Interview with Tom Sayer


Interview with Tom Sayer


Tom Sayer was accepted in to the Royal Air Force as an apprentice and began training as a pilot as soon as he was old enough. He trained in the United States and on his return he was detached to Coastal Command. He completed eight operations patrolling for submarines before being posted to 102 Squadron at RAF Pocklington where he completed his tour. His aircraft was badly damaged on one operation but he continued to the target and managed to get the aircraft back.




Temporal Coverage




02:30:30 audio recording

Conforms To


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 and





CB: So my name is Chris Brockbank and I’m in Chalfont St Giles with Thomas Sayer DFM and we’re going to talk about his life and times. And today is the 7th of December 2015. So, Tom would you like to start with your earliest recollections please and then take it right through joining the RAF, what you did in the RAF and afterwards.
TS: The first recollections are that on a spring day in about ’28 I was [pause] no ’24. ’24. I was in the front of the house. Farmhouse. My father was busy in the yard because he wanted to get everything ready for the harvest and I was told that I hadn’t to interrupt my father because he was there doing it all by hand. There was no machinery and he just had to take the file and sharpen all the different tools which were necessary. Especially the mower where the thing went from side to side and it was pulled by one horse because we only had one horse. There was another one but it wasn’t trained to do that sort of thing. But anyway, and I was told not to interrupt. My mother said I didn’t had to, didn’t have to interrupt. I had to not to interrupt. And that was what he was doing. I was watching my father doing this and he was sharpening these tools as I said. And I was looking at the birds at the same time and the birds were quite happy to flutter quite close to us because they had nests nearby and we’d been, we were living there and so we were all good friends. One thing you certainly found though was when the birds just disappeared that there was a cat around and that is something which I also learned. That the cat would have the birds if the birds didn’t fly away. And how come the birds could fly like that when we couldn’t fly was a question in my mind. And it seemed strange that they just opened their wings and flapped them and they went up in the air. Now, I was going to ask my father that but of course I had to be quiet because he hadn’t to be interrupted while he was doing this job. As I say, all by hand and if he cut his hand then that would be, then be awkward for carrying on with the job. And that was my first outlook as to why people fly. How can people fly because I hadn’t seen anybody, people fly because they haven’t got the wings that the birdies have? And so, then sometime after, I don’t know if it was the next year I was playing around. I was still not at school and there was a terrific noise and it seemed to be coming up the valley and then all of a sudden there was this machine flying in the air and that was the first time I saw an aeroplane. And I then mentioned this to my father and at different times I mentioned things like that to him. He noticed that there was a, I can’t remember the name of it again but the air force. Each unit gave a showcase to the public once a year and there was one at Catterick and Catterick was just a small aerodrome apparently and dealing with the air force and the army getting together. And he, however, we had — he owned a motorbike and side car. Maximum speed about twenty five miles an hour I think. And we set off and it took us just a little while to get to Catterick and I was amazed of these things and he said they could fly but they weren’t flying. They were just sitting there. And then all of a sudden there was some activity and somebody came along and jumped on to the wing of the aeroplane and then disappeared into the aeroplane and somebody else came along with something in his hand and he started winding and winding and this thing at the front with a roar from an engine started up. The chappie who was on the wing slid down and off and then I think they were moving something from in front of the wheels of the aircraft and then he took away and went around the field, and then it turned around and then it, with a big roar came just right over me flying in the air. That was when I first saw a real aeroplane close up. From then on all I wanted to do was fly an aeroplane. And I read books if I could get hold of them. There weren’t many books in those days but if I could get books I would have a look at the books. I wouldn’t say read but I hadn’t really learned to read. And I was told that I, if I wanted to join the air force you had to pass exams. And if you had to pass exams you had to listen to what the teacher said and so on and so forth. So there was only one teacher at this school for the whole of the school and she was teaching people from five to fourteen and a few of each all divided up and so on and so forth. And I quickly found myself being pushed in to the higher ones of age and I was the youngest one by quite a while in this, in this group and I was catching my sister up as well which she didn’t think much of. So, anyway, I also was told that if I passed an examination by the local authority which had just come in in the 1930s, it was just a common thing where you could, if you passed the exam you got your schooling at the grammar school for free and it depended on how much you succeeded in the exam as to whether you got transport or not and so on and so forth. And so I really went for it and I got the top rate and was able then to go to the grammar school. But to get to the grammar school I had to get to a railway station which was two and a half miles up hill and downhill and then at Aysgarth Station where I’d join the train and then the other people who’d been coming in. The rest of the Dale and they were all coming up and we went up to Askrigg where the Yorebridge Grammar School was. And I, we, I soon found out that you had to work there as well and work quite hard otherwise you were chastised by the headmaster. If he knew that you could learn and you didn’t learn you got in to trouble. But I wanted to learn anyway and I did. I did learn and moved up as I said into another, the next year up so that I was in, I’d already done a year at school before I’d started it if you’d like to put it that way. But myself and another young girl who just happened to be my wife later on in the things and we were great pals and we joined together and we were — had to battle because of the, we having been moved up a year the people who were in the second year didn’t think much of it and she used to, shall I say, hover around me because for protection etcetera. Verbal mainly. Anyway, we both passed our exams and I wanted to join the air force and I had learned, had got some information that if I had the school certificate I could go in as apprentice and so, I went in as an apprentice. And that meant that the young lady was left at school and she was going in. I spent from the beginning, I was still at school at the Christmas and I joined the air force just in the beginning of the next year you see. But she was left in there and then she decided she’d had enough because when the war came on at the 3rd of September 1939 she decided that she didn’t want to go to university because in the first place she didn’t think her family could afford her going there and then she — because a lot of the exams and that were disturbed by the war she decided to come out. And she had an aunt who lived in [pause] not far from Croydon and so she came down here and she got herself a job in London. And she was on that, in that capacity going higher and higher because she was doing quite well until we were married which wasn’t until after the war. I think that was my fault but I thought I’d seen times when people had come back from their marriage and within days they’d gone missing and I thought that must have been terrible for the wife. To be a wife for such a short time and then be in that situation. And so, it got towards the end of the war and we sort of drifted apart a little and it wasn’t ‘til after I’d established myself in a job here in the south, in the south of England that I could make contact with her again and after a few very heart to heart talks we decided to get married. She died ten years ago. And we had two children. They are now retired. That is it as far as that’s concerned. But the air force was my chief thing and I managed to persuade the people. I was, my apprentice, I was in accounts because I was very good with figures but I would rather have been in the mechanic side of it but anyway that was way they had accepted me in to the air force and I worked hard and I got results and I was soon an NCO. Well before I was eighteen I was an NCO in charge of the whole of the stores side of the station and two new squadrons. And so, some people apparently couldn’t believe it but I did it because the chappie who was in charge had come in from the Civvie Street and of course he knew nothing about, not a lot about the accountancy in the air force. And so he sort of relied on me and they were just building up this station with two squadrons and so I started up the whole of the side from the stores side of it. I didn’t do anything with the pay, pay side. And then when I was eighteen I applied to fly. So I started flying. The chappie in charge of the accounts was not at all thrilled by it and I said, ‘Well sir you’ve got people who had the same instruction as me when I came in. there are ex-apprentices in there, in that lot, who are in the pay side so they should be able to do the job.’ I never found out whether it was successful or not. I just joined the air force. It was quite easy for me in the early part of that because I knew all about drill. I knew all about the rules and regulations and so therefore I had quite an easy time. And I did have a little chat with one chappy who started to order me around. I was an NCO and it seemed as though he didn’t like me being an NCO for some reason and so I said to him, I said, ‘Now look. I think that you are probably an LAC with an acting sergeant.’ And so on. And he looked at me and I said, ‘Yes. That’s enough.’ And he never tried any more with me. I just —but I didn’t, I wasn’t interested in doing anything to him because all I wanted to do was go flying. But that’s me. And so anyway. Where did I go flying? Yes, well, I went down to the south coast. I could point to it on a map but it’s just gone and where the initial side of learning to fly was and that was when I had that chat with that chappy. And then we were told we were going abroad to be trained as pilots. One point which has always interested me was when I was having the medical, as they called it, for, to see whether I was fit to fly you had to look and do certain things to see that your brain was coordinating with your hands or your hands were coordinating with your brain. Which was very important of course in flying. And it, anyway, I just lost a little ground there. We —
CB: So your initial flying assessment.
TS: Yeah.
CB: Was on the south coast.
TS: Yes.
CB: And that’s where they were doing those tests.
TS: Yes. Yes.
CB: That’s wasn’t at Torquay was it?
TS: No. I was at Torquay but I don’t think. That is what I can’t remember exactly where that –
CB: It doesn’t matter because we can pick up on it later.
TS: Yeah. Yeah.
CB: But then they decided that you should be trained abroad.
TS: Yes.
CB: And there were lots of places they trained abroad so where did you go?
TS: Yeah. A little point on this test.
CB: Yes.
TS: There was a test there and there was something where you looked with one eye and you had to get it level and all the rest of it and then the other eye and so on and so forth and then the chappie who was in charge of it went and talked to somebody and he said, ‘Well, will you do it again?’ And so I thought to myself aren’t I going to pass this then?’ Then he said — I asked, I said, ‘Why am I being asked to do it again?’ I said, ‘Haven’t I got it?’ He said, ‘Got it?, he said, ‘You’re the best bloody so and so on there.’ He said, ‘That’s why I [unclear] he said, ‘Its ages since we’ve got anybody who could do that.’ And so, I thought oh that’s fair enough. And of course, I’ve still got very good eyesight. I know I need to sometimes just to read but I can almost tell you how many leaves are on that. No. Not there [laughs] the one at the back. I can see if there’s a cow, or a lamb or anything goes in the field right near that tree quite easily yet. The only time I have to is when I need to read something and I’m fiddling around with these things. Now where have we get to?
CB: So, you did the test and they were very impressed.
TS: Yes.
CB: So, then what?
TS: Then we went to go abroad and it might seem as though it’s quite easy. Just get on a boat and go but it wasn’t as easy as that because apparently we were to go to Iceland and pick up another, another ship in Iceland and we were supposed to be going on a certain day and then we didn’t go. And then, this was when we were in Cheshire. North Cheshire. And we had to sail from Liverpool. And we were going to go and then we didn’t go. We were going to go and then we didn’t go. And that was the sort of situation we felt we were in. And so eventually we did go and on the boat where we left Liverpool was such a lovely boat. It smelled of nothing but cows and what cows had left behind. And they, they’d taken a ship which was being used for bringing cattle from Ireland to Scotland and they’d grabbed it and said they would do this and they’d supposedly scrubbed it out and supposedly that was our ship to get us to Iceland because the other ship just disappeared. And so that was going away from a farm and then I got the smell of a farm as I was on the ship.
CB: Fantastic.
TS: The first ship that I’d been on. And there you are. So, Iceland was quite interesting because we had to go on this ship because the other one as I say had been lost somewhere and we were late and apparently this big ship just coming out of Reykjavik harbour was the one we were supposed to be on. But it didn’t stop and pick us up and we were just dropped in Reykjavik and the boat went away and nobody, you know, there was no arrangements been made for us to be there. And so there was a little, I think it’s something to do with the, not radio so much, as to do with atmosphere which was being looked into by a gaggle of air force people and then they were sending the messages back to England but we weren’t really interested in that. But they couldn’t cope with a great big horde of people. I think there were about fifty odd of us there and then they shifted us a bit further up where there was another little air force base. And they could feed us and they could give us sleeping accommodation but no beds or anything. We could, we more or less slept in what we had. Well, after a while it was a little difficult because there was no hot water. The only heat they were using was where they wanted to do their cooking because they didn’t have the fuel to do a whole load of heating. Heating water and such. So, we said well how about, I think it was one of, one of our blokes, anyway we would go to the, one of these pools which are in Iceland and therefore, therefore we could have our baths there and it was quite interesting to some of the locals who happened to be females [laughs] and it was quite, you know, jolly and all the rest of it. You know, it was, there was nothing serious. There was one person in there who was serious and I don’t think she really thought we should be there. And I think she was apparently of German descent or something. Anyway, it didn’t worry me. We just, and we got on to another boat and we went to Canada. And then at Canada we jumped on a train and we thought oh well we’re just going along to Halifax, not, from Halifax to Toronto. We were just going from Halifax to Toronto but we didn’t realise it didn’t take you one day. It took you about three days to get from Halifax to Toronto and then the size of the place. Looking at the maps that I’d used at school and that going from there to there and then you had to go to there to be at the other side of Canada meant Canada was a very big wide place. And then again, when we set out from there we went to Toronto as I said and then when we were at Toronto we were given civvies. So we didn’t really know — ‘What do we want civvies for? None of the others seemed to have civvies.’ So we jumped on the train and we didn’t go out the west. We went south and then we found we were in the United States of America and as we were, as we entered America they warned us to keep away from the windows because there were some people in America who were stoning these trains because they didn’t want to be involved in the war and some of them were of German descent didn’t want us to be fighting the war anyway. But we got, the further south we got the more accompanied we got and the more warmer we got and so on and so forth. And — and we went to Georgia. Georgia was a big place. Now, I need my logbook to give you the exact — DAR Aerotech. That’s it DAR Aerotech. Now where in Georgia? Can’t remember.
CB: It doesn’t matter. We’ll pick up with it later.
TS: And yes, it was a civilian outfit but with American Air Corps instructors. And it got us going on the, as far as the flying concerned in quite a nice atmosphere and with hardly any discipline as, you know, the rigid discipline and we would just fall in and we’d be marched from one place to another but apart from that there was nothing on that side. And the — quite a noisy lot. One or two of them. One gaggle of them was noisy but as the weeks went by the noise seemed to grow less and less and less. So, they were no longer there. But the chappies like — quite a few of us were ex-apprentices and we knew the ropes as far as the air force was concerned and therefore we drift in to flying that matters. Playing silly boys around the table didn’t matter to us at all. And that’s my attitude about it as well now. If you have a job to do the job’s there and you do that regardless. And it, it was quite an eye opener and brain damaging almost that I was having to accommodate a lot more all at once. Different things. Bits and pieces here and there. The locals were ok but we were told we had to be in civvies and we were told that we had to be careful and certain areas were supposedly out of bounds and because of the German people who were American German or German American. And once or twice we’d wander off in to the wilderness as it looked like and there would be a little village of coloured people. And we managed to chat with them. At first, they were very shy of us. They didn’t, you know, they didn’t talk to the white people and the white people didn’t talk to them sort of thing and they were quite amazed that we’d come. They’d heard of England. They’d knew England. Somewhere. You know. It was mystical place to most of them. And it was quite a nice pleasant chat to them on more than one occasion when we just strolled around there in the evening and then went back to base and went to bed and started another day and most of the chappies who had been in the air force before the war went through. Got through all right. Very few of them didn’t. But it was a very strict situation. Not only as far as behaviour was concerned but as far as remembering what you were supposed to be there for and to get on and get, do the job. Then we went to, having passed on the primary we went to another one and this was an intermediate one which was a little further north. When I say a little further north — about a hundred and fifty miles and there we were right in to the US Army Air Corps. Another experience. So that was another step we had to make. And it was really strict but we wanted to learn to fly so we decided that we wanted to fly. Well we got on with it and we were flying the Vultee BT13As. I don’t know whether you’ve come across it. And then they had, of course, on the first place we were on biplanes. Stearmans. And then it was a move in the right direction which I was able to take quite quickly. It had a fixed undercarriage but we did have flaps and we had a two speed prop. I think those were the main changes. They also had both out there and they had the wings and all the rest of it. And then we moved on to the North American AT6A which is the Harvard in the British air force and, well you got all the details of that before. hadn’t you so-? And we passed. We passed out. Those who made it. And back to England.
CB: So how many hours did you accumulate in your flying? In the basic flying and in the intermediate. Roughly.
TS: I think when we’d finished we had about four hundred hours flying.
CB: So, you got your wings at that stage, did you?
TS: Yes.
CB: And who gave you the wings?
TS: Well the wings I got, we got, were American Air Corps wings. And I’ve still got them.
CB: So, there wasn’t an RAF officer presenting RAF wings.
TS: No. No.
CB: Interesting. Right.
TS: It wasn’t until we got back to Canada that we could have the RAF wings.
CB: Because the war, this is pre-Pearl Harbour isn’t it we’re talking about? We’re talking about ‘40 ’41.
TS: When we were at, on the final lot. We went from the station we were then on in [pause] the next state. The next state to the west.
CB: Yes.
TS: Yes. And then we went from there to the main Florida place for the US Army Air Corps and when we got there — we had to fly our own planes from the Station. Take our planes and land them there. We all went in one big formation.
CB: Right.
TS: And landed there. And then we could see all the new planes coming along and I was most interested in that and I started wandering along. Nobody said anything so I wandered further and I saw that the, the very [pause] what they call the touchy plane. The twin-engined with the big engines in the American Army Air Corps.
CB: What the B25 Mitchell? Was it?
TS: No. No it was —
CB: Before that.
TS: No. It was after that.
CB: Oh right.
TS: There was a bigger one with a bigger engine.
CB: Right.
TS: It was difficult to fly on one engine.
CB: A Marauder.
TS: A Marauder. Yes.
CB: Ok. But you flew over there in your Harvards.
TS: Yes. But we didn’t fly in these planes.
CB: No. I know.
TS: But they were there.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
TS: And I was going around while other people were doing all sorts of other things.
CB: Right.
TS: I was going around all those planes and looking at them.
CB: It wasn’t Fort Lauderdale was it? In Florida. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. We can pick that up later. So, you got there and that’s when you were awarded your wings was it? in Florida.
TS: No. No.
CB: Oh it was in the previous one.
TS: We came back again.
CB: Oh right. Came back again. Right.
TS: We came back again. And we got the American wings and then we got our English wings when we were in Canada.
CB: Right. They just did a straight swap when you got to Canada.
TS: Yeah.
CB: Did they do a parade? To —
TS: I don’t, I don’t know. I can’t remember. I can’t remember.
CB: So, you got back to Canada. Then what?
TS: Then I caught measles.
CB: Oh.
JS: Oh dear.
TS: And that changed my life.
CB: In what way?
TS: Well, all the people I was with —
CB: Oh yeah.
TS: They went back to England. And there was me. I didn’t feel well. I didn’t want to go to the [unclear] and I was apparently staggering around. So they more or less forced me in to see the doc. And I remember going in and him saying, ‘And what’s the matter with you then?’ Something like that. And that’s, two days later I woke up [pause] because I hadn’t gone early enough for it to be sorted out because I wanted to go back to England. So, I lost all my friends and everything. I came back as a lonely man. If you can imagine one airman on a boat with about four hundred other servicemen but none of them airmen. It was quite interesting. I could go anywhere I wanted on the boat. Nobody, nobody queried it because all the rest were the, were the Canadian army and they were quite restricted in their, they had all their different — but I could go anywhere on the boat and that was it. And it was only because I’d come out of hospital. And then when I got to England they couldn’t find my papers or anything because apparently, I was supposed to come on the —they’d been looking for me and there were some papers and there was no body. And they didn’t know that I’d been left in Canada. And you can imagine me trying to explain to these people what was what. It was ages. I just, I think it was about three weeks I was there. I was nobody because I couldn’t prove that I was who I supposed to be.
CB: You had an id card on you presumably.
TS: Well, I can’t remember. I expect I must have had something there.
CB: And your tags.
TS: Yes. But they —
CB: But they thought you were absent without leave.
TS: Yeah.
CB: Now at that stage you’d been a sergeant technically throughout your flying training had you?
TS: No. I was only corporal.
CB: Corporal. Right.
TS: Corporal.
CB: When you get back to Britain what rank are you then?
TS: I am a sergeant.
CB: Exactly. Yeah. When you got your wings.
TS: Yes.
CB: You became a sergeant.
TS: Yes.
CB: Right. Ok. So, you get back to Liverpool.
TS: Well. No.
CB: They try and sort you out.
TS: No. It wasn’t Liverpool.
CB: Ah.
TS: This was —
CB: Up in Scotland was it? Prestwick.
TS: No. No. No. This was at a Yorkshire place. Not York. Harrogate. Harrogate. And I was sort of the only one in. It isn’t as though I had friends or anything. I was just this little one person who wanted to be known but they didn’t have the proper paperwork so I couldn’t. But they did feed me.
CB: Ok. How long did that go on for?
TS: About two or three weeks. I can’t really remember but — I still don’t know where my books are.
CB: No. So here you are in Harrogate which was a sort of holding place —
TS: Yeah.
CB: Before allocating you so now you’re trained to wings standard with a lot of flying. What happened next?
TS: Well I went to an — not an OTU. An advanced flying place where after having flown the AT6A with all the little knobs in it I flew a mighty Oxford [laughs] with a little bit of fans going on.
CB: Yes.
TS: Yes. And you had to be careful with the Oxford because it — if you misbehaved it let you know.
CB: So, you’re on twin engines and you’re only used to singles.
TS: Yes.
CB: So where’s the Advanced Training School?
TS: That was at Upwood. Not Upwood. Upwood.
CB: In Cambridgeshire.
TS: No. No. It wasn’t in Cambridgeshire. You go down the Great North Road as it used to be there. You come to right next to it. I could put my hand straight to it on the map. Anyway, this, we can work that out later and it was Oxfords and when I was being trained on how to fly and all the rest of it and I just happened to say that I’d never flown an aircraft which had constant speed props. I got a bit of a mouthful from the person who was trying to teach me how to fly a twin-engined aircraft ‘cause he thought I wasn’t taking sufficient notice. But anyway, I was alright and I was alright at night as well. That was when we started flying at nights and I think that had I got back with the gaggle instead of having measles I would have gone forward on the fighter pilot side of it but I, it was sort of the — some of us seemed to have no home at Harrogate and we were the ones who were pushed in to there but that didn’t matter. I was flying. That was the main thing. And then I went, of course, on to Blenheims.
CB: Where was that?
TS: That’s Upwood. Blenheims was Upwood. So that brain there had got too far forward hadn’t it?
CB: Yeah. And that’s the OTU.
TS: Yeah. And then just as we were finishing that the Blenheims were withdrawn from the front line and so as we were used to flying low because we did low flying with the Blenheims then we went to 10 OTU detachment flying Whitleys. Then we learned how, I picked up then there would be five with us in the crew. It was three with the Blenheim and then having five crew when we were flying Whitleys. So, a lovely move wasn’t it from playing? So, it meant that one way and another I had flown all sorts of different types of aircraft and I wasn’t unduly worried about it. I just, I could just get in to the planes and do it. It was like later on when we were after ops and I was instructing on Whitleys and then the Whitleys were falling apart so they came with with the Wellingtons and so there was somebody who had been on Wellingtons and he came along to teach me how to fly and I just went in and I just went and I took off and I came in and landed. He said, ‘I can’t learn — I can’t teach any bloody thing at all.’ And that’s just because I could. This brain of mine could just concentrate on, on these things. Well that lever’s there. I didn’t know that a lot of people had a lot of trouble having to remember where all these things were. Once I’d sat down in an aircraft it looked as though I knew where they all were and that’s one reason I think why I survived.
CB: So, you’re on Wellingtons.
TS: Yes. Just for a short time. No. We were still on Whitleys at the OTU.
CB: Right. Ok.
TS: And then we went down to Cornwall where we did the anti-sub patrols.
CB: St Mawgan.
TS: St Eval.
CB: St Eval. Ok. So that’s your Bay of Biscay flying. What was the pattern of flying there?
TS: Well you jumped into the, well you crawled in to the aircraft and as you were taxi-ing you realised that there was an awful lot weight on there because we had so much fuel on board and although I’d flown the plane without being weighed so much it was quite an experience to realise that you just had to concentrate quite a lot more and make sure that the engines were ok. Which you had to do by sound mainly. And that the — you had all your flaps up and wheels up etcetera and so forth and then you could happily go and do anything up to ten hours sitting in a seat. Driving an aeroplane.
CB: Did you have autopilot in the Whitley?
TS: Yes, but I never, I never took to the auto pilot. There was, even on the Halifax I never used it. I used to trim the aircraft so it could fly itself. That’s what I did. Yeah.
CB: So, on the anti-submarine patrols what did you do? What was the pattern of your work? You take off.
TS: Yeah.
CB: Then what?
TS: Then you’d go to the Scilly isles. And from there you would be given a triangular trip which would be anything up to ten hours over the Bay of Biscay. And sometimes you would [pause] over the Bay of Biscay you’d never see another aircraft until you got back again.
CB: Are we in daylight or at night?
TS: On daylight.
CB: Right.
TS: Of course, we didn’t want to see the German aircraft which were looking for us because we would have been just, you know, been hopeless. All we had was the four guns at the back and a pop-up gun at the back and any Junkers 88s or ME110s would have just shot us out of the sky if we were found. So, we, when we were nearest to France we were very very low down on the sea.
CB: How low would you fly consistently?
TS: I can’t really work it out in feet. It’s just [unclear] but you could definitely, you could definitely see the waves and the forming of the waves and all the rest of it.
CB: Are we talking about a thousand feet? Or —
TS: Oh no. No. No.
CB: Five hundred feet. Or lower.
TS: No. No. A Hundred feet.
CB: Right. So, the intensity of concentration was considerable.
TS: Yes. And then if you wanted to relax a little bit you could come up a bit above the shade and relax a bit more. There was — we did have with us another pilot but we knew nothing about him because he, he just arrived when we were going on the plane so we couldn’t even talk to him about anything. He just came in and sat at the co-pilot’s seat there and so I just let him sit there because I wasn’t going to let him fly my aeroplane unless I knew what he could do. And we were supposed to be keeping low over there. And then he’d just get off the plane and disappear. And it seemed to be a different person every time. So, I thought, well, no continuity. If I had to have somebody who I wanted to do a course and all the rest of it then there was some sense to if I had him every time.
CB: Where did they come from? These people.
TS: I don’t know.
CB: Oh. They weren’t your squadron members.
TS: Oh No. No. No. I think —
CB: Were they experienced?
TS: No.
CB: Coastal Command people.
TS: No.
CB: Oh, they weren’t.
TS: They were all sergeant pilots and the way they, you know, I don’t think they knew much about flying. Just, after the first two when I started talking about one or two things he just sat there. They just sat there and I wasn’t sure that they could fly that aeroplane at the height I wanted them to fly it. It wouldn’t be right down low either. And so —
CB: Did you ever let them take over?
TS: No.
CB: Put it up a bit and take over.
TS: No.
CB: Right.
TS: No.
CB: So here you are flying along. What are you doing? A square search. Or how are you operating?
TS: Triangular.
CB: Triangular search. Which is? How does that operate because it’s not continuous over this same area is it?
TS: No. The —
CB: The triangle moves.
TS: We’ll say this is, this is the Bay of Biscay.
CB: Yes.
TS: And there’s France. And there’s Spain.
CB: Yeah.
TS: And here are we. Well you’d sometimes go that way around and come back again or you go that way around. And then you go there, there, there. Come round. And it was all to do with the navigation and that was why I was so pleased with my navigator who I had when I was on Blenheims. And it wasn’t ‘til a few years ago that I realised in the chatter by some of the other people when we had a get together that he had a PhD in mathematics.
CB: Did he really?
TS: Yes.
CB: After the war or before?
TS: Before.
CB: Did he really?
TS: Yeah. When he was flying with us he had a PhD in —
CB: In maths.
TS: In maths.
CB: Was he a bit older than the rest of you?
TS: Yes. He was. Apparently he was a teacher.
CB: What did you call him?
TS: He was teaching maths.
CB: What did you call him?
TS: Well.
CB: Uncle or grandpa?
TS: Well, we called him Bill because his name was Billborough.
CB: Right.
TS: The — I didn’t know either ‘til the end of the war that my bomb aimer who, he said he’d wanted to be a pilot but anyway he had come down from [pause] what’s the place? Cambridge, and he still had some of his university to do when the war was over. And I met him after the war and he was, he was marvellous. You know. He got his degree and all the rest of it. So when the time came when my son had a chance of going we made sure that he got there too.
CB: Good.
TS: And he finished up with a PhD in maths.
CB: Did he really?
TS: Yeah.
CB: Wasn’t that good.
TS: And he’s now retired as I said. And so, its all a question at times when you’re doing certain things. When you do the right thing and then you realise you’d done the right thing because of the information you got afterwards.
CB: Of course.
TS: And he didn’t, in any way, shall I say, push the issue and say I’ve got a PhD or anything like that. He just was there because he needn’t —I think in his position he probably needn’t have gone to the war but he decided that he was going to do that.
CB: So, he was a very good navigator. Bill.
TS: Yes. Oh yes.
CB: So, going back to the flying you’re doing the triangular search and it’s move, you’re varying the triangle. And how on earth do you keep going for ten hours because you can’t leave the plane flying itself?
TS: No.
CB: If you need to go and look at the plumbing.
TS: No. You don’t. You don’t. There was a little gadget there.
CB: A tube.
TS: A tube. Yes. But other than that. No.
CB: What sort of — ten hours is a long time without refreshment so what was the arrangement for eating?
TS: That did come up a little bit and we had a thermos flask with some supposedly coffee in it. And some sandwiches. And we ate well.
CB: Did you?
TS: When we were on the ground. We did really eat well. So there was no question of were we hungry. It was your own fault if you didn’t eat when you could.
CB: Of course. And the sandwiches. Jam? Or were they something more substantial?
TS: Something a little more substantial. Yes.
CB: So, what about the rest of the crew? When you’re flying your triangular search you’re in a Whitley which has got five people in. The navigator’s got his head down. What’s everybody else doing?
TS: Looking to see if he could see what you really didn’t think you ought, you ought to see. We would have had to go — had we seen a U-boat you would have to attack it. Now, if the boat was right out of the water and they had the guns all ready a Whitley would be so slow getting at it that it would be shot out the sky before he could drop his bombs. So you, if you were going to have one you had — just as it was coming up. Or just when it was going along with a little bit at the top. And we never saw anything of that nature and once I was thinking — I needed a little bit, to go up a little bit and pulled up and then there’s land immediately in front of me. I thought — that’s Spain. And the navigator for once had forgotten to tell me to turn. But we were still in — we were in —
CB: International waters. Were you?
TS: Still in international waters. But if I hadn’t just, for some reason it’s, I’ve got that little magic thing somewhere telling me to do some things. If I hadn’t I’d have been flying right over Spain before I realised it. Of course, you couldn’t immediately turn. Especially if you were down low.
CB: No. Sure.
TS: You had to come up a little bit to turn. And so, I’ve always thought that in lots of times in my life there’s been a little angel just helping me along.
CB: So, thinking of your armament. I’ve interviewed somebody who attacked a submarine. So, what was your forward armament first of all?
TS: We’d got a pop up in the front.
CB: What were they?
TS: It was just a little —
CB: Two.
TS: Yeah.
CB: Two 303s.
TS: Yeah.
CB: And so what anti-submarine stores did you carry?
TS: Four.
CB: Depth charges. And how did you, what was the intended attack mode for that?
TS: Well, you go there and you drop them so that your first ones were just before the sub and then you’d have two land where the sub was and the other one was — but you you had to get them a bit earlier than some people did. It’s no good letting them go and then them all being over the top of it.
CB: Because they’re flying forward with you.
TS: Yes. That’s why we didn’t know it but when we were on a bombing at — Whitleys.
CB: Do you want to stop for a mo?
JS: Yeah. Stop for a minute.
TS: Yeah.
CB: Ok.
TS: Well it’s alright. Yes. Yes. We’d better stop for a bit.
JS: Stretch your leg for a bit.
CB: Right.
[Recording paused]
TS: Well when we were doing OTU we, as a crew, were seen to be doing more low-flying bombing than anybody else. And we were doing this and we’d go up and we’d do it and we’d go up and we’d do it and by getting the pictures and that we realised how early we had to be dropping these because you were going at the speed even though we weren’t going at a terrific speed you were going at a speed and if you’re not careful the sub is back here and you’re bombing something that isn’t there. And so, we said well is it any different to the, for the depth charge type thing which we would be dropping? Well we didn’t even know that we were going to be on Coastal Command then. I said the bombs we would be dropping then for the practice bombs which we were using. You see. Just the smoke bombs. And they say well as far as we can get to it that has the same flying attitude until it hits the ground but it depends largely on the height you are and the speed you’re doing as to where that thing lands.
CB: So, with depth charges the principal is the same except that they’re not aerodynamic are they?
TS: No. But you are very low so that’s not going to be a big thing. And if you have a string of four you have one before and two more or less hitting it and then the third one on that but you had to get it on the —say that’s the sub there you have to come in but you have to be right over the top of the sub to do it. Well, you can imagine if the sub is fully raised and there’s somebody on the gun already it’s a bit warm before you get there.
CB: Now, in your aircraft did you have a bomb aimer?
TS: Yes.
CB: And he had the responsibility of dropping the depth charges?
TS: No.
CB: Or you did.
TS: I did.
CB: Right. And how did you come to do that because you didn’t have the sight? So he had to call it to you.
TS: No. Well, we’ll say that’s the U-boat there.
CB: Ok.
TS: Well you would be going, coming and if you saw it you might be going at an angle across it and all the rest of it. Well, you would have to drop your bombs so that one of them was, it was, they were depth charges so they weren’t bombs and therefore they had to go more or less —
CB: Sure.
TS: Underneath the plane to blow it up.
CB: Under the submarine. Yeah.
TS: Yeah. Underneath the submarine.
CB: They were pre-set before you set off.
TS: Yeah.
CB: On the premise that you were only flying at a hundred feet.
TS: Yeah.
CB: So, who is calling the release time?
TS: I was. We decided, I think, that I would do that. And I would —
CB: You’d pressing the button.
TS: I’d press the button.
CB: He’d call.
TS: And I was pressing the button when we were practicing.
CB: Yes. But who gave the call for the timing of the dropping? So, the bomb aimer is saying, ‘Right. Drop now.’
TS: No.
CB: Is he?
TS: No.
CB: You are.
TS: Yeah.
CB: Ok.
TS: Because you were so low that the bomb aimer couldn’t use the bomb aiming thing or anything.
CB: So it was just a Mark One eyeball.
TS: Yeah.
CB: You didn’t have a sight yourself.
TS: No. No
CB: And did you —
TS: But that was because you had the four —
CB: Yeah. The final question on this is did you drop them automatically as a stick or did you have to press each time to drop each one?
TS: No. You dropped and your whole load went.
CB: Right.
TS: That was how we were set anyway. So therefore you’d drop a little early than you thought for the first one to go because there was a tendency to get too close to it.
CB: Yeah.
TS: And you went over the top of it. And that is why we did the low levels.
CB: Ok.
TS: And I have pictures somewhere of the, of us dropping low level.
CB: So, detached to Coastal Command how many ops did you do?
TS: At. Then. I think it was eight. Eight of those ops.
CB: Ok. And then after that what happened?
TS: I went back to bombers. And I went from there to [pause] Stanton. No. Not Stanton Harcourt. The one near York where you went from Whitleys to Halifaxes.
CB: Is that Riccall?
TS: No. It was the other one. There was Riccall was one. It was the other one.
CB: Holme on Spalding Moor.
TS: Yes. No. No. There was another one. Anyway.
CB: Yeah
TS: Yeah. And the chappy. I’m trying to remember.
CB: There was Elvington and Pocklington later.
TS: I’m just a little bit.
CB: Ok. And this was the HCU was it? The Heavy Conversion Unit.
TS: Yes. Heavy Conversion Unit.
CB: Ok.
TS: We went to [pause] in Yorkshire. Not far from York. The Moor.
CB: Ok. I’ll look it up.
TS: There was a big, a big battle fought there during one of the years long before we were born. And —
CB: Ok.
TS: I’m just wondering. You see all the time my brain is thinking where the heck are those things.
CB: Those logbooks. Yeah. So how long were you at the HCU?
TS: Not very long. And it was, I think more of them deciding your capacity early than anything else because you hadn’t to do anything more than just convert from one plane to another.
CB: Yeah. Because you already had experience in operations.
TS: Well, that might be the case but I think everybody had to be at that and if you’re just going from one plane to another well you just go from one plane to another. It’s like going from one car to another isn’t it?
CB: Yeah.
TS: As far as I’m concerned anyway. And it [pause] it was interesting to have these. The four engines and you had the engineer and the mid-upper gunner as extra crew. You had to get to know them and they had to know who was boss in the second, looking at it from another angle. And we made quite sure that we got the right people. I was lucky, as I said, in getting my original crew. When we went from three off the Blenheims to five I said to the [pause] you know on to the Whitleys, I said to the observer, as he then was, I said, ‘Well you know more about bomb aiming than I do. You find the best bomber.’ And I said to, you WOp/AG, I said, ‘You know more about the thing. Go and get me a good air gunner,’ and that’s what they did. They were successful because I’m still here. That’s the thing and the same sort of thing was when we went — that was from three to five and then from five to seven it was a similar thing except that I chose the engineer.
CB: Right. Ok.
TS: And I walked up to the gaggle of the engineers and I said, ‘I’m a pilot who’s looking for an engineer. What have you done? What engineering have you done?’ And I was quite blunt about it. So this chappy there was saying, ‘I haven’t passed many exams,’ he said, ‘Because the job was to keep machinery going twenty four hours a day.’
CB: In civilian life.
TS: In civilian life. I thought, well, we’ll have him. Some of the others had just done, more or less, a verbal course. And so when the engineer and I first went into an aircraft the first thing we did was start at the nose and work right to the back and all the bits and pieces and he seemed as though he’d done his learning in the classroom and he never let me down one, one little bit. He was a very good man. Because he had also, he hadn’t come straight from somewhere where he hadn’t been involved in anything much and he had been where he kept, had to keep these machines going for twenty four hours a day in a factory as I said. And I think it makes quite a difference.
CB: Yeah. Ok. So just going back on timings what are we talking about here? You go to the HCU. When would that be?
TS: Oh well actually we didn’t go straight from what we were doing to the HCU. We went on a battle course. That has nothing to do with flying though has it?
CB: No. With the RAF regiment was it?
TS: No. It was — we had somebody in the army who didn’t really want to be on the job. So it was interesting.
CB: So the whole crew goes on the battle course.
TS: Yes.
CB: And they’re all sergeants.
TS: Yes.
CB: And what’s the army man?
TS: He was a sergeant. I think he was a real sergeant as well. He wasn’t just a sergeant. Somebody —
CB: Experienced man was he?
TS: Oh yes. Yes.
CB: So what did you do on the battle course?
TS: Well what the army did. It was an army’s battle course. Live — live ammunition at the end and that was being introduced then more and more I think because if you baled out and you happened to land somewhere over the other side and you weren’t picked up by the enemy you could probably fight with the people who were just making a nuisance of themselves to the Germans or when the — we really went for them then you could help too, as battle course behind their lines. That was the theory of it. I don’t think it would have been very very efficient because [pause] anyway we’re talking here now because we won the war. Or well we officially won the war but –
CB: I interviewed a man who was shot down and had done a battle course and joined the Maquis.
TS: Yes. Yes, well that was the other one. Yes.
CB: Right. Ok. So when is this? What time are we talking about? 1942? Or are we still in ‘41. Where are we?
TS: Well, we are now going to four engines aren’t we?
CB: Yeah. HCU.
TS: HCU. HCU was in the 1943. In the spring.
CB: Ok.
TS: I did my first ops in May. So we weren’t long at HCU. See. So —
CB: So your first ops were with the squadron. So you spend a couple months at HCU.
TS: Yeah.
CB: Would you?
TS: No. I don’t think as such. I don’t think it was as long as that.
CB: Ok.
TS: And the CO of the HCU was somebody you might have heard of. His name was Cheshire.
CB: Yeah.
TS: You’d already got that information.
CB: No. I know about him. Yes.
TS: He was ok. We went on a night trip and the engineer, as some people call them, had difficulty in as much as he had to tell me that according to his instruments there was something wrong with one of the engines. And so I said, ‘Well it doesn’t feel like it,’ I said. It’s all, because I had the engines all in sync. When there was two it was easy.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
TS: And you could tell if there was something wrong because even before the instruments would tell you because the engines would let you know. And anyway [pause] I’ve lost it.
CB: Yeah. So the engineer said there’s something wrong with one of the engines.
TS: One of the engines. Yes. And so I shut it down as we were told to do and then the next day we were told to go in front of the CO and he wanted to know why we’d come back early. And so we said we’d done it on what we thought were the instructions and we went through them. And he said [pause] and he said, ‘Well, according to the people on the ground here there’s nothing wrong with that engine.’ And so I turned to the engineer. I said, ‘Well you said this.’ ‘Just a minute. Just a minute.’ The CO said this.
CB: Yeah.
TS: He said, ‘We are here to find out why that happened. We’re not putting the finger at anybody,’ he said, ‘Because we’ve had this happen before where people have come back because they’ve thought there was something wrong with the engine and we were hoping that you might be able to let us know.’ And so I said to the engineer, I said, ‘Well, did you notice anything other than what you just said about the instrument?’ He said, ‘No. I’ve told you everything as I saw it.’ And so he said, ‘Well, thank you very much for calling,’ and he said, ‘This is what we’re here for is to try and find out why these engines are supposedly failing when they’re not.’ And I thought that’s fair enough. He just more or less showed us the door and we went out. And I thought that was fine.
CB: This is an LMF issue. Is it?
TS: Well, no. No.
CB: It’s not. In other words some people were calling engine fault because they didn’t want to go.
TS: No. I know. I know.
CB: But he was, you were relying on your experience and knowledge of the engines and he was relying on the instruments.
TS: Yes. Yes.
CB: So did you crack the code?
TS: Well, we never had anything like it again.
CB: These are radial engines aren’t they? They’re not the Merlins.
TS: No. These were the Merlins.
CB: Oh they were Merlins. Right.
TS: These were Merlins and you see I’d quite a bit of time on Merlins having done the, with the —
CB: Whitley.
TS: Whitleys. Having to listen to them for ten hours at a time over the Bay of Biscay etcetera. Well up to twelve hours we were airborne sometimes.
CB: Amazing.
TS: It makes you wonder how. How you do it. I expect I’d do it again if I had to.
CB: So you didn’t find out what was wrong with the —
TS: No.
CB: Why the –
TS: Why. But I think it was not just on the, on the training side of it. I think for some reason this was happening and whether it was anybody who was interfering with it on the ground or not I didn’t ask the question. But I think that’s probably what it was about. Very difficult things to find out.
CB: Well I did interview a man who had a man, had a ground engineer court martialled for threatening to upset the aircraft on a sortie. So there was an element of this sort of thing clearly.
TS: I hadn’t thought of that at all.
CB: As a bribe. Anyway, sorry, go on.
TS: Anyway, that was that. I thought nothing much more about it until it keeps cropping up about that engine failing. Supposedly failing when it didn’t. And we were learning.
CB: So this is, you’ve just joined 102 Squadron and this is when it’s come up. This isn’t the HCU. This is the squadron.
TS: Yeah. That was HCU.
CB: Oh it was the HCU.
TS: That was the HCU.
CB: Right. So you joined the squadron after the HCU.
TS: Yeah.
CB: Then what?
TS: Well, I had to go as a second pilot with [pause] I had done a second pilot when I was at the OTU. Not the OTU. The HCU.
CB: HCU. Yeah.
TS: And then I did another one when I was, when I joined the squadron. And then I was on my own and then I went flying as expected [pause] and this is when really when I need the book.
CB: Right. So what do you recall as your first operation?
TS: I think it was Essen. Happy Valley.
CB: How did that go?
TS: Well I’m just trying to think whether the Essen one was with the — no. Essen was very early and whether it was when I was going as second pilot or when I was just on my own. I don’t know.
CB: So, going as a second pilot is not a training flight around the country. It is actually an operation.
TS: Yes.
CB: Ok. What other highlights are there that stick in your mind about operations?
TS: Well, I was always of the [pause] aware of a number of aircraft all huddled together.
CB: In the bomber stream.
TS: Yeah. Or before that when people were taking off. We had three stations. Like one, two, three. Anyway. And if, say somebody is a bit slow in being able to get height he’s getting awful near that other station at times and I was very well aware of that. And so as soon as I was pointing as though I was where 10 Squadron was — one of our take off things more or less pointed directly at it. So, as soon as I got nicely airborne I made sure that I turned away and gradually got up and up and up.
CB: This is from Pocklington.
TS: That is from Pocklington. And I always tried to be the first one off. And I was approached once by the, an officer of one of the other flights who said, ‘You came and took off before the wing commander.’ I said, ‘Well I didn’t even know the wing commander was flying. So how the hell was I to do that?’ But I didn’t care. I was doing the op and so was the wing commander as far as I was concerned. And he didn’t take it very kindly. But I don’t know who the hell he was but he didn’t come and talk to me again and I think that’s one of the things where you had to get airborne and you had make sure you had sufficient speed to drag that load higher and higher and get out and if you got off first then you could get on the top of the spiral going up and therefore and you were less likely to hit anything.
CB: So ahead of you is Topcliffe is it?
TS: No. No. 10, 10 Squadron on —
CB: Binbrook.
TS: No. No. No. I had it just a minute ago and then the other one was Elvington.
CB: Yes.
TS: In the clutch. There was Elvington, us and the other one.
CB: Ok. Right. So, you’re climbing out.
TS: Yes.
CB: And making sure you get out of the way.
TS: Yes.
CB: How do you know when to head off?
TS: Well you only take off — you only head off when you’re supposed to be moving off. But if you are waiting for somebody to take off and waiting for somebody else to take off and waiting for somebody else. You’re going to have difficulty in getting off before you’re supposed to be setting course. So, as I say I used to be there and then supposedly been told off by this officer that I shouldn’t have taken off before the flight commander.
CB: You’re a flight sergeant by now are you?
TS: Yeah.
CB: Ok.
TS: I was offered a commission after we’d done about ten ops or something like that and I said, ‘No. We’ve all, we’ve decided. We all had a little chat and we all want to remain NCOs.’ Later on, in my life in the air force I said I would like to take a commission. So, somebody popped up and said well according to the records you refused a commission. And I said, ‘I didn’t refuse a commission as such. I said, I didn’t want to take a commission while we were flying as a crew on 102 Squadron.’ And it looks as though it got the rounds and I eventually got a commission. I was wanting a commission because I was instructing and nearly all of the pilots coming through were commissioned and some of them objected to being instructed by an NCO. I was only a warrant officer mind. But —
CB: So, we’ve talked about getting off and setting off. Tell us the rest of a sortie. So, you’ve all set off at the prescribed time.
TS: Yes.
CB: Which is how it was done because you can’t see the other aircraft can you?
TS: No.
CB: So, you’re off. Now what?
TS: Well we would still be climbing and so having been first off, I was normally up above anybody else from the area and then we would, when we got to the height we wanted and there was the big light on the Lincolnshire coast which you had as a glass which many people saw. But you had that as a guidance and if your navigator was doing his job properly and you were flying the aircraft properly and you flew on the headings that he asked you to fly at the same time and then you changed when he said that then he would know once he got right above that light exactly what the wind was.
CB: Right. So now you’re setting off from the light.
TS: Yeah.
CB: And you’re — what height are you by then?
TS: Well if we were still climbing as far as we could go and they used to say, ‘Well level off at eighteen thousand feet.’ If you got to seventeen thousand feet you were lucky some nights because I knew as soon as I’d lifted off from there that we were, if anything, over laden. I couldn’t prove anything though.
CB: Over laden with bombs or fuel?
TS: Well both together you see.
CB: Right.
TS: Yeah. You had the tanks full of fuel and then you would have different bomb arrangements on different trips.
CB: So, when you were briefing. Going backwards. When you went to your operation briefing you knew, did you, what would be your bomb load and the variety?
TS: Usually yes but you hadn’t always worked it out. There would be a slight difference in the high explosives and incendiaries. And when we went to some of the places in France we were full of incendiaries. I couldn’t quite work that out. And occasionally we were full of incendiaries but it was this, you would climb to eighteen thousand feet was just not on because we would not get to them.
CB: The fuel load was dictated by the target was it?
TS: Yes. Well if it was just Happy Valley it was, you just had all the tanks, all the main tanks full, I think. I don’t know whether there was any less in the tanks because you could get there and get back with having sufficient [pause] sufficient fuel. You would have sufficient fuel to get there and back.
CB: Right. Now fast forward to your trips. Which were the most notable ones would you say? Ops. In your mind.
TS: Well there is only the one that — we’ve mentioned it.
CB: That’s Peenemunde.
TS: Yeah. But we did have some others and I’d have to refer to the book again.
CB: Yeah.
TS: Because I haven’t registered that in my mind to keep.
CB: I see that on your map here. We’re looking at the map with sorties that Tom has put on and two of them show damage to German aircraft. Could you just talk us through that?
TS: Well that one there. We shot it down.
CB: Did the rear gunner do it or the mid-upper or both?
TS: Well we didn’t — at the time we didn’t have a a mid-upper.
CB: Oh right.
TS: Turret.
CB: Right.
TS: That was before we, we only had one lot of guns on the whole aeroplane.
CB: Right. So, you did well to shoot that down.
TS: Yes.
CB: Right.
TS: Well that was, the thing was because of the manoeuvres etcetera. And —
CB: So, what did you shoot down?
TS: I don’t know.
CB: But it was a German aeroplane anyway. Yeah.
TS: Well, that’s as it was recorded. Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
TS: Yeah. This one here.
CB: The further south. Yeah.
TS: The further south is where we were damaged by a fighter. We managed to continue to the [pause] for the rest of the journey.
CB: So, what happened there?
TS: Well, we knew we had by that time got one of these units on the plane which would tell us when there was an enemy aircraft nearby. And we were getting this message and I did some changes of course a little bit and changes of course a little bit and each time it would follow me so it meant that it was a German aircraft looking for me. Looking for us shall I say. Rather than just a casual one of ours getting in to that area.
CB: Yeah.
TS: And so having done that, I think, three times and it was still getting much closer each time because of the beep. You know the beep beep system that was there’s a, so I thought I would just hold it and hold it and hold it until it came very close and then I just whipped over to the one side.
CB: In a corkscrew?
TS: No. No. No. You couldn’t corkscrew in one of those. You might think you were doing it but it was so sluggish when you were up at that height with that weight you had.
CB: Yeah. Ok.
TS: It was minimal sometimes. You had to really decide it. And so, I decided that this one it was coming again. We turned and it followed and I had turned and it followed. I think the book will say exactly how many times. Anyway, and I decided right well I’ll see how far I can go on this and I just sat there. I just sat there and the noise was getting and then it was almost beep all the time you see instead of just getting the beep beeps. Time to go down so I just flung everything over to one side and just as I was doing that he was letting off his things but only sufficiently for it to hit us in the port outer wing. If I hadn’t moved those cannon shells would have been in the half empty petrol containers.
CB: Yeah. The tanks.
TS: Tanks. Petrol tanks. And I wouldn’t be here. No wonder I went bald early.
CB: So, in that circumstance did you break right or left?
TS: No. I didn’t break right. This was the normal things you start and most people start don’t they? It was the opposite way anyway. Yes. In those days. I’m just trying to remember which way it was. I think. Oh, they expected you to go left and I went right. That was it. And it was just a question of luck, I think, in lots of instances where the cannon shells went in to the outer wing instead of them hitting a petrol tank which would have caused it to blow up and that would have been it. It wasn’t ‘til we got out, ‘til I got out the plane and then there was a huddle of all the people looking at the outer wing and the expletives which were being said can’t be repeated at the moment. Still, my luck and, well there was just no aileron at all. The whole of the aileron thing had just disappeared and then of course there was further on was the damage to the wing but we only had torches. It was dark and I didn’t realise that the wing was all so badly — no wonder it was rather difficult to keep on course. And that was, I think, the reason why probably I was awarded the DFM because the —
CB: A good bit of flying. Yeah
TS: Well the next day when I went in to the flight office the squadron leader said that, ‘The wing commander wants to see you.’ And I said, ‘Why sir?’ He said, ‘Well I don’t know.’ He sounded a bit upset about something. ‘The wing commander wants to see you.’ Unfortunately, this chappy had only just replaced the flight commander and so I didn’t know him in any way at all. Just done, he’d just come from, I don’t think he was in the flight before he was made flight commander or anything. And so, anyway this wing commander came charging in and he said, ‘So this is the fella is it? This is the young fella is it?’ and he was going around me like this. I thought what’s he going to do next because he had something in his hand. He said, ‘Take that.’ And he gave, gave me the part of the spar of the wing and he said, ‘You see that?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ I didn’t know exactly what he was saying. I was thinking whoo whoo. He said, ‘Well look. That thing shows that a cannon shell went through there. If it had exploded then I wouldn’t be talking to you today because your whole,’ blankety blank, ‘Outer wing would have gone.’ And I’ve still got it. And that was that. Him coming in like that and he wanted to shake me by the hand and all the rest of it. I didn’t know what the hell to do. The wing commander shaking me by the hands or everything. And anyway it was, the aircraft was taken into the hangar and they couldn’t believe it. That I’d flown it back in the state it was in and I’ve still got a very awkward knee. Five hours.
CB: Pushing hard.
TS: Pushing hard on that. But I’m not going to charge them now.
CB: Oh. You’re not.
TS: Not after all this time.
CB: So no aileron. On the port side this is.
TS: Yeah.
CB: Big hole in the wing.
TS: Yeah. And we had to bomb and we came back with a proper picture.
CB: Picture. Brilliant.
TS: [unclear]
CB: So where were you going that day? Where were you bombing?
TS: Ah that’s.
CB: Was it Frankfurt? Was it? Or –
TS: I don’t know. I don’t know. I [pause] Yes, that would be the one. I know it was five hours after being hit.
CB: Oh. Was it?
TS: When I managed to get out of the plane.
CB: So, in that circumstance what’s it do to the flying characteristics of the aircraft? You’ve got more drag on that side. You’ve got less manoeuvrability.
TS: Well you just had, you just, it’s towards the end, the outside you see, which is less. I mean, there was less of it. The main part of the lift is where the engines are where you have that huge, yes, difference but you’ve only got a very narrow wing when you get towards the wingtip and that’s more for control rather than anything else. There was, there nothing left of the aileron, you see. There was just tangled bits. And it was, I think just the thing that I had that other people didn’t have. The feel of the thing would be almost immediate to me and I was already operating my foot before I realised we’d been hit so badly.
CB: Yeah. So, you were hit in the left. On the port side.
TS: Yeah.
CB: You’re turning around to the right and going down. Are you? You’d turn it.
TS: Well. Yes. I was already –
CB: Then you’ve got to recover from that.
TS: Yeah.
CB: So what did you do?
TS: Well I did what I would automatically do and I can’t tell you exactly what it was but then we got back on to course which was the thing. And now what do we do? We’re badly damaged. What shall we do? Should we drop our load and go back? And I thought well, no, that’s not a good idea at all because if you go back you’ll be all on your own going all the way back there and they’d be picking you off with no trouble at all. So, we just plodded on and bombed. And —
CB: So, you’re approaching the target with a damaged aircraft. What do you do?
TS: You just keep on going as though you’re not damaged. As far as possible. And although we were damaged we hadn’t lost a lot of — the aileron part had gone but the rest of the damage was not so severe but a lot of the — it’s a wonderful thing a wing in an aeroplane you see because if you’re up there and you’re flying and you have a little bit missing, well it doesn’t seem to matter quite so much as if you was trying to land or take off.
CB: So, your roll control is on one side only. In this case the right. The starboard side. What effect does it have on your direction ‘cause you’re pushing hard on the rudder so there’s been some –?
TS: Well you have to keep — this pushing on the rudder is not, you can’t get the same effect absolutely but if you put it so that you don’t have to press against the wind as it were then you are getting more efficient. And if you fiddle around and get that system by adjusting the — well it was the aileron this side. I know there’s no aileron there but you had it on the other side as well. And so, I had to, fortunately we were at the height as far as we could get and we lost a little bit of height but we didn’t lose all that much that we were going to be right underneath the whole of the [unclear]
CB: Right.
TS: And you just have to take what you can think of at the time and I seemed to think at the right, of the right things when anything happened over there and the rest of the crew of course were very good most of the time. The, the engineer although he’d never had much to do with aeroplanes he soon proved to be a very good man.
CB: I’m just thinking that here you are with a damaged plane. Normally your attitude is going to be as level as possible. You’ve got a damaged outer port wing. Are you to maintain control raising that so you’re not actually straight and level. You’re straight but not level. Or how do you compensate?
TS: Well I don’t really know but I did it.
CB: And when you’re over the target. Do you — after the target you hold for a bit to get over to take your picture. Are you then turning left against the damaged wing or do you turn right? What did you do?
TS: I can’t remember. It might be in the book but it was just what you’d normally — you see, we as a crew, because I said so, maintained going on after you had dropped your bombs whereas some people they just turned when they dropped their bombs to cut off and go like that where and I tried to explain it to many, well I say many, more than once to some of these people. I said, ‘If you’re all going as a bunch all along together like that and you drop your bombs and then you go along and you come to the turning point and then you’re turning everybody is turning. But if you for some reason want to turn and you’re here and there’s all these there there’s a likelihood that you’ll run into those.’ And they said, ‘Oh no. It wouldn’t.’ But I used to think it terrible that some of them were doing all these things which they shouldn’t do and then bragging about it.
CB: Bragging because of –?
TS: Bragging that they’d, they’d cut off the corner. As soon as they bombed they cut off the corner because if —
CB: To get away.
TS: If you were going towards your target —
CB: Yes.
TS: And then you go on a little bit and then you turn.
CB: Yes.
TS: Yes. Well they, in that then if they would turn immediately and they know you can’t be sure you got to that point properly if you hadn’t already worked it out. And so, I think some of the navigators would have a difficult time with some of the people.
CB: So fast forward now. You’ve dropped the bombs. You’ve had to push hard on the rudder pedal to get back. How do you set up for landing? How did that work?
TS: Well I had done it in this way. I managed to know that I could land it because at ten thousand feet I did a mock landing.
CB: Right.
TS: I went through all the process of seeing whether —
CB: Wheels down and everything.
TS: Yes. But I couldn’t be sure that I was absolutely straight like that but you could tell by the little bit of light you were getting whether it was getting — whether you were going straight or whether you were going differently. And I’d report to the, and it wasn’t the first time I’d come back with a damaged plane, you see and I’d report to the people on the ground and saying that I’d done a landing at eight thousand feet I think it was in one instance. So on and so forth. So that they would know that I could, I thought I could land but of course you couldn’t see really whether — if you were up here you couldn’t see whether you had been pushed on one side or you had lost another side or anything like that but the feel of the plane as I keep on saying to different people is far more important than lots of other things.
CB: So, you’re making your approach. What are you doing about speed compared with normal approach speed?
TS: Well, I’d know from the [pause] what I was doing up there what it felt like
CB: The practice.
TS: Yes.
CB: Yeah.
TS: Just the practice up there. And then I’d always add at least ten miles an hour on to that.
CB: Right.
TS: So, you couldn’t see exactly what it was but I was doing that here. I don’t know whether I’ve even mentioned it in the book but –
CB: Right.
TS: That’s what it was.
CB: So, you’re on finals. How do you feel then?
TS: Well, I had so much to do that all I felt was that if I keep on going as I’m going now and now and now when I’m doing some of this. The final movements
CB: Corrections.
TS: Corrections and all the rest of it and I would make sure that I was down to the, getting on towards the speed. The approach speed. Of course I was flying above the approach speed a lot of the time.
CB: Yeah.
TS: When I was doing manoeuvres. So that I had speed there to recover it if it wasn’t right. And I got down to that and then I would be making sure that I was going to get on to the thing and then I would level off because it would be the main runway probably had plenty of runway to do it but if you land it, if you always used to land in the immediate area then if you had to use a bit more land you had it there but for those people who come over and then still have to level out and they’re halfway down the runway before they touch down.
CB: Too high.
TS: They’ve got no leeway.
CB: No. So, you made sure you came right over the fence as it were.
TS: Yes.
CB: As near the end as possible.
TS: Yes.
CB: The beginning of the runway as possible.
TS: Yeah.
CB: So, you got that down ok.
TS: Yeah.
CB: You mentioned you’d had an aircraft damaged before. What was that one? Was that flak or fighter?
TS: I’m not quite sure. We. We had, we had the engine. An engine pack up. And that was much more serious than anything else because it was before the target and we were losing height and we couldn’t do anything else but do it. Drop it.
CB: So, what did you do?
TS: Well —
CB: How many, how far short of the target are you when the engine packs up?
TS: This one was, it was —
CB: Where were you going?
TS: We were going to Happy Valley.
CB: Right.
TS: So, it’s just over the border and we, by turning to the port I could drop the bombs in the Zuider Zee and then I reckoned I could get back if I just was out of the, out of the gaggle.
CB: Yeah.
TS: I thought I could. As far as I can remember that’s where I was thinking I could get back without any trouble much
CB: So which engine was it?
TS: It was the [pause] I think it was the starboard outer.
CB: Right.
TS: And shortly after that I had a different plane. I think that was S for Sugar and after that I had another one and the —
CB: What? Another engine failure?
TS: No. Another plane.
CB: Another plane. Right.
TS: Yeah. And then I did most of my ops when the new Mark 2 series 1A came in. They gave me another aircraft and that was a W and of course it was the finer points which had been added. Just a small amount on the aircraft but it was a big difference to flying.
CB: Was it? What had they changed?
TS: Well, instead of having the turret at the front they did away with that and they just put a covering over. It wasn’t very good in as much as it wasn’t in with the rest of the plane. It seemed to be a sort of a bang. Not a bang. It just didn’t feel right to me.
CB: Because it upset the aerodynamics.
TS: Yes. Yes. But when they brought the series 1A in then they had the new front entirely and it was much better because the, with the Mark 1 or the Mark 2 when they still had the front turret it wasn’t at all. You know there was an awful lot of resistance around that because of the turret. I mean it wasn’t at all streamlined really was it?
CB: No. No. So we’ve talked about incidents there. What about Peenemunde? What was significant about going to Peenemunde?
TS: It was the way the people approached us about it. They said that we had to do the job tonight or else you would go for every night after night after night until you’d done it and going in as we did at eight thousand feet [pause] but you see there was practically no resistance at all. There was a sort of a searchlight but nothing very much at all. And the — I don’t think that they thought, I think the Germans didn’t consider us going there anyway. No defence much.
CB: So, there were layers of bombers. What was above you?
TS: Well no. The thing was that we thought we were all going to go in at the same height.
CB: Right.
TS: But we from 4 Group probably went in at the same height as the rest of 4 Group but some of the others went at probably at a different height to us. I don’t know. It was a question I’ve been wanting to ask but I’ve never got around to finding out what they went and everybody was supposed to be going in at the same. You see we would — 4 Group would be in that time. Four minutes, you see. And we were all supposed to bomb within that four minutes. All 4 Group. And I don’t know. It’s who could I ask? Who could give me the answer?
CB: Were you following Pathfinders? Or straight bombing?
TS: We were following Pathfinders until we got there and then we were supposed to be bombing any of the main buildings because we were mostly high explosives. So we were told that there would be some buildings in a certain area and we had to bomb those and according to the result of our photograph we did what we were told.
CB: Right. Now, you’ve got a picture of the target where there’s a bomber that can be seen below. So what’s that?
TS: That was a twerp who wasn’t obeying orders is all I can say. It’s a Halifax. And what the heck that man was doing flying there against the whole of the flow of the — I don’t know. I don’t know whether he’d get back. It is a Halifax isn’t it?
CB: He’s flying your way, is he?
CB: It looks as though he’s in the same direction as you so he could end up with bombs straight through him.
TS: Yes. Yes. Yes. Well we were bombing on the height we were supposed to be bombing and he is below. Yeah.
CB: Quite a long way.
TS: I thought that that photograph was one, somewhere I’ve got one where where was somebody going the opposite direction
CB: Oh, is there really? So, when you get to a target. You’re in a stream. It’s in the dark. How do you know if everybody is on the same track?
TS: Well the only persons who would know whether they were on the wrong track would be those who were on the wrong track.
CB: And they’d be on the wrong track for what reason?
TS: I can’t — I haven’t discussed it with any of them who were on the wrong track. Shall I put it that way.
CB: Ok.
TS: But some of the comments on debriefing.
CB: Such as?
TS: ‘Wizard prang. Wizard prang.’ Yah yah yah. When everybody else is being, sitting at the table and quietly talking and there would another lot sitting and then this fella would come out and every night he’d come back, ‘Wizard prang.’ ‘Wizard prang,’
CB: Same man or different?
TS: Yes.
CB: What was your —
TS: My bomb aimer had a different version of his wizard prang because he found out if they could find out where the bombs had been dropped. So that’s something which I, you know, but it was, whether he knew that he was doing it all wrong or not I don’t know.
CB: What was your last operation?
TS: Well, I think it was on my knee [laughs]
CB: [laughs] So, we’ll go back to the flying operation then.
TS: Yeah. Sorry about that.
CB: That’s alright.
TS: I can’t help it. Anyway, it’s [pause] I don’t know where we are as far as what you want.
CB: Right. So what we’re on is, you’re on ops as 102.
TS: Yeah.
CB: And how many ops did you do in total with 102 Squadron?
TS: Well you see I did those ops over the Bay of Biscay.
CB: With Coastal Command. Yeah.
TS: They counted as a half an op when we were in Bomber Command.
CB: Oh right.
TS: We thought that later. But it was only half. So there was four. It was, we were all on, all the rest were on Halifaxes. There were eight on the Whitleys and then the twenty six on the four engine jobs.
CB: Ok. So, the last four-engined on the Halifax. Where was that to?
TS: I can’t really remember.
CB: Ok.
TS: Without looking it up.
CB: So, you finished with 102 Squadron because you’ve ended —
TS: Yeah.
CB: Your prescribed thirty ops.
TS: Yeah.
CB: What did you do next? First of all, when was it?
TS: It was in October ’43.
CB: Ok.
TS: Early October ’43.
CB: And what did you do after that?
TS: Became an instructor.
CB: With whom?
TS: 81 OTU.
CB: Which was where?
TS: The other side of the Pennines.
CB: What? In Shropshire. So, what was the aircraft?
TS: I went back to Whitleys. But it wasn’t Bomber Command. It was 38 Group. You know what they did?
CB: Yeah. They were the tactical air force ones were they?
TS: 38 Group were the people who –
CB: Maquis.
TS: Towed gliders.
CB: Oh towed gliders. Ok.
TS: And dropped supplies to the Maquis.
CB: Yeah.
TS: We were teaching people how to tow gliders and I’d never flown one before.
CB: How did you feel about that?
TS: I was still just relieved to have completed a tour of ops that I thought well I can beat this one if I can do that and it was alright.
CB: Did you — as a prelude to that did they get you to fly a glider?
TS: Yes.
CB: How did you feel about that?
TS: Bloody awful.
CB: In the co-pilots seat?
TS: I don’t know. Now. Yes. It was with the co-pilot’s.
CB: What was the glider? A horsa.
TS: A horsa.
CB: So how many trips did you do in that?
TS: Only the one.
CB: Just one. That was plenty I should think.
TS: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
TS: Yeah.
CB: Right. Then you went on to towing.
TS: Well yes, we had to instruct the people. They had to do an OTU as a Bomber Command OTU.
CB: Right. First.
TS: For all the different. First. And then they would do the towing which wasn’t very much really. The worst was towing it at night when there was night towing and it looked as though my name had come out of the book to do this and you just, with a plane and you had a series of pilots, RAF. And a series of pilots, glider pilots coming to a certain place in the aerodrome where you then had an experienced pilot in both places and those who were just learning in the others. At night.
CB: Sounds. How did you feel about that?
TS: Not very good because it so happened that my pupil was pulled out of the hat to be the first one and then I was there doing it all ruddy night until I got so far and then I just — some of the pupils didn’t even, I don’t think they knew how to fly the plane at night without anything else there. They weren’t, they weren’t from, on our flight I know that. And I don’t know how they managed and I didn’t like to interrupt too much but once I was just a little bit and all of a sudden I realised we’re not on course ‘Ahhhhh,’ there were those bloody trees there. And I looked out and I could see the trees. Just the top of the trees just going underneath the aeroplane.
CB: Yeah.
TS: In the little light that we had on the front of the aeroplane. I just relaxed a little bit. Well you couldn’t just lift it. You had a glider on behind. So, it took you ages and ages to get any height anyway but you had a lot of trees there and a lot of trees there but you were supposed to be going down there and he was over here. And so I was too tired to act properly.
CB: Go on.
TS: So, when I came down I said to the, you see it was a coordinated thing. The pilot. The pupils coming to go in this plane and there were the pupils coming to go in the glider and all sorts of things and then you had to, after dropping the glider you had to drop the rope and then you had to come around again and get down and then you had to taxi around and pick another one up. And I came into the pointer. Switched the engine off. I said to the sergeant in charge of the plane to make sure that the plane was ok with the, for the — it was quite a gaggle of all different people busy there and I just walked off. And I was expecting somebody would come and ask me why. And I waited and I waited and I waited and nobody came. But I was never asked to do it again.
CB: So, what did you do next?
TS: Well we were having, still doing the normal OTU but it was this flying at night. Towing gliders at night. Off at night. And when I pointed it out they said, ‘Well really, they didn’t think they wanted to take off at night with the gliders. They only wanted to take off in the day time.’ And yet we were doing this at night.
CB: So were there fatalities flying at night? Glider towing.
TS: I don’t know.
CB: Oh.
TS: I don’t know.
CB: Not in the time you saw.
TS: No.
CB: No.
TS: But I was wondering why we were doing it if the people on the front line said they didn’t intend to do anything like that.
CB: But for D-day of course, they did fly at night.
TS: Yeah. Well but I was very irate and I just left it at that.
CB: You were a warrant officer at this stage.
TS: I think so. Yes.
CB: So, the sergeant’s going to be careful.
TS: I didn’t, didn’t fling it around at all.
CB: No.
TS: But you had to be friendly with the glider pilots. You had to be friendly with the pupils coming along. And you had to gently ease them if they were being a bit stupid because shouting at them would have been no good.
CB: So were you flying with a student pilot on the Whitley at the same time as a student pilot on the glider?
TS: Yes. At night.
CB: So, you’ve got a double whammy potentially.
TS: Yes.
CB: Right. I’ve done glider towing myself and I know how long it takes to get up. Right. So, you continued with the daytime OTU which could be dangerous in itself.
TS: Yes. Well I was, I was the, on the OTU and we were on. I did my share of night flying and all the rest of it and I didn’t mind. I did enquire about going back on ops and I was bluntly told that, well, ‘No. You’re here and you’re going to stay here because we want you here.’ And then later on I decided that, well, I did, when I was flying on ops I did refuse the offer of a commission because we were stated, I respected the, I told you at the beginning we were going to remain NCOs all the time. Well, that seemed as though it followed in my papers somewhere along the line that I had refused a commission when offered. But I managed to overcome that and —
CB: So, when were you commissioned?
TS: During the war.
CB: Yeah.
TS: [laughs] Seriously I can’t give you a right date.
CB: No.
TS: Without looking at it on the —
CB: Yeah. So then did that change things? I mean, you were, you said that you were instructing pilots who were commissioned.
TS: Yes.
CB: And that’s what prompted you to —
TS: Yeah.
CB: Re-apply as it were.
TS: Yeah.
CB: Well to apply. So how did that change things once you were commissioned?
TS: Well, in the main I found that I was commissioned and in quite a few instances I was told I hadn’t been to the right school. To my face.
CB: By the commissioned pilots being instructed.
TS: Yeah.
CB: Right.
TS: But I was, it didn’t worry me too much because I knew I could fly the pants off them all.
CB: How did you put that one down then?
TS: Pardon?
CB: How did you put down that comment?
TS: Well.
CB: Or you just left it?
TS: I just left it. The worst part of my career was after the war ended.
CB: Ok.
TS: Because there was a decided inflow of, of the type I felt I’d, you know, fallen out with. They didn’t accept me as being the right person to be a commissioned officer and they were just narked about it and so I thought I was hoping to make the RAF my thing so I decided no. I’d come out. And another things was I was wanting to get married and I was stupid enough not to ask her to marry me during the war when she really wanted to get married then. We were engaged. But we didn’t marry in the end.
CB: When did you get married? After you came out though.
TS: After we came out. Yes. I got myself a job.
CB: So just going back. You were at the OTU. Was that — did you keep in the OTU until you were demobbed or did you go somewhere else after the OTU?
TS: Well the OTU got more and more interested in the towing side of things and I was still an OTU but it was a different from when we started towing and all the rest of it. And it was a different thing as I say. And it had advanced considerably to what it was and I think it was very good and done properly by the book or if there wasn’t a book by what was recognised. It was a good thing. On one occasion the, there was a Halifax came and landed because I think it had engine failure. Supposed engine failure or something and so then they repaired it but it was in the way so they wanted to move it and they didn’t have the thing they could move it. They didn’t have a tractor that could move it so they said, ‘Oh well Tom used to fly on those. He’d be alright.’ So, I thought, right. I very nearly. No. I didn’t. I was very tempted. I was very tempted. I thought, no. You can’t really do it on your own, you see. So I —
CB: What? You can’t fly the aeroplane on your own.
TS: No. You could.
CB: But it would be dangerous.
TS: It would be dangerous because you couldn’t feed fuel or anything like that you see. You didn’t have the instruments you could check to see if they were all working.
CB: Oh right.
TS: So, to a certain degree you had the instruments but it’s —
CB: So, what did you do?
TS: So I had to collect [pause] the headquarters were sort of here. Around in the —
CB: One side of the airfield.
TS: Yes. Well, no. The hangars and that were there and then there were the station. The CO’s office and one or two bits and pieces there.
CB: Another site.
TS: And they wanted it moved. Wanted this aeroplane moved to over there. So, I was, I was asked if I would do it. I said, ‘Do you want me to pull it?’ And eyes all around. They said, No,’ they said, ‘We would like you to, if you could start two of the engines can you take it.’ I said,’ Yes. Well. You’ve done two engines haven’t you? Why don’t you take it?’ Sort of thing. And they were getting a bit fed up of me being awkward and I was only teasing them really but as we came along then I said right. We might as well have all four engines going so and that and then I turned it partly into the field but with my back right to the flight, not the flight commander’s office but the wing commander’s office. And he had made one or two cracks about people, you know, coming from the ground and being commissioned and all the rest of it so I put the plane right like that and his office was here.
CB: Behind it.
TS: Behind it. And I blasted those engines. I knew he was in the office.
CB: So, he got a lot of noise.
TS: Yes.
CB: And a lot of wind.
TS: Yes. And so somebody said, ‘You know you shouldn’t be doing that.’ Well, if he didn’t want me to do that somebody else should have done it shouldn’t they. It’s just one of those things where I perhaps go just beyond the point I should have stopped at.
CB: So were you a flying officer or a flight lieutenant at this stage?
TS: Oh, I was only a flying officer. But it’s, I don’t see why they couldn’t just jump in to a plane and taxi the damned thing.
CB: They hadn’t got the right certification had they?
TS: Well. Perhaps not. As I say there was no instructor to tell them what to do.
CB: So where? What — are we talking about 1945 still?
TS: Yes.
CB: So, you didn’t come out until ’46. So what were you doing?
TS: Well I was doing this but I was getting more and more frustrated with the attitude of the people there and it got to the stage when it was more important what was going on in the officer’s mess in the evening as to whether you could fly in the night or fly or anything and it was, if there were any targets to be met well they definitely weren’t being met. I wasn’t flying my pupils as much as I would have liked to have flown them and all this sort of thing going on so I thought I’d come out of it. Wasn’t, wasn’t done.
CB: The people who were converting on to glider towing. They had all done a tour had they? That’s why they were commissioned.
TS: The?
CB: Well, you were instructing.
TS: Yeah.
CB: People who already had experience on tours. On heavies. Were they?
TS: No.
CB: Oh.
TS: No.
CB: What were they?
TS: Well —
CB: Or on twins or some kind.
TS: Yes. Yes, they were. Some of them were coming straight through the thing. There were some experienced people and you could, before you’d taken off you realised that it was an experienced person. Even if you hadn’t been told. And it was more than awkward on more than one occasions where I didn’t really want to pass some people but they said they had to be passed if they’d got that far. So, I made a point of making a point of it so that they couldn’t say well you didn’t say.
CB: They could record it.
TS: And so anyway in the, after the war had ended and I thought of applying, I was applying for a permanent commission and there was just no chance at all.
CB: No.
TS: Came out.
CB: So where were you demobbed and when was that?
TS: Where was I demobbed? I don’t know exactly.
CB: Because you had to go and pick you suit up.
TS: Actually, I was driving a car. I’d got an old car and one of the chappies — I was in the same billet as him and he was the NCO in charge of the transport, the ground transport and so he made sure my car was ok. That was about the one thing I got, shall I say. Rather than just being there and having the general things. He said, ‘Of course I can’t do it on site,’ but he had to send off some of the vehicles outside the thing to somebody who was a local man doing repairs and my car went along with that but he didn’t know about it.
CB: He never heard a thing.
TS: That was the only thing I got like that.
CB: So, you left in ‘46. What time of the year?
TS: I can’t really remember that. It was pretty good weather. I can’t really remember.
CB: And you got a job. How quickly did you got a civilian job after you left?
TS: Before my leaving.
CB: Terminal leave.
TS: Terminal leave. Yes. Was up.
CB: Where did you? How did you get the job? And what was it?
TS: Well I came down south here because there was nothing up north really for me. From what I thought. And all I wanted was a job. I mean I was enough, far enough around the bend to go completely around there if I didn’t get a job. And it —I tried. My parents had moved from the Dales in to Darlington. My father had given up farming and was running the the animal auction market at Darlington which was quite a big job. And he wanted me to join with him to do that and I thought he’s still a young man. I wouldn’t be getting anywhere for years. I decided that I didn’t want to stay at home and do that. And I came to — one of my crew was in West London and so I came down and asked him about it and he said, he said, ‘Well all sorts of jobs going,’ he said. It’s what you’re even qualified for. They don’t want pilots here. They want bus drivers.’ I said, ‘I don’t want to drive a bus.’ I knew he was only joking anyway. But in the end I got a job at EMI and it so happened he was working at EMI but he had no control over the things. And he had said to me, ‘Don’t get a job at EMI whatever you do.’ I went around all sorts of places and I have sympathy for anybody who is in a similar situation now. If they want a job and they keep going around different places and then they can’t get it. There was one there he said, ‘There’s one or two jobs going here,’ he said, ‘But the thing is that it’s likely that I’ll be retiring soon,’ he said. ‘And you’d have to wait a bit but if I take you on you can have my job.’ And when I went in to it a bit more I decided, no, I didn’t want it. And then I took a job in EMI and I said, ‘Now look I don’t want to sit behind a table all day long shifting bits of paper. I want something on the move.’ So, I finished up half the time doing something on the table and the next was to keep a department of EMI Records going. Which meant there were several aspects towards the keeping the smooth running going and you had to be sure you got all the bits and pieces coming and going. It wasn’t tremendously, shall we say, a money-making job but it kept me going. I could go on. It’s about time you had a cup of tea isn’t it?
CB: That’s sounds —
JS: My knee’s getting set.
CB: We’ll stop there for a mo. Thank you.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Tom Sayer,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 23, 2024,

Item Relations

This item has no relations.