Interview with Frank Tolley


Interview with Frank Tolley


Frank Tolley was born in 1921 in Tipton and left school at fourteen to work as an errand boy for a grocer. He joined the Royal Air Force at nineteen as a ground gunner, and was in at the inception of the Royal Air Force Regiment. After eighteen months he volunteered to become an air gunner, but instead was selected for pilot, navigator and bomb aimer training. After his initial training at Scarborough, he went to Carlisle to fly Tiger Moths, but didn't solo. He went to Canada to train as a bomb aimer, then came back to Moreton in the Marsh for more training before joining 625 Squadron at Kelstern. He describes some bombing operations and deploying Window. He completed 26 operations. After the war he went into sales in the north west, where his wife had come from. At the time of interview he volunteers at the Imperial War Museum North, and has raised money making two zip-wire jumps across the Manchester Ship Canal.




Temporal Coverage




01:06:43 audio recording

Conforms To


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AM: Ok. So this interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Annie Moody, and the interviewee is Frank Tolley. And this interview is taking place at Mr Tolley's home in Sale near Manchester on the second of July, two thousand and fifteen. So, we've talked a little bit about what, what we er, want you to talk about, Frank. Perhaps if you could just start off with with you date of birth, and where you were born.
FT: According to my certificate I was born on the twentieth of July, nineteen twenty one, in Tipton, which was then Staffordshire, now West Midlands.
AM: Right. And what, what, erm, what was your early life like, what did your parents do?
FT: My father was a railway signalman. My mother was a stay-at-home mother, and er working at home. She er, she never went out to work after she married. Erm.
AM: What about family? Did you have brothers and sisters?
FT: I had three younger brothers, no sisters. I didn't know anything at all about girls. When, er you were growing up it was sissy to know girls in my day. (Laughs) How times have changed. No it was all pals. You were always kicking a ball around with pals, or using a bat or whatnot, or cycling. Yeah. Life was great, it was super. (slight pause) School-days. But, er, like most families in the twenties, we were very poor. Dad had to have his smoke, and his ale (unclear), and he was an ex-service World War One Royal Marine, but he received a pension because he developed pneumonia, and became unfit for duty any more, and he used to have his pension, his pocket money, and when he came home he'd turn over all of his wage to my mother, and she had to do the best she could with it. I well remember, I think it was nineteen twenty six or seven, the General Strike. I thought it was great having Dad at home all the time. We were on the coal banks picking coal, and I remember my mother crying on one occasion, and I learned later that Dad had been to the branch office of the union, and came back with a two pound bag of sugar and a quarter of tea, quarter pound of tea. That's all they had coming in for the week. But apparently my maternal grandparents subsidised us during the strike time. To add insult to injury, er, when my father went back he went back for a wage less than he was getting before. That, that's how it was, they came- it was the General Strike! Everybody seemed to come out. The miners started, but er, the miners went back eventually, they left the railwaymen holding the baby, so to speak, (chuckles) and that's – I'm repeating not from what I've read, but from what I learned and what I was told during that time, you see. Yep. And (pause) during that time I did get a place at Tipton Central, which became a grammar school. I only went there for three months, and my father was upgraded, but it meant that he had to move to another signal box which was a few miles away, and we moved out of Staffordshire into Worcestershire. My parents were ignorant to the fact that I could have had a transfer, so I went back to an ordinary school, and left there when I was fourteen. I had to go and get the first job I could to help the family exchequer, my mother. I wanted to go into an office, not realising that as an office boy all you did was lick stamps and put them onto er-, and run errands. The only job I could get, apart from going into a factory, and I didn't want to do that, was as an errand boy with a grocers. Fifty four hours a week for ten shillings a week. When you weren't developing er, delivering orders, you would be in the back of the shop working there, and I lifted – (background beeps and rustling of papers)
AM: So we just had a pause while there was somebody at the door, and Frank was talking about working at the grocers, so off you go Frank.
FT: And then I say, when you wasn't delivering your orders, one of the jobs I did was working at the back of the shop, lifting, I was fourteen remember, hundredweight casks of butter from floor to table. It's a wonder we weren't ruptured, yes, yes a hundredweight would be about er, fifty kilos. It's quite, er, quite a weight to be lifting at that time, cheeses were sixty pounds, and you had to (unclear). And then, another job was having a load of goods in a basket, put on my arm, and sent round side streets selling to women who was waiting for Friday to get paid, and I'd got to try and sell what I had in my basket. It was, it taught you how to work, but it was hopeless, I, I didn't like the job, and when I saw anybody from school, that had left, coming along, I would dodge down a side street because I felt ashamed doing the job that I was, a proper little snob, really (laughs). Because I wanted to do better than what I was doing, that was life's end, and sadly, very sadly, it was the war that gave me my, my opportunity. It was. Joining the RAF was like, er, university for me, met all types.
AM: So, what year did you join?
FT: Nineteen forty when I was er, just after I was nineteen. I would have been called up when I was twenty, but I had a hankering, because I was keen on photography, I used to print my own, and I thought it would be good to be an aerial photographer, not realising it wasn't manual any more, it could be done automatically, and all that, and anyhow, I joined the RAF, and became a ground gunner, and then, when the Regiment was formed, I was one of the founding members of the RAF Regiment. But I was with them for about eighteen months before I was accepted for flying, and er-
AM: What sort of things did you do in the Regiment?
FT: I hadn't got a School Certificate, you see, I didn't have a School Certificate, so I couldn't go directly for flying, but (slight pause) one night I was, in the Regiment, I was manning Hispano-Suiza cannon, the type they had in the fore-wing of the Spitfire and Hurricane, and Gerry passed over our airfield, which was near Nuneaton, it was called Bramcote, RAF Bramcote, to bomb Coventry, but they were too high for the range of this Hispano-Suiza, and next day I went home, hitch-hiked through Coventry, I lived on the West side of Birmingham, of course saw Coventry and saw how, how things were (unclear), and though, 'hells bells, if this war is going to be won, it's going to be won from the air'. That was my reaction. I wasn't being disparaging about the Army, or the Navy, but I felt that's how this war was going to be won. Went back, expressed my sentiments to the fellows in the barrack room, and said, 'look, we have automatic weaponry training, I'm going to see if I can become an air gunner'. And several others, three or four others said, 'that's an idea, we'll join you'. The next week, we went on the same afternoon, but separately, for interviews before the, er, the station commander, the squadron commander, the padre, and the education officer. And er, er, my colleagues, they were accepted straight away, and left the Regiment within three weeks, but they offered me, much to my surprise and delight, the PNB scheme that was to train as pilot, navigator, or bomb aimer. Jingo! If there's a chance of being a pilot, when the war's finished I'm going to be alright! That was me. So I gladly accepted that, apart from which, it was top rate of pay for (unclear). (chuckles) And, but, I had to wait over six months for my course to come through, and do you know that, it was just luck of the draw, my colleagues that had gone as air gunners, they'd all had the chop, they'd all been killed. These three of four of them, including my best pal, and he came from Walton in Liverpool, he was twenty one, and this was in nineteen forty three, and he can only have done three or four operations, (pause) from (pause) I have his memorabilia, which I've had from er, well memorandum actually, from the Imperial War Museum, from the computer there, and I've got the er, grave where he was buried, which was in Belgium, the grave row and number, and maybe this year, if I can, er, I'll go across there, put a British Legion cross, wooden cross on, on his grave. I can't remember the names of the others, but it's er, it's just how, how things were. And, er -
AM: So when you started your training.
FT: Yes, I went up to Scarborough for the, erm, initial training, which was groundwork, and learning the the, er, constellations, because we, we needed this later on, we needed to know the stars, and whatnot. And then, following that, went to an airfield near Carlisle to fly in Tiger Moths, twelve hours in Tiger Moths, but I didn't solo. Some did, some sort of got it very quickly, but I had some ear trouble, and I couldn't hear, and I was scared stiff to report this because I didn't want to be dropped off. And, anyhow, from there I came up to Manchester for the first time, went to Heaton Park, and there was a holding unit to decide what we would train for, be it pilot, navigator, or bomb aimer, and I, I knew it wouldn't be pilot because I hadn't soloed, And (slight pause) from there you went to Canada, or from, or to South Africa for your training, but the camp was chock-a-block with us cadets, and a number of us were billeted with local families, and I was billeted with a Jewish family in Prestwich. The first time I'd had any dealings with Jews, they were delightful people, thoroughly enjoyed it. Could be the fact that I met, was introduced to, one of the neighbour's daughters, and we palled up whilst I was there (chuckles). And anyhow, went to Canada. I couldn't tell my parents where I was going, but I, I said, when I went on embarkation leave, that, 'when I know, I will write to you, and put five ha'penny stamps on the letter if I'm going to Canada, or two penneth and a ha'penny stamp if I'm going to South Africa.' They had the letter with five ha'penny stamps on, so they knew where I was going. I was away for about five or six months, and do you know, whilst I was over there, I met a (slight pause) a physical training instructor, a sergeant, who lived in the same road as myself, he was two years ahead of me at school, two years older than me at school, and he'd been training over here in Manchester, paratroopers. He'd done quite a number of jumps himself, and so they just sent him across to Canada, for a break, I suppose, doing two years over in Canada, as a physical training instructor. And he was shopping, as I was, when we met, for his, his daughter, who'd been born just a week or two after he'd got over to Canada. And I said, 'well, I'll be going back shortly, I'll take those back for you'. Because, his brother worked for the same company as myself, and this I did, I took them for his wife. Later on, another coincidence, when war had finished, to find us something to do before the squadron stood down, we went over to Italy to bring troops back for demob. They'd come back with us in three hours, or by land and sea in three days, and some of them had been out there for years, and I suppose they thought, 'well we've come through all this, we might just as well finish off going with these, with this crazy bunch', and we could put in twelve, lying down in the fuselage, and we left one gunner behind, and took one with us to hand out the sick bags. And I would have a couple of them coming into the nose, give them a break, let them see just what happened, because I had a good viewing in those-, upwards, sideways, and downward, so yes, so they liked that. But the first time we came back, I remember, one chap must have had it blooming hard, because once he got out, as soon as he got out of the aircraft, he kissed the ground.
AM: Yes.
FT: Yeah, yeah, was so touching to see.
AM: So glad to be back. Tell me a bit about the training in Canada, what was that like?
FT: Oh, (unclear) I went first of all to (pause) Pingo. On the north shoreline of Lake Erie to do bombing and gunnery. Did bombing in Avro Ansons, and the gunnery in Blenheims. And then did navigation, went to No.1 AOS, Air Navigation School of the Canadian Air Force, in Malton, that was near Toronto, 'Torronno', they called it, Toronto, and we did, I think about six weeks of a navigator's course, you know, just in case the navigator went for a burton then you'd be able to muddle through (chuckles), probably. But the only navigation that I did was when we went to, over to Italy, in the daylight, and give our navigator a rest, let him take a view all round. I, I navigated us there. But there were times when I had to go into the astrodome that was between the pilot's cabin, er, the pilot's area, and the mid upper gunner, which you saw there, and I would have the astro compass with me, and I would take, and this is where you learned about the stars, the different constellations, I would take a shot of two stars, and the readings on the compass from those two stars I would pass down to the navigator, and providing I'd given him the names of the right stars for him to check, and my readings were correct, he would then plot them onto his Mercator chart, and where the cross was, he would relate that to the cross that he'd got, to see just how near, or how far, he was away, and, you know, that helped sometimes. On one occasion we had the scanner knocked off, and, I think that was on Cologne, and that was a bad night, we lost, we lost three from our, our airfield on that occasion (pause) quite a lot, (pause) lost that night, it seemed as though the Germans knew every turning point that we made, and our gunners had to call out whether they saw aircraft shot down, for the navigator to plot, but they were calling through so many that the pilot said, 'don't call out any more, the navigators got enough to do to get us there'. That's how it was. And weaving and doing, we weren't lost, so to speak, we were unsure of our position. And then suddenly, I saw lights ahead, and I said, 'bloomy, we're coming over Switzerland, and they opened a token barrage at us, not, not to hit us but to show that we were over their territory, and the navigator gave a general direction course from that for home, and daylight broke before we crossed the coast in France, and I was able from my maps, I was able to give the navigator a pinpoint, and he just, 'alter course, only very slightly', to the pilot, and he brought us (pause) over-
AM: He brought you home.
FT: Yes, yes. Aye.
AM: Just going back to the training, you did the training in Canada (FT agreeing in background) to be a bomber, you did some navigation, but the bomb aimer training. So what was that like, the bomb aimer training part of it?
FT: Oh, well it was very much hit and miss. The bomb sight that we had there was the -, not a patch on the one that we used, that's because it was a computerised one that we had before. And er, there was a bigger barrel on the er, aiming, er, in every target area, and you went with the bigger barrel, and if you hit the bigger barrel or you-, that was it. But nobody ever hit the bigger barrel. (chuckles) We got near to it at times. It, it was fun. It just gave you some idea, and you were firing on, at a drone that was being towed by another aircraft, you see, and there were several of you firing at the same drone, but you, you had different er, coloured, er (pause) the bullets were painted or something. Anyway, they knew from the colour of the surrounding holes who'd fired, do you see, and how they, they related your proficiency as a gunner. Not, we only did this to be able to operate the guns. But, I had to on one occasion, not to operate, I had to take the place of our rear gunner. He was a bigger fellow than I was. His, er, he wore a heated jacket, you plugged it in, as I could in the nose, because there are two cold places. His went for a burton on one occasion, and he passed out. We couldn't make any contact with him at all. But I had to go down, get him out, bring him up, and fill him with coffee and get him thawed out, but I had to take his place for a couple of hours. Oh, was I glad that I wasn't an air gunner. You swung to port or to starboard, and your back was exposed, and up there between twenty five and thirty thousand feet,
AM: Cold.
FT: Oh, blooming cold. Be alright for baling out, I suppose, but oh, it was cold and so cramped, too.
AM: Especially if he was bigger than you.
FT: He was, yes.
AM: When you got to the end of your training, what happened then, then, you, how, you came back from Canada?
FT: Yes, yes, came home from Canada, and went to advanced flying unit, you know, to be, er, flying again in Ansons for er, (pause) bombing, er, going on to do bomb sights, and the navigators were there as well, doing navigation exercises and whatnot. And I was operating a camera then, a hand held er, to er, we would be told to photograph at a certain position, and I have several photographs. Some a mile away, some dead on, which was quite good, was important to everybody that er, were able to read the maps, to er, sufficiently to get on that right spot. So that was good. And er, our pilot, after he left us, he got the DFC for er, because we had some good bombing results. But er, (AM interrupts) the pilot and I, we met, after advanced flying unit, we had to go to operational training unit, OTU, and the pilot and I, we arrived within minutes of each other. He was then a warrant officer, and I was still a sergeant, and he and I were put into the same nissen hut. Nobody else in there, we were chatting away there for half an hour. So, we seemed to be getting on. He was an Australian, he'd been over here for a little while, he'd been flying, I forget what, aircraft that they trained the radio operators in, so he'd done quite a bit of flying in this country. And we seemed to get along quite okay. He was a bit younger than me. And he said, 'we'll be queuing up tomorrow,' and then in the next breath said, 'would you like to be my bomb aimer?' And you know, 'why not?', I thought, so I said, 'yes', because we seemed to get along quite well, and I suppose he thought I was okay, and I thought he was okay. Next morning, I was (unclear) around, and he went out and he er, met the gunners, who'd trained together, and the radio operator, and navigator. The navigator didn't stay with us, only for one or two trips, he was a bit behind, so he was given more training there, and we collected a navigator who'd like-ways been in his position, but he was alright, was Bill Porter, we got along quite well with him. He, his home had been bombed down in Essex. Anyhow, we crewed up and did bombing and navigation operations, training from Moreton in the Marsh, and then we moved, we were flying then in Wellingtons, and that's where I, er, handled the aircraft. I would have to have taken over if the pilot had gone, though goodness knows what would have happened, but that's how it went. But when we went to the conversion unit, to go onto four engines, we did just a couple of circuits and bumps in a Halifax, and then they decided er, because they had some Lancasters come in, that we go on to Lancasters, which from the pilot's and my point of view was a much better proposition, that we have to get on to the Lancs. And there we picked up our flight engineer, and with four engines you needed to have a flight engineer, and he was very good. He'd got it almost to a pint, the amount of fuel you had. But he was also a pilot, he was one of these surplus to requirements towards the end, and so a number of them were sent to St Athens(?) to do a flight engineer's course. He was a bit uptight, a bit upset about that because he'd trained to be a pilot, and he wanted to be a pilot. But in doing that I would have been likewise, but it so happened that he had to be er, a flight engineer. But on one occasion when we were still flying dual controlled aircraft, after our pilot had been passed as being okay, we were flying around and Bruce let (pause), I forget his name.
AM: It's gone.
FT: Jo! Jo Platt, land it. He was there ready to take over, but Jo Platt made a perfect landing. 'Oh, thank heaven for that. Hope neither of them get, get done, because I wouldn't want to be taking over on a big aircraft like this'. But, we were alright. We were hit on a couple of occasions, like I say we had the radar scanner knocked away, which may have saved our life, our lives, on that occasion. That was when we went to (pause) Nuremburg
AM: Nuremburg.
FT: and we got lost on the way back. And so the (pause) Jerry, because our scanner had gone, he couldn't track on, on to you. Apparently, what happened when we had the H2S working,
AM: The H2S?
FT: Yes, H2S that was called, that was the forerunner of the television and computer, yeah.
AM: Okay
FT: So, getting (pause) Jerry used to track on that, and so to counteract that, in the nose, I used to have bundles and bundles of tin foil to drop through the window chute to scatter about, and it blocked, it blocked their readings, you know, and stopped them tracking us. You know, imagine all these pieces of tin foil, they'd be about so long, and be about that wide, and be opened and scattered, you know, it reminds one of the, er (pause)
AM: So Frank was showing me how long they were, and they were about twelve inches long and a couple of inches wide.
FT: No, they wouldn't have been a couple of inches wide
AM: Less than that, an inch.
FT: This is, it certainly did the trick, dropped through the window chute. We used the window chute firstly because other than that when you needed to go to the loo, you had to go down, and it was situated behind the pilot's, er, behind the rear gunner's place, but we up front, we carried a jam tin, and we used that, and it would be passed down to me to pour down the window chute, otherwise, you see, you'd have to er, take off your oxygen, and take your oxygen bottle down with you (chuckles) it was all very crude compared to today’s flying, sort of thing. But it did us alright. But I did see the result of a miracle on one occasion, we, we'd been debriefed from one raid, we were going off to the mess, and a crew comes in and the bomb aimer is carrying his parachute, and it's torn to ribbons. He had a piece of flak about that long, with the widest part about like that. He'd clipped his chute on, as he always did before a bombing run, leaning over the target, er over the bomb sight, and this had come through, hit him in the chest, (unclear) at the foot of the pilot's controls, and he wasn't marked at all, yet it had torn his chute to ribbons, and he, you know, he was just (unclear) hanging with his (unclear) and they said, with this piece of flak. But his crew, they were going on leave the next day, so I suppose the rot set in, you know, the shock, when this thing hit him when, when he got home, but it's amazing how these things happen, 'cause another crew, on another occasion, brought their bomb aimer, he, he, he had the chop whilst they were up there. But they brought him back, they didn't drop him out. They brought him back. Yes, it was-
AM: Just going back to, you finished your training, you crewed up, you got your pilot, your whole crew (FT agreeing in background), so what squadron did you-?
FT: Six two five
AM: You were in six two five, where was that based from?
FT: That was over in (pause) Kelstern, that was the satellite airfield from Binbrook, Binbrook was the main one. Oh, it was very hard there, the sleeping quarters in the nissen hut was, oh, a good half hour away from the airfield, and the (pause) briefing and debriefing room, and the mess and whatnot (background noises, lawnmower)
AM: I'm just going to-. Okay, we think the strimmer's gone, so we'll continue, so erm, you're in Binbrook, in the nissen huts.
FT: We weren't in Binbrook, we'd like to have been in Binbrook
AM: Oh. You were in the satellite to Binbrook.
FT: Yes. It was very, very hard, in fact we had, we ran out of food, they hadn't even got food to us because er, vehicles couldn't bring food to us and we were there on the airfield trying to dig snow away for the runway, but to no avail, there was far too much, and as I say, we had to have food dropped to us, bread never tasted so good (chuckles). But it was, it was alright, but, you know-
AM: Did you fly your first oper-
FT: We did, we flew- we, we went, we joined the squadron in January forty five, and it wasn't until February the first that we flew our first operation. We had been, er what, er, briefed about eight or nine times and er, (papers rustling in background) I think the second, the second of February when we did our first op, but from my log book I'd copied, I'd lost this, and I found it again, and I've two more, more sheets describing the operations.
AM: So these are some details of the operations that you're showing me now, Frank.
FT: Yes, and-
AM: Might try and get a copy of that afterwards, if that's okay
FT: Oh yes, I can get copies on there for you, but you will see Dresden on here, if I can find some specs (long pause), yeah, here you are, Dresden. Gives you an idea. That was nine hours ten minutes, that flight, and the next night eight hours fifty minutes we went to Chemnitz. From the time of taking off at er, ten to ten at night for Dresden, and returning from Chemnitz , landing from Chemnitz, that was thirty three hours, which is eighteen hours flying in thirty three hours, and the rest of the time we, we'd been to bed, we'd been had three meals, we'd been debriefed from Dresden, and briefed for Chimnitz, but there was no aircrew medal for us.
AM: No.
FT. No, no, we had the France-Germany one which whether you were in action or whether you were desk-bound, or whatever, and desk-bound were people were needed, of course, in Germany, in France and Germany as well as those in action, but there was no distinction, but what happened, last year the Prime Minister decreed that aircrew that didn't receive the Aircrew Europe Medal should have a clasp with Bomber Command on it to go on the thirty nine forty five star, which happened, the er, the fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain, they had a similar clasp to go on the same ribbon with Fighter Command on it, and that, that was just to show that we were aircrews.
AM: Indeed. You were showing me some of the operations that you went on, there, Dresden and, how many operations did you do?
FT: Er, twenty two bombing, but I bombed on twenty occasions, not twenty two, and er, did Operation Manna, did four of those jobs.
AM: Yeah. Tell me about the difference, then, between the bombing runs and Operation Manna.
FT: Oh, it was such a relief after all the bombing to be doing Operation Manna. Sadly, it had to be done, they were dying in their thousands, and the Germany commander of the Western province knew it was all over bar the shouting, and he accepted that a truce be arranged so that we could go over there unmolested with the bomb bays full of food parcels to drop at different points. And, this was fixed for the first of May nineteen forty five, but they were so desperate, as I say they were dying in their thousands of starvation, that the RAF went on the twenty ninth and thirtieth of Feb-, of April, before the truce was official. And we flew at between three hundred and four hundred feet across the North Sea to er, well the first two drops er, before the truce, was in the Hague area, and my crew, we did another two after that to Rotterdam, but we went on leave then, so we, we, we didn't do the eight. The Americans went on the first of May, and they, er, they dropped six thousand tons in six drops in from Flying Fortresses, and we did seven thousand and twenty tons from, from Lancasters in eight, eight drops. And the story goes that the Americans, when they programmed this, they said they were the first to drop food to the Dutch. When I heard this I thought, but my log book proved that that was wrong, and I thought, 'no mate, but they were right'. Maybe they were the first to drop food to the Dutch once the truce had been signed, but we'd been twice before, but that was not mentioned in their programme (chuckles). I can't say, 'because they didn't know', because both forces knew what the others were doing, sort of thing. (unclear) Dresden, because they realised what had happened, what we'd done, the Americans went the next morning to bomb nothing there, just to be part of it.
AM: That was the Dresden bombs that you're talking about.
FT: Because there was no doubt about it, it was a genocidal raid, er, they say twenty five thousand were killed on that one night.
AM: Did you think that at the time, Frank, or were you, at the time you were just doing your job?
FT: Well when we, yes, when we went over there on that one, it was just one, I think we were third wave, it was just one mass of fire and flame, and the master bomber, I remember he called to us, 'overshoot five seconds'. That's a thousand and one, a thousand and two, that's how you got your five seconds. Didn't use the bomb sight, you just released them. He'd have done better just telling us to scoot off, go back. But, I tell you, twice we didn't bomb. On one occasion we went to (long pause) Breman, I think it was, on army support, and as we approached them it was ten tenths cloud, and when we got into the area the master bomber was calling us down, there was about three hundred of us, I was scared stiff, he was calling us down, so we could-, it was on a daylight, we couldn't see each other going through cloud, and I liken it to driving a car at sixty miles an hour, nose to tail, in fog (chuckles). That's how it seemed to me. Oh, I was glad when the master bomber called, 'Return to base'. We couldn't break cloud-base, and we didn't want to be doing as had happened on another occasion before, friendly bombing, you know, er, bombing your own troops, or your own people, so the master bomber said return to base, and we returned to base with er, landing with full bomb loads.
AM: With full bomb loads?
FT: Yeah, but you see, we hadn't, we hadn't got into the target area for me to do the necessary, so the pins were still stuck in the fuses. Yeah. But, er, there was that time, another time, when I said I wasn't bombing. That was in Nordhausen and we went to Nordhausen where the Germans had built, underground, a factory to replace the one that Bomber Command had bombed out at Peenemunde, where they were making the V1 and V2 rockets.
AM: Yeah
FT: And when we got over there again it was ten tenths cloud, and there were no over (unclear) target markers by the er, pathfinders. As I say it was another daylight, but bombs were being dropped everywhere, and I called the pilot, I had got everything ready, like before, 'I'm not bombing'. Because we'd been debriefed, we'd been briefed to the effect that there was a prisoner of war camp nearby, and I thought, 'hells, if any of our chappies had baled out, and been put into there'. I didn't want our bombs to be killing them, so I called to the pilot, 'I'm not bombing, it might be friendly bombing'. But the navigator called, 'oh, I've got it here on H2S'. So the pilot called to him, 'alright, bomb from your desk', which he could in case I'd gone for a burton he could, he, he had a pair switch there to enable him to get the picture on, on his apparatus, and release the bombs from there, which he did. But we found later that it wasn’t a prisoner of war camp, it was a slave labour camp, which was the same thing, you didn't want to be killing them. Anyhow, we failed to er, break through to hit this, this factory, but, and this probably explains why we did so much blitz bombing after that one, papers released since depict that the war would be going on another four months, Germany would have obliterated London with these rockets, and Oxford, where, which was never bombed, Hitler didn't intend having Oxford bombed, that was going to be the, the, er, German operating headquarters in this country, and they reckon that if the war had gone on for another four months Gerry would have got here with smashing London. There. So. That's why Bomber Harris, I suppose, did try getting the, demoralising the people. But we did such a lot of slaughter toward the end, there's no doubt about it. They, they weren't all military targets. No. And it er, (unclear), but you never forget about it. If you didn't talk about it, it would probably drive you round the bend. Fifty years after the war, my grandson er, Paul, up in Scotland, wrote to me from his school, said they were doing a project on World War Two, would I help him? Wrote back, 'alright Nick, how?'. His other grandpa had died by that time. And er, he sent me a list of questions, which I have somewhere, and among them was one, 'What do you think about killing people?' 'Gosh, Nick is that your question, or is this being asked by a teacher?' …. My answer to that was, 'Nothing. Until much later. Until after your father was born'. His father being my elder son. When I get something on my mind I tend to resort to poetry, I wrote him some poetry, and you've got a copy of it, haven't you? That's why er, that was written, just to enable him to understand.
AM: Understand. I'll copy that, the poem. To go with the tape.
FT: Well, I've got (microphone noises) something on the, on, on the Wellington.
AM: We're just having a look for Frank's poem. (Background noises). Here we are, we've found one, so I'll bring this with the tape. Or a copy of it. I can't see it without my glasses, Frank. (chuckles) I'll read it in a moment. (Pause) Do you want to read it out? For the tape?
FT: Yes. “Fifty years after World War Two my eldest grandson enquired of the part I then played, and What Did I Think About Killing People? Replying to this I recalled in nineteen forty I joined the RAF, not for a laugh, or for fun, but because war had begun. One who dared, I was scared. Up there in the sky, hoped I would not die. Later, in a Lancaster bomber's nose, looking down for the target markers. There! To port, the target's lit. Skipper and engineer see it too, and the aircraft's course is altered by ten degrees. I call, 'open bomb doors and report. Still too far to starboard. Left, left. Left, left'. And again, 'left, left. Keep it steady now. Steady, Steady'. With target on the bomb sight's cross, so, pair switch pressed, bombs all go, there below it's all aglow. When I call, 'close bomb doors', all the crew seems more composed. When navigator directs skipper, 'change course. Compass, three twenty degrees'. Now we're returning to base. Will a fighter give chase? Will there be more flak? All crew hope, maybe pray, we will again see Lincoln Cathedral when night becomes day. No thought, or prayer, for those we've killed, until much later. Only that another operation has been fulfilled. Then, at last, the war is over, and the thankful feeling that life is now a bed of clover, and I am proud to become a father. But, now for 'until much later'. Thoughts return of targets bombed, and wondering how many children, how many mothers did we kill in our participation to eliminate the Nazi ill.” That's what it was. (Pause) Don't. I'll sign this one for you. In (unclear) pen?
AM: Yeah. (pause) So it was much later that you thought about it?
FT: Yes, it was er, um, three or four weeks afterwards, you know, you couldn't, couldn't say much in reply to that, but I must find, I must find the other, see I've got here, one of three. It's (paper rustling), some of the information I've got notes, it's not all out of my log book, as you'll see at the very end of the last one, it's, er, it'll tell you how many aircraft were lost.
AM: Yeah.
FT: But I'll have to turn up the others and let you have a copy...
AM: Yeah, we'll copy all those afterwards
FT: of all three, yeah, yeah.
AM: So the war ended,
FT: War ended, thankfully. And then to find us something to do before we stood down we went across to Italy, er, er, to bring troops back, and the first time that we went over there (slight pause) I, erm, I, I, I navigated so the navigator could have an overview of the place. We went to (pause), we were billeted overnight, well for two or three nights, in, in the first instance, er, just outside of Naples, and on one occasion with two of the crew, I went sightseeing around Garibaldi Square, and went up into the Palace of Naples, and coming down the steps, three ATS girls were walking up, and lo and behold one of these was one that was with me at Sunday School years ago. That's how small the world is. But I'd also met her hitch-hiking between Coventry and Rugby when I was in the Regiment. This Army van pulled up, and give me a lift, and when I got in there was several ATS girls in, and she was one of them there. So for her I brought one or two things that she'd bought to take home to her parents. She lived about half a mile from my home. Yeah. (chuckles) How small is the world?
AM: Small world. What did you do after the war, Frank?
FT: I went back to the old company, where I could get a couple of quid more a month there than anywhere else, and it was, my pay, was less than half what I was getting in the RAF two weeks before. (Laughs) But, that was my experience of recession, but the fact was you'd come out all in one piece, probably fitter than when you went in, and that was a, a great compensation. But it took me about four years to catch up with those that had stayed behind. But they were very helpful, I was helped a lot. When I went back, then eventually they decided they wanted someone to come and develop sales up in the North West, and so I was given the opportunity to so do, which pleased my wife well, because she came from Warrington, and she couldn't believe we were coming back north. She'd moved down to the Midlands.
AM: When had you met your wife, Frank? Did you meet her during the war?
FT: Yes, yes, yes. When, er, when I had to come to Manchester, she and I, we had a mutual friend in Birmingham, and Mary said, 'Oh if you're going to Manchester, you must go across to Warrington and meet Bettie', which I did two weeks before I went to Canada. I wrote to her, as I did to other people I met along the way. And the er, (pause) for female cousins and girls that I knew I brought fully fashioned stockings back for them, with what little money I had. But I, I didn't have a pair to give to Bettie, and so she had nothing, and Bettie was the last one that I met, sort of thing. But, er, she came down to our mutual friend's one weekend, and we met up with her in the, in the, er, Mecca one Saturday evening, dancing, and we, we got along quite well, and the thing is, she said, 'Come up, come up next weekend'. Which I did. Because the first time I went, to her home, she was out. She'd gone to stay with, er, she'd gone to visit her friend from school, who was born, they were both born, in that house. There, that thatched cottage.
AM: Frank's showing me a picture on his his wall of a thatched cottage.
FT: yes, yes. That was the school house at Whinney, a little village just outside of Warrington, and at that time, when my wife was born, it had become split into two, one family lived in one part, and another family lived in the other. And my wife was born on the one side of it. And she'd gone to visit her friend. But my father in law, I would say, thought, 'Here's a likely looking fellow here, I'll get rid of one of them'. So he gets on his bike and goes to her, and she comes back on the bus, and I'm absolutely amazed, this big family, they, there were nine of them there, one was missing, she was in the Land Army, she was, er, that was Audrey, who came next to Bettie, Bettie being the eldest. The eldest of eleven. One, Rowena, died at six months when she caught measles from the triplets (chuckles), yeah, my mother-, my late mother in law had triplets among these eleven children. And in the triplets, the middle one, was Derek, he was the only boy of eleven (chuckles). But they seem to have got it so well organised, at the, at the, I had tea with them and everything was so, so well organised, and at times when it wasn't so at camp, I would refer, I would say, 'it needs the Deans here to get it organised'. 'Who are the Deans?' and then I'd have to go into the story and telling of this amazing family that I'd I'd met in Warrington. (laughs)
AM: Your wife's family.
FT: Yeah.
AM: I think we can't end the interview, Frank, without you telling me about the Imperial War Museum. And the zip wire.
FT: Oh, the zip wire (laughs)
AM: Tell me about the work you do for the Imperial War Museum North.
FT: Yeah, (unclear) I was going to a veterans meeting, and I saw what they were doing, and they had several volunteers with whom I spoke with, and they thoroughly enjoyed going, and so I decided I, I, I would help, because they were still after volunteers, and I go, normally, every Wednesday morning, not every Wednesday, but most Wednesday mornings. Sometimes, on other occasions, when needs be, and I generally work in the, on the ground floor, with the computers, on the computers there. Yes, I find it very good indeed. But (slight pause) a while ago, my church, it was (pause), the church hall roof, it was found, needed to be replaced, and the cost for this was going to be forty thousand. So how are we going to get the money? We started fund raising, and it so happened that at the Imperial War Museum they were having a wire erected from the top, right across the er, Manchester Ship Canal, to the Lowry Theatre. They'd done this two years earlier, and I was on voluntary duty on, at that time, and I was so fascinated by it I said, 'oh, what's the age limit?' 'Oh, there's no age limit. Two years ago we had a fellow who was eighty nine'. And, 'oo, I could do it then?', and he said, 'yes, if you have forty five pounds', which I hadn't. So I said to him, 'well, I'm a volunteer here, could I not do it as publicity for the museum?' 'Oh no, no'. Anyhow, about ten minutes later they came after me and said, 'yes, we've decided that you can do it'. So without any more ado, I just did it. And so I became the oldest, at ninety one, to have done it. And then I thought that this would be an idea for fund raising, so I reported at church that I would do this for a fund raising exercise, and so far I've raised, I think it's over three thousand-
AM: Three thousand pounds
FT: Yes, yes, from doing it again. But I didn't tell people that I'd done it before.
AM: So you've actually done it twice then? When you were ninety one, then again this year.
FT: Yes, yes, you've seen pictures-
AM: I was there, Frank. I watched you come down the wire. I did. And er
FT: I came, after, they wanted to film me actually on the wire, this is before I went on, and they were doing this, and then they'd bring me back in again. I said, 'you should have let me go then. People down there that have come to see will think that I've changed my mind, I'm not going'. (Laughs)
AM: But you did it, and you've raised three thousand pounds. And I do have a picture, which I'll put with the tape.
FT: You, you you've got picture, have you?
AM: I've got pictures, yeah, I think we'll call it quits now, Frank, because you've been talking for an hour, so thank you very much.
FT: What a line-shoot, eh?
AM: Thank you.



Annie Moody, “Interview with Frank Tolley,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 21, 2024,

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