Interview with Bill Lucas. One


Interview with Bill Lucas. One


W E (Bill) Lucas joined the Royal Air Force in 1940, where he trained as a fighter pilot flying Miles Magisters and Miles Masters, before being posted to RAF Lossiemouth and moving into Bomber Command where he flew the Vickers Wellington 1C. He flew 14 operations with No 9 Squadron at RAF Honington flying the Short Stirling, before being posted to RAF Wyton in Huntingdonshire where he did a full tour of over 40 operations on Short Stirlings. He took part in operations to Cologne, Magdeburg and Essen, including taking part in the first 1,000 bomber raid on the 30 May 1942. He then spent 2 years with an Operational Training Unit at Kinloss, instructing on Armstrong Whitworth Whitleys before moving to 162 Squadron, flying De Havilland Mosquitos where he marked targets, and did 14 trips to Berlin.




Temporal Coverage





00:29:21 audio recording


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AP: The interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Andrew Panton, the Interviewee is Bill Lucas. Mr Lucas was a RAF pilot in various aircraft during World War Two. The interview is taking place at [redacted] Rustington, West Sussex on the 5th of April 2015.
WL: My name is W E (Bill) Lucas. I was called to the Forces in 1940, and my first introduction towards that was to be seen by a doctor in a Croydon school who, all intents and purposes, er, was to see which — whether I was capable of going in any of the services, that is, if I’d got flat feet or something like that. So we came to the point when he said, ‘Which service do you want to go in?’ So I said, ‘Well, I don’t want to go in the Army’, because my father put me off, had put me off going in to the trenches, et cetera. He himself had won a military medal saving his CO, he was a sergeant in the Northampton Regiment. So, I said, ‘no Army, I don’t like water, so I must go in the RAF’. ‘Oh, what do you want to do in the RAF?’ ‘Oh well,’ I said ‘what is there to do in the RAF other than fly?’ So he then wields his stethoscope and he then said, ‘you will never fly with the RAF’. So I said, ‘why not?’ He said, ‘you’ve got an enlarged heart’, I said, ‘I know that I’ve got an enlarged heart. I have been an athlete for a number of years and that developed the heart’. In fact, I was quite a good athlete, I was up to County standard at that stage, so he then said, ‘you’ve got an uneven heartbeat.’ Well, here I am, um, God knows how many years later, seventy-odd years later, and I’ve still got an enlarged heart and I’ve still got an uneven heartbeat. But anyway, he said, ‘well, I appreciate your enthusiasm. I’ll put you forward’. Well, having, um, escaped the doctor and, er, gone to Uxbridge and been interviewed again there for flying duties, they passed me without any bother at all, and then, having gone through all the introductory things, ground work et cetera, I was then trained as a fighter pilot, um, flying Miles Magisters and Miles Masters. That didn’t work, um, because they didn’t — well, the need for fighter pilots was over because we had won the Battle of Britain with the Spitfires, et cetera, et cetera, so I found myself at Lossiemouth, er, faced with flying a heavy bomber, the Wellington 1C.
AP: And what was it like to fly? How did you —
WL: Oh, the Wellington was a comparatively easy aircraft to fly. It was beautifully situated, it was low off the ground. You could do three-point landings in a Wellington, which you couldn’t do with some other aircraft, so it was quite enjoyable.
AP: And the kind of operations that you flew on?
WL: Operations were, at that time, were entirely over Germany, main cities and things in Germany but, but, er, if I had my log book here I could tell you where I went.
AP: What about —
WL: My first, my first one was, what happened was that when you, at Lossiemouth, you were trained and you finished up at a squadron, and I finished up at 9 Squadron, Honington, and did three trips, um, as a second pilot with a qualified pilot, and then you were given a crew of your own. So, er, I was sent off my first one as captain, they called it a making learner, and it was to Boulogne, so that wasn’t very far so we came back again. And from then onwards it was targets like Cologne and Magdeburg, all those sort of things.
AP: You said you were on thousand bomber raids.
WL: No, that was on the Stirling.
AP: The Stirling.
WL: So after a period of, of, you know, not very long, I completed fourteen operations with 9 Squadron, I was picked and given the honour, they called it the honour, of being one of the first pilots to fly a four engine aircraft, and that was the Stirling. Now, the Stirling was an entirely different aircraft to the Wellington, you’ve only got to see a Stirling to see how different it is. It had a very high undercarriage, you could not do three-point landings on a Stirling, you had to wheel them in. I soon learnt that, because otherwise you would be crashing aircraft all over the place. And then I was then moved to Wyton, W Y T O N, in, in Huntingdonshire, and I then did another full tour, of something like thirty-odd trips, with a crew and the Stirling. The main one of those that I can remember, is the first thousand bomber raid on the 30th of May 1942, er, when we went to Cologne. It was followed the following night with a similar raid on Essen. The Cologne one was quite successful, it was a beautiful clear night, moonlight night. Essen was a bit different, it was too cloudy, didn’t see the target very well, and then two more, two more nights later we did Essen again, still without a great deal of success.
AP: And did you encounter any fighters or —
WL: Oh well, that went without, thing that you either get flak or you get fighters, you know. They weren’t sort of buzzing around you all the time, but you would, you would get one at some time or other.
AP: Did you take evasive action, corkscrewing?
WL: Yes, and your, your rear gunner, if you’ve got a rear gunner coming to talk to you, oh [unclear], used his guns [slight laugh] his eight, eight 303’s.
AP: And was that the corkscrew?
WL: Oh, yes, you did evasive action and, of course, the other thing, which was even more terrifying, was getting caught in searchlights, because the German defences were all geared together that if, er, if a search, if a searchlight got you, then they could swing guns and other searchlights, and if you happened to get caught in a cone of five or six searchlights it was pretty grim. You could, then you started to do things with your aircraft which it was never meant to do, to get out. I had two experiences like that, but I recovered [slight laugh].
AP: And what about the blinding light [unclear]?
WL: Oh, of course, if you’re in the searchlights, you are blinded by them, but you, you hit back, because you got all your gunners to fire down the beam. We used to do a bit of destruction that way [slight laugh].
AP: When you’re coming up to the target now, coming up close to the target, the last couple of minutes, what’s that like?
WL: Well you had to do a straight and level, generally thought to be two minutes dead straight and level, but normally I used to, had a little pattern of my own, where I would weave, um, gently you know, never to be too long on any one thing, up a bit like that down a bit like that, and down a bit like that, still keeping the general thing and it seemed to work.
AP: And the bomb aimer, he’s in control?
WL: He takes over control in the last, um, last run in, yes. He’s the one that supposed to spot the target and set it up. Left, left, you know, right, right [slight laugh].
AP: And then once the bombs had gone, what happens then?
WL: Well, as soon as the bombs had gone, you moved away and headed home as quickly as you could and the thousand bomber raid on Cologne on 30th May, which was in a Stirling, I brought back a picture which, um, showed my stick of bombs going right across the front of the cathedral and the last one emanated at the bridge, the Hohen, the Hohenzollen bridge I think it’s called, in Cologne, so I claimed that. Now, whenever anybody goes to Cologne, I say, ‘stand in front of the cathedral and look at the front, and you’ll find it pockmarked. I claim those pockmarks’ [slight laugh]. Sort of bit of fun but probably quite true actually but, er, you know, I’ve not way of proving it.
AP: And that was a thousand bombers all targeting Cologne that one night?
WL: Well over a period of time, they weren’t all there at once [slight laugh] ‘cause it was done over, I don’t know, half an hour or so or more I should think.
AP: So you did Wellingtons, then Stirlings, and then —
WL: Oh we had Whitleys, and everything they could lay they hands on, so out of partly trained crews from OTUs, flown by qualified pilots, OTU instructors, um, but the crews were, you know, a bit dubious [slight laugh]. Well, you’d be lying if you said you weren’t scared to a degree, but, you know, being nervous and perhaps is something that helps you on your way, but if you gave in to it of course, you would never do it again, and some people did give in to it, and they got taken off, and it was called LMF, lack of moral fibre, so they got reduced to the ground, ground crews.
AP: And the support of the ground crews and all the other people?
WL: Oh terrific, they kept you in the air really. There’s no doubt about it.
AP: So can you say a little bit about all the people that supported you, the mechanics, the ground crew? What are your thoughts about that?
WL: Well I can’t praise them more you see, because it’s like when people say, ‘which aircraft do you like best?’ My answer to that is, ‘all of them, they brought me home’. So that’s what I say about the ground crew, you know, they got us there and back, they entered into the spirit of the thing as much as we did, you know. Their sort of hours were as queer like ours, they were there to see us off, they were there to see us back, see. Counting, you know, the aircraft as they come in. Was our aircraft going to come back in, see? They could be just as upset, I expect, with loss of the crew, their crew.
AP: Are there any memories in particular strike you from those years? You know, when you were flying, anything really vivid, or you feel you would like to relate to today, when you look back?
WL: What do you mean, things that happened to me?
AP: Yes.
WL: Oh, I had one or two scares. I had an engine failure on take-off on a Stirling, the engine went on fire. We had an, we had an engineer on board then and he dealt with it, but we were fully laden and gaining height was very, very difficult. This was out of Wyton, or Alconbury as we were flying from at that stage, um, so we had to get around and we had to lose some fuel, but we still had the bomb load on board, what to do with it? We weren’t getting any height at all so we decided, I decided that we were going to drop it. So it was a nice clear night so we managed to find fields, wide open fields, and we dropped the bomb load, et cetera, et cetera and thought nothing more about it, then came into land on three engines, which was no great problem. Later that, or a few days later, when we were all together, drinking in Huntingdon, we heard a bod way somewhere saying, ‘I was bombed by the Germans this week’, he said, ‘broke a lot of windows’. So we listened to this, and I thought that sounds very much like what we might have done, so we enlightened ourselves, we introduced ourselves to him and said it was us who, who broke his windows, so he was so delighted with that. We had free beer for the rest of the night.
AP: What was the Stirling like to fly in the air?
WL: In the air, I enjoyed flying in the air but it was a horror in the circuit with a big -, had an electric undercarriage too which was not a bad thing, but if the electrics failed, you lost your undercarriage. Well if you didn’t, there was a means of winding it down. Took about half an hour to do it.
AP: And, and this was night flying mainly was it?
WL: All night flying, yes, we did no daylight.
AP: Did you ever use the FIDO for, you know, fog?
WL: No but I might have done, but that was later in the war when I was on, on a Mosquito. I, I was first one back on my squadron and, unfortunately, we’d been sent out and been told we would be back long before weather came down, but we weren’t and when we came back fog was thick. It was really thick, so I made two or three approaches on, on, er, Bourn, which was by Cambridge, and, without effect, decided the last time that I would stay on the ground so we went on the ground, fairly well down the runway into a ditch, tail came over, and then we were upside down there. The ground crew arrived very, very quickly and turned it back up again, so we escaped that one.
AP: So you escaped that one.
WL: They’d been trained individually at various places, whether they were wireless operators, or gunners or navigators and in their own trade. I had a crew which I soon learnt to trust. I did not interfere with them, I let them get on with their job. When you were in the air you, you forbid chatter and you only contacted them if you thought need be, and that’s what the captain would do every so often, he’d say to the rear gunner, ‘are you still alive? Are you still awake’ even. The Met Office had no real means of knowing what was going on, other than outside the realms of the United Kingdom. They used to send an aircraft out sometimes before a raid took place to [unclear], it changed quickly and we had nights when we lost a lot of aircraft. I was on leave from my Stirling squadron, um, I was down in Epsom and I bought a paper, and we’d lost something like eighty-odd aircraft. When I got back to squadron, we’d lost three off my squadron and it was proved later that most of them were lost in weather. They went down in the Channel because wind changes, they weren’t able to, hadn’t got the equipment in those days. We flew with dead reckoning which means that, you know, it was what you could see —
AP: That was it. There was no —
WL: That was it. Then we started to get certain things like a Gee box, which was a sat nav I suppose in a way and —
AP: Did you fly with H2S?
WL: Well I flew with H2S in a Mosquito when my marking days were —
AP: Could you talk a bit about that, because I haven’t met anybody who used —
WL: Well having, let’s say having completed my main tour which consisted of forty, forty operations, um, I then went and spent two years with an OTU instructing others at Kinloss, instructing other people on Whitleys [slight laugh]. Two years later I was withdrawn, posted down south, to find myself allocated to a conversion unit on Mosquitos with a view to joining 8 Group, which materialised, um, I went to a squadron, 162 Squadron, which was a newly formed, newly formed squadron especially for the war-time only, flying Mosquitos. Half of us were markers and the other half did diversionaries and that sort of thing.
AP: So did you actually mark the targets?
WL: Yes, I marked. Not all the time but depending. Mosquitos could fly when the heavies couldn’t, see. We could compete with weather better than they did and in those last two years of the war, er, we did a lot of Baedeker raids. I think going out, we took four, five hundred pound bombs and did Hamburg, Magdeburg, Cologne and somewhere else, came back home, you know, having kept the Germans in their shelters all night [slight laugh]. We used to go out at quarter of an hour intervals you see.
AP: Where did you fly from?
WL: I flew from Wyton.
AP: Wyton? Okay. So —
WL: No, in Mosquitos, I flew from Bourn, Bourn without an ‘e’, just outside Cambridge.
AP: Could you talk a little about marking the targets with the Mosquitos?
WL: Well the basis was that we carried, er, flares which lasted quite a long time and varying colours. I never knew which colour I was going, going to be carrying but we were instructed to fly a course, which we were able to do using H2S, er, essentially to be perfectly accurate, and then at a nominated height, and at a certain point, we would drop these flares, which would burst near the ground if it was a clear night or quite high up if it was above cloud. The main force then comes in and bombs the flares and it’s all worked out that if they hit the flare, then their bombs would hit the target, see.
AP: And was there different colours of flares?
WL: Oh yes. Greens, reds, yellows, everything.
AP: And did they have different meanings?
WL: Well the bomber crew coming in behind knew what they had to do, which ones they shoot.
AP: So they could [unclear]
WL: Well they have some warning you see. They might have a yellow one as a warning, then a green one, that’s the one to bomb or something like that.
AP: Right. And H2S, is that the one you were using, that’s the —
WL: It was a forerunner, really, of television. We had a screen in the aircraft, we transmitted a beam or something like that, er, which picked up the ground. It didn’t pick up, er, sharpness but we could tell the difference between water, and built-up areas, and rivers, and all that sort of thing, and we were provided with a map in the aircraft so we were able to follow that by watching the screen. The screen should agree with the map and therefore we knew — it wasn’t until 1943, ‘44 that we began to get accuracy because of that. There was another means called Oboe, that was done by Mosquitos as well. That was arriving at a point, a cock, a cocked hat as they called it, three beams transmitting from this country, all crossing at one point. They used to have, they would have warnings and then they really did have to fly, er, two minutes straight and level. But Oboe, of course, was only useful, couldn’t be done at great distance. The Ruhr was about as far as we could do with Oboe. We used to drop from anything up to thirty thousand.
AP: Any kind of low level bombing?
WL: No, I didn’t do any of those.
AP: Right —
WL: Not, not in a Mosquito. I did some low level stuff in Stirlings, dropping, um, sea mines off the coast of France and Holland, in waterways.
AP: What kind of height would that be?
WL: Three hundred feet. Flying inside the islands off the coast of Holland and shot at. It was the same with Lorient, on the approach into Lorient we were dropping sea mines there. We used to treat these trips quite mundane really, you know. I was never on any sort of thing like Amiens or those specialised jobs. No, I would love to have done it, but I couldn’t. I mean they made a mess of that one so —
AP: Did you go as far as Berlin in the Mosquitos?
WL: Oh yes, fourteen times [slight laugh]. There’s a story about that because, um, we didn’t go to Berlin for a long time after the war, but off of a cruise, we were on in the Baltic, we stopped at Warnemünde and, and got taken into Berlin, see. Met by a young man who was to be our guide for the day, and I knew what he was going to say, he was going to say, at some time, had I been to Berlin before? So we left him to it. Eventually he got round to it, and I said, ‘Yes, yes. Fourteen times but never on the ground’. See, so he looks at me and he said, ‘I know all about that’, he said, ‘I commend you, you did exactly what you were told to do’, and we had a very good day together [laugh].
AP: There you go. As you look back, is there anything specific? Any memories of your wartime experience —
WL: Well yes, in a way. When you got a big crew on board, we used to have seven on a Stirling and I had the same crew from my Wellington and Stirling days, we got quite matey. We always went drinking together, see. Some were commissioned and others weren’t. I was commissioned during my period on 15 Squadron Stirlings and, er, but we always used to go out in the evenings, start off anyway [slight laugh] together what we got up to later was Legion. That crew was still left when I finished my tour of heavies, with three or four trips to do. The ruling when we first started bombing, was that you did thirty trips, then they changed it to two hundred operational hours, which meant that you probably did more than thirty. Anyway, they were left with, er, two or three to do and I departed up into Scotland, and I’m thinking I was never going to see them again, see. Then I heard that the first time out with a new captain, they’d been shot down. I was quite sorrowful about that, because I’d spent, oh, something like twelve months with them altogether and, er, that, you know, so I was sorrowful about it and nothing happened ‘till about four or five years ago. I was rung up by a young lad who said, ‘I’ve seen a picture of you with your crew in the Sunday Telegraph’, and he said, ‘I think one of them is my grandfather’. So I said, ‘which one?’ And he said, ‘Jack Tailor’. I said, ‘Yes, Jack Tailor was my engineer’. It then transpired that Jack Tailor had been withdrawn on the morning of that, of the time they were shot down. He was then a sergeant engineer. He finished the war as a warrant officer engineer, which was quite something. He won himself a DFC and he died in 1996 [slight laugh].
AP: That’s amazing.
WL: He obviously thought I hadn’t survived and I was absolutely certain that he hadn’t, see, but all the time he was living within a really close distance. I lived just outside Croydon for a time, he was there. I moved down and got remarried to a lady which you might meet later, um, in the Horsham area, he was there, and his daughter and the, and the young lad who rung me were at, um, a place about five miles along the road, on the 272 from us, at Shipley.
AP: Amazing.
WL: Coming home, we came a bit too near Kiel coming home, see, and got lots of holes. We lost a hell of a lot of fuel. There we were, crossing the North Sea, with the tank indicators showing practically nothing, down to nothing, and fortunately we made it, because in those days, they had a special airfield, Woodbridge was the one in Suffolk, where they had three runways. The left hand one was you could go in if there was nothing wrong with you, the middle one if you weren’t sure and the right hand one if you crash landed it, see, so I took the left hand one and the, and we stayed the night there. The ground crew there refuelled, and he came to me and said, ‘I hope you realise how short you were of fuel last night’. I said, ‘Yes sergeant. How much are you going to tell me was there?’ He said, ‘well, according to our estimation, you had twenty-five gallons’. Now a Hercules engine, which is in a Stirling, uses fifty gallons an hour, so that’s two hundred gallons in, you had four, how far would have I got on twenty-five? If I’d overshot at Woodbridge, we would not be here today. You see we never, you got called on, on the day and said, ‘well sir, there’s a crew meeting at 2 o’clock this afternoon’, and you would go to this. The navigators would be taken off, they went to learn the target and go through all their maps and things like that, which didn’t involve the captains and the bomb aimers and things. Well the bomb aimers, yes, he will tell you about or has told you about that, and then of course, you got a long period when you were taken off, 6 o’clock or 8 o’clock or 10 o’clock, and the worse ones were of course, were when, we had a, you know, abortive. All the nerves had built up, see, and then suddenly, oh no, back to the mess, see. Then we got a bit of relief then, so a few pints, we used to go down, and one station I was on, they had a piano like that and so, you know, we would spend most of the evening singing round the piano, so —



Andrew Panton, “Interview with Bill Lucas. One,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 25, 2024,

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