Interview with John Tait


Interview with John Tait


John Tait was prompted to join the Royal Air Force, as he was American by birth and therefore he had to report to the police station once a month because he was considered an ‘alien’. He was a wireless operator and gunner, flying in Ansons, Wellingtons, Stirlings and Lancasters. He was based at RAF Skellingthorpe, enjoying the social life in and around Lincoln, flying bombing operations over the Ruhr Valley as well as various marshalling yards in France. At the end of the war he joined 35 Squadron who flew Lancasters in formation both in the UK and the USA. He was on the first aircraft that was allowed to fly over the White House after the war.







00:42:42 audio recording

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MC: This interview is being conducted on behalf of the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewee is John Tait and the interviewer is Mike Connock. The interview is taking place at the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archives at Riseholme College on Friday 10th June 2016. Also present at the interview are Alan Tait, Mrs Beryl Tait and Ken Tait. OK John, what I want you to do is just tell me a bit about um, when and where you were born for a start.
JT: Well I was born in America in Helena, Montana and my mother was English and my Dad was Scottish. Anyway my mum had had enough of travelling abroad so she wanted to come home. So when I was five she brought me to England and that was fine. Took a while to get used to people, people getting used to me actually. But anyway, when the war started we —
MC: Yeah, go on John, it’s just, what did your parents do? What was —
JT: My dad was, he was a retired cattle farmer and my mother was a retired school teacher.
MC: So how old were you when you came to —
JT: I was five.
MC: Five.
JT: Five, yes.
MC: So you started school in the UK?
JT: I started school in the UK, yeah.
MC: And that was? What year were you born?
JT: 1923.
MC: 1923, yes. So this would be ’28 when you came to us.
JT: It was, yes.
MC: And, so what about school days in those days, what was that like?
JT: Well school days, well I went to a local school, I didn’t start until I was six but it was very good, a local school, I enjoyed it and then when I was eleven I went up to, oh hell where did I go, oh God, isn’t it awful. Temple Road Central Boys School in Birkenhead. It was a secondary school and I went there and very good, I was accepted even though I was from the outer districts because they were nearly all lads from the city. But we got on ok, I did very well. In fact I played football for their team, but anyway I went to school there ‘til I was fourteen and then I took me O levels, except they weren’t O levels then but it were whatever. Anyway then I went to work in an office to train as a cost accountant, me dad knew someone who had an office and he would train — so I went to train as a cost accountant. Anyway, when the war broke out I was eighteen years of age and I didn’t like being in an office all day so I volunteered for the RAF.
MC: What made you choose the RAF?
JT: Well there were two pals of mine, lived in the same road as me and they were both wireless operator air gunners and neither of them came back, they both lost their life. One was Derek Jones and the other was Bob Christie, Bob Christie, yeah. They both lost their lives as it happened, but I was the only one of the three that came back. But anyway I volunteered for the RAF —
MC: So that was when you were eighteen?
JT: Eighteen yes.
MC: Oh right.
JT: I went to Padgate for six weeks, square bashing and then we went to Black — [pause] While I was there I volunteered for air crew and um, I went to Blackpool on a wireless operators air gunners course.
MC: Hmm.
JT: I forget how long it was but anyway I did a tour there and then I went to Stormy Down to do an air gunners course and then I qualified for that and I was posted to a place called Bruntingthorpe which, where they trained lads straight from school
MC: Was that an operational training unit?
JT: Pardon?
MC: Operational training unit?
JT: Operational training, yep. So I —
MC: Do you remember which one it was?
JT: Bruntingthorpe.
MC: Bruntingthorpe.
JT: Bruntingthorpe yep. RAF Bruntingthorpe yeah. Anyway, I did me tour there and the next thing was to go to a higher, err, higher course for wireless operators up north. So I went up there and while we were there they were sorting out the air gunners. Well I got picked to go down to Stormy Down to do a six week air gunners course, which I did and I enjoyed. Anyway, having finished that we then went to Market Harborough, I think. And the skipper was there . Dougie Milligan came round, he was picking his crew for the Anson.
MC: And that was where you crewed up, at Market Harborough?
JT: That’s were I got picked by Dougie Milligan to go with him, yeah. That’s right. We went, we did, we went from there to —
MC: Market Harborough, that would have been the OTU I suspect.
JT: Sorry?
MC: Was the Operational Training Unit at Market —
JT: That was, the OTU at Market Harborough, OTU, it was yeah. And we went from Market Harborough to um, —
MC: Can I just interrupt you there. Um, at Market Harborough was that just the five crew?
JT: We hadn’t got, yes it was. We hadn’t got a full crew then.
MC: Because that was on, oh, what aircraft was that?
JT: It was on Wellingtons.
MC: Wellingtons, yeah.
JT: Because we were on Wellingtons yeah. Anyway, we picked up a oh, um, bit of a gunner [?] I think there.
MC: And a flight engineer?
JT: And that’s what we did. We were on Wellingtons. We hadn’t got a flight engineer, [coughs).
MC: Where did you pick those up?
JT: Picked them up at Market Harborough, picked two up at Market Harborough.
MC: Oh you did pick them up at Market Harborough did you?
JT: We didn’t pick the [pause] flight engineer, we picked him up later because they hadn’t got flight engineers on Lancs. But anyway, as it happened when he joined us and we went to um, from there to, oh, somewhere in North Lincoln, I don’t know. Oh I know, we went to go on Stirlings, that’s right at Scampton. We went to Scampton.
BT: Oooh.
JT: That’s right. And the skipper converted on to Stirlings and we picked up a, oh, [pause]
MC: Flight engineer?
JT: Flight engineer.
MC: Yup.
JT: And his name was Jimmy James and he came from Liverpool, funnily enough but he was a good lad. He’d been, he came from South Africa actually. He’d been a mechanic out there for years, he was, and he wanted to join air crew to bring him back home to train so he joined us and they brought him back to train as a flight engineer which he was delighted and he was with us until the end of our tour.
MC: So was that at a Lancaster finishing school or a conversion unit?
JT: Oh yes, it was Stirlings, Lancs finishing school yeah.
MC: Yeah, oh yeah, it was a heavy conversion unit.
JT: It was a conversion school.
MC: Yeah, yep, hmm.
JT: They were horrible things, big [laughter]the Stirling but we flew quite a lot of trips, not operations but flights. And then we went from having completed our course on Stirlings, we then went to [pause] we went on the squadron, that’s right.
MC: Did you not, you must have gone and converted from Stirlings to Lancasters?
JT: We converted to Lancasters, we didn’t convert to Lancs until we got to the squadron.
MC: Oh didn’t you?
JT: No I don’t think so. I’m just trying to think —
MC: You went to the Lancaster Finishing School I think, was that, um did you not go to —
JT: It was Scampton [unclear] converted on to Lancasters at Scampton, that’s right, yes we did, yeah. And err, that was when our crew was formed, we’d got a full crew.
MC: Yep.
JT: [pause] I’m sorry if it’s a bit bitty.
MC: Oh no, no it’s not. It’s fine, it’s no problem and so you got, so um, I mean up until then you got posted to your squadron but all the crew was made up.
JT: That’s right. There was, Dougie Milligan picked us up from, originally from Bruntingthorpe, that was it. [pause]
MC: Just going back slightly, back to when you joined up, um, as a teenager what was life like growing up just before the war. I’m sorry to have —
JT: It was fine, well I used to, I enjoyed football, I played a lot of football but of course when the war started we were classed as aliens.
MC: Oh!
JT: Because I was an American citizen, and we used to have to report to the police station once a month and that’s why I said ‘blow this I’m going to join the RAF’ so I did. [laughter] Yeah.
MC: So having been to the err, operation training unit, conversion unit, you were then posted to err, —
JT: Skellingthorpe
OTHER: Skellingthorpe, 50 Squadron.
JT: Yeah, that’s right.
MC: Can you remember arriving at Skellingthorpe, much about the station?
JT: Aah, we thought it was a bit out in the wilderness but err, yeah, we did no it was great, when you‘ve got a crew around you, you were quite happy.
MC: Yeah by that time they’d got the concrete runways and things like that.
JT: Oh yes, that’s right.
MC: Hmm, yeah. So, can you remember much about your first operation, all your operations, your first one for instance?
JT: No.
MC: Did it not stick with you.
JT: Doesn’t ring a bell. As I say, I did thirty three all with Dougie Milligan and I did one as a spare bod with a skipper named Mike, oh Pete Stockwell.
MC: What was his name? Pete?
JT: Peter Stockwell. He was a flight sergeant, he’d gone with me from Skellingthorpe to there, to train and they didn’t just trust him on Wellingtons so they put him on the Stirling. He would fly, flying a fighter, that’s right flying Spitfires 'til he pranged one and they told him to get off the squadron and get back to the squadron so he asked me would I go back with him and I said ‘of course I would’. So we formed another crew up and that was it.
MC: I mean you did some hairy operations. Does anything stand out in particular?
JT: Um, no, err, [pause].
OTHER: You said that, you know —
JT: The Ruhr Valley was the worst.
MC: Rurh, yeah, yeah [unclear]
OTHER: Well some of the operations you did were, you know, you did Munich –
JT: Pardon?
OTHER: You did Munich didn’t you?
JT: That was the longest, the longest trip was Munich I think.
OTHER: Yeah, Munich.
OTHER: Did you do Berlin?
JT: No.
OTHER: Yes, at the time, ‘cos at the time you were joining it was the lead up, leading up to D-Day.
JT: That’s right.
MC: So you would, did you do some, you obviously did some invasion support operations?
JT: Well we did some in France, we did a few trips in France, that’s right, that’s right yeah.
MC: Yeah, so the actual raids themselves you don’t remember much about?
JT: The operations? No. Ah, well —
MC: How did you feel, I mean did you err, —
JT: Probably scared stiff to start with, but err, —
MC: Yeah.
JT: But you got used to
MC: That’s what I’m trying to get at, you know, how did you —
JT: That’s right the first trip I always remember the first trip. I can’t remember where it was but I couldn’t believe it and I looked out of my rear window and I could see the fires down below and I said to Jimmy Marlow, ‘Jim come and have a look’. ‘Not bloody likely’ he said, ‘I’m sitting here’ and he was sitting on the table drinking his tea. He wouldn’t have a look out of the window.
MC: And Jimmy Marlow was the?
JT: He was the, he was the navigator.
MC: The navigator, yes.
JT: He was a sergeant or a flight sergeant then. Yeah. He’d worked for the Air Ministry and he wanted to get a commission so they could give him a position to go back to, when he went back from the RAF. Which he got in the end.
MC: So I, I gather Doug Milligan was a good skipper then?
JT: Oh, Dougie, yes.
MC: He got you through thirty three operations.
JT: He was dead on, he really was, he was.
MC: And you all had a good crew, you all got on well.
JT: Very good. We were lucky with the crew.
MC: Yeah, what about —
JT: We lost our rear gunner for a while at the end because he got frostbite and he was invalided out of the RAF and we got another, just for a couple of trips, but err, yeah we got on great.
MC: Yeah, what about socialising in the area round Lincoln?
JT: Oh.
MC: Don’t give too much away.
JT: You know Lincoln was a wonderful place to socialise, people were so friendly, it was great, they really were.
MC: You used to go out most evenings?
JT: Most evenings we’d be down the pub, local pub. In fact there was one night we were all out on the booze and they decided to put an op on and they sent the RAF Police round Lincoln calling for all members of 50 Squadron to come back and we went back to the squadron but we, some of them were half canned. Dougie Milligan wouldn’t bother, well he wasn’t a great drinker. He liked a drink but he wasn’t a great drinker, but the rest of us were [laughter].
MC: [laughter] you made full use of the local hostelries.
JT: That’s right, there’s a lot of nice people in Lincoln.
MC: So what, which, where did you used to go? Can you remember?
JT: I can’t remember the name of the pub. There was a pub down the road from Skellingthorpe and there was a lady there, she invited us in one night. Her husband works, he was working away, working on a job or something and she had two or three daughters or nurses who visited and she invited us to join them for a party one night and um, the night they put the operation off we were in Lincoln, she was sat in the back kitchen with me feeding me coffee to sober me up before we went back [laughter]. She was great, a lovely lady and she was, oh what was her name? No, it’s gone. She was lovely, the people were lovely they really were.
MC: So you got around in Lincoln?
JT: Oh yeah, no complaints
MC: Yes. It’s err, you were a wireless operator?
JT: Wireless operator, yes.
MC: Can you, I mean [pause] so you was a WOP air gunner, so I mean I gather you had your 21st birthday while you was on the squadron?
JT: Oh yes.
MC: So um, how did you celebrate that?
JT: [laughter] down the pub [laughter].
MC: [laughter] So they looked after you did they on your 21st?
JT: Oh yeah, had a fabulous time.
MC: So what did you get up to on that then? Anything special?
JT: Nothing, well apart from going for a drink in the pub, that’s about it, that’s all we did anyway.
MC: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
JT: We hadn’t got enough money to go buying it or wining and dining but we went for a pint, yeah.
MC: Can you remember much about your C — Commanding Officer? Whoever your CO was?
JT: I’ll tell you who he was, not the Commanding Officer. Marshall of the Royal Air Force, Sir Mike Beetham.
MC: Uhuh.
JT: He, I think he was a flight lieutenant on our squadron and he was a flight lieutenant a very, B Flight, no sorry, I was on B, he was on A Flight. Yeah, Mike Beetham was on A Flight. He was a great bloke, very approachable, very pleasant chap.
MC: Did you know any of his crew?
JT: Well I did at the time but I don’t now. But —
MC: Sir Michael Beetham, so as I say, Reg Payne was Michael Beetham’s wireless operator. So you may know him.
JT: Oh well that’s somebody I’d perhaps recognise.
MC: How’s your morse these days then?
JT: Sorry?
MC: How’s our morse these days, morse code?
JT: I haven’t done any, dit dah dah. I can do it though.
MC: I’m sure you can.
JT: Yeah.
MC: Yeah. So you, obviously you finished your tour, you say you did thirty three?
JT: I did thirty three and then I stayed on, we were all, the crew was then dispersed, they was —
MC: Yeah?
JT: And I stayed on and did one trip with Pete Stockwell.
MC: Yeah? [pause] Yeah, and then where did you go from there?
JT: We went from there to um, I think we went to Market Harborough with Pete Stockie.
MC: Back to Market Harborough.
JT: Yep. He was told to get himself a crew and get back on the squadron, he was a bit of a lad was Pete, [laughter] flight lieutenant [laughter] but we have got a [unclear]
MC: So he finished up as a flight lieutenant then did he?
JT: Pete did.
MC: Yeah?
JT: Yeah. Well, our navigator Barney, he was a navigator with Pete, he was a flight lieutenant too. But we were, the rest of us were senior NCOs, yep.
MC: So how long were you at Market Harborough then on the OTU?
JT: Probably, maybe a year, a couple of years.
MC: As long as that?
JT: Well what they did, they asked, 35 Squadron was formed to do formation flying, twelve Lancs in formation and we were on that, Pete Stocky was on that so we went with him, formation flying. We used to do all over the country and then we went to America to celebrate Army Air Corps Day. We did six weeks tour in the States formation flying.
MC: So that would have been in ’45 then?
JT: That would be yeah, maybe ’46 I don’t know.
MC: How long were you over there?
JT: A long time ago.
MC: You was over there a long time?
JT: Well six weeks. We did six weeks.
MC: You enjoyed that?
JT: We started off in New York, went right down to the south coast and round about. We were the first crew to fly over the White House. They allowed aircraft to fly over the White House and the Lancs flew over there. But, oh we had a six weeks tour [unclear]
MC: And that was with 35 Squadron?
JT: 35 Squadron. We were entertained, taken to Hollywood, we were entertained in Hollywood shown the people doing the rehearsals and acting. We had a wonderful time really. Couldn’t, couldn’t do any wrong. [laughter] We came back and I asked to do me time after that. I only had about a fortnight to do when we came back. I got demobbed and that was it. But we had a wonderful time.
MC: So when were you demobbed?
JT: Uh —
MC: Because you stayed in —
JT: Before, I signed up for six months. I didn’t actually do the full six months I don’t think. They let me out early. I forget now to be honest.
OTHER: Indeed, probably late ’45.
MC: Yeah. So having come out the Air Force, what did you after the Air Force then?
JT: I needed a job obviously. I didn’t want to go, I didn’t want to be a cost accountant, there was no way. And a pal of mine worked for McAlpines, he was in the office at Sir Alfred McAlpines so I got a job, he got me a job in the office Sir Alfred McAlpines and I started there off as a [pause] stationery assistant then I was posted, I got asked to go out on site, I became a timekeeper then I became office manager and then became an area office manager and then while I was doing that I was doing a lot of the work that surveyors were doing and the chief surveyor said to me ‘John,’ he said ‘why don’t you take up surveying?’ he said, ‘you know more than these buggers’. So I applied and I went to the college of building for about six years I think, five years and I studied to be a quantity surveyor and became a chartered surveyor and I finished up my time in Cheshire County, yes I worked for Chester City, Cheshire County.
MC: So when did you meet Beryl then?
JT: Oh, I met Beryl way back, that was when —
BT: [laughter] Ah, when was that? I was —
JT: Where was I working then?
BT: Seventeen or eighteen, whenever that was because I’m eighty five on Sunday.
JT: Aye, that’s not good. Where were you, you were working at McKagan Barnes (?) weren’t you?
BT: Sorry?
JT: You were working at McKagan Barnes (?)
BT: Yeah, and I was in the accountants office.
JT: She was training in the accountant’s office.
MC: So that, you met before the war?
JT: Sorry?
MC: You met before the war?
JT: Oh, no.
BT: Oh no, after that.
MC: After the war?
BT: I used to see him very often going back off leave in his RAF uniform and I used to think, oh he looks alright and you know, [laughter] not realising I’d end up marrying you [laughter]. But um, no we just met virtually at a dance at the local dance hall.
JT: That’s right.
MC: Yes.
BT: He came in, we spent that whole night dancing. I was going out with the drummer in the band and I said to — when John said ‘can I take you home?’ and I said ‘well, see the chap playing the drums, he is my boyfriend so you’d better come with me to tell him’. So he did and, told him and I got a phone call from the chap the next day and he said ‘I can’t believe you did that’. I said, ‘well I’m sorry’ I said, ‘I’ve now met somebody else so we’ll just have to call it a day’.
MC: You must have been a bit of a lad in those days.
BT: I thought, well I could have just —
JT: I was a bit of a lad.
BT: I could have just walked out but I thought no, I’ll do the right thing and tell him.
JT: Thank you.
BT: And the fact that he didn’t like it well, you know [laughter].
OTHER: [unclear]
MC: Going back to the operational times.
JT: Well once you, sitting there with a [unclear] the searchlight picked you up as you went in and the skipper had to do evasive action which was climb and roll and—
MC: Corkscrew.
JT: and climb and roll. That happened on many operations.
MC: Yeah.
JT: But it was something you used to —
MC: Any close mishaps with other aircraft then?
JT: Oh, aye. Many a time. [laughter]. And our foreign friends but err —
MC: So you, you had a few escapades with some fighters then?
JT: Yep.
MC: Yeah. And managed to get away unscathed?
JT: That’s right.
MC: Obviously a good skipper.
JT: Thanks to the skipper. Yep, that’s right. Oh yes every, there was always other things with somebody on one of the ops.
MC: Did you always get them back to base at the same, you know?
JT: Yeah we did, we always got back, we, the last time we were, aah, the skipper was advised to make a landing in the South of England and we agreed. We were going on leave the next day so we said ‘come on we’ll give it a go’, so we went back and we got back and when we got back one of the aircraft engines packed up as we landed but err, the skipper got a remand for it. No we were cheering. Yeah. There were all kinds of little incidents but they were well, sort of part of the daily routine, or night routine.
MC: For you, yes.
JT: It was.
MC: [laughter] So, yeah, I mean it’s, you talked about it, I mean you say there were lots of incidents. Can you remember other incidences? Did you ever get diverted coming back, apart from that one incident when you didn’t go back?
JT: I think that’s the only occasion, which we didn’t — What they did, they sent a fighter out from Tangmere, which we ignored [laughter] and went back anyway, but err, that’s the only time.
MC: You ignored the fighter. What was he there to do?
JT: Pardon?
MC: What was the fighter from Tangmere there to do?
JT: It was a, oh bloody hell, I don’t know.
MC: No, what, why did they send him out?
JT: To guide us into Tangmere.
MC: Aaahh.
JT: But we didn’t take any notice. We went back, yeah. What was it, I forget the aircraft now, I knew it —
MC: So you never got any problems with coming back in bad weather, to Skellingthorpe then?
JT: Oh we did have rough times. From time to time you came in you could hardly land because of the weather but we made it. We’d got a good skipper in Dougie Milligan, he really was. He was a, he wasn’t, he was just going for it as much as I should have been, but err, he was on the ball and a good skipper.
MC: Yeah. So the flight engineer, he was?
JT: Oh Jimmy James was a great lad, oh yeah.
MC: A name like Jimmy James? [laughter]
JT: Yes, well he had a garage in Liverpool and I tried to find out about him and I found out about a week after he died. I used to belong the Aircrew Association, I think it was. And I asked them to fish out for any documents and they said the only one we’ve got is Jimmy James and he died a week ago and he was our flight engineer. Our bomb aimer, the one I would like to get in touch with is Ronnie Pugh, ‘cos Ronnie Pugh came to our house. In fact there’s a picture of him at our house, he came to our house, he was a great lad was Ronnie. He was a professional pianist before the war, he played for Maurice Winnick and wherever we went, on the piano, we always had a gang round together. [laughter] No problems with drinking with him.
MC: So, he was the navigator you say?
JT: He was the bomb aimer.
MC: What about the navigator?
JT: Jimmy, was very —
MC: Jimmy, this was Jimmy James, no Jimmy James was the flight engineer.
JT: Marlow. He was one of two who were married. He was married, a lovely wife, a young lady. He’d just got married and she came with us a couple of times, not on train journeys, elsewhere, and Jimmy, he never came out a lot. He didn’t go on the binge like us so much but he was a great bloke, Jimmy. He, he was the one who worked for the Air Ministry before the war and he wanted to get a commission so it would stand him in good stead when he got demobbed. But he did get it just before we finished, he did get one. He was only a, Robbie Pugh already had one, he was a pilot officer when he joined us.
MC: And your mid upper? That was —
JT: Jock Bryman [?] he was a flight sergeant.
MC: Yeah.
JT: Big Scotsman, a canny lad. [laughter]
MC: You don’t know what he did before the war?
JT: No I haven’t got a clue.
MC: No, no. And in the tail, rear gunner?
JT: Johnny Austin, but I don’t know what he did before the war but he got frostbite and he was invalided out of the RAF, Johnny Austin was. We had a spare gunner for a couple of trips, I think.
MC: Did you, [unclear] did you know much about 50 Squadron when you were posted there? Had they told you much? Did you know of it?
JT: No, I didn’t know anything about it at all. Not the slightest, no. It was a good squadron, and I’ll tell you what, we had a good mob.
MC: Hm. [pause] Yeah, as I say, you talked about your birthday, and so your raid on your birthday was that railway junction.
JT: Yes, well I sort of [unclear]
MC: You couldn’t celebrate it in the air could you eh? Or did you?
JT: No, no, no we didn’t.
MC: [laughter] A successful operation though, um. So you probably, so I mean, it wasn’t um, it wasn’t 16th April you were on operations?
JT: We must have gone down the pub.
MC: So you must have been down the pub.
JT: We would do, yes.
MC: That’s a good excuse, but you didn’t need an excuse in those days.
JT: [laughter] Hardly.
MC: So I mean, if, if I guess you’re looking at your first tour was um, your first operation even was er, was marshalling yards at Tours.
JT: That’s right. I don’t rem — I remember going to the marshalling yards but I don’t know where it was. That’s when I got Jimmy Marlow to try again to get him to look out of the window but he wouldn’t look. He said ‘no fear’.
MC: And then you did the GVC, UVC marshalling yards, you did lots of the marshalling yards?
JT: That’s right. [noise of door closing]
MC: Even Paris, even, your third trip was to Paris.
JT: I don’t remember that.
MC: Marshalling again, marshalling yards.
OTHER: There you go, that was, was that leaflet dropping you were saying you were doing at the time? That’s the one, that‘s the Paris trip.
JT: Paris, yeah.
OTHER: ‘Cos you went from [unclear] Paris and then you went, started, you seemed to go to Germany and Munich.
JT: [unclear]
OTHER: [unclear]
JT: But I was in the Ruhr Valley.
MC: You went to Cologne?
JT: Oh yes and somewhere else, I forget.
MC: Cologne and —
JT: Two or three trips to the Ruhr Valley. Yep, they were always a bit hairy.
MC: Yeah, because of low level defence —
JT: The thing was you’ve got a battery of searchlights and the second you got near to them, the searchlights were on you and you were dodging the searchlights all the way through.
MC: Did you, I mean did you get hit, you never got hit any time by flak?
JT: Sorry?
MC: Did you get hit any time by flak?
JT: I think we did but err, nothing to, well nothing to put us off keeping going.
MC: Yeah.
JT: Although that was, always took the length of the runway. According to the skipper you had to hold it down to make it, take itself off.
MC: It took a while to get off with a full load?
JT: It did yeah.
OTHER: So that would have been, you know especially if you had long trips, with a full fuel load as well.
JT: That’s right he would hold it down to the end of the runway to make it fight to get off, yeah.
OTHER: Is this a —
JT: Poor old Johnny who was in the rear turret was wondering when he was going to leave the deck. [laughter]
MC: Were there many times when you came back —
JT: Yes we did get a recall once.
MC: You had to bring the bomb load back?
JT: . We had to go out to the North Sea, there was a dumping area out in the North Sea, we used to have to go and dump them there and we’d say ‘ah flippin’ heck’. Or sometimes you’d get a hang up with a bomb and in theory you still had to go out to the North Sea but in honesty, disconnect the camera, get rid of it [laughter]. We didn’t do it that way, we did go sometimes but sometimes we didn’t.
MC: What sort of dumping area, you dumped it elsewhere?
JT: We’d just disconnect the camera, pull the toggle and away we’d go [laughter]and put the camera back on [laughter] get a picture of cloud.
MC: Yeah, yeah [laughter] So did you have to bring many bomb loads back did you?
JT: Sorry?
MC: Did you have to bring many loads back or was there —
JT: We never brought one back, only, we dumped one but we never ever brought any back.
MC: Oh you always dumped them?
JT: Yeah, yeah.
MC: What sort of bomb load was it you were carrying?
JT: Probably thousand pounders, [unclear] in cans. Four thousand pounders with cans.
MC: Four thousand.
JT: Four thousand pounders with the cans, well, a load of thousand pounders with the, oh bloody hell what are they called, not flares. Oh I can’t think.
MC: Incendiaries?
JT: What you say?
MC: Incendiaries?
JT: That’s right.
MC: Yeah, yeah and were there many mishaps, did you experience any mishaps?
JT: Pardon?
MC: Did you experience any mishaps at Skellingthorpe while you were there you know?
JT: No we didn’t actually, we didn’t get any hang ups, no.
MC: No, I meant did you have any accidents at Skellingthorpe or anything like that?
JT: Aahh, not that I can recall.
MC: So what did you personally think about the bombing raids then, about the —
JT: I thought they were a great success really.
MC: Yeah. And the morality of it, what did you think about that?
JT: I think Bomber Harris had it right. The only thing was he put a raid on once, I think Winston Churchill insisted and they lost a lot of aircraft that night but err, I thought they did a good job.
MC: Were you on that raid?
JT: No.
OTHER : That would be Nuremburg?
JT: Yep, That’s ninety six or ninety five.
MC: Yeah.
JT: Yeah, well that wasn’t going to go ahead but Churchill insisted that it did and we lost ninety six aircraft that night.
MC: Hmm, yeah.
JT: I mightn’t have been here now. [laughter]
MC: You didn’t do Dresden then?
JT: We’d finished.
MC: What did you think about Dresden then, you were aware of the Dresden raid?
JT: Well, it’s hard to say really. We never had to encounter the problems they had when they got there so we don’t know. I mean they said it was a walkover[?] for them. In fact a pal of mine who was a navigator in another squadron said he didn’t like, he regretted it said he was ashamed of going there but having said that and he came back but some people didn’t so it’s all right talking if you got back. Yeah. That was Ken Boxon, [?] Ken went to Dresden yeah.
MC: So what did you think about the way Harris was treated after the war?
JT: Sorry?
MC: What did you think about the way that Harris was treated after the war?
JT: I thought he had a very despicable treatment. I think for what he did during the war I think it was a crying shame. If it hadn’t been for him Bomber Command wouldn’t have been the force they were, I thought he was great.
MC: Good for Bomber Command.
JT: Absolutely, he was yeah, Butcher Harris. [laughter] But he didn’t get the justice he deserved.
MC: Yeah. And did you get your clasp, Bomber Command Clasp?
JT: Yes.
MC: You did get your clasp?
JT: I don’t think it’s worth a light. Little tiny thing, not worth a light. I don’t know why they bothered to make it to be honest. I think I brought it with me.
BT: In the box is it? Is that the one?
MC: So, yeah you did apply for your clasp and you got it. That’s um —
JT: No it’s not there.
MC: You said there was a lady at the end of the runway. She used to wave you off.
JT: Sure, she did. She came down, she’d wait for us to come back. She was the lady who used to treat us to coffee. She was the lady who gave me coffee that night when they called us in from Lincoln to go on ops.
MC: What was her name?
JT: Mrs Cook.
MC: Mrs Cook.
JT: Mrs Cook. She was a lovely lady and she’d come down and stand at the end of the runway and she would wait until we got back to the air traffic tower. She was lovely, really was.
MC: I suppose there would have been a few people waving you off?
JT: Sorry?
MC: I suppose there would have been a few people waving you off at the end of the runway?
JT: There were, that’s right there were, but she never, she never missed a trip that we were on, no.
MC: So did you mingle with the other crews much during the day?
JT: Well we did obviously but when we to, we had specialist briefing, nav briefing, WOP briefing, pilot briefing, but then, but at night you did OK, I mean we’ve got, if they were in the pub, the same pub as we were we’d mix in there but we never had, we had our own gang.
MC: Were you very conscious of the losses? I mean you know, were you aware of some of the aircraft that didn’t return?
JT: Well, the thing was, the following day there were empty beds. This was it.
BT: Yeah.
JT: That’s when you knew how many had been lost.
MC: Hmm. But it was never you.
JT: No. When you lose five out of eleven that’s a lot of [unclear]. We were, we were always there. We was very lucky.
MC: Is that what you put it down to?
JT: Yeah, it was luck, pure luck.
MC: And the skill of the skipper.
JT: And Dougie Milligan’s skill. Yep, yeah. He was [emphasis] skilful. When he got back he used to get, he got reprimanded once for taking his time coming in to land. He always complied with the instructions [background noise] for landing. Other air traffic come back ‘cos they went before him and they used to play hell about the, but Dougie never did, he always complied with them. [background noise]. The rules of landing. He was a good skipper.
MC: Which contributed to your success.
JT: Oh he did, without a doubt, yeah.
MC: So when you got your medals after the war did you? When did you get, collect your medals, did you apply for them straight away or —
JT: Ah. Did I? I can’t remember now whether in fact they —
MC: So what medals have you got?
JT: I’ve got the France & Germany, the Aircrew Europe, the Victory Medal and another but I don’t know what it is.
BT: Have you got them there John?
JT: They’re there somewhere.
OTHER: They’re in your blazer pocket.
JT: Ahh.
MC: Yeah, I was just asking you know about your medals, what you’ve, when you got them?
JT: I’ve got the Aircrew Medal at the end of it as well. I still put that on.
MC: Yeah. Then you’ll be err, France & Germany Star?
JT: France & Germany.
MC: That’s the one, I think it’s, that’s the one the clasp goes on.
JT: I don’t know, I don’t, didn’t go on, I never put it on anywhere. And then the Aircrew Europe.
MC: Yep.
JT: And then the Victory Medal and then err, I think I’ve forgotten what the other was. There’s certainly four of them. [unclear]
OTHER: No, no.
MC: So when you —
OTHER: They apologised to him.
MC: Talking about America, going back to when you were flying in America.
JT: That’s right.
MC: You say you flew in formation?
JT: Twelve Lancs in formation. Oh we were tight, it was a tight form, I could look out of my Astrodome and see the bloke in the next jar alongside me and we did that in tight formation over America. When we got to Army Air Corps Day the Yanks had three Superforts in formation. They were miles [emphasis] apart, they were absolute bloody rubbish and the commentator said ‘Ladies and gentlemen, don’t you think this is the best bit of formation flying you’ve seen today?’ and he had to apologise for it. Yeah.
MC: You’ve obviously [laughter]
JT: Three miserable bloody Superforts.
MC: You had twelve in tight formation?
JT: Twelve in tight formation.
MC: So you saw a fair bit of America then did you?
JT: Oh yeah we did.
MC: Whereabouts did you get to then?
JT: We started off at New York and Wash —, um, down to down south, oh I forget where it was and then we went to Hollywood, that area and then we went to Texas and we came back to Washington and somewhere else on the coast and then back to err, New York.
MC: So you flew the Lancs across did you?
JT: Oh yeah.
MC: You flew all twelve?
JT: Twelve yeah.
MC: Twelve Lancs across —
JT: That’s right. We stopped off in the middle of the Azores. We had to land in the Azores to refuel.
MC: The Azores?
JT: Yeah. And then we carried on from there to the States and one of our lads nearly wrote the Reception Committee off. He came up too tightly on the front and he had to pull up and the Reception Committee were lying on the deck [laughter] yeah.
MC: You got a good welcome from the Americans then?
JT: We got a wonderful, wonderful welcome, incredible. Really did. But err, I wouldn’t have liked to stay there. Having been born there I wouldn’t go back there, no, no.
MC: Yeah, well, whereabouts were you born?
JT: Helena, Montana.
MC: You did say, yes.
JT: That’s right, yeah. [pause]
BT: We’ve been over there.
JT: Ken and Al have taken me back there and Beryl —
BT: And me.
JT: All the four of us went. They took us over there.
MC: You [unclear] you back yeah.
JT: When did we go?
OTHER: We went on your 80th.
OTHER: Yeah, yep, just as, well I’ll tell you when it was because we stood under the Twin Towers and three months later they weren’t there.
JT: That’s right.
OTHER: They were —
BT: That’s right.
JT: We beat a path between the Twin Towers.
MC: What’s this?
JT: Flying Fortress, fifty thousand feet, bags of ammunition and a teeny weeny bomb.
OTHER: That’s what they said about the Yanks because they were flying so high [unclear]
JT: [unclear] little tiny bomb and we had a four thousand pounder on and a load of ammo. [laughter] In fact we took a crew one night with us and they couldn’t believe it before we got off and where we were going how much bomb, how many bombs we’d got on board. They could not believe it. They did just one trip with us, only one, that was it.
MC: This was on an operation was it, you took a —
JT: Oh yeah.
MC: You took an American —
JT: Took the Yanks one night, I think we took three of the crew [sound of door closing] on the rear gun, one by the skip and one alongside the nav and me. They couldn’t believe where we were going and what load we’d got on. Yeah.
MC: Amazing. ‘Cos they, they didn’t have such a big bomb load.
JT: Well that’s where this little song came from ‘Fly fly a fortress, fifty thousand feet, bags of ammunition and a teeny weeny bomb’ [laughter]
MC: You did two spells at EHB, that was your, wireless operator?
JT: Wireless operator, yeah.
MC: Yeah.
JT: We went from Blackpool to EHB and then we went back for a refresher later on when I’d done my gunnery course, yeah. EHB.
MC: So at that time, there was, what was the living accommodation?
JT: When I went the first time I was an AC2, when I went back the second time I was a sergeant. [laughter] Different approach altogether.
MC: Absolutely yeah. Well thank you very much John for your time.
JT: It’s been a pleasure
MC: Some interesting stories and err, —
JT: It’s nice to talk to you.
MC: and it’s been great talking to you [emphasis].
JT: Thank you very much.
MC: Thank you very much.
JT: It’s a pleasure.



Mike Connock, “Interview with John Tait,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 23, 2024,

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