Interview with Sinclair Nutting


Interview with Sinclair Nutting


Sinclair Nutting Grew up in Canada and worked on the family farm before he volunteered for the Royal Air Force. He flew operations as a rear gunner with 405 Squadron. After the war he emigrated to Australia.




Temporal Coverage




02:16:42 audio recording


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JM: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Jean MacCartney. The interviewee is Sinclair or Clair Nutting. The interview is taking place at Mr Nutting’s home in Banora Point, New South Wales on the 22nd of February 2017. Now, Clair, you’ve written a book called, “A Piece Of Cake,” which documents a lot of your experiences but even so we’ d like to go through some aspects of those and other aspects that perhaps were not covered with —in as much detail. So, let’s go back to the beginning. You were born in 19 —
SN: ’21.
JM: ’21. And where were you born?
SN: I was born in a place called Radisson. R A D I S S O N.
JM: R A D I S S — Yeah.
SN: Saskatchewan S A S K. period. Canada.
JM: And that is where you spent your, most of your youth.
SN: Yes.
JM: Yes. And that’s where you did you schooling.
SN: Yes.
JM: Yes. And you, your family had been in the area there for quite some time.
SN: Yes. They were pioneers.
JM: Pioneers. Yes. And what sort of pioneers? Pioneers in what way? They were farming.
SN: They were the first, among the first settlers as farmers in that area.
JM: Going back how many years would that be, do you think?
SN: To 1900.
JM: 1900. Yeah. And so what was your family farming?
SN: It was what we call a mixed farm of grain, wheat, oats, barley, rye. And animals. Cattle, horses, pigs, chickens.
JM: Right. And so all of those animals — were they raised and then sold or some of it used for home consumption as well? Or a mix again? Or what?
SN: It was rather a mix. They had horses of course were what were used to work the farm
JM: Yeah.
SN: And the cattle and pigs we slaughtered as we needed them. And they were sold on the market when they were ready to sell.
JM: So. Right. So, you sold them as cured stock.
SN: As beef and pork. Yes.
JM: Yes. Yeah. And your father did all the butchery or did he bring in somebody to do the butchery?
SN: No. My father did it.
JM: Right. Ok. And what about the grains? They were all sold. You sent stuff off to silos and that sort of thing or what happened there?
SN: It was, it was a large family farm which included my father, his brothers, my grandfather and they ran it as a unit. It must have been, what? About six sections of land or something like that. It — all of the farms in that area at that time were mixed farms meaning that they were — the people who lived on them were [pause] what’s the word I’m seeking? They were dependant on the farm for their livelihood. For gardens, for grain, for the animals. That kind of thing.
JM: Ok. And so, you would assist in some of the farming duties from time to time when you were a young lad a or —?
SN: Yes. All farm kids that were old enough were expected to earn their keep.
JM: Keep. Yeah.
SN: Yes.
JM: So what sort of things? What sort of tasks were you given?
SN: Oh, there were all sorts of things. In harvest time we would move out with the men. We did all the usual things, I guess. Getting water and wood. Driving horses on wagons and on machines. Binders and ploughs and that kind of thing.
JM: So then again you probably got some sort of basic mechanical, more than basic mechanical training with helping to repair machinery and all of that sort of thing from time to time too, I guess.
SN: All that I wished to have. Yes [laughs]
JM: Right. So, so you were doing this in between your schooling and so what was your schooling? I’m not particularly familiar with the Canadian education system. So would you have gone to school — normal school? The start age in Australia is five. And then through what they call primary school and then transfer to a high school or secondary school. And usually, well, back then, they usually finished about seventeen. Sometimes sixteen. But if they left early they finished at fourteen or fifteen. So how did the Canadian system —
SN: Pretty much the same Jean but this might be interesting. It was during the Depression.
JM: Yes.
SN: And during the Depression they had correspondence courses.
JM: Right.
SN: And I, for instance, went to a country school which had a total of eighteen pupils in all grades from one to ten.
JM: Right. Yeah.
SN: So that was most of my schooling.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And this was caused by the Depression.
JM: Depression.
SN: They wanted to get the kids back to school.
JM: The kids were on the farms basically.
SN: Yes.
JM: I suppose. Yes.
SN: Yes. And I then went into the town for the last, I guess, year and a half I was there
JM: Right. And how far away was town away?
SN: Six miles.
JM: Six miles. Right.
SN: Yeah.
JM: And did you travel in and out each day or did you stay in town?
SN: I boarded with a family.
JM: Right.
SN: For a year and a half during the winters.
JM: Right.
SN: Because it was too difficult.
JM: Too difficult.
SN: To get me back and forward.
JM: Back and forward. Yeah. And was this family friends of the family or —?
SN: Yes.
JM: Yes.
SN: Yes. They were dear people.
JM: They were?
SN: They were dear people.
JM: Dear people.
SN: Yes. And good friends of mine.
JM: Good friend. Yeah. Yeah. That’s good. Yeah. Ok. So. So that, yes, well that in a way is actually quite similar to what country children in New South Wales in particular would have experienced as well because they had, like, one teacher schools.
SN: Yeah.
JM: And you would have had one teacher school there.
SN: That’s right.
JM: Yes. Yes. So, what —
SN: One size fits all.
JM: Fits all. Who had sort of a multitude of different grades in the classroom in one corner and scattered all around the area and he was, he or she would be moving between all the children and helping them with the grade that they were on. So, the teacher was — had a bit of a challenge in those sort of situations as well didn’t they? So —
SN: Yes. I didn’t finish my high school.
JM: No?
SN: I was expelled.
JM: Oh, I see. Yes. Right. Because? You —
SN: I misbehaved.
JM: You misbehaved. Yes.
SN: Yes. What — it might be interesting — when I came back from overseas and was discharged you had to go to the capital of the Province, which was Regina, to be discharged. And I wanted to go to university so I went to see a man called a Registrar who was a small god in charge of education and I was in uniform and I told him my story. He listened, I came back the following day and his secretary came out and said, ‘I’m sorry. Mr,’ whatever his name was, I’ve forgotten, ‘Is unable to see you. He was called away,’ and my face fell. And she said, ‘but he left you this.’ And she handed me an envelope which was a, to the effect that I had fulfilled all of the qualifications for Grade 12 and marks were given me which brought me up to the level to enter the university.
JM: Very good.
SN: Yeah.
JM: Very good indeed. So that gave you the chance to go to university.
SN: That’s right.
JM: After you returned. Yeah. Ok.
SN: That’s right.
JM: We’ll come back to all of that in due course. But so, you, what age were you when you were expelled? Roughly. Do you remember?
SN: I joined up when I was eighteen. I suppose I would have been seventeen.
JM: Seventeen. Right. Ok. So I presume in that year between being expelled and being called up you probably just worked on the farm? Is that? Or did you go and get a job?
SN: No. it was a, it was the end of the school year.
JM: Right.
SN: And I joined up in December of 1940.
JM: Right.
SN: And by that time, because of my birthday, I was eighteen.
JM: Right. So --
SN: So —
JM: So it just happened.
SN: Yes.
JM: Just went through the war in a sequence.
SN: Yes. It did.
JM: Alright. So signed up then for the air force.
SN: Yes.
JM: Any particular reason for the air force or —?
SN: Well the air force was quite [pause] it was, I suppose the, the glamour service at that time. This was where people who wanted adventure or saw the war as an adventure this was where they went.
JM: And so that’s what attracted you. You saw that as an adventure.
SN: Yes. Yes.
JM: And you said, ‘Right.’
SN: That was very good.
JM: If they’ll have me that’s where I’ll go, sort of thing.
SN: Yes.
JM: Yes. Yes. Ok. Actually, I just meant to just backtrack once before we get in to — so this was in 1940 that you enlisted but just before that how, how much of an impact did the Depression have on your family? Because you were on the farm you were a little bit able to cope. A little bit better than perhaps people in town because you had lots —
SN: Yes.
JM: Of resources at hand, so to speak.
SN: That’s right. That’s right.
JM: In terms of food and, you know, meat and chicken and eggs. And you had milking cows too I presume.
SN: Exactly. Yes.
JM: Yes.
SN: Yes.
JM: Yes. So, you were relatively comfortable.
SN: I was.
JM: Yeah.
SN: In terms of the Depression I was — our family came through it pretty well.
JM: Well —
SN: You know there was never a time when I had to think about —
JM: Yeah.
SN: Whether I had any food to eat.
JM: Yeah. Whether there was going to be food on the table. Yes.
SN: Work or what have you.
JM: Yes. That’s right. Ok. So, you enlisted then December 1940.
SN: Yes.
JM: Yes, and where did you do your initial training?
SN: I went to Brandon.
JM: Brandon. Yes.
SN: Which was the manning depot.
JM: Where? Sorry?
SN: It was the manning depot.
JM: Right. And where is Brandon in —?
SN: Brandon —
JM: How far away from Radisson is that? I assume you enlisted in Radisson or did you have to go over to the main —
SN: No. No. I had to go to the main, the largest city.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Which was Saskatoon.
JM: Right. And then so from there to Brandon how far? Where? What sort of distance is that? Just roughly. You know. Sort of a day’s train ride or half a day.
SN: It’s a day’s train ride.
JM: Right. Ok. Yeah.
SN: Yes.
JM: So you were over there. So your parents were happy about you enlisting were they? Or was your father a bit —?
SN: I think so.
JM: I forgot to check. Did you have any other brothers and sisters? Or —?
SN: I had one sister but she was much younger than I am. She was seven years younger. After I was expelled I, and the fellow who was expelled with me, we got one of the freight trains that went into the city and we went to the army, the navy and the air force and nobody would have us because they said we were seventeen and did we have permission?
JM: So, you weren’t able to get in at that point.
SN: No.
JM: No. So then when you turned eighteen, you said to your parents. How did they feel about that?
SN: I think they were pretty well resolved that it was going to happen. It wasn’t something they — like all parents they were fearful but I think they were resigned that this was what most people, like me, were doing.
JM: Ok. So, you’re off to Brandon. Is that right?
SN: Yes.
JM: Yeah. And what —how long were you there?
SN: Oh, I would think a couple of months.
JM: A couple of months. Yeah. So, this is early ‘41 basically.
SN: Yes.
JM: Ok. And from Brandon where did you go next?
SN: We went to what was called guard duty.
JM: Guard duty. Yeah.
SN: Which was another couple of months?
JM: Yeah. And where was that?
SN: And that was in Saskatoon.
JM: Yeah. So back to almost near home. Yeah.
SN: Yes. It was back to a couple of hours away.
JM: Yeah. And that was about a couple of months you think.
SN: Yeah. Roughly.
JM: What sort of things did guard duty — what sort of things were you guarding something? What? I mean guard duty sort of implies you were guarding. What did it actually?
SN: It was really part of the training regime to get people sorted out as to what they were to do. It was compulsory. You had two hours on, four hours off, two hours on, four hours off during which you went — in this instance we were guarding, they were guarding airports. Everybody went through this. And you simply went out with your musket and [laughs] patrolled an area for two hours and they checked that you were there and you were awake. And then they — oh there was continuous inspections and little marches and that kind of thing. It was a training thing.
JM: Thing. Yeah. Ok.
SN: Everybody went through it.
JM: Ok. So this is possibly getting to the — just beyond winter so at least out on guard duty.
SN: Yes.
JM: You were not out in the depths of winter. Out.
SN: No. no. There was danger.
JM: Pacing the perimeters.
SN: No danger involved.
JM: Yes. But I mean, but you weren’t out in the cold and snow and all the rest of it though at this point.
SN: No. No. No.
JM: Because as I I say it had become more or less the end.
SN: Yes, it was —
JM: You were pretty well early spring at this stage so —
SN: Yes. Yes, it was spring.
JM: Yes. So, ok. So what, anything in particular that stands out from there. Things that you realised you could do or things that you were being asked to do that you didn’t like doing or anything like that?
SN: I don’t think there was anything remarkable about it.
JM: About it.
SN: It was [pause] I think there were something like twenty four of us that went through this. Nothing.
JM: In that group.
SN: Yes. Nothing remarkable.
JM: Yeah. Ok. So where did you go to from there?
SN: I went to Calgary.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And that was to do wireless training.
JM: Ok. Yes.
SN: Wireless air gunners.
JM: Yes.
SN: And at that time we all got to wear a white flash in our caps.
JM: Caps.
SN: Which separated you from those who didn’t and I was there for — what? Maybe four months or something.
JM: Right. So, would this be, say, around about May? May ’41 to —
SN: I would say.
JM: To October ’41.
SN: Yes.
JM: Or something like that?
SN: Until, until December.
JM: Until December. Ok so we could work back from there.
SN: Yes.
JM: So, December, November, October. September to December. So, we’ll say August/September to December of ‘41 there at your wireless.
SN: Yes. I would say it was a five month course.
JM: Course. Yeah.
SN: That would be my recollection.
JM: Recollection. Yeah. Yeah. Ok. And so all facets of being a wireless op and air gunner all mixed in together. You didn’t — or did you do blocks of wireless work and then —
SN: No. It was all wireless.
JM: It was all wireless. Yeah.
SN: It was all wireless. And I did not finish the course.
JM: Right.
SN: I went —
JM: For any particular reason? Or —?
SN: Yes. I went on leave for, what was it, it was a long weekend and I caught pneumonia.
JM: That’s right. Yes.
SN: In Saskatoon. And they put me in the hospital and I was in the hospital for nearly six weeks.
JM: Yes.
SN: You know. And I was in an oxygen tent for —
JM: Yes. Because you were not a well person for —
SN: For four days because I had — I was lucky.
JM: Yes.
SN: They brought out the first of the Sulfa drugs and that saved me.
JM: That saved you. Yes. Of course. That’s how bad you were.
SN: Yes.
JM: Yes. Yes.
SN: So when I finished they posted me.
JM: So, this — when, when was, that was when?
SN: That was from the end of November.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Until the end of the year.
JM: Yes. That you were in hospital.
SN: Yes.
JM: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
SN: In hospital or convalescent leave.
JM: Yes.
SN: It was something like that.
JM: That’s right. Yeah. So therefore, you didn’t actually finish that course. So, what happened there?
SN: I don’t know whether I would, to be very frank. I don’t know whether I would ever have. It was probably a good thing in that I wasn’t particularly — I could do the Morse at speed but I was not particularly — I don’t think I would have been a particularly good wireless operator. So, in any event, at the end of this thing they posted me to Trenton.
JM: Right. Where’s —?
SN: As what we used to call a straight air gunner.
JM: Yeah. And whereabouts is Trenton?
SN: Trenton is in Eastern Canada.
JM: Right. And when would this be? January ‘42?
SN: Yes.
JM: Yeah. And that was for straight air —
SN: Yes.
JM: Air gunner training.
SN: That’s right.
JM: Yeah. So, what stands out about that training?
SN: It was about [pause] maybe six weeks. Something like that. Well I think I had decided that I really had to make this.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And it was a large course and I came second. I think it was probably the first time I realised that I could do something.
JM: Do something. Yeah.
SN: This was, I think, largely attributable, I covered it in this book.
JM: Yes.
SN: This man I met who was much older than I was and he — I was a little ashamed of being somewhat bookish and that it was a bit sissy to excel. And he said, ‘You know, this is foolish.’
JM: Yes.
SN: ‘You do as well as you can.’
JM: You can. Yeah.
SN: [unclear] you can do that. And I did. And the other thing which is also covered in this book was the rather extraordinary thing of this man who was court martialled and, because he thought that he was operating a camera gun when he was not. He was operating a Vickers machine gun.
JM: Machine gun.
SN: And he shot up a parade of airmen.
JM: Airmen. That’s right.
SN: In a row.
JM: Yes.
SN: And he was court martialled. And as I say in there this was an extraordinary spectacle that I’ve never forgotten. He was a little non-descript fella from Newfoundland whose name was Silver and he, the entire station, it was a big station, was out in hollow square.
JM: On parade.
SN: With the, we were all, yes, we were all on parade and we were all there and the band was there and the group captain was there with a table and the man with the leopard skin drum. The whole bit was the drum rolls, everything.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And this poor little man was marched up and his hat off in front of this table, and the drum rolls cut off by [unclear] this corporal. Cut them off.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
SN: Cut them off.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And threw them on the ground.
JM: Ground.
SN: Marched him off.
JM: Off.
SN: And he got two years in the penitentiary.
JM: Penitentiary.
SN: So, we all remembered that.
JM: That.
SN: And it was for not turning up.
JM: Up.
SN: For an overseas posting. And so, I think, I think we all got the point.
JM: You all got the point. That’s right. Yes. Yes. Absolutely. So, then, so this is sort of becoming a turning point. So, after the air gunning. This training at Trenton. Where did you go?
SN: Well I got, as everyone else did, our air gunner badge.
JM: Badge.
SN: And sergeant’s stripes.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And we all went on embarkation leave. And that was a couple of weeks or ten days. I’ve forgotten. But Canada is like Australia in that train journeys were very long.
JM: Long. That’s right.
SN: It takes —
JM: And of course, if you’re right over in Eastern Canada that’s a long way from home.
SN: Yes.
JM: To get back. Yes.
SN: So then, following embarkation leave I came to Halifax and —
JM: So, you didn’t — did you actually get home in that embarkation leave?
SN: Yes, I did.
JM: Or — yes, you did .
SN: Yes. I got home for about ten days I think.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And then we were back to Halifax and just as things worked out we were the last, there were twelve of us marched down to board ship. And we were the last people aboard.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And the convoy left that about an hour or two later.
JM: Gosh. So this would have been the end of March, early April ’42.
SN: This would have been early March. Yes. 1942.
JM: Yeah. Probably be about mid-March. Oh yeah. Early March. Yeah. Yeah. That’s ok. Yeah. Early March ‘42. Yes.
SN: Yes.
JM: And so so Halifax. So where —?
SN: Halifax is —
JM: So was this a large troop carrier that you were on? Or a small —
SN: A large convoy.
JM: Yes. But there was a convoy but were the boats themselves — was there large troop carriers.
SN: Yes.
JM: Or —
SN: Yes.
JM: Did you have any sense of whether there were thousands there? Or perhaps under a thousand or —?
SN: There were, they were crowded.
JM: They were crowded.
SN: It was a ship called the Andes. Which had run on the Latin American English run.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Not a bad ship.
JM: Yes. No.
SN: But we were in cabins. They were, I think, seven or eight of us in a little —
JM: A cabin. Yeah.
SN: And the the toilets were at the end of the —
JM: Yeah. Corridor so to speak.
SN: Corridor. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Ok. So where —
SN: But it was good enough. It wasn’t bad. We could —
JM: Ok. So —
SN: Everybody had —
JM: So where did you land in —
SN: We landed in Greenock which is Glasgow.
JM: Glasgow. Yeah. And so, on the train down to —
SN: We had no, yes, we had no adventures. We had one emergency in the Irish Sea where they shot at, where they put down a sub and the convoys were in lines of destroyers.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And ships.
JM: Ships. Yeah.
SN: Following one another.
JM: You don’t remember how many were in that convoy? In that total convoy.
SN: I haven’t the vaguest idea whatever.
JM: No. That’s ok.
SN: What it is.
JM: So you got there pretty uneventfully.
SN: Yes. Now they may have, I think they sunk something in the Irish Sea.
JM: Sea.
SN: But that was it.
JM: That was it.
SN: So we had really quite a good —
JM: Quite. Ok. So then you’re off in Glasgow. You’re on the train I presume to —
SN: We went by train to Bournemouth.
JM: Bournemouth. Yeah.
SN: Where everyone went and that was a manning depot there.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And you stayed in Bournemouth.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Until you were posted.
JM: Yes.
SN: To wherever you were going.
JM: Going. Yeah.
SN: They were, we were a mixture of pilots, observers.
JM: Observers. Yeah. Yeah.
SN: Everything. And that was a very easy thing. The only remarkable thing again, which was in the book, was that we were quartered in formerly resort hotels and we ate in a different building than the one in which we were housed.
JM: Right.
SN: And we came out this one day and a siren went and we tumbled out on the street and I remember seeing these two Fokker Wulf 190s come in and they came under the radar. Just straight over the —
SN: We were right on the end — Bournemouth is a —
JM: Seaside bit.
SN: Seaside resort. And they came under the radar and they came right up and they bombed. Dropped their bombs and went.
JM: Went.
SN: And they hit the building we were to eat in and I can remember we were all amazed. Standing there with our mouths open. And some of them, finally they were digging around in the thing said, ‘Come.’
JM: Come.
SN: Don’t stand there like —’
JM: Yeah. ‘Come and help us dig.’
SN: Yeah.
JM: Yes. Yes.
SN: So, it was a rude awakening.
JM: Awakening to the realities of war. What so now you finally knew what you were about to be part of .
SN: Yes.
JM: Yes.
SN: Yes. It was real.
JM: It was real. That’s right. So, any idea of how long you were in Bournemouth for? So you would have been there. How long did it — I didn’t — how long did it take to get from Halifax across to — It would only have been a couple of days.
SN: About ten days.
JM: Ten days. Yeah. And so then down. So, we’re probably talking about April. Bournemouth was probably about April ‘42 to — how long do you reckon?
SN: Maybe to June.
JM: To June. Yeah. And so where did we, and so —
SN: May or June. I’ve forgotten.
JM: May or June. What sort of — were they giving you any theory lessons there at this stage?
SN: No. It was — you just had a roll call.
JM: Roll call.
SN: Once a day.
JM: Once a day.
SN: And that was it.
JM: Pre. So did you —
SN: And then you did whatever you pleased.
JM: So, did you go up to London or do anything like that or how did you spend your time?
SN: No. You were not, you were I don’t know whether, they must have told us. No. No one went anywhere. I think you were on call.
JM: Call. Right.
SN: That you would be moving out as soon as it happened.
JM: Moving out soon. Yeah.
SN: And I don’t think anybody was —
JM: Right.
SN: You would have had to have leave.
JM: Yes. Yes.
SN: To do that.
JM: To do that. Yes. Ok. So, you were, you were just basically sitting around. What did you —play cards or things like that to pass the time? Or what did you do to pass? So just basically sitting around. Effectively doing nothing. How did you pass, how did you and your mates pass your time? Sit down on the —
SN: We moved around. It was quite a beautiful place with many gardens. We moved around during the day to the beach and so on and the pubs at night.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Nobody had all that much money.
JM: Money.
SN: You know that you [laughs]
JM: No. that’s right. Yeah.
SN: You could —
JM: Basically, sit and watch the world go by.
SN: Yes.
JM: Yes.
SN: There was no, there was no, no attempt to discipline or to —
JM: Right. Ok. So, from, so nothing, no particular experiences stand out whilst in Bournemouth.
SN: No, I don’t think there was anything there.
JM: No. Ok.
SN: There was a Palais dance. A Palais de Dance which they had in most places, you know.
JM: Yeah. Ok. So, where, where to next? Was it to Wales next?
SN: I went to Wales.
JM: Yes.
SN: To a place called Stormy Down.
JM: Down. Yeah.
SN: It was a mining area.
JM: Yes.
SN: Coal mines.
JM: Yeah. And over there you were doing —
SN: To a gunnery school.
JM: To the gunnery school again. Yes. And roughly how long was that?
SN: It wasn’t all that long. I would say that it might have been a month. Pretty full on.
JM: Yes. And so, this was where you came. So, you hadn’t done any gunnery training back in Canada so, this would be your —
SN: Yes, I had.
JM: You had. You did do some.
SN: Oh yes. Yes.
JM: When you were at Calgary.
SN: No. No.
JM: No.
SN: When I was in Trenton.
JM: Trenton. Trenton. Ok. So — oh my apologies. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes, because that’s where you were second. Second. Had the second highest score. Ok so how were the — what were you using? Different guns here now between what you were using in Trenton? Or —
SN: Yes. We were using [pause] what can I remember about it now? In Britain we were using old Lewis guns which were a pan that sits on the thing and it feeds outside and it seems to me that we were [pause] I’m not sure now what? We did quite a bit of target shooting. Drogue shooting where a drogue is dragged.
JM: Dragged. Yes.
SN: And of course in both places you do a lot of — what do you call it? [pause] Where you do — you shoot at the —
JM: Skeet.
SN: Skeet shooting.
JM: Yeah.
SN: A lot of skeet shooting. A lot of target shooting. That kind of thing.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And —
JM: As part of this.
SN: Yes. Yes.
JM: Yes.
SN: And there was a course.
JM: Yes.
SN: Which you, of benefit and I did very well. I got — they said, “A very good air gunner.” So —
JM: Were there particular competitions or something or —
SN: Yes. They would mark you for —
JM: Yeah.
SN: Target scores. How you —
JM: And you were coming out on top a lot.
SN: Yes.
JM: Right.
SN: Yes.
JM: Yeah. So, do you think you would have perhaps back when you were younger, on the farm, I presume you would have been doing some shooting there.
SN: Yes.
JM: So, do you feel that that perhaps gave you a bit of an advantage having sort of been always shooting moving targets. I would presume a lot of the time they were moving so —
SN: Yes.
JM: Yes.
SN: I don’t know.
JM: You don’t know.
SN: No.
JM: Yeah. But nevertheless you obviously had an aptitude for it because you were doing very well there with your skeet.
SN: Yeah. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. And you didn’t retain an interest in skeet shooting at any time. You didn’t do it many years down the track. Just as a little deviation here for a second.
SN: Only once.
JM: Yes.
SN: We were on a transatlantic ship with the family going somewhere. I’ve forgotten where but going. I was Foreign Affairs and we used to go by ship.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And they had a competition on this ship for skeet shooting.
JM: Yes.
SN: And I guess there were about thirty or forty people there and I won.
JM: You won.
SN: And they gave me a cup.
JM: Yes.
SN: And the rather wonderful thing about this was that both the kids were there and watched it. The two boys.
JM: Yeah.
SN: So that brought my [laughs]
JM: Increased your standing in their eyes no end. Did it?
SN: Yes. Yes. Yes.
JM: Ah well that’s very very interesting. So, do you remember how many rounds you had to shoot or was it a decent length competition or did they sort of try to keep it.
SN: It was, it was a pretty, a pretty easy one.
SN: Yeah.
SM: Ordinarily if you do skeet shooting you go through about seven stations.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And that means you’re shooting —
JM: Different heights. Yeah.
SN: At a bird at the height it’s going.
JM: Yeah.
SN: As it’s going away from you.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Up. It’s all the way through.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Whereas this one was there. Had to be done from the back of the ship.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And you didn’t have, they couldn’t.
JM: Have variations.
SN: They couldn’t have done any variations of any sort.
JM: Any sort. Yeah. Yeah.
SN: That amounted to very much.
JM: Yeah.
SN: So, you really did five and somebody, maybe they were five of you shot five each and you won that.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And then those who won competed again.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
SN: It wasn’t really [laughs] that big a thing.
JM: It wasn’t such a big challenge for you.
SN: No.
JM: Having had all that other experience. Ok. Well that’s all very interesting. Ok. Well you completed the gunnery at Stormy Down. About a month. So, from there. OTU.
SN: I went to OTU.
JM: Yeah.
SN: At a place called Honeybourne.
JM: Yeah.
SN: A beautiful place in the Midlands.
JM: Yes.
SN: Near Evesham and Stratford on Avon. Yeah.
JM: And so how long were you at OTU?
SN: I was there for the fall because I remember we went out to steal apples. I got to the squadron in — maybe in October. Now, I had these. The reason I don’t have these dates here is my logbook was stolen.
JM: Stolen. Yes. I know. From when the book was —
SN: So I don’t have this.
JM: Yes. I know.
SN: I’m really just doing memory.
JM: I know. I’m just trying. I fully appreciate that I’m really testing your memory here but yeah.
SN: In the late summer and early fall I was at the OTU. I would have been —
JM: OTU. So that’s probably —
SN: I would have been there for at least three months.
JM: Three months. Right. So, we’re probably talking about August. September.
SN: Yes, I would say August September.
JM: August September of ‘42 we’re talking about here.
SN: Yes.
JM: Yeah. Ok. Yeah. And what stands out about OTU? Anything in particular. Apart from the fact that there was nice countryside. There were nice orchards where you could scrounge some apples.
SN: Yes. Well they had very nice pubs and you could chase girls.
JM: Yeah. Yes.
SN: And the weather was delightful.
JM: Yes.
SN: And the only thing that — two things happened I guess. One was that you, a lot of OTU is the gunner — each, each — the gunners have their own courses. The navigators. Pilots. Then you form a crew.
JM: Yes. You’re doing your crewing up. Yeah.
SN: And a lot of this was called circuits and bumps.
JM: Bumps. Yeah.
SN: Around and around and around.
JM: Around and around. Yeah.
SN: And one night a German night fighter got in the thing. Got in the — there’s usually four aircraft.
JM: Aircraft.
SN: And they follow one another.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And he got in the line.
JM: Line. Yes.
SN: And shot it down. We were in Whitleys which was an old two engine.
JM: Engine.
SN: Bomber. And he got in the line and shot the —
JM: The Whitley that was in front.
SN: The Whitley, as it was landing. Yes. So that was a big thing for us.
JM: That was. Yes. And, but that wasn’t you.
SN: No.
JM: Were you in, were you in.
SN: I wasn’t, I wasn’t even in the circuit either.
JM: You weren’t in the circuit either.
SN: No.
JM: Right. And what was the outcome with that Whitley. Was it —did he inflict injury as well as damage to the aircraft or —
SN: Yes.
JM: He did.
SN: Yes. He did.
JM: So, what? Killed all the crew or —
SN: No. No. I think they [pause] I think one. I think one man was either, either killed or very badly injured
JM: Injured
SN: And the aircraft was of course.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Runway. Smashed itself.
JM: Smashed itself. Yeah. Right. Ok. So at this point your crew. You’ve now, you crew up as well here at OTU.
SN: Yes.
JM: This is when you form your crew. So, your pilot.
SN: Was — I’ll deal with that I think.
JM: Yes.
SN: He was a man called Stonehill.
JM: Yes.
SN: And he was a squadron leader.
JM: Yes.
SN: And he was from Fighter Command.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And I don’t know what he’d done but he was, he was not happy to be there.
JM: No.
SN: That was not what— he didn’t really want to fly this [laughs] box like aircraft. And he was, we thought he was old. Old would be he was in his thirties.
JM: Late twenties or something. Oh thirties. Yes. Yes.
SN: You know.
JM: Yes.
SN: But he was older than we were.
JM: Yes.
SN: And proper RAF type, you know. Had a handlebar moustache.
JM: And all the rest of it. Yes.
SN: Yes. And he’d, and we saw nothing of him because we were, there were five of us including him.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And he of course he was an —
JM: An officer. And he was in the officer’s mess. In the —
SN: The other four of us were NCOs.
JM: Yes. NCOs.
SN: In our own mess. Ordinarily someone would have had, a pilot would have had something to do with us but he was, he didn’t want to be there.
JM: No. That’s right.
SN: And he, I don’t think he really knew our names. He, and so, we really saw, we saw nothing of him except we would, you know, get in the aircraft and we’d get out.
JM: Yeah. That’s right.
SN: Except for one. We went to a place called Long Marston which is up, just out of Stratford.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And this was for a, sort of, pre-operational thing to work out with the crew and we flew every day.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Cross country’s and things and we saw one night he came. We were at the flights. The flights is where the aircrew wait to get on, to get off.
JM: Yes.
SN: And he came out of the flights where we were and suggested that we come and have a beer.
JM: And everybody —
SN: So, we did this to wherever it was. We went from the flights and he had he must have [pause] I don’t know how we got there. He had a little Austin convertible.
JM: Convertible.
SN: Thing. And he, I think he either had family or him, beside him. And we sat around with him for an hour in the pub and the only thing I remember about it was that he had a dog and the dog was a Spaniel. And the dog would drink beer. The dog drank beer and we sat and we had a beer and he was friendly. But I don’t think he — he didn’t intend to stay and he didn’t stay.
JM: Didn’t stay.
SN: They took him. They took him back to where he came from.
JM: Back to where he came from. Ok. So, he disappeared down the thing. Down the track. But the rest of you stayed together though at this point. So who was your navigator?
SN: Well we had a little, a little crash. A little accident.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Which I deal with there when the aircraft went off the end of the runway.
JM: Runway.
SN: And it broke the leg of the wireless operator, I think. A big tall fellow named Hurst.
JM: Yes.
SN: And the crew packed up then. I think. Now I’m I don’t know which happened first.
JM: First. Yeah.
SN: Whether we had this, this [pause] this accidental crash. Whether we had that and then he was sent off or whether he was sent off when was just finishing up I don’t know.
JM: No.
SN: We never knew. We never saw him. They never said anything. They just called us in and they said, ‘Now, we’re disbanding this crew.’
JM: Crew.
SN: ‘And we’re posting you to other squadrons.’
JM: Squadrons. Yeah.
SN: To squadrons.
JM: Yeah. Yeah. Ok and so and from there you, that’s when you went to 405.
SN: Yes.
JM: Yes. Ok. And so you were landing. You joined 405. How long, how long were you at OTU? August September ’42.
SN: I was about three months.
JM: About three.
SN: A good three months.
JM: Ok. So, you were posted to 405. What? About December. November. December or —
SN: No. October.
JM: October. Ok.
SN: Yeah.
JM: October.
SN: I think.
JM: ’42.
SN: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Ok. And so here and a couple of little experiences in 405.
SN: Well we went, I went. When I went to squadron I was on squadron for a long time. Longer than most people.
JM: Yeah.
SN: I came in with my kit and there was a note for me and it said something like “Welcome Clair.”
JM: Yeah.
SN: And when you come to the, wherever the, what do you call it? Not a dormitory. We were quartered in an old college.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And he said, when you, “When you come to the quarters come and see me. Stuart.”
JM: Stuart.
SN: And it was Stuart Clark who was from my little town.
JM: Town. That’s right. Yes.
SN: Right.
JM: Yes.
SN: And so, I went up and he and the navigator who was a fella called Elmer [Bulman] from [unclear] Nevada. And they were playing Battleships and so we talked about things and Stuart said, ‘Look,’ he said, ‘We need an air gunner. You come with us.’
JM: Yeah.
SN: In our crew.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And I did.
JM: Yeah.
SN: So, I was lucky.
JM: You were lucky. Yes. So that’s it. You knew the pilot because you had Stuart there as that.
SN: Yes. He was the navigator.
JM: Oh sorry. He was the navigator. Yeah.
SN: And he went to see the —
[phone ringing]
SN: Excuse me a second while I see to that.
[recording paused]
SN: Yes. And so he went to the pilot and said, ‘Look I’ve got —
JM: He went to the pilot. Yeah. Went to the pilot.
SN: And I was in.
JM: The pilot’s name? I should have it.
SN: Weber.
JM: Weber. That’s right.
SN: W E B E R. So I was in.
JM: Yeah. Yeah. And so then you went off and started to do your ops.
SN: We —
JM: Coastal Command.
SN: We were, what we did first is we —
JM: You got linked with —
SN: We were at Topcliffe up in Yorkshire. We had to do, we had to convert. It was called conversion at that time.
JM: Conversion. That’s right. Yes. Yes.
SN: Which was from, we had, they had been on Wellingtons.
JM: Wellingtons.
SN: And the squadron converted to Halifaxes so it was this period of people getting used to this new aircraft.
JM: Halifax.
SN: So that went on for a time. And then maybe a month later. Sometime in November they they were losing a lot of people with this. Losing a lot of shipping with the subs.
JM: Subs yeah.
SN: And they’d lent us to Coastal Command.
JM: Coastal Command.
SN: To cover during the time the North African invasion force went down.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
SN: And so we were sent down to Southampton to do this, this thing and we spent most of the winter there.
JM: Yes. Yes.
SN: Doing these —
JM: Patrols.
SN: Patrols. Yes.
JM: So you weren’t actually bombing. You were doing surveillance.
SN: It was called air sea warfare.
JM: Yeah.
SN: ASW. I think. And you were looking for, you went out on, it was called a square search and you went out. They were great long things that would go from ten to twelve hours. Went down off the Scilly Islands and Bishop’s Rock and somewhere. A point on the Atlantic or the Bay of Biscay. Whatever it was.
JM: Was.
SN: Depending on what they had decided that day.
JM: That day.
SN: At the briefing where everything is. Where you should go.
JM: Go.
SN: And you flew this course square and back. And you flew fairly low. A thousand feet or something and you looked for submarines.
JM: Submarines yeah.
SN: And evidence of them you see.
JM: Yeah. A bit — sort of a wake from the conning tower.
SN: Yes. There was a great deal of that.
JM: Yes.
SN: It was a separate — Coastal Command it was called. We were lent Coastal Command.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And Coastal Command, all through the war, and Australia. Here as well.
SN: Yeah.
JM: Operated all through the war doing just that.
JM: Yeah.
SN: That was the —
JM: Yeah. So how many [pause] how many missions would you have done in Coastal Command do you think? Roughly.
SN: I can’t remember. You got — what they did is they, they took three of these [pause] ops or whatever you want to call them.
JM: Call them. Yeah.
SN: They took three of these for one op.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Three patrols if you want to call them that.
JM: Yeah. Three patrols were equal to one op in the —
SN: That’s right.
JM: The bureaucrats eyes.
SN: That’s how they did it.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
SN: I don’t remember just what. Just how many there were. There wouldn’t have been all that many. The weather was pretty duff.
JM: Yeah. So —
SN: During that period so you would be stood down quite often, you know.
JM: Down quite often.
SN: And it was, there is nothing more boring than [laughs] [that sort of?] exercise
JM: Yeah.
SN: And I guess we had. We thought we saw evidence of a sub and we dropped our depth charges once. We thought we saw oil on the surface. And when they came up to charge their batteries and when they did this [pause] the oil — they would dive and they would send up several gallons of oil.
JM: Oil.
SN: So that —
JM: Created a bit of an oil slick.
SN: And you’ll see the oil slick.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And the object was that the attacking aircraft would say, ‘We got him. We saw the oil,’ and he was — they sunk.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
SN: And of course, it hadn’t that at all.
JM: At all. No. Because they were in fact just doing it as part of their diving.
SN: Yeah
JM: Part of their diving process, so to speak. Yeah.
SN: We had one, I guess — two close encounters. One was [pause] one was that, was with, on these patrols they were so long that you had to carry excess tanks for excess fuel.
JM: Excess fuel.
SN: And that meant that you had the — they had of course to change tanks and you had to watch. The engineer had to watch the gauges to make sure that he changed, while one was still operating.
JM: Operating.
SN: To the new one.
JM: The new one. Yeah.
SN: And in this one case he forgot.
JM: Forgot.
SN: Whatever he was doing and the pilot fortunately noticed this and he said, ‘Mac,’ he said, ‘Change tanks.’ And he made a tremendous huge leap and did it and by that time we were down low enough and I wondered why we were this low that I could see the whitecaps on the waves.
JM: Waves.
SN: Yeah. So we were down maybe roof height by that time [laughs] and it sort of laboured its way up.
JM: Yes. Yes.
SN: And the other one I describe in the book when we attacked the German —
JM: Yes.
SN: E-boats.
JM: E-boats. Yeah.
SN: In the [pause] it’s the harbour near, near Biarritz.
JM: Yes. Yes.
SN: And they threw up a lot of stuff.
JM: Yes.
SN: And we —
JM: You got some flak out of that didn’t you?
SN: I don’t remember whether we did or not. We might have but it — we probably did because you could see the puffs and things.
JM: Yeah.
SN: But the sailors. I shocked them. They were out sunbathing on the deck [laughs] so we were close enough and I swept the decks of this thing.
JM: Yes.
SN: And you could see great activities going on there.
JM: Yes.
SN: But of course they had enough stuff there that they could have blown us out if —
JM: Out of the sky. But you got away before they managed to get to them. Yeah. So —
SN: Yes because I think you you could say our attack —
JM: Was totally unexpected. Yes.
SN: Was aborted.
JM: Yes. Yes.
SN: And depth charges wouldn’t really have done anything.
JM: Done anything.
SN: That much harm.
JM: Much harm.
SN: They told us later.
JM: Yeah. Yeah. So, all up you were doing this for about —
SN: For the winter.
JM: For the winter. Yes.
SN: Yeah.
JM: So, through to early ’43.
SN: Yes. Till maybe it would have been about March.
JM: March yeah. And then you resumed with 405 then.
SN: It would have been March. Yes. It would have been the end of February.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Early March. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. So you resumed with 405.
SN: Yes. So the Squadron. You see we never changed. Coastal Command is — they’re painted white grey.
JM: Yeah you were.
SN: And with us we just —
JM: Stayed black.
SN: Left it and stayed black.
JM: Yeah. And so how long were you back with 405?
SN: This was 405.
JM: Sorry.
SN: The whole squadron.
JM: Yes but with 405 base.
SN: To Bomber Command.
JM: Yes. To Bomber Command because you were down in Southampton.
SN: Yes we were.
JM: With Coastal Command.
SN: We were lent to Coastal Command.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Then we returned to —
JM: Bomber Command.
SN: The end of February we returned to —
JM: Yeah.
SN: To Bomber Command.
JM: To Bomber Command. To —
SN: To Topcliffe which was in Yorkshire.
JM: Yes. So, and so from here you then went on. Started to do some actual bombing raids from here.
SN: Yes.
JM: Yes.
SN: We did, we did several bombing raids from Topcliffe at that time. Maybe three or four or something.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And one of them was Stuttgart which was where I shot down a Messerschmitt 109.
JM: Yeah. Yeah. And any comments in terms of, you know, how close he was before you were able to see him and get, get, you got on to him before he got on to you or was he trying to get to you but your pilot managed to get away. Get at an angle where he was ineffective but you got him or what?
SN: He came up behind and I saw him. And I gave, when he got within range I gave the pilot evasive action and the pilot did it in classic fashion.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And when he was close enough. Six hundred yards. Not all that long. I got a good, a good shot at him.
JM: Yes.
SN: He was coming up like that you see and he, by this time had started to fire at us but he was, he didn’t hit us.
JM: Hit us because the pilot had already started the changing.
SN: He’d already started and he didn’t touch us at all.
JM: Touch us. Yeah. Yeah.
SN: Yeah. And he then went above us and started to turn around and fell.
JM: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s how you know you’d had a — you’d scored.
SN: Yes. Yes.
JM: Yes. So it was confirmed hit for you.
SN: Yes.
JM: Yes.
SN: But I couldn’t see where I was until he was —
JM: Coming past you more or less.
SN: Went down. He was off.
JM: Yes. Yes. I see. And so, and so that, was that was Stuttgart raid. And any other things stand out from these raids at this point?
SN: No. They were —
JM: They were.
SN: They were all on —
JM: Sort of routine.
SN: What was called Happy Valley.
JM: Valley. Yeah. Over the Ruhr. Yeah. Yeah. But routine as such and just —
SN: That might have been a period of maybe three weeks or something.
JM: Yeah.
SN: I’ve forgotten.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
SN: And then we were transferred to Pathfinder Command.
JM: Pathfinders. Yeah. That’s right. Yes.
SN: Which was down at Gransden Lodge.
JM: Lodge. Gransden Lodge. Yeah. And so, this would have been March.
SN: It was March 13th was when I shot the aircraft down.
JM: Right. Ok. March 13. Ok. So then would that be later March then that you went to Gransden Lodge? That the Pathfinder.
SN: Yes. Or the 1st of April. I don’t know which.
JM: Right.
SN: It wasn’t long.
JM: Yeah.
SN: We just, we just did maybe two or three ops.
JM: Yeah. Ops. Yeah. Yeah. And the decision to move to Pathfinders. What, what’s the story there?
SN: Well 405 was the oldest Canadian bomber squadron.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Which had been operating on the [ unclear] maybe a year in Bomber Command in what was called 6 Group which was the Canadian group.
JM: Group. Yeah.
SN: And because it was the, I suppose, and I’m guessing here because it was the oldest squadron and had the most experience it was the one selected to go to the Pathfinder group.
JM: Pathfinders.
SN: And also, I guess because the CO was quite a remarkable guy. A fella named Johnnie Fauquier and he was a force in himself and he —
JM: Yes. Yes.
SN: Because he was brought back.
JM: Back.
SN: As the head of the squadron and we were sent down as a part of 8 Group.
JM: Yes. But was it the commanders that came to you and said to your pilot, Weber and say, ‘Right, your crew’s a good crew – ’
SN: No. No.
JM: You’re going over to Pathfinders or —
SN: No. Oh no. Nobody was asked anything.
JM: No. No. I’m not asked but just said, ‘Right —
SN: No.
JM: Said to Weber.
SN: There was nothing. They just took the squadron.
JM: They just took it.
SN: As it was with Coastal Command.
JM: Right.
SN: Took the squadron.
JM: Right. The whole squadron. Yeah. Ok. Ok. So, and so no one had any choice in the matter. Everyone had to just comply.
SN: That’s right.
JM: Basically. Yeah. Ok. So [pause] so then began your time at Gransden Lodge and — how many — you did a lot of ops in that time.
SN: Yes. Yes.
JM: From Gransden Lodge.
SN: Yeah.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Now I was, it was quite a time from October to January of forty — January of ‘44 I believe.
JM: Yeah. Ok. Well if the squadron moved over in March/April ’43.
SN: In other words I was with the squadron from —
JM: Squadron from —
SN: October of ‘43 to January of ’44.
JM: Yes, but you said that the squadron moved.
SN: Well in that time it was in Bomber Command to Coastal Command to Bomber Command.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
SN: To Pathfinder Command.
JM: Yeah. Yeah. But what we had there before was that you [pause] you moved back [pause] to you had your Coastal Command and then —
SN: We went back to Bomber Command.
JM: You went back to there and that’s when you did your, you said the 13th of March.
SN: Yes.
JM: Was when you did your raid on Stuttgart.
SN: Yes.
JM: And you shot down the Messerschmitt.
SN: Yeah.
JM: And that was when you were back at Bomber Command.
SN: That’s right.
JM: That’s right. And so that’s why you were initially indicating to me that it was perhaps late March, early April that the squadron moved to —
SN: That’s right. Moved to Pathfinder Command. 8 Group.
JM: To Pathfinder Command. Yeah. In April ‘43. So, in fact you were part of Pathfinder from, roughly, early April ’43 right through to —
SN: To January.
JM: To January ’44.
SN: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Yeah. So that’s right. That makes sense. So would you have had leave at any stage? You must have had some periods of leave in between all these bits and pieces.
SN: Yes. We had a lot of leave. We had a week every six weeks.
JM: Yeah. And just before we get into Pathfinders you know, any of the, I don’t, I’m not looking for a sort — because you’ve had so many raids with, or ops with Pathfinders we’ll just pick on a couple I guess but just backtracking up until there you’d had periods of leave and what, did you have a regular places you went to when you were on leave or did you try —
SN: London.
JM: Always London.
SN: Usually. Yes.
JM: Yes. And did you have a particular place there that you always went to for accommodation or did you do different places? Or —?
SN: Different places. Yes.
JM: Right and —
SN: And usually with the, with the crew or at least two of us.
JM: With the crew basically went all together.
SN: Yes.
JM: Yeah. So, so, Weber the pilot went with you and —
SN: No. He was English.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And he, of course, went home.
JM: He went home. Yeah.
SN: And I had a particular, my particular pal was a wireless operator.
JM: Yes.
SN: Who was a fellow called Rickard.
JM: Yes.
SN: And the engineer.
JM: Yes.
SN: Who was called MacLean.
JM: Yes.
SN: So either usually the two of us but sometimes three —
JM: Yes.
SN: Would go on leave together.
JM: Together. Right.
SN: And we went to Ireland once. To Dublin. Which was interesting.
JM: Did you have to go in civvies for that? Or —
SN: Yes.
JM: Yes.
SN: You changed at the border. At a place called Larne. You left your uniform and got, they gave you a civilian suit and off you went. It was the, the, what I suppose the most attractive feature of it was that there was no food rationing and you could get all steak and eggs and bacon and what have you.
JM: Whatever you wanted. Yes.
SN: Yes.
JM: Which made a change.
SN: Which was rather pleasant.
JM: Yes.
SN: For a few days.
JM: Yes. That’s right. Yes. So, it’s what I think a lot of chaps ultimately ended up doing is having a little excursion to Ireland. I think probably just for the sake of getting the food.
SN: Yes. Indeed. Indeed.
JM: Yes. That’s right. So, no other particular events stand out from when you were up onto this point. When you were on leave. Just all, just the usual sort of pubs and shows and —
SN: Pubs and shows and girls.
JM: Girls.
SN: You see [laughs]
JM: Yeah. Yes. Ok. So, looking at Pathfinders. What particular missions or ops do you want to highlight?
SN: I think, I think for Pathfinders, of course, the people who are most affected are the pilots and navigators and bomb aimers. For the gunners and wireless ops it’s really, it’s the same. It’s pretty much the same drill. The only difference is with Pathfinders you are continuously training.
JM: Yeah.
SN: There is very little time off so to speak. There is a training exercise every day you’re not on ops so it’s, it’s a pretty full on thing.
JM: Yeah.
SN: I guess there is another interesting thing about it is, of course, it was a pretty impromptu [pause] I was going to say it was a pretty impromptu move and we were moved and quartered in the village. In amongst the village.
JM: Yes.
SN: The huts and things were all in this village.
JM: Yeah. So, houses were basically just requisitioned to be your accommodation.
SN: No. The village was there and the village was operating in the same way.
JM: Yes. But individual houses might have been requisitioned.
SN: No.
JM: No.
SN: They built, they built —
JM: So, you were billeted. The people lived there and you were all just billeted in —
SN: Yes. And we all —
JM: With families.
SN: We all lived in, what do you called them, huts. What are they called?
JM: Nissen. The Nissen huts.
SN: Nissen huts. Yes. We all lived in Nissen huts.
JM: Oh ok.
SN: The masses were in Nissen huts.
JM: So, they built Nissen huts within the village itself.
SN: Yes. We all lived in the village and we walked to the flights.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Which was about a quarter of a mile.
JM: A quarter of a mile away. Right. Yeah.
SN: Which was rather interesting. It was an interesting time.
JM: Yeah. For what reason?
SN: Well I think you — these villagers, we went back. We had a reunion there. And they regarded us as their people. You know, they knew us all in the pubs and how many didn’t come back. Who.
JM: Yes. And so, they basically felt a sense of protection.
SN: Yes.
JM: Enveloped you guys in a cloak of protection in a way to sort of provide you with, I guess, some stability or something like that is what they felt they were doing by providing that [pause]
SN: Yes. It was quite —
JM: Extending that friendship for want of a better word. Yeah.
SN: It was quite touching.
JM: Yes.
SN: When we went back.
JM: Yes. Yes. And — Ok. So you were doing regular training as well as going out on ops and what? Any, which ops in particular stand out for you?
SN: Well [pause] it’s like anything else I guess. You — it becomes a routine and it’s what you do and you — I think you become a little callous. And I think it takes, it took me a time after I was discharged. I found it [pause] An uncle of mine spoke to me and said, you know, ‘Have a little compassion.’ You became used to death. And people didn’t come back. And the casualty rate was horrendous.
JM: Yes.
SN: And you were, if you survived it’s what you do and it’s your [pause] you can get, you can accustom people to almost anything.
JM: That’s right.
SN: So, you know, we went out and did it and came back.
JM: Back.
SN: We laughed about it.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Drank to the next man to go.
JM: Go.
SN: That was life.
JM: That was life. And what, what particular — I think there were a couple of particular ops that you mentioned in the book that you might just touch on briefly?
SN: Well I think we, we were first occupied with the Ruhr Valley. With Happy Valley.
JM: Happy Valley. Yeah.
SN: Then we went on to — we did one on Hamburg and we did some long runs. Pilsen, I think. And finally, Berlin. I went to Berlin seven times.
JM: Yeah.
SN: They [pause] we got shot up pretty badly several times and I guess what you remember is that your crew changes. Or ours did. For instance, the man I was telling you about. Stuart Clark.
JM: Yeah.
SN: He had a great friend in the squadron and instead of flying down to Coastal Command with us — we flew, you see. We just packed our stuff up and went. He decided to fly with his friend. You know, why not. And I remember he went off before we did. Went off. He just got over the horizon. Whack. The time of stress with an aircraft is when it takes its first turn because it’s got, not only the momentum of getting in but it has to make this turn.
JM: Turn.
SN: That’s it. And it didn’t and they were all killed. Blown up. So, we had an American with us and when the Americans came over and started to operate he went back to his, or went to — the American air force were happy to have them and most of them went back. And I guess the [pause] we lost crew members and I guess that’s what you remember. Who was the first one? [pause] We had, oh the first one we lost was unfortunately the navigator who was a very nice fella. We were good friends and we used to go to the pub at night. And we were at a place called Leeming in Yorkshire and instead of going around by the road we would cross the airfield and you had to be careful because of night flying [laughs] to do these things, you see.
JM: Yes.
SN: But it made it shorter. Anyway, we came back and I guess all had quite a bit to drink and we were at the top of our — they called them married quarters. They were cottages and we were in the two bedrooms upstairs. I, and Ricky, the wireless operator and Gibby. We got, we came back and we got to the top of the stairs and Gibby slipped and he rolled down these stairs and we got at the bottom and his head was bleeding. So, we got the ambulance and he was unconscious. There was nothing — his head was bleeding and the ambulance came and we never saw him again and I don’t know what happened to him. I presume that he perhaps died. And the other two I think I deal with in here. I might have dealt with Gibby as well. We had a thing which was called [pause] what did we call it? It’s [pause] lack of moral fortitude. LMF.
JM: Yeah.
SN: LMF. And that’s really quite a good story actually. We had two of our crew. One was over Essen. A fellow named Gordon Wood. Toronto. And he, how anybody could think of this when we’re over Essen and the bloody kite was —
JM: Bouncing around the —
SN: Bouncing because of the flak.
JM: Flak.
SN: Threw us [unclear ] and he, and we missed, we went over the —
JM: Target.
SN: Target. And we missed.
JM: Missed.
SN: We were off so we had to go around again. Do another thing. Because the bomb aim has to be straight and level to do this thing.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And when we started going around the second time he went to pieces and he, the pilot’s name was Tony. And he said, ‘Don’t go in there Tony. Don’t go in there. They’ll kill us,’ he said, ‘I want to go home and marry Mary,’ he said, ‘Don’t do this.’ He wept and so forth at the pilot, Tony. And Mac, the engineer, went down and take his intercom out and then they had to get him up and put him on — we had a little bench.
JM: Bench. Yeah.
SN: Across from the hatch and tied him up on the bench.
JM: Bench.
SN: And he came and we reported this when we came back that we had this man. The ambulance met him and I never saw him again or heard anything of him. Then the other one was — we were — I don’t know where it was. Nuremberg. Hamburg. I’ve forgotten. Anyway, we’d got an American who was a mid-upper gunner and they did a stupid thing. They thought instead most attacks by fighter aircraft come in from the bottom.
JM: Bottom.
SN: And they don’t see because the rear gunner just sees a hundred and eighty degrees so they said, ‘We’ll put a thing like a tear drop in the bottom of the aircraft.’
JM: Yeah.
SN: And the mid-upper gunner will lie there and he had no guns, will lie there with his intercom, on his belly and report these aircraft that he sees. Stupid thing to have done. And he’d been alright before that but he, they only left the thing on for maybe two or three weeks.
JM: Weeks.
SN: And he went bananas.
JM: He went bananas.
SN: And he saw aircraft all over the sky and he gave evasive action and we’re pitching around [laughs] trying to find these until it finally occurred —
JM: Trying to avoid these imaginary aeroplanes.
SN: That there weren’t any aircraft.
JM: Yes.
SN: No one else saw it.
JM: No.
SN: So, he had to be disconnected, and put on the thing.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And we never saw him again.
JM: Again.
SN: But after the war I learned what happened. And what had happened was they took these people, gave them whatever help they could.
JM: Yeah.
SN: They sent them back to Canada.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And then they gave them a choice. They said, ‘Now we will not discharge you.’ For dishonourable —
JM: Dishonourable discharge.
SN: Put this on your conduct thing.
JM: Yeah.
SN: You will have a choice. You can either join the army or the navy and carry on with the war.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
SN: Or we will give you a medical discharge.
JM: Discharge. Yeah.
SN: You have a choice and it always seemed to me that that was very fair. And nobody ever reported and said these people were cowards. They were medically —
JM: Unstable or anything like that.
SN: Or anything like that. So it was one of the good war stories.
JM: Good things. Yeah.
SN: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. Now around in this period of time though in September ‘43 you discovered by accident shall we say in as much you and your good friend Drew were in London on, I presume on one of your periods of leave.
SN: Yes. I’d forgotten him but he was, yes.
JM: Yeah. And that he was sitting reading the newspaper and reading the latest list of honours and said that, informed you that you had been awarded the —
SN: Yes. That’s right.
JM: And the, I haven’t got the exact words of the citation in front of me but it was in terms of a, in recognition of a number of —
SN: Yeah.
JM: Ops.
SN: I remember I said something like, he said, ‘Read this,’ and I said something like, ‘Yeah. They’re going to knight me tomorrow,’ or something. And he said, ‘No. You silly bastard,’ he said, ‘It’s you.’
JM: It’s you. That’s right. But did you was it just simply for a sequence of raids or did you actually get told something?
SN: It was a sequence I think.
JM: Yeah. But did you, can you recall.
SN: The citation.
JM: The sequence that they were actually referring to in terms of particular difficulties on those particular raids or —
SN: No. It was a general citation it seems to me. As I remember it.
JM: Right. So were other members of the crew awarded DFMs?
SN: No. Nobody.
JM: So how did they seem?
SN: Only me.
JM: Do you know why they singled you.
SN: I think it was the aircraft that I shot down.
JM: So, going back to —when? So —
SN: Yes. it went back to —
JM: So, it goes back to the March.
SN: Went back to March.
JM: March. When you shot down the Messerschmitt.
SN: That’s right.
JM: In Stuttgart.
SN: That’s right. I think so, yes. I think that was what it was about because I was the only one.
JM: Yeah. Ok. So, so you didn’t get any further clarification in terms of the citation or anything like that. The commanding officers.
SN: There is a citation. Yes. And the citation [pause] I had or I probably have somewhere here but God knows where I would find it.
JM: Yes.
SN: Yeah.
JM: Right. And then you lined up and received your award from King George.
SN: Yes. I went to Buckingham Palace and lined up with a lot of other people.
JM: And did he have any words to you do you recall? Or did he just walk along and just pin and kept walking.
SN: No. He was on a little dais in the palace and you went up one by one, up just a little, maybe that high or something and the king was slightly higher.
JM: He was slightly elevated by about eighteen inches.
SN: Yes.
JM: Or something like that.
SN: He was there.
JM: Yeah.
SN: With a sort of a lectern or table that had the awards.
JM: Yeah.
SN: That were being passed to him by someone.
JM: An assistant on the side.
SN: Yes. And you were — before you went up they put a little tin thing or something on your tunic.
JM: Yes. On your tunic, yeah, so they had —
SN: And you went up. He shook hands with you.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And said something like I suppose, ‘Well done,’ or something like that and hung these on the thing.
JM: Thing. Yeah.
SN: And then you went.
JM: Yeah.
SN: It wasn’t, you know, he was there were maybe, I don’t how many. Let’s say there were a hundred or something.
JM: Yeah.
SN: There were a lot of them anyway.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
SN: And that was it, you know. He wouldn’t have had enough time to have said —
JM: Too much to each one. No.
SN: To anyone really because it was a line.
JM: A line yeah.
SN: That went through.
JM: Yeah.
SN: It was a job he had to do. Yeah. That was it.
JM: So then did you have an afternoon tea afterwards and did you talk with any of the other recipients?
SN: No. That was it. That was it. No.
JM: You just received it and you were out the door.
SN: You were told to appear at the palace. You had an order written on the thing. At such and such a time. And you came and they said, ‘Yes, that’s you. Here it is. You go in there. You go there. Get in the queue.’
JM: Almost a sausage line.
SN: Yeah [laughs]
JM: Right. Ok. So so, at this stage we’re getting you’ve been doing the various ops etcetera so you’re building up the number of ops you’re doing. We get towards the end.
SN: Yes.
JM: Did you know you were getting — because by this time, where are we up to? About, January ’44 so this is getting to —
SN: We’re in October I guess.
JM: Yeah. October ’44.
SN: Yes.
JM: Yes.
SN: And at that stage we [pause] our pilot and all except two of us in the crew.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Ricky and myself —
JM: Yeah.
SN: Had completed the magic number.
JM: Number.
SN: Which was forty five.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And so, they [pause] they had done their —
JM: Completed their —
SN: Completed their second tour.
JM: Tour.
SN: And there were the two of us who had not.
JM: So that was you and Ricky.
SN: Ricky. And Ricky went. Ricky decided that he had had enough and he didn’t really want to fly with a sprog pilot or somebody else. So, he said, ‘I really don’t care whether I have that Pathfinder badge or not. I’d rather be alive.’
JM: Yeah.
SN: So, I stayed on to finish and I had three to finish.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And it took a while. November until I crashed because you had to find a crew that was short.
JM: Short.
SN: Of a rear gunner.
JM: Rear gunner. Yeah.
SN: To go with.
JM: Yeah.
SN: So, I went with well they wanted to put, yes, they put you on this crew. Their man had [pause] I’ve forgotten — he’d fallen ill, I think. Whatever he had he wasn’t going to be able to fly again. So, I had, this fella, his name was McLennan. Canadian. So, I became their rear gunner.
JM: Gunner.
SN: For these three trips. And because I had been waiting around the weather was duff.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And we went to Berlin three times.
JM: Right.
SN: And in the end, you’ve seen there. So, and they were three bad flights because I guess they were I guess a sprog crew to some degree. We got shot up very badly and we got lost. And then the last flight we got shot up. The second last flight we were shot up pretty badly. And we were quite lucky. It burnt up the wireless operator’s notes and the navigator’s maps. The whole thing. [unclear] and it was pretty well peppered. So, then the last flight —
JM: So, did you use the same plane? Or did you — or the ground crew repaired it enough. Or did you use a different plane for that? For then? This last flight?
SN: They repaired it.
JM: They repaired it.
SN: They repaired it. I’m sure about that but I should say I don’t know.
JM: Right. Ok. Yeah.
SN: That would be a better answer.
JM: Yeah. Yeah.
SN: And then the last flight we, the last flight I made which was the forty fifth for me. I was — that would finish me off and it very nearly did.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And we got, we got shot up again as we came off the target.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And it was the night before, we were attacked by a fighter. The last night. I’ve forgotten if we were or not. Certainly, we were the second, it was an ME110 that very nearly got us. And we were lost. And the Met people had made a mistake in that they believed that a front was going to come in. They knew this but they believed that there would be ample time for people to get back from Berlin before this front came in. It was a heavy front. Well, they were wrong. And the front came in earlier and aircraft at that time when you’re doing blind landings come down in concentric circles.
JM: Yeah.
SN: It’s like —
JM: So, you stacked up.
SN: A for apple and B for Bertie.
JM: Yeah.
SN: X for X-ray and they’re in a line you see.
JM: In a line. Yeah.
SN: And they come down and you have a different altitude so they don’t get.
JM: Running into each other. Theoretically. Yes.
SN: Yes. And they bring them down.
JM: Down. Yeah.
SN: The operator.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Brings them down.
JM: Down. Yeah.
SN: And the last circle, and when they do this they find the marker that makes the, what is it called [pause] when you have a blind landing you’re looking at your instruments. I’ve forgotten the name. It’s in there anyway. You have to pick up this bar and come in.
SN: Yeah.
JM: And if you miss that you’ve got to go around ‘til you get it again because you’re coming down.
SN: Down.
JM: They’re bringing you down on that bar. They have given you your altitude that you should be at.
SN: Yeah.
JM: They’re following you down.
SN: The pilot is just blind flying into this. So, we had been up. We were lost. We were late and we’d been up a long time and they were bringing us in and the pilot missed the bar and we had to go around again. And by this time, we were out of fuel and he knows we’re very nearly out of fuel and I know that we’re in trouble because I can see the treetops going by the turret.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And I did the luckiest thing I ever did in my life. There was a belt about that wide.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Webbing.
JM: Webbing belt. Yeah.
SN: With buckles on it.
JM: Strapped you in.
SN: And it was on either side and I put that on.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Locked it there and that saved me.
JM: That saved you. That’s what saved you. Yeah.
JM: Yeah. So, you came and so having seen the treetops. It wasn’t too long after that that before —
SN: It was just minutes after that. Yeah. And the aircraft broke off, you see. The tail broke off.
SN: Broke off.
JM: Yeah. So, you were saved but the rest were not.
SN: That’s right. Well, the pilot came through but in a very bad state. And I found him. And I think I say there, things were blowing up. We had failsafe stuff. And it was burning. And I was not in a very good shape at the time. It had knocked me out. I was bleeding.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And in a stupor I think.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And he, he was lying with this stuff popping off and I thought I should move him back a little and I took him by the legs and his legs started to come off and the bone appeared. I couldn’t do that. And I got — we had a little packet of stuff and I don’t know whether I shot him with a hypo. Certainly, I had, when they found me I had the packet but what I did with it I have no idea. In any event when they came back they found me wandering around with this packet. This kid found me who became a friend of mine. And they brought the ambulance out it was thick heavy fog, and packed I and McLennan in and he, he was not conscious through this, through all this, I don’t think. Maybe he was but he didn’t seem to be.
JM: Seem to be.
SN: To me. And he and I went in together and it seemed to me that I wasn’t sure whether, I think he, I think he recognised me as we went in. And then I was in this hospital in Ely maybe a week or ten days. I’ve forgotten. And I asked, when I came too the following day, for McLennan. He was a nice fellow. And he said he died when he got there. So, I was the only one who survived.
JM: Yes, and so do you regret having made the decision to have, to complete those other three ops? Do you feel you would have was there what was the motivation in the first place to do, to do the three? Was it simply that you wanted to have the completed tour or what?
SN: It’s, I signed on for to do the tours.
JM: To do the tours. Yeah.
SN: And I wanted it done. Yes.
JM: You wanted to do it.
SN: It was something I wanted to do.
JM: Do. Yeah. So —
SN: And Ricky, whom I met again after the war, who my particular chum he always regretted that he didn’t.
JM: Right. Yeah. There you go. So people who, despite the fact that it was very very difficult for you for those last three. One thing just very briefly. Did, in Pathfinder, did Gransden Lodge, did any of the various squadrons intermingle at any time or did you stay very much within your own squadron?
SN: Completely within our own squadron.
JM: Within your own squadron. Because, I mean Australian, you know, there were various other, you know like —
SN: Yes, we had all sort of people. Australians, British.
JM: Yeah, yeah, but there was a 156 Squadron at Gransden Lodge too, I think, from knowledge but there was never any intermingling or anything like that.
SN: No. De were the only ones.
JM: You were the only ones.
SN: During my time.
JM: Your time, yeah. Right. Ok. Yeah.
SN: And we didn’t. Yes. No. We didn’t. I didn’t know anybody from any other squadron.
JM: Right. No. Right.
SN: You know the top squadron chief, they would have gone to group headquarters.
JM: Headquarters.
SN: And they knew —
JM: What was going on.
SN: Other people from the other squadrons.
JM: Yeah. Squadrons yeah.
SN: But not at my level.
JM: No.
SN: We never saw anybody.
JM: No. Right. And did — so you were in hospital and then I presume you went on leave and went perhaps to rehab. Like a rehabilitation.
SN: No. I went. I got out of hospital and went back to the squadron.
JM: Yeah.
SN: That was in January.
JM: January ’45.
SN: Yes. And I got back to the squadron on Christmas Eve. I think it was.
JM: Oh. Ok. So that was Christmas Eve ’44.
SN: ’43. ’43.
JM: ‘44 wouldn’t it be?
SN: No. ‘43.
JM: Ok.
SN: In January of ‘44 I was posted.
JM: Yes.
SN: From the squadron.
JM: Yeah.
SN: To a RAF gunnery school for gunnery instruction instructor’s course.
JM: Yeah. Ok. That was in January ‘44. Yeah. Ok. And so how long were you there for?
SN: I would think it would be about a month but it might have been six weeks.
JM: Right.
SN: The only thing I can remember about it is that it was a RAF school at a place called Manby. And they spent all their Sunday, or most of their Sunday on the parade square where they were inspection after inspection and I was by that time commissioned. I noticed that they had a most extraordinary [pause] before they started this buggering about.
JM: Yeah.
SN: They called out, ‘Fall out the Jews and infidels.’ [laughs]
JM: Right.
SN: It’s true.
JM: Right.
SN: It’s true. And thereupon the head of the WAAFs who was shaped rather like a large trout and had a moustache bigger than me and was obviously Jewish and she would fall out and the other one who fell out was an Indian. Indian Indian. A little squadron leader of some sort and he, I guess, was a Hindu or — I don’t know what it was. But I thought this is not a bad lark so the next Sunday I fell out with them. And no one —
JM: Queried it.
SN: No one ever queried me. I think they simply assumed well he’s Jewish.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And well that was the end and I had my Sunday.
JM: Well there you go. That was a way to get a Sunday off wasn’t it? And so, what happened after? Did you complete this course? Or —
SN: Yes.
JM: Yes. And what happened after that?
SN: Then I went back to 6 Group which was the Canadian group.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Up in Yorkshire and I instructed. I guess till the end of the year. Something like that. I’ve forgotten how long it was and then I was posted back to Canada.
JM: Right.
SN: To — they had a huge base near Vancouver.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Which was for [pause] for the Far Eastern campaign. Well the Far Eastern campaign was cut short at Hiroshima.
JM: That’s right. Yeah.
SN: So, nobody went anywhere.
JM: Anywhere.
SN: But there were about five thousand of us there and we were all given Joe jobs of one sort or another to keep us occupied. And that was for I guess for six months in ‘44. And then in August I was discharged.
JM: So that was August.
SN: 1945.
JM: ‘45 yeah.
SN: That’s ’45. Yes.
JM: ’45. Discharged. Yeah and —
SN: The only thing that I did during those six months, you know — there were really so many of us was I went over to Victoria to sell Victory Bonds for a month and this was rather fun. The people who were selling the bonds who were business men in the city I guess and were not the always the same people. And they would pick me up and we would go to factories, plants, offices and they would make a little spiel and I would get up and talk for, you know, maybe a minute or two and then we’d go on to another place.
JM: I see. Well that was different.
SN: Yes. That was the only thing I did when I was there.
JM: And this was when you were in.
SN: In this place. At Boundary Bay it was called.
JM: Near Vancouver.
SN: Yes. It was so bad that in the end the last job I had was to teach people who — no —I did do some work out there. I flew in Libs. They had Liberators.
JM: Liberators. Yeah.
SN: On instructing for three months which was alright. We had something to do. But then this last thing I was teaching [pause] what was it called? When an aircraft is is [pause] has to ditch. Ditching procedure.
JM: Ditching procedure. Yeah.
SN: And I had a sergeant and I had three other fellows and I had to give, I thought I was rather badly used and I had to give — I think I had to work two days a week. That was all I did.
JM: Did.
SN: But —
JM: Put a crew through this ditching procedure training. Goodness me.
SN: And there was hundreds of — well I don’t know how many.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Who were doing [laughs]
JM: Same thing.
SN: The same thing but there we were.
JM: And when you are discharged in August ‘45 presumably you then head back to the farm. To the family.
SN: Yes. I went back to the family and I went down and got myself discharged.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And in September, 1st of September I guess, I went to university.
JM: Right. And there you did, what?
SN: I did General Arts. And I was there for five years.
JM: Five years. Right. And?
SN: I got an MA.
JM: An MA right.
SN: In History and English Literature.
JM: Yeah. And where and then what? What —
SN: Well I then found [pause] I met a remarkable man who — I really started out to take law and I should have done that. That made sense. It was a profession. But he was an historian. Brilliant man. World scholar. Wonderfully — looked like Charles Laughton.
JM: Sorry?
SN: He looked like Charles Laughton.
JM: Right. Ok. And what was —
SN: A wonderful voice.
JM: And what was this chap’s name.
SN: He was a history prof. His name was Charles Lightbody.
JM: Right.
SN: And I was quite fascinated by him and he became a friend of mine and I thought well I would do that and so I —
JM: You’d become a historian.
SN: I ended up with an MA and I realised that there really wasn’t anything I could do but teach and I wasn’t — I didn’t think there was really be much of a teacher. So, I, in the meantime had written. There were three examinations which you had to pass for Foreign Affairs. One was a four hour written hour written exam. Or was it six. I think it was six. It was a half day anyway and then you had to go for an oral examination with people. And then you had a third thing. I’ve forgotten what it was and then you, if you were lucky this was across the country and if you made it you were, you got the appointment. They took you in to the Foreign Service. Well I had written this, I guess, in the spring. I heard nothing from them. So, I had to think what I could do. So I applied for some scholarships and got a fellowship which was a scholarship down in New Orleans at Tulane University. So, I went down there. By this time, I was married but I went down by myself to see. And I was only there for a month, six weeks, something, when my appointment came through. But I was there long enough to realise that this was really not my —
JM: Cup of tea.
SN: Cup of tea. I was put, this was for a PhD and I was put to my chore — you had to teach part of the time was the Tulane football team. And Jesus. They [laughs] recruited these people from the villages and towns not because of their academic.
JM: Their academic ability.
SN: Oh no. That was not [laughs]
JM: They were recruited for their football ability.
SN: And I’m teaching European history to these fellas and they’re going [yawn] so —
JM: So, you were very pleased to have your posting come through.
SN: I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t hesitate a minute.
JM: You didn’t hesitate. You grabbed it with both hands and —
SN: That’s right.
JM: So then —
SN: Happily, ever after.
JM: And when did you actually start your posting. So, I presume you had to do some sort of orientation period but when did you officially start with the — so what is this called? The Canadian Diplomatic Corps is it. Or what was its proper title?
SN: Canadian Foreign Service.
JM: Canadian Foreign Service. Yeah.
SN: Really from the 1st of January.
JM: 1st of January ‘46 would it have been.
SN: No, it was after that.
JM: What are we up to?
SN: It was after Christmas. It was December. I think it was December 27th. Something like that.
JM: So, December 27th.
SN: It had to be that year.
JM: Yeah. So, when would this be. About ‘51.
SN: In Ottawa.
JM: Would it be ‘51? December ‘51 or ’50.
SN: It would be December 1950.
JM: 1950. right. Yeah. So, December 27 1950 and it was, did you say, Ottawa.
SN: Yes.
JM: Ottawa. And so that was where you’re —
SN: So, I spent thirty odd years.
JM: So was that a training — your initial training at Ottawa or that was your actual first posting as —what?
SN: It was a training.
JM: Training. Yeah.
SN: It was before the first posting.
JM: Posting. Yeah. And then where was your first posting?
SN: It was really in Latin America and Bogota but before that someone fell ill in Tokyo. And they needed to send someone out to —
JM: To Tokyo.
SN: This guy didn’t come or I’ve forgotten what it was. In any event they needed somebody and the Korean war was on. So, they were able to send somebody out with military you see.
JM: Right.
SN: They didn’t have to go through the procedure of sending them by sea.
JM: Right.
SN: Across the thing. It was a time factor. So, I flew over and I was there for six months.
JM: To — to —
SN: Tokyo.
JM: Tokyo.
SN: Yes. Things happened and I was kept on.
JM: Yeah. So that became your first —
SN: I suppose that it was my your posting.
JM: Even though, yeah, yeah.
SN: But it was a temporary assignment.
JM: Assignment. Yeah. Yeah. So then did you come back to Latin America after that?
SN: I came back to Ottawa. And then by that time they had posted me.
JM: Yeah.
SN: To Bogota.
JM: Bogota. Right.
SN: And I was, you know, in Ottawa for a couple months.
JM: While they sorted the paperwork out, I guess.
SN: Yeah.
JM: Yeah. So, Bogota and then and then you say thirty years moving around.
SN: Yes.
JM: Various embassies moving around the world.
SN: Yes. That’s right. Yeah.
JM: Presumably changing roles. Moving up into a higher role most of the time. So, what was your —
SN: Yes.
JM: So were you a —
SN: I went through the usual steps of third secretary. Second secretary. First secretary.
JM: Secretary.
SN: Counsellor. Minister.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And ambassador.
JM: Yeah.
SN: So, it was, I guess, about thirty three years. Something like this.
JM: Yeah. And where were you ambassador?
SN: I was [pause] I resigned or — I didn’t resign, I finished as ambassador to Ecuador.
JM: Right. And did you have any other ambassadorial post prior to Ecuador?
SN: I had another Head of Mission is what we called it.
JM: Right.
SN: I had a Head of Mission post before that. I was Canadian Commissioner in Cambodia.
JM: Right.
SN: Which is where I met Shirley.
JM: Right.
SN: And of course, that was an unfortunate thing in the sense of career in that divorce at that time was frowned on and I was unemployable because my then wife had to agree if I were to be posted and of course that was the last thing she was likely to do. And it was a long dragged out affair and very difficult for Shirley. However, we had this time in — well I went to National Defence College which was our half civilian and half military. I went as our departmental candidate. It was a year’s course for top executives so that was good. And then I went. I was farmed out from the department. I did a couple of years in the planning department of National Defence.
JM: Right.
SN: As their foreign affairs rep or advisor. Whatever you’d call it. And then I did two and a half years I think. A very strange business which was because one of my foreign affairs friends was the deputy and he brought me in and I headed up a research planning division in Indian Affairs.
JM: So what sort of, so this is the —
SN: This is when I had time out for divorce [laughs]
JM: So, yeah, yeah. Yeah. So, ok. And that would have been a very interesting exercise as well.
SN: Yes, it was. I learned a great many things.
JM: Yes. I can imagine. Gosh. And then presumably the divorce finally got sorted and you were able to be reappointed as an ambassador then.
SN: The day, the day after, no. I didn’t. The day after our wedding we were posted to Washington.
JM: Washington. Right.
SN: And it was that quick.
JM: That quick. So, when was that. When were you married. What was your —
SN: It was September.
JM: September of —?
SN: Of [pause] We were at Washington for four years. 1978. 1974.
JM: 1974.
SN: We were married.
JM: Yeah.
SN: In September. And the following day —
JM: You were off to Washington.
SN: Off to Washington. And Shirley’s sister was there and my brother in law.
JM: And what was your role in Washington? You were attached to the embassy as what?
SN: As a counsellor.
JM: A counsellor. Right. Yeah. Ok. Yes. Oh well and so —
SN: You there you have —
JM: Yeah. And how do you feel that your air force experiences informed your diplomatic, the way you handled your diplomatic career in any way or or you never really thought about your air force time once you were in as a diplomat. I mean, recognising the fact you had many many roles as a diplomat that you, you know.
SN: Well I think it was useful to me in the sense that the things that I was doing. For instance when I was at national defence. When I was at National Defence College.
JM: Yeah.
SN: For a year and that’s, you know, we lived, at that time there there were only thirty two people and you eat, drink with those people every day for a year and it was useful to me, half of them were military.
JM: Right.
SN: To have —
JM: To have had that close quarter that — A — that background and, B — that close quarter living as you had had to have as part of war service.
SN: Yes. And when I was at plans it was useful because I knew people again. I was accepted. So when I was in Washington I did the political military thing for four years you see so I was always in close touch. So yes, it was useful.
JM: It was useful.
SN: Yeah.
JM: Yes. Well you have had, certainly had an incredibly varied life and when you look back to the fact you started off as a farm lad, for want of a better word of describing it.
SN: Farm kid.
JM: Which is not to put down people who run, who own and feed the nation from their farms but it’s just very different life and lifestyle to — and then, and I guess, as part of that you became a bit of a rebellious child and that rebelliousness came out in some of your early years. In your early air force training and ultimately it clicked and you changed tack and you became — you decided to accept.
SN: Go with the stream. Yes.
JM: Go with the stream and accept the discipline which was probably when you started doing well in your gunnery courses.
SN: Yes.
JM: And that’s when you felt you had a role to play and that was a turning point potentially there. And then as we say you just ultimately going through to then find a totally different course of life and become part of the Canadian Foreign Service for such an extensive thirty three years. That’s an incredibly long time. And were you, have you ever been given any recognition for that length of service from the Canadian Foreign Service.
SN: Oh yes. Yes. Yes.
JM: In what format?
SN: I have no misgivings. I — I’ve been well treated. I have no, it would have been nice to have gotten a little higher up the tree but that was the way it played out.
JM: Was there a system of formal recognition? Awards or anything. Were you given any awards at any time or —?
SN: No. We didn’t have any. We all have a medal or I assume we do. That we get for having served.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And you get a letter from the minister. The PM saying thank you.
JM: Thank you.
SN: And that’s it.
JM: Yeah.
SN: Now, unlike, and this has always been a grievance with, I think some people in the Commonwealth Foreign Services — the Americans, if you become an ambassador you take the title with you.
JM: Yeah. Like a —
SN: You were called that.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And the British usually knight their Heads of Mission and they can carry the title.
JM: Yeah.
SN: And Canadians, Australians or New Zealanders do not.
JM: Not.
SN: Yeah. So that bothered some people and of course it didn’t, it doesn’t bother most people because as long, so long as everyone else suffers with you [laughs]
JM: You’re not on your own in that circumstance.
SN: No. No.
JM: No.
SN: No.
JM: Well I think that you’ve been exceedingly generous with your time and we’ve covered a huge amount of ground there. Simply amazing set of experiences and I just thank you for it Clair. It’s just been really really wonderful and the fact that we’ve got this record now as part to help contribute to the knowledge base about Bomber Command personnel is so important. So, thank you very much for that.
SN: Alright. Well thank you. It’s taken a fair amount of your time.



Jean Macartney, “Interview with Sinclair Nutting,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 18, 2024,

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