Interview with Jim Copus. One


Interview with Jim Copus. One


James Copus grew up in Oxfordshire. He volunteered for aircrew and after training, became a mid-upper gunner and flew operations with 97 Squadron. He remembers a crash while taxiing to take-off, baling out of his empty Lancaster and how he kept himself occupied while a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft 1.







00:37:59 audio recording

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NM: By saying this is Nigel Moore. I’m with Mr James Copus.
JC: Yes.
NM: I’m at his house in Boxmoor in Hemel Hempstead xxxx. It’s Monday the 28th of September.
JC: Yes.
NM: And it’s 2 o’clock in the afternoon.
JC: Yes.
NM: So can I just start by asking?
JC: Carry on.
NM: By asking you -
JC: Carry on. Get my breath back.
NM: Yes. Ok. Can you tell me something?
JC: I haven’t had lunch long and I’ve been sitting, just sat down.
NM: Right. Ok.
JC: And I got up with a bit of a rush I suppose.
NM: Take it easy and take your time.
JC: Fine.
NM: Take your time.
JC: You can see up there.
NM: What was, what was your life like before you joined the RAF? About your upbringing and childhood. Where did you grow up?
JC: Where did I grow up?
NM: Yeah.
JC: Well I was born in Watlington which is Oxfordshire. I don’t know if you know it.
NM: Yeah. I do.
JC: Watlington. Yes. And I joined the RAF in nineteen -
NM: What was, what were you doing before you joined the RAF?
JC: I was working in Stokenchurch at a chair factory ‘cause really there wasn’t a great deal of work about so you had to go where you could work and I lived at Stoke, I worked at Stokenchurch. That was seven mile away. Aston on a Hill, quite a hill. Anyway, it were interesting and I enjoyed myself. I always like what I do and I do what I like. I think that’s a good story anyway, don’t you? Anything else you would like to know?
NM: So, so, how did you, how did you come to join the RAF and when did you join the RAF?
JC: Well that’s a good question. I didn’t, I didn’t say, I didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t tell my parents. I just went up to, up to Reading one Saturday morning and I came home and said I had joined the RAF. Well, I thought that was the best way to do it because I didn’t want to upset anybody and as I say my, I had a brother and a sister but they’re all dead now unfortunately, parents as well. And I went up to Reading and just went up there and I came home and said I was joined the RAF and they didn’t, well they were taken aback a little bit but I think they appreciated the fact that I volunteered so that made me happy as well. Yeah. Alright?
NM: So tell me something then about your training. How did you -
JC: Pardon?
NM: About your training.
JC: Training.
NM: Once you -
JC: For the RAF?
NM: Yes. Once you joined, what happened to you when you joined up?
JC: Well the first thing, first thing I’d do as soon as I got my call up I went up to Blackpool to go and do the square bashing. That’s what they called it in those days. I don’t know what they call it today but it was all marching up and down through Blackpool. Quite a nice place to go actually in, it was the, I’m just trying to think, it wasn’t summer and it wasn’t winter. It was somewhere in between anyway. I know that because it was mostly dry which was good and so I enjoyed it. It was very good. We were all stationed in separate billets. We weren’t in a block of flats that were, we were sent out to people, residents, you know so you got, you might be in one bedroom, house and two doors down the road was another one, another recruit. It was good. I enjoyed it as I say. Things changed to what it is today. Anything else?
NM: So, and what sort of, what form did the training take?
JC: First, most of it was square bashing, learning how to as you’d appreciate as good twenty four of us at a time maybe even more square bashing and we did that for two or three solid weeks and then then we moved on from there and it wasn’t until, oh I forget how long it was afterwards that I volunteered for aircrew. Well, I went up to Reading actually and I went and didn’t tell anybody, I just went up to Reading and I said, ‘Can I join the air force?’ and I went from there so.
NM: So, so in Blackpool you volunteered for, for air crew.
JC: Yeah.
NM: And you became a mid-upper gunner.
JC: I mean I did end up as a mid-upper gunner, yes.
NM: Did you volunteer for that or was -
JC: Oh yeah. I volunteered for it. Yeah. Yeah. Well I wanted to, once I got there I wanted to do something and I thought the only thing I could do is to, I don’t mind being an air gunner. It makes no difference. I can’t fly the plane so I’d got to do something else and -
NM: So, what was the training like for a gunner?
JC: It was very good and the training was very good. I went over to the Isle of Man and places like that doing different training, doing, and that so we did, we did most of the training from the Isle of Man in, well aircraft in those days were a little bit different to what they are today and enjoyable. I enjoyed what I did. The most important.
NM: And from your air gunning training –
JC: Hmmn?
NM: From your training -
JC: I was training as an air gunner. Yeah.
NM: Yes.
JC: Yeah.
NM: How did you then move on towards operations?
JC: Well I don’t know how that we did move around from there. It was, I was flying you know just going from the Isle of Wight, no the Isle of Man, we were flying from the Isle of Man. Going out there, flying around and training and then from there I went up to Cambridge and from there went on to more training and more flying and we did a lot of night flying getting used to flying at night. Used to go for sometimes we were out for eight hours flying. It was a long time up there. No, but as I say I enjoyed it. It was something I wanted to do and the war was on. I enjoyed it.
NM: So when did you meet the rest of your crew?
JC: Now, I didn’t meet the crew until oh I suppose the Isle of Man and I met up with most of them. Didn’t meet them all at once. I met them all separately. They were different training you see. There was the pilot and the navigator, they were all training and different and then we all got together and then we used to go out on training flights. Everybody. Each crew went out individually as a lot with the crew and we went on night flying, mostly night flying in those days. Yeah. It was alright. It was a long time ago. I can’t remember everything.
NM: You were straight on Lancasters were you?
JC: Not on Lancasters at the time, no. No. No. No. We were, no they weren’t Lancasters. They weren’t Lancasters until we got into the squadron?
NM: Ok.
JC: No.
NM: So, so your training flying was done on other aircraft, yes?
JC: Other aircraft yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
NM: As a complete crew.
JC: There was, no when you say a complete crew. There was a pilot and then yourself in the turret. Maybe three of you in there, in it but certainly it wasn’t seven. So, no as I say it was all interesting and I was, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed what I did.
NM: So when you met up with the full crew, when you -
JC: Yes. Once we met the crew you all trained together and once we trained together went on operations.
NM: Tell me something about the crew members.
JC: Crew members.
NM: Yeah.
JC: It’s trying to remember everybody now. It was such a long ago, as you know. Let me think. Cooper. Cooper was the pilot. I remember him. Yeah. Mac. Always called him Mac anyway. He was the navigator and the rear gunner was, the rear gunner was called Slick [laughs]. We had nicknames for everybody and I was the mid upper. I remember lots of things but as I say again it’s such a long ago now, as you appreciate. I’ve enjoyed myself but I’ve always try and do that. Even now. Yeah.
NM: And you were posted down to, you were posted to 97 squadron.
JC: Yeah we got eventually down to 97 squadron. Yeah. Yeah.
NM: Tell me about life on 97 squadron.
JC: Well 97 squadron, we were the Cambridge, just up, up not very far away from here to that extent. Cambridge. And it was a fully operational station and we had problems. Wherever you went you had problems ‘cause I remember going out one night we were all , all ready to go, all on a plane and it was, I mean there was no lighting to that extent and we were going down the perimeter track. The next thing you know we were up one side. It had gone down a trench, in the trench. We got stuck so we couldn’t go out that night. That was funny. The things were happening. You never realised what can go on but flying was alright. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed flying. Have you flown? Have you ever flown?
NM: I have yes but -
JC: Pardon?
NM: Yes, I have.
JC: Oh good.
NM: But -
JC: Yes. It’s something you can take to or you can’t isn’t it?
NM: What was, what was life like on the squadron when you weren’t flying?
JC: Well it was good. Good. We never had to worry because depending on the weather you got up in the morning you went on parade, well on parade, you went into the hut, you went in to the hut and you met everybody else in there and they just came in and said, ‘Right. No flying today,’ and that was the end of it. We’d go our own way. But then if there was flying then we’d go and get the crew together and we’d go out and dress up and go out. Yeah. It was, well in those days, I don’t know what it’s like today but in those days it was, it was one for all and all for one if you know what I mean. [laughs] No, I enjoyed it.
NM: So when you weren’t flying what did you get up to?
JC: Er what did I get up to? Mostly I’d go into London. I’d get out of the camp and go on the A1 and, and come down and pick up my girl, meet my girlfriend. So we all had things like that happening. As long as you got back in time the next morning it didn’t matter ‘cause you went on, you’d go on parade in the morning and they’d say, well depending on the weather of course and they’d say, ‘Well there’s nothing happening today. See you tomorrow morning.’ If not we’d go out with the crew and go out on a cross country. Take a, we’d do a cross country flying. Sometimes we’d go on dog legs well anywhere from Cambridge. Dog legging here all the way to Scotland and back. Boring but [laughs]. Other than that it was alright. I enjoyed it.
NM: And you were in the turret the whole time.
JC: Hmmn?
NM: You were in the turret the whole time.
JC: Oh yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Once you were up there you can’t, you don’t move around. No. Nobody, nobody moved once you got in the aircraft. You were there and that was it till you landed. Oh it was interesting.
NM: Tell me about your operations.
JC: Operations. We didn’t do many. Only went on, I think I got shot down on the sixth, it was the sixth operation. Sixth one. And I remember that quite clearly because we were flying across France. We’d gone across there, we’d crossed over into France ‘cause we were down to, up rather about eighteen thousand feet I suppose by the time we got there and it was like daylight. It really was. You could see everything, you could see all around you and I was amazed at what we could see up there at that time of night and I didn’t see the fighter because he’d come up behind us. He came up underneath and I was lucky because I was in the mid upper, I was a mid upper gunner just slightly to one side of the aircraft and the aircraft, the fighter came up underneath and behind but he never hit me at all. I was sitting in the turret and the bullet, obviously he hit other crew and that was it. I got out of there. They didn’t, they never said anything but I got out the turret, went back to the rear door, put my parachute on and that was the end of that because I couldn’t get out of the door. I had to get, couldn’t open the door so I had to go back through the aircraft and go down the nose. That was the worrying because as I say it’s, if you’ve been in an aircraft and your stuck in the tail of the air craft and you’ve got to walk back through the fuselage and find the hole to go through and I went through it and that was it and I suppose I came down and got somebody’s back garden, landed there and they all came out to look and took me inside the house, sat me inside the kitchen in the house and everybody in the village came around to have a look but I wasn’t bothered. It didn’t affect me. I mean I was never attacked in any shape or form so I can’t go into that. There was nothing. Nothing happened and then I suppose after a couple of hours the local police arrived and they took me to a police station and that was it. Well, apart from staying all those fifteen months. Yeah. Anything else?
NM: Well, yes.
JC: Go on then. I don’t know what you’re wanting to ask.
NM: Did you, did you manage see any of the crew again after you bailed out?
JC: I’m just trying to think about that. Have I seen the crew? I think I have, periodically, yeah because that was such a long time ago isn’t it when I think about it. So no I don’t think I saw many after that, once the war broke out because they all went in different directions. I did meet the skipper once. Yes.
NM: So they all survived did they?
JC: Hmmn?
NM: They all survived the shooting down.
JC: Oh yeah. Yeah. Did we? No. No. No. No. No we got shot down. The rear gunner was killed. He was, he was the only one I think that was, that was lost on the flight. He was in the tail and I looked out and I couldn’t find anybody. How long, I had to go back, back up the fuselage. I had to get back out of my turret, get my parachute on, I tried the back door, couldn’t get out of the back door so I had to up to the front again and there was nobody there. I just went through the hatch. Yeah. That was, that was yeah that was maybe a bit worrying and scary.
NM: When there was nobody there. Yeah
JC: Yeah.
NM: Yeah.
JC: [?] but there again I’m alive and that’s the most important.
NM: So you were taken to a police station.
JC: Oh yes. Yes.
NM: Tell me about your, the next fifteen months then as a prisoner of war.
JC: Well yes we went from various places to, from one place to another on a railway trip from one part of a town to another you know and once they got that we went into we were confined to places where we had to be, didn’t have to talk to anybody so, no, I mean a bit scary but got over it. No. No.
NM: So you were in a prisoner of war camp.
JC: Yes Stalag Luft 1. I don’t know if you know the Stalags. Up in the Baltic. Overlooking the sea there. The Russians were on the other side, the other side of the water. So -
NM: So describe life in Stalag Luft 1 for me.
JC: Pardon?
NM: What was life like as a prisoner of war in Stalag Luft 1?
JC: Well it’s what you made it really. Either, you either got on with it or you moped around and did nothing. No, I went out and I used to play football when I could and things like that and walk around the camp, but you had to do something. You just couldn’t just sit around. I mean some people, some of them did but I couldn’t do that. I used to walk around if I could, go from one compound to another. There’s not much you could do because they had, well I don’t know who they were, they were foreigners at the camp and they did all the dirty work so we were fortunate in that respect. Yeah.
NM: So how many of you were in your -
JC: Pardon?
NM: How many of you were there in -
JC: In the camp?
NM: In the camp, yes.
JC: Oh now that’s a good question.
NM: How many in your hut?
JC: Oh in a hut. Twelve. About twelve to a hut and there were, must have been, let me think one, two, three, four, five, about six, six, seven huts. Yeah. Maybe more.
NM: All RAF? Were they?
JC: Yeah all RAF, yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
NM: So did you make many friends in the camp?
JC: Well, I must have done, must have done but I never kept up with anybody special really. Not once I left and moved around from one place to another. You make friends obviously but then you go on and make further friends. Like anything else.
NM: Were there any other incidents of note? Did people try and escape or were there -
JC: Well it wasn’t a very good place to try and escape because on one side of it was all you were out at the sea so there was no way you could go from there unless you had, well as I say we were out on the Baltic so, no. There was no there was no way. Some people tried to escape and they got out, they got out of the camp but they were never out for long so there you go. There again there were other things you could do. I went, there was three, three prisoners there used to go into the village, local, well, the [?] village doing repairs to various things that wanted repaired and I asked them if it was possible to go with them one day and I went down. I had to go and find somebody with a hat, different clothes that I could go and find and be different to the others and I went down to this family. They introduced me to this family and when I was there the daughter arrived and she was crying her eyes out and I thought, ‘Oh God, what have I done now?’ It wasn’t nothing to do with me apparently. She was, she’d just been ordered to the Russian front. That was the reason. So it was a bit scary you know. I didn’t like to see that but I had to put up with it. No.
NM: So you had a chance now and again to go out of the camp but -
JC: Well yeah if you could, you could go out if there was two or three used to go bookbinding and sometimes you know you’d say to them, ‘Is it, is it possible to come with you?’ and they’d go and find out. I didn’t go out, I think it was two or three times about, that was all I went and otherwise you just sat around doing nothing and I didn’t like that. Doing bookbinding. But they had to do it because they kept the books up to date for the camp you know. Ok.
NM: Were you in communication at all with your parents?
JC: Pardon?
NM: Were you in communication at all with your parents? Were you able to write to your parents?
JC: Well, yes, you were allowed. Yeah but not, I think it was once a month I think you could do it. You could write a letter once a month and then it had to be censored so other than that prisoners of war like everything else you’re confined to barracks, wire and that’s it. No. I, we used to have fields, you know quite decent fields to play around in. We had, you could play football and things like that. And no we didn’t, there was always something going on. We had an officer, a German officer he he was at the old type of German and he used to come up, walk through the compounds and one day he came in and he found a couple of Americans there fencing. Well not with, not with swords or anything like that so he stopped and watched it, watched them for a while and then he said, he just took his belt off and showed them how it should be done. That was interesting. Yeah. But nothing else happened. No. We had a lot of foreigners there, foreign men doing the, all the dirty work. We didn’t have to do any work at all. Couldn’t grumble.
NM: So you weren’t -
JC: No.
NM: You weren’t treated roughly at all by the Germans. Or -
JC: No. No, not really. We were never, never hassled by them at all whatsoever. No.
NM: Even when you were shot down did they question you, interrogate you?
JC: Oh well yes yes we got interrogated, got isolated for that but we wouldn’t tell them anything anyway. Not what they wanted. [?] said, ‘No I don’t know anything about that.’ Whatever. And no, as long as you as long as you told them some story or whatever it didn’t matter. It didn’t, didn’t have to be the truth and they couldn’t find out anyway. So, no, that’s going back a long time now isn’t it?
NM: So they wanted to know what squadron you were with did they? And -
JC: Pardon?
NM: They wanted to know which squadron you were with. What sort of questions -
JC: 97 squadron.
NM: Yeah. Which squadron, I mean what sort of questions did they ask you when you were shot down?
JC: What, what on the -
NM: The night you were shot down and you went to, you were interrogated -
JC: Oh.
NM: What did they want to know from you that you wouldn’t tell them?
JC: Well they wanted to know the names of the crew. I wasn’t saying, I said, ‘I don’t know them,’ I said, ‘I only joined them, I only went with them tonight.’ So, I wouldn’t tell them anything. I couldn’t do, well I could but I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t say anything. I said, ‘I’m sorry but I’ve only, this is my first night with that crew,’ so I couldn’t tell them any information and they accepted it in the end so, good.
NM: So you were in a prisoner of war camp for quite a long time.
JC: Fifteen months.
NM: And how did that come to an end? How were you liberated?
JC: We were liberated by the Russians.
NM: Tell, tell me about that. How did that happen?
JC: Well they came, we were out, you could see the front of the camp and across the water and the next thing we know the Russians came in and liberated. We got confined to camp though for a while. They didn’t want us to mix for some reason or other but eventually we all got out together, marched out the camp and we had to march quite a way too. To the nearest aerodrome to get picked up. Flew us home. Flew down to the south coast. Yeah.
NM: So you were flown home.
JC: Yeah.
NM: In -
JC: We were all flown home.
NM: In what? Lancasters or Dakotas or -
JC: Well, they were in all sorts of aircraft they were. Whatever aircraft was available. That was what it was all about. No. I mean, no we never came back in a Lancaster. I’m sure I didn’t because there’s not a lot of room in a Lancaster. I don’t know if you knew that. No. Not a lot of room. So -
NM: So what was the feeling like when you knew you were coming home again?
JC: Wondering I suppose, we were curious what it was like at home. What we’d missed or we hadn’t missed and how people were going to react and things like that but on the whole it turned out ok. Yeah. I’ve no complaints.
NM: So had the war finished by then or was the, had the war actually finished by the time you were flown home?
JC: Had the?
NM: Had the war actually finished by the time you flew home.
JC: Well yeah you couldn’t fly anymore. That was the start. Once you were home. I was in the air force not long. I didn’t stay there long after that once I got home but we got moved around a bit and so I thought I’ll leave. So I got out. Came out the RAF. I didn’t stay. No. People, well some stayed on but no I’d got out, got out of the system I suppose. Didn’t go -
NM: So what have you done since you were demobbed from the RAF?
JC: What have I done? Well I’ve done sorts, many sorts of things really I suppose. I’m just trying to think what I did. I finished up as a driving instructor. That was because it gave me more freedom. I had my own driving school and so I enjoyed that.
NM: Do you keep in touch with anybody from the RAF? Did you keep, did you go to reunions? The squadron -
JC: Did I?
NM: Do you ever go to squadron reunions?
JC: No. No. I were never keen on things like that.
NM: Oh right.
JC: No. Well I haven’t been to any of them and as I say I don’t go now and I don’t suppose there’s any now.
NM: You were contacted last year to go up to Coningsby though were you?
JC: Yes I’m going up there. I’ve got the book there. You saw that.
NM: Yeah. How did you get that invite?
JC: Pardon?
NM: How did you get that invite? Did someone write to you to invite you to -
JC: Well yes you get you always get these things happening and you just go. There’s lots of places you, these things happening. I’ve got the book as I say. I’ve got it booked to go. That’s not long and far away anyway.
NM: So when you look back on your time -
JC: Hmmn?
NM: When you look back on your time with Bomber Command what do you, what do you think about, how do you feel about your time in Bomber Command when you look back?
JC: Well all, I mean what I do I look on it as something I did and I wanted to do and it was a hell of an experience. That’s all. It’s not everybody can go out and say I’ve been, done this, I’ve done that so I’m quite pleased with what I’ve done and I’ve got not no regrets at all in my life at all in that respect. I’ve done what I wanted to do. Plus extra. But no I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed my [lived through?] that.
NM: How do you think –
JC: Anything you want to ask me?
NM: How do you think bomber command had been treated by history?
JC: Eh?
NM: How do you think Bomber Command had been treated in terms of recognised for its contribution during the war?
JC: Well I don’t know whether Bomber Command has ever recognised it. Not that I do really I mean I’ve got things like that but they never come, never come directly so I don’t think they ever kept up. Not really. You surprise me in a sense they didn’t.
NM: Ok.
JC: Not everybody would ever go through that again, I hope anyway but you can’t, you can’t help it, you can’t miss anything out. You’ve got to relive now and again and hope and as I say I got through it and I’m lucky and I’m happy about it so that’s all I can say.
[Machine pause]
Next thing I know the rest of the crew disappeared. I looked up and there was nobody there so I went back to, I went back to the rear door to open the rear door. Couldn’t open it so had to walk back through the fuselage and drop down to the nose. That was a little bit scary.



Nigel Moore, “Interview with Jim Copus. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 21, 2024,

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