Interview with Harry Irons. One


Interview with Harry Irons. One


Harry Irons left a tailoring apprenticeship to join the Royal Air Force and trained as a wireless operator but actually became an air-gunner. He describes the uniform he wore and the unreliability of heated suits. Discusses the invention of scarecrows which crews believed were sent up by the Germans to distract and demoralise them. Also describes a number of operations including to the Ruhr Valley and a number of daylight operations to Le Creusot and Milan. Goes on to discuss the removal of Perspex from Lancasters to prevent oil from exhausts from affecting visibility, the introduction of radar into the rear turret and it’s quick removal after it was found as used by Germany and Schrage Musik. He returned to tailoring following his retirement from the Royal Air Force.



IBCC Digital Archive




Katie Gilbert


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01:15:35 audio recording






AM: Okay so, this interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Annie Moodie and the interviewee is Harry Irons. The interview’s taking place at a hotel near Kings Lynn and we’re here for the 9 Squadron Association hundred year dinner.
HI: Yeah that’s right, yeah.
AM: And it’s the 23rd of July 2015. So, off you go Harry. Tell us –
HI: Er, actually I won a scholarship to go to a grammar school, but my father insisted that I left school at fourteen so I could go to work and earn a wage. So, being in the east end the only jobs you could get was either tailoring or cabinet making. There was a whole area that’s – it was a big Jewish area and the, most of the people were either tailors or cabinet makers, and they were good, very good, brilliant craftsmen. So I took a job on as a trainee tailor and I was doing that for two years until I was sixteen, nearly sixteen, and we lived in an area of London called Stamford Hill and one evening we, me and a few other chaps were on the hill, and we see the huge blitz on London, and we actually see the whole of the City of London literally ablaze. Enormous, as far as your eye could see was buildings all, all ablaze, that was the City of London. Actually, they weren’t after the City of London, what they was after was the Docks, and they just, their bombing, what we used to call creeping, crept back from the Docks into the City of London and once it hit the City of London course everything went up in flames so, two or three friends said ‘we’ll, we’re gonna join up.’ I was sixteen at the time, so we went up the recruiting office in Kings Cross, London, and I told ‘em I was seventeen and a quarter, how they believed me I don’t know but they said ‘alright you’re in,’ and that was at the end of 1941, and I was called up in January 1941 [unclear]. The blaze was – the bombing was in 1940 and we joined, we joined up at the end of 1940, and 1941 they called me up and I went to a place near where it was called Bridgnorth then six weeks square bashing [?] there and they said ‘you’ll have to wait to sele’ – they asked me what I wanted to be in the air force, I said ‘I wanna fly,’ they said ‘alright, we’ll put you down for either a pilot, navigator or an air gunner and we’ll sort that out later on.’ Anyway, I went to Bridgnorth, done my six weeks training, and they sent me to a RAF station, Wisbech in Cambridge and I had to do menial jobs there, in the cook house, in the stores, waiting for, to go on a course. In the mean while they told me I was gonna become a wireless operator air gunner, and I’ve got to wait for a course to come up, a vacancy for the course to come up, so I stayed at Wisbech ‘til August ’41, and then they posted me to Blackpool on a wireless course and everybody in the RAF went to Blackpool to do their wireless course, and you had to stay in a, all the border houses were commandeered, and all the aircrew used to live in these border houses and the thing was when you’re at Blackpool you got up to twelve words a minute which we all did, and then from there you’re posted to another sta, er, air force station to continue your study ‘til you become up to eighteen words a minute –
AM: When you say eighteen words a minute, doing what?
HI: Morse code.
AM: Morse code right, okay.
HI: Yeah, dit dah dit dah dit dah dit. Anyway, we was all queuing up to wait for postings and the sergeant came out just like that he said ‘you lot, over that side. You lot, that side,’ and fortunately or unfortunately I was in that lot on that side and we become airgunners. Not wireless operators, airgunners. Just airgunners. And the reason for that, I didn’t know at the time, was the heavy bombers, the Lancasters, were going on production, and there was, they were short of airgunners, because they had to carry another air gunner so they said ‘you lot over there, you become airgunners,’ and I went back to Wisbech – I was a bit cheesed off about it all anyway, couldn’t do much about it, and I waited another couple of months and then they sent me on a gunnery course, a place called Manby [emphasis] in Lincoln, it’s a big air force gunnery school there, and we done six weeks training there as gunners, gunnery, and I got the huge total flying hours of nineteen hours, that’s all I got, and they said – and from there you’re supposed to do a four month, five month operational training course, that’s getting accustomed to actually doing bombing raids on enemy territory. But then whatever happened they said to me ‘you’re being posted straight on a squadron’ and I tell you what, I was a greener than this.
AM: [Laughs] we’re sat on a green settee, for the record.
HI: Yeah, yeah. It was as green, I was as green as anything then. ‘Cause I got nineteen hours and I didn’t know what to expect. Anyway, I was posted to Waddington [emphasis] to Number 9 Squadron. And when I arrived there, as it was luck [exhale of breath] was in my favour because a flight lieutenant named Stubbs came up to me and said ‘you’re gonna fly with me as a mid-upper’ and I said ‘fair enough.’ They’d already, he was already on his second tour, he’d already done thirteen trips on Wellingtons [emphasis].
AM: So you didn’t do the usual crewing up thing?
HI: Never done anything like that, no.
AM: You just –
HI: No, no they just sent about ten of us to 9 Squadron, ‘cause I was just converting from Wellingtons onto Lancasters, and consequently they was one gunner short because the Lancaster carried a mid-upper. So he said to me, anyhow I didn’t know what it was all about actually, he said to me ‘the rear gunner I’ve got at the moment is a big Australian,’ he was about six foot three [unclear] ‘and he’s too tall for the turret’ he said ‘what we’re gonna do is you’re gonna do your first trip in the mid-upper and after that you’ll go in the rear turret, and the Australian will go’ –‘cause in the mid-upper you can pull your legs down, straighten you know, you’ve got plenty of room, so what we done then, we done – as time’s gone on, this was 1942, round about June 1942 and we started getting to used, well the crew getting used to flying a Wellington twin engine bomber onto a four engine bomber. And that, you use what they call conversion, and that’s pretty difficult ‘cause you learn how to fly an entirely different aircraft, land it, you got to find out all the different things, the different systems and the turrets, anyway we done about six weeks training, well not, training it was, well converting from the one engine to the Lancaster, and then September ’42 we was in a crew, we had a big crew and we used to lay and loll about smoking, swearing everything else [laughs] anyway, they said ‘ops tonight.’ So, before you went on operations you done what they call a night flying test [emphasis], you took the aircraft up, you tested the bomb site, you tested the, the bomb bays open and closing, you tested the turrets and you give a, you went outta sea and give the guns a little squirt, see everything was alright, the compass [emphasis], check the compass and the, the under carriage we’d dropped up and down a couple of time to make sure it was alright, and we landed, and as we landed, the bomb aimer had already done thirteen trips on Wellingtons, and this is vivid, and as we’d come out of the steps of the Lancaster, the bomb aimer’s behind me, and coming along the road was tractor carrying a four thousand pound bomb, and fourteen hundred incendiaries, and the bomb aimer said to me ‘oh, we’re going to Happy Valley tonight.’ He said ‘by that bomb load, we’re definitely going to Happy Valley,’ and I thought ‘well that don’t sound too bad, Happy Valley,’ I thought ‘well Happy Valley, that can’t be too bad,’ I didn’t know that that was a nickname for the Ruhr Valley. The whole of the Ruhr Valley was called Happy Valley, and I didn’t realise at the time but the Happy Valley, the Ruhr Valley, as you went in you got a brilliant [emphasis] reception and a better, a, what you say, a bye-bye on the way out, and I tell you what, right I’ll go on, anyway we – it was always ritual, always [emphasis] for bomber crews to have bacon and eggs before they went on ops, always. Didn’t matter where you were, all the time I was in the air force, I done sixty bombing trips, and every time we went on a bombing trip we got bacon and eggs [emphasis] and if we come back we got bacon and eggs. And that was a luxury in those, in wartime, and then of course the joke was, always the joke ‘if you don’t come back, can I have your bacon and eggs?’ you know. Anyway, we went to the, we got – there was a bit of a rigmarole getting ready, you had to, you had to have your bacon and eggs and you go down to – most, most aircrew wrote a last letter, most of ‘em. I think the majority of aircrew wrote a last letter home to their wives, and they used to put them on the bed, and I’m afraid to say, I seen many, many, many letters being collected by the padre, many, that’s why I never wrote one myself. Anyway, we had our food, our bacon and eggs, we were all laughing and joking, you know we were young blokes, and we went to the crew, to the briefing room and we all sat down to see who would come in, and the map [emphasis] had a huge sheet over it, and the CO always, always done it, come in, whipped the sheet off and there was the target. So the bomb aimer said to me ‘I told you.’ It was Dusseldorf, he said ‘there you are,’ he said ‘I knew we were going there’ he said, ‘we’re going to Happy Valley,’ and I still didn’t twig on, ‘oh well, that don’t sound too bad,’ thinking of German girls tryna start [?] kisses you know what I mean. Anyway, we went down to the crew room and the atmosphere changed completely [emphasis]. We went in the crew room and the whole squadron was in the crew room ‘cause we had cabinets for all our flying gear and used to get dressed in there, and as I walked in, all the crews were there, it was dead silence, and everybody was looking at each other, there was no jokes, no laughing, nothing. And there was simply a – the atmosphere was incredible [emphasis] to what it was in the mess having our egg and bacon. Anyway, we got dressed and it was – airgunners dressing was long underpants, pure silk, and a vest that was silk and then your shirt and then your pullover, and then a, over the shirt you put a, I think it was, no, before you put the shirt on, as we put the shirt on we put an electrical heated suit with gloves and electrical heated gloves and body and feet, which was really, really important. And over that we put our uniform ‘cause you had to wear a uniform, if you never wore a uniform, I never realised but at night if you’ve was parachuted out in civilian clothes you was likely to get executed, which many, quite a few boys did get executed, especially by the civilians. And over that we used to put a huge [emphasis] fur jacket and fur trousers, fur lined boots, and there we were –
AM: Fur trousers?
HI: Fur trousers, yeah [murmur from AM]. You know, thick, made of the same material as your jacket. Irvin jacket, you had Irvin trousers, thick Irvin trousers and they used to tuck them inside your boot, zip your boots up and there, you could hardly move by then, but – and I’ll tell you what, on a warm day you was walking out you was absolutely sweating [emphasis, laughs]. Anyway, we went out to the aircraft and everybody smoked, everybody smoked [emphasis] except the skipper, the skipper didn’t smoke, he never drunk, never went out with women, he was absolutely – they said in the officers mess that they couldn’t understand the man, he wouldn’t, he never swore, he never smoked. Anyway, he – a good pilot mind you. Anyway, we got in the aircraft and I was in the mid-upper, first time. And in the mid-upper turret of the Lancaster, I’ve got a picture of it, you had a fantastic [emphasis] view –
AM: Hmm, all round.
HI: All three hundred and eighty degree. You could see everything [emphasis]and I got in the mid-upper, and I never got, I was still raw, we done, only done six weeks training, and I plugged in the electricity for the heater ‘cause if we, even in the mid-upper the temperature was about forty-five, fifty below zero. Worse still in the turret, rear turret. Anyway, we got ready and then the crew room, nobody was talking, it was like that, nobody spoke, and off we went. We took off at Waddington, and the thing was at Waddington they had no runways at that time. There were two squadrons of Lancasters there and no runway. All we had was grass, and in the winter it was very, very difficult with full bomb loads to takeoff. Before that, when we arrived at Waddington there was a squadron there, 44 Squadron, a Rhodesian squadron, and apparently they was the first squadron in the RAF to be equipped with the Lancaster, in March, April, round about April. And what they’d done, they’d decided to do a daylight raid, a low level daylight raid on a town called Augsburg in Germany. They sent six Lancasters flying at zero feet right across France, right into Germany –
AM: At zero [emphasis] feet?
HI: Zero feet, I mean zero – well when I say zero feet, about half of these buildings.
AM: Right okay.
HI: Can you imagine six Lancasters –
AM: No [laughs] –
HI: At that height over, just ducking over the trees, going as low as low as they could, else they would have invade [?] the radar.
AM: Right.
HI: Anyway, what happened – unfortunately there was squadron of Messerschmitts flying, I don’t know if it was practicing or flying, and of course they see these six Lancasters, and they immediately they shot down five [noise of shock from AM]. So outta the six they sent, one come back badly, badly damaged, and his name was Nevillson [name unclear] and he got the VC. The other five that was shot down got nothing [emphasis] so, he was fortunate, he was leading the squadron from the front and they gradually cut the other five down and he managed to avoid and managed to get back badly damaged. So, I’m just telling you that because it deal with another operation I went on. Anyway, we all got ready to takeoff, and everything was quiet in the – nobody spoke, when we was on ops, very rarely we spoke. The only time we spoke is when we was being attacked, when the navigator was giving instructions to the pilot, or the bomb aimer or me or the mid-upper or the rear gunner could see something downstairs they could identify and then inform the navigator what we see, and that helped him to crack the course. ‘Cause in those days, 1942, we had no radar. We had what they called Gee-box up to the coast and once we hit the coast the Germans blocked it, so it was from then onwards it was the navigator used to have to go from one spot to another spot, estimate the time of arrival at the other spot before he made a correction to the course, and of course things improved later on in ’43, and the gunners helped a lot because they could, especially the rear gunner could see, or the mid-upper could see different –
AM: Rivers, train lines and stuff like that.
HI: -- objects, yeah. And sometimes that wasn’t possible, there’d be ten-Thames [?] cloud. And then navigation become very, very difficult. And don’t forget we didn’t have no radar help whatsoever, but we managed and we flew over, as we took off we flew over the Dutch coast and the bomb aimer, he used to lay pronged in the nose [very unsure about what was said here], he said ‘skipper, enemy air coast [?] ahead, flack, flack.’ Always gunfire was called flack [emphasis]. So I looked down and I see all these beautiful, indescribable [?] lights, every colour, reds, blues, greens, there all tracers [?] from what they call night flack. They went up to about eight or nine thousand feet and then it dropped down again. And that’s when flack –
AM: And how high were you at that point?
HI: We was about twelve thousand feet. So when I looked down from mid-upper and I see that flack below us and I thought to myself ‘if that’s flack, we’ve got nothing at all to worry about.’ So we flew over Holland, don’t forget this was the early phase of bombing. Before that the bombing was nothing ‘cause they had obsolete bombing, bombing aircraft and no idea whether they reached the target. It was only in beginning, half way through 1942 they was giving the apparatus so they didn’t really find the target. Anyway, you crossed the Dutch coast and I’m in the mid-upper, spinning it round, and for about, I should imagine it was about hour, hour and a quarter, then the bomb aimer said ‘target ahead skipper.’ So then I thought to myself ‘well I’ll have a look to see what this target is all about,’ and I swung the turret around and I had really [emphasis], really the shock of my life. In front of us, with no exaggeration, was one solid massive explosion of shells. Absolute whole area was full up of high explosive shell fire, and we gotta fly through that. And search lights were creeping about, and they had one search light which was radar operated and it was a different colour, it was blue, very light blue. And that was a search light, never missed. It went up bang, like that, straight onto an aircraft. It was radar controlled [coughs] excuse me [pause to drink] so when I see this huge massive explosion ‘cause I had a beautiful view, so I thought to myself ‘cor blimey, surely we haven’t gotta go through all this.’ And I could hear it, and the plane was bumping up and down from the force of the explosions and the skipper said to me ‘mid-upper, keep an eye above you, because bombers above you will drop their bombs on you’ which happened many times. So I said ‘okay skipper,’ and – we called the pilot skipper, always called him a skipper. Doesn’t matter what rank he was, always a skipper. Anyway, we, I started looking up and there right above us was a Lanc, bomb bay open, ‘cause you know the bomb bays were enormous, I says ‘there’s a bomber above us skipper with his bomb bay open, dive port.’ We dived port, good job we did because he was ready to drop his load, so we slammed our bomb bay shut, because we was on a run as well and, and the bomb aimer said ‘we’ll have to make a correction on our way into the target.’ You must realise that all around us these huge [emphasis] explosions of shells, I’m telling you not few, hundreds [emphasis] of ‘em exploding into the sky. Anyway, as we were flying in, the skipper said ‘skipper, I’ve lost the target point,’ he said ‘we’ll have to round again.’ And I just told you, the skipper never swore. I’ll tell you what [laughs] he said to the bomb aimer ‘you are a silly chap’ [laughs]. There was a few more words. So we slammed the bomb bay shut, went right through that target, went all through that explosions and the plane was rocking about, could hear shrapnel hitting the bloody machine, in our machine, and we went round and we do a dogleg. We approached the target like that, and then we go like that, like that, in again. But you had to be very, very careful ‘cause when you left the target and you was gonna come in again, you was coming across the last of the bombers that was going in. And it was very, very, very dangerous. Anyway, when we went round, and by that time the German radar was on us and it was giving us a real, real shellacking [?] I’ll tell you. Anyway, we made our run round, opened the bomb bay, dropped our bombs, slammed the door, slammed the door shut and what we usually do then, you couldn’t – slammed the doors shut but you couldn’t get away, you had to stay straight and level for another forty seconds because the camera was turning around and at the same time you was dropping what they called a photo-flash [?]. That was in the fuselage. And as the photo-flash dropped down, the cameras turning over, and they took a picture, an actual picture, of you bombing the target, which was very, very important because if you didn’t bring back a picture the intelligence officers said to you ‘well it’s your word against mine that you went there,’ even if the aircraft was full of bloody holes, they still say ‘we don’t believe you,’ well, ‘not saying we don’t believe you but you’ve got no proof that you went to the target so it don’t count, so you can go all that way there and back for nothing,’ which happened several times. Anyway, we slammed the bomb bay down, we made a dived [emphasis] to the port, turned round and come back and that’s when your trouble started, the fighters. But that time they wasn’t so dangerous as what they were to be. They, we used to see the fighters flying about and straight away, I don’t know if it was instinct or not, when I see a fighter, I wouldn’t fire on him unless he was interfering with us, I let him go, because generally you’d find on a fighter he had huge [emphasis] canons and you had no chance, I tell you, you had no chance whatsoever.
AM: So you’re just causing trouble for yourself really –
HI: Yeah because they could stand off from two, three hundred yards and you couldn’t do nothing about it, ‘cause your 303 went about a hundred yards and started dropping what they called a gravity drop. They had canons and he could rake you [?] which happened a couple of times. Anyway, we slammed the bomb bay shut, and we started coming back, and the bomb aimer said to the skipper and the navigator, ‘skipper, we can’t breathe. We’ve got no oxygen.’ And what had happened, the shrapnel had cut through the oxygen lines, so the skipper said ‘alright, so what we have to do is dive down below ten thousand feet,’ which we did do, and coming home in the mid-upper I thought to myself, ‘if this is bloody Happy Valley, I hope we don’t go anywhere that’s miserable’[laughs]. And I’ll tell you what, it’s a terrible, terrible place. Anyway we got down to – we crossed the Dutch coast at about four thousand feet, and these beautiful lights we see were flashing past us like that, all over, and lucky enough we managed to get through a few bangs and we were damaged but not that bad. And we dropped down about two thousand feet and we headed home, and I thought to myself ‘dear oh dear, I got thirty of these, thirty trips to do like that before we get a rest.’ And we landed, and I was exhausted. Even at that age, at seventeen, I was exhausted. And we went into the briefing room and I stood there and we was asked a load of questions, and they said to me, it was only my first trip, they said to me ‘what do you think?’ And I said ‘I see four or five bombers exploding in the sky,’ I said ‘apart from that everything was alright.’ He said ‘you never seen no bombers’ – this was the officer, the briefing officer telling me that, he wasn’t even a flyer. He’s saying ‘you didn’t see no bombers blowing up, that was scarecrows.’ What the Germans were firing up shells to mimic a bomber exploding, and they kept this up right the way through the war.
AM: So it was true, you hadn’t, you’d seen the scarecrows, not a bomber blowing up.
HI: No, no they were actually aircraft blowing up in the sky. They did admit after the war there was no such thing as a scarecrow.
AM: Ah right.
HI: They admitted it, the Air Ministry, but they kept it a –
AM: So why did they say that?
HI: Well they – one of the reasons was they didn’t want us to duck and dive about. They wanted us to fly straight and level, ‘cause it was dangerous anyway, ducking and diving. But every time we went back we say we seen three or four, sometimes more than that, explosions, literally exploding in the sky. They said ‘no, that’s German scarecrows to demoralise you.’ Anyway, we got back and in the briefing room he said, he told me about the scarecrows so I thought ‘oh well, that’s it.’ Anyway, I didn’t know how exhausted I was, it was only a four and three-quarter hour trip. I went to bed and I felt absolutely exhausted. And I think the mental strain of the first trip. Anyway, we went back to the mess, we went to bed, and I think next morning we had a day off. The following day I think we went to Bremen, and the reason why went to Bremen, or Bremen [different pronunciation, shorter vowel sound] as they called it, they was building the submarines, the U-Boats there.
AM: Right.
HI: And we went across the Baltic that time. We didn’t see no flack until we hit Bremen, and the flack was unbelievable. It was worse than Dusseldorf.
AM: Were you in the rear gunner at this –
HI: I was in the rear turret, yeah.
AM: So you’d moved to the rear turret by this time?
HI: Yeah. And different position and the different visibility of the – when you’re in the rear turret you can see that way, see the bits you couldn’t see really above you or at the side of you –
AM: Or behind you.
HI: And at that time, the Germans were only attacking from dead astern, port over or starboard over . That was the method of attacking at that time [emphasis], things were getting much, much worse, but they had a little bit of a chance because if they come in close you had four guns here and you could – you had a bit of a chance, not a lot, but you had a bit of a chance. Anyway, I think it was after that trip, couple of trips, I complained to the engineering officer that the rear turret, that the oil for the Merlin engines was coating the Perspex in the rear turret, which obviously, the exhaust was coming out. So we was sitting in the crew room, the officer come in, he said ‘we solved the problem of the oil on the turrets,’ and I thought ‘well that’s good’ ‘cause after about two hours this oil used to go onto the Perspex, it was starting to be difficult to see outta it, and when we went out there [chuckles] what they had done, they had taken the whole Perspex out [chuckles]. So there we were in a rear turret with no bloody Perspex, and I tell you what, it was cold [emphasis].
AM: How did that – what so nothing between you –
HI: No, just – they took the whole of the front of the Perspex out. We used to look through, they took out because the oil.
AM: So it was just you [emphasis] and sky –
HI: Yeah, yeah.
AM: Nothing between you?
HI: No, no. Well the Perspex only stopped the slipstream but they took the Perspex out. Yeah, on all the Lancs, but they solved the problem [laughs]. Anyway, we –
AM: But the oil would just hit you in the face instead.
HI: Yeah, but it was, it wasn’t so bad because you could just wipe it with your glove with it [AM laughs]. But, we got rid of the – it wasn’t such a huge amount but it was enough oil to stop, to obscure your sight a bit, you know. And you had to be really, really on your toes all that time you was in that turret. It was bitterly cold in there, forty-five, fifty below zero, was nothing.
AM: Did you ever have an occasion when your suit didn’t work, or?
HI: Yes sometimes it, it didn’t work a couple of times. I burnt me foot ‘cause it was a new, new idea you know, they’d, after the war they made electric blankets [AM laughs] that was only through the electrical heated suits and it’s the short shirts – it’s like everything in the war, everything was crash, bang, wallop, get ready , but every gunner was issued with an electrical heated suit, and they were good when they worked. So I’d done my first op, and I thought I was proud of myself, but I had other twenty-nine to do. I mean, twenty-nine successful [emphasis] ones, so you can, you can go all the way there, and you get, you get engine trouble and you gotta come back, that don’t count. Even in respect of what you’ve gone through, it didn’t count.
AM: You had to drop your bombs on the target for it to count.
HI: Yeah, the gunner target, yeah. You see, what actually happened, I think at the beginning of the war, the few of them used to go to North Sea, drop their bombs and come back and say yeah they’ve, they’ve, and they – ‘cause they realised Germany wasn’t being bombed really, it was a, the most that we got to was five miles from the towns [?] so what they decide to put the camera in, and the photo-flash. And that stopped it all, ‘cause you had to bring back a picture. The first thing they asked for when you walked in, ‘have you got your picture?’ It was the first thing – [unclear] you’d land on the aircraft, there was a [unclear] photography unit come out and take the film out, and there’d be developed or they used to take it back to the crew, the, where we was being briefed, and they could see if we bombed the target or not. Anyway, so we went to Bremen, we gained a good shellacking [?] and we done a bit of damage there, and we come back, and I was blowing my chest out, I’d done two trips [laughs]. The following, following day, er day after that, we went to Wilhelmshaven, and that was worse. That’s where I was really in full, full strength of building submarines there, and we did – it was devastating the bombing we done there, it was very successful, they held up the submarine building for a long while, and then I’d done, I’d done three trips, and I was, you know, thinking to myself, well –
AM: Were you scared?
HI: Frightened outta my bloody life. The first one, I told you, that first one, Dusseldorf, I could not believe, I could not [emphasis] but everyone was the same –
AM: Did you talk about it?
HI: No, no we never talked about it, no. I’ll tell you one thing, we used to get crews coming straight from OTU into the squadron, ‘cause their losses were horrendous you know, we was losing so many aircraft, and they’d say ‘what’s the ops like?’ and we’d always used to say ‘you find out, you find out yourself.’ We never said ‘oh it’s terrible over there’ or nothing, never. And I don’t know if that helped them or not, but a lot of the crews only done one trip before they got shot down, hell of a lot of ‘em. Just one – in fact, what they used to do when a crew come from OTU, they used to let the pilot fly with an experienced crew on his first trip, so he’d understand what an actual raid was. Very often he never come back off his first trip, it happened time and time again. The crew used to be walking about the station with no, waiting for a new pilot. Yeah, happened many times. Anyway, after Wilhelmshaven we went back to Happy Valley again, and this time, I tell you what, I thought Dusseldorf was bad, we went to Essen [emphasis] and Essen was something out of this [noise of disbelief] something outta, I tell you what, it was absolutely ferocious. The flack was enormous, everywhere you look there was shells bursting, aircraft blowing up in the sky, aircraft going down in flames, and I had something with me because we just went through – we always got hit, always got hit with flack, big holes in the aircraft, but when we got back they used to bang ‘em and tap ‘em back and –
AM: Bodge [?] ‘em up.
HI: Yeah, that’s it [chuckles]. Anyway, we went to Essen, then we went to Munich, and I’ll tell you how my luck is, what happened, losses at Waddington on 9 Squadron, even those few weeks I was there, was horrendous. So they sent two scientists down from Cambridge with a new device to put into the rear turret so that when a fighter was five or six hundred yards away, which we couldn’t see, they could see us on their radar, this instrument was radar. It could pick up the fighter and warn us with a red light that there was a fighter in the close vicinity. Unfortunately the first time the squadron was equipped with them, we lost two aircraft and the Germans must have sorted the, must have examined the wreckage and seen this device in the rear turret and copied [unclear] a wavelength or whatever it was, anyway we went to Munich and that was a long trip, that was about eight and a half hours and we went over, and how the navigator found Munich I’ll never know ‘cause we went over in ten-tenths cloud, that means to say underneath you was solid cloud, but he found Munich as – before we reached Munich the cloud broke and there was Munich and we did, we did give it real good hiding.
AM: Is this day time or night?
HI: It’s night time –
AM: It’s night time isn’t it?
HI: Never, never done daylight.
AM: But you could still see it, so how come you could see it at night time?
HI: We could see it yeah because the – a couple of people had been bombing it and the search lights –
AM: Right.
HI: And you could see the town anyway. You – but that’s why bombing – they, they said ‘well why did you bomb areas’ – the only way you can do night bombing was to, at that time was area bombing and in that area you probably got a load of factories you could destroy, but you couldn’t pick out – it was very, very difficult to pick out an individual target so you had to bomb an area, they used to pick an area out. This was before pathfinding [murmured agreement from AM] so we used to drop flares ourselves, we dropped a few flares as we was going in, or people before us would drop a few flares, and you’d sit and the bomb aimer would see the target.
AM: Who dropped the flares, the bomb aimer?
HI: The bomb aimer, yeah. Someone on the squadron [very unclear what was said here] would drop a few flares and then down they went, but that was the beginning, when we really first started bombing Germany, before that it was a joke. Anyway, we bombed Munich and we made a good frame [?] on it actually, and coming back the skipper said ‘I think we’ll fly through cloud’ because the fighter activity, we could see the fighter flares, and so he said ‘if we go through cloud we won’t meet any fighters,’ which we did do, so we was flying for about an hour in the cloud and all of a sudden the cloud broke clear, and believe it or not, right by my rear turret, as I looked outta my rear turret was a Ju-88. I tell you what he was no more than thirty yards [emphasis] behind us. And he opened fire with his cannons and the tracer went just above the aircraft, just missed us. The reason was that he was so close and we was up and down like that and I suppose as we went down he fired and he missed us. Anyway, we opened fire, me in the rear turret and the mid-upper ‘cause he was right close to us, and down he went, he spun over and down he went.
AM: So you got him?
HI: Yeah we got him, yeah.
AM: Which one of you got him, do you know?
HI: We don’t know, I think –
AM: Both of you?
HI: We both opened fire on him, and he was more surprised than what we were, he never expected it, and down he went. Lucky enough because usually once the night fighter got on your tail, it was very, very difficult. Anyway we, when we got back we told the intelligence officer that this night fighter had followed us through ten-tenths cloud for an hour ‘till the cloud broke. So they put two and two together and realised the apparatus they’d put in the turret was sending out a ray for the Germans to pick up and that’s what he was following us on. So what – immediately they took the radar thing out of the turret and I don’t know if it made any difference or not. After that we were talking and laughing about it and they said ‘you gonna do some low level formation flying in daylight,’ so we thought ‘well surely we’re not gonna have another daylight raid after the huge loss to 44 Squadron,’ and I mean we never even considered [emphasis] that they would do anymore daylight raids. So anyway, we done this practice formation, well it’s not formation flying – at that time there was over ninety Lancs in 5 Group, and there was ninety of us flying over Lincoln, around this area, right on the ground, well I don’t mean on the ground, as high as these buildings. Everyone was moaning down below because can you imagine ninety Lancasters flying about thirty or forty feet and they said ‘you’re gonna have to cut the squadron of Spitfires doing damning runs [?] on you.’ So I’m sitting in my turret, and the Spitfires come straight for me, and he was so close our slipstream hit his, hit his wings, and he turned like that, and being so low, he couldn’t, he couldn’t get outta the dive and he went straight in the deck. And I was ‘that don’t sound too bad, that’s gonna happen.’ Anyway –
AM: What happened to him? Crashed? Killed?
HI: Crashed, just crashed yeah. And when I looked along the road there was about three or four Spits on the deck, burning [emphasis] doing the same thing, come straight in –
AM: So they were killed?
HI: And the slipstream, they had no chance of correcting, correcting, ‘cause it’s too low on the ground. Anyway, on the Saturday they said ‘there’s gonna – report to your flights ‘cause there’s gonna be a daylight raid.’ So we went out to do the what they call a night flighting test, and when we landed there was the trailer, but all it had on it was six [emphasis] one thousand pounders. So we knew it was gonna be a long, long journey. We were – a bomb load like that was only a third of the weight of what we’d usually take to the Ruhr, so we were, obviously it was gonna be a long journey. We went to the briefing –
AM: Can I just ask, so why obviously, ‘cause that would conserve the fuel because you had a lighter load?
HI: Yeah we had to take more fuel and less bombs, so –
AM: Yep, okay.
HI: So actually we knew the distance when we see a big petrol load [emphasis] going in we knew we were on for a – we see a small bomb load we knew, the petrol, it was being loaded up for all the tanks and we knew we was on for a long trip. Anyway, we went and had our – even at that time, we’d already had breakfast, but they sent us out and said ‘we’re gonna have bleeding bacon and eggs’ [laughs]. That was always done, it don’t matter what time of the day it was bacon –
AM: Well what would happen if you didn’t like bacon?
HI: Well –
AM: What did they get, sausage?
HI: There were a few Jewish people who, they had to eat the bleeding bacon [laughs].
AM: Did they, they ate it?
HI: Yeah, well, by then I’d done five or six trips, and I thought ‘so I better eat the food, you never know what’s gonna happen.’ Anyway, we went to the briefing at about ten o’clock, Saturday morning, it was, in October, round about, I forget the date, about the tenth of October, and we went to the briefing, and the officer come in, pulled the blind down, and there it was. Place called Le Creusot. It was right on the other side of France, nearly on the Swiss border. It was a nearly ten and a half hour trip and we were looking at each other, and they said ‘you’re to fly as low as possible, even lower than that if you can,’ and they said ‘there’ll be two hundred Spitfires,’ or hundred, two or three hundred Spitfires ‘escorting you to the coast,’ but the trouble was the Spitfires went to the wrong bleeding place, we never see ‘em. So we crossed the French coast at about the height of these buildings, and then you imagine what a sight that must have been , ninety-two Lancasters flying –
AM: What a noise [emphasis] never mind a sight.
HI: Yeah, there was loads and loads of ‘em. And all we got was the French girls waving at us and I thought ‘that’s handy,’ and everybody was coming out and waving, it was a beautiful day, and we went right across France. I mean right across France, looking, wondering where the fighters was ‘cause there was thousands of by that time, ’42, there was hundreds and hundreds of fighters in France –
AM: German fighters?
HI: Yeah, German fighters in France. Anyway, we went right across France, there was no incidents, everybody was waving, and we approached the target [coughs] excuse me, and six of us had to break off and bomb the power station that was supplying the electricity to this huge armament factory in Le Creusot. It was a huge armament factory, nearly as big as what the Germans had, and they was producing armaments for the German army. So we broke off, telling you now there was six of us who broke off, Guy Gibson was with us, he was on our port side, and he was on 106 Squadron, Guy Gibson was on, and his second in command was flying the other Lanc, and on our starboard side was two Lancasters from 50 Squadron on the other side, we was in the centre and there was six of us. We broke off and went straight to this power station. Oh, and as we approached the power station, one of the Lancasters on our starboard side just went straight in the deck and exploded. We were – he had six one thousand pound bombs on it, and it literally went straight in the deck and exploded. What happened we don’t know.
AM: Don’t know.
HI: Anyway, the five of us carried on, Gibson was on our portside with his second in command and we was in the centre, and the last one of 50 Squadron was, was on our starboard side. Anyway, we bombed the power station and we absolutely flattened [emphasis] it. We was carrying six one thousand pounders, and we went and we climbed up a little bit and dropped ‘em, and we could see that the whole place was flattened. In fact, the factory was – actually I went back there last year, to the factory and it’s bombed, still bleeding bombed [unclear, laughs]. Anyway –
AM: Did you get your photo?
HI: Pardon?
AM: Did you get – not last year, I mean in 1942.
HI: No we didn’t, I don’t think we took a photo because it was daylight and everything –
AM: So they knew –
HI: Everyone was bombing the same target. Anyway, the ninety Lancs turned round, it was ninety-two ‘cause when we turned around there was only ninety-one, one had blown up in the sky, and we came back over the – by the time we’d got to the French coast it was getting dark –
AM: Still flying really low level?
HI: Yeah, and we started climbing when we got to the French coast, and as we passed the French coast it was getting dark, and we was flying for about another thirty or forty minutes, and all of a sudden the sky was smothered in bloody high explosive shells again. So the pilot said ‘where the bloody hell are we,’ so the skipper said ‘ I think we’ve, I’ve miscalculated and we’re flying over Jersey,’ and we were over Jersey with these huge explosions coming up, anyway the pilot called him a nice fella again, he said ‘stupid chap you are’ like that, and we branched out and come back, but that was a catch that, Jersey was very, very heavily armed, and anybody strayed off the course they wait for you. Shot down quite a few bombers over there. Anyway, we got back and went to the briefing, we were told exactly what had happened, and they confirmed that we done a good job there –
AM: Good.
HI: And I thought ‘there won’t be no more daylight raids after that.’ And we went to, in a week, we had a couple of days off and we went to Genoa [emphasis], and we couldn’t make out why we was going all the way to Italy, it was eleven hour trip to bomb Genoa, but we soon found out because on the Thursday [emphasis] they said, a briefing for Saturday, a daylight raid. So we said ‘surely we’re not having another daylight raid, we was lucky we got away with La Crusoe.’ Anyway, believe it or not, the target was Milan, and we was gonna bomb it, in daylight, taking it from a very, very low level ‘till we got to the Alps, we couldn’t go low level so we had to wander through the Alps, and there was ninety- two Lancasters, darting and diving through the Alps.
AM: Had the Spitfires turned up this time?
HI: No we never see no bloody Spitfires at all this time, and same again, we went right across France, no opposition whatsoever. We went through the Alps, and this is what I call a terror raid. We went across Lake Como about hundred feet then, we climbed to three hundred feet, and there was Milan waiting for us. No air raid shelter, no flack, they never expected British bombers to come all the way from England in daylight, never expected.
AM: Could you, were you low enough to actually see people in the –
HI: Pardon?
AM: Were you low enough to actually see people?
HI: It was, we was that low, we dropped down to about a hundred feet, hundred and fifty feet over Milan, we could see everybody in the streets, in the restaurants, we could see ‘em all. And we see ‘em started running about, there was no alarm given, and the city was completely open, and imagine ninety-two Lancs with six one thousand pounders on. We caused absolute havoc there, and a few of the boys I know were machine gunning, which I thought was wrong. Anyway, we climbed up again, came back, slid our way through the Alps, dropped down again to nought [?] feet and came right across France again.
AM: You missed Jersey that time.
HI: Yeah, we missed Jersey that time. We had our pullovers on [laughs].
AM: What did you feel about that then? The fact that you could actually see people?
HI: Oh we could see ‘em yeah, yeah because we –
AM: What did you, did you talk about it afterwards?
HI: No, we never talked about air raids, never mentioned it. Once you got back it was finished. No body, and same as the logbook, all we used to put in the logbook was the raid, the time, we never, what we should have done was put a little, exactly what happened, but when you put your books into the commanding officer to be signed once a month, [unclear] shooting, just put down what the raid was and that was it, that was what we used to do. But we should have done, we should have put the whole story of what exactly went on. And after that raid believe it or not the Ities [?] didn’t want to know anything more about the war, and there was huge – we had a big publicity the next day in the Daily Express, had a huge photo of Number 9 Squadron, coming back off the raid, and they reproduced it in Italy with, English Gangsters they called us, and there we are. I think we lost four aircraft that night, I don’t know where we lost them, might have been technical trouble, I don’t know, but, to go all that way in daylight and not see a German fighter was incredible. And after that we felt ourselves very, very, very lucky. It was about my ninth trip then, I was one of the top, experienced men then –
AM: And you’d shot somebody down by then.
HI: Yeah, yeah. But we’d, we were the top men in the squadron, we’d done about nine or ten trips.
AM: And you were seventeen.
HI: Yeah, yeah. And from then things got worse. Worse and worse and worse. The –
AM: In what way worse, Harry?
HI: The fighters got much more efficient, and their radar got much more efficient. Their guns got more efficient. Search lights got better, and more, and they had guns that fired with radar and they never missed. I remember later on in the year on my second tour we was bombing a place in the Ruhr Valley, and we was going in, our squadron, and as we was going in, there was people in front of us bombing, and they’d already turned starboard and coming out again, and for some reason, I don’t know, a Halifax [emphasis] I don’t know if it was in our squadron or the squadron beforehand, instead of going hitting the target, I don’t know what happened, he turned and joined the aircraft that was coming out of the, from the bombing run, which was in daylight, and there was a big gap between us going in and those coming out, and then he flew across, and as he flew across the flack went bang, bang, and the third shell hit him right underneath, and just exploded, yeah. Why he done that I don’t know, ‘cause we was all in the shadow of the silver paper we was dropping, and that helps with the – this one had got outta range with it going across and they shot him down straight away, yeah. And as it went on, we used to get leave every six weeks, and Lord [pause] what his name, Rank, Rank, wasn’t Rank, it was the er, the bloke that owned Morris, BMC, owned BMC, and he said, and he gave every aircrew bloke that was on ops, when he went on leave he doubled their pay, for a weeks leave yeah, he done that right through the war. Must have cost him a fortune.
AM: Every airman?
HI: Yeah, well it was in Bomber Command.
AM: In Bomber Command.
HI: Who was flying. He used to give ‘em – he used to, he used to double our pay, yeah.
AM: You know what, just going back to operations, you know the gaps between them, as in a day, a couple of days?
HI: All depending upon the weather. It was entirely dependent upon the weather. If the weather was, it was a bright – I’ll tell you one we went one, we went on one and I still think about it, it was a full light night, getting onto Christmas I think it was, and they said ‘there’ll be no ops tonight because there’s bright moonlight and no cloud,’ and it was suicide to go over there. Anyway, they said they’d picked out sixteen Lancasters, they’d picked out about eight from our squadron, four from 44 and I think four from another squadron, they said ‘we want you to do a low level night time raid on small towns just outside the Ruhr Valley.’ And the excuse they gave us was that the civilian population wasn’t getting any rest from the bombing raids on the Ruhr Valley and they was letting them come to these small towns to get rest. That’s why they wanted to go over there and liven ‘em up. So, it really was a terror raid and we carried sixteen one thousand pounders with a delayed charged of about half an hour, and we found this small town, we was after, just outside the Ruhr Valley, and we went right down, it was brilliant [emphasis] moonlight we were in, we went right down this village or small town and dropped the sixteen one thousand pounders right down the centre of the town. And I often wonder what happened about that, but I don’t, there was no need really to do that bombing really, but there you go, that was war.
AM: Well you called it a terror raid.
HI: Pardon?
AM: You called it a terror raid?
HI: Yeah, yeah, and that was Christmas, went home and had some leave, came back and we started again. And by that time, all the crews that I knew when I joined the squadron in June had all gone, they’d all gone. All been shot down.
AM: Every single one.
HI: Yeah, and they was all new recruits except us, and we was all NCOs.
AM: What do you think kept your plane – why your crew when all the rest of them got shot down? What can you say?
HI: I don’t know, I don’t know. I’ll tell you, shall I tell you?
AM: Go on.
HI: Well, what they used to do, before you went on a raid they used to give us a bag of sweets –
AM: Go on, keep going. I know the story, but keep going.
HI: Oh you know the story do you?
AM: You told me earlier on, but tell me again.
HI: And, we couldn’t undo the sweets with the cellophane, so we used to throw them out of the rear turret, and the Germans knew that and that’s why they never shot us down. ‘Cause they wanted the sweets [laughs]. That’s only a joke [both laugh]. I don’t know, I got no idea. Well, what actually happened, the crew I was with, I said they’d already done fourteen trips on Wellingtons when I joined them, they finished, and they finished, we finished our tour, was up to about sixteen, fifteen or sixteen trips, and I was left with no crew, and I was sitting in the mess, and a bloke walked in, I knew him as Sergeant Doolan, pilot, and he said ‘my rear gunner Robbie has just been killed, would you take his place?’ That was, that was luck really, so I said ‘alright, I’ll become your new rear gunner’ which I did do, and we was an NCO crew, and we was the only crew to, that I know of, all the time I was there, that finished the tour. And how many crews we lost, Lord knows.
AM: But you were the common denominator.
HI: Yeah, yeah –
AM: From the first sixteen and then fourteen and then the –
HI: Yeah, and then, we was all NCOs and we finished the tour, yeah. And I think the pilot got the DFM, and none of us got even a mention of a medal. And there was – but the thing was, what was happening by then was the Germans had come up with a new technique called Schräge Musik, that was what they’d come up with, they’d put two cannons at eighty degree, put the two cannons behind the cockpit at eight degrees so there was the aircraft, and these two guns stuck up like that –
AM: Okay.
HI: And all they had to do, they had radar, and all they had to do was coast [?] yourself underneath a bomber and just fly underneath him. You didn’t have to have no sight, no tracer, it just went underneath the aircraft, up to the petrol tanks, quick squirt, and we used to see ‘em blowing up but we couldn’t make out, we used to come back and tell ‘em that we seen aircraft blowing up in the sky, there was no flack and no fighters we could see, and the, and they literally shot down thousands [emphasis] of bombers, and not once did they ever mention what was going on at the briefing, not once. Never.
AM: Would there have been any way to avoid them if you’d have known about them?
HI: Well, if we knew and known about it, which they knew what we’d be doing, we’d start jiggling up and down, so they wouldn’t get a clean shot at us, but then when you think about it, you get five or six hundred bombers doing that in pitch darkness, you’re gonna get, gonna get a lot of problems. And that was it, but they were shooting them down, ah, unbelievable. Yeah, you had to be lucky really, because if you bowed out you had to be lucky, because if the civilians, you come out near a target and the civilians get hold of you they’d rip you to pieces. Yeah, and the Gestapo shot a few as well. If you was lucky the Luftwaffe got hold of you, was alright, but, or the army got you –
AM: But you never got shot down?
HI: No, I never got shot down, no.
AM: What happened at the end of your first tour, then?
HI: What happened then, finished my tour, didn’t get no bloody medal, don’t know why not –
AM: Even though you shot one down, ‘cause people got medals for that didn’t they?
HI: Yeah I know. Anyway, I went as an instructor, and then I realised how risky this business was, because all [emphasis] that was coming from OTUs were crews being trained in Canada. And when you think they were being trained on single engine aircraft in beautiful weather, all they had to do was follow the railway line from one point to another, everything was easy. Of course when they come to London, especially, and England, especially where, with the weather, and was OTU we had to train ‘em for three or four months before they went on operations, and hell of a lot of ‘em got killed on accidents, but they were very raw, they should have had much, much more training, but then again –
AM: And how old were you at this point? Eighteen?
HI: Yeah, eighteen, about eighteen and a half yeah. And I was an instructor, and apparently, I carried on for a little while and the, we had a bit of a go – oh they sent me up to a place up in Scotland to a gunnery school to do some – the instructors up there wanted to get on ops, don’t know why, but they said ‘you go up there and relieve them,’ about ten of us went up there, and we were in the mess one night, and we all got drunk and caused a bit of a havoc and we went in front of the CO next day, he said ‘I’ve had enough of you blokes, I’m posting you.’ So I thought ‘oh go on, I’ll be posted somewhere out in the Middle East’ or somewhere like that, and anyway I got posted to South End, about fifteen miles from where I lived, and I was thinking ‘be at home every night’ and while I was there, what we was doing there was flying drogues [?], the flack along the south coast, we had a big drogue pulled behind, and I tell you what, when I see that I knew we had no chance at all. They had these, we had to use a toeless drogue, and they used to fight, not at the drogue, a couple of degrees past the drogue, because they kept hitting the drogues and it was becoming expensive. So, but the flack [emphasis] to follow you, right, same height, would follow the drogue all the way along. Anyway, after a while they said ‘you’re posted,’ and this I knew was why the government knew what was going on in Germany with the fighters. They said ‘you’ve been posted to the 77 Squadron, Halifaxes.’ So I thought ‘alright,’ so and when I got up there –
AM: Where was that? Where was it?
HI: Er, Full Sutton I think, yeah Full Sutton. And when I got up there, the CO said he wanted to see me when I got up there, so I thought ‘that’s handy, the bloody warrant officer and the CO wants to see me, I must be important’ and he took me out to the, where the arment [?] officer, out to a Halifax, and what they had done they’d cut a big hole in the bottom of the Halifax and placed a point manual point five over the hole –
AM: Point five –
HI: Yeah, point five, point five machine gun.
AM: Okay.
HI: A much bigger shell than the 303. And they said ‘have you seen any German fighters coming, coming at you, you’ll be able to handle ‘em.’ So they knew what was going on. Anyway, we took off for Duisburg and I was sitting there – I was bleeding freezing, can you imagine there’s a big hole like that, about twenty thousand feet and –
AM: Hang on where’s this, is this in the middle of the plane?
HI: In the middle of the plane.
AM: Right, okay.
HI: A big hole.
AM: Where the bomb doors would have been?
HI: Er, it was different in the Halifax.
AM: Okay.
HI: It was different from the Lancaster. Most the bombs – up, further up and underneath the wings as well.
AM: Right.
HI: Anyway, they dug this hole, cut this hole in the Halifax and they had a point five there, and I sat there, and can you imagine it was about forty-five below, and it seemed the whole world was coming through that bloody hole. The pilot was moaning, the bomb aimer was moaning, and the – anyway, we’d done the bombing raid, come back and they complained bitterly about it, and that was the last that – and they said to me ‘we’re posting you to Driffield, to an Australian squadron’ and that’s where I went then, as a rear gunner at 462 Australian Squadron. I stayed there for a couple of months and I don’t know what happened there, I don’t know if I’d lost my logbook or – anyway, I done about eight or nine trips here and never even registered, and then they posted from there, from 64, er, 462 Squadron on Driffield to its other squadron which was at Driffield –
AM: Why did you keep, why did you keep getting posted to different ones?
HI: Well the pilot I went with in 462, bloke, Australian called Heurigen [unsure of spelling] – 462 they posted away completely [emphasis] but he, he stayed, he said ‘no I wanna stay here at Driffield’ and he went onto 466, and he took me with him. And when he finished, I was in, I didn’t know what to do, and they said ‘we want you to go to 158 Squadron at Lissett’ and that’s where I finished. I don about another ten trips there, and they said to me ‘you done enough, that’s it.’
AM: What was Lissett like?
HI: Nissan huts, terrible. Baking hot in the summer, freezing [emphasis] in the winter. And you come back off an op and you had to go in one of them bloody tin huts. The bedding was wet, yeah. But I survived.
AM: You did.
HI: Yeah, I really survived, yeah. All, most of them, all my friends went there, yeah, a lot.
AM: Was the DFC then for the number of operations you went on?
HI: Number of trips I done, sixty trips, yeah. Yeah, I done more now actually, but –
AM: Well the ones that didn’t yeah, didn’t get counted.
HI: Yeah.
AM: And then so from that point, when you did your last tour, sorry your last operation, then what happened, were you sent to demob?
HI: No, they said to me ‘what was your trade?’ The war had finished, and they said to me ‘what was your trade before the war? What did you do?’ and I said ‘I was an apprentice tailor,’ they said ‘we’ve got the job for you’ I thought – they sent me down to Newmarket on the racecourse, in charge of about eight or nine WAFs on sewing machines. I don’t know why they thought I was – they were making lorry covers on these machines, and they put me in charge of ‘em. Oh, when I was there.
AM: What was that like Harry?
HI: [Laughs] had a little giggle [laughter].
AM: So what, how old are you at this point you’re about twenty –
HI: About twenty, yes. Yeah, about, getting on for twenty.
AM: So go on, you had a little giggle [HI laughs], tell me [HI laughs] go on, tell me some stories.
HI: Yeah I was charge of them, that’s it [laughs].
AM: Right, alright then.
HI: Yeah and then I stayed in Newmarket – oh blimey, it’s, oh it’s only twenty past.
AM: No, we’re alright.
HI: Newmarket was a bombing station if you believe it or not. The Rowley Mile was a runway for 75 Squadron, a New Zealand squadron, and after the war they turned it into a Prussian [?] depot. They was dropping all the aircraft into Newmarket and crushing ‘em.
AM: Crushing them?
HI: Crushing ‘em. Hundreds of ‘em. Into this big machine they just went pfft like, just crushed ‘em up, piled ‘em up. As far as we could see was one huge pile of aluminium.
AM: Going back to you though, so you’ve had your giggle with your WAFs –
HI: Yeah.
AM: Then what? Did you get –
HI: I had a couple of giggles [laughter from both] but it was handy there because we could get up to London from Newmarket, they had a railway station –
AM: How long was it before you were demobbed then?
HI: Er, got demobbed in forty, 1946, August ’46.
AM: So quite early, a lot earlier than a lot of ‘em then? ‘Cause you’d been in the whole –
HI: I’d been in the whole, since [unclear] yeah. I come out, about to find a job, I couldn’t go back to tailoring, I’d missed it you know. Anyway, I tried, went back to tailoring and learnt a little bit. Things were very difficult when we come out, we had no houses, you can imagine London, there was all bloody roofs off the buildings, and then we had to wait for a house. I was married then.
AM: I was gonna say, where did, where did you meet your wife?
HI: I knew her from the, from the blackout. I was sitting on a seat in the blackout and she came along with her friend and we started talking and that’s how it started, and I, it was only when I [unclear] and we got married in forty, 1945, Christmas 1945, and I remember we, we done a couple of trips, and I remember I bombed Dresden, we bombed Dresden just after Christmas, February, but we got married on the Christmas, and I shouldn’t have got married ‘cause we had nowhere to bloody live, better than living with the mother-in-law for a little while, got fed up with that.



Annie Moody, “Interview with Harry Irons. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed March 24, 2019,

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