Interview with Peter Jones


Interview with Peter Jones


Peter William Arthur Jones (b. 1954) speaks about his father Thomas John Jones DFC (b. 1921, 1640434 and 184141 Royal Air Force). Peter Jones discovered a memoir written by his father, Thomas Jones, a flight engineer, just after he passed away. Peter talks about his father’s life and service during and post-war, some of the details in the memoir and memories of their time as a family after the war. There is much discussion about operations and post-flight details, how emotions, injuries and fears are dealt with, including non-flying personnel as well as those who flew. Peter’s own life and work, particularly on the IBCC Digital Archive is also talked about, and the way the stories of others are so emotive.







01:49:58 audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 7th of December 2017 and we’re in Lincoln talking with Peter Jones about the career and life of his father Thomas John Jones DFC. I think just first of all it’s interesting to reflect that in this case Peter didn’t elicit much information from his father, which is exactly the same with my father, and also Jan’s, in that they might have touched on trivialities, but they didn’t talk about what actually happened.
PJ: That’s very true.
CB: So Peter, how does that fit with your feeling of the background?
PJ: [Sigh] I feel very sad, that he, that he didn’t talk to me about it, about what he actually did and had to put up with, and when I did find out, I was immensely proud.
CB: I can imagine.
PJ: But also, as I only found out twenty four hours after he had died, it was an absolute maelstrom of emotions, of reading the memoir that he’d written fifty years after the war, secretly late at night, when my mother had gone to bed - I wasn’t living there at the time - and he’d put all his memories in a WH Smith notebook.
CB: Had he, really.
PJ: And when he’d finished them, he just hid them with all his personal papers I guess knowing I would eventually find it, after his death.
CB: What do you think prompted him to write it? What age was he when he wrote it?
PJ: He was in his eighties when he wrote that; he died in 2004. I don’t know, was he trying to exorcise his demons? Was he conscious that he hadn’t been able to tell me what he’d done and how he actually felt about what he’d done? I really don’t know.
CB: He was awarded the DFC.
PJ: He was.
CB: So clearly he’d had some really horrendous experiences which were rewarded. Do you think that it, to some extent, he felt he didn’t want to look as though he was in any way building on the background?
PJ: Yes, I think he did. He was a very modest man; he was a very modest, self-effacing gentleman. He was a lovely dad.
CB: But never got on to anything to do with wartime.
PJ: Only the very light-hearted stuff. [Microphone noise] He would talk about that, I mean he relates various stories of some of the capers the crew got up to, but when it went to operational, no. No details.
CB: What were the most dramatic capers they got up to would you say?
PJ: Um, I’ve got a lovely photograph taken at Mildenhall when he was flying with 622 Squadron and it shows my dad and three or four of the other crewmen dangling one of their colleagues out of a first floor window. By his legs. [Much laughter] I think that would probably be one of many stunts like that in the day, you know, it, obviously it would be quite a safety valve, and they would thrive on the black humour, but it was a lovely photograph.
CB: This is out of context in the sequence, but I think it’s worth just talking about – how do you think they dealt with the stress?
PJ: Certainly black humour. I think everyone deals with stress differently. So, I don’t know. My father was a smoker. When you, I’ve noticed that a lot, so many photographs of airmen back in the day, and airwomen, of course, they’re nearly all smoking. I think they enjoyed going down the pub as well.
CB: I mean we’ll get on to your father in a minute, but you, as the archivist here, are covering a huge range of different situations and they, there are two things that come out of that in a way, one is the release from the stress, and the other is, we’ll touch on later, is the LMF, the lacking moral fibre bit, which comes up but is largely buried, but the release of the stress is a broad one and in practical terms, what was the main safety valve would you say?
PJ: High jinks. I think that it was the high jinks. We at the archive have got so many photographs of, wonderful photographs of crew, both aircrew, ground crew, WAAFs, having a really good time, it was an adventure. They were young people. And when you look at the photographs of them having a good time, and then just look at the, look at the face, and then look at the rank, they really don’t go together. You’ve got a very, very young man or woman, with a very senior rank and again that must have, must have really weighed heavy on their shoulders.
CB: There was a notion, there is still I suppose a notion, that what the war did to people in the RAF, but particularly Bomber Command, was make them grow up really quickly. Do you reckon you see that in some of the pictures that have been submitted?
PJ: Definitely. Yeah. Certainly some of the more senior officers, you can see it in their faces: they’ve aged. They’ve aged. I mean my father when he, in 1944, he was twenty three. He looks older. And I think they did go through the mill, and I think it did age them, certainly mentally and probably physically as well with some, particularly the rear gunners who had to endure such cold. It must have been pretty dreadful.
CB: And constant flight, fright.
PJ: Yes. Of which they never spoke.
CB: No. I mean my CO in the Reserve had a mental breakdown after being chased by a Ju88 and then shot down, and so the stress there was huge. But what would you put down to the fact that almost, very largely, people in all of the Forces failed to talk about their experiences in the war? What do you think was the background of that?
PJ: We’re looking at a different decade, aren’t we. It was the stiff upper lip decade. It was the decade where men feared to shed tears, other than in private. I think that’s got a lot to do with it. I don’t, would they share it with the rest of the crew? I don’t know whether they would. In fact I don’t think they would, share their fears with the rest of the crew.
CB: No. I just get a feeling, having talked to people, that the LMF bit actually destabilised the crew so there was a very good reason for getting rid of them quickly, but if, and if they spoke about it, the crew was destabilised.
PJ: Yup. I think it was a fear of letting the crew down.
CB: That’s it.
PJ: Definitely.
CB: And that’s bombers, so we’ve got wider scopes than that, which is difficult to fathom.
PJ: [Pause] Mm. One of the things that my dad talks about, is a particular incident where, I can’t quite remember the details of it now, the nearest he actually came to being killed, and he actually quotes - this is in a, in his notes that he wrote fifty years after the event - he actually writes in there and describes this event and he describes himself saying, saying aloud, ‘don’t cry when you get the letter, mum’, and then he suddenly realises that he may be on an open mike, and thinks oh, maybe I shouldn’t have said that, but he wasn’t. You know, so I think that’s an example of again, fear of letting the crew down.
CB: Well I think we know, don’t we, that it’s clear from the four engined bombers but also from the, [throat clear] excuse me, two engined bombers, that the crew was the family.
PJ: They were. My dad describes them as being like brothers, rank didn’t matter.
CB: And they superseded all other relationships.
PJ: Indeed. Yeah, yeah. And because of the nature of the role that they were dealing with, they never made friends with other crews. They felt unable to, because they didn’t know how long they would know them for, and no thought was given to who had been in your bunk before you got in it. That must have been quite difficult to deal with.
CB: So in the Nissen huts there were two or three crews, and when one was lost then everything was picked up quickly, for replacement with another crew. Who they didn’t know either.
PJ: No. It must have been a terrible time for the ground crew, who saw so many come and go.
CB: Yes, and on ground crew, there are two aspects to that. One is losing their crew and their aeroplane, the other one is when the aeroplanes come back bent, or with horrors in. So what’s your perception of the ground crew reaction to that?
PJ: Well of course the ground crew always thought that the aircraft was theirs [emphasis], and they loaned it nightly to the aircrew and lo, you know, god help anyone that bent it, you know. But there was a lovely relationship between the flight crew and the ground crew, and I would imagine there was great banter. I know that my father thought the world of the ground crew. I mean they worked on his aircraft in the most appalling [emphasis] conditions sometimes, to keep it in tiptop condition and to keep the aircrew as safe as possible, or as safe as they could possibly be. But the ground crew must have gone through such terrible times, when their aircraft didn’t come back, you know. And it must have been there in the back of their mind that was it something that we missed? It’s terrible times.
CB: And the link between the aircrew and the ground crew would be the pilot and the engineer would it? Or what would be the main link – just the engineer?
PJ: I think pilot and engineer, yeah, but there would be camaraderie with the whole crew. I don’t know whether the ground crew actually were involved with trying to install the rear gunner in his turret because of course they struggled to get in there on their own.
CB: Yes, ‘cause moving on from there is the aftermath of an attack and removing crew who were injured, or dead. What was your perception of that?
PJ: Pretty grisly business. Very often it, I mean the rear gunners’ odds of survival were so few, so low, and it was quite common that the rear turret just had to be hosed out. Pretty unpleasant job.
CB: And the bits taken out as well.
PJ: Yes. One of the early things that my father talks about in his notes was when they first went to Mildenhall and they saw their first operational aircraft, and it was a, if I remember rightly, it was a Stirling, outside the Flying Control and it was absolutely riddled with holes. And as they walked round, round this aircraft, they got to the rear gunner’s turret and it was just a shattered mess of just shattered Perspex and bent metal, with lots of blood in it, and uniform, bits of uniform and hair, it was at this point my father actually quotes in his notes, ‘it was this point we realised we’d got to pay back the cost of our training,’ and it all became very real.
CB: Yes. Let’s just. That’s a good phrase, I think, that’s appeared in many cases, probably, which is the payback, so how did you perceive the crews’ attitude to that?
PJ: They were professionals: they were dedicated. They were airmen, trained. They were young men, it was an adventure, it was a job and they were young men under orders and they would obey those orders.
CB: Hm. And in a way they were completely detached, if they were at twenty thousand feet, that’s four miles above [throat clearing] where the effect of their ammunition, their bombs, is felt.
PJ: Yes, they’re kind of divorced from it.
CB: Detached.
PJ: Yes, all they see is fires, and explosions and then of course the flak, the searchlights, et cetera and the ever-present fear of fighters.
CB: On a slightly lighter note then, there’s if they make a mess inside the aeroplane, there’s a fine attached to this.
PJ: There was. My father actually flew three hundred hours, three hundred flying hours, before he got rid of his air sickness and squadron lore had it, that if you threw up in the aircraft you had to pay a fine to the ground crew and clear it up yourself. He actually, he mentions that his bank account was saved by a member of the ground crew who gave him any empty biscuit tin. [Chortle] I think that’s another reason why he liked ground crew!
CB: Then there’s the other aspect which is the filling of the Elsan, [clears throat] or not. [Laughter]
PJ: Exactly, or not! Yes, I would think so, or not. A filthy piece of kit, back of the aircraft, just near the rear turret which must have been pretty unpleasant for the gunner. They’d use anything rather than have to use the Elsan, including milk bottles or peeing down the flare chute or even into the bomb bay. But you know, it was desperate measures to have to go and use the Elsan.
CB: See how long it was before it froze!
PJ: Not long, at eighteen thousand feet! [Laughter]
CB: Now [throat clear] what about the interpersonal relationships of the crew? How did that work?
PJ: They were, as I’ve said, they were like brothers; rank didn’t matter. However, once they were operational, on an operational flight, it came into play. The rank did matter then and the skipper’s order was to be acted on, there was no messing about, when they were on ops, there was no, there was no overuse of the communications at all. Everything was spot on. They were professionals.
CB: I think one of the interesting things, looking at the log book and your details of the crew, is that they, the pilot was Royal Australian Air Force.
PJ: He was.
CB: And you also had a wireless operator who was the same, but you had two, he had two Royal New Zealand Air Force and two RAF, three RAF Reserve, RAF Volunteer Reserve. So how did that interaction go?
PJ: It seemed, looking at my dad’s notes, it seemed to work really well. There was no, they were a crew and it didn’t matter where they were from or what their backgrounds were. They were a crew.
CB: I’m going to stop just a mo. Now your father did a lot of ops, but we’ve talked about the aircrew, what about the hierarchy? So, there was a Flight Commander and a Squadron Commander, did you get much out of the notes on that, the relationships?
PJ: No, he does, it’s humour, in some of it. He doesn’t talk much about the squadron commanders although he does talk about when he joined 7 Squadron, that they’d just lost their CO on operational flying. He was replaced and within a fortnight the replacement had gone; had been killed as well.
CB: This is a Pathfinder Squadron.
PJ: This is 7 Squadron at RAF Oakington, yeah. Thinking that, looking back you think was the policy of the squadron CO flying ops a good one? You have to question it really, don’t you. It can’t have done the morale any good, when the boss cops it.
CB: Well presumably the Flight Commanders were Squadron Leaders and the Squadron Commander, ‘cause there’d be thirty aircraft, would be a Wing Commander, would that be right?
PJ: Yes. The quote that my father gives it was three Wing Commanders that were lost.
CB: Oh was it? Oh, I see. In sequence.
PJ: In sequence, yes.
CB: Any indication of whether the Station Commander flew with them occasionally, because Group Captains did sometimes.
PJ: Um, in his logbook there is one: Lockhart. He was, he flew, my father was Lockhart’s flight engineer for one op, other than that it was Fred Philips, DFC and Bar, who was my father’s pilot.
CB: I mentioned earlier the topic of LMF – the lacking moral fibre - did he, in his notes in any way refer to that, either by experience or hearsay?
PJ: He did. And he speaks, and he speaks with warmth about those that just had reached the end of their tether and couldn’t do it any more, and he says he felt sorry for them, but they were still airmen; they weren’t to be ridiculed.
CB: Any indication of their fate, fates?
PJ: Nope. No.
CB: Just stop a mo. I think, in restarting, it’s worth just exploring a couple of things and putting it into context. A lot of these things are written up and in this case there’s a lot from Thomas’ recollections, but the key is the being able to listen to the narrative that you’re delivering. And there are two topics: one’s LMF and the other is the Guinea Pigs. So on LMF, what’s he say there in his report? Notes.
PJ: In his notes he writes a paragraph about LMF in it and he writes: ‘some unfortunates, through no fault of their own, reach the point where they can no longer carry on. Irrespective of how many ops they’d completed, they were deemed lacking in moral fibre. I never knew or heard of any member of aircrew that had anything but sympathy for them.’ And I think, I would like to hope that was a general feeling amongst the airmen, they had reached a point where they couldn’t go on.
CB: Yeah. For whatever reason.
PJ: For whatever reason, yeah.
CB: What do you know about their fate, after they were removed?
PJ: He doesn’t mention a fate at all, he doesn’t mention it.
CB: Okay. And then the people who were badly injured, burned or amputees, what’s he got on that?
PJ: He says, ‘I remember some of the lads who had a tough time: the empty sleeves and trouser legs of the amputees, there were lads with no faces, noses and ears no more than shrivelled buttons, and heavy, newly grafted eyelids, their mouths were little more than slits in a face rebuilt with shining tightly stretched skin grafts, some had hands shrivelled and clawed like eagles talons. They sought no sympathy or favours, but carried on doing a job they could manage. When they went drinking with us, their laughter was as hearty as ever, their spirits unbroken,’ I’m sorry.
CB: It’s all right, we’ll stop. They carried on doing the job they were trained to do.
PJ: Yeah. And he goes on to say when they went drinking with us, their laughter was as hearty as ever, their spirits unbroken and no sign of bitterness. I do find it very difficult to read some of my father’s notes. Even though it’s now, what, thirteen years since he died.
CB: But it’s intensely personal for you.
PJ: Very.
CB: Which it was for all these individuals.
PJ: The notes that he wrote, he wrote in the first person, so it is as though he’s actually speaking to me from the page. Which he is.
CB: Of course, yes.
PJ: That was his idea.
CB: Well the Guinea Pigs, we’re talking about partly there, of course, we’ve interviewed as a group of people, I’m sure we’ve interviewed a number of those, and seen the effects of them and even these years later, some of them brilliantly mended shall we say, but always obvious that they’ve been injured in one way or the other, and McIndoe did an amazing job.
PJ: Fabulous man. And his team.
CB: And of course, there is now, indeed, not just him. There is actually a museum, isn’t there, down in East Grinstead now.
PJ: Yes, I really must go.
CB: In the County Museum, in the Town Museum, and there’s a memorial as well of course. There aren’t many left, but there were six hundred and fifty, in total.
PJ: Yes, it’s sad that we are losing so many of our ladies and gents now.
CB: Shall we now go specifically on to your father’s situation. Here, if we start with earliest information about him. So, he was born in 1921.
PJ: He was.
CB: In Birmingham, is that right?
PJ: Yeah. He was born on the 19th of April, 1921, at 35 Wrentham Street in Birmingham 1, right in the very city centre of Birmingham. The house that he was born in was a back-to-back property on three floors, and a cellar. I think now we would class these properties as slums; they were dreadful places. On the ground floor was a living room and a small scullery, the bedroom above was where his parents slept and then the bedroom above that was where the children were. My dad was one of three. They were, Edna was his, his older sister, and she had a bed of her own, whereas Dad and Ron, his brother, shared a bed. He would talk to me about these sort of things, and he always said that it was cold, bitterly cold, in winter, and they would snuggle up together and there were times when they actually had to sleep under coats. Another thing he would talk about was the fact that it was shared facilities for houses and I think it was six families shared two toilets, which would have made mornings rather interesting, I think.
CB: Out in the garden this is.
PJ: Out in the yard. Yes.
CB: In the yard.
PJ: My father’s parents were William Jones, and Amy Jones, neé Roberts. His father had served with, in the trenches in the First World War, but after the war he became a metal presser. His mother, obviously my grandmother, was a housewife. The family before my dad was of school age, thankfully moved south to Hall Green, which is quite a nice, leafy suburb, and certainly things got better for them down there and he went to, I think it was Pitmaston Road School, and he actually says in his notes that he rather liked school and, but I don’t know what age he was when he left school. I know certainly that he, when he left school he started an apprenticeship with the BSA, in Small Heath, in Birmingham.
CB: Well school leaving age in those days was fourteen wasn’t it, so apprenticeships tended to pick up from there.
PJ: Yeah. When war broke out he was too young to enlist, really. He joined the Home Guard, but I don’t know a lot about that, and I think he was determined to serve, because he was just fed up with sitting at night in the air raid shelter and watching his city burn. He describes in his notes how Edna would sob in, at the very back end of the shelter, frightened as, frightened stiff, as the bombs whistled down. But he was always the boy in the doorway, watching what was going on. Eventually he applied for service, and he applied for service in the Royal Air Force. Why he chose the Royal Air Force I don’t know. Was it the nice uniform? Was it the chance of flying? Why didn’t he choose the army? I think possibly why he didn’t fancy the army was because his father and his grandfather had both served in the army. His dad had served in the trenches and Walter, his, my father’s grandfather, had been out in the Boer War so maybe he’d heard grisly stories about life in the army, on the front line. One memory that I have of my dad when I was growing up, was that he wasn’t a good sailor. In the 1950s and 60s we would go on holiday to the East Yorkshire coast, or the East Riding coast as it was then, and we’d go to Bridlington, and during the holiday it would always, there would always be a cruise on the Yorkshire Bell or whatever the other ones were called, in Flamborough Bay, and I remember my father was always very quiet and rather green around the gills, [chuckle] so I think that was probably the reason he didn’t volunteer for naval duties. Um, I think, I need to go through his log book, but I’m pretty sure he went to Cardington first, in September ‘42 for aircrew selection. And interestingly, when I got hold of his service record, he was turned down - for aircrew - and I think he must have been pretty, pretty brassed off about that. What changed their mind, I really don’t know, because he ended up as aircrew and successfully carried out sixty four ops with main force and Pathfinder Force, so something must have impressed them. I think I have a very vague memory of my dad talking about the flight engineer’s position on Stirlings, which is the aircraft that he started on, as being very poky. My dad was five foot one, so maybe they changed their mind because they wanted small flight engineers! I’d rather think that they saw his potential rather than his size [laughter]. But I guess, like all of the trades, they needed engineers and here was an enthusiastic young feller who wanted to fly. Anyway, from Cardington he was posted to Padgate for his induction and that’s where he was issued with his service number, and like all servicemen it was a number he would never, ever forget. From Padgate he went to the Initial Training Wing, 42 ITW, at Redcar up on Teesside, and there he was billeted with Mrs Thatcher on Richmond Road, Redcar for six weeks and he talks about the capers he got up to with Ken Battersby and Chaz Curle, but most of all he remembers how icy cold it was doing drill on the sea front with the howling north, north wind and the spray from the North Sea. Must be pretty unpleasant. But anyway, he got through that. In December ’42 he then went to RAF Cosford, and there he, a quote from RAF Cosford, he actually said, ‘everything involved muck and mud down there.’ He says that in the first week of every entry it was spent on fatigues, peeling four foot high piles of vegetables and after every meal the floors and tables of the huge dining hall had to be cleared and polished. There was also guard duty but they didn’t mind it because everybody else had to do it. I suppose they’d all gripe but it had to be done, it’s just how it was. From there he went to start his engineering course at St Athan, by this time he was what, twenty two. I’ve got a lovely photograph of him at the age of twenty two, taken at St Athan, where he looks like a very, very young sergeant. He was a natural engineer. It never left him, he was a perfectionist in everything he did in later life. He drove my mother batty because he was plan, plan and then do, whereas my mother wanted plan – do, or just do. [Laughter] But he was a great planner. He was a perfectionist in everything he did. I think that comes from his RAF training and it was instilled in him how important it was. A lot of the people that he’d been at Redcar with were also at St Athan and he writes, most of the lads that had been on the ITW were at St Athan. He records in his memoir lots of names, Tommy Meehan, MacMeehan, John Mullins, Jimmy Cruickshank, Albert Stocker, Arnold Hurn, Jack Walker and John Gartland. And that they would be killed. Taffy Lightfoot and Roy Eames would go down over Bremen and that Billy Currie was shot down whilst still training. It was pretty terrible, and it was a relatively small group to start with, at the ITW, that so many would be killed, and so quickly. From there he went to 1657 Heavy Conversion Unit at Stradishall, and it was here that he experienced his first flight in a Stirling. He’d never been higher than a first floor window in his life and he really didn’t know how he was going to cope with it. And his description, I think, of his first flight is fabulous. It’s just something that you don’t think about unless you’ve done it yourself, in an aircraft of that generation, which sadly I haven’t but would love to. And he describes taxying to the runway and, ‘hesitating for a few seconds before beginning the mad dash to the other end and how the aircraft’s thirty tons lifted off the runway and it promptly began to sway from side to side and up and down. Looking back down the fuse, the wings actually flapped, the huge engine appeared to be nodding in unison, looking back down the fuselage the whole structure was twisting back and forth,’ and he says that the height didn’t bother him but after ten minutes the motion caused him to be sick and here he says it took three hundred flying hours before the airsickness settled down. Quite remarkable. I can’t imagine flying in an aircraft that’s doing that, but. It was at Stradishall that he was crewed up, and it was the same process that they all went through: all met up bumbling around in a hangar and sort of someone would come up and say fancy being my flight engineer or I need a rear gunner, and it’s a kind of odd way of doing things; but it worked! You know. I think it’s quite remarkable that a skipper could have, I don’t know, almost a special sense of who he’s choosing and certainly with Fred Philips’ crew, they gelled straight away. I mean the crew was Fred Philips who would become, was awarded DFC before he was twenty one and was awarded Bar before he was twenty two. He was an insurance clerk from Punchbowl, Sydney. Dave Goodwin was a New Zealander, he was the navigator, another Kiwi was Clive Thurstan who was initially bomb aimer, and he had an interesting nickname: he was known as Thirsty Thurston - I wonder why! The wireless operator was an Australian, called Stan Williamson. Ron Wynn who was RAFVR was the mid upper gunner, he was from Stockport. Joe Naylor, again RAFVR was the rear gunner, and interesting he was known by everyone, sorry, it was John Naylor, and he was known by everyone as Joe, or maybe I’ve got that the wrong way round and they did their first flight together on the 29th of September 1943. I can’t imagine what it was, what it would feel like, I really can’t. But having read the memoir, they became instantly, a crew, and gelled as a crew, immediately. And it was after thirty four flying hours at Stradishall that they were declared fit for operations and as I said earlier, that was when it suddenly became very real. On the 2nd of September ’43 they joined 622 Squadron at Mildenhall. They were flying Stirlings. The squadron converted to Lancasters in November ‘43. That’s where his log book starts to get very interesting. Whereas he’d logged his operations in quite detail with additional information added after the op, I think later on. He’s quite detailed, he notes targets and also notes the, sometimes notes, tonnage of bombs and the aircraft that took place and the losses. Having looked through a lot of log books they are all very different. They’re all of the same format, but every airman had his own way of putting things in. I love the fact that you rarely, rarely see a scrappy log book: the writing is almost identical in them all. Whether it was something that was taught at school, or whether it was something that was taught during their training, that they all seemed to have the same handwriting. They’re beautifully readable and they are fascinating books to look through. His first op was a gardening op, a minelaying op, on Skaggerat and he mentions that they had an extra man, for gardening ops, they had a naval, a member of the Royal Navy that would arm the mines before they were dropped and then it just goes on with I think, next we’ve got two ops to Hanover, the first of which they had to turn back due to engine failure, and then it was gardening again, but this time at Kattegat. And just, it’s not intense, the flying, really, right, having said that, I’ve just turned the page, [paper shuffling] and I’ve gone the wrong way round. Er, yup. He’s going to Ludwigshafen, Berlin, Berlin, Stuttgart, Schweinfurt, Stuttgart again. His last op with 622 was on the 1st of March, the Stuttgart. And it was there that they, went, after that they went to Warboys and this is where they each learned a little bit of each other’s role so that should anything happen someone else would be able to carry out your role and not let the crew down and hopefully get home.
CB: Now Warboys was the night flying unit, so what were they there to do?
PJ: A lot of it was circuits and landings, obviously like the initial training but they were learning night navigation I believe as well, using a bubble sextant and things like that and that was the second sort of hat that my father wore. That he, he learned to do the, now what is it called, the navigating via the stars?
CB: The star shots.
PJ: Star shots, thank you. Yes. It was after that, that on the 4th of April 1944 they transferred to 7 Squadron, Pathfinder Force, at RAF Oakington in Cambridgeshire. Their ops started on the 9th of April with an attack on the railway yards in Lisle. This was ’44, so a lot of the ops here are French. This was running up to D-Day, and interspersed with German ops as well, but there’s an awful lot of operational flying on Normandy. [Paper shuffling]. Get these the right way round. On the 1st of July they start doing day ops, or daylight operations again it’s all French and they’re hitting communications, flying bomb sites, railway yards, oil plants and then he goes night flying again, over Germany, and then it’s back to France. Interestingly some of these ops they were flying two ops a day. On the 18th of July ’44 they did a French op, a flying bomb site, flying three hours fifteen minutes in the morning, then at night they were up again for three hours thirty five minutes attacking an oil plant in France. A lot of these French ops now in July, Fred Philips had been promoted to Master Bomber with 7 Squadron, so I guess it would have been even more intense with the crew than it had been in the past because I guess they weren’t dropping bombs and markers then scarpering: they had to hang around. Must have been pretty stressful. Going on to again, July. On the 30th of July, my dad’s log book shows that they were bombing the Normandy battle area. That’s followed by more flying bomb sites. On the 6th of August they were observing the artillery firing, 7th of August it was the Normandy battle area again, and it was the enemy strong points were being bombed, back to oil depots and then fuel dumps. The 12th of August 1944 there were two ops: in the day it was a fuel dump, four hours five minutes, and then in the evening they were stemming the enemy retreat. Then it’s back to flying bomb sites on a daytime raid. 29th of August 1944 was the longest flight that they ever did, and that was to Stettin in Poland, a total of nine hours and ten minutes, and my dad refers to this op in his notes by saying that it was the coldest he had ever been on an op and he felt so sorry for the rear gunner, because my father was in a heated cockpit and of course there was little heating for the rear gunner and of course many of them had a clear vision panel although they punched the panel out to see, so he must have been incredibly [emphasis] cold on that raid.
CB: Just before you go on from there, in his notes, what does he say about the bombing of the V1 and V2 sites, because they were difficult a to find and b to actually hit?
PJ: He doesn’t actually mention them, he doesn’t say much about them. It’s all in his log book with just a little note, he doesn’t actually describe physically attacking the V1 and V2 sites, and most of his descriptions are of Berlin and the Ruhr, which were of course the bread and butter targets, and nasty targets as well.
CB: Yes, so how did he feel, in his notes, about Berlin?
PJ: Like them all, he hated it. It was the big city. It was the place that Hitler did not [emphasis] want hit, but.
CB: So what was the significance of them being an unpleasant place to go? Was it more flak, was it fighters or combination of both?
PJ: It was a combination of both. I mean Berlin had massive, massive flak towers didn’t they, and the flak was intense. Um, he describes the noise when the curtain went back, in the briefing, when they followed the red line and at the end of the red line was Berlin and he just describes it was a loud groan. Really, no one wanted to go to the big city.
CB: So as the Pathfinder, now on 7 Squadron, the most accomplished ones would drop the reds, the newer ones would drop the greens, if Fred Phillips became the Master Bomber did that mean they ended up dropping reds?
PJ: Er, I don’t know, he doesn’t describe that. He does remember graphically being extremely uncomfortable circling the target for so long, on an open radio, you know, and he was very aware that they were the sitting duck, the aircraft that had to be shot down.
CB: And what height would they be flying then? Does he give any indication of that?
PJ: He talks about eighteen thousand feet. Whether they dropped for the target, I don’t know. He does describe flying over enemy territory at ten thousand feet, when they were, they’d been severely shot up over the target and they experienced severe [emphasis] airframe icing and the only way that they could gain height was to make the, was to jettison anything and they ended up throwing out all of the ammunition and the guns and they flew back to the UK at ten thousand feet, over enemy territory. Eventually, there was no way they were going to get back to Cambridgeshire, so they diverted to the first airfield available which was West Malling in Kent, fighter station, and ran out of fuel and piled into the runway. They wrote the aircraft off completely. And he describes having to get back to Oakington, from Kent to Cambridgeshire, on the train, in flying gear. [Laughter] There was no taxi in those days. No, but that was just one of the dodgy moments he had.
CB: Did the aircraft become unserviceable or a write off because he landed without undercarriage, or what happened exactly?
PJ: He doesn’t go into great detail, but it was written off, completely written off. I don’t know at the time whether West Malling had a concrete runway or whether it was still grass, I don’t know. But I can’t imagine the CO of West Malling being impressed as a Lancaster drops in very heavily. But they got away with it. They were, at Oakington, Fred Philips’ crew were known as the lucky crew. They’d been flying on a lot of ops by then and they were probably seen as one of the more senior crews on station and they were invariably late back, and usually peppered with holes and my dad describes in his notes, once, the fact that they were so late back that he later discovered they’d been written off and marked up as missing and he describes how they eventually landed and they were debriefed and then they went into the dining hall for their post-operational bacon and eggs and he said there was one of the, there was a WAAF in there and soon as they walked there in she burst into tears.
CB: And the relationship with the WAAFs, was that regular or how did it pan out?
PJ: I think it was, yeah, again, they had great respect for the WAAFs and many a young amorous airman could be put down by just one stare from them [chuckle].
CB: Does he make any comment, it’s an interesting point though I think, about the experience of the WAAFS who had relationships with the aircrew and constantly losing that person?
PJ: He doesn’t mention it, but I’m aware that it must have been very difficult. And I mean some of the poor girls got the reputation as being the chop girl because they’d lost so many boyfriends, or well, airmen who they’d had relationships with, and they got this dreadful reputation and that must have been really hard to live with.
CB: Absolutely.
PJ: And yet there are so many lovely stories about the relationship between the aircrew and the WAAFs. Stevie Stevens’ story is absolutely fantastic, in that, I can’t remember where he was flying from, he, he really enjoyed, loved the sound of the WAAF controller’s voice and then she suddenly just disappeared off the radio and she was never heard of again at that station. I think it was Scampton that he moved to and lo and behold, there it was, the same voice as he was requesting permission to land and he was so intrigued by this WAAF’s voice that he actually went to the Control Tower to see who she was and of course the upshot of that was that they married!
CB: Never looked back.
PJ: Never looked back and are still happily married to this day. Yeah. Some lovely stories.
CB: I think one of the interesting ones that emerged from interviews is the occasions where the WAAFs lined up at the end of the runway to wave off. Does he refer to that in any way?
PJ: He does. Yeah, he does, he said there would be a row of them, or a row of people on the Control Tower balcony and there would be, and he said invariably there would be, I think he calls it a gaggle of WAAFs, that would wave their handkerchiefs to them, but another person that he talks about was a little girl and he talks about this, a family that lived next to the perimeter track in a farm cottage, and he describes how the squadron would taxi round the perimeter tracks from their various dispersals, describing, and he described the aircraft as being like a row of ducks and he said just this roar and spit and hiss of brakes and he said there was this little blonde girl would appear at the back, at the garden gate, every time there was an aircraft on the perimeter track and she would wave to them, every evening. And he said without fail each aircraft that passed this little girl, the crew would wave back and the gunners would dip their guns at this little girl and he said he would love to know who she was, and after my father died I was researching his notes and I found out who she was.
CB: Did you?
PJ: Her name was Clara Doggert, if my memory serves me right, but sadly she died, but it would have been so nice to have met this lady.
CB: Yes. On a lighter note, looking at the log book, [bump on microphone] I think it’s quite interesting to see the entry that says NFT – Night Flying Test - and the timing. What do you know about the choice of timing?
PJ: Um, I hadn’t spotted that one.
CB: So the idea is that you take off at twenty three hundred hours, and you do your night flying test which takes an hour and ten minutes and why is that?
PJ: I think it would be because they would get their breakfast?
CB: They would get their fry up! [Laughter]
PJ: Good for them!
CB: After midnight! And I think this is one of the intriguing things there. I mean on ops obviously they were coming back because they were flying at night, but to do the night flying test.
PJ: They had a cunning plan!
CB: Yeah! Some of them had to be in the day so that didn’t work. Same title, but different time.
PJ: Yes. I think they’d become a pretty savvy crew by then, knew how things worked.
CB: So how many ops had they done when the crew left 7 Squadron?
PJ: Sixty four.
CB: Oh, right.
PJ: They had, by then they had an extra crew member because Fred was Master Bomber so they had a specialist map reader, of course H2S had come along by then so they were an eight man crew. The eighth man was a guy called Steve Harper who hadn’t done as many ops as the rest of them, so when the crew split up he wasn’t tour expired, and Steve kept on flying with 7 Squadron for a bit longer and he was very, very seriously injured by flak on an op. He survived, but he was seriously injured. Their favourite aircraft was PA964 and in less than a month after them, the crew splitting up, the aircraft was shot down and the entire crew were held then, as POWs. So the name ‘Lucky Crew’ was pretty apt. They got away with it. They never saw each other again.
CB: Didn’t they?
PJ: A couple of the Australians and the New Zealanders did, but the RAFVR chaps didn’t. And in my dad’s notes he does actually mention that and he asks the question, would I want to meet them again, and he actually makes the point of saying no. And the reason he wouldn’t want to meet them again, because he wants to remember them as being young men. He doesn’t want to see a load of old men, he wants to remember them as, how they were.
CB: I think that’s a really telling sentiment, as to why some people don’t want to open up about what they’ve done: it’s a memory that’s hurtful, in some ways, it’s pleasurable in others. But there’s a mixture of emotions, isn’t there.
PJ: But there is, and again in his notes, he hints [emphasis] at the, the difficulty he had with the number of civilians and children that were killed. I think he took comfort from being, with his role as a Pathfinder, that he was marking targets as accurately as possible to cut down on the losses, but he was, I think one of the reasons he couldn’t talk about it, were the civilian losses.
CB: Any reflection on the British civilian losses being on the opposite, receiving end?
PJ: No. The only thing he mentions in his notes is the, when he was a teenager in the air raid shelter and he also mentions walking from Hall Green to Small Heath one morning after an op the night before, after a raid the night before on Birmingham, and he actually mentions being fascinated by the effect of the bombing: that one house was a shell and yet the house next door was perfectly okay. One had no windows, the other one was intact, with an alarm clock still ticking in the window, and he describes a double decker bus, sitting on its nose, in the middle of the road. And he just describes this as being absolutely fascinating in an horrific way, and he couldn’t, just couldn’t work out why it wasn’t all flat and yet why would one building remain intact, as though it’d not been touched at all and yet the one next door was completely devastated.
CB: Just on that tack, what do we know about the composition of the German bomb load, in dropping bombs on Britain.
PJ: Well they were using twin-engined aircraft and certainly the bomb load that was dropped on this country was far less than was delivered to Germany.
CB: I was thinking of the composition of the load itself. So they’ve got high explosive and they’ve got incendiary. Because the RAF learned from that.
PJ: Yes, um, it was the incendiary that would cause the, the devastating fires, then you had also, certainly from an RAF perspective, specialist bombs for, that were used on specific targets. Like the Grand Slams, et cetera.
CB: Had father got to the stage of dropping those as well?
PJ: No. No, by the end, by the time he was on Pathfinders he was mostly dropping markers with a basic payload as well.
CB: ‘Cause his job was to make a mark, marking.
PJ: Yes. Primary job was to mark, mark turning points and targets for main force.
CB: So at the end of the tour, tours, two tours, effectively.
PJ: Two tours.
CB: What did he do then?
PJ: When he left, when he left Oakington, I think, I’m sure he went to Northern Ireland to, er, looking at.
CB: To Nutts Corner.
PJ: To Nutts Corner, 1332 Heavy Conversion Unit, and he was there from the 28th of December ’44 to April ’45. One of the things that he talks about is the warmth of the people of Northern Ireland. And he describes that when he arrived in Belfast he was kind of adopted by a family and given a late Christmas lunch by this family because he was a young lad; you know, sort of, he wasn’t that young by then, but he was so far from home, from his, from Birmingham. 1332 Heavy Conversion Unit moved to Riccall in the East Riding of Yorkshire. It was an airfield to the south of York and just sort of north of Selby, and as a teenager I used to cycle out there and it was all still there, which was wonderful, knowing that my dad had served there, but that’s, I digress, and it was whilst he was serving at Riccall – he was the adjutant of the Engineering School there - he went to a dance in Selby, which was a little market town, and the dance was at Christy’s Ballroom, above a shirt factory, of all things, which I think was how they were in the day, and he met the girl who would become my mother. And she was a farm worker’s daughter, who was at the time working in service, as a maid for a quite a wealthy timber family that ran a wealthy timber business and actually where she was living at the time, working, was on the perimeter track of RAF Burn and later my mother would tell me how, as a young working maid, she would also go to the bottom of the garden, in the evenings. But anyway, my dad would cycle to Burn or to Hamilton, where my mother’s home was, and that’s four miles south of Selby, on his service bicycle. That wasn’t too bad, but then 1332 HCU moved to Dishforth and his weekly trips then were a hundred and twelve miles, on a service bicycle, in all weathers. I guess he was in love! [Laugh] Mad fool!
CB: Amazing what motivation there can be in that! What were they flying, 1332, that was a Heavy Conversion Unit, but.
PJ: Initially, they were on, at the time they had a mixture, I think, of Lancasters B24s, certainly the last aircraft my father flew in was B24.
CB: But what was their role? It wasn’t bombing.
PJ: I think, I think they’d gone over to transport by then, or certainly they were heading that way. But when his time was up at Riccall he went to Bramcoats, and there he was the Station Armaments Officer, and this is where his RAF career is kind of taking a spiral because he’s not flying, he hates it. He really [emphasis] wanted to stay in the RAF and pursue a flying career but my mother wasn’t having any of it, so that was the end of his dream of serving round the world and spending his days flying. From Bramcoats he ended up going to Uxbridge and after a medical and signing lots of papers he was given a cardboard box with a suit and hat in it. And he was demobbed.
CB: When was that?
PJ: Oh, I think ’46, I think. I’d need to look at the log book. But my parents married in February ‘46.
CB: And he was still in the RAF then.
PJ: Yes. His wedding photograph is in uniform.
CB: How did he feel about moving from operations, which were very intense and specific, in terms of being a Pathfinder Force, to an OC, to an HCU? What did he feel about that in his notes?
PJ: Um, I wouldn’t say he was bored. But -
CB: Frustrated?
PJ: Yes, frustrated probably. He did have the odd bit of excitement. I mean he talks about [bumps on microphone] one particular incident at Nutts Corner where he was a flight engineer for a young Canadian pilot. He said that this young Canadian was a flying boat pilot and he said lovely chap, really eager, and loved it, he said they were on final approach to Nutts Corner and my father kept looking at this pilot and the pilot kept nodding excitedly much as ‘I’m doing all right aren’t I’, and my father looked at him again and then looked down at the switch gear and looked at him again, and my father just gently leaned over and pushed the full throttles wide open to force an overshoot because he’d forgotten to put the undercarriage down! So the eager Canadian airman was having too much of a good time. Apparently his expression was one of hang dog!
CB: This was on a Stirling?
PJ: Yes, er no, it was a Lancaster actually. Because of course he wouldn’t have been on flight deck for a, with a Stirling. Yes, I can imagine the poor Canadian’s face. He thought he was doing really, really well.
CB: Amazing!
PJ: But I think he was disillusioned, my father was disillusioned: he didn’t want to be on the ground, he wanted to be in the air.
CB: So when he left the RAF, what did he do?
PJ: I really don’t know. As I say, my parents married in February ‘46 and initially they moved to Birmingham and also to Bath because my grandparents, my maternal grandparents lived in Bath for a very short time and then moved back to Birmingham, and then my parents ended up settling down in Selby and my father started working for John Roster and Son which was a paper mill. They were a Manchester based paper company and they had a satellite factory in Selby, and he worked there for years [emphasis]. I came along in 1954 and as I was growing up I remember that my dad was hardly ever at home. He, for years and years and years he worked six and a half days a week and he would always cycle to work and he cycled to work in all weathers, and I can still see him in winter with his RAF greatcoat with plastic buttons on it, he’d taken the brass buttons off, and he used his old gas mask, service gas mask bag, for his backup and there’s a really endearing image I have of him, cycling off in his greatcoat. Um, having said that he was never there, when he was there, he was a great dad. He always had time to read stories to me, and we would read things like the usual 1960s classics that every little boy read: Moby Dick and Treasure Island et cetera, and I have lovely memories of him reading those. Again, going back to his practicality, he used to build me all sorts. He made stations and tunnels. He made the tunnels out of paper pulp, from the paper factory, from the paper mill. So I always had a really good train set.
CB: A type of papier maché.
PJ: An early type of papier maché. Yes. It was very smelly as well!
CB: He worked as an engineer, presumably, at the paper mill.
PJ: He did, he did. Yeah, and he was there until I was in my teens and of course I changed from junior school. He was brilliantly supportive with my homework and he would spend hours helping me with homework and I remember one for some reason I was struggling with the coffee trade in Kenya and I now can’t forget it and he just sat down and we just went over it. He was an incredibly skilled artist - self taught - and sadly I never inherited those genes, although my daughter has. He produced some fabulous sketches.
CB: Amazing!
PJ: And watercolour paintings. [Paper shuffling]
CB: [Indecipherable] in 1979. Amazing, yes.
PJ: He started from nothing with his art, you know. He just used to doodle and then he just got better and better and better. An example I’ve got here today is the, this, his lionesses head and it’s incredibly [emphasis] detailed isn’t it, you can almost see every hair.
CB: Yes. As an engineer did he go into design engineering as well do you think?
PJ: I don’t think so, I don’t think so. I think he was possibly a bit of an innovator, when problems arose, which of course he would have had to have been back in the war, he would have had to have been very self reliant and that carried on with him. He became a model maker as well, and he produced a model that I still have at home that sits in my sitting room and it’s a twin engined compound engine. Stationary steam engine.
CB: Oh really!
PJ: And it works. It probably, well it worked. It probably doesn’t any more because I haven’t kept it serviced. But it has pride of place.
CB: Brilliant.
PJ: Yeah, it’s a lovely thing.
CB: So, you were a teenager when he left the paper mill. What did he do then?
PJ: He got a job as a maintenance fitter at Danepak Bacon, in Selby, and it was then that he actually started to only work five days a week, which you know, I suppose was luxury, really, but sadly he didn’t work there for a very long time because he was, the company got into difficulties and he was eventually made redundant. I think that [emphasis] had a big effect on him [pause] and after his redundancy he never had a job again, and he was made redundant before [emphasis] retirement age.
CB: So what messages did you get from his [emphasis] experiences and advice as to what career you would follow?
PJ: He wanted me to go in the RAF, and follow his footsteps, but I didn’t. [Laugh] My mother didn’t want me to. So I headed off in a different direction altogether.
CB: What did you do?
PJ: I went into acute healthcare. Well after a while, I went into acute healthcare. I had numerous, numerous sort of jobs first. Nothing too serious.
CB: Did you have some kind of vision of what your career was to be?
PJ: Initially no, not at all and then I met up with a few people who were working in healthcare and I thought yeah, that sounds interesting.
CB: So what did that involve?
PJ: It involved a thirty four year career working with anaesthetics and airway management.
CB: Tell us more.
PJ: I trained as an operating department practitioner and specialised in anaesthetic support and ended up working mostly with emergency patients. I specialised in emergency work in the end.
CB: Doing what exactly?
PJ: It was airway management. I used to work in, I was based in operating theatres but I worked in Intensive Care Units and then the resus rooms in A and E departments. It was the A and E work that I really did love. I worked all over the country. I started in Kettering and from Kettering I went to, um, where did I go from Kettering? To East Surrey Hospital in Redhill, then I went up to London and worked at Moorfields Eye Hospital, the Western Ophthalmic Hospital, Great Ormond Street. Then I worked in the St Mary’s Group, which was St Mary’s in Paddington, Mary’s West 2, St Giles West 10, Samaritan Hospital for Women, and then I got a little bit disillusioned with living in London, or maybe it was my then girlfriend who got disillusioned and wanted to move. So I got a job in Lincoln and a month later my then girlfriend who would be my wife and now my ex-wife [laugh] followed and I moved up here to Lincoln in 1987 and I’ve been here ever since. I took early retirement in June, July 2012 because I was just so disillusioned with how the NHS management worked, messing things up, and I really didn’t want to be part of it any more. I had two years where I didn’t do anything, really, and I saw a post, I think it was on the internet or something like that, about the International Bomber Command Centre and I read this post and thought that sounds really interesting. And lo and behold it was based in Lincolnshire, and so they were looking out for volunteers. So I thought well, I spent two years sitting on my bottom doing next to nothing, or once a week walking up the pub and I could be doing something a little bit more worthwhile and something that would reflect what my late father had been doing and I started on the project as a data checker. I was working with the, with Dave Gilbert who was doing a fabulous job recording at the losses and it was one of my jobs to check the accuracy of the information against the data and make sure that what was going to be put on the IBCC records was accurate. And it was fascinating but shocking, as well, going through the losses and looking at the ages of those that had been lost and also looking at the fact that an awful lot of those aircrew that had been lost were lost in training before they’d even got on the squadrons, and I was really shocked because I was, at the time, I’d been given a whole load of Canadian names, I’d been given about a hundred and fifty Canadian names, and the losses in training were higher that the loss, operational losses, for this particular group of airmen, and I thought, and I’m thinking where are these poor sods remembered. They’re not. Not really. There’s the odd little memorial in a hedge bottom, somewhere, which I think are wonderful, but there were so many lost in training that aren’t recorded. They’re not in Chorley. Mind you, Chorley was the record of the aircraft not the crew, wasn’t it.
CB: Absolutely.
PJ: And this is one of the reasons why I got so hooked on the project, and I think it was in January 2015 I had a phone call from the Bourne office asking me if I’d like to come on board as a paid member of staff, to work on the archive, and I bit their hand off. We were based initially at Witham House on the University of Lincoln’s campus. We were in a portacabin which I think my colleague describes as the nearest thing the university had to a Nissen hut, at the time.
CB: We remember.
PJ: You remember it well, [laugh] with the flexi floor, but in August 2015 we moved off the main university campus out to University of Lincoln’s Riseholme Campus, which is where we are today, and we work in the most beautiful country house and I think it just lends itself so, so nicely to the project. It looks, I [emphasis] think it looks like a Group Headquarters and when I first saw it I thought, yeah, I want to work there. But there are two things missing on that house: it doesn’t have a flagpole and it doesn’t have an RAF Ensign fluttering from the top of it. But um, beautiful house. Beautiful grounds and I am very fortunate that I’m now working with a fabulous group of people. Working with some amazing [emphasis] facts, figures, and dealing with amazing stories and artefacts and literally every day is like Christmas Day, when I open the post I have no idea what’s going to come through the door. But it’s also every day is an emotional rollercoaster, you go from the Christmas Day of opening a parcel and seeing these amazing artefacts and these wonderful memories that are sent in, or I’m listening to other recordings of fabulous stories, or heartbreaking stories that come through and it’s those stories and reading the letters, that a young airman wrote, hoping that no one would ever have to read it and of course I’m reading it because his parents did. And I remember reading one of those, it was from a young Canadian airman from Vancouver who had just started operational flying and he’d written the [emphasis] most beautiful letter. I found it remarkable that a nineteen year old could write such a mature letter. I was, I read this letter late on a Friday afternoon and I couldn’t get rid of it, and it haunted me all weekend. I mean, those letters were wonderful. But also we deal with the other side of it, in that I got into the archive about two hundred letters from a young airman who, before he joined up, had worked at Park Royal, in a printing works, and the letters that he was writing weren’t to his family, they were to his workmates, and so they weren’t sanitised and they were laugh out loud funny. My colleagues here will tell you that I was laughing, out loud, at some of these letters, and this particular airman was the Eric Morecombe of his day and I got inside his head and I got to know this man and reading these letters and he’s describing one where there’d been an influx of two hundred WAAFs on station and he actually says ‘the chaps are getting choosy’, with the WAAFs [chuckles] and you know, these were lovely letters and then I got to the last letter in this pile and I rang this chap up and the donor, the owner of this collection was from Bridgewater in Somerset, and I rang him up and said ‘I’ve just read the last of Peter’s letters’ [banging] and I said ‘what happened to him? Have you got any more letters?’ [Steps] And he just says, ‘well you’ve read his last letter.’ He didn’t come back. And that really hurt, because having read all his letters I thought you know, I’d got to know this man, he was a very funny man, and he must have been fabulous to serve with. But the project’s going really well. I’m in receipt of some amazing [emphasis] stuff and I do it in my dad’s honour.
[Other]: Yes.
PJ: Well, I hope he’s smiling down on me.
[Other]: I’m sure he is. You’ve given us a fantastic insight into your father’s experiences. Absolutely.
PJ: He was a remarkable man. He was a lovely man.
[Other]: Yes.
PJ: As I say, it’s been thirteen years since he died and, [pause] I still miss him.
[Other]: Course you do. I’m going to the loo. [Whisper] [Laughter] I’ll turn this off.
CB: It’s running. So Peter, thank you for what you’ve done so far. I think, in summing up we could cover a few other things, but what was your parents’ reactions to your career choices after the experiences of their parents, and your father in particular, in the war?
PJ: As I said, my father, I think, rather fancied the idea of me joining the RAF, as I did, but my mother put me off that. I don’t think my father was disappointed at all, in fact he was quite proud of the career path I chose, but interestingly, another career path that my mother put me off: I gained a Deck Officer Scholarship with Shell and my mother put the kybosh on that as well. [Laughter] She was quite, quite, um, she tended to get her own way.,
CB: What worried her about going to sea?
PJ: It was being away from home I think. Actually she was probably right because of course the British Merchant Fleet has gone. So I’d probably be redundant.
CB: As a Captain! [Laugh]
PJ: I doubt it! [Laughter] More like Pugwash! But no, my dad was proud of where I ended up.
CB: Of course. Well I mean it’s a very good thing to do.
PJ: And I really think he would be very proud of what I’m doing now.
CB: I bet, yes.
PJ: It’s a great project. I think that we are trying to turn back history, because Bomber Command and particularly those that flew were demonised and we want to tell the story of the whole of the bombing war, not just from British perspective, but we were an umbrella over the whole of the war. We want to hear the experiences of people on all sides and we are getting remarkable stories: we’ve got fabulous inroads into Italy with amazing stories from there. And, you know, going back to Bomber Command, I can’t, I really can’t imagine what it was like in 1945 when everyone was huddled around the wireless, waiting for Churchill’s victory speech and everybody was mentioned. Except Bomber Command. And I think that must have been a terrible blow to everyone that served with Bomber Command; a body blow. So many had been killed and what recognition had the government given them? None. What is a life worth? What was a life worth to them? You know, I think it was a terrible thing to miss them out.
CB: Did your father ever mention this matter?
PJ: I think he did once. I can’t, I wasn’t that old, and I’m pretty sure it was a conversation he was having with someone else, but he was pretty hacked off about it, he’s, I think his opinion of Churchill had gone from being very high to being very low. He was hurt by it, very hurt. Because he’d lost so many, many friends.
CB: Yes, you mentioned them.
PJ: Well that was just a few I think.
CB: Yes, that was just from his early days.
PJ: Exactly, it wasn’t from the later days.
CB: What was do you think his overriding memory was, of his service during the war?
PJ: I can tell you – it’s in his memoir, if you -
CB: I’ll pause while you look it up. Right, we’re re-starting now.
PJ: I can quote from my father, I remember him saying that all in all he felt he’d had a good war, he’d had a relatively easy war, he’d come out unscathed and that in a way I think he felt guilty because he had survived and so many hadn’t, but he then, in his notes, he reflects and he reflects asking what made them do it? What made them go on ops, over and over and over again, and he says was it the patriotism, was it the pride of volunteering being greater than the butterflies in the stomach, was it the fear of letting down the crew, or of the lifelong stigma of lack of moral fibre? And he says perhaps it was one or all of them, who knows? And then he follows that with what I think a lovely sentence.: ‘And what do I have to show for it? My discharge papers and identity discs, my flying log book and a few medal ribbons – and a thousand memories.’
CB: I think that’s extremely touching, it, it in a way, glosses over an important point which is not unusual for him, people like him to miss, which is: he got a DFC and nobody crowed about that but why did he get a DFC, what was the origin of the award?
PJ: I’ve never found the citation. I think possibly, of course, he was on a crew that carried out a lot of ops. I’ve found Fred Philips’ citations for both of his DFCs, for his DFC and his Bar.
CB: Which were earlier.
PJ: Which were earlier. Of course by 1945 they were dishing out quite a lot by then, weren’t they.
CB: What was the date of your father’s DFC?
PJ: I can’t remember.
CB: But it, was it a similar time to his pilot, his second one?
PJ: No, it was later.
CB: Later, exactly.
PJ: Which makes me think possibly the number of ops, or -
CB: Nothing specific. Could have been the end of the tour, the second tour.
PJ: Yes. That’s what I think.
CB: Would be nice to be able to get the citation though.
PJ: It would. I would like to see that.
CB: Right, we’ll pause there for a mo. Now we’ve already talked about the DFC and also the crew gelling together, but what sort of conversations did they have, in these circumstances?
PJ: One of the conversations that my dad did tell me about, and that was a conversation he would have with the mid upper gunner, Ron Wynn, when they were coming back, leaving the target on every op as flight engineer it was my dad’s role to walk the length of the fuselage doing a damage control walk, to see how badly damaged, or if [emphasis] they were damaged. And my dad would always use a shielded torch and Ron Wynn would always say, ‘Oi, you’re lighting me up like a bloody lightbulb up here, turn that torch out!’ And my dad would always reply, ‘If there’s a hole in this bloody fuselage I’m not falling out of it for you!’ [Laughter] And it would be the same conversation, every op, but there must have been more, there must have been more. Even in the, even in the sort of, the terrible times of the operations the humour was still there. Like in the breakfast before the op there was always somebody who’d say if you don’t come back, can I have your breakfast, wasn’t there, you know. There was always that, that lovely, lovely dark humour.
CB: Yes, it’s a trait where you deal with the danger, at the threat, and the horror of it, with humour.
PJ: Yes, but since my father’s death, I’ve spent over eleven years researching his notes and of researching his crew, or the crew that he served with, and I was fortunate enough to have made contact with Fred Philips in, who was living, still living in Sydney, and interestingly, when his flying career with the Royal Australian Aircraft, Air Force came to an end he joined Qantas and he eventually became the Chief, the Senior Training Captain, with Qantas and he was the first Qantas pilot to fly a 747 to Heathrow. Now sadly Fred died in October last year. The other one I managed to get in touch with was the mid upper gunner, Ron Wynn, still living in Stockport. After the war he’d been an instructor at Cranwell and I managed to speak to him on the phone and it was quite an emotional encounter I think, for him, talking to the son of someone he hadn’t seen for so long, but after the initial emotion he was very chatty. And after the conversation I had an email from one of his sons, saying how much his dad had enjoyed talking to me and hearing what my father had gone on to do, but then he said that the conversation had brought back a lot of memories and he wouldn’t want to talk again. I do hope that wasn’t too upsetting for him. But you know, I’ve gone through the crew and I now know what all but two of them did, after the war.
CB: One of the reasons was it, the link between the mid upper and the flight engineer was both were acting as lookouts, during this, but what was father actually doing as a flight engineer in his role?
PJ: In his role?
CB: So, start with take off.
PJ: At take off he would take over throttles so that the pilot could use both hands on the stick, for take off. During flight he would be constantly making fuel calculations et cetera, trimming the engines, shifting fuel between tanks et cetera, just to keep the stability and also keeping records, and as I say doing calculations because they didn’t rely on instrumentation for fuel, it was the engineer’s calculations, and woe betide if he got them wrong. My father could, could fly, he, it was again, going back to the Warboys experience where they did a bit of each other but I think it would have been straight and level flying, it wouldn’t have been landing, take off and landing, that sort of thing. Looking back at his, reading his memoirs, I think he did have a good time. I once went to the 7 Squadron reunion in Longstanton and when my, when his tour was up and they were going their separate ways they took their ground crew out, to the pub, The Hoops, in Longstanton, where they wouldn’t let the ground crew spend a penny. In his notes, my dad said it was worth the twenty four hours of hangover. And I dearly wanted to go and have a pint in The Hoops but it’s been knocked down.
CB: Oh dear.
PJ: But I did walk the streets of Longstanton, in the rain. One of the things that he talks about as well, is once on an aborted op they were returning to Oakington in a really vicious side wind and they had a sudden gust of wind and bounced badly on touchdown and went round again, and as they were roaring off, off the runway, the wind had sent them across the village at very low height and he can vividly remember seeing people staring up and people running away and he can clearly remember a lady running out of a house and grabbing a little girl, or her child, and pulling her into the house, out of the way. My father describes how they, they very narrowly missed All Saints Church in Longstanton and that when they touched down, got out of the aircraft, the rear gunner came, wandered around, and said to Fred Phillips, ‘if you’d have told me you were going to pull that stunt I could have taken that weather vane off as a souvenir!’ [laughter] But thinking as I was driving into Longstanton, it’s a long straight road into the village, the hair almost stood up on the back of my neck when I saw that, the spire of the church and realised that’s it! That’s it.
CB: In conclusion, because this is fascinating and it’s covered so many aspects of your experiences, and your father’s experiences. But thinking of father’s experiences with the research that you’ve been doing, and what he had written, what’s your overriding feeling about the story?
PJ: My father’s story or the story of Bomber Command.
CB: Your father’s story.
PJ: My father’s story. [Sigh] The little lad from, [pause] from the slums of Birmingham did all right.
CB: Can I translate that into a feeling of great pride?
PJ: Indeed.
CB: Thank you, Peter Jones.
PJ: You’re welcome



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Peter Jones,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 24, 2024,

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