Interview with Reg Freeth


Interview with Reg Freeth


Reg Freeth grew up in Wales and worked for the Civil Service in the Labour Exchange before he volunteered for the Royal Air Force. He trained as an observer in South Africa and flew operations served as a bomb aimer with 61 Squadron from RAF Syerston. He later became a bombing instructor, then an administrative officer. After the war he returned to work for the Civil Service.




Temporal Coverage




01:23:50 audio recording

Conforms To


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 31st May 2016 I’m in Goring on Thames with Reg Freeth and his wife Blodwyn and we are going to talk about his time in the RAF and the days before and after. So what are your earliest recollections Reg? What do you remember first in life? Where you were born and what did your parents do?
RF: I was born in Port Talbot I was one of a family of seven children I had two brothers and four sisters, my father was working as a shipper in the Port Talbot docks and he was born in Cardiff where my grandfather was employed on the Great Western Railway it was being built from England ino South Wales at the time this is back in the nineteenth century, my grandfather was born in Malmsbury in Wiltshire but he moved to Cardiff because of the work on the Great Western Railway of course my father was born in Cardiff then my father moved to Port Talbot and worked in the docks, I had two brothers one was working on the railway and the other one was in the Merchant Navy as a chief engineer and my four sisters they were doing domestic work, my eldest brother unfortunately he er he was shipwrecked in Nova Scotia, Halifax, Nova Scotia on his first voyage but he survived I I er forget the name of the er cable car or something and er he survived the war but unfortunately he died at a quite young age because he had er.
BF: Its called emphysema, emphysema
RF: It was due to the er he had cancer of the lungs
CB: Right.
RF: Due due to the work in the ships in the er ships engineer he was only fifty seven, my younger brother he died when he was about seventy three, all my sisters have died, I’m then only survivor now I am ninety four years of age.
CB: So where did you go to school?
RF: I went to the Central Boys School and er I passed my er examination and at the age of eleven and went to the Duffryn Grammar School which is the same school as Richard Burton went to but I was older than Richard Burton and I was leaving the school when he was starting so I never got to know him that well I knew the family because they were from Pontrhydyfen [laughter] which is where my wife was born and my wife my wife’s family were living in the same street as Richard Burton’s family [laughs] in Pontrhydyfen, but um I passed my matriculation I think they called it at the time and er my headmaster suggested I should apply to go to the Civil Service in fact he gave me the money for the postage to stamp to er to send the application form away I couldn’t afford that at the time, and um I started work in the Civil Service in Swansea on 2nd January 1939 er whilst I was working there I was employed in the Labour Exchange as it was then and er of course the war broke out in September 39 and er when I was er eighteen nineteen twenty I tried to get into the Fleet Air Arm I wanted to er join the aircrew Fleet Air Arm I went down to I think it was Portsmouth I think it was Portsmouth for a medical examination and an interview and I failed the medical examination because I had a defective er bone in my nose and I couldn’t I couldn’t pass the test so I came back and I thought well I’m not going to wait anymore I’ll go I had an operation and I applied to go to the Royal Air Force, I joined the Royal Air Force on 4th August 4th August 41.
BF: Do you want a pen?
CB: Yes
RF: Yes want a pen want a pen top top top top all the other ones are bust.
CB: Thank you. 4th August 41?
RF: 4th August 41 um I went to St. John’s Wood in London um I was there for about three weeks I think and we were just getting um our inoculations and things and er doing a little bit of training we used to go into the park there Regents Park was it we used to have our meals there we used to march into the park have our meals and then come back to St. John’s Wood living in a posh house then and um I think we went on to Torquay er I don’t know what it was called like an instruction training.
CB: ITW was it initial training?
RF: ITW initial training wing.
CB: That’s it okay.
RF: Initial training wing went down to Torquay um I can’t remember how long must have been there for about three months and then we went up to Greenock in Scotland to er catch a boat er out to South Africa er we joined the convoy there and unfortunately our ship had problems and it couldn’t keep up with the convoy it had to drop out and we were left on our own in the North Atlantic we got to Freetown Sierra Leone on Christmas Day 1941 we were there for a few days and then we joined another convoy and went on to Durban in South Africa, we were billeted in tents at Claremont Racecourse on the outskirts of Durban for about a fortnight and then we went up to Littleton Camp near Pretoria er where we were sort of we were joined by all other recruits air crew recruits and we were sorted into groups and assigned to different air schools in South Africa for training as air observers, I was er sent to 47 Air School in Queenstown Cape Province and er when I completed my training I did navigation, bombing and gunnery and I passed all three and I was awarded the Air Observers Badge I went down to Cape Town to await transport back to the UK and er we got back er er um let me think.
CB: How long was the training?
RF: Sorry?
CB: How many months were the training?
RF: Um it was about eight months.
CB: So late 42?
RF: 1942 yes and then we were sent to Millom, RAF Millom um because during that period the aircraft used in the Royal Air Force for bombing missions changed from a small plane like a Wellington to the big plane Lancaster, Halifax, and Stirling, and they split the jobs the air observer’s job and we were sorted out in Millom to join the crew to carry on then er our training but the air observers that were trained in South Africa some were made observers, some were made navigators, and some were made bomb aimers, I was made a bomb aimer and very very fortunately my friend that I was with when I joined the Royal Air Force in St. John’s Wood, but he was trained at a different school in South Africa, he became the navigator and became the bomb aimer in the same crew so we were very fortunate and er we finished up after our initial training OTU and joined 61 Squadron at Syerston [?] in May 1943.
CB: Where was your OTU?
RF: Um Bruntingthorpe is it um I was stationed at Wing for a while near Aylesbury but I think most of my training was at um Bruntingthorpe.
CB: What about the HCU where did you go for that? The HCU where was the Heavy Conversion Unit?
RF: Er it was on the outskirts of Newark can’t think of the name there was an aerodrome there on the outskirts of Newark I can’t think of the name.
CB: Okay. So you joined 61 Squadron?
RF: We joined 61 Squadron in.
CB: At Syerston?
RF: May 1943 at Syerston.
CB: Right. Okay.
RF: Okay.
CB: And what were you flying?
RF: Er Lancasters, I trained on Manchesters and Wellingtons.
CB: So you came back from South Africa and then you went to your OTU how did you do the crewing up because you met your friend again there?
RF: Well we were sorted out in Millom on our return from South Africa.
CB: Into crews?
RF: And er we weren’t given any option we were just put into crews and fortunately I found I was with my best friend and he was the navigator.
CB: What was his name?
RF: Jamie Barr, Jamie Barr.
CB: Good, okay. So what about the rest of the crew what were they like?
RF: They were very good we were very very friendly got on very well um the flight engineer was George Turnbull he was er I think he used to live in near Northampton, the pilot that we had at the time on our first er commission on Syerston was Jamie James James Graham he was a Scots I think he was from Girvan in Ayrshire he was Scots, Jamie Barr was a Scot so we got on very well the Welsh and the Scots and the English we all mixed up well, Eric Walker was the um tail gunner er that’s about it isn’t it.
CB: Mid upper, mid upper who was mid upper, who was the mid upper?
RF: I can’t think of his name now but he didn’t stay long with us he was taken off ops.
CB: Okay so why was that?
RF: Finished up with Reg Bunnion then, Reg Bunnion was our mid upper oh now he was the wireless operator he was the wireless operator, er Jim Chapman was the er Jim Chapman was the er mid upper, Reg Bunnion was the er wireless operator because his name was Reg and mine was Reg they called him Bunny not to get mixed up you know on the intercom.
CB: Very important.
RF: Called him Reg.
CB: So what was the name of the original mid upper then?
RF: I can’t think of his name now but er he was taken out for LMF.
CB: He was right. So how did that manifest itself was that at the Heavy Conversion Unit at in the Squadron or when?
RF: It was on the squadron.
CB: What exactly happened?
RF: No idea.
CB: I mean in the aeroplane were you conscious of this, how conscious of you were you of it in the plane on opertions did you know about it?
RF: Yes.
CB: What did he do?
RF: Well he just didn’t want to fly anymore on ops and he refused to go on operations, I think they called it LMF wasn’t it lack of moral fibre.
CB: What did they do to him?
RF: Well he was taken off stripped of his sergeants er rank and er he was given just menial jobs then I don’t know what he was doing we lost touch with him.
CB: They took him away from the airfield?
RF: Yes took him away yes we lost touch with him.
CB: So when he was removed from the crew and had his brevets removed how did they do that did they do that in a parade or what did they do?
RF: It just happened we didn’t know what had gone on you know we weren’t told much.
CB: Okay. So how did the crew get on?
RF: We got on quite well and er I think it was Reg Bunnion I said wasn’t it took his place.
CB: Yes.
RF: I can’t think now [laughs] getting all mixed up.
BF: Yes it’s a wonder you can remember what did happen.
CB: So the crew was put together there was no choice?
RF: Yeah we were still in the same crew and we had a replacement he was the mid upper gunner.
CB: Right.
RF: He was the mid upper gunner he was the replacement I think it was Reg Bunnion that replaced him.
CB: Yeah right, and um how did the training go initially ‘cos you were in the OTU to begin with what did you do in the OTU?
RF: Well we were doing um practice bombing and er night flights covering the whole country really we were going up to Scotland, North England.
CB: So some of it was cross country navigation was it, some of it was navigation cross country?
RF: Yes yes yes it was very good you know it was good training and er we had a bit of a problem when we were doing one of our practice bombing missions at er Whittlesea bombing range near March Isle of Ely and we had to bale out.
CB: Really, what happened?
RF: Er one of the flares that’s attached to the inside of the fuselage of the can’t remember whether it was a Wellington or a Manchester now um it was come off its hook and slipped down behind the aileron controls which run along the fuselage and er the pilot asked us to check he was having difficulty um flying the plane to see what happened we found the flare had stuck behind the aileron controls and he said to try and remove it we we tried as much as we could and we couldn’t get it out so he told us we’d have to bale out he was a trainee he was a trainer pilot and he wasn’t carrying a a parachute the tail gunner didn’t get the message from the pilot clearly enough and he came back on the intercom to the pilot and said ‘what’s happening?’ he could see all the parachutes passing the end the tail of the plane and the pilot told him to bale out but the tail gunner didn’t realise you know what was going on at the time and er he was the last one to get out of the plane he landed in the WAAF’s quarters somewhere [laughter] he was lucky.
CB: What happened to the pilot?
RF: He made an emergency landing at RAF Wittering and er we were told that he died a few months later on an operational trip, but um all of us survived our er baling out we landed in er ploughed fields around that area and we were collected by the police from March Isle of Ely and they took us back to base it was er 6.20 p.m. on Sunday 20th December 1942 that’s when the er baling out took place [laughs].
CB: So on that flight had you released your practice bombs beforehand or not?
RF: No we hadn’t and I landed in a ploughed field it was pitch dark of course at that time 6.20 p.m. and I er lost one of my flying boots on the way down, I unfastened my parachute and it blew away before I had a chance to grab it, I walked across the field there was an irrigation ditch on the side of the field I waded through that no sign of any houses there so I walked up a lane and eventually I came to a farmhouse I knocked at the door and a lady came to answer it I told her what had happened she didn’t believe me she shut the door she thought I was a German because I’d blue eyes and blond hair you see [laughter] and er eventually I persuaded her to phone the police and that’s how the police came to pick us up.
CB: Then what so you’ve got a crew without a pilot or the pilot came back for a while did he?
RF: No he was he was the er the officer training.
CB: Oh he was training.
RF: He was training the pilot.
CB: Right.
RF: Our pilot survived.
CB: Oh he did.
RF: I was lucky because um my parachute opened inside the plane.
CB: That was dangerous how did that happen?
RF: Well I’d er when the pilot told me to bale out I lifted the the escape hatch and I couldn’t remember where the er rip cord was so I put my hand on the rip cord, we weren’t given much training you know on using the parachute, I found the rip cord and a slipstream came in to the plane under the escape hatch caught my hand and pulled the rip cord and the parachute began to open I could see the silk and I put my arms around it and I jumped out.
CB: Lucky.
RF: And er.
CB: You’d just clipped it on had you, you had just clipped it onto your webbing?
RF: Yeah it was clipped on it was clipped on ready but the rip cord had opened the parachute slightly there was just a trace of the er silk I could see it and I thought well I’m going to die I might as well jump out and die, so I put my arms round the parachute and er jumped out of the plane and I got on all right, but we were told then that er the ground crew said ‘who was the silly b that b who er pulled the rip cord inside the plane?’ they found the rip cord there inside the plane they didn’t complain [laughs].
CB: Did you count to three before you er let go with your arms?
RF: I just leapt out I leapt out.
CB: And how long before you moved your arms?
RF: Oh well it must have opened out you know as soon as I jumped out then the wind the wind from the Jetstream was there.
CB: Right. So everybody was uninjured?
RF: Yeah everybody survived yes we all survived.
CB: And er the instructing pilot er did they give him any special award?
RF: No no he thought because he was an instruct an instructor that he didn’t need a parachute but he was lucky he made an emergency landing and survived it was the fault of this er what do they call it?
CB: The flare.
RF: The flare.
CB: How did that become dislodged?
RF: It just must have broken the hook or something they were normally hooked up or something.
CB: But it didn’t ignite it didn’t go off?
RF: No no it didn’t go off it just got stuck behind the aileron controls.
CB: So what was the purpose of that flare in the bomb bay where would you normally drop the flare?
RF: I don’t I don’t think I ever dropped one.
CB: So how then you went straight back to training did you?
RF: Yes just carried we had a week’s leave then as it was Christmas time and er we just carried on training after that and eventually you know in the May we were assigned to 61 Squadron.
CB: Right so that was at Syerston?
RF: Syerston.
CB: And er what was your first raid?
RF: Er it was a nickel raid dropping leaflets I’ve made a list out here.
CB: Okay I’ll stop just for a mo.
BF: Shall I make a cup of coffee or tea.
CB: That would be lovely thank you.
BF: What would you like?
CB: Right so we’ve now looked at the list and your first trip was to Clermont Ferrand?
RF: Ferrand.
CB: Ferrand and er that was a nickel so you were dropping leaflets?
RF: Yes.
CB: What about the next one Dortmund what was that?
RF: Well before you go onto the second one.
CB: Oh yeah okay.
RF: Our navigator got lost and er we had to er call an emergency we were told to go to we were directed then got lost with his navigation and er we were told to go to Colerne is it? Colerne near Bath
CB: Colerne yes.
RF: And we were shown the way there to get there we landed in Colerne when I got out of the plane I asked where we were and I was told Colerne I thought they said Cologne [laughter] and I started running across the airfield [laughs] I thought we’d landed somewhere else you see in Cologne anyhow that was just our first experience [laughter] it was a funny one.
CB: Absolutely yeah okay. Then Dortmund?
RF: Dortmund yes mostly in the Ruhr in the Ruhr where we were bombing.
CB: Yes right, and was there any difference in targets and were some targets more difficult than others?
RF: Not really we’d er we didn’t have any trouble flying out we weren’t attacked at all we were very fortunate um our problem well my problem was finding where to drop the bombs because we were told that the er oh what.
CB: The markers?
RF: Yeah the flares.
CB: Yes.
RF: ER who who used to fly in what do they call them?
CB: The pathfinders?
RF: Pathfinders.
CB: Yes.
RF: They were dropping flares they were dropping flares and we were told to bomb a certain colour and if there wasn’t that colour to bomb the other colour but we were given priorities which colour to er drop these bombs and er if there was more than one we had to try and bomb in the centre, we didn’t see the target at all we just er saw the lights down on the ground and the flares it was the flares we were attacking.
CB: Right, and the flares were bright enough?
RF: Oh yes they were very clear.
CB: To be able to constantly see them?
RF: You could see them before you got to the target.
CB: Right.
RF: And then er I’d see different colour flares and I’d identify the ones we were told to bomb priority and I dropped the bombs there in the centre of those.
CB: So in your run in how far from the target was the run in to start, how many miles out?
BF: You want sugar and milk.
RF: Milk.
CB: I’ll stop for a moment hang on. So we are just back on the bombing runs then Reg.
RF: I’d tell the pilot you know to bear left or bear right port or starboard and then straight ahead.
CB: So you are lying down?
RF: I was lying down flat.
CB: Right and you’d got the bomb sight in front of you?
RF: Yeah keeping an eye on the er the flares in front of me and once I saw the flares I told the pilot and we were told which flares to have priority to bomb and I’d head for those and I’d bomb either the one flare that was the colour I was I was to bomb or the centre of more than one flare and just er drop the bombs I never saw the target really.
CB: So who pressed the button for dropping the bombs?
RF: I did.
CB: Right, and then what then you had to keep going straight and level how long for?
RF: Not for long.
CB: Because you had drop a flare then?
RF: As we came into the target I’d have to er identify the flares and I’d tell the pilot ‘bomb doors open’ and I’d open the bomb doors and then ‘bombs away’ and then everything turned off then the pilot just diverted to the left.
CB: But didn’t you have to drop a flare and then take a picture?
RF: I never took pictures.
CB: Who did who took the picture the pilot was it?
RF: Could have been it could have been the navigator I don’t know I never did it.
CB: Okay, so as you said then he would turn?
RF: He’d turn then and.
CB: Which way would he go was there a standard escape turn?
RF: He’d turn left port.
CB: Changing height or same level?
RF: Go higher after dropping the bombs, I think we were lucky with the Lancaster because it got to a higher level to drop the bombs than the other four engine bombers, you know the Halifax and Stirling they couldn’t get to our height they were below us so we were very lucky in the Lancaster.
CB: Right, and on your raids how often did you encounter enemy fighters?
RF: We never met any we were never attacked we were very very fortunate we had searchlights occasionally and we could see flak coming but it never hit the aircraft.
CB: So you are flying along and the flak is coming up what is that like?
RF: Well you could see it you know exploding and you could see the flares but er we were very fortunate as we were flying high you see in the Lancaster.
CB: What sort of height were you flying?
RF: About twenty five thousand.
CB: So are you’re saying could the flak not reach your height?
RF: Could be yeah.
CB: Some people experienced flak boxes did you come across that so there’s intensive flak in a box shape?
RF: No we didn’t no no.
CB: Because you were above it?
RF: No never saw it.
CB: Okay and what about other aircraft dropping bombs near you?
RF: Didn’t see any.
CB: And what about other aircraft exploding was that something you saw?
RF: Never saw them all I was concentrating on was the target and the flares and I could see all the flames on the ground you know scattered around it covered quite a big area you know all the flames.
CB: Yes.
RF: It wasn’t concentrated in one particular place it was scattered all over.
CB: Why was it so scattered?
RF: Because of the flares I expect dropped er in the wrong in the wrong place it’s difficult you know when you’ve got er different colour flares which one to target.
CB: Because there is radio silence anyway isn’t there?
RF: Yes.
CB: So before coming to the target and after the target what was your job before you reached the target what were you doing?
RF: What was?
CB: Before you reached the target what were you doing as the bomb aimer?
RF: Just keeping an eye open for enemy aircraft and er and the flares and the er um what do they call it? [laughs].
CB: The lights?
RF: The lights.
CB: The searchlights.
BF: The searchlights.
RF: The searchlights.
CB: Yes so you how did you deal with the searchlights?
RF: Searchlights.
CB: How did bombers deal with those?
RF: We were lucky we were never caught in those searchlights.
CB: Right.
RF: But I used to see them in the distance you know we were never caught in them.
CB: The bomb aiming position is immediately underneath the front turret so how often did you go into the front turret?
RF: I never went in there I was spending all my time on my tummy looking forward identifying the target.
CB: Right.
RF: I thought that was my main job and if we were attacked I would have gone into the front turret.
CB: Right.
RF: But we weren’t attacked so it was a waste of time going in there.
CB: Right. On the way home what was your job on the way home?
RF: I had nothing to do really I was just lying down keeping an eye open for enemy aircraft, searchlights.
CB: Did the pilot ever had to do a corkscrew?
RF: No.
CB: You’ve covered a number of places you went to Cologne three times in a row what was the reason for that?
RF: No idea we weren’t given a choice of target we were just told to go there I remember on the third occasion telling the pilot that I could see the flames in the distance I I don’t know how far it is from the French coast to Cologne but it was quite a distance and as soon as we crossed the French coast I told the pilot I could see the flames dead ahead.
CB: What was the most difficult raid of the ones you did?
RF: I think the ones in the Ruhr were the er most difficult Dortmund was it or Essen Essen did we go there twice?
CB: Your second sortie was Dortmund.
RF: Did we go twice to Essen?
CB: ER you only went once to Essen.
RF: Once.
CB: Your third one was to Essen yes that was the most difficult was it?
RF: Well they were all the ones to Ruhr were difficult because there was more er searchlights and everything you know and er there must have been more fighters below us they didn’t come up as high as us we were lucky I don’t know how many aircraft were lost on those raids in the Ruhr it must have been quite a lot.
CB: Now your last raid was on Stuttgart what happened on the way back from that?
RF: We were diverted by our um message on the er on the er what do they call it intercom not intercom.
CB: No on the RT?
RF: Yes we were told that our base at Syerston was er was closed because of bad weather and we were told to divert to Herne airport in near Bournemouth and our pilot had to come down after crossing the French coast to get under the low cloud cover over the English Channel it was about three thousand feet and coming down from twenty five thousand to under three thousand over a short distance you know from the French coast caused me to perforated my ear drum and we landed at er Herne safely and then er stayed the night there flew back to Syerston the following day.
CB: So when you had the perforated eardrum and you landed at Herne what happened did you go to sick quarters or what?
RF: No I just went to the er sergeants mess I think it was I don’t know how we managed to sleep [laughs].
CB: Did anybody else have a perforated eardrum?
RF: No No.
CB: Just you?
RF: Just me.
CB: What caused that do you think?
RF: Well it’s the rapid descent you know coming over the English Channel to get under the cloud cover the original pilot that we had when we first joined 61 Squadron he had to come off operations because of loss of hearing and he was put onto non-operational flying his name was er James Graham wasn’t it.
CB: Yes.
RF: And then we had a replacement pilot Norman Turner who took us as a complete crew and it was his third tour of operations it was a cycle of ten.
CB: Was everybody else in your crew a sergeant or flight sergeant were they before he came was everybody an NCO?
RF: We were all NCO’s.
CB: Yes until he came?
RF: They were made flight lieutenants after they completed their tour of operations but Norman Turner er he came back for a third tour he didn’t have to do it but er he wanted to do it and er took us on as a complete crew and we were very fortunate he was an excellent pilot.
CB: But he’d been in a different squadron before had he?
RF: He must have been yes yes and I think he had the DFC when he came to us, um after a short time we had a new aircraft delivered to 61 Squadron it was a QRJ QRJ QR was the squadron letters and J was the aircraft letter the um aircraft number was JB138 and er it was delivered direct from the factory to the squadron and Norman Turner took it on he liked the name J and called it “Just Jane” and er.
CB: Which is at East Kirkby now that’s the name of the Lancaster at East Kirkby now.
RF: East Kirkby it’s not the same one.
CB: No no.
RF: But the original “Just Jane” went on to do a hundred and twenty three operations with different aircrew during the war ended the war and was scrapped but it had a wonderful life “Just Jane” hundred and twenty three operations and er Norman Turner designed er a picture on the outer fuselage by the pilot’s er cockpit a picture of Jane who was a character in the Daily Mirror at the time sitting on a bomb that was our picture on the side of the fuselage Jane she was er a favourite model with all people in the forces at the time er I think she lived in Horsham didn’t she yeah.
CB: So you had a perforated eardrum you landed and then the next day you flew to Syerston what happened next for you?
RF: I was going up to London I don’t know where exactly for tests every so often and I was restricted to non-operational flying I couldn’t fly above three thousand feet and then after another test later on they increased it to six thousand feet and I finished up non-operational again up to ten thousand feet so my hearing must have been improving a bit.
CB: So what were you doing during that period it was non-operational so you weren’t with your crew anymore?
RF: No I was on OTU’S then.
CB: Where?
RF: Um oh dear Wing was one of them I know.
CB: So in the OTU’S what were you flying in at OTU?
RF: Wellingtons.
CB: And what was your job when you were flying at the OTU?
RF: I was a bombing instructor I did a course in Doncaster I think it was training course as a bombing instructor and er I went to quite a number of OTU’s I can’t remember the names can you remember the names of some of the?
CB: There were so many weren’t there.
RF: Yes.
CB: Were they nearby?
RF: They were all in this area you know central England.
CB: So Little Horwood?
RF: Where?
CB: Little Horwood, um Cheddington, um Westcott there were so many.
RF: Westcott yes Westcott.
CB: That was 11 OTU.
RF: Yes yes.
CB: Right, Turweston.
RF: No.
CB: Bicester.
RF: No.
CB: Hinton in the Hedges, Croughton there were lots round there.
RF: No.
CB: Okay.
RF: They were all around Lincolnshire.
CB: Oh you went up to Lincolnshire as well?
RF: Yes.
CB: So what did you do after being a bombing instructor?
RF: I went er what do they call it would be er the administrative officer you know of the squadron.
CB: Yeah the secretarial officer.
RF: Yeah I was helping him.
CB: Yes.
RF: Yes it was a funny job because er if we lost aircrew you know we had to dispose of all the er possessions and everything send them back to the next of kin.
CB: What was that like? What was that like how did you feel about that?
RF: Um felt a bit sad you know doing it but it had to be done and I used to go on I remember now I used to go on the bomb sites on the er you know where they do practice bombing.
CB: Yeah on the bombing range yes.
RF: I used to go on the bombing range I used to go out in er er like a jeep or something with a couple of er crew and we used to er check the the targets had been hit on the bomb on the site there on the bombing target practice bombing.
CB: What was the size of the bombs used for practice? What size were the bombs used for practice how heavy?
RF: When I was doing ops?
CB: When the bombs were used for practice.
RF: Oh I can’t remember.
CB: I think they were twenty five pounds.
RF: Yes.
CB: So you you left your crew did you keep in touch with the crew? They completed their tour did they?
RF: Yes they completed their tour but er I’d already lost them after I er left Skellingthorpe they remained in Skellingthorpe but I had to go to different OTU’s so I lost touch with them.
CB: Right, and when did you first make contact with your crew after the war?
RF: Nineteen Eighty Two wasn’t it?
BF: Yes.
RF: Nineteen Eighty Two something like that this member from Neath came to my house and asked me if I’d been in the RAF because he had seen the message put in by Jamie Barr that’s how we er got together.
CB: Right. So you went from working with the bombing range you then left the RAF at that time did you?
RF: Yes back to the Civil Service.
CB: So where did you go when you rejoined the Civil Service where was that?
RF: I went to Neath and that was with the National Insurance Office as it was then, and then I moved to Port Talbot with the National Insurance, and then I volunteered to go to er Reading to join a computer centre that they set up at Reading, I was interested in that type of work you know but it was in the early days of computers I wanted to be a systems analyst but they they said I was too old [laughs] to train but um I enjoyed it you know I was er working there for quite a number of years about six years wasn’t it?
BF: Yes six years.
RF: In Didcot six years?
BF: And then we went back to Port Talbot.
RF: Yes, and at the time there were people working in the new computer centre in Reading living in Didcot in different areas and we used to share transport we were very fortunate I only had to drive once once a week because we were picking each other up you see driving to Reading working in the same computer centre I’ve lost touch with all those now.
CB: When did you buy your first house?
RF: Er.
BF: Clifton Terrace.
RF: Clifton Terrace Port Talbot what year was that Nineteen Sixty Two?
BF: [unclear]
RF: Nineteen Sixty Two Steven was two.
BF: Yes.
RF: And we moved from there to Didcot lived in Didcot for six years they were building the power station there at the time and of course that’s the one that’s had this problem recently you know.
CB: It collapsed.
RF: Because it collapsed the power station causing the death of three people there er moved back then to Port Talbot again, and then moved from Port Talbot to Woking, then Woking back to Port Talbot, and then Port Talbot back here.
CB: Sounds like an elastic band doesn’t it.
BF: I would like to be near my family one of six children you know but I was the youngest but they all died so my family were up here then you see.
CB: Yes.
RF: So when we lived in Didcot back in Nineteen Sixty Six to Seventy Two we used to come to Goring quite often on the weekends because it er was quite a popular place here for visitors and we liked it here didn’t we?
BF: Yes yes we liked it very much.
RF: And when our daughter came back from abroad she’d been living out in the Middle East Dubai um we told her to buy a house here and she’s lived here ever since.
CB: Really. What was the most memorable thing about your RAF service?
RF: I think the most I enjoyed was the friendship especially with the crew we didn’t get to know the ground crew that well but they were very good but the crew was like a family you know we kept together we went out together and we flew together.
CB: What was the worst part of your time in the RAF?
RF: I can’t really say it was bad at all I enjoyed it it was nice especially out in South Africa used to er go swimming there they had a swimming pool in Queenstown used to spend quite a lot of time there I had quite a lot of friends on the training courses.
CB: But Jamie Barr was your best friend then but you lost touch with him completely after leaving the squadron?
RF: Yes for a number of years until Nineteen Eighty Two and then we’ve met up every year since I don’t think he’s well enough to go up to the reunion this year.
CB: Right.
RF: But we’ve always met up together.
CB: Where does he live now?
RF: Yeah get to know his family and everything.
BF: Where does Jamie live Reg?
RF: Ludlow.
BF: Ludlow isn’t it.
RF: Ludlow
BF: Yes we do phone him occasionally keep in touch.
RF: And um the other crew that we managed to trace they joined us every year at the reunion before going up to Lincoln for the squadron reunion we used to meet together in different hotels you know in Hilton hotels and places in this area but we always stuck together, um Bunny and his wife we got to know them all, Eric Walker and his wife Dorothy he was the tail gunner Eric unfortunately they died you see there is only Jamie and myself left now of the crew, er Norman Turner he was the pilot that we had the replacement pilot I think he was from Macclesfield his er his widow Dorothy she still corresponds Christmas time, and er Jim Chapman’s wife she’s still alive she keeps in touch, Bunny’s wife unfortunately is ill she’s in a care home now isn’t she yes, but we always stuck together for years you know year after year we were meeting up together the complete crew.
CB: And er Norman Turner was there until the end of the tour?
RF: Yes.
CB: Which you didn’t finish because of your problem with your ear, what happened to James Graham?
RF: He had to come off operational flying we lost touch with him then because he must have gone to OTU’s I know he was from er Girvan in Ayrshire originally that’s where he was born but I think he moved down to um Surrey Leatherhead lost touch with him but he’s died now.
CB: But he had to give up because of a medical problem?
RF: Yes um he he didn’t perforate his eardrum but he had loss of hearing it must have been the noise of the the plane of the engines.
CB: Well it’s fairly regular.
RF: Affected him.
CB: Now one of the things it’s difficult for people to grasp really is the situation where you’re the bomb aimer you are lying down looking forwards and vertically into the inferno what’s it like doing that?
RF: I didn’t mind it at all you know it was something er I can’t say I enjoyed it but I was glad to be in that position rather than the navigator, the navigator was tucked away in a corner like the wireless operator they were tucked away in the corner they couldn’t see out, I could see out the gunners the mid upper gunner and the rear gunner they could see out like I could and the pilot and the flight engineer but the navigator was tucked away in the corner you see and the wireless operator inside the plane, some of the er people I trained with in South Africa kept in touch I don’t know how they managed to find me one of them was from Kingston upon Thames he joined the Police Force after the war but unfortunately I never had a chance to meet him and he’s died, the other one the daughter put a letter in the Squadron Association Newsletter asking for information about her father and I saw the letter after I’d joined the squadron I was getting the magazine every so often, and I saw the letter and I correspond corresponded with her then and told her that I was training with her father out in South Africa and he came to the squadron as well but he was er a flying officer so we never sort of kept together in the squadron he was in the officers mess I was in the sergeants mess, but er we trained together but I had photographs I sent to her and she was grateful because she hadn’t been told anything about her father he’d been killed on an operational flight and her mother remarried and never talked about her father she was born a couple of months after her father was killed, so er she was very grateful that I’d given her some information about her father and sent photographs and things she goes up to the reunion every year and we have a chat up there that’s er.
BF: Pat.
RF: Pat.
CB: One of the aspects of this project that’s interesting is how many veterans like you have been unable, my father was one of them, unable to communicate with their family what they did in the war why do you think that was?
RF: Yes they didn’t like talking about it, our squadron um Wing Commander er he was killed unfortunately on the same night at Pat’s father but he was our Wing Commander and er his daughter she also managed to contact me and I gave her the information um she now lives in Pangbourne and she was er what was her name Jallet isn’t it?
BF: Yes Jallet.
RF: Susan Jallet and David Jallet they were doing the er doing the catering and everything for the reunion until their health failed.
CB: Right I’m just looking to see who they I haven’t got it down. Right so that’s really helpful thank you very much indeed er now Vic is there anything that comes to your mind that we?
RF: Did you want to pay a visit?
CB: I do in a minute yes. Do you want to stop now do you want to stop?
RF: No.
VT: Just a couple of things.
CB: This is Vic Truesdale now with a question.
VT: And will you put it to Reg ‘cos I think he’ll.
CB: Yeah to Reg okay.
VT: Er you didn’t it would be interesting to know how he chose the RAF and he told us about um where was it in London in the?
CB: St. John’s Wood
VT: St. John’s Wood but we didn’t know I think how he chose that.
CB: So the question is um you said that you joined the RAF at St. John’s Wood but why was it that you joined the RAF after the experience with the Navy and the Fleet Air Arm what made you decide to join the RAF.
RF: I can’t think I I just changed my mind that’s all [laughs] yes.
CB: But it was it because why didn’t you go to the army why didn’t you choose the army?
RF: I wanted to learn to fly, I wanted to be a pilot but er there we are you can’t get all your wishes, but er my first er target was the Fleet Air Arm for some reason it may be because my brother was in the Merchant Navy I don’t know.
CB: So when you did the original assessment then people tended to get categorised in the PNB pilot navigator bomber grouping did they suggest at any stage you should start pilot training or was it always directly to do with observer?
RF: I think we had tests in Oxford at the time and er it was er eyesight, colour vision and my eyesight was 20/20, my colour vision was perfect, so maybe that’s the reason they wanted me to be an observer.
CB: But you were happy with the decision?
RF: Yes yes I enjoyed it training out in South Africa.
CB: If you had had the option of becoming a navigator instead of a bomb aimer would you have preferred that?
RF: [sighs] I wouldn’t mind either really I would have preferred being a navigator because I liked er doing the maps I liked studying the stars and the cloud cover and things like that I used to enjoy that type of training when I was er I’m still a weather forecaster aren’t I [laughs].
BF: Yes.
RF: I forecast the rain today.
CB: As a result of your training that’s as a result of your initial training you learned about the weather?
RF: Yes.
CB: As part of your training.
RF: And I always liked maths when I was at school that was my favourite subject so looking at maps and er working out routes and mileage and things like that was far better for me than doing the bomb aimers training but I didn’t mind.
CB: Now then after a while the aircraft had H2S radar to what extent did you get linked in with that?
RF: It didn’t affect me at all but I it did the navigator but I was fortunate as I told you as I finished up in the same crew as my best friend as navigator and bomber aimer couldn’t be better.
CB: A final question to do with promotion, so you came off operations as a flight sergeant when did you get promoted to warrant officer?
RF: I can’t remember.
CB: What were you doing at the time?
RF: It may have been after I er did the the er bombing instructors course could have been I think it was in Doncaster I did the course.
CB: Yes okay. I think that covers most of the items thank you we’ll pause there. Supplementary question here from Vic which is you had to go to South Africa on the ship which became detached what was it like first of all being on the ship on its own and then back in a convoy what did you do?
RF: Well I remember crossing the Equator we had to go through a certain ceremony what did they call it?
VT: Neptune.
CB: Neptune.
RF: Yes I remember going through that particular phase before we got to Freetown and when we got to Freetown as I said we were there I think for three or four days waiting for another convoy we used to enjoy it because the natives used to swim into the harbour come up to the boat and ask for Glasgow tanners and we used to throw coins into the water for them and they used to dive in and pick them up they were always coming up and shouting “Glasgow tanners, Glasgow tanners” because it was the only English words they knew I think.
CB: Yes yes, what was the ceremony at the Equator what was the ceremony what did that entail?
RF: Well a special ceremony when you cross the Equator I can’t think of the name.
CB: Yes but what did you actually do you had to step across a line on the deck did you?
RF: Yeah or something or you went in the water or something.
CB: So then you were underway on the ship what were you doing all day on the ships?
RF: Well we were told to er man the guns we had a certain shift to do you know.
CB: Which type of gun is that?
RF: On the on the Merchant on the on the er passenger boat I can’t remember we weren’t given any training.
CB: They were big guns not machine guns?
RF: Yes they were big guns and we were told to go on a shift perhaps five hours or seven hours I can’t remember but we never had to use them.
CB: So the guns are in a turret are they? Were they open or were they in a turret?
RF: In a turret but I could stand inside you know I remember looking out and seeing the flying fish out on the ocean there.
CB: And which shift did you prefer bearing in mind this was a hot area?
RF: Which?
CB: Because of the heat which shift did you want to choose so you had to go on the guns and it was hot?
RF: I didn’t mind I didn’t mind.
CB: No you didn’t no.
RF: I think the name of the ship that we went in was Scythia [spells it out] Scythia [spells it out] and I think the other boat that we came back on was Empress of Russia.
CB: And how long did it take for the voyage?
RF: I can’t think it took three weeks to get to Freetown I know that and then it er must have been from Freetown we left in January must have been about six weeks down to Durban, we spent quite a long time in Cape Town after we’d completed our training waiting to come back and I managed to er get up to the top of Table Mountain I didn’t climb up I just used the cable car.
CB: Oh right. What planes were you flying in training what aircraft?
RF: Er Avro Ansoms and the Oxford.
CB: Which one was the gunnery which one for gunnery?
RF: I’m not sure we used both of them, I was very fortunate actually when I was training because er there was a person on our course by the name of Fraser and every day they put a notice up on the noticeboard saying what flight you were in for training and Fraser was always shown before Freeth this particular day Freeth was put before Fraser and his plane crashed and he was killed, I went to his funeral I remember that I was one of the pallbearers but er you know it’s all fate isn’t it.
CB: At the time though how did you feel about that?
RF: I didn’t think of it at the time you know I was just sorry for him but I it struck me afterwards you know why was it always Fraser and Freeth you know on the noticeboard it gave you details of the flight for the day and you’d look at the noticeboard and you’d see which plane you were going to er join and which target whether it was bombing or navigation and Fraser was always there before Freeth but this day it was Freeth before Fraser.
CB: You mentioned flying in the Manchester earlier did you go on any operations in that or was that only?
RF: That’s just training.
CB: What was that like for flying?
RF: It was a bit er bumpy you know it wasn’t very good compared to the I preferred the Wellington and er when I was taken off operations I remember flying them in a Martinet I don’t know what I was doing in the Martinet that was in OTU and er I went back in the Lancaster the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight I was invited to fly in that that was in September Nineteen Ninety Nine and um went up to Coningsby to join it and er we did a fly pass at Cleethorpes they were unveiling a memorial there to boar fighters and we did a fly pass again at Northcotes airfield in Yorkshire and then we went up to Leaming in Yorkshire North Yorkshire I was up for nearly two hours I went down to the bomb aimers position at my age.
CB: Fantastic.
RF: Nineteen Ninety Nine how old was I then seventy eight was it? Seventy eight I managed to get down into the bomb aimers position I had to be helped to get over the main spar I couldn’t climb over them.
CB: But a great experience.
RF: Yes wonderful.
CB: Right I think we’ve done really well thank you Reg. Now we are talking about one of the squadron commanders Wing Commander Penman.
RF: Wing Commander Penman.
CB: And what did he do?
RF: He was 61 Squadron Commanding Officer and for one particular reason I don’t know he wanted to go on a flight and he selected his crew, he took the er head of the navigation team, the head of the er bomb aiming team, the wireless operator, he selected his own crew took one of our crew members I can’t think of his name now and er unfortunately they were killed.
CB: All of them were they all killed or just him were they all killed or just him?
RF: They were all killed and they are buried in Germany his daughter was born a couple of months after his death and she now lives in Pangbourne Susan Jallet and she comes up to er the reunion regularly.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Reg Freeth,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 12, 2024,

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