Interview with Ivon Warmington


Interview with Ivon Warmington


Ivon Warmington was working for the Post Office in his native Cornwall before he volunteered for the RAF. After pilot training he flew a tour of operations with 166 Squadron from RAF Kirmington. His first operation was to Mailly le Camp where the yellow ‘flares’ on the ground turned out to be burning Lancasters. He discusses the corkscrew manoeuvre. He had several near misses on operations when he felt he could just reach up and touch the other aircraft. After his first tour he went on to flying Mosquitos and ferrying passengers to and from the Nuremberg War Trials. He then became Personal Pilot to the Commander in Chief of the Far East Air Force. He emigrated to New Zealand where he continued to train other pilots.







01:23:50 audio recording


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AWarmingtonI161029, PWarmingtonI1603


MS: This is Miriam Sharland and I’m interviewing Ivon Warmington today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We’re at, at Ivon’s home in Wanganui and it is Saturday the 29th of October 2016. Thank you, Ivon for agreeing to talk to me today. Also present at the interview are Glenn Turner of 75 Squadron Association, Wayne Wolfspar and Ivon’s granddaughter, Sandra. So, Ivon can you please tell me about your early life, growing up, before you joined the air force.
IW: I was a cadet in the Post Office. You know, the village Post Office. Doing everything. The counter work, the mail, the telephone, listening to telephone conversations [laughs] and all that sort of stuff and would have aspired to the part of the Post Office career that I enjoyed was the mail department. It was a time if you mentioned any village in England I could tell you what county it was in because of sorting letters. And the epic career of that would have been on the railways where the mail trains used to have an arm suspended to collect the mailbags as they went through stations and another arm at another level that delivered mailbags as they went through stations. But the war interfered with that of course. So where are we? [pause] In those days we didn’t have girlfriend boyfriend but if you had someone special we were called sweethearts. I rather liked that. So my teenage sweetheart was sixteen when I went off to war with the Royal Air Force at age eighteen. And I was about a year on ground crew duties before I could re-muster to pilot training. And then I got my wings on Flying Boats. Came back to England. The Flying Boats were having a long salty war and did not need replacements but Bomber Command was both expanding and suffering heavy losses because it was real front line stuff. So we all got retrained and that was to my advantage because I was double trained in a way and the average pilot captain arriving at a Lancaster squadron about two hundred hours but I had four hundred hours by then. Maybe that’s why I’m still here [laughs] Another thing that I count as a survival tactic was the, there was a manoeuvre called a corkscrew. Have you heard about the corkscrew? The idea was not to go straight and level but to always be changing your heading and changing your height so that whatever detection devices the enemy had they couldn’t sort of latch on to you. But I was not only a good captain, a good pilot, I was a good captain and I said to the crew, ‘What do you think about this corkscrew thing?’ The navigator wasn’t very impressed with his pencil and other material rolling off the table onto the floor all the time. But the gunners had the last word. Theirs was punch line stuff. They said, ‘We’re told to scan the sky from left to right and top to bottom and if the aeroplane is on the move all the time we’ve no idea which bit of sky we’ve been looking at.’ So that was it. I said, ‘Right. I’ll fly straight and level on the auto pilot. Save myself up for emergencies,’ because I flew with my hand on the autopilot. And if they said, ‘Corkscrew,’ if the gunners shouted, ‘Corkscrew left,’ or, ‘Corkscrew right,’ I was disconnected and gone already you see. It was that quick to take over manual control. So there we are. But the authorities thought so much of this corkscrew business they had it as an auto pilot function. If you set a height for the autopilot it would hunt up and down a thousand feet. Up and down from that. And the heading on the autopilot it would hunt thirty degrees left and right of that. And as a captain I thought well that’s going to take us longer to get there and get back. So I flew on the autopilot with my hand on the knock out lever so I could take over in a moment’s notice if the gunners shouted so. Because theirs was the punch line you know. When they said, we scan the sky left to right, top to bottom and if an aeroplane’s on the move all the time they’d no idea which bit of sky they’d looked at. So there you are.
MS: What made you decide to join the air force?
IW: Well, aeroplanes were up and coming thing. And, and I can remember the recruiting officer now. When I went and said I wanted to be a pilot. He said well you haven’t got what they, you know a peacetime pilot for the Royal Air Force was a university degree which I didn’t have. I left school at fourteen like all other village boys did. And the recruiting officer said, ‘Before this war is over they’ll want all the pilots they can get. So join the air force now and re-muster to pilot training when you can.’ That’s what I did. It took me about a year of ground crew service before I got on to pilot training. And then I was sent to, we had all our training grounds overseas. Whereas the Nazis had to train in the battle sky. But we were privileged in that our authorities considered it wasn’t fair to be shot down before you’d learned how to fly. So we had training schemes all over the world. And the training scheme in America had been through commercial pilot schools until Pearl Harbour and then when the Yanks were suddenly hijacked into the war whether they liked it or not the American US Army Air Force, they didn’t have an air force, it was an United States Army Air Force so they were subject to general’s attitude of how you should use aeroplanes. The United States Naval Air Squadrons. So they were subject to battleship admirals which is worse still [laughs]. The United States Air Force as an independent force wasn’t until about the 1950s when they finally caught up with the Royal Air Force [laughs] Sorry, I’m being critical [laughs] Where are we now?
MS: So can you tell me a bit about what squadrons you were in and what rank you held and the different roles that you did?
IW: Oh yes. Well, at the time I was, I got a commission with my wings which was the top four. Four of us got commissioned. All the rest were sergeant pilots. So that was a good start. And the first tour of operations was on the Lancaster which was the, to quote Butch Harris, Bomber Harris was the commander of Bomber Command, he said, ‘The Lancaster is useless for anything else but as a bomber it’s supreme.’ In other words there was nothing else like it. See, many of the early war bombers and some of them all the war were designed for little pre-war a hundred pound bangers. And when it became a real war and the bombs were a thousand pounds they wouldn’t fit anybody’s bomb racks except the Lancaster which could carry ten tonnes of smaller bombs or a ten tonne bomb if that’s what you wanted. Your turn.
MS: So, can you tell us where you were located and what life was like on the base?
IW: Well, our life was organised twenty four hours a day. You know. Wake up time, sleep time, feeding time, briefing time, operational time. So that every minute of our day was, was planned like that. Where else? Where are we now?
MS: Where were you based?
IW: Where was I based? Lincolnshire. Half of Lincolnshire was 1 Group of Bomber Command. The other half was 5 Group of Bomber Command. So I was in North Lincolnshire at a place called Kirmington. That was the local village but it is still functioning as Humberside Airport in UK.
MS: Which squadron were you with?
IW: That was 166 Squadron and 1 Group. There were ten, ten bomber groups. 1 was North Lincolnshire. 2 was operating light bombers so they became the Second Tactical Air Force as a separate entity. Closely allied with the army and working in the field with the army. 3 Group was Stirlings down in East Anglia. 4 Group was started as Canadian squadrons and eventually became the Canadian Group because they contributed enough pilots and squadrons to run a whole Group. So where are we now?
MS: Can you tell me what it was like in Kirmington? Coming to a new country. Did you get to know local people? Did you spend much time in the village? Did you go out and about and see much of what life was like?
IW: No. Not really. But out and about there was one time when we were stood down and my navigator and I said, ‘Shall we go to the local town?’ And we went to Grimsby in, which was the nearest, sort of city and we had an afternoon off. And there was strawberry ice cream on the, on the — we had, we had tea and toast as an afternoon tea thing. And I sprinkled salt on the buttered toast to show him how we do it in Cornwall [laughs] You know, good old salty farmhouse butter. And there was strawberry ice cream on the menu so we thought well we might as well have a treat while we’re out having a treat. But when it turned up it was pink ice crystals. All ice and no cream. And we thought well fancy us thinking we were going to get real ice cream. But the lady who served us came out. She went back into the kitchen. Then she came out and looked left and right to make sure nobody could see what she was doing. She had a paper, a brown paper bag and she took out two big strawberries and put them on our dish [laughs] Doing her bit for the boys in blue.
MS: What other kinds of things did you get up to in the mess and during your leave time?
IW: Well, there’s lots of stories about that sort of stuff but we didn’t have much mess time really. Our life was programmed twenty four hours a day like I said already. And when we’d done our thirty, tour of thirty operations we were then removed from the scene to secondary flying duties. I did an instructors course and been a flying instructor for the rest of my life. Including here in New Zealand.
MS: So can you tell me about your crew? How did you get together with your crew and —
IW: Oh right. Well, that’s an interesting story because we arrived at the crew training place with ten pilots, ten navigators, ten everything. And all the trades were assembled in a big crew room and the pilots were taken off to the wing commander’s office and said, ‘You’re no longer just pilots, you’re captains of the crew. So you’ve got to see that they’re on parade at the right place at the right time and the right uniform. And all their discipline and all their personal problems. You sort them out. If you need help go see the chaplain. Don’t see me,’ the wing commander, I’m going to busy enough doing operational things.’ So eventually we ten pilots, now labelled captains went into a room full of all the other aircrew trades you see. And the bright lights. We stood there like a row of stunned rabbits I suppose. And two men, a navigator and a bomb aimer came up to me and said, ‘We’re crewing together can we crew, be your bomb aimer and navigator?’ ‘Oh hello Jack. Hello John. Hello.’ One was Jack Gissing from Australia. The other was John Clark from RAF. And while we were chatting two others at a polite distance were hovering around and they said, ‘We’re going to fly together. Can we fly with you?’ So that was me selecting my crew [laughs] I was selected again. Well, where are we by now?
MS: Did you have any personal mascots or did your crew have any personal mascots? Did they play any kind of role?
IW: No. I’ll say this for the Royal Air Force. If they wanted you to do a job they put you through a course of training and said this is how we do it and we didn’t rely on a fetish of mascots or that sort of thing. We did, we did go in for nose art. And probably got my nose art here somewhere but I don’t know where it is. These [pause] Perhaps it’s not there. No. It’s not there is it?
Other: I’ll go and get some.
IW: In here perhaps.
IW: Yeah. That’s the one. There it is. Thank you, Sandra. Yes, they, our aeroplanes weren’t numbered. They were alphabetical. And ours was I for Item so that was our nose art. There was a bit of thumbing your nose at the inevitable I for — the aeroplanes weren’t numbered, they were alphabetic and I for Imp was the, the current alphabetic phonetics. I learned the Post Office phonetics when I was in the Post Office and I learned the RAF phonetics when I was in the RAF. Then I went to the US Navy for training and learned the US Navy phonetic alphabet. But I for Imp. We’ve got her dressed up like a saucy girl and that’s the record of operations done. Including the one where my gunner shot a night fighter off our back. That’s the nose art. That’s that on there look. See.
MS: So can you tell me what kind of planes you flew in and how they compared to each other?
IW: Well, first tour on Lancaster. Air Chief Marshall Harris said that it was the only real bomber because it could carry ten tonnes of little bombs or a ten tonne big bomb if that’s what you wanted. Whereas most bombers of the day were designed for little pre-war hundred pound bangers and when a real fighting war came on and the standard bomb was a thousand pounder it wouldn’t fit anybody’s bomb rack. Well, correction, the only bomb rack it would fit was the Lancaster.
Other: You also trained on Flying Boats.
IW: Well, I trained on, we were all sent overseas for flight training. I went to the US Navy. Came back as a Flying Boat captain which was to my advantage because no landmarks at sea. Flying Boat captains did a full navigator’s course as well. So the average bomber pilot turning up at a bomber squadron had two hundred hours but I had four hundred by then having done a full navigator’s course as well.
Other: And much later on you flew Mosquitoes.
IW: Second tour on Mosquitoes which was the fastest thing we had in our armoury at that time. Four hundred miles an hour. Like when the war was over we were put on as a courier service between the Nuremberg war trials and London. Carrying daily, you know there was two of us, one at each end and we used to fly, fly one day and have the next day off. Carrying official mail, newsreels for the cinemas and soldiers’ military mail, private mail. Occasionally a passenger that had to go one way or the other. And they would just sit in the nose of the aeroplane where the navigator went down to aim bombs through the bombsight. But we didn’t have a passenger seat so he just had to sit down there and make the best of it.
Other: Shall we start with your paintings now Grandad?
IW: Yes. Alright.
Other: As a sort of —
IW: Some people write books. I did oil paintings. And that was the first.
Other: Describe the painting first. The name.
IW: Oh yeah. Just lay it on the floor perhaps.
MS: For the recorder this is Mailly le Camp. Is that? See properly.
IW: Fine. Yes. Yes. Mailly le Camp was a big army base at Paris but now taken over by Nazi Germany of course. And 5 Group had their own little Pathfinder force and they said it was, they got permission from the boss to have their own little Pathfinder squadron. The idea being that if they put a yellow marker on the ground it was only twenty miles from there to the target. So with a small target if everybody went into the target over the one yellow marker on the ground it was only twenty miles to go. The bomb spread couldn’t spread very far then. But as happens in these things 5 Group, who had their own private little yellow marker approach to a target said this is a bit bigger target then usual. Can we have support from 1 Group as well? So 5 Group went in first and the smoke and dust from their bombing raid was, was target blinding. We, they couldn’t see it. They had — so they called a delay to re-mark the target and we were supposed to circle the one yellow marker on the ground which was our approach point. When I got there, this was my first flight, when I got there there were yellow markers all over the place. Enough to light up the sky like daylight. And here were the Lancasters circling around the yellow marker on the ground like taxi cabs going around Piccadilly Circus in the middle of London. So I thought there’s no good staying there where it’s lit up like daylight. I circled the yellow marker as I was told but about twenty miles out in outer darkness. And later on I found out these yellow markers on the ground, only one of them was the target, was the assembly marker. All the rest were Lancasters burning on the ground. And on that flight I saw fourteen battles in the sky. That’s tracer bullets going both ways, you know. We lost forty two. So fourteens into forty three goes three. And I had a magic number that saw me through my tour. If I saw ten battles we’d lost thirty aeroplanes that night. So I had a measure of, of three that was the magic number as far as I was concerned.
Other: And when you got back to base that day?
IW: Well, we, we put up, during my tour I was the eleventh crew to survive thirty tour. They called it tour of operations. That’s your duty span. Thirty operational trips. Then you went on secondary flying duties somewhere. And being the eleventh one to at my squadron to retire we’d lost thirty three in that time. Which is what? A seventy five percent loss rate. That was front line battle for you. And I had a picture somewhere. Or logbooks. A thick logbook. Yeah. I prepared a little bit for this because if I can find it that one there there’s a crew, a picture of ten pilots and up ‘til then we were just pilot trained you know. Pilots among pilots. And then when we arrived at a crew training place we crewed up with the navigator, bomb aimer, radio operator and a gunner. And they, they were all in a crew room waiting for us and we pilots were ushered into the wing commander’s office where he said, ‘You’re no longer just pilots. You’re captains of aircrew and the crew members are waiting for you in the crew room. You’ve got a half an hour to select a crew and if you haven’t done so by then I’ll come and tell you who you’re going to fly with.’ So, alright we pilots went off to this big crew assembly room brilliantly lit and full of all the other trades and we must have stood there like a row of stunned rabbits I suppose. And two people came up to me and said, ‘We’ve crewed up. Can we fly with you?’ So I’d been selected already. And as long as it was polite there were two others who hovered around and they said the same. ‘We’ve crewed. Can we fly with you?’ So that was me selecting my crew. They’d selected me [laughs]
Other: Grandad, I’ll take you back to the Mailly le Camp painting. Can you tell them about the debriefing afterwards?
IW: What’s the suggestion Sandra? The debriefing?
Other: The debriefing afterwards. I know when you came in the group captain spoke to you.
IW: Oh yes. Yes. It was my first operation and when we came back the station commander, a group captain that’s, what’s that? Colonel in army language? But anyway, he was at the door greeting us all as we came back into the briefing room which was now the debriefing room and asking everybody the same question I suppose. But he said to me, ‘What did you think of it tonight, Warmington?’ And I said, ‘It was my first operation, sir.’ I, you know, had no real conception of what it was like except that everything that could go wrong did go wrong with that first flight and we lost forty two out of six hundred. Which was as heavy a loss as the RAF had except some of the totals in torpedo bombing was a big fatal.
Other: But prior to this operation grandad you said that the French and German targets were treated differently.
IW: Oh yes. From the 1st of May 1944, after the Battle of Berlin they called it, you know the long trips to Berlin had been done and finished and Berlin was feeding its population out of army soup kitchens in the main streets. So it then was edicted that from the 1st of May 1944 on you had to do three targets to France to equal one to Germany. This was a danger assessment that somebody made and the very first one, on the 3rd of May, wasn’t it, that this one when that anything that could go wrong did go wrong and we had the heaviest losses on that one as the RAF suffered anywhere. So they soon abandoned that three for one idea. And while we were at that, from the 1st of May 1944 on General Eisenhower was given first option to any military service with a view to what was required to launch the final invasion of Germany. Good choice of general apart from the fact that when the Americans take part in anything they want to be the boss. Any Americans present? [laughs] Anyway, pretty good choice Eisenhower wasn’t it? In German that means Iron Heart. So that was our, our commander from the 1st of May 1944 on and my first bomber operation was on the 3rd of May.
Other: Nineteen forty —
IW: ‘44.
Other: 1944. Is this the next painting?
IW: Yes. Well, that, that’s a classical big city bombing picture. You might sit there either in cloud all the way or certainly in the dark all the way and see nothing but an instrument panel for three hours. And then fifteen or thirty minutes of hell fire and then three hours of instrument panel on the way back again. So, that, that’s a target in full roar you might say. And the Pathfinders used to drop green flares or red flares and the master bomber flitting around the bottom in his high speed Mosquito would be looking at where the targets went down. If the greens weren’t in the right place he’d get the Pathfinders to drop reds. Direct them where, where the reds needed to go and had to have it all sorted out by the time the main force got there and then he’d put out an order, ‘Ignore the greens and bomb the reds.’ Or something like that. But that’s, that’s a city, a Nazi city in full roar. And this is what you call a box barrage and they soon sort out what height you’re at. The top level. Bottom level. And one like that, one of the first ones I did we were supposed to bomb from anywhere, you know. Go in at twenty thousand feet. Way above the wet weather in Europe. And that was also above the gunfire of the day too which was more advantageous and then descend to a lower target, a lower level to, especially in French targets. To be more accurate. Because it’s all an angular thing of course, and the higher you are the wider the angle on the ground. So this one we were told to bomb between twelve thousand and ten thousand. And when I got there as a beginner the experienced crews were always up the front and the beginners were at the back. When I got there this was twelve to ten thousand feet. Just like the briefing. So I thought, gosh it didn’t take them long to figure out what height we were going to be at. So I went from twelve down to ten and then underneath clear of all the gunfire. And when I came out the other side I thought gosh I was down here where all the RAF bombs were going down, all the flak going up and all the flak shrapnel coming back down again which was about the worst place you could be. Never mind. It was all over by now wasn’t it? What, while we’re at it my rear gunner used to praise me up. Well, for about three of these sort of operations he praised me up. He said, ‘Oh we got through just in time. Oh,’ he said, ‘The flak and the searchlights coming up back there now.’ And about three doses of that and he suddenly realised that what was he seeing as we went out of the target was what I’d been seeing on the way in. Right. Well, that’s, that’s a big target at full roar. They had rocket fuel.
Other: Which painting is this grandad? Does it have a name? Here’s one, “The oil refinery of the Ruhr Valley.”
IW: Yes. Well the Ruhr Valley was, was their armaments centre. The cities there were all sort of arsenals and they had rocket fuel for the rockets that were being launched to Britain. And they had rocket fuel for a little delta wing fighter aeroplane as well. But we didn’t know where it was and at different briefings they said well maybe it’s this target. This was an oil refinery but one of their oil refineries was probably where they were producing the rocket fuel. Now, I’m going into the target now at H + 4. H hours the first time that the first bombs go down and usually the experienced crews are at H H+1 H+2 and that. And the beginner crews are towards the end. So I’m a beginner crew. By the time I get there at twenty thousand feet the target has been hit and the heat bubble is, is above me at twenty thousand feet. That’s what? What’s that? Five miles up in the sky. Four miles up in the sky. So I reckon that must have been the rocket fuel that we were after. For a heat bubble to get that high that quick it had to be a hot one didn’t it? And the searchlights were, were in batteries. And there was always one that the gunners used to, if you got coned in a searchlight like that one over there the gunners would just fire down the searchlight beam. And some of them got lucky and they’d get one. One gun that’s, one searchlight that’s out of action. Looks broken and lame duck.
Other: “Oil painting.”
IW: Yeah. Yes. Some people write books. I did paintings. That’s me on the way in to a target. The Pathfinder target markers are going out. The first Pathfinders put parachute flares. Tremendous candle power. Light the ground up. And then the lower level markers go in and pinpoint the target. And about twenty miles to go. That must have been a Pathfinder exploding with all the, they had all the colour bombs on board and all of a sudden all the colours that they carried — the yellows, the greens, the reds, one great big explosion. Probably a collision because I nearly had two collisions. So yeah. Junkers 88 night fighter in the bomber stream and twice one went over the top of my cabin so close if I’d reached up I could have touched it. Which was damn near a head on collision wasn’t it? But it’s always so reassuring if somebody is in the night fighter in the bomber stream going the wrong way.
Other: This one shall we do next?
IW: This one.
Other: Yeah. Fifth painting.
IW: Yes. See, here’s me heading into the target minding my own business and then the night sky suddenly lights up. A Lancaster right beside me has had his fuel tanks shot out of his wing. They used to, the night fighter gunnery was aimed at our wings. They wouldn’t aim at the aeroplane, the fuselage because they were afraid they might explode the bomb load. And you know that would have been such an explosion it would have involved the fighter itself as well.
Other: [unclear]
IW: That’s one of ours going down. Here’s one of theirs going down.
Other: Sixth painting.
IW: My [pause] I think I’ve said already didn’t I that the corkscrew method the navigator wasn’t keen on it but the gunners had the punch line. They said, ‘If the aeroplane’s on the move all the time we’ve no idea which bit of sky we’d looked at.’ The rear gunner had seen that aeroplane pacing us, you know. But another aeroplane keeping pace with the bomber stream might be another Lancaster until it dived down and came up underneath. And by the time it dived down he’d focused his four machine guns down like that and the first tracer bullets to come this way he sent his guns the, fired his guns the other way. The first thing I saw of the night fighter he’d nearly collided with my wing tip but he was already on fire and just rolled over on his back and went down with a bumph on the ground.
Other: Seventh painting. This is for the benefit of the machine.
IW: Well, that was the breakout from Normandy. We, we missed the Normandy invasion by half an hour because there were twelve gun batteries along the fifty miles of invasion, intended invasion coast. A gun battery is the command battery right out on the coast. Clear of the guns because the gunners who fired the guns don’t see the target they’re firing at and they can’t see whether they hit it or not because they’re surrounded in the gunsmoke from the blast they’ve just fired off. So part of the invasion of Normandy, you see here all the ships off shore and the landing barges going to and fro. We had, there were twelve gun batteries along that fifty miles of coast and we had a hundred Lancasters on each gun battery. Twelve hundred aeroplanes to open the Normandy invasion. And the briefing said, ‘There’s a lot of cloud over France. You might be called upon to go in below the cloud.’ Because we were up at twenty thousand feet which is clear of the European weather and also above the gun fire of the day. But the master bomber was very late in, in saying the obvious. That we had to go below the cloud. So all of a sudden all the aeroplanes just closed all four motors, stuck out the drag machinery like the undercarriage down full flap and circling down in great circles to go from our twenty thousand feet height down to two thousand feet and under the cloud. So Lancasters all over the place with all the drag machinery out. Thank you, Sandra.
Other: Eighth painting.
IW: Well, that’s St Elmo’s Fire. Static electricity in cloud. Motorcyclists will tell you they get it in the front spokes of their motorbike on suitable occasions. Have you done motorbikes?
Other 2: Yeah.
IW: Well, that, that’s going straight into static electric cloud. The whole lot lights up. See the wing tip vortex off the, any of the disturbed air from propellers and wing tip vortex or just the passage of the aeroplane stirs up the static electric in the raindrops. Fine, fine cloud raindrops. If they’re big raindrops they get a high enough charge to discharge flashes of lightning. But the static electricity is fine rain drops which are mini electric batteries and they show up if you disturb them by any motion like that and an aeroplane is classic isn’t it?
Other: Ninth painting.
IW: Well, that’s a training flight. But July in England is thunderstorm time and when we, this is my second tour training on the Mosquito, De Havilland Mosquito. When we flew out, took off from England and flew half way to Normandy err to Norway and turned around and come back to simulate a bomber operation. By the time we came back July, thunderstorm month in England was in full roar. And it was a grand flight really because we all came down like a slalom through the gaps between the clouds except one idiot who, who he said he’d got mixed up in the cloud but we think that he deliberately just came down through all that lot. But you don’t fly through thunderstorms of that intensity and by the time he, he did have enough sense in the end after a hammering from hailstones as big as your fist. He determined that his stalling speed was much higher than usual. Not surprising was it? So when he landed on the runway he landed long and went off the end and crashed the aeroplane in to the radio aerials that were on the end of the runway. So that wasn’t very clever. That’s my interpretation of —
Other: Tenth painting.
IW: Where there is a black thunderstorm brewing it’s going up with no activity. There’s one that’s energised enough electricity to discharge in lightning flashes in to the sea of the Bay of Bengal on this occasion. That is what people call fork lightning. It’s lesser voltage than that. And the voltage there can only discharge by running down its own rainstorm. And there’s one brewing. Here’s one where the lightning is flashing from cell to cell within the cloud and you don’t actually see the flashes you just see the illumination. And at this stage of the game it was Cold War stuff and I was based in Singapore. And what we used to do on a night like that was the captain would lower his seat and just look at the instrument panel and the co-pilot would wear day sunglasses because instead of lightning being a blinding flash, you know a blinding light and then when it’s dark its blinding dark. Wearing daylight sunglasses they could see the differences and say ‘I think you’d better alter course by about thirty degrees and go between the gaps.’ That’s the story of that painting. Thank you Sandra.
MS: Can you tell me how you ended up in the Pathfinder force and what that meant to you?
IW: Well, I didn’t operate as Pathfinders really because by the time I got there on my second tour it was the end of the war in Europe. And the De Havilland Mosquito was one of the fastest aeroplanes we had at the time so we got seconded to the Nuremberg war trials between Nuremberg and London. And with a day off at each end. When we were in Nuremberg we got to get into the war trials and see the Nazis all lined up. Or what was left of them. The prisoner of war camp in Treblinka, Poland was the Polish, was the Russian war camp. But there were no Russian soldiers to go home at the end of the war because it was just another death camp. Another of the Nazi death camps. So with the Russians the first to get to Berlin because Berlin was far east in Germany so the Russians got there first and that’s why Hitler in his, in his command bunker in Berlin bit the suicide canal err suicide capsule. You know they all had their cyanide capsules. And Joseph Goebbels, his propaganda man was with him so Joseph and his wife killed their two children and then bit their cyanide capsules. And the two chiefs of the Luftwaffe bit their cyanide capsule, capsules. So it was a fine collapse towards the end of everybody suiciding. Old Göring was lined up at the Nuremberg war trials and he said that, ‘In twenty years’ time there will be statues of me all over Germany.’ There never was. In fact since I’ve been here watching Sky Television History there was a woman, a German woman. She said she was a little girl she knew her grandad, Herman Göring was an important man because he was number two to Hitler. And then when she grew up as a full blown lady and realised the full inhumanity of the Nazi dealings she had herself sterilised so that she wouldn’t propagate the Göring monster genes as she called them. Which was terrible really wasn’t it?
MS: You, you were awarded a DFC I believe.
IW: Yes.
MS: Can you tell us about that please?
IW: Well, that, that was a normal award when you’d finished thirty operations in a Lancaster. They sent us home on leave after the first three operations which was [laughs] tell you how long they expected you to last. So if you lasted all thirty you got the Distinguished Flying Cross. Have you ever seen one? Oh you have. Good. I had a young squadron leader from Ohakea who was over here for Anzac Day one year and he squinted at my medals and he said, ‘That, that one at the end looks important.’ I said, ‘It’s a decoration. The others are medals.’ And ‘decoration’ didn’t seem to mean anything to him so I said, ‘It’s a Distinguished Flying Cross.’ That meant nothing to him. He’d obviously never seen one before. It appeared that he’d probably never even heard of one before. And I thought, goodness me, a modern day chaplain doesn’t know air force history. Later on in the Cold War I was on Transport Command and we dropped paratroops into the Suez Canal Zone when [pause] well that’s a long story but anyway what I was getting around to was when we dropped the paratroops we dropped the chaplain in [laughs] and the chaplain went down with the troops.
MS: Were you asked to do Operation Manna flights or prisoner evacuation?
IW: No. At that stage I was on the De Havilland Mosquito which was the fastest aeroplane we had, and doing the Nuremberg communication courier service to and from. Like eight hundred miles. Two hour trips each way. That was pretty fast in those days. Two big Merlins in a balsa wood aeroplane.
MS: What did you do after the war?
IW: I did market gardening for four years. That achieved two things. My brother had been a prisoner of war for the last year of the war and he, when he came back his boss had kept his office job for him and he went to, went back to his office job. But the confines of an office didn’t free him from his confined complex of a year in a prisoner of war camp. So by the time I came out he was, he was quite fretful really and I said, ‘Well, let’s borrow money and run a flower farm,’ which is one of Cornwall’s industries. Because like Northland pokes up into the north end of New Zealand Cornwall is down in the warm end of UK and we can grow flowers and early vegetables there in the outdoors when the rest of England has got to use glass houses. So the four years grovelling in the mother earth achieved two things. One, it freed my brother from his prisoner of war confined attitude and he went back to an office job because he was an office boy really. Or an office manager later. Like when he was in charge of a fleet of trucks, the company fleet of trucks he equipped them all with a radio telephone which was a pretty substantial device before you get to cell phones these days. Mini everything. And he turned a ninety percent of the return loads and he made the truck drivers phone in before they came back. So he turned ninety percent of the return loads in to payloads. Pick. Go to somewhere and pick up a load on the way back. Which must have been good for the coffers of the company.
MS: What happened at the end of that four years?
IW: Well, the Cold War was hotting up and the RAF was calling for veterans to return. And I went back in to the air force for another fourteen years. So in total I did twenty years for the Royal Air Force.
MS: How did you feel about the way Bomber Command was treated after the war?
IW: Oh, badly. Yes. Our commander Air Chief Marshall Harris was the only one that didn’t get an earldom which is the top civil rank in UK. So Bomber Command was always a bit sore about that. And Bomber Harris went back to his home country of Rhodesia and was a farmer there of some sorts I think. But the air force did him right. There’s a statue at St Clement Danes. It was a burned out wreck at the end of the war and it was the closest Anglican church to the RAF headquarters in London so the RAF said, ‘Give us St Clement Danes. We’ll refurbish it in air force style,’ and you probably know it’s the main RAF chaplain’s church. Although originally St Clement Danes was when the Danish were rampaging. You know, with their two horns and all the rest of it. They finished up they they went through Iceland didn’t they? And Greenland and they had a go at England and came a bit short there but a lot of them stayed in England. And the London, London authorities said that the Danish soldiers who stayed in England, married English girls could live outside the city limits. So hence the St Clements Danes Church. You probably know all about that. No? You can look it up and find out when you get back.
MS: Do you think that the bomber boys should have had a campaign medal?
IW: Well, they did in a way. If we’re going to talk medals. Where are my medals? Thank you. You spied them already. [pause] Yeah. Well, my brother had the Aircrew Europe medal which was a long term medal up to the 1st of May 1944. And the 1st of May 1944 all the UK forces and the American forces and the Polish and everybody else that was in, ganged up in Britain at that time were put under, you know if the Americans if they joined in anything where they wanted to be the boss. But never mind it was a pretty good selection with a name like Eisenhower which in German means Iron Heart as the, the boss man for the invasion of Europe and the final demise of the Nazi government. So that one there is called the France Germany Star which was a campaign medal after the 1st of May 1944. And prior to that it was an all blue, pale blue, sky blue sort of ribbon which was called Aircrew Europe which was the long term bombing. And Bomber Command was the only force that took the war to the German homeland all the war. The navy could only attack ships at sea or coastal targets. The army couldn’t do anything until we put them ashore in Normandy. Sorry about that. Where were we? That’s the Defence Medal which is twelve months ground service in UK. That’s a war medal if you were in, if you were in the war, one day in it and the war stopped the next day you would have got that. One day in any, any uniform. You know, Home Guards and everybody got that one. That one was twelve months in UK. That one was after the 1st of May 1944. That one was any battle, front line battle unit. Army, navy, air force. See the three colours. That’s a decoration which went with completing thirty bomber operations with a Lancaster. And, oh no that’s just the brooch that holds the medal on.
MS: Now, you told me on the phone what it was like the first time you went in a Lancaster. Can you remember what it felt like flying a Lancaster compared to planes you’d been on before?
IW: Oh yes. Well, it was like learning to fly on a three tonne truck and then they gave you a Jaguar to drive [laughs] because it was a beautiful aeroplane. And one of the stunts, I don’t think it was in the training syllabus but one of the stunts you know we did the training on lesser aeroplanes. Including thirty hours on a four-engined bomber that was downgraded by then. The Halifax. And only ten hours on the Lancaster which was little more than a type rating really but it was like, I said that didn’t I, like learning to fly on a three tonne truck and then being given a Jaguar to go to war with.
MS: And can you tell us a bit about the Meteor 6? Did you fly?
IW: Meteor. The jet. You’re talking the jet.
MS: Yes. Yes. There’s a photo of it in your book.
IW: Yes. The Gloster Meteor was a twin jet. When I went back in the war, well during the war I did a one months’ instructor rating course. When I went back into the war, back into the air force during the Cold War I did the full instructor’s course which by then was a six months course. And at the end of it there was what they called a type rating course. There was a Lancaster, a Wellington, the twin jet Meteor. All these sort of things that as a bonus at the end of the instructor rating you got to fly all these different types. The only thing we didn’t get was a Flying Boat. You can’t fly that off an aerodrome but I’d been trained on Flying Boats anyway. So I had a pretty wide of experience of flying which was the aim of the object until the accountants get hold of it and say ‘Why are we spending all this money on it?’ So then they cancelled that type rating down to the twin-engined Gloster Meteor because the future of air forces was all going to be all jets. So the one aeroplane that I hadn’t flown was the one that was left over. So I got four, four hours in a Gloster Meteor. And that that made flying very easy. Instead of like four engines working real hard it was two jet engines that just greased you through the sky. The speed was fantastic really. And on the solo flight from it I went up through the clouds and got up there and did all the aerobatics I could think of and then I thought, we were supposed to land with forty forty. That’s forty gallons in each wing tank. Supposed to be in the circuit by then because you had enough for a landing and enough for a second landing if the first one was failed. So high up, all the aerobatics I could think of, I looked at my tanks. Forty forty. I thought oh gosh it’s time I went down. I was above a sheet of cloud you see but there was a gap over there. So I just stuffed the nose down and at jet speed I went to that gap and came down. When I broke cloud down below I thought gosh I’m miles from where I should be. But with jet speed sort of free for nothing I went all the rest of the way back to the aerodrome I was supposed to be landing at and my tanks were still at forty forty [laughs] That was jet speed for you. It made ordinary propeller flying like hard work.
MS: And you carried on flying after you left the RAF didn’t you?
IW: Well, I did four hours of market gardening with my brother.
MS: Four years.
IW: Four years. Yeah. And that freed him of his prisoner of war complex and the Cold War had hotted up and they were calling for veterans so I went back into the air force for another fourteen years.
MS: What postings did you have?
IW: Well, mostly instructor. The RAF used to say once an instructor always an instructor. So that was about it. Including when I came to New Zealand. That’s what I did here. Flying instructing.
MS: Can you tell us about your posting to Singapore?
IW: Yes. Well [pause] first of all there was a posting required in Singapore for a Hastings pilot and three of us were put up for the job. The other two didn’t want it so I got it. How about that? And it was flying a VIP aeroplane. In, in England the commanders had all their stations within the aircraft carrier of Britain and it was like an aircraft carrier by the end of the war. Aerodromes everywhere. So all the commanders had just a small twin engine aeroplane as their runabout. But the commander in the Far East had an aerodrome two thousand miles west and another one two thousand miles north and liaising with Japan and America where ever they were stationed. The Philippines and all the rest of it. So the commander’s runabout was a four engine trans, long range transport aeroplane and we had, it was my aeroplane for for four years and my crew. And nobody else flew it. We had full catering kitchen on board. And the, the middle section was two tables for four. Four each. So there was an eight seat diner and when they went to the lounge at the rear for after dinner drinks we could convert to four engine, the eight seat diner into eight bunk room. You know, pull a few levers and draw a few curtains and it was converted from a dining room into an overnight sleeper so that we could, we could take the commander on board from a days’ parades in Hong Kong say and sleep them overnight and deliver them bright and cheery next morning back in Singapore.
MS: Can you tell us about your most important VIP?
IW: Oh, well, as the official title was Personal Pilot to the Commander in Chief of the Far East Air Force but that meant we got to fly any top level visitors that were there. Members of parliament on overseas perks you know and foreign dignitaries. Going to visit the Americans one time I had fourteen stars on board. That’s one star brigadiers and two stars and three and four. There were fourteen stars on board. Delivered them to Okinawa. And they went on board an aircraft carrier and saw the Yanks doing all their naval stuff and then I picked them up again at Clark Air Base in the Philippines. That’s what we were doing for four years when I was based in Singapore.
MS: Which princess did you take to Vietnam?
IW: Cambodia.
MS: Cambodia.
IW: Yes. Princess Alexandra of Kent came out from England. Came out by BOAC VIP transport. But when she came there and we had to take her up to Cambodia which was a potential war zone we, the military VIP transport took her up there. Handed her over to the British ambassador and the Cambodian government. Got her back into England just in time before Pol Pot did his thing. You know about Pol Pot? It was use of British royalty at it [laughs] at its best you know. Trying to pretend that if it was alright for British royalty to go to Cambodia that it was alright to — a tourists attraction for everybody else to go. But it all collapsed into the Khmer Rouge disaster wasn’t it? About four million people and he killed a million of them. Speak French language. Foreign. Foreign language. Christians. Foreign religion. Clean hands. Never done a job of work. You know. All the city workers were put out in to the rice paddies. Wading around in the wet muddy rice paddies because they never, in his terms they’d never done a job of work in their lives. But that all ended in disaster as you know.
MS: Now, another important visitor, VIP, was your wife. The captain’s wife. Can you tell us about your trips with the captain’s wife?
IW: Yes. Well, occasionally I got her on board. And when I’d come back from one trip I’d have to go to the briefing room for a debriefing report on the flight we’d just done and get a briefing for the next one we were supposed to be doing which was a three weeks tour of Australia and New Zealand. So I said, ‘Any empty seats?’ ‘What have you got in mind?’ I said, ‘My wife’s got two brothers in New Zealand. It would be nice if she could be a passenger on that one.’ So I got Mrs Captain on board as a passenger. And we had a, for a favour of the Royal Air Force we had a look at New Zealand before we finally came out here. And the end of military service a lot of people usually stay in the town where they finished their service. And we were back at a nice little Wiltshire town. An aerodrome, one each side of it. And I’d been at this one for a tour and now I was at that one and we had the same little Wiltshire country town. We could have stayed there quite well but we had two nasty rebuffs which, you know twenty years in the Royal Air Force I didn’t expect any special treatment but I did expect, expect to get treated like anybody else. And one rebuff was the, I didn’t belong to the AA I belonged to the Royal, the RAC, the Royal Automobile Club and they wrote to all their members and said, we’re doing life insurance. Mates rates for members. So I enquired as to what that was like and they said, ‘Oh, we don’t cover military people.’ So that was the first rebuff. The other one was like the end of military service people usually think well this is a nice place. We’ll, we’ll buy a house here, find a job here and the land agent wouldn’t even show me you know. We said we were interested in a certain house and he wouldn’t even show it to me because I was in the air force. And I thought goodness me. You know. What gives? And my wife and I had a chuckle about this because homosexuality was a hot topic at the time and we had a giggle over it and said perhaps we’d better go to New Zealand before England makes it compulsory [laughs] Oh well. Here we are.
MS: Ivon did you fly any bombing ops to France on D-Day or leading up to D-Day?
IW: We did indeed. The, the fifty miles of intended invasion frontage had twelve gun batteries on it and a gun battery was a command post out on the post, out on the coast and the guns were further inland because the gunners can’t see what they’re aiming at. They do what the command post tells them. And they can’t see where their shells hit because they’re surrounded in smoke from the big blast that, that launched a thousand foot, a thousand pound shell from here to there. So the invasion of Normandy started with twelve hundred Lancasters. A hundred on each of the twelve gun batteries along the fifty miles of intended Normandy invasion. So a thousand bomber raid was only one for a sample really. The city of Cologne. And Bomber Harris was demonstrating that saturation bombing, that is putting as many aeroplanes as possible on the target depending on the size of the target and they chose Cologne as a big city. It was an ideal target really because it was hard up against the River Rhine and it had a semi-circle which was the city business area. And all the target stuff was in there. Then it had a green belt which was city gardens and car parks and sport grounds and all that and then the outer circle was the residential. So the city of Cologne was an ideal target for Bomber Harris to put on his thousand bomber demo that, he said that, ‘Wars have not been won by bomber aircraft yet but it’s never been tried.’ So he said look out for this. The Nazis bombed us small time. We’re going to bomb them big time. And you know all about that I’m sure.
MS: Have you been inside a Lancaster since the war? Maybe at, at MOTAT?
IW: Yes.
MS: Yeah. How did that feel?
IW: Yes. Aye. Pretty good. And I had a lady friend here in Wanganui that, her father had flown Lancasters and when she visited MOTAT they let her climb up in the aeroplane and sit in the pilot’s seat.
MS: Are you a member of any Squadron Associations or the Bomber Command Association?
IW: Not now. No. I was Bomber Command UK. Or UK Bomber Command Association for a long time but by the time you’re ninety four you’ve given up most things.
MS: Okay. The New Zealand Bomber Command Association.
IW: Oh yes. Well, they, they wrote to me and said you don’t belong. Well, I said I’m a member of the Bomber Command, the UK Bomber Command Association. But they made me an honorary member anyway so I get their newsletters.
MS: Oh, so you were in some squadron associations in the past were you?
IW: Yes.
MS: So which ones were you in?
IW: Well, Bomber Command. UK Bomber Command Association.
MS: Yeah.
IW: And the 166 Squadron.
MS: Yes.
IW: That’s a Lancaster squadron. They had an annual reunion. Well they had an organiser who organised a reunion and at the end of it all they said, ‘Are we going to do this again next year?’ And he was saddled with it for the next fifty years [laughs] But it became interesting. For instance boys in, in Holland, well Holland is you know the Zuider Zee is lower than the North Sea and they’re, forever windmills are pumping the water out. And when they pump it down, they call them polders don’t they? They’ll build a dam around, pump all the water out and they’ve got another few hundred acres to add to the country’s surface. And they find a Lancaster there with all the crew in it so they reported to the RAF and the RAF said, ‘We’ll come and recover the bodies if there’s any bodies in it. After that you can do what you like with the wreckage.’ And a lot of them will take the propellers and stick it up as a memorial in their town or something. But out of that we, we had a Belgian boy that found a Lancaster and he came every, he came over one year to our squadron reunion so we made him an honorary member and he came back every year. For the next several years anyway.
MS: So, I’ve asked all the questions that Glen and I have. Is there anything else you can think of that you want to tell us about your time in Bomber Command?
IW: Well, I’ve got a painting there of a Pathfinder that exploded with all its colours. Bombs are lethal things but they’re totally safe until they leave the aeroplane. The safety pin is attached to the aeroplane so when the bomb leaves the bomb rack it’s primed. But prior to that you could hit it with a hammer and it wouldn’t, wouldn’t explode. And yet a Pathfinder exploded in front of me. About twenty miles from me to the explosion and then the target so that could only have been a collision. And I nearly had two head on collisions. A Junkers 88 night fighter passed over my cabin going in the bomber stream but going the wrong way. Which is alright because he’s, he’s left you alone. Somebody else, it’s their problem. But twice, in fact I had three head ons but a Messerschmitt 110 was off to one side but the, twice a Junkers 88 if I’d reached up I could have touched it as it went over the top of my cabin. In the bomber stream but going the wrong way.
MS: Okay. Well that concludes our interview, Ivon. Thank you so much for your time. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today. Thank you very much. That’s the end of our interview.



Miriam Sharland, “Interview with Ivon Warmington,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 17, 2024,

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