Interview with Alan Payne


Interview with Alan Payne


Alan Payne was born in Wendover, Buckinghamshire. He volunteered for aircrew with the Royal Air Force and after initial training was sent to South Africa where he trained as an observer. When he returned to the UK, he was allocated the role of bomb aimer and after joining a crew he was posted to 630 Squadron at RAF East Kirkby. His first operation was to Berlin. He describes the operation to Mailly-le-Camp as one of his worst experiences with Bomber Command. Returning from an operation on Nuremberg his aircraft was attacked by an Me 109 and on their last operation mine laying off Kiel they were attacked by a Ju 88. After his tour Alan became an instructor before being posted to Palestine. When he was demobbed he undertook training at Oxford University to become an architect.




Temporal Coverage




01:21:03 audio recording

Conforms To


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CB: Right. My name is Chris Brockbank and I’m conducting an interview with Alan Payne in Wendover, Buckinghamshire along with his grandson, Aaron Payne. And we’re going to talk about his life and keep the tape running until we need to have a break. So, Alan could I ask you to talk about your life from the earliest days please and then your childhood and how you came to join the RAF and then your experiences. And then after the RAF what you did. So over to you —
AP: Well, I was born here in Wendover. My father was a coal merchant. He had his own business. He even had, he even had his own coal trucks. Coal trucks. And I attended a local junior school until I passed to go to the Wycombe Technical Institute where I did technical studies. I had quite a happy childhood. I had one brother who unfortunately now has dementia. He’s younger than me but he does suffer with dementia. But then as I say, I had a childhood in Wendover. Local school. Then went to High Wycombe Technical College. The war was on then. I didn’t want to join the army or the navy so I volunteered for the Royal Air Force. I was seventeen when I volunteered. So, volunteering for the air force meant I was safe from being recruited in to the army which I did not want. And I had about a year to wait until I was called up and I got notice to report to Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. That was the recruiting place. Lord’s Cricket Ground. Just basic stuff there. Lots of inoculations. We were put up at Abbey Wood and then from there we were sent out to Torquay first of all for basic training. Drill. Law. This type of thing. Then from there I went to Brighton for a time. There again it was basic training. They were, they housed us in the hotels along the front. One thing I do remember about that time was Richard Tauber who was appearing in the, in The Pier Concert Hall and I saw him and thought what a wonderful chap he was. He was an Austrian Jew of course and he got out of Germany before the trouble started. But that’s one thing I do remember about that time there. This is all basic stuff.
CB: So, after Brighton what did you do?
AP: After Brighton.
CB: What did you do in Brighton?
AP: Well, after Brighton — I did mention Torquay didn’t I?
CB: Yes.
AP: And then Brighton. Then from Brighton we were sent, we were sent out to South Africa. I was quite lucky really because I was sent to train with the South African Air Force and we were — we had to transport up to Liverpool. Got on a boat called the Volendam. A Dutch boat. The Volendam. And we departed for South Africa in convoy and that journey took, I think, four or five weeks. We stopped at Freetown on the way to refuel and then into Durban. And from — Durban was just a holding centre. And then from Durban we were posted to East London. East London. Where we started our training in flying and I hadn’t really flown before then. But we started flying then on Avro Ansons and that was basic navigation. And at Queenstown — that was navigation and then, and then from there we were posted to the gunnery school where we did bomb aiming and air gunnery. Pause it just a minute Chris while I just make reference?
CB: Ok. So, your logbook will remind you.
AP: Port Alfred.
CB: Yeah.
AP: It was Port Alfred where we went to for gunnery.
CB: Ok.
AP: A very nice little seaside town not far from Queenstown. Went to Port Alfred. There we were on Airspeed Oxfords. And then whilst there for [pause] to get us used to the night time flying we were sent to a little place called Aliwal North. And the runways there were lit by flares. So there was no lighting there. Just these flares that we had to land on but that gave us our basic training for night flying. And it was at Port Alfred that we passed out and had a, we had a passing out parade in Queenstown. We had a very good do there and I do have the, a copy of the menu.
So, having, having finished our training we, we were sent down to Cape Town and we sailed back from Cape Town in the old Queen Mary with no escort at all because she relied on speed to get us through. I think she did about thirty three, thirty five knots. So we sailed back in good time and on the way back too we were taking a whole load of Italian prisoners of war and we escorted them back to — Liverpool that we went in to. And then to finish our training I was posted to Dumfries in Scotland where we did basic training. Bombing, map reading, this type of thing. And from Dumfries we were sent to a holding station at Harrogate. And I always remember the CO there was Leslie Ames, the old Kent cricketer. He was the CO at this hotel. Had a very cushy job really, in the war, didn’t he? But we were there for a few weeks and then we were posted to Turweston — an Operational Training Unit where we were on Wellington bombers. And it was at Turweston and this, and this other station, Silverstone that we were crewed up. And it was rather strange — we were all let loose in a big hangar and we had to sort of had to find our pilot and navigator, bomb aimer, wireless operator. We just got together and sorted ourselves out. That was the way it went in those days. I was lucky because my pilot, Geoff Probert, was an ex-guardsman. We called him grandfather because he was, he was thirty odd. He’d volunteered as a pilot and we were all in our early twenties so he looked after us really. And he was a jolly good captain. Anyway, we did our OTU training and we were all, we were all crewed up and ready to go and at Silverstone we also did some cross-country stuff. And then the next move was to Winthorpe. A Conversion Unit. And we converted then to Lancasters and that’s when the training really started. And I was there in October, November ‘43. And then at the end of November we were posted to East Kirkby. That was, that was the operational station. We were posted to 630 Squadron which was a wing of 57 Squadron. I always remember that part of my service well really because it was just like a builder’s site. There was mud everywhere. There was just basic, basic accommodation in Nissen huts. A central stove. Everything was running with condensation. The clothes were damp. Everything was damp. And it was a very cold winter then. In fact, we did our first op on the 2nd of December to Berlin. And everything was centred on getting the aircraft operational. The fact of our comfort didn’t really enter into things but we managed and, but as I say it was pretty rough at that time. There was no basic comforts. There was no basic comforts at all and the weather was so cold too. We started off with six trips to Berlin and the weather was so bad we hardly saw the target at all. We were bombing on Wanganui flares through cloud cover. During that time, we did Berlin, Stettin, Brunswick, Berlin, Magdeburg. As I say, six Berlin trips. But, at the same time although the weather was bad we did find time to get out to the Red Lion at Revesby which was our local pub. And we had a bit of relief there.
The worst trip I had really was the one to Nuremberg. That was at the end of March. It was March 30th. We were attacked then by an ME109 but luckily, he missed us but he did fly pretty close. But we were lucky really. As I said we had some near squeaks. And one of the things that did, that I always found amazing was the fact that you’d be flying along in the dark and all of a sudden you got over the target and there were planes everywhere. And we had two, we had two narrow go’s where we nearly collided with another Lancaster. But as I say we were very lucky in many respects. Another op we did was the one to Mailly-le-Camp. That was, that was a military camp and that was a bit, that was being marked by Group Captain Cheshire. And everything went wrong that night. Everything was late. We had to circle and circle until we could get in to bomb on the flares that had been set by Cheshire. And then following on then, on the run up to D-Day we were more or less doing trips on marshalling yards, bridges, anything that would hamper the movement of the Germans. When D-Day approached [pause] when we finished our tour, just before D-Day in fact, although our last trip, the end of March 1944 was mine laying in Kiel Bay. And there we were hit by a — attacked and hit by a JU88. We caught fire but luckily the fire, for some good reason went out. We were jolly lucky then. But as I say we’d done twenty nine trips then and the CO came to us. He said, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘You’ve had it now. You can finish.’ But on the social side there I did know a young WAAF girl called Pat who more or less adopted the crew. No. We adopted her. And she took a liking to me and we spent a lot of time together. I’ve got a little picture of her here. We used to go cycling together and went to the pub at Revesby. I got very fond of Pat but of course when it came to [unclear] to go to see her. I don’t know whether he has or not. As I say by the end, by the time we’d finished, the end of May, the weather was, the weather was better but it had been a pretty dreadful winter. Anyway, at the end of our tour we all broke up and we all went our different ways. First of all, I went out to Moreton Valence where we were doing instructing and doing compass swings and basic stuff. And from there to Llandwrog in North Wales. And then I was quite lucky then because we were sort of messing about doing not much in particular and then a posting came through. They wanted, they wanted a navigator to go out to Palestine. So, I was, in the first instance I was sent out to Saltby, a Conversion Unit. And then to Matching and I crewed-up then with a guy called Flying Officer Nichols. And we were, as I say on Halifaxes which was a better aircraft for transport work than the Lancaster. The Lanc had a very narrow fuselage whereas with a Halifax you could get two lines of chaps down either side of the aircraft. And we did container dropping, glider towing. Anything which would help the 6th Airborne. We were attached to the 6th Airborne Division then and we went out with them to Palestine which, in 1946, wasn’t very healthy really. Because the Irgum Zvai Leumi were — and Begin, they weren’t very happy with us then. They blew up the King David Hotel. They shot two of our sergeants in [unclear]. You may remember that. We always had to look at, mind our backs because the — at that time, I shouldn’t say this but the Jewish weren’t very friendly towards us. And we used to go out to, they used to, they were bringing their migrants in by boat and part of our duty was to fly over the Med to report boats coming in. At the same time we did exercises down to Bagdad with the Airborne division. We did quite a bit of flying up through, up through Italy and we helped then to bring some of the migrants back to Palestine. It was quite an interesting time really although we had to watch what we were doing. But as I say we used to fly to Bagdad.
CB: What were you doing when you flew to Bagdad? What was the main reason for that?
AP: It was an exercise for the 6th Airborne Division.
CB: So, you were moving troops.
AP: It was a very good camp at Bagdad actually. They had a, they had a very nice camp outside and we went there two or three times. There were lakes there and the flying boats used to come in there, you know. I quite enjoyed the time out there in a way had it not been for the fact that we were liable to be sort of potted at. We also went down to Khartoum which was one of the hottest places I’ve ever known. In fact, it was so hot there that we couldn’t run the engines up. We had to be towed to the end of the runway, start the engines and take off so they did not overheat, you see. That again was an exercise with the Airborne division and they would do, they would do parachute drops. That type of thing.
AP: We did quite a few trips up too, from Aqir airbase in Palestine. We did quite a few trips up to Udine. Udine. By stopping at Malta to refuel and then flying up to the coast of Italy in to Udine. And there again, it was a case of exercising with the 6th Airborne Division.
CB: So, you weren’t doing any doing bombing. You were —
AP: Oh no. No bombing at all. No. It was all —
CB: Not even practice. It was moving people.
AP: Moving people about. Troops. Migrants. And then, come the end of August it was time for me to be demobbed and that’s the only time I’ve flown in a Dakota. I was flown down to Cairo with some other guys. Then we were flown back by Dakota to London via Malta into Heathrow. And Heathrow then, of course, was just a series of huts. There was nothing like there is today. But that’s the only time I’ve flown in a Dakota. Although, a few weeks ago, when I was up at East Kirkby I sat down at a bench with a colleague of mine. Got chatting. And the guy I spoke to owned the Dakota at East Kirkby. Maybe you know him. Do you know him?
CB: I don’t. No.
AP: Well, anyway, he happened to be there and it was his aircraft and we chatted away and he’s very fond of the Dakota. But that more or less tied up my time in, with the Royal Air Force and I didn’t know quite what to do for a time. But I had always wanted to go into building so I applied to become an architect and I was lucky enough to be accepted at the School of Architecture at Oxford. I had to wait a few months before there was a vacancy and our course at that time only consisted of thirty people. There were two girls and the rest of us were men and half of them were ex-service people. In fact Oxford in those days was full of ex-servicemen and we had to compete with the youngsters. But after five years I passed. That must have been in [pause] ’46 ’47 I went to Oxford. It must have been the early ‘50s. And in those days jobs were hard to find and luckily I had some contact in North Wales and I was found a position there to start my architectural career. And from there things just moved on. Do you want — is that?
CB: Married?
AP: Pardon?
CB: When you got married.
AP: Oh yeah. Well, back in, back at the end of the war.
CB: Ok.
AP: Sorry. I left that out.
CB: How did you come to meet your wife?
AP: Oh, at the ‘drome in Llandwrog in North Wales.
CB: That was an OTU was it? Training place.
AP: Yeah. It wasn’t an OTU. No. It was a training place. Actually, I was there on — it would be — not D-Day. VE day. VE day in Caernarfon and the whole town turned out. Do you know Caernarfon? Very nice little town.
CB: Yeah.
AP: We went into Carnarvon and I’d met Gwen then and we went out together and celebrated around the castle.
CB: Yeah.
AP: And that was before, before I went to Oxford of course.
CB: So were you able to earn money while you were at Oxford?
AP: Well, I’ll say one thing for the Labour government then they paid for our fees and gave us a living allowance. So that was one, that was one credit that we had, we had to bear. Not bear. To put up with.
CB: And Gwen was working as well.
AP: She was. Yes. Yes, she was working for a time. Then the children came along and that was it.
CB: Yeah.
AP: Housewives didn’t work in those days did they?
CB: They didn’t.
AP: They stayed home and stayed put.
CB: No. No. Going back to your early days. How were you actually selected first of all? How were you selected for aircrew because you might have done a ground job? So at what point —
AP: Well I remember going to Oxford. There was a recruiting centre there and I’d put down for, I’d passed as pilot, navigator, bomb aimer.
CB: Yeah.
AP: That was the categories. I passed for that and I had a medical at the same time there. That was in Oxford back in, when I was only seventeen. And then they selected you for aircrew training. Everybody wanted to be a pilot of course but it was a matter of luck when you, when the time came. If they wanted navigators you were a navigator. You know. Or pilot. As things turned out it’s just as well I did go as a navigator I suppose.
CB: In what way?
AP: Well, I survived.
CB: Right. Going then on to the training in South Africa. You wore the brevet of an observer. So how was the course structured and how did you have that brevet rather than a navigator brevet?
AP: We were the last course to do the observer. We were the last people to do the observer course. And after that it became NavB and bomb aimers. But we did the whole lot. We did the three. Bomb aiming, navigation, air gunnery. We did the lot. After that the NavB’s just did navigation.
But for that reason, when we got back to the UK the Lancs were coming in. They wanted bomb aimers. And having done the observer course we were, of course, selected to take on that job you see.
CB: But you did navigation. Oh you didn’t.
AP: I didn’t — well I did map reading of course in Bomber Command.
CB: Yeah. Right.
AP: Which was quite important in the run up to D-day because a lot of our targets then were marshalling yards, bridges, that type of thing and we had to do map reading and pin point bombing.
CB: Yeah.
AP: Because we daren’t drop the bombs on the French domestic.
CB: Yeah.
AP: Sites.
CB: Which was the problem with that Cheshire raid. Identifying the military camp which was close to a village.
AP: Mailly-le-Camp. Yeah. That was quite a tricky raid that was. In fact, that picture you’ve seen was done a day or two before or a day or two after.
CB: So, what was, what actually caused the holdup and why were so many planes circling? Waiting.
AP: There was a hold up. I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. We never did find out but everything — we were late getting there. I mean, we got there too early or Cheshire was too — he was in a Mosquito and he went in after we did and marked the target. But it was a very successful raid. Although we did lose quite a few aircraft in collisions. We had to circle around waiting for these markers to go down.
CB: Yeah.
AP: And Nuremberg has been well documented by John Nicholl of course but that was a complete disaster because it was a beautiful moonlight night. A beautiful night and you could see for miles but the winds were, the winds were behind us and we got there far too early.
CB: Right.
AP: I believe Rusty was on that raid, wasn’t he?
CB: He was. Yes.
AP: Well he would tell you that. I suppose.
CB: Yes. So, in terms of bomb aiming you’ve got the markers sent down. What colour were they and how did you respond?
AP: Either red or green.
CB: Right.
AP: Well we were told, we were told by the Pathfinders which to bomb on, you see. I didn’t, I didn’t like that aspect of flying really because you didn’t know quite what you were going to hit. It could be a hospital, a school. You didn’t know. Whereas with the runup to D-day you had specified military targets and you knew that you weren’t affecting the civilian population. Because I wasn’t at all happy with bombing. I didn’t do the Dresden raid thank goodness but wearing my other cap it seemed so unnecessary to me to have bombed Dresden. It was a beautiful city. I have been back since and they’ve rebuilt it and even so it did seem a great shame to do that at that point in time.
CB: So, in the Nuremberg raid did you get any damage to your aircraft?
AP: No. Luckily, we had a very good run but all around us we saw aircraft going down. Ninety six went down that night. As you know.
CB: Yes.
AP: And we were told, you know, that the Germans were using scarecrows just to frighten us. They weren’t scarecrows they were Lancs blowing up. It’s a horrifying sight to see a Lancaster, you know, completely burning out.
CB: Did you know about Schräge Musik then?
AP: Hmm?
CB: Did you know about the German upward firing Schräge Musik?
AP: Oh yes. Yeah.
CB: At that time?
AP: Well, yes. We had H2S you know. H2S. And we were convinced that they were homing in on that. As soon as we got over the coast. Because that used to give us a picture of the ground on the, on the radar screen —
CB: Yes.
AP: But we were, we were convinced that the Germans were homing in on this. It may not have been the case but it was, it was one constant battle between the fighters and us, you know.
CB: Yes.
AP: We had Window as you know which was metallic strips. That used to help. No. In a way we were very lucky and of course having Geoff Probert, a very senior chap, he was thirty two. In fact, we called him grandad because we were all in our early twenties, you know and he used to keep us in order.
CB: He did.
AP: Yes. He was very good like that.
CB: Yes. What about other members of the crew? What were they like? So, navigator. Who was he?
AP: Tom Mackie. Tom Mackie was the navigator. He did the same sort of training that I did but he just missed out on the observer course and did the NavB and do you know after the war he set up a firm called [pause] and he became a millionaire with his own aircraft. I’ve forgotten the name now.
Other: City Electric.
AP: What?
Other: City Electric.
AP: City Electrical. Which is worldwide. He died about a year ago. Because I was very friendly with Tom. But he had, he had his own aircraft. In fact we flew — I did one or two flights with him after the war. He and it all started with his gratuity. He got in, he got into the motor trade just at the right time and sort of built, sort of built an empire.
CB: So, he was the navigator.
AP: Yeah.
CB: What about your wireless operator signal? Who was that?
AP: He was the one chap — we do know the others have passed on but our wireless operator was [pause] well we just lost, lost track of him. We tried to locate him. Tom, our navigator, used to go to Canada where we thought he was but he could never find him.
CB: What was his name?
AP: Lawrence. Vic Lawrence. He was the wireless operator. Nice guy but we just lost track of him so whether he’s alive or not we just do not know.
CB: What about the flight engineer? Who was that?
AP: Eric. Eric. [pause] the name’s gone. It’ll come back to me.
CB: Was he a busy man in the sorties?
AP: Oh yes. He was nearly a second pilot in a sense. He sat next to the pilot and he adjusted the, he sort of adjusted some of the instruments and on take-off he would hold the throttles open. How stupid, the names gone. When he, when he left the RAF he moved down to the coast near Bournemouth. I saw him a few times after. And he, I’ve got a picture of him up there. His wife was an ATA pilot.
CB: Oh.
AP: She flew aircraft from the factories to the squadrons. Mainly Spitfires of course.
CB: Yeah.
AP: I don’t think women ever flew Lancasters. Not to my knowledge.
CB: A couple of them did.
AP: Pardon?
CB: A couple of them did.
AP: Did they?
CB: Yeah.
AP: Well I don’t know. I was told that it was most unlikely but you say they did.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
AP: It was a big, complicated aircraft to fly — the old Lanc.
CB: Yeah. Yeah. And then your mid-upper. Who was that?
AP: A guy called Bradd. B R A D D. Bradd. What happened was after two raids our original mid-upper gunner went LMF. He couldn’t take it any more after two raids. And I was sent to pick him up. It’s mentioned in this book by John Nicholl. The names are — I’m sorry I should have done more research before you turned up shouldn’t I?
CB: It’s ok. We can look it up. So, what exactly happened to him?
AP: He just didn’t like it. He thought, he thought he wouldn’t survive. Well we all thought we wouldn’t survive really but there we go. We pressed on.
CB: Was he the only one person you met who was an LMF victim as it were?
AP: Yeah. The only one. The only one I met. And then when he left we had a guy come along called Bradd. Dennis Bradd. B R A D D. And when I’d done, when we’d done the tour he hadn’t quite finished his. He had to do some more ops to make up his thirty and unfortunately, he went down two or three trips after which was most unfortunate because he was a nice guy.
CB: And what about the rear gunner?
AP: Yes. He was, he was a bit older than most of us. He was in his late twenties. He survived but he’s passed on now of course.
CB: What was his name?
AP: [pause] Dear me. It’ll come back to me. It’ll come back to me. I just cannot remember at the moment.
CB: Ok. When you were doing your training what sort of people were there in South Africa? Did they tend to be only British people or did people come from other of the Commonwealth countries?
AP: No. The people that trained us were mainly South Africans. South African Air Force
CB: Trained you.
AP: Trained us. And they were very good. I always say that. I think we had a good training in South Africa and of course the weather was good. There was no hold ups with the weather. You could get on with things whereas the guys that trained in this country and Canada had problems with the weather sometimes.
CB: Yeah.
AP: But you see the air gunners joined us on the squadrons. They didn’t have any training really. They were mainly basic. Perhaps with a low education rate — without being unkind. As you know.
CB: Well their role was to run the guns.
AP: Run the guns. Yes.
CB: What do you see their role as being in the aircraft as a crew member? What was their main role?
AP: Well mainly to look out for fighters coming in at us.
CB: So, because they had guns their job was to defend the aircraft. Was that right? How often, in your experience, did they use their guns?
AP: Very seldom. Very seldom.
CB: Why was that?
AP: Well maybe we were lucky. I don’t know. But I think the rear gunner used his guns once and the same with the mid-upper chap that came along.
CB: The one who went LMF, it wasn’t a bad experience of a fighter attack that caused him —
AP: Not at all. No. Not at all. I always remember I had to, I had to go along to a — I was trying to think — it was in the Midlands somewhere. He was being, he was being held at a police station. I can’t remember why. But I had to sign for a live body and I’d never done that before. A live body of the gunner. He was quite a nice guy. He just couldn’t take it. in fact, on the way back we went in to Nottingham to a dance hall and I had a few beers with him, you know and then brought him back to camp and of course as soon as he got back to camp he was whisked, whisked into the guardroom and then they used to tear off the brevets and the sergeant’s stripes and they really went through it you know.
CB: Did they do that in public? On a parade?
AP: Yeah, I did see it happen. There was a place at Coventry where they did that. It was done on parade. It was very dreadful really what they did. In my opinion.
CB: So why did they do that?
AP: Just to set an example really. I mean, in the First World War of course they used to shoot them didn’t they?
CB: Yeah.
AP: Anybody that —
CB: Yeah
AP: At least they didn’t do that. No. You were pretty tough after that training. Well the gunners never had much of a training. I don’t know why he ever became an aircrew member really.
CB: How did he fit? Before he went LMF how did he fit in the crew? Was it fairly obvious that he was —
AP: Well we never had him. You see we never had the gunners for long. We did the basic training with Con Unit, OTUs and then the gunners only came along later on.
CB: So normally the gunners would join at the OTU on the Wellington. Wouldn’t they?
AP: Not they didn’t in the case with myself. No.
CB: Right. Ok.
AP: They joined us later.
CB: Right. At the —
AP: It was just the basic members.
CB: At the Heavy Conversion Unit.
AP: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
AP: They joined at the Conversion Unit. Yes.
CB: Yeah. Right.
AP: Yes.
CB: And so, the engineer joined you though at the OTU. Oh no there was no engineer at the OTU because they didn’t —
AP: No. There was no engineer then. No.
CB: The Wellington didn’t have them.
AP: No. They came along at Con Unit. It was just pilot, navigator, bomb aimer. They were the main ones. And the wireless. They were the main ones who joined. Who were there.
CB: Right.
AP: From the word go.
CB: Now, you started off as an AC2. How did your promotion go and why?
AP: Well it was the time. You become a sergeant after, when you pass out. Then after a year you became a flight sergeant.
CB: After a year.
AP: After a year.
CB: Right.
AP: Then you got recommended. Certain of us got recommended for commissions, you see.
AP: Do you know what the basis — what was the basis of the decision for making people —
AP: I don’t know exactly. The CO. The group captain in charge really. No. I never quite know. I got one and the navigator got one and the rear gunner got one. We all got commissions.
CB: So, what was the rear gunner’s strengths that made him suitable?
AP: Do you know I don’t quite know. It was just the fact that he was over thirty by that time I suppose and he was a fairly senior bod and they decided to give him a commission. I can’t think of his name, you know. And I saw him a few times after the war because he lived up in North London somewhere. We had a few meetings together. It’s stupid the way names go isn’t it?
CB: It’ll come back to you later.
AP: It will.
CB: But did you, did you do many things together as a complete crew when you were on 630?
AP: Oh yes. We went out a lot together.
CB: What did you do?
AP: Our favourite pub was the Red Lion at Revesby which was about a five mile cycle ride which we did no trouble at all. And I told you we had this little lady, Pat, who took a shine to me. And she used to sing you know. She used to get up in the pub and sing. She was good like that.
CB: She was the WAAF?
AP: She was a WAAF.
CB: What did she do in the RAF?
AP: Well she was on the reception committees. When you came back she would help make you comfortable. Bring you cups of tea and things. Plenty of cigarettes everywhere which was crazy really but they did. And that’s what she did. They sort of picked the ones who were outgoing types of girls, you know. She was quite outgoing in that respect.
CB: So at the end of a raid how did you feel?
AP: Relieved. Relieved.
CB: So you got down. What was the process? The plane lands. Then what?
AP: Well we had the —
CB: You taxied,
AP: Debriefing of course.
CB: You taxied to dispersal.
AP: Oh yeah.
CB: And then —?
AP: Emptied the, emptied the aircraft out and then we had to be debriefed.
CB: Each one individually?
AP: No. We all sat as a crew with the debriefing officer and one of the girls would be with us. Give us tea and things like that. That’s how I met up with Pat really. Because she used to be doing that sort of work you see. And then we went out together to places like Revesby. It’s not far from — do you know Revesby?
CB: Yeah.
AP: The Red Lion there. It’s still there you know.
CB: Yes.
AP: Just the same.
CB: Yes.
AP: I often called in there when going that way to renew acquaintances. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
AP: Yeah. I used to think nothing of cycling five miles then for a drink
CB: And how —
AP: Beer wasn’t easy to get hold up. Decent beer.
CB: Did it run out regularly?
AP: Yeah. And there was one pub we went to they were so short of glasses we drank out of jam jars. I forget which pub it was but I think that was The Plough at East Kirkby. No. The Red Lion at East Kirkby. We did use that very often. That got so crowded. It was so near the ‘drome. We preferred to go out to Revesby.
CB: Right.
AP: We went to Mareham too. That wasn’t too far away.
CB: Now, we’ve talked about the aircrew. We’ve talked about your debriefing. How did the link go with the ground crew? How? Did you liaise with them much or —?
AP: Oh yes, we went out to drinks together but on the whole not too much. No. They didn’t seem to want to be too involved but we did have one or two nights out with them certainly. And during the moon spells you could afford to have drinks. You knew you wouldn’t be called on. The exception being Nuremberg when they did call us out with a full moon but apart from that normally the moon was a quiet period.
CB: Right. And the crew chief. What would he be? Rank.
AP: Corporal or sergeant.
CB: And what was their attitude to the aircraft?
AP: Oh, they looked after their own aircraft. My word they did. They were very proud of it. You know. Keep it serviceable. There were so many, you know, became [pause] not de-serviceable. What’s the word?
CB: A wreck.
AP: Not a wreck exactly but, you know, they had to do a lot of work on them. They kept ours — they kept us flying all the time. That was one good thing. I feel sorry for this present Lanc. They’ve had this engine fire, haven’t they?
CB: Yeah.
AP: And it seems it’s quite a major problem. The air frame’s been affected around the engine mounting.
CB: Oh, has it? Yes.
AP: Yes. So, I’m told. So how long it will before it flies again I do not know. At the same time the Panton is hoping to get Just Jane flying but whether they will or not I don’t know. They say it’s going to cost a lot of money to get the airframe right and to get a certificate of air worthiness. That’s the problem.
CB: Going back to the war experience what was your worst experience on a raid?
AP: Well I wouldn’t say Nuremberg although Nuremberg was bad. I wouldn’t say it was the worst one. I think the worst one was Mailly-le-Camp where we seemed to be buzzing around for ages waiting for things to happen.
CB: This is the Cheshire raid.
AP: Yeah. I don’t blame Cheshire at all. He was a good, he was a good chap. In fact, we did a Munich raid some time afterwards where he took off about two, he took off two hours after we did [laughs] and we flew down to North Italy and then we headed north for Munich and bombed Munich and Cheshire had moved in in the meantime and dropped his flares with a Mosquito. Yes. He was good like that and of course [pause] the Dambuster fellow. He went down in a Mosquito didn’t he?
CB: Gibson. Yes.
AP: Guy Gibson. Couldn’t think of the name for a minute. I hope you’ll pardon me forgetting names.
CB: That’s ok.
AP: As I say these things are affecting me a bit. These.
CB: Could you talk us through your situation as an air bomber because you’re the person looking at the flak coming up. So, at what — so could you talk us through the point the pilot hands over to you. Could you just talk us through what you did? What it was like. How you dealt with it.
AP: Well the air bomber, the air bomber or bomb aimer as some say — the official title is air bomber by the way. His job really was to take over when the bombing site was coming up and to guide the pilot to the markers. And we were told what marker. It was either red or green normally. And of course, we had to, we had to man the guns. I never fired the front guns but they were there if necessary. But we always used to say, ‘Left. Left. Right.’ ‘Left. Left,’ you had to say. You didn’t say left or right. It had to be, ‘Left left.’ Or right. That was one — so that sort of did away with any sort of errors you see. But as I say the bomb aimer saw everything going on more than anybody else. The poor old navigator — he didn’t see a thing. He was behind closed curtains. Probably just as well. He didn’t see a thing. The wireless operator too. But the bomb aimer was there to see everything.
CB: So, what were you actually seeing? Because the run in takes how long?
AP: Oh, it could take anything from thirty minutes to two or three minutes. We were flying, I’ll say one thing about the old Lanc you could get up to about twenty three, twenty four thousand feet and it seemed like ages going in, you know. With flak all around you. It always seemed you could never get through the flak. It always seemed there was a hole in the flak and you were in that hole, you know. Just marching along. We got hit once or twice but only minor stuff.
CB: So, when you’re on the run in the pilot is effectively saying, ‘Over to you.’ Is he?
AP: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: You’re not actually controlling anything yourself but you’re telling him what to do.
AP: Oh no. He’s got the controls to guide the thing. We’re just saying either, ‘Left. Left,’ ‘Right,’ or so on. You know.
CB: And then —
AP: We had, of course, control of all the switch gear. You know, the bomb selector.
CB: Ok. So just talk us through the bomb selection because you had a wide range of ordnance on board so how did that work? There was a sequence.
AP: Well it was pretty much automatic really, you know. Our main bomb load used to be a four thousand pound cookie with incendiaries. And it was all automatic. Once you, once you got over the target you pressed the button and everything worked automatically. And the camera which was in the back of the aircraft which we didn’t like. That was phosphor bomb.
CB: So, there was a sequence that the bombs left.
AP: Yeah.
CB: What was the sequence?
AP: Well the cookie normally went first. The four thousand pounder. Followed by the incendiaries. We did have raids where we had fourteen one thousand pound bombs but normally on the mass bombing it was to cause fires which I didn’t go much on to be quite frank. But there again it was a, that was the way it was directed we should fight the war.
CB: Right. So, the cookie was non, it wasn’t aerodynamic. It was just a cylinder so —
AP: Like a big dustbin. Yeah.
CB: What did it do? It was a blast bomb.
AP: A blast bomb. Yeah. That blasted everything so the incendiaries would come along and set fire to the blasting but there were so many bombs being dropped I don’t think they made much difference really. And we were given a time to, we were given, different squadrons had different times to approach the target you see.
CB: Right.
AP: And the Pathfinders [pause] they would, you know, they would direct the bombers to what they thought was relevant at the time. Yeah.
CB: So, the Pathfinders were circling. Or the master bomber was circling. Giving instruction was he?
AP: They — I wouldn’t say they would. They used to go in first and mark the target but I don’t think they hung about. It wasn’t healthy to hang about.
CB: I meant the master bomber would stay and watch. Would he?
AP: In the mass raids — no. In the more selective raids like Munich and some of the other raids he’d be there all the time. But on the mass raids early on, the Berlins, it was just a question of the Pathfinders coming in, marking the target and then getting the hell out of it.
CB: So what heights were you normally, normally delivering your load?
AP: Twenty one, twenty three thousand. Yeah. Pretty high really. We were above the Halifaxes and Stirlings. I always felt sorry for the Stirlings. That’s why I quite liked meeting that friend of yours.
CB: Yeah.
AP: Because how he survived I do not know but he did didn’t he?
CB: Extraordinary.
AP: Did he do a full raid?
CB: He did. So I’ll cover that with you later. But the air bomber bit is interesting because we don’t necessarily have much detail on that and so that’s why I’m just asking you a bit more about it. And —
AP: Yeah. Well, as I say, it varied over the course of my time you see. First of all it was mass bombing, then more selective bombing and then pinpoint bombing as we approached D-day you see. The whole character of the thing was changing actually.
CB: So, when, when you did the pinpoint bombing. Was that with markers?
AP: No.
CB: ‘Cause a lot of it’s daylight isn’t it?
AP: No. No. Not daylight at all. No. No. We had to do it by map reading and —
CB: Ok.
AP: There were no markers then. No.
CB: No. ‘Cause we’re talking, for you we’re talking we’re talking pre-D-Day.
AP: On some day there were only two squadrons. Only twenty or thirty aircraft, you see.
CB: Yeah.
AP: That was, they were the interesting raids really. They were the raids I preferred because we knew then that we were bombing specific targets to the, for the good of the army. And we were trying to upset the German transport movements.
CB: Yeah. So, going back to you’ve released your bombs. You’ve got a camera and then there’s a flash that goes down.
AP: There’s a flash. Yeah.
CB: Does that, how does the timing work for that? Do you set it as the bomber aimer?
AP: That, again, is all automatic.
CB: So —
AP: We didn’t, we didn’t like the phosphor bombs because I mean, if they hang up they were deadly you know.
CB: Yeah.
AP: Did you have them at all?
CB: I know what you mean. Yeah.
AP: They were at the back of the aircraft.
CB: Yeah.
AP: By the toilet.
CB: Right.
AP: But as I say they would drop automatically and then they were timed to go off to take the photos as the bomb, as the bomb exploded.
CB: Because the time of their firing would depend on how high you were.
AP: Yes. It was all, it was all done automatically you know by the, by the experts shall we say.
CB: So, what was the purpose of the camera?
AP: I frankly don’t know. It seemed to me to be a bit unnecessary but at least it proved you’d been there. There was a danger you see, I suppose that some crews may not have even have bombed the target. And that was proof you’d been there. Oh, I got some good aiming point photographs. I think that’s why they awarded me the old DFC. We got some good aiming point photographs.
CB: At what point did you receive the award of DFC?
AP: After the, after the tour. They analysed things you know and we’d had a good record of aiming point photographs.
CB: Who else in the crew?
AP: The pilot did. And myself. I thought Tom MacKay, the navigator should have had one because he was very good chap. In fact, he flew, when Gwen was ill he flew her out to Switzerland twice you know to try and get her better treatment but it didn’t work. She had Parkinson’s. But he knew somebody in Switzerland, in Geneva who he thought might help her because he lived out there for a time. And he arranged, he had his own, as I say he had his own aircraft and we flew her out there a couple of times but it wasn’t to be.
CB: When you came off operations you now went on to training other people you said.
AP: Yeah.
CB: What was that like in contrast?
AP: A jaywalk really. There wasn’t a lot to do really, you know. We had to find, we had to find time. We had to sort of find jobs to do really because although we were helping to train other people we were doing compass swings and things like that. We were back on Ansons and it all seemed a bit airy fairy after Lancasters but it had to be. You know, we were training. We were sending out the new crews coming along.
CB: Was there a sense of relief doing it or was it just boring?
AP: A bit of both. A bit of both.
CB: So, when you came to be demobbed how did you feel about that?
AP: Well I was demobbed, of course, from Palestine. And that’s when I mentioned I was flown in a Dakota back to Heathrow which was just a series of huts in those days. We had a good long run. They paid us for a good long holiday. Two or three months I think. Then I went on to Oxford, you see.
CB: How did you come to meet your future wife, Gwen?
AP: I was in the Royal Air Force then.
CB: What was she?
AP: She wasn’t in the air force. No. She wasn’t Royal Air Force. The other girl I had, that I knew, was Pat. She was with me at the Operational Training Unit but I’d finished by the time I went to North Wales.
CB: By the time you finished your tour did you feel short changed for not doing thirty or was there a sense of relief?
AP: Well it was a sense of relief I think. We were quite badly quite shot up on that. We were mine laying you see in [pause] we were mine laying in — what’s the name of the port.
CB: Brest.
AP: We were attacked by a JU88.
CB: And what height would you be flying for mine laying?
AP: Oh we were quite low. We were quite low. I’m trying to think what [pause] what was the first question you asked me?
CB: What? The sense of relief? I asked you earlier what your worst experience was.
AP: Well that was one of the worst. Yes. [pause] Kiel Bay. I couldn’t think of the word. Kiel Bay.
CB: Where’s that.
AP: We were laying mines in Kiel Bay.
CB: Where’s that? Oh, outside Kiel.
AP: Kiel. Yeah.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
AP: Kiel Bay. I couldn’t think of the words for a minute. You see, I mean, despite the ops we had one or two occasions where we boomeranged. You know, something went wrong with the aircraft and we had to return. It happened to the guy who died a few weeks ago. The New Zealand, the New Zealand Dambuster fellow.
CB: Yeah.
AP: He had to, he had come back because he had a hit and his compass was put out of action. And we had one or two cases like that.
CB: Les Munro.
AP: Yes, I couldn’t think. Len Munro. Yeah.
CB: Les. Yeah.
AP: Les Munro I meant. I met him a few times.
CB: Did you?
AP: A nice guy he was.
CB: Yeah.
AP: Did you ever meet him?
CB: He was over recently. I never met him but he was.
AP: I met him at Aces High two or three times. He had his girlfriend with him. He’d lost his wife but he had a lady companion who was very pleasant. She used to help him but he was pretty active right to the end. Well, I didn’t see him at the end of course. As I say there was cases too when you would get all ready to go. All the build-up and everything and then it would be cancelled. All that sort of getting ready. Nearly all, not all day but you had to do a night flying test before where everybody went up and flew for about half an hour and tested everything and then you’d come back and then go to briefing. So that was all part of the game but those didn’t count.
CB: Was that a frustration?
AP: Frustration really. Yes. Having spent the whole afternoon or a bit longer getting ready and then to find it was cancelled. That happened a few times and that didn’t count.
CB: So, what was the atmosphere before you went on the raid amongst the crew?
AP: The atmosphere. It’s a job to pinpoint it really Chris. We were all a bit apprehensive I suppose really. A bit apprehensive. Is it recording? But some of the crews used to have a pee on to the — on to — what was it now? There were different ways people had to let off steam. We all had our little [pause] I had a little St Christopher I always took with me. Geoff, the pilot, had a scarf. And I remember one raid, we were ready to take off and he’d forgotten his scarf. Luckily, he had his motorbike with him and he shot off to the billets, got his scarf and came back. It made us a bit late but he was determined he wouldn’t fly without his scarf. We all had these little [pause] what’s the word? Keepsakes.
CB: Did everybody do that?
AP: Lucky charms.
CB: Yeah. Lucky charms. Did everybody?
AP: Yeah most had. I had a little St Christopher which I’ve lost now but I did have one and I always made sure I had it.
CB: And when the tour was over was there a feeling that you would get together at some stage afterwards or was there just an acceptance that you were being disbursed?
AP: There was just an acceptance. That’s the problem really. You were sort of lived together for six months. You were living together, you know and then you suddenly break up and everybody goes their own way. And we didn’t all get together afterwards. We tried. Geoff Probert, my skipper, he went to Hatfield and I never did see him. We tried to meet up once or twice and we never did. Then he went up to Sheffield and he died fairly young. ‘Cause he was older than the rest of us. So getting together was a problem. I did reach some of the guys afterwards but you see after the war you really had to forget all about it and I did for about five or six years. Going to Oxford you had to get your head down and get down to studies and you more or less forgot all about the war. It’s only now, in latter years, that we begin to think about it again.
CB: But did, what did you feel the general public’s attitude was to people who had been effectively on the front line? After the war.
AP: Well, as I say I didn’t really think too much about it then. I think people were quite sympathetic to what we had done. Some people thought we were having, having it too cushy. At least one thing — we came back to white sheets. We didn’t sleep in dirty, muddy trenches which I would have hated. We came back to a decent bed after a raid and we were looked after.
CB: Yeah.
AP: With our eggs and bacon.
CB: Yeah.
AP: Which no one else could get.
CB: No.
AP: That was a great relief to have eggs and bacon and that type of thing. So some people thought that aircrew and submarine people had been molly coddled but we had a fairly dangerous job to do.
CB: A final question then. You’ve touched on it already. How did you feel about what you were doing in actually aiming — effectively aiming the aircraft and dropping the bombs?
AP: How did I feel?
CB: Each time.
AP: I didn’t like the area bombing because you never quite knew where your bombs were landing. I was always a bit perturbed about that. I had that in my mind you know but we had a job to do. And they started the bombing first so we had to sort of — they bombed Coventry and London didn’t they? But as I say towards the end of the war with the bombing — the run up to D-day it was a different cup of tea really.
CB: Yeah. And was your bomb sight — what was that like?
AP: The Mk 14.
CB: Yeah. Were you happy with that or —?
AP: Oh yes. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
AP: Of course they’ve improved no end now. In fact, if you when you’ve got time I’ll take you to the Trenchard Museum at Halton where they’ve got some of the old Mk 14 bomb sights. You want to go to go there, you know.
CB: We will. The Americans claimed that their bomb sights were so much better for accuracy. That’s why I ask the question.
AP: I think ours was pretty good. We got some good aiming point photographs. The Americans may have been better because they did their daylight stuff didn’t they? Mark you they did catch a pasting didn’t they? On some of these daylight raids. Didn’t they?
CB: Absolutely.
AP: Yeah.
CB: Well, we’ve done really well Alan. Thank you so much. I’m going to stop the tape now and we’ll have —
AP: I’m sorry. I should have done genned up with this. There are things I forgot didn’t I?
[Recording paused]
CB: Hang on. Just as an extra then Alan. We talked about Pat and I wonder first of all when you went on a raid what was the reaction of the WAAFs as you set off?
AP: Well there was a great deal of cooperation. I think they felt that, you know, most of the crews knew a WAAF somewhere down the line and they were invariably at the end of the runway to wave us as we went off. Without them we’d have missed it. They weren’t there when we came back of course. They were all in the debriefing huts waiting for us to come back. But no, they cooperated. I think they realised what we were doing and I felt that their presence helped a heck of a lot.
CB: So, in terms of Pat she clearly was a major factor in your life then.
AP: During that time. Yes. During that time, she was. Helped to take off the stress off the bombing ‘cause we used to go for cycle rides and things together, you know and she’d come out drinking with us. And she used to sing. She had quite a good voice. I don’t know where she learned to sing but she used to get up and sing. She was a bit, sort of outgoing in that respect. There aren’t many girls who would get up in the pub and sing are there?
CB: Probably not. But how did this break up in time?
AP: What?
CB: This relationship you had with her.
AP: Well we didn’t — when I got posted away of course, I mean, I couldn’t keep up with meeting all the time and I suppose we did write for a time of course and gradually I suppose the letters got less and less and it just faded away but I often wonder what happened. Even now I often wonder if she’s alive still.
CB: In your experience with 630 Squadron Association are there any people who were ground crew personnel who have been members or did it tend only to be aircrew?
AP: It’s funny that you should say that. I met a, we had a meeting at Aces High with Bomber Command and there was a WAAF there who was a driver at East Kirkby. She lives now in Bournemouth and she was there with her son. I didn’t know her at the time but she told me she was on transport. You know they used to drive the crews out to the aircraft and she was doing that. Well, she’s older than me. She was ninety three I think she told me. So that’s one case but there aren’t many of the old WAAFs turn up.
CB: No.
AP: We do see — now who was, who was the inventor of the bouncing bomb, now.
CB: Barnes Wallis.
AP: Her —
CB: His daughter.
AP: His daughter comes along. You’ve met her have you? She often comes along with — oh [pause] the last remaining bomb aimer. I saw him the other day. His name is gone now. He was up at East Kirkby. Johnny Johnson. He’s written a book. The farmer’s boy he was, wasn’t he? Have you read the book?
CB: I haven’t. no. But he —
AP: Oh, I’ve got it. I haven’t read it. I gave it to my other son because he was a farmer. Johnny Johnson.
CB: Ok. That’s really good. Thank you very much.
[recording paused]
CB: One more question now, Alan. People tend to have an affection not just for lucky charms but for aircraft so were you normally with the same plane? Or what was the situation?
AP: We were normally with the same plane. Yes. There were occasions of course when we didn’t have the same plane. But it was always nice to have the same plane. And LEY was ours. LEY.
CB: And if you flew in another one how did you feel?
AP: Oh, it didn’t really bother me too much but it was just nice to know you had your own aircraft.
CB: Because they tend to have specific characteristics.
AP: I suppose they do, really. Yes. Yeah.
CB: Ok. Thank you.
[recording paused]
CB: Ok.
AP: Well there was a survey party had got lost in the Sahara and they asked for volunteers to go and find it. Well, they had a sort of point where they thought he was and we had to make for that and then we started to do a square search based on the visibility. And we found it and they waved to us and we radio’d back where they were. But that’s just one little thing we did and we had to volunteer for that. We had this note that these people were lost in the desert.
CB: Yeah. A practical humanitarian task.
AP: Well yeah. Yeah.
CB: Let me just take you back to that JU88 encounter because that could have been fatal.
AP: Oh easy. So easy.
CB: So what happened? What height were you etcetera and how did he find you? And —
AP: Well it just happened. We were sailing along and all of a sudden these bursts burst of cannon fire all around us. I mean the rear gunner should have seen him really but he never saw him and I think he was — he wasn’t underneath us. He was behind us. Normally the idea was to come up from the underside.
CB: Yeah.
AP: And fire in to the petrol tanks.
CB: Yes. Yeah. So the, so the gunner — he was coming from behind and the gunner didn’t see.
AP: Didn’t see him. No.
CB: What was the — in the dark this was.
AP: In the dark, oh yes.
CB: Yeah. Yeah. Right. So, he starts firing so the shells are exploding is that right?
AP: Yeah.
CB: Then — then what happened?
AP: Well there weren’t many shells actually. In fact, you know, we thought he would come back because the plane had caught fire. Luckily it went out. And we honestly thought he would come back for another go but he didn’t. I think he thought he’d got us and that was it. And old Geoff, the pilot put it into a steep dive and started to corkscrew and we lost the JU88.
CB: So, the corkscrew might have been the solution.
AP: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: But what happened to the strikes? Where were the strikes on the aircraft? On your plane.
AP: Well, as I say one was on the rear turret and the other side and one in the wing but apart from, it didn’t really do any sort of damage structurally. Although one caused a fire, you see. And one —
CB: Where was the fire?
AP: I’ve got a picture of this machine gun. The machine gun is all bent over where the shell hit it. And the rear gunner — he was jolly lucky to be alive. He really was.
CB: So, let me get this straight the shell hits the rear turret. In the gun.
AP: It hit the end of the gun. It was remarkable. It really was.
CB: And the gunner wasn’t injured.
AP: No. He wasn’t hurt. He was sort of knocked out, you know. He was semi, he was sort of, you know, the blast sort of knocked him out temporarily. He was sort of muttering away, you know, half in and half out but he came around and we still had the mines on board, you know. That was another thing. We didn’t jettison. We went on and dropped them afterwards ‘cause when he attacked we were still going in on to the target, you see. In to the bay, Kiel bay. And that was our twenty ninth raid. And I think the CO, Wing Commander [Dee?] saw we’d had enough. ‘Oh, you can stand down now,’ he said.
CB: After. After that. Yes. So, you dropped your mines successfully.
AP: Yeah, we dropped the mines.
CB: What height would you drop a mines from? ‘Cause you can’t do it from height ‘cause it’ll break.
AP: No. You can’t do it from height. No.
CB: So what height were you dropping?
AP: I think we must have been about twelve thousand feet. Something like that. Yeah. A long time ago now. You tend to forget these things don’t you?
CB: Sure. Yeah. Thanks.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Alan Payne,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 18, 2024,

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