Dr Maurice Brook Interview

Title

Dr Maurice Brook Interview

Description

Maurice grew up Rothwell in Yorkshire, joining the Air Training Corp, and going into the Royal Air Force after spending time with Cambridge University Air Squadron at the age of 18.
He completed his pilot training in Canada before going to the Advance Flying Training unit in Millholme, Cumberland.
Maurice then tells of meeting up with his crew in Husbands Bosworth, of several incidents with his Pilot and his training on Handley Page Halifaxes.
He was then posted to Sturgate, flying in Halifaxes and collecting a new pilot, who managed to land the aircraft after a tyre burst.
Maurice was then posted to 625 Squadron at Kelstern, flying Lancasters, and he tells of some of his missions and his memories of the losses of other aircraft.
He tells of a mission to Nordhausen where they were to bomb a V2 rocket site, and his encounter with a German film maker who was making a documentary about raid called “The Last Survivors”.
Maurice completed 15 operations including a mine laying mission to Kiel Harbour and the oil refineries at Plowen, and he tells how he used his astronavigation training after power had gone to his radar.
He also took part in Operation Manna, dropping food supplies to the people of Holland.
After the war, Maurice went to University to do Biological Studies and then he got a job with Boots company in Nottingham doing Agricultural and Horticultural research before joining the Beecham Group, where he help the position of Director of Research of the Consumer Products Group.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2017-01-09

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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 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

01:03:20 Audio File

Language

Type

Identifier

ABrookM170109, PBrookM1702

Conforms To

Transcription

DM. This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The Interviewer is David Meanwell, the Interviewee is Mr Maurice Brook and interview is taking place at Mr Brooks’ home in Dorking, Surrey, and today is Monday the 9th of January 2017. If you could start off perhaps by saying a bit about where you were born, grew up and educated, and a bit about your family perhaps.
MB. If you want to be strictly accurate, I suppose it is Doctor Brook, but that’s -
DM. I beg your pardon.
MB. Well I grew up in Yorkshire, went to school in Rothwell, er Rothwell Grammar School and er, to use Rob Wiltons phrase, the day, the day war broke out I was still at school, and I remember our neighbour saying to my mother, ‘well at least your boys too young to be affected’, and how wrong she proved to be because that was 1939, the first year of the war, we were soon into 1940. We had an Air Training Corps formed at school, there was no summer holiday. School stayed open, the boys were spending time with the headmaster at his house learning to shoot, with a view to providing defence as it were. But um, and then we started getting rifles from America on the lease lend I suppose, and we were emptying rifles that were all in grease and degreasing them and making them work. That was a sort of school boy activity for the summer. Er, the eh, then of course we had Dunkirk, and we had wounded, we had a hospital nearby and so wounded soldiers were there, and they used to bring them over to school in the afternoons and the girls used to give them tea and so on. It was a mixed school by the way. And then um, the RAF started a bursary scheme. I got to be a sergeant in the Air Training Corps by then and the scheme was, you could apply for a bursary when you were seventeen, and I managed to persuade my father to sign the forms to sign up for this, and I managed to win a bursary to Christ College Cambridge. Went there when I was under eighteen actually, the condition was that er, you attended the university course for a year. It was a war time year which was of course not the full twelve months, because there was no vacations and you had to be a member of the University Air Squadron, and in effect we did initial flying training during the University Air Squadron period. So I was there and er, we had the Commanding Officer of the Cambridge University Air Squadron was the headmaster of the Lease School at Cambridge, so he had sort of two hats. I suppose we were being taught to be gentlemen or something. Quite amusingly, after the war when I got my, some of my RAF records, I found what the Commanding Officer of the Air Squadron had said about me when I moved on, and er, he said I was rough diamond but I responded well to training [laugh] and I suppose what he meant was, I got quite a strong Yorkshire accent and that sort of, and that menial was not on. Anyway, from the University Air Squadron, I went to the RAF proper and we were moved to Canada for the next stage of training, went to London, Ontario, in the winter, really cold weather and the airfield, the pilots were all civilian pilots. The Instructors were Royal Canadian Air Force instructors, the er, pilots were amazingly good, they would just do what they were told even though it was wrong, even to the extent of running danger. Sometimes people would overfly the Great Lakes because they got the navigation wrong and the pilots would do it and not turn a hair, and of course would have to land in America and come back. Er, I was very impressed actually by the training, it was very thorough, and er, um, in subsequent years the fact that we had a good training in astronavigation, which seemed to be useless at the time, proved to be very valuable as you learn. The er, eventually we graduated, navigators, and I was commissioned in the Royal Canadian Air Force, then had a months leave when I could explore the United States. Back to England, landing at Liverpool and being met by a military band and in both directions, both going out and coming back, we went on big liners like the Aquitania and the Andes, not in convoy but just singly, just zig zagging at high speed across the ocean and er, we had to do drill on board. You know, a cannon, a loose so that you could do some fighting back if a U-boat surfaced, but we made it both ways successfully. Er, Liverpool to Harrogate which was the aircrew reception centre, where most of the hotels had been taken over by aircrew, and I had a temporary job in the post office for a time sorting out missing mail. I can’t remember how long I was, I wasn’t there very long, then up to the advanced flying training unit in Millholme in Cumberland. Because of course, in Canada, although you were taught the rudiments of navigation, there were no black outs, so you could look out and see the illuminated towns. Although you might misinterpret what you were seeing, at least you, you could see towns, but in Millholme and so on, you were working in black out conditions, and also there was the Isle of Man and the Lake District with high mountains which put people on their metal, and ‘cause more than once aircraft crashed into them through not having enough height. That was the initial experience of black out flying and er, in the daytime it was really wonderful, the experience of climbing up through the clouds into the sunshine was one of the exhilarating moments, er, in a young mans life. What I was, what I was only nineteen then and er, where did we go from Millholme, Millholme to operational training units in Husbands Bosworth and there we were brought together, all different aircrew. The first day after we all got settled in, you were in a big mess hall and you just left together and the instructions were to sort yourselves out into crews. There was no sort of detailed selection process and that. I was one of those people that liked to watch what was happening rather than take the initiative, but it wasn’t very long before a rather dapper looking young man, well not young man, he was a middle aged man actually came. He was a commissioned bomb aimer, and said ‘had I got any crew yet?’ and I said ‘no’, he said well he’d tied up with a pilot and would I join them as a navigator? All right, you look all right. And then I met the pilot, Peter, and he seemed all right. He was a young man like me, very young actually, and er, what else did we have in the crew, oh a wireless operator and two gunners. The gunners were survivors of a previous crash and all the rest of the crew had been killed except them and of course it wasn’t uncommon, the, the accident rate in training was quite high. So having formed a crew, we were put onto Wellingtons for quite a long period of training on Wellingtons. And we, and we had the first of the electronic equipment I had as a navigator, a thing called Gee, where you had blip, blips on a screen and transmission stations in the Country sending out signals and you were given special maps, and where the lines intersected you should be able to plot your position exactly. If you were in this country you could, but as you moved further away from Britain of course, the lines, angles became more and more distorted and then the Germans began to jam it so it became very difficult. We completed our operational training reasonably well but we weren’t happy with the pilot, Peter, who was, he was, how can I put it? He was over anxious, he was over stressed, he wasn’t in charge of himself let alone a crew and an example, at take off, we were all wearing oxygen masks but you didn’t have oxygen on at ground level, but he would leave his mask dangling and the microphone was in the oxygen mask and he didn’t switch it off. So when we took off down the runway, the noise of the engines was amplified through his loud speaker and everybody had this noise. And of course, if there had been an emergency, none of us could have communicated. And er, we kept telling him about this and he kept saying he would put it right and he never did. But we got to the last flight of the training and we were given a long detour. During the flying, during the operational training, by the way, we kept having various routes which took us near the Dutch coast or German coast, so you got in touch with searchlights and anti-aircraft guns, but you weren’t carrying any bombs. Erm, only occasionally did anybody get shot down but it gave you a, just a taste of what might be to come. On this last flight it was an absolutely filthy night, it really was dreadful and when we took off from Husbands Bosworth and we had a long route around part of the British Isles, and then we were going North, crossing the Isle of Anglesey and I thought I must be getting something wrong because we seemed to be stationary over the Isle of Anglesey for ages and ages, we weren’t moving. And I kept getting the position from Gee and we were hardly moving but we had a head wind of something like a hundred miles and hour, erm, then we got a call to divert because the weather had obviously closed in at Husbands Bosworth. We diverted to an airfield near Bristol and I worked out the course and got us back to the airfield and Peter the pilot was clearly very stressed by all this, erm, and er, we got to the airfield and he wanted us to bale out, he didn’t think it was safe to land [laugh], that caused some consternation, I couldn’t see why we needed to bale out. Fortunately we had sitting with us, an instructor who had been there from the beginning, hadn’t said a word the whole flight, and at that point he said ‘I’ll take over’. So he took over and landed perfectly well and then the next day we flew back to Husbands Bosworth. We were sent on leave for ten days and when we came back from leave, I talked to Jim, the bomb aimer, who was a commissioned officer and I said, ‘I wasn’t happy about Peter as a pilot’. He said no he wasn’t, and then the two gunners came and they were really twitchy having, you know, already had one crash and they said they couldn’t, they couldn’t fly with Peter. Erm, and the wireless operator who had been a ground operator in er Africa, so he wasn’t immature, he was in his late twenties, he said the same thing and they more or less said, ‘well you are the officers, you have to do something about it’. And er, we went to see the adjutant, somewhat apprehensive because refusing to fly, even although we were volunteers, was quite a serious matter, you were, you know, lack of moral fibre. We weren’t lacking any moral fibre, but we didn’t feel that we had much of a future with Peter, and fortunately when we talked to the adjutant, he said ‘that’s alright, I had a report from the instructor and we think Peter should be held back for some more instruction, and so he will go to the conversion unit and there will be a pilot waiting for you there’. So off we went to Sturgate, which was four engined conversion unit, Halifaxes, where we picked up a flight engineer who was also a pilot, and we were introduced to Dave Lennox, Flight Lieutenant Lennox. Scotsman, such a contrast, he was, he’d been one of the first er, call ups of the [unclear] pre-war conscription and he had gone into a Scottish Regiment. Served in a Scottish Regiment, been in France, been in Dunkirk, risen to the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major very rapidly, and then when he had got back to England, he wanted to remuster as aircrew, and in those days, if you were in a reserved occupation or in any of the other forces, if you wanted to volunteer for aircrew, you had to be released. So he was released and he had gone and trained as a pilot and then he had been kept in er, Canada as an instructor for some time. So he got a lot of flying experience by the time he came to us, and he was, he was so level headed and sort of refreshing. As we did our conversion unit training and very early on, we had reason to be thankful we got him as a pilot because we took off and er, just as we left the ground, he said ‘we’ve burst a tyre’. [Interrupted by telephone call]. We had just left the ground with the burst tyre. We completed the exercise, which I think was a bombing exercise off the Lincolnshire coast, and then came back to land and of course, the problem was landing with a burst tyre was very dangerous. So Dave quite calmly said, ‘take up your crash positions and I am going to come down with the burst tyre on the grass and the other wheel on the runway and we might tip over, but with luck we should make it’. And he did, we made a perfect landing and we came to a halt, no problem. So that reinforced our confidence in Dave. We completed the full er, conversion, these were Halifaxes by the way, which were rather like airliners inside. They were so spacious with the black and white tiled lino on the floor, amazing. Er, we had also more ground instruction, we had dinghy drill, we were taken to the local baths. You had to get up on the top diving board with a pair of dark glasses on and the dinghy was in the pool upside down and you had to jump off the top of the thing and make you way around in the pool and find this dinghy, turn it over, climb into it and then blow your whistle to attract the other crew. Which was valuable training I suppose, but very unpleasant, and various other things like that. Then at some stage, a very curious thing happened, we were taken, some of us, me included, were sent to Hereford, to RAF Regiment place at Hereford. Aircrew Officers Numbr 1, yes, Number One Aircrew Officers School, and we were given a sort of infantry training, er assault course stuff and er, creeping up on enemies and slitting their throats without them making a noise. Being taken out into the Welsh hills and made to jump off the back of moving lorries and find your way back to base. The point of it all was, you know, it wasn’t good for morale, we were told, ‘oh, well, this was so that we could help to defend airfields against invdaders’, you know, we would take charge of the troops but the danger of that had passed, subsequently this became the SAS, so that is what it was all about, they were just trying it out. Anyway er, fortunately, I, I, I got put into hospital [laugh] and became paralyzed with fibrositis through exposure, and I was in hospital for two weeks having physiotherapy and radiotherapy. The only disadvantage of that was the local vicar used to come visiting, and he wouldn’t be persuaded that I was suffering from exposure through something stupid the Air Force had done, you know. I suppose he thought I had come down in the sea or something. Anyway, we got over all that, go back join the team and were posted to 625 Squadron at Kelstern. Er, now when we moved house some years ago, my log book was stolen and for that reason I don’t have an accurate record of what happened, and false memory can be quite intense and yet be false, you know, after seventy years interval, You realise things are not quite what you thought they were. I went to the records office at Kew and looked at the squadron records. Most of them were undecipherable, I just couldn’t make head nor tail of them, so then I employed a couple of er, military experts who were spending a lot of time there, and asked them if they could research the records. They had some difficulty but they did get quite a bit and I could have sworn that we joined the squadron in late ’45, late ’44 rather, certainly before Christmas, but the records show we didn’t, it was early 1945, so that was just one example. They got details of most of the operations which had taken place and I recognised some, not others. There are some that I could have sworn we’d done like Stettin and Frieberg, but again that could be false memory, it’s very curious. The very first operation you would think you’d remember, I don’t remember a thing about it and so it must have gone very smoothly. The second one I certainly do, and that was Nuremburg. Now in 1944 there was a disastrous raid on Nuremburg, March 1944, in which nearly a hundred aircraft were lost, and at one stage they were being shot down at a rate of one a minute, and very few aircraft ever reached Nuremburg. On this occasion we got to the target erm, and [unclear] I was in a little cabin, I didn’t see much unless I got up to look out, but the gunners and the bomber aimer commented that there seemed to be fires lit on the route. So the Germans must have known the route and certainly there was quite a lot of opposition. Anyway, when we got back, we reported this and the briefing officer said ‘oh no, they weren’t fires, those were aircraft burning on the ground’. And in fact that raid, nearly a year after the disastrous one in ’44, had over eight per cent loss, erm ,which was a very sobering introduction for us, for our operational career, made us look at things differently. Erm, well, life on an operational squadron was sleep, briefing, flying again and then intervals of leave inbetween. The way it tended to work was, there would be a tannoy message in the morning that operational aircrew were to remain on base, which meant you might be on operations that night, and then in the Officers Mess, there is a little blackboard called “battleorder”, and it would have the names of the captains and navigators of the aircraft that were likely to be wanted that day, and then if there was a, a raid on, you would be called for briefing about four or five o’clock. Go to the briefing room and er, all sit together, and the station commander and squadron commanders came in and er, there would be a curtain over the wall. The curtain would be pulled aside and the target and the route to the target would be marked, and there would be an intake of breath according to where the target was. Each of the operators would give a, meteorological officers would tell you about the weather, the bomb aimer would give instructions to the bomb aimers, the navigation leader would tell us the things to watch out for and of course, you never went straight to a target, it was always varying turning points, and getting the timing right at the turning points was absolutely vital. Because if you are in the Bomber Stream, and you are thirty seconds late on your turn, when you’ve turned you might be outside the stream and you can be picked off. Er, after the briefing, the rest of the crews used to go out to the aircraft. The navigators would remain behind copying the details of the turning points and the codes for the erm, beacons on the ground. In this country there would be beacons and sometimes the Underground would be going to be have flashing beacons, which weren’t reliable, but if you knew and you knew a code, they might be useful to you. Then we picked up our stuff and were taken out to the plane, by which time the engines had started, and you taxied out onto the runway one after the other and took off and then you would climb and probably have half an hour or more to kill, and you would tootal up and down England or go look at your home area or something like that and usually we collected around Reading, that was a very common meeting point and then the stream would begin to assemble over Reading and then go out very often, go out to Beachy Head, would be our next turning point, then you cross across to the Enemy coast. Er, from that point on, I would navigating and I would give the pilot er, the compass course which he would follow. We had in the aircraft, and it was Lancasters by then, an air position indicator, which showed the exact position you were in the air, or at least in the exact position you would be on the ground, if in the air, there was no wind [laugh]. But of course, the vital part about navigation is to work out the wind and the extent to which it moved you and we also had an erm, a thing called Gee for operators, which was a mobile transmitter which sent beams down to the ground and then they rebounded and er, you got a picture on the screen, an illuminated screen, reflecting objects on the ground like lakes, towns, small hamlets erm, on a very good set, railway lines. Actually, a photographic interpretation officer on the squadron showed me how to spot the railway lines. I didn’t believe you could do it but she said you could and showed me how to do it and we had special maps, which were coloured to match what you would see on the screen. We also had the Gee but it was heavily jammed and it was very difficult to be precise, so I had to rely most of the time on the radar things and when we came up to turning points, I would give the captain a new course but count down to the turning point, so we got it, you know, absolutely precise to the second, and we managed to stay in the stream most of the time. When you were in the dark in the Bomber Stream, the crew used to be happy if the plane felt as though it was running over tarmac, you know, because that meant you were in the slipstream of the aircraft in front and the first time we realised how close we were, was when we did our first daylight raid. I mean, very often in the dark, the wireless operator used to have a trailing aerial, a long copper aerial, but it was frequently cut off by the propellers of an aircraft behind us, er, and then, as we approached target, it would usually be marked by Pathfinders, the bomb aimer would take over and er, he would then, there would be those tense moments as you approach the target when he was totally in charge. He was flying, supposed to fly a steady, left, left, right, right and steady and that seemed to go on interminably. There was search lights around and you were hoping they’d miss you, and then you felt the bombs go, ‘cause the plane would jump and after the bombs gone, it was still steady for another thirty seconds or so while they took photographs. Then I would have given the captain the course away from the target, he could turn and get on the way. Now of course, it didn’t always go as smoothly as that, there was search lights and anti-aircraft. If you got caught in search lights, then they used to do a manoeuvre, steep dive and corkscrew, and your guts used to come up into your mouth and then pull out of it again, or if the gunners thought they had spotted a night fighter, they again would call out corkscrew left or right, according to which way they thought you should go, the same thing would happen, we managed that all right. On one occasion, we had a major from an anti-aircraft unit in this country who was flying with us, ‘cause he was supposed to be studying the German anti-aircraft defences, and he was beside me but with his head out of the astrodome, watching. And it so happens we got caught in searchlights, and the Germans had a system in some areas where they had a blue searchlight, which was presumably radar operated and if the blue search light got you, then five or six others came on immediately, you were absolutely coned and that happened to us, and Dave again did a steep dive, he got us out of it, back again and then wee tackled the target and there was quite heavy ant-aircraft fire. Anyway when we got back, this major [laughs], major had gone very quiet [laugh], he said he didn’t know how we could do that night after night. I think he got the information he wanted. I don’t know precisely how many trips we did because these records even when the experts were confusing. We didn’t, we didn’t do a tour but I seem to remember us being pleased, we done half a tour, so er, er, and there is records show something approaching that number anyway.
DM. How many would that have been?
MB. The full tour would have been thirty, half the tour would have been fifteen. One memorable, well there were several memorable ones, but one was Kiel. We were detailed to lay mines in Kiel harbour and so we flew with the main force which was attacking some other place, Bremen or Hamburg I don’t know which, and then we broke away to Kiel, and I had to navigate to a land mark in Kiel harbour so the bomb aimer could take over at that point, and then he had to fly a straight and steady course for a certain time and then drop the mines. And of course a lone plane in Kiel harbour, with all the ships there, was just a sitting target, searchlights and anti-aircraft, everything being shot at us. Erm, but we did, we dropped the mines and we got away from Kiel, but soon afterwards one of the engines had obviously been hit and had to be feathered as they say, it stopped working and soon after that, another engine went. That meant I had no electricity for the radar operations, the problem was, you know, well how do we get back home [laugh] navigation wise? And er, it was at that point I was thankful for the astronavigation training in Canada. Er, it was a cloudy night but I got in the astrodome and looked and occasionally you could see stars, and I always took a sextant with me, so I got my sextant out and I could identify, eventually identify what I was pretty sure was the pole star. And the wireless operator, his cabin, his bit was next door to me, I got him to do the precise timing on the watch and I took the shots on the pole star and then I always carried books of tables, and you could look up in the tables and an angle and a time, and it would tell you roughly, well tell you precisely what latitude you should be at. That gave us at least a latitude and I reckoned if you keep North, keep North of Heligoland, which was heavily defended and er, keep on the right latitude, hit England eventually. So we proceeded that way, as far as the rest of crew were concerned everything was ok, I didn’t tell them I got problems. Erm, and er, we were slowly descending so I was also trying to work out by dead reckoning, applying the last wind that I knew was reliable, points where we might come down in the sea, so that the wireless operator could send the message if need be. Anyway we proceeded and eventually we hit the East Anglian coast and the bomb aimer recognised where we were, and we tootaled off and landed successfully back at base, relief all round. And then another occasion I remember, we had a long flight into Romania I think it was, no, Czechoslovakia, a place called Plowen, and oil refiners in Plowen, and er, we must have been running short of fuel coming back. We got back, we just got to the end of the runway and the engines stopped, we were completely out of fuel [laugh], so that was another lucky escape. Er, on the whole we did all right, the er, two memorable ones when we were put onto daylight raids, a couple of when, of when we had a big fighter escort. That was quite impressive, American and RAF fighters in the daylight alongside erm, and er, I think Hamburg. The fighters left us after we had gone some distance but nevertheless it was nice to see them there. But there was heavy anti-aircraft fire and er, the gunners said something about the next plane had been hit and I got up in the astrodome and looked, and there was a Lancaster at the side of us and it was just flying normally, and erm, black smoke came out of one of the engines and then it slowly tilted on its side, and you could see flames developing and nobody came out of it. And then it started slowly descending and after a while, you saw the three people came out but they were on fire, and I didn’t see the parachutes open, so that was a bit of a shake up and went back to navigating [sad laugh]. Sunday morning, I think Hamburg, not Hamburg, Hanover, and I remember as we approached the target thinking, well, Sunday morning, well they will be going to church or coming back from church, at least they will get plenty of warning and they can get into shelters. And we left Hanover after bombing it, with a big cloud and black smoke going up in the sky. Ah, so you did think about the people as well. Then we had a curious, not curious in a way, but an unusual one in daylight, to a place called Nordhausen, which has come back to haunt me actually. It was in Eastern Germany and we were given the job of attacking the barracks, when we got there, it was ten tenths cloud. Not quite ten tenths cloud but as we approached the target erm, this cloud came over and the bomb aimer couldn’t see to drop the bombs. So we went round again and I could see on my Gee, my H2S screen, the radar screen, I could see the ground and I could see the barracks, and I had a bomb release on my cabin, so I took over at that point and guided Dave and made a few calculations about wind and so on, and then dropped the bombs on what I thought would be the right spot visually on the radar screen. And afterwards photographic reconnaissance showed that the barracks had been hit and destroyed, or heavily destroyed. Erm, some years afterwards, there was a letter in the Bomber Command Magazine from a film producer in Germany, saying that he would like to make contact with any aircrew who had taken part in this raid, so I made contact. And eventually he came to the house and did a recording, and he was making a film called “The Last Survivors”, and er, the story of Nordhausen was that it was an ordinary medieval town, untouched by war [telephone rings], medieval town in Germany, untouched by war, not particularly Nazified. And you remember after the raids on Peenemunde, when the rocket sights were destroyed, well within six weeks, I think the Nazis had moved rocket production into caves outside Nordhausen, and they were using slave labour and they were producing eventually, very quickly producing eighty V2 rockets a day, apparently with this labour force which was worked to death and of course, London was being threatened at that time. We were not told at briefing about any rocket production in Nordhausen, and I notice the record, the Bomber Command records about Nordhausen say it was raided because it had become, it was, they were moving ministries from Berlin to Nordhausen, but rockets certainly were being produced. When the film producer from Germany came and did an interview with me, and I found out he was a Nordhausen resident, or his family was, and he was making a film called “The Last Survivors”, and he said they had been producing these rockets with slave labour after Peenemunde for some time, and the day after the raid, production stopped. But it probably stopped because the workers were demolished and they were housed in the barracks which I had been responsible for bombing, and apparently there had been eighteen hundred of them killed. Er, I expressed some concern about this, and he said, ‘You shouldn’t, the Nazis had killed far more than that already’. That’s this war. Since then, he has produced, German television produced a film called “Hitler’s Rocket Factory” and that went out last year, and the interview that he did with me and some other aircrew is in that film. Curiously there’s a twist in the film, the film as produced in Germany says that when the raid took place, rocket production had ceased because of the damage to the communications that had been taking place, so was there a gloss that the Germans had put on it or was the chap who did the film who came from Nordhausen accurate, you know, er, and the Nordhausen film is in German. I think it ought to be in the Bomber Command records at er, Lincoln, I didn’t tell them about it and it could be copied. Do you know any German? That was Nordhausen erm, and then er, I can’t remember, oh of course, yes, as we got towards the end of the war, the Germans, the Dutch people were starving and they, they er, the Germans were approached and asked if they would allow Army lorries that were in the British zone to go through with food, and they refused. So then it was decided that an air drop would be attempted, and the Germans again were told, ‘We are going to do an air drop with Lancasters’, and would they give them safe passage, and they refused to give them safe passage, and so we were told at briefing. But when the Royal Army Service Corps came and the bomb bays of the Lancasters were filled with food supplies [laugh], and then we were given a briefing where we were to drop the food, and we were told that the Germans had refused safe passage, but we were not to take any offensive action unless we were fired on. And then er, the food had to be dropped at very low level, and we were told, I am sure we were told [emphasis] at briefing, fifty feet. The official records of the Operation Manna as it was called, says the food was dropped at four hundred feet but I have seen other people who say that it was fifty feet. And I distinctly remember as we flew along very low, looking up out of the astrodome and seeing the church spire, so it was fifty feet. But er, the people were out in the streets, we were so low you could identify anyone in the streets, the children were out waving, it was very touching, and we used to get chocolate as an aircrew ration and we made little parachutes with handkerchiefs and the rear gunner used to throw them out of the back and the kids used to pick them up. We flew over some German machine gun posts and we could see them swinging their guns round but they didn’t fire and then on the airfield, I think it was the racecourse initially at Gouda, we dropped and the underground people were waiting on the, and they then ran across and picked up the supplies and took them away. Then er, we came away, very low of course, and there was one of these sea frets developing so it was misty and er, we were climbing away but there was a huge flash in front of us. When we got back to base we reported this, we were told that the aircraft in front of us had flown into the sea. Presumably they didn’t, hadn’t got a good horizon or the altimeter was faulty, and then I did a, I think I did a second food drop er, with an Australian crew whose navigator was ill, and I volunteered to go with them. Similar experience except that they were, they seemed to delight in flying even lower [laugh] all the way there and all the way back, they were quite frightening. That was Operation Manna, since then I met Dutch people when we had been on holiday who were children at the time and they are so grateful. And we there was a commemoration of the operation at Lincoln two years ago and the Dutch had planted a lot of bulbs in commemoration of it and we were there. Any surviving aircrew were there and there were some ladies there from Holland came round, insisted on kissing us all. One of them was a little girl at the time you know, she said, ‘you saved my life’. Her uncle had already died of starvation, she was a little girl and she was close to it so we did something useful. And then of course the war had come to an end and er, we had a trip to Brussels airport to pick up released prisoners, our prisoners who had been released from prisoner of war camps and we packed them in the back of a Lancaster and had to give them a lecture, you know, ‘don’t move, mustn’t move because you upset the trim of the aircraft, you could crash’, and er, we were all right, we came back to, I think it was Dunsfeld, and unloaded. But obviously one aircraft, the people had moved and it crashed, and all the prisoners and crew were killed. I mean so dreadful at the end of the war, yeah, so [pause]. [unclear]. When the war ended the RAF were very good at introducing education and training courses and er, I eventually was put in charge of the work at Scampton. We were running all kinds of educational courses using people in the force who had been, you know, teachers and things like that, and we were running dress making classes for the WAAF and we could get aircraft, you know, parachute silk from stores and there were quite a few wedding dresses were being made [laugh] there. We had workshops, carpentry workshops using some of the old tables, people were making themselves coffee tables and so keeping people occupied and that was quite fun. We had an education centre which eventually I was in charge of, taking daily newspapers and of course, the ‘forty five election was coming up, and er, I was called into the Station Commanders Office, the group captain, who was very concerned because we got the Daily Mirror in the education centre [laugh]. So I really had to point out to him that it was a perfectly legitimate newspaper, you know, it wouldn’t look good, it wasn’t the Daily Worker it was a respectable newspaper and it was valued by the troops. So I got away with that one [laugh] so he left me alone I think, um, yes.
DM. Did you fly any more after that?
MB. The squadron was on stand by for Tiger Force, which would mean going to Japan, or going to the Far East, but of course the Japanese war brought that to an end, so I didn’t fly any more after we brought the prisoners back. I was doing this education job really, running er, quite a big unit actually. Then I was offered promotion to er, squadron leader if I would do it for the group, but that would mean signing on for staying longer and I had no particular interest in doing that. I wanted to get out and get on with my own education which had been disturbed severely. But er, it was interesting.
DM. When were you demobbed?
MB. Mm?
DM. When were you demobbed?
MB. 1947, yes, we got married in ’46 and I was still in the Air Force then, I was kept. Because they had a points system and of course, if you were very young, which I was erm, in a sense, it counted against you. So I got out in ’47 and I was er, I went to, I got a place at Nottingham University in October, started in October ’47. So I came out in early ’47 I think and I had a temporary teaching job in Nottingham er, for several months before I went to university.
DM. What did you read at university?
MB. I did biological sciences and er, there was the food and agricultural organisation, [unclear] and so on, and that was the area that interested me. I had been doing engineering at Cambridge, I didn’t want to go back and do that and I er, so I did biological sciences which was quite worthwhile actually. Eventually got a job with the Boots company, which is in Nottingham, doing agricultural and horticultural research for some years. Then I joined Beecham group down South when we were about to move, we got a family by then, and spent the rest of my career with the Beecham group. Eventually became Director of Research of the consumer products group. It’s surprising how many times the little things you learn en route were put to use. Er, certainly, I think the RAF and the RAF training taught me that you can train people to do jobs with which they are totally unfamiliar, if you organise the training properly. Brilliant er, the training that was organised in wartime, yes.
DM. Did you maintain any contact with the crew?
MB. No, we had little contact but not much after the war, we all went our separate ways, we’d enough, er, yes, no real contact, and Dave the pilot, he eventually went to Glasgow University, and in fact he did study engineering and er, the bomb aimer, who was the oldest in the crew, he was in his thirties, he had work, he had been with Unilever before the war. He went back to Unilever and then we lost touch with one another. Er, I have never been one for “old boys” units really and that was the phase of life, it was over, you have got to get on with the next phase and I got married in ’46, my wife had been in the Army, Signals, and then we had children. We got other things to occupy our time with, it took all our time and energy catching up on a career and on life and so on.
DM. Have you found as you have retired that your thoughts have gone back more to those days?
MB. In, well in two ways, you hear a lot about post traumatic stress and I went, I have been to a number of lectures with a psychiatrist because we have a mentally handicapped son. So I got involved on that side of it and got fairly heavily involved with the Royal College of Psychiatrists and so on and I remember going to one lecture, and the psychiatrist who was talking about post traumatic stress, and he put on the black board all the symptoms and the treatments you should adopt. So I said to him, ‘well, you have got one or two symptoms there which I have every day, but I don’t think they interfere with my life. I suggest it is biological adaptation that enables you to cope’. you know, things like flash backs and so on that you are not looking for, and they just come. And er, he was flummoxed he, he didn’t quite know how to deal with it, I hope he has thought about it since. But it’s true and I have talked to other ex-aircrew who have said the same thing. Then my children, not so much but certainly my grandchildren began agitating, you know? We, both of us, both my wife and I, ‘what did you do during the war? You never talk about it. We like to know, we ought to know, we ought to know what you were doing when you were our age’. So eventually, under pressure from my brother-in-law as well, I did write a sort of retrospective for them. So they all know what I wrote five years ago anyway, my thoughts at the time and recollections and experiences, which in fact, I think they found useful er, [pause] but otherwise until they started, tried to establish the Bomber Command Centre at Lincoln, because I had always regretted there wasn’t a proper recognition in the work of Bomber Command. I mean, after Dresden and so on er, and politicians had become a dirty word and they didn’t use it, didn’t refer to it. Churchill talked about Fighter Command saving the country, and Bomber Command bringing victory was forgotten about, but we got the memorial in Green Park, we did go to the opening of that. That is more of what I call a State Memorial, but it’s suitable, it’s appropriate and it is visited a lot. But the one at Lincoln is more important, Tony Wright, who was, his name the [unclear] representative in Lincoln, anyway he was the one who had the idea, because there was so many airfields in Lincoln, and it was responded to very vigorously by most aircrew who helped to raise funds for it, and I think it is the ideal memorial. Because there is the memorial spire which is the wing span of a Lancaster, but more important around it are the metal columns, on which are engraved the names of all the aircrew who didn’t come back, over fifty thousand of them, which does make people appreciate the extent and the sacrifice. And then the memorial garden with soil in it from each of the airfields, and most important of all, the educational centre with the sort of thing you are doing and er, other records will be valuable for the future. Particularly as it is going to include input from German sources, which is what’s required. Yeah.

Collection

Citation

David Meanwell, “Dr Maurice Brook Interview,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 31, 2021, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/8360.

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