Interview with Alec Stuart Dixon


Interview with Alec Stuart Dixon


Alec Stuart Dixon volunteered for the Royal Air Force via the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. After training he flew Beauforts and Ansons, then trained as a Hudson pilot. He flew convoy escort operations and reconnaissance flights looking for submarines and the Bismarck. Recollects flying over neutral Ireland. Alec volunteered for Photographic Reconnaissance Unit and flew over France, the Spanish border the Mediterranean and Peenemünde. Followed sustained damage on one operation he became an instructor, was posted to Gibraltar flying a Gladiator and a Lysander on meteorological flights. Successive posts were Cairo, then Palestine and Italy with 43 Squadron. After the end of the war, he returned to his old workplace then started a company with friends.








01:12:07 audio recording


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ADixonAS151106, PDixonAS1501


AH: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Anna Hoyles. The interviewee is Alec Dixon. The interview is taking place at Mr Dixon’s home in Cleethorpes on the 6th of November 2015.
AD: Well, we start when I was nineteen and I thought there was going to be a war so I thought I’d better get myself the best job of all. Be a pilot. And there was an opportunity because the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve had opened up Waltham Aerodrome as a training centre so I applied for the interview. There were three wing commanders I had to convince that I was the type of person that would make a good pilot and I succeeded in that but my entry was delayed because of a tooth that needed filling. When I got, when I finally got signed up it was on May the 3rd I think, when I signed up for flying at Waltham. The aircraft I was flying was on Miles Magisters and we attended every weekend for flying and during the week we attended the town centre for lectures on various subjects and this continued right through to August when there was the stunning announcement that we were to be all called up and Waltham Aerodrome would be closed down. This did happen and we all hung around waiting for something to happen that would accelerate our training. We were all posted down to Hastings where, if the Germans had had any sense when we were there it was absolutely full of potential pilots and if they sent a stream of bombers down the sea front they’d wipe the air force out without any trouble at all. Anyway, they didn’t do it. They weren’t as bright as they thought they were. From Hastings I went to Burnaston in Derbyshire and continued single-engined training and from there I moved to Little Rissington where I went on the twin-engined aircraft and during that procedure we were asked what we wanted to fly on ops and I opted to fly for the latest thing they had which was the Beaufort torpedo bomber. I thought that sounded rather good and anyway when I’d finished my training on Ansons I was posted to Silloth and there I was trained as a Hudson pilot and when I say trained as a Hudson pilot they had a particularly, method of crewing. Normally you get a pilot, second pilot, navigator, flight engineer, wireless operator and air gunners but a Hudson pilot the two pilots had to be trained on all those things. We used to fly one trip, one pilot would fly, the next trip the other pilot would fly. The second pilot would then be a bomb aimer. Maybe the flight engineer. He had, he had to be good at aldis, the lamp and at Morse. Very high specification and also operate the gunner, the gunnery turret or the side swivel gun. We had Vickers, no, yeah a Vickers gas operated. On completion of my training I went to a squadron at Leuchars in Scotland where the task was reconnoitring the Norwegian coast, the Baltic, and any shipping sailing in that area. For the first few trips I flew the squadron leader who was the flight commander. Anyway, we didn’t stay there very long and when we got over to Limavady, no, to Aldergrove. Aldergrove in Ireland which has a runway which is more like a, I forget the name of the thing. Switchback ride. It was, it leaned over on one side and back on the other and I was pleased to get to Limavady where we only had a mountain to negotiate on the circuit. There we did convoy escort and looking for submarines and that and one day I was flying, I was due to be pilot and my navigator, the other pilot hadn’t turned up and it so happened that he’d been collared by the CO, Wing Commander [Curnow] and we were after the Bismarck so I said, ‘Well you’ll want me won’t you?’ He said, ‘Oh yes. You can man the side gun.’ So there were three pilots on board and we set off and straight across Ireland. We didn’t take any notice of the neutrality of the country. We went straight on course to the station that we’d been, or a spot where we were told to patrol. I think we could see the Bismark quite a long long way away and then we caught up with a Heinkel and it turned tail and started running away from us. The CO chased it. Fired the front guns at it. Didn’t do any good. We drew alongside. Not quite near enough and [pumped lead?] at each other. I was shooting at the starboard engine on the Heinkel and I think I saw a puff of smoke come out but anyway the, my co-pilot had decided that we were running out of petrol so we’d better break off the chase and get back to Ireland which we did. Straight across neutral Ireland and that was that. Sometime later, I did quite a number of trips on the Atlantic convoy business and then one day on DROs they were asking for volunteers for PRU, Photographic Reconnaissance Unit and the chap who interviewed me said, ‘It’s more than likely you’ll go on to the new Mosquito.’ So I thought well that would be smashing. And there was a bit of a hold up in me leaving, leaving the squadron and when I got there they’d filled the course up with applicants and I was excluded so instead of hanging around they said would you like to do the Spitfires? And the Spitfire on PRU was rather a splendid aeroplane. They’d removed the guns from, and the ammunition boxes and all that from the wings and fitted it with petrol tanks which gave us a range you start here and you can go six hundred miles and come back. Twelve hundred miles altogether. Nearly about nearly six hours flying depending on the height you were flying at and everything. And it was, I was posted. When I finished the CO said, ‘Have you flown a spitfire before?’ I said, ‘No. I’m a Hudson man,’ and he said, ‘Well there’s the handbook, go and sit in the aeroplane, on the flight line and I’ll see you at 2 o’clock and ask you questions about it.’ So I had to learn all the controls and everything and he came up, ran me through and said, ‘Well you’re alright then. Off you go.’ Now, I’d been told that the Spitfire was very light on the stick fore and aft and on a Hudson it was a two handed job shoving it forward to get the tail up to get speed for take-off and I’m afraid my delicate touch [laughs] didn’t suit the Spitfire at that time. I went down the runway nearly like a camel and off on my first trip which was the, some channel ports, Languedoc aerodrome which was to the northwest of Brest, Brest [pause] and Brest and I photographed there and nothing happened. And I did most of my photography at twenty eight thousand feet which is the best suited for the cameras to give the most detail and down the coast again to where was I going then. Oh, St Nazaire. St Nazair, [?] [Dulon?] quite a lot of small places. Right down to Bordeaux and the River Gironde and then to, along to the Spanish coast and go down on the way to [?] on the Mediterranean. I never got as far as that but I used to take photographs of between, along the French Franco Spanish border in case people wanted escape routes and I thought they’d be helpful. Nobody ever said anything about, about it being useful but it might have been. And then back to base which was, you know an uneventful event and we occasionally saw the odd fighter aircraft but a Spitfire at that time was fitted with a special engine which you were allowed to use full throttle for twelve minutes and it gave some phenomenal speeds. A normal indicated speed was about a hundred and eighty knots which had to be converted according to temperature and that so you had to do all your own navigation and it was fairly easy getting the right places on the coast. Coming back, we usually came back inland photographing any aerodromes that might be there and always photograph the coast as you went out ready for the invasion. I did quite, quite [coughs], quite a few trips and then on one trip I was, we did occasionally get flak but on one trip over Brest they put up a bloody big barrage and I could hear the shrapnel hit my tail, or the fuselage behind but I had three miles a minute, a hundred and eighty miles an hour. A hundred and eighty yeah, three miles a minute. I soon finished the run along Brest harbour, turned left and went into overdrive because radio in England had said there were some bandits about. I thought that’s just what I want, cheer somebody up tell them there’s some bandits. Anyway, all of sudden the windscreen covered in oil, the canopy in oil and I couldn’t see a thing so I thought this is really a cheerful trip and I tried opening the canopy which I did and got my goggles all oiled up so I had to get, lean over to the other side of the cockpit to get looking through about a two inch gap but it didn’t give me much view and all the way back St Eval. When I got to St Eval I was feeling pretty tired and when I made my approach I was, and due to the fact that I couldn’t gauge things right because of the oil on the windscreen I came in a bit too high and landed a too far down the runway. Well that was alright. I’ll put my brakes on. I put my brakes on. Course they’d got oil on them as well and they didn’t work. I knew there was a hedge at the end of the runway so I just trickled along, switched the engine off so that it didn’t put a load on the engine, or the propeller, ran in to the hedge, tipped gently on the nose and wondered how to get out. I needn’t have bothered. There was a jeep alongside me and the flight commander and what not helped me out and that was that. They decided then that I should go to Fraserburgh as an instructor which I did and at Fraserburgh, this is another [laughs] the medical officer apparently got a bit of dual from the dual flying with an instructor and I was asked to take him up one day and I did do and we were coming in to land and I thought he’s going to be short on runway but just couldn’t tell but what I didn’t know was that the concrete runway was about ten inches higher than the ground preceding it and he touched down about a couple of feet on the grass, wiped the undercarriage off and there was another thing to explain. Anyway, they decided it wasn’t my fault and anyway he shouldn’t have been flying and it was all hushed up and off we went. When I left Fraserburgh I went into the village with my friend and at night we used to catch the train back to the camp and the driver didn’t turn up so my friend, he knew how to drive a train so he waited until the departure time and drove it back to the station and everybody got out all, no late coming back, you know, absent, or without leave sort of thing. That was quite an interesting event. But anyway, we went down to Dyce and there Aberdeen was the town and there was also a railway station just outside the entrance to the camp and we quite often, we’d overstay and sleep on the train in Aberdeen station and get back ready. The flight office was just around the corner from the entrance which was next to the station ready for flying. From there I was posted to Gibraltar and there I flew a Gladiator and a Lysander on meteorological flight and it was a devil to land at Gibraltar in the Gladiator because if the wind was in a certain direction from the southwest, yeah, southwest, the rock used to divide it and you would be coming downwind at one end and into wind at the other and the Gladiator would fly on, fly on in a breeze and wouldn’t touch down so it was quite, quite an experience as a pilot. From there, I only did a short spell there and I went on another course to, I forget the name of the aerodrome near Edinburgh, on a refresher course where I managed to get an above average assessment and posted to the Middle East. To [pause] Cairo where I had quite a smashing time and then from there I was posted to [Al Shamir?] in Palestine as a staff pilot and flying Navigators around Palestine and quite a cushy job. And then I decided I should go back. Oh I was recommended for a commission there. I was a young warrant officer at the time and I passed my commission and I was posted to an operational squadron in, due to invade Greece but when I got there the boat had left and I had to wait for transport to get me to Greece. At Greece we chased the Germans up Greece and past Salonica and from Salonica we set out one morning to bomb the marshalling yards at somebody slimovic or something like that. Peculiar name. And on the way I had engine trouble and the engine kept cutting and I couldn’t maintain speed in the squadron so the CO said you’d better turn around and go back if you can and the misfiring became more obvious and I picked out a piece of ground that looked a bit boggy and I thought well if I land in there wheels up I should be alright and I did do and I got out the aeroplane. Started walking. I don’t know why I walked in that direction but I did. Two men popped out from behind a hedge with guns levelled at me and I was, ‘Englesi. Englesi.’ They looked rather doubtful. Anyway I managed to convince them because we were dressed in battle dress which was grey and similar to the German stuff and the Germans had wings on their right hand side and we had ours on the left and we went to the village. Well they took us to the schoolmaster’s house and he spoke a bit of English and we all sat down nattering away and that night they all came, quite a few of the village came around and they have a system there where when they’ve made the wine and they then make a very potent brew. I don’t know what they call it but the idea is you toss it down and then they have a plate of jam on the table and you just stick your fist in it and then slam the jam down your throat. It’s the only way you can drink it and you can imagine after about a half a dozen of these everybody’s face was covered in jam and I woke up the next morning very [fit?] [laughs] from which I was very pleased with a terrible headache. Anyway, I set off to walk back to Salonica. I managed to get a ride on a horse and cart for a short while. In the meantime I’m carrying my parachute and everything with me and eventually when I got near Salonica which I don’t know whether it was the same day or the next day. I can’t really remember and that was the end of that episode and the Germans were still running away up in Macedonia which incidentally was where this place I’d had the drinks at and I saw the CO when I got back and he said, ‘I’ll send you on another course.’ And back to Egypt to take a single-engine pilot’s gunnery and bombing course. Instructor’s course. So I did that, completed that and found out that my squadron had been disbanded. It was getting quite late on in the war and I was posted to 43 squadron which was in Italy and I packed all my gear, called in at the aerodrome. They said I couldn’t take my gear with me. I said, ‘If I can’t take my gear with me I’m not going.’ Anyway, I got, got my way to Italy and just in time to do my last operational flight. It was because in Italy the Italians surrendered on May the 3rd which was the day I’d joined six years earlier of continuous flying. And when I’d been commissioned I was, it was a sort of an agreement that I would stay on in the RAF after the war and probably take up a permanent commission and I thought that was good but after the excitement, as you might call it, and interest of wartime it seemed damned silly playing games for something you’d been doing for real for six years and I decided that I would take the option of being demobbed in the normal way which happened to be sometime before Christmas in ‘45 would it be? Yeah. Forty. Yeah in ’45 and I was home for Christmas and my favourite drinking place was the Lifeboat Hotel on the seafront and whilst I was going in there one night and I heard my name called and the sister of one of my friends introduced Audrey. My wife-to-be to me. And I think it must have been instant attraction. Love. Whatever. She’s a wonderful girl.
[machine paused]
AD: [?] in the mess and the CO came in and said, ‘I want six of you to disarm a German group,’ and we went there and we found there was an SS and a load of Italians. I don’t think they were on full strength. I don’t know how many there were. So we marched them forward, pistols here, rifles here, grenades there and I think they were quite happy to see the end of the war. From then on, I’d given my intention of leaving the air force and I came off flying and did the adjutant’s job while he was on leave. I think I sent too many people on leave. We got into trouble for that. [laughs] And then I was home. I’d missed a bit, got a lot of that mixed up, meeting Audrey in, in The Lifeboat. From there I went back to my job. I took some shares in the business and we decided we’d build a bungalow or something. A friend of mine was a builder and he built three bungalows. This one, the next one and the one. Had a garden a hundred yards long to start with and then the Corporation took so much for road widening, grass verges.
[phone ringing. Machine paused]
AH: Carry on.
AD: Yes. So we made plans. We made plans to get married. We married on April the 24th 1948 which was a Saturday and we moved in to here for our honeymoon. We couldn’t afford to go away after paying deposits and that and started married life together which has been great ever since. Except she’s getting a bit bossy nowadays. [laughs] Don’t put that. Yeah.
AD: Oh I didn’t tell you about when we were in Greece we used to fly over to Crete which was occupied by German troops. Landed in Heraklion. The aerodrome about midway from the main town and there the Wellington would land unload, some hundred pound bombs. We’d stick them underneath the Spit, take off and go and bomb the, what we were told was an ammunition dump. As we were getting near to the end of the war and nobody particularly fancied bombing an ammunition dump from the normal height that we bombed targets at. I’m afraid we, nothing happened. It was all false information to start with. Everybody was very happy and then that’s when we went back to Salonica and that’s the end of the war.
AH: How did you get home to England?
AD: Oh back to England. There was another story there. We went by train through Switzerland, France -
Other: I’ll switch this light on. It’s getting a bit dark.
AD: Calais and there we were camped for a night and caught the boat the next morning. There were six officers I think. Six. And probably about two hundred men and we sort of paraded on the front and the, called all the officers in to the office. Searched us all. Searched the kit and nobody discovered anything so that was fine and we got out and they just marched the men straight through without any, I thought rather discriminatory. Reversed some way or other. Do you want any more?
AH: And did you get leave when you got home?
AD: Oh yes. Yeah, I got, I was on leave for my overseas tour and demobilisation tour so I became a civvy for quite a while before returning to work where I’d, after a while I discovered that the firm were not quite on the straight path with me so I left and started my own business in the same line and then the owner of the business died and there were three accountants who were friends of his, who lent him the money to start the business and they were naturally interested in getting their money back so they approached me and asked me if I would take charge and go back to my old company which I did and we built up a really good business. Grimsby Corporation, Cleethorpes Corporation, Grimsby Rural District. Most of the solicitors including the big ones and most of the garages including main dealers. All under contract to us. Stationery Office. We even did the American Air Force at East Kirkby and so I continued until I was sixty five and I hung on three months and let the other two, and three run the business. And since then I’ve been gardening and enjoying life until I went blind. And it’s been a slow process. At first I couldn’t believe that I was registered blind. Macular degeneration. And it rapidly got worse and worse and worse. Practically total. And that’s the end of the story. Anything I missed Daniel?
DS: I think -
AD: [?] An engine failure on take-off and the aircraft swung and I managed to hold it after it had swung so far and run off the runway on to the grass because the rest of the squadron were ready to take off and unfortunately I didn’t know they’d dug a small trench parallel with the runway. The wheels got stuck and we swung around even more and I shouted evacuate ‘cause we were loaded with mines. Not mines, depth charges but I was too late they’d already clustered around the door, opened it and were out so I got myself out as well and that was the end of that. When I was flying I think I flew about ten different aircrafts. Different aircraft. I managed to have about five accidents on them. None of which were my fault thank goodness and that’s about it.
AH: Was it a shock? Was it strange to come home and not fly anymore?
AD: No. Not really. I was enjoying myself. New girlfriend. Plans. I’m busy with them. You know, running my own business and then joining in with my old firm. No. It seemed quite the natural thing to do. I have flown since. I had a lot of photographs that it’d, I don’t know whether I ought to tell you this really because it’s all water under the bridge. Might delete it later. Benson held a reunion for sixty years in existence, a PRU and I was invited there and asked if I had any photographs taken on operations which I had a photograph album full. So I stripped most of them out, handed them in and never got them back. And Daniel I met, here’s another strange coincidence. I met Daniel in Marks and Spencers. I was sitting near the entrance and this bloke came in and sat, he was waiting as well and we got in to conversation and found that he was air force and I was and we’ve been friends ever since. Jolly good.
AH: What did you enjoy flying most?
AD: What did I enjoy flying most? I don’t think anybody can fly anything better than a Spitfire. Mosquito was alright but it gave a lot of trouble. They only had one, its prototype, and it gave a lot of trouble and of course was extended and extended. Eventually they got things right. The Gladiator was a nice aeroplane to fly. As an aeroplane it was very sharp on turns and it was nicely aerobatic. You could do rolls and whatnot which you weren’t supposed to do if you were on a Met flight flying but you have to do something to make it interesting. Yeah. A Spitfire I’d plump for. I flew. I’ll tell you what I flew. Miles Magister. Anson. Oxford. Hudson. Mosquito one trip. Boulton Paul Defiant. A German aircraft I picked up when we went into Greece. An Auster. I’m sure there was one or two more. The Spit was definitely the best aeroplane to fly. I think most Spitfire pilots would tell you that. Oh, I flew a Hurricane as well. You tend to forget these things you know. I’m the same as any other ninety six year old. I can remember some things but not others. I thought I had a good memory but I’m beginning to think it’s not as good as my wife’s. She’s got family relations tied down no end. Tells me stuff from years back that I can’t remember. It’s a pity really. Pity? No. Not pity. It’s very unsettling.
AD: Yeah.
AD: Anyway. That’s about it dear.
AH: Thank you.
[machine paused]
AD: The essential to the German army that they had the use of that otherwise they had to give way to the Russians.
DS: But I think Coventry and the blitz were previous to that so -
AD: Oh it was tit for tat.
DS: Yeah.
AD: It was the same with London wasn’t it? There were no civilians in the war. Everybody was in it except those wide boys who lived on the black market and I think everybody patronised them. They were essential to keeping the job going really. Very unfairly but -
AH: Had you always wanted to be a pilot? Was it -
AD: Yes. My uncle was in the Royal Flying Corps during World War One and he had a garage and a cycle shop and motorbike agencies in Cleethorpes and I wanted to go and work for him when I left school but he had to get somebody in. The business had got too big and there wasn’t room for me. My mother died when I was about six or seven and a simple dose of antibiotics if it had been invented would have probably [pause]. Yeah.
AD: Yeah. I often wondered what it was like being on a bomber crew. I think they were a very brave lot.
AH: Did you know any?
AD: Hmmn?
AH: Did you know any?
AD: Oh I lost quite a lot of friends. You see there were eighty of us I think at the beginning of the war and I’ve never met more than a dozen people afterwards. I’ve forgotten most of their names. You wouldn’t think you could do would you but you do.
AD: Yeah. I remember when I was at St Eval. Ted Phillipson had joined me who was my, we used to motorbike together. He was a great friend. He turned up at St Eval. I didn’t see him but I had a phone call and I arranged to see him at his digs when he’d returned from a trip down to patrol the bay in a Whitley and I was going down to Bordeaux and back and it would take him all day doing it and he didn’t turn up. His body was washed ashore.
AD: Oh dear.
AD: That was a painting done by a friend of mine and he personalised it by putting, I forget whether it was a squadron in Greece or Italy. All PRU machines were, flush riveting and filled in and smoothed and a dull finish. Blue. And we had some pink ones which we used for low level photography. Bruneval being one fine example. You know the German radar station on the French coast. We wanted to find out all about it. Sent a PR Spit on a cloudy day, photographed the, and brought it back and did they ever send a raiding party across?
DS: I’m not sure.
AD: I’m not sure. Anyway, it ceased to be of the use that it was before it was done. You know, important little things like that in PR used to happen and all taken in as part of a day’s work.
AH: What was it like flying off to - ?
AD: Hmmn?
AH: What was it like going somewhere to photograph?
AD: Well I always had a faith that I would survive. Self-confidence. And it’s a belief without being religious but you are, believe that the Gods will look after you. If you haven’t got that you can suffer all kinds of things. It didn’t bother me a great deal because I was sufficiently confident. Perhaps over confident. I don’t know. Anyway, I survived. And I’m also very lucky what the Gods did. Anyway, I hope you got something out of all that lot.
AH: That’s lovely. Thank you.
[machine paused]
AD: Funny thing was we were never debriefed. You know when crews got back from an operation they always saw an intelligence officer and were debriefed as to what had happened. All the little incidents, whatnot. We were just told the target is this place, that place, that place. The was briefing before we had, and I used to have a map with return home points in case you got in to trouble and when we got back nobody asked you if anything had happened. You never bothered, nobody bothered very much about telling anybody they’d been shot at, chased or, I think it was regarded as [a bit in for a dig?] It might sound as if you’ve been boasting or something like that because the photographs were the whole purpose of the trip. They were the evidence that you’d been there, you’d done a good job. What more could you tell them? Nothing about their job of interpretation. I did hear later on in the, after, was it after the war? Yes it was after the war. The Germans had a photographic unit and of course they had some special Leica lenses that we didn’t have and they used to get some really clear photographs but we only had the first phase interpretation. They looked as if there was nothing obvious. They were just put, stored under February the 4th, 4:30 so and so and that was all they did whereas on PRU at Medmenham there was a second phase, a third phase of interpretation which is why that rocket at Peenemunde was suddenly discovered on one of the photographs on the third stage. It had been missed on the first and second and then that resulted in a bombing raid on Peenemunde. It was quite a satisfying job. Allowed you a great deal of freedom and licence. I remember when I finished my course on learning to fly the Spitfire the CO said, ‘I want you to go now and learn the coast from the Thames to the Humber and then next week we’ll do the south coast.’ And I flew up and I thought Humber? Well that’s where I live. So get up to Cleethorpes and have a look around. I can see the street and I went down to about a hundred feet and flew over it, pulled up and thought I’ll go around again and I went down and years later I met a bloke who lived in, opposite and he said he was upstairs looking out and he could see me in the cockpit. I was so low I must have caused a lot of consternation on the street then. The trouble was my father didn’t see me. He was ill in bed. Never recovered. There’s been a lot on radio recently about going back into the past. Wondering how it affects you. Yeah. Really got to try and find yourself haven’t you? [pause] And you’ll be wanting to go home now, won’t you?
AH: It’s very interesting. Did you have any brothers or sisters?
AD: I had a sister [she’s not?] two nephews. Keep in touch with them. My mother’s name was Dixon before she married and quite a big family but I think there was some trouble with things.
AH: Thank you.
[machine paused]
AH: This is a continuation of the interview conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre with Mr Alec Dixon. The interviewer is Anna Hoyles and the interview took place at Mr Dixon’s home in Cleethorpes on the 6th of November 2015.



Anna Hoyles, “Interview with Alec Stuart Dixon,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed September 24, 2023,

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