Interview with William George Briley


Interview with William George Briley


After training in South Africa, William Briley flew operations as a navigator with 40 Squadron flying Wellingtons from Foggia, Italy. One of his operations involved the dropping of a 4000lb bomb which derailed two trains. He was also involved in mine laying in the Danube.




Temporal Coverage





00:28:49 Audio recording

Conforms To


This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit and





MJ: Now.
WB: My name is Warrant Officer Briley. I’m recording this for the International Bomber Command Centre on 22 May 19 - 2015. And we - where I am is at Ruskington in Lincolnshire. I’ll try and see if I can. Well, my first big run to get to a training place was down to South Africa where I stayed for five months and picked up my brevet. And then, where I, I came back down by flying boat which took four days from Durban to Cairo. From then onwards, I was doing all around that area until they had vacancies up on the training field where the temperature of 150 – 120 was very warm. Then we got back down to Cairo and for - picked up me flight to Italy where I went through Naples and out then to Foggia where I stayed with the 40 Squadron the whole time until I’d finished my term, and then I went back to Naples and they gave me a [unclear]. That gave me a lot more places and also I was sent up to Athens where I was a gunner on on private Wellingtons that had been stripped with passengers and freight all over the Middle East. Then then I was – land – I was - oh sorry. After we done all that I was land down – I was down on the ground there until they got me a job back on Egypt where they sent me up to Udine in northern Italy. No no way of getting up there, but I went out and a British army driver took me all the way, which was very good of him, and the little – when I got up there they hadn’t a clue what I was doing up there for, although they knew themselves, 39 Squadron it was and they gave me a leave over the weekend when I got there and there’s a chance I had of seeing and being in Venice in the holiday part of the RAF they had out there. We came back by a big – by a big plane from Bari having had a train journey all the way back. And that landed me on besides the besides the canal on the Suez Canal and from there we were doing I was doing quite a lot of driving which I wanted to do until they found a place for me which was in El Alamein[?] Back to Cairo and on to the flying the flying out to El Adam [?]. And I stayed here that’s where I picked up my WO. And I and I was put in charge, once I got away the driving they put me in charge of a sy – system well, well in in in an where the people going through and also the pilots and that. I had to, had to sign them through. Some didn’t want to do that and but then they had to. They got no signature otherwise. Anyway, from there that’s when I was sent – I was on leave then at the end and I made out. I picked up my brother who was in Cairo or rather he was up in – he was up in Palestine. Picked him up, we went to Haifa and stayed a fortnight. We enjoyed ourselves. I, I was lucky in that ‘cause I – that’s one brother. The other brother I picked up on the way in at Cairo. So I doubt if there were many other brothers who met du – met during the war. So [unclear] in the end it – we came by boat from Alexandria to Toulon. Waited there for the train back to England. And came – got back in June. One of the coldest Junes I think I knew at that time, especially when you’d been at a temperature of a hundred-and-twenty and that. Now the temperature here went across that boat was really ferocious. And then we was sent up to Wednesbury for discharge. They had to make a suit for me I was so ruddy small and out of all proportion and today I’m even worse. The trouble is I aint going in. I was dead on the lowest figure. When I was on the Foggia we took off from Foggia and went down the Corinth Canal or to it, where we had been told there was a big storm up. It’s too high to go over. Too low to go under. So we were given a height which was about the best. As we came into it. Here we go, the thing is we went up like a ruddy express [mumble] express lift, and stopped and went down straight away, and oh my head hit the blooming geodetics. It, it was so loud the pilot put - turned put it hard head round. He said: ‘What was that?’ I said ‘That was my flipping head.’ [Chuckles] It was yeah.
MJ: Yeah yeah.
WB: Yeah, we got through it and carried on. [Chuckle]
MJ: Well, well that’s the sort of thing –
WB: Yeah
MJ: - that you got to remember, you know.
WB: Hmm. [Chuckle].
MJ: What was it about the bridge?
WB: Eh?
MJ: That one about the bridge? You said about the [unclear]. Can you repeat that?
WB: Yes.
MJ: Please.
WB: [Sigh] [Background noise] I done that one.
MJ: So, so what was the story about that one?
WB: No, it’s not. It’s this one. The one with the four-thousand pound bomb. Kitzscher [?] And – our – well I was quite, quite surprised, you know, you see, where this bomb was. It was only a big hole that was there and they – one of the Italians came about and said ‘What you looking at it for?’ I said ‘I got an idea that’s our bomb.’ ‘Oh,’ he said – he said ‘What has happened?’ He said ’There were two trains on that bridge when you dropped it.’ He said ’One of them went into it to– [unclear] into reinforcements and one coming out. He said: ‘The one coming out got the bar –part of it. The whole the back of [unclear] train and that other one run into the hole that was there. [Chuckle] He says: ‘So you done a damn good job.’ [Laughter]. I’ve never been seen anybody about that - the crew I could tell to.
MJ: Well that’s -
WB: Yeah.
MJ: That’s the good part about it.
WB: Apparently in the Blitz –
MJ: Yeah.
WB: The eight months Blitz. Every night. [Chuckle]. And, it’s so much so I managed to get it out of – but other people commanding me. ‘I can’t go on the back of this bike.’ I said ‘Why not?’ He said ‘Well, I’m out in the open.’ I should have sat on mine all the time. [Chuckle] Any rate, in the end, a number of them complained about it and but, they were more or less protecting me. [Laugh]. I can see their point and any way, they said – they asked me whether I’d like to learn how to drive. I said ‘I would very much.’ And so they brought a driver in from a local gas company depot and he said ‘Now, let’s see. What do you wanna learn?’ I said: ‘Anything I can drive. I was able to – so lorries and that.’ ‘Ah, so you want double declutching.’ You know to this day, and that was in the war. To this day, I still use, I didn’t realise it, part of the double declutching.
MJ: Hm.
WB: Right the way through, and it was only my sister who told me that my changing up and changing down and that was smooth, and I can’t see how it – how it can be smooth? And I worked it out. The – I wasn’t doing the whole double declutching, what I was doing – now with double declutching you use your feet as well. That’s all I wasn’t doing. [Mumble] Step in here.
MJ: Here. It’s good. What – what –
WB: What?
MJ: What – what sort of ops and things did you actually stand out for one reason of another?
WB: What you want me to do?
MJ: I’m here.
WB: Supplied it and then I went and got – I went there to be of service there. [Laughter]. All on one aerodrome. We called it Kalamaki Avenue[?]. It was –
MJ: So – what ‘s that bit of paper?
WB: Yeah. [Unclear]. Can’t hardly read it now. [Unclear] Penetration. Frontal conditions. Last night your bombers carried out their mission with excellent results. This attack which – which you carried out [unclear] or in the port of crews participated. Please convey to all ranks under your command my opposition – appreciation of this noteworthy effort. That was from the Group Captain commanding 263 Wing.
MJ: What did you have to do in that?
WB: Hm?
MJ: What what what was the op? Operation? What operation – what?
WB: Oh these aerodromes.
MJ: You say you had to bomb them? Or –
WB: No, it – thing is they were all bombed on one night by different – they sent out the squadron. Three or four to one – three or four to [unclear].
WB: I don’t think that was the one that hit me on the head. I hadn’t been given my flight badge then. I was just a Sergeant. [Pause]. 9th to the 10th of October 1944 [turning of pages] 9 10 of October –
MJ: What was that op?
WB: Hm.
MJ: What did you have to do for that one?
WB: [Pause] On the – on the 4th – 4th of October ’44 we went to the Danube and put a mine – two mines down there. Have having had to fly there at thirty foot and then there was a a – I think there was haystacks even higher than we were. So I was expecting anytime that we – that we should get a gun from behind them. Then the next one we went on the 9th we went to Athens, we did that and they were put for us they were pretty long trips. Athens six hours and the Danube was five fifty-one.
MJ: So what – why did you that one to similar to the Dam Busters one. Why?
WB: It was the [unclear] valley. There’s the valley. South, it was south of one of their big cities. I forget which one it was. Began with a B, I know that. [Laughter].
MJ: So what did you have to do that made it similar to the other dams? Did you have to go lower or was it just too hot or what?
WB: While we kept low was to get underneath their mining thing and also we were down there so as we could get in underneath it and without them noticing it, and we didn’t – did manage it seems ‘cause nobody came to try and have a go at us. Then five days later we went over there again. Not this to the Danube which was up south of a – a big city beginning with B, I think it was. And this this second one, our eleventh was on Kalamaki operation bombed over flares. So we had two long ones. [Pause] I know that we bombed one of the American bombings. They gave us a photo of what they had left. When we got there it hadn’t even been touched. So we had to do all the bombing for them. That’s the Americans all along, which I never did quite like.
MJ: [Unclear]
WB: [Unclear]. More modern, modern aircraft and that. I mean the Wellington was a pre-war, but we had it all the way through the war out there.
MJ: So did you fly different aircraft more often or just one particular one? ‘Cause you got –
WB: You could hardly see the blinder[?]. All I know is it was going off track and I couldn’t I couldn’t get the thing to go in at all. In the end, when he when he went ran out of [unclear] I expect and well that’s that. He said ‘[Unclear] Which way you going? I said ‘No, you’re too late to go the back.’ I said ‘So turn on and face, face Yugoslavia.’ And I said ‘When you get - as soon as you’ve seen the mountains over there, turn south. Don’t wait for me.’ I said ‘Then we’ll sort – start sorting out some.’ Anyway I got ‘em back in.
MJ: So what happened when you got to base then?
WB: Then – then I was a bit late when I got, of course, when we got in. But after that on three occasions I got them to go another route because there was a blooming eight-hundred – and sent us out on our own valley, there was a hill eight-hundred foot high and quite often the clouds comes came down so they forced them under the thousand so I sort of – ‘What’s the matter Briley?’ I said : ‘There’s a hill in that valley eight hundred foot.’ Said ‘Yeah.’ So he turned round to his thing[?]and said ‘Go and see if he’s right.’ The bloke said when he came back he said : ‘He’s right.’ ‘Oh, sent him round the end of the peninsula.’ That happened three times. I had to – ‘cause I knew where it was. I was coming in through the valley at two-thousand in the cloud dived down at the end where I knew it’d be.’ ‘Didn’t you – didn’t you see the target?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Well how come you came back here half-hour before any others [unclear]. I said ‘’Cause I used the valley.’ ‘But you told us.’ ‘But yeah I know where it is.’
MJ: So you took a short cut?
WB: Yep. You see the second time he was sending me down for – I I didn’t do much on that. I knew it – I knew how it was. So so we had a look down at it and found this thing this hill. ‘Right we can use that.’ I did on three occasions. Got back in. Nice time I was the only one on breakfast. [Chuckle]. Everybody else came in half-hour later. Every time ‘Missed it again.’ I said : ‘No we did not miss it.’ Berh, that was another bleeding officer and then, and I gather from one of our other, one of the crew I saw in Cairo. He said ‘You know what has happened up at up at - up at Foggia?’ I said ‘No.’ ‘ See they sent out those big aircraft, up our valley at a thousand feet.’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Three crashed into that hill you told them about.’ I said ‘That’s bloody murder.’ And if I had my way I’d have had him but they took no notice of me, but it was them that - I mean the big aircraft, American aircraft has about twelve people on board. The Wellington only had five. You think it. Three aircraft. Thirty-six. Dead. Before they’d even started.
MJ: ‘Cause they took the wrong route.
WB: Yeah. I wish I could have done but you supposed to be a – on their side. [Laughter]. Yeah. And one or two people told me about it and I said that ‘I said I quite agree with ya. But we daren’t do it.’
MJ: Yeah.
WB: Whether they learned after that when they hit this hill there’s one way to find out. Not the [unclear] of the bleeding crew though.
MJ: Was there any more situations like that you had before? Was it a lot like that?
WB: Yeah well. This is how it is.
MJ: Yeah.
WB: Another time she came down to – oh blimey – begins will L.
MJ: Well –
WB: Yeah.
MJ: Yeah. Well anyway yeah.
WB: Yeah. Anyway, she came down there. I was [unclear] been on there a fortnight and she said ‘That comes off.’
MJ: So you had to lose your –
WB: So my mate said ‘Are you gonna?’ ‘No,’ I said ‘I’ve got home. I’ve worked it out. I want us to have three weeks to see what it’s like.’ Anyway, I didn’t get any in the end. Wasn’t for her, it was for myself. It itched though underneath. [Shudder].
MJ: Yeah I know.
WB: So I –
MJ: Yeah. Don’t go good with a uniform. So I put that on. Ok I’m gonna take a photo. You in 40 Squadron.
WB: That’s 40 Squadron in 3 Group with Wellingtons in 1940 or ‘41. Towards the end of ’41, 40 Squadron moved toward Malta. Moved to Egypt early in ’42 into 205 Group. Moving to North Africa and eventually to Italy. During – I joined 40 Squadron in Foggia Italy in August ’44. First flight 30th of August ’44 and first op 1st of September ’44. And last one 39, 21st of January 1945. Book says last, last 13th of March. Hmm, it’s wrong. Otherwise how was I doing it in ’45?
MJ: There’s there’s –
WB: It was a remake Manchester. Found that the Manchester were two Merlins was like the blooming Wellington Mark II was Merlins. They’re useless, so they took it back, extended the wing, put in two more engines and extended other things, call it the Lancaster, and it was a success. Makes you wonder doesn’t it?
MJ: It does yeah.
WB: I’m lying. I don’t think it’s been made public much ‘cause the Manchester was a dud.
MJ: Yeah.
WB: Hmm.
MJ: This is Michael Jeffery on behalf of the International Bomber Command Historical Project Unit. Thank you to William Briley for his recording.
WB: It won’t. Make it George, George Briley.
MJ: George Briley, it is.
WB: George, it’s what I’m known as. You’ll find on here that no one knows about a Duckworth[?]. It’s George everybody.
MJ: Well that’s good.
WB: Yeah.
MJ: Well, it’s very nice to meet you George. Thank you very much for you co-operation and your photographs and such like and I hope to meet you again. On behalf of the International Bomber Command, thank you again. On the 22nd of May 2015.


Mick Jeffery, “Interview with William George Briley,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 17, 2024,

Item Relations

This item has no relations.