Interview with Charles Parker

Title

Interview with Charles Parker

Creator

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Date

2015-07-17

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

00:34:50 audio recording

Language

Type

Identifier

AParkerC150717

Transcription

CP: W Charles Parker, the Fast Night Striking Force of number 8 Group Pathfinders, Bomber Command. Ready? Er ‒, this paragraph is called “Crewing Up”. We, pilots and navigators, were interred in a rather large drill hall and told we had two hours to crew up. Now with Mosquitos, the crewing up there’s only two of us and it’d be easier one would think than it is for a Lancaster with seven or maybe eight people. Er ‒, at this particular time, it was in September ’43 and I was a very green twenty-one year old, not really knowing what was going to happen next, because I didn’t feel I could approach ‒, some of the pilots were way over a thousand hours flying, complete with gongs, and I felt I had to wait for them to approach me. Some had already crewed up in their minds and were ready to say, ‘Yes.’ As far as I was concerned I was a bit shy but I was quite surprised when somebody came up behind me and said, ‘I wonder whether you would risk your life with me Sergeant?’ I turned round and it was Flight Lieutenant Patrick Duncan who, in fact, had an air force cross already. I looked at his medal ribbon and thought, ‘This is the man for me,’ and I never regretted that. Er ‒, I call this “De-Oxygenisation”. It happened on my twenty-first birthday and I spent the best time of that day, all morning into the afternoon, letting the powers that be decide whether I could be fit to fly at high level in a Mosquito. The unfortunate part about it was that I knocked the oxygen tap off and whether promptly or shortly I passed out and they had to de-oxygenise me, decompression chamber, to get down to normal level, and then we had to go through the whole episode again because of my stupidity. I think, for the uninitiated, I should say that whilst we were in the decompression chamber that the oxygen was withdrawn and we were asked to write out our full names and address. The point is that one never got to the last line of the address without looking as though you were drunk. Then comes my first episode with 1409 flight which was the Met flight that went ahead of the main force and relayed the weather over the target. We happened to take off one evening and when we were airborne which, as we always did in the Mosquito, climbed on track, unlike the American Flying Fortress which spent the best part of an hour and a half to get up to height before setting course. Anyhow, there we were listening, as we were getting near the coast, Cromer, to the 6 o’clock news and suddenly I saw another Mosquito heading straight for me, same level, and all I had time was to bang Pat on the shoulder and point and this Mosquito of 1409 Met flight was within ten foot of colliding with us. Fortunately we went down and the Met flight went up. But we found out afterwards which aircraft of 1409 it was and we had a few words to say. My first operational flight would have been one of the German Ruhr targets but because of weather being bad we were cancelled for that night and on our second night in the squadron we were targeted for the big city, Berlin. Naturally, as you can understand, that as it was our first operational flight it was somewhat difficult to class our experience, and then there was quite a bit of flak around, we didn’t see any night fighters at all. And we got back quite reasonably and at the immediate briefing with the intelligence officer on the ground we were de-briefed reasonably well with the exception of his query, ‘What was the flak like?’ Being completely honest we told him it was the first flight and that therefore we didn’t know what we had to expect. And he said, ‘I see your point. I’ll tell you now that most of the crews have said the flak was medium.’ So I said, ‘We’ll take their word for it. The flak was medium and we’ll know what to expect next time.’ The next episode is our thirteenth trip. I think all our aircrew are somewhat superstitious and we weren’t really looking forward to flight number thirteen which was also to the big city, Berlin, and whilst we were waiting for the aircraft to be bombed up with a four thousand pound cookie, it has to be wound up, as it were, on cables into the bomb bay of the Mosquito, and it was just about to bomb bay height when there was a clunk and the four thousand pounder plonked down nose first on the ground. I stopped running after a hundred yards before I realised that it wasn’t any good running because the cookie wasn’t actually armed at that particular moment. That comes after it’s fully loaded in the bomb bay. When I got back to the aircraft it was decided that we would use the spare kite for the night which was in the hangar. We got there and the officer CO for night flights told me take a table in the shed and work out a new flight plan. At that particular moment I didn’t think I was going to be asked to fly that night but they were quite serious so away into the shed I had to go to work out a new flight plan, and the crutch of the matter was, that even if I increased our cruising speed by five miles an hour I still wouldn’t arrive over Berlin until at least ten minutes after all the others had left. This didn’t appeal to me at all but within another five minutes the aircraft was ready to go. Pat turned to me and said, ‘Come on Charles, we’ll go.’ I said, ‘Not me.’ So he said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘I don’t fancy being over the big city by myself for ten minutes.’ So he said, ‘No, come on, we’ll go.’ So I said, ‘Not if I can help it.’ [Laugh] ‘This is our thirteenth trip.’ So I turned round to the night flying IC and said, ‘Does this make sense? All by ourselves and the others all coming back. We’re just going out.’ So he says, ‘No, I think we’d better scrub it for tonight.’ So I said, ‘Thank you Sir.’ Pat said to me, ‘Come on Charles. We’re going.’ I said, ‘No we’re not, the officer IC night flying said we don’t have to.’ So I didn’t go that night. Whilst we talk about being over the big city I think I might just as well say here and now the flak over Berlin was heavier than most of the targets, mainly because it was bigger, but it was particularly brought to my notice the way the search lights operated over Berlin and, in this particular case, we noticed that parallel to us was a bright bluish light, search light, that was tracking us about a mile away and then all of a sudden, like a swish, that one searchlight had us, radar controlled, as it were. And with that all the other searchlights anywhere near landed on us as well, just following this whitish searchlight. It was a good three or four minutes before we were able to escape. The next episode is one I call “Our May Day or SOS Flight”. We were returning from one of the German targets, I can’t remember which one it was now, but we’d had quite a bit of engine trouble and it meant using one of the engines and closing down, feathering the other one, and when the first engine got a bit overheated we swapped them over. And this went on for quite a time, by which time we’d crossed over the Dutch coast, and I seemed to have the idea that we were over Grimsby Docks. God knows why, all I could see was what I thought was fisherwomen gutting the fish which made me think of Grimsby but I think I was suffering from lack of oxygen as well because it turned out that we were nowhere near Grimsby. We were a hundred miles south of track, over France. Having discovered approximately where we were Pat then decided that we just didn’t have enough petrol and he said, ‘I’m going to have to send out a May Day call Charles and you want to get yourself ready because I think you’ll be bailing out within the next five minutes.’ Within the next five minutes he called out, ‘May Day, May Day, May Day’ and we got an answer back, I think, “We are putting search lights up showing you where to head,’ and with that the searchlights came up to the north and seemed to indicate the direction we should go but by that time we were almost out of petrol and Pat called out, ‘We need immediate landing instructions because gravy is low, gravy is low.’ This means, of course, that our petrol was spread out all the tanks with very little left in any of them. These searchlights then meant that we were able to go straight in without doing any audit or anything and it was just over Beachy Head and the aerodrome was no further than a mile to the north. It was a grass aerodrome we landed, thank God. It turned out afterwards that there was about twelve gallons of petrol spread over fifteen tanks which meant, as far as aircraft were concerned, there was nothing in any of them. We went into flight control to see the chaps, give them details in there and he said, ‘Oh well, if it’s just a question of loading up we’ll give you sufficient to get you back to Wyton and you’ll be able to go back there tonight.’ So I said to Pat, ‘Not if I know it. Now I’ve got my feet on terra firma and that’s where they’re going to stay,’ and it was a naval air station at the time and it was the equivalent of an air squadron leader in charge and he looked at me completely aghast to think that a mere sergeant was arguing with a flight lieutenant but we didn’t go back to ‒, even though Pat said that we had the day off tomorrow. I said, ‘I can’t help it. By the time we get back there in the morning we’ll still have half a day off anyway.’ He still couldn’t believe it, this naval officer. This covered a light drinking session in the mess. Er ‒, having a few beers with our squadron people and also with Tommy Broom, who was our navigation officer, Tommy Broom DFC and two bars, and we were just talking about things in general and Tommy said to me, ‘I suppose you think it’s about time you had a gong?’ To which I said, ‘No, I don’t think I’m due for a gong but I think Pat is. If it hadn’t been for him I wouldn’t be here now.’ So he said, ‘So you think he should get a decoration?’ So I said, ‘Yes, I think so.’ To which he said, ‘I have to tell you that he has already been recommended for the DFC but you’re not to tell him that yet. It’s just that I was taken unawares by your decoration.’ So I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he said, ‘I suppose you think you haven’t earned one.’ So I said, ‘No, I’m only worried about Pat at the moment.’ So he said, ‘You’ve also been recommended for the DFM and it will be possibly a couple of months before it’s actually gazetted.’ So I said, ‘Thanks very much. I won’t say a word.’ This is a story which I never thought would happen but it refers to the time when we were forwarding Wyton Aerodrome before being called to land and I noticed Pat was having quite a struggle with the controls and things weren’t exactly smooth. He asked me if I could see anything untoward at the tail of the aircraft and I noticed then what I thought was the tail ident[?] light had come somewhat loose and was whirling around as though it was a firework display. With that Pat was struggling with the controls but he was determined to get the thing down in one piece and when we hit the runway the next thing I know we were off the concrete and onto the grass and heading straight for the flying control tower. With that we finally stopped, no more than ten foot from the flight control building, and with that all hell broke loose on the ground. There were people outside trying to undo the Mosquito to let us out and as I was the first one to drop to the ground I was grabbed by one of the ground people, who seemed to think I was panicking, but anyway I didn’t go any further. The inquest afterwards of course was Ivor Broom saying that the episode was the second that he knew of, the first one the crew didn’t survive. It turned out in the end that ‒, sorry, it turned out in the end that it was the dinghy that was kept in the aircraft immediately behind the cabin had broken loose and blown up and wrapped itself round the tail plane. Er ‒, and it was wedged between that and the rudder horn. Nevertheless we were on the ground and it was safe.
MJ: On behalf of the International Bomber Command Archives I’d like to thank Charles Parker at his home at Willow Hill in Hoveton for his recording on the 17th of the 7th 2015. Thank you very much.
CP: It was another trip to the big city that the following occurred. We were just turned on the final leg to the target, which was Berlin, when I realised that I could no longer hear Pat talking to me and the realisation that I was no longer getting any oxygen through my mask and then Pat came to the conclusion that the oxygen metre was reading “Nil”. I must have caught the oxygen meter tap with my Mae West as I struggled through to the nose. I then crawled out of the nose, gulping great mouthfuls of oxygen and when Pat said, ‘Are you going down there again?’ I answered, ‘That’s what we came here for,’ and then we successfully completed the bombing run with the cookie leaving the aircraft with an almighty clunk. One more escapade we were involved in was after we left Munich one night, I was rebuilding my folding navigation table to find my flight plan suddenly sucked off, and before I realised it had disappeared down the window chute into the wide blue yonder, complete with details of the various stages back to base. The only direction I could give Pat was to fly two hundred and ninety degrees until we hit the English coast and in the meantime I could only wonder what I should tell Tommy Broom the squadron navigation officer to explain the lack of my flight plan. I could only tell him the truth. The strange thing was that he fortunately believed me.
MJ: [unclear]
CP: It’s on now is it?
MJ: Yeah. What did you do?
CP: Well, first of all I think it’s best to explain, the meaning of the word “window” was a code name for bundles of aluminium strips er ‒, approximately a foot long by three or four inches in diameter and they were covered with brown manila paper with a piece of string through the centre of the bundle back on the outside of the brown paper and, when they were thrown out through the window chute in the floor of the aircraft, the brown paper was torn by the string and the thing fluttered down with a whole load of strips of aluminium, which were done ‒. The whole idea was to confuse the enemy radar. The Mosquito bomber was completely unarmed.
MJ: Yeah?
MJ: In fact I used to joke that the only method of armament was the pen knife I had in the flying boot which we intended to be used to split the top of the flying boot from the bottom to really facilitate the fact that they could be looking like a pair of shoes if one had to try and escape on the ground. We would be told to make feint attacks on various cities within Germany just to wake them up and cause an hour’s bomber alarm. And then also there were occasions, with this window chute, you could carry a small empty beer bottle and drop that through and it made a whistling sound like an extra [?] bomb but it’s only a bottle.
MJ: Yeah, that’s clever.
CP: Yeah, it took a bit of time before I tried that because I was always frightened it might damage the Mosquito going out but that never happened. But plenty of empty beer bottles used to be slung out as well.
MJ: Recycling?
CP: Yeah. Well I was only a twenty-one year old, you know, so I mean anything like that was appreciated. There was another occasion, you just reminded me on that. The Mosquito always used to carry a signal pistol on the roof of the plane and part of ‒, when we did a night flying test, was to check the Very pistol was empty and one particular occasion, in order make certain it was empty I found the thing was actually armed and rather than going through the task of finding out it was empty at dispersal, I pulled the pistol on the Very pistol and it went off with a bang and there was in fact a cartridge in there and er ‒. I was more worried because it pooped out, up in the air, did an arc, came down to the ground and landed on the wing of another Mosquito in a dispersal and luckily it hit the wing and bounced off and petered out on the ground, but if it hadn’t been for the fact that my pilot was in fact the flight commander, I think I would have had a few more stories about pistols going off, so I got away with that one easily enough. Yes.
MJ: This is the end of the second part of the recording with Charles Parker. Thank you very much.

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Citation

Mick Jeffery, “Interview with Charles Parker,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed January 27, 2020, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/8761.

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