Interview with Don Crossley


Interview with Don Crossley


Don Crossley was born in South Emsall in 1924. He tells of his time before the war working at Upton Colliery before joining the Royal Air Force. He volunteered and trained initially as a wireless operator / air gunner. He tells of his experience at the aircrew receiving centre and his training at the initial training wing before his assignment to an operational training unit for crewing up. After serving in a heavy conversion unit, he was posted to 100 Squadron. He flew on Ansons, Lancasters, Lincolns, Yorks and Hastings. He was in Pathfinders force with 8 Group, 582 Squadron, and took part in operations Exodus and Dodge. Don was demobilised in 1947 but returned to take part in the Berlin airlift and also in Korea. He finally left the Royal Air Force in 1956. Don tells about his post war life doing manual labour and then a job with the Central Electricity Generating Board.




Temporal Coverage





00:34:29 audio recording


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ACrossleyD150904, PCrossleyD1501


GR. This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre, the interviewer is Gary Rushbrooke and the interviewee is Don Crossley. The interview is taking place at Don’s home in Upton West Yorkshire and the date is the 4th September 2015. Right Don, thank you. If you can just tell us a little bit about where you were born and your actual growing up.
DC. Yes, well I was born in South Emsall, and all these villages around here are very much alike in that they were based on the coal board, all private enterprise in those days and I was born in 1924.
GR. Right, and did you go to school locally?
DC. Never anything else other than the local school which at 14, you finished at 14 years old, and the first job I had was down Upton Colliery on a very mundane, dark murky job and that was coupling empty tubs coming off the chair. You know what a chair is – it’s the lift.
GR. It’s the lift.
DC. That lifts coal up and down, and that was the very first job which I hated. There was a man who took the tubs off the, off the cage and he was a brute, because he did nothing but swear at me and fetch this fetch that, not a kind word, I had no training I just went on.
GR. How old would you have been then Don?
DC. 14.
GR. 14.
DC. Yes very like that.
GR. And was that actually underground?
DC. Yes, in the pit bottom.
GR. Yes.
DC. Coupling empty tubs as they came off the chair, they went in different districts of the pit.
GR. Yes.
DC. And we were coupling them up going directly to each part of the pit they were needed if that makes sense.
GR. It does, and how many years or...
DC. Oh I was on there I can’t remember how long but I was on there a short time before I saw the lack of wisdom in going down the pit in the first place because I hated it.
GR. Right.
DC. So I got a job at local brick yard and that were fine, but I was only there a year when, when war broke out really or getting in that direction.
GR. And so you would have been about 16, 17, 16 when war broke out?
DC. I think I was a bit younger than that.
GR. Bit younger yes.
DC. About 15 maybe, yes.
GR. And so did you carry on working, in the first few years?
DC. I was at this brick yard, and then I went to have a little job where they made tarmac of all things for the runways they were putting down for the airfields.
GR. Oh right.
DC. Making tarmac, a stone quarry [pause]
GR. And that would have carried on?
DC. That carried on until I knew I was going in the Air Force, at least I was going to go in the services because the war had broken out by then.
GR. Yes.
DC. So.
GR. So am I right.
DC. Just went on in the quarry until I was old enough to go in the Air Force.
GR. I’m right that obviously when conscription you would have been conscripted if you didn’t volunteer.
DC. That’s right, as you probably are aware all aircrew were volunteers, there were no pressed men.
GR. No.
DC. Everybody was a volunteer so I was waiting my turn, but I never thought I’d get in, education requirements were relaxed rather alarmingly to get the numbers they wanted.
GR. Right, so did you, I know everybody aircrew were volunteers, so did you, was there literally an RAF recruiting office, did you, how did you volunteer for the Royal Air Force?
DC. They notified you, Ministry of whatever.
GR. Yes.
DC. When you became a certain age, and the interviewing panel consisted of all the three services and it was held where the Sheffield United ground, football ground, they took those premises over and confiscated them for interviewing different service personnel who were coming in for service, in the, in whatever service they chose.
GR. Right.
DC. Lets see now, so they asked me, there was a panel and they asked me to say why I wanted to join the Air Force., I said well, my brothers been at Dunkirk, he didn’t like the Army too much, I am frightened to death of water so I wouldn’t have gone in the Navy. I can’t swim yet, now, it used to be a requirement for aircrew that they had to be able to swim, I can’t put one foot in the water without being frightened to death of it.
GR. Right.
DC. They didn’t like it, but they said then why have you volunteered for aircrew then, why don’t you, and if you’ve volunteered for aircrew why haven’t you gone for a pilot. Oh, I said, that’s simple, I’m just not clever enough. I didn’t have the education, I left school at 14 I didn’t start till I was 6 so that’s not much of a recommendation.
GR. Right. And so was there any specific role?
DC. Yes.
GR. On the aircrew that you wanted to do or did they tell you...
DC. There was yes, naturally anybody would want to be a pilot but, I were living in cloud cuckoo land that I even got in the Air Force with my lack of education really, so they said well if you’re that keen why don’t you become a gunner. Well in those days gunners, the gunners were getting knocked out of the sky quicker than you could shake a stick at.
GR. Yes.
DC. So I told them that, I said well I want to volunteer but I don’t want to kill myself, not yet I’m still only 18 so if you don’t mind, they said well what would you like to be. I said I’d like to be a flight engineer or a wireless operator. A gunner is too quick, the waiting lists for gunnery, for gunnery recruiters were very quickly used up.
GR. Yes.
DC. And I was amazed when I got a letter this was in 1943, June 1943, to join the Air Force but first you had to have an attestation, go before the attestation board. I couldn’t even spell it never mind know what it was, I didn’t know what attestation was, but it was for three days at Doncaster where they had requisitioned the new Court building again for this attestation. They tested you on maths and English and things like that, and health gave you a very thorough health check.
GR. Check up, yes.
DC. So they said well the fact that you are still breathing shows you might have something, so...
GR. Oh good.
DC. So I was accepted, as a potential cadet and that required being sent to ACRC, that’s imprinted on anybody’s documents ,who went for aircrew, which stands for Aircrew Receiving Centre and the first one was at Doncaster where they did all these checks. Next thing I got was a letter saying go to Lord’s Cricket Ground you are posted as a potential wireless operator so I thought well this is good, there’s me on hallowed ground of the cricket match, cricket pitch, on which people like Don Bradman had put foot on.
GR. Yes.
DC. I thought I was very privileged just to have been on there.
GR. And they used Lord’s at St John’s Wood for most of the war didn’t they as...
DC. That’s right.
GR. For RAF.
DC. Yes. Everybody, when I, when I was called up, I went from Doncaster Station and it was funny you could tell people were going like I was. There were two lads stood talking to each other and I went up to them and I said “ Are you going to ACRC” and they both said yes and they were from Mexborough, it is about 10 miles from here, so at least I had got somebody to travel with and speak to, all the way to London where I’d never been out of my own bed before and there I was on my way to London.
GR. I was going to say that’s the first time you’ve travelled away from
DC. Yes.
GR. This area.
DC. Right, right I had never been away any days holiday or anything, just, just on my way to London, there’s me this loan miner, been a miner travelling all the way to the biggest city in the world.
GR. Yes and what happened after Lord’s? Did you come home or...
DC. After Lord’s Cricket Ground, training and swimming and doing there to my horror, you were posted to an ITW, Initial Training Wing, and these were where you’re training and your basic training for whatever trade you chose, we had been selected to serve in. It was... Getting back to the interview for going into the Air Force in the first place they were all cut glass people, we call them cut glass because they talked as though they had got mouthful of cut glass.
GR. Right.
DC. And that how I found the officers, but on reflection they were the right kind of people.
GR. Yes, yes. So what, what, what did training mean?
GR. Mean to you, where did you go?
DC. That was the first initial things was the ITW we were there for about 18 week, in which they taught you the basics about guns, Browning 303’s. I can remember one corporal teaching us and he said “you need Kings Norton Nickel Silver”, I said oh that’s a funny name I wonder what this is, and it was Brasso. He came from the Midlands and they must have called it a different title, Kings Norton Nickel Silver, that’s what you ask for in the shops.
GR. Right.
DC. Aye, I thought it was part of the course learning this word.
GR. [laughter]
DC. And it was the description, yes. Another one, why should this stick in my head, teaching you how a bullet leaves a gun. They said the bullet leaves, the bullet nips smartly up the barrel hotly pursued by the hot gasses which work with reflex to re-coil the mechanism first fired in the gun, and I had to learn that off by heart, and I thought well when I’m sat up there in a turret, if I’m going to be a gunner, that’s the last thing I want to be having to learn, at the end of a gun.
GR. Yes.
DC. It was a Browning, and it was a Browning 303, which is the same as a soldier’s rifle, the size of ammunition, and that was a bit of a handicap compared to the Germans cannon, and that’s a different story.
GR. It is. So you’ve done your initial training and...
DC. Initial training, and I failed on my passing out tests, I failed my, I didn’t quite get the speed which was 18 words a minute in plain language and 22 words on cord, and the officer had me in and said well you’ve failed, what are you going to do, are you going to go on the ground crew. I says no if I can’t be in the Air Force to fly, I’m not in the Air Force, I said I’ll go back down the pits I think. Anyway he gave me another test that afternoon and I passed it so.
GR. Oh well done.
DC. I did get in one way or another.
GR. Yes, so that’s training as a wireless operator/air gunner?
DC. Yes, let me just explain, on the original war, on the ex war, pre war aeroplanes, the gunner was the main man as regards all auxiliary duties.
GR. Yes.
DC. Wireless was part of his training so he was a duel role person; he was a wireless operator/air gunner.
GR. Air gunner yes?
DC. But, with the advent of four engine airplanes, the signaller as they re-named him, took on a different role, a bit more specialised, so they made him a straight signaller and its funny walking around a town with an S on. Everybody is acquainted with an N for navigator and B for bomb aimer, to a wing for a pilot they saw this S on my half brevet and said well what’s that for, I said you mustn’t touch that, that’s secret, that’s what the S’s meant, its secret. [laughter]
GR. And then later on they learnt it meant signaller?
DC. Yes, Signaller, it was a long training really for a signaller, and that was basically because you can’t rush learning the Morse code, it could only go at a certain speed, and you gradually built up and one problem I had, I didn’t realise at the time, you’re all sitting at different desks hammering away on a key with a pair of headphones on trying to increase your speed up to the required speed for passing out, [pause] where am I?
GR. Yes, well yes you were just talking about your Morse code training.
DC. Yes and the corporal instructor passed me and said “What do you think you are doing?” I said I’m doing about 10 words a minute, he said “Well not in this Mans Air Force you’re not, lad” he said “in this Air Force you’re sending with your left hand” he said “And you can’t do that”. The technique of sending Morse is the wrist action and you can’t get it with the left hand because you’ve got to, the Morse key is on the right hand side in an aeroplane and you’ve got to send with your right hand.
GR. Yes.
DC. So I says “Well I can’t I’m left handed” he said “Well by the time you’ve got a parachute on and a Maewest and different clothing thickness you won’t be able to reach the key never mind send Morse with it”, he says “you either send with your right hand or you’re off the course”. So I had to learn, forget my left hand and go up to speed with my right hand which took some doing.
GR. Yes
DC. And that is why you know me now as being ambidextrous.
GR. Yes
DC. Because I thought if I can send with my left hand, right hand, I can write with my left hand as well, so I wouldn’t have to write with my left hand and that served me in good stead later on.
GR. So you could do Morse, left hand, right hand.
DC. Yes
GR. And you can sign your name, left hand, right hand.
DC. That’s right.
GR. Very, very good, when...
DC. Go on.
GR. When did you actually meet your crew? How did all that come about, what happens?
DC. Well, just in between the radio school where you’re passed out from with three stripes, there was an AFU an Advanced Flying Unit, for wireless operators and that was on Anson’s, where you went up with a pilot and a navigator and that was what they called advanced training. We then went to OTU, which you were touching on, where serious flying started really and we did our crew assembly there, and you are probably familiar with every detail that tells you, that your not, your not selected you just go and mix with each other.
GR. Yes.
DC. You become a crew by consent.
GR. Yes.
DC. Talking to each other and saying yes, will you be my wireless operator, will you be my pilot?
GR. Yes, so did you ask the pilot, or did the pilot come and ask you?
DC. I was on an all Canadian crew my first, weren’t my choice it’s just that I think I was the only one left and we went flying on a night flying trip and I got some severe pains in my groin and so when we landed I went down to the hospital on the quarters of the airfield, and they said it looks like appendicitis, they took me to Doncaster infirmary to have my appendix out. So that meant that crew was without a wireless operator, because I was in there about a week and their training was ongoing, and when I come out they’d gone, and nobody ever to this day has told me where they went they just disappeared. I don’t know what happened to them, they were all Canadian apart from me.
GR. Right.
DC. And so how my crew came about, they’d already selected themselves they were just waiting for a signaller, a wireless operator and that turned out to be me and the adjutant had me in and said well there’s only two, two captains without wireless operators, and there’s a picture of either one, so you pick which one you want. So one was a Scotsman with a scarf round his neck a typical flying, fighter pilot, he liked the image, the other one was more like a vicar on the photograph and I thought well, there’s old pilots as you know and there’s bold pilots, and I said there’s no old bold pilots, so I picked the vicar looking one he looked a bit more steady and he had been flying Dragon Rapide’s, training navigators at Cranwell before he came to pick a crew up. Eygot they called him, he lived in Plymouth. [pause] What else can I tell you about him?
GR. So you’ve got your, you’ve got a crew.
DC. A crew of two Canadians, one Australian, one man from Cornwall, that’s the navigator, the pilot from Plymouth, and myself from Yorkshire.
GR. Yorkshire.
DC. A right motley bunch.
GR. Yep, and then did you then move on to Heavy Conversion Unit? or...
DC. Yes.
GR. Yes.
DC. After that flying that’s where we went, that was at Sandtoft, I don’t know whether you’ve heard of Sandtoft?
GR. I’ve heard of Sandtoft, yes.
DC. That’s a Heavy Con Unit, it was named Prangtoft, you know what a prang is?
GR. Yes.
DC. That’s a crash for an aircraft because there were a lot of accidents and they put it down to them being knackered crew, knackered aeroplanes so old, beyond fit for use on operations.
GR. Yes, because I, I must admit I heard somewhere that yes, the four engine aircraft they used at Heavy Conversion Unit was a lot of aircraft that had finished on ops or weren’t up to scratch for ops.
DC. That’s right, they were used.
GR. Yes and they were expecting you people to, to train on them.
DC. That’s right, yes that’s true, and it was a rough old place was Sandtoft.
GR. Did you have a prang free?
DC. Life?
GR. Conversion?
DC. A what?
GR. Did you have a prang free conversion?
DC. Oh yes we didn’t have any accidents.
GR. You and your pilot were alright?
DC. Yes we were ok, yes; you didn’t pick an engineer up until you got onto Sandtoft.
GR. Yes.
DC. Because there is no position in a twin engine aircraft for an Engineer, so that’s when we picked the seventh member of the crew up and he came from Birmingham.
GR. Right.
DC. He worked at the Austin factories in Birmingham before he came in the Air Force . [pause] what else can we tell you Gary?
GR. And then, so how, so from that very first day when you set off to Lord’s to finally finishing at Heavy Conversion Unit, how long did your training take? Roughly, six months, nine months?
DC. Oh about a year.
GR. About a year.
DC. I came, yes I went to Operational Training Unit in August ’44, joined the Air Force in June ‘43, so it would be about a year.
GR. Yes, So that’s a year of training?
DC. Yes.
GR. And then you were allocated a squadron, were you? Your crew?
DC. Yes.
GR. Your plane.
DC. We flew together at the Heavy Con Unit in that monster and then we were posted to 100 Squadron which is in 1 Group if you know the grouping numbers.
GR. Yes.
DC. Of aircraft, and we went to 1 group and we went to Grimsby, which was 100 Squadron.
GR. Yes. So not too bad that’s about, Grimsby is probably 50, 60 mile away from where we are so...
DC. Yes, and we used to get home whenever I could but you didn’t get a lot of time off.
GR. Yes
DC. And at Grimsby, [pause] it was a nice lovely run station it was great, there was a lot more freedom, a lot more tolerance.
GR. Yes, right.
DC. I did, in total I did 12 operations but, we did about 8 of those mixed with daylight and night bombing.
GR. Can you remember what the first operation was and what it was like?
DC. Yes, it was a bit rough. I don’t remember a lot of action though because I was listening to the wireless; my job was listening to the wireless, I just sat down.
GR. Yes.
DC. I can get my book and determine that.
GR. No, no, so what, what was it like though on that day, you obviously had been at the Squadron, I don’t know a week, two weeks and then you were obviously told you were going on operations. What did the crew feel like? Or what did you feel like?
DC. I would think somewhat apprehensive,
GR. Yes.
DC. To put it mildly, yes.
GR. Because by then there would have been, yes, the war was going into its fifth year.
DC. That’s right, it was getting close to the end of the war, but nobody knew that at the time.
GR. No .
DC. There were still enemy aircraft about and they were still, there was one funny thing at the briefing, they said that Jerry is sending up spoofs. I don’t know if you’ve heard of spoofs, but these are supposed to be Germany firing shells which gave the impression an aircraft had been hit, a big black cloud.
GR. Yes.
DC. Well I didn’t believe that, I thought they were real aeroplanes because why would he waste putting a gun together and putting a dummy bullet up the spout. I think they were aircraft blowing up.
GR. Right, I mean, perhaps, perhaps the Germans thought if they...
DC. Get the morale.
GR. Yes the morale if you saw lots of planes exploding around you.
DC. Yes.
GR. Yes, and morale.
DC. I just can’t see them wasting...
GR. Yes.
DC. Useless shells, well of course when its dark you don’t see them anyway because their black clouds, you just see the flashes.
GR. You see the, you see the flame inside that.
DC. Yes the internal, yes.
GR. But as you said earlier being in the, in the radio section you...
DC. Yes.
GR. You were enclosed, weren’t you?
DC. That’s right the one redeeming feature about it really was the astrodome, which was right alongside my seat, so I could stand on a step, put my head outside, virtually under the astrodome, because that’s where the Navigator took star shots and navigated.
GR. That’s right, yes.
DC. Yes.
GR. An incredible view
DC. All round, yes.
GR. Yes.
DC. In fact I’m deaf now, and I put it down to the effect of the engines because there is two either side of you, at eardrum level.
GR. Where the radio operator...
DC. Where the radio operator’s seat is.
GR. I have heard that, I have heard that before so yes, yes.
DC. Oh right, In that case I ought to get a pension for that [laughter]
GR. [laughter]
DC. We’ll ask the prime minister for a pension.
GR. Seventy years later.
DC. Actually its a bit more than that because, I was, just in passing I did twelve years, I had four war years, 1947 I came out, but then when the Korean trouble started, and the Berlin airlift, there were adverts for ex-aircrew to go back in the Air Force, because they wanted to staff it up again.
GR. Yes.
DC. There looked like there were going to be some problems so I went back in and the minimum I could sign for was eight years so that’s what I did, I went back into the Air Force in 1949.
GR. As a?
DC. As a Wireless Operator.
GR. As a Wireless Operator.
DC. On what is laughingly called Bomber Command with Lincoln’s.
GR. Right.
DC. Yes, I flew after the war; I flew with Lincolns in Lincolns, York’s, Hastings, [unclear] I mentioned Lincolns didn’t I?
GR. Did you fly the Washington?
DC. Oh yes three years flying the Washington, B29.
GR. That was the American bomber that [unclear] the end of the war, but then came back, came across here?
DC. Yes.
GR. And the RAF used it?
DC. The RAF used it and it was also the one which dropped the two atom bombs.
GR. That’s right.
DC. Which I thank, was most thankful for. It killed a lot of people did those two things but, what they did we were, it wasn’t decided quite what we were going to do at the end of the war, but there was rumour on all the Squadrons I think and certainly on ours, that we were going to go on Tiger Force which was Bomber Command going out and doing low level attacks on Japanese targets. That didn’t materialise because the Americans dropped the...
GR. Dropped the bomb.
DC. The V bomber, the...
GR. And can you remember was your Squadron down as Tiger Force?
DC. There was rumour on the station, but there was nothing proved, but the station [unclear] is that we only did about eight operations, and then the whole squadron was posted away from Waltham to Elsham Wolds.
GR. Right.
DC. Where 103 Squadron were domiciled.
GR. Yes.
DC. And we went there, and we only did four there so I did twelve in total.
GR. Twelve in total.
DC. But at the end of that number, 8 , 12 in total, our crew was picked to go on Pathfinders and we went down to Warboys and did a bit of a course on the 8 Group, 582 Squadron. 582 squadron saw the last Victoria Cross of the war in Bomber Command. He was shot down, a Captain Swales was shot, I can remember his voice quite clearly.
GR. Right.
DC. Directing them in force onto the target area, and he went very low and couldn’t get his height back and he bailed his crew out as I read.
GR. But he stayed in?
DC. Yes.
GR. Yes.
DC. And he killed himself.
GR. So then you, as you’ve just said you were going to do Pathfinder training but the war came to a close.
DC. That’s right.
GR. Then you came back into the RAF .
DC. In between that.
GR. Yes.
DC. I did, it was quite impressive numbers of prisoners of war we flew back from France.
GR. Yes.
DC. And Italy what they called Exodus, exercise Exodus.
GR. That’s right yes.
DC. And that was flying them from [unclear] France, and then we went on to what they called Exercise Dodge, flying the troops back from Italy, by along the south coast on the Adriatic, still with the Lancaster, with 24 passengers.
GR. Nice job that one.
DC. It was a good job yes.
DC. We’d get hooch from one of the local shops, hooch very cheap at that time the official changing rate of Lira for Pound was three thousand we could get 18 thousand [unclear] pound note on the exchange rate on the street.
GR. [laughter]
DC. So did a bit of lubricating of the back passages as it were. [unclear]
GR. [laughter] And you finally left the RAF in…
DC, January the 1st 1947,
GR. 1947 but then you went back in?
DC. Went back in March ‘49.
GR. Right.
DC. For the?
GR. Berlin airlift and Korea .
DC. Yes.
GR. When did you finally come out of the RAF?
DC. 1956.
GR. 1956.
DC. And I got two hundred and fifty six pound, for the eight years.
GR. For the eight years, as a thank you.
DC. That’s right, yes.
GR. [laughter] What did you do then Don, what did you do with the rest of your life?
DC. Goodness me, I had a variety of jobs, one unpaid was 25 years as a parish councillor.
GR. Right.
DC. That was a waste of time with the politics as they are. I had a variety of jobs making houses, building houses, all labouring jobs with me you see.
GR. Ah I see.
DC. I’d no trade, and there aren’t any wireless operators down a pit.
GR. No.
DC. So, and I ended up back down the pit twice like I’ve, like I’ve put in my little memory book, I can mesmerise bung [?] fly really, wasting time going down those jobs, because I ultimately ended up I had a very good job, I went mending televisions for one thing and putting aerials up. But a very good job I ended up with was with the Central Electricity Generating Board. Subsequently became a supervisor in the technical department in the instrumentation areas and it was a very good job.
GR. Good.
DC. Lovely.
GR. Yeah, Well I’ll bring the interview to a close and this has been recorded and hopefully in four weeks time today you’ll be attending the International Bomber Command Centre memorial at Lincoln for the unveiling.
DC. That’s my intention.
GR. So I’m sure we’ll see you there.
DC. Good, all the best.
GR. Thank you.



Gary Rushbrooke, “Interview with Don Crossley,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed April 16, 2024,

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