Interview with Ray Parke. Two


Interview with Ray Parke. Two


Ray Parke trained as a flight engineer. During a training flight the pilot wanted to get back to base as soon as possible because he had a date but they were flying a Stirling. The pilot made an error on landing and the wheel stayed in the ditch and the Stirling kept going. The aircraft was a write off. Ray and his crew went on to join 218 Squadron at RAF Chedburgh. He completed forty operations before he was twenty. On their fortieth trip the CO said he would let them have a easy trip for the last one but it turned out to be Essen because it was changed at the last minute. On their first trip they got lost because the navigator had been given the wrong winds. On one operation they had a damaged engine and were losing height when a Mustang appeared and escorted them to the coast. Discusses the Eighth Passenger and Faith is a Windsock, the books his bomb aimer Miles Tripp wrote, and their crew reunion. Goes on to talk about his tour of operations, the bombing of Dresden and low flying.




Temporal Coverage




00:46:45 Audio Recording


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AParkeRG230330, PParkeRG2303


DW: If you want to grab a cup of tea soon.
RP: Yeah.
DW: They’re really quite good here so —
DK: Ok.
DW: If I just leave that will be for that reason.
DK: Ok. So, if I just introduce myself it’s David Kavanagh for the International Bomber Command Centre interviewing Ray Parke on the, where are we? The 30th of March 2023 and with me is Samantha [Podmore].
SP: That’s right.
DK: And Dale Wiseman. So, I’ll put that there. If you just, just speak normally. If I keep looking down I’m just making sure that the recording device is working.
RP: Hmm.
DK: Now the first thing I wanted to ask you. I understand in the last few weeks you went to Duxford.
RP: Yes.
DK: How, how was that?
RP: I was just telling Samantha today it was a wonderful trip. I had been to Duxford many many years ago but that was a marvellous day.
DK: And I see here on the photo here you went aboard the Lancaster there.
RP: That’s right. Not many people are allowed to do that.
DK: Did they, did they make a bit of a fuss of you at the museum?
RP: Not half, didn’t they? Yes. They did. Yeah.
DK: So, so what, was that your first time back on a Lancaster then?
RP: I’ve been to the one at East Kirkby.
DK: Right.
RP: Obviously a bit longer ago. Yeah. Yeah. But that was the earliest. Yeah.
DK: And, and what was it like going on board?
RP: I found it difficult to recognise. I couldn’t work out behind the main spar there was a great dip down.
DK: Right.
RP: Where the bomb bay is. I’m not sure that was on the same on my plane.
DK: So you couldn’t remember the dip there.
RP: No.
DK: They did let you go up the front then did they?
RP: No. No. No.
DK: No.
RP: No.
DK: Because it’s a bit, a bit difficult getting over the main spar.
RP: That’s right. Yes. Well it always was during the war [laughs] to get up.
DK: So did it kind of bring back sort of memories for you then?
RP: Oh yes. Of course, that and the East Kirkby were the times I’ve been back on a Lancaster. Yes.
DK: And, and, and hopefully they were, they were very good to you there then?
RP: Yes. First class treatment. Yes.
DK: Because when I saw you a few years ago I didn’t really know about Miles Tripp and it’s only recently I read the book and I was wondering had you, had you read his previous book?
RP: Yes. Yes.
DK: “Facing the Windsock.”
RP: Yes. And that, that preceded –
DK: Yeah.
RP: “The Eighth Passenger.”
DK: And what did you think of, of his book?
RP: Yeah.
DK: His first one.
RP: It’s a long time since I read it. I enjoyed it. Yes.
DK: Because people aren’t mentioned in it are they? You’re –
RP: No. No.
DK: Probably in it.
RP: No.
DK: Did you –
RP: No. That was a bit more fictional that one.
DK: Right. Did you recognise yourself then in any of it then at all?
RP: Well, I can’t remember now. No.
DK: Because I hadn’t realised Miles Tripp, he went on to become a crime writer.
RP: Yes, indeed. He was the chairman of the Crime Writer’s Association.
DK: Oh. Ok. Because how, how did you, how did you get on with Miles on your –?
RP: That was a love hate relationship. I was a country boy and he was a public schoolboy [laughs]
DK: And was it, was he good as a bomb aimer though was he? Or —?
RP: Oh yes. He was well trained. Yes. Yeah.
DK: Because reading –
RP: He started off, he’d trained to be a pilot of course at first in Canada but then he had to change and then of course the observers got more or less redundant didn’t they and they had to become bomb aimers.
DK: And that, that’s how. What about yourself? How did you become the flight engineer then?
RP: When I joined the Air Force I, my first interview was at St Athans and they said, ‘What do you want to be?’ I said, ‘Well, I want to be in the aircrew.’ So I said I would be a, ‘I’ll be a gunner.’ They said, ‘You can’t. You’re too fat.’ So –
DK: Charming.
RP: I said, ‘Well, I’ll do signals then.’ ‘Oh no. That’s too complicated for me.’ You see. ‘Well, there’s flight engineer.’ I said, ‘Yes. Alright.’ Fine to that. So he said, ‘What do you know about engines?’ No. I was eighteen year old. I’d never had a motorbike or anything like that. And he said, ‘Well, describe a cotter pin.’ So I described one on a bicycle and he said, ‘Alright. You’re in.’ [laughs]
DK: Because I find it quite remarkable that you’d completed forty operations before you were twenty.
RP: Yes.
DK: So that, that was in a very short space of time.
RP: Yes.
DK: So the period you had with your crew on operations and training was actually quite —
RP: Very intense it was.
DK: Intense.
RP: We lived in each other’s pockets all the time. We were together. All the time together except when the pilot became a commissioned officer and then devolved to the Officer’s Mess but apart from that all the time.
DK: Because reading, “The Eighth Passenger,” Miles seemed to go to great lengths to get in touch with you all after the war.
RP: That’s right. Yes.
DK: How did you feel when he got in touch with you all some years later?
RP: Completely surprised. I mean we all swore when we left at the end of the war we, that we would keep in touch and see each other but we never did. And then of course he finally turned up and did that.
DK: Yeah. Did, did he write to you then? Because there was a newspaper campaign wasn’t there or —
RP: No. His story was that one of our crew, George Bell, the wireless operator was a police inspector at Henley.
DK: Ah.
RP: And somehow or other Mike must have met him and he said, ‘Well, I live in Norwich. I’ll see if I can find a man called Ray Parke.’ And later on the local evening news said, ‘Where is Ray Parke?’ And of course, that started it up and they traced me and he came back and then we had an interview in the garden and wrote the book together.
DK: So he came to see you at your, your home then.
RP: Yes. Yes. And that I was confusing that with [unclear]
DK: Oh.
RP: It was much earlier than that.
DK: That, that was a few years later.
RP: Yes. Yeah.
DK: So what, what was it like seeing Miles after all those years?
RP: Well, by that time of course we were best of friends.
DK: Oh. I was going to say —
RP: And he’s a very clever chap and he is a barrister. Yes.
DK: Did you get that he, he writes in his book that he met the crew individually. Did you all ever meet up again as a whole crew?
RP: Yes. Yes. We all met up in Bury St Edmunds and we were interviewed by German TV.
DK: Oh right.
RP: And that was the last time I saw the whole crew together.
DK: Can you remember roughly what year that would have been?
RP: No. I can’t. No.
DW: I have —
RP: I’ve no idea.
DW: Ray, has got a photograph of that.
RP: Have I?
DW: Which we, I can get sent to you.
RP: Have I got a photograph of that?
DW: You have. Yeah. Yeah, because you all look a bit older.
DW: Yeah.
RP: Ah yes. You’re, you’re probably thinking of another one in Thetford.
DW: Oh, there was another. So there was another. Oh sorry. I thought it was just one occasion.
RP: Well, that was a weekend when I remember it was Harry McCalla and Les Walker and myself but I think that was just a few —
DW: Oh, I thought. Well, alright. I’ll check my library.
RP: Yeah.
DK: So, you’re, you’re, can you remember the name of your pilot —
RP: Do I?
DK: The pilot. The name of your pilot?
RP: George Klenner.
DK: And, and did he come over from Australia to meet you all?
RP: He did indeed. Yes. And he showed us his Distinguished Flying Cross.
DK: Oh right. So what, what was it like meeting them all again in later years?
RP: That was very good. I was still at work actually and I had sort of to leave work early to get down to Bury, Bury St Edmunds to meet them up and they, by the time I’d arrived they were all sitting around a dinner table.
DK: They’d started without you had they?
RP: That’s right.
DK: But your, your, so your relationship with Miles got a lot better then after that would you say?
RP: That’s right. It was all sort of cat and dog.
DK: Yeah.
RP: Initially.
DK: Yeah.
RP: But —
DK: What, one of the interesting things I find is your rear gunner Harry was from Jamaica.
RP: Jamaica.
DK: I’ve, I’ve actually been working on a project for the museum at East Kirkby of aircrew who served in the Caribbean or came from the Caribbean or West Indies.
RP: That’s right, I’ve read one or two cases about that in the paper. Yes.
DK: Yeah. How did you get on with, with Harry because he must have been —
RP: Harry was a fine gentleman. He was the oldest member of the crew and he really was a very nice chap.
DK: Did you find it difficult at all? The fact he was come from the Caribbean and was living in or serving in England I should say.
RP: I never. No one said anything about that.
DK: No. But he, I see in the book that he remained in London.
RP: That’s right.
DK: He didn’t, he didn’t actually go back.
RP: And he worked at the Battersea Power Station. Engineer I think. And married a Swiss girl.
DK: Oh right.
RP: I went up to see him a couple of times. We wrote. We corresponded together.
DK: There’s, in the book there’s claims that he was a bit of a clairvoyant. He knew what your target was going to be.
RP: Yes. Yes. And that rather upset him I’m afraid. It was quite uncanny. You know, we would say jokily, ‘Where do you think we’re going today?’ And he would say something which was not very far off you know. And then afterward people used to say, ‘Well, how did he know that?’ Of course, the poor chap didn’t really know.
DW: So there was no truth in it then.
RP: No.
DW: No truth in the idea that he knew.
RP: Well, that did happen. Yes.
DW: Yeah, there was –
RP: Yeah. And he would call us a lot of rotters or something.
DK: So just going back a little bit we were talking last time all those years ago about your operations. You’d done thirty and it’s a bit strange that you ended up doing forty. How did, how did that actually come about?
RP: Yes. It was just in Christmas 1944, the Battle of the Bulge and the order came around that if by a certain date in December you had completed less than twenty five trips you would be obliged to carry on and do another five trips to thirty five. So we said well bugger that [laughs] and we put in for some leave and got some leave [laughs] and but then we come back and had to do it. And we went on and then as we were approaching thirty five, around about thirty three, ‘Sorry chaps, the situation hasn’t changed. We’re still short of pilots. Still short of aircraft. Forty trips.’ [pause] And very quickly after that we completed the extra five in a very few days and we did the forty trips and the day or so after we arrived back they said, ‘The order is rescinded and they’ve gone back to thirty.’ There was a story about that.
DW: Wrong place. Wrong time.
SP: Yeah.
RP: Did you ever read that article called, “Beware of the Vicar,”?
DK: No. No.
RP: Our commanding officer. Well, we didn’t like him very much and he wasn’t very popular and everybody called him the vicar. And I only learned just a month or six weeks ago this story. I’d never heard it before but it seemed that he and his flight commander, a man named John Bishop, a squadron leader fell out because he thought the CO was treating his younger aircrew too hard. You see we were flying between thirty five and forty trips in about a week. You know, quite close together and —
SP: Thirty to forty [unclear]
RP: I didn’t know but suddenly that –
DW: Yeah, that is quick [unclear]
SP: Wow.
RP: Well, I’m saying perhaps a fortnight. Yeah. And I didn’t know that and I didn’t know but I’ve now found out that that squadron leader was posted away with his crew and they did go on to complete their thirty five trips as it was to them with another squadron. But the CO never recognised him in any way as a distinguished pilot. Many many flights. And neither he nor his crew got a [unclear]
DK: Ah.
RP: No. And then it occurred to me by reading that story well that must have been going on at the time I was there. You know. As I say seventy years later I found that out.
DK: Wow. Because your, your pilot got the DFC didn’t he?
RP: Yes.
DK: And George Bell the DFM.
RP: Yes. And Les Walker got the DFM. Yeah.
DK: But nothing for your good self?
RP: Hmmn?
DK: No, no, nothing for your good self.
RP: No. No. Or our two gunners or –
DW: What did you get a few years ago, Ray? Your grandson sorted out.
RP: Oh, I got the French Legion of Honour.
DK: Oh right. Oh wow.
RP: Yeah. Yeah.
DK: That’s the top. Top French award. That’s recognition from the French isn’t it?
RP: Yes. Yes.
DK: Yeah.
RP: That’s my photograph.
DK: Wow. Well, that’s, that’s nice to be acknowledged by our —
RP: Yeah.
DK: By our allies, isn’t it.
DW: So he now has that pinned with the others don’t you?
DK: Yeah.
RP: That’s right.
DW: You’ve got your roll now haven’t you. You’ve got your roll now haven’t you?
RP: Yeah.
DW: Well done.
DK: You would say just a little bit about your, your fortieth trip because I think it was a bit special wasn’t it?
RP: Yes. It was special and not [pause] the CO in the previous week came up to the pilot and said, ‘Look. You’re coming up to your fortieth trip. I’ll try and pick out a nice easy one for you.’ And so we thought oh good. That would be a good idea. But when we got on the occasion of the briefing for that trip we went in and we saw the big red line going right across Europe into Essen. Now, that was one of the worst. That was one of the heaviest defended places in Germany apart from Berlin and we’d had lots of trouble there in, on the flights and so we thought rather a dirty trick and he said, ‘Well, I’m sorry. They changed the target at the last minute and you had to go.’ But in the event we got there and got to bombing and he said, ‘Now when you come back,’ he said, ‘I want you to be on your best behaviour because I’ve got lots of people who want to meet you.’ And he said, ‘I want a good return.’ We used to hate flying in formation but, I’m sorry [pause] coming back I looked at the back of the aircraft and there was the whole squadron in tight formation following [little old me] [unclear] I had to finish looking at that.
DK: That was, that was quite, quite, must have been quite spectacular for you then. A bit of, a bit of acknowledgement.
RP: So the pilot said well [unclear] this pilot and instead of we got the message pancake. Instead of pancake he went around again because we were on a different aircraft that day and our flight crew was standing on the dispersal for our normal aircraft and that crew used to see us off every day. Coming, every day we came back. So he deliberately flew over that crew. [unclear] And then we landed and there was all the big wigs. MPs with medals and ribbons and all sorts of things.
DK: That must, that must have been quite a moment for you.
RP: Yeah. Yeah.
DK: Ok.
DW: That’s when you had the photograph taken in the book isn’t it?
RP: That’s right. Yeah.
DW: Yeah. Of the crew.
RP: Yeah.
DW: That was taken at that point I understand.
RP: That was taken to the News Chronicle. Yeah.
DW: It was literally spot on to —
DK: Well, that one there.
DW: Yeah.
RP: Yeah. Another one. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
DK: You haven’t changed much [laughs]
DK: Just going back to Miles’ book again he says, says your pilot was, was quite good at doing a lot of low flying.
RP: Yes. We managed to stop a bus and get the people to run off. We upset a football match. We knocked two old ladies off a bike and so we all, ‘Come on, Dig. You have to stop this. You can’t keep go on like that.’ But he still did that one on the last trip. Yeah.
DK: Was he, was he a good pilot then? Was he?
RP: He was a good, and the funny thing was if ever we’d had a bad trip or something a bit rough particularly Harry, the rear gunner he would say, ‘Dig, that was your best landing. Soft as a feather.’ [laughs] Yeah. There’s always a first [laughs] yeah.
DK: Ok. I’m going to just turn of that for a moment so you can just have a bit of a rest. Just get your thoughts together.
[recording paused]
RP: I was just thinking now how old I would have been but I can’t just work it out for a minute.
DK: Let’s see —
SP: How old are you now, Ray?
RP: Well, I shall be ninety eight next week or next week after.
SP: Ninety?
RP: Ninety eight.
DK: Ninety eight.
SP: Ninety eight next week.
RP: No, a week after. Early in April.
SP: You are in April aren’t you?
RP: Hmmn?
SP: April.
RP: Yeah.
SP: Yeah.
RP: Yeah.
DK: So it was four, five, seven years ago then wasn’t it? Five. Six. Seven. So you’d have been ninety one.
RP: Ninety one. Yeah.
DK: When you, a mere youngster.
RP: Retired dear [laughs]
DK: So talking about after the war what, what was your career after the war then? What did you end up doing?
RP: Learning. Learning a trade. I became a lawyer and that took up most of my time and I did the same job for forty odd years.
DK: Can you remember the name of the company?
RP: Norwich Union.
DK: Oh, right. Oh ok. So your, your whole life has been around Norwich then.
RP: Yes. Yes.
DK: Has it?
RP: Yeah. One of the trips I did with Dale we went to see some cadets in Norwich and one of my office colleagues was there.
DK: Was he?
DW: He was. Yeah.
DK: Oh right.
RP: [I’ve written that down here]
DW: His name was Ray as well, wasn’t it?
RP: Yeah.
DW: Yeah.
RP: Ray Fisher. Yeah.
DW: Yeah.
DK: Presumably you hadn’t seen him for a while then.
RP: No. No.
DK: Oh.
RP: Well, we just didn’t know what. ‘Is that him?’ And he was looking at me, ‘Is that him?’ You know. And it was.
DW: And you went to that ATC as well, didn’t you?
RP: Yes.
DW: Years ago.
RP: Yes, I did. I went and joined an ATC. Yeah.
DW: Yeah.
DK: So you’ve been getting out and about then. You’ve been to Duxford ATC.
RP: Yes.
DK: Did you, did you do a Remembrance Service?
RP: Yes. Oh yes. They always treated me like a prince.
DK: Good.
RP: I was in a wheelchair and in front of the, leading all the procession.
DW: And you went to Thorpe St Andrew church where you used to go didn’t you?
RP: That’s right. Yeah. Where I was in the choir.
DW: He used to be in the choir at Thorpe St Andrew church so because Ray used to live on the same road as the church but —
DK: Yeah.
DW: But probably a good sort of good fifteen minute walk didn’t you?
RP: Yeah. Yeah.
DW: From the church. So you see he was our guest for the day and you’ll be the guest again this year, Ray. So it will be [unclear] We head towards November the 12th this year. Right. Even, even the vicar made a fuss of you.
RP: Yes [laughs] and I understand that was unusual [laughs]
DK: Talking of the low flying I think its how he mentions your return to St Eval. Do you remember that?
RP: Yes. I do indeed.
DK: What, what actually happened then? Can you tell a little bit about that?
RP: We’d been to Saarbrücken and we lost an engine but somehow or other we carried on and bombed and came away after the target. But because we’d lost an engine we’d been losing height and everybody was leaving us behind so we were more or less on our own and halfway through France an American Mustang came and settled down right inside and escorted us back to the coast. But by this time we’d had a message. East Anglia is closed. Every plane, it was quite a large raid was diverted to elsewhere and we were diverted to a place called St Eval.
DK: Is it, it’s in Devon isn’t it?
RP: Cornwall.
DK: Yeah. Yeah.
RP: Just on the peninsula down there.
DK: Yeah.
RP: Not far from St Ives. But there was a strong wind blowing and we were drifting almost back out in to the Atlantic. But we just pressed on and everybody was all standing up in the cockpit peering out, you know. Can we see land? And eventually we could see these cliffs coming up and well we did just manage to scrape over but forty aircraft were trying to get in at the same time.
DK: Wow.
RP: So you can imagine what that was like. It took us four times to go around. Every time we were ordered to pancake somebody would come in underneath and get in first so we’d go around again. That meant I had to halt the engines and all this. Everything. And four times that happened and the last time he said ‘Well, I’m coming in. Anything’s going to happen you can do what you like.’ So they said, ‘Pancake.’ And we did pancake and we landed there.
DK: So a bit of a, a bit of relief when you got down then.
RP: Oh yeah. That was. That was a big relief yeah. It was one of those things when you land everything goes quiet. The engine switches off and you sit there [breathing] you know. Like that. And then you come around and it’s all finished now. But I will always remember that.
DK: It must have been a real relief when you got back.
RP: Yes. Yeah.
DK: Ok. Well, I’ll just stop there Ray so you can have a —
[recording paused]
SP: And how did you get back from St Eval and Dishforth?
RP: Well, you spent a few days down there and somebody came. We had to leave the plane behind.
SP: Right.
RP: So it was two or three days later somebody came and picked us up and brought us back.
SP: Ok. So you got to see a bit of the UK as well. Not just Norfolk.
RP: Not really. You know you’re sort of on the airport and you can’t go out. You can’t do anything.
SP: Ok.
DK: And did you and your crew socialise much? Did you go to pubs and —
RP: Oh yes. Yes. We, we got on well with the manager of the Woolpack at a village close to Bury St Edmunds. So much so that he used to save the beer for us to the chagrin of his real customers [laughs] and they didn’t like it because they were giving us their beer.
DK: I think, I think you deserved the beer.
RP: Yeah.
[recording paused]
RP: We were novices and the first trip turned out to be to Duisburg in Germany and they said this is going to be a thousand bomber raid. So of course we had to jump in and we took off and then we had to call around to pick up other aircraft.
DK: Yeah.
RP: For this thousand raid and collect them and then go on to France. And so we got halfway across France and, and somebody got up and looked in the astrodome and they said, ‘You know,’ he said, ‘I thought there was supposed to be a thousand bombers about here.’ And we couldn’t see a thing. And there we were. Eighteen year old lost in Germany in the darkest, in the middle of the war. But we managed to get around and finished it and came back.
DK: Was that a bit of a —
DK: I don’t like to use the word but was that a bit of an error by the navigator? I mean he obviously —
RP: Yes. Yes.
DK: Knew and —
RP: That and what he, I think he complained about being given the wrong winds.
DK: Right.
RP: Yeah. But he was [lower] Actually, he was the second navigator. The first one had to be changed and this Les turned out to be an excellent chap in the end. But on his first trip obviously he managed to get lost.
DK: Well, if he’d been given the wrong winds it’s not actually his fault.
RP: That’s right.
DK: Is it?
RP: No.
DK: It’s —
RP: No. No.
DK: He was just acting in good faith.
RP: So there was me. Eighteen years old. Never been further than London and there I was lost in the middle of Germany.
DK: I guess, I guess you sort of grow up quickly then don’t you? It’s —
RP: Yes.
DK: I could imagine eighteen year olds now doing what you did.
RP: Well, of course I was the baby of the crew. Seventeen and a half and it was all a bit of an adventure really.
SP: You mentioned the Woolpack just now. The pub. I think I might have found it, Ray.
DK: Oh, is it still there?
SP: It might still be there.
RP: What’s the name of the village?
DK: Is it in Chedburgh.
SP: No. It’s, the name of the village is Fornham St Martin.
RP: Pardon?
SP: Fornham St Martin.
RP: No.
SP: Not that one. Oh.
DW: Are you full time then for the Bomber Command? Or what’s, what’s the set up?
DK: Oh I only doing these when, when they when ask me to.
SP: It’s the one you brought up. The Woolpack near Bury St Edmunds. Is that —
DW: So are you like actually, are you employed then or or —
[recording paused]
DK: So, what, what’s it like seeing your name in print?
RP: Well, ever since the book of course, yeah.
DK: So you, you’re used to this then. Fame. Fame in a book.
RP: Well, I do due to these people.
DK: So, your friend David Dowe then.
RP: Yes.
DK: Can you say a little bit about him.
RP: Yes. We went to school together and he was about a couple of months older than me and you know just the usual pals. School pals. And then suddenly off he went to the Air Force and I learned later that he went to train as a flight engineer and was flying the Lancasters and so I started to follow and just followed him on. Yeah.
DW: There was a very special Remembrance last year that you could, you could honour him for the first time wasn’t it, Ray?
RP: That’s right. And I mean —
DW: You were able to —
RP: Met some of his family.
DK: Oh right.
DW: Yeah. Yeah, we had one or two events. We had a book launch.
DK: Yeah.
DW: And you met Ray, David’s niece, didn’t you?
RP: Yeah.
DK: So he, he was lost on operations was he?
RP: Yes. He was with an Australian crew I think. They all survived except one person. I think one survived didn’t he?
DW: One person survived.
RP: Yeah.
DW: And the Germans picked him up and he was a prisoner of war.
RP: Yes. Yeah.
DW: Yeah.
RP: So it was sort of through him that you didn’t fancy the Army or the Navy then.
RP: No. Well, we were the Brylcreem boys you see and that was the thing to do for a seventeen year old.
DK: Did the, did the girls like the uniform?
RP: Oh, not half. Talking about that when I was stationed at Methwold the girls used to come up for the dances in the Mess and we got pally with some of them in our crew and they each bought us a silk scarf. And I had that for years and years. Flew with that all over the place. Yeah.
DK: Yeah.
RP: I’ve forgotten the girl’s name.
DK: Have you still got the scarf though?
RP: Not now.
DK: No. You haven’t.
RP: My wife didn’t know what, knew what that was probably [laughs] She liked it.
DW: Tell, tell them about the flight when you went over Thorpe St Andrew and you came over quite low in a Lancaster.
RP: Yeah. We, I think we were [pause] at this pre-squadron and we were just doing a cross country or something and we’d been up to Leeds because George, someone in his family had just got married and so we flew down, down this back passage [laughs] passage and of course they didn’t know what it was and so we carried on and came back to Norwich and I swear I could see my mother’s linen lying in the garden.
SP: He was that low you could see your mother’s washing.
RP: Yeah.
SP: On the line.
RP: I bet that woke a few people up.
SP: I bet it did.
RP: But it couldn’t, couldn’t have been that low really I suppose but —
DW: Because Ray your mum and dad used to run a fish stall, didn’t they?
RP: That’s right. Yeah. Yeah.
DW: Where they used to work.
DK: You didn’t, you didn’t fancy going into the family business then.
RP: I, I said to my dad, ‘Shall I come in?’ ‘No. No. No,’ he said. He wouldn’t like that. So I went off separately.
DW: Your brother worked in it didn’t he?
RP: Yes. Yes. Yeah.
DW: Your brother worked in the —
RP: Had his own shops and things. Yeah.
DK: Ok. Well, I don’t want to tire you out too much.
RP: That’s alright.
DK: But can I just ask obviously a few years have gone on since I last saw you but how do you now look back on those years? How do you think about that?
RP: Well, I was there. I’d done it. I really don’t think too much about it. I just realise how lucky I am that I’m still here sort of thing.
DK: Yeah.
RP: And I’ve done nothing more than many hundreds of thousands of people did exactly the same thing.
DK: Oh, there was one other thing I was wanting to ask you. You, you were at one point flying Stirlings weren’t you?
RP: Yes. Yeah.
DK: What, what did you think of the Stirlings?
RP: A big, more like tanks [laughs] and we managed to write one off at West Wratting.
DK: What happened there? Was it —
RP: We’d been on a cross country flight and I got lost as usual. Anyway, on the way back Dig, the pilot said, ‘I’ve got a date to see a WAAF tonight.’ So he hurried up and tried to shortcut this. There was a shortcut and the answer is that he misjudged the land, the runway and he overshot in the end and of course there was a ditch at the end of the runway and of course the Stirling’s wheels stopped in a ditch [laughs] while the Stirling went on.
DK: Was there, was there much damage?
RP: Written off.
DK: Oh right.
SP: [laughs] Yes.
RP: It was a court martial in affect. We got away with it.
DK: Must have been, must have been quite, quite terrifying as you were trying to get out of the thing was it? Or —
RP: I suppose so. Yeah.
DK: Yeah. You moved pretty quickly did you?
RP: Not half.
DK: And Wellingtons as well. I think you were on Wellingtons as well.
RP: I flew in Wellingtons. Yes. Just for a short while because there was only two engines so there was nothing much for me to do.
DK: As a flight engineer then was it a bit complicated with the Stirling you had to do?
RP: Yes. They were different engines for a start and different, well different petrol, different everything. Petrol tank system was completely different and you weren’t even, you didn’t used to sit next to the pilot on a Stirling. You had your own little cubicle.
DK: Oh right. That must have been a bit awkward then. A bit difficult if you’re not near the pilot.
RP: Well, he was just around the corner. I was not far away.
DK: So the positioning for the flight engineer was better on the Lancaster then.
RP: Oh yes. You had got a whole seat sitting alongside each other. The pilot would be there and my hand would be on the accelerator going up there like that.
DK: Ok then. I’ll, I’ll stop you there because —
[recording paused]
RP: That’s, and used to run them on the aircraft field.
SP: Three motorbikes on an aircraft field.
RP: Yeah.
SP: Between the seven of you to get out and about.
RP: Yeah. And poor old Mike Tripp used to live in the Angel Hotel at Bury St Edmunds with his girlfriend and if ever we were put on that alert somebody would have to get in touch with him, ‘Mike. Mike get back quickly.’ And he tried to get back one day and he slipped on the ice with his motorbike and that crashed and that was no good. But somehow or other he got back just in time. Two or three days later there was a policeman coming up the drive. ‘Is your name Miles Tripp? I’ve got your motorbike.’ [laughs] Yeah.
SP: So then you went down to two bikes did you? Is that?
RP: Yeah.
DK: So, RAF Chedburgh itself what, what was the airfield like?
RP: Well, there’s a picture up there.
DK: Yeah.
RP: Yeah.
DK: Was it, was it a bit not much there or —
RP: Not much there. No.
DK: So where were you billeted then? Was it in a Nissen hut or something?
RP: Around about in a, in a Nissen hut. Yes. Yeah.
DK: And that was, what was it the whole crew in one Nissen hut?
RP: At that time, yes. Yeah.
SP: That’s why it was fairly intense living then and working.
RP: Yes, and Mike, Mike Tripp was in charge of the supplies of coal for the tortoise stove and we used to store the coal [laughs] the coal under his bed. He was the scruffiest airman you could ever see.
DK: Was the, was the coal sort of —
RP: Yeah.
DK: Pinched from different places?
RP: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
DW: Squirrelled.
DK: Squirrelled. Yeah.
SP: Squirreled away.
DK: So did it get rather cold in these Nissen huts then?
RP: Yes. Yeah. But the worst thing is when you’d come home and go to bed and get up in the morning and then the rest of the beds are empty.
DK: Yeah. [pause] Have you, have you been back to the airfield at all? Or —
RP: Yes. We had that main, that reunion I said at Bury St Edmund. That was around about Chedburgh. We went to Chedburgh.
DK: Right.
RP: For that. Yeah.
DK: So your whole crew went back to the airfield then.
RP: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.
DK: That must, that must have brought back a few memories for you.
RP: Yes. That’s right. Yeah. I never saw any of them again after that. Well, only Harry and Mike. Yeah. Paul Songest became an antiques dealer in Cornwall.
SP: Not near St Eval though.
RP: No. I don’t know quite know where. Where it was.
DK: Ok. Well, I’m going to switch this off now. I did put it back on again while you weren’t looking.
[recording paused]
DW: The planes in the sky.
SP: Very noisy.
DK: But as I say Ken, Ken Oatley, I interviewed him. He’s, he’s just turned a hundred and one.
RP: Well, he looks very well [laughs] If I look like that at a hundred and one I shan’t mind.
DK: So he, he was on he was on the Dresden raid with you. He’d have been ahead in the Mosquitoes. He was a navigator.
RP: Yes.
DK: On Mosquitoes.
RP: Yes. Yes. [pause] Actually Miles Tripp got, got in trouble for that. I never really did fully understand but he did. He deliberately missed the target.
DK: He mentions that in his book actually.
RP: Yes.
DK: He says —
RP: Yeah.
DK: He did. Were you aware of that at the time?
RP: No. No. No.
DK: Because he says in his book he didn’t get any confirmation from the Master Bomber.
RP: That’s right.
DK: And he said had he been ordered to he would have followed orders.
RP: He would have done. Yes.
DK: But as he didn’t get the order he —
RP: Yes. Yeah.
DK: Because did you ever talk about that raid at all afterwards?
RP: Well, if we did I really can’t remember it. But I’m sure we must have been done. Of course, that was horrendous. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.
DK: Because you said you appeared on German TV was it?
RP: Well, I never saw the programme.
DK: I’ve been trying to look for that to see if it’s on. On the internet somewhere.
RP: I remember the man coming over. Again, that was in Bury St Edmunds he interviewed us.
DK: Because the only reason I mentioned it Ken Oatley mentioned to me that he appeared on a German TV programme as well. So I’m wondering if you both appeared on the same TV programme in Germany.
RP: Well, I never saw anything of it at all.
DK: I’ll have to, I’ll have to check on that.
RP: Yeah.
DK: See if you’re on the big screen. Well, hopefully if you get your flypast you’re going to have Ray there with you.
RP: Yeah. That would be great wouldn’t it.
DW: Well, it’s he’ll need, he’ll need to be there.
DK: All the, all the staff are coming.
DW: He’s, he’s got a team. He’s got a team around him with two.
SP: An entourage.
DK: Oh right.
DW: Ray and seven others at Duxford. Samantha wasn’t even there.
SP: No.
DW: So that would have been eight.
SP: Yeah.
DW: And he’s got this full team haven’t you?
DK: A team of, a team of sherpas.
DW: Yeah, well just —
SP: I don’t know about that. Groupies I think.
DK: Groupies. Ah. How do you feel when you see the Lancaster flying again?
RP: It gives us shivers and that.
DK: Really.
RP: I don’t know whether you, you hear it first don’t you?
DK: Yeah. No. I do have a claim to fame. I have flown on one so I know what it’s like.
RP: Yeah.
DK: I flew on the Canadian one when it came over to the UK in 2014.
RP: That’s the one they’ve got at East Kirkby, is it?
DK: No. It’s back in Canada now.
RP: Oh right. Yeah.
DK: But the thing I remember when you’re on board is the noise.
RP: Yes.
DK: How did you feel after an operation of seven or eight hours. How?
RP: Well, as I say when you land yeah and you sit there for two or three minutes and don’t move. That was a good [laughs] a good moment that.
DK: I couldn’t, I couldn’t believe the noise it was making as you were inside and it’s flying along.
RP: That’s right. Yeah.
DK: But you’ve got that for —
RP: You’ve got your earphones on.
DK: But you liked the Lancaster then did you?
RP: Oh yes. That was our favourite. HAA-Able.
DW: The one at Duxford is a Canadian one.
DK: Yes.
DW: It is Canadian made. Yeah. It is. So that could be why it’s slightly different.
DK: Could be. Yeah.
DW: There could have just been a slight difference.
RP: Yeah. I I thought on that photograph that seems slightly different to me.
DW: Yeah.
RP: Well, I didn’t recognise the, the aileron controls on that one. That seemed to be quite a substantial bar control and build. I just remember a lot of wires.
DK: Oh.
DW: Well, they had taken a lot of the wiring out.
RP: Yes. That —
DW: A lot of the wiring is missing. So that would, all you’ve got really is the shell.
DK: It is the Canadians did a lot of modifications to them post war so —
RP: Yeah.
DK: You might be looking at post war modifications.
DW: Well, I think that was ’45 ’46 plane. Stuff like that if I’m correct. So it wasn’t —
DK: Do you think even now you could do the job of a flight engineer on a Lancaster or not?
RP: I would just have to sit there and let the pilot take off.
DK: Would you, would you know what to look for in the dials or for the engines?
RP: I had my own little panel down there.
DK: So it was, it was a better set up then the Stirlings then.
RP: I was, I’m talking about low flying. I was bending down reading my gauges and I looked out and there was a tree above me.
DK: Wow.
RP: Oh dear. We made him stop that in the end.
DK: He must, he must have been quite an expert pilot.
RP: He was [unclear] when he chose me for, to join the aircrew you know how you were all put in a hangar and you’d get told and I found myself sitting and waiting and nothing happened. I thought I’d had it and then suddenly this great tall Aussie stood in front of me, ‘Hiya Cobber. Is your name Ray Parke?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ ‘You’re on top of the list are you?’ ‘Yes, that’s me.’ ‘You’re in. Come with me.’ [laughs] Yeah.
DK: He was, it was a good choice though was it? Or [unclear]
RP: Oh, he was a lovely chap, yeah. A lovely chap.
DK: Did you presumably that was the first time you’d met an Australian. Did you find them culturally —
RP: Yes.
DK: A bit different. Or —
RP: That was the first time I met an Australian. Yes.
DK: What did you think of them when you met the Aussies?
RP: Well, brash. Yes. I liked them. I got along well with them. Yeah.
DK: They obviously made good pilots as well.
RP: Yes. He turned out to be a good pilot. He had to learn like the rest of us.
DK: He, he, he didn’t carry on flying after the war then.
RP: Not that I know of. He became a general manager, General Motors manager in Australia. Adelaide I think or something. Yeah.
DK: You never got the chance to go out to Australia to see him then.
RP: Not to see him. I have been to Australia but —
DK: Alright. Ok. We’ll stop there.
DW: That’s lovely. Well —



David Kavanagh, “Interview with Ray Parke. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 1, 2024,

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