Interview with Bill Lucas. Two


Interview with Bill Lucas. Two


Bill Lucas DFC was born on the 16th January in 1917 and lived in Upper Tooting.
He left school at the age of 15 and went to work in an Insurance Company, before joining the Royal Air Force in 1939.
Bill was sent to 16 EFTS at Derby and then to an Advanced Flying School at Montrose, before finally ending up at 20 OUT Lossiemouth in 1941 flying Wellington Bombers.
He also spent time learning to fly the Short Sterling before being posted to 15 Squadron at Wyton, where he transferred to Mosquitos becoming a Pathfinder for Bomber Command.
Bill completed over 40 operations with Bomber Command flying various aircraft and after the war, competed in the 1948 Olympics where he competed against Emil Zatopek.
Bill spent time after the war with the Belgrave Harriers and took part and organised activities for over 80 years.








00:49:45 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 8th, Wednesday the 8th of February 2017, and I’m in Cowfold with Squadron Leader Bill Lucas DFC, and we’re gonna talk about his experiences of life, starting with what are your earliest recollections of life, Bill?
WL: Well, I was born on the 16th of January 1917 to poor parents and my father was a bricklayer, er, in Upper Tooting, er, we lived in Upper Tooting all the time. I went to a school, a primary school, and then I went to The Beck Grammar School, as it was then, in 1928 I think it was. I was there until 1932 and, er, that’s it [slight laugh].
CB: So, what age did you actually leave school?
WL: Oh, I was fifteen, was it?
WL: Fifteen.
CB: School leaving age was fourteen in those days.
WL: Yes.
CB: What did you do immediately after you left school?
WL: I, um, I worked for a firm down in Surrey somewhere and they were a printing firm, and I was there for about — oh, quite a few months, and then my mother, who had got me introduced to the insurance company, London Lancashire, um, Insurance Company, and I eventually joined them in — oh, don’t ask me the date but I, I did, yes.
CB: Yeah, and during that time you were quite an active, athletic youngster?
WL: Um, whilst I was in the insurance company yes. I was inured into athletics and became a good athlete with Belgrave Harriers, where I’ve just completed eighty-, eighty-one years.
CB: Brilliant. So, you were working for this insurance company and then doing your running in the evenings were you, and the weekends?
WL: Oh yes. Training at weekends.
CB: Training at the weekends.
WL: At weekends and the evenings. Yes.
CB: Yeah and, er, when the war started you were still with the insurance company, were you?
WL: Oh yes.
CB: Now, what made you choose to join the RAF rather than the Navy or the Army?
WL: Well, I was taken to a — or had to go to be seen by a doctor at some school in Croydon, and, er, he said to me, ‘which service do you want to go in?’ I said, ‘well, my father was in the Army and he said — he put me against that. I don’t like water so I’ve got to join the RAF’. So he said, ‘what do you want to do on the RAF?’ I said, ‘well, there’s only one thing to do in the RAF, that’s fly’ see. So he did a few probings around and he said, ‘well, you’ll never fly’. I said, ‘oh, why not?’ He said, ‘well, you’ve got a large heart and you won’t pass the [unclear]’. So, you know, I persisted with, with this and said, ‘well, my large heart is because I’ve been an athlete and it doesn’t usually preclude anybody doing anything’. So — but, um, but eventually it worked out that I did.
CB: So, where did you report to first?
WL: Oh, er, what first?
CB: In the RAF.
WL: Uxbridge I think it was.
CB: And what did you do there?
WL: Well, I was only just seen there, etcetera. Why did we go there? Now after that, we went down to Torquay.
CB: You didn’t go to Lord’s Cricket Ground?
WL: No, I don’t think so, no.
WL: I don’t remember that.
CB: And what happened at Torquay?
WL: We spent time doing ground work and that sort of thing.
CB: This was an ITW was it, Initial Training Wing?
WL: Yes, at Torquay and Babbacombe.
CB: What were the main activities there?
WL: Oh, it was going through ground work, weather, and all that sort of thing.
CB: And at what stage did you know that you were going to be trained as a pilot?
WL: What age was I then? Oh, you’ve got me on a bad day actually.
CB: OK. Never mind. We can come back to that.
WL: What age was I? Could I have been?
CG: Twenty-one, twenty-two?
WL: Yes, something like that, yes.
CB: So, you joined up in ’39, did you?
CG: ’40.
WL: No.
CB: Not ’40?
WL: No, not ’39, no. I was dragged in in ’40.
CB: OK. So, after Torquay, then where did you go?
WL: Where did I go?
CG: His log book will help.
WL: Oh, that’s what the log book’s for [slight laugh]. I went to, um, 16 EFTS at Derby.
CB: Right.
WL: That was flying little aeroplanes and then on to AFTS, Advanced Flying School, at Montrose, where we transferred onto a fighter type aircraft. That didn’t last long, and so we finished up at 20 OTU Lossiemouth on Wellingtons.
CB: So, what was your choice, really of — ideally would you have preferred to be in fighters or bombers?
WL: Well, seeing as I survived bombers, definitely that. I don’t think I’d have survived as a fighter pilot, I would probably kill myself.
CB: Too adventurous, were you?
WL: [slight laugh] Something like that.
CB: So, after you start, you did the OTU on Wellingtons. Where was that?
WL: That was in May ‘41.
CB: Yeah.
WL: Three months.
CB: Whereabouts?
WL: Mm?
CB: Whereabouts?
WL: Lossiemouth.
CB: Oh, that was Lossiemouth. Right. Which then took you to —
WL: 9 Squadron at Honington.
CB: What were the bombers there?
WL: We were there three months.
CB: What were you flying there?
WL: What was I flying? Um —
CG: The 1C.
WL: Wellington 1Cs, yeah, and 3s.
CB: But that was fairly short.
WL: Then to a conversion flight at Waterbeach, learning to fly the Stirling and then I went to 15 Squadron at Wyton.
CB: How did you like the Stirling?
WL: Oh, yes, I quite liked it. Bad on the ground, good in the air. Spending time with 15 Squadron at Wyton.
CB: Still on Stirlings, were you?
WL: I was on Stirlings, yes, and then a conversion flight at Marham, onto Mosquitos.
CB: A bit different.
WL: Yeah. A bit quicker, a bit more responsive, nice aeroplane.
CB: And which role was the Mosquito operating in?
WL: Mm?
CB: Which role was the Mosquito operating in?
WL: Which role?
CB: Was it, was it as a bomber or was it as a anti-shipping or was it a night fighter or —
WL: Night fighter and a bomber, yes. Right. What next?
CB: Yes, I just wondered how you got on with the Mosquito and, er, what sort of raids?
WL: Oh, I got on very well with the Mosquito.
CB: What sort of ops did you do on them?
WL: I did marking for the main force and general, general bombing raids, yeah.
CB: This is before Pathfinders is it? Oh was it actually Pathfinders?
WL: During the Pathfinder period, yeah.
CB: Because Pathfinders gradually worked up, didn’t they?
WL: Oh yes. It was well run. It had a good leader and we did a lot of good work.
CB: On the Stirlings, were you on the bombing raids with those or not?
WL: Mm?
CB: When you flew the Stirling —
WL: Yes.
CB: Were you — the raids? You went on ops with that did you?
WL: Oh yes.
CB: Bombing?
WL: Bombing raids.
CB: What sort of height?
WL: Night, night bombing raids.
CB: Yes. Was the Mosquito day and night or only night?
WL: Oh, only night. Yes.
Other: Apart from the three thousand bomber raid.
CB: In the thousand bomber raid.
CG: All three of them.
CB: Yes.
CG: In the Stirling.
CB: So what about — in the Stirling, did you go on the thousand bomber raid?
WL: Yes. 30th of May 1942.
CB: Mm. That was quite a busy —
WL: Cologne.
CB: Route.
WL: The thousand, yes. [slight laugh]
CB: To what extent could you see the other aircraft when you were flying there?
WL: Oh, always.
CB: And then were there other large raids?
WL: Oh, yes. There were always more.
CB: What did you do after Mosquitos at Marham?
WL: What happened?
CB: Or, or was that a long tour?
WL: Well, it was only a two-day conversion course at Marham.
CB: Yes.
WL: I went to 19 OTU at Kinloss.
CB: Right.
WL: Oh my brain. It’s just not working.
CB: Do you want to have a break?
WL: I don’t think it will be any faster really.
CG: Have a break.
CB: We’ll just have a — stop there for a mo —
WL: I am a hundred years — [background noise] serving on two other four engine aircraft, squadrons, four of us, four squadrons up there doing that, and we were put in a newly built, um, building which was very damp etcetera and that’s where we slept. That was, that was —
CB: This was on operations?
WL: Well yes, yes.
CB: What were you flying then?
WL: I was flying — what was I flying? I was flying the Stirling, was I?
CB: You were flying the Stirling, yeah. And when the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau went through the Channel, what were you flying in order to —
WL: I wasn’t flying. I was just, um, I’d just joined 15 Squadron and on the same day that happened and the CO got everybody on board that could to look out —
CB: Look out for the ships?
WL: Yeah. As Cherry said, we —, I — we said that if we’d been — we did it from low down. If we’d emerged anywhere near them, we’d have been shot out of the sky.
CB: And what was the main attack? What aircraft were in the main attack?
WL: Er —
CB: So you were looking out but who was doing the bombing, supposedly?
WL: I was only just looking out, yes. The squadron were doing the bombing, if any.
CB: But this was with Stirlings?
WL: Mm?
CB: This was with Stirlings, was it?
WL: Yes.
CB: Right and the Navy were doing their bit as well.
WL: Oh yes, with what they call —
CB: Stringbags.
WL: Mm?
CB: Yeah. String bags, Swordfish.
WL: Yes. Stringbags.
CB: Yes.
WL: Oh, you’re stretching my mind.
CB: OK. We’ll stop again. So when you went to Kinloss, you were an instructor on the OTU?
WL: Oh yes, yes.
CB: So, how did that work? You —
WL: Well, you took crews out on night flights and all that sort of thing and cross country flights and, you know, trained them as, as bomber crews.
CB: Yes and, er, how, how dangerous was that?
WL: [slight laugh] Well, you were the passenger without any, er, any means of flying the aircraft.
CB: Where — so it had a full crew and the pilot, trainee pilot, was the captain —
WL: Well you trained the crew, you see?
CB: And so where would you be? Did it have dual controls?
WL: No, no, no.
CB: So you stood next to him did you?
WL: I sat next to him, yes.
CB: You sat next to him.
WL: Yes.
CB: Right.
WL: Well, on the step below the pilot’s seat. The pilot up, just up there and you sat down there.
CB: Could you see out, er, fairly well, or was it quite difficult?
WL: Yes, yes. You’re stretching my mind.
CB: Yes. So did you have any hairy moments with the students?
WL: Not that I really recall, no.
CB: And those Wellingtons, were they new and up to date or —
WL: Oh, far from it.
CB: Were they old and knackered?
WL: Far from it. Old 1Cs.
CB: And could you fly on one engine with the, er, Wellington?
WL: Yeah, it flew on one engine. Yes. Most aircrew, aircraft could fly on lesser engines. They were designed that way.
CB: How did you feel about being an instructor away from the front line?
WL: [slight laugh] I don’t know how I felt. I suppose, I suppose I was a good instructor and that was all they needed of you.
CB: I’ll stop again.
CG: You had got a couple of ops more than the rest of your crew, hadn’t you?
WL: Oh yes, yes.
CG: And then his — the rest of his crew were taken on the next operation by another pilot and lost.
CB: This is on Stirlings?
CG: On Stirlings on 15 Squadron.
WL: All but one.
CG: But Bill didn’t know until about three years ago. He thought the whole crew had been lost and then through, um, Facebook and doing our Bomber Command things, somebody in the United States, somebody somewhere got to hear about it, and it transpired that —
WL: Well, I had a picture, I had a picture in one of the Sunday papers, Sunday Telegraph —
CB: Yes.
WL: And they picked it out and, and the boy, the boy said, ‘Oh, that was my father’, and, er, it followed from there.
CG: His — and his flight engineer had survived. He had been ill on this trip apparently and he’d survived and he —
WL: He did another trip. He was a sergeant as an engineer, he survived to do another tour and became a warrant officer and got a DFC.
CG: And Bill found out about three years ago and he was like a dog with two tails [laugh]. He was so thrilled and, and you had lunch with the grandson, didn’t you?
WL: Yes, we did.
CG: Bill, they’ll probably, they’ll want to record that so you’ll need to repeat it, but I thought I’d just jog it because, because this thing about losing your own, your crew. I mean, you was quite upset that another pilot had lost his life for him.
WL: Oh yes.
CG: That —
WL: I’d flown a number of trips with them so naturally to lose them was, was a great harrowing.
CB: What was it that caused you not to be on that particular op and another pilot had to do it?
WL: Because I’d done my stint. I’d, I’d come off, come off and left them to it.
CG: It was the stage when they did second dicky trips so he would do his — or he would do his dicky trips and those counted as ops, so the pilot was often two or three ops ahead of the rest of his crew, you see?
CB: Mm. Yes.
CG: Anyway, they will need to record that probably Bill, so —
WL: Mm?
CG: They’ll need to record it so you’ll have to say it all again [laugh].
WL: What exactly have I got to say?
CB: OK. So the question — the point here I think is the trauma of —
WL: Of the loss of the crew?
CB: Losing the crew.
WL: Yes.
CB: And so if we could start, please, with why it happened. Is it, was it because you’d finished your tour of thirty ops?
WL: Yes.
CB: And then —
WL: A bit more than thirty but —
CB: OK. How many had you done by then, roughly? It doesn’t matter. You’d done your tour but the crew went on.
WL: That’s right.
CB: So what happened there?
WL: At the end of my period of —
CB: This is on Stirlings.
WL: Operational work on Stirlings, I finished my tour and, er, left the crew. The crew still had a few trips to do. Another captain took them over and, er, lost them, all but except the —
CB: The flight engineer.
WL: The — what is he?
CG: The flight engineer.
WL: Flight engineer, um, and lost them and, er, I was very sorry about that because, you know, we got very close together with a lot of trips behind us.
CB: Mm.
WL: Mm.
CB: How did the crew gel in general? So you did the full tour but how well did the crew gel during operations and —
WL: Oh very well, we went everywhere together.
CB: Yeah.
WL: Yeah.
CB: And what about on the social side?
WL: And on social side. We all went drinking together.
CB: Yeah, and were — did you have a mixture of officers and NCOs or were, were all the crew at that point NCOs?
WL: No, no. I had a mixed lot, you know.
CB: What — when were you commissioned? Immediately you joined?
WL: When was I commissioned? I don’t know.
CG: May ’42.
CB: Some people were —
CG: May ’42.
WL: May ’42.
CB: OK. Whilst you were on the squadron. That squadron?
WL: Must have been.
CB: OK. Right, we’ll stop there.
WL: [background noise] Earlier in the war, um, he was there.
CB: Mahaddie?
WL: I didn’t know him well then but I got to know him very well later. And he remembered me, so he then put me forward to go onto Mosquitos.
CB: Mm. Right.
WL: That’s as how I see it anyway.
CB: And what was, what were, what were the main strengths that Mahaddie had? What was he particularly good at?
WL: He’d done God knows how many, um, bombing trips, early on. One hundred and twenty-odd of them.
CB: Mm and his role in Pathfinders was what?
WL: Mm?
CB: What was his role in the Pathfinders?
WL: Oh, I don’t know. I suppose he must have been second in command to the boss man, whose name I can’t think at the moment.
CB: But was his role to select suitable candidates for being Pathfinders?
WL: Oh, I think, I think he was, yes. But you’ll never know whether they were good, bad or indifferent.
CB: Right. So, in your OTU how did you grade some of these pilots because there must have been various different abilities? How did you find that?
WL: Well, they had to reach a standard before they could move on to go on to squadrons.
CB: Mm.
WL: That’s what we were teaching them to do.
CB: Yes and then you were required to grade between exceptional, good, average and below average.
WL: Was I? [slight laugh]
CB: [slight laugh] And I just wondered how you —
WL: I don’t think I was. I think my, my CO did that. I certainly didn’t do it.
CB: No. I’m just intrigued to know whether you were consulted in that process in order for that assessment —
WL: Oh, no doubt I was but it was a long time back.
CB: Yeah, and some of the people didn’t complete the course, did they, or would you imagine?
WL: Oh, must have been plenty that didn’t. I can’t remember any of that.
CB: That’s OK. That’s OK. So after OTU where did you go then?
WL: Went to 3 FIS Hullavington. What did we do there? Oh, Hullavington was a training thing for, for, um, teaching and I had a course there on being able to fly and talk at the same time. [slight laugh] So —
CB: So was that before you went to OTU? Because you were learning to be an instructor?
WL: That’s right. That was learning to fly and talk.
CB: Yes.
WL: And then I went to 19 OTU Kinloss.
CB: Yeah. So after Kinloss?
WL: Oh, I had two years at 19 OTU Forres, part of Kinloss.
CB: Part of Kinloss, yeah, yeah. What was the accommodation like up there?
WL: It was quite good. We were in nice, nice huts. Yes, up the road from the mess really. We had to walk or we all had a bike and —.
CB: How were the instructors housed? Did you have two in a room or three or how did it work?
WL: Er, certainly more than one, two I think, yes.
CB: Wooden huts or Nissen huts?
WL: Oh, wooden huts.
CB: Suitable for officers.
WL: Now you put Nissen in? [slight laugh], it could, yeah, it could have been Nissan huts.
CB: I was thinking of the comfort.
WL: They were alright, yes, yes. We all had a stove in the middle of the floor etcetera, to keep you warm.
CB: Yeah, and what about the food? What was, what was the quality of the food like when you were at an OTU?
WL: It was acceptable, I suppose you could say.
CB: But on the operational stations it was different?
WL: Oh yes, they treated us well there. Had the expense of giving you eggs and bacon before you went off and when you came back [slight laugh].
CB: Has that affected your long term interest in bacon and egg? [slight laugh]
WL: I love bacon and egg.
CB: I do. Got to have fried bread though.
WL: Mm?
CB: You must have fried bread with it.
WL: Oh yes
CB: So after Kinloss, at the OTU for two years, and Forres where did you go?
WL: I went to the MTU at Warboys where I learnt to fly Mosquitos.
CB: Right [pause] and that was a fairly short course I imagine.
WL: Oh yes, a couple of days, that was all.
CB: Followed by?
WL: To be posted to 162 Squadron at Bourn in Cambridgeshire.
CB: At where?
WL: Bourn.
CB: Oh, Bourn, yes.
WL: Bourn without an ‘e’.
CB: Yeah. Not to be confused with Lincolnshire. And what was your —
WL: And I was there for, er, six months.
CB: Right, and what was your role there?
WL: Oh, I was a bombing and marking pilot.
CB: Right.
CG: Pathfinder.
CB: So could you just talk us through a Pathfinder sortie? So the main force would be following, would be flying along and needing markers. Did you start — did you set off after the main force had already left because of your speed or did you integrate with it at the front? Or how did it work?
WL: Oh, we didn’t see the main force. We had to arrive at a time when we flew H2S on the Mosquito which —
CG: Did you have Oboe?
WL: Had Oboe, yes.
CB: You wouldn’t have had H2S on a Mosquito, would you?
CG: No, it was Oboe.
WL: H2S Mosquito. Yes. Yes.
CB: Oboe.
WL: Where you flew — where you flew — I forget what you did. You flew —
CB: Confluence of the lines.
WL: You flew a beam —
CB: Yes.
WL: Etcetera, and then photographs and etcetera, and you, you dropped the marker on that spot, yes.
CB: Did you have more than one colour marker so that you could go round again, or did you tend to just be in and out?
WL: Oh, in and out. Yes. I don’t think — I don’t remember any bombing raids where you went round a second time.
CB: Right. And I was think — yes. OK. And was the — your sortie on its own or were there several Mosquitos together doing the marking on a single target?
WL: I can’t — I honestly wouldn’t know. It depended on what, what the bosses said.
CB: Mm. I was thinking —
WL: Funny question that.
CB: I was just thinking of the amount of flares that you’d be using, coloured markers I mean, um, whether your load would be enough?
WL: That’s all we had to do was fly the beam and then drop as instructed, so how many flares went Lord knows.
CB: Mm.
WL: Not within my remit.
CB: OK. So you did that for six months.
WL: Yeah, something like that.
CB: How many ops were there roughly? Was it as many as when you were doing the —
CG: Forty.
WL: I haven’t a clue.
CG: It was forty Bill.
CB: Forty
WL: Forty-odd, yeah.
CB: OK. So at the end of that six months, then what did you do after that? Did they think you needed a rest?
CG: It was the end of the war.
CB: Or did the war come to an end in Europe?
WL: Oh yes. It was finished and the, er, aircraft, we were flying did some trips round Europe dropping mail, um, where we landed at Blackbushe, and then I finished up at — you know, the squadron joined 139 Squadron at Upwood before being dismantled in January ’46.
CB: So this was all Mosquito flying was it?
WL: Yes.
CB: Yeah. So compared with the Stirling, which was clearly a different aeroplane, which one did you really prefer?
WL: When it comes to aircraft I love them all. They brought me home.
CB: Mm, people have different affections —
WL: Well —
CB: For different planes for different reasons.
WL: Well, you could hardly compare a Mosquito with a Stirling. So different aircrafts.
CB: Yes but my experience is that people have a huge allegiance to their aeroplanes.
WL: Oh we all loved them. [slight laugh]
CB: Yeah. Yes. OK, we’ll stop for a mo.
Other: [unclear] windows stuff.
CB: No, that’s different.
WL: Window was you’d have this strip stuff which —
CB: You didn’t drop window —
WL: Big aircraft pumped down the chute.
CB: For jamming the radar, yes. You were with Pathfinders, but were you Pathfinding on every sortie, every op, or did you do other sorts of operations?
WL: Oh, I did plenty of others.
CB: And what would they be?
WL: Just dropping a — the cookie, yes.
CB: Yes, so could you describe the cookie?
WL: I can’t.
CB: It’s a four thousand pound barrel.
WL: Four — five thousand pound bomb.
CB: Yes. What’s in it?
WL: Something that explodes.
CB: [laugh] What about locations? What was the worst place to bomb?
WL: I suppose they all were because they were all, they were all protected, yes.
CB: Mm, and how many trips did you do to Berlin?
WL: Fourteen.
CB: What was your reaction to flying there compared with somewhere like Essen?
WL: It’s a target.
CB: The flak?
WL: Oh, well —
CB: The same everywhere, was it?
WL: Yes, it’s all —
CB: Or were they more organised?
WL: If you look at the picture there behind, that is what you see.
CB: Yeah.
WL: That is flak.
CB: Yeah. Were you pleased to move away from Wellingtons to bigger, more modern aircraft?
WL: Well, whether I was pleased or not, I was drawn off of Wellingtons and put on Stirlings, so that’s what the Bomber Command wanted, so that’s what they got.
CB: What were the limitations of the Stirling in your perception?
WL: Well, its speed wasn’t huge and it only had an operational height of about sort of twenty thousand.
CB: With the Mosquito, you could go —
WL: Oh well, you could go thirty-five thousand.
CB: So at what level would you normally fly on a typical Mosquito op?
WL: Oh, twenty thousand or something.
CB: And when you did the marking as a Pathfinder was there — how soon, how far ahead of the main stream were you to do the marking?
WL: Well, whatever Bomber Command wanted.
CB: I was just thinking of —
WL: I didn’t have any say in it.
CB: No, no, but I wondered whether you could see them arriving almost immediately or there tended to be a, a lag.
WL: Well, it was flying home you could see the bombs dropping and well, you could see the explosions.
CB: Yeah and as the smoke got thicker, did another marker come along to re-set the target?
WL: I haven’t a clue.
CB: So you didn’t have to do that?
WL: No, no.
CB: No. I’m stopping for a mo. [Background noise]. So on a raid, as I understand it, there would be a master bomber. Would he be sometimes in a Mosquito, or was he in a Lancaster or a Halifax?
WL: I couldn’t tell you.
CB: ‘Cause he was calling up what —
WL: Well, well you’d hear him but you wouldn’t see him.
CB: Right. What was your endurance on the Mosquito? Could you hold over the target if it was a long way away?
WL: Mm?
CB: Could you actually circle a target in a Mosquito if it was a long trip, or was the endurance not sufficient? ‘Cause the Lancaster master bomber would be circling, wouldn’t he?
WL: Well, you could. You are asking some impossible questions.
CB: That’s OK. I don’t mind if you can’t answer. I’m just curious because of some of the other bits that have come out. Yes. Thank you. Because we want to know what people’s perceptions were.
WL: It was a very long time ago.
CB: Yeah. I’m stopping again.
WL: [background noise] Scotland.
CB: Right.
WL: The Whitley was the aircraft at, er, Kinloss.
CB: Was it?
WL: Yes.
CB: Yes. So what was the Whitley like in terms of —
WL: Oh, a little worse than the Wellington. A slow aircraft.
CB: Yeah. They’d been all withdrawn from service some time before.
WL: Mm?
CB: They’d been withdrawn from frontline service.
WL: Oh yes. They were replaced by, by the Wellington I think, yes.
CB: Yes. What was the handling like because it was an old design?
WL: Very heavy.
CB: And, um, what about reliability?
WL: Of the Whitley?
CB: Of the Whitley, yeah.
WL: I haven’t a clue.
CB: It might have been its saving grace.
WL: The ground crews would look after them. They always seemed to be flying to me.
CB: Yeah. And on the topic of ground crew, what was your relationship on the — first of all on the Stirling Squadrons, Squadron, with the ground crew?
WL: You had a ground crew, yes.
CB: Yes. How close did you — how closely did you liaise with them?
WL: Well you got quite friendly with the sergeant, yeah.
CB: Yeah, and you talked about the crew being very cohesive and social events as well as in the air. Did the sergeant, your chief, did he get involved in that or did the aircrew tend to —
WL: Not usually, no.
CB: No. Was he not invited or just not thought to be —
WL: Wasn’t protocol.
CB: Right. You also flew the Anson for a bit. Why was that?
WL: The Anson was only a transport aircraft, used when you wanted to transmit somebody or carry something, or, or go somewhere.
CB: Yeah. Now throughout the war people were supposed to be fit. You were a very fit person before you joined. How did you maintain your fitness during the war?
WL: Well, I tried to do a bit of running but I never really found time to do it.
CB: And your running was, um, well recognised before the war. What did the war do to it.
WL: [laugh] what did the war do to me? It deprived me of going to, er, two events 1940 and 1944.
CG: The Olympics.
WL: The Olympics.
CB: Yeah, so what did you do instead?
WL: Mm?
CB: What did you do instead?
WL: I don’t know.
CB: Retribution.
CG: You bombed Hitler [laugh].
WL: I bombed Hitler instead, yeah. [slight laugh]
CB: So you missed those two Olympics, then what happened in ‘48?
WL: Well, I was in them.
CB: Were you in the Air Force at the time?
WL: No.
CB: Right. And what was it like at the Olympics in 1948?
WL: I don’t remember now.
CB: You — I mean it was a huge achievement to go to there.
WL: Yes.
CB: But the winner that time was — in 1948?
WL: The what?
CB: Who was the winner?
WL: The winner?
CB: In your particular speciality in 1948?
WL: Oh —
CB: Emil Zatopek
WL: Zatopek. Yes.
CB: Did you meet him again afterwards? Or was that the end?
WL: Well, it was no good meeting him. He couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Czech so —
CB: Right. [slight laugh]
CG: Bill did actually run against Zapotek in his heat.
CB: Did he?
WL: Yes.
CB: Yes. And after those Olympics did you — you still kept up your running did you?
WL: Good Lord, yes. I did eighty-two years with Belgrave Harriers.
CB: Yeah. Right. And you were running the Harriers, weren’t you?
WL: Well, I wasn’t running all the time, but I was doing ministrations.
CB: Yeah. Did you feel after the ’48 Olympics that you would have a go at the next one, or did you think that was one step too far?
WL: After?
CB: 1952 in other words.
WL: Have a go doing what?
CB: At the Olympics, enter the Olympics again in ’52.
WL: Oh, not to perform, no.
CB: No.
WL: I couldn’t possibly, could I? Think of the age I was.
CB: Well, some people go on and on, as you have.
WL: Well, it depends on your event.
CB: Yes.
WL: But you can’t do fifteen hundreds or five thousands unless you’re pretty fit. If you want to run a marathon, then you might do it.
CB: Yeah. And how did you fit in your running and all your activities with Belgrave Harriers with your job?
WL: Oh, it was all evenings and weekend work.
CB: Yes. And the company itself was sponsoring you, was it?
WL: I didn’t need sponsoring.
CB: Your employer? I was thinking for time off and —
WL: Oh no. I didn’t take any time off because of it.
CB: Everything in those days was done differently.
WL: They did indeed, yes.
CB: Yeah. How did you develop programmes with Belgrave harriers for people in future? As time was moving, did you run? Did you work out training programmes to improve people’s effectiveness?
WL: Oh no, no. They’d all do their own [pause], oh, um, Belgrave met up at Wimbledon on Saturdays and during the week if necessary. Otherwise you did your, did your work on your own from home, running round roads etcetera.
CB: Right. Changing back to, um, your occupation, you left the RAF at the end of the war or were they — did they keep you on for a while?
WL: You had your option of going on a short service commission, without any assurance that you would be kept at the end of that period so I didn’t.
CB: So your promotion had got you to where?
WL: My?
CB: Your promotions got you to what rank in the end?
WL: In the war?
CB: Yes.
WL: Squadron leader.
CB: Right, and what were your responsibilities as a squadron leader at that time?
CB: I looked after a flight, um, in the Pathfinder Force.
CB: Right. OK. How many people —
WL: I was OC Flight.
CB: Right. How many aircraft in the squadron? So how many in a flight?
WL: Twelve probably. There you are. So twelve I think.
CB: In the squadron or the flight?
WL: The flight.
CB: Yeah. Right so three flights in the squadron or two.
WL: Two usually.
CB: Yeah. Right. So you left because you didn’t feel you wanted to continue your career, is that what you said?
WL: No guarantee to it.
CB: Yeah.
WL: I had a job to go to so I came back to the job.
CB: Mm, and took up where you left off, effectively?
WL: Yes, yes, exactly.
CB: How did it progress from there? Did you keep going with that or —
WL: I did quite well in it.
CB: Yeah. Good. We’ll take a break. Thank you very much.
CG: What was the equipment you were given? A blazer?
WL: Blazer and, um, shorts.
CB: Who gave you those?
WL: And, er —
CG: A cap.
WL: A cap.
CB: What? The Olympic Committee did that, did they?
WL: Yes.
CG: Just minimal and he got the — didn’t you get the train from home to go and take part?
WL: Oh yes, yes.
CG: There was no Olympic village or anything.
CB: So how did that work then?
WL: I lived in Sanderstead, which is outside Croydon. I had to take a bus down to Croydon, a train to Victoria, Victoria to, to —
CG: White City, was it?
WL: No.
CB: Wembley?
CG: Wembley.
WL: Wembley. Walk in from there.
CB: This is all for the honour of serving your country in the Olympics.
WL: All for the honour of serving my country and what am I getting for it? Sweet —
CG: Carol chose those in the envelope [unclear]. [Background noise]
CB: Now just going back a bit. The first thousand bomber raid was an amazing achievement, however you look at it, but was there any significance about some of the aircraft? What about the one you flew? What was that?
WL: Stirlings.
CB: Yeah. And did it have a significance in itself on — who had paid for it?
WL: Er, I don’t think so. We had a little bit better navigation equipment.
CG: MacRobert’s Reply. You flew MacRobert’s Reply.
WL: It might have been, yes.
CG: I think you said it was. It’s in your book.
WL: Yes.
CB: So, do you just want to describe that? What was it, the significance of MacRobert’s Reply?
WL: Well, Lady MacRoberts had two sons she lost during the war and in return for that, she bought replacement, um, aircraft.
CB: Right.
WL: That was the sig— significance.
CB: And they were Stirlings?
WL: Oh yes, yes.
CB: Appropriate. Scottish family, Scottish name of the aircraft.
WL: Yes. Bound to have been.
CB: And you flew one of them?
WL: I few one of them, yes.
CB: And it was on that raid was it?
WL: I think it was, yes.
CB: Yes. When you were on a squadron, did you tend to fly the same aircraft all the time or did you move around to different ones?
WL: Oh, you had your own aircraft and you flew it whenever you could, according to availability, you know, whether it was serviceable or not.
CB: Mm, and that would be checked out with you, er, you had to sign for the plane before you took off, did you?
WL: Well, that was part of the ground, um, operation, yes.
CB: Yes, and who was the person who handed over the aircraft?
WL: Sergeant.
CB: Of the ground crew?
CB: Yes.
CB: Right and if, if yours wasn’t serviceable they would rustle up another, is that it?
WL: They would try to but if they couldn’t then they couldn’t.
CB: And you didn’t go.
WL: Didn’t go.
CG: Are you sure you haven’t done enough though?
CB: Yes.
CB: This interview was cut short because Bill was clearly was getting too tired. He’s done an amazing job when one considers his recent car accident and also his hundredth birthday celebrations as well as all the media attention associated with that. The interview was in company with Cherry Greveson.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Bill Lucas. Two,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed October 7, 2022,

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