Interview with David Butler


Interview with David Butler


David Butler, DFC, was born in Cherry Hinton in April 1920 and joined the Royal Air Force on the 11th January 1940, serving in France at Reims as the Germans advanced. After walking some distance, he was evacuated back to England on a Polish boat and arrived in Southampton.
He tells of how he was hospitalised with a very high temperature, and how his replacement and his crew were lost over Nuremburg.
He was posted to 12 Squadron at Wickenby, flying in Lancasters as a Rear Gunner, and then he was posted to 171 Squadron at North Creake.
David tells of his scraps with the Luftwaffe and meeting some Luftwaffe Pilots at the end of the war and he tells of meeting those pilots who were firing at him.
Made a career in the Royal Airforce and served in Egypt, Iraq and Jordan as well as completing administration courses and serving at other Royal Air Force Stations including the Royal Air Force Medical Station at Headley Court as an Adjutant.
After the war, got a job at Girton College and became President of the Royal British Legion in Cambridge.
David completed a total of 55 Operations, 30 on his first tour of duty and then completing 25 operations on his second tour.







01:02:27 audio recording


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AButlerDWJ160623, PButlerDWJ1602


JH: My name is Judy Hodgson and I’m interviewing David Butler today for the International Bomber Command Centre’s Digital Archive. We are at Mr Butler’s home and it is the 23rd June 2016. Thank you, David, for agreeing to talk to me today. Also present at the interview is Edna Butler, David’s wife. So, David, can you tell me when and where you were born and something of your early years?
DB: I was born in Cambridge, in a place called Cherry Hinton, on the 27th of April 1920 and I lived in Cambridge and went to school in Cambridge, and the local school, and I joined the RAF then [unclear] in later years, on January the 11th 1940, I can remember that quite clear and I did my training in various places and was later posted out, and served in France during the war. And on one night, we got warned the Germans were coming in the end of Reims, where I was stationed, in Reims and we were warned that the Germans were coming in the [unclear], and so we made a very hasty retreat out and went so we couldn’t go north because the bomber, er, the beaches were packed, so we had to go right across to Saint Lazare and we ran out of petrol and we had to walk forty miles to the coast We then got on to a Polish [unclear], wet knees up to our thighs and we got taken to Southampton in a Polish boat, and from then onwards, it was back to RAF stations and that sort of thing until I went on various courses, and I became an instructor at aircrew receiving centre in London and had to go down to Lords and collect sixty cadets [unclear], train them and have fun and games with them and whilst I did their selection boards to become pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, air gunners and that sort of thing and I later became a trainee with aircrew. I volunteered for aircrew because they were getting a little short of aircrew with the amount of losses that they were entertaining, and so I took a six-month, the quickest route [unclear] to an RAF station was as an air gunner, so I took a six-month course as an air gunner and was fortunate in, with another friend we passed top of the course, and we were interviewed by a very senior officer, and in my log book it registered that the very keen and smart cadet [unclear] will be well worth the commission, so I felt very chuffed about that Did my training and then was finally posted on to crew up to an RAF station at 12 Squadron at Wickenby, flying Lancasters, and we did all our training on Lancasters, and from then onwards we did our bombing trips out to various places and I [pause] completed about four or five bombing crews to various places, and if you want to know what places they were my log book will tell you, er, did you want to -
JH: If you’d like to say the ones that there were.
DB: I did a total of [pause] thirty trips but unfortunately, on one occasion they, I was taken to hospital ‘cause, with a very high temperature and er, it was very, I was very close to sort of not completing [pause] -
JH: Right.
DB: And my crew were posted with another chap in my place, who had just come back from leave, and they went off to Nuremburg and the chap came in the following morning to tell me that my crew were missing and they’d all been shot down outside Nuremburg .
JH: Gosh.
DB: So the CO said, now I can either go back and be re-crewed, but if the present crew where the chap was missing is prepared to take you, I said that will be fine, I would much rather continue my flying period, and so I finished off my tour with a new captain and a new crew which was super, and we did thirty trips including ten trips, bombing trips on Berlin.
JH: Really.
DB: Which was a rather lengthy tour, er, trip something seven or eight hours there and back and particularly in the winter, it was ruddy cold [laughs] so, but nevertheless we finally made, we had one or two little unfortunate enterprises of firing at Luftwaffe aircraft which, who dared to come up and see us, getting caught in flak, getting caught in searchlights but eventually we made it, by the grace of God and a good pilot flying the aircraft.
JH: What position were you in the aircraft?
DB: I selected which one and I was the rear gunner, which was well known to be a hot spot!
JH: [laughs].
DB: Having met a load of Luftwaffe pilots some years later, they did say, we always used to try to shoot up the rear gunner first, so I used to say ‘thank you very much’ [laughs] so, but we did finish. I then, I then took a gunnery leader’s course, did some specialised courses and run a lot of other gunners through the course and then I volunteered to do another tour of operations, and I was crewed up with six other crew members and, er, one of whom was a New Zealander, and a top line pilot, and we went to a place called RAF North Creake which was 12 Squadron. My previous squadron was 12 Squadron and this at North Creake was 171 Squadron, so we knew, we used to know that quite well and we managed to survive to the end of the war, another twenty five trips altogether including a number of little incidents involving Luftwaffe aircraft so there we go! So that really is a quick summary of my flying days [laughs].
JH: Okay, and what did you do then, immediately after the war, were you still in the RAF?
DB I stayed, I stayed in the RAF and I made a career of it, and I was fortunate enough to be offered a full time commission and I did so and got posted out to various places, er, to Egypt, I was in Iraq when Gaddafi had his rebellion, and we did have a tank roll up to our RAF El Adem in those days and, er, we got to know the Iraqi captain very well and he would literally sign anything for half a bottle of whisky [laughs].
JH: [laughs].
DB: A great chap, so we went all over and we were, I was allocated a bungalow in Tripoli with my wife and of course she was all stopped out, so she didn’t get out at all so that’s, and I was posted one or two other places, er Aleppo. Oh I was posted to Jordan, I got to know the Jordanese people and we got to, er, we made arrangements to have our, er, the runway lengthened and we had a very nice big, after when it was all over, we had a very, very nice time with a big marquee with the local Arabs, which was all very exciting, and then I got, I was then eventually posted back to England and became a SAR officer.
JH: Where was that at in England? Where were you posted to?
DB: A very good question. Do you know I can’t remember the name of it, it’s down south somewhere, I can’t, oh [pause] can’t remember the name, no sorry, name’s gone, old age has finally -
JH: Is it?
EB: Was it Headley Court?
DB: Head, no, no, I -
EB: Lionel?
DB: Oh, I did a tour at Headley Court which was an RAF medical station, and that was down south [pause] and, er, I was the adjutant there and I got posted all over the place from there, so it was quite a career one way or another.
JH: So when you were posted, you mostly went off on your own, it wasn’t something that your wife could go with you?
DB: No, no, then my wife joined me wherever I got.
JH: She did, right, yes, yes.
DB: And then, that was from 19-, oh, about 1940, 1950, I suddenly reached the age when it was retirement age, so I wondered what it was like to apply for a job and be told ‘you’re not what we’re suited for’ or ‘you’re too old for this’ or ‘you’re too old for that’, so I applied for a job at Girton, my home town, at Girton College [pause]. And, but I thought my family, my father still lived there and I thought it would be rather nice to be, and he was concerned that, concerned also with the local St John’s College as well so I thought it would be rather nice if I could join him in one of the colleges. Anyway I had five interviews by various women, because Girton College was a woman’s college in those days, and the job vacancy was for a steward and a junior bursar, and I applied and much to my surprise, after five interviews, I was offered the post and so I went to, er, and lived a month at the academics. And not being, and not having ever gone to college myself, I was given college status which meant that I had to become a Master, and I finally went to the Senate House in Cambridge and received a Master’s degree, an honorary one [laughs] and I said to the [unclear], do I have to take, my service means in the RAF you have to earn it and pass exam to get there, this I feel a little cheated getting my Master’s degree and I got all the paperwork to go with it and so I was with them for about three or four years and then I got another job with a local firm [pause] to manage the director’s office, which was rather pleasant. And I retired then and took up local work with the British Legion, and did a lot of work with the British Legion in Cambridge, in Histon and was finally elected as their president of British Legion and I’ve been their president since 2008, so I go to all their meetings, I don’t miss a meeting and I find it very honourable to go to all memorials, the meetings where they all have meetings so really, that’s a very brief summary of my career outside the RAF and inside the RAF.
JH: Yes, yes.
DB: There we go [pause], forgot to mention that I was, I transferred from the admin branch in the RAF because they did, the flying ceased and I then went on an admin course, and then I did an admin course for about two or three years and then they ran short of catering officers, and I thought a new career, and so I went on a six-month catering course and started from start to finish to be taught about all things in the RAF about catering, which was a wonderful course, very, very, very, and had the pleasure of meeting so many other caterers and posted to so many other RAF stations as the catering officer and became a staff officer in the catering branch which was very nice to have, so [pause] that’s another part of my RAF career besides flying and er, [pause] -
JH: It was very varied actually wasn’t it, you covered quite, you know, a lot of -
DB: Yes, after my service I had the pleasure of being invited to a German Luftwaffe gathering in Germany, and so I went with twelve other last Lancaster aircrew and went to the Luftwaffe gathering, and had the pleasure of meeting all the chaps that used to fire at us and, er, miss us thank goodness. But they were an incredible bunch of people and I’ve got some, I’ve got a couple of photographs of them here if you should want to have a look at them and show you -
JH: Yes, definitely.
DB: And later on, we invited them to come to Cambridge and we took them all round Cambridge and whilst they were here, I got them to sign my old flying log book and in it [pause] [background noise], there we go, that’s a photograph of all their signatures, all the Luftwaffe pilots that used to fire at us when we was flying over Germany.
JH: That’s fabulous, isn’t it.
DB: Yes, isn’t it.
JH: What a record .
DB: And I don’t know of another log book which has got those names in, unusual. I got very friendly with one of them, Martin Chivers, [then pronounces Chyvers] and he’d only, his log book indicated that he’d only shot down fifty-two of our English bombers, all written down, and he says ‘can I see your log book’, [adopts accent] so I showed him mine, and he said ‘you did fifty-five? how come I missed you!’ [adopts accent], [laughs], I said the simple reason, when we were, I were a target, very near a target, I used to get my pilot to jink which is -
JH: Sway?
DB: And we could see underneath if there was anybody there. ‘Ah’, he says, ‘you were one of those’, I said, ‘why is that’, he said, ‘because if we come across anybody was doing zinking, [adopts accent] we went to somebody who didn’t do that.’ [laughs]
JH: Wow.
DB: So that was very good and we’ve been sending one another Christmas cards, I didn’t get one from him last year so I assume he’s gone, but I got two photographs of him and his big [unclear] was very close to Goebbels, so that was a very interesting little incident, so there we go. All part of a peculiar little career of one’s life. Back on some of our bombing missions, the flying, the Lancaster was a very manoeuvrable aircraft, in an attack or getting out of searchlights, it was very manoeuvrable, and the skipper was able to manoeuvre the aircraft very quickly and get us out of trouble. And on numerous occasions he was able to do this, a very, very good pilot, Adams his name was, Flight Lieutenant Adams, very, very good and on my second tour, we were less with having to go and set up screens of, wireless screens to allow the bomber stream to go through these screens, in order to bomb where we’re going to bomb. And getting those into position was always a very tricky position, and getting caught in searchlights was a very tricky position, and being able to get out, Bill could, our skipper was a New Zealander and was five foot nothing, but he could throw that aircraft about anywhere. It was a very sluggish aircraft, the old Halifax and, er, I remember one being caught in some flak on one occasion, and we had the engine catch on fire and we had to get down very, very low level and fly back to England, and we got back home, with the engine blew up again so we had to find the nearest air place to get in, and by some stroke of luck, Bill said, ‘is Waterbeach down below?’ which is just outside Cambridge. I said ‘oh, home town!’ so we managed to get down and we got, we asked permission to land, we were given permission to land [unclear] and we down the whole length of the runway and tipped up at the end and I was still sitting in the back in the turret so, and I had to get out quickly, and getting out of a rear turret was extremely difficult, and I had to put my hands behind my back, open the doors and literally fall, grab my parachute which was hanging up but I didn’t get the parachute, we didn’t need it fortunately, and fell out backwards and damaged my ankle. And all of the crew thought it was highly amazing and most amusing because I was the only bloke that was injured [laughs], busted me ankle! So there we go, so that’s another little story about the second tour.
JH: And when you were in the Lancasters, were you always a rear gunner?
DB: I was always, I volunteered to do the rear gunner in our new crew and I volunteered to do the rear gunner’s spot on the Lancaster, and I’ve got some photographs I can show you of a rear turret which will give you an idea of what it was like, getting in was difficult. I was, very little room but you could, but knowing every part of a turret was essential, you knew where all the stops were. If you had a stoppage, you knew how to clear it and how to, but you, and that was in the dark, you would never have any lights in the, bit of moonlight if you were lucky, but generally speaking you, I used to get stoppages in, and I had to find the stoppage and knowing where the parts were and guiding me, the turret you would guide it round to the left or to the right by power and hydraulics and it was extremely difficult [unclear] and very cold. My thighs used to get frozen and I used to carry with me a tin of orange juice to drink coming back and it used to get frozen up, so I used to have to tuck it in my flying suit to soft it down a bit, and I never got out of the turret once, I never had to get out in a hurry once so we, so we did thirty trips .
JH: That’s extraordinary, isn’t it.
DB: in the Lancaster, a total of thirty bombing trips and that was bombing over the target, we never once let them go free. We had the bombing, the bomb aimer had a special area where he was told to drop the bombs and this he did, and it was a [pause], flak was always a problem over targets. It used to come up and flak and when we used to get back to the squadron, the mechanic used to come back ‘you’ve got seventeen holes in your body this week’ or ‘you’ve got one’, yeah, but I had one, I had a bit of flak through the side of my turret on one occasion but, er, that smashed the window but that was all right, no problem.
JH: I presume there was great elation when you actually came back, you were very elated when you got back?
DB: Er -
JH: Or quiet?
DB: Not really, we took it very much in our way, our main thing when we got back was going down to the briefing room and having a mug of coffee with a little drop of brandy in it, but nobody supplied the brandy, we had to take that ourselves, but we had a cup of coffee which was very good. On every trip, we had to be interviewed and record what happened on our trips, it was quite a lengthy operation before we were able to go and have breakfast in the, and occasional we used to get an extra egg from the people who didn’t get back and there, we always felt very sad when we knew the people that had been shot down.
JH: I’m sure.
DB: We felt they were missing, and we used to raise our glasses and drink their health and that was it. Some we knew that were made prisoner of war, others were killed, my own crew were all killed and [pause] if I may just add a little story to this [pause], some years after I retired from the RAF, I had a message from a gentleman named Tommy Cass, whose nephew was the air gunner that took my place when I was in hospital, and he says ‘can I come and talk to you’. So we got together and apparently he found out where that aircraft had been shot down in Germany and he went to Germany, and he tracked down the area and the local police force which found it, and they actually found the pilot, the Luftwaffe pilot that had shot the aircraft down, and made a big story of it in the local press. And I have, and he gave me a copy of [sneezes], oh excuse me, [everyone laughs], [sneezes again] and I have actually got in my little side entry here a copy of that report, amazing, so that was a very interesting interview from the chap that was the uncle of the chap that took my place. And [pause], they, and I actually got photographs of the graves of my old crew, in fact there’s, in the local German report there were three bodies picked up on the edge of the village and the three names were the three of my crew and I, you can’t imagine how I felt.
JH: No, no.
DB: There but by the grace of God, I should have been.
JH: Yes, mmm.
DB: I think they were saving me up so that when I go off to Hell [everyone laughs], the old big chap, big devil will be waiting for me downstairs, ‘Butler, I’ve been waiting for you, now we’ll have a good night out together!’ [everyone laughs], that’s my little story that is, yes.
JH: That’s fabulous.
DB: Oh I can spend hours telling you about the trips but it’s, it was a trip that had to be done and so many that didn’t come back, by the grace of God I still wonder why so many of us got through our thirty trips.
JH: Yes, that’s quite something isn’t it, quite something.
DB: Wonderful, wonderful, even now you meet them and they say ‘hello’ and it’s, you can’t remember their faces but you could remember particularly. I can’t go to any of the bomber command reunions now, I find it’s too much, er, hanging around and waiting, but I still meet them if, particularly I have two of them that I meet on a Monday at Tesco’s! [laughs] and we have a little chat.
JH: That’s lovely.
DB: Very rare about the war, we don’t talk about ops, just ‘how are you, ok?, how you’re getting on, how’s everybody’, just a general chit-chat so, I was very fortunate, er [pause]. After I did my first tour, I did receive the Distinguished Flying Cross which was a great honour for me, the only sad thing was I was hoping to go down to the Palace to get it presented, but there were so many of them being awarded, getting through it, that I was not invited but I did get a letter from the King to say congratulations and it’s hanging up on the wall! [laughs].
JH: Oh yes.
DB: Leave it up there love, leave it up, oh yes.
EB: That’s it, I like to see it.
DB: [reading] ‘I greatly regret I am unable to give this person the award you so [unclear], I will now send it with my congratulations, signed George RI [laughs].
JH: What an honour, that’s lovely, yes.
DB: Buckingham Palace, so I’ve had a little letter from Buckingham Palace, yes.
JH: As you say, it’s a shame you weren’t able to receive it personally.
DB: Yes, I didn’t write back and say thank you [everyone laughs], I still wear it, I wear it on occasions, oh we had a parade the other day which was to put, get a new banner and we took [background rustling], oh that’s the old Lancaster [pause], and that’s the photograph of the parade which was interesting [background noise].
JH: So when was this, just the other?
DB: Last Sunday.
JH: Really? Where was this at, where was the parade?
DB: Oh the parade was at St Andrew’s church in the village.
JH: In the village, right, yes you must be very proud when you’re wearing the medal.
DB: Yes.
JH: When you were actually flying the operations, did you have to keep going up day after day, was there a break, you know, if you went on an operation did you -
DB: No, no, no.
JH: Did you -
DB: You just carried on, whenever there was an op on, you may have a break of three or four days, perhaps a week, but then perhaps you had two or three in a short space of time.
JH: And what were you actually doing while you were on the break then, when you weren’t -
DB: Oh checking your guns, and catching your, checking your turret, making sure it was all working because it was essential for it to be working properly, er, that in an attack the, the chap that I made friends with flew 110, FN 110’s and his method of attack was to fly from the ground, up underneath the aircraft because they had upfiring guns in their Luftwaffe aircraft and he used to position himself under and fire at the bomb bay and the engines and that’s how he managed to shoot down fifty-two bombers. Quite a character, he knew what he was doing [pause]. After the war I was very fortunate in being taken in the current Lancaster for a trip out and we went round the runway, and when we got back from the runway I was able to sit in the rear turret like I used to, knowing where everything was as if it was yesterday, knowing about the gunneries, the handles for this and the stops for that, knowing exactly where everything was. I got out and the skipper said, ‘how was that?’, I said it was like a dream come true, I said sitting in my rear turret, I said ‘do you realise that you’ve got a piece of turret missing?’, he said ‘turret missing?, what do you mean?’, I said ‘there’s a piece of your turret that is absent’, he said ‘what is that?’, I said ‘it’s the dead man’s handle’. He said ‘what on earth’s a dead man’s handle?’, I said ‘if we got shot up during the war through flak or Luftwaffe and we lost our hydraulics to the turrets which meant we couldn’t turn the turret, the dead man’s handle was on the left hand side and we used to click it into space and turn it to which way we wanted to get out quick’, ‘ooh’, he said, ‘I will have to look for one of those!’ [laughs] and I don’t think they’ve yet found one! [laughs].
JH: And this was at East Kirkby was it, the East Kirkby runway?
DB: Yes, yes, somewhere like that, yes lovely, well there we go, well I’m glad I found you a Luftwaffe pilot!
JH: Yes, that’s lovely [laughs].
DB: All the comments we’ve had in the past about bombing of Dresden and scattering bombs around it, I feel quite hurt that we should be criticised for the action that we took. Prior to our trip to Dresden which is in my log book on the certain date, er [pause], we were briefed as we always used to have before a bombing trip, we were briefed to what was going to happen there, we were briefed that there were a lot of German troops stationed around there, and the Russians were coming into it and there were at least three other Luftwaffe factories in that area so we didn’t feel quite guilty when we bombed Dresden, and we went into Dresden. We arrived late and the big fire which was reported in the papers, we arrived when it was going at full strength and that was when we dropped our bombs in the middle of it, and we got caught in some searchlights and the flak but we made it through to the other side, but I have no guilt complex whatsoever of bombing Dresden, nor do I have any guilt complex about bombing Berlin ten times. I have no guilt complex about bombing any German cities whatsoever, they were our enemies, the number of people that they had killed off-hand throughout their marches to all these wonderful old countries we knew of, that’s it, I have no guilt, that’s how I feel about our bombing of Germany.
JH: Yes, yes.
DB: So that’s on one trip, Berlin was always a heavy place to bomb, it took us one, it took us something like an hour to get from one side of Berlin to the other and that was always full of flak and searchlights and [pause] -
JH: I mean, looking back, you must think how lucky you were to survive.
DB: I still wonder and I still think it was the old devil looking after me, I’m quite convinced of it, looking after me! A wonderful period in my lifetime, that there are occasions when I tend, at ninety-six, to forget little items these days, not as flowing with memory as I used to be which is annoying for me, not being able to walk as easy as I did but it’s all wonderful memories because I’m so pleased I lived through it, I have no guilt [unclear] at all.
JH: No, I mean you obviously had wonderful camaraderie with your fellow colleagues at the time, your crew.
DB: Oh the crew that I flew with were wonderful, wonderful people, all, the bomb aimer was accurate, the pilot was superb, the engineer knowing what to do, the mid-upper firing his guns and keeping us safe, wonderful team of people we were, all seven of us and [pause] I, as far as I know, I am the last remaining member of two crews, having lost my first one so sadly who were lovely people, but now the other thirteen members have now left me on my own. I’m not very pleased about that! [laughs], not very pleased about that! Wonderful period.
JH: And did you have, after you I know you’d lost your first crew, then was the pilot then with you all of the rest of those operations? The second one?
DB: Oh we had one pilot for one crew, for one tour, he did thirty and he went off and did some other things, I don’t know what they all did, er.
JH: But you always flew with that pilot.
DB: I always flew with that pilot for thirty trips.
JH: Wow, right.
DB: And the same on my second tour, I flew with him for twenty five trips, every pilot, because they knew who you were, what you did, what you were capable of as well [pause].
EB: Well, did you not have to be accepted by the crew of your second trip?
DB: Oh yes, yes they accepted me quite well but they knew, of course, that their rear gunner had been, he’d put, he was the first chap back from his leave when I was missing, they had, there was a full crew requirement on all the aircraft and so they took this chap who’d just come back from leave in my place in the rear turret with my old crew. I didn’t know that, I didn’t know who he was, I never met him, I didn’t know of him so I, er [pause], you can’t imagine how I felt when I knew, I felt like death warmed up, as if it was, he had taken my place and didn’t come home and he was missing, they were missing for some time before they were declared shot down, as his nephew found out that they’d been. And it was interesting to read the, an old pilot’s report on how he shot the aircraft down, it was on its way back from Nuremberg and Nuremberg was a very heavily defended city for flak and guns, and it was probably that that brought, I don’t know what it was brought down, whether it was a, I have a feeling that it was a Luftwaffe pilot that brought it down who gave me his report on how he shot it down [pause] and I got the report of him in my papers here somewhere. I never thought I could have got that out unless you read it but [unclear] so I’m glad I’ve found [background noise] my old friend there! [laughs], he put on a little bit of weight when I met him [laughs] but he got the iron cross, two iron crosses which is one of the top.
JH: Oh, awards for the Germans.
DB: [pause] handsome lad!
JH: And obviously through all this time your wife, then you had met him, did you say, in the 1940s?
EB: Oh yes we met, we met in 1940.
DB: She didn’t know what I did when I went down to London because I’d met her and we then parted.
EB: Yes, I didn’t hear anything from him for quite a while, did I?
DB: No, it must, ‘40, the end of about, the beginning of ’41, I got posted down to London, ‘41, ’42. It was down at London when I volunteered to become aircrew. I then went through all my training and it was 1943 when I got crewed up and ‘44 when I finished my first tour and about ’44, ’45, I’d received, I’d been promoted to flying officer, I’d got my gong up with my aircrew badge which I didn’t have when I first met Edna, and I was a young flying officer so when I first met Edna I was just an ordinary AC plonk [laughs].
EB: Yes! [laughs].
DB: And so I reverted from being an AC plonk to a young flying officer with a badge up and a medal up, so I thought ‘ooh’, and I was posted to a station four miles down the road from where Stafford operated and I was, I used to borrow a bicycle, go from the Officers’ Mess into Stafford and I said I wonder what it’s like to go and knock on the door to an old girlfriend and see what she’s like, so I duly arrived at Blackiston Street, remember the name of the road?
EB: Yes.
DB: Knocked on the door and says, ‘hello, oh surprise, surprise’ and we went together ever since.
EB: Well, I used to work at the Admiralty because when the Admiralty was down in Coventry, when Coventry was bombed, they moved it all up to one of the new schools that had just been built in Stafford on the outskirts, so I had, I and my sister both went to work there and we were there and when I came from there on the bus one Saturday from work down to, I used to get off outside the cinema and who should be standing there but this one! Absolutely flabbergasted, I said -
DB: Well, of course.
EB: ‘What are you doing here?’
DB: I felt [unclear] in my glory at being commissioned and badges up and medals up [laughs].
EB: Yes, and from then on -
DB: I, I really felt the bee’s knees as you can just imagine, how you would feel at that and I was only [pause] -
EB: You weren’t very old, were you?
DB: No, I was about twenty-four.
EB: Yes.
DB: Beautiful.
EB: Full of himself.
DB: And I’m still, and I’m still beautiful [laughs].
EB: [laughs].
JH: [laughs] of course!
EB: And everything went from there.
DB: Yes, I always tell my wife, never mind my lovely one, you’re still beautiful and she still is!
JH: Absolutely.
EB: He got on very well with my stepmother, didn’t you?
DB: We got on like a house on board, yes.
EB: He’d got a motorcycle and I wouldn’t go on it, because when you went round the corners I was frightened you see, but Mother used to go on the back, oh she never used to worry, did she?
DB: I was off, yes, I retired to Stafford.
EB: And then you went on the council.
DB: I got on the council, and then I was offered a commission because they ran short of officers in the RAF, they wanted specialised [unclear] officers so I was offered a permanent commission. So I said I was a job in Her Majesty’s Government, tax office for a short while, so I said ‘I’m off’ and so we, I went back into the RAF and -
JH: What year was that?
DB: That would be ’48, something like that, ’47, yes.
EB: Yes.
DB: ‘47 yes, about three years afterwards, came out then went back in again and then spent thirty-two years in it and I still miss the RAF, used to enjoy the RAF, enjoy, splendid place, splendid people. Ah well, there you go
EB: So, so that’s what he misses now, don’t you, you really do miss -
DB: Yes I do
EB: Lots of parts of the RAF life really
DB: Yes, that’s, you can’t have it always
EB: It’s just memories now, David
DB: Yes, yes, difficult remembering memories too sometimes. I was trundling along telling you something and then I couldn’t remember the end of it [pause], but then it flashed back again, a bit disjointed our little chit-chat I think somewhere.
JH: I think it’s been -
DB: A little bit fed in
JH: Yes, but that’s -
DB: Is there anything that I can broaden for you to give you a little bit more information, is there anything you’ve fancied I ought to tell you?
JH: [laughs] well
DB: Is there anything you, memorabilia-wise I could tell you?
EB: I think you’ve told it almost everything
DB: I’ve told you what it’s like sitting in a turret, I’ve told you about one or two other -
JH: Yes, absolutely
DB: Attacks that we had, and we completed, we mentioned what the Luftwaffe, telling the pilot to jink, we got that in about telling the pilot to jink
JH: Yes
EB: Yes
DB: Got that in
JH: Yes, no, I think we’ve fairly comprehensive
DB: There some little bit about something, exciting ones [laughs]
EB: I think you’ve covered almost all the -
DB: ‘course you’ve been sitting there as well, you’ve listened.
EB: Yes
DB: This lass has heard it all over again, she’s heard it so many times now she can even tell me the stories!
EB: I could write the book meself!
DB: You could write , I did start writing a book and after the first chapter I got fed up with it, ‘oh to hell with it’, I never bothered, never bothered.
EB: Well, I think you thought that so many people had already written -
DB: I’ve got books here about air gunners and what have you so, all with their funny stories and they’ve got lots of stories that I’ve never seen or heard of.
JH: Well, you all have something to say, don’t you, I mean, you know, in fairness so -
DB: I used to like to fly in the Lancaster, wonderful, I had the pleasure of flying my son in an aircraft, he’s got his own aircraft, and he took me up one day and said, ‘here you are, fly it!’ and I did and I said ‘star, we’re diving starboard, go!’ [laughs]. But I used to enjoy giving other pilots who used to, we used to get Spitfires and other single-engine flights doing practice attacks on us so that we knew what was coming and how to avoid them, what was the best evasive action and I worked out one or two good manoeuvres which I used to get the Spitfire doing, and they used to say, ‘sod you, I’m off!’ [laughs] and they used to dive like that away from us.
JH: When was this then, what -
DB: In between bombing trips.
JH: Right.
DB: So that we could practice and get the other people, and it was my job in the rear turret to give evasive action command to the skipper because I could, I was a better [unclear], because I could see him coming up, the mid-upper could see coming down, and I could see him coming down, and I could see him, being in the turret gave me a much better view.
JH: Right, so that was quite important then, position.
DB: Yes, if I saw anything I used to say to the skipper, ‘I’m going to give him a little burst, skip’, ‘okay’, because if I saw anything, because seeing [emphasis] a fighter in the dark you couldn’t, except moonlight. You could see a bit, depends on where he was, you could see movement, you might see a little bit of engine combustion but generally speaking you didn’t, the only thing you did, you saw was some red hot bullets coming over the top of your turret or pinging your turret. That was the only thing you saw and then you knew you’d got problems and I always used, if I saw anything coming up that was, I always give him a ‘dive to starboard, go, go, go’ [shouts] and he used to dive to starboard, dive to port whichever, if the fighter pilot was this side and he was coming up, I always used to give a ‘dive to starboard, go’, that meant the skipper would put the aircraft down like that and present a crossing speed, you passed aircraft much quicker than you would do if you started, ‘cause he could then follow you so you had to.
JH Yes, cuts across.
DB: You had to be on the ball to make sure that he couldn’t follow you and shoot at you, it was essential [emphasis] you gave him the right order, so you had to, you had to be on the ball when you first saw and you didn’t have a lot of time when you first saw the chap.
JH: So the pilot was relying on you an awful lot?
DB: Oh yes, very much so that you gave him the right [pause] -

JH: instructions.
DB: Yes, oh we never got shot down so that was [laughs].
EB: Mind you-
JH: You must’ve been good! [laughs]
DB: Must’ve helped!
EB: There was a lot of rear gunners lost their lives, wasn’t there David?
DB; Oh yes.
EB: Because they used to attack the rear gunner before anything else really.
DB: I suppose so.
EB: There was quite a lot, a lot of them that got killed wasn’t there.
DB: Yes [quietly], a long time ago.
EB: So you have to count your blessings my love, don’t you?
DB: Yes, and I still think you’re beautiful! [everyone laughs].
EB: This is the flannel I have to get from being in the Air Force! [laughs].
JH: Well, I would like to thank you, David, for allowing me to record this interview today and thank you both very much.
EB: It’s been a pleasure.
DB: But I’m rather sad that I (unclear).



Judy Hodgson, “Interview with David Butler,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 14, 2024,

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