Interview with Rex John Arnett

Title

Interview with Rex John Arnett

Description

Rex was born in Toronto Canada in 1924 and grew up there, at aged 18 in 1942 he joined the RCAF as aircrew. He initially started training as the second member of a Mosquito crew but was later changed to Wireless Operator/Air Gunner and having completed his wireless and gunnery training in Canada he was posted to the No 111 (Coastal) OTU in Nassau, Bahamas to become a member of a crew flying initially the B25 and then the B24. The crew he joined was a mixed RCAF and RAF, the 2nd pilot, navigator and flight engineer were RAF. During their graduation exercise at the OTU Rex relates being involved in a search for an aircraft from the OTU crewed by some of the experienced training staff, unfortunately they were not found.
Having completed their training in the spring of 1944 they crossed to Britain on the New Amsterdam. Due to the quantity of chocolate Rex had consumed on the crossing the medical staff thought that he had an appendicitis and he was admitted to a hospital in Glasgow on arrival at Gourock. The hospital was initially empty so Rex was treated very well but shortly after his arrival the wounded from the D Day invasion started to arrive and Rex was found fit enough to join 223 Squadron at RAF Oulton which were flying the B-24. Rex was not too impressed with the aircraft as they were war weary veterans cast off from the 8th US Army Air Force. Although Rex was trained as a Wireless operator / air gunner he flew all his operations as a wireless operator. Rex remembers that his main duties were to listen out for weather diversions he also remembers that there was a piece of equipment that he had that showed aircraft close to them which was very unreliable, probably Fishpond. In August 1944 223 Squadron became part of 100 Group flying radio countermeasures, jamming the German radar and communications frequencies. Rex relates how the squadron aircraft would sometimes leave the main force bomber stream and head for another potential target dropping Window to divide the fighter defences.
Rex flew 20 operations with his crew and related that on one operation to Berlin they were getting short of fuel so diverted to the crash runway at RAF Manston and the groundcrew told them that they only had enough fuel for two minutes of flight. In February 1945 he developed bronchitis and was grounded by the medical staff. On the next operation that crew were shot down over Germany and all the flight deck crew died the navigator and one of the beam gunners managed to bale out. Rex relates that if he had been on the operation he would have died. He was told by the surviving beam gunner that the second beam gunner never wore his parachute harness on operations and was last seen trying to find his harness.
While he was recuperating his late captain’s brother came to visit the squadron he was flying the C47 transporting equipment to Europe and Rex manage to get himself two flights to Brussels. On his return to flying duties Rex only flew two more operations before the European war ended in May. He comments that his captain for those two flights was a Lord Briscoe.
Rex relates that on one of his leave periods he was walking out in the country and a low flying V-1 passed overhead and the engine stopped and it landed and exploded in a field close by.
Rex did not return to Canada until December 1945 crossing in the Queen Elizabeth. He returned to Toronto married the girl that he was writing to during his time in Great Britain. He worked for a small company manufactured high voltage lighting equipment as a salesman until he retired.

Creator

Date

2023-11-09

Temporal Coverage

Language

Type

Format

01:06:03 Audio Recording

Rights

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

Identifier

AArnettRJ231109, PArnettRJ2301

Transcription

DE: If I could just do a little bit of an introduction and then, then we’ll, then we’ll get started and if, if the time runs out we’ll have to set up another interview very quickly. Another zoom call. Ok. So, this is Dan Ellin for the IBCC Digital Archive. I’m recording an interview with Rex Arnett. He’s in Canada, I’m in the UK and it’s the 9th of November 2023. So, Rex thank you very much for agreeing to, to try to do this. Could you start by telling me a little bit about your early life please?
RA: My early life. Well, I was born in Toronto in 1924. I went to school at St Bridget’s in the East End of Toronto and De La Salle High School which was in downtown Toronto. I wasn’t a great student but —
[recording in progress voiceover]
RA: What was that?
DE: Sorry just carry on. Go ahead Rex.
RA: So, and I did the usual things. Played hockey, baseball and swimming in the summer. You know. Just the usual things. And then when the war came along I was still too young to join up but when I turned eighteen in ’42 I joined the Air Force in Toronto and took various courses in, in Calgary. I got the Wireless School and there was, they wanted to train some fellas for wireless navigators on Mosquitoes, the twin engine bomber and so I was part of that course and, but they cancelled half of it. Some of them went on to that course and some of us went on to Bombing and Gunnery School. So I ended up doing mostly wireless in my crew. We, after I graduated I was sent to an OTU in Nassau in the Bahamas and we crewed up there. It was a kind of a loosey-goosey way of selecting a crew [laughs] You just kind of wandered around in this big room and there was pilots and navigators and gunners and wireless and we kind of chatted. Anyway, I ended up with a crew and I stayed with them right through the war. We went over to England in, to join a squadron after we trained in Nassau. We, we trained on twin engine Mitchells and then graduated to four engine Liberators and, and then in June we went overseas. I got sick on the boat because I was eating a lot of chocolate bars but they thought I had appendicitis so they sent me to a hospital in Glasgow, Hairmyres Hospital and I was the only one there so they treated me like a king. This huge room, it was, must have been fifty beds in it but then the D-Day landing wounded soldiers started to come in and of course I lost my popularity [laughs] So anyway, I, I rejoined the squadron and we started operating in, I think it was July of ’44 and we did, oh the first trip we did was spotting these launching pads for the V-1s and V-2s but that didn’t last long. They scrubbed that and we started doing these jamming exercises jamming the German’s radar for their night fighters and, and their anti-aircraft guns, you know. Sometimes we’d fly on target and jam their equipment. Other nights we did diversionary raids dropping Window. We’d fly out with the main bomber stream and then we’d cut away from them and head for what might be an obvious target and we’d drop this tinsel paper and it made a blip on the German’s radar like a bomber. So theoretically they’d send their night fighters up to intercept us and the mainstream bomber stream would get in to the target relatively night fighter free. So there we are. I don’t know what else to tell you. And I did, I flew twenty missions with various, with my crew and then on the night of February the 21st I’d been flying on the 18th and I had a touch of bronchitis so [pause] are you listening?
DE: Yeah. Sorry, I’m just —
RA: So when we landed I, I was spitting up blood. So they grounded me and the crew was on a mission the following night so another fella took my place and they were shot down and you have their name on your plaque at your institution there. So, so I was lucky I survived and I I flew a couple of more missions with, he was an English lord. Lord Briscoe was his name and I think he became the manager of Heathrow Airport after the war but you could check that you know and just to see if that story is true but but he had some sort of title. He was called Lord Briscoe. He wasn’t a bad guy [laughs] So he was the last. It was his crew I was in just for a couple of trips and the war ended and I went home eventually and here I am.
DE: Ok. So that’s, that’s smashing. So I’d like to go back and ask you a few other questions.
RA: What’s that?
SK: He has a few more questions. He wants to ask you some more questions.
RA: Ok.
DE: Yeah. I just I just wondered before, before we do that very quickly could you tell me what your, how your journey was back home and what you did afterwards?
SK: He wants to know about your journey back home and what you did afterwards.
RA: Oh, my journey back home. Ok. Well, I was held on an OTU down in Torquay from May ‘til, ‘til December of ’45 and, and it was a nice spot and I just cycled around the countryside and I met a friend that I’d gone to school with and we chummed around. He was an ex, he was going through for a brother, a religious order but then he was also a boxer and, and so I challenged him to a bout and it was a bad decision because I never laid a glove on him [laughs] He was pretty good. So then about December the 23rd I was assigned to, I think it was the Queen Elizabeth I came home on and I was on the boat for Christmas Day 1945. I still have a copy of a menu. It was good. And I arrived in Toronto about oh I guess the 28th of December, somewhere in there of 1945 and my dad and my stepmom met me. And there was this girl that I’d been writing to she was there and I was really surprised to see her but glad and and we sort of got going together and eventually I, we were married in 1947 and we had a couple of boys. And, and oh I worked for a small electrical company. We manufactured sports lighting and high voltage electrical equipment. You know, high voltage switches and stuff like that and so my job was travelling around Ontario calling on utilities and trying to sell them our street lighting and our electrical high voltage equipment. So it was a good job. It was a nice part of Ontario down towards Belleville. I don’t know if you know that. You look at a map someday and you’ll see it. It’s a nice area. It’s called the Quinte area and it’s, it’s changed a lot of course with you know building and that but it was quite quaint. And then I retired and I’m still very active. I’m still driving my car and playing a bit of golf and yeah I have some good friends which makes life interesting. So I’ve, I’ve covered a lot of territory in a few words.
DE: Oh yeah. Yeah. I’m just wondering if you could go into a little bit more detail about, about your training. What aircraft were you on for your training?
RA: What was that?
SK: Well, can you give a little bit more detail about your training? What aircraft you were on for your training.
RA: Oh. Training. Well, trained in, in Calgary at the Wireless School and took that navigation course but as I say they kind of split that group up. I went from, and we did various things at Calgary. We took a commando course to see if we were tough I guess. You know, climbing cliffs and ropes and, and I graduated and went to Jarvis Bombing and Gunnery School and we did, oh they had drogues and you’d get, they had a firing machine guns trying to hit the drogue. That was the gunnery part of the course which I never used after that. I did strictly wireless work in the crew. From there —
SK: What about the Bahamas?
RA: Eh?
SK: The Bahamas. The Bahamas.
RA: Oh yeah. I was trained of course. I probably got a little ahead of myself. I went from the OTU in the Bahamas after I graduated was where we trained on the Mitchell bomber and then the, the Liberator. We did what we called, our graduating exercise was called a Kingsley exercise and the exercise was it, we had to intercept a frigate which was a small warship out of Bermuda and they would give us a target to bomb. Like we’d drop a depth charge and, and they’d, it was kind of a navigation exercise, a wireless exercise and, and different crews would intercept this and then they’d, they’d give us a square search around the area and then that was part of the exercise and then we’d go back to Nassau. The day we took the exercise the, there was a crew made up of the gunnery leader, the navigation leader and they had reported to the, the frigate and the frigate gave them a square search but they never heard from them after that. And, and it turned out eventually that they’d ditched and we never did find the crew. We, we did a couple of searches for them but it was, it was a real tragedy because they were, the crew was made up of all the different leaders of the different groups. So, the theory was that the sea was quite calm that day and they figured they might have been doing low flying and it’s hard to judge your height on a calm sea and they figured they maybe dipped a wing and the aircraft went in to the drink as they say. So, and then so well we spent about four months there training and then left for overseas to 223 Squadron and did what we did there as I’ve explained earlier. So is there anything else I can think of?
DE: Well, a couple of things. One, what did it feel like when you realised that you were searching for this other crew during training in the Bahamas?
RA: What was that?
SK: What did it feel like when you were searching for this other crew in the Bahamas?
RA: Well, it’s hard to say. You are hopeful that you’ll find something and it’s like I guess like any when you’re hoping that you’ll find them and you’re trying to spot debris and stuff like that in the ocean. But, and the feeling is I’m just a little hard to describe it but you’re hoping you’re going to find them and they are going to be ok. But you kind of get I think eventually used to the fact that people are going to disappear or get killed so, and emotionally I think you just try to contain your emotions and things like that. So, so we never did find anybody and neither did the other search crews. So [pause] and so and other members of my crew like our navigator was a close friend of the navigation leader so he was, you know quite upset about the fact that he had disappeared. You know, I think his name was [pause] I’m trying to think of his name but I can’t. Anyway, they called him, he was quite tall, I just forget, he had a nickname [laughs] I know it was Daddy Long Legs or something like that. But so, so some of the guys were more upset of course then I was because I didn’t know them personally.
DE: So then, then can you remember the name of the ship that you crossed over to the UK on?
RA: What’s that?
SK: Do you remember the name of the ship that you crossed over to the UK on?
RA: Yes. It was called the Nieuw Amsterdam. It was a regular cruiser ship and was called the Nieuw Amsterdam. And I didn’t really appreciate the food. As I was saying I was eating these Rosebud chocolate bar, chocolates and it upset my stomach and they thought I had appendicitis so they put me down in the hold. And, and then we got to a place, I think it was Gourock where we disembarked in Scotland and they sent, they said, ‘Pick up your kit bag.’ So I did and I’m lugging this kit bag and all of a sudden they put me on a stretcher, you know. So I’m, I’m good enough to carry my kit bag but they put me on a stretcher and take me off the boat and when they were going up the quayside it was kind of steps from the, up the, they kind of slipped and I thought I was going to end up in the bay. But I didn’t and so then we went on to Hairmyres Hospital which was a convalescent hospital during peacetime and as I mentioned before I was the only one there so I got the best of attention. And then the, one morning they said, ‘The doctor wants to see you so take your clothes off and go in this room.’ So I went in and this beautiful woman came in and she said, ‘Get yourself undressed.’ I said, ‘I’ll wait for the doctor if you don’t mind.’ She said, ‘I’m the doctor.’ So [laughs] so anyway [laughs] anyway they checked me out and it turned out I was ok. I didn’t have appendicitis so they discharged me from the hospital and I caught a train and ended up with our squadron. Reported in and, and started doing what we did.
DE: Had, had your crew started ops without you?
RA: Hmmn?
SK: Did your crew start ops without you?
RA: No. No. They did some training exercises and there was a flight lieutenant had taken my spot as the wireless operator but he only flew one trip. It was a kind of a training exercise and then I arrived and so I was back with my crew. But a fella wrote a book, it’s called, “Liberator,” 223 I think, squadron and he lists all the different crew members that were on 223 Squadron and and in the initial listing he shows this flight lieutenant as the wireless operator in my crew. But it didn’t happen but it’s always been listed that way. It should have been me. So anyway, anything else?
DE: What was, what was the Liberator like to fly in?
SK: What was the Liberator like to fly in?
RA: It was a lousy aircraft. A lot of trouble, you know. The, the yeah always engine failure a lot. They were old American aircraft and we were using them but they were equipped with this special equipment. The flight deck was a death trap. There was no way out. You had to, if something happened and you had to evacuate the airplane you had to go down through the bomb bay doors. That was for people on the flight deck. The back of the plane where the two beam gunners and the special operators were there was a hatch and you could jump out and get out. The night they were attacked the story I get was that the fellas on the flight deck were all killed. There was six of them and, and the one beam gunner he was a fella that were never put his harness on. He was warned, you know he should put it on and a friend of mine who was the other beam gunner said, ‘The night we were attacked the last I saw of him he was looking for his harness and unfortunately it cost him his life,’ because my friend, his name was Maxwell he was the other beam gunner he said if he’d just had his harness on because they had chest packs that you could hook on to his harness and you could maybe jump together if he couldn’t find his parachute. So he said he couldn’t even do that because he didn’t have his harness on. So he lost his life. He was found sitting in a field. They thought he was still alive but the back of his head was gone so he must have jumped about, probably the aircraft was practically on the ground, at least parts of it. So he jumped too late. So that was a tragedy and I was pretty close to the guys that got killed. I didn’t know the fellow that took my place. I had never met him so, but the rest of the crew we were pretty close to, you know, we got along good. So there’s as they say there’s a plaque at your place there with their names on them and they were shot down on February the 21st and I think it was they came, they crashed down near a village called Dornheim in the southern part of Germany. There was some correspondence back and forth with my navigator who, he got out because his position in the aircraft was in the, the front wheel compartment so he could kick the wheel door open and bale out that way. So he got out but as I say the people on the, like the mid-upper gunner, the two pilots and the flight engineer didn’t have a chance. And I wouldn’t have had a chance either if I’d have been on the flight. So thank God I was, I was sick. I don’t know what else to say about that.
DE: How long —
RA: Oh, and then after, after that I, my, our pilot’s brother come down to visit and I got to know him and I did a couple of, and I was grounded for a few weeks so they were doing transport stuff on the Dakota. I think they were twin engine Dakotas, the transport planes and they were flying equipment over to the airports that were being established in Europe as the armies advanced, you know. So I flew over to Brussels a couple of times with them just as a passenger. And so I spent time on the squadron for a while trying to recuperate and then I started flying again as I mentioned with Mr Briscoe, or [pause] So anything else?
DE: No. I mean, just what could you, could you go through a little bit what was it like flying in operations? Could you talk me through the day?
SK: What was it like flying in operations? Can you tell him? Like walk him through a day?
RA: What was it like? Well, it was uncomfortable. We had heated suits and some nights they were working. Some nights they didn’t work and it was [laughs] I remember one night I thought, ‘God if I ever get out of this aeroplane I’ll never complain again.’ I was freezing. And of course, then we landed and we had a cigarette and I started complaining right away [laughs] But it was [pause] I operated, my main job was making sure, well they sent, it was always a coded message sent at different intervals during that time of the flight and, and if you, there was and most of the time we were diverted to another airport because of weather conditions or night fighters may be in the area of your, of your landing field. So my main job was to make sure I got that diversion because I didn’t want to land back. One night we did a, it was a flight to Berlin. The raid was in the Berlin area and it was about a six hour flight. It was December the 6th as I recall and, and we started to have engine trouble and as we were coming back we were running low on fuel and we were diverted to Manston. That’s I think somewhere near London. It was an emergency airport and we, we kind of crash landed in to there and the next morning we went to check the aircraft and one of the mechanics said, ‘Guys, you guys were lucky.’ He said, ‘You had about two minutes worth of fuel left or you would have ditched in the Channel.’ So that was a kind of a hairy experience. But generally speaking oh and I had a piece of radar that I operated that showed if there was an aircraft approaching our aircraft you know. Maybe a German night fighter. But some nights it wasn’t working, you know. So it was that type of equipment. It was all kind of not so good as I say. The Liberators were, were old and, and a lot of trouble. We did a lot of what they called half ops. We’d get going, we’d get over Europe and maybe the flame damper on the plane would, would break and you could see a flame coming out of the back of you so you had to come back and so you didn’t get any credit for that although you could have been killed. What else? Oh, generally speaking the flights were just what they are. We were, everybody is pretty calm. You don’t hear much chit chat on the, other than I would report if there was a diversion to the pilot. Let him know. I could also get a fix for the navigator if he got, if his Gee box was jammed or something and he needed some help. I could get a fix from two transmitters. One, I think one was in Scotland and one was in the southern part of England so I could get a fix from just where we were and I could give that to the navigator. I think I only used it once so our navigator was a pretty sharp guy. His [pause] him and his wife were cited by the Queen for their work in education in England after the war. His name was Johnson. Yeah. Ron Johnson. A great guy. He became a headmaster at a school after the war. So, have I given you anything more interesting?
DE: Yeah. Yeah. That’s great. So, were you, were you a mixed crew then?
SK: Were you a mixed crew?
RA: Oh, a mixed crew. Yeah. There was. Mostly it was. Our flight engineer was English. He was from England. He was in the RAF. Our navigator was in the RAF. The second pilot, he was a sergeant from, he was from Scotland. The beam gunner was a Canadian. The wireless operator was me, a Canadian. Our first pilot was from, he was a Canadian. He was from Calgary. So it was a mixed crew. Yeah. English and Canadian. We had a ball team on our squadron and we had enough guys to play the American 8th Air Force. They invited us for a game. Anyway, we had a great pitcher. He was really good. He used to play in what we called the Beaches League in Toronto. And so we went over to their airfield for, for the game and then we had dinner after in their Mess Hall and what a difference between their Mess Hall and ours [laughs] They had all kinds of nice food and stuff and ours was kind of, you know curried stuff. Food wasn’t great in the RAF. So we played a couple of games with them and we won one, they won one, and there was, our centre fielder was a fella named Wing Commander Burnell. He was a wing commander but he was a Canadian who had gone over to England to play hockey prior to the war. When the war came along he joined the RAF and so, but he was a good head and everybody got along good with him. You could kind of kid him and he didn’t stand on ceremony much like some guys did. So we had a, so we did little things like that between operational trips and so, and it was in a nice area of England. It was near Aylsham or, I don’t know if you know that area. It was just off the Wash in Norfolk and they now have a museum at Blickling Hall which is apparently where Anne Boleyn was born. It’s a national treasure this and they have a museum there which has a lot of information about our squadron and there’s a picture of our crew in this, in this museum. So if you’re in Blickling Hall [laughs] near Aylsham, take a look.
DE: Yeah. I’ve, I’ve not been. I was in Norfolk last, last summer but I’ve not been for a while. The, the recording is saying that we’ve got about seven minutes left. Is it ok if I send another link? Can we do another little bit after this time runs out?
SK: So, there’s seven minutes left on this recording.
RA: Yes.
SK: But we can start again with a new recording if you have time?
[recording stopped - voiceover]
RA: Start again?
SK: No. No. Just continue.
RA: Oh yeah.
SK: Yeah. Yeah. Ok.
RA: Yeah. Ok.
SK: Yeah.
RA: He wants to continue.
SK: Yeah. Like this recording time will run out and then we just have to renew it.
RA: Ok.
SK: Yeah.
DE: Yeah. I’ll, I’ll wait until it does end and then I’ll send another link.
SK: Ok.
DE: And then we can.
SK: So we have about five more minutes on this recording.
RA: Yes.
SK: And then we’ll just pause and start again. More. More recording.
RA: Ok.
SK: Yeah. Ok.
RA: Ok.
DE: Ok. So, what else, what else did you do in England during your, your periods of leave?
RA: What else did I do?
SK: In England during your periods of leave.
RA: Oh. Well, I went on leave. I would visit our navigator’s home down in the, I think they lived in Hounslow which is just outside of London. It’s kind of a suburb. I’d visit there. Went to Glasgow and Edinburgh on leave so, and went, got to know in Scotland there was a group called the Old Contemptibles and they had little private beer halls I guess. They’d meet and so if you had a friend you could get in and enjoy a beer with the Old Contemptibles. Visited different places. After the war ended a chum of mine and I, we, we did a week just hiking around the countryside and some nights we’d live in a barn and then we’d go to the little pubs and, and you know we just generally hung around. I liked the, the countryside around where the squadron was and so on Sundays I’d often take a walk through the, the, there was a kind of a forest surrounding the airport so it was, it was quite a nice spot to be. There was some farmers in the area and the odd time they’d invite some of our, the aircrew guys for dinner and so that was always kind of nice. But and then we’d spend, we’d go down to Aylsham which was about a mile from the airport and there was a pub there and a fish and chip store so we’d have fish and chips and go to the pub. I remember one day we were walking in and this V-1, I could see this V-1 coming across a field. It was farmland all around us and it had a, you could hear the engine. It was a kind of a rough engine and it was flying at about three hundred feet and then all of a sudden the engine stopped and it took a dip down and exploded in the field. That was a V-1. I think they abandoned those eventually and the V-2 was more of a rocket but the V-1 was like a small aircraft with probably an explosive charge in the nose of it. So, so anyway we just generally hung around. Played a bit of cards. Tried to win some money. Never did [laughs] And so [pause] anything? I can’t think of anything else.
SK: How about the Ovaltine story?
RA: Yeah.
SK: The Ovaltine story.
RA: Eh?
SK: The Ovaltine story.
RA: Oh yeah. I remember. When we first, just after we arrived at the squadron we decided to go in to Norwich to see what the town was like. So we put on our dress uniforms myself and our rear gunner and the beam gunner and off we went. We wondered around town and we saw this little tea shop so we thought we’d go in and have a cup of tea or something. So we went in and my two buddies they ordered coffee and I said, ‘You know, I don’t want a coffee. I’d like, I think I’d like an Ovaltine.’ And the waitress said, ‘Ovaltine?’ She said, ‘Listen, don’t you realise there’s a war going on and we can’t get that stuff.’ I said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘No. I’m sorry I didn’t realise that. I’ll have a cup of tea.’ [laughs] That’s quite a little story.
DE: Yeah.
RA: But, and then we would go into Norwich occasionally and have dinner. I remember going to this one restaurant. It was upstairs on the main street as I recall and they had a thing called wiener schnitzel on the menu and I thought that was a hot dog because a wiener was an expression we used for hot dogs in Canada. You know you’d get a wiener in. So I ordered it and, and they bring it and I said, ‘Well,’ I said, ‘I ordered wiener schnitzel.’ I said, ‘This looks likes a piece of veal.’ She said, ‘Well, that’s a wiener schnitzel.’ I don’t know why I remember that.
DE: Great.
RA: So I knew what a wiener schnitzel was after that. We did little things like that most of the time you know.
DE: Ok. So we’ve only got a minute and a half left so I think we’ll, I’ll not ask you another question but what I’ll try and do is is send another, another link through and then we’ll have a few more questions the other, in part two if that’s ok.
SK: Ok. So he’ll, we’ll stop here and we’ll do part two in a few minutes.
RA: Ok.
DE: Ok so I’ll say cheerio for now and hopefully.
RA: Ok.
DE: If the internet is kind I’ll see you again in a few minutes.
SK: Ok. Thank you.
DE: Right. Cheers for now then.
SK: He says cheers for now.
RA: Yeah. Cheerio.
[recording paused]
SK: Now you have to record from my end so let me just do that.
DE: Okey dokey. I’ve hit go as well.
SK: Ok. One second. Ok. I am recording.
DE: Thanks Steve.
SK: Ok.
DE: Thank you. Well, hello again. So, we’ve got another forty minutes. Hopefully that, that will be enough. So thanks for, thanks for coming back for more.
SK: He says thanks for coming back for more.
RA: Oh. You’re welcome, Dan.
DE: It’s great to talk to you. Thank you.
RA: I hope it’s interesting.
DE: Oh definitely. Yes. Yeah. I just wish that I was there in person rather than having to talk like this.
SK: He wishes it were in person. It would be, rather than talking over the screen.
RA: Oh yeah. Well, that’s too bad. I could fly over if you like [laughs] I often thought I’d like to visit the old squadron site you know but it hasn’t happened yet and I’d better do it soon because I’m getting pretty old.
DE: Yeah. Well, I mean if they —
RA: Your, your place is in Lincoln, eh?
DE: That’s right. Yes.
RA: Yeah.
DE: Yeah.
RA: Is there any chance of getting a picture of the plaque with my crew’s name on it?
DE: Yes, of course. Yeah. I can do that. Definitely. Yeah. Yeah. I’ll just make a note. I will. I will sort that out for you.
RA: Yeah. So if you need any, the night they were shot down was February the 21st.
DE: Yeah. No, I can —
RA: And I think, and I know their names.
DE: Yeah. Yeah. No. That’s fine. I can sort that out for you.
RA: Ok.
DE: I’ll email it to you Steve. Yeah.
SK: Ok. Thank you. He’ll send it to me and then I’ll print it for you.
RA: Ok. Thank you.
DE: That’s ok.
RA: Thanks Dan.
DE: I’m going there Tuesday next week so I’ll get that sorted for you.
RA: Ok.
DE: So before the, before we had to stop and start again you were talking about what you did and playing, playing the Americans and the food and things.
RA: What was that?
SK: So you, just before we left you were telling him about some of the things you did on leave. Playing the Americans, then going for fish and chips and that.
RA: Oh yeah.
DE: Did, did you —
RA: Well, the main spot we did for entertainment was down in Aylsham which was about a mile from where we were and on the weekends they’d have a dance for the members of the forces and it was in the Town Hall and it was always kind of a lot of fun. You could have a few beers and you met the odd person. I never got involved really with any women [laughs] while I was there so I wasn’t all that interesting but I had a lot of good friends and we’d chum around and we’d play cards and have a dance and of course the fish and chip store was a popular spot. We’d get a, you know it was all wrapped in newspapers and you could walk around the street kind of eating your fish and chips and I, I think the, there’s the pub. I have some pictures of Aylsham but the pub is still there. It was called the black something. It was a nice spot and the people there were quite friendly, you know. They didn’t seem to resent the, the armed forces guys. It was mostly Air Force personnel from our squadron that visited there anyway because we were pretty close by. So, so that was where we spent some of our off time. In Aylsham. It was a nice little spot.
DE: Did you, did you spend most of the time with your crew or did you associate with the ground personnel at all?
RA: I spent most time with members of my crew. The guys we knew. Didn’t get to know the ground crew personnel that well or the [pause] got to know some of them just sort of a greeting type of situation. ‘Oh, how are you?’ Like the people that worked in the Mess Hall and and complained to them about the food. Didn’t do any good but it kind of helped relieve the, the taste or whatever you want to call it. You felt you were trying to accomplish something and maybe it waited for better but oh and the I remember one of the meals was called the, it was a post-flight and a pre-flight meal and it consisted of a fried egg and some bacon and the egg was as greasy as can be. I can remember our pilot putting jam on it to kind of [laughs] to kind of break the taste up and they used to refer to that as the last supper which was, which was kind of, you know a disturbing [laughs] but and we would chit chat about what we were going to do. And then after the flight we landed. We’d all have a cigarette you know. We’d stand around the aircraft and discuss how things went. And most nights it was sort of quiet. I can remember one night I don’t know why I’d left my position and I was at the beam window with the beam gunner and this aircraft came right under ours and I thought should I say something or just let him go. He can go his way we’ll go our way. Sometimes if you engaged them it becomes deadly so it might have been one of our own aircraft. It was hard to tell at night. But he was so close I could see him in the cockpit. You know it was lit. So [pause] so where am I now?
DE: Oh no. That’s a great story. I’ve, I’ve talked to air gunners who have said they saw night fighters and didn’t open fire because they didn’t want to give their position away.
RA: Eh?
SK: So he talked to air gunners who saw night fighters but didn’t want to engage to give away their position.
RA: Oh, I think —
SK: Yeah.
RA: That probably happened quite a bit you know. You know don’t, don’t disturb anything and probably the guy that you were observing was feeling the same way. So let’s, let’s just get out of here alive. Yeah. Oh, I’m sure it happened quite a bit.
DE: Yeah.
RA: You didn’t start shooting at a guy unless he kind of looked threatening I think. Probably something like that.
DE: Yeah. Yeah. You talked about standing around and having a cigarette after an operation. Did you have any superstitions or rituals that you did before an operation?
RA: Superstitions.
RA: Ahum?
SK: Or rituals eh? Or rituals like what, like before —
RA: No. Not really. We were a pretty conservative crew I think. We didn’t have a lot of that. Some of the guys smoked. Some of them didn’t. I liked, I had a little pack of, they were called wild woodbines. They came five to a pack. It was in a paper package and I’d keep it in my uniform. We were equipped with sidearms. You know, a pistol but I never thought that was a good idea. I thought I’d take chocolate bars and cigarettes and if I get shot down I’ll be able to make friends I hoped because I didn’t think you’d get very far with a six shooter. So that was my thinking.
DE: Ok.
RA: Be friendly [laughs] but fortunately I didn’t have to exercise that but I imagine when our crew was shot down they, you know they probably [pause], I remember my, the beam gunner his name was Maxwell. He said, I met him after the war and he told me a little bit about what happened. He said he was interviewed and the interviewer said, ‘Listen we’ve, we’ve got most of the information from Arnett but we just wanted to confirm things.’ And he said the reason the, he said, ‘I knew they were lying because I had —’ he had borrowed my heated suit and it had my name on it and they found that and they, so they used that as an excuse to try and get information out of my friend Brian Maxwell. And he said, ‘Well, if Arnett’s told you everything. I don’t have much to add.’ [laughs] Of course, I wasn’t even there but they found this heated suit with my name and so [pause] So I remember that. Him telling me that. And they were interviewed and the, the allied forces were forcing the Germans back and they, so the prisoners were on marches all the time heading back maybe towards Germany and our navigator kept a sort of a diary on a cigarette packet. He wrote little notes down to himself and he wrote a book after the war describing his experience which was, well February and the war ended in May so it wasn’t too long but he said it was quite a harrowing experience. The Germans weren’t the nicest guys in the world so that’s, but I never heard from the rest of the crew after that. I kept in touch with our navigator. He, we chatted back and forth on the phone over the years and then he died a couple of years ago and so, and so I think I’m the only member maybe of the squadron that’s still alive. I’m certainly the only member of the crew. I know that for sure.
DE: Yeah. I’m just looking. I’ve got, I’ve got some notes. So you’ve talked a bit about fighters. Did you experience flak?
SK: Did you experience any flak?
RA: Yes. We had a little bit of flak. In fact, the night we came back from the German, the Berlin raid there was some flak that we were hit with but whether it damaged one of the engines or not I don’t know what caused it but when we landed of course we, as I mentioned before the, the mechanic said, ‘You guys were lucky. You had about a teaspoon full of petrol left.’ Or a couple of minutes of flying time. He said, ‘You were lucky you didn’t end up in the Channel.’ So, well, what was, I don’t know what else to say.
DE: I’ve got another couple of questions so one you didn’t go on that, that operation because you had been grounded because you were ill.
RA: Yeah.
DE: How did, how did that happen? Was that the medical officer that stopped you flying or —?
SK: How did that happen? Was it the medical officer that stopped you from flying?
RA: Yeah. It was. It was the station doctor. I wasn’t even going to report it. I was going to stay on and fly the night because we were on the Battle Order in a couple of nights hence. But my crew members said, ‘You’re crazy, you know. It might be something serious, you know.’ So I reported to the doctor about for this. There was, there was always a doctor on the squadron. So he, he said, well I think what happened —
[pause]
SK: Sorry. One second.
RA: The doctor said, ‘I think what happened,’ he said, ‘You’re flying at that altitude with a cough that expanded your lungs and it pops under the blood vessels and that’s what’s causing the bleeding. But — ’ he said, ‘I’m going to ground you and I’m sending you up to Ely—’ where there was a hospital in Ely, ‘And get some x-rays.’ So that’s what happened and consequently it saved my life really. The [pause] and, and so I, I spent a couple of weeks kind of recuperating and as I mentioned before my pilot’s brother had come down to visit and get his brother’s affects you know and so I got to know him and his co-pilot and they invited me to go over. They were going to a station in Wales to pick up some fighter pilot equipment and they were going to fly it over to Brussels and they also had a kit bag full of cigarettes that they were going to sell on the Black Market. And they left them with a guy in Brussels in the hotel and then I went out. We had dinner and then we were going to fly back to England. So anyway, and the guy that was selling the cigarettes they went back to see how things were and they found him all tied up in his room and the cigarettes were gone. So that didn’t work out too good.
DE: That’s a good adventure. Yeah.
RA: Eh?
SK: He said that’s a good adventure.
DE: I’m just, I’ve got a couple of other questions. What was, what was the living accommodation like on the —?
RA: The accommodation.
DE: Yeah.
RA: Well, it was a Quonset hut and there was about oh I’d say six of us in the hut. There was a private room as you came in at one end and a fella named Richard [Tong] he was a wireless op, he was from Vancouver, a little Chinese guy and he, he grabbed the room. So he had his room to himself but the rest of us were in sort of a common area and we just had a cot and a little box for our personal stuff and pictures of our girlfriends if you had one. That type of thing. And there was a coal burning, a little pot-bellied stove in the middle and that provided the heat. And there were all these Quonset huts around the perimeter of the airfield and aircrew personnel lived in them and, and the ground crews were in some sections. The washrooms were kind of not so good, you know. They were kind of open sided and cold so you didn’t spend a lot of time in the them. And there was the shower room as you can, you used to walk from our place up to the Mess Hall and on the way there was a shower room where you could go and have a shower but it was always cold water and and not very comfortable. At least you got clean and the Mess Hall was ok and the food I complained about it but it wasn’t bad. The worst thing was the brussel sprouts. They were just, oh God. They were big and you know kind of bitter is the word. I just hated them and I still hate them. But they used a lot of curry in the food and if they fried something it was as greasy as you could, it’s a wonder we didn’t all have ulcers. So, I don’t know. So that’s, what else was there?
SK: I think that’s what you told me.
RA: Yeah. Anything else.
DE: No. That’s, that’s absolutely wonderful. Unless you can think of any other, any other stories we can, we can wind that up. That’s, that’s brilliant. Thank you.
SK: Rex, what do, what you think about telling him about how you signed up for the Air Force? When you had to borrow a pen. Do you think that’s —
RA: Oh yeah.
SK: I think that’s a good story.
RA: Well, when I was thinking of joining up I was eighteen and I had a chum whose name was Jerry Walsh and we decided to join the Air Force together. But I knew this girl that I eventually married but I didn’t know her that well but I wanted to know her and she worked in the bank. So I thought what the hell can I get? So I had the clever idea I’ll go in and say, I introduced myself and, and said, ‘My friend and I are thinking of joining the Air Force and I wondered, but we don’t have a pen. We have to fill out this form so I wonder if you can loan us a pen.’ And then I said, ‘We’re having a coffee next door if you’d like to come and join us.’ So that was kind of how I got started with my wife. Her name was Jeannie and she was a beaut and [laughs] but we didn’t, I didn’t correspond a lot with her. You know, I sent her the odd picture and she sent me the odd little note you know and a picture of herself which I pinned up above my bed of course. It was a glamourous picture. And so that’s how I got to know her a little bit and I kept up a kind of a casual correspondence during the war. I wasn’t a great letter writer and, but she seemed to, I guess she liked me because anyway she was there to meet me when I arrived and I was very glad to see her and we started going together and we eventually got married so —
DE: Wow.
RA: But I thought it was a clever way of meeting her with asking for the pen.
DE: Yeah. Definitely. Yeah. Very smooth. Yeah.
SK: And Rex, the other story I thought is you were invited somewhere and you went with your friend who was the boogie woogie.
RA: Who was which?
SK: The boogie, you know you were invited to somebody’s house.
RA: Oh.
[pause]
DE: I need to plug my laptop in. Keep talking. You’re alright.
SK: Oh, he’s just plugging in his computer but you can keep going Rex.
[pause]
RA: Just after, are you listening?
DE: Yeah.
RA: Yeah. Just after we arrived in England I was in Torquay and I met a friend that I’d known. I got to know this guy. He was a, he played the piano. He could really play and they were arranging leaves for us for a while before we joined.
SK: Sorry Rex you can’t touch the computer otherwise it starts to do funny things. There you go. So just hold your hand up.
RA: Anyway, they arranged leave as little visits to people in the area and we were invited to go to visit the MacGregors in Budleigh Salterton. That’s on the south coast. And the MacGregor, apparently MacGregor, Mr MacGregor was a colonel and he was stationed in Gibraltar and we were invited to their home and we stayed over a couple of nights and they were very gracious to us. The daughter was beautiful and she had a boyfriend who was in the Navy. And we went swimming in the sea because it was close to them. And the thing I remember and I don’t know why but they had what they called Pears soap. I thought it was really nice soap. Never seen it in Canada but they sell it here now of course. So and my friend, Bob Pope was his name he played the piano so he played and entertained our people that had invited us you know. He played boogie woogie as they called it in those days. Yeah. He was good so that was a good experience. And the other thing after the war we were, I was in Paignton near, near Torquay and we met an old, my chum and I met an older couple at church one morning and they invited us to come back and visit them so we would go and they were quite elderly so we used to take our ration cards and give them the ration cards and they’d give us a cup of tea and a scone and we kind of had a bit of a relationship with them for a month or two. But it was just one of the social things that happened when you were overseas.
DE: Yeah. I guess it had to. Had to work like that because where else would you, where else would you go when you’re so far away from home?
RA: Hmmn?
SK: It had to work like that because where else would you go when you’re so far away from home?
RA: Oh, well no place. Well, there was a spa there in Torquay. I remember going and I stayed in the sweat room so long I could hardly walk when I come out. I almost fainted and I was in good shape so I never went back to that. But I thought I’d relax and get a nice, you know. So, so the Torquay area was very nice, you know. It’s kind of a, have you ever been down there?
DE: Yeah.
RA: Yeah, it’s kind of a semi-tropical climate you know. There’s palm trees there and what have you. So it was fun cycling around the country while I was waiting to go home and so I did a lot of that and I enjoyed the English countryside. I think it’s beautiful. Yeah.
DE: Yeah. Smashing. So I, unless you have, unless you have any other stories I’ve just got one more question which I sort of ask lots of people. It’s how do you, what do feel about the way Bomber Command has been remembered?
SK: How do you feel about the way that Bomber Command has been remembered?
RA: Well, it’s you hear a lot of negative stuff about it. About, you know maybe it was overkill. But I really think it had to be done because the Germans were a real threat and a, and a terrible philosophy you know of killing off a whole race of people. So I think the war had a cause. Maybe not so much the First World War which was more political but this war was necessary to stop the Germans. We don’t seem to have learned anything by it. You know. We’re still killing each other and it’s just crazy. It doesn’t accomplish anything. When I think of why those, my crew guys lost their lives for what? You know. The flight was kind of meaningless. The war was winding down but it cost them their lives. So, but Bomber Command seems to have a bad name. That we were cruel, you know and I and the bombing was a cruel thing but it was cruel on both sides and the Germans asked for it. And how do you stop them? You can’t be too selective because you just don’t get anything done if you’re trying to protect one part of the population and fight the other part. They’re all kind of mixed in. So, so I think the Bomber Command did a good job and probably helped end the war and didn’t get much credit for it. The casualties in aircrew were the highest of any of the services percentage wise apparently.
DE: Yeah.
RA: So it was not ever a safe job so to speak.
DE: No. Definitely. Yeah.
RA: And I was proud to be part of it actually. I was proud of the guys I flew with. They were great.
DE: Yeah. Thank you. So is, what was it that made you want to join up? I mean apart from impressing your, your then, your wife but —
RA: What was that?
SK: What was it that made you want to join up besides impressing Jean with your —
RA: It was just an adventure. My, my mum had died and my dad was in the hospital and I was kind of at loose ends. So I didn’t have a great patriotic reason. I just wanted to get involved. So I don’t have a great reason for joining other than I wanted a change and I thought it would be a great adventure and it was.
DE: Yeah. So why the Air Force and not the Navy or the Army?
RA: The other services didn’t interest me. I I wanted to be an ace [laughs] I never have. I used to help. We used to do what they called circuits and bumps, you know. We were just checking the aircraft out and the pilot who we were pretty close friends and he would let me take over and help. I could do the approach. He never let me land because I might crash the thing but [laughs] but he’d let me take over and make the approach. So I got a feel for the flying part and I took lessons after I came home from overseas at the airport. An island airport. At a flying school. So I went there for a bit but it got expensive.
DE: Yeah.
RA: So I packed it up.
DE: Ok.
RA: And here I am.
DE: Yeah. Smashing. I think, I think we’ll call it an end to that unless you’ve got any other stories or anything you want to, you want to ask me.
SK: You, so if you have any questions you want to tell him or any stories but I know you brought some paper that you thought he might be interested in.
RA: Well, I just got pictures of our crew. I don’t know if you are interested in those. Do you want to see them?
DE: Yeah. Please.
RA: This is a picture of our crew in England and that’s me there.
SK: Hang on a second, Rex. You’ve got a, sorry I’m just going to have to put it over your face. Right.
RA: Yeah. Sure.
DE: Steve, would you be able to scan these for us?
SK: Yes. Yeah.
DE: Thank you.
RA: That’s the crew in Nassau at the OTU.
SK: Oh, you have to hold it up.
DE: Yeah.
SK: Hold it over your face. Yeah. There you go.
DE: Yeah. Short sleeves. Yeah.
RA: That’s me there.
DE: Wow.
RA: Can you see it ok?
DE: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Oh, wizard. That’s great.
RA: And that’s a printout of our navigator’s [pause] his book on, it lists the different operational trips and the time it took. So but I don’t know if you’re interested.
DE: I’ll try and get a copy of the book.
SK: He’ll try to get a copy of the book.
RA: Yeah. You can get copies of of all the flights at, at I think it’s at the museum. They have records there of all 223 Squadron’s activities.
DE: Yeah. Yeah. The Operation Record Books. We’ve got access to those so yeah.
RA: Yeah. And the different flights that were taken.
DE: Yeah.
RA: Yeah. And —
DE: Yeah. Well, I’d just like to say thank you very very much for agreeing to talk to me about your experiences. It’s been great to meet you.
RA: Well, I hope it was interesting enough.
DE: Yeah. Definitely.
RA: Nice meeting you Dan.
DE: Yeah.
RA: And you’ll send me a photo of our crew’s plaque eh with their name on it.
DE: I will do. Yes. Yeah.
RA: Thank you very much.
DE: It’ll, it’ll take a couple of days but I’ll, I’ll make sure that the photos get to you definitely.
RA: Ok.
DE: Yeah. Are you, are you happy for me to [pause] to add this interview, this our conversation to, to the Archive?
SK: Are you ok if he adds this conversation to the Archives?
RA: Yeah. No, that’s fine. Yeah. Yeah. There’s nothing secret about it [laughs]
DE: That’s good. Thank you very much. Right. Ok. Well, I’m going to stop. I’m going to recording here then.

Collection

Citation

Dan Ellin, “Interview with Rex John Arnett,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 28, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/45572.

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