Interview with Les Munro

Title

Interview with Les Munro

Description

John Leslie Munro was born in the area of Gisborne, New Zealand. He only completed two years of secondary education because of the economic slump and in 1936 began work on a sheep ranch and then a mixed farm. On the outbreak of the Second World War, he was determined to train as a pilot. He had to complete a correspondence course first to improve his qualifications. He began his training at Number 2 Elementary Flying Training School, going solo after six and a half hours’ training. He completed his training in Canada. After time on Operational Training Units at RAF Shawbury and RAF North Luffenham, and the Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Wigsley, he was posted to 97 Squadron at RAF Woodhall Spa. He volunteered and was accepted for the special squadron being assembled by Guy Gibson. With 617 Squadron, he embarked on further training that would lead to the Eder, Möhne and Sorpe operations. En route to the dams his aircraft was hit by flak, losing all communication and had to return to RAF Scampton. Of the 58 operations Munro completed while in RAF Bomber Command, 36 were with 617 Squadron. He was taken off active operational duty to command 1690 Bomber Defence Training Flight. He participated in Operation Taxable, a decoy operation connected to D-Day. Munro recounts several near misses, such as almost hitting the barrage balloons hoisted from a convoy on the North Sea. He was highly supportive of the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park and in particular, ensuring that it would be properly maintained.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-06-15

Contributor

Brian May

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

00:52:53 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AMunroL150604

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

NB: Right. It’s quarter to five on the 4th of June 2015. I’m in the house of John Leslie Munro in Tauranga, New Zealand. Excuse the pronunciation. Tauranga in New Zealand. Um I wondered if we could start off by just finding out a bit about your life before you went into Bomber Command.
JLM: Yes. I was born to — my father worked on a sheep station at Dorman which was sixteen miles from the town of Gisborne. I was born and brought up and spent all my younger life in the Gisborne district. After I only spent two years at high school because of the slump. We were being brought up in the slump. My parents could not afford to keep me at high school any longer so immediately on leaving high school in 1936 I went to work on a small dairy farm on which I worked for about eighteen months and from there I went to a larger farm which was a mixed sheep, you know, sheep cropping, mainly maize and dairying. And after about two years in that — working on that farm the owner left to work for a rural department and left me in charge. I was in. When war broke out I considered that I should actually do my part in, in supporting the king and country and democracy and freedom and democracy and that sort of thing. Ah and I um postponed enlisting because my younger brother had put his age forward and he actually spent his twenty first birthday overseas and that upset my parents quite considerably and I respected their feelings about the matter and postponed my enlistment until I passed the age of twenty one. So, as soon I was twenty one I enlisted in the air force. And because I’d only did two years course at high school of which neither was in– covered mathematics they said I wasn’t suitable to be a pilot but I could be a gunner or a wireless operator if that was suitable to me. But I didn’t, I didn’t agree with that and they said, well I said I wanted to be a pilot and the air force said, well, alright you can do a correspondence course in mathematics and trigonometry [struggles over word] and if, if you pass that we’ll accept you as a pilot and that’s what happened. I did the correspondence course and it was very very hard to do trigonometry and that I just couldn’t follow for a while. And eventually I passed and I went into the air force at Levin which was a brown place, just a parade ground sort of experience. And on the 5th of July 1941.
NB: Right.
JLM: Yeah.
NB: What made you go for the air force?
JLM: Well I’m often, I’m often asked that and I think, I think the idea that I wanted to be a pilot. I would be in charge of my own destiny. I think that was what drove me to that. The other thing is that the second farm I worked on, the homestead was up on a hill and the commercial air, commercial planes used to fly past. I’d watch them flying and I think I got a feel for flying, for flying planes, myself. Yeah.
NB: So, once, once you enlisted having got your qualification what was the process they put you through for training?
JLM: Well as I said earlier I entered the air force on the 15th of July 1941 at a place called Levin. I only had about six weeks there and I was transferred to New Plymouth to number 2 EFTS, that’s the Elementary Flying Training School on Tiger Moths.
NB: Right.
JLM: Spent um, flew there. I got my uh went solo after about six and a half hours’ training which apparently was recognised as being fairly good in those days. Ten hours was recognised as the normal period in which to gain your pilot’s licence to be able to go solo. And I gained my pilot’s licence, well, not licence but go solo and after six and half hours and [pause] — I’m not sure, I haven’t got the dates with me. After about ten weeks I think it would have been we were sent on leave and I left New Zealand on the 20th of October 1941 for Canada.
NB: Right.
JLM: I was sent to Canada. Number 4 SFTS [Service Flying Training School] where I trained on twin engine Cessna Cranes.
NB: Right.
JLM: Just as a point of interest is at that stage the Americans weren’t in the war and we travelled to Canada on the SS Mariposa which was a cruise ship and we were, we actually were transferred as, or transported, as civilians.
NB: Right.
JLM: We had two to a cabin with a server. A steward waiting on us in the cabins and the same on the, on the dining room tables. We were waited on by stewards and we were treated as civilians all the way over which was a quite significant in the sense that if we had been on a troop ship we’d have been about — I don’t know how many to a cabin and all that sort of thing. Yeah.
NB: And did that take you to —
JLM: And went to we arrived at San Diego and berthed there for a couple of days and then we sailed again through San Francisco. We debarked — disembarked at San Francisco.
NB: Okay. And then how, how did you get into Canada from there?
JLM: Hmmn?
NB: You went up to Canada from there?
JLM: Yeah. I, we caught the train at [pause] what’s the name of it? No gone. Caught the train at, there’s another town is there? Across the estuary or somewhere from the town of San Francisco, the city of San Francisco up to Vancouver.
NB: Right.
JLM: And then over. Took the train from Vancouver. Again I think we had to change to Canadian Railways of course and went over the Rockies to Saskatoon.
NB: Oh right.
JLM: To the [pause] yeah, which is in Saskatchewan.
NB: Saskatchewan. And how long was your training period? And was there a difference in climate or —
JLM: Ah yes. At that stage we were in the middle of winter and the ground, the ground was covered in snow. The only evidence you knew about habitation was the plumes of smoke. Smoke coming up from the chimneys of the houses and that sort of thing. But yes, we were, I’d never seen, well, no, I’d never seen snow in my life I don’t think and — but the ground was covered in snow although there was no problem. We were still able to fly there. The runways were still capable of being flown from. And we’ve carried on there until the 28th of February of ’42 when we were granted our wings and appointed officers. Pilot officers to start with and we, you know we awaited our — were awarded our wings. If that’s the right way of putting it.
NB: Yeah. So did you return to or come from there straight to the UK or did you have —
JLM: We had a fortnight’s leave.
NB: Right.
JLM: And three of us, I think, that used to kind of stick together quite a bit went down to New York and then transferred back up and took to Halifax where we caught the HMS, well not HMS, it was a civilian er Cape Town, the Cape Town Castle.
NB: Right.
JLM: And went to Liverpool. From Liverpool, by train, to Bournemouth where we filled in time for about, er we used to call it a holding pattern. We were there for, I think, about two months and then were posted up to Shawbury in Shropshire and did a refresher course on Airspeed Oxford. Spent a lot of time flying on Link Trainers and then we went from there to er Luff- North Luffenham the operational, the OTU.
NB: OTU. Yeah.
JLM: OTU. Operational Training Unit. There for about um about you see I’ve got these notes [unclear], I haven’t got my logbooks which I can refer to. Um, we were there for [pause] maybe, somewhere about three months I think and we were posted to Heavy Conversion Unit at Wigsley. We were flying Wellingtons at North Luffenham and that was where I had my first brush with death, I suppose, in a way.
NB: What happened?
JLM: It was in the days when they were trying to build up numbers, the bomber numbers. At the time they were experimenting with the thousand bomber raids. I don’t know about experimenting but endeavour to get a thousand bombers in the air at once. And we were on two of the, not necessarily the Bomber Command, the thousand bomber raids but trying to build up numbers to seven or eight or nine hundred bombers in the air. They employed or co-opted a lot of Operational Training Unit planes and in this case, somewhere around about September ’42 we were co-opted to go on a raid to one of the cities in Germany. And then about two nights later and with that, went on, we completed that without incident and about two nights later we were scheduled to attack another city and as is normal custom we were allocated planes which we had to take up for night flying exercises. We had a night flying test and on the — during that test I was most unhappy about the power of the, or the ability of the plane to take up a load of bombs. And I complained about this when I came down. I said, I said, I didn’t think this plane was capable of carrying two thousand pounds of bombs. And anyway, they noted my objection and that night when we took off after flying up the runway at full throttle I couldn’t get the plane to get airborne. I got it airborne — about twenty or thirty feet above the ground. I couldn’t get it any higher. Except at, even at full throttle. So, eventually had to go past the end of the runway and the bomb aimer said, ‘Trees ahead.’ And we just clipped those and we carried on and then I was still trying to get the plane to climb and then all of a sudden, well, not all of a sudden, after leaving the trees behind that I’d clipped I just, the plane just settled down on the ground in the middle of a paddock. There were buildings and that ahead of us and the trees behind and settled down quite smoothly and without any real damage. Well, without it assimilating a crash position and it caught fire and we, the crew and I, the crew all got out and the plane burned out with the bombs exploding at intervals. So that was an indication to me that maybe I might be lucky. And as it turned out that was the first evidence to me, first indication to me that maybe Lady Luck was going to be on my shoulder and so it happened right through the war. I had several instances where I felt that I was quite lucky to, to survive.
NB: Is there a feeling, or was there a feeling among the crews that you banked luck? Or —
JLM: I don’t know that we ever really discussed the situation as to whether we were lucky or [pause]. Don’t — I don’t remember as a crew. My crew, sort of, were such that they never sort of queried, never questioned my ability as a, as a pilot right through the war. There were occasions when they could have said, ‘Well, you know we were lucky there’ or, ‘What did you do that for?’ Or something like this.
NB: So, after you left HCU where were you?
JLM: I went to Heavy Conversion Unit at Wigsley.
NB: Right.
JLM: I was only there for — what? A couple of months and then I was posted to 97 Squadron at Woodhall Spa. On the 12th of December 1942.
NB: Flying?
JLM: Lancasters.
NB: On Lancs.
JLM: Oh, firstly at Luffenham, at Heavy Conversion Unit I flew the Manchesters for seven and a half hours before switching to Lancasters.
NB: Right.
JLM: And of course, when I was posted to 97 Squadron that was all Lancasters. So, I arrived on an operational squadron after about, what? Eighteen months training, to fulfil the reason why I enlisted in the first place.
NB: In the first place. And had you already crewed up by then?
JLM: Oh yeah. Well when we were at the Operational Training Unit we got our navigator [pause] navigator, bomb aimer, wireless operator. It wasn’t until we got to Heavy Conversion Unit we picked up our flight engineer and the two gunners.
NB: Was there a mix of nationalities in the crew?
JLM: Yes. Well no. Only two. There was — I had two Canadians. My navigator was a Scotsman. The two Canadians were wireless operator and rear gunner and a flight engineer was an Englishmen. The flight engineer and the mid-upper gunner was English. Both English.
NB: So you were the only New Zealander on board.
JLM: I was New Zealand. Yeah.
NB: Is that why you didn’t go towards 75 Squadron?
JLM: Yeah. No, you didn’t have much option. When you finished your Heavy Conversion Unit, you were just posted.
NB: Right.
JLM: Posted here, there or anywhere. I don’t — they never called for volunteers. They never called for, like they did initially at New Plymouth. They called for your preferences. ‘Do you want to be fighter boy or do you want to be a bomber pilot and because, perhaps due to my conservative nature I think I opted to be a bomber pilot. So, yeah, so when we didn’t get, we didn’t get a full crew until we arrived at Heavy Conversion Unit.
NB: Okay. So, the op that you did when you were at OTU did that count for your tour?
JLM: No, no.
NB: So, you then started your full tour when you got to —
JLM: Yeah. When we got to Woodhall Spa on 97 Squadron we started. That was it, another funny experience in a way. It was the first and only time I felt fear. That was my very first operation which was a mining trip to the mouth of Garonne River down on the coast of France. And when we arrived at the dropping area I was thinking while waiting to get confirmation that we were, what heading I was to fly on and that sort of thing and the coast was dark and no lights to be seen on the coast was ominous and for some reason I was halfway expecting to be shot at and that sort of thing. I’ve never felt, never been able to explain the reason for that feeling fear and that’s the one and only time I ever felt fear. The rest, the other times — there was no other planes around, there were no flak anywhere. Just looked dark and ominous for some reason. And we, I was always too busy trying to get, making sure that the plane was being flown away from danger and that sort of thing in other times or just trusting to luck. I think, probably night flying over Berlin on an operation it was going to be, purely be luck to make sure that you didn’t weren’t hit by flak or caught by flak or fighters on the way in or out.
NB: So, I understand the lack of fear, was that the whole crew? You were all so busy that that was — the fear just didn’t surface while you were working, if you like.
JLM: My sense of fear?
NB: Well, you were saying that you didn’t feel fear normally because you —
JLM: Yeah.
NB: You were so busy. Did that cover the whole crew? Everyone was in that position.
JLM: Oh yeah. Absolutely. Although I don’t — I’m not sure. I’ve never ever — the funny thing I’ve never ever talked to my crew, asked them that, you know, were they scared or anything like that. And straight on — about one of the trips on Berlin. It was a pretty, pretty big raid and we were just sort of getting to the woods on the way out of Berlin and our wireless operator, Percy Pigeon, the Canadian, decided he’d come out to have a look from the cockpit and he looked out and the city was just a mass of fires and flak and searchlights. And to illustrate what I was leading up he looked out behind us at we had come through and he said, ‘Jesus Christ, have we come through that?’ I always say, ‘Well, that’s an illustration of what you don’t know, what you can’t see you don’t worry about.’ Yeah.
NB: So are there any other key points during those operations that stand out for you?
JLM: Not — well on one of the trips on 97, I think, coming back and returning to base. I think we drifted off course a little bit from it. I think it was on a trip to Berlin and coming back and I think we drifted a little bit close to either Hamburg or Duisburg. No, it can’t be Duisburg. It was one of the station, towns there and we were suddenly surrounded by flak and some fragments hit the plane and I got a little bit lodged in my flying boot but I put the nose down and started weaving, increasing speed until we got out of the troubled area.
NB: Now, obviously you were part of the dams raid. How did — when did you move it onto?
JLM: I, well we spent, I think I did twenty one trips on 97 Squadron when I read a circular letter on the notice board from group headquarters calling for volunteers from to form — from people that had, I think they specified that had — just nearing the end of their first tour which I was or just due to commence a second. Calling for volunteers to form a new squadron, to form a new squadron to attack a special target. There wasn’t, a special, I don’t think it just said the target was just something special without any evidence of what it was going to be. So, I discussed with my crew and all but my rear gunner said yes, we would. I was — they agreed that I should volunteer, which I did and posted almost the next day to Scampton where the other crews that had volunteered and, in some cases, had been picked by Gibson too because he knew them. We formed from around about the 23rd. I think I arrived on Scampton on the 23rd of May [means March] whereas some didn’t arrive until the 28th and that sort of thing. It was over a period of two or three days. The squadron was formed. Subsequently called 617.
NB: And your whole crew went with you. Even the rear gunner?
JLM: No. No. He didn’t come.
NB: He opted out.
JLM: No. He didn’t come. So, I got a new — and prior to that period when I of volunteering I [unclear] early stages of when I was on 97 my bomb aimer, when we were up at twenty thousand feet, around that, he started, he suffered from some sort of, either oxygen sickness or something like that and this happened about two, the first couple of high level bombing operations I was on. So, he was taken off operations. So, I had a succession of, of, of bomb aimers coming in to act as my bomb aimer and one situation — one bloke was a naval lieutenant who was studying bombing methods by the RAF. Yeah. I was actually sorry to leave him in a way. So, because I didn’t have a permanent bomb aimer when we volunteered I got, I got a new bomb aimer when I arrived on 617 and a new rear gunner which was Harvey Weeks, a Canadian, and the bomb aimer was Jimmy Clay.
NB: And I’m interested in how the crews — because the rest of you had been together quite a while. Bringing in new people, did that have an effect on the crew?
JLM: No. I don’t think so.
NB: No.
JLM: No.
NB: No. They fitted in well.
JLM: Yes. Yeah.
NB: So, tell me more about the, sort of, 617 preparations.
JLM: Well, we arrived there and before there was [pause] although Gibson knew what the target was I don’t think neither of the flight commanders were aware of it until quite later on. But Gibson [unclear], knowing what the target was and knowing what the range that the specifications for the flying — type of flying, the airspeed and all that sort of thing that was going to be employed or had been developed by Barnes Wallis. He knew and he decided and he decided on advice, what type of training would be required for the type of flight we were going to undertake and what the type of attack was going to be for the release of the Upkeep. And consequently we undertook, almost straight away, I think the first point, we specified and were required to undertake low level flying. Firstly, mainly in daylight and then secondly in simulated night moonlight conditions and then lastly at night. Moonlight, full moonlight. All the routes then took up out to the west of England, up through the lakes country, up to almost the border of Scotland out on to the sea and almost returned down. Turned down the North Sea and back to base. And it was on one of those training flights I had another close call in that we were travelling, it was rather a hazy, moonlight night and all of a sudden in the haze ahead of me I there appeared to be a convoy with balloons flying, attached to the ships by cable. And I yelled out to, we were flying at a level that would have been — would have gone through just above the decks of the ships. And I yelled out to the wireless operator to fire the colours of the day which he did do and in the light of the flares — the colours of the day were just coloured flares that explode. There was balloons all ahead of me attached to the ships by cable and I immediately pulled back on the stick and by the grace of God managed to get through all these without collecting any of the cables. And that was the closest, I believe, was a close call too that I overcome just by pure, pure luck.
NB: Yeah. Absolutely. If you hadn’t seen the — yeah.
JLM: So that was — our training over the next six weeks was all low flying and emphasis on from the pilot’s point of view, was on being able to assess how soon to gain height to clear obstacles that were on the route ahead. And this is where, to start with some of the pilots had a bit of, were a bit inclined to leave it too late to gain height and clipped the tops of trees and a few instances of that happened and they were returning to base with twigs and leaves and that sort of thing in the air intakes.
NB: Did you have any idea what might be ahead?
JLM: No. Not in the slightest. No. Some, there was a lot of conjecture about what the target would be and the closest anyone got to maybe what was involved was the attack on the capital ships like the Tirpitz and de Grasse. Well it wasn’t the de Grasse but attack on capital ships that sort of thing. That was the most common thought, and of course it wasn’t.
NB: So when did you find out the difference?
JLM: The afternoon of the day of the night, the day of the night of the operation when we entered the briefing room. The two flight commanders and the bombing leader and the [pause] who was the other one? Bombing. Navigator. Oh, the navigation leader. They were advised about the day about the day before briefing day of what the target was. And I’m in no doubt that they went into detail at that stage of what was required of our, flying the route in and the actual attack and that sort of thing. The only, only indication of perhaps what might be involved was about the three days. The 11th, 12th and 13th of May with these, the Upkeeps had been arriving on the station and twelve planes took part in trials, or test trials with the Upkeeps down on the Firth of Thames [Reculver] and six out of those twelve aircraft through either flying too high or like here flying too low were damaged by splash from, yeah splash from the bomb hitting the water, hitting the tail of the aircraft. Six of them. Five of them were repaired in time for the operation and one was so badly damaged that it couldn’t be repaired in time. The one that was hit by Henry Maudslay. So he was given another plane. We only had one or two spare planes and he was — we used all the planes except that one that was damaged.
NB: So how many planes went out that night?
JLM: Nineteen went over and only eleven came back.
NB: So, tell me more about the briefing and —
JLM: Well, we when we were called for briefing at a certain time we would be there at four o’clock or some time in the afternoon. And the first thing they did was look at the big boards and all the tapes from base to the target and back again and the tapes that all showed us leading to the dams. That didn’t worry, I don’t think that worried the crews unduly. What did worry them was the fact that the route from the, as we hit the Ruhr Valley to the targets we were in the Ruhr, the most heavily defended area in Germany was the Ruhr Valley and I think that worried the crews more than anything.
NB: Rightly so.
JLM: Hmmn?
NB: Rightly so. So, I mean how long was the briefing and how detailed was it and —?
JLM: I don’t really, I can’t, I can’t remember how long the briefing was. I think it was probably about an hour and a half and we went back and had our pre-op meal and we took off at 19 — 7.28. It was in the — what was that? May. Be coming up to Spring.
NB: Spring. Yeah.
JLM: Yeah. So, there was, it wasn’t — no, from memory now, yes. One plane took off ahead of me and you could see him, so yes you could see them so it was starting to get dusk and then it got dark and you were relying on the moon from a little after leaving the coast at Skegness. Ah yeah.
NB: And what was the sort of progression for you that night?
JLM: Hmmn?
NB: What was the progression for you that night?
JLM: Well, I — our, we had been selected, my crew and all the group of four that had been selected to fly to attack the Sorpe dam and we — our route was almost due east of Lincoln. Crossing the coast somewhere around Skegness there and flying due east again until we hit a point north of, north of the island of — [pause] — yeah. Yeah it would be north of the island of Zeeland, just past the other one there. What was the name? Texel. Yeah. Texel, yeah. And I was, when we turned and then we had to turn right so the navigator said, ‘Right, turn right and due course such and such’ and after we’d been flying for a quarter of an hour or ten minutes. Less than that. Only a few minutes. Ten minutes probably. I thought I could see the breakers ahead and the sand dunes behind it and I gained height to clear the sand dunes and started, had covered the crest of the sand dunes and was losing power, losing height rather, to get down to the water on the other side which was the Wadden Sea. And I saw, suddenly saw a line of flak at come towards me and felt a small thump and lost all communication and electricity as a result of being hit by a twenty shell, twenty mil shell and a hole blown in the side of the aircraft. And that, was the result of that that I couldn’t communicate with the crew so I asked my wireless operator, thinking that he would be the best one to look at any question of restoring the inter-communication intercom and also to check on the rear gunner to see that he was alright. And I just circled around the Wadden Sea on the red while he did that until he came back and said no it was not possible to restore communication. And my thinking then was that okay we need that communication for the navigator and the pilot to be able to converse and for the pilot to accept the directions of the navigator when to turn on the route. And secondly, if by any chance we were able to get to the target area it was imperative that the bomb aimer and the pilot were able to communicate with each other. So, I made the, it wasn’t a difficult decision in many ways because there was very little alternative. I think it was very dangerous for the, for me as captain to carry on. And made the decision to return to base so had the situation of the same gun emplacement firing at us as we crossed the sand dunes on the way out again. Yeah. I thought that was rather significant. But fortunately, they didn’t hit us. There was a lot of conjecture later on, John Sweetman and one or two others. Well, John Sweetman, I think he believed, in his investigation, determined that I was hit by a flak ship but I say my navigator not my navigator, Jimmy Clay, my bomber aimer, was inclined to agree. Whereas my mid-upper gunner who had a bird’s eye view of where the flak came from believed it was a land-based gun emplacement that hit me and that’s what I think happened. So a little bit of a difference of opinion between John, John Sweetman and me on that one.
NB: The net result was the same.
JLM: Hmmn?
NB: The net result was the same.
JLM: Yeah. Yeah. So, yeah, so that was my experience on the dams raid. Yeah. And when I got back we returned to the mess after being debriefed and we got periodic reports that such and such had been shot down and such and such had been shot down. And it was after debriefing when those survivors had come back and returned to the mess — started celebrating and I felt embarrassed that I’d been present during the celebrations because I hadn’t achieved what they had done and I felt, you know, rather embarrassed about that.
NB: I can understand but [pause] so how many ops did you complete in total during your time with Bomber Command?
JLM: Altogether — fifty eight.
NB: And you chose to go for a second tour.
JLM: I did another thirty six, thirty six. I think it was thirty six operations on 617 before the AOC for 5 Group took us, took Leonard Cheshire and myself and Joe McCarthy and Dave Shannon off operations and wouldn’t brook any argument about that.
NB: And then —
JLM: He said he wanted me to take over 1690 Bomber Defence Training Flight. Which I did. Spent a year on that.
NB: Right.
JLM: Flying Hurricanes.
NB: Enjoy it?
JLM: Yeah. I did enjoy it. Yeah. Yeah.
NB: So, I mean looking, looking back were there any real highlights and lowlights of your time in the Command?
JLM: I don’t know about, well, lowlight. The only lowlight really was, well lowlights was [pause] well I don’t know that’s a hard one to answer. Every operation, to a large extent every operation had the same sense, same degree of danger. You were likely to be attacked by a night fighter, particularly on the main, the main operations on 97 when you were on attacking the German towns. Yes, there was always the danger of night fighters and then you also, combined with that was the danger of being hit by flak. And I had, you know the time I was surrounded by flak on my right foot panel and I suppose I was lucky to escape any — apart from little bits of shrapnel, bits lodging in my flying boot. Nothing, nothing really untoward there. I managed to escape from that situation and had one or two other. One, later on when 617 was engaged in the attacking single targets we were taking, at low level, an electricity transfer station, or transformer station in northern Italy which we were due to, which we were bombing with five hundred pounders and because of haze we had difficulty in identifying the target and I think I gradually crept a bit lower and lower and when the bombs went off a bit of shrapnel came and hit my bomb aimer right on the tip of his nose [with humour]. Yeah. So I suppose that was a bit quiet, a bit close. But any highlights. Oh, highlights really was when a raid was successful. You felt a sense of pride. Particularly when we were, I was marking at low level in the early stages of 617 carrying out special operations, single, on single targets. Not like the main bomber force, blanket bombing. When we were, on one or two occasions when we marked the target with the coloured bombs dropped right on them, that was a sense of achievement, I think. Yeah.
NB: And how long did you stay in. And were you demobbed in ’45 or —
JLM: Yeah. I, as I said I spent twelve months on 1690 Bombing Defence Flight and that was where we were a small flight of fighter planes who were attacking drogues in daytime and night-time. Acting as enemy fighters attacking the bombers and the bomber’s pilots — they were training in evasive tactics with the, with the gunners having cameras in their, in their turrets and being able to check on how whether they would have shot us down if it had it been real.
NB: Right.
JLM: I enjoyed that. I did about two hundred and something hours on Hurricanes. I didn’t enjoy night flying because I always worried that okay, acting as a fighter at night time, would I pull out in time without colliding with a Lancaster? That was one fear I had but, I mean I persevered in that type of thing and I got — yep. I thought it was nice to be able to fly in a single engine fighter after a four engine Lancaster. Yeah.
NB: A bit more nimble.
JLM: Hmmn?
NB: A bit more nimble.
JLM: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
NB: So —
JLM: I must say another sense of achievement I think was in Operation Taxable was when the spoof operation on D-day. I felt a sense of achievement to have participated in that although it was — it wasn’t a dangerous mission. It wasn’t. But though the one, there was, that took part in several phases to that, there were other planes operating. And I think 218 Squadron lost four planes, I think. They were further up. Attacking, you know. And we were down by a [unclear] Calais and we flew Leonard, I was privileged to have Leonard Cheshire fly as my second pilot on that operation. We had, you know, we had we flew individual, each crew flew for two, each crew but divided in to one hour just flying these oblong series dropping the — what’s the —?
NB: Radar?
JLM: Radar. Yeah. Dropping aluminium. No, it’s not radar.
NB: Oh, the aluminium foil.
JLM: Yeah.
NB: Yeah.
JLM: I think there was a common name for it [Window].
NB: Yeah.
JLM: No. never mind. Yeah.
NB: I’m in a similar state. So, when you came out did you continue to fly? When you left the RAF.
JLM: Well only to the extent that in Gisborne, I returned home to Gisborne and it was not long afterwards they decided they’d form an aero club and I was part of that. Or part of that decision and I actually lent the club fifty pound, I think it was, as part of, to finance a Tiger Moth and I did five hours on the Tiger Moth and before my — I sort of got involved with a certain woman and I couldn’t get married and we couldn’t afford to get married and also fly too so I gave any thoughts of flying away.
NB: It’s those women again [laughs]. That’s brilliant. Have you got any particular thoughts that you want recording as to how Bomber Command should be remembered? How you’d like them to be remembered.
JLM: Well no, I was and still am very critical of the fact that it took the English peoples sixty seven years before there was a satisfactory memorial erected to remember or to recognise the contribution that fifty five thousand five hundred and seventy three people gave their lives. I think, and as, when it happened, I think that the resulting memorial was I did, did was was a significant reflection on those, the loss of those lives. I think it was what BB, what was his name that started it off and the three blokes, you probably know their names.
NB: Gibb.
JLM: The sculptor and the designer and that I think did a great job. If — if I would have a real difficulty in making any criticism of the memorial as a resulting memorial. I think it’s quite a good one. I think it’s quite a good one. And that led me to the medal saga.
NB: Yes.
JLM: Yeah. I think God you wouldn’t want to see this deteriorate for lack of money. And I, it wasn’t until I, with the boys and my daughter-in-law, visited the memorial in ’13 — what was I leading up to? And it wasn’t until then in company with Anna Marie Fairburn who was communications, one of the leading positions in the RAF Benevolent Fund. It wasn’t until then that I was aware, became aware that the RAF Benevolent Fund had been given the responsibility of the maintenance of that and I really, you know, I thought that was a hell of a big ask.
NB: Yeah.
JLM: And I think in a way, in a way I think that was unfair of the government.
NB: We think the same.
JLM: Yeah.
NB: Thank you for that. Thank you [pause]. Gosh, you must be exhausted. All that.

Collection

Citation

Nicky Barr, “Interview with Les Munro,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 22, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/3466.

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