Interview with John Taylor


Interview with John Taylor


John Taylor grew up in Nottingham and was evacuated before he went into sixth form. He left school and started working as an analytical chemist at Boots and although this was a reserved occupation he volunteered for aircrew. After his initial training he went to South Africa to complete his training as a navigator. On his returned to the UK he flew operations as a navigator with 50 Squadron from RAF Skellingthorpe. On one operation the incendiaries had not dropped and they feared carrying them back to base but it took several attempts before they dislodge them before finally succeeding. On an operation to Mailly-le-Camp the rear gunner was devastated at the losses he was seeing around him and it was his last operation. He suffered a breakdown and was invalided home to Australia. On another operation the aircraft was coned and in order to escape the pilot went into a steep dive. The pilot and engineer fought to bring the aircraft back under control a matter of a hundred feet from the ground. After the war he became a teacher.



IBCC Digital Archive




Julie Williams


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01:52:13 audio recording





Temporal Coverage


MY: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Malcolm Young and the interviewee is John Taylor. The interview is taking place at Mr Taylor’s house in Sale in Cheshire and the date is the 16th of September 2015. John, if we could start. How did you come to join the Royal Air Force?
JT: Well, at the, when I was young I’d got two sisters closest to me. I was the eldest of seven. And I’d got a, I had a scholarship to the Grammar School and reached the fifth year in 1939 and so I was about to go into the sixth form when the school was evacuated into Lincolnshire. No. Gainsborough. North Nottinghamshire. I didn’t want to go. They were doing half time, you in somebody else’s house. So, I left and went to work.
MY: Yes.
JT: And I went to work as an assistant analytical chemist at Boot’s factory on Island Street in Nottingham. And I was sixteen at the time. I joined the air raid, ARP — the Air Raid Precaution people as a first aid party. I had training and days when we — mock incidents and things. Every time the sirens went I had to put my overall on, put my tin hat on and cycle to the warden’s post. And, and I got sick of this. But I found out that working as an analytical chemist — it was a reserved occupation and one day, cycling home I saw a poster “Reserved men. You can volunteer for flying duties with the RAF.” So, I thought, that’s for me. I was seventeen then and I went around to the recruiting office and they seemed delighted to see me [laughs] and signed up. And then I went home and told my parents who were not overly pleased. Proud perhaps. But not overly pleased. Then of course, I had to go through all the medicals and especially the eyesight things. It was rather funny when it came to the eyesight thing because you know, they closed one eye and you had to read the letters. And when I’d finished the examiner said, ‘Now let’s see what a mess you make of your other eye.’ The other eye 6/6. Perfect. So, right, both eyes 6/6 [laughs] Obviously, they wanted people. And then of course I was sent home to wait. And it was, nineteen four — all this happened in 1941. And in 1942 just six days, three days after my nineteenth birthday I was called up. They’d sent me a list. Razor, shaving brush. I’d never shaved at that time because I was very fair and smooth. And all the rest of the clobber. And I got it all together in the suitcase and off I went to report to St John’s, London. No. Lord’s Cricket Ground. Cricket ground. And on the train down there was a chappie sitting opposite me. Dark, a rather big nose, suitcase and he said, ‘Are you going to Lord’s Cricket Ground?’ ‘Yes.’ And so, I met Vic Page who became quite a friend. So, it wasn’t too bad. The two of us together. We got to Lord’s Cricket Ground. They formed us into uneven lines and then, to my horror told us to strip naked. We were under the stands. Where the stands go up there’s a space underneath. Of course I was brought up with two sisters and so, a virgin of course, anyway.
[that’s my son in law to collect the — ]
JT: That was my first FFI.
MY: Yes.
JT: Free from infection. After that we shambled around somewhere else. They were decking out uniforms. And then we went to a block of flats in St Johns Wood. They were very posh apartments but of course, everything had been stripped out. But we were in a, a room for three. And although we got the iron beds and the biscuits — those were square [pause] I don’t know what they were filled with. Horsehair or something. And, to my surprise — sheets. I didn’t expect to have sheets with I joined the forces. And we also had our own ensuite. But we were told by the corporal that we’d got to keep that clean and we weren’t given any cleaning materials. It was up to us to keep the bath and basin and everything clean. And we spent three weeks there at the Initial Receiving Centre or whatever they called it. My first time in London but it wasn’t Vic’s first time.
Other: Sorry to just interrupt. I can’t see —
[recording paused]
JT: Yes. In London. We were allowed, after the first week when we’d had drill every morning and been shouted at more than I’d ever been shouted at in my life. And the corporal in charge of our flight of thirty of us and it was the, I think they must have all been taught from the same script, ‘If you play ball with me, I’ll play ball with you.’ But they weren’t bad. They weren’t bad. And everywhere in London they marched us around and we saw other flights being marched around. All to the different places. And every morning stopped for break at some sort of café and we could get a scone with butter and a cup of tea for about a penny ha’penny. And you could see the corporal sitting at a table at the side. They got theirs free I think [laughs] for the perks of taking us to this café. And [pause] but quite early in the afternoon we were let off, especially in the evenings and weekends and so we went to the Opera House. And they’d taken all the seats out and boarded over at a level with the boxes that went around. Covent Garden Opera House. And there were dances.
MY: Oh.
JT: So, we went to dances there. And another time we went to travel by tube because it was convenient and cheap. Went to Max Miller to see Max Miller perform. And I thought it isn’t all bad being [laughs] in the forces. Because you feel, you know you’ve got such anticipation. Another time they took us to the Rudolph Steiner Hall by coach and showed us some training films. Horrendous things that can happen to you if you don’t take protection [laughs] when you have sex. I’d never had sex anyway. And then [pause] that must be a difference from today’s nineteen year olds. And then they put on a lot of little filler films. So, I was sitting in the warmth of the cinema, in the upper circle there and I think there were orchestral rites, “The Rustle of Spring.” And I thought [laughs] I didn’t think being in the air force was like this. But of course, the other side of it was parade every morning. Inspection. And the sergeant would come down and the old script, as I say, I think they were all taught, ‘Am I standing on your hair?’ ‘Am I,’ no, ‘Am I hurting you?’ ‘No sir.’ ‘I should be. I’m standing on your hair. Get it cut.’ You had to go off to the station barber, pay sixpence and they took nothing more than an inch. No hair on your head more than an inch. Two days later, on parade again, ‘Haircut.’ ‘But sergeant I had it cut.’ ‘Never mind. Get your hair cut.’ You’re really being taught that you don’t question orders. You just do what you’re told without thinking. Totally opposite from Bomber Command. But we went through this initial training but at the same time we had classes on Morse. We had to reach twelve words a minute in Morse which I found fairly easy because you got the rhythms of it. As long as you didn’t concentrate and just let it flow you could, because it was all blocks of letters or numbers. And they taught the Aldis lamp. Now, that was difficult. When we saw that light flashing from the Aldis lamp I found it very hard to distinguish between the long and the short flashes. But I struggled and reached the five words a minute which was the minimum to pass. And then having had three weeks of being knocked into shape and beginning to look like airmen although we were AC2s [laughs] and we were allowed a weeks’ leave. Made a big fuss of at home. And then we were posted down to Torquay for the Initial Training Wing. I think it was Number 1 Initial Training Wing, Torquay. And there again we were in a hotel. The Hotel Regina which overlooked the inner harbour at Torquay. Very nice big room, stripped bare. With just four beds in it, I think. Or five. And a very nice crowd. Very nice crowd. And you know, talk about the rude and licentious soldiering. We got an Irish guy there from Southern Ireland. Got a beautiful lilting voice and he could sing. And we used to ask him to sing for us and he’d sing all these Irish songs like “Mother Machree” and all. And again, not what you’d, not how you see soldiers or — [pause] Our regime there was to run in PE kit up to the top of Rockend which is at one end of Tor Bay. Do an hour’s PE, run down again and then do an hours drill. Change and do an hours drill and then go to lessons. And at the end of that time I was as fit as I’ve ever been before or since because I wasn’t a games player at school. I lived, you know, over a furniture shop. My father was a furniture dealer. With sisters. So, games were not my forte. But that was probably why I wasn’t commissioned until much later. Because I didn’t fit their idea of an officer. Any rate, we quite enjoyed, I quite enjoyed it but I mean one weekend we invited my sister and her friend down. I was very popular then with the boys wanting, and they stayed in a boarding house near and so that was rather nice. I had a girlfriend I later married. Much later. Now, at the end of ITW we had a riotous party at a hotel where I was drunk for the first time in my life and felt awful the next day because I’d only just started drinking beer. The next stage was then off to [pause] Eastbourne. The Grand Hotel. And there we were again in a room with a ensuite but the usual beds and you had to put the sheets, the blankets just exactly three inches and then the sheets exactly one inch and then — so you’d got a sandwich of blanket, sheet, blanket, sheet, blanket. And the corporals would come around and look at them. Throw them all on the floor and say, ‘Do it again,’ if they weren’t exactly right. And you’re, we all had gas capes. The only time we ever used them was when they were testing us by going into a gas filled room. But you had to hang them up exactly where the seams were flat and the bit where your back went you had to pull it out so it was standing out straight. All that sort of thing. Looking back, I realise the whole idea is to take away your civilian identity and make you service. But of course, among the lectures not only did we get lectures on navigation but lectures on the history of the Royal Air Force. And we went on route marches. The discipline at Eastbourne was not as harsh as before because our sergeant was a ex-flyer, an air gunner who’d done his tour of ops so, we were a bit in awe of him and he was very easy going. We’d march out of camp and a bit down the road he’d say, ‘All right. Fall out for a smoke.’ Which I didn’t. I didn’t smoke. But we’d rest and then he’d say, ‘Alright, we’re marching back. Bags of swank as you go in,’ [laughs] We’ll do our route tomorrow. Although as route marches sometimes they got quite, quite pleasant. The rhythm of swinging along and somebody would start singing and then others would pick it up and they were the most raucous and rude songs I’d ever heard. But we were all singing with gusto when we were out of sight of the camp. So, I think they [pause] after we went overseas. That’s right. Because they’d started the Empire Air Training where they were training aircrew in Canada, South Africa and America. Although at that time in America they just wore grey suits. Everybody knew who they were of course. They were all in grey. Identical grey suits. Because America wasn’t in the war at that time. And I was posted to New Zealand err to South Africa. Yes. I was just looking to see where it started.
JT: Looking in my logbook at the moment.
JT: About November 1942. 41 Air School, South Africa. But before that, of course we’d been, had a horrendous sea journey from Liverpool on a converted cargo ship where they’d put extra decks in and three thousand troops on the ship. And it was a big convoy with an aircraft carrier and two cruisers and about four destroyers and there were several troop ships like ours. Some of them were going to Singapore. You know, we were going to South Africa. And you were sleeping — some slept under the tables, the mess tables. Some slept on the mess tables. And some slept in hammocks above the mess tables. They were advantages and disadvantages in all because if you slept on, in the hammock you would either have cockroaches falling on your face if it’s something over the ceiling and you had to stow it up ship shape every morning. And of course, if you slept on the bottom tiers you were liable to have people being sick on you because of all the seasickness. Terrible. But after the first three days I felt ok. I got my sea legs and, but the ship was crowded. You were allowed one pint of beer a day and you had to queue right around the ship deck to get it and it was warm. And you had to sit with your back against the, I don’t know what you call it, some rails at the side of the ship, to drink it. They asked for volunteers to serve in the sergeant’s mess. Now, I know they tell you never volunteer for anything but I thought this might be alright. So, my pal and I, we volunteered and enjoyed it very much. Our job was to collect the food from the galley, carry it. Two plates on each arm to the sergeant’s mess and then we’d wait on the sergeants if there was anything else they wanted and everything. And then when they went back to duty, we produced the food. The food we kept to one side.
[recording paused. Phone ringing]
JT: Aircrew people.
MY: Oh.
JT: He calls himself Ivor the Engine and he does all the research and I put it in the air newsletter I produce every month that goes — send these out to all the people who are in the Aircrew Association but can’t get to meetings.
MY: Yes.
JT: So that keeps them in touch. So, oh have we started again?
MY: Yes.
JT: Oh, I didn’t realise [laughs] I was saying about after the sergeant’s had gone to duties I and my friend, we produced the food we’d put on one side. Which was the food for the sergeants. Much better quality than what we were getting in our mess and we sat down in the sergeant’s mess and had it. And then we were free until lunchtime and of course we’d missed all the drills and parades that they had so, we thought it was a good number. And this went on for two weeks. Perhaps three weeks. And suddenly we were called before the colonel in charge who said, ‘I’m afraid you can’t do this.’ ‘Why sir? Why sir?’ ‘It’s because you’re potential officers and you can’t wait on the NCOs.’ And so that skive finished and they got squaddies from the army to do the job we’d been doing. I was sorry about that because the trip took twelve weeks because we had to go right down into the South Atlantic to be out of the reach of the U-boats. Almost to the coast of Brazil before we swung around, came down below Cape Good Hope. Landed at Durban. And on the way, I think, I don’t know whether we’d got dysentery on board and we were queuing up for the toilets and they’d got no doors on. Just cubicles. And as the ship rolled all the water on the floor rolled towards us and we lifted our feet up as it rolled back. Oh dear. Oh dear.
[telephone ringing recording paused]
JT: I’ll talk about, we’d got this dysentery and so you queued because you knew that you had to go to the back of the queue because by the time you got to the front you’d need to go again. But we survived all that and landed in Durban and it was paradise. Lights were on. No blackout. You could go into the Red Shield Club or the NAAFI but the Red Shield Club was very good. The Salvation Army ran it and you could get egg and chips and things like that and plenty of it. And the attitude towards us was very good from the English that lived in Durban. Cars would pull up with a couple of girls in the back and the father in the front. He’d say, ‘Boys. Are you going anywhere? Would you like to come for lunch?’ And we’d hop in and go for lunch. We were entertained. And then after an initial time in Durban where we were in tents for the first time in my life we moved to [pause] I’m lost for words sometimes. East London. We were stationed at East London which was the, oh like I said that was 41 Air School. From there we did dead reckoning theory, dead reckoning plotting, compasses, meteorology, maps and charts, instruments, reconnaissance photography, ship recognition, aircraft recognition, signals, astro navigation and it was interesting. I was very interested. We were flown. It was the first time we’d flown because this was the first time we’d actually come in contact with an aeroplane. And they were the Avro Anson. They called them, “The flying classroom.” And three navigators came up with a South African pilot. We had the first navigator who actually did the navigating. The second one, I forget quite what he did. And the third one, there was no seat for him so he sat on the parachutes at the back and it was his job to wind the undercarriage down. It was quite an arduous task. And then we rotated. And I quite enjoyed that. I remember we did a square search. And that’s where you, if you’re searching for something. Let’s say a ship that’s been reported in distress. So that you don’t go over the same ground twice or miss it there’s a pattern of going out there and then turning at certain ways and making squares. Ever increasing. So, you covered the whole thing. And then at the end of that time and you were over the sea with nothing in sight you have to plot a course back to base. And so, it was all dead reckoning. But you, you could look at the waves and turn an instrument around until it was aligned with the wave caps and then you got the wind which was at right angles. And of course, it was important to find the correct wind because otherwise your calculations didn’t amount to much. At any rate, as we set off for base we passed right over the town and the South African pilot said, ‘Well done. You’re spot on.’ And I felt very chuffed about that. And East London was equally fascinating. It got dark at 8 o’clock but that didn’t matter because it was warm. Although we wore khaki during the day, we wore our blues in the evening. And quite early on somebody had come to the camp and offered to put us up — two servicemen for the weekend. So, I volunteered for this. And it was Mrs Butler. Her husband had a farm at a little village called Berlin [laughs] About twenty miles from East London. And she’d got three daughters and a son and I was quite fascinated. And in fact, I was so fascinated I went back every weekend. Caught the train from there and became one of the family as it were. And she was like a mother to me. And then in the evening we’d sit on the stoop, as they called the veranda. Drank pink gin. And sometimes they’d have, the native workers on the farm would have a bonfire, sit round drinking kaffir beer and we would join in and sit around on the outside drinking pink gins and it was very enjoyable. But one weekend we got a shock because they said we were going to have a church parade. Of course, that would kibosh your chances of going to Berlin for the weekend. So, Jimmy Elliot and I who were pals, both trainee navigators, we set off for a walk after lunch on the Saturday and after a little while we had a terrific thunderstorm. The rain poured down and we thumbed a lift from a passing lorry. The only lorry we’d seen in ages. And he gave us a lift and we travelled through the rain until it stopped and we said we’ll have to get off there because we’d got to get back. So, we got off and he left us. We said, well we seem to have come around in a semi-circle in a way. There was a bend. If we cut across it would be the shortest distance back to camp. So, we set off marching across the veld. Quite an experience because the grasses were above our heads almost and you got queer insect noises buzzing at you and a bit of trepidation there. And it was getting dark and we came to a river. And we thought well what do we do now? Do we go all the way back to the road? It’s taken us all this time. Or do we try and get across it? We decided to try and cross it. So, shoes and socks off, tied around our necks. Shorts pulled up as high as they could go and we started off wading across this river. The river came up to our thighs but luckily no further. And we managed to get to the other side of the river but we were confronted with a quora. A village of beehive huts and the women sitting outside pounding maze and things. And there were natives standing there on one leg, the other leg against it. Holding spears. What do we do? Well, we’ve got no choice. Just go straight ahead up that track and don’t look at them. So, we set off up this track. The women picked up their babies and hurried inside the huts. And then another black girl came down the track, a blanket wrapped around her. ‘Oh, master John.’ ‘Oh,; I said, [unclear] Missy farm?’ I didn’t know what to say. And Missy Butler, ah. And she pointed back up the track. It was the house girl at, who had looked after us while we were — so we went up there, and of course Mrs Butler was very pleased and surprised to see us because we’d said we couldn’t go. But we were made very welcome. And of course, Jimmy Elliot, he’d never been in so we introduced him to the Butler household. And nobody to this day ever believes it wasn’t deliberate. And yet it was pure coincidence. Pure accident. Some of the things I remember about going to Berlin is that you could go down into the village, which was about two miles away and you could buy sherry. And the best sherry cost a half a crown a bottle. So, we could make a contribution to the parties. Mrs Butler used to play the piano. Used to roll the carpet up, invite neighbours in and they’d have parties and dance and sing. I learned the Afrikaans songs of course. The family next door, well when I say next door, next farm, were Afrikaans and so and they were living amicably together. And then they used to have auctions for — to raise money for warships and warplanes and the boys up north. Fighting in North Africa. And it was a Dutch auction they used to have where they started high and came down until somebody bid. And they asked me to be the auctioneer. Mrs Butler said afterwards that when I left they still asked where the little auctioneer had got to. When we left, when we finished our course, done all our flying and had the exams we were posted to Cape Town. Ready to go home. We went by train and we were very touched because Mrs Butler and the two, two of the three girls walked the two miles down and stood at the railway track. As we passed the farm — waving like made to us. Further on there were black girls that waved like mad too. Pulled their jackets up to show their breasts which met with whoops from the troops. Now, Cape Town of course we were just waiting. And on the way out on the boat I told you the sergeants had their own mess and the officers had the upper deck to themselves and the nurses. And so we saw how the other half lived. Every gangway was out of bounds to other ranks. So, we thought well we’re sergeants now. We’ve had a passing out parade. We’ll go home in style. Not a bit of it. We went home on an American ship where they didn’t recognise ranks as such. You ate at long tables and they gave you tin, metal plates with indentations for the bacon and the eggs and porridge. All slopped in. And you ate it standing up at these tables. They were standing up height. The Americans mixed everything up and then took a fork and they did a rotary movement with the fork to shoot the food in to their mouths. And the whole meal was over in five minutes, and we were given guard duties. We were given to guard the Poles who were also on this ship. And we had to stand guard to stop them going. Leaving their quarters. Never knew why because they were supposed to be on our side. And so, we came back to England.
JT: What’s the time? Crikey. You’ve got me talking.
MY: If you move forward to when you were being streamed into Bomber Command. How did, what, how did that selection process work?
JT: Well, we went through OTU, which was. I can’t think of what it stands for now.
MY: Operational Training Unit.
JT: Operational Training Unit. Yes. And the first thing they did was to put us all in a big hangar and say, ‘Find yourself a crew.’ Pilot, navigator, wireless operator, engineer. We didn’t know anything about any of the others. It was pure luck. But a little Australian air gunner came up to me with a New Zealand pilot officer in tow and said, ‘This is Jack. Would you like to be our navigator?’ And I thought Jack looks a pretty dependable guy so I said yes. So, he said, ‘This is John but John said to me, ‘Well we can’t have two Johns in the crew. You’d better call me Jack.’ I thought that was very magnanimous of him [laughs] because he’s the skipper. And then Butch had made friends with an Irish wireless operator. And so we assembled the crew like that. And it was amazing how well we got on with each other. And of course, the [pause] I was driving a car by that time because in 1942 we’d had a mid-upper gunner who’d been a car, used car dealer and the pilot didn’t like him and got rid of him. But before that happened, he’d sold me a car. A 1938 Hillman Minx. Black with red seats. And so, I was very popular because I could take people into town and that sort of thing. I remember when I, I lived in Nottingham. I was born and bred in Nottingham. When I went to record everything and do my insurance and I said I only want fire and theft, ‘What happens if it catches fire next week? What do I get?’ And they said, ‘About two years in jail,’ [laughs] But the beauty of these airfields in Lincolnshire was that they were all within about forty miles of Nottingham where I lived and where my girlfriend lived. And so, every chance I got I went down the Fosseway to Nottingham. And of course, they got used to seeing me. But then I took members of the crew with me because coming from New Zealand and Canada and Ireland they couldn’t get home.
MY: No.
JT: So, they came home with me. Mother put mattresses on the floor. And I don’t know how she made the rations stretch. We helped because Butch and Paddy always made friends with the ugliest girl in the cookhouse and flattered her and everything. And they’d go around to the back door and get extra supplies of butter and stuff, bacon which we’d take with us to help my mother feed the crew. And we all went down to the local where my father used to, where my father and mother used to go. So, we became their crew.
MY: Which OTU were you at?
JT: I’ll tell you in a minute.
JT: You forget the numbers and things.
JT: That’s AFU. AFU came after OTU didn’t it? Because that’s Advanced Flying Unit.
JT: And then EFTS — Elementary Flying Training School.
JT: Well, do you know, I can’t remember.
MY: Which airfield was it on?
JT: Names escape me. Names escape me.
MY: Well it’s not that important. We can look at that later. How long was it before you actually got on your first squadron?
JT: Do you know, nearly two years. Two years of training.
MY: Right.
JT: Because after we came back from South Africa we were posted to Harrogate. And they didn’t know what to do with us, you know. Whatever. Just holding while another course moved out. Put us on flying Tiger Moths around the Lake District which was very good. Anyway, get back to ops. We, you finish, we went on to Stirlings. We went on to Stirlings for the final stage of our training. Four-engined. We did Wellingtons at OTU and they were very comfortable. Very good aircraft, the Wellingtons. And then the pilot of course wanted to go on to, had to go on to four engines so we went on Stirlings which were the height of luxury with all the controls, beautifully coloured enamels, everything. But they couldn’t get above twelve thousand feet which was their downfall. And then we finished up at Advanced Flying Unit at Syerston which is near Nottingham and that was where you were introduced to the Lancaster. We lost a Lancaster there on training because he flew into a cumulonimbus cloud. You got whirled right up and broke to pieces which gave us a very stern lesson on not to fly into cumulonimbus clouds. And then because at the end of my training some people were selected to be commissioned. I wasn’t, although I was a good navigator because my background didn’t fit. Son of a furniture dealer. Went to Grammar School. Didn’t play games. Not officer type at all. So, we were posted to Skellingthorpe which is two miles from Lincoln. Waddington, I think was the base station. We were satellite. Although at one time in our training we had been to Scampton for a few weeks. I remember that because we missed the last bus one night and had to walk all the way back from Lincoln to Scampton. Now, Skellingthorpe. We shared an airfield with 61 Squadron. We were one side. They were the other. We had the record of dropping the most bombs and they had the record for flying the most sorties. It was sort of friendly rivalry across the airfield. Now, one or two things. The first trip we went on was to a target right in the south of France and we had to fly right down through the coast. Avoid, and then fly inland and find, find the target. And our bombs hung up. We had to return and we’d already fused the J type canisters. Do you know about those there?
MY: Yeah.
JT: Incendiaries set to go off at a thousand feet. So, our dilemma was if we landed, tried to land, with these on they’d go off when we got down to a thousand feet. So, we tried every manoeuvre. The wireless op and the mid-upper gunner had come down and were trying to open the floor and get at the bombs and dislodge them. And then the pilot was doing a lot of jinking about. Anyway, we managed to drop them in the sea and we saw this big flame as they went down and think thank goodness. But as it happened that operation was a failure anyway because what they thought was a German troop camp was a refugee camp which they’d bombed by mistake. So, we all had to go back the next night. This time we got, they weren’t expecting us I think the second night. So, we were [pause] I can’t go through all the ops and things but one or two stand out. First of all, there’s the people say, ‘Were you frightened?’ I say, I don’t think so. You grew with this knowledge that you might be living on borrowed time so you made the most of every moment. The girls and the beer and everything. And me being an imaginative type, as I walked across the fields in the June evening every blade of grass, every leaf on the tree seemed bright and vivid.
MY: Yes.
JT: Because it might be the last time you saw it. But you didn’t show any fear even if you felt it because you’d be letting down the other members of the crew. And you were worried about what they might think. They were the ones. Your crew were like your family and we worked very well together and played very well together. About the fourth trip we went to, I think it was that one, we went to Mailly-le-Camp where they’d German troops or something. And something went wrong with the communication between the master bomber and us. So, the first wave that went in bombed successfully. Came home. But we were in the second wave and we couldn’t hear any instructions from the master bomber. So, we had to circle and as we circled it gave time for the fighters from the Ruhr to arrive. Oh, and a massacre. You could see Lancaster, fighter, Lancaster, fighter, Lancaster, fighter. And we lost forty three aircraft and seven people in each aircraft. And the rear gunner Butch who’d been a plantation manager in New Guinea, he was yelling and yelling because he’d got a grandstand seat. I wasn’t so bad because I was in a cabin with a curtain I could draw. I could see out by standing up and putting my head in to the astrodome.
MY: Yes.
JT: And you could see from there. What I saw I didn’t like so I went back in again. Now, Butch didn’t fly with us on the next trip because of the experience he’d had. But the next trip was to Brest where the battleship in the harbour or something and we were coned over the target. Now, that means that the master searchlight has caught you and then all the other searchlights that are automatically linked to it all latch on to you at once. Can you imagine what it’s like to have seven or eight searchlights all focused on you? It was brighter than daylight inside the cabin. In fact, it was so bright you could hardly think. And you knew that the next thing to happen were the guns that were automatically aligned to these searchlights.
MY: Yes.
JT: Would open up. Sitting target. So, Jack just dived. Pushed everything forward. Dived almost vertically. Screaming down. I sat in my cabin watching the altimeter go around and around, down and down. Then I saw we’d dodged the searchlights and then the pilot and the engineer who sat next to him they were pulling back on the stick for all their worth. And we thought this is it. And we levelled out at two hundred feet and came back at two hundred feet over the Channel. And Butch never flew again. He [pause] was determined. He had a mental breakdown. If he’d been in the RAF they’d have said lack of moral fibre and they would have stripped him of his stripes, put him down to AC2 and put him to clean the latrines. Because he was in the Australian Air Force he was invalided home. He was sick, you know. Which is, you know, a much kinder way of dealing with this. On the other hand, I can see the reasoning behind the RAF because if people had been able to say I don’t like this after they’d done twelve ops they wouldn’t have an air force.
MY: No.
JT: So, they had to have something very worse than this to make you keep flying. I was thinking we went on, D-day was the next, next thing. We didn’t know it was D-day because — we went to briefing. They hadn’t said this is the invasion but they said you must keep from that part of the Channel because there are American warships and they will shoot at anything. We knew that from experience. Now, keep away from this area because there’ll be gliders being towed. And after he’d gone through all this list of dos and don’ts we realised that it was something big. And our job was to fly at dawn and bomb the naval guns at Cherbourg on the Cherbourg peninsula. And they’d given us a cine camera as well. But we flew and there wasn’t all that much flak although there was a lot of things going on all around us. So, it was a fairly easy trip until we got there and of course the coastal guns and everything go up at you. But we bombed. We couldn’t take a picture because it wasn’t light enough. You took your usual picture with your own flash. But as we turned around dawn had broken, the sky was getting lighter and there was scattered cloud and I looked down onto the sea and I saw all these little boats. All coming up to the beach. And that’s when I realised there was an invasion going on. We got home. Because we’d been flying two nights consecutively, we were given the night off and went to Nottingham. In the pub, in the pub they got the radio, ‘Tonight our troops landed in Normandy.’ And they said, ‘What about you lot?’ ‘We were there this morning,’ [laughs] Which got us a lot of beer.
MY: I bet.
JT: Now, after, after we’d finished our ops which were more or less the same. Those were some of the highlights. None of us got scratched. Although our most exciting trip perhaps was, we were going to the, is it the Saint Cyr Military Academy near Paris? Where they’d got troops, German troops being trained there. Officers. And we were going on daylight because it was so near to Paris. We were not used to going daylight. And so, as we set off some fighters, German fighters got among the stream and you saw them breaking, sliding all over the place. Dodging. They should have kept a light on the gunners. And I saw one aircraft, one Lancaster just slide down, slantingly and take the tail off another one. Which was quite awful to see. We passed the zone like that. I was navigating and trying to keep midway between the two zones that told us where the ack-ack was worst. And the fighters went away of course. You know, they only had about a twelve minutes and had to go back to refuel. Beautiful June evening. The sun was out still and all of a sudden I stood up in the astrodome to have a look. A stream of white smoke coming out of the starboard outer engine. And as I looked suddenly that smoke turned to flame and the whole engine went up in flames because we had been hit several times by flak on the way in.
MY: Yes.
JT: And of course, the engineer and pilot pushed the fire extinguisher button and the fire went out. But it meant we were only on three engines. The port inner engine, the engineer reported was running rough so we were losing power. Anyway, we went on and bombed. All, as I say on the run into the bombing run as we were swinging around I saw the Eiffel tower and realised that was Paris under there. I’d never been but there it was. And [pause] am I taking too long?
MY: No. I’m at your service, sir.
JT: So, we’ve got to [pause] yes when we’d finished our ops. Now, I’d been called up to the group captain at Waddington some weeks before for —recommended for a commission.
MY: Yes.
JT: And asked a few question. He said, ‘Well, these people say quite nice things about you. Who am I to disagree,’ [laughs] Right? And that was it? But it didn’t come through until the actual end of the tour, it coincided. I’d already gone to the training as a lecturer when it came through. It would have been nicer if it had come through while I was still back at the squadron. 50 Squadron. And of course, nobody really knew me there. They just took it for granted. But of course, I was moved because they move you straightaway.
MY: Yeah.
JT: So, I was moved to Chipping Warden as a course shepherd. That’s where they put you in charge of a course and men to make sure of their welfare and everything. No training. No training at all for an officer. No teaching how to use your knife and fork or anything like that. But they must have thought I was [pause] and, and then to my surprise they announced that I’d been awarded the DFC.
MY: Oh no.
JT: And that came as a great surprise to me. And so had my pilot and the bomb aimer. In those days you only had the one ribbon. So they made a great fuss of me at home and in the local newspaper. But then I went home [pause] but after a while of course you were between tours. Just because you’d done the tour of ops doesn’t mean that’s it. So, they posted me to Transport Command for my second tour. We were on Dakotas and we were going to bomb the Burma Railway in Burma. Not to bomb them. To push out supplies. So, I was posted to Baroda in India and that again was a culture shock. But looking back, to think that a nineteen, twenty year old bloke had all these experiences. We’d, the Maharajah of Baroda. They’d taken over, or he’d given us his cricket ground and so we were stationed — myself, my pilot and the other crews in what were the dressing rooms. All around veranda in front and then the open space of the cricket ground. And we didn’t have Indian food. We had a caterer and we had an officer’s mess and we could have anything as long as it was eggs. You could have scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, eggs on toast. Then some funny vegetables. And there was no drink. It was a dry state. The high point of my time really was when we were picked to go to Lahore to collect beer. Supplies of beer for the mess because you could drink it in the mess if you could get it. So it was put down as a training flight. And that was about the only time I’d really been treated as a proper officer. Because we flew to Lahore. Put up at the Faletti’s Hotel in Lahore and my pilot and I were waited on by six waiters with big turbans and cummerbunds. White everything. Before you could think of anything, they’d thought of it for you. We had a meal there and the next morning while we were waiting for news that our plane had been loaded up, sitting on the terrace and there were a lot of civilian ladies and gentlemen all doing the Times of India crossword puzzle – ‘What did you get for number eighty across?’ ‘Number eight across?’ ‘Oh, good show.’ I thought this is the life. We could stay here [laughs] We could stay here. But unfortunately, we couldn’t. And you know we went back to the mess. Took it back. And it was all gone in two days. But in Baroda we did flying from the Maharajah’s own airfield. We did trips around. My pilot, who was a Scotsman from Kirkaldy, he’d been a slaughterman in a slaughterhouse. He had been an officer before but he’d flown under a bridge and been broken down to PE. Corporal PE. And then he’d come back when the shortage of pilots — come back and worked his way up to flying officer again. And he’d got the DFC. Which is probably why he picked me when we were crewing. He was a mad so and so. You know, if he saw somebody with a flock of cows below, he’d swoop down and then laughed like mad when they all scattered. I thought, I’m going on ops with him. Heaven help me. But we never got to that stage because the Japanese war finished.
MY: Right. What to ask?
JT: Yes. You know [pause] we were getting to the stage where they were demobbing.
MY: Yes.
JT: Because VE day had passed so we weren’t fighting the Germans anymore. And my pilot’s demob number came up because he’d been in before me and so they brought the whole crew, a crew of three on a Dakota, back to England. And I’d still got six months to go before my number came up.
MY: Right.
JT: So, they sent me to Wheaton Aston. In Shropshire as well isn’t it?
MY: Yes.
JT: And I know it’s near Stoke [pause] as a flying control officer. Now, a flying control officer needs six month training course which seems a pretty waste to me if you are going to leave in six months’ time. So, I used to say to the flying control office, ‘You don’t need me, do you?’ ‘No.’ ‘Ok.’ Hitchhiked to Nottingham. And when it came to be demobbed you had to last of all go to the CO to get him to sign after you’d been to all the departments. He didn’t even know me and I’d been on his station six months. Oh dear. You couldn’t get away with it now. Or perhaps you could. Perhaps you could. But then of course I got demobbed and I got married in 1945 at the end of my tour of ops. So, I was married all the time I’d been in India.
MY: Yes.
JT: And then I got home and we started the house. At my mother in law’s I had a room at my mother in law’s house. And Boots had promised me the job back so, I went back to Boots. Yes, they gave me my job back — at the same rate of pay I’d left it at. Four pound fifteen a week. I’d been spending six pound a week in the mess alone on drinks and stuff. So, I thought this is not going to be right for me. And people I’d trained to use the instruments in the lab were now seniors and I’d still gone back as an assistant analytical chemist. So again, I saw an advert for teacher training. Emergency teacher training. And I thought that’s for me. So, I applied. Went to a centre and given maths tests. Wrote an essay. And was accepted for training at Danesthorp College, Ranskill. Near Ranskill and it was like being back in the service. All these people were ex-service. They still talked about their [unclear] and things and the cutlery. And the teachers were very good I thought. And we did a whole course sandwiched into thirteen months. Of course, you didn’t have the long holidays.
MY: No.
JT: In thirteen months, three teaching practices and they let us loose. And my, my job, I applied to Nottingham and to Nottingham County because they were separate. Nottingham City offered me a job. And their practice was to have a pool of teachers and then they sent them to the appropriate schools.
MY: Yes.
JT: So, I didn’t know what school I was going to until I was told to report to this Secondary School. The name’s gone for a moment. Now, in my education I’d done all the sciences as separate subjects so I’d done biology, physics, chemistry. I’d been interested in science. I’d done navigation which is a lot to do with science. Theory of triangles and things. So, I thought I’d be a science teacher but no. Headmaster said, ‘We’ve got a science teacher. I’d like you to take over the history.’ I dropped history at third year. At any rate I said I was always one for thinking things from first principles. And I think I must have done quite well because [pause] searching for the name of the school it was originally built as a primary school. At a time when everything was [affluent?] and the classrooms were built in a semi-circle with the windows that went right back to expose it to the open air, facing south and a terrace outside. And then there was a woodwork room and a music room. There was no staff room so the staff used to meet in what was a storeroom that they’d emptied and put a table and chairs in for the staff. I don’t know what the designers were thinking of but it was very nice. I got interested in theatre and especially marionettes. I’d made marionettes at college and we’d gone around giving marionette shows. So, I started a marionette club. And the very sympathetic woodwork master made us a beautiful stage with a bar that about four children could lean on and we’d put shows on. I wrote the script and then got the teachers to read the parts. Had great fun reading different parts and then the children manipulated the marionettes and of course they recognised the teacher’s voices in these marionette characters and it was quite a hoot. I enjoyed that. And from that I was given Head of English post. And I had been up for Deputy Head at another school but when the Headmaster wanted me in, I’d had a good recommendation he discussed all he wanted to do but the Director of Education said, ‘Mr Taylor can’t be appointed as Deputy Head. He has no degree.’ So, I settled for Head of English at another school. A bit resentful. And I found it also involved being head of the library. In charge of the library and in charge of drama.
MY: Yeah.
JT: And expected to put on a production every year. I borrowed costumes from the playhouse theatre that had just opened in Nottingham. They were for the two little cats that were the centre piece of this play, “The Magic Tinder Box.” And we put that on for three nights and that was a great success. And all the time of course I was applying for Deputy Headships at this time. Time I moved on. And I applied to Cheshire. There was a job came up. And so I drove up there. No. I went on the train, that’s right. And walked. I was interviewed and apparently the post had been earmarked by the Head for his Head of English department so it had been careful. It had been written for him. English. They wanted English. They wanted knowledge of using recorders. Tape recorders. Because he had a tape recorder. School hadn’t got one but he had. And after the interviews apparently, I found this afterwards, they were tied. So, it was a dead heat and it was left to the casting vote of the chairman. Now, the chairman had taken a dislike to the Head because he was, old man Cunliffe was a true blue Tory. And the head had stood as a Liberal candidate in the autumn. And so, when it came to the casting vote, I got it. I was called back in. And the chairman said, ‘And by the way Mr Taylor, congratulations on your DFC.’ I thought perhaps that might have been a little bit of a weight.
MY: Possibly.
JT: So, I came up here in 1964 and was the Deputy at the school down the road which was Sale Moors Secondary Modern. The head was a very dynamic bloke, John Hartley. And he said, ‘John,’ he said, ‘Usually I keep my people several years before I give them promotion but in your case, you know, you’re a bit older. I’ll have to do it more quickly.’ At any rate I was rung up one weekend to say Mr Hartley had died. This was within a year of joining. He’d had a stroke in his car over the weekend. I went to see his widow and she asked me to arrange the funeral and everything. And I did this, went to school the next morning, called a staff meeting. Told them. We made arrangements for certain sections of the pupils to attend. And order of service and everything. And then I found myself sitting in front of this big polished desk and the feeling that struck you [laughs] I’m in charge. There’s nobody to tell me what to do. I’ve got to tell them. And I wasn’t altogether pleased with the way things were arranged because there were, at that time it was six form entry. Sixth forms came in every year and they tried to bluff by calling them A upper, A lower, B upper, B lower, C upper, C lower. Everybody knew that C lowers were really ABCDEF.
MY: Yes.
JT: It didn’t fool anybody. And I was given four C lower as a penalty. Probably by that Head for because he wanted [delete] to be head. Although [delete] was a very nice man and we got on well. And I made some changes. I divided the school into two halves so there were only three tiers in each half. A bit of timetabling of course you could put one half against another. But the staff accepted this. And then I decided that the important maths and English — you might be good at maths and poor at English. Or vice versa. So, let’s have them set so you could be in a top set for maths and a bottom set for English.
MY: Yes.
JT: Or vice versa. So, I introduced that. And we had a governors meeting three times a year at the end of every term. And they still hadn’t advertised the job. And so, I got to know the governors very well. When they arrived for governors meetings I offered them sherry all around. My secretary was very good and made them feel very much at home. And my wife was very good at supporting me and getting to know the governors and telling me, ask him about — he keeps rabbits. He’s very interested, ‘Oh hello [delete] I hear you’re interested in rabbits.’ Anyway, it was two years before, before they advertised the job and they’d got six candidates. Three were existing heads. And three were deputies like myself. And the existing heads of smaller schools because of course this was a big school with sixth form entry. And at the end of the interview, now let’s, I’ve gone back a bit. At the same day as my interview I’d got an interview as Head of Sale West which was a new school recently opened. But it was group six. This was a group 8. And it was in the morning. So had the interviews, it went very well but they appointed somebody else. I drove home for lunch and said to my wife it’s no good if I can’t get a group C school, no hope of getting group A. In the afternoon they had interviews again. Same governors. Same people. And I got the job. And the chairman of governors said to me afterwards, ‘We wanted you to be head,’ because they’d known me for two years.
MY: Yeah.
JT: But we were a bit worried in the morning about giving you the headship of Sale West because somebody might have come along in the afternoon so blinded us with science. We had to take the risk of not appointing you to Sale West. And that’s how I got the job as Head of the school I’d been deputy at. In fact, it was a school I stayed at as Head because it grew under me. It grew to eight form entry and had new buildings. A very good drama studio. Good music studio. I was very happy there and I’d got a very happy staff. And we had parties after school in the evening. And the cook was very co-operative. Chintz tablecloths on the tables in the hall that we sat around. Brought our own drinks. I always said staff that drinks together stays together. You know they’re not allowed to have drink in school now.
MY: No.
JT: Not allowed.
MY: No.
JT: Lots of things are not allowed. So, I was at that school for about twenty three years because there was no point in applying anywhere else because a Group 8, six, twelve hundred pupils was in the top five percent of headships. And so short of going to Eton College or somewhere I couldn’t see, but it must have got a good reputation.
MY: Yeah.
JT: Because when the High Master of Manchester Grammar — he was made a governor of a Secondary Modern school and he asked the Director of Education, he said, ‘I know nothing about Secondary Moderns. What shall I do?’ And the Director of Education said, ‘Go to John Taylor’s and have a look at his school.’ So, he spent the day with me and no doubt learned something about running a school. Anyways, I’ve talked long enough haven’t I?
MY: Well we’ve actually managed to —



Malcom Young, “Interview with John Taylor,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 2, 2020,

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