Interview with Douglas "Jim" James


Interview with Douglas "Jim" James


Douglas (Jim) James was born in India and returned to England when he was nine. After school, he joined the RAF as an air gunner, forging his father’s signature on the application. Jim carried out twenty nine operations on 460 Squadron, flying in Lancasters. He tells of his training and his crew and discusses some of his operations which included the bombing of Essen, Cologne, Nuremburg and Dresden. He describes having to bale out following a leaflet drop over France when his plane was shot down accidentally by American allies. After the war, he was posted to India and Singapore and worked for the legal department of the RAF




Temporal Coverage




01:04:16 audio recording


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AJamesDWK170120, PJamesDWK1701


MC: This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewee is Douglas James, named Jim, Flight Lieutenant, Jim James. The interview is being conducted at Mr James’ home in Branston, Lincoln, on Friday the 20th of January 2017. Also present at the interview is Mrs -
[Other]: Nancy.
MC: Nancy James and Mr -
[Other]: David Schofield.
MC: David.
[Other]: Schofield.
MC: Schofield. So thank you Jim, for agreeing to this interview. Just want to start with a bit about your life history, so if you could tell me a bit about when and where you were born.
DJ: Where I was born?
MC: Yes.
DJ: I was born in India.
MC: Were you born in India! When was that?
DJ: Near Calcutta.
MC: When was that?
DJ: 1925.
MC: 1925. And what date? What date was that Jim?
DJ: I’m ninety two near, coming up to ninety two.
MC: Ah, right. And you, what did your parents do then, for you to be born in India?
DJ: Pardon?
MC: What did your parents do for you to be born in India?
DJ: My dad was in a plantation first, Plantation Manager, and that’s how I came to be born, and he went out to India to do the job and so I was born out there.
MC: And how long did you live in India then?
DJ: I came to England when I was nine years of age.
MC: And did, you obviously went to school in India.
DJ: In India, yes, a junior school, yes. I remember one occasion, we went for a picnic, we’d only be about nine or ten. We went to, in the grounds of a cathedral, to have a picnic, and as we were there an earthquake started. Oh my God! Steeple came tumbling down. Luckily we’d moved well away now, but big cracks appeared everywhere, the ground was, but it scared the hell like, out of us, oh, and the steeple kept tumbling down.
MC: Were there many people injured?
DJ: No, no, nobody injured.
MC: Oh, that’s very good.
DJ: Actually we all moved very quickly. We heard the, felt the ground tremble first and then down came the steeple.
MC: So you came to England when you were nine years old, your father moved back here, you came back with your father and mother? You came back to England with your father and mother.
DJ: Yes. My dad had a lot of illness and when we got to England he suffered a lot of trouble with his throat. I think a lot of it, later, was through his smoking. He used to smoke very strong tobacco, he even smoked pipe tobacco!
MC: You can’t believe it these days, can you, no.
DJ: I couldn’t believe it. Digger Flake, he used to smoke. He died eventually of cancer, of the throat.
MC: So whereabouts, when you came back to the UK, did you live?
DJ: In Withington, Manchester. South Manchester, Manchester 20, Withington.
MC: So that’s where you continued your schooling.
DJ: Yeah. I never went to high school though.
MC: So how old were you when you left school then?
DJ: When I left school?
MC: How old were you?
DJ: Fourteen.
MC: Fourteen.
DJ: I missed, missed my scholarship because I’d been ill so long, had tonsilitis, tonsilitis, tonsilitis through coming to this country. This country didn’t really, didn’t gel with me, you know, it was cold.
MC: So what did you think to your schooldays in England then, in relation to your school in India?
DJ: Pardon?
MC: What did you think to your schooldays in relation to your school in India?
DJ: Oh, I haven’t got many recollections of India.
MC: Now what about in the UK, in England, school in England. Did you enjoy your school days?
DJ: Oh, I did, very much so. I remember once we were playing out in the playground with the sports master and we were playing cricket, and he hit this ball, hard, it bounced straight over the wall, over next door’s garden. So I was picked on to go and fetch it again. So I had to go all round, now instead of going all round the road, I thought I’d just get it over the fence there, but there were spikes and lo and behold as I got one leg over the wall, over the spikes, the wall collapsed and I was stuck on spikes, in my bottom and my hands, and I didn’t dare move. And the sports master called time and they wondered where I was, he says ‘go down and see if he’s in the toilet’. He went down to the toilet and then he saw me stuck on the spikes, he said oh, and he started crying. So he went to the sports master and said ‘you you’d better come and help, he’s stuck on the spikes’. So the sports master came down straight away and took me on the bus to the Royal Infirmary and there they cleaned me up, all the spike holes and everything else. It was quite an experience. [Laughter]
MC: It certainly was!
DJ: They had to probe all the holes that had been made in my bottom because they were rusty you see, so they had to sterilise every hole with a steel thing, and they gave me a penny for every stitch they put in. [Chuckle]
MC: How old were you then, when that happened?
DJ: I’d be about nine. Nine or ten.
MC: So you left school at fourteen. What did you do when you left school then?
DJ: I went to the Amalgamated Society, Society of Woodworkers, I went in the post, they put me in charge of the postal room and I stayed there for a while ‘till my call up came. I said goodbye and cheerio.
MC: So you were called up were you?
DJ: No, no I volunteered.
MC: You volunteered. What year was that?
DJ: Pardon?
MC: What year was that you volunteered?
DJ: Oh blimey. I can’t remember.
MC: You say you volunteered.
DJ: For air gunner.
MC: You volunteered for the Royal Air Force. Did you choose air gunner ?
DJ : Pardon?
MC: Did you choose air gunner or did they offer that to you?
DJ: No, no, I’d set my heart [emphasis] on air gunner. I’d seen posters of air gunners with their full guns and everything, that impressed me. I remember at the Selection Board, the Wing Commander there said ‘do you know what the life of an air gunner is?’ I said ‘I haven’t a clue’. He said ‘eight hours! That’s the average length of time an air gunner lives’, he said ‘and this letter isn’t signed by your father either, so you’d better get home, take this letter home again and get your father to sign the letter saying he agrees to you volunteering as an air gunner’. So off I took it, back home, my dad’s signature was very easy to copy, so I copied his name and signature, saying that I agree that he, I should go as air gunner and that was it.
MC: How old were you then?
DJ: I was eighteen.
MC: You’d reached eighteen had you.
DJ: Eighteen and a half.
MC: So what made you join the Royal Air Force? I mean you could have been a gunner somewhere else, but you wanted to be an air gunner.
DJ: It just appealed to me. Oh no, I was in the Air Training Corps as well, you know, the ATC. That’s what made me go in the Air Force.
MC: So where did you first go? Your recruit training. Where was that?
DJ: My what?
MC: Your recruit training, when you first joined.
DJ: Oh, London.
MC: In London.
DJ: St John’s Wood.
MC: Oh yes.
DJ: Got injections and all, bloomin’ hell, played hell! Oh! They murdered [emphasis] us with those injections.
MC: What about drill training and basic training, did you do a lot of that initially? Your basic training, drill training? Basic training.
DJ: In London, yes.
MC: That was all in London.
DJ: St John’s Wood, that was the basic, yes, and then we went up to Bridgnorth.
MC: Bridgenorth. And what was Bridgenorth? What did you do at Bridgenorth?
DJ: We did very little! Very little! Most of the time we spent drinking. [Laugh] I remember.
MC: But what was Bridgenorth, was that for your trade training, your gunnery training or was that?
DJ: My gunnery training, Dalcross, Inverness.
MC: You went from Bridgenorth to up to Inverness. You did your gunnery training at Inverness.
DJ: At Dalcross, yes. That’s where the Queen’s Flight, it lands still. When she goes up to Edinburgh, she lands there still.
MC: So was that where you had your first flight, your first flight?
DJ: Yes. It was a thrill and a half!
MC: You loved it.
DJ: But I remember when I got on to, for experience, on the squadron, I got in the rear turret, I thought the damn thing was going to fall off! [Laugh] When they turned the turret to the wind, the wind was hitting it like that [slap] and I was going, oh my god this is going to fall off!”
MC: Was that in, when you went to Inverness?
DJ: No, that was on the squadron.
MC: So what did you, what aircraft were you flying in, at Inverness?
DJ: Wellingtons, oh, yeah, Wellingtons, yes. Oh no, no, it wasn’t, Ansons, Ansons.
MC: Oh, Ansons. Yeah. So how long were you there doing your gunnery training?
DJ: Just about, I think about two months, three months and from there, Dalcross, I went to a squadron then.
MC: Did you not go to a Operational Training Unit?
DJ: That was, yes, before the squadron.
MC: Whereabouts was that? That was, you were saying about your lessons - you weren’t paying attention?
DJ: No, I wasn’t paying attention. He caught me once climbing the girders when he was lecturing. ‘You – come down here you fool!’ I remember that very clearly.
MC: So from your gunnery training you went to Wellingtons at?
DJ: Wellingtons was Seighford.
MC: Ah, Seighford, yes.
DJ: Near Stafford.
MC: That was, was that an Operational Training Unit was it?
DJ: No, no, it just a training unit.
MC: Gunnery training, yes. And you flew Wellingtons there.
DJ: Yes. We baled out there.
MC: Did you! What was the reason for that?
DJ: The Americans shot us down. [Laugh] We’ve been sworn to silence ever since! Our Station Commander, when we got back to our unit, said you are not to tell one person [emphasis] that the Americans shot you down. They are our allies and we don’t want any friction, so all seven of you, keep your lips sealed.
MC: Was that in a Wellington?
DJ: Yes. What happened? We went on a leaflet raid, telling the, propaganda raid, telling the French population: keep a stiff upper lip, do everything possible to upset the Germans and they said it’ll be a quiet trip for you, go over Paris, come back, okay. Paris knows what height you’re flying at and everything. So we went there, we went to Saumur, Saumur, fifty miles south of Paris, and coming back the Americans let fly at us. Bang, bang! First of all they shot the port engine out, caught on fire straight away.
MC: It was ground fire was it?
DJ: Pardon?
MC: It was ground fire that they shot at you? Not attacked by another aircraft.
DJ: And they knew what time and height we were coming at, and we weren’t allowed to tell anybody.
MC: Yes, I notice you put just baled out in your log book, yeah, and so that was, then you went to Ingham?
DJ: Pardon?
MC: You went to Ingham.
DJ: England?
MC: Ingham. Gunnery Flight. It says 1481 Gunnery Flight, at Ingham.
DJ: I can’t see that, upside down.
MC: And again you, so you must have gone from Seighford to Ingham. Where did you go from there?
DJ: From Seighford, we went to a bomber station then.
MC: Oh, is this one the one at Sandtoft?
DJ: Yes.
MC: Sandtoft. What squadron was that?
DJ: It wasn’t a squadron, Training Unit.
MC: Ah, it was a Training Unit was it, oh right.
DJ: A first experience for the captain, skipper of four engined aircraft.
MC: What about crewing up? What about crewing up? Whereabouts did you crew up?
DJ: Stafford.
MC: Stafford.
DJ: We were all in a jumble in a hangar just walking round. And a pilot would come to you: would you like to join my crew as an air gunner, wireless op, anything else? And that’s how you crewed up.
MC: Did you know any of them beforehand?
DJ: No, not a soul, just whether you liked the look of the skipper or not, so you made up a crew.
MC: Been told many stories about crewing up. They just put you all together and you picked your own crew.
DJ: Yeah.
MC: It was quite amazing, yeah. So when you went to Sandtoft, you picked up your other crew members ‘cause you, on Wellingtons you would have five crew, so you picked up new crew members did you, for seven man crew, on the Halifaxes, Halifax?
DJ: Lancasters.
MC: You did fly Halifaxes though, didn’t you.
DJ: Pardon?
MC: You did fly the Halifax in training.
DJ: I did fly, We didn’t like it. They give us a choice, said you can either fly the Halifax or the Lancaster, take your pick. So they sent us off on one trip in the Halifax and we didn’t like it.
MC: That was at Sandtoft. That was at Sandtoft?
DJ: Yeah
MC: That was there. And then you, from there you went to Lancaster Finishing School.
DJ: Binbrook.
MC: Hemswell?
DJ: Sandtoft.
MC: Hemswell.
DJ: Hemswell, that was the Finishing School.
MC: Yeah, and you liked the Lancaster.
DJ: Then we went on to the Lancasters. Posted to squadrons then.
MC: How long did you spend at Hemswell?
DJ: I think about six weeks, not long.
MC: And that was your regular skipper then, was it?
DJ: Yes, yes. Getting to know each other, you know.
MC: Who was your regular skipper then?
DJ: Pardon?
MC: Who was your regular skipper?
DJ: Doug, Doug Jolly.
MC: Ah Jolly, yes, ‘cause I know his -
DJ: One coincidence, when we crewed up. He said ‘now when we’re in the aircraft you call me skipper because there’s two of us called Doug and that could be very [emphasis] confusing, so in the aircraft you call me skipper, never [emphasis] Doug. The Doug is the rear gunner’ so he made that quite clear because it could be quite awkward.
MC: So you got posted then to the squadron.
DJ: Binbrook, yes.
MC: At Binbrook, 460 Squadron.
DH: Yes. The Lincolnshire Wolds, now I’ve got a tale to tell you about Binbrook. We were going on a raid to Germany, we had a full bomb load on, and the skipper, off we went down the runway. I was in the rear turret, I thought we’re travelling very fast considering we’ve got a bomb load on, and we were oh, absolutely moving! And then I heard the skipper saying, ‘help me’, to the engineer, ‘help me pull this aircraft out!’ At the end of the runway there’s a valley so you had to have loads of power to make sure you never fell down into the valley when you took off. The silly engineer hadn’t locked down the flaps and by the time we came to take off, the flaps had come up again and he was struggling: ‘Help me Help me! Get this’, and because we weren’t climbing, we weren’t getting up. So the engineer came to his help and he got on the handle there again and at last we cleared the bay but we came to very near disaster, and the skipper didn’t let it go at that. When we got back, he said ‘you could have cost us our lives’, to the engineer. ‘Do you realise you could have cost us our lives? But you hadn’t locked the flaps’. He said ‘yes, I’m sorry’.
MC: Very close, easy done, well, not easy done but it’s very close to disaster.
DJ: He said ‘sorry isn’t good enough for me’, and he said to the rest of the crew ‘do I change him? Do I get another engineer?’ We all said ‘look, we are all entitled to one mistake, he made one, I know it could have cost us our lives but we’re all alive, I say we keep him’. And he went round the whole crew as to whether we keep him: we all said yes.
MC: And he learnt his lesson.
DJ: Yes. [Laugh]
MC: I notice your first raid was to Essen then. You can remember that?
DJ: Yes. Oh, the town on fire, oh blimey. We wondered how anybody lived [emphasis] there, you know, with the bombing. The whole town seemed to be on fire, but it obviously wasn’t.
MC: Must have been quite a shock really, as your first raid.
DJ: It was, it was quite a shock; I became immune to it.
MC: Then you went to, then you, number two was Bonn.
DJ: Pardon?
MC: Number two was Bonn, you bombed Bonn, did a raid to Bonn?
DJ: Oh yes.
MC: And then you went on to Cologne. That was a big raid in Cologne, wasn’t it?
DJ: That was a big raid, very big raid. It’s a sight when you’re up there and you see a thousand bombers in the air at the same time, it’s awe inspiring, it really is, and it gives you, a bit of, you know, as though they’re guarding you when in actual fact they’re just joining you. You feel very safe when you see a thousand bombers round you.
MC: Did you have a regular aircraft?
DJ: Yes. U – Uncle.
MC: I noticed you did fly a few different ones but most of the raids were U – Uncle. Did you have a logo on your aircraft? Did you have a picture?
DJ: No, the skipper never, we were never asked if we wanted one. I can’t remember them refusing. They all had something painted on them, most of them.
MC: Did you, on the Cologne raid, did you come straight home from that? Because I noticed it says you returned from Hethel.
DJ: Hethel, yes, we had fog, we couldn’t land at our aerodrome we had to divert to Hethel so that’s where we went. Oh, and next day, as is customary when you land at a different airport to shoot up the Air Flying Control, you know, and our skipper was mad as hell, he was an Australian, and we all took off, taking a dive at Air Control and pulling away going, but they were all Australians you see, they’re mad as hell, honestly, and they were getting a bit too near Flying Control so they started firing off reds to say [loudly] ‘no more, no more flying here!’ I think they got really scared thinking they were going to hit the Flying Control.
MC: That’s an interesting point. How come you came to join an Australian squadron?
DJ: They just happened to be there.
MC: Yeah, obviously there to make up numbers.
DJ: The whole squadron was Australian, the skipper. The Station Commander was Australian, Group Captain Hutton. [glass knocked]
[Other]: Oops. Tissue.
DJ: Taking turns.
MC: When you were shooting up Flying Control you said?
DJ: Pardon?
MC: When you were shooting up Flying Control.
DJ: Yes. One after another. They eventually got so scared they fired off the reds: ‘No more you mad idiots – go away!’ And we took off, the skipper came up to Flying Control and I swear he was going to go right through it, and at last second he pulled up and all my ammunition in my turret all came out the boxes all over the floor, oh my god! And all he did was laugh his head off. He says ‘that was a good one, wasn’t it’, and I said ‘yes all my blasted ammunition’s on the floor!’
MC: So your next, after Cologne, your next night operation was Münchengladbach.
DJ: Oh yes. There was nothing much to report on much of them, with them, you know, you just had to keep your eyes out looking for fighters coming at you.
MC: Did you meet much flak on that?
DJ: Pardon?
MC: Did you meet much flak on that?
DJ: Oh bloomin’ hell, yes.
MC: There’s always flak is there.
DJ: Oh, always flak. The groundcrew mend the holes in the aircraft. The shells would burst about three foot away from us.
MC: And then operation number six was Gelsenkirchen. Remember much about that?
DJ: No, no. There was just one further away, the most, long one, was about ten hours’ flight.
MC: Ah, you did, and you did Nuremburg. Nuremburg.
DJ: No, further even.
MC: Yeah, but Nuremburg was a long operation, wasn’t it.
DJ: Oh yes.
MC: That was a -
DJ: A heavy, you didn’t know whether you’d come back alive or not, you went to Nuremburg, it was so heavily defended.
MC: Then you went on to Hannover.
DJ: Pardon?
MC: Hannover.
DJ: That was a dolly that was, no trouble there. [Laugh]
MC: And Hanau. Where was Hanau? H a n a u. Hanau, I don’t know that one.
DJ: Doesn’t ring a bell.
MC: A fairly long one, it was a six hour operation. Operation number nine was Merseburg. Merseburg. That was a long operation - eight hours.
DJ: Yes, and in the turret it gets tiring, I assure you. But you just had to keep alert, you know, your life and the life of the six crew members depended on you as air gunner, you had to be wide awake, every minute of flight.
MC: From the stories I’ve heard, that was the secret, was to keep awake, keep alert.
DJ: And they gave us tablets to keep us awake.
MC: Wakey wakey pills! [Chuckle]
DJ: They worked all right, they kept us awake and what we liked when we got back from a raid, [cough] we had to go to the briefing room to be examined, what we saw over the target and we saw tables and tables full of whisky, little cups of whisky for everybody, all lined up. But the point is, quite often or not you were too damned tired to enjoy it, you really were, you just wanted your bed!
MC: Did you have a meal when you got back?
DJ: Pardon?
MC: Have a meal when you got back?
DJ: Yes. Yes. Sausages.
MC: Oh, sausages!
DJ: Oh god, I swore I’d never eat another sausage! Sausage this, sausage that, sausage this, oh!
MC: So operation continued. How many operations, all told, did you do?
DJ: Twenty nine.
MC: Twenty nine.
DJ: [Cough] The skipper did thirty. He had to go on his first op [cough] as a – [cough]
MC: You saw one sight of a?
DJ: A Lancaster, ablaze from one end to the other, she was diving down to its death, crew and all, nobody baled out. I’ll never forget that sight.
MC: Oh yes. They do have an effect on you.
DJ: It did yes. You could see, from the rear turret you had a grandstand view of going down, down, straight down to the earth. You couldn’t live in that one, you know, in the end.
MC: What about your experience of night fighters? Did you come across the night fighters?
DJ: We came across but none attacked me, not one, throughout the whole war not one fighter attacked me.
MC: Didn’t they?
[Other]: What about the?
DJ: End of the war this Messerschmitt 110 flew over us but he didn’t attack us, he just flew about fifty feet above us. He was obviously going home.
MC: This was at the end of the war. Was it?
DJ: It didn’t want to bother, you know.
MC: He didn’t want to get hit.
DJ: And I didn’t open fire. I think if I’d opened fire on him I’d have shot him down because he was so low, just over us. It was so near the war ending he must have thought he’d had enough now.
MC: So Mannheim, number ten, that was a third of the way through, number ten was Mannheim.
DJ: Mannheim, yes, they all, the towns were heavily [emphasis] defended. There wasn’t one you could go and say oh this’ll be easy. Every [emphasis] town was heavily defended. They put the guns right round the town in a circle and they put them so you, they knew that by the laws of average they’d hit somebody, because you had to fly through this barrage of flipping flak and they said well that’s the way to do it and that’s what they resorted to eventually: box ack-ack, make a box of it you’d have to fly through the ack-ack and either your number was up or it wasn’t.
MC: I notice you did the Politz raid. The oil refineries at Politz.
DJ: Yes. That was a long raid, wasn’t it.
MC: Mmm. Yeah. Eight and a half hours. But one of the longest obviously was the infamous one of Dresden.
DJ: Pardon?
MC: Dresden, you did. That was the long raid.
DJ: That Churchill took, and give Churchill this. Every raid had to be agreed by Churchill, right. Every raid had to be passed by him. At the end of the war he denied everything, being connected with the war even, he denied that he’d agreed to have a Dresden, because Dresden thought they’d get away with it, they told us we’re a undefended town now. It was right near the end of the war, so don’t bomb us, we’re undefended now they said, but we did, we had one and wiped them out.
MC: And what about Harris. Bomber Harris, Arthur Harris.
DJ: Oh he was a belter, he really was. He really was great. He gave us such heart, he used to come round the squadrons saying hello. He was a South African, Bomber Harris was, oh he was wonderful. He gave everybody encouragement all the way through.
MC: Yeah. You did a few more raids after Dresden. Dortmund, Duisburg, Essen again. Daylight raids then, you started some, later on you were doing daylight raids. Daylight raids, you did some daylight raids to Essen, and Dortmund. How different was it to be doing a daylight raid to a night raid? Obviously you could see the aircraft more, the other aircraft.
DJ: [Cough] Yes, yes, daylight raids were a dodgy thing because they could see you and you held your breath when you were put on notice on the notice board you were down for a daylight raid, oh bloomin’ hell, and you just got on with it. At North Weald, and the skipper was Douglas Bader, and we were just landing there for an overnight stay and the next day an American colonel landed at the aerodrome, and Bader was a very good looking man, very handsome fellow and female officers all used to drool over him. When they were at the dining room table he’d always have two female officers sitting at his right and left of him. He knew he was good looking, you know, and he had been such a good hero with those bloomin’ legs of his. It was amazing how he could move, absolutely amazing.
MC: So you, how did you finish up at North Weald then?
DJ: Pardon?
MC: How did you finish up at North Weald then?
DJ: Oh, we finished up at North Weald for the night, and this colonel landed and he said to Bader - we were at the dining table - he said to Bader, oh no, Bader said to him, to the colonel, ‘I bet I can land quicker, by taking off and landing, quicker than you can do in your Mustang’. So he says ‘okay, I’ll take you on a bet’. Mind, I don’t know how much they laid the bet for, but everybody in the station turned out to see this. Bader took a, lost the toss, he had to go first. He took off in his Spitfire, turned it over on its back and landed straight down and everybody gave a great cheer, we thought that was the winning thing. Oh, not for this American in the Mustang, oh my god, he made it talk, he took off and just turned it straight over on its back and landed, and won it hands down! Where the Spitfire had to do a turn and land, this Mustang just went over, bang!
MC: Just done a full loop, ground loop. So your last operation was Kiel, I noticed.
DJ: Kiel.
MC: Kiel.
DJ: The port.
MC: That was the –
DJ: There’s a battleship there.
MC: Battleship, the Admiral Scheer. You sunk that.
DJ: Yeah, we didn’t, not, didn’t hit it, but the bombs dropped right round it, caused such an explosion, you know, it tipped the battleship over. We didn’t hit it; nobody hit it.
MC: So, it’s like you were saying about, you hear many stories, and you saying about when you said you baled out, you know, during training.
DJ: Oh, that was hair raising. It was, they told us before we took off, at Seighford this was, and we took off in the Wellingtons, this will be a dolly of a trip for you, you know, no problem. You’ll all go there, drop the leaflets and come sailing back home. Oh no. Six of us went, one got back. It was, we had to go over Paris, fly past Paris and go further down, Saumur.
MC: Oh yeah, you said Saumur, yes. So when you, whereabouts were you when you baled out?
DJ: Oh, when they let fly at us, the Americans, they shot the starboard engine straight off on fire and skipper said and ‘the other one’s been hit as well, so I don’t think we’ll make England, we might have to bale in the sea’. Coming back we were losing height rapidly, where the port engine was leaking very badly, he said ‘I doubt if we’ll get to England’, he said ‘we might have to land in the sea’. Oh, we were all holding our breath and we staggered along and the starboard engine was out, the skipper put the fire out and we were losing height very rapidly and a lot of the equipment for the wireless op was all shot up and everything and he said ‘I doubt we’ll make England chaps, keep your fingers crossed’. So we all kept our fingers crossed and he said ‘now we’re crossing the coast we’re going to cross the Channel now, we’re going, yes, we’re on our way, now we’ll see whether if we land there or not’. And he couldn’t, the wireless op couldn’t get in touch with any station, all his wireless equipment was buggered up, so he said ‘yes, yes we’re gonna land! We’re gonna have to bale out’, we couldn’t find out where we were, to land it. So I said oh my god’, baling out, oh bloomin’ hell, that put the wind up me that did, oh, that put the wind up me.
MC: In a Wellington how did you bale out? How did you get out?
DJ: Through the nose, all of us went out through the bomb aimer’s.
MC: So you had to come back from your turret and go out the nose. That was in England of course, and whereabouts did you land – where’d you come down?
DJ: Oh. Blimey, it’s gone again.
MC: No, that’s okay. So you landed safely; you were okay.
DJ: Yeah. We did, the skipper said ‘get out quick! She’s going to cut the last engine and we’ll have to crash’, and crashing in a Wellington was awful, because a fabric aircraft, he says ‘bale out quick!’ So we got out of the nose of the aircraft, went out one after the other. They always said, say count three before you pull your zipper. I said ‘one’ - boom! [Laughter] I was that frightened honestly, I just said ‘one’ – I still had the handle in my hand when I landed! Oh, then when I landed, I landed very heavily and I went back and knocked my head on the floor and knocked myself out, and when I came to I thought I was in Germany. I thought right, do what they tell you, roll your parachute up now, in a tight ball, put it in the hedge so the Germans can’t find it. So I went and did this and I started walking. They said now, when you bale out in England you find the nearest house and ask for help, using the telephone. I walked and I walked and I walked. Eventually found this farmhouse. I said ‘can I use’, oh, I had to knock at the door and the upstairs window opened and a gun popped out. ‘Yes, who are you?’, ‘I’m an RAF flyer’, ‘how do I know you are?’, I said ‘we’re not allowed to carry any identification except my blood group’, yeah. This was conversation was going through the window down, and his two daughters were there with him, and his wife. I said ‘we’re not allowed to carry identification on any raid’, I said ‘you’ll have to take my word for it’, I said ‘can I use your phone and he said ‘we’re not on the phone’. [Laugh] Oh no, and I’d walked flippin’ ages! Because they’re very strict about that, if you bale out, you land, you make for the nearest telephone, for the police to know where you are. I said ‘oh blimey, I’m not walking any more, I’ve had it’. I had on all my full flying kit and everything on, you know, I thought I’m not walking another inch and the farmer said ‘you can go to sleep on this couch, you know, if I bring you some blankets’ and what have you. I said ‘thank you very much, I can’t walk another inch’, still had my flying boots on. Oh, I just looked at this settee and just zonked straight out you see. Next morning, knock on the door, he answered it and I heard American voice saying, ‘Say man, have you seen English flier round here?’ And she said ‘yes, he’s asleep on the couch here’. ‘I’ll give him the couch’ he says, he was a big American sergeant, said ‘I’ll give him couch, we’ve been looking all night [emphasis] for him’. Said, ’well he’s been here’. ‘Well he should have phoned us!’ She said ‘we’re not on the phone’. ‘Oh’. But it didn’t save me from the rocket, he said’ we’ve searched all night long for you and here you are comfortable’.[laughs] Oh I slept like a log.
MC: So they took you back to base did they?
DJ: Yes. They took me back to American base who had shot, I didn’t mention that they’d shot us down. I thought no, I don’t want to start a war here. [Chuckle] So I was taken to this American base, given a hearty breakfast, and then this plane came, landed to take us back to our aerodrome. Oh, but he really didn’t half play hell with me for not telephoning. I said ‘I’d walked for ages and don’t forget’ I said to them, ‘I had my whole flying gear on as well! How much longer do you think I could walk?’ They said ‘walk till you find a telephone!’ You couldn’t win an argument, you couldn’t, no matter what you said, you couldn’t win it.
MC: So of all the operations you did, does anything stand out particularly that was the worst, you know? I mean I know you did some long ones.
DJ: Nuremberg was very hot, very hot. Oh yes, they really let fly at Nuremburg, but they were all one, much alike, you know, because the flak was so thick when you got to each station, each town, you couldn’t tell the difference; the ack-ack was terrific. You just thought well if they hit us, they hit us, that’s all there is to it. You knew it would be a short life then, if they hit you. [Pages turning]
MC: So finishing your tour at um, you finished your tour at 460 Squadron?
DJ: Yes.
MC: What happened when you finished your tour? Where did you go from there?
DJ: I went to India, at my request.
MC: Oh you got posted to India!
DJ: Yeah. After the war was over I went straight to the Adjutant, I said ‘I wanted to be posted to India, Adj, can you get me there?’ I wasn’t commissioned yet, and he said ‘you want what?’ I said ‘I want to go to India’. He said ‘you must be mad, everybody’s leaving India!’ I said ‘well I was born there, I still have relations there, I want to go to India’. He said ‘I can get you on an aircraft tomorrow if you want’, he said ‘we’ll get rid of you that quick! I said ‘okay’. So they posted me to India.
MC: So whereabouts in India were you born?
DJ: Near Calcutta.
MC: And when you got posted back, where did you go to?
DJ: I was born at Asinsol, about seven miles from Calcutta, I was born there. My mum was a nurse, a midwife.
MC: So when you got, after you finished your tour and you got posted back to India, whereabouts did you go to?
DJ: India. First posting was down to Poona. [Cough] You’ve heard of Poona, everybody’s heard of Poona. The RAF were banned from the Officers Club there. You know what they did? The mad RAF? They got cigarette packets and lit them and put them on the floor, the dance floor, and pretended it was a flare path and set fire to the building, set fire to the whole damned building! And so we were banned from there evermore. [Laughter] And that was our visit to Poona.
MC: So when did you get your commission?
DJ: Commission.
MC: Did you get commissioned?
DJ: Yes. I got to Flight Lieutenant.
MC: When?
DJ: I got commissioned when I was at Binbrook.
MC: Ah, when you was at Binbrook. You got your Pilot Officer.
DJ: But authorities to me, had been told by Air Ministry don’t pass anybody for a commission right, we’ve got enough officers [cough] well that isn’t very heartening. I said to the Adjutant, ‘can I have the papers to be, for a commission’, he said ‘don’t you know the war’s over and we’ve got loads of commissions?’ I said ‘I do sir, but I still want the papers’. He said ‘well why waste our time?’ I said ‘I’m sorry but it’s my prerogative to ask for papers for commissioning’, and my mid upper said ‘yes, and I want papers too’. He says ‘all right, all right, I can’t stop you’, and he gave us papers, the forms to fill in for commissioning. But they’d had the letter saying don’t [emphasis] pass anybody for a commission, all officers had been told this. I said to the Adjutant, ‘I want to hear it from the hips, from the lips of my Station Commander that I’m not going to be commissioned, not you sir’. I said ‘you’re the Adjutant all right, that’s fair enough, but I want to hear it from the lips of my CO about my not being commissioned’. ‘All right, all right, waste our time’ he said. ‘I’ll arrange an interview with the Station Commander’, who was Group Captain Hutton, he was an Australian, and we both went for commissioning. Harry was turned down, he came from Wigan to tell you the truth, and when he spoke you couldn’t understand a bloody word he said, [laugh] he was that broad Lancashire, absolutely broad, I thought that poor fellow’s going to interview him! And he came out and he was in tears. I said what’s wrong Harry and he said ‘he hasn’t passed me for a commission’, he said ‘I’ve done the same number of ops as you’, I said ‘I know you have’, but I knew why they had turned him down, because the next officer would be another Australian, wouldn’t understand a word he said. But I didn’t say that.
MC: But you got yours.
DJ: Yes, ‘cause I went to the next officer and they said, gave me an interview. He said ‘do you know we have had a letter from Air Ministry, not passing anybody [emphasis] for a commission’. I said ‘I have sir, but I just want to hear it from you, if I’m going to be turned down that’s fair enough, but I want to hear it from you, not from the Adjutant’. He said ‘you’re damned determined, aren’t you’. I said ‘well, I’m just seeking what I think I deserve, I’ve done a tour of ops now, I’m as good as anybody else now’. He said ‘all right’, he says, ‘for your damned nerve I’ll pass you’ he said, ‘but I know I’ll get a rocket from Air Ministry for passing you’. I said ‘thank you very much sir’, this was Group Captain Hutton, so he passed me on to the next one. And then [cough] and interview again, same story, ‘do you know we’ve had a letter from the Air Ministry not passing’. I said ‘I’ve heard all this sir, I just want to hear it from the person who’s got authority to fail me, that’s all. I’m not complaining’.
MC: So your commission you got after you’d finished your tour?
DJ: Yes, and then I got up to fly-.
MC: So when you went to India, did you fly in India, were you flying?
DJ: No, no, I was on legal duties then.
MC: Oh were you!
DJ: Yes, Courts of Inquiry, formal investigations, and Formal Investigations. I went on the legal side of the RAF and I did many court martials, I had to prosecute. However, first of all they sent me to an admin school, which was Poona, and from there they posted me to, on the legal side of the RAF and I did for many years, that’s all I did for the RAF after the war.
MC: Did you find that interesting?
DJ: Very [emphasis] interesting, very interesting, oh I really did. But to tell you the truth, it starts making you change, change your mind, because eventually you get to an RAF station, you look at a person you try and weigh them up whether they’re a crook or not! You do, you get the habit of doing this. I thought oh God! But I did it, the whole of my RAF career was on the legal side, court martials.
MC: Yes. So what was your title, you know, what was your role, what was your title? Was it legal officer or what did they call it?
DJ: No, no, just my rank, Flight Lieutenant.
MC: But you was just on the legal side. So how long were you in India for then?
DJ: Oh, I went from India, I still had another year to do when India declared independence and they said ‘you’re not going home you know, you’re going on to Singapore’. [Laugh] Okay. So they posted me from India to Singapore. Very good posting, that was a very good posting. I loved Singapore, it’s a smashing country, really is. And I went on, became PA to an Air Vice Marshal.
MC: That was in Singapore?
DJ: Yes. He was a belter, he really was a cracker; he was an excellent officer to work for. But I wished he hadn’t picked me to partner him when he played tennis every time! [Laugh] ‘Jimmy, you’re partnering me’, ‘oh, not again!’ But you can’t say no to an Air Vice Marshal can you [laugh].
MC: So Singapore. How long did you spend in Singapore?
DJ: I spent a year, then I came back to England and then I went to Singapore again, asked them to post me again.
MC: Oh, right.
DJ: I asked for Singapore again. They posted me back to Singapore.
MC: Can you remember when that was, what year that was?
DJ: The war ended ’45, it would be about ’47, ’48. Singapore was a very good posting, very good, I must say, especially when I became PA to the Air Vice Marshal. That was a wonderful life. His wife was a great person too, she was a big help to him. Every night she used to leave her house and come into the Officers Club and play gambling with us! Mrs Patch, she used to, we were playing liar dice, every night she’d be down and joining us all and having a drink, she was more natural than any woman you could meet, and she was an Air Vice Marshal’s wife, but oh she was so natural. She said to everybody, ‘Call me Mrs P, not Mrs Patch, just say Mrs P.’ So we called her that. [Pause]
[Other]: Very interesting wasn’t it.
MC: Oh, Singapore, you were second tour in Singapore, second time in Singapore, what happened after then?
DJ: Came home then, left the Air Force.
MC: Oh did you. When did you finish in the Air Force?
DJ: Then I got a letter from the Air Council saying we are pleased to announce, to write to you, to tell you we have awarded you the rank of Flight Lieutenant until you, pass. So they gave me the Flight Lieutenant for the rest of my life. They said they didn’t often do it.
MC: So what medals did you have?
DJ: European medals, German medal, Peacetime medal, I forget what, and Holland, we got a medal from Holland.
MC: Oh did you!
DJ: For our helping them during the war ‘cause they were desperately short of food, in Holland, they were desperate for food.
MC: Yeah. So it’s the 39 45 Star, yeah, France and Germany Star, yeah.
DJ: Went to, to where their gunners were, in Holland, Holland, and oh, they were ever so grateful to the British, they said you saved us, dropping that food to us. We were desperate, the Germans were eating all the food and we were getting none.
MC: And then, and you got the commemorative medal from the Belgian Government as well. So that was, when did you meet Nancy then?
DJ: At RAF Cheadle, she came to a dance. She was working in a computer factory and she came with all the other girls to the dance at the RAF base at Cheadle in Staffordshire and I saw her walk down, she was dancing with another girl and she came past me. I was Adjutant of the station and I looked at her and thought I fancy that girl – she’s a beauty. So I excused them and started dancing with her and then I saw her home and then we married, after a while.
MC: So what year was it you met her, you first met her then? You said you was the Adjutant.
DJ: Pardon?
MC: You said you was the Adjutant then.
DJ: Of the station, yes. That was at RAF Cheadle, Staffordshire.
MC: That was after you came back from Singapore?
DJ: Yeah. When I was a free man! [Laughter]
NJ: I’m behind you!
MC: So when did you get married then?
DJ: What year Nancy? Sixty odd years.
NJ: Oh good grief. I don’t know, I keep losing track of these events. Was it ’49. Yes, 1949 you got married and had a child in ‘52. I can remember that.
DJ: She had charming parents too. Very nice.
MC: Going back to Cheadle. You got posted to Cheadle after you came back from Singapore, as Adjutant there, and that’s where you finished your service was it?
DJ: No, no, I finished my service in Singapore.
NJ: We went back to Singapore.
DJ: We went back to Singapore.
MC: Oh, after you was at Cheadle. Yeah, ah, I’m with you now, yes.
DJ: Cheadle to Singapore. It was such a good posting. You fell over yourselves trying to get posted to Singapore.
MC: So did they have any aircraft?
DJ: Pardon?
MC: What aircraft did they have at Singapore, then?
DJ: Not flying.
MC: It wasn’t a flying station.
DJ: No, no. They had aeroplanes there, yeah. But.
MC: You weren’t flying.
DJ: I forget what they were. All sorts of landing, you know, all sorts of planes were landing.
MC: I would think most of them would have been transport aircraft as well.
DJ: Pardon?
MC: Most of them would have been transport aircraft.
DJ: Yeah.
MC: Say that again Jim, they did what?
DJ: After the war we had a roundup, all the Chinese guards, and we got them for trial. Put them to trial. All sentenced to death, this was at Changi Jail, and they were all hung, for cruelty to British officers, British personnel. Oh they were just, but it was so horrible, the Air Marshal wouldn’t let me read the book where all this was recorded, he wouldn’t let me read it, he said ‘no, it won’t do you good’, he says ‘take my word, they’ve taken it from this book, but you’re not to read this book under any [emphasis] circumstances’. So it must have been pretty bad. They must have asked the prisoners of war what did they do, you know. They did all sorts of things, did terrible things.
MC: This was the Japanese.
DJ: Yes. They seemed to be heartless, honestly, but I wasn’t allowed to read the book. [Other voices]
DJ: Straight after the war the skipper came to us, said ‘I’ve volunteered the crew’, he said, ‘to go to Japan, to fight the war there now’. So we all agreed to go with him, we said ‘we’re all behind you, to go on to Japan now and fight Japan’ and they sent us on leave, seven days’ leave and during that time they dropped the atom bomb on Japan, so the war was over completely worldwide. So we didn’t go to Japan, we didn’t have the pleasure of seeing the atom bomb go.
MC: When did you hear about that, I mean where did you hear about the atomic bomb?
DJ: Pardon?
MC: Where did you hear about the atom bomb, were you, you were at Binbrook when you heard about that were you? You were at Binbrook when you heard about the atom bomb, being dropped.
DJ: Yes, yes. Er, no, I’d left Binbrook then, yes, I’d left Binbrook. I think I must have been – I was on leave.
MC: Ah, you said you were on leave.
DJ: I was on leave when they dropped the atom bomb. There must have been a lot of soul searching by the President to agree to drop that bomb: he knew what horror would come from it. It must have taken a lot [emphasis] of courage to say I’m going to give the sanction for the atom bomb to be dropped, you know, what with the results they had. Oh my god.
MC: We talked about your raids and all the raids you did.
DJ: Excuse me. Thank you, Nancy.
MC: I mean how did you personally feel about what you were doing?
DJ: I was very thrilled, I really was. I felt really proud [emphasis] that I had taken such a part in the war. I didn’t have any sympathy for what we were doing, not like Churchill who changed his mind. He dropped us all in the cart eventually. I’ll never forget Churchill, and he didn’t mention the RAF in his speech after the war and that hurts our skip, our Bomber Command boss, it hurt him terribly that Churchill didn’t mention him. Churchill took exception because we bombed that last place in Germany.
MC: Dresden?
DJ: Dresden, yes. He took, he’d asked us permission for it and then he tried to backtrack out of it, said ‘I have my hands clean, I don’t know anything about it’. That hurt the Commander in Chief: he went back to South Africa a broken man. He really was.
MC: Well Jim, I thank you very much for talking to me.
DJ: It’s been a sheer pleasure.
MC: No, it’s been a pleasure to hear your stories, and it’s been great. Thank you very much.


Mike Connock, “Interview with Douglas "Jim" James,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 19, 2024,

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