Interview with Geoffrey Whittle


Interview with Geoffrey Whittle


Squadron Leader Geoffrey Whittle was born in London. After leaving school at fourteen he became an apprentice printer in the family business. He volunteered for the Royal Air Force on the outbreak of the Second World War and trained as a navigator. He served with 101 Squadron at RAF Ludford Magna. For his fifteenth operation to Hanover, he was awarded the DFM. Having suffered a perforated eardrum on his sixteenth operation, he was grounded for six months. He then flew briefly with Air Sea Rescue. At end of the war, he joined the RAF Regiment on a short-term commission but continued to serve on both ground and flying duties until retirement in 1961. He then worked with the NAAFI (Navy Army and Air Force Institutes), becoming a senior manager, until 1988. He subsequently became a councillor in Hampshire and Lincolnshire.







01:18:13 audio recording


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DE: This is an interview for the International Bomber Command Digital Archive with Squadron Leader Geoffrey Whittle, it’s the 26th of June and we are in Ruskington. So if you could tell me a little bit about your life and your experiences please?
GW: I was born in London, the outskirts of London, southern side and, I came from a family, printing background. My grandfather at one time had his own business; my father was in the national press. So I was destined with my brother to become printers as such, em. I was pulled away from school at the age of fourteen to take up an apprenticeship, which were not easily obtained unless you had an insight into the business. So I started off my career path as a trainee printer. The war came along, ‘39 and we were nicely placed when things hotted up in 1940 to be on the path to central London for the bombers. So at that time I was working in London, going in every day and was subjected to the bombing then my firm pulled out to one of its subsidiary operations in Hertfordshire in Letchworth. So I sort of missed that and I missed a further lot of the bombing. I used to get it or see it when I went home for the weekend or a little bit longer. Anyway coming up to the age of eighteen I felt that I was going to be called up. In the meantime my brother who was seven years older than me joined up immediately after the war started and was due to come home for commissioning selection on the day that Hitler started his push. That went by the board and he then became a prisoner of war at St Valerie. He was attached to the Fifty First Highland Division, that leads on to another story of my life. So I decided I was going to be called up, there was no way about it, but so ah, in 1941, so I had no desire to go into the army, no desire to go into the navy, so a sure fire way of getting into the air force and interesting of course, was to volunteer for aircrew duties. So I duly went off in October ‘41 for selection process and I was invited, I think that is the right word to use. Invited at the time to consider training as an observer, this was a precursor to the special navigation, bomber, gunnery thing that took place before the four-engined bomber came in. I was eventually called up in March of 1942 and went through the sausage machine at Regent’s Park and three weeks, what do you call it now boot camp, I suppose at Brighton and then down to Paignton for OTU, for, ITS Paignton in the summer months, it was rather an idyllic time the weather was superb, swimming every day and we had taken over the various hotels and things on the front at Paignton that was just across the beach. Oh, incidentally we were told while we were at St John’s Wood, Regent’s Park that we would not be going overseas for training. That was a little disappointing though as one had thoughts of going to South Africa or Canada but it didn’t in fact materialise. With hindsight one can see why when they were building up the ‘43 force, ‘43 and they wanted more people to go through the machine. Anyway it was from Paignton we went to Eastbourne for elementary air navigation school where we were doing all the ground work. We were eventually moved out of Eastbourne because of the nights we spent standing around the streets when the air raid warning had taken, been given and we moved up to Bridgnorth, I was only at Bridgnorth for two or three weeks and from there I went to West Freugh in Scotland, south of Stranraer on the Mull of Galloway. We arrived there the end of October the beginning of November and we had the joys of Scottish winter, in the winter time at a place called Stranraer. I have no idea what it looks like now, but it was pretty grotty, to use such a word in 1942. We did our flying and I vividly recall we had a great passing out parade there were sixty on the course. Em, great passing out parade at about four o’clock in the afternoon on the 1st of March 1943 and that same night we entrained for various OTUs that we were going to, no leave, nothing like that. So overnight travel from Scotland down to 27 OTU which was at Lichfield where one crewed up pilot and wireless operator, I think that was really the three of us and converted onto the Wellington. That is where I was fortunate enough to be picked and it was absolutely true that one has read we were put into a room, all the various categories and out of that crews appeared. I had a chap he was an old man, I was then twenty, no nineteen he must have been all of thirty four. Bill Walker, he had a lot of experience he must have had three or four hundred hours of flying because when he finished his pilot’s training he went off as a staff pilot at an air gunner’s school, great chap, chartered surveyor and we crewed up and flew the Wellington. Converted onto that on various exercises and trips until we were eventually considered competent enough to move onto the Heavy Conversion Unit which 1656 at Lindholme.
DE: The crewing up procedure, who chose who?
GW: The pilot basically, he went round, would you like to fly? I don’t know what the attraction was other than we were both over six foot tall. It made some difference, anyway that’s how it worked.
DE: Did you feel more confident with a pilot who had got more hours and was older?
GW: I don’t think we even thought about it, it was just nice that you had it. He came along, would you like to fly with me and off we went. I think at nineteen we didn’t question life so much as nineteen year- old as youngsters do nowadays. That was the form and we were going through it. So we moved to Lindholme and converted onto the Lancaster and there we met up with the rest of the crew, the flight engineer, the two gunners, and, no the bomb aimer must have been at Lichfield as well, not sure, can’t remember.
DE: Was that a similar process to get the gunners and engineer?
GW: I think so, they happened, it was a long time ago, a long time ago. We just appeared and we converted onto the Lancaster and did some day flying and did some night flying and I think it was the 21st, 25th of July, no correction 25th of June 1943 we were posted to 101 Squadron. Then they had just moved to Ludford Magna from Holme on Spalding Moor and we arrived as I have said on the 25th of June from Lindholme where we did our first operation two nights later. That was a conversion to squadron life, It was a gardening trip, you know Lavashell, minelaying so one was into the thing. And then we carried on, did various trips. The next major trip was on Cologne and then we were in the very last wave. So one saw the fires burning over Cologne a long, long before we got there but it was good initiation. Then after that it was a variety of trips to the Ruhr, Berlin, Nuremberg, Peenemunde, things like that. I can talk more about [unclear] in a minute. Then on our fifteenth operation that was on Hanover, as we were getting close to the target we were first of all coned by a searchlight and within seconds hit by anti-aircraft fire and by a night fighter which was not funny [laugh]. The port inner engine caught fire, the distance reading compass in fuselage in the back, it took one of the night fighter bullets, we had holes in the aircraft and we also had a small fire in-house in the fuselage. Anyway the flight engineer put out the fire we did a steep dive to port, when I say put out, he feathered the engine and deep dive to port and that fortunately put the fire out in the engine and also shook off the night fighter. Then he went back and started trying to put the fire out in the fuselage with a few bullets going off around him because it was affecting the ammunition trays. We were warned to stand by to bail out, Bill pulled the aircraft up back to about fifteen thousand feet and dropped the bombs and proceeded on. The fire broke out again, the rear gunner had a little problem, the flight engineer and the mid upper gunner pulled him out. We were very restricted with navigation equipment, I lost all my stuff in the dive to port, it just slid off the table. I managed to save my computer, Dalton computer and a pair of compasses, a few pencils and that was it. Anyway we stood by to bail out and being good aircrew we had a little discussion and decided, let’s try to get home, and we did. According to the reports after at the first debriefing the weather was not all that good. We got back, diverted to Lindholme, landed did a ground loop [laugh] finished up somewhere in the nether regions of Lindholme. Scrambled out of the aircraft and had to wait to be picked up. The port wheel had been punctured that was the trouble as we hit the ground we went round.
DE: Obviously the port engine had been hit.
GE: The aircraft was a write off. Anyway that was on the 25th of September, 27th of September, the 27th, the 27th. Three weeks after that the pilot and the flight engineer both received Gallantry Medals, immediate awards. Two weeks after that the wireless operator and myself each received immediate awards of a Distinguished Flying Medal and the other guys, the bomb aimer who was an officer, got the DFC and the two gunners got DFMs so we were all decorated with the immediate awards. The interesting thing about that was that the beginning of November a little later in November I was gazetted as a pilot officer with effect from the 27th of September so in fact I flew as a sergeant but was a pilot officer as indeed was Bill Walker and, so we both received medals as opposed to the officer awards. The interesting thing on that of course was the recipient of the DFC received forty pounds gratuity which went immediately to the RAF Benevolent Fund. As a sergeant we received twenty pounds which we keep and twenty pounds went a long way [laugh]. Anyway that was that and that was a memorable day.
DE: You mentioned the rear gunner had a problem, what was that?
GE: Oxygen mainly and I think and obviously overcome by fumes with the stuff burning was going down into his turret and that probably affected him some, he was recovered they pulled him out and gave him some more oxygen and then he went back into his turret. The pilot lost his controls, they had been severed. So it was all in all an interesting evening but we got back. Anyway we did not do very much flying in October. We were due to go on leave and nothing happened anyway on the next trip that I mentioned earlier I perforated my eardrum in flight and I was whipped off to hospital. Whilst I was there unfortunately my crew were shot down on the third sortie without me near Liege in Belgium on their way to Stuttgart. By that time we had acquired an extra member of the crew, the ABC operator, and so they were shot down and the pilot, the wireless operator and the navigator who replaced me did get out em, the pilot and the wireless operator became prisoners of war and the navigator in fact got back to England. All three of them have since died so I am now the sole survivor of that original crew. And that is why for very good reasons I am so interested in this Bomber Memorial because the names of the crews will go up on the walls and I think that is something they deserve. The wireless operator had a young son he was six months when he was killed and I tied up with his son twenty odd years ago and I normally see him once a year and that is very interesting and I think he likes it as well, it is a connection to his youth and a father he really did not really know. On the trips the interesting ones, Peenemunde which was quite out of the ordinary, it was done on a full moon when of course we never flew. So to be called suddenly to ops in the middle of August or July, I will have to look up my facts, was quite surprising and then usually as a navigator we didn’t get a pre main briefing, nav briefing, when so often we [unclear] our routes and basic stuff, although it was the final stuff before the main briefing the final met forecast so we could produce our flight plan. And when we arrived in the crew room, who should be sitting at the top table, one Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris [laugh]. The briefing took place and there it was when the curtains went back and this red line right across the North Sea a straight route virtually to some obscure place on the northern coast of Germany. And the bombing was at six thousand feet which was unusual. So all of these sort of things were quite intriguing but nobody would tell why we were going there, and so Arthur Harris finished up by saying ‘well I can’t tell you about the target all I will tell you, that it is vital that it is knocked out and if you don’t knock it out tonight you will go back tomorrow night and the night after and the night after until you have knocked it out’. We had the master bomber technique, first time on the main course raid, I must admit he didn’t sound over encouraging the way the markers were going down, the bombs were going down. I did really think on the way back, it was an eight hour trip, something like that em, full moon, saw a couple of aircraft shot down, I was looking out the astrodome. I really thought we would be back the next night and I must admit it was a great relief to get up somewhere around eleven o’clock, twelve o’clock next day to find out the raid had been a success. Great relief, and of course it was a great success from the point of view of slowing down the flying bombs. The impact that would have had on D-Day, let alone the civilian population. But I did experience when I went home on leave the odd V1 and V2 [laugh] not funny especially the V2, you did not hear anything but the bang. The interesting thing about the master bomber technique, they trialled it two or three weeks beforehand with a small force of one hundred and fifty Lancs from 1 Group another hundred and fifty from 5 Group and we were split up onto three targets, Genoa, Milan and Turin. 1 Group had fifty on Turin, the 5 Group had fifty on Milan if I remember correctly and twenty five each went to Genoa. The time of attack was one o’clock, ‘oh one hundred’ on Sunday morning. We were doing quite well, it was a nice night to fly, saw the Alps for the first time in one’s life and I was three or four minutes ahead of my actual time for my ETA so I would do a traditional dog leg sixty degrees one way one hundred and eighty the other, that saved three minutes. Sixty, one twenty and then we were back on track. We arrived at the target, virtually 1 am and the interesting thing was, God bless the Italians that as we were approaching the target it was quite lit up with anti-aircraft fire. Guns going off everywhere, since the first bombs went down they completely stopped [laugh]. We had quite a free run, but it was a long flight back to there and back all over France but that was interesting. As I say we trialled the master bomber technique before it was actually first used. The Berlin trip, well I was asked to do it and on that particular occasion I flew with the squadron commander and, we arrived back about five o’clock in the morning, debriefed and went straight on leave that was our scheduled leave. So I arrived back in London that evening and went out, in civilian clothes. I always changed when I went home and went to our local pub. It was quite intriguing I had a chum there that I met up with who was in uniform, the barman said to him ‘were you over Berlin last night?’ ‘No but he was’, turning to me [laugh]. The barman almost dropped dead to see somebody in civilian clothes, but that was how life was. So what happened after that, I went to hospital, the crew were shot down, came out of hospital. I was grounded for six months and started doing a bit of some instructional work around various places in Lincolnshire. All wartime airfields no longer exist, doing a little bit of navigation and things like that. Then I got my flying category back to eight thousand feet and was sent off for reselection. I went to Eastchurch and I was there on D-Day. I was playing cricket on D-Day, officers versus sergeants watching all these aeroplanes going over wondering what the hell was going on, of course we had no idea. I, asked to go onto Mosquitoes but was told my height restriction would not allow it because the minimum height restriction was twelve thousand feet so I went to Air Sea Rescue, I went down to Cornwall and the aircraft we were flying was the Warwick which was the airborne lifeboat version of the Wellington really and we had a few Sea Otters as well. When the fun moved away from, that part of France, the Cherbourg area the light aircraft moved over to Kirkeville but we were still based in Cornwall. That went on for five or six months and then we were disbanded.
DE: So what did the work entail there, was it patrols?
GW: Standing by more than anything else, I never dropped a lifeboat in my life. We never had to for the main concentration was more to the east than we were. But I say, we were disbanded eventually. So it was back again into the sausage machine and, back for training, I went to [Millom?], did a bit of flying there, then went to Half Penny Green just outside Wolverhampton. And that was then I knew I was going to go into what they called the Tiger Force on Halifaxes and probably glider towing. Then the war finished.
DE: You were on Halifaxes and glider towing because you still had the height restriction?
GW: Yes, as I say I would have done but it never happened, say the war in Europe finished and two or three months of waiting and the war in Japan finished so that was it and like so many aircrew who were non-operational at the time we were invited, what would we like to do? I was still young I was twenty two at the time I thought why would I want to work in an office or that sort of lifestyle? So I opted for the RAF Regiment and I went into the RAF Regiment, went to Germany and trained on armoured cars. I did my basic training, footslogging around here at Belton where the RAF Regiment depot was at that time. I then moved down to Oxford, Boarshill where the armoured car school was and converted onto the Humber armoured car and all the tactics attached to it and then went to Germany as the two I/C of an armoured car squadron. That was interesting, as I say I was a flight lieutenant then and went off. Anyway I was still an apprentice and I was expected to go back to it.
DE: Onto the printing?
GW: Yes back to printing. So I had to take my demob which I did. Went back, decided it was not the life for me so I went round to the RAF Regiment people in London and said, ‘what are the chances of coming back?’ and they said ‘yes we’ll have you extended service commission for four years’. So without consulting my father I gave up my apprenticeship, I cancelled my indentures and rejoined into the RAF Regiment and whilst I was there did a spell at Upavon and then I went out. Yes I did some time at the depot and went out to Upavon and from there I went out to Aden and commanded 4001 Armoured Car Flight. The obvious the Humber car flight and it still exists today in the RAF as a unit. Whilst I was in Aden the wanted, sent out requests for volunteer pilots and navigators to rejoin as aircrew, go back to aircrew, volunteer for aircrew and I did volunteer for that and I did go back. So January 1950 I em, went back into flying duties, finished up in the all-weather world, and funnily enough by that time I got my full flying category back. So that was acceptable and I went into the all-weather world flying Mosquitoes then Meteors. In between times I did the odd ground tour. From the Mosquito I went out to Egypt [unclear]. The pilot I was em, due to join up with, I incidentally when I done my conversion into Mosquitoes I flew with the chap who was taking command of the newly-formed 219 Squadron and then he was going to fly with the nav Leader when got out there, and my chap never appeared so I became station navigation officer. Still did a bit of flying with them then converted to the Meteor and did a bit there. Came home, had a ground tour then went back to flying, went again into Germany as the nav leader of 85 Squadron flying the Meteor and then the Javelin. Whilst I was there my ear blew up again and I perforated it again. So that was the end of my flying. I went to take up my staff college qualifying exam. I then went to staff college in 1959 and whilst we were there were told quite happily by the air member for personnel that the majority of us did not have a full career left in the air force because they were all coming, the younger people were coming out from Cranwell and they had to have first preferences. That was a nice thing to hear, there were about seventy or eighty of us. One or two did get to the top obviously that will always happen. So I went to Fighter Command Headquarters on staff and em, and there I decided to retire, I then had two children and there was eleven years between them and I decided that I would get out and take early retirement. So I retired from the air force in December 1961. Having had such a hatred of working in an office what did I do? I went into banking [laugh]. I saw a friend of mine from air force days who went into it and seemed to enjoy it. It was industrial banking mainly not high street stuff, it was more flowing but it wasn’t my forte. I never objected to the year I spent at it. It made me realise that there was a difference from being an officer in the Royal Air Force with people telling you or you telling people what to do and the discipline attached to it, to mixing with the great British public. It was a very good leveller, I have never objected to that, yeah, although it wasn’t my forte. So whilst I was doing that I thought this is not my scene, let’s look around, see what’s coming up. I saw one or two things and eventually I saw an advert in the paper for management officials in NAAFI the Navy Army and Air Force Institute to train. There was an age limit of thirty I was then thirty five or thirty six so I thought let’s have a go at it and see what happens. My service career will offset the age difference, which it did. So I joined NAAFI as a trainee district manager and retired from it twenty six years later as a departmental manager. In between times I spent em, I finished my training rather quickly as I was sent out to Cyprus on the emergency when the Turks invaded northern Cyprus. Stayed there for four months then I went over to Libya went home then to Libya and I spent eighteen years overseas with NAAFI of my twenty six years with them. Climbing up the promotional tree, started off as a district manager then I became a senior district manager. Then I spent a year on the island of Gan and then onto Singapore from Singapore back of all places to Cyprus [laugh] and went there as a number two to Cyprus. Then back home for a short period and then I had London region, then I went to Singapore. I think I got the sequence right, anyway I went to Singapore twice. First of all, oh, from Gan I went to Singapore on special duties and I was a useful [unclear] for them as I knew the services a lot better than many others and I was doing a lot of liaison work and exercise planning and that sort of thing. Then I went back to Singapore a second time. That’s it from Singapore I had London, interesting working with the Brigade of Guards and all that sort of thing around London. And I then went back to Singapore running the Far East show as the command supervisor. From there I went to Germany as the number two for the whole of Germany and from there into London as a departmental manager. And I retired from there, I stayed on, they were going to retire me at sixty one which was the normal age but I said, I was not ready to go, I was very friendly with the em, I was very friendly with the MD and I stayed on until just before I was sixty five. That’s a long time ago.
DE: When was that?
GW: 1988. When I retired I spent a few months not doing a great deal except getting used to being retired and that sort of thing. We bought a new house in Hampshire, I already had a house in Aldershot which we sold and I bought another one just outside of Hindhead in Hampshire. I always had an interest in local politics but something I could never indulge in because of my in and out of the country all the time. Fortunately I got tied up with the local Conservative Party and became the secretary and things like that. In 1989, one of the two district councillors from my village had to pack up for business reasons. I said I would be quite happy to stand if it was for them, I did and I got elected and that was the next phase of my life. I carried on doing that up until the end of January 19 – no not 19, the end of January 2007 when we moved here, because my daughter and son had both moved to Ruskington. My daughter moved into the army and when her husband retired, a lieutenant colonel he was working in Scotland and then they eventually went back to the house in Hampshire. Decided they knew nobody but had friends here, one day approached us in ’89, ‘we are thinking of moving to Lincolnshire will you come?’ So what do you say? And we said we would, this is what happened. Then my son came up and spent some time with his sister and also bought a house in Ruskington, so we are all living in the village. And we came here in 2007, January 2007, I resigned from my role as district councillor in Hampshire and saw the local Conservatives here and said, ‘can I be of any use to you?’ That’s another story so I have now finished eight years as a district councillor in North Kesteven. And have started my next four years as I have been elected again. So I have had eight elections and got through all of them, and here I am. Really not for the tape I suppose this bit.
DE: Would you like me to pause it?
GW: If you can for a second.
[Recording paused]
DE: Okay so we are recording again. So earlier on you said you didn’t want to join the navy or the army but you wanted to join the RAF. Why not the navy or the army?
GW: I had no desire to live in slit trenches [laugh] I had a pretty good upbringing, you know life was very nice with my family and things. I didn’t really want to go and rough it in the trenches, perhaps I was too fastidious. The thought of going to sea for weeks on end and being perhaps seasick or anything like that I don’t know. I had no interest in them and perhaps I should go back and finish the story of my brother who was a captain, he was a prisoner of war, he contracted pulmonary TB whilst he was a prisoner of war and was due to be exchanged, in 1944, before the war finished. The first exchange they had of prisoners and he had a big haemorrhage and did not come home. But he came back in February 1945 and eh, he was in hospital and he came home he died, in September ‘46. So that was the saga. My brother was as big a chap as I was, an excellent swimmer and he just contracted the disease and I saw him waste away.
DE: Yes, a terrible killer.
GW: I think he attended my wedding, a picture, and that was it, two months later he was dead. So to answer your question there, I had no desire. Don’t forget there was a certain amount of glamour about flying in those days and aircrew were considered to be cuts above some of the others perhaps and nobody knew the scale of losses that Bomber Command suffered. I could never have guaranteed that I would have survived if I had gone on beyond my sixteenth trip, no way.
DE: You wanted to fly then?
GW: Oh yes I was keen on doing it and more so when I got into it, em, I enjoyed the navigation side, I really did.
DE: That was another question em, how did you end up being a navigator rather than any of the other trades?
GW: Well this was the selection process, we had to do one or two tests. I suppose my maths was a little bit better than other people, or what they were looking for at the time. After all the personnel people in London knew what was going to happen in the future and they were planning accordingly. Perhaps there was a shortage of navigators. Remember I started off as an observer and I had to wear the “O” badge and not the “N” badge because we had done a little bit of gunnery, a little bit of bombing, a little bit of photography. Just to get the feel of it, em, when one was flying in Scotland I remember flying past the Blackpool Tower and having to take a photograph and getting that settled and that sort of thing, so we dabbled in the whole lot. It was that before the four-engine bomber coming in, okay the Stirling came in, in ‘42 wasn’t it? The build-up of the Lancaster they compartmentalised, or whatever the word is, we more or less specialised in the particular role. So navigation being the big thing. The bomb aimer up the front dropped bombs, he was also the front gunner and that was it, we had to go through a selection process and took various tests, including a maths test. That was it I was invited to train as an observer, and then actually flew operationally as a navigator.
DE: I see, thank you. You went through in great detail of the times and places where your training was. What was the experience like, leaving home and joining the RAF and the training?
GW: Remember I had left home before and I was living in lodgings in Hertfordshire. So I did use the word remember after the three weeks at Regent’s Park we went and I called it boot camp. Brighton that knocked out any thoughts that you were important at all [laugh]. The drill instructors they were moronic [laugh] without a doubt. I lived in the Grand Hotel in Brighton. We used to parade on the front and of course the AOC of the Training Group 54, that was it 54 Training Group, I can’t remember, was Air Commodore Critchley the great greyhound man and racing man. Nearly all his officers were jockeys, little shorties. We used to parade and these characters would be wandering around making sure we were standing to attention [laugh] then we used to go on drill and the sergeants we had were absolute morons. Lived in the Grand Hotel with none of its splendour. We had our folding beds with three mattresses and I think we had four blankets and two sheets. Every morning we had to make our own beds, and the sheets’ width when we folded them had to be the same thickness as the blankets. So you had blanket, sheet, blanket, sheet, blanket and one blanket round it. You realised within about twenty four hours of getting there that you were never going to sleep in the sheets, because if the bed wasn’t made up the way it was supposed to be. You got back to your hotel, back to your room and there would be the bed all over the place, knocked down by the sergeants, the DIs. Lots of drill, that was boot camp. We lived like that, had to get on with it, the weakest would not survive. Paignton was glorious, I must admit, the West Country was great, the weather was great and life was great. Eastbourne, no problems really except we had many a disturbed night’s sleep, hence the move of the unit to Bridgnorth where we were transferred. Then Stranraer in winter, I can think of better places. Although we were supposed to be the darlings of the world, aircrew cadets, we slept in Nissen huts in double bunks and half the course after we got into the flying side, half the course would be flying at night the others in the morning and there were sixty of us in the hut. It wasn’t exactly glamorous living, the food was awful and then from there it was to Lichfield, don’t remember much about it, I think we got on with more of the job of flying and things. Then Hemswell of course, we were okay, no not Hemswell, Lindholme, the Heavy Conversion Unit, it was mainly flying, we were NCOs, remember up in Scotland and up until graduation we were LACs, Leading Aircraftmen. Then on graduation became sergeants.
DE: Was there a great difference to how you were treated after you became sergeants?
GW: We used the sergeants’ mess, we weren’t restricted as much as when we were airmen. Again [unclear] after the flying, we did not have many administrative duties to do as aircrew. When one was on the Squadron was flying of virtually nothing.
DE: What did you do in your time off when you weren’t flying?
GW: We enjoyed ourselves [laugh] we were young enough to do that. It was on reflection later on in life when one was a little more mature, I had the greatest admiration for my pilot who had a very young son, was married and people like that who were in their thirties and things. We had nothing to lose quite frankly. I can never recall, standing on the peri-track waiting to go out to the aircraft thinking that we wouldn’t come back. There were some that did of course, some just had their problems. But no we really didn’t think that way we didn’t have that responsibility. Okay I had parents but parents are parents aren’t. No we just got on with the job, certainly from my point of view.
DE: Do you think it was different for your pilot having a young son?
GW: I don’t know quite frankly one didn’t talk in that sort of way. We were there as a crew, we lived together except for the pilot, for the, eh bomb aimer, who was an officer he lived in the mess the rest of us lived in a Nissen hut that’s the crew. My pilot was a great smoker, first thing in the morning he would put his hand out of the bed and get a cigarette then light it and then cough and wait for the wake-up call. He em, he’d never smoke in the air, he saw, when he was on his staff job he had a Polish pilot friend who used to get into the Blenheim or whatever they were flying and light up. One day he lit up and going down the runway opening up, the aircraft just went up. Bill’s view was had the aircraft been cleared for smoking then they would have allowed it, because everybody smoked in those days, or virtually everybody. Although he was a great smoker from the first light from waking up in the morning to going to bed, he never smoked in the air. And it used to be great fun because we’d get back, we did the odd nine hours sortie, we would all as we were taxying around to dispersal we would all get back to the rear door to get out to give him the clear run as soon as he had switched off his engines and done what he had to do. He was down that fuselage like a bull in a china shop, out of the aeroplane, over to the edge of the dispersal the great cigarette on [laugh].
DE: So did you not smoke then?
GW: I used to smoke a pipe. My dear father said to me if you are going to smoke, make sure you smoke a pipe. The first time I wore uniform, St John’s Wood, Regent’s Park, we got our uniforms that afternoon, three of us came out of the flats to go the cinema at Swiss Cottage and as we were just leaving the flats up came our young course officer. We threw him up a salute we thought, great stuff this is what you have to do, gave him a salute. He called me back and said ‘young man we don’t normally salute with a pipe in our mouth’ [laugh].
DE: The problems you had with your ears, what were the RAF medical services like, the medical officers in the hospital?
GW: Oh great no troubles at all.
DE: So what was the procedure for?
GW: Well in those days it was powder basically, the second time it was an injection [laugh].
DE: What in your ears?
GW: No it was a sort of type of penicillin we used if I remember. Certainly when I blew it the second time I finished up in hospital in Wegberg. I, used to get an injection for a few days, it was mainly playing it down. I had no trouble with them.
DE: So when the problem first occurred did you first have to report to the Medical Officer?
GW: Oh yes, landed you know I reported, told them what had happened in sick quarters. I can’t remember the time scale but a couple of days later I was off to hospital. I think Northallerton the RAF hospital there. I was there for a few weeks, it was there I was commissioned; I had to be let out of hospital to go down to, to go and buy my uniform and all that sort of stuff.
DE: So apart from when you had trouble with your ears you did not have any contact with the Medical Officer for any other reasons?
GW: No, nothing else wrong with me.
DE: You mentioned one point, I think when D-Day was on, you were actually at the aircrew reselection place at Eastchurch, I have read that this was a rather infamous place?
GW: In what way?
DE: I’ve read that was where people were sent who were LMF.
GW: Could be, wouldn’t know.
DE: Did you ever know or hear of anybody?
GW: Never met anybody, no.
DE: Any rumours?
GW: Possibly, yes possibly one heard about this sort of thing. There might have been some going through and of course they would have been shunted away. No chaps that sort of teamed up with they all went off to other flying duties.
DE: I’m also quite intrigued you – after the war you also got to flying Mosquitoes and Meteors and other aircraft. Which do you think was your favourite aircraft?
GW: Of those three? Oh the Lancaster without a doubt. I wasn’t a happy bunny in the all-weather world, I thought it was a blip chasing job and not a navigation job, but we did the odd navigation exercise and cross countries, n the main chasing another aeroplane, just as a blip on the screen was not my idea of navigation.
DE: Why did you want to get into Mosquitoes towards the end of the war?
GW: Well it was something new, one didn’t realise at the time. The second time I went back I had no choice I wasn’t meant to be back to it.
DE: So why in particular the Lancaster?
GW: Well of course it was the operational time of life. Remember my time on Mosquitoes and the jets was post-war it was only training all the time. Em, the Lancaster was just such a lovely aeroplane, it was reliable, it was fast for its time, mustn’t forget that. And one was doing the job for which one was trained. I was intrigued by navigation. I did do the staff and navigation course later on in life and part of that waiting to go on the course I spent a few hours on Canberras at Basingbourne before that closed down. Filling in time and then I went to Shawbury and did the staff N course. No navigation was intriguing and doing these long flights over to Germany in those days where you did not have all the facilities you have nowadays it was [laugh] it was a challenge.
DE: I suppose it was your job to see that your way should be in the bomber stream and arrived at the right time?
GW: Yeah absolutely. Yes you had it there and you had winds forecast and it was a forecast there was no met coming back from Germany [unclear]. I think the thing was, the only radar the Lancaster had was the Gee box and that used to get swamped by the time we got over Holland, about four degrees east you might get the odd circle afterwards. The big thing was to get as many wind fixes or fixes to take wind strength and things as you were flying over there from UK to Holland and then applying your own thoughts to the met forecast that you received and working on that and then, getting down to N=navigation and time keeping.
DE: Can you describe for me the process of getting a fix for the wind?
GW: Well take it from the radar, you knew the track you were flying, remember you had your map in front of you, your chart, get a fix on the Gee box and it was not analogue, you had to read it on the screen. So speed was of the essence, you get your fix, you plot it on the chart the Gee chart, transfer it onto the other chart. You knew what time you took it, you could work out where you should have been on your course, connect it up to your fix, which incidentally would tell you where you were relative to track and that would give you your wind speed and direction. Now speed is the essence, when you first started training you thought if you could do one, all this within ten minutes it was good going. After a little while on Lancasters and little experience you could do it in a couple of minutes. That was interesting when the war finished I told you I was going onto selection stage again. That we were flying Ansons and we were filling in time, this was at Half Penny Green and flying back on the Anson I could get a fix and read a book [laugh]. Peacetime flying and filling in time, I think I did a three hour cross country and only used one side of a log so completely happy. It is like everything else you become more experienced and more skilful. We weren’t too complicated with em, navigation aids or they could be. So really all we had was the Gee box and astro, we didn’t get any of the other things I think H2S came in and stuff like that. We never got that on 101 Squadron because we were carrying the extra body and extra equipment so the weight factor ruled it out.
DE: You mentioned Harris being at the briefing for the Peenemunde raid, what did you and your crew think to Harris?
GW: [laugh] what a man they called him Butch Harris. As a nineteen year-old two things that stood out at the briefing. First of all when we were all settled in the briefing room, we used to get officers not connected with operations coming in for briefings. I suppose the equipment officer or something like that. First thing he did was to order out anybody not directly connected with the raid. When that happened the curtains went back. He wasn’t gruff, no, another thing intriguing with him, sitting on the stage he had all these aircrew in front of him, what if we had twenty aeroplanes if we had that number, probably a little less, you were thinking in terms of a hundred and forty aircrew plus the various specialists who were also involved. So you had this whole room there, the Commander in Chief Bomber Command. Took a cigarette out of his case got his lighter to light it, it wouldn’t go, perfectly happy he kept flicking it until he did get a light. I thought that to some extent showed the calibre of the man, he wasn’t embarrassed, just got on with it and then at the end you know when he had the final word, his comment you know, ‘good luck chaps, but if you don’t get it tonight, you are going back tomorrow night and the night after’. I don’t suppose really it was until after the war, I read the Max Hastings book on the bomber offensive that one realised how lucky one was to survive sixteen trips. One might have thought then, God if I had known [laugh], who knows but, that’s how it was. It was a phase of life and I have often said it to people, I said it to a lady on Monday with two young children who was flag raising things who was asking me questions. I had to say to her, that 1939 onwards, we were all involved and there was a totally different approach to life from the recent, wars that we have had and God forbid I would have hated to be in any of these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where you could not identify your enemy from anybody else, but it only impacted on a small percentage of the population, i.e., those that were involved and their immediate families and circle and so people like myself and other. My son never served, my son in law he was in Northern Ireland but he didn’t do Iraq he was out before that. It had no direct impact on us and unless you’ve lived in the ’39 –‘45 bubble and the build up to it before and possibly as it started, it is difficult to envisage how people felt. You can possibly see that as a historian.
DE: Oh most definitely, yes. Which kind of leads me to another question. What are your feelings and thoughts about how the war and in particular how Bomber Command and Harris have been remembered?
GW: Badly, Harris was the only major commander who did not become a viscount. He was fobbed off with a Knight of Garter or something I’m not sure. Never got it anywhere [pause] and a lot of that was connected I think with Dresden and people tend to look on Dresden in a romantic light of the city as it was and not what it actually was. It was a major stumbling block for the Russians to move westwards, it was a railhead, it had armaments there and God knows and therefore it was a prime target at that time. It should have been bombed, the fact that it was destroyed, part of the game. People do not talk about Hanover sorry Hamburg and that suffered just as badly as Dresden did. I can recall when I was in Germany in ‘46 having come out of Hamburg in an armoured car, standing on it on the autobahn outside, looking back and its sheer desolation. But we do not talk about Hamburg because it was an industrial port and things like that. So, Bomber Command were badly done by, I’m never certain that we deserved a Bomber Command medal per se. I think what they have done by giving us the bar is on par with what they did for Fighter Command, Battle of Britain. So they didn’t strike any particular gong for the Battle of Britain which after all was the saving grace of the country at the time. They got us through that period when we were most vulnerable to build on things to get to where they got to in the end. They got their bars, I am perfectly happy with the bar I have got on my aircrew Europe. That did differentiate anyway Bomber Command the people who flew up to D-Day. D-Day got the aircrew Europe Star. People after D-Day got the France and Germany. So yes but I do think that Harris got the bum’s rush so to say and I think he deserved more.
DE: Thinking back to the start of your interview you did mention that you witnessed being on the wrong end of some Luftwaffe bombs in London and again V1s and V2s and then you also talked about was it Cologne and looking down seeing the fires burning because you were in the third wave.
GW: On the last wave, yes. As we approached. I didn’t mention it but this is a real thought a real target somewhere about one o’clock, or later. As we were going along before we got to the target I was thinking had I been on leave, I would have been out or thinking about going home em, at about the time we were bombing. So a little wave and I emphasise the word, a little wave of sympathy went through about doing it and then then it disappeared completely. I had no compunction after that at all. There was a war we were doing it, these targets had to be bombed. I do know some people did suffer, I met a chap at a reunion of 101 Squadron two or three years ago. He lives out at Wragby if he’s still there and he was still having nightmares and hated the Germans. I didn’t, I haven’t had nightmares I must admit. I don’t hate the Germans in fact I lived in Germany after the war as a NAAFI official and I had a Berlin operation, I was in charge of Berlin at one stage completely divorced from the Berlin budget and what went on in the zone. I remember I had a lovely secretary Frau [unclear] whose husband was a real German officer from the Prussian side and one day she was going on about being bombed out, he was in Berlin at the time, he lived in the forest, Charlottenberg area and she talked about being bombed out in 1943. I said ‘what date was that?’ and she told me, ‘I went home because I’d been to Berlin’. Next I said ‘I wasn’t over here that night’ [laugh]. That’s how we got on and we kept in touch for many years after I left Berlin. She died several years ago, no I never had any problem. It’s a phase in life and I said to somebody the other day to me the war was very good because it got me out of printing [laugh] which I did not enjoy one little bit. In those days you know young chaps didn’t have a choice in careers, it was virtually sorted out by the parents. You didn’t have the freedom that they have nowadays. To become a printer was way up on top of the working ladder. Not so sure it is nowadays with unions and who knows what, but no, for me it was a release. Also taking the chance that I did because when I packed it up I was only on a four year commission to start with and I got my permanent commission when I was there.
DE: And then got to see a bit of the world a bit?
GW: And see a lot of the world, so very privileged.
DE: Smashing, I think I have ticked all the little notes I have made. Right at the end if you could tell me your thoughts on the memorial itself that we are building.
GW: I think it is a wonderful idea. I first met the Lord Lieutenant when I, shortly after I became a district councillor and we had our annual civic service and I remember going to that. I was a very new boy, this was in 2007 and the leader of the council, Mayor Marion Brighton introduced me to him, because I had been in Bomber Command and we chatted. I remember him saying to me, I think that this was before the London memorial was built, ‘I think it should be here in Lincolnshire, not in London’. So many of the boys took their last steps in Lincolnshire, you know the twenty two thousand, too their last steps in this county. I remember saying to him, “I quite see where you are coming from sir, I called him sir, but at the end of the day London is the capital of the country and a memorial of that sort should be in London’. I admire him because he did not take any action or overt actions until that was up and then he started. I think he has done a wonderful job and he has an RAF background through his father and his grandfather ha, ha. And I think he is still doing it and I look forward to still being here on the 2nd of October. Who is going to do it or is that still hush, hush.
DE: It is still hush hush.
GW: I don’t care, just want to be here.
DE: Thanks very much.
GW: Pleasure, nice to talk to you.
DE: Oh no pressed record. This is Geoffrey Whittle again, same day same place.
GW: The daily routine on the squadron assuming you hadn’t flown the previous night. Usual thing, get up in the morning, breakfast, go down to the flight or the squadron and Ludford Magna, we lived on one side of the Louth Market Rasen road and the airfield was on the other side. So you go down to the, squadron, might be something going on locally, or not very much. But the main focus was on what was going to happen that night, so you’d be waiting for the battle order to come out. Soon as that was out and pinned up you looked to see if you were on. If you were on the op then your day was conditioned. As a navigator, we would more often than not have pre-nav briefings before the main briefing, that would be a fixed time. Go out to the aircraft and meet the ground crew, not necessary the same aeroplane every time eh, check it over, your own little bit. The gunners would go do what they wanted to do. Then back of to lunch. If I had a nav briefing in the afternoon then you would go down and do your pre-flight planning, then back to the billet. Then off course main briefing, meals main briefing that sort of things, off you go. We were flying in the summer time so all our trips were pretty late at night. Take off, your take off time was fixed then off you go and then ninety percent of the time you would be climbing over base to an operational height and the skies over Lincolnshire used to be pretty full of aeroplanes I can tell you. We developed a system of getting out of it. Saw no point in hanging around, circling with all these people doing the same thing, so we, so we used to shoot off west and climbing steadily and my job then as a navigator to get them back at height over base at the right time, then we would set course. Do the op, get back, land, debrief, breakfast, bed. Sometimes bed would not be until five of six o’clock in the morning. I told you earlier on after our Berlin trip there was no bed it was into Louth, getting the train off on leave. That was it and that went on day in and day out. Then of course we did not fly during the moon period, then you were free, you could do what you liked. There was no booking in or booking out at the guardroom, as senior NCOs and officers you could do as you liked.
DE: So where did you go?
GW: Used to go into Louth.
DE: What were the attractions in Louth?
GW: I couldn’t possibly tell you [laugh]. I could actually it was quite innocent I met a very nice young lady whose parents owned the, was it the Kings Head in Louth? It’s deteriorated, it was quite a nice hotel in these days and they also owned one in Boston. She ran the one in Louth and the parents ran the one in Boston and I would go into Louth and stay the night. Separate rooms I hasten to add. There was none of that nonsense going on in these days. Well it did go on but it didn’t go on in my life. So I would go into Louth or might stay in for the evening and go to the mess, whatever was going on, but, we were not restricted, we were free.
DE: Did you ever go to the NAAFI?
GW: Not as a sergeant. We lived on NAAFI food in Scotland I can tell you the mess food was dire, it was so appalling we had to use it. Yes as an airman I would go into the NAAFI but once one graduated if that was the right word, it was sergeants’ mess, you didn’t go to the NAAFI.
DE: Okay.
GW: They were nothing like they are today I can tell you or they were. They don’t operate in this country now.
DE: Yes quite. Okay thank you very much, I shall press stop again.



Dan Ellin, “Interview with Geoffrey Whittle,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 24, 2024,

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