Interview with Horace Burchett


Interview with Horace Burchett


Horace Burchett joined the Royal Air Force at the age of 17 and rose to the rank of Flight Engineer, serving in an all Austrailian Squadron at 1654 Conversion Unit in Wiglsely in Northamptonshire.
Posted to 463 Squadron at Waddington, still with the same crew, flying his first operation on the 30th October 1944.
Horace flew 29 missions, including targets such as Dusseldoft, Dortmund Emms, Hamburg, Harburg and Dresden.
He tells of his experiences over Bohlen and the damage that was inflicted on his Lancaster, and the casualities within his own crew.
Horace married in 1947 and had 2 children After coming out of the Royal Air Force at the age of 21, he then went to work in a car factory at Tunbridge Wells, and after several changes of jobs, finally left work after working with a Mobility Services company, working on overhead hosts and exteriors.







00:27:17 audio recording


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ABurchettHF160222, ABurchettHF1602


DM. This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is David Meanwell, the interviewee is Horace Burchett. The interview is taking place at Mr Burchett’s home at Turnbridge Wells, Kent on Monday the 22nd of February 2016. Ok Mr Burchett, off we go.
HB. I joined the RAF as a PNB, Pilot, Navigator and Bomb Aimer but was remustered as Flight Engineer possibly because my navigation wasn’t good enough [laugh] and was then, went to Number 4 SOTT, RAF St Athan for Engineering training, and having passed out there on the 2nd of August 1944, I went, was sent to an eh, further training, Heavy Conversion Training [unclear]. Then went from there to 1654 Conversion Unit which was at Wigsley in Nottinghamshire, and from there we were crewed up, and I was crewed up with an Australian Squadron, and the Pilot then was Flight Sergeant Belford, and they were an Australian Crew with the exception of myself, the Engineer and the Mid Upper Gunner. After the passing out at Wigsley, we then went to Number 5 LFS, Lancaster Finishing School, and the Pilot was then promoted to Pilot Officer Belford and we did training there as a crew, complete crew. We did flying time there, we actually only did about five hours flying time there on Lancasters before we joined 463 Squadron at Waddington and we did some more flight, some more training at Waddington and our first Operation was on the 30th of October 1944, it was then Flying Officer Belford, the first Operation was at Warten [unclear], which was a three hour operation, and then we carried on doing, doing a normal sequence of operations such as Dusseldorf, Dortmund Emms, Hamburg, Harburg and Dusseldorf. Never did Berlin and em, Earthen, Gardenia, which was a long one into, almost into Poland. Pollicks, which was another long trip and on one of those we, we were diverted and returned to Skellingthorpe which was quite often happening then through fog conversion, eh problems being diverted. One of the places we were quite often diverted was at em, Ford in em, on the South Coast and eh, there were also fog dispersal domes where we were, one was at Woodbridge [looking through papers].
DM. Whatever you want to tell me. Going back a bit, what made you join, join the RAF, why, why did you choose the RAF?
HB. Well my cousin who was in the RAF, and I was in the ATC, so the natural thing was to go to the RAF. Which it wasn’t, it wasn’t easy to get in the RAF actually at the time. I know they wanted a lot but you, you had to be of a certain standard to get into the RAF. And eh, we did quite a bit of training still, even though we was on a Squadron, there was quite a lot of training taking place and all I can say is, we did a tour, it was a tour of twenty nine operations, it was a screened tour. They considered we’d had enough after we were shot down at Bohlen, and we also had quite a number of conflicts with night fighters. So as I say, it was considered we’d had enough, give us a rest and it was at that time it was coming up to the Japanese eh, bombing and we may well, may all well have been sent as a crew, but the crew was split up and the Tiger Force was formed. I was only, I was sent to the Far East eh, to India and Singapore which was as a back up crew for the Tiger Force but never anything happened, the War finished. And then I had quite a good life in, a few years in India and Singapore living on the land [laugh].
DM. So when you were flying your twenty nine missions, was there anything that you particularly remember, anything that sticks in your mind over anything else or?
HB. Well eh, Bohlen, we were shot at once and some of them were ten hour trips, it was quite kind of operation. It was quite a way to travel in a noisy Lancaster and of course, another one was the fighters there was [unclear], we got chased around by fighters quite a bit. They were getting quite efficient at getting into the bomber stream.
DM. So I guess you must of lost quite a few people from the Squadron in your time?
HB. Oh, yes, yes, yes I mean for a Squadron, it was not uncommon for one or sometimes four aircraft not to return.
DM. But you always made it back?
HB. But we always made it back, yeah, fortunately [laugh.] It was a struggle sometimes, nearly every time the aircraft sustained some damage, very minor.
DM. So did you ever have to use your Flight Engineer skills particularly to get the plane back, or ?
HB. Well yes, such as feathering the engines and eh, changing over the fuel tanks a bit rapidly to flying on three engines and such. That was some of engineers duties was changing the fuel tanks and eh, and logging all the fuels so that we, you knew how much fuel you got in each tank.
DM. How, can you remember how you used to feel, you know, before, before you went off on a mission?
HB. Apprehensive but there was always so much to do, a lot of people would say, you know “on an operation, were you scared?” Well yes, everybody was scared, but the thing was that you had so much to do, you didn’t have time to worry about that, always something going on.
DM. When you, you mentioned about when you were crewed up, how did that happen, how did that come about?
HB. We were, you say, we were all in a room, several of us in a room together and we just looked around, talked to different people and they would say “oh, ah, you want a crew, come with us and we’re looking for an engineer” and it is alleged that the navigator said to the pilot, when he looked around when we first went into the room, looked around and said “oh, they are all bloody Brits” [laugh] they were engineers, the engineers were all Brits.
DM. Oh right, so all the engineers were all Brits, they didn’t train any Australians?
HB. Em. No,not to my knowledge anyway.
DM. And all your training was in England?
HB. In England, yeah.
DM. But not everybody on the Flight I assume
HB. Oh no, a lot of them were trained in Canada.
DM. Because engineers, I think, were only trained in England, you never got to go?
HB. No we never got to go.
DM. When you joined up, were you hoping to be a pilot originally, was that the plan?
HB. Well yes everybody wanted to be a pilot, to tell you the truth, I mean everybody wanted to be a pilot and everybody wanted to be a Spitfire Pilot [laugh] you know, one interviewee [unclear], he was interviewed for a documentary and he said, “of course, I was sent over here from Canada having got my wings, well they said to me, what are you going to fly? And I said oh, Spitfires he said and they offered me Lancasters and Lancasters and Lancasters”.
DM. So you also said, that when, when so obviously you, you got picked for Bomber Command, you didn’t pick Bomber Command, you were told you were going in Bomber Command.
HB. Yeah, yeah.
DM. But when you couldn’t be a pilot, the next choice was a navigator?
HB. Navigator, yes, yes. And of course the number of engineers eh, perhaps with a bit of pilot skills were eh, engineers, flight engineers.
DM. Did anybody ever get seriously wounded in your plane?
HB. The two gunners did get wounded, one in the eye and one of them in the body. In fact em, the wireless operator was giving him morphine for the pain because we carried morphine bottles.
DM. So apart from the aftermath of those things, did you keep the same crew right the way through?
HB. The same crew all the way through, yeah.
DM. So you must have been pretty close?
HB. Yeah, yes to the last few ops after the Bohlen incident, we did have other gunners, other people trained as gunners, but the rest of crew remained the same, wireless operator, navigator, pilot, flight engineer, bomb aimer were all the same.
DM. So what happened in the Bohlen incident.
HB. Well we were, got hit in the wing, wreckage in one wing, starboard wing before we got to the target to jettison the bombs. Tried to get back home but it meant juggling with fuel and such because with three engines and one engine out and we managed to eventually, with good navigation from the navigator to get to Juvincourt in France, which is near Rheims. Rheims is a front line area then and the navigator, what a marvellous job he did with a lot of the instruments out, and he managed to get us to Juvincourt.
DM. Was it on that mission that the gunners were injured?
HB. Yes, yes.
DM. Was that a night fighter or flak or ?
HB. Flak, em.
DM. So you landed at Juvincourt, how did you get home?
HB. Brought home by another aircraft, the aircraft was written off. We had just about enough fuel to land there and that was it.
DM. So a few years earlier and you would have been a prisoner of war.
HB. Yeah, yeah.
DM. Before you, how old were you before you actually went into the Air Force?
HB. At the time I was seventeen.
DM. Right, so did you come straight from College or had you been working?
HB. No, I had about a year working.
DM. What were you doing?
HB. I was working at Rockfield Mottson in Turnbridge Wells, it was a munitions factory at the time.
DM. Right, so you didn’t actually, well would that be an engineering background, was that why they picked you as an engineer.
HB. Engineer, yes.
DM. Because of your background there and after the war, when you were out in the Far East, what were you actually doing?
HB. Nothing really, I was with an RAF Regiment Squadron doing nothing [laugh] and that was it.
DM. Did you do any flying?
HB. No didn’t do any flying out there at all.
DM. So your log books empty for that time out there.
HB. That’s right, yeah. I didn’t even fly home, I flew out there and I didn’t fly home, came home on a boat.
DM. And so you came back in forty?
HB. Forty seven.
DM. Forty seven, and that’s when you were demobbed, you didn’t, didn’t have the choice to stay in?
HB. Could have stayed in, only one thing with staying in, you almost always lost all your rank.
DM. One thing you said, the pilot, he was promoted to pilot officer, then he was promoted to flying officer, were the rest of you all sergeants?
HB. Yes.
DM. So obviously he was in a different Mess to you, but I guess you still mixed.
HB. We all mixed, yeah,
DM. Down the pub?
HB. Down the pub, yeah, the Horse and Jockey.
DM. Horse and Jockey, and that’s Waddington I presume?
HB. That’s Waddington.
DM. Were you, were you, when you, when you came out you would have been how old when you came out of the Air Force, about twenty one, twenty two?
HB. Twenty One yeah. Yeah.
DM. Did you go back to work, obviously didn’t go back to work in a munitions factory, so I don’t suppose it was working the munitions factory then?
HB. I went to work in a car factory, motor engineers.
DM. And where was that.
HB. That was in Tunbridge Wells.
DM. And had you met your wife during the war?
HB. Prior to the war, before the war, well, just the beginning of the war
DM. So I suppose when you had your leave, you came back to Turnbridge Wells.
HB. Yeah, Yeah.
DM. Going back, if you think about the Bohlen Incident and work you had to do then running the fuel [unclear], do you think the training was fit for purpose, did that help you with what you had to do or?
HB. Yes, the training and discipline was a great help, because you got the discipline of doing the right thing and you knowing what the other people were going to do. Being together for a long while and being trained together, you knew what the other members of the crew were virtually going to do.
DM. So a real team.
HB. Emm, emm.
DM. And was the pilot, he was the boss, obviously, he was the captain. Being Australian I imagine he wasn’t too bossy, or was he?
HB. No, no [laugh] no, no. Generally on the aircraft, the pilot was the boss, the skipper, there were occasions when they weren’t but very few.
DM. Do you remember on any of your flights, did you have any extra bods flying with you?
HB. Once and that was actually on the Bohlem, he was a trainee pilot.
DM. So that was his baptism of fire.
HB. That was what they did eh, a new crew member, captain of the new crew did an operation with an experienced crew before he took his own crew over.
DM. It didn’t put him off.
HB. It didn’t, no I don’t think so
DM. When you came out at the end of the war, how difficult was it to sort of transition back into normal working life, working in a car factory.
HB. It wasn’t very difficult really, it wasn’t very difficult. I got all the people I knew and I was offered, offered a job, I didn’t have to go looking for a job.
DM. Did you miss it?
HB. What the service life? Yes, yes.
DM. I suppose it was difficult, certainly initially, to keep in touch because everyone else apart from the one upper gunner had gone back to Australia.
HB. Yes, yeah we didn’t get in touch with each other until quite a long while afterwards. And then I heard on the radio one morning eh, I forget what his name was, one of the producers there, said that Harold Brookes, Coventry was looking for members of 467, 463 Australian Squadrons. Would they contact him if they were interested and that was the start of the reunions in England.
DM. Do you remember what year that was?
HB. Oh no [Laugh].
DM. Sorry, about twenty years later, something like that in the sixties, something like that?
HB. Yeah.
DM. And so they would come over here sometimes I suppose?
HB. Yes, some of them have been over.
DM. And you have been over there?
HB. And I have been over there.
DM. How many times have you been over there?
HB. I have been over twice.
DM. The gunner who wasn’t Australian, where was he from?
HB. Essex.
DM. Essex right, Essex boy and did you keep in touch with him?
HB. Yes I kept in touch with him for a while, but we didn’t really keep in touch a lot with him, he sort of drifted off.
DM. You mentioned when we were talking before, that one of the raids you were on was Dresden which became controversial.
HB: Notorious.
DM. How do you feel or how did you feel perhaps before now about how Bomber Command were treated after the war? The regard, or lack of regard.
HB. It was lack of regard, I probably should not mention too much about him, but Bomber Harris was given a real raw deal. The others were getting all the attention but Bomber Harris was pushed aside, he went to South Africa I think.
DM.Because it was politically incorrect ….
HB. Yes, Churchill authorised and wanted these Bombing Raids to be done. After it was all finished, he didn’t want to know anything about it.
DM. How did that make you feel.
HB. Well, we were wasting our time [laugh].
DM. And you went to the dedication of the Memorial at Green Park, so that must have been good, that was better.
HB. Yes, yes, oh yes, people were beginning to appreciate it.
DM. At that time I suppose, better late than never, better late than never. At that time and I think you were saying you went to the dedication of the new Spire up in Lincoln, I’ve not seen that, what did you think of it?
HB. Well it is a marvellous thing, it is not finished by a long way, but what there is been done. And we did find my cousins name on the plaque at the Spire.
DM. So your crew how many of them are still alive apart from yourself, obviously?
HB. One.
DM. And which one is that?
HB. That’s the tail gunner.
DM. Was he the one that was shot in the eye, or got flak in the eye?
HB. Yes.
DM. Do you keep in touch with him.
HB. Keep in touch with him, he is the one I keep in touch with.
DM. I know the answer to this but it would be nice for you to say a bit about family life after the war, what you know about children and things like that. What, what you life’s been like since the war. When did you get married?
HB. Nineteen forty seven.
DM. And what about children?
HB. Two children, they are getting on now, one of them has actually retired, the other is in her fifties, I have a son and a daughter.
DM. After the, after the war, so you came back and you were working in the car place, what other jobs, did you stay there for the whole of your career or did you do other things as well?
HB. No, jobs, the last job I did was working for award and mobility services, which was with people who deal with mobility aids and I was working specifically on overhead hoists and exteriors.
DM. Do you think the time you spent in the Air Force changed you as a person?
HB. I think so, a lot of us, we virtually lost our youth. We went from leaving college as a man and that was it. Overnight almost from a young boy to a man.
DM. And afterwards, do you think it stood you in good stead, made you better able to cope with things?
HB. Oh yes, it was a good thing actually, taught a lot in the RAF. It is an excellent School of Technical Training and learnt a lot there, a lot about aircraft that I didn’t know before.
DM. You have had a hankering to carry on flying?
HB. Well yes I would like to carry on flying, actually I had a hankering to carry on flying civilly but then it was so expensive, couldn’t afford it. One thing which was really a good education was the fact that I was crewed with an Australian crew, it was really fantastic to be with the Aussies, they were fine old chaps. Their people talk about what rough and ready Australians are. They were, it was a real experience and education to be with them, of course, and to be with them after the war. I have visited them, a ready found family and being in a Lancaster as a flight engineer next door to the pilot, is almost like a brother. You work together, you go to work together, you knew what the other one was going to do. As I said before, the discipline and the training, it brought you all together. It was a fantastic thing, really a fantastic period in life. To have been in the same, Bomber Command crew, no doubt Coastal Command crews are the same, but the Bomber Command crew was a fan, fan, fantastic experience.
DM. Went through a lot of adversity together, so you must have been very close.
HB. Yeah.
DM. So you, you didn’t choose an Australian Squadron, you were told you…
HB. No I didn’t choose it, I was crewed up and when we crewed up, it was the Australians that said, ‘right, we got a pilot and navigator, what we need is an engineer [unclear] and it happened.
DM. Do you know, I mean obviously you only flew with Australians, but have you ever, do you know how it made a difference from all British or all Canadian crews or whatever?
HB. I think all the crews generally, you know comradeship and working together [cough], excuse me, you know the Bomber crew was something. Well it was different, different from any other organisation, put it that way.
HB. Emm yes, yes. Something special there.



David Meanwell, “Interview with Horace Burchett,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed February 21, 2024,

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