Interview with Eddie Worsdale

Title

Interview with Eddie Worsdale

Description

Eddie Worsdale was working as a furniture salesman in Wellington, New Zealand after the Depression era curtailed his education. His brother volunteered for the New Zealand Air Force and so Eddie followed him. After initial training he continued his training in Canada before arriving in the UK and being posted to 75 Squadron at RAF Mildenhall. On an operations to Milan their Wellington aircraft was shot down. One crew member baled out and Eddie and his crewmate escaped from the burning aircraft. They then set off to walk to Switzerland. Eddie was employed as a cipher clerk for the secret intelligence service which gave him access to top secret information. The decision was made that he and other evaders would make the journey back to the UK via Spain. After his return to New Zealand he was posted to the Islands as a cipher clerk for the rest of the war.

Creator

Date

2017-07-08

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

01:33:39 audio recording

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Contributor

Identifier

AWorsdaleE170708, PWorsdaleE1701

Transcription

MS: This is Miriam Sharland and I’m interviewing Eddie Worsdale today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We’re in Wellington on the 8th of July 2017. Thank you, Eddie for agreeing to talk to me today.
EW: Fine.
MS: Can you tell me a bit about your earlier life before the war?
EW: I was born in, born in Christchurch and I spent my early life at a place called Lake Coleridge which was one of the first hydro-electric stations to supply power to the, one of the major cities in New Zealand. And that supplied power to Christchurch. That was a very isolated place. Only a small community. And then as we grew up we had a family. I had two elder brothers and a younger sister. And then Depression days at that time things were very [pause] the family had to move from there. We moved to Christchurch just prior to the war but we had virtually, we couldn’t afford boarding school, boarding for secondary education in Christchurch so basically, times were pretty tough. But then we came, then we came to Wellington and I worked in a furniture shop as a salesman. And then my brother joined the Air Force and went away with the first echelon and I thought oh well, the Air Force sounds something good. I’d been in the Territorials. It was a, a bit of an adventure the [pause]. I was due to go to Canada and that’s how it started. It was, and I had to the volunteer for the Air Force with your education qualification. I had to do, I did a night school and a correspondence course to qualify for the requirements. Passed those and off to Canada.
MS: And how did you find Canada compared to New Zealand?
EW: Well, of course it was a huge adventure as it was for thousands of others. Young. No idea, well what war was all about but it was an opportunity and I guess the way I looked at it, and you had no idea what the war was all about. Immature and whatnot. You hadn’t grown up and a wonderful experience and basically going through Canada you’re learning all the time about life and a bit about the Service and so forth but you didn’t realise what it was all about. Well, I didn’t. I didn’t have the maturity until you first encountered what it was all about. Then you realised that it, it wasn’t a big game. It wasn’t an adventure, simple as that and from then on it was things just happened.
MS: So, what squadron did you end up —
EW: We, well after doing the OTU at a place called Bassingbourn we were posted to 75 Squadron at Mildenhall. And Mildenhall was one of the main Royal Air Force stations that had married quarters and so forth and the aircrew were given the, the married quarters as accommodation as against the, a lot of the other squadrons just lived in Quonset huts. So, the conditions were very good. It was a Canadian squadron prior to the 75 moving from Feltwell. And then, this was in August, I think 1942 than half the flight transferred to, I just forget, to Mepal to convert to Stirlings and the other half stayed on at Mildenhall and I’d be the, the sole surviving member of 75 Squadron that went through Mildenhall.
MS: What role did you have?
EW: I was a wireless operator gunner.
MS: How did you come to do that role?
EW: Well, in the, in the, I didn’t have the qualifications for a pilot the, but I’d been in the, in the Territorials as a signaller and a wireless operator and that’s how I became a wireless operator.
MS: Did you want to be a pilot?
EW: No. I didn’t have the qualifications. I remember the, one of the first questions I answered was the, “What’s your knowledge of the internal combustion engine?” Well, mine it was nil. If I was asked the same thing about a bicycle [laughs] I could, I could take a bicycle apart and put it together again but that was the way it was.
MS: Can you tell me a bit about your training in Canada?
EW: Well, it was all basically we were at the, we trained at a Wireless School in Winnipeg. Very warm in summer and bitterly cold in wintertime. Wonderful people. They just sort of did invitations to their homes. Just loved the New Zealanders and made you very welcome but it was all a completely different life, different way of life. I remember one of the first impressions was seeing the horse drawn ice carts in Winnipeg. And then, and I think the only time I ever felt ill with the cold was in Winnipeg and it was bitterly cold there but that’s, it was just a wonderful experience. Completely different. But at nineteen you’re so immature. It was just all adventures and I remember being on final leave at the top of the Empire State in New York when the Normandie caught fire. And then I went to a concert at the Lewisham Stadium and heard Grace Moore and she was one of the leading sopranos in the world and that was a wonderful experience. So there’s, that was the, that part was it was, that was always something that always interested me, yes. Music and so forth and whatnot.
MS: What did it feel like the first time you flew in training?
EW: Well, of course you were taken up there on the, you became a bit airsick and so forth and you were flying lots and the instructors were sometimes a bit sort of brassed off with doing the same old thing all the time. They did a bit of aerobatics and sort of and whatnot. But that was part and parcel of it. That was learning and so forth.
MS: So then when you came to England after Canada how did that compare?
EW: Well, it was, we, we came [pause] just thinking back there from the, it was the huge number of people together when you were at Halifax and joined up and there’s thousands and thousands of Air Force personnel. And then you were just arrived in England and we ended up down in Bournemouth. Put in the lovely hotels that Bournemouth consisted of. But you just took it in your stride and so forth and adapted and as I said it was all a big learning experience. A fun game until somebody started shooting at you and then you realised that it was no longer fun.
MS: So, you went from Bournemouth to Mildenhall.
EW: Pardon?
MS: Did you go from Bournemouth to Mildenhall?
EW: Well, yes. We went, we went through various training establishments. The Wireless School. We went to [pause] to be qualified profession to go and then you went to operational training. The, it was called OTU and then you, then you at the end of that training you crewed up same with the pilots were doing the same and the observers, and navigators and gunners and wireless operators and you crewed up. And then you were posted to the squadrons.
MS: How did you crew up? How did you choose—
EW: Well, you just, just met the — the pilot would pick somebody out. They wanted a wireless operator, or a observer. And that’s the way it happened. And you got that sort of mainly at the, at the OTU and then you stayed there when you were posted to a to a squadron. But then there was the casualty rate was so high that in the early days of squadrons they were crewed up they’d have to give one of their own crew to another crew due to casualties. And the losses in those days were high and the thinking was that the, the talk among the crews well if we survived the first five operations you were lucky. You might get through ten. I got about seven I think and that was all.
MS: How did you feel when they told you those statistics?
EW: Pardon?
MS: How did you feel when they told you those kind of statistics?
EW: Well, I mean you never worried about it. You thought, well you played hard and so forth on leave and you never worried. I didn’t. It was just you were there. You never thought about it. Some people did. Other ones couldn’t stand it and they just packed up and, but a lot just accepted that’s all and that was what it was all about.
MS: Can you tell me a bit about your crew?
EW: Hmmn?
MS: Can you tell me a bit about your crew?
EW: Yes. Well, they, we were made up of the pilot was a New Zealander, Jack Hugill. His parents had a, they had an apple orchard up north of Auckland. The, the navigator was a chap called Johnny Pete, he was an Englishman. The rear gunner, Len Newbold, he was an Englishman. And the bomber, the other bomb aimer was Jim Barnes. He was one of the older members who really was supposed to be too old to be there in his thirties and he was later mayor of Dunedin and an MP for St Kilda and Dunedin and was later received a knighthood. He was Sir James Barnes and he received an MBE for his work as a POW in in Germany because he’s the, he was the one that baled out. The only one that baled out when we were attacked and he spent the rest of the war as a POW. Len Newbold and I walked to Switzerland but Hugill and Pete, they were killed in the crash. We, we, Jim and I were very close. Very good friends. He was my best friend and the final leave we went together but Len Newbold was never very close until we were shot down and Johnny Pete was not. You crewed with them. That was all. But socially we weren’t very close. And Howard, he was, he was a wee bit of a loner.
MS: What kind of things did you do when you went on leave in England?
EW: Mainly it was you visited the pubs. That’s all. Although, we went not all the time but then you had a free rail ticket and you went. A lot of the crew went up to Inverness. We went down to, on our final leave because I had relations, an aunt in England. In London. I stayed with her on the occasional times. But a lot of the crew would go as far away as they could. This was in, perhaps in England and so forth.
MS: And what was the atmosphere like in the pubs? Did you meet the local people?
EW: Oh, well just, it was all the wartime and so forth. You know. You spoke. Looking back, you didn’t, didn’t have much time really.
MS: Did you meet many local people?
EW: Pardon?
MS: Did you meet many local people?
EW: Yes. Initially, I remember one place in [pause] I’m just trying to think where it was now. I think it may have been up in Harrogate in Yorkshire. We were doing a course. We met some people there and I remember they made us, took us out for dinner at their place and we had rabbit pie. I remember seeing this whole rabbit. The head of a rabbit. But as I said being in the country, brought up at Coleridge you used to trap a lot of rabbits but the people were very hospitable really, you know. They’d take you out, people on leave and right, just made you so welcome. But it was a difficult sort of lifestyle looking back. Entirely different, wartime.
MS: What kind of ways was it different?
EW: Well, the, I suppose the, it was war. War shortages and so forth and thinking was different. The whole lifestyle was, was different. The way people thought. The, I think people were subjected to the propaganda a lot and looking back on the English people prior to the war the huge number of the working class people what their life was. What they went out. And then the so called middle class sort of and then the aristocracy. Completely different to what New Zealand life was all about. And that was the, the war and the association with the troops from the empire came out, Canada and Australia and South Africa that changed the thinking of the English people really. I think that was a lot to do with the war. But that’s the way it was. The way you saw it and you really didn’t have much time to think about those things. You, I think you were aware of them but things were happening so quickly you never gave it much thought.
MS: What about local women? Were there, were there many romances that went on with the local girls?
EW: With the —
MS: With the local girls were there many romances?
EW: No. Well, there was never much I [laughs] a lot of people played socially with the dances and the NAAFI but I suppose I was not in to that. I was very immature and so forth. That didn’t interest me very much. That’s a great thing so that was all to change later on. Never mind. Part and parcel of growing up. But that’s, that’s the way it was.
MS: So when you went down to London on leave what kind of things did you do in London?
EW: Well, it was mainly the big thing was the pub life. As I say the pubs didn’t open until 2 o’clock in the afternoon and then the evening at the, at, the big thing was the social life at the, at the local. That was everything. That was the, that was a completely different life to what it was here because we didn’t. I never had a drink until I was in Canada. Too immature but that’s, that was part and parcel of growing up.
MS: Did you ever experience any of the German bombing while you were in London?
EW: Any?
MS: Any of the German bombing. Were you in London for any part of the Blitz or any of the bombing?
EW: The bomb —
MS: Did you experience any bombing when you were in London? Were you in London when there were any bombings?
EW: Bombing. Not, not at that time. After I came back from Switzerland I did with, with the, the rockets and buzz bombs. Prior to that because I’d remember seeing the the tremendous devastation in Bristol and then the other time was Harrogate was seeing York after that was bombed. When they were bombing the cathedral station. That was in ’42 and I’ll never forget seeing the devastation and the people saying to me, one woman saying to me, I think it was a woman saying, ‘Well, I hope you can give the Germans something back.’ And the devastation to see the helplessness and the, on the faces of people. But then coming back all those the years later I’ve seen the reports of the devastation in Hamburg as I mentioned earlier. You got things in perspective and realised the, that civilians everywhere were the pawns in war. That was, they were the ones that suffered and still are. But the utter devastation when you see the, I remember Bristol and Plymouth and, but the recovery when things recovered. Look at the, after the war seeing Cologne. The absolute utter devastation in Cologne and the, the Cologne Cathedral virtually untouched surrounded by total devastation. The Cologne Railway Station was one of the aiming points of the Bomber Command, remarkably unscathed. But that’s the [pause] and then you see today the utter devastation in Syria and other countries and this is [pause] it’s all the same.
MS: Did the local people talk to you quite a lot about the fact that you were taking the war to Germany?
EW: Well, there was, what you’ve got to consider is then at the time the the reaction to that, that the bombing and so forth the everything about war it’s terrible. The anger it generates and creates and so forth. And then in time when everything is healed and so forth but it still goes on. But no matter who it is, whether, who they are people have feelings and the loss of their homes and so forth. The utter hopelessness. That’s, that’s the tragedy of war.
MS: What was the general feeling when you learned about the V-2 rockets and the buzz bombs that you met?
EW: Well, that was later you see. That was the interesting part because when I was in Switzerland I was privy to the evolvement of this weaponry at first and then prior to leaving seeing the the areas and especially in the Pas de Calais area which was incessantly targeted as the sites for these, these rocket sites and whatnot. And then to experience when getting back to London and seeing them flying over and then they being close one night before I left London one of the V-2 rockets hit the hotel just opposite, I guess. I can’t get out of this place quick enough. And the, then reading, later on in life reading the accounts of what those rockets could have achieved had they been deployed slightly differently or a little earlier it’s frightening. And today when you look back and think of that technology is today they fire these things in smaller versions from backs of trucks. It’s just terrible to think of it.
MS: So, can you tell me a bit about your history? The number of operations that you went on.
EW: The —
MS: The operations that you went on. Can you tell me?
EW: Yes. Well, the first one as I say is when the, there was a mining operation in the Channel and we flew over a German, what’s it called? A flak ship which was in a escorting a convoy a long way from where it was supposed to have been and experienced the fire for the first time. Anti-aircraft gun. And then over the later there’s only the seven trips over the Ruhr unlike the heavy, the light aircraft fire and then hearing the heavy aircraft explode outside the aircraft but that’s when you realise what it was all about. But it, it didn’t worry me. I never, I was never worried. I was never frightened about that at all because that was just life. But then the worst factor when the, was when we were coming back from Milan and a night fighter hit us and then being, that was the worst realisation of it all. Then things happened so quickly and things go through your mind and whatnot and then we knew. Always thinking well you’ll never. I thought well we’ll never get out of this alive. You’d given yourself to the impossibility of it but, you know we survived. And then I’ll never forget the next morning in France waking up to the extreme, I suppose, loneliness. All of a sudden you’re in a foreign country. You, you total virtually hopelessness. What do you do? And, and then once you recover from the shock. Once you’d recovered from the shock and decided well we’ll try and walk to Switzerland and then it all started then. Just luck and so forth and good fortune you survived. That that’s the way it was.
MS: Where were you going on the raid that you got shot down?
EW: We were going to Milan in Italy and had been to Genoa the night before and it had been one of the most wonderful sights I could remember was flying over the Swiss Alps in moonlight. Over Mont Blanc and it’s absolutely unbelievably beautiful. Then the next night, cloud. We couldn’t get over twelve thousand feet. Couldn’t see a thing and had to turn back and were shot down. But we survived. We lost, lost two and then there was two aircraft were lost that night. Both from 75 Squadron. The other aircraft they lost all their crew. All killed. That was war. That’s the way it happened. And then the, one of them when you look back one in three personnel were killed in that period. That’s the chances were so [pause] but that’s, that’s the way it was.
MS: So, after you crashed and you discovered two of your crew had died what did you do? You said you started to walk towards Switzerland.
EW: Well, we, I mean the next day we, we, of course looking back and going over the, the events I think one of the big things in in our favour of not being caught the next day was we’d walked all during the night as far away from the crash as we could. I think that would have been in our, must have been in our favour. That’s reading the history and of course now it’s literally since the, Max Lambert wrote his book, “Night After Night,” and the association with him in terms of 75 Squadron these, all these years later it just brought back to me the, how fortunate and so forth and of course the hundreds of other people who’d had similar experiences. But I was only, in 1942 I think I was the only New Zealander on Bomber Command who evaded so [pause] it was lucky.
MS: So, you walked as far away as you could.
EW: We walked, well that, and I think that was, you see that was one of the basic things you, that you were taught. That if you were shot down and you had an escape kit certain things you wouldn’t do. That you’d do is you’d, you’d survey the area if you could and just approach places with houses or farmhouses with a bit of caution. You didn’t just rush in and sort of knock on the door, first door. They were just basic things. Of course, everybody couldn’t do that. If you were injured and so forth you’d not much option but seeking help but, and then it was just a matter of luck. If you, you had to make decisions on the spot to go one way and do one thing. If you, if it was right you got away with it. If it was the wrong decision you were caught. Simple as that. And it it required a lot of luck really to be successful in getting away with escape or evading capture and so forth and that’s what we, we, we I suppose practiced those things as much as you could and we were lucky. We got away with it.
MS: Did any local people help you?
EW: Oh yes. At the farm. The farm people and so forth were very, they were helpful and they took tremendous risks you know with people. If they were caught assisting they were just dragged away or some were just shot on the spot. But it’s, it’s amazing the, I’ve read a number of people who have, evaders and it’s the same old story. You got away from the crash if you could and you walked, and sheltered and walked during the day, the light time and hid up during the night. But basically, if all these things were pretty similar and you relied on people had got a bit of food and so forth. The ones, lucky you contacted the escape organisation which became available later on and, and from ’42, ’43 on. But all these things are usually a basic happen, that happened and as I said if the things went wrong you had to make your mind up. It was good luck that got you through.
MS: What was the date of your crash?
EW: It was October 25, 1942. Yeah.
MS: Did any of the organised escape —
EW: No. We didn’t have any, any help at all from the organisations. And then it was in Switzerland we, I was working in the Consulate in Geneva. We were dealing a lot with the people in the, in the Toulouse area. The Maquis people there. And I was actually, later on when I was in Toulouse and met the head of the organisation there, a woman called Francoise in Toulouse. And, and interestingly the person she took over from was Pat O’Leary. He started the O’Leary Line back in 1940, I think in, in Marseilles. I’m pretty certain, I can remember the day in Geneva when O’Leary was caught. He was betrayed by a British traitor and, and I remember getting, we got this message from Francoise in Toulouse that O’Leary almost certain it was a Tuesday afternoon that O’Leary had been caught. But he survived the war. But he set up a wonderful organisation. And the dep’ Hickton was there. He met him in Marseilles that would be if that was where they started but I met Francoise in in Toulouse. And I came out of Switzerland with a Lieutenant Commander Stephens who had escaped from Colditz and arrived in Switzerland two weeks before Newbold and I did in ’42. And he was in, he was one of the senior Naval officers that was involved with the raid at St Nazaire when they blew the dry dock. The Campbeltown went and blew up the dry dock up there in ’41. But I didn’t know him in Switzerland. I met him the day before in Geneva. And yeah, and then we, interestingly enough he, it’s funny how things happen. That when we came to the decision and the, when we couldn’t get passeurs in to Toulouse because the Francoise contact had dried up and we had a French Air Force corporal took us into the area of the Pyrenees but he reneged at the last minute to be a passeur, to take us over and we were on our own. And I always remember Stephens, and we picked this other chap up, a French Canadian, Duchesnay, in Toulouse. And this night we had to leave this house we were in because the word was the Germans were coming to the village to take all the able-bodied Frenchman. The rumour. So we out smartly and eventually on our own in the morning and we had a disagreement. Stephens and Duchesnay wanted to go back to Toulouse, to Francoise and I said, ‘Well, I’m not going back. That’s France. That’s Spain over there.’ I suppose it’s angels go in where fools fear to tread but I knew the situation. It would be hopeless trying to get back to Toulouse which they found out. And they decided, well they’d come with me which we were successful just walking on the compass overnight. But I’ll never forget Stephens saying to me in this little hut, a shepherd’s hut on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees. He thanked me for, and said, ‘Well, it’s thanks to you that we’re here.’ That was a great honour for me to accept that. That’s, he was a senior Naval officer and what not, but that’s the way it goes and but that that was the, it was, that was, we were looking back there. How we got through God only knows. The luck of it. But that’s, we made decisions and they, they worked out well. But I’ve read lots of, and especially post-war the, and of course when I was in Switzerland I met two generals Hargest and Miles and I met the Frenchmen who took them both from Geneva into Spain. And when Brigadier Miles, he committed suicide in Andorra and Brigadier Hargest met me in London after and took me to lunch and we had a long discussion about things in there because basically looking back we should never have been sent out of Switzerland at that time just so close to D-Day. And we didn’t have the correct documents to be in that area of the Pyrenees without special permission from the German authorities. We learned this later on from this chap that, the Frenchmen who took these, the generals out. He came out to see Brigadier Hargest’s family in Invercargill and I just thought my gosh how lucky we weren’t asked for the passes and for papers. That we should never have been in that area out in the wilds of the Spanish frontier without these special passes and that we never had them and we should have had them. But that’s, that’s the way it was.
MS: And from there how did you get back?
EW: Well, I just came back then. I was interviewed within MI7. And then I came back to New Zealand and I was commissioned and I went up the islands as a cipher officer and spent my time, the rest of the war there. But I was, whether I was very lucky to have survived the war, to survive the crash and have a wonderful unique experience in Switzerland for eighteen months and been privy to some of the top secrets of the war. Unbelievable, looking, looking back and I’ll never forget saying to myself, it was after lunch I was walking down the Quai Wilson in Geneva having been privy to some top intimation and they said, ‘Well, what you’ve got to do everything you’ve seen or you see in that office when you leave that you put it out of your mind and you forget about it.’ And that’s what I did. And I, I practiced that for a long time because I was subject the Official Secrets Act that I never talked even a long time after the war. Took me years after the war ended. I never disclosed to any of my friends in the Air Force the type of work I was doing in Switzerland.
MS: So you, you walked to Switzerland and then they employed you in the —
EW: Pardon?
MS: So, you walked to Switzerland.
EW: Yeah.
MS: And then did they employ you in the, in an office in Geneva?
EW: Well, that’s eighteen months in Switzerland. In the, the latter nine months I was employed as a cipher clerk at the British Consulate in Geneva. In the British Consulate there. That was the headquarters of our European espionage and the person who ran that Vanden Heuvel, he received all the information from Admiral Canaris through a contact of his in Berne. A Polish woman. And at that time I never knew what it was all about. It was only years after I realised the significance of what I was involved in. At the time I had no idea. I knew it was all very important but there were only bits and pieces. It was only later I put them altogether. And then, then we left the, I met with Lieutenant Commander Stephens the day before D-Day and came over with the, the French Underground. Got under the wire because we were classified. I was classified as an evader and had to sign a document in Switzerland if the chance ever came I would leave Switzerland because we were free to roam around. Basically, we were still under the control of the British authorities but in civilian clothes and so forth. But had we, had we arrived there in uniform we’d have been interned. But it was a funny thing you’re, and you’re completely out of the Service. There was no Service life at all. It was just a civilian existence paid for, your accommodation paid for by the British government. And then, and the person in, he was a man called Major Ferrill he was in Geneva and he had the job of looking after the espionage and so forth but mainly organising escapes for people such as myself and people that arrived there because there was some pretty high ranking officers that had arrived in Switzerland. Group captains and wing commanders and so forth who had been shot down and whatnot and got them back to England through the escape routes and so forth.
MS: So, giving you that job it was a front really to enable you to escape.
EW: Pardon?
MS: So, when they gave you the job in the Consulate that was as a form of, really it was a front so that they could then move you back.
EW: Yes. Well, you see —
MS: And out to the —
EW: I was, I turned out to be a very special sort of a case. The, on the New Year’s Eve ’43 it would have been, I’d only been in the Consulate a few months and I was put in a group of about I think it was about a dozen people which Major Ferrill had arranged to leave the group. There were officers of all ranks, all nationalities and we, we were briefed in the Consulate in Geneva. It was New Year’s Eve I think ’43. We were picked up in a dry-cleaning van, I think it was about 9 o’clock at night and taken to the border and it was pitch black. Snow and ice everywhere, and they couldn’t contact the contact we were supposed to meet to take us across the border and on so that mass exodus was abandoned. And from then I was involved with the head of the section Vanden Heuvel and the head of the MI7 in London that I was not to leave Switzerland in which, until the chances of me getting through were more than favourable. It was a bit of a [struggle] because the people who, from organising the escapes and Vanden Heuvel must have thought well look, I know too much. I don’t know. Too big a risk to risk being caught. We had no, no briefing and, and being interrogated and whatnot I wouldn’t know but it came back from London that Worsdale was I was not to leave. I saw the message myself so that was interesting. But that was, that was there. I’d got to be involved there and that was the only mass escape plan that I was aware of that was important.
MS: I would imagine it would have been extremely risky.
EW: Well, well looking back I couldn’t see the, the value of, the risks would have been so high to my mind in the group otherwise in line. It would have been so obvious to my mind then and I think the person who organised had made a grave error of judgement and, but I don’t know and as I say I daren’t think. Looking back we should never have left because so close to D-Day. I knew myself what information I was privy to that D-Day was any day. Didn’t know the exact date. I knew it wasn’t far away and I couldn’t see the reason but never questioned it. It didn’t worry me. We were sent and we could have been caught. Could have spent unnecessarily, especially with this situation as it was with the Maquis getting passeurs to take people over the border and what was happening? They would get, then be paid the money and then they would take the people in to the, with the passeurs, and these passeurs would be traitors and they would say to the people, ‘Look, just through that area there now. Through that bit of forest and — ’ Blah blah blah. ‘That’s the border.’ And of course, waiting were the, the Germans for them. We knew that was happening. I knew it was happening. I saw the reports of it. And that’s why they couldn’t get the passeurs in Toulouse. Francois didn’t have them and the whole organisation had broken down. There was a bit of every man for himself and this was confirmed to me later on in a, in a book written about the mass escape from, of the twenty who were shot at Stalag Luft 4 and there was only two got away I think from that. One of them a Flight Lieutenant Van Der Stok, a Dutch Spitfire pilot and I met him in Spain after he’d crossed the border and been in hiding in Holland and it confirmed there that the time, and he came through after I did of what chaos there was at the border area. There were a lot of Jewish refugees trying to get across and these passeurs just playing fast and loose with, with the Maquis. Some groups good, others bad and that was the situation. But he confirmed that. But that’s the, that’s the way it goes. But I was very lucky to have had that wonderful experience and still be able to talk about it.
MS: So how did you eventually get back to England?
EW: Well, we went to, we spent about five, I think it was four or five days in [unclear] Prison, Spanish provincial prison after we crossed the border at a place called Bauzon in France and walked, gave ourselves up to the Civil Guard and then we were taken down to the provincial capital at Lerida and we spent time there but the the British authorities knew we were on their way and once they knew we’d arrived we were given special food that was sent into us by the Red Cross and so forth and then we came out. We got out there. We went to a place called, I think it was Alhama. It was a mountainous, like a spa which became a reception area for the hundreds of the people just coming over the border. Americans, Canadians, all sorts coming over and one of the Spaniards they, they treated us royally there and then we went to Madrid and then finally flew home from Gibraltar. Then I met Stephens again there. That’s the last I saw of him. The last time I ever met him. Nothing to do with him. Yeah. On the same plane. But the Spaniards, the prison was, was shocking really. Eight in a cell. Rife with, with rats and so forth but shocking place but then the Spanish Air Force got us out of that and I remember they took us to this place in, called Alhama. I think it was called Alhama. Wonderful spot and they were, they were really good but that’s, that’s a long time ago.
MS: And how did it feel when you landed back in England?
EW: In England. Wonderful. Of course, you were, were just, unbelievable really the, how everything happens so quickly. You were meeting all these top people and I suppose the thrill to me was I suppose a little lonely warrant officer being, meeting the heads of the British Secret Service in the, it was pretty wonderful really. But I was just lucky to be involved with it. That was a huge learning curve for me. But and looking back on the decisions that were made at the time. You had to question of course the old old story. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing.
MS: And you probably got interviewed pretty thoroughly when you got back to camp.
EW: Oh yes. Yes. It was all, but the interesting thing was the, was being one of the, I suppose the highlights to me was was in the British Embassy in Madrid and being given the, the all the details of the suicide, of Brigadier Miles when he reached Spain and knowing both, meeting both Brigadier Miles and Brigadier Hargest in Geneva. But then to be, have all this information given to me in the British Embassy in Madrid which was all top secret, even to my own New Zealand government and so forth. The chief of the air staff didn’t know the circumstances until I told him. And being involved in the, with the people that sent him out, and meeting the Frenchmen later on when he came out in the ‘70s who didn’t know the full circumstances. It was all very interesting that.
MS: Were you able to write and tell your family where you were?
EW: No. I had, I had my, I had this aunt who was in London. She, I sent her a telegram from when I was cleared in Switzerland. We were told not to write letters or anything like that and so forth so my family knew I was in Switzerland from my aunt because otherwise they’d give me up after eighteen days. Normally, well you were confirmed dead or you, you were a POW. That’s, that was the, the other great thing. But yes. But as I say I was, I look back as being very very lucky.
MS: What happened to the rest of the crew that crashed with you?
EW: Ok. Well, Len Newbold, he, well the two who were killed are buried in this cemetery in the village in France. Jim Barnes, he’s passed away. Sir James Barnes. And Len Newbold, he returned. I’d never seen him but I went to see in him in Geneva when I was back on a business trip. He married the girl at a café he met at in Vevey and, but I never got the, the unfortunate thing was the day I was in, in, went to see him in Vevey it was a Tuesday and that was the day the café was closed. So I didn’t see him. But that’s the way it goes.
MS: And do you know what happened to your plane?
EW: Well, that’s the plane up there. That’s the wreckage there the next morning. That was taken by the French farmer whose nephew I think it was sent that photograph to Max Lambert but Glen Turner had heard when he was over there that there was a photograph in existence. That’s only the last year or so that this has come to light and the photograph and they have got a photograph also of the pilot who was thrown clear and then again it was inside but the pilot was thrown clear. He was killed but the big mystery is he had no flying suit on and so forth so there’s lots of theories I hear of whether, how he could be outside the aircraft without his flying suit on. Whether it was the explosion, whether it blew him out. Whether he was, before the explosion he was trying to take, he’d taking off his flying suit and so forth in the fire because the aircraft was burning so furiously I don’t know but that, that’s what was left of it and when we got out through the rear turret I’d made the entry for the rear gunner to get out. Then he pushed back and I got out and we just got clear and she blew up. Huge explosion. How I don’t know. That’s, that’s what we walked away from.
MS: What kind of plane is that?
EW: Hmmn?
MS: What kind of plane?
EW: It’s a Wellington. That was one of the last of the, the second last. There was two lost on 75 Squadron that night. They were both from 75 Squadron and they were the last Wellingtons to be shot down on a bombing mission during the war. There was one later I think on a mining operation. But that was the last of the Wellingtons so it was pretty historic was that aircraft.
MS: What was your plane’s number?
EW: Yeah. It’s up there. I forget the number. AA. Yeah.
MS: DAA.
EW: I think it’s in there. In the things in the records. [pause - pages turning] yes. AA Wellington Mark 3. Yeah. Yeah.
MS: How do you feel about the way Bomber Command was treated after the war?
EW: How what?
MS: How do you feel about the way Bomber Command was treated after the war?
EW: Well, I never had any recollection of the controversy that Bomber Command was subjected to because up in the Pacific and I wasn’t, I wasn’t aware of it. But looking back its easy to form opinions of the, the uselessness in the early stages the, but that’s something. But as it grew it certainly shortened the war. But then the loss of life later on to the, the policy that Harris took have to be questioned. But then the other side that’s total war. That was going on and war, and what’s being done today I don’t know. War is just so horrible and the civilians are the ones that suffer and you can’t, you see we were one of the gas squadrons in 3 Group. And I attended two briefings when I was there in ’42 for gas reprisal attacks. The rumours were that the Germans were out to deliver a gas attack but the response about the futility of trying to drop gas attacks from the cylinders we had in those days it would be so futile it was just really propaganda that’s all. But they were there then. I saw it with my own eyes in my own squadron. But that’s, but the, the, you can have opinions and they’re always wrong but the sacrifices that the, and risks and the toll of young lives both sides. Both Air Forces did it. Suffered. You see, the average age of Bomber Command in New Zealand was twenty two. And then we were, they say one in three were killed in those days. That’s the huge thing and then the injuries. The horrific injuries then. That was something that always worried me was the burns that you were likely to sustain in an aircraft crash. And I actually was going to throw myself on to the oncoming fire to get it over quickly. It went through my mind and I thought well where there’s life there’s hope. Stick with it. Because I could see my way out. That’s what I faced and it was just a matter of life and death, of just hanging on and thinking clearly that saved my life and able to make, to being an instrument in saving the life of the rear gunner. But that’s, that’s the way it was. But that’s the, when you read of the, and see or seen the terrible facial injuries that the chaps that were dragged away from burning aircraft and that’s, that’s one of the worst features. And they actually sent them to, to Switzerland as a recovery holiday after being operated on for the, with the skin grafts and all this stuff. But that was one of the worst. That’s the horrors of war but there are things later on you faced about, and you realise. Prior to that you think it’s a big adventure until it happens and it proves as simple as that. So that’s what it was all about and thank goodness we’ve seen the last of the days when tens of thousands of men are needlessly slaughtered. It’s all push button, the terrible results and devastation will still continue and the weaponry they’ve got. It’s frightening to think of it but that’s, that’s the way it is.
MS: So, when your plane crashed it was on fire and you were still inside. Is that right?
EW: The —
MS: When your plane crashed it was on fire and you were still inside.
EW: It was on fire before it crashed.
MS: Yeah.
EW: It was burning and bits were falling off and you, I remember the, when the fire that hit us the, I was in the astrodome. I felt all this hot liquid. I thought it was blood but it was the hydraulic fluid that had been, lines had just well so close to me it wouldn’t have mattered. Only a couple of feet away. But then to see the bits falling off the thing. But that’s, you do what you’re trained to do. Take position of [unclear] Luckily I didn’t suffer a broken arm when we crashed when you see the result of that thing there. That was after it exploded but it was just a mass of flames once it hit the ground. But you read of the, the amazing things that people walk away from. But the horrific injuries some of them one suffered. But that’s the way it was. But I’m just one of the lucky ones.
MS: So how many of you survived the crash?
EW: How many what?
MS: How many of your survived the crash?
EW: There was three of us. The, well no, two of us because Jimmy Barnes, he baled out. He was, he was taken prisoner the next day. So, there was Hugill and Pete they, they were killed and Newbold and I got out. Just by the grace of God. Yeah. But that’s that’s the way it was —
MS: You mentioned before about Hamburg.
EW: The —
MS: About Hamburg we were talking before about Hamburg. You were saying how currently with the —
EW: Of how —
MS: In Hamburg currently.
EW: Oh, Hamburg. Yes. Yes. Well, you see the, the, to read the reports at that time of the utter devastation and where human bodies were just carbonised in their own heat. They couldn’t get into their shelters. And it, it was the first time I suppose, due to immaturity as I say I had my twenty first birthday in Switzerland not realising the horrendous consequence that civilians paid. I’d seen a bit in Harrogate and so forth but then you were in London and, but those reports of the bombings there were just, you know nothing like it anywhere else there. And that there and then that hit me, and no. This is not right. That’s the, and then say today that to see the G7 holding their summit and to see the violent protests and so forth and the fires that were lit by the protesters and whatnot seventy odd years later. What it must have been like in those days when they just no escape. But that’s what it’s all about isn’t it?
MS: And you said to me before that knowing what you do know —
EW: Well, yes you see it’s the, everything in life has changed so much. The way we live, our values and everything else. They’ve all changed. It’s a different lifestyle altogether seventy years on and you wonder what it’s going to be like in another hundred years. When you’ve lived and seen almost a hundred years of of living you can say to yourself well the world’s not going to come to an end. I’ve seen it all before. Life, the sun will still shine tomorrow so why worry? There will be ups and downs and these threats and counter threats and goodness knows what. But self-preservation will save us all. There will be a way around it and and it won’t stop but life won’t come to an end that’s for sure.
MS: And you also told me before that you would be a conscientious objector now.
EW: I would yes. I’d say well because as I say what’s the point? Why does man keep on killing man? Look at the hatred and so what’s the point? Look at this, look at this Syrian business. You think of those people there. The children. What sort of generation are they going to grow into? They’ve been, when you’ve been subjected to such trauma as children, you know it’s, it’s frightening. That’s, they won’t stop at the, I mean they’ll still kill each other. I don’t know. It’s, it’s life. Yeah.
MS: And after the war when you came back to New Zealand?
EW: Yes. I came back and I suppose a bit unsettled so I worked my way back to England as an assistant butcher on a boat and I was going to try, and I was still interested in plastics and I want to learn more about them so I, but I was over in London and saw an opportunity to start a business here in plastics. And came back here and started a business in plastics and that was another story. Yeah. Yes.
MS: Plastics were very new weren’t they during the war and quite an innovative —
EW: You what?
MS: Plastic was quite an innovative material wasn’t it during the war?
EW: Yes, well I was interested in in plastics even during the war. When I was in Geneva I went and saw a factory that was making watch straps of all things. And then I wanted to see another, a factory in, I knew nothing about plastics, in Basle who it was I think it was an injection moulding thing and I got my knuckles firmly rapped by the British people saying, ‘Well, you, you don’t make arrangements to see factories without our permission,’ and what not so. Yes. But oh no it’s the, yes life hadn’t been too bad.
MS: You didn’t have any trouble adjusting to life after the war?
EW: Eh?
MS: Did you have any trouble adjusting to peace time?
EW: No. I suppose the, the life in Switzerland, eighteen months showed me a different sort of life than I’d ever have known being back here or being in the Army or the Air Force as a POW or anything like that and that changed my whole life. My thinking and so forth. A taste for certain living. I don’t know. But then you look back and say well that’s the way you’re made. You’ll always be that way. I don’t know. I still think I’m still doing things. I’m experimenting now with cooking. I’m slow cooking and all that which means cooking in a slow cooker very very slow on temperatures about fifty degrees. Cooking steak for about four or five hours and some as long as twenty hours. So, I made up a little vacuum pump using a vacuum cleaner to extract the air from a plastic bag before I seal it. Before I put it in the water. So, I’ve got some lamb steaks cooking at the moment so I’ll see how it goes [laughs] So, I’m still thinking. My mind is still thinking of doing things. So, keep the, keep as long as I can. I’ll do that.
MS: Do you want to tell me anything else at all about your time in Bomber Command?
EW: You what?
MS: Was there anything else you wanted to tell me about your time in Bomber Command that we haven’t covered?
EW: Not really. No. There’s not really a lot of things you can think about at this time. It’ll come back to you at different times and so forth that, it’s strange you forget that they, they’re out of your mind and some little thing will remind you of them but I’m lucky to still have a good memory of most things and so forth but, oh no I’ve got no complaints.
MS: And can I just confirm your rank? You said you were a warrant officer. Is that —
EW: Pardon?
MS: Can I just confirm what rank you were rank in the Air Force?
EW: The —
MS: Your rank.
EW: Rank? Pilot officer
MS: Pilot officer.
EW: Finish now.
MS: Ok. Alright. Well, that concludes our interview. Thank you so much Eddie, for your time. It’s been really fantastic to talk to you. Thank you.
EW: Lovely.

Collection

Citation

Miriam Sharland, “Interview with Eddie Worsdale,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed August 10, 2022, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/3526.

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