Interview with Jim Auton


Interview with Jim Auton


Jim Auton grew up on Royal Air Force stations and joined the Royal Air Force at seventeen. He trained as a pilot navigator and bomber at RAF Ansty near Coventry, then in South Africa under the Empire Air Training Scheme. He trained on B-24s at Lidder and after travelling up through Africa was stationed at Foggia in Italy, where he started his operations. He describes the tough conditions there, as well as the operations in which he participated, such as targeting an oil refinery in Fiume, now known as Rijeka in Croatia and Ploiesti in Romania. He took part in mining operations in the Danube as well as secret operations to drop supplies in Warsaw to support the uprising. Whilst on his thirty-seventh operation, he was injured and describes his time in hospital, the journey home and his ground jobs in the Royal Air Force after the war. He also relates why he turned down a Distinguished Flying Medal, and recounts his post-war career as a businessman.




Temporal Coverage




02:13:37 audio recording


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CB: Well Jim, perhaps we could start with your date and place of birth please?
JA: Yes I was born at Henlow, my father was an officer in the RAF and he happened to be stationed at Henlow when I happened to be born.
CB: And what date was that?
JA: That was the 13th of April, 1924
CB: And what do you remember about your childhood?
JA: I remember when he was transferred to Cranwell, I started infant school at Cranwell and we had to walk across the aerodrome to school, and there were about twenty of us and we were told to walk in groups together and if you see an aeroplane coming in, stand still [emphasis] so he can avoid you and we used to see aeroplanes coming in to land on the grass field, they were bi-planes of course and we’d wave to the pilot and if he waved back to us that made our day because pilots were our heroes and we all wanted to be like daddy and join the RAF when we were old enough and next to the school playground there was an aircraft dump, old fuselages, they’d taken the engines out and the instruments but we’d climb into the cockpits and stand there and go ‘dud dud du du’, we were shooting down Germans when we were five years old, we knew the Germans were the enemy, I don’t think our government knew at the time.
CB: So you have happy memories of your childhood in Cranwell?
JA: Yes, and then of course we, he was stationed at Manston and we could go in the workshop and see the fitters working on the planes, they never told us to shove off, and we liked the smell of dope on the aircraft on the canvas and, but when they took an aircraft to the butts to synchronise the guns, they’d jack up the tails to get the plane horizontal and we’d stand around with our fingers in their ears while they were shooting into the pile of sand in the butts, and then when an aircraft broke down we used to rush out across the aerodrome to help the man, help the men push it and for kids it was marvellous, we loved aeroplanes.
CB: So do you think that’s what started your desire to join the air force later on?
JA: Well you see I was brought up on RAF stations, RAF camps and I didn’t know any other life, we were isolated from the outside community, we had free medical treatment, free dental treatment, we were in married quarters most of the time where even the crockery was provided, all the linen and everything, so our whole life was in the air force until we were adults, so naturally we all wanted to be pilots when we grew up, and when the war was announced I thought ‘oh good they’ll need more pilots now’ [slight laugh]
CB: So off you went to volunteer.
JA: Well when I was seventeen I couldn’t wait, I went to join up, and I registered as a pilot but I found later they put me down pilot navigator or rather pilot observer as it was in those days so they could change me any time they wanted, and I started flying training as a pilot and then when they introduced the four engine bombers they didn’t need two pilots, so they would have a pilot and a bomb airman who had done some flying training and he in an emergency would be able to take over from the first pilot so the bomber was a second pilot, but and [slight pause] I started flying in England but the German intruders flying over us, over England were shooting us down in our training planes, so the Government opened the Empire Air Training scheme.
CB: Where did you do your initial training?
JA: At Ansty near Coventry and then after much delay because flying schools were all full and there was a waiting time, I was sent to South Africa as a navigator and I trained there as a navigator, but I wasn’t very keen on being a navigator so I also trained as an air bomber, because I knew air bombers would be allowed to pilot the plane, in an emergency, and even during training the staff pilots would allow me to take out over and fly the Oxfords and Ansons because that’s all I wanted to do really and so I trained as a navigator and a bomb airman.
CB: What about your journey down to South Africa?
JA: That was marvellous, hundreds and hundreds of them on a small Liberty ship. We were told you mustn’t be below decks during daylight, so we had to stay on the top deck in all weathers and there wasn’t room for everybody to sit down, so if somebody stood up you immediately sat in that place and some of the troops perched on the ship’s rails until they broadcast anybody falling over will drown because the ship will not stop to pick anybody up, so we couldn’t sit on the rails so we had to stand up sometimes for ten, nine or ten hours, during the day, we were fed twice a day, seven in the morning and seven in the evening and the food was like an airways meal on a tray and it wasn’t enough to keep us alive and I asked the crew, it was an American Liberty ship and the crew were Filipinos and Negroes and I asked them ‘do you have this terrible food that we have?’ and they said ‘no we’ve got plenty of food’, they said ‘if you come and work in the kitchen for us, we’ll let you have our food’, so I spent couple of weeks washing up dirty dishes until the heat got too bad and I went back on the troop deck again, but during my time in the kitchen I was allowed to sneak some food out for my friends [slight laugh] who didn’t work in the kitchen, that was all unofficial of course.
CB: Was it better food in the kitchen or just more of it?
JA: More of it and better.
CB: So they were keeping you on starving rations basically?
JA: Yes, yes, eventually the doctor said I was suffering from severe physical debility but that was much later, we were on this ship for six weeks and they warned us we were in shark infested waters and the ship wouldn’t stop for anybody falling over board, but it was quite an interesting voyage except the sun was dreadful in the tropics and there was no shade, and the officer in charge of troops thought that we were cadet officers because we wore a white flash in our caps but we weren’t and when we got to Sierra Leone Freetown somebody must have told him we were not potential officers and he said ‘right, you’ll have to do all the duties’, fire picket, fatigues, peeling potatoes and all sort of things like that and guard duty for the rest of the voyage, another three weeks and my name beginning with an A, I was one of the first to be chosen for guard duty and it was a stinking hot day and we were anchored off Freetown to re-fuel and I found a hatchway and a collapsible chair and I sat in that hatchway and dozed off because I’d had no sleep, we couldn’t sleep on the deck as it was too hot and the smell of the engine oil, and I dozed off and suddenly I was awoken when the ship’s officer came round on his inspection with the ships warrant officer and they bellowed at me ‘what are you on? sleeping duty?’ and I said ‘yes, sir’ because I didn’t like to say no to anybody in authority and they said ‘you’re under arrest in five minutes’, ‘oh dear’ I thought ‘I’ll be all on my own in prison’, the brig, the ship’s prison was below the water line, it was nice and cool and I wasn’t on my own, there were eleven other air crew cadets in there with me and the police who looked after us took us round for dinner wearing their caps and then they said ‘you keep your mouths shut and we’ll go round again’ and they took their caps off and we had a second dinner, so being in the brig wasn’t so bad, except we were locked in and we were below the water line and there were submarines about, so we thought if, if a submarine hit we’ll certainly drown like rats in a trap but it didn’t happen of course.
CB: It must have been quite a relief to get to South Africa after all that?
JA: We anchored off in Table Bay about quarter of a mile from land and the dock workers had a big lump of rusty steel plate and they wrote on it in chalk: ‘plenty of food, plenty of women, plenty of booze’ [laughs] and the next day we docked in the harbour and we were told you will be discharged tomorrow, and there was nearly a riot because we’d been cooped up for six weeks and eventually they said ‘Ok, you can go into town but you must be back at midnight so we all went into town, it was paradise, things we hadn’t seen for years like pineapples and peaches and plenty of food and so we goaded a kind of a restaurant run by volunteers for service men and some old ladies served dinner, so we had a three course dinner and when we finished they said ‘would you like anything else’, and we said ‘could we have it again please?’, so we had another three course dinner, then we had half a dozen bananas on the way back to the ship [laughs] and we brought a coconut, it was paradise, but at flying school wasn’t so funny, the day we arrived we were told that five aircraft had crashed and twenty five air crew had been killed, that’s five pilots and two navigators in each plane and two bomber men in each plane, five men in each plane and the reason was the staff pilots had been low flying round a hospital where somebody’s wife was working and all five crashed (these would be Ansons?) they were Ansons and they, we were told report those pilots for low flying in future but we didn’t do that because we liked low flying because stooging about high up isn’t much fun, but low flying is exciting [clears throat].
So after training in South Africa [coughs] for nearly a year we went up by stages through central Africa, Rhodesia, Kenya, Tanganyika, Uganda, the Sudan to Egypt where we found we were going to live in the Heliopolis Palace Hotel, marvellous [emphasis] but when we entered we found there were no beds, no furniture of any description and we had to sleep on the marble floors and our kit had been left behind in South Africa so we only had the clothes we were standing up in, so I wrapped my shoes in a towel to use as a pillow and lay my uniform down on the marble floor and slept on that, I found that I had to sleep on my back otherwise my hip stuck into the marble and it hurt [slight laugh] and then, I was then sent to Palestine where there was a war, the Jews and the Arabs were fighting each other and both sides were fighting the British Palestine police and while I was there they blew up the radio station and they blew up hotels, and people were fighting in the streets and I thought ‘I haven’t got into the war yet but I’m going to get shot by our own police’, and they had said to us, because we each had a revolver, ‘hand in the revolvers in the armoury, so I went down to the armoury which was in the cellar of the hotel and I handed my revolver in, and I saw the men there were mounting twin machine guns on a platform to be carried on a lorry, so it was a war, but then we were then transferred to Lidder, after going back to Egypt and wasting some more time sleeping in the western dessert on the sand, we had to empty our shoes thoroughly because there was scorpions in the dessert and the sand was almost too hot to walk on and the authorities had laid a tarmac path but it never hardens and it was like sticky toffee so we couldn’t walk on that [slight laugh]
CB: And this was part of your flying training or were they just moving you from place to place?
JA: Moving us around, and then we went to Lidder for a conversion course, onto Liberators, about a five week course.
CB: Were you expecting Liberators?
JA: No, when we saw that we were going to fly Liberators, we thought ‘they are American planes, why haven’t we got Lancasters?’, ‘cause we knew about Lancasters we thought they were marvellous, Liberators were unknown and didn’t even know that the RAF had Liberators and we thought they’re gonna send us to Japan because the Americans had Liberators so we were a little bit frightened of that, because we thought we should be helping defend Britain, we thought the war in Japan is an American affair and we shouldn’t be anything to do with that, but after we’d been shuttled around in Egypt to Palestine for a bit we went to Algiers by air, nine hours, and we thought we were on our way to Italy, when we got off the plane we saw a French flag and we said ‘what’s this place?’ and a French airman said ‘it’s Algeria’ or at least he said ‘it’s Maison Blanche’, we said ‘where’s that?’ he said ‘it’s Algeria, it’s North Africa’ and we said we’re supposed to be in Italy but there was nobody to ask, we could ask any questions and he said ‘you can go to a hotel here and sleep in huts in the grounds’, and then you should go to Algiers’s downtown about twenty miles and report to the RTO, transport officer, we went to see him the next day and he said ‘oh bomber crews, you’ll be here for ages, you’re low priority’, he said ‘only fighter pilots are priority one’ and our navigator said to me ‘we are priority one, I’ve read the documents’ but I said ‘shut up, it’s nice here’ so I said to him ‘the French people don’t seem very friendly’ and one of the gunners said ‘no wonder, we’ve just sunk the French fleet in Iran, so [slight laugh] after three weeks we said to the corporal in the RTO’s office, ‘I think you ought to have another look at our documents’ and he stood and talked on the telephone for a few minutes, kept us waiting because we were so insignificant, a low priority, then he looked at the documents and nearly had a fit, he said ‘you’re priority one, you should have left the same day’ he said, ‘you’ll be on a plane this afternoon’, so we fly to Italy in a freight plane with a load of boxes and an aircraft wheel that wasn’t properly strapped down, it kept shuffling around and nearly run us over, we were sitting on the floor and when we got to Italy, no customs, no immigration, nothing at all, nobody to tell us where to go or what to do, so we, first thing a service man does when he goes somewhere new is look for a tea and a bun [laughing] or what’s called a ‘shy and a wad’ and there was a little sort of canteen with Italian girls serving and they were laughing and joking, I expected Italians to be hostile like the French but they were so friendly, I thought we’re gonna like it in Italy and they kept saying ‘capiche, capiche’, and I said ‘no, no cabbage thank you, just tea and a bun’ and they said they were saying ‘do you understand?, capiche’ but we didn’t know that, but we thought they seemed nice [laughs] hope there are going to be some women where we’re going.
CB: Is this around about Naples was it?
JA: It was in Naples, and then we were transferred to Portici to a, to a holding centre, and there were people there who’d done a tour of operations and they were going on a rest period, and they were so dejected, haggard and ill looking, and they wouldn’t talk to anybody and we thought it must be terrible on a squadron, that it was demoralising to see them, anyway we stayed there a few weeks and then we were sent to Foggia by train, and you understood that Foggia is a big aircraft base, there were thousands and thousands of Americans there, with Liberators and Flying Fortresses, B24s and B17s, and we had liberators but other squadrons, some of them had clapped out wellingtons obsolete or obsolesce wellingtons so the liberators were a bit better except they weren’t new machines, they were machines that had been damaged and done a tour in the American Air Force and were now in a sort of scrap yard called a maintenance unit, and the pilots would go and ferry them to our squadron and if we were lucky we’d get the one in reasonable condition but most of them had got terrible faults, some of them had even got twisted airframes, and engine troubles common, and our fitters worked in the open air, there were no hangars, and sometimes they worked through the night in all weathers, and we were reliant on them to keep us alive.
CB: Now your crew, there was the seven of you as in a Lancaster but in this Liberator is that right?
JA: Yes, when I talk about how when I won the war I always say ‘I didn’t do it alone, there was seven of us’, and three of them were Scotsmen, one was from the Shetlands, and it took me a few, few days to learn to understand them on the intercom, because the intercom system is not very clear, it’s like a poor telephone system, and their Scottish accents were very guttural and I knew my life depends on these fellas, so I had to learn [slight laugh] to understand them and the skipper was very pleased when I joined the crew because up till then he was the youngest member, he was twenty-one and I was twenty and of course as I trained as a navigator and as an pupil pilot I was a useful member of the crew, and I’d done a gunnery course so I could do anything if anybody was killed or injured, I could take over from them, I couldn’t land a Liberator of course but I could keep it in the air long enough for the others to jump out and I said, I think I was bombing I think it was Budapest and the flak was so thick I thought we couldn’t get through it without being hit, and I looked over the side and it was like black velvet, the sky was so dark and I thought I’d jump out if I dared but I had no faith in my parachute and as I said to a Polish pilot I knew, he had parachuted safely and I said ‘ I think I’d jump out if I dared, but I’d be scared’ and he said ‘you wouldn’t hesitate if your arse was on fire’ and he was speaking from personal experience.
CB; So, you were with this very close-knit group, you were a good team, a good cohesive team?
JA: Yes, yes, you see when we arrived on the squadron nobody would talk to us because they couldn’t be bothered with new boys and when we became senior crew, we couldn’t be bothered to talk to new crews because on average they were only doing seven trips before they got shot down, and it was bad enough if our friends got shot down, but we didn’t care much about strangers being shot down so we didn’t really want to make any friends, because it would be traumatic when they died.
CB: And what were the conditions like at Foggia?
JA: The conditions were absolutely terrible, we were in a field, there were no gates, no fence, we were in a field with one solitary brick building, and that was the orderly room, the medical offices office and something the commanding officer used, he lived in a caravan, we lived in little four man tents, bivouac tents, you couldn’t stand up in them and we had no beds, we had to make our own beds out of bits of packing cases, and I had the side of a packing case with a strut across the middle, in the middle of my back, most uncomfortable, covered in cardboard, the mid-upper gunner, had a sheet of corrugated iron, I said ‘that’s why, that’s why he walks so funny’ [laugh]
CB: But you’d have the heat, you’d have the rain, it must have been terrible.
JA: It was, we’d have the side of the tents rolled up and the end flaps were open because the heat was so intense and we’d get a couple of hours sleep at night, but we couldn’t sleep more than a couple of hours so we’d get up and walk around, and when the sun came up it was unbearable and there was no shade anywhere, there was a place that we called the dining room and it was a roof on six poles with no sides and we sat on forms at trestle tables, and the cook, had an outside kitchen arrangement made out of oil drums, and the first thing I noticed was his black arms and white hands, he was twenty-one, he never wanted to be a cook, we called him Gladys because he was a nice boy.
CB: And was the food any better?
JA: The food was terrible, you see sometimes the food didn’t arrive, the food was brought to us by a lorry from somewhere distant each day, only enough for one day and after everybody had had a bit of it on the way there wasn’t much left for us, and there was hardly enough to keep us alive and sometimes the food didn’t arrive at all and we’d have nothing to eat for twenty-four hours and one day we said to Gladys our cook ‘ God for Christ’s sake Gladys, find something, there must be something left over’ and he scratched around and he found an onion, a raw onion each and a mug of tea, and that’s what we had and we had to do a nine hour flight, on an empty stomach and of course I smoked twenty cigarettes on every trip because it took away the hunger pangs, and then the medical officer discovered that the cook was using some sort of cans of meat and vegetable stew that had blown, and most of us got severe enteritis and people couldn’t control their bowels and there were no toilet facilities in the air, so people were doing it in their trousers, and sitting there on it for the rest of the trip, and some of the crews were yellow with jaundice, we didn’t know if it’s contagious or what caused it but we were living in what they called a malarias area, there were boards around the perimeter of the field we lived in, saying ‘caution, malarias area, malarias area, area’ and everyday a bowser arrived, a tanker of water but we couldn’t drink the water, it tasted of chlorine it was terribly strong, so we could only use it for washing ourselves and trying to wash clothes but we had no washing powder, we’d save little scraps of soap and put a shirt in a tub and leave it for three weeks to soak [slight laugh] and then rub it, and then rinse it and lie it in the sun, and in the hot sun it was dry in about an hour and we had nothing to eat except a mug of tea twice a day, and when we came back from operations we went to the debriefing tent, and there was a billy can full of lukewarm tea there and half a dozen mugs, they were never washed they were just recycled, we dipped them in the lukewarm tea, but if we were gone for more than five hours on a trip, we were given five boiled sweets which we promptly ate on the ground before we took off, and we were given a gallon of tea between seven of us, in a thermos jug, but that got cold, we’d saved it for the return trip and Jock the wireless operator used to bring the tea round for us cold, cold as ice, and about once a month we got what we called a tuppenny bar of chocolate but it was tropical chocolate and it never melted and in the air, I would put a piece of chocolate in my mouth and chew it and it became like gravel and then it became like dust and then I swallowed it but it never did melt, and one day some, some things arrived at the cook house, we thought they were bails of straw but they were dehydrated cabbage and that’s the worst thing you can have when you’re flying because our stomachs swelled up and we had to loosen our belts and our flying clothes because our stomachs were expanded enormously and we farted furiously throughout the trip.
CB: Did you have proper flying clothes in all this?
JA: We had flying clothing, we just recycled, the only ordinary clothing we had were ones left behind by casualties and of course lots of it was very old and our kit bags were still somewhere in Egypt or South Africa, following on about three months later and when I was in South Africa, I brought thirty oranges for a shilling, no for three pence, you couldn’t buy less because they were in a net, thirty for a ticky it was called, a threepnee bit [sic], and my kit bag wasn’t quite full so I put thirty oranges in there thinking the kit bag would come with me but it followed on three months later and the oranges were well ripe by that time [laughs] they were putrid, and we were allowed to wear civilian clothes in South Africa, provided we wore our service cap, we could buy bush shirts and nice clothing in the gents’ outfitters, so if we took our caps off we looked like civilians, and that was good quality stuff and when that eventually arrived in Italy we were very pleased because we’d been dressed like scarecrows up until then with all sorts, I had a brown battle dress, it wasn’t khaki it was brown, a sort of teddy bear material, I don’t know what air force or army that was from, maybe Greek or something, and it was a bit big for me so I could wear two battle dress blouses, two pairs of trousers, two shirts, two vests and three pullovers, because sometimes it was twenty below in the air and then I’d wear my flying suit, going to the toilet to urinate was a bit difficult because I had so many clothes on, I couldn’t stretch my penis long enough in the cold air to have a pee in the pee tube, which was on the side of the fuselage with a tube leading out of the aircraft but usually they were blocked up with cigarette ends [laughs]. The Americans had had ashtrays in their Liberators, they smoked in the air, smoked cigars in fact but the RAF took the ash trays out so of course we smoked in the air, nobody knew and I would smoke twenty cigarettes during a trip and now and again I’d feel like another cigarette but I’d already got one alight and then I’d think, ‘what did I do with the last cigarette end, did I stamp on it? did I drop it?’ and I’d switch a torch on which had a bit of brown paper over the glass, inside the glass because that was regulation and try and find the cigarette end on the floor somewhere and, once we took a fitter with us to another airfield and he nearly had a fit when he saw me light a cigarette because you are not allowed to smoke within so many yards of an aircraft but it was alright, it was, smoking was less of a hazard than the flak, we were carrying a ten thousand pounds of bombs and thousands of gallons of fuel, petrol and oil and pyrotechnics, photo flashes, incendiary bombs so –
CB: A cigarette was the least of your problems –
JA: A cigarette was minor.
CB: What did you make of the Liberator as a plane?
JA: Well when I flew it, because I could fly it when the automatic pilot backed and the skipper said to me ‘you can take over if you like’, it was like, it was like steering the Queen Mary, if you wanted to change course you had a wheel instead of a joystick and you’d turn the wheel and wait and nothing happens for a few seconds and then suddenly it moves, and if you don’t turn the wheel back quick enough its gone too far, so it’s too sluggish and, of course my instrument flying, I only took over at night, my instrument flying wasn’t good enough, most of my instrument flying was in the link trainer under the hood, and instrument flying was tedious and I could only stand about half an hour at a time, then I was glad when the skipper came back and took over, we were all sergeants, we liked that, because it was awkward sometimes when there was officers in the crew, in one crew the tail gunner was an officer well that seemed silly because a sergeant in that crew was a skipper and he was in charge in the air but he had to salute the tail gunner on the ground, well he should have done if they hadn’t abandoned saluting, but there was so many American officers because all of their bomb aimers or bombardiers were commissioned and the navigators and the pilots, so they always, when they talked to me they always addressed me as lieutenant because they thought I must be an officer being a bomb aimer, bombardier, and I would say ‘no we’re not one, we’re sergeants’, but you see we didn’t wear rank badges because we hadn’t got any, when we qualified at flying school, they didn’t give us any sergeant strips and when we got to the squadron nobody was wearing any rank and the commanding officer said ‘you should wear rank badges’, we said ‘we haven’t got any’ he said ‘chalk them on’, chalk them on, well that seemed so silly we didn’t bother, we said ‘we can get some from the Americans’ he said ‘you’re not allowed to wear those’, so we didn’t wear anything.
CB: Did you get on well with the Americans?
JA: Yes, oh yeah they were lovely fellows, we went to a, about twenty miles away to Foggia, was a ruined town, it had been bombed by the Germans, the Italians, the British and the Americans so there wasn’t much left of it, but there was a bath house where they had shower baths, and when we had a day off we’d hitch a ride on a lorry, lorries were conveying chalk from the quarries and we’d hitch a ride on the back of a lorry carrying limestone, and then we’d get very dusty on there, the drivers were all American Negroes and they’d say ‘where you going, down town Foggia?’ and we’d say ‘yes’, ‘get aboard’, so we’d climb up on the limestone and go to the bathhouse which was a small with half a dozen cubicles which were meant for one or two people but there were always four or six people pushing in trying to get wet, under the water, and we’d be sitting there waiting to go in with our towels and our soap, all naked, and soon as someone came out we’d push our way in and try and get some water, and after the war I was invited by the Hungarian government to go, go to a meeting in Budapest, they’d invited all available flyers of every air force that was active over Hungary during the war, well Hungary was allied with Germany and I’d bombed Hungary but the Hungarian air force was very kind to us, they took us flying, you know in their aeroplanes and there were five Americans standing there, there were only two of us they could find from England, but I said to one of the Americans ‘do you remember the shower baths in Foggia?’ he said ‘yeah I must have seen you there’ but he said ‘I didn’t recognise you there with your clothes on’[laughing].
CB: So let’s turn to your missions, your operations, what were you involved in while you were there on your long range bomber?
JA: Well we could put most eighty aircraft in the air, RAF, Liberators and Wellingtons but the Americans could put up six hundred, or nearly a thousand, they flew during the day, we flew to the same time at night and of course we had the same opposition say for sixty planes as they had when they flew six hundred so our casualties were much higher than Americans but I liked the Americans, we got on well with them, they had a camp in a field not far from us and we went to visit them once, to compare their facilities with ours and they had tents with wooden floors and wooden walls and they had stoves, we had nothing like that, we didn’t have running water, they did, they had electric light, we didn’t, they had decent food, we didn’t, they had flak jackets to protect them when they were flying, we didn’t, they had an ice cream plant for making ice cream and when the weather was very hot, they used to take the ice cream up to about fifteen thousand feet to freeze it and they had a cinema on their site, we didn’t, so we felt really rather ashamed of our conditions compared with theirs ‘cause they didn’t know how bad ours were –
CB: I’m surprised there wasn’t mutiny but I suppose –
JA: Well we had some desertions, we didn’t, we felt mutinous but we didn’t actually mutiny, and our attitude was we want to get this bloody war over and beat the Germans, and get home, but after forty operations we should have six months instructing or some other job and then come back and do another forty so not many people getting through the first forty and by the time we’d done twenty we knew we wouldn’t survive, we were the most senior crew on the squadron, we lost the flight commander and all the senior people off the squadron and when people much more experienced than us were failing to come back, we thought ‘we haven’t got much chance’, and so we reconciled ourselves to the fact that we will die but everybody’s got to die sooner or later and we thought ‘we are gonna die now instead of when we are ninety-nine’ so that cheered us up the fact that everybody has got to go sooner or later anyway but what did worry us, is the thought that we’d be severely wounded and blinded and badly burned, that sort of thing and having to live with that from the age of twenty for the rest of our lives, we didn’t like that, we had been stationed in Torquey as raw recruits, and there was a hospital there for burned air crews, air crews that had had their faces burned off and they were disgusting to look at, and horrifying, and we didn’t want that to happen to us, it was very demoralising and it was happening to other men, it never happened to us, you know, we couldn’t understand how we keep getting away with it, the plane was hit, engines were knocked out, we were landing on one wheel and two engines and all sorts of things like that, but none of us were hit yet and we went on to, the skipper had done one air experience trip, before we started operating, so he was one ahead of us he’d flown with another crew for experience, we didn’t like that ‘cause we thought ‘if he gets bumped off we’ll have a strange pilot’, and anyway we went on, watching other people dropping like flies until our, until my, my thirty-seventh trip, and I was bombing German troops in Serbia, they were evacuating from Greece and the Greek islands, back through Yugoslavia, back to the home land, to defend Germany, and we were stopping them, and no matter how much we bombed them they never really took to it and they hit me, filled me full of shrapnel.
CB: Before we get to that Jim, your first operation I believe were against oil plants in Bucharest, is that right?
JA: The first one was an oil refinery in Fiume, that was an Italian port which is now Rijeka which Fiume and Rijeka mean river, and it’s now Yugoslav, Croatia now, and I know that oil refinery well, and I know a woman who used to go to school across the bay when I was bombing that oil refinery and I thought what a terrible thing it was she lived nearby and when I went past on the bus sometimes after the war and I thought I could’ve killed her and I would’ve hated to kill her she was such a nice person and, after the war I knew a lot of Germans, the German airmen, pilots, ‘cause I speak fluent German and they always thought I was German, they used to say ‘but your father’s German?’, and ‘no, no he’s English’, well your mother is German ‘no no’, ‘well where did you learn English?’, I was the head of the German department of import export firm for years and I had to learn German at school anyway, and I had a private tutors for languages after the war and, I even spoke Italian during the war, fifteen years after the war I opened an office in Milan, and I put a man there who was a Venetian, rather posh Italian, superior you know, and I said ‘hey Franco, have you changed the language?’ and he said ‘why?’ I said ‘well during the war we used to speak differently’ and he said ‘no we haven’t changed anything’ well he said ‘after Mussolini, we didn’t call people voy we said lay’ and I said ‘no it’s not that’ I said, I only speak these days when I’m on my monthly trip to Italy, to supervise the office, I only speak to bus conductors and waiters and people like that but they speak differently to the way I spoke, so I started talking to him in Italian and he said ‘for God’s sake don’t talk to the directors of Fiat, what you speak is Neapolitan dialect’, well I didn’t know that and I thought well if it was good enough for the girls in Sorrento, it’ll have to be good enough for the rest of the Italians, he said ‘you speak like those little black fellas down in the south’, ‘cause you know there was snobbishness between the north and the south but I liked the southern Italians, they were all nice jolly people you know, I’ve even got some distant relatives that are Italian, my, my grandmother’s sister married an Italian during the first war when the Italians were on our side, and they settled in England and had a multitude of children and I knew them all.
CB: So the operations, some of which were in Ploiesti in Romania, and they had a fearful reputation.
JA: It was the most heavily defended target in the world.
CB: You were bombing these oil plants, especially the one at Ploiesti at night obviously?
JA: Yes, yes it had tremendous defences you know, because it was the oil that was vital, what really finished the war was lack of petrol, they got, they’d run out of fuel for the tanks and the aircraft so all the war we should have only really been concentrating on oil refineries, oil fields.
CB: So the operation in October to do gardening or mine laying as it was properly known, mine laying in the Danube of which you reported was the most frightening episode that you’d ever been.
JA: Well the first time that we dropped mines in the Danube, we’d been told they are secret and you must make sure you drop them in the main stream, the Germans must not get the secret of the mines, they lie dormant for three weeks and they don’t go off until the second ship passes over them, so they are virtually un-sweep able, the Germans used to fly over them with special aircraft with a big magnetic ring on it to try and explode them, they’d gun barges adrift to go over them and nothing, they couldn’t sweep them and, within a few months we’d stopped a hundred percent shipping on the Danube, which was conveying oil from Ploiesti back to the German forces, so it was a very important thing and the fighter defences were enormous, we’d seen planes shot down every few minutes and that was a bit frightening, I used to think ‘I hope there’s not somebody I know in it’, because a plane would fly along beside us for seconds, it seemed like ages, on fire, and slowly descend in a curve and explode on the ground, and we were told, ‘don’t be distracted by crashes’ but you can’t stop looking at them, wondering ‘whose that?’ and thinking ‘why don’t they get out, don’t see any parachutes’, what we didn’t know was that the Germans had upward firing guns, and they’d creep underneath the plane in the dark and fire into the belly of the plane and nobody would see them, so the gunners didn’t open fire and wondered ‘why didn’t the gunners open fire on that?’, nobody told us about it, this was the secret.
CB: No, they were doing this to Liberators? They were certainly doing it to Lancasters weren’t they, they were doing this to Liberators as well?
JA: Yeah and you see we had no ball turret underneath, the RAF took out that bull turret, we hadn’t got a gunner for it anyway and then we had a gun turret in the nose but they took all the guts out of that, to decrease the weight, so we had no guns in the front turret, we had no gun underneath that could’ve seen these upward firing guns and we didn’t carry a lot of ammunition, mining the Danube we would use all our ammunition, immediately I’d drop the bombs, I would rush back to the beam position where I’d got two machine guns, one on either side, there was no gunner for those so in the event of an attack I would use those or when we were mining the Danube, I’d drop the mines, rush back there and use those guns to strafe the shipping on the water or any insulations on the banks, the banks were two hundred feet high, and the Germans used to stretch cables from bank to bank so we had to fly below two hundred feet so we normally went to a hundred feet in the dark above the water, and then we thought we’d be safe, except there was flak barges with barrow balloons and we couldn’t see the cables from those because the barrage ruins were too high up above us and you can’t see a cable in the dark, we were going too fast anyway and, I remember one time there was a man on a barge firing at me with an automatic rifle and I gave him a quick skirt, squirt from the machine gun as I went by, I would’ve like to have met him after the war if you lived to discuss that, you know I didn’t mean it really you know, I’d say ‘I’ve got nothing against you personally’.
CB: But if you’re going to fire at me, I’m firing at you, what was your bomb load on something like this?
JA: Ten thousand pounds, you see we couldn’t carry a big bomb like the Lancaster because we’d got the cat walk going down the centre of the plane, so the bombs had to be hung in rows one above the other on either side of the cat walk, so the biggest bomb we could carry was a thousand pounds, so we carried ten of those, ten thousand pounds, which is plenty anyway and we’d carry pyrotechnics, lots of incendiaries as well.
CB: And what was your job if there was a hang up, and the bomb hadn’t been released?
JA: I had to go along the cat walk, in the dark, with no parachute, and no oxygen, and holding onto the railings in the roof and skidding about on the ten inch wide cat walk, with the, the slipstream would take away my weight so I had a job to keep on my feet and when I got to the bomb which was usually the one right to the back, I would stand on the cat walk with one leg and kick it and it would never fall off, so I had to swing then holding onto the hydraulic pipes, which were not meant to be swung from they are only about an inch diameter, I’d hold them with two hands, my wrists would go like jelly, you know, I’d swing and kick with both feet and when the bomb eventually fell off it was like my stomach went off with it, ‘cause there was always lights twinkling on the ground and thousands of feet below, and one slip and I’m off to the ground you know, seconds to live, that was terrifying. The only other terrifying thing was throwing grenades when I went on an infantry tactics course during training and, swinging propellers, on tiger moths, on a wet windy and muddy day, I thought I’ll swing in to the propeller and get my head cut off, but when I was in South Africa a chap did walk into a propeller, a navigator, and it threw his head over the hangar, so propellers were a danger, you couldn’t see them rotating, they were invisible.
CB: So now you were also involved in what was known as the Warsaw uprising or the support of that, that’s right isn’t it Jim?
JA: Yes but to go back to the mining of the Danube, the first time we mined the Danube, I said to the skipper ‘we’re too low, we’re much too low’ and he said ‘we’re at a hundred feet’ and I thought ‘we’re bloody not’, I could tell by the droplets of water we’re not at a hundred feet, when we got back to base the compass was, the radio compass was checked and we’d been at thirty feet in the dark, if we’d touched the water we’d have been gone, so that, it was terrifying yet there was no, there was no pay off, if you dropped the bombs you’d see the explosions and things, you’ve done something but you dropped mines that are not going to go off for three weeks or more then there’s no, the stress is there, there’s no release from the stress except machine gunning like mad, and then of course on the way back you would get attacked by fighters so then I was stay by the beam guns or as the Americans call them the waist guns, and that was quite exciting really firing those, but the reflector sides illuminated, were too bright, they were meant to be used during the day and I couldn’t see through them at night so I switched them off and I fired watching where the trace goes ‘cause every fifth bullet it was a tracer, so I fired a gun like squirting a hose, and they’d burn out about I don’t know whether it was six hundred yards but up to that time I could see where they were going, firing like watering the garden it was, with a hose pipe [laughing] anyway you were asking me about?
CB: Supporting the Warsaw uprising, dropping the supplies?
JA: Yeah, I’d bombed a place in Hungary, we were pretty tired, it was the second of two nights we’d been in the air, and we eventually got back in the tent to go to bed and within three hours a runner, a runner arrived from the orderly room and he said ‘you’ve got to report for briefing’, we’ve only been in the tent for three hours and we were told you’re going on a secret operation, fly down to Brindisi, we didn’t know what it was all about, and in Brindisi we went into a hut and there was a big map on the end wall and it showed a tape going from Brindisi to Warsaw, we thought well it’s nothing to do with us, the Poles are on our side we’re not going to bomb Warsaw, but then we were briefed and told we’re not going to bomb, we’re going to drop supplies of explosives and ammunition and guns for the underground resistance fighters who were fighting in the city against the Germans and, they were expecting the Russians to arrive any minute so on the 1st of August they’d started to fight, and they were doing well for a few days, and the Russians stopped their advance so the Poles were on their own so they appealed for help, apparently Winston Churchill was in Italy checking the arrangements for the south of France invasion which was imminent and he said, ‘we must help the Poles, we went to join the war on their account, we can’t stand idly by’, our air officer commander told us this later and, so he said we should go with the special duty squadrons, there was an Polish squadron and an RAF squadron dropping supplies but they’d lost so many men so they couldn’t continue so three liberator bomber squadrons were called in to do the supply dropping, they said ‘you must, you must drop from below six hundred feet and the poles said ‘two hundred, otherwise the parachute containers will drift away’ and they said ‘we’ve been there, it’s safer at a hundred feet because then the Germans can’t bring the guns to there because at a hundred feet you’ve come and gone quickly’, but they said ‘there’s one building still standing and that’s sixty meters high, so don’t fly into that in the middle of the night’, when we got to Warsaw, the whole city was on fire, gun fire and everything was burning and we’d been told a particular street and squares where we were to drop the supplies but nothing was recognisable so I remembered them saying, Zoliborz, a district of Warsaw is still in the hands of the insurgents, well that was a few days ago and I thought there doesn’t seem to be any fires, or no fighting going on as far as I could see, we fly around for fifty minutes and planes were getting shot down all around us and I’d eventually counting the bridges, I knew where Zoliborz was, I dropped the supplies there and I said to the wireless operator, ‘we must be bloody mad you know flying around fifty minutes’ and he said ‘well we’re not going all that way to drop them in the wrong bloody place’, I thought we’re all crazy, the psychiatrist reported that we were crazy, in their official reports, which I read after the war, ‘they must be crazy and they all think it won’t happen to them’, it’s insulting, we knew it was going to happen to us sooner or later, why shouldn’t it happen to us, it did happen to me in the end, fortunately it wasn’t quite fatal [laughing] .
CB: Glad to hear it, so that was your philosophy really to imagine that you had been killed already basically?
JA: Well we knew that we would die eventually anyway, so it’s like people ask you ‘when did you have your holidays?’, when you’ve had it, doesn’t matter if it was June or September, its gone, so doesn’t matter when you die really, if you’ve got to die anyway what’s the date matter, we had to tell ourselves that sort of thing, but we had superstitions, we had lots of superstitions, my friend Deakey (?) the navigator, he had a lucky shirt and he couldn’t fly without his lucky shirt and if it was dirty he had to wash and dry it quickly ready for flying that night, we only fly once without his lucky shirt and we got lost, and that was on the way back from Warsaw, we went twice to Warsaw and each night we lost thirty percent and by the third night we’d lost ninety percent, ninety, the air force pretended it was seventeen percent but everybody knows it was ninety percent and there are plenty of documents saying it was ninety percent and our air officer commanding Sir John Slessor wrote a book in which he [said] the time of the Warsaw uprising was the worst time of his career and he mentioned it was ninety percent but after the war, Stalin had to be appeased so we didn’t want to tell, didn’t want to emphasize anything we did that he didn’t agree with, ‘cause Stalin was anti-Poles and he’d stopped his army to allow the Germans to polish off Warsaw, and Hitler said eradicate Warsaw, it was to be razed to the ground and he gave an order ‘all inhabitants to be killed’ and the new German commander who wrote a book after the war, he said ‘you don’t mean women and children?’ and he was told ‘yes’ [emphasis], the whole population is to be killed, that’s what was going on when we were flying over there, and we were told ‘if you get shot down near the Russian lines, they will shoot you, especially if you are dressed in blue’, well of course we were dressed in blue we were in the Air Force, so it was a bit late to tell us that now and, while we were flying to Warsaw we were being shot at by the Russians and the Germans because they didn’t agree with us helping the Poles, the Poles got a medal, the Germans got a special badge, the Russians got a medal, I’ve got one of them as a souvenir, and we got nothing, we got no recognition.
CB: Andy your pilot comes over as very calm.
JA: Yes, he was very determined, he was very stubborn and of course he was the skipper, he was in charge but I always felt that I was in charge you see and when we were lost on the way back from Warsaw, Deakey the navigator called me up and said ‘Jimmy can I have a word with you’, well I thought there’s something wrong and I just asked him a little while ago, ‘do you want a pinpoint?’ ‘cause I would navigate by map reading all the way there and back you see, but I hadn’t bothered because he, I said ‘do you want a pinpoint?’ and he said ‘no, no I’m alright’ now he says ‘can I have a word with you?’, so I scrambled up the front to the nose compartment and the tears were dripping off his chin and he said ‘I don’t know what country we’re over’, I said ‘give me the typographical maps, I’m shit hot at map reading, I could tell you in a few seconds where you are’ and I said ‘we’ve got no maps for this place whatever it is’, when we should be over the sea, we’re over land and when we should be over land we were over the sea of course we were over the Greek islands, they’re all messy you know, the little bits and we’ve got no map for that place and I didn’t know until after the way why we hadn’t got a map, the reason was he’d got diarrhoea and he’d used the map because there wasn’t any toilet in plane, and he wrapped it up and chucked it out down the flare shoot, that’s where the map was the Germans had got it, bit messy, and the plane had been on fire, the wireless operator had the wireless set in pieces and he was in his element putting it together, you know mending it, he was busy and I, went up the front to have a chat to the skipper with Andy, and I said to the flight engineer, he pushed past me to look at the fuel gauges, they were like a gauge on an oil tank, like a domestic oil tank, visual gauge with a bubble in tubes, I said ‘how we’re doing?’ he said ‘empty’, I said ‘we can’t be empty we’re still flying’ he said ‘yeah but I don’t know how long for’, we’re flying over aerodromes with German planes with black crosses on, they’re freight planes but we daren’t try and land there otherwise the you know the ground defences open up on us, so I said to Andy ‘we’re heading to the mountains’ and I said to him ‘land on this road’ I said ‘these strong, straight roads’ I said ‘we’re just flying over one now, look you can land here, that’s what I would do if I were you’ and he said ‘I think we’ll press on’, I thought ‘you’re mad, press on, [emphasis] we’re flying into the mountains and we’re out of fuel, and in any minute all the engines are going to cut out’, anyway he was right and we did press on and we got eventually over the sea and the radio operator had got the wireless together again and he always used to stand up and point when he was listening on the radio and he started waving his arms about and pointing and he said its Brindisi and we were facing the runway, we running up to Brindisi and we went straight in, if there had been anybody in the way we couldn’t have done round the circuit because when we got to the end of the runway the, all engines cut out, out of fuel, so we told the duty pilot where we were and that we were out of fuel, so they put some fuel in and flew back to Amendola near Foggia, of course we’d been gone so long we couldn’t still be in the air, our trip was eleven hours and forty minutes plus over an hour going to Brindisi over an hour coming back so we were so tired, I’d already dropped off to sleep for the last half an hour and when the plane landed I was still asleep and the ground crew got in and stirred me with a foot to wake me up, I was just dead tired, I’d been in the air longer than I’d been on the ground for about three days and no sleep at all you know (tired, hungry?) yeah but we were always hungry.
CB: And then you’d have to have the debriefing?
JA: Yes, that didn’t take long because we were always a bit impatient at debriefing, we’d answer questions, we didn’t volunteer any information and always something had gone wrong with the plane, like the guns didn’t fire, the oxygen cylinders were empty, all sorts of things, one engine cut out, two engines cut out and the ground crew would run out to us soon as we landed and they’d shout ‘any snags, any snags?’ and we’d swear and shout and say ‘this went wrong and that went wrong’ using lots of ‘f’ words but then we’d never report the snags, because we relied on those lads and it wasn’t their fault, the planes were clapped out anyway and they’d work through the night perhaps maintenance and they couldn’t get spares and some of the things they did were, were fatal, and they couldn’t help it, one of them said to me, ‘I don’t get very close to the air crews, I don’t make friends with them because’ he said ‘if a plane goes missing I’d wonder if I did something wrong or whether I’d forgot to do something’ and he said ‘I’ve been on a squadron a long time and lots of planes have gone missing and I always feel it might be my fault’ so he said ‘I don’t like to get friendly with air crews’, I can understand that, when I used to go to the, we weren’t allowed to take anything with us like a bus ticket or money or anything like that, and so I had a little wallet and I used to hand it to the sergeant fitter, ground crew fitter and I’d say ‘take that Jake and if I don’t come back you can keep it’, and he’d take it but he didn’t like touching it really and when I got back he’d shove it at me as soon as he could ‘cause he didn’t want anything to do with dead men’s property and I can understand that you know, he was squeamish and when I got wounded he was the chap who lifted me up and carried me out of the plane.
CB: So what happened on that your final operation obviously, what was it the thirty-seventh out of forty?
JA: Yes
CB: And what happened Jim?
JA: When we were told the target would be undefended, and for the first time ever you can bomb anywhere in the town, it’s just full of Germans, so I dropped a stick of bombs at predetermined intervals, and I hit about two or three blocks of flats right in the middle, the next one between two blocks of flats, the next one a road and rail junction, and then I said to the skipper, ‘hold this course for half a minute because we’re going into mountains now’, and we were low you see because the visibility you had to come down very low, ‘cause of the cloud, and just as I said that the tail gunner said ‘it’s flak, it’s stern’ and WOOF [emphasis to express being hit], and it’s a sensation like if you’re playing football and the football is wet and heavy and somebody kicks it and it hits you straight in the face, it’s a numb sensation at first and then comes the pain, well this was like a puff of wind, like being hit with something but no pain what so ever and then floods of blood, I seemed to be bleeding to death, and I felt for my parachute pack because I thought we were getting shot down but I was the only one hit actually, we were hit in one engine and me and the navigator wrote in his diary; ‘Jim’s eyeball is hanging out on his cheek’ [laughs] actually it wasn’t, I’d got a lump of Perspex because all the Perspex had become shrapnel, and there was a piece about four inches long stuck in my eyeball and of course all the blood was running down my face because I was hit in the head and the face and everywhere and the blood running down this Perspex made it look as though my eye was hanging out you see so he couldn’t look at me, so he tapped me on the head and I could see he was talking, we had throat microphones, American throat microphones, it were very efficient and he was telling the crew I’d been hit, I crawled under the flight deck and when I stood up in the well, the back of the flight deck, the wireless operator had got all the first aid kits open and he wanted to put one on my face but he was hesitant to do it and I thought ‘do it, do it’, but of course there was this four inch long piece of shrapnel stuck in my eye, and it wasn’t until it fell out that he could put bandages on and then he bandaged everything that was bloody including my right arm which was badly damaged and my left arm which I’d used to investigate my other wounds and that wasn’t damaged but it was very bloody so he bandaged that as well, he bandaged everything and then he said ‘I’ll give you a shot of morphine’, I said ‘I’m not in pain’, I had no pain what so ever and that frightened me because I thought, if you get your legs chopped off you don’t feel any pain, because the body reacts as though you get shock but you don’t feel pain and I thought I’m dying, I must be dying and I said ‘I’m not in any pain I don’t need morphine’ and he got some out the first aid thing and I’d got my eyes shut and he stuck the thing in my arm and the morphine came like a marble, raised up, it didn’t disperse and when we landed he said to the ground crew ‘I’ve tied a label on him saying I gave him morphine at twelve o’clock, but I know now that I shouldn’t do that because he’s got a head wound’ and ‘oh Christ he’s killed me instead of the Germans’ [laughing].
But anyway, all we did all the time was sing and tell jokes, and it was like a rugby club –
CB: In the military hospital?
JA: No on the squadron, we weren’t morose and we weren’t miserable, in fact everything was hilarious and because we had to keep flying it didn’t matter what we did, hooliganism didn’t matter, drunkenness, it didn’t matter, because we were either up in the air or we had a group stand down when we’d have two of three days off due to so many casualties, waiting for new crews and new aeroplanes, and we’d get drunk and forget everything you see, and if, if unexpectedly we had to fly after a night a free night in the mess and drunkenness, we’d have a headache like you’ve never experienced and I went to the medical officers little cubby hole and there was a youth leaning up the doorpost and I pushed past him and I was opening boxes and things looking for an aspirin and I said to this fella, ‘do you know where they keep the aspirins?’ and he said ‘yeah’ and he told me and I said ‘you know your way around?’ and he said ‘yeah I’m the medical officer’ [laughs]
CB: So you found yourself in this hospital?
JA: Yeah when, after we landed, I was put on a stretcher, propped up in a sitting position on some blankets, some blankets behind me and it seemed to take ages and the flight engineer said ‘what’s the bloody delay? Get him to hospital’ and they said ‘we’re checking the first aid kits’ which all had been opened and used and they said ‘there’s a pair of scissors missing’ and that’s why they were delaying and he said ‘if you don’t get him to hospital right away I’m gonna bloody do the lot of ya’, and he was a tough Shetlander and that made them pull their socks up, and they put me in the ambulance to go seven miles, no twenty miles into Foggia to the general hospital, military hospital, and the skipper said ‘I’ll come with you’, well he shouldn’t have, he should’ve gone back to be debriefed but I was glad he came with me, ‘cause I didn’t know what I looked like, I didn’t know if my ear had been chopped off or whether I’d got a complete nose ‘cause I knew a piece of shrapnel had creased the top of my nose and the bottom, I didn’t know how bad things were and he said I can show you and he and he got a little stainless steel or chrome mirror in his pocket and he showed me but that’s very distorting and I thought ‘bloody hell look at that’, and I heard the nurses talking and they were talking as though I was already dead and one of them said ‘he must have been a good looking boy’, he must have been? [emphasis] I’m still here, you know, and they stripped me, cut all me clothes off and I felt a bit embarrassed because I’d borrowed a pair of long johns from the tail gunner and I was stripped down to my long johns and I felt that was a bit embarrassing because long johns were a bit silly aren’t they, and then the skipper went back then but he had to hitch hike back and he was in his flying kit you know, and when he got back he got a bollock-ing ‘cause he should have gone straight back not gone to the hospital with me, and anyway he got over that and they decided as he’d done one more trip than me anyway and they couldn’t manage without me and they hadn’t got anyone to replace me, the crew could stop now and go for a rest period, and after a few days they did go, and so there I was in hospital four and a half hours, and a chap from the squadron had sprained his wrist or something and he called at the hospital, to see the medical officer at the hospital and he said, the medical officer said ‘we’ve got a chap from your squadron in here’ and he said ‘oh I’d like to go and see him’ and he said ‘no you better not he’s just recovering from four and a half hours on the operating table so you won’t be able to talk to him yet’, and I came round and it was evening but I couldn’t see and I was bound up like an invisible man, just all bandages and I could see a white apparition by the bed and I thought ‘I’m alive’, surprisingly and I muttered, [clears throat] ‘could you tell me if they’ve taken my ear off?’ and this thing said ‘what are you here for?’, and I said ‘I’ve been wounded’, and she said ‘well you’re have to wait until the day staff comes on, I don’t know anything about you’ so I had to wait the rest of the night to find out whether I’d got a nose and whether I had only got one ear and that worried my because in the day of short haircuts I thought I’d look a fool with only one ear [slight laugh] isn’t that silly and, of course I was blind in one eye and the, every hour they dropped penicillin in my eye, it was icy cold, they said ‘you’re lucky, you’re being treated with this new penicillin, new’, I’d never even heard of it and I said ‘can you warm it up, it’s cold’ they said ‘we keep it in the refrigerator’ [slight laugh], anyway, after a few days I was totally blind because my left, my left eye had been alright, well reasonable but then I was totally blind in both eyes and I heard them muttering about cross infection in the ward and I had to lie flat on my back for a month, thirty days I wasn’t allowed to sit up or move due to the eye treatment, they said ‘we’ve healed eyes before but usually they get an infection in the end and we have to remove them’ and I thought well if I can’t see with it it doesn’t matter, I might look alright with an eye patch, a talking point and they transferred me to another ward, they lifted me up flat, put me on a stretcher, wheeled me away, and all the others in the ward had thought I’d died and I said well nobody talked to me anyway, they said, ‘well when your eyes were bound up we didn’t know whether you were awake or asleep’, well I didn’t know what time it was or what date it was or anything and I used to doze off and come back to consciousness again all the time and I never knew whether it was morning or afternoon or evening and I used to listen to what was going on, are these night time sounds or day time sounds, very difficult to tell. Anyway I then after a while when I’d recovered a bit I had more operations on my eye under local anaesthetic, terribly painful, they picked out bits of steel, bits of Perspex and a piece of wood and the chap said to me, ‘what wood was there in the air craft?’ I said ‘well it was made of aluminium’ he said ‘well you’ve got a piece of wood in your eye, a tiny piece’, then I remembered, there was an air blower near the bomb airmen’s position and it would blow in my face so I used to put map over it and stand the astro compass box up against it and it was made of wood and of course that had been shattered and a piece of wood obviously went in my eye, and when they cut my clothes off in the hospital I’d got three pullovers on, lots of clothes you know, multiples of everything and two of the pullovers were air force issue but one I’d brought at Marks and Spencer’s before I joined up and I thought ‘steady on that’s my pullover they cut in half’ you know and that watch that got took off I brought that you know, got no compensation, but anyway it was terrible in the hospital because nobody had any time for me, I don’t know whether they were opposed to the bomber offensive or what it was.
CB: So what nationality were they, the nursing staff?
JA: British, in that hospital they were British, in a second hospital they had Italian nurses that was a bit better but the British nurses were quite cruel really and, except for one, she used to be on night duty and she’d come and sit on the bed and talk to me at night and bring me a cup of tea, I think she fancied me [laughing] and anyway when I could stand up, because I felt very dizzy, it was very difficult to stand up after being about six weeks in bed and I’d only got blood stained clothes on, ‘cause one battle dress was though the rats had eaten it, it just fell open, as I’d got more than one battle dress on, one of them weren’t too bad and, but it was all blood stained and my flying boots were all caped with blood and I felt stupid you know I wanted to have proper clothes, and I felt very truculent and resentful, and the nurse came round and she said ‘lie to attention’ [emphasis] and I said ‘what does that mean?’, she said ‘both arms above the sheets down by your sides, feet together, head straight’, [coughs] I said ‘I can’t do it’, can we wait a minute [pauses] and then got it up gradually from twenty to eighty percent.
CB: So you’re still in the hospital, how long were you in the hospital?
JA: Three months and I was transferred then to a place called Torre del Greco to another hospital, and we’d got Italian nurses there, very pretty, black hair and uniforms, white dresses with a red cross on their chest and their English was a bit faulty and they’d come round every day and ask me ‘lavatory?’ [puts on an accent] and I’d say ‘what’s that?’, ‘lavatory?’ [in accent again], that’s all they could say and I’d say ‘I don’t understand’, and then they’d write something down and go away and I was there for a month and then I was discharged and told you’re on twenty four hour stand by to go back to England wounded, never happened, after a few weeks, they put red crosses on my kit bags and loaded them on board a ship, I had a two week visit, sorry a two week voyage back to England through the, past Gibraltar, through the Bay of Biscay, submarine alert all the time, no beds no chairs and I sat on a form leaning on a table for two weeks.
CB: Still of course not a hundred percent?
JA: No I was ill, very ill and every now and then submarine alert and I’d got to scramble up on deck in a life vest and over coat and have to stand there in the drizzle and rain until the submarine alert was over, and I wasn’t treated as an invalid at all, I was just with the other troops, nobody had a bed, nobody had a chair, if some of them if they were lucky they could climb on the table and sleep on the table but I couldn’t get on the table so I had to sit on the form and lean forward on the table all night, and we put into Liverpool and we spent twenty four hours in the docks while the customs went thoroughly through the ship examining everything, I thought some people have been abroad for several years, what the hell are they looking for? and we’re all British anyway, and then I got off the boat and I had to carry two kit bags with the red crosses on, all to the station put them on the train unaided, I thought ‘what they hell are the red crosses for?’, and I reported to the Air Ministry with me two kit bags and they said ‘you’ve been sent back because they haven’t got the right facilities for treating you in Italy’, so I expected to go back into hospital again but they gave me five weeks leave, didn’t give me any money, they didn’t ask me where will you go on your five weeks leave but they said ‘every week report here again’, well my, fortunately my father was at an Air Ministry unit at Harrow and my parents lived in Hillingdon on the outskirts of London, so I could live with them, the morning after I arrived there, in my funny garb of odds and sods and I hadn’t got a proper uniform, I heard the first time of Doodlebug what we called pilotless planes (B1) I had heard about them, didn’t realise they were so noisy, I knew when the motor cut out they’d come down and one came over and the motor stopped and I said to my mother ‘what do you do?’ she said ‘don’t do anything’ and she went outside to peg some washing on the line and it just dropped at Greenford, which was not very far away from [pauses] not very far away from where we were living and then the rockets came and they were terrifying, the V2s, the rockets, because you’d hear terrible explosion and then hear them coming and in the newspapers and on the radio it was saying ‘gas mains exploding all over London’, well that was a lie, my father knew what they were and he was told ‘don’t evacuate your family as it will cause panic’ so he had to stay there, couldn’t tell his family the danger, it was quite silly during the war because when the Germans bombed a town we weren’t allowed to know which town it was, on the radio it would say ‘bombs were dropped at random’ and we thought ‘Random must be totally destroyed by now because its bombed every night’ [laughs], anyway my father said ‘haven’t you got a proper uniform’, I’d got this brown battle dress which I wore with a blue shirt and a black tie and a hat that had collapsed with a badge I had brought in a bazaar in Egypt which wasn’t a regulation badge, an air force badge it was sort of a souvenir thing bought in a bazaar ‘cause someone had stolen my badge and, he sized me up and brought me a tunic anyway but I was wearing a flying badge and strips on this brown thing and I was hoping people would ask me ‘what the hell are you?’ but nobody ever asked and I was passing military policemen, they should have said ‘excuse me, what air force are you in?’, nobody ever asked because there was so many foreigners in London of different armies and air forces that everybody looked different, anyway I realised I wasn’t, on my weekly visits to the Air Ministry, I wasn’t seen by what I would call proper doctors, I was seeing men in white coats, now psychiatry was in this infantry or psycho analysis and we were prime subjects for it because we were all bloody crackers, you see, so they asked me all sorts of questions, not about my injuries, no medical treatment but things like ‘do you like girls? What sort of girls do you like? Do you dream? What do you dream about?’ so I made things up, course the chap was writing things all down in long hand, ‘what sort of girls do you like?’ I said ‘girls with red hair’, well I had only known one girl with red hair, I nearly said to him girls who do or girls who say yes [laughing] but ‘what do you dream about’ so I made it up a dream and told him and it would amuse me to see him scribbling it all down, no medical treatment what so ever then I got a telegram, report to Innsworth, and I said to my father who’d worked his way up you see from being a corporal in the first world war to being a squadron leader, acting wing commander and he knew all the ropes, I said to him ‘god I could do with a few more days leave’ and he said ‘well send them a telegram’, I said what will I say?’ he said ‘wedding’, so I thought telegram style is quite ambiguous you see, and instead of saying ‘I request extension of leave for my wedding’ I just said ‘for wedding’, so it could be anybody’s wedding, they said forty eight hours granted and report to Manby in Lincolnshire, well I still hadn’t got proper uniform and everything, just one tunic my father had given me, this funny cap and other odd things you know, and I had to buy everything I needed to make it up, you should have three of everything, three pairs of trousers, three tunics etc. I had to buy it from the stores and a 664B which it the payment on clothing on repayment form, I can remember even the name of the form, form 664B, and I had it stopped out of my pay, so I was looking for a job, nobody knew what I was there for, there were people on a course, officers training courses and I said, they said ‘are you an instructor’ I said ‘I don’t know, can I look at your books?’ they showed me the books and I said ‘no I don’t know any of this stuff, it’s all up to date, you know I don’t know it so I can’t be an instructor’, ‘are you a pupil?’ I said ‘no I’m off flying so I can’t be a pupil’, I got pally with the armourist officer and I said ‘I’m sick of just hanging about, three weeks and nothing to do and have you got anything I can do?’ and he said ‘well we need someone to take charge of the low level bombing range but it’s night work’, I said ‘well I’ve got nothing to do during the day or during the night so I might as well be working at night, sleeping in the day’, so he gave me a squad of blokes and WAAFs and I was in charge of bombing range so after another three or four weeks he said ‘guess what, your documents have come through and you are attached to my section anyway, what would you like to do?’, I said ‘well what is there?’, he gave me two or three options and said ‘there’s a detachment on the coast with three bombing ranges, have a ride out there on the ration lorry, see if you like it, you can take charge of one of the ranges’, so I thought well anything to get away from the real air force, get away on a detachment.
CB: Your eyes were alright now were they?
JA: No, no I still couldn’t see out of my right eye, but they said, they introduced peace time regulations and things you see after the war had ended, and they said annual musketry, everybody must attend so I went to the rifle range and I fired off so many rounds and I didn’t get any bullets on the target at all, so they said ‘something must be wrong there, will you do it again?’, well I couldn’t see the target never mind hit it, and I was trying to use my left eye with the rifle on the right side you see and that’s impossible, anyway I was in charge of the bombing range for a year or two and I was sent for by the commanding officer, he was an air commodore and he said ‘air crews are allowed to take trade training’, and I said ‘well I don’t need any because I’ll be demobbed in about six months, demobilised, don’t need any trade training’, I said ‘what is there anyway?’, he said you’re only allowed to take group one or group two trades and I said ‘what are the group one’s and group two’s?’ he said ‘there aren’t any’, I said ‘well what is there then?’ he said ‘well if don’t volunteer for one of these I’ll damn well send you on one’ he said ‘there’s plenty of openings for cooks’, I said ‘oh I’d like to be a cook’, I thought you’re in the warm and you can get plenty to eat if you’re in the cook house, I said ‘I’d like to train as a cook’ and he was furious, he said ‘that’s a group five trade, you’re not allowed to take a low trade’ well I thought well it’d be nice you know in the winter in the cook house [laughing] so he said ‘I’m sending you on a photographic course’, so all the other people, I was in charge of the course of twenty five men because I was a senior man, and the others were people who had joined up to fly but before they could start training the war had finished so they got to go onto ground jobs, and the ones on the course were amateur photographers and they knew everything, well all I knew was you point a camera and press the thing and you send it off to Boots, and when it comes back it’s prints and how they do it I don’t care, but now I had to learn all about it, take photographs of things moving and you know all sorts, people walking, cycling, aeroplanes taking off and all that, I learned quite a bit actually and then I was transferred to Benson, near Oxford and I was put in charge of the photographic section, well I was the most naive photographer in the world because I wasn’t even interested, but I was put in charge and they were doing an air survey of the United Kingdom and Scandinavia, and doing hundreds of feet of film and it was all going through machines and it was all automatic, well I’d never seen such machinery and the photographic officer was always sliding off somewhere and he’d put me in charge and disappear and when he came back he’d say ‘hundreds of yards of film have been ruined’ and ‘how did that happen?’ and he said ‘you didn’t make them clean the film’ well I didn’t know they had to clean the film [slight laugh], so it wasn’t too bad because there was a lot of women there, WAAFs, they were quite jolly and I used to open the section at nine o’clock in the morning and they’d say ‘right we’re go off to breakfast now’ and we’d go down by the river, the Thames and have bacon and eggs and stroll back when we felt like it, and I hadn’t got the faintest idea, some of the people knew what they were doing and some didn’t you see, I didn’t know at all [laughs], so eventually I was demobilised from there and it took place at Uxbridge and I was given a chalk striped suit, like Max Miller I felt, and a hat, I’d never worn a trilby hat and we looked in mirrors in our civilian clothes and laughed like hell because we’d never worn anything like that before and when we come out the demobilisation centre there were chaps hanging around offering you two quid for the box of clothing, I offered them the hat, they didn’t want that, they wanted coats and trousers, ‘cause clothing was rationed you see, and the thing I would have really like to keep was an over coat because they had good overcoats in the air force and I hadn’t worn an overcoat you see, so I went to a market and they were selling second hand clothes which weren’t rationed and I brought a sailor’s overcoat [laughs].
CB: Did you keep in touch with your crew after the war?
JA: Up until the time they died, yes, except the one from the Shetlands who emigrated to New Zealand so we lost touch with him, but the rest of us stayed in touch until they all died, one at a time, not all together but they got heart attacks and cancer and things and I think that was through the stress they had during the war.
CB: You became a very successful international businessman after the war.
JA: I did, yes, I devoted all my time to educating myself, I attended a technical school, it was a commercial and technical school, they had commercial boys who did short hand typing and book keeping and technical boys, I was one, we did metal work and wood work and higher mathematics’ and science, advance subjects you know, we didn’t do the nice subjects like art anymore and scripture and things you know, easy subjects, we didn’t do that.
CB: There is one point I wanted to ask you, you were awarded the DFM, the Distinguished Flying Medal –
JA: Yes.
CB: Did you accept it?
JA: No I didn’t, I got a message, chaps used to come into town, my old friends who’d trained with me and were still on the squadron and they’d come in they said, one of them said, ‘see you got a gong then?’ and I said ‘I don’t know anything about it’, he said it was on DROs, daily routine orders, I did know about it because an officer appeared one day in the hospital and he sat on the bed next to me and I couldn’t see him, I couldn’t recognise him properly, because my eyes were badly affected and he said, in a very pompous way he said, ‘I have honour to inform you, that you have been awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal’ and it was as though I could hear a radio on in the background, it didn’t sound like me at all, and I heard myself saying ‘tell them to stick it up their arse, I don’t want a bloody medal, I want some clothes, I want a shirt and a tunic, and some trousers, I want some shoes’, because they hadn’t provided me with anything and another thing that upset me was a bitch had had puppies on the squadron, in the tent lines, and I’d got one of these puppies and that was the only thing I’d got in the world, I’d got the rest of the crew but I didn’t own them and the only thing I owned was this little Italian dog, he was a kind of Labrador and I used to save a bit on my plate from dinner or breakfast and bring it back for him, put it on the ground and he’d lick the plate clean, and the next morning I’d go to breakfast, forget to wash the plate and I’d remember later ‘oh god I forgot to wash the plate’, because it was always so clean, you see he’d licked it clean, and the lads came to the hospital and they said ‘the CO’s had all the dogs shot’, ‘what, why’d he do that, shot all the dogs?’, ‘cause they were good for morale those dogs and I used to look forward to my little dog you know when I came back from my trips, it might be the last day of my life, and he shot it, and that’s why I didn’t take the DFM, why I told them to stick it up their arse, now years after the war when I moved to Lincolnshire from London, where I live now, I was in Lincoln when I met somebody who turned out to be a flight commander from the squadron, and he was not the same flight I was in, we had A flight and B flight, he was the other flight and he said, I didn’t know him on the squadron ‘cause he came after I’d you know done most of my trips, he was the new boy, and he said ‘do you know the CO is still alive, he lives in Norfolk’ I said ‘no, I didn’t know that’ he said ‘I’ll give you his details, his telephone number and address’, so I phoned him and I said ‘I’d like to come and check a few things with you ‘cause I’m writing a manuscript for a book and the sort of things I’ve heard, I heard that you were a group captain dropped down to wing commander because you wanted what the Americans called some combat time, we thought you must be bloody potty,’ because he was non-compassionate at that time you see, I said ‘there’s certain things I’d like to check with you whether it’s true or not’, I went to see him, I said you never talked to us on the squadron because we were sergeants, he said ‘well I couldn’t because you were so much more experienced than me’ he said ‘I kept a low profile’ and I said ‘well you won’t remember me but I’ll tell you something now and it’ll remind you who I am’ and I told him about the DFM and where it should be stuck and he was flabbergasted, I had come back from dead you know to haunt him and he’d got a couple of dogs there you know, young two dogs, and how would he feel now if I shot his dogs –
CB: Did you mention that to him?
JA: I didn’t no, I just told him I was so embittered and outraged that I didn’t want the bloody medal but of course it was a mistake, looking at the Antiques Roadshow one day, I saw a few ordinary medals being auctioned and a DFM, and the DFM made about six thousand pounds or something put together with the other medals and I said to my wife what a fool I was I should’ve taken it, but it was involuntary you know when I said it, it was as though I wasn’t speaking, I was listening to somebody saying it, and I was in a bad way of course, I’d got no short term memory, for many months, I didn’t dare tell anybody because I wanted to get back on to flying you see, I thought you can fly with one eye, I’m not interested in anything else only flying, they wouldn’t have it, and [pauses] I was eventually, I was on this photographic course and coming out of a darkroom into the sunlight I couldn’t see I was blinded, my eyes are streaming, so I was sent to an army doctor in Aldershot, and he said to me ‘you’re up to British army standards’ and I said ‘maybe I am because you’re calling up people with one eye now’, they were towards the end of the war they called up people to serve with one eye. And I went back to my unit, one day I was called for by the medical officer and he said ‘you should have had a medical board last year’, I said ‘I did have one’ and he said ‘why do you say that? Nothing in your records about it’, I said ‘I went to Watchfield and I had a railway warrant for myself and a party of airmen and I was in charge, ‘and what do alleged happened?’, I said ‘well the medical officer who gave me a board he said ‘what’s your condition?’ and I said ‘about the same’ and he said ‘right we’ll leave it at that then, same’ and he said ‘I can’t understand you saying that’, and I said, he was flicking over pages in a file, I said, the pages are numbered, I said to him ‘there’s one page missing’ he said ‘it’s nothing to do with you’, I said ‘well it’s my records it’s something to do with me, that’s the page that gives you know, details of my last medical board’, he said ‘I’m a squadron leader, I’m competent to conduct medical boards, you are A1’, and I thought I can’t be A1, what’s their game, I thought, well they don’t want to pay me a pension for not being A1, so nothing I can do about it, I left the Air Force and I signed on with a panel doctor just before the National Health Service came into being, and he said I’ll just check you over while you’re here and he said ‘good God man you’re in a terrible state, what the hell has happened to you?’ I said ‘I was wounded when I was flying in the Air Force’, he said ‘well you should get a pension’ and I said ‘I can’t get a pension, I’m A1’ [laughs] he said ‘the bastards’ he said, ‘they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it’, he said ‘I’ll get some British Legion forms and fill them in for you, you sign it and send them off’, so that happened, I took a day off, I thought this is a waste of time and they said ‘yes you are due for compensation’, gave me nine shillings a week, nine shillings, I didn’t need nine shillings anyway within two years I was an armour men’s designer working for the Ministry of Defence and from there I progressed upwards until I was managing director or chairman of three companies at the same time and I was making an awful lot of money.
CB: How do you look back at your time in the RAF? is it with –
JA: With disgust, you see when I was a child, daddy was in the Air Force, all his friends were in the Air Force, they were my heroes, we were, Douglas Bader was stationed on there and he used to come to my father’s house and I saw Lord Trenchard, he was going by in his car on the aerodrome and people who became very famous later and I admired them, they were all my heroes, Amy Johnson and Jim Mollison, all those people you know, civilian pilots, I didn’t know any other life so naturally I joined the Royal Air Force and when we were living at Cranwell, that time 1929 and then again just before the war, the Royal Air Force was known as the world’s finest flying club, it wasn’t very big, only about thirty thousand men in the RAF, they would join with no rank and they’d go out in seven years with no rank, there was no promotion, you see there’s no expansion until late 1930’s and everybody seemed to know everybody, my father knew every commanding officer throughout the world, and he was well known, when I was in the RAF people remembered him you know and they’d look at my name and they’d say ‘have you got any relations in the service?’, and my brother was in the RAF and he said ‘I always say no, ‘cause we don’t want to let the old man down’, ‘cause he was a bit of a scallywag, and anyway, I used to forget to draw my pension of nine shillings a week, forty five pence nowadays and it would go on for about three months and I had to write away for it, and I let things slide ‘cause I was making an awful lot of money, I was eating in the best restaurants in the West End and hotels all over the world, staying in the best hotels.
CB: What do you think you would’ve done if you hadn’t gone in the RAF?
JA: God knows
CB; Do you think you would have just brought your success as a businessman you just have brought that forward as it were and you would’ve started it straight away?
JA: I don’t know.
CB: Or did you need your time in the RAF to form and develop?
JA: I think the RAF made me very aggressive and when I went for a job after ready for coming out of the RAF, I was in uniform and I had an interview with the personnel manager of an engineering firm and he said ‘what were you doing in the Air Force?’ no ‘what were you doing in the war?’, well I was dressed in uniform, I’d got a flying badge and medal ribbons, I thought it was pretty obvious what I was doing, I said ‘I was flying in the Royal Air Force’ ‘oh’ he said ‘not much use to us is it?’, I was very aggressive at that time, the war had made me a bit loopy, and I felt like I wanted to knock his head off but I thought just a minute he’s right, I’ve learnt how to fly an aeroplane, how to drop bombs, how to blow people up, how to shoot people, I’ve learnt nothing that’s of any use to a civilian employer, he’s right I’ve completely wasted my time, if I been a cook or a lorry driver I would have something to contribute, but that made me determined to overtake all the people who hadn’t served in the war so I started at the bottom in a factory, and I went to evening classes and I had private tutors, I spent all my money on tuition, I got language teachers, I leaned Latin, I learned Russian, and I perfected my German and within two years I was head of the German department in import export firm with only Germans working for me, because I was an engineer and a German speaking Englishman, so I’d got an advantage there, and the cold war had started, and I thought either there’s going to be a war with Russia or eventually the Soviet empire is so big there will be a demand for things –
CB: that’s where you did most of your trade –
JA: So I learnt Russian so I could negotiate contracts in Moscow in Russian –
CB: Tenacious, determined.
JA: Well I was determined to do better than everybody, I went for an interview ,when I first came out of the Air Force, because I understand the government were giving grants to ex-service men, and I went for an interview and they said ‘what were you doing before you joined the Royal Air Force?’ and I said ‘well I was in school until just before’, they said ‘were you not studying for a profession?’, I said ‘I was only seventeen when I joined the air force, I was studying higher mathematics and subjects that would get me through the selection board to be a pilot’, I said ‘the town was being bombed and I thought by joining the Air Force I could help to stop that’, they looked at me, they were thinking you simpleton, they said ‘we only give grants to professional people’, so few weeks later I made another application and the attitude to me was humiliating or intended to be humiliating, so I got, I was fed up with being humiliated so I told the interviewee off, I really told him off, in words, you’ve never heard before and the second man who was sitting with him, when I left, rushed out with me and jumped in the lift and he said ‘thank you for doing that’, he said ‘that was wonderful the way you told him off, I’ve had to sit there for weeks listening to his rudeness’ he said ‘you really fixed him’. When I got a job as an armours designer, because I’d been in the Air Force and been shot, not because I knew anything about designing [slight pause], all the other people in the department had gone straight from school, into the ministry and they’d all got a free education and got a higher national certificate which is what I wanted to do you see, so I thought they’ve never been in the service and they’re the same age as me and they’re well ahead of me, got their qualifications, I’ll beat them, I’ve got to be better than them, so that’s what drove me on, I was inferior and I became superior ‘cause I had to, I had to do it, I spent all my money on studying, spent all my time on studying.
CB: Well that’s been a fantastic story Jim, thank you very much indeed.



Clare Bennett, “Interview with Jim Auton,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 18, 2024,

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