Interview with Harold Yeoman


Interview with Harold Yeoman


Harold Yeoman volunteered for the RAF hoping to become an air gunner and was surprised to find he would be trained as a pilot. He describes a crash landing in a Wellington returning from an operation to Cherbourg and being sent to Essen twice within twenty four hours. After several operations with 12 Squadron he was removed from operational flying due to air sickness and became a ferry pilot. His original crew went on to do more operations without him before they were lost.




Temporal Coverage




01:11:49 audio recording


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PL: My name’s Pam Locker. And I’m here today in the home of Mr Harold Yeoman of [deleted] on Thursday the 13th of October at 10 o’clock. 2016. So I’d just like to start Harold by saying thank you very much indeed on behalf of Bomber Command Memorial Trust for agreeing to an interview today. And if I could just start by asking you a little bit about your, your younger life and how you came to be involved with Bomber Command in the first place.
HY: Well, as far as my younger life’s concerned I worked in local government. And when the year came to about 1935 or ‘6, it was the day that Mussolini invaded Abyssinia, I realised then that I was of an age where I would have to do something. So, I talked to my parents and I had, my father had been in the army in the First World War and the RAMC. My brother was just about ready to go into the Royal Artillery. So my thoughts were primarily of army. And I thought well, I’ve got to volunteer for something before I’m called up and told what they’re going to do. They might put me in the Navy which I thought would be pretty horrible. So I went along to the local Drill Hall, the Army Drill Hall and said, ‘I’ve come to volunteer.’ And they said, ‘Well, that’s very hard lines because we’re full up. You can go on the waiting list if you like.’ I said, ‘No. I don’t think so. I’ll find something else.’ So [coughs] excuse me about that time I used to go to the pictures about once a week and one of the newsreels that came on, it was black and white of course was quite topical. It was dealing with wartime subjects and it was, the screen was divided into four parts. The picture. And one of the parts was a tank. Another one was a big gun and the one I was interested in was a picture of an aircraft flying along from left to right. I didn’t know what it was then but later I realised it was an Avro Anson. And here was a little man sitting in the gun turret on the top of the Anson. And I thought I could do that. You know, I don’t see why I shouldn’t do that. So, instead of thinking about the army I started thinking about the air force. Anyhow, the army said they were full up, they’d put me on the waiting list. I said, ‘No, thank you. I’ll find something else.’ The something else turned out to be the air force. So my brother who was eight years older than me and he saw what I was going to do and he got a bit jealous. He said, ‘Well, I’ll do the same thing.’ So we both went up to [laughs] we both went up to Newcastle to the, the Recruiting Centre which was in the west end of Newcastle. Scotswood Road. It was a school up on the hill and said, ‘We’ve come to volunteer for the, the air force.’ They said, ‘Righto.’ Took all my particulars and took my brothers particulars and said, ‘Well, you’ve got to have a medical.’ I said, ‘Ok. I can do that.’ And said, ‘well, come this way.’ They gave me [laughs] they just counted my arms and legs and saw whether I could see. They said, ‘Oh yes, you’ve got through.’ So that was it. ‘Just go outside and we’ll do the rest.’ So my brother came out and I said, ‘How did you get on?’ He said, ‘Oh. I failed.’ I said, ‘You failed?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘What was the matter?’ He said, ‘Well, I’ve got varicose veins.’ I said, ‘Well, so have I but I got through.’ I got a small one which has developed since then but it’s no bother. Never mind. So he came away quite despondent and I came away quite happy that I’d got in to the air force and volunteered for aircrew. I thought I’d be a gunner sitting in the top turret of an Anson somewhere or other. And in due course I got a letter to say that I had to report to the Reception Centre at Babbacombe, a suburb of Torquay. Just, it was just described as P, I think it was P, PUB or something like that which meant pilot, observer or bomb aimer or something some such. POB. So I reported there and learned I was going to become a pilot which was a great surprise to me. So, did all the necessary ground subjects at Babbacombe. Drill, PT and so on and so forth and a bit of air force law. And then I was posted next door into Torquay itself at Number 3 Initial Training Wing. The subjects on the ground developed into a bit more complicated. A bit of navigation, some gunnery. A bit of air force law. As a subject dealing with tactics in, in the air when you were doing civilian, when you, before you got operational. And that all went off. I’d got a written examination there and passed that alright. And from there I was sent to really start finding out about aeroplanes which I’d never, I’d never been close to an aeroplane before that. Never been up in one. Never seen one close too. Never touched one. And went to Number 6 EFTS at Sywell which is just outside Northampton. It’s probably Northampton Civil Aerodrome now, where they had Tiger Moths and did my initiation on to Tiger Moths with a very unpleasant instructor who shall be nameless but I’ve got his name in the back of my mind. Got rid of him and got a much more pleasant instructor which improved my flying no end. I went solo in ten hours forty five minutes I think. Something like that. And I did my first solo flight in a Tiger Moth on Christmas Eve of 1940. And I did my first solo cross-country from Sywell to Cambridge where there was another EFTS where I had to land, report to the watch office and take off again. Come back to, come back to Sywell. Navigating myself which was quite easy. Had a map on my knee. Had to keep a log on the other knee. And I got through that alright and that was more or less the end of that course. And did some aerobatics which I was not very good at. Which I was very poor at actually. From there I didn’t know what was going to happen but I soon found out the next stage was the intermediate training which because of the enemy activity that was going on was done as far away from England as possible. So I was sent out to Canada to 32 SFTS at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan where I flew Harvards. I went solo on them inside a very short order. It was only about half a dozen hours of duel I think on Harvards. We did the same sort of, same type of flying. Solo cross-country’s lasting anything up to about an hour and hour and a half. One was from Moose Jaw to a place called Dafoe. Up north in the north of Saskatchewan. From Dafoe to Watrous which was another small town. And from Watrous back to Moose Jaw. That was quite a nice, nice ride. And did a certain amount of aerobatics at which I was very, very poor. I thought well if I’m going to be a fighter pilot this is not going to serve me very well. So, at the finish of the, the course when I got through everything including examiners, examinations, the interview by the chief instructor, chief flying instructor, then the chief instructor of the station who was a very nice chap and he said, ‘Well, I suppose you want to go on to Spitfires like everybody else do you?’ I said, ‘No sir. I don’t.’ He said, ‘You don’t. What do you want to do?’ I said, ‘I want to go on to bombers.’ I said, ‘My aerobatics are very poor. I know that myself. And my instrument flying is quite good and I enjoy instrument flying so I’d rather go on to bombers.’ He said, ‘Well, I can’t promise you anything but we’ll see what we can do.’ And in due course I came back to England and was sent to Operational Training Unit at Bassingbourn which had Wellingtons. Amazingly enough I went solo on Wellingtons in less than four hours which was astonishing to me because I’d only flown single engine up ‘til then and getting into a Wellington was like coming in to a, in to a house. It was huge in my eyes having just been on single engine stuff. So I went solo on them in about three hours forty five minutes or so and did sort of a lot of basic work. Cross country’s and a bit of blind flying with the hood pulled down so you couldn’t see where you were. Including a blind take off. Well, that was very interesting. Settling down on the runway and getting yourself central. Then the instructor said, ‘Pull the hood down now and you’re going off.’ So I had to just do the take off completely blind with the instructor in the front and just went off by feeling when it was ready to get airborne. Eased back on the stick and away we went. And when I got airborne, climbed up to a thousand feet or so he said, ‘Right. Pull the hood back now. That was ok.’ That was an interesting one. I enjoyed that very much. And that was the initiation on to Wellingtons. Then the important thing was the crewing up which as you may know was done in a very haphazard manner. I just went into a room and there was a whole lot of mixture of pilots, observers as they were then. Observers as were then navigators and bomb aimers. There were gunners as well. And it was just a whole crowd of people and you just had to sort out your own crew and you’d come up to somebody and say, ‘Are you looking for a navigator?’ ‘Are you looking for a gunner?’ And it was like that. Well, I got a good navigator in an Australian chap called Colin Fletcher. The wireless op was from Solihull. We know, we knew him as Mick. Mick Pratt. And the two gunners. One was from Sudbury in Suffolk, Johnny Roe. And the rear gunner was from Balham. He was Tommy Evans. And that was the crew. So we then flew as a crew and did all the basic cross-country flying, night and day. And by that time we were ready to be posted on to a squadron. So we were posted to 12 Squadron at Binbrook. And that’s how I got to 12 Squadron. So was that enough or do you want some more?
PL: Well, what happened next? Once you got to Binbrook. Tell me a little bit about your operations.
HY: Yes. Well, we got to Binbrook as a crew and to [pause] I got into [pause] I was sent to B Flight which was commanded by Squadron Leader Abraham who was a very pleasant chap. And [coughs] my co-pilot who had been a Canadian, he wasn’t, I thought he was a Canadian. He was American actually. My co-pilot whom I picked up at OTU was then, he was detached to go in to another crew and I became co-pilot to Sergeant Potts and we did one or two operations. I did one or two operations with him. The first one I did was supposed to be to Cherbourg as a fresher operation which was one of the Channel Ports. And that was ok except that when we got as far as the south coast of England we started to have trouble with the starboard engine which started to leak glycol vapour. The glycol vapour then became ignited due to the exhaust, the heat of the exhaust. And the engine caught fire and we were trailing a plume of flame about sixty or eighty feet long. And the, the captain who said, who was a very nice bloke actually, Sergeant Potts, he said , ‘We’re going to have to put this thing down somewhere.’ So, it was pitch dark. It was at night and there was a bit of a moon and we, I didn’t know where we were and neither, I suppose neither did he because the navigation had just gone completely out of the window on that side. It was a question of survival. We were too low to bale out. We were only at, on the, over the coast. We were about eight or ten thousand feet. And the, the captain said, ‘We’ve got to go back because the engine’s giving trouble.’ This was before it caught fire. He said, ‘There’s no point in sticking around up here on oxygen. We might as well go down low.’ So we got down to two or three thousand feet by which time the engine had really caught fire. And we started to lose height almost immediately on one engine and we were too low to bale out. Ralph Potts said, ‘I’m going to have to put it down somewhere.’ So eventually we, we did a crash landing in a field by which time the engine was more or less, had more or less subsided. I’d pressed the fire extinguisher button and eventually it took effect. It flooded the engine with foam apparently. I didn’t know that. But I just pressed the button and hoped. Kept my fingers crossed. So, we, we came down in this field and luckily without any undue further mishaps. The engine was still very red hot. And when we hit the field we broke the back of the geodetics which came up through the floor and the aircraft was virtually in two bits. Luckily there was no, no injury to anybody so we all got out the, out of the top escape hatch over the pilot’s seat. And as we got out I was the last one out. I got the rest of the crew out. The captain went out first and I got the crew out by the seat of their pants. Literally pushed them out of the top and they jumped down on to the wing. I was the last one out. As I got out I found that the port engine with having flown on that for so long that was now red hot itself and I thought well that’s going to catch fire so I had to get back in and press the extinguisher button on the port engine. And that was it. We, we all got in to the field and didn’t know where we were. The next thing we knew there was an army corporal came across and said, you know, ‘Are you all ok?’ And we said, ‘Yeah. We’re all walking,’ And I said, ‘Where are we?’ He said, ‘Well, you’re near St Albans.’ So that was news to us. And he helped us over the hedge and the army then took charge of us and said, ‘We’d better get you some billets for the night and get you to a telephone. You can ring your aerodrome, let them know what’s happened.’ So we got the IFF box out of the aircraft. Which was the secret, highly secret in those days, it was a radar tracking appliance which we put on fifty miles from the English coast. We took, sorry we turned that off fifty miles from the English coast going out and put it on a hundred miles from the English coast coming back. And we took that out of the aircraft and put it into the local police station in to the safe. I was billeted in the house with a couple of middle aged ladies and just slept on the floor. There was nowhere else we could go. We got through to the, to Binbrook and let them know that we were, where we were. That we were down and safe and that the aircraft was rather bent. That was about it. We got, we got a meal, a couple of meals at the house. Thanked the ladies very much. And the next morning we got rail warrants to get back to Binbrook. So we had to travel by train from St Albans to London, across London and then from London up to Grimsby. And from Grimsby we got transport to, to Binbrook. And it was a bit, a bit amusing having to go across London on foot and in our flying kit with parachutes. People were looking at us thinking we were enemy spies. But we had, we had quite a nice journey from Kings Cross up to Grimsby. There was, I think there was a business that saw our predicament and didn’t ask many questions but he knew we’d had some trouble. So he took us along to the dining car and gave us a meal which was very kind of him. Anyhow, we got back to Binbrook and resumed activity. That was it.
PL: So, did your, your plane had to be rescued, was that repairable or were you given a new plane?
HY: I think it was. I think it was eventually put together again. And whether it became operational I don’t know but it wasn’t a complete right-off but it was as near as makes no matter [pause] And from then on we, I started in the, I’ve forgotten whose crew it was now. Oh yes it was a Canadian called Harold Cook, who took, took me over with the rest of the crew. My co-pilot, the American whom I thought was a Canadian, Elmer [Menchek?] he went into another crew and I flew with, with Harold Cook. Did a few operations with him which weren’t exactly uneventful but they were survivable. And then I developed, developed stomach trouble. Air sickness. I think it was with the stress of the burning aircraft which we’d had initially. I think that had a lot to do with it. The anti-aircraft fire had a lot more to do with it. And I was being airsick most of the, most of the time. I reported to the MO and he gave me some pills. But I did a few trips with, with these pills and they just didn’t work so I was then grounded. I was sent to Number 1 Group Headquarters at Bawtry Hall just to do a bit of admin as a supernumerary. And from there I went into intelligence. Became an intelligence officer. Did a course at Highgate in London. Got through that. Sent to, they asked me where I wanted to go to. I said well, told them where I lived. As far north as possible. So I got a posting to Linton on Ouse and there was an intelligence officer there for a time with 76 and 78 Squadron which had Halifaxes until I had a difference of opinion with the station commander who was a group captain. Greatly outranked me. He wanted me to do certain other jobs apart from intelligence work. I said, ‘Well, I don’t know how I’m going to fit them in. It’s not possible.’ He didn’t know. He’d just come, come from India. Been posted from India. He was what we called a wingless wonder or a penguin. And he hadn’t a clue about operational flying so as I said we had this difference of opinion. The next thing I knew I was shot out of the station. Posted elsewhere. You couldn’t win an argument with a group captain. It didn’t matter how hard you tried. So then he got rid of me and I was sent out of intelligence in to admin. Posted to [pause] I’m just trying to think of the name of the place now. It was a satellite of Mildenhall. Tuddenham. To assistant adjutant of 90 Squadron at Tuddenham. Which was a very, it was a nice job. It was not connected intimately with flying but it was, we had, we had aircraft on, on the station. That was the main thing. I did a time there and then the bull fell. I was posted to India. I reported to the one of the headquarters in Bombay and they said, ‘Well, you know you’re going to be posted to [pause] it was up in, on the northwest frontier. I said, ‘What’s the rank of the post?’ It was a sergeant who was doing the paperwork. He said, ‘Well it’s a flying officer post.’ And I was a flying officer by that time I’d got a thicker ring. I said, ‘Haven’t you got a flight lieutenant post anywhere?’ I thought I might as well stick my neck out and go the full hog. So he had another look at the paper and said, ‘Oh yes. We have as a matter of fact.’ So [laughs] I got a second ring and I’m just trying to think where I went. My memory is not as good as it was but —
PL: What year was this Harold?
HY: Oh, that was [pause] I think it would have been 1943 or ‘4. One or the other. And I got this flight lieutenant post at Baigachi, near Calcutta. From there I was posted further out east to Penang and I was adjutant of 185 Wing in Penang which was a very pleasant job because Penang is or probably still is the holiday resort of Malaya. And I had a very pleasant time there. It was quite an easy job. We had plenty time of job off. Played cricket. Played rugby. Played soccer. Everything that was going. Did the job as well. And made friends with a family in in George Town which was the, the main town on the island. And then the next thing that was, I think that was the end of my RAF service really because from then I was, I made my own, my own release document out. Being adjutant of 185 Wing I was responsible for moving people around. And I made my own release document out and came back to England and got released from the RAF. And that’s the end of the story.
PL: Well, Harold, just going back a little way. What were you, when you were India flying what what was the —
HY: I wasn’t flying in India.
PL: Oh right. Ok.
HY: No. No I’d been grounded.
PL: Right. Right.
HY: For good by then.
PL: Right.
HY: Had a medical board and been grounded.
PL: Oh right.
HY: Yeah.
PL: Ok. So none of that changed. So what sort of jobs were you doing?
HY: In India?
PL: Yes.
HY: Purely administrative. Movement of personnel. You’re responsible in a way for discipline among the NCOs and airmen which wasn’t a pleasant, it wasn’t an easy, it wasn’t a difficult job because they were all very well behaved. Apart from one bloke who shall be nameless. But they sorted him out quickly. And that was about it. I had plenty of time off and as I say played lots of sport and became quite friendly with as I said a local family who had a very charming daughter. We were quite friendly for a good time until I came home and we lost touch. And that was about it.
PL: And can, can I just take you back to your time in, at Linton when you were doing intelligence work and you left there. What sort of work was that?
HY: Well, that was at, at Linton on Ouse. What sort of work? Well, it was primarily briefing the crews for an operation and interrogating them when they came back. We had a form like you have. We had to ask certain questions. The first one was, ‘Where did you bomb?’ That was the, the target that you briefed them on and incidentally the targets were all military objectives. The aiming points as ours were when I was flying were military objectives. There was no question of deliberately bombing built up areas but we knew that there was now as you say his term collateral. We knew that built up areas were going to be hit. But the briefing was simply hit a certain factory. A main railway station. A GP — the head post office or some important communication centre. And when we came back we had to, they were asked, ‘Where did you bomb? And they always said the primary target which was what we’d briefed them on. ‘What height were you?’ ‘What course were you on?’ ‘How did you identify the target?’ ‘What was the opposition?’ ‘Where were the guns?’ ‘Were there many guns?’ ‘Where were they, where were they based?’ ‘Could you tell me where they were stationed around the target?’ And, ‘How did you identify the target?’ ‘And what was the navigation like?’ ‘What was the weather like?’ ‘What did you determine the wind speed and direction?’ How many, ‘What was the cloud formation?’ ‘How many, how much cloud was there in ten tenths, five tenths?’ Or whatever. And, ‘Did you see any aircraft shot down?’ ‘Could you identify them?’ ‘Where were they?’ ‘What time was it?’ And that was about all I think. So, any questions?
PL: Well, one thing that I always ask is how you felt Bomber Command were treated after the war? Do you have any comments you’d like to make about that?
HY: Yes. I think we became a dirty word. Nobody wanted to know us because we’d done some area bombing. Not, not personally. We knew that we were going to hit built up areas and quite frankly if we couldn’t find the primary target we used to say well we’ll just bomb a built up area if we can find one. And we would do that knowing that the Germans had started it by bombing Rotterdam and by bombing the East End of London fifty odd nights in a row. By bombing Coventry into obliteration. Incidentally, it’s a little aside, when I was in Northampton and they had Sywell posted, billeted out in Northampton with a very nice civilian family. They had a niece who had been in Coventry when it was very heavily bombed and she was staying with them at the time and we became friendly for quite a while ‘til I lost touch again. So as far as built up areas went we knew that the German Air Force had started indiscriminate bombing and our attitude was if we couldn’t find the primary target any built up area would do. We’d bomb any built up area irrespective of where it was as long as it was in enemy territory and it wasn’t in occupied territory which were, you know friendly territory to us. So that, that was the attitude we had about built up areas. There was two things we were, well the thing we were briefed on when we were sent on operations we’d got the primary target which as I say was a military objective — a factory, a railway station, a head post office. We got a primary target in the city. We got a secondary target. If you can’t find that one your secondary target is so and so. And failing all else your alternatives are what was known as SEMO and MOPA. S E M O and M O P A. Self Evident Military Objectives or Military Objectives Previously Attacked. SEMO and MOPA. They were the last resorts. And that was it.
PL: So, we’re just going to stop the tape for the moment.
[recording paused]
PL: Re-commencing tape with Harold Yeoman. So, Harold would you like to tell me a little bit about some of the operations that you were on?
HY: I think the ones that stood out in my mind very clearly were the trips we did to Essen which was the, the city where, in the Ruhr Valley in which Krupps Works was based. And that was the arsenal of the Nazi regime. And I did three trips to Essen altogether. Two of which were within twenty four hours which was a pretty horrific experience. We, the first one we got there at 11 o’clock one night and bombed. We think we bombed the primary. Came back again. I’d reported on the way in when we were approaching Essen I thought well there’s two fires going ahead of us. And I looked. We’d got to pick the correct one. And I worked out that we, we should go to the starboard. Pick the right hand one. That was the proper target. So we did that. When we got back we found that most people had bombed the wrong target which was the left hand fire which was further up the Ruhr Valley. Which was probably no bad thing but it wasn’t what we, the powers that be had said we had to get. So we, we discussed this over breakfast time the next morning and thought well that’s just too bad. We’ll, you know sometime we might get back there. And we thought we were going to have the day off today. Went up to the crew room and found that briefing was at 3 o’clock. So we went back to the, went to the crew room. We got briefed for Essen again and we had to be there by 11 o’clock that night. So that was twice within twenty four hours. And Essen was about the worst target in Germany apart from Berlin which I’d luckily never got to. And we were there within twenty four hours and got away unscathed apart from a few little minor holes. But we lost our own commanding officer on the second raid, Wing Commander Golding, who was a very nice chap. And a Canadian pilot whom I’d come with from Canada on the ship. Met on the ship and we became friends. Flight Sergeant Lowe. He was lost that night too. So we lost two in one night from, from 12 Squadron. Which was a bad blow but that was the thing that happened. That was the way it went. You just had to live with it and get on with it.
PL: And was the target destroyed in that instance?
HY: Well, we never, we never really knew until much later on because the only way we could find out was the, if they sent the, we just called it the PRU Photographic Reconnaissance Unit. They were unarmed Spitfires who went over at about forty thousand feet and took pictures and came back with the photos of the, the target you’d been to. But quite often we didn’t get to know. Occasionally we did, but that was very occasionally. The only, the only place we got to know first-hand was a, really it was an amazing briefing. Really. We’d never imagined that we’d ever get a target which was inside the city of Paris which was declared, virtually declared to be an open city which hadn’t to be attacked, bombed or hadn’t to knock a brick down. But we had a target of the Renault factory and that was in the, the southwest central of the city. The suburb of Billancourt. It was a night attack as all our raids were. They were all night. We didn’t do any daylight raids thank goodness otherwise the casualties would probably have been much heavier, probably Including myself. But this was a night raid and it was at low level which was an unaccustomed thing. We used to be at as high as possible. Usually eighteen thousand to twenty thousand feet was what we aimed at. We usually got that. Sometimes we got a little bit higher than twenty thousand feet but not much. It was a high rate of climb. Anyhow, the Renault factory had to be attacked at low level and it was going to be marked by, and it was marked by flares. A whole lot of flares which were laid by Stirlings which carried a big load. They were four-engined, and they carried quite a huge load. And the Stirlings kept the target marked by means of two rows, parallel rows of flares on either side of the target. All we had to do was find the flares. Fly up the corridor and find the target and drop your bombs and come away. And the opposition was absolutely nil. There was not a gun within range of us. There was one gun firing in Paris. In the, away to the east and it was firing tracer in to the air. At what we never knew. We didn’t care. It was so funny. We were just laughing our heads off at that. They were shooting at nothing and we were at the other side of the city. And we got absolutely no opposition. It was just like taking cake from a baby as they say. So we bombed at about twenty five hundred feet instead of twenty thousand five hundred. We were two thousand five hundred. The height you bombed at was limited by the highest capacity of the bomb that you carried. If you were carrying a four thousand pounder your minimum height was four thousand feet. If you were carrying a one thousand pounder that was your biggest one you could go down as low as a thousand feet. So we split the difference and bombed at two thousand five hundred. And as I say it was, it was just like walking down the street at home. Quite easy. And the target was put out of action for — I think it was nine months. Completely. It was. I’ve seen photos of it. I’ve got them in a book somewhere. And it was absolutely devastated. Unfortunately, we couldn’t help it of course, there was overshoot and undershoot and we killed two or three hundred French civilians. Which was regrettable but we got the message through to say, from the French Resistance to say that how much damage had been done and how many people were killed and said well it’s, that was war. And they were not happy to accept it but they accepted it as one of the risks of war. So these poor French people they paid the price of slight inaccuracies in bombing. Because you dropped your stick of bombs you couldn’t guarantee that every single one was going to hit the target. If you had a, you sometimes carried fourteen two hundred and fifty pound bombs. If you were dropping a stick of fourteen bombs and you were flying at a hundred and eighty miles an hour. Well you can calculate how far apart they were going to be. So if two or three hit the target that was great and the rest were overshoots and undershoots. So that’s about it.
PL: So did you know what was being made at the Renault factory? I mean —
HY: Yes. They were making wheeled vehicles of all sorts for the Germans obviously and to be used on the Russian front. And the Russians were, in those days were our great friends and allies. Supposed to be until we learned differently. There was only one thing they were, they are interested in, or were interested in, that was the Russians. They couldn’t care less about anybody else. Allies or not. But we didn’t know that at the time. Uncle Joe was Uncle Joe and he was great friends, you know. We were all pals together. So we were helping the Russians which we thought was a great thing. That’s what they were doing. Making wheeled vehicles for the Germans to use along the Eastern Front. And as I say production was completely stopped for about eight or nine months. Which is as much as you can expect.
PL: So were there any other raids that you remember Harry that, Harold, that you’d like to talk about?
HY: Well, the, the last one I did was to Cologne which was, I believe the last raid or the last but one before the thousand bomber raid in May of 1942. And that was the last trip I did to, to Cologne which was a brilliant moonlit night. It was a wonderful night really and the target was quite easy to find. We were routed to find the Rhine and we, once we found the Rhine and we flew down it and until we got Cologne in the sights and that was it. That was it. It was quite an easy, an easy one to find. And the trips to Essen were quite hair raising. They were very, very fraught because the opposition was so fierce. I mean it was, there were very few night fighters in those days. I only ever saw two and we got out of there quite smartly but the anti-aircraft fire was intense. And when you’re being shelled by heavy anti-aircraft shells and they’re bombing, they were bursting not very far away from me. You knew all about it. It’s a pretty horrifying experience. It’s one which I wish I [pause] it comes back to me now and again with great clarity. [pause] So that’s about all. Well, as I say at the end of a talk. Any questions?
PL: So, your, your — before you were grounded what was your last, your last trip out before you were grounded?
HY: My last what?
PL: Your last flight out before you were grounded.
HY: That was to Cologne.
PL: That was the Cologne one.
HY: Yeah. That was number fourteen I think. That was my fourteenth trip. And as I say I was being air sick. It started when, when I went to the Paris raid. That was the sixth or seventh trip. That’s when I started having this airsickness and it went on all the rest of the time despite the MOs pills. He said, ‘Well, this can’t go on. We’ll have to stop you flying.’ So, as I say I went to Headquarters 1 Group just as a supernumerary admin officer. I was given six months non-operational flying by the, a medical board in London. And [pause] I was ferrying. That was it. I went on to ferrying from, picking up brand new Wellingtons from a place called Kemble near Cirencester and flying them to Moreton in the Marsh where I was based which was an OTU for pupils who were going to North Africa to join the Desert Air Force. And we picked up, they would ring up in the morning and say, ‘We’ve got —’ one, two, three, maybe four, ‘New aircraft. Come and collect them.’ So the CO would say, ‘Right. You. You. You. Get in the, get in the Anson.’ Be flown up to Kemble and you would say, ‘Well, which one’s mine?’ ‘Oh, that one over there.’ You’d go there. The ground crew would be standing around, they’d say, ‘Would you just sign that,’ and give you a piece of paper. Signing for one brand new Wellington. And you’d get in on your own and just start it up and taxi out and fly back to Moreton in the Marsh and land. And signal. You used signal for transport. We had no radio. We were on our own. It was only a forty mile ride I think. Something like that. And we’d get to Moreton, I’d get to Moreton and signal for transport by pushing the throttles up and down a couple of times to full revs and that told them that you were overhead. You needed something to bring you back to the, back to the flight office.
PL: So were they, were they limited, was there limited equipment in them at that stage?
HY: No. They were fully operational.
PL: Right.
HY: And what —
PL: Apart from the radios.
HY: Well, the radio was there but you were flying. You couldn’t use it. You couldn’t turn it on or off or change the frequency or anything. You just ignored it. But they were handed over to trainee crews at this, this OTU who took the aircraft over and did a certain number of cross-country’s with it and they flew them out to North Africa. That was their first really long flight and it was a long flight. They flew to, from Moreton in the Marsh to Portreath in Cornwall I think. An aerodrome there. From Portreath they flew to Gibraltar. And from Gibraltar to Malta. From Malta to North Africa. And that was the chain that we were part of. Handing these brand new machines over to pupils who flew to North Africa with them.
PL: So Harold is there anything else about your wartime experiences that you’d like to share that perhaps aren’t necessarily to do with operations?
HY: Well, the thing is I still miss is being surrounded by people in uniform. I miss that very much indeed. Even to this day. It comes back to me very clearly at times. I wish there was a crowd of uniforms around me that I could just have a chat to. But incidentally I haven’t mentioned this but when I was sent in to intelligence at Linton on Ouse, the second or third morning I was there. Sat down at the desk. Desk here, telephone there, telephone there and another officer, intelligence office on my left waiting for the, a target to come through. And we had WAAF watchkeepers who act as, virtually they were virtually secret telephone operators. They dealt with all the secret traffic over the telephones can’t you. The second or third morning a WAAFs corporal came in, sat down. I thought I like the look of her. She looks very nice. And finished up dating her. Well, I didn’t date her. I went on a blind date. Somebody arranged a blind date. The girl who arranged it, the WAAF who arranged it said, ‘Would you like to come along?’ I said, ‘Yes. I’ll come along. Where are you going?’ ‘Oh, we’re going to the pub in — ’ not Doncaster. It was a town near Doncaster. Yes. I’ll come along. Who am I taking?’ She said, ‘Oh we’ll find someone very nice for you.’ And it was this WAAF watchkeeper, the corporal watchkeeper and we got on like a house on fire. We chatted away and came back together and I finished up marrying her years later. And that’s her on the mantelpiece.
PL: What a lovely story. So when did you marry?
HY: Well, I, we agreed not to get married until after the war. So I met her in — when was it? 1943 or ‘4.
PL: And how old were you then?
HY: Oh, in, well 1943 I’d be twenty two. And we got married in 1947. Yeah. I got demobbed in ’46 and by the time we got accommodation, that was the big problem, post-war accommodation. My parents and I had to search around here for it and eventually we got a couple of rooms near to where Bill lives now. And we then got, I told Joan that I’d found this and would she like to come up and have a look. So we had a look at them and she said, ‘Yeah. That’s ok.’ I think they weren’t very much. But we got married then. In Guildford where her aunt lived. Her aunt gave us a wedding present as a, got us married and reception etcetera. And I was married at Guildford. We settled down up here. But her home was in Worthing which was a long way but we used to go there on holiday. Spend half the holiday here and half down in Worthing.
PL: So you were demobbed in 1946 and you must have come out of the war thinking, what do I do now?
HY: No. Well I went back to my, my job.
PL: What happened next?
HY: Just, not far from here. A couple of hundred yards from here. I’d been an assistant at the time. Not an inspector. And I went back and just started to study and qualified as a weights and measures inspector and worked, as I say about three hundred yards from where we’re sitting in now. That’s where I met Bill.
PL: And then you’ve had, and that’s where you worked for the rest of your career.
HY: Yes. Yes.
PL: Just stopping the tape again.
[recording paused]
HY: After I was —
PL: Restarting the tape. Sorry Harold.
HY: Yes. After I was grounded my crew continued to fly. They did, I think it was one trip to Hamburg which was a successful one. They got back ok. They did the next trip to Essen. Again that was the bogey target. And they didn’t come back. And they’ve never been found. I’ve made enquiries from the RAF Museum. The RAF Museum at Hendon. And I’ve been over to Amsterdam. Got in touch with the people there who were very interested in RAF history as they used to hear us going over every night as it were. And see if they could do anything to trace them. They put me in touch with, with two people by letter and I’ve been in touch with them to see if there was any possibility of finding out what happened to my crew. But nobody knows anything. They just, they just went missing and they never came back. So all I can assume is that they were damaged in some way and they went down in the North Sea. And that’s the end of that story. No more I can do about it.
PL: You were going to tell me another story about coming back from the French coast, was it? And you saw some lights in the sky.
HY: Oh the glow. Yeah. The single glow. Yeah. When we were going, on the way to Paris we were quite low and just as we crossed the coast I saw a single light ahead. I reported this to the skipper who was flying it. I said, ‘Look. There’s a, I think there’s a fighter ahead. One. It’s a single engine.’ He, he’d got his eye on it and he said, ‘Yeah. I think it is too.’ So we flew on for a bit. I said, ‘We’re not losing him. He’s going the same direction as us.’ So he said, ‘Well, ok. Let’s alter course a bit.’ So we altered course to try and get out of his way and then resumed flying and he was, the glow was still there. In a couple of minutes I said, ‘Do you know that it is?’ I said, ‘That’s the target.’ And we could see the target burning virtually from the French coast. This was the one I’ve told you about. The Renault factory. I said, ‘That’s the,’ so and so, ‘Target. Just aim for that.’ So we just, we just went for that and it was. It got bigger and bigger and bigger. And we got there and we found the whole place was in flames. It was quite, quite an experience. I’d forgotten about that.
PL: Good heavens. And then just another thing we’ve talked about. When you were — leaping all the way back to Penang, you had an experience there where you were involved with a court case.
HY: Yes.
PL: With a local.
HY: Yes. A message came through to my CO. I was his adjutant then. And it came through and he came to me. He said, ‘Look they had the Judge Advocate General’s Department on the phone through our headquarters and they want three officers to sit on a court to try a local man who has been collaborating with the Japanese.’ And he said, ‘They want [pause] they want an army officer,’ who was in charge, a major who was in charge. ‘They want an army captain and they want an RAF officer,’ And he said, ‘You’re it.’ He said, ‘You’re sitting on the court case.’ So. It lasted about a fortnight. We sat there every day. We had to take it all down in longhand. Everything that was said. My hands at the finish were just absolutely useless. We tried this collaborator who was a chap called Carlile da Silva. He was Eurasian and he’d been collaborating with the Japanese and giving them information as to who the English sympathisers were and they’d be sorted out and taken away and tortured and killed and goodness knows what. And he had a very bad history like that. And of course after the war his number was virtually up because people came to us and said, ‘Hey. Get hold of Carlisle de Silva. He’s the man who was betraying you to the Japs.’ So he was arrested and put on trial. And it was very interesting, the trial. They got all the evidence from the various witnesses as to the connections with him. What had happened. What had happened to them. And we had to have, I think it was three interpreters because the, while the locals on by and large spoke some English, some of them very good English but the witnesses were sort of ordinary, ordinary Penang citizens. And some were Indian, some were Chinese and some were Malays. And we had to have interpreters for the three different. In fact the Chinese had two interpreters because some spoke Mandarin and some spoke, most of them spoke Hokkien which was the North China dialect. The North Chinese dialect. So, we had to have four interpreters to interpret the, what they were saying. Or interpret the questions to them and they would answer in their language and that would be interpreted back into English to us and we’d take it all down. And as I say the trial lasted about a fortnight and eventually we found him guilty and he was sentenced to a certain number of years of rigorous hard labour. Which I’m told involved picking up heavy stones and carrying them about twenty yards. Putting them down. Then picking them up again and carrying them back. Until they dropped with fatigue. That was the rigorous hard labour. No more than he deserved because most of them deserved to be put up against the wall but that wasn’t on the cards. But it was, that was an interesting experience being, there was a Major Blacklock I think was the chairman and there was myself and an army captain. The last morning I was a bit disturbed when I, when we were all the three of us came in and sat down on this dais with a desk and the public were admitted to all the proceedings. It was all open. And the last morning when we were going to pronounce sentence and telling him what was going to happen to him the door opened at the back and four or five locals came in and I just didn’t like the look of them. I thought they were pals of the defendant. They were going to probably throw a bomb or a hand grenade or something. So I reported it to the, the major, I said, ‘Look. I don’t like the look of those bods who’ve just came through the door, I said, ‘Can you do something about them?’ So he said, ‘Oh yeah. We’ll see to that.’ So he just got on the phone and the next thing we got a few military policemen came in and just gave them the once over and they were ok actually. They were just local civilians who, who had attended but they had a very suspicious look about them to me. So Carlisle de Silva got eight to ten years rigorous hard labour. Lucky to get away with it I think. But we couldn’t —
PL: Did you ever hear what happened to him after that? Did he survive —
HY: No idea.
PL: The —
HY: No. No idea. He just, it was published in the local paper. In the Penang Times Herald I think it was. I think I’ve got the cutting somewhere. All colourful stuff.
PL: Which leads us neatly to —
HY: Pardon?
PL: Which leads us neatly to your story about the filming of, “The Wooden Horse.”
HY: Oh yes. The local newsagent had an assistant then. A girl assistant. And I used to go in there quite frequently to get a newspaper, magazines or whatever. We became quite friendly and she knew, she was interested in in RAF wartime activities. And do you know I had long, long talks to her. She came here, had a cup of coffee. And when I watched, I watched a film on the box called, I think it was, “The Wooden Horse,” and to my astonishment one of the characters was my own flight commander from 12 Squadron and he was playing the part of the adjutant of a particular unit. And he was completely recognisable. I recognised him instantly. I said, ‘Oh that’s Squadron Leader Abraham.’ So I told this girl who had a very knowledgeable friend about film matters and he was a film photographer himself and he knew all about taking stills of programmes. So he got the still I made I got for her to tell her all about it. And she came and had a look at the, at the recording I had made and she said, ‘Oh, I can get, get a still made of Squadron Leader Abraham’s picture.’ So she did and I’ve got that on the wall behind me. So I’ve got my own flight commander in the room as it were.
PL: Did you ever find out how he got involved with that?
HY: Pardon?
PL: Did you ever find out how he got involved?
HY: No. I didn’t actually. He did change his name from Abraham to Ward apparently. I got to know that through a fellow survivor who I was very friendly with on the squadron who unfortunately lived in Kent. I’ve only seen him twice since the war. But we always talked about, you know the B Flight at Binbrook and Squadron Leader Abraham. He told me that he had a rich relative, an aunt I think who said she would leave him quite a lot of money as long as he changed his name to hers. And he changed his name to Ward. So he became Squadron Leader Ward. But he was from, I think it was Kidderminster. I never saw him after the war at all but I met this friend of mine from B Flight. He was an observer in, in Abraham’s crew actually. Eric [Foynet?] I met, met him a couple of times or three times since the war, in London and I’ve lost touch with him now. I think he must have died. He was a bit older than me. But a very good friend of him. And that’s about it.
PL: Well, Harold, thank you so much for sharing your fascinating stories with us.
HY: I’m glad you found it so. It was quite ordinary to me but obviously to someone else it might be more interesting than I found it.
PL: Extraordinary. Thank you very much indeed.
HY: Oh, you’re very very welcome. I’m glad to have been of help.



Pam Locker, “Interview with Harold Yeoman,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 24, 2024,

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