Interview with Jamie Barr


Interview with Jamie Barr


Jim Barr grew up in Scotland and worked as an apprentice engineer before volunteering for the Royal Air Force. He trained as a navigator in South Africa and flew operations with 61 Squadron. He describes what it was like to be a navigator with Bomber Command and what it was like to re-enter civilian life after the war.




Temporal Coverage




02:26:09 audio recording


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ABarrJ150731, PBarrJ1506


AS: This is an interview with Flight Lieutenant Jim Barr DFC, a navigator on 61 Squadron. My name is Adam Sutch and the interview is being conducted at Ludlow on the 31st of July 2015 for the International Bomber Command Centre Digital Archive. Jim, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. I’d like to set the scene by asking you to describe your life before joining the air force. A little bit about your home, parents, siblings, where you lived? That sort of thing.
JB: Yes. Well I left school when I was sixteen and went into engineering. Mechanical engineering. Went, and that, that was at the same place as I was living in Bellshill one word, Bellshill, Lanarkshire and I left and started to um get my mind to start working.
JB: I went into an engineering factory which made switch gear and was doing, starting an apprenticeship in engineering and then the war came along and I decided to join the forces and became a, a, trained as a navigator in the er in engineering.
AS: What did your parents feel about you joining the forces?
JB: Um they were great. They were easy. If it was my choice - ok. They, they were happy for me to do that. Actually I was staying at home so of course. I wasn’t leaving so I was living at home and doing my apprenticeship and what happened then was of course that the, the war came along and I was busy doing an mechanical engineering apprenticeship and -
AS: No worries.
JB: The apprenticeship was such that I um joined, um it’s difficult really to, to sort it out.
AS: Sometimes there’s a, there’s a word.
JB: Yes.
AS: Just out of reach isn’t there?
JB: Yes.
AS: Ok.
JB: Um.
AS: Shall we come at it another way?
JB: Right.
AS: What, what made you join the air force instead of the army or, or the navy?
JB: Mainly because it, it suited my apprenticeship to be an apprentice in engineering and it meant that I actually was learning engineering as well as doing something suitable for myself and they um when I came of age I then actually left the apprenticeship and actually er
JB: Actually the apprenticeship brought me in to actually er -
AS: It started you on the path to the, to the air force. Yeah.
JB: To, yes more or less brought me along so I actually joined the air force which was suitable to my apprenticeship and then carried on doing an engineering apprenticeship as well as being in the air force and then from there I -
AS: Can you, can you remember what happened when you actually joined the air force? Whereabouts was it?
JB: Yes I’m just trying to think actually.
AS: Have a, have a pause.
JB: Joined the air force I then, where did I go?
AS: Did you -
JB: It’s amazing actually how -
AS: It’s a, it’s a long time ago. It’s -
JB: It is. Yes.
AS: It’s not unusual at all.
JB: I’m just trying to think where I
AS: Did you go straight for air crew selection?
AS: Jim, perhaps you could tell us a little bit about being selected for aircrew.
JB: Yes.
AS: And then your training as a navigator.
JB: Right.
JB: When I joined, when I joined to, to um go in to the air force I decided to become a navigator in the air force and in order to I, I went to South Africa in order to learn navigation and I was stationed at a place called [Ootson] and we stayed there for, for a period of time. When my navigation was completed I then went to Port Alfred to be a, to learn gunnery and, which took place on the Indian Ocean and from there I then flew back to the UK um -
AS: You flew back to the UK. That would, that was unusual.
JB: [laughs] Yes.
AS: What was life like in, in South Africa when you were training? Compared to, to the UK that you left.
JB: Well it was, there was a, great, an anti-blacks and whites in South Africa where there was a line there. You had, you had, you really did, you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t step off the pavement for example. They actually, any time you were walking along if there was anybody who was not white then they, they had to move off to let me pass or let us pass and we worked, I stayed at a place called [Ootson] and then I went from [Ootson] I went to a place called Port Alfred which was the gunnery, the gunnery centre and we actually did the gunnery at the, on the Indian Ocean. When that was completed I then came back to the UK and I, from, from there we actually –
AS: Whereabouts did you come back to in the UK? Can you, can you remember that?
JB: Is there a name there to, to give me a hand.
AS: That’s the, Port Alfred is, is there.
JB: That, Port Alfred, that’s South Africa.
AS: Yeah. And then -
JB: And then we went from there -
AS: To Dumfries.
JB: Dumfries.
AS: What, what were you doing there?
JB: And that was an intermediate station which only lasted for a month and the, the fact was that we were then from, we operated at Dumfries and then I was only there for a month and then I went to somewhere.
AS: North Luffenham.
JB: North Luffenham. North Luffenham. That was, that was a navigation school in North Luffenham which I was there for, I forget how long I was there, for some time actually at North Luffenham.
AS: So that was an OTU? Is that where you -
JB: An OTU yeah.
AS: Where you crewed up?
JB: Yes. So that I was there at the OTU, as a factor there I was there for some time.
AS: You were there from October, is that ‘42? Yes it is. October ’42.
JB: Yeah ’42.
AS: Until it’s – no it’s got base in there so you were still flying Wellingtons so –
JB: Yeah.
AS: So you were there you were there until March, is that? March 1943.
JB: Yes.
AS: Gosh that is a long time at OTU isn’t it?
JB: Yes. Anyway I completed the OTU training there and then is there, is there a clue there?
AS: There’s, there’s a lot of fairly standard exercises.
JB: Right.
AS: And then there’s this little two words on the 20th of December.
JB: Yes.
AS: Bailed out.
JB: Bailed out.
AS: What was that all about?
JB: Yes. Well what happened there was that we, we actually it was the first night flight. We were actually doing our first night flying and there was my crew of five. The actual er the pilot and navigator of another crew and an instructor and we took off and climbed to ten thousand feet and I actually found the wind, gave the wind to the pilot and we then actually, the pilot then found that he was in difficulty with the plane so he, the instructor pilot actually run down the back, the plane to see if he could see what was wrong but couldn’t, found that a wire had broken so he then went back, took the pilot out of the flying position, took over the plane, flew it and then told us that we had to bail out and we actually we, we all bailed out which, but in actual fact the pilot in the meantime was fighting with the controls of the plane at ten thousand feet. And in actual fact we were all more or less out except the rear, the rear gunner and the rear gunner saw these people leaving the plane but there had been no intercom. It was all verbal, ‘get out’ and so forth so he actually ran up the plane to find out what was going on and the instructor pilot was flying the plane and told him to get out. Well, in the meantime we had lost so much height that when he did bail out he actually landed in the, in the WAAF quarters of an aerodrome and went to a hut, he didn’t know where he was but he had landed at Wyton aerodrome which was pathfinders I think.
AS: Yes.
JB: And he actually er he actually er -
AS: Gosh, he’s in the WAAF quarters.
JB: Yeah. That’s it. He went, he went to a hut, a door of a hut, opened the door and found they were all women. It was a WAAF, the WAAF quarters of RAF Wyton aerodrome and he actually made himself known and the, the pilot actually where the plane was unmanageable by a, a rookie but this instructor controlled, managed to control the plane and landed at parallel to the actual runway of this Wyton pathfinder ‘drome and we um -
AS: So everybody survived.
JB: Yes. We all, we all actually safely bailed out and, and all went to various quarters. I actually landed in a field of, a ploughed field which was lifting sugar beet and went on more or less came out of that field, on to the road, walked along the road until I came to a house, knocked on the door. A woman, actually I was carrying a parachute and had all the parachute on crumpled up under my arm, knocked on the door and a woman opened the door, slammed the door in my face and her husband then came to the door with a gun and by that time I realised that the thing was that they didn’t take me as being RAF. So I mentioned RAF and I showed them my hat cap and they then invited me in and gave me a cup of tea and went, the boy went in to the next door neighbour, their son came out and they, they then collected, these boys took the parachute and the harness and everything and they took me along to the local lord of the manor, to his house. And he then got his car out and took us around to the police station and the police by this time had been collecting as each member of the crew went to somewhere they then went to the police so that we actually all collected in the police station and the, the, a bus from the aerodrome which was in traveling distance we actually went to the, we were waiting till the bus came and took us back to the, back to the aerodrome. We, from there, we continued actually to do our training, learning and um -
AS: Did you, did you have any, any leave after such an experience or did you just?
JB: No. No.
AS: Did you just get on with it?
JB: No we actually well we did have leave but mainly because the pilot actually he actually somehow or other had damaged his head and he didn’t come with us, he actually went to a hospital and er, er we went on leave. The rest of the crew, we went on leave until the pilot was fit to come out and we actually then,
JB: I’m just trying to think what we actually the wireless operator he, he, he didn’t actually take to the baling out part of it and he, his nerve went so he left the crew and we got a new wireless operator and we had then the pilot came out of hospital and we eventually, the rest of us had been on holiday during his period in hospital and we went back to the squadron when after, when he was fit and we then -
JB: And I’m trying to think what happened then. We actually, we carried on as a crew. We did training. I forget actually what, what happened. Did we -
AS: A lot of navigation exercises and -
JB: Yes.
AS: And -
JB: So, well, we actually then formed a crew and continued training at this, I forget the name of the, the aerodrome.
AS: Oh at um North Luffenham.
JB: North Luffenham. That’s an OTU.
AS: Yeah.
JB: So we went to this North Luffenham OTU and continued training until we qualified as a crew.
AS: Yeah. What, do you know if there were any consequences for the wireless operator for deciding that he wouldn’t fly anymore.
JB: No. Actually he disappeared. We didn’t know what happened to him. He just left, he left the crew. We didn’t know what happened to him and we got a second tour wireless operator. A chappy who had got so many hours in and he then became our wireless operator and he made up the crew.
AS: So did, did you start the, the OTU course again or, or was it just a continuation with new crew members -
JB: We continued as a crew learning the job. I forget now which is, what’s the name of the, the place we’re at now?
AS: There’s Luffenham where you -
JB: North Luffenham yes.
AS: Bailed out.
JB: Yes.
AS: You’ve got your leave.
JB: Yes.
AS: Until the captain is well -
JB: Yes.
AS: And then you, you carry on with your -
JB: We carried on. Yes we carried on. Which place did we go to from there? From North er -
AS: Oh there’s an interesting one. Your last flight I think at the OTU. Almost.
JB: Yeah.
AS: Emergency landing at Colerne. What, what, can you remember what that was about? You’d done a nickel raid on, on Vichy.
JB: Oh yes that’s right. What happened was we did a, as a final test of a crew we actually did a, what they called, a nickel raid down into France and we actually then flew back up from France back and I don’t know where we actually landed. Did we land somewhere?
AS: Your log book says Colerne. RAF Colerne.
JB: Colerne. That’s right.
AS: Down in the West Country.
JB: We were more or less, we more or less I think we were called up an emergency call and we actually landed at Colerne which was, was an emergency landing and we then, but that actually meant that we had finished I think. We finished at Colerne and we -
AS: Yeah. Yes -
JB: Yes and went to somewhere else.
AS: When you, you called up with your emergency. Can you remember was it something like darkie that you called up or -
JB: Yes. We, no we more or less um mayday. Mayday.
AS: Ok mayday call.
JB: We called up mayday and were given permission to land. That’s right.
AS: Did you get any help with searchlights or anything like that from the ground?
JB: No. No. Well we could see actually that we were circling and they then put the lights up, put three lights up, up so that we actually landed in that triangle and more or less that, we then carried on training. I don’t know whether we, whether we went to a different, to a different -
AS: Ah. That’s, that’s it, that’s the, that’s the OTU -
JB: Yes.
AS: Finished.
JB: Finished. Yeah.
AS: Signed off the OC flight -
JB: Right. OK.
AS: And -
JB: Yes.
AS: Then to 1661 conversion unit at Winthorpe.
JB: Oh yes so actually we more or less progressed in our training to this Winthorpe which was the next stage of the training and we actually only stopped there for a short time at Winthorpe and then we went to somewhere else.
AS: Was this where you, oh it’s, you were flying in the Manchester there.
JB: Oh.
AS: Oh.
JB: So that was an intermediate stage. We actually flew in Manchesters at that particular place and then we went on to somewhere else.
AS: Ok. So, its April 1943 by then and you flew Manchesters and then you were introduced to
JB: Lancasters.
AS: The Lancaster.
JB: Yes.
AS: At the conversion unit.
JB: The conversion unit yes. We started flying Manchesters er Lancasters. So we started flying Lancasters which was what, what was the name of the place be?
AS: That was at, that was at Winthorpe.
JB: Winthorpe.
AS: On your conversion.
JB: Ah huh.
AS: Converting the crew to -
JB: Yes.
AS: To the Lancaster.
JB: Ah huh.
AS: And then I suppose you learnt operation procedures there.
JB: Yes.
AS: Did you?
JB: Yes.
AS: What, what was it like to navigate inside a, a bomber?
JB: Well as a navigator you, you actually you’re in a compartment more or less cut off from the rest of crew with curtains because you didn’t want the light from the navigator department to blinding the people outside so you were actually in a navigation area was a curtain cutting you off from the front of the plane and another curtain here. The wireless operator was sitting behind me more or less to my left. He’s sitting fore and aft and I’m sitting ninety degrees. So the wireless operator is sitting there facing front. There’s a curtain across and I’m sitting here in a compartment with two curtains, illuminated so that that was my actually all flying. The navigator was on his own with no contact with the, visual contact with the crew.
AS: Yeah. Ok thank you. So we leave the conversion unit.
JB: Yes.
AS: In, where are we? Oh there’s more. Oh a bullseye. What’s a, what’s a bullseye?
JB: A bullseye [pause] you have a target, I’m just trying to see
JB: It’s a target actually that you more or less navigate the plane to a bullseye and then you actually instruct the bomb aimer to aim for the target.
AS: This is a training target.
JB: Training yes.
AS: In the UK. Ok. So that is May 1943.
JB: Yeah.
AS: You’re finishing at the OTU.
JB: You finished at the OTU so am I going to, which station did I go from there?
AS: To 61 squadron at Syerston.
JB: Yes that’s when training has finished. So I then go to 61 squadron as a member of a crew. The crew’s formed and that’s, that’s where, where the crew fly as a crew.
AS: Yeah. You’re leaving the conversion unit just about the time in May 1943 when 617 squadron -
JB: Ahuh.
AS: Did the dams. Can you remember hearing about that?
JB: Yes. I mean we actually, we, we knew all about it was spread in the actual area that the actual flight, the target was actually that that the crews are aware of this Ruhr navigated navigator and they were actually controlling the target to be aimed at.
AS: Ahum ok. Shall we have a, a pause?
JB: Yes.
AS: Jim I’d just like to take you back a moment.
JB: Right.
AS: To something I’ve seen in your, your logbook here.
JB: Right.
AS: It’s in a Wellington and you’re saying, “Circuit and landing. Engine on fire. Landed at Swinderby.” That’s sounds like quite an exciting occurrence.
JB: Yes.
AS: What happened there?
JB: Well it was an unexpected occurrence where an engine went on fire. The, the engineer pointed out that one of the engines was on fire and we actually then had to take emergency action. So what happened was that we actually then called up to ask for permission to land at, at the nearest aerodrome.
AS: That’s Swinderby.
JB: Which was -
AS: Swinderby.
JB: Swinderby. Ahum. And we called up Swinderby and asked for permission to land as we were in an emergency position and we had to land for safety. Yes.
AS: And your pilot, Sergeant Graham Kemp brought it off and everybody, everybody survived.
JB: Yes. Yes survived because we, we,we we landed in a safe condition. No, no problem. Yes.
AS: Quite an exciting time in your training.
JB: Yes. Yes.
AS: Ok we’ll just, we’re just pause there for a moment.
JB: Right.
AS: Jim we’re going through your logbook.
JB: Right.
AS: It’s May the 11th, 1943 and you’ve arrived at 61 squadron.
JB: Right.
AS: As an operational crew.
JB: Right.
AS: Can you describe to me the process of coming on to an operational station? What, what sort of things did you have to go through?
JB: Your, your station, you moved from where the, the training was completed. You’re then sent, posted to an operating base which is actually where you’re going to be operating from and you’re given permission, you’re given instruction where to go to operate and the, the, the crew are going to be operating as a trained navigation, a trained crew.
AS: Ok. Did you all live together? Were you all sergeants together? Or -
JB: No. No, well you were in the same block of, um -
It’s you’re either you’re living in a, you’re living in an instruct, you’re not living in quarters. Either two of you or one but not three. Usually the pilot and the navigator lived together and the other members of the crew lived as a pair to keep the numbers down.
AS: Ok.
JB: So that we, I was flying, I was living with the pilot in the station that we were posted to -
AS: Ok.
JB: As a, as a group of, a group of um -
AS: As a qualified crew yeah.
JB: As a, yeah -
AS: Ok.
JB: Yes, crews, as actual members of the crew were broken up in to pairs and lived in a joint hut.
AS: Ok.
JB: Right.
AS: Did you see a lot of each other as a crew. As a unit? Or -
JB: You, usually what happened was that the pilot and the navigator usually were mates and the other members, the bomb aimer was with the wireless operator so that you actually broke up into groups of either two or three and operated like that and most lived separately.
AS: Ok.
JB: Yes.
AS: So your logbook here shows you arriving on the squadron.
JB: Yes.
AS: And some, some practice flying, low level bombing, air test.
JB: Yeah.
AS: And then your first operation.
JB: Ah huh.
AS: Can you remember what that was like?
JB: We’re at 61?
AS: Yeah. Syerston, yeah [pause].
JB: It’s um -
AS: It’s got ops Dusseldorf and then a boomerang.
JB: Ah, in actual fact what happened there was we were more or less instructed, all the actual, the squad, the group were actually broken, broken up into crews and the crew were actually instructed, were instructed to go to certain places.
AS: Ahum.
JB: But that, the actual, that was actually to form, where to, were instructed really to, to, to go on -
AS: A bombing trip, yeah. A bombing trip.
JB: Bombing trip, yeah. So that we actually then, as a crew, we went on a bombing trip.
AS: Ok.
JB: And –
AS: And this one was Dusseldorf.
JB: Dusseldorf.
AS: Yeah. But it says got boomerang. What, what is that?
JB: What happened was, some operation, some problem occurred -
AS: Ahum.
JB: With the navigation which indicated that we were not capable of carrying on and we actually, we couldn’t actually, you couldn’t carry on as you were planning to do. It was, what’s the word that, that we didn’t actually, we couldn’t carry on.
AS: Yes. So it was an early return.
JB: An early return yes.
AS: An early return. Yeah. Ok.
JB: Yes that’s right.
AS: And then a successful operation to, to Essen.
JB: Essen so.
AS: Yeah.
JB: Now, now we were actually operating as a crew and each trip was different to the previous one so that we were actually as a crew we were going to different targets in, in Europe as crews.
AS: These are, they’re Ruhr targets aren’t they? These were heavily defended.
JB: Yes.
AS: What, what was the experience like? Can you remember when you first started operational flying? With the flak and the searchlights? What -
JB: Yes. Well in actual fact it was mainly there wasn’t actually any actual er target. There was um -
JB: Each crew were not being, they were being fired at as a crew, and we were actually being careful and looking out for what we were doing. So we actually, each crew went to the target or navigated to the target as an operating crew and we were actually taking photographs of the target to indicate the accuracy of the navigation. That’s right, yes.
AS: Looking at your, your logbook for your first few operations it’s, it’s all heavily defended targets isn’t it?
JB: Yes.
AS: Dusseldorf, [Borkhum], Cologne.
JB: Yes.
AS: And -
JB: Yes we went to these actual, these were targets that we were instructed to go to as, as, as individual crews.
AS: Ahum.
JB: The crew was, each crew was going to these targets independently. Not, not combined.
AS: And I see your, your skipper had been commissioned by the end of May.
JB: What, what happened in crews, usually the pilot sometimes decides he is going to apply for a commission. Sometimes the navigator decides as well. Quite often, actually, what happens sometimes is the pilot and navigator applied for commission as a, as a pair and usually the other, the bomb aimer and gunners don’t, don’t go with them. Stay as non-commissioned officers.
AS: Is that happened with, is that what happened with you two?
JB: Yes.
AS: So you were commissioned at the same time?
JB: Yes, and the bomb aimer and the others didn’t -
AS: Ok.
JB: So we split up and went to different messes actually. Yes.
JB: Yes.
AS: Are there things that, that stand out in your mind from, from your bombing raids particularly?
JB: This, this actually after this number of years actually I’m just trying to remember [laughs]. What. If we had any problems. Is there any problems?
AS: Um you’ve got a long operation to Turin.
JB: Oh yes.
AS: Followed by an emergency landing at Colerne again. You must have liked Colerne.
JB: [laughs]
AS: Did you have a girl down there?
JB: Yes well in actual fact the thing was really that we actually decided when we were coming back from, from Turin that was, that was somewhere we knew so we decided to, to go to [Turin] in preference to an unknown target or destination.
AS: Ok.
JB: Yes.
AS: Ok. So you said emergency landing. Was that short of fuel after all that time?
JB: It would be actually. We were running short of fuel so we decided that we would make an emergency landing while we knew where we were. Yes.
AS: Now we’re on, talking about your operations. It’s, it’s the middle of 1943 what did you have to help you to navigate. Did you have Gee?
JB: The only thing that I had was we had um its um we’ve got, I’m just trying to remember what you would call it. There’s a picture that showed we more or less had [pause] it shows, it shows, a dot to tell us where we were so what happened was that we, the navigator really from starting off from base the navigator then tells the pilot what, what course to, to fly. So the pilot then flies on, on a particular course and the navigator tells him the duration of the, the time that they are on this course so as, as they’re flying along and more or less the bomb aimer is giving target pinpoints and we actually know from the bomb aimers instructions that we are on course or we are off course or we actually make arrangements. We know from navigation, we know that we are actually running off course so what we do then is that we extend the course that we are flying on by say six minutes so that you’ve got time then to more or less assume where you going to be and then you actually give a new course to tell them a certain direction. You give the pilot the new direction to fly so that they come down on to the new, new target.
AS: So you’re working out wind vectors -
JB: Wind –
AS: And new track, yeah?
JB: Yeah.
AS: OK. So you were busy all the time.
JB: All the time. The navigator’s always the only one who is really working and he’s working all, he works all the time.
AS: So back, back to this box was it Gee or H2S.
JB: Gee.
AS: It’s Gee. Yes.
JB: Well yes it could be either. Actually, the Gee was more basic whereas the H2S was a more accurate point so that you’re, you’re more or less you tell the pilot that in five minutes at so and so time you will actually will turn to X direction so that when you get to this point you say, ‘Turn now,’ and the pilot then has already put it on his
AS: The, the compass.
JB: Compass.
AS: Yeah.
JB: He has already put a compass needle on the course to that you’re going to turn on to so what happens is at the time you say, ‘now,’ the pilot then turns over on to the new course and you fly along this particular course and as, as you’re going along you actually ask the bomb aimer to give pin points so that you have assistance from the bomb aimer who tells you that you’re on course or you’re off course and if you’re off course you’ve got, he’s got to say you’re off course and to give you an indication and you’d then more or less extend so many minutes to a new course, to a point where you turn on to a new course to get, to put, to put the plane on to the course that’s going to bring him to the right point at a certain time.
AS: So you and the bomb aimer were really a bit of a navigational team.
JB: A pair yes.
AS: Yes.
JB: Yeah.
AS: So did, sometimes I guess the bomb aimer couldn’t see the ground?
JB: Quite often. You don’t always but in actual fact what usually happens is they then assumes. They do an exercise er you turn the plane onto an assumed course so that you actually hope that when you actually get to the next ETA, estimated target, you actually will be able to see where the plane is from, from the bomb aimer. He tells you that we’re actually, in five minutes you should see so and so and usually if your navigation is good you do see the target that you are waiting for.
AS: When you’re giving course corrections to the, to the captain did you do it by voice or did you always pass him a note?
JB: No. Usually voice.
AS: Ahum.
JB: Usually you tell him that at a certain time, a certain time you, I want you turn on to X Y Z and he then when he turns on he says, ‘on new course’ and he tells you that he’s done what you told him to do and then of course the bomb aimer is more or less going to be the one who’s looking where, where you’re going and the bomb aimer then says X Y Z so that he’s checked that what you told the bomb aimer to do the bomb aimer actually then sees that the pilot’s done it and you then actually carry on and tell the bomb aimer that you should be able to see X Y Z soon because that’s where I planned that you’re going.
AS: So the bomb aimer is your spy in the front of the aeroplane.
JB: Yes. Yes.
AS: Yeah.
JB: Yeah.
AS: Ok.
JB: Yeah.
AS: So you worked very closely together.
JB: Yes. Yes. Yeah.
AS: Another, another engine failure um -
JB: Ahum.
AS: On your air sea firing. Port inner u/s. Were the, were the aeroplanes generally reliable? Did you have confidence in them?
JB: Oh yes. Usually you always assume that the plane is doing what you tell it to do. And the bomb aimer is more or less, he’s, he’s got his own map which is a visual map so when you actually tell the pilot what to do he then actually does it and says, he’ll say, ‘On to course A B C,’ and then er, ‘On course.’ And then he’ll say in so many minutes we should come to so and so. So that each one, the pilot, the navigator tells the pilot and the pilot is then is telling the crew that the plane is now on so and so and he tells the, the bomb aimer that you should be able to see so and so in a five minutes or so many minutes to help you to correct what you’re doing.
AS: And when, when you’re correcting course, adding the wind vectors and what not did you use broadcast winds or did you calculate your own?
JB: You usually, you’ll calculate if you’re at A and when you arrive at A you should have told the pilot that when you get to A I want you to turn on to so and so and then you more or less give him a primer that says you’ll be coming to that point in a minute or two minutes. And then when you get there the pilot will say, ‘Altered course now,’ and you change on to a new course and then he says, ‘On course,’ once he’s turned, he’s on course and you also say that you will stay on that course until so and so. So many minutes. And you then tell them that you’re, you should now have turned and the pilot will then say, ‘I have turned on to the new course.’ So the three of them, the pilot, the bomb aimer and the navigator are more or less playing as a team.
AS: Yeah.
JB: And each one is checking the other and expecting and the other one is actually telling the other so it’s a team of three.
AS: Did you have, ever have to take real emergency action as a crew? Corkscrew or anything like that? And what, what effect does that have on your navigation?
JB: Do you mean the one um worry that you have sometimes as a crew is when, for example, the um the wind changes. You actually, you’re doing, the pilot is doing what the navigator told him to do and when the pilot is on the course that the navigator told him, when he’s on the course he then actually, it says on course if the wind changes and you’re actually, unknown to you or anyone else, you’re actually blown off course and you’re actually, you’ve, for example the pilot will be told by the navigator you should be in five minutes you should be coming to a railway crossing or something, a railway bridge or something. Once you actually, you tell him that the pilot will say he’s turned on to that course you say well in five minutes you should actually come to so and so then of course if he says if the five minutes come up and that hasn’t appeared the bomb aimer then says, ‘I can’t see where you instructed me,’ So you’ve then got to ask them to then look and see about - what can you see? Is there a river there, is there a railway or is there a road? Something. You can ask the bomb aimer to pick out to more or less assist you.
AS: And then reverse it back it to find -
JB: Reverse it.
AS: What the wind.
JB: Yeah.
AS: And then after the middle of August you, you get a new pilot.
AS: A Flying Officer Turner. What, what happened there?
JB: That’s it. Jimmy Graham. Jimmy Graham actually was grounded. His, his, he, Graham was actually damaged in this bailout and up to this point he had assumed he would try and carry on and in actual fact he decided that he was not capable of carrying on so what happened was that we were then transferred to a new pilot and he, this pilot took over from Graham and he then started. He was a second tour pilot who, he was more experienced than we had been used to, yes.
AS: And he takes you on a long cross country to get used to a new crew.
JB: New. Yes. Yes.
AS: But no break from operations. You’re still -
JB: Still carrying on.
AS: Now you’ve, you’ve flown in several different aeroplanes. Did you get your own aeroplane?
JB: Usually yes. You had your own plane.
AS: Ok and did, what aircraft did you have? Did you decorate the aircraft?
JB: You don’t usually er you didn’t actually you didn’t put anything. I think, I think we had actually. We put, yes we had a, I think we had a scantily clad woman lying on a bomb on the side of the plane. Sometimes once you got a plane you could do something like that and the pilot would maybe get a ground staff artist, you know, to do something to mark it to say it’s your plane.
AS: And this, this was Just Jane was it?
JB: That was, yes.
AS: And there’s one at, a Lancaster at East Kirkby.
JB: Yes.
AS: Marked up as Just Jane. Have you seen her?
JB: Jane. Yes. Yes.
AS: That’s your aircraft.
JB: [laughs] Yes.
AS: Were you a very well-disciplined crew in terms of communications in the aeroplane and -
JB: Oh yes. I mean, we, I was always lucky we actually had a good, well-disciplined crew where there was never any nonsense you know. We never had any bomb aimer or gunner more or less telling jokes and stuff. We never had anything like that. We always were on the job. So we actually told, the navigator told the pilot what course to go on and the bomb aimer would say he would, he’d noted that so that it was always very prompt and correct.
AS: Shall we have a pause?
JB: Right yes.
AS: Jim, we were just talking. Everyone has their, their specialist crew positions. Did you ever change over? Change places with other crew members?
JB: Yes actually on occasion I did do a swap with a rear gunner. I actually called up the rear gunner and told him that I would like to switch with him so that I’m sitting in his rear turret and he will sit up here in my navigational position and so that when it’s convenient I’ll say, ‘Ready to change,’ or ‘Change now.’ So what happened was that I actually put all my pencils and so forth, made them safe on my drawing board and then left it. So I went back down to the rear turret where the rear gunner moved up and sat in my position and I went back into the turret, the rear turret and all you can do in the rear turret is slew from left to right. You can raise the gun and drop it but you are limited to do what you are actually trying to do. You can only move to the right to a point, to a stop and come back and swing around to a stop and you can actually vary it according to where you want to, to move and it’s a case of your position is purely controlled by yourself and nobody else can actually move whereas in actual fact other positions people are doing it from their own satisfaction and the pilot will more or less tell the rear gunner to change over with the bomb aimer and they’ll both say, ‘Well I’m disconnecting now,’ and tell the pilot what he’s doing. Both of them will do the same so that they tell the pilot and the pilot actually assumes that what is being done is correct and does it.
AS: What did you feel like, sitting there in space, going backwards in the rear turret?
JB: Not, not, not nice at all. I didn’t, I didn’t, I didn’t do it very often. In fact I doubt if I did it five times all the times we were actually flying.
AS: And this was all in training flights in, in England?
JB: Yes.
AS: Yeah. What did the rear gunner feel like?
JB: He also didn’t like it. He, he preferred to be there looking back and only, didn’t like it when he was up in the front of the plane.
AS: Was there anyone else on the aircraft who could make some attempt at flying the aeroplane apart from the pilot?
JB: Yes oddly enough actually we never in, in, in any crews that I flew in and I flew in quite a number we never really did a switch so I never actually went out on a training flight and changed over with somebody else. I never did that with our planes.
AS: Ok. That’s great. That’s great. We’ll have a pause there.
JB: Yeah.
JB: The fact um that we did, I, I um on one trip we went to Berlin. We actually took off and went up and crossed Denmark. We went up, more or less flew up to Denmark then flew across the north of Europe until we came to a point where I would turn from my navigation. I would say that we were now about at a point where we were going to turn starboard and go and fly down to, to Berlin and on one occasion it happened that we decided, the reason we decided to do this particular exercise was on a foggy, cloudy night so we actually didn’t see anything and we were above cloud all the time so I was more or less, I, I before we actually er set off I decided I would navigate using um [pause] to do it by dead reckoning. So what happened was that we actually take off and we actually climbed up north east and but I flew at, got up below cloud base and decided to find the wind at that point so that I actually knew that I was starting off knowing what was happening and then we carried on and climbed up above the clouds and we navigated then across to the east and then when I estimated that we were north of Berlin I told the pilot to turn to starboard and we would fly down and when I estimated that we should be over Berlin I then told the pilot to start descending and we found out, of course. Then the problem then was to find out where we were which was quite an exercise because it was, it’s amazing really what happens when you’ve got, you’ve got a wind that is estimated from the Met Office. You estimate the wind at a certain directness, at a certain speed and you actually, what navigators, you think you know where you are and then when you actually turn south to go and come through to Berlin it’s amazing actually how far you’re off. It’s extremely difficult.
AS: Does there come a point where you can see the target on fire that tells you where the target is? Or -
JB: We, we, we never did any where we were actually bombing you know and I didn’t do any where we were actually going to bomb a target. Actually we never did that. So on training we never had the pleasure of seeing it. Yeah.
AS: When you’re, you’re tracking towards the target, following your course towards the target you’re in a stream with lots of other aeroplanes. Lots of other bombers.
JB: Yeah. We actually, we never, I actually um it was odd that we didn’t find that we could see, after we climbed up to operational height and so forth, you never find another plane. Although I mean the thing is you’re at an unknown height, and they’re at an unknown height I don’t know so of course you don’t really know where they are you know and you don’t see them so you never, we never actually saw other planes. It’s amazing.
AS: The gunners never saw any German planes?
JB: No. No, it was amazing. Yeah.
AS: Was it cold in the aeroplane at night?
JB: We never, we were warm, so we were plugged in. We had an electrically heated flying outfit so we never had the pleasure or the opposite but we didn’t have the cold. We always flew in heated suits so we never got the cold.
AS: Jim, looking at your logbook it seems most of your excitement was in training, with -
JB: Yes.
AS: Baling out and what not but I think you had an engine problem on take-off.
JB: Yes. On one occasion actually where quite unexpectedly we were taking off and we were, the tail, we were going at such a speed that we actually had the tail off the ground which meant that we were getting to the touch point where we were going to be airborne in a matter of seconds actually when we actually had the pilot then had the experience that two engines on the port side cut and he then managed to control the plane and bring, bring it to, to a halt after a lot of er well he was controlling the, the actual moving plane which was slewing to the left and he managed to prevent any danger where a wing could possibly have dipped and hit the ground and cause a lot of trouble. Nothing like that happened to us. We managed to slow down carefully and quickly and stopped the plane before it hit anything.
AS: So you were full of fuel.
JB: Full of fuel. Yes.
AS: Full of bombs.
JB: Yes.
AS: On your way to Magdeburg.
JB: Yes and, and we, we managed to, the pilot managed to hold things and, and prevented any, and dips of wings or, or damage, prevented which could have caused a terrific accident.
AS: Do you know if he got any commendations for that?
JB: Actually they were very, very loath to, to give commendations. You don’t, I can’t think of any occasions really where something like that happened and somebody took a pilot say aside and said, ‘Well done.’ That, that didn’t actually, I suppose when you think about it he was expected to do what he did. To, to have dipped and have the wing touch the ground and have a horrible accident really the pilots were capable of preventing that which really, thank God for, for the pilots really. I don’t know of any. I knew, I can think of one occasion where a chappy, it happened to, where he landed, where he actually came in and hit an air pocket and the wing tipped and touched the ground and caused the plane to well, really bounced badly and come to a stop safely without any, any great amount of damage happening to the plane. We know, I know of another one who, we landed. Syerston was a place which actually crossed the River Trent, came to the, came to the land inside and bounced the plane down. We actually did have one which actually did come down too low and skimmed on the water and fortunately the River Trent wasn’t actually too high and the banks so he did actually skim along the off side of the, of the river and without doing any -
AS: He got away with it.
JB: Yeah. But it was er quite easily done actually if somebody’s not really on the ball. Yes. Yeah.
AS: But as you say you were all grateful to your pilot for -
JB: Ahum.
AS: For pulling it off.
JB: Yes. Yes.
AS: I know it’s an awful long time ago but could we try and go through what happened on a, a mission from start to finish. I know they were all different.
JB: Yes.
AS: You’re called for ops and then what happens? Did you get a navigation briefing or -
JB: Yes what happens is that it depends whether, whether the actual um the weather whether it’s winter or summer or so forth. Assuming it’s like this time, the end of the summer, so that what happens is that we would always take off late. If you were actually going to bomb Germany you would take off late so that you were actually going to be getting across the North Sea, getting dark so that you’re, you’re not going to be going terribly far in to Germany otherwise I mean you would be in danger of having the Germans seeing you. So what happened was that you would take off, take off say half past ten so that you were getting close to the European coast by dark. Quite, quite, quite often you would actually, you be climbing then, hard as you could to get as high as you could without more or less um going into Germany, making it safe, making it easier for them. So you’d take off and get as high as possible before you were actually over Holland. And you would, quite often you would actually be getting up to your ceiling by the time you get over Germany and you’re more or less at a reasonably safe height if you could call any height safe but you would actually climb up and then you would get to the target pretty quickly before you actually start to come back because you don’t want to be over there. When you are coming home you want to be in a safe position so you would actually make sure that you were actually doing everything in the danger area as, which means you’re as high as you actually can be.
AS: Ok.
JB: We actually, I mean quite often you would actually, If you had any mechanical problems then that’s the time it’s dangerous really if you actually were to be in Germany and then start having mechanical trouble which means that you’ve got to lose height than you’re in, you’re in trouble. We never really had a situation like that because I mean usually you don’t get back.
AS: So did, I know squadrons were different. Did your squadron brief everybody together? Or did you have a pilots and navigators briefing? What, what happened at a briefing?
JB: At a briefing you’ve got all the, usually the pilot, the navigator and the bomb aimer are usually, they have a briefing before the rest of the crews come in so that you’re actually getting all the detail and you’re getting it so that you can ask questions and so on and so forth and make sure that you’ve got all the knowledge that you need before they open the door and let the other crew members in because there was no point in them sitting listening to what you get so usually the actual briefing is two parts and the final part is with everybody there and the crews have asked all, the navigator and bomber aimer and pilot have all asked the questions that they want and the answers too. Yeah
AS: And how long did you get to do all your calculations and do your [frack]?
JB: Sometimes, for example at this time of the year in actual fact it’s usually the briefing is quite often er very close to final briefing because you’ve, you’ve, you’ve got very little time between the briefing and then the take-off. It’s usually at this time of year it’s all very, very sort of crammed whereas in the winter time you’ll more or less have briefing by day so that you’ve got plenty of time to ask questions and so forth and without any danger really of running into or running out of time. Yeah.
AS: So are you, are you wearing you, your flying gear at the briefing time?
JB: No.
AS: So it’s -
JB: No. You go in more or less in you’re going out, your working, your working kit because usually it’s a case of you’ve got your going out kit which is posh, reasonably posh whereas the, the, the one that’s not so posh is the one that’s possibly if you’re briefed and you’re actually going to bomb tonight and then at the last minute they decide they’re not going well then quite often the, the crews would be given permission to go back and drop all your equipment back in the shed and then you can go into town but, and have a drink without actually being too smart that you’re allowed to go in and just go to the local rather than to be the, the, the final one.
AS: When you got kitted up um were you also issued with things like escape kits?
JB: Yeah. You got, you got there’s, there’s, there’s usually a kit that you actually take any time you’re going out where there’s a danger of not coming back. You go out later bombing usually if there’s any danger of you going out usually you’re not allowed to get ready because you, you, you wouldn’t be properly kitted out to go. I mean, I would say that in a, in a in a tour of crew for example we were on a squadron we were there for about nearly a year on a squadron but in actual fact in it’s in the summertime if you were on this time of the year you would, you would do your thirty trips. You know, you would do them in in three months whereas we, we, we quite often we were, we did, we were on our second tour so that we were getting messed around for quite a while where usually in the summertime and people were actually bombing in June, July, August you did it in three months.
AS: Were you the, the old men of the squadron then or were there other crews in the same position as you?
JB: Yeah. We were actually the old men because my, my, the pilot Jimmy Graham you’ve seen there changed over to Turner.
AS: Yes.
Well Turner was already on his second tour and he actually, Turner was more or less friendly with the squadron commander and he picked his, picked his targets meaning he would say if it was an easy one. I mean, he’d always go on easy target rather than going on a difficult one.
AS: This was your pilot?
JB: Yeah. He was friendly with the boss and sometimes we, we didn’t -
AS: When, when you kitted up. You go out, I suppose in a lorry or a bus to the aeroplane.
JB: Yeah.
AS: Did you have lots of checks or lots of time sitting about?
JB: No. We, we, we usually knew you would actually quite often it was a matter in the summer, I remember in the summertime when we were briefed we were, we were out sitting on the grass outside the er, the, the, where all the kit was. We would get our kit and more or less walk out and just sit on the grass for quite a long while before we’d get ready and go out to the plane. So you didn’t stay long outside the plane. You stayed quite a long time outside the briefing and that but you would actually, I mean, quite often it was a case quite often we would be sitting there and you would have WAAFs that were sort of there not going anywhere and their boyfriends were going to be flying they would, they would be down outside the shed talking to us you know where and we would then go and fly. They would more or less go back in to the mess and have a drink. They didn’t actually go out because they didn’t want to because you were the one that was going to be away and they didn’t want to go out without you.
AS: And so at this stage you all knew where you were going but they didn’t know where you were going.
JB: No. Well, yes that’s right. Oh yeah. Nobody knew. You kept it. Yes. I mean that was the one thing actually that they knew not to ask. You know, I mean it was a case of we knew, they didn’t but they knew not to bother asking us. We wouldn’t tell them.
AS: So you’re, you’re in the aeroplane. You’re, you’re fired up. You’re on the taxi-way waiting to go and you get the green light. You were talking earlier about climbing to height. Did you generally climb on course or did you go to Mablethorpe or something like that and climb before you set course.
JB: No, now you mention Mablethorpe but what happened often was that you would actually, because most of Bomber Command were actually on the east side of the country so what happened was that we would take off and we would climb up towards sort of [ ? ] if you like and then call it that and do it in such a way that by the time we get to the English coast and you’re almost at height if it’s, if it’s going to be a Ruhr, a Ruhr target you actually get to the actual height before, before the, you get to the English coast especially if the North Sea is a bit narrow you know and you, you more or less climb up like that you know. On one occasion we caught, when you get experienced you then take a new, a pilot who joins a squadron quite often if you’re on a raid they would ask you to take this pilot as an experience for him. Well in actual fact what happened actually is that the pilot actually we had a pilot sitting next to the flight engineer was actually standing where the second pilot is in his seat up next to the front, next to the pilot. The pilot is on the left and the other pilot, other passenger, is sitting there. We’ve actually had it one night we were, I’ll always remember, it was we were going down, it must have been to North Italy or somewhere. We were flying down through England and this rookie was sitting beside the pilot and he didn’t have his intercom on and he saw a plane coming to hit us and he, he actually, it was almost a collision and the pilot actually saw it himself and threw the plane out er and prevented an accident but it was a very, very close thing where the pilot, after that he actually then more or less told any passenger that, ‘When you’re, when you’re sitting beside me never actually, have your mic on, no, ‘Have your mic on so that if you see something you can speak.’ And so after that near, near miss which was early on in our tour, we um he nearly caused an accident. We very seldom, I don’t think we ever saw any collisions but there must have been quite a number which were near, near the mark. Yeah.
AS: Gosh.
JB: Yeah.
AS: On the, on the homeward trip um did you use Gee to navigate back to base?
JB: We usually, we, we, er, we, we never actually, we never, we never used Gee unless we were coming from north of Scotland down to maybe, to Norway or something like that, you know. We would possibly do it then but going across into Holland or France I mean we never actually left it to chance. We always more or less made sure that we were actually defending if you like. Flying in a defensive way. Yeah.
AS: On, on the way back what was your skipper’s habit? Did he want to be the first one home? Did he, did he pour on the petrol? Or, or -
JB: He did, we actually always tried to be first back [laughs] and I mean, I mean he was, I mean it was a case of, it was a case of being safe you know and it’s safer if you’re up front than you are at the back. You’re way worse at the back.
AS: What was it like when you were back near the airfield in the circuit?
JB: Yeah.
AS: Does it get very busy? Very –
JB: Yeah.
AS: Very scary?
JB: Yeah. It was actually because usually there’s two squadrons at each aerodrome you know. So it’s a matter of, you know, it’s dodgy, you know and you’ve got to be, you’ve got to be very alert because when you’re circling around, you know, it’s quite easy to be on the same sort of level as somebody else. I don’t think I, we never heard of anybody being in a collision but I mean there must have been a lot of near misses.
AS: In, in the circuit was it just the pilot that could hear air traffic control or could you hear it to keep a check on it as well?
JB: Everybody can hear, yeah. Yeah.
AS: So when he’s given a height to fly in the circuit -
JB: Ahum.
AS: You’re all listening in.
JB: Yeah. Yeah ahum.
AS: So that’s it. You’re in a circuit.
JB: Ahum.
AS: On the runway, finished with engines. What, what happened then?
JB: Ahum.
AS: You were taken off to a debrief? What happened in the debrief?
JB: Usually, usually you go in and there’s some WAAFs there dishing up coffee or tea. So you would actually, there was if you were first to get there, and then there’s a bit of a queue forms as the sort of bulk of them come in and they get, have a drink and then you go and they usually had quite a number of debriefings going on so that we weren’t held up too badly and usually the, the actual reporting back you, anybody who was really, had been in, in some sort of mix-ups or something you know they have to get all the time they need to report back so that it’s, it’s of advantage to any other crews as to what happens. Gets the, you know, that everybody’s sort of wanting to know how he got on or he, what happened to him and so on.
AS: So you were keen to know that your friends in other crews had, had got back.
JB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
AS: That, that can’t have always been the case.
JB: Oh no. In the Ruhr, I mean when we did bombing the Ruhr I mean we, we lost six one night you know. There would be a, sort of, sixteen crews and we would have, we’d lose six in a night. No. It got pretty nasty and it was a matter of luck really. Yeah.
AS: Luck and -
JB: Yeah.
AS: Crew training and discipline. Yeah.
JB: Yeah. Yeah.
AS: In the, in the debrief did you, did they interrogate your, your navigation log? Did you need to -
JB: Usually it’s um we’re all, the three, we’re all, the pilot, the navigator the bomb aimer and the flight engineer they’re more or less the ones who’re the ones who were up in the front and the gunners and the bomb aimers they actually are not so that you’re, there’s some of them who were back leaving it to the pilot and the rest to do, do any reporting so that they they’re the ones who would usually have unless the rear gunner who had been attacked you wouldn’t actually have any assistance from a rear gunner. No. I mean it’s quite often, quite often that they do nothing actually because it may be a quiet night. Yeah.
AS: Well that’s a good trip isn’t it?
JB: Yeah. Yeah.
AS: I think we’ll pause there, Jim. Thank you.
JB: Right. Yeah.
AS: Jim, we’ve talked quite a lot about navigation. The black art –
JB: Yeah.
AS: Of navigation and your, your first tour.
JB: Ahum.
AS: And some of the incidents that happened.
JB: Yeah.
AS: Can we, can we now move on to after April.
JB: Right.
AS: In 1944. When you’d finished your first tour.
JB: Ok.
AS: What happened then? It must have been a massive party. Was there?
JB: [laughs] Oddly enough you know it sort of, it fizzled. Yes, it’s amazing really. Yeah.
AS: Well relief rather than -
JB: Yeah.
AS: Very low key was it?
JB: Ahum.
AS: Ok. ‘Cause you must have been the senior crew on the squadron then.
JB: Oh yes. We were. Yes.
AS: What happened then? After your end of tour had fizzled. What, where did you, what happened next? Did you have leave?
JB: Well we, we, we, we moved out. We actually went various places. I, what, what have you got there? Um -
AS: 14 OTU.
JB: 14 OTU yes. That was, that was an instructing at 14 OTU and the next one along as well was um 12 or something. The next OTU.
AS: Ok. So the crew had, had broken up by then?
JB: Ahum.
AS: And you all went your separate ways.
JB: Separate ways yeah.
AS: Ok. Did you keep in touch afterwards?
JB: We didn’t actually. We, we um well in actual fact I did with one chappy but none of the rest of them. No.
AS: Ok. Who was that? Which one?
JB: Yeah. He was the bomb aimer. Freeth I think his name.
AS: Ok. Did, did you know him from before -
JB: No.
AS: Before you were in -
JB: No. No.
AS: Ok. But the others, the others just went their separate ways.
JB: Yeah. Fizzled off, yes.
AS: Ok.
JB: Ahum.
AS: Did you choose to be a nav instructor or did you just get posted?
JB: Well actually it was a case of you had, it was a case of um being posted because I was a navigator. You know it was sort of automatic.
AS: Did they teach you how to instruct or just -
JB: No.
AS: Throw you into the -
JB: No.
AS: Deep end.
JB: Just, that’s right. That’s the deep end. Swim [laughs]
AS: Um what, what were your duties? Did you, did you teach navigation from beginning to end or did you do the airborne piece? What, what were your duties?
JB: Well it was really what we, what we had, what was offered to us if you like with that than choosing. It sort of happened, if you like.
AS: A posting. So this, you were at an operational training unit so, so you’d have crews or navigators who knew how to navigate.
JB: Yes.
AS: And you were teaching them the operational stuff were you?
JB: That’s right, yeah. Yes. Yes.
AS: Did you feel safe flying with other crews?
JB: I suppose you did. Yes. You know, No, I never felt, I was never worried if you like. No. No. Yes.
AS: And then to, to 12 OTU. The same thing I guess.
JB: Yes, that was the same thing. Which one is 12? What’s the name of it?
AS: Chipping Warden.
JB: Chipping warden ah huh.
AS: Where’s that?
JB: Isn’t it, it’s down in that neck of the woods, same as, same as, as this one here. That one there is Market Harborough, was it? Market Har. Yes. Quite close, quite close to Market Harborough.
AS: Ok.
JB: Ahum.
AS: And on, on Wellingtons again.
JB: Yes. Right. Yes.
AS: And did the, by this time did the training aircraft have, the Wellingtons, did they have Gee as well?
JB: They were all Wellingtons. So, Wellingtons yeah.
AS: So that was a step backwards from the, from the Lancaster.
JB: Yeah.
AS: So you’re, you’re flying with a lot of different crews.
JB: Yes ahum.
AS: Do, do you remember what these mean 92/4, 92/1? It’s a long time ago.
JB: Now, I’m just trying to think now. [pause] No.
AS: No. It doesn’t matter.
JB: No.
AS: It could be anything couldn’t it?
JB: Yes.
AS: It could be anything. But no, no incidents so -
JB: No.
AS: You haven’t had to jump out of any more Wellingtons
JB: No [laughs] [Phone ringing in background] Gwen will take it.
AS: A lot of instructional flying and these
JB: Yes.
AS: Same exercises going on. When did you receive your DFC? Because you got a DFC. Was that -
JB: That was at the end of um, um [pause] it was because these ones 12 and 14 they were at the end and it was more or less about that time. Yes.
AS: So you got your, your DFC for your tour of operational flight.
JB: Tour of, yes.
AS: Yeah. Can you remember anything about the citation? What the citation said?
JB: I don’t.
AS: No. Ok. It’s a long, a long time ago.
JB: Yes. Yes.
AS: But that is, that is recognition isn’t it?
JB: Oh yes. Oh yes.
AS: Of, of good service. Yes.
JB: Yes.
AS: And your, your pilot had the, the DFM did he get the DFC as well?
JB: Well the DFM, he was that chap, he was a Scotsman which, his name, his name was -
AS: Turner.
JB: Turner.
AS: Yeah, I think it was Turner. Yeah. Flying Officer Turner.
JB: Turner
AS: Yeah.
JB: Yeah.
AS: Did he get a DFC as well?
JB: I don’t remember actually because if I, if I, if, I would have to put him in again but I don’t think he’s shown as a DFC DFM.
AS: No.
JB: No ahum.
AS: So, more instructional flying.
JB: Yes.
AS: Into December of, of ’44.
JB: Ah huh.
AS: And then I believe you joined an incredibly famous squadron.
AS: What was that all about? What happened there? You went back on ops.
JB: I, I actually that was um I think I was there. I think I was there.
AS: Ahum.
JB: You know and it was a case of push him, push him in there rather than somebody else.
AS: Ok ‘cause I thought you’d have been done with operational flying but did you volunteer for a second tour or, or you were pushed a bit were you?
JB: It was, it was a case of just of being there.
AS: Ahum.
JB: You know where, you know [laughs] yes
AS: So this by April, by April 1945 you were doing formation flying and bombing practice with 617 squadron.
JB: Yes.
AS: At Woodhall Spa.
JB: Woodhall Spa. Yes.
AS: With Flying Officer Frost DFC.
JB: Frost. Yes
AS: As your, as your pilot.
JB: Yes.
AS: Did you choose him? Did he choose you? Or –
JB: I think, I think I flew with him before actually so he was, it was a bit of um being there.
AS: Ok. So you flew with him when you were um at the, at the OTU.
JB: OTU yeah.
AS: Ok.
JB: Ahum.
AS: Ok. And so that’s April 1945.
JB: 1945 yes.
AS: And that was 617 squadron at Woodhall Spa.
JB: Woodhall Spa.
AS: And another operation almost at the very end of the war.
JB: Ah huh.
AS: Where’s that one to? What was that one all about?
JB: I’m just trying to remember actually.
AS: I think it was Berchtesgaden was it? That’s -
JB: Berchtesgaden. Yeah.
AS: And that was Hitler’s -
JB: That was, that was actually um right down south of Berlin, South Germany.
AS: South of Munich. Yeah.
JB: Yes.
AS: Yes. Was that, that was daylight was it?
JB: Yes. I mean it was, yeah, very late on. That was late on, yeah ahum.
AS: And did, did you come out from behind your curtain on that one to see all the aeroplanes in the air?
AS: Or did you just stay in your, in your little navigator’s hutch -
JB: I think actually I usually stayed in, stayed in the [laughs] the hut [laughs] as you call it. Yes.
AS: Sensible I think.
JB: Ahum yes.
AS: And that very late on -
JB: Ahum
AS: Was the, the end of your, your operational flying?
JB: Operational flying yes. Yeah.
AS: Can you remember when you heard that the war was over and what happened? I’ll be surprised if you could because it’s so long ago but -
JB: Yes.
AS: It’s, perhaps was there something that, that made a real impression.
JB: Yes. I don’t think so. I don’t think anything really sort of stood out.
AS: Ahum.
JB: No. It, it was, yes, it happened.
AS: Yeah.
JB: But ahum.
AS: But the, the flying continued.
JB: Yes.
AS: On, on the squadron.
JB: Ahum.
AS: But non-operational.
JB: No. No. Yeah. Yes
AS: But, but formation flying, fighter affiliation, high level bombing. So this is all keeping the skills -
JB: Ahum.
AS: For the crew isn’t it?
JB: Yes. Yes. That’s right.
AS: And onwards through to the end of May and still, still -
JB: Ahum.
AS: A lot of training flying.
JB: Ahum.
AS: And then incendiary dropping. Now was this the getting rid of the stocks of bombs?
JB: Yeah. Actually I don’t actually know why, as you say. [pause]
AS: Was this, was this dropping them in the sea?
JB: I don’t think so.
AS: Ok.
JB: No. No.
AS: It’s a, it’s a very, very long time ago.
JB: Yeah.
AS: Stornoway. That was, that’s back up to Scotland that is.
JB: Ahum?
AS: That’s a long, long way to fly. Back up to Stornoway from Woodhall Spa. And then your logbook showing for June at Waddington.
JB: Yes.
AS: Oh and a cook’s tour.
JB: Ah.
AS: Tell me all about cook’s tour. Please.
JB: Er -
AS: June the 26th 1945. Cook’s tour.
JB: Gosh, er no it’s not.
JB: That says Gladbach, Cologne, Koblenz, Frankfurt, Darmstadt, Mannheim, Saarbrucken.
JB: Ahum
AS: That’s a real -
JB: Yes.
AS: Round, round robin.
JB: It is isn’t it?
AS: Was that to, to see all the damage?
JB: It looks like it really because as you say by the scatter of it. Yes. Yeah
AS: But nothing particularly sticks in your mind?
JB: No.
AS: From that.
JB: No.
AS: Ok. So -
JB: Which one is that?
AS: This is still, this is the middle of July now.
JB: Ah huh.
AS: Loran cross country sticks out on that one.
JB: Ahum.
AS: So by that time do you recall the loran system being put in your, in your aircraft?
JB: Um.
AS: Long range navigation.
JB: Oh gosh. [pause]. What other ones are there there?
AS: There’s a bullseye.
JB: Ah huh.
AS: H2S cross country.
JB: Yeah
AS: Good lord. Formation flying and quick landings. Nine aircraft in three minutes.
AS: Now that is dangerous.
JB: Yes. That was going one.
AS: That is dangerous. Yeah.
JB: Yes. Yes. By Jove.
AS: One every twenty seconds.
JB: That took some doing you know. Now you mention it. Obviously, it was done.
AS: Ahum.
JB: You know. Yes. What’s this one here?
AS: High level bombing.
JB: Ah huh.
AS: It’s practice I think.
JB: Yes. That’s, that, that’s the only time that happened isn’t it? There.
AS: I think so. I certainly wouldn’t like to do it too often.
JB: No. Yeah but that’s, yeah.
AS: Maybe best not to look back on that one.
JB: It is. Yeah.
AS: Circuits and bumps with a Squadron Leader [Sawley]
JB: Ahum.
AS: The thing that, that stands out, is, is how much flying you did after the war-
JB: After the war.
AS: Was over. Just keeping current.
JB: Yes. Yeah. Yes. It is.
AS: So it seems the -
JB: Yes.
AS: The squadron very much wanted to be on top line even though it was peacetime.
JB: Yes. Yes. Yes.
AS: And did you, can you remember, you stay together as a crew over this period or did people start to drift away?
JB: Exactly. I can’t remember.
AS: Ok.
JB: No. [pause] Yes. No.
AS: And then a trip to, in September, still on 617. A trip to Gatow. Can you remember, can you remember flying to Berlin?
JB: Gatow.
AS: Ahum.
JB: Yeah [pause] No. No.
AS: Not to worry. Ok.
JB: ‘Cause that’s East Germany.
AS: It is now yes, well it was then, yes. It, yeah, it was one of the airfields, that was one of the airfields, that’s one of the airfields for the Berlin airlift wasn’t it? Gatow.
JB: Yes.
AS: I think.
JB: Gosh. Yes.
AS: No worries. So lots and lots of keeping -
JB: Ahum yes.
AS: Keeping current.
JB: Keeping. Yes. Same again.
AS: Ok.
JB: Yeah.
AS: All on 617.
JB: Ahum.
AS: B flight.
JB: Ahum.
AS: So, who was, who was the OC of 617 at that stage?
JB: I should have him down here on the signature, signatures.
AS: Ok. I can read your signature. I can’t read that one.
JB: Ahum.
AS: It doesn’t matter. It’s just - ah there we go. Operation Dodge to Bari. Can you tell me -
JB: Ahum.
AS: A little about Operation Dodge?
JB: Dodge.
AS: Yeah. This is down to Italy to um -
JB: To Bari in Italy.
AS: Yeah. And what were you doing there?
JB: There’s only Bari, I think it still is, Bari is only one that we ever went to um and the odd thing is that sometimes you went down to Bari and of course it’s on the east side.
AS: Ahum.
JB: So the thing is there that if we actually got there then the weather closed down. The, the mountains down the centre of Italy, you had to get to ten thousand feet above. You had to be able to fly at ten thousand feet or you couldn’t go.
AS: Ahum.
JB: And what happened was that on many occasions we got down there and then we landed in Bari and then to come home we couldn’t because of the ten thousand feet mountains. We couldn’t. We couldn’t actually, there was no means unless on the way and anyway we never did it. We used to go down and around because obviously that was quite a long way so of course we couldn’t do it.
AS: So you were, so you were flying down there on Operation Dodge.
JB: Yes.
AS: And was this to bring the prisoners of war back?
JB: To, yes, or to take our chappies home.
AS: Ahum.
JB: Who, who were actually had been down there on duty and to get them home quickly.
AS: The eighth army?
JB: Yeah, well no, more the, more the RAF personnel. Not so much the army. Yes, yeah.
AS: So how many people could you take at a time or did you take at a time?
JB: I think it would be about thirty in a Lanc. It meant that, the thing was that you were only taking some down this side and some on that side, feet inwards you see so that it was actually a very poor idea really but it was a means to an end. You know. You could do it.
AS: A bit like Ryanair nowadays.
JB: [laughs] Yeah, yes. These are, that’s the same is it?
AS: Yeah, I think so. And then we see some, some flights as a, as a passenger and a couple of flights as an engineer.
JB: Oh.
AS: On duty.
JB: [laughs] That was, that’s, they’re all the same sort of mixture are they?
AS: Yeah [local flying?] and we’re now up to, to January ’46.
JB: Oh.
AS: When -
JB: Ahum.
AS: I think. Do you, you’re down there as SHQ RAF station Waddington so, so had you come off the squadron by then?
JB: By then, well I’m at a squadron at Waddington.
AS: Ok.
JB: So I must have been involved in some way. Yes.
AS: And then in January ’46 you were posted away from Bomber Command to 1333.
JB: Transport.
AS: Transport TSCU. What’s, what’s that?
AS: CU. Something. Conversion unit I suppose?
JB: Ahum.
JB: At Syerston again. Back to Syerston.
JB: Back to Syerston oh. Oh.
AS: So that was a conversion unit.
JB: Ah huh.
AS: And you were then crewed on Dakotas.
JB: Oh that’s also Syerston.
AS: Yeah.
JB: Yes. Yeah.
AS: For, for local flying.
JB: Yeah. That was, that was at the very end actually. That’s -
AS: Ahum.
JB: That was in, yeah.
AS: And so by, by the end of May -
JB: Ahum.
AS: You’d finished flying with the, the Royal Air Force.
JB: Ah huh.
AS: Or so you thought.
JB: I was Transport Command. Was it?
AS: Yeah.
JB: Yeah.
AS: So you thought you’d finished flying with the Royal Air Force but sometime later -
JB: Oh.
AS: In, was it 1999? I think -
AS: You flew again with the air force. What was all that about? Can you tell me about that?
JB: Now that there actually is, was that the Battle of Britain?
AS: Yeah. Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
JB: Yes.
AS: RAF Coningsby. And in your logbook.
JB: Yes.
AS: Is probably the most famous Lancaster of them all.
JB: Yes it was.
AS: So, so you’ve flown in the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster.
JB: Yes. Yes.
AS: Gosh.
JB: Yeah. That’s right [laughs] Yes. That was the last time. Yeah
AS: That must have brought some memories back.
JB: Oh yeah. Yes, I mean it er that, that was the, I mean I think actually I had come out to Syerston especially for this. Yes. Gosh.
AS: How long did you stay in the air force after you’d finished flying and what did you do?
JB: I left. I left, I left the air force and I went back, I went back to the company that I worked for when I joined and I wasn’t, I was annoyed with them because I went back to the same job as I was doing before I joined up and I, I never really got on with the manager. He and I just didn’t, didn’t, didn’t mix and I actually, I left the company and I went back to a previous company that I had been associated with and I only stayed there only for a short time because I then, I always remember ‘cause I was, I was married then and I, I, I started going to the other side of Glasgow. I was travelling, leaving home at seven o’clock in the morning and not getting home till about seven o’clock at night because that was the only job that seemed to be available and I, and in the end actually I -
And I’m just trying to remember what happened.
AS: Ahum.
JB: Because I always remember I was working down by the Clyde, is the river Clyde and I can remember, the one thing that I remember is something that that happened and I missed it and I missed it really annoyingly because what happened was that this factory that I worked for there was another shipyard adjoining and this shipyard adjoining was launching a ship. Well, all the time I’d worked on the Clyde I had never seen a launching of a ship and I remember that that particular company was launching a ship this particular day and I told the people that I was associated working for that I must, I must see that and you know, what happened and I’ve been baffled by it ever since and I’m still baffled today is that I never knew why I missed it and it was launched and I actually was, I was there, I was there and for some reason somebody diverted to me which must have been something important to, to miss it because obviously everything was lined up for me to see it and I, and I missed it. I’m still, and so I never saw a launch.
AS: But you got the navigation right.
JB: [laughs]
AS: You were in the right place at the right time.
JB: [laughs]
JB: It was amazing.
AS: Was it - I know, I know operation flying was a dangerous business and non-operational flying too but was it difficult to adjust? Did you miss it? Did you miss the air force life and particularly the flying or did you just file it away and get on with the next stage of your life?
JB: That second.
AS: The second one
JB: The second one yeah. It, it actually, you could say it was the same that happened with that launch. For some reason I mean I actually I missed the launch and I also missed other things as well afterwards and they never, it never, it never happened, you know. Something in life that didn’t happen and never will.
AS: You’ve never seen a ship launch.
JB: That’s right. Yeah.
AS: We talked earlier about the crew dispersing.
JB: Yeah.
AS: And you losing contact with most except for -
JB: Ahum.
AS: Your bomb aimer, yet you, I think you’ve come to the 50/61 Squadron Association and that has become quite important to you. When -
JB: Yes.
AS: When did you start coming in the, in to that reunion if you like? That memories -
JB: Yes.
AS: Side of life?
JB: I went, I went back actually. I went back to the position I was in to work for a manager that I didn’t like.
AS: Ahum.
JB: That manager that I didn’t like and he didn’t have a very good opinion of me. So that was where things sort of didn’t happen. That’s right it didn’t go that way it went that way and that’s what happened and I went back to, right back to the sort of beginning.
AS: And just and parked the air force side of your life for-
JB: Yes.
AS: For a long time.
JB: Yeah. Yeah.
AS: But then, then at some stage you got involved with the squadron association didn’t you?
JB: Yes.
AS: Your tie there. And has that been fun? Has that been good? To meet other Bomber Command veterans and talk to them?
JB: I’m just, I’m just trying to think actually um I must have, I must have met some.
AS: Ahum.
JB: Yes I must have met some but I don’t. There seems to be a sort of a bit of a, well there wasn’t a join it was more something that should have happened and didn’t happen.
AS: Yeah.
JB: If you like, you know. Yeah. Yeah.
AS: Right. Well we’ll pause the tape there and then perhaps we can -
JB: Yes.
AS: Have a look at some of your navigation log.
JB: Right. Yes.



Adam Sutch, “Interview with Jamie Barr ,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 24, 2024,

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