Interview with Jack Cranston


Interview with Jack Cranston


Jack joined the Royal Air Force in Leeds. After going to St. John’s Wood in London, he trained in Rhodesia where he passed out as a pilot. His training was on Tiger Moths and Oxfords before he was posted to a Wellington RAF station. Jack went on to fly Stirlings and was posted to a squadron of Lancasters. After 249 Squadron, he joined 207 Squadron.
Jack carried out 22 operations before his plane was shot down towards the end of the war. They baled out and Jack was captured. He escaped with an American private. They were rescued by some Americans and taken to Paris. He eventually returned to his squadron. Jack flew some troops to and from Paris from Croydon but carried out no further operations.








00:30:50 audio recording


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ACranstonJ151019, PCranstonJ1501


My name is Jack Edward Cranston, and I worked, nah, I don't want to say I worked, and I joined the Air Force in Leeds. I was sent to, oh dear, I've forgotten where it was. (Noises off) I joined the Air Force in Leeds, and was sent to Southern Rhodesia to train, We first trained on Tiger Moths, and having passed out after training, we were then sent to train on Oxfords. Having passed out on Oxfords and received my Pilot's wings we were then put on ships and sent back to England. When we got to England we had a few weeks back on Oxfords, and then we went, I'll leave the name open, 'cause I'm not sure now, (muffled noises). Following a few weeks on Tiger Moths, we then went on to Oxfords, Airspeed Oxfords, and did training on – what do you call it when you go on a-? We were posted on to a Wellingtons RAF station and did more training.
Woman's voice: Do you want a cup of tea?
JC: From the Wellington we then went on to four engined Stirlings to do a bit more training (pause) Stirlings, on Stirlings, we were then posted to a squadron of Lancasters, which we did one or two flights, and then went on to operations, and the first operation that I did was (pause) Canal, and that was-
Woman's voice: It doesn't really matter.
(recorder noises)
JC: (unclear) I served in the Royal Air Force, and finished as a flying officer. I trained in Southern Rhodesia, and became a pilot on twin engined Oxfords. On returning to England (pause) (recorder noises) (unclear) although I was in a reserved occupation in York, if you went to Leeds it didn't matter, and so my brother first, and then me, we went to Leeds and joined the Air Force, and that was in nineteen forty two. Having joined the Air Force you were sent home to wait to be called up, which in my instance was about six or seven weeks, and then I had a railway warrant to go to St John's Wood in London, and that was the Air Force recruiting place. And I went down to St John's Wood and joined the Air Force. From there I was sent by boat to South Africa, and then up to Southern Rhodesia, where I did all my training on Tiger Moths, and then on Oxfords. Having passed out as a pilot on multi engines we came, came home via South America, I don't know why, but, we went from Durban to Uruguay, Montevideo. When we got to Montevideo, oh crikes it was marvellous, welcomed with open arms. In fact they provided coaches so we could have a trip all round Uruguay. And so we had a trip, couple of days, travelling all round Uruguay, stopping in little villages and towns, and then back, back to Montevideo, and we waited for a boat home. Well, the boat, when it came, was similar to the one we went out in, but where we had hung hammocks on hooks, this time it was full of meat, so we were lucky, we were in cabins. Just, not many of us really, but anyway we got on the boat and sailed, sailed home, and docked at Bristol. And from there we were given rail warrants to get back to Lincoln. And so on the train we were all, (unclear) there wasn't that many of then, like, there was about a dozen, so we all went to Lincoln, and from Lincoln it was more or less, you did more or less what you wanted. I thought, 'well, I've come to Lincoln, I might as well go home'. And so I got the train to York and went home, and had a couple of weeks at home, and I thought, 'well I better go and find out what's happening', being in the Air Force. So I went back, and I was sent to the squadron, 249 Squadron, and they were stationed at a little place, near Skegness, actually, the aerodrome, and it was ideal for travelling across the North Sea into Germany. I had a nice time there, but eventually you had to go on to a squadron, a proper squadron, and I joined the 207 Squadron, and they were stationed in Lincolnshire nearer the coast, so that it was easy for us to take off, and the coast was just about twenty miles away, and we just see- sailed over the coast and across the North Sea and ready for Germany. And this we did mostly at night, I think there was only a couple of daylight raids we went on, but most were at night, and I got, I done twenty two, but the tour was thirty, so on my twenty second I got shot down, and baled out. And I was captured and taken to an interrogation centre where I met up with my navigator. But he was just ready, he'd been there a few days, and he was just ready to go out, so I had a word with the German officer in charge and asked whether I could go with him, but the answer was,'no'. So they wouldn't let me go with him. So I stayed for another, about a week actually, before we started to move out. I must say by this time, like, it was getting on into nineteen forty five. And we marched out, a hundred, and there was this American private which I'd met, and he was limping a bit so he was hanging on to me, and we dropped to the end of the column, and as we were ten miles away from the coast, we had a German guard with a fixed bayonet with us, so it weren't easy to get away, you know? And that went on most of the day, and I suppose it must have been around four o clock when this American I was with, he started limping very badly, and we dropped back and back with one German guard. And the column was four or five hundred yards ahead, and then suddenly there was a shell whistled, whistled over the top of us, and this German guard we had, he went, he disappeared, so there was just the two of us. So this American private says, 'come on, full field off the road, otherwise we'll get shot'. So I went with him, as he was the more experienced at this sort of-. And after the column had gone I came out and he says, 'well, the only thing that we can do really is to follow them', but to keep a good distance so as they didn't know we were there. And so we followed the column which was going to a prison camp, but we dropped away from them before we got there, and set off on our own, heading West. That was all we knew, we wanted West. And so it was only by watching the sun go down that we knew where West was. (chuckles) Anyway, we started heading off, and we, we'd gone a fair way when a shell whistled over the top, top of us. The column was in front, they'd gone about, oh, fifty yards in front of us, and this shell came across, and this German guard that we had with us, he disappeared straight away. And this American, he says, 'come on', he says, 'off the road at full field, and get your head down'. And so I thought, 'well, he knows what he's doing', so that's what we did, we ran across the field, and get your head down. Wait. And then of course shells started flying all over, and the American column, tanks in the front of it, started firing all around, and once they got past there was a bit of a lull, and he shouted out, 'Ah mates!' And this burly American, 'come out with your hands up'. (in American accent) So we went out with our hands up, and him being a yank, we were immediately taken on board one of the tanks. And we told them about the column, and so the tank commander that we were with got on to the scout tank in the front and told him that there was a column of a hundred prisoners being guarded by guards either side, and we were on the tank. So obviously, the scout tanks in front released all the prisoners. They were stood at the side of the road, and I thought, 'well here we are then'. But it wasn't here we are because they just went straight past them, with us still on the tank. And there were all our mates, like, stood at the side of the road. And so we went with the tank, firing and firing. And then we stopped for the night, and the tank commander went to a house, and he gave the people in it ten minutes to pack up and leave, and took the house over for the night. Just chucked them out, you know. They could take a few clothes with them, obviously, but we slept the night there, and in the morning we had breakfast there, and then we joined the column again, and went off. And at the end, the following night, he says, 'well, you're alright because tomorrow there'll be lorries coming up with supplies for us, and you can join them when they go back.' And so this is what happened. (Unclear) They dumped off all the supplies. We gone on the back of the tank, two of us, then set off back. And they got back to where it was all in our hands, at least, American hands, and we got off the tank and we had a real lovely meal, somewhere, like, with the yanks. They didn't do anything that was half-hearted, you know, there was everything, you know, if you wanted a meal you got a meal. And then, we stayed with them on the back of a tank for a full day, and then that night the tank commander said, 'well, you can stay here tonight, because in the morning we'll be having supplies coming up, and when they've dropped them off, they can take you back.' And that's just what happened. These lorries came up, dumped all the supplies and the yank and me got on one of the lorries, and they took us to Paris. And that's where he dropped us off, in the middle of Paris, which was a bit awkward because neither of us had any money. So I says, ' oh come on then, we'll - '. 'No', he says, 'come to our place, the yanks, we have more than you have', So I said, 'aye, that's right', so we went to the American consulate in Paris. And he, he got a taxi for us, paid for it, and took us to the American camp, in Paris. When I say camp, it weren't a camp, it was buildings, cos they liked their comfort, did the yanks. Anyway, he took us there and dropped us off, and I says, 'what now?' He says, 'well, I'm alright', he says, cos these are all Americans. He says 'I'll, wait a minute', he says, 'I'll go and see what I can do for you'. Any way, the upshot was he got a car. He says, 'there you are, you've got a driver. He'll take you where you want'. I says, 'Right', I says, 'where's the nearest British camp?' And he took me there. It took about a couple of hours, but when I got off there it was all English, English speaking people, you know, not yanks. And I was welcomed there, I had to tell the CO where'd I'd been, what I'd done, and how I'd come to be where I was. And then, 'well', he says, 'you're with us today and tomorrow, but probably on the next day-', I can't remember the days they were, they were just days, you know, I couldn't say whether it was Wednesday, Thursday, or what. But he says, ' the next day we'll be sending our trucks back to pick up supplies, you can go back with them'. Which was what happened. I was dumped in Paris. they went off, the American went off, I went to the British consulate, like, they gave me some money to get food. They said, 'well, there's nothing much we can do to you until we get some planes coming from England, so one could take you back, so I was stuck in Paris for a couple of days with nothing to do, just hang around really because I had no money, no French money. I had some English money, but no French money, so, but all meals were provided anyway in British service, and then the lorry (unclear), so I got a lift back. And it dumped me in London. And so I thought, 'right'. So the WAAF came over, she says, 'What's the nearest railway station to your aerodrome?' So I lived in York, so I said, 'York'. (chuckles) And so they gave me a railway warrant to York. So I went to York , and I went home. Well, you know, my mother didn't know I was back even, so it was a bit of a tearful reunion (chuckles). Because my father had been killed, oh a while before that, years before. He was a conductor on a tram, and he was pulling the trolley down, and another tram came along and crushed him between the two trams. In fact, I never saw him, but my mother said they hadn't even removed his clothes. He was still in his old, well uniform, with blood all over it because he'd been crushed between two trams. And she got nothing. Not a thing did she get from the council. So it was hard work, I know, I mean she went out cleaning in a morning, she went out cleaning offices at night, and we, well I got into the Air Force, like, and was told to report to Lincoln, and join the squadron again. And that's how it happened. Me brother, he went to Canada, and we had relations in Canada, so he was alright, he did very well. Well, just as well, like, cos he was eventually killed in the war, The plane he was on was shot down and they were all killed. Because he was a navigator, and, but I was still in France, was it France, or had I got to the-, no it was France because I was sat in Paris, looking miserable, and this fellow came up, he says, 'what the hell's the matter with you?,' he says, 'you like as if you've lost a couple of hundred pounds and found a penny'. I said, 'well, it's not quite as bad as that, but it's pretty bad. I'm stuck in Paris, and I want back to England. I say,' I said, 'what do you do?'. 'Oh', he said, 'I fly supplies from Paris to England.' 'Oo', I says, 'you're just the man I want to see. You can take me back'. He says, 'well yes I can', he says, 'but you'll have to be up at half past five in the morning. I'll pick you up at a quarter to six.' And he says, 'if you're not there, I'll just go'. I was there. I made sure of it. He took me, and he was flying supplies from Paris to Croydon, so I landed up in Croydon. And I, I can remember Croydon. And I went to the local Air Force place, and they said, 'well, what can we do for you?. And I said, 'well, first off, ' I said, 'I want some money to buy a new uniform', and told them who I was, I was a Flying Officer by then, Flying Officer Cranston. I says, 'I've got to get a uniform', I says, 'all this rubbish that I'm wearing'. 'Yeah okay'. So, she didn't give me money, she gave me a token, think it was about ten pound, something like that anyway, so I could go and buy a new uniform. So I bought a new uniform, and I went back, and I said, 'well, now what?' And she says, 'well, what's the nearest railway station to your aerodrome?' So I said, 'York'. It wasn't, York was where I lived, now I wasn't going to go back to the Air Force just yet. (chuckles) So she gave me a rail warrant to York. I went to York, and got a tram, trams were running then, got a tram up to Brighouses, where we lived. And I'm walking down the hill towards the railway, the bridge over the railway, then we were further on, and there's me mother walking up, so we had a sort of tearful reunion. And then she turned round and I went back home with her, had a meal, and made a cup of tea, no tea in it, just hot water and milk (chuckles). But then she says, 'well, what you going to do?' I says, 'I staying here for a while. If they want me they can come and find me'. So I had a week, and then I thought, 'oh, I'd better go and do something, like'. So I went to the RAF office and told them who I was, and what squadron, and they said, 'oh, right, then you want a rail warrant to Lincoln.' And he gave me one, and I got the train to Lincoln, well, actually, it was to a little, a little railway station near where we were, near Skegness it was. And I got the train there, walked up the road to the aerodrome, and everybody asked, 'where the hell have you been?' They didn't know I'd been shot down, they just knew I was missing. And when I got to the railway, to the aerodrome I went to see the CO, and I had to tell him the whole story of what had happened. 'Ah well, ' he says, ' everything's for the best'.(chuckles) 'Go back to your billet'. And that was it. So that was me finished. So that was it, I just went back and I was in the Air Force again. Yes it was alright. I never felt wholly at home in the Air Force, but I enjoyed me time there. Definite. Mind you, I was an officer, so I was better off than some ordinary airmen. I was a Flying Officer at the time. So I went back and stayed where I am. Can't remember what happened then.
MJ: Did you fly again?
JC: No, I didn't. Our crew, see, all of us had baled out, well I hope they had. I know the bomb aimer, engineer, navigator all went out the front, then I went out. The wireless operator and the mid upper gunner and the rear gunner went out the back door. So I don't know, really, what happened to them. They'd all baled out, I mean, they had time to bale out. They all has parachutes, but once you bale out of an aircraft you're at the mercy of the winds, You don't know where you're going to land up. So that was it then. I was back home. So when I saw the WAAF, like, she said, 'where's your nearest railway station?' Well, it was Lincoln, but I said York, because I lived in York. And I went home to York, and had a week, well, ten days actually, but anyway I thought I'd better be getting back or I'll be being arrested by military police. So I went back, and went walking up the road to the aerodrome, and the lads that I knew said, 'where the hell have you been?' I says, 'oh, I've been in Germany'. And they gave me a funny look, 'what’s up with him?' Anyway when I got back I went to see the CO, and had to tell him my story, and then he says, 'I would like you, tomorrow, around about eleven 'o' clock, to tell this story to the aircrews. We'll get them all together in one of the hangers, and you can tell them exactly what happened'. So I had to hurriedly write a few notes down, amd bits and pieces, and then the following day I gave my talk, and everybody gave me a big clap at the end of it, so I thought, 'well, that's alright, I haven't done too bad'. (chuckles) And then I just went back to the squadron. It was very good, I enjoyed it. (noises off)(unclear) back on leave from Paris. It was good really because, I mean there was nothing for English troops in Paris. They all wanted to get home, and I was on Lancasters and we took about ten in a Lancaster. Because I had to have the engineer and the wireless operator of me own crew. Where the two gunners had been, and the bomb aimer, they were taken up by troops coming home on leave, all their places, and a few down the corridor, the corridor down the middle of the Lancaster, Used to take about eight, eight troops back to Croyden, from Paris, on leave, going on leave, they were. It was quite fun, I enjoyed it , because there was no danger. We just took off from Croyden, sailed over to Paris, dropped them off, then came back again. Brought some back if they'd finished their leave.
MJ: What was the atmosphere in Paris then?
JC: It was quite alright, by then it was, yeah. The Germans had all been moved out, and it was, it was the end of the war, you see, because although I was still flying, in the Air Force, there was no bombing missions, or anything like that, it was all just taking troops home on leave and then bringing them back again. Quite pleasant, I mean, I didn't mind (chuckles) it was very good. Was to go back to my squadron, and I thought oh, when the WAAF said, 'what's your nearest railway station?' I said York, where I lived. I lived near York, so I went back to York, to my mother. She was , I met her on the railway bridge, on the way home, she was come over to go into York, so I went home with her, like. She was pleased as punch, you know, to see I was alright, and she made a cup of tea, but when she poured it out it was just hot water, she hadn't put any tea leaves in (laughs) I'll always remember that. She was alright.
MJ: On behalf of the International Bomber Command I'd like to thank Flight Officer Jack Cranston for his interview at his home in Southampton on the date of nineteenth of October two thousand and fifteen. Once again, I thank you.



Mick Jeffery, “Interview with Jack Cranston,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 27, 2024,

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