Interview with Harry Irons. Two


Interview with Harry Irons. Two


Harry was under age when he joined the RAF in 1940 after witnessing bombing in London. He went to Blackpool in August 1941 and became a rear gunner. Gunnery school for six weeks at RAF Manby followed, and Harry joined 9 Squadron at RAF Waddington. He served on two crews and converted from Wellingtons to Lancasters. Harry describes his operations in some detail, of which 27 were to the Ruhr Valley. Some did not count because of a lack of photographic evidence. He also went to places in France and Italy, and had a photograph taken by Guy Gibson on the way to Le Creusot. There were 'gardening' i.e. mining trips as well. He describes some of the problems they encountered, including the Germans’ 'Schräge Musik' upward-firing guns. They resulted in the loss of many bombers and not due to scarecrow as initially claimed. Harry also discusses nuisance raids. They frequently dropped their propaganda leaflets in the North Sea area.
He then went to an Operational Training Unit as an instructor. He was posted to Southend, flying in Martinets towing drogues.
Harry was posted to 77 Squadron at RAF Full Sutton in October 1944 in Halifaxes. He discusses the use of Window. Harry was posted to 462 Squadron at RAF Driffield as a mid-upper gunner. Operations continued to the Ruhr Valley but were slightly easier. He was posted to 466 Squadron and then to 158 Squadron at RAF Lissett.
Harry describes their role in the Dresden bombings. He details their briefings and explains why the Ruhr became known as 'Happy Valley'. He outlines his most memorable and difficult operations, including the 24 October 1942 daylight Milan bombing noting the surprise achieved, the inadequacy of air defences, and the sight of people in the streets.
He expresses his views on Lack of Moral Fibre, the importance and recognition of Bomber Command, as well as his opinion of Chamberlain, Churchill and Arthur Harris. He gives his thoughts on the atomic bomb.
Harry explains the strengths and weaknesses of various aircraft. His favourite aircraft was the Halifax Mk III. The most dangerous German fighter was the Ju 88.
After his second tour, Harry was posted to Scotland as an instructor before going to Blackpool for training. He was put in charge of Women’s Auxiliary Air Force staff on sewing machines in Newmarket.
Harry completed 60 operations and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.







02:44:50 audio recording


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TO: I just have to do a short introduction first as well.
HI: Yeah.
TO: Good morning. Good afternoon. Or good evening. Whatever the case is. This interview is being filmed for the International Bomber Command Centre and the gentleman I’m interviewing is Mr Harry Irons. My name’s Thomas Ozel and we’re recording this interview on the 30th of July. Could you please tell me what year you were born?
HI: 1924.
TO: And –
HI: January ’24.
TO: And where — were you interested in aircraft as a child?
HI: No. Not really. No. You never see no aircraft anyway [laughs] in those days. The reason why I joined the air force because we lived in a place called Stamford Hill which was on a hill in London. And we had a grandstand view of the bombing of the City of London which was well alight. And four or five of us said we’ll go and join the air force. I was only sixteen. I told them I was seventeen and a half and they, and they didn’t even query me age. And they said, ‘Alright. You’re in the air force.’ And that was it. I was just sixteen. They assessed me and they said, ‘What do you want to be?’ I said, ‘I want to be a pilot.’ And they said, ‘We’ve got a hell of a load of applications for pilots but we’ve got vacancies for wireless operator/air gunners.’ So I said, ‘Alright. I’ll have that,’ and I became a wireless operator/air gunner. And I joined the air force in nineteen — the end of 1940. And the following year — I had to wait for an application to become a wireless operator. Well, I was in the RAF and I went to Blackpool in August 1941 and while we was there we got to twelve words a minute and they got us out on a squadron and said, ‘You’re not going to be wireless operators you’re going to be what they call straight AG’s. Rear gunners. So that’s how I became a rear gunner. So I waited a few more months and then I was posted for gunnery school. A place called Manby. RAF Manby in Lincoln. And I done six weeks training there and we should do another three or four months training at OTU which I’d never done. They sent me straight from the six weeks gunnery school straight onto a squadron. Number 9 Squadron at Waddington. And when I arrived there I was sitting in the mess, because I was a sergeant then, I was sitting in the mess and when I came out the mess there was a flight lieutenant pilot there and he said, ‘You’re going to fly with me as a mid-upper gunner.’ Because what had happened the squadron had converted from Wellingtons on to Lancasters and Lancasters carried an extra gunner and a flight engineer. So there I was at 9 Squadron in May, no, June 1942 and we were just converting, just finished converting from Wellingtons, the twin engine bomber on to Lancasters. And that’s how it started and what we had to do was get used to flying a four engine bomber which we did do, and in September we were sitting in the crew room and they said, ‘Ops tomorrow night.’ And that was in September the 9th 1942. I got that right. And so what you have to do is take the aircraft up for half an hour. Test the engines, make sure they’re running right. The bomb bay opens and closes. The bomb sight’s working. The guns are working. The ailerons are working and the undercarriage is working. You do that in half hours flight. When we landed the bomb aimer had already done about seventeen trips on Wellingtons so he was an old sweat. To do seventeen bombing trips he was really a real veteran. And as we landed there was a big tractor come along pulling up a four thousand pounder and fourteen hundred incendiaries. So the bomb aimer said to me, ‘That load means that we’re going to Happy Valley.’ And I was pretty, well I didn’t know a lot anyway. So I thought well that doesn’t sound too bad. Happy Valley. And there you are. We got briefed. We went, we always had bacon and eggs before we went to the briefing. We had the briefing and that and when we went into the briefing room there was a huge curtain over the map and we were waiting there. The CO comes in, immediately pulls the curtain down and it shows you exactly what bombing raid was on. There’s a red tape running from England to the — and the town was Dusseldorf. So I still didn’t twig on a lot so the bomb aimer was there. He said, ‘I told you,’ he said, ‘We’re going to Happy Valley.’ And I thought well it don’t sound too bad. Happy Valley. And we went down to the crew room. Got dressed. And being gunners we have to be heavily heavily dressed. There was pure silk long johns and a vest. And your shirt, uniform and a huge fisherman’s pullover we used to put on. Then we put the electrically heated suit on. Is that alright?
TO: Do you mind if I just put this light on? Sorry.
HI: Put that light on.
TO: Yes. I’m very sorry but — sorry about that.
HI: How’s that?
TO: Yes. That’s better — sorry half your face is in shadow. Sorry. Ok. Sorry you were.
HI: Oh that’s only the, I’ll switch that one on as well.
TO: Switch that on.
HI: Yeah. Switch that on as well.
TO: Ok sorry about that.
HI: So we got dressed and then we had huge heavy furs. Fur jacket and fur trousers on top. The temperatures in those days was about thirty five, forty below zero. We had no heating whatsoever. And we went out to the aircraft and the ritual was we always pissed on the rear wheel for good luck. Anyway, we got in the aircraft and we was at Waddington. And they had no runways there. All they had was grass. And even on my first trip with this bomb load on we just managed to lift off over the, over the hedges to take off. And then we got, we, we flew around the aerodrome until we got up to six or seven thousand feet and then we headed east. We crossed the North Sea and then the bomb aimer who lays in the front, lays flat down at the front said, ‘Enemy coast ahead. Flak.’ So we was up about sixteen thousand feet then. Mind you this pilot was a very seasoned pilot. He was on his second tour so he knew all the tricks and he knew that to get over Holland you had to be above twelve thousand feet because of the light flak. There was hundreds of these light flak guns on the Frisian Islands what we had to pass over. Anyway, we was well above it and I looked down. I see these beautiful colours. Blues, greens, reds. Tracer coming up and dropping down and I thought to myself if that’s flak we’ve got nothing at all to worry about. We was well above it. We flew across Holland. We was up to about nineteen, twenty thousand feet then. We flew across Holland. We never see a lot. Only a few star shells and a few lights on the ground for the night fighters who used to circle around waiting to come after us. Anyway, we crossed over Holland into Germany and then the bomb aimer said, ‘Target ahead skipper.’ And I thought to myself, ‘Well, I’ll have a little see what this target’s like. And being the mid-upper you could swing the turret a hundred and twenty degrees all the way around. So I swung it around facing the forward position and I had a shock of my life. In front of us was one huge massive explosion of shells. And I thought to myself, ‘Cor blimey, surely we haven’t got to go through that.’ There was hundreds of shells exploding. You’d see aircraft blowing up in the sky, some on fire. And the skipper said to me, being on me first trip, he said, ‘Mid-upper make sure you look above you and there’s no aircraft flying above you ready to drop its bombs.’ Which did happen. And a lot of our aircraft were badly damaged through aircraft dropping their incendiaries and bombs from a different height. Anyway, we, I said to the skipper, as I looked up there was a Lancaster above us with its bomb bay open. The bomb bay was enormous. It’s about from that there to about here. That’s the length of the bomb bay. It was enormous. And I said to the skipper, ‘There’s a Lanc above us with its bomb bay open. Dive port.’ He dived port, straightened out and started flying again towards the huge barrage and the bomb aimer said, ‘We’re on the wrong course.’ He said, ‘We’ve got to go around again and make another approach to the target.’ Because the most important thing on a bombing raid was to bring back a photograph. If you didn’t bring a photograph back they never counted for it as a raid. The camera was enormous. Like that. Huge thing it was. Anyway, we run. We went right through that lot with our bomb bays shut. Turned around, made what they called a dog leg and come back on the rear of the formations that were flying in and by that time Jerry had cottoned on to us. And don’t forget, another terror of bombing was the searchlights. If one of those searchlights hit you it completely blinded you. They were so powerful. They had what they called a radar operated searchlight and that was blue. It wasn’t white like the ordinary searchlights. It was blue. And it never missed. It went bang, like that and it hit you straight away and once that hit you about ten or fifteen searchlights would come and cone you. And then all the guns would open up and the fighter would come straight in on top of you. So you had to very very wary of a searchlight. Anyway, we made the dogleg around. Came and we was at the back of the bomber formation then and we could see, I could see from where I was the town was getting a real hammering. At that time, that period, there was no Pathfinders. That’s why we had to go around again — because we had to select our own target and bring a photograph back, more or less on that area. It did, when the Pathfinders was formed it did make bombing, not easier, but we could get in and all we had to then with the Pathfinders was bomb the flare. We didn’t have to look for a specified target. We just bombed the flare. Go in, bomb the flare, slam your door shut, dive and get out quick. And you had to get out quick believe me. And we made our approach around and we made the bombing run and, once ‘cause this was my first trip and I was amazed. Directly we dropped the bombs we went up like a lift because the weight, the huge weight of the bombs being dropped suddenly the aircraft went up four or five hundred feet. Anyway, we slammed the, we slammed the bomb bay doors shut and then we, what we used to do was either go port or starboard, dive down and get enough speed as we could to get away from the target. Anyway, as we’re coming home, and this was on my first trip, as we were coming home the bomb aimer and the wireless operator said, ‘We can’t breathe. We’ve got no oxygen.’ Apparently the shrapnel had come through, which it always did and cut the leads from the oxygen bottles to the line to where they were breathing. Anyway, so we had to go to below ten thousand feet and then we could take our oxygen masks off and breathe normal. And as we passed over the Dutch coast which we’d seen coming in, beautiful coloured lights. I had the shock of my life. These shells were whipping past us. I’ve never seen anything like it. How they never hit us I don’t know. There was hundreds of them. All coming up. Anyway, we got over the Dutch coast, the Frisian Islands it was and made our way home, and landed. Had a look at the aircraft which always had shrapnel holes in the aircraft. Always. And we landed and I thought, that’s it, that’s one trip. I’ve got another twenty nine to do. And I mean by twenty nine means you had to bring back a picture. If you didn’t bring back a picture it didn’t count as a trip so you did it again. So instead of doing thirty you had to do did thirty one, thirty two or whatever. How many pictures you missed. And that was my first. First raid and it shook the life out of me. I never realised what it was to go all that way and the fantastic bombardment of German guns was incredible. And you had to be careful even then, coming home, because they had what they called radar operated guns on the way and they were so accurate. They never missed. Even at twenty thousand feet they could hit you as easy as anything. So you just used to do a little gentle weave to keep, well to help you to keep out of the radar. That was my first trip. We went down. We had the usual bacon and eggs, cup of coffee. Told them what we’d seen and went to kip. And the next morning we woke up and we was on bombing raid again. I should bring, I’d better bring my logbook down I think.
TO: If you want. Yeah.
HI: Yeah. Two seconds. How’s it going?
TO: Can you just sit back down again sorry. The lighting seems ok actually. Yeah. I think you’ll be alright.
HI: Alright.
TO: Yeah. Sure. You sure you don’t want me to help you get it?
HI: No. I’ll go and get it. Don’t worry.
[recording paused]
HI: I should have put exactly what was happening in my logbook but the reason why I never done that as you see. That was my first trip.
TO: Dusseldorf.
HI: Dusseldorf. And I put target found and bombed.
TO: Yeah.
HI: And the officer, he said, ‘Don’t start putting down what you done and what you didn’t.’ Just put down the target.
TO: Wilhelmshaven.
HI: Yeah. See.
TO: Bremen.
HI: And then two days later, which was the following day we went to Bremen. That was where they was building the submarines. How’s that? Is that alright?
TO: That’s a lot better. Thank you.
HI: Yeah. They was building the submarines there and we gave them the right goings. Mind the flak was absolutely horrendous there in Bremen. And believe it or not the following night we went to Wilhelmshaven. The other submarine base where they was building the submarines. And the biggest, the biggest thing at all about bombing was the flak. It was absolutely, and it was terrifying. I’ll tell you that. It was absolutely terrifying. The night fighters you never see until they hit you and we was useless really. We had only 303 calibre machine guns and the Germans had twenty millimetre cannons and we didn’t stand a chance. Never stood a chance. And the thing that done us, that the Germans brought out a simple, unique thing of placing two cannons behind the pilot on the JU88 and the M10 and all they used to do was pick you up on the radar. Drop down two or three hundred feet. Then come up underneath and go straight for the petrol tank. At first they used to go for the actual aircraft but a lot of those aircraft had bombs on board and they’d line up the fighter as well. So what they had done they used to come up underneath and they could see from the fire from the exhaust, the engines and they had a beautiful view of the petrol tank. They used to give it one quick squirt and the bomber would just used to literally blow up in the sky. I mean literally. Literally blow right up in the sky. That’s why we got thirty thousand names at Runnymede. We don’t know what happened to them.
TO: Did you ever actually see that happen on a Lancaster?
HI: I see it, yes. I see, well actually, didn’t actually see the fighter hitting the Lanc but we used to see the, see the bombers blowing up and we didn’t know why. There was no flak. All you used to see was a huge explosion and up it went. And that went on. We lost hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of bombers. But the thing that annoyed me the RAF knew what was going on. They knew what was going on and not once did they ever warn us about this method of attack. Never. ‘Cause before all we expected was them to attack the rear. The rear turret. They always went for the rear turret and before they got this idea of coming up underneath. And they literally shot down hundreds and hundreds of our bombers and not once at any briefing did they warn us that we were being attacked from underneath and it went right on ‘til the end of the war when the Air Ministry admitted that’s what the Germans were doing. They never warned us. And the only reason that I think why they never warned us is because they wanted us to fly straight and level because if we’d had known what was happening we’d have weaved our way right the way through. We could have at least seen what was coming up underneath us. But we never knew. And we lost thousands of bombers over there, and that went right on till the end of the war. All those boys were lost. Yeah.
TO: Do you mind if we talk for a bit about your time before joining the RAF?
HI: Well I didn’t have a lot of time really. I was only a kid. I told you I joined when I was sixteen and I was an apprenticed tailor because living in the East End you had two jobs. You either became a tailor or a cabinet maker. You done your apprentice and that was the two main employers in the East End was tailoring and cabinet making. And I was just, I worked for a firm called Polikoff’s. A huge firm. I was apprentice there ‘til I got, till I was called up. Well, ‘til I joined the air force. And the reason I joined the air force really as well the firm I worked for got badly bombed. And one morning we went to work and there was hardly any bloody factory left. But it’s, it was a terrible, terrible time. When you think that in 1943 the average, average length of time for a bomber crew was five trips. But I carried on. I don’t know why I carried on. Why I seemed to miss it all but there you are. But I know that the RAF knew about this underneath attack because I finished my first tour. I done about, thirty — actually I done thirty nine trips on my first tour. That was because we couldn’t bring back the photograph on nine trips. So they didn’t count. And I went as an instructor instructing air crew coming back from Canada and America and Rhodesia. They was raw. Raw kids and they, you know, they had the shock of their life when they came back to England and had to fly on these terrible misty days and nights. We lost a lot of blokes killed through lack of experience. And we had to bloody well fly with them as well. Anyway, after a while they said you’re being posted back to operations and they posted me to 77 Squadron at Full Sutton in Yorkshire and when I arrived there the CO, when I arrived they said, ‘The CO wants to see you.’ So I thought, hello. I was a warrant officer then. And I went down to the office and he asked me to come in the car. We went out to the Halifax and the Halifax had a big hole in the fuselage underneath and there was a .5 been placed there. And the CO said, ‘When you go on the bombing raid you’ll be sitting there and if any aircraft come up underneath you’ll have a good view of the aircraft coming up underneath you. So therefore they knew what was going on. And we took it to a [pause] I think it was Duisburg I think.
Yeah. Took it too Duisburg on a daylight. That was on the 14th. That was on my second tour. And I took it to Duisberg and it was so bloody cold. They made a great big hole in the bottom of the aircraft and the cold air was coming through. Not only us but the pilot, the navigator. They was frozen and they never used it no more. What they should have done was put a proper turret, enclosed turret underneath. All they had was a bloody big hole. All the slipstream used to come through the aircraft and it was impossible really enough to fly with it. Anyway, they never used it no more. Just carried on as we did. Anyway, that was on my second tour on Halifaxes. But where were we? Some very interesting raids here. Right. Went to Dusseldorf on the 13th of the 9th I think it was.
TO: Yeah.
HI: The 13th of the 9th and then on the 13th of the 9th we went to Bremen after submarines. And that was very heavily defended. And when we got back we went in bed. They said, ‘You’ve got to get up early because they’re a night flying test for tonight’s raid,’ which was on the 14th. We’d already been. We’d already just come back from Bremen. On the 14th we went to a place called Wilhelmshaven. And it was the same thing. They was producing all the submarines. And it was very important at that time because the submarines were sinking most of our ships. So they had to blast. And they did blast it. And on the 16th we went to the worst, worst place you could possibly go to. Essen. Essen was the worst place in Germany for flak and fighters and we lost literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of bombers over Essen. There was a major Krupps factory there and that’s what we was after. We destroyed it eventually but it took a while. And we lost a hell of a hell of a lot of men.
[phone ringing]
TO: You can answer the phone. That’s fine.
HI: Ok. I won’t be –
[recording paused]
HI: That Memorial is exactly where we took off at Waddington. That was at the end of the runway but that Memorial was right bang in the middle where we took off from our aircraft’s runways. As we took off, right in front of us was the — right in front of us was the Cathedral and that is where the Memorial is now. Yeah.
TO: Sorry, you mentioned you’d been on raids to Bremen and Wilhelmshaven.
HI: Yeah.
TO: Did you actually find out the damage to the submarines you were causing?
HI: Yeah. We actually, we’d done a hell of a lot of damage there. Especially at Bremen. Apparently they really wrecked the submarine bays, well not the bases, where they was actually producing the submarines. And that’s why we went back the following night to hit Wilhelmshaven because they were sinking so many of our ships. It did slow them down a bit. How much I don’t know. But we did make two successful raids there. Because we could tell that by the photographs we brought back. Of the actual bombing. As the bombs went the camera ticks over and the photoflash was in the fuselage. It was a huge, like a huge drainpipe and that was released exactly the same time as the camera clicks over. And it was a big white burst of light that lit up the area where the camera was pointing. And you could see all these photoflashes going off on your bombing run. Apart from all the bloody aircraft that was on fire going down. Yeah. Which was many many many. Yeah. The thing that they used to kid us. They did used to kid us. We used to say we seen so many bombers going down. They said, ‘No you never.’ This was a bloke who’s never flown in his life said, ‘No, you never. What you see was Scarecrows.’ The Germans were firing up shells to mimic a bomber blowing up. And after the war they admitted there was no such thing as a Scarecrow. All those explosions were actually aircraft blowing up in the sky. And they did used to blow up as well. Yeah. Especially with a bomb load on. I think I was very very very fortunate to, to do one tour instead. And then I went on another tour. And I never, never really got myself in any trouble at all. We used to see them going down. And anyway we went to Essen and that was the worst. That is the worst place ever to go. Essen.
TO: Worse than Berlin?
HI: I think it was worse than Berlin. Yeah. Worse than Berlin. Yeah. The amount of guns there was incredible. And the amount of fighters. But that Berlin, when they done the Berlin raid they’d done, they lost nine hundred. Nine hundred bombers, didn’t they? In that period of about six weeks. They didn’t care. Anyway, on the 14th of the 9th we went to Munich. And what actually happened — on my squadron we was losing a lot of aircraft. Even at that period it was a hell of a lot of aircraft. And two fellas come down from Cambridge. They said they were scientists and said, ‘We’ve got a new device we’re going to put in the turret. And when a German night fighter approaches you from about six hundred yards away you’ll get a red light come up in your turret warning you there’s a fighter in the vicinity.’ Which was brilliant because what we could then was start weaving and not fly straight and level. Anyway, but what happened, the squadron on the raid previous to Munich two of our boys were shot down and apparently the Germans, they went for all these aircraft and must have found this instrument in the rear turret and they probably got the wavelength of it. And this is what happened. We went to Munich and we flew, ten tenths cloud all the way so we flew on top of the cloud. If a fighter came we just went straight in the cloud. We was pretty much safe. Not from flak but from the fighter. Anyway, we got to Munich and the cloud broke and there was Munich wide open. Beautiful moon and we did give it an hiding. Apparently Hitler was there giving a little talk. That’s why we went there. On the way back the skipper said, ‘We know our course back home so we’re going to fly ten tenths through the cloud all the way home so we won’t be interrupted by fighters.’ We went for about three quarters of an hour, an hour through ten tenths cloud and all of a sudden the cloud broke and I looked through the, I was in the rear turret then, I looked through the turret and there, from just where my car is was a JU88 had been following us through that cloud. And it must have been through their radar. And he opened fired and we was going, when you say flying straight and level you’re like going up and down as well. You know. Anyway, as we went down he opened fired and he just, his cannon shells went just over the top of us. We never hesitated and we couldn’t miss him. He was right bang — you could see his face even. We just opened fire. Me and the mid-upper opened fired. He swung over and down he went. That was one of my luckiest occasions I’d ever known. I’d only done about six trips and then we came back and that was it. But that’s how lucky you had to be. How he never, how he missed us I still don’t know. It was point blank range and his cannon shells went just over the top of us. Yeah.
TO: Do you think maybe he might have been low on fuel?
HI: No. I don’t think he was low on fuel. He was — I should imagine, when you say you’re flying straight and level you do but you’re going like that. Up and down like that sort of with the turbulence of the slipstream. And probably as we went down he opened fire and missed us. But we never missed. We hit him. We couldn’t miss him. He was right bang — oh he couldn’t have been no closer.
TO: So was he shot down?
HI: He went down, yeah. Yeah. We couldn’t claim it because we couldn’t verify whether he, whether he exploded on the ground or not because we went back in cloud again then. The cloud broke, we went back in to it again and came home.
TO: So you were in the mid-upper turret at this point.
HI: No. I was in the rear turret. And me and the mid-upper open fired. Yeah. I was only in the mid-upper for the first trip. Just to get used to the, to the, what the bombing raid was. The rear turret was manned by an Australian but he was very very tall and he had a bit of difficulty in the rear turret so he went into the mid-upper after the second raid and I took over in the rear turret. I wasn’t this size. I was only about nine stone then. And but he was a big tall Australian. He was too big for them. And that’s how we carried on. And after Munich we went to a place called Wismar. Am I alright?
TO: No. It’s just there’s a fly buzzing around. That’s all.
HI: A fly. I must have no flies in here, you know [pause] We went to a place called Wismar. They had a big Condor factory there and it was our job to attack this factory which was specified that it was a factory we had to bomb. There was still, you must remember there was no Pathfinders then. And we went in and I think we made a direct hit but unfortunately two of our aircraft that was with us were shot down over Wismar. So that was unfortunate. And then from Wismar there was September. 23rd of September [pause] The thing was with Bomber Command life was expendable. They didn’t care what the losses were. They’d just sent us out and sent us out and sent us out. Well, strangely enough this Wismar was a seven twenty hour trip. So we went there on the 23rd of the 9th and we had a little rest. And then on then on the 1st of the 10th we went back to Wismar again. They said go back and make sure it’s flattened. Which we did do. And then the following night, believe it or not, we’d already done a seven twenty hour trip. The following night we went to Essen. And on the way to Essen two of the engines on the starboard side shut off so, yeah the flight engineer changed the petrol tanks over to the outer tanks and immediately the two engines on the starboard side packed up. So he changed the petrol tanks over to the outer tanks and we were still flying and all of a sudden the four engines just cut. Just like that. And we just fell like that. Luckily enough the flight engineer was right on top of it all and managed to change the tanks over to the right. To the wing tip tanks and the four engines started off. And we couldn’t go to Essen because we didn’t have enough fuel. We couldn’t use all the tanks. So we turned back and we just managed to land at Waddington before all bloody four engines packed up through lack of fuel. So that’s how lucky I was. But what it was in the petrol tanks they had what they called the immersion pumps, electric immersion pumps and what was happening they was packing up on all the aircraft. So what they done they changed the immersion pumps to gravity fuel. So there was no pump there. The petrol was just dropped in gravity. And it solved a problem but before that we lost a lot of aircraft through these petrol pumps packing up. And then we went to — I think we had, I think we went on, yeah we must have gone on leave because [pause] yeah. Yeah we had, yeah we had NFT. We never done anything and then we, on the 15th of the 10th, in October we went to Cologne. And I always remember Cologne because the thing that always struck me in Cologne was the Cathedral. The huge Cathedral. And every time we went there we see that Cathedral. It never got bombed. The whole of Cologne got flattened apart from the Cathedral. There was damage but not too bad. But I don’t think through we were going to miss the Cathedral. It was just sheer luck that we did miss it. But we did hammer Cologne. It really took a terrible hiding. That was on the 15th of the 10th ‘42. October.
TO: Sorry.
HI: Yeah. Go on.
TO: Did you hear about the, what did you think of the thousand bomber raid on Cologne?
HI: That was just before we started. Actually speaking, all it was was a propaganda raid. They got every single aircraft. All from OTU and that’s where the losses were. They lost more bombers from the Operational Training Units on Wellingtons than what they did the main bomber force. They got every aircraft that could fly to make up the thousand. It was only a propaganda rout anyway because we’d done much much more damage with about two or three hundred Lancs then what that thousand bomber raid made. And most of the losses were with OTUs. The inexperienced crews training. And it was only, it was only a propaganda raid I think. They wanted, he’d only just come into office hadn’t he? Harris. And that was his first big raid and he got every bomber from OTU, Conversion Units. Anywhere he could find a bomber and as I say made up his total. But the big bombing raids started really when the Pathfinders moved in. Because what we was doing then we was bombing, not the target, we was bombing the flare. And if those flares were accurate a whole town got wiped out. Which happened quite often. At Hamburg, Dresden, Essen. The towns were open. Once they got the Pathfinders right. Perfect. All those towns were completely open. And I don’t think, I personally think this country would never have stood the bombing like the Germans did. When you think five or six hundred Lancasters each carrying one four thousand pounder and fourteen hundred incendiaries. Going over the target and out again within fifteen minutes. You imagine the hell that must have been there. Anyway, that was war. And then — this is a very interesting raid. On the 17th of the 10th — no, before that we was told. What actually happened was when we arrived at Waddington 44 Squadron was the first squadron to be issued with the Lancaster. What they called the Rhodesian squadron. It was all Rhodesians on it. So they decided to test out this Lancaster and they sent it to, on a bombing raid to Germany. Right into, six Lancasters and they sent right into Germany to bomb. What was the target? Anyway, on the way there the Messerschmitts jumped them and out of the six they shot five down. And only one returned. Nettleton. He got the VC. So when we was in the mess talking to the aircrew that, the one crew that come back they said never, no more will we do daylight, low level raids because it’s suicide. So in September [pause] October. Yeah — October. About the 15th they said we’re going to do some low level daylight flying and we was flying over Lincoln. Nineteen Lancasters. That’s all there was at the time at thirty or forty feet above ground. And we wondered. Surely they’re not going to have another daylight raid which did happen. On the 17th of October. The target was Le Creusot. The time, the time in the air was ten and a half hours. So you can see it was a big schlep. We went right across the North Sea. Right across France at a height of about the height of this house. Ninety Lancasters. Each carrying six one thousand pounders. We flew right across France. All the French people were out waving to us and throwing us kisses and whatnot. We were still looking for the fighters. We never see no fighters. We went right to Le Creusot. And the reason for the bombing of Le Creusot in daylight was that the whole factory was surrounded by workers dwellings and they were frightened if we bombed of a night time there’d be a heavy casualties amongst the civilians. So they decided to do it on daylight and we went right across France. Ninety two of us at about thirty feet off the ground carrying, each carrying six one thousand pounders. What actually happened at the briefing we had to — six aircraft, six Lancasters, had to break off as we reached the Le Creusot and bomb the power station just outside Le Creusot. And on our port side was the Dambuster — Gibson. And he took a picture of us, of our aircraft as we were going in to attack. And as we were going to attack this power station an aircraft on my starboard side just went straight in the deck and blew up. So there was only five of us left attacking the power station which we did attack. And we flattened, literally flatted it. And last year me and my friend was in France. I said, ‘Let’s go to Le Creusot and see what the damage was.’ And we went to the Le Creusot. There’s a huge factory there even now. And my friend approached the manager and said, ‘This bloke. I’ve a bloke out here who bombed you during the war.’ He said, ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘We want to see him.’ So they invited us in and they gave us lunch and we went around the factory and we explained what we’d done. I said, ‘But we didn’t bomb your factory. We bombed the power station,’ I said, ‘One of the aircraft was blown up on the on the approach to the power station.’ He said, ‘Yeah they’re buried. Not in a military airfield but just outside, in an ordinary field where they crashed.’ So I said, ‘Can we go and see?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ So we went out there and there were six graves and I said to the Frenchman, I said, ‘No There were seven men in the aircraft. There’s only six graves.’ He said, ‘Oh, no.’ He said, ‘The rear gunner survived and was taken.’ How? I don’t know. I’d seen the aircraft literally blowing up in the sky, no, blowing up as it hit the ground. And he survived and was taken prisoner of war. But we actually flattened the place. If you imagine ninety Lancs. Daylight. No opposition. So we come back and we were very relieved that we went all the way there and all the way back and never seen a night, never seen a day fighter. And there must have been hundreds of them there. So we were very relieved and we thought well that’s it. So we started having night flying tests to follow all that week. And then on the 22nd of October we went to Genoa. We went to Genoa in Italy which is a long long long schlep and we wondered why we went there. Because, you know, what was there? I know there was the big battle was going on in the Middle East — El Alemein, at the time because all the supplies were going from Germany through Italy. Anyway, on the Saturday, to our surprise, on Saturday morning said there’s a briefing. This was Saturday morning. So we thought that’s strange. When we went down to the briefing the biggest surprise of the lot. We was going to a do a daylight. A low level daylight raid on Milan in Italy. And that was on the, that was on the 24th of, 24th of October. Operation Milan. Ten and three quarter hours. A long schlep. And we went all the way to Italy at low level, you know, just like that until the Alps. We couldn’t go over the Alps because we were so low so we weaved our way through the Alps. Came out at Lake Como and went straight down to Milan. And I always to this day I think about it. As we approached Milan they never had no idea that there was going to be an air raid. There was no air raid siren. Nothing. So a beautiful Saturday afternoon and as we flew over Milan and made our approach to the target all the people were out in the streets walking about. In the restaurants. And then we opened up and if you imagine ninety Lancs with six one thousand pounders. We just dropped them in the town and we came home. We lost about four that day to German fighters on the way back. But I don’t know how we went all the way to Milan in daylight and come all the way back again. Incredible. And that raid was, that was a ten and three quarter hour trip. I tell you my arse was sore when I got out of that plane [laughs] We never flew no higher than about thirty or forty feet off the ground until we got to the Alps. We had to go a bit higher and then down on Lake Como right into Milan. And then there was no air raids sirens and no guns. We just literally took the whole town by surprise.
TO: Do you remember what the target was? Specifically. In Milan?
HI: No. We just, well there was no target really. We just bombed Milan. We just went in. From what I could see we just bombed the centre of the city. There was an aircraft factory that I think they were supposed to been after but they didn’t bother. They just, and actually I did see a few Lancs opening up their machine guns over the town. Yeah. I did see that. There you are. That was war. And I was, I was a veteran then. I was. We was the only crew left out the squadron. The original squadron. And then we had a little break for about [pause] that was on the 24th of the 10th . Yeah. We had about a week. Must have gone on leave. And then when we come back on the 18th of the 11th we went to Turin again just to liven them up. And believe it or not that was a seven, eight hour trip. And the following day we went back again. To Turin, and done the same again. It was a long long time. We only had about seven hour break between the two raids. And then we went to Stuttgart. Stuttgart. We never made it. You know, we had trouble with the engines and we had to come back. So it didn’t count as a raid. And then this is what happened there. Then we went to Mannheim. That was in the, oh look, you’ve got the bomb load here. One thousand, one four thousand pounder, nine hundred and eighty incendiaries and nickels. Nickels were pamphlets. You know. Propaganda. What we used to do was over the North Sea we used to throw the bleeding lot out. We didn’t want the bother of throwing them out when we got over [laughs] we were supposed to throw them out over the target. We just used to throw them in the sea. Then this, this was when the battle of Alemein was on so we went back to Turin. Nine hours. Next time we was iced up terrible with engine trouble as well. We only done three hours for that one but that didn’t count as a trip. And that was it. And then we went to — this. This, see this raid here.
TO: Is it Hasselunne?
HI: Yeah. What actually happened was we went for the briefing and we said, ‘Where the bleeding hell is Hasselunne.’ It was just a small town just outside the Ruhr valley. Even to this day I remember the briefing. He said, ‘Look’ he said, ‘You’re bombing in the Ruhr valley and none of the workers –’ am I alright?
TO: Yeah. You’re fine.
HI: ‘None of the workers are getting any rest.’ So what they’re doing is they’re sending all the workers out to the small towns so they can get a good night’s rest. You know, the factory workers. So he said, ‘What we’re going to do is liven them up.’ I couldn’t believe it. They said, ‘We’re going to liven them up.’ But they said the reason why there was no bombing that night — it was a full moon. And the full moon when you’re flying is like daylight. There was no cloud so there was going to be no bombing that night but this nuisance raid. There was seventeen Lancasters ok’d at this nuisance raid. That means we had to go in at, this is night time mind you, as low as we could and bomb, bomb the, each was given a small town, a village or small town just outside the Ruhr Valley. Seventeen of us and bomb these small towns and come back home. Just to disrupt the German workers night’s kip. Anyway, in the bomb bay was sixteen one thousand pounders. Delayed action. And then we went to Hasselunne. And it was a beautiful night. Beautiful moon. It was clear as day. We went in about four or five hundred feet with our delayed action bombs. Sixteen of them. And we dropped them right plump right down the middle of the High Street. And I still wonder today if, you know, there was about a fifty minute half hour delay action on the bombs and when we got back we thought it was an easy trip. We went there. Came all the way back at low level and landed. And, but the thing was out of the seventeen Lancasters only seven come back. And we lost ten that night. Well it was fifty percent. Over fifty percent. And that was what I call a terror raid. It was an ordinary open town sitting there like there was, as we flew over, we could see the town. The bombs went and that was it. But then again that was war. And then we went back to our old faithful — Duisburg. And I tell you what — it was getting a bit warm. It was getting a bit warm at Happy Valley. And we went there six hours fifteen minutes. I’ve got the bomb load here. We went one thousand, we went with one thousand one hundred and seventy four incendiaries and nickel. Plus nickels. Six hours fifteen. And then the following day, after we’d been there, as we came back they woke us up in the morning and said, ‘You’re on ops again.’ Munich. So all we had was about five or six hours trip, sleep and was back on the 21st. The 20th and the 21st was at Munich.
TO: Could you please elaborate on this. About training machine guns please.
HI: Yes. We did machine gun a train that night. In the station. It was puffing away in the station and the pilot said, ‘Give it a liven up,’ and we went right along the train. Me and the mid-upper. Blasting it. We see the bullets, the tracer bouncing off the train. Yeah. That was war I suppose. What happened then —
TO: Sorry, if you don’t mind, sir would be ok if you sit back so your head isn’t in the shade. Sorry.
HI: So what happened then? The pilot I was with — Stubbs — had finished his tour. And the crew and they’d finished their tour and I was left without a crew. I was sitting in the mess waiting for new crew and a bloke I knew named Doolan, Sergeant Doolan came up to me and said Harry our rear gunner’s just been killed. We’ve just brought him back dead. Would you like to take his place? So [laughs] I was rather. I knew the rear gunner because I’d have been called up with him in 1940. And his name was Robinson and he came from the other side of London. Brixton. And a night fighter got on their tail. Blasted him out the turret. Literally blasted the whole turret and the tail off. So he said, The aeroplane is being repaired,’ [laughs] Repaired. ‘In the maintenance unit. We’re going to pick it up now. It’s got a new turret on it. A new tail plane. Ready to fly again.’ He said, ‘Would you come as a rear gunner?’ I said, ‘I haven’t got a pilot. I’ll come.’ So, so I flew with this crew. They was all NCOs, and we finished. We finished a whole tour. And we was the only crew that finished a tour all the time I was at Waddington. The nine months I was at Waddington we was the only crew that finished a tour. And we was all NCOs. Where were we? So my first trip with Sergeant Doolan was Dusseldorf again. Look. Went there a few times didn’t we? Dusseldorf. And this was, this was a shaky one. Hamburg. We got to Hamburg and we was prepared to go in for the bombing raid. The flak was crashing about all over us and the plane started going like that. Literally dropping like a stone. So the pilot said, ‘We’re so iced up that we can’t fly the bloody aircraft.’ And I could hear somebody say, ‘Oh it’s coming off.’ Great big lumps of ice crashing against the aircraft. Anyway, he said we’ll have to abandon. So we dropped our bombs where we were. Just outside Hamburg and went down as low as we could and the ice started breaking away and we managed to fly again properly. But when I got back and told them that was a really dicey trip they said, ‘You didn’t you get no photograph then?’ We said, ‘No. We just approached Hamburg, we see Hamburg being bombed but we just couldn’t make it,’ They said, ‘Well, it’s unfortunate. That don’t count. That was another trip that didn’t count [laughs] You know, it was hard in those days I’m telling you. And us all being NCOs and the briefing officer probably being a flight lieutenant or a squadron leader we couldn’t argue with it. We was only bleeding poor old NCOs. And then this is a new year. No. This is the 13th of the 2nd 1943. This was in February ‘43. We went to Laurent in France which wasn’t bad. It was an easy trip that was. And then back to Milan which was a long, long. long slog. And then our favourite. As a rear gunner our favourite was operations to Wilhelmshaven. Back to Wilhelmshaven. And then again to Bremen. Which was unusual I started off there didn’t I? Wilhelmshaven and went the other way around. Bremen and Wilhelmshaven. This time it was Wilhelmshaven and Bremen and I tell you what. There was some flak there. There was some flak. We got badly damaged coming back from Bremen so we had to land at a place called Croft. And then we returned the next morning in another aircraft. And then we went to Nuremberg and that night, believe it or not, we lost fifty that night. Flying to Nuremberg. The next time they went there they lost a hundred and twenty. Yeah. They lost a hundred and twenty. They went back there again a couple of months later and lost a hundred and twenty Lancs in one night.
TO: Out of how many?
HI: About four hundred. Yeah. It was slaughter. And then again on the 26th of February I went to Cologne. Do you want to see it in here?
TO: Yeah.
HI: Have you seen Cologne?
TO: Yes. I’ve seen it. Thank you. Sorry. Is it ok if I ask what did you think of Arthur Harris?
HI: Well, to me personally speaking the man had plenty of guts because after the Nuremberg raid we’d lost a hundred and twenty bombers that night. The following night he sent out another huge force. Now, a man has got to have, you’ve got to have some guts in you to do that. You know. After that terrible loss. But he was the man to do the job. Nobody else could do it. He, only took orders from Churchill. Churchill was the governor and what Churchill said went. Unless it was a diabolical raid and Harris said, ‘No. I can’t manage that.’ But there was, he had an aide de camp, Harris. I forget his name now. And we was going on a bombing raid and the aide de camp said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘It’s too much. It’s too many losses. We’re losing too many people there. We shouldn’t go.’ And he resigned. But Harris still went and we still had the losses. So there was somebody you know up the top knew what was going on. Our losses were, well you can’t, you cannot believe it. You could say you’d go on leave, you’d go on leave and come back in the mess — there was all strangers in there. All the old crews had gone. Within a week. Had a heavy week all had gone. All new crews. Yeah. And the faces got younger and younger and younger.
TO: Did you look young for your age?
HI: Do you think so?
TO: No, did you? Did you look young for your age? Or did you look older?
HI: Here. There I am there. On the wall. You see me. There. Picture on the wall.
TO: Thank you.
HI: Can you see it?
TO: Yeah. I see it. Do you think, did anyone ever find out that you’d lied about your age?
HI: Yeah. They did after I’d — I went, I went in the air force under the name of my mother’s maiden name because I didn’t want — I was stupid. I went in the name of, the name of Galloway. And then when I’d been on 9 Squadron about two months the CO called me in and said, ‘We found out your name isn’t Galloway. It’s Irons.’ He said, ‘We’ve changed,’ he never said nothing, he said, ‘Your name’s been changed now to Irons.’ And I went from Galloway to Irons and nothing was said about it. But it was all kids, all joined . Loads and loads of sixteen and seventeen year olds. There’s me there. When I got married.
TO: Was that, was that during the war?
HI: Yeah. That was just before I went and bombed Dresden. That was about two weeks before I bombed Dresden. 1944. I don’t know what made me get married then. I don’t know. And this here [pause] this, they used to kid us, they used to kid us that was an easy trip.
TO: Gardening.
HI: And it was the most dangerous trip we ever been. Mining. We used to have six one thousand pound mines on parachutes. And the thing was you had to fly over the Baltic and drop these mines at about five hundred feet. Jerry knew this and he had loads of these little fast boats with light flak on them and they shot down loads and loads of our boys. On these mining trips. And they used to call it an easy trip. That’s because it wasn’t the Ruhr valley.
TO: Did they call it gardening?
HI: They called it. Yeah. That was the code name for it. Gardening, yeah. Because you was planting. Instead of fruit you were planting mines. Called it gardening. Yeah. Oh you know. And then believe it or not I was back, back on my old favourite. Oh I went to Munich on the 3rd. And on the 9th we had this gardening and on the 12th back on my old favourite. Essen. I went to the Ruhr valley twenty seven times and I survived. How I done it I don’t know. And then we went to St Nazaire. Went to St Nazaire and that was a dodgy trip. They had a hell of a load of flak. We was in France and had a lot of flak. The thing was we had a, we had a wireless operator and on one of our trips he wasn’t well and he couldn’t fly that night. So he, he was one trip behind us. Say we was on twenty eight he was on twenty seven so he had to make up a trip so what they used to do they used to find another crew who wanted a spare wireless operator and he’d go and make up his trip. He was one behind. Unfortunately, he went on this trip and he never come back. A bloke named Chapel. He was on about his twenty seventh trip. He only had three or four trips to do. And he went on this trip and never came back. Which happened all the time. And then [pause] we ended our tour. My last trip was Kiel Canal which is a shocking place that was. Shocking. Well they was all bad. And then I survived. I survived thirty seven trips and I’m still a sergeant. And they sent me to a OTU. Sent me to OTU as an instructor. And I done that for about six months and was in the mess one night and we’d had a load, I used to drink then. I don’t drink now. And we were already sozzled and we caused a little bit of damage. A little bit of mayhem in the mess. We went in front of the CO the next morning and he said, ‘I’m bloody fed up with you gunners.’ And he said, ‘I’m posting you.’ And I thought where the bloody hell are you going to post me? The two postings he’d already got out was to Scotland. I thought sod that. I’ve got to go up all way to Scotland. And my posting come up. Southend. Just down the road. How lucky could I be? And what I was doing I was flying in Martinets towing a drogue for the flak. And we used to go right from Dover, Ramsgate, Margate, Clacton, not Clacton. All the way along the south coast towing this drogue. And the British ack ack used to fire, but they were so bloody accurate they used to keep blowing the bloody drogues off. So they told the gunners to fire a couple of degrees further back. And you used to watch the flak. I used to watch the flak in a straight line, right coming right along, right. I hoped they’d stop firing before the [laughs] and you could see the puffs of smoke trailing the white, trailing the big white drogue we had. And I’d done that went on for a few months and they said you’re going to back on ops again. And that’s when I went back on Halifaxes. And that was in [pause] that was in — there was a little bit of a rest and I never expected to go back on ops again. These are all towing drogues. The co-op yeah.
TO: So how many ops did you do in total during the war?
HI: Sixty.
TO: Sixty.
HI: Yeah. And then this is when I was telling you about. The beginning, the beginning of my second tour.
TO: [unclear]. Another daylight one.
HI: Yeah. Well that’s when I, when the CO told me they’d put a .5. It was a big hole. A huge hole cut around underneath the belly of the Halifax. And they had the .5 there. And we went all the way to Duisburg. The flak was, the flak was just as bad as when, well it was worse than when I’d been there previous. In the previous months. And I never seen no fighters. And it was in daylight. When we come back the pilot was screaming his head off. He said, ‘I’m not going to fly any more planes with a bloody great hole in the bottom of the aircraft.’ He said, ‘It’s too cold.’ So they, they put a block on it. But the funny thing was as we were going in to Duisburg we was, we was approaching Duisburg the someone, the ones in front had already bombed Duisburg and they were coming back. Like in a U. Coming back. There was about a quarter of a mile. As we was going in like that they was coming out. And one of our aircrafts, I don’t know why he done it, he decided he wasn’t going to bomb Duisburg. He was going to join those that was already coming out. And as he went across from our, from our flight as he went across, right across to join those that were coming out, the flak — because we was on the protection of the silver paper. We was all dumping the silver paper out and the radar couldn’t do nothing about it. But he broke the protection of the silver paper to cut across to join the blokes that was coming out. The flak opened up. It went one — one, two, three. The third one hit him. Right dead centre. Just went like that. It’s a shame. And I’ve seen it at night time. But during the day I’d seen it. I couldn’t believe it. Just went in smithereens. He still had his bomb load on. He must have had. Yeah. Why he cut across I don’t know but he just blew up. Yeah.
TO: Could you please explain how the silver paper or Window worked?
HI: Well, what it was, each piece of silver paper made a blimp on their radar screen. Each piece. So if you imagine millions of pieces dropping down — the whole screen was absolutely flooded. And the guns just stood still because they didn’t know which, which blimp to follow. Instead of one blimp on the screen there was thousands of them and they didn’t — so the guns just stood like that. The searchlights stood like that. The fighters didn’t know what to do, and the fighters — what they’d done they’d put a separate radar in the fighters. Night fighters. Independently. And they could still attack us which they did do. But the silver paper definitely helped us. Really helped us with the flak and the searchlights. They couldn’t do anything. The searchlights just used to stand still like that. But one thing they used to do which let’s say there was cloud cover most of the way to the target. The searchlights used to light up under the cloud and the bombers that were flying above it were silhouetted out against the light of the cloud and the fighters used to go straight in there. You know. Loads and loads of fighters. You had to watch them all the time and directly you see one you went straight into a dive to try to get out of its way. But as you know we never flew in a formation and there was a lot of crashes with our bombers criss-crossing and diving about.
TO: Did you participate in the large raid on Hamburg in July 1943?
HI: No. I missed that one. I went to the one previous. The one previous what I went to. That one was the fire one wasn’t it? That was the first time they used silver paper. That was exactly the first time they used it. We’d never used it.
TO: Did people call it silver paper or did most people call it Window?
HI: Window. Window. It was called Window. Yeah. Yeah. They had that right from the war. They had it but they wouldn’t use in case. They were frightened the Jerries were going to use it.
TO: And ironically Germany had developed it at the same time and didn’t want to use it.
HI: They did. Yeah.
TO: In case Britain used it.
HI: Yeah. Yeah. We used it because we were getting very strong in the air at that time. And they had to use it because the night fighters were getting the upper. And do you know at one period they was going to pack up night bombing? Yeah. They were going to stop it because the losses were so heavy. Yeah.
TO: And what’s your opinion on the Halifax bomber?
HI: Good. The Halifax Mark 3 was a good bomber. It never got the credit it deserved. It was a very very good bomber. They changed the engines and the tail plane and it became a very very good bomber. It was reliable. Got a good speed. Good height. The Mark 2 was rubbish. I think the Germans shot most of them down, like the Stirling. But the Mark 3 Halifax was a good plane. They changed the engines to Bristol, Bristols, and it made a lot of difference. Yeah.
TO: And what did you think of the Wellington?
HI: The Wellington was a good plane but it wasn’t up to it when the war started. It was alright for a few months of the war. My first squadron, number 9, they made the first bombing raid of the war and they lost, I think they lost two or three on their first bombing raid. The Wellington was a good plane but it wasn’t up to the capability of bombing. Night bombing. It was too slow. Didn’t get the height. They did go up to the Mark 10 and we used to see them now and again but they didn’t use them a lot at the end of the war. The Stirling was useless. The Stirling one was a useless bomber. Couldn’t get no height. It was big. It was clumsy. Some of the blokes used to like it but not many.
TO: And the Lancaster. What did you think?
HI: The Lancaster was a good plane. Yeah. Was a good plane. Yeah. And they churned them out. The way they churned them out was unbelievable. Do you know what we’re going to do now? We’re going to stop for a bit. I’m going to make you a cup of tea.
TO: Yeah. Sure. Are we on course?
HI: Yeah.
TO: Yeah. Ok.
TO: Yeah. Are you ok? Yeah.
[pause] [doorbell rings]
TO: Ok.
HI: Right. What do you want? The second tour?
TO: Yes. Start on the second tour I think.
HI: What happened I was doing drogue towing with my Martinets and the CO called us in and said, ‘You’re back on ops.’ And they sent me to 77 Squadron, Full Sutton. October 1944. And when I arrived they said, ‘The CO wants to see you. So I said what’s he want to see me about.’ I bet he wants to borrow a few [laughs] Anyway, he came out to us and he said, ‘We’re just, this is a special Halifax,’ and he said, ‘It’s got a big hole been cut in the bottom of the Halifax.’ It was a big hole as well. And it was a .5. and they put a sort of, I don’t how they expected me to sit on that bloody seat all those hours. And it was a manual. It was a manual .5 and they said, ‘If a fighter, a night fighter comes up underneath you’ll be able to spot it and protect the aircraft.’ So I said, ‘Alright. Fair enough.’ And the strange thing was it wasn’t on a night bombing trip. They sent me on a day trip to Duisburg. And I never see no fighters come up. And we come back. But the crew, the crew was complaining terrible about the hole in the aircraft and the cold air coming through. Anyway, on the 22nd of the 10th ’44 I went up again in this Halifax with a .5 and done a little bit of air firing with it. And I come down. I said, ‘I don’t think it’s going to be very successful because it’s too bloody cold.’ So, so the CO said, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do with you then. We’ve don’t need any gunners here.’ And they posted me to 462 Squadron at Driffield, Australian squadron. And there I started my, on the 29th of the 10th. 29th of the 10th [pause] where was I there. Yeah. On the 22nd I was at Full Sutton. On the 29th of the 10th I was on ops in 462 Squadron, Driffield. 1942. The pilot apparently had been shot down over France and he made this because it was occupied by the British troops then. And they managed to get back to England and of course he was looking for a new crew and I joined him. And believe it or not as a mid-upper. I don’t know why they put me as a mid-upper. Anyway, they put me as a mid-upper and we went to Happy Valley. A place called Dornburg It was a daylight on Dornburg. That was just outside Happy Valley. On the following day we went to Cologne. Operations — Cologne. That was as a night time. And I couldn’t see them I was beginning to find it was getting a bit easier. The ops were getting easier. The flak was just as bad but the fighters didn’t seem, the fighters didn’t seem such a pest like they used to be. And the thing was every trip I went on. Every trip I went on my second tour. Near enough every one, near every one, was to Happy Valley. The next trip was with Hourigan, an Australian, was to Dusseldorf. And on the 4th we went to Bochum. Bochum. That’s in the Ruhr valley as well. And then [pause] and then we went on a daylight raid. It just shows you. A daylight raid to Gelsenkirchen and — which was unbelievable. You’d never, the year before they would never have dared gone over the Ruhr valley in the daylight. And then we done a bit of air firing in a Halifax. And then we went back to Essen. Hourigan again. I was with Hourigan again and we went to Essen on the 29th of ‘44. And on the 30th believe it or not we was back in Duisburg. And every one of those trips was to the Ruhr Valley. And on the 21st of the 12th ‘44 I went to Cologne. And I was posted from there to the other Australian squadron 466 Squadron. Total operations — I thought it was nine. Then I was posted to the other Australian squadron at Driffield — 466. And I carried, and I went with, wait a minute, I carried on with Hourigan and we went to Saarbrucken in daylight. Which was unbelievable. And then we went to Magdeburg in the, in the Ruhr Valley. And then back to Gelsenkirchen again as a mid-upper. I went as a mid-upper then in a Halifax. But I found that things were a bit easier in the second tour. Wasn’t really because we were still losing a hell of a load of bloody aircraft but it seemed to me a bit, seemed to me to be a bit lighter. And then on the 2nd of the 2nd ‘45 I went to Wanne-Eickel. It’s another — I missed out a page here.
And then I was posted to 158 Squadron at Lissett in Yorkshire. And the first trip we went to was to Dresden. That was on the 13th of the 2nd ‘44. We, we never actually bombed Dresden. We bombed the place just outside Dresden called [unclear ] or [unclear] or Bohlem or whatever. B O H L E M. We was told to go in before the 5. We were in 4 Group and were told to go in just before 5 Group and draw the fighters away from Dresden which we did do. We had bleeding swarms of bleeding fighters around us. And the Lancs went into Dresden unopposed and that’s why Dresden took such a hiding. There was no opposition whatsoever there. And then 5 Group just done what they liked. And we could see, well we was right next door to it. We could see the huge blaze at Dresden burning merrily away. And we was at, from this place just outside Dresden. We landed. We had trouble. I think we got hit that night and we landed back at Manston for a couple of hours. Then we went to, then funnily enough I started flying with a Canadian. A Canadian named Cooperman. And strangely enough that was, that was back, back at the Ruhr Valley again. Rohrsheim. And then the following, the following day I was with Cooperman and we was bombing a place called Worms in the Ruhr valley. And I always remember to this day, this Canadian, who was a Jew, was a Jewish bloke and he’d left Germany with his parents before the war. And he was, he was a flying officer in the Canadian Air Force. And as we approached Worms he said, ‘Chaps,’ he said, ‘This is where I was born.’ He said, ‘And now I’m going to bomb the bastards.’ And those were the exact words he said. And we did. We went and bombed it. And the next thing we knew and on the 23rd of the 2nd we went to Essen again and, the times I went to Essen, and the following day on the 24th of the 2nd I went back to the Ruhr Valley and done close quarter — Kamen. And then the following on the 27th — That was our last trip of the war we went to Mainz. And most of those trips were in the Ruhr valley. And unscathed. Unbelievable. And of course the war, the war finished soon after that didn’t it? 27th of the 2nd.
TO: And what are your thoughts on the bombing of Dresden?
HI: Well to be honest with you it was just well after all those trips it just came normal. You know. You just looked down and saw a huge huge fire below you which you normally see and that was it. Dresden was the same. We was, the place we bombed was more or less on the outskirts of Dresden. The idea of us was to draw the fighters away. Just go in about five or six minutes before the main force. Bring the fighters away and of course that’s what happened. And the Lancs from 5 Group went in and done their business. They did do the business. There was no flak there. No opposition whatsoever. There was no flak and no fighters. They just went in, done their bombing and went home. And of course it caught well alight.
TO: Did the fire that you could see at Dresden — did it look any bigger than what you had seen before?
HI: It looked big, yeah. We could see. All the crew said, ‘Blimey that’s a big one down there.’ But then again most, most bombing trips we always had looked down, those targets were well alight. Well alight. The amount of incendiaries we dropped was unbelievable. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of them. Yeah.
TO: This is going to be an odd question and I don’t think you may even be able to answer it, but when you were flying over areas that were on fire could you, was there any noticeable change in the temperature when you were flying above it?
HI: No. I wouldn’t have thought so. You was only over the target, it looked like a lifetime but you was only over there minutes. Really minutes. Oh, you’re talking about the hot air coming up?
TO: Yeah. The [unclear] rising up.
HI: I don’t think — they never noticed. It didn’t seem no bloody warmer in the turret anyway [laughs] but all you was, I’d known from my personal opinion was we wanted to get in. Get out. Quick as possible. That’s what we done. But the thing that we never realised but the German fighters told us afterwards, the worst thing we ever done was after we’d dropped our bombs was to go into a dive. We should never have done that because that gave the advantage to the night fighters. They was above you then. Well above you to come in. What we should have done is kept the same height coming out of the target. But we all used to dive. Pick up speed to get away from the target. Yeah. But you used to see on the way home you always see bombers blowing up in the sky. All the time. Yeah. Over the target, yeah. And the thing was to get in and get out quick.
TO: Right. How do you feel about Churchill’s decision when he ordered the bombing of cities?
HI: Well, we never knew it was. We knew it was somebody higher up than Harris but of course it was, was Churchill. He demanded that we bombed the cities and Harris just took his word for it and he made sure we did bomb them. And of course he had the backing of a huge bomber force didn’t he? Lancs, Halifaxes. Probably, if we’d had them a year earlier the war would have finished earlier. But the bomb load was enormous. One four thousand pounder and fourteen hundred incendiaries. Imagine that lot dropping. Four or five hundred bombers dropping that lot on a small town. Yeah.
TO: When you went on missions were you part of a bomber stream?
HI: Well a stream. It was, literally was a stream. There was no formation flying or nothing. You just went over and you had to be in a certain point. More or less rendezvous at a certain point on the map. So that you were more or less was all collected together so you could make one rush to the target. Get in and get out quick. You never doodled about over the target. You went in and especially with the Pathfinders. You just, you just went for the flare. You’d see the flares. Went straight for the flares.
Other: Sorry to disturb you again Harry.
HI: Yes sir.
[recording paused]
TO: You think, you just mentioned to me something about the evasive manoeuvres. The night fighters said the wrong thing to do was to dive.
HI: Yeah. Leaving the target. We found out, well after the night fighters said it was the wrong thing to do was to dive away from the target because it gave them the advantage of height to come in after you. Which, when you think about it, was right. But what actually caused the much trouble for Bomber Command was the up and under. The Schrage musik. That was one that caused all the trouble. The flak you couldn’t, couldn’t avoid. The flak was there. If it hit you it hit you and if it didn’t hit you you was lucky. It was just sheer luck. You couldn’t avoid it. You had to go through it and if one of those shells hit you that was it. Yeah. We used to get huge lumps of shrapnel come through the aircraft. That was the danger. And if that hit you it caused terrible damage. So there you are.
TO: Could you see much on the ground other than fires and explosions?
HI: No. All you could see from about twenty thousand feet you didn’t keep looking at the target because you had to keep active with the fighters. Because they was all around you. All waiting for you. They was like sharks and you had to watch. You had to really watch the sky for fighters. They were the biggest danger. And when they come in they showed no mercy. They went straight in.
TO: Yeah.
HI: Yeah.
TO: Did night fighters take out more bombers than flak?
HI: Yeah. Definitely. Much much more. Especially with the up and under. That’s what done it. Yeah. I think they — I reckon — I don’t know, I’ve got no idea but I reckon seventy five per cent, eighty percent of the shot down were done by fighters. And you know when you think some had forty or fifty bombers to their credit. It was so easy for them. You could come and all they had to do was get underneath the aircraft, press the trigger, press the button, fire the guns and they wouldn’t, the shells that were explosive shells go into the petrol tank. Bang. Up it went. Just like that.
TO: And when you, can you explain to me a bit more how the briefings worked for the missions?
HI: Well, what it actually was we were two squadrons. We were told at the briefing in the briefing room was near enough down to your HQ you know where all the office buildings were. And with a crowd in the room there was always a military policeman on the, on the gate and we went in and sat down. A bit noisy. Everybody was noisy. Laughing and joking. Then all of a sudden — bang. The CO would come in with his adjutant and his armament officer, gunnery officer, bomb aimer officer and navigation officer used to follow the CO in. And they’d go on the platform and we’d wait for the curtain. There was a big curtain over the map. That was pulled down and then you’d see. And that’s when you used to get the ohs and ahs. See the Ruhr. See the Ruhr Valley up and say, ‘Oh blimey.’ But they didn’t, they used to love Italy. Going to Italy. But Munich was a bad target, Nuremburg was, Berlin was. But the Ruhr valley was the place where most of the flak was. The reason for it was because you didn’t have one town. You had about ten or fifteen towns near enough on top of each other. And if you missed one, one town, if you missed one town you had to go over another town and they’d give you a pasting as well. That’s why they used to call it Happy Valley. Yeah. You got a good reception going in and a better reception coming out. You used to see the bombs blowing upwards and the huge explosions down below. You still had to keep one eye out for the fighters. Especially the single engine fighters. They used to come in and they used to go right through the flak after you. Yeah. Messerschmitt. Used to come straight at you. And they had four cannons and if one of those hit you mate it was good night nurse.
TO: What kind of targets were you generally given at the briefings?
HI: Well, we was told an area where to bomb. We were never given an actual target. We was given an area to bomb because very very difficult of a night time picking out a target from twenty thousand feet. You got an area and we would bomb that area. If we could. If it was a clear moonlight night and at that time we were dropping our own flares. There was no Pathfinding at the beginning. And we used to drop our own flares to see where, you know, where the target was. And it got easier when they got the Pathfinders. Because all that meant there was — get to the target and see the flare. Bomb the flare. But the trouble was Jerry knew this was going on and so he used to concentrate all his, all his artillery on where the flares were. And a lot of places were literally burned to pieces. Because I didn’t realise how many houses in Germany were made of wood. It was amazing. Dresden was nearly all wood wasn’t it? Yeah. And there was another place. I forget where it was. Completely burned down. Near the Baltic. I can’t remember the name.
TO: Hamburg.
HI: No. Smaller place than that. They burned the whole town down. That was in about 1942.
TO: Lubeck.
HI: Ah, Lubeck. Yeah. Yeah. They burned Lubeck down completely. Yeah. Raised it to the ground. Incendiaries. They were fearsome things those incendiaries. I think they was about eighteen inches long. Shaped like a twenty piece coin. About four, I think it had four or five sides to it but they were pretty deadly. Imagine that. I mean we used to carry fourteen or fifteen hundred. You imagine a hundred Lancs all carrying that amount load. How many incendiaries were dropped in one night. And then we had the other incendiary with oil. That was a terrible one as well.
TO: And were you ever given, did you ever win any awards during the war?
HI: Yeah. I got the DFC. The reason I think I got that because after, as the war was finishing they asked me how many trips I’d done. I wrote them down. They took no notice of it and then a couple of weeks later they said, ‘Oh. You’ve been awarded the DFC.’ So that’s what I got, the DFC. It was a bit unique because I was a warrant officer. I wasn’t an officer and that’s an officer’s medal the DFC but being a warrant officer they gave it to the, gave us the DFC as well.
TO: Did it go to the rest of the crew as well?
HI: That I don’t know. The war had finished and most of the crews had dispersed, you know. What was left of them. Most of the blokes during the war was awarded the DFCs and DFMs. A lot of them got killed. A hell of a lot of them. Usually and this is what I don’t understand — when I finished my first tour everybody got the DFM except me. That I don’t understand. Then I realised what it might have been. Because I changed my name from Irons to Galloway when I was halfway through me tour. And I think they might have looked at it and just seen Galloway. And Irons was just so many trips. And Irons was so many trips and they never connected the two together. But all the crew got the DFM except me. Pilot, navigator, bomb aimer, wireless operator, mid-upper except me.
TO: And what was your favourite aircraft of the war?
HI: Well, I think, myself the Halifax. I thought the Halifax Mark 3 was a better aircraft than the Lanc. It was a good bomber. It done its job. Same as the Lanc. I don’t think it carried the same heavy bomb load as a Lanc. It was a good plane. Had no problems with it. We had four machine guns in the mid-upper and four in the back so it was a bit better armed than the, than the Lanc. And right at the end of the war of course they brought out the other turret with the .5s in them. It was a bit late though. The war was more or less finished. We should have had them in ‘42. They made a hell of a lot of difference.
TO: And I know we mentioned this earlier but could you explain again what happened to people who refused to go on bombing missions?
HI: Well I know it happened. I know it happened. I’ve heard, you know, stories of what happened. I never come across it myself but it did happen. And especially not the officers so much which I still don’t understand that. But the NCOs were stripped. Stripped down to AC2 and put in the prison. I think it was in the Isle of Sheppey and they done about two or three months here. And when they came out on their record books, you know the big card box, book thing you all had was right at the top in red letters that they’d refuse to fly. LMF. Yeah. Which was wrong. Some blokes couldn’t take it. Just couldn’t take it. Probably had a couple of bad trips and that was it. And they were bad trips. Yeah. And after the war they just treated us like mud. Didn’t care. Gave us all the menial jobs there were about and that was it. We had to wait twelve months before we got demobbed. A lot of them got, a lot of them had their ranks cut right down to AC1 and AC2. I don’t know why. I never, but a lot of them did. Which was all wrong.
TO: And what’s your best memory of the war?
HI: My best memory of the war was my first bombing trip. To Duisburg. Not Duisburg.
TO: Dusseldorf.
HI: Dusseldorf. That was my first trip and that was the most frightening. It wasn’t the worst one I done but it was my first one and I never expected what I’d see. Never knew. And when we come back after a bombing raid we never discussed, never discussed a bombing trip anyway. We never said it was bad or anything like that. We just, just more or less kept quiet. Because we was all frightened what was going to be the next one I think. Which near enough always happened. The crews. You’d go on leave, you’d come back — all different faces. Yeah. And that went on time and time again. I think they could have treated bomber crews a little bit better than what they did for what they’d done but there you are.
TO: And what was probably the most difficult mission you ever had? If you don’t want to discuss don’t talk about it.
HI: No. The most difficult place to go to was Essen. It was terrible. The flak there was unbelievable. It was all difficult. Every one. You never knew. You never knew your luck. Some went on easy trips. They thought was an easy trip. Like the one who got the VC for the first daylight raid. Low level raid of the war in a Lancaster. He got the VC and he stayed on the squadron but he never done no trips until one came up for Italy which we used to say it was easy. He went on an Italian one and got shot down. So you never knew your luck. Nettleton. That was the VC. Yeah. He went on one of the easy Italian trips and got shot down.
TO: So you mentioned earlier that guy Gibson was with you on that one low level mission.
HI: Oh yeah. Yeah.
TO: Was he with a different squadron number at that time?
HI: Yeah. He was, he was 106 squadron. He was the CO of 106 Squadron. 106 Squadron. He was definitely on our port side. And he took the photograph of us and another crew as we were just going into Le Creusot and that is, and the actual picture now is in the big museum at Hendon. The big photograph of it. Yeah. Because he went on to become the Dambuster didn’t he?
TO: What do you think of Operation Chastise?
HI: Operation?
TO: Chastise. It was the Dambusters raid.
HI: Well I reckon myself, personally speaking they could have got near enough any crew could have done that. It was only just more or less flying low and dropping the bomb at the right height. But they just, they just picked the crews, he picked the crews he wanted. They were all his mates mostly from 106 Squadron. But it was a good raid that weren’t it? A good raid. There was worse ones than that but there you are. You can fly to Essen or on the Ruhr Valley was a much more dangerous target than the — than that.
TO: Did you ever have to attack railway yards?
HI: They did but we never attacked, I never attacked a railway yard. Only in Italy, Genoa. But we attacked the whole town and the railway yard was amongst it, you know. We attacked that because they was having a big huge battle at Alemain and the Germans were bringing supplies through to Genoa down to the Middle East. And we attacked it. The railway yards there. Yeah.
TO: And what do you think was the most important campaign of the war?
HI: Well actually — what? From the whole of —
TO: From the whole of the war.
HI: Bomber Command. I think if it hadn’t been for Bomber Command the war would have gone on for much much much longer. Much longer. So we — so you’ve been to Germany haven’t you? Seen the, did you see the state of the bombing? Oh you never did you?
TO: I saw, I saw the church that they left.
HI: Yeah. Yeah. But the flak, but the bombing terrorised Germany. Definitely. I don’t think we would have stood it anyway. I know we wouldn’t have done.
TO: And did you hear at all — when did you hear about the Holocaust?
HI: Nobody heard about that ‘til after the war. They must have known. They must have had, they must have had reports coming through from the Resistance about what was happening but we never heard about it. We never knew it was going on. The funny thing was I read after the war that the Jewish community in England asked us, asked Bomber Harris to bomb Auschwitz. Bomb it completely. And he refused. Good job he did because can you imagine what would have happened after the war when they found out that they said the RAF had bombed a concentration camp? The thing was the Jews reckon that it was better for them to be killed with a bomb than the suffering like they were. [pause – fly buzzing on recording] Got some flies in here haven’t we? Have you got it all written down have you?
TO: I have my questions on here. See which ones I’ve asked and which I haven’t because a lot of them you’ve answered already in your — in your —
HI: Yeah.
TO: Were clouds over the target ever a major problem?
HI: It was a big problem. Once, well once the cloud was over the target you couldn’t see it so you either had to bring your bombs back or drop them on a near enough target what you see. And once you, if you went over the target we shouldn’t have gone, we shouldn’t have gone on the raid. If the Met officer told us that there was full cloud over the target we shouldn’t go. We had a few cancellations like that. We were all ready to go sitting in the aircraft and then the red light would come up. No ops through, through bad weather. Icing was one of the worst most dangerous things. Flying through cloud with the ice.
TO: And before you joined the RAF can you, do you remember much about seeing the bombing of London?
HI: Oh I seen London. I was, I told you. We lived at Stamford Hill. It was a high, quite a high part of the ground and you had a first class picture of what was happening in the City of London. It was well alright. Really well alight. They caught the whole of the city alight. It was blazing. And that’s when we decided to join the RAF. A lot of the bombs were dropped scattered in London anyway. A hell of a lot of the bombs were dropped everywhere. Not in one area. Just dropped their bombs and went away. You know. It was over London. That was it.
TO: And do you remember seeing much of the Battle of Britain?
HI: Yeah we see a little bit of it. We were about fifteen sixteen then. Sixteen. And we was over the Lea. The big open open field by the River Lea and we had a grandstand view of the RAF Spitfires attacking the bombers and the fighters. We see them going down. Yeah. It was quite a battle. Yeah. And as I say they had a terrific disadvantage. The Germans. Because they had to come all the way over France before they got to England, and our Spitfires were waiting for them when they come here. They didn’t have that huge journey. They were more or less local. At Hendon they were at. Hornchurch. Yeah. Good job we beat them. But the Battle of Britain was no comparison. I’ll tell you now, no comparison to the Battle for the Ruhr. No comparison whatsoever. In terms of casualties anyway.
TO: And can you tell me a bit about the gunnery school course you went on?
HI: Yeah. When we arrived there we was told it was a six weeks course. I think we flew about — I’ve got it here. I know it wasn’t a lot.
HI: In all I done nineteen hours flying. Nineteen hours. It’s frightening. And it was all firing at drogues. Two hundred rounds fired. All usual firing at a drogue being towed by an aircraft.
TO: Yes.
HI: Done six weeks there and I was straight on ops which was frightening really. You didn’t know what was happening [laughs] till, till you got there. Yeah.
TO: Is it ok if I close the door to the lounge? There seems to be a bit of birdsong coming through.
HI: Pardon?
TO: Is it ok if I close the door to the lounge?
HI: Yeah
TO: Sorry. It’s just a bit of —
HI: What? A bit of a reflection.
TO: No. There’s a bit of birdsong coming through. That’s all.
HI: Birdsong.
TO: Yeah.
HI: Yeah. Go on. Yeah. You don’t like birds.
TO: No. It’s just it might interfere on the film. That’s all. Sorry.
TO: Nothing to do with birds it’s just it might be interfering in the background noise that’s all. I haven’t got a problem with birds. Sorry what was that. I couldn’t remember, what were saying earlier about the propaganda leaflets that you had with you?
HI: Nickel. Every time we took off there was a pack. A big parcel of nickels. Not on every raid but a lot of the raids and it was up to the engineer mostly to throw them through the bomb bay. He had a window at the side of him and he could open up and could throw the nickels into the bomb bay. So when the bomb bay, when the bomb doors opened all the nickels floated out. That was the idea of it. But our skipper say sod it and just used to ask one of the crew to go back and throw them out the bleeding aircraft. We don’t want to — ‘We’ve got enough on our plate without throwing out bloody leaflets.’ And it was a load of rubbish that the Jerry never took notice of. Just a waste of time.
TO: Harris said after the war he never engaged in pamphlet dropping for two reasons. One — it gave the defenders plenty of practice in getting ready for it.
HI: Yeah.
TO: And two it supplied a considerable quantity of toilet paper to the Germans.
HI: That’s right. Yeah [laughs] Yeah. Yeah. Nickels they called them.
TO: And did you hear about Hitler’s invasion of Russia?
HI: Oh we heard about it. It was on the news. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It didn’t make no difference to us. We were still building our forces. That was in nineteen forty — in the nineteen forty wasn’t it? Russia.
TO: I think it was ’41. Or around that time.
HI: Yeah. It didn’t bother us but my squadron, number 9 and 617 went to Russia before they bombed the Tirpitz because it’s such a long distance they had to refuel and on the way back they bombed the Tirpitz. And they were successful. They sunk that anyway.
TO: Were your, did you ever see the Tallboy bombs they were using?
HI: No. I never see it. No. Because by the time I was on Halifaxes then. There was only two squadrons that had the tall bomb. There was 617 and my squadron — number 9. They didn’t started bombing, didn’t start using the tall boy until the end probably the end of ’43. They caused a lot of damage. Caused a hell of a lot of damage. But there was only two squadrons that dropped it anyway.
TO: And what were conditions like in general aboard a Halifax?
HI: Just the same as a Lanc I suppose. Bloody cold. And that was it. A little bit more room. You could get out the turret and get yourself, escape a bit quicker than the Lanc. It was a bit easier. You could open the doors and just more or less crouch down and get out. With the Lanc you had to slide yourself out about eight or nine feet before you could get to your feet. You had to slide down and slide out. Of course you know you was locked in the turret. You locked yourself with a clip at the back and just clipped it and that. And if you were probably badly wounded — if you couldn’t undo it you was buggered. You couldn’t get out the turret.
TO: Can you please explain to me the procedure for boarding the bomber and taking off for a mission?
HI: Well it wasn’t a lot in it actually. The crew. The WAAF driver used to drop you at your aircraft. And then the ground crew would be there. And all you would do was. It all depends how long you’ve got before take-off. If you had, if you were on one of the early crews you’d be on the outside of the aircraft. I think nearly everybody smoked them days. They was all puffing, puffing on fags until they got in. And set the fags out and climbed in the aircraft. And the bomb aimer would start checking the — yeah. The flight engineer would start checking his stuff. The two gunners would be make sure the guns are working well and the ammunition was coming up. And then we was just wait for the signal. I’d pull up the ladder. Slam the door and then trundle down to the starting point which was a big cabin. And you used to wait for the yellow light. The green light to go on and off you went. You’d circle the aerodrome till you got to a nice height and then off you went. You was on your own, on your Jack-Jones. We had to keep looking out for other aircraft in case they came too close to you. But there was never never never any formation flying of a night time. Never. Never.
TO: Did you ever do formation flying during the day?
HI: Never. Well, I told you we’d done two daylights. All we were — one big group of ninety Lancs just flying along at thirty foot. There was no formation flying or nothing. There were just one gaggle, what we called a gaggle. And if the fighters had got amongst us we’d have had it. But we were so lucky with that Le Creusot raid. To go all the way there and back without seeing a fighter was incredible. We were right across France. And there must have been hundreds of fighters there.
TO: Was there, I know you mentioned that you didn’t talk about missions but was there anyone who ever said that they thought that the bombing wasn’t - the bombing or the tactics weren’t working?
HI: No. I never heard that ever. Never. All I ever heard was we were going over to bomb the target and that was it. There was never any mention of tactics not working. Never. Only until after the war. And now they realise that bombing was very very important. It was through the bombing that really stopped the Germans. Stopped all their, stopped all their production. All their production.
TO: And what was the procedure for coming in to land at the end of a mission?
HI: That was, that was difficult because you was tired , you were bloody cold, and you were wanting to get down. You’d seen everything. You’d seen some terrible things happening in the air and the trouble was you’d all rush back to try to try to get, try to be the first to land. And the trouble was there would be about fifteen of you all circling the ‘drome at different heights waiting to come in and it was bloody tiring. Because you were tired anyway especially with an eight or nine hour flight. It’s not only the eight or nine hours flight it was the hours before preparing before you went. It could be a long long long day and when you come back everybody was trying to get back first. The first one back landed first and all the others had to queue up. Flying round and round and round until it was their turn. What we called pancake. And you just came down. Once you landed oh, take your mask off and just relax. Yeah. Some of those raids were terrible I’ll tell you. You never knew if you was coming back or not. Never.
TO: And were you ever scared?
HI: Always scared. You had to be. You weren’t human if you weren’t. With that amount of flak that was coming up. You can’t explain to people the amount of artilleries shells that were coming up. Hundreds of them over the target. Hundreds of them. And on top of that you had to watch out for the night fighters. You had to watch out for blokes dropping bombs on you. You had to watch out for collisions. And on top of that you had to find your way home [laughs] and that was a bit difficult sometimes. We’d be flying. Where the bloody hell are we? ‘Skipper I don’t know where we are.’
TO: Did you talk much with each other during a mission?
HI: No. No. All we talked about was the business. Nobody, there was no — I don’t know about other crews but most crews I suppose, everybody kept quiet until they had something to say. Which is most, which is most important. You don’t want a lot of chat in the aircraft while you’re flying on ops. You want to be as quiet as possible. You never know.
TO: And did you socialise a lot outside of missions?
HI: Only with, with the crew. We always went out. If we went out anywhere it was always with the crew on the beer. We was always drinking. Always. Most of the aircrew were drinkers. Except my pilot. Stubbs. He never drank, never smoked and he never went out with women. But by God could he swear when we was on ops. His language [laughs] his language was absolutely vile. What he didn’t call the bomb aimer. The flight engineer. He never swore at me though. And you couldn’t swear back at him — he was a flight lieu [laughs] yeah.
TO: Slight digression here. Bernie Harris the chap I mentioned to you earlier.
HI: Yeah.
TO: He said, I think he said there was a member of his crew who could swear for about thirty minutes without repeating the same word and once accidentally there was some kind of radio error.
HI: Yeah.
TO: Started swearing for thirty minutes straight in to it. When there was some senior officers on the radio or something. And apparently there was, oh sorry, also some young WAAF with them at the time. He nearly fainted when she made the call. Yeah. That’s —
HI: Yeah.
TO: And, sorry you mentioned on the first mission you had to make a second bomb run.
HI: Yeah.
TO: Was that common?
HI: Not really. But this pilot, he was a good pilot and he liked to, liked to have everything right. It had to be straight. And if we’d have gone in and he hadn’t got the aiming point and he took the photograph. We come back with no aiming point. The raid wouldn’t have counted anyway. That’s why we went around again. Second run. It was dangerous but there you are. I always said it was like doing two trips in one.
TO: This is more a speculative question but do you think anything could have been done during the war to reduce the losses Bomber Command were suffering?
HI: Yeah. Had the turret. Had the turret underneath the aircraft. If they’d had the turret underneath the aircraft they would have saved a hell of a lot of aircraft. A hell of a lot. Then again I don’t know where they could have put a turret underneath a Lanc. You had your bomb bay which took up say eight tenths of the area underneath. And then you had your H2S. There was no room for a turret. No room at all unless you took the H2S out or you made the bomb bay smaller. The Yanks had it because their bomb bay was — they never carried hardly any bombs anyway. They only had a small area for their bombs. And we had a huge, well you know, they had the huge room underneath. It was enormous.
TO: And what did you think of German aircraft of the war?
HI: The what?
TO: The German aircraft of the war.
HI: Well they were good. Yeah. They were very good. Yeah. The only thing is the Germans never had a heavy bomber did they? They never had a heavy bomber. The bombers, the JU88 and the Messerschmitt 110 they turned into night fighters because they could stay up in the air, you know. About six or seven hours cruising about. But they never had no, and actually there was only the two bombers they had, the JU88 and the 110. And they couldn’t carry no bomb load. They carried a thousand pounder and that was it. Not like the Lanc.
TO: And how was morale in general in the air force?
HI: It was alright. Yeah. It was alright. Yeah. No one ever moaned. They knew that they’d, most of them knew that they wasn’t going to come back. That’s the most amazing thing of the war I think. They all knew. Most of them knew they wasn’t going to come back. Which was incredible. Incredible. To prove that everyone used to write a last letter. I never. But most of them did. Used to write a last letter home. They knew they wasn’t going to survive. They had to do thirty trips. It wanted some doing and come back every time. Wanted some doing. Yeah.
TO: Did people ever talk about friends that they’d lost?
HI: No. Not really. No. No. I’ll tell you the word they used to use. I’ll tell you now, was, ‘Gone for a shit.’ That was it. Nothing else was said. ‘Oh, where’s so and so today?’ ‘Oh they went for a shit last night.’ And that was it. Or got the chop. That was it. Never discussed no more. Another crew would come in. Same thing.
TO: Did you ever go to the cinema much during the war?
HI: No. Very rarely went. Very rarely. The thing for bomber crews was going up the pub and getting drunk. I suppose a few went — oh I think I went once or twice but mostly we used to end up in the pub. In the pubs in Lincoln. Mostly Lincoln. The Saracens Head. It was packed. Packed with bomber crews. Packed every night.
TO: And the newspapers that you had during the war. Did you ever read what they were saying about bomber crews?
HI: No. There wasn’t much spoken about the bomber crews. Not a lot. Not a lot. There wasn’t a lot of information about them. There was no publicity about them anyway. Only now and again when one of them won the VC but that not a lot. The bombing just carried on quietly. The government knew what was going on that was it. They public didn’t know. Only around Lincoln when they used to see about three or four hundred Lancs circling Lincoln ready to go.
TO: Was it very cramped aboard the aircraft?
HI: Well in the rear turret it was yeah. In the rear turret. And the mid-upper was very cramped, very very cramped. No room. No room for movement at all — the time you got your clothing on. And you had a seat a hard seat. I think it was armour plated seat we had and it was as hard as anything. Apart from that it was only because we were so young that we took it. But the oxygen used to make your throat and mouth terrible dry. You was breathing through a rubber oxygen mask — the smell of the bloody rubber. Yeah. Yeah. How I managed it I don’t know but I did. Incredible.
TO: If you want to take another break we can.
HI: No. I think I’ll have another drink. You’re making me bloody thirsty. Do you want another tea? Yeah?
[recording paused]
TO: So where did you keep the parachutes aboard the planes?
HI: It was on a piece of elastic outside the rear turret. About six foot back. There was a holder there and you put it in there and put a elastic, a piece of elastic held it. Sometimes it held and sometimes it didn’t.
TO: And did you hear much about what the Germans were doing in Europe during the war?
HI: No. Nothing at all. Nothing at all. Never heard about the atrocities or anything. Never. There was never no publicity about it. None at all. Only after the war we realised that a few of them ended up in Auschwitz. A few of our prisoners of war ended up in Auschwitz. That’s about all I know.
TO: Have you ever visited any concentration camps?
HI: Yeah. I’ve been to Auschwitz. And after I’d come out from there I had a clear conscience. Honestly, I did. I had a bit of a conscience before about the bombing but when I went there and see what actually happened that was it. Last year I went there. Yeah.
TO: And were they, was it a 303 guns you were on?
HI: They were all 303s.
TO: And were they very effective?
HI: Useless. Bloody useless. Unless you got them like I did. About thirty — about twenty or thirty yards away. But apart from that they were useless. I think the gunners shot down a few but not a lot. They didn’t have to come in anyway. They had 20 millimetre cannon. And they could stand off and belt away at you and you just had to look at them.
TO: And did your plane ever actually get lost?
HI: Yeah. A couple of times we got lost. We sort of circled around and looked around until we see a, some sort of point that we could lock on to you know. The favourite point was a river or a, or the coastline. But you did get lost. A few times you did got lost. Especially after coming out the target you was bloody lost anyway. You had to set your course again from, from the target. And you were jumping and diving about. We had a good navigator. He was alright. And of course once we got H2S that helped us tremendously but they never, they never got that ‘til the later part of that war. It was brilliant. That showed you right, the outline of all the towns, coastline and rivers through dense fog. It was brilliant.
TO: And was that with equipment like Gee?
HI: Gee we had and that took us to the Dutch coast. And then the Germans blocked it. It was useless after that. We had to make our own way. And of course all we hoped for we could see the Ruhr Valley. When you got to the Dutch coast how far was the Ruhr Valley? Half an hour away by plane. It wasn’t far. And we just headed out on that direction and you were soon over the Ruhr Valley. And you knew when you was over the Ruhr Valley with the bleeding guns firing at you. But they never opened up properly until you started dropping the bombs on the target. They kept quiet. And of course they used to have the — I don’t know if you know it. They used to light huge fires outside the town. Huge fires. To make out it was a town burning so we’d bomb that. Which a few of them did.
TO: I didn’t know about that.
HI: It was open fields in the country. But it was mainly —
[Phone ringing]
HI: Is that me again?
TO: Yeah.
[recording paused
TO: Sorry, could you just —
HI: It’s five to two.
TO: I mean what time do you leave?
HI: Oh I’ve got to leave here at 4 o’clock.
TO: Ok. I’ll definitely be done long before that.
HI: Pardon?
TO: I’ll definitely be finished long before that.
HI: I hope so because I’ve got to get ready as well.
TO: Ok. Sorry. And did the accuracy of bombing improve during the war?
HI: Immensely. When we got radar and H2S and Pathfinding it improved immensely. Accurately. Yeah. Yeah. And there was no problem with — the targets always used to be well alight when we got there anyway. And it was just a matter of dropping your bombs and getting out without being shot down. That was the problem. Getting away without being shot down. Yeah.
TO: What, what missions specifically do you remember the most of the war?
HI: Well the, the most vivid mission of all was the daylight raid on Le Creusot. Which was fantastic. To go right across France in ’42. Bomb. Bomb the target and come all the way back without seeing a fighter was incredible. That’s the most impressive one I know, and the bombing was very very accurate.
TO: Did you ever bomb German ships in ports?
HI: Well only Wilhelmshaven and Bremen and the Kiel. We don’t know. We just bombed the ports. I don’t know. I don’t say we hit a ship or not. I know 9 Squadron sank the Tirpitz. I know that. But I wasn’t there at the time.
TO: So, can you tell me which squadrons were you in during the war?
HI: Number 9 Squadron. Still flying now. They’re out in Syria. Number 9. 466. 158 Squadron.
TO: And did you hear about the invasion of Normandy?
HI: Well I don’t know about heard about. We see it was, we knew it was happening because the amount of aircraft in the air. Huge armadas of aircraft going over. So we knew, we knew the war was on. I was in Kent at the moment. At the time. Flying drogues. And we see it all happening there yeah. But I wasn’t involved in it anyway. Not ‘til later on. When I went back on my second tour.
TO: Sorry what — can you tell me again? What was your rank in the air force?
HI: I was a warrant officer. I was offered a commission but I wouldn’t take it. I don’t know why. I was silly. I should have taken it. I’d have ended up at least a flight lieu. But I, I didn’t refuse it. I just didn’t — all my mates took it and they all became commissioned but I didn’t take it. I don’t know why. I was happy as I was so that was it. I should have done though.
TO: And what was probably the most dangerous of the German fighters?
HI: The night fighter? The most dangerous was the JU88. Definitely. That was equipped especially for night fighting. It had all the radar on it. Heavy cannons. They had the Messerschmitt 110. That was a good night fighter. And the Messerschitt 109 they used. And the Focke-Wulf 190. Single engine. They used that mostly over the target especially if a bloke was caught in the searchlights. They’d just go straight for him. Bang. Yeah.
TO: If you got caught in a searchlight was it possible to get out of it?
HI: Very very difficult. Very very difficult. The only way to get out of the searchlights which we’d done several times was put the nose down like that and go starboard or port and hoping you could clear it. Sometimes, sometimes you did and sometimes you couldn’t. We used to see them captured you know with about fifteen searchlights on one aircraft. And then all the guns would open up and all you’d see was a great big puff of explosion and the smoke and that was another one gone. Simple as that. So, best to keep away from it if you could. But the one radar, the one that was run by radar you couldn’t get away from. It just went bang like that. Straight on an aircraft. No messing about. And once that got you five or six of the ordinary searchlights would come — because the radar one was blue and all the searchlight ones were white. And they just used to group you like that. The flak would come up. An enormous amount of flak. Bang. You didn’t stand a chance.
TO: Did, was your aircraft ever caught in searchlights?
HI: Yeah. We was caught a couple of times but lucky enough we done the dive and the turn and got away with it. But sometimes that was very difficult because sometimes you had your bomb load on and you fell. You fell like a stone and you hoped it would bloody well pull out at the end.
TO: And do you remember what you were doing on the day that the war ended?
HI: Yeah. I’d finished flying and I was, they’d posted me up to, after I had done me second tour they posted me up to, up to Scotland as an instructor. And I didn’t fancy it and then they posted me down to Blackpool. I was at Blackpool when the war finished. Being trained. Being changed to another duty because they didn’t want us no more in Bomber Command and we had to do ground staff duties. And they said to me, ‘What was you?’ I said, ‘I’m a tailor.’ They said, ‘We’ve got a job for you.’ And they put in charge of about twenty WAAFs on sewing machines down at Newmarket. That’s how I finished the war. And they treated the aircrew, they treated bomber crews diabolical. Absolutely. A lot of them lost their rank. They just said you’re not a flight sergeant no more. You’re an AC2 or an LAC. I thought it was shocking. Anyhow. But it didn’t, they couldn’t do that with me because I had the DFC up and I couldn’t walk about with a DFC as an odd, as a flight sergeant. So I was left. I was left as a warrant officer.
TO: Why do you think Bomber Command were treated the way they were?
HI: That I don’t know. That I do not know. I’ll never, I can never understand it and I never will. We won the war. We definitely won the war for bomber, for Britain. With our losses were horrendous and yet after the war they absolutely [clap] on us. Yeah. I think it was terrible. They treated us terrible. All the bomber crews were walking about after the war doing menial jobs. Sweeping up. Driving vans. Anything. They didn’t know what to do with us. What they should have done was demobilise us straight away. Said, ‘Alright. You’re finished. Go home.’ No. They had to wait another year doing menial jobs. There you are. And they wouldn’t give us a medal. Can you understand it?
TO: Can I understand it?
HI: Pardon?
TO: Can I understand why they were treated that way?
HI: Yeah. Can you understand why they never gave us a medal?
TO: No.
HI: The barbers got medals. The man that swept the roads got medals. The one that cleaned the toilet got medals. Bomber Command got nothing. Never. I don’t understand it. I don’t know. We should have got a campaign medal. We never got one. Which was terrible when you think of the men we lost. The men we lost. So all them men we lost in the war — all they’ve given them is a thin brass bar. That’s all they got. No medal. Terrible. Terrible. Terrible. Terrible.
TO: And what do you think of the Memorial we’ve got in Green Park?
HI: Oh that’s brilliant. We made that ourselves. We made it. Not the government. We got no help at all from the government. I’ll tell you what happened. I was in the office and we got six and a half million pound collected easy. And who should walk in the office was two geezers from the VAT. They said, ‘We understand you’ve got six and a half million pound voluntary contributions.’ We said, ‘Yeah.’ They said, ‘A million of that is VAT,’ and they took it. There and then. And said, ‘We demand that you pay,’ and we made such a fuss of it and we got on to The Telegraph and we got the million pound back off the government — as a gift. They gave us our own money back as a gift. I think it’s disgraceful. All the money was for was for a Memorial. Nothing else. And they took a million pound off us. There you are. That’s the story.
TO: But what do you think of the Memorial itself?
HI: Oh it’s beautiful isn’t it? Fantastic. Yeah. And, and the Westminster Council said nobody will ever visit that memorial. It’s the most sought after memorial in the whole of London. More people visit that than any other memorial or, or museum. And the council said nobody — they didn’t want it. Didn’t want no memorial for Bomber Command. Can you understand it? Yeah. So that’s why I was so bitter.
TO: Did you ever — during the war did you ever feel any animosity towards Germany itself?
HI: No. Not really. No. No. Not really. No. No. We just went over. We knew what we were doing. We knew what we were doing. No. Not really. We couldn’t could we really? We were over there and back. We had nothing against the Germans. But after the war when we realised what they had got up to yeah but not before. Not during the war because we didn’t know anything about the camps. We felt sorry for the Germans being bombed like they were. Which we knew we was bombing. But we just carried on. Carried on ‘til the war finished and that was it.
TO: And how do you feel today about Germany?
HI: Well, they’re the same as us now aren’t they? No problem. They’re not going to be aggressive no more are they? We hope [laughs] What I’ve seen of the Germans they’re quite nice people. But there you are.
TO: What do you think of the atomic bombs being used against Japan?
HI: A good thing. A very good thing. In fact, in the long term — long and short term they saved millions and millions of lives. Because if they’d have invaded Japan there would have been millions of Japanese killed and many many thousands of Americans and British. They would have been slaughtered in an invasion. The bomb stopped it like that. Clear as that. Bang. Two bombs and the war was over. And the thing was what a lot of people don’t seem to realise — the Germans were on the verge of atomic bomb. And that’s why all the industrial places in Germany were being bombed. Because this government knew that they was on the doorstep of making the bombs themselves. They were nearly there. And they would have used it. Because they was desperate. They would have had one on Moscow and one on London. Definitely. Yeah.
HI: You’re not killing the flies very well. I’m not having you around here no more.
TO: No. I got one. One.
HI: You got one. Yeah.
TO: Sorry. Now, how do you feel today about your wartime service?
HI: Not all that. All I know is I killed many many many people but as soon as I went to Auschwitz and that changed my view. Before that I had a guilty conscience of it because I knew I’d killed many many people but then I went to Auschwitz and seeing what was going on myself that was it. Finished. It was terrible. Have you been to Auschwitz aint you?
TO: No. No.
HI: You want to go there. You come out a different man I’ll tell you.
TO: I have however watched plenty of footage of all the camps when they were liberated.
HI: Yeah but you want to go there. Terrible. Terrible. Terrible. Terrible. What they done to those poor Jews. Babies, children, women. And we would have been the next ones on the list if they had got over the here. The Dutch suffered enough. I’ll tell you. They really suffered. The Dutch. And they’re more or less German and they suffered terrible.
TO: And did you — sorry, just keeping an eye on the time. Did you lose quite a few friends during the war?
HI: Pardon?
TO: I’m sorry to ask this but did you lose quite a few friends during the war?
HI: All of them. Yeah. All my friends. Yeah. All the people you knew on your squadron. By the time I’d left they’d all gone. All been killed or were prisoner of war. Mostly killed. We, we took off one night. I think we was going to Essen and we was up to six thousand feet and above us — no underneath us there was a huge explosion. Two Lancasters. One from our squadron — one from 44 Squadron hit head on with a full bomb load. And we was just above it and we went up like a bleeding lift with our bomb load. Right up we went. Enormous explosion. Yeah. And the thing was, the most amazing thing, the pilot said, ‘Alright. Set course for Essen.’ Just like that. And we could see what was happening below us yeah. But it happened a lot over Germany. Collisions. Can you imagine pitch darkness? Five or six hundred bombers in an area of about ten minutes. All ducking and diving about in pitch darkness. It had to happen didn’t it? Yeah.
TO: Did night fighters ever make head on attacks on a bomber?
HI: Never. Never made that. That’s why I don’t understand why they put a front turret in the Lancaster because it was useless. They never made a head on attack. Because the two speeds together was too fast. So won’t stretch at night time as well. They always come from, they used to come from port quarter, starboard quarter or dead astern. And of course once they got the up and under that was it. The up and under. The up and under. Schrage musik.
TO: And how do you feel today about Britain’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan?
HI: I think we ought to get out and leave them to it. Let them shoot their bloody selves because there’s going to be a problem. A big problem. Especially if they allow them all over here. I think so anyway. We shouldn’t allow them in this country. We should let them get on with it. They’re Moslems. Let them fight it out amongst themselves because they won’t give no thanks to the Christians for intervening. I can tell you that.
TO: And what do you think of the films that have been made about the war?
HI: Well, what I see of the films today they’re all American. That’s all you see is American films. What they done. The British never made many films. They should have made more films about Bomber Command which they never. Have you ever seen a film about Bomber Command ?
TO: I’ve seen one. The Dambusters.
HI: Well, I mean the actual bombing of Germany. No. They never made a film and they won’t because they’re gutless. The government will not accept what Bomber Command done. That’s why we are in so much trouble. They’re embarrassed. They was embarrassed with Bomber Command and yet they told us to go there. It wasn’t us. It was the government told us to go. Well they told Harris what to do anyway.
TO: As a matter of interest I do know there are, there is a team of people, though they are struggling to get funding, of independent film makers who are, they aren’t even paying the actors, who are making a film about a Lancaster bomber crew.
HI: Are they?
TO: Yeah. But they’re struggling with funding at the moment I think.
HI: Pardon?
TO: I think they’re struggling to get the money through although they are filming it.
HI: As I say what have they got? Old men. There’s no young men is there? Have Are they going to have veterans making it?
TO: Apparently I think but it might be stuck in the planning stage that they do plan to make a remake of The Dambusters.
HI: Well, that wasn’t, that wasn’t the bombing war was it? The Dambusters. That was just a one off wasn’t it and I’ll tell there there was far far more dangerous raids than the Dambusters. Berlin for instance you know what I mean. In six weeks I think we lost over nine hundred bombers over Berlin. Yeah. Essen. Dusseldorf, Duisburg, Mannheim. Hamburg. And we lost thousands.
TO: And have you visited Germany recently?
HI: Yeah. I was there last week, last year. Went to Essen. And in Essen there’s a building there. There’s a huge, what do you call it? A big huge photograph about as long as this room on a building and it shows you Essen after the war. Every building was flat. As far as you could see was flat. Except one building. The synagogue. Never got touched. And it’s still there now. It’s a museum now. Wasn’t touched. But every building in Essen was blown down except that one. Incredible.
TO: How did you actually feel when you heard the war was over?
HI: It didn’t make no difference to me. I was a youngster. I was only twenty. Twenty one when the war finished. Didn’t make no difference to me. Just the war was over and that was it. Let’s get out. And of course when I got out I had a wife and a kid and nowhere to live. Nowhere to live. I had to go and live with the in-laws for a year or so which was bleeding terrible. There you are. And the few bob they gave us and the terrible demob suits they gave us were shocking. I was a tailor and I said, ‘What’s this bloody rubbish they’ve given us?’ Yeah. I know I’m a bit cynical but there you are.
TO: Is there anything else that you want to add about your time in Bomber Command which you feel is very important?
HI: Yeah. There’s one very important thing. I survived [laughs] I survived and I mean I survived. The amount of blokes I see get the chop was unbelievable. A whole squadron. You’d lose a whole squadron in about three or four weeks. Complete squadron. It would be renewed. New Lancs. New crews. The faces got younger and we, we carried on. In fact, people, they used to come in, in the crew room and see us, and look at us, and say, ‘Have you done all those amount of trips?’ And we’d say, ‘Yeah.’ Yeah. And we survived. And I took the place of a rear gunner who got killed. And I took his place and I carried on. He was only twenty. Robinson his name was. I took his place and survived. But we lost — I’ll tell you what. That squadron I was on. Number 9 Squadron — we lost eleven hundred men killed. Eleven hundred men. And that was just one squadron. And there was only seven men in a crew. Fourteen aircraft on a squadron. Can you imagine the slaughter? Yeah.
TO: That’s almost all my questions. I’m just scanning through now. Sorry. This is going right back to the start of the war now. What did you think of Chamberlain and him appeasing Hitler?
HI: Weak man. A weak man. He was a weak man yeah. He come back with all his crappy bits of paper. Hitler was laughing his head off. We should have had a man like Hitler on our side. We could have stopped him before the war started. All the socialists and labour all they wanted to do was disarm. Don’t have no armaments. And Germany was building itself up incredibly. We had nothing. All we had was the territorial army when the war started. We just started conscription, yeah, for the twenties. We had nothing. Germany had a huge air force. Tanks. We had nothing. Anyway, we survived though didn’t we? We did survive.
TO: What did you think of Churchill?
HI: Well he done a job. He did do the job. No doubt about that. He done the job. He was the man for the job. Nobody else. But he was the man for it. But he’s — people would never forget his politics before the war when we had two or three million people unemployed. Everybody was bloody hungry. Everybody was half starving. And the rich people were living and he was one of them. But during the war he had Hitler like that. Yeah.
TO: You know the people who, I know I keep coming back to this but you know the people who refused to go on bombing missions? How do you think they should have been treated?
HI: Well personally speaking I think they should have gone to psychotic hospitals and find out exactly what was wrong with them. It was definitely a lot of them couldn’t help it. I’m telling you that the bombing raids were horrendous. I’m telling you. It was absolutely frightening. And some, as you know not everybody can take it. A few of them couldn’t take it and what they done was they stripped them down and put them in prison. Which was all wrong. LMF they called it. And when they came out of prison they put a great big stamp on their record papers — LMF. And the whole station where they was posted to knew what he was. And they couldn’t help it. They couldn’t help it. It’s a shame. So –
TO: This is going to be an odd question now. Is there anyone you know during the war who you think seemed to be losing their mind from the stress of the bombing?
HI: No. I don’t think so. I think what might have happened — some of them were very very very heavy drinkers and I think that was what was stopping them from saying they didn’t want to fly no more. There were some very very heavy drinkers. I mean heavy drinkers. If they weren’t flying they was knocking it back. But that was a thing that. They should never have punished them. They should have just said alright you don’t want to fly no more. Take you wings from you. Put you down to a lower rank. Finished. They had to humiliate them and make them as if they were a disgrace which they weren’t. They just, it was just that they couldn’t take it. They couldn’t take it. That was all there was to it. Went on a couple of raids and they see what was happening. Probably lost a few mates beforehand. That was it. Some were married with children. They said, ‘I don’t want to go over there and get killed I’ve got a wife and a kid,’ you know. There you are. But they punished them severely for it. in fact if it had been in the First World War they would have been shot. Yeah.
TO: Another slightly [pause] question from early on. Did you ever have to go in an air raid shelters during the bombing?
HI: Yeah before I — no. I never went. I never went in an air raid shelter. We lived in a block of flats. We was on the ground floor. And my mother and father said, ‘We’re alright there. We’re on the bottom floor of the flats.’ Which was ridiculous because some of the flats we blew up during the war during the war they blew the whole bleeding lot up. The time they went in an air raid shelter. A lot of people went in the air raid shelters. But the German bombing was nothing compared with what the British done. No comparison. No comparison whatsoever. We was dropping four thousand pound bombs. You know the cookie. Blast bombs. A blast bomb — it dropped. As it hit the ground it exploded. The reason for it was to blow the rooves off the houses so that the incendiaries had an easy entrance into the building which did happen. That’s why there was such huge fires. The rooves come off and then we dropped the incendiaries. And they went right through the buildings. It was a terrible war. The Germans suffered terrible. How many women and children were killed I do not know? Do not know. Shame. There you are. There you are. We had to do it. We was told to do it and that was it and we got punished after the war for it. Right. I’m afraid I’ve got to stop you because –
TO: You’re quite right because I’ve quite literally run out of questions.
HI: I’m pleased. Really pleased about that [laughs] yeah I’ll have to go.
TO: Thank you very much about your plain speaking.
HI: We’re going to drop you off at the station.
TO: Thank you.
HI: Alright.
TO: Thank you.
HI: I’ll drop you off at Romford Station. And all you do is go on the station and then take the train. I think it’s platform four. I’m not quite sure. I think it’s platform four. And that’ll take you right down to Stratford and you get out at Stratford and you get on the Tube there.
TO: Thank you. And thank you so much for your wartime service as well.
HI: That’s alright. Yeah. Pleased to help you. I’m sorry we’ve got to rush.



Tom Ozel, “Interview with Harry Irons. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 15, 2024,

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