Interview with Stuart Michael Heaton


Interview with Stuart Michael Heaton


Michael Heaton grew up in Worcester and was a member of the Air Training Corps. He worked in a bank before joining the Royal Air Force and trained as a navigator in Canada. He completed 22 operations as a navigator with 50 Squadron from RAF Skellingthorpe. After the war he was transferred to Transport Command with 10 and 52 Squadrons in the Far East. Following demobilisation, he went into various jobs and when he retired he was the CEO of Circo Pearls Ltd, where he had worked for 25 years.







01:22:28 audio recording

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AS. This is Andrew Sadler interviewing Michael Heaton at his home in Swiss Cottage London em on the 22nd of March 2016 on behalf of the Bomber Command Archive. Michael thank you very much for allowing you to interview em you, em can I start by asking you where an when you were born?
MH. Yes I was born in Worcester on the 29th of May 1924.
AS. Right and em what, did you have parents involved in the First World War?
MH. No but my parents were living at that time of course but my father was not involved, he was in a reserved occupation.
AS. Oh what, what, what was his occupation?
MH. Em it was em ha, I should know it, it was with a factory in Rugby eh where in fact he met my mother. Em I am just trying to recall the name of the factory but they were making some parts for machines, I just can’t recall the details.
AS. So how did you em, how did you come to be, to join the Royal Air Force?
MH. Of course ah eh I was fifteen when the war started, there was plenty going on very quickly. And eh there was a film I remember, a Holywood film, I can’t remember what the details were but it dealt with eh the crew of a bomber. And eh somehow that had an impact with me and I thought, ‘that is exactly what I want to do when the time comes when I am old enough.’ There was a preparity, prepartity for joining up, for volunteering and I joined the ATC, the Air Training Corps eh which was of immense benefit to me learning about discipline and eh the navigation.
AS. At what age did you join that?
MH. Eh, I was sixteen or seventeen.
AS. And were you at school then?
MH. No eh I was working in a bank in a place called Ledbury in Herefordshire and eh this bank, I was eh educated at Ledbury Grammar School eh which I joined in 1933 and left in eh 1940. And eh the grammar school was also the headquarters for the Air Training Corps. And the two or three years that I was with the Air Training Corps were a tremendous benefit to me both in ways of learning about discipline but more importantly about navigation. And eh when the time came that eh I was eh summoned to Birmingham before eh, before a selection, aircrew selection eh I was already eh quite knowledgeable about em eh navigation and so when I was asked, what would you like to be. That category I told them, to be a navigator. Most boys would go in for to be a pilot only probably to be disappointed because that was overstaffed and eh so I was summoned when I was eighteen to Birmingham for this eh aircrew selection and were there for about two days actually. And at the end of it when I came before the em selectors eh they said to me ‘would you like to join immediately or wait for eight or nine months when you would be sort of called up.’ So I said ‘I would have no hesitation whatsoever I would like to join immediately.’ Went home back to Leadbury, met by my parents in a weeks time I was in the Air Force, that’s how it started.
AS. Where did you do your training?
MH. Well my training which was very long indeed, over about two years. Training a navigator was the longest course of the aircrew officers. So we had to report here in London, St Johns Wood, ACRC, Aircrew Receiving Centre known as “arsey tarsey”or the [unclear] eh and so I reported there at eh [cough] a place just opposite the zoo, London Zoo.And then we were on the go all the time, either peeling potatoes, scrubbing the floors, going to lectures, swimming various things em for about six weeks as far as I can remember. From there we went to our first posting eh on the way to Scarborough on the Flying Scotsman I remember which of course has now come back. And eh that was to the ITW. That was an important first course em all em aircrew went there before they went their different ways. I found it was absolutely no trouble at all because I knew everything they told me through my time in the ATC. So it was immensely helpful in that respect. And the course was about six weeks I can’t quite remember. So do you want me to go on about the training?
AS. Yes.
MH. So having finished that and passed the course we then went to a transit cam, place in Ludlow where we were living in tents out of doors waiting eh for our time to board a ship which would take us to Canada. That was a tiresome place, I found it tiresome anyhow, food was awful etc. From there we went on to Manchester to Heaton Park [unclear] eh and waited there for our time to board the em the Queen Elizabeth. That was a troop ship at that time carrying a huge number of people em to New York. I don’t know how many, there was talk of forty or fifty thousand certainly on, on board the ship you could hardly move. Eh the beds were in layers all the way up with an electric light all the way up. My misfortune was to have one right at the top. Eh I didn’t enjoy the voyage at all, of course there were, there were, there were nothing accompanying us, the ship was very fast. But one thought did think about eh German submarines which were quite active at that time.However, passed without any problems as far as that was concerned. But I felt ill all the time, didn’t know what it was, thought it was sea sickness but it turned out to be em, it turned out to be eh. What is the name of that stuff when you go yellow?
AS. Jaundice.
MH. Jaundice, exactly, jaundice, anyhow I was forced to look at the Statue of Liberty as we sailed into New York. We were treated there with an enormous amount of kindness by the American people. Got bananas which we never heard of course they were not available in this country during the war. Eh I gave the [unclear] so on and so forth and, and from there we boarded a train to take us up to Canada to a place called Monkton on the East Coast which was a sort of receiving station in Canada. Eh and we and I reported sick, that’s when I knew I had jaundice so I went straight to hospital and eh I was there for about ten days or so and eh was then released. So and then from, from that eh receiving centre we were put, we were, we were able to choose actually which place in Canada where we were able to go to. I had met some friends by then and we had wanted to all be together.So most of us managed that and that was in London Ontario. The other place was eh a place near Winnepeg eh, much further eh to the West. So this was a very important eh, eh place to be and high standards were demanded eh and eh threats were made if you don’t do this and don’t pass this you will be off the course and sent home. Eh included amongst that penalty would be air sickness. I was afraid about that because I suffer from motion sickness as a boy and I didn’t tell anybody about it. In fact I found when we got in the air we were so busy I didn’t have time to think about it.So em that was a great relief for me. Anyway this course, the Observers Training Course lasted about four months, about four or five months. And em it consisted of eh well it was like being going back to school really except that the subjects were different. We all lived together in a big sort of Nissan type of a building and time em was divided between em flying or going to this em school. They took em we were er, we were very ,extremely well looked after. I am just looking back, we had absolutely, no, hardly any time for ourselvses. Apart from navigation there were other subjects, meteorology, morse code, armaments to name a few about seven or eight differnent subjects to learn about which we would be examined. And eh it was necessary to get em certain proficiency in them in order to be, to get our brevet.That was, that was available in the end if we passed everything. So there was a certain amount of tension going on, it was very competitive there about eh about eh twenty five or thirty in the class I suppose, eight class, eighty nine A, I remember. The pilots were eh were em not of the Air Force and eh Avro Ansons were the, were the aircraft which was used. We went either as first navigator, we took it in turns as first navigator or second navigator. Got used was getting used to eh preparing a log, doing various tests on eh on board and eh hoping to reach our target at the right time. That was extremely important to do that and hopefully not get lost. I do remember getting lost at night em I had no idea where I was, there were no pin points I could see. Em but the pilot informed me we were near Chicago [laugh]. So many miles off course it was absolutely hopeless. So I thought ‘oh I am not going to pass.’ Anyhow eh it so happened that the commander, the wing commander from time to time flew with eh, with us one by one. And I was very fortunate to have wing commander, I have forgotten his name an extremely nice man. And eh when we were given a target and an ETA you had to arrive exactly at the right time. You got no help with the navigation at all you had to do it yourself. Navigation mainly was by way of pinpoints in order to ascertain the wind eh direction and velocity. That was extremely important to get that right, if you got that wrong you would never get there at the right time or in fact never get there. I so happened on this particular day, it was a fine day, cold, we were in the month of November eh cold but eh very bright and we reached the eh, eh the target exactly on the eta. I do remember the wing commander looking at me and giving me a thumbs up and I thought ‘that was really very lucky that I got there.’ Em do you know the time, I am interested in music eh and eh I play the piano a bit and eh for the Sunday Services. Eh I played well a sort of, more like a harmonium, I think if I remember it and that helped me a little I think. Eh ‘cause I got to know the padre who invited me out to meet his wife and what not. And eh probably the eh wing commander would attend church service so. I was pointed out in some respects which was only a small thing but looking back I think it was quite helpful for me. Anyhow just jumping ahead we did have some time over Christmas, went to Toronto, me some people there, were taken around and enjoyed ourselves. Eh and we were beginning then to think about the end of the course which would probably be around February or March. Eh and at the end of the course that was when the commissions were put out, were granted rather eh and eh, eh there was a big celebration of it. Anyhow, I thought and won’t, remember writing home to my parents, don’t expect me to get a commission it is absolutely hopeless. ‘cause I had been, I hadn’t been so fortunate with my eh flying eh navigation, made several foolish mistakes. Em ground navigation seemed, seemed to be going eh fairly well but I was quite sure that I wouldn’t be selected for a commission. So we came to the end of, the end of the course, I am jumping ahead quite a bit now. Came to the end of the course and we were on parade and our names were called out, mine being one of them and told to stand apart. I thought ‘oh my goodness is this going to be some more trouble?’ One thought and another. But it turned out we were being selected for, for a commission. So I could hardly believe it eh, when, when I heard that was the case. I was the youngest in the class so I thought that was against me to. It was a matter of astonishment for me for this to have happened. We were then left to go to our own devices and send telegrams off to our parents if we wanted to do that and generally jump about and make a noise sort of thing. Eh the award eh we could invite our friends to a big celebration eh where we would be awarded our wings our brevet eh.The band playing and so on. So our friends from Toronto came down I remember and friends we made in London came as well and also it was a very joyful occasion. Then we had leave for em ten days or fourteen days. We went down three of us to New York and had a good time before going back to Monkton in Canada to get ready for the ship to take us back to England. The ship then was the Isle de France and we made eh, we made it safely back to England glad to say. And em we were, had a week leave with our parents when we went home and in our officers uniform. Feeling extremely proud of myself [laugh] and eh and my parents were quite pleased about it I think. From then on eh [cough] eh we to an advanced navigational,advanced navigational course. In a place near Cheltenham I think or Gloucester. Em, it didn’t last very long. And just to get used to navigating over England which is a very different situation from navigating over em Canada.England being far more difficult to navigate. Em then from that place we had an important move eh to eh an aerodrome in Oxfordshire who’s name just escapes me for the moment but that was to crew up. This was a very vital eh matter, it happened eh that eh, it started of in the Officers Mess and it was for, which consisted of eh all, all the groups. Pilots, flight engineer, navigator, wireless operator, gunners and eh, for the, for the captain who was the pilot to select. Well; we were there all in a rather nervous state rather like getting married. Eh waiting for a pilot to come and ask you whither em you would like to be part of his crew. Well I saw a eh fellow and I thought he looks quite a safe type. Pilot officer, he was an extremely important person of the crew because your life depended on him. And eh it just so happened that he came to me and said, eh, he was rather nervous as I was and said eh ‘would you like to be part of my crew?’ Eh so I said ‘yes I would.’ So he said ‘well have a cigarette.’ Since I was a non smoker I didn’t quite know what to do about it. Anyway I thought it was rather unmanly not to have one, so I had the cigarette and was huffing and puffing, didn’t like it very much. Anyhow from that point we both went to a Sergeants Mess in order to fill up the remaining ones. That was again the wireless operator,eh flight engineer, the bomb aimer and the two gunners. The rear gunner and the mid upper gunner, crew of seven which all Lancasters had. Well that took a little bit of time and eh Harold who was my pilot and I, he was very nice. He always used to say to me ‘what do you think about so and so, do you think he would fit in?’ That sort of and our crew came together and we stayed together for the whole of the rest of the time. Of the all the missions were done with the same crew. So having, having got crew that was extremely important we were then going to train on Wellingtons which was a very different matter from being on Ansons. And eh so we had to get used to that and it was at that point to that I first came in contact with radar navigation. At that point, at that time rather eh it was extremely secret and eh, eh we were told without any shadow of a doubt eh terrible things awaited us if we found to be talking about it or in any way discussing it outside of our class. The main, the main radar at that time was GEE, G, double E. Which was a marvellous way of ascertaining where you were. The course lasted, so whilst navigator were learning about this the rest of the crew were in eh, circuits and bumps that’s a very up and down in the Wellington. For a pilot really to get used to a Welling, to a Wellington machine. So I didn’t do very much travelling on the Wellington at that time which I was quite glad ‘cause the circuits and bumps really made me quite, quite nauseous. No sooner were we up but it was time to come down, didn’t like it at all. So I was much happier learning about radar navigation. Em I am skipping ahead, I have forgotten the amount of time we were learning about eh, eh radar. The next station, then we went to was somewhere near eh Leicester, I think was it, I can’t remember. Eh and we were then on Stirlings again it was necessary for the pilot to get use on this big, huge, sprawling eh machine. Eh from navigation course eh we were going on a long trip at night and in the day time, sometimes as far as Cornwall. Sometimes up, eh tried to get eh used to, eh this is for particularly the navigator to get used to eh to using the Gee radar but never forgetting the DR. Eh direct navigation which we had learnt about eh in Canada. We were marked on the logs that we presented eh and from there we went onto another course on Lancasters. A Lancaster Finishing Course again for the pilot to get used to em driving a Lancaster. By this time we, we were, because the next station was a squadron. So we were all anxious of course to get on the squadron and ah we had to pass various tests to do that. Navigation, from the navigation point of view we were marked quite severely on the proficiency, how,we had our logs were examined very carefully. Anyhow all of this was very time consuming of course. We hardly had time to do anything else and eventually from there we were posted to a squadron. This of course was the object of joining the RAF. By this time almost two years had passed with all the various courses as far as I was concerned. The gunners course was much shorter and the other ones to were much shorter. Eh and the squadron was number 50 Squadron which was stationed at Skellingthorpe outside Lincoln, about three miles outside Lincoln and there we stayed until the end of the war. So our training then had finished and I had come to the point when were, it’ the real thing. ‘So should I stop there?’
AS. You started at Skellingthorpe in the squadron can you tell me about, about the missions that you went on, what it was like and what the living accommodation was like?
MH. What the accommodation? Yes, ok so I was an officer a pilot officer eh Howard my em, the pilot was a flight lieutenant. I forgot to mention, he had been a trainer in Canada. Eh and so we went about together a lot eh. We, we had a very cosy sort of a place we were lucky eh the main, we weren’t in with a whole lot of other people, we had a room to ourselves. With a fire lit I remember, it was almost, I shouldn’t say, it was almost like home. We had batmen to look after us or bat women to look after us em [cough] ‘excuse me.’ We being officers of course we had our own mess eh the non commissioned officers the NCOs they had their own mess as well of course. There was a division on the crew with Harold and myself being the only two officers and the rest of the crew being NCOs. But once in the air that didn’t have the slightest difference at all and we were all the same in the air. And em we would go about together too. If we were going into Lincoln for a drink or a night out sort of thing then of course we would go together with the rest of the crew. But on the station we were officers and they were NCOs, there was that difference. And eh the food, the food was very good really eh I don’t, I don’t remember complaining at all about it. We were waited on in the Mess. And em there were frollocks and people getting drunk of course at nights and doing ridiculous things. I suppose that is young men sort of playing the fool and all the rest of it and eh the spirit was “you may as well make hay while you are at work, whilst you have the chance, you might not be here tomorrow.” That, that was not a matter which was eh, dealt, dealt upon, I think it was, we think it was in everybody’s mind.Because one did see empty places in some of the accommodation places when crews had not returned. But I don’t think it was, well for myself eh it wasn’t a matter I dwelt upon. Eh It’s, it’s, it’s difficult, it’s a difficult subject you. Before you went on a raid eh you had to divest yourself of anything that might give your name or any information and put that in a locker. You did wonder, or at least I wondered, ‘I hope I see that again.’ [laugh] because one couldn’t tell. Anyhow we had to have our first operation and this was of course a cause of great excitement for us all and nervousness as well to. The target was Gdynia a port on the Baltic a long way away, long way away for a first, for a first trip. Eh it was at night time eh and eh so we knew we were on a raid that particular night because we were told to report to the briefing room at a certain time, I don’t know what the time was. Probably most of them were late afternoon or early evening for take of. Eh on reaching the briefing room with a whole lot of other crews, the briefing room consisted of all crews sitting round a table in a hap hazard sort of way. Waiting for the commander to come in to tell us what was going to happen. Eh I had all my navigational equipment with me of course, charts, various instruments and all the rest of it in a big bag. And eh we all sat together as a crew and , waited for him to come. Now the, the commander was a man called Wing Commander Jimmie Flint, F,L,I,N,T and he was a well known and,person and continued to be very well known after the war and he lived to be a hundred actually and died only fairly recently within the last couple of years anyhow. He was a man, he was known as “Twitcher Flint,” “Twitcher Flint” a big moustache and eh he would come over and say ‘Well chaps eh, eh you target for tonight.’ Whatever it was, if that target was a long way away a great groan would go up. Eh because it was going to be more difficult and last longer of course. Anyhow this was our first target and eh he would then, various people would come on to give us the directions about the eh course to go there.The track and the course to get to the target and what time it was necessary to get there bye. This, this happened on every target that I was on.So we had to listen. The met, eh meteorological man would come on and eh give his idea what the weather would be. Above all what the winds might be. Of course this was very difficult because nobody was over in Germany to give this information. So we used to regard the wind eh direction and velocity which was given to us as a bit spurious. But anyhow we didn’t have any alternative. So the various, various other people would come sometime to wish us well and then eh it was time to depart for the plane. Now eh the navigator had a lot of work to do at this particular point. He had to plan eh the course and eh get his log ready recording various information. So he was left behind in the briefing room while the rest of the crew went off to the plane. This was always a sort of nervous part I felt. Eh anyhow we had to get this done within a certain time, obviously because we had been given a, we had been given a time for take off and there was quite a lot of work to be done by everybody to do for that time. So after we, the navigators which had remained behind finished their, got all their charts recorded and ready, we went of in the transport. Hardly saying anything to anybody I remember. Sometimes you were the last to be dropped of at your plane and I found out, a very lonely position I must say. Eh dropped of outside the plane, by the time I got there they were revving up, the ground crew were all out.A lot of activity going on the ground eh waiting for me to,to eh get on the plane. I was the last man to get on, I got on, got on the plane over that great hump in the middle of the plane to the navigators cabin. Saying hello to the crew, effectively the wireless operator eh the partition between the navigators cabin and the pilots and the flight engineer and the bomb aimer in front, in front. Almost as soon as I got in eh the pilot wanted, we were all on intercom of course to make sure that was all right and wanted to get going. So I really had to rush pinning down on the chart, getting ready for eh take off. I don’t know how much detail you would like me to go into. Eh for take off we weren’t allowed, the wireless operator and I to sit at our places eh ‘cause in case there was an accident we, we get the worst of it. So we had to go down and squat down between the partition, between the navigators cabin and where the pilot sat, in a squatting position eh until we were airbourne.That happened all the time. There were were always various switches I seem to remember that had to be switched, I really can’t remember the details now but they had to be recorded on my, on my log. As soon as we were airbourne I would be back at the navigators cabin and I was then kept busy all the time until we reached the target. Eh first of all taking off if it, if it was in,in winter of course, darkness came early. But if I could get a pin point or something, well I had Gee of course, I could get some, some eh, eh pin points to put on my chart to ascertain what the wind velocity and direction was which would be helpful to me. As soon as we got near the European coast then the radar was of no use at all because it was jammed by the Germans.They would give you false information which would be disastrous so radar was wonderful up to the, up to the coast but then you couldn’t use it. It was also useful coming back as well. Anyhow from then on it was a matter of eh various legs, legs on the chart which we had given to at the briefing. Eh with order to reach the target, we didn’t go straight there of course, we might go through four, five, six, seven or eight different legs in order to get there. On this particular bombing commission to Gdynia I remember we had to go to Sweden first by various means. Eh, which of course which we shouldn’t have done to get to Sweden and Sweden at that point in Sweden the, the target was, was directly Sotheby. So that is what happened and by that or whatever eh we arrived fairly well on time, I am glad to say which was a huge relief to me. Eh and eh the bombing at the, as soon as we got near, near the target the bomb aimer would then take over the navigation.And he would guide the plane, starboard skipper, port skipper to the actual bombing point and it was up to him then of course to eh, bomb the target. Gdynia was a, was port on the, on the Baltic and as soon as the bombs were dropped everything on the aircraft went up, ourselves included because of the release of the weight of the bombs of course. So I wasn’t used to this, all my navigational instruments went flying everywhere, all over the floor. I should explain that there was a very dark,black heavy curtain eh which joined the eh, em partion between the navigators cabin and, and where the eh pilot sat eh and eh ‘cause I had to have the light on obviously. So I learned a lesson from that to put all the navigational instruments in a bag as soon as we got near the target otherwise you would never find them again. So em quickly to eh give a direction to the pilot making quite sure we were going Westwards and not Eastwards em for the first leg home. There were all the time directions to be given by the navigator to the pilot, eh ‘skipper eh course number,’ Whatever, whatever degree what we,he needed. He eh and I would have eh em a compass inside the navigators so I could tell if he was keeping to that course. That was very important because if comp, if the pilot strayed from the course that was given to him, that seriously affected if we would hit the target. So I would, I would say to him ‘Skipper you are two degrees off.’ Now that irritated the pilot very much indeed once we got back on the ground. Not in the air. He would say to me ‘how do you expect me to keep this course all the time? you don’t realise what a heavy job it is piloting, keeping the course.’ So I said ‘What you don’t realise if we don’t keep the course we won’t hit the target.’ So it was something that happened all the time. But it really was, it really was important that, to do, that he would keep the course. I know it was hard for him and I couldn’t resist it once or twice.[laugh] Well there was the matter of getting home and very important at this point to make sure you were going West and not East for obvious reasons.Then it was the matter of getting back home safely again it wasn’t a direct matter. Eh various legs and all the rest of it and once we got over the, to the North Sea we could use Gee then and home in on Gee and eh and arrive safely. Eh,I just, just mentioned eh I was never very much, my thoughts didn’t go to if we would get shot down and or anything like that. My great fear and it really was a fear, this thing I had dreams about is if we would get lost in the darkness. It was winter time em, very often ten, tenths cloud you couldn’t see anything eh couldn’t you couldn’t have any pin points to [unclear] there was nothing to help you. You had to go on D, direct navigation and, and, and go on what you thought was the right way. All to often we would be flying to a target and the gunners would say ‘oh everybody’s going off to the starboard.’ You think ‘I am not going to the starboard.’ But it caused a certain amount of fear. If you didn’t get to the target on, well if you got to the target on time that was fine, that is what should happen. But it was very, very difficult, only,only a few minutes in a few minutes it was very difficult to do that a long way from home with very little navigational help. Astral navigation was of no good whatsoever because it was too long winded. And the aircraft anyhow getting the bubble and the sextant with the plane jumping up and down.It was virtually impossible and you would probably get a bad reading anyhow.Although we did use it when we were training in Canada as a last resort. But my main fear was getting lost or getting to the target too early in which case you would circle the target which was very dangerous. Or get it too late when the fighters would be up for obvious reasons. And also on, on these raids remembering there were five hundred, seven hundred even a thousand aircraft all bombing at different heights at different times and the, and the chances of, chances of aircraft crashing into each other. That is what was on my mind more that anything else. Also I thought if we got lost, the shame of it all, I would be blamed and eh this worried me intensely I must say.Much more than any sense of danger. Of course it was wonderful getting home and to think we got home safely, we bombed the target and a feeling of exhilaration. The first, as soon as we got of the plane we were welcomed by the ground crew which was always nice. Oh I should have mentioned when we were taking off it was quite customary for the CO to come and see us of, the dentist would see us of, the padre would see us of. Everyone would be waving at us so it was quite nice. Anyhow as soon as we got down the first point to go to was the intelligence and there we were eh quizzed about eh what had happened in the raid. And did we see [unclear] my log was particularly eh necessary.Because we had to make a note of if we saw any planes going down or anything out of the way which had occurred to us had to be marked in our log. So all that information was delivered to em, to them. For the men it was up to the mess for bacon and eggs which was a great treat because eggs we only eat once a week eh and then eh back to our billets. And then next day fine we were on the next night, so I will stop there.
AS. What year was it that you did your first ?
MH. 1944.
AS. 1944 so how many did you do all together?
MH. I’m sorry.
AS. How many sorties did you do all together?
MH. Twenty two we wanted to do thirty because that was the tour. A tour consisted of thirty and we really wanted to do thirty but the war ended to our disappointment.[laugh].
AS. When you were in Skellingthorpe, how much time did you get, did you do, do sorties every, every night or did you have time to rest or were you just waiting for the weather to be right?
MH. Well eh we flew, we flew when we were told to. Eh we obeyed exactly what we were told to do. Yes exactly we had time of. Time of we’d go, we’d go into Lincoln to that pub there I have forgotten the name. I have forgotten the name of it now, a pretty awful pub I seem to remember. Or we would go and see, go to the pictures eh, go and have a supper out somewhere and eh that was nice. We had quite a lot of free time as far as that was concerned. During the day time we had to report to our different sections. I had to report to the navigating sections. Oh by the way to, we had to deliver eh logs to the navigation section and they would be looked at and logged A,B,C or D you know and if they hadn’t been done properly we would be in for trouble. Which I thought was a bit, a bit of unnecessary really for after all, there but anyway that was what it was. There was a good lot of teasing went on and eh it was quite a happy occasion. Eh being in the, being in the mess and getting to know other people. Navigators tended to stick together and each group tended to stick together. But we used to go out as a crew, get drunk and all those sort of things people do or did in those days. I remember it being a socially, happy time.
AS. When you em, how did you hear about the end of the war, when were you told about it?
MH. I think we must have been at the station when we heard about it. Em some people went to London eh, eh I personally made some friends in,in Market Harborough. Met a bank manager there who my family knew his brother and eh they were awfully nice to me I must say and I would go and spend the weekend sometimes with them. Em,sort of a bit like going home. Occasionally we had leave and I could go and for instance on Christmas of that year I was able to go back to my parents. And who were, who were in a state, they were very nervous. They didn’t show it, I only heard about it afterwards. And eh anyhow it was very nice to, I was very fond of them, eh it was very nice to be home again and have proper sheets on the bed.[laugh] and be, and be looked after sort of thing. It was, it was very necessary that you didn’t talk too much about what went on. Eh and especially you shouldn’t write about it eh through your parents or anybody else. A great friend of mine eh from my time at London Ontario, eh made a big mistake in writing to his parents about it. Unfortunately his letter was censored and eh he was had up before the group captain and eh he was all but eh loosing his commission, he didn’t but it was a lesson for him. So, so I had to arrange a scheme with my mother were as I wouldn’t tell her what target we had been on the night before. It was nearly always reported in the newspaper, I used to cut it out of the newspaper and just send this piece of the newspaper to her. So she would know from that and funnily enough only the other day, just before you came. I came across the book that she had kept all these eh cuttings in. So anyhow that is just by the way.
AS. At the end of the war, what happened to you at the end of the war?
MH. Yes, ok at the end of the war was absolutely eh, eh I don’t know, everything suddenly changed all of a sudden em, it was very disappointing in many ways. When we were in uniform during the war the air force, particularly aircrew were regarded with a high, from the public with high regard and eh we were extremely proud of that. Uniform and having a brevet and eh, and being at the squadron we were highly respected. That all vanished as soon as the war was over we were just people again [laugh]. Eh and eh there was a feeling of, well I didn’t have a feeling of relief that the war was over I regret to say. Because I really wanted to complete the tour and, and do the thirty, thirty missions all together.So I was really disappointed and anyhow it was a sort of no mans land type of place. We didn’t know what was going to happen, nobody did. I, I as I say I didn’t go to London to celebrate.But eventually we were given a choice,that we could em, join another squadron which would take us abroad. Because em,a long time had to pass before we could be demobilised in view of the enormous number of people involved. In fact it took me about eighteen months before I was demobilised. So we were [sounds like weren’t] given the opportunity of volunteering em to go abroad in Transport Command. So Howard and I talked about it and I was all for it actually, there was nothing, I didn’t want to go down a mine or, or be a harvester or anything like that. So and I thought there was an opportunity to see a bit of the world so and he seemed to like the idea and the bomb aimer eh, although he wouldn’t be a bomb aimer he would be a second pilot. There would be just four, they would be Dakotas we would be flying, a bit of a come down from a Lancaster. He eh and the wireless operator we decided we would like to do it so we said goodbye to the gunners and the flight engineer. And eh so that was rather sad the crew was broken up actually and I never saw them again. So the four of us were sent up to 10 Squadron which was in a place called Melbourne in Yorkshire and there started training again on, on Dakotas. For me it was easy well very easy indeed I didn’t have much to do and I had almost forgotten pretty much what we do there, what we did there.[cough]. It was to get used to dropping eh materials out of, out of, out of the plane. Eh which I didn’t like the sound of very much. The plane door was open and we had to push things out and get used to that and get used to being in a, in a Dakota. Anyhow and also being on a different squadron which was a Halifax squadron which we thought was going another step down as well. Eh so eventually came a time when we would eh, fly out to India. So that took place from Cornwall and eh I remember my parents were holidaying there. I met up with them there and they saw us of actually. So we flew out to eh India in Dakotas, by stages, by stages from there, the first stage was in,in,in Corsica I think it was. And then to Libya, then to Palestine as it was then, then to em,em East Africa and then to Aden and stopping the night each time. We didn’t do any night flying at all so it took quite a long time to go.Unfortunately from the flight to Aden I developed a sinus which was extremely painful em with the pressure. So I had to stay behind there and they had to get another navigator to take them on to India and I stayed in Aden for a week. The worst week of my life I think, it was just awful feel ill and all alone, heat, humidity, just awful. Anyhow all things come to an end and I eh flew as a passenger to Karachi and then, then eh to Bombay and then was told that 10 Squadron was in Poona only a short way away from Bombay. So we joined the, we joined them there and met up again with Harold of course who by now was a squadron leader, I was now a flying officer, eh and eh the bomb aimer who was a pilot had been commissioned as a pilot officer and the wireless operator, awfully nice guy he was there still as a flight sergeant. And we did trips up to here and there Karachi mainly, mainly and eh then Harold who was quite a bit older, two or three years older than I am was eh demobilised. And returned to Canada where he eh he was married to a Canadian so we said goodbye to him and the bomb aimer to, the second pilot he was called by then. He was an older man to so that just left the nav, wireless operator and myself of the original crew. [door bell rings] Em, so I wasn’t very happy on the squadron and eh, eh there was an opportunity to join another squadron in eh Calcutta, number 52 Squadron and eh volunteers were being asked and Johnnie the wireless operator and myself volunteered to go to 52 Squadron. So they allowed us to go. So we then flew to, as passengers to 52 Squadron in Calcutta. This was to have quite a big effect on my life actually. From 52 Squadron which was a very nice squadron to be on eh, they were flying between Calcutta and Hong Kong. So we then teamed up with a new pilot called Rex Ainsworth who was a very proper pilot with a moustache and eh second pilot Paddy Williamson, four of us. And we flew between Calcutta to Rangoon, to Bangkok, to Saigon to Hong Kong. That was the route, staying of at each place for the night.We all liked Hong Kong so much because there were a lot of things going on there it was fabulous after war rations and so on. Something always seemed to go wrong with the plane at Hong Kong, funny [laugh] Anyhow I left [unclear] and that happened a few times, there were other trips to. Then the squadron moved down to Mingaladon airport, that is the airport for Rangoon. And we were stationed there for a time. Then at long, long last my number for eh came up for,for going home and eh so I went home on,by boat. Took about three weeks, I was home carrying a bottle of whisky and eh eventually to my home to the great joy of my parents and myself and then wondered what am I going to do?
AS. So how was fitting back into civilian life?
MH. Yes that was difficult, that was difficult because we were so used to discipline of the Air Force and how one spoke and behaved and so on. And coming home to civilian. England was in a poor state, this was January 1947. Dreadful winter, one of the worst winters ever recorded and coming straight from, from Burma that was noticeable shall we say. Em getting used to English ways, the country was demoralised. Rationing was worse than it was during the war I think. No idea of a job, I didn’t know what to do, I had been in the Air Force for four years. I didn’t want to go back to the bank eh every thing I saw, the people I thought were lacking in spirit and fed up so what with that and the weather. But, but when I was being demobilised I was told about, there was a course for em ex officers which lasted about eh, eh three I think about three or four weeks,to help you, to help you learn what to do about being a civilian again. I remember this and I thought, the course was at Worcester and only about sixteen miles from where my parents lived, a place called Ledbury in Herefordshire. Em I thought ‘I will go on this course.’ It was a good opportunity, so I went on the course and eh telling us all about accountancy and eh various other subjects and all the rest of it, which is, which is quite helpful. But the main thing about this was at the end of the course, if you were considered suitable, there were offers of various jobs from companies. So I remember BAT, British American Tobacco eh had a job and I thought, ‘I don’t want to stay in England any more it is hopeless, everybody is so down and out, what am I going to do, I had been abroad, I really want something better than this.’ I thought ‘ok I will go abroad again.’ So I applied to BAT and they wrote and said ‘yes we would like to see you, come up to London please.’ So I came up to London and spent two days at one of the railway hotels at their expense and went through a whole lot of questions. And eh seen by a psychiatrist I remember eh, asked all sorts of difficult questions. Hopeless questions just to see how you would react and at the end of it em, eh they said ‘we will get in touch with you.’ At the same time there was another company in Calcutta who were looking for eh a company secretary. I thought oh, well I, I might add I had vowed when I was in Calcutta that I would never in my life, ever [emphasis] return to this city again. It was because of the heat and the humidity and, and poverty and anyhow, so this was in Calcutta. So, so there was a firm with a head office in Coventry Alfred Herbert Leading in Machine Tools [?] So they invited me for an interview as well. So I went to Coventry and eh, and eh there were three or four other people after the same job I think. Anyhow I got an offer of a job from eh BAT at the same time as I did from Alfred Herbert in Coventry. Both very different jobs, there was a snag about both eh. With BAT you had to say you wouldn’t marry before you were twenty five and that you would spent all your working life overseas. I didn’t like either of these at all. Both tying me in. With, with the Calcutta one, the climate and for reasons I have just said I didn’t want to go back there.Anyhow I eventually chose the Calcutta one and I got a job on a four year contract. Went out to Calcutta again[laugh] as a civilian in a very different city for my eyes from what it was before and eh there I stayed for eleven years.
AS. Working for BAT?
MH. No to BAT I said ‘thank you very much I am taking the other one.’ So with Alfred Herbert. It was a good choice, it was a good choice. They had this enormous area of land, the whole of India [unclear] parts of India to cover and Ceylon and, and Malaya and that and Thailand. So it was enormous. And I, I did well there and prospered. I was made a director eh and the only reason I left there really was for health reasons. I really found that my health was suffering because of the climate so I came back after eleven years then had difficulty settling down in England again. But the idea of living abroad now had gone.
AS. When you came back were you working for the same firm?
MH. No, ah it is interesting, when came back, I wanted to go, I went to Coventry eh to see if anything was available and was told ‘we really appreciate what you have done but we are very sorry we haven’t got anything available for you.’ Eh that was a big blow for me because I had hoped maybe to go to Australia where they had a subsidiary company or maybe to Italy. Anyhow,but there was a good reason that they didn’t have anything. Within five years the company was, had been taken over by Government and was, was bankrupt. Alfred Herbert,so Alf, so Alfred Herbert who I met on a couple of occasions at least because his third wife used to live in Calcutta. So that was the sort of common touch and she always wanted to see me whenever I went to Coventry on leave. The four year contract I had with, meant I had to stay in Calcutta for four years. I, I wouldn’t be allowed home in that time eh and eh then I would have six months leave and the next time I went back it was a three[two?] year contract, four and a half years. ‘Are we, are we still on? Oh, can I diverse?Yes.’Once when I was in Alfred Herberts in their factory in Coventry, and enormous factory making machine tools. You couldn’t see the end if you stood up. Because I was a director of the subsidiary company in India eh I was allowed to have lunch with directors and the senior staff in Coventry. So on this particular day eh, I was invited in to have lunch at, at, at the canteen I suppose and they said ‘This is where Sir Alfred generally sits, but don’t worry about it he has gone home and you won’t be in any trouble, just sit there.’ So I was sitting next to the place where Sir Alfred generally sits. Sir Alfred I might add was greatly feared in the whole of the. He had founded the business since I had been, enormously successful for him and eh his word was well, it was wise not to upset him. So there was a general chatter going on whilst you were giving your order for lunch. Suddenly the door opened and in walked Sir Alfred, his Rolls Royce had broken down. So he came in and sat right next door to me. So he said, the waitress came up and eh, so he said ‘I will have this or the other for lunch.’ And then turned to me and said, everybody was quiet at this time of course. ‘Well Heaton,’ he said ‘Tell us something about India.’ Well of course I was enormously embarrassed so I said ‘well Sir eh, it’s very hot.’ [laugh] He saw that I was embarrassed and [laugh] moved into other conversations. Anyhow when, when I had decided to leave and eh he wrote me a letter, personal which I still have eh and asked me what my reasons were for leaving India. And I told him, eh I think he was afraid that I might be, I might know something about some wrong doing or something like that in the firm. And I was very friendly with his grandson actually eh and he thought I would tell him, because he addressed this letter not to the company but to my private residence. Then said when I came home eh that I should report to him. So I had hopes of that but in that time he had died at ninety one. I have a photograph of him in my study that I can show you in due course and you can see from his face the sort of man he was. Well then, when I came home, then I, what am I going to do? How can I can a job? Well, started looking at advertisements all the rest of it. And eh wrote of eh tantalising letters I hoped to eh, to eh various places who I thought would be very happy to have me with my, with my Indian experience and being a director at a young age and all the rest of it. I thought, I had high hopes, I said to my mother ‘don’t worry I will soon get a job.’ I didn’t get a job. Those people who replied to me were terribly sorry, not suitable eh disappointing thing. In the meantime time was getting on and eh, eh I was running out of my leave pay, final pay. And eh, so very disappointing, getting a bit disheartened as well thinking is something the matter with me. And so I was looking in the Telegraph and I saw there was eh, there was a estate agency up for sale, for half sale. So I said to my mother ‘I will go and have a look at that.’ In Surbiton near London. So my mother came with me, we went to Surbiton and so this rather pokey business and half of it was available to me if I bought it for two thousand five hundred pounds, which was quite a sum in those days. We are talking in nine, eh nineteen fifty nine, fifty eight, nineteen fifty eight.Anyhow short of the tale was I thought ‘blow it, yes I’ll pay it.’ So I bought half the company without knowing anything at all about estate agency. But I felt I had to get away from Ledbury and that was, that had been the problem actually. Anyhow I started work with this company. Didn’t like it very much, thought I would have to make a go of it. Found out [unclear] there had been some fiddling about.With the customers deposits being used for paying wages or something. When I asked my partner ‘what is all this about?’ So he said ‘well we haven’t got the money.’ I said ‘you can’t use this to pay.’ So straight away, up to see solicitors, they said ‘you must resign at once and get out of it.’ Which I did, I thought what about my money ‘well you will, see what the best we can about that.’So there I was having bought a house in eh, em, I have forgotten what the place was Hersham, Hersham on Thames and eh back to square one. So then I started asking, answering advertisements and immediately got a reply and got a job straight away, Bush House as a company secretary. I stayed there for one year, there was no, no eh future for me in there. Eh I looked at another advertisement in a, in a print, printing factory also for a company secretary, got that without any trouble. That was sold to Pitmans and new people came in, didn’t like them, stopped there. Moved out of there, got a job with International paints, eh a job much lower than normally I would have taken there. And quite enjoyed it, I thought I must make a move again. I saw an advertisement in the paper em, eh jeweller requiring a company secretary must be about forty, that was exactly my age. I applied for it, then I was asked. ‘Am I boring you with all this? Just stop me.’
AS. Please carry on.
MH. Tizex[?] were the people concerned I had to go to them first and as luck may have it there was a, a Sir Hilary, somebody I forgot. Anyway he was a rear admiral during the war and in the Indian Ocean. So Indian Ocean, I thought ‘oh India.’ So I mentioned ‘Really where were you in India?’ That put me out from other people who were applying for the job, I believe in retrospect. So Anyhow, he said ‘ok I have got to see a lot of people, we will be in touch.’ About a month went past, he rang me up one evening at home, he said ‘are you still interested in the job?’ I said ‘yes I am.’ So he said ‘come and see me again.’ So I went again and he told me more about the job. The job was Ciro Pearls Ltd with eh, with em shops in this country, in Germany in and in America. Eh so widely run. So he said you [pause] ‘look shortlist now six people and eh you will be hearing from them.’ Anyhow I heard from them, present yourself at the shop in Regents Street and I was the last one. Oh Chairman a very nice man, a Russian Vladimir Gorash em. I have got his photograph here to.And eh a few simple questions. In short I went home it was Easter time, I said to my mother ‘I think I have got that job.’and I had. When I got back there was the offer. Well that’s my last, I was with them for twenty five years. Em,and rose to be Managing Director and in time Chief Executive Officer of the entire group. So it was really a good move. So I did a huge amount of travelling particularly in America, East to West Coasts. Em all over in this country,right up as far as Aberdeen. [Unclear] in Germany many[unclear] and in Austria we opened a shop in Vienna another one in Saltsburg. France in Paris altogether about a hundred shops altogether or about a hundred outlets I should say. There em and I retired em when I was sixty five having done twenty five years with the company. Em; did well salary wise eh was almost my own boss pretty well. The eh, the,the Russian Chairman retired and died.And eh I became, became, I took over his job and held that for about eh oh I suppose twenty years going up to that job altogether. So, so it finished, a highly satisfactory, very interesting, the shops were all in the best possible places. I travelled by Concorde or first class. I was expected to, to eh act in a, a certain way and with that came all these props as well. So it was a very interesting job for me. Quite unlike anything I had done previously. I went round the world once and called in on Calcutta to my old place again to in Alfred Herbert and met some of the staff which were still there. So em and since then retirement, just enjoying myself until now[laugh].
AS. Thank you very much as far as your aircrew were concerned you said that you, when you changed squadrons and went over to India you left three of them behind and you never saw them again. Did you keep in touch with any of the other aircrew.
MH. Yes my pilot, yes until he died, he was in Canada.
AS. Was he a Canadian?
MH. No.
AS. But he married a Canadian.
MH. Yes, he was, he was a teacher an RAF teacher there, an instructor. He was an instructor in Canada em then he decided he wanted to take a part in the war.He was in the Air Force as an instructor, he wanted to take part in the war and came back to England and that’s where I met him. But he had married when he was in Canada, this Canadian girl. Em, so he came back by himself leaving her out in. in Canada. She actually did come over with a view of staying in, in this country until the end of the war but she hated it so much that she went back to Canada. So he was without his wife until he went back again. Unfortunately he was on the booze and he died, he was only sixty nine.
AS. Oh right.
MH. The others I have lost touch with.
AS. Right, well thank you.


Andrew Sadler, “Interview with Stuart Michael Heaton,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 5, 2023,

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