to circumstances and the main thing they had to keep in mind was defeating the Germans. So, if there were a few mistakes, when they tried Dieppe, it didn’t come off but they were probing and they had to do these things to test their defences, so I wouldn’t put that as a mistake, it was unfortunate.
TO: And what do you think was the most important battle of the war?
BH: Mh?
TO: What do you think was the most important battle of the war?
BH: Well, two. The Battle of Britain and the North African campaign. Because they cleared that, there was a jumping off to get into Southern Europe via Sicily and Italy. So, two. The bombing campaign was a consequence of war, that was to stop Germany getting too strong by manufacturing armaments and things like that and also the psychological part of it was giving a bit of their own medicine because the public was screaming out for something to be done in revenge and the Germans, a part from being a planned objective, is also a moral and psychological one, giving them back as good as they get, as they’re given. That’s my opinion.
TO: Anything else you want to add to anything you said earlier at all or?
BH: No, I don’t think so.
TO: Right well.
BH: Just nice to have seen you.
TO: Thank you very much, it was
BH: Give my regards from up there.
TO: Was a pleasure to talk to you, thank you very much.
BH: Yeah. Nice to see you. And be well.
TO: Thank you, you too.



Tom Ozel, “Interview with Bernie Harris. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 14, 2024,

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