Interview with John De Hoop


Interview with John De Hoop


John De Hoop was evacuated to Sussex at the start of the war but returned to London in early 1940. He joined the Home Guard before joining the Air Training Corps and went to radio school in Yatesbury in Wiltshire where he experienced flying in a Dominie. When he was nineteen, he was trained on Wellington Bombers before moving on to a Heavy Conversion Unit flying Stirlings. He went to Lancaster Finishing School, before doing minelaying trips. Later on, he was posted to an RAF station as an adjutant.




Temporal Coverage




00:16:30 audio recording


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ADeHoopJ150827, PDeHoopJ1501


JD: I’m John De Hoop and I’m doing this recording for the archives of Bomber Command. I, war started when I was at school and I was evacuated down to Sussex, and I came back to London in early 1940.
We had a period of what was called a phoney war, nothing very much happened, so many other children came back, and I came back to London and then I hadn’t been here long and the Blitz had started, and so I joined the Home Guard to start with and then when I decided, after I’d passed the age of 17 and had to think what I was going to do in the Forces, I decided I’d like to go into aircrew. And so I joined the Air Training Corps and in due course, I went to St John’s Wood, which was the centre where one was received for aircrew, and I had decided I would go for a wireless operator, primarily because at that time, and we’re talking about beginning of 1943, I thought that if I went as a pilot, the course would take so long the war might be over and I wouldn’t have the chance of seeing any action, the sort of thing a youngster thinks about and so I joined at St John’s Wood and was very well received.
We had our food we, in the London Zoo which seemed to be a very appropriate place, and then in due course, when kitted out, I went to ITW, which was the first port of call for aircrew and did the usual square bashing, and when that was finished, we all went our separate ways. Pilots, navigators and bomb aimers went mostly to North America and the rest of us, in other words air gunners and wireless operators, we were being trained in the UK, and I went to radio school, Yatesbury in Wiltshire, where I had my first experience of flying in a, a Dominie, which was a twin engine biplane, and a crew consisted of five of us trainees and one instructor and we had six months training, operating a wireless and learning the Morse code, which was very difficult for many people.
Usually most of us got brain washed and found ourselves sitting down in the underground looking at adverts and converting them into Morse code, because we’d got so drilled into doing it. So that completed the wireless op, and from then on, we went for an air gunnery course which I went to in the North of Scotland, which was very interesting and a complete change from radio. Had one or two interesting experiences; one I remember was hearing about the Fleet Air Arm which was nearby, which also did training, and they used to have an aircraft pulling a target, and on the Moray Firth was a ship which took shots at the target, and on one occasion, apparently the first two shots from the ship burst in front of the aircraft, much to the perturbation of the pilot, who signalled back, ‘will you kindly note that I am pulling this target, not pushing it’.
Anyway, after that little reminiscence, finished the gunnery course and after the gunnery course, we then got our flying brevet, which was an air gunners brevet we had on our sleeves, a wireless badge so that was our, that was our title, wireless operator/air gunner, so from there I went to an advanced flying unit which was in Northern Ireland, where we flew in Ansons; just the pilot and myself training, practising, sending messages to various ground stations. After completing that we, we then all had to go to operational training unit, which was where all the crews met up together, as in other words, you had your pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, air gunners and wireless operators and we were given some time to crew ourselves up, but if you were not completely crewed up then, that was made up for you by the powers that be and I finished up in a crew with three New Zealanders, pilot, navigator and bomb aimer, who were all commissioned and the two gunners and myself were Sergeants.
We were aged coming up to 19, the New Zealanders were a bit older, so we started our training there on Wellington Bombers which was, had been the first line bomber at the beginning of the war but now was relegated to just for training. They were quite ancient but we managed to survive in flying them, and from there we then moved on to a Heavy Conversion Unit, which was Stirling bombers. They were the British first four engined aircraft produced during the war. They were not a success and soon got relegated to training, but they were quite a big aircraft and, having four engines, we then had to have a flight engineer, who joined us making up our compliment of seven. So we then did training on the Stirling, and when that was completed, we went on to Lancaster Finishing School, so that was our first experience of the Lancaster, which of course was a number one operational bomber, and we did our period of training on that, and then it was a question of what squadron you went to.
As we had three New Zealanders and there was a New Zealand squadron in the group, which was stationed in East Anglia, we went to 75 New Zealand Squadron ,which had quite a reputation, some of it perhaps not happily, like for example having bigger number of casualties than practically any squadron, but we also did the biggest number of operations, and there we operated primarily on German targets. We did two or three mine laying trips. Mine laying was considered particularly frightening I suppose, if that’s the right word, because you went to two or three of you at a time and you went long distances, the Baltic for example, and of course you were entirely open to German radar and could easily be picked up, and it was not uncommon to lose one out of three, which happened to us.
We went out to Oslo Fjord the, the detail there was that you flew very low over the sea, only a few hundred feet to keep below the enemy radar, until you got near to where you had to drop the mine, and then you had to rise to 9000 feet in order that when you dropped the mine, it could activate itself by the time it hit the water, and of course, at that point in time, you could be picked up by enemy radar. Apart from those three, those three mine laying trips, the rest of them were day trips and night trips on German targets. Primarily the day trips were becoming more popular when I was on the squadron, because we had invaded Normandy, we had occupied most of France and we had the use of the airfields close up to the German border, which meant that a lot more fighter aircraft were available that could cover the distances required, and so we had large escorts which meant that we could do daylight raids, where prior to D-Day, we only did night trips, and these we accomplished.
The RAF were not the best at formation flying. The Americans were very good because they did primarily all daylight trips but we had not done, so we tended to be a bit scattered in our bomber stream, but at least we could see each other when we did night trips of course, and when you had three of four hundred aircraft or more going to a target, there were quite often collisions. There was no way of avoiding them. You hoped you would feel the slip stream of aircraft around you so that you would be aware that there were other aircraft around, and it was very important that you arrived at your target at the appropriate time so that you were spread out. The danger bit more than anything else I suppose, was coming in over the target, obviously anti-aircraft fire could be extremely heavy and you, you had to, when getting flying to your target, you had to go straight and level running up to the actual targets, which meant that however heavy the anti-aircraft fire was, you just had to keep straight and level so that the target was hit and you had the opportunity of the target flash, the target flashing from the aircraft which took a picture of where your target had been hit or not.
So that was target life, and at 25 operations, our skipper, who had been, had done an operation tour before, he finished at 25, the rest of us had to go on to 30 which was the normal full first, so we were then left without a pilot, but our flight commander took us over and so we did three with him and then he finished, that was his lot, and they decided to let us go after 28 rather than 30 so we were allowed off too. I didn’t complain and from then it was a question of going on to training other folk, going as an instructor and that’s when I started to get a bit tired and bored with instructing wherever I was at the time, and so I volunteered to go back for my second tour, but then the war came to an end so I and thousands of other aircrew were drifting about, what could be, what could be found for us to do, so in the end, I had to go on an admin course as, so when I came back from that, I was then posted as an adjutant to an RAF station, in the meantime, of course, we’d had a general election but I didn’t have a vote because I was considered too young. I was under 21 when the election came so I didn’t get a vote then but, however, I finished up as an adjutant and in which I chased around lots of erks and made them do various jobs and things, and I found it quite an interesting occupation we had.
Towards the end of 1946, we were allowed to wear civilian clothes off duty, and we were given clothing coupons, so I went into Plymouth, the local town, to buy some civilian clothes and there were very few shops there, they had all been bombed, but there was a big Victorian house that had a ground floor turned into a store, so I went in there and all I could buy was a pair of corduroy trousers and a rather shaggy jacket. So that’s what I bought and the first evening I was free, I went into the forces club in Plymouth and went into the bar, and there were all these chaps there wearing corduroy trousers and hairy jackets, so that was rather a waste of time. I merely exchanged one uniform for another and in fact, because so many of us were dressed like this, when the bar opened at 6 30 in the evening, it became known as the rush of the gabardine swine, which bible readers will see the, see the joke, and so from then on it was waiting for my de-mob, and when it came out, I’d got married towards the end of the war.
So I came out and I had to find myself somewhere to live and somewhere to work, and I found the first few years after the war in many ways, much more trying than being in the Air Force, and that was the story of my experience.
MJ: On behalf of the International Bomber Command, I would like to thank John De Hoop in Sussex for his recording on the 27th August 2015, once again thank you.



Mick Jeffery, “Interview with John De Hoop,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 16, 2024,

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