Interview with William Barfoot


Interview with William Barfoot


Bill Barfoot was born in Newcastle upon Tyne. On joining the Air Force, he trained as a wireless operator but remustered as aircrew. He trained as a navigator in South Africa. He flew operations with 296 Squadron supplying the French and Norwegian Resistance, towing troop gliders to Normandy, Arnham and the Rhine.




Temporal Coverage





01:10:19 audio recording


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CB. My name is Chris Brockbank and I am with Squadron Leader William Barfoot and we are in Birmingham talking about his very varied experiences in the war. Bill would you like to start off with your early days, where you were born where you were schooled.
WB. I was born in Newcastle upon Tyne so I’m a Geordie, but I was taken to India when I was about six, five or six and I didn’t come back to just before the war. In India I went to that school the Laurence Memorial Royal Military School now called the Laurence School. It em its a military school in that you couldn’t go to the school unless you had been in the British Army or the British Navy, the Air Force wasn’t in great shape at that time, and your parents had to be one of those two. And then er I just had a secondary school education, I left school in 1936 and I went to Bombay University because the intention was to send me to either Oxford or Cambridge, both required Latin in those days and I hadn’t done Latin and I hadn’t done Latin because we done localised languages like Undra. So I went to the University to learn Latin and then eh, differences arose in the family of the financing of the thing so I left India altogether and eh came back to this country, when I came back to this country we [garbled] and so on. As a side line I was invited to stay at some Barracks in Woking, I forget the name of the Barracks now with the Father of two daughters, I eventually married one of them. [laugh]. I was twenty and seventeen, I actually met them in India before I came here, but they were in school and I was at a different school, so we didn’t really get to know each other until I came back to this country and I was seventeen. I was twenty and she was seventeen so that was a dangerous situation. I then got married and later on during the war, it’s the only dish. Incidentally I can’t give dates because we have lost the vital documents that would have given us this information, namely the flying log book and we have moved about four times after I left the Air Force and somewhere it has got lost. At least we haven’t found it yet, this is the point. So I can’t give you dates but I can tell you places I went to. I started off with, oh, I applied for a short service commission and I was accepted but then hostilities broke out. I then got a letter that cancelled the short service commission, so I then joined the Air Force as an Airman at a place I can’t remember now in London. We didn’t do much there except possibly square bashing, we were issued with uniforms and the usual sort of things, and the one, the one point when there, we were all given ten shillings in advance to buy blanco and shoe polish and what have you and it so happened that almost the same week there was a pay parade and we of course had to attend because discipline required it. There, there was a chap called Manning, that’s right. Puffy Manning we called him because he was a bit plump. The drill was of course, the Accounting Officer he would sit at the table and he would have an accounting Airman there. The Airman would call out your name and you would actually, this was the last three numbers of your name, walk up to the desk, salute and collect the money. Well Puffy Manning did all this correctly and the Clerk read out two shillings and sixpence. The Accounting Officer put a half crown on the thing. Puffy Manning tossed it up in the air and it bounced off the table and Puffy Manning said “buy yourself a cigar Sir.” Apparently the Station Warrant Officer nearly fainted and he said “arrest that man” and of course he was taken away to the Guard Room. He was very lucky because his Flight Commander was quite sympathetic and let him off with a caution. So anyway that’s what happened at that place which I can’t remember now. Em after that, where did I go then? Oh went to,” Nigel what’s the name of that place where we came in?”
Nigel “Kidderminster”
WB. Kidderminster, yes where there was a [unreadable] where we did one, to the front salute and all that sort of stuff, sort of bashing. After that I was taken to an airfield called Hullavington which was near Chippenham and over there, it was at the time when there was a fear of German invasion you know Dunkirk was just over. We were issued with obsolescent Canadian rifles and five rounds of ammunition to deal with the invasion of the Germans. Eh, Eh one night an old German aircraft flew over the airfield and scattered a few bombs on the airfield. We then said this is it you know, this is the invasion. So we all rushed out to our appointed positions but then it all went quiet and nothing happened. We stayed there for about two hours and suddenly there was a shot and the Orderly Officer went to see what it was all about. The airman said “I saw a movement down there and challenged him three times, he didn’t answer, so I shot.” He shot a horse, the Farmer was exactly delighted the next day. Anyway that’s what happened at Hullavington.
I worked in the cookhouse funnily enough there and eh [garbled] a parade a [unreadable] parade. I worked in the cookhouse and we were excused the parade. We used to all stand there and present arms with a broom and sing here comes the Air Vice Marshall he’s got lots and lots of rings but only got one arsehole.[laugh] Anyway from there, from Hullavington I then went to Yatesbury eh, and Compton Bassett, both close together and where I trained as a Wireless Operator eh. I was, we flew in Dragons I think or whatever they were called.
CB. Dragon Rapide
WB. That’s right Dragon Rapide, for practice at sending messages and receiving messages on the flight. I don’t know how long the course lasted but it was quite long. I learnt morse, its abolished now, but I tell you what, my morse code. Everybody who learns morse never forgets it and I got up to about twenty two words a minute which was quite good at that time. After Yatesbury and Compton Bassett I then was posted to Digby to Number 46 Squadron, Hurricanes as a Wireless Operator. We did sort of servicing on the Aircraft. The Squadron was then moved down to eh, forgot the name of the place to eh, Sherburn in Elmet which is in Yorkshire. My Squadron moved down there and shortly afterwards they eh, were detailed to go out to the Middle East. I was held back because I had volunteered for Aircrew. I told the admin staff and the next thing was to go down to London to ACRC which we called arsey tarsey of course. You get a written examination, virtually all maths and eh after that I was sent to Downing College in Cambridge where we did our initial training, were we learned the various fundamentals of the various activities in the Air Force. After Cambridge, after that eh, oh my next movement was to the EANS or Elementary Air Navigation School at a place near Brighton. Town near Brighton.
Prompt. Where at Eastbourne.
WB. At Eastbourne, we occupied the Eastbourne Grammar School and eh and that’s where we learned the very early functions of Navigation. After that, which place did I go from there? Oh yes I think it was called Heaton or High Heaton or something like that, it was the holding place for people travelling abroad. And so ah, I was put aboard an aircraft, I have forgotten the name of the ship, they were all Castle ships, something Castle you know and eh. We sailed first to Brazil of all places eh where we went ashore and were made very welcome and eh we crossed over to Capetown and eh we got off at Capetown and went by rail to a place called Grahamstown which is the sort of University town of South Africa where we were made very welcome because most of the people there were of British origin, so we had a lovely time there. Then we began to train Navigation seriously, flying in Ansons with South African Pilots and I forgot how long the course took. I think it took quite a time about six months, I could be wrong eh. I was then Commissioned as a Pilot Officer and we went to another ship of course to cross the Atlantic with the Italian prisoners of war. We put them out in New York and filled the, and filled the boat or ship with American soldiers to come back to the UK. Funnily enough I remember it was the time the Dambusters broke the Dams and the New York papers were full of it and they made a great fuss of us did the Americans. I remember two of them, when I was with a friend and someone stopping me to give me theatre tickets to go in. Incidentally the pound was worth four dollars in those days so it was quite expensive. Anyway we then sailed back to UK I think we went to Greenock I think, I can’t really remember we were given two, two weeks holiday on leave, eh. That’s when I went to, the only days I can remember for that period is the 27th of May Nineteen fift, Nineteen forty three which is of course the date I got married. I subsequently lived with her for sixty nine and a half years and then she died. Then we went back and went to Wigtown which is in Scotland, that was an advanced flying unit we flew in Ansons and then we went to Kinloss. When we went to Kinloss the funny thing that happened we were just turned into a room, a crowd of people, most of whom were Sergeants and told to form Crew em. Inevitably because there were more Sergeants than anything else I ended up in a Crew where I was the only Officer the rest were all Sergeants. We then had a mixed period which I forget. I remember an airfield and a road travelling through it, I can’t remember what the name of the airfield was. And we very shortly found out why we were sent on various courses. I was sent on a Gee course, Gee was then the, the very sensational Navigation Aid. The first time we had anything that was anything like accurate you know sort of like Astro Navigation you were jolly lucky to get ten miles from your accurate position. Where as with Gee you got right to the spot and it was absolutely sensational. The other thing I did during that period I did a map reading course in Tiger Moths at Worcester Race Course and just flew around, very happy times. I got on very well with the Pilot had a go of flying the Tiger Moth but we were all over the place.
The reason being off course, we were being held back for 296 Squadron, which had, was returning from the Middle East and. We were held back because we were going to reinforce them and they were, where were they? Earls Colne that where they reformed. I was made the Squadron Navigation Officer because we only had two Officers amongst the Navigators and This is where we went with Albemarle’s for the first time, we never heard of Albemarle’s before, it was the only aircraft in the RAF that had a tricycle undercarriage and therefore very suitable for glider towing. You know the glider goes off first and then you go off and, and eh we started operating from there [Garbled]. We later moved to Brize Norton and Brize Norton became our permanent base. But we flew from Earls Colne for quite a while. We spent time reinforcing French Resistance Groups but obviously it was a slow process because you had to organise the Group. They also did Norway as well in the Albemarles. The Albemarle was a very bad aircraft for the Navigator because they had forgotten that they needed a Navigator. It had switches all over the place, down there, up there later on when we converted to Halifax’s it was absolute luxury to have all these instruments in front of you. But eh, eh, anyway we flew surprise Resistance Groups, they didn’t come too often because, obviously I had to organise the Groups carefully because the Gestapo were on the lookout all the time. We used to fly round about six thousand feet and then we would have to find the Resistance Group which usually had four torches in a field in the form of an arrow and the bottom line of the arrow would flash a code, Morse code, which we had been given. When we saw that we dropped down to about five hundred feet and dropped the supplies and flew on so the Gestapo didn’t see, the whereas, dropped there and turning away and that’s what we did. We did one or two in Norway as well but Norway was a bit frightening because it was a bit mountainous compared with France.
The other thing was our other function on Special Operations was towing of gliders. It was obvious there was going to be a big glider operation and they needed these Crews trained. The trouble with the, with towing gliders is A. Your speed drops, you get down to Anson speeds and secondly you can’t manoeuvre because you have a glider full of Troops behind you. So when we went on and we did the first one was D day, when you went on these Operations you had a very hairy Fighter Escort. You needed it because you were very vulnerable funnily enough we didn’t lose many because by then we had complete Air Superiority and eh you didn’t get too much interference. We did two other glider operations, one was at Arnhem in Holland and that was a disaster. Not from the air point of view we dropped them all in the right place at the right time. The thing was the Intelligence had not discovered there was a German Armoured Division in Holland and of course our Troops who were Airborne Troops were comparatively lightly armed of course they suffered very heavy casualties and eh. They were supposed to capture the Bridge at Nijmegen so the Second Army I think it was could proceed on and race towards Berlin, but they never got the Bridge of course. As I have said they had very heavy casualties and eh, that was that.
The third operation that we had with gliders was eh, Rhine crossing and we were getting near the end of the war there and eh, the eh, Germans put some of the Troops, in the woods resting from Operations, not too far away and eh so we were detailed for the first time ever to carry bombs. Bye the way we now had converted to Halifax’s for the [unreadable]. We had Albemarle’s for the other two eh, for the Rhine crossing we had Halifax’s which were much better. All your equipment from the Navigator point of view, direct compass everything, everything, APR all the lot was in the one compartment. You could see it all in front of you where as in the Albemarle you were doing this sort of thing. The other advantage of the Halifax, I sat on the escape hole but we didn’t need to use it. We did in fact loose our Rear Gunner, but that was not our aircraft. His friend had a girlfriend in the local village and he had a date with her that night so Jimmy Osall who was our Rear Gunner offered to stand in for him, instead of him, never came back. After that more or less the war was beginning to end then we flew eh, incidentally we did convert to Stirling’s before we went to Halifax’s but fortunately we never used the Stirling. Something I didn’t mention when I spoke about Kinloss, we flew Whitley’s there and, and, it was known as the flying coffin of course and it was a very slow aircraft, only had two engines , it was supposed to be a bomber. We did cross country flying but they didn’t risk sending us on Operations in them because we would never have come back.
Anyway we then flew VIPs, from,who fled to England during the Invasion by and large VIPs we flew them to Oslo. We also flew eh, Concentration Camp survivors to Greece, we did two of those and I think that was the end of the war and I was then posted to, oh yes I was posted to Staff Navigator Course after the war ended and eh and I was posted to when I had done the course, I done that at Shawbury by the way. When I done that course I was, I was em where was I then, oh yes I went to join 242 Squadron it was a Transport Squadron flying to the Far East. Eh, we were stationed at Oakington in Cambridge. Then we were moved to a place near Christchurch, Mosley, Mousley something like that Moseley which upset my Wife quite much because she got really settled in Cambridge and rather liked it and so did I. So I got onto the Navigation Boss, where was he? I have forgotten where he was and I said I wanted to go back to Cambridge. So eh ah they managed to sort it out, so I left 242 Squadron and went back to Cambridge, this time to Waterbeach which was also a Cambridge airfield, or was. Then vacancies were coming up the Air Force was running short, we hadn’t got a third category of Navigator, a specialist Navigator and a specialist Navigator was supposed to liaise with Scientists on possible uses for Navigation purposes. Em so I went on that course, also to Shawbury, Shawbury[unreadable] Empire Navigation School. Was then the central Navigation School for Navigation purposes and that’s where I went for the and then after that I was posted to er, where was it, near Darlington.
Interruption. Middleton St George.
WB. Middleton St George, yes Middleton St George where I was teaching Navigation to Bomb Aimers who had converted to Navigators em and eh. Then after that I then ended up to, to em oh that incidentally is when Nigel was born. I went to, we went to Ceylon where we were stationed at Degummed airfield. Em [unreadable] nothing there and then after about a year in Ceylon I was posted to Singapore and eh in Singapore, I was promoted to Squadron Leader then. I became Airhead Forces Malaya Navigation Representative and eh and advised them on Navigation. What did we do, I did do .The Korean War was on at the same time and some of our aircraft in Malaya were taking part in the war, mostly Flying Boats that were patrolling the seas around Korea. They were having trouble with the long range Navigation aid that the Americans had invented [unreadable] to Gee. They were having trouble with it, so I was sent via Hong Kong out in another Flying Boat to see if they could correct it which I succeeded to do and I flew on ops in Korea in the Flying Boat. And also at the same time we got a Typhoon, or what are the local thingies called, probably call a Tsunami now, which badly damaged one of the Flying Boats. So I got signal back from HQ Malaya to investigate the damage to this Flying Boat. I then came back to the UK, I then came back to Singapore and that’s when I came to the UK.
Then I went to the Air Ministry for about a year and then I was posted to Castle Bromwich as Station Commander. I em, we still had several lodger units there. 7 Police District, an ATC unit and Army AOP Flight, 2605 Fighter Control eh Fighter Exercise. We had several aircraft Austers and AOP Flight I forget what they flew, gliders for the ATC, University Air Squadron, Chipmunk, they were on our eh, my airfield and I think that was about it, the lot of them. Eh after that I was posted, I oh, I did two years or we did two years at Castle Bromwich where we did Battle of Britain Displays each and we were eh, highest in the Country. I don’t know if it was because the people of Birmingham were very generous. I think part of it was that we had the British Industries Fair at the side. We done quite well out of that I should think we charged them a pound for parking there eh that pushed up the Benevolent fund and we did quite well out of it I should think.
Then I got my last posting which was to run the Staff Navigation Course at Shawbury. So I had three goes at Shawbury. I liked Shawbury it was one of my favourite airfields and then I left the Air Force. And and Then I went over to BMC as the em Career and eh ah as the representative to the Caribbean that was [laugh] that was a treat. It was just after, we were still on rations in this country and to go there on one of the Islands and order a steak and get something about that big, it was quite an experience. Anyway from then on of course I was in Civvy Street. So I eh finished up doing Management Training in eh training. I was an expert in a technique called [unreadable] which was problem solving and decision making and eh, “what was the other course?” [little confused] “my minds going” [pause].
Nigel? “Transaction Analysis.”
CB. Transaction Analysis yes.
CB. We’ll have a break now.
WB. Yeah. I carried on teaching at, it wasn’t BMC any longer or Leyland as it had been called. But I did several courses for er for the Systems which eventually became, eventually became Unipart didn’t it? I ran a few courses and then no more and lapsed into old age.
CB. What age did you retire?
WB. Sixty five I retired but I still continued to go back to run the odd course. I’d just got paid a fee. That’s about it.[pause]
CB. You ok?
[Possibly a break in the recording]
WB. Its called Decca
CB. We are just talking about Gee and the fact that the Germans jammed it, but you could tell they were jamming it. How did that show on the screen?
WB. The screen went all like that eh eh.
CB. What was the next system?
WB. It was, well Bomber Command resorted to Pathfinders where they used Mosquitoes with things like H2S and eh and other eh quite a lot of stuff that the Mosquitoes carried and they marked the target with em.
CB. With coloured flares ?
WB. With coloured flares, yes and they presumably new the colours beforehand so the Germans could not mark, put these things into operation.
CB. So after, you said there was a different system after Gee, what sort.
WB. Decca
CB. How did that work.
WB. It was similar to Gee, it was very, Gee had a very short range compared with the other things. Decca had a better range, the thing about Decca was that it could be made to give you the wrong information without you realising it. In other words it was possible for the enemy or the Germans if you like to make the Decca instrument read something else and you would not know.
CB. And that’s what they did?
WB. The RAF refused to have anything to with it. They did Air Commodore Death, he was flying over the North Pole they did use Decca for that occasion. But then of course the war was long over, but they wouldn’t touch it as a eh eh Navigational Instrument. In fact now they don’t even have Navigators so never mind eh. Now they have all these Satellites and Computers and what have you and Laser Beams. They don’t need Navigators, they don’t need Wireless Operators either, there is no need for Morse. I eh as far as I know the Tornado isn’t eh doesn’t carry defensive guns as far as I know.
CB. Can we go back to when you were doing your Flying Training in South Africa.
WB. Yes.
CB. So you done Ground School already in the UK, what did you do in your Training in South Africa?
WB. Flew in Ansons all over the, all over South Africa and,
CB. So what were the exercises that you did ?
WB. Normal Navigation, cross country ones, but we did not have much in the way of Navigation Aids you know. You could, you could get beams from wireless beams but they weren’t particularly accurate and certainly astro was bloody awful. I mean you were very lucky[laugh] to be within twelve miles of where you really were.
CB. Why was that, was it because it took so long or it was difficult to see?
WB. No the sextant was a bottle sextant which moves about of course and you had to go for a whole, yet, have very accurate watch, for a minute do a, and then you averaged it out eh well cause you, you, used to have a song about eh “The bubble goes right and something goes left” I can’t remember.
CB. So in practical terms, in practical terms you were taking three fixes to get each.
WB. No, three position lines.
CB. Three position lines.
WB. To get a fix, but you very often found the position lines didn’t bear any relation to each other. Astro, to be honest I never used Astro except practicing on the ground. I never used it for Flying. No never. We once got em, in a Halifax, we once got struck by lightning and all the magnetical things all went hay wire so we had to come back on Gee [laugh] and eh and the Astro compass yeah. There was a lovely story when, Death, Air Commodore Death was flying round the North Pole. You have a problem with the North Pole because whatever way you go you go South, so they had to use Grid Navigation. But Anyway they landed at some place or other and er and Airman or somebody or maybe an NCO was taking, allocating rooms in the Mess and eh said “AC Death” and he said to the Air Commodore “AC1 or 2?” and the Air Commodore said “Air Commodore actually” and the chap said “that will be the day.”
CB. These anecdotes are very good. So just going back to the Flying Training. How long were you doing that, you were flying daylight but you sometimes flew at night didn’t you, in South Africa?
WB. No in South Africa we never flew at night, I can never remember flying at night but we flew all the time. We did a lot of flying in Anson’s and of course we did a lot of theoretical work. I remember we used to make fun of their accent, the South African accent especially when they were talking about the guns the rear guns. And talking about the Hood, they used to say Hoood. We used to say to him how goo get us the Hoood. [laugh]
CB. But they took it in good stead.
WB. Oh yes, we used to get on very well with the South Africans they were quite pleasant of course they were in the war.
CB. At what point were you awarded your flying brevet?
WB. Oh immediately we finished the course in South Africa. I remember I could you, eh, I had to buy them in the local shop, you had to get your first uniform made there but there were no Navigator half moons, half wings. They were the old “O”
CB. So you were the Observer.
WB. That’s why when we got married I was wearing the “O”
CB. Did you then convert to Navigator or did you have the Observer brevet?
WB. I changed to Navigator because I thought it sounded much better and more prestige than Observer. Totally after that I changed to Navigator brevet. Of course that doesn’t exist now, well it does in theory.
CB. Right, different. So as an Observer you didn’t just do Navigation, what else did you do? Because you done Air Bombing.
WB. No we had a Bomb Aimer who did that, I tell you what we used to introduce ourselves to the soldiers that we were carrying in the Gliders and we all had our names here. It was all very well oh when I went bye or a Pilot went by they always looked with natural horror, his name was Coffin [laugh] yeah.
CB. On the Albemarle, the Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle was a fairly rare aeroplane?
WB. I think five or six hundred were made and about two hundred of them were sent to Russia. Yes I wouldn’t say it was the best aeroplane to fly particularly from the Navigators point of view, you had no room, your table, your navigation table was folded over your lap. And eh when we went to the Halifax they had a proper laid out table and everything was marvellous, ah God.
CB. So flying the Albemarle what were you doing, were you dropping supplies to the Macys or the Resistance in General, how did the Operation go?
WB. We were particularly successful in fact my Pilot, as usual in the Air Force the Pilot was the one who usually got decorated because eventually the effect. The fable was you decorated the whole crew by giving the Pilot the DFC or whatever or DSO. Then we changed you know, when in the Air Force we changed every two years, so after about two years’ time you had no recognition saying you were a Navigator or whatever or Wireless Operator. The only person who had any recognition was the Pilot. Very few Navigators eh most of the Navigators who got mostly decorated were mainly Pathfinders ones. Eh not many, occasionally when something happened perhaps they got the odd DFC. Bye and large the Pilots always got the Gong which we thought was unfair. The other thing we thought was unfair was when the Canadians came over the Canadian Navigators had double wings eh so we thought we ought of have double wings. So would you believe it the Air Ministry decided to put it to the vote of Aircrew em as to whether they wanted the double wings. Of course there were far more Pilots than ever was Navigators. So of course they voted against it, so of course we never did get the double wings. But the Canadians had it and the Americans did too. The Americans had the double wings but eh, but eh.
CB. Can you talk us through an Operation when you are supplying the Macys?
WB. Well eh yeah, you were given a very short interval in which to drop, about five minutes, you weren’t allowed any more than five minutes because that would give away the position of the Macys. So you eh ah the Navigational had to be very accurate. If you didn’t make contact in the field in the time given you had to return to Base em with the material. As I said you had three lights, three torches that’s all they were. Three there and one at the side, with the one at the side like a nail formation and that one there would be flashing a code number which we had been given beforehand. And eh when the ere when the eh, the thing that annoyed me my Pilot got the same decoration as I got last week, this French decoration He got his during the war or just to the end of the war [unreadable] but the thing was he only did what he was told. I mean you gave him the Flight you gave him the Course the Height to fly at, the eh Airspeed. You kept changing the airspeed so that you arrived at the correct time because as I say you only had a short time to deliver the [unreadable]. When we eh when we spotted the lights, the Bomb Aimer would be in position, we would drop height down to about five hundred feet and drop the supplies and back. We normally flew at about six thousand, six or seven thousand but I tell you what as the Navigator I always gave the Pilot a thousand feet to much if you eh if the high ground was seven thousand feet I always gave him eight thousand to fly. I was all eh we lost a couple of aircraft in Norway because of this, well they didn’t put a safety margin on the flight.
CB. How difficulty was to find this Target, on your own that is, it is not with any other aircraft.
WB. Very difficult, we once got chased by a Fighter but he eh um he didn’t shoot. We did a Corkscrew, we were at our proper height then. The beauty, the reason that we dropped down to five hundred feet, the Fighters couldn’t fly underneath you [laugh] they would fly into the ground if they did. But eh but we never did, never had a Fighter contact at the time we were dropping, it was always clear and eh as I say eh you had a fifty, fifty chance of finding them, you only had, you were out of range of Gee. The Pathfinders of course had many other aids other than Gee. I mean they had bending beams and things and cross beams that were active when they were over the target. All the Navigators that I met who were well decorated were Pathfinder ones. Oh apart from the, there was the odd one from the eh, Dambusters.
CB. Oh Yeah. When you eh were looking for the sight of the Dropping Zone did they tend to be in wooded areas or were they in open fields or where were they.
WB. It would depend on what part of France it was, if it was the unoccupied part it would tend to be open ground. If it was the occupied part eh, we would look for some sort of cover if you could get it yeah em, but em.
CB. How many passes could you do?
WB. Oh we were only allowed one.
CB. Only one ?
WB. Yeah, because you didn’t have time to do any others. The Resistance Group would hear the aircraft coming and they would put on their torches, immediately we saw the torches we would drop and eh to supply them. We used to supply them with generally stuff to sabotage and so on to blow up railway lines and bridges. The idea was, they didn’t operate, or not very much until D Day and then they started mining all the things to delay any German reinforcements.
CB. And eh the Bomb Aimer was the person responsible for dropping, so there were static lines attached to the stores. How were they dropped, with a parachute?
WB. No they were more or less dropped as [unreadable] they were wrapped up, they weren’t on parachutes.
CB. They weren’t.
WB. No.
CB. Did you ever drop supplies by parachute?
WB. No but eh the night before D Day, 296 Squadron, I wasn’t on that 296 Squadron dropped parachutes, parachute Troops to seize a bridge, I forget the name of it but it is very famous, the Bridge.
CB. So on D Day what was your task?
WB. Our task was to drop the er Paratroops, the Gliders we dropped those behind the lines.
CB. Was this in daylight or at night?
WB. In daylight, the one that captured the bridge were dropped by parachute, that was night. It was the night before D Day but em. On D Day I remember the whole blinking sea seemed to be full of ships. I just couldn’t believe it and we flew over them. We were then stationed at Brize Norton which is now quite a famous airfield.
CB. When you were towing gliders, what height are you flying?
WB. Eh, I can’t remember exactly but I think about two to three thousand.
CB. What speed were you able to make?
WB. [laugh] Anson speed about a hundred em hundred and twenty perhaps, if you were lucky, sometimes slower than that.
CB. Because the speed is governed by what the Glider can do.
WB. Yes, well you just tow the glider along and the glider has control whither he has the release, not the Tug as we were called, we didn’t. We usually spoke to them before they were released to say good luck and what have you.
CB. So as well as the rope, it was a rope that tied you to the glider.
WB. I mean we dropped that, we were usually given a dropping zone for that.
CB. Back in Britain?
WB. No, by the Target, yes because we didn’t want to fly with a rope, [laugh] spare rope behind us. Yeah we, I think on D Day 296 Squadron we lost one aircraft.
CB. So how many other glider trips did you take for the Invasion?
WB. The Invasion, the Invasion only the one they did we, er there were other Squadrons, there was 297 doing the same sort of thing, they were stationed at Harwell. We had Halifax’s, 38 Group were equipped with the first Halifax’s, we didn’t have them but they were in the group they were used. Funnily enough eh they towed a different glider. We towed a Horsa which carried troops. They towed a thing called a, “what was it called?” Hamilcar, yes that’s it.
CB. That had guns in it?
WB. That carried a small tank and of course the small tank was no match for the German Armoured Division, no. That that was Montgomery’s idea apparently [unreadable] Eisenhower and it was a disaster. Only because they didn’t know, they would never have sent them had they knew there was a German Armoured Division there.
CB. Are we talking about Arnhem now or are we talking about Normandy landings, you were just taking troops?
WB. Normandy landings we just flew over the top we got em the. I think some parachutists were dropped, their purpose was to try to immobilise the guns. I think that is what the Americans unfortunately dropped their parachutists in the wrong place or too far away and they suffered terrible casualties, compared with the British and Canadians. But it is so old now seventy five years or whatever.
CB. Long time.
WB. It is a long time, in fact I’m surprised, I suppose it’s the role played that I remember so much. I wouldn’t have thought at ninety six to remember as much as I do remember, but I don’t remember all of it.
CB. So when you were towing the glider, were you the lead Navigator yourself?
WB. No each aircraft had its own Navigator. The Americans had a lead Navigator scheme but I think they gave that up after a while, because if you got the Leader shot down you were in trouble to a certain extent.
CB. You were the Squadron Navigation Officer weren’t you?
WB. Yes I was Squadron Navigation Officer then Station Navigation Officer then HQ Malaya Navigation.
CB. Over a period of years?
WB. Oh I loved Singapore was lovely, that was a posting that.
CB. But in that case you gave up towing gliders at the end of the war.
WB. Oh yes, gliders were never used again. They were very expensive the er em. The Germans invaded Crete with parachutists and they made the mistake of parachuting the ammunition separately [laugh] and eh the British Tommies had a Hell of a time for a while until the Germans were able to reinforce and eh eh, funny.
CB. OK we will stop there for a bit.
CB. So Bill what was the most memorable thing that you did, do you think?
WB. The most memorable thing was the Ground Crew of 296 decided to hold a raffle or call it what you like, that sort of thing. They collected money from all of the Ground Crew and decided they would award the money to the first aircraft to make touch down. We were first and eh our Ground Crew goes cheering to the roof you know because they would collect the money. Some Ground Crew serviced more aircraft, I don’t know what arrangements they had for that. We taxied back to the dispersal with cheers and whoops and what have you. We were then at Brize Norton.
When we went to. I didn’t mention, when we went to Arnhem we flew to Manston and, and in order to get closer to the Target because Albemarle’s hadn’t the range of the Halifax. So we flew down there, but the thing that I remember was that there were Americans at Manston and eh our first Meteors had appeared and they couldn’t understand how these aircraft were flying without propellers [laugh].
CB. Meteor Jets yes.
WB. Yes
CB. What was the level of loss on the Squadron, how many aircraft were lost?
WB. I don’t know off hand.
CB. Was it a regular occurrence?
WB. No not, the sort of Operation we were doing supplying the Resistance Group, it didn’t pay the German Air Force to go chasing after one er aircraft, so by in large we were never attacked. Although there is a, I’ve got a picture in the album. Incidentally, I don’t know if you want to look at the Album when I got this French Decoration, three weeks later we were there.
CB. We will look at that in just a moment thank you.
WB. Yes that was the only thing, it’s funny how you remember small things connected to big things. You get some small incidents that occur and a great big thing like D Day you remember the Ground Crew gathering on your return to Base.
CB. How was the relationship between the Aircrew and the Ground Crew.
WB. Oh very good, very, very good yeah we knew them all by name, they were always there with a smile.
CB. We are going to stop there because time has run out so thank you very much indeed.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with William Barfoot ,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 15, 2024,

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