Interview with Peter Offord Davies. Part One

Title

Interview with Peter Offord Davies. Part One

Description

Peter was born in Coventry. Although in the army, Peter was stationed on RAF airfields and joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in October 1938, aged 16, transferring to the Royal Artillery. He then joined the Army Air Corps (AAC) and was part of the Glider Pilot Regiment.
Peter first learnt to fly powered aircraft at Elementary Flying Training School and was then attached to the 9th United States Air Force. He flew in C-47s, then went back to C squadron, flying Hamilcars. When the war finished, Peter went to Fairford and converted onto Waco CG-4As to go to the Far East.
Peter discusses the time leading up to the Second World War, his views on Chamberlain and Churchill, and how prepared the country was for war. He describes his training and time as a boy soldier.
He trained at RAF Stoke Orchard on Hotspur gliders, towed off the ground by Master aircraft. When he left Glider Training School he went on Horsas, towed by C-47s. Hamilcars needed four-engined bombers: 38 Squadron Halifaxes. Peter describes flying these different gliders.
Peter recounts in some detail the Rhine crossing in which they were hit by anti aircraft fire and landed nose down before escaping to Hamminkeln and ultimately returning to RAF Brize Norton and then to his squadron at RAF Tarrant Rushton. He talks about his Bren gun.
Peter expresses his pride and the many friendships made. He also praises several generals for their roles in the war.
Peter discusses the VJ and VE Day celebrations and how warfare has since changed.

Creator

Date

2022-11-05

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

01:57:18 audio recording

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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.

Identifier

ADaviesPO221105-AV

Transcription

TO: Good morning, good afternoon or good evening whatever the case may be. My name is Thomas Ozel and the gentleman we’re interviewing is Mr Peter Davies and we’re recording this interview on the 5th of November 2022. So, could you tell me a bit about where you were born, please?
PO: My home town is Coventry. The city of Coventry in Warwickshire. I was born in a company house. My father worked for a company and we lived on the company’s estate. I went to a normal sort of school. I was never brilliant as a student. I failed my Eleven Plus but I did manage to get through an art examination and I went to the city’s Art College for two years prior to joining the forces at sixteen.
TO: And when you were growing up were you interested in the Army?
PO: No. Not at all. I mean okay you know we were children. All our fathers invariably of course had been in the First World War and there were First World War relics knocking about. I mean in a garden, one of the back gardens on the company estate one person had the fuselage of an aircraft. Steel helmets were commonplace. We used to fight battles and things like that but as for a military my first brush I suppose with the military would have been I was taken by an aunt of mine who lived in South London and we went to Woolwich on a Sunday morning and on the Parade Ground there there were the horses and all the troops lined up and one thing and another. But I can’t honestly say that the military appealed to me at that time. I suppose like most children I didn’t know really what I wanted to do and I lived in a fantasy world. It really, yeah.
TO: And was your father in the First World War?
PO: Oh, yes. My father was. My father actually joined the volunteers before the Territorial Army was formed before the First World War and he served. He was in the Royal Army Medical Corps in actual fact and he served throughout the war you know. I think he came out of the forces in 1919. But after that there was no [pause] nothing. I mean he didn’t talk a lot about it. He had, you know a normal traumatic experience like most people in the First World War which was absolute carnage you know. I mean he talked about tying people to tree stumps to stop them harming themselves and that sort of thing. You know, it really was a terrible war that the First World War. Oh yes. The Second World War was nothing like the first. Although having said that before the war we were all our training because I joined the Army in ’38 it was second, it was First World War based. You know, we were digging trenches and doing things which were ludicrous really for the age that we were in at that time. There we are.
TO: And when you were at school were you taught about the First World War?
PO: No. No. All that I know is one of my masters at school was, he had been in the forces and I I quite admired him but I mean absolute childish way, you know. He’d been in. He’d been in the war and he was a big man and he was, he was a kind guy and as such I took to him and, yeah. But no. Really the First World War wasn’t talked about. I think it was too raw really.
TO: And were you taught any other military history though?
PO: The usual thing about the Romans and stuff like that but it, it went over our heads you know. It, it was, it was just, I mean my schooling, a lot of my schooling was learned by rote. There was no discussions and things like that. It was this is it and that’s it. You absorb it or you don’t sort of thing, you know. I mean the funny thing is that, you know sort of you look back and you think gosh, you know what a load of rubbish we were being taught at times. I mean the Empire was the great thing you know. We were great believers that Britain was the greatest country on earth and that we were kind to all these people who we ruled over and in actual fact of course we were anything but. We were taskmasters and slave masters. Yeah. Oh gosh, yes. No. Funny old life. Funny old life. Looking back you realise what. what was true and what isn’t true and I don’t know. Life just goes on.
TO: And were you interested in aircraft at all?
PO: We were. In Coventry there was a company called Armstrong Whitworth and we had an aerodrome called Bagington which is now Coventry. I don’t know what they call it now. But there, from there private aircraft flew and when I say private aircraft we used to get lots of, well no, not lots but an Autogyro or helicopter come over and we used to shout to them sort of thing as children you know. And then the first time I flew Alan Cobham’s Air Circus came to town and I emptied my money box and paid five shillings for a flight. So I was, my first flight would be, I’d be ten maybe. So that was my first flight. Okay. Looking back I suppose I sort of boasted about I’d flown as it were because that was unusual and five shillings was a hell of a lot of money in those days. It was to me anyhow. But that was the first time I flew. But after that I can’t say I hankered to fly, you know. It wasn’t, it didn’t grab me as such.
TO: And what do you remember from being in the air?
PO: The thing that I remember actually was that we, the aircraft we flew in would be, we’d got about eight seats in and there were just cane chairs bolted to the floor sort of thing you know and you just got in and I sat on the what I now know as the starboard side. But, and as we flew around the city we banked and the people on the port side could look down at the town and the city and I was on, all I was looking at was sky. So I did get up to have a look and I got screamed at by two old ladies who said I’d turn the plane upside down and made me sit down again. So it was rather disappointing in some ways. But that’s the first time I flew but after that I can’t say I hankered to fly as such you know. I mean we’re talking in the days of the R100 and the R101 airships which of course the R101 I think it was flew over our school one day. That was, that was quite something to see this leviathan of the air floating by almost silently as it were you know. I mean it really was ginormous. Yeah. Oh yeah. But no, flying I can’t say particularly was to the fore of my thinking as a child.
TO: And did you hear about when the R1, was it the R101 had crashed?
PO: Oh gosh, yeah. That, that crashed at Beauvais in France. Yes, oh yes. A friend of ours was an artist and he actually did a painting of it which he sent off to London hoping it would be included in an exhibition. It didn’t make it but it still went to London this. But I remember this painting of the R101 in its crashed state as it were. Oh yeah. Gosh. Yeah. A long time ago that. Everything is a long time ago with me.
TO: Do you remember what kind of plane you were in on your first flight?
PO: All that I know it was a biplane. I mean the, the Air Circus that came had various I presume, it is a presumption that they were Bristol fighters and stuff like that. Maybe the odd Fokker. I don’t remember. I mean all that I know is that it was magnificent. These guys flying around and throwing the things about but you know. It was. It was just exciting. Yeah. But as for type. No. No. The first type I remember is I used to scrounge flights in Whitley bombers and in Wellington aircraft on night flying tests and stuff like this. Although I was in the Army I was, at the time I was stationed on RAF airfields and you know I used to sneak off and go and scrounge flights. Why I did it I don’t know. It was I suppose it was, A it was something different and B, I was fed up anyhow. But yeah, but I can’t say it ever really grabbed me as such. It wasn’t the apogee of my sort of, it wasn’t that important to me. I did it and that was just fun. God knows what would have happened if we’d of crashed because everybody else would have been on the, on the documentation but my, my remains would be a mystery to somebody or other. Oh yeah. Because regularly these aircraft regularly came to the ground in the wrong place. Oh yes. Yeah. I suppose looking back it was dicey but you know, so what?
TO: And when you were, how was it you arranged with the crew to be aboard these bombers?
PO: Sorry?
TO: How, how did you arrange with the crew for them to allow you on the bombers?
PO: Well, I would just go up and say, ‘Hey,’ you know. I was sort of, ‘Could I have a flight with you?’ And so I suppose I did get rejected on occasions and others they said, ‘Yeah. Go on. Get in.’ Sort of. It was I mean it was just so casual. I mean it really was casual but it was, it was good. It was good. Yeah. Yeah, the old Whitley bomber. Gosh. Made in Coventry and there I am flying in the damned thing. Yeah. Oh, it was good. Yeah. That was my first sort of well that was my first war time flying shall I say. Oh yeah.
TO: And can you tell me about when you joined the Army?
PO: I, well I joined the Army. I originally joined the [pause] the county Infantry Regiment, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and when the, we’d just come back actually from annual camp when the war broke out and my battalion went to France. But I was at that time I’d just become a private. I had been a boy soldier up until my birthday, my seventeenth birthday. So at seventeen I became a private but I was still considered too young to go to France so I got put into another battalion and we were doing guarding vulnerable points and things all over the UK. And then that battalion I don’t know quite why but I then got transferred into the Royal Artillery and so I became a gunner and that was considered by the War Office as my parent regiment. God knows why because my parent regiment really was the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. But I, we guarded airfields and power stations and stuff like this. I had twelve guys. I mean I became an NCO in promotion sort of thing and I just had twelve or fourteen guys and a forty millimetre Bofors gun. I was part of the defence of various radar stations and stuff like that from the north of Scotland down to the south of Devon. And one day I saw a thing on Orders about the Army Air Corps and I think the real come on as far as I was concerned was there was flying pay on top of my meagre normal salary as it were as a, as a bombardier which is equal to a corporal. And so I applied to join the Army Air Corps. I went to London and did my aircrew medical and all the educational stuff and whatnot which I duly passed and found myself on Salisbury Plain as part of the Army Air Corps which it was then. My cap badge is an Army Air Corps cap badge. But I was in the glider pilot regiment and so that was the beginning of my sort of wartime flying shall I say such as it was. My wartime flying. I mean I went to EFTS of course and learned to fly powered aircraft first because they’re easier to fly than a glider which flies like a brick and then eventually I found myself in a squadron. We had, they were Horsas. The, you know the one everybody thinks was the wartime glider and then I found myself posted or attached to the 9th US Air Force on liaison work and I was flying, flying in Dakotas and whatnot all over the country one way and another. And then after Arnhem when we lost so many people I went back to squadron and I found myself flying Hamilcars which we had one squadron, C Squadron which was a heavy lift squadron and so I flew a Hamilcar glider. And then when the war finished we found ourselves at Fairford and we were converting on to the American Waco CG-4As to go to the Far East. Then lo and behold they dropped the atomic bomb and we all cheered and knew we were going to live as it were. But it was a very free and easy life in so many ways. Highly disciplined I can tell you but boy it was, it was good. Yeah. We were a happy lot, you know. The Army you know was just sort of an average sort of guy’s experience I suppose. I mean [laughs] and that’s how it went. I’m sorry. It’s not very interesting really is it you know? Yeah.
TO: And in the late 1930s did you hear about Hitler in the papers?
PO: Oh yeah. I I remember as a child hearing my father talking to somebody who said that they thought that war was inevitable. I know my father before the war he was in the ARP. He joined the ARP and he used to go once a week for training as it were and he became an ARP warden. But that’s the only, I mean it meant nothing to us as children you know. That was life I suppose like life out there today is you know. I mean the kids out there today you know they’re all nipping around with their I-pads and one thing and another and their thumbs are going like nobody’s business on their phones. It’s all, all strange to me but it’s their world and that was our world, you know. We were, we were very innocent really. I mean we relied entirely on really as much as anything on newspapers for information whether it was slanted one way and another by the government or political parties just that was it that was life. Yeah. Yeah.
TO: And do you remember the Munich Agreement?
PO: Oh yes. I remember Chamberlain coming back and waving his bit, piece of paper about saying, ‘Peace in our time.’ I mean in 1938 there were I remember them digging trenches and covering them over and making, you know air raid shelters of sorts. I mean in my home town I remember them building a huge shadow factory for producing you know, well aircraft and bits you know sort of thing. It was everything was pointing towards war but I mean it sounds silly but that was just how it was. You know. We were very subservient I think looking back. We didn’t question as the young people today would question the authorities shall I say. Oh yeah. Yeah. As I say to me it’s just how it went.
TO: And what do you think of Chamberlain?
PO: Well really, I looking back I think in some ways he was weak but you know I suppose he did, with the aid of the civil servants who really run this country he did the best he could do to try and placate Hitler and you know keep a peaceful world as it were because the alternative was pretty grim as it turned out. Yeah. He did his best and failed I suppose in some. Well, no. Perhaps he didn’t fail. I don’t know. I really have no great opinion of him one way or another. You know, as I say I just roll over and accept it.[laughs]
TO: And what do you think of Churchill?
PO: The right man at the right time. He could have been full of bluster and everything else but he he came on to the scene. I mean when you look at Churchill’s background I mean gosh there’s a man who changed sides so often one way and another. He was very astute in that respect but as a wartime leader I think he appealed to the populace, the general populace and you know he really sort of put a bit of fire into the belly of the nation and said you know this is it. We’re going to beat these guys and we all fell in line behind him and did what we did. Oh yeah. He was okay. I just wish he hadn’t have put his name forward and got beaten at an election. He should have left when he was at the top of the heap sort of thing. But yeah, I mean some of the things that have come out since I don’t know. They don’t do him any service I think but he was, he was a man of the time without doubt. Oh yeah.
TO: And can you remember the day the war started?
PO: Oh yes. I was blancoing my equipment at the time and polishing my brasses [laughs] yes. I remember that. The sort of, it was I think it was 11 o’clock in the morning on a, I think it was a Sunday morning. I think it was a Sunday morning and yeah I was actually blancoing my equipment. So yeah I remember that but again there was no great panic or anything. It was just, ‘Right. This is it.’ You know, sort of thing. Because we honestly thought when we came back from camp that you know war was inevitable. That all the, all the signs were there you know. You didn’t have to read the runes to a great degree to realise that you know we were going to fight these guys who wouldn’t behave themselves so to speak. Yeah. Oh yes. I remember that Sunday well and truly. Yeah. Yeah.
TO: And were you in the Army already when the Munich Agreement —
PO: Yes.
TO: Happened?
PO: Yeah. The Munich Agreement.
TO: Yeah. When the Munich Agreement was signed were you already in the Army then?
PO: I joined the Army in October 1938. Now, when the Munich Agreement was signed I don’t know.
TO: Around about that time I think.
PO: Yeah. It was. It must have been fairly close. A month either way. September or November so to speak. Yeah. Yeah. Oh yes. But you know it [pause] we just obeyed the rules. I mean I lived in a regimented sort of environment and did as I was told and kept my nose clean. Or did my best to keep my nose clean. Yeah.
TO: And do you remember was the Army making preparations for war when you joined?
PO: Our training basically was for the First World War. Okay, I mean when I think about it they said aircraft would be doing reconnaissance flights and attacking us and things like this and that we were to sort of budge together as if we were shrubbery sort of thing. But what a load of rubbish, you know [laughs] The thing to do as if you were being attacked from the air is to scatter. You stand more chance of living instead of being in one lump as it were. Oh yeah. I mean digging trenches and stuff like that okay they have their place. And scrapes and fox holes and stuff like this you know became the thing but you know looking back we were being taught to fight the last, the First World War and, you know it didn’t work out. I mean when you think of the speed of the Blitzkrieg across France I mean, and Dunkirk I mean we really got our backsides kicked. Well and truly. We weren’t, we weren’t really ready for war I don’t think. I mean okay everybody knew it was coming but nobody sort of we’re not I don’t think as a nation we’re aggressive in that sort of way or we get that worked up about things. I think we, we tend to sort of be very resilient to how things are and just accept them. I could be wrong of course. Well and truly wrong. I so often am.
TO: And did you do any training with tanks?
PO: No. Oh no. Good gracious me. No. We, in my battalion we had two Bren gun carriers. That was our armour. Yeah. That was it. I mean we were chuffed to billy-o when we got two, two Bren carriers. Things with tracks on you know. Oh yeah. This was the latest thing. But yeah, pathetic when you think about it. No. No. Tanks were, well of course the cavalry regiments turned over to tanks and became the Royal Tank Corps or the Armoured Corps but we didn’t see any signs of them. Oh no. Very sort of us and them in a way I suppose. Yeah. There was no sort of cooperation in any. We were in it and they were that and never the twain shall meet sort of thing. No. Looking back I mean what a different world we live in today militarily. Yeah. No. No. Funny old life. As I say it was good. I mean it suited me and you know I was happy and I had an easy war really and here I am an old man.
TO: And did you do, did the Army do any training with aircraft at all?
PO: No. No. None whatsoever. Not prewar. No way. Oh gosh no. Whether the budget wouldn’t allow it or what I don’t know. It was as I say the thinking of the War Office as it would be I suppose and the politicians didn’t sort of, I don’t know. I mean you know you’ve got to remember I was a teenager and as such you know I was malleable and obedient and did what I was told and didn’t do an awful lot of thinking I suppose. We were living day to day and you know today is the important day and tomorrow will look after itself sort of thing. Oh yeah. No.
TO: And what was the process for you joining the Army when you were sixteen?
PO: I saw an advert and I thought hey that’s great. And that was it. Yeah. That just fired me. I thought that sounds good. So, you know as simple simple as that. I remember I had a piece of paper that on it said that the Army won’t make you rich in monetary terms but in terms of friendships and whatnot you’ll be one of the richest people going. And it’s true. It’s true. The Forces, the pay is, it’s different today but in my day I mean I started out on what was it? Eight shillings a week I think it was, you know. But the friendships I’ve got I mean as I say when the turn out that I got on my hundredth birthday from the Army Air Corps really makes you realise that you know you belong to a big family. Yeah. Oh yes.
TO: And did the Army know you were under sixteen?
PO: Oh yes. I had to get permission from my parents to, to join at sixteen. I couldn’t just walk in and say to a recruiting office and say I wanted to join. I had to go home with a piece of paper to get my parent’s permission to join at sixteen as a boy soldier. Yeah. Oh yes. My, my mum I don’t think it was, in retrospect I don’t think she was very happy about it but my father eventually signed my papers for me. So you know but it, I as I say I couldn’t just walk in to a recruiting office and say, ‘I want to join.’ And they say, ‘Right. Welcome. Here’s a shilling. You’re now a member of the Armed Forces.’ Sort of thing. Oh no.
TO: And were you the youngest soldier who was there when you joined?
PO: I would say I was. Yeah. Yeah. I was. I don’t remember any other boy soldiers. I mean I just got thrown into C-Company and was, that was it. I became a runner. In other words, I became a guy who sort of was at the beck and call of the headquarters office sort of thing. Take this message here. Take that message there. Do this. Do that. That was my life originally until such time as when the war broke out of course things changed then. Suddenly as I say I was by then I was a private anyhow. I mean I went on to fourteen shillings a week then. But my life as a boy soldier was very much I mean there was no I wasn’t allowed into the licensed bar shall I say. When we were in camp for example down in Arundel just before the war there was what then knew as a dry canteen and a wet canteen. The wet canteen they sold beer and spirits and stuff. I wasn’t allowed in there. I could drink tea and cocoa or coffee but I couldn’t drink ale as it were. I couldn’t gamble whereas all the others were gambling like billy-o on housey housey and what’s known as bingo today and or poker and all these games they were playing for money. Oh no. But then I hadn’t got any money so [laughs]
TO: How did the other soldiers treat you with you being younger?
PO: Just, just the same as anybody else. Just the same. They obviously in retrospect I mean I’ve written about it but in retrospect I mean when we went to camp for example there were I don’t know how many of us in, in a bell tent. You know a pointed tent with a pole in the middle and you slept with your feet to the pole and there were panels in the making of the bell tent and you got a panel and a half or two panels if you were lucky depending how many were in the tent. But the old soldiers of course got furthest away from the, from the opening of the tent but muggins here [laughs] where was his bedspace? Right where the opening was. So anybody coming in at night or a lot would put their feet on me or if it rained I was the one who was going to get wet sort of thing. But I don’t know. They just treated me as, maybe they treated me [pause] I don’t know. I mean, they were a rough tough old lot. They weren’t, they weren’t sort of how can I put it, parental in any way shape or form or [pause] I don’t think they made any sort of difference to them. I was just another squaddie. Yeah. Yeah. I mean you know I used to get into all sorts of mischief one way and another and they’d say, ‘Oh it’s PO.’ Because my initials were PO and they’d say, ‘It’s young PO’s done that.’ And I, you know I’d get away with murder at times obviously doing daft things but the guys in the platoon just treated me as one of themselves. Oh yeah. Oh, it’s [laughs] it was a happy life as far as I was concerned.
TO: And how did the officers treat you?
PO: Cor that’s a good question. [pause] Well, the officers in the battalion I suppose would treat me just as a private soldier. No demarcation. ‘Oh, he’s young so we’ll make allowances for him.’ There was none of that. But after, when the war was on I mean our officers were mainly people who had been in the Territorial Army or came in from and were created officers for all their Army experience was zilch. And then I mean on one occasion I went to sleep on guard. I should have gone on guard and I said to the, it’s so casual they gave me the rifle because we had one rifle and five rounds of ammunition and nothing else sort of thing. And the guy who came off guard came to me, woke me upon and said, ‘Right. Your turn now.’ So I said, ‘Okay. Put it down there and I’ll get up.’ And I went to sleep and it was 6 o’clock in the morning when I woke up and said, and we were, the whole unit were moving that day and the officers discussed whether they could put me on a charge and they said they couldn’t put me on a charge because it was a Sunday. And you know I knew more about the Army than they did. That they were fielding. I suppose these so-called officers would be grammar school guys and not even university guys. Just guys who had done well at school or got the right connections and they became officers. No. I really had little to do with officers. No. Not until much later on. Then I was instructing officers then. Sandhurst guys and one thing and another. Oh yeah.
TO: And can you tell me about when you first starting working on gliders?
PO: Yeah. I went to a place called Stoke Orchard where there were Hotspur gliders. Now they carried nine guys but they were never used operationally. They were considered a waste of time I suppose and I [pause] our instructors were RAF pilots. Presumably either they’d done a tour of operations and were resting or, but I mean my instructor was a Sergeant McCain. I remember him. He was mad. And we were being towed by, off the ground by a Miles Master aircraft and I don’t know how long it was before I soloed on the gliders. But one day I just couldn’t. I just couldn’t grab it one day and I picked my parachute up because we all wore parachutes when we were flying the Hotspur and I picked my parachute up and got up, left and went and laid down on the grass and told them I wasn’t doing any more. I’d had enough. And I really blotted my copy book there but nothing was ever said. The following day I went back to McCain and we got on with the job as it were. But it that was my first experience of when you come off tow there’s no sound of course and it’s a bit like the Hotspur had got a wingspan big enough that you could use thermals and stuff like this. So it was a bit like being a bird. It was quite something. So that was my introduction and when I left GTS then went to Horsas which were far bigger and being towed off the ground by Dakotas and I mean the Hamilcar of course could only be towed off the ground by a four engine bomber. Halifaxes of 38 Group. They were our towing squadron. But you know the hardest work I suppose of flying a military glider is making certain that you’re in the right position in respect of the towing aircraft because you could get the towing aircraft if you went too high on tow you’d pull the nose of the towing aircraft down you know. And if you went too low you’d stall the, unless they chopped the connection of course. But yeah, it was, well it was just different I suppose. It was, it was just flying and, you know we were doing circuits and bumps day in and day out during the night night flying and stuff like this. Night flying was good because you got a night flying supper which amounted to bacon and eggs and that was great. I’ll tell you there’s a profit in everything if you look for it. Yeah. But yeah. Flying as I say the minute you came off tow there’s only one thing and it’s down. And I mean we never flew a Hamilcar without nine thousand pounds of ballast in it you know because the wingspan was so great that you’d just float and float and float, you know with that. But the Hotspur was as I say was very malleable. The Horsa you could do, put the big flaps down and do dive approaches and things like that but the, the Hamilcar was I mean it was bigger than the towing aircraft so you know they were, they were big. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a picture of a Hamilcar. I’m sure you must have done. But yeah. Yeah. Now, if you’ve got a tank underneath you you know you weigh quite something. I know that we were overloaded on the Rhine crossing that’s for sure. On the Rhine crossing of course like so many others we got we lost all our flying controls as we were being hit by anti-aircraft fire. That was interesting but all that we were left with was the tail trimmer and we were lucky actually because we’d just come off tow and got into sort of our optimum gliding speed and then we lost a great chunk of wing and all our flying controls got severed with the exception of the tail trimmer. So we were already at the right attitude but direction you know we had no control over which way we were going and we were going the wrong way. We weren’t going towards friendly territory. We were going into the enemy territory [laughs] big time but we could do nothing about it. But there you go. When we hit the ground eventually it was, it went to stand on its nose and I got thrown through the Perspex canopy. And I remember I got out, I picked myself up, shouted for a Bren gun which I’d, was my weapon of choice. And one of the gunners I’d got a seventeen pounder gun and truck in the glider and I remember the guy saying, ‘The sergeant’s trapped.’ And I said, ‘Never mind the sergeant being trapped throw me down my Bren gun.’ And I found myself sitting under a dyke with some angry people one side the dyke and me the other trying to eat a Mars bar. [laughs] I mean it’s crazy isn’t it? Talk about adrenaline flowing you know. I just sat there eating a Mars bar. We were getting mortared of course. Oh yeah. It was, I spent the rest of that day running away. How’s that for a big bad soldier [laughs] running away. No. Where was I? It was, it was a good life you know. I was happy in the Army. Yeah.
TO: And what else do you remember about the Rhine crossing?
PO: Well, the first thing I recall we were third in the, in the stream, in the Hamilcar stream and the glider on my port side carried a tank. And to load the tank they would back it in to and shackle it down. And I remember seeing the back end of the glider break open and the tank come out backwards with the guys, the crew a couple or three other crew sitting on the outside of the tank falling off and the tank turning over and going and crashing to the ground or into the Rhine. I don’t know where it went. It made a bloody big hole wherever it went because it was, it was at three thousand feet so you know a tank at three thousand feet wouldn’t bounce. That would really make a good hole when it hit the floor. So that was my first memory of it. Then the smoke which was being generated on the west bank to cover the invasion by, or the incursion by troops on the ground obscured an awful lot of what we were trying to look for to get ourselves, make certain we were landing in the right place and as I say then getting hit. And getting hit was that was funny because I remember looking at the port wing and thinking ‘My God that’s a bloody big hole’ because we lost a great chunk of port wing. We really did. How we kept flying God only knows but you know, we did. As I say we lost all our controls and got hit again well and truly and that was it and then as I say we had no choice in our direction. That was being dictated by where the controls were set and the whims of the wind or what have we. I don’t know. Yeah. I’m sorry but it’s so, you know in retrospect I look back and think how lucky I was but you know I can’t say at the time there was I suppose the adrenalin is flying like the clappers you know. Let’s face it. You know, you don’t think you’re going to die. No way did you think that you were going to die. You just thought, ‘Hell’s bells, that shouldn’t have happened,’ sort of thing. That was it. I’m sorry to disappoint you but you know that was how life went.
TO: And were you badly hurt when the plane landed?
PO: No. Not at all. Not at all. No. No. As I say I got flung. As the aircraft, as the glider tipped up it threw, the cockpit as you know is on the top and it flipped up on to its nose. I thought it was going to turn over and that happened more than once with others where they and the pilots just got crushed. You know, because the load would be on top of them. But it flipped up and I went through the Perspex canopy onto the ground as I say. Then I must have shaken myself and shouted for a Bren gun and then went and scurried very quickly on to the shelter of this dyke and got my Mars bar out [laughs] I’d have given pounds for a drink of water at that stage I can tell you. Oh dear. But oh. I don’t know that I can tell you any more about how I felt you know. I mean I don’t know about your bomber guys but I mean they they thundered on for hours and hours and hours the, on an operation. The real exciting bit if you can call it exciting is when you get there and that lasts what two minutes maybe you know sort of thing maximum you know off tow and you’re going down you know. Oh yeah.
TO: When you were in the cockpit —
PO: Yeah.
TO: When you were coming in to land were you wearing a helmet?
PO: Do you know I don’t know if I’d got a steel helmet on or not. I know I very very quickly put my red beret on. That, that [laughs] sounds daft doesn’t it? But yeah. Yeah. I must have done. I must have done. If I hadn’t had, if I hadn’t had a steel helmet on I’d have really hurt my head. Yeah. So I must have done. Yeah. I’m fairly certain I did thinking about it. But as I say I quickly discarded it and put my red beret on and there I was a big bad airborne soldier so be careful because you’re dealing with the crème de la crème of the British Army so to speak. Yeah.
TO: Did German soldiers attack your glider?
PO: Oh yeah. They mortared it. They obviously they could see the tail of the aircraft sticking up like a signpost so they knew and they’d see it come down. I mean without a doubt they’d know. I mean it’s big enough to see it isn’t it if it’s a little thing and we were getting mortared straightaway. I mean the earth was jumping up and down all around the place like nobody’s business. Of course, we left. We moved from there and joined up with some Irish guys and some of the Ox and Bucks thing and we decided they weren’t the best people to go with. Beauman and I the other pilot in the glider. It was a question of somebody an officer say sergeant so and so sergeant so and so is dead sir. Sergeant so and so. Corporal so and so. Corporal so and so is dead sir. We thought we don’t want to be with this lot. This sounds a bit iffy. So we left them and ran ran away somewhere else and joined up with some others and then eventually we sort of fought our way back to where we should be as it were which was quite some distance actually. We were quite a way from the Hamilcar. Yeah. But oh no. I mean the, I remember the Americans coming in as we were I’ll call it retreating [laughs] and a glider landed twenty or thirty feet from where we were and not a soul got out. The Schmeissers just ripped the glider apart and not not one person got out. So that would be what? Twenty two guys just dead before they’d even had a chance to get out of the glider. I mean it was. It was quite hairy in the initial stages. Then we obviously had total control of the area and that was it. Yeah. Just hid in German foxholes and stuff like that.
TO: Had the Germans installed anti glider obstacles?
PO: I can’t say I saw any. I can’t say. Well, you see we we landed in the wrong place. We landed where we shouldn’t have been so to speak. We, our, the aircraft I was in lost total directional control so we went probably I don’t know probably way past where we should have been as I say. We were out on a limb you know. So, so no, I can’t say I saw any, any anti-aircraft landing posts and stuff like that that they seeded the grounds within some areas because obviously I mean the first German I took prisoner he demanded to know where we’d been. He said to me in good English, ‘Where have you been?’ and I said, ‘What do you mean where have we been?’ He said, ‘They tell us English flying troops come and we hide in the woods and wait for you. You not come. Where have you been?’ [laughs] Yeah. So we weren’t unexpected. But no but that’s it as I said. Very sort of ordinary experience I suppose.
TO: And the I think you said there was a seventeen pounder gun in the Hamilcar.
PO: Yeah.
TO: Did they manage to get it out?
PO: God knows. I never [laughs] I don’t even know what happened to the gun crew. I really don’t. Presumably they’d get their sergeant out who was trapped. How he was trapped I haven’t a clue, you know. It’s, I don’t recall seeing any of the gun detachment that was there. You know, getting out. I mean how many of them would get injured God only knows. You know. Whether the quad truck that was the towing vehicle whether that set forward I mean it would have been chained down but you know when you hit the ground at a fair old rate of knots and you know, the shackles and stuff would probably get pulled out of the strong points anyhow. So, but I mean I never saw any signs of the, as I recall of the gunners or I mean certainly the seventeen pounder no that never as far as I know never came out. Never came out.
TO: And how long was it before you met up with other allied soldiers?
PO: I suppose it would be maybe twenty minutes. Something like that. I mean we were skulking along and trying to keep out of the way of these angry people. I mean two guys [laughs] Two guys and a Bren gun and a rifle I wasn’t going to take on the Wehrmacht.
TO: So was it only mortars landing it at you or soldiers shooting at you as well?
PO: Yes. It was my memory is of mortars. Yeah. Being mortared. Yeah. Yeah. And certainly there was certainly plenty of that. Yeah. And as I say it wasn’t until we got with some other troops that we as I say the guys in the American glider they just got, I mean we were sort of trying to keep out of the way and these guys with their Schmeissers and MG 42s boy they really ripped into these Americans. I mean they were landing all over the place. But the one that really did I remember vividly is this thing came skidding to a halt. Made a beautiful landing he made but nobody got out. Nobody got out. They all got killed before they got out. Yeah.
TO: How far away from you was that glider when it came in to land?
PO: Twenty feet. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That’s all. I mean we were shouting. We shouted at them daft as it sounds, ‘Get out. Get out.’ But it was too late. The Germans were there just the other side of where these Americans were landing. Again obviously in the wrong place really and yeah they just got killed. Yeah. Oh yeah. And my I suppose my other memory is the first night I went to find some tea. Find something to drink and I found a field hospital sort of. Not a posh place by any means. It was just a house that had been taken over as a field hospital and I was outside and a surgeon came out. He was covered in, in blood and one thing and another and there were all these dead guys lying lined up outside and he said to me, ‘Have you ever seen [pause] have you ever seen a man’s brains, sergeant?’ And I said, ‘No.’ And he said, and he lifted the helmet of one soldier and his whole of his cranium was in the helmet and in the bowl of his head was his brains. Yeah. I mean it could have been it looked just like meat to me because I didn’t know the guy or anything you know. But it was there must have been thirty or forty bodies all laid out by this field hospital sort of thing. But yeah, funny old [pause] God. Yeah.
TO: And as a sergeant what were your responsibilities once you were on the ground?
PO: We were supposed, supposed to get to Hamminkeln where the headquarters was. That was our, I mean you know sort of the basically of course we were quite valuable in the time and money that had spent on training us as Special Forces in a way. That’s gilding the lily a bit but you know sort of thing. I mean at D-Day for example. Guys who landed on D-Day they were back in the UK within twelve hours. Glider pilots, you know. Arnhem of course was a very different ball game. They didn’t come back until well the battle was over basically. The guys from Arnhem because we were planned to go to the Far East you know. Oh yeah. So that’s it. I’m sorry. It’s so mundane really. There’s no great heroics or anything like that in it whatsoever. I was just doing a job that I was trained for and you know it was my memories are good. The only thing is all the guys I knew have all fallen off the log. I think I’m one of the last ones. I don’t know of any others at the moment I must admit. There must be the odd one somewhere or other.
TO: What was your unit’s objective for the Rhine crossing?
PO: Basically to get this seventeen pounder gun and whatnot in the, to the right place so they could take part in the battle order or whatever. And we failed miserably because we wrecked it. Yeah. Nothing more that. Nothing more than that. To get it there safely. I mean the hard work really was the tow, you know. It was a long tow and you know if you’re fighting the aircraft all the way. The glider all the way it just doesn’t, it just didn’t sail along on its own. You know, you’re working all the time to keep the thing in the right position and you know talking to the tug crew as it were. Yeah. I mean it’s like your bomber boys. I mean the minute they take off Lancasters haven’t got automatic pilots and stuff like that. They’re working all the time and their objective is to get to the target and get back. As for the bombing and all the rest of the navigation and whatnot that’s not their responsibility. The pilot’s job is to the get the aircraft there safely and get it back safely if they can. And that was, that was it. Yeah. No, there’s some very brave men and I can’t say I’m one of them [laughs] I just knew some very brave men. Believe you me.
TO: Do you remember anything about the briefing for the Rhine crossing?
PO: About the —?
TO: Briefing before you left.
PO: Yes. We were promised total aircover which didn’t appear. We had some air cover because I remember talking to the guys down below. They couldn’t see anything and I remember telling them what I could see. And I could see aircraft either getting shot up or parachuting down and I sort of gave them a bit of a running commentary of what was going on as it were. But other than that the flight was pretty uneventful you know sort of thing. You could see an awful lot of the ground. We were at three thousand feet. Just over three thousand feet and of course at three thousand feet you see an awful lot of the ground so I could tell them, you know, ‘We’re just wide of Calais at the moment.’ Because of course Calais was still in German hands so we sort of went around Calais and whatnot and then like I say I could see four Thunderbolt aircraft on our port side or whatever and sort of its whether whether they listened or not I don’t know.
TO: And did you talk much with the co-pilot?
PO: Oh, well I suppose we must have. Bert and I must have sort of talked to one another but I don’t recall it to be honest with you. I really don’t. We were just flying you know.
TO: And what did you say to the tug crew on the radio?
PO: Well, the thing I do remember is we thanked them for the tow. That was, that was about the size of it sort of. When we got to the other end I mean we probably had a couple of words with them during the tow you know sort of thing because there was a sort of a telephone wire inside the tow rope which was a damned big rope I can tell you [pause] But yeah. No, that’s about it I’m afraid.
TO: Looking back how do you feel about the airborne operation on the Rhine?
PO: Well, it was the biggest operation there was without doubt. I mean I’m glad I was there. As I say it was part of my education [laughs] as it were. No. I was just proud to be a member of a regiment that covered itself in a reasonable amount of glory and my real feeling I suppose is that I felt privileged to have known so many brave men and I really did do you know. And I mean as I say the friendships that resulted from being in I mean I know I knew more people after the war who were in the regiment than the Royal Artillery Regiment I was in or the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, you know. And now as I say the Army Air Corps have, you know taken over the modern Army Air Corps and they’re very shall I say friendly towards me sort of thing. Yeah. Oh yes.
TO: And when did you hear about Operation Market Garden?
PO: I was with the American 9th Troop Carrier Command at the time and my boss was one of the original parachutists that went to Bruneval and he was a sergeant at the time of Bruneval and his name was Luton. And I remember Luton saying to me he was, he was very upset about the losses at Arnhem. He knew there was a battle going on. We knew there was a battle going on but he was very upset because of course he was, they were mainly paras at Arnhem and you know he was sort of, as I say quite upset at the thought of all his mates fighting there and A he wasn’t there or B he was you know sort of feeling sorry for them losing their lives. I don’t know. But that’s my memory of Arnhem. As I say the minute Arnhem was over I found myself very quickly back into a fighting unit as opposed to living high off the hog in the, with the American Air Force. Oh yeah.
TO: And were you worried that the Rhine crossing would end like Arnhem?
PO: No. No. Oh no. No. No. We couldn’t lose. That was the attitude. We couldn’t lose. I don’t know if that’s the time that we were told two of us out of three would probably die but you look at the other two guys either side of you and think oh I’m sorry for you. But no. I don’t recall it. No. I think the briefing probably took an hour. Maybe a bit more than an hour and of course we talked to the tug crews you know and that sort of thing but [pause] funny old life.
TO: And do you think the Rhine crossing could have gone any better or do you think it was that was just how it would have gone regardless?
PO: I, the first thing that happens to any battle plan is it‘s going to go wrong. Now I can’t say that it went really wrong. It went wrong as far as I personally was concerned because of what happened but I think in the main it was to a large degree I think an awful lot of the Germans knew the writing was on the wall. I think, you know they could see that the amount of, of forces against them were totally overwhelming and where we’d got everything I think they’d got very very little. I think it was, yeah. I think you’d put it down as a success. I don’t think the losses were anything as great as they thought they were going to be. I mean I don’t honestly know what the percentage of losses was but yeah I think it was, you know a success. Especially after, after Arnhem. I mean that really was carnage that. Yeah. The battle for the bridge was well it was hopeless wasn’t it?
TO: And what did you think of the airborne generals like Gale or Urquhart?
PO: I actually saw Urquhart at one of the big, as I saw Eisenhower at one of the big demonstrations or practice jumps and stuff like that when I was with the 9th Air Force and they came across as being very very competent guys. I mean Windy Gale and, you know [pause] I think that this sounds silly in a way but I think we had the best officers that you could possibly have. They were. They were really all, they weren’t that gung-ho that they’d walk into the Valley of Death willingly. But they’d make bloody certain that if they had to walk into the Valley of Death you got the impression that they were going to take an awful lot of people with them. Yeah. I mean Gale yeah. Yes. Our leadership was good. Our leadership was. I think we had the crème de la crème of officers without a shadow of a doubt. Very very strict but very human and skilled in what they were doing. They really were. I mean a lot of them of course never went to Sandhurst or anything like that. They were wartime people but boy they were the right guys in the right place. Yeah. I mean when you think when I joined the glider pilot regiment in my intake there were a hundred and thirty of us got through the selection. I mean we lost a hell of a lot in the selection in London on academic or physical capabilities you know and then as I say a hundred successful candidates from that. From the aircrew medical and all the rest of it thirty of us finished up and out of the thirty of us I think probably eighteen, twenty of us actually went flying you know. They couldn’t hack the basic training. You know I mean all that you’d got to do if you didn’t, if you couldn’t do it you could just say, ‘I’m leaving.’ And they’d give you a railway warrant back to your parent regiment. There was you know if you can’t do it we don’t want you. And they made it very very obvious. I mean you’d just got to be very very determined to stay in the regiment and and meet their qualification requirements as it were. So yeah. I mean it was, it was a regiment full of course of people from all regiments in the British Army. I mean I’ve made great friends with a guy who had been a schoolteacher but he was Armoured Corps driver operator and when we were doing exams he’d sit next to me and I’d help him with, with my answers and he’d help me with his answers. So we got through that way sort of thing. But it’s I mean some guys as I say got flying and just couldn’t fly. I mean it sounds silly but they just hadn’t got the aptitude. Others managed to kill themselves. You know, it’s [pause] No, it was a super super regiment. A super regiment. Of course, it got disbanded after the war. No, no requirement. Yeah. So that’s it. I’m sorry but you know it‘s probably not what you wanted but that’s what you’ve got.
TO: This is amazing. Thank you for telling me.
PO: Pardon?
TO: This is amazing. Thank you for telling me.
PO: Oh, I don’t know about that. It’s just that it was just how life was I’m afraid. Yeah. Yeah.
TO: And what did you think of General Montgomery?
PO: Never had anything to do with him. Again, I think when he went to the 8th Army after Auchinleck and those failed miserably in the desert that he was again the right man at the right time. He was, he’d got sufficient common sense that he could despite what he might feel internally he appealed as one of them to the troops under his command and sort of said, ‘Right. This is it. This is what we’re going to do.’ And do it. And I mean good God with the desert Army. I mean they’d been battered by losing Tobruk and even, I mean good God Rommel even got into Egypt and along comes this guy with his old peculiar ways and attitudes and one thing and another but as far as the troops were concerned this guy knows what he’s doing and we’re going to you know we can do this and we’re all together you know. He’s with us and we’re with him. So his PR was extremely good. But I mean I never met the man or he never impinged as far as I know on my, my military life as it were. Oh no. No.
TO: And did you have any popular songs in the Army?
PO: Oh gosh. Yeah. Before the war we used to march and sing songs. One was about a boxing match. “Have you heard of the big strong man who lives in a caravan?” I mean crazy words but not, not popular songs. Not not popular. Very, very much sort of Army songs and of course an awful lot before the war. Of course an awful lot of the soldiers were, had been up on the North-West Frontier you know. In Afghanistan and places like this so they were all hardened. Quite a lot of the real hardened tough thick soul guys you know. What is said in the book was absolute and you didn’t query anything and they were just tough guys. I mean when I think about it at sixteen I got thrown in with guys old enough to be my father and life just, that was I just accepted it you know. Talk about being thrown in at the deep end but I mean I look at some of the young people today at sixteen and good God it would kill him. Whereas with me it just that was my life. Oh yeah.
TO: Did you have any favourite wartime entertainers?
PO: Wartime?
TO: Entertainers.
PO: I only ever once saw an ENSA concert. My biggest regret is that I was at the time at Exeter and Glenn Miller came and I didn’t go. I wish to God I’d gone because he was at, he came to Exeter with the US Air Force Band. Yeah. But other than that I saw one ENSA. No, I did see an American entertainment once. Yeah. So I saw one ENSA concert and one American one but my biggest regret is I should have gone, why I don’t know but Glenn Miller. Yeah. But there you go. What’s past is past. You can’t alter the past.
TO: So what happened after you’d met up with Allied troops at the Rhine? Did you start advancing with them?
PO: No. We got we were, the glider pilots got taken out of the line. We went back to a transit camp and two days or three days later we were flown back from [unclear] to in actual fact we went back to Brize Norton. We landed at Brize Norton and then from there we dissipated to our various squadrons. So, oh no. We didn’t. We didn’t do an awful lot of fighting believe you me. As I say I did more running away than fighting.
TO: Did you ever actually use the Bren gun in combat?
PO: Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. A bit. Yeah, it was. I mean on one occasion we were with a group of about eight or nine troops. What regiment they were I haven’t got a clue but they were there were two young officers with them. I remember that and we were there in this wood and lo and behold about forty Germans went across and these guys stood up, put their binoculars up to their, and said, one said to the other, ‘Jeremy, there are some Jerries over here.’ And I thought you don’t need [laughs] I’m on the floor I can tell you keeping my head down. I could see them. Didn’t need to stand up with binoculars to look at these Germans but we we let them go. You know it was over. We knew it was over. You know. No point in killing them. We’d done our fighting. As I say we were on our way back to the transit camp to be flown home. Yeah. So as I say I had a very easy war. I really did.
TO: Was the Bren gun a good weapon?
PO: Yes. I was happy with it for all it [pause] I mean when we were running away around my waist I had got a lanyard and the barrel catch would occasionally catch on to this and the guts of the Bren gun would fall out and I’d have to stop. Now, I was in a, there were about I don’t know about fifteen or twenty of us sort of sneaking away and I’d stop and put the Bren gun together again very quickly. But every time I stopped somebody would pass me and I think I nearly finished up at the tail end of this little, little group who were running away. Yeah. Talk about, but it was, it was a good weapon. It was a good weapon. Very slow rate of fire when you consider that like the Germans I mean their weapons, automatic weapons were, were like sewing machines you know. Zzzz zzzz zzzzz where as ours went bang bang bang sort of thing. Yeah. Oh yes. Very. I mean, I forget what the rate of fire of a Bren is at the moment. Something like a hundred and twenty a minute or something. But yeah, it‘s, it was a good, a good weapon. It lasted throughout well. Lasted well throughout the war and beyond. Yeah. Yeah.
TO: And can you tell me about the training you did in gliders? Like when you were practicing landings.
PO: Well, yeah. I mean the skill in flying basically is landing. Taking off is pretty straightforward and easy really as long as you obeyed the rules. Landing is, is always the problem but you know the more you do I mean we would do maybe with a Hamilcar for example we would do if we were flying we’d probably fly for ten minutes on a circuit and then land and roll to a stop. The tug wagon would come out and pull us back to the start and we would, and we just did circuits and landings. I mean the clever bit is landing it in one piece and well that was it, that was it you know. I mean landing a Tiger Moth is far harder. I found far harder because you basically do a three point landing you know. You’re virtually at a stall whereas with the glider you flew in at whatever the airspeed was and plonked it on the floor and it was a very, very forgiving aircraft really. I mean okay you could have some hard landings but in the main you know you just fly them straight on to the floor.
TO: When you were heading towards the landing site —
PO: Yeah.
TO: Did you have to be on the look out for things like tall trees or power lines?
PO: On transit no because we were flying above any possible obstructions. Our landing sites were usually I mean operationally our landing sites were fairly open land. I don’t honestly recall being warned of any. The only obstructions I think we were ever talk about was sort of hedges or barbed wire fences type of thing. Other than that pylons and stuff where we were I don’t think anything like that existed to be honest with you. No. No. Oh no. If there were I don’t recall it I must admit. I can’t even recall seeing a pylon. Okay. You’d get the telephone wires and poles like that but you know they were on, on the road as it were as opposed to being in the fields. Yeah. I mean there were some big fields in Germany believe you me.
TO: And was it a field you landed in in Germany then?
PO: Well, it was we actually landed in a very small field I can tell you [laughs] yeah. It was without doubt we were running out of space big time but once it dug into the ground you know as I say we had no control so once we hit the ground the ground was very soft and we pulled up a bit smartly and as I say then it stood on its nose. Yeah. Yeah. But [pause] yeah.
TO: And before the Hamilcar crash landed in Germany did you, were you telling the, everybody on board to brace for impact or —
PO: No. I didn’t. I doubt, once we were hit I think we were a bit too busy to talk to anybody down below. I mean we were already in in free flight when we were hit so we were you know looking for where we ought to be and then we were hit and it was just a question of fighting the aircraft. I mean when you think the tail trimmer was only about that size on a Hamilcar. That’s the only control we’d got and that only altered attitude. Directional. We were just sitting tight and you know our buttocks were very tight together [laughs] and hold on. We’re going to hit the ground boys. What they thought down below I haven’t got a clue. In fact, I don’t honestly know whether the actual fuselage where the load was I don’t even know if that was ever hit with ack ack fire or small arms fire or anything. I really don’t. I just know that we lost this great big chunk of port wing and then all our controls. We got hit in the fuselage and all our controls went out the window. And that was it.
TO: And do you know which, what kind of guns were shooting at you?
PO: Just about everything. I mean when we got on the ground there was an immediate resupply by a Liberator aircraft and they came over at about two hundred and fifty feet. That was all. With their bomb doors wide open dropping all the resupply kit and near us there was, must have been an anti-aircraft battery. They were good. They shot down about four of these Liberators just like that. Bang bang bang you know. Lots of noise and whatnot but whether they were eighty eights or forty mil or thirty mil Oerlikons or what I haven’t got a clue. But lots, there was lots of ack ack fire believe you me. Oh yes. I mean, you know what a lovely target. A great big glider flying along slowly. I mean if you can’t hit that you shouldn’t be in the shooting game. Oh dear.
TO: And did the, you, did you or any of your men manage to pick up any of those resupplies?
PO: I didn’t personally. No. No. In fact, I lost quite a bit of kit. I mean I came out of that with my Bren gun and one magazine. That was all I’d got. A Bren gun and a magazine and that was all I came away from that aircraft and as I say as for the gunners I don’t know what they did. I mean whether they, whether they got mortared and you know were sort of damaged or what I don’t know. I really don’t know. I should have. Not that I say I should. I know an armoured regiment spoke to me about this tank falling out of the glider but as for the seventeen pounder guys I don’t know what happened to those gunners. I really don’t know. Yeah.
TO: So did you only have one clip of ammunition when you took the gun away.
PO: Yeah, I just I just had one. One magazine in the Bren gun and believe you me if the rabbit had have popped it’s head up near me it would have got the lot I can tell you [laughs] yeah.
TO: So did you use the ammunition at all or did you not?
PO: I used some of it. Not all of it because you know targets don’t stand still sort of thing. You know what I mean. I mean it’s so easy. You see some of these things on television these days where they’re letting off their AK47s and they seem to rattle it out and its cost is no no consequence to them. They’re not bothered. No. There was no resupply as far as I was concerned at the time. Oh no. I mean we went to clear a wood and as I say it’s [pause] I don’t know.
TO: So did you join up with a group of other soldiers and eventually met up with other allied soldiers?
PO: Yes. Eventually yeah. We, yeah we, we met. Now, again I don’t know if they were Irish Fusiliers or whether they were Ox and Bucks. I know that we were, we were told or asked to go and clear a path to a wood across these open fields and all the way across. Beauman and I joined these guys and I I think they must have been Irish guys because all the way across these other guys were saying, you know, the effing Ox and Bucks. We’ve got two effing glider pilots here but none of the effing Ox and Bucks want to come with us so to speak. But we hared across these fields and got to the wood as luckily there was nothing in the wood which was just as well. But all, and I just remember going across a barbed wire fence and dashing across this field in the open and I thought this is a bit dicey but, you know. Oh yeah. All part of life’s gay pattern.
TO: Did you feel relieved though when you met up with the allies who’d crossed the Rhine?
PO: I must have done. Must have done. Yeah. The first troops I think I met that I can recall were a Canadian armoured regiment and they, they were quite happy. And then we met some troops that had come over the Rhine and they couldn’t believe that we’d left the UK only the day before and that we’d be back in the UK within a week because they’d been there since D-Day. Yeah. I mean some guys had a really rough war. They really did. I mean you know gosh just as well I didn’t stay in an infantry regiment.
TO: Do you happen to hear, be familiar with the name Koppenhof Farm at all?
PO: No.
TO: Okay. Just asking because there was a soldier I interviewed ten years ago who had been in the Royal Ulster Rifles. He landed in the Rhine crossing.
PO: Yeah.
TO: In a place called Koppenhof Farm and because he well it must have been relatively close to Hamminkeln.
PO: Yeah.
TO: Because he said his commanding officer died when his glider, when their glider crashed near there but I just wondered if maybe you had been in a similar area but —
PO: Well, I might have been. I mean I know we crossed the railway line a couple of times to get where we wanted. Well we got back to Hamminkeln. That’s where we, I finished up. In Hamminkeln.
TO: Yeah.
PO: But of course on the railway station there there was two wrecked gliders. They’d landed right on the blooming railway line. Right on Hamminkeln itself.
TO: That was one of the gliders though that this man was talking about because he said his commanding officer was a chap called Major Vickery who was in one of the gliders that crashed into the railway station and he was killed.
PO: Ah well there you go. Yeah. Yeah. I mean I remember seeing that glider. Yeah. Equally I saw a Horsa fly in to a tree and just break up like a box of matches being thrown everywhere. Yeah. Yeah. Exciting times at the time. Yeah.
TO: And did you happen to see any German civilians when you were there?
PO: Oh yes. Yeah. Actually, I met children rather than adults because one lad he was part of the Todt [?] Labour Association and he said that the Germans had lined them all up and more or less said, ‘What are you?’ And if you said German Jew they shot them. Terrible as it sounds this is what he said to me. But I remember we, I’d got some soap. Don’t ask where it came from. I really don’t know. I must have looted it out of somebody else’s stuff and I gave him this soap. Well, you’d think I’d given him a bar of gold. I mean he put it to his nose and of course the smell of Lux soap as it were. Yeah. I don’t know what happened to that kid. He stayed with us for quite a few hours and then disappeared. Whether he was being street wise or what I don’t know. No. I didn’t of course there was a non-fraternisation ban on so you weren’t supposed to talk to any German civilians but where we were there was only the odd farmhouse and stuff like that you know outside of Hamminkeln itself there was nothing. I mean I went to Goch to look at Goch. By jingo that was, that had been fought over a couple of times. That was a total wreck that town. But no. Yeah. So then we got on. I’m sorry, that’s, that’s me such as it is.
TO: Did you get to talk with any other German prisoners?
PO: No. No. I, I was sent to guard some prisoners. There must have been I don’t know a couple of hundred of them and all I’d got at the time was a fighting knife. That’s all I’d got. My fighting knife. And they were all standing there and sitting there and one thing and another and one of our officers came up or an officer came up. I don’t know if he was one of our officers and spoke to one of the German officers and this German officer spit at him. And I thought he’s going to kill him. I really did. But believe you me there I was with all these prisoners so called all very happy I think to be prisoners but just as well because if they’d have raised up and started to make any trouble I’d have, I’d have been off like a rocket I can tell you on my own with all these guys. Yeah. No. Yeah. That’s it. All little sort of vignettes of memory coming up here one way or the other.
TO: And what happened when you got back to Britain? What were your responsibilities then?
PO: Well, the first thing was when we got to Brize Norton the Customs and Excise people wanted to know what, what we’d brought back with us and of course we’d got nothing basically. We were just us. And then I went back to to Tarrant Rushton which was down near Bournemouth. It was, that’s where my squadron was based so I went back there in the hut. Got in the hut and I think there were only two of us left out of the hut who came back. So we lost, out of, out of the hut we must have lost I don’t know about ten guys I suppose. Yeah. Because we then sorted out all their kit. I remember sorting out their kit. Yeah. I had enough handkerchiefs to see me through the rest of my service career I think out of these guys kits. I wasn’t, wasn’t sending those home to their wives and daughters. Handkerchiefs. They were like gold. Yeah.
TO: And did your co-pilot come back with you?
PO: Yeah. Oh yes. Bert and I came. Yeah. Yeah. Oh yes. Yeah. And, and also Bert wasn’t in my, wasn’t in my hut funnily enough. Who was with me? Was it Geoff Higgins? There were two of us in our hut. That was all out of the ones that left only a week before sort of thing. Yeah. Yeah.
TO: And do you remember the day the war ended?
PO: Oh, very much so. I was at Fairford the actual day the war ended when, because we were converting then onto Wacos to go to the Far East. Being lectured about Bushido and all the rest of it. What a load of rubbish. How to behave if we were taken prisoner by the Japanese. Good God. The Japanese would have just killed us the way it seemed they were inclined to treat their prisoners. But yeah, that was it. We all cheered. We really did and then of course we started getting parties you know. The Australians would be going home so we’d have a party in the mess for them and then the Canadians were going home. You know. And these were RAF people not glider pilots. RAF people out of 38 Group towing. Halifax pilots and stuff like that, you know. Tow pilots. Yeah. Yes. Happy days that was. Yeah.
TO: Do you remember what you did to celebrate?
PO: Yes. Now, let me think. VE Day. VE Day what I’ve just been saying was VJ Day thinking about it. VE Day I was on leave. I was in London with my, my future wife. Yeah. We had a great day. That was a great day dancing like idiots around Trafalgar Square and one thing and another. That was really a super day that. But the whole world was you know celebrating. The fact that there was still fighting going on in the Far East didn’t mean anything. It was, you know the European war had finished. Great. We were going to have a great time and it was [pause] It was. Yeah. Yeah. Oh God. Yeah. Yeah. Then I got married and was married for seventy two years. That’s a long time.
TO: And what are your thoughts on how warfare has changed in the time since?
PO: Oh, it has totalled. I mean the first war if you like was in Northern Ireland and that was terrible. You know. You didn’t know who, who your enemy was. I mean, I was still in the Forces but I wasn’t involved in any way, shape or form in Northern Ireland. I’d have hated to go to Northern Ireland from what I’ve been told by Royal Marines as much as anything. But I mean the war in Afghanistan that was a waste of time and money in so many ways. If the Russians couldn’t do them I mean the Russians had a go at Afghanistan and failed miserably and the Americans and ourselves what have we achieved? Nothing. It’s as far as I’m concerned I might be very uneducated in that sort of respect but I I think that the shape of warfare is so different. I mean I got a letter from a lieutenant general the other day saying that his daughter was currently in the Royal Artillery but she was just flying drones. Now, I mean you know drones. Good God in my day something like a drone would have been [pause] just imagine a drone being over the battlefield in the Second World War. But here now of course young people are sitting in a hut in Lincolnshire flying drones out over the Far East. Warfare has changed just so much. In many ways its frightening. As long as we, these little wars I mean the war that’s taking place at the moment in, you know with Russia and with, what’s the [pause] come on what’s the name of the country? I’ve lost it.
TO: Ukraine.
PO: Ukraine. I mean we’re supplying them with weapons and what are we doing? I wouldn’t mind betting it’s just a proving ground for our latest technologies to see how well it works you know. As long as we keep away from the atomic business. That’s the frightener. That really is the frightener. I mean I remember after the war when I was at a conference and they said the Russians are only two hours flying time away and we were on about going nuclear after, after forty eight hours. We would have gone nuclear and stuff like this. That was frightening at the time. I mean since then, I’m now talking of 1950s and now, now things have got even worse. No. As long as Putin doesn’t go over the top because that could be, really could be terrible. Terrible. What do you think about it?
TO: I just think it’s probably the most as it were filmed, media televised war we’ve seen. It’s almost every action is being filmed on either a phone, a drone or a camera somewhere. It’s probably the first war where you’re almost watching it in real time if you like.
PO: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. True. Very true. Yeah. I hadn’t thought of it quite like that. Yes. It’s so immediate isn’t it today? Yeah.
TO: Have you watched any of the things like the footage that’s been almost live from the front line?
PO: Oh yeah. I, I’ve seen what everybody else sees on on the box you know. Some of these war reporters I mean good God. Talk about putting themselves in to danger but of course it’s such a big country isn’t it? It’s huge. I mean it’s the size of France and Germany I understand. Well, France is a damned big country on its own let alone tack Germany on to it. And here you’ve got to so I don’t know. I mean I can’t see the Russians winning that war. The West won’t let them win it. But the ramifications of it affect everybody. I mean like these grain convoys and stuff like this and taking out power supplies for the civilians and terrible you know. It’s diplomacy failed totally. You know. We can’t talk to you so we’ll fight you. No good.
TO: I’m afraid I’m out of battery on my camera at the moment. Would you mind if we stop there?
PO: Yeah. [unclear] yeah.
TO: Thank you very much for speaking to us. It’s been wonderful.
PO: No, well, I as I say when I think when you, when you screen through that you’ll be very disappointed that my war was a totally different war to almost everybody else’s I think. It doesn’t, there was no great heroics in it. It was just the way it was. Yeah. Well great. Well, that’s very kind of you to be so generous with your comment and I wish you well with your project.
TO: Thank you. Thank you.

Citation

Tom Ozel, “Interview with Peter Offord Davies. Part One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 21, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/40602.

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