Interview with Hugh Lorimer


Interview with Hugh Lorimer


Hugh Lorimer skipped school to see flying circus and won a flight in one of the aeroplanes. He later volunteered for the RAF and began training as a wireless operator. He was initially was posted to Special Duty Flight test flying in India. However, when their aircraft was written off they were posted back to the UK. He completed a tour of operations as a wireless operator with 10 Squadron.




Temporal Coverage




00:40:56 audio recording


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PL: Well, first of all I’d just like to say my name is Pam Locker. I am interviewing Mr Hugh Lorimer of [redacted] Knaresborough and the date is the 22nd of June 2016. And can I just start, Hugh by saying thank you very much indeed for agreeing to give us your interview. We do appreciate it. And I guess if we just start the interview by you telling us a little bit about your, your childhood and how you came to be involved with Bomber Command.
HL: My pleasure. Thank you very much in the first instance for coming along to do this interview. I’m glad to take the opportunity to pass on quite a bit of my memories to people in the future who may be interested which I sincerely hope they will be. And I thought I’d sort of start by sort of telling you why I joined the Royal Air Force in the first place. I was just a young schoolboy. I’d be about maybe twelve, thirteen years of age and I was standing outside the house one morning and I saw this fleet of biplane aircraft flying over the house at low level. I wondered what the dickens they were doing. So I made a few enquiries and discovered it was one of these flying circuses which was going to operate from a field about three or four miles from my home. But unfortunately I was told they were only there for the sort of Tuesday and Wednesday of that week and I was at school. And I thought oh my goodness, I’d love to go and see that. So I pondered it. And I found out what the entrance fee was. It was sixpence and I didn’t have sixpence. I had to scrape around for quite a few days. I found a few of my father’s empty beer bottles [laughs] and took them down to the pub and collected six pence. And in the morning they started the exhibition I did what we say in Scotland I plugged the school. Played hookey. And I ran the three or four miles to this airfield and there was these lovely aircraft. And as I went in I paid my sixpence and they gave me a ticket. And somebody said, ‘Keep your tickets. There will be a lucky draw later on.’ So I stuck it in my pocket and forgot all about it and just spent most of my time watching this wonderful exhibition. Absolutely enthralled. And then I heard people shouting, ‘We’re just about to make the draw.’ And what happens? The first number out is mine. And the prize was a trip in one of the biplanes. And then there was three or four other numbers came out and they all got the same thing. I thought we would be going up in three or four planes. Far from it. We were all piled into the one plane and I sat on somebody’s knee while we flew around the country for about ten minutes or so and then landed. And that was me. I was hooked. Hooked line and sinker on that one. And that all finished. I went back and I went to school the next morning. ‘Lorimer, where were you yesterday? The headmaster wants to see you.’ So I went to see Mr Martin who was the headmaster. He congratulated my enterprise at trying to get there he said, ‘But never mind. Hold your hands out,’ and I got six of the best. He said, ‘Next time you want to go and see the air force come and ask. We’d be pleased to let you go.’ So that was fine. School finished and the war started. And by that time I was in a reserved occupation. And —
PL: What was that?
HL: And had I not, had I not wanted to go I wouldn’t have needed to go to war. In any event I couldn’t go until I was eighteen and I still had a year to wait. So I waited for that year and I found out that being a reserved occupation the only people that they would employ in the, during the war was in the Royal Air Force. I said that’s exactly what I want. And I said, ‘Please may I join up now,’ and I joined up on my eighteenth birthday. And then I went off for my training. And I wanted to be a pilot and unfortunately I had what they called excessive long sight, hypermetropia in one of my eyes. Which they said would probably affect my ability to be able to land it properly at all times so I’d have to look for some other post. And I finished up being trained as a wireless operator as it then was.
Other: Yes. It’s me.
[recording paused]
HL: My first posting was to Blackpool of all places which I thoroughly enjoyed. We lived in one of these houses with about thirty or forty of us. They were all boarding houses. And we had tremendous camaraderie. Joined up as crews in a way. But we had a, a sergeant who was a bit of a, a whatnot. None of us really liked him and he was always trying to get us into some sort of trouble. And one day we were down on Blackpool Pier and the tide was in. Who should come marching along the pier but our sergeant. And there were seven or eight of us at the time and we all fell across him and unfortunately he, he toppled over into the water and we had to go down and rescue him [laughs] That was, that was the first of our escapades. But it was all good fun. Good spirits. And we finished our training as radio operators or wireless operators and were posted out in the first place to units where we worked on the ground whilst we were waiting to be called forward for aircrew training. Which was, it was a very good insight into what the ground crews did. Apart from the aircrews who did all the sort of, the famous stuff so to speak. The unheard of lads. And we were one of them to begin with while we experienced both sides. I was at a, on a special course one day. At Chelmsford it was. I’d just arrived to do this special course and I was recalled to go on my aircrew training and I was pleased about that. And I started my aircrew training and I went through for about six months. Went up to Kinloss on my, as an individual wireless operator and found that we were to be crewed up there. There was pilots, navigators, engineers, gunners, radio operators. The whole lot. And we were told to spend a few days getting to know each other and form our own crews. And at the end of the day that’s exactly what happened. We all gathered in the square and we formed ourselves in to crews of seven each. And we all, and I happened to be with a crew who was real cosmopolitan. We had two Canadians. An Irishman. An Australian. Two Scots. And an Englishman. We did our training on Whitley bombers. And when that was completed we moved down to a place called Rufforth which is just outside York where we converted on to Halifax bombers. At the end of that training we were posted to form a Special Duty Flight and I wondered what that was. We discovered it was two Lancasters and two Halifaxes and we were going somewhere but we weren’t told where. But we were to go and get all sorts of inoculations and we were given KD uniforms so we knew it was somewhere hot. And we set off down the Bay of Biscay. Sorry. Before we get there, there was one little point I forgot which is very important. Because it was Lancasters as well as Halifaxes in this little Special Duty Flight the pilots had to be able to fly both aircraft. And my pilot, Doug Stewart from Canada was told to go to Royal Air Force Scampton and he had to take a navigator, sorry take an engineer with him and the radio operator. So the three of us went up to Scampton and we joined the 57 Squadron then that was there and we got on our first trip. Made quite a few circuits and bumps and doing very well. And then the instructor said, ‘Well, that’s fine. We’ll do one more trip.’ And that’ll be it. You’re quite competent.’ So we took off down the runway and unfortunately the undercarriage gave way. And we were doing about just getting close to ninety miles an hour at the time and the aircraft was written off. And we had, that was our first prang. We were sort of shaken a bit about but then we all, we walked out. And that was it. We were fine. We went back to join our Special Duty Flight. And then we set off for what happened to be a rather interesting trip. We flew down the Bay of Biscay to a place called [pause ] hold on for a second [pause] The name’s gone [laughs] What the dickens was it? [pause] No, never mind. I can’t remember the name of the place but it was in [unclear] . We landed in an airfield in French Morocco. And the interesting thing was it was broad daylight after a night trip across the bay and I heard these people shouting. It was eight young natives. They were selling newspapers and what they were saying was, ‘All the English football results,’ [laughs] So we, we bought a newspaper at our first stop. We had to wait there to be told where we were to go next. Went from there along the Libyan coast to Tripoli. It was called Castel Benito then and we saw that that was our first experience of seeing the effects of the desert war and the place was absolutely bombed to bits. Wreckage everywhere. But we were operating still onwards. We were going from there to Cairo West. I wondered where the dickens we were going to finish up. We thought that would be it. Middle East uniforms. We had rather an interesting experience actually on that trip. It was extremely hot and our pilot got a bit of heat stroke actually. It turned out to be. So when he tried to land the first time he misjudged. And he misjudged twice and went around for a third time and he misjudged again. But at this time he put the revs on the aircraft because we were trying to climb to get back airborne again and the engines were overheating. And we were just barely moving and our landing wheels were still down in fact we hit the top of a sand dune. And we bounced. Not downwards but upwards. And we were able to maintain, the pilot was able to maintain control and we came around and we went and made a safe landing but we had to stay in Cairo for about two weeks whilst our skipper recovered his, his health again. We thought well that was it. Well we wondered where we would be flying from. They said, ‘No. You’ll carry on from here to Bahrain.’ We went to Bahrain and there I saw an aircraft lying at the side of the road, at the side of the runway which was in a bit of a mess. And I went into the, into the sergeant’s mess at that time. At that time I was a sergeant. And I saw this fellow standing beside me. It was one of my old school mates. I says, ‘Who did that out there?’ He says, ‘It was me.’ He said, ‘I had a bad landing.’ [laughs] So we had a long natter of course and he wanted to know what we were doing. We couldn’t tell him. We didn’t know. Anyhow, we had to move on a couple of days later and we finished up at Karachi in India. And we thought this must be it now but it wasn’t. We carried on from there to a place called Salbani in Bengal. And there we joined up with the other three aircraft, the two Lancasters and the Halifax and we set up our own special unit there. And it was the home of a Liberator squadron which was operating against the Japanese. So we were in that area and really enjoying it but our job as a Special Duty Flight, we found out when we got there was to determine how these, these four engine aircraft could operate under these tropical conditions. And that was our job. And we went for all sorts of tests. One of our tests was to see if we could get over Everest but we couldn’t make the height. We got to about twenty five thousand and that was it. The aircraft wouldn’t take any more. One of the things about the weather out there was it changed dramatically from you know, without much notice. You get thunderclouds you’d be in trouble and such like. And that’s what happened to us. We were coming in to land at Salbani and one of these tropical winds blew up and it was because of this gust of wind that I actually came to join Bomber Command. Which is part of the story. This is, this is how fate dictates what will happen to you through your life. When we hit the runway we had a nice, nice landing, we were just taxiing down and this gust of wind caught us and it turned us right over and blew us right across the airfield upside down. Wrote off the aircraft. And fortunate, for some reason again we all walked out unscathed. But we had no aircraft. That was a bit —
PL: What year? What year was this Hugh?
HL: 1943. This story is in the, in the records for it. It’s all there. So we hung around for about a good six to seven weeks while our future was decided. We were set down, down the, on course for a bit of a rest. R&R they called it, which we thoroughly enjoyed, but when we got back they told us that we were going back to Britain and this is [laughs] we had to go back by train to Bombay. Well, that was a long long long long way. We were given sandwiches and stuff to get there which petered out long before we were half way down the journey. And the train stopped at this station and right opposite us was a big buffet and I said, ‘How long will we stop for?’ They said, ‘Oh a good fifteen, twenty minutes.’ So I volunteered to go out and buy the sandwiches. But what I had not reckoned with, reckoned on was the way the natives [laughs] didn’t think about queues. They just barged in and I kept finding myself at the back of this barge. I never got the sandwiches because I suddenly realized the train was moving and there I was. And I had to turn around and run but I couldn’t reach my carriage. There was a carriage near the end which had a window open and I just caught the top of the window and dived straight through. And inside there it was full of the local natives of the rather low caste. And they were packed in like sardines and I was jammed up against this door and I thought, ‘What the devil do I do here?’ Well, I thought, I just felt my hip pocket. My revolver was still there so I just kept my hand on it and waited and waited and waited until the train came to a stop again and I got out quickly and ran along to the front where we were travelling first class and jumped in. They said, ‘Where are the sandwiches?’ [laughs] I won’t tell you what I said but it’s not repeatable.
Other: He doesn’t normally talk much my husband. He’s making up for it this morning. He reads.
HL: I’m missing my slipper [pause] So, that was just a little bit of a what I would call the humorous side of air force life. And we had a lovely trip back on a rather nice boat. And joined these, went through the Suez Canal, through all the Mediterranean in convoy because there still were submarines about. And we got to Liverpool and one of the jobs I got at Liverpool Dock was to be in charge of the baggage. I was put ashore as the baggage master. And because I went ashore I had to take some food with me because I’d be down there for quite some time. And after about an hour or so’s work supervising what was going on we all stopped for a, for a meal. Including the local lads who were working with us. And I pulled out my sandwiches. Beautiful white bread and they came over, looked at it, ‘Oh my goodness that looks really good.’ I said, ‘It’s only a, it’s only a sandwich.’ But he was having his, and it was a dirty black brown bread. It was called the National Loaf. I said, ‘Oh my goodness. Look. Do us a swap.’ He said, ‘Thank you. I’m not going to take them. I’m going to take it home to my family. They haven’t seen white bread for two or three years.’ And it suddenly dawned on me at that time you know people are suffering. Particularly in Liverpool because they had a lot of bombing. And I think of that story often. Went on from there to join 10 Squadron which was our posting. And when I got there I found myself promoted to officer rank and the rank of pilot officer. Which was totally and utterly unexpected but for some reason they thought I was good enough. And that was it. I did a total of thirty one operations with 10 Squadron. Eleven of them were over France. Started from D-Day where our job was to disrupt as much of the enemy’s supplies to their, to our boys that who on the beaches down below as far as we possibly could. I think we did a reasonable job of it. It was a success in the end. But one of the interesting things about that is that what I didn’t know at the time was that on the beaches below my own brother was there. They were at Caen. And he was a corporal at that time in the Royal Scots Fusiliers and we were comparing, you know stories some time afterwards and discovered that whilst he was fighting down there I’d been dropping bombs, or my crew were dropping bombs on German troops at a particular position not far away from where he was. And I found out that Field Marshall Montgomery had awarded him the military medal for his efforts. Just a little story but part of a family and our effort together. And because of these [coughs] excuse me. These French trips and French bombing raids. Switch off for a second.
[recording paused]
PL: Restarting the tape. So Hugh you were talking about Caen.
HL: Yeah. Talking about the bombing we did following D-Day. And I did eleven trips to various French cities. Including Paris where we bombed marshalling yards and other places like oil depots and got to Le Havre where we bombed the troops themselves. The German troops. And as a result of that, lo and behold seventy years later the French president decided to award we veterans with a Legion d’honneure. And I was one of the lads who was able to pick up this award and the rank of Chevalier. Which I understand is the equivalent of a knight in France. I don’t think it’s quite the equivalent for a knight in this country. No Lady Lorimer [laughs] Yeah. Talking about that just going back to say to my training days when I moved, talking about roughing us out as I did earlier on in this conversation we had a rather an amusing incident. One of the things we all had to do as crews was to learn escape and evasion. Just in case we were shot down as a lot of our lads were. And some did manage to escape and evade and get back to this country. A lot of others unfortunately didn’t. But one of our jobs was to go out and practise evasion and escape. And it was midsummer really which was very pleasant from our point of view. We went up as a crew and were dropped off at Kirbymoorside. It‘s a way up in the north part of Yorkshire. And we had to get back to the base which was about maybe thirty odd miles away. Certainly by sun up if at all possible. We tried to work in darkness although there wasn’t much darkness at that time of the year. We were fortunate. We managed to escape most of the people who were looking for us because everybody was out. Home guard. Police. Firemen. You name it. All looking for us and we managed to evade them. But it was getting fairly close to about five or six in the morning and we were a bit hungry. And suddenly we niffed this smell of bacon. Oh boy it sounded, it was great. We wondered where that is? And somebody for a joke says, ‘You know they just told us in this, at the briefing that the best place to look for food if you’re shot down in Germany is to go to a farmhouse. That’s the best chance you’ll have of getting any food.’ So we said, ‘Right. Let’s sniff it out.’ And we found it was coming from a farmhouse, it was just about oh seven or eight hundred yards away. And we crept our way up there and in to the farmyard. And a door opened and this nice lady came out and said, ‘Who are you?’ We told her, ‘We couldn’t avoid smelling your bacon and eggs. We wondered if there might be any chance of a rasher.’ Cheeky we were but we did it. She said, ‘Come in lads.’ And she gave us a wonderful breakfast. All seven of us. Thoroughly enjoyed it. And then at the end she just stood at the end of the table and she burst out laughing. She was laughing her head off and we said, ‘What are you laughing? Are you laughing at us? We know we’re — ' ‘Oh no. No. No. No. I’m just waiting till my husband comes in. He’s been out all night looking for you. I just want to see his face.’ [laughs] Yeah. That’s a bit of, you know, humour. We got back safely and that was it. But going back to the actual Bomber Command raids and our, the rest of my trips were primarily over Germany. Cologne. Dusseldorf. All these places. We had our share of flak and share of fighters but again for some reason we came through unscathed. But when I think of it and heard of it later on the lads we left behind in in India were still out there. They didn’t see a single raid but we’d come back and completed our tour. Anyhow the war finished and I liked the air force so very much I decided I would like to stay in. And I made an application and they accepted me and I was given the permanent commission and I finished up as a wing commander in the supply branch. They didn’t want any flyers or wireless operators in the, in these recent days. Weren’t necessary. But it’s been a wonderful life with the Royal Air Force. And here we are in Goldsborough seventy odd years later able to talk about it and look back on the all the wonderful memories, friendships, relationships that built up. And one of the things I didn’t, didn’t mention to you but I will now mention now is that for some reason the Queen decided to award me with an Order of the British Empire which I went down and got in 1977 in her Silver Jubilee Honours list. And with that I think I can say that’s about it. Do you think?
PL: So after, after, after the war ended you stayed in the service.
HL: Yes.
PL: And so what sort of things, what sort of things did you do?
HL: Well, to begin with because I wasn’t flying I had to find a job which I wanted to do. And I was given free rein on a station. I spent six, about six weeks it was going around all the departments to find out what interested me. And the one that interested me most was logistics, because you were involved in everything that way. Movement of men, materials, stores. Working with civil industry. Rolls Royce. This sort of thing. And that intrigued me. It gave me an insight into, well modern life which obviously I hadn’t seen in the five years of the war because it was a very sheltered life. So I joined the, what was then known as the equipment branch and came lots of, lots of units. We served in England obviously. Spent some time in Malta. Cyprus. Germany. And that was it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. When we, when we finished at age fifty five I still didn’t want to finish work and I wondered what the dickens I could do. And one of my mates was a, worked for British aerospace so I said, ‘What’s my chances of landing a job? I’d like to go on this [unclear] contract that the British government is doing with Saudi Arabia at the moment if it’s at all possible.’ And he came back and said, ‘Yes. They’ll have you with pleasure. Would you like to go out?’ I said, ‘Yes. I’ll go,’ So I went and spent six years with them working on the [unclear] contract on the logistics side using my experience. Which was a real eye opener to, for what happens in civil life as opposed to service life. But fortunately a lot of my ex-service colleagues were there so we had friendships all the way through. It was, it was just like being back in the air force again. Yeah. And well that’s it really.
PL: What do you think the key differences are?
HL: Camaraderie. I think that is the big difference. You see you’re one big unit in the service and we’ve each just got one purpose in life and that’s to defend our country and we all work to that cause. Be it in peace time or war time. So you worked together. As a civilian in civvy life you were very much on your own. You made a few friends but never really had the same togetherness. That’s the big difference. To be quite honest of the two lives I would choose the service life all the time. And if there’s any of you listening in to this at the moment don’t have any worries about joining any of the services. You’ll find them wonderful. Go ahead and enjoy it all because that’s what life’s all about.
PL: That’s wonderful. And just, you mentioned your brother.
HL: Oh John. Yes.
PL: And he survived the war.
HL: He survived the war but he died before — he would have got that medal that I got from the French had he been alive. But he died and of course he didn’t. He wasn’t awarded it. Yeah. Yes.
PL: So going back to your, your tour over Germany with Bomber Command.
HL: In Germany.
PL: Yes.
HL: Yeah.
PL: You were saying you went over, after D-Day you were still —
HL: Oh yes. After D-Day I did. I did all thirty one trips. Eleven of which were in France. The rest were over Germany.
PL: Did you want to say anything else about those?
HL: Not particularly. No. Because there’s enough been said about it and I’d — no. No. No, the memories are such that I just want to keep these to myself.
PL: Of course. Of course. And so as we talked a little earlier what do you think about the way that Bomber Command has been treated over the years?
HL: Well, up until that rather drastic raid as it was called — was it Dresden? - we were all treated fine. But for some reason which escapes all of us because we only did what we were asked to do from that point onwards we seemed to get a name which we didn’t really deserve. And that hurt. Hurt terribly. I felt as if I was second class at one stage. Until it suddenly dawned on me it’s not really. It’s what I think personally that matters. Not what other people think. And I knew I did a good job. And that’s all that really matters. But we were treated shabbily. We waited all these years just to get the recognition of the, that Bomber Command clasp they made out. It should have been a medal. But every little helps. But for some reason the authorities decided no. Shame on them.
PL: Absolutely. Do you think that was a political decision?
HL: I think it must have been. Yes. I can’t think of any other reason. Yeah. And yet it was taken. I often wondered. Because Bomber Harris didn’t get all [unclear] at all. And whether there was some sort of a, [unclear] between them we’ll never know. I don’t know. But it was well known that they didn’t agree on many things. It could well be the cause.
PL: Well thank you so much Hugh. That’s been a fantastic story and is there anything else?
HL: I hope I haven’t bored you.
PL: Not at all. It’s been wonderful. Is there anything else at all that you would like to be recorded?
HL: I can’t really think of anything that’s of any particular interest to tell you about apart from what I’ve, what I’ve said.
PL: Well thank you very much indeed. Thank you.
HL: I could tell you, there’s one highlight strangely enough. Yes. After the war. I was at Cranwell at the time and the cadets there exchanged places with the cadets from the Air Force Academy in Colorado. And I was asked to go out there along with a few of our other lads and look after the cadets. And we had a wonderful two weeks in Colorado Springs. At the, at the American Air Academy. One of the highlights of being an air force during, after the war.
PL: Wonderful. Wonderful. And did you keep in touch with your comrades in the —
HL: Oh yes. I kept in touch with all of them until I think I’m last. The pilot, Doug just died last, January of this year. He was ninety nine.
PL: Goodness me.
HL: Yeah.
PL: Well, thank you very much again.
HL: My pleasure.
PL: Thank you.
[recording paused]
PL: So we’re resuming the interview and Hugh you were just telling me about the special ops that went over to India.
HL: Special Duties. Yeah.
PL: Special Duties. And what happened to the other crews that were staying there.
HL: Oh they stayed there until they finished their particular job but then they finished up flying troops. They didn’t come back to the UK until the war was finished.
PL: And so were they troops who’d been prisoners of war?
HL: No. Actual, our own military.
PL: Right. Right. Right.
HL: Yes. Yeah. That’s what it was.
PL: Thank you very much.
HL: A bus service. Not my cup of tea.
PL: Thank you.



Pam Locker, “Interview with Hugh Lorimer,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 24, 2024,

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