Interview with John Norrington


Interview with John Norrington


John Norrington was a lorry driver when he volunteered for the Royal Air Force. After initial training, he went to RAF Sandtoft on Lancasters and Halifaxes; he crewed up with Flying Officer James, then was at RAF Hemswell for the Lancaster Finishing School. John was posted to 101 Squadron at RAF Ludford Magna where he flew thirty-one operations in Germany and France until demobilised.
John discusses Czechoslovakian and Polish aircrew, Jewish personnel, and German-speaking servicemen tasked to listen to German radio communications and disrupt them. He talks about civilian and service life, military ethos, losses, plus personal recollections of Guy Gibson.







01:17:11 audio recording


IBCC Digital Archive


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JM. This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Julian Maslin, the interviewee is Mr Alfred Norrington although Alfred is often know as John and will be referred to as that name in this interview. The interview is taking place at Mr Norringtons’ home at Bramhall, Cheshire. John I wonder if I could ask you to start by telling us a bit about your life before you joined the Royal Air Force?
JN. Well my life as a young lad, I can remember always wanted to be on the engineering side. I was always keen on pulling pieces, things to pieces and putting them back together again and then oh, the war started and we was under the bomber, German bomber run to London. At night time we’d hear the bombs come down and then we would be in the shelter and I was growing up into the war area as it might be. The bombs were dropping close to us and I used to think to myself ‘when I grow up I am going to get back at you.’ Eh, we’d lie in bed at night time, we’d hear the droning of the bombers and the synchronised sort of drone ‘woom, woom.’and we could tell it was Germans. Anyway eh I decided eh. I was working away, going to work and I wanted to go and join the Air Force. I was working, I was in a reserved occupation, lorry driving and two of my mates came home on leave one was in the Air Force and one was in the Navy. So we decided to go to London for a day out. I thought myself overnight, I’m going to join up, I am going to volunteer at Romford on our way to London. So the following day we got the bus and we got off the bus at Romford. And I went into the volunteering, enlisting place at Romford and I said I wanted to join, I wanted to volunteer for aircrew in, on Lancaster bombers. So they took my name and address and then we continued to London and had a good day. The following day I went to work and my boss said to me ‘where did you get to yesterday?’ I said ‘I took the day off and I went to London and I volunteered to join the Air Force.’ He said ‘Oh alright then.’ About three weeks later, I went home, went to the office for my orders and my boss said ‘I have had a letter from the Air Force about you.’I said ‘Mmm.’ ‘Asking me if I am willing to let you go.’ So I said ‘I hope you said yes.’ So he said ‘I know you want to go, so I have said yes.’ Eh fast forward about another five weeks and I got me calling up papers to go to Cardington medical, oh I was successful there and then it was about another week or two before I got me final papers to go to London to join the Air Force and be kitted out. From there we went to ITW. Eh it was, it was two, one was near Bridlington and then another one we went up, oh up North, up North near. Anyway ah, I went through the eh ITW work and then after that, mind you we had a leave in between and from then we went to St Athens and.
JM. ITW is initial training?
JN. Wing.
JM. Could you tell us what you did on ITW?
JN. It was mainly discipline, I had to talk about the Air Force eh, eh managing of it, the leave, the respects of what you were doing. It was mainly disciplining young men, you know to be subservient to all others, to people with authority which was very nice. I thoroughly enjoyed it and then I came home for another leave after then and from there we went to straight to St Athans. Then for to do Air Force place at St Athans.

JM. St Athan in South Wales?
JN. South Wales yes.
JM. And that was for engineering training?
JN. That was for the engineering training and then we had sort of, in the hanger we tables. In the hanger we must have had ten to twenty tables each with an Air Force corporal around each table and around each table there was about four sometimes six students us us, ourselves, see. And then we would take notes we would have maybe a week on electrical systems, we would have a week on pneumatics, we would have a week on flying controls, we would have a time on eh automatic pilots and we would have a time on fuel flows, fuel systems, emergency fuels. Everything regarding the flying of the Lancaster eh and then also you would have certain days of physical training. You could do what you wished, whither boxing in the gym, running, out running I used to like running, things like that. Weight lifting and then you would go in and you would follow it up with another subject. Eh, the leave you got occasionally you got to go home and then after work, after is it about nine months, oh quite a while, eight to nine months at St Athan we was really trained and then we had the examination and this was really, really serious. But right from the word go I have always been interested in anything mechanical and even remembering when I went for my interview eh about joining the Air Force. I sat before a board there were five Air Force officers there and they were asking me what I wanted. I said ‘Engineering, I want to be a flight engineer, nothing else, I am going for that.’ And they asked me, one of them asked me two questions, how to time an engine. Well with working on the lorries in the, the garage up at home before I joined up, we’d do all our own repairs. I quoted how to time a petrol engine, right from the word go, the sequence of getting the cam, the distributor right, the eh valve timings right, things like that. The chap who was leading said ‘That was very good thank you very much.’ I said ‘Also do you want to know how to time a diesel engine?’ [laugh] ‘No’ he said ‘we won’t have that there is no diesel engines on aircraft yet.’ But anyway, anyway I was accepted, I got a, not boasting I came out top on the passing out parade and had to lead it. The flight sergeant of out squad who was just behind me, just to the left. There was, there was sixty on the little squad what I was leading. We eh had the parade round the St Athans parade ground, there was the air commodore on the flag, under the flag pole to take the salute and I am marching out in front. I was about six paces in front of my squad who were about eight across and about twelve back like that. So we were walking away and the eh sergeant who was walking just behind me instructing me, he said ‘When you get level with the, the platform that he’s on, order eyes, number one squad right.’ So I said ‘All right then.’ So we are marching away there and I was leaving it a little bit late ‘Eyes right, eyes right.’ Out of the corner of his mouth. Anyway I gave the order ‘Eyes right.’ And the rest,[unclear] and it went off just right. Eh I came out after we passed out we got leave and eh I came home and I was telling my father I led the parade, he said ‘Oh good heavens if I had known your mum and I would have been up there on the train.’ Anyway that was work and then from there I went up to Sandtoft I think it was and from there, there was, there was eh; what were we doing eh [pause] just one second, tape wasting Em [another pause]. Talking away about the engineer and eh oh I have forgot. [little confused] There was about twelve engineers, or temporary flight engineers in training went to Sandtoft and then we used to get out onto the airfield, we go on the aircraft, on the Lancasters that were still training and the pilots that were flying them were also training. We used to go on as a spare bod as [unclear] experience of going up in the Lanc, the Lancaster. The first time I went up eh it was quite an experience. I had never ever been up in an aeroplane before in my life and eh I sat in the mid upper turret. It was vacant there wasn’t a mid upper gunner at the time for whatever reason and eh flying around there and eh it was a Czechoslovakian crew or Polish we had loads of eh those coming over flying. And we flew, we were doing just circuits and bumps and we were going downwind and a bird flew into one of the air intakes on the starboard outer. Of course that was an emergency for the crew, they feathered the engine but the point was they started jabbering in their native language and I thought to myself ‘Good heavens, what is going to happen now?’ Anyway, anyway we went down, they feathered the engine and came in and done a three point, landing on three engines. So that was my first little experience of what might happen. But I never ever thought that anything was going to happen to me, you know you always thought you was clear of everything. Eh after about five weeks there doing this that and the other, still having discipline and training, map reading and things like that, we sent, got sent to I think Sandtoft, another Sandtoft and from there we, I was crewed up. Went into the sort, one of the huts on the sight and all the other crews that had just come in were there to be crewed up. Eh other crews came in, they had been flying Wellingtons. They got the knack of twin engines you see and they did their training on Wellingtons, but the crews were going on to Lancaster’s. Well they needed then an engineer and that is where they met the engineers. Anyway we was all in this hut and our names were called out ‘Sergeant Norrington eh; eh yes Sergeant Norrington with Flying Officer James.’ Oh I was going to say, when I passed out at St Athans and went to the what’s it’s name school, I can’t quite remember when I got me wing at St Athan, I think I got me wing [telephone rings]. Yeah got me wings and then we got crewed up and and em, came out and the crew introduced themselves and things like that. And eh the following day we went, we were crewed up to go onto a. Oh sorry we went at Sandtoft we was converted onto Halifax’s seemingly the Halifax had a stronger undercarriage than the Lancaster. So everybody going to fly Lancaster’s eh had to do their training, I think it was about eight weeks or something like, training on the, on the Halifax. So that was it, while I was waiting when I got to Sandtoft we had to go in and be re crewed, re eh assessed on the fuel system of the of the; Halifax now engines, flying controls everything was identical to the Lancaster which I had learned. Got really into that and then the Halifax had a different size type of system. So we had to learn all about the fuel system, how to change tanks, emergency tanks on, on the Halifax. And that was it, passed out on that and from there we went over to eh Hemswell which was the Lancaster Finishing School and that is when we really got into a Lancaster, oh, the feeling was marvellous.
JM. Can I just take you back a bit because you are one of those people who had the opportunity to fly both aeroplanes. How would you assess the Halifax with comparison to the Lancaster.
JN. Oh not a touch, not a touch. The Halifax had quite a few problems, stalling it use to drop the port wing viciously so you weren’t allowed to try or learn when you were training, you weren’t allowed to do any stalling moments on the Halifax unless you was above twelve thousand feet, that would give you time. But other than that it seemed to be to me, I suppose it was preference with me wanting the Lancaster it seem to be a lumbering type of aircraft. Eh,I wouldn’t say I, I enjoyed the time I had with it, things like that. I enjoyed the different systems, every time I had to change fuel tanks I had to go back to the middle of the aircraft between the spars. That’s where all the fuel cock were then go back up again. Eh we passed out we did circuits and bumbs and then cross countries, bombing em, bombing eh targets at home and then we were then going to Lanc, Lancaster Finishing School where we got to the Lancaster.
JM. So you were at Hemswell North of Lincoln, not far from Scampton.
JN. That’s where the Lanc, where we finished up before we went onto a Squadron and eh I remember going on, on to, to the Lancaster and there was a second pilot an instructing pilot, ex tour, tour expired that was give, teaching up comers all that, things like that so that. We taxied out and we pulled onto the runway, we all did all our final cheks and then eh right we’ve got a green from the caravan and so he, he what we used to call him, the spare, not spare, I will remember it in a minute. The spare pilot.
AM. Duty pilot?
JN. No, no it will come to me in a minute [laugh]. He said ‘Off you go James.’ Lyle the skipper he just opened the throttles all the way up and we did more or less a left hand turn on the engines. So anyway this eh co-pilot pulled the throttles back, he said ‘Now James,’ he said ‘that’s your first introduction to airscrew torque.’ So he, all right so we taxied around and came back onto the runway that we come on and he said ‘Now when you go you lead with the throttles, if you open the throttles like that it goes round. The airscrew torque will say goes to the left.’ So what we had to do when we started off, the four throttles like that you started to open up, you finished up with throttles like that. You had the port outer flat out, the port inner on three quarters, the starboard inner half - [unclear]what and the starboard outer that would be ticking over. And then the skipper would, we would go forward on a run and then at twenty miles an hour the tail would come up and then the pilot could steer the aircraft with the rudders. By this time then we were about a quarter down the runway. Then I as an engineer, yeah, used to have my hand behind the throttles and the skipper used to say ‘Full throttle.’ And I would put the stick right way through up to the gate and lock it on with the friction what’s its name. Then we would go up, things like that. The pilot only touched the throttles twice during a flight. The throttles he had command over at the initial run till he got eh, it was about sixty mile an hour when the tail come up, things like that. Then coming in to land, skipper would just open up until the tail came up and I would take over, that was it. The rest of the time I would have all the throttles, the fuel systems, things like that. Then coming into land when we got permission when we come in onto the funnels and it was pancake, then the skipper would have the throttles coming in to until he had got his stall out and he would throttle back. That was the only two times the pilot touched the throttles, the rest of the time was the engineers. Eh.
JM. You were doing your OTU training at Hemswell learning how to fly the Lancaster. Did you do any of the leaflet raids or any of the other raids?
JN. No.
JM. You never did any?
JN. We never came onto that no, we just did the straight, at Hemswell the straight cross country what’s its names – [unclear] things like that and then we went over to the Squadron. Eh we was on the Squadron 101 for about three days, we got our first op.
JM. So you were at Ludford Magna?
JN. Yeah we went onto Ludford Magna where we.
JM. You were just posted there, it wasn’t a question of choice?
JN. Oh no, no choice we just went straight over there, I remember getting into the van and all of us. Two or three crews went over there and eh, and we did, we did three ops. As I say now looking at that photograph up there in the dark and when we opened the throttles for the first time, the first op, I thought to myself ‘What have I let myself in for here.’ Anyway off we went then down the runway and eh we did, I think it was four, about four ops and then the skipper called us together and he said eh ‘They are asking for a volunteer crew to go onto pathfinders.’ And he said ‘We wondered.’ We just had a coffee outside the NAAFI van, it used to come out things like that, having a coffee. So all the crew was there, even the special wireless operator, we will talk about him in a moment. Called us together and he said ‘We were asking for volunteer crews, but.’ He said ‘I want one hundred per cent agree, agreeance before we go for it.’ Well we all agreed except the wireless operator who was married. He was the only one married amongst us from Screwling [?]near Chatham, he said ‘I object to it,’ He said ‘I am quite prepared to do what I signed up to do,’ he said ‘but I have seen what we are going through., He said ‘so no, oh I won’t volunteer for it.’ I forgot to mention the proviso if you could proviso, your tour of operations ceased at three and you went over to do your thirty ops again. For what ever reason that’s what Lionel he said ‘I’ve done the three ops, I know what we are going to go through.’ So he said ‘No I am not going to do that.’ I don’t doubt if those three ops had have counted he might have said yes. But anyway that was it so Lionel said. The skipper said well no ‘All right.’ He said ‘you know what your mind is and we will take you.’ So we didn’t go on with Ludford Magna. The first op we did it really opened my eyes you know, it is quite frightening to the point of you just wondered what was going to happen but I was that occupied I always, I never sat down, I always stood up at the front and when I am stood up my head is about the same height as the pilot ‘cause he had a little seat a little bit higher. So it was quite a level talking field if we spoke but it was always through the mike. Even if you spoke through the mike you automatically spoke to the pilot, you see. And then we went on and I managed to take in what I had let myself in for. Eh along the way we had incidents em, every track, trip, every trip there was something happened what it was happened. Em; the daylight oh eh, the daylight trips, when you do the first daylight it certainly opened ones eyes as, about the bombing run. When you think you had all the bombers eh airport, bombing commands up the East coast right from the North down to Wessex well they were all bombing the same target. They were all leaving at the same time you were about six hundred mile on the coast, they were all going over and they were all converging by the time you get to the target you get all the Bomber Force and hundred to two hundred bombers all over “H hour.” But the first three to four ops in the night you just went [sneeze] ‘Excuse me.’ There was only you up there, things like that, things like that. Anyway the first daylight we went, oh it would be frightening there. It was was a little incident eh we was flying along we was on the Bombing Run and eh just to our left was eh B Baker from our Squadron, Flying Officer Tibbs. Only – [unclear] like that. There was us and then on the Bombing Run it was quiet. The skipper would not entertain any eh casual talk, it was strict like that. ‘cause he said, he used to say the navigator wants complete silence ‘cause whoever spoke everybody heard you know. He wants complete silence ‘cause he was mustard our navigator. Anyway was flying on at stage one eh it was Duisburg and along came, off to our starboard wing came a Mosquito things like that and he had a bit of plaque on his side “Associated News Agencies” Anyway we were going in the bomb aimer, the bomb aimer is going ‘Steady, steady,’things like that anyway the skipper, and he looked, the next minute he went up over the top, this Mosquito went up over the top. He came between us and Tibbs, things like that. Anyway as he got to Tibbs we don’t know what happened then. The following day in the paper there was a photograph of this Lancaster dropping its bombs. What’s his name and I think it said ‘The photograph of the war.’ Our Special Wireless Operator David Burnett he, he wrote down to London to the what’s its name about it and asked. They sent two photographs back which I got over there of the bomb and it showed you the bombs coming down from B Baker. It said the photograph of the war in the paper, now if that Mosquito had stayed where it was for another four to five seconds, what have you that photograph would have been Mrs Norringtons’ little boy John in the photograph of the war. But anyway he came over and he was right beside Tibbs you could see the air, the roundel, B Baker. That was having the main ops egg and chips with Sergeant Hewitt his Engineer about four to five hours before. It is marvellous how little ones went on like that, so we got that. Eh another time eh it was eh without referring to it, if I, it was eh, Guy Gibson was our master not eh, eh target indicator, not, not, not pathfinder bomber, bomber, bomber Mosquito. They used to get to the target, mark the target with a parachute and on the end of the parachute was a flare, things like that and we would come along eh we didn’t, we couldn’t bomb it indiscriminately we had to bomb on instructions. We were on the bombing run and Guy Gibson came eh over ‘Strongbow one to strongbow two,’ he says ‘I am at three thousand feet, I can see everything.’ He said ‘give em hell, give em phutt.’ And that was the end of Guy Gibson. What had happened oh his instruction was ‘Overshoot red two, drop the what’s it name down to the TI then it might drift.’ [little confused] We used to come along Gordie the bomb aimer, he come along and he would bomb that flare, things like that. Well when drifted it would take it away from the carpet. So then Gibson would come in and say ‘overshoot the red TI by two seconds.’ Or ‘undershoot’ and things like that was the way it goes. Anyway that was it we read the paper the following day where Guy Gibson he’d gone and I got the photograph of that raid and they were saying. And also a picture of Guy Gibson’s grave, just inside what’s its name eh.
JM. What do you think happened to Gibson, some people say he was shot down by one of our gunners but the general feeling was he crashed the aeroplane because he didn’t know how to handle the Mosquito, do you ever?
JN. Oh no,no, no I know once, he was flying the Lancaster he flew the Lancaster “Dambusters” once you fly, flown ‘cause when your training you go up from small to big you just don’t go in feet first. He knew what he was doing. I would think he said ‘I am at three thousand feet.’ Well when you think of all the, all the Lancasters while they are dropping bombs and he is down at three thousand feet. Now whither it clipped him or something like that but eh he landed in Sweden was it about one hundred and twenty five say a hundred and fifty mile away from where he went silent. So what happened then I don’t think eh, I think he had to go down, he wouldn’t crash land. He, he it’s all, you don’t know what to think. But that was, was what’s it’s name and when other bo. Eh target markers eh they talking around there, you know him and the deputy. You know It’s like they, talking outside a café having a drink of tea you know. Then we would em, over the target the bombs would go and the Lancaster would give a bit of a shake. You could feel the bombs dropping away there and then we would turn onto a reciprocal course for home. About half an hour before we got to the target the navigator would always come on and say after, after the what’s its name, after the target, ‘if anything happens head for this direction.’ That direction compass reading and that will be the nearest eh ah American forces or English forces to get down and things like that. Then also he would give the skipper his reciprocal course out of the target. Eh it must have been oh maybe about a fifteenth or sixteenth, well through the tour and eh was approaching the bombing run and coming on, Lancs was coming on the side of us, you could see them and eh I thought of something, something was wrong, the sequence had failed what ever, I couldn’t put me hand on it. Anyway we dropped the bombs and we carried on and it must have been about quarter of an hour before I realised, “reciprocal,” [emphasis] ‘Jeepers, crowthers, skipper, Jim.’ Everybody in that crew knew the drill before we got to the target where the navigator would give us our reciprocal course pilot to come out and which direction to head. Not one of the crew had remembered it till we got over, by this time we was another hundred and fifty miles deeper into the what’s name. So the skipper turned round [laugh] upped the revs, the throttle was fully open, the, the gate up increased the revs, he put the nose down and when you got to about a hundred and eighty it used to shake it like that. Come back, anyway we come back and we were that late getting back they got us down a bit of a, things like that. But would you think, you know, everybody had forgotten we would, you are always on the go as I say I was always on the go, looking around, looking around, marvellous that one. Anyway the Special Wireless Operator David Burnett was – [unclear] was known as airbourne cigars ABC things like that. And he, was a night trip and he came over the intercom and he says ‘Gunners, keep your eyes open,’ he says ‘there are two night fighters, they are arguing who is going to shoot a Lancaster down.’ The words hadn’t left his mouth [laugh] the mid upper gunner ‘Corkscrew starboard go!’ The skipper, you know never said what, straight down or went down nose down like that and think well, this 88 was coming from our starboard. Wherever they came, you went towards them and you went down, anyway I went up into the roof, hit me head, like that ‘till we pulled out. Pulled out and come over resumed the course and he went round and he come back again and we done starboard, port down and this port down, another corkscrew. Anyway he come over and as he went across the top of us there was a Lanc off on our right wing he must have seen him coming, so he corkscrewed towards him to go down and as he went, corkscrewed his wing, his starboard wing obviously went up to give him a tilt and this 88 got him and shot at him in his starboard wing. Anyway he levelled up and the flame, he caught fire in his starboard wing. I was watching him like that he was flying straight and level then and the flames were silhouetting the whole fuselage. We saw the rear turret, the rear gunner go out the back and we saw one, two, three, lost count going out. [unclear] you could only get out the front you couldn’t get out the back door ‘cause you went straight into the tailplane, thing like that you see it went out [?] then there was a pause and then the skipper came out, the last to come out. He got out and about a couple of seconds and she went down like that. So serenely went down but it all went like clockwork, the drill things like that and that was the, the mid upp, the.
JM. Special op.
JN. The [pause] the German speaking wireless op. They were all Jewish or of Jewish descent all of the, nearly every aircraft had one of these eh Jews eh they was ‘cause Jew wasn’t a nasty word that people are calling it now, not really that way. But they had their own war against Hitler and it was their way of getting back and David Burnett he was only eighteen same as me, things like that, but he saved it, what’s it’s name, things like that saw them coming.
JM. Did they serve under their Jewish name or did they change their names.
JN. Oh no there was one, we had two one that was Jacob, what was, I don’t think I got it in me what. Oh it will have it on it on the flight sheet, the bombing order, ops order got - [unclear]. And eh, David Burnett well that’s an English name and things like that. The first one we had was quite a decent guy very rotund very very fat in other words. He used to sit at a table just behind the wireless operator and eh every op that we had after each op, oh for a starters when we were in the dispersal waiting to take off and Jacob would go round and collect anything he could find, bricks anything that would go into the flare chute. Now evidently when we dropped the bombs, the flare chute, the flare was synchronised with the bomb – [unclear] when he presses his button, the bombs go like and the flare goes down and it takes a photograph of what we have done you see. Well then Jacob used to sit beside the flare chute so after the bombing run the flare chute was empty and what he used to do, he used to through these stones or these bricks, if you get a half house brick or a good house brick, they go down. He used to say ‘I have me own private war with zee Germans, when we are over zee target I go dropping bricks onto them.’ So you can think of some poor German walking around clock, stop, stutter, woom [laugh] You know I used to laugh about it, but eh, eh.
JM. Could you hear them on the, on the intercom because their jobs was to pretend to be German radio operators weren’t they, could you hear them?
JN. If ever he spoke, when ever he spoke he spoke but what he did on the what’s it’s names would be like, and he also saved us eh a bit once. Just shows you how eh, we were coming back and eh and it was bad weather at Ludford Magna and we were diverted. Now evidently what Lionel Wright our wireless operator he never got the message from base to divert, I think we diverted to Tangmere if I remember rightly. He, he never got it but David Burnett he was listening in and he heard you know they come over, but he never heard Lionel tell the pilot or tell and also the navigator ‘cause he wanted to know and things like that. So he come over and broke in and says you know ‘There is a diversion for us.’ That was it so we come back, so that, it was another little thing a little anomaly. But eh it was always about half an hour maybe three quarters of an hour from the target on a day light and used to, every now and again the skipper will come over ‘Rear gunner you all right?’ ‘All right fine skipper.’ Go to the Gordie bomb aimer ‘You all right Gordie down there eh.’ ‘Oh a bit of trouble skipper me bomb sight should be, I have got it to pieces.’ ‘Oh what’s going, anything like that.’ Well first thing I thought, well the bomb aimer, the bomb aimers panel and the skippers blind flying panel are both worked by a vacuum. Now on the starboard engine oh and the two starboard engines, the two starboard engines there was a vacuum pump you see. And it came in the one on the starboard engine did the pilot, blind flying and the one on the port did the bomb aimers equipment. So there was a gauge in the middle with a needle, things like that was always on for the blind flying panel. Look at it and you can see it there so that was it. Anyway Gordie the bomb aimer came on he said ‘it wasn’t.’ The first thing I done was look at the gauge well switch the gauge – [unclear] switch the gauge over and it was down. Well I thought, I said ‘What it is your, your vacuum pump on your engine isn’t working Gordie.’ ‘So what are we going to do?’ ‘I’ll switch it over to the other one.’ Now when I did that it def, it robbed the blind flying panel of the gyros you see, so I could only leave it for about two to three minutes. So I told him what I was going to do, I was, I told the skipper, things like that eh the gyros would do about twenty two thousand rpm in the blind flying panel. So I switched it over to Gordie, I said ‘Put your things back together,’ I said ‘you have got between quarter of an hour and twenty minutes.’ So I switched over to him like that, got it going ‘I said I am giving you five minutes and then I will have to go back to the skippers to keep his going.’ So for the bombing run I was to and fro ing things like that. That’s another what the engineer did all the, everything was cropping up.
JM. Did the captain every train you to fly the aeroplane in the event of him being injured.
JN. No,no I did flying at the ITW in a link trainer and I did some more in between me ops, when I was, when I finished me ops I landed up at West Raynham on MT. Lovely driving Queen Marys that type and I used to I got in touch well got to know the sergeant who was in charge of the link trainer and [unclear] I have got that in me flying log book – [unclear/garbled] Oh when we were flying the Halifaxs two or three times we had a dual control one so I used to get in then. Got it straight and level, that’s all eh [pause] no I didn’t do any more. There is another time, it was a daylight oh, eh [laugh] we got heavy flak on a daylight eh coming up and we were hit, stop [recording stopped] The bombs, flak and it hit the number two tank, things like that and the spray was coming out the back just like a vapour trail and eh said to the skipper ‘We have been hit in the starboard wing.’ As I say it was a daylight and unless you, until you have flown at night time in a Lanc you don’t know how the sparks are coming out. There is such a high compression engine they are decarbonising are they are flying. So I thought, Oh,spray and sparks coming out. So I said to the skipper ‘I have got a leaky tank, I am going to switch all the gauges over, the tank cocks over to run all four engines of that leaking tank.’ So I got the engine, the radio operator who is sat near the cross feed tank cock in the middle of the fuselage to turn that off. So what I started to do me, me gauges and, and cocks I started running all four engines off that leaking tank. Now there was about two hundred and fifty gallons in that tank but in the tank outside of that there was another hundred and fifteen gallons and that you can’t run of that, you have to change. The idea was you had to change some of that into number two tank, so I am running all four engines off a leaking tank and also transferring another hundred and fifteen gallons into a leaking tank things like that. So I cut the revs down to diminish the sparking effect because all that was in my control, all the skipper had to do what he could. So he is flying skew whiff a bit and then late, like it lasted about forty five minutes before all that fuel had gone dry you see and eh it seemed like and eternity on there. Anyway I am down off waiting for the red light, when the fuel pressure drops the red light comes on see, so I am waiting for that red light to come on before switching over to a full tank, you see. So I am down here by me cocks, my skipper was here, I was stood beside him and my gauge, my fuel cocks were here, just round the corner. So I am waiting for the red light to come on push over to a full tank you see and anyway the skipper comes on and he says ‘I hope you keep me right on my fuel engineer I don’t want my engines cutting.’ I said ‘You fly the ruddy aircraft [laugh] you fly the ruddy aircraft, I will look after this.’ And a couple of seconds later the light came in and so I switched over you see all I had to do then was start running of, the outer number two tank and then transfer that, because the skipper is having a job to keep that wing up. Anyway I started eh, then I got stabilised and then I worked out so I said to the navigator ‘How many mile is it to the target?’ So he said ‘Oh, about five hundred.’ Well you could work an estimate out of one gallon per one mile as a rough. I never achieved that, I achieved point nine five but never got to one. So that was a guide so I looked at me gauges and I said to the skipper ‘I said we have got enough fuel to get to the target.’ So he said right and he carried on and little by little that wing came up so it got a bit easier for him. We bombed things like that and then we turned round. I said to the navigator ‘How many mile is it to the enemy coast?’ French coast, so he told me ‘about six hundred.’ I forge the actual figures so I said to the skipper ‘We have enough fuel to get to our coast.’ So he said ‘All right,’ so I kept the revs down , we were coming down slowly and then approaching the coast I said ‘Enough to get home skipper.’Things like that Anyway the skipper cutting a long story short he got a DFC for pressing on things like that and when he got it he dedicated it to the crew and things like that, so that was another one em another daylight. We got, you seen the May West haven’t you, big sort of cover round here, the astrodome is up there and the wireless operator is sat here like that and down beside him he would have his side pack like you got with very cartridges. He had a very pistol which was a massive big what’s it’s name it had so much kick when you use it you had to put it into an an into a –[unclear] into the roof and fire it on account of the kick. That was decided what’s it’s name, if we got flak and the astrodome more or less ripped away, things like that. So Flak come down [laugh] cut his collar off, things like that, cut his collar off [laugh]. Yeah he used to have a moustache, I never saw a moustache drop so quickly [laugh] all things like that, that chopped that away and when he looked inside his bag, some flak had gone in, now the, the car, cartridges as well about inch, inch in diameter something like that and you get the percussion cap in the middle, there was six of them in there and some flak had, and it had gone right inside the percussion cap. If the flak had hit that percussion cap that would have gone up and it is right beside a fuel line, went across – [unclear]. So [laugh] it was looking after us that day up there. Oh dear, happening.
JM. John would you tell us about your crew, you talked about a couple of members, could you tell us who they were and something of their backgrounds.
JN. Eh, well for a start, got to know them, obviously we was all different characters. The, the, the skipper eh he had his little eh, he was twenty eight, he was working part time, well part ownership of an engineering shop eh he wanted to fly and he joined up eh and he was learning his training in a Tiger Moth and as a check he is flying over somewhere in Canada there was a chap out duck shooting and evidently the noise of the Tiger Moth scared the ducks, he couldn’t get the, he shot at the aircraft. So poor Lyle he got some flak in his backside, back cheeks [laugh] to this day he still got it in, that was a flight coinc, anyway. He came over and they went onto what’s it’s name eh eh Air Speed Oxfords then onto Wellingtons, then onto course. Eh Bomb, Bomb Aimer Gordie Bullock he came from Northern Canada and he was a b, b a gold miner, worked down the mines, things like that, he was quite a character. He was a flying officer the skipper was a flying officer and the navigator he eh Bob, Bob Irvine eh he was in, he was an academic, Saint, something to do with teaching but not actually a teacher. Those were the three the main crew Eh Wright, Lionel Wright the wireless operator he came from Stroud as I said, things like that. I didn’t know much what he did. Eh Johnnie Walker was the rear gunner he was younger than I and you know, eighteen same as me, he was a bit, bit of a loner. He never sort of came with us, he was friendly and things like that but he just done his job. Em he used to, used to talk occasionally over the what’s its name, skipper would ask him if he was all right you know. And eh every time, every time we dropped the bombs eh em skipper used to say right ‘all rightGordie,’ Gordie ‘all right skipper, bombs gone.’ ‘lets get to hell out of here.’ [laugh] – [unclear] ‘Bombs gone.’ And the voice used to come from the rear gunner ‘lets get to hell out of here.’ Get back home. Em another day light we got flak and down, ‘where was it?’ down the side of the aircraft here there was two rods one did the rudders, the others did the elevators. Two rods about an inch wide, inch in diameter, two rods like that all the way from front to back, down that side of the aircraft. Skipper, skipper if he did this the rods would go back and forwards with the rudders, you know like that. Anyway got this flak tat a tat, tat all over the place and then the skipper came over and he called, ‘Me controls is jammed engineer.’ So I said ‘All right then I’ll have a look,’ So took me oxygen, put, disconnected me oxygen mask and then put me portable on ‘cause the oxygen level then I didn’t have any eh communications. Didn’t have, didn’t have a prortable communication like that. So I’m unplugged and I went back looking down and as I walked back these two rods, well they were like that in runners. Some flak had come through from the outside and it had come up, and it had pierced, and it had jammed [exclamation] between two runner, the two what’s it’s name things like that. And it couldn’t, that’s what it was you see anyway so I got me portable oxygen bottle and I managed to knock that out, things like that. I’m not, can’t talk to the skipper ‘cause I couldn’t say ‘oh it’s this, I am doing this, I am doing that.’ I managed to knock it out and it went, so then it was free he could tell, things like that. But eh [laugh] when eh I said to the skipper you know about the what’s its name ‘you fly the aircraft.’ You know I felt like when I was going to go back in ‘I am going back here now you fly the aircraft.’ But when I knocked it out that what it, and I would loved to have got that piece of shrapnel, things like that was stopping it. Em ‘cause what he would have had to do is fly on the trimming tabs you know. ‘cause it would have always have been the opposite, you wanted to have gone up you would have to go down. That was another incident that eh everything, coming up oh.
JM. Can I just? [Appears to be doing some adjustment to the recorder]
JN. Yeah, yes coming back from an op one day light day, come back from an op and eh called up the airfield, William Squared [?] airfield eh, eh what’s its name “Pancake.” So coming in and I said ‘There is a bit of a cross wind.’ So came in Lyle ready for it, anyway we planned, flared out come down and this wind caught us, so Lyle the skipper said ‘Overshoot!’ so first thing I did, open the throttles right away, straight away –[unclear] and then the starboard outer engine cut so next thing I got to feather I said ‘I am feathering.’ Things like, which takes about four minutes, five minutes, four seconds, five seconds to get the drag off that aircraft and Lyle struggled with it. How he kept it going I don’t know, anyway we had full power on the three engines and that way,and we took off and got up on the circuit. Came out of the circuit so I said ‘Well when we get to the circuit I will unfeather, then we will do a test.’ So he said ‘All right then.’ So we unfeathered and got that working again and then I started running that starboard engine you know on the fuel flow, things like that and eh it hesitated once or twice things like that. So anyway we came back into land and eh after we went in to eh the crew room, then we had the message that they [bleep] so eh anyway as I said the red light was still on on our starboard undercarriage, so I said I would do some tests. So behind the, the wireless operator the hydraulic tank and hydraulic pump for the eh undercarriage hydraulics. When the undercarriage goes down pump down when the jack reaches the end of the travel the pressure builds up so the cut out, there is a cut out on the, on the hydraulic system otherwise the pump will be pumping at nine hundred pound pressure straight away. That cut off used to bang things like that. So I said to Lionel ‘we are going to lower the undercarriage, come down, tell me when you get the bang.’ So he is listening and said ‘Yeah I’ve got the bang.’ So I knew the pump was working and pushing it down. Now on the side there is a call light, every position had this call light. So if I pressed the call light mine everybody would get one and if they weren’t on they’d come on, pay attention to whatever is doing. Well that was through the what’s its name, the same switch. This is what I learned at St Athan on the electrics, well I came into being there. Now we had a two speed super charger M Gear and FS Gear to take up the twelve thousand [unclear] and change gear you know [laugh] well if the selection of that, if it, you never took off in FS Gear you always had to be into M Gear, medium super charge. Now if that was in FS Gear you used to get the red light, like that. So I checked that and that wasn’t working and, and the other, other one is the call light and then another light that went back, forget where that one went but I knew that they all went through, all went through this undercarriage switch, the, the eh hydraulic pump light went through this switch the eh indicator for the what’s its, undercarriage went down and I knew that’s what it was. I said to the skipper ‘I think it is the switch on the under cart thing like that, so.’ I said ‘It’s up to you whether you, you know.’ So he called up and they said ‘we will divert you to Carnaby.’ Right on the Yorkshire coast. So we diverted over to Carnaby and we were coming in over, the, the you know the funnels lights, the lights of it coming its in sea on the what’s its name so we coming in low it’s day light then coming in so [unclear] says ‘good job they have got these, good job they have got these lights, because we’ve got paddle blades on the what’s its name if anything happens.’ Bit of a quip ‘If anything happens we’ve got paddle blades.’ We’re coming over the hedge and touch and touch down and he said approaching, the skipper said ‘well all the crew go to the crash positions between the two spars.’ So I said ‘Do you mind if I stay here because I said when you touch I will cut the engines, if it goes down on fire I will cut the engines.’ And he said ‘alright engineer thank you very much you do that.’ And sailing down and I looked beside me we were doing, well we could stall about eighty five things like that eighty five to ninety coming down and there is a fire engine right beside us before we touched down. Anyway Lyle come down and he kept that wing up, landed on the port wing the port wheel till that speed dropped then come down, we were expecting whoosh. We just, I cut the engines, cut down just down like that and she landed. Said to myself quickly caught the engine and kept it running, things like that. But that was all on account of a little micro switch that wasn’t functioning everything like that eh.
JM. John, as you got to the end of your tour, you did thirty operations.
JN. Thirty one.
JM. Thirty one, was it a time of tension before you got to the end of your tour?
JN. No not really, no it’s eh, we got used to it we knew, we knew we all volunteered we knew what we were letting ourselves in for eh there were loads of frights, to say I wasn’t scared, frightened, you are not crying for your Mother and things like that. The worse time, well three or four times where I felt really, really afraid was when we was attacked you know by the Junkers and also then when we got the fuel what’s its name. The tension of waiting for fuel to be used up before a spark ignited it eh things like that. [unclear] but you knew what you had to do, I never faltered in doing what I do, it was the way I was trained. I was that interested into it you know, I thought I can’t let the crew down. But if you made a mistake you were letting seven others go, fall by the wayside. Eh I just put it down to experience we’d be one day light eh there was one off our starboard wing a Lancaster eh I’d been having a meal [unclear] three times at the table having the main op, it was egg and chips that was a treat, main ops meal been having em a, I’d been at the table various table you know I didn’t sit with who [unclear] every day. The officers they were in their own mess they were, things like that, kept with them. But you get to know the persons, things like that and I been in flying and sitting on a beautiful day like, I have seen one flak come up puff, puff, puff and I seen the one completely obliterated and I thought to myself. It was B Baker I been out, I was having a dinner with them, you just turn round and oh well you got on with it. Em collisions we used to get a lot of collisions eh if ever you get into a bombing run you know was the worst of all. Was on one bombing run and as the Lanc above us to the left oh about twenty feet above us and as I say when you leave the coast you are all sort of converging. So over the target you are gradually converging, this one was coming over and he had got his bomb doors open. I just tapped the skipper on the shoulder, things like that, steady, hold it there skipper, I see the skipper keep staring like that and he got his bomb doors open and as I say he is gradually converging things like that and our skipper was watching, bomb doors [emphasis] bombs gone skipper. None of this holding for a photograph, went over like that. I mean we didn’t see where they came down but we don’t know if they had gone down. We’d been in and seen the bombers, especially at night time, you see the bombers beneath things like that. If you see one between you out like that you know your bombs are not going to hit them but there’s you know somebody behind. Its eh over the target it is catch as catch can eh you are all doing your best. But you used to get the ma, the master bombers in the Mosquitoes, them milling around some of the funniest names you know call signs so that they weren’t sort of recognised, one might be. And they talk like you and I talking - [unclear] overshoot. Guy Gibson he was coming out so easily. ‘I am at two thousand, three thousand feet I can see everything give them hell.’ And that was Guy Gibson gone.
JM. When you got to the end of your tour what happened to you after that?
JN. After the tour I came home on indefinite leave eh I got home, I went straight home down to Graves to me mum and dad. Eh I was on leave oh, must have been about two month ‘cause I finished me tour and you had this rest period. I think it was six months before you were due to go back on ops again you see. Went down there with me mum eh when I, when I left the squadron to go home they gave me some ration coupons and of course I went out with them they gave me just for so long. So I had to ‘phone up the Ludford, yeah Ludford Magna to send me. Anyway they sent me some more, what’s its name coupons for me mum and then I had a telegram to report to Brackla, Nairn right up Scotland right at the tip. So right they sent the travel warrant things like that, so I went up, caught the train, things like that, I think it took me nearly three days to get up there, all through changing and things like that got up to Brackla and Nairn was just about eight mile inboard. So I got up there [laugh] and I ‘phoned up the station you know to say I was here, would you send transport for me. So they said, I think it was about eight o’clock at night, maybe a bit less. Oh he said we are too busy for you tonight, book in at the local hotel. So I booked into the local hotel and then the following day I got cal. Transport, transport came in for me and when I got to Brackla there was about six hundred expired aircrew like myself, things like that. But they were closing Brackla down, I was only there for four days and then I went into the office he says ‘We got to send you away, you are back on leave.’ He said ‘Where would you like to go? where would you like to go?’ I said ‘Well I have just had a long leave down at home, I said I would like to go to me girlfriend, me fiancé in Bramwell.’ So he said ‘all right then.’ He filled, so I got a train down here and I was here in Bramwell with Nancy, we were courting then. I, I had permission from her Mum and Dad, come down and I was with them for about two to three months things like that. Then I got a call up to go to em, eh West, West Raynham, West Raynham well he said, early on when I, I got finished I said ‘what I want to do, I want to go onto MT.’ With being a lorry driver before I joined up I was a, I used to come home from school on a night time. I’d be about twelve, thirteen and in the next road was a haulage contractors. I used to go round there and go out with the lorries, and come andf fill them up with lorries, fill em up with petrol. And then eh of a week end the governor would ask me if I would like to go in on a Sunday and help the fitter that used to do the repairs on a weekend and clean. I used to clean the parts, I’d get me self three shillings I would get more spends than my Dad used to get. We’d go in and then of course I was half working on the lorries and things like that. I was in my element and Ben the fitter he was quite a nice chap, thinking about it if I asked him a question he wouldn’t say ‘No, no get that cleaned, I want that clean.’ He would answer me explaining to me, that’s where I learned to time an engine and things like that. I used to go with things like that, it was marvellous. Then I said to the governor there that I would like to come when I leave school, ‘I would like to come and work for you.’ Used to go out with him. Anyway I left school on Friday and I started work on the Monday as a tail board monkey, things like that and we used to go up through London eh to the other side of London with oil and things like that. And the, the bomb eh the blitz had been gone on through the night. We had gone up through the days there had been hose pipes over there. One it was in the paper, one a lo, a bus had got blown up, you might have seen it, on its side we went right bye that and then that is what inspired me more so. Oh I would like to get back at that lot.
JM. I want to ask you about that John, you made that your motivation. When you got to the end of the war and you had done your tour. How did you feel about that, did you feel you had your revenge, how did you feel about what had happened.
JN. I felt I had done my bit. I felt satisfied or gratified that I had done my bit. I was glad that my boss let me go. Because I thought when I’d gone home on leave, I will give you an example in a moment. Gone home on leave and I’d seen other tall young men walking around and I used to think ‘Well why are they not in the service? Why are they not?’ Disregarding your rejecters you know. Controversial what they call themselves. And then one weekend I got a leave, I came home, I was half way through me tour came home and eh, I got a weeks leave. I bumped into two of me school mates Ray (difficulty saying surname, possibly Rover.) He was in the Army and he was home on leave, he had been wounded he was and he was on the French Coast and he got wounded he came home. And the other one was a, see their faces he was in the Navy and he was in, he was out in the Atlantic on a victualling ship. The victualling ship used to carry food supplies and they used to rendevous in the Atlantic to feed the Destoyers things like that you see. He was on that and he come home on leave. So eh I met them I said ‘We will go to the Queens.’ To dancing tomorrow night, they said ‘alright.’ I said ‘I will see you in the bar downstairs.’ I said ‘lets wear our civvies, I said ‘alright then.’ So we all three civvies, three eighteen, eighteen and a half nearly nineteen old. And it was a narrow bar, about as long as this but just as wide and a little bar not much wider than the windows and the door and a table at this end about this length. So we walked in, two boys Ray and George they sat down we was having a pint so I walked up to the bar. Now I know the manager of the Queens hotel ‘cause he used to be at the dance where we used to go dancing upstairs. Quite what’s its name and he was leaning to one side of the bar on our side not behind the bar the barman there and he had a colleague that was leaning on this sides. So we walked up, I walked up, ‘what you doing.’ ‘Oh three pints please.’ So waiting, he did me two pints, I couldn’t , I couldn’t manage three, I hadn’t big enough hands. So I went back and got the two pints onto the lads and I went back and he was saying this ‘look at that lot there,’ he said ‘my son’ he was saying it so I could hear it. He said ‘Oh’ I said, the first time he said ‘my son’s out on a victualling ship, on a Destroyer.’ On a victualling ship that was it ‘out in the Atlantic.’ He said ‘look at this lot here.’ He was leaning away. So I came back, put the two glasses down, went back for the third one so I said to him ‘couldn’t over hear what you was saying’ I said ‘but that chap on the left is in the Merchant, he is in the Navy.’ I said for all you know your son and his victualling ship might have been supplying to him.’ I said ‘the other one there and he is home and he the war, injured, leave from France.’ I said ‘ he is in the Army, now me, I said ‘now I am in the Air Force.’ I said ‘I have just come home on leave.’ I said ‘I am on ops.’ I said. Anyway this chap who was talking he felt that ashamed, not the one who walked away and the owner of the what’s its name, I could tell he didn’t know what to do, didn’t know what to do. That’s where I was glad, I was glad that I volunteered you know, thought, or probably wouldn’t have thought about it at the time. But if I had remained young b, b, working things like that people might have spoken about me. ‘look at that young man there, my husbands you know away fighting.’ All little things like that sort of turn over in your mind but eh.
JM. John, did you keep in touch with your crew once your finished your task and are they still with us?
JN. Yes, yes the skipper sadly died about four, five years ago he was ah eh he was twenty eight he was. We finished ops eh and I retired in nineteen seventy, kept writing. He came over on holiday, he came over twice and his family. Now we was here, I was up here then and obviously, he ‘phoned up eh he was at Chester. He would, he’d like to meet us, so we went over to Chester. I said oh, alright then we will go over and see them. So we went over to Chester, my mum was up on holiday me dad had passed away then. So David, Denise he wasn’t married then and my wife who was alive then and me mother we went over to Chester where they were. And talking away there things, we had a lovely meeting there and we took ‘em round. Prior to and I knew he was going over to see them what I did, I saw my gaffer at work and I said ‘I have got my skipper over.’ Things like that ‘what’s the chance of bringing him round?’ I was on holiday at the time so I said ‘like’ so he said ‘yeah’ he said ‘I’ll get a pass for you.’ So, anyway we went int. over to pick them up and eh Lyle said ‘There is a little place nearby where one of his friends had been over, a lovely little church.’ He turned out to be a lay preacher after what’s name ‘and there is a stream rolling beside it.’ Sounds so tranquil so beautiful ‘and there is an organ.’ He said ‘and my friend said I would like to go and see it.’ Well I said ‘if we can find out where it is.’ I asked a local, he said ‘just round the corner, some little place.’ We went in there with me mum, David and Denise and it was a lovely church, it was so picturesque, so help me Bob the organ was playing inside the church. That made Lyles day, things like that. So we took him home and then from then I said ‘now we are going down as a surprise.’ So we drove over here, we drove them to Woodford and went in and I took them round the factory, things like that, I introduced them to the what’s is name, my foreman, gee [unclear] eh, eh William Squared was what’s its name MG 139 was there what’s its name. I said ‘this is where it was made.’ He was over the moon with that, then after that we went out. We took them to a Chinese meal in Hazel Grove and then went back to eh Chester things like that dropped them of then came back and it’s four o’clock in the morning after that day when David and I. Now point, best part was David could drive and he used to drive my car. So when we got over there when we sort of drove from the Chester hotel going down, David drove my car and I drove Lyles car, he said ‘the biggest fear John, I landed in London and they went into Tottenham Court Road somewhere to a car higher business.’ And he said ‘they had a Hillman Minx.’ He said ‘they turned me loose in Tottenham Court Road.’ And he had never driven on the wrong side of the road before and everywhere we went I drove his car and he liked it, very nice that worked out and then. I went seventy, I went over there on my own and had a nice entertaining three weeks over there. And then now he has passed away and now eh his son eh sorry his daughter Carol and her husband they come over. They are teachers, things lik e so it is nice for David [unclear] they come over and they stay with David and Denise at what’s its name and the mid uppers son, mid upper son Broan he lives on the East, West coast of Canada he comes over occasionally he was hear about two. so I keep in touch with them but eh it’s lovely, in my dotage I sit back and reminisce what has happened you know.
JM. John you have been absolutely marvellous this morning, thank you very much for your interview. I think you have really showed me just how complex the Lancaster is and the range of skills you mastered absolutely fantastic. Thank you very much indeed.
JN. My pleasure.



Julian Maslin, “Interview with John Norrington,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 8, 2022,

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