Interview with Ralph Wild


Interview with Ralph Wild


Ralph Wild grew up in Yorkshire. He originally served as ground personnel with Fighter Command but he later remustered and became a navigator and flew operations with Bomber Command.







01:17:07 audio recording


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GR: Right. This is Gary Rushbrooke, for the Bomber Command Association. I am with Flying Officer Ralph Wild on the 24th of February 2016. We’re in Sheffield but Ralph lives in Canada and we’re doing the interview in Sheffield. So. Ralph, I know we’re in Sheffield, and you’re in Canada.
RW: Yes.
GR: Was you born in Sheffield?
RW: No I was born in Rotherham. Rotherham, Yorkshire. Kimbolton, Rotherham, Yorkshire. 27th of September 1918. And, um —
GR: Just as World War One was finishing.
RW: I was actually in — I was in two World Wars. That’s right.
GR: Yeah.
RW: So I was in the First World War and the Second. Ok. Well in 1938, the present — the Prime Minister of Britain, Neville Chamberlain, went over to see Hitler and thought that he was armed to the teeth and we of course, between the wars, had been demobilising and had nothing whatsoever. Particularly fighters. And so he saw there was a real problem, so he had to correct this. Anyway he got Hitler to give him the Peace Treaty which came back waving Peace and saying, ‘Peace in my time.’ So as soon as he got back again, his aim was to buy time. He knew he couldn’t cope with Germany the way they were right then. And actually, between 1938 and 1939, they built six hundred Hurricanes and Spitfires which the Germans knew nothing about. They thought we were flying all kinds of aircraft but nothing of the air quality, what they had, 109s, you see. And that really was the difference between the Battle of Britain. Losing or winning. That’s what it amounted to. Anyway, they also realised that they had no personnel to supervise the planes and everything else like that, so he brought about Conscription. So anybody that was the age of twenty was automatically conscripted into the Army. And of course, I was one of those. So I went to Derby, I think it was.
GR: I’ll just back-track a little bit to before you was conscripted. So, born in Rotherham. Brothers? Sisters?
RW: I have, I have two sisters. I’m the youngest of three children.
GR: Right.
RW: My sister Nora was born in 1912. My second sister was born in 1915. And I was born in 1918. We’re all three years apart.
GR: Yep.
RW: So I was the baby in the family. Of those two girls. Yeah.
GR: And did you grow up in the Rotherham area?
RW: Yes, yes. I did all my education in the Rotherham area. And then I worked for the Municipality. The County Borough of Rotherham.
GR: Right.
RW: That’s where I worked when I graduated. Anyway, coming back to the thing there. So I went to see them in the army and I said I wanted to join the air force. You could volunteer for the air force and the navy but you weren’t conscripted.
GR: That’s right, yeah.
RW: So. The army didn’t get deferred. So they said, [unclear], nothing to do with us [unclear]. So they deferred me, so I wasn’t called up until later. All my friends that I’d gone to school with had all gone in the army, you see. So I was the only one that went in the air force. But it was a really good thing because I went in, but of course, going in at that level, I could only go, I was only going in for six months you see. And so you couldn’t obviously go for air crew or what-have-you. It was impossible. So I go before the Attestation Officer and he says, ‘What do you know about the barometer?’ I say, ‘You want the Kew or the Fortin type?’ He looks at me and he says, ‘You mean there’s two, son?’ [laughs] This was an officer. I says, ‘Yes.’ He says, ‘Knowledge like that, you’re an instrument repairer.’ So he asked me one question in the air force and I became an instrument repairer. So I became an instrument repairer. So they immediately transferred me and I went to Cranwell. I learnt to become and instrument repairer at Cranwell. So that’s how the whole thing started. Aye, when War started on September the 3rd, I immediately volunteered for air crew. But they wouldn’t accept me for air crew because I was fully-trained ground crew. And ground crew were scarce as hen’s teeth and they said they couldn’t sacrifice me from ground crew. So they said, ‘You stay on as ground crew but we’ll put your name down for air crew and when the situation improves, you’ll get transferred to air crew. Three and a half years later, my air crew posting came through.
GR: Right, we’ll talk about that later. So, yeah. So September the 3rd 1939.
RW: Yeah. So then I was then really transferred. So I was then, on graduation, they sent me up to Church Fenton and I was — They formed 249. Well actually I was sent to 242 Squadron which was a Canadian Squadron as a matter of fact. Which Bader got eventually. But when I got there, they were already — Churchill had agreed with France, that it he would supply so many fighter squadrons to go France to help the French because the French had nothing at all, you see. This is against the RAF personnel, they didn’t want — because they were short of aircraft anyway. And they were going to give these aircraft away, which we lost too many really. Anyway this was what transpired. Now they had the Bristol bomb bay sitting on the airfield when I got there. And they said, ‘Oh. You’re going to go over to France.’ So I had to go straight away to the medical officer to get my ‘flu shots because it’s always, ‘He’s service.’ So I went and got my ‘flu shot. When I came back again, the planes were taking off so I got left behind. So there was me sitting there with 242 Squadron, you see. Nothing to do. So anyway, three days later, 249 Squadron was being formed at Church Fenton. So they dumped me from 242, and made me 249, so I became one of the three instrument repairers at 294 Squadron.
GR: At the foundation of the squadron.
RW: Foundation of the squadron. And when we got there, they had Fairey Battles, Miles Masters, Miles Magisters, Boulton Paul Defiants, Lysanders. It had everything but — they had no fighters. Well, they had Fairey Battles which was absolutely terrible. Oh, well, we had a Blenheim. They had a Blenheim. That’s we had on the squadron. [laughs] And eventually they got rid of all this junk and they sent a full squadron of fighters came in there. So we did all our preparation training there and when we’d finished our training at Church Fenton, they moved us to Leconfield and we all [unclear] from Leconfield. Patrol up and down the North Sea protecting the shipping. The Germans were bombing the shipping, you see, in the North Sea so we had to protect them [unclear] there. And then when we went — Moved from there to Boscombe Down in Wiltshire because we had now to protect Southampton. Southampton was getting more attacks than what the other was. So we defended that. On our squadron was Flight Lieutenant Nicholson, you’ve probably heard of him.
GR: He was to win the V.C. Yeah.
RW: The first fighter V.C. of the war. Anyway, he was on the squadron there and Middle Wallop was the other station. Just the two stations were protecting Southampton. Well after — Do you want to know anything about Nicholson at all?
GR: You carry on.
RW: Ok. Anyway, one of these sorties, Flight Lieutenant Nicholson, he was in charge of ‘B’ Flight and he went up and he was attacked by a German fighter and he was shot at and his plane caught fire. And he stayed with the plane as long as he possibly could and he actually got burnt. Anyway he baled out of the aircraft and when he came down, the Home Guard, as you probably know, was being formed at that time there and they were very trigger-happy and they thought it was a German coming down then so they shot at him. [laughs] And they shot him in the foot. So this caused a bit of an embarrassment, you see. So all in all, it transpired that he got the V.C. Now whether there’s any connection, it’s hard to say. But you’ve got the first fighter V.C. Anyway.
GR: He was one of the pilots that you looked after.
RW: That’s right.
GR: As an instrument —
RW: I was on ‘B’ Flight so he was on my squadron. So, same as Neil.
GR: Tom Neil.
RW: Tom Neil. He was on — I was on his squadron too. I flew his plane. I looked after all these planes that they flew. All these things, yeah. Anyway. As we go to that then, the — I think it was 77 Squadron. Now it was 75 Squadron or 77 Squadron. We were at North Weald. And they got completely decimated and they were down to five pilots and about seven or eight aircraft. That’s all they had left. So they thought it was impossible to regenerate them there, so they kicked them out of there and sent them to Boscombe Down. And we were sent in from Boscombe Down to North Weald then for the [unclear] war. We served in the Battle of Britain in their place the whole time. And I stayed there —
GR: So you was at North Weald during the majority of the Battle of Britain.
RW: Yeah.
GR: Was — Well, I know North Weald was bombed. Was you ever under fire by the Germans?
RW: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. We, we — In fact they dropped, they dropped a land mine and it landed right in the middle of the airfield there and it didn’t go off, so we were all evacuated, sort of thing, ‘till they actually finally got the bomb disposal squad to come over and get rid of it. But, oh yeah, we were bombed. But we weren’t at the station. North Weald was the permanent station but we were sent across the aerodrome to dispersal. It was a mile across, for the field. Right beside the Epping Forest. And we were stationed the whole time in Bell tents. There was about eight or ten men to a Bell tent. Right through the, right through the Battle of Britain. I never heard any —
GR: It was a warm summer, so — [laughs]
RW: A warm summer as luck would have it. But oh, it was pretty hazardous. Anyway we survived that and it was, it was pretty treacherous because the, you know, sleeping in a Bell tent when you had to sleep with your feet to the pole and all we had was a gas mask for pillows. They gave us a tin helmets to put on our head so whenever there was a raid, [laughs] all we did was just put our tin hats over our head and hope for the best, ‘cause you had a canvas cover to protect you, you see. And actually, right alongside there, was these shelters for the aircraft. You know, they had these booths, like and then inside there was actually places like air raid shelters. That’s what it amounts to. But coming out of the station there, Beamish — Beamish. He was in charge of this, this wing commander and he said it was unhealthy, or the medical officer said, unhealthy to go into these things they had, so we were forbidden to go in these things so we had to stay in our Bell tents the whole time we were there. The glorious thing about this was that we had to — The Hurricane didn’t get recognition, of course as you know, in relation to the Spitfire. Just like the Halifax never got recognition in relation to the Lancaster. But the thing is that, in my opinion, the Hurricane out-did the Spitfire in the sense it could turn inside but it was the maintenance was the big thing. Like if our aircraft got shot up at all, well it came down and had holes in it like that, but all the riggers would do, they’d go up to there and they put a thing there, put a plastic — then put a canvas patch over it.
GR: Patch over it.
RW: Put the thing there, and all. It set and they could fly again. Now a Sptifire, if it had anything like that, it had holes in it but it had to be riveted. They had to make a patch.
GR: Panel.
RW: Then rivet this thing on there. So we could actually, we had timed it, we could actually, our planes would come down again, we could refuel them, re-arm them and everything like that and within about an hour and fifteen minutes, we could go up again. Spitfire couldn’t come close. Couldn’t come close. So we really were far more efficient in that sense, than they were. And I say, particularly like, a perfect example is the oxygen. The oxygen bottle in the Hurricane, there was a small panel on the side there, and you just took the, undid four screws like this, took the thing out and the other thing, you had to unscrew the thing, took the oxygen bottle out, threw it onto the ground, got all the new bottles, put it in there, thread there, and they went on, you see, we had twelve aircraft to do you see, when they came down. [laughs]
GR: Yeah. [laughs]
RW: It was just like ants. You see. A mass of bodies there, following the planes, you know. As soon as they came in, you followed them. A fellow chased up into the cockpit and so we did our bit like this. We changed all these bottles. But the amazing part about it was, that if you were in that time, if we lost probably one or two aircraft that day, that same evening, they telephoned to the Hawker factory and say we wanted two more aircraft and the ladies would fly from Hawker Hurricane, these planes, and they flew them straight to our airfield and they were followed by like a Blenheim or something or other, an officer or something, to pick them up and take them back again.
GR: ATA ferry pilots, wasn’t it.
RW: And it was our job then. We had to have that plane ready for 9.00 a.m. the next morning. And of course it had been come from the factory to us and was not airworthy by RAF standards so we had to go in every one of those aircraft and go through it and make sure it, everything worked. And if it needed adjustments, we’d work until it got too dark, then we’d go to bed and about 4.00 or 5.00 o’clock in the morning, we’d get up again. Run out to the aircraft.
GR: And get going.
RW: We had to do it by 9.00 o’clock. It was laid down. 9.00 o’clock, that plane had to fly.
GR: Yeah.
RW: And we did it. Every plane flew off on time. It was marvellous the system they worked out, how these ladies could fly these planes and they were picked up and taken away.
GR: Excellent.
RW: We never lost out at all from the whole thing. And,er —
GR: So you survived the Battle of Britain.
RW: Yep. Survived the Battle of Britain.
GR: And then how did your RAF career progress from there?
RW: Yeah, well. That’s right. Well of course, when it came to, I guess the end of October, the beginning of November, things tapered off and there wasn’t much, you know, compared to what we’d had, servicing the aircraft right through the Battle of Britain. So I volunteered for Overseas Service and I got posted to Crete and so I went home on Embarkation Leave for khaki, pith helmet and full khaki outfits like this. And I went out to the west coast there and I got into this camp and they caught me in the wrong camp. It was like, three — One, Two and Three Camps, like that, and they put me in Three Camp. So when I went into Three Camp, I went out on parade for three days and they never called my name. So after the third day, I thought, ‘There’s something screwy here.’ See. So I went over to the flight sergeant and I said, ‘How come you don’t call my name?’ He said, ‘Who the hell are you?’ He says, ‘You’re on a charge.’ I says, ‘What for?’ He says, ‘You don’t have your white flash on your helmet.’ I said, ‘I don’t have a white flash.’ He said, ‘Aren’t you here as a trainee?’ I says, ‘No.’ I says, ‘I’m ground crew.’ He says, ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ So I should have been in Two Camp instead of Three Camp. So they posted me to Two Camp and I go before the officer. It had been, well for three days, you see. So he takes off his hat and he scratches his head, he says, ‘There’s something wrong here, somewhere. The kid’s been in camp for three days. How could he be able —‘ Well. He says, ‘My system’s — Well, the next boat that’s on it, you’re on it.’ And it came to Canada. [laughs] So that’s how I got to Canada. Instead of going to Crete. So. And the thing was that, the glorious thing was that when you got to — and the sent us up to [unclear] and they took us over on tenders, from the ship, ‘cause the ships were out on the estuary, of course.
GR: Yeah, yeah.
RW: So they had to take us all on one of these tenders, so we went over to — I was finally — we were passed to a French luxury liner. Just been converted. It was being made into a troop ship at that stage in the game, it had just been taken over, so it had swimming pools and everything. It was just exactly the same as it was in peace time. So we travelled First Class coming back over then. Anyway, on board ship with us was about a hundred or so navy men. We couldn’t figure out what this was. Anyway when we got there, they said, ‘All RAF persons go to the starboard side of the ship.’ So we go to the starboard side of the ship. They say, ‘Take off your khaki and put on your blues.‘ We couldn’t figure out what this was, you see. And it turned out, what transpired, so we learned, that the spies were watching the harbour and they saw all these khaki going on board the thing there, so they thought, they guessed, they’re going to go down through Gibraltar. And they were going to warn the submarines, you see, about it. This was what we all figured out. So anyway, we couldn’t figure out what the navy were doing, anyway. But also alongside of us was the ‘Cape Town Castle’. Another ship and it turned out that this was taking back London children from London to Canada. Evacuated them to Canada. This was what it turned out to be. Well anyway, we started out and we get south of Ireland, going like this. We ran into a huge storm. And I mean a storm. You know, the ‘Cape Town Castle’ were completely disappearing in a hole. Masts and everything, just completely disappeared. And then when it came up over the top there, we were going down. The screws would come out of the water like this and as it went in again, the whole ship would shudder when it cleared the thing, and we’d do like the same. It was way past — French luxury liner was doing exactly the same. We came up there and our screws came out of the water and got on the top. The whole ship would shake when the screws bit the water again, like. It was quite an experience. Anyway, we gets three and a half days later, we came back to White Cliffs, you see. We thought they’d brought us back to Dover and it turned out, is what you see ahead of you is Canada. So we arrive in Halifax harbour and four abrest, as far as the eye could see, was World War One American destroyers. Four form of destroyers. And Churchill had just bought this Land Lease business.
GR: Yeah, Land Lease. Yep.
RW: And they bought these things because the Battle of the Atlantic was in full force at that time and in consequence of that, they had to have protection. And so we didn’t have enough ships. We were losing ships faster that what they were making them, you se. So he got all these ships here and this is what these navy men were. Now they were secret dogs [?] in the French luxury liner coming over and [unclear] they had to take these things back and they were, left the — So anyway, we thought, ‘Oh well, now, we’re going to go down.’ Because we didn’t know where to camp there. We were just the next ship. You know. We’re going to it. We thought, ‘Now we’re going to dump them off and we were going to go down, down to Gibraltar.’ Next thing you know, they tell us to go ashore. We go ashore and they put us into, in ‘Canadian National’. Of course the ‘Canadian Pacific’ was passengers and the ‘Canadian National’ was frigate. So they didn’t have many passenger trains. Anyway, we were in this stinking passenger train. They put us in this train. And they locked us in the train. Locked us in the train. They were afraid we might escape, you see. [laughs] So locked us right in the train. So anyway, we get as far as Truro, Nova Scotia, and they allowed us to wind the windows down and the people fed apples to us up there and said, ‘You’re going to go west.’ You see. So we [laughs], we went on this thing there sort of thing. So we get to Montreal, and we get to Montreal. We’re allowed to, because they’d just ordered carriages. No sleeping accommodation. It’s sleeping — for feeding they used to come down this centre of the thing there with vats and you’d have knife, fork and spoon on your plate on your lap, you see. And they slap potatoes on, whereas like this you see, you’d eat on your lap like this. Pretty frugal, I tell you. Anyway, we get to Montreal and they were afraid we might escape so they had military police, arm to arm all along the platform there, ‘cause we were allowed to come out and stretch our legs, you see, because, you know, you’d just sit in the seat.
GR: Yeah, yeah.
RW: All of the time. All of the time. And so, so then we get back on the train again and they said, ‘You’re going to go west.’ Next thing, we come to Winnipeg. When we get to Winnipeg, there’s no military police, no [unclear]. They had Number 2 Air Command Band playing for us on the platform there. Playing, giving us a welcome, you see. Again they said, ‘You’re going to go west.’ So we immediately thought we were going to out to Vancouver then go down through the Panama Canal and go through into Gib that way, you see. It turned out nothing of the kind. So two and half hours later, the train comes to a jolting halt and we look out of the window there, because this is December the 4th 1940 and snow, snow as far as, I say, way in the distance leads to a grain elevator, you see. It turned out to be Carberry. And that’s the station. Of course Greyhound Pacific was a passenger station but the Canadian National wasn’t a station at all. So it was just a little tiny hut which said Carberry on it at the side there. But no station. Nothing. So we had landed there and so we had to, we were disembarked from there, so we had to jump down. There was no platform. We had to jump down with kit bags. Right down, you know, three or four feet. You know, down to the ground. Well it was — They’d dumped all these kit bags. And they were supposed to have transportation to take us to the camp, you see.
GR: The camp, yeah.
RW: But, well, we started to march and we had to boot kit bags up and kit bags down all the way through for about half a mile, I guess. Then finally the trucks arrived and they took all our kit bags. But then we still had to march two miles, and this is December the 4th and December the 4th in Canada is not exactly summer weather. So we had little, you know, wedge hats and ordinary greatcoats and everyone marched to this camp. When we get to this camp there, that was a revelation. We were the first RAF to come to Canada, on December 4th, and we were started in the [unclear], we were the first. The Commonwealth Air Training Plan was being started. So Carberry where we were, was, they had the runways in, they had no hangars but they had the facilities. They had the hospital and the accommodation, that sort of thing, all fixed, and they were gradually building it all up there. And we were being brought over, as ships permitted, you see, to bring six, until we were fully made up and continued to make up the Commonwealth Air Training Plan, in being — So, I say, well anyway, we walked into these huts, and I'd been living in Bell tents for months and they had hardwood floors, they had twenty-two beds. Twin stacking beds. And they had heaters on each end of the thing there, and they were looked after by civilians. Looked after the heating system for the thing there. And of course we’d had no heat at all in there. So. Then you went between, like each type of building and the connecting thing there was ablutions. They had hot and cold running water, baths, showers. Oh, after being — because when I’d been at, in a tent there, when I’d been, as an instrument repairer, you were in three’s, you see, so you had A Flight, B Flight and Maintenance. But on Fighter Command, you never needed Maintenance because the ships never, the planes never were full long enough to go into Maintenance. So the Maintenance man was a spare part. So what we did on the squadron was — I was on B Flight. There was A Flight, B Flight, Maintenance. So the Maintenance man was the spare man and his job was to look after the oxygen. That’s how we worked it, so I say, when a plane came in, you dumped the oxygen bottle, threw it on the ground, you collect all these things there and every morning, every morning at the base, and they’d send a truck over and you’d dump all these empty bottles onto the truck there. And the Maintenance man, the man who was Maintenance that day, he went back to the camp and refuelled all these oxygen bottles. And that third day was the saviour of my life because I’d be able to get washed. Because we had no facilities out there. There’s no hot and cold running water. They used to bring hot water over to us and I say, we had outside biffies and oh. We were really frugal there, I’ll tell you. But every third day I could wash my undies.
GR: And what-have-you.
RW: It was really — You couldn’t wait for the third day. It was — You lived —
GR: So it’s winter in Canada but it’s luxury.
RW: So anyway, when I got to, I say, there. So we lived in this Canadian quarters and we had nothing to do between the whole of December. Nothing to do. ‘Cause, you know, we were not that —
GR: No aircraft, no nothing.
RW: And they started bringing aircraft over. They started bringing Ansons over, like the fuselage separate from the wings and we were supposed to assemble these things there and in the time, in the three months, I think, we made five aircraft. So. You need — How many aircraft do you need? Since I was Flying Training School. So the thing didn’t work at all so they realised it wasn’t going to work because they were sinking so many ships, you see, that they weren’t coming and when they came to us, we had to take an airspeed off and an airspeed indicator from this thing, put it in this plane and — Substituting all round, it just didn’t work. So then the government decided that was for the [unclear]. So they arranged with the American government to get Harvards. And of course America was not at war of course until ‘41, so they were neutral. So they couldn’t give them. They couldn’t supply these to us, so what they did, they flew the planes to the border and left them there. And then they pushed them over the border and we took these planes and flew them to Calgary. That’s how we got the planes. [laughs] So it was fine. And another FTS became the first station there to turn out pilots.
GR: And you was there as instrument fitter, maintenance.
RW: I was instrument repairer.
GR: Ground crew.
RW: I was always senior, you see, because I was, everybody else, I was an LAC. And I came out as an LAC. All these other kids were AC2s. They’d all come in. So of course I was automatically promoted to Corporal. In the meantime, in Britain, they had instrument repairer 1s and instrument repairers 2s. Like when I’d taken the course, it was, that was the only course there was. But then of course as things developed, they started to get all these other things like, they had George, you know, the automatic pilot and things like that which I hadn’t been taught on because it wasn’t part of the set-up at that stage. And so they had to have another course now, because of radar coming into being. So these other people went back on to become instrument repairer 1s. But I was never anything but an instrument repairer 2, so I couldn’t train in Canada as there was no facilities there, so I had to go back again, which I didn’t want to do anyway, or out to [unclear] so they ordered my, they made me an acting corporal. They couldn’t make me a full corporal because this had to be — I had to be a 1, an instrument repairer 1 to get a full corporal. So I went for three and a half years, I was an acting corporal, never got higher, I couldn’t get promotion. But anyway, that’s the way it was. But anyway, it was — The Canadian people were simply marvellous to us. And when it came to Christmas time, I don’t know whether you know this, it’s the custom in the Royal Air Force that all RAF personnel get a week off for Christmas and all the Scots people get a week off for New Year. That’s the custom in the Air Force. So anyway, the Commanding Officer got us all together and said, ‘There’s nothing doing for Christmas, so if anybody wants to go down to Winnipeg.’ So they laid on a military plane. It came from way in the west, picked up all the people and it brought them into Winnipeg there. And when you got to Winnipeg, just before Christmas, they had all this, Women’s Auxiliary in Winnipeg. All lined up on the platform with their husbands and what-not, like that, and you were instructed to give your name and the town you came from. So I was Ralph Wild from Rotherham, Yorkshire, you see. And so I was never claimed. There was about a hundred and some people there picked up and finally a man came up to me and he said, ‘Where are you from?’ And I said, ‘I’m from Rotherham.’ He says, ‘Oh.’ He says, ‘Well I’m from Leicester.’ He says, ‘I was born in Leicester.’ He says, ‘But I’ve already got a Leicester boy but I’ve got a large house.’ He says, ‘And I’ve got two daughters there.’ He says, ‘Do you want to come and stay with me?’ He says, ‘There’s accommodation for you.’ So I said, ‘Fine.’ So I went to stay with them for a week. And I had a ball because they took me to hockey games, they took me to — Oh I had a real, I tell you, for real. They really looked after us. So I get back to camp again one week later, commanding officer gets us together, ‘There’s no change in the arrangements, nothing developing. If anybody’s got any money left and want to go down for another week, you can do.’ You see. So I thought, ‘This is a wonderful idea.’ So I go back, ‘cause I hadn’t spent a penny, on the thing there. And Mrs Hancox, the lady, she says, ‘Anytime you’re in Winnipeg,’ she says, ‘this is your second home.’ And I thought, ‘That’s wonderful,’ you see.
GR: That’ll do me.
RW: So I come back down again and as I get on the platform, I think, ‘I can’t go back to her and say I’m here again,’ you know, ‘for another week.’ So I thought, ‘I’ll go through the assembly line.’ So I went through the assembly line. I was allocated to a man from Liverpool. Mr Ormiston [?], and they were an older couple, so I had a quiet New Year, but it was nothing compared, thing, anyway half way through the week, I’m in Heaton [?] store in Winnipeg and who shall I run into but Mrs Hancox. She said, ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘I’m down for another week.’ She said, ‘Oh terrific.’ She says, ‘I’ve just a bit more shopping and you can come home.’ I said, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ She says, ‘Why not?’ I says, ‘I’m already assigned somebody else.’ ‘Oh.’ She says, ‘I told you could come to me.’ I says, ‘I can’t look the gift horse in the mouth and come two weeks, you know.’ She says, ‘That’s my decision, not yours.’ she says. And it turned out she was very upset. She thought I was looking for something better.
GR: Oh dear.
RW: It hit her straight away I was looking for something else, you know. And it did — it took me three months to convince her that it wasn’t that at all. So then I used to go to her, oh she was marvellous. I say it was a second home to you and I was there for all this length of time and it went on from there. So I think it was [unclear] from one to another. So I had a ball. I say, of course, I met my wife, of course, in 1940, ’41 I guess, I met my wife.
GR: Was she one of the daughters?
RW: One — er — [laughs] No, no.
GR: Oh right.
RW: Oh no. No. There’s a long story there.
GR: So you were actually based in Canada for three years.
RW: Three years.
GR: On instrument fitting, maintenance, yeah, yeah.
RW: I was always a corporal the whole time I was there. So anyway the thing was that we used to go down, every second weekend we were allowed to go down into, anywhere you wanted. Most people went to Brandon or they went to Winnipeg monthly and yes, I had a weekend to stay with these different people, you see, like that. So one of these weekends, it’s one of the fellas that was running the week, he went down and he got allocated, you know, then you went — Stood on the platform, and he got picked up by these people. Every Friday afternoon, there were people, they were waiting, they knew we were coming in you see. And he got picked up by, it turns out that my wife’s family, the Eastons, and they took him and he we was a wine, women and song, you know, you name it, he did it. He could drink and he did it. You name it. And of course my wife’s family were quite staid people, they were quite religious people and no drink at all and blah, blah, blah, so this wasn’t his kettle of fish really, you know. Anyway they took him up to Gull Lake. They had a cottage at Gull Lake you see. So they took him. This was the summer time. So they took him up to Gull Lake and he had this nice [unclear] you see, so when he came back again, he said, ‘Wow.’ He said, ‘I’ve got the perfect place for you,’ he says. ‘Next weekend,’ he says, ‘you go down with them.’ So the next forty-eight, I went down with him. They took me to the Easton’s place, you see. When I went in there and my wife, it turns out, she was a registered nurse and she had certain weekends off as happens, you know, and this one weekend, she had this weekend off. Anyway, sat around the dining room table and I looked across at her, I don’t know what it was, the bell rang and I took one look at her, that was it. I never looked at another girl. It’s the funniest thing I — I can’t explain it, but it was there. It was just something hit. So we got on like a house on — so eventually we got, I was engaged to her and we got married in, June 12th 1943. And so we went on our honeymoon to Niagara Falls and [coughs] and when we came back again, August the 4th, on August the 1st, my aircrew posting came through in 1943, my aircrew posting came through.
GR: So you’ve waited nearly four years, you’ve got married.
RW: Got married.
GR: And then you’re aircrew.
RW: So I then I got sent to Regina there and I became a navigator. And I was, because of my age of course, I’m an old man. Everybody else is eighteen, nineteen, twenty. And of course I’m, by this time I’m an old man.
GR: So your aircrew training took part in Canada.
RW: Yeah. The whole thing.
RW: Yeah, I went through the course, because of my knowledge, of you know, I was experienced before, the experience that I had, obviously, I came out top of the lot. So then I got my commission. So I was posted then back on Bomber Command, and, so that was a bit of a problem, anyway, so, and they sent me back on Bomber Command and they sent me up to Lossiemouth.

GR: So when did you leave Canada? When did you actually leave Canada to come back across the Atlantic?
RW: Well I got, that was in —
GR: Roughly.
RW: In March
GR: ’44.
RW: In March of ’44. March of ’44 ‘cause I got married in ’43 and yes, March of ’44, I graduated as a flying officer. I was top of the class. And so I got preference treatment and I got sent to Lossiemouth.
GR: Was your new wife left back in Canada?
RW: At that stage, yes.
GR: Right, I’ll —
RW: She was a — There’s a story behind that too.
GR: So you end up in Lossie, you’ve arrived in Lossiemouth.
RW: So I arrived in Lossiemouth, yeah. She was back in Canada. And she was pregnant by this time, but anyway I get up to Lossiemouth there and fate, most of my life, fate played a hand. I don’t know what it was. It was there. But I was allocated to these officers’ quarters and on the bed on my left was a flight lieutenant and he was a pilot and obviously quite experienced, you see, and I was navigator here in the second bed and a man on my right was Bert Jenkins and he was a bomb aimer. He was a flying officer too. And he had trained in South Africa. I had trained in Canada. And the pilot had trained in United States. And he went over, trained as a pilot, and he graduated top of his class so they kept him back instructing for two and half years in America, so he came back as a qualified pilot. In fact he became a squadron leader. He took over my squadron. Ted’s squadron. He took over Ted’s squadron. Anyway. So there we were, three men, all — I was twenty-six, Bert was twenty-seven and he was twenty-five. Three men. Everybody else was eighteen, nineteen or twenty. Except us. So we were old men. Old as the whole crew. So anyway, we get together and compare notes and Les [unclear] my pilot, he turned round to me, he said — Well what they used to do is they used to form up crews and they’d actually all assemble in the hangar and get, fraternise around in the hangar there and usually the pilot would select a navigator , the navigator then selected a bomb aimer and he selected a wireless — and they go down the line like that. And you make up your crew. And that was one of the glorious things about the Royal Air Force. Smartest thing they ever did. They could have said, ‘Joe [unclear] pilot, Sam Small navigator, Willie White, thing.’
GR: Yeah.
RW: Here’s your crew. Go to it. And when they get on to the squadron there, the pilot, the navigator, will say, ‘How the hell could they give me such a do-do pilot? There’s no way I’m going to survive thirty raids and they resent the Air Force for putting him with this fella. So the [unclear] Pontius Pilot. They washed their hands. They said, ‘You make up your own crew.’ That’s also — Anyway, I never did go in the hangar. I never got in a single hangar. Les next to me here, he turned and says, ‘Are you crewed up yet?’ I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘Would you like to be my navigator?’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t mind.’ How can I get it wrong and fly — I said, ‘Fine.’ He says, ‘Well let’s, let’s compare notes.’ He says, ‘Let’s go down onto the beach at Lossiemouth, there, and we’ll see what —‘ So we — He was Wesleyan, I was Congregational. He was almost identical education to myself and he had been in America and I said that I’d been in Canada and everything we talked about it, it seemed to jive. And we really hit it off, so anyway, we got back again, he shook my hand and he says, ‘Ok. That’ll be fine.’ Now it turned out he made up his crew, being a flight lieutenant he was able to go to HQ and get access to all the records of everybody and he went down to the records [laughs] and picks. He never would admit it. But he picked his crew. So he had an ace crew, believe you me. So anyway. When we — We did the exercises there and the final exercise was a five-hour cross-country trip from Lossiemouth and I went from Lossiemouth to Ballymena in Ireland, down to St Ives in Cornwall, over to [unclear] on the east coast, over to Liverpool and Liverpool back to Lossie. And we took off, went through the clouds, get above the clouds like this, and for the first time in his life, Les never saw the ground for five hours. We were at ten-tenths cloud over Britain. He never — So the first time in his life he’s completely at my mercy, you see, as I told him. We got on fine, but I mean, I guess he was, being senior, he knew what was what, so he — Anything, he could pretty well size up where he was. He used to know where he was. But not when you’re above the top. Anyway when we were coming from Liverpool, back to Lossie, he says, ’Pilot to navigator,’ and I says, ‘Navigator to pilot’ he says, ‘Would you mind giving me a course out to sea.’ He said, ‘I’d like to come in, it’s quieter coming in from the sea,’ he says, ‘to Lossiemouth.’ And I thought, ‘What’s he talking about?’ And it suddenly hit me. Between Liverpool and Lossiemouth is the Highlands of Scotland. And we’re letting down, you see, we’re coming down from — Oh Les. Smart cookie. He didn’t want — he didn’t know about my navigation. [laughs] So I took him fifty miles out in the North Sea, turned him round. We came down through the clouds and came down. I went right over the watch tower. Just like that. We taxied to dispersal, he gets out, shuts engines down, [unclear] navigation again. We began a wonderful, wonderful relationship. We had absolutely — Perfectly. He was the only man I ever knew that when we went on a bombing raid, he always requested from me, which I gave him, a miniature copy of the whole thing. He used to have a board strapped to his knee that was the whole route. So when I, ‘cause as navigators, when we went on a raid, we had to go into the navigation room an hour before everybody else. They’d say, ‘Briefing time, 3 o’clock.’ Or something like that. We’d have to go in at 2 o’clock. And we’d get the whole low-down. Where we went. What was everything. The whole shebang. So we had to plot it out on the charts, for the night plan. I made a chart for him. And that, the whole thing. Where we were going, obviously. So when I used to tell him and say, ‘You’re next course will be one, two, five compass.’ You see. And he’d repeat, ‘One two five compass.’ ‘And that’ll be in two minutes.’ You see. And then two minutes later I’d say, ‘Turn now.’ And he’d turn and he’d do it, you know. Right on time. He’d say, ‘On course.’ And I kept checking. Oh, he was quite a pilot. So I say, we hit it off just simply marvellously.
GR: So obviously you’re at Lossiemouth and you don’t yet know which squadron you’re going to.
RW: No. That’s right. When you graduate from this five-hour cross-country tour, they allocate by two things. They allocate you to a place as a crew and how you operate as an individual in your own line. I guess we all passed, flying colours. So that’s how I got to 10 Squadron. It’s a VIP squadron, you see. Allocated to 10 Squadron, so we were a select crew.
GR: Right.
RW: So when we got to 10 Squadron, they told us straightaway, ‘This is shiny ten. You are on shiny ten now. We have a reputation. And you’re not going to spoil that reputation. If you don’t meet our standards, off the —’ And that’s true. They kicked them off the squadron. Wouldn’t have you. You had to — Ooph. You had to be top.
GR: Yeah.
RW: And you did it. It was your job, you had to do it.
GR: You did it. Yeah. So tell me a little bit about the first, the first raid. The first operation you went on.
RW: Well that — The thing is, they teach you so many things, but there’s so many things they can’t teach you. And it’s all a matter of, in other words, who is the most important man in the aircraft? Have you ever figured that out? There’s seven men in the aircraft. There’s a pilot, navigator, wireless operator, flight engineer.
GR: Bomb aimer. And two air gunners.
RW: And your two gunners. Yes, I’ve often been asked, ‘Who is the most important man.’ Have you ever figured out who is the most important man in the aircraft?
GR: It’d be a cross between the pilot and the navigator ‘cause without the pilot, you can’t fly the plane and if you get lost, you need the navigator.
RW: You’re right. But the answer is everybody.
GR: Yeah.
RW: If that tail gunner doesn’t shoot down that fighter, I can be the most marvellous navigator in the world, it’s not going to be a tinker’s damn. I’m gone. So I depend on him. He depends on me. Everybody depends on everybody else. And you make sure. My pilot did. You make sure you does your job.
GR: Yeah.
RW: And that’s the secret of senior crews as far as I’m concerned. You knew your job, you had to be up with it, like in other words —
GR: And you all trusted each other.
RW: Well, like Les and I. If we were going to go to, say go to Dusseldorf, well we’d automatically get books out. We’d go to the library for books about Dusseldorf and about it, you know. And also study the area around there, so if ever we got shot down, we wouldn’t be, it’s, ‘What the hell do we do now?’ You’d have to know where the railways are, you know, and this sort of thing like that, so we did this. Nobody said you had to. But there again, it’s the extra things you did, for your own good. A lot of the fellas, ‘Nah.’ Same as the ditching. We had the ditching. We used to go to Bridlington harbour for ditching. Well when you went to Bridlington harbour for ditching, you had to do it. They used to time you, you see. You had — The aircraft only stays afloat for so long. It goes down. So everybody has their assignment. Like as a pilot, he had bring it in but then the navigator, I had to take a fix that, where we were and I had to get the walkie-talkie [unclear] we got out into the dingy. You know. The bomb aimer — We all had our jobs. And the wireless operator used to press the key, thing there, and that was the reconnaissance thing there, so they’d got to pick up that key, you see. They had to pick up the sound. The key and the whole Monty on that base. All these things and he had so many seconds to do this. And we did, I think six or eight times we went to Bridlington harbour. We had to do one. The requirement was one but he took, he stood there, ‘Not good enough, let’s do it again.’ [laughs] But we did, but we did. But I mean it’s life and death. And he realised, you know, you only get one shot at this thing, you’ve got to do it right. And so, he brought along a lot of those fliers what to do. He was a wonderful pilot really. Really something. So. So on the first raid, he also laid down the law that nobody mentioned anything about anything but the operation of the aircraft.
GR: Yeah.
RW: Period. You never say, just, always, pilots and navigator, navigator, pilot, blah blah. All business, business. As a matter of fact, after a few raids I was called in by the navigation officer, he says, ‘Would you like to fly as second navigator on this thing. This fella’s got a good record but he’s lousy on his trip. There’s something wrong. Could you try that?’ I said, ‘Ok.’ So I went to second navigator with this man. And he was a flying officer too. And we get in the plane there and they’d been flying for a short time there then the bomb aimer chips up there, ‘I was in the [unclear] there last night there. I went to so and so. Oh, I had a piece of tail.’ And so on. He was yapping away like this you see. And they were talking like this all the time.
GR: Just idle chatter.
RW: Yeah. So I stood this for about half an hour and I was getting worried. So I thought this is not right. So I finally said, ‘This is the second navigator speaking.’ I says, ‘I’ve been on so many raids,’ I says, ‘This is the first raid I’ve ever been on when I’m scared stiff for my life that I will get it.’ I says, ‘Unless we can have better co-operation on this plane — Nobody says anything about anything, only the operation of this plane. Unless it relates to the operation of this plane, I want no other idle conversation whatsoever. And I want every one of you to automatically tell me you understand that.’ And I went round through all seven men. Including the pilot. And there wasn’t another peep out of anything. So when we, we went on the raid. Came back again. So when later, I went before the navigation officer, he says, ‘What do you think?’ I just told him what I thought. And he went and looked at the charts and he says, ‘My God, look at this. Wow.’ And you could see that that first thing, he was — ‘Cause he couldn’t help it. He’s trying to concentrate but he can’t help but listen to this stuff. And it turns you off. You’ve got to concentrate on what you’re doing. And from the moment I laid down the law and I flew according to my instructions, he was fine. I saved that kid’s life.
GR: Did that crew make it, do you know?
RW: I never knew.
GR: You never knew, but that —
RW: ‘Cause when I came back again, he turned round to the boy and says, ‘Would you like to change your crew?’ He says, ‘I wouldn’t mind, Sir.’ They took him off. So it just shows you. That’s right. I saved that kid’s life, I’m sure I did. And that’s the way it was. Anyway. Raids, oh, all different kinds of raids. But it was a matter of, again, Les tutored us. The air force had spent thousands and thousands of dollars training you. You had to give back. They didn’t want to waste that money. So you had to give them their money’s worth. So I say, you make sure, if you’re going to do it at all, you must do it well. So nobody did anything but their best. Although we did [unclear]. We just did it.
GR: You survived.
RW: That’s right. Yes, I know. It was probably partly due to that, that this happened because other things — We went on one raid there, they put on the raid three times. They put the raid on and then because the weather was acting up there, they cancelled it. So of course, you know, the tensions had existed, things like that so the bar is always opened afterwards, you know. It’s not going to fly. And they turned round again and they put it on again. So these fellas had been drinking at the bar a bit and of course my crew incidentally, five out of the seven men never drank. And only two men smoked. Can you imagine? One crew. That was just that way. Like, Bert used to smoke. Les and I didn’t of course. So of course there was this rationing, of course. We used to get the coupon once a month so I get a rationing for smoking and a rationing for cigarettes, for chocolate. So Les would get Bert’s chocolate ration one month, I get his chocolate ration the other month but we both gave him our cigarette ration. We used to give it to him, so he had three lots of it. That’s how we worked it all the time. But — On that same basis. But things like that, it was all worked in beautifully, you know, how it all worked together for each other. But I say, on this raid I was telling you about, we put on this raid and after — All briefed again and ready to go, it was scrubbed again. The third time they put it on and it stayed on. So when we came in for briefing the third time, the commanding officer stood up there and says, ‘Anybody that’s been drinking at the bar must organise to go and see the medical officer before he leaves and he’s got something for you. You must all take it.’ And he had a jar, like a gallon jar, I guess, filled with this white fluid. I don’t know what the hell it was. You had this. And anybody that he —, pour some of this and I’ll give it them, you see. Like this. Well it was the custom of course, when you’d been on a raid, the navigator and the pilot always went in to see the intelligence officer and you gave a report on what you’d seen, what you’d done. Anything unusual. You always — Anything unusual. Like, when they had this and they heard music being played and this thing. Now music being played is unusual but it doesn’t mean a thing really. But if fifty or sixty people talk about music —
GR: Say the same thing, yeah.
RW: There’s something different. And they had to figure out what this music was, you see. That sort of thing. And it turned out that they, in the early stages of radar, they were controlled from the ground, you see. Automatically. So when they went up, they said they knew, the ground knew at all time, what height you were flying, what speed you were flying but they had to relay this to their [unclear]. Initially they gave it to them verbally, to tell them what to do, you see. So we had to get around that. So anyway, we get around that, as we had aircraft which had men speaking fluent German. Absolutely perfect German. Absolutely. And so when they called up they’re giving instructions, our man would be, ‘Don’t listen. That’s this —’ The other fella — And of course here you are. Who are you going to believe? The two fellas talking perfect German here. Who do you believe? You’re both on the same wavelength. You know. And so they had to figure out a way to overcome this, you see. So they hit upon the idea that if an aircraft went up like, of course as you know, we used to fly dog-legs.
GR: Yeah.
RW: You fly dog-legs. Which is a dual [?] concept. In other words, a dog-leg helps me as a navigator. If I go from point B to point C, I have to hit it, you know, you’re allowed a two-minute margin. Maximum two-minute margin. You had to be on the target within two minutes. No ifs and buts. That was laid down. So you had to be within this two-minute all the time. So if I’m at point B and going to point C, and I’m not going to make that thing, that point in the required time, what do I do? I alter course before I get to point C and turn my course to the next course, to the next leg, and I cut the triangle. So I get to point D on time.
GR: On time.
RW: Now that’s a job, you see, like that. Now the Germans didn’t, they knew, but you see it put them off because they said, ‘Oh they’re going to go to so-and-so. No. Oh no. They’ve changed. They’re going to so-and-so.’ So they had to advance, they had to tell the fighters ahead of the time, all the time. ‘They’re coming to so-and-so.’ And they had to — So, you know, it served them, they couldn’t figure out exactly where we were going to go. So it worked both ways in that connection. But, as I say, it was this where the intelligence officer had to figure out all these different things. How you got around these different things like that. But —
GR: So what happened at war end?
RW: Anyway this man —
GR: Go on. Sorry.
RW: So when we came back from this raid there, this one man admitted to the intelligence officer, he’d flown about five hundred miles when he suddenly came to. He’s in the aircraft. He’s flown the plane. He’s taken off perfectly. And he suddenly came to. He’s flying a plane. He’d sobered up. [laughs]
GR: God!
RW: Just shows how this stuff, I guess, worked on him. Can you imagine. The man. Instinct. He flew by instinct. And suddenly came to. He came out of it.
GR: Probably had a good flight engineer.
RW: Whatever. It just goes to show these things do happen.
GR: Oh God, yeah.
RW: But one thing leads to another. But as I say, it was all [unclear]. Les said, ‘When you’re going to bomb, you go over the target.’ And, wow, how we got on. Like in other words, how I got separated from the others was, we went to a place called Recklinghausen and we’re going on to the target like this, you see. I always take them to a target point, I like, I guide them to there then the bomb aimer and the pilot and I’ll take over and they go over the target, ‘Left, left, steady, zero.’ That’s nothing to do with me. So I automatically take five minutes. When they’ve gone through the target. You don’t drop the bombs and go. You had to keep on. Going straight and low. Because there’s all these other guys doing the same as you. You can’t deviate ‘cause otherwise you’d cause accidents. So anyway I had to analyse from point so-and-so, and then I had to tell him what course to fly to come back home. Anyway he takes the thing over the target, but the thing is that we’re coming over the target there and there’s three or four different ways you can bomb. You can either bomb through the clouds or you can bomb blind or you can bomb according to what they tell you. You know, they tell the instructor which type of thing and how to set the fuses. So anyway, we’re coming over the target there and he says, ‘Oh.’ He says, ‘I can’t see the target.’ He says, ‘I can’t see the target.’ I said, ‘Do you want me to bomb blind?’ Like, you know. I came round, coming to the thing and he says, ‘Oh.’ He says, ‘Wait a minute.’ He says, ‘There’s a patch of blue sky over the side there.’ He says, ‘Not too far away.’ He says. ‘That’s probably drifted over the target.’ And Les says, ‘We’ll go round again.’ Well, Christ. You know. So he goes round again. He comes round again for the second run-in like this. And we’re going for this second run-in again like this and he goes, ‘Oh,’ he says. ‘We’re not quite over the target. We just missed it.’ Les says we go round again. Well by this time, we’d written it off. So we come round the third time, you see. And it was — We were the only ones there. Everybody else had gone. They’d all bombed blind, you know. Then I went up front and saw it. I could see, oh it was beautiful. And we’d bombed — And of course they can back-plot on this thing there. They tell you exactly where your bombs fell. So we get back to base, you see, and it were reported that we had [laughs] gone around the target three times. And it got to HQ because — And Mahaffey, he goes round to the squadrons there and he picks out people that have distinguished crews and, you know, and they get, as you know, advanced into whatever it was. So then, he came to the squadron, you see, and the squadron, he says, ‘I had a crew last night that went round the target three times. I want to see them right away.’ [laughs] So he came and spoke to us, so-and-so, that’s, so take it from there. So we got selected as Ace Crew sort of thing. So we did improvements from then on, but, so I got taken off to do extra navigation. So we had to do mine-laying, you know. Gardening they called it. And we had to go like from Lossiemouth or wherever it was. We had to go over to the Norwegian coast and hit the coast at exactly the right spot then you turned the aircraft so many degrees like this, and you’d count whatever it was, like that, and you dropped the mines, you see, like this. ‘Cause mines go in the water, eh?
GR: Yeah yeah.
RW: So there’s no sign at all. But then you had to come, back then, brought back, and that was given to the navy and they back-plotted, so you had to be dead accurate [emphasis]. And believe you me, you’re going in at low level and they’re shooting everything but the kitchen sink. [laughs] God. Some of this stuff. Things still coming back, oh ya, ya, ya.
GR: [laughs]
RW: I lived through it. Anyway. So they had to make thing that we had to drop these things there and then they would know exactly where the bomb, they would know what the ship had to avoid and this sort of thing like that. So that’s, when we graduated from that, oh, I’ll never forget that as long as I live though. Oh. And I can just imagine what the Dambusters seen. There’s things coming out —
GR: Low level. Yeah, yeah.
RW: You had to hit it bang on. It couldn’t deviate. You had to hit it bang on. Then turn. Exactly the right thing and drop. But we did it. Les was bang on. He was good.
GR: Yeah.
RW: So anyway. I did my bit.
GR: And the war finished.
RW: Yeah, well then that’s another thing too. When the war ended, my squadron, of course being in Bomber Command, they decided that the rest of the — The Adriatic war was still continuing so my squadron was taken off Bomber Command and changed to Transport Command, so 10 Squadron became Transport Command.
GR: Oh right.
RW: So we were then trained to go out to Burma to drop supplies to the troops in the jungle. In Burma, you see. So we were switched from our Halifax 111s to DC 111s. Dakotas. And we had to practice dropping supplies to the troops and we had to practice jungle things. We had to go back to, what was worse than anything, we had to go flying on, going back to the flying by the stars. Like, that’s one big thing. At the beginning of the war, the big problem was we were using astronavigation. We were using the nautical tables which were what the navy used. And of course the navy go at twenty knots. We’re going two hundred and forty knots. And we had to use these tables to work it and we had to — When you used a sextant, of course, you ‘d, before you went on a raid, you had to check the azimuths for what stars you want to use, you see. You get these azimuths and you put them down on the chart there and get — you take a shot. You go up into the dome and you’d set thing there and you hook it, the star, the aircraft. Oh God, it was pretty grim. Anyway, you take, and it goes for two minutes then the blind goes down. Take the azimuth and go down again. Mark it in my chart there and go and see what the next azimuth was, put this on the sextant. Go back up again. It takes two minutes. Takes a minute to go down, go back again. Another two minutes. Go back down, a minute again for another two minutes. Go back down again. Then I had three shots to work out. Now if I got — Worked all these calculations out. If I got within twenty-five miles of my target, that wasn’t bad navigation. That’s how they navigated at the beginning of the war.
GR: Yeah.
RW: And so in fact they still do. And — On long trips, they had to, by the stars, pointers. And so, oh, I hated that, but when they were using it, you could have the option to take a sextant with you. But I never even took a sextant.
GR: You never bothered. No.
RW: I was never going to use the blooming thing anyway, so, I think it was too cumbersome anyway. But I say, you had all this working to do. And working it all out, and then — Now, they realised, the air force, that things had to change. They had to improve. So the only thing was, they were losing aircraft by, you know, not flying on track, so they first of all instigated this flying, what they called ‘in the stream’. You had a five-mile path through the sky and you had to stay within this five-mile path through the sky. You had a thousand bombers. You see, your rendez-vous point was say, Reading, shall we say. And we’d have to meet at Reading. There’d be three waves of three hundred aircraft in each wave or something. It’s a path, you see. So then you go down there and you’d have to take — That’s another thing too. You were given the time you take from Reading, the raid starts at Reading.
GR: Yeah.
RW: To go to Cornwall, shall we say. But it doesn’t tell me when to leave Welbourn. I had to be there at that time. There’s twenty-four aircraft, don’t forget. Twenty, between twenty and twenty-four aircraft. I can’t think now. You taxi down, you go and get the thing, wait for the red light, you see. And you could be number one or you could be number twenty-four. You don’t know ‘till you get to the end of the runway, what number you are. So number one takes off. And you have to get to Reading. I’m number twenty-four. Now I’ve got to get to Reading —
GR: Same time as him, yeah.
RW: So I had to take that time, so I had to make him go like the clappers. What it was, he had to climb high, to cushion me. You’re taking off and climbing at least five thousand feet. So. Oh. It was hazardous. I mean you didn’t know. You couldn’t do a thing about it until you [unclear]. Oh. So you had to finally get to this place. You had to start with this two-minute, this two-minute margin. You had to take off and keep within it all the time. But it worked. If you did it. But it kept people together, this what they call the five-mile path through the sky. Now the Germans, they did, they had ways of tracking you. They could home onto you. Now what they did was, they rarely came into the stream. If they came and attacked you, the bomber, they’d get the bomber but his tracer would be visible to, for all the other bombers and they’d have a go at him.
GR: Yeah.
RW: And all – Saying, the fighter pilot goes way in to get this fella like that when there’s all these fellas going to shoot at him. So they used to stay on the — They knew exactly what speed you’re flying. Yeah, you’re on radar. They could fly on radar. And that’s where in my situation, I had complete control of other things. Like, everybody had Gee. Some had Gee and H2S. Most of the people had to live by that. Now we had access to all those different things because we had to pick up and get more accuracy. And that’s the secret of the whole thing, but I say, they, so they would follow you. Just after you like that and if somebody drifted out of that five-mile path through the sky, you was picked off just like that. They came along. Followed with you.
GR: Yeah.
RW: Some stupid clot there. So that’s — Navigation, they realised is so critical. It had the five-mile path through the sky which corrected it to some extent, then they had this timing which was very important, and then they had this, after all this, this control like they had at the end and it saved aircraft terrifically. ‘Cause they could find out how many men had been shot down. But I don’t know if you realised that the success rate on — The Lancasters were a more efficient aircraft. They could carry a bigger bomb load, they could carry more accuracy and they were faster. They could fly higher. They had certain advantages over us but they had limitations on other aspects. Whereas the Halfax 111 was better in other respects and it would benefit one way or the other. And, how can I explain it. They had ways whereby you could keep accuracy going with the other. More so than in the Lanc. Also the success rate of evacuating an aircraft was far superior in the Halifax. In other words, I think it was seventeen percent. I think the maximum, like for every Lancaster that was shot down, the chances of success was only seventeen percent, in other words, the exits from an aircraft. In a Lancaster, there’s a big spar, number one. That was their big — They had this big spar, Lancaster and you couldn’t, with fully-clothed and all this thing, with the parachute, get over the spar, get to this thing there. The Halifax on the other hand got rid of three people in the front. Like where I was, where I was sitting, I was facing this wall here, right behind me in the floor was the escape hatch. Right behind me, attached to the wall there was my parachute. So if you said, ‘Bale out.’ All I had to do was to turn around, unhook the thing there, put on my parachute.
GR: And out.
RW: Lift up the thing like that. Out I went. And the wireless operator was right beside me there. He came out.
GR: He did the same.
RW: And the three of us could get out. No problem at all.
GR: Thankfully you didn’t have to do it.
RW: No, but I say, it was there. But the Lancaster didn’t have that chance. The pilot, what chance did he have to get, bale out over the top? But the thing is that the other fellas, they had to go to — oh yes, tail gunner, I guess, he could turn his —. Turn around and go out backwards. But things like that, but the other fellas, I mean the mid-upper gunner for instance, where did he go?
GR: Where did he go? Yeah.
RW: Chance of him getting out there is —. So the chances, as I say, I think was seventeen percent.
GR: Quite a few people I’ve spoken to —
RW: The success rate with the —
GR: Who served on both aircraft —
RW: That we had twenty-seven percent against their seventeen. So that’s considerable really when you think about it. The amount that might succeed and all things like that, so I liked the Halifax. It was, it was a different type of aircraft. I meant the Lancaster was strictly designed as a wartime machine for doing a wartime job, which it did. Whereas the Halifax, really, was a commercial aircraft which had been converted to flying in the wartime. That’s what it amounts to. And. So we had more, a lot more, we had a lot better — My compartment where I was, a little tiny navigation compartment, whereas the navigator in a Lancaster was really cramped, you know. And I had the wireless on my right there. I mean I could, whilst I was doing my wind-finder, I passed the winds, just like this, one piece of paper, to him like that. And he just put these into code and he’d send them off to HQ like that you see. I just had to hand it to him. He put his arm over. There you go. Away it went. Was the way we did it. They had to move.
GR: Move about.
RW: Yeah. So we had advantages over them that’s for sure. But, anyway. We came through.
GR: You came through. Did you keep in touch with the crew after the war?
RW: Well, I say, I’ve got only one alive now.
GR: Yes.
RW: Hugh at Hexham. My wireless operator. He was good.
GR: We’re going to go and see him, aren’t we so —
RW: Yeah, he’s a good kid. But the others of course, they’re all gone by.
GR: Over the years.
RW: One died of cancer and well, Bert, my bomb aimer, he came over to Canada. All my crew came over to Canada and stayed with me. Well, they came over for two of the reunions. Quite a few of them. Les was not a, he wasn’t the type, he didn’t drink at all, of course, he didn’t think that’s in his bracket, so I finally got him to one. I think he went to one. The very last one, I think he came to. But he wouldn’t come to any of the other three. But most of the others did come. But when they came, I used to take them to the Rockies and take them on trips everywhere for a couple of weeks or something like that.
GR: Yeah.
RW: So we hit it — But I say, it was — The wonderful thing about Bomber Command is that, is the camaraderie. Like it’s, as you say, after the war, we all stick together. We’re brothers.
GR: Yeah.
RW: I never forgot. They say, ‘I saved the life of, they saved my life.’ You know. So it’s just one of those things. It’s, you do things instinctively I guess. For survival.
GR: Yeah.
RW: And you can’t change that.
GR: No.
RW: So if you’re all working to the same common cause, you have a fighting chance. But if you don’t, it’s, you know, it’s one of those things.
GR: Right. I shall pause the recorder there.



Gary Rushbrooke, “Interview with Ralph Wild,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 20, 2024,

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