Interview with James Flowers

Title

Interview with James Flowers

Description

Horace James Flowers was born and grew up in Huthwaite, Nottinghamshire. He became an apprentice butcher before being released to volunteer for the Royal Air Force in 1944. He trained as an air gunner at RAF Bridgnorth, RAF Wigsley and RAF Syerston and attained the rank of flight sergeant, serving largely with 50 Squadron at RAF Skellingthorpe. He recounts his experiences on several operations, including Bohlen, Nordhausen, Lutzendorf and Hamburg. He was transferred to 44 squadron in June 1945 as part of the intended Tiger Force and also took part in Operation Dodge. He also discusses how he met his wife, Eunice, and their marriage in 1944, his role with the 50/61 Squadron Association after the war, authorship of a memoir ‘A Tail End Charlie’s Story’ and the occasion of his ninetieth birthday when he received a call from the Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-06-02

Contributor

Julie Williams
Heather Hughes

Rights

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

Format

01:58:11 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AFlowersHJ150602, PFlowersHJ1501, PFlowersHJ1502

Conforms To

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

HJF: My name is Horace James Flowers. I’m known as James. I am recording my, I served in the RAF for four and a half years from 1944 until 1947. I attained the rank of flight sergeant and flew, and served with 50 squadron and 44 squadron, 50 squadron at Skellingthorpe and 40 squadron, 44 squadron in Tiger Force at a number of squads, at a number centres, stations. I’m recording this for the International Bomber Command Centre on the 2nd of June, er, 2nd of June 2015 in, at xxxxx Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire. Yeah. I was born on the 9th of 10th, 9th of the 10th 1924 in a small village called Huthwaite in Nottinghamshire. I remained in Huthwaite, remained in Huthwaite during my education which was only secondary modern. Secondary modern. I then left school at fourteen, 1939. That sounds bad doesn’t it?
MJ: That’s alright.
HJF: I left school, I left school when I was fourteen. That was 1939. I became an apprentice butcher and loved the job. I absolutely loved it and if it hadn’t have been, hadn’t have been for the war, I’m certain I would have remained in that trade for the rest of my working life. However, Sutton in Ashfield area, Huthwaite and Sutton in Ashfield area rapidly became an area, a training area for a battalion of troops. And also there were Yanks at er, at Kingsmill Hospital and there were the paratroopers at Hardwick Hall five miles away. They was the elite and they used to come in at night time and the village had, all the village halls had been turned into dance halls so the town was thriving at night time, with hundreds probably thousands of, of soldiers coming in to be entertained for the night. It was so exciting. Now, the paratroopers were special. They were elite and when they used to come in they used to create skirmishes in the, you know, to a teenager it was so exciting and at the same time my brother had joined the navy and he was he was in, in, he was stationed at Brightlingsea at what they called [unclear] sorry [unclear]
[pause]. Yes.
HJF: German U-boats used to, used to speed in and torpedo any, any ship that was in the area. At the same time, at this particular time I had a girlfriend whose brother was in aircrew and he was a wireless operator and he used to come home at the weekends and I used to listen to his stories about his fly, what was happening while he was flying. This really stimulated my interest so I just had to get to it, get involved. Now, on the 18th of February 1943 I attended the, enlistment section-
[pause]
On the 18th of February 1943 I attended the recruitment section, recruitment place at Mansfield to be given a medical for aircrew which I passed A1. How excited I was when the medical officer told me that I’d passed A1. Not that my excitement was allowed to last long because shortly after the recruiting officer called me in to his office to give me the bad news. Now then, this is, ‘I’m very sorry to tell you, you can’t be accepted. We can’t accept anyone who is in a reserved occupation.’ I was completely devastated because I’d took a year to get in. I pleaded for them to change their mind, ‘Sorry you can only be accepted if the authorities release you from your reserved occupation.’ To a teenager desperate to volunteer this was terrible news. It felt as if a bomb had been dropped on me by the recruiting officer. My factory manager showed no sympathy at all. He firmly informed me that unless I was medically released I would have to remain with them until the end of the war. The problem was that I needed to be A1 to be accepted for air crew and unfit to be released from the reserved occupation. How do I get around that? Continuously I racked my brain to try and think of a way that I could overcome this problem. Months went by and I began to despair. It seemed as if my chance of joining the RAF had gone forever. At last I had an idea. I wondered, will it work? No matter whether it did or not I just had to try something. So with my heart in my mouth I arranged an appointment with my factory doctor. Attending the appointment I showed the doctor all the spots on my face, and telling him that I considered that the heavy fumes of the machine grinder on which, on which I was working was giving me dermatitis. I then requested that I should be released from this work. My case was so thin and I knew it but I had to try something. I then had to listen to the doctor giving me a real dressing down. How awful he made me feel. He ended his lecture by saying, ‘You should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself. Men are dying for the likes of you.’ Feeling very subdued I then quietly said, ‘But doctor, I only want releasing from munitions because I volunteered and been accepted for air crew. The RAF won’t take me if you don’t release me.’ With my heart in my mouth I waited as he fixed his gaze on me for what seemed an eternity. He looked me straight in the eye. Then without another word he reached for his pen and signed my release. As I got up to leave the surgery he leaned forward and shook my hand and wished me luck. All these problems had taken a year to resolve. Is that?
MJ: Yes
HJF: Now, having reached my ninetieth year I can’t help thinking how much slimmer my chances of surviving this terrible war would have been if I’d been allowed to leave my reserved occupation in 1943. Although I knew that being a rear gunner was a very dangerous job with a very high casualty rate, so much so that rear gunners were named Charlies and that’s another name for stupid fool, it didn’t matter to me what others thought. This was the way I wished to serve my country. Yeah, so that goes on to my “Tail End Charlie’s Story”.
MJ: Ahum
HJF: This was the title I gave to my book which I’ve, which I’ve had produced, “A Tail End Charlie’s Story” ‘cause I think that fits the bill. Right, on the 6th of March 1944 I reported to the induction centre at Lords Cricket Ground, London along with hundreds more recruits for entry to the RAF. Lords Cricket Ground was used during the 1939 ‘45 war as an induction centre for air crew. A roll call, a roll call was made during which, to my astonishment, a second HJ Flowers’ name was called out. It was then that I first met Henry James Flowers. Henry told me that he came from a village called Bargoed in South Wales. From then onwards we became constant companions. We remained together during basic training at RAF Bridgnorth after which we were posted to RAF Stormy Down for air gunnery training. Fortunately, we were kept together during flying training and in actual fact ended up serving on both 50 and 44 squadron, squadrons. Now, ok, recruitment before I get on to?
MJ: You can put it whatever way you like.
HJF: Does that sound alright?
MJ: Yes it’s fine. It’s superb. I mean I know exactly what you mean when you said that London had had a right bash of it.
HJF: Yeah.
MJ: I mean, my nan got bombed out twice. You know, nothing left.
HJF: We got friends, we’ve got a friend that lost everything twice. Absolutely everything.
MJ: Yeah, yeah.
HJF: She lived near where I was stationed yeah.
MJ: ‘Cause the road that they lived in doesn’t exist.
HJF: Yeah.
MJ: And so on. You know people don’t-
HJF: Yeah.
MJ: Realise this sort of thing. Are you ready?
HJF: Yeah ok. After disembarking from the troop train at Bridgnorth railway station we formed up in threes. Shouldering our heavy kit bags we began the long march to camp. The last mile was up a steep hill. As new recruits, unfit, with no marching experience at all, all carrying a heavy kit bag the formation rapidly turned into a gaggle. By the time we reached the camp everyone was on the point of collapse. Next morning, after the recruits had been formed up on the parade ground the NCO in charge of the parade informed us that we’d be confined to barracks for the entire six weeks - square bashing, ‘You will not be allowed in public until you can be a credit to your uniform.’ From that moment on we spent every minute of every day drilling and exercising. My muscles screamed out from the strains. The course seemed never ending. Much to my surprise the strain became less. I was obviously getting fitter. Not content with keeping us hard all day we were also given guard duty at night. On Saturday and Sunday a percentage of recruits were picked out to stand guard throughout the weekend. It was just the luck of the draw as to whether your name would come out. By the end of the fourth week I was badly missing my girlfriend Eunice so despite the ban on boots, new boots, new recruits leaving camp I began to make plans. Now, having been on guard duty at a sentry box on the edge of the wood at the rear of the camp I knew there was a way in and out. Those on guard duty were given instructions to arrest anyone there but be that it may I let loads of them through expecting them to make the, make the favour, if I, if I needed it. I noticed. Now desperate to return home I was willing to risk anything. So after duty on the fourth Friday I slipped out of camp by the back way and began thumbing lifts. In uniform they came very easily and with a matter of hours I was back home again. Early next day I walked the two miles to my girlfriend’s house. This was the first time that Eunice had seen me in uniform and I knew that I’d created a good impression. We had a lovely day and a half together. I can still remember going for a walk that Sunday morning along a very attractive country walk known locally as Skegby Bottoms. The sun shone brightly as we sat there. I was at peace with the world. I wanted it to go on and on and on. Late Sunday night I successfully re-entered the camp through the back. Through the woods. In no time I was back in my billet. The moment Taffy saw me he exclaimed, ‘Your name was called out several times for guard duty over the weekend.’ ‘Oh dear,’ I thought, ‘Blimey I shall be on a charge on Monday morning’. Sure enough I was called off the parade ground and told to report to the commanding officer. Shaking like a leaf I stood to attention in front of him. ‘Sorry. I didn’t hear my name called out.’ Not impressed, he said ‘Fourteen days jankers and do it again and I’ll throw the book at you.’ Next day I reported to the cookhouse in full pike. Just my luck to be the only one on jankers, jankers at the time to peel the thousands and thousands of potatoes needed to feed a camp full of hungry airmen and then to wash the pots that had to be used for meals. Gosh it was hard work. You may have thought that all this effort made my weekend worthwhile. I’m in no doubt at all. It was.
Now then, what did I get to? 3rd of, 3rd of June 1944 see us arrive at Bridgnorth for flying training. Now this training was on Avro Ansons. It had one mid upper turret and we used to fire at drogues that used to come by with a, with a Spitfire travelling a drogue alongside us. And quite honestly, quite honestly it was I think, I think the pilot was, of the Spitfire, was in more danger of us hitting him than us hitting the drogue. Anyway, when, when we finished this course, at the end of this course I managed to get a day’s, a weekend off so I travelled home to see Eunice. She was in the Land Army near Grimley and I remember as I arrived at the, at the hostel, at the hostel Eunice was telling me about the, about someone who was getting married. One of the Land Army girls getting married. And I could feel that this was the, that there seemed to be a longing in her voice which suggested to me that this was the right time to once again, for the hundredth time ask her if she’d marry me. And so as she turned to me I said, ‘Well shall we get married then?’ and she said, ‘Yes, let’s.’ I’m not joking with you I could have fallen through the floor. Anyway, we decided there and then. She said, ‘What are you doing now?’ I said well I’m going now to Husbands Bosworth for a ten week course on OTU training and she says, ‘Ok when will that finish?’ Well we calculated it out that it would finish about October the 14th. She says, ‘Ok we’ll add a week to that. We’ll add a week to that. We’ll get married on the 21st of October.’ Not for one minute did we think the things that could happen in a flying training. So naïve we were. Anyway, a week before, two weeks before the October the 21st flying training, all flying training was cancelled through bad weather. We didn’t fly for nearly eight days. Comes the 20th, comes the 20th of, of October and I’m getting married the next day. I’d still got four hours flying to do that morning. Anyway, by sheer luck we got the flying training finished, finished by dinnertime. We then needed to, to get cleared from the station, and of course collect all our gear because we’re moving to another, another station. And, and we’d got, in those days, today if you wanted to get cleared from a section they do it on computer, can do it in five minutes. In our day we used to have to go to every section to get our chitty signed, mainly on foot. Fortunately, Taffy managed to borrow a couple, a couple of bikes. He was going to be my best man so he’s coming with me. We circulated and of course there’s a tremendous area in, in, on an RAF aerodrome and we circulated the area on these cycles and I’m certain that everybody, every section knew we were getting married because as we were, the next day every section and as we, the next day, and as we came in they immediately signed my chit. Bless them all. Anyway the admin section was closing at 5 o’clock. We arrived there at five minutes to five. The admin, the officer then cleared us from the section and, and he says, ‘Ok, right, you can go now. Report to RAF Wigsley on Monday the 23rd.’ I thought, bloody hell, two days. We then had to start [laughs] we then had to start our journey. Now in those days, in those days there was very little transport. We had to, we had to cadge lifts we had to catch buses, local buses, train journeys, local train journeys. It took us all night. We didn’t arrive in Sutton in Ashfield until half past eight on the Saturday the 21st. Having been awake all night I was absolutely shattered. Anyway we walked out of Sutton in Ashfield railway station and Eunice lived a mile to the right and I, and I lived two miles to the left. Taffy walked to tell Eunice we’d arrived. I walked the two miles to Huthwaite to, to my parent’s home. Now there was so much happening. The wedding was planned for 2.30. There was so much happening I never got any rest. I was absolutely cream crackered. By, I remember, I remember we were in, as we got in, as we got in to the taxi turned up to St Mary’s Church at Sutton in Ashfield and I says to my mum ‘Oh I can’t.’ ‘Go on, go on, ‘she said, ‘Oh no. You’re here now. Go on. Get going.’ Anyway we got into the church and I’m not joking I stood at the altar and I was absolutely asleep on my feet. I can’t explain how tired I was. Anyway, after a while suddenly there was a thump in my ribs and I opened my eyes and said. ‘I will’ and it was back to sleep again and quite honestly that’s all I remember of my, of my, of my wedding. And then photographs. The photographer wouldn’t take any photographs at the church. He insisted that we went down to his studio which was a couple of miles away and then he only took, would agree to take two photographs. One of Eunice and I and the wedding group. How different it is these days. Wedding photographers dominate the wedding and take millions of photographs and charge a tremendous amount of money. They do, don’t they? Anyway, Eunice was late when she arrived at the, at the church. She told me later, she said as the taxi drew away from her house a funeral appeared. Now it’s bad luck for you to go past a funeral. That’s what they said. So, quickly the taxi driver changed direction, changed direction to, to avoid it. Lo and behold they were just about to turn up the drive to the, to the church it was quite a long drive two or three hundred yards long and another, another funeral appeared so quickly he turns around and went back again and made another deviation. Well, she says she thought this a sign our wedding wouldn’t last. Well sixty nine years, seventy years later I think probably her premonition was a little bit wrong.
[laughs].
Fortunately, the Sunday, Sunday, a telegram arrived at my home to tell me that I’d been given eight days leave. So, so we didn’t have to report to Wigsley until eight days later but I want to go back a little bit now to my flying training because quite honestly flying training on Wellington bombers, it was a marvellous experience. Dangerous. Always exciting. Mostly enjoyable but quite honestly we were like kids playing with big new toys and we couldn’t get enough of it. Now, many things happened, happened, that quite honestly, that could, we could have bought it there and then. I remember one instant. One instant comes to, comes to mind. This was a training flight up to the north of Scotland and, and this was one for the first night trips that we had. Now, navigation in those days was very, very difficult because they didn’t have radar, the navigator didn’t have radar. He had to use his maps and they used to even use the stars and, and even used to ask us, ask us for things on the ground so that was how primitive it was. Anyway, we flew up to the north of Scotland. It was six and half hour trip and when we got to the north of Scotland we were due to turn, to turn starboard to come down the North Sea but instead of telling us to turn starboard the navigator told Skip to turn port so instead of travelling down the North Sea we were travelling down the Irish Sea. In fact we were rapidly going towards bloody America [laughs] and extended the flight trip quite a long way. He said the reason why this happened was because he accidently pulled his, we were flying above twelve thousand feet and he accidently pulled his, his oxygen cylinder thing out, connection out so he, but that was his story. Anyway, we goes down the North Sea. I remember we got back to, we got back to the Husbands Bosworth area and I remember looking down. It was absolutely, early hours of the morning, it was absolutely pitch dark. You could not see a thing on the ground and Jack the navigator says, ‘Ok Skip. We’re over base.’ Skip says, ‘Can’t see anything.’ So he says, ‘Ok, dog leg.’ so he does a five minute dog leg, comes back again and he says, ‘Right Skip. We’re over base.’ And when he says that there’s a chorus of voices says, ‘You’re up the spout, you’re bloody up the spout we can’t see anything.’ Ok, another dog leg. We did another dog leg and another dog leg and then when we gets to the fourth one there’s a voice, the flight engineer butts in and says, ‘Hey. Hey, we’ve only got, you’d better pull your fingers out, we’ve only got four minutes of fuel left.’ I was sitting, I was in the rear turret listening to all this going and quite honestly my ring was beginning to twitch. I thought to myself, ‘bloody hell if they don’t do something about it we’re going to crash’. So I switched it on. I say, ‘Skip why don’t you call somebody up?’ He says, ‘Oh yes.’ He then calls out the base. The base called in the, the aircraft codes, signs and immediately lights, the aerodrome lights flicked on straight beneath us. Navigator, nav, had been right all the time. We made an emergency landing. We taxied around this, we taxied round, around the perimeter. We turns in to, turns into our bay and as we turned into the bay, before we were in, the engines stopped. That’s how close we were. Ok now then. I’ll go forward now to after my wedding ok.
MJ: Yeah.
HJF: Are we still going?
MJ: Yeah.
HJF: After, after the wedding I reported to, to Wiglsey. Now, once again we, one, one time comes to mind we had a complete and utter cock up on Stirlings. I remember we were corkscrewing, corkscrew starboard, corkscrew port and the Skipper was saying to me diving starboard, diving starboard, climbing port, climbing starboard, rolling port, so on. The corkscrew. And in the middle of this cork, and this Spitfire was attacking us, was attacking us from behind and I was giving a running commentary on, on him coming in and all of a sudden the aircraft levelled out and a panicked voice came over the, came over the intercom, ‘Put on parachutes, jump, jump, jump.’ And I thought, ‘bloody hell, I can’t believe this’. The next second, ‘Put on parachute. Jump, jump, jump. I can’t hold it, I can’t hold it, I can’t hold it.’ I thought to myself ‘bloody hell there’s something happening I can’t see’ and I thought to myself, I thought ‘I’ll have a go’. So I drags the turret around to the beam, pulls on my slider, green as grass I was at the time. Now with experience I’d have opened the door and just flopped back outwards but green as grass I dragged myself out of the turret outside and I was standing outside and the wind was terrible. You can imagine. We were twelve thousand feet, travelling two hundred miles an hour and I’m looking down. I remember standing there with one, with my feet on the edge of the turret, one arm’s holding the top of the turret and I looked down and cows in fields looked, looked like flies. I thought, ‘Bloody hell I wonder if my parachute will open.’ Anyway, I thought to myself I’ll have a go. So therefore, I thought, I started, I released one hand and took, took, began to take my helmet off and quite honestly it was, there was so much noise outside I could hardly hear anything. All of a sudden I heard a faint voice and I didn’t care what it was it I thought, that’s somebody shouting something. It took me twenty minutes to get out but five seconds to get back in. I was back in like a bloody flash and I held my hands to my ears and it was the flight engineer. We’d got a, we’d got a extra member of the crew that time, he was a tour expired extra flight engineer and he was shouting, ‘Don’t go. Don’t go. Don’t go.’ So, right, well what happened? When we got down as we came down to land I was so stressed up with this thing as I climbed, as I came out of the turret into the fuselage I just asked myself, I just had to know whether my chute would have opened. So I immediately, I pulled the rip cord and my parachute spilled out into the fuselage. It cost me two and six pence to have it, now that’s a lot of money. When you think it’s only two pounds a week for me and I was giving a pound to my Mrs that was a lot of money to me but I didn’t care. It gave me the confidence that at least, at least it opened. Now, when we got out, when we got out I say, I says, I says to Skip, ‘What happened?’ He says, ‘Well’ he says, ‘We were diving,’ he says, ‘We were diving and climbing and rolling in the what do you call it,’ he says, ‘And all of a sudden a window just at the back of my head, unbeknown to me, flew out.’ The window had got, on the inside, had got a lead weighted curtain and as it, as the window blew out it sucked this lead weighted curtain out and he says it just started banging on the side of the fuselage bang, bang, bang, bang he says, ‘I suddenly heard this bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang tremendous noise’ he says, and at that precise moment by sheer coincidence the instructor, flight engineer, the bloody fool, sitting at the side of me, the starboard outer oversped. Now, the standard procedure is to pull the nose of the aircraft like climbing a hill to steady it down. Now, instead of just poking the Skipper or, or switching his intercom on which was at his mouth and saying what was happening he immediately dragged on, dragged as hard as he could on the controls to lift. Now, the Skipper at the time because he was hearing this banging noise was trying to keep the aircraft straight and level and at the same time the flight engineer, and they were pulling against each other and I’m not joking it was a complete and utter cock up but I’ve often thought to myself what did that bloody Spitfire driver think of me when he saw me standing outside, climbing out, he must have thought I were doolally.
[laughs]
Another thing happened whilst we were in flying training. We were doing the corkscrewing. All of a sudden all four engines cut out. Quick as a flash Skipper slammed the aircraft in to a vertical dive and kick-started the engine. Fortunately got them going, fortunately we got plenty of height, kick-started them. By golly that did make your heart flutter [laughs] and then our final training, training trip with, on Stirlings we had an emergency landing and we had, we had to make an emergency landing at Woodhall Spa, the home of 617 of all places, and as we, as we touched down all of a sudden the Stirling swung off, swung off the runway and headed straight for flying control. Now the Stirling was a massive aircraft and, and the cockpit, when the cockpit, when it was stopped, when it was stationery the cockpit was level with the windows in flying control and we, we careered across the, across the, the grass and stopped about a couple of foot from the, from the flying control windows and Skip said he could see flying control people running away from the windows in panic and when we stopped he says, he switches on, he says, ‘Flying control, ‘he says, ‘Can you see where we are?’ and a droll voice, a dry voice came over, ‘Yes’.[laughs] Anyway, the bonus for this was we spent the night at Woodhall Spa and we were, we were able to spend the night in the mess and we were able to mix with those elite airmen, the 617 people. It was absolutely wonderful. Anyway, the next morning we flew the thirty five minutes back, back, back to base at Wigsley and that was our last training trip, flying training trip. The next day we went to, we transferred to RAF Syerston for Lanc finish school which we spent two weeks there. At the end of the two weeks we were being moved to squadron. We were now fully trained. Now, for some reason we, on the 24th of January 1945 we, we boarded a RAF transport to take us from there to squadron. For some reason and I don’t know why we were taken to RAF Balderton for the night. Now, we were absolutely dead beat when we got there. It’s a bit sexy.
[laughs]
Absolutely dead beat so we went to bed very early. Now, we were in a Nissen hut with about twenty beds and there was entrances both sides. Now, fast asleep, late on, I don’t know, about midnight, all of a sudden there was a door opened the other end and a couple, excited couple came in and they obviously didn’t know there was anybody there. Short time later the excited talk, sexual. [laughs] and this went on and on and on and on. Anyway satisfaction came in time and they crept out laughingly and after they’d gone a quiet voice says, ‘Did you hear all that?’ [laughs] It goes without saying that fit aircrew fully trained wouldn’t miss a thing like that. It certainly brightened my night up. The next day we were a, to 50 squadron Skellingthorpe. We arrived at RAF Skellingthorpe on the 25th of January 1945. Now, the atmosphere, there was quite an atmosphere on training, training, on training stations but it was nothing like this. There was that feeling like an electric feeling. There was so much bustle and things going off, watching, actually we were nearly month before we did our first operation but we, all right? Seeing aircraft take off, disappearing, new aircraft coming in, the wild, wild parties that were in the mess. The atmosphere was absolutely wonderful. Now as I said we were a month, we were doing training during the time and I remember wonder, wonder if, if I’m going to be up to it because you never know do you? Anyway, it was the 5th of March, the 5th of March by the time we, we did our first operation and what an operation. What an eye opener. Now, I remember we walked into the, we walked into the briefing room, and The excited chatter and then all of a sudden the briefing officer came in quite pleased and deathly silence instantly. Your target for tonight will be Bohlen. Bohlen. Apparently, I found out, it was going to be a ten hour trip. Your, your route will be passing the Ruhr, in the Ruhr, in the Ruhr 3 Group will be attacking the Ruhr. In that area expect to see enemy fighters attacking in pairs. One from above and one below. If one gets above, if one gets beneath you they will shoot you to pieces. So be careful. Beware. Anyway, briefing finished and we’re standing outside. They’re all chatting all excitedly together and I’m talking to Flight Lieutenant Ling’s rear gunner and I can’t remember his name but I knew that he’d been, he was getting towards the end of his tour. I says to him how are things going, what was the flight like? Obviously, obviously I was quite uptight and he said, ‘Oh don’t worry, there’s nothing to it. Nothing to it. And I said something to him which I’m not going to tell you about which made me think, made me think ‘You’re not taking it seriously enough.’ He said, ‘Oh’ he says, ‘Don’t worry. I’ve never seen, I’ve never seen a fighter at all.’ Unbelievably, we came, we came across our first Messerschmitt less than four hours later. He say, ‘Don’t worry. There’s nothing to it’ and I thought, anyway they got the chop on the next trip, the next what do you call it, you see. Anyway, I remember going out to the aircraft at Skellingthorpe and the tension in me was absolutely sky high and I remember it didn’t seem to take us long, didn’t seem to take us long before we were taxiing out and as we were taxiing out I was looking around and there was all, I’m certain as I remember 61 squadron were also going that night and there were all these aircraft taxiing around the perimeter. The atmosphere was absolutely electric and all above, above, above all above us we could see the Lincoln cathedral in front of us and all above we could see heavily laden bombers gradually circling up, circling around. The tension inside me just went just like that. I was ready for it. Anyway, we turns on to the peri track, taxies up to the runway, waits our turn, turns on to, turns on to the, turns on to the, on to the runway. Skip calls, ‘Brakes on. Full power.’ And then, ‘Right, brakes off’ and, and we began to surge forward and alongside the, alongside the runway was a line of ground staff waving us off. What a wonderful take off. What a wonderful send off. Anyway, this was the first time that we’d been in a, in a Lancaster with a full bomb load. We’d got fourteen thousand pounds of bombs on and two thousand two hundred gallons of fuel. It was as much as any aircraft, Lancaster aircraft could carry in those days. I remember we were surging along, we were surging along, the vibration, this was the first time I’d heard the engines on full throttle right through the gate. The aircraft was absolutely, all the fuselage was vibrating with the tension of it. Anyway, as I, as I remember one two five was the one, was about the speed that you used to take off. I remember engineers started to call out one twenty, one twenty one, one twenty two, one twenty four, one twenty five and then Skip dragged the aircraft and you could feel the fuselage vibrating as he was fighting to get the aircraft into the air and then we had another problem. The Skellingthorpe runway was aimed straight at Lincoln Cathedral on top of that hill. Now that’s like a pimple today but to us in, in 1945 it was a terrible object to get over and we used to have to be banking while still at stalling speed. We used to be banking to miss that, well, I say ‘bloody cathedral, oh God’ and then when we got to a thousand feet it was such a relief. Anyway, I remember, I remember gradually climbed up. Our operation height was twelve thousand feet. I remember circling around. There were hundreds of aircraft. I think there were about two hundred and fifty aircraft involved in that operation. They were oh wonderful sight, wonderful sight gradually, circling around getting up to height and then a green light, Very light came from came out of one of the, the leading aircraft and we immediately began into a bomb, into a stream and we started to head out for Germany over the North Sea. Now, gradually, we’d set off at half past five at night, March and it was getting dark, getting quite dusk and as we set out, as we set out over the, over the North Sea gradually the light disappeared and so the aircraft, the aircraft, gradually, my night vision was developed. It used to take you twenty minutes for your night vision to develop and, and gradually all you could see was just, you could see Lancasters when they were the image of them when they were very close and you could see the sparks of the engine and we used to, we used to, we’d been told, warned about these twin fighters so we were swaying from side to side so we could look straight beneath us so we wouldn’t be caught out and I remember we’d been flying over the North Sea and were now entering, entering, enemy territory for the first time. The tension built up in, the adrenalin. I should say adrenalin building up inside me and I remember I was looking, it was now almost pitch dark, although it was a moonlit night it was still dark and I remember watching this, watching this Lancaster drift slowly underneath us, about twenty or thirty feet beneath us and it had just drifted underneath us. I could just see the sparks from its engines and just as he drifted there was a tremendous explosion just a short distance behind us and the explosion, the light split in half, then the next second, two, two seconds later there were two tremendous explosions. Two Lancasters rammed each other and both exploded in mid-air and then it was back to complete darkness. It hadn’t, the shock, the shock it hadn’t taken me long to realise the difficulties of being on operational active service but you know sadly fourteen air crew, airmen had lost their lives in that second but the shockwave was, it was so close to us the shockwave came right through our aircraft, violently vibrated us and quite honestly I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had blown us down. Anyway, we carried on. We climbed up to twelve thousand feet. Now, it was a moonlit night, a moonlit night and the clouds, the clouds looked like a rolling sea. It was so picturesque. The clouds were up to ten thousand feet, we were two thousand feet above and it looked so picturesque. It was lovely and I remember my concentration was absolutely sky high and all of a sudden I saw something which could have been a fly on a window, it was just a slight movement right down deep, deep on, on the starboard side and I thought to myself, bloody hell a fighter. Can’t be. Who said he’d never seen a fighter? Yeah, I thought, anyway it was at that moment that I made, through inexperience, something which could have been, could have been fatal to us because I should, all my, all my training, I should have in actual fact immediately called and, and warned the crew what was happening. Nevertheless, despite this mistake I automatically aimed my guns at it. Gradually this object moved gradually astern and when it was dead astern at ten thousand feet gradually it started coming up. Now when it got to, when it got level with us the image of the aircraft filled my, filled the ring on my gun sight and it was at that moment that the hundreds of hours that I’d spent viewing, viewing pictures, silhouettes of, of fighter, of enemy fighters, fighters on screens in training paid off because I recognised it a Messerschmitt 109. Immediately, without, without a second thought I pressed my, pressed my button and gave it a prolonged burst straight at the fighter and I watched my, I watched my tracers go straight in it. At this fraction of a second I immediately switched on and shouted, ‘Fighter. Fighter. Dive, dive, dive.’ And the Skipper slammed the aircraft straight into a, into a vertical dive and he’s shouting me, ‘You mean corkscrew. You mean corkscrew.’ But I didn’t. I meant dive because there was no deflection required because he was absolutely dead astern. Anyway, I watched my tracers go straight into it, straight into it and the fighter immediately went straight down as if out of control straight into the cloud. I’m convinced now that I shot it down but of course rules do not allow you to claim anything when you don’t see the ground and we were at ten thousand, the clouds at ten thousand feet so therefore that’s but I’m convinced that I got him. Anyway, we carried on to the target, this was another couple of hours RT silence and all of a sudden, all of a sudden a voice, RT silence was broken. Now, a voice came over as calm as I’m talking to you, ‘Control to Link One how do you read me?’ And it was the, it was the voice of the controller who I feel certain was Wing Commander Stubbs, a man I had a great respect for. ‘Link One to control. Loud and clear. Control to Link One go in and mark the target.’ Ok. Right, carry,’ I listened to this conversation. We’re gradually, now we’re quite some distance from the target but gradually now the pathfinders are now beginning to drop their flares so the sky’s beginning to light up so I’m beginning to see lights in, lights in the sky and gradually as we are approaching as we are getting nearer and nearer the target. I’m listening to the conversation of the controller and the Link One now when everything was done and everything had been marked with satisfaction controller says, ‘Ok. Ok Link One, go home, go home.’ Then he called out which I’m certain was Bandwagon. They called the bomber stream Bandwagon, ‘Hello Bandwagon,’ and that was our call sign, ‘Hello Bandwagon. Come in and bomb the target. Bomb red flares,’ and he was giving instruction to which flares to bomb and when he’d finished all that he says, he says, now, ‘No flak. Watch out for fighters.’ So, anyway, we approach the target and just before the target, just before we reach the target all of a sudden a single engine fighter which I’m certain was a Messerschmitt 109 suddenly made a run at us. I immediately, now I was listening to the bomb aimer and Skipper beginning to give instructions for our bombing run and our instructions was that you should not corkscrew during that time. We were taught to be quiet so immediately I aimed and fired. Calamity. The back of my gun sight dropped out and a white light there, I’d been five hours in pitch darkness, and this white light bomb sight bulb was right in front of me. Now, it only took me seconds to put it together but twenty minutes for my, for my night vision to come back and during that time anything could have happened. I couldn’t have done a thing. I could hear what was happening and all the talk and I couldn’t see a thing. What happened to that fighter I will never know. Anyway, we went on our bomber run and, and I could hear the bomb aimer saying, ‘Left, left, steady, steady, steady. Ok bombs gone.’ Now, the bombs used to drop at about a thousand feet per second. We were twelve thousand feet so twelve seconds later he says, ‘Photograph taken.’ Now, immediately Skipper slammed the nose of the aircraft right down. We went straight down a couple of thousand feet straight into the cloud and we stayed in those clouds for hours. Anyway, we came out of the clouds eventually and then lo and behold as we came out of the cloud over to our, over to our side I can’t remember if it was port or starboard there was a bloody Lancaster flying on with all its lights on. The stupid buggers. With all his lights on. We scooted away from it as quick as we could. So anyway we got back to our area where the cathedral, over the cathedral. Now, Skellingthorpe, Scampton and Waddingon, their circuits almost intertwined around the cathedral, more or less. Now, when we used to come over the cathedral you can- now you can imagine everything was visual so therefore there were loyal scores of very, very tired, tired aircrew so all, all desperate to get home, desperate to get home so there was a tremendous danger of collision and another thing, another thing, the night before this, the night of the 4th , 4th of March, three intruders had shot three Lancasters down in the circuit at Waddington and one at Fulbeck so this had immediately filtered through us so instead of relaxing as one do after, after being in the turret for nigh on ten, eleven hours my concentration as we switched our landing lights on, we just used to have landing lights while we were in the circuit, and I remember as we switched our landing lights on about, about twenty aircraft close by and they must have been in different circuits switched their lights on. Now, I remember I was, my concentration was sky high and I remember thinking Skip calls twenty degrees of flap, a hundred degree of flap and I was all the time searching all the way around thinking to myself I’m not going to be caught out by an intruder because this was the dangerous, you’re like a sitting duck then. We came in to land we stopped in dispersal all the twelve hours of tension drained out of me. I thought to myself ‘bloody hell and this is only the first one’. And that was my first operation. Yeah. Another interesting operation was the one to Lutzkendorf which was on the 14th of March 1945. There were two hundred and forty five Lancasters involved and eleven Mosquitos. Eighteen aircraft failed to return. Never even reported in the paper and that’s nearly two hundred people it’s just, yeah, anyway. Anyway, took off about ten minutes to five. I remember we, we flew past the Ruhr and once again rear group, 3 Group were attacking the Ruhr and I remember as we passed by I could see the fight that was going on. I could see flak shells bursting in the air. Tremendous. I could see air to air tracer bullets from, from bomber to fighter. I could see bombs dropping and I thought bloody hell we’ve got another, we’ve got another two hours to go yet and then we continued a short distance away and now there was another problem. We’d been warned that there was a fighter, a fighter aerodrome, a night fighter ‘drome in this area which had a light shining from its roof, from the top of flying control so that, so that we knew from one that there would be, there would be fighters, night fighters in strength in this area and this light was on specifically so they could stay in the air until the last minute, down, refuel and be up again. Now, I remember I suddenly saw this and the adrenalin was such, I thought to myself God the night fighter are bound. All of a sudden I saw the airfield had been strafed. The light disappeared. Obviously, it must have been one of our aircraft. One of our aircraft. I know full well that putting the light out didn’t, didn’t make much difference to the fact that fighters were around but boy it did relieve me. Anyway, we carried on to the, we carried on to the target and once again, once again, I can’t remember the controller it might have been Wing Commander Stubbs but he went through the same procedure, went through the same procedure. I remember him saying at the end, ‘No flak. Look out for fighters. Watch out for fighters’. This was our fourth trip and the tension was beginning to build up in me as we were going through the target and I remember without me intercom switched on I was listening to the, I was listening to the bomb aimer saying, ‘Left, left, left, steady’ and I was shouting, I was shouting in a loud voice, ‘Drop the bloody thing. Drop the bloody thing and let’s get out of here.’ Anyway, after what seemed an interminable length of time he said ‘Bombs gone.’ Skip immediately slammed the aircraft down into a dive and disappeared from the, and as we as we left the target I thought to myself, ‘thank God, we got away with it’. Little did I know. Now, I remember we’d left the target, we’d been gone probably ten and fifteen minutes and I could still hear that controller over the target. ‘Bomb green, the green flare,’ do this, undershoot it, do this, do that. It was absolutely inspirational. He must have been, he seemed to have been over the target hours. Anyway as I’m listening to this left from the target about approximately fifteen minutes when all of a sudden a fighter flare burst straight above us. From complete darkness it was like switching the light on, an electric light on in a pitch dark room. The shock of it made me sink deep in, deep in to my, in to my turret. My seat. Mind you, immediately my mind started working like lightning and I, looking out of the, looking out of, I searched the area. I searched the area all the way, all the way. I searched the area all over and sure enough high on the starboard side I could my left I could see an FW190 coming in fast dragging all I’d been looking I hadn’t been turning my turret around so as quick as I can I’m dragging my turret around. I didn’t have time to aim. So, immediately I got anywhere near I pressed my, I starts firing, my gun starts rattling away I’m dragging, trying to drag my tracer, tracer bullets into it and I’m watching it. Then all of a sudden with this, this aircraft coming in fast I felt rather than saw something on my, deep on the starboard side and forcing myself to take my eyes off this aircraft I had a quick glance to the right, to the right, and there deep down, deep down on the port side. It’s my right but it’s the port side of the aircraft, deep down on the port side was a JU88 almost underneath us and I thought, bloody hell. Immediately I realised that if he could get underneath us he was going to shoot us to pieces so I stopped firing at him, drags my turret around and as soon as I can, as soon as I can I began firing at this JU88 and immediately, immediately they both of them broke away. Now, they played cat and mouse with us for twenty six minutes. Now, that might not seem a long, a long time but as each, each attack only lasted about ten seconds. How many times they came in I don’t know but anyway Lancasters, Lancasters didn’t have any power assisted controls. The Skipper was corkscrewing continuously for forty minutes. The physical effort on him must have been absolutely terrific. Anyway, the tension inside me remained after. I didn’t realise they were twenty six minutes. After a time, after a long time with my tension, with my concentration, still sky high they disappeared. They must have decided that, that, you know, either run out of fuel or they realised they might as well go for an easier target. Anyway, the navigator, I only know it was twenty six minutes because the navigator told me later but when we got back I remember the relief as we passed over the English coast. It was absolutely fantastic. I know we weren’t safe but the relief to be over. It seemed so much comfort to be coming over, over this country. Now, when we, when we, after we came in to land I found out that all ten thousand rounds that I’d supplied to my rear turret - I’d fired every one. There wasn’t one left. So if we’d have had another attack by one of those fighters I couldn’t have done anything about it. That was as close we were to disaster. Phew. And sadly, sadly Flight Lieutenant Ling and crew did not return from this, from this operation and I’m not surprised. Well I shouldn’t say this but, no I won’t say any further. I did think that the rear gunner was getting a bit blasé and probably he wasn’t doing what he should have been doing but I don’t know. I can’t say anything more about that. But that was my fourth operation.
Another interesting operation was a daylight operation to Nordhausen. There were two hundred and forty Lancasters involved. Now during briefing we’d been told that the SS troops had been transferred to Nordhausen to protect Hitler. Now, this was what made it interesting with thoughts that we might be bombing Hitler. Now, we didn’t have any flak or fighters to contend with but all we had was problems. Now, I remember we took off. Generally speaking most of my operations in fact all of the other operations we used to take off from, from Skellingthorpe and go straight out to the North Sea. On this occasion we were going to travel south, south and meet up with 3 group aircraft and, and, and travel to Nordhausen with them, you see, which, which meant we were going to drive past the London area. Now, we’d been warned at briefing be careful near the London area. Their ack ack gunners don’t like strangers, unidentified aircraft flying over. They will fire first and ask second so beware. Anyway, having taken off in the early hours of the morning it was still absolutely pitch. 2.30 we took off. It was still pitch dark as we went by, went by the London area and I remember as we arrived there, there were absolutely hundreds and hundreds of searchlights shining up and quite honestly we were so close to them I thought, I was really on tenterhooks, because I thought bloody hell, thinking about the fourteen thousand pound of bombs underneath us and those, those twitchy ack ack gunners. Anyway, I was looking down, all of a sudden Skip slammed the aircraft in to a vertical drive. Now the g-force on me was tremendous. It drew me, stretched my body up and my body, my head hit the top of the fuselage with a bang, the top of the turret rather with a bang and just at that precise second, now you’ve got to remember that I had no perspex at all in front of me, so, therefore, therefore the open air was just there and just as that happened a Lancaster aircraft flew just over and I swear to this day that if I’d have put my hand out I could have touched that aircraft. Another one of our nine lives. Anyway we carried on. We met with up 3 Group, over Reading it was, and we drifted out over the, over the, on to enemy territory. I remember we were so widely spaced out well, we were used to flying at night-time, we didn’t need to be in a gaggle when all of a sudden there was a voice came up, RT silence broken and it was obviously the fighter leader controller, fighter leader and he shouts up ‘Close up. Close up. How do you expect me to bloody protect you?’ Anyway, we got to Nordhausen and boy did we close up. Our operational height was about twelve thousand feet as far as I could remember. I can’t remember. Somewhere in that region. But two hundred and fifty aircraft then from being miles apart suddenly homed in together in to a thin line and I remember there was aircraft all the way around us, almost touching us. Now, I didn’t mind the ones at the side or the ones below or the ones straight above us but I was leaning forward in my turret and looking up. The ones I was concerned of one above in front that I couldn’t see because I thought to myself they’ll be dropping bloody bombs on us and I’m looking at them when all of a sudden, all of a sudden a full load of bombs missed the back of my turret with this, with a fraction. Almost touching us. Ten, ten one thousand pound bombs and a cookie. Now, they go down like lightning. Fifty foot beneath us was a Lancaster. The first, the first thousand pounder hit this fuselage right in the middle, right, just at the back of the mid upper turret. I cringed, expecting it to explode but lo and behold the bomb went straight through the fuselage and disappeared, continued down. The next, the next thousand pounder hit the middle of the wing and I still couldn’t believe it. I’m still cringing again and it bounced back and bounced off. Now the cookie, which was a contact bomb, they must have had err, you know biometric things that didn’t explode above five hundred feet or something but the cookie was a contact bomb. It missed the side of the fuselage by a skin of paint. Anyway, I remember the, the aircraft disappeared and there was a lot, there was a lot happening. I forgot about it. Anyway, by sheer chance at the end of the war I was listening to Canadian troops embarking on to the ship to go home and, and the person being interviewed was a pilot and it was an interesting story and do you know he went through what I’ve just told you. It was the, it was the pilot of this aircraft and he said, he said, and it was so pleasing to know, that they’d staggered back to the North Sea and dropped their bombs and got, and they survived the war. Anyway, anyway we were coming over the North Sea about, about ten thousand feet and all of a sudden I saw two Lancasters drop right down to zero feet and I thought bloody hell they’re going in. They’re going in. And all of a sudden from the back of one of them I suddenly saw foam appear and it was like watching a motorboat swing, speeding along and this foam behind, I can’t remember, two engines, two of the engines, this foam was behind it for about four hundred yards when gradually it picked up, climbed up and I thought to myself, ‘oh they’re ok. They’re alright’. Anyway, by sheer coincidence four days later when we returned from an operation we were diverted to Spilsby of all places, 44 squadron which I eventually finished up on and we were able to get out of the aircraft to have a walk you know and have a stretch and I was walking by this aircraft which had got props bent and all the props on one side. I think it was just on one side [laughs] I think it was just on one side. They were bent almost double and I, and there was a ground staff working on it and I said, ‘God, what happened to that aircraft?’ He said, ‘The silly buggers,’ he says, ‘This bloke and another bloke coming from an operation a few days ago, they were playing about to find which one could get closer to the sea. This silly bugger dragged his props in the water. Nearly drowned his rear gunner.’ I thought to myself, ‘God, how did they manage to keep the aircraft flying with damage like that?’ Anyway, he said they were being court martialled. I don’t know. Anyway, and that was that.
[laughs]
Another very interesting operation was a daylight operation to Hamburg oil installations, Germany on the 9th of April 1945. During this operation twenty five jet fighters ME262s attacked the bomber force. This was, I believe, the first time that any fighters were ever used during any war, first attack. Anyway, there were, there were, there were fifty seven bombers involved. 50 squadron, 61 squadron I think we got twelve and something like that, 61 squadron and 617 and 9 squadron. We were to, we were to drop, we were to drop thousand pounders on the oil installations and 617 and 9 squadron were to drop a tall boy. I can’t remember if eight thousand or twelve thousand pound bombs on the, on the submarine pens. Now, the thing was that because of the weight of the Tall Boy they’d taken out of the Lancasters, 617 and 9 squadrons they’d taken away the bomb doors and had actually taken off the mid upper turret to lighten the aircraft so to be able to carry it ready to take off and because of this we were, we were instructed that we were to fly in a gaggle and fly as quick, as close as possible to support them. Now another thing the apparently 309 squadron, a Polish squadron flying mustangs, would escort us and 65 squadron were also taking part. Now, we took off at about well 14.48 I believe it was. The weather was perfect and I remember our operational height was twelve thousand feet. Now, I remember we were passing over, we were passed quickly, over, over the, over the North Sea and I’m thinking to myself now Hamburg was a very, very dangerous place. A very important place to Germany. Still is. Still is. But because of this over the war, during the war they’d built up a tremendous defence and if you had any aircraft attacking there we could have heavy losses so we knew that we were in for a difficult time when we got there. I remember passing over, over Germany and all of a sudden every so often the flak was bursting, shells were bursting shells were bursting around us but quite honestly I never gave them a thought. You know I was used to night, night bombing where the flak was a bright light but I never gave as I say, probably I should have done. Anyway we got to, got to Hamburg, near to Hamburg and I rotated my turret. I can’t remember port or starboard side but we were coming up and turned square to the right over Hamburg.
Other: Can somebody come in here?
Going back a little bit I remember as we were going over the, going over the North Sea it was a completely cloudless sky, brilliant sun and I remember thinking to myself where are those bloody fighters supposed to be, that are supposed to be protecting us? Three squadrons were supposed to be protecting us but every so often, every so often we saw right in the distance swirling around oh I thought, ‘Oh lovely. There they are.’ Anyway we carried on. I remember as we, as we, as we entered, got over mainland Europe gradually every so often we’d hear the phuf phuf of flak shells at the side of us which I just ignored. I don’t know a bit complacent probably but I just didn’t care about them. Didn’t take any, anyway we gets to Hamburg and Hamburg, I’m just, I’m repeating myself now. Hamburg was a very special place. Was then. Is now. And during the war years they’d built up a tremendous, tremendous defensive force. They, they could send up a box barrage of flak in an instant and I remember we were approaching, approaching Hamburg and I can’t remember which side we were. Left or right. But I leaned forward, leaned forward and I looked and turned my turret to the beam and leaned forward to look forward and I could almost see in front of us and I could see the target as we were approaching her and I’m not joking I have never seen flak like it. We were, we were, I think we, I think we were, our height was we bombed from about sixteen thousand feet but up to around our bombing height there was a complete black cloud of flak shells bursting out and I remember thinking to myself, bloody hell we’re never going to get through that. Now I’m just going to divert a little bit because we were at the back of the fifty seven aircraft and a friend of mine on 61 squadron, Ted Beswick, he was in the front aircraft and he was telling me later he says they were watching this predict, this flak. I forget what you call it. Predicted flak. It gradually approaching him and he said until one burst right in front of the nose and he says and, and, and parts flew through the front through the bomb aimers position and, and, and badly injured the engine, the bomb aimer. Anyway, we carried on to the target. We turned on to the target and we, I’m not joking with you, I can’t describe what it was like going through the flak. It was absolutely frightening you. I was thinking, I say, frightening. Anyway, believe it or not we went, we got through the target unscathed. We dropped our bombs and I understand it was a successful bombing. Anyway, we left the target and I could see aircraft. I feel certain I could see aircraft around, some damaged but nobody shot down. Anyway we’d left the target and we’d been left a few minutes. I then turned my turret around and I thought to myself, bloody hell, we’re back marker. Sitting duck for any fighters. So immediately I switched on. I said, ‘Skip, Skip we’re back marker. Sitting duck for any fighters.’ He says, ‘Ok. Ok.’ So he immediately shoves full throttle on and gradually, gradually we moved forward so we could see aircraft behind me. That made me feel a bit better. Now, a short time later and I can’t remember how long, all of a sudden twenty five ME262s attacked the formation. I only saw five but I know from later reports it was twenty five but I saw five aircraft coming along the, coming along the ground level and I, I called, ‘Skip Skip I can see, I can see five small aircraft on almost at ground level.’ God, I’ve never seen aircraft travelling so fast. They, they, they began to climb. I says, ‘God they’re climbing faster than I’ve ever seen any aircraft dive.’ Within seconds they were up to our operational height. They levelled out and came straight at us canons blazing. Canons blazing’s straight through us like a dose of salts. Now, one of them come straight at us and I’m firing as hard trying, trying as hard as I could ‘cause it’s like lightning is happening, trying to drag my tracer bullets into it and it came so close I thought to myself it’s going to ram us and I’m not joking he then swung in between us and another Lancaster by my side, by our side and, and I could see the, I could see fighter, I could see the fighter pilot as close as I can see you now. Anyway, I’m swinging and firing my turret and all of a sudden I realised that I’m firin my, still firing my bullets straight through this Lancaster at the side of me. I lifted my arms like lightning off, off my, off my off my controls and, and, and I thought to myself bloody hell, I thought to myself might have shot down my, the aircraft but of course you can’t shoot an aircraft down by firing straight at it you have to fire in front of them but that was fortunate because it was a 617 aircraft. I don’t know what would have been said. Anyway, we, we’d left the target, we left the target and only a few seconds later after they’d attacked us all of a sudden by the side of us the aircraft, the back marker aircraft exploded, broke in half and began to drop straight down. Now, when it had dropped about a thousand feet I saw although the rear turret would immediately lose, as it broke in half, lose, lose any control we had we had a handle which we could turn and swing the turret around. Anyway, after about a thousand feet I saw the, this is another story I’ll tell you in a bit which I’d forgotten to tell you. Forgotten to tell you. I watched this rear gunner drag himself out of the, out of the turret and fall away and I thought to myself oh thank God, he’s, thank God he’s, going to get away with it. He was a friend of mine. Anyway, the parachute opened and a few seconds puff it exploded in flames and then I had to watch this friend of mine, friend of mine struggling, drop away, gradually drop away to his death. Now, I’ll tell you a little, I’d forgotten to tell you but when we went out to the aircraft, when we went out to the aircraft after we’d had the briefing you all race out and you all try to get on to the buses as there were buses and lorries. Now, the buses were a lot of comfort so therefore you raced to get in those. Now we raced in and I sat in the front seat and, and sitting at the side of me was Norman, Norman Garfield Fenton. Friend of mine. I say he’s a friend, he was a squadron friend not that I knew much about his private life other than that he was from Kettering. But I says to him, ‘What aircraft are you in? He says, ‘Fred. F Freddy.’ Now F Freddy, we did four ops in there so it gave us, gave us chat, you know, something to talk about. Anyway we got to the dispersal area and, and climbs out. All of us rush to our aircraft and climbed aboard and did our pre-start checks and afterwards there was still an hour or so to go. We climb out of the fuselage and, and, and went Taffy and I went, went and sat down, sat down on the grass and a few seconds later Norman walks across and we sat down and there we are. I think we took off at 2.30 so it was quite warm and where we sat there chatting away talking about what we were going to do. I remember I do believe he said he’d got a little child. I can’t remember but I think he said he had a young family but we were chatting about what we were doing and four hours later I watched him die. You know, it really did affect me. I mean, at night time you just disappeared, didn’t have the same effect on you but knowing, I recognised the aircraft as it dropped away as V and F. I could see it clearly so I knew this was Dennis, Dennis struggling and nearly got out and I had to watch him fall and it did affect me for quite a long time and poor Dennis and Flying Officer [Berryman] who was his Skipper and, and one of the other crew are buried in, in Hamburg but oh dear it did affect me for quite a long time that. Ok. Now one thing I’ve got when we got back to briefing. When we got back to briefing we turned around and told the briefing officers we’d been attacked by jets and they says not possible. Not possible. Not possible. There’s no, there’s no airfields around Hamburg for jets but little did we know, little did we know that jets, the Germans were taking off from motorways. Ten out of ten for them for innovation. But apparently the, the powers that be killed the story because they were so fearful of the effect it might on morale, of morale of our aircrew. But then I want to go back a little bit now to Ted Beswick. He saw all, I only saw five but he saw all twenty five. Now, one of them came at us came at them and he shouts port corkscrew, corkscrew, go, go but of course they couldn’t because they were in gaggle. Anyway when the, when the ME262s had attacked they began to swung around and began to go around to reposition they could only do one or two attacks because of limited fuel but one drew up by accident right on, right on their starboard side I can’t remember starboard or port side. Anyway he immediately fired and saw his tracer bullets go straight into it, straight into it and immediately, immediately the aircraft went straight down as if out of control and he watched it spiral down. Ted is convinced that he made a kill, he made a kill. Of course he couldn’t claim it because once again he didn’t see the ground. But they had another incident they did. They had a hang-up bomb. They couldn’t get rid of it and try as they might they couldn’t get rid of it so they started to go back and try to get rid of it in the, in the North Sea. They still couldn’t get rid of it so they decided to bring it back, bring it back to Skelly. Now as they came in, in to land there was a bang as they touched down and the bomb dropped on to the bomb doors. Now, they pulled up immediately at the end of runway, got out of the aircraft, scooted away from the aircraft called up and a short time later, a short time later well some time later along comes the ground staff, gingerly opens up the, opens up the, winds open the, the bomb doors, bomb doors. Two of them stands there, catches a thousand pounder and then, you know, we have got a lot to thank those air crew people, ground staff people for. Wonderful, wonderful unsung heroes. One, one interesting operation was to [?] in Norway. I remember there was, I can’t remember how many aircraft, several hundred aircraft involved. But we’d been in we’d been told that we were to fly at zero level up the North Sea and I remember in the half-light seeing probably a couple of hundred Lancasters flying, almost touching, almost touching the waves. It was so exciting. I loved it I did. And I’m certain Skip enjoyed it just as a much as I did. Anyway, we got to the, we got to the, got to Norway and, I can’t remember how long it took us. Anyway, we climbed up to bombing height which would be, it would have been about ten to twelve thousand feet. Now, I seemed to remember one gun, one heavy gun but if I’m to believe records, records say there was no, no flak but I seem to remember one gun as we approached. One heavy gun. Anyway, we came in, we came in to bomb and, and we’re virtually on our bombing run and I’m listening to the Skip and the bomb aimer conversing when all of a sudden, now, always before when the Skip had had to dive the aircraft had to change direction of the aircraft it had always been a dive. On this occasion it was different all together. All of a sudden the aircraft reared straight up. Now, I remember I’m clinging on to my controls and I was transfixed. I was transfixed and even though my head still thumped the top of the turret because of the reaction of the aircraft swinging and at the same time we used to carry our flasks and sweets and chocolates given to people, aircrew and I remember them coming straight up in the air, straight up in the air and as the aircraft, aircraft levelled they all went straight out of the window and I said oh sod it. I was saving those for the return. But another thing happened. Ass this was happening. I’m hearing a swirl, a swirling noise of machine gun noise coming into my turret. Thousands of bullets was coming along the ducts into the aircraft. Now, I didn’t realise this was what happened but they came in and completely jammed the turret. Anyway, we levelled out. We crept back over the sea and got back home but if anything had happened we couldn’t have done a thing about that. Now, the thing is when I was on that operation, in our billet, in our billet was another crew err if you just give me a second I’ll remember his name. I’ll just get, now this operation was on the 25th, 26th of April 1945. Now, in my billet, in my billet was another crew. Now this crew, they disappeared and I didn’t know what happened so I just, this is when people got the chop things, just used to take there was usually two crews to a Nissan but when they got the chop they used to take, just take their things out. They disappeared. Never heard anything about them. Anyway, last year, last year at our reunion, our reunion a fellow approaches near our memorial. He says, ‘Hello James. Do you remember me? And I says to him, ‘I don’t think so. I can’t remember.’ Well, he says ‘You were in the next bed to me on 1945. January 1945.’ I says, ‘Oh yes.’ I said ‘What happened to you then?’ I said, ‘You disappeared didn’t you?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ He says, he said, ‘When you were going on [?] we were on Exodus.’ Exodus operation. Fetching prisoners back from, from Europe, probably Brussels. Anyway, he says, ‘We dropped the prisoners, the POWs, ex-POWs down he said and headed for home and on the way back we crashed.’ He said, the, the ‘We had problems, engine problems and in trying to avoid these houses the wing tip hit the ground and, he says, ‘And it slewed into the ground. My turret was thrown off into, into a field.’ He said, ‘My guns were buried in the ground.’ He said, ‘I was in hospital for a week.’ He said the mid upper turret, the mid upper gunner got away with it he got a broken leg but the rest of the crew were all killed. I said, ‘Oh good God.’ I says, ‘I wondered what happened.’ They just disappeared. So there you are. Made contact all those years later but how did he finally manage? Probably he managed to find me because with me doing so much on our website. I’m better known. More people know me then I remember them. That’s probably it isn’t it. Could be couldn’t it? But an interesting story that isn’t it? There you are.
MJ: Ahum
HJF: Now then. I want to carry on. On the 1st of June, is it on? Switch her on.
MJ: It is on.
HJF: Yeah. On the 1st of June ‘45 we were transferred from 50 squadron to 44 squadron to be part of, to be part of Tiger Force. The intention was to, to, to fly us straight out, quickly out to the Far East. As a matter of fact Okinawa was going to be our base. So we, we went, we transferred to Spilsby. Now, from day one we started doing high level training. Anyway, I can’t remember but it was a few days after we got, one of our trips, it was only one and three quarter hour trips I think it was just about the worst one of all. I remember we’d got fourteen thousand pounds of bombs we were going to drop into dispersal area in the North Sea and as we taxied around all of a sudden, the port, the port inner set on fire. Now, the smoke was coming and filling my turret and I thought to myself silly bugger put your oxygen mask on, puthering in to me. Anyway, rapidly the, the engine was feathered and after a few minutes the Skip calls up flying control and tells them, ‘Engine fire. Waiting for instructions.’ We waited for instructions and a few minutes later the flying control calls, ‘Right, start the engine up. Give it a run up. Take off when you’re ready.’ When he switched off there was a chorus of voices, ‘We’re not bloody going, the stupid buggers, that engine wants checking. We’re not bloody going.’
MJ: Ahum
HJF: ‘We’re not bloody going.’ Anyway, Skipper in the meantime started the engine up. He revs it up, he says, ‘It seems ok to me. We’ve got to go.’ And we kept saying, ‘We’re not bloody going.’ Anyway, we turns on to the, and eventually gets and I’m not joking I was full of trepidation. I could feel in my water that something else was going to happen. Now, anyway we’d just got our wheels off the deck and the starboard outer seized. Now, let’s just think about it. We’ve got a dicky port inner and we got a, a seized starboard outer and we’ve got fourteen thousand pound of bomb. I’m not, that’s as much as an aircraft immediately started to vibrate telling me, telling me she’s going to stall. She’s going to stall. Now, quick as that I thought, my apprehension just disappeared. I thought to myself I’m going to, I’m going to jump no matter what the height. So, quick as lightning I swings my turret to beams, pulls open the doors. like a flash I was sitting outside and there I sat outside listening to, feeling the violent vibrations of the, of the aircraft as it gradually gained speed and height. It took us about thirty minutes to get up to about two thousand feet and while I’m sitting there just thinking about myself there our poor old Skipper was at the front fighting to keep this aircraft in the air. What a brilliant, brilliant Skipper. Anyway, we eventually get, gradually the vibration stopped. We got to the dispersal area, drops the bombs as near, as near as we could and returned. That, that trip took an hour and a quarter and it seemed the longest one of all. Good God we were so close and then what turned out to be our final trip, final flight actually for seventy, nearly seventy years as far as I was concerned. We were taking part in a dodge operation. Which, Dodge Operations were returning, returning British soldiers, taking, taking Italian troops back to Italy, to Bari in Italy and bringing British soldiers home. Now, we’d been so many times we used to fly visual. We used to go down to Marseilles, turn left over Marseilles, out over, out over the North Sea to the tip of Corsica and, and, and then make for Rome and over Rome straight for Bari. Now we were so casual about this we used to fly you know, anyway as it turns out the engineer, the engineer used to do a bit of piloting every so often. They used to keep their hand in. Anyway, fortunately the engineer had strapped himself in. Now we were carrying twenty one, twenty one Italians and I was sitting in the fuselage, in the fuselage. I was more or less a steward. Now, we were climbing, we were climbing up to ten tenths cloud. Now it was a very, very stormy day. Very, very hot day. Tropical storms everywhere and as it turned out we were the only aircraft only two of us arrived at Bari. Aircraft were diverted all different places. Anyway, we were climbing up through ten tenths cloud at ten thousand feet when all of a sudden cause safety height over, to cross the tip of Corsica, safety height being eleven thousand feet when all of a sudden the aircraft veered straight up, straight up and we flew slap bang into the centre of cunim, Now the tremendous upward force hit the belly of the, hit the aircraft and flung it straight up in the air. She stalled, dropped on her back and started to vertically drop down. Now, the Skipper standing by the side of the engineer as I say he was, he was, he was piloting was thrown up to the roof and he dragged himself around the, and for a time he thought to himself bloody hell we’re going. I’m going to drag myself back. Then he realised that the flight engineer was beginning to get a bit of joy so he drags himself around the fuselage, the side of the fuselage to a standing position alongside him and there was only single controls in a Lancaster. He then grabs hold of the controls and the two of them used all their strength to pull the aircraft out, out of its vertical dive. Now, as I told you I was in the back of the aircraft looking after these, looking after the Italians. I was thrown up to the ceiling and a water tank that was there for them floated up in the air, floated up in the air and were virtually trapped beyond the fuselage and as I looked, I could look at the back and there was, we’d got a Lancaster wheel in in the back, in the back which we were taking. Probably somebody had a burst tire. They’d left it loose. The silly buggers had left it loose. I watched this, watched this Lancaster wheel do a full circle of the fuselage. It smashed the auto gyro and it went around and it hit the machine gun ducts and right to the side of the ducts were the, were the rudder bar controls and I thought to myself, I was praying that it wouldn’t come rolling towards us when the next second, the next second with a slam I was banged down, banged down on to the floor, banged down on to the floor and I dragged myself up. All the Italians were in a complete panic and without thinking I just slotted the bloke at the side of me, slotted him, knocked him down and said, ‘Lie down.’ I made him lie down. Anyway, then I thought to myself, I thought as I’m standing there I thought to myself, actually I called Skip up. I said oh I think one of these, one of these Italians had pulled the [aerial] controls and we knew we’d lost an aircraft through somebody pulled themselves, their all external inside the aircraft and pulled them up and it had caused the aircraft to crash because it was almost you know in a position where they couldn’t change so I thought that’s what had happened, Anyway, as I’m standing looking all of a sudden the aircraft reared up again but not quite as bad. So I thought sod it I’ll have a look at this. Now our mid upper gunner had been transferred because of the end of the war you see, had transferred so I climbed into his turret and I was amazed. We should have been at eleven thousand feet to cross over safely over the tip of Corsica. We were then travelling along the coastline on the edge of the mountains, parallel. Somehow or other in the process of diving vertically we’d changed direction. Now, I don’t know whether it were luck or whether it was the skill of our pilot but anyway we turned, we were flying along the coast of, coast, coastline. Now then we came into land. Now at Bari, at Bari there was only one single runway. One single runway. And, and aircraft were, aircraft were positioned, were parked either side of the runway. Yanks on the left, yanks on one side and all Lancasters on the other. Now, as we came in to land, another thing, just at the end of the runway was a, was a large quarry and on very hot days, on very hot days used to cause an air pocket above the, right above the end of the runway. Now Skipper might have forgotten that or it might have been just because let’s face it I was stressed up and I was only looking after them, so God only knows how he was feeling but anyway as we came in to land we dropped from about sixty foot straight down. We hit the ground, we hit the tarmac with such a bang and the aircraft reared off, reared off, slewed to, slewed to port and, and coming, taxiing right down, right down just in front of us was a, was a flying fortress. We were heading straight for it. Skip immediately slams port throttle, full port throttle on, slews the aircraft and I could feel the undercarriage bending. Why it didn’t break I don’t know and there we are slewing across to the other side and going straight for the Lancs and he shoved full throttle on the other side and we straightened out and that was it and we levelled out. Now, you might have thought that was enough trouble for one thing but when we were coming up, we stayed there four days and I remember I was standing, we were waiting to return and we were standing about halfway along the runway and there were thousands of troops, thousands. There were hundreds of aircraft and thousands of troops, American and British, and we were watching the first Lancaster to take off and it came by us and it was almost as it came flashing by us it was almost at take-off speed when all of a sudden it turned completely ninety degrees. Now there were four line I think, I can’t remember whether it was three line or four lines but it went through the first ones, first ones, missed all the aircraft but hit another one in the line absolutely broadside and just as it hit its undercarriage collapsed but when it hit it’s props were churning into the side of the aircraft churning, churning. Now, thousands of us ran across thinking to ourself, expecting that there would be many many fatalities, many many fatalities but when we got to the aircraft, when we got to the aircraft there was a great big hole in the nose of the aircraft. Three, three, three soldiers climbed out of the front of the nose and do you know and people were pouring out of all sides of the engine. All sides of the aircraft. Do you know there were thousands of people out but do you know to my knowledge there was only one person, there were nobody killed and one person injured and that was he was injured through flying glass. Absolutely fantastic. I thought to myself this is a bloody mugs game. It’s time I pack this game up. Well I’ll tell you now it was an uneventful trip back to the, back to the, back to England but that was the last time I flew in any aircraft until about 2012.
[laughs] 1.38.08
Now, at the, I now over the years, over the years over the last, nearly twenty years I’ve been involved with the 50 and 61 Squadron Association website. Now, quite honestly I never, until, until I was in my seventies I’d never used a computer. But anyway, anyway I was instrumental in helping, helping, eventually, not for a start in helping to start up our website 50 and 61 Squadron Association websites. Now, I have a veteran’s album. I don’t do hardly anything these days Mike [Connock] does it but until, at our reunion 209 Air Vice Marshall Nigel Baldwin came up to me and says, ‘James, I’ve got a story here, an interesting story which would be good for your veterans album.’ Now, it was then I was interested to, I was then introduced to a person called Chris Keltie. Now -
Other: I don’t want to hear your secrets.
HJF: Yeah Chris Keltie. He then, Chris told me a story which at the time -
Other: Make him at least give you a drink.
HJF: No. No. You’re alright.
Other: At least make him. Now I’m telling you. Go on.
HJF: Oh did, did we bring that cup of coffee in? Did we leave that coffee in there? I don’t think we did did we?
MJ: No.
HJF: Oh bloody hell we forgot. Oh sorry.
HJF: As I say. Chris Keltie. Chris Keltie. He told me a story which at the time I just didn’t believe. I couldn’t believe that anybody, because of my experiences, I couldn’t believe that anybody could do what I was being told but he was telling me that a pilot whilst severely injured and weakened by loss of blood had regained control of an earthbound Lancaster and, and in pitch darkness brought the thing in to land and thereby saved the lives of, as it turned out, three of his crew members. For this he got nothing. Not even get, now I’ll tell you the full story. On the, it’s Victoria stuff. Victoria Cross stuff. I’m not joking with you. It was in July 1944 I can’t quite remember exact date. It might have been the 4th or 5th. Anyway, they successfully, they were bombing a V1 bomb site. It was 61 squadron aircraft. QR D Dog was the aircraft. Bill North was, Bill North, flight lieutenant. He was the flying officer at the time but it was Bill North, Bill North was the pilot and his aircraft was QR Dog. Now they were to, from thirteen thousand feet they were going to bomb the V1 sites. Now, which they were the first aircraft to bomb it and after, as they left the target an FW190 sprayed their aircraft. It blew away the fin, the port fin. It blew away the port fin. Blew away the port outer engine and fuel tank and it also it splattered the middle of the turret. Now, the mid upper gunner, now I used to say it was either between six and eight bullets, non life saving bullets in his body. Unbelievable. Splattered the turret. Anyway, it splattered all the Perspex, the cockpit Perspex and, and the pilot screamed out in agony as four bullets hit him. Two in his thigh and two in his left arm. Now, his left arm one of them hit the nerve and it paralysed his arm so his arm was flailing there. Now, immediately and the aircraft immediately begins, it’s earthbound screaming towards the earth. He immediately gives instructions to bail out and begins to drag himself out to go to the escape hatch. Now, as he drags himself out of the seat the flight engineer who is sitting by his side reaches back. Now, as the pilot had sat on his parachute. Now, but the, but the flight engineer and the rest most of the crew, the rear turret and rear gunner all had clip on chutes now his was clipped on the fuselage. Now, he reaches back to unclip his, his ‘chute off the fuselage, the side of the fuselage and as he pulls it off it’s been shot to pieces by bullets. It’s just at that point Bill was about to drop out of the escape hatch. Quickly he grabs hold of his shoulder and shouts my parachutes gone, my parachutes gone. Now, nobody would have blamed Bill North If he’d have thought to himself nothing I can do. I’m badly injured myself and just to have gone just to continue to drop out but without one second thought he made a conscious decision to drag himself back into his to his controls. Now, the, the landing an aircraft, a Lancaster is a two man job. You need, you need the help of the flight engineer. The flight engineer was frozen with fear. Couldn’t do anything. Now, Bill North, with one hand, his adrenalin must have been five hundred percent I have no idea how he did it but unbelievably with the aircraft screaming earthbound he regains control and in pitch darkness not only did he regain control but in this very heavily wooded area he found, he found a clearing, brought the aircraft in to land from an impossible height at an impossible speed. No, no flaps involved because the bloke couldn’t, the flight engineer couldn’t do anything. Had the presence of mind as he brought the aircraft in to land it tail down so there would be less danger of fuel tank, of fuel explosion and landed and when it became stationery he was so weak from the loss of blood that he slipped into unconsciousness. Now then, as it turned out not only had he saved the life of the flight engineer alongside him but apparently the mid upper gunner and another person, I think wireless operator, were both trapped in the fuselage because their turret ‘chutes had been shot to pieces, so they, as I say he slipped into unconsciousness so they had to carry, carry him, they had to carry him out of the aircraft and as they laid him on the grass at the side of the plane he slipped into unconsciousness and they thought he was dying. Anyway, time went by. The French were involved but I can’t remember who else was involved but in time the Germans came, whisked him into a hospital and he remained in hospital for several months after which he was, he was transferred to a concentration camp and he finished the war, and finished the war in a concentration camp. For this he didn’t get any mention in despatches. Not even a mention in despatches. Absolutely disgraceful. This is, this is, this is VC stuff. Now when Mr Ball when, when Nigel Ball contacted me I, I wrote this story, this was several years before, I wrote his story on my website. Now last year, October during last year the, the sons of, of Bill North, he’d passed away the year before, wrote to David Cameron to thank him for what he’d to done to get the air crew their memorial in London and thanked him for getting the clasp. Bloody clasp. Ridiculous. Anyway, anyway out of the blue, credit to David Cameron. David Cameron phoned them personally. No wrote to them personally and invited to them to come and see him at the, at the House of Commons. Now, they decided that what a golden opportunity this to try and get a posthumous award for their father. So they put together a delegation of about ten people and they wanted a representative of the squadron association to be, to be, to be with them. Now, as to whether I was the only one or not I’ve no idea but I was the person that was invited to go. Now, I travelled down to London and I remember, I remember we, we, David Cameron was wonderful actually. I remember he took us and we were chatting to him in his office and he was chatting to all the party and I couldn’t hear him he was right at the far end of the room and I says, ‘I can’t hear.’ And he says, ‘ok’ and got, upped sticks and came and sat right to the side of me and I’m listening to them talking. Now, quite honestly as I was listening to him you know how people are when they’re talking to someone of higher authority? They, they become meek and mild don’t they? And I’m listening and I don’t hear very well. After they’d been going on for quite some time I thought to myself they’re missing the point so in actual fact I had spoken to him and told him that why I was there to represent the association and I, I interceded. I said, ‘But sir, we’re missing the point of our visit.’ and I says and I then went into detail of this, of what Bill North had done and I says to him this is bloody Victoria Cross stuff and for this he gets nothing. Not even a mention in despatches. This is a complete disgrace and I remember, I remember David Cameron looked set aback and he looks at me and says, ‘Well I don’t know. All the hassle I’m getting here.’ He said in a friendly way. It wasn’t nasty. ‘All the hassle I’m getting here and he says the hassle I’ve had in question time today and he says and it’s my birthday today.’ And I said, ‘I beg your pardon?’ He said, ‘It’s my birthday today.’ I says, ‘It’s mine as well’ and he reached over and he said, ‘Birthday boys.’ [laughs]
[laugh]
There you are but do you know something we had, we had a celebration last year for my ninetieth birthday and, and, and seventieth wedding anniversary and last year. It was in October. October. And last year, about three weeks before our, before our party a friend of ours and I don’t know how he got this phone number my friend answers the phone and this voice says, ‘Hello, this is David Cameron here’ and she says, ‘Oh don’t – tell me another one.’ And he said, ‘No. This is David Cameron ringing from the House of Commons. Can you give me the details of Mr and Mrs Flowers celebrations’ on the, and you know he said, ‘Because I want to send them a letter’ and lo and behold lo and behold on the, on the, my birthday arrives a letter comes, ‘Dear Mr Flowers,’ from the House of Commons ‘I’m writing to you wish you a very happy ninetieth birthday. This is a marvellous occasion and I’m sure you will use this opportunity to celebrate all your many achievements and all you have seen and experienced. I would like to send you, Samantha and my best wishes for a wonderful birthday.’ That was on the 9th of October. On the 21st of October we gets another one. ‘Dear Mr and Mrs Flowers I am delighted to send my congratulations to you both on your seventieth wedding anniversary. It’s a huge achievement to celebrate such a long and happy marriage. A great example to family and friends and your local community. Samantha and I would like to wish you all the best on your anniversary. We very much hope you enjoy your celebrations. Have a lovely day. David Cameron.’ We of course did have the letter from the queen we all know the queen the queen had millions. She can’t do it personally do it you know that’s a secretary but to think that David Cameron made the effort during such political time to ring my friend up to find out details of our celebrations and then to ring us up and send this. As a matter of fact I sent him a Christmas card and he sent me a Christmas card back.
[laughs]
There you are, now, that’s different isn’t it? In conclusion I would like to go back to the time in 1941/2, I can’t remember the exact date, my first sighting of my dear wife. Of my Eunice. I remember at the time I was working on munitions twelve hour shifts a day, week about and I was on daylight day shifts this time and I’d finished at 7 o’clock, cycled home and, and home and quick change and cycled back two miles to Sutton in Ashfield baths which had been converted to a dance hall and as I went in it had a balcony. I went in about 9 o’clock. I climbed the stairs to the balcony and I remember looking down and it was a teeming mass of dancing local people, RAF, navy all having an absolute, and a wonderful band with all the top, all having, and the RAC band was there. It had top musicians in it and I remember I was looking down and I saw right beneath me I saw this beautiful young lady in a yellow and white check dress. I’m not saying anything wrong but she was flitting from one male to, from one friend to another. She was obviously the life and soul of the party and I thought to myself God what a cracker. So, quick as lightning I rushed downstairs and I stood in the background until the opportunity came and I tapped her on the shoulder and I said to her, ‘Can I have a dance please?’ and ‘ Yes.’ And the first time I held her in my arms oh she didn’t have make me quiver and it was the first time that I met my dear wife. [laughs] How I ended up with her I will never know. She was so beautiful and so energetic. She was out every night dancing. There were thousands of soldiers all around training all on the lookout, all on the lookout for, for, for as beautiful women and here I was just working on munitions. Nothing going for me. My chances of making a go with her were very very slim. Anyway, gradually I became a friends. It was two years before she’d call me a friend. But there you are. That’s how I met my dear wife and there we are seventy years later. Love of my life. Still feel as we did as all those years ago. Beautiful woman. Still beautiful woman still beautiful in my eyes. How’s that. As I say I’m in my ninetieth year and I can’t help thinking of my family. Thinking of the time on the 25th October when our first son Ian was born and when he was accidently deaf when he was only thirteen and a half you never get over it, time never heals it. The birth of my second son Richard and when he was accidentally shot in the head by his wife. He was so lucky to have survived. Then my third Phillip born ‘68, ‘58 and to his lovely daughter. She was absolutely beautiful. Passed away when she was two years and nine months. Then there was my fourth son was a whopper when he was born and the, and the midwife says to my he’s the biggest baby I’ve ever had and she said ironically he’s the biggest baby I’ve had as well. Then I think to the stresses and strains and excitement I felt during my aircrew years and the thirty two years as a driving examiner and to the pleasure we felt on the birth of two granddaughters, eight grandsons, fourteen great grandchildren and finally I recall the seventy years that I’ve been married to my dear wife Eunice. I can’t help thinking of all the times I felt like throwing her in the bloody river or burying her with the plants in the garden yet despite all this she still remains the love of my life. Such wonderful memories.
I would like to end by saying that during the time that we, as a crew, were involved in bomber operations we were attacked by ME109s, JU88s, FW190s, ME262s jet fighters, passed through flak you could have walked on, almost touched passing aircraft, almost crashed through fuel shortage and fell vertically from eleven thousand to five hundred feet. Nothing special. Just the normal sort of thing that most Bomber Command aircrew had to put up with during World War 2. Happy days.
MJ: On behalf of the Bomber Command I’d like to thank James Flowers for his interview on the 2nd of June 2015. This is Michael Jeffries, recordist.

Collection

Citation

Michael Jeffries, “Interview with James Flowers,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 22, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/40.

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