Interview with Ted Stocker. Three


Interview with Ted Stocker. Three


Ted joined the air force in January 1938 as an apprentice at RAF Halton. This was accelerated because of the war, and he was posted to RAF Boscombe Down.
Although he wanted to be a pilot, Ted’s skills were needed as a flight engineer. He was posted to 35 Squadron at Linton-on-Ouse in 1940 where he encountered Flight Lieutenant Leonard Cheshire. Later that year, Ted found a crew and aircraft and started operations over Germany. After only four operations, he went to instruct pilots and flight engineers on Halifaxes at 102 Squadron.
Ted was posted to Pathfinders 35 Squadron and was the first flight engineer to be commissioned. After 47 operations, he volunteered and was sent for training as a mid-upper gunner to a Pathfinder Training Unit and 7 Squadron, who needed experienced people. He had to learn about Lancasters, which he compares in some detail to Halifaxes.
Ted outlines the work of the Pathfinders and how the system became more sophisticated. He encountered Donald Bennett and once flew with him, as well as flying with Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris to Brazil.
Ted flew 108 operations (47 on Halifaxes and 61 on Lancasters). He was awarded a Distinguished Service Order.
Ted did an engineering officers’ course at RAF St Athan, followed by 24 Squadron, a VIP transport squadron, flying Lancastrians.
After pilot training in 1947, Ted was flight commander on 217 squadron. He flew Neptunes, which he compares favourably to Shackletons. Ted was then posted to Germany for two years as adjutant with an Air Observation Post squadron and flew Austers. He left the RAF because of impaired hearing.




Temporal Coverage




01:11:31 audio recording

Conforms To


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AStockerEE161013, PStockerEE1601


DK: So, I’ll just introduce myself. Make sure this is working OK.
DK: I, I — you’re sometimes beaten by the technology. So, it’s David Kavanagh inter— interviewing Flight Lieutenant Ted Stocker at his home on the 13th of October 2016. I’ll, I’ll just leave that there. If, if I keep looking down, I’m not being rude, I’m just making sure it’s, it’s going.
ES: Er, I’m one of the lucky ones I suppose. If you’ve seen how many trips I’ve done, you’ll know I’m a lucky one.
DK: No, I’ve seen the statistics and they’re terrifying. It’s — they’re covered in your book obviously. What I wanted to ask you was first of all, what were you doing immediately before the war?
ES: I was in the Air Force. I was an apprentice at RAF Halton. I joined the Air Force in 1938, January ‘38, and I — when the war started, they — it should have been a three year apprenticeship but when the war started, they cut it down. They [cough], I did two years and three months I think, so I was a bit short, but they, to make up for the shortcomings, we lost our Wednesday afternoon sports and Thursday afternoon, er, Friday afternoon, um, drill so they stopped the apprenticeship short and gave us accelerated apprenticeship, so I came out. Oh dear, I was still an apprentice — I was an apprentice when the war started because I heard Mr — I was on church parade. We were at church, um, on the 3rd of September and, um, the padre cut his sermon short to say that Chamberlain was talking on, on the BBC and we would go back early so we could actually get in the NAAFI to hear the Chamberlain broadcast. Remember, in those days there wasn’t — radios were expensive but they were all batteries and batteries cost more than you earned in a week, so that’s why we had to use the, the NAAFI to hear the broadcast. Anyway, we heard this broadcast and we’re now at war, which was very good, nice to know [cough] because — as I’d just heard that news, I walked out of the NAAFI to go back to get my irons to go to the cookhouse to get some food and, um, the war had been on for a good ten minutes, maybe a quarter of an hour, and there was a snotty little PTI corporal said, ‘You’re on a charge. You haven’t got your gas mask with you. Don’t you know there’s a war on? You’re supposed to be carrying your gas mask’. I hadn’t — there wasn’t a war on when I left the barrack room and that’s where I left my gas mask [slight laugh], so that was a good start to the war. Anyway, I carried on, er, 1940, in April, March or something, my, er, my apprenticeship was foreshortened and I was passed out as an aircraftman first class. When you’re an apprentice, you can pass out either as an AOC, which there was very few of them (I think in our entry there were two), and an AC1 which was the middle of the road and most of us did, and AC2 which was those who weren’t very bright. And there had — I had a very good posting really, I was posted to Boscombe Down. So, unlike most of the people, when they left their apprenticeship, they went to a squadron and whatever aircraft the squadron had that was the aircraft they worked on but, being lucky, and going to Boscombe I had all sorts of aeroplanes. We had the first prototype Stirling I, I worked on and we had all sorts of funny fighters we were getting. The RAF took over aircraft that the French had ordered but the Germans rather stopped the Americans delivering to them so we took over things like the Mohawk and things and, um, so I, I got into working as a fitter on all sorts of different aeroplanes and then I applied for — I went in to see the flight commander and said, ‘I’d like a pilot’s course’, and he said, ‘No, you can’t do a pilot’s course with AC1. You’ve got to be AOC before you can apply for a pilot’s course’. Anyway, I went back to work and did some — my trade test and became an AOC. I went back into the flight commander and said, ‘I’m an AOC now, can I have a pilot’s course?’ He said, ‘You’ve got to be an AOC for six months at least’. Unfortunately, five months later they made me a corporal, so now I can’t be a pilot because I’m too valuable but then the first of the four engine, as I say all those — I worked on the Stirling, the first of the four engine bombers, and, um, they came with an AMO. They wanted exceptional AOCs, corporals and sergeants and the fitters trades, fitter trades to become flight engineers because before the war, you didn’t have flight engineers because they didn’t have any four engine aircraft, apart from the Stirling, and so I thought — Stirling, Sunderland flying boat, and, um, so I thought well — I didn’t [slight laugh], I didn’t know about this AMO until the flight c—, um, the flight clerk came down — I was working on an aeroplane — with this bit of paper in his hand and said, ‘The flight commander thought you might like to read this’. It was the first, er, call for flight engineers and flight commander had his head in his hand on the right way. He thought that was the [unclear] tell about it so I went back with the flight commander, flight clerk to the flight commander and said, ‘I’d like to be a flight engineer’. Well, I got that, um, sort of got back to barracks, about — it must have been within forty-eight hours, they really were desperate, um, I was called back to the flight commander, given an hour warning, sent off to, off to — where was it in Scotland? Er, oh dear, just north of inverness, north-west from Inverness? I was off on a three week air gunner’s course. I didn’t want to be an air gunner, I wanted to be a flight engineer but, um, I did the three, this three week air gunner’s course, flying in some decrepit old airplanes, and I was then posted to 35 Squadron in Linton as a flight engineer on Halifaxes. I hadn’t done, apart from being a fitter and the three weeks’ air gunner course, I was now a flight engineer. Fortunately, at this, they got the crew but they hadn’t got the airplanes. Point of interest perhaps, my flight commander at that time was a guy called, er, Leonard Cheshire, Flight Lieutenant Leonard Cheshire was my flight commander and —
DK: What were your feelings about Cheshire as a man?
ES: Well as a man [unclear], didn’t have a great understanding of aeroplanes, little or no knowledge of engineering but, um, he had the knack of flying the aeroplane. He could fly it quite well.
DK: Did you, did you fly with him at all?
ES: Only, er, local flying from the thing.
DK: And he was a competent pilot, was he?
ES: He was a — he seemed competent but a little bit slap happy. He talked myself and several other flight engineers, who were new to the squadron, up in the Halifax on a very nasty day in Yorkshire. We sort of took off straight into a cloud and he plugged into the intercom and said, ‘Now I’m running the engines on hot air because of the — to stop them icing up. I’m now going to switch two of them off onto cold air’. Of course, within about three minutes, they’d iced up and the engines had stopped. ‘Now you see what happens when you don’t use hot air’. Yes, I know but we’re flying in cloud at about three thousand feet somewhere over the Yorkshire Moors, no real radio, or any thought. It was a bit stupid. Stating the obvious.
DK: Was he a slightly eccentric man then?
ES: No, not slightly.
DK: No. OK. Completely [laugh].
ES: He was an academic from an academic background. I think he didn’t have a very high regard for engineers or any engineer, and, er, Paddy O’Kane was his flight engineer. He was an Irishman who kept — must have let his temper well under control.
DK: Were you, were you quite pleased to get down then after that flight?
ES: Oh, I wasn’t that — it was interesting. I thought I was too young to be too worried, I just didn’t like it. It knew it wasn’t the right thing to be doing [slight laugh] and, er, I messed about on the squadron there. As I said we were very short of aeroplanes, plenty of crews, there about three flight engineers to every engine, every aeroplane. But I just went back, a lot of us went back to working on the flights as a fitter, ordinary fitter again. And, um, I went there I think Ap— March or April ‘40. It wasn’t until October that I got a crew with an aeroplane, joined a crew and started operating over Germany. I wasn’t very impressed when we did start. We were supposed to be bombing Essen at night, and we — in those days they had very little in the way of range. When they dropped the bombs, I wasn’t that impressed. I said, ‘How –?’ I looked out and I couldn’t see how the hell they knew where they were, and listening to the navigator talking to the pilot, I don’t think he had that much of an idea. It was a very hit and run, well hit and miss, mainly miss, flying in the first few months of the war or the first few months when I started flying. But I, er, what did I do? Oh yes, I know. Early on, with the flight commander, by saying, briefing us for our second trip, ‘We’re going to Nuremberg#. It was rather a long way to Nuremberg from Yorkshire, particularly when we were flying in the early Halifaxes, which did not have as many fuel tanks as the later ones and I, being a sort of awkward bloke, I knew what fuel load we’d got and I had a chat with the navigator, he was another sergeant so I could talk to him, got the air miles and the fuel load and I did some sums. We haven’t got enough money to — enough fuel to get there and back let alone have a reserve and anyway, still being young and cheeky, I said to the flight commander, ‘Sir, I don’t think we’ve got enough fuel for this trip’. To which he replied, ‘Nonsense lad. Group know what they’re doing’. Well, they didn’t. We came back and I was keeping the throttles closed as much as I could, getting the best air miles out of it. We actually could see the airfield and when we crashed, we were almost within walking distance of the airfield [slight laugh].
DK: You just literally ran out of fuel?
ES: Yeah. Well, we ran out on one — because we were low, I was running, um, each side’s engines on all the tanks in that wing and, um, two engines stopped on one side, so I went down the back and put a cross feed on, um, and so I ran four engines off an empty tank but —
DK: So was anybody hurt in the crash or —
ES: Er, no. When we were sort of getting organised I, I‘d dumped the escape hatches over myself, the pilot and myself, and I was actually on — the skipper had started to bail the crew out. There should have been only two of us left in the aeroplane at that stage but the engines finally ran out of fuel and stopped and, er, we went down, hit the ground on a rather nasty bump, bounced over one hedge and landed in the next field and —
DK: So, there was just the pilot, yourself and one other still on board?
ES: Should have been the pilot and myself but we hit the field, the ground and bounced as I said. I was amidships with the hatch open there, the skipper was in his seat but the hatch over his head was missing, so when things grew to a halt, and the engines started burning, um, we decided to leave so the skipper came up on the wing next to me. I’d got onto the wing, which was the back edge of the wing because the undercarriage was up of course (when you’ve got to crash you don’t have the wheels down) and slid off the wing. The cows in the field didn’t like the intrusion. The skipper and I were looking around to find a quick way through and while we were doing so, a voice from behind said, ‘Wait for me’. It was the, um, the air gunner. He should be the first out. Unfortunately, he’d forgotten to take his parachute down the back. He’d left the parachute amidships by the door and he was actually in the fuselage, walking up the fuselage, to get this parachute pack when we hit the ground. Anyway, he got out alright and, um, we were going, er, out of the field and eventually, er, two ambulances arrived. ‘Are you injured?’ ‘No’. ‘OK, go away. This is for injured’. The other ambulance, ‘You’re not dead? This is for bodies’. So, we were still left there by the aeroplane and eventually the CO came over in his little car. As I say, we were within sight of the airfield when we actually hit the ground and the CO had driven over in his Hillman, and he sort of had a few words with the skipper. He kept well away from me. I told him we was short of fuel and I was bloody right [laugh]. But, um, he must have borne that in mind because, having done four operations with 35, um, I’m called in and told I’m going to a new squadron, where they‘re just going to get Halifaxes to instruct the flight engineers and pilots on the Halifax. I’d done four operations and there I am, I’m an instructor on 102 Squadron and obviously the CO at that time was a squadron leader, um, he’d got the message I might know what I’m talking about and there I was, an instructor. Much later on in the war he was the fli— squadron commander of the Pathfinder Squadron, I was the engineer leader and when he wanted to fly, guess who he took as his flight engineer? But, um, anyway I went to this 102 Squadron, had two qualified flying instructors to teach the pilots and things, and I had to explain the workings of the Halifax and things to the pi— new pilots and check up on the en— blokes that were posted in as engineers. And so there I was, twenty years old, telling these people. I said, um, the flight, flight commander who was the flying instructor, like me was an apprentice from Halton, trouble is he was about six years before me [laugh]. However, he thought, he must have thought I was making a good job of it, telling these people, because he suddenly called me into his office. He said, ’What do you think about taking a commission?’ A twenty-year-old sergeant. ‘Ay?’ I said, ‘Well you, you did it. What do you think?’ And he said, ’I think you should’. So, I suddenly found myself twenty years old, commissioned and — being commissioned anyway. I wasn’t actually commissioned at that time. I was put in for it. Later, on the Pathfinders, were starting and they were asking for crews and they asked for volunteers from other squadrons. There was a, a couple of Canadians, a pilot and navigator flew together, and they thought it would be a good idea to go to Pathfinders. Their flight engineer lived locally to New York so he wasn’t keen at all so, er, Hank, the skipper that was, he came to me and said, ‘We want a flight engineer. What do you think?’ I said, ‘OK. Put me down. I’ll go with you’, so I was posted to Pathfinders on 35 Squadron and, um, I was still a sergeant. And suddenly one day, the adjutant called, er, sent for me and I go to the adjutant’s office. The adjutant was sort of absolutely horrified, ‘You’ve been commissioned’, so I was the first flight engineer, one of the first flight — batch of flight engineers to be commissioned. Mind you, I did have to go for an interview at the Air Ministry first. It was quite an interesting one because at — down at Pathfinders at Graveley, which has its own station down the road to get straight into London, about an hour, three quarters of an hour ride to London so I knew, um, when I was told about this interview at the Air Ministry, I was flying that night. So went, you know, did my trip, came back, changed, had a shower, changed into my best blue, down the station and on the train up to Air Ministry for this bloody interview. I didn’t really know what it was all about but, er, they want to see me they can see me. So, I staggered into this interview thing and lots of sen— brass there, mainly group captains or wing commanders but there wasn’t a pilot or anything amongst them. They were all engineers you see, and, um, they didn’t know really know that much about it, they’d got to interview me and that was it. I sort of staggered in and I went asleep in the waiting room outside and they woke me up to go in, and I was sort of wiping the sleeping dust from my eyes as I went in for the interview. And one of these officious men obviously, um, thought I was on, been on the booze up in London that night, ‘Where were you last night?’ I gave them the name of the target [laugh]. Oh dear, atmosphere changed [laugh]. They gave me the wrong answer to the right question and, um, after that the interview went quite well. I ended up them telling them more about what went on than they knew about. Well, so that’s OK, so I’m told I’m commissioned, I go down to London with a bit of — coupons and some money and buy myself a uniform as a pilot officer. I go back to the office, back to the squadron and I get called in again, ‘We haven’t got a, what is it? An establishment for pilot officer flight engineer, only a flight lieutenant. You’re an acting flight lieutenant’. So I went, in about a matter of weeks, I went from a scruffy sergeant to a blown-up flight lieutenant [laugh] and I’ve been all sorts of flight lieutenant ever since. That was pilot officer acting flight lieutenant, flying officer acting flight lieutenant, war [unclear] flight lieutenant, end of the war flying officer acting flight lieutenant, er, proper flight lieutenant. There you go. I’ve been promoted to flight lieutenant so bloody often that I don’t know — but, um, that’s how it goes.
DK: So, so once you’re in the Pathfinder Squadron then, what was your — what did you do there? What were the Pathfinders doing?
ES: Well, it’s, um, the first thing they said was if you go into Pathfinders instead of doing thirty operations and being rested, you’ll do sixty. That didn’t last long. They cut those down to forty-five and —
DK: How did you fell about that, having to do two tours?
ES: Not too worried. I was young and stupid. Anyway, um, having being made a flight lieutenant, I was in charge of all the flight engineers, and when my crew finished their forty-seven, forty-five, they were posted away and I stayed on as flight engineer leader, and then suddenly somebody, something clicked, ‘Oh he shouldn’t be here, he’s done it’. And, um, I did, I did a couple more afterwards with other crews that hadn’t got an engineer at the time. And, um, shows you how stupid I was, I thought I’ve never, never tried — I’d like to try a trip as, um, a gunner so I volunteered to go on a trip as a mid-upper gunner on a flight just for the heck of it and, er, they suddenly realised I shouldn’t be there and I got posted straight away to a Training — a Pathfinder Training Unit. I arrived there just as 7 Squadron had taken a beating. They’d lost a squadron commander, two flight commanders and all the leaders. They had a hell of a time and so they suddenly they needed some experienced people in the Squadron, so they came to NTU to get them and, er, so they gathered — drew a few of us together and posted us to 7 Squadron. The only thing is, I hadn’t been there very long so before I knew where I was, I was back on op— on an operational squadron, on 7 Squadron, but they’d got Lancasters and I didn’t know a bloody thing about the Lancaster. The Halifax — I’d been on propeller courses, engine courses, er, aircraft course, airplane courses, everything and they had the, the Linc— the Lincolns. The Lancaster, I didn’t know anything about really apart from they had four Merlins and they were much the same as the Merlins in the, er, Halifax except they were made in America and had a better, er, better, um, type of — better design cylinder block, didn’t get internal leaks, and, um, I thought, ‘Well I must find out something about this aeroplane’. And I was still sort of feeling my way trying to find some books and things and they suddenly said, ‘You’re on ops tonight. Oh, and you’re a bomb aimer as well’. Because on Pathfinders, on Lancs, they used their flight engineer as a bomb aimer. Well, I don’t know a thing about bomb aiming and so they gave me a quick run through on the ground on how to set the bomb sight up and they said, ‘You better try it. Have a go’. They put, they put eight practice bombs on one of the Lancs then go off to a bombing raid, do my first bombing, eight, eight training ship. Trouble is, I dropped one and then the thing didn’t turn out right, the rest wouldn’t drop, so I had dropped one practice bomb. I was a bomb aimer with one practice and I’m on ops. I dropped four — about 80,000 tons of bombs, bombs that night, just practising [laugh] and that’s how life goes on.
DK: So as, as a flight engineer then, what did you prefer the Halifax or the Lancaster, once you got to know the Lancaster?
ES: If I was going to crash, I’d rather do it in a Lanc, in a Halifax. If I was going to go to war and not get shot at, I’d go in a Lanc. The Lanc was a much less sturdy aeroplane and it had the most diabolical position to bail out from. The, the door is right in front of the tail plane. On the Halifax the escape hatch in the fuselage is on the bottom corner of the fuselage and you dive out there, and the tail plane is way over. The only thing you’ve got to worry about is hitting the tail wheel. But, um, so if I had to bail out, I’d rather bail out of a Halifax and, um, I think I’d rather crash in a Halifax. It’s a much sturdier aeroplane, much — old fashioned pre-war des— design. The Lanc was a, a lash-up, um, it would never, it would never have flown, been allowed before the war because, um, aeroplanes had to fit in a hundred foot hangar. Well, the Manchester, which was the forerunner of the Lanc would go in a Halifax, in a hundred foot hangar, but when they took the Eag— Rolls Royce Eagles out and put a Merlin there, and then a bit of wing with another Merlin, that put an extra bit of wing on and the thing wouldn’t go in the hangar. So, it would, it would never have been allowed pre-war. But it, it gave an extra form of — the later Hali 3, they did have extended wing tips, they extended the wing on the Hali 3s which was a good solid aeroplane. I would like to have seen a Hali 3 with four Merlins, um, I think it would probably have been as good as the Lanc, but it didn’t —because it was built like — I was going to say a brick shit house [laugh]. As it was very well built, it didn’t have the same bomb carrying cap— capabilities and it didn’t have a bomb door, a bomb bay. The Lanc had this enormous long bomb bay which the Americans, the Americans saw that bomb bay and said, ‘Good God’, and so, um, you could you could carry a eight thousand pounder in a Halifax, which was two fours joined together, but it wouldn’t take any of the big things and it was very narrow and it had these extra bomb, er, bomb bays in the inner wing too. It wasn’t as well designed as the Lanc was. The Lanc wasn’t designed that way. It was a bit like Topsy. That was the way it grew. Yeah, I tried them both.
DK: As a flight engineer though, and purely as your role as a flight engineer, you preferred the Lancaster?
ES: Well on the Halifax, you had a much better instrument panel, you could see what’s going on, but you had a very complex fuel system. You started out with four tanks on the Hali 1s, early Hali 1As, that soon went to —from four tanks to — it went up again, and I think we ended up with 7 or 8 tanks in each wing and all little bits where they squeezed a bit in, um, which gave a very complex fuel system. To keep the CG right you had to keep messing about. I say the nose tank, number 2, which was on the leading edge of the wing, er, you couldn’t use that for landing or take off because of the change, sudden changes of altitude. So, the Halifax, you had — needed an engineer or somebody who knew what they were doing to manage the fuel system. The Lancs, with four bloody great tanks, you didn’t. Basically, you didn’t need a flight engineer on a Halifax, it was just another pair of hands, another pair of eyes and somebody else to keep an eye on the gauges —
DK: On the Lancaster, on the Lancaster, you didn’t need a flight engineer?
ES: No, but you did need somebody in the right hand seat.
DK: Right. OK. Yeah.
ES: And the flight engineer was cheaper than a, a co-pilot, a pilot, that’s really what it was, they were a cheap pilot substitute in a way.
DK: On the Lancaster so you didn’t need, really need a flight engineer on the Lancaster?
ES: Not as an engineer. I’ll tell you, the fuel cogs were two little handles but they had very big tanks. The Lanc, the Lanc, the original design of the Lanc was based on the premise that you would have sealed wings and there’d be a filler cap in the wing and you filled the wing up. But that meant that — that was fine until they said all tanks have got to be self-sealing, and you can’t put self-sealing on the outside of the tanks and that’s why they ended up putting little tanks in. But um, it’s a matter of history there. The Lanc arrived just at the right time. The Halifax was before its time and was outdated as soon as it arrived really but it was better than a Stirling.
DK: Yes. Did you fly ever on the Stirling or —
ES: Yes, I had, down at Boscombe.
DK: Not operationally though?
ES: No.
DK: No, no. So can you say a little about what the Pathfinders actually did and their, their role that was different to —
ES: Oh, quite different, um, initially it was a matter of, er, developing the technique. Don Bennett developed the tech— developed the, or developed the technique, I say, initially on Pathfinders, it was a matter — we had people going at H – 4 and dropping flares like mad and then other people following on trying to find the target. Later on, it got much more sophisticated. You still had the supporters and the important people in the H – 4. Supporters were supplied by the squadrons from the new boys in Pathfinders, this was in the opening stages. The crew in Pathfinders, first thing flying as a supporter, going in as H – 4 and, um, then later on getting promoted to being a flare dropper, still going in early, er, usually several rows of flare droppers, H – 4 and H – 2, and then you had the king-pins dropping the target markers, er, target indicators, from — with the light of the flares of the others and then once the master had put, um, put his marker on the target the supporters came along to keep it going. Basically, that’s all there was to it really, but it got a bit more sophisticated.
DK: Did you actually meet Don Bennett at this time?
ES: Oh yes. I knew, I met him.
DK: What did you think of, of Don Bennett?
ES: I — he didn’t need any crew. He knew it all. No, I was a great admirer of Don Bennett.
DK: You actually flew with him, did you?
ES: Yes, I did some — the first time we had a Hali 3 deli— delivered to, um, Graveley as a possible aircraft for Pathfinder Group because at that, at that stage we had Hali 2s, Lancs, Wellingtons, er, all in different squadrons. And Don wanted — was trying to get all his aircraft —
DK: Standardised —
ES: Same aircraft right through the Group, um, but anyway a Hali 3 had been sent to Bos— to Graveley for him to have a try. Well, he’d flown the Hali 2s and 1s, he was an experienced Halifax pilot but there was this Hali 3 he had been sent to try, so just he and I got into the aeroplane, nobody else, and he tried to fly the Hali 3. Well compared to the Hali 1s and 2s with four Merlins, four Hercules were a whole different proposition and one of the flight engineers’ job is following the pilot, as he opens the throttle, keep your hands behind so as if he moves his hands, the throttles won’t go back. And unfortunately, we were on the end of the runway, two of us in the aeroplane, not big fuel, no great fuel load, and he’s sort of half way up and I was following, and suddenly we were airborne. Now that was quite a different experience. Anyway completely opened the throttles, I held them and locked them open or locked them and that was his first experience of the Hali 3 and mine [laugh] but only the two of us in there anyway.
DK: But presumably, he then made the decision not the Hali 3, but go for the Lancaster then, did he?
ES: He flew the Hali 3 and he flew the Lanc.
DK: And he decided on the Lancaster then.
ES: Yeah, he was also — there was some talk of a teed-up Wellington with a pressure cabin.
DK: Oh right.
ES: It was only — I don’t think we even had one with us, I knew it existed and I’d seen pictures of it. They actually put a pressure cabin inside, inside the Wellington. It was quite a high-altitude aeroplane. I think they used it for high altitude research afterwards. Yes, so Don knew what he was doing and wasn’t wor— never worried, it was fine with him. A man than can take a tuner off, the control locks on, flies around Hamburg and land the bloody thing with the stick stuck.
DK: That’s what he did? The control lock was still on?
ES: Yeah.
DK: And he flew to Hamburg and back?
ES: No, he flew, took off from Hamburg. He should have been going to Berlin but he turned round, went round the airfield, and got it back down on the ground again, took off the control locks and flew to berlin on the Berlin shuttle.
DK: On the Berlin airlift.
ES: Yeah.
DK: On the Berlin airlift, yeah.
ES: Yeah. Oh, he knew what he was doing.
DK: So how many operations did you actually fly altogether then?
ES: Hundred and eight. Forty-seven on Wellingtons, on Halifaxes and sixty-one on Lancs. I know they say it isn’t allowed, you shouldn’t last that long. I hadn’t read the statistics [laugh].
DK: Well, if you didn’t know the statistics.
ES: It only happened by chance really. I did my forty-seven on Halifaxes and I was sent to NTU. 7 Squadron had a chop and NTU were asked to supply replacements. I was there, I was one of the replacements. They wanted a replacement, you know, they’d lost a lot of their top end. They wanted experienced people and I — so I was off operations for a few weeks and I was back on the Lancs, um, once I’d got through the — with first with 7 and then, um, 582 was formed, one flight from 7 Squadron and one flight from 156. I went there and, um, I just soldiered on. I was sort of a decoration round the place, I think I was a bit of a show piece. You know, a funny thing, when I did my hundredth operation, I was keeping quiet, I wasn’t making any fuss about it. But I used to help, deal with the crew list for the CO, and there was a young lad coming through as a skipper. He was a bit of a nervous type, he was worried because he was going to do his thirteenth trip. I thought, what the hell, I put myself down as his flight engineer. He came back and, um, we landed back at base and he said, ‘Ah that’s good, I’ve made my — done my thirteenth’, I said, ‘Well done. I’ve done my hundredth’ [laugh].
DK: And that was the first he knew?
ES: That was the first he knew. Nobody had reached three figures before. We’d lost two people at ninety-eight. We never lost one at ninety-nine but we did lose two at ninety-eight.
DK: Was there any recognition for the hundredth operation at all from the squadron or —
ES: Not from the squadron but I think there’s mention, um, in my DSO. I went over my hundredth anyway but, um, that’s really all there was. I got my DSO, I think I was the only flight engineer I think that did.
DK: How do you feel now looking back on that period [unclear] operations?
ES: I was lucky. I don’t know. It was my job. I was in the Air Force for a job and it was part of the job, sort of.
DK: And now if we move to the post war period. I was reading that you went to South America?
ES: Oh, I did the South American trip with Harris, yes.
DK: What was, what was Harris like?
ES: Well, he knew who I was when we got there [laugh]. But it was quite a crazy thing, we didn’t see much of him really. He was the top brass and we were the, we were the tail end. Funny thing is, when we first flew over, we went down to Gambia, went across to Recife, just by the mouth of the Amazon and, um, we had — Harris himself and his, his PA had been in America with the RAF during the war and they had the correct drill for America. They had long — they were in khaki but they had long trousers. We were issued with khaki appropriate to, er, West Africa but we had shorts. Oh dear, when we landed in Brazil, what a kerfuffle, ‘[unclear] get those men back in the aeroplane out of sight’. Anyway, we were pu— pushed back in the aeroplane and, um, the top brass, me, Harris and his little entourage and they were marched off to a decent hotel, and somebody came out to us, ‘Put your trousers on’, and we were allowed to go and get a meal as well [laugh]. It was ridiculous. We didn’t know what was going on.
DK: So, it, so it was three Lancasters you took to Brazil then?
ES: Yeah.
DK: Yeah. And how did they perform going across the —
ES: Oh, no problems there. Um, the fuel was — you had to watch the fuel. We weren’t over dressed for it. We didn’t have long range tanks or anything which are available, were avail— or eventually became available for the Lancs, but there was no problem.
DK: So, what was the purpose of the visit then? Was it just an invite for Harris by the Brazilians?.
ES: Brazil was our allies. They had a division fighting in Italy and we were there. We —the division for me — because Brazil did not declare war on Japan, er, mainly because they had too large a Japanese population. The only thing that the Brazilians did about the Japanese is they all had to live at least a hundred kilometres from the coast. That was the Brazilian, um, result of Japan entering the war, um, and their Army only fought in Europe with the American 5th Army and they came back. We were there when they came back. We were flying over them as they went down the main street in Rio, we were over— overhead.
DK: Oh, I see, so it was a kind of com— celebration for the return of their army, in effect?
ES: Er, you mentioned the three Lancs. Well, when we turned round to come back, one of them had engine trouble. It wasn’t my aircraft but of the flight engineers, I was the only one that could change an engine or knew anything about it so I ended up staying behind waiting for the new engine. And the Brazilians were very good, they gave us a lot of coffee beans and they were tied up in the bomb bay and the aeroplane was flown by the 617 Squadron crew, and 617 Squadron took off from the airport at Brazil, at, er, Rio, which is six hours from the, er, air— from the promenade. Um, being 617 Squadron, they didn’t have bomb bays. They weren’t used to bomb, bomb doors so they took off with the bomb doors open (because you always park with the bomb doors open), so they took off with them open and some of us left behind saw them turn out over the harbour and watched our coffee beans descend into the harbour.
DK: Oh no.
ES: One, er, bag didn’t detach and when we got back instead of getting a whole bag of coffee beans which were of course rationed around, almost unavailable in England, we had a two-pound bag of them. But anyway, yeah.
DK: So, after that, is this when you then went for pilot training?
ES: Not immediately, no. I went — I did an engineering officers course, um, I was already, although I was a fitter and a qualified fitter, um, I went on to — down to St Athan, I think for four months, an accelerated engineering officer’s course, filling in the gaps between what I’d been through, what I knew as an apprentice, what I knew as a flight engineer, just filling in the gaps. I come out as a fully trained flight engineering officer which was quite useful in the end. But I went back to the Squadron and I was then on 20, on 24 Squadron, the VIP Squadron, flying Lancastrians, er, VIPs around the place. I managed to save the life of myself, Sir Robert Watson Watts and Ralph Cochrane all in one go. I — if they’d gone down and I’d been with them. We had Lancasters, Lancastrians sorry, but they had a belly tank to increase the range, because the Lanc couldn’t fly the Atlantic, so the Lancastrian couldn’t unless they put long range tanks in the bomb bay. Since it was a [unclear] thing, it wasn’t a proper — it wasn’t a well thought out plan. The filling was, um, on the side of the bomb bay with the — the flight engineer had an extension which you undid a hatch on the bomb bay, took the cap off the, er, tank, put this extension on and then you could fill the fuel up, fill the long range tank up. Good idea. Well, on going to America we were carrying two flight engineers, so I was filling the port wing and the other guy was filling the starboard wing, and I filled my wing and I look down and this bloke who was filing the bomb bay, belly tank seemed to be having a lot of trouble, seemed to be stopping and starting and whatever. So, I went down to see what, you know, the problem was. We were out in the Azores and I don’t speak Portuguese so I was chattering away, took the thing out. No wonder he was having trouble. What was he putting in the tank? Engine oil.
DK: Oh dear.
ES: I had a quick thought, er, I could see us, another one in the Bermuda Triangle. We’d have been somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle when I switched over to that tank. We wouldn’t have gone much further. Anyway, I got him out of the way, and I go the crew and anyone standing around. I got a pan out from the side of the airfield and pushed the thing back and got the wheel, the bit, the tail wheel and a bit more of the fuselage over the grass, got my tool box out [slight laugh], undid the, this false bomb door that we had, it was only two sheets of metal, opened that up. I could then get to the Pulsometer pump, which was used to transfer the, er, petrol as it should have been to the wing. But fortunately, it wasn’t switched on I don’t think. I quickly disconnected it actually in case anybody did switch it on and, um, took the Pulsometer pump off and, er, of course all the oil flowed out, straight onto the grass, er, put the thing back on again, got the fella with the petrol bowser and put a couple of hundred gallons in the tank. I’m not paying [laugh].
DK: It makes you wonder if that happened in the past if —
ES: Oh yes. I think that’s what happened with MacMillan in the Star Tiger. A very similar installation on the, on the Tudor. The Tudor had the tank in the same position.
DK: Because several went missing, didn’t they?
ES: Yeah, well if you put oil in the bloody thing. The Portuguese people, they come out with the tanker and you can’t see what’s in the tanker. But, um, anyway I did, er, swirled this thing out, pumped this fuel, fuel oil mixture out with the Pulsometer pump, got a bucket with, um, pure petrol in, stripped the Pulsometer pump out down to its essential bits, washed out the inside, swirled it round and, um, pumped some, put some more petrol in the tank, swirled it round and hoped for the best, put the Pulsometer pump on and we got to Washington DC on that fuel. Otherwise, there’d be no me, no Sir Robert Watson Watt, no Sir Ralph Cochrane or anybody but, um, that’s what flight engineers are for, aren’t they?
DK: Exactly. I guess they, they never knew. Never knew how close to disaster they came.
ES: No, they were too busy scoffing. We didn’t get a meal, the other engineers and I didn’t get anything to eat at all until the other — Washington, actually Indianapolis. We didn’t stop long in Washington, then we went on to Indianapolis. It’s all a story.
DK: So, it was then soon after that you took the pilot training then, was it?
ES: Yes, ‘47 or, ‘47 I think I took the pilot training.
DK: And ended up on the Neptunes?
ES: No, I ended up on Lancasters.
DK: Oh right. OK.
ES: At first. As soon as I took the pilots course, I thought, ‘What’s going to happen now?’ Well, I’d been on Transport Command, been on Bomber Command. Oh, put him on Coastal Command. And what do they give him to fly? A Lancaster. And, um, I was flight commander on 217 Squadron and I was off to the States [slight laugh].
DK: And so how did it feel now you were a pilot of a Lancaster, after so many operations as a flight engineer?
ES: It seemed quite natural, though I must admit, when I first went as a pilot for the conversion course, as a pilot up to Kinloss, I had the first instruction for pilot. I’ll teach him all about the Lanc. He can teach me all about the Lanc [laugh], He knew who I was and I knew who he was [laugh].
DK: He couldn’t teach you much then?
ES: Eh?
DK: He couldn’t teach you much?
ES: Well, he didn’t bother. I sat there and listened to it all. You got to show willing and, er, that’s how it went
DK: So, once you converted to the Neptunes then, what were they like?
ES: A dream, a dream. You could do anything with them. They had these spoilers in the wing. When you put the spoilers on, when you put thing on, it went vroom. Of course, when we first got the Neptunes, all the top people wanted to fly them so we had a, a group of MPs come up to Kinloss to see us and find out all about these new aeroplanes. We didn’t, they were not our aeroplanes, the Neptunes, the RAF never owned any Neptunes. They were only on loan waiting, because the Sund— the Shackletons were late on delivery and these were taken as, in a sort of stop gap until we got — Avro got their finger out, started producing Shackletons. I quite enjoyed flying the Neptune. Nicest aeroplane I’d ever flown.
DK: Did you get to fly the Shackleton then, eventually?
ES: No. It was just a heavy Lancaster. The Neptune was a whole different ball game, you could do things with that.
DK: Do you think the Nim— Shack— Neptune should have been used instead of the Shackleton then?
ES: It was — the Neptunes were loaned, loan to us until we could get enough Shackletons delivered. They were only on loan. They went back to the States and went on loan to somebody else no doubt. Other — the Aussies they picked up two Shackletons, two Neptunes at the same time. They weren’t bare backed robbers but they bought theirs.
DK: Do you think we should have bought the Neptune then?
ES: I think they were better. I think it would have been a better deal than the Shackleton ever was. To give you an example, er, Churchill was coming back from America on one of the Queens, and the idea was that the RAF should go out to the mid-Atlantic and beyond to welcome him, and this was the plan and I was sitting in the mess having breakfast and saw the Shackleton taking off to meet Winny. Then I finished my breakfast, went down to flight, did my briefing, got into the aeroplane, flew off and once we got the Queen on radar I, we homed in over the Queen and then I looked on the radar and, oh yes, there’s a Shackleton coming in. We’d guide him in to —
DK: Because they were so much slower.
ES: Slower? They didn’t — they only had one speed. You see, we used to transit at ten thousand feet which gives you a much better air speed, but they did everything at about two thousand, the Shackleton, which gives us about a hundred miles an hour advantage at ten thousand. And, um, so anyway we guided them and we had a fly round the Queen and, um, Churchill could see them and then it was time for them to go. So, they went off there. We watched them go and a little bit later, we flew off and I was back in the mess when the Shackletons landed [laugh]. That’s the difference you see. They were no faster on attack really. I was going to tell you, when we first got the Neptune, a group MPs came up to have a look at it. My squadron commander, he was a hard drinking man, so we, after they arrived so I left, er, I had a dinner with them, and spoke to them and that and left the squadron commander to take care of them. He was quite happy drinking all night. Oh, that car’s — the car’s just driven two houses up and stopped there. Never mind, it’s not in your way. But anyway, they had there thing in the mess and the next morning they were going for a flight. Well, one of the things the Neptune could do which the Shackleton never got round to doing, was rocket attacks, [unclear] sixteen rockets, sort of equivalent of two, um, salvos from a cruiser and for a rocket attack on an aircraft, ship or submarine, your flying indicators about twelve hundred feet, and you put the nose down to about seventy degrees, take aim, fire the rockets. They were very, very accurate too. I say, to practice we had old wrecks of cars out on the range. You expect to hit a car with a rocket. It’s not that big a target but you hit a car with a rocket, a ship will be a big problem because of course the salvos, that car doesn’t fire back at you, but, um, we’d got two 20 mm cannons and a nose sight and they can do some damage. Anyway, so I take these MPs up and they’d had a good night out the night before [laugh], and I was flying at a thousand feet and we’re going into attack, vroom, MPs on the ceiling [laugh] and we go in and attack, fire the rocket, horrible. You got to have fun, you got to have your fun somehow.
DK: Were the MPs impressed by that?
ES: I don’t know [laugh]. They were quite quiet when we came back [laugh].
DK: I can imagine.
ES: Not used to big aeroplanes. They liked fighters. But I had fun.
DK: So, when did you actually leave the RAF then? What year would that have been?
ES: Oh dear. Oh, I just managed to — it was Army, aft— after, um, flight commander at 617. I spent some time doing my stint as a ground eng— ground fitter, a ground officer. I was quite lucky. I got rather a cushy number for my two years. I was posted out to Germany as adjutant with an AOP Squadron with Austers, and, um, it was when I finished my, just finishing my two years out there when the Army MO called me in for the annual medical, and he said, ‘You’re too deaf to fly’, And that was it. Oh yes, a bloody Army bloke, a Pongo got me out. Actually, he didn’t get me out, he said, ‘You’re unfit to fly’. The Air Force said, ‘You can stay in in your current rank until you reach retirement age’. Well, I was thirty-five, I didn’t want to do another twenty bloody years doing bugger all, nothing interesting, so I elected to take an early retirement. Been drawing a pension ever since. I’ve been drawing my RAF pension, this is the first month of my sixty-first year of drawing a pension.
DK: Excellent. Well, I think on that note we’ll —



David Kavanagh, “Interview with Ted Stocker. Three,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 30, 2024,

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