Interview with Tom Coles


Interview with Tom Coles


Tom Coles was born in Watford and signed up for the Royal Air Force at the age of 18. He went to Canada for training, a period saddened by the loss of his sister who was in the Womens Auxilliary Air Force. Tom flew Manchesters, then went to 158 Squadron at RAF Abingdon where he was on Wellingtons. He tells of his time at RAF Lissett, and off-duty social life at Bridlington. Discusses his service with 4 Group emphasising German anti-aircraft fire; by the time he left the Royal Air Force, he had completed 37 operations. Talks about post war life in the manufacturing industry, reunions for 158 Squadron, lack of recognition of Bomber Command veterans. Elaborates on the bombing of Dresden and on the role Winston Churchill had in that operation.




Temporal Coverage




00:58:25 audio recording


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NM: Let me just make an introduction if I can.
TC: Ok.
NM: So, my name is Nigel Moore and I’m talking this morning to Flight Lieutenant Tom Cole.
TC: Yes.
NM: I’m in his house at [omitted].
TC: Coles. It’s plural.
NM: Oh is it?
TC: Yes.
NM: I apologise for that. I’ve got false information. There we go. I’ll correct that. So I’m at [omitted] Hertfordshire and it’s the 28th of September 2015 and it’s 11 o’clock in the morning…
TC: Right.
NM: So, Mr Coles, thank you very much for agreeing to do this, this interview. Interested to hear a little bit about your life growing up and before you, before you joined the RAF.
TC: Oh I went to the, obviously the junior school in Watford. I was born in Watford and I went from this school, I went to the technical school and I got a pass to Watford Tech and left there at fourteen, I think. Yes. And odd jobs. Nothing to speak of really until I joined up at, I was eighteen. I went to Oxford and had a successful thing there because I was, I asked for air gunner. It was only because my brother was already a LAC but they said, ‘No, we think we’re, two squadron leaders addressed me and they said, ‘No. We think you’ll be suitable for pilot.’ So, it was rather surprising to me but I hadn’t got enough ambition, I suppose, really at that age and from there I went to Lord’s. We were, when I was first called up, we went to a building, building of flats next to Lord’s Cricket Ground where we went for, we went for our medicals there. All these chaps lined up naked and a man, an army officer medico came along and, most peculiar, lifting things [laughs].
NM: [laughs] Right.
TC: And, you know, I’d not seen anything like that before but - where shall I go from there? I went from there to the first course, we were put on was down in Devon. Where was it? Crumbs my memory. Hold on. Newquay. And we did, I suppose, I’m trying to think how long we were there. Did a complete course there anyway and we were then sent to, in the end after all the fiddling about we went to Canada which, for our training, which you’ll see that [rustling of papers] this is all done from Canada and, [rustling of papers] if there is anything interesting there at the moment but -
NM: We’ll take a look at that.
TC: Hmmn?
NM: We’ll take a look at that after the interview.
TC: Ah. Right.
NM: Ok.
Other: Can I interrupt here?
TC: Yeah.
NM: Yeah, go on.
Other: You were asked what your life was like prior to going in the RAF. You were highly involved in scouting weren’t you?
NM: Yes.
Other: Scouts. Rover Scouts.
TC: Yes.
Other: You were highly involved in all that.
TC: Yes. Yes, well I suppose the only holidays we had in those days was scout camping. We were keen and my brother was also very keen and I just followed him and we, it was a great time. What else could I say about scouting? Well it saw me through to, till when I was married really. It was, we had our own campsite which was given to us by Lord and Lady Clarendon when they left their house near Watford and went to London. Retired. So we had a campsite there which we used very much every weekend virtually and -
NM: So -
TC: That again was just before I joined up and...
NM: So you were married before you joined up.
Other: No. We didn’t meet until -
TC: No. No.
Other: After he came out.
TC: Yeah.
NM: Ok.
TC: After. I wasn’t old enough.
Other: Because my brother was also in the Scouts.
TC: Yeah.
Other: And that’s how we met. Through the -
NM: Right.
TC: Yeah.
Other: As I say.
Other: They weren’t little Scouts. They were all rover Scouts, you know -
NM: Sure. Yeah. Yeah.
Other: Which is -
NM: Yeah. So you joined the RAF because your brother was already, your older brother was ahead of you.
TC: I think -
Other: Yes.
TC: That had a great bearing on it.
NM: That was your -
Other: Yes.
NM: The reason for your choice.
Other: Your brother.
TC: And my sister joined the WAAFs. Unfortunately, she died in, while she was in the WAAFs through lack of care in -
Other: Twenty seven wasn’t she?
TC: Yeah. A swampy campsite she was, camp she was in and that was very sad. Especially my parents, for my parents who were geared to the fact that one of us or both of us might get the chop. Never gave it a thought that my sister would suffer and it was all bad living conditions at the particular camp she was at, ‘cause she wasn’t the only one but that, that -
NM: Which camp?
TC: That messed us up a bit.
NM: Which camp was that?
TC: Pardon?
NM: Which camp was she on?
TC: Oh crumbs.
NM: This was during the war I assume.
TC: I can’t remember the name of the place now.
NM: Yeah.
TC: Yeah.
NM: Ok. So you were in Canada.
TC: Yes.
NM: And you’re doing your flying training.
TC: In winter in Canada and it was, we were flying and it was, I don’t know, about thirty below. We used to have a streak. Everyone took off and then it would stop when the air got warmer and they were, it was the only place I’ve ever been in the Air Force where they kept the aircraft in the hangars, heated hangars, otherwise they couldn’t have started them in the morning and they used to start them up in the hangar which was something, you know, you didn’t do in the Air Force, but they had to. And as they took off you had a great, what do you call it, streak and when we went on cross country’s we used to have to take all the gear that we would need if we pranged out in the wild and this, the thing that interested me was the way that we, none of this nonsense with clearing the snow off the runways. They just had a tractor with three big corrugated iron, about that diameter, about the length of this room and they had the three behind the tractor. It just took that amount of the runway up and they just went on it and crushed it down and none of this nonsense of clearing it and we used to fly on that. It was a, it was a bit dicey. I would have rather have gone there not in the winter. Everywhere we went we were freezing and from there, when we’d finished we came back to - what was the name? I can’t remember the name of the place now. Any case, the base that we went to when we went out, we came back to that and we sailed by boat and that was more or less, that was the training.
NM: So tell me about the progression from -
TC: I beg pardon?
NM: Tell me about the progression from basic trainers to multi engine.
TC: Yeah. Well where we are. I’m just trying to think of something. How it fed in. I changed on. First of all, one thing I did miss earlier on that we did a test. That we were sent down from Manchester where we were in a great park. We were gradually sent to see if we were worth training and we, we did a course of about six hours on Manchesters down near Reading and if you didn’t get through that you didn’t get pushed on to the thing. That was an earlier thing I didn’t mention. So, we’d been to Canada. Trained, passed, came home and then we went to, I went to Abingdon to fly on twin engine big ones. Oh crumbs. Wait a minute. Can you?
NM: Yeah.
TC: Wellingtons we flew there. Yeah. Wellingtons. And I flew them again later ‘cos I instructed, I went as instructor on them. They were the bigger aeroplane. They were operational. And after Abingdon we were posted to various things. I finished up at 158 Squadron and we operated from Lissett which was about six, seven miles down south of Bridlington. That was, they were all that area, were all Wellingtons as against Lancasters and that and the others and we, just trying to think of the sequence. I don’t want to mess you about. I did my tour from Lissett. It’s all in there.
NM: So tell me a little bit about when doing your training you could have gone, I guess, to fighters, single engines or multi engines. Why or how did you end up in multi engines?
TC: I’ll think about it. I don’t know. No. It was, we were all associated with Bomber Command right really from the beginning.
NM: Ok.
TC: Because that’s why we did training on these Wellingtons which were still operational in some sense. They were a very nice aircraft to fly though and then, ‘cause later on I was instructing on them. Yeah, they were very good but they were older obviously and they didn’t do many ops on Wellingtons by that time.
NM: So, what time was this, you were -
TC: I went on to -
NM: What stage did you join 158?
TC: What stage did I go there?
NM: What was, what was the time of year and what year?
TC: I don’t know.
NM: Ok.
TC: It might be in here. I’ll have to remind myself.
TC: There we are.
NM: So your training was in -
TC: 1942.
NM: 1942.
TC: ’43. Ansons.
NM: So you were training in -
TC: Yeah.
NM: Late ’42.
TC: Yeah.
NM: Early ’43.
TC: This. Oh Halifax. There we are.
NM: We can get the dates later. That’s fine.
TC: Oh that’s the Con Unit.
NM: Yeah.
TC: Where -
Other: You used to tell me how you chose your crew.
NM: Well I was going to ask about that.
TC: Oh.
NM: I was going to ask. That was going to be my next question. So, right. Good timing.
TC: That’s easy.
NM: So how did, how did you get your crew together? -
TC: They put us all different ranks or trades into a, well, no, it was a big hall. It wasn’t a hangar but we just mixed and you saw a chap with a navigator’s badge and you liked the look of him you said, you know, ‘Would you like to join me?’ And it was as silly as that but it worked.
NM: It worked.
TC: It did work. Yeah.
NM: So as pilot did you feel you had to pick the crew or did anybody else sort of join up and then come and see you as a pilot and say we want to join you as a pilot? How did it -
TC: Yes they did, it was mixed up that way. The only boob we made was a wireless operator because he used to spend more time with women than anything else. He was, he used to get drunk and fortunately he went lack of moral fibre and he was whipped out. You don’t even see them go. He went. He was there one day, in there, and the next morning he’d gone and never knew what happened to him. We didn’t want to know. He used to drink and womanise. He would have been a [inaudible] and the man I got in placement of him was just the tops. Just the opposite.
NM: How did the crew feel about losing that wireless operator?
TC: I think they felt the same as me. Let’s get shot of him.
NM: And was this before any operations or -
TC: Yes. It was before, fortunately, and we, the station we were at, was at, oh crumbs, there’s so many places we went. Number 20 OTU yes. Yeah,it was, trying to think of the places. It’s still a, it’s still an airport, Royal Air Force station. Oh crumbs. I’m sorry. Scotland. It’s near Elgin.
NM: Leuchars?
TC: Loughbr – No.
NM: Leuchars?
TC: Hmmnn?
NM: Leuchars?
TC: No.
NM: Ok.
TC: Oh crumbs. Can you spare me a minute?
NM: Don’t worry. No, don’t worry about it.
TC: It’s old age.
NM: That’s fine.
TC: I’m sorry.
NM: And that was your conversion unit. OTU was it?
TC: Yes.
NM: On to Halifaxes.
TC: No. Wellingtons.
NM: You were still Wellingtons.
TC: Yeah. There they are. That was the Wellington.
NM: So did you convert to Halifaxes before you went to 158 and your first operation?
TC: Yeah.
NM: Or did you fly Wellingtons?
TC: Pardon?
NM: Or did you fly Wellingtons with 158? When you went to 158.
TC: No.
NM: Operations.
TC: Yes.
NM: You -
TC: Straight from Scotland.
And I picked up this wireless op en-route and it was, he was the best you could get really, and we did our first ops. Yeah. It would be here but -
NM: So describe what was life like on 158 Squadron when you, when you arrived and how did you feel?
TC: Oh yeah. They, they, I think what I did, I did a second pilot op just to get you in and I didn’t. I went, I was sent to, just before I got to the squadron, we were sent, two of us were sent to another squadron, an active squadron for, and we went with an experienced pilot, just as a passenger really, and I’m trying to think where we went to but it was a bit hairy. Lost, it wasn’t a big op but we lost twenty two aircraft,I can remember that and that was my first thing and a bit nervy. But you realise how little you’ve done near the enemy, really, when that happened and the man I flew with was an ex 158 Squadron and he’d gone to this station as an instructor actually. He was quite a squadron leader then but the only thing I can remember vaguely, very little about it, we were, there was aeroplanes, people flitting past us and the light from the fires enough to see that you could, there were a lot of aeroplanes around and all of a sudden one, I think it was an enemy fighter, came ‘wooooph’, like that, going the opposite way and over us and the pilot I’d got he said, ‘Keep your bloody eyes open.’ As if it was going to make any difference. He hadn’t seen it. I thought well this is good. Yeah. They were twenty two lost that night out of a small number going and I thought you know, this is, I’m not so sure whether I like all this. Well, but we settled down and we did, when I did that I was still at the training place for Halifaxes and the ground crew said to me, ‘You just missed,’ what’s his name? The famous -
Other: Cheshire.
TC: Cheshire. He was CO of this Squadron. Well, training, and they thought he was God. He said he was, even the chaps who used to do our hut up said he’s a marvellous man. He used to go out and play cards with the ground staff. He kept them happy you see and he had a marvellous reputation. He was really was.
NM: Even, even then.
TC: Even then. Yes. Yeah. We’d heard of him and he just disappeared and the bloke that replaced him wasn’t much to write home about. But so -
NM: So tell me about life at Lissett.
TC: Life at Lissett was quite good. There were, you know, the flight commanders were quite, they were quite good. Some of them had done two tours anyway you know, that sort of thing, so you always had some respect for them because you knew they, they were well ahead of you and it was quite pleasant except I got myself into trouble when I was not been there long. We used, when we used to go into the briefing we used to have a sheet of paper that told us what we were doing and the heights of flying and I went [inaudible] exit to the lavatory before I go and I dropped this piece of paper. Came out, I didn’t use it. It dropped out my hand and there was some nasty type, ground staff chap. He was a clerk or something in the office. He found it and he went in there and instead of coming up to me he took it to the wing commander. So there was an announcement in the briefing room of some idiot has done so and so and everyone knew it was me anyway, and the next day I had, there was a call on the, what’s the name? What do you call them, the outside not the radio but the, for me to report to the station commander’s office and that and as I went in and actually it turned out he was a jolly good bloke [inaudible] and as I walked in he said, ‘Oh Coles. Aren’t you a bloody idiot?’ I said, ‘Yes sir.’ And he said, he didn’t do anything really, he didn’t. He just said, ‘You’re a bloody idiot. Go on. Clear off.’ And that was it. And I always thought he was a decent bloke and, spoke to jimabout it once at one of the reunions we had and he wrote a very good book on the squadron. Anyway, that’s that. What else can I say?
NM: So back to operations. How -
TC: Yeah
NM: Tell me about your tour.
TC: I suppose we were pretty fortunate in a way ‘cause we, we made it. We got a bit of flak one night and the, the engineer and the bomb aimer both got bits, little bits of flak on them and there was a horrible smell actually, and it was the bomb aimer was overcome with the, with the flak hitting him and he said, he got, I said, ‘What the hell is that smell?’ And he’d got on the phone and said, ‘Gentlemen, I’ve shit myself.’ And that was [laughs] but he wasn’t the only one apparently. I think the flight engineer did as well. It was, I’d never heard of people going like that but probably the effect on them.
Other: Tell him about Andre.
TC: Andre le Leux?
Other: Yes.
TC: Yeah. He was, we got very friendly and he was a Belgian navigator, I think he was. Yeah. And -
NM: What? In your crew?
TC: No. He, but we got to know him because he was in the aircraft. When we were on leave he flew and they got hit in daylight and he was the only one that got out and I -
Other: They’d taken Y-Yoke hadn’t they?
TC: Sorry?
Other: They had taken Y-Yoke.
TC: Yeah they took Y-Yoke and that was our aircraft, yeah, but as I say they got the chop and he was the only survivor and he was always apologising to me when we used to meet. We got very friendly with him and his wife. He was Belgian. And er -
Other: They all used to come to the reunions.
TC: Yeah.
Other: Didn’t he?
TC: We used to -
Other: And he had nobody.
TC: Yeah and we, but I used to tell him off for losing our aeroplane and it went well, you know.
Other: You made him an honorary member didn’t you? It was a big meeting of your crew.
TC: Yes.
NM: So your tour lasted thirty operations did it?
TC: No. How many did I do? Thirty seven I did.
NM: Thirty seven.
TC: Yeah, and I was, my last one was going to be because we were the senior crew by then and we were going to daylight op on, [inaudible] German city, it was, it was well inland in Germany I know. I can remember that much. And it was our Squadron’s, I was going to lead our Squadron and it was our Squadron’s turn to lead in 4 Group and it was 4 Group’s turn to lead the op of all the Squadrons and I thought, ‘Crumbs, this is it.’ And, but the night before we were airborne for somewhere over near Kiel ‘cause Kiel, we were the nearest aerodrome to Germany because Kiel was just over there and we had an engine nuisance. It was, the ground crew said it was the plugs afterwards. They said, they said they were using, not using new ones. They were using revamped plugs and that one engine was going and I thought, well I’m not going. I’m not going all over there with a, with a, we had a bloody great bomb on. Just one. It weighed, it was a four thousand pounder I think. And I thought the engines, one of these engines was popping and I thought well I’m not going all there we’ll drop this in the sea and we made sure there were no fishing boats underneath. It was dark but you could usually see them and we dropped this and it it made such a bang it rattled every window in Bridlington apparently and that didn’t do much good for our reputation and I think that when I say I got back on that we got rid of that but it did, it was a hell of a bang and this other raid was coming the next day I think and I think they thought I needed to clear off so they, they finished our tour and we were, that was just, I only heard that just before this raid that was coming up that we would be in the front, I think someone thought, ‘He’s losing his nerve. We’ll put him off.’ It didn’t, it didn’t get me like that but it could have done I suppose. So we were posted. I went to Abingdon to fly Wellingtons which I’d trained on Wellingtons so that didn’t and I had a very enjoyable time there at -
NM: So at what stage were you awarded the DFC?
TC: Just after I finished.
Other: 1945.
TC: Pardon?
Other: 1945.
TC: Yeah. Well that would be just after -
Other: Yes.
TC: I finished.
NM: After you finished your tour.
TC: Yes. And the navigator got the DFC. He was a character. He was a policeman from Liverpool and he didn’t like the idea of being a navigator. He should have been a pilot you see and, but give him his due he finished up with his own aeroplane and he learned to fly and he was a private policeman. That was his living. He said, I used to, he said, ‘I get all sorts of funny things. I go up the islands, land on the beach. And he said, ‘I had to go around and find all these .’ It was nearly all divorce things. He said it got embarrassing sometimes finding out what went on and he also, he ran in the Olympics just after the war and he had second place in a sprint and he was well known. I’ve got a book on it that he’s written. The rest of the crew kept touch but we’ve lost touch now with one or two. One I’ve, one of the gunners I phoned last Christmas and he was going to find out about the wireless operator but I’ve heard no more from him so they’ve probably both popped off. But er -
Other: There’s three of you left isn’t there out of seven which as you’re all in your nineties is not too bad.
TC: Yeah. Yeah.
NM: So you still keep in -
TC: But I’m not sure now but that’s it. Yeah.
NM: So you finished your tour in ’45 and then went to Abingdon.
TC: Yeah.
NM: To instruct on Wellingtons.
TC: Yes.
NM: So -
TC: But I did a course on instructing. I’m trying to think where I did that. It was only a short thing. Yeah Abingdon. I was there quite a while and it was a good station and what else I could say?
NM: So, so back at Lissett tell me a little bit more about your off duty hours. What, between operations, what was life like between operations?
TC: Oh not bad. We used to go in to - where did we go?
Other: Bridlington.
TC: Hmmn?
Other: Bridlington
TC: Bridlington yes. And that was a few miles down the road. We had bikes or we, or we got lifts in but we usually biked in and that was it. We used to have drinks in pubs and usually had a meal because it was, there was a shop there that was two Italian women and they used to have queues outside their little café and if we walked up she used to, they used to say, ‘Come in,’ and we used to go top of the queue. We used to get some dirty looks from outside but the, yeah. It was usually drinking and laughing and it was good relief.
NM: You’d go in as a crew would you?
TC: No. Not all of us. It was usually, I think, three or four of us because the wireless op. What was his name?
Other: Dorian.
TC: Dorian. He didn’t, didn’t join in our drinking and that. So, I don‘t know what he did but -
Other: Still you kept in touch with him for -
TC: Yes.
Other: I mean we used to go to all the reunions up till a few years ago. Met them all.
NM: Was there much social mixing between the officers and the NCOs?
TC: Oh yes. That didn’t count for anything really especially if half your crew were. There was only the navigator and the bomb aimer were commissioned so the others we all went together. It didn’t make any odds.
NM: Was there a sort of special pride in 4 Group or 158 or Halifaxes?.
TC: We, well for Halifaxes and 158 really because you used to hear so much about the, well any of the other bombers. You don’t think of it. You get to the stage where, you know, yours is better than theirs but yeah. It was only, you could only go to Bridlington. We used to go to another little village up the road sometimes for a drink. That was all. Only two or three of us but there wasn’t with loads of other aircrew. It was just local bods so it makes a change, you know.
NM: So of your thirty seven operations are there any more particular targets or experiences that you had?
TC: Not really, I don’t think. It’s all in here. It’s worth a, you know, look through. Where we went.
NM: Yes, well I will.
TC: First operational tour completed. Thirty seven sorties.
NM: We’ll take a look at that in a little while.
TC: Yeah.
NM: If that’s ok.
TC: Yeah. And -
NM: So -
TC: We did thirty seven ops. And there were 246 aircraft lost on those ops that we did. I don’t know why I made that note and, well, it tells you quite a bit in there and I’ve got a good sign there.
NM: We’ll come on to that.
TC: Mmm?
NM: I’ll certainly take a look at that in a minute.
TC: Yeah.
NM: If that’s ok.
TC: Yes.
NM: So you went, you went from operations to Abingdon.
TC: Yeah.
NM: And how long were you at Abingdon for? Training. Or as an instructor?
TC: Crumbs. Till I, till I was demobbed. No. I got, I got another friend of mine and I we were, got posted to, what was it? It was a, they were, they were flying, oh crumbs, I’ve got it in here, I flew so many. Wellingtons, this was just before I, after I left Abingdon. Dakotas. 138, 1 Training Control Unit so I was only there a long while and I had blotted my copy book because I went up with one of their instructors in a Dakota one day and he was being clever and he’d been a pupil at Abingdon. I remembered him and didn’t think much of him but he, one day he was trying to show me something, oh, and he had another trainer with us and he lost, he lost control of it and I pulled it out, you know. He did something stupid and I thought, ‘No, I don’t want this.’ Well, myself and this other friend of mine, we were together there and we asked to be taken off the course. That brought the pains on because we found out that they’d had a whole load of people getting, asking to be taken off because they didn’t think much of it and they weren’t having any more and we got posted. We went to headquarters at, of the, that headquarters of that well, whole unit. You know, the whole thing and apparently so many had done it we got dismissed out of there and got pushed around and bullied and we, in the end there was, we were getting a lift there one day and a car stopped and there was a very high ranking RAF chap and his side and he was that man who lost his arm. Do you remember? He was a very well-known man, very highly decorated. He went to get a crew that had crashed or something and helped, went to get them or something and he lost an arm and it was him in the car. Took us down to the base. We got bullied around a bit, the two of us but then we were sent downstairs to an old wing commander, an old boy and he couldn’t have, he was just the opposite. He said, ‘I know what you’ve been through, you chaps. I’ll get you seen to.’ And he got us a little job each. Not flying but on ground staff and, that, that was towards the end and I was finished then really. Dakotas. That’s it. We got chucked off there and the only other ones I’ve flown I put those little marks on there, aeroplanes I’ve flown with. For instance I flew with Denham with my son Malcolm and another chap from Ipswich had a plane that we went in. And two gliders. And a Lynx at the Wattisham Army Air Corps. We, we were in a club of ex-RAF chaps at, when we went to Frinton and we visited this place and they were the army chaps and they said, ‘Come on, we’re going to get you blokes airborne.’ And we were up in these flaming helicopters. They didn’t seem very safe to me but it was quite, it was good fun. I’ve made a note of it. Ipswich. Dunstable. And we flew. You flew in a glider. [inaudible] So that’s, that’s it.
NM: So how did you find -
TC: I think -
NM: The transition from operations to -
TC: I beg pardon?
NM: How did you find the transition going from an operational unit to a non-operational unit back at Abingdon?
TC: Well I suppose relief really. They were all ex [inaudible] and they were all the same and they were a ragged lot and funny. Yeah. I enjoyed going to Abingdon.
Other: You made some good friends there didn’t you like Bob Withers.
TC: Yes. The flight commander. We bumped into him in Harrow didn’t we?
Other: Yes, we met.
TC: He took us home and, we, he’s not living but his son is and he’s on the, we’re going to arrange to meet him soon.
Other: Yes. He now -
NM:: So -
Other: Goes around schools talking doesn’t he?
TC: Yes. He’s a cripple but he does everything he can to push what his father did and he goes around the schools and dresses up in his dad’s old clothes and gives them talks. A good lad.
NM: So it’s -
TC: We’re supposed to be meeting him soon.
Other: Yeah.
NM: It sounds to me like you’ve kept in touch with squadron reunions and associations over the years.
TC: Yeah. Well we used to go to 158 reunion every year but then it dropped off hasn’t it? For us.
Other: That’s because the original crews -
TC: Were all popping off and there’s no one to organise it.
Other: Or the last time we went we didn’t know anyone because –
TC: No.
Other: They were nearly all the sons or the relatives of the actual veterans. They weren’t that many left.
TC: No and now they meet in fact –
Other: And it’s a long way to drive isn’t it?
TC: Yeah.
Other: Or go.
TC: Yeah. And to say we don’t, we didn’t, the last time we went we didn’t know anyone really.
Other: No. So there’s no point in going.
TC: Just sitting with strangers.
TC: And that was a few years back and, but they still, a little group of them meet.
Other: But we went for many -
TC: Half a dozen.
Other: Many years didn’t we?
TC: Hmmn?
Other: We went for many many years.
TC: Oh yes.
Other: And it was great.
TC: Yeah.
Other: It was lovely. The reunions.
TC: Yes.
NM: So you were demobbed in ’45. So what, what have you done since then?
TC: Went back to my old job with a one man, man who made instruments and didn’t, oh, he went down south for a while and I had to keep the thing going and we made timers for x ray machines. That was his main thing and then I lost touch. I didn’t want to go with him anymore and I got a job at -
Other: Rotax?
TC: No. No before then. I went to the, crumbs.
Other: Wasn’t it Rotax?
TC: No. It was instruments at, I’ve forgotten the name of the firm now. A big firm. You know. All I know is I was offered this job and I took it and I left and then found another job and they said anytime you want a job there will be one for you here.’ That was at a big firm at, oh God. I’m sorry about this. I can’t -
Other: When did you go to Rotax ?
TC: Oh crumbs. Yeah. Yeah I went to Rotax and got a job as a draughtsman really but I knew the man that gave me the job and he made me go around his house topping me up on my drawing which was good of him. No one else knew. It would have been a bit of a bother if he had but he was a friend of my brother’s really I knew. And that was at Rotax which was part of Joseph Lucas and they were taken over by another big firm and the whole lot just I left because this was all happening and they went, just went. I don’t know who took them over but it was Lucas of Birmingham but they, they went out and packed up. The last time I went past the place where I worked at Laverstock Green there was just, it was just bricks on the ground where they’d knocked the factory, and the factory was only built ten years before. Anyway, that’s not to do with this I’m afraid.
NM: So then you retired from that did you?
TC: Yes. What did I do last? Anything useful?
Other: You were just sixty weren’t you? Yeah.
TC: That’s it.
Other: When you retired.
Other: Being retired thirty three years.
TC: Yeah. So -
NM: When, you when look back and reflect on your time in Bomber Command what are your, what are your thoughts?
TC: I’m glad I did it. Yeah. Yes. I wouldn’t have, I wouldn’t have missed it if I’d had the chance because there are so many people that you got on well with. The ground crew and people like that. Yeah it was well worth it I think. I don’t know what good I did but as I say the fact that I did thirty seven ops was a bit peculiar because they, originally when they started they, I think they used to do twenty four but then things got perhaps a bit easier and they put that up. I’ve forgotten what number they put it up to but then they did it again and I should have done forty. They put them up to forty but the time I, when I was put off and I’d done that number [24] they went back to a more respectable number because there were not enough people to finish really but no, it’s, I’m glad I did it.
NM: And how do you think Bomber Command has been treated since the war in terms of history and recognition?
TC: Well I think a good example is Churchill when they bombed and the Americans bombed -
Other: Dresden.
TC: Dresden. Churchill didn’t want to know you know and it was him who’d been pushing us out and I’ll never forget that and I lost my respect for him. I thought he was good but he, like everybody else I suppose. Think of themselves but yeah that took the gilt off it.
Other: It still rankles doesn’t it?
TC: It does.
Other: That you haven’t got a medal.
TC: Yes
Other: Just got the soppy clasp.
TC: Hmmn?
Other: You got that soppy little clasp.
TC: Oh yeah. Yeah [laughs]
NM: So what did you feel about the clasp?
TC: You tell him about the clasp.
Other: It’s your interview.
TC: Well I’m trying to think what it is. I mean how do you describe it?
Other: The pin.
TC: Yeah. Where is it?
NM: In terms of recognition it doesn’t.
Other: Tell Them Tell them on the machine what you -
NM: What do you feel about the award of the clasp versus a campaign medal?
TC: Not a lot. No. That’s being polite.
Other: Most of you and your crew thought it was, it is an insult
TC: Yeah well only the navigator and I got a DFC. The others. Nothing.
NM: And how did the crew feel about that? Or how did you feel about it?
TC: I thought it was very unfair. They could have even had a decent medal for just being in the Bomber Command in that sense. I don’t think there is anything but I mean, why? The navigator I would have said deserved it but whether I did or not I don’t know. I suppose I did ‘cause I got them back safely but you know the others did a good job. Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know what else.



Nigel Moore, “Interview with Tom Coles,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 1, 2023,

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