Interview with Gerald Taylor


Interview with Gerald Taylor


Gerald (Gerry) was part of the Air Training Corps and Officers’ Training Corps before the war. He volunteered for aircrew in 1942, was interviewed in Oxford and was put on deferred service. Gerry was accepted as an air observer. He was called up in early 1943 and went to the Air Crew Reception Centre at Lord’s Cricket Ground. He was sent to an Initial Training Wing in Scarborough, before being posted to Harrogate and Ludlow while waiting for further training overseas.

Gerry sailed to New York and then on to Nova Scotia and Rivers in Canada where he spent six months training to be a navigator at the Number One Central Navigation School. Gerry describes how two or three navigators trained in the back of an Anson with a navigation table. He lists the different subjects they studied, the equipment they required and how they would plot a chart.

On his return to the UK, Gerry was sent to Harrogate and then posted to an Operational Training Unit at RAF Abingdon and its satellite RAF Stanton Harcourt. He was flying on Wellingtons. Gerry explains how they crewed up there. He then went to a Heavy Conversion Unit at RAF Lindholme.

Gerry discusses his posting to RAF Ouston for training on Mosquitos, however he failed the night interception radar part. He was posted temporarily to RAF Wigtown for some navigational training before returning to RAF Abingdon.




Temporal Coverage




01:33:24 audio recording


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CB: Is that ok? Right I’ll start. My name is Chris Brockbank and today is Wednesday the 31st of August 2016 and we’re in Maidenhead with Gerry Taylor who is going to tell us about his days in Bomber Command. So Gerry what are your first recollections of life with the family?
GT: The seaside really. Being born in Bournemouth I now know and have known for many years how lucky I was being born there because it gave — and also obviously the fact that my father had a car. Which is those days was, I suppose, more uncommon at the beginning. He worked for commercial traveller — as a commercial traveller and the area manager for the south of England for Crosse and Blackwell. Started his work up in Soho in London and got promoted to the job in Bournemouth as the area representative. So he covered the area of the New Forest.
[Phone ringing. Recording paused]
CB: So we had to stop for the phone but the father was an area representative for Crosse and Blackwell.
GT: Promotion to this but it involved moving to Bournemouth and having a car to take around the New Forest area. He covered, I think, an area say between Devon and all of Hampshire. And [pause] yes the first recollection, I’ve backtracked really a bit, but about cars. They apparently they took him outdoors to teach him how to drive. He had a little old Morris. And the man who showed him sort of sat him in the car and drove him up and down the road in Soho a little bit. And that’s it. He said bye bye. And that was his tuition. That’s all he got to drive from there to Bournemouth. To find the way and everything. So, he always used to joke about he never passed a test in his eighty five years. And I won’t say he never did anything wrong. He didn’t seem to to me but anyway. So that was a great advantage in Bournemouth as well because he loved the sea and swimming and he spent as much time as possible being able to swim. He used to get up early. Before seven. Down to the beach and took me down most times. I think I was probably a big disappointment because —
[Phone ringing. Recording paused]
GT: I go some morning without a sound but —
CB: Yes. So we were just talking about the swimming. So you did a lot of swimming as well.
GT: He used to swim long distances and between the two piers Boscombe and Bournemouth Pier. But I was a bit of a disappointment because I didn’t like cold water. I loved swimming but it gets too cold. It did in the mornings. So, and he was so lucky to be able to do that. And we had a beach hut which we spent as much time as possible in the school holidays and all other times. So it was really and I didn’t even appreciate it I suppose until later in life how lucky I was. And it made for a huge amount of enjoyment from my point of view and I always loved the seaside particularly. I’m sure it comes from that. Schooling was all in Bournemouth. I can remember the very first school was a little primary school. I don’t know if it would be called that now. It was close to my home in Winton. That’s the earliest one I can remember. I don’t think it was a — Brianston. No. That wasn’t the name of the school. It will come to me. But it was a very small thing. Thirty or forty little, little boys prior to going to the larger school which was a collegiate school, which is in West Bournemouth. A place called [pause] well naturally it was near south — Westbourne. That’s right. Westbourne, which was a district of it. And it was a good school. I enjoyed that. And from there I went to a more senior school at the age of around about eleven. To Bournemouth, or as it was then called, Bournemouth School for Boys. And there was also one for girl’s which was a very good school. My sister went there. But I did enjoy school — looking back on most of it. I didn’t work as hard as I ought to have done. I know that now. Whereas my sister was working away and I was — she was held up as a — I should be working like her which is true. But I didn’t like it at the time. Anyway, my most enjoyable thing at school really was the Boy Scouts I think. I went all through the ranks and levels up to troop leader and really was keen on it. And went to camps in the summer which was another nice addition you could do with that sort of thing. Boy Scouts may have been mocked a bit but I didn’t find that. I didn’t understand it really and even now I don’t. But it all changed so much I suppose. But certainly the Boy Scouts was a great thing which I enjoyed and the school was very supportive of it. And later on when after the war broke out they also had an ATC section and a Cadet Corps. I can’t think — what was it called? Cadet Corps. But they had, they were pre-army people and so I joined that as well which was quite active. And, I don’t know, I suppose I joined it with a young kid’s version of wanting to do something. I can remember clearly on Armistice Days I used to stand. Occasionally it was me. It was others at other times. Stand for the Armistice Ceremony in front of the Memorial with your rifle sort of reversed and stand the whole five minutes or whatever it was. Might have been longer really. To stay there whilst service was going on. Which was quite a thing you could remember and all part of my interesting joint thing. I can remember, and that was all still while I was at the school. I enjoyed playing football mostly. I played a bit of rugby. Not hockey. Football was the big enjoyment of my life and we played other schools. I wasn’t that good. I think I was in the second eleven. I played once or twice in the first eleven. Which was, of course a big excitement in my life when it happened. In the sports side of it was very good. There was a lot of things to join and take part if you wanted. I just concentrated really on — did a lot with the Scouts mostly. And when the war was declared I went to this, sort of — backtrack. I went to the Bournemouth Boy’s School around about ’39. I can’t, to be honest, remember. It might have been. It was probably before that I’m sorry because I remember yes it was. It was before it. I can’t remember the date but I remember I was at a Scout camp near Bournemouth for a weekend. A short camp. And that was when they declared war. Whilst I was at the camp. And I won’t say it was excited. It was sort of awe inspiring thing. The fact that we were at war and my parents remembered the First World War. My father was in France in 1914 and he was an Old Contemptible. One of the originals who was there, excuse me, he was there for the famous football match. I don’t know if that was the one they all talk about but he certainly said there was a kicking about of footballs. Which, whilst he was alive it hadn’t gained its notoriety as it has now. But it was very interesting to know that he was part of that. And then he was wounded at one stage. I’m not sure if it was Ypres or not but he was wounded and came back to the UK. He was a sergeant in the — a drill sergeant at Aldershot. Which always surprised me because he wasn’t a particularly noisy man which as drill sergeant, you more or less have to be. I mean he could raise his voice but to be a drill sergeant at Aldershot was quite a thing. You needed a very powerful voice which was always rather intriguing to me. So that was a separate thing if I backtracked on to because of the war and knowing when I was at school. Excuse me. I left school at [pause] muddled straight up in to the joining the RAF.
CB: Well the war started when you were fifteen.
GT: ’42. It must have been early ’42. And I volunteered. I wanted to volunteer. My mother was highly anti-volunteering for it at that stage, ‘No need to do it now.’ One of my things I know, I remember, I always felt I don’t want to be told what to do by going into some army thing. I would like to go in to the air force because I was much more interested in planes because I lived very close to Hurn and was often cycling over to Hurn and watched the planes taking off. It was always of more interest regardless of the war itself. It was just the aviation side I guess. But eventually I persuaded my father to take me to a recruiting office one lunchtime ad we signed up. He pointed out there were, that I should think very carefully about it all but he didn’t try to deter me. He just said, ‘Be aware of what you’re signing.’ And so I signed up for aircrew but I was immediately put on [pause] not retirement [pause]
CB: Deferred.
GT: Deferred service. That’s the word. I’m sorry. So in 1942 when I signed up I went on to deferred service. At the same time, or roughly the same time I got a job at the school. I was a laboratory assistant in the physics laboratory and I also covered the chemistry laboratory because they didn’t have anybody. But basically I was laboratory assistant at the physics laboratory which was employed by the Bournemouth Council. So I got a ninety five percent — ninety five pence pay packet each week. I think it was a pound I think before my tax and things removed. It was about ninety five pence which I remember I carefully gave my mother something towards housekeeping and stashed away a few pennies which in those days bought bars of chocolate. So it was all a sort of growing up process. But I thoroughly, I enjoyed school. Things like physics and chemistry and the practical sides of the things. And I suppose if you enjoy it you’re possibly better at it. And if you don’t enjoy it which I definitely liked being there. And I was quite good at keeping the place tidy and getting things ready for experiments. So it was a good feeling of being a young lad and suddenly becoming an adult in the school and gave you some kudos. Still could be a member of the Scouts because it was all running at the same time so I stayed on with that. And it was almost a year when I was on, whilst I was on deferred service until I got my papers for calling up in early ’43. When I should have mentioned that after I signed up the initial papers at the recruiting office in Bournemouth I went up for the interviews at Oxford. The aircrew interviews. Aircrew. It wasn’t the reception centre but it was the interview place and we had a night. Stayed the night at Oxford. Most of us, of course, it was the first time we’d been away from home. We were in this Clarendon Laboratory. An enormous place. All I ever remember is masses and masses of beds in the place and you found your bed in the middle of it and it was listening. A night of noises from men. All very unusual. Almost everybody would have felt the same I know. But had the usual interviews there. And I, it was a two day process. I’m trying to think of where else there was attached to it. Just constant interviews really. Of asking about different things. I wanted to be a pilot. I imagined myself as a pilot I suppose and I, because of my attachment to the ATC at the school and the army OTC, Officer Training Corps, I got a trip in a Whitley. I think they took four or five of us from the school. Recruiting things. Army and the air force one and we had a trip in the back of this Whitley. There were windows of course. No comforts and we flew quite low. Floating around over Bournemouth and the area and it was exciting but I constantly felt airsick. And by the end of this hour’s flight, I suppose, a little less than that maybe, I thought to myself whatever have I done. Signed up for the air force and I was nothing but airsick. It was absolutely terrible. So it was, that was of course quite a worry. I thought I’d done the wrong thing and that was all still part of the school life really which continued until the calling up time. Just side-tracking a bit my father lost a lot of his access to the sea because they closed off lots of roads to the front. But I suppose he knew most of the people who were officials down there by that number of years he’d lived and the amount of swimming he did. So, believe it or not at the end of one row of barbed wire and some other obstruction in the water just a few feet out in the bay there was a space left for [pause] I’m trying to think exactly where it was near. Near to Durley Chine it was and you could still walk along the promenade there but he had this space where he crept through the barbed wire and had a good swim. Which was all very helpful I should think to the Germans [laughs] if they [laughs] but it was all, would have been quite hopeless really. The amount of defences they could put up really by that time. They were in shore and right on the cliffs of Bournemouth. He joined the home, he was the first in the LDE the Local Defence Volunteers and transferred to the Home Guard and he was a lieutenant in the Home Guard during the war. Whilst I was at school, part of the, being part of the staff of the school I took part in the shifts which covered the night shift and fire watch. And more than the masters I used to be able to patrol around the roofs which had warping areas. You could climb on to the roof to get to the school clock on the top. Yours truly was, I wouldn’t say was allowed, I went up there two or three times to fix the hands of the clock which slipped and that sort of thing. Although it was allowed it wasn’t officially approved of course. Health and safety not being anything that was heard of. But as far as I was concerned it was just a boy climbing up a roof. Not too steep a one. And fire watch was quite interesting. Well, very interesting. We also used to see the blaze of the sky from the fires of Southampton which is thirty miles away across the New Forest. But when there were big raids on Southampton we saw all the lights in the sky. And my house in Bournemouth was then a three storey old house on a raised part in Talbot Heath and I had a little balcony outside the window. And when there were raids on I used to climb through the window and just stand there — to my mother’s fury, ‘Get inside.’ And they were all sitting under the stairs [laughs] in the so-called air raid shelter but I used to watch the air raids. Not very safe but also you could see Southampton razed and occasionally see landmines coming down. And I can remember one moonlit night seeing a parachute. There was a bomb went off. It would have been a couple of miles away I suppose. But I cycled past the school on the way to the, my school working and this possibly was where the landmine hit because it hit. It destroyed one of the schools, or half of it, on the way. So that was just from my point of view an interesting thing to have seen. And I can recall seeing, in a daylight raid, seeing a fighter, German fighter shot down. A little bit further out towards the west of Bournemouth and I guessed the area. I cycled over there as soon as the all clear from the air raids went. And it was a German fighter and I collected a bit of scrap metal and something else to take home which had a disgusting smell about it. I don’t know what it was. But apparently it was always associated with crash, crashes and it must have sprayed oil or something over the fields. A nasty smell really. Anyway, they were kept in a greenhouse for a while. My parents, I hate to say my father didn’t mind really. I think he understood. But my mother disapproved of my nipping out at all. Which really was quite right. But I was forever nipping out and having a look. Seeing what was going on during air raids. But my grandmother who had come to live with us from Redhill when her husband died, my grandfather, she was under the stairs. My mother. And there was room for me and my sister and my father if he was there. So that was the, really I think the end of the school time and I went up to —
[Recording paused]
CB: Ok. So we’re restarting. So you’re now called up. So what happened then?
GT: Yes. When I got my call up papers it was to report to Lord’s Cricket Ground which was a place known as ACRC. It’s the Air Crew Reception Centre and it was based in London. The best way I can describe it — very near to London Zoo. In that area of London. And we were all based in different hotels around Regent’s Park which had been commandeered. So we were in a room of, I think, three or four men. And all my room and most of them were about the same. All the way up along Regent’s Park Road. But that was purely part of the living side of the accommodation side. We went to lots of other places for training. So I did it but it was an amazing experience for all of us. For most of them being the first full time of being away from work. From home. Which reminds me if I could backtrack there to when I was, went for interview in Oxford. My hope had been to be a pilot but the officer said that there weren’t any training vacancies for pilots at that time but they were desperately in need of air observers. And you are just the sort that would make [laughs] make a good air observer. Now, this might have just been a load of flannel or it might have been true. Whether to do with — I quite believe they were short of pilots but whether they had suitable people for navigators I don’t know. I say navigators. That’s wrong, it was called, at that time it was an air observer and they had an O for the wings. So I accepted this without a murmur really. Disappointed but that’s what I was accepted as. An air observer under training. The — added to that at some stage I suppose within the first year the name was changed to navigator. So I was no longer an air observer. I was a navigator under training. But to go on to ACRC in London I was there about three weeks I think and we had training in various, well-known places from these hotels. Early morning was something like a 6 o’clock start. And we formed up in flights which we’d been, I suppose, arbitrarily put into and we marched from the hotel along the road to the zoo, London Zoo where we ate our meals inside the zoo. And the long columns still in the darkness and the front one and the back one had to carry back, aircrew person had to carry a lamp. A red lantern. And it was all quite amazing to sort of walk along the road at that time of the night. Then cross the little bridge into London Zoo and have our feed there. And back again to whatever training place we’d got. We had things like the Wigmore Hall which was commandeered by the RAF and probably the other forces as well to show films and lectures. But because it was big and there were several bits to it they could show big films. Most memorable of all the experiences I think to us was the showing of the anti-VD films. So they, they put these —
CB: We’ve all had that.
GT: Hundreds of us in there and put the most gruesome, I think they were American films showing the very worst part when I think about it. And I think I have to say it quite probably put a lot of people off. Exactly what it was supposed to do. And it was quite horrible really but anyway it put people off for quite a long time so put it that way. So they become a bit more hardened to life. And we not only got things like that to try and keep you on the straight and narrow so you were fit for things and not in a sort of hospital or a ward somewhere with it. We also had a very strong additive to the tea which made it taste disgusting but it dampened down your ardour evidently. And that went on all the time we were there and some of the early postings and after a while either you got used to it or they stopped doing it.
CB: That was Bromide in tea.
GT: If you were able to fly I’m quite sure you were old enough to do what you wanted then. But we went to, I can’t remember, inside Lord’s we went to several things which was a very interesting experience to think you were actually in the buildings of Lord’s to these lectures on various items. Mostly I suppose it would be administrative and drill type items. Physical drill that we would be doing rather than more intimate stuff to do with the technical side of the flying. And it was to get you in to a shape where you were part of a cohesive group really. Lots of drill there. We had a drill sergeant was, or a sergeant rather, was allocated to each flight as we were broken up into — it was called flights at that stage. And we had a sergeant took us for the drill and marched us up and down around the Lord’s area. And generally that took part of that side of it. But the amount of drill we did there was really limited I suppose by the amount of space you could march around London in without getting into other people’s way. But generally the three weeks was really, you were not allowed out until the last week. So the first two weeks you were incarcerated in this place and we had a canteen area which most people gravitated to. Or you could just go to your room at night and that was it. No going out. We were — the first episode outwards was very exciting. To go out with your white flash on and walk out. I recall the first time I had to salute an officer which was one of the first things we were taught was that you saluted officers. I recall getting very close to this officer and being concerned as to how I was going to salute him and made a real mess of it I suppose. I think he laughed out loud at my salute but he saluted back. And it was, the beginning of that was you were in the forces and that was just one of the outward things. You soon got used to that and being in uniform was, wasn’t uncomfortable at all because every valid person, or able person was in some form of uniform. And so about three weeks went quite quickly. I can’t recall any other things of that particular area. And then we were split up. If you were still regarded as suitable for air crew they were weeding some people out who I think they thought possibly weren’t warranting training what they wanted and they had to accept a lower, lower thing really. But the ones who were going further or had the opportunity to further themselves into aircrew were split up into initial, what they called Initial Training Wings. We were a flight at this time and then split up all over the place and it would depend on wherever they had vacancies. And we had different courses at each wing and most of these were or seemed to be in nice holiday places where there were lots of hotels that could accommodate the forces. Particularly the RAF who did a lot of training in this way. In the, it was called the ITW. The Initial Training Wing and that’s where you received a lot more admin and drilling and further information on the basics without getting too far into the more technical side of the operations. A huge amount, it seemed, of drilling. Walking up and down. My ITW was in Scarborough and it was, we were based in the Grand Hotel which they’d taken over. And that’s right on the front at Scarborough and was an amazing place in its day. But to see it with nothing but air force people running about inside must have been a bit of a horror to those who really knew it. But we did a lot of drilling along the seafronts and up and down the hollows of roads around the sea. Which was good for training because we did a lot of marching up hill. And the sergeants got to know us quite well really with their usual remarks about training and what they ought to be doing.
[Recording paused]
We still looked upon the sergeants or the NCOs as some, a different breed. And I recall we used to take our shirts to, you could send them to the camp laundry or whatever you called it and you’d get them all back nicely but if you sent them to the Chinese laundries of which there were loads of them proliferated around these centres of RAF and, I expect the army as well. You got a fantastic wash and your collars, which were loose collars in those days, they came back like little sheets of cardboard but looked exceptionally smart but they were very nasty to wear. When you folded them over you had a sharp starched edge which really made your skin sore. So people were walking around with little red necks until you got used to it all and softened them up a bit. I remember one night we were out, a little group of us put our laundry in to the little local Chinese and a voice over our shoulder said, ‘So this is what you do in your spare time is it?’ And this was our drill sergeant. He’d never spoken to us, as I say, an off-duty human. But we were all very surprised to find that that he was sort of human beings too. Which was quite good and quite funny really. He chatted to us for a while but that was our first free contact with a permanent RAF person, I suppose. And we had competitions between the different flights in drill. Which was quite good because we got very very keen on it and we, my particular flight got very good at it and got very good at the drilling. The American drill which, I can’t recall the name of it but you had, went through a long, long series of manoeuvres without any orders being given at all. It has a word to it but it’s an American invention. You just started off and you went through and you followed the instructions you learned and they used to have competitions between the different wings.
[Phone ringing. Recording paused]
GT: So anyway, we won one of these competitions which was all very gratifying. And we did some classroom work which was all very basic but it was certainly leading towards being in an aircraft and flying and what outer extraneous things affected you. Like the weather. Very, very basic things. Talking about the weather and how it affected you and other types of thing which affected the flying of aircraft that were all very basic but things we didn’t know about at all. And a reasonable amount of class work doing that and we also learned a lot of — the drill was at another section which was kept to itself really. We learned small arms shooting. There was a range up on the hills above Scarborough. A shooting range. And we used to go, not often but quite regularly up there to learn to manipulate sten guns, Bren guns. Particularly sten guns and fire them both on the range. And then hand guns. I can’t remember what weapon it was, a revolver on the range to see and actually shooting at a targets. And we learned the mechanics of a sten gun because that was something we would or could come into contact with on an airfield. And we learned to take it apart and know every single nut and bolt of the thing, and that’s the sort of thing I enjoyed. So I got very good at dismantling and naming sten guns and becoming top in speed in getting them undone and put back together again. But it was the sort of thing that somehow seemed useless. What on earth are you doing that for because basically we might not see them. We would see them again obviously but not come into contact with use. But all part of the same thing. And we did skeet shooting quite a bit which was again part of observation in the sky and that fed back in to the fact that one of the other things we learned in the classrooms was aircraft recognition. And there were various ways of teaching us. Slowly learning well that’s a Junkers 88 from little cards. And we used to get these flash jack slides quicker and quicker and you had to jot down what they were. Again, eventually it ended up in little competitions to see if you could get them in time. And the cut down time was two or three seconds you’d get given to see some fighter which would flash across and you’d think you’d hardly had time to imagine what it was. But it was, it taught you which we did get into that in greater detail in further training. But most of, well all of the stuff was relevant to your future existence. But it seemed at the time why are we learning this and not getting on with learning with, in our case being navigators. But it was, in fact, part of it and in addition to doing that the ITW, the training wings held you as a group before going on to the further training which was more likely to be overseas. They had a scheme, a massive scheme organised. The Overseas Training Scheme which had a lot of training facilities for pilots and navigators in — Canada and America and South Africa were the main ones. I’m trying to think. And there were some in the UK but a smaller number for various obvious reasons it was sensible to train out of an operational dangerous place. So we then, from ITW, got [pause] let me get this right, we were posted to, I’m not sure at that stage we knew it was overseas or not because we went to Harrogate. Posted to Harrogate. Not knowing exactly what we were doing but the rumour was we were going to go overseas. And obviously we didn’t know then. We worked it out from later years there was a hold up. In other words there might have been a shipping hold up. There might not have been the ships to take us. From Harrogate we were just floating about in, again in hotels. With minimal training. And we went from there to Ludlow in Cheshire. I think it was Cheshire. Shropshire. Shropshire. I’m sorry. In Shropshire where we lived in tents and we had about five weeks there I think. And what we did there was really [laughs] well it was a waste of time but that was what it was designed to do. When we got there we had to — one of two things. We either built a drain with pipes etcetera along a route that was already there and we either built it, made it a bit longer. All part of a drainage system and sewerage system which they were laying up. Now, the next group that came in after we went — their task was more likely to be take up this building it, or this construction area that we’d done, take it all up and pack it away so that it wasn’t there. So it was just a waste of time really but it was what we were doing. And wandering around Ludlow I think. It was quite strict but it was just under tents it wasn’t very enjoyable really. And we were allowed out in to Ludlow which had one of the highest percentages of pubs in the UK I think. But that was occupied best part of a month at Ludlow and then we were back again to Harrogate. And from Harrogate one night we went by train to Glasgow. We didn’t know any of the destinations to start with. But Glasgow — we knew once we got near it because one of the trainees was Glaswegian who lived right down near the Clyde and knew it all intimately. So we got down there after a night on the train and shunting. Waiting. Kept waiting. Eventually, we got down to the docks and boarded a boat, or a ship. Whichever it was. We didn’t know where it was going or what the boat was. I think that was about a stage following, that’s right continuously on from, back from Harrogate into, back into Harrogate. Sorry into Harrogate for holding for a couple of days and then on to the train up to Glasgow, then onto the ship. The ship sailed, and it was alone. It didn’t have any escort at all. We then learned that it was the, or what became the Queen Elizabeth the 1st. It hadn’t been named. It was the first of the very very big ones and it was very fast. Thirty five odd knots which could outrun any of the German destroyers and submarines. So we crossed the Atlantic from Glasgow right down to the Caribbean Sargasso Sea where we knew where we were then simply because of all the seaweed stuff. We had no escort at all but we zigzagged the entire way across the Atlantic. Quite an experience really. And we also were taking back a large group of American soldiers. They were on board on a different deck. But the first time we’d ever seen live American soldiers. And massive great rooms in which we slept in hammocks. And also the long long tables I can remember where the food used to slide along when it was rough. It would slide right down to one end if somebody didn’t stop it. But it was all an amazing experience. I didn’t like sleeping in a hammock. I don’t think I ever got comfortable and spent quite a lot of time being seasick. I think I did get less seasick as the voyage went on. And it was really fairly boring. We had films which were all relative to our future training and flying and I suppose various sports activities which we could, I don’t say volunteer, you had to do something. You chose which one you did. I could always recall one thing. At night we saw on the horizon, in the distance, a light. Masses of people up on deck and we watched this thing and we thought goodness me. It’s getting brighter and brighter. And I don’t know, recall when it was but it was enough to see it was a very highly illuminated ship. It was a hospital ship. We found out eventually, again on its own and illuminated to indicate, indicate that it was a hospital ship. So —
[Recording paused]
CB: Ok.
GT: Yeah. So generally fairly boring really. The thing had not a lot to it. I think most of us were concerned or very interested to what the future would be. The food on board was obviously supplied by, or most of it, from America because it was food lots and lots of us hadn’t come in to contact with and it was quite good really. Nothing really to complain about on the whole. And anyway, down to the Sargasso Sea and then turned back upwards. North westwards we’d be sailing to — New York we found was the destination. We didn’t know before but we glided in one morning. Beautiful sunny morning. I can remember seeing the Statue of Liberty going up to one of the docks in the Hudson River I believe it was the Hudson. And as I can recall how fascinating it was standing at the, on the deck looking out over New York early morning. Peering down at the dock from the huge height of this ship. And we carried on from there each of us individually not knowing what we were going to do. We got off the ship onto a train and the train took us up along through New England up to Canada. To Halifax. I’m sorry — to Nova Scotia. And we went through the New England states at the best time of the year to watch the trees’ colours. And it was just a phenomenal trip. Open mouthed in amazement we were. Apart from the American train being a great interest in itself. And when we got up to, it was Halifax we went to in Canada spent I think three or four days or nights there and then we got on to a train for a four day journey across Canada to Rivers. I don’t honestly remember whether I knew where we were going but this train was non-stop. I thought it was going across to the far side of Canada and our group was going to get off at Rivers which is about a hundred miles west of Winnipeg. Right bang in the middle of Canada. And at this Rivers — a very large airfield and it was a central training place for the Canadian Air Force and we got off there and then spent some six months or so training as a, to be a navigator. The amazing thing really about, I think that struck us first of all was the flatness of everything. The prairies. This was right in the middle of the prairies and they were just flat. We did a lot, quite a lot of classroom training to start with. Relevant to flying before we actually were allowed flying. We did our training, the navigators, in Ansons which had a couple, possibly three trainees in the back with a desk to work from in the rear half of the aircraft. Possibly two. I think it was, not very often three but certainly two and you had a navigation table where you were now learning the very basics of navigation flying. And it’s a very uncomfortable old aircraft but it’s quite good for observation outside and being a very flat country that was a help to you in that. In the way of training. You could see a long long way across the prairies. You would be able to navigate down the railway line which we say which went exactly east west and had various silos at places so there was very little detail on the ground which was the way we were navigating in these days. Observational navigation really. And lots of our exercises were along the Canadian/American border. Lots and lots of stuff was at night time. Again, that was much easier than it would have been elsewhere because it was still very flat and there were lights on of course in what cities that there were. There was supposed to be. They hadn’t shut off their lights yet. And Rivers itself was, strictly was a Canadian Air Force station and it was run much like an American one which is quite understandable because they were next door to each other and they were very much cooperating in their training and living. But they’d got enough space to take on and train a lot of people from the UK. And it was number, this was Number 1 Central Navigation School and it was 1 CNS which was where we were for the next six or eight months. We had a lot of sport. Particularly things like basketball and the indoor sports which I thoroughly enjoying doing. Outdoor was limited. Certainly in the winter by the weather. And it was all definitely indoors then. We had a great time when we had leave for weekends which we used to get. Possibly about once a month you’d get two or three days off for the weekends. So most of us went in to Winnipeg and we, through an organisation the Canadians had set up you could ask to go and stay with a family and they sort of adopted you which was very nice. I had a nice family and I went to stay with them always and they took me to learn ice skating and things like that. Or perhaps took me out to see some local thing of interest. I don’t know. All sorts of things. It was very interesting. But they were very good. And it also depended, I suppose on how much you wanted to integrate and see what, what they were doing. But it was also quite fascinating in Winnipeg itself to have all the shops open and everything else. And the massive great shops in Winnipeg. And I remember walking down the street just browsing in a shop window one day when somebody thumped me on the shoulder and said, ‘You’ve got frostbite.’ We had those hats on with little flaps on which pulled down. Which made sense there but which were not properly used in most places. But I was taken inside the big shop there. Immediately bustled in there and they, the shop keepers, shop assistants took over the care of me and whipped me into the first aid place straight away and apparently my ears were sort of second degree frostbite because they went blue and black. And if it had gone further on it goes to the stage where your lobe or you ear is actually frozen solid. Then you’ve got a problem because you’re quite probably going to lose that bit of your ear. And there were quite a lot of people around with little misshapen ears where they’d got frostbite. So after this they made me wait quite a while before going out and gave me various instructions of what to do when getting back to the camp. To go to the sickbay and treat it further. But it they said, ‘Do not ignore it. It will be quite serious if you don’t just take care of it and treat it.’ So that was a thing I did. From then on I was very very wary of not getting too cold. I knew I was cold but I didn’t realise just how cold it was. And that was, they responded very very quickly to this because they were all so used to it of course, or the possibility of it. And all in all it lasted years. I wrote letters to these people. Our friendship, somehow, it died off, and I don’t know quite why now, never could quite decide whether his mother and father of the family died or what happened. Years later during the war but our letters sort of eventually ceased. But we were great friends and it was very nice to have it. And it was about six, seven, eight months I was there roughly. I can’t be too sure and then eventually you passed out or either you did pass out as a navigator qualified or you, you failed. Sometimes you failed on just a short amount or small amount of study which they might give you to resit after another bit of training. But I passed and then that meant that you were on the return list for going back to the UK. Which in turn meant a train back to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Another four days. And then getting on a boat there. A day or two there. I can remember lots and lots of ships in the sea at Halifax. We were on the Empress of Scotland. Which we eventually ended up in [pause] wait a minute [pause]
CB: Can we just take a pause on that?
[Recording paused]
CB: So you talked about when you qualified as a navigator. What was the process that happened then?
GT: Well I think the, it must have been a series of marks you got over exams in different courses. I can’t remember them all but certainly the different courses I can clearly remember would be meteorology and aviation and how it affected weather or how weather affected you, the aircraft, and the performance etcetera. And the ability to operate in bad weather. That would be under meteorology. There was, wireless was another thing we had to do and we did do this. In part, I remember with wireless operators who were people who were training to be wireless operators but they went on to a much higher standard in the way of speed. But we, I think we were all required to get up to something like twenty words per minute in Morse code. And whereas a wireless operator would be up around seventy if he was a good one. And eventually yes that would be much much faster than we could be. But there was — wireless was another group. Map reading. There was a map reading construction. We learned quite a lot about the way different types of map locators and other maps were constructed and made. Why they, why one type of map was better for you if you were flying in a certain area or a certain way. So that was a series of, series of lectures. And, of course, with all these you had an exam at the end of it on which you were marked. You had, I said about a signals one.
CB: Astro navigation.
GT: We had astro a lot. Strict navigation was split into dead reckoning as they called it. DR which was dead reckoning which was calculating in your head using different pieces of information you got from [unclear] compass or speed that the pilot would give you and you had to calculate from these using your charts the information you needed to give to the pilot. The idea of the navigator was to produce [pause] produce the route that the aircraft would fly to get to a target at a certain time. You had initial information given to you. If you were going to go on a bombing raid you had a load of information given to you by the Met Office, probably more than anything else. And then you were given the route and the name of the target or whatever the target was. And you went — I think I’m jumping ahead here. This is really, it did, you did this in practice yes. So in practice we were given the target and you separated from the rest of the crews and you went to, say the navigation room and you had your charts with you and all the other information. And incidentally the navigator would always be recognised as being a navigator as he was always carrying loads of baggage. One was a sextant. At least one. May have two. A navigation bag which was full of books. And so you had two or three things plus your parachute to carry around with you. And you put your chart out on a table and you had a table to work on. And you would go and trawl or plot it as they called it. Your track from A to the target. A — the starting point, B — the target. But you went via a host of other places for various reasons either because you were told to at the briefing for various reasons which could be to say avoid you going over heavily defended area or fortified town or something.
CB: So this was all marked for you. This was all marked as part of your qualification. So we’re talking about the marking and the qualification.
GT: Yes.
CB: And then you qualified for your brevet?
GT: Yes. I’m sorry I’ve just —
CB: That’s ok. I’ll stop for a mo
[Recording paused]
CB: So you passed all the tests?
GT: Yeah.
CB: And then you got your brevet?
GT: Yeah.
CB: So, what, what happened then?
GT: Yeah [pause] I’m trying to think if I could give an order of things. I don’t think I can. I think I’ll start off [pause] So when you had or had not passed your course I can clearly remember that I was elated to pass the final thing which obviously meant that I now had my wings as it was called. But I also remember a young, little Scots lad, very small, very small boy. Whether he had a chip on his shoulder about being so small I don’t know but he was very touchy. But unfortunately he failed. He just could not get particular bits of his course and he was quite distraught about it, and another couple. So those people went back to the UK really. And they asked the rest of us, knew that we would shortly be going back but the first thing you did was, we were given the time for parade which was a good big parade of all the people on your particular course, and we were called out simply by names. Alphabetically as I remember it because I know I was always down at the end of it and it stayed that way with T. And you were called out and marched out and given a wing. A navigator’s wing which it now was. And congratulated and then passed on to whatever was going to happen. As far as you were concerned you just didn’t know but it wasn’t very long before we were advised we were going to be posted after that back to UK. And we obviously had a few days. Possibly a week maybe when you really weren’t doing very much you were floating about. And there wasn’t a great amount you could do out in Rivers. It wasn’t a big place in itself other than it was a huge farming area. So it was just a relaxing period prior to going back to the UK to start learning what navigation really was like. All we’d done up ‘til this stage was our own manual mental navigation without the help of outside things other than a compass or an airspeed indicator and that type of information. So we got the wings and waited a few days before the journey back to the UK and all the people on this course were from the UK so returned. Returned back. I believe some of the pilots split off in to different things for other reasons and went to different places. But that was separate. Ours all stayed together and went back to UK like that.
CB: What was the rank of the person?
GT: No. Nothing to do with the rank.
CB: No. Who gave you the brevet? [pause] The reviewing officer?
GT: Sorry?
CB: The reviewing officer.
GT: Well I don’t know whether if it was a wing commander or higher. I can’t remember whether it was a wing commander or a flight lieutenant but it would have been the senior man of The Central Navigation School. Because they had then to treat all these others as, not necessarily officers. It wasn’t to do with the rank whether you got the wings or anything to do anything else. It was purely the learning you learned in exactly the same way as those who later got promoted through their aptitude or because they showed aptitude that would make a good officer as far as they were concerned. The actual promotions were not done in Winnipeg.
CB: Right.
GT: Or in Rivers rather.
CB: What rank were you in training?
GT: Sergeant. I was then, after you got your wings you immediately were promoted to a sergeant.
CB: Right. Ok.
GT: And that was so until you got reviewed back in UK. Either after passing more courses or you showed that —
[Recording passed]
GT: Everything else. It was just we went there —
CB: So re-capping. Earlier you spoke about coming back from Nova Scotia on the Empress of Scotland.
GT: Yes.
CB: So where did you go from there?
GT: We arrived [pause] — yes, we went more or less directly I suppose but in a convoy more or less this time so it was a slightly different thing. But we ended up in Glasgow. At [pause] no I do beg your pardon. Sorry. Stupid me. I’m sorry, we didn’t go to Glasgow. That was going outwards. I ended up in Liverpool, I’m sorry. We docked at Liverpool and another train journey followed to Harrogate. Back to the same holding area as we were beforehand. And I can’t recall how long we were there. It wouldn’t have been very long. Sort of something like a week or so to maybe a bit more before we were all posted out to various stations which was the next line in training. And they were called OTUs which was Operational Training Units and I went to Abingdon as my OTU and that had a sub unit. An airfield about five, four or five miles away called Stanton Harcourt where we did most of the flying from. The head office part of it. And certain of the training was done at Abingdon but the vast majority at Stanton Harcourt and are now flying on Wellingtons which to us was a much bigger aeroplane. An operational type aeroplane and the first time we had become involved with an actual operational aeroplane.
CB: So when you got to Abingdon then you were individuals when you got there.
GT: Yes.
CB: So how did you crew up?
GT: Well we were all, yes, in expectation. We still were mostly with our friends from the course. But during this time the first part of it was, a few days to crew up with six other people to form a crew. And that basically was a system of the pilots were all, they knew they were pilots and they were really to get a crew together. And it was really done by either somebody’s individual qualifications making them stand out or, for some reason but obviously there weren’t very many of that, of those people because we were all just ordinary, ordinary bodies being trained. And so the group of gunners were one group which was treated separately. Engineers, pilots, wireless operators and navigator. And basically what it was — I think they had gatherings of different groups of people. They put, shall we say a lot of air gunners in which was quite easy to match up air gunners because they had no qualifications to know who or what but you can click with somebody. Which was good enough if the pilot wanted it to be and they built up their crew like that. The closest person to the pilot I suppose is the navigator from an operational point of view. But in operating the aircraft point of view was the engineer. So if you got on very well with somebody, you liked them, you immediately said, ‘Would you like to join my crew?’ Which, that was it. Either they’d say, ‘I’ve already got somebody,’ or, ‘No thank you.’ And gradually we, we got together with the crews. And I think I’d already met the wireless operator who I liked and we were chattering and finding we definitely liked each other which was good and the two gunners. One we had met and already met somebody so those two went together and had no other reason not to join us. So that was as haphazard as that. We all seemed to get on alright. The captain, or rather the pilot turned out to be a bit of a shock because he was a squadron leader and it was a squadron leader who was a full time air force. He was RAF permanent. That was it. And quite a lot older at the ripe old age, I expect, of about thirty, thirty five. I think he was. And an RAF man is all one can say. A serviceman properly. So he might and so might all the other ones who were permanent have thought what a rabble rousing lot these young people are because we’d be ten years younger than they were and certainly not instilled with the discipline that they had. But he seemed alright and he asked me if I, what he had obviously watched, I do remember him being there when we had done some test about aircraft recognition and I was fastest in the whole thing in identifying. That may have been the reason he thought, ‘Oh he seems to be reasonably sharp.’ But he asked me anyway and I said yes. I’d like to join. He was quite a bit more formal than the others. And it was rather strange in a way whereas the others would all mooch off together he would probably go back to the officer’s mess as he would normally do as his normal life in the air force. And he had, I don’t know where he did it but he joined up with somebody he liked as his flight engineer. Another officer. An Irishman.
[Doorbell rings]
GT: Shall I stop?
CB: Keep going. Keep going.
GT: So the [pause] so, sorry out of this what sounds like a muddle which in some ways it was because it was generally letting people get together and finding their own way which was a good basis for starting with seven people who have got to stay together for the rest of the war. So our seven people were picked that way. And we had, he was full time as I say. RAF officer. The Irishman engineer. Two gunners who, one was from just outside Newcastle, the other was from Leicester. The wireless operator was from London and quite a cockney voice. And that was it. Seven of us.
CB: The bomb aimer. The bomb aimer.
GT: The bomb aimer. Oh sorry. Bomb aimer. Cockney bomb aimer and he, I have to say it was wondering around with the navigators really. They were the closest in training side to what the navigator learned and so we were quite close in that part of the knowledge. They went into the bombing side of it more deeply obviously. And so that’s how the seven crew formed. And I’m not quite sure how long we were in Abingdon. But not too long we moved over to Stanton Harcourt to finally get to grips with an aeroplane. We now had the Wellingtons there so we were getting ready to be trained on that. Which again split us up a bit because pilots took their specialist training on it as did all the others. And the navigators were, the training would have been the same whether it was a Wellington or a Lancaster or whatever it might have been. But the individual learning for individual aircraft was obviously more important for the pilot and the engineer. The others would have got used to any aircraft and flown any. So that was the stage of our real training to start off towards operational flying. And we, I don’t recall the total length of time we were at Stanton Harcourt but say it was about six months but that’s an approximation. And the next step would have been the, what was called the HCU which was the Heavy Conversion Unit. There was only one thing I can remember that was really quite funny, or in a nasty way it was funny. At Stanton Harcourt we were doing an exercise once one day. And the bomb aimer had been practicing dropping a bomb over the ranges and was down in the nose of the Wellington and he had to climb or crawl underneath the captain and the flight engineer to get back into his position for landing, which he did. And then the flight engineer, what had happened, the door came open. The front hatch came open where the bomb aimer had been or was. And after landing, as they were taxiing in, I think, the flight engineer said to the skipper, ‘I think the bomb aimer has fallen out,’ and they seriously thought that the bomb aimer has fallen out. And he said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me that before landing?’ And he said, ‘Well I didn’t want to worry you.’ [laughs] But the full time air force mess, probably the full time pilot but it was a while before they realised he’d done this crawling underneath and they hadn’t noticed in the busyness of getting ready on the, to get to land. So it was quite funny at the time yet it wasn’t. And his sextant had fallen out and some other book that belonged to the air force and he was charged with losing RAF property. And it was on, that lasted with him for months afterwards it came through They were still after either these to be returned. I don’t recall whether he had to pay eventually or not but certainly he was quoted as being responsible for their loss. Because he’d left the, obviously didn’t locked the hatch properly in the time he was there. Or whoever was there rather didn’t lock it. So it was a semi-funny but it could have been a tragedy.
CB: Yeah.
GT: If it had happened.
CB: The sanctions were there as a way of —
GT: Sorry.
CB: The sanctions were there as a way of making a point weren’t they? Rather than it being important to pay.
GT: That’s right. Yeah.
CB: I think I’m right in saying that the engineer joined you at the HCU.
GT: Sorry?
CB: The engineer would have joined you at the HCU.
GT: Yes.
CB: So where was the HCU?
GT: The HCU was at indholme. We’d moved.
CB: And how did they, how did the captain, the pilot, select. Yeah. Go on.
GT: I’ll have to stop here.
CB: Yeah. I’ll stop for a mo.
GT: Yes.
[recording paused]
CB: We’re just, we’re just going to do a recap now. Yeah Go on.
GT: Yeah. Sorry about this. A sorting centre.
CB: Yeah.
GT: Went there. Wasn’t there very long before I and my great friend, as a navigator paralleled me and we were both posted to Ouston, near Newcastle. It’s O U S T O N.
CB: Yeah.
GT: I can’t remember the name of the unit but it was training or going to be trained for flying on Mosquitoes which was a great delight to us. It was what we had wanted to do. And it was an introduction really to the, purely to the work that would be required. Not for learning how to be a navigator or anything but learning how to operate, or operate the work that the Mosquito was doing. And it was the very early days of the night interception radar. Which as far as a navigator was concerned it consisted of two fairly small screens to look at. And to cut it short basically I was not quick enough in identifying the blip of an aircraft coming sharply towards us from the side. I couldn’t identify it from the grass on the screen quickly enough so it got too close to us. It could have shot us down which was the last thing we wanted. Why I don’t know but I just wasn’t, it was a case of seconds really but that would have been enough time for a fighter to get too close to us. And so I failed that part of it and although I was ok on the other sorts of it, it meant I couldn’t follow on the final posting off to a squadron which he did get and it was operating as a night interception Mosquito. So I was given a posting temporarily to Wigtown in Scotland which was another training. But it was a flying training station and I did some flying navigator training, navigational training rather. Flying from Wigtown around various exercises up and down the Irish Sea and over parts of the UK. Which was very different to anything I’d done before. But it was a temporary solution and we knew this that we were there for only a while. The biggest thing of interest was I think really it was terrible weather one night when masses of the aircraft returned to a foggy UK. And they had to divert from the east coast up to places like Wigtown on the west coast of Scotland. And in the morning we got up and went to breakfast and saw all these aircraft parked there and they were the various Halifaxes and Lancs, possibly Stirlings. I don’t remember that but we went to one aircraft, a Halifax, and half the tail was shot off and it really shook us up. You know they’d really had a tough time. And this was the first operational damage that we saw. So it was quite an eye opener. But that was part of that happening. That wasn’t our training. But that lasted for a few months before we got back again to Harrogate enroute down to the Operational Training Unit at Abingdon and Stanton Harcourt.
CB: What were you flying at Wigtown?
GT: It was, again it was Ansons, back to Ansons. I’m not sure whether I did one flight — no I didn’t. I don’t think so. It was all Ansons. A different mark of Anson. But it was nevertheless the same old aircraft.
CB: Good. I think we’ll stop there and reconvene another time.
GT: Sorry it was —
CB: Thank you very much.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Gerald Taylor,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 21, 2024,

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