Interview with Rusty Waughman. Two


Interview with Rusty Waughman. Two


Russell (Rusty) Waughman was born in Shotley Bridge, County Durham. Due to serious poor health as a child his education was interrupted. He describes his training with the Empire Training School in Canada. He was posted to 101 Squadron which was a special squadron with the ABC system. He describes some of the unusual aspects of squadron life such as premonitions and the close connections between everyone on the station. He had many close calls including having to right the aircraft which was flying upside down due to being blown of course by a nearby explosion. On one occasion he managed to keep his Lancaster flying despite a collision with another aircraft. On another occasion the aircraft was again damaged during an attack on Munich. However, as they made their slow progress back they found themselves flying over France in daylight and were amazed to see from the distance two Spitfires which had been sent to escort them home. He also took part in the Berlin airlift.







02:55:47 audio recording

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RW: All wrote a little letter and signed it and sent it to the station commander who interviewed us and said, ‘This constitutes mutiny.’ So, with all our explanations of what went on he accepted that the fact that we’d been left off the draft and the corporal [?] corporal from West Kirby was actually charged for taking bribes to take, put people on, take people off drafts and put friends on. So, there we are. There we are. We’ve got no records, no kit, no nothing so we had to start again. So we didn’t do the, so we went and did our IT, initial training, again at Stratford on Avon which was rather nice, very fine. Nice place Stratford. I think I had my first girlfriend at Stratford. She was a very, she was a nice little girl. I often whatever happened to all these creatures looking back on all these times but there we are. We did our initial training again and from there of course we had to learn to start playing with aeroplanes and to start with we had to make sure that we were alright and worth sending overseas. We had to go to Codsall at Wolverhampton and er on a Tiger Moth just go solo. As soon as you got, went solo that was it finished until you were posted overseas and we went, went over to Canada on the Empire Training Scheme on the little ship called The Battery a converted Polish ship which was very comfortable, very nice. Very congested of course. And we landed at St John’s in Canada, down to Moncton which was the holding unit and then we travelled all across Canada on a public train to Calgary and the little aerodrome there was called Dewinton, which was just south of Calgary. We’d been there, back there since and Dewinton is now a suburb of Calgary which is incredible when you think of it. And that was nice and we were learning to fly on Tiger Moths and the Stearman. The Americans, the Boeing people had sent up sixty Stearman to the air force for people to learn to fly on. So we trained on both the Stearman and Tiger Moths and of course having finished the course I was a bit slow learning so I was, I think they were a little concerned about what the state of flying was. I was, I’ve always been a slow learner and I had a wash out check with the CGI on the station who very kindly allowed me to carry on and really from that time I never really looked back. It was really quite remarkable. And for some reason, I don’t know why, looking back I don’t know why they ever asked it but they said, ‘What do you want to become? What do you want to join? Fighter Command or Bomber Command?’ And you can imagine about ninety nine percent of us said Fighter Command so I was sent to Bomber Command which meant going down, back down on to the prairies to Medicine Hat and Moose Jaw learning to fly on the Airspeed Oxford and we had great times there. One thing we learned there which helped us later on in flying experience was the fact that we used to go off on a cross country with two pilots, no navigator, just one acting as pilot and one acting as navigator and switched over halfway through and we saw on a lake, which looked rather nice, we said, ‘Let’s low fly over this lake,’ which we weren’t allowed to do of course, which we did. Little did we know that there were ducks on the lake which rose up and we clattered through these ducks. I ended up with a duck wrapped around my face. We had six duck in the aircraft. Fortunately, they ended up in the engines nacelles, they didn’t damage the engines and of course when we got back we had a right old rocket from the, from the boss but the fact that we got the aircraft back between us and landed they allowed us to carry on. But I had to go to the dentist the next day on camp and the dentist said, ‘Oh you were the bloke who flew that aeroplane.’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘We had duck for dinner.’ And then I sat back. And of course that was sort of an experience which helped us much, much later in life, in flying life, which was quite remarkable. And so of course having finished that course you took the little white flash out of your cap which was indicated that you were UT aircrew and took that out and you sewed on your wings in and then, oh, you were a pilot which was quite, which was quite remarkable. And of course you had to get back home so we forgot all about aeroplanes for quite a little while, travelled right back across Canada down to New York where we joined the Queen, Queen Elizabeth to come back home on the Queen Elizabeth and that was, wasn’t in convoy. We just pointed east and set off. It was quite, so new to us. We were so naïve and that was just a wonderful experience except on the Queen Elizabeth there were seventeen thousand others and we had a first class cabin along with eight other people which, you were sleeping in bunks with a chappie’s bottom above you rubbing on your nose, you know. But it was a wonderful experience. Two meals a day and it was wonderful. We lost two people overboard er but the boat didn’t stop they just threw life belts over and, poor souls. But there were Americans, nurses, Americans, Canadians, all coming back, back to the UK. Got back to Gourock up on the Clyde and then of course we had to find somewhere to go and be rehabilitated. We went first of all to Harrogate and then down to Whitley Bay and then back down to Oxford where we had a little rehab course on Oxfords just to get your hand back in again on Oxfords. That was at Kidlington, at Croughton, just outside Oxford. And the course, then of course you had to go to OTU Operational Training Unit and that was an amazing experience when we were flying the Vickers Wellington, the old Wimpy. When we got there of course you had to get a crew. You had a get a five man crew for the Wimpy and the system as I’m sure everybody knows was the fact that they got all the pilots, all the navigators, all the wireless operators a gunner and no engineer at the time and but the, and the navigator and put everybody into this big room and said, ‘Sort yourselves out into crews.’ And they used to go around and say, ‘I haven’t got a navigator. Are you a navigator? Can you fly? Do you want to fly with me?’ and this sort of system is amazing and the system worked. It really was incredible. And my crew had, you had no idea of the background of these people and my crew turned out to be the most wonderful collection of blokes and we flew really as a crew and not just a skipper and bods behind we just, and it worked out wonderfully well. Just to give an idea what they were my bomb aimer up front he was, had a little gypsy existence over in Manchester, a dapper little man, he used to come on operations with a crease in his trousers which was unheard of. My engineer, we had two engineers, I’ll relay about that a little bit when we come to flying. Les, my, I shan’t give his name because it so happened that he couldn’t cope on operations. He was just more or less a young lad working in an office. My navigator Alec, Alec Cowan, he was a real, he was a wonderful navigator, wonderful navigator. He lied about his age to join up. He joined up when he was sixteen and he was operational flying with us at eighteen. We didn’t know at the time. We didn’t find this out until sixty years later which was just as well. We were sitting in the pub at, at Lincoln at our reunion and we were saying, we had just had our eightieth birthdays and we said. ‘Oh we just had our, when’s your eightieth birthday Alec?’ And he said, ‘Well, it’s not for another two years yet.’ So that was the first time we, we found out what he was and he was just really more or less straight from school but he really was a most wonderful navigator. Taffy, a little wireless operator, he was a character. Oh, he was a mad little nut he was. We tried to find out where he was after the war and we discovered that his background was in Aberdare and his uncle had a pub and I think he was helping out in his uncle’s pub and I think he took that up for the rest of his life and I wouldn’t say he was a rebel, he was a wonderful character. His mischief, terribly mischievous bloke and we still keep in touch now. He’s a very, very close friend. A lovely little friend, Taffy. My engineer, I eventually had another engineer. A chap called Curly, Curly Ormerod and he was on the situation where he didn’t fly with his skipper who was shot down and killed and he didn’t fly that night he, because I had to get rid of my first engineer Curly was a spare engineer and he joined us and he was a, worked for the council in Oldham I think it was where he was a trainee engineer and just, only a young lad, he was twenty and my special duty operator because of the special duties he was my special duty operator, he was an Austin apprentice and he wanted to join the air force as a pilot but the waiting list for the pilot training then was quite long and he couldn’t wait that long so he volunteered to join as a gunner. We’ll explain a little more about Ted when we come to what they did in the aeroplane. Tommy, my mid upper gunner, he was a council worker in Rotherham and he was the old man of the crew. He was twenty six. The next one down was twenty. I was twenty at the time which was incredible when you think of our kids at twenty. You know, I’m sure if the same thing happened again now I’m sure the responses from the children, the young youth, would be the same but he was, he was married and he had a bit of leave on the station because his wife produced a baby. So, poor old Tommy, he had rather a tragic death after the war but still that Tommy. And my rear gunner, he was a Canadian. His father, an Englishman who had a funeral service, funeral service which he developed in Vancouver in America and Harry through his father’s English experience although he joined the RCAF he came over and joined the RAF as a Canadian. Again, these lads, you know although these vast different backgrounds we all gelled and we all worked together wonderfully well and what they did with us they kept us alive, you know and it really was wonderful. And I, myself, I couldn’t, I didn’t have any education at all. I went to school but because of my illnesses I went to school to start with at the age of five in Newcastle and then I became desperately ill and I was in bed for six months as a young teenager with TB so I couldn’t take place in sport or anything like that so when they came to doing exams when they did the scholarship in those days I went to school just before I was due to take the scholarship and of course I didn’t pass. So there I was. I was, I couldn’t go to a secondary school so I was sent to what they called a training school for the shipyards and it was a sort of engineering training school where at the age sixteen I started to learn about art and drawing, machine drawing and this sort of thing. It was, I enjoyed the school. It was nice but I had no exam, no exams at the end of it so when I, when I joined up I had no matric, no school cert, no exams at all. So how on earth I was ever passed. The only thing that helped I think when they were testing for the attestation was the fact that I became, I started off on the stage at the Newcastle Rep Theatre for a, for a year a bit while I got a position as a pupil surveyor at an architect surveyors office in Newcastle and there I used to do a lot of surveying work using angles and trade vectors and things which helped in the navigation exams and I think that helped me to pass the attestation exams in London. So there we are. There, you’ve got a crew. But we mentioned Ted, the special duty chap, Ted Manners, but he didn’t join the crew at OTU at all because we only had the five man crew and we didn’t know about, anything about special squadrons then of course and of course having finished at Operational Training Unit on Wimpies we were posted to a Heavy Conversion Unit which was at 1662 Conversion Unit at Blyton and of course with the demand for Lancaster aircraft and operational aircraft they had very few Lancasters available. The ones they had available were really the ones that weren’t fit for operational flying so we started to learn to fly four engine aircraft on Halifaxes, on ‘Halibags.’ A nice aeroplane to fly but not quite as amenable as the Lancaster from our experience later on but that was, that was nice, that was fine and of course on the station, on the same station they had what they called an LFS a Lancaster Finishing School so when we’d gone solo on the Halibag we went on to join this LFS, the Lancaster Finishing School and this was on Lancasters and they were a different aeroplane all together. It was a wonderful experience and experience we never expected to have in my life. But I had a little problem. Although my height was right I’ve got little short legs and when you’ve got twelve, four engines of twelve eighty horsepower all taking off with each engine, each propeller going around with three thousand revs you get a lot of torque, a lot of swing on take-off and with my little short legs I was having a hell of a job keeping these bloody black things straight down the runway on take-off so I was a little bit later finishing my training conversion than my friend Paul [Zaggy] who I’d trained with, been in parallel with for many, many months. And when we finished, when he’d finished his course he was posted to 101 squadron and when my turn came about two or three days later I asked the flight commander, ‘Can I go and join my friend Paul on 101 squadron because we’d been friends for a long, long time?’ And his response was, ‘Well,’ he said, ‘It’s a special duty squadron and we only send the best ones there.’ And I said Oh God that was a bit of a comedown. Anyway, a couple of days later he said, ‘Right, Waughman, 101 squadron. Off you go.’ And I said, ‘Well what’s this special duties thing?’ He said, ‘Oh you’ll find out when you get there.’ He didn’t know actually from what we found out later. And when we got to the squadron the day we arrived on the squadron my friend Paul had been killed the night before. And that, you suddenly begin to realise this is serious stuff, you know and you didn’t really think about it beforehand but then it became realistic. You did a couple of cross countries to get your hand in on the squadron experience and then we were given a special duty operator. An eighth member of the crew who spoke German, a German speaker operator and he was flying, was using this equipment called ABC. This ABC equipment started down on the south of England where there were fifteen stations with very fluent German speaking operators who could talk to the German night fighter controllers and jam their signals to their fighters, instructions to their fighters but it only had a range of a hundred and forty miles so that didn’t cover the deep penetration raids in to eastern Europe. So, Sydney Bufton, one of the air ministry boffins said well let’s put it in an aeroplane so they put, started putting them in. It took about three thousand hours to fit this equipment in to an aeroplane and quite an expense and this was allocated to 100 squadron. Now, 100 squadron were also having H2S which was a ground scanning radar and the power unit on the Lancaster mean you couldn’t cope with the ABC and the H2S so they chose the next squadron down which was 101 squadron. So 101 squadron became the special duty squadron flying this ABC and what they called the stuff on the ground station was called Jostle and it had a code name of Corona. Hence it became the Cigar and it was known as ground Cigar and of course when they got it stuck into an aeroplane it became ABC which was Airborne Cigar and Bufton wrote to the air ministry saying that in future correspondence all reference to Airborne Cigar aircraft will be known as ABC in future correspondence so hence 101 squadron became the ABC of the RAF which is remarkable. What Ted had, he had a little three inch cathode ray tube where he could pick up the frequency of the night fighter controllers and lock a little strobe on these, on these, on his screen, cover that with the aircraft’s, aircraft strobe, lock that on and he’d locked on to the frequency of the German night fighter controller’s instructions to the fighters. Having decided that on another little switch where there was German speaking because there were Poles, Czechs and things, once he’d decided that he pressed another little button which blasted engine noise out on that frequency and jammed the signals. And it was a wigwog noise woooooo oooo oooo and the Germans called that, they had a name for this and it was called dudelsack and I think it’s quite an appropriate little description ‘cause dudelsack means bagpipes. And so we had this ABC equipment which is wonderful stuff and this started operating in September, in ‘43. We didn’t join the squadron until November ‘43 and on the first raid the first, one of the first instructions that the special duty operator received from the German signals was, ‘Achtung. Achtung. English bastards coming.’ And that was one of the first instructions they had but sadly, one of our aircraft on that first raid was shot down and the Germans had the system right from the beginning but even the [telephones] people knew of the system but they couldn’t really work out all the technology of it at all so that was quite the thing. That was one of the things that added to the attrition rate on our squadron, the fact that the German night fighters could home on to our transmissions ‘cause we were using their frequencies so they could home on to us and the ABC aircraft were used on every major bombing raid that went out and the idea was that our aircraft were staggered every ten miles through the whole bomber stream. We acted as a normal bomber aircraft with a reduced bomb load, only slightly, well I suppose so I don’t think it ever happened actually but the equipment weighed something like [six or seven hundred pounds] plus another operator so it knocked our bomb load down a little bit and we had three enormous aerials transmitters on the aircraft. Two on the top and one under the nose and these were nearly seven foot long. It didn’t affect the aerodynamics of the aircraft whatsoever. We didn’t, we wouldn’t have realised they were there and we just there we were and our first raid, when we went off on our first raid my little engineer, there was something strange about him he didn’t seem really with it at all. Anyway, so we found we were getting in a bit of a mess and got in the way so, with experience I think we could have carried on but being so inexperienced we came back, we aborted the trip. So, we were, this was just at the very start in November of the Battle of Berlin and this was a trip to Berlin and the WingCo wasn’t too happy about it, WingCo Alexander. And our next operation a couple of nights later again was to Berlin and Les, my little engineer, nineteen year old, we had an engine on fire, a starboard outer went on fire and he just couldn’t do anything he just sat on the floor and just shiver and shake he couldn’t do anything, couldn’t do any of his work at all and I had to, the graviner button on the Lancaster is down on the right hand side of the instrument panel and I had to half get out of the seat to cover all this lot. He couldn’t do any of the fuel control systems at all. So, anyway when we got back I reported this to the wing commander who said, ‘Well you know I suppose you’ve done the right thing,’ and Les, this, my little engineer left the squadron that day, that afternoon. Whether he was made LMF which they usually do in those days we never did find out but he never should have been because he never refused to fly and this is what happened to a lot of Bomber Command aircrew who were literally shit scared. They really were and that was really a physical thing as well and these lads who knew what the conditions was never, they’d rather face the guns of Germany rather than have the stigma of LMF stamped on their documents and this LMF stamped on their documents followed them wherever they went afterwards and this information is kept by the record office and isn’t being released until 2035 so by that time none of the people will be alive to get any slur on their character. So we lost our little Les and this is when we got Curly who didn’t fly with Les the night he was shot down so we acquired Curly as an engineer. Wonderful character. Again, another great tease at the, he was a nice man though but we gelled as a crew and really in those days you did become slightly insular because you worked as a crew and trained as a crew and you played as a crew and I must admit we, we drank a lot. Eight pints a night wasn’t out of the way you know and this was part of the relaxation system for the, for the air force. Because of this Harris wrote to all station commanders, again we found out this much, much later, only fairly recently, the fact that a directive had been sent to the station commanders saying that no Bomber Command aircrew must be used on station duties unless it affected the running of the station and intimated that the relaxation activities must be condoned. Which, as far as that was concerned, was young lads full of testosterone was beer and women and it sounds a bit crude but the girls and boys on the station were really wonderful. They were really good companions. They knew what the system was and they complied and they were really lovely. We had one little girl who used to look after us in our little hut, in our little nissen hut which was, which was just a corrugated iron nissen hut and she was a little Welsh girl with a little doggie and she was known as the camp bicycle ‘cause everybody rode it, you know and these are the sort of the things that went but it wasn’t pornography it was just an accepted way of release of stress and one of my friends who I knew very well he used to say, ‘Well, thank God for sex. It’s kept me sane.’ And this was just a means of release of stress on the aircraft. And a lot of it did happen in Bomber Command sadly and it caused people to lose their lives which is rather a shame but you know those lads who flew and knowing their condition like that they were really the bravest of the brave, you know. They really were. Wonderful. And it kept Bomber Command going. But LMF, they didn’t have so many LMF. I think there weren’t a huge number cases of LMF but it was a rotten stigma and of course then having been on the on the, on the squadron with our ABC equipment we were involved very much with the German night fighter system and this was organised by a chap called, oh I’ve forgotten what they called him now, I’ll think of it in minute but he organised that the, all of eastern Europe, western Europe would be split in to five boxes. The Kammhuber. Kammhuber, the Kammhuber Line and this in each box each controller had control of their fighter system and they had a couple of systems there where they had, called Wilde Sau and Zahme Sau which is Wild Boar and Tame Boar and with the Wurzburg radar they could direct a fighter in to the bomber stream and nearly always ME109s and they were the Wild Boar who could go and find their own aircraft to attack and the Tame Boar was with Wurzburg and Freya aircraft systems whereby they could direct an aircraft almost on to an individual aircraft which was quite alarming as it turned out. We had experience of that and they developed a system called Lichtenstein whereby you see these aircraft with German aircraft they nearly all the ME109s with an array of aerials around the nose and they could actually home onto an individual aircraft and because of our ABC equipment we were very, very vulnerable. They could home on to the ABC equipment and the H2S and they developed the system called Naxos and SN2 which was very, very effective indeed and they could home directly on to aircraft and counter, counter measures for our broadcast so we had, they had a system where they could home on to our aircraft. We had a system where we would counter measure their counter measures, counter measure their receptions and they developed a [Frensburg] which counter measured our counter measures and we developed counter measures that would counter measured their counter measures and so on and the electronic wall we learned afterwards really was quite terrific but the German night fighter system was, really was very good. And they had with their, with their Wurzburg searchlights, radar controlled searchlights, radar controlled guns they had what they called predicted flak and predicted searchlights and when you were flying along you’d see this characteristic big blue searchlight appear which would wave backwards and forwards and as soon as it picked you up on the radar it flicked on to you and you were flying in their searchlights and all the searchlights roundabout would come on. You’d have perhaps forty, fifty, sixty searchlights flying with you and you were flying in daylight and of course the night fighters used to get in amongst you then but we had systems of flying. We flew the corkscrew pattern which flying a corkscrew pattern more or less like a horizontal corkscrew. It was bloody hard work when you’ve got a fully loaded aircraft. You lost a little bit of height doing it but it was really effective and the sad thing is when gunners, some gunners saw these things and gave instructions like say, ‘Dive starboard go’ and something like this some of the captains said, well, ‘Why?’ And of course by that time it was far too late but this corkscrew pattern did help enormously to evade the things and on the predicted flak it was quite a characteristic burst of flak. They usually put out a box system of flak where they just covered this area completely with anti-aircraft fire and you had to fly through this box of fire but they had this predicted flak whereby they could send up the shell which would burst in the characteristic sort of development and if you saw this behind you, if you were lucky enough, you knew this was predicted flak so, and you knew it’d take forty five seconds for the Germans to reload their guns, fire their shells and for the shell to burst so you turned off forty five degrees, and flew for about forty seconds then turned back ninety degrees and hope the next one burst behind you. This happened to us once and we nearly ended up in the system for twenty five, twenty minutes just doing this evasion all the time. Similarly with the searchlights, the searchlights I caused a bit of hilarity one night when we got back to debriefing saying that we were attacked by searchlights over Hanover but we were in searchlights for nearly half an hour trying to get out of them which, but with these sort of things happened on raids and so of course there we are we are flying on a squadron and it was daily life of being on the squadron. When you woke up in the morning usually late, after breakfast or early after lunch you went up to flights and on the wall you saw a battle order and could see your name on the battle order and all the battle order told you was A) you were flying, the crew you were flying with, the aircraft you were flying in, and the time of briefing, and the time of meal and when you saw that the first thing you did was go and change your underwear which is, which is, it really was. To say that you weren’t fearful, you know, it was very, it was very anxious, became very anxious because you had no idea where you were going. It was just you were on the battle order that night. So we used to go up to flights and check the aircraft, the serviceability of the aircraft, meet the ground crew, wonderful ground crew I had, and there you’d ask what the petrol load was and what the bomb load was and if you had lots of petrol, not so many bombs you knew you were going a long way. Vice versa if you had lots of bombs and not so much petrol you weren’t going so far so you had some idea what the thing was going to, what the raid was going to be about and then at briefing of course, on the wall, we were all in nissen huts by the way, little tin huts, on the wall they had a big map of Europe covered by a map, a curtain and when you all sat down and all got collected together they drew the curtain back and there was the red line which was a tape showing the route to and from the target and if it was a long distance target, Berlin, Munich, these groans used to go up right through the briefing and then you were briefed by the various section leaders, the met officer, the armament officer, navigation officer and there of course then you had to get out to the aircraft so we went in to the crew room, got our kit on and the girls in the parachute section, [collect your] parachute section, they were great. One little girl one day said, ‘Let me have your battle dress.’ And she took my battle dress off, took my wings off and sewed a lucky three penny piece under my wing. And these are the sort of things that went on. Wonderful characters. And you had a locker where you kept your kit in the locker and when you were flying the rear gunner had what they called a Sidcot suit which was an electrically heated suit but the rest of the crew you could really manage with just a thick jumper and battle dress. Some wore some form of overall but the costumes were really quite, quite ordinary. You had flying boots. We had, originally we had the brown fur lined flying boots and after that we had the escape boots, black escape boots, whereby they had a little knife concealed in the boot where you could cut the top off and leave a little, like a pair of shoes when you got shot down. There we are. We’ve got our kit, we’ve got our kit we’ve got to get out the aircraft so the crew buses arrived and we had to get out in to the, in to the aircraft but the atmosphere was quite electric, you know. They had sort of two sort or reactions. Some people were verbose and talked and over talked which was out of characteristic and some were just clammed up and just didn’t talk at all. So, when you got to out to the aircraft you just checked and went around and did a normal flight check for the aircraft, waiting for the signal to taxi out and of course once you got there, once you got in the aircraft there was no outside communication whatsoever ‘cause the Germans could pick up. In fact with their radar system they knew that the raid was going to take place and they knew the height you were going to fly at, they knew the course you were going to fly and the speed you were flying at but they didn’t know where you were going. So, we were waiting at the aircraft for the verilight to tell us to go and taxi out and of course the other little superstitions, you know the old tale of just a bit of luck you wee’d on the tail wheel. The lads used to wee on the tail wheel. We never did of course but er [laughs]. My rear gunner Harry, being stuck at the back he didn’t feel a part of this the bombing lark at all so he used to take a couple of empty beer bottles with him and when we were over the target his contribution to the bombing was to throw out a couple of empty beer bottles. This, this on one occasion when we were waiting to get on the aircraft the station commander, Group Captain King used to come around and just say, ‘Hello lads.’ Wished them all best of luck. Thinking of a man like that knowing, sending all these lads you know that a third of them aren’t going to come back, you know. What went through their mind must be, must be awful. Anyway, when the group captain saw Harry without his beer bottles Harry explained. ‘Oh I haven’t got my bloody beer bottles.’ He said, ‘Right. Get in the car.’ Dashed down to the mess, got a couple of beer bottles and drove him back again so Harry had them. Whether he drank them or threw them out full we never did find out but Harry had his beer bottles. I had a little, I wasn’t superstitious, touch wood but my cousin Mary, I’m very fond of Mary I think our parents were getting a little bit worried but Mary she gave me a silk scarf, a little RAF silk scarf which I wore on every operation I went on and I wore long johns, used to wear the long johns on the flying and I thought well if I change my long johns I’ll, you know, I’ll change my luck. We had two pairs. One for wearing and one for washing. I never had mine washed and I wore the same pair of long johns for thirty operations and the lads used to say, ‘Well you took them off and stood them up in your locker’ and you can imagine the odour on the aircraft with all this sort of thing going on must have been pretty awful. You didn’t notice it at the time. But another thing I had was my dad, one of the talismans for naval people was a caul and the caul is a sack a baby is born in and my dad was given one of these when he, when he first joined, when he started operations in the navy in the First World War and I was on leave just before I was joining the squadron. They knew I was going to go on an operational squadron and I was standing, I was standing by the stove in the kitchen and my dad came up and he wasn’t a very effusive man and he said, ‘Here’s this,’ and he gave me his caul in a little tin box which I’ve still got and that’s over a hundred years old and he said, ‘There you are. Good luck. I love you.’ And that was really a three hankie job, you know. A wonderful little man. But there we are I had my caul and I didn’t take it on operations but it kept me alive and these are the sort of superstitions you had but we weren’t on because of the job we were doing we weren’t allowed to take any sort of document, photographs or anything at all because of the very secret nature of our, with the work we doing. It was treated very, we weren’t allowed to take any photographs on the squadron at all. We did. And everything was kept very, we weren’t allowed to discuss it anywhere outside but A) our aircraft was parked at dispersal, we were W which was far end of dispersal just by a fence and the main road was just outside and I don’t know what guarding they had on the aircraft but anyway part of the secrecy thing was not having to take any documentation. When we got our sandwiches they were wrapped up in newspaper so they had a good, they could have had a good idea what was going on. So there we were, off on operations and operational flying became to start with you were so inexperienced that you didn’t really realise what was going on and the casualty rate in the first five operations was something like forty percent which was as high as that and it really was. It became quite an alarming thing. We didn’t realise at the time. We only found out this many years afterwards. So our squadron were very vulnerable and once we got past the five operations squadrons, five operations you really became quite fatalistic. You just, you were doing a job and accepted what you had to do and you expected you were going to die and it was quite a strange relationship that you had and you had a bit, a little bit of sick humour and I’m sure folk know of the grim reaper, the old skeletal figure with his scythe and with his scythe you got the chop and we used to say, when you were talking, standing by somebody, put your hand on his shoulder and you said, ‘Death put his bony hand on your shoulder and [live] chap I’m coming,’ you know and if you were in the mess and one of your comrades has been killed and gone you used to drink his health and you used to say, ‘Here’s to good old,’ so and so, ‘And here’s the next one to die.’ So this sort of atmosphere existed. Some people had premonitions you know and my mother, my mother was an old witch really she used to have dreams and things and she had a dream one night that things weren’t going to go right and she tried to contact the station to see what was going on and of course she couldn’t because the station was completely isolated and that was a night when we had an awful lot of trouble. But she had this idea. And one of the girls on the squadron one of the little WAAF officers, on the Nuremberg raid, said to her fiancé Jimmy [Batten] Smith she said, ‘You’ll be over the target about ten minutes past midnight.’ She said, ‘Right, I’ll set my alarm clock and I’ll think of you when you’re over the target.’ She woke up about 11 o’clock, half past ten, 11 o’clock and knew something wasn’t right and she switched on her light and listened and couldn’t find anything, anything about it at all and Jimmy, over the target, as soon as he left the target, just at the time, he was shot down and killed so he never got back. There’s another, our Flight Commander, Squadron Leader Robinson he was a wonderful, he had very, very rapid promotion because our previous flight commander was killed and he was promoted from flight lieutenant up to, straight up to squadron leader within a matter of weeks and he became our squadron commander er flight commander. Wonderful little man. And he had a rear gunner who was seconded from the American air force and this American chappie still had his brown overalls and American flying kit and they were in the mess and the lads were playing crib and poker and he, this Jones a chap called Jones, won the, won the kitty and I can see it now a little pile of ten shilling notes which he won which he when he picked it up he said, ‘Shan’t be needing this.’ And gave it all away. That night, on the raid, on the twenty ninth raid they were all killed. So whether they had these sort of premonitions, you know, it was quite remarkable and one of the bomb, when I came off leave one occasion we only had a short, a few days leave the bombing, the armament officer, only a young lad, he looked strange and I said, ‘Are you alright, Geoff?’ And he said, ‘Well, funny thing happened,’ an aircraft had crashed on take-off and hit part of the bomb dump and he jumped in his little wagon to go out and see what he could do out there and when he got on the perimeter track near where the bomb dump was there was a chap waiting and saying, ‘Don’t go down in there. They’re all dead.’ This chap was covered in blood and whatever. He said, ‘Don’t go down in there. They’re all dead.’ But he said, ‘I must.’ So when he went down to see the, what was going on he found the body of the man he’d been talking to on the perimeter track dead in the hut. So, and within a few weeks he was white haired. And these sorts of strange things happened you know it’s a, it’s a, you didn’t realise at the time all the significance of all these things but there we are. One of the things that happened, on one of the early raids when we went and poor old Bomber Harris, he didn’t like the idea at all but they developed what they called the transport plan whereby they were bombing railway martialling yards, [tank?] depots, station er station signal boxes and train stations to stop goods going down for the pre-invasion, for the German pre- invasion and so this was the transport plan and Harris didn’t like this but we went off on one raid to a place called Hasselt which was on the Belgian/German border, railway martialling yards and we got within about ten minutes of the target. This was all at night. This was all night flying of course in cloud, mainly in cloud and my engineer who was looking out the window said a very rude word, something about fornicating in hades and the next thing we knew this other aircraft hit us slap on the side and we just crashed into this, the two aircraft just crashed together and we were, he was slightly underneath us and his propellers cut through our bomb aimer’s compartment, just behind Norman’s feet. He was lying down ready to bomb. His mid upper, his canopy, the other aircraft canopy took off our starboard tyre, his turret, which was sticking up at the top of his aeroplane carved through our fuselage at the back, left a big hole in the back. We lost part of the tale plane. Lost all our electrics. Harry, the rear gunner was knocked unconscious, only temporary and we were a bit of a mess and thereby we, we were sitting, I didn’t see all this going on but the crew saw what was going on and when we hit this aircraft we were literally sitting on top of it and his propellers were churning through our little bits and pieces and we were in a bit of a mess and afterwards I was asked to write a little resume of what happened in the collision just for purely records sake and to give it a title of the most significant thing that happened, you remembered, on the trip and the most significant bit was sitting on top of this other aircraft with no control over your aircraft whatsoever. All the controls were just limp and wobbly. So, nothing. So, I called this the title of this thing, ‘It went limp in my hand,’ which was highly censored. I wasn’t allowed to do that. So this report went through and in consequence we had to do, coming back, we had to do a crash landing. We had Fido on the station and the Fido system was a sort of a little triangular system with the fuel pipe on the top and the gaps of about ten metre gaps within each section and unfortunately our dud wheel skidded between the gap and the thing and the other one bounced over the top of the pipes and just put a little dent in the top and there was a casualty that night sadly. We were skidding towards the control tower in the dark and we were getting very close to the control tower and all the staff on the control or most of the staff on the control tower and the little girls, came out to watch this idiot bend his aeroplane and as we were skidding towards it one of these girls jumped back and sprained her ankle and that was the only casualty that night but there were sort of talks of decorations and things but it never happened so I was very kindly given a green endorsement in my logbook and mentioned in despatches. That’s in the logbook now still but if it had been a red one it would have been an adverse report but a green one was a pat on the back sort of thing so that was, that was quite nice but there of course that aircraft was written off. As far as the squadron it was written off it had to be repaired and rebuilt but we discovered that two main longerons going along the back of the aircraft were badly damaged and had we to have taken evasive action no doubt the aircraft would have broken up and we realised that a lot of damage at the back because we had a big hole in the floor and I told Harry, the rear gunner, I said, ‘Harry, pick up your parachute, come up front just in case anything else happens.’ And he said, ‘No. I’ll stay here and keep a look out.’ And these are the characters that they were. Wonderful characters. And that wasn’t the only thing that Harry did. We went on one long trip and his electrically heated Sidcot suit failed. He never said a peep, never said a word and when we got back seven and a half, eight hours later getting out the aircraft they said. ‘Where’s Harry?’ ‘Oh he must still be there.’ So I popped into the aircraft, opened his door and there he was sitting with an icicle from his face mask as thick as my wrist down between his legs. He couldn’t move and he’d never said a peep he just kept on doing his job. He was in sick quarters for nearly three weeks and that affected him for the rest of his life. And this is what these poor lads got up to. It really was wonderful. I was so lucky with the lads I had as a crew. Wonderful and very conscientious lads. So there we are. We got back and of course the aircraft had to be taken away and we had to get a new aircraft. Our first aircraft was W with the squadron letters were SR and we had a W, W ABC all the way through. We had W, so we had W and there was a song of the day called. “Coming in on a wing and a prayer.” So I thought. ‘Oh lets,’ and there’s a P O Prune character so I painted on the front of the aircraft this P O Prune character with wings and “On a wing and a prayer” coming underneath and of course that was the one that we crash landed. That disappeared. That went. And we get a new aircraft almost immediately. Well, they got another aircraft almost immediately straight from MU and, ‘What are we going to put on the nose. What nose art were we going to have?’ And when we got out of dispersal to see the new aircraft Jock Steadman or Willy Steadman, Willy Steadman our Scottish in charge, NCO in charge of the aircraft he’d already painted on the aircraft Oor Wullie and Oor Wullie was the cartoon character from the Glasgow Sunday Post and that was the aircraft which gets all the publicity now and we did more operations in the other one than we did than we did in this one but they were wonderful aeroplanes to fly. Really, really were. So, anyway, there we are. We’ve got a new aeroplane and another operation we went on was to Hasselt which was another transport plant target whereby 5 group and 1 group were involved. A hundred and seventy three aircraft from each group. We were scattered all the way through the raid, just our squadron, so we were going to Hasselt which was French had been French military base which was the biggest military base in Europe at the time right on the edge of the village of Mailly and we were briefed to bomb very, very strictly. We didn’t want to kill anybody in the village so we had to be very precise, we were told to be very precise with our bombing so, and we were to assemble at a point just north of Mailly called Chalon whereby you waited there to get instructions from the master bomber, Cheshire who was the master bomber to go and bomb. He was really being very precise as well and he wasn’t satisfied with the marking so when the first group of a hundred and seventy three aircraft from 5 group arrived at Chalon, encircling the beacon, circling the area, it wasn’t a beacon as such but circling the area and being, the aircraft being delayed and delayed and delayed this second group caught up with the first group so there was something like nearly four hundred aircraft milling around waiting for instructions to go in and there just happened to be three German night fighter stations handy and they got in amongst us and it really was chaotic. There really were all sorts of awful things going on. The result of the raid was a very successful raid but the loss was over eleven percent. They sent just under four hundred aircraft and we lost forty two but there was only one aircraft crashed in the village where a French man were killed so that was compensation in a way. So when we were circling this beacon the RT discipline disappeared. You weren’t supposed to talk outside because the Germans knew where you were going, where you were coming from but the RT discipline just went that night and a voice came over the air to the pathfinders, ‘Pathfinders. For God’s sake pull your fingers out. I’m on fire. I’m being been shot at.’ And a very broad Australian voice came over the air, ‘If you’re going to die, die like a man.’ And this was the sort of thing that went on. The problem was that the American force [AFM?]were broadcasting on a similar frequency and it was the signals weren’t getting through as well as they ought to but anyway of course, when we got the order to go in and bomb it was just like Derby Day. All these aircraft ploughing down on the target. It was successful but we had a problem. We’d just dropped our bombs and we’d had an aircraft, something rattle us about with an updraft coming up and that. It was a bit rough but we’d just dropped our bombs and Norman, the bomb aimer, lying down in the front, he didn’t have time to say anything he just said, ‘Oh Christ’ and an aircraft blew up underneath us and turned us over. We were upside down and I can say I half rolled a Lanc [laughs]. So there we were, upside down at eight thousand feet and coming out you just couldn’t pull it out like that because the high speed stalled the aircraft so it took us a little while to come out and we were down to about a thousand feet by the time we sorted things out. Going very, very fast way beyond the [all up] speed of a Lancaster. We were doing nearly four hundred miles an hour. Four hundred knots as it was in those days and, but the aircraft just had scorch marks and a little bit of creaky stuff but there we are. Once you got sorted out you checked on the crew. ‘Alright, Harry?’ The rear gunner. ‘Yes skip.’ ‘Alright, Tommy?’ ‘Yes.’ Wireless op. ‘Alright, Taffy?’ And the response I got was, ‘Blood. Blood,’ and I thought, ‘Oh Christ, what’s happened?’ So I pulled the curtain back and there’s Taffy wiping his head and that’s all we knew and, ‘Oh God, what’s happened to Taffy,’ and Taffy, what happens when you’re flying at those, those temperatures, those heights, temperatures, the lowest temperature we had was minus forty seven and you had an elsan at the back of the aircraft which if you went and used that if you sat down on the elsan like that and you left a bit of your behind, behind ‘cause it was like you’d have an ice cube sticking on your fingers. You couldn’t do that so what the lads had they had a large [fuel] tin with the top cut off which they passed around the aircraft as a pee can and this pee can was kept down by the wireless operator which was the warmest place ‘cause it didn’t freeze when it was down there. And Taffy said now you can still see this pee can arriving with negative gravity and tipping all over him. When we were falling, coming out, recovering from the dive which we got in to and of course when you got back there was no question of going to get cleaned up. You had to go straight to be debriefed and of course he wasn’t exactly flavour of, flavour of the month which was, which was poor old Taffy. Still gets his leg pulled unmercifuly about that.
CB: I’m going to suggest we have a break.
RW: Yes fine.
CB: For a moment. So thank you very –
CB: What it’s doing? We’re now recording again.
RW: Yeah.
CB: I’ve tried to do the playback but that didn’t work so we’re recording again now and I’m just hoping everything’s worked because it’s so good and I’m just looking at the numbers.
CB: Right. So we’ve come to the point where you were inverted.
RW: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Would you just like to describe before we go on to other things just how did you get the aircraft upright?
RW: Well -
CB: Because you can’t turn, roll it. Can you?
RW: Well we had to, to a certain extent with being upside down. You just imagine an aircraft being upside down you had to get it the right way up and the only thing you can do is turn it around so while we were plummeting, plummeting downwards and getting rather fast we sort of half rolled the thing out. Sort of almost like a very poor barrel roll that we flew. So, we were upside down and you turned over and came out sort of in that direction so you didn’t do a full roll. It was sort of almost like a half roll like almost like a half missing out the last bit of a barrel roll.
CB: Yeah.
RW: Coming out but because of the weight it was hard work but you didn’t think of it as hard, you didn’t think of it as work at the time you just sort of had to get out of it. Get it back.
CB: Yes, of course.
RW: Flying again but, and you just couldn’t pull the stick back and get the aircraft flying again because you could develop what they called a high speed stall cause the wing stalls at fourteen degrees and if you’re mushing down it increases the angle of attack very rapidly and you get what was called a high speed stall so this is where the training came in with these other flying, these little experiences we had in training. So, we just really tried to come, come out as gently as we possibly could. You certainly had to pull back on the stick to get control but trying not to mush it down so you really tried to fly it out which we did in the end, going very, very fast.
CB: You say we. Was the engineer helping you?
RW: Yes, well all he could do was pull the throttles back or push the throttles forward apart from being spread, spread across the floor. You know, the poor navigators instruments are all over the place. In that respect think of the navigators instruments all over the place my little wireless op oh he was a little terror and my navigator and he were chalk and cheese, vastly different characters and one occasion my navigator asked for a QDM from the wireless operator and Taffy said a very rude word telling him to go away and Alec looked back and found there was Taffy with his radio set, the old 1154 55 bits of the set on the floor trying to repair it and he couldn’t give him a QDM but he said [?] [laughs] so that was the atmosphere but they were a great crew, great crew. But there you are. We pulled ourselves out and we got ourselves out and we got back with having done the crash landing as I say. But the raid that I think affected us more than anything was the Nuremberg raid. The raid on Nuremberg. It was the raid that really should never have happened but we just discovered this afterwards reading books and things the fact that the, the uncertainty in Bomber Command headquarters about whether it should go on or shouldn’t go.
CB: It was to do with the fog, wasn’t it?
RW: Pardon?
CB: It was to do with the fog.
RW: Yeah. Yeah, well apparently there was a front coming up over Germany and the idea was that the route was going to be clear and the target was going to be er the route was going to be cloud covered and the target was going to be clear but the movement of the front wasn’t right and of course the, all the route was clear and the cloud over the target and the winds were wrong, all wrong.
CB: Oh.
RW: And all the hundred odd mile winds and this sort of thing were going on and nearly all in the wrong direction. Even the pathfinders, even the wind finders didn’t get the right places for the right system for the wind and so some of the pathfinders were marking Schweinfurt and different targets and Alec, my navigator, who was insistent on being a very precise little man he got us to the target and we actually flew to the target but by the time we were flying out the operation was delayed. Put back, put back and put back twice. So, we were going to bomb about five past twelve sort of thing like this. And we went off, a little bit in daylight taking off and we got, when we got to the French German border we’d seen sixteen aircraft shot down and to do what you used to do you used to report this to the navigator and he’d log it so they could get a record of where the aircraft went down and when he got to sixteen Alec said, ‘I don’t want to hear any more.’ So, we didn’t tell him anymore but we saw no end of stuff and coming across we were supposed to come south of the Ruhr which we did but a lot of people went straight over the top of the Ruhr and the carnage there. And just on the controversial long leg, what they called the long leg which was from the French from France right across to northern, north of the target, north of Nuremberg there was a two hundred and sixty five mile leg which was unusual ‘cause you usually had diversions and that sort of thing and it just so happened that there were two German night fighter beacons on the route Ider and Otto and it just so happened that their night fighters were assembling at the beacons all at the right time for them. So, there we were, we were ploughing along. We were very, very fortunate. We managed to keep out of trouble. We did have trouble but nothing drastic so we carried on and what we saw over the beacons was quite considerable. Lots of aircraft being shot at. We could see the tracers, German tracers going on, and this was a raid where the Germans first used the system called schragemusik whereby instead of having guns firing directly at the rear gunner they knew that there was no ventral armament on the Lancaster at all so this very astute German chap said, ‘Well, let’s have the guns pointing upwards,’ so they had two 20mm cannons pointing up, about sixty degrees. So, they used to fly underneath you and you knew nothing. You didn’t know they were there at all until the shells started to fly past. We, we were lucky. On one occasion we saw the shells coming upwards to us just on our starboard side so we managed to take evasive action but we didn’t know what it was, we didn’t know why they were coming up that way until many years later when we discovered they had this schragemusik and one German shot down forty two aircraft using that equipment. He did five in one night which was amazing so this added to the attrition rate of the raid at all. We were very, very fortunate. Alec, the navigation was spot on and we passed a target which we saw in the distance Schweinfurt which was being bombed which we didn’t know it was Schweinfurt then but we said, Alec said, ‘That can’t be right.’ So we carried on and actually arrived at Nuremberg which was cloud covered and we just, Norman had just happened to see a break in the little clouds so we bombed there. I think we bombed Nuremberg. We were certainly over Nuremberg. Whether we actually bombed Nuremberg you can’t really say because we couldn’t take a photograph because of the photoflood. It wouldn’t show anything on the photo apart from cloud but there was a massive explosion on our, on our left hand side which apparently somebody had hit a munition train just outside Nuremberg and this had this enormous explosion so we knew something had happened. And of course we had to come back when it was a long leg. There was some fighter activity on the way back but it was such and the lads when they used to go on these raids the lads, I didn’t get involved but the lads used to have a kitty. They put some pennies in this kitty and the ones who guessed the most number of aircraft shot down or most accurate number of aircraft shot down got the kitty and Curly my engineer got it that night because he said a hundred. He estimated a hundred and when we got back for debriefing the intelligence people were very sceptical about the thing. Oh it couldn’t have happened no its near going to happen but when our squadron records came in we sent twenty six aircraft that night and we lost seven which was nearly a third of the squadron that night. Sixty people, you know, all gone that night and it left it was really strange. It was. We were like zombies, you know. We just walked around. Not upset. Just mind blown and we went back we couldn’t sleep. We just walked around until daylight and the squadron didn’t operate for a little while after that. But what happened with the, when we got back used to go for a flying meal when we, when we got back and when we got back to the mess there were no waitresses there at all. All the meals were left on the counter and a little notice on the wall saying, ‘Please help yourselves.’ And all these girls had gone into the restroom and they were crying their eyes out ‘cause of the losses on the squadron. You know, they really felt the effect of that. Moreso than we did in many respects. Norman, my bomb aimer, who was always girl mad for the ladies wanted to go and console them but the WAAF officers said. ‘No. Leave them to it.’ And so we had to help ourselves to the meal and this was the atmospheres they had on the squadrons you know. The thoughts of the people working. When you think of a squadron where you’ve got something like anything a hundred and eighty, two hundred aircrew you’ve got something like two thousand, two and a half thousand ground staff who without them we couldn’t have kept flying, you know. So they, and they don’t get the credit that they justly deserve and our ground crew were wonderful. Little Willy [Severn] and Nobby Burke and they were part of the aircraft, they were part of the aircrew and I kept in touch with them for many, many years until he died just a few years ago at the age of ninety seven.
CB: Really.
RW: Lived up in Glasgow and Perth, near Perth and when I visited him and his lovely wife Annie he used to sit in his room all by himself just looking out the window and saying, ‘Aye. Och aye. Aye. Och aye,’ and remembering all the things that were going on. We were very, very fortunate on the squadron he was on the squadron for many, many months. He joined the squadron up at Holme on Spalding Moor and he only ever lost two aircraft so we so lucky to be with him. Mind you, we lost an aircraft for him which was, didn’t go down very well. So, but again, again these characters you’d come back with holes and bits missing and they’d be waiting for you when you got back and they’d get these things sorted out and repaired more or less for the, for the next night so, in all sorts of weathers. The, being a dispersed camp we didn’t have any hangars to work in. All the aircraft were stacked outside and, you know, in February ‘44 we had something like three foot of snow and sixteen foot snowdrifts and the station was cut off completely and these lads were working on the aircraft changing plugs, doing servicing on the aircraft. They worked, Willy said they worked in pairs. When one was working and his hands got frozen he went and warmed up. Another chap took over so they were working outside in all these sorts of conditions.
CB: There were hangars but they couldn’t put the aircraft in was it?
RW: Well, there were hangars when they had major things to do. Engine changes -
CB: Right.
RW: And these sort of things. They would take them in for major servicing. [Eight star] servicing, for a major servicing but apart from that they were just kept outside in the cold and the wet and in the war it could be anything.
CB: I’m going to stop there again because we are going to have a cup of tea.
RW: Yeah.
CB: Thank you.
RW: Oh lovely.
CB: Right, so we’re back on again now.
RW: Yeah.
CB: And we’re just doing the -
RW: You finished the -
CB: Rerun of the Mailly but I think it’s useful because I’ve heard this, somebody mentioned before.
RW: Yeah.
CB: Of the attrition -
RW: Yeah.
CB: And because of the milling around -
RW: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: So why was it that the marking was so delayed causing the traffic jam?
RW: Well the again Cheshire was a brilliant pilot and a brilliant pathfinder and he was a perfectionist and again, forgive me if I’ve mentioned but the briefing that we had as the ordinary aircrew main force was to be very precise with the bombing because we didn’t want to hit any of the village. The village next door to the target. And he was being the same and he wasn’t satisfied with the markers that were going down and he said, ‘Well, don’t come in. We’re remarking.’ So he was re-marking the target to get in to the correct position for, for the [Mailly] raid and because of this it was delaying. It was, saying delayed you’re only talking about minutes. You’re not talking about hours, you know, but five minutes, ten minutes. An awful lot can happen in five, ten minutes and he was waiting until the markers got, really got them organised because there were two marking spots. One east and one west. One on the railway. One on the barracks because it was timed for midnight because this was the time when the people were coming back to their billets and were getting their, and they [wanted to kill the] troops.
CB: Yeah, of course.
RW: Troop concentrations so he was being as perfect as he possibly could and in consequence with the markers not being as accurate as he liked he stopped it and said we’ll remark again.
CB: Because it’s a French target?
RW: Because, well, not so much a French target. The target which was right next door to the French village.
CB: Yeah.
RW: And he didn’t want to kill -
CB: That’s what I meant. Yes.
RW: Didn’t want to kill, bomb the village. So, we were briefed and presumably they must have been briefed as well to be as perfect as they possibly could on their marking so as not to kill French people.
CB: Course.
RW: So this, and this came to light too, many, many years later here, by a little girl who was doing her degree at the Sorbonne in Paris relating to British and American efforts during the war and she came here and interviewed me here and stopped here for quite a little while and had a little chat about the Mailly raid and this sort of thing and she was quite concerned, you know. She was only what twenty, twenty one year old but she was only concerned about the fact that that attitude was taken to stop people, French people being killed. She got a first degree anyway which was rather nice.
CB: You obviously briefed her well.
RW: Yes, we still send Christmas cards to each other. I haven’t seen her for years and years and years. I wonder what she is doing now, whether she is married or what. But she was a nice little girl and I’ve got some pictures of her somewhere in there.
CB: Yeah.
RW: So, yes, so the, that was the result of the Mailly raid and the Nuremberg of course, raid, as well of course had although we’d had a lot of damage on other raids and quite traumatic things on other raids the Nuremberg raid left the biggest scar than any, mental scars was far, far greater than the physical scar and that really got sunk home when you realise what the attrition rates was. And the reports I think say there was ninety six, ninety seven aircraft shot down over the target but there were over a hundred wrecked completed so there must have been about a hundred and sixteen, a hundred and twenty aircraft written off altogether with all those, not all those aircrew but I think there was something like five hundred and sixty five, five hundred and five hundred and fifty aircrew killed that night, one night. The Nuremberg raid. And there were more aircrew killed on that one night then there was in the whole of the month of the Battle of Britain, which, you can’t compare the sort of flying that we were doing but the figures are quite remarkable when you think of what was going on. But being thickies as we were we knew it went on and we didn’t realise the implications of what was going on. We just got on with and had to do a job. But again, we had the trip, we had a little experience which was a trip to Munich. We were briefed for nine hours twenty five minutes petrol and we were given nine hours forty odd minutes petrol to fly on with instructions to land in the south of England if we had problems with getting back with the fuel consumption and it was again the weather wasn’t as forecast so we chugged off to Munich. Rather a long haul. A very long haul. Beautiful scenery over the Alps. We cross the Alps three times it was wonderful. Twice because it was twice the target and coming back we had problems. We lost part of a port wing, part of the leading edge of the port wing, we lost instruments, lost the pitot heads so that caused us little problems. Not exactly flying by the seat of our pants but -
CB: But you had no air speed indicator.
RW: So we were chugging back and as we say the leading edge of the port wing had disappeared somewhere and we’d had icing on the props. That was the amazing, we used to get icing on the propellers. And these were flying, the icing used to fly off and rattle against the side of the aircraft. It was just like flak for hitting the side of the aircraft and I’ve still got a bit of flak that came into my aeroplane. It’s on the table over there. Yes, so coming back it took a lot, lot longer than we anticipated and we were rather slow coming back to the extent that we were coming back over France in daylight and we were getting halfway across France and we saw these two little specks appearing flashing towards us and, ‘Oh Christ, what’s this going on?’ A couple of spitfires. They had been sent out to escort us back. So we were escorted back but with the engineers and navigation and fuel conservation we got back to Ludford having flown for ten and a quarter hours.
CB: Wow.
RW: But again the ground crew had that aircraft ready again for the next night which is, which is, what they get up to is wonderful. So they’re the sort of things that happened on raids. Another story, we came over Stettin one night. We lost two engines, two starboard engines. We managed to get one going half again so we came back from Stettin on two and a half engines.
CB: Was that flak damage?
RW: Yeah. Yeah. That was flak damage yes and when we got back Curly, he was a dreadful tease, he used to tease the WAAFs dreadfully and this poor little girl he teased her so much that when he was having his meal, operational meal she said, ‘I’m not going to serve you with your meal, cheeky bugger. I’m not going to serve your meal.’ He did get his meal of course but she wouldn’t serve him. And coming back off this trip we were so late we were, everybody, the committee of adjustment had been in and started to take our kit away. They didn’t think we were coming back but when we got back we got to the mess and this poor little kid was in tears, ‘Oh I shall never do that again.’ This was the atmosphere of these kids and girls. Wonderful. They were the sorts of things that happened. My last, very last operation was to again a transport plant target which was the original D-Day which was on the 4th 5th of June and like on the briefing we knew we were on the battle order but we had no idea where we were going and when we got out to the dispersal and asked what we were, what the petrol load and bomb load was Willy said, ‘Eeh,’ he said, ‘You’ve got full tanks and overloads and no bombs.’ And you were thinking, ‘Oh God. What’s going on? Are we going to Italy, Russia, whatever.’ No. What was happening we were flying a square circle around the invasion beaches giving false instructions to some of the shipping people imitate a convoy and also reporting on the fighter activity, German fighter activity to report back to help with the invasion and of course the invasion was put back twenty four hours because of the weather. So they took our overload tanks on, put a few bombs on board and we went off and we bombed Sangatte. Didn’t do a very good job obviously. So, that was our very last trip, Sangatte, and when we got back, because of the weather, very adverse weather we were diverted to Faldingworth which is only about thirty odd miles from Ludford, our base and we slept on a chair in the mess for the rest of the night and when we got up in the morning and having breakfast the station commander, Group Captain King arrived and he said, ‘Come on. I’m taking you back.’ I said, ‘Well I’ve got an aeroplane outside you know.’ And he said ‘You’re not touching another aircraft on the squadron. That was your last operation.’ So we just left the aircraft. How they got it back I don’t know but he took us back in his little hut, little, his little van. We went back and that was my last operation and mentioning our attrition rate on the squadron, in early 1944 our attrition rate was something like sixty two percent.
CB: Gee.
RW: Which was, you know, it’s unbelievable when you look.
CB: This is because they were targeted specifically.
RW: Yeah. Targeted. Very vulnerable. A) Because they could home onto our frequencies and B) Because we were on every bombing raid that went out. So there we are. The next morning I had to go and have a little interview with the station commander to give a pat on the back. He was a lovely chap Group Captain King. Curly, my engineer had finished because he’d done an operation with his previous crew he was finished the night before and he’d been out on the booze. Went down in to Ludford on the booze and when I had the interview with Group Captain King the following morning he said, ‘Your bloody crew.’ And, ‘Oh God. What’s going on?’ And he said, ‘Your engineer was down in the pub last night spouting about what he got up to and whatever and there just happened to be an intelligence officer there.’ And he just, no he was just pulling my leg really in a way but he said yes thank you very much for what you’ve done and I was given my green endorsement for the Mailly, for the raid where we had the mid-air collision and he had a curtain covering a chart on the wall which gave the crew statistics on the wall and he pulled the curtain back and he said, ‘There you are. You are the first crew that has finished as a crew for over six months’. Yeah.
CB: Amazing.
RW: And you didn’t even realise then. Appreciate what you -
CB: Yeah.
RW: What the attitude was but it really was remarkable and then of course I wasn’t allowed to touch a Lancaster again ever. Until 1977. Until the 101 squadron had a 60th anniversary of the formation of the squadron and they tried to get, I was asked. Martin Middlebrook was involved and he wrote a book and he was, he used to live not far away and then he was trying to get all of our crew together again and did I know where they were. And I had a few addresses so we managed to find 5 of us and we couldn’t find Taffy, could never find Taffy and we tried to find Taffy and we got in to contact with the people of his uncle who ran a pub and he wouldn’t tell us where he was and we assumed he was either in jail or in hospital but there, he’s still about but he never knew anything about it. But anyway, we had this meeting with five of my crew were there in 1977 in Waddington at 101. The Lancaster was there and at the dinner the previous night the PMC stood up and gave a little chat and said, ‘You’ve got the Lancaster here. It’s had an oil leak it needs an air test in the morning. We’ve got a crew here.’ So we flew in the Battle of Britain Lanc and did about a twenty, twenty five minute air test.
CB: Fantastic.
RW: In the Battle of Britain Lanc which was quite a thrill, quite a thrill.
CB: Amazing.
RW: And it’s wonderful that they’ve kept the thing going.
CB: Yes.
RW: It’s great. So after the war, I stayed in the air force after the war.
CB: Yes excuse me for interrupting but after the ops what did you do then because we’re not at the end of the war?
RW: Oh no. Yes. Yes.
CB: We’re still a year away.
RW: Yes. After the operations, yes normally you were, your crew tended to try and keep as much of the crew together and were posted away and most of the crew were posted to 28 OTU. And I was sent to 82 OTU. I never knew why or found out why. Typing error? Whatever. Anyway, I arrived at 82 OTU which was all Australian station and I was one of the very few Englishmen there as aircrew. One of the only aircrew there as an examiner, screen pilot, and they didn’t think much of this pommie bastard arrived in their midst and it wasn’t exactly a comfortable place to be but I’d only been there a couple of weeks when I had a bit of a problem, a symptom from the flying in the war. I had a perforated ulcer. Again, attributed to stress, whatever. So anyway, I had this haemorrhaging and I went sick, reported to the Australian doc, went sick and he didn’t think much of this whinging pommie bastard so medicine on duty. That was, that was, that was it. We just, and very shortly after that I was posted to Gamston where, which was a Wimpy OTU so I was flying in Wimpies there. Met my first fiancé there which was a lovely little WAAF in the camp. Audrey, Audrey Simms. Again, my luck held out, a lot of luck was involved on the squadron, tremendous lot of luck on the squadron and again my luck held out. My friend, Tommy Thompson, who’d been on operations, same as myself, screened and I was also the sports officer on the squadron and I had to do an air test as well and Tommy said, ‘Well you go and get the sports kit.’ On Wednesday afternoon the whole place shut down in those days for sport so I went to get the sports equipment and Tommy did my air test in a Wimpy and the Wimpy blew up and he was killed. Poor chap. Poor Tommy. And the only way we could recognise him when we found him was his ring on his finger. And he was a Geordie like myself and I was given the task of organising his funeral, went up to his funeral and because he didn’t get married during the war he got married very shortly after the end of his tour. He didn’t get married until after he’d finished his tour and his wife was expecting a baby, lived at Wallsend near Newcastle and of course I had to go to the funeral and there was this poor lass and it was rather sad. Yeah. So, these are the sort of things that happened and the luck you can achieve on these sort of things. So, anyway, because of my sins and flying I was due to go back on a second tour, supposedly on Mosquitoes, in early ‘45 but the attrition rate had dropped considerably at that time and there was a glut of aircrew coming though so they said, ‘Don’t come back on operations.’ So I was sent down to Lulsgate Bottom which was an instructor’s school. So I went down to the instructor’s school at Lulsgate Bottom which is now Bristol airport and I had a nice time down there learning to drink scrumpy which was, which was great. Lovely. Lovely. Lovely place down there. I enjoyed it very much. Again had little problems with the instructing. Flying with the instructor one night and the radial engine, the pot burst and the pistons were coming out through the through the canopy around the engine. So we had a little single engine landing there but that was fine. I ended up there and became an instructor. So the instructing I was sent to be a place called Desborough. I had the choice of going to Carlisle or Northampton so I chose Desborough and I was stationed there as a screen pilot and flying instructor, Wimpies. This story extends a little bit. A very good friend of mine who became my first fiancé her friend she was stationed, became stationed at Wyton, Cambridge and my friend and I used to go and visit her and he, Jock Murray, he was a married man. He had a girlfriend as well, a WAAF at Wyton so we used to go and stay at the George hotel at Huntingdon when she was there but sadly we were sitting on the banks of the river at Earith. I’d already bought the engagement ring and whatever and she said, ‘I’m sorry but that’s it’ and she went off with a married pilot on Wyton, pilot and that was it. I came back to Desborough rather tail, my tail between my legs sort of thing and my squadron commander, he knew what the situation, we were very good friends and he knew what was going on and one of the pilots who had been at Wyton on big stuff he was converting on to Dakotas and that’s what we were doing in Desborough and he came to Desborough to be converted on to Dakotas. He didn’t, I knew him but he didn’t know me and my flight commander, Lofty [Loader] he said, ‘You have him as a pupil.’ So I had this poor soul as a pupil. All the first details in the morning and all the last details at night. He complained to the boss and he said, ‘Nothing to do with me. Get on with it.’ But he was brilliant. He was a good pilot but he didn’t know anything about that at all. And again strange things happened at Desborough. When I was there another crew came through at, which er, yes this other crew came through whereby the pilot had a wireless operator who eventually joined the company I joined after, after the war as a wireless operator and I had to screen the crew on a cross country out over Wales. A claggy night. Not a very nice night at all and his skipper didn’t say, ‘I don’t think we ought to go. The weather.’ ‘Oh it’s all right,’ Well the weather we flew in the war we flew in all sorts of weather. They said, ‘Oh no it’s alright Alfie,’ So, off we went and coming back they asked to get a QDM and he couldn’t on his little set. He couldn’t get a QDM and fortunately I had been to the Empire Radio School and, and, and knew a little about electrics so I went back, got this bearing, give it to the skipper and when we let down there was Desborough the identification lights DE flashing, I said, ‘There you are. That’s how it’s done.’ And I had to give this wireless operator an adverse, not exactly an adverse report but not a very favourable one. He eventually became a director of the company I was working for and he didn’t, he didn’t, he didn’t like me very much at all because I was one of the lower minions in the works and he was a director of purchasing. Not a nice, not a very nice chap. Anyway, there we are so that was, that was little situation but Desborough from there I went and was posted to Transport Command, had to go into Transport Command and there I was flying Dakotas and doing mainly conversion work flying Dakotas. I had some very nice jobs to do and stationed at Oakington. This was in 1947 when I first went to work in Oakington and I was the flying wing training officer for four squadrons 10, 27, 30 and 46 squadrons and this was early ‘48 when the thought of the airlift came into being and this was quite an amazing situation because the squadron as I say had this four, the unit had the four squadrons on board and I was working with all the four squadrons. Then when you are going on the airlift all the aircrew had to be completely categorised and had to have a current incident rating so I was kept very, very busy. One night well one month one day I did something like ten and a half hours flying testing just to get them ready to go on the airlift. So, there we went and when we got them all, got them all off we, the WingCo said, ‘Right have a few days left, go on the airlift for a month and have a rest.’ So that was fine so I thought now do I go home and see my mum and dad or do I go and see my fiancé. I was getting married in October. And I said, ‘Hmmn I’ll go and see my fiancé,’ which I obviously did. Went back on the airlift and when I got to [Rumsdorf] which we were then I went to see the flight commander chappie in charge of the flying and I said, ‘Where do I go for briefing?’ And he said, ‘You don’t.’ He gave me a piece of, a sheet of A4, ten sheets of A4 with all the instructions on and said, ‘Go away and read those, inwardly digest. You’re flying in the morning.’ And that was it. That was it. And it was strange how the flying did, is it alright talking about the airlift?
CB: Absolutely. Yes. Yes.
RW: Yeah, because this is forty, a long time after the war but there we are. How the airlift came about was the fact that the Russians had taken over Berlin and they wouldn’t allow any people into Berlin for about eight weeks. So nobody was going in and they really split Berlin in half. They took over the east sector but they had to keep the airlift going, had to keep the situation going because the embassies of the French, British and American embassies there so they had to keep flying going in. They couldn’t stop the flying but they could affect the roads. There were originally six corridors going in but the Russians said you don’t need six. So they cut out, cut the north one out and the south one out and the east one out so they only had three corridors going in. The Americans were doing the, the southern one and we were doing the north one and we all came out on the centre one. But when they started the airlift all this happened in a very, very short period of time. The Americans, a chap called Lucius Clay was in charge of the system flying then in Berlin and he called every possible aircraft back from the states, even from Alaska, to come down to [?] which was the southern part of Germany and, to organise the thing properly he asked a chap called [Tupper, Tupper?] who was in charge of the Burma hump flying over the hump in Burma and he was asked to organise that. The first trip he went on, this was the very, very beginning all, all the Americans were there first and they’d gone off he went off on one of these very first trips and when he got to, got to Berlin there they were going to land at Tempelhof. He found there were aircraft stacked from five hundred feet to five thousand feet and everybody, all the Americans, were clamouring like mad to get permission to land and there was very little organisation at all. Two aircraft, two of the American aircraft had crashed on the runway. One crashed on the runway and was being repaired, and went on the fire and the other crashed and gone over the end of the runway. Nobody was killed but [Tupper Tupper] realised what was going on. He sent all the aircraft back to base even with their loads and got landed himself at Gatow at er [Wunsdorf] and at Tempelhof, landed at Tempelhof and he wrote out orders and all regulations for all flying on the Berlin airlift. Each aircraft had a different speed, different height to fly and all, all went, all went off and when we were at [Wunsdorf] at the time and when you went off you flew to a beacon north of Ber, we flew to a beacon at [?] just north of Berlin where you, when you arrive there you gave instructions, or you were given instructions of how to land and what your load off and we flew in everything. Literally everything in to Berlin because when the Russians took over they closed their frontier and they closed the, all the rail, road and water transport into Berlin and there was something like two million two hundred thousand West Berliners with twenty seven days rations of everything they’d left and they’d taken the generators from the power stations away, they’d taken the gas and that was all rationed and these poor Berliners were left with twenty seven days of nothing. I was very fortunate. I gave a little talk to some aircrew at Leamington and one of the chaps brought along a German lady who had been a little girl, a young little at the time the Russians took over and she was, she spoke English quite well but a very, very strong German accent and she of course she was quite an elderly lady then and she said she and her elder sister, she was young teenager and her sister was seventeen, eighteen and they were walking through Berlin and the Russians came along, a group of Russians came along and they herded all the girls and women they could possibly find into this building. The older sister knew what was going to happen and she hid this young lady, was a young lady, hid her and all the rest were gang raped for the rest of the day and she said, she was telling me that her sister never ever spoke of that again. She couldn’t talk about it. There was something like two million women raped. Two thousand committed suicide. You know, and these figures you know and the Berliners were so appreciative of what we did. We literally flew in everything. Naughty story. When we were on taking a few coal fuel and flour everything in and when you got to the beacon as I say you had to call to get landing instructions and declare what your load was so you could be directed to the correct unloading bay when you landed and the Germans were doing this and they could turn an aircraft around in eight minutes you know. Incredible. So there we were we were going towards this beacon and I said to the wireless op cause I didn’t have a crew I had the nav leader and the signals and I said to Jacko, ‘Call up and get us instructions.’ So he gave instructions and they said, ‘What is your load?’ And he said, ‘Medical supplies. Mainly manhole covers,’ and they were all sanitary towels. It didn’t end there because when we landed we were directed to the heavy unloading bay and we weren’t exactly flavour of the month. We didn’t half get a rocket but there again when you were flying in there was no question of doing an overshoot and going around again. If you couldn’t land you just had to go back to base and start again.
CB: Yeah.
RW: And when you were there they had all your aircraft lined up. Your day was split into three eight hour shifts and you were doing as many raids, as many sorties as you could in eight hours and then you had the next 8 hours off and then you flew in the next 8 hours and this went on seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Day and night. There was only one day it never happened and that was through extensive fog. So, and when the aircraft were lined up the ground crew had to do a pre-flight test on every aircraft and part of their equipment the wireless operators, wireless, ground wireless operators were a pair of bellows and when they got on the aircraft they used the bellows to blow this, the flour and coal dust off the instruments so they could check them. So this was the sort of thing that was going on. When we were at [Rumsdorf] they also had the York there and the payload of the York was something like what fifteen thousand pounds and the Dakota’s about seven and a half and one of our skippers said, Flight Lieutenant Sheehan, he went off in the Dakota and he said, ‘It’s like a brick. It’s like flying a brick.’ And he had an awful job getting it off the ground, an awful job getting it there, an awful job landing it and when they landed it they found they’d put a York load on the Dakota so he was flying at double his all up weight.
CB: Gee.
RW: And it says a lot for the skipper and the aircraft you know.
CB: Absolutely.
RW: You know, these sort of things went on. Amazing. But that was a long time after, after the squadron. And on the squadron looking back and talking to people on the squadron about the squadron about the air force in general they said, ‘Well you know in our group, in one group we were losing seventy aircraft a month.’ Every Bomber Command station lost nine hundred aircrew. You know, it’s amazing the figures that went on like that and a gentleman did some statistics working out how it affected a hundred air crew and of the hundred aircrew fifty one were killed. Twelve were shot down and badly injured, five were badly injured so they couldn’t fly again, three were, so three were killed on landings back at base, twelve became prisoners of war and one escaped to come back and of the remaining of that hundred aircrew only twenty four remained. Nearly all with some medical problem afterwards which, is you know, is -, I had my share. The sort of things that happened they said personally the sort of things that happened to me afterwards apart from this ulcer which affected me for most of my life until I was here at Desborough, at er Kenilworth when I moved in here and one night I had a massive haemorrhage. I couldn’t get upstairs and the doc came and it was a peculiar system he had. I was not allowed food, I wasn’t allowed to get out of bed, I wasn’t allowed to do anything with work and I lived on an ounce of milk and water for six weeks. Couldn’t do anything and I remember sitting down where we are now sitting now watching the television, watching the cricket with the doctor, chatting about what was going on and it was amazing. In consequence I can eat anything, anything at all doesn’t bother me but alcohol doesn’t like me. I can drink it but I can enjoy it for about a week afterwards so you know I don’t drink very much now. I’ve had my share. But this is the sort of thing that happened and what still happens now. One operation we were on going on to the Ruhr and the Ruhr, the old Happy Valley and we were approaching the Ruhr and it really it looked deadly and the flak, there was an old saying, the flak was so thick you could get out and walk on it and it was like that searchlights, fighters going on and the first time I ever experienced terror and it was most peculiar. I’d heard about it but I’d never experienced it and I literally was shaking and really I couldn’t do what I was supposed to do so I dropped my seat so I couldn’t see outside and funnily enough I said a little prayer that I hadn’t said since I was about six years old. Mum and dad used to sit by the side of my bed and say this little prayer which ended up, ‘If I die before I wake I pray the lord my soul will take.’ Why I said it I don’t know, no idea but I said this little prayer and the terror disappeared and I raised my seat and I could just carry on. You’re still frightened of course but all the terror disappeared. And we had similar situations again afterwards but no terror so whether the power of prayer you know whether this happens or not. Some of the lads we used to take the mickey a bit ‘cause they used to kneel down by their beds and say their prayers or kneel down by the aircraft before they got on and said their prayers and thought they were a bit sissy until you had this sort of experience yourself and then you realise there’s something in it. It’s all, I’m sure it was all mental you know. Some of these sort of things happened. When I laid my head down on the pillow even now, not every, if I’ve been reading a books like some of the air force books and service books that come out now, if I’ve been reading these books about aeroplanes and I put my head down on the pillow I can see flak bursting and little sparks flying about. It doesn’t affect me. I’m fine. No problem at all and this sort of thing, you know, just reminds you of the old days and now talking about it so much now it’s almost like a myth, you know. As if you’re telling fairy stories. Did I really do it, you know but yes it does once you’ve experienced those sorts of things you never forget them. They’re always there. And some, some fixed more than others. We had one navigator who, they were badly shot up and some of the, a lot of the crew were injured. The aircraft was on fire and he got out of his seat to walk back to the, the aircraft was still flying, he walked to the back of the aircraft to jump out the back. No parachute. Some of the crew stopped him and said, ‘No. Don’t.’ He couldn’t talk. He couldn’t speak. He was just a zombie completely. Couldn’t speak and when he got back, they got back alright he never spoke. Never spoke at all. Went to the sick quarters for a couple of weeks. Never spoke, could understand a thing and he was sent to the service hospital at Matlock, the psychological hospital at Matlock and he was there for several, a couple of weeks and he never spoke until one of the nurses dropped an instruments in a tin tray and he woke up. He said, ‘Oh Christ, they’re on fire. They’re on fire.’ And he got his speech back again. He was invalided out of the service as you know unfit for flying. He was alright but that experience he had of these weeks of not talking you know and this is the sort of thing that happened to these sort of folks and, you know, when you think of the experiences you had and how bloody lucky you’d been all these whiles. And, your luck. Yes, I think you bought yourself your own luck to a certain extent. In my crew, were such that although vastly different characters, we were all great comrades and great friends. Great friends. And you know this helped enormously the operational flying, in my instructing and examining after the war when Oakington was closed down and all the four squadrons dispersed 30 squadron was posted to Abingdon and having, me being flying wing training, I thought I was out of a job. 30 squadron had taken over a VIP element from 24 squadron and for my sins I was posted to 30 squadron at Abingdon to become the training officer on 30 squadron and to get our qualifications, to get my, I had to go to Central Flying School to be examined and that was quite the thing. The fact that I had an instrument rating and the fact that I had done something like fifteen hundred hours instrument flying I was allocated a master green instrument rating and I became examiner and when I went down to the Central Flying School to become an examiner and a tester, an instructor, the instructor there, Flight Lieutenant Walker, a lovely man, when we finished the [CGI], said ‘There is a book. Take it away. Read the chapters about training and it’s all about what you learn about.’ And it was a book called the “Psychological Disorders of Flying Personnel” and the chapter on training illustrated the fact that you know even experienced people when being examined had a little bit of panic. It’s a bit of the white coat syndrome of the doctor with his stethoscope and things and you couldn’t really operate as you normally could and this was a chapter about that sort of thing. And this psychological business he gave me this book to take back home. And when I got back of course I used to examine all the crews but each crew had to be examined completely once a month. They had to do certain training exercises. One per month and the VIP pilots had to do the same as well but the VIP pilots were like a class apart. They wouldn’t have a, they insisted on having a separate crew room from us roughies and strange things happened with them. One occasion one of the pilots a chap called Van Reinfeld had to do a VIP trip the following day and he hadn’t done a little night, night flying exercise and I said, ‘Well it’s alright. I’ve got a spare navigator. You can do your little trip tonight. I’ll put you on early, you’ll be alright for tomorrow.’ And he said, ‘Well I can’t do it.’ He says, ‘My navigator has gone in to Abingdon and I don’t know where he is.’ I said, ‘I’ve got a spare navigator. It’s alright. It’s only a training trip. It’s not a VIP trip.’ And this chap, the replacement, a chap called Baxter who was a coloured boy wouldn’t fly with him. Refused to fly with him and I said, ‘Well you don’t, if you don’t fly with him you don’t get your trip tomorrow.’ He went to see Squadron Leader Reese the squadron commander and he said, ‘It’s nothing to do with me it’s to do with the training.’ And he went back and I said, ‘Well if you don’t do it. You don’t fly.’ And he went into Abingdon and scoured all the clubs and pubs, found his navigator, came back, flew late in the morning, early in the morning the next day and went off to do his trip the next day and that’s the sort of atmosphere they were. And the principal job of the Transport Command at 30 squadron were again, like all transport was glider towing and paratrooping and there was a big operation called Operation Longstop which was going on at Old Sarum and all the crews had to go down and join in the exercise and of course every pilot had to have an aeroplane. There wasn’t enough aeroplanes to go around and I was given an aeroplane and a pilot to fly with me who was a VIP pilot called [Ria.] He said, ‘I’m a VIP pilot. I don’t fly second dicky.’ And he wouldn’t fly. Refused to fly with me. Again, he saw the flight commander down at Old Sarum and the boss said. ‘Well if you don’t fly you don’t fly at all. Go back to base. Get back to base.’ He sent him back to base and these sort of characters they were an elite apart, you know. Brilliant fliers no doubt about it brilliant fliers and as I say we had to go down to Central Flying School to be examined and when you’re examined if anything went wrong and you didn’t fail any one part of the exercise two of the exams you had to write, reply a hundred percent. Safety and regulations, these sort of things and when you were, one of the exercises you had it do you were given all the met readings from various stations and you had to plot a synoptic chart and give a forecast for the next day, until midnight the next day, which I did and I said possibly get some rain by lunchtime tomorrow and whatever down the south of England and he called a Met man in and he said, ‘Oh that’s not going to happen. That’ll never happen.’ So I didn’t pass that exam so I had to go back, wait another month before I was going to be examined again. Blow me, the next day it started to rain so I rang up old Walker at Central Flying School and said, ‘Have you looked out the window?’ And he said, ‘You jammy bugger,’ he said, ‘I’ll put it in the post.’ So it was a great atmosphere. A wonderful atmosphere and 30 squadron had a wonderful atmosphere. Still has now. Still does wonderful work now. But the flying it left a great character in my life but I was married by then of course and we had a wonderful life with my wife in peacetime air force. Sadly, she became terribly ill when we were at Oakington and she started having terrible haemorrhages and this sort of thing and the, our local doc said, ‘You’d better take her home’ so we took her to her home in Desborough near Kettering and my mother who was a state certified midwife, she’d nursed all her life said, ‘You know the prognosis of this isn’t very great,’ you know and discovered that she had what they called a [? deformed] mole which is a pregnancy like a bunch of grapes and indicative of cancer. And they did scrapes they didn’t do scrapes in those days but they couldn’t find it and it was the cancer was deep seated in the womb and my mum said, you know ‘She can’t live very long.’ She was only about six months, nine months perhaps at the most so I resigned my commission to come out to look after her. Haven’t been, my last posting just about this the time this happened found was AOC far east to go VIP pilot, the AOC in the far east which I had to keep delaying, delaying, delaying because of Pat’s illness and eventually that was cancelled completely so I didn’t go. So, I resigned to come out on the condition that I renewed my qualifications every year and stayed on the reserve until I was, 1960 um and came out and poor old Pat died about ten months afterwards and with my lack of education I couldn’t get a grant to do any, I was hoping for a grant to go teaching but I couldn’t get a grant because I had no certificates or educational certificates. Fortunately, Pat, my wife’s father owned a factory. A packaging factory. So he said, ‘Come and work for me.’ So I went and worked in his factory on the marketing and sales. I can say for twenty seven years I travelled in cardboard boxes which was very kind of him. I got along very well with the old man. He was quite an eminent military man himself. Thinking of that sort of thing when I was at Abingdon, Oakington, I was going to get married and I was told I had to get permission to get married otherwise I wouldn’t get my marriage allowance ‘cause I was a little bit too young. So I was told I had to have an interview with the station commander which a chap called group captain [Byte Seagal] so I went and had an interview with him and my dad because of his health couldn’t do any serious work and he used to work for the Coop looking after the horses for the Coop stables so when we went for the interview with group captain [Byte Seagall], a peacetime group captain trying to get everything back to a peacetime protocol he said, ‘Who are you marrying?’ I said, ‘Well, Pat.’ ‘What does she do?’ And I said, ‘Well she does typing and bit of filing in an office.’ ‘Oh that’s interesting.’ ‘What does your father do?’ And I said, ‘He looks after horses.’ He said, ‘Newmarket?’ I said, ‘No. Coop.’ And this didn’t go down very well at all. And he said, ‘What about your father in law then?’ And I said, ‘Well he was colonel in chief of the Northamptonshire regiment. He got the MC in Gallipoli.’ ‘Ah now isn’t that interesting.’ I said. ‘My mother, my dad was in the navy. He got the DSM in the navy. My mother got the Royal Red Cross.’ ‘Now isn’t that interesting.’ Yes, I can get married. So I got permission to get married. And they were trying to get things back to peacetime protocol but after the war people like myself were asked to go up to Cranwell which was a training, a major training school then for aircrew and just to meet the people, not to meet, just to chat to the students and pupils and met one young man called, oh dear [pause] His dad was the president of the Nuremberg raids. Oh, what did they call him? Anyway, he was, he was his dad was this very eminent gentleman. Martin, [pause] oh dear, old age and memory don’t go very well together. Anyway, this gentleman he was on the Nuremberg trials. He organised the Nuremberg trials for the post war Germans and his son was on the Cranwell course and he eventually came down to 30 squadron and I said to him, you know, ‘What’s the last thing they taught you at Cranwell then?’ And they said, he said, ‘Don’t get associated with wartime commissioned officers.’ Because, in February ‘44 the directive came about saying all captains of heavy bombers had to be commissioned and my commissioning interview was with the accountant who gave me a cheque for ninety quid to go and buy a uniform with. Yeah. What do they call the chappie on the Nuremberg trials? Very eminent man. Very eminent barrister.
CB: Yeah. I can’t remember.
RW: Pardon?
CB: I can’t remember.
RW: No. Can’t remember. Anyway Martin didn’t like this system in the air force at all so he resigned and came out. But that was the sort of thing that was going on in those days and I was very, very fortunate to be able to have a job to work. I stayed and played with cardboard boxes. For two years I had to go to Marshals and be re-examined for, just to keep your hand in that all it was part of the condition for resigning. I did that for two years and the first time I went the instructor there said. ‘Well go on and do the exams and, what did you do?’ I told him what I did. ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘Bugger it. Go on. Take a little chipmunk and take off. So I used to fly over Desborough and around the school where I was teaching and [laughs] no that, and I started learning, I taught myself aerobatics because the transport flying which is dead straight and level sort of stuff and I’d never flown aerobatics at all apart from slow rolling the Lancaster. It was great fun. Great fun. But they only did that for two years because they said it’s getting expensive and we’ve got squirty things now and so -
CB: Yeah.
RW: Just keep on the register.
CB: Yeah.
RW: And I was in the reserve until 1960 so really I had a wonderful career.
CB: Yeah, brilliant.
RW: Wonderful -
CB: Can I -
RW: Experiences I’ll never be forgetting and played an awful lot of luck and met some wonderful people and wonderful friends and with my crew when the squadron formed the association from flying together in 1977 the squadron chappie called Goodliffe formed the squadron association and from then on we found all eight of my crew and all eight of us used to meet every year.
CB: Fantastic.
RW: Until 1990 when we all met at Ludford in 1990 and the Coningsby, the Battle of Britain Flight said, ‘Would you come down and do a little exercise down here with a full crew.’ And Tommy, my mid upper gunner, wouldn’t go so we never went and a couple of months later he died so whether he had some sort of premonition, you know.
CB: Extraordinary.
RW: But anyway nevertheless all 7 of used to meet until, and then the rear gunner dies and all eight of us, all six of us used to meet and a couple of years ago my special duty operator died so all five of us -
CB: All five.
RW: Are still round about and very, very different states of health and all creaking a bit. I was being very lucky. I had open heart surgery.
CB: Oh, did you really?
RW: It was only three years ago and got a zip fastener up the front but if it hadn’t have been for again like the services, like with family if it hadn’t have been for family and my mum looking after me with diphtheria when I was a little boy and my daughters and family looking after me afterwards when, when I had when I had the operation for the heart I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat and my daughter Catherine who is, she is now the ward manager sister at the coronary care unit at Warwick Hospital she took me into hospital on her day off and did an ECG and a blood test and the cardiologist just happened to be walking past and he said, ‘What are you doing here?’ You know, and he took the blood away and came back and he said your bloods alright but it’s not, you’re not going anywhere. Don’t go home. So within just over a week I’d had open heart surgery.
CB: Gee.
RW: And I was back home again.
CB: Amazing.
RW: Yeah, it’s amazing.
CB: I’m going to stop you there.
RW: Yes, that’s about it I think, Ok.
CB: Because we both need a – [pause] right we’re restarting again after a brief comfort break and the bits I just want to ask you about, Rusty is first of all the ranking system. So you went in as an aircraftsman second class.
RW: I went in as an AC2.
CB: And how did the promotion system work until you were –
RW: Yeah. Well, usually after about six months you were promoted an AC1 and then after another short period of time you became an LAC, leading aircraftman. And I was a leading aircraftman when I went and did my flying in Canada and it was from then after you’d finished and completed your training successfully that was when you were ordered your flying brevvy and you became whatever grant, whatever grade you were going in to. Fortunately, and with a lot of luck involved I became a pilot. And having, became a sergeant pilot. Some, about three or four of the course that we were on we lost about forty percent of the course on washouts. You know, it was incredible because the training was very, very precise. I must say it was very, very good. Looking back it was remarkable. So there I was a sergeant pilot and promotion as an NCO was roughly six months and you got an increase and promotions so by the time I was, got on the squadron I was a sergeant pilot and then I very soon became a flight sergeant pilot and that was in ’43. End of ’43. And in early ‘44 the directive came from the air ministry that all captains of heavy bombers had to be commissioned so I was given the cheque for ninety quid by the accountant and told to go and buy a uniform so there was no formal interview at all. It was just a thing that happened. In consequence, the social class, in a sense, disappeared because there were people commissioned from training and they tended to be a little bit elitist and some of the crews had done previous tours and tended to be all commissioned and usually flight lieutenants and all this sort of thing so they were nearly all a little bit aloof but we were just the roughs. Not like the pathfinders. Gibson and the pathfinder force really didn’t socialise with the NCOs at all. Didn’t speak to them, didn’t talk to them but it wasn’t like that on the squadron. Really, apart from doing your job you were all the same. And the, the, our WingCo was a wonderful man in that respect. He knew everybody’s name on the squadron. Ground crew and air crew. Wonderful man. Old Alexander. Wingco Alexander.
CB: What sort of age was he?
RW: He, he’d be getting on about. He’d be early 30s I think [laughs] so. He died not such a long time ago. A little story about Wingco Alexander which, of course, a little bit about the war. His batman, Ward, a little chap called Ward turned out to be a homosexual and he was sacked from the service because in those days homosexuality was virtually a crime and he was sacked from the service and when I used to go home on leave and my brother was being in the army my mum was nursing a very eminent north country barrister called Lambert, Pop Lambert. Mum used to, got the job to nurse him because she could swear as much to him as he swore at her when she put him to bed and he used to love my, my brother and I and my mum to go down and have dinner with him and it was finger bowls and butlers and things like this so it really was quite out of our class altogether and when we were sitting down having dinner this night and the butler came in with the finger bowls and he looked at me and said, ‘Hello Waughman.’ And I said, ‘My God. Ward. What are you doing here? You were Alexander’s batman.’ And that went on, he went out and Pop said, ‘How the hell do you know him?’ And I said, ‘He was our WingCo’s batman. He was sacked because he was homosexual.’ And the poor soul. Pop gave him the sack a week later. He just wouldn’t have him around and this was the attitude about homosexuality -
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
RW: In those days. The lads used to go out queer bashing. You know.
CB: Yeah.
RW: Yeah. There was no gay business in those days at all, sort of thing. But that’s the sort of thing that happened. So, anyway, I was flying, became pilot officer and on the squadron I became towards the end of my tour I got promotion to flying officer and ended my tour as a flying officer and subsequently with the jobs I got as the training officer, again it was timed promotion really in a way. I became a flight lieutenant and most of the screening and examining and training I did then was as a flight lieutenant until I was posted to Singapore and never got there, flying as a VIP pilot AOC Far East. I never got there. Had I, had I gone I would have been promoted to squadron leader. No. I would have got the rank of squadron leader. Which would be temporary acting unpaid. So when I left that job I reverted to my previous rank again so that would be a rank mainly because you were socialising with VIPs but that never came about. So whether I don’t think I would have advanced very far in the air force at that time because I was a Geordie like, you know from up north, a very uneducated man, and I don’t think I would have advanced too far in the service.
CB: Ok.
RW: Although I got on very, very well with the people.
CB: Yeah.
RW: It was great but I think the social side, the social class system would have meant that I’d perhaps have made wing commander but I don’t think I would have got any great senior rank. Again, partly that’s my thought. Whether it would have happened or not. My navigator, he was an educated lad and very good lad you see he lied about his age to join up, operational at eighteen. He stayed in the air force after the war, did very, very well indeed did all sorts of very important flying. He ended up as a squadron leader and stayed in the air force after the war and he was very well thought of in the service. Most of the other lads left the service. Except Taffy. He stayed in the service. He became, he stayed as a sergeant I think all his life and I think he drank his way through the service but er -
CB: And he was always on the ground.
RW: Always on the ground, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yes he did, he did fly a second tour. Some of the crews did second tours. He was on the second tour and he was on the last bombing raid that went to the Nuremberg and the Buchenwald raids. And Manna, Operation Manna. Norman, my bomb aimer, he stayed in the air force. He stayed although he had some elevating jobs he never rose above the rank of flight lieutenant because he was out in Burma and he was on the squadron in Burma. This was very shortly after the end of the war and the war was still going on in Burma and he was duty officer one weekend and the Scotch troop was getting knocked about in the jungle so he laid on a strike which was successful and got back. I think they only lost a couple of blokes which was really remarkable. Got everything back and he had to see the CO the next day who said, ‘You don’t, you didn’t have the authority to lay that on’ and he was court martialled and in the, in the court martialling that was it you know but he went on and he eventually when he got back to the UK, got sent back to the UK and he didn’t have a job and he had a friend who knew somebody who knew somebody and he went to work down at, down in Halfpenny Green down Pershore way working on TSR2 and he did some work on TSR2 and then did an awful lot of flying in Buccaneers, err Buccaneers um Canberra’s flying all over America doing line over mapping and this sort of thing. Got himself an MBE. So Norman who now lives in the tax haven Andorra is MBE DFC AFC, yeah. But lovely guy.
CB: Ok so that’s a good intro thank you -
RW: Yeah.
CB: To the awards.
RW: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: So how did that come about for you and for him as well? How many of the crew were decorated?
RW: Well the sad thing is I’ve still got it but thinking about the decorations for crews and that sort of thing I’ve still got a got a bit of a conscience about the DFC because at the end of the tour of operations nearly every skipper got a decoration and I got a DFC but the crew didn’t get anything and the crew were doing half the work. They kept me alive, they kept us all alive they were doing exactly the same job as I was doing, under the same circumstances. Same risks. The same with all the Bomber Command crew but none of them got a decoration. My engineer Curly did eventually get a DFM.
CB: On the second tour -
RW: But none of the -
CB: Was it?
RW: None of the crew got any recognition whatsoever I think what Harry did was the rear turret and think what rear gunners did sitting watching shells flying at you having a little 303 gun to fire back at a 20 millimetre shell you know um and the casualty rate for rear gunners was, really was something and there was a lot of decorations which should have been. We had one crew which were very, very badly knocked about and from what I gather afterwards the station commander recommended the skipper for a VC which, and the crew did all sorts of wonderful things the skipper was hit three times and all sorts of things went wrong and got the aircraft back but this was turned down and we gather that the reason was that he wasn’t just getting the crew and the aircraft back he was getting himself back as well. So five of the crew got CGMs that night so the decorations system I’m sure it’s the same in all the wars that a lot of people who deserved them didn’t get them because it was unknown. One, one situation whereby unless an action was seen by an officer it didn’t count.
CB: Right.
RW: So -
CB: So the Queens Gallantry Medal.
RW: Yeah.
CB: The CGM.
RW: Yeah.
CB: Was a pretty good award.
RW: Well it’s the next one down from the VC.
CB: Exactly. Yeah. Absolutely. The whole crew got it.
RW: Yeah. Yeah. Five of the crew got it.
CB: Yeah.
RW: So you know the awards system obviously they have to have some rules and regulations, you know. I was told by, the by people afterwards after my crash landing getting the aircraft back the thought was the immediate award of the DFC but that didn’t come about.
CB: So when did it happen?
RW: That was in May, March
CB: When you came to the end of your tour.
RW: Oh, it was the end of the tour.
CB: Was it?
RW: Not at the time. Not immediately at the time. It wasn’t until anyway there we are. My DFC was given to me by the postman and there’s a nice little letter in there from King George saying I’m sorry, implying that he’s too busy too busy to see I’m sending it through the post but thank you very much. So, so that was given to me by the postman.
CB: Extraordinary.
RW: Subsequently, when I got I was very fortunate after the war I was awarded the MBE and -
CB: But you got the AFC. So what was that -
RW: I got the AFC.
CB: So what -
RW: I didn’t get the MBE I got the AFC.
CB: The AFC, yes.
RW: Yes, the AFC.
CB: So what was the circumstance of that?
RW: I’ve no idea. I’ve tried to find out but the only thing I’ve ever, people have been able to say meritorious service but I’ve no idea why. I think it was a brown nose job really you know, being in the right place at the right time. I can just imagine from what I’ve seen afterwards the air ministry would be issued so many medals to be issued to the command. Got down to group. Group allocated the medals out. Group was passed out to stations, stations allocated medals out, passed down to the squadrons and what was left for the squadron they had to find someone to give them to and I think I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. So, no reason why I -
CB: No specific event that you can -
RW: No specific event. Nothing -
CB: No.
RW: At all. No. So, it was again poor luck.
CB: What about this other man you talked about who’d been in your crew before who got DFC, AFC?
RW: Oh, Norman. The bomb aimer.
CB: Yes how did he get those?
RW: Well.
CB: Did he get the DFC at the end of the tour?
RW: Afterwards he, he -
CB: Was he commissioned by then?
RW: He eventually ended up on pathfinders.
CB: Oh right.
RW: Yeah, he did a second tour.
CB: Ahh.
RW: Didn’t do a full second tour but he did a lot of second tour on pathfinders and he got his DFC for that and he got his AFC for what he was doing in research down at Pershore down there and his MBE was for the work he did on TSR2 and the, and the work he was doing with the, with the Canberras.
CB: Yeah.
RW: Yeah and Curly my engineer he eventually got the DFM just after -
CB: On his second tour.
RW: After he left us he got the DFM and he from a very lowly back, we’re all from very lowly backgrounds, working class backgrounds his son Paul was at grammar school and there was a thing, a big trip they were going to do, which he could do which would have affected his career quite considerably from the school and Curly couldn’t afford it so he sold his medal.
CB: Right.
RW: To pay for his son to go through school. His son ended up as a very eminent statistician broadcasting, writing articles, touring the world doing this sort of thing and he still brings Curly to the reunions.
CB: Oh does he? So he feels that’s good value.
RW: Yeah. Yes, Yeah but poor old Curly he missed his medal a lot and a chappie called [?] it’s in there he bought Curlys medal.
CB: Oh.
RW: And there you are. He bought Curly’s medal. He was a medal collector and he also involved with [?] he’s a Frenchman working, working with the [6th airborne div] on the invasion things and he bought Curly’s medal and through the squadron he found out that Curly was on the squadron cause he got in touch trying to find out who’s it was and he invited Curly over for several years, every year to get his medal. Well the first year well he couldn’t get his medals back, well he didn’t, he was allowed to wear it but he very kindly let him wear his medal and showed him where his medal was and that’s the sort of thing, the sort of the lads they were. But -
CB: Can I go back to a particular experience -
RW: Yes.
CB: You describe -
RW: Yes, certainly.
CB: And that was the collision.
RW: Yes.
CB: So you’re on top of another Lancaster.
RW: Yeah. Yes.
CB: What happened to that aircraft?
RW: Well I didn’t see it at all. ‘Cause I was -
CB: No.
RW: A little busy keeping flying but apparently his propellers, as I said, chopped through our, just behind the bomb aimer’s feet and the bombing compartment up front. His mid upper, his canopy over the cockpit carved through our wheels and tore the canopy off.
CB: Yeah.
RW: And his mid upper gunner, his mid-upper turret was torn off as well and the boys said they saw Taffy who was looking out of his little window saw the aircraft falling away with the canopy falling off and the aircraft falling to bits so you can’t imagine what happened to the crew in the cockpit and the mid upper gunner sitting on top of the aircraft and they saw the aircraft falling away with no parachutes coming out. Of course it disappeared in cloud.
CB: Ah.
RW: And we were two thousand feet and then they saw the explosion on the ground.
CB: Oh.
RW: They found out afterwards that it was another Lancaster.
CB: Right.
RW: And they were able to identify what Lancaster it was and they were all killed of course. Unfortunately. How lucky can you be?
CB: Yeah and none of your boys saw it coming because you hadn’t got any view of it of underneath.
RW: No. Well the engineer was standing at his little window on the starboard side said he just saw it as it appeared and he didn’t see it at all.
CB: So you were flying straight and level.
RW: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: And this came up from underneath you.
RW: Yeah. Hit sort of sideways.
CB: Oh sideways.
RW: Sideways underneath.
CB: Which is why you can’t -
RW: Yeah and that’s why he cut across us and we sat on top of him. And that was, and you never thought about it you never thought about disaster at the time you were thinking preservation.
CB: No.
RW: And keeping the aircraft flying. We’ve got to fly. Yeah. Which fortunately it did.
CB: And a different question each of the crew has a different recollection of what was going on because they had different jobs.
RW: Yeah.
CB: You’ve already mentioned the danger of being the rear gunner.
RW: Yeah.
CB: How many times did your gunners shoot at other aircraft? Attacking aircraft in other words.
RW: In a way not as many as the attacks that we had because the idea was you didn’t use your guns unless you had to because it gave away your position so about what a half a dozen times, perhaps.
CB: Yeah.
RW: On one occasion we in the going over Germany we had [five] fighter attacks almost one after the other and if it hadn’t been for the diligence of the gunners we wouldn’t have escaped out of it, you know.
CB: You did corkscrews to get away from it.
RW: Corkscrewed out of it. And once you’ve started corkscrewing it’s no good, no point flying firing your guns.
CB: No.
RW: What did happen I was very fortunate I flew in both the, two of the aircraft who did the, the ton up aircraft who did over a hundred operations. One was in H How which was one of our squadron aircraft and the reason why I flew it was because our squadron was allocated the first two Rolls Royce turrets with the 2.5 guns in the back instead of the four 303s mainly we were the first one of the earliest ones to get it because of the attrition rate on the squadron we were given this the 2.5 and we were, WingCo asked us, well he didn’t ask us he told us to go on this operation and get into a position where the special duty operator could attract the fighter to us.
CB: Right.
RW: So we could try the guns out so we’re stooging along and there we are and Harry called up, he said, ‘Attack starboard quarter coming up.’ So we waited there and he got, when he got in the position where he pressed the guns, pressed the tits to fire the gun it didn’t operate. It didn’t go and we saw sparks flying past but fortunately there were lots of contrails around about so we nipped into the contrails and got rid, got corkscrewing and got rid of the fighter but when we got back the old boss was a bit concerned.
CB: Yeah.
RW: And he said, ‘We’ve got to have to find out what’s going on here,’ he said. And they discovered that they’d changed the anti-freeze grease on the guns and because of that we were told to go out the next night and try them out the next night. Which we did and unfortunately there were ten tenths cloud all over the place but we fired the guns and they worked alright. So that we flew and that was one of the reasons why we had the .5 guns. Because of the attrition rate on the squadron.
CB: Were they also on the mid upper?
RW: No. No, just the 2.5s in the mid upper gunner.
CB: Yeah.
RW: But again you don’t hear much about the mid upper gunners.
CB: No.
RW: But they were just as vulnerable as the others really. They were attacked from behind.
CB: They were an important lookout.
RW: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. We were so lucky the diligence of my crew and we were good pals. It wasn’t the skipper sitting up front dictating things. They were telling you what to do.
CB: Yeah.
RW: You had to make the final decision obviously but you were just a crew.
CB: What was the, what was the signaller doing?
RW: [laughs] As little as possible [laughs] he was a wonderful character, very mischievous and he always swore he was going to come on operations drunk and towards one of our last operations we were in the crew room and we were talking and he crept up behind me and patted me on the shoulder [drunken talk imitation] and I turned around. He disappeared and I turned around and I said, ‘You bugger.’ And he’d left a couple of WAAFs standing behind me. [laughs] This is the sort of character he was.
CB: This is an eighteen year old lad was he?
RW: Nineteen.
CB: Nineteen.
RW: He was nineteen. No. He was twenty.
CB: Oh was he?
RW: Around then yeah and this was the sort of character he was and he used to get bearings when nobody else could and he when the skipper wanted a bearing, a particular bearing, he’d get one and there’s an emergency frequency which you had to keep off and he used to get right on the edge of this frequency and pick up bearings that you weren’t supposed to have.
CB: So in practical terms.
RW: Yes.
CB: He was giving bearings all the time.
RW: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Was he?
RW: Yeah and again very different from, very different from the navigator and mischievous little devil and I always remember one of the occasions which we remember very vividly was at Waddington after the war when we had our squadron reunion and we’d all had quite a lot to drink and we were getting back into our taxi and we were going to drop him off at his pub, the Wheatsheaf in Lincoln and on the way back he was relating in his very drunken manner how Norman, my bomb aimer lost his virginity to Luscious Lill in Grimsby and there was a policeman walking past the car and wanted to know why. This was the sort of character he was. He drank like a fish and on one occasion we went into Louth to have drink and they used to run a crew bus to run us into Louth and pick us up at half past eleven when the pubs closed and we were coming back and Taffy disappeared. He didn’t know where it was until we had a call from the police station saying we have a wireless operator from your station. A chap called Arndale. He’s in prison. And what he did, he had a skinful, gone down a lane to have a wee and there just happened to be a policeman there and half wee’d on the policeman so they took him in. We were on operations that, had to be on operations that night so I had to into Louth and pay ten shillings to bail him out from the police station to get him back. This was the sort of, wonderful characters and we used to go down the pub and drink enormously playing Moriarty and again, it was a form of relaxation.
CB: Yes sure.
RW: Getting rid of stress.
CB: Just a couple of things about the flying, excuse me.
RW: Yes that’s -
CB: What were you doing when you weren’t on operations?
RW: Well occasionally you did an air test. And perhaps did a little bit fighter affiliation practice being attacked by a fighter but generally your, you were completely relaxed to do whatever you wanted. There was no, no station duties whatsoever. You’d perhaps go up to flight and see what was going on with the others. Down the pub.
CB: But were you doing bombing practice in The Wash?
RW: Yes, there were -
CB: Were you doing circuits and bumps?
RW: I think, I think it was a place called Wainfleet.
CB: Yeah.
RW: Somewhere about The Wash where we used to do practice bombing little eleven and half pound practice bombs you know, practice bombs. Used to drop those.
CB: What height would you be flying when you dropped those?
RW: Oh about eight, ten thousand feet. You weren’t flying at twenty odd thousand feet.
CB: No.
RW: In those days and yes we used to do little air tests and things.
CB: Cross countries?
RW: Pardon?
CB: Cross country for navigation practice.
RW: Err not so much. You did those when you first got on the squadron and you, when you got the feel of the squadron you did a couple of cross countries then but after that no we didn’t have to do any cross countries at all and your relaxation was really resting and down the boozer, down the pub and I used to get into trouble. When we used to live in a nissen hut, little corrugated iron nissen hut and when the condensation, used to get the condensation inside used to run down the ridges and in the winter used to form icicles.
CB: Cause there’s no insulation.
RW: Yeah. No.
CB: No insulation.
RW: No insulation. No.
CB: No.
RW: And all we had was a pot stove in the middle of the room a little cylindrical pot stove which we used to go and try and rob people of their ration of fuel and burn furniture and all sorts of silly things and of course there were no ablutions or watering inside. The ablutions were outside in another hut with a concrete bench with taps on and that was all you had. It wasn’t a, Wimpy built the station in eighty days completely and there were a main roads. There was a main road into the station, a main road with flights, a perimeter track and a runway and that’s about it. And all the rest we were walking around on grass and mud as a matter of fact being called Ludford Magna they nicknamed the place as Mudford which is a -
CB: It was that bad was it?
RW: It was that bad.
CB: Right.
RW: But it was, basically apart from the stress of what was going on it was a happy station and this was reflected on the senior staff. The group captain and the WingCos in that place.
CB: But with the high attrition rate -
RW: Yeah.
CB: How, the senior officers would get shot down as well.
RW: Yeah.
CB: So how did the replacements work? Would it be somebody from the squadron already or would they post in a squadron leader or wing commander?
RW: I think it depended on who was available. Perhaps one of the flight commanders would be promoted or could be promoted and our flight commander, Squadron Leader Robinson he was a fortnight before he was a flight lieutenant but the flight commander was killed and with rapid promotion he is made squadron leader. So he became a squadron leader and it has happened that when a station commander who’d gone on operations, well WingCo Alexander a wonderful man, he used to come and take on a crew that had just arrive on the squadron. Take them on operations. So if there were lost they’d perhaps try and promote somebody on the squadron, from the flight to become station commander or bring somebody in with experience.
CB: Squadron commander you mean.
RW: Yes, squadron leader.
CB: Yeah.
RW: Bring in one of the senior officers to take over the station which didn’t happen on our lot. I know it did, it has happened but then rapid promotion for whoever is on the flight.
CB: Yeah.
RW: Which Robinson was. He became from the -
CB: Yeah. So -
RW: Yeah so this rapid promotion business was well deserved but Robinson became the, the flight commander when he was twenty five, twenty six. Yeah. Well, look at Gibson. He was twenty six, he was a group captain and the group -
CB: Yeah.
RW: Group captain in the service, yeah.
CB: Well did sometimes the station commanders fly on raids?
RW: Not the station commander. I know some of them did. Ours didn’t. Old Group Captain King. As far as we know he didn’t because we didn’t know everything that was going on but the Wing Commander Alexander who was in charge of all the flying as I say a new crew would come on the squadron and he’d take that squadron, take that crew that night. Normally, he did a second dicky trip which was an experienced to get experience on flying but when we started at the end, end of of ‘43 started the Battle of Berlin when the operations were called Gomorrah which was maximum effort err old Squadron Leader Robinson flight commander called me in and said. ‘Right you’re flying tonight.’ I didn’t get a second dicky trip but thinking of that sort of thing we used to have jinx. People in the squadron. Used to have WAAFs, you know, somebody little transport driver if they’d been out with this particular WAAF nearly everybody who’d been out with her got killed so she became a jinx, you know.
CB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
RW: And we became a jinxed crew.
CB: Yeah.
RW: We took three different pilots on experience operations and all of them were killed.
CB: Were they?
RW: So they wouldn’t send any more people with us.
CB: No.
RW: Yes. Which is remarkable. So these jinx things did happen.
CB: How many hours did you fly in your thirty by the time you’d finished your tour of thirty ops?
RW: Something like a hundred and eighty three. Something like that.
CB: On, on ops.
RW: On ops.
CB: Ok.
RW: Do you want to see my logbook?
CB: I do. Please.
RW: Yes. When –
CB: We’ll do that in a minute but overall how many by the time you left the RAF how many hours had you flown?
RW: Oh that’s getting on a bit. I did something like two and half thousand hours.
CB: Did you really?
RW: Which, when you compare people flying now are talking about thousands of hours. Thirty, forty, fifty thousand hours. No, two and a half thousand hours I ended up with which was quite a long bit for, for the -
CB: When the Canadian Lancaster came over last year -
RW: Yeah.
CB: The senior pilot there, he’s on airlines, had done twenty seven thousand five hundred -
RW: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: Hours.
RW: Yeah. Amazing, yeah.
CB: I’m going to stop there for a moment. Thank you.
CB: Right we’re starting again.
RW: Right from the beginning.
CB: And what I’d like to do is to ask Rusty just to talk about the time from his birth really to a point at West Kirby.
RW: Yeah thank you. Gosh. That’s, well at ninety two it’s a long story. No, it’s not really but I was very fortunate in my bringing up. I was born in a place called Shotley Bridge in County Durham and my dad worked as a handyman on a colliery owner’s estate and there I don’t know whether it was because of the situation or what was going on we lived in a tied cottage and I got diphtheria. I was, I had mucous diphtheria quite a chronic illness in those days and my mum who’d been a nurse in a military hospital nursed me at home with that and mum and dad had quite different careers. My dad was in the navy. He was orphaned as a boy, a two year old boy and brought up by an elder sister who when he got a bit older didn’t want them so he was put in the navy in 1905 as a boy entry and he went through and became a naval diver. And my mum who was a nurse in the, a sister, a matron, assistant matron at a military hospital in Darlington. Went through the war and got herself a Royal Red Cross, Associated Red Cross which was one down from the nursing VC which was a considerable award. She was a wonderful lady. And dad with his naval experience on the Q ships got himself a DFM and he is a leading seaman which was rather unusual in those days ‘cause not very many lower rank NCOs, he wasn’t even an NCO, got a decoration. He got a DFM.
RW: Yes a DSM. DSM, yes.
CB: Yeah.
RW: Distinguished Service Medal and he, having been orphaned, he didn’t have a home to go to and my uncle Stanley was in the navy as well and he brought dad home on leave up north to Newcastle and there he met my mum and my auntie and he married my mum which is, which is lovely but because of his health he couldn’t do any really serious work and he used to do handyman work on the colliery owner’s estate and eventually when he moved in to Newcastle he used to do shift work looking after the stable and the horses for the Coop and in those day they had something like four hundred and sixty horses in the stables. And the nostalgic smell of all that leather was, when I used to go to night schools to try and get some education his stables were just a bit up the road and I used to go and meet him at, class would finish at 9 o’clock, the stables used to finish at half nine. I used to go and meet him at the stables and have a cup of tea by the big stove in the kit room. Smelled wonderfully. Wonderful. And then we had to walk home two and a half miles. No question of buses. Walk home. And dad was, really was a very quiet, unassuming man. Mum was a nurse all her life stayed nursing as her career all her life and she really saved my life on more than one occasion. Nursing me at home with diphtheria and typhoid and then the consequence because we, because we lived in, had no inside toilet, it was only a cold tap and no electricity, gas, paraffin lamps. We had communal toilets outside on The Green at the back I obviously picked up the typhoid from there so my mum went out and set them on fire and burned them down. So there we are. I came back to Newcastle and lived in the city for a wee while and then as a young teenager then I got TB, I had a TB [?] and that kept me down very much so and I was in a wheelchair when I was twelve so my mum nursed me at home with the TB and in consequence my health suffered to the extent that I wasn’t allowed to play sport, I wasn’t allowed to go swimming, couldn’t do all the exercises that my brother used to do and because of the family teeth which weren’t very good and because of the medication I was taking my teeth were in a very poor state so I had all my teeth out when I was sixteen and in those days they didn’t put teeth straight back in away again they waited until your gums got hard and then they put some china teeth in in those days. China porcelain things and that ruined my early love life that did. Mind you I didn’t know what girls were anyway. As far as I was concerned they were the ones that danced backwards, you know, so my upbringing in that respect was very, very sheltered. In consequence I started to go to school when I was about four and a half in Newcastle on the City Road but soon becoming ill I had to stop school and when I did go back to school I was just, just under eleven when you took the scholarship exam at twelve and of course I didn’t pass the scholarship and I didn’t, my brother went to a grammar school. I couldn’t go to a grammar school. I went to a school where you learnt ship working and work on the, work with the prospect of going perhaps in to the drawing offices of the shipyard. All the local stuff. But there again I wasn’t allowed to join the scouts or play sports and yet and yet my dad used to love watching football and we used to go to Newcastle United and watch the football there from an early age, from about eight, so I got quite a bit of fondness for Newcastle United. So, there we are I was a very sickly child with very little education and of course in those days to join the services at the age of eighteen you were called up and you were directed into any of the services that they needed. Even go down the mines and become a Bevan boy which I didn’t relish so I told mum and dad my friend he was going to join up at seventeen and have some sort of choice of services you went into and dad having been in the navy I said to mum and dad I said, ‘I’m going to volunteer and I’m going to join the navy. Volunteer to join the navy’ And they said, ‘Yeah. With your health record you’ll never get in.’ So off I went down to the recruiting centre which was a school and in the navy classroom there was the navy recruiting officer and my own doctor, Doctor Wright and I thought. ‘If I go in there I’ll never get in.’ So, I went next door and joined the air force. And really they were very hard up. This poor chap with no teeth and a heart murmur and varicose veins and covered in psoriasis and I think the air force must have been very, very hard up and much to my amazement after going to West Kirby to sign on where you were attested and signed on and joined the air force at seventeen. And poor old mum wept buckets her poor little lad, her poor little innocent lad going to play soldiers um and of course from then you had to go down to London to ACRC, St Johns Wood to be attestation and see what air crew you were going to be. When you were first signed up and joined up I was told I could train as air crew which was amazing ‘cause, in view of my health. Anyway after being signed on and got the kings shilling, not that I got a shilling but had to swear on the bible down to ACRC where you had attestation where you had medicals and exams. The medicals we used to have were in the Lords Cricket Ground and used to line up just with your underpants on and arms akimbo with your hands on your hips and they were at the side with the hypodermic syringe and pumping this stuff into you and the doc used to come and do what they called an FFI, free from infection, whereby you walked down the front, dropped your trousers and they used to go down and examine you with a little stick and the back, they went around the back, they went around the back and said bend over and made me wonder what on earth was going to happen but there you are if anyone collapsed when you were there or fainted there they just produced all the work on the ground. They just gave the injections on the ground. So we being, being at the Lords Cricket Ground you know and of course the result of that, much to my amazement, I was told I could train as a pilot because when you first went there you were trained as aircrew UT aircrew with a little white flash in your cap to show you were aircrew, trainee aircrew. So there we are I was told I could train as a pilot. And of course from there you had to start learning about the air force so I was posted to Newquay down in Cornwall at the ITW Initial Training Wing where you learned about the air force, square bashing, how to salute and all these sort of things. The admin side of the air force. So having completed that we were posted to, I was posted to South Africa and issued with the tropical kit and off to East Kirby, West, West Kirby at Manchester er at Liverpool to catch the boat to go out to South Africa. And in the billets there when the time came all the people left except eleven of us who were left in the room all Ws. All Walls, Walkers all the Ws left behind and we were left there and the camp disappeared. They took all the men off the camp, all the operating men off the camp and there were just the eleven, we lived off the NAAFI for a week and not knowing what on earth was going on until the next posting that came in and they were all WAAFs. All the WAAFs came in and seeing eleven blokes in their billet you know wondering what on earth was going on. So did we. Then the WAAF officer said, you know, ‘What are you doing?’ Well. ‘We were posted to South Africa and we didn’t go.’ Ah draft dodging. So we were posted down to the B course at Brighton. The bad boys course at Brighton because of the because we were accused of draft dodging and down there we were up very early in the morning and booking in at half past eight at night which we didn’t take very much enjoyment out of this sort of thing and the parades were very, very strict and doubling and running everywhere and we complained to the orderly officer one day at a mealtime telling him, you know we shouldn’t be here. We haven’t done anything wrong and he didn’t believe it and he said, ‘Oh you carry on.’ So the eleven of us, we wrote a letter and we all signed it and sent it to the station commander who had us in his office and he said. ‘This constitutes mutiny,’ which is a court martial offence and when we’d explained to him what had happened he did a bit of an investigation, he said, ‘Oh that’s alright he said, ‘Alright just book in in the morning and come in at night time.’ So we had a few days, four or five day holidaying in Brighton just walking about and spending all our time in [Sherry’s] Bar I think it was and of course then we had to start again. And when we were posted we were posted to another ITW at Stratford on Avon but all our kit and all our records had been sent out to South Africa so nobody knew anything about us so we had to start again so we did all our ITW again at Stratford on Avon and that was very pleasant. We took over most of the hotels for lectures and bedding and I can say I was on the stage in Stratford on Avon which is quite a, quite a thrill mainly as we used the theatre as aircraft recognition. We had to go on stage to point out aeroplanes but that was quite an experience and of course having completed the course successfully there you had to go and prove that we could fly and go overseas so we were posted to a place called Codsall, just north of Wolverhampton where there was a civilian aerodrome where we were, had to go flying Tiger Moths and once we’d gone solo that was it, forgot about aeroplanes. Some of the poor souls couldn’t go solo and they were re-posted. So, fortunately, I managed it and on the Empire Training Scheme where they used to send trainees to South Africa, some to Australia even, some to Arnold Scheme in America. I was posted to Canada on the Empire Training Scheme and this was at a place called Dewinton which is just south of Calgary.
CB: So this is, what date are we talking about here?
RW: This, this was in early ’42.
CB: Right.
RW: Early ’42.
CB: Can I just go back to what you said earlier?
RW: Yeah.
CB: You were selected for aircrew.
RW: Yeah.
CB: But you must have gone through some kind of process that suggested you were suitable for aircrew rather than -
RW: Yeah.
CB: A ground crew job.
RW: Yeah.
CB: So what was that?
RW: Yes. When you were first signed on, volunteered as air crew, when you went to Padgate to be officially sworn in to the service you did some testing there. You did some examinations there and with, fortunately with my experience as a pupil surveyor doing vectors and things on the ground is a similar sort of thing they did in the air with wind resistance and this sort of thing and that helped me enormously to pass the ground exams and having done that minor exams there you were then told you could train as UT aircrew.
CB: Right.
RW: Becoming UT aircrew PNB.
CB: Yeah.
RW: If you couldn’t succeed as a pilot you could perhaps become a navigator or a bomb aimer PNB.
CB: Yeah.
RW: And I was fortunate to say I could train as a pilot. So we -
CB: Just, just to put that into context. Earlier you talked about your experience of then getting to leave school.
RW: Yeah.
CB: How did you get in to bring the surveyor?
RW: Ah the well I -
CB: Which was the basis for your selection.
RW: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: For aircrew.
RW: I had, the school I went to was a training establishment more than a school. Learning about draughtsmanship and this sort of thing -
CB: Yeah.
RW: To go on the shipyards and you had to leave there when you were fifteen, sixteen. So I left school, no idea of what sort of job I could get whatsoever. So my brother who was, he was a grammar school boy and very highly educated, a very clever lad, he used to work in his spare time at the Newcastle repertory theatre and this Christmas they were putting on a play called “The Circus Girl” and they were short of somebody to take the part of the monkey in the play and my brother said I’ve got a brother who is doing nothing maybe he’d be it so I became a monkey in the Christmas pantomime at the Newcastle rep which was great fun. The devils, they wore a uniform, skin monkey skin with not much else really. The devils used to put itching powder inside that actually. Not very nice. And of course then when the pantomime was finished they said, ‘What are you doing now?’ and I said, ‘Well, I don’t know. I’ve got to look for a job.’ They said, ‘Would you like to stop on?’ So I stayed on the Newcastle rep for nearly a year as an assistant assistant assistant stage manager and with the girls doing quick changes at the side of the theatre you learned an awful lot about life but my aunt who had a very good friend who was, worked, had another friend who owned and ran an architect’s surveyors office said would I like to go and work for them. So I went and worked at the architect surveyor’s office and became a pupil surveyor. I was doing the exams for the Institute of Surveying, ISF, and I passed their preliminary exams but they didn’t count because I didn’t have a matriculation or school cert so I was going to night school four nights a week learning about mathematics and history and I wasn’t getting on terribly well. I don’t think I would have ever qualified completely but very fortunately the war came along and having volunteered to join up I left surveying and became, and joined the air force.
CB: So that’s how you effectively qualified for being air crew.
RW: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
RW: Yeah.
CB: Ok. Yeah.
RW: So the fact that I qualified for air crew, the fact that, not so much my health record although the medicals I had were very comprehensive medicals the fact that the mathematics I was doing for the surveying helped me enormously with the navigation exercises we were doing in the thing so that, I think, helped towards the fact that I was allowed to train as air crew apart from the fact that they must have been very short of aircrew and they wanted somebody [to fill the boots]. Yeah, so -
CB: Just a quick question about your initial training.
RW: Yeah.
CB: How many hours did you fly before you went solo?
RW: When we first went solo at Codsall in Wolverhampton it was about eight or ten.
CB: Right.
RW: Something like that. When we got out to Canada you really had to start again and you were doing sort of fifteen, twenty hours before you really were allowed to go solo.
CB: So I’m just interrupting now because this goes into the early part of the interview because it got missed.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Rusty Waughman. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 24, 2024,

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