Interview with Graham Allen


Interview with Graham Allen


Graham Allen joined the Royal Air Force aged 19. He trained as a mechanic and worked on inspection and recovery of Spitfire aircraft. He later volunteered to be a flight engineer, and flew a tour of operations with 106 Squadron. His first operation was to Berlin; they were attacked by a Ju 88 and returned on three engines. After the war he returned to work for a printing firm in Derby.




Temporal Coverage




01:12:42 audio recording


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MY: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre, the interviewer is Malcolm Young, the interviewer [sic] is Graham Allen, and the interview is taking place at Mr Allen’s home in West Hallam, near Ilkeston in Derbyshire. The date is 17th of October 2015. Well thank you very much for agreeing to be part of this oral history and the simple opening question is how did you come to be in the Royal Air Force?
GA: Yes, well I was 19 at the time, and I didn’t want to be called up, I’d rather join up and I preferred the air force to any of the other services, so I went down to the Assembly rooms, as it were in Derby, and fixed a date and they had a word with me and when I went with actual joining up part, it was of course a question of what, what are you going to do? So they asked me a few questions as usual, [inaudible] and they didn’t think my education was up to pilot, navigator, radio operator or anything like that, which I agree with them it wasn’t, I only went to a primary school not secondary school or anything like that, and I realise now that is was very necessary to have that, further education,especially in maths and things like that. So they said well you might [inaudible] flight mechanic, I said well that sounds all right, I asked what was involved, so they told me roughly what it was going to be, and I agreed that, that was probably the best way of getting in the air force. Right, well I was called, it was quite a long time before I was called up 7 months it would be about 19 [hesitation] 1940, the end of 1940 I think, 41 perhaps,
MY: Yes
GA: It was nearly the end of the year, and they eventually called me up for my, it was up to Morecombe which was a training place where we did square bashing and anything that followed up, it was Morecombe, they’d got two big bus garages where the local buses operated from and they turned those into workshops, and all down the side of the workshops were these fighter force bi-planes string bags [?] as we used to call them, so those were the things we had to train on. But before that I had to do the square bashing on the prom at Morecombe, where we were put into civilian digs, and oh parade on the promenade there, and parades in the morning and all that sort of thing, and the prom provided a good parade ground for square bashing, so we had some funny weather while we were doing it.
MY: Yes
GA: But we were alright, I quite enjoyed it. Marching round and rifle and bayonets, all that sort of business,but, then they, because I wanted to be flight engineer, not flight engineer sorry, flight mechanic, I went to one of these bus garages, to the training lot there, and they had some excellent civilian instructors and fitters, and they took us through all the basics of, [slight laugh] what I think of now as quite useless information, when you were taught to do all the rigging of the [?] airframe, by the way, [inaudible] airframe, and when they took us to do all the rigging and tightening all the wires up against templates to get the angle of incidence right, and all that sort of thing, it proved to be quite useless in the end, for us because those sort of aeroplanes had rapidly gone out of business, so anyway, we had quite useful stuff as well as that, and general mechanical details, apart from that we had exams occasionally I forget how many weeks it was now, but we were there for quite a while. [inaudible] did quite well, and they said would you like to go on a fitters course straight away, rather than go on this course as a flight engineer [?] so I took the opportunity went on and followed up with the fitters course, which we had to do more detailed work and more practical work [inaudible] After leaving there, I think that took nearly six months altogether, at the bus garages, I was posted to 152 Squadron, at Swanton Morley in Norfolk, and over there I think the first job was, chief mechanic, there was a pile of , there was a pile of Spitfire wheels in one corner of the hanger, all with tyres on, he says there’s a couple of tyre levers there I want you to get those tyres off before you, my friend and I were joined up together, we actually stayed together, there, there pair of us, worked on these wheels at the start getting all the tyres off [inaudible] So that’s, i remember the first job I had, after that we joined in with the squadron activities more and learned how to rescue the aircraft that had crashed and things like that, in fact the Spitfire was very weak on the undercarriage, and we hadn’t come across that before [?] but they easily broke, you get a bit of bad ground or something like that, because, as you know the Spitfire, they were very close together, and retracted outwards, the Hurricane was wider went inwards so the Spitfires were very, it was a vulnerable part of them, otherwise a pretty good aircraft, so my work there was inspection, partly, various parts and what we were looking for was loose controls and things like that, metal fatigue and various things like that, inspection at various times, as they did the same theses days, so most of my work was that, and dealing with these crashed aircraft that came in, that were heavily shot up and damaged and things like that. I remember one way of getting around when an undercarriage had gone, at the time we had an old costermongers cart two wheels and a flat deck like that and two handles that you could get hold of we used to rush out with this costermongers barrow and shout two six and anybody that was available to get hold of the wing tip heaved it onto this, one wing onto this costermongers barrow, we used to wheel it in like that it was quite a regular occurrence in fact. They were still operating it was well after the battle of Britain of course that they were still operating sweeps over the enemy territory and they used to come back, full of beams if they’d shot something up, rolled over the airfield, slow rolls, missing the watch office by [laughter] inches so it was quite exciting at times like that. Now let me think, I was at [inaudible] I stayed with them until, several months we were at Swanton Morley and then we moved to Coltishall which was a bigger place as you probably know, there were two squadrons there 152 and I’m not sure what the other one was, anyway [inaudible] it was going to be equipped with more modern spitfires ours were fairly basic [inaudible] all guns no cannons so they shipped us over to Northern Ireland to Londonderry Eglinton[?] in Londonderry shipped us over there [inaudible] shipped, it was very rough on the way over I remember, and when we got there [inaudible] Belfast I think the route and we spent some time in Northern Ireland at Eglington not doing very much until these new planes came in and the ferry pilots brought them in, and the first time I ever flew was, we hitched a ride back with these ferry pilots, well I’d got a 48 hour pass, it was a bit more than 48 pass, it would be about a 4 day pass and we hitched a ride in a [pause] an old biplane that took passengers [pause]it took about four or five passengers, so then the pilots came over we got talking to them, I was on duty crew that day, that’s why we met them, we were topping the tanks up and that sort of thing and they came in, they brought several new spitfires in. We cadged a lift the next day, we got permission to put our passes forward, two of us hitched a lift on the trip to England, we spent two days in England [slight laugh] back again, that was over by boat then, the Ben-My-Chree was the boat we used to sail in, it was an ex-passenger trip on the Belfast run, in fact it was still battered about because it had been at Dunkirk, there was quite a few holes in the side and things like that. [laughter]I shall always remember it having a look round and things. Anyway we got in on time, back and after about 2 or 3 days leave and we had to hitch hike the rest of the way of course the landings were up north near Ailsa Craig, I remember we passed Ailsa Craig before we landed, as I say they left us there to hitch hike down to our, Derby, and then train back, managed to get back alright without getting jankers or anything like that [laughter] so I did the rest of my life in Northern Ireland on the new Spits that came over. And then while I was there there was a message came through on the routine orders about flight engineers training you could volunteer as a flight engineer if you were a fitter or flight mechanic and it was all to do with the introduction of the four engine bombers. So I [inaudible] and volunteered [laughter] as I’ve often thought and quite soon, we were brought together we had to have an interview in Belfast, with the top brass there asking us why we wanted to be flight engineers and things like that [inaudible] applicants and that, I remember we had to stay the night there in Belfast and there were no proper beds they were sheets of plywood between two posts, in Belfast town hall they made it up for us to stay the night while we were interviewed, so that was my interview for aircrew [slight laugh] Anyway the next thing was I was posted to Aire, now if I get this right [inaudible] posting came through to [long pause] oh I know it was to go to 106 squadron when we’d finished the fitters course, posted to 106 squadron and they have a training wing there or something, it wasn’t a proper training place, they introduced these conversion units, 1654 conversion unit I think it was Swinderby, so first of all we were posted to 106 squadron who were supposed to be at Conningsby anyway we ended up at Conningsby, they said oh they left a fortnight ago, they are at Syerston now so they duly, instead of sending us to Syerston, these conversion units had just started properly and I think it was 1654 at Swinderby, I might have the number wrong, anyway we did Swinderby, posted to Swinderby and there we were crewed up as you know, they practised crewing up [?] chuck you all in a big hanger and sort it out for yourselves, and we did, eventually we arrived at the right crew, they were quite keen on people who had been flight mechanics and things like that fitters. The aircrew had been flying Whitley’s, my crew had, to get two more members a gunner and an engineer they were quite keen on people that had, had a bit of experience on aeroplanes at least,
MY: Yes
very little flying experience on a Spitfire squadron [laughter] in fact the only time I ever flew was that time when we hitched a ride. We did the course at the, forget how long it was now, it wasn’t a terrible long time six or seven weeks or something like that after we’d crewed up, we did quite a few short cross country and things like that and having never been in a war plane before I had to learn it as I went along [slight laugh] and they helped me quite a lot, they knew I knew the stuff on engines
MY: Yes
and things like that so I was able to guide them through that part of it, the rest of the crew we got on very well. My pilot was, we were all sergeants or flight sergeants, he was ex-public schoolboy and he came from London but I got on very well, he taught me a lot and I taught him a lot, and we eventually got posted to 106, and false alarm there in the first place we were able to choose the same squadron, we were originally posted so that was 106, we were interviewed by Wing Commander Gibson as you probably know [laughter]
MY: Yes
and it was quite an interview believe me, they had us in all standing to attention, he was very , very abrupt [inaudible] an arrogant man really and anyway, we got through the interview and I always remember him saying “now you wont get any leave just yet you’ve come here to fight and you either die or finish your tour and get a gong”
MY: [laughter]
and that was part of the interview with Wing Commander Gibson. Anyway we were posted to our usual [inaudible] 106 and first time I flew on operations there we had just done a few to get to know it, flights and [inaudible] the local countryside and things like that, and the new crew, as I say we taught each other a lot, anyway, while we was there I hadn’t done any, we hadn’t been on op’s and one night in January, the 17th of January they put the squadron on op’s, but we weren’t mentioned, but they called me up to the office, [inaudible] and said well we will get you together and brief you and that, right, there’s a chap gone, there’s an engineer gone sick you are in his crew now as flight engineer, just for tonight [?] and of course it was Berlin, [laughter] first time they bombed Berlin for a long time, January 1943 so I went and found my crew, my other crew quite strangers to me, their crew, I think, I don’t think he’s gone sick but from knowing the history of the crew later on I rather think he had gone LMF [lack of moral fibre]
MY: Yes
so they had to find another engineer quick. So I got my first trip as Berlin so all went well for most of the time although it was a bit of a shambles nobody could find the pathfinders flares and everybody seemed to be mixed up and when we eventually, our bomb aimer said right I think I can recognise something, there’s an airfield there its got a peculiar watch office in a horseshoe shape which I know to be Tempelhof airfield and so we dropped the bomb on there, we couldn’t find anything else to drop it on, so we started back no trouble [inaudible] but nothing to write home about and so we started back on the way back and we’d been about oh I should think it’d been about, nearly three quarters of an hour something like that on the way back after, and the shout went up fighter fighter and the usual thing and it was a JU88 coming up behind us, started firing he caught us quite unawares and all I saw was flashing lights flashing passed the cockpit and this JU88 was pumping shells at us our guns did very well though and they shot him down [pause] he came up a bit too close, and they said they claimed him as, then later on they both got immediate DFM’s when they came back. Anyway they shot this JU88 down and I seen it where it was claimed and ratified we came back, except one of the engines was on fire one of our engines was on fire some of the stuff had hit it and it was flaming a bit so I went through the process of feathering and directioning and all that [?] which didn’t work, we kept going for a bit and the pilot eventually said, well get ready to bail out because I don’t think that fire is going to stop, I think its going to spread and anyway we got parachutes ready and things like that, but it did start to go out and something had taken effect and he’d dived quite a long dive to try and get some sort of reaction from that and it seemed to work, I know that sounds like an American film but it did work in that case and the fire went out, and so we were three engines, we set back, set a course back and got back alright but we radioed one of the Manson, Woodbridge or Carnaby, which were the three emergency airfields, I think it was Woodbridge, that we went to and landed there on three, no trouble, it doesn’t matter about one engine gone on the bank, and stayed the night there, we got picked up by, someone fetched us in another Lancaster in the morning took us back, so that was my first op [laughter].
MY: Quite a baptism of fire [laughter]
GA: Really yes, actually it was but [inaudible] were really easy after that, a lot of them anyway, so eventually I went back to my usual crew, then this other crew lasted three weeks after that, they were missing, if fact I’ve got the details where they were shot down [inaudible] on the internet if you wanted to get it [?] all the details where they are buried. [pause] So my crew got pretty good and we got to know most things we were attacked together once or twice, in fact we were a bit naughty sometimes but we didn’t get badly damaged or anything like that. Ah, what’s next in my story? [laughter] I had quite an uneventful, comparatively uneventful, we had our up and downs of course, didn’t get badly damaged or anything like that, until I was near to the end of the tour I think I was about two, think I was thirty, two, two off thirty, but some of the crew had made the thirty, because they had been on these submarine spotting on Whitley’s before, they said well you might as well, you’re with them so I was put off ops at twenty eight instead of thirty and they posted me to another, one of the con units to instruct there,
MY: Which conversion unit, can you recall?
GA: Yes, let me think on, I was at one or two places, Wigsley [?] which is now called Pigsley [?] in the books, it was such a rough place, [inaudible] in the books it was that rough they called it Pigsley, it was pretty rough, Wigsley, Skellingthorpe [long pause] let me think about this, I would say look in the log book but we didn’t put the stations in the log book, I think I ought to show you the log book to start with, I’ll show it you before we’ve finished,
MY: Fine I shall look forward to that,
GA: Anyway, I was transferred to several of these conversion units probably one of them but not, and round about the end of one of the con units I was sent back apparently on ops to do a second tour on ops to 463 Australians, now they were at Waddington, which was very much of a change from Wigsley, [laughter]
MY: Yep
GA: And at Waddington they posted my old Skipper McGregor with me, we made a pair for a new scheme they’d got checking crews at so many ops I think it was five ops, ten ops, fifteen, that was it about fifteen we assumed they knew their stuff by then, they’d either be missing or they knew their stuff by fifteen ops, anyway we spent I suppose, we were both on this quite a long time we were officially on ops but we were only a pair, we were without the rest of the crew, McGregor and myself, were on this job of checking the crews at various stages they said it saved a lot of trouble, it kept them up to scratch in other words
MY: Yes
GA: And try telling Aussies they were doing something wrong wasn’t easy, it some cases [laughter] but we got on very well with them actually in the end, and we were quite respected members of the squadron, I remember they, they made me a, at one of the mess parties they made me an honorary Australian gave me a Kangaroo badge to wear, it was on the ground floor by the way, opened the window at Waddington and we got slung out onto the flower bed outside [laughter] so they called me a, honorary Australian after that. Anyway we got on very well with them in the end until they were posted back to Australia and they had to find me a crew. Before then though I’d, my skipper left me he’d gone on one of these other crews then, he went to Metheringham at 106 back at Metheringham, they moved from Syerston to Metheringham, and they posted him back to Metheringham, and he was on these Lincolns, in fact he wrote to me asking if I’d like to go back with him, but then before I’d got chance to reply they made Metheringham on the Lincolns they didn’t want flight engineers unless they’d done pilot training, well I’d never done pilot training, except on the squadrons, I flew Lancaster’s on my own quite a bit on the squadrons, when I was with an Aussie pilot which I got in the end, we were back flying prisoners of war back from France and Belgium and places like that, and it was this Aussie pilot and his crew, and he used to walk around in the fuselage [inaudible] and leave me to fly it [laughter] so I’ve flown Lancaster’s quite a lot but not taken off, or not landing, but I’ve got quite a few hours on flying the Lancaster on my own
MY: Good
GA: So, anyway that was part of the training and I was with them until they actually all of them went back to Australia, then they posted me as assistant adjunct administration Squadron something like that,
MY: Yes
GA: Which from then on I was demobbed,
MY: This story that’s in the Bomber Command Association magazine that being attacked by a 262 could you say something about that?
GA: Sorry, that was when I was with the Australian squadron, at Waddington, I did actually go back on ops real ops, and that was one of them.
MY: Yes
GA: Well we went, now my pilot was, my old pilot in that case he hadn’t left the 106, so he was, he got me as engineer because I was his engineer all the time, I hadn’t acted as one on ops until then, so they put us both back on ops the picture, the crew out of oddments that were left odd Australians that were left hadn’t gone back and some of them English, some Australian. Anyway I hardly knew the crew except the pilot, anyway we went in daylight, we had been practising two days before, formation flying, formation flying with the Lancaster squadron, its was a gaggle, they used to call it a gaggle, roughly behind each other and that sort of thing, and we were in this gaggle, and we got about I think it was about ten thousand feet something like that, it was, we had got to go quite a long way and we got over the channel or the North Sea, North Sea, we were at Hamburg, and we were, how did it happen? We were going along nicely on the way to Hamburg, and suddenly, red flares went up, that was the signal for being attacked, and we looked round and saw these, oh sorry, I am over running my story a little, I don’t know if you can do anything about that on there.
MY: Don’t worry
GA: On the way out, on the way out, we were still in England we had an engine failure, starboard outer, and it was the shaft that drives the magnetos, there is one shaft that drives two magnetos and it snapped, broke, it’d got a weak spot in it that actually sheared, so both magnetos were out, so literally it just windmilled, so I had to feather that, we decided to , skipper decided to try and keep up with them and keep up with the gaggle, but we were in a losing battle, we couldn’t keep up with the other Lancs. we were well behind by the time we got over there and on the way to Hamburg, so, this is when we were, got to Hamburg, there was 617 with us, they had got Tallboys, and they’d certain things that they had got to do there, and we were back up with 617 and made up about sixty aircraft [inaudible] we were on the tanks and things like that the rest of us, anyway we kept on to Hamburg, well behind by the time we got anywhere near it, the formation had left us, and we were on our own and we suddenly saw these red lights go up, red flares go up, ahead of us where the [inaudible] squadron was then we saw these 262’s diving down straight through the formation, and [pause] we were well behind and said well if their getting that treatment were going to be in trouble soon, anyway, one of the ones, they shot two Lancs. down well ahead of us and one of them they shot the tail straight off, they’d got cannons in these things, they’d gotfour cannons, four thirty millimetre cannons, in the nose of the 262, it must have just hit it [smacking sound] like that, about middle [?] of the door, and I should think it would be about a mile in front of us or something like that by that time, we were well behind the main squadron, and we saw this tail plane and the top bit of the door floating down like that with the gunner still in it, and the rest of the Lanc straight down without the tail, so there were two missing that day, that was one of them. So we eventually said well they haven’t seen us yet, but we went a little bit further and saw one coming towards us so we started pumping red lights out of the out of the very pistol, the wireless op had that, they had a signal, they screwed into the top by the wireless operator, and he got hold of the cartridge, anyway he used up all his red ones [laughter] and used most of the others as well, trying to attract attention , we got a supposedly an escort of mustangs, but we hadn’t seen them until then, and suddenly, way after we saw this shot coming at us and he hit us, knocked another engine out on the same side, but it didn’t set on fire fortunately, just knocked it out and he was coming round for another do, and these mustangs appeared, two mustangs, that was in my picture [?] and this 262 cleared off as soon as he saw the mustangs coming before he had another go at us I was very lucky.
MY: So did you finish your operational flying on 463?
GA: Yes, I only did, I went to Pilsen another one [pause] and err now, Pilsen, it’s in the log book [?] I can show you it, and then we finished operational flying, 463 it’s the last one I did in fact that was the end of the war. While I was still on 463.
MY: How long after that was it you were demobbed?
GA: [pause] We were sent on these postings and assistant adjutant after that, only about six months I should think, six months at the outside, yes. [pause]
MY: What did you do once you had left the RAF at the end of the war?
GA: I went back to my old firm as a rep at first, I did a full bound apprenticeship, at a printing firm and they were still in operation when I came back and they had got a vacancy for a rep that had just left them so I wrote to the manager and asked him if I could apply he said yes and he interviewed me while I was still in the RAF and I got the job as their rep when I actually left which was within about a couple of months, something like that, so the rest of the time, for most of my life i’ve spent as a rep with this printing firm.
MY: And are you local to, in the Derby area?
GA: Yes, yes, it was called Derby printers limited.
MY: Right
GA: It no longer exists but [pause]
MY: Quite a change I should imagine from the hectic life you had lead during the war.
GA: It was, I can’t remember some of it, these days my memory isn’t what it used to be, as you’ve seen me tonight, I have sort of misplaced time haven’t I? Quite a lot of it, [inaudible] by the way I didn’t have a car in those days, I had to use all railways and buses and walking
MY: [laughter]
GA: It ranged between Liverpool, Manchester, London, Northampton, sort of area I covered and eventually they bought me a car after about six months, after about, no not six months more like six years
MY: [laughter]
GA: [pause] And, I eventually became general manager at the same firm after I finished as a rep, at that time the manager was retiring and I got the job as general manager, a bit earlier because he died before he retired.
MY: If you just think back to the time while you were in Bomber Command and the places where you were stationed what sort of relationship did the people on the station have with the local villages and towns?
GA: Well at Syerston where I did most of my ops there was a farmhouse on the perimeter and when we were taxying round to go to the end of the runway there were about fifty people on the top of this farmhouse and the buildings there, never missed they were all waving flags and giving us the go ahead, and then the, of course they weren’t allowed on the actual aerodrome, there were enough people at the caravanners, you know the people who used to gather at the caravan to wave you off. There was only, they were all civilians at this place, at Syerston, and so they all gathered on all sorts of standing up places to look over, waving us off, so that was good. As regards the, we never really met them [inaudible] the local, there was never a local village it wasn’t very near a village, you used to see people in the pubs, but we used to go to Lincoln occasionally, but, as far as I could tell we had good relations, but nothing striking, Lincoln was our main town if we wanted a night out, there again I kept with my old pilot here, we got posted together, [inaudible] right to the end, and met him until he went to Metheringham.
MY: And did he survive the war?
GA: Yes,
MY: Good.
GA: He was an insurance man with the Sun Insurance, and he opted to go to South Africa, to their branch in South Africa, and he stayed there and he wrote to me quite a few years eventually it dropped off a bit [inaudible] I know that he was alive in South Africa, up to, oh, six or seven years ago and my gunner [inaudible] he got in touch with me, I found him, [inaudible] his address in England when he came over on a visit to his daughter who still lives in England and he had a word or two with him.
MY: I notice that in the book the bomber boys, you’re pictured in your flight engineers seat, was that on 106?
GA: Yes [pause] we had a drop down seat, we a drop down seat, no back on it or anything like that, so we could sit there if we wanted, we stood most of the time, take off, take off we stood up took the throttles up to the gate and push them to the gate if necessary, wheels up, flaps, used to do all that, standing up, it wouldn’t have been very good in a crash would it?
MY: And then you’d stay standing for most of the trip?
GA: Quite a lot yes, there’s a bubble on the side window of a Lancaster and if you’re in expected, or position port shall we say, fighters about you used get in there to look underneath,
MY: Amazing
GA: But that seat we used it on cross country’s and that sort of thing, if you wanted a rest, but it wasn’t much of a seat there were no safety belts on it or anything like that [laughter] [pause]
MY: What was the average sort of length of an operational sortie whilst you were flying?
GA: Well we did a lot to the Ruhr which was about, [pause] between five and six hours I should think, according to which end of the Ruhr you took, and then there’s places like [pause] let me get my log book out,
MY: Mmmm, is it in here?
GA: Its in there, much battered, that’s the medals [laughter] which I shall be wearing at the do I think
MY: I should hope so
GA: [inaudible]
MY: Yes
GA: [rustling]Right, I made this myself, [pause, rustling] Oh that’s the crew waiting to go, [pause]my skipper, and Gibson, the rest of the crew is the ones, by the way I forgot to tell you that, they took him the first night as a [inaudible]Berlin was on two nights, the first night I was on, sorry the first night the skipper was on, with that crew, and Richard Ingleman was with them doing the [inaudible] the commentary on it, while they were there [?] [inaudible] I got hold of this [inaudible] this, the bomb aimer was a navel bloke [inaudible]
MY: Oh lord
GA: [pause] I’m finding it, [inaudible, rustling] there’s a bit of damage, [pause] Very interesting pilot I used to fly with, [pause] Bonham Carter, Group Captain Bonham Carter, he was a CO at Wigsley [laughter] and he took me on my commissioning interview, and he used to come into the crew room sometimes and, anybody want a trip to Swinderby, anywhere like that, he’d say I’ve got to go and see an old pal so I want an engineer, so I used to go and fly with him sometimes [laughter] [rustling]
MY: At what stage, [cough] pardon me, at what stage were you commissioned?
GA: When we, after we’d finished ops and when we had been posted to a conversion unit
MY: Right,
GA: [pause, rustling] oh I can’t find, [pause, rustling] Stuttgart six hours, Pilsen eight fifteen, Berlin seven forty five, these are the hours, [pause] this is [pause] typical entry in the log book how many hours, how many trips in a month [pause] got a few Gibson signatures in there, you see [pause] [rustling, pause]
MY: There he is Guy Gibson, OC 106 squadron,
GA: Right
MY: This of course was, its was when he finished this tour that he went to take on 617
GA: Right, that’s right he went from there, you’ll see his signature suddenly ends, some of the flight commanders had to sign it, that was when he went to, six, 617.
MY: Did anybody else from 106 go with him?
GA: Yes, I am trying to think which one it was now, I read the book [laughter] and that sort of thing, there was only one of them, from 106 [pause]
MY: I see you’ve got Halifax as well as Lancaster
GA: Yes they
MY: In here
GA: They wanted to save the Lancaster’s for ops so they got a lot of, they were trying to make them all Lancaster squadrons so as the Halifax squadrons became redundant, they had, we had Stirling’s, Halifax’s as well as Lancs. on the conversion units [pause]
MY: Was there, much difference between them in terms of flying characteristics the Halifax and the Lancaster?
GA: The Halifax was a, it wouldn’t handle like the Lancaster at all, it was prone to getting out of awkward positions when flying, used to drop a wing and that sort of thing on it, the Lanc wouldn’t, so in the Lanc you could bring the throttles right back, pull you stick right back to, till you wait until it stalled it went down perfectly straight like that, [inaudible] gentle. The Halifax would start spinning, the Stirling it just couldn’t get up above 12,000 feet, they’d not carry very much anyway
MY: No
GA: But it was beautiful to fly in the air
MY: The Stirling?
GA: Yes, very steady [?] [inaudible]
MY: So which, presumably you did Stirling’s in your first heavy conversion unit did you?
GA: Yes
MY: Yes there we are
GA: Some of them are in there yes [pause]
MY: And was the, you hear lots of stories about the real affection that people had for the Lancaster, is that correct?
GA: Oh yes, nothing quite like it really, the others that I’d flown in, [inaudible] Stirling’s and the Halifax’s, not on operations though. We got back, by the way on that last one I was telling you about where we attacked by the 262’s
MY: Yes
GA: They shot the other engine out so we came back with two on one side, and it was perfectly alright got a bit warm the engines, but [laughter] there we, we contact the emergency airfield and that was, I think that was Woodbridge, it was one of the three big ones, it had a very wide runway and when they knew you were coming in on two engines on one side, they got a fire engine on one side ambulance on the other [laughter] [inaudible] foam all over the runway like that,
MY: But it was a successful landing was it?
GA: Yes, perfect landing, yes, that was my old pilot as well he was pretty good,
MY: This chap McGregor yes
GA: Yes
MY: Right
GA: Yes, he was a good friend and I am sorry he went to South Africa, so I didn’t see much of him after that,
MY: So would you, its funny question to ask in one sense given that were talking about war time, but did you enjoy your time, in, in Bomber Command?
GA: [pause] Yes, I did enjoy a lot of it yes, enjoyed flying and there were times when I wished I hadn’t but [laughter] but yes I did, I liked flying
MY: I note from your log book that there are a number of occasions when you would do trips on consecutive nights.
GA: Yes
MY: What did it feel like when you’d just come back from what would have been a quite traumatic experience, knowing that in twenty four hours you would be doing it all again?
GA: It was horrible really when they put them too close together like that, yes I didn’t like that part but I suppose it was necessary in those days, [inaudible] no I look back now and think how on earth did we stick it out and
MY: Well of course you were all very young men then weren’t you
GA: We were, we were
MY: Very resilient, the resilience of youth
GA: Exactly, yes, they had a different attitude to life, yes, but it, where they stick that close together it its not [laughter] it doesn’t sound right now does it?
MY: And when you got back from a sortie did you feel really fatigued?
GA: Yes, but not until you got in bed, things going round still, yes, [pause] some of the huts were, the accommodation was quite primitive in some of the [inaudible] some of the huts at Wigsley used to leak and you slept with your ground sheet on top of you, on top of your blankets
MY: [laughter]
GA: [pause, laughter] But places like Waddington and Syerston they were very good, [pause] Aye, have I taken up a lot of your time yet?
MY: I am intrigued by everything you have had to say, seriously,
GA: Are you
MY: Believe it or not we have been at it for nearly an hour and a half,
GA: Have we really
MY: And the time has literally flown
GA: Oh I haven’t dried up have I
MY: No you haven’t, It’s been absolutely marvellous
GA: I am afraid I have made a few mistakes, in timing like I did when I made a mistake in the last daylight we where things happened, and of course id you’d have said six months before that you’ve got to go and bomb Hamburg in daylight, [laughter] don’t be daft, it shows how the war deteriorated, because I mean I’d never seen a 262 before, neither had anybody else that I know
MY: Well they moved pretty fast as well didn’t they
GA: Oh yes, [laughter] but evidently, I don’t know who it was now I don’t think it was one of our squadron that got its tail shot off, makes you realise what fire power they’d got, I mean alright setting someone on fire, with your firepower but to see door I suppose is the weak spot of the fuselage to see it just literally chopped off like that its amazing, mmm.
MY: And presumably you have got your Bomber Command Clasp, at last
GA: [laughter] I have did you see it?
MY: I did yes, but um yes I was delighted when they finally saw sense and you know sort of
GA: Yes
MY: Gave that out, gave in to that and its, its so important it... but [pause] but you have, I mean it’s an amazing record, you’re sort of one and half tours on ops,
GA: Yes
MY: A distinguished flying medal, the Bomber Command Clasp I think its, for somebody who themselves has been a pilot in the Royal Air force its absolutely wonderful to sit and listen to things like this it really is absolutely marvellous
GA: I’m glad you were a pilot because you’ve understood a lot of what I’ve said
MY: Well of course its one of the things that attracted me to the whole project in the first place, because I have my own time, my own time in the service, I’ve always been, had a great interest in military history the air force history and to actually speak to people who were there
GA: Yes, yes
MY: Is, it so is, it’s an honour for me to be able to speak to people like you
GA: Good, I’ve got my grandson in-law is a pilot, so were following on [inaudible]
MY: Is he?
GA: He flies Hercules, and he’s now instructing on choppers,
MY: Oh right
GA: At, where they train all the navy and air force people together now
MY: What at Shorebury, at shorebury?
GA: Shorbury, yes
MY: Shorbury near Shrewsbury, oh right
GA: Yes, he’s instructor there now, and [inaudible] of lot of his flying on Hercules, to Afghanistan and that district
MY: Yes
GA: He was with the SAS team at one time, dropping them off the tail of the Hercules,
MY: I was talking to somebody the other day and we were commenting how, most, about five of the most senior posts in the royal air force, including the chief of the air staff
GA: Yes
MY: Are now helicopter pilots
GA: Are they really
MY: And that is a thing you wouldn’t have been able to say ten years ago,
GA: It is, it is
MY: but they, him his number two, another guy, Basnorth [?] the commandant of the royal air force college at Cranwell is a helicopter pilot and do you know, since the second world war, the only guy to walk round with a DFC with two bars is a helicopter pilot
GA: Really, DFC and two bars,
MY: And he won them in Iraq, and Afghanistan
GA: Oh yes
MY: he‘s now the station commander at Odiham,
GA: Ah
MY: But its quite a, I mean the helicopter fleet is, is so important nowadays, its as important, at least as important as the sharp pointy nose things that I used to fly, so it, its and its lovely to see
GA: Oh aye, aye, [inaudible] I can’t understand helicopters, he’s showed me inside one, I’ve never been in one and never been up in one
MY: Yes
GA: [inaudible]
MY: There we are,
GA: [rustling, inaudible] I was going to show you me grandson, we were together at the opening of the Bomber Command Memorial
MY: Oh right, so you’ve got a, let me take my papers away, and then we’ll be able to see, what you are doing [rustling] [inaudible] is it in there?
GA: No [inaudible]
MY: Was it in your black folder? I think what I’ll do is I’ll switch this off now
GA: Yes yes



Malcolm Young, “Interview with Graham Allen,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 17, 2024,

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