Interview with Gordon Mellor. Four


Interview with Gordon Mellor. Four


Gordon Mellor successfully evaded capture when he baled out of his aircraft and landed in Germany. For several days he walked until he managed to make contact with the Belgian resistance and the Comete line who began the process of guiding him home. He was provided with false documents, a suit and taken by various routes and stayed in various safe houses. He had the experience of sharing a crowded bus with German soldiers and officers. Finally the members of Comete got Gordon across Belgium, France and into Spain from where he was then taken to Gibraltar. He flew back to the UK on his 23rd birthday. He became an instructor training other navigators. After the war Gordon returned to Chartered Surveying.




Temporal Coverage




02:00:54 audio recording

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GM: Let me see.
CB: Just let me just -
GM: Yes.
CB: Introduce it. So today is, we are reconvening with Gordon and the date is the 22nd of August, in the afternoon and we are just going to pick up from the point where Gordon had been, he had met the priest who was in the area where he’d been walking and he’d taken, the priest had taken him to his own house.
GM: That is correct.
CB: So, over to you Gordon.
GM: Right. Well. The walk to the house that has just been mentioned of course was taken rather late in the day after the curfew so we didn’t meet anybody during that sort of mile, mile and a half walk but on arrival then his housekeeper was still up and we were fast approaching midnight and having received an introduction and I’m not sure what the drink was, I think possibly it was either coffee or something like that, on the other hand coffee keeps you awake but it was then off to bed in the priest’s own home and when I woke up in the morning then he was out on his duties but I was given breakfast and was told that there was one or two things that needed to be dealt with and[that the priest would be back and we would deal with it then. So he did return in due course and he wanted a certain amount of information about what I was and where had I come from and he said that I would have a visitor in the afternoon to keep me entertained. I’m not quite sure what the entertainment was supposed to be other than just talk and that happened indeed. A very nice lady turned up and introduced herself. The priest was out. The housekeeper which we have met already she may well have been somewhere in the house but she wasn’t noticeable at all and I then proceeded to tell the young lady where I’d been and where I was hoping to go which seemed to be very suitable and she made a number of approaches, asking questions and assessing in her own mind whether I was on the level so to speak or was, what also, could also be called a plant. Somebody to find out the information under the guise of being a helper. But this lady was a compatriot and she was a helper so when she went she said, ‘You’ll be hearing from us very shortly,’ and very shortly it proved to be. The priest came back and he said, ‘Well you’re off tonight. Just hold on for a little while,’ and certainly there was a gentleman turned up. I hadn’t seen him before. He hadn’t seen me at any time and we had a word or two and then I was, I must have been given a coat to cover up my battledress outfit and with that done we went out of the house, said goodbye to the priest and walked off down the road to a bus stop. That short period of time passed and a busy bus filled with quite a large number of people pulled up and we got on and couldn’t get away from the entrance at the back of the bus so we stuck there and the bus pulled away with us in a little bit of a crush but it was, it was quite comfortable. Shortly after that we then stopped outside which I would have thought was barracks because there was a little group of some five or six German soldiers obviously catching the bus for an evening out on the town and they crushed in and we being the current residents we sort of backed off as much as we could and give them room to get on. So these five or six soldiers were standing there with us standing at the back and the exit to the bus in front of these soldiers. Well we pulled away for about two hundred, three hundred yards and stopped again and it apparently it was probably the other end of the military area and two officers were waiting there and they then proceeded to get in to the rear of the bus and with the rankers were, which was between us and the officers they pushed back and it became quite a crush there. Fortunately it didn’t last overlong and eventually all of the military people got out at, I presume, a place of entertainment or whatever it was, I couldn’t be sure but suddenly there was a lot of room to stand and carry on with the journey which we did and went into a town. I struggle to think of the name of the town but it was towards the city and it was certainly more, more modern than places we had just left but we pulled up in a place where there was a square of sorts, the bus stop being in the square, and got out. So there was just the helper, the chap who was in charge, so to speak, of me and I followed him out. The bus pulled away and I was given to understand that the previous trip that they’d had a lot more soldiers before them so obviously it was a regular route. And then we walked uphill and I hadn’t got a clue where we were actually going other than it was a rise and the normal city houses on either side and suddenly he stopped. The front wall of the house, the living area and what have you was at the back of the pavement. There was no front garden or access like big doors or anything like that but there was just a single door with one or two steps up to each level because the slope of the ground had increased a bit. Banged on the door and in a very short time it was opened and we were beckoned in. I was introduced to a lady who came and the guide made his farewells and left me standing with the two ladies and he went off and I don’t ever remember seeing him again. He was just one of the helpers on the short distance duties. So I then became the guest of the two ladies and they, yes one I think one of them was American married to a German er to a, sorry to a Belgian medical man and she had lived in that area for quite a number of years so they were well known as residents. I stayed there two or three days and in that time I was taken into a, a shop in a nearby town and they had a studio sort of arrangement there. They took your photograph and you then waited a couple of hours and they had done a print and also I’m not sure where the document came from but it turned out to be sort of an identity document. And whether the chap who I had arrived with had got, had it already or whether they carried a stock of them I don’t know but from that an identity card for me with the necessary stamps and what have you was all done and transaction, money passed hands of course and in actual fact they gave me the amount of money so that I paid for it and it didn’t seem to involve the other people at all but never mind. I put it in my pocket and we left and went back to the flat where I was staying. This was obviously a necessity, you had the document with you because after the evening meal and we listened to a bit of the BBC on the radio and we then went to bed and there was a, you would be up fairly early in the morning and so it proved. I was up early and prepared to travel and they had the meal, I couldn’t tell you what the meal contained any more now but it was very satisfying and there was a knock on the door and in marched a helper. I have a job in visualising. I think it was a man, I’m pretty sure it was and he picked, picked me up and he had brought a long coat, a longish coat, overcoat style thing to put for me to put on because I was still in battledress and off we went having said goodbye and thanks to my people who had looked after me there. From there, now let me have a think. Yes. Yes. Yeah. Yeah, my recollection tells me that we went to the railway station and, where we were met by another helper and we travelled into [pause] you’d better hang on for a moment.
[machine pause]
GM: Now let’s see if we can get on.
CB: So you were getting on the train. Where were you going? That was going to Brussels.
GM: Oh wait a minute. Just a moment. This is where it gets complex. Yeah. Ok we were heading for, heading for Brussels. The question is who was I travelling with? Was it this chap or was it a woman? I think it was a chap. Well, ok. Let’s, I’m sure other people are better at it than I am. [pause] I think I’m right.
CB: Ok.
GM: I think, yes I’ll have to condense this a bit.
CB: Ok. So we’re going to Brussels.
GM: Yeah. We’re on the train heading to Brussels and I had, as a companion, somebody I hadn’t met before so we got out short of the main centre in Brussels and we then waited a short while and picked up another local train. More local perhaps than the one we had got off and we travelled the last mile or two within the city and got out. There was no, nobody there that was interested in us. We were just two people travelling and so we, [pause] Yeah. Damn it. Damn it.
CB: ‘Cause presumably you changed trains so that if somebody had been watching you.
GM: Exactly.
CB: They would have expected you to arrive and you didn’t do it.
GM: No. It, [pause] I’m sorry about this.
CB: Don’t worry.
[machine pause]
GM: Local train. This obviously was a ploy which was set up and walking down the platform we were then met by other helpers. Two I think there were together and, no, sorry it was only one, it was only one because I was travelling on my own plus the helper. Yeah, that’s right. Yes. I was handed over from one helper to another and he took me away from the chap I’d been travelling with and we passed down onto a local, I suppose we’d call it generally the underground but there wasn’t a great deal of it underground. It was a city line, I think that would be better term and went a few stations and it was indicated by my companion that we should get off at the station we were now running in to so he got up and I sort of, moments later followed him off on to the platform and down to the end of the track at this particular station. Now, we were met again and again there was a handover and shortly I found myself walking up steps from what we would term underground in London these days to ground level and we walked quite a fair way following the roads, busy city streets virtually. It wasn’t countrified at all and eventually we turned rather quickly and we banged on another door of another house and that was just opened smartly and I was being introduced to new members of a new family. So, we’re in town. You’d better switch off again.
[machine pause]
GM: It was an apartment on the third floor of, now I’m getting mixed up. This is terrible. I’m sorry. I should have done more of my revision. We may have to make a correction.
CB: Ok.
GM: We walked to a place which I was going to stay and it turned out to be a flat on the third, third floor up in the air and there was a husband and wife and I think we were a bit later than they thought. Anyhow, there also turned out to be some children and I saw them and they saw me and we did have a certain amount of chatter going. My French was pretty nil so I didn’t say much and as far as I can recall the meeting with the children was terminated and where they went after that I’m not quite sure but I stayed at this family for a few more hours into the evening until somewhere around about nine or half past when it was dark. Then I was picked up and we took a bus to another part of the city and got out. A short walk and as far as I can remember we then went up to the first floor, first or second floor, it must have been second and my leader or companion had a key and he opened the door of a flat and he introduced me into an empty space other than than the fact that it was furnished. There was nobody there and I was told about the facilities and, bedtime.
GM: Now, I have a feeling that I have omitted an important item. Somewhere on the way through the previous places I went to I picked up a companion. I think it was a, the last one, when I first arrived in the, in the town. Anyhow, it turned out to be a Irishman. He also had been on bombing trips and he had come down and been a prisoner of war. Now, he got away from being put out to grass so to speak or put out to work. I think his name was Michael Joyce, offhand. And we were to stay with each other on occasions most of the way back home. In the future that was, of course. I can’t. Anyhow, Mike and I got on well together and eventually after a couple of days and being very well treated by the lady of the house who obviously was well connected and also well interested in helping us. We were then passed on. From here we, now did we? [pause] I’m sorry to be hesitant -
CB: That’s ok.
GM: With the, with the information.
CB: Well we can cut out the hesitations.
GM: Yes.
CB: I’ll just pause it for a mo.
GM: One moment.
[machine pause]
CB: So you and Michael Joyce became inseparable for the rest of your trip. Is that right?
GM: Not, not entirely. We were sort of companions but on occasions they could only take one person in one house or one establishment so we were parted on occasions for overnight stays and the like. It was only a matter of a day or two. I’ve got it all written down in the books.
CB: Yeah. Quite.
GM: Well certainly my memory has slipped on some of this. [pause] We’ve got about as far as Brussels haven’t we? On that train journey.
CB: Yeah. What were the people doing while you were there?
GM: Have I told you that I’ve had a change of clothes?
CB: No.
GM: Ah.
CB: Other than a coat.
GM: Yes.
CB: So what did you do with your uniform? You needed to keep that on didn’t you so you weren’t shot as a spy?
GM: Well no. Some, somewhere, it must have been the people with the young family. Anyhow, somebody had the suit, had my uniform with the intention of using the material to make something smaller presumably from it and I was given a suit, trousers and jacket in place of the uniform trousers and blouson which one wore as part of battledress. So that got rid of the clothes as far as my part, which was a major issue because whilst I was still in uniform, as you say there was a certain safety in it and then of course it was recognisable as being nothing like they were wearing themselves. Oh my goodness me.
CB: So what colour was this suit? Did they do everything in a dark colour?
GM: Yes. Medium grey. Towards the darker side perhaps than the lighter.
CB: And how would they be dressed at that time?
GM: How did they dress? Well they looked the same as everybody else that was walking streets so whatever was commonplace then was -
CB: That would be quite dark clothing would it?
GM: Well I think the men’s suitings varied from a moderate grey to being perhaps a bit darker than usual. Yes. I can’t recall seeing anything other than a sort of a business sort of appearance to people.
CB: Right. Yeah. So they’ve re-kitted you, you’re in Brussels, then what?
GM: Oh yes. Oh yes we arrived in a flat which was unoccupied. Furnished but unoccupied. And I stayed there a couple of days and also I had a companion Michael Joyce with me and we stayed there until arrangements had been made to progress forward out of Belgium where we, I didn’t know but Mike’s probably into France and so this turned out to be so. We travelled a fair distance and when we got to the border there again was a sort of a bit of a shambles there as to where we were going but it was only in our minds, Mike and mine because we weren’t, didn’t have the destination made out to us. It was best that we, the least we knew of the route was perhaps the best so eventually when we re-joined the train service we progressed from our point of staying to the border which turned out to be between Belgium and France. That was more, it was a bit scary one way or another because everybody was ordered off of the train and there was a train load of people all gathered in little groups all along the platform. Well eventually we had to progress through the customs and having had ourselves sort of identified one way or another they wanted to see a card and showed them there as everybody else seemed to be doing and it was just a sort of a sign to progress forward. So we went through the patrols either who were Belgian on one side and French on the other and the train had been pulled through, empty of course other than its operating crew and was waiting in Belgium for us to get on board which we did. I think in actual fact we did get on in the same compartment as we had previously. I have a feeling that was very likely. Anyhow, the train then sort of started off and it was well filled with passengers and we proceeded across country of course to Paris. By that time it was getting fairly well through the day and it was here that we again had a meeting party and I think there was temporarily there was a bit of a problem as to who and where we were actually going to be for sure but we left it to them and then they sort of resolved all the problems of us arriving. Now, I’ve got a feeling I’ve left something out.
CB: Well we can put it in later.
GM: Yes.
CB: So you’re leaving Brussels on the train.
GM: Left Brussels on the train, went through the border controls.
CB: Yeah.
GM: Got back on the train and arrived in Paris. There we were met and at this point after a, yes, a chat so to speak which was done in a sort of low voice and as far away from other people as possible Mike was then taken away with one of Comete’s people and leaving me for somebody else. In this particular case a local man was, had been invited to do this part of it and we went off of the station through a number of roads to another point which, now, I’m not sure whether that came from –
CB: We’ll stop there for a mo.
CB: Back on this. So the pilot, where is the pilot sitting? Up on the front left.
GM: Front left.
CB: Yeah.
GM: Where the window -
CB: Yes. The glazed area. Yeah
GM: Yes. That’s right.
CB: Then there are steps -
GM: Down.
CB: To where?
GM: To a lower level.
CB: Right.
GM: And in that, in that lower level I thought there were three positions.
CB: Ok.
GM: I thought, under the pilot there was a radio operator and in front of him underneath the, virtually underneath where the pilot’s level.
CB: Yes.
GM: There was the navigator.
CB: Yeah. With a table.
GM: With a table and I thought in front of that there was a front gunner.
CB: Yeah.
GM: Now up, behind the pilot there’s got to be a flight engineer.
CB: That’s it. And under the front gunner is the position for bomb aiming. Is that right?
GM: Yes. Ah.
CB: So the bomb aimer was also the front gunner in the Halifax. Is that right?
GM: That worries me a bit.
CB: Ok.
GM: Isn’t this daft? You live with it.
CB: Yeah. Second nature wasn’t it?
GM: And you remember it for a half a century or more.
CB: Yes. So you said the flight engineer is behind the pilot. Right. And he can communicate directly with the pilot as necessary. Then further back you have two other positions.
CB: The mid upper gunner. Is that right? And the rear gunner.
GM: Yes. That is evident I think from the outside photos.
CB: Yes.
GM: I’m with you.
CB: Yeah. So we were just trying to resolve the idea of how a second pilot operation might work. Sometimes bomb aimers did have pilot training. Some of them were qualified pilots and qualified navigators.
GM: There was, it seems a number of the local changes.
CB: Yeah.
GM: From one particular unit to one somewhere else.
CB: Yeah.
GM: But at the same level.
CB: Yeah.
GM: Well yeah I can believe that.
CB: Ok.
GM: So –
[machine pause]
GM: Sort of set up in the nose of a Halifax.
CB: Was it?
GM: On, on certain mark numbers I imagine.
CB: So as the navigator how often did you have to move from your seat and why?
GM: Good question. Good question. I thought I’d got a sectional display somewhere in the books there with, of the crew positions.
CB: Ok. We’ll look at that. But in practical terms on an operation how often would you actually leave your seat until you had to, and go to the, look at the plumbing.
GM: One would certainly, for certain one would be out of position during take-off and landing.
CB: So you had a specific position to sit in for take-off and landing.
GM: Yes. I think -
CB: And where would that be?
GM: I imagine, I did it dozens and dozens of times, [pause] in the body of the aircraft.
CB: Right. Behind the pilot and the flight engineer.
GM: Yes. Yes, because we also got in and out of the aircraft at that level.
CB: Right.
GM: At certain times or on occasions we got in through the nose.
CB: Did you? Right.
GM: Now this would have been inconvenient.
CB: Yeah.
GM: Inconvenient at the time preparing to take off.
CB: Yeah.
GM: Because where the navigator sat was on a hatch.
CB: Ah.
GM: And that hatch you could pull up and get in and out so that when you made an emergency departure the navigator collapsed his seat back into position on the wall.
CB: Yeah.
GM: The table was here.
CB: Yes. In front of him.
GM: Yeah you took up the seat and dropped it out of the hole and followed it.
CB: Right. So in the sequence of escape in an aircraft in an event of -
GM: Yes.
CB: Needing to abandon.
GM: Yes.
CB: What was the escape sequence for the crew?
GM: Pilot said, ‘Prepare to leave the aircraft,’ and then I would get up, shove the drawings, the plans and all of the maps into, we had an incinerator tube I seem to remember.
CB: Oh.
GM: You could put them in, you could roll up the paper up, put it in, press the button and the electricity would burn whatever you put in.
CB: Oh really. Right.
GM: That was. That was close at hand so that it could be used in an emergency if you had the time or the documents that needed it. Certainly, when it was said, ‘Abandon the aircraft,’ then we would already have been in the, an open situation where you didn’t have to lift up any more bits of floor or anything like that. The way out was already prepared.
CB: Right.
GM: So when they said, ‘Abandon the aircraft,’ the navigator was, as far as I know, the first to go out through the front hole.
CB: Ok.
GM: Because he was, had been sitting on it.
CB: Yeah. Right.
GM: And you were in the way.
CB: Yes. Followed by?
GM: Oh the, now was it the radio operator that was next to him at that level? He would go out and then the second pilot. Now, at the rear of the aircraft of course there also was access and -
CB: Yeah.
GM: Place in the floor and you went out towards, on the, yes if you, with your back to the tail then you would go out on the left hand side. Drop out of that hole which was also was used as an entrance in ordinary usage time.
CB: Right. So you climbed in through the floor both at the front and the back.
GM: Indeed.
CB: Right. Ok.
GM: Well certainly at the rear it was more of a hatch because part of the side came away as well so it made the opening more easy to use.
CB: Right.
GM: But certainly the departure point was there.
CB: So how did the rear gunner get out?
GM: Well as far as I’ve always known it was standard for them to turn the turret so that his back was in line with the side of the aircraft. In other words -
CB: Right.
GM: The hole was back here
CB: Yeah
GM: And as far as I can remember the, he went out the two hatches on the, in the back of the turret.
CB: Yeah.
GM: I don’t know whether they were disposable or not but I think they certainly would open up.
CB: Yeah.
GM: And he would go backwards with his parachute on his chest.
CB: Oh did he? He had to pick up his parachute first did he or was he wearing it all the time?
GM: That raises a question doesn’t it as to the type of parachute he used.
CB: Because on the Lancaster he had to reach back into the body -
GM: Yes.
CB: Into the fuselage.
GM: Yes.
CB: To pick it up. Did he have to do the same on a Halifax or did he sit on the parachute?
GM: I think he had to get, do the same in the Halifax as he did in the Lancaster.
CB: Did he? Right.
GM: That is my impression. Now, [pause] I didn’t fly in Lancasters so –
CB: No.
GM: I’m only going with what I’ve been told but I think where possible there was a storage spot for each crew person.
CB: Yeah.
GM: Close to hand so he could get hold of his parachute himself and clip it on his chest.
CB: So you’re the navigator in the front of the aircraft.
GM: Yes.
CB: You’ve got a folding table because –
GM: Yeah.
CB: You’ve got map work to do.
GM: Yes. A collapsible one. Yeah.
CB: Where is your parachute? You’re not sitting on it are you?
GM: It’s close by.
CB: Right.
GM: Because one had to put it on.
CB: Yeah. So you’re not sitting on it.
GM: And I put it on my chest.
CB: Yeah. So on this fateful day you first put on your parachute did you? And then open the hatch, fold your table, your seat and open the hatch. Was that the sequence?
GM: The only thing that was foldable was my seat.
CB: Right.
GM: And that came out on a collapsible sort of frame -
CB: Yeah.
GM: Or unit from the side of the aircraft.
CB: Right.
GM: The hole was in the floor.
CB: Yes.
GM: Not anywhere else.
CB: Right.
GM: So you sort of went up and down on the floor in that part of the aircraft. I think that’s it.
CB: Yeah. That’s good. So we’ll stop just for a mo.
GM: Yeah.
[machine pause]
GM: The place where I landed.
CB: We’re talking about meeting Germans.
GM: Yes.
CB: Yeah.
GM: Yes. Just in general, no need to record it.
CB: In general terms.
GM: Yes just general terms. So I did come across them on most parts of my travelling.
CB: Yeah. You came across Germans.
GM: Yes.
CB: Yeah.
GM: Yes. Whilst we were staying, yes while I was staying in Paris then they were all over the place.
CB: Right.
GM: Even if I was out on a walk with one of the French people. Oh what was his name? Doesn’t matter.
CB: Yeah.
GM: The residents in the city. Yes he took me out once or twice and we walked streets and what have you and walked up the Champs-Elysees and to some of the other recognised spots and also into a museum and that was, that can all be detailed if you want it at the time and yes but, this was when we stayed in the flat which was unoccupied by anybody else.
CB: Yeah.
GM: But that was short. We got, we did get farmed out to people and the man was very useful and we eventually picked up an early morning train in Paris heading south.
CB: Right.
GM: And the intention was to get to, oh what’s the name of the town? Down close to the Pyrenees.
CB: Yeah. Bordeaux?
GM: Yes. On the way through there yes. And I think, was it St Jean de Luz we stayed in?
CB: Right.
GM: Or lived in. Possibly so. Having got that far then the party of other, a couple or three people I think we made something like four people together started off one afternoon. That’s not quite true I think we had a train journey. Anyhow, we started off and we climbed up in to the Pyrenees and we did it, some bizarre, we did this during part of this during daylight of course and overnight we went up and down up and down and we crossed the actual border which was the centre of the Bidasoa, whatever its pronunciation is, which was a river and from that position we climbed up to a height but on this time on the south banks of the river rather than where we came down which was on the north ones and eventually we dropped down the Pyrenees slopes to the rather level sort of ground which was in Spain. From Spain of course then having sort of made our presence known then the embassy took over and arranged the transfer of the, I think there was three of us to be taken to the capital and that was all done in one long run. I’m not sure how many hours it took but it seemed to be quite a long way and we stayed in the embassy.
CB: It looks as though you went to Saint Sebastian.
GM: Yes.
CB: With Bernard. And then you went to the British consulate in Bilbao who then arranged for you to go Madrid two hundred and fifty miles away.
GM: Very likely. I’m not, I can’t remember how many days we stayed there. We stayed with a couple in their flat in Spain.
CB: Right.
GM: Probably two nights at the most. I could probably check it and as we say we did this long run down to the embassy in Madrid which is, then, did we actually stay there? Yes they did have quarters there and we became companions of some people who were already on the run so to speak.
CB: Yes.
GM: And they were flown away. There was, there was some army people around as well.
CB: Right.
GM: They got away and eventually it became our turn and in the early evening of the last day of October.
CB: 1942.
GM: ’42, yes. We got on to a train and we did at some point that evening we had a meal. Now I’m trying to visualise exactly where we were. Whether we were in the train or other? Don’t remember much. Anyhow, I know we picked up a separate train from previously which run us down overnight to Madrid and, I got that wrong.
CB: Gibraltar.
GM: From, from, this was from Madrid to Gibraltar. Yes.
CB: Yes.
GM: Yes. You’re right. Quite right.
CB: The overnight train.
GM: Overnight train and we were picked up and met at our destination and we were then, yes. We went, we then went down by train also to Gibraltar. We got out on the Spanish side and I think we had a, had the train across on the railway line which ran through Spain across at Gibraltar and through to what was, I think, the only station in Gibraltar. Perhaps there were two train stops. Certainly there was a terminus in the, in the more or less centre of -
CB: Right.
GM: That’s right. I suppose it’s an island isn’t it?
CB: No it isn’t. It’s a -
GM: Yeah. Anyhow, it was a satisfactory termination of the effort to pass across all the necessary spaces to reach Gib and catch the boat on the convenient occasion for us we just waited until we were called but it was only a couple, a couple of nights as far as I can recall.
CB: To be returned to Britain.
GM: Yes.
CB: Yeah.
GM: We then flew back to the UK.
CB: What did you fly in?
GM: Was it a Dakota?
CB: Yeah. When -
GM: I think so.
CB: When you were in Madrid you were in the embassy.
GM: Yes.
CB: What did the air attaché have to say?
GM: ‘Welcome’ [laughs] and he was more interested in identifying us so that he could notify the ongoing people that we were there having escaped and I presume he was he was looking for instructions as to how to get us from Gibraltar to the UK which he did very successfully because we, we flew overnight and landed in Portreath in the early light hours of the following day which was the 1st of November and we had a brief passage through customs in Cornwall and we then went back to the same plane which flew up to, now, somewhere, just west of London?
CB: Northolt. No?
GM: I think not.
CB: Ok I’ll stop there a mo.
[machine pause]
CB: It went to Aldermaston did it?
GM: Possibly. I’ve got it written down.
CB: Yeah. I’ve got it. I’ve got Aldermaston here.
GM: You’ve got Aldermaston there.
CB: Yeah.
GM: Well that’s fair enough.
CB: Yeah.
GM: And there we arrived just after normal meal time. I think more or less 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock in the day and we were fed and then we were transferred to London and we were taken to the headquarters. Now what was the name of the street? Oh my memory is getting terrible.
CB: According to this you went -
GM: Yes, go on.
CB: The Grand Central Hotel.
GM: Could well be.
CB: In Marylebone.
GM: Marylebone. Correct. Yes.
CB: Which was the London transit camp.
GM: Yes. That’s right. And we were greeted by I don’t know if he was a flight sergeant or whether he was a warrant officer. I don’t even know whether there was an officer on duty then. Anyhow, the chap that met us as we walked in wanted to know who we were, what we were and where we, our homes were which was the most interesting and when I said it was Wembley and there we were at Baker Street and it’s just down the other end of the line so to speak. So he said, ‘You can go home till tomorrow. Be back here at,- ’ I wasn’t sure what the time was. 9 o’clock I think and a couple of the other people who had come over with us they were also given instructions but my Irish companion he was bedded at the hotel there. He hadn’t got any relatives close enough to be of any use. So I went home. You can imagine the results but it so happened that it was still the 1st of November and it was still my birthday.
CB: And how old were you that day?
GM: Twenty three.
CB: Right.
GM: I would think.
CB: Yeah.
GM: Twenty three. Yes.
CB: Now what were you wearing? Had you got RAF clothing again or -
GM: Ah.
CB: Because in your escape through France what were you wearing in the end? Were you in a suit all the way of some kind, provided, or were you -
GM: Yes.
CB: What were you -
GM: That suit materialised while I was still in Belgium I think it was.
CB: Right.
GM: And they took, yes, somebody had yes somebody had my RAF blouson and trousers of a, in a typical greeny colour. Or it was a grey green colour or whatever battle dress was made of. I lost that but instead of that of course I got a moderately fitting suit which I still had on when I got home and occasionally I used afterwards and as I say we got shot down on what was it, about somewhere about the 4th of October and I walked in on the 1st of November.
CB: Were they expecting you to arrive? Had you forewarned them?
GM: Yes. My mum, I’d already sent a telegram from Gibraltar home and she was notified by Air Ministry as well ‘cause they were well up on their knowledge of where we were.
CB: Yeah.
GM: There’s no doubt about that.
CB: Right. Now, this companion of yours was he from another squadron or was he from something completely different?
GM: What was his name? The Irishman?
CB: Yeah.
GM: No. We, we only met in extremis so to speak on the way down to Gibraltar. In actual fact I think it was somewhere shortly after Paris or whatever. Anyhow, it was fairly early on that I met Michael Joyce. That was his name.
CB: Yeah.
GM: And we stayed together to a degree. Sometimes apart sometimes in the same buildings and we certainly got down to Gibraltar together and let’s see, what was his rank? Flight sergeant. I was a flight sergeant at the time. Yes.
CB: What crew member was he?
GM: Ah you ask some nasty questions my friend.
CB: I know. It’s bad isn’t it?
GM: Yes.
CB: But you get another sweet if you answer correctly.
GM: What was his job?
CB: He wasn’t a flight engineer like you was he?
GM: I was a navigator.
CB: Sorry, a navigator like you.
GM: No. Mike. [pause] Oh my goodness me. That’s a rotten question.
CB: Yes. I’ll give you a different one. In the way down you’re doing everything together so what are your feelings as you are on the escape route and you’re together in hostile territory? What did you feel about that?
GM: I’m not entirely sure. I was, I was always happy to tackle things as a single person but it, when we had to do things together then I was quite willing to adapt to those conditions. So I don’t think it made much, made much of an impression on me whether I was working with him or he was acting on his own or I was acting on my own. I think both of us were fairly quick on adapting to changing circumstances.
CB: Yeah.
GM: It didn’t worry me at all to be, to operate on my own. I did quite a bit of walking from one place to another and in the early days of course I did the first three or four nights as a single figure.
CB: Yes. So you get over the Pyrenees. You’re out of immediate German danger. How did you feel about that? What sort of feeling did you have?
GM: Oh. Yeah.
CB: When you both got over in to Spain.
GM: Oh gave a sort of heartfelt but quiet sort of, ‘Yes. This is it. You made it.’
CB: Yeah.
GM: There was a certain exultation on my part of having a sort of a smooth way across Europe and I fooled the Germans at it at the same time.
CB: So was it a mixture of triumph and relief or something different?
GM: Yeah. Well the exact moment that one got over was rather obscure as to exactly where it was that it was the river the Bidasoa the that we had to cross down the valley which is the boundary between Spain and France so in actual fact having got across that river then one was technically in Belgium er not Belgium -
CB: Spain.
GM: Spain.
CB: Yeah.
GM: Yeah. The Pyrenees were scattered with people one way or another who seemed to have a reason for being there and I don’t think at the time we realised exactly when we could say when we were in one country or the other. It was just a continuation across, across the high ground.
CB: And of course Spain was a fascist country then so how was it -
GM: We rather thought they might have been, yeah. I would have thought they might have tried to please the German presence.
CB: Yeah.
GM: Actually I think amongst a certain range of people it was just the reverse but there we are.
CB: Because it was Basque country there of course.
GM: Indeed. Yes.
CB: So that was anti-establishment wasn’t it?
GM: Yes.
CB: Still is.
GM: Yes. I imagine so. I haven’t been over there for years now but I have made several trips there since the wartime period.
CB: So just moving on from there you’re back home, you’ve been told to report the next morning from Wembley back to the hotel.
GM: Yes indeed.
CB: In Marylebone.
GM: That is correct.
CB: So then what?
GM: We were, there was a special interview I think, that latter part of that day to acquaint us with our situation and answer questions and to only be told that with the amount of knowledge that we carried with ourselves and people in the other countries who were trying to help us that we sort of them owed them a debt, general impression, which I agreed with and then to sort of map out what we would do for the remainder of the, our membership of the RAF and I sort of was aware of some of the ways in which I could proceed. The thing is they said, ‘You can’t go back on ops again with the amount of knowledge that you have of the help that you found available.’ They didn’t say for how long. I got the impression that it was, yes for a period anyhow but I was aware that there was what they called the SN course, The staff navigators course at, up in the Midlands and so I said, ‘Well if we’re going to be posted to do something then I’d like to do that course.’ It was on, a rather special course on navigation and the like so they said, ‘Right,’ and then they said, ‘Of course that is a bit in the future. We’ve already got some people ahead of you on the list but we’ll do it as soon as you can.’ And in the June of ’43, June of ‘43 which was, let’s see, seven, eight or nine months wait then I was posted up into Scotland and one or two other places and in July ‘43 then got married and on the, just before that happened I found out that I was going to be posted from the aerodrome near [pause] Oh God.
CB: Which part of the country?
GM: Wales.
CB: Oh right. Not St Athan.
GM: No. No. More or less the border between England and, er England, the border, oh this is stupid.
CB: So what purpose was this particular posting?
GM: Oh to be on the teaching staff of the navigation.
CB: Right.
GM: Crikey.
CB: Ok. Well we’ll pick that up in a mo. So then before you started you were then on leave to get married were you?
GM: Yes. Yes. Yes
CB: Where did you go for your honeymoon?
GM: Oh West Wales. As far west as you can get.
CB: The Gower Peninsula.
GM: Not far from it. Yes, the bay goes up in a great big sweep.
CB: Oh Cardigan Bay.
GM: Cardigan Bay up at the top.
CB: Not Aberystwyth.
GM: Yes.
CB: Right.
GM: Yes. Which is a university town.
CB: Yeah.
GM: The university buildings were to agree to be available for the lecturers and what have you that what I was doing was available so after, after that and we got married, we went up north to the Central Navigation School or whatever they called it, at, yes [pause] oh I’m an idiot.
CB: Was that in Scotland or was it in northern England?
CB: Ok. We’ll look that one up as well. So at the Central Navigation School that’s when you did your specialist navigation course. Was it?
GM: SN course, yes.
CB: Yes.
GM: Yes, indeed.
CB: Which lasted how long?
GM: Three months.
CB: How many?
GM: Three.
CB: Three months.
GM: Three months.
CB: Right.
GM: And -
CB: So you went to Cranage. Cranage was the -
GM: Yes.
CB: Central Navigation School.
GM: Yes. Indeed.
CB: But it was a three months course.
GM: That’s right.
CB: And then what?
GM: No. That isn’t right. That’s not right. So when did Aberystwyth come in on it?
CB: When you went on honeymoon.
GM: Yes it did. But [pause] I’m an idiot.
[Machine pause]
CB: Just while we, right so after you finished at Cranage on your navigation course you said you went to Wigtown.
GM: Yes.
CB: Which is Galloway.
GM: Yes.
CB: What were you doing there?
GM: That’s where I was part of the lecturing staff and also I spent more time on the arranging of the exercises and what have you.
CB: Right.
GM: There was some lecturing in it but it was mainly to get these chaps airborne.
CB: Yes.
GM: Doing the exercises. So, yes I rather rated as part of the overall staff rather than
CB: Yeah.
GM: Just one particular position.
CB: And how long did you stay there?
GM: Until a short period after war was terminated.
CB: Right.
GM: I think the period was, the immediate period was followed by the sending of military people, British military people to Japan.
CB: Yeah. Tiger Force.
GM: Yes. Yes. I think that took over. They were and then there was in the appropriate time and there was a cessation there and peace was declared so to speak.
CB: August ’45. So -
GM: Yes. So it was a couple of years I had up in -
CB: Yes
GM: Scotland generally.
CB: So with the end of hostilities in World War 2 what happened next for you?
GM: Well, Wigtown, the airfield and what have you there was closed down and I was posted to somewhere in Norfolk.
CB: Which part of Norfolk?
GM: Cardigan Bay is it? No. Wait a minute. Which is Cardigan Bay?
CB: No. That’s in West Wales.
GM: Oh that’s not it. On the east coast.
CB: You don’t mean Coltishall do you?
GM: No. [pause]
CB: We’ll stop a mo.
[machine pause]
CB: So you went to Norfolk with the closure of Wigtown because the war had ended and what did you do there?
GM: Well previously while I was at the aerodrome in Scotland -
CB: Yeah.
GM: My rank had gone up to warrant officer and the chap I was working with said, ‘You can do better than this,’ so I applied for a commission and it was then, that was, that was somebody else’s suggestion and I was supported by the senior officer at -
CB: At Wigtown.
GM: Yes. And I had the necessary introductions and interviews and I was commissioned. PO. And that was early in that two year stay up in Scotland. By the time I came down to after the closure of the camp there and went to the one that we had just been immediately talking about in -
CB: In Norfolk. Yeah.
GM: The Norfolk area. Yes. And I finished up a flight lieutenant.
CB: What was your role there? Were you teaching navigation in Norfolk or were you planning ops or what were you doing?
GM: Oh what did we do? The last weeks. Yes. Oh yes I’d made a study to a fair extent on training for crews on, as far as practical exercises were concerned on navigation so we used to have the whole course or several courses that were run by the station and they used to do exercises on the ground, navigation exercises and we’d feed them with information as to factors and we sort of wrote a scenario or set of circumstances to give the people on the ground the opportunity to resolve their problem, navigational problems and so in actual fact they did a flying exercise except that it was a set procedure on the, on the ground. Sounds a bit rummy but we were able to produce conditions and information so that they could do the navigation exercise in addition to having to do it in the air. I mean there was a big demand for air, air time and part of that air time was giving groups of people, they were full courses in actual fact. These exercises which they could do safely to start with on the ground and then they practised as far as I could tell, at other postings in, with aircraft flying.
CB: Were these squadrons that you were teaching or special courses for navigation?
GM: They were navigational courses.
CB: Right.
GM: You had, I don’t suppose one had more than twenty people in any one course and you would have them for a half day and we had a number of, set number of exercises planned out and we provided as much information that we would expect them to be able to receive during the, an actual flight. So it was an exercise modelled on a flying exercise and the actual airborne flying was taken away and so you fed the course in the half day all the necessary factors that they would need to do if they were doing it in the air.
CB: So they would then go and fly. What aircraft were they flying? I mean were they Lancs?
GM: Ansons I think.
CB: Ansons. Right.
GM: Yes. A good old workhorse that aircraft.
CB: Yeah. With a view to going on to, these were all navigators rather than pilots.
GM: Oh yes. They were all navigators. Yes. They took the course. They went through the varying exercises as we could plan them at ground level.
CB: Right.
GM: And so they got procedures to be familiar with and then they, when they left us they went on a course which tested their application to those features.
CB: Right. So you were doing that for a while. When were you demobbed and where?
GM: I was demobbed as such from Uxbridge and close by.
CB: Did you apply for it?
GM: That’s only just –
CB: Or were you -
GM: No. No
CB: Suddenly told.
GM: No. When we were posted down from Scotland earlier the previous year and we did a job closer down in Norfolk when ones calling up papers came through and gave you a place to take your demob. So you -
CB: Right.
GM: Went down to that place at the declared time and they -
CB: So that’s May 1946.
GM: And gave you the big heave ho.
CB: May 1946.
GM: Yeah.
CB: Now –
GM: Was it May? Was it?
CB: 16th
GM: It was April or May.
CB: Yeah. 16th of May 1946
GM: Yes.
CB: According to that note.
GM: Well that is maybe including -
CB: Terminal leave.
GM: Terminal leave.
CB: Yeah.
GM: And your departure date was the end of that terminal leave.
CB: Yeah. So how did you feel about that after all the rigours of what you’d been through? Flying and escaping.
GM: Feel about it. No. I wasn’t an enthusiast but I thought I should have hated not to have not been part of it. Well I started with navigation and the like. I liked to know where I was and I liked to know where I was going and I think that was a fair guiding light to me pushing in certain directions but having had a very close brush with being terminated whilst I was in Bomber Command I was very thankful to be able to do my bit to progress the hostilities in whichever way they gave me the access to.
CB: You explained that they told you couldn’t go back on to ops. How did you feel about that?
GM: I don’t think anybody said that you can’t, eventually. I got the impression that it was not going to happen. The decision wasn’t mine it was theirs.
[phone ringing]
GM: Oh excuse me a minute.
CB: Yeah.
GM: I’d better find out what it is.
[machine paused]
CB: So you were married in the war.
GM: Yes.
CB: Gordon.
GM: Yes.
CB: And what prompted you to do it during the war and not wait until the end?
GM: Well in nineteen, let me start it was a bit earlier than that.
CB: Ok.
GM: I went to school with a chap and we were more or less together for most of the, that period of schooling to technical college.
CB: Yeah.
GM: And we continued to be friends. Our families got to know each other. I met his sister who was a couple of years older than him.
CB: Yeah.
GM: And she was after, after the war was declared, oh I would say that she was a ballet dancer and -
CB: Yes.
GM: She was in Italy at the time of the declaration of war so she had to get back to the UK. I was in and out of their house a fair bit until we got called up. I’d previously tried to get in to the RAF reserve, volunteer reserve but attending evening classes and things like that four nights a week and the result that I was not particularly fit so I was referred and told to get fit while working five and a half days a week and also doing four evenings of evening classes. It was taking a bit of a long time. So war was declared and the lady in question got herself, with her friends back from Italy to the UK. I got to know her pretty well during the earlier lifetime and so I suppose whenever I came down on leave then we saw each other and in 1943 after my travels we got married in the July ‘43. What point are we trying to make?
CB: Well we’re talking about how you got married in the war.
GM: Oh.
CB: When some people delayed getting married.
GM: Yes. Yes. I can, I can imagine that but also I thought we don’t know how long this is going to be going on.
CB: Right.
GM: I mean we were living so to speak in the forces we were living from day to day.
CB: Yes.
GM: On, as a basis, whether if you were on active service or were in a similar but not so dangerous situation whatever it was, you were still occupied and we didn’t want to wait.
CB: No.
GM: For an unspecified period so we got married in the July ‘43. She was in London in a show and with Tommy Handley and that group of people and so she decided that we’d get married.
CB: Yeah.
GM: So when I got posted up to Scotland then she said, ‘Right. I’m coming up too.’ And we, I got permission to live out and she came up and there was always the chance that she could go back and join another show. Tommy, Tommy Handley was a considerable friend of hers so it ended very happily on the whole. The only problem was medical but that’s not part of the news I spread around.
CB: No. No.
GM: But it was a considerable problem. Considerable problem. After the wartime period when both David and, who died now and Paul, my, who is my remaining son. Yes we were very happy to get two children and but it was a difficult situation. Sort of a, I think she had two or three other pregnancies which didn’t mature.
CB: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. When did she pass away?
GM: August 1999.
CB: Gosh. A long time ago.
GM: Well, last century.
CB: Yes.
GM: Yeah. No. She was, she was in her nineties anyhow. So -
CB: After the war what did you do then?
GM: Oh well -
CB: You were demobbed so now what?
GM: Yes. I was demobbed I’d already, during the leave, made contact with the chartered surveyors that I was working for in the pre-war period and so I went back there. The wages were not brilliant and I don’t suppose we had a vast amount of savings but we had savings anyhow so instead, working up in Norfolk with the air force my term had come so I got the demob instructions and I took them. Money being what it is well I’m being paid by the air force for my demob my leave period so I had a week’s leave and we got back home. We stayed with my mother. She was living on her own. My father had died during the period of the war and so we started living together there. We’d been living together in various places around the country when, between marriage and the war finishing which was about two years I suppose.
CB: They wouldn’t pay the marriage allowance would they? The air force allowance during the war because you were underage. Under twenty five in other words.
GM: Yes. No. No. Do you know I haven’t really considered the, what happened from the money point of view. We seemed to be, had enough money.
CB: Comfortable.
GM: Comfortable yes. Comfortable. During that period that I was up in Scotland and what have you because at most of that time then we lived together and when I was demobbed then as I say we were living together with, at my mother’s house even though my wife’s parents only lived a ten minute walk away.
CB: Oh right.
GM: So my old school chum was now a brother in law I suppose. Yes.
CB: Yes.
GM: Yes. Well he was brilliant at his job. He was a scientist -
CB: Oh.
GM: From the Natural History Museum.
CB: Oh.
GM: And that he continued as his career until he died.
CB: So you went back to being a surveyor.
GM: Yeah.
CB: What did you, how did that progress for you? Did you stay with your original employers or did you move to something different?
GM: Well I stayed with them and the requirements were that I became a chartered surveyor.
CB: Yeah.
GM: So I started, or had already started the course at Regent Street Polytechnic and I say I was there for varying periods. I think the most I ever spent was four, four nights a week in classes. It’s a bit misty some of those periods but I stayed there and took the exams with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and the intermediate got through and got to the finals and was and I had an offer to work for somebody else which was London County Council.
CB: Right.
GM: I had applied for a job there. Mainly because the people that were under training at that time of course were the people I’d met on courses elsewhere and I stayed there until, yes, until I got my qualifications and then I changed. Mainly it was the people I knew at Regent Street Polytechnic became my sort of friends and so the job became available which I applied for and got and I was with friends virtually straight away which was socially was yes, an advantage.
CB: So you stayed with London County Council until retirement did you?
GM: That is so.
CB: And when did you retire?
GM: Oh what a horrible question to ask. I was sixty four and I had the sum of that year so now -
CB: I’ve got the answer to that in here. So that was 1973.
GM: Was it? Ok. Right. Well yes I came out in the in the summer of ‘73 and -
CB: Just before your birthday did you?
GM: Something like that.
CB: Yeah.
GM: Yes.
CB: And did you then pick up other things in your retirement or did you have a quiet time?
GM: No. Evening classes I say were, absorbed a lot of my spare time but I became qualified became a chartered surveyor and also I was working for London County Council when the results came out so I was quite happy with that. I was working with people I knew and yes, and in a job which I enjoyed and the outcome was I think fairly reasonable and in my favour.
CB: Yeah. What I meant was after an active life when you come to retirement there can be a vacuum and I wonder what you picked up in your retirement you see.
GM: So, let’s see.
CB: Hobbies.
GM: Yes I I’d been a keen photographer for a long time. I didn’t do it professionally. I did some pictures for people now and again but it was just on a friendly basis and I, yeah, retirement. Oh yes at that time after I finished working for the quantity surveyors as such they from time to time wanted help for additional work. They had regular staff but sometimes the demands on the staff exceeded their people that were available to do it.
CB: Their capacity.
GM: Yeah.
CB: Yeah.
GM: So on occasion I worked for the same people, on the same as my job and I got paid for my professional help. This went on until demand diminished so I didn’t kill my pleasures of the time with it but I certainly, I fitted it all in.
CB: Yeah. Now having escaped by parachute from an aeroplane that made you a member of the Caterpillar Club. How did that fit into your life as an association?
GM: Well now and again there were events which attracted me I suppose. I was just thinking what else was. Oh yes. The boys were growing up. We’d had two children and I became interested in the scouting movement and the boys were gradually being absorbed in to that movement and I was asked to, if I’d become one of the management committee or whatever it was of the scouting movement. We had a sort of family connection with the movement and I sort of became part of the local troops and so we took part in some of the administration that was related to our area. Yes. It was a, it was a pleasurable time and it occupied a number of events and both the boys were keen scouters so I think it was a reasonable changeover and still gave you that sensation of being wanted.
CB: Yeah. Now in a way, for other people looking in, one of the most cataclysmic times of your life was being shot down and then escaping.
GM: Oh yes been a big factor.
CB: How did you then link which you alluded to earlier with the people who’d helped you return to Britain successfully?
GM: Ah. Well there was an organisation which was set up, I suppose, known as the RAF Escaping Society and I think that was set up around about the end of the war or shortly afterwards and various meetings were attended. Yes. One sort of kept an, kept an interest so that it was like other military or semi military organisations. You had the regular sort of programmes throughout the year of remembering the people of your life, in the past and like any of these organisations like the British Legion which is more or less run on those styles so you had while you were working on civilian occupations then you also maintained the friendships and the relationships as you had done for the six years in the war with other people who were doing the same job as yourself.
CB: Yeah. This is how you link with Air Commodore Charles Clarke?
GM: Yes. I know him and yeah I respect him and we have met from time to time but we’re not social friends.
CB: Right.
GM: As such.
CB: No.
GM: No. He’s Charles Clark. I’m Gordon Mellor and we both live in different areas. We see little of each other but we are sociable with each other and this applies to quite a lot of other people who were in the air force.
CB: Indeed.
GM: You maintain the sort of interest as much as possible but it’s got to take its place in your life.
CB: What about 103 Squadron Association. Was that active?
GM: Yes. Still is. This coming weekend I’m going up there. I am, am I the president? I think I’m the president of the members of the Association. I seem to be in that sort of role. Yes.
CB: The driving force there.
GM: Yes. I think so. Somewhere on the papers it shows. Yes.
CB: Ok.
GM: I’m the President. Yeah.
CB: Good.
GM: Yes and I think one stays there until you -
CB: You feel you’ve had enough.
GM: Fade away.
CB: Yeah.
GM: I’m not even sure you can retire but you never know.
CB: Well there are a number of active members still on all these things?
CB: Yes.
GM: Yeah. They are going down of course in number.
CB: Yeah. Yeah.
GM: There’s a number who are, yes. Now they’re getting on quite well. Many of us are in our ninetieth or thereabouts. You have to have been to have been in the wartime period.
CB: Yes. Exactly. Gordon Mellor. Thank you very much indeed. Really interesting.
GM: Thank you for coming. Mucked it up to a certain extent in the latter times because I should have done better really.
CB: Well don’t worry we’ll link it all altogether.
GM: Yes. Ok.
CB: Thank you.
GM: Come back to the subject and we can have a bit of time then I’ll give you better answers than I’ve done it off the cuff I expect.
CB: Ok. That’s fine. Thank you.



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Gordon Mellor. Four,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 25, 2024,

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