Two part interview with Bob Panton

Title

Two part interview with Bob Panton
1029,1030,1031-Panton, Bob

Description

Two part interview with Bob Panton.

Part 1. Bob Panton was a child during the war. One day as his father was coming towards their house Bob saw three Dornier 17 come into view. Then out of the sun came six Spitfires and a battle started in front of him. Bob saw the Dorniers shot down and rushed to the crash site with his friend to see the site. Of the surviving German aircrew one was taken to the local cottage hospital where he spat in the face of the nurse. Bob’s brother was a rear gunner in a Wellington and was traumatised when the Perspex in his turret was shot away around him. Bob joined the ATC at the earliest opportunity before joining the RAF proper and training to be a pilot. He took part in the Berlin Airlift.

Part 2. Bob Panton was fascinated with aircraft ever since a friend of his brother gave him a taxi ride on his Avro 504k. After his wartime experiences in his childhood Bob joined the RAF and trained as a pilot. He took part in the Berlin Airlift. In later years Bob became a guide showing visitors around the aircraft of the museum and hearing their own stories and experiences.

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00:18:14 audio recording
00:17:43 audio recording

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

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Identifier

SHarriganD[Ser#-DoB]v31-02, SHarriganD[Ser#-DoB]v31-04

Transcription

Part 1.

Interviewer: This is an interview with Mr Bob Panton in RAF Coningsby on the 19th of May 2011 talking about his post-war experiences in Lincolnshire. So what are your memories of the war, Bob?
BP: Well, all of it. All of it really. It was very fascinating with all the bits and pieces that went on. I can recall that after the 9 o’clock news every night apart from one there was a programme called, “Into Battle.” It lasted about ten minutes and you used to be absolutely glued to the radio listening to this every night which was part and parcel of what it was all about, you know. We saw very very strange things happen obviously. Only very recently was a report about someone finding an enemy aircraft which was downed in the sea. Yeah, and the powers that be were going to restore this aeroplane or get it out of the sea and it was a Dornier 17 and they did appeal for anyone that knew anything about Dornier 17s as I did. I didn’t do anything about it. Don’t get me wrong. And it was in August 1940, I was on holiday obviously, 12 o’clock father was coming down the garden path on his, pushing his bicycle and then from the south, west southwest of where we were I saw three Dornier 17s and of course as a young fellow who knew every aircraft inside out and backwards and I said to father, ‘There are three German aeroplanes.’ Father came out with some remark which I’ll not repeat and there appeared closer still three Dornier 17s. All of a sudden out of the sun appeared six Spitfires which we later understood came from Digby. Three of the Spitfires peeled away and the other three set about the Dornier 17s and I watched them shoot them down. That was a personal experience which I’ll never forget. One of them they actually sawed the wing off. It’s port wing. Just as if it had gone through a hacksaw. It just went like that and fell down to the ground. Almost immediately in our wisdom a good friend of mine who was equally mad about aeroplanes jumped on our bicycle to find the first one which came down which we knew wasn’t too far away. We got there before the Army did which the Army were not very pleased about because of course the prisoners, the aircrew had baled out and the fact that the blooming thing still carried a full load of bombs [laughs] If you look in the Visitor Centre you will see some of the remains of that Dornier 17. That was a very unusual thing to happen. They gathered all the crews together like eventually. What actually happened was not very nice. One of the poor souls was decapitated as he baled out. Got his head crushed and that was it. It parted company from the rest of his body. Another one was taken from Bilsby where this aircraft crashed to Alford Cottage Hospital by the village parson, Reverend Fletcher and when he was admitted to hospital he actually spat in the nurses face.
Interviewer: Oh dear.
BP: Which made him a very unpopular fella. But eventually three of them were killed and they were laid to rest in Bilsby Churchyard for a lot of years. And all of a sudden one day I showed somebody these graves and they weren’t there anymore.
Interviewer: Really.
BP: They’d taken the remains back home. ‘Well, that’s funny. I knew they were here.’ [laughs] Just one of the experiences, you know. You never forget. Amazing really. Joined the ATC as soon as ever I possibly could and eventually became a Senior Cadet NCO of 1073 Squadron. Won a scholarship which was mounted by the college at Manby and learned to fly with the University Air Squadrons on Tiger Moths of all things which was very nice. Open cockpit you see.
Interviewer: Yes.
BP: A true plane. And then at seventeen and a half joined the Royal Air Force and went on to do flying training on Tiger Moths to start with. On to Harvards and then on to the four engine ones. The only problem with my flying was why I finished up on big things because I couldn’t have any idea at all of navigation. It never clicked. Most of the exam we had to we cheated like mad. Once outside the boundary of the airfield that was it. So I had to have a navigator behind me [laughs] as it were.
Interviewer: So, you flew Lancasters.
BP: Yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: And where would that have been?
BP: Mildenhall, Wyton.
Interviewer: Wow.
BP: Upwood for a little while. Variously saw an amount of service and then went on to eleven weeks with Operation Plane Fare which was what it was all about on Tuesday. The Berlin Airlift.
Interviewer: Right. You were in involved in the Berlin Airlift.
BP: Used to fly, flew Yorks on the Berlin Airlift.
Interviewer: Right.
BP: Yeah. Which was really quite something.
Interviewer: Yes.
BP: It was pure and simply a cowboy outfit from the word go because that was the way it had to be. The Russians had blockaded the city. We couldn’t get anything in by road or rail and of course the surrounding territory was the Russians. They wanted us out. It wasn’t all their fault. We did things that they didn’t like and vice versa. We changed the currency without really telling them which wasn’t a very good thing to do. And I did forty nine trips from Wunstorf to Gatow with eight and a half short tons of coal in the back. So somebody trained me to fly aeroplanes and I finished up being a coalman [laughs] which was what this trip was all about. The York down at Duxford apparently when we got it sorted it all out it was apparently one of the aircraft that actually flew on the Berlin Airlift.
Interviewer: I’ve heard about the coal dust.
BP: Yeah.
Interviewer: Still being in the Lancaster years later.
BP: Oh yeah. Well, this one was in the repair depot at Duxford many years ago. I remember seeing it and I did enquire if this thing had been found to have coal dust anywhere and somebody would come and have a look and they did. Nooks and crannies. The lot. And I learned on Tuesday when they took the floor up from the York it was absolutely covered in coal dust. But it solved a problem because they got the historical records of the aircraft and I got my historical records and it fitted. It was one of them. So it was a problem that solved after about twenty three years [laughs] Very nice. I don’t —
Interviewer: What was it like to fly the Lancaster?
BP: Physical.
Interviewer: Hard work.
BP: Yeah. If you like. It was physical. Not like today’s modern aircraft. There were no computers, no power control. It was pilot flying which was what pilots were supposed to do really [laughs] if you like. But it had a few little tricks which it liked to remind you of at times like pulling off the runway because all the props turned in the same direction but the pilots that were around were good at having to. Yeah. Lovely aeroplane. The Lincoln of course was another version. Bigger in every respect and obsolete before it really came out. Only built five hundred and three I think. The only operational service it did was with Mao Mao out in Africa. That was about it really. No way would it have even if we had gone to war they would never have launched them.
Interviewer: No.
BP: The ones that jacked it up. We were told that if we did go in to action then piston engine aeroplanes like that wouldn’t have lasted two minutes and they shot Gary Powers down didn’t they?
Interviewer: Yes, they did.
BP: From about five or six miles. I don’t think a Lancaster would have lasted very long. Thank goodness it never happened like that, you know.
Interviewer: Did you sort of see the demise of the Lancasters?
BP: Oh yes.
Interviewer: Less and less of them around.
BP: Yeah.
Interviewer: And —
BP: Yeah. Yeah. You’ll never ever see another one as good as this one because that one is better than brand new. They’ve been here in the wintertime and seeing what they do it every wintertime it’s amazing. They virtually take it to bits every year.
Interviewer: Yes.
BP: And then every six years. Now, eight years. It goes away to British industry to do a complete service on it. Take it virtually to pieces every time. It only does about a hundred hours a year but it’s perfect.
Interviewer: Yes.
BP: Inside it’s exactly the same as it would have been many years ago. All the bits and pieces have all been found and put back where they should be but it’s dual control now of course which it wasn’t. Which it wouldn’t have been. The main reason being because we always for safety sake there was two pilots there. Bearing in mind they don’t fly it at twenty thousand feet anymore. It’s about a thousand feet over a lot of people.
Interviewer: Yes.
BP: So they always have got to be in safety.
Interviewer: You’re not a small man and I know a few men in the war weren’t small pilots and like Gibson wasn’t —
BP: That’s right.
Interviewer: Over tall, and a few of the others. What difficulties would he, could you see him having?
BP: They always said he wanted to put wood blocks on the rudder pedals. I don’t think anybody dare tell Gibson that because he wasn’t a nice man to know in some respects. He was very very blunt and could be rude. Extremely rude. That’s what he had to be.
Interviewer: Yes.
BP: He got the thing done did he not? Yeah. Amazing. But in this area of course this is where it all happened.
Interviewer: Indeed. Yes.
BP: The great shame I think is that the Bomber Command Memorial is going in Green Park in London. I think the Memorial should be outside of Lincoln Cathedral or somewhere adjacent because that was the pinpoint all the bombing lads looked for.
Interviewer: Circling Lincoln cathedral as they came back.
BP: That’s right. Absolutely. It was a leading landmark.
Interviewer: I suppose we should be grateful we’re having one at all.
BP: Oh, we shall. Yeah. One of the things that happened amongst several. Think about the Poles and the Czechs even left out of the Victory Parade in London.
Interviewer: That was —
BP: That was absolutely disgusting.
Interviewer: It was reprehensible.
BP: The bravest of the brave. They really were. Poor old Bomber Harris was treated like a piece of dirt when it was all over and before it was all over actually.
Interviewer: Yes.
BP: The Dresden raid he took full responsibility. It wasn’t his orders at all. It was Churchill’s. It had been requested by Joseph Stalin to give him a little bit of support in the eastern part of Germany and that’s what happened.
Interviewer: Yes.
BP: Passed the buck.
Interviewer: Yes.
BP: We’re still deal with it a bit sometimes don’t we? I don’t know about sometimes but anyway, yeah.
Interviewer: So how long did you stay in the RAF altogether?
BP: I stayed nearly six years and the problem I got was eye trouble. I got astigmatism in one of my eyes and virtually given the chance to say you can stay in the Royal Air Force as ground crew or you can leave. So I left. Today they can cure that problem in three seconds with laser treatment.
Interviewer: How did you feel when you left the Air Force?
BP: Oh devastated. Devastated. And then twenty five years ago I came back and joined up again [laughs] which was rather nice.
Interviewer: And you’ve been a guide here at Coningsby for twenty five years.
BP: Yeah. Yeah. Twenty five in ’86. Yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: You see the veterans come sometimes.
BP: Yeah. Quite, oh yeah quite often. We’ve had all sorts of people from all over the world. No doubt about that. Wonderful people that remember things. We were talking only last week to a party and we were talking about the Poles and the Czechs in front of the Mark Five Spitfire because it’s marked as one of their aircraft. And one of the gentlemen was listening very intently and when he came out with his driving licence and there was the funny name. And his grandfather was a fighter pilot on 303 Squadron. That very aircraft.
Interviewer: Goodness.
BP: Yeah. And he was, I just began to wonder whether I’d said anything wrong [laughs] but he was very interested in what happened and I said to him at the end of the day, ‘Remember the brave.’ Because he was one of them.
Interviewer: Dear.
BP: 303 Squadron. Fortunately, he lived to see the war over. Amazing.
Interviewer: Have you had any family in the war as it were?
BP: Oh, two. Two brothers.
Interviewer: Yes.
BP: Two elder brothers.
Interviewer: And they —
BP: One was a rear gunner on Wellingtons for quite a time until he got virtually shot to bits and the other one strangely enough was a trainee solicitor in Gloucester, called up to the Royal Air Force. Where do you think he got posted? Royal Air Force Records Office, Gloucester and stayed there the whole war. Absolutely [laughs] Anybody else you’d put preference down and say you wanted to stay in Coningsby they’d send you up to the north of Scotland.
Interviewer: Best not to let them know.
BP: He was there right through the war. Yes. Fascinating.
Interviewer: How did you feel about your brother being in Wellingtons? What age would he have been?
BP: Oh, he’d be twenty years, a bit more than that older than me. He’d be, today he would be well over a hundred but in those days he’d be something like twenty two or three. Something like that. But he actually got the canopy, his Perspex shot to bits all around him and he wasn’t touched. Amazing. Turned into a blithering idiot. He was shaking like this. It happened to him twice and he got discharged to, he was at least six years before he was ever any good again.
Interviewer: So the war took its toll on, on your brother.
BP: Yeah. Oh yeah. He was absolutely devastated. I can imagine it too. I mean the rear turret was not a very nice place at the best of times but—
Interviewer: No.
BP: Having it all shot to pieces. Yeah. Poor old Jack.
Interviewer: And he did his service in just Wellingtons?
BP: Yeah.
Interviewer: Yeah.
BP: But it, he wasn’t the only one of course. The aircrew like that.
Interviewer: No.
BP: The only possibly awkward thing was and not very nice at all was when someone got absolutely petrified they could be given a special title which was LMF. Lack of moral fibre.
Interviewer: Yes.
BP: And they were treated just like that. Banished. Wherever they were based they never saw them again.
Interviewer: Yeah. They were sent away.
BP: Put away somewhere and discharged and that was it.
Interviewer: Different to, different commanders had different attitudes didn’t they?
BP: Oh yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: Gibson who you’d think would be a real stickler for this didn’t really hold with anybody, sending anybody LMF did he?
BP: No. No.
Interviewer: He would get the doctor to sort of dismiss him and —
BP: Yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: And do it like that.
BP: Yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: Which is quite, you know contradictory to his —
BP: LMF is a terrible thing to do to anybody.
Interviewer: It is. Yes.
BP: Even if he was a coward it’s a horrible thing to do. I mean not necessarily be a coward because he was deadly frightened. He was petrified. But that’s what happened.
Interviewer: Indeed.
BP: Canadians and Australians. New Zealanders. You name it the lot was there. We even lost one Israeli pilot in the Battle of Britain which was unusual. Just one. I think there was only one plane. There we are. Amazing.
Interviewer: Well, thank you very much, Bob.
BP: No problem. My pleasure.
Interviewer: That’s been very very interesting. Thank you.

Part 2.

Interviewer: This is an interview at RAF Coningsby with Mr Bob Panton discussing his experiences as a boy during the war and his RAF career afterwards.
BP: Yes. First interested in flying an awful long time ago when we had a barnstormer at the bottom of Miles Cross Hill near Alford with this old Avro 504k and he was a friend of my very eldest brother who was a lot older than me and I was, I was led to believe, I was three and I actually got a flight in this Avro 504k. The only problem is for a lot of years I thought I’d done it but we didn’t. Only did because I couldn’t see over the hedge. It was taxied a few yards and that was my flight [laughs] From then on the bug was there. Flying was the dream and eventually of course became senior NCO, Cadet NCO, 1073 Squadron ATC and went into the Royal Air Force and learned to fly on a scholarship with the University Air Squadron on Tiger Moths and eventually finished up as a four-engine aircraft pilot. The main reason being because I couldn’t do navigation very well which usually raises a bit of a titter but it was perfectly true. Never was any good. By then of course the wars were all over but another one was in the offing and that was a war, the Cold War. And I took part in eleven weeks on the Berlin Airlift when the Russians blockaded the city and we had to feed two million people and all the rest of their needs and did forty nine trips from Wunstorf in western Germany to Berlin with eight and a half short tons of coal in the back of a York.
Interviewer: Did you just take coal or anything else?
BP: Only coal. Yeah. Yeah. They gave all these mucky jobs to us sprog pilots and we were called actually on Wunstorf, sprog pilots. The five of us were all fairly young and we were all there to fill in the gaps. Anyone who went sick or anything like that we took his aeroplane and did it. And unbelievably now thinking about it quite often although we were not obliged to do it we actually went on trips as passengers [laughs] Just to say we’d been flying. That was really amazing. The memory was brought back to me on Tuesday. This last Tuesday at Duxford, the Imperial War Museum when I was actually reunited with a York that had actually flown on the Berlin Airlift which was rather nice. It had been in the offing for many years but it was proved it was one of the actual aircraft. I finished up flying Lancasters on their last few trips within the Royal Air Force and then of course went on to Yorks and then to the Lincoln. And I’ve been a guide at Coningsby now for twenty five years which gives us a lot of pleasure. To be reunited again with the Lancaster which was very nice. The best Lancaster ever. Looked after like a baby thank goodness and I’ve actually had the opportunity to fly in it a few times which is very nice. Can’t do that now because there isn’t time but it’s quite something.
Interviewer: You must have seen the devastation of Germany. You know, what did you think about that?
BP: Oh, it was awful. It was really awful. But it was war and that’s what it was all about. By then even in ’48 ’49 the city of Berlin was awful. Blown to bits. Hardly a building left standing.
Interviewer: As in Cologne or —
BP: Aye Cologne. The city of Cologne of course was and by divine judgement or bad bomb aiming we didn’t up the cathedral.
Interviewer: No.
BP: Chipped a few bits off it like but [pause] And then afterwards of course when that was all over we had a very strange experience. The Manna drop which was by kind permission of the enemy. We took Lancasters with not a bomb load but food to feed the starving people out in Holland.
Interviewer: They were always very grateful for it weren’t they?
BP: Oh yeah.
Interviewer: And still are.
BP: Yeah. They were. Oh yeah. We, odd times we get someone. I haven’t seen anybody for a long time now but odd times we still get one or two people like that who remember that experience. I didn’t do it but it was there. Somebody had written it into the annals of history of the Air Force. There we are.
Interviewer: But as a boy living in Lincolnshire you had an experience with the, as I say with three Dorniers.
BP: Oh. Yeah. That was quite [pleasant] yes.
Interviewer: Would you like to tell us about that please?
BP: 12 o’clock lunchtime at home in Alford and father was just coming down for his mid-day meal and looking to the west southwest where I was there was three ever growing larger specks in the sky. As a very very keen observer of aircraft I knew exactly what they were and I was right. They were Dornier 17s. Reports later on, a lot later on guessed at the fact that they were lost and they were, had been sent to bomb the airfield at Horsham St Faiths which was Norwich Airport now and all fully loaded with bombs. And eventually six Spitfires appeared. Three of them from out of the sun and set about these three aircraft. The first one they shot it down and virtually what looked like sawed its port wing off which was the blow was sufficient to make it just drop off plus the engine All three of them bit the dust and quite an experience really. Not very long after that gathered up a good friend and we went to explore the first crash site which we eventually found. Unfortunately, we got in to severe trouble by the Army because they were sent to gather up the prisoners and we weren’t supposed to be there. Plus the fact that all three aeroplanes still had still got a full bomb load onboard which was we didn’t know that either. A lot of stories around that. The local parson at Bilsby which was where the first one crashed, Reverend Fletcher carried one of the damaged crew to Alford Cottage Hospital and when he was admitted he actually spat in the nurse’s face. Nurse [Hundleby]. Amazing story. Three of them were killed outright. One of them was actually decapitated because he was trying to get out of his aircraft and they were buried in Bilsby Churchyard. Quite a few years ago now I had the opportunity of showing someone where these guys were buried and when I got there they weren’t there anymore. Obviously, their remains had been taken home which happened quite a lot.
Interviewer: I think a lot of the Germans were sort of disinterred and taken around —
BP: Yeah. Yeah. And vice versa.
Interviewer: Yes.
BP: Yeah.
Interviewer: I think a lot of them found their way to Cannock Chase, didn’t they?
BP: Yeah. They did. Yeah.
Interviewer: And buried, reburied there.
BP: Oh yeah. Yeah. Maybe. It was, it was quite an experience that was.
Interviewer: Very exciting for a young boy.
BP: Yeah. It really was. Yeah.
Interviewer: At that time.
BP: And as I say there are some of the remains of the first Dornier shot down was in the Visitor Centre at Coningsby now. Gathered those up and gave some away like. A few. But there we are. Very nice too.
Interviewer: But very exciting and of course —
BP: Well, war was like that. It really was. Some of the memories are really it’s a job to believe them. Like the blackout. I mean that was quite something. I mean everything was in pitch darkness. You wanted to go anywhere you had to feel your way along.
Interviewer: Yes.
BP: The streets, the footpaths, no lights as we walked past at all of any kind. Rationing was another one. One egg a week. Well, that was ridiculous in Lincolnshire. I mean for goodness sake there was millions of the jolly things. And every, everybody who knew anything about the job had a pig tucked away somewhere. So we were never short of anything really to be honest.
Interviewer: You came from a town, a rural, or a rural —
BP: Oh yes.
Interviewer: Yeah.
BP: That’s right. Yeah. Amazing.
Interviewer: And your parents at this time they’d seen your elder brother go off and —
BP: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: And his experiences.
BP: He was a rear gunner on Wellingtons and eventually having had the canopy, the Perspex on his turret shot to bits around him his nerve went. As simple as that and became a dithering idiot for quite some time.
Interviewer: Then went back in.
BP: No. No.
Interviewer: Right.
BP: He was discharged. Medical discharge.
Interviewer: Right.
BP: In case it reoccurred again of course.
Interviewer: Yes.
BP: But hardly surprisingly it must have been an awful experience for anybody.
Interviewer: Absolutely, I mean they say the rear gunner was the worse position.
BP: Yeah. The rear gunner. Rear gunner the rear position of a Lancaster. It was bad enough to look at its a terrible place to be. Even at peace. It really is. Claustrophobic beyond belief but somebody had to do it. That’s what it was all about.
Interviewer: But you’re a tallish man so you would find flying a Lancaster not that difficult.
BP: No. No. It was quite —
Interviewer: Some of the shorter men.
BP: Yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: Like Gibson.
BP: Yeah. We had one at Coningsby. We called him Andy Tomlin. A smashing little chap but he was only about five foot four. We always chided him about his wooden blocks under the bench. They always, prior to actually taking command of Coningsby one of the basic needs was how to be able to fly the Lanc. Most of them had never done it. COs only lasted three years at Coningsby you see and they used to fly the Shackleton at Lossiemouth as a training aircraft. You can’t do that now of course. There isn’t one.
Interviewer: No.
BP: So they have to learn on our own Lancaster. That’s why, one of the reasons why it’s dual control. It’s on the job training if you like [laughs]
Interviewer: And where did you fly from?
BP: Mildenhall, Wyton, 15 Squadron. Upwood for a time.
Interviewer: And then the York which —
BP: Yeah. York. York. That was we joined the Berlin airlift at Northolt. That was the initiation if you like and became at Wunstorf one of a team of five of which we were christened sprog pilots because we were relatively young but our job was to fill in the gaps as and when they occurred. That was nice really. In fact, it was good. We got more flying than anybody else and that’s what it was all about.
Interviewer: And you saw the Lancs gradually disappear.
BP: Yeah.
Interviewer: And the end of an era.
BP: Yeah. Yeah. Oh yeah.
Interviewer: As far as —
BP: Yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: It must have been very sad to see them.
BP: Saw a lot of them removed and just junked. Scrapped. Now, we’ve got well about three I think in this country. One of them can fly and the other is in Canada that can fly. The strange thing is in Canada theirs is actually registered to can carry passengers.
Interviewer: Yes. I think they fly over Niagara Falls as well just to —
BP: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know what they charge but it must be nice.
Interviewer: I think a couple of years ago it was a thousand pounds.
BP: Were it? Well, why not? I can remember this thing very well just to fill you in on money. We were at, the flight itself was at Duxford on a Sunday, oh must be twenty years ago now and parked up. I was talking to the engineering officer, Warrant Officer Barry Sears who had gone with it [until he retired] and a chap came over the barrier, approached Barry Sears and said, ‘You’re doing a fly past over Cambridge.’ ‘Yeah, we are doing a flypast over.’ ‘I’ve got two thousand quid if either of you will take me.’ The trip was about ten minutes of course. Cambridge just up the road. We wouldn’t take his money. I said to him I’d have knocked his arm off, knocked his elbow for two thousand quid. He was serious too.
Interviewer: Yes. Yes. There’s something about the Lancaster.
BP: Yeah.
Interviewer: You just —
BP: I mean he would have only just had time to sit down [laughs] But oh dear. It couldn’t happen. There we are.
Interviewer: So you had six happy years in the RAF.
BP: Yes. Unfortunately had to do a discharge because of bad eyesight which today can be cured in three seconds with laser treatment but it wasn’t then. There we are.
Interviewer: But you’re back here at Coningsby.
BP: Yes.
Interviewer: With the, with the Lanc.
BP: Yeah absolutely.
Interviewer: And —
BP: Yeah.
Interviewer: Spreading the word to the public.
BP: Yeah.
Interviewer: That come around.
BP: Yeah. That’s right. Strange experiences quite often. We quite often see tears. That’s not in the slightest bit unusual.
Interviewer: No.
BP: Disbelief quite often which is understandable of course. We look at todays modern pieces of aviation well there’s no comparison whatsoever. Lots of people, if not everybody would give their absolute high teeth to fly in a Lanc and ninety nine percent of them would say never again because that’s what it was about. It’s a very good producer of blood and bad language. Sharp edges and bare metal. But it’s a beautiful aeroplane.
Interviewer: And you have the Poles and the Czechs come around.
BP: Oh yeah. Yeah.
Interviewer: And have a look at the Spits and Hurris —
BP: Yeah. We did. Only as I said last week we were talking about the valiant gallant Poles and Czech pilots in the Battle of Britain who were not in the slightest bit interested in the frilly bits of the Royal Air Force or anybody else’s Air Force. All they wanted to do was get into battle. Stuffy Dowding was the head of Fighter Command refused to make them operational because once airborne they reverted to their own separate languages meaning that nobody had any idea where they were. They wouldn’t remain in formation. If they saw a little something that looked suspicious they went to sort it out. One of their pilots on 303 Squadron was Sergeant Pilot Josef Frantisek and he was actually turned loose. He wasn’t, no pilot was ever supposed to follow enemy aircraft back over the Channel. It was a trap. Frantisek did it every time and eventually they said oh well, carry on. And dear old Frantisek finished up being the highest scoring pilot in the actual Battle of Britain. He shot down seventeen and a half enemy aeroplanes himself. Half a one he shared with another pilot. An amazing chap.
Interviewer: And you’re full of admiration for the ones —
BP: Oh yeah.
Interviewer: Also, that come to —
BP: That’s right.
Interviewer: To see the flights.
BP: All sorts of stories you can tell about the Poles and the Czechs. This chappy last week was talking about these incidents and things and getting on about the Poles and the Czechs and he pulled his driving licence out and it was a Polish name. And his grandfather had actually been a pilot on 303 Squadron which was one of the reasons he came to look at that particular aircraft. It was really quite something. Amazing really.
Interviewer: So you hear all these wonderful stories.
BP: Oh yeah. And experiences. That’s right. We do.
Interviewer: Well, thank you very much, Bob.
BP: No problem at all. A great pleasure.
Interviewer: Very interesting indeed. Thank you.

Citation

Claire Bennett and This Interview was recorded by Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire., “Two part interview with Bob Panton,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 18, 2024, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/46465.

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