Interview with Jack Wakefield


Interview with Jack Wakefield


Jack Wakefield grew up in New Zealand and volunteered for the Air Force and the Army. After training, he flew operations with 75 Squadron from RAF Feltwell and with 38 Squadron in the Middle East. He describes a crash when he was instructing.







01:18:43 audio recording


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AWakefieldJ161029, PWakefieldJ1601


MS: This is Miriam Sharland and I’m interviewing Jack Wakefield today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We are at Jack’s home in Wanganui and it is Saturday the 29th of October 2016. Thank you, Jack, for agreeing to talk to me today.
JW: It’s a pleasure.
MS: Also present at the interview is Glenn Turner Of 75 Squadron Association. So, Jack can you tell me a bit about your early life before you got involved with the air force?
JW: Well, I was an apprentice upholsterer when war broke out. And I joined the air force and the army at the same time. But the army age was actually twenty one. So when I got the message from the air force that I’d been accepted and that I was going in to camp on the 8th of April 1940. I sent my father down to the army headquarters to say that I was too young to join the army and they weren’t very pleased. But anyway I made the right decision and really enjoyed my time in the air force.
MS: So what made you decide to join the air force?
JW: Well, we were very patriotic as young people and I was actually in the Territorial Army, and that’s why I joined the army at the same time. Most young men were looking forward to adventure. We knew that it was dangerous but it didn’t worry us a great deal. So it didn’t matter a hell of a lot to us which service we went in. But I said years later, there’s one thing about the air force, you go home to bed — if you go home.
MS: So how did you end up in Bomber Command?
JW: Well, eventually, when I arrived in England in July 1940 we were all gathered at Uxbridge in London and from there we were posted to all points of the compass. And I happened to go to number 5 OTU Aston Downs which is an RAF station, training on Defiants. And during that period the Defiants were meeting up with the Messerschmitts and initially the Messerchmitts were coming behind the Defiants which had a four gun turret firing twelve hundred rounds a minute, each gun. They fell to the gunners and the air force were ahead. But once the Germans knew that the Defiant had no forward armament they started attacking from the front, and then things were reversed. The Defiants were, suffered heavy losses and were withdrawn. By that time I’d finished training on Defiants and they had to do something with us. We were trained air gunners after all. No matter what aircraft we were flying in. So we were posted to 75 Squadron. A New Zealand Flight that had evidently a shortage of air gunners. Like replacements.
MS: So did you want to be a pilot?
JW: Yes. I definitely wanted to be a pilot but I, to be quite honest I just didn’t have the education. I was quite capable of passing, you know, exams. I had a proficiency certificate but that wasn’t sufficient. One thing I couldn’t do was mathematics because I’d never seen them in my life. That’s algebra and all that kind of stuff. So I stumbled there. But anyway I was quite happy to go as an air gunner but I would have, right up to the end of my service life I would have liked to have been a pilot.
MS: So can you tell me a bit about the air gunner’s role? What did it feel like when you were in the turret?
JW: Well you felt responsible for your other crew members. You were the only eyes facing backwards. And we had small duties like the navigator might want a drift. Get the drift of the aircraft and things like that but mostly the main function, I suppose, was extra eyes, especially facing backwards.
MS: And did you ever shoot any German planes down?
JW: No. To be quite honest I never fired a shot. But we were fired at occasionally but quite often the target was too far away for me to retaliate so I’d just give the pilot instructions which way to dive to get the darkest part of the sky.
MS: Can you tell us what it was like when you were training?
JW: Well, it was very thrilling getting into a two seater fighter with a Merlin engine up front, even though it was underpowered for the weight it was carrying. We were so keen to fly that there was pilots going up in Blenheim’s solo and we volunteered to go up with them. And one day I went up with this Blenheim pilot and the aircraft — most of the aircraft were clapped out and we got up, he was going up to, I think it was twenty two thousand and we got up to about fifteen and I found I had no intercom. And there was also a light button which we could send Morse. That was u/s as well. And then when I turned the oxygen on that wasn’t working either. And I couldn’t, I could bash and yell and everything but I couldn’t make the pilot hear me. But at seventeen thousand, it’s in my logbook, seventeen thousand you start to overheat so he descended. So, otherwise I would have gone to sleep. That’s just a little side line.
MS: What did it feel like going from New Zealand to England?
JW: Well, it was a great thrill of course. You see, we were, well I was only third generation New Zealander. All our history at school was British history so we felt very very close to English people. And we knew all about, well I wouldn’t say knew all about, we knew a lot of English history. We knew London. All the history connected with London and all that kind of thing. So we really enjoyed getting around. Then we got to Uxbridge. If we weren’t posted in the morning we were free for the rest of the day. So another New Zealander, a navigator, we’d tramp around London until we were absolutely footsore. And I suppose we were glad to be posted [laughs] because we were running out of money as well.
MS: Can you tell us what squadron, what squadrons you were in and what rank you were?
JW: 75 Squadron. I was a sergeant.
MS: And what —
JW: 38 Squadron I was firstly a pilot officer, actually firstly a flight sergeant, then pilot officer and flying officer.
MS: And where were you located? And what was it like on the bases where you were? Where you were based?
JW: Well, Feltwell of course was a permanent base. A peacetime station built in brick and all that kind of thing. You know, a quiet English village and when I got married I took my wife down there and we lived on a farm and the farmer and his wife really looked after us. And we used to enjoy a bit of a social life in the, well one pub was called The Bear. It was right, more or less opposite the gates of Feltwell. And in that pub my wife met an air gunner and he was flirting with her, and I didn’t knock his block off because he was harmless. But anyway two nights later the poor devil got a cannon shot through him and he went to Ely Hospital where he died. That was just one of the things that happened as soon as we got there. But anyway, my wife, living on the farm she could hear the squadron take off and she’d hear us drift back, and of course quite often we were, we couldn’t get down because of fog. So we’d be diverted but I had no way of contacting her to say that I was ok. So if I left, say, left home say at 8 o’clock the night before to take off at ten or something like that. 4 o’clock the next afternoon there was no Jack. And the farmer’s wife evidently went real solid, you know, stern, sad. But I’d just waltz in through the gate and the farmer’s wife would say to my wife, Joan, ‘Jack’s just come through the gate.’ But they really did treat me as their own and gave the wife and I a nice honeymoon. Until I finished my thirty trips.
MS: How did you meet your wife?
JW: Well I think there was three of us. We were on leave in Lancashire and we were wandering around a market there which they had. They had these stalls in the street. Well, you would know about that. And I was looking for pipe tobacco which was hard to get. There was no issue. You just had to get it where you could and we were going around the odd tobacconists and that and asking if they had any. Most of them said no because they’d have it under the counter for their customers. Anyway, there was these two nice, nicely dressed girls, one blonde, one brunette. Well, very well dressed and they were looking for flowers for their mother who had only died roughly six weeks before. And we passed them once or twice and gave the smart remark, you know. We weren’t crude in those days at all. Anyway, we passed them again later on and I asked them if they’d like to go to a local pub, have something to drink and eat. And after we got in there we ordered salmon sandwiches and then we started to sweat. We didn’t know how much they cost and we were nearly out of money because this was the end of our holiday. Anyway, I got on with Beryl’s [unclear] very very well and I promised to write to her because we were going back the next day. And she said to me, her sister Audrey, ‘He’ll never write.’ Well she got quite a shock because I did write. And at that time the girls were, they went home to live with their auntie because their mother had died and the house was sold. And they all got permission from their auntie for me to go there on leave. So that was great.
MS: So can you tell me how you got together with your crew and tell me what your — ?
JW: Oh yes I can tell you about that. I’ve just got to think of the name of the ‘drome for a minute. Oh God [pause] One of those great big personnel aerodromes.
GT: Westcott.
MS: Was it Westcott?
JW: I just can’t remember the name of the place.
MS: Was its Westcott?
JW: No. If you just turn that off I can go and get my logbook.
MS: Sure.
[recording paused]
MS: Ok. So Jack I understand you were a fill-in gunner.
JW: Yes. There were six of us that came off Defiants because they were taken out of service. And there were six of us posted to 75 and they were all people that had trained with me on Defiants. They were surplus to requirements on those squadrons. I think they used some of the Defiants for night fighters, but the chances of detecting anyone was pretty remote. So that’s how I happened to go to 75 and we were just slotted in where air gunners had probably taken ill etcetera etcetera. So, that’s how I became a gunner on 75. The first pilot was an Englishman and he broke his leg doing back flips over the couch in the officer’s mess. So he was [laughs] he was sent away to recover. And I think the next one was a Charlie Pownall. He was a New Zealander. And all the crew wanted to go to the Middle East except me because I’d met this blue-eyed beautiful lady. So I went to the CO who was Wing Commander Kay and said to him that I’d like to stay in England. Now, I wasn’t, I wasn’t dodging anything because naturally it was tougher over Germany than it was over the desert. So he said, ‘Wakefield, if you can get someone to take your place that’ll be ok.’ So one of my mates was Jack Milner from Hamilton, and he had spent most of his life up the Pacific and he hated the snow and ice in England. Absolutely hated it. So when I told him the story he said, ‘I’ll go.’ So Jack went out to the Middle East in my place and he did fifty two trips but he was killed out there. Well, later on of course I finished my thirty trips and then I was posted to a training school. Operational Training School. There I was what they called a screened gunner. I was screened from operational flying but I took crews out over the Irish Sea and we fired on drogue, a drogue towed by another Wellington. And then when we had finished firing we turned around and they would fire on us. And naturally we were firing out to sea. And during that period when I was training other people we were airborne one day, about half an hour, one engine cut out. And we weren’t very high. We were flying across England towards Finningley and we were in sight of Finningley aerodrome and the second motor cut out. So we crashed on the Great North Road. The pilot put the plane down perfectly on the road, but the wing, of course was too wide for the road and we collided with pine trees which ripped the Wellington around and broke its back and in fact broke it in half, and half went down the road. The crew, including myself and the front went through a hedge and the aircraft burst into flames. Being a pretty cunning critter I already had the escape hatch out before we touched and I was laying down with my feet up on the main spar to take the shock. As soon as we hardly stopped rolling I was going out through the top, but the flames were right on our tail. I got one hand all blistered and the chappie next to me, he got his face blistered as he got out the astro hatch. So that was a bit of a shocker. The rear gunner, who was a pupil, and I left him in the rear turret because generally it was the safest place in a Wellington. In this case it wasn’t because the aircraft was doused with fuel when the wing tanks were ruptured and the second half which is, you know is nothing to burn really, went up in flames and the poor chap was caught alive and burned alive, which is one of the horrible memories I have.
MS: So can you tell me what kind of planes you flew in and how they compared to each other?
JW: Well, of course a Defiant was a two-seater fighter and it was too slow for us. With the weight of the turret and the weight of the ammunition of the turret and the weight of the air gunner it was just too sluggish, too dead. The Wellington of course was the heavy bomber when war broke out and a very hard-working work horse. It carried four thousand pound, a four thousand pound bomb. And we went to many many targets in Germany where we were shot at occasionally. Came back once with forty two bullet holes in the aircraft, but most [laughs] most of the time when we got a barrage which appears very close we generally said something like, ‘ship,’ which is my magic word to get away with anything.
MS: Can you tell me about some of those ops that you went on? Any particular raids that stay in your memory?
JW: Well, I can. The memory’s a bit slim on that because they were mostly very similar. They were either good flights or tough ones. But I went to Hamburg five times which was one of the toughest targets to go to. And when the briefing went around they used to have the map of Europe under a sheet during the day. More or less for semi-secrecy and it had a red tape across to the target. And when it was unveiled and it was Hamburg you could hear this audible sigh amongst the aircrew of, ‘Oh God not again.’ I went there five times and you went up, I think it was the Dortmund Ems Canal because Hamburg’s an inland port. And all along that canal was armed and the worst thing was the searchlights because if a searchlight hit on to a Wellington say that was travelling at, we’ll say a hundred and fifty miles an hour they only had to move the searchlight a fraction to keep it on the aircraft. And although our pilots weaved and chucked it around and everything it was almost impossible to get out of. And what we did, there would generally be three on you at once. So they would pass you from one to the other and when you probably got down the end of say, three there would be another three pick you up. And of course if you were blinded by the searchlights you had absolutely no vision outside at all, it was just absolutely blinding. So that’s when a Wellington would be a sitting duck for anything that was hanging around but it never happened. But I remember one night flying past one while another Wellington was getting hammered with the anti-aircraft fire. We sneaked past and I was quite happy about that, another tough target was Berlin. I went there three times and of course part of the endurance I suppose is the distance of those two places. Especially Berlin, you know. All the way from the coast of France you were being tracked. But apart from that, I mean, you felt quite proud of yourself when you got back. You didn’t worry about whether you’d get back or not. But I will admit that on 75 we didn’t lose big groups. Not until I’d finished. And then a night bomber, [unclear] went down there were six crews lost that night. Which was thirty six young men that weren’t there for breakfast, kind of thing. But during my period there would be two occasionally. Mainly because the weather was so shocking. We were snowed in and the Germans were snowed in as well so there wasn’t a great activity. I mean it took me nearly six months to do thirty trips and quite often they would save you until the moonlight period. And I think I did seven in nine nights at one stage, something like that.
MS: So how was the morale on base when you talk about people not coming back. What was the general feeling amongst the crews?
JW: Well, when it was a question of say of two crews they’d just say, ‘Oh we hear old so and so didn’t get back.’ But see there was always a chance that they were a prisoner of war. We didn’t know that they were alive or dead and it may be weeks later before the squadron would know if they were a prisoner of war. So we didn’t worry too much.
MS: Was it hard to get close to people or to make friends? Especially as a fill-in crew.
JW: Well I’m glad you asked that. We were in close groups of friends. In other words chaps that I went there with, you know like the air gunners. I was mostly, you know, we’d go to the sergeant’s mess. We’d form a little group in one corner. And later on I went to the OUT. There was a New Zealander from Fielding and a New Zealander from Hawera and they both worked for Hodder and Tully. Now, this pilot, he was really good friends with us to. So much so that when his wife had a baby and baby clothes were very hard to get in England. Wool was hard to get so my wife gave her Beryl’s baby clothes. And Hugh Kempton was this pilot’s name and I always told my family he was one of the nicest guys I’d ever met. This was as a young man. Always smiling. He had real laugh lines around here. Why he latched on to us I don’t know. Probably because we were Kiwis I suppose. But normally crews mostly, especially crews that were trained in Canada, they would probably stick together most the time but generally if we went out for the evening it would be as our own crew. And we would get drunk, etcetera and stagger back.
MS: So what kind of things, what kind of things did you do in your off times? So you mentioned that you might go out for a few beers with your crew. What other kind of things did you do when you got some time off?
JW: Well, you couldn’t go far from base during the day because you might be called for briefing. This was an operational squadron. Mostly we were on base and you would kind of get in the mess and have a yack. In the case of the air gunners we’d go out and clean our guns. That kind of thing. You always had the odd button to sew on. Or write home. That, more or less just basic stuff like that. You know, mail home took quite a bit of time because everybody wanted to hear about you. I just wish that I’d told my family more. Because we were told to keep our mouths shut I kept my mouth shut. So they didn’t really have a clue what I was doing half the time. I wish I’d been a bit more open about it. I’m sure it would have meant more to them.
MS: So, you mentioned before about things that people did in the mess, jumping over sofas and things like that. What other kind of things did you get up to?
JW: Well, in the sergeant’s mess and I believe it was in the officer’s mess as well, there were these black footprints that went up the wall, and over the ceiling and down the other side. And they were just perfectly in the right place, you know, distance apart and everything. And evidently, they were put there by Popeye Lucas who was one of the early flight commanders of 75 Squadron. He was the culprit but I didn’t know ‘til after the war. I think I read Wing Commander Kay’s book that named him. There was that kind of thing. And we had a chap from Wellington. He was the guy who designed the 75 logo. If we were playing snooker and he missed the, missed the [pause] what do they call it? The pocket. You then took a shot at the lightbulb. So we finished up with no lightbulbs over the, over the tables. So we could only play in the daytime. We couldn’t play at night. We couldn’t play at night until the bulbs were replaced and believe me they’d be very slow in replacing anything during the war.
MS: So, Jack, did you and your, and your fellow crew members, did you have any kind of personal mascots or superstitions or anything that you did?
JW: Well I did. I think it was, I think it was my wife’s sister that gave me a little knitted doll thing that I put on my guns. More or less to please her. But something kept me safe, I don’t think it was that though [laughs] I think it was the prayers of my wife and my mother. We were, I don’t think we were really suspicious. Is that the word?
GT: Superstitious.
JW: No. I don’t think we were really.
MS: What about nose art on the planes? Did any of your planes have any good nose art on them?
JW: Had any what?
MS: Nose art.
JW: Oh yes, they did, Glenn would know this. On Y for York, it had a big soda syphon with a big hand squirting bombs out. And I think it was Glenn that showed the photograph at one of our reunions where I’m standing on a ladder in front of that, and there were several members. Bob Fotheringham was one, and probably a navigator but the fourth guy was the fighter pilot that had only dropped in for the day, and we said, ‘Hey you.’ But that’s, that’s the only one. And that [pause] that Wellington lasted about twenty trips before it went down. And roughly about three I suppose, three or four after I’d finished. That night as I explained before they lost six crews that night, and that was one of them. So —
MS: And I read that you used to drop bricks out of the plane with —
JW: Oh yes. I used to drop half bricks with rude words what Hitler could do to himself. And I think I used to imagine them coming down with a hell of a whistle and then plop, like into a bog [laughs] I mean I can imagine the Jerries ducking and running when they heard the whistle and then there was just a plop.
MS: Can you tell me about the thousand bomber raids?
JW: Yes. I can. I was, I was on OTU at the time. 23 OTU, and I was doing aerodrome control on the satellite. The chief flying instructor asked me if we’d, if a couple of us like to, Kiwis would like to do aerodrome control which is a duty pilot, which was only normally up to that time done by pilots. And we said we’d give it a go, being Kiwis of course you couldn’t have it any other way. So anyway we made a success of that. One day he rang me up and he said, ‘Wakefield.’ he said. ‘I’ll see you out on the runway in about forty five minutes. I’m going to do an air test and I’ll drop in and pick you up.’ And he said, ‘Bring your pyjamas and your tooth brush.’ And when I got in to the aircraft he asked me if I’d just test the hydraulics in the turret. And he said, ‘I can’t really tell you why I’m picking you up or what’s on but briefing’s at 4 o’clock.’ So 4 o’clock we went up and found out the thousand bombers was on. And what they did, they, they got all the front line squadrons in. Then all the OTUs produced fully trained crews that had just barely finished their training. So that’s how they got their numbers. I think the greatest number, I think was nine seventy, they never quite got the thousand if I remember rightly. But pupil crews they went as pupil crews. Us instructors went with other instructors. And in my logbook, I’ve got a Pilot Officer Monroe. And I think he’s the, he was the one ‘cause the timing was about right. He would have been a pilot officer and it kind of tied up with his other exploits in units. But anyways there was a Pilot Officer Monroe and I know he was a New Zealander. I only flew with him once, but I made a comment to one of my mates, ‘These bloody cow cockies are good pilots,’ [laughs] So, anyway we went on those three but with weather we were delayed a lot longer than they expected us to be together because all training stopped during that period. I think they were spread over three weeks. I’ve got the dates in there but I’m sure they were about three weeks. And they were all pretty easy raids because the heavy bomber force had gone in before us. We were on the end because we were more vulnerable. And in some of them we were more or less a picnic. Heavy fires burning, bags of smoke and flashes going off and all the rest of it. But anyway great publicity in England of course. That was, really gave the British people a lift because we’d been hammered before then.
MS: Can you tell me what it was like going to a briefing? What, what happened at a briefing. Can you just talk me through?
JW: Well we used to go in generally like there would be an assembly hall and there’d be a chart of our target for tonight up on the wall. And when the intelligence officer pulled that cover off the map of Europe we knew where we were going. That’s when I told you if it was Hamburg there was a big sigh. So that’s the first thing. The first time we’d know. Well, at one stage they withdrew all permission to live out because they reckoned that they knew where we were going before the aircrew did. Anyway, I still lived out despite orders because they had a friendly hole in the fence and I used to go out there and go home on the farm. Come back the next day about 2 o’clock, ready for briefing about 4.
MS: So you told me that one time you came back from a raid and you ran out of petrol on the runway just after —
JW: Yeah. Marham. Forget where we’d been now. And one motor cut out while we were taxiing and ran out of fuel. It was pretty hairy at times because the weather forecasts weren’t a hundred percent and your petrol load would be estimated. But if you struck an adverse wind of course that would gobble your petrol up. But sometimes they baled out over England if they were lost. They might not be able to land because of fog. Some went right across England and in to the Irish Sea and were lost. So it wasn’t just the operational side of it that was dangerous. There was a hell of a lot of other dangers as well. With Bob Fotheringham — one night we were ready to take off with a full bomb load on. He goes careering off the grass runway and then starts heading straight for the hangar. In other words his trim was all to blazes. So he throttles back, goes back to the end of the runway again ready for take-off. Trundles down the runway, gets up up to about sixty miles an hour and starts heading for the hangar again. Third time we got off but naturally I had no control over that so it didn’t make me very happy. Where we did take off, at the end of the runway was a damned anti-aircraft gun. You know, if you were a bit low that would bring you down. I didn’t like that there either. It’s just another little incident that I was telling you about. Life was full of incidents. Remembering them is the hardest part.
MS: Do you remember James Ward VC?
JW: Honestly, no. He was on the squadron at the same time and I’m positive about that but as we kind of congregated in our own little crew numbers to me he would just be a new chum. So I couldn’t, I couldn’t claim to know him. But you see I’m trying to remember seventy years ago now too. But I probably just looked at him as a new intake.
MS: Can you remember what it was like the first time you went on an operation? How you felt?
JW: Well, I suppose I was a bit apprehensive for a start. I suppose it would only be natural but I think that with the lack of detection methods we had a pretty good chance. And you’ve got to remember that if there wasn’t a moon it was absolutely black, you know there was no lights anywhere. You might see the odd flicker of a train being stoked as it went along the line but in full moon we were open. Really open. From any direction. We wouldn’t even see it coming. I didn’t like moonlight nights.
MS: And you told me before about the time when your aircraft identification —
JW: Oh the IFF. The IFF blew up on take-off and it had a detonator on it to destroy it in case of crashing. So the Germans couldn’t get access to any secrets. And ours blew up on take-off and the pilot called up asking whether to return to base or carry on. We were told to carry on. The ground defences would be warned that we were on our way out. And that was very very good. The only thing is they never told anyone that we were coming in, and we happened to be coming in over Southampton where the navy boys gave us a burst up the backside. It was quite severe naval barrage too. The next thing a fighter, a German fighter err a British fighter came up the side of us. Had a look at me. I had a look at him. And then he veered away which we were rather pleased about. And no doubt he was too. But I knew we were out of range. Probably a Messerschmitt 109. The chance of it being a German were pretty, pretty remote really. But anyway that was just another little incident that happened.
MS: So, as a rear gunner how, how difficult was it to detect whether an aircraft was friend or foe?
JW: Well to be quite honest. There is no other way to say this and there’s no other way to do it. If anything comes up behind you you squirt at them. You can’t possibly tell in the dark what it is. Now, he might be coming up behind you, not, being a friend but not knowing you’re there. But that’s just the way it happens. I had a friend that reckoned he’d put a burst into one of ours one night. He asked me what he should do. I said, ‘Just keep quiet.’ I said, ‘You’re a volunteer. You’re don’t want to waste all that training and experience.’ And it was just one of those things. He was very upset, and he didn’t know what to do but he did take my advice. There’s no point in admitting anything like that. Except to say that somebody come behind you, you knew and you gave them a burst. You can tell them that part of it. I didn’t feel a bit responsible for anything that got behind me. I would shoot at. In the dark and in the moonlight. I mean you can be in a classroom and they would show you all the designs and different shapes of aircraft. It means nothing at night. And of course around home bases you’ve got your navigation lights on. That’s a bit different. Although they did sometimes attack us on the circuit when we were taking off or coming back.
MS: How did you get on with the local people? Did you, did you meet a lot of the other local people and how do you think they felt about the Bomber Command being in that area?
JW: Well, the local people were fabulous for a start. And not only that they really, they really honoured us because Britain had taken quite a hard bombing. Our ships were being sunk at sea. Especially the merchant ships. And we were the only ones taking the war back to Germany. And I think for that reason we had a lot of respect. We were the main ones that were hitting back. The navy boys were fighting their backsides off in the Atlantic but the English people couldn’t see that. The bomber boys, they could hear them going and they could hear them coming back and then there was quite a bit of publicity in the papers. Where we had been to and all the rest of it. Now, I think that, I mean I for instance respected the English people. They were working in factories day and night. My own wife and her sister were working on munitions. And in the winter it was dark when they went to work and it was dark when they came home. So they were putting their backs into it. And the Home Guard were special. I was asked to break up a fight one night in a pub. And this warrant, English warrant officer who was in plain clothes because he was going to a dance, he said, ‘Would you come over here and sort this corporal out. This RAF corporal. He’s picking on a Home Guard. And that Home Guard,’ he said, ‘Is my local butcher. He’s a butcher during the day and home guard at night.’ So I went over to this RAF corporal who happened to be a boxing champion. Nobody told me that of course. And I went over, and I said to him, ‘What’s the trouble corporal?’ I was a sergeant at that time but a very new sergeant. ‘What’s the trouble corporal?’ He looked at my three stripes and of course there would be hundreds and hundreds of air crew around. You know, new sergeants and he would, he was permanent staff guy, so he’d more or less spit on us. So, anyway he called me a bloody sprog, so I hung one on him. And this warrant officer came over and hauled me off and he said, ‘Wakey, I asked you to stop a fight not bloody start one.’ So while, this guy’s hauling off me off my mate from Harborough goes and he gives this bloke another one. So the next day — overnight I heard that this guy was an RAF boxing champion. So the next day he sidled up to me and said, ‘I’ll take you on in the ring anytime you like.’ I said, ‘Do you think I’m bloody silly.’ There’s a difference between a roughhouse and, you know, boxing in a ring where a good guy can get at you and you can’t get at him. But anyway it all well that ended well but, you know, a sprog. Calling somebody that had been over Germany many many times a sprog. That was an insult. That’s why I bopped him.
MS: So you mentioned before about going to dances. What were the dances like in those days?
JW: Well I was a very, very poor dancer so I sat most of them out to be honest. I could go over Germany but I couldn’t face a girl to dance because I couldn’t dance properly. That, the chap from Hawera, Alan Campbell and the English warrant officer pilot. He was on rest with all — he was another instructor. We’d all done our thirty trips over Germany. So we totally resented being called a bloody sprog by a corporal who was PT corporal actually. I mean they have their job but I mean they were a bit officious and they were used to everyone jumping but I didn’t like being called a sprog so I filled his teeth in a bit [laughs] But I actually, I wasn’t, I was never bad tempered or anything like that. My natural nature wasn’t like that. But if someone insulted me that was different. You know, do unto others.
MS: When did you end up on 38 Squadron? Can you tell me about that?
JW: Yes, I served on 75. Then I went on instructions for instructing people for about nine months. Then I was asked to do the three, one thousand bomber raids. And a few weeks after that I was posted to the Middle East. And we went to this big aerodrome which I’m damned if I can remember. A massive one, a personnel base where they trained. Well they were checked crews because most of them had been trained. And we went into a big hangar there and you’d just mill round and if you see a pilot you ask him if he’s got a crew. That’s how we were crewed up. We’d never met each other before. Now, I happened to arrive there with two Englishmen off 75 Squadron and they said, ‘Are you in a crew, Wakey?’ And I said, ‘No.’ And they said, ‘Well, we’re not either.’ So then they came to me and they said there’s a Canadian crew who want to take,’ this was a wireless operator and a front gunner, ‘They want us, but they don’t want you because they’ve got their Canadian friend, rear gunner. So I said, ‘Well you go with them. I’ll find a crew.’ But they absolutely refused over several days. So the Canadians gave in and they decided they’d take me. Just shut that off for a minute.
[recording paused]
MS: So, Jack, can you tell me, you went to Mediterranean Command with 38 Squadron.
JW: Yes.
MS: Can you tell me how that was different to Bomber Command?
JW: Well I suppose it was only really different in living conditions for a start. We were under canvas. Apart from that the operational side of it was the same. And 38 Squadron dropped bombs, laid mines, dropped depth charges. In other words we were a work, you know, a maid of all works as far as bombers were concerned. And it was actually quite pleasant serving out there really. Apart from the odd dust storm.
MS: So can you just tell us the story about the trip where you didn’t get your lunch?
JW: Ah yes we were flying from Gibraltar to Lagos in Nigeria and it was eleven hours forty minutes. And after six hours I thought it was time to have something to eat. I called up on the intercom and said, ‘Any chance of any grub?’ And there was stone silence. And then the second pilot came down with some Jubes which I told him where to put them. And I was very very irate that they could draw our rations and couldn’t count to six as there was on that crew. And so it meant that by the time I got anything to eat it would probably be about thirteen hours. And so I was pretty irate and determined to see the CO soon as I got down to ask for a transfer from that crew. Anyway, I kind of forgave them. Got over it. Later on, when I was promoted, my pilot came to me and he said, ‘I see you,’ he didn’t, he congratulated me when I, when I got my pilot officer, he congratulated me. But when I got promoted to flying officer roughly about six weeks later because it followed me out from England — the commission. He flew at me and called me a little runt. So I said to him, ‘Well if you’ve got any grizzles about pay or promotion go to the Canadian air force headquarters. Don’t moan at me. I’m not even in your own air force. I’m not even the same trade.’ And he did a bit of a snarl. And after that I was asked to drive a truck from Suez to Benghazi for the air force. So while I was away on the road trip my crew went to Malta. And when I got to Benghazi the adjutant asked me if I wanted to follow my crew. And I said, ‘No. I’ll stay in North Africa.’ So we parted. Later on the second pilot came back to 38 Squadron in Benghazi and I did some trips with him. He was ok. I didn’t take it out on anyone else. I’m damned sure it was the pilots work. I don’t know whether he dumped my lunch or what happened to it. Anyway that’s one of things. But in four years of service I only struck two that were similar. Not a great deal to worry about.
MS: Generally, did the crews of different countries all get on quite well together or did you —?
JW: Oh yes. I suppose the only aircrew I took a bit of a dislike to were French Canadians. We didn’t feel that they were trustworthy. We felt that they were a bit devious. Apart from that we could fly with, you know, Irish, Scotch, English, South American, Australian, Canadian, you name it. We had one bloke from South America and I think he was a pilot officer and he started off to say Pilot Officer James Jose so and so and so and so. He had about twenty names. He was quite a likeable guy though. One of his names was named after an Irish hero that led some rebels down there in South America at one stage. He finished up with all these Spanish names and then his last name, his surname was O’Hegans. Quite strange.
MS: Were you all volunteers?
JW: Yes, yes. Definitely so that’s what made all the difference I think. You wouldn’t want reluctant air crew. Not really. It wouldn’t be fair. It wouldn’t be fair to them. It wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the crew.
MS: On 38 Squadron where were you based and what jobs did the squadron do?
JW: Our original based was Shaluffa near Suez. And as the 8th Army moved up we generally landed on a desert airstrip and tents could go up rapidly. After all they might be already standing when we got there. And we followed Monty right up. Our squadron followed Monty all the way up to Benghazi in different stages. We were just more or less south of Tobruk when El Alamein broke up. And we heard the thunder of the guns in the distance. Montgomery opened up with a thousand guns, artillery. And we could hear the thunder in the distance. We weren’t far behind the front line at any stage but we very seldom got raided. The Germans weren’t strong enough at that time to waste their bombs on airfields or anything.
MS: How many tours did you do for Bomber Command? And can you tell us a bit about how it felt when you completed your first tour?
JW: Well the first tour of course I went on leave and breathed a sigh of relief. And as I told you I was instructing as an air, flight sergeant air gunner. And then I was asked to do the aerodrome control which we took on. My mate and I with half a dozen guys that were waiting to be re-mustered for different reasons. Some would have changed their mind perhaps and thought it was dangerous. I never asked them their story. One tried to tell me. He said, ‘I don’t know whether you know my story, flight.’ I said, ‘Well I’m not worried about your story as long as you do what I tell you.’ And they stayed and disappeared and replaced. So we were always, there was about eight of us most of the time. And of course I used to let these guys a lot of unofficial leave, you know. We had an Englishman live not far away and I used to say him, ‘You can go home for the weekend but remember if you’re caught I know nothing about it.’ I let an Englishman go home to London without an official leave pass and he came back a day late so I really went him and he started to cry. And I said, ‘What the hell’s wrong with you?’ His wife had left him apparently when he got home when he got home. And I said, ‘Well you’d better bloody well go back and find her.’ He came back a couple of days later beaming from ear to ear. He was quite happy. But you know Kiwis are a bit like that. We’re adaptable.
MS: How did they decide it was your time to come back home to New Zealand and when did you come back?
JW: I can’t tell you the exact time I was away but all of a sudden, the word went through the grapevine that if you’d been overseas for a certain time, it might have been three years, you could apply to come home. So I applied to come home. I had a wife and child at that stage and we had to wait for, you know, our civilian ship. Not a troop ship. And we came home on The Akaroa.
JW: Then when I got back here I was posted to, I think it was [unclear], once. I was introduced to Hudsons. And then I went down to Blenheim where I was aircraft recognition instructor because I’d done a course in England on that. And then we had a bloke there. Well known in broadcasting circles. Tusi Tala, Teller of Tales. He used to tell stories on a Sunday night on the radio. And there was four thousand men on that base, just out of Blenheim and they got us in the theatre there and gave a great spiel how everybody was still needed. And shortly after that you could apply to get out. So I thought it might be a good time to get out. Otherwise you’ve got thousands of army guys coming out at once etcetera etcetera. So that’s what I did except that I went back to a job I was doing before the war as an apprentice. The boss did his damndest to tell me not to join up, because he had been a soldier in the First World War. And their memories weren’t very nice you know. But being young I thought I was better than the whole German air force and why shouldn’t I give it a go. I mean we did have a certain bit of that about us. You know, we were as good as anybody. So I think that was one reason why we didn’t show any fear.
MS: So you had, from your logbook here you had a grand total of four hundred and ten and a half hours of day flying. And four hundred and nineteen —
JW: Night.
MS: And ten of night flying. Total flying time.
JW: Yeah. Night flying was always done in red ink. But you know some of our operations were over the sea. Over the Mediterranean looking for submarines. We might just be changing from one base to the other. So we’d go over the Mediterranean and then back in again and landed at our new aerodrome. That kind of thing. That was counted as an operation. Still dangerous of course. You know with, you know the reliability wasn’t a hundred percent by a long shot. We lost a wing commander doing this night stuff we were doing, you know. Going around the convoys. And they disappeared. No idea what happened when his rear gunner was washed up months later with his dogtags on. So you know he might have hit the drink, or he might have had engine failure and they never got a chance to make radio contact because we’re going round at a thousand feet. It doesn’t give you much time if you run into mechanical trouble. No matter where you flew in the air force. Training, operational or anything else there was men getting killed. I heard recently, and I think that it’s probably right, I think there was ten thousand killed in training in Bomber Command. We lost fifty five thousand over the six years and probably ten thousand wouldn’t be far wrong from what were killed in training accidents. Because they were taking these men, some of them were just like, boys, straight off the farms, out of the factories and turned them into four engine pilots. Some were bound to have crack up or emergencies that they couldn’t handle. But generally speaking they took their job very serious and they did it well. I’m very, very proud of the guys really.
MS: How do you feel about the way Bomber Command got treated after the war?
JW: Personally I think it was disgusting. When we were flying over Germany in 1940 the papers praised what we were doing. We were taking the flight to the enemy. And as soon as the war was over Churchill turned his back on us. But we were encouraged at that time and he made the great speech there that the so and so wind will reap the whirlwind because we were the only ones, apart from the navy guys, that were taking the war actually back to German soil, German cities. Making them wake up a bit. Our bomb load wasn’t that accurate, and it wasn’t heavy, you still do a hell of a lot of damage.
MS: So you went to the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial in London.
JW: Yes.
MS: Can you tell us how you felt at that ceremony and what that was like?
JW: Well, going back to the UK on a military aircraft I felt rather proud of the guys that were with us. I was proud of our exploits. And I was certainly very, very proud of the, rather sad to say, [unclear] there was twenty three thousand names at Runnymede and these were aircrew that have no known grave. In other words they would have come down in the North Sea. Probably in swamps, mountains or whatever, twenty three thousand. So when I see those kind of figures all I can think of are all those eighteen and twenty, and twenty two year olds that I joined with that were full of the joy of spring. And we had one guy with us, he had been washed out as a pilot and he was over the six foot. He decided to be an air gunner. He got in to the turret alright. Once you got in and sitting down you’d be alright. But when he got drunk his party piece was take somebody’s gate off and take it for a walk down the road, like a half a mile. Well there was gate he moved it took two of us practically all our time to lift it. In other words when he was drunk he didn’t know that anything was heavy [laughs] There was all those funny things, you know that happened. Those guys, he was another one that was lost. I think as far as I know I disagreed with Max Lambert because I went through the casualty list and he reckoned eight came back. I reckoned four. I do know this. That one Max Lambert quoted as coming back was lost over Greece because it’s in that book of obituaries, you know, from 1915 or something up to 1945. Jim Bolton — his name was in there. His aircraft collided with another one over Athens. But anyway whether it was four of eight I remember all of them. And I remember what their traits were, you know. Pubs and in the mess and all that and some were real characters. They were all decent guys though. They really were.
MS: Can you tell us a bit about what you did on that trip back to London?
JW: Well, he went to Australia. North Australia. And we spent twenty four hours there and they took us on a bus ride before we went to a hotel and naturally being in a hotel we were well looked after. And I had a friend Ray Tate from [unclear]. It was quite funny because he had hearing aids and my hearing was ok so if anyone knocked at the door I answered. And if there was question of going into lunch or meals he took me down and told me what was in the different terrines and all the rest of it. So we got on very well and I got mixed up one time and I got up early one morning to have a shower and I realised that something was wrong. And I said to Ray the next day, ‘I hope you didn’t hear me. I got up and had a shower about 1 o’clock.’ He said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘I just take my hearing aids out.’ So that’s why he didn’t hear me. But anyway he was, he was great. I really admired him and liked him, and I think a certain amount of it was reciprocated. We seemed to just get on so well but he was what you call a really decent New Zealander. But apart from that in England of course we went to [pause] I think we went to Duxford, I think. I think we went to Duxford. A big air force museum there. I get mixed up because I did a few trips with different people. And we went to one of the bases up north where they had a memorial service in the garden.
MS: Have you been inside any old planes since the war? Any of the planes you flew in during the war. Have you been in it. Maybe at MOTAT. The Lancaster there.
JW: I went up to MOTAT. I never went inside the Lancasters. Perhaps because I don’t know whether we were allowed to. But I had a look and of course the turrets are the same but I had a look. I went to [pause] what’s that museum in London? Air force one.
MS: Not the Imperial War Museum. The Imperial War Museum.
JW: No. No. It’s an air force museum.
MS: There’s one at, I think, at Hendon.
JW: Yeah. Hendon.
MS: Right.
JW: I went there and saw a Wellington and walked around it and I couldn’t, couldn’t believe I’d actually flown in one. It was so unreal. It really was. But anyway the funny little thing happened there. I was walking around the museum of Ray Tate and he said, ‘Oh look Jack. There’s a photograph of a Wellington.’ I said, ‘Yeah. I know that photograph. I’m on the end of it.’ And there was two ladies, carers within earshot. And they called all the others over, ‘Oh come over here and take a photograph. Jack’s on it.’ So one of them leant over them and I’ll tell you the story in a minute attached to it, said, ‘Did those grey haired ladies catch up with you in London?’ What actually happened, I had a mate in Blenheim. And I told the story to reporters at, over in Blenheim and I went to the papers and I think they published it on the aircraft newspaper on the way over. But my mate used to say to me that there was always two grey haired ladies waiting on London bridge to catch up with Jack Wakefield. And I used to tell him it wasn’t me and I didn’t do it. So anyhow when we went over to London, to the Memorial, after the ceremony a lady came up with tears streaming down her face and thanked, thanked me for being one that went over. Really filled in for them, you know, during that critical period of the war. And one of these carers came over later, ‘Jack one of those grey-haired ladies has caught up with you.’ [laughs] I mean the grey-haired ladies story was just a myth. It just happened when you start a funny rumour, you know.
MS: Can you tell me about the Memorial unveiling at Mepal? Oh sorry.
JW: At Mepal.
MS: Oh right. Sorry. So after the Memorial service in London can you tell me about when you went to Feltwell and Newmarket and Mepal.
JW: I can tell you. Yeah I can. We were in a pub in Feltwell and I was talking to locals and I said to them that the wife and I were billeted out on a farm close by. And this chap sidled over, and he said, ‘Do you know the name of the farm?’ And I said, ‘Yeah. Chalkwell Farm.’ He said, ‘I own that now.’ He said that little brick bungalow, old brick house that you had, there’s now two American ladies in there that are writers and they’re just tenants. And you know the chances of that happening are one in a million. That he happened to be in there. But at Mepal it didn’t mean much to me because I never served there. But it meant a hell of a lot to the Lancaster guys because I think they went to Feltwell and I think they went to Newmarket and then probably Mepal, I think. So it meant a lot to them, but the service was done in a rose garden and what impressed me was the way that the little church served refreshments and all that. You know, all volunteers through the church. They made us so welcome. And the minister said he was eleven when the bomber boys were milling around the village. So you know there’s quite a lot of stories about these people but I’ll never forget that rose garden.
MS: So that is all my questions Jack but is there anything else that you wanted to tell us about? Any other stories or memories?
JW: I don’t think so. Not off the cuff. I think that pretty well covers it. I just remember one little thing. I should have started off with it. When we went to Levin they gave us about five different shots. You know, Cholera and all sorts of things and the guys were going down on Levin station and falling over. So they stopped leave.
MS: So, there are only two Wellington 75 Squadrons air crew left in New Zealand now. That’s you, yourself and Eddie Worsdale.
JW: That’s quite possible. There was, you know, there was, as I say a gunnery officer, he was a gunnery instructor. I was also intelligence officer on a small unit where we sent Maryland and light American bombers. Went out over the Mediterranean looking for downed air crew or enemy submarines. That was another job I did and on 38 I got hauled in to become messing officer, and the guy that was messing officer never returned. You know one of those stories, Glenn. I’ll just take over while he’s away. Alright. And the guy doesn’t come back so you’re stuck with it. So one day I was in the mess. And I was fed up with the Canadians were moaning because the tomatoes were fried and somebody else was moaning because they wasn’t. I did my stack. And I’m in the bar and I’m banging the bar with my fist and I’m saying, ‘Where’s the CO? Where’s the CO? I’ll tell him where to stick his messing officer.’ The next minute there’s a hand on my shoulder. ‘You want to see me Wakey?’ ‘Oh hello, sir.’ [laughs] It’s surprising how you can sober up in a millisecond. Lots of funny little things like that. I remember one night our beer had arrived. Used to come back in a Wellington bomber from the Delta when an aircraft came back from maintenance. It generally had a lot of beer for the officers, airmen and NCOs. And we would probably drink most of it in one or two nights. And I remember the CO climbing up the centre pole with somebody trying to rip his shirt off, you know. The next day, ‘Good Morning Sir.’ [laughs] He was an Irishman. A good, good guy. There was another guy that used to — we only had two records I think. There was a wind-up gramophone and one of these records was, “Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry.” And there was one guy that absolutely hated it. So every time I saw him coming up to the mess tent I put it on. So he was, he ran in to it every time. in the end he lost his temper and jumped on it. That buggered that [laughs] we only had one record [laughs] You see a lot of that stuff was salvaged out of, or purloined out of Italian houses. Even our, we had a nice sideboard in the mess that the barman served behind and all that. All that furniture came from abandoned houses which had probably had the enemy through several times as well as us. And I remember one night we went and we were going to have a bit of a dance and we brought these American nurses over. About five or six. I went with the driver and we picked them up from the American unit and brought them over and they had quite a few dances with the guys. And then the party started to get a bit rough so I decided I’d take them back. So we took them back. And when I got back there was a guy playing the piano. He’d passed out altogether. There was a guy playing the trombone that could only lay on his back and go ‘uhhhh.’ Yeah. I don’t know what happened to the third one but anyway it was a real shambles. There was one night here. It was one morning I had terrible tooth ache and I had an abscess and I went to the dentist and this was out in the desert, you know, in a tent and he said, ‘I’ve got a,’ he said, ‘You’ve got an abscess Wakey and I don’t take them out normally until the abscess has gone down.’ I said, ‘Well, I don’t care if you pull my head off the pain’s so great.’ So he said, ‘Last night in the mess,’ he said, ‘I don’t know what happened but,’ he said, ‘I’ve got lumps all over my head.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I saw you doing roly polys back to your tent down the [unclear] Road,’ [laughs] Oh dear. Anyway, excuse me.
[recording paused]
Thank you very much Jack. Interview’s now concluded.



Miriam Sharland, “Interview with Jack Wakefield,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 17, 2024,

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