Interview with Sidney Lawrence Davis

Title

Interview with Sidney Lawrence Davis

Description

Laurie Davis trained as a wireless operator and first went to RAF Silverstone where crews were formed. Because of his bright red hair, he was then known as ‘Red’. The crew worked on Wellingtons for a few weeks and then Stirlings at RAF Syerston, where an joined the crew. They then went on to Lancasters and to conversion and finished going on to 619 Squadron based at RAF Strubby in Lincolnshire. Their first operation was on Dresden, the next raid was to an oil refinery just outside Hamburg. At least three aircraft got caught in the searchlights, were hit by the barrage and exploded into a ball. The crew did twelve operations together. Towards the end of 1945 they flew out to India with 9 Squadron as part of the Tiger Force; with 617 Squadron (RAF Waddington) he took parts in operations Dodge and Exodus. Laurie was posted to RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk as a warrant officer. After about six months he was posted in Germany. He then toured round with the RAF team for football and cricket, winning the British Forces Inter-Services football match at Cologne stadium. Since leaving Germany in November 1947 he has kept in touch with various groups and has done six marches at the Cenotaph on Armistice Day. He meets up with the squadron every October when they laid a wreath.

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-12-02

Contributor

Sue Smith

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

00:15:46 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

ADavisSL151202, PDavisSL1501

Temporal Coverage

Transcription

SLD: I’m Laurie Davis. I was a wireless operator in 619 squadron based at Strubby in Lincolnshire. I joined at Lords Cricket Ground at 10 o’clock in the morning on the 17th of May and found out that evening, when I went to St John’s Wood, the billet, that it was the morning that 617 returned from the Dambusters raid which brought back memories at the end of my squadron career but like all air crew we did our training. I was a wireless op and eventually I found myself at Silverstone and we went into a massive room and we were just told that you would come out the other end as a six man crew and this was somewhat flabbergasting but I wandered around and coming towards me was a chap, sergeant, we were all sergeants in those days, with wings up and we looked at one another and I said, ‘Are you with anyone?’ And he said, ‘No.’ And we introduced ourselves. Johnny Taylor from Bristol. And we wandered around and we found a chap, a navigator Jack [?] he came from Bath. We joined up. We thought, well, we’re halfway there and then we saw a chap with his B brevvy up. A bomb aimer. And he was Norman [?] a Londoner. Came from Potters Bar. So we were almost there. We thought we only wanted a couple of gunners now and we saw these two chaps coming along together. Compared with me being just twenty they were mature men to say the least but probably they were only in their mid-thirties but it turned out they were both married. Joe Crossland turned out to be the mid upper gunner. He was from Wakefield and Tommy [Klines] who was the rear gunner, he was from Warrington. So we all joined up finished up the other end of this room with a cup of tea or a coffee and it was then that the skipper as we called him, Johnny, John Taylor, said, ‘We’ll call you Red,’ because at that time I had bright red hair. So the rest of my time with that enjoyable crew was I called Red. We moved on there for a couple of weeks, three weeks I think, on Wellingtons. A noisy, rattly old thing and then we went on to Syerston on to Stirlings. Again, just familiarisation and that and that was then we picked up another member of the crew. An engineer and he came from St Helen’s and I must admit he’s the one fellow that I can’t recall a name all the time and to this day I still try to find out his surname and Christian name. Anyway, we then went on to Lancasters and to conversion and then finished going on to 619 squadron in Strubby at Lincolnshire and we did some flying around for a week and lo and behold we knew that to go on operations the pilot always went with an experienced crew and that caused a bit of sensitive humour because there was always some wit thrown in and Johnny Taylor came back from his office one morning and said, ‘I’m flying tonight with a crew,’ so we joked we’d sort out all his personal possessions and share them out if he didn’t come back because we knew that sometimes that’s what happened, unfortunately. So later in the afternoon I get a call to go to the wireless office to be told that I was flying with him and of course that caused more humour and we went off and with Flying Officer Whitely, a senior there and, believe it or not, it was the longest trip I did of the twelve raids. We went to Dresden. Nine hours twenty minutes and quite something in my memory to see the vastness of the fires as a first time on there because when you finished and the pilot and bomb aimer were doing a run up to the target, about a mile and a half or two miles away, my job was to stand up in the astrodome and keep a lookout above mainly because as I found out on the other raids you saw aircraft on other raids with their bomb doors open above you left and right so interrupting the bomb aimer who was calling to the pilot, ‘Steady. Left. Left. Steady. Left,’ I would say, ‘Johnny, there’s one at 11 o’clock’ or, ‘one at 2 o’clock,’ and he’d try and move over to save the bombs coming down through us. It was successful, that Dresden trip and we came back and we were very privileged and lucky to get through eleven more as a crew.
[machine paused]
MJ: It’s on.
SLD: Having, having experienced, pilot and I, our first raid which was horrendous as has proved over the years with Dresden we settled down to training flights and then successfully got through eleven more. One, one that again focusses in my mind of how lucky you are to be here today is we went to an oil refinery called Harburg just outside of Hamburg and as I experienced on the Dresden raid you flew in some two miles away with a straight course for the bomb aimer and the pilot but on this occasion all I could see over the target was a series of ten and fifteen searchlights and we were a mile or so away but I remember at least three aircraft were caught in the lights, hit by the barrage and exploded into a ball and down they went. And I can think, think now to myself thinking well I hope they don’t pick us up before we’ve got rid of ours but we managed to get through, drop the bombs and come out the other side and that’s the hairiest one I would think apart from the Dresden. The dramatic scenes of fire. But the raids, we were lucky and successful and as I say we did eleven as a crew. Twelve in all and they were great colleagues. When the European war finished we were switched to Waddington. 617. And we were involved in what they called Dodge and Exodus and that was flying POWs, our POWs from Italy, Naples and Bari back to England and we used to take twenty four soldiers out, sitting in the fuselage and fly them out and then do a return trip and the humorous part was, I suppose it’s humorous at our age of twenty, twenty one, I was still not twenty one but on the way back they wanted to go in to the mid upper turret so we used to say, I think we used to say, ‘Don’t go around one side more than twenty times otherwise it’ll unscrew,’ but they loved to and to see the patchwork quilt that was England really. They would go up forward by the navigator, the engineer or the bomb aimer and see it so the joy on their faces was worth every second of those flights, being POWs for years and came back. And then towards the end of ‘45 we’d been waiting to fly out to India as nine, with 9 squadron as part of the Tiger Force intending to bomb Japan from the isle of Okinawa where the Americans had made two runways. One for them and one for us. Anyway, it got postponed night after night. We went for a few drinks into Lincoln, came back and the whole station was alight. We said, ‘What’s happened?’ He said, ‘You’re taking off at 4 o’clock,’ and this was about 12 o’clock [laughs] so we packed all our gear, pouring with rain, and flew off to Tobruk then to Cairo and then Karachi and then down to a place called Digri just outside of Calcutta and we were there for a few months practicing different types of bombing and that with 9 squadron and of course the Japs surrendered so we came back. We landed at St Mawgan and we were given a rail pass and four days to get back to Waddington and that was the end of our crew as a unit flying. I was posted to Woodbridge in Suffolk where I found myself as a warrant officer looking after, with twelve men, three hundred polish chaps who were waiting to go home and I’d only stayed there about six months and I was posted to RAF in Germany, Bad Eilsen and stayed out there for just over a year at Signals Headquarters but to me the experiences that I had before and the company with friends was just a holiday really because I was very active in running and football and cricket and that’s what I toured around with the RAF team and we won the RAF Inter-Services, well the British Forces Inter-Services football match at Cologne stadium. Again, as a highlight because it was the army that was going to win the final. They had every army person there, senior level, we beat them and the whole reception afterwards went down like a lead balloon.
[machine pause]
SLD: Right. Laurie Davis, otherwise Red, from there, from the 619 squadron. When I left the Germany in November ‘47 I’ve kept in touch with various groups through my son and until this year I’ve done six marches at the cenotaph on Armistice Day but this year there was insufficient members to march so they didn’t lay a wreath on behalf of Bomber Command but on the 31st of October I meet up with the squadron and adjoining that group was a bomb aimer, Joe Dutton, he’s treasurer and secretary of 619 and we meet there and have a meal and go over and have a look at the statue and lay a wreath and it always amazes me that people that look at it and say, ‘Why are people raising their hand above their eyes?’ And I said to several, ‘When you came back off a raid three or 4 o’clock in the morning and left your aircraft and waiting in the layby waiting to be picked up to go for debriefing and then you hear in the darkness another flight coming in and you just automatically put your hand up to look, see, ‘Oh I wonder who this has made it back again with us?’ And that’s it and that is the feeling that goes on that you were lucky and you respect the fact that you’ve made it back and I was talking to Joe Dutton only in October that, I think I said to him that if we weren’t going on a raid tonight we’d probably go into the village and have a drink and I said here it is seventy one years ago and we’re lucky to be able to do that. Just mentioning something people often said, ‘Didn’t you feel anything of bombing the targets?’ And I go back to fifteen and a half years of age in Portsmouth when they had the biggest raid, the 10th of January 1941, fire watching with my dad outside the house and experience this whistle and continuous whistle and getting closer and closer. Little did I know that it was a bomb and then everything went black, covered in dust and our house had disappeared and that for me thinks, not apportioning blame but they did start it and Plymouth and London and Portsmouth and Southampton but it’s one of those and I’m very grateful and fortunate to have gone through the friendship and association throughout with that crew. Yeah.
MJ: On behalf of the International Bomber Command I’d like to thank Laurie Davis at his home in Portsmouth for his recording. Otherwise known as Red. May he travel on well. Thank you very much.

Citation

Mick Jeffery, “Interview with Sidney Lawrence Davis,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed August 7, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/8403.

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